Tag Archives: Steve Wozniak

Steve Jobs (2015)

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Artwork courtesy of Sydney artist Hubert Widjaya

I must reassess my judgment that Jobs, the Steve Jobs biopic starring Ashton Kutcher released earlier in the year, isn’t very good because it only covers a small segment of the Apple founder’s life. Now I am convinced that it’s not very good because, well, it simply isn’t.

The reason? I recently watched Steve Jobs, the second Steve Jobs biopic of 2015, and the one that actually took its time to develop into something worthwhile. Strangely, it’s an anti-biopic of sorts, choosing to eschew conventional storytelling in favour of behind-the-scenes looks at three separate Apple product launches that are presented virtually  in real time, with a few snippets of flashbacks, news footage and other footage to fill in the gaps.

I was initially not a fan of the idea, thinking it might come across as gimmicky and failing to present a complete picture. But as it turns out, they totally nailed it, delivering a powerful, dramatic and insightful film that captures one of the most iconic innovators of this generation better than I could have ever expected. It’s proof that unconventional approaches can work if the right people are involved and it’s executed the right way.

Credit should be shared across the board, starting with director Danny Boyle (who won the Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire in 2008) and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. This was a difficult project for a myriad of reasons, the first of which being that Boyle wasn’t even supposed to be directing in the first place. Sorkin had originally written the script with David Fincher in mind, aiming to emulate the success of their previous collaboration, The Social Network. But then Fincher dropped out due to contractual reasons, and Boyle took over a project that was already in mid-flight and custom built for someone else. The actor playing Jobs was supposed to be Christian Bale, and then Leo DiCaprio, and then Bale again, but eventually they settled on Michael Fassbender, whose casting raised eyebrows due to the complete lack of physical resemblance.

And yet, Boyle was able to steer the ship around in the right direction, executing Sorkin’s tightly-wound, threatre-style screenplay into an intense and captivating drama. There are shades of The Social Network in Steve Jobs as both films portray unlikable geniuses who go on to accomplish amazing things, though Boyle adds his lighter touch to the tone and aesthetics so that it doesn’t feel quite as dark.

And Sorkin, of course, did a fantastic job with the script. When I first head that it was going to be “based on” the definitive biography written by Walter Isaacson — one of the most comprehensive and detailed biographies I’ve read — I thought the film was going to be a chronological, step-by-step telling of Jobs’ life story. Instead, what Sorkin did was just take the product launches and a bunch of characters, some personal details and the interactions between them, and essentially craft a brand new story of his own. It’s highlighted by Sorkin’s trademark rapid-fire dialogue and his unique brand of high-voltage conversational conflicts, but at the same time he’s paying careful attention to the transformation of the characters over the years while staying true to the core facts.

The focus and common thread running through the narrative is Jobs’ relationship with Lisa, the daughter he vehemently denied for most of the early years of her life. This relationship is the “pulse” of the film, and from memory Sorkin gets the father-daughter dynamic — at least as it feels in Isaacson’s book — right on the button.

Sorkin’s best work usually comes when he’s confined by a set of parameters (like for this film and The Social Network), as opposed to when he’s given unfettered authority over the material (like for The Newsroom). It’s a minor travesty that Sorkin wasn’t nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay at the upcoming Academy Awards because there’s no one else on the planet who could have written a masterful script like this.

The performances also play a huge part. Assbender has bent asses before, but never quite like this. Yes, you worry about the lack of physical similarities between him and Steve Jobs, but he is so utterly brilliant in this role that you essentially forget about it by the end of the film. He embodied Jobs — or at least Sorkin’s version of him — so completely that he makes the character his own, so much so that he actually begins to physically resemble Jobs more by the film’s final act. There is no comparison between Assbender’s performance and that of Ashton Kutcher, who may have looked more like Jobs than his counterpart but was ultimately doing an impersonation.

The two main supporting roles — Kate Winslet as marketing exec and confidant Joanna Hoffman, and Jeff Daniels as former Apple CEO and mentor John Sculley — are also worthy of praise. Winslet, ever the chameleon, instantly makes Hoffman the most likeable character in the entire film, not just because she’s one of the only people who sees Jobs for who he is and dares to stand up to him, but also because she makes Jobs more human by accentuating both both his flaws and virtues. Winslet also does a cracking accent too, and her Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress is well deserved.

Daniels, on the other hand, gets to handle some of the most explosive dialogue in the film as Sculley, the man forever blamed for ousting Jobs from Apple back in the 1990s. He’s solid as usual, though my guess is that Academy voters overlooked him because he comes across as too similar in feel to Will McAvoy, his character in The Newsroom.

Other quality actors fill up the cast, including Inherent Vice‘s Katherine Waterston, A Serious Man‘s Michael Stuhlbarg and rising Aussie star Sarah Snook. The one that stands out, however, is Seth Rogen as Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. Frankly, I never thought Rogen could play anyone other than a stoner, and it’s kinda weird — but very welcoming — that he holds his own against Assbender.

The problems I have with Steve Jobs are simple. First of all, despite my praise for Sorkin’s masterful screenwriting, the film is still limited in scope. As well as he did in presenting us with a layered picture of Jobs, we’re still only getting three product launches, and they’re likely not be the ones that you envisaged. I wanted more, perhaps in the form of an additional launch or extended flashbacks, but with a hefty 122-minute running time already the film risked becoming too much to swallow.

Secondly, it’s hard to accept the film as a biopic when most, if not all, the scenes and conversations are merely figments of Sorkin’s imagination. It’s more or less historical fiction, and as such, you can only consider it a piece of entertainment as opposed to any kind of legitimate portrayal of Jobs’ legacy. It’s similar to Sorkin’s version of Zuckerberg in The Social Network, except even more fictionalised. Apparently there are those who say Sorkin, Boyle and Assbender got Jobs completely wrong, while there are others who say the unflattering depiction of Jobs is actually going easy on him. It’s not a criticism per se, though it is weird that a movie called Steve Jobs doesn’t accurately portray the man, especially when it is promoted as being based on the only authorised biography of the subject.

Steve Jobs is ultimately a work of fiction featuring the names of real people, but boy is it a wonderful work of fiction. To be able to capture the essence of such a remarkably successful and complex man in a two-hour movie across three real-time set pieces — irrespective of how it compares to the real-life version —  is an astonishing feat in itself. Limitations aside, it’s a superbly directed, written and performed drama that also happens to be entertaining and inspirational.

4.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Jobs (2013)

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First of all, let me be clear. Jobs, the new biopic of the Apple legend starring Ashton Kutcher, is nowhere near as bad as some critics have made it out to be. For those who don’t know about the founding of Apple and the early days of the Steve Jobs story, the film can be an interesting glimpse into the world of the most iconic commercial innovator of this generation. That said, it is nevertheless a disappointing effort given the expectations and the subject of the biopic; for the most part, it was good while it lasted, but ultimately the film comes across as rushed, malnourished and incomplete, and despite the best of intentions, unable to deliver the engrossing experience curious audiences have been hoping for since Jobs’ untimely death in October 2011.

The strange thing about this film is that it, like Jobs the man, begins with what appears to be lofty ambitions, but then, unlike him, surprisingly fizzles out, almost like it decided to give up because the challenge had grown too difficult, or even because it had lost interest in what it was trying to achieve.

I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but it should be known that Jobs is not an attempt to capture the life story of Steve Jobs. In fact, it only covers a small part of his life, from how he came about starting Apple with Steve Wozniak in the 1970s to (without being too specific) the turn of the century (as foretold by the film’s opening scenes). What this curious time frame means is that we know almost nothing of his childhood or his adopted parents, and we see nothing of what are supposed to be the best years of his career. Also, it means the film assumes a certain level of knowledge about Apple and Jobs, which is fine, but a complete failure to even acknowledge the existence some of the biggest milestones outside of this chosen time frame (such as Jobs’s association with Pixar and some of Apple’s most iconic products) just feels…wrong.

Of course, it would have been impossible to capture every aspect of Jobs’s life, but in my opinion (others may differ) the makers of this movie made wrong decisions in choosing what parts of his life to emphasize and what parts to skim over. Without delving into spoilers, let’s just say the film’s last half hour or so is a bit of a hurried mess, and even though it ends on (I suppose) a good note at a particular juncture of Jobs’s life, it leaves you wanting a lot more. This is one of those rare occasions where a film should have been longer — it’s 122 minutes but could have easily added another 20 quality minutes without it feeling bloated. In a sense, the film feels almost like it’s setting itself up for a sequel, except there isn’t going to be one.

There are two additional problems with the film that comes to mind. The first is that it feels as though it is canonizing Jobs. Of course, the prick side of Jobs, which has been documented so well, is not missing from the film — we do get to see him lose his temper and the dark side of his obstinate and vindictive nature (most evidently in his relationship with his eldest daughter) — but the feeling I got (others may have a different interpretation) is that they tried to make him look like a misunderstood genius whose failures only came about because others (old fashioned business executives) did not believe him or share his ambitious vision. In reality, Jobs was at times reckless and his adventurous streak often got the best of him and his projects.

The second problem is that while the film is titled Jobs, it is more about Apple than the life of Steve Jobs. Apart from Jobs’s strained relationship with his first daughter Lisa, there really isn’t much else in the film about his life in the film that isn’t directly related to Apple. How they could make a movie called Jobs and not even let audiences know he’s dead strikes me as bizarre.

Having said all that, the film did start off on a strong note and most of the major events within the chosen period (such as Apple’s IPO and the 1984 commercial — and many more, though they could technically be considered spoilers) are featured and executed well. As a dramatization of that period of Jobs’s life, there’s not much to complain about. But as I had read Jobs’s official biography written by Walter Isaacson just last year, many of the things that happen in the film are still fresh in my mind and thus lacked punch, but for those who aren’t as familiar with Apple’s history and Jobs’s life (eg, my wife), the film could be quite a compelling eye-opener. People interested in Apple’s humble beginnings and geeks interested in the early PC era won’t be disappointed.

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Central to the film is the portrayal of Jobs by Ashton Kutcher. I have mixed feelings about his performance. On the one hand, he definitely has the look and walk of Steve Jobs down pat. There are moments in the film, a flash here, a blurry shot there, where Kutcher is the spitting image of a young Jobs. Jobs’s temper and narcissism also feel genuine. On the other hand, Kutcher looks too much like…Ashton Kutcher, and I wonder if a lesser known actor would have been more suitable for the role. The voice was also too distinctively Kutcher and not quite there.

In the supporting cast, which includes the likes of James Woods, Lukas Haas, Ron Eldard JK Simmons and Kevin Dunn, the standouts are Matthew Modine as one-time Apple CEO John Sculley and Dermot Mulroney as key venture capitalist Mike Markkula. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of Josh Gad as Steve Wozniak, but apparently Wozniak himself as rubbished the portrayal and also his relationship with Jobs in the movie. However, it should be noted here that Wozniak was paid consult on the forthcoming Sony version of the Jobs biopic to be scripted by Aaron Sorkin and based on Isaacson’s book, scheduled for release next year. Whichever way you look at it, that film appears much better equipped to deliver the definitive Steve Jobs biopic we’ve been waiting for (albeit with a lot more rapid-fire dialogue). It seems in the rush to get in first, Jobs had to compromise on quality, which shows in the final product.

The final word on Jobs? A perfectly adequate and generally compelling dramatization of the founding and early years of Apple, but a somewhat incomplete and disappointing portrait of the life of the man it is named after.

3.25 stars out of 5