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Steve Jobs documentary: What the reviewers are saying

Nicholas Rapold, New York Times: Different Thinking About Steve Jobs, the Man Behind Apple. “Ruthless, canny and tenacious, Mr. Jobs emerges as a formidable captain of industry in the vein of past fierce innovator-businessmen like Thomas Edison, with a Svengali’s coal-eyed stare to boot. Former associates and an ex-wife are on hand to marvel, gripe and even weep. Yet as frequent shots of peaceful Japanese gardens remind us, Mr. Jobs was also way into Zen — or at least a certain interpretation of Zen that, as Mr. Gibney underlines, yielded the focus of a monk but not the empathy.”

Steven Rea, Philadelphia Inquirer: “Steve Jobs” an American success story with a dark side. “Readers of Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs book already know a lot of what Gibney covers. But the mix of talking-head interviews, archival footage, and long takes from a 2008 SEC deposition (Jobs is blunt and blase, irritable and squirmy, forced to answer questions about illegal backdated stock options) brings home the complexities and contradictions of the man.” 3.5 out of 4 stars

Kenneth Turan, L.A. Times: ‘The Man in the Machine’ takes a bite out of Steve Jobs’ life. “While the filmmaker’s trademark mixture of talking heads, archival footage and investigative ethos is familiar, Gibney is certainly good at what he does, and ‘Steve Jobs’ is at its best in providing a brisk summation of the man’s life. Or, more accurately, lives, for Jobs seemed to have been more people than one would have thought possible.”

Ty Burr, Boston Globe: What do we really know about Steve Jobs? “’Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine’ is one of the director’s more superficial efforts; it’s watchable but glib. The movie’s not a takedown, nor is it a sanctification. It’s a query, mostly, into why we might resist knowing too much about a person who gave us such marvelous toys. And it’s a reminder of what we need to know about Jobs if we want the complete picture, which is always a good idea.” 2.5/4

Joe Neumaier, New York Daily News. Good documentary doesn’t deify legend. “What this rich film does go into—in a lengthy tangent that’s less punchy but important—is the impropriety Jobs trafficked in when he allowed himself and high-ranking Apple-ers to be granted backdated stock options. They got wealthy as their product was being made, amid some scandal, for a pittance in China. Other discrepancies between the glitch-filled personal life of the secretive, backstabbing tech chief and his public image are explored, sometimes more successfully than others. But Gibney’s main conceit runs throughout: That our desire for a technology that is an extension of ourselves is so great that we want to think of its creator as a deity—and will, until we ourselves can think different. 4/5

Jonathan Kim, Huffington Post: An Apple Haters Manifesto. “Oscar-winning director Alex Gibney [is] a man I’ve interviewed in the past and whose work I greatly respect. That’s why it really bums me out that The Man In the Machine makes little attempt to portray someone who was, by most accounts, a complex, iconic, but all-too-flawed man who, over the course of his career, could be both inventor and thief, monk and businessman, brat and sage, tyrant and beloved leader, and managed to use those conflicting traits to both change the world and create the most valuable, influential, and admired company on the planet. Instead, The Man In the Machine is focused largely on the thesis that Jobs was always and only a jerk, that people who enjoy Apple products and admire Jobs are idiots and cult members, and that the computer revolution that was born of Jobs’ vision must inevitably contain the same ugly darkness Gibney feels is Jobs’ defining trait, despite any evidence to the contrary.”

Chris Nashawaty, Entertainment Weekly: EW Review. “Some have taken Gibney to task for being too damning, focusing less on Jobs’ innovative genius than on assembling a brief on Apple’s villainy, ranging from serious allegations (tax dodging, stock fraud) to the pettiness of Jobs himself (he was a bad tipper). But Gibney’s built a powerful and compelling case—even if much of the ground he covers won’t be news to anyone who follows Apple. What the movie actually could’ve used less of is Gibney, whose faux-pensive voice-overs are meant to push the story forward, but more often make your eyeballs roll backward.” B.

Lots more reviews at Rotten Tomatoes.

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