Movie Review: “Steve Jobs”

Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels, Katerine Waterston, Michael Stuhlbarg, John Ortiz
Danny Boyle

Most biopics go to great lengths to humanize their subjects, to show that even the great ones are flawed in some way. “Steve Jobs” sets its subject on fire, and then pokes the body with a stick for 122 minutes. They make it clear from word one that Jobs was a sociopath, blinded by ambition and seemingly incapable of empathy or love. He was an insufferable boss and an even worse father, yet the son of a bitch changed the world.

And the thing is, those are all okay elements to include in the film of someone’s life. More often than not, though, those pieces aren’t the whole story. Here, they are, and it’s framed within a narrative that seems designed to make the audience even more uncomfortable. “Steve Jobs” is well written and well-acted, but it is not an easy movie to like, let alone love. It challenges the audience, and that is an admirable thing, as long as they’re willing to suffer the consequence that people may ultimately decide that they don’t like the movie because the supposed protagonist is an unrepentant jerk.

The film covers three product launches, peppered with a few informative, non-linear flashbacks, over the course of 14 years. The first one takes place in 1984, where Jobs is about to launch the Macintosh. Ridley Scott’s “1984” ad during the Super Bowl had everyone talking, and now it is up to Jobs to deliver. The only problem is, the Mac isn’t ready, and yet he still tells the press that he anticipates record-shattering sales. Before he makes his presentation, though, he has to deal with Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston), mother of Jobs’ daughter Lisa, though he refuses to acknowledge Lisa as his daughter. Next up is Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), the man with whom he invented the first Apple computer in a garage, and the two are still quibbling over what turned out to be game-changing innovations that Jobs rejected out of hand.

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Microsoft dropping CES – part of Steve Jobs’ legacy?

Steve Ballmer.

Earlier this morning, Microsoft made waves by announcing that it would be pulling out of the Consumer Electronics Show. The announcement was made by Frank Shaw, Microsoft’s head of communications, on the company blog. CEA, the organization that runs CES, claims the opposite, that they chose to give Microsoft the boot. In any case, this is a pretty serious blow to the trade show, and it points to the growing sentiment that trade shows have lost their relevance. As I’m sure some of you remember, Apple did essentially the same thing when it backed out of MacWorld in 2008.

Really, it doesn’t much matter who dropped whom; the end result is the same. CES just took a huge hit, and it’s a hit the CEA should have seen coming. For my part, I’m willing to bet Microsoft backed out. As the company stated, their product releases haven’t lined up with CES keynotes, which is certainly true. There was this other company that held its own keynotes for major product releases, where it would show off finalized versions of products that were ready to ship the same day. You know, that company with the second largest market cap in the world. I’m sure you know who I’m talking about.

Also, as the CEA, why kick Microsoft off the keynote? Who will take their place? Remember, this is the CES. This isn’t a developer’s conference. There won’t be major web properties making keynotes for CES. So who fills Microsoft’s space? More importantly, who forks over the cash to do so knowing the CEA may give them the boot next year? No one. That’s who.

If anything, Microsoft is trying to take control of its hype cycle, in exactly the same way Steve Jobs took control of Apple’s. There is one key difference – the products. Microsoft hasn’t gotten into the hardware game, which makes a product keynote much duller than the Apple counterpart. So much of Apple’s product launch success is tied into showing off a complete product. Microsoft can’t do that, at least not without the help of manufacturers, and manufacturer issues remain a huge source of complaint against Microsoft products. Still, I think moving to Microsoft-sponsored events gives the company a chance to more closely connect with its own fanbase, which Microsoft could really use.

The idea that the CEA would kick Microsoft just makes no sense. Trade shows have been losing traction for years. The last thing the CES needs is a disappearing act from one of the biggest draws for the show.


Holiday Gift Ideas – Books

We covered a wide range of categories in our 2011 Holiday Gift Guide, from Gadgets to Movie DVDs. Here we offer up some book ideas as well.

Steve Jobs
By Walter Isaacson

This isn’t just a great biography. Isaacson is a very talented writer, historian and storyteller who’s written about great men such as Ben Franklin and Albert Einstein. Jobs is also a fascinating figure, but the difference here is that Steve Jobs just passed away this year, and we’re able to read about a man whose accomplishments and impact on society are so fresh in our minds. Practically everyone who reads this book can relate to Jobs’ inventions and innovations, making the story that much more compelling.

This was made possible because Jobs gave Isaacson access during the final years of his life, and Jobs was willing to open up and let Isaacson see him for who he was, warts and all. We see a man who was both brilliant and petulant. He was extremely passionate but often rude and insulting. We see how Jobs’ obsessive attention to detail and passion for products led to his stunning successes, as well as some of his more spectacular failures.

One of the more fascinating story lines involves his rivalry with Bill Gates. Jobs was obsessed with total control over his products and insisted on closed systems so he could control the user experience. Job relied on his intuition and his maniacal attraction to beauty and simplicity. Gates believed in open systems and was eager to license his software to a wide variety of partners, even if that meant sacrificing the user experience and quality. Gates was the clear winner early as PCs dominated Macs and Apple almost went bankrupt, but Jobs had the last laugh as he pushed Apple to revolutionize consumer electronics with the iPod, iTunes, the iPhone and the iPad.

The book is a great read, and it’s a great gift for anyone who likes biographies or is interested in technology or business.

Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead: Journeys into Fame and Madness
By Neil Strauss

On the back of this book, which is a compilation of interviews and other wild stories from Neil Strauss’s career as a rock journalist, Strauss states, “You can tell a lot about somebody in a minute. If you pick the right minute. Here are 228 of them.” Strauss is a master storyteller, and we got our first introduction to his work years ago when he wrote “The Game,” which in our opinion is the best book you’ll on pick-up artists and dating advice for men. Strauss uses some of the same skills he learned as a pick-up artist to get celebrities to talk to him. His use of a mind-reading illusion to get Britney Spears to open up to him is a classic. Strauss recounts all sorts of bizarre encounters, from shooting guns with Ludacris, being kidnapped by Courtney Love and being told off by Prince. As a writer for Rolling Stone he had access to everybody. The book is very entertaining and makes for a great gift for fans of music and/or celebrities.

The Big Show: Charles M. Conlon’s Golden Age Baseball Photographs
By Neal and Constance McCabe

Is baseball starting to get its groove back? The American Pastime has had a rough go recently, particularly with the steroids scandal that upended many of the great records that helped define the game. Baseball’s glory days now seem so long ago. Yet Major league Baseball has been getting some good news, as they avoided the labor troubles we’ve seen in football and basketball, and we’ve just come off one of the most dramatic World Series comebacks in baseball history.

This book compiles golden age baseball photographs taken by Charles M. Conlon taken between 1902 and 1942. The book features over 200 portraits, and the authors include well-written profiles of the players featured on each page, including quotes from the players themselves. Photos include baseball great such as Babe Ruth, Connie Mack, Phil Rizzuto, Walter Johnson, Tris Speaker, Joe DiMaggio and Lou Gehrig. Many of the photos have never been published, and this makes a great coffee table book. Baseball fans will love it.


The Future of Apple: Steve Jobs, Siri, and the iPhone 4S

The Future of Apple.

It may seem late in the year to take a look back on the death of Steve Jobs and the legacy he left behind. We’re more than a month out at this point, which even to me feels more like a year, but I think this is a good time for it. The iPhone 4S is now sweeping across the world, faster than most expected, bringing us one of those strange and uniquely Apple experiences, Siri. A lot of people thought the iPhone 4S was the wrong product to launch after Jobs stepped down from his position at the helm. To me, though, the iPhone 4S was maybe the last brilliant move from Jobs, with Siri giving us a look at the new Apple.

This won’t be a shining eulogy to Jobs as the greatest technological mind of our time. That’s not really my place and frankly, I don’t think it’s very accurate. My only point here is that Jobs left the world as he lived in it – carefully and intentionally.

The iPhone 4S was definitely a disappointing announcement for a lot of people. We had been hearing about the iPhone 5 for long enough that, in the light of Steve’s retirement, it seemed inevitable the iPhone 5 was the announcement to make. With Jobs gone, Apple needed to send a message that it was still plowing ahead, right? That it would be at the forefront of technology, always pushing to deliver the next great thing, right?

No. That has never been Apple. Apple has never been first to market. That’s not what Apple does. Apple is not about being the first anything on the market. Apple is about being the most complete experience on the market. When the iPod first launched there were dozens of MP3 players to compete with. The difference, of course, was iconic design and a simplified interface. It was simply better than the alternatives. The iPhone was no different, and please, let’s remember what the iPhone was like when it originally launched. You know, before the App Store. The product has definitely come a long way – Apple’s market cap is a testament to that – but when it launched it was simply a cleaner, more stylized, more complete way of doing things.

It’s also important to remember how Apple launches a product. It does so regardless of hype. It does so without even considering our expectations. Apple releases products when they are ready and that’s a big part of the company’s success. The iPad was a success at launch because it was a complete product. It wasn’t something pushed to market just to have a tablet. The iPad was actually late to the tablet game, but it has since gone on to define that segment of the market.

This is the Apple the world knows and loves. It is methodical. It is plodding. It is sometimes downright slow. But it is also beautiful and well-crafted and damn fun to use. In the wake of Steve Jobs’ death, that’s the Apple I hoped to see. When Apple starts pumping products out faster than you can buy them, then Apple is no longer Apple. The iPhone 4S is a quintessential Jobs-era product. It is an improvement on an already functioning piece of technology. It is beautiful. It is damn fun to use. It is only slightly more powerful than its predecessor but it’s still selling millions of units.

The truly weird part of Apple’s iPhone 4S announcement was Siri, a new digital assistant that launched as a beta. While Siri seems great when it works, it certainly doesn’t work well all the time. That’s the difference between Jobs’ Apple and Tim Cook’s Apple. I won’t say that Jobs wouldn’t release Siri in its current form. He might have. But if I had to make a bet, I’d say this was Cook’s call.

That’s not to say I think Tim Cook can’t keep Apple on top of the tech world. He will. If anything, the iPhone 4S proves that. It’s a conservative play from a traditionally conservative company, even under new leadership. It’s exactly the kind of product Jobs would launch with just a taste of something new. This is the future of Apple – solid products with just a taste of something new.


R.I.P. Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs, one of the most important people of our time, passed away today at the young age of 56. It’s all over the news, and everyone will have something to say about it. I would suggest reading his own words from his speech at the 1985 Stanford Commencement. It’s a remarkable explanation of his view of life, and it offers an inspiring perspective that all of us, particularly young people, can use in our own lives.


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