Seth Rogen as Steve Wozniak in Steve Jobs

October 26th, 2015 9:01 AM
Filed under Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak;
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The third Steve Jobs film in two years opened nationwide this past Friday. Having just seen the Steve Jobs documentary last month, I wasn't inclined to consume more history of Apple's co-founder — not to boycott his deification or the potential misrepresentation of Steve Wozniak, but due to an oversaturation of the topic.

In fact, this past August, I emailed my freelance employer, Computerworld, to ask which they wanted me to review: the documentary, or the drama? They responded with the former. I assumed this was because every media outlet was going to review the Michael Fassbender movie, whereas the documentary was more likely to fly under the radar; Computerworld could stand out by being one of the few sites to cover it.

Then they emailed me this month to ask that I review the Fassbender film anyway, with the thinking being that, if everyone else is reviewing it, Computerworld would be remiss to not also do so. I guess it works both ways: if no one is doing it, you should; and if everyone is doing it, you should!

My review was published last week, but here's a summary: of the three films, Steve Jobs is the least historically accurate — and the most enjoyable. I was surprised how much I liked it, though I think it helped that I knew not to expect it to be true to life. For example, the character Seth Rogen plays is not Steve Wozniak — but he is a good character who serves a narrative purpose and drives the plot forward. It's a good story, and a good movie.

Seth Rogen admitted that, despite meeting and studying the real Woz, the script made any adherence to Woz's personality almost impossible:

… the character wasn’t really written that much in the voice of the actual Steve Wozniak, in my opinion. I think the themes are real to Steve Wozniak, the things he cared about, but the way he presents those ideas and the way he literally just interacts with people, from what I see, it’s not an incredibly realistic interpretation.

The cinematic and actual Wozes recently appeared together on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, where they played the game "True Confessions". Woz, Rogen, and Fallon each wrote a truth and a lie about themselves: one was then chosen at random and shared with the other players, and they had to guess if it was the truth or the lie. Woz went last, with his turn starting at 6:11 in this video:

They obviously had fun playing this game — just as I enjoyed Rogen's spin on Woz.

Look for Eric Shepherd's review of Steve Jobs in the December 2015 issue of Juiced.GS.

(Hat tip to Seth Sternberger)

Michael Fassbender is Steve Jobs

July 6th, 2015 11:50 AM
Filed under Steve Jobs;
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Can we have too many books and movies about Steve Jobs? Apparently not, as this October 9, the titular Steve Jobs hits theaters, with its first full trailer having been released last week:

Compared to an earlier teaser trailer, this look at Steve Jobs gives Michael Fassbender plenty of screen time in the title role. We see plenty of the ego and cruelty that often characterizes Steve Jobs; in that sense, Fassbender seems to be playing the role to a tee. But even critics of the 2013 film Jobs can likely agree that Ashton Kutcher looked much more the part than Fassbender does.

(Personally, I've never seen Fassbender in any role other than Magneto, so this will be a stretch for me.)

Aaron Sorkin was originally reported to be writing this film based on Isaac Walterson's biography but with only three scenes, which seemed awfully limiting. According to Esquire's story — which has a great headline: "Steve Jobs Is a Tech Visionary, Total Dick in the Steve Jobs Trailer" — the film is instead "structured around three Apple product lunches [sic]", which seems more reasonable. Spanning the eras will afford us the opportunity to see Jobs' maturation (or lack thereof) as a person and leader.

Some Apple II enthusiasts are already decrying this film for casting Seth Rogen as Steve Wozniak. But if Woz has as small a role here as he did in Jobs, then it's likely not to matter — besides, even Woz himself says a bit of fiction makes for good cinema. So, as before, I'll be seeing this film — will you?

(Hat tip to Angela Watercutter)

Preparing for the Jobs film

August 12th, 2013 7:36 PM
Filed under History, Mainstream coverage, Steve Jobs;

Just a few weeks too late for a KansasFest outing, the Jobs movie finally debuts this week. To build hype, a second trailer has been released.

When I posted the video to Facebook, it received no replies — perhaps because the discussion was still active elsewhere in the group, where 35 comments reflected little enthusiasm for or faith in the film. "The clips I saw of how they portrayed Woz was enough for me to forget this film exists," wrote Paul Lipps. Similarly on Google+, Bill Loguidice wrote, "The poor Woz interpretation alone kills it for me." Added Brendan Robert, "I'll only see it if they don't screw up Woz." I agree — and so does Woz — that his character is poorly, stereotypically portrayed.

Yet I am inexplicably excited to see this film. Perhaps because it's a mass-media manifestation of the inventor whose most famous creation my fellow Apple II users and I have celebrated for decades. Too often I've been disappointed by people not knowing Steve Jobs co-founded Apple with "the other Steve". Even if our hero is poorly represented, won't it behoove us to educate the masses as to his existence?

Or maybe it's not just Woz but more broadly the history of Apple I'm interested in. I'm finally reading Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs, the biography released shortly after Jobs' death in October 2011 and which I received as a Christmas gift that year. I'll never complete the massive tome in time for the film's release, but it's already refreshing my memory with details that I hope to see evidenced on the silver screen.

Or maybe I relish seeing the film because I know it'll be terrible. On the subject of ancient computers, surely nothing could be worse than my experience wanting to walk out of last month's Computer Chess. It's all about having proper expectation — though Apple Insider user Enigmamatic warns even that may not be enough:

I got to see this movie at a pre-screening this week and I don't know why they are letting people see it early. It's worse than one thinks and I went in with very low expectations. It's poorly written with ridiculous dialogue and no exposition. Virtually the entire movie takes place with no explanation as to why anything in the movie happens. It's just a parade of scenes that the viewer has to accept. Truly a horrible movie that was obviously pushed through production to get it out first and take advantage of Jobs' death.

Soon we'll all be able to reach our own conclusions of whether this film surpasses its predecessor, Pirates of Silicon Valley, or if it warrants its own RiffTrax. I hope to see it in time to provide a review to Computerworld. Follow me on Twitter, or follow my film blog, for updates!

First reactions to Jobs movie trailer

June 24th, 2013 2:59 PM
Filed under History, Mainstream coverage, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak;

There was an occasion last year where I wrote a blog post for Apple II Bits but, prior to clicking "publish", realized the subject had a broader appeal. The same thing happened today when I started writing about the new trailer for the Steve Jobs film. Previously we saw only a clip of the movie, resulting in mixed receptions. Now that a two-minute trailer garnered two million views over the weekend, has public reception to the movie changed?

Find out by reading my Computerworld blog — but you can watch the trailer here, or see the film in theaters on August 16.

Conflicting personalities in jOBS movie

January 28th, 2013 10:33 AM
Filed under History, Mainstream coverage, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak;
1 comment.

Last week, Gizmodo posted a clip from jOBS, a biopic of the life of Steve Jobs. In this scene, we see Ashton Kutcher of That '70s Show as Steve Jobs and Josh Gad of The Book of Mormon at Steve Wozniak.

Like Gizmodo reporter Jesus Diaz, I had an initially positive reaction to this clip. I liked his disparate the personalities were, with Woz taking the time to greet a co-worker while Jobs is more interested in furthering an agenda. I liked that only one of them had an inkling of the revolution they were about to launch. And I liked that Jobs appeared to be taking advantage of Woz, which struck me as consistent with what I know of Jobs.

With that in mind, I shared the post on Facebook. It wasn't long before other Apple II enthusiasts shared observations I'd overlooked. "Kutcher isn't trying to pick up any vocal mannerisms… I'm sure the script is great, I liked the dialogue I heard in the clip above. I just think the actors they got are sub par in their delivery," wrote Marty Goldberg of the Electronic Entertainment Museum. Added Atari historian Curt Vendel, "If they are going to do something based on real characters, then they should actually try to nail it down better… I think iJobs is going to crash and burn because of the lacking of strong character portrayal." Even Apple II veterans Mark Simonsen and Don Worth were unimpressed.

One of my favorite comments came from Apple II game reviewer and programmer Brian Picchi, who suggested the best person to play the role of Woz is Woz. Gizmodo must've agreed that Woz would have some insight into Gad's character, as they published a follow-up with Woz's thoughts on this one clip. He was quick to point out that the scene featured in this clip never happened, though he points out such factual accuracy is unnecessary — the film is a dramatization, after all. More important is how untruthful the personalities are:

Personalities and where the ideas of computers affecting society did not come from Jobs… A more accurate portrayal would be myself in the Homebrew Computer Club (with Steve Jobs up in another state and not aware of it) being inspired by liberal humanist academics from Berkeley and Stanford and other places speaking of these high social goals. I decided then and there to help them reach those goals by designing a computer that was affordable. I gave it away to members of this club to help them. My goal was not money or power. In fact, when Steve came down and came to the club and saw the interest, he did not propose making a computer.

Will the film fail as fully as Vendel suggests? Probably not, I think. As Jason Scott added in the Facebook thread, "Spoiler Alert: This movie is not for vintage computing nerds."

jOBS — which has official presences online, on Facebook, and on Twitter — comes out April 19 from Open Road Films. It is not to be confused with Sony Pictures' bigger-budget adaptation of Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs.

Batman: Year One, Apple Two

November 24th, 2011 10:20 AM
Filed under Mainstream coverage;

In its lifetime, the Apple II computer has a variety of unusual uses, from making piano player music to demonstrating motion-activated inputs. How about an ultrasound monitor?

That is the application to which the Apple II was put in last month's direct-to-DVD release of Batman: Year One. The tale is set at the dawn of Bruce Wayne's superhero career, reflect in the movie's slightly antiquated look. In one scene, Jim Gordon's wife visits the hospital for an ultrasound; in another, a trauma victim's vitals are monitored. Both times, an Apple II can be seen in the background.

Batman: Year One

According to the 1985 journal article "Mixing Apple microcomputer graphics for ultrasound scan measurement" in Ultrasound in Medicine and Biology, the official journal of the World Federation for Ultrasound in Medicine and Biology, Batman: Year One is not playing fast and loose with its historical fiction but is instead accurately portraying the technology of the era and its capabilities:

A modern microcomputer with high-resolution graphics can provide an inexpensive method for measurement on video images from a real-time ultrasound scanner. The problem which has to be overcome to allow the computer graphics to be superimposed on the ultrasound video image and permit subsequent analysis is that of synchronization. The video signals must be synchronized before they can be mixed, but neither microcomputers nor ultrasound scanners provide facilities for external synchronization of their video output. A mixer has been designed which uses a buffer memory and allows the graphics of an Apple II microcomputer to be synchronized and mixed with an external video image; we used a Hitachi EUB22 real-time ultrasound scanner. The resulting combination is a versatile instrument which permits a wide range of measurements on ultrasonic images.

Facebook user Herbert Fung first spotted these artifacts, reporting the sighting on October 22 and following up a day later with the above screen captures. Dave Miller provided the historical context.