“The Light Between The Oceans”

 

Based on M.L. Stedman’s first novel published in 2012, the film version of “The Light Between Oceans” is a visual montage of loss and locale. The sound of surf and wind become like Fate, something that can sweep one away or drive one home. Director/writer Derek Cianfrance of “Blue Valentine” ( 2010)  fame seems to know what passion children can spark in us.

Supply boats come once a season to the lighthouse at Janus Rock. Visits to the Mainland of Australia, while a day away, are granted only every other year. In this semi-isolation, Tom Sherbourne ( Michael Fassbender) nurses his  World War I secrets of the Western Front and becomes the wary keeper of his young family’s secrets as well~ at least for a time.

Oscar nominees, Fassbender for “Steve Jobs” and  Alicia Vikander for ” The Danish Girl” are great actors. Add Rachel Weisz ( The Constant Gardener , 2005 and ” The Lobster” , 2016) ,and we have an exquisite cast. Stoic dignity, fresh vivaciousness and heart-rending  grief are all on operatic display. A baby is lost, a baby is found and a baby is lost again. Roiling emotions and the roiling sea are joined. Trauma is everywhere. (Even viscerally shown in the many limbless men returning from war in 1918. ) Steam engines puff on land and on sea and cinematographer Adam Arkapew captures all close and wide. Women’s grief -paralyzed faces hug the soil and blades of grass look like sharp nails accentuating their pain.

“The Light Between Oceans” is a morality tale. Isabelle and Tom are oceans apart. Isabelle is more selfish,  aggressively goal-centered. She proposes to Tom. As one character offers, “There are not many men on the market these days.” She has picked Tom before their picnic date!

Isabelle has lost two brothers to war. A premonition is stated in her sorrow for her parents: ( one of the times she thinks of others) ” There is no special name for a parent who loses a child~ not like “widow”.

Tom does not act swiftly. His feet are numb, ” stuck in frozen war mud”. When asked about his up-bringing, he states that ” sometimes it is best to leave the past in the past.” When he takes his bride to Janus Rock, he explains the two-faces torn between two ways of seeing things~ two different oceans.

After two miscarriages and a depression that is not really addressed in the screenplay, Isabelle hears a baby wailing in a flailing row boat. Tom rushes to the sea to find the father dead and the infant in need of the basics. Tom wishes to do his job and report the findings straight away, but Isabelle sees a chance for immediate gratification.

“Being mindful of the needs of others” takes on a different meaning for Tom once he sees the birth mother (Rachel Weisz) grieving in the church cemetery. The rest of the tragic tale plays out with the exquisite toddler ( Florence Clery) being one of  the most natural child actors I have seen.

The flashbacks of Hannah (Weisz) and Frank, her German husband, are meant to even the emotional score, but Vikander and Fassbender have already won our hearts.  We know Tom is right. Lucy Grace will understand the sacrifice.

The picture ‘s downside is that sea wind and sea surf are so deafening that a few snippets of  dialogue are lost, but it is an epic tale that shows the awful sides of revenge when one feels one has been betrayed. But “to thy own self be true and then thou can’st not  be false to any man” seems to be the moral.

Alexandre Desplat’s original  score, too,  is epic. “Gone With The Wind” comes to mind. Every emotion is underscored. This is a period piece that throws us back to another time, but the screenplay also pushes us to return to the novel to capture lines like “he ( Tom) struggles to make sense of it-all this love, so bent out of shape, refracted, like light through the lens.” Read the book, then see the film !

 

“MacBeth”

The first major film adaptation of Shakespeare’s “MacBeth” since Polanski’s in 1971 is not exactly Christmas red. Ambition quickly morphing into murder is filmed using a blood red filter for many of the images. When the “hurly- burly is done” we are left with visual poetry and a Scottish heavy metal score interspersed with cello and whale-like calls. I was driven to re-read the play  even while empire -building is not my thing.

Director Justin Kurzel and brother Jed ,who mined the score,  bring a candle-lighted ballet of blood flow. Slow motion is used amid the thrusts and pounds. Battle ready thunder is white fogged and the soldiers are young. Children are used not as innocents,but as a means of perpetuating man’s meaner traits. Guilt seems to play a secondary role to “the heart knocks on my ribs” of  tyrannical power enfolding.

A visual feast of  staged vignettes, of groups waiting,  are interspersed between major soliloquies. Michael Fassbender aces MacBeth ‘s vaulting ambition with piercingly purposeful, glinting  eyes. The two sex scenes were power-laden yet tender. A hard mix, that. As Lady MacBeth, Marion Cotillard   shows love for MacBeth in a way I never read with Shakespeare. She plays not a cold, braided beauty, inspired by greed and status,but rather an instrument to her husband’s climb. Her eyes show bold and resolute, but they also mirror tenderness and remorse,practicality and madness. Their deeds drain them. “The wine of life is gone”.

Whale song music dredges the  emotional depths and both King and Queen  literally pale in a  blue- hazed whiteness. There is no jovality in any scene. Even the banquet desolves without communion or repast. There is no feasting. ” My mind is full of scorpions” has MacBeth toy with a knife on Lady MacBeth’s stomach, a very uncomfortable scene,as was the face of the boy  who watched his father being  knife-ribboned.

“So steeped in blood I can not sleep” leads MacBeth to  night-shirted  and bare-footed  horseback riding and more glorious cinematography from Adam Aarkapaw.

The fiend of Scotland finds bone marrowless: life is “Full of sound and fury signifying nothing.” Lady Macbeth does not have a death scene in this adaptation. Her repetition of ” to bed, to bed” and “tomorrow, tomorrow” leave her dead in bed.

Now, MacBeth calls on Satan for his flesh to be hacked in battle. ” Give me my armor. I have lived long enough.”Again, a battle ballet rolls with thrusts and spurts, hand to hand crunches and witches’ stares. Death is given like a gift. This is not the  merry red of Christmas, but a flaming and interesting adaptation to be sure.

 

“Steve Jobs”

Screenwriter Alan Sorkin has given us a verbally fast-paced wonder that highlights the need for a balance of personal intellectual and emotional intelligence. Themes of regret, cruelty and love are shown at a frenetic pace with the added dizzying use of the memory flashbacks of Michael Fassbender playing Steve Jobs. The historical accuracy of actual arguments,motivations or relationships is not a point to be debated. Andy Hertzfeld,the key programmer for the Apple team says it best,”the film deviates from reality,but explores deeper truths”. See “Steve Jobs” as a psychological study of why people hurt one another,and why others forgive. Director Danny Boyle and his cast of stunning actors have delivered an almost Shakespearean tale of a flawed icon of success. We need to be reminded that to be a successful human being the “whole brain” has to work.

This film is hard to watch because the brilliant Steve Jobs had very little emotional intelligence. You find yourself catching your breath at his disregard for people and what they value. Viewers tense up as Jobs micro-manages details and demands instant gratification in results. In one scene, Jobs has a colleague search the building for any man with his frame wearing a white, pocketed shirt that would hold the apple disc. He needs this shirt to be stripped off him,now. Steve wants a room’s “Exit” sign lights blackened;he will pay the fine. He wants his way; he alienates people.Snipes and threats thunder through the Apple story arc. Hysteria is the tone. As Apple rolls out banners,your stomach is roiling; yet,it is one of the best films of the season. It will remind you of last year’s “Whiplash”. Is anything okay in the name of progress?!

Apple product launches in 1984,1986 and 1998 form the film’s structure. We see Jobs with his co-founder, Steve Wozniak(Seth Rogen);with his programmer,Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg);with his chief marketer,Johanna Hoffman (Kate Winset); and with his CEO John Scully ( Jeff Daniels). Add Chrisann, Job’s ex-high school girlfriend played by Katherine Waterson, and Lisa, his daughter played by Makenzie Moss at 5 years of age,Ripley Sobo at 9 years and Perla Hanley-Jardine at 19, and we have the superb cast.

Enjoy the Irish Fassbender’s “Zen elevator ride”,his driven demeanor,his blustery but brilliant language. Like Michelangelo searching for the perfect veined marble or Leonardo Da Vinci doing it all, Jobs ironically opens a New Renaissance of connectivity,as he breaks down his own personal connections. Kate Winslet as the “Steve Whisperer” and “office wife” is compassionate,brave and really good at her job. Though Winslet’s on-and-off-again Eastern European accent seemed to get heavier the longer she lives in the States,her “fix it,or I quit” ultimatum shows that she cared enough for daughter and father to forcefully adjust Job’s distorted reality field.

Seth Rogen delivers some of the most memorable lines as Apple’s co-founder who is fixated on Jobs acknowledging the Apple 2 Team. Mind games begin with “why do you want people to dislike you?” to Woz’s own admission that “I am tired of being Ringo when I know I am John.” And as Steve Wozniak, Rogen is great in his soft “Just acknowledge that something went on that was good and you were not in the room”. It reminded me of Wiily Loman and “attention must be paid.” The feeling left was pure “Death Of A Salesman” demoralization.Finally, Woz’s “It is not binary. You can be decent and gifted at the same time.” All of this hints at Greek tragedy. What is the capacity to be wrong when one thinks one is right? How do our perceptions of our personal history push us to be spiteful or  push us to be loving ?

Jeff Daniels is wonderful as Apple CEO, John Scully. He visually changes in the fourteen year span. His whole demeanor looks like the regret of the sigh, “The things we could have done.” Michael Stuhlbarg,as the talented programmer Andy Hertzfeld, is marvelous,too. We see a man pushed to the limit worrying about ethics. “Done without malice” seems to be his mantra in constrast  to Jobs. The voice recognition guy, the hardware engineer has found his voice for the “out of control” who needs control. While Jobs is insulting,hurtful and arrogant-acting, Andy H. is suggesting a therapist for Job’s daughter,Lisa, and writing a check for her next semester at Harvard. Stating that Lisa needed a strong, male role model did nothing for the man,who wanted to put music in her pocket. Sorkin’s “scorch a second” culminates in the 19 -year -old Lisa deriding the I-Mac as looking like a Judy Jetson Easy- Bake oven.

“Steve Jobs”is not a bio-pic any more than the novel “Euphoria” is the true Margaret Mead. Lily King’s fiction is fiction and Alan Sorkin’s “Steve Jobs” is, too. Based on Walter Isaacson’s authorized Steve Jobs’ biography, Sorkin’s film adaptation soars to a mesmerizing level. “Time” magazine’s “Man Of The Year” doesn’t make mistakes even on a personal level is proven tragically wrong. His statement that “28 percent of men in the U.S. could be Lisa’s father” is excruciatingly callous. His giving a “lifetime free pass” to the other Steve is condescending. Yet, Steve Jobs seems to be the “revenge machine”. Chrisann tells the mythologized father of her child that “things don’t become so because you say so.” At the film’s end, the strobe lights keep flashing, and we are reminded to keep listening as we push for what we think we want to see. Fassbender deserves the Oscar for his operatic performance and Alan Sorkin deserves ranking with Arthur Miller for his screenplay.