Superficial all the way down to its bitter core, Joshua Michael Sterns’ anemic exposé of Apple founder Steve Jobs (Ashton Kutcher) engages in abject hero-worship while pretending to plumb the depths of a controversial man who helped pave the way for the Information Age.
Is disappointing to see the life of such complex figure reduced to Kutcher doing a Jobs impression replete with stoop-shouldered walk through a superficial movie. The story starts with Jobs’ college in the early ’70s and plows through his building, loosing, and regaining his computing empire over the course of the ’80s and early ’90s, skipping his Pixar years and everything after the iPod — including his battle with the cancer that claimed his life in 2011. It never gets below the surface of the mercurial inventor and entrepreneur, nor does it help us understand his megalomania, his selfish and sometimes cruel behavior, or why he disavowed his daughter for the first decade or so of her life. (The last of which Sterns chooses to resolve off-camera.) By the time the credits roll, we know less about the man than we did going in.
Unfortunately, the only moments that generate any emotion in the viewer arrive in the form of nostalgia when Jobs replays the iconic TV ad that ushered in the Macintosh, revisits the Cola Wars and their indirect influence on home computing (no, really!), and the sleek candy-colored Macs that marked Jobs return to Apple in the ’90s, all of which are tangential to the subject. That’s the movie in a nutshell: a series of moments that add up to very little.
A much more engaging movie is Dallas native David Gordon Green’s (All the Real Girls, Pineapple Express) oddball buddy comedy Prince Avalanche, a remake of the Icelandic movie Either Way (yeah, me neither). A prime cut of absurdist humor, it makes the story of two jackasses doing roadwork in the backwoods of Texas circa 1988 into a work of uncommon depth.
The jackasses in question are Alvin (Paul Rudd) and Lance (Emile Hirsch), killing their summer by doing road work in an East Texas forest damaged by a wildfire, painting yellow lines by day and camping at night. Alvin is a lonely man who craves domesticity but keeps it at arm’s length, writing overwrought letters to his girlfriend, who is Lance’s sister. Lance is a little less complex, caring about little more than drinking and getting laid on the weekends. Needless to say, the two can’t stand each other.
It’s from this simple set-up that comedy arises as these to confused, immature men try to get their shit straight, but in a sublime, surreal way that plays out like the best play Samuel Beckett never wrote, or Terrence Malick filtered through Richard Linklater. Green gives Rudd and Hirsch lots of room to improvise, and the two play well off one another. Very little transpires but a whole heck of a lot happens. It’s a simple tale with a simple narrative, punctuated by Green’s subtle touches, Tim Orr’s subtle cinematography, and a minimalist score by Explosions in the Sky and David Wingo.