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August 22, 2013 - Rick Chatenever
A sunlit reflection of my face looks back at me from the screen of my MacBook Pro as I write these words. Possibly, you're reading them on an Apple product, too.
We can thank Steve Jobs for that.
The influence of the Apple computer visionary is impossible to ignore or underestimate, whether you're talking about reshaping the modern world or looking deeply into your most personal self. When my laptop recently went into the shop for a few days, it threw me into total memory loss and almost complete mental paralysis.
Curiously though, and despite a fascinating performance by Ashton Kutcher, the man responsible for it all remains more enigmatic than revealed in Joshua Michael Stern's new biopic, "Jobs."
The film ends before Jobs' death at age 56 in 2011, after battling cancer that might have been averted with earlier detection and treatment. It focuses instead on the early '70s, when the charismatic college dropout joined forces with nerdy Steve Wozniak, a fellow graduate of Homestead High School in Cupertino, Calif., to develop the prototype of the first Apple computer in Jobs' father's garage.
The film is at its best recreating Santa Clara Valley in the '70s, at the moment before Apple and a wave of other start-up companies remade the world in their own image. "The Woz" was the technical genius; Jobs was the one with a vision of computers as extensions of human experience, as essential as another organ of our bodies.
Scene-stealing Josh Gad as Wozniak is compassionate and funny - traits lacking in Kutcher's furtive-eyed Jobs. Instead, under his magnetism, Jobs still had raw emotional nerves from being put up for adoption as an infant, resulting as frequent emotional outbursts and cruel behavior to his friends and colleagues throughout the film.
His vision was shaped by exposure to the art of calligraphy in college; Eastern religion in India; an impeccable aesthetic of industrial design; a tireless work ethic; a proclivity for impossible deadlines; and some very fortuitous entrepreneurial gambles. But watching the film, it's hard to avoid the conclusion: What a genius - what a jerk!
Jobs blurred the lines between what used to be called "technology" and what used to be called "humanity" so profoundly, it's impossible to know where one stops and the other begins, or if they haven't become the same thing, anymore.
Whether or not that's a net plus is an ongoing conversation between me and the reflection on my laptop screen.
If Jobs was less than the sum of his parts, Cecil Gaines - the White House employee so wonderfully played by Forest Whitaker in "Lee Daniels' 'The Butler'" - is far more.
The son of former slaves on a Southern plantation in the 1920s, Gaines rose to become butler to eight U.S. presidents, from Eisenhower to Reagan, even as the nation's Civil Rights struggle and Vietnam War took huge tolls on his own family.
Whitaker's soulfulness is Oscar worthy and Oprah Winfrey superbly plays his very flawed - but feisty and strong-as-nails - wife, Gloria. With a strong supporting cast including Robin Williams, John Cusack, James Marsden, Liev Schreiber and Alan Rickman doing the presidents, the film takes its place in recent movie history somewhere between "Forest Gump" and "The Help."
But what elevates "The Butler" into must-see territory is the way it integrates Gaines' personal evolution, from a white-gloved, two-faced house servant into a man of conscience, at the same time it brings the Civil Rights struggle to life for new generations who need to know its lessons.
The film treads on hallowed historical ground, from intimate glimpses of the Kennedy's Camelot, to the terrifying journeys of the freedom riders and the slaying of Martin Luther King. Telling its story in terms of one man and his family, brings its epic sweep closer to home.
* Contact Rick Chatenever at email@example.com
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