Kurt Loder Movie Reviews

Movie Review: Steve Jobs

Michael Fassbender's riveting take on the man who changed the world.

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Fassbender
Universal Pictures

Danny Boyle's Steve Jobs biopic leaves a lot out. There's no mention of the late Apple mastermind's devotion to Buddhism, his funding of Pixar Animation Studios, or some of the most celebrated products he shepherded into being, like the iPod and the iPhone. Also cropped out of the picture are Jobs' wife of 20 years, Laurene, and their three children.

But given the abundance of incident in the movie's source material—Walter Isaacson's monumental 2011 biography, a book that Jobs authorized but didn't interfere with, or even read, before his death that same year—such omissions were obviously unavoidable. Instead of getting lost in the man's complicated life, director Boyle and his screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin, have hooked Jobs' story on three of his famous product-launch events: the 1984 introduction of the game-changing Macintosh, the 1988 unveiling of the NeXT computer (the machine on which Tim Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web), and the 1997 debut of the iconic iMac.

The result of this compression is a movie that hits the ground running and rarely flags for the next two hours. It's filled with Sorkin's trademark talk-talk-talk, but Boyle whips things along with inventive shot designs and an electronic score (by Daniel Pemberton) that almost never stops percolating beneath the rich dialogue. Most memorably, the picture is a showcase for its star, Michael Fassbender, who doesn't really resemble Jobs (until the end, when the mock-turtlenecks and New Balance sneaks come out), but who gives an enthralling performance as a man whose conflicting inclinations—toward both harmonious design and thoughtless cruelty—somehow combined to truly change the world.

Like Isaacson's book, Boyle's movie is not a hagiography. Jobs' heartlessness is dealt with right at the top, in a scene set in 1984, when we see him rebuffing his longtime girlfriend, Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston), who has turned up at one of his events with his first child, Lisa, to whom she gave birth five years earlier. Jobs continues to deny that Lisa is his daughter, even though a DNA test has determined his paternity to a near certainty. And while Jobs is already a multimillionaire, he pays Chrisann only $385 dollars a month in support, and is unmoved when she tells him she has had to go on welfare. Jobs' icy rejection is appalling: Chrisann is pathetically vulnerable, and only a man with the heart of a turnip could reject the Lisa we see here (played with dental braces and winsome intelligence by Ripley Sobo).

Jobs is merely condescending with his longtime friend and Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen, deploying comic rhythms but not aiming for laughs). It was the nerdy Wozniak who created the first Apple computer, and he's amazed by the public acclaim that's been showered on his brilliant partner. Jobs is neither a coder nor a designer nor an engineer—he's like a man who can't play an instrument, but who nevertheless manages to make great music. "What do you do?" Wozniak asks. "I play the orchestra," Jobs says.

Fassbender is fast and funny with Sorkin's crackling lines (on Microsoft rival Bill Gates: "He dropped out of a better school than I did"), and his vivid charisma carries us past Jobs' flaws, and somehow keeps us on his side. We see another aspect of Jobs—who was an adopted child—in his conflicted father-son relationship with John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), the older executive he hired away from Pepsi-Cola and by whom he was shortly thereafter fired. And while we witness a few of Jobs' abusive outbursts when his relentless pursuit of perfection is frustrated by under-performing employees (incidents that seem softened, in light of real-life accounts), we also get to see someone actually standing up to him—his no-nonsense marketing chief, Joanna Hoffman, played with an energetic perfection of her own by Kate Winslet.

The movie's through-line is Jobs' awkwardly evolving relationship with his daughter Lisa (who's also played, along the way, by Makenzie Moss and Perla Haney-Jardine). Boyle doesn't over-exploit the possibilities for corny redemption as their story progresses, but at least some hope is offered that Jobs can morph into a more complete human being. "What you make isn't supposed to be the best part of you," Wozniak tells him—possibly the sort of advice the real Steve Jobs finally took to heart.

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  1. Maybe I’m romanticizing the past, but it strikes me that the Rockefellers, Carnegies, Vanderbilts, DuPonts, and Stanfords of the past all took it upon themselves to leave behind universities, museums, cultural monuments, etc. That’s not to say they were saints or even particularly nice people (I have no idea) but they undoubtedly left behind enduring legacies to the public.

    I don’t see similar things being done by today’s billionaires. They all seem to have various foundations and charities, but their work doesn’t seem as visible. Maybe it’s focused over seas, maybe it’s just less self promoting, maybe it will just take time, or maybe I’m out of the loop.

    I dunno. Just an observation that struck me while reading about how unpleasant Jobs could be.

    1. Some universities in their building splurges have torn down old named buildings and replaced them with shiny new ones with generic names that can be renamed after a big donor. Donating for buildings may not be as safe a legacy bet as leaving behind an organization. Stanford doesn’t have to worry about the entire college being renamed, and the organization is likely to keep the memory alive. Not so much for a dorm hall.

    2. LynchPin1477|10.9.15 @ 8:15AM|#
      “Maybe I’m romanticizing the past, but it strikes me that the Rockefellers, Carnegies, Vanderbilts, DuPonts, and Stanfords of the past all took it upon themselves to leave behind universities, museums, cultural monuments, etc. That’s not to say they were saints or even particularly nice people (I have no idea) but they undoubtedly left behind enduring legacies to the public.”

      No gripes about what they bought with their money, but as assholish as Steve was, he made a lot of people a lot of money.
      The world is ‘way more prosperous than it was before he showed up. That’s an enduring legacy I’ll take any day.

    3. Behold, the Min Kao building (of Garmin fame) at the University of Tennessee.

      See also the Stokely Management Center, same institution.

      Of course, all of these buildings are State owned property, so they are monuments to government first, then monuments to those who worship big government second.

  2. Characterizing Jobsas someone “who has changed the world” is absurd – they guy produced a “somewhat better” MP3 player. He merely copied other’s ideas, improved on them ( a little, very little) and then set up a system for merchandising songs. Anyone who thinks the cellphone would not have added internet connectivity unless Jobs was here, is living inadream world. Jobs never really invented anything. He increased the size of cellphones and reduced the size of laptops.,
    which severely limited their capabilities. Jobs was a phony “Thomas Edison.” Edison invented
    THOUSANDS od items that truly changed the world completely. Jobs merchandiced a few gadgets.

    1. As someone who blew through 3 or 4 other shitty MP3 players before buying one of the earlier iPods I can confidently say that the iPod was more than “a little, very little” better.

    2. Bullshit. The Phillips Rush player did much more than the original iPod, much more reliably, at a noticeably lower cost. Most (maybe all) MP3 players of the time had better specs than the iPod at a lower price.

      Apple hung their hat (and all the R&D money, apparently) on marketing and aesthetic, and it worked like a charm. Ignorant masses gladly shelled out more dosh for less product so they could join the cult.

    3. Somewhat better is a stretch. He produced a pretty player. He was like the Bill Blass of electrical appliances without any of his own ideas.

    4. “He merely copied others’ ideas, improved on them…”

      So basically, Japan’s entire economic strategy circa 1980?

  3. never bought an apple product. I really liked that 1984 commercial though

    1. I made the mistake of buying an iPhone a few years ago. Kept it updated until the OS exceeded the capability of the phone, so it was running the newest version of the OS available for that device.

      Then, one by one, as I allowed Apple to update my apps, they went away. You see, the Apple was is to “upgrade” applications until they will not work on the device they were installed on, then delete them. When the latest version tried to install, I would get a message that the app would not run on my OS version, THE HIGHEST VERSION AVAILABLE FOR THAT DEVICE.

      Rather than leaving the old version alone to run, it was deleted and there was no way to get it back.

      The normal way that we are both used to is you install a program on a device it was intended to run on and it runs. Upgrades to that program run on the intended device too. Versions for new operating systems are installed WHEN YOU GET A NEW OPERATING SYSTEM.

  4. The continuing deification of Jobs is nauseating. Dude helped design some nice phones–that didn’t really change the world. Someday soon, I hope the Jobs cult members are all found deceased wearing matching pajamas and self-mutilation scars.

  5. Twenty years ago I thought Jobs was a massive ass hole that wasn’t nearly as bright as everyone thought he was. I’ve managed to stay Apple-free, and am better off for it.

    Screw Little Stevie Jobs, screw Little Timmy Cookie, and screw Little Stevie Wozniak.
    (Miraculously, this message was composed on a non-Apple product.)

  6. Man, the anti-apple is thick here.
    I’m the first to agree that apple products are overpriced and underwhelming in performance per dollar.
    But the UI, the thing that actually made the iPod and the iPhone big hits, is where they excel.

    1. They lifted the Xerox windowing system for that.

      The only things Jobs ever did was make computing appliances pretty.

      1. Well, like it or not – tons and tons of people thought that was pretty important.

        It may seem petty and shallow, but that’s human nature for you – and that’s how Jobs changed the world.

  7. i would just like to point out that both Jobs & Sorkin are hacks

  8. I guess I will watch this movie eventually, but I am not sure it can surpass the greatness of The Pirates of Silicon Valley.

  9. It appears that Steve Jobs jive exceeds the limit that cinema can show in one sitting.

    Just saw the CNN documentary, Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine and, while not flattering at all, managed to capture only a fraction of Jobs’ wholesale jerkitude. They touched on a few of his shady business dealings. Not just the stuff that the authorities find shady, like his stock options antics, but also his ripping off Woz in the creation of Breakout at Atari.

    They also touched on the nutjobbery of the Apple user cult attacking writers who dared speak ill of Jobs or Apple.

    Nothing yet has captured the fact that if Jobs was awake, he was lying. Most bastards confine that to their time speaking.

    The CNN show also touched on how Jobs denied his daughter, plus how that story came to print. Additionally, the bit about how the Lisa was going to have a different name, the same name his daughter was going to have. When he and the mother decided on Lisa, the computer was changed to Lisa, which Jobs denied any connection.

    1. Something not covered lately, ever hear the one about how Apple created the switching power supply? Wall to wall bullshit and Jobs knew it whenever he spoke about it. I am still trying to find a video clip, but there are plenty of quotes around in print.

      Atari was using switching power supplies when Jobs and Woz worked there, it was the PS for Breakout arcade machines, and they were used in oscilloscopes for ages before Atari was around. BTW, Pong was created on an oscilloscope. Jobs hired the power supply engineer from Atari as an engineer for Apple. He was one of the first 10 employees.

      There is also plenty out there about how this Jobs yarn is false, but somehow his fanboy writers keep repeating the Jobs version.

  10. Get real. Changed the world? Thomas Edison changed the world. Steve Jobs built some mostly useless gadgets.

  11. This is how religions get started.

  12. Wow, a lot of Steve Jobs and Apple hate here. All I’ll say is that of all the computers anyone in my family has owned, it’s the one Mac my parents got several years ago that still runs almost as fast as it did the day they got it. Any PCs any of us got would’ve been near impossible to use after this many years.

  13. I don’t know if I could stomach a film both written by Sorkin and about Steve Jobs. That’s a personal nightmare combination.

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