REVIEW: Steve Jobs

27 12 2015

I have no qualms in saying that, in high school, the discovery of Aaron Sorkin’s writing completely changed the way I thought about how people could talk in fiction. Here were characters that spoke with purpose in every line, both illuminating their inner thought process and highlighting the themes of the work. (If you doubt its influence, just read the play I wrote my senior year that falls somewhere between a love letter to and ripoff of Sorkin.)

The more I rewatch “The Social Network,” however, the more I realize that the heft of the content is the real star of that script. The delivery in “Sorkinese” – as many have come to call it – serves to enhance, not replace, that treasure trove of insights into class, status and social structure in contemporary America. The hyperexpressive dialogue feels justified practically by the bulk of commentary that the characters must convey – and, remarkably, tomes are still left unsaid.

Sorkin’s latest script, “Steve Jobs” (adapted from Walter Isaacson’s authorized biography of the same name), narrows its focus from the revolutionizing of society to a man with the vision to spark such revolutions. As the man whose inventions shook up telephones, personal computing, animation, publishing and music, Jobs feels like a natural subject for Sorkin given his obsession with grandiloquent geniuses. Even his work on the script for 2011’s “Moneyball,” which praised the empirically driven philosophy of Oakland Athletics manager Billy Beane, evinces his fascination with people who innovate in spite of steep institutional pressure to maintain an inefficient status quo.

Yet, at the same time, choosing Jobs as someone to speak Sorkinese fluently smells a bit like a man trying to cast God in his own image – and not the other way around. The stylized dialogue flies rapidly in “Steve Jobs,” which is not entirely dissimilar from “The Social Network.” But here, the metaphors and arcane cultural references are delivered in a continual walk-and-talk, not in such visibly formal settings.

Sorkin chooses to stage his drama within the confines of a backstage drama (as opposed to the courtroom drama of Zuckerberg’s saga), a style which generally portrays characters with their guards down and speaking with their guards down. Jobs was undoubtedly smart enough to talk as Fassbender’s portrayal of him does, though it feels somewhat stilted and artificial.

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REVIEW: Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine

5 09 2015

Steve Jobs The Man in the MachineAlex Gibney has made his career as a documentarian by holding powerful institutions accountable for their misdeeds, be they the Church of Scientology, the U.S. Military, the Catholic Church, or Enron.  On the less frequent occasion when he covers individual subjects, the films have never become personal portraiture.  “Casino Jack,” “Client 9,” and “The Armstrong Lie” were not about their subjects; they were about power and the corrosive effects it can have on capable men.

The same dynamic does not necessarily apply to Gibney’s latest effort, “Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine.”  The film feels more like a project the director explored out of curiosity rather than his usual genuine righteous anger.  Without such indignation, the documentary plays a little bit like one of the actual smartest guys in the room picking on an icon as a pure intellectual exercise.  His aim appears not to be uncovering some unsavory truth about human vice; instead, Gibney just brings a god among men back to mere mortal status just to show he can.

To be fair, maybe some of that needed to happen.  The somewhat excessive mourning that sprung from Jobs’ early passing in 2011 does raise some questions about how our society conflates the man with his machines.  Gibney does his best work when he can isolate Jobs from the gadgets we now treat as appendages.  His curated archival footage shows Jobs as a testier, feistier figure than the avuncular wizard who waltzed on stage once a year in the first decade of the 2000s to radically transform our communicative capabilities.  In one deposition to which Gibney frequently cuts, Jobs can barely sit still, constantly adjusting his position and scarcely concealing his disdain.

When he attempts to make a larger statement about our technology-addled world, though, Gibney’s reach exceeds his grasp.  It would be better not to invoke Sherry Turkle’s “Alone Together” than to have such a cursory conversation about it – that’s a topic for an entirely different film.  These deep, intellectual ideas just feel out of place in a film mostly devoted (especially in its back half) to rattling off a litany of underreported transgressions.

Did you know that Apple sheltered its profits from taxation in Ireland?  Or that their factory conditions in China are beyond deplorable?  That Apple participated in some sketchy hiring collusion?  That Jobs ended charity programs at the company?  Yes, prepare to have any pedestal on which you put Steve Jobs severely undercut.  But why one of America’s greatest documentarians took the time to do this research – rather than a dedicated YouTube user – escapes me.  B2halfstars


15 08 2013

Joshua Michael Stern’s “Jobs” finds itself caught between “Lincoln” and “The Social Network.”  The film teeters uncertainly on the precipice of canonization in the Spielberg/Kushner model and humanization in the Fincher/Sorkin mold.  It ultimately settles on an unhappy median, providing a portrait of Apple founder Steve Jobs that feels like laughable corporate folklore.

Just because the film’s characterization is fickle does not mean that its message is muddled.  Stern is clearly pushing an agenda to persuade his audience that Steve Jobs is the American Einstein, a visionary misunderstood in his early years.  And just like Einstein, we will not fully comprehend his genius until years after his death.  But eventually, we will come to use his name as a synonym for innovation.

Ashton Kutcher does do a half-decent job of resurrecting the essence of Steve Jobs.  The 35-year-old actor takes the icon from his college years, a barefoot braniac that seems to have escaped from a Terrence Malick film, to his introduction of the iPod as a slower sage.  At times, though, it does feel like quite a studied portrayal.  His Jobs is often much robotic imitation, opting for parroting over true personality.

Even with such faults, he’s the only thing that “Jobs” really has going for it.  Stern’s script is an overlong mess where Steve Jobs, even from his days at Reed, speaks not in sentences but in maxims that seem to be adapted from Confucian teachings.  When it delves into emotions and not just events, the drama of “Jobs” becomes quite laughable.  All in all, though, the film just feels superfluous.  Why do I need to sit through a two hour “for your consideration” ad for Steve Jobs to inducted into the pantheon of great minds when practically every computer, cell phone, and music player in my house is an Apple product?  C2stars