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Tag: Michael Fassbender

Playing the Orchestra

I saw the new Danny Boyle film at a screening this week. I’m not sure which was more impressive — the film or the Q&A afterwards…. Boyle was there with the film’s editor Elliot Graham and the composer Daniel PembertoMV5BMjE0NTA2MTEwOV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzg4NzU2NjE@._V1_SX214_AL_n and they talked about their collaborative process in interweaving the three parts of the film. What I loved most about the film was its construction. I’ve admired the beauty and intelligence of Boyle’s films in the past– across a range of genres– but this one impressed most with its structure.

Organized in three parts around three product launches, the film has three different aesthetics that Boyle described in the Q&A. The first section takes place in 1984 at the Macintosh launch and it’s filmed in 16mm that gives it a home-video feel. The second takes place in a San Francisco opera theater in 1988 for the product launch of NEXT and it’s shot in 35 mm with a sharp, documentary focus and a roving handheld camera. The last section takes place at the 1998 product launch for the iMac and it’s shot on digital video, which Doyle pointed out later was a sort of gesture toward Jobs’ technological innovations in the Pixar-produced Toy Story in 1995. Boyle explicitly described this three-act composition in the Q&A as a theatrical metaphor and it works very well to focus what could otherwise be a sprawling narrative or a dull chronological biopic. Boyle then knits the pieces together through a small cast of characters with a few ongoing conflicts– like the ones between Jobs and Wozniak or between Steve and his daughter. This structure gives the film both a sort of universal human story as well as a specific reality in one man’s life.

Jobs, of course, was notoriously difficult and Boyle and the actor Michael Fassbender don’t shirk from his negative side, though the film will certainly be critiqued as a romanticized view because of its warm and fuzzy ending. Specifically, the film emphasizes Jobs’ inability to give credit to colleagues, or even to acknowledge other people (including his daughter). This becomes a sort of megalomania: he’s the god-like creator who sits above it all but doesn’t do any of the actual work. In Aaron Sorkin’s script Jobs describes himself as a conductor, who “plays the orchestra” instead of being a virtuoso musician. Yet throughout the film I imagined asking Boyle during the Q&A how he felt about the obvious parallel between directing a film and running a visionary company like Apple, between him and Jobs. I didn’t have to ask, though, because during the conversation he brought it up himself, admitting that he had none of the actual skills of his editors or composers or actors, but only the ability to recognize and synthesize those skills. It was a remarkable acknowledgment, that revealed both how close Boyle was to Jobs and how very far away. Sitting there at his own “product launch” with three colleagues talking about collaboration was yet another ending to a remarkable film.

Two Worlds

Here’s a strange contrast: this weekend I watched Jane Eyre (directed by Cary Fukunaga, 2011) and Elysium (directed by Neill Blomkamp, 2013). Elysium is explicitly about two worlds — one for the haves and one for the have nots– but that idea was first popularized by  the Victorians, so maybe that can be the point of comparison to bring these two seemingly unrelated films together. I often find film adaptations of Victorian novels to be unconvincing. Either they sentimentalize or they exagerrate. This Jane Eyre was persuasive though, in part because of Mia Wasikowska, who played Jane with understated emotion. Charlotte Bronte’s Jane is a volcano, with all the emotion suppressed by long habit and self denial. The novel begins with a scene of child Jane erupting into fury at an injustice done her. The film reorders the events and begins with a distraught and wild-looking adult Jane stumbling through a rain storm. Although the film scene emphasizes Jane’s distress over her anger, the revision works because it still introduces us quickly to Jane’s real, volatile self and then proceeds to flash back to the causes of her upset. Similarly, listening to Jane’s conversation with Edward Rochester (also well played without exagerration by Michael Fassbender) in the clip above we can well imagine why he fell in love with her, despite the social status and other obstacles that should have prevented it. No one could have ever spoken to him in that clear, honest voice before. Jane tells the truth, and it makes her free. In extreme contrast, here is a scene from another world, Earth 2154, where regular dirty ethnic people live while shiny clean white people hover above them on an exclusive satellite called Elysium. Here is a clip of a typical fight sequence: [youtube] The use of slow motion and silence to punctuate the action works well, but it’s still just a well executed battle. The film’s art direction was just as wonderful as in Blomkamp’s District 9: the same cluttered frames overflowing with trash and graffiti tags. This earth is sterile, but Elysium, in its white cleanliness, is eerily empty. Matt Damon, as our proletarian hero Max, is as likeable as ever, but Jodie Foster as the cold-hearted politician is surprisingly wooden. The flaws in the screenplay are most evident in her stilted dialogue, and she makes even paradise seem unappealing. For stories of social transformation, I’ll take the Victorians, and for worlds, I’ll stick with Earth.

Because We Could

One of the worst offenses a film can commit, in my opinion, is to present smart characters and then make them act stupidly. It betrays our trust– “but you said….!”–and often ruins the story it was intended to prop up. This is one of my main complaints about Ridley Scott’s Prometheus (2012), the long-awaited prequel to Alien (1979). Scott populates a spaceship with the world’s best scientists and crew and then has them act like idiots. They touch things they shouldn’t, assume alien creatures are friendly, and generally make every mistake a first-time watcher of Star Trek would know to avoid. Frustrating!



To be fair to Scott, this is a screenwriting problem. Scott is known as a visual innovator and this film does have exquisite art production and cinematography. But the story doesn’t hang together. It is supposed to dramatize the lead scientists’ zealous search for our human origins. As in the clip above, they want answers to the “big questions” like “who made us” and “why?”  But those questions are then treated quite literally: to “meet one’s maker” is a metaphor, but Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), the scientist in the clip, seems to mean a literal face-to-face. The robot David, impressively acted by Michael Fassbender, seems a lot smarter and more sophisticated than the top scientist: he is already disillusioned with his creators and this scene just confirms his opinions. We too are disappointed: the effort to make the movie tackle “serious issues” turns into farce. While Holloway intends to ask big questions he has only lame answers: “because we could” and “anything and everything.” The best exchange in the scene is the laughter between the two: Holloway laughs wildly, where David just smiles briefly because he is supposed to. It is a scene highly reminiscent of one between Roy Batty and Dr. Tyrell in Scott’s Blade Runner (1982), when creature and maker do come (tragically) face to face. The relationship between man and his maker clearly fascinates Scott, but here it is expressed in random generalizations like “don’t all children want their parents dead?”  Succession has become problematic — as well it might for a prequel appearing over twenty years after its beloved parent….or is it child? There is some serious ambivalence here and it shows in the uneven execution.