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For some reason, even though I enjoy watching the films of Danny Boyle (usually) and the performances of Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet (pretty much all the time), at one point I was going to join the many people that have said ‘nay’ by giving Steve Jobs a miss: I don’t find the movers and shakers of big corporations particularly interesting, and I’ve never even considered reading Walter Isaacson’s book on Jobs, which appeared three weeks after the former Apple CEO died and is used as the basis for Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay. The overwhelmingly positive reviews swayed me, and I’m really glad they did, as it’s probably the most exciting two hour movie about a man making keynote speeches that I’ll ever see. Working from a typically dialogue-heavy script by Aaron Sorkin, Boyle’s film paints a vulgar picture of the technology bigwig, played here superbly by Fassbender, during the nervy moments before three separate product launches: the ill-fated Macintosh in 1984, the ill-fated NeXT computer in 1988 and the extremely successful iMac in 1998. Each of these events will be familiar to those of us who have witnessed the more high profile unveiling in recent years of items such as the iPhone, the iPad, the iWatch and the iHavetoomuchofthisshit: the nerdy, drooling and excitable fans, the expectant industry-related journalists, the company bigwigs, the employees and the shareholders are all present, correct and partaking in cringeworthy activity like Mexican waves, foot stomping and rousing crescendos of clapping. (Some people have their sports teams, I guess, some have musicians and others have Apple products.) One of Sorkin and Boyle’s main points is that Jobs became a kind of rockstar CEO, and the parallel is drawn throughout this film, not least through the crowd’s behaviour: each segment is set largely on a stage at a concert hall or in the backstage corridors and dressing rooms, rather than, say, Jobs’ house or his offices within the Apple campus, while the man himself confidently and repeatedly asserts his credentials as an artistic visionary; Bob Dylan’s poster hangs on the wall of the garage used by the young Jobs and coder partner Steve Wozniak (an impressive Seth Rogen), shown in brief flashbacks here, and it’s noticable that the iMac’s ‘Think Different’ campaign, which features heavily during the third segment, also focuses on the likes of Dylan and John Lennon. Wozniak even admonishes Jobs during a dramatic and heated public argument here, claiming ‘I’m tired of being treated like Ringo when I know I was John’. During the same row the following exchange takes place:

Wozniak: What do you do? You’re not an engineer. You’re not a designer. You can’t put a hammer to a nail. I built the circuit board! The graphical interface was stolen! So how come ten times in a day I read Steve Jobs is a genius? What do you do?
Jobs: Musicians play their instruments. I play the orchestra.

Each section features a notable heavyweight clash like this at one point Jobs jokes that people seem to wait until he’s about to go on stage before letting him know what they really think about him  and the three scenes in question suggest that Jobs’ stubborn nature and egotism was extremely difficult to manage. As well as Wozniak’s attack, which the film suggests has been building for fourteen years or more, the 1984 launch includes a central argument with Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston), the understandably-frustrated mother of his child Lisa Brennan-Jobs (played at different ages by Perla Haney-Jardine, Ripley Sobo, and Makenzie Moss). 1024x1024At this point in time Jobs is in denial that he is Lisa’s father, and in this fictionalised version of events the businessman only begins to warm to his daughter, or even acknowledge the link between them, when she draws a picture using the computer he’s about to sell. The 1988 launch, meanwhile, revolves around a superb scene featuring an understandably bitter Jobs and the man who forced him out of Apple after the Macintosh failed, former Apple CEO John Sculley (a commanding Jeff Daniels). It is repeatedly suggested that the reason for Jobs’ behaviour towards those around him lies in his own upbringing (he was adopted at an early age), and the theme of rejection runs through each thread. Jobs has repeat conversations at each launch with Lisa, Wozniak and Sculley, as well as brief chats with computer scientist Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg) and journalist Joel Pforzheimer (John Ortiz), and we see how each of their relationships with the central figure changes over time. Present at his side or in the background during nearly all of these scenes is marketing executive and confidant Joanna Hoffman, played by Winslet. Jobs places as many demands on her as anyone, if not more, but she is the only person he listens to throughout and he seems to value her blunt honesty more than anyone else’s.

We can presume there’s some truth in this unflattering but fascinating portrait, which ends on a more upbeat, triumphant note, allowing viewers to fill in the ‘what happened next’ gap with their own knowledge. Some have suggested the ending here is a cop-out, but such redemptive moments  business success, a sympathetic softening of the character I feel are necessary, otherwise we’d be talking about a one-dimensional and straightforward hatchet job that presents its subject as a damaged diva and very little else. The way these relationships change (for the worse, as well as for the better) provides the film with plenty of forward momentum, and as unlikely as it is that the moments before a speech would be so fraught with melodrama, it all makes for great viewing. Many who worked closely with Jobs in real life have criticised the way he has been portrayed in Boyle’s film, but others have suggested that it’s accurate enough; we’ll never know for sure just how close to the bone Steve Jobs gets, but Sorkin’s rapidfire script and the delivery of the actors is well worth the admission fee. In fact it’s only when you analyse the subject matter afterwards that you realise the extent of the writer’s skill and achievement: he injects vibrancy and wit into each discussion that takes place, and the jumps from conversations about family life to boardroom wrangling to technical specifications of software and hardware are as seamless as you could hope them to be. Boyle has created an extremely intriguing film, one with several unexpected visual flourishes, and the editing by Elliot Graham, who did similarly impressive work on the biography Milk, is excellent. As has been widely mentioned elsewhere the supporting actors deliver fine performances, but special mention must go to Fassbender, who appears in nearly every single scene and delivers a fascinating turn that ranks among the best I’ve seen this year. I understand that Sorkin’s work puts some people off, and I wouldn’t count myself as a devotee, but this makes for an excellent companion piece with his earlier Mark Zuckerberg-related screenplay for The Social Network. There’s an argument to say that the company in question gets a bit of a free ride the timeframe here means that there’s no mention of the suicides at Foxconn, for example but the accent is firmly on the man, rather than the multinational. I welcome any biographical film that avoids the usual life-work-death structure at the beginning here Jobs is already a success and his stock in Apple is worth $440 million and reveals its central character in an unexpected, unusual way: the decision to use three product launches as the background for this story is inspired.

Directed by: Danny Boyle.
Written by: Aaron Sorkin. Based on Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels, Katherine Waterston, Michael Stuhlbarg, Sarah Snook, John Ortiz, Perla Haney-Jardine, Ripley Sobo, Makenzie Moss.
Cinematography: Alwin H. Küchler.
Editing: Elliot Graham.
Music:
Daniel Pemberton.
Certificate:
15.
Running Time:
122 minutes.
Year:
2015.

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Actors, writers and former flatmates Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have been finely honing their geeky comedy double act for close to 15 years. This summer the pair appeared in The World’s End, the third and final film in the ‘Cornetto Trilogy’ of knowing genre-aping comedies directed by Edgar Wright (its predecessors being Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz), but in between the second and third movies they wrote and starred in Paul, a road trip comedy directed by Greg Mottola.

Pegg and Frost play Graeme Willy and Clive Gollings, two English sci-fi fanboys who are travelling across the USA in a campervan (or, for the Marlboro’-chugging, bison-wrestling American readers, an RV, which I fully admit is a much more muscular-sounding word than our effete Limey one). After visiting comic-con in San Diego the pair head off on a pilgrimage to various ET-related sights, and on one long stretch of highway they meet and befriend the Paul of the title: a sweary, pot-smoking alien, voiced by Seth Rogen.

Paul crashlanded on our planet in the 1950s, but has escaped from captivity in Area 51, and is a fugitive on the run from the secret service agents “Big Guy” (Sigourney Weaver) and Lorenzo Zoil (Jason Bateman – arf). He enlists the help of the holidaying pair so that he can meet up with a rescue party and get back safely to his home planet. The trio, who pick up an RV park owner and Christian fundamentalist called Ruth Buggs (Kristen Wiiiiiiig) along the way, are also pursued by Ruth’s father, two disappointingly stereotypical rednecks and two inept rookie agents.

Pegg and Frost are a likeable duo, and here their easy comedy again relies heavily on bromantic banter and plenty of tongue-in-cheek references to classic science fiction films. (Particularly Star Wars here, but not exclusively. There’s a nice scene where the characters enter a country and western bar and the house band is playing the same song as the band in the Mos Eisley Cantina.) Pegg’s character is very similar to the one he played in the fantastic British TV series, Spaced: an animator sci-fi geek that is refusing to grow up, and it’s slightly disappointing to see him cover this familiar ground again. Rogen joins in, gamely swearing away, but the alien Paul – like the jaded bear in Seth McFarlane’s Ted – is an extremely predictable creation. The world-weary animated / computer-generated character that acts like an adult and employs all those hilarious adult traits like cynicism, smoking while being cynical and drinking while being cynical is fast becoming one of the more tiresome cliches of modern comedies and animated films.

It’s more of the same stoner schtick from Rogen, too, though it would be unfair to accuse the comedian of overexposure, as in the past couple of years he has reduced his output considerably. The problem is, while there are some witty moments, there just aren’t enough laughs in Paul, and before long Rogen and Wiiiiiiig are reduced to trading jovial insults to pass the time. Both have been far better … when they have worked with better scripts.

Another man covering similar ground is Greg Mottola, whose debut feature back in the mid-1990s was the smart indie road trip comedy The Daytrippers, which he also wrote. Since then he has only directed three more films – and while Superbad and Paul were box office successes (the former massively so), neither are a patch on Mottola’s vastly underrated bittersweet coming-of-age 80s-set comedy Adventureland. Which he also wrote.

It’s for reasons like this that I sometimes feel like bashing my head against the wall when considering mainstream film audiences. Present the world with a sharply written comedy that mixes subtle humour with indie quirk and the world will shrug its shoulders. Present the world with an alien or a teddy bear that says “fuck” a lot and they’ll be queuing round the block.

It’s a shame to be disappointed by this film: despite its clear self-indulgence it is actually quite funny in places; I like Pegg and Frost and I kind of like Wiiiiiig and Rogen too, even if I find that smug groups like the frat pack quickly begin to grate and irritate. Bateman and Weaver are also good fun when they are on screen, both playing it ultra-straight for a few laughs. No-one involved seems to take themselves particularly seriously, by the looks of things, and there’s an enjoyable lightness about the film. It looks like a happy set was enjoyed by all.

Overall, though, there aren’t enough laughs for it to be considered a real comedy classic. It has its moments, but Pegg and Frost have written better scripts, and Mottola’s short back catalogue includes three better comedies. He directs straightforwardly, and you can’t help but feel that the film would have benefitted from a little more of Edgar Wright’s usual visual flair to paper over the cracks. Just about worth seeing for the knowing sci-fi jokes that generally hit the mark (Spielberg has an excellent cameo in one scene), but ultimately the sad truth is that no-one will be referencing Paul in sci fi films or comedies of the future.

The Basics:

Directed by: Greg Mottola
Written by: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost
Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Seth Rogen, Kirsten Wiig
Certificate: 15
Running Time: 104 Minutes
Year: 2011
Rating: 4.8

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