(Video on Demand, March 2016) It’s a good thing that Ashton Kutcher’s critically-dismissed Jobs (2013) exists, if only as a point of comparison to the far more audacious Steve Jobs. Both try to capture on-screen the life of the famously abrasive Apple co-founder, but the first plays it as straight as it can, while the latter takes a far more experimental approach to its subject. The crucial decision in making this film special is screenwriter Aaron Sorkins’s crucial intuition to structure the film around three key product presentations, allowing the film to focus on Jobs at three moments in his life. The consequences of this choice (including how mini-stories condense around those crucial moments) are nowhere near historically accurate, but they do make the film far more powerful. It helps that Steve Jobs is directed by Danny Boyle, who shoots each act differently and brings just enough of his stylistic experimentation to bear. Michael Fassbinder doesn’t look all that much like Jobs, but he creates a mesmerizing performance that carries the character. He’s ably supported by a number of good actors used effectively, but the star of the movie remains the script, with its overlapping dialogues, technically accurate jargon, fast-switching subplots and quotable moments (“I play the orchestra”). It amounts to a surprisingly good film, made even more surprising by how audience may think they already know enough about Jobs. And that may be Steve Jobs’s legacy: a thrilling execution that manages to prove that a fresh angle is often enough to make the familiar fascinating again.
(Video on Demand, November 2013) I will admit that I was among the skeptics when they announced that Ashton Kutcher would be playing Steve Jobs in a film biography: How could Kutcher’s slacker personae fit with the Apple founder’s latter-day visionary reputation? As it turns out, Kutcher’s casting is one of the best things about Jobs, an average docu-fictive effort that nonetheless has a few good moments. Kutcher is at his most Kutcher-esque early in the movie, playing Jobs at a time when the man was a free spirit open to eastern mysticism and counter-establishment thinking. Much of Jobs follows its subject during the eighties as he becomes a shrewd businessman, combining visionary thinking with available technology. It’s not a seamless nor magical film: Despite a rich re-creation of the nascent personal computing industry in the 1980s, Jobs gets progressively sparser at it moves throughout the nineties, eliding some important transitional periods in Jobs’ life (such as the years at NeXT, his co-founding of Pixar, the way he reconciles with his daughter or indeed much of his personal life) in the rush to present him triumphantly re-taking the reins at Apple. Little is said after 1997 save for a 2001 prologue introducing the iPod, and nothing at all about Jobs’ last years. Visually, the film is a bit flat save for the period re-creation, and while there are several interesting actors in small roles (including James Woods in a single early scene!), there isn’t much here to raise the film above made-for-TV specials. On the other hand, Kutcher is surprisingly credible, so at least there’s that. One hopes that Aaron Sorkin’s upcoming competing effort will be a bit flashier, and hopefully more substantial.