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“Steve Jobs” movie review

By Jeff Boudreaux

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“Steve Jobs,” directed by Danny Boyle (“Slumdog Millionaire,” “127 Hours”) plays like the Silicon Valley cousin of “Birdman,” as the title character postulates, manipulates, and argues with employees, friends, and even family behind the scenes at three specific product-launches, sparsely placed throughout the man’s storied career. We focus, not on the self-actualized, latter-day technological icon that was Steve Jobs. No, we get the had-a-bad-day, trying to rebound; I’m almost there Steve Jobs. A man that I honestly didn’t even know existed on this level.

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We see flashbacks of the man (Michael Fassbender) working in a garage with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), arguing about open-ended systems and motherboards ad infinitum. We see meetings, both friendly and bitter, with Jobs’ handpicked CEO John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), who had a different idea for the direction of the company Jobs created, but intermittently destroyed. However, what we initially get to focus on is Jobs (sometime after the successful launch of the Apple II) preparing for the 1984 introduction of the Macintosh (dubbed LISA) and it’s seemingly last-minute inability to voice the word “hello,” a contentious battle that Jobs no doubt wins against program designer Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg of “A Serious Man,” “Blue Jasmine”). This same, real-time setting also shows Jobs dealing with a very untimely ex-girlfriend (Katherine Waterston) and a child (named Lisa, of course) whom he steadfastly refuses to acknowledge as his own. To prove to us how cold and callous the genius could be, he even went as far as to convince the child that the computer was not, in fact, named after her, it was merely a coincidence. Let me remind you, all of this is taking place in dressing rooms and hallways of a packed convention center, where his salivating populace would wait until doomsday if they were required to.

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Then there’s the obviously-failed (but is it?) stage of Jobs’ career (post-Apple) where he’s about to demonstrate to another showroom, a series of perfectly-cubed CPU’s (dubbed NeXT), intended for the educational system, with a hefty price tag of $13,000 – an amount that Wozniak reminds him will keep the computer from being a large seller to schools. But, as Jobs intricately informs him, all he needs is for Apple to make an offer on the computers and with them, goes the man himself. He was right, after all. He had the foresight, he had the vision, and he had the bargaining tools needed when he wasn’t buried within the recesses of his own ego. It is here where we are treated to one of the film’s great arguments, that of Jobs and Sculley blaming each other for their respective failures. It is also where we watch Jobs nurturing a relationship with Lisa (because she’s his daughter and he obviously loves her, though it’s doubtful that he’ll ever tell her).

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Our climactic launch takes place in 1998, as Jobs (Back with Apple for good) is set to unveil the iMac (the first in a series of iconic “i” devices that would place Jobs on top of the technological mountain, where he never had to climb down). We find Jobs at a point where a failure would most certainly break him, yet we all know that wasn’t in the cards. As a whole, these three moments in Jobs’ extraordinary career are fascinating and subtly defining. For those expecting an all-encompassing overview of Jobs’ empire, be forewarned that the narrative does end in 1998. This is not an anomaly. Yet, we get delicate hints of the great things to come such as the iPod and the iPhone, though they certainly aren’t mentioned by name. One thing is for sure, this film teaches that a set of failures can most certainly make the man, so to speak. And as they say, behind every great man is an equally great woman and personal assistant Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) was that person. She made him stronger, gentler, and some would argue, a way better person than if she hadn’t been around, and that speaks volumes in itself!

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Although the film is based on real-life, the screenplay was written by Aaron Sorkin, who penned “The Social Network.” In comparing the two films we see a familiar theme, and that is his depiction of Jobs’ ruthlessness and his back-and-forth bickering with Apple co-founder and relegated employee Wozniak, recalling us to Mark Zuckerberg’s relationship with Facebook co-founder Eduardo Savarin. Or maybe that’s just the way all egomaniacal inventors treat their stepladder accomplices!

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Fassbender shines as the technological icon, as this is virtually a one-man show in the midst of a great supporting cast, if that can be understood. The star captures each phase of Jobs’ life with a mastery that was actually surprising. There’s a great scene where Jobs tires of calling for Andy, because he’s always asked whether he’s referring to Hertzfeld or a stagehand named Andy Cunningham (Sarah Snook). Jobs’ solution – “Have one of them change their names.” Of course, he’s only half-serious. But notice, I didn’t say he was joking. In the world of Steve Jobs, he’s used to getting what he wants, but rarely wanting what he gets (i.e. his daughter). As a result, we get one of the most complex characters in recent cinema, and the fact that it was a real person only adds to his ambiance. As for the late Steve Jobs – Cheers to a great man, but some would say a lousy friend. It’s alright though, they hardly knew you.

 

*** (three out of four stars)

 

 

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