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

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…

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…

You look like an angry lizard!

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
(SPOILERS) I can quite see a Queen fan begrudging this latest musical biopic for failing to adhere to the facts of their illustrious career – but then, what biopic does steer a straight and true course? – making it ironic that they're the main fuel for Bohemian Rhapsody's box office success. Most other criticisms – and they're legitimate, on the whole – fall away in the face of a hugely charismatic star turn from Rami Malek as the band's frontman. He's the difference between a standard-issue, episodic, join-the-dots narrative and one that occasionally touches greatness, and most importantly, carries emotional heft.

I am so sick of Scotland!

Outlaw/King (2018)
(SPOILERS) Proof that it isn't enough just to want to make a historical epic, you have to have some level of vision for it as well. Say what you like about Mel's Braveheart – and it isn't a very good film – it's got sensibility in spades. He knew what he was setting out to achieve, and the audience duly responded. What does David Mackenzie want from Outlaw/King (it's shown with a forward slash on the titles, so I'm going with it)? Ostensibly, and unsurprisingly, to restore the stature of Robert the Bruce after it was rather tarnished by Braveheart, but he has singularly failed to do so. More than that, it isn’t an "idea", something you can recognise or get behind even if you don’t care about the guy. You’ll never forget Mel's Wallace, for better or worse, but the most singular aspect of Chris Pine's Bruce hasn’t been his rousing speeches or heroic valour. No, it's been his kingly winky.

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.

It was one of the most desolate looking places in the world.

They Shall Not Grow Old (2018)
Peter Jackson's They Shall Not Grow Old, broadcast by the BBC on the centenary of Armistice Day, is "sold" on the attraction and curiosity value of restored, colourised and frame rate-enhanced footage. On that level, this World War I documentary, utilising a misquote from Laurence Binyon's poem for its title, is frequently an eye-opener, transforming the stuttering, blurry visuals that have hitherto informed subsequent generations' relationship with the War. However, that's only half the story; the other is the use of archive interviews with veterans to provide a narrative, exerting an effect often more impacting for what isn't said than for what is.

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.

Believe me, Mr Bond, I could shoot you from Stuttgart und still create ze proper effect.

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
(SPOILERS) Some of the reactions to Spectre would have you believe it undoes all the “good” work cementing Daniel Craig’s incarnation of Bond in Skyfall. If you didn’t see that picture as the second coming of the franchise (I didn’t) your response to the latest may not be so harsh, despite its less successful choices (Blofeld among them). And it isn’t as if one step, forward two steps back are anything new in perceptions of the series (or indeed hugely divisive views on what even constitutes a decent Bond movie). After the raves greeting Goldeneye, Pierce Brosnan suffered a decidedly tepid response to his second outing, Tomorrow Never Dies, albeit it was less eviscerated than Craig’s sophomore Quantum of Solace. Tomorrow’s reputation disguises many strong points, although it has to be admitted that a Moore-era style finale and a floundering attempt to package in a halcyon villain aren’t among them.

The Bond series’ flirtations with contemporary relevance have a…

It seemed as if I had missed something.

Room 237 (2012)
Stanley Kubrick’s meticulous, obsessive approach towards filmmaking was renowned, so perhaps it should be no surprise to find comparable traits reflected in a section of his worshippers. Legends about the director have taken root (some of them with a factual basis, others bunkum), while the air of secrecy that enshrouded his life and work has duly fostered a range of conspiracy theories. A few of these are aired in Rodney Ascher’s documentary, which indulges five variably coherent advocates of five variably tenuous theories relating to just what The Shining is really all about. Beyond Jack Nicholson turning the crazy up to 11, that is. Ascher has hit on a fascinating subject, one that exposes our capacity to interpret any given information wildly differently according to our disposition. But his execution, which both underlines and undermines the theses of these devotees, leaves something to be desired.

Part of the problem is simply one of production values. The audio tra…

You stole my car, and you killed my dog!

John Wick (2014)
(SPOILERS) For their directorial debut, ex-stunt guys Chad Stahelski and David Leitch plump for the old reliable “hit man comes out of retirement” plotline, courtesy of screenwriter Derek Kolstad, and throw caution to the wind. The result, John Wick, is one of last year’s geek and critical favourites, a fired up actioner that revels in its genre tropes and captures that elusive lightning in a bottle; a Keanu Reeves movie in which he is perfectly cast.

That said, some of the raves have probably gone slightly overboard. This is effective, silly, and enormous fun in its own hyper-violent way, but Stahelski and Leitch haven’t announced themselves stylistically so much as plastered the screen with ultra-violence and precision choreography. They have a bit of a way to go before they’re masters of their domain, and they most definitely need to stint on their seemingly insatiable appetite for a metalhead soundtrack. This kind of bludgeoning choice serves to undercut the action a…