Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Sunday, February 21, 2016

OSCARS 2016: Steve Jobs (2015)

My sister does all the computer stuff in my family. She’s the expert. Computer stuff is her job. When Steve Jobs, the person, died a few years back, she took many opportunities to expound on why she didn’t admire Jobs and why nobody else should either. I don’t have an opinion about Steve Jobs, the person. The main reason I’m writing this on a PC is because it’s what I’ve always used and the only thing I fear more than change is giant centipedes. I do, however, have some opinions about “Steve Jobs,” the movie. Originally slated to be directed by David Fincher and star Christian Bale, the project was eventually made by Danny Boyle and starred Michael Fassbender, after Leo DiCaprio passed. The combination of the overly flashy Boyle and Aaron Sorkin, a sometimes talented writer who doesn’t do himself any favors by never shutting the fuck up, did not endear the film to me. But then it got nominated for some Oscars and here we are now.

Because “Steve Jobs” is an Aaron Sorkin movie, it has a story structure that draws a lot of attention to itself. As widely publicized, the film covers behind-the-scenes events at three product launches over the course of sixteen years in Jobs’ life. The first occurs in 1984, before the launch of the Macintosh, when Jobs is most concerned about getting the demo computer to talk, while also discussing issues with his daughter’s mother and a TIME magazine cover. In 1988, before the unveiling of NeXT, Jobs argues with his mentor, banters with a computer, and also talks with his daughter. In 1998, before the launch of the iMac, Jobs argues with former colleague Steve Wozniak and re-connects with the aforementioned daughter and mentor.

Michael Fassbender does not resemble Steve Jobs very much. His broad-shouldered frame and defined jawline doesn’t have much in common with Jobs’ slim figure and round face. Fassbender doesn’t do an impersonation of Jobs either, only adding a slight affection to his voice. Instead, he plays the man as someone incredibly committed to his vision, even at the cost of personal friendships and company money. Fassbender has no problem spitting Sorkin’s thunderous dialogue and imbues the part with as much passion as he does quirk. Kate Winslet is also Oscar nominated for her role as Joanna Hoffman, Jobs’ long-suffering executive manager. Speaking with a subtle Polish accent, Winslet plays Hoffman as infinitely patient. Winslet is more than able to keep up with Sorkin’s circular screenplay, displaying a strong personality in a film full of them. I also thought Seth Rogan was brilliantly deployed as Wozniak, taking punishment with a smile before finally cracking near the film’s end. Only Jeff Daniels seems to be overdoing it. Say what you will about “Steve Jobs” but most of the performances are fantastic.

As written, “Steve Jobs” is not inherently cinematic. The raw story is mostly devoted to people arguing in hallways. Danny Boyle desperately strains to make the story more filmic. As Jobs and Sculley recite a song, the lyrics flash on-screen around them. The film’s three sequences are shot on corresponding film grains: 16mm in 1984, 35mm in 1988, and digital in 1998. Each act is preceded by quickly edited prologues, incorporating news stories and fancy split-screen techniques. Occasionally, seconds-long flashes of scenes from earlier in the movie will interrupt the current action. For that matter, Boyle frequently cuts back and forth between the then-present and the flashbacks. It’s clear that Boyle’s hands were tied by the perfectionist Sorkin and the director did everything he could to make the project his own. Mostly, it comes off as unnecessary flourishes on a story that didn’t need them.

“Steve Jobs” goes out of its way not to be a hagiography. Most of the film is devoted to what a massive asshole Jobs was. He bickers and picks at everyone around him. In the first half, he outright refuses to claim his daughter as his own. He belittles Wozniak’s contributions every chance he gets. Yet as big of a prick as “Steve Jobs’” subject is, the film can’t help giving the tech icon a redemptive arc. By the end of the film, Jobs reconciles with his daughter and his mentor. An especially thudding sequence has Daniels as Sculley admiring Jobs’ genius. The film makes it entirely clear that, as shitty as Jobs was, what he accomplished made it worthwhile for everyone around him. Considering Sorkin’s script is all too willing to paint Jobs’ ex-wife as a crazy bitch, it still doesn’t come off as very fair. The screenplay even provides Jobs with a Freudian excuse for his behavior, involving the way his foster parents treated him as a child. I’d like to say “You’d think someone like Aaron Sorkin would be self-aware enough to avoid such clichés” but I don’t think self-awareness has ever been Sorkin’s strong suit.

Still, the powerful performances of Fassbender, Winslet, and Rogan count for a lot. “Steve Jobs” is definitely written with a heavy hand at times and Boyle’s overly self-conscious direction doesn’t add very much. Yet the movie is better than its mediocre box office performance suggests. Sorkin does have an ear for memorable dialogue, Fassbender works hard to get at the soul of a complex man and the movie is quickly paced despite its two hour run time. [6/10]


Sean Catlett said...

Oooo what sort of reasons shouldn't we admire him? List them this second.

Bonehead XL said...

I think most of my sisters' objections to Apple and Jobs has to do with Apple's anti-customization policy or something. I really don't remember that well.

Sean Catlett said...

Ahhh gotcha. I was thinking he needed to devour a cat every night or something.