October 25th, 2015


The Best Half A Movie I've Seen In A Long Time

The Three Week Cold is still annoying me, but I am getting better. Last Saturday we didn't go out to the movies, saving our energy for Game Night. This Saturday? Despite the heavy rain earlier in the day, we had a chance to go to our favorite Holland 7 and catch a movie I wanted to see with the comfy new recliners that debuted the other week. And then go out to a wonderful dinner in honor of our second 31st anniversary.

Pretty fair deal, I'd say.

Steve Jobs [R]
Holland 7 Theatre 5, 4:30pm, 2×$6.00 ***

The movie opens with a real treat, an old bit of film with Arthur C. Clarke talking about the possibilities of a personal computer on life, while surrounded by the usual white room of Big Iron mainframes. Many of us growing up in the techie fields of the 70s and working with mainframes, PDP-8s and -11s and VAXes, etc., wanted to have a computer to call our own, even if we couldn't yet articulate exactly what we would use a computer for. And between IBM, Microsoft and Apple, it took a while for some of that to shake out. We've come a long way to get to 2015.

I must confess that I would never have been able to work for either Steve Jobs or Bill Gates in the heyday of the early PC/Mac era. I don't need that pressure. And while most of you know that I use Windows and DOS PCs, it's not that I actively hate Apple products. Indeed, I actually do own a Mac -- but it's a Macintosh SE running System/Finder 6.0.8 that I bought used for $125. And while I haven't actively participated in the Cult of Apple, I have always found Steve Jobs a polished charismatic salesman, versus the We Own The World bludgeon of Bill Gates.

Second confession. When I first saw trailers with Jeff Daniels in it, my first thoughts were "Oh, he'll be perfect as the hyper excited Steve Balmer." Oops, Balmer was Microsoft, my bad. But truthfully, I had forgotten all about Pepsico's John Sculley, who'd been brought in to be Apple's CEO.

So what's the crack about this being "half a movie" in the blog post title? Well, the movie centers around three history making product announcements by Steve Jobs -- the original 128K Macintosh, the NeXT computer and the iMac. We see lots of the chaos backstage, and getting everything to work right, or even just work. And in the middle of all this, there's outside shit to deal with. BUT, a lesser filmmaker would have gone on to show Steve Jobs on the stage performing the Steve Jobs Magic Show. Each of these sections of the movie end with him going out onto the stage. That punch is pulled, primarily because it is totally unnecessary. In addition, we end with the iMac. We don't get to see the warm-ups to the iPod, the iPhone, the Mac Air, the iPad, etc. Those punches are pulled, because we already have satisfied the writing gods with the Rule of Three. We don't have to deal with his illness and death. A lesser filmmaker would've tried to cram in too much, or concentrated on the pathos of the endgame. Again, there's half a film left not on the cutting room floor, but simply not needed. 1984, 1988 and 1998 are sufficient.

It is the middle act where I had some interesting reactions. The NeXT machine came out when I was in grad school, and some in the Michigan Tech Math department were all agog at the machine and thought we in Physics should switch to it. Really? An MC68020 processor, I think running at 25MHz? Insufficient memory, disk, a prohibitive cost -- and no FORTRAN compiler? What, am I supposed to be doing mainframe Hartree-Fock calculations using Mathematica? And yet the NeXT OS was brilliant and clean. I used NeXT on a 66 MHz 486 PC at Hope College in 1996, and it ran complicated multi-user applications far more stably than my single-user 166MHz Pentium PC. I can see why it morphed into the MacOS used today. But the original black cube? Bah!

I can see some eyes have glazed over -- TMI on the tech stuff. Does that mean the movie is only for geeks? I don't think so. There's a good smattering of insider techie talk, but it's not oppressive -- and there's plenty of dramatic and social dialog to keep the tech stuff at bay. AMC's series Halt and Catch Fire is much more geeky.

Danny Boyle directs, but for a film which is chock full of talking, it is a joy to have a script written Aaron Sorkin (West Wing, A Few Good Men, etc.). I found the whole cast to be terrific, including the guy playing Steve "Woz" Wozniak, Seth Rogen. And of course, I'm sure people who know me can't believe we've gotten this far down in the review and I haven't mentioned the incomparable Kate Winslet. Of course Kate is brilliant as Johanna Hoffman, Steve's marketing shepherd -- and frankly his shepherd, too. We know La Kate can do convincing accents and mannerisms, as in the 2008 film The Reader (DW). Here she serves as the missing half of Steve's personality. Also kudos to the casting of the three girls used for his daughter Lisa -- nice match there.

But ultimately this is Michael Fassbender's movie. As Steve Jobs, you can't take your eyes off him in any scene. I am sure that if Jobs were still alive today, he'd probably hate the performance, but that's as it should be.

So, is this a love story treatment of Steve Jobs? No. We see the best and worst of Jobs, especially a lot of the latter. Yet, there is that seed of genius -- or at least the demand for perfection -- along with a few cracks in his iron demeanor. And though he calls a few people "friend", we also are privy to his loneliness, even when surrounded by hundred of Apple people who've drunk the Kool-Aid and are his biggest fans.

In the Wikipedia article, there's a section about journalist Walt Mossberg's feeling that Steve Jobs is too much fiction and probably should have been treated like Orson Wells did William Randolph Hearst in Citizen Kane. I can vaguely see his point, but look -- we know that biopics are artificial. That they are going to emphasize some things more than others. Is this a complete tale of Jobs? No. Hardly. But by focusing on only a few things, we not only see the man of history, we also see him grow.

Frankly, I don't think it's possible to a film about Steve Jobs without stepping on toes or bringing up stuff. So what? We're getting a look at the man behind the curtain, right before a couple of the biggest shows of his life.

For me, this is sufficient. For Mrs. Dr. Phil, I don't think she actively disliked the movie, but did comment that she was in no hurry to watch it again on television any time soon. Perhaps that's as much an indictment of living in the Steve Jobs pressure cooker, as the film itself. As I pointed out above, you'd not find me working for Apple or Microsoft in most any alternative universe you care to hypothesize. (grin)


Trailers: One from the First Looks video ads running before the movie trailers -- The Man In The High Castle is coming out on Amazon video on 20 November. The way to movie speculative fiction gold has, for a long time, been to turn a Philip K. Dick short story into a movie. Now we get to see what the 1963 Hugo winning novel from Philip K. Dick will turn into when Ridley Scott makes a two-episode mini-series for Amazon. Frankly, it's gorgeous. There are reasons why we "love" Nazi movies -- the Nazis were all into set dressing and giant set pieces. So when the Allies lose WW II, what we get is... Will definitely have to check this out. The Big Short, brings back some of the people and cast responsible for Moneyball, to look at a True Story of some people who saw the housing market crash coming in 2005 and decided to short the big banks on Wall Street and make a killing. Brad Pitt, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, etc. Very intriguing. The Finest Hours is the Disney United States Coast Guard rescue film in the middle of the True Story of terrible conditions. Looks better than the Kevin Costner movie The Guardian, though that one I have to admit is a late night guilty pleasure... Concussion, seen previously, has Will Smith as a foreign born doctor concerned with Repetitive Head Injuries in football. As noted before, it comes out in December AFTER most of the high school, college and even NFL seasons are done. Hail, Caesar is a Coen brothers romp in the golden 30s age of Hollywood, with George Clooney as the studly matinee idol in a movie Hail, Caesar. Except he's kidnapped by "The Future". I don't know where this is going, but it's a great cast and it sure looks like fun.

Dr. Phil

*** Actually, we only paid for one ticket. The group ahead of us had bought their tickets online, but one in their group hadn't made it. Unfortunately, I suspect because they had gone through Fandango or someone outside the theatre, they had no way to refund one ticket. So the lead guy in the group decided to pass the extra ticket onto the next person in line. Which was Mrs. Dr. Phil. Didn't matter that the ticket said "Woodlawn" 4:25 -- it was the same price.

We will have to pay it forward another time we are in the theatre...
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