jOBS


Ashton Kutcher counts the number of good reviews.

Ashton Kutcher counts the number of good reviews.

(2013) Biographical Drama (Open Road) Ashton Kutcher, Dermot Mulroney, Josh Gad, Lukas Haas, J.K. Simmons, Matthew Modine, Lesley Ann Warren, Ron Eldard, Ahna O’Reilly, Victor Rasuk, John Getz, Kevin Dunn, James Woods, Masi Oka, Robert Pine, Nelson Franklin, William Mapother, Eddie Hassell, Elden Henson, Abby Brammell. Directed by Joshua Michael Stern

Some people are really hard to figure out. They may have greatness in them – a vision so profound it changes the world and everything in it. They may also have demons in them, demons that sometimes reduce them to assholes and tempers their greatness.

Steve Jobs was a lot like that. The co-founder of Apple revolutionized technology and its place in our lives, but he was famously difficult to deal with. He set standards that were ridiculously high and didn’t react well to those who questioned his vision. He was volatile and not above screwing his friends over. It’s hard to reconcile his greatness with his pettiness.

The film opens with Jobs (Kutcher) addressing the troops at Apple, announcing the iPod in 2001, then immediately heads back to his undergraduate days at Reed College where he is a hippie-esque dropout auditing courses, taking drugs and making love with the woman he says he loves, artist Chris-Ann Brennan (O’Reilly) – but whom he’s not above cheating on.

After a trip to India, he returns home to the San Francisco Bay Area and gets a job at Atari but his prickly personality causes friction. He is given a project to work on  his own on – which would turn out to be the game Breakout – and eventually turns to his old friend Steve Wozniak (Gad) to help him. He misrepresents the payment to his genial friend, keeping the lion’s share of the payment for himself. However, a project Woz is working on as kind of a sidelight grabs Jobs’ attention and imagination. It’s a graphical interface that allows display on an ordinary TV screen. This would become the Apple computer. After limited success selling to local hobbyists, former Intel executive Mike Markkula (Mulroney) is drawn to Jobs and the product of the nascent company. He agrees to invest and Apple computers is born.

From there, Jobs, Wozniak, Markkula and the design team including Rod Holt (Eldard), Bill Fernandez (Rasuk), Daniel Kottke (Haas) and Chris Espinosa (Hassell) design the Apple IIe, one of the most crucial devices in the history of home computing. Apple takes off, becoming an economic engine. Jobs becomes obsessed with developing new products, starting with the Lisa – named after the illegitimate daughter whose paternity he vehemently denied even after tests showed him to be the father.

But Apple has grown into a corporation with money men and shareholders. One of the board members, Arthur Rock (Simmons), is deeply concerned with Jobs’ perfectionism and obsession with design at the expense of profitability. Something has to give and when Jobs brings on former Pepsi executive John Sculley (Modine) as the marketing genius to help take Apple to the next level, it does.

The mark of a good biopic is that we leave with at least some sense of who the man was. I think the success here in that regard is mixed; we certainly are treated to some of Jobs’ infamous tirades but we also don’t get a real sense of what causes that rage; we’re told early on that he was adopted but we never get a sense of whether or not that is a motivating factor.

That’s not Ashton Kutcher’s fault. He nails some of Jobs’ mannerisms (capturing his distinctive walk somewhat eerily) and certainly captures his passion. It’s the underlying stuff that we never get to see and that’s the script talking in that regard. I get the sense that the writers didn’t really bother to do a ton of research on Jobs – in many ways what we get is a very surface portrayal of event and milestone, but never what Jobs is thinking or where his ideas are coming from. They’re just…there.

Otherwise, Kutcher is much better than the critics have given him credit for. He gets some pretty solid support from Mulroney whose Markkula’s shifting loyalties and self-preservation tendencies are a model of the modern businessman but not necessarily admirable (and karma is a bitch, isn’t it) as well as Gad as Wozniak who is much more than the computer geek he appears to be.

This isn’t really a complete biopic. It takes on only a section of Jobs’ life, ending just prior to the release of the iPod (which is depicted at the beginning of the movie but the development of which really isn’t gone into). It doesn’t  show the iPhone which in many ways revolutionized society just as much as the Mac did, nor does it spend any time on his time at Pixar which is somewhat understandable.

Still, it’s fairly serviceable. The real Steve Wozniak takes the film to task for not being entertaining and he hits it on the head. The last third of the movie is mostly centered around boardroom drama and business politics and there’s nothing exciting about it. The best parts of the movie are in the center when Jobs and Wozniak are trying to change the world, one circuit board at a time. That they succeeded has helped create the world we live in now, for better or for worse. Which one it is will be judged by those who come after – as for us, I suppose it depends on your point of view.

REASONS TO GO: Communicates the trainers and filmmakers love for these animals. Some beautiful footage of orcas.

REASONS TO STAY: No rebuttal viewpoints (although SeaWorld declined to allow their executives to be interviewed for the film).

FAMILY VALUES:  Briefly, there’s some intense language and there are also a couple of drug-related sequences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The scenes in Jobs’ family home and garage were almost all filmed in the Los Altos home where the real Steve Jobs grew up. The Apple scenes, however, were all sets and recreations as Apple declined to be involved with the film.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/24/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 27% positive reviews. Metacritic: 44/100

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Pirates of Silicon Valley

FINAL RATING; 6/10

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Inugami


Inugami

Yuki Amami shows skills rapidly being lost in a modern world.

(2001) Horror (Kadokawa/Asmik Ace) Yuki Amami, Atsuro Watabe, Eugene Harada, Shiho Fujimura, Kazuhiro Yamaji, Keiko Awaji, Koichi Sato. Directed by Masato Harada

Japanese horror movies have grown in great leaps and bounds since the days of big lizards made of rubber suits. This new style of horror, nicknamed “J-Horror” by fans, relies on folk traditions, subtlety and atmosphere for horror. They also are known for delivering a knock-out punch in the sex and gore departments, something modern American horror movies have become awfully timid about in this day and age. 

Akira, a young teacher (Watabe) assigned to a middle school in the town of Ikeno, runs out of gas on the way there. He is picked up by young Seiji Doi (Harada) and is brought to the idyllic little village of Omine. There he meets Miki (Amami), a 40-something spinster who is part of the Bonomiya family. She has a little workshop where she hand-makes specialized high grade paper for calligraphy for the Doi family paper company, run by the aging harridan Katsuko (Awaji).

Akira quickly develops feelings for Miki and as school starts, is able to walk back and forth between villages for romantic liasons with Miki. The romance is obviously agreeing with her, as she begins to look younger and happier even as her family is tormented by nightly bad dreams, even matriarch Tomie (Fujimura). 

As the relationship between Miki and Akira begins to grow, she confesses to him a dark secret – when she was younger, she had a romantic fling with “the wrong man” who left her with child. She had the baby with the intention of giving it away, but it was stillborn. She has remained a spinster all that time, burdened with guilt and tending the newborn’s grave every day.

The Bonomiya clan is having problems. Patriarch Takanao (Yamaji) is something of a Luddite, forbidding television or radio in the home and yet, inexplicably, allows computers since he is developing an Internet business that eventually fails. Drowning in debt that is complicated by a gambling addiction, the brutish Takanao agrees to sell off Bonomiya land to a country club, a deal brokered by the Doi family, to retire his debts. This will also force Miki to move elsewhere, something she cannot bear since she loves the mountains so much.

The villagers tend to steer clear of the Bonomiyas and with good reason; as Tomie and Katsuko explain, the Bonomiya women are cursed with the Inugami, imp-like demons who reside in an urn who when loosed, bring the wrath of the dog gods on those who displease the Bonomiyas. A string of misfortune is blamed on the Inugami and the Bonomiyas and the villagers are growing restless and violent. Akira longs to take Miki away from all of this, especially since she doesn’t believe in the curse, but something ancient and sinister ties her with bonds harder than steel to the village.

The movie is brilliantly photographed, lush and beautiful. The village of Omine is an oasis of tranquility near a modern highway and railway line, depending on a river and ancient customs to make a slow-paced lifestyle for those who live there. Watching this, I could long for a village like Omine to decompress in.

There is little of overt gore and horror here, depending more on a sense of unease that something is not quite right. There is a great deal of sex in the movie and as is not unusual with Asian movies, subjects that are normally taboo for American filmmakers are breached almost casually. When the horrific climax begins, the movie changes from color to black and white, returning to color again when the events of the climax are concluded. The change is far more effective than showing blood and gore in living color. 

The plot line is somewhat confusing, so you’ll need a lot of concentration to keep up with all the subtitles, and you’ll occasionally be lost in the beautiful cinematography of Junichi Fujisawa. There are no monsters here, except the ones we ourselves create, and no ghosts except the ones that were already there in the first place. Inugami is a marvelous find, a J-horror movie that received little acclaim (as far as I can tell) when it was released in 2001, but one worth seeking out and certainly well worth the effort..

WHY RENT THIS: Gorgeous cinematography and dependance on an uneasy feeling for horror before the real shocking acts begin in the final reel.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The plot can be overly complicated for having to read subtitles throughout.

FAMILY PLANNING: There is a good deal of sexuality in the movie as well as a healthy amount of violence and gore in the final reel.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The inugami are actual figures in Japanese folklore; they have inspired a manga and anime of the same title that has nothing to do with this movie.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: Limitless