Archive for ‘Uncategorized’

October 1, 2019

#154) Heeeeere’s Robin: The scariest movie that never was

09ac848b123c077ab6370a5eb7fa93aeIt’s officially horror movie season, so in this post we are going to celebrate a very scary film. However, it cannot be streamed on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon or Youtube. You also won’t find it on BluRay, DVD, Laserdisc or even VHS. That’s because this film doesn’t exist. It is a hypothetical movie: Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel “The Shining” – starring one Robin McLaurin Williams.

Yes, it’s true: Kubrick originally considered Mork from Ork to play Jack Torrance, the writer gone mad who terrorizes his wife and son in the cavernous Overlook Hotel. However, Kubrick–the same director who had Malcolm McDowell sing “Singin’ in the Rain” during the most infamous scene in “A Clockwork Orange”, had Marines marching through a burning battlefield singing “M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E” in “Full Metal Jacket” and who choreographed nuclear bombs exploding to “We’ll Meet Again” in “Dr. Strangelove”–ultimately shied away from Williams, thinking he was too crazy for the part.

“The Shining” is one of the most heavily debated horror films. Did its many changes from the book make it better or worse? Is Shelley Duvall convincing as the terrified wife or is she just annoying? And just what exactly is the deal with that bear costume? Given how many horror geeks have weighed in on the film, it’s surprising that there isn’t more discussion about what the Williams version might have been like.

My opinion: much scarier.

In fact, just the idea that “The Shining” could have been made with Williams is scarier to me than the actual movie was. That’s not to take anything away from the existing film – while not perfect, it’s still scary, eschewing the then-new slasher formula for genuine suspense – but it is scary in spite of, not because of, Jack Nicholson.

Just as people are funniest when they don’t realize they are being funny, villains are scariest when they don’t realize they are being scary. Nicholson knows that he is playing a villain. “Heeeere’s Johnny” is good marketing, but it’s not scary. (Maybe first-time audiences soiled themselves, but if you are under 50, that moment has always been a movie poster, in the same way that Vader has always been Luke’s father).

Would Williams have played Torrance as a sneering villain – or, as he did in “One Hour Photo”, a lonely man who truly believes he is doing the right thing as his desperation drives him to evil? The combination of Kubrick’s slow, brooding pacing, the endless halls of the Overlook, the ominous score of music by Wendy Carlos and other modernist composers and what Williams would have brought to the role is as creepy to imagine as it is tantalizing.

Of course, it could have bombed. In his late 20s, Williams might not yet have developed the acting chops necessary for the demanding role. He also might have cracked (and not in a good way) under Kubrick’s notorious pressure. For forty years, it’s been Jack Nicholson who sulks over his typewriter, approaches the woman in Room 237’s shower and smiles from the center of the old photograph in the film’s final scene. Many fans wouldn’t have it any other way.

Ultimately, imagining how Williams’ Jack Torrance would have turned out is a question of nature vs. nurture. We now know a lot about Williams that we didn’t know forty years ago, from his ability to seamlessly incorporate his manic comedy into a leading role (“Good Morning Vietnam”, “Mrs. Doubtfire”) to his convincing portrayal of villains (“Insomnia”, “One Hour Photo”) to the personal pain that he felt unable to escape. Was the darkness of Williams’ later years the result of burnout from excess or was it there all along? Kubrick seemed to think it was always there; it says something about him that he saw Williams as a possible villain long before most of the world did. It also says something about Williams that Kubrick was unable to pull the trigger. Perhaps Kubrick thought that Nicholson, as a seasoned actor, would be easier to work with. Maybe he believed that Nicholson, who is 14 years older than Williams, would have been more convincing as the grizzled, alcoholic writer. But there just might have been something about the young Robin Williams that took even the intimidating auteur aback.

The deaths of both Williams and Kubrick left their fans wondering what might have been (would “Eyes Wide Shut” have been watchable had Kubrick lived to see it to the end?) However, sometimes what might have been is better left to the imagination.

August 16, 2019

#153) How not to complain #10/Mid-Year Language Court 2019

I am an unapologetic language douche. I love being vindicated when I learn that other people feel the same way and that I’m not the only curmudgeon when it comes to “circle back”, “gentle reminder”, “adulting” and “Sunday Funday.” As the seven long-term followers of this blog know, I live for the release of Lake Superior State University’s annual Banished Words List like Jeffrey Epstein used to live for the three o’clock bell at St. Mary’s Junior High. When I saw that Britain’s Gyles Brandreth had compiled 38 Americanisms that the British bloody hate, I knew the right thing to do was to make my wife watch my father, who requires round-the-clock care due to advanced health problems, so I could peruse the list.

I probably should have stuck with Dad.

It’s no secret that Americans are idiots. The country that gave us Bhad Babie, Teen Mom and the Cheetoh is a broad target. The problem with Brandreth’s list is that – a few legitimate items notwithstanding – it makes you wonder why he is more concerned about Americans saying “a half hour” instead of “half an hour” than he is about Boris Johnson.

By the most stringent standards I’ve ever applied to my Language Court verdicts, of Brandreth’s 38 accused, there are only 9 guilty parties none of which are felonies (although 24/7 is dangerously close). Misdemeanor convictions include “Eaterie”, “Reach out to” and “Going forward.” These are far outnumbered by terms that I only hear at the Olympics (“medal” as a verb), phrases that I’ve never heard at all, Olympics or otherwise (“least worst option”) and items that make me wonder if Brandreth is simply trying to cultivate a reputation as a quirky Brit (advocating the use of “fortnight” instead of “bi-weekly.”)

Even if I were as annoyed as Brandreth at the use of “alternate” instead of “alternative”, “I got it for free” instead of “I got it free” and “regular” instead of “medium-sized” for coffee, I would find his explanations lacking. As someone who has never been particularly upset at the use of “transportation” instead of “transport”, I’d be curious to know why it irks him. It might at least make me better empathize with him – no, I don’t bristle at the use of “a million and a half” instead of “one and a half million” but if I knew why Brandreth did, it might make me feel like I haven’t become “Get Off My Lawn” guy because I think I should have the right to legally kill anyone who refers to their family as “fam bam.” Brandreth might have been better served to focus on quality (so to speak) than quantity of his complaints; the LSSU lists typically have no more than 20 items and while I don’t always agree with what goes on and stays off them, I am usually satisfied and entertained by the explanations.

Last, I have to ask if Brandreth really believes that he speaks for all Brits. To be sure, Americans have been causing British face-palms since 1776, but somehow I don’t think their biggest problem with us is usage of “expiration” instead of “expiration date.” Dare I say, I’d imagine that most of them (see item #37) could care less.

July 7, 2019

#152) Happy 25th birthday to one of baseball’s smartest and under-rated comedies

“Little Big League” was victimized by bad timing. The movie was released in 1994, the year that a strike wiped out half of the baseball season. It entered a market saturated with average baseball comedies: “Rookie of the Year”, “Angels in the Outfield” and its most direct competitor, “Major League II.” The movie is not perfect – it gets preachy in some spots, its 119-minute run time could have been trimmed and some of the characters are one-dimensional.

Still, it’s better than its lukewarm reputation would have you believe.

You have to be a baseball fan to enjoy it, and there are fewer of us now than there were in ’94. But if you are and you haven’t seen this film for a while, give it another look. If you haven’t, you’re in for a pleasant surprise, especially if you are a fan of baseball comedies.

Billy Heywood (Luke Edwards) inherits the Minnesota Twins at age 11 when his grandfather (Jason Robards) dies. After firing unpopular manager George O’Farrell (Dennis Farina), Billy has difficulty finding a replacement (“None of the good guys want to work for a kid.”) One of his friends suggests that he do it himself: “It’s the American League. You have the designated hitter. How hard can it be?” Next thing we know, the young manager is donning a Twins cap at a press conference, telling the reporters, “First of all, I just want to say, this is really cool.”

The Twins are open-minded about the idea of playing for a 11-year old. To put it gently, there’s some skepticism among the Twins about their new skipper, who as one pitcher puts it, “won’t be able to get into an R-rated movie for another six years.” Even those who enjoyed talking baseball with the knowledgeable Billy when he visited them in the clubhouse doubt his ability to run the team. Inevitably, he wins them over, slowly but surely and the team gels, plays solid baseball and becomes a contender for the newly created wildcard playoff position (1994 was the first year in which Major League Baseball used a three-division format for each league, a fact that “Little Big League” integrated while “Major League II” used the obsolete playoff structure in its plot). Underdog stories such as this have to climax in the Big Game – where either the hero loses but it’s still a moral victory (“Rocky”, “School of Rock”) or the little guys win (every other movie ever). It’s hard to be original in either of these plot lines, but the denouement of “Little Big League” – if not unexpected – at least doesn’t come off as cheap.

Besides the underdog arc, the film’s other plot lines are also familiar. Billy starts off as the kid reminding the adults that baseball should be fun but becomes enamored with his power and loses track of his own message (he offers to send his friends a bucket of signed baseballs to apologize for blowing them off so he can have lunch with Reggie Jackson), then rights himself as the team comes together for the final push. Billy also struggles with his feelings about his mother’s budding romance with one of the stars. However, by balancing these threads with the team’s march toward the pennant and the players’ shenanigans, such as the lesson in water balloon physics, the film manages to avoid bogging itself down in trying to make us better people.

“Little Big League” playfully tests the limits of its “PG” rating. In his hotel room, Billy watches an adult film and then blames a player for ordering it when his mom confronts him with the bill. When Billy argues with an umpire, a strategically timed air horn bleeps out words that make veteran Rafael Palmeiro’s eyeballs bulge. Palmeiro is one of several MLB players who appears in the film as himself. Former MLB journeyman Kevin Elster is featured as the Twins’ shortstop. Scott Patterson, who plays the team’s “diva” pitcher, pitched in the minors before becoming an actor. (Patterson’s character is named Mike McGrevey, after an infamous early 1900s Red Sox fan). John Gordon, the actual Twins’ long-time announcer, might not be quite as quotable as Bob Uecker in “Major League” but he is still a strong comedic presence. He dots his commentary with deadpan stats that may have sounded absurd in 1994 but aren’t actually that much farther out than those purveyed by the baseball geeks of the Billy Beane era (“He’s eight for thirteen against left handed pitchers he’s facing for the first time in the seventh inning or later in night games.”)

One quarter century after its release, “Little Big League” isn’t remembered as a turkey; it simply isn’t remembered. To date, it is the only film Andrew Scheinman has directed. Not much has been heard from Luke Edwards recently. We recall Tim Busfield for “Revenge of the Nerds” and Jonathan Silverman for “Weekend at Bernie’s” more so than for their roles in this film. But “Little Big League” does have its loyal fans, including Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star, Eric Dodds of Time and “Deja Viewer” blogger Robert Lockard. Roger Ebert gave the film a positive review upon its release, praising it as having a “real feel for the game.” (An example of this is when Billy refers to himself in the third person at a press conference following his outburst against the umpire: “I’ve got to do what’s best for Bill Heywood…A Bill Heywood must be allowed to speak his mind; otherwise he cannot do his job.”)

Ultimately, maybe “Little Big League” does come up a little short compared to “Major League” – the combination of Uecker, James Gammon as Lou Brown, Wesley Snipes as Willie Mays Hays and of course Charlie Sheen’s “Wild Thing” is hard to beat. But despite their similar territory, there is room for both. “Major League” may have debated whether Jesus Christ could hit a curve ball, but it couldn’t speculate how the Savior would do on Wednesdays against teams north of the Mason-Dixon line whose home games aren’t played in a dome.

June 26, 2019

#151) Remembering Buckner

Former major league baseball player Bill Buckner died at age 69 on May 27th in Idaho, following a battle with Lewy body dementia. Despite my being a baseball geek and having listened to quite a bit of Boston sports radio since moving back to Massachusetts following 20 years in California, the news escaped my radar. Being a baseball geek (see above) I had a random fact I wanted to impulsively look up on the Baseball Reference website and I was saddened to see Buckner’s name in the “In Memoriam” section.

At first I was surprised that I hadn’t heard, but as I thought about it, it made sense that Buckner’s death wasn’t a big sensation. The Boston sports world has recently been focused on the Bruins’ run to the Stanley Cup finals, the Celtics’ disappointing playoff performance, the Red Sox’ unimpressive start and the prospects for the upcoming Patriots season. It could also be that perhaps the Boston media and fan base are (for once) doing the right thing and giving the Buckner family a little bit of space.

Buckner’s moment of infamy happened on October 25th, 1986 in the sixth game of the World Series against the New York Mets. Any Sox fan old enough can tell you exactly where they were; those too young to remember or born after it happened have heard the tale just like children whose parents told them about the JFK or John Lennon murders or the moon landing. When Buckner let a ground ball go between his legs, allowing the Mets to win the game, he and his family began an ordeal that included everything from harassment of their kids to death threats.

A tipping point happened in 1993 when Buckner got into a physical altercation with a fan (he was signing baseball cards at an event and the fan said, “Don’t give him a ball, he’ll just drop it.”) There are those who say that, just as crab fishermen risk their lives for a fat payday, once an athlete signs the big contract, they are fair game for ridicule if they make a mistake in the spotlight. For the most part though, by this point, Boston sports fans – not always known for tact or compassion – got the message: enough is enough.

Shortly after the incident, Buckner (who had made his home in the Boston area even after being released by the Sox) and his family moved to Idaho. According to the ESPN “Top Five Reasons You Can’t Blame…” show, Buckner, “tired of numerous replays of his error”, couldn’t get himself to watch the Red Sox’ 2004 World Series win. However, he received a standing ovation at Fenway Park when he threw out the first pitch of the 2008 season. He also drew praise for his turn on the show “Curb Your Enthusiasm” in which he played himself. He remained lifelong friends with Mookie Wilson, the Mets batter who hit the ball, appearing with him in a 2016 commercial.

With four Sox championships in the 21st century, it’s easy for those who remember Buckner to laugh about it now. That the man was willing to laugh about it himself perhaps spoke even more loudly than his on-field accomplishments: over 2,700 career hits, a batting title and being one of only 29 players in baseball history to play in four different decades. Some have argued that he belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Those too young to remember Buckner or indeed anything much of the lean years from 1987-2001, when the Sox, Bruins and Celtics were coming close but never going all the way and when Bill Belichick was a defensive coordinator for the Jets, can still learn from the story that began on that October night. In death, as he did in life, Bill Buckner teaches the lesson that while the world may not always be fair, one can always transcend the situation by taking the high road – and that forgiveness is a gift.

June 11, 2019

#150) How not to complain #9: If you’re going to hit the one percent, you’d better kill the one percent

In Margaret Grace Myers’ article for the Cut, “I Babysit for the One Percent”, she has given herself an unenviable task: convincing the reader that her take on economic inequality is different from those of everyone else who has weighed in on the subject. Sadly, she does not pull it off. Like David Hopkins, who insulted non-nerds as he was telling us to be nice to nerds, Myers isn’t going to convert anyone to the other side. Her railings against the wealthy won’t start any conversations at parties in Park Avenue penthouses about how zillionaires can empathize with those less fortunate.

Stories about the rich tend to follow one of two directions: the shocking expose of what goes on behind closed doors of affluent homes or “I thought that the ______ family were going to be total assholes, but they’re just like me!” If you eschew either of those narratives, you may find yourself with shapeless, forgettable work, as Myers has done: a collection of vague grievances with no real evolution. Readers don’t always need Learn Something, but Myers is not an interesting enough writer or protagonist to abandon the framework of the familiar and still be effective.

Why doesn’t Myers get us emotionally invested in the disconnect between her lifestyle and those of her clients? Her examples of conspicuous consumption aren’t as outrageous as she thinks they are (a wall-mounted television screen! Think of all the children who could be fed!) Her comments on home furnishings leave you wondering why “sectionals in muted tones with one elegant blanket thrown just so” strike such a nerve with her.

Just as Myers doesn’t give us enough reason to hate the Goliaths that “hang big photographs of the ocean” on the walls and have “bottles of sparkling and still” (how European!) water in their fridges, her David doesn’t make us want to be more “woke.” Myers writes, “I am picky enough to only take jobs where I think the child or children will be asleep….to do the actual work of caring for children….is, frankly, not worth it for me.” When she says, “I know I am very lucky in the grand scheme of things money-wise”, it plays less as genuine gratitude and more like an attempt to convince us she is not being resentful. If Myers was doggedly struggling toward a goal – like Rudy sweating it out in the steel mill and at community college – we might buy into her story arc, but she doesn’t give us the sense (if she’s trying to) that her clients, simply by being wealthy, are preventing her from following her dreams. It apparently never occurs to her to try to use any of the 1% as role models for building a better life. Sure, some of them may have had advantages that Myers didn’t; some of them may have come into their wealth unethically. Myers doesn’t seem to think there’s any chance that any of the 1% may have actually earned it.

One anecdote does hit the mark: Myers describes waiting in a lobby for almost an hour, unable to connect with her client, a mom who “had forgotten her cell phone somewhere and didn’t have the intercom set up correctly.” Yes, we would all like to have the luxury of being absent-minded without consequences and one guesses that had the mom been the one kept waiting, she would not have handled it as diplomatically as Myers was forced to. More in-the-trenches examples of the reality of the income gap would have helped Myers make her points more convincingly.

Myers’ article concludes with an irony that is likely unintended. “I know that I spend much more time thinking about these people than they do about me,” she says as she describes a mother whom she had seen a few weeks earlier introducing herself as if for the first time. “I am just a being in their home…a body, a transaction.” While Myers apparently feels she deserves more than anonymity in the eyes of the one percent, she is fine with being a faceless voice in the chorus of the haters. 

February 16, 2019

#149) Movie review: “Can You Ever Forgive Me”

Three months ago, if someone had asked me about Lee Israel, I would have said, “Who’s he?” When I saw the preview for “Can You Ever Forgive Me”, a biopic of literary forger Lenore Carol “Lee” Israel starring Melissa McCarthy, I thought, “Maybe if I’m stuck on a JetBlue flight from Boston to L.A. that’s running late and they’re showing this movie, I’ll watch it.” Recently, I found myself on a JetBlue flight from Boston to L.A. that was running late and they were showing this movie.

“Can You Ever Forgive Me” is a film that should not work. It is about an obscure person, it’s slowly paced, lacks a marquis cast and has no main characters under the age of 40. I can’t imagine why anyone thought America would be interested in Lee Israel (and judging by the fact that as of this writing, the film is yet to make up its $10 million price tag at the box office, America isn’t.) Yet despite all of its apparent liablities, “Can You Ever Forgive Me” delivers – a success as unlikely as the idea of a dowdy Jewish alcoholic lesbian has-been writer becoming a con artist.

In 1991, Lee Israel is a struggling Manhattan biographer. While she had some success in the past, she seen as unfashionable, outdated and unwilling to play the game, in particular by her agent (Jane Curtin). She is reduced to selling used books to pay for her cat’s medications; at the store, insult is added to injury when she sees that her biography of Estee Lauder is being sold in the clearance section.

A chance discovery of a long-lost Fanny Brice letter at a research library becomes a lightbulb moment for Israel. Stealing the letter, she takes it home, rolls it into her typewriter, adds her own post script and sells the new version to a collector. Before long, Israel is forging and selling letters allegedly written by the likes of Brice, Noel Coward and Dorothy Parker, who was known to sarcastically ask, “Can you ever forgive me?” following her alcohol-fueled outbursts.

McCarthy’s Oscar-nominated portrayal of Lee Israel is a big reason why “Can You Ever Forgive Me” works. It’s been said that American actors are afraid of playing unlikeable characters. Not McCarthy: Lee Israel is not only unlikeable; she’s also boring. Unlike Frank Abagnale, Leo DiCaprio’s character in “Catch Me If You Can”, Israel is not charming, elegant or witty. The key is that McCarthy, director Marielle Heller and writers Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty aren’t trying to get us to like Lee Israel. The script gives Lee multiple chances to take the high road and she never does. What the movie accomplishes is making her real: someone whose grudges, moods and lack of social graces, however unappealing, are still relatable. Haven’t we all, at one point, resented the successes of others who might not be as skilled but know how to ingratiate themselves to the right people at the right time?

For all McCarthy brings to it, “Can You Ever Forgive Me” is not a one-woman show. Opposite her is Richard E. Grant, whose performance as Jack Hock earned him a best supporting actor nod. The decision to make Hock a roguish Brit (his real life counterpart was American) might feel gimmicky, but Grant gives the character depth. Below his gaudy exterior is a quick and sharp wit; below that is resignation. Perhaps Grant’s Hock grew up having to repress his homosexuality before enjoying liberation in the post Stonewall Riots era as a young man, only to then have to live under the threat of AIDS, which takes the lives of many of his friends. His bond with Israel stems not just from loneliness but a shared sense of loss of fleeting success and happiness.

The other main female character, shy bookstore owner and autograph buyer Anna (Dolly Wells) is a fictitious creation, but still a key part of the story: through her we see Lee’s struggle to let herself let others in. At first, Wells seems to play Anna as a typical wallflower, but the performance is more nuanced. Anna doesn’t want to hide behind her books; like Lee, she yearns to connect with others but doesn’t know how. Whereas Lee is embittered by having lost recognition and respect for what she feels are no good reasons, Anna has always lived in the shadows and can barely get herself to ask for acknowledgement.

The loneliness of Lee, Jack and Anna is compounded by another character in the movie: New York City. The New York of this film is not the den of iniquity of “Taxi Driver” and “Midnight Cowboy” but rather a perpetually gray, snowy place that ignores its citizens who toil and sacrifice to make ends meet. Lee and Jack’s corner bar of choice is a respite from the cold but not particularly inviting in any other way. The warmth of Lee’s agent’s brownstone is superficial, bought by her pandering to popular tastes and telling people what they want to hear.

The film does have a few minor shortcomings. Does a film that largely avoids cliches really need a cat to show us that Lee lacks meaningful human relationships? Also, some of the plot seems convenient: after the FBI sends out alerts about Lee, wouldn’t her buyers be suspicious when the quirky Englishman suddenly shows up wanting to sell the same type of memorabilia? Perhaps they don’t want to believe the worst about Lee; perhaps 1991 was a more innocent time; whatever the reason, they seem only mildly concerned about what would probably be a giant red flag today.

These points aside, “Can You Ever Forgive Me” exceeded my expectations by more than any movie I’ve seen in a while. No, it’s not for all tastes, but for those who might be a little tired of origin stories, remakes and sequels, it hits the spot. Lee Israel might not have been a noble protagonist, but I wouldn’t have minded sitting next to her on a JetBlue flight that’s running late.



February 4, 2019

#148) How not to complain #8: Sorry Jeff Pearlman, the Patriots are not the problem

Hey, Jeff, how’s it going. Fellow tribesman sports geek David Lockeretz here. Complaining is in our blood, but when you called Super Bowl LIII the worst ever, was your intent to show the NFL how it can improve or were you just upset that the Patriots won? I get that you’re a New Yorker and I’m a Bostonian, so there are certain sportsball issues on which we will not see eye to eye, but calling Super Bowl LIIII the worst ever is a charge that is hard to back up objectively.

Let’s start with the margin of victory. At 10 points, the margin in LIII was below the historical average of 13.9. Yes, it was the lowest scoring Super Bowl ever – but it was close, something that cannot be said for many Super Bowls. It was only the second Super Bowl ever (after XXXIX*) to enter the fourth quarter tied, keeping the David vs. Goliath storyline intact. No, the game wasn’t particularly elegant, but by your own admission, Super Bowl XV, the game that turned you into a fan, was “technically poor.”

Yes, there was a blown call in the Saints/Rams NFC championship game. Why weren’t the Saints able to put the game away after jumping out to a 13-0 lead? Why did Drew Brees throw an interception in overtime? If the NFL is scripted, wouldn’t the refs have done everything they could do stage a Brees/Brady Super Bowl? If The Rams Didn’t Belong In The Super Bowl Because The Refs Blew The Call, isn’t it karma that the Pats won? Sports will always have a human element and humans aren’t perfect.

Moving on to the half time show. I’m no Maroon 5 fan, but was their performance really the “lamest…in modern memory?” Jeff, were you on the edge of your seat for Coldplay? Did the Who’s 2010 performance make you beeline to the local record store to get “Tommy” on vinyl? Is it a Good Thing that “many musicians made it clear…that they would no longer support the league’s entertainment efforts”?

Which brings us to the issue of race. You write, “This is the NFL trying to convince us (via advertisements featuring Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches) that the whole Colin Kaepernick thing never happened; that — hey! — we love when blacks speak out, just as long as it doesn’t affect our image or our profits.” True perhaps – but would a 41-38 Kansas City win over New Orleans magically have made everyone suddenly see eye to eye on anthem protests and come together like the people in Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi ad? I’d bet a GE dishwasher that had African-American quarterback Patrick Mahomes won the Super Bowl for the Chiefs, the NFL brass would have found a way to make his moment about themselves and how much they love diversity. The Patriots’ successes and the NFL’s woes are independent.

I’m not asking you or anyone else to love that the Patriots won yet again. To borrow an adage that used to be said of the Yankees (*cough* before they started sucking *cough*), rooting for the Patriots is like rooting for Brad Pitt to get the girl or Bill Gates to win the lottery. But why make yourself just a generic voice in the Patriot haters crowd? Maybe you just need to blow off steam. Understandable. But if you’re looking for meaningful change in the NFL fan experience to come from your deconstruction of Super Bowl LIII, you will be as disappointed as everyone west of the New York state line.

*I decided to take the high road by not pointing out that XXXIX was another New England victory.

January 30, 2019

#147) When it’s OK for sex to sell part 2: No Anti-Sinematism from this blogger!

“SEX! Now that I’ve got your attention…” may be the oldest marketing ploy out there, but sometimes it works.

Like many people, I did a double take when I saw photos of a woman standing on the U.S. Senate floor wearing over the knee boots and a short dress. I may be a happily married man but I am not above the occasional ogle. Once I realized that her presence among the more conservatively dressed men and women was not a Photoshop gag, I did what many Britons did the day after voting for Brexit: I went straight to Google. When I was in high school, a sexy album cover made me a jazz geek overnight. Will senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and her boots make a political pundit out of me – or at least inspire me to become a little less ignorant? Before I saw the photo, I had no idea that Sinema is Arizona’s first female senator, that she is the country’s first openly bisexual senator and that she was once homeless. Had she been wearing a pantsuit, I still would have no idea.

Love her outfit or hate it, Sinema has a chance to become a new, galvanizing voice for the Democrats while also daring the conservatives to get grumpy and look like the dowdy GOP of old. It’s telling that Alabama auditor Jim Ziegler got defensive about his Sinema comments. Now that she knows what kind of a response she can get by the length of her footwear, what will Sinema do about it? Will she become a latter day Sarah Palin/Michele Bachmann or will her story grow legs as long as those that strode across the Senate floor?

I leave those questions to better minds than mine to debate. What I do know is that I can’t be the only political ignoramus whose interest was piqued by Sinema and her fashion statement. Right or wrong, sex sells – and in this case, it might just increase voter turnout in the bargain.

January 15, 2019

#146) You can’t give it away #4: “I’ll catch the next one” (Why we don’t give a #*@! about discounts)

couponsPhoto: BessieSpin

Limited Time! Act Now! Offer Expires Soon!

It’s been done.

Recently I was offered a 20% discount on an annual membership renewal. Since my membership wasn’t ready to expire for another four months, I started an email to the company to ask if, since the coupon code was only valid for two days, I could apply the discount to my future renewal. When I saw that the email was sent from a “do not reply” rather than go online and research the correct address for such inquiries, I decided it would be more fun to write a blog post about why I decided to leave my 20% discount on the table.

A friend of mine whose father is on his fourth marriage quipped that when her dad asked her if she was going to come to the wedding, she said, “Nah, I’ll just catch the next one.” The same can be said of discounts. How many times have we received an email or seen an ad with a “you can’t afford to miss this” offer, only to see some variation of the same promotion the next week? With all of the competition for our time, attention and money, are we going to drop everything and buy a unicorn horn for our cat because it’s 15% off Today Only? As this article notes, “[It] becomes increasingly difficult to convince consumers they need to make a purchase right then and there when they are offered countless limited time bargains day after day, many of which resemble one another.”

That’s not to say discounts don’t have their place, if done effectively. The website WebFX suggests offering discounts to show appreciation, not to retain customers: “Have some clients left you for a cheaper service provider? Are you afraid you might get rejected if you ask for what you’re worth? These sorts of reasons [for offering a discount] can greatly undervalue your skill, time or effort.” This article about discounting suggests doing 4 major promotions per year and not to show the same ad to everyone: “Someone who already bought your product doesn’t need to be notified you are running a discount.”

My response is a variation to this last point: since I was planning on renewing my membership anyways, the discount was moot. However, a customized email – I have been with this company for close to a decade – sent from an address to which I could respond directly might have made me want to engage more with them instead of running to my blog. The company in question provides a service that I want, regardless of the price. Would a 20% discount have been nice? Sure. But I’ll just catch the next one.


January 3, 2019

#145) “The Disaster Artist”: book vs. movie

Everyone loves a good train wreck, and train wrecks don’t come much bigger than “The Room”, a 2003 film that has often been cited as the worst movie ever made.

That said, train wrecks aren’t always created equal or, more accurately, aren’t always remembered equally. Fifteen years after its release, “The Room” enjoys a cult following and celebrity status. Like “Rocky Horror Picture Show” it is often given midnight screenings with audience participation; like Ed Wood, director/star/writer Tommy Wiseau has become a cult figure who is laughed both at and with. As Greg Sestero writes, “‘The Room’ became every bit the blockbuster Tommy had envisioned, though not, of course, in the way he envisioned.”

“The Disaster Artist” was published in 2013 and made into a movie in 2017. The film is directed by James Franco, who stars as Wiseau. Franco’s brother Dave plays Sestero, who starred in “The Room” and also served as a line producer. (“When we began, I had no idea what a line producer was. Neither did Tommy.”)

Sestero and Wiseau met four years before production on “The Room” started. During this time they developed a bond. While they were an odd pair – Sestero a clean cut kid from the ‘burbs; Wiseau an eastern European eccentric who wore his heart on his sleeve but also was very secretive about his origins – they both felt like outsiders and shared a dream of making it big in Hollywood. The time they spent together made Sestero qualified to give a well-rounded portrait of Wiseau and his work.

The brothers Franco do a good job capturing the dynamic. James, whose accent of undetermined origin is fairly consistent, is by turns sympathetic and cringe-worthy. He is your older brother who didn’t get enough oxygen at birth. When he tries to woo an agent at a Hollywood restaurant by bellowing Shakespeare, you genuinely don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Dave may be Wozniak to James’ Steve Jobs (there are some parallels in the idiosyncrasies and heavy handed communication style of Wiseau and those of the Apple mogul) but his Greg is not afraid to call out Tommy’s inappropriate behavior. At the same time, when he applauds after Tommy finally nails a line after having mangled it every way possible, he comes across as genuinely happy for Tommy, not just glad to be done with the scene.

In the latter half of the film, Seth Rogen gives an effective straight performance as beleaguered script supervisor Sandy Schklar. Paul Scheer, known as whipping boy Andre on “The League” goes toe-to-toe with Franco as photography director Raphael Smadja. Another “League” veteran, Jason Mantzoukas, is Peter Anway, a go-between for Wiseau and the venue where he is shooting. Those who remember Mantzoukas from “The League” as the psychopath Rafi may find it amusing to see him playing a fairly sane character. June Diane Raphael, known for “Grace and Frankie” and as an occasional guest star on “The League” (no wonder I was drawn to this movie!) plays the actress Robyn Paris, whose role is more about quality than quantity as her few lines provide insight into Tommy and the script. Ari Gaynor brings positivity to Juliette Danielle, the actress who played the thankless role of Lisa, Tommy’s love interest. Zac Efron has an unlikely stint as Dan Janjigian, who plays the violent drug dealer Chris-R. Because we don’t see much of Dan Janjigian out of character in the film, by proxy, the wholesome Efron becomes the dealer and pulls it off.

If the film has one shortcoming, it’s the narrative structure. The book alternates between flashbacks and the present; having multiple storylines helps keep interest. For the first half of the film, we see little besides James and Dave. While the constant shifts in time of the book might not have translated well on screen, breaking up the timeline a few times would have helped the pacing. The film doesn’t make much of a side plot about Greg’s girlfriend Amber (Alison Brie) and their breakup (although the book doesn’t get much into this either); this is a storyline that should either have been developed further or dropped.

The book ends as “The Room” is about to screen for the first time. Sestero knows that we know what happens and opts to conclude by celebrating Tommy’s fulfilment of his dream and ignoring the inevitable ridicule and eventual redemption that would follow: “Although I knew Tommy’s film wasn’t going to be received the way he wanted it to be that night, I hoped he’d be able to recognize how incredible this experience really was.”

The film shows Tommy getting more and more upset as the audience laughs their way through the premiere. Greg has to talk him off the ledge: “Look at how much fun they’re having. They fucking love it, man! How often do you think Hitchcock got a response like this?” The last scene feels rushed as Franco compresses “The Room”‘s journey from bomb to cult classic and Tommy’s transformation from reject to folk hero. With a run time of 104 minutes, there would have been some room to elaborate on the aftermath of the film without belaboring the point.

These critiques aside, both the book and movie are worthwhile and entertaining, celebrating misfits and unlikely dreams. As Adam Scott says in the film’s introduction, “People are still watching a movie and talking about a movie. People aren’t doing that about whatever won the Oscar for Best Picture ten years ago.”

During the closing credits, there is a side-by-side comparison between “The Room” and the cast of “The Disaster Artist” reproducing some of the film’s most infamous scenes. Franco and company are clearly having fun but are also respectful; perhaps they see themselves in the struggles their characters felt trying to survive Hollywood, Tommy Wiseau and “The Room.”