Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

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My Review of MOLLY’S GAME

Molly’s Game, rated R

Molly’s Game, based on the true story of Molly Bloom, is a very well-acted and written film but also has some content issues. The film is the directorial debut of Oscar winner Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) and Sorkin’s screenplay is based on the book Molly’s Game: From Hollywood’s Elite to Wall Street’s Billionaire Boys Club, My High-Stakes Adventure in the World of Underground Poker by Molly Bloom. The film features the kind of rapid-fire dialogue that Sorkin is known for (The West Wing), and has been nominated for two Golden Globe awards including best screenplay by Sorkin.
The film features a strong cast, led by two-time Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty, The Help), who portrays Molly Bloom. Chastain has received a Golden Globe nomination for her performance.
Molly was an Olympic-caliber skier who was pushed hard, and raised to be a champion by her father Larry, played by two-time Oscar winner Kevin Costner (Dances with Wolves), who excels in a small role. Molly has a strained relationship with her father. Samantha Isler (Captain Fantastic), does a good job portraying the teenage Molly.
When Molly has a bad accident at a national skiing competition, she is forced to give up her Olympic dreams. Before going to law school, she moves to Los Angeles and gets a job as a cocktail waitress. She then meets an arrogant real estate investor named Dean Keith, played by Jeremy Strong (The Big Short), and he hires her as his personal assistant. One of her responsibilities is coordinating a weekly underground high-stakes poker game at the Cobra Lounge attended by high ranking celebrities, sports figures, businessmen, etc., including “Player X”, portrayed by Michael Cera (Juno), a character that is widely believed to be based on actor Tobey Maguire. As we watch the games, we meet other poker players such as Harlan Eustice, played by Emmy nominee Bill Camp (The Night Of), “Bad Brad”, played by Brian d’Arcy James (Spotlight), and Douglas Downey, played by Chris O’Dowd (The Sapphires).

Poker plays a significant role in this film, and we see Molly learn all aspects of the game. And like all things Molly does, she learns the game well. But eventually, we see Molly split with Dean after he fires her, and start her own game with even higher stakes in Los Angeles. She becomes extremely successful, but Player X takes her games away from her. That doesn’t stop her as she focuses on New York City, where eventually some mobsters join the games. This gets the attention of the FBI, and we see her arrested in the middle of the night by armed FBI agents.
We then see Molly try to persuade New York lawyer Charlie Jaffey, played by Golden Globe winner Idris Elba (Luther), to represent her. The two have excellent chemistry and their scenes together are some of the best in the film. The film also includes Oscar winner Graham Greene (Dances with Wolves) as the likeable Judge Foxman.

Sorkin uses a lot of voice overs and flashbacks (from Molly building her empire, after her arrest by the FBI and her time as a teen). The film features excellent cinematography during the poker games by Charlotte Bruus Christensen. Chastain is confident as Molly, and always looks great in the outfits she wears, thanks to costume designs by Susan Lyall, though most of the outfits result in a large amount of cleavage being displayed. Chastain delivers an Oscar worthy performance.
Content concerns include a significant amount of adult language, including the abuse of God’s and Jesus’ names, and some violence.  At two hours and twenty minutes, the film is at least twenty minutes too long however.
Molly’s Game is a very well-acted, written and directed film, based on a true story. It was sad to see how she forfeited all relationships during this time of greed, power and avarice.  In the words of Thomas Merton, “People may spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success only to find, once they reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.”


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Movie Review ~ Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs MovieSteve Jobs, rated R

This film about the late Steve Jobs, best known as co-founder, Chairman, and CEO of Apple, Inc., is directed by Oscar winning director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire). The screenplay is by Oscar winner Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) and is based in part on Walter Isaacson’s excellent book Steve Jobs. This film is superior to the 2013 film Jobs, starring Ashton Kutcher as Steve Jobs.

Rather than giving us a full look at Job’s life (there is no mention of the iPad, iPhone, iTunes, just a hint of the iPod, or Job’s cancer), Boyle chooses to tell Job’s story through three major acts spreading across sixteen years of his life. All of the scenes take us backstage (giving the feel of 2014’s Birdman), before three major product launches (the Macintosh in 1984, NeXT in 1988, and the iMac in 1998).

As he is preparing to go on stage to introduce these new products, we see many important issues arising for Jobs just minutes before he is to go out in front of thousands of excited people in the auditorium. How he could keep his mind straight when he does walk out on stage is amazing in itself. The three major scenes (product launches) in the film were filmed on 16mm, 35mm, and digital to illustrate the advancement in Apple’s technology across the 16 years depicted of Jobs’ life.

Oscar nominee (for 12 Years a Slave) Michael Fassbender portrays Jobs and does an outstanding job, most likely earning him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. I was very impressed with Seth Rogen’s portrayal of Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, who was a consultant on the film. Rogen met with Wozniak often when preparing to play him. He has my favorite line in the film, and I found Wozniak the most likeable character. He and Jobs are having an argument near the end of the film – Wozniak has wanted Jobs for some time to acknowledge the key members of the Apple II team, but Jobs again refuses and says some mean things to Wozniak. As he walks out of the auditorium, Wozniak says “. It’s not binary. You can be decent and gifted at the same time.”  Jobs liked to think of himself as the conductor of an orchestra, but forgot that there is nothing to conduct without the musicians.

Oscar winner (for The Reader) Kate Winslet delivers a strong performance as Joanna Hoffman, head of marketing and Job’s trusted assistant/advisor throughout the three main scenes in the film, and is worthy of an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. Hoffman does her job extremely well, works closely with him, has his respect and is one of the few who can speak directly to him and have it received. A good line that she delivers is “What you make isn’t supposed to be the best part of you”.

Jeff Daniels, who recently appeared in The Martian, portrays John Sculley, Job’s one-time father figure who would later be responsible for forcing him out of Apple. Michael Stuhlbarg plays engineer Andy Hertzfeld who takes the brunt of Job’s criticism at the beginning of the film because the Macintosh doesn’t want to say “Hello”. Katherine Waterston plays Crisann Brennan, Jobs ex-girlfriend and mother of his daughter Lisa, well played by Makenzie Moss (at age 5), Ripley Sobo (at age 9) and Perla Haney-Jardine (at age 19).

The fact that Jobs was adopted comes up a few times in the film, almost to explain the way he treated those closest to him so poorly. We are forced to look at a flawed human being (as we all are). He was a genius visionary in design and marketing, and a perfectionist, but he also treated people terribly, including his daughter Lisa, who he denied for years that he was her father, and her mother Crisann.

The film is rated “R” for extensive adult language, primarily from Jobs. God’s and Jesus’s names are also misused several times. Although there are a few references to God and Jesus, and also one about Job’s birth parents wanting him to be adopted by a Catholic family, faith is not portrayed as a factor in any of the characters’ lives. That doesn’t mean that some don’t demonstrate commendable actions, as both Hertzfeld and Hoffman do commendable things for Lisa.

Having read Isaacson’s book, I loved this film that features strong directing, writing (which reminded us of Sorkin’s work on The West Wing), and acting performances. I found it to be one of the best films of the year. My wife on the other hand, not familiar with the details of Job’s life or career, respected the above, but was lost part of the time as the movie assumes you know the story and the characters and doesn’t go out of its way to fill you in. She also said that it was a well-made film but was exhausting due to being filmed in cramped back-stage areas, the time pressure in the movie and the fast-paced West Wing style dialogue.  Be sure and listen to how the music builds, especially during the first two acts, and watch to see how many characters are looking for acknowledgement and affirmation from others.