Steve Jobs (2015)

★★★★

Steve Jobs PosterDirector: Danny Boyle

Release Date: October 23rd, 2015 (US); November 13th, 2015 (UK)

Genre: Biography; Drama

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels

That it has taken the combined efforts of a handful of cinema’s specialists to create a portrait of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, he himself a specialist in complexity, is somewhat fitting. Others have tried and subsequently missed the mark. Perhaps films such as Joshua Michael Stern’s Jobs lacked the raw materials to match the man, languishing instead in a pit of shallow personification. Shallowness is certainly not a characteristic that Danny Boyle’s pseudo-biopic (it’s more of a triple snapshot than a life journey) can be accused of. For his direction supports a piercing Aaron Sorkin script, the screenwriter’s words delivered with panache by an in form Michael Fassbender.

Steve Jobs stalks two primary areas of its protagonist’s life: technology and family. Most of us are aware of his technological feats, but here we see the visionary fear familial commitment, something Sorkin demonstrates early on. Backstage before the 1984 Apple Macintosh launch — the first of three elongated launch sequences; the 1988 NeXT Computer and 1998 iMac unveilings are the others — we watch as Jobs coldly interacts with his young daughter Lisa (played by Mackenzie Moss, Ripley Sobo, and Perla Haney-Jardine depending on the era) and her mother Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston).

Brennan is disgusted at Jobs’ lack of humanity, that his daughter is living on benefits as his business thrives. The conversation switches to an earlier Apple product, the Lisa, and Jobs maintains his unflappable detachment by stressing that there is no titular connection between said machine and his child: “Nothing was named after you. It’s a coincidence”. We don’t believe the revelation, but emotional compromise isn’t how his mind functions. For a man whose existence is sustained via precision and calculation, coincidence doesn’t seem to fit. Perhaps that is why Jobs distances himself from his offspring; he cannot deal in uncertainty.

Sorkin temporarily counters this glacial mantra by having Jobs reel off other acts of kindness, but even those are wrapped up in a commercial blanket. Donating computers to schools for underprivileged kids (good publicity is great publicity after all), for instance. Meanwhile, only after a significant amount of pestering from Brennan does he agree to fund his own kid’s future. They somewhat bond after Lisa uses the Macintosh to doodle, a positive step born out the youngster taking an interest in something her father has created, and not vice-versa. It is a relationship that improves with time, Fassbender’s delicate touch increasingly indicating greater compassion.

There’s a shot around the halfway mark that is reminiscent of the one in Skyfall where techno-villain Raoul Silva can be seen ambling towards Bond from afar, camera frozen. Here, Apple CEO John Sculley (Jeff Daniels, brilliantly recapturing his Newsroom malaise) adopts the role of Silva and Jobs of Bond, though it is part of an extended montage delivered with a kinetic, stylish drive. This is probably the most Danny Boyle-esque the film gets, as elsewhere the director sits back and lets Sorkin’s electric screenplay absorb us. An unrelenting barrage of words does mean the verbiage can occasionally be tough to follow, and instances of humour are rarely afforded time to breath, but it really is a wicked script.

Alwin H. Küchler’s fluid lens work invokes Dutch tilts and floats alongside Jobs, funding his unique air. People constantly fuss around him, his demands fortuitously sky high right before product launches. This takes a little suspension of disbelief — chances are he never faced such family drama prior to the Macintosh introduction — but you do eventually begin to believe the hype. The man is like a rock star, a faultless salesman, and an underhanded criminal mastermind all at once. The cult of Apple is apparent too, with staff members “oohing” and “ahhing” during practice sessions. We even see Jobs wash his feet in some sort of messianic ritual.

The inventor dips in and out of the company for various reasons as the film progresses. When he ends up back with Apple for the movie’s final third, the iMac inauguration, Jobs is at his most charismatic and humorous. Fassbender affords him a chirpier exterior, or so it seems, cracking jokes and congratulating staff members for fixing problems (this clearly mirrors an earlier scene during which he unfairly admonishes an employee). It’s worth pointing out at this point that following his performances both here and in Macbeth, Fassbender ought to start dusting off the awards circuit apparel. The Irish star captures Jobs’ imperfect allure, but it is how the actor wins our empathy that truly astounds.

The spikiness remains. Issues with his now teenage daughter arise again, and it becomes apparent that the entrepreneur’s success is directly related to his relationship with Lisa. When the latter is fractured, the former is non-existent. You get the sense Jobs has spent a career over-egging one rather than focussing on both, and he realises it too: “What you make isn’t supposed to be the best part of you,” says close confidant Joanna Hoffman (a wonderful Kate Winslet), often the mediator between calm and crisis. The three time-sensitive snapshots collectively tell a succinct story and, though they are a tad repetitive, watching the layers unravel is a rewarding experience.

Daniel Pemberton delivers a technologically-infused score that sounds, oddly, like the Jaws theme sped up with light beeps replacing dense strokes. A Zimmer-like quality looms large late on, reflecting our central figure’s faux-heroic transformation. Camera filters change with each passing season, incorporating both rustic woodiness and a crisp sheen. The surrounding textures alter too — plastics make way for glass as the old oblong age evolves into a pre-Millennium new age that favours smoothness (see the difference between the rectangular Macintosh and the curved iMac).

Steve Jobs’ world makes sense to him but nobody else, and the film clearly expresses that. There are verbal jousts too with former partner Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), most of which highlight Jobs’ ignorance. But this is not a hatchet job. It is not a character assassination. Boyle’s picture is instead a contained examination of a convoluted man, a piece that refrains from taking sides and, in truth, never really suggests there were any sides to take in the first place.

Steve Jobs

Images credit: IMP Awards, Collider

Images copyright (©): Universal Pictures

This Is The End (2013)

★★★

Directors: Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen

Release Date: June 12th (US); June 28th, 2013 (UK)

Genre: Comedy; Fantasy

Starring: Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride

It’s difficult to imagine a scenario where a pick-n-mix group of inherently comedic actors and Rihanna could converge together to play themselves effectively. Not on purpose, anyway. The concept is harnessed too tightly before it’s even able to leap from the screen; in a peculiar dynamic, the only genre truly capable of housing said character-actor flip-flopping is the comedy genre, because the gimmick of self-depiction is supposed to a funny one. But there’s a problem. This Is The End runs into a brick wall of indifference built by past humorous undertakings from the tongues of its cast: Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill and company are playing the same characters that they always do, and the fact that these personifications happen to be extensions of their own selves is irrelevant. Though, once the failed gimmick attempt is established as a misfire, the film is able to advance as a fairly solid profanity-laced comedy. The only real happenstance of ingenuity here is, well… this is the end.

Jay Baruchel arrives at Seth Rogen’s serviceably plush residence in Los Angeles hoping to spend some time with his Hollywood buddy. It doesn’t take long for the Hollywood norm to encroach in their affairs though, as the pair receive an invite to James Franco’s housewarming party a dash up the hill. This is too bad for Jay who hates back-patting social gathers and isn’t all that fond of many expected guests, namely Jonah Hill. However, before the duo can settle in to their raucous surroundings (or in Jay’s case, get uncomfortable) an enormous earthquake sends shudders through the ego-mansion, leaving Jay, Seth, Jonah, James and pals stranded in the midst of a fiery apocalypse. And not even Emma Watson is exempt.

Paraded as a depiction of real actors, or ‘celebrities’, fraught and bumbling as their world collapsing in front of them — almost as if self-cleansing — the film doesn’t click. Primarily because those on screen are the foul-mouthed, comically-obnoxious and quip-firing knuckleheads of recent past. We’re not seeing Jonah Hill, we’re seeing Schmidt from 21 Jump Street. Seth Rogen isn’t playing Seth Rogen, he’s playing Ben Stone from Knocked Up. Nick from Hot Tub Time Machine makes an appearance, not Craig Robinson. And that ain’t really James Franco, it’s Pineapple Express’ Saul Silver. Essentially, each of these aforementioned characters — including those present in This Is The End — are all amplifications of the actors portraying them. Therefore the gimmick presented doesn’t stand out as inventive or extra-funny in this instance because we’ve seen it numerous times before.

In fact the only time it does work is when Emma Watson is on screen. The lovely lass whose wand waving skills and crisp pronunciations in Harry Potter have envisaged an image built on pleasantries, turns into a sweary and aggressive pit bull. The Emma Watson here is an exaggerated version — or not — of the widely held self-endorsing, peer-adulating celebrity perception. It’s not actually Emma Watson, and it’s never intended to be Emma Watson (I can’t imagine too much weapon wielding goes on in her life, though I’ve been wrong before). Unfortunately, this nuance collides head on with the presentation of the others as their real selves. Clinging to the rubble and remains of a crumbling ‘it’s actually us’ mantra, the film relentlessly takes pot shots at the idea that famous folk cannot work their way out of a paper bag without external aid. Again, the aforementioned stodgy dynamic on display does consume all and thus this approach struggles to come off as planned, but that’s not to say the film isn’t funny. Because it is; often giggle-worthy, periodically laugh-out-loud.

After meandering through an auspicious beginning, directors Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen realign the camera with the focus on funny, as opposed to a crippled narrative gadget. Light does occasionally seep through this otherwise irreparable artifice, with James Franco’s on screen manifestation proving the most successful of the bunch, certainly within the context of real-life satire. He projects himself as an art mogul — a trait not far off the mark if Comedy Central’s Roast of James Franco is anything to go by — and his magnified pompous demeanour feels the brunt of many a gag (“This place is like a piece of me”). Intentional momentary lapses in arty bravado are just as humorous too, such as his vociferous defence of solitary right to a Milky Way. Whereas Franco’s snob is alienating but not offensive, Jonah Hill’s hollow delivery sees his character assume a position above the others. A condescending Hill oils his excellent comedy chops, evoking the sole deadpan tone amongst a rabble of manic jesters. These remaining hoaxers are serviceable: Jay Baruchel is the only normal bloke, and suffers a tad; Seth Rogen is his usual drug-driven self; Danny McBride bellows obscenities like there’s no tomorrow (to be fair, there isn’t); and Craig Robinson is the cowardly squealer-cum-good. Sound familiar?

On a final humour-related note, as far as camp comedy goes the final scene delivers in abundance. It’s the best part of an outing that bats decent gags throughout, ardently dancing far away in the distance atop the league table of hilarity.

This Is The End seeks jaw-aching victory through a narrative ploy that is prematurely shackled by the jaws of defeat. Besides, self-humiliation isn’t too admirable given that the chaps on screen have constructed comedic careers above such a ridiculing foundation. Despite these grand shortcomings, the film delivers almost consistently in the gag-realm and sort of has its heart in the right place. Given the hilariously absurd finale, you’ll probably leave not really caring about the rest anyway.