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How The Social Network Changed Hollywood
Plus reviews of the new films Air and Blackberry
Like it or not, The Social Network changed Hollywood forever. The 2010 film, written by Aaron Sorkin and directed by David Fincher, tells the story of Mark Zuckerberg and his journey founding Facebook. There have been movies in the past about founders of companies, but The Social Network was different in that it wasn’t known as “The Mark Zuckerberg movie”, it was viewed as “The Facebook movie”. No one told their friends that they had to see the movie about Mark Zuckerberg, they told their friends that they had to see the movie about Facebook. Before this moment in time, if you wanted to tell the story like this, a documentary would have been your medium of choice. The Social Network changed that.
Since the release of the Social Network, there have been multiple attempts to re-create the same magic it captured. Only three years later, the film “Jobs” attempted to create the Apple version of “the Facebook movie”. It failed miserably. This failure made it clear that a film about a successful company and founder wasn’t an automatic success; it had to be done well. Two years later, another chance was taken on the Apple story (this time written by the writer of The Social Network) and the second time was the charm. From there the flood gates were opened. Fast forward three years and it was McDonalds turn with, “The Founder”, the story of how McDonalds came to be. Each time a film like this was made, the selling point of the film was the company, not the founder.
In the present day, we are living in a moment where films about companies, products, and their founders are all over the place. Just in the last few months there have been films made about the rise of Nike shoes, the video game Tetris, and the Blackberry phone. Later this summer there will be a Flamin Hot Cheetos movie. Like it or not, there is no denying that the IP era of Hollywood has entered a new chapter. One in which Wall Street is the source material.
But why? Why have we gotten to a place as a culture where we have so few original ideas that we will sit through a two-hour commercial for a shoe company. Blackberry director, Matt Johnson, was asked this exact question on a recent episode of the Big Picture podcast and I thought his answer was quite fascinating:
“After having this conversation enough, my best answer is that we are in a very bizarre time culturally, and I don’t think there is a lot of stable ground. I think that subconsciously this deluge of films (and desire to see these films) about products and technology that we now live with today is a way for us to try and understand this present moment. Film has always told us who we are, typically through myth. Bjork once said that her job as an artist was to connect her myths of her past to the myths of her future. I think that sums it up perfectly. That is what film at its best is doing. At some very clumsy level, maybe that is what the culture is asking for with these movies.”
Matt hit the nail right on the head. It seems we are fascinated by films of this type because we want to better understand how we got to the place we are today. We are so fed up with how technology and IP have consumed our lives that we just want to understand how it came to this. The irony is that this wave of filmmaking all began with The Social Network, just as Facebook was the major force in ushering in the new era of social media and inter-connectedness.
While it is a bizarre thing for so many films about a company/product to come out in the same year, they actually aren’t all bad! In fact, I liked one of them and loved one of them, so I wanted to dedicate some time to celebrate each of them- “Air” and “Blackberry”.
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Directed by - Ben Affleck
What is it about - “Air reveals the unbelievable game-changing partnership between a then rookie Michael Jordan and Nike’s fledgling basketball division which revolutionized the world of sports and contemporary culture with the Air Jordan brand. This moving story follows the career-defining gamble of an unconventional team with everything on the line, the uncompromising vision of a mother who knows the worth of her son’s immense talent, and the basketball phenom who would become the greatest of all time.”
Quick Thoughts - While many will go in thinking this is a sports movie, you will quickly learn that it’s actually a workplace movie. Affleck rightfully hones in on those bonding moments in the office - talking in the bathroom, being in the office on the weekends, or laughing after the big meeting. Meaningful office memories and relationships are less about what you do together and more about those special moments in between. Affleck highlights these throughout the whole film.
The Good - The best thing the film has going is how much fun it is. Is Air anything more than a good time? Not really, but sometimes that is perfectly fine for a film to commit to and do well. From start to finish you just can’t help but smile, laugh, and have a good time. Sometimes when someone gets a bunch of their buddies together to make a film, it doesn’t always turn out well, but the energy from the cast is infectious throughout. Affleck also does some great work behind the camera – it is getting to the point where I am enjoying him much more behind the camera than in front of it.
The Bad - My biggest fault with the film is the lack of tension and just how on the nose so much of it is. The dialogue is corny at times and since we all know how the story ends, it is missing some of that punch to keep you on the edge of your seat. There are also a few times throughout the film where the end of the story seemed to inform some of the dialogue of the script. I find it hard to believe that so many people all thought Michael Jordan was going to be the best basketball player of all time. Look, I get thinking that he is going to be an all-star or an NBA champion, but anything more than that feels like a stretch. Overall, I just think it is really hard to make a movie like this that everyone signs off on. Phil Knight and the Jordan family both okayed this film, meaning, no feathers were ruffled. Historically this makes for a much less exciting film.
Rating - 3.5/5
Best Performance - Viola Davis as Deloris Jordan. Look, I know it is still early in the year, but I think there is a legitimate shot that Viola ends up with an Oscar nomination for her role in this film.
Honorable Mention - Chris Tucker as Howard White
Will I watch again - Yes, it has some great rewatchable qualities
Would I recommend - Yeah. If you like basketball, Jordan shoes, Nike, or the 80s, this one is for you. If you happen to love all four - buckle up!
Final Takeaways - While the film is a bit on the nose at times and does lose some suspense since we all know where it is going, the journey there isn’t any less fun.
Directed by - Matt Johnson
What the film is about - “The company behind the first smartphone, the BlackBerry, meets a catastrophic demise.”
Quick Thoughts - Wound so tight, it feels like a ticking time bomb. It isn’t just one of the best films of the year “so far”, it is one of the best films of the year. Engaging from start to finish, hilarious, moving, and insightful.
The Good - The opening title card of the film reads as such “The following fictionalization is inspired by real people and real events that took place in Waterloo, Ontario”. Another way to interpret this is, “there is some stuff in the next two hours that will make some people mad”. Immediately we feel the tension and get the feeling we are in for a wild ride, very different from that of Air that goes out of its way to please everybody. Blackberry is shot like a wildlife documentary (think in the likes of The Office), so you feel like you are a bystander looking in on something that you aren’t supposed to see. Matt Johnson makes the intentional choice to use long lenses and shoot from far away so that it appears you are peering into this whole group of people and their way of life. The bigger the company gets, the further away the camera gets as access gets more closed off and it is harder to get close. You also get a real feeling throughout the film of the “move fast and break things” sentiment that has ruled the tech industry the past decade. It helps you understand how some of these products and companies got to the point we are at today.
Aside from it being hilarious and having some fantastic performances anchor the story, Blackberry really benefits from being a relatively unknown story. While we all know that Blackberry went from a dominant force in the tech world to a nothing, I can’t recall knowing too many details of the story prior to the movie. The story is actually incredibly entertaining and full of some characters that make watching the film a wonderful experience.
The Bad - I enjoyed the film way too much to say anything negative about it
Rating - 4/5
Best Performance - Glenn Howerton as Jim Balsillie
Honorable Mention - Jay Baruchel as Mike Lazaridis
Will I watch again - 100% yes and I can’t wait
Would I recommend - Yes yes yes
Final Takeaways - While nerds vs. VCs is a tale as old as time, it was depicted very thoughtfully in Blackberry. So many people set out for a career in tech to change the world, but far to often the system chews you up and spits until you are unrecognizable to even yourself. Go see this film!
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