Friday, October 30, 2015

Steve Jobs

                      Citizen Steve (or would this be better as 
                          The Curious Case of Kane Comparisons?) 
                                                       Review by Ken Burke
 Because of various logistical situations for me over the last week (including most of the cinema offerings that I’d care to see—sorry, Goosebumps [Rob Letterman], The Last Witch Hunter [Breck Eisner], Hotel Transylvania 2 [Genndy Tartakovsky], and others not on my “possibles” list—being shown farther away than convenient to travel to see them) I’m reviewing only 1 film this week (which, because of some of those logistics, I ended up seeing twice in 2 days; however, it’s one well worth discussing—believe me, I will—even in context of how it might be argued to relate in some ways to my all-time #1, Citizen Kane [Orson Welles, 1941]), although I’ll leave it to you to decide if I’m convincing about that or not.  But before moving on to the review, I’ll note as I have in times past (God know when, though, because I’m not going to go back and read every previous posting to find out; if anyone wants to construct a Two Guys index please be my guest) that by normally writing my reviews a week or so after something has opened (except on those occasions when I get invited to pre-release-press-screenings) I have the advantage of allowing my observations and ideas to percolate a bit longer, maybe also nullifying for some readers the problem of navigating my constant use of plot spoilers as I attempt the most comprehensive analysis I can offer.  Yet, there’s a wrinkle with that delayed-publication-approach, in that, even if I have a completely personal thought about or reaction to a given film, by the time I get my review out for public consumption I find that others may have seen/said the same things so I do run the risk of being perceived as simply recycling what they’ve said, even though I read only a minimum of reviews before seeing something/writing about it (to steer my choices onto the better options, leaving Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension [Gregory Plotkin] and its ilk to other writers).

 Such is the case with the … Kane comments in this review in that some useful remarks in that direction already exist in a dismissal of the worth of Steve Jobs by long-time-tech-writer Walt Mossberg, whose responses to Boyle’s film (written by Aaron Sorkin with his trademark constantly-engaging, superbly-crafted, fast-moving dialogue often delivered while the characters are on the move; this script is certainly a potential Oscar contender for screenwriting, although whether for Original or Adapted it’s hard to say) I encourage you to read, both for their contrast to my evaluation as well as to see the basis for comparison he makes between … Kane and … Jobs in order to understand better where we parallel in our comparisons, then to see what else I’ve added on my own.  But, in case you’re not that familiar with Citizen Kane for any such comparisons to make much sense here are some clips from that fabulous film where you’ll see Kane as a young, brash newspaper owner; as a middle-aged-man whose marriage is falling apart; and as an older man in personal crisis (I’ll also include a review of ... Kane by Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, in which they explain why this film is the standard for my rare-5-star-ratings, an achievement that might should get 6 stars if I were to go to the level of This Is Spinal Tap’s [Rob Reiner, 1984] extra-extremes—and, while I’m not trying to sell you a download rental of the full-length-Welles-film [which benefits me not at all except to share this masterpiece], if you want one go here).  In larger context of the entire … Kane film you’d see that these scenes follow the saga, told in flashbacks, of Charles Foster Kane whose boyhood was pulled apart from his parents so that he’d be properly taught to handle the immense fortune he was to inherit, who had great triumphs as a young newspaper mogul crusading for the betterment of his society, entered into what became a loveless marriage ending in divorce when he began an affair with a would-be-singer, endured another divorce when the “singer” finally left him after years of emotional depravation, then died a wealthy but reclusive old man whose inner life remained a mystery even to those who were closest to him.

 This story isn’t any direct parallel with the actual life of Steve Jobs (or the highly-fictionalized-script of Steve Jobs, as admitted by director Boyle and screenwriter Sorkin in the 3rd link to this film far below) but there are certain reasonable resemblances in the retold-history-structure and the essence of certain characters that I’ll note further as we meander through this enthralling review.
Take care, curious readers, for plot spoilers gallop rampantly throughout the Two Guys’ insightful reviews.  Therefore, be warned, beware, and read on when you’re ready to be transported to … wherever we end up.  Please protect your eyes from the dazzling brilliance.
                                                 Steve Jobs (Danny Boyle)
A fact-based-but-still-highly-fictionalized biography of Apple Computer co-founder Steve Jobs focused on the product launches in 1984 of the Macintosh, 1988 of the Black Box from his NeXT Corp. (after being pushed out of Apple), and 1998 of the iMac.  Several important people in his life recur in each of these 3 segments as his driven needs clash with theirs.
What Happens: This highly-fictionalized-account of how Steve Jobs introduced 3 of his most important products in the years from 1984 to 1998 is set up in a series of intensely-delivered-introductions of the Macintosh personal computer, the mysterious-but-powerful NeXT Black Box, and the first-generation iMac desktop.  In each segment we get a purposefully-constructed-series of confrontations between Jobs (Michael Fassbender)—who can be compared to Charles Foster Kane in the analogy between this film and Welles’ masterpiece, as they’re both driven, egotistical, domineering multi-millionaires who keep trying to impose their visions of a better society onto the nation (even world) around them—and a small cluster of important people in Jobs’ life who’re in various stages of support or conflict with him during the precious minutes prior to each product debut, often confronting him with concerns of great magnitude even as he’s trying to get into the proper clothes for his needed-commanding-presence on stage (in 1984 he basically bought a shirt with a pocket from an attendee so that he could demonstrate the ease of carrying around the necessary small disc; by 1998, though, the suit and tie are replaced by his later-years’-“uniform” of a black turtleneck sweatshirt and faded Levi’s jeans).

 His recurring cast includes principal-players Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet, a serious contender for Oscar’s Best Supporting Actress, just as Fassbender should be in the running for Best Actor unless poor grosses too early in the season doom his chances), originally Marketing Director for the Mac but always a sort of adjutant general for Jobs who occupies … Kane’s role of general manager Mr. Bernstein, a loyal friend even when the boss is acting like an overbearing tyrant; Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen, a decent candidate for Best Supporting Actor as well), co-founder of Apple and technical wizard behind the development of their earliest products who in … Kane’s world would be like Jed Leland, Charlie’s best friend but also his voice-of-nagging-conscience, especially about how Kane abandoned his progressive principles to pursue a political-career-ending-romantic-affair (that last part having nothing to do with Steve Jobs’ life; I didn’t mean to imply that there’s a 1-to-1-parallelism going on between these 2 films); Lisa Brennan-Jobs (Makenzie Moss at age 5, Ripley Sobo at age 9, Perla Haney-Jardine at age 19) as Steve’s at-first-denied-then-finally-accepted-daughter (born beyond the boundaries of marriage, as was Jobs ... and me [more on that later]) who finally brings out the humanity in him by film’s end, somewhat taking on the position in … Kane of Susan Alexander Kane, the mistress who became his 2nd wife then devastated him into a sense of remorse for his treatment of her when she leaves him; John Sculley (Jeff Daniels, also effective, not quite as much as Rogen) the former Pepsi-Cola CEO recruited by Jobs to be Apple’s CEO, 1983-1993, instrumental in Jobs being pushed out of his own company but then fired himself later, standing in for …Kane’s banker Walter Thatcher who became Charlie’s legal guardian then evolved into the antithesis of Kane’s grand social plans.

 Minor concurrences include Joel Pforzheimer (John Ortiz), a GQ journalist who shows up at each of the launches but only gets some prized insights (a clash between Jobs and Woz) at the final one, just as …Kane’s Jerry Thompson is the reporter sent to solve the mystery of “Rosebud” (which he never does: “No, I guess Rosebud is just a piece in a jigsaw puzzle, a missing piece.”); Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg, also seen effectively as Paul Marshall, Bobby Fischer’s lawyer-manager, in Pawn Sacrifice [Edward Zwick; review in our October 3, 2015 posting]), a Macintosh engineer facing Job’s wrath early on, admitting later that he never liked his boss just as … Kane’s butler Raymond offers some harsh testimony about his boss to reporter Thompson; and, finally, Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterson), Steve’s onetime-girlfriend/Lisa’s mother, constantly badgering him for more financial support in the first 2 segments (she’s out of his life by the 3rd), a frustrated single mom but also frivolous in her expenditures, somewhat like Emily Norton Kane, Charlie’s aristocratic first wife who quickly grows apart from him, both in romance and interests.

 I’ll start you off in the 1984 segment (shot in 16mm for a grainy look) with the famous Mac 1984 Super Bowl ad, a hugely-expensive, quite evolutionary approach to advertising (shown just the once but repeated endlessly on newscasts, gaining enormous free publicity) to set the stage for the Macintosh intro “act,” a prized marketing strategy of Jobs’ that was almost nixed by his more-conservative-Board-of-Directors (we also get flashbacks of Jobs and Woz bringing the original Apple computers to life in their garage workshop, as well as beginning the film with a great old newsreel of Arthur C. Clark, author of "The Sentinel" [1951], which led to 2001: A Space Odyssey [Stanley Kubrick, 2008], waxing eloquent about the future of personal computers).  Steve’s at his nervousness-covered-by-pomposity-worst here, berating Andy H. (there’s always also “Andy” [Andrea] Cunningham [Sarah Snook], another important member of the various launch teams, with the running joke of Jobs and his associates never being clear which Andy they’re talking about) over the loss of the Mac’s voice just prior to the event; demanding the other Andy turn off the exit signs for a darker room countered by her insisting they’ll all be thrown out by the Fire Marshall if she does; spewing fury at Joanna over someone’s decision to order boxes of copies of the TIME cover naming the personal computer as the 1983 “Machine [normally, “Person”] of the Year” rather than Jobs personally, a failure he blames on an associate revealing the birth of Lisa out-of-wedlock, his denial of fatherhood, the resulting paternity test that showed a 94% likelihood that he’s Dad after all (to which he replied that those odds mean 28% of American men could just as easily be “the one” [To quote Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean,” from his 1982 Thriller album; this is going to be a long review so do you want to break for a relevant musical interlude now from another 20th-century-icon?  OK, take it away, Mr. Jackson.]) so he’s making only court-ordered-minimum-child-support-payments, resulting in furious mother and (denied) calm daughter showing up in the short window before the launch, with Joanna trying desperately to keep peace on a number of fronts.  Steve finally agrees to better support (and a house) after Lisa spontaneously uses MacPaint to make an abstract drawing, which delights him; Sculley also boosts his spirits backstage, but only after an argument, with a bottle of wine almost costly enough to pay for the Mac ad, so after a satisfying sip Steve’s off to a roaring welcome from the crowd at Apple hometown Cupertino’s Flint Center.

 By 1988, though (this part shot in 35mm), the Mac hasn’t sold up to (enormously-high) Steve's expectations (partly because it’s seen as very expensive at $2,495), he’s been ousted from Apple, so he’s taken some of the team with him (primarily Joanna) to form NeXT with the intention of providing high-end-technology for the educational market thereby competing directly with Apple.  
This "next" debut-
event’s more upscale 
as well, held at San Francisco’s Opera House but with the same cast of characters there to make Steve’s life even crazier than it already is with their various demands, although 9-year-old-Lisa’s hanging around like an accepted child (unclear in the film, at least to me, if he’s yet to acknowledge her as such) although he’s trying to hustle her out because she’s missing school in the better district that she and Crissann now live in thanks to the promised-and-provided-house.  This time the most serious confrontation comes from Sculley, who surprisingly shows up wanting to know how he can unravel the ongoing social myth that he personally fired Jobs from Apple when it actually came as the result of a Board vote set in motion by Steve to choose one or the other of them, as the Directors want to kill the Mac because it’s not selling very well while Steve wants to jettison the older, less-flashy Apple II even though it’s their only profitable product (the vote’s shown in flashback).  A heated-conversation from 1984 continues as well, when back then Sculley asked Jobs why adopted people (such as Steve) see themselves as “rejected” rather than “chosen,” with Jobs now explaining that his 1st set of adoptive parents decided to send him back after only 1 month while the 2nd ones had to wait several more months before his birth mother’s official approval because they didn’t meet her qualifications, causing them to hold back investment in little Stevie in case of another recall, which Jobs says has caused him to value control over all else, no matter the consequences.   There are also brief-but-testy-discussions (as the clock’s running toward spotlight time) with Woz about public statements he’s made in an interview criticizing Steve as well as another run-in with Crissann about her spending habits and parenting skills, but just as he’s agreed to further deposits in her account, with Chrisann about to take Lisa off to school, the child runs to give him a long, loving hug. 

 For the final act of this compressed, constructed look at the enigma embodied by Steve Jobs (shot in high-definition-video) we’re now at the SF Symphony Hall in 1998 after Sculley’s gone from Apple, Jobs is back in control as CEO, Lisa’s 19 in her first year at Harvard, and Steve’s about to launch the iMac (so, to set that mood, here’s the lauded-even-if-grammatically-debatable 1997 "Think Different" ad).  As before, tech-writer Pforzheimer’s trying to get an exclusive (which he did in 1988 but only for our benefit because Jobs was off-the-record in revealing that the NeXT box had no operating system yet, just the functions for its demo, because he was stalling on finishing that until he learned what struggling Apple needed so he could sell it to them; that he did, along with the whole company, providing his return in triumph); Lisa’s taken her mother’s place in confronting Dad (seems she finally read the TIME story about his parenthood denials—which seems odd that she’s angry now considering he was yelling “She’s not my daughter!” back in 1984) but he counters with his own bitterness over her not stopping Crissann from selling their house to raise cash for whatever Mom’s currently fascinated with; Joanna’s still valiantly trying to keep things on schedule while Sculley drops by (again) but in a surprisingly mellow, supportive mood.  Things quickly begin to crack, though, when Woz asks again—unsuccessfully—for a public thanks to the Apple II team (Jobs doesn’t want to look backward), leading to his “I’m John, not Ringo” spew at Steve (in truth, I think he’s more like Paul [interesting how the main players in these distinct Apple companies are brought together here] supported in this context by McCartney’s offhandedly-insulting remark made after Lennon’s murder, “He could be a maneuvering swine, which no one ever realized. Now since his death he’s become “Martin Luther’ Lennon … He wasn’t some sort of holy saint.  He was really a debunker,” a statement he's now tried to move past, just as Woz wanted to back away from his 1988 knocks on Steve, although he was truly hurt at the time by Jobs’ constant claim of singular Apple creativity), followed by Joanna’s threat to quit unless Steve pays for Lisa’s college costs (in fact, she was no longer with Apple at this point) balanced by Jobs’ anger over finding out from her that Andy H. has taken it upon himself to cover the bills (as well as recommend that she go to therapy).  All ends well, though, as Steve finally softens toward Lisa by admitting he named the early Apple computer, the Lisa, after her, she agrees to stay for the iMac launch, he implies the future invention of the iPod, putting 2 previous hours of rancor to rest.

So What? There’s already been a good bit of complaining about historical inaccuracies in Steve Jobs, with the aforementioned one 
from Mossberg 
representative of those dissatisfied with what they see on screen: 

"Sorkin chose to 
cherry-pick and exaggerate some of the worst aspects of Jobs' character, and to focus on a period of his career when he was young and immature. His film chooses to place enormous emphasis on perhaps the most shameful episode in Jobs' 
personal life, the period when he denied paternity to an out-of-wedlock daughter. It would
be as if you made a movie called JFK almost entirely focused on Kennedy's womanizing
and political rivalries, and said nothing about civil rights and the Cuban Missile Crisis. 
Sorkin opts to end his story just as Jobs is poised to both reel off an unprecedented string
of world-changing products and to mature into a much broader, kinder manager and person."

Clearly, what Mossberg and others irritated with the depiction of Jobs in … Jobs want is something more like the more-well-rounded-portrait of a visionary whose demonic traits still inspired loyalty in his colleagues, presented recently in Alex Gibney’s documentary, Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine (review in our September 17, 2015 posting)—or maybe even in previous fictionalized works such as Pirates of Silicon Valley (TV movie: Martyn Burke [no relation], 1999; Noah Wyle as Steve) or Jobs (Joshua Michael Stern, 2013; Ashton Kutcher as Steve, certainly with more of a physical resemblance than Fassbender).  On the other hand, Steve Wozniak—someone who knew Steve much more intimately than did Mossberg—says here that he thinks Steve Jobs, even at the trailer level, works quite well despite the fictionalizations (“Accuracy is second to entertainment in a movie like this.”), while in this 11:41 video interview he praises the current film for capturing the essence of how the events depicted in Steve Jobs felt, based on other aspects of the background reality, rather than how these specific product launches would have been transcribed.  In another interview, with Pete Hammond, Woz notes that: “… unlike the Jobs biopic with Ashton Kutcher, this one is totally authentic. ‘I saw a rough cut and I felt like I was actually watching Steve Jobs and the others (including Rogen’s dead-on portrayal of Wozniak), not actors playing them, I give full credit to Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin for getting it so right,’ he enthusiastically told me.” 

 So, you might rightly ask, why does this seeming-biography of Apple’s self-proclaimed-conceptual-genius deviate so much from the historical record?  According to Sorkin (who continues to claim that Steve Jobs is not his 2nd screenplay in a Silicon Valley-based-trilogy after the success of The Social Network [David Fincher, 2010—with those rumors partly fueled by the fact that Fincher was chosen as the originally-slated-director for Steve Jobs]), his plan all along, after using the written biography of the same title by Walter Isaacson as inspiration along with Sorkin’s interviews of Wozniak, Hoffman, Sculley, Hertzfeld, Brennan, and Lisa (who now goes by Brennan-Jobs), was to convert that source material into fictional dialogue for the screenplay, presented in a 3-act-format (because, as he notes in the video interview in the links below, he still basically considers himself a playwright [with his greatest success being A Few Good Men, debuted in 1989 but likely much better known through the film adaptation directed by Rob Reiner in 1992] despite his extensive work in film and TV).  We further find in that Guardian interview link just above:  “His intention, he said, was akin to creating a painting rather than taking a photograph. ‘I didn’t want it to be a cradle-to-grave biopic or a piece of journalism. Art isn’t about what happened.’  Sorkin also praised Alex Gibney’s documentary about Jobs [...] ‘You can see a very good piece of journalism about him.’"  But, just as Charles Foster Kane’s journalism often relied on controversy or innuendo (possibly based on fact—clearly excepting all of the reviews of Susie’s opera career, minus Leland’s scathing critique [written mostly by Kane in an act of anger-fueled-honesty]) so have Sorkin and Boyle used the certifiable background they collected on Jobs as merely a foundation for their 
rumination about visionary ideas vs. the perils of obsession linked to vicious or self-destructive actions, just as Mankiewicz and Welles used the life and career of William Randolph Hearst as a springboard for their sprawling story about the corruption of material power when its wielders aren’t grounded in healthy upbringing and attitudes (but as Mossberg, cited above, complains, Citizen Kane presented clearly fictional characters [even though Hearst furiously saw himself and his not-so-secret-Hollywood-mistress, Marion Davies, as Charlie and Susie] whereas Steve Jobs uses real names of real people in seemingly-plausible-encounters, thereby implying history with something that’s really more of a fable about power, responsibility, and the impact of various perceptions of truth).  Regarding the characters’ quest for truth in Boyle’s film, Steve holds a grudge against Joanna and Lisa because he assumes that a TIME article about him being a deadbeat-dad prevented them from naming him “Man of the Year”; Sculley wants the world to know that he didn’t personally fire Jobs from Apple; Wozniak wants everyone to see him as a co-creative leader like The Beatles’ John Lennon rather than a goofy sidekick like drummer Ringo Starr—I haven’t yet come across anything from Woz about the veracity of that last bit, although it may have been another appropriate invention of Sorkin’s, given that he noted in that Guardian article cited above, “‘[Jobs] is someone a lot of people have a lot of very strong feelings about. It’s a bit like setting out to write about the Beatles.’" so maybe instead of another Silicon Valley exposé Aaron’s just getting warmed-up for the extreme task of exploring the Lennon-McCartney dynamic (a great benefit for me if so, yielding another likely-successful-screenplay to appreciate as well as a trove of Musical Metaphor options to use).

 The original title for Citizen Kane was American, showing how this compromised-social-titan-protagonist was intended to not only represent some grandiose U.S. figure but also to be indicative of how our country was finding itself at a moral crossroads after the flowing wealth of the Roaring Twenties succumbed to the deprivations of the Great Depression and the rising international unrest that would soon draw the U.S.A. into WW II.  Pardon my own arrogance here, but I’ll further offer … Kane as a thematic follow-up to the tragic indictment of where that ‘20s “glory road” was headed in The Great Gatsby (1925)—of course, Jobs’ musical muse, Bob Dylan, might tell me: “You’ve been with the professors And they’ve all liked your looks With great lawyers you have Discussed lepers and crooks You've been through all of 
F. Scott Fitzgerald's books You’re very well read It’s well known But something is happening here And you don’t know what it is Do you, Mister Jones?” a condemnation that could also easily describe the lost life of Kane, as well as one which Jobs seemed to be trying desperately to avoid blundering into as his ideas, wealth, and power all continued to expand during the years depicted in this film.  OK, even if you think “Ballad of a Thin Man,” on the outstanding 1965 Highway 61 Revisited album, isn’t a proper warning for what Steve Jobs (maybe Steve Jobs as well) is all about, then I hope you’ll agree that it’s at least good for another break in this everlasting-flow if you’d like to listen to it at https://www. watch?v=zYgZUoaIhxA (sung in this clip by Stephen Malkmus, not Dylan, because this excerpt’s from another fabulous, more-allegorical-than-biographical cinematic wonder, I’m Not There [Todd Haynes, 2007]—an oblique-investigation of another 20th-century-titan—where Dylan in this segment is played by the inimitable Cate Blanchett, but if you’d prefer the straightforward version by Bob himself then here you go at

 One other aspect of this film that bears mentioning is discussed in a very interesting article in Variety focused on 
our contemporary preoccupation with the necessity for over-achieving-levels of exhaustive work in our culture (and others that emulate us, for better or worse) as Justin Chang explores this topic (along with the inevitable intrusion of further trauma from our domestic-life-necessities that collide with all-immersive-careers) in comments about recent films such as Steve Jobs, The Martian (Ridley Scott; review in our October 8, 2015 posting), 2 about the ongoing rigors of journalism in Truth (James Vanderbilt) and (November-scheduled-release) Spotlight (Thomas McCarthy), The Intern (Nancy Meyers; review in our October 3, 2015 posting), and even Inside Out (Pete Doctor, Ronnie del Carmen; review in our July 2, 2015 posting) that focus on the never-ending-need for work and success in modern life (although Chang speculates that this theme easily goes back to the actual cinematic-editorial against such loss of humanity in Charlie Chaplin’s 1936 Modern Times).  In Steve Jobs our constantly-put-upon-protagonist says that he “plays the orchestra” of engineers, designers, marketers, and the many others involved in a product’s conception and execution, as well as the general public, to create both the devices he envisions and society’s perceived need for these instruments of automation that change our understanding of the world while becoming as much necessity as liberation. (Underscored at the showings I saw with a pre-feature-request that we shut off our individual tiny glowing screens so that the film we all came to see on the big screen can be projected without the sort of distraction that Jobs railed against at the ‘84 Macintosh launch where he wanted the EXIT signs off in order to give full attention to his on-stage-images-and-breakthrough-computing-device.)

 In both Steve Jobs and Steve Jobs: Man in the Machine we encounter references to his argument that human beings are inferior to other animals in the fundamental need for survival in our physical environment; yet when you add tools to our existence—he uses the example of the bicycle—we become superior, so that he wants his computing machines to be our 21st-century bicycle to give us unprecedented command of our planet, probably as the needed step toward our next level of human-technological-interface as our species approaches its next evolutionary leap (although no mention is made in either film about the warnings that have come from equal-if-not-more-so-geniuses such as physicist Stephen Hawking about the dangers we face if we allow our machines to develop true sentient intelligence, but that’s probably a topic for another film when Fassbender and Eddie Redmayne [of The Theory of Everything (James Marsh 2014; review in our November 19, 2014 posting)] meet up in some cosmic “phantom zone” in order to save the universe—Who knows?  Maybe J.J. Abrams is cooking up something like that for a new Star Trek story to be released as an argument for unplugging IBM’s Watson [see, Steve was right to warn us back in 1984 about the dangers we face from that soulless bunch at "Big Blue"] before it transforms into 2001’s HAL or The Terminator’s [beginning with James Cameron, 1984 (!!)] Skynet by the middle of our current century, as has been predicted).  Yet, to gain access to this ever-evolving-“bicycle” (and other apparently-needed-constant-advancements of our present status) seems to require a level of monomaniacal-tunnel-vision that can destroy relationships, health, and mental stability, all in a never-ending-race for achievement even as these “improvements” in our lives also continue to contribute to environmental, social, and personal degradation. 

 In fairness to the real Steve Jobs, though, this current film is focused on redeeming the relationship with his daughter, which finally starts to happen as he reaches out to her in defiance of his own can’t-start-late-at-a-launch-event-dictum, implying the start of closure in 1998 within this tensely-told-tale, while his actual life included a stable marriage to Laurene Powell from 1989 until his death, not even noted in this film; during this time he also met his long-lost-birth-mother who provided a connection to his previously-unknown-sister, Mona Simpson, plus he found his biological father but never revealed their connection even when dining in the man’s restaurant (briefly noted in Steve Jobs in a conversation with Sculley), so there’s a lot more uplift in Jobs’ off-screen-life than we see in these scenarios, even though there was constant chaos for him during the 1984-1998 period shown here, giving substance to the external and self-imposed pressures on this unique man which have been abstracted, reimagined, reconstructed in Sorkin’s script.

 Therefore, none of these just-noted-aspects-of-more-tranquil-actualities deny the harshness presented in the film, that to greatly succeed in an ever-cutthroat-marketplace one must constantly consider putting personal needs behind the priorities of market research, technological innovation, and pushing the people around you to their limits.  (As shown in the first segment when the Macintosh’s voice isn’t working mere minutes before the public demo begins, so Steve threatens team-member Hertzfeld with public humiliation if the box doesn’t say “Hello” to the assembled crowd; Andy finds a work-around rather than an actual solution but it raises the additional question [beyond the one of what limits should we put on straining ourselves—one that I could only answer by retirement from my 60-80 hr. work weeks (academia may not be as laidback as it’s erroneously assumed to be, at least for anyone I’ve ever worked with) by retirement 2 years ago, which has led to great improvements in the irritating-shingles, esophagus-constricting-acid-reflux, and rising-blood-pressure problems that accompanied my employment] of how much we can reasonably drive our co-workers in trying to bring our visions to realities, even when those visions have more-altruistic-than-monetary-motives [Jobs is determined to make an impact with the Macintosh so as to prevent what he sees as the human-interface-denying aspects of IBM and its technologies from dominating worldwide computing into the foreseeable future]).  Do we work ourselves to death for our principles, also taking down those around us when we have command over their careers as well (put another way, should we “Jobs” ourselves and/or the jobs of others into physical/mental exhaustion?) or do we finally begin to realize, as Steve does with Lisa on the roof of the SF Symphony Hall, that command of the material world may have its benefits but loss of the human one that we’re trying to improve can easily make the whole social-quest worthless?  That’s what I think Sorkin and Boyle are all about here, using their redesigned-biography of Steve Jobs to make a dramatized-argument with a genesis in enhanced versions of appropriate facts.

Bottom Line Final Comments: As I’ve noted a couple of times in past reviews (including the one for … Man in the Machine), I’m, like Jobs, a child of adoption with issues of my own in response to (this current fictionalized-biography’s version of) John Sculley asking—just before the 1984 product launch—why adopted people feel they’re rejected rather than chosen.  In Steve’s case the answer was rooted in his first adoptive parents sending him back after 1 month, then the next ones having to keep their emotional investment in him at a distance fearing loss of their child because his biological mother initially insisted that any adopters be “educated, wealthy, and Catholic,” conditions the Jobs couple didn’t meet (nor did my adoptive parents, except for the Catholic part) so they had to wait months for closure until they promised to send Steve to college—an ironic situation in that he only briefly attended Portland, OR’s Reed College before dropping out because of the financial strain of high tuition (for me, the problem came many years later when I made distant-contact with my birth-mother only to have her reject my request for meeting with her—or to find out anything about who my biological father is—for reasons which I intellectually understand but still haven’t shaken the unintended emotional scars brought on by that failed attempt at an encounter).  So, I realize I can’t be entirely objective about what I experience with Steve Jobs (in truth, despite my best efforts, I doubt that my reviews—or anyone else’s—are all that objective anyway, no matter how many protests to that stance I’d get from “loftier than thou” critics) because of these key aspects of its content(The lost-father-issue hit me even harder during the 2nd screening when 9-year-old-Lisa runs to give Daddy a hug before he insists she go to school—a quick shot that conveyed to me her ongoing need for having a father in her life who was more than just a put-upon-benefactor finally responding to her mother’s constant-financial-entreaties [just as Jobs himself remained distant from his own father even after learning the man’s identity] as well as recognizing that he cared for her enough to value her education over watching a commercial-product-event, even though she was quite confident that by reading ahead she was already aware of her history lessons, thereby not missing anything in the classroom anyway.  [I can appreciate that as well, having developed an illness in high school that kept me in recovery for a week or so, allowing me to get so far ahead in my U.S. History readings/end-of-chapter-written-assignments that when I returned I was able to gain release from that class for many days while others were catching up, allowing me to work on additional projects for my much-more-desired-art-classes.])

  With that massive distraction honestly acknowledged, I do find a lot to value in Steve Jobs even though that’s not been the case (so far at least) with the public at large, given the paltry $9.8 million domestic box-office-take even after 3 weeks and expansion to some 2,493 theaters (although overall critical response has been more encouraging—especially about the main actors' performances—with a 85% positive score at Rotten Tomatoes, 81% at Metacritic; more details in the links below).  Further, the media-analysis-experts at Variety offer the opinion that this weak embrace is a response to Fassbender not being a bankable-enough-star (especially for something playing in mainstream moviehouses rather than the more-likely-location-arthouses), there being plenty of Jobs material already available in various media, and the dual-disinterest in a guy well-known only for making geeky machines (despite their ubiquitous presence) and for being shown in Steve Jobs trailers as a disconnected dad running rampant over his cowed child and subordinates (quite true, although you’d have to see the whole experience to appreciate that his ultimate “heroism” was of a different sort entirely than what we expect from James Bond in Spectre [Sam Mendes, opening November 6, 2015]).  Those factors may also be valid for the considerably-worse-ticket-sales-response for the equally-compelling … Man in the Machine, which is languishing at a mere $492,416 after 8 weeks of availability, soon to be gone completely to video.  Just as Citizen Kane was neither a public nor financial success in 1941—to some degree as the result of the campaign against it, from denigrating commentary in Hearst newspapers and fear of showing it by many theater-chains (although it was critically respected even then, plus it won the Oscar for Welles and Herman Mankiewicz as Best Original Screenplay)—so Steve Jobs hasn’t caught fire now, but I hope it will in retrospect (maybe after a nomination for Fassbender or even one as Supporting Actress for WInslet if voters take note that she worked extensively with Joanna Hoffman in preparing for the role, studying her mixed accent—criticized by many as not being consistently Polish enough, even though Hoffman grew up more in Armenia than Poland, also had Russians in her family, and has lived in the U.S. since her teenage years so that “wandering” enunciation is probably more accurate to her speech patterns than many have yet realized).  

 For that to happen, though, it needs to be understood for what it is: a highly-dramatized-reconstruction of some of the life of Steve Jobs along with a few of his associates rather than the more biographically-influenced attempt of a couple of years ago, the lesser-embraced-Jobs, but that’s in terms of artistry (27% positive reviews at Rotten Tomatoes, 44% at Metacritic; Woz has problems with it as well, if you can stand watching his interviewer’s constant interruptions) rather than income as this earlier work took in about $36 million, which tripled its small budget, despite a very slow start upon release (giving me hope that Steve Jobs will pick up some steam as well).

  However, if the public just can’t get motivated to buy tickets to films about Apple’s co-founder and long-time-CEO rather than just gobble up the products that Steve Jobs inspired the development of then maybe I can interest those of you worldwide (I'll note U.S. readership is now back in front of Russian readers for this blog so I guess my Bridge of Spies [Steven Spielberg; review in our October 15, 2015 posting]-inspired-spike in deep-Eastern-Europe/ northern Asia readers has subsided) Two Guys in the Dark loyalists to share with me Mr. Jobs' enthusiasm for the music of Bob Dylan as we conclude these proceedings with a couple of tunes from Mr. Zimmerman as Musical Metaphors for the film under inspection this week.  I’ll start with “Shelter from the Storm” (from the well-regarded 1975 Blood on the Tracks album) at https://www. (you'll find many versions on YouTube but this is the only one I’ve found where you clearly understand what “Mumblin’ Bob”—as I’d call him in performances of recent years—is singing), used in the film under the final credits, possibly linked to the concluding scene of rapprochement between Steve and Lisa where he seems to be coming toward her in the wings watching his product-launch of the iMac rather than “launching” into his spiel for the crowd, as if she’s finally worthy in his mind of these lyrics: “And if I pass this way again, you can rest assured I’ll always do my best for her, on that I give my word” as he tries “imagining a place where it’s always safe and warm” rather than being “burned out from exhaustion, buried in the hail.” 

 However, I’d like to also offer another Metaphor from this ongoing-bard-of-contemporary-culture with “Bob Dylan’s Dreamat com/watch?v=Swy8F JUCFpI&list=PLknidvzc LCRGlsFLSz48yY3fmy0Q zm1kb&index=8 (from The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan; this link location is a cluster of each of the cuts on that 1963 album, #8 of 13 so that you can work your way through the rest of them too if you like, given that this collection contains a cluster of classics [at least in my Dylan-obsessed-mind; I’m about as fanatical as Jobs was concerning Bobby’s body of work, when I can understand what he’s saying] including “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Girl from the North Country,” “Masters of War,” “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” “Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right,” “Oxford Town,” “Talkin’ World War III Blues,” and “Corrina, Corrina”) because it speaks wistfully of an earlier time in the singer’s life when—as I image Jobs, Woz, and others depicted in this current film often quietly, secretly thought—“we together weathered many a storm Laughin’ and singin’ ‘till the early hours of the morn’” because they “longed for nothin’ and were quite satisfied Talkin’ and a-jokin’ about the world outside … And our choices they were few and the thought never hit That the one road we traveled would ever shatter and split.”  Maybe I’m just projecting myself onto Steve Jobs and Steve Jobs once again, but I know I’ve felt that way many a time, how relatively carefree I was back in grad school (at about the same age then that these Pirates of Silicon Valley [you can rent this one as well—again, no benefit to me—at this site] were when they set out to find the realization of their techno-dreams, in about the same years as my grad-school-era) never knowing yet what awaited me with marriage, divorce, another (much better and lasting) marriage, a long career in academia where success constantly mixed with frustration; surely those long-ago-years weren’t as idyllic as I like to remember them (I’ll bet Dylan’s weren’t either, nor Jobs’ although I wonder if such might have been the “reality” for fictional Charles Foster Kane before his dreams began to slip away), but it’s the memory of those high hopes, wild chances, open architectures of the mind (before the income crises, firings, failed products, critical derision, etc.) that can make us all nostalgic—at times at least, no matter the triumphs of the present day—for a past, even if now romanticized, that offers alternatives from the current shocks of aging, medical problems, too-early-deaths of too many we’ve known.  Reverse-engineered as these memories may be, I’ll bet “Ten thousand dollars at the drop of a hat I’d give it all gladly if our lives could be like that.”

 Maybe too much of the immortal Citizen Kane has rubbed off on my embrace of Steve Jobs, but I think there’s something of real significance in this latter film (even if it’s too hokey, as my marvelous wife/life-companion, Nina, observes, that Steve would turn away from that huge audience chanting for the reveal of the wondrous iMac to walk toward off-stage-Lisa as Boyle’s epic concludes; to me that’s just another of the calculated moves of this carefully-constructed-Sorkin-script, but she’s likely right that it’s a bit too sentimentally-melodramatic for Steve to soften that quickly, as he also just happens to have on hand a copy of the abstract drawing she made with the original Macintosh—especially, since as best I can glean from various sources without reading a bunch of biographies, she wasn’t even there for this event anyway).  If you can appreciate the impact of the artifice of this film, even as it’s recasting the historical record in a manner reminiscent of rewritten Soviet Union-era propaganda as history, then I think you’ll find something well worth your investment with Steve Jobs, but if you’re going to be constantly irritated by intent and essence overriding fact then maybe you’d better stick with some more accurate Soviet history as presented in the also-wonderful Bridge of Spies, which is a lot more defendably historical.  Finally, my apologies if this review of just 1 film rambled on as if I were presenting a multitude of screening reactions (with so much text that I couldn’t even find enough photo support to break up these paragraphs any further) but anytime I find myself expounding on both Citizen Kane and Bob Dylan it gets dangerous for anyone who doesn’t have an afternoon to kill while scrolling through the posting.

 Consider yourself lucky, though, that I'm out of time and energy—and don’t want to abuse those from you either—or I’d also explore the following quotes (maybe paraphrases; sometimes it’s hard to write fast enough to catch all of the nuances): “The very nature of people is to be rejected,” “Just because you say something is doesn’t make it so,” “You can be decent and creative at the same time”; after all the raw material I’ve given you here you could probably write your own review of Steve Jobs based on those words alone without even viewing the film, but I do highly encourage you to see it anyway while you can.  Even if you’re put off by the arbitrary-structure of the product-launches with their repeated inner-circle-confrontations where it all seems carefully-crafted by a master-manipulator behind the scenes (which it is), just remember that the grand-triumph of Citizen Kane is just as arbitrarily, calculatedly set up in terms of who reveals what about Charlie (especially regarding conflicting accounts), along with the use of a dazzling-array of cinematic moves—time/event-compression-montages, expansive-deep-focus-shots—which are marvelous to behold but, like many events of … Jobs, are carefully-planned for (fabulously-effective) impact more so than as necessary-narrative-devices.  But even if Steve Jobs isn't your cup of silicon then maybe you should just try to see ... Kane (again?) for an assured (I hope) level of cinematic-atisfaction.
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
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Here’s more information about Steve Jobs: (23:06 interview with Aaron Sorkin and Danny Boyle, in which they make the point that their approach to this film is to present a portrait of Jobs as “a painting” rather than as a docudrama), along with usNuGY (46:35 BBC doc about Jobs if you’d prefer facts rather than Steve Jobs’ impressionistic approach to this enigmatic character as it’s a concise but full-life-biography; however, in case you think Steve Jobs overdoes the negative side of its subject, here are brief excerpts [4:07] from various public appearances [1997-2010] showing some of his less-than-cuddly-moments at

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By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile.    Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.


  1. I thought the film was entertaining but ultimately not satisfying, certainly not good enough for high praise. The problem is the material breaks no ground, provides little insight into the making of genius (of which Jobs certainly achieved by humbling tech giants (IBM and their PCs and Motorola with cell phones for example) and surprisingly completely disregards the biggest marketing coups, the IPhone, IPAD, ITunes and the App Store. As such the definitive work on Steve Jobs is yet to be made.

  2. Hi rj, Thanks as always for the comments. While I can't disagree with your remarks I'm still personally in support of what direction was taken with Steve Jobs because I think the intentions of this film are quite noble, although you're correct that "the definitive work on Steve Job is yet to be made" because this one uses Jobs as a vehicle to make a wider range of comments but does--in the process--abandon a true biography of this individual guy (and the others associated with him). Ken

  3. As you pointed out, Walt Mossberg's (a Wall Street Journal reporter with access) negative commentary of the movie (linked here again) is worth review to balance the soap opera aspects of this otherwise well crafted and acted portrayal. I only wish Jobs had conceived Google's ground breaking search engine (possibly the real internet age breakthrough) so we might have a Google Blogspot (this forum's engine) that allowed better formatting for the Phd (you) and some kind of comment editing for people like me. As is, I can still find anything anytime using my Apple IPad and our Google Search. It's the vision of someone like Steve Jobs and their ability to achieve goals through management alone that really sets the stage for the cultural change of computing power we are experiencing today.

  4. Hi again, As always I couldn't have said it better. Thanks for rounding off this review and its associated conversation in such a thoughtful fashion. Ken

  5. Here's the link that did not come through properly mossberg link.

  6. Hi rj, I've just checked this link, works fine. Thanks for the update. Ken