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Justin Long and John Hodgman must be spinning in their graves

by Thom Yee

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Steve Jobs images courtesy of Universal Pictures

Fatal error?  Unknown Exception?  INVALID Store Path?  PC LOAD LETTER?  Man, I’m glad I switched to Mac (granted that last one is a printer error message, but, for obvious reasons, it still makes me laugh every time I think of it).

Back in the ‘90s (and my youth), the only thing we ever used Apple for was Oregon Trail. Or at least that’s what those of us who’d finished our school work ahead of time used Apple for. Back in those days, when the green screens were really green and the floppy disks were actually floppy, Apple was that row of archaic computers that sat untouched in our library as we, instead, went to the computer lab with Windows machines to use Netscape Navigator and ICQ.

steve-jobs-what-computersIt was a time of great triumphs and unlimited potential insofar as Yahoo! and horrible web design were concerned, as the Windows operating systems transitioned from 95 to 98 to ME and the pile of unused AOL disks grew further skyward, but there was definitely something missing from those supposedly halcyon days, and that was computers actually changing the way we did things. Sure, it was nice to not have to use a typewriter anymore and sure, it was nice to have another screen in the house to momentarily divert our childhood attentions away from our crumbling family lives as we pretended to do work, but when we started seeing real, tangible, potentially industry-shaking changes like the emergence of MP3s as a viable consumer format, the only portable devices we had to play them on were from companies like Diamond Multimedia. “Cool, so I can put my MP3s on this little player, how much does it hold? About 30 minutes? But it’s expandable, right? I can only add another half hour? And how much does the player cost? I think I… I think I’ll stick with my MiniDiscs.”

Nobody’s trying to say that the iPod was the world’s first or best MP3 player, nor is anyone trying to say that it was a hit right out of the gate or that there weren’t other, technically superior players around, but it definitely made an impact on our culture in a way that few other computing devices have. I still remember my first MP3 player, an iRiver H10. It played MP3s, of course, but it also had an FM tuner, a built-in microphone, and real drag-and-drop file transfers… and I returned it and bought an iPod. It just worked better, it felt better, and I honestly liked using it more. I’m not a computer engineer, a coder, or even a gamer, and if you show me a command line I’ll do everything I can to get back to a GUI (usually restarting the computer), but I do use a computer to do real work and I do know how to use them better than most people I meet (and I do know what GUI stands for), and when I switched to a Mac in the late 2000s, I knew that I liked using it a lot better than using Windows. That’s the thing about Steve Jobs’ Apple. It just felt more human.

What’s it about?

Taking place during the pre-show preparations of three key product launches — the Macintosh, the NeXT Computer, and the iMac G3—Steve Jobs is the story of the man who built Apple from a garage operation building computers in Los Altos, California into the most valuable brand in the world. Sort of. Kind of. Okay, it’s really more of an overly dramatized stage play of a movie about the mythology built around one of modern computing’s only truly well-recognized figureheads whose untimely death left us all the more curious about who the man really was.

 

In life, for most of us, the best thing we can usually do is be cautious, considerate, and tentative, because life is complicated and its complex issues require real, concerned attention. But that’s not the right attitude. It’s not the moderates who achieve, the conservatives who succeed, or the careful who win the race.

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

That’s all straight from Apple marketing speak, part of its “Think Different” campaign from the late ‘90s/early 2000s, and while it obviously speaks to that Type-A, right-brained part of our existence, it’s aspirational in a way that few of us ever achieve, and it represents achievement at a level only possible from people who are willing to lose, and lose badly, to try and prove their point. That’s who we think Steve Jobs was, and if you want to keep thinking that, then you’ll love Steve Jobs.

Is it any good?

There’s a world in which Steve Jobs is a really good movie, and that’s the world that we here at GOO Reviews were writing from when it earned its spot in our 2015 Top 10. It’s explosive and kinetic and it moves forward with unbelievable propulsive energy. From the moment it opens, it’s hard not to be taken away with everything that’s going on and the power of the smaller and larger moments that comprise these three product launch events. There’s a part of me that couldn’t believe that I’d just watched all of the pre-release drama of the 1984 Macintosh launch and that almost forty minutes had passed. How could it have been that long? It certainly didn’t feel like it.

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Oh Woz, is anyone ever going to teach you how to dress?

The Steve Jobs we meet on screen in the eponymous movie is the one we all want to see, the one who fulfills every part of that dream of transcendent existence we allow ourselves only to imagine and rarely ever feel, even though we find through the movie’s narrative that it all comes at a great cost — of family, of friendship, and brotherhood. This is a Steve Jobs who marches to the beat of his own drum, who openly threatens people rather than waste time trying to make them understand his point of view, who says “Musicians play their instruments, I play the orchestra.” when his rivals ask him what he does. “Whoever says the customer’s always right was, I promise you, a customer.” I think that would have to be my favourite quote from the movie, and not just because of how much of my life I’ve spent as a salesman, but because it points to how narrow-minded most people truly can be and choose to be during the course of their lives.

As a movie, it’s lavishly directed, always moving forward and always shot from the most striking angle. The scene of Jobs’ dismissal from Apple as the board votes against him is astonishingly dramatic, highlighted with torrential rain that’s so pointed and atmospheric that it feels like it takes place in a more serious, more important world than the one we live in. And that’s only the table stakes of the movie, from the Academy Award-winning director, Danny Boyle, as it was sold as and really is a movie breathlessly led by its writer, Aaron Sorkin, who turns in scriptwork that’s precious and careful and triumphantly awe-inspiring.

But that’s really only half the story. This is also a portrait of Steve Jobs that’s overtly mythical and wildly distorted. It’s overdramatic and grossly inaccurate as a biopic, and it’s hellbent on making it seem like there was a point to the life of Steve Jobs and the relationship he had with his daughter Lisa. Here’s a fact: Before his passing in 2011, Steve Jobs had been married to Laurene Powell since 1991 and, other than Lisa, had three children, all born in wedlock. Here’s another fact: Jobs believed in his work with the NeXT Computer and there was no way he could have known or calculated that its failure would lead directly to his reinstatement at Apple.

It’s these gross inaccuracies that have driven a wedge between those who liked and disliked Steve Jobs, and it’s not because it’s not okay to bend the truth to serve the narrative of what we can all recognize is a semi-fictionalized account of real-life events, it’s because of how far they went. As a movie viewer, I don’t personally have a problem with the choices the movie’s creators made, but what did pull the movie down more than just a little bit in my mind is how obvious the movie is with its inaccuracies. A lot of what happens is preposterous, both from the perspective of someone who knows a little bit of what was going on and from the fact that this is just a ridiculous movie. That rain scene I mentioned is implausibly sensational, and it feels like a moment shot straight out of the memory of someone who would rather attribute far more importance to it than it really had. I mean, don’t they turn on the lights at board meetings, or do they prefer the melodrama of mood lighting that can only be created by close quarters, desk illumination, and end-table lamps when they fire people?

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Because artists lead, hacks ask for a show of hands, and cinematographers choose the most dramatic angle!

But, to me, it’s still a good movie, one that’s easy to enjoy and one that’s easy to appreciate for its spirit and the energy of its script. There’s a fine line directing a movie that will receive praise and directing a movie that’s designed to receive praise, and I think there’s enough honesty in the script that at least makes this a movie that can be appreciated as a dramatic piece. Things like the level of the grain in the film slowly ratcheting down as we move forward in time, things like the attempt to find the reason of such a revered public figure, the award-worthy performances of a great cast of actors that makes you forget their individual times in some of their more uncanny, titanic, dumber or more stoned franchises, and the sheer entertainment value that can be felt and doesn’t have to be finely considered make it something that’s worth seeing despite its incorrectness.

So should I see it?

I think we all have that feeling, deep down, that we’re right. I mean, obviously we do, otherwise we’d have no internal sense of direction, but there’s that feeling inside of each of us that we know what’s going on, that life’s problems aren’t that complex, that it’s not us being rude but everybody else who needs to up their game, and that if people would just listen to us, we’d figure out the way to win. Or at least there should be that feeling, otherwise what are you doing and how do you know to do it? Steve Jobs makes you feel like you might be right, but it also shows you why you might not want to be. If you don’t or didn’t end up liking Steve Jobs, I wouldn’t blame you and you were far from alone. All I can really say is I liked it for no other reason than it felt right even though I knew it was all wrong. Or to put it another way, I don’t think any of its errors prove to be fatal.

Thom’s Steve Jobs final score

3.5heart


On the Edge

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