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Monthly Archives: March 2016

It says a lot that director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin can hold your attention to a picture consisting solely of conversation. Yes, Sorkin and David Fincher did the same thing in The Social Network, but there, the characters were developing before your very eyes, and things were happening – a revolutionary product was being developed, friendships and rivalries were being established, complaints were being lodged, people were being screwed, and litigation was ongoing. Here, we meet Steve Jobs pretty much fully formed, at the peak of his first rise, as he launches the product that will result in his first fall, and he has already established the defining templates and themes for most of his relationships. He converses with his early collaborator and colleague (a surprisingly forceful Seth Rogen as Steve Wozniak), another colleague (Michael Stuhlbarg), his loyal lieutenant (Kate Winslet) his ex-girlfriend and mother of his child (Katherine Waterston), his CEO (Jeff Daniels) and his daughter (various actresses). With the exception of a few short flashbacks, we repeat these conversations at different points in Jobs’ life, and while the effect is pronounced with regard to the relationship between Jobs and his daughter, the rest is pretty much the same conversation (certainly, with Wozniak, Waterston and Winslet), and it takes all of the gifts Boyle and Sorkin can muster to maintain interest. That’s said, mine was maintained, and as Jobs, a man so driven and disconnected that he can freely renounce his paternity of a little girl to her face, Fassbender is in total control. There is a wonderfully written scene with Jobs and longtime friend and co-worker Stuhlbarg that demonstrates the wit of Sorkin while exhibiting the unique remove and iciness of Jobs. Jobs says “I don’t want people to dislike me. I’m indifferent to whether they dislike me”, Stuhlbarg tells Jobs he’s always disliked him, and Jobs responds “Really? I’ve always liked you a lot. That’s too bad.”

As with The Social Network, Sorkin has also shorn his dialogue of the cutesy, easy patter that often plagues his work (I counted one Sorkinism – where Fassbender smarmily asks Winslet why they haven’t slept together – and that was it). The film clicks and moves, but it does not pause to celebrate its own cleverness. Still, there is not a lot of meat on this bone.  I didn’t learn a great deal more about Jobs from conversation to conversation, nor was I made privy to his genius, unless that genius is solely derived from drive and calculation.

 

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I was in school in Philadelphia from 1982 to 1984, during the mayoralty of Wilson Goode, who had taken over from the dictatorial former police commissioner and mayor Frank “I’m gonna’ be so tough as mayor, I gonna’ make Attila the Hun look like a faggot” Rizzo (Rizzo had once bragged that his police department could invade a country, and having seen them in action, I believed it). At that time, the Philadelphia police department was in an intractable standoff with a weirdo cult – MOVE – a back-to-nature, but armed-with-guns, community-based but plague-on-the-surrounding-community organization that melded hippie-life, black militancy and making their neighbors (largely, middle class blacks) miserable. The cops and MOVE had tangled once before, in 1978, leading to a siege where a police officer was killed and numerous cops and fire fighters wounded. Nine MOVE leaders and other disciples received life sentences as a result, but the remainder of the organization’s adherents moved to another neighborhood in West Philadelphia, where the entire scenario played out again years later. I clearly remember the local news reporting on police-MOVE clashes when I was in Philly, but until I saw this documentary, I had actually convinced myself I was in the City of Brotherly Love for the final confrontation.  I was wrong. By then, I had transferred schools and sat in Harrisonburg, Virginia, where the only assault was olfactory, a combination of a dog food plant and turkey slaughter.

Mayor Goode decided he’d had enough of MOVE plaguing yet another neighborhood (MOVE’s parenting was questionable, they had built a row house on Osage Avenue into a fortress, they menaced the neighbors and in particular, blasted obscenity from loudspeakers with regularity at all hours).  The cops came in to serve warrants on several MOVE members, they resisted, gunfire ensued (MOVE shot, and the police responded, if not in kind, as they unloaded 100,000 rounds into the house), another siege ensued, only this time, after a long period of time where they doused the MOVE house with water hoses, the police dropped an incendiary device on their house. And they let it burn. And it did, eventually engulfing the neighborhood, destroying 65 houses and killing 11 of 13 MOVE members, including 5 children.

This documentary is comprised solely of archival footage from the news, the public hearings that took place after the events (two of my former law partners were involved, one as the then-D.A. and the other as a member of the commission), and depositions taken in connection with litigation.  It is riveting, almost dreamlike, and you can’t even imagine that what you are seeing could possibly occur. But it did (and actually, again in the 1990s with the Waco stand-off), and the rendition is gripping, With the exception of some discordant editorializing at the end of the documentary in the aftermath section, it is also fair. On Netflix streaming.

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This is a beautiful film, filled with moments of despair, joy, and connection that occur not only between a mother and child, but between older parents and their grown up girl. As in the headlines, Brie Larson plays a woman who has been abducted as a teen and secreted away in the specially constructed back shed/room of her abductor’s suburban Ohio home. He visits regularly to rape her, an encounter she must endure without resistance because she has fathered his child, a little boy (Jacob Tremblay) who must stay hidden in the closet during these visits. When he leaves, she does her level best to raise the boy, who knows nothing of the world around him, a fact she must remedy when she concocts a plan for escape. When the boy is introduced to the world, it plays like a bird pushed out of the nest. You are utterly terrified for him. When he and his mother are back in her childhood home with her grandmother (Joan Allen), your fear becomes concern, at his acclimation and the mental health of his mother, who now has to tend to her long suppressed issues.

This is a film about connection, the rigor of parenthood, and the limits of love and blood. Larson’s determination, Tremblay’s resistance, Allen’s long-suffering courage, all feel immediate and real. There isn’t a hint of melodrama, which is rare thing given its true crime genesis. Larson is mesmerizing, the perfect balance of drive and fragility, and Tremblay delivers one of the most moving child performances I’ve ever seen. William Macy has a small role as Larson’s father, who has divorced Allen and who, in a painfully poignant scene, cannot bring himself to look at the boy, for all he sees if the product of his daughter’s tormentor. It missteps only once – Larson gives an interview to a journalist whose questions are so tasteless that it feels false – but even in this error, the filmmakers show Larson as flawed (you can see in her eyes that she knows she screwed up in agreeing to the exclusive) when in lesser hands we would have seen her resolute, rising against the opportunist reporter in righteous indignation.  One of the best of the year, and the failure of the academy to nominate Tremblay as supporting actor continues the real prejudice of those old fogies at Oscars, against the young.