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October 11, 2015

STEVE JOBS — NYFF53

JobsFor a movie that resists the traditional biopic movie formula of career-high-and-low flashbacks (witness Ashton Kutcher’s disastrous “Jobs” about the same subject — now streaming on Netflix), “Steve Jobs” is a droning tone poem of a character study. That the Apple CEO seems to have never digested the milk of human kindness supports our shared realization that capitalism’s ruthless quest for unlimited profit is headed to a dead end.  

Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s flawed format sets the abstruse biographical narrative in three acts, each placed in the backstage areas of auditoriums, at different points in Jobs’s career. The petulant “genius” prepares to introduce Apple products that exemplify his bloated career as a cult figure who might have been drawn from Mike Myers’s Dieter character from the “Saturday Night Live” Sprockets skits. The difference is that Jobs made people pay to “touch his monkey.” 

Sorkin’s affinity for overlapping conversations, infused with artificial traveling tension (à la television’s “The Newsroom”), wears thin just when the movie should take off, namely at the start of its second act. In each tortured segment, we catch Michael Fassbinder’s mercurial computer mastermind getting ready to go on stage to introduce his latest creation. Distractions abound. Jobs’s temper explodes, as when his production team fails to make the Apple II computer say “hello” to the audience of press and industry at the product launch. The Steve Jobs presented here is an egomaniacal huckster with a gift for gab and a mean streak when it comes to women. Don’t look for any humanity here because the Steve Jobs we come to know from this film may as well be a capitalist robot come to “save” humanity by extracting its money. No need to thank this cult leader, profit and worship are all he desires.  

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In this ostensibly cinematically dynamic hotel environment of dressing-room mirrors and nervous assistants, Jobs suffers the company of people to whom he should be loyal, but can’t find it in himself to even be civil. First up are Steve’s ex-girlfriend Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterson) and her five-hear-old daughter Lisa (Makenzie Moss). Chrisann is furious over Steve’s public denial of being Lisa’s father in a magazine interview where Jobs couched Chrisann in a brutally misogynistic analogy. Steve Jobs isn’t in the business of giving apologies. While he gloats over the hundreds of millions of dollars he’s worth, Chrisann lives in poverty. Only after she holds his feet to the fire does he finally agree to financially support her and their daughter. Talk about a wealthy skinflint not worthy of procreating, Steve Jobs puts the cherry on the cake.   

Danny Boyle does an admirable job of adding dimension and resonance to the claustrophobic atmosphere. Boyle deploys three different camera formats, one for each act. The filmmaker uses 16mm film for the first act, circa 1984 before shifting to glossy 35mm footage for the film’s 1988- era second act. Naturally the film’s final act (circa 1988) is filmed digitally. The artistic effort shines through even if it can’t elevate such a flawed script. The movie is too pat. 

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Seth Rogen’s Steve Wozniak (to whom Jobs refers as “Rainman”) is presented as two sides of an ongoing joke. All Woz wants, and he wants it really bad, is for his partner-in-crime (they stole the software they used to design their early computers) to acknowledge the “Apple II team” for their contributions to the company. Wozniak’s request seems more than reasonable since Jobs continues to milk that team’s success while tinkering with future failures, like the NeXT computer platform.

Walter Isaacson’s authorized Steve Jobs biography might have been the basis for Sorkin’s adaptation, but this film is all surface and punchlines. Jobs brags that “musicians play their instruments,” but that he “plays the orchestra.” Where, you might wonder does he do that? Off-Broadway perhaps?

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Even by anti-hero standards, Steve Jobs was a bad person who treated the people closest to him like dirt. Besides, he was no Elon Musk when it comes to inventing. This movie helps in its own heavy-handed way at peeling back onion layers of a conceptual inventor who took all of the credit for other people’s work. As many of us know, it’s not always the best idea to meet your heroes. Personally, I never found much fascination with Steve Jobs. After seeing this movie, that hasn't changed.   

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