STEVE JOBS (USA/15A/122mins) Directed by Danny Boyle. Starring Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels,Michael Stuhlbarg, Katherine Waterston. THE PLOT: Over the course of 16 years, Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) goes from the shining star of Apple, to being fired after the failture of the Macintosh, to back where he started as head of the company. In the meantime, he fights the idea that he is the father of Lisa Brennan, pushes away those who have helped make Apple great, and rejects the father figure he sees in mentor John Sculley (Jeff Daniels). THE VERDICT: With screenwriter Aaron Sorkin behind the script for ‘Steve Jobs’, it is fairly obvious that this is not going to be a hagiography of the man who brought us the iPod, iPhone and iMac, but instead tries to tell the story of just how Jobs became so powerful and successful.
Michael Fassbender is strong in the leading role, having no trouble making Jobs defiant, argumentative and more than a little unlikeable. As the film progresses and Jobs begins to grow and change as a person, these changes are evident, but Fassbender always makes sure that Jobs is the same person deep down. Kate Winslet – fluctuating accent aside – is engaging as Joanna Hoffman, Jobs’ confidant and the woman who consistently challenges him. The rest of the cast is made up of Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels, Michael Stuhlbarg and Katherine Waterston, but since most of the film is made up conversation, arguments and confessionals between Winslet and Fassbender, they have significantly less to do, other than to challenge Jobs from time to time.
As mentioned, Aaron Sorkin seems to have been at pains for his screenplay to show Steve Jobs not just as the man who put amazing technology in our pockets, but a fully rounded and flawed human being. Showing the change – as well as the lack of change – that the character goes through, simply by focusing on three days of his life, with some flashbacks for good measure, gives the audience a feel for the person Jobs was, and the changes he went through as he got older and more successful. The most interesting relationship is, of course, with Joanna Hoffman, and there are some wonderful scenes between the two characters, including a gentle reversal of power toward the end of the film.
Director Danny Boyle manages to keep the story moving, even though it is told in relatively short amounts of cinematic time, and makes sure that the film is as much about Steve Jobs the person as the technology he has created. There is an incredible story arc for the character that is not hammered too hard, but there are times when the squabbling and the arguing feels more like an episode of a TV show than a cinematic event. As well as this, although the framing device of setting the film backstage of three of Jobs’ most important shareholder addresses is a clever one, it does begin to feel claustrophobic, and although we learn a lot in very little time, at times there is a feeling that a wider story could have been less cluttered.
In all however, ‘Steve Jobs’ feels like an accurate portrait of the man behind Apple Computers. The fact that the film doesn’t try to show him as an entirely sympathetic character is refreshing and although it ends before Jobs’ biggest successes – the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad – the film still feels complete in telling Jobs’ story. RATING: 4/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
TANGERINE (USA/IFI/88mins) Directed by Sean Baker. Starring Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Mya Taylor, Mickey O’Hagan, James Ransone, Alla Tumanian, Luiza Nersisyan, Karren Karagulian. THE PLOT: Two trans women, Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor) meet at their old haunt Donut Time, after Sin-Dee is released from prison. As they catch up, Alexandra accidentally reveals that Sin-Dee’s pimp and boyfriend Chester (James Ransone) was sleeping with a ‘fish’ woman while she was away. This sends Sin-Dee on a rampage through LA on Christmas Eve, as she tries to track down the people she believes have wronged her. THE VERDICT: There has been plenty of talk about ‘Tangerine’; mainly because it was shot on three iPhone 5s phones in a truly independent production. This is not why ‘Tangerine’ should be talked about however, the film is a fascinating, funny and often tragic slice of life at a highly emotional time in LA, and one that shines a light on a world that is all too often hidden in shadows.
Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor are both fantastic in the lead roles of ‘Tangerine’. Both are transgender women, and both have little if any previous acting experience. The relationship between the two characters feels real and complex, as all long-standing relationships are, and both actresses are engaging enough to hold their own on screen. Both actresses balance humour and introspection well, and allow the audience to understand the depth of emotion that is ever present in their lives. The rest of the cast, Mickey O’Hagan, James Ransone, Alla Tumanian, Luiza Nersisyan, do well with their parts, and Karren Karagulian standing out as an immigrant taxi driver whose relationship with these working women is deeper than it seems at first glance.
Sean Baker and Chris Bergoch’s screenplay has a manic, open feel to it. The film buzzes with energy, and the exchanges between the women on the streets is filled with quickfire wit, and raw emotion. There are times where the audience may find themselves wishing these Trans characters were portrayed as anything other than ‘working girls’, but it becomes clear that these women are strong and self sufficient, and choose to make their living in the oldest profession in the world.
Director Sean Baker allows the audience to get to know Alexandra and Sin-Dee, to learn about them, and to learn that these are rounded and warm characters. We may not ever feel we would make these decisions ourselves, but we can understand why these characters’ motivations. The film is full of energy and sparkle and, although some family home scenes drag the pace down slightly, and we may not always quite understand what all this manic movement is leading to, when the worlds of the film collide, it is engaging and packs a strong emotional punch.
In all, ‘Tangerine’ is fresh, engaging and strong. The film feels special – like Kevin Smith’s first film ‘Clerks’ – and Rodriguez and Taylor are truly special in the leading roles. That said, the pacing struggles from time to time, and there is sometimes a scattered feel to the film, but when ‘Tangerine’ comes back together, it is a startlingly honest and fresh piece of work that is both hilarious and heartfelt. RATING: 4/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
THE FEAR OF 13 (UK/TBC/96mins) Directed by David Sington. Starring Nick Yarris. THE PLOT: Convicted murderer Nick Yarris reflects ob his life, his time in prison, and the one flawed decision that led to him spending almost two decades on Death Row, and his reasons for asking, in August 2002, for his sentence to be carried out. THE PLOT: ‘The Fear of 13’, so named for Triskaidekaphobia; one of the many words that the self educated Yarris taught himself in prison, is a strange sort of film in that it doesn’t immediately begin with the actual reason for the film. Instead, ‘The Fear of 13’ allows Yarris to tell his stories of being incarcerated at the age of 20, of not being allowed to talk for two years until two fearless inmates started singing one night, of falling in love, before actually getting to the reason the film exists; Nick Yarris maintained his innocence for the entire time he was on Death Row.
The film almost unfolds in reverse, with the interesting prison stories coming first, before the tale of the murder and rash decision that landed Yarris in jail, and finally the telling of an event that gives the audience an understanding of how Yarris’ life went so far off the rails. Yarris is an engaging and colourful storyteller, with sound and images being added to his tales – which have been independently verified – for added impact.
Director David Sington has a history of documentary filmmaking, and the story that he pulls out of ‘The Fear of 13’ is an engaging and fascinating one. The film struggles slightly under its attempt to tell the story in reverse, and although Yarris is an engaging storyteller with an incredible tale to tell – he was eventually acquitted of murder, thanks to DNA testing – this is a story we have heard before, not least in the case of Damien Echols of the West Memphis Three who was released from prison in 2011.
In all, ‘The Fear of 13’ is an inspiring story of a man who spent his life slowly trying to claw his way out of a hole he dug for himself. Nick Yarris is an interesting subject and an engaging storyteller, but there is the feeling – not to diminish what Yarris went through – that we have heard this story before, clever editing and all. RATING: 3.5/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
FATHERS AND DAUGHTERS (USA | Italy/15A/116mins) Directed by Gabriele Muccino. Starring Russell Crowe, Amanda Seyfried, Aaron Paul, Viola Davis, Quevenzhané Wallis. THE PLOT: When she was a small child, Katie’s father Jake (Russell Crowe) – a Pulitzer prize winning author – struggled to take care of her as he came to terms with his own illness, and the death of his wife. While he tries to hang on to the young Katie, his late wife’s sister (Diane Kruger) tries her best to adopt Katie away from her father. 27 years later, Katie (Amanda Seyfried) struggles to let a new man into her life after she felt so abandoned by her father. THE VERDICT: There is an old fashioned feeling about ‘Fathers and Daughters’, as though it is a throwback to the great tear jerker movies of the 1990s. There is a lot of honesty and truth in the movie, or so it feels, but all of this feels like it is hammered home, so none of the nuance of the story is allowed to emerge.
Although the film is called ‘Fathers and Daughters’ – ostensibly the name of Jake Davis’ last great novel – this is a film about Amanda Seyfried’s character Katie, and Seyfried manages the job rather well, allowing the adult Katie to be a product of the tragic events that shaped her, as well as being relatable and rather likeable. As well as this, there is some great ‘drunk acting’ from Seyfried in one particular scene. Russell Crowe proves once again that he is great at these family dramas, and his chemistry with Kylie Rogers as the young incarnation of Katie is a delight on screen. Quvenzhané Wallis channels all the fire and spirit she had in Beasts of the Southern Wild into Lucy, a virtually silent character who says everything she needs to with her expression. This is a strong role for the young actress, and a refreshing change after the violently cheerful Annie last year. The rest of the cast is made up of Diane Kruger, Jane Fonda, Bruce Greenwood, Aaron Paul and Octavia Spencer.
The story blends the past and the present to explain the personal issues that Katie has in her life, and her ability to get through to troubled children, such as Lucy. Brad Desch’s screenplay feels personal and honest, but there are times where the emotion is hit on the head so strongly and repeatedly that it loses the subtlety that would make it heart wrenching and strong. As well as this, the idea that a character can be fixed by a relationship with another one feels like a very outdated storyline, even if it is the character’s choice to change through this new relationship.
Director Gabriele Muccino has made a career of these overly sentimental stories – his previous work includes Seven Pounds, The Pursuit of Happyness and The Last Kiss – and ‘Fathers and Daughters’ is another of these stories that has a strong heart, but much is lost through overwrought sentimentality. The performances are strong, Crowe and young Rogers in particular are a joy to watch on screen, but many of the characters are underdeveloped and actors underused. That said, there are some lovely moments through the film, they just get lost in a sea of sentimentality.
In all, ‘Fathers and Daughters’ has a vein of honesty running through it that feels real and deeply personal, but this is often overshadowed by the emotional beats in the film being hammered so hard. Crowe and Seyfried are particularly strong, but the rest of the cast are lost in the intersecting stories that make up the heart of the film. RATING: 3/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
THE LADY IN THE VAN (UK/12A/104mins) Directed by Nicholas Hytner. Starring Alex Jennings, Maggie Smith, Frances De La Tour, Dominic Cooper, Samuel Anderson, Russell Tovey, Roger Allam, James Corden THE PLOT: Based on a real relationship that writer Alan Bennett had, Maggie Smith plays Miss Mary Shepherd, a house-less woman who lives in her van, which Alan Bennett allows her to park in his driveway, where she stayed for 15 years. Although Miss Shepherd seems to be cantankerous and ungrateful, it soon becomes clear that she has led a tragic and colourful life. THE VERDICT: ‘The Lady in the Van’ is based on Alan Bennett’s 1999 stage play of the same name, which in turn is based on a real relationship the playwright had with a woman on the fringes of society. Maggie Smith is the star of the show here, as the abrasive and obsessively private Miss Shepherd. Smith carefully treads the line between tragedy and comedy, and breathes life into the character, while also making sure that audience sympathy lies with this difficult local character.
Alex Jennings takes on the role of Alan Bennett, making the man timid and gently spoken but – in a little twist of the narrative – someone who talks to, berates and argues with himself as though there is another version of himself in the room. The rest of the cast includes Frances De La Tour, Dominic Cooper, Samuel Anderson, Russell Tovey, Roger Allam and James Corden. Most of them do not have a whole lot to do, since this really is the story of Bennett and his unlikely neighbour.
The story, written for the screen by Alan Bennett, claims to be mostly true, and perhaps it is this need to stick to events as they happened that gives the film a slightly underwhelming feeling. There are hints of car crashes, bribery and rumours surrounding Miss Shepherd, but the film focuses on the day to day, and the biggest trouble seems to be Miss Shepherd using Bennett’s bathroom. As well as this, the film desperately tries to draw parallels between Bennett’s mother and his unwanted neighbour, but this feels clumsy for the most part, as do some of the conversations between Bennett’s writer self and life self. Oh, and the less said about the ending the better.
Director Nicholas Hytner seems to have had fun with Smith and Jennings, and since much of the film focuses on conversations between the two, these are a joy to watch. The film that surrounds them is less successful however, with subplots appearing and disappearing, and the passage of time being shown in no real manner, other than the peeling of the paint on Miss Shepherd’s van.
In all, the success of ‘The Lady in the Van’ is completely down to Maggie Smith and her on screen relationship with Alex Jennings. The film tries hard to create mystery and intrigue around Miss Shepard’s past and fails, for the most part, but the film is still sweet for the most part, it just doesn’t look deep enough beneath the comedy of a prickly woman to find the true tragedy underneath. RATING: 3/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
THE HALLOW (UK/USA/Ireland/16/97mins) Directed by Corin Hardy. Starring Joseph Mawle, Bojana Novakovic, Michael McElhatton, Gary Lydon, Stuart Graham, Conor Craig Stephens, Joss Wyre. THE PLOT: “Don’t tell mum,” says Adam (Mawle) to his infant son Finn as he gathers some 500-year-old parasitic fungi from an old Irish ruin, having been sent to survey the forest for a development company. Back home, his wife, Claire (Novakovic), is being warned again by concerned and mildly manic local Colm Donnelly (McElhatton), adamant that the couple leave these dark, troubled woods alone. When something goes bump, crash, bang wallop later that night in Finn’s room, the local garda (Lydon) repeats the threat in only slightlier sunnier tones.
And that’s when all kinds of dark, black magic hell breaks loose, with the couple soon battling plenty of diddley-aye demons in the night whilst clearly struggling with a few inner demons. Such as our increasingly rabid Adam becoming convinced that their little Finn has been replaced by an evil twin.
THE VERDICT: It’s The Thing meets The Shining, meets, eh, Bracken, as Corin Hardy’s critical fave makes it to the big screen here. Well, when I say critical fave, this was a hit at Sundance and later the horror fest circuit – so, the critics in question were both biased and boggled-eyed after sitting through 5 other films that day.
Still, iit’s not difficult to see why this monster mash has been hitting the right spots with lovers of all things gorey and grotesque.
In truth, there are plenty of hippy couples living in technically abandoned old houses in the wilds of Ireland going through their own existential crisis day by day, by day, by day, and so The Hallow may not seem all that far-fetched to Irish viewers. In truth, it only gets interesting in the last 10 or 15 minutes, as we abandon all the blinky torch basement cliches and go full retard on the primal parent scream stuff. Up to that point, The Hallow is more than a little hard to swallow. RATING: 2/5 Review by Paul Byrne