Matt at the Movies: BlackBerry and the Twin Film Phenomenon
Matt highly recommends BlackBerry with an 8.5/10 score, but buries the lede with a fun analysis of "twin films."
Today we’re talking about the phenomenon of “twin films” - two movies released around the same time with the same concept.
They often happen organically due to the topical nature of a particular story. Other times, two studios are vying for the same piece of the commercial pie, like catty-corner gas stations. Lastly, some are created by chance as screenplays - and their writers - bounce between companies. Did anyone really need two 1997 movies where the villain was … lava flow?
[Editor’s note: I saw Dante’s Peak on a date in 1997, but only because the re-release of “Star Wars” was sold out]
Regardless of the origin story, Hollywood can trace back the phenomena to its pre-code era of 1931, when “talkies” became more widespread, to see our first tandem of films about female spies: “Dishonored” and “Mata Hari.”
Check out this non-official list of twin film over the years to get the idea.
Personally, I’m not the arbiter of what makes this list, but within the last five weeks I’ve seen two “based on true story” films about the creation of transformative corporate products. Ben Affleck directed himself and bestie Matt Damon in “Air,” a story about Nike’s creation of the Air Jordan shoe. It was a breezy film that featured a killer 80’s soundtrack, but felt like Nike co-founder Phil Knight himself came in and gave notes after each cut of dailies. Corporatization at it’s finest! The movie doesn’t have much heart, but does have solid acting performances, particularly Jason Bateman’s turn as Nike marketing director Robert Strasser.
This week’s film “BlackBerry,” is about the story of how a company transformed the cell phone industry at the turn of the millennium. Two films about the creation of iconic products in under forty days … how could this not be twinning?
Before we get into our review of “BlackBerry,” currently playing at the Independent Picture House, I wanted to create a top five list of my favorite twin film examples from the past thirty years. No genre is safe from this trend as documentaries find themselves in the same room as rom-coms. Let’s take a look at some classic twin pairings.
The Top Five Twins
#5: Chasing Liberty & First Daughter (2004)
Talk about subject matter no one asked for, let alone twice! These rom-com films both focus on plucky daughters of the President of the United States who fall in love with their respective Secret Service agents.
It’s all about flavor here and which actress you fancy in the lead role. My heart and soul is forever linked to Katie Holmes for her seminal work during my high school years in “Dawson’s Creek,” but you may find that singer/actor Mandy Moore is the suburban spice in your life.
Either way, we can agree not only are both these films terrible, but also this niche genre is lost and gone forever.
#4: Tombstone (1993) & Wyatt Earp (1994)
This seemed like a classic case of first to the finish line. "
“Tombstone,” featuring an iconic cast of Kurt Russell - who many say directed the film - and Val Kilmer, just so happened to be more fun than Kevin Costner’s “Wyatt Earp” which arrived in theaters six months later. Both came in the wake of the new era of Hollywood westerns after “Unforgiven” won Best Picture at the Oscars in 1992.
Both films also feature the gunfight at the O.K. Corral against the Clanton Cowboy gang. Many will quote Doc Holliday’s “I’m your huckleberry” as “Tombstone’s” iconic line, but I present this scene of Russell and a young Billy Bob Thorton as a textbook example of badass dialogue: Skin it, I dare you.
#3: No Strings Attached & Friends with Benefits (2011)
This is a fun rom-com pairing decidedly of its time. Dating apps and hookup culture were becoming mainstream in the 2010s. Both sets of main characters have male/female friendships that evolve into what is supposed to be carefree sex with no attachment.
Both are fun in their own way though “No Strings Attached” has better acting and comedic elements. So do you prefer a Natalie Portman & Ashton Kutcher combo or Justin Timberlake & Milas Kunis? Fun fact: Kutcher and Kunis could be the only two members of opposite twin films who eventually married - Internet, please don’t correct me on this one, the story is too good!
#2: The Prestige & The Illusionist (2006)
“The Prestige” is a clear favorite here as it becomes more rewatchable the older I get. The performances of Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman as magicians and former colleagues whose personal tragedies become both vendettas and a competition to outdo one another’s illusions is heightened by the filmmaking of Christopher Nolan.
Meanwhile, Edward Norton’s performance as a Viennese magician in The Illusionist is more a love story with mystery and phantasmagoria. Each film comes full circle by the end but “The Prestige” has more to offer in terms of pacing, intrigue, and repeat viewings.
#1: Armageddon & Deep Impact (1998)
What else would it be? Volcano and Dante’s Peak?
While “Deep Impact” had some great Morgan Freeman lines as the president and wonderful FX visuals of its era, we’ll cede our time on the floor to one of the most fun blockbuster experiences of all-time.
“Armageddon” was produced by Jerry Bruchkeimer and director Michael Bay at the height of their powers. Bruce Willis is perfectly cast as oil driller Harry Stamper, who assembles a ragtag crew of roughnecks to travel into space and blow up a world-ending asteroid “the size of Texas.” This film has it all. Pre-9/11 Americana patriotism, high stakes drama, insane characters, action, training montages, Aerosmith and Liv Tyler, sing-a-longs, and plenty of laughs to see it through. We’re leaving on this jet plane and into this week’s review of the Canadian tech film BlackBerry.
Y’all Weekly is a reader-supported publication. Consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
BlackBerry - 8.5/10
In a Nutshell
Based on the 2016 book Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry, this story follows Canadian software company Research in Motion (RIM) as it creates one of the most iconic phones of all time. Writer, director, and co-star Matt Johnson manages to weave a story about how greed and success both built and tore down one of the most financially viable companies in the world in this fun yet intense dramedy.
Time Is Money, Why Should I Go?
This film was both refreshing and felt far superior to the aforementioned “Air” released several weeks ago. It had the drive and feel of 2011’s “The Social Network” but with a more comedic tone. One of the fun elements was seeing the new technology the company created as cellular devices moved from talk & text to personal handheld computers. At one point RIM and BlackBerry controlled 45% of the total cell phone market: there’s a reason they were called “Crackberries.” The two hours flew by and was incredibly enjoyable for a film about a product.
Spill the Tea
The films starts in 1996 as Research in Motion (RIM) CEO Mike Lazaridis (Jay Baruchel) tries to sell the idea of a new cellular emailing device that can capture the power of free wireless internet to business shark Jim Balsille (Glenn Howerton). Balsille’s no bullshit demeanor seems to be the yang to Lazaridis’s yin. As they cob together a prototype and head to New York to pitch to communication titans like Verizon, we enjoy a masterful playlist of nostalgic songs ranging from Elastica to NOFX to Mark Morrison.
The product is a handheld device with a full keyboard that allows for talk, text, and emails. Mike and his band of nerdy, Doom-playing tech engineers have figured out what Verizon and others could not, and soon they’re able to host millions of clients on servers at once, allowing for emails to be delivered directly to individual host devices. Soon they find a way to send encrypted two way texting that circumvents carriers -what many Millennials and older remember as BBM - to provide unlimited messaging. After expanding their small Canadian company, they start hacking to reconfigure cell towers so that millions of more phones can be on network carriers. This all seems too fast and without much regulation as the internet was still in its Wild West days.
Balsille stops at nothing to obtain top talent, grow sales, and crush long standing rivals like Palm Pilot that want to buy the company. His hubris and lack of foresight will put the company on a collision course with rivals like Apple and government entities like the SEC. Whether RIM perseveres or perishes remains to be seen.
Star of the Show
Glenn Howerton of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” turns in an amazing performance as the driven, unethical Harvard businessman Balsille, who he plays with a massive chip on his shoulder. He works hard but also feels the world owes him something. That creates tension with Lazaridis to take chances or push the company further without the infrastructure in place to keep good on promises. He toes a fine line of admiration and disgust with how he runs the business side of RIM. His interactions in particular with Mike’s sidekick Doug and his merry bunch of tech nerds make for some hilarious interactions. Hopefully this role gives him a foot into the drama door; he has the chops for it.
Don’t Sleep On
Canadian comedy lifer Jay Baruchel, who turns in a great performance as the film’s straight man. Mike Lazaridis is not a businessman at heart, but you seem him grown and hardened into a Steve Jobs-esque figure by the end of the film. Baruchel has long been a great lead in smaller comedies like “She’s Out of My League” and “This Is the End,” but this role showed a great transformation, similar to that of his co-star Howerton.
Best Ten Minute Stretch
The original group at RIM has a directive and only a couple days to throw together the first prototype of what will become the BlackBerry. By this point in the movie, we’ve only known these young engineers to be gaming goofballs, writing on Star Trek message boards while wasting away in pop culture . When push comes to shove they show why they were hired and these tech geniuses fire up the coding, circuit wiring, and engineering know-how to create a version of their new tech masterpiece over a great montage scene.
Coulda used a little more…
fun in the final third as things seem to fall apart as this had the vibe of a dramedy in the first two thirds. We did get a Michael Ironside cameo that helped make up for it.
MatM Score: 8.5/10
Highly Recommended - Second favorite of the year so far
Pieces together the overall “vibe” this movie brings from other releases.
Up next is Master Gardener, the newest film from legendary director Paul Schrader starring Joel Edgerton and Sigourney Weaver. See you next time at Matt at the Movies!