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Weekend Movie Brawl: The Unofficial “Steve Jobs Trilogy”

Hello and Happy Friday, everyone!

This will be a new feature on the site and will be an in-depth look at films with similar themes or stories. It can be two animated films of the same type, two films which take place during a certain time period, two films with similar plots or an original film versus its remake.

The reason I’m making this a weekend thing is because when else might you have the time and energy to relax and see something you haven’t seen before?

The debut match-up is a “Triple Threat Match”…

I call it “The Unofficial Steve Jobs Trilogy”. All three films are about the late Steve Jobs and all of them tell virtually the same story in different ways…

Let’s meet our competitors…

PIRATES OF SILICON VALLEY (1999)

THE PLOT

Steve Jobs (Noah Wyle) and Bill Gates (Anthony Michael Hall) are two electronics geeks, living in a time of sociopolitical strife, something they’re largely unconcerned with because they’re unknowingly about to become the fathers of technological innovation and revolution. Jobs is a college drop-out who starts Apple in his garage while Gates is also a drop-out who gets his start working with Altair. While Jobs sees himself as an artist, attempting to inject cosmopolitan class and flair into everything he produces, Gates is driven by numbers and analytics and sells himself and his product to companies who simply want to be more productive. Eventually, Gates and Jobs become partners and attempt to work together, something which comes back to bite Jobs when Gates reverse engineers the MacOS into something he calls “Windows”. The film is artfully directed (for a TV movie on TNT) by Martyn Burke.

JOBS (2013)

THE PLOT

A simple film which portrays the rise of Steve Jobs (Ashton Kutcher) and his troubles along the way. The film felt like a quick cash-in on Jobs’ demise in 2011. The writing of the script began the moment Jobs was diagnosed with the cancer that took his life. I can’t fault the filmmakers for “attempting to get there first” in typical Jobs fashion. This divisive film was directed by Joshua Michael Stern.

STEVE JOBS (2015)

THE PLOT

It’s about the life and times of Marie Curie, if you haven’t guessed at this point. This big film about Jobs (portrayed here by Michael Fassbender) was slated to be the best Jobs film you’ve ever seen…except Sony was like a computer with a virus at the time and couldn’t get much right. We’ll get into that, though. Directed by Danny Boyle.

SCORING

The scoring in Weekend Movie Brawls is simple. There are five categories: music, casting, writing, production (which includes design, costumes, make-up, etc), and direction. Each of these will be awarded a letter grade, from A to F. As in school, each of these letter grades has a number associated to it. An “A” is worth 4 points, “B” is 3 points, “C” is 2 points, “D” is 1 point and “F” is worth nothing. At the end, the final score will be average total of each of the 5 categories. For instance, if the score at the end of a round is “20”, this will be divided by five, the number of categories, for a final score of “4”. In the event of a tie at the end of a brawl, the winner will be decided via a playoff round at a later date.

Let’s go…

MUSIC

PIRATES OF SILICON VALLEY

Frank Fitzpatrick composed the score here. It’s nothing special. Just various score cues which have this “Hans Zimmer in his Gladiator days” vibe to it.The main attraction is the eclectic soundtrack which featured three big hits from The Moody Blues, The Police classic “Synchronicity I”, some Tears for Fears and Iron Butterfly’s only memorable hit, “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”, among others. Director Quentin Tarantino once said that if you use the right song in the right scene…it’s about as cinematic a thing as you can do…and when you do it right…then, the effect is you can never really hear that song again without thinking about that image from the movie.” “Pirates of the Silicon Valley” does it right. “Question” by The Moody Blues is used during a protest gone chaotic on a Bay Area campus as Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak run for cover in slow-motion. “In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida” features that kick-ass bass solo as Computer Fair customers stroll into the giant hall to check out Apple for the first time. “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” takes place during a food fight between the Apple II developers and the Mac developers as Jobs grins and laughs to himself, amused at what he’s created. It’s impressive that the producers of a TV movie were willing to pay out the nose for the use of the music in the first place. It’s even more impressive that they utilized the songs in the right way. I’m going solid “B” here. GRADE: B

JOBS

The musical score for “Jobs” isn’t much better. Like “Pirates”, it’s just there. And this is a score coming from John Debney who, while he doesn’t exactly produce wholly memorable music, he’s far more accomplished than Frank Fitzpatrick. Basically, it was a thankless job. “Jobs” mostly attempts to go the same route “Pirates” did…which doesn’t really work. The period cuts are largely randomly placed throughout the film and aren’t given any time to breathe before the next scene begins. “D” is appropriate — and generous. GRADE: D

STEVE JOBS

Composer Daniel Pemberton is tasked with creating a score for Danny Boyle and he does — even if he’s the poor man’s Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. There aren’t any pop hits from the period to be had, so it’s Pemberton’s show all the way. His score is, at once, quirky and synthetic much like when Reznor and Ross’s score for “The Social Network” and not unlike the 80’s scores John Carpenter pumped out for “Escape From New Yorlk and “Big Trouble in Little China” and then transmogrifies into symphonic eloquence in the second act and then ethereal euphoria in the final portion. It’s beautifully constructed if not all that memorable. I’ll go with a “B”. GRADE: B

MUSIC SCORE

PIRATES: 3
JOBS: 1
STEVE JOBS: 3

CASTING

PIRATES OF SILICON VALLEY

Noah Wyle was the hot ticket TV lead at the time, next to George Clooney and since Clooney ain’t gonna play Jobs, lest he melts the camera with that Clooney Smolder, Wyle was the guy holding all the cards. He’s nicely cast as Jobs and he doesn’t do a bad job, although the moments where he yells at lowly employees and people he doesn’t like come across as overwrought. Really, it’s Anthony Michael Hall who steals the show in this movie as Bill Gates precisely because he inhabits the role and doesn’t attempt to overdo it. We all know him from 80’s fare such as “The Breakfast Club” and “Weird Science” and, perhaps, that might be influencing what I’m saying but Hall knows how to play the dork and he channels those experiences here, playing Gates as calculating and shrewd. The rest of the casting is so-so. Joey Slotnick plays Steve Wozniak as a goofball whereas John DiMaggio and Josh Hopkins play Steve Ballmer and Paul Allen (respectively) with such wit and and ease, it outshines everyone on the Apple side of things. The rest of the cast is simply an afterthought. I’ll go “B-” here. GRADE: B

JOBS

You’re gonna hear this from me again in “Production”: this is an impeccably cast film from top to bottom. Everyone in the film looks and nearly sounds like their real-life counterparts. When Ashton Kutcher was cast as Jobs, I remember the giggles he got. The dude did his homework. I mean, everyone did their homework, but Kutcher studied Jobs, copying everything from the way he sat to the way he walked to the way he talked. Josh Gad is the perfect Steve Wozniak (despite Wozniak objecting to this film overall) and everyone supporting the cast is incredible. “A+” from me. GRADE: A+

STEVE JOBS

I may as well get this over with now. Once upon a time, director David Fincher (The Social Network, Zodiac) was tapped to direct this film. He wanted a director’s fee to the tune of $10 million dollars. Sony refused to pay him and went with Danny Boyle instead. That’s fine. Except, hey, no offense, Fincher grew up here, knows his stuff and already churned out the outstanding “Zodiac” and “The Social Network”. Additionally, Christian Bale had been tapped to play Jobs. But he exited because he thought he wasn’t right…for some reason. Reports say that Jobs’ family told him he wasn’t right for the part. I mean, the dude not only already somewhat resembles Jobs, he’s also an Oscar winner who came this close to winning his second for “Vice” if it wasn’t for Rami Malek. Look, Fassbender is awesome, folks. He’s a great Magneto. He was excellent in “Shame”. He’s many things…but he’s NOT Steve Jobs. I don’t care who says what, Fassbender does not look the part. Somebody in my social network circle once told me “So what? Since when does an actor need to look like the person they’re playing?” SINCE FUCKING FOREVER! Do you know why Daniel Day Lewis was cast as Abraham Lincoln? Because Spielberg probably had a short list culled from all the possible candidates he could think of. And I will guaran-goddamn-tee you his brain never said “You know who could play Lincoln? OWEN WILSON!” Fassbender ain’t Jobs. And Seth Rogen isn’t Steve Wozniak either. Folks, I’ve lived in California since the late 70’s. My memory of the area pretty much begins at 1981 or 1982. My Mom worked for Apple. Sony lost their shit casting Fassbender and Rogen, as good as they are here. But do I chalk that up to the actors involved or to Aaron Sorkin’s snappy-ass dialogue? Everyone in this film is great despite the frustrating miscasting of the two leads. Kate Winslet should have won the Oscar for her role as Jobs’ suffering secretary Joanna Hoffman. She was so good, I didn’t even know it was her until I read her name in the credits. Jeff Daniels also leaves his mark as Apple CEO John Sculley. Michael Stuhlbarg is excellent as Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld and Katherine Waterston plays Jobs’ girlfriend Chrisann Brennan to a tee. I just can’t get past the flawed casting of Fassbender and Rogen and that’s a a “B+” from me. GRADE: B+

CASTING SCORE

PIRATES: 3
JOBS: 4
STEVE JOBS: 3

WRITING

PIRATES OF SILICON VALLEY

The movie was written by the director, Martyn Burke, based on a book that’s literally the size of CCIE Certification study manual called “Fire in the Valley: The Making of the Personal Computer”, a book that sounds dry as a bone but is pretty fascinating if you can get past the obvious agenda the authors put forth in making Bill Gates out to be a villain and Jobs out to be a sole visionary. The film basically follows that formula, which isn’t a terrible idea and makes for an entertaining on-screen rivalry between Jobs and Gates as they race toward fame. The script has some incredible one-liners with both Jobs and Gates extolling their wisdom (GATES: “Success is a menace. It fools smart people into thinking they can’t lose.; JOBS: “Good artists copy…great artists STEAL”) and has an outstanding final confrontation between the two men that’s insanely well-acted. The film’s narrative is also delivered by Ballmer and Wozniak (the actors playing them, not the actual real-life people), telling how everything went down from their respective points of view, which requires them breaking The Fourth Wall and directly talking to the viewer, which is very clever and their enthusiasm keeps you interested. The problem is that the editing, at times, reduces everything to a series of dull, sequential events and the doldrums set in when we have to sit through arbitrary business deals with the characters. It’s also missing that overall satirical edge and, perhaps, more pep with regard to the pacing of the dialogue. GRADE: B

JOBS

The same can be said of “Jobs” which goes into a little more detail than “Pirates”, but lacks the wit and pacing of that movie. The script isn’t memorable and you won’t be quoting anything from the film. The actors are the highlight and that elevates the material considerably…but the script still sucks. GRADE: D+

STEVE JOBS

So much to say here. First, Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay is very good if not as tight as the one he produced for “The Social Network”. It’s incredibly talky, too — but that’s Sorkin. The script’s style mimics a three-act play, showcasing the three most important times in Jobs’ life. Yes, the dialogue tends to be fictional snark rather than researched fiction because when you get talky, it’s better to baffle your audience with bullshit — but nobody does it better than Sorkin. Still, this sometimes feels like a half dozen Sorkins arguing with one another. GRADE: A-

WRITING SCORE

PIRATES: 3
JOBS: 1
STEVE JOBS: 3

PRODUCTION

PIRATES OF SILICON VALLEY

It’s fairly straight-forward. focusing more on the rivalry than accuracy. Noah Wyle looks the part. Hall does, too. Slotnick sounds somewhat like Woz but doesn’t exactly look like him. There are times where you wouldn’t know what year you were in if a certain song wasn’t playing or a piece of machinery wasn’t shown. Still, it’s decent production for a TV-movie and hits most of the mythical buckets in the Jobs timeline. GRADE: B

JOBS

Once again, handsome production design. Casting is outstanding. Wardrobe is spot-on. Locations and setting are perfect. The production team apparently did their research and it shows. This is the reason this film is able to run with the other two on this short list. The only downside is that some of it was shot in L.A. rather than the actual Bay Area, despite the external establishing shots of certain locales. GRADE: A-

STEVE JOBS

The setting is beautiful and wardrobe and make-up do what they can despite the miscasting of Fassbender and Rogen. The utilization of the majority of actual Bay Area locales rather than soundstages or substitute locations adds to the authenticity. Still, the Fassbender/Rogen casting just brings it down a notch. GRADE: B+

PRODUCTION SCORE

PIRATES: 3
JOBS: 4
STEVE JOBS: 3

DIRECTION

PIRATES OF SILICON VALLEY

This is Martyn Burke’s best film. He does very well here when he doesn’t let the editing suck the life from the proceedings. GRADE: B

JOBS

There isn’t much style here from Joshua Michael Stern. Color is used nicely but most of this is “point-and-shoot” in what turns out to be a coldly historical piece that was done better by “Pirates”. GRADE: C+

STEVE JOBS

We could have had David Fincher. We got Danny Boyle. I said that already. Boyle is HARDLY a bad substitute and his “you are there” style which originated with his direction on “28 Days Later” works beautifully with Aaron Sorkin’s “walk-and-talk” script. His use of surreal imagery (projections of dialogue and events on walls and on floors as well as beautifully-edited flashbacks) are a thing of beauty. It’s a beautiful movie to look at. GRADE: A-

DIRECTION SCORE

PIRATES: 3
JOBS: 2
STEVE JOBS: 4

FINAL SCORES

PIRATES: 15 (3.0 average)
JOBS: 12 (2.4 average)
STEVE JOBS: 16 (3.2 average)

WINNER

By a hair. In the end, it was the direction that pushed Danny Boyle’s film over the line. For me, “Pirates” is one of the most important films of all-time because it showcased the war of the geeks who helped shape the world we live in today. Its influence is seen in Fincher’s “The Social Network” (which will rear its head in later installments of WMB’s) and helped shape “Jobs” and “Steve Jobs”. In the end, Danny Boyle did it with style points. Perhaps, in the future, we’ll have a more in-depth contest between “Pirates” and “Steve Jobs” but, for now, “Steve Jobs” is the winner of this weekend’s brawl.

Do you agree? Disagree? Sound off in the comments!

About Matt Perri

Matt Perri
Matt Perri is one of those literary Ronin you’ve never heard of until he shows up and tells you he’s a literary Ronin. He’s a native Californian, a film buff, old school gamer geek, and a sports/entertainment fan. A lifelong Giants, 49ers and Sharks fan, he also covers the world of pro-wrestling, writing recaps for WWE Monday Night RAW and Total Divas at Scott’s Blog of Doom. You can follow the guy on Twitter via @PerriTheSmark as well as here at The Workprint and his own blog, We Hate Your Gimmick.

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