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…

Garage freak? Jesus. What kind of a crazy fucking story is this?

All the President’s Men (1976)
It’s fairly routine to find that films lavished with awards ceremony attention really aren’t all that. So many factors go into lining them up, including studio politics, publicity and fashion, that the true gems are often left out in the cold. On some occasions all the attention is thoroughly deserved, however. All the President’s Men lost out to Rocky for Best Picture Oscar; an uplifting crowd-pleaser beat an unrepentantly low key, densely plotted and talky political thriller. But Alan J. Pakula’s film had already won the major victory; it turned a literate, uncompromising account of a resolutely unsexy and over-exposed news story into a huge hit. And even more, it commanded the respect of its potentially fiercest (and if roused most venomous) critics; journalists themselves. All the President’s Men is a masterpiece and with every passing year it looks more and more like a paean to a bygone age, one where the freedom of the press was assumed rather than a…

You keep a horse in the basement?

The ‘Burbs (1989)
(SPOILERS) The ‘Burbs is Joe Dante’s masterpiece. Or at least, his masterpiece that isn’t his bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you masterpiece Gremlins 2: The New Batch, or his high profile masterpiece Gremlins. Unlike those two, the latter of which bolted out of the gate and took audiences by surprise with it’s black wit subverting the expected Spielberg melange, and the first which was roundly shunned by viewers and critics for being absolutely nothing like the first and waving that fact gleefully under their noses, The ‘Burbs took a while to gain its foothold in the Dante pantheon. 

It came out at a time when there had been a good few movies (not least Dante’s) taking a poke at small town Americana, and it was a Tom Hanks movie when Hanks was still a broad strokes comedy guy (Big had just made him big, Turner and Hooch was a few months away; you know you’ve really made it when you co-star with a pooch). It’s true to say that some, as with say The Big Lebowski, “got it” on fi…

The head is missing... and... he's the wrong age.

Twin Peaks 3.7: There’s a body all right.
First things first: my suggestion that everyone’s favourite diminutive hitman, Ike “The Spike” Stadtler, had been hired by the Mitchum brothers was clearly erroneous in the extreme, although the logistics of how evil Coop had the contingency plan in place to off Lorraine and Dougie-Coop remains a little unclear right now. As is how he was banged up with the apparent foresight to have on hand ready blackmail tools to ensure the warden would get him out (and why did he wait so long about it, if he could do it off the bat?)


Launching right in with no preamble seems appropriate for his episode, since its chock-a-block with exposition and (linear) progression, almost an icy blast of what settles for reality in Twin Peaks after most of what has gone before this season, the odd arm-tree aside. Which might please James Dyer, who in the latest Empire “The Debate”, took the antagonistic stance to the show coming back and dismissed it as “gibbering nonsen…

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

You’re the Compliance Officer. It’s your call.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)
(SPOILERS) The mealy-mouthed title speaks volumes about the uncertainty with which Tom Clancy’s best-known character has been rebooted. Paramount has a franchise that has made a lot of money, based on a deeply conservative, bookish CIA analyst (well, he starts out that way). How do you reconfigure him for a 21st century world (even though he already has been, back in 2003) where everything he stands for is pretty much a dirty word? The answer, it seems, is to go for an all-purpose sub-James Bond plan to bring American to its knees, with Ryan as a fresh (-ish) recruit (you know, like Casino Royale!) and surprising handiness in a fight. Yes, Jack is still a smart guy (and also now, a bit, -alec), adept at, well, analysing, but to survive in the modern franchise sewer he needs to be more than that. He needs to kick arse. And wear a hoodie. This confusion, inability to coax a series into being what it’s supposed to be, might explain the sour response to its …

I freely chose my response to this absurd world. If given the opportunity, I would have been more vigorous.

The Falcon and the Snowman (1985)
(SPOILERS) I suspect, if I hadn’t been ignorant of the story of Christopher Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee selling secrets to the Soviets during the ‘70s, I’d have found The Falcon and the Snowman less engaging than I did. Which is to say that John Schlesinger’s film has all the right ingredients to be riveting, including a particularly camera-hogging performance from Sean Penn (as Lee), but it’s curiously lacking in narrative drive. Only fitfully does it channel the motives of its protagonists and their ensuing paranoia. As such, the movie makes a decent primer on the case, but I ended up wondering if it might not be ideal fodder for retelling as a miniseries.

Oh look, there’s Colonel Mortimer, riding down the street on a dinosaur!

One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing (1975)
(SPOILERS) There’s no getting round the dinosaur skeleton in the room here: yellow face. From the illustrious writer-director team who brought us Mary Poppins, no less. Disney’s cheerfully racist family movie belongs to a bygone era, but appreciating its merits doesn’t necessarily requires one to subscribe to the Bernard Manning school of ethnic sensitivity.

I’m not going to defend the choice, but, if you can get past that, and that may well be a big if, particularly Bernard Bresslaw’s Fan Choy (if anything’s an unwelcome reminder of the Carry Ons lesser qualities, it’s Bresslaw and Joan Sims) there’s much to enjoy. For starters, there’s two-time Best Supporting Actor Oscar winner Ustinov (as mastermind Hnup Wan), funny in whatever he does (and the only Poirot worth his salt), eternally berating his insubordinate subordinate Clive Revill (as Quon).

This is a movie where, even though its crude cultural stereotyping is writ large, the dialogue frequen…

You may not wanna wake up tomorrow, but the day after that might just be great.

Blood Father (2016)
(SPOILERS) There are points during Blood Father where it feels like Mel is publically and directly addressing his troubled personal life. Through ultra-violence. I’m not really sure if that’s a good idea or not, but the movie itself is finely-crafted slice of B-hokum, a picture that knows its particular sandpit and how to play most effectively in it.

Sometimes the more you look, the less you see.

Snowden (2016)
(SPOILERS) There are a fair few Oliver Stone movies I haven’t much cared for (Natural Born Killers, U-Turn, Alexander for starters), and only W., post millennium, stands out as even trying something, if in a largely inconspicuous and irrelevant way, but I don’t think I’ve been as bored by one as I have by Snowden. Say what you like about Citizenfour – a largely superficial puff piece heralded as a vanguard of investigative journalism that somehow managed to yield a Best Documentary Feature Oscar for its lack of pains – but it stuck to the point, and didn’t waste the viewer’s time. Stone’s movie is so vapid and cliché-ridden in its portrayal of Edward Snowden, you might almost conclude the director was purposefully fictionalising his subject in order to preserve his status as a conspiracy nut (read: everything about Snowden is a fiction).