Greetings again from the darkness. There aren’t too many companies who have reached the pinnacle of their industry, only to later flop due to lack of innovation or a stubborn insistence on holding on to the past. Tremendous success and absolute failure are not typically associated with the same company. Blockbuster Video and Pan Am Airlines come to mind as examples of industry leaders whose refusal to adapt, culminated with closure, and it’s likely that Blackberry belongs in the category, at least as presented here by writer-director Matt Johnson and co-writer Matthew Miller, adapting the book by Jacquie McNish.
Socially awkward pals, Mike Lazaridis (played by Jay Baruchel) and Doug Fregin (played by the film’s director Matt Johnson), co-founded Research in Motion (RIM). The film picks up in 1996 when Mike and Doug are making their first presentation of their breakthrough handheld data delivery-email machine, which they have named Pocket Link. These are two genius nerds with no concept of how the outside business worlds functions, and the executive to whom they are pitching is so distracted that his only feedback is, “You need a new name.” In a fascinating twist, that same executive, Jim Balsillie (Glenn Howerton, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”) ends up saving not just the new product, but also the company.
Balsillie presents himself as a fireball, take charge, full-steam-ahead kind of guy. It’s quite a contrast to nerdy Mike and easy-going Doug. Mike is a quiet guy committed to perfection in his work, while Doug wrangles the tech developers with a culture of video games, movie night, and an overall fraternity environment. Balsillie’s arrival as a vocal outrage expert and brash businessman changes everything, and he and Mike drive the newly named BlackBerry to levels not previously seen. We do get a humorous anecdote from a shirt stain (even though it’s not a true story), and in fact, there is quite a bit of humor throughout.
We are informed that the film was “inspired by real people and real events”, so some dramatic license is expected. Perhaps the best comparison is THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010), and while that film was more polished, I personally found this one more entertaining and accurate from a business sense. An excellent supporting cast includes Cary Elwes, Saul Rubinek, Michael Ironside, Martin Donovan, Rich Sommer, and SungWon Cho, and the film’s real draw is the contrast between Jay Baruchel’s mousy but brilliant Mike, and Glenn Howard’s powerhouse portrayal of the egotistical Balsillie. Baruchel’s scene where he reacts to the new iPhone is alone worth the price of admission.
At its peak, BlackBerry had 45% market share and had earned it’s “CrackBerry” label in the business world. Apple’s 2007 introduction of the iPhone not only rocked the BlackBerry company, it shook up the world. The Canada perspective is noted (RIM was based in Waterloo, Ontario), as is Mike’s aversion to ‘made in China’, perhaps the ultimate reason for the fall. It’s likely that BlackBerry has become a Case Study in Business Schools, although the fast-paced and pressure-packed world of tech continues to require a balance of decisions focused on current markets and never-ending innovation for the future.
Greetings again from the darkness. The tagline nails the tone of the film: “On August 21, 1970 two of America’s greatest recording artists met for the first time.” Director Liza Johnson proceeds to tell the story of worlds colliding – an Oval Office meeting with President Richard Nixon and Elvis Presley. Of course, this is a fictionalized and satirical accounting, since Nixon didn’t kickoff his recording passion until the following year.
It would be pretty easy to bash the film as heavy on cheese and light on historical accuracy, but that would be missing the point. These two public figures couldn’t have been much different from each other, but the script (Joey and Hanala Sagal, and Cary Elwes) finds a way to have these two icons hold a conversation … bonding over their mutual hatred of The Beatles.
The terrific opening credit sequence perfectly captures the time period and is a work of art unto itself. We first see Elvis shooting out the picture tubes in the TV room at Graceland. He’s disgusted with the news reports of Woodstock and drug use among America’s youth. Constructing a loose plot to meet with President Nixon and offer his service as a Federal Agent-at-large, Elvis is mostly interested in adding a federal badge to his collection.
Michael Shannon plays Elvis and Kevin Spacey takes on the Nixon role. Rather than a finely tuned impersonation, Shannon goes after more of an impression or re-imagining of The King. It’s a perfect fit for this setting, and there is nothing like watching Shannon give an impromptu karate demonstration for the leader of the free world in the most famous room in America. Spacey, on the other hand, is spot on in capturing the posture, mannerisms, sound and essence of a man who carried much personal baggage with his political power.
The chain of events leading up to the meeting plays a bit like a farcical comedy. Nixon’s staff of Bud Krough (Colin Hanks), Dwight Chapin (Evan Peters) and HR Haldeman (Tate Donovan) is equal parts incredulous and opportunistic. We get two members of Elvis’ “Memphis Maphia” with Alex Pettyfer playing Jerry Schilling and Johnny Knoxville adding even more humor as Sonny West. There is a nice blend of “little” comedy moments and outright laughers – Elvis impersonators confronting him in an airport, the Secret Service reaction to Elvis’ gift to Nixon of collectible WWII pistols, and Elvis meeting with a DEA official played by Tracy Letts.
I found myself smiling throughout, with full understanding that this satirical look at a meeting between two famous men with little common ground has no real historical importance … other than resulting in the all-time most requested photograph from the National Archives. But for 86 minutes of smiling, I say to the filmmakers and actors … Thank you. Thank you very much.
Greetings again from the darkness. If you have read even a few of my reviews, you know I am not typically a fan of the Hollywood Rom-Com. I find most of them lazy, lame, predictable and irritating. But when legendary comedy director Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters, Dave, Stripes) gets involved, I will at least pay attention. Here Mr. Reitman directs a script that on the surface will examine the “friends with benefits” phenomenon.
The leads are played by Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman, and the twist here is that Portman’s Emma is the driving force behind the agreement with Kutcher’s Adam to not have a relationship … only relations. Even Adam’s friends point out to him that he is living every man’s fantasy. So does anyone think this will really work? Of course not.
First, they are both just so darn cute! And Adam is oh-so-adorable as the sly one hoping to break through and convince Emma that he is worthy of her love. All the physical stuff continues as Adam works his job on the set of a “Glee” knock-off, battles with his dad (Kevin Kline) who is sleeping with Adam’s ex-girlfriend (a wonderful Opehlia Lovibond), and Emma slaves away saving lives in her job as a brilliant doctor. Oh, and one of Adam’s co-workers (a hilariously manic Lake Bell) has a mega crush on him, and Emma’s little sister (Olivia Thirlby) finds true love as does Emma’s friend Patrice (Greta Gerwig from Greenberg), who falls for Adam’s best friend. Wow. All that love and our two heroes just have to keep things between the sheets.
On the plus side, the side stories are enough fun that the film is easily watchable despite the predictable nature of the premise. Even the Portman/Kutcher story is tolerable thanks to the gender-switching nature of their personalities. I would have preferred to see the Friends with Benefits pact extended and examined (it worked in the Stieg Larsson books!). This is easily Mr. Reitman’s best comedy since 1993’s Dave, which also featured Kevin Kline. It’s nice to see Ms. Portman do something lightweight after her fabulous Black Swan performance, but I am really hoping Mr. Kutcher understands that someday he may really have to act and not just smile on cue.
SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you just absolutely must see a Rom-Com this week OR you want to see two very funny actresses going all out (Lake Bell and Ophelia Lovibond)
SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: even a slightly subdued Ashton Kutcher is more than you can take OR you are looking for a hugely surprising plot twist