Another Look at ‘Steve Jobs’

 

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Anthony Kirby finds a lot to like in Steve Jobs

 

Steve Jobs was something of an enigma. He easily packed five lifetimes into his fifty six years. Perhaps because of early rejection as a child, or a chemical brain imbalance, he lacked social graces and was inordinately cruel to immediately family and many of his closest associates. He had a genius comprehension of mathematical concepts and computer logic, spoke at sixty words to the dozen and had no interest in money or worldly possessions. At one point in the film John Scully (Jeff Daniels) C.E.O. of Apple Corporation visits Job’s home and complains that the company founder, then worth $44 Million, has only a king-sized bed and no other furniture.

In an aside about half way through the drama, Jobs, the son of an Iranian father and German/American Catholic mother, confesses that his first adoptive parents returned him when he was just a few months old. “They wanted a girl,” he said. “My mother wanted my adoptive parents to be university graduates. My adoptive father was a military and later civilian auto mechanic.” However, Jobs bonded with his adoptive father and loved building fences, etc. with him. His parents were Calvinists, which probably explains his work ethic and intransigence.

The film is more a pastiche of Job’s life than a biopic. A full accounting of Jobs would require twice the screen-time. The film does not cover Jobs’ period as Primary Investor and C.E.O. of Pixar Inc. or his interest in the Disney Corporation. The picture covers three pivotal points in the genius’ life. The launch of the original Macintosh in 1984. The NEXT Computer developed during Jobs’ period away from Apple and unveiled in 1988, and the original iMac of 1998. Each scene ends with Jobs at centre stage.

As a college student Jobs encountered Steve Wozniak and Chris-Ann Brennan. Jobs and Wozniak developed the Apple Computer in his garage. Chris-Ann who was briefly Jobs’ mistress had a daughter Lisa whom she claimed was his. Even following D.N.A. testing Jobs disputed this. In the film’s first  scene, shot in 16mm, Jobs is visited by fragile Chris-Ann (Katherine Waterston). She and Lisa, not able to live on the court mandated $385.00, are about to go on welfare. Jobs, preoccupied with the product launch, shouts at Chris-Ann and only backs down when his personal assistant Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) quietly impresses on him that regardless of his animosity to her mother  there’s a five-year-old child who believes you’re her father and loves you.” Listening to this plea Jobs backs down, ups Chris-Ann’s monthly stipend to $500.00 and lodges enough money in her account to buy a modest house. However, he’s still angry and when little Lisa asks him “ Daddy did you call the Lisa computer after me? “ he replies “ No sweetheart, L.I.S.A. stands for Local Integrated Software Architecture” This to a sensitive five year old! Then when Lisa does an abstract drawing on the computer he says, “Picasso did similar drawings with paper and Indian ink.” Even allowing for the pressure Jobs was under this interchange showed how ill-equipped he was as a parent.

Jobs expected to be Time’s Man of the Year for 1984, however, on learning of Jobs’ dispute with Ms. Brennan, Time changed the story to a feature on Apple Corporation. Screen-writer Sorkin discussed his screenplay with Lisa, now 37, “she’s the hero of the film,” he says.

Act two of the film deals with the launch of the NEXT Computer. Lisa is again backstage. She points out that the NEXT Computer frame isn’t a perfect cube. She’s actually measured it with a ruler. Jobs takes time to tell her that “a perfect cube doesn’t photograph well with regards to television, honey.” Their relationship appears to have improved, however, when Lisa hugging him around his waist asks if she can live with him, he doesn’t respond.

Sadly the NEXT Computer isn’t a financial success selling only to universities. Jobs has other irons in the fire, which leads us into Act III.

Close to bankruptcy, Apple Corporation’s Board invite Jobs back as C.E.O. in 1997. He develops the first iMac, and begins the launch in the spring of 1998. Confident as everm he predicts sales of half a million units in the first month and 20,000 a month thereafter. An associate comes back stage armed with a top secret file not to be shown to Jobs: it’s from a business prediction agency. Jobs persuades the associate to show him the file. The business forecast agency predictions are the same as Jobs’.

Joanna Hoofman (Winslet), who is the only confidant who can consistently get through to him, intimates that if he doesn’t somehow make peace with Lisa she’ll leave him and hide somewhere never to be found. “I mean this, Steve, if you don’t make peace with Lisa, I’m history. This has gone on far too long.”

Steve Jobs does eventually make peace with Lisa who watches the launch of the iMac backstage. Later as Lisa goes to pick up her Volkswagen Beatle Jobs notes that she’s wearing a cumbersome Walkman. “Why are you still listening to music on that device, Lisa? I’ll make a listening device that can access 500 pieces of music.”

Arron Sorkin (The West Wing) is a master dramatist, however, this Hollywood style ending is the only scene in the film that doesn’t ring true to this reviewer but that doesn’t take away from a wonderful script that is directed to perfection and filled with great performances.

Fassbender himself forgoes a makeup makeover and doesn’t look like the real Steve Jobs. However, he brilliantly captures his genius and conflicted personality and gives a brilliant, nuanced performance.

 

Anthony Kirby

 

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Review: Steve Jobs|

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DIR: Danny Boyle • WRI: Aaron Sorkin • PRO: Danny Boyle, Guymon Casady, Christian Colson, Mark Gordon, Lauren Lohman, Scott Rudin • ED: Elliot Graham • DOP: Alwin H. Küchler • DES: Guy Hendrix Dyas • MUS: Daniel Pemberton • CAST: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen

 

In regards to the biopic film, Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin’s Steve Jobs|is a breath of fresh air, albeit a breath that their actors seldom get in this backstage linguistic battle royale. Their portrayal of Steve Jobs doesn’t follow the tedious and meandering cradle-to-the-grave format, but actually abbreviates the narrative into three separate acts respectively – 1984, 1988, 1998 – all commencing minutes before a major product launch. And like the three acts of a stage play, this film relies on talking… a lot of talking. And like playwrights before him – Mamet, Chayefsky, Shakespeare – Sorkin boasts his own trademark dialogue.

Straight out the gate and we’re riddled with rapid Sorkin rat-a-tat spitfire, piercing and deflating any notion of exposition, as we play keep-up with Fassbender’s Jobs and his backstage world. We follow him, mostly by tracking shot, through corridors as characters from his work and personal life berate him about his lack of empathy. He talks down to his work colleagues, threatens his friends, his ex-girlfriend and daughter are on welfare despite his wealth – anyone who comes into contact with the man becomes miserable… I mean this guy’s a real jerk!

His closest confidant is Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), a marketing executive, and in ways, his guardian angel, who acts as his conscience constantly urging him to do the right thing for his daughter and ultimately himself. Apple CEO, John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), is somewhat a father figure, a close friend until the Apple began to rot. Apple co-founder and friend Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) pops by before each of the three launches to support Jobs and ask him to acknowledge the Apple II team. The recurring sentimentality throughout the film is Jobs’ daughter Lisa, who at first he denies is his, but slowly builds a closer relationship with her throughout the years. A lesser films would have saturated the audience with this sentimentality, but luckily here the filmmakers keep their protagonist as unlikable as possible.  

The characters walk and talk in breakneck speed, accompanied by Daniel Pemberton’s lavish score – a fusion of operatic classical and techno burps – that sounds like Beethoven and Kraftwerk had a few too many and stuck the DO-NOT-DISTURB sign up. The high tempo dialogue always keeps the audience alert and on their toes. There’s a sense of emergence about it. Danny Boyle’s sleek, yet uncharacteristically subtle, direction compliments Sorkin’s pace and overall Steve Jobs’ minimalist style and vision. Boyle incorporates colourful visual distortions into the few moments of silence we get. Another little touch Boyle brought to the movie was filming the three acts in different formats -16mm, 35mm and digital, an artistic stroke that Jobs probably would of lapped up like a dog.

The style that Boyle and Sorkin convey is like that of an Apple product – compressed, precise, dynamic, icey, minimal – all subtle characteristics that Jobs utilised when marketing and releasing a new computer. As the most quoted line in the movie – “musicians play their instruments, I play the orchestra” – exclaims, Jobs was a man who needed to be in control. The film suggests that he was a man who was afraid to delve too deep professionally and personally. He felt in control about how he marketed and presented, the bigger picture, the vision, but when it got complicated in IT or with his ex-girlfriend and daughter he couldn’t cope or understand. He wasn’t a man of tech or science, but a man who knew how to manipulate the people, stay ahead of the curve and adapt his vision to the culture.

Fassbender doesn’t resemble Jobs physically, unlike Ashton Kutcher, whose personal admiration for the man and bad acting hurt his feature. What Fassbender brings to the role is sheer energy, whether firing off some Sorkin dingers or utilising great physicality to compliment the erratic dialogue. He doesn’t have to rely on his appearance for the role because he delves deeper in himself to find the character. He has a great cast to support him too, specifically Kate Winslet, whose subtle Polish accent is right on point. Seth Rogen’s performance is modest, which is a great relief and Jeff Daniels straight corporate demeanor fits the bill. There’s one scene in particular between Fassbender and Daniels that is the verbal equivalent of a western showdown. The volume of the score heightens, as cuts to flashbacks help push the argument forward, raising the dramatic ambience as the two characters scream at each other.

Critics have acknowledged the film’s Shakespearean overtones, but I haven’t seen anyone mention Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Jobs being the wealthy entrepreneurial-tech Ebenezer Scrooge, who lacks empathy and is visited by friends and enemies who either want a favour or want to help. Has a few flashbacks to a time before the megalomania and it take three acts to slightly redeem him. Or in more recent years, Sorkin’s Steve Jobs anti-hero characterisation can be compared to There Will Be Blood’s Daniel Plainview – another man so professionally driven that he becomes isolated from people.

Some have criticised Steve Jobs| of relying too heavily on style and cartoonish dialogue rather than conveying a true depiction of the man, as if all the epic sentimental biopics have it down to a tee. This isn’t a documentary, it’s a fictional film based on true events and the filmmakers made the right decision to narrow the focus down to three important events in Jobs’  professional career, whilst intertwining elements of his personal and ultimately pursuing a day-in-a-life portrayal of the man. Others have complained about Sorkin’s snappy dialogue, criticising it for being unrealistic because people in real life don’t speak like it. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to listen to tech jargon spoon fed to me in Bob Geldof mode for two hours. I want it razor-sharp and potent so it grabs me and pulls me into its accelerated world. I don’t want to remain docile, I need to adapt.

Sorkin has proved to be one of the most distinctive voices in television and film dialogue working today bearing a strong sense of high-speed energy within his body of work. For Boyle, this is a nicely understated return, abandoning his trademark kinetic visuals and adapting a more subtle approach in order to accommodate Sorkin’s writing. The result is  a well crafted and precise three-act farcical algorithm with a sharp silver tongue. iReally liked it (I am sorry).

Cormac O’Meara

15A
122 minutes (See IFCO for details)

Steve Jobs| is released 13th November 2015

Steve Jobs| – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Trance

DIR: Danny Boyle • WRI: Joe Ahearne, John Hodge  • PRO: Danny Boyle, Christian Colson • DOP: Anthony Dod Mantle • ED: Jon Harris •  DES: Mark Tildesley • CAST: James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson, Vincent Cassel

Memory’s a tricky subject to study in film, and the complex workings of the mind are even trickier. Danny Boyle, surely one of the most ambitious and thematically ambidextrous filmmakers working today, here takes his shot at making a real mind-bender, following in the footsteps of Christopher Nolan, Satoshi Kon, David Cronenberg, Jean Cocteau and Luis Buñuel. Surprisingly, the director of Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire finds himself struggling with these mental gymnastics, producing a film that looks, but never feels, the part.

James McAvoy stars as Simon, an art auctioneer with serious gambling debts who winds up in trouble when a heist goes wrong – he’s the only one who knows where the £25 million painting is, but a bash to the head means he can’t remember. Vincent Cassel and his cronies try to torture it out of him, but to no avail. Enter Rosario Dawson’s expert hypnotherapist, Elizabeth, whose attempts to mine the corridors of Simon’s subconscious turn up unexpected secrets, and put her in a position of power over both Simon and Cassel’s Franck. Mental and sexual manipulation is never far off.

Opening with a superb, jauntily paced heist sequence that feels like an MTV version of Inside Man, Trance never recaptures the energy of its pre-credits sequence. Spurred forward by a pulsing soundtrack by Underworld’s Rick Smith, it descends into a lot of sitting around watching McAvoy sleep and Vincent Cassel becoming oddly less frustrated. A whirligig of twists in the final act reveals so many character reversals that it becomes difficult to decide whose side you’re on, who the main character is and whether or not you actually like any of them to begin with.

In the same way Inception never felt properly like a dream, Trance rarely feels like a nightmare, and shies away from symbolism or other techniques for addressing with real emotional issues. This is a film which pseudo-poetically discusses the virtues of female pubic hair, while using Austin Powers-esque camera angles to cloak the two male leads’ members from the audience’s gaze.

However, the cast are all in top form. McAvoy is full of the charisma that once shot him to the top of the game; that he gets to use his real accent for once is a plus. Cassel makes a very likeable villain. Dawson, whose 25th Hour promise has been time and again dampened by poor subsequent roles, plays the mysterious, dominant female with plenty of class, and remains watchable even as the material of the film collapses around her.

Boyle’s regular collaborator, the genius cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, has created a stunningly glossy, red-stained palette for Trance. The images are crisp throughout, with some clever cycling of focus, but there’s very little cutting-edge imagery on show here to add to a portfolio already packed with 28 Days Later, Slumdog and 127 Hours. Editor Jon Harris ties it all together as best he can, but is hindered by Joe Ahearne and John Hodge’s front-heavy screenplay.

Despite some unpleasant body horror (of which finger-nail torture and genital squibs are only mild examples), Trance never manages to notch up the tension effectively. It is never as disturbing as the cold turkey scene Boyle’s Trainspotting, nor as demented as the video game trip in The Beach. This is all due to the script and its inconsistent characters.

Trance has a number of fine moments, but it never amounts to anything more than a cleverer-than-average thriller. And it’s not nearly as clever as it thinks it is.

David Neary

16 (see IFCO website for details)

101mins
Trance is released on 29th March 2013

 

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127 Hours

127-hours

DIR: Danny Boyle • WRI: Danny Boyle, Simon Beaufoy • PRO: Danny Boyle, Christian Colson, John Smithson • DOP: Enrique Chediak, Anthony Dod Mantle • ED: Jon Harris • DES: Suttirat Anne Larlarb • CAST: James Franco, Amber Tamblyn and Kate Mara

‘This rock has been waiting for me my whole life’ – a moment of realisation for Aron Ralston, a young man literally trapped between a rock and a hard place for five days straight – not too long before making the decision that will set him free to live the rest of his life.

Everyone who watches 127 Hours goes into the movie knowing that the guy cuts off his arm in the end…but what you might not expect is the wide spectrum of emotions and imagery that his journey to get there encompasses. The sense of discomfort waiting for *that* scene is palpable in an audience throughout the running time, but there’s also the sense of discovery and life-affirming joy that the film’s fantastic direction evokes.

Danny Boyle brings the same kinetic energy to the material as he did with the likes of Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire – there’s always been a confidence about his filmmaking that can either come off exhilarating or obnoxious, luckily here he strikes the former. From the opening scenes of Ralston setting off for his journey (without telling anyone where he’s going I might add) Boyle employs split-screen visuals and a pumping tune to bring the audience along for the ride, as he takes with him only a few supplies and a handycam to record his trip to the desert near Moab, Utah.

Franco’s spirited portrayal of a thrill-seeking adventurer brings to mind the same carefree energy of Into the Wild’s Christopher McCandless – another ill-fated young explorer, played by Emile Hirsch. Tearing through the desert on his bike, Ralston falls to the ground and without pausing snaps a shot of himself smiling on the ground. There are some really dynamic camera tricks, like placing the camera inside the straw as he takes a sip of water. He encounters two rather irritating girls, novice climbers for whom he serves as guide for an afternoon, taking a plunge into the rock pool with them and then going on his way.

’We probably didn’t even figure in his day,’ the girls quip as he walks off. However, before too long Ralston is shouting their names from the fault line into which he has fallen. The moment the rock hits and he gets painfully wedged between it and the wall, bam – the title card ‘127 Hours’ – a good 15 minutes into the film, a very sly move on Boyle’s part. After much grunting and cursing, Ralston realises the severity of his situation, and so lays out his inventory – trying to formulate some kind of plan.

He begins by trying to chip away at the rock with the blade of the cheap made-in-China multi-tool he has with him. There is a moment early on when he drops the knife somewhere quite out of reach – and the audience, knowing what’s coming, secretly hope that he can never pick it up. But alas, he does – and in fact attempts to sever his arm with the dull blade far earlier than you might expect, but to no avail.

Ralston soon settles into a routine – recording his thoughts on the handycam every day, observing a raven that flies overhead every morning, the sunlight as it shines down into his fault line for fifteen minutes a day, and the few blissful moments he can bathe his ankle in it. Some music choices almost seem too upbeat and undercut the seriousness of the situation; Danny Boyle often (as he has in the past) places the need to keep an audience superficially entertained over the need to honour the grim reality of story.

Ralston becomes resourceful in his fight for survival, constructing an elaborate pulley with ropes and connecting devices, trying with all his might to pull the rock out, but failing to do so. On the Tuesday morning, he tapes himself hosting a kind of light-hearted TV chat show – interviewing himself about his current predicament. Entertaining as this enthusiastic schizo-dialogue might be, it stretches belief that he’d have so much energy after that many hours of dehydration.

He begins to have dreams, remembering times with the French girl-that-got-away, played by the alluring Clémence Poésy, and also experiences hallucinations – including a rain shower that turns into flash flood – a spectacular sequence that sees Ralston floating to freedom as the rock comes loose in the rush of water, defying audience expectation before returning to him in his actual circumstance. Some of the flashbacks and illusions are a little heavy handed, as to be expected with Danny Boyle – but for the most part serve the movie well to take us out of the confined setting.

As Ralston situation becomes more dire and he seems to be facing into death, his body is drained, becoming so dehydrated that he resorts to drinking his own urine, that same camera inside the straw now rising with a yellow liquid. ‘It’s no Slurpee’, Franco observes ‘…it’s like a bag of piss.’ Pushed to his physical and psychological limits, he makes the decision to sever his arm. He begins to have heart palpitations, and stabs himself in the arm out of frustration. Once again Boyle cuts to one of his novelty internal camera angle – this time we see the point of the blade hitting the bone. He begins breaking these bones, and it’s out with the blade again – slitting skin, ripping tendons, blood everywhere – the soundtrack underscoring the pain. You cannot distance yourself from it and say “it’s only a movie’ because this really did happen – loss of circulation is only the only consolation.

Despite how graphic the scene is, he’s taking the necessary action to break free and it is truly a cathartic moment after so many scenes of struggle and hopelessness. Eventually, he emerges with only a red stump remaining – climbing out into the sunlight, having lost one arm – but gaining immeasurable wisdom from his experience. The struggle is over and has felt real thanks Franco’s fantastic and commitment to the character’s plight and Danny Boyle’s inventive direction. 127 Hours is an uncomfortable ride, but one worth taking, as long as you’re not too squeamish.

Eoghan McQuinn


Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
127 Hours
is released on 7th January 2011

127 Hours – Official Website


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Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire
Slumdog Millionaire

DIR: Danny Boyle, Loveleen Tandan • WRI: Simon Beaufoy • PRO: Christian Colson, Paul Ritchie • DOP: Anthony Dod Mantle • ED: Chris Dickens • DES: Mark Digby • CAST: Dev Patel, Irrfan Khan, Anil Kapoor, Madhur Mittal

Based on the bestselling book Q&A by Vikas Swarup, Slumdog Millionaire is the latest film from Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later).

The film is set in 2006. Jamal Malik is one question away from winning the jackpot on India’s version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? He has gotten further than any lawyers, doctors and university students who have been on the show. This is made even more unbelievable by the fact that Jamal is from the slums of Mumbai and works as the tea-maker in a call centre. Jamal is accused of cheating and arrested. Then Jamal tries to explain how he has gotten so far on the show. Has he cheated? Or was he meant to win the show?

Jamal takes us through his childhood, growing up in the slums with his brother Salim and his friend Latika. We see the journey that he has been on and the experiences he has lived through. The film gives a great insight into life in the slums and what it is like; Boyle drops us right into the middle of it. We can see that while there is a dark side that there’s also a great sense of community in these places.

Jamal, (played by Dev Patel from E4’s Skins) is an endearing character and Patel is excellent in his role. The scenes of him and his brother as children are, I think, the best part of the film. The fact that Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? has such a major place in the film does date it a little; maybe a few years ago it would have seemed more relevant. But I suppose everyone knows the rules of the show and how it works so there’s no confusion. I haven’t read the book Q&A so I can’t say if Boyle has remained faithful to it or not so it’s difficult for me to say whether or not fans of the book will be fans of the film.

The film is visually stunning; it is full of colour and life. Boyle (co-directing with Loveleen Tandan on the Indian shoot) lets us experience life in India from the perspective of those living in the worst conditions but he manages to do this without being depressing. I think a sign of a great film is one which takes you to another place, one which makes you forget you’re in a cinema. It’s been a while since a film has done that for me, but Slumdog Millionaire did. It is definitely one of the must-see films of this year.

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