I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Steve Jobs

tn_stevejobsLooking back through my notebook I discovered that I wrote most of a review of STEVE JOBS back when it was in theaters, but I never typed it up. I guess since it wasn’t nominated for best picture I didn’t catch that when I was doing all the pre-Oscars reviews. But I think it’s a movie worthy of more attention than it got, and it’s available on video and I use a Mac so it seems only fair to finish it.

Steve Jobs was a genius and also an asshole. That’s kinda the basics of Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay, and many of his other screenplays, and therefore I have to guess something he can relate to. Like his other computer history piece THE SOCIAL NETWORK I think this one leans in the direction of genius not justifying assholishness, but it seems to be a question he struggles with.

I’m a little – not alot – familiar with the playwright turned TV mastermind’s work. I know people who adore his shows Sports Night and The West Wing, and some who are masochistically fascinated with The Newsroom.

Actually the only of his shows I’ve watched in its entirety was Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip, which did have plenty of good character drama and cleverness, but my interest was in its overblown pontificating about the brilliance and importance of the fictional sketch comedy show that we can’t help but notice, in the bits of it we see, is objectively, painfully, not even remotely fucking close to being at all even slightly funny. The show mused on the culture-shifting possibilities of a comedy genius with conservative politics, portrayed as completely humorless by Sarah Paulson (who these days is having better luck playing Marcia Clark on The People vs. O.J. Simpson, my current favorite character on television). One particularly befuddling episode hinged on the bizarrely out of touch premise that people outside of the comedy profession (and specifically the parents of this cast) have never heard of the “Who’s On First?” routine.

mp_stevejobsSTEVE JOBS, thankfully, avoids such cluelessness. While THE SOCIAL NETWORK chronicled the creation of a major technological phenomenon, this one’s actually closer to those behind-the-scenes-on-a-TV-show shows. Rather than the cradle-to-grave or even short-period-as-microcosm-of-a-life biopic you’d expect, Sorkin takes the theatrical approach of writing only three real time scenes, each taking place backstage in the half hour or so before one of those product launch shindigs that Jobs was famous for. 1984, 1988, and 1998. A brief tour through the evolution of ugly fashions, boxy gadgets and many personal and professional relationships.

As Sorkin would admit, his script is all true, but also all bullshit. It’s a series of confrontations between Jobs (Michael Fassbender, JONAH HEX) and a group of real people in his life. Fictional confrontations, but all based on real stuff that was going on in his life.

You can tell Sorkin researched the shit out of it and then probly researched research on the research. As in all of his work, everybody talks ten miles a half a minute and there’s a ton of details packed in there. Stories about his objection to a magazine cover, the importance of having the computer speak the word “hello” to the audience, even if he has to fake it, his reaction to his daughter testing out MacPaint, clashes over the politics of publicly thanking people for their work, philosophical arguments about whether or not he actually does anything. He’s not actually a guy who can build or program a computer, he just has the ideas. He compares himself to a conductor. If he was cooler he’d say he was like George Clinton.

Sorkin is interested in the procedure of technological revolution, but not necessarily the products. The technology itself isn’t that important. They don’t even mention that Casey Ryback used a Newton to write his memoirs, Ryback’s Tactics, in UNDER SIEGE 2: DARK TERRITORY. The last scene takes place years before iPods and iPhones, which we remember because of his daughter’s Walkman. Rather than being about “this man changed our lives with these little boxes!” it’s about the philosophical differences he has with Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), his old friend who he started Apple with. Woz (as they call him, a reference to The Boz in my opinion) believes computers should be customizable and open, while Jobs is introducing computers that you can’t even open without special tools (and they forgot to have one at the launch and need to fix the fucking thing!). Also Woz believes you can be nice to people and Jobs thinks you have to be a dick to get things done right.

Maybe the main thread of the movie, the one that makes it hard to really like Jobs, is his relationship with his ex (Katherine Waterston, INHERENT VICE) and his daughter (Makenzie Moss, Ripley Sobo, Perla Haney-Jardine), who he claims is not his and is a dick to, even though she calls him “dad” and seems smart and sweet. Her mom has to shame him into giving them money, an upsetting and humiliating experience. His attitude changes toward her across the three chapters, but the movie seems a little overly proud of him considering the small amount of progress we see him make. It’s kinda sweet but I felt almost like it was trying to trick me into forgiving him. He makes one major gesture and the music (score by Daniel Pemberton, THE COUNSELOR) wants to tell us he’s absolved. In interviews it sounds like Sorkin does not consider their relationship resolved at the end, but director Danny Boyle’s filmatism seems to disagree.

By the way, the older version of his daughter is Bebe from KILL BILL VOLUME 2.

Fassbender (THE COUNSELOR) is deceptively good as Jobs. It seems pretty effortless until you think about how different this dorky visionary fast-talking brow-beater is from other characters he’s played. One funny part though is that there’s a good script reason for him to take off his shirt and it reveals that he’s much more buff than we would imagine the real Jobs was under that turtleneck. Otherwise he does a good job of looking gawky.

Rogen follows in two-time-Academy-Award-nominee-SUPERBAD-star Jonah Hill’s footsteps by working well in a dramatic role that’s mostly just like one of his comedy performances, but in a different context. Michael Stuhlbarg as a tech who gets stepped on by Jobs and has to stand up to him is a bigger transformation. He kinda looks like River Phoenix at first.

The best part of the movie by far is Kate Winslet as Joanna Hoffman, Jobs’s right hand woman or “work wife” who knows how to navigate through all the types of shit he’s gonna throw and seems to do the best at getting through to his human side and demanding a standard of decency in his behavior, especially in dealing with his daughter. The real Hoffman was born in Poland, raised in the Soviet Union with an Armenian mother and then moved to New York when she was 12, so Winslet does quite an accent. She’s an impressive character because she’s the assistant, she’s not supposed to be the center of the movie, but she is. Much as Jobs conducts his orchestra she seems to conduct him, trying to point his moods and inspiration in the right direction, and then course correcting when it doesn’t work. I’ve always liked Winslet as much as the next guy, but this is something else. This was a well deserved best supporting actress nomination, not just one of those “well, she won one before, and I can’t think of anybody else” type deals.

THE SOCIAL NETWORK’s David Fincher at one time was attached to direct, with Christian Bale starring. That didn’t happen, in my opinion. Instead it’s Boyle (SUNSHINE), who doesn’t have Fincher’s searing filmatistic precision, but certainly does well with the material. To me it seems like Sorkin’s baby, with Boyle skillfully mounting a production of his play, putting faces and mouths and scenery to a movie made up mostly of words. The script is the skeleton and the skin.

There is absolutely no mistaking that Sorkin wrote this. It’s spontaneously eloquent, hyper-intelligent people in intense conversations, volleying quips and parables and references at each other two-handed like Chow Yun Fat sliding down a banister. Nobody talks like this, or I’m not smart enough to be around people who talk like this, and that’s okay. I liked this play.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Monday, March 21st, 2016 at 2:22 pm and is filed under Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

18 Responses to “Steve Jobs”

  1. Crushinator Jones

    March 21st, 2016 at 3:56 pm

    “It’s spontaneously eloquent, hyper-intelligent people in intense conversations, volleying quips and parables and references at each other two-handed like Chow Yun Fat sliding down a banister.”

    DAMN that’s good. I wish I could inhale that sentence and savor its high like a Wall St. coke fiend and his favorite cut of el oro blanco.

  2. What’s the “Who’s on first?” routine?

    Sounds a lot more interesting than I would’ve thought based on the subject matter. Boyle is a reliable pair of hands who seems happy never to make the same kind of film twice in a row.

  3. When this came out, for whatever reason I was kind of happy that it bombed. I guess I took it as a rebuke of technoutopianism where all of the world’s ills can be solved by some private tech company. It also kind of deflated the cult of Steve Jobs.

    But Boyle’s a great director and I like enough stuff by Sorkin that I probably should have given it a shot. I guess my only problem is that I just don’t care much about Steven Jobs the man. I still have the ipod I bought a decade ago (although I’ve had to perform surgery on it a couple of times). So I’ll give a little credit where it’s due. The ipod was a nice piece of equipment.

  4. As a kid my aunt owned an original iMac and my school’s computer lab had a bunch and that thing fucking blew my mind, I never could have imagined that a computer could be anything but a beige box, it was without a doubt society’s first glimpse of technology as something “cool”, a hip status symbol rather than just purely something of function.

    So I’ve found Apple a fascinating company ever since, but at the same time there’s something very elitist about them that bothers me, when I think Apple I think upper class urban hipsters. I mean first off their shit is so fucking expensive, the only Apple products I’ve ever owned are iphones and an ipod.

    On top of that there’s no Apple store anywhere close to where I live, in fact I couldn’t imagine there ever being one at any point, I guess us dumb hicks in flyover country are not worthy of being graced by their presence.

  5. Cosh – I’m not sure if you’re joking or not, but I added a video at the end of the review (it’s an Abbott and Costello routine that’s super famous in the U.S.).

  6. UXD is kinda my thing, so I’ll try to explain the cult of Jobs.

    So this guy almost single-handedly changed the paradigm of electronic design, from „you need to learn to use it” to „so intuitive the 3 year-olds can use it”. To do so, he needed to puncture the „complex shit is for smart people” dogma (overcoming dogmas is freaking hard), establish a new dogma and then sell it.
    There was also a task of designing those intuitive systems, which needed way deep understanding of the universalities of human nature. This is how you go from a whole keyboard of signs to swipe left-right, up-down, tap and HOME. It’s very subtle and needed some heavy out-of-the-box thinking.
    And then he succeeded, his solutions were picked up by others and this basically tripled the creativity potential of humankind. We’ll feel its true impact when the internet-native generation grows up. Him being an asshole is not really relevant in the great scheme of things.

    Basically what I’m saying is Steve Jobs was the Brad Pitt krill from Happy Feet 2.

  7. But that explanation seems a little inside baseball for the outsized worship that Steve Jobs once had. (It really has died down a little in recent years). No doubt he anesthetized electronics and helped the way that we interacted with them.

    Hell, I love the option of being able to listen to thousands of songs at any given moment. I love music, so this has made my life better. I don’t own a smart phone, but it’s pretty cool that people can carry around a computer in their pocket.

    And while I’m not super steeped in the history of Apple, I’m pretty sure these advancements were developed by large teams of employees who themselves were building on the work of others. Somehow all of that work and innovation became synonymous with just one person. (Which I guess the film tries to grapple with using that “conductor” analogy).

    So what generally bothers me about the cult of Steve Jobs is that it suggests new technological innovations spring from the mind of a singular genius when I doubt that’s the case. I also think when people write or think about technology, there’s too much of a tendency to erase the past. You forget that there is never one single moment or device the decisively “changes the world” (whatever that means when we’re talking about mass marketed electronics).

  8. Boomers ride Jobs’ jock because they consider him someone who made a shit-ton of money yet didn’t “sell-out” (something they would have really liked to do, but didn’t. And let’s face it, neither did he).

    Back in the day I was a Commodore man (the true computer of the people), and only use Apple now because a previous boss was a complete Apple zealot (he even copped Jobs’ look) and now I’m basically stuck in a vicious Apple cycle as I don’t want to lose the majority of my software and whatnot when I update hardware.

    And really, besides the extra price, the only difference between the mac and windows os nowadays, is that windows icons line up on the left side of the desktop, while mac’s line up on the right…

  9. Crushinator Jones

    March 22nd, 2016 at 3:22 pm

    “this basically tripled the creativity potential of humankind”

    Whoa whoa whoa dude! Here’s the thing: being creative is fucking hard, and there’s no way around that. Word processors didn’t suddenly make everyone a great writer, dicking around in MS Paint doesn’t make me Bob Ross, being able to tear down some of the barriers to true creativity just makes it easier to express that creativity. Saying that Steve Jobs or anyone else gives you magical creative wings because you can swipe left to edit a video is pretty crazy.

  10. Vern – Thanks. I wasn’t joking, although I could see it was an easy set up if I was. I vaguely remember Abbott and Costello reruns being on TV when I was a kid, normally in the same slot as Harold Lloyd or the Three Stooges, but I don’t recall any particular routines and baseball stuff has never travelled well. At least to the UK.

    Griff – ” it was without a doubt society’s first glimpse of technology as something “cool”” I guess I understand what you’re getting at but really? Think about the collective obsession with the motor car or the fetishisation of something as stupid as the wristwatch.

  11. The Cosh – I guess I should clarify that I meant computer technology to be exact, there was nothing “cool” or “hip” about computers prior to the iMac, computers were either for business or for nerds (back of course when being a nerd wasn’t cool), they were purely machines of function without any real “style” to them.

    Today every fucking hipster has their Macbook out at the coffee shop.

  12. Honestly, I’m not a fan of Apple products. I bought a MacBook once and felt totally ripped off. Over 1000€ for a Laptop, that had less USB ports than my 300€ Netbook*. Not to mention that it was prone to freezing and crashing, just like every other Windows or Linux PC and there was nothing intuitive about the OS. It’s like Apple thought: “Well, every other OS let’s you close software by clicking the X in the corner? Well, here the X just minimizes it, because we want to be different! Fuck it! Everything you can find easily in Windows and Linux because it’s obvious, is somewhere else on Apple products BECAUSE WE WANT TO BE DIFFERENT!”
    (Let’s leave out the fact that most of their innovations were done by other companies first, but Apple simply had the better marketing team.)

    In the end, once my Macbook dies (which might be soon, considering how the freezes and crashes are happening more often), I definitely won’t replace with with another Apple product. Even if I would win one, it would just go straight to eBay.

    *Remember Netbooks? Those tiny laptops that seemed to become the next bing thing until Tablet computers were introduced?

  13. Dammit CJ. I have to replace my desktop and I was considering finally jumping into the world of Mac to try it out. Now between you and others, I’m not so sure.

    As for the movie, I really liked it and was shocked it was greeting to such a nothing response from the audience but I guess the average person doesn’t care about Jobs. I was interested because I’ve always into the behind-the-scenes stuff of the computer industry. One of my favorite books is Accidental Empires by Robert Cringely which is a very humorous and entertaining look of how the personal computer became what it became. With that as my introduction, I never took the Jobs worship seriously and never owned a Mac. That said, I thought it was a real good movie about how much of an asshole he was.

  14. RBatty024 – the cool thing about some of Apple’s solutions is that their influence won’t go away, because they were made in understanding of how human beings work (right now). And human evolution is simply slower then technological progress. If you need a meme that refers to “a safe place where you can return” it’s hard to find something as universal and powerful as “home”, you know what I mean?
    Sure, hundreds of talented programmers and creatives worked on this, but the direction was provided by Jobs. It could have been “make electronics for offices” or “make electronics for nerds”, but it ended up as “make electronics as extensions of people”. The conductor analogy is on point.

    Crushinator Jones – tripled is a made up number, but every effort that makes the internet more accessible to people increases their creativity (in context of influence and visibility).

  15. The biggest issue with the movie for me is that it’s very conventional, and the redemption at the end isn’t compelling or convincing at all. It’s corny. And unfortunately how corny it is draws attention and puts some negative spin to the already stagey 3 act structure of the movie There’s no doubt, however, that the movie displays a high degree of skill and craft.

  16. Yeah, the Abbot and Costello thing was what finally broke me on STUDIO 60 too. If they had used “Monty Python” or Lenny Bruce I could believe it but a comedy team that was at their height in America during World War II and had numerous movies and a TV show? C’mon Sorkin.

  17. Man, can you people actually stand Aaron Sorkin’s ridiculous dialogue? I hate Jobs and the tech industry guru movement enough on its own, but to have Sorkin’s writing in here is just where psychopathy meets sadism.

  18. This movie uses feelings like a painter chooses paint to strike on the canvas. It’s something Sorkin is good at, and Boyle is up to the task. I had to pause the movie in the third act to attend to family business, and when I finally rigged my headphones to keep watching it, I rewound the movie back to the 2nd act scene with Jeff Daniels. When they have their argument and the symphony is playing in the background. This is a movie where even when I’m not sure what the hell is going on, it’s still emotionally effective.

    Is it over-edited? Maybe. I often wonder whether movies that shuffle the chronological order of scenes would be better if it was all straightened out. But again, they’re painting with emotion, and I don’t have a problem sitting back and letting it play out.

    In conclusion, this movie isn’t as good as WHIPLASH, but it’s better than CREED.

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