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Laramie Movie Scope:
Steve Jobs

The man, his machines and his daughter

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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November 20, 2015 -- Of all the films about Steve Jobs, I think this is number nine or so, this one seems to be the most personal one because it is mostly about Jobs and his relationship to his daughter, Lisa, his friend Steve Wozniak (co-founder of the Apple company, played by Seth Rogen of “The Interview”) and his friend Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet of “Contagion”).

Michael Fassbender (“X-Men: Days of Future Past”) plays Steve Jobs in this film, and does a fine job in this role as the enigmatic co-founder of Apple. Three other key characters, besides Lisa and Wozniak, are Apple marketing executive Joanna Hoffman, Apple engineer Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg of “Men in Black 3”) and Apple CEO John Sculley (Jeff Daniels of “The Martian”).

As I mentioned earlier, Jobs' daughter also plays a key role in the film. Since the film takes place over 14 years, three different actresses play the part of Jobs' daughter, Makenzie Moss (Lisa age 5) Ripley Sobo (Lisa age 9) and Perla Haney-Jardine (Lisa age 19). Lisa's mother, Chrisann Brennan is played by Katherine Waterston of “Inherent Vice.”

The film takes place in three acts, each act takes place immediately prior to a major product introduction. The first product introduction is the Macintosh computer, the second is the NeXT computer and the third is the iMac computer. In each of these three acts, Jobs has the same kinds of emotional confrontations with the same people. This story structure is just like a stage play, and seems just as confining as a three act play with a single set.

Because of this story structure, Jobs and his relationships to these people are shown to change over the course of this time. There are also some brief flashbacks to other times in his life, too. But the film opens, somewhat ostentatiously, with historical film footage of legendary science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke predicting the future of modern computers years before the time period of this film.

In the first act, Jobs is not only dealing with Lisa and Chrisann, but the Macintosh computer, which is misbehaving. Jobs tells Hertzfeld to “fix it” in the next few minutes, and Hertzfeld replies the voice synthesizer failure is not that simple a problem to fix. Jobs threatens to shame Hertzfeld publicly if he doesn't fix it. They finally just fake the voice part of the demo. At the same time Chrisann comes around and wants more money from Jobs to support his daughter, while Jobs denies Lisa is his daughter. This gets very nasty, but Jobs finally relents and gives her more money, a pattern he repeats over the course of the film.

Wozniak asks Jobs to acknowledge the Apple II team during his product introduction and Jobs refuses, saying the Apple II is old news. It is the past, not the future. In this film it becomes pretty obvious, however, that this isn't the whole story. The Apple II, the most successful product in Apple history up to that point, was designed by Wozniak, not Jobs. Wozniak champions and defends the computer's open, accessible, flexible design, which lends itself to modification and upgrades.

Jobs' idea for a computer is just the opposite. He designs the Macintosh so that you literally cannot open the case and do any modifications or upgrades on it without special tools. It is a closed system, not compatible with anything else in terms of hardware or software. Jobs insists on total end-to-end control over the computer. Wozniak likes computers that people can open up and tinker with, but Jobs is a control freak when it comes to product design. No tinkering, design flexibility, modifications or upgrades allowed.

The Macintosh is Jobs' baby, his concept, his way. The Apple II was Wozniak's design, and that's why he refused to publicly acknowledge the efforts of the Apple II team. The movie also makes it look like Jobs killed the Newton (an early tablet computer) because it wasn't designed by Jobs. There is also another hint about his need to control everything in a discussion between Jobs and Apple CEO John Sculley concerning the fact that Jobs was adopted. This issue of Jobs' lack of control over his own childhood resurfaces throughout the movie.

The lack of control over his daughter's life, and how that bothers Jobs is also a recurring theme in the movie. Chrisann Brennan, Lisa's mother, is not portrayed with kindness in this movie. She appears whiney, needy and dependent. Jobs withholds money for Lisa's education at one point because he thinks Chrisann is wasting the money he gave her. He is angry when Hertzfeld gives Lisa money for her college tuition, but he finally cools off enough to reimburse Hertzfeld for the gift.

There are a number of hints dropped in the film that Jobs really loves his daughter and he tries to make her life better, but he doesn't like Chrisann, and this complicates matters. None of these messy relationships and feelings seem to fit the image of Jobs wants to project of himself. He is furious when a journalist uncovers the story about Jobs and his strained relationship with his daughter. Throughout all of this, Joanna Hoffman is Jobs' only confidant. She also serves as his conscience and his friend. She puts her foot down, finally, insisting that Jobs reconcile with his daughter.

Although this film is certainly well acted by a very strong cast, it doesn't quite work in some respects. It is just a small slice of the life of Steve Jobs and gives a very incomplete picture of him. The relationship between Jobs and John Sculley seems extraneous and forced. Most of the scenes between these two characters seem dispensable. The character of Chrisann did not seem fairly presented. Her annoying character seems to be there simply to give Steve Jobs a better excuse to act like an ass.

One way to get a better picture of Steve Jobs is to watch this movie, along with the fine documentary “Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine.” These two movies compliment each other very nicely. The documentary fills in the gaping holes in this latest film about Steve Jobs. What emerges from these two films is the enigmatic nature of Jobs, who is a fascinating character.

What this film does have going for it are strong performances by Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Michael Stuhlbarg, Jeff Daniels and the three actresses who play Lisa. Because the film focuses on the relationships between just a few characters over 14 years, it does give us some insight into these characters and we do see some development there. The unusual structure of this film is also its weakness, however. It is a bit too limited and confining. This film rates a C+.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2015 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)