Category Archives: Flaming Turd

Steve Jobs (2015)

Steve Jobs is the worst kind of bad movie.

Starring Kate Winslet and Michael Fassbender, Danny Boyle’s three-act play is competent enough to have fooled most of the critics, who generally gave it positive reviews, but it didn’t fool many of the American people, who stayed away in droves. As Variety Magazine points out, Steve Jobs, which cost 30 million dollars to make – a pretty modest budget for a mainstream Hollywood film – will be lucky to get back its initial investment. It’s not only a crushing bore. It’s a crushing bore that makes it even more boring to figure out why it’s so boring.

I guess the most frustrating thing about Steve Jobs is that it hints at an interesting story it refuses to tell. In the mid-1980s, when I was a student at Rutgers, I used an original Mac to write most of my term papers. The University owned hundreds of them, and they were all over the library and the main study lounges, but I had no idea just how expensive they were. In the 1980s, the United States was a country where any 21-year-old could graduate from college without much debt, but couldn’t afford his own computer. In the 2010s, any 21-year-old can buy a MacBook, but a debt-free college education is a far-off utopian dream that Hillary Clinton tells us all will never, ever happen.

The story of Apple and Steve Jobs is the story of neoliberalism. Sadly, it’s not the story Danny Boyle, and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, chose to tell. To be more accurate, the story of Apple is entombed inside a moralistic soap opera, buried underneath piles and piles of ponderous West Wing style patter. Steve Jobs makes is clear not only how overrated Aaron Sorkin is as a screenwriter, but how much of a pompous bore he probably is in real life.

It’s not that Aaron Sorkin hasn’t been associated with good movies. The Social Network was fun to watch, certainly more deserving of the Best Picture award than The King’s Speech, but the Social Network was about people in their early 20s, and Sorkin, who was in his late-40s at the time, had to at least make an effort to let the characters live on their own. In Steve Jobs, he goes full West Wing, giving us set piece after set piece full of self-important soul searching dialogue that doesn’t even do a very good job of explaining the plot. To give one example, the middle section of Steve Jobs focuses on the marketing campaign for the NeXT workstation. It tells us all about how the reason Job’s founded the NeXT corporation in the first place was the operating system. Apple, which fired Jobs in 1985, would eventually need a more sophisticated operating system than the one inside the Apple II, so they would be compelled to hire him back. Then Sorkin forgets to tell us, not only that Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web on a NeXT work station, but even the name of the operating system that’s supposed to be the hinge for the second act of the film. It’s NeXTSTEP. I Googled it.

Aaron Sorkin isn’t interested in the history of personal computing, and it shows. What does interest him is deconstructing the legend of Steve Jobs the man, demonstrating that he was basically just an asshole who abused his employees and wouldn’t pay child-support. Like the history of Apple, it’s another potentially interesting story, but Sorkin fucks this one up too. Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet are both pretty good actors, but they’re also badly miscast as President Josiah Bartlet and his Press Secretary C. J. Cregg. I’m not sure why Boyle simply didn’t cast Martin Sheen and Allison Janney.

Oh wait no, I’m sorry, Fassbender and Winslet aren’t playing Josiah Bartlet and C. J. Cregg. They’re playing Steve Jobs and his faithful assistant Joanna Hoffman. They still suck. While I’m not usually one to complain about the ethnicity of any particular actor who plays any particular role, Fassbender is entirely too WASPY to play the half-Syrian-American Jobs. Steve Jobs had a big nose. Fassbender is a chiseled Anglo Saxon. Noah Wyle, who’s half Jewish, nailed the character, and look, of Jobs, in the 1999 TV movie Pirates of Silicon Valley. Fassbender just reminds me of yet another Ivy League, Wall Street investment banker. Kate Winslet is even worse. Judging by what I can find on my Google image search, the real Joanna Hoffman was sort of cute. Winslet not only gets the Polish accent all wrong. She plays Hoffman as uglier than she really was.

That Kate Winslet, who’s an attractive A-list Hollywood actress, goes out of her way portray a computer executive as plain can give us some clues as to just why this movie was so dreadful. Steve Jobs may have been just another asshole corporate CEO, but he was also a master showman. He not only managed to convince the American public to buy overpriced computer hardware, he did it in his own, eccentric way. Aaron Sorkin, a boring Hollywood liberal who’s probably already working on a hagiographic film about Hillary Clinton, will never be half the showman Jobs was, and he knows it. So he has to cut him down to size. The choice of the chisled WASPY Fassbender as the Syrian American Jobs, and the very severe Winslet as the sort of cute Joanna Hoffman, sends a clear message. The real problem is not that Jobs was an asshole who didn’t pay his child-support. It’s that he made the rest of corporate America look boring. As portrayed by Fassbender, Jobs is a responsible Wall Street banker locked inside a childish Silicon Valley hippie. Winslet is basically his mom trying to help him get out. Grow up Steve, pay your child support, stop show boating, and act like a man.

Aaron Sorkin’s Steve Jobs, in other words, is IBM’s long delayed counter attack against Apple’s 1984 Super Bowl ad. It’s the revenge of the boring capitalist against the entertaining capitalist. That this flaming turd failed at the box office almost restores my faith in the United States of America.

The Revenant (2015)

It takes a lot of money and a lot of talent to make a film as bad as The Revenant.

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, who won Best Actor, and directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, who won his second consecutive Best Director award, The Revenant cost 135 million dollars. I suppose a hefty chunk of it went to pay for DiCaprio’s salary. A lot more probably paid for travel expenses. The Revenant was filmed in four countries, Canada, the United States, Mexico and Argentina. That makes it the most expensive photo expedition in history. Just about the only thing worthwhile about this 156 minute long pile of crap is Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography, which is, it must be admitted, at least competent. Whether or not Lubezki deserved the Oscar for Best Cinematography is hard to judge. Like just about everything else in The Revenant, there’s simply too much of it. This is a film that goes on, and on, and on, and then it goes on some more. By the end, when the barely existent plot finally gets resolved, the viewer is simply too overwhelmed by all the sound and fury to have much an ability left to criticize what he, or she, has just seen.

I would like to call The Revenant a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing, but it’s probably more accurate to say that it’s a lot of sound and fury signifying very little. Once you hack through all the distractions, it’s basically a superhero movie disguised as a western. Hugh Glass, DiCaprio, is a civilian guide for a United States Army expedition in the old Northwest territories. In the Winter of 1823, near the forks of the Grand River in what is now South Dakota, the expedition is attacked by a group of Arikara Indians. Initially, Iñárritu gives us very little context for the attack. Later we learn that the chief of the Arikara is looking for his daughter, who’s been kidnapped, and held as a sex slave by the French. It would have been an interesting plot line for a more stripped down, disciplined film, a kind of “The Searchers” in reverse, but Iñárritu isn’t particularly concerned with developing it. It’s just one more distraction in a hale storm of distractions. What Iñárritu has brought us all the way into the deep wilderness to witness, aside from arrow after arrow killing hunter after hunter, is Hugh Glass being mauled by gigantic, and incredibly fast, grizzly bear. I’m honestly not sure if it‘s CGI or Jesse Owens in a bear suit, but whatever it is, it can almost certainly run the 100-yard dash in less than 10 seconds.

DiCaprio – I can’t keep calling DiCaprio Hugh Glass when he’s obviously playing DiCaprio – is clawed and bitten and stomped and bear butt fucked until he’s almost dead. At this point, his superhero powers are developed to the point where he can survive an attack by a gigantic grizzly bear with a huge, throbbing erection, but not quite wrestle him off. I’d say the sex was consensual, but if I did I’d piss off a lot of feminists and besides, I don’t think it was. With DiCaprio near death, the expedition’s commander, Captain Hugh Henry – a complete moron played by the same actor who got rejected by the lovely Saoirse Ronan in the film Brooklyn – does what any good officer does. He leaves a dying man in the care of his mortal enemy.

DiCaprio won Best Actor for playing DiCaprio in The Revenant. It’s absurd. In this film, he’s not even very good at playing DiCaprio. All he does is grunt a lot and occasionally hand off a scene to his stunt double. The only person in The Revenant who does any acting at all is Tom Hardy, who plays John Fitzgerald, a hunter with a special grudge against the Indians, and against DiCaprio for marrying an Indian woman and having a half Indian son. Hardy’s performance isn’t anywhere near Oscar quality, but at least he tries, or, to be more specific, at least he works up a credible imitation of the kind of western stock villain we’ve seen in 1000 other movies.

Most superheros have an origin story. Peter Parker, for example, gets bit by a radioactive spider. For Hugh Glass, it’s lying half dead and watching the evil John Fitzgerald stab his son. After that his body seems capable of regenerating dead tissue. He digs his way out of a shallow grave. He escapes the same band of Indians that attacked the original expedition by swimming through a thundering stretch of rapids. He kills a Frenchmen raping an Indian woman, then kills two more for good measure, and steals a horse. Later in the movie, he rides the horse over a cliff to escape yet another band of Indians, falls what looks to be over 100 feet, then slices open the horse, which died, and shelters himself inside its guts against an oncoming blizzard.

By the time DiCaprio makes it back to Fort Kiowa and his old commanding officer Hugh Henry, John Fitzgerald is in full panic mode, not necessarily because he knows that Henry will try to charge him with murder – Henry is so dumb that he goes out alone to try to bring Fitzgerald to justice and of course gets himself killed – but because the now superhuman DiCaprio is coming to take his revenge. Of course Fitzgerald dies in the end. Whether or not it’s at the hands of DiCaprio you’ll have to find out for yourself since I don’t want to spoil the movie. Oh never mind. I don’t care about spoiling the movie. The Indians do it. By this time you really don’t care about The Revenant’s plot anyway. You just want it to be over.

You leave the theater feeling as if you’ve just been raped by a bear.

Update: According to a press release by 20th Century Fox, the bear is female and what appears to be bear on DiCaprio rape is merely very rough bear on DiCaprio foreplay.

Thoughts on the Democratic Debate Having Not Seen It and Only Read the Press Coverage Afterwards

Political debates are, for me anyhow, a bit like the movie Napoleon Dynamite. Let me explain.

Some of you might be too young or too old to fully appreciate the empty momentum with which Napoleon Dynamite swept the cultural landscape of the young suburban idlers at the time of its release. Maybe you were in a better cultural milieu and were spared. I wasn’t. I was at ground zero, Napoleon Dynamite-wise. I was living in Saratoga Springs, NY, 94% white as of the last census. I was going to high school at the time. I had no interest in the film when it came out; I was too busy proselytizing the American independent film movement and generally being cinematically insufferable.

I’m not saying I am or was above engaging with Napoleon Dynamite here; though of course the subtext of such a claim is that I was and am in fact above engaging with Napoleon Dynamite. Napoleon Dynamite didn’t care. It was going to weasel its way into my consciousness and drag me toward the shared cultural zeitgeist, lyger reference by lyger reference, “Vote For Pedro” t-shirt by “Vote For Pedro” t-shirt. My unkempt curly hair led to frequent comparisons of my younger self to the fictional Mr. Dynamite. I refused to see the film out of principle. The sheer number of quotations and discussions of it into which I was roped left me fairly sure that not only had I heard every scrap of dialogue the film had to offer but also likely scenes that were deleted from the film proper or could only exist in alternate universe cuts of the film. I was sure every bit of quoted dialogue I’d heard, if run end to end, would have run to Tarkovsky length.

To put it concisely, I had seen more of the film for my not having seen the film. I had no desire to watch the film. I still have no desire to watch the film.

I hate listening to politicians talk. As the sort of person who will sometimes throw on anthropological recordings of field hollers to unwind, the mechanical formality of the coached political speaker reaches my ears with the same paranoiac abrasive blandness as muzak. Something sinister is going on. With the muzak it’s implied, with the political speaker I can spot exactly where the paranoia is justified and it makes the experience that much less pleasant. If I’m at a bar I become that frustrated guy screaming at the TV during the football game, except in my case the political debate is put on in a bar so the people normally screaming at the TV during the football games can be quiet and ponder it and feel like they’ve put in their three hours of secular Hail Marys. Nobody comes out of this looking good.

Nothing of importance is ever said at a debate, especially at this point in history. The days of Lincoln-Douglass are over. We don’t have two master orators going at it for 6 hours. That I would tune in to. Instead we have a version of The Dating Game where the moderator, unlike Chuck Woolery, doesn’t realize how much of it is bullshit and takes himself far too seriously for it to be at least fun as cynical gallows humor. A Chuck Woolery hosted debate would’ve been horrifying for the fact it would’ve been more honest; even in the pointless spectacle of a presidential debate, essentially a game of hot potato played until one or several of the parties makes a faux-pas that has little bearing on anything besides its own self-referential self-importance, the rigged conclusion has to be sent out. CNN, who hosted the recent Democratic Party primary debate and probably shouldn’t have been declaring winners, nevertheless had the following headline with the following contradictory viewer poll up on their website within hours of the debate’s conclusion:

Like Napoleon Dynamite, a quick sweep of the internet in the hours after the debate left me with probably more debate than actually happened and showed what the actual desires of the groups running the debates were. The highlights reel was described over and over. Sanders said the e-mail thing was unimportant and shook hands with Clinton. Chafee and Webb failed miserably. Anderson Cooper apparently was trying to make the debate “not about the issues” at points, whatever that means, and the media couldn’t stop tripping over themselves to say how polished Clinton seemed. Sanders said something about guns that didn’t connect with the party line, and this was repeated ad nauseum so that the shittiness of the banks didn’t have to be discussed as much.

I don’t feel like I missed anything. Nothing was revealed to me besides the existence of Chafee and Webb, which was just as soon made irrelevant by their effectively being knocked out of the race. The articles I read didn’t suggest anything was lurking under the surface that would’ve shown me anything. And reading the articles only took me about 20 minutes and didn’t make me scream at inanimate objects in public or go Van Gogh to my ears with an ice cream scoop.

Insofar as the debates are pretty much about voters “deciding” they like one of the candidates and the interest in the debates is largely in seeing how these politicians make themselves “likable”, given that maybe 1/20th of the electorate tunes into these things to begin with, the actual thing that the analyst desires from watching the debate-to see how the rest of the electorate will respond-can be gotten just as well from seeing where the spin falls in the hour or two after the debate.

Crackie (2009)

(This is a column I wrote a while ago, hence the reference to the long since passed MoMA screenings. Putting it up for completeness in the archives.)

MOMA decided to use this as the opener to their annual Canadian cinema showcase Canadian Front which is going on this week. At the 4pm, middle of the week screening I attended, supposedly the North American premiere, there were perhaps thirty people in the cavernous downstairs screening room. By the time the film had finished this number had been halved.

And though I’d like to say this was because the audience had been confronted with a visionary piece of cinema they couldn’t handle and would someday years later hail as an unappreciated masterpiece, I can very confidently say this is not the case. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Lifetime Channel picked this up, what with its sloppy sentimentality, faux-profundity and seemingly unending stream of loose-focus flashback shots.

The film details the day to day life of a girl (played competently by Meghan Greeley) named Mitsy who is going to school to be a hairdresser and is inexplicably attracted to a white trash man who works behind the counter at a take-out place named Duffy. Duffy offers her his dog, and to get across the point Duffy is the evil male in this movie, he tosses food in front of this chained up dog. Mitsy has sex with Duffy to get the dog which he originally seemed to want to give her for nothing. The poor dog, unable to take the wholly tone-deaf direction White gave to the rest of the actors, gives the film’s best performance and when it gets shot in the end (since nothing screams emotional profundity and originality like killing a dog at the end of your film), which the script wants us to take as a sign of Mitsy abandoning her self-destructive tendencies, just comes across as the dog being only the latest victim of these dreary melodramatic caricatures that the film wants to pass off as characters. Mary Walsh, as Mitsy’s domineering grandmother, gives a performance that is the most bombastic and unpleasant I’ve encountered this year, with an accent more suited to a stand-up comedy routine or cartoon leprechaun than a serious dramatic performance.

White seems to think that the only way she can get across the tragedy of her characters is to make them all prostitutes or drug addicts and surround them with garbage. This is the worst sort of condescending phony stance one can take with such material.

Also, though in most other films this issue would barely merit mention, this film had absolutely the worst foley work I’ve ever heard. On top of this, music is overused to provide the emotional responses that should’ve come from solid performances and well done photography. Instead we get the bullshit “reverberated acoustic guitar+picture of trees=poetry” Windows 95 screensaver aesthetic that has overtaken more lazy and unimaginative filmmakers as of late.

Why did the MOMA screen this? Is this really the best Canada can produce?

Monuments Men (2014)

I have, in my life, in circumstances voluntary and involuntary, seen in its entirety, the film You Got Served three times.

Monuments Men is the worst film I have ever seen in my life.

In the dark theater I took out the Elvis biography I had in my bag and wrote a list in the blank endpapers of medical procedures I remembered as being more compelling and enjoyable than Monuments Men. The list included but was not limited to:

-Wisdom tooth removal

-Cavity drilling

-Wart removal

In an earlier draft of this essay I called Monuments Men “sad old man porn” but reconsidered this on remembering that pornography has on occasion been competently framed and effective in its aims. Monuments Men is a film about men who risked their lives to save stolen art in WWII. I’d like to apologize here to the honorable men and women who make great bodily sacrifices to bring us pornography.

Some might complain this review lacks specific details about the film. But when someone tells them “I just got herpes” do they ask for specific details and analysis? No. This film is herpes. These readers are hypocrites.

George Clooney should not have a body. His voice should be computer generated and only employed in car commercials. But we do not live in a fair and equitable world.

Did I ever think one of my most deeply seated regrets in this life would be triggered by the question “Why didn’t I see The Lego Movie instead?” No. No one ever expects tragedy to happened to them. But it happened. As Beckett said: I can’t go on. I must go on.

Later that evening I ate a chicken burrito that was better than the film Monuments Men.

EDIT:

After being put under much pressure to actually engage with the film, though it is herpes and if I engage with it I risk some of that rubbing off on me, I suppose I’ll take the risk just to shut you up. I love you all that much, dear readers. Why did Monuments Men suck so much? Let me count the ways…

1) Dialogue that was schmaltzy in the extreme and repeated itself in the manner of a dog circling its own vomit (a metaphor I stole from a professor whose name I can’t remember. I think he’d call this is a justified use.)
2) Framing that was incompetent to exactly the degree where no joy could even be derived from the incompetence.
3) George Clooney.
4) George Clooney.
5) Cate Blanchett’s accent I would describe as laughable but then I remember I didn’t laugh. I was just thoroughly unimpressed by it.
6) Plentiful montages assembled with the same finesse and deep consideration one employs when arranging the rotted months old left overs cluttering the back of their refrigerator in a trash bag.