Reviews by Ken Burke
Take care, curious readers, for plot spoilers gallop rampantly throughout the Two Guys’ insightful reviews. Therefore, be warned, beware, and read on when you’re ready to be transported to … wherever we end up. Please protect your eyes from the dazzling brilliance.
Further, Jobs could be just plain mean, as noted by an incident in the early days of Apple where he and co-founder Steve Wozniac were paid $7,000 by Atari for a product, yet Jobs told Woz that it was only $700 with his cut being $350, or there’s testimony from a much later time about how Jobs would intentionally park in handicapped spaces at the Apple campus for no other reason than to demonstrate his disregard for rules. Why someone with this much respect, clout (as you can see in the trailer-link noted below he acted as if he didn’t know what “power” meant), and success could also be so petty, paranoid, and self-privileged (despite his frequent trips to Japan to indulge in Zen Buddhist inspiration) is much of what motivated director Gibney to undertake this project.
the famous "Think Different" (this is the version of the popular TV spot that aired, narrated by Richard Dreyfus; there’s also another version narrated by Steve that he pulled at the last minute) 1997 ad campaign created by the LA office of TBWA\Chiat\ Day (not directly by Jobs as you might think from implications in the doc). He saw himself as different from most of those around him, understood his ideas as being different from the mundane (that is, IBM) applications and product designs developed for previous computer applications, wanted his customers to find different ways of interfacing with their environments via various uses of the iMac, iPod, iPhone, iPad, iTunes, the iTunes Store, the App Store, etc., all of which served to revolutionize what we consumers understood about how these devices could produce a “different” result from what we might first have envisioned regarding them. Certainly this is observable in any private or public space where iPhones—and their various competitors—seem to be begrudgingly used as telephones (What an unhip application of this technology!) because their presence as mini-computers and cameras has become the backbone of social media on the Internet, making me wonder why Marshall McLuhan and his 1960s prophecies of "the medium is the message" within the emerging “global village” weren’t included in the above ad. (I realize that hardly anyone would recognize him, but I wonder how many 1997 viewers would have been able to name Buckminster Fuller, Maria Callas, Amelia Earhart, or Martha Graham either—maybe Jobs didn’t see this academic philosopher of media impact as having specifically “done” anything, as his other inclusions had, but if you want a complete embodiment of someone who dared to “Think Different” [not just “differently,” in an adverbially-supportive-sense, but to conceive in a unique mode, to conceptualize something new in tangible-noun-form] I encourage a reawakening of honor due the “prophet” of the contemporary information age—even if its citizens have embraced aspects of the one-time-disappearing-written, rather than the spoken, word—as anticipated by McLuhan.)
|Steve Jobs, John Scully|
("Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl")
|Brian Wilson, Mike Love|
("And what can you say that won't make them defensive")
With this interpretation of mine in mind, I think the “… Ego” version of this tune speaks well to what we observe about Zen-inspired-but-still-solidly-capitalist Steve Jobs, a man who was clearly “defensive” about his motives and socially-altering viewpoints, who wasn’t “gonna lose the fight” of letting go of his ego, his self-absorption (as I interpret Brian Wilson’s lyrics, where he’s offering encouragement for “head-isolated” folks like Jobs to embrace a higher-consciousness [not necessarily fueled by drugs], which will help them willingly “lose the fight” of keeping their ego-driven “safety zones” foremost in their minds). Maybe my interpretation of this song is all wrong (although I think it has internal logic, especially as the singer—Wilson speaking personally it would seem [Mike Love certainly seemed to think so, based on what we can glean second-hand about his objections to what his cousin seemed to be promoting]—admits that he’s in no position to be preaching to anyone else when he’s “guilty” as well [of ego-encumbrance, of drug-immersion, whatever] in his own attempts to transcend what he sees as weaknesses or difficulties in the lives of others), but it continues to make sense to me, just as it speaks to the stated ego-burdened-messages of Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine, a fascinating study of a most complicated guy whose life, achievements, and motives all deserve our ongoing interpretation (as we’ll continue to get in a few weeks when Fassbender inhabits Mr. Jobs in yet-another-interpretation of a personage of great current import as we continue to rush along on the “21st-century-bicycles” [as he referred to the personal computer, the foundation of all the machines that followed] he bequeathed to us).
(Or, if none of this blather about Steve Jobs and a Brian Wilson song isn’t stirring your interest too much maybe you’d prefer to just indulge in the entire Pet Sounds album [revolutionary in its own way for pop music as are the various “i”-devices from Apple for personal-media-use] at https:// www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vv8DhRGYN2Q; now, wouldn’t that be nice, to just lie back and listen for awhile? Also, please note if you do decide to indulge yourself with this Brian Wilson/Beach Boys masterpiece that this version contains “Hang On to Your Ego” as its final, additional cut.) September 28, 2015: I've now found out that link is no longer valid so I'll offer this one instead at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T0spkrwl9Qk&list=PLW79q83govkXJJBEnMnlvJ7B1b3 xPosvO, a cluster of videos that contain most of that superb album. Sorry about the problem, but this is the best I can do for you at present although keep me informed if another "full album" option should pop up (with the understanding it may be gone by the time I'd be able to report it further).
Before completely leaving commentary about this documentary on Apple’s co-founder, though—even if it seems to have morphed into a meditation on Pet Sounds and the Beach Boys co-founder—I couldn’t help but note one final dose of similarities in another current film, the Walt Disney doc (Sarah Colt) just shown (September 14-15, 2015) as part of PBS’ American Experience (likely to be re-broadcast or maybe hasn’t yet reached your local station; I encourage you to watch out for it, as I was unable to see it before it aired, preventing me from making these comments until now). Like Jobs, Disney was quite a complex character (more so than any of the archetypal heroes, villains, and princesses in the movies made under his direct supervision until his death in 1966), a man beloved by generations of fairy-tale-struck kids (including me in the 1950s and ‘60s), yet equally reviled by others for telling “corny” stories (although he admitted in Walt Disney footage that he liked corny) with socially-constrictive-results for all those generations of acolytes since the release of rescued-heroine Snow White back in 1937 (as [Black] Flipper Purify [Wesley Snipes] says to his about-to-be-ex-lover, [White] Angie Tucci [Annabella Sciorra], in Jungle Fever [Spike Lee, 1991], “Look, Angie, this “Love will overcome everything” is in Walt Disney films. I’ve always hated Disney films.”). Like Jobs, Disney was, as one commentator puts it, “in many ways a very dark soul.” He had a difficult childhood (no adoption, but his “brutal” father failed at many occupations, offering negative assumptions toward his son’s Hollywood aspirations); while, like Jobs as an aspiring-computer-designer, Disney was an artist but his talents were more in the realm of creative insight (an “intellectual overseer”) while leaving the management tasks to brother Roy and most of the early animation to Ub Iwerks (just as the early technical aspects of Apple were handled by Wozniak; further, just as Jobs stiffed Woz on some early income Walt changed the name of the company from Disney Brothers to Walt Disney Studios by himself); movies allowed Walt to emote in ways he couldn’t seem to do in real life (just as is said of Jobs, “He didn’t know what real connections are”); and Disney (like Jobs) didn’t handle criticism very well, especially as he came to see himself as an unappreciated artist rather than a mere entertainer (although his company was very successful in the late ‘30s, then again in the mid-‘50s, after near-disaster in the ‘40s, similar to Apple’s 1990s decline until Jobs returned as CEO).
As for other similarities—also related to Jobs’ temperament, but not his personal appearance—I couldn’t help but see a bit of a resemblance in the young and older Disney to the filmic presentations of Vito Corleone by Robert De Niro in The Godfather: Part II (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974) and Marlon Brando in The Godfather (Coppola, 1972). This becomes more than a surface commentary when you see this TV film’s segments on the strike by many of Disney’s animators in 1941, an issue which was finally settled but apparently never forgotten as Walt testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947 that he felt the action was motivated by “Communists,” which he went on record to name names about (as with Michael Corleone [Al Pacino] to his older brother [James Caan]: “It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business.”) Like Jobs, Disney seemed to be bi-personality (if not possibly bi-polar) in being a creative genius but also a hard-hearted-despot where his business was concerned (leading to bitter results as Jobs was pushed out of Apple for a few years, just as Disney saw many of his formerly-loyal-employees join rival firms after the strike confrontation—similarly, Vito was challenged from within his Mafia “family” when driver Paulie Gatto [John Martino] conspired in the near-fatal-attack on his boss and brother-in-law Carlo Rizzi’s [Gianni Russo] betrayal led to Sonny’s death, followed by mob capo Tessio [Abe Vigoda] trying to sell out Michael when he took over the Corleone empire and brother Fredo’s [John Cazale] mistaken-alignment with rival-gangster Hyman Roth [Lee Strasberg], all of which led to death for the offenders, so it’s clear that none of these “Dons” were guys you’d want to mess with, although in the case of the fictional Godfather story it’s the youngest son who orders all of the revenge, rather than his father, who, in his later years, seemed to be much more open to reconciliation with his enemies than either Jobs or Disney).
One final note about why this Godfather chatter has any relevance to our cinematic interests is the shocking news that Coppola has announced a remake of his famed trilogy, set in current times, starring Johnny Depp as Vito, the first installment due in 2016. Maybe this idea will be successful (like Disneyland, derided by many critics prior to its overwhelming success from the time of its 1955 opening), but if not Coppola may join his friend George Lucas as recipient of the 21st century’s next “Bad Idea of the Decade” award with a decision as questionable (for many, although I must admit I still generally enjoyed them) as Lucas' plots of the Star Wars prequels (1999, 2002, 2005).
Learning to Drive (Isabel Coixet)
When a man leaves his wife for a younger woman the angry, hurt wife starts taking driving lessons as a means of increasing her mobility and life-options; her instructor is a devout Sikh from India about to be married himself—although with some trepidation—so he finds constant occasions to speak in life-lesson-metaphors to his increasingly-interested-student.
What Happens: According to her soon-to-be-ex-husband, Ted (Jake Weber), another bad idea (although possibly he’s joking) is for Wendy Shields (Patricia Clarkson) to be on the streets of NYC behind the wheel of a car, but that’s the main plot focus of this movie as Wendy (a workaholic literary critic who put Ted’s gift of the Joy of Sex book away in a drawer, giving us some understanding of why he’s abandoning his wife of 21 years) tries to rebuild her life after Ted leaves her for a younger woman. Wendy gets some empathy from college-student-daughter Tasha (Grace Gummer, another of Meryl Streep’s offspring—Momma Meryl can also be seen currently with Grace’s sibling, Mamie Gummer [where she plays the daughter of Streep’s title character], in Ricki and the Flash [Jonathan Demme]), spending her summer on a communal farm in Vermont, which encourages Wendy to take driving lessons, prior to buying a car in order to visit Tasha. By chance, the cab driver, Darwan Singh Tur (Ben Kingsley), who picked up Ted and Wendy from a gala affair (only to listen to them have a meltdown over Ted’s private affair) finds a envelope Wendy left in the cab, returns it to her whereupon (for reasons unknown to me) she asks for his card (A natural response toward someone who won’t take money for helping out a fellow New Yorker?), which—I guess—indicates he also gives driving lessons, so now the 2 are connected (as the plot requires, stretched as the circumstances may be). Turns out that Darwan, a devoted Sikh/political-asylum-immigrant from India now living in Queens with some of his countrymen (but he’s the only legal one of the bunch), offers life lessons along with driving lessons, which sort of endears him to Wendy even as he’s entering into an arranged marriage with Jasleen (Sarita Choudhury), newly arrived from the old country with little English nor formal education so she's not an ideal match for a former college professor (why he’d have to ditch his beard and turban, as noted by him in the trailer [2nd link below with this movie] in order to teach at an American university isn’t clear, although I will acknowledge that our academic job market remains tight so maybe he’s correct that the best path for him in the U.S.A. right now—where he’s at times mistaken for an Arab, thereby making him a terrorist suspect, at least to badly-informed-idiots—is behind the wheel of a car where the worst he’ll face is the normal dose of road rage [which he’s centered enough to dismiss, except for some of Wendy’s clueless miscues as an apprentice driver, especially on the day he’s to meet Jasmine at the airport]).
Once we get past all of the set-up, though (well-summarized in that aforementioned trailer), there’s not much more to encounter except for sincere intentions, solid acting by the 2 consummate-pro-leads, and a calculated warm, fuzzy feeling at the end as Jasleen gets more comfortable in her new surroundings—with the help of her friendly, better-acclimated-countrywomen in the neighborhood—and in her at-first-tense-marriage to Darwan as he agrees to stop working nights (between his 2 jobs he’s hardly ever home except to criticize most everything she does) in order to be affectionately with her more, while Wendy’s now a licensed car-owner on the road to Vermont (where Tasha’s still in residence as intended, rather than in her school’s fall semester, even though the local boyfriend’s no longer in the picture, after a pep-talk from increasingly-mellowing-Mom).
So What? This pleasant ending (appropriate to the Disney worldview noted above), however, presents a disturbing note for me in that after Wendy passes her driver’s test (following immediate problems the first time out due to intense nervousness), which then severs any need for her to be in further contact with Darwan, he makes an offer (which she can refuse, unlike in those Godfather situations, also noted above) to celebrate with her over coffee or maybe even dinner, but she turns him down in order to prevent their friendship from growing into something more intimate (even though there’s a clear subtext in the trailer and for most of the film about a mutual attraction growing between them that needs to be resolved, with the implications that his marriage isn’t working out as planned while her stumbling forays into the dating scene have been presented as equally unsatisfying, illustrated by her exhausting-sex-scene with a Tantric-yoga-practitioner who’s trained himself to have “dry orgasms,” although he offers to ejaculate on Thursday if she’d like to hook up with him again). Up to that late-plot-point, Darwan’s been presented as a faithful devotee of his religion (although his commitment to be generous to others comes across as a bit exasperated at times), so it seems forced to me that he’s the one making the offer that could eventually lead to infidelity, allowing Wendy to be the restrained, mature adult in the situation—necessary to resolve that implied romantic tension between them but still keep everyone on the intended proper path to a more-fulfilling-future (with no last-minute-return from Ted, repenting his ill-chosen-indiscretion). The rest of this essentially-sweet-story (to borrow an evaluation from my probably-more-satisfied-with-what-she-saw-wife, Nina) flows along pleasantly (and comically, in the sarcastic commentary spewed out by Wendy on driving and the larger metaphors it offers on life’s difficulties), but, right toward the end, when Darwan suddenly makes an uncharacteristic, unwarranted move on his new friend it just somewhat sours the whole sweetness for me in an unneeded manner (but maybe I’m just defending my fellow-husband-fraternity-brother too much).
Bottom Line Final Comments: Learning to Drive is certainly an experience more pleasant to watch from the comfort of a darkened, climate-controlled-environment than would be reliving the actual trauma of attempting to learn to control a massive machine with the constant potential of either causing harm to others or being harmed from someone else’s carelessness (it’s been just over 50 years since I had to endure that pressure in my after-school-driver’s-ed-classes, followed by the even-more-gut-wrenching-challenge of passing the driving test—which I did with a few points knocked off but looms again when I reach 70 in a couple of years); further, the main characters of Wendy, Darwan, Tasha, Jasleen, and Wendy’s sister, Debbie (Samantha Bee), are easy to relate to, comfortable to watch, and reasonable in their responses to legitimate situations that have arisen in their lives. However, just like how the elation of passing that long-dreaded-driving-test can fade completely from your mind after enough time has passed, so does this movie evaporate after the lights come up, leaving you with just a few fleeting memories of the best moments but nothing that will likely stick with you very long. So, in keeping with my Short Takes responses to Learning to Drive I’ll pick a rather obvious—and somewhat silly—Musical Metaphor for this movie, “Drive My Car” (on the 1965 British edition of Rubber Soul as well as the 1966 Yesterday and Today album compiled for U.S. release) by the Beatles at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Ts2U1mkfz4 (illustrated with footage from concerts where they’re playing other songs [a decent mix in that it does seem they’re singing the actual ”… Car” lyrics a good bit of the time]) or if you’d rather see just one of the Fab Four actually performing the song, here’s Paul McCartney (main writer and composer, lead singer in the above link) at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ij75nDi4qg from a lively concert in Quebec at some unspecified time but well after the era of the original recording with his former bandmates.
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
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Here’s more information about Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YiPEZWaxSXs (19:16 Q &A with director Alex Gibney—good audio quality but shaky enough camera at times to get you dizzy, so take your Dramamine if needed)
Here’s more information about Learning to Drive:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8xM4TA8800o (3:49 featurette about the movie, which incorporates most of the above clip but with a little additional footage along with commentary from some of the primary actors—Patricia Clarkson, Ben Kingsley, Sarita Choudhury, Grace Gummer—the producer, Daniel Hammond, and the director, Isabel Coixet)
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By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken
P.S. Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.
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