I have written about the embarrassment of riches playing in the theaters recently. There is even more out there now. There isn’t a better time to visit the theater than right now. You might be interested in these two recent films:
Bridge of Spies
Bridge of Spies is the perfect film to help you Skype with your dad. Tom Hanks, The Berlin Wall, questions of constitutional due process, old fancy suits and hats, spy planes, veterans, long talks about morality and even pedestrian train travel play in this film. Any one of these things might make a dad film pop but all of them together is truly some next level dad stuff. Don’t let the subject matter get you down. What’s the saying, “A dad clock is right twice a day?” This is one of the dad-centric artifacts that even works in contexts outside of the core demographic of Midwestern men born from 1950-1970.
It has been pretty absent from the advertising but you need to know this cold war thriller is the work of the master Steven Spielberg. Like in Lincoln, Spielberg makes negotiation dangerous. Smart people with differing objectives trying to get what they want but no one knows everything that’s going on. There’s clearly an element of risk but somehow the combination of Hanks’ charm and Spielberg’s steady hands guide us through what is probably the most laid back prisoner-trade negotiation I’ve ever seen committed to film. The film has a potent moral center. It is both clear eyed about the horror of division, the raising of a border it is death to cross, and the humanity of those adversaries we have a responsibility to as our prisoners.
Like with his raisin space baby E.T. or his adventure professor Indiana Jones, Spielberg somehow pulls off a film that elevates the material beyond the basic genre expectations stirred up by a trite elevator pitch plot description which in this case is something like “Cold War Insurance Lawyer does his job.” People talking in rooms can be done wrong. Where some talky films fall into Great Man Worship where only our betters can make the right choices, Spielberg wants us to know that on both sides of any conflict we are all just men. This is a film that is a pleasant surprise and an unexpected comfort.
Steve Jobs and books and films about him are always beloved by that one insufferable dude in every class. It is always a dude too. The thing about these Jobs Bros is that they tell everyone about Steve Jobs. Women’s studies class? Steve Jobs. Literature class? Steve Jobs. They just can’t shut up. Wow, I’m glad you read a biography. Steve Jobs is their ~hero~ for really no reason.
This is the dirty secret of every Steve Jobs related book or movie, for the film or book to have value, the man himself has to have value to you. From a critical standpoint not one Steve Jobs related film has justified itself in its own right. Steve Jobs is the best of the bunch to have hit the silver screen, the production values are high and thankfully the film doesn’t care about the lie of ‘realism’ that invades these types of films. Unfortunately, the dollars sunk into the incredible effort by the all-star cast ends up just being wrapping paper on an empty box.
This film by screenwriter Aaron Sorkin tries and fails to find something transcendent about the story of Steve Jobs. Sorkin’s almost song like banter and too smart off hand comments litter director Danny Boyle’s fictional non-adaption of Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs biography. Boyle finds a way to make Sorkin’s modus operandi of having people talk in rooms work. The technical choice to shoot the film on three formats, one for each product launch of Jobs’ early career will dazzle. Each product launch takes up an act of the film. Not really the product launch but the thirty or so minutes before the product launch. Boyle chases Jobs around backstage through the hallways and even up into the rafters of the impressive venues. Some of the best individual frames of the film were the massive repeating light installations that dwarf the people scurrying around.
Jobs’ personality though can’t be contained by even the biggest room. The film mentions Jobs’ ‘reality distortion field’ and for many who love Jobs that field is still in effect. Worse still, for this film to have any lasting impact on you, you must submit to this distortion field.
The film just doesn’t built to anything satisfying or meaningful, kind of like this film’s Jobs’ ultimately empty life. Spoilers, the climax of the film is Jobs letting himself be a little late for his last conference to talk to his daughter. It hardly means anything but it’s played like a great sacrifice. What emotions should be there are totally ruined by Jobs telling his daughter that she’ll have “a thousand songs in her pocket” which is just the silliest thing. This goes back to the initial point I made about buy in from the audience. You have to already think that the iPod has some sort of transcendental value going into this film. The film doesn’t say anything beyond he was a flawed, sometimes terrible, man who delivered us things that we liked to buy. He knew what we wanted but it doesn’t go any further than that.
In The Social Network, Sorkin integrates the thematic meat into the central drama. Zuckerberg’s products reflect his philosophy of relationship at the time he makes them. His hot or not app comes after a period of alienation and his The Facebook reflects his search for connection after that distance and alienation. There is no integration in Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs seems to think its subject was known for having big conferences that started on time. It never mentions any of the products that created new categories for personal computing products. Like Steve Jobs’ legacy and fans, this film is a shined up piece of work needlessly stuck in the past.