[Screen It]


(2015) (Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet) (R)

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Drama: A forward-thinking businessman and innovator must contend with various professional and personal challenges as he prepares for big product launches in 1984, 1988 and 1998.
It's 1984 and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs (MICHAEL FASSBENDER) is preparing for the public revealing of the Mac computer. With his head of marketing, personal assistant and confidant, Joanna Hoffman (KATE WINSLET), by his side, he's hoping to orchestrate a successful product launch, but programmer Andy Hertzfeld (MICHAEL STUHLBARG) isn't sure he'll be able to get the computer to say hello to the shareholders at the presentation. At the same time, Steve must contend with fellow Apple co-founder Steve "Woz" Wozniak (SETH ROGEN) wanting Jobs to acknowledge his Apple II team at the presentation, but Steve refuses to do so. In that same vein, he refuses to accept that 5-year-old Lisa (MAKENZIE MOSS) is his daughter, despite the girl's mother, Chrisann Brennan (KATHERINE WATERSON), having the court agree with her. Even worse, the mom and daughter are broke and only after Chrisann pleads their case does Jobs, worth north of $400 million, agree to help beyond the meager, court-mandated payments he's been making.

Four years later and after the failure of the Mac to capture enough sales, Apple CEO John Sculley (JEFF DANIELS) and the rest of the board have jettisoned Steve. Accordingly, he's gone on to create a rival company, NeXT, and is preparing the launch of its Cube computer system. But Steve must contend with many of the same issues as the last time, including having now 9-year-old Lisa (RIPLEY SOBO) wanting to live with him rather than her mom. He has other plans, however, and manages to maneuver himself back into having Apple want him back.

Ten years later, he's back on top at Apple, Sculley is gone, and Jobs is preparing for the launch of the iMac. With Joanna still by his side, he again runs into various challenges minutes before the reveal, including confrontations with Andy, Woz and now 19-year-old Lisa (PERLA HANEY-JARDINE), all of whom question Steve's way of running the business as well as his personal life.

OUR TAKE: 7.5 out of 10
By their very nature and definition, movies -- or as they said in the old days, motion pictures -- are stories told with still images (or frames) that when run together, create a visual narrative. For the most part, and at least in regards to good movies, one can turn off the sound and still follow what's occurring (and sometimes feel the same sort of emotional connection as if the aural part was still active).

Of course, and notwithstanding silent movies of old or films that feature little to no speaking, most movies possess and need some or a lot of dialogue to connect with viewers. As a long-time aspiring screenwriter, I can attest that writing dialogue is one of if not the hardest part of crafting a screenplay.

And that's because the verbal exchange must sound realistic yet also unique and special to the characters and the films in which they appear. It must help move the plot forward rather than simply exist as filler, and it should exist in the form of showing a character's motivations rather than telling them to the viewer (meaning it shouldn't be obvious). And it shouldn't draw undue attention to itself or showcase how smart, witty, self-indulgent or egotistical the writer behind it might be.

Granted, some writers manage to get away with the latter by executing the former requirements on a high level. One of those I've always admired is Aaron Sorkin. He's managed to balance that fine line both in TV ("The West Wing," "The Newsroom," etc.) and in movies ("A Few Good Men," "The American President," "Moneyball," "The Social Network," etc.) and continues that trend in his latest work, "Steve Jobs."

As the title should suggest, the film is about the iconic head of Apple. But unlike the 2013 biopic "Jobs" that followed the standard chronological biographical storyline model (and featured Ashton Kutcher as the title character), this is essentially a three act play put on film. That's not meant to imply that it's limited in any way, shape or form, but that it's broken into three parts, each based on a product launch that Jobs orchestrated, while professional or personal chaos swirled all about him.

The first involves Jobs (Michael Fassbender, absolutely terrific and definitely Oscar worthy) moments before the 1984 launch of the Mac computer. The second is four years later after he's been forced out of Apple by its CEO (Jeff Daniels) and the board, with him now preparing to launch his Cube computer via his new tech company, NeXT. The third is back with Apple for the 1998 launch of the iMac, and all three acts add up to an engaging and often exhilarating two hours or so of outstanding acting and, natch, brilliant screenwriting.

All of them also include recurring characters involved in one way or another with Jobs' professional or personal life. That includes Katherine Waterson as the mother of his child (who's upset that despite being worth hundreds of millions of dollars, he sticks with the low monthly child support payments while always contending that he's not the girl's father) as well as the girl herself (played by Makenzie Moss, Ripley Sobo and Perla Haney-Jardine at ages 5, 9 and 19). Kate Winslet is ever present as his head of marketing who's also seemingly the only person who can put up with him, his ego, and his single-minded demands. Seth Rogen plays Steve "Woz" Wozniak who helped Jobs found Apple long ago and now simply wants some recognition from an increasingly overlooked team in the company, while Michael Stuhlbarg plays a beleaguered computer programmer.

As Jobs points out late in the film, it's almost as if those characters went to a bar, got drunk and then decide to show up and tell him what they think, all just minutes before he's supposed to go on stage to do his product reveal. I don't know how much of that happened in real life, but it makes for some exciting drama and even suspense as the protagonist refuses to alter his course or view for anyone, regardless of the related fallout. I can't wait to read the screenplay to see how it plays out on the page, but in filmed form, it's quite something to behold, with some of the heated exchanges being the best thing you'll see all year in any movie.

Of course, you need the actors and actresses who can handle such dialogue, the emotion behind it, and the usual Sorkin rapid-fire pacing. All involved are up to the task, especially Fassbender who again proves he's one of the best actors working today.

Not to be left out of the conversation is director Danny Boyle ("Slumdog Millionaire," "127 Hours") who also does a stellar job, including some subtle moves that film geeks will drool over. That includes shooting the first act in 16mm, the second in 35mm, and the third digitally, all to symbolize not only the time period, but also Jobs' focus becoming ever more clear (just like the overall visual look improves) as he evolved. There's also a brilliant, symbolic shot showing heavy rain outside an office window pouring down while the reflection on the floor inside shows it going up, thus effectively squeezing Jobs out of Apple in a pivotal flashback scene that's intercut with a contemporary one.

Smartly (and thankfully) avoiding the usual biopic blueprint of moving through the ages, and instead focusing on just three pivotal moments in the protagonist's life, "Steve Jobs" tells its tale with brilliant efficiency, all with the outstanding dialogue being a delicious layer of frosting on this tasty offering. The film rates as a 7.5 out of 10.

Reviewed October 12, 2015 / Posted October 16, 2015

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