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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