Skip to main content

We will know soon enough if you are Leonardo da Vinci, or just think you are.

Steve Jobs
(2015)

(SPOILERS) The cult of Steve Jobs rather passed me by, probably because I remained Mac-apathetic until a couple of years ago, after he and Apple’s great decade of innovation had simultaneously ceased to be. Sure, their stuff looked cool, but it was disproportionately expensive, and wasn’t it all about the packaging and status appeal, really? Danny Boyle’s film, from Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay (based on Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson) is certainly all about the packaging, both in terms of the confabulated Jobs narrative, by way of a studied three act structure, and the showy shifts in the design and texture of the piece (including changes in film stock). Fortunately, unlike Jobs’ NeXTcube, there’s actually something going on under the hood here.


Steve Jobs is one long conceit on Sorkin’s part, though, much more flagrantly than his previous study of a tech pioneer (Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network), and the result is ultimately less satisfying than Fincher’s film. Sorkin wins points for avoiding the tried-and-tiresome route taken by 99% of biopics, but he can’t quite make his confection irresistible. Focussing on three key events in Jobs’ career, and weaving in the same personal and professional relationships as punctuation points to an extended Noises Off-esque backstage barrage of signature Sorkin exchanges and interplay, the Jobs is essentially composed of three extended conversations, and could easily, with minor tweaking, be transposed to the stage. And I’m sure it will be, at some point.


The events being the 1984 launch of the Mac, in which Jobs is attempting to ensure it says “Hello” when he introduces it on stage, while dealing with co-founder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), who is pressing him to acknowledge the company’s greatest success, Apple II, during the presentation. He’s also navigating the demands of ex Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston) and the daughter (Lisa, played by Makenzie Moss) whom he refuses to acknowledge as his… until they connect over MacPaint. Then there’s the 1988 launch of NeXTcube (no, I didn’t remember it either), in which Lisa (now Ripley Sobo) wants to come and live with him, and Wozniak, Apple CEO John Sculley (Jeff Daniels) and another original Mac team member Andy Hertzfield (Michael Stuhlbarg) arrive to update us on the intervening period, including the background to Jobs’ ousting from Apple. Finally, there’s the 1998 launch of the iMac, where Jobs, now Apple CEO, must make amends with his daughter (Perla Haney-Hardine) for failing to pay her tuition fees and Wozniak brings up the Apple II thing again, on account of how Jobs is laying of 3,000 staff to make the company ship-shape.


Anyone demanding factual accuracy from a movie will go to town eviscerating this, since, aside from the launch dates, pretty much everything is invented. On the one hand, Steve Jobs serves to emphasise what a hard-nosed, abrasive and dislikeable guy Jobs was, as he steamrollers through the feelings of friends, family and colleagues with the same remorseless lack of empathy. On the other, it’s pretty much a eulogy for his genius, crediting him with such foresight that the failed NeXTcube fast became an elaborate ploy to deposit him back in the Apple fold while the iMac is established as the saviour of the compaby (more accurately, it was the iPod). Jobs refers to what he does as art, with an entirely straight face and over the objections of Wozniak who feels, under such an analogy, he should be the Lennon (rather than the Ringo), since he had the technical nous whereas Jobs merely seized moments. Ironically, genius status is undermined by the conductor metaphor Jobs introduces. There’s undoubtedly skill, and flair, but you could say that of someone apt to make a fortune on the stock market.


Sorkin sets up recurring conflicts in Jobs’ life, apparently after they had been resolved (his difficult relationship with Lisa), so as to engineer a golden-hued reconciliation that makes his personal journey to responsible fatherhood and the career stratosphere over the course of 15 years seem a little too calculated. And Boyle, not the most subtle of visualists, whacks us round the head with this arc. Aspects really work; the bonding over MacPaint is corny but hugely effective, for example. But, while the first two sections represent an ‘80s-nostalgia whirl of ups-and-downs, the final chapter is less successful, succumbing to overtly grandstanding scenes (in front of captive audiences, first with Wozniak and then Lisa) that feel contrived beyond the already fully-fledged contrivance of Sorkin’s structuring and dialogue. Sorkin also rather little clumsily has marketing executive Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) deliver a ream of exposition regarding where Apple and Jobs are at, and then the next exchange (with Wozniak) renders it redundant by going through it all again (but heatedly this time).


Boyle, while his decision to shift from 16mm to 35mm to digital is the manoeuvre of someone in search of a gimmick rather than a passionate believer in the material, is mostly more restrained than he has been of late. He keeps that camera moving, perhaps too much, but he’s generally focussed on the performances rather than eliciting visual fireworks. That said, there are times when he becomes intrusive or unnecessarily tricky; do we really need flash frames of Jobs’ daughter to tell us he has her on his mind? Or projections on a corridor wall to support his argument when he is holding forth to Hoffman? It whiffs of a director easily bored, and so contrasts negatively with Fincher’s cool, calm, compelling reserve.


There’s also a problem with Fassbender as Jobs. Not that he doesn’t look like him, or that he isn’t effortlessly commanding to watch (he doesn’t, and he is) but that he’s too essentially likeable. It’s only in the third chapter that Jobs’ bastardishness really begins to be felt over the dazzle of the actor’s charisma, and then the character goes and gets offered redemption. Far better, in terms of getting across a guy so many intimates loathed, would have been original choice Christian Bale. Or Sean Penn; I’m sure he could have made him thoroughly unpleasant with very little effort.


Talking of which, boorish oaf Seth Rogen is surprisingly solid as Wozniak, particularly when it comes to the third act shouting match with Jobs. Everyone here is accomplished though, from Stuhlbarg and Daniels to the three Lisas. Particular praise goes to Kate Winslet, who I somehow failed to recognise for the first couple of minutes of Hoffman’s screen time. Joanna has the patience of a saint, and Winslet dominates the screen at least as effectively as the showier Fassbender (albeit her Polish accent does seem to come and go).


Why the box office failure of Steve Jobs? I think probably most people, like me, don’t really care much about the guy. That, combined with a self-consciously clever narrative form from Sorkin.  It’s too transparently devised and poised to truly satisfy, too tidy and symmetrical; to go back to the NeXTcube for a comparison, the succession of dramas and stand-offs lack the intentionally imperfect measurements built into cube. As a result, the picture isn’t as accessible or compelling as Moneyball or The Social Network (both of which conveyed a point of interest in their titles, even if you weren’t intrigued by the main players).


Although he’s less frenetic in terms of editing, Boyle’s nevertheless in similar pulling-out-all-the-technical-stops mode as the also-restricted-in-setting 127 Hours. There’s a feeling that, even though this is his best picture in a decade, someone more subdued might have been more suitable (the way David Mamet’s screenplays are often best serviced by Mamet’s own no-frills direction). Steve Jobs might yet get awards recognition to counterbalance the nonplussed audience response, but I think the non-attendance reflects that this is diverting rather than essential. If nothing else, though, seeing the stunning 1984 ad again is a reminder of how Sir Ridders used to really floor us with his visuals. His Prometheus (which I liked, but was no Alien) ought to be instructive to Boyle, also about to revisit and sequelise one of his earliest and best films.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Why would I turn into a filing cabinet?

Captain Marvel (2019)
(SPOILERS) All superhero movies are formulaic to a greater or lesser degree. Mostly greater. The key to an actually great one – or just a pretty good one – is making that a virtue, rather than something you’re conscious of limiting the whole exercise. The irony of the last two stand-alone MCU pictures is that, while attempting to bring somewhat down-the-line progressive cachet to the series, they’ve delivered rather pedestrian results. Of course, that didn’t dim Black Panther’s cultural cachet (and what do I know, swathes of people also profess to loving it), and Captain Marvel has hit half a billion in its first few days – it seems that, unless you’re poor unloved Ant-Man, an easy $1bn is the new $700m for the MCU – but neither’s protagonist really made that all-important iconic impact.

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Can you float through the air when you smell a delicious pie?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
(SPOILERS) Ironically, given the source material, think I probably fell into the category of many who weren't overly disposed to give this big screen Spider-Man a go on the grounds that it was an animation. After all, if it wasn’t "good enough" for live-action, why should I give it my time? Not even Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's pedigree wholly persuaded me; they'd had their stumble of late, although admittedly in that live-action arena. As such, it was only the near-unanimous critics' approval that swayed me, suggesting I'd have been missing out. They – not always the most reliable arbiters of such populist fare, which made the vote of confidence all the more notable – were right. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only a first-rate Spider-Man movie, it's a fresh, playful and (perhaps) surprisingly heartfelt origins story.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

As I heard my Sioux name being called over and over, I knew for the first time who I really was.

Dances with Wolves (1990)
(SPOILERS) Kevin Costner’s Oscar glory has become something of a punching bag for a certain brand of “white saviour” storytelling, so much so that it’s even crossed over seamlessly into the SF genre (Avatar). It’s also destined to be forever scorned for having the temerity to beat out Goodfellas for Best Picture at the 63rdAcademy Awards. I’m not going to buck the trend and suggest it was actually the right choice – I’d also have voted Ghost above Dances, maybe even The Godfather Part III – but it’s certainly the most “Oscar-friendly” one. The funny thing, on revisit, is that what stands out most isn’t its studiously earnest tone or frequent but well-intentioned clumsiness. No, it’s that its moments of greatest emotional weight – in what is, after all, intended to shine a light on the theft and destruction of Native American heritage – relate to its non-human characters.

Sorry I’m late. I was taking a crap.

The Sting (1973)
(SPOILERS) In any given list of the best things – not just movies – ever, Mark Kermode would include The Exorcist, so it wasn’t a surprise when William Friedkin’s film made an appearance in his Nine films that should have won Best Picture at the Oscars list last month. Of the nominees that year, I suspect he’s correct in his assessment (I don’t think I’ve seen A Touch of Class, so it would be unfair of me to dismiss it outright; if we’re simply talking best film of that year, though, The Exorcist isn’t even 1973’s best horror, that would be Don’t Look Now). He’s certainly not wrong that The Exorcistremains a superior work” to The Sting; the latter’s one of those films, like The Return of the King and The Departed, where the Academy rewarded the cast and crew too late. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is the masterpiece from George Roy Hill, Paul Newman and Robert Redford, not this flaccid trifle.

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

Poor A. A. Milne. What a ghastly business.

Saving Mr. Banks (2013)
The absolutely true story of how P. L. Travers came to allow Walt Disney to adapt Mary Poppins, after 20 years’ persistent begging on the latter’s part. Except, of course, it isn’t true at all. Walt has worked his magic from beyond the grave over a fairly unremarkable tale of mutual disagreement. Which doesn’t really matter if the result is a decent movie that does something interesting or though-provoking by changing the facts… Which I’m not sure it does. But Saving Mr. Banks at least a half-decent movie, and one considerably buoyed by the performances of its lead actors.

Actually, Mr. Banks is buoyed by the performances of its entire cast. It’s the script that frequently lets the side down, laying it on thick when a lighter touch is needed, repeating its message to the point of nausea. And bloating it out not so neatly to the two-hour mark when the story could have been wrapped up quite nicely in a third less time. The title itself could perhaps be seen as rubbi…

Everything has its price, Avon.

Blake's 7 4.1: Rescue

Season Four, the season they didn’t expect to make. Which means there’s a certain amount of getting up to speed required in order for “status quo” stories to be told. If they choose to go that route. There’s no Liberator anymore as a starting point for stories; a situation the show hasn’t found itself in since Space Fall. So where do they go from here? Behind the scenes there’s no David Maloney either. Nor Terry Nation (I’d say that by this point that’s slightly less of an issue, but his three scripts for Season Three were among his best).

Do you read Sutter Cane?

In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
(SPOILERS) The concluding chapter of John Carpenter’s unofficial Apocalypse Trilogy (preceded by The Thing and Prince of Darkness) is also, sadly, his last great movie. Indeed, it stands apart in the qualitative wilderness that beset him during the ‘90s (not for want of output). Michael De Luca’s screenplay had been doing the rounds since the ‘80s, even turned down by Carpenter at one point, and it proves ideal fodder for the director, bringing out the best in him. Even cinematographer Gary K Kibbe seems inspired enough to rise to the occasion. It could do without the chugging rawk soundtrack, perhaps, but then, that was increasingly where Carpenter’s interests resided (as opposed to making decent movies).