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Recent Movies: Steve Jobs; Brooklyn; Son of Saul

January 17, 2016

Recent Movies

Steve Jobs

A biography of the famous computer genius (played by Michael Fassbeneder) is played out in three different segments in 1984, 1988, and 1998.  All segments involve a product launch with all the backstage tension that precedes presentations before huge audiences.

It is interesting that the screenwriter of this film, Aaron Sorkin, also wrote “The Social Network” (2011).  Both films were about computer geniuses who had acted terribly toward other people.

Both films had the difficulty of making computer science interesting to the many who know little or nothing about it.  “The Social Network” succeeded in ways that “Steve Jobs” does not.  Mind you, there is less technical jargon needed to describe an interactive website than to describe a series of computers.  Still, “The Social Network” used computer jargon as background against the bigger drama of greed and betrayal.  “Steve Jobs” is overloaded with technical jargon to the point that it becomes difficult to care.

In one scene, Jobs confronts a former boss played by Jeff Daniels.  Director Danny Boyle intercuts this scene with a flashback scene between the two that had involved a major conflict.  The director and acting were great in this scene but it failed as the detail of their discussions were often difficult to follow.

There are many moments when someone is accusing Steve of being a jerk.  Even if they may be right, the accusers all seem to be jerks as well.  Despite the good acting, it is hard to really like or sympathize with anyone in this film except Steve’s biological daughter whose unstable mother frequently wants more money from him.

The good team behind this film (which also includes Kate Winslet as Jobs’ longtime colleague and friend) make it tempting to like the movie.  But overall, it’s a well-dressed mannequin.

RATING (out of four stars):   * *

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Brooklyn

In 1952, Eilis Lacey (played by Saoirse Ronan) is a young woman who immigrates from a small Irish town to Brooklyn where she is to start a new life.  During a visit back home, she feels conflicted about whether she should stay there or return to her new life in the U.S.

“Brooklyn” is a sweet film that succeeds at being sentimental without being cloying.  It has an old-fashioned warmth particularly when it is being romantic.

There are other aspects to admire especially a scene when homeless Irish male immigrants are being fed a Christmas dinner.  There are also two acting stalwarts who contribute well to the film: Jim Broadbent as a kindly Irish priest who helps other Irish immigrants; and Julie Walters who is quite funny as a strict Irish landlady of a boarding house of young Irish women.

The film is not without flaws including a small-town bully seems too one-dimensional.  The role of Eilis’ mother could also have been better developed.  While Eilis (pronounced Ailish) faces a major dilemma near the end, there seemed to be a hurry to wrap things up.  When one must make a major decision in life (as Eilis does), there is often sadness at the choice left behind.  Eilis’s attitude seemed too one-sided.  This inner conflict was better handled in “The Namesake”, a 2006 independent U.S. film.

Despite these flaws, “Brooklyn” is still admirable especially for Ronan’s performance.  In the beginning, Eilis is shy, awkward, out of place, and homesick.  Her transition throughout the movie is believable and touching.  As a child actress in “Atonement” back in 2007, Ronan showed great potential which is proven further in “Brooklyn”.  Let’s hope to see more of her.

RATING:   * * *

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Son of Saul

Two days are chronicled in the life of Saul Auslander (Geza Rohrig), a Hungarian Jewish prisoner in Auschwitz in 1944.

Saul is a Sonderkommando member of the concentration camp. His own life is temporarily spared and he gets better benefits than other prisoners but he and his fellow Sonderkommandos must do some of the worst work that the Nazis don’t want to do. (I’m being deliberately vague to avoid spoilers.) Early in the film, Saul personally takes on a mission that involves a religious ritual and the search for a rabbi.

The uniqueness of the directing style by Laszlo Nemes is highly praiseworthy. The camera is either on Saul in close-up or following behind him as the viewer sees what he sees while the background is out of focus. The atrocities seen in the background would have been the main dramatic focus of other films. Here, the viewer is taken to see that the horror is treated as a day-to-day work routine with much activity happening as the prisoners must be visibly busy to avoid the wrath of their slave-drivers. Thus, the casualness magnifies the horror.

Rohrig also deserves praise for being in every scene and mostly in close-up at that. He does a fine job in conveying Saul’s intensely desperate life while surrounded by insanity.

There is much to admire about “Son of Saul” but it becomes difficult to understand why Saul is so relentless in his pursuit of his goal even though he jeopardizes himself and his fellow prisoners. Even if there was the slightest comment or hint to get closer to his motives, this could have made a good film into a great one. Some explanations include the possibility of insanity. While this may be true, the ambiguity becomes more frustrating than fascinating.

It is easy to compare “Son of Saul” to other related Holocaust films that reach a higher mark:

– “Phoenix ”, a German film also released this year;
– “Fateless”, another Hungarian Holocaust drama that was released in 2005;
– “Kapo”, an Italian film released in 1960. Like “Son of Saul”, this film took on the difficult subject of concentration camp prisoners who turn against their own in order to alleviate their own personal circumstances. It dug deeply into the pain of conscience in such harrowing circumstances.

RATING: * * *

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Upcoming film reviews:   The Danish Girl;  Carol;  Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict;  The Big Short;  The Hateful Eight;  The Force Awakens;  Anamolisa;  The Revenant

 

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One Comment
  1. Simone permalink

    Nice reviews! I really enjoyed Brooklyn and was really glad to see it nominated for 3 Oscars. It was a sweet movie, but you’re right — the ending was abrupt and felt rushed.

    Keep up with the awesome blog! 🙂

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