Tech Film Festival: Movies and TV that nailed, or failed, the industry we love
Jobs, which opened Friday, is pretty much the story of Apple—even the director agrees to that. And while Ashton Kutcher’s performance didn’t reveal much about Steve Jobs that you couldn’t pick up from YouTube videos, we very much enjoyed the scenes focusing on Apple history. Watching the company's humble garage beginnings, meteoric rise, and boardroom machinations (which ousted our hero Jobs and eventually brought him back) were the best part of the movie. And they made us itchy for a Tech Film Festival to check out all the ways Hollywood has nailed—and failed—the technology industry over the years.
The Social Network
David Fincher’s look at the founding of Facebook—and the lawsuits that followed—has a good deal in common with Jobs: Both feature a college dropout visionary who grows a hugely successful company from nothing; a sympathetic sidekick who grows disillusioned with his former BFF; and no love story to speak of, save the love between a founder and his creation.
But The Social Network features better acting—Jesse Eisenberg and Justin Timberlake, as Mark Zuckerberg and Sean Parker respectively, are particularly great. It's also beautifully shot, and enhanced by excellent Aaron Sorkin dialogue and a dark, subtle score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Now that’s a movie. You can’t rent it online right now, but iTunes sells it cheapest for $10 in HD and $8 in SD. It's on Amazon and Google Play too.
Pirates of Silicon Valley
The other movie about Apple’s origins puts the story in the context of the larger industry: Pirates of Silicon Valley weaves back and forth between the adventures of Jobs and Woz and the equally fascinating tale of Microsoft's Bill Gates, Paul Allen, and Steve Ballmer. At just 96 minutes, the pacing is quick, and the characters break the fourth wall to explain what’s happening, instead of the clunkier biopic method employed in Jobs that shoehorns this information into dialogue. Pirates can be rented for $2 from Google Play, or from iTunes or Amazon for $3.
TPS reports, “PC load letter,” a case of the Mondays…Office Space makes fun of everything about tech industry grunt work. In this case, disgruntled software engineers at Initech try to fix the Y2K bug and avoid being downsized by two consultants named Bob. The whole film is utterly hilarious, from Smykowski’s insistence that engineers can’t talk to customers, to the glorious scene of the destruction of a multifunction printer. iTunes and Amazon have this masterpiece for rent or purchase. Google doesn’t sell it, which really runs counter to its whole “do no evil” thing, if you ask us.
After seeing a movie about Apple, you might be curious for a dramatization of what it’s like to work at Apple’s current nemesis, Google. Sadly, this 2013 comedy won’t show you that at all. Instead, The Internship is a mashup of the academic decathalon from Billy Madison, a bunch of tired nerds-are-so-nerdy cliches that wouldn’t make it out of The Big Bang Theory‘s writers’ room, and the “Vince Vaughn talks his way out of anything” shtick from…all the Vince Vaughn comedies.
When cameos from John Goodman, Will Ferrell, Josh Gad, and Rob Riggle are the best things about a movie, well, you don’t really need to see that movie. It isn’t available digitally or on DVD quite yet, although you can still catch it at a handful of budget cinemas around the country—if you must. There's probably a website that can help you search for it.
Start-Ups: Silicon Valley
Bravo never met a reality show it didn’t like, gracing/cursing the world with six versions of The Real Housewives (seven if you count the abomination of the D.C. season, which we won’t). But there's also more spin-offs of the formula—including Start-Ups: Silicon Valley, an eight-episode arc of young, beautiful people who work in tech in San Francisco and the Valley. (Also, note to Bravo: It’s just the Valley. No one calls it Silicon Valley, and certainly not on every single reference.)
While the who-cares drama is eye-rolling to the extreme—will Ben and Ashley wind up together? Will Sarah and Hermione wind up as friends or frenemies?—the snazzy open-plan offices, hedge fund lobbies, and artisan grilled cheese restaurants do give an accurate picture of, well, at least the physical surroundings these sometimes-likable characters inhabit. The first (and only) season is available on iTunes and Google Play and Amazon.
In 1995, when The Net came out, the idea of a connected web of computers was still a little foreign to many non-nerds. (And even some nerds—I didn’t get my first email address until 1997.) So an action thriller about a systems analyst, played by Sandra Bullock, who prefers to live online seemed like a novel premise. She telecommutes, she orders pizza online (what?!), and she basically eschews all unnecessary personal transactions IRL.
But then she comes across a backdoor to a popular security software suite—on a 3.5-inch floppy, naturally—and when the cyberterrorist bad guys try to get it back, they erase her identity and frame her for murder. Everything comes to a head on the catwalks of the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco—high above the Macworld Expo, as a matter of fact. Even without insight into the tech industry, or runaway buses, The Net is still worth a rental. Unfortunately, it isn’t streaming, and the big three digital storefronts only have it for purchase: It’s $8 at iTunes and Google Play, and $10 at Amazon.
Cheetos! Nerf guns! Headphones and hoodies! Yeah, okay, they’ve got our number—but this send-up of life at a start-up is more affectionate than mocking. Betas is one of the 14 original series pilots that Amazon had made and let users vote on—and it got the green light, so now they’re making a whole season.
In the pilot, four friends are toiling away on BRB, their social discovery app, chasing Series A funding, and showing up a rival team of D-bags building a really stupid parking app. The writing is sharp (and occasionally NSFW) and it’s directed by Michael Lehmann, who also helmed ’80s cult classic Heathers. Amazon Prime members can watch it free.
If you like Betas, don’t forget The I.T. Crowd, a British comedy about downtrodden help desk dorks, streaming on Netflix. If flicks like The Social Network and Pirates of Silicon Valley keep you running from IMDb to Wikipedia trying to determine what’s fact and what’s fiction, you might enjoy some documentaries like Who Killed the Electric Car? and its sequel Revenge of the Electric Car, an exploration of one-man development shops called Indie Game: The Movie, or Apple fan fodder Macheads and Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview. And of course the ’80s and early ’90s were the golden age of nerd movies, like Sneakers, and Hackers, and good old WarGames—the only way to lose is not to watch.