A movie moment for Mark Zuckerberg

When it came time for me to do my movie news dump late Friday night, I somehow managed to forget the news item from the middle of the week that Facebook founder and reluctant movie character Mark Zuckerberg had been named Time Magazine‘s Person of the Year. It’s an oversight I can’t bring myself to ignore completely.

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Looking at past selectees, 26 year-old billionaire Zuckerberg is hardly the only one to have a movie made about his exploits. In terms of sheer footage, he’s got nothing on such occasional film lead figures and frequent supporting players as Nelson Mandela, John Kennedy, Franklin Roosevelt, Mohandas Gandhi and, most frequent of all, Adolf Hitler.

What is unique about Zuckerberg is that “The Social Network” came out the same year as his selection and, in a peculiar way, probably helped him to get it. Reading the Time article about Zuckerberg by geek journalist and fantasy novelist Lev Grossman, I can only marvel at some very shrewd PR work by someone. The article goes out of its way to present a highly sympathetic alternative from the “angry-robot” of the movie to a figure more akin to the stiff but kindly Tin Woodman. If writer Aaron Sorkin and director David Fincher portrayed Zuckerberg as a bit like the treacherous Ash from “Alien,” Grossman turns him into the quirky but lovable Data from “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” The words “Eduardo Saverin” and the legal troubles portrayed in the film are never mentioned in the online version of the article that I read.

I strongly suspect Zuckerberg’s knowledge of movie history doesn’t extend much further back than “Alien.” However, even with all the image rebuffing a billionaire’s money and power affords him, I’m sure he’d prefer the old days of movie biopics where, if powerful celebrities were portrayed at all, they were portrayed positively. Not only were possibly imaginary warts not added, as they might have been by Sorkin and Fincher, very real ones were actively removed.

I’ve never seen it, but check out the trailer below for Billy Wilder’s 1957 biopic about perhaps the most ironically similar Time Person of the Year (back when it was “Man of the Year”) to Zuckerberg, aviation pioneer Charles A. Lindbergh. As the L.A. Times reminds us, Lindbergh was also the first person chosen and the only one younger than the Facebook fonder. What Zuckerberg feels he is doing to bring people together virtually, Lindbergh was instrumental in doing physically by demonstrating that a nonstop flight from New York to Paris was possible. At this point in history at least, in some ways Lindbergh’s achievement still dwarfs Zuckerberg’s. That may change fairly soon, but there’s no doubt what Lindbergh did commanded a huge personal risk and, eventually, a personal price with the most infamous kidnapping and murder case in American history.

Ironically, while it might said that the Jewish American Sorkin went hammer and tong against the Jewish Zuckerberg, Billy Wilder by all accounts went easy on the famous flyer when, under the circumstances, it would be entirely understandable for Wilder to despise Lindbergh. Working thirty years after the famous flight of “Lucky Lindy,” Wilder was able to completely ignore Lindbergh’s highly controversial early opposition to World War II and qualified support for Hitler as a bulwark against the Soviet Union, his antisemitism, white supremacist beliefs (though hardly unusual at the time), and links to the more openly Jew-hating Henry Ford. Wilder you see, was not just a liberal Jew who advocated for U.S. involvement in the war, but an actual escapee from Hitler’s Europe whose immediate family perished at Auschwitz.

If there was any revenge by Wilder at all, star James Stewart was nearly 50 when the movie was released, double the age Lindbergh was when he came to fame. Jessie Eisenberg might be, unusually for the movies, smaller and less physically fit looking than the real-life Zuckerberg, but at least he’s still only 27.

  

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More movie news and stuff

Cannes is in full swing and there’s plenty other stuff going on besides — way too much to cover completely. So, consider this just me hitting a very few of the highlights of the film world right this moment.

* The critical wars are going full strength at Cannes with the biggest love-it/hate-it proposition appearing to be Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “Biutiful.” I haven’t seen the film, of course, but Iñárritu is most definitely my least favorite of “the three amigos” of Mexican/Spanish/U.S. cinema. (The other two being Alfonso Cuarón and Guillermo del Toro) and not only because his name is the most impossible to type. I mostly liked “Amores Perros” but his “21 Grams” and “Babel” struck me as exercises in touchy-feely realism that was a lot less real than it seemed to fancy itself.

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Still, he’s working with different writers now and everyone seems to agree that the always great Javier Bardem is especially fine in it, so I suppose I should keep an open mind. Still, reading about the film, it’s hard not to side with the anti-faction when much of the commentary echoes my feelings about past films and when the pro-side is being taken by Jeffrey Welles, who really doesn’t seem to respond well when other people don’t love his favorite films. It’s a conspiracy, I tells ya!

In any case, David Hudson does his usual amazing job summarizing the critical reaction from a wide swath of the press; John Horn at the L.A. Times focuses on the reactions of big name critics.

Read the rest of this entry »

  

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“The Princess and the Frog” to top Clint, Mandela, and that rugby guy

We technically have only major new release this week.  Clint Eastwood‘s “Invictus” is already scoring with critics and will no doubt do well enough initially based largely on the fact that Eastwood is one of the few directorial names that actually means something to the mass audience some of whom may believe he’s actually in it. The appeal of stars Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon and the now nearly saintly status of Nelson Mandela won’t hurt either, though the name might throw some off the scent. In any case, not even Mandela, movie stars, or the mighty Clint can compete against a Disney princess.

The Princess and the Frog

The Princess and the Frog” has been doing dynamite business playing extremely small and special engagements and will be going out to some 3,434 theaters this weekend as opposed to a relatively modest 2,125 for “Invictus.” It’s probably the final rub that “Princess” actually edges out “Invictus” slightly on the Tomatometer, though both films are well short of the Pixar-plus 90% stratosphere in any case.

Anyhow, it’s an interesting pairing and very much in the zeitgeist of Obama’s America. As Roger Ebert points out, this is the first Disney animated film to feature African-American characters since the Disney-banned “Song of the South.” It even features a once unthinkable more or less interracial romance.

Morgan Freeman in “Invictus” is also interesting racially and politically because it deals with the dismantling of apartheid, a system of injustice that many of Clint Eastwood’s fellow Republicans downplayed or minimized during the Reagan and Bush years, while characterizing Nelson Mandela as  a dangerous terrorist, or at least someone who palled around with Yassir Arafat and assorted communists. (That second part was true; what was also true was that those particular communists were mostly anti-apartheid heroes like Joe Slovo.) To his credit, Eastwood has always marched to his own drummer and few avowedly liberal filmmakers have been as thoughtful or sensitive on ethnic matters, so  he may just be the perfect director to bring the topic to the mainstream.

Reviewers seem to agree that “Invictus” is perhaps as much a political drama along the lines of, say, “The Queen,” as it is an inspirational sports film. On the other hand, it is the very model of the kind of film that gets nominated for, and wins, Academy Awards. Seeing as once promising potential awards-contenders — like ex-critical darling Peter Jackson’s “The Lovely Bones,” which got a somewhat conflicted nod from our own David Medsker but  is getting overall mediocre-to-bad reviews as it stumbles into a very limited release this week — are falling by the wayside, Oscar is once again likely to be Clint Eastwood’s best friend at the box office.

As discussed by jolly Carl DiOrio, who dispensed with his video segment this week, “The Princess and the Frog” is thought likely to make roughly $25 million, it’s first weekend as its grosses will be somewhat moderated by the fact that winter vacation hasn’t started yet for most elementary students, while “Invictus” will likely earn in the $12-14 million range. A surprise is possible, but I see not reason to argue with the gods of tracking this weekend.

  

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