Saturday 21 September 2019

Cinema Review: Steve Jobs is clever, funny and utterly engaging

Steve Jobs Cert 15A

Just the jobs: Michael Fassbender looks nothing like Steve Jobs, but he remarkably morphs into him in this first-rate film.
Just the jobs: Michael Fassbender looks nothing like Steve Jobs, but he remarkably morphs into him in this first-rate film.
Malala Yousafzai
Tye Sheridan
Looney Tunes: Nicholas Hoult stars as a psychotic music executive hell-bent on success.

Hilary A White and Aine O'Connor

Reviewed this week are Steve Jobs, He Named Me Malala, Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse and Kill Your Friends.

Like a fast-moving three-act play, writer Aaron Sorkin, who was keen not to deliver a standard biopic, constructed Steve Jobs around three pivotal events. In 1984, 29-year-old Jobs (Michael Fassbender) is launching the Macintosh computer. He has had huge success and has a five-year-old daughter he won't acknowledge and an ex-girlfriend (Katherine Waterston) he refuses to help out financially.

The voice of reason is his Polish-born marketing manager, Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), the father figure Apple CEO John Sculley (Jeff Daniels). In 1988, Jobs has fallen out with Apple and is launching a rival computer. In 1998, he is back at Apple and they're launching the iMac.

Danny Boyle directs the story to tell Jobs' personal journey via these pivotal career moments, for at each one Jobs is faced with a personal showdown. The company politics that led to each situation are dealt with swiftly, via flashbacks that require close attention. But the politics are the least important part - this is essence of Jobs, a brilliant, difficult man who was amazing with machines but had a lot of learning to do with people.

Different film stock is used for each segment to give a different feel, and Fassbender, who looks nothing like Jobs, morphs into him. It's an incredible performance. Winslet is great (Hoffman is a composite character), Seth Rogen shines as Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, Jeff Daniels also shines. Clever, funny and utterly engaging, this is both excellent and accessible. 5 Stars


Opens November 13

He Named Me Malala

Cert: PG

The Taliban is opposed to women's schooling because it is harder for a jihadi to have his mother's blessing if her mind is broadened. When they took control of Pakistan's Swat Valley, a local schoolgirl began writing a blog about living under their oppression. She developed a voice and won fame for her progressive ideas on education for women. Looking to snuff her out, the Taliban boarded a school bus on October 9, 2012 and shot the 15-year-old in the head.

What they didn't bank on was that the girl would not only survive, but become one of the most recognisable global emblems for women's education. To add insult to injury, Malala Yousafzai became the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize exactly two years after she had been shot.

Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth, It Might Get Loud) directs this portrait of the kind of subject documentary filmmakers must dream of. He oscillates between the public Malala (activism, Obama handshakes, UN addresses) and the private, reminding us that she is an otherwise ordinary teenage girl joshing with her brothers and giggling at pictures of Brad Pitt. This only makes her more remarkable.

Lush animated sequences dramatise her and her schoolmaster father Zia's heroic back story while a Thomas Newman score gets the goosebumps working. It has the feel of a handsome classroom study aid, but nonetheless one every child (from nine to 90) could learn from.

4 Stars


Now showing

Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse

Cert 15A

I was not looking forward to this particular cinema outing. Comedy horror can go so badly wrong, and the advance  reviews were terrible. But that's the critic conflict in a way. As a piece of art, Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse does not rank too highly, but as a comedy horror it is not bad at all. A great piece of art can be deadly boring, a rubbishy film can be great fun.

Ben (Tye Sheridan) and Carter (Logan Miller) are teenagers who have stayed in the scouts longer than they wanted for the sake of their friend Augie (Joey Mogan). Ben and Carter are keen to indulge their incipient coolness and plan on sneaking off to an older teens' secret party - Patrick Schwarzenegger has a role as a mean pretty boy. Feeling that Augie hasn't a hope of coolness, they plan to leave him behind with scout leader Rogers (David Koechner, the least funny one from Anchorman).

However, while the lads are hiking in the wilderness, a lab accident has led to a zombie apocalypse in their small Californian town. When the party plan falls apart, all three scouts find themselves back in town and teamed with gorgeous but prickly cocktail waitress Denise (Sarah Dumont) in facing the hordes of flesh-eating monsters. Their scouting skills will be called upon in some difficult circumstances.

There is lots of gore, (comedy film gore), swearing, sexual references and genital/boobs based humour. Christopher Landon, who co-wrote Disturbia and some of the Paranormal Activity films, knows where he's going with this, and the special effects team clearly had a lot of fun. The emphasis is on comedy, not horror, and the trio of Ben, Carter and Augie are very appealing central characters. While Dumont doesn't get too hung up on trying any acting, the young men give it socks and it all works pretty well on the level it's meant to.

In short, if comedy horror that mines silliness and genitals for humour is your idea of hell, this will bring you close to suffering. But if you're a fan of the genre, I think you might rather like it. Suffice to say that at a public screening a lot of people laughed a lot. 3 Stars


Now Showing

Kill Your Friends

Cert: 18

Ian Brown famously called the music industry "a filthy business" some time between splitting up The Stone Roses and reforming them 15 years later. Britpop reached its creative nadir in 1997 with Oasis' Be Here Now, which also rammed a nail in the coffin of bloated industry excess. Since then, the move to digital has sucked revenue from the business and bade farewell to country mansions, sports cars and blizzards of cocaine. 

Set in 1997, Kill Your Friends, a film adaptation of John Niven's darkly comic 2008 novel, should be a timely romp for those old enough to know their Mansuns from their Menswears.

That would ordinarily be the idea, but the problem is that Owen Harris' film is less about the era (bar some glaringly obvious standards by Radiohead, Blur, The Chemical Brothers) than it is about nasty people (Nicholas Hoult's A&R man) cackling as they do horrible things to others.

Hoult breaks a sweat as the clean-shaven, morally bankrupt Steven Stelfox. He hates music and sees it only as a way to climb the corporate ladder in Unigram (instead of Polygram, geddit?) while walking on the backs of other label staff. He's willing to kill for what he wants and, lo-and-behold, ends up with blood on his hands. In comes a snooping detective, lots of drugs and sex and a few other similarities to American Psycho's Patrick Bateman.

For all his flexing, Hoult is ultimately insubstantial and unconvincing as a homicidal drug hoover and Machiavellian scourge. Harris also does his best in this, his feature debut, but cannot find any way to temper the outright silliness that the tale inevitably spirals into with such naughty-boy glee. The Devil may have all the best lines, but Kill Your Friends just feels like you're stuck in an elevator with him and he's starting to repeat himself. 2 Stars


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