Reel Reviews

‘Steve Jobs’

A-III – adults


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The Apple of his eye

As the lively profile of a wildly successful uber-geek, “Steve Jobs” (Universal) is likely to appeal to many a youthful tech fan.

Parents should be aware, however, that this is a morally complex life story – the computer pioneer and Apple, Inc. co-founder died in 2011 at 56 – recounted with a vocabulary that’s anything but user-friendly for younger moviegoers.

Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, creator of TV’s “The West Wing,” brings his patented cut-and-thrust patter to Jobs’ biography. He structures his story around three landmark product launches: 1984’s unveiling of the original Macintosh, the presentation of the NeXT computer in 1988 and the 1998 introduction of the iMac.

What these public events, and the behind-the-scenes moments surrounding them, reveal – via Michael Fassbender’s nimbly mood-shifting performance – is a volatile and enigmatic genius whose blustering arrogance masked a deep-seated vulnerability.

Adopted as an infant under circumstances that troubled him in adulthood, Jobs has a tense relationship with his born-out-of-wedlock daughter, Lisa (Makenzie Moss). In fact, so great is his antipathy toward Lisa’s mother, his despised ex-girlfriend Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston), that Jobs publicly denies his paternity while implying that any one of host of men could be Lisa’s actual father.

Although he eventually relents, Lisa – played, at older ages, first by Ripley Sobo then by Perla Haney-Jardine – is left emotionally scarred by her absent father’s attitude.

Jobs’ closest professional relationships are equally fraught. His long-suffering gal Friday, Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), has her loyalty, and patience, tested at every turn.

Jobs’ longtime collaborator, Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) – a friend since before their legendary days tinkering together in a California garage on what would become the first Apple computer – finds his old partner admirable yet maddening. As for the man Jobs recruited early on to be Apple’s CEO, Wall Street veteran John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), his role varies, over time, from patron and father figure to outright adversary.

In short, director Danny Boyle’s engaging character study provides viewers with a balanced portrait of a man who was, at once, a radically deficient parent, an unpredictable business ally and a profoundly gifted designer and retailer. Taken as such, Jobs iconically embodies the extremes of his baby-boomer generation: creative but supremely self-absorbed, relentlessly driven at the office but messy and unsettled in his private life.

Though his underlying qualities eventually win at least partial audience sympathy, experienced discernment is required to work through the morass of contradictions produced by Jobs’ mercurial personality. Particularly with regard to ethical matters, his is a record of behavior better pondered by the well-grounded than absorbed by the impressionable.

The film contains mature themes, including illegitimacy, a bit of irreverent and sexual humor, about a half-dozen uses of profanity and considerable rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III – adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R – restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

By John Mulderig, Catholic News Service


Audience: A-II – adults and adolescents


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Equal in God’s eyes

High school football players battle racism on and off the field in “Woodlawn” (Pure Flix), an entertaining and inspirational film that’s appropriate for most age groups.

Based on the true story of star running back Tony Nathan (Caleb Castille), who went on to play for the University of Alabama and the Miami Dolphins, “Woodlawn” demonstrates to young and old alike that, with God and family on your side, nothing is impossible – including, in this instance, a winning record.

The setting is racially torn 1973 Birmingham, Alabama, a veritable war zone of riots and cross burnings. With the implementation of court-mandated desegregation in public schools, 500 black students arrive by bus to join their 2,000 white peers at Woodlawn High.

Tensions flare, especially on the sports field, where athletically gifted newcomer Tony literally runs away with the ball, earning him the nickname “Touchdown Tony.” This incites jealousy among his white teammates and fellow students.

Supporting Tony are his loving parents, Louise (Sherri Shepherd) and Junior (Lance Nichols). On the sidelines is legendary Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant (Jon Voight), who knows a superstar in the making when he sees one.

Woodlawn’s own no-nonsense coach, Tandy Gerelds (Nic Bishop), just wants to win games. At a loss about how to reconcile his players to the new paradigm of integration, he reluctantly agrees to let a “sports chaplain” address the squad.

Enter Hank (Sean Astin), an outsider with a mission. Fired up after attending a Billy Graham crusade, Hank issues a direct challenge to the players.

“Make a decision to stand up and be forgiven, no matter what you have done,” he exhorts them. “That’s how much God loves you. I’m asking you to choose Jesus.”

Within minutes, a “miracle” happens: Tony and 40 fellow players, black and white, step forward and pledge themselves to the “better way” through living the Gospel message.

Change ripples through the school and out into the community and even affects rival teams. It isn’t long before an initially skeptical Coach Gerelds asks to be baptized.

Needless to say, such religious activity does not go down well with the local school board – who see their role as keeping a borderline between church and state. Among other things, Coach Gerelds is ordered to stop the communal pregame recitation of the Our Father. But such measures fail to undermine the positive new atmosphere, and Woodlawn rolls on to an unprecedented winning streak.

“Look around us. We’re not alone,” Hank says. “This is what happens when God shows up.”

Brother-directors Andrew and Jon Erwin – Jon co-wrote the script with Quinton Peeples – prove skillful at juggling complex football action with quieter moments in church. Although they approach their narrative from an evangelical perspective, their themes of faith, reconciliation and social justice will, of course, resonate with Catholic moviegoers.

The film contains scenes of mild racial violence and aggressive football action. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II – adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG – parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

By Joseph McAleer, Catholic News Service

Monthly List of Recent Film Ratings (June 2015)

CNS classifications: A-I: general patronage; A-II: adults and adolescents; A-III: adults; L: limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling; O: morally offensive.
MPAA ratings: G: general audiences. All ages admitted; PG: parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children; PG-13: parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13; R: restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian; NC-17: no one 17 and under admitted.

The Age of Adaline, A-III (PG-13)
Aloha, A-II (PG-13)
Avengers: Age of Ultron, A-III (PG-13)
The Awakening, A-III (R)
Begin Again, A-III (R)
Chappie, L (R)
Child 44, A-III (R)
Cinderella, A-I (PG)
The D Train, O (R)
Danny Collins, A-III (R)
The Divergent Series: Insurgent, A-III (PG-13)
Do You Believe?, A-II (PG-13)
Dream House, L (PG-13)
The DUFF, A-III (PG-13)
Ex Machina, O (R)
Far from the Madding Crowd, A-II (PG-13)
Focus, L (R)
Furious 7, A-III (PG-13)
Get Hard, O (R)
The Gunman, L (R)
Home, A-I (PG)
Hot Pursuit, A-III (PG-13)
It Follows, O (R)
Jupiter Ascending, A-III (PG-13)
Kingsman: The Secret Service, A-III (R)
The Last Exorcism Part II, L (PG-13)
The Lazarus Effect, A-III (PG-13)
Little Boy, A-II (PG-13)
The Longest Ride, A-III (PG-13)
Mad Max: Fury Road, L (R)
Marie's Story, A-II (not rated)
McFarland, USA, A-II (PG)
Monkey Kingdom, A-I (G)
Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, A-I (PG)
Pitch Perfect 2, A-III (PG-13)
Poltergeist, A-III (PG-13)
Project Almanac, A-III (PG-13)
The Pyramid, A-III (R)
Run All Night, L (R)
San Andreas, A-III (PG-13)
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, A-III (PG)
Seventh Son, A-II (PG-13)
The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water, A-I (PG)
Tomorrowland, A-II (PG)
The Trip to Italy, A-III (not rated)
True Story, A-III (R)
Unfinished Business, O (R)
Unfriended, O (R)
The Water Diviner, A-III (R)
Woman in Gold, A-II (PG-13)

Copyright (c) 2015 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops