FilmMuse: "Steve Jobs," "Snowden" and the bio-pic

Steve Jobs was a movie I had no interest in watching at the time of its release last year. Perhaps I had grown fatigued over all of the "Nerd Jesus" hero worship since Jobs passing and had enough in terms of hearing about his life. The film is currently airing on HBO and I had the opportunity to sit down and digest it recently and came away liking it much more than I had anticipated.

A few years ago, I did read Walter Isaacson's masterful book on which Boyle's film is based, and I was surprised that Boyle does not take very much from the book in terms of scenes or major plot points.

There are unfortunately no references to Jobs' stinky hippy days or the times his skin would change colors from his bazaar eating habits. I think the primary theme Boyle took from Isaacson's book is how much of an asshole Jobs could be to just about anyone, especially those who he is most close to.

The film presents itself more in the lines of a play in three acts, each revolving around the charisma of Jobs product launch addresses. The first acts begins with the launch of the Macintosh computer after the hype of the infamous 1984 Macintosh Superbowl ad.

Part of what makes this film work is that Michael Fassbender doesn't just do a lackadaisical impersonation of Jobs, but rather a clever interpretation of Jobs that he himself would've admired. Fassbender's Jobs is more of an "IDEA" rather than an actual individual.

The film's metaphor regarding Jobs forced bastardization of his daughter Lisa, and his own quest to prove a sense of value as a child given up for adoption, is central to how he perceived products that he did not "invent," those that he molded into something transcendental, that being "good" is not "good enough," because people will abandon those gizmos for the better trinket.

With regards to stylistic elements, the first act bleeds the beautiful warm grains and screen pops of 16 mm film, and as Jobs, Woz and Andy Hertzfeld argue over computers, I was reminded of AMC's brilliant 1980's silicon valley series Halt and Catch Fire. Unlike that show though, we are obviously dealing with much larger, important, real-life titans of industry in Steve Jobs.

Boyle's ability to make us feel the passion of these geeks that still hold a "made in the garage" mentality  is a testament to his skill. Seth Rogen, who, of course, we sort of know what Seth Rogen is going to add to a film of this regard, is admirably subdued, and doesn't just fall into his normal bro-ey sidekick shtick. The rest of the supporting cast is strong, Jeff Daniels and Kate Winslet are believable as long-sufferers of Jobs' wraith.

Whereas music biopics such as Ray and Walk The Line featured the tortured artist, Jobs is more dysfunctional in a "first word problems" regard, he doesn't have a substance abuse problem, he just lacks a "substance" to his personality, and funnels these emotions into the quest for perfection.

And while Jobs thought he found his Michelangelo in the Macintosh computer, it was a catastrophic failure. He was ousted from Apple and starts NeXt computer, and in this act Fassbender portrays Jobs as an '80s Yuppy scumbag ala Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, where instead of peddling funds on Wall Street, he's trying to bundled together a "cube" PC that is destined to fail.

The film coasts along through Jobs NeXt computer company disaster and his revengeful return to Apple in 1998 as we weave through dressing rooms and stages, as Boyle teases the Jobs keynote, but we never quite get the full magical experience. There is a clever graphical sequence  in the film in which Jobs is talking about NASA and behind him Boyle projects a dazzling space montage on the tunnel wall behind Fassbender.

It is the perhaps the film's "WOW" moment, how people felt about the products that Apple amazed the world with. In a sly foreshadowing, Fassbender comments that he hates the stylus because people don't get to use all of their fingers. And it's here where the film just misses its mark in the end.

We are treated to a somewhat sappy, overdrawn ending in which Jobs has a sentimental moment with his daughter Lisa, where perhaps the film would've been better served with him walking on to the stage and pulling the iPhone out of his pocket.

Recently I wrote about Oliver Stone's somewhat maligned Edward Snowden biopic Snowden and how I think it's probably one of the best things he's done in a very long time, which given recent bombs such as Savages, I'm sure some people will probably humorously reply if this actually qualifies Snowden as a good film or not.

Compared to Steve Jobs, Edward Snowden is an "actual computer nerd" who did some pretty bad ass shit when he leaked all those NSA documents and started a firestorm over government eavesdropping.

However, if Jay Leno were to start Jay-walking, I'm sure most people would think Edward Snowden was a pitcher for the L.A. Dodgers or something. Everybody knows who Steve Jobs is. Fassbender's performance as Steve Jobs was a much more abstract approach than the technical, voice-boxed maneuvers of Joseph Gordon Levitt, who seems to be morphing into the hipster DeNiro the last few years.

I loved The Walk, not only as a Twin Towers obsessive, but for Levitt's fun performance and Zemeckis' wizardry, as this is his best film second to the only immortal Back to the Future, which if you consult YouTube in regards to the relationship between Back to the Future and The Walk, you'll find some truly interesting conspiracies.

And who better to tackle conspiracy than Oliver Stone? Snowden is equal parts bio-pic and new-age techno-political thriller, The Conversation or All The Presidents Men of 2016. And no, I'm not saying Snowden is as good as those films, but it's at least as good as Spotlight, which happened to win the Best Picture Oscar last year, for what that's worth.

And Snowden has a secret weapon in its cast: Nicholas Cage! Cage plays one of Snowden's mentors at the CIA, a composite based partly on a real life intelligence agent William Binney, who wound up exposing a lot of governmental dirt later on. Cage doesn't do much in the film aside from quiz Snowden and hand him Rubix's cubes to solve, but it's refreshing to see him in a somewhat serious role as opposed to a lot of the drivel he's cashing paychecks for lately.

Stone's Snowden has greater legs than his other bio-pics W. and The Doors because there is a fairly resonant message that he's able to deliver about the invasion of privacy. Contrast that with Steve Jobs whose Apple Computer has created devices that have sacrificed privacy and which governments have tapped into and it's ironic to wonder about actual heroes and villains.


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