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Hit Makers

Rock the Kasbah and Steve Jobs




ROCK THE KASBAH. Bill Murray is not an actor for all tastes. Although he's become an icon beyond icons lately, his face attached to memes and printed on shirts and phone cases, the shambolic charisma of his actual performances can alienate just as it attracts. I am willing to see most, if not any, movie to which he'll attach himself. It probably helps that he imprinted on me early, with canonical work in Where the Buffalo Roam (1980), Ghostbusters (1984) and Scrooged (1988). Murray helped hammer my nascent comic sensibility into shape (or out of it, depending on perspective) and I've never been the same since. And of course, by the time I was refining my idea of cinema and finding contemporary heroes to geek out over, he threw in with Wes Anderson and there was no looking back. So I'm also willing to give Murray a lot of rope. In Rock the Kasbah, he avoids hanging himself, but I can't say the same for the rest of the production.

Written by Mitch Glazer (Scrooged) and directed by Barry Levinson (Diner), Kasbah sends Murray's Richie Lanz, a floundering, dishonest, borderline delusional music promoter from Los Angeles, to Afghanistan for a poorly planned, poorer fated USO tour. His act, a hot-mess singer named Ronnie (Zooey Deschanel), can't handle it, jumping on the first available plane back to the world with Richie's passport and meager bankroll. He's left in the company of a sketchy operator called Bombay Brian (Bruce Willis), a couple of unlikely munitions dealers (Danny McBride and Scott Caan) and the requisite hooker with a heart of gold (Kate Hudson), who by various turns get Richie involved in an arms deal in a tiny, embattled village out in the desert. He discovers a girl who does dynamite Cat Stevens covers, attempts to get her a spot on the televised singing competition Afghan Star and raises the ire of most of the population.

There's an interesting story here, and Murray makes the most of a hastily constructed character. The supporting cast is enjoyable, if generally under-used and the movie is warm-hearted and seemingly well intentioned. But it is also completely unfocused, insubstantial and ultimately forgettable; it feels like a very early draft of something that could have become much more. R. 106m. BROADWAY.

STEVE JOBS. I am of an appropriate age to remember when the Macintosh computer started changing the world. My mom was an early adopter; there was an exciting evening when we covered our eyes and Dad came into the house carrying a stack of boxes with rainbow apples on them. At the time, this all had very little meaning to me, beyond my having what I now know Steve Jobs would say is the right reaction: The iconography was immediately disarming, friendly even. The machine was easy to operate, its applications simple and intuitive. It was, as the movie illustrates, the future before we were ready for it.

Before we jump ahead, Steve Jobs, adapted by Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network, Moneyball) from Walter Isaacson's voluminous biography and directed by Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, 127 Hours), divides a definitively messy life into three tidy mini-messes/product launches: the Macintosh in 1984, the NeXT in 1988 and the iMac in 1998. Sorkin's screenplay, electric with dialog and tension, uses this micro focus to get at the real stuff of Jobs' character, all the genius and hubris that made the man a living legend and, likely, an insufferable prick to deal with. Warts and all, the guy was inarguably a visionary, and history seems to have borne out his vision. Although the Macintosh and the NeXT were both dismal commercial failures, they ushered in elements of personal computing that have now become permanent fixtures, such as ease of use and design as a fundamental element. Still, Jobs was also a bit of a corporate tyrant, a manipulator and an egomaniac quick to defend himself above all others, then deal with the consequences as needed. History vindicates him as a businessman and titan of industry, but this version would have it that those closest to him paid the price for his relentless drive.

Michael Fassbender's career has lately been defined by consistently exceeding expectations, and his performance as Jobs is perhaps the finest example. It's being kicked around in the press that the movie is failing at the box office because Fassbender isn't a big enough draw. Even if that's true, this should be the movie that changes it. He disappears into Jobs, giving a finely tuned, nuanced performance that humanizes a larger-than-life character, but isn't afraid to confront his less-appealing, no-less authentic aspects. Kate Winslet, as Jobs' long-suffering head-of-marketing-cum-confidante Joanna Hoffman, gives Fassbender a run for his money, serving as conscience, foil and moral compass.

Boyle, who can be self-indulgent stylistically, finds a perfect rhythm here, varying the look and pacing of each of the movie's three acts to suit the time period and thematic thrust. The movie is beautifully shot and impeccably edited; there isn't a single frame out of place. As trying as some of the material may be, the presentation is so rousing, so compelling, that a talky two hour biopic about a tech billionaire feels half its length. R. 122m. BROADWAY, MINOR.

John J. Bennett


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Jennifer Fumiko Cahill


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