Thursday, October 22, 2015

STEVE JOBS -- my review

As readers of this blog know, I love Aaron Sorkin’s writing. Yes, it’s stylized; no, real people don’t talk like that – but it’s smart and thought provoking and in a world where Donald Trump is actually a serious candidate for President and people give a shit about the Kardashians it’s a nice fantasy that not everyone is a dolt.

Sorkin always chooses arenas filled with bright Mensa members so you believe that his characters are at least capable of spontaneously delivering a masterful speech with a killer closing line. He’s not writing SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT 9.

His latest endeavor is STEVE JOBS. Clearly a fascinating subject, Jobs was a visionary, a tyrant, a genius, a nutcase, a failure, and spectacular success. All before breakfast. He was admired and feared. He was a perfectionist to where Oscar Levant would say “lighten up.” Jobs was truly larger-than-life. Unless you had Ashton Kutcher starring as him, it’s hard to imagine a bad movie about such a dynamic personality.

Add to the mix, Danny Boyle as director. He is without a doubt one of the finest, most creative, visually stunning directors we have. So on paper this was an absolute Dream Team making this film.

The result is very good. But if the real Steve Jobs were running the studio he would probably send it back for more development, rewrites, and reshoots. It’s an iPad that still has some bugs in it.

And to a certain extent, I blame the director.

Sorkin wanted to do a biopic that wasn’t the standard linear timeline you most often see. He also knew he couldn’t tell the whole story. The book he adapted is probably 10,000 pages (I don’t know. I have the Kindle version. It just tells me what percentage of the book I’ve completed. I read it a few years ago and seem to recall he was well into his teens before I reached 2%.) I applaud Sorkin for that. What he came up with was an interesting conceit. He would show the introduction of three of his signature products. The action would take place during the final few minutes before he had to go on stage and make his presentation.

Taking a bit of creative license, in all three scenarios people in his life would appear and get into verbal wrestling matches with him. His ex, his daughter, his former business associate, his former tech partner, his girl Friday.  Who provided security for these venues?  

Now in real life, at least some of these people might say “there may be a better time than five minutes before you have to address thousands of uber nerds.” Perhaps a discussion of why he was fired from his own company ten years prior could come at another time. When I was about to go on the air and broadcast a baseball game to a thirty-station network I generally did not get into a big argument with a former girlfriend over whether she should convert.

But like I said, it was a conceit and artists do that all the time. I think it would have served the material better if it were a play, but that’s neither here nor there.

So why I’m I blaming the director?

Because the dialogue, as rich and wonderful as it was, was relentless. Each segment played the same – fast paced, up against the clock, juggling crises – but without a break it was ultimately exhausting. David Fincher figured that out directing Sorkin’s SOCIAL NETWORK. He left some room for the audience to breathe. As a result, it was much easier to process, and when there were those high-charged super Sorkin exchanges they really popped. There were sections of STEVE JOBS when I admit I zoned out.

The film plays at one level – hyperspeed. Danny Boyle should know better. God forbid Jobs sat back, had a cup of tea, and reflected for five minutes. Instead, it seemed like he was mainlining Red Bull while downing bottle after bottle of 5-Hour Energy and then washing it all down with Jolt Cola.

Michael Fassbender was terrific as Jobs. Seth Rogen stood his ground as Steve Wozniak. Jeff Daniels is now a veteran of Sorkin-speak and Kate Winslet had the thankless role of his marketing director/handler. Still, she had some good speeches when she wasn’t saying, “Steve, you’re late. Steve, you can’t do that. Steve, let me tie your tie.”

At the end of the day, IF you are a Sorkin fan, you will be entertained. But you won’t learn anything new about Steve Jobs.

To me the essence of Steve Job is that his greatest gift is what ultimately killed him. He had this belief that he could will things into being. Engineers would tell him certain things were impossible, he would say they’re not, and sure enough he was right. The success of Apple is his vision and ability to create reality. That blind faith built a multi-billion dollar business and changed society.

But when he was diagnosed with cancer, instead of treating it medically and vigorously, he let it slide, counting on his ability to control outcomes. Well, this outcome he couldn’t control. To me, that’s a better story – the price of greatness, the irony that his greatest strength proved to be his greatest weakness. None of that was touched on in the movie – which I understand, but I would have been more interested in that story rather than would he and his teenage daughter reconcile?

Oh well. Maybe it’s time for a remake. What’s Ashton Kutcher doing these days?


Lara Cody said...


You should write that movie!


Peter said...

Oprah will do a new version starring herself as Steve Jobs. She's gotta get an Oscar one way or another.

VincentS said...

I think what really happened is that this production team were determined not to repeat the Aston Kutcher debacle, so they went for "artsy."

Douglas Trapasso said...

Great review, Ken! Feeling sad today, both about my Cubs and Instant Mom. Keeping you and your daughter in my thoughts.

Conan the Grammarian said...

He was a perfectionist to where Oscar Levant would say “lighten up.”

Should that be “to whom?”

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

Yep, Jobs fatal flaw is the story for me. It killed him.

Mighty Dyckerson said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Peter said...

Mighty Dyck, do everyone a favour and fall head first of a cliff during your holiday.

MP Nunan said...

The "accuracy" issue is nonsense.

Sorkin wrote this in the form of a play; which therefore took on a narrative structure different than a typical 'tent pole" production.

I profoundly doubt that everyone had enormous existential conversations in the 10 minutes before each product launch - but it doesn't matter. It's different. We have to .... think different. Wait - who said that?

Bob said...

Thank you, Peter. You've just let our resident troll know he's getting under people's skin, thereby ensuring that he won't be going away anytime soon.

Diane D. said...

Wow, superb review and beautifully written, any grammatical idiosyncrasies notwithstanding.

Conan: You may be right, but I understood it to mean, "even Oscar Levant would have said 'lighten up', but more importantly, so what? When both the writing and expression of ideas is so lovely, how can you even notice minor grammatical issues.

Anonymous said...

I hate it when real events, people are "Hollywoodized" in movies, TV or whatever. Argo, was a recent example. How that screen writer got an Oscar, when he should have been fired, for writhing a completely fictional version of what actually happened. In fact the real story was much more compelling that the Hollywood one. Spielberg's "Lincoln" is another example of messing with the true story. I hate to say it, but the average movie goer and TV watcher is not that bright and sees them as the real thing.

mdv1959 said...

Interesting take on the Jobs film by Walt Mossberg who spent a lot of time talking to Steve Jobs. (Spoiler: He's not a fan of the film.)

Jacob said...

More to the point, who the HELL is Oscar Levant? You don't expect me to Wikipedia EVERYTHING do you?

Igor said...

Love your idea re him reacting to his cancer. But I do then immediately fear it would fall into the usual: A short segment of him dying, a long flashback, dying some more, another long flashback. IOW, how would YOU map that out?

I agree w/ Jacob about the Oscar Levant reference, though I have heard the name. And yet, I think it works here because "Oscar Levant" simply suggests fastidiousness.

Ken Levine said...

If you don't understand a reference in one of my blogs, either skip it, or if you're curious enough, it's only a couple of clicks to look it up. Being exposed to names and references you don't know is a good thing.

I learned a lot about show business that came before me by seeing unfamiliar guests on talk shows and seeking out their backstory. One such guest on the Jack Paar show one night was Oscar Levant.

Oh, and look up Jack Paar if you don't know who that is.

Astroboy said...

At one point in life, not knowing who they were, I could walk out the door and ask 10 people "Who are Jack Paar and Oscar Levant," and odds are almost all of them could tell me. Now it's the other way around. I just don't like this getting old bit.

Igor said...

I was teasing. Just, Oscar Levant IS is kinda out there.

In a related story (as to the obscure): Once on a news show a reporter pressed me, "Didn't you do such and such?" It was absurd, so I laughed, as to say "No way." Yet the host came back at me, "So, is THAT a DENIAL?"

What I wanted to say next was, "Oh, you want something Shermanesque - fine. (beat) Hello mudda, hello fadda." Nah, a tad obscure. I just said, "Yes, it's a denial."

Anonymous said...

Oscar Levant:
One of the funniest most talented guys around - and brilliant. Good friend of the Gershwins.
Had a terrible drinking problem, limited his career.
Was great on The Tonight Show, truly witty, not like the people on TV today.
One time either Carson or Paar asked him what he did for exercise. Said "I stumble and fall down a lot"
I believe he was also author of the quote, "I knew Doris Day before she was a virgin"
And his comment on Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller was classic (look it up)

Tonto said...

On an embarrassing day for our country -- when we have yet again the umpteenth Benghazi Congressional Committee bashing the punching bag of partisan politics with No Decision -- to read a review that mentions Mr. Oscar Levant is pure pleasure. We are a better country than all this tabloid clickbait nonsense, and our genius strength lies in the individual expression of faithful KEMOSABE everyday oompanions like Mr. Ken Levine.
Thanks for being such good company, Ken, and here's to many more!
Heigh Ho Silver!

Mike said...

I'm afraid that the combination of Hollywood films 'based on true events', Sorkin's writing and the deification of Jobs (or Gates or Zuckerberg) elicits a perfect shit-storm of criticism from me. So it's best we just move along and save them for a rainy day.

I do think that there's a Glengarry Glen Ross or a Death of a Salesman or such like to be made from Silicon Valley. In which I would include the scene where Jobs berates Gates for a couple of hours, accusing him of filching the GUI, when they both filched it from Xerox. Zuckerberg can rummage through the waste-paper baskets.

Johnny Walker said...

God forbid people shoul be required to look something up. (If that never happens, when do you learn?)

It's a shame that Boyle was the weakest link. I think he can be a very uneven director. Fincher would have been perfect, but the studios wouldn't pay him what he wanted. Sigh.

Fassbender is going to be a difficult sell for me, too. He doesn't seem to have any Jobs like qualities (ignoring the looks, too).

Still looking forward to watching this, though.

PS - An Apple fan told me that the reason Bale and Dicaprio passed in the role is because Jobs's widow asked them to -- she didn't want the film made. Don't know if that's true or not, though.

Anonymous said...

She was right!

Anonymous said...

People are dolts for considering Donald Trump a serious candidate? Shouldn't you be a dolt for considering as a serious candidate someone who deliberately lies to you for political gain?

Mike said...

@Anonymous@8:07PM: You may have to narrow that range of candidates down a little.

Anonymous said...

Mike, well we have a whole bunch of Republicans who lie they will enforce the immigration laws: Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Scott Walker(gone), Rick Perry(gone), Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee.

Meanwhile Hillary is open about not enforcing the law, but in Benghazi she had no problem telling the truth to the leaders of Libya and Egypt but lied to America and claimed it was about a video. All to maintain the lie that Al Qaeda is destroyed. You would think Ken instead of mocking Trump would be upset that they arrested a filmmaker as a scapegoat.

Bernie Sanders said he wanted to restrict immigration to keep them from driving down wages for the poor, but he has been backtracking recently. Not sure if he has said anything about enforcing the law.

Mike Barer said...

Sorry, but I like Ashton Kutcher's Jobs better. As bad as that movie was, it showed a much well rounded Stevie J. It may not have been true, but there was at least ethos with the audience. Sorkin's version may be a critical success, but for me, it was torture to watch. I thought, "why should I care about this Jackass"? The theatre was nearly empty. Let's see what Oliver Stone can do.

Diane D. said...

I saw the JOBS movie after reading your review, so I was prepared to be slightly disappointed but entertained. I'm happy to say, however, that I positively loved it. Having the action take place in the final minutes before the introduction of 3 of his products seemed to me to be more than an "interesting conceit". I thought it was brilliant. It showed, more than any other device I can imagine, what it must have been like to be a part of his world--a wonderful economy of exposition.

Michael Fassbender was, indeed, terrific as Jobs, but I also thought Kate Winslet gave an extraordinary performance as his handler. One of the most intriguing questions I was left with was wondering how he could enkindle such love, not only from her but from many others. He was after all the world's biggest asshole.

All in all, a remarkable depiction of the genius and the man.

CarolMR said...

Thank you, Anonymous 6:34, for suggesting we look up the Levant quote about Monroe and Miller. I laughed out loud! I've heard his other quotes, but never this one.

Johnny Walker said...

Diane, I think it's because he had a side that sold dreams to people -- that's the side that sold iPhones and iPads to the world.

Ken, doesn't your son work for Apple? Did he ever encounter Jobs? Dies he gave any thoughts in the movie that won't jeopardise his career?

Johnny Walker said...

Stupid iPhone. I meant: "Does he have"

Mike said...

@Johnny Walker: Knock at door.
Johnny: If you're selling new windows, I'm not interested.
Salesman: No, these are double-glazed dreams.

Beware the iCult Re-Education School, leading out to the killing fields.

Diane D. said...

Johnny Walker
I think you are probably right. There aren't many people about whom that can be said, and I suppose those around them find it irresistible.