By Colby Cosh - Monday, May 6, 2013 - 0 Comments
Some U.S. politicians are using money from Mark Zuckerberg for their own causes–including advocating for Keystone
The latest TV spot for South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham is like any other American political ad. “When Lindsey Graham’s in Washington, what does he do?” a voice-over asks. “He stands up for South Carolina VALUES.” The Republican Graham is seen on a talk show tearing a strip off ObamaCare. He complains about wasteful ﬁscal-stimulus spending. And then he returns to the great theme, the ever-pursued white whale of American political advertising: energy independence. “The President says I’m for ‘all of the above’ when it comes to energy?” asks Graham. “Well, those are words comin’ out of his mouth; they don’t come from his heart. No Keystone pipeline, no drilling in the Gulf.”
The interesting part doesn’t come until the fine print reveals who authored and paid for the ad: something called “Americans for a Conservative Direction.” That’s what has Washington buzzing: Americans for a Conservative Direction is a subsidiary of FWD.us, a lobby group funded by Mark Zuckerberg, billionaire founder of Facebook. This unassuming minute-long commercial represents the arrival of a potentially devastating money vector in American politics.
No one would have expected it to land on the side of a moderate southern Republican, but that is the cunning of FWD.us: its initial effort consists of both a Republican front group and a parallel Democratic one, the Council for American Job Growth, which bought a similar spot for Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska). Zuckerberg’s idea, laid out explicitly in an April 10 Washington Post op-ed, is for FWD.us to focus on immigration reform, improved science and math education and public support for research.
By Pierre Poilievre - Monday, March 18, 2013 at 2:21 PM - 0 Comments
MP Pierre Poilievre on cash awards and innovation
It is easy to turn public money into research. But the question should be, “How do we turn research into results?” Who better to ask than Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, and Google co-founder, Sergey Brin? They invented and popularized technologies that serve billions of people and have created mind-boggling wealth.
Last month, Zuckerberg and Brin inaugurated the “Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences” with the purpose of recognizing “excellence in research aimed at curing intractable diseases and extending human life.” Rather than simply pumping all the money into research institutions, Zuckerberg and Brin are paying for results.
History proves they are onto something.
Napoleon Bonaparte offered a cash prize for new ways of preserving food, knowing that his “army marched on its stomach”. So Nicolas Francois Appert invented canned foods, and used the reward of 12,000 francs to open a commercial cannery, which operated for over a century.
Between 1839 and 1939, the Royal Agricultural Society of England offered cash prizes at annual competitions. A Harvard Business School and Norwegian School of Economics joint study showed “large effects of the prizes on competitive entry” and “an impact of the prizes on the quality of contemporaneous patents”. The contests led to new milking machines, cream separators, cultivators, light portable motors and more than 15,000 other innovations that made food more plentiful and farming less burdensome.
In 1874, the Scientific American even said that the Royal Agricultural Society prizes catalyzed a “most extraordinary improvement in the engines, as regards economy and workmanship, and there is little doubt that the effect of these tests has been most beneficial to the users of steam power.” That is important because, as the report notes, steam power likely did more to boost output than any other invention of the latter part of the 19th century.
Almost a fifth of the inventions that competed became patented. Even the losing contestants won. Hundreds of them patented their inventions to profit from them.
From the soil to the sky: the “Lone Eagle”, Charles Lindbergh, won the $25,000 Orteig prize to become the first man to pilot a non-stop flight from New York to Paris, and the first to cross the Atlantic solo. According to the X Prize Foundation, “a quarter of all Americans personally saw Lindbergh and [his plane] Spirit of St. Louis within a year of his flight – and the world changed with their excitement”. The Foundation notes that in the year of his legendary flight, the number of licensed aircraft jumped 400 per cent and applications for pilot licenses rose 300 per cent. From 1926 to 1929, the number of airline passengers went from 5,782 to 173,405 – a 30-fold hike in just three years.
Based on this success, the Foundation is leading a revival of prize money for innovation. First, they offered $10 million for launching a private-sector aircraft carrying three people to outer space twice in two weeks. Twenty-six teams from a half-dozen countries competed and invested a total of $100 million on development. There was an astounding $10 in R&D chasing each dollar in prize money—talk about leverage.
The contest not only led to the invention of a new aircraft, but a new industry — private sector space travel. Virgin Galactic has purchased technology from the winning team for that very purpose.
The Foundation then offered a contest for fuel-efficient vehicles. A Swiss company won $2.5 million with a vehicle that could go zero-to-60 miles per hour in 6.6 seconds, while running on an amazing 200 miles-per-gallon equivalent. In other words, it accelerates almost as fast as a 2010 BMW 328i, with seven times the fuel efficiency of a 2010 Honda Civic.
The X Prizes have since expanded to robotic moon landings, genomics, environmental cleanup, education and global development.
The private sector is sponsoring prizes for more than philanthropy. A few years back, Netflix crowdsourced its R&D with a $1 million prize for a new system of algorithms to recommend films. According to The Economist, 55,000 people competed and the winning team was a group of seven who had worked together via the internet and met in person for the first time when they retrieved their prize.
Governments are catching on to the power of prizes. Under the America Competes Act, 45 U.S. government agencies have offered over 200 prizes to incentivize problem solving. The President’s Office of Science and Technology Policy says prizes are now a “standard tool in every Federal agency’s toolbox”. And this January, the New York City Schools Chancellor announced a $104,000 prize for the best app, video game or other technology to help teenagers conquer math.
Here in Canada, the House of Commons Transport Committee unanimously made the cost-neutral recommendation for government to “redirect a portion of its existing research and innovation budget away from institutions and towards substantial prize money for innovations which meet well-defined public goals.”
With private sector promotional sponsors picking up the tab, governments could hold massive science fairs to unveil the winners. The prestige and publicity would create further incentive to compete and win. As the Lindbergh flight and the Royal Agricultural Society prizes prove, the prestige and publicity of competitions can motivate the innovators of today and inspire those of tomorrow.
Let’s keep our eyes on that prize and make Canada an innovation nation.
By Jesse Brown - Tuesday, January 15, 2013 at 2:54 PM - 0 Comments
It’s not a phone, thank God.
Today’s surprise announcement from Facebook was the unveiling of a new kind of search engine. “Graph Search” (which will invariably be referred to by non-Facebook employees as “Facebook Search”) draws on the massive database we have all created just by being on Facebook. According to Zuck and the other execs at the press event, here’s what you might use it to find:
- “Friends of my friends who are single males in San Francisco, Calif..”
- “Restaurants in San Francisco liked by my friends from India.”
- “People named Chris who are friends of Lars wand went to Stanford University.”
- “Movies my friends like.” Continue…
By Chris Sorensen - Wednesday, November 28, 2012 at 8:50 AM - 0 Comments
As Chris Sorensen reports, it depends on who you ask
Mark Zuckerberg, the creator and CEO of Facebook, has never been an easy guy to like. The 28-year-old social-media magnate comes across as distant and unfeeling and is prone to awkward pauses. He’s no friend of privacy advocates, who fret about the vast sea of personal information that more than a billion Facebook users have uploaded, and is criticized by users themselves for changing the rules about how data is shared. Zuckerberg was even accused of stealing the Facebook concept itself, as anyone who watched the 2010 film The Social Network knows.
So it comes as little surprise that Zuckerberg would irritate investors, too. Facebook’s initial public offering this spring was not only billed as the biggest tech IPO since Google’s in 2004, but stood as a testament to how much social media has changed (some might say invaded) our lives. It was also viewed as a test of Wall Street’s ability to create and spread around massive amounts of wealth. Some even argued that, by convincing ordinary investors to put money back into the stock market, Facebook and its hoodie-clad creator could revive the ailing U.S. economy.
The result, given the hype, wasn’t pretty. On May 18, Facebook’s stock began trading at the IPO’s offer price of $38. A few minutes later it climbed above $40 as the masses rushed in, and then promptly sank like a stone—with an anchor tied to it. The shares eventually bottomed out at around $17.55 about three months later, wiping out more than $50 billion in value. And it wasn’t long before angry investors were looking for someone to blame. Continue…
By Chris Sorensen - Tuesday, November 27, 2012 at 2:24 PM - 0 Comments
In efforts to boost advertising revenue, the social networking site finds itself alienating many of the people it needs most
Facebook’s latest tweak drew a predictably negative response from users. The popular social networking site now automatically creates a “couple’s page” for any two users who declare themselves in a relationship with one another. Facebook includes relevant photos, status updates and back-and-forth conversations. It’s all information users have already agreed to share, but in a new and sappier context. Critics described the move using words like “retch,” “cringeworthy” and “way off the mark.”
It’s become a familiar dance: each time Facebook launches a new feature or changes an existing one, users complain it’s not what they signed up for. And now, eight years after Mark Zuckerberg created the site in his Harvard dorm room, deep-pocketed advertisers are also learning how it feels to be subjected to Facebook’s tinkering. Mark Cuban, the billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team, recently took issue with Facebook’s efforts to suddenly charge the team thousands of dollars to reach fans of the Mavericks’ Facebook page. “FB is blowing it? This is the first step,” Cuban wrote in a post on Twitter, threatening a boycott. “The Mavs are considering moving to Tumblr or MySpace as primary site.”
The high-profile criticism comes at a time when Facebook needs paying customers like Cuban more than ever. With its stock still trading nearly 40 per cent below last spring’s IPO price of $38 (it has been as low as $17.55), investors are searching for evidence that Facebook will live up to its promise of being an unparalleled online money-maker. A key concern has been the growing number of users who access the site from their smartphones or tablets, where Facebook has historically had no room to place advertising because of the small screen sizes. Continue…
By Tamsin McMahon - Friday, October 12, 2012 at 10:54 AM - 0 Comments
As the social media site once again tries to grow its revenue, a familiar fear returns
Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement last week that the company he founded in a Harvard dorm room had surpassed one billion users should have been good news to investors, given that Facebook’s value lies in the sheer size of its database of subscribers. But while they heralded the news with a bump in the company’s share price—to $22—investors are still holding it well below its $38 initial public offering (IPO).
Their concern is the inherent contradiction in Facebook’s business model: the bigger the company’s user base, the harder it becomes to harness all that personal data for profit. Since its bungled IPO in May, Facebook has been under intense pressure to monetize its massive social network by selling demographic information to advertisers while somehow still keeping everyone’s name, email address and baby pictures private.
It is walking an ever-thinner line. Last month, it announced it would allow advertisers to match their databases of customers’ email addresses and phone numbers to users’ Facebook accounts to target ad campaigns. Contact information would be partially obscured, Facebook said, so that only computer algorithms, not human eyes, would see it. In August, it revealed it was partnering with retail data collector Datalogix to examine the in-store shopping habits of Facebook users, again promising not to disclose the names of actual users.
None of this has gone over well with privacy advocates. The U.S. Electronic Privacy Information Center has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission over the Datalogix partnership. Bloggers complained after Facebook confirmed it scanned users’ messages for mentions of the websites of its advertisers so it could increase the “Like” count of the advertiser’s Facebook page.
Facebook’s ethical and business dilemma, however, didn’t seem to phase Chief Operating Operator Sheryl Sandberg when she declared at last week’s Advertising Week forum: “We don’t make more money when you share more and we do not give your information to marketers.” As Facebook continues to look for ways to grow its $3.7-billion revenue, convincing people of that may be its biggest challenge.
By Charlie Gillis and Scaachi Koul - Sunday, October 7, 2012 at 10:20 AM - 0 Comments
Sept 27-Oct 4, 2012: Anne Hathaway gets hitched, the Supreme Court adds one to the bench, and a new Oscar host
All eyes at this year’s Academy Awards will be on Seth MacFarlane, named this week as host of the extravaganza in what can only be described as an off-the-chart choice. MacFarlane is best known as the brains behind the raunchy animated satire Family Guy—a hit among college-aged males and not exactly a brand of humour associated with the air-kissed pomp of Oscar night. Critics accused the Academy of pandering to younger viewers. But it turns out MacFarlane is an accomplished singer and a sought-after talk-show guest. He’s also showing a sense of occasion. “The challenge will be to keep it funny, keep it lively and stay true to what it is I do,” he said, “but at the same time adapt to the tone of this event.”
Speaking from experience
Stephen Barton, a survivor of last summer’s mass shooting at a movie theatre in Aurora, Colo., is starring in a compelling new ad asking both presidential candidates to come up with a plan for gun control. In it, Barton sits in an empty theatre and talks about surviving gunshots to the face and neck. “Forty-eight thousand Americans won’t be so lucky,” he continues, “because they’ll be murdered with guns in the next president’s term.” The ad is airing on local television in Colorado, and Washington, D.C., and on national cable as part of a campaign funded by United Against Illegal Guns Support Fund founded by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The group appears to be getting traction: more than 250,000 have signed its petition for legislative action.
By Chris Sorensen - Wednesday, June 6, 2012 at 11:48 AM - 0 Comments
In too many IPOs, ‘smart money’ gets rich and ordinary investors often get burned
A beaming Mark Zuckerberg stood before a wobbly makeshift podium on Friday, May 18, and “rang” the electronic NASDAQ Stock Market’s opening bell. He was flanked by key executives and surrounded by giddy employees who had gathered for the made-for-TV event, held outdoors at the social networking giant’s campus in Menlo Park, Calif. The crowd erupted in cheers, as well they should have. Many were about to realize huge fortunes as Facebook, the hottest property in Silicon Valley, was finally about to list its shares on a public stock exchange through one of the most-hyped initial public offerings (IPO) of the last decade. But while insiders had much to celebrate—Zuckerberg, 28, pocketed US$1.15 billion and still holds a nearly $20-billion stake in the company he co-founded in 2004—just about everyone else got taken for a ride.
The trouble began almost immediately. The shares, priced at $38 apiece, were supposed to begin changing hands at 11 a.m., but massive demand—some of it by high frequency traders using sophisticated computer systems—overwhelmed the NASDAQ’s automated trading system, causing a half-hour delay. It would prove to be an ominous sign. Once things were back up and running, the stock shot up but almost immediately began to falter. Panicked investors tried to sell only to learn the technical glitches meant their brokers had no way of knowing if orders had been processed (many weren’t).
By the time the dust settled at the closing bell, Facebook’s stock sat at $38.23—a false floor maintained by lead underwriter Morgan Stanley’s frantic efforts behind the scenes to buy up shares at the offer price. The respite proved short-lived. As soon as the markets opened the following Monday, Facebook’s stock fell another 11 per cent. Two weeks later, it is trading 20 per cent below the offer price, with some speculating more losses are inevitable.
By Angelina Chapin - Thursday, May 17, 2012 at 7:00 PM - 0 Comments
The much anticipated IPO is not without some big long-term risks
After convincing more than 900 million people to post photos of themselves or gush about their personal lives, Facebook wants something more from its users and admirers: money. The company’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, set out on a coast-to-coast tour pitching money managers before Facebook’s initial public offering (IPO) this week. With shares expected to be priced between $34 and $38, it is being heralded as the most anticipated tech IPO since Google’s in 2004. If the lineups during Zuckerberg’s road show are any indication, many think this is a can’t-miss opportunity.
But what happens after the initial IPO euphoria (and likely stock price jump) wears off? Despite an anticipated company valuation of up to $96 billion, there is no guarantee Facebook and its stock will live up to the hype. To the contrary, there’s growing skepticism among some analysts about Facebook’s future—and not only because Zuckerberg donned a grey hoodie during his presentations rather than more serious attire. “When you have this crowd mentality or hype over one stock, usually people get hurt,” says Greg Newman, a senior wealth adviser at ScotiaMcLeod Inc. “It’s an infectious product, but people don’t understand it has to be a good investment, too.”
There are concerns that 27-year-old Zuckerberg, who will own about 28 per cent of Facebook and a majority of voting shares under the dual class structure, might make a brash move that could take the company in the wrong direction. But a bigger fear is that Facebook lacks a game plan in a tech world that is fast changing. The Internet has entered a new phase—mobile—and Facebook is no longer king. “Facebook is built for PC,” says Eric Jackson, the founder and managing member of the technology-focused hedge fund Ironfire Capital LLC. “Things like the Timeline [a feature on the site]—that’s really something you need a big screen in front of you to look at.” This means the company is being challenged by start-ups like Instagram, a mobile photo-sharing app, which Facebook plans to acquire for $1 billion. But it can’t just keep swallowing the competition. Two other once-popular networking sites succumbed to rivals (Friendster and MySpace), and other former tech darlings, like Yahoo, have failed to live up to once-lofty ambitions and have hit hard times. What makes Facebook different?
By Chris Sorensen - Friday, September 30, 2011 at 9:00 AM - 4 Comments
Will its increasingly complex website be its undoing?
Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of social networking giant Facebook, stepped onstage at a developers’ conference in San Francisco last week and, probably unwittingly, launched into his best Steve Jobs impression. Wearing jeans, sneakers and a grey T-shirt (the Apple Inc. chair favours black turtlenecks, but you get the idea), Zuckerberg took the wraps off a host of new Facebook features while peppering the presentation with Jobs-isms—“really easy” yet “so powerful”—that emphasized just how intuitive and exciting everything about the overhauled Facebook would be.
Except that none of the new features unveiled appear to be either—at least not at first blush. Once a relatively spartan piece of online real estate, users’ profile pages will now display a comprehensive “timeline” of their lives, curated in part by Facebook’s software and by users themselves, while a new window shows exactly what everyone in your network is doing at any given moment (Stephanie likes Peter’s status update, Lisa commented on her photo, Steve is friends with Sharon . . . and so on). Zuckerberg called it a place to monitor “lightweight” activity that threatens to bog down the main news feed, which will now consist entirely of material that is deliberately posted by a user’s friends.
Turns out there’s a reason Facebook decided to create a dedicated space for all of these auto-updates: it plans to unleash a torrent of them on its users. The company is planning to throw TV, streaming music and other online media services into the mix so that users can see, in real time, what songs their friends are listening to, which TV shows they’re watching and what news stories they are reading—and soon, no doubt, where they’re shopping. “What’s even more interesting and exciting than getting people signed up is all the things that are possible by having these connections in place,” said Zuckerberg, who suggested that Facebook and its partners will “rethink some industries.”
By Jesse Brown - Tuesday, September 27, 2011 at 3:32 PM - 12 Comments
Like most people, I’m baffled by the new layout. The faux-Twitter feed with its annoying pop-up balloons, crammed in the top right corner, is apparently called the “Ticker.” It competes for my attention with a list of my online friends below. Some have green dots next to them, and some phone icons. Some suddenly pop up, demanding live text chats. Do I have a green dot? I haven’t a clue.
My traditional News Feed has changed–the friends I want to hear about seem to be gone, replaced by others Facebook has prioritized by some mysterious logic. Someone posted instructions on how to change this back, but I can’t remember who it was and what to search for. Between the News Feed and the Ticker (and isn’t the Ticker also a News Feed?), there are faces of strangers I am encouraged to “subscribe” to. What does that mean? Has “friending” become “subscribing”? Will they know I’ve subscribed to them? How about everyone else? Who has subscribed to me? Continue…
By Nancy Macdonald - Friday, June 3, 2011 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
Lady Gaga makes an entrance, Mark Zuckerberg learns a new skill and Saudi women are driven to rebel
Laying it down with Beantown
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson’s Twitter plea for help in coming up with a friendly wager with Boston Mayor Thomas Menino prompted some great ideas. “There’s a good one: sushi versus clam chowder, and swapping our best beers from two great beer-drinking cities,” Robertson told reporters in Stanley Park, a few steps from the iron statue of Lord Stanley—which currently sports a Canucks jersey. “One that I really like, that I’m going to campaign for with the mayor of Boston, is that the loser buys season’s tickets for a couple of inner-city kids in the winning city,” he said. Another favourite, he joked, would see the loser “swimming with an Orca” or “wrestling a bear.”
Ending the IMF boys’ club?
The bid by France’s Finance Minister Christine Lagarde to become the first female head of the International Monetary Fund was pushed forward at the G8 meet-up in Deauville. She once famously complained there is “too much testosterone” in high-powered circles, a comment that now looks prescient. French President Nicolas Sarkozy talked her up to Barack Obama; Hillary Clinton hailed her candidacy. Russian President Dmitri Medvedev called her the near-consensus choice, though China and India want a non-European from a developing country.
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, March 18, 2011 at 8:00 AM - 3 Comments
The industry that has always liked its superheroes simple has had a brainstorm
If there was a pill that would make you super-smart, would you take it? Sure you would. I’d pop one right now if it would help me find my way to the next sentence a little faster. That’s what happens to the protagonist of Limitless, an ingenious new thriller about mind-doping. Eddie Mora (Bradley Cooper) is a deadbeat author crippled by writer’s block. He runs into an old acquaintance who slips him a designer drug called NZT, a transparent little pill that’s like Viagra for the brain. It’s said we use just 20 per cent of our grey matter; this pill activates the remaining 80. With instant access to his brain’s entire data bank, and all neurons firing at warp speed, Eddie finishes his book in a flash, learns new languages overnight, masters martial arts, seduces women with blinding charm, and cooks up wily algorithms to become a Wall Street wizard—brokering the biggest corporate merger in history with a crusty old-school tycoon (Robert De Niro). As with most drug trips, there’s a downside: the movie begins with a flash-forward of Eddie perched on the ledge of a skyscraper, about to jump, with a trail of dead bodies behind him.
Harnessing a magic bullet to conquer the world is a fantasy older than Faust. But Hollywood traditionally favours the muscular variety. It likes its blockbusters dumb, its superheroes simple. Genius is always suspect, the stuff of psychopaths and mad scientists. Even Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man has to gird his brilliance in a clunky suit of robotic armour. Lately, however, the movies have become infatuated with the notion of pure brain power. Last year’s most ballyhooed summer blockbuster was Inception, Christopher Nolan’s twisty thriller about spies who use their mental prowess to invade dreams. And 2010′s most critically acclaimed hit was The Social Network, in which teen egghead Mark Zuckerberg outflanks Harvard’s jocks to create Facebook. (Portrayed as the Marco Polo of geeks, he’s as much villain as hero. But in a jiu-jitsu feat of media spin, the real-life Zuckerberg used the movie as a foil, emerging as a philanthropic crusader while airbrushing his image on Oprah and Saturday Night Live.)
By Brian D. Johnson - Monday, January 17, 2011 at 11:31 AM - 11 Comments
While host Ricky Gervais un-friended half of Hollywood last night as host of the Golden Globes, The Social Network cemented its status as the movie of the year, as both its writer and director went out of their way to make it up to the man they portrayed as a selfish, cold-hearted geek—Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. The Social Network won four Golden Globes, including best picture, director, screenplay and score.
Meanwhile a midlife crisis-obsessed Colin Firth and a visibly pregnant Natalie Portman were king and queen of the Hollywood prom, winning best actor and actress for The King’s Speech and Black Swan, respectively. Melissa Leo and Christian Bale won supporting actress and actor awards for their showy turns as white-trash trash talkers in The Fighter. And an exuberant Paul Giamatti gave “the great nation of Canada” a big shout-out as he accepted the best actor in a musical or comedy for Barney’s Version. It was a good night for lesbian portrayals as Annette Bening won best actress in a musical or comedy for The Kids are All Right, and Jane Lynch won a supporting actress for her TV role as the gay gym teacher in Glee, which won three awards. Robert De Niro tried reprising his King of Comedy role with some weakly scripted one liners as he accepted the Cecil B. De Mille Award for lifetime achievement. And at the end of the night a persistently venomous Ricky Gervais eliminated his last possible friend in the room as he thanked God for making him an atheist.
That’s the short version of a three-hour show that was, nevertheless, shorter than the average Oscar night. The universe unfolded more or less as it should, with the Globes setting up a fairly sound set of predictions for the Oscars—although the Oscars don’t have a separate comedy/musical category, so don’t expect Giamatti to spin his triumph into an Academy nod.
Recently in a Maclean’s video, I shot my mouth off about how the Golden Globes are a joke, and how the choices of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association are warped by self-interest—whether it’s honouring The Tourist to lure Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie or honouring Burlesque after taking a free junket to see Cher perform in Vegas. Of course, I’m not the only one saying this. Everybody is. And shortly before last night’s awards, a former publicist for the Golden Globes show launched a $2 million lawsuit alleging its organizers have taken bribes. Which provided Gervais with fresh material to demolish the folks who had hired him.
Regardless of all that, the Globes are still more fun to watch than the Oscars. Because the party maters more than the awards. And because the stars drink during show. Even the host drinks during the show. Or is that just part of his schtick?
Last night I curled on the couch with a laptop, typing. The time flew by, and I was only watching people drink. (I’ve learned from past experience that typing and drinking don’t mix). You can find a list of all the award winners and nominees here, but here’s my blow-by-blow account of the evening:
Ricky Gervais’s beer is waiting for him on the podium. He takes a sip and says, “It’s going to be a night of partying and heavy drinking, or as Charlie Sheen calls it, breakfast.”
Gervais launches right into the controversial highlights. Admits he hasn’t seen The Tourist, then adds, “It must be good because it’s nominated. So shut up. I want to quash this ridiculous rumour that the only reason the Hollywood Foreign Press Association nominated The Tourist is so they could hang out with Johnny Depp. That’s not the only reason. They also took bribes.”
Moving right along to the scandal about the HFPA’s junketeers taking a free ride to see Cher sing in Vegas, Gervais says, “You want to go see Cher? . . . No . . . Why not? . . . Because it’s not 1975.”
Then he draws so groans as he takes a low blow at an easy target, citing heterosexual actors pretending to be gay as “the complete opposite of some well-known scientologist.” Tom Cruise does not appear to be in the room.
Speaking of easy targets, next comes Hugh Hefner’s marriage to twentysomething Crystal Harris, who is 60 years his junior. The joke: that she thought he was 94, not 84. The sight gag: Crystal performing fellatio on the old man while checking her watch and thinking, “Hold out, and just don’t look at it when you touch it.”
Christian Bale takes best supporting actor in a drama for The Fighter. As if determined to erase his image as a cantakerous jerk in a single speech, he thanks everyone on earth, pointing to his wife. Any man would be lucky as hell to be married to her. He’s wearing a beard. A lot of actors are wearing beards. It’s what they do between roles.
Katie Segal, a blast from the past, seems as shocked as we are to see her win something. Yes, that Katey Sagal from Married With Children. She wins best supporting actress in a TV drama for Sons of Anarchy.
Carlos, the spectacular French TV mini series that Olivier Assayas directed as a super-long motion picture—and is the only ‘movie’ on all the New York Times film critics’ top 10 lists—wins for best TV mini series. So what is it, a movie or a TV show? And will it be eligible for the Oscars? Someone, please Google that.
Ricky Gervais continues to get away with murder. “Please welcome Ashton Kutcher’s dad, Bruce Willis,” he says, as Demi Moore’s ex walks out. And you half-expect Willis to slug the impudent Limey.
Chris Colfer takes best supporting actor in a TV series for his role as a gay kid in Glee, and makes the evening’s first political statement by dedicating his prize to all the kids that watch the show how he hopes it inspires them fighting the bullies who won’t let them be who they are.
Gervais now introduces his host, HFPA pres Philip Berk, saying he’s so old “I just had to get him off the toilet and put his teeth in.” And as Berk step up to the podium, after that intro it’s impossible not to fixate on the guy’s bad dye job (if it’s his real hair). Berk apparently has been a member of the HFPA for 33 years, and somewhere along the line seems to have lost his sense of humour. All this talk of bribery and corruption be getting to him, “Ricky,” he says, “next time you want me to help you qualify your movies, go to another guy.” Making it sound more like a threat than a joke. Let’s add extortion to the list of the HFPA’s alleged crimes.
Steve Buscemi wins best actor in TV drama for Boardwalk Empire. The prompts are telling him to get off the stage almost before he’s got his speech out of his pocket. Suddenly Buscemi, so often typecast as weasel, seems more human by the second as he devotes most of his gratitude to his family. Yes, he has one.
Gervais says The Social Network was his favorite picture of the year. Sounding serious, more of an opinion than a joke. Then the joke: “The creator of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, is worth $7 billion. Or as Heather Mills calls him, “‘The one that got away.’”
I guess that HFPA Vegas junket to see Cher did the trick. The song she sings from Burlesque, “You Haven’t Seen the Best of Me,” wins best song. But it’s the songwriter who accepts, not Cher. Oh right, she’s doing a show in Vegas.
It’s cute-as-a-button teen time as Hailee Seinfeld and Justin Bieber present the animated feature award, which goes, not surprisingly, to Toy Story 3. The guy who accepts wonders if they were even born when the first Toy Story came out.
Gervais introduces Robert Downey Jr., noting that his movie credits—Iron Man, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Two Girls and A Guy, Bowfinger—all sound like porn titles, then adds that “most of you know him from the Betty Ford Clinic and Los Angeles County Jail.”
RDJ, introducing best actress for comedy and a musical hones in on what everybody by now must be thinking with a line that cuts as deep as anything Gervais has said: “Aside from the fact that it’s been incredibly mean-spirited with mildly sinister undertones, I’d say the vibe of the show is pretty good so far, wouldn’t you?”
Downey Jr., immediately usurping Ricky’s role as the Smartest Guy in the Room, then launches into an ingenious routine, naming all the best actress candidates for a musical or comedy saying, “I don’t know if an actress can do her best work until I’ve slept with her . . . Julianne, I told her I was working with strange new feelings that were confusing me. Annette . . . ” And on it goes. “Just saying, if I could, I would give it to all five of you.” Finally a comic has connected with the audience, rather than just making them wince.
Annette Bening wins best actress for a musical or comedy, and thanks “the 1962 winner for the GG for most promising actor, my husband, Warren Beatty.” Warren looks like a proud papa.
Gervais introduces Sly Stallone, praising his “versatility” for playing both a boxer and Rambo.
Geoffrey Rush, looking like William Burroughs in a black suit and fedora presents an award with an über-pale Tilda Swinton, who’s all in white and resembles an albino alien. They’re quite the couple; they should go on the road together.
Al Pacino gets a standing ovation as he accepts his fourth Golden Globe, for playing Jack Kevorkian in You Don’t Know Jack and says, “It’s a great honour for me to have played Jack Kevorkian….it’s great for actors who portray real actors. It’s kind of a special thing for an actor when they get to play a real person.” He’s being sincere. I wonder if Jesse Eisenberg feels the same way, knowing he’s unlikely to win even if The Social Network sweeps.
The most passionate speech of the night so far comes from Claire Danes, who wins best actress in a TV movie drama for Temple Grande. The autistic subject of the movie is in the house. Danes, surfing the verge of tears, says no one but HBO would make a movie like this. I wonder: why can’t there be more HBOs?
Ricky Gervais keeps swinging below the belt, producing more shudders than laughs.
He introduces “the ungrateful Steve Carrell” as a “jobbing actor” who became famous by starring in a remake of his show, The Office. “He’s now leaving that show and killing a cash cow for both of us,” says Gervais. Carrell deadpans a loud, sarcastic “Ha, ha, ha” but looks genuinely unamused as he says this routine is getting old.
Aaron Sorkin, accepting the screenplay award for The Social Network, thanks Sony’s studio execs for believing “that the people who watch movies are at least as smart as the people who make movies.” He praises director David Fincher for being “able to make scenes of typing, and sometimes just talking about typing” play like bank robberies. And he patches things up with the movie’s anti-hero, Mark Zuckerberg. Turning his speech into an virtual amendment to the script, Sorkin him a “visionary” and an “altruist,” then closes off by telling his daughters that “elite is not a bad word, it’s an aspirational one.” Makes you wonder what’s up with those kids.
Jane Fonda, who presents a trailer for Burlesque, looks like Barbarella Redux in a metallic dress with pointy shoulder pads.
Jeremy Irons, in his English Actor voice, out-enunciates everyone as he presents best supporting actress to Melissa Leo for The Fighter. After situating herself—in “ Southern California, the home of my mother, her mother, her mother before her”—she makes sure everyone knows that she almost didn’t go meet the director because she figured she was to young to play Mark Wahlberg’s mother.
Matt Damon presents the Cecil B. De Mille Award to Robert De Niro, who, after the obligatory montage, puts on his King of Comedy hat and joins in the roast of his hosts. “I’m glad you made the announcement two months ago, well before you had a chance to review Little Fockers,” he says. “We’re all in this together, the people who make the movies, and the members of HFPA who pose for pictures with the movie stars. “
After watching the montage, he says, Awakenings was one of my favorite movies, great performance by Robin Williams. I just forgot that I was in it.”
And: “All these movies are like my children. . . except my children are more expensive and you can’t remake them in 3-D to push up the grosses.” Who writes this stuff?
Megan Fox, only moments earlier fodder for a joke by De Niro about full-body scans, arrives in a gown that makes her look like goddess bandaged in pink satin and sequins. She looks fabulous and then demonstrates her inability to read a teleprompter.
Annette Bening presents best director to director David Fincher, who sounds as smart as his films. When he was asked to make The Social Network, he recalls, “I thought, ‘This is so strange because I normally make pitch-black studies of misanthropes or serial killers.” After speed-reading his gratitude with dispassionate cool, he thanks his entire cast by their first names then says, “I’m personally loathe to acknowledge the wonderful response this film has received for fear of becoming addicted to it.” Like Sorkin, he also goes out of his way to praise Zuckerberg, whose life served as “a metaphor for communication and the way we relate to each other.”
This feels unprecedented: filmmakers rehabilitating the reputation of a subject that they have tarnished onscreen. It’s as if Zuckerberg, newborn philanthropist and Time Person of the Year, has spun the movie’s portrayal of him into a fresh Facebook update.
Halle Berry presents best actor for motion picture comedy or musical. Johnny Depp is competing against himself for roles in two movies that aren’t really about acting, as the Mad Hatter and Angelina Jolie’s lapdog. Which leaves the field wide open for Paul Giamatti. His win is the ultimate nerd victory. When his name is announced, the star of Barney’s Version gets kissed first by Robert Lantos, his jubilant producer, and then by presenter Halle Berry, which leaves a stronger impression:
“Jesus Christ, Halle Berry. Jesus Christ. Halle Berry,” says Giamatti, who seems more excited by the Berry kiss than by the hunk of metal in his fist. “I’m a little jacked up because I ate 5 boxes of the free Godiva chocolates,” he says. “Halle Berry! I always think a mistake has been made because the other men in this category are superior to me in every regard, as men and actors. . .
“I had three wives in this movie, just a trifecta of hotties. I got to smoke and drink and get laid in this movie and I got paid for it. An amazing thing.” Giamatti goes on to thank “this incredible family of Mordecai Richler,” who let me snoop around in their private lives. But he lavished his most fulsome gratitude on Richler’s home turf, where the movie was shot: “Montreal—an incredible place in a great nation. Canada! I salute the great nation of Canada!”
Jeff Bridges presents the Globe for best actress in a movie drama to a visibly pregnant Natalie Portman for Black Swan. After thanking her parents and grandparents, she thanks the Black Swan choreographer who is the father of her child, and whose character has a key line in the film, telling the artistic director he wouldn’t sleep with her. “He’s the best actor,” says Portman. “It’s not true! He totally wants to sleep with me!”
Hanks, taking the stage with Tim Allen, tries to even the odds somewhat by taking a swipe at the host: “Like many of you, we recall when Ricky Gervais was a slightly chubby but very nice comedian.”
10:40 p.m. Colin Firth, showing a glimmer of grey in his hair, gives the night’s most eloquent speech, proving he’s an actor by being able to thank a host of people in lovely language without pulling a crumpled piece of paper from his pocket: “Getting you through the mid-stage of your life with your dignity and your judgment intact can be somewhat precarious. Sometimes all you need is a little gentle reassurance to keep you on track.” Clutching his statuette, he says, “Right now this is all that stands between me and a Harley Davidson.” He goes on to express his affection or director Tom Hooper and co-actor Geoffrey Rush, by referring to “a surprisingly robust triangle of man-love that has somehow moved forward in perfect formation for the last year and a half of so…Geoffrey, my true friend and geisha girl.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Michael Douglas, cancer survivor, looking good, crowns the evening as he comes up to present Best Picture. “There’s got to be an easier way to get a standing ovation,” he says.
As The Social Network wins the top prize, producer Scott Rudin adds his voice to the filmmakers’ Facebook friending campaign, thanking “everybody at Facebook, and Mark Zuckerberg for allowing us to use his life and his work as a metaphor.” At this rate, Zuckerberg will be getting a lifetime achievement Oscar.
11 p.m. Apparently, all is fair in the manufacture of Hollywood fable. It’s all about sportsmanship. And as Ricky Gervais signs off, he thanks everyone in the room for being good sports . . . “and thank you to God, for making me an atheist.” God, I guess, is the ultimate good sport. But by now, even He has tuned out.
By macleans.ca - Thursday, December 9, 2010 at 10:00 AM - 0 Comments
Along with Crosby, a number of other former Newsmakers make their return to our list
How long does it take to be named Maclean’s Newsmaker of the Year?
For Sidney Crosby, it took about four seconds. That was all Crosby needed to beat Team U.S.A. defenceman Brian Rafalski to the puck along the boards, poke it to Team Canada teammate Jarome Iginla, break for the net, corral the give-and-go back from Iginla and shoot the puck underneath goaltender Ryan Miller’s outstretched stick and between his legs.
Crosby’s gold-medal-winning overtime goal was the perfect ending to a tremendously successful 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics—itself an event 14 years in the making, as Games organizing committee CEO John Furlong notes in this week’s Maclean’s Interview. The Games brought all Canadians together and were the capstone event of the year. We celebrated our ability to put on a show and proved we could compete against the best that the world has to offer. We demonstrated our organizational skills and hosting talents, as well as a fiercely competitive streak that, as a nation, we often keep under wraps. We mourned as a nation with figure skater Joannie Rochette over the death of her mother, Thérèse, and marvelled at her courageous bronze-medal performance, the epitome of grace under pressure.
By Chris Sorensen - Wednesday, December 8, 2010 at 10:20 AM - 4 Comments
A genius Web visionary, or a rogue who’s cashed in on the folly of others?
Earlier this year, Mark Zuckerberg found himself onstage at a technology conference being grilled about Facebook’s often controversial approach to privacy—no small issue when you’re the CEO of a company that floats on an ocean of deeply personal information about 500 million-odd users. The tough questions, lobbed like mortar shells, clearly rattled the 26-year-old Facebook co-founder and CEO, who is an awkward public speaker at the best of times. Beads of sweat formed on his brow, and his eyes panned the room, as if looking for someone to come bail him out. No one did.
It was both a learning experience and a taste of things to come. Silicon Valley may be in love with Facebook, having determined that it’s no longer a fad and could in fact be “the next Google,” but 2010 was the year Zuckerberg himself was put under the microscope. Who exactly was this fresh-faced King of the Web, who only seemed to wear fleece jackets and rubber sandals, and did he really have our best interests at heart?
By Chris Sorensen - Monday, November 15, 2010 at 9:20 AM - 3 Comments
Sheryl Sandberg has bold plans to transform the social networking site into an advertising juggernaut
Sheryl Sandberg has an impressive knowledge of Canadiana for someone who had never set foot in the country until last week. The chief operating officer of Facebook may have been gripping a grande-sized beverage from Starbucks, but that didn’t stop her from casually dropping in references to Tim Hortons coffee and donuts during an interview with Maclean’s last week, as though it was the local coffee shop in Palo Alto, Calif., where Facebook is headquartered.
But while Sandberg, who grew up in Miami, may have never tasted a Timbit, she does know off the top of her head that 1.2 million Facebook users have said they “like” Tim Hortons’ Facebook page. She has a similar barrage of statistics at the ready for other Canadian brands, including Molson, Indigo and, for some reason, Veterans Affairs Canada. Because it’s close to Remembrance Day? “I follow the business really carefully,” she says with a smirk.
No kidding. While Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s 26-year-old CEO and co-founder, has been in the spotlight lately thanks to the box office success of The Social Network, an unflattering film about Facebook’s early days, it’s the 41-year-old Sandberg who is now leading the charge to transform the Internet phenomenon, with more than 500 million global users, into a money-making colossus.
By Chris Sorensen - Monday, October 11, 2010 at 12:20 PM - 0 Comments
What will it take to put Facebook back in a friendly light?
Mark Zuckerberg, the 26-year-old CEO of Facebook, is one of the most important people in Silicon Valley these days. The social networking site he launched six years ago from his Harvard dorm room boasts more than half a billion members and there are predictions it could be the next Google. But there have also been rumours and bad press for years suggesting the meteoric rise was no fairy tale. And only lately have Zuckerberg and company been taking steps to put Facebook in a friendly light once again.
Last weekend the Hollywood film The Social Network, about the founding of Facebook, was the top box-office draw. It has won positive reviews from critics, but isn’t flattering for Zuckerberg. It portrays him as a nerdish, scheming outsider with questionable loyalty to his friends. In real life, Zuckerberg has been targeted with lawsuits, including one that accused him of stealing the idea from three former Harvard classmates—charges he has publicly denied. While some have suggested he may be able to sue the filmmakers, a more likely course of action is for Facebook to try to burnish the image of its founder.
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, October 1, 2010 at 12:31 AM - 0 Comments
In the movies that dominate this opening weekend, the action is all talk. Topping the new releases is a trio of grown-up pictures driven by energetic dialogue—Social Network, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger and Trigger. Then, for a more visceral kick, there’s a choice between the horror movie remake Let Me In and the Canuck hoser farce Fubar 2, which are both a cut above their respective genres. Finally, for a trip inside the ultimate talking head, there’s Force of Nature: The David Suzuki Movie. Now, maybe someone has slipped a smiley pill into my critic cocktail, but believe it or not, I can happily recommend all six films to some degree, something I can’t remember ever doing for a such a large batch of new releases. Not all are must-see movies. (Woody Allen’s Tall Dark Stranger eminently skippable.) And for the moment, Trigger is playing only in Toronto. But this is a pretty fine crop, led by one of the smartest movies to come out of Hollywood in some time:
Directed by David Fincher (Fight Club) and scripted by Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing), The Social Network makes intelligence sexy and exciting, as if it’s the latest comic book super power. In the role of Facebook CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, Jesse Eisenberg is scarily convincing as the Smartest Guy in the Room, a serious geek whose brain seems to be moving at warp speed. Sorkin is a past master at dramatizing complex information with dense, propulsive dialogue—remember all those walking-and-talking marathons in the White House corridors of The West Wing—and here he sets a new land-speed record for dialogue. It’s fun just trying to keep up. And under Fincher’s kinetic direction, The Social Network‘s verbal intrigue rips along like a house on fire.
The story charts Zuckerberg’s imperial destiny back to a drunken prank in his Harvard dorm room, where he hacks into Harvard’s databases to launch Facesmash, a site rating the hotness of co-eds. The narrative is framed by flash-forward scenes of a deposition room where history’s youngest billionaire is trying to fend off two lawsuits—one from his best friend and former Facebook CFO Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) and the other from the stranger-than-fiction Winklvoss twins, blue-blood Olympic rowers who claim he stole their idea. Garfield (the next Spider-Man) proves immensely sympathetic as Eduardo, the loyal partner who gets stabbed in the back after Zuckerberg makes a devil-pact with Napster bad boy Sean Parker—played with sulfuric sleaze by Justin Timberlake, who’s proving to be quite the potent actor.
The movie’s genius is that it pulls the viewer in conflicting directions. On the one hand, we’re appalled by Zuckerberg’s cold-blooded calculations, and his betrayal of Saverin. On the other hand, Saverin seems hopelessly wedded to an old-school business model that Zuckerberg has no time for. And even though Eisenberg never tries to soften his character or court our affections, we find ourselves perversely rooting for him. He is, after all, the Citizen Kane of this saga; he’s the one living out the twisted version of the American Dream. And with rather generous psychological license, Sorkin’s script gives him a Rosebud—the film begins with Mark being dumped by his girlfriend (Rooney Mara, warming up for her role as the avenging heroine of Fincher’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo). From there on, the movie hinges on the back-pocket whim that Zuckerberg’s quest for world domination is fueled by romantic rejection. Which reduces him to just another guy taking a really circuitous route to getting laid. But it still makes for a helluva story. It’s exhilarating to see a movie with this much verbal complexity succeed at being so entertaining. People will be talking about it all the way up to the Oscars.
For my story on The Social Network in this week’s magazine go to Aaron Sorkin, Facebook and the Devil. And to read the full transcript of my interview with Sorkin go to: Aaron Sorkin gives Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg a Poke. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, September 30, 2010 at 12:00 PM - 0 Comments
The famous TV writer defends his film portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg
So far there’s no evidence that Facebook mogul Mark Zuckerberg has seen The Social Network, the controversial movie that suggests he gained 500 million “friends” by betraying the only real friends he had. But Zuckerberg, who at 26 is the world’s youngest billionaire, has already dismissed the movie as “fiction.” That’s what he said on Oprah last week, as he announced a US$100-million donation to schools in Newark, N.J. The timing of his gesture was suspect. So was his decision to let the cameras into his suburban home, where the man Oprah calls “private” and “shy” is seen kissing his long-time girlfriend. Talk about damage control.
In The Social Network, director David Fincher (Fight Club) paints a damning portrait right from the opening scene, which shows Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) being ditched by a girlfriend (Rooney Mara)—“Dating you is like dating a StairMaster,” she declares, proposing they just be friends. His response: “I don’t like friends.”
By macleans.ca - Friday, June 25, 2010 at 8:00 AM - 1 Comment
Arianna Huffington’s new gig, Knut the polar bear goes nutty, and a princess’s contentious walk down the aisle
The call of the aisle
Swedes were less outraged by Princess Victoria’s decision to wed a “commoner” than her desire to have King Carl Gustaf walk her down the aisle, a tradition gender-equal Sweden views as outdated. Nine bishops begged Victoria to abandon the plan, fearing a “bridal handover” trend. In the end a compromise was met: Victoria, in line to become regent, walked halfway down the aisle with her father. She and Daniel Westling walked the rest of the way hand in hand, following Swedish tradition.
By Chris Sorensen - Monday, May 3, 2010 at 10:20 AM - 5 Comments
How Facebook plans to beat Google and take over the Internet
In corporate America, you know you’ve hit the big time when you get skewered by the writers for South Park, an animated sitcom known for its dark satire. And recently, it was Facebook’s turn. The episode follows the efforts of a neighbourhood boy named Kip Drordy as he explores the popular social networking website. In one scene he runs into the living room to tell his parents about his latest online interactions. “Mom, Dad! My best friend Kyle, he went to the dentist yesterday and got two fillings! And today he’s wondering whether Hurt Locker really deserved the Oscar!”
And that, in short, is what Facebook is all about. Hundreds of millions of people sharing the minutiae of their daily lives with groups of “friends” over the Internet. But as ridiculous as it sounds in the hands of South Park’s writers, it has made Facebook one of the hottest Internet companies in the world, with some 400 million users who spend an average of one hour a day on the site.