Movies: 'Out of the Clear Blue Sky,' 'Jobs' & 'The Grandmaster'
Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters:
"OUT OF THE CLEAR BLUE SKY"
On Sept. 11, there's a one-night, nationwide theatrical event, "Out of the Clear Blue Sky," in which documentary filmmaker Danielle Gardner relates the story of Cantor Fitzgerald, the Wall Street bond trading firm that lost 658 employees during the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan.
Formed in 1945 by Bernard Gerald Cantor and John Fitzgerald, the corporate headquarters occupied the 101st to 105th floors of the North Tower, above the impact zone of the hijacked airliner. Cantor Fitzgerald lost more than two-thirds of its 960 personnel that dreadful day, representing one-fourth of the 3,000 people who died.
President/CEO Howard Lutnick was out of the office, taking his son to his first day of kindergarten, but his brother, Gary, was among those killed. This documentary traces two interconnected stories: the staggering impact on the bond business and the heartbreaking relationship between Howard Lutnick and the distraught, grieving families.
While Lutnick pledged to distribute 25 percent of the firm's profits for the next five years to victims' families and committed to pay for 10 years of health care, he felt forced to suspend the deceased workers' paychecks in order to do that. Lutnick was vilified in the press. Yet in 2006, the company completed its promise, having distributed $180 million, along with an additional $17 million from a relief fund administered by Lutnick's sister, Edie.
In conjunction with the Port Authority of New York, Cantor Fitzgerald filed a civil lawsuit against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for allegedly providing money to the al-Qaeda hijackers, but most of the claims against Saudi Arabia were dismissed on Jan. 18, 2005.
Having lost her brother, Doug, that fateful day, Danielle Gardner was determined to expose the very real, mostly unknown, private side to that very public experience, noting: "This film inspires a strong reaction in our audiences and compelling post-screening conversation and commentary."
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Out of the Clear Blue Sky" is a compelling 8, an insider's poignant view of the harrowing tragedy.
The prologue of this cinematic biography begins with older, gray-bearded Steve Jobs (Ashton Kutcher) unveiling the first iPod in 2001. After that, it flashes back to the 1970s, when geeky Jobs, a barefoot, drug-taking, young hippie, dropped out of Reed College in Oregon. Working with Steve Wozniak (Josh Gad) in his parents' basement, Jobs created the first home computer. Then came the challenge of developing it and creating a profitable business. While the informative narrative delineates arrogant, perfectionist Jobs' rise and fall at Apple, it never comes back to the 21st century, ignoring the invention of the iPhone and iPad and Jobs' 2011 death from pancreatic cancer.
First-time screenwriter Matt Whiteley confuses the history of Apple Computer (now Apple Inc.) with the life of the controversial, visionary entrepreneur who changed the concept of consumer electronics. Whiteley offers no insight into Jobs' obviously conflicted psyche, never delving into what made him tick nor why he bullied people, publicly berated his employees, cheated on his friends, dumped his pregnant girlfriend and denied paternity, despite tests proving otherwise.
Director Joshua Michael Stern ("Swing Vote") does a barely serviceable job, aided by Kutcher, who dutifully did his impersonation homework, replicating Jobs' facial expressions, gestures and hunched-forward walk.
Wozniak recently reviewed this movie for "Gizmondo," saying he enjoyed Kutcher's acting but, ultimately, didn't like it "greatly enough to recommend (it)." He faults how Kutcher imagined Jobs to be. And he felt the film left out several crucial pieces to the story -- like how Woz gave his own stock back to the company to be distributed among the early contributors so they could ultimately reap the benefits. He adds that Jobs didn't have the skills portrayed in the film until later in life, following the launch of the iPod, not before it.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Jobs" is an unsatisfying, superficial 6, failing to get to the core of the famed Apple CEO. Fortunately, a second film about Jobs, created by Aaron Sorkin ("West Wing," "The Newsroom"), is in the works.
While martial arts movies rarely intrigue me, this is made by Wong Kar-Wai ("In the Mood for Love"), who adds an erotic touch of poetic, romantic yearning to the real-life story of Ip Man (Tony Leung Chiu-wai from "Hero"), the wing chun legend who trained Bruce Lee.
"Kung fu: two words. One horizontal, one vertical," he intones in the opening sequence. "The one lying down is out; only the last man standing counts." In 1936, as an innovative fighter from a wealthy Foshan family in the South, Ip Man is chosen to demonstrate his fluid skill for Gong Baosen (Wang Qingxiang), the retiring "bagua" master from the snowy North. But Gong Baosen's daughter Gong Er (Zhang Ziyi from "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon") worries that father might lose for the first time ever.
As various warriors cleverly maneuver for superiority, their competition seems to foreshadow China's upcoming civil war. In linear chronology, the rest of the film follows Ip Man's relocation to Hong Kong after the Japanese invasion and Gong Er's eventual showdown with her father's defiant former protege, Ma San (Zhang Jin).
Five years in the making and, reportedly, 16 years in gestation, this is Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar-Wai's 10th feature. Although Philippe Le Sourd's cinematography is spectacular, William Chang Shuk-Ping's production design impeccable and the fight scenes, choreographed by stunt coordinator Yuen Woo Ping ("The Matrix"), exquisitely mesmerizing in slow-motion, the transitions seem sluggish and the editing is choppy. Perhaps that's because Wong Kar-wai's original cut was longer; probably, some of the connective tissue and character development was left on the cutting-room floor. Instead, there are voice-overs and explanatory titles.
Martin Scorsese is lending his name for promotion purposes, just as Quentin Tarantino sponsored Wong Kar-wai's "Chungking Express" on its DVD release. Problem too: since the narrative stops in the 1950s, this sweeping, action epic, regrettably, never gets to Ip Man's most famous pupil, Bruce Lee.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Grandmaster" is a somber, visually stunning, stylized 7 -- in Mandarin/Japanese with English subtitles.