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The Highs and Lows of the Bastard Genius

That I had both an iPad and iPhone in my bag at the time but rummaged for a pen and wrote quotes straight onto my forearm felt right - felt fitting - while watching Steve Jobs.

Biro on bare skin felt like a teeny tiny protest in a teeny tiny cinema against the output of the tortured male genius, the tortured male genius arsehole, the tortured male genius arsehole who is masterful with inanimate objects but a trainwreck with flesh, with blood.

Truth be told, it’s a stereotype I’m well and truly over writing about.

Steve Jobs is actually quite an okay film. It has all that pauseless, endlessly quoteable Sorkin dialogue that made shows like The West Wing and The Newsroom compulsory viewing even if, at times, they nudged the mawkish. The film has some quality editing, and notably, had some quite stellar performances.

While Michael Fassbender is good as Jobs, he’s brilliant as Brandon in Shame; watching him battling his demons is seeing him at his best. Kate Winslet’s performance as Joanna Hoffman however - marketing guru, best friend, confidante, family mediator - is the film’s takeaway. Sure, she’s better elsewhere too - Little Children and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind among my favourites - but then again, she was in that nightmarish ex-con / guitar-player / pie-baker romance nightmare Labor Day, so it’s good to see her performing lines worthy of her talents.

In late 2013 I wrote a piece about Captain Philips. About the embarrassing use of the excellent Catherine Keener in a role that was at best, a glorified extra. More recently, this same sexist rubbish played out in Bridge of Spies, a film I tag-teamed with Steve Jobs and one I’m slotting into my worst of 2015 list.

In yet another effort to let the light shine brightly on Tom Hanks, Bridge of Spies relgates yet another top quality actress - Amy Ryan - to a role that consists almost wholly of greeting her husband on the doorstep and asking him to bring home marmalade.

Wasted women however, is not a criticism I can extend to Steve Jobs. In all the important ways Joanna is a true equal to Steve and their relationship - their mutual respect, her reluctance to worship him and her bravado in calling him out for his jerkery - is well executed, is believable. Is even funny at times.

The film however, is not without a substantial flaw: Structure.

I’ve spent the past week marking 70 undergraduate argumentative essays. A criticism I wrote on too many of them was the paucity of structure: about every paragraph arguing a little bit of everything rather than self contained sections contributing to a greater whole. I’m levelling this same criticism at Steve Jobs. Sure, films - and opinion pieces, too, for that matter - read differently to argumentative essays. Deliberately so. That said, a film that asks for two hours of my time needs to be more than just generically “about the Apple guy”.

This is of course, a common shortcoming of the biopic genre as a whole and their tendency to eschew the essentials of a good film - notably storyline, narrative tension - in favour of trying to do justice to a lifetime.

It’s slicker than other films dealing with the same material - most recently Jobs (2013) and Pirates of Silicon Valley back in 1999, although it’s still more of the same. Good quality more of the same, sure, but ultimately just another story about an eccentric, self-styled genius bloke. This time with an adoption-shoulder-chip and some unusually low-key veganism.

Apparently “Steve Jobs” won’t open in Australia until January. Providing further testimony as to why while Australians are such bloody committed pirates.

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