Blog: Tell Your Story

Blog: Tell Your Story

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

About This Blog

From political campaigns, movies, TV shows, books to the world of business, the best story tellers win. This blog will be kind of free-wheeling , but it will all relate to this one central idea: If you don’t define who you and/or your business is, your competitors will do it for you.

Dad 1936-2012

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

This is not something you’re every ready for.

Two weeks ago today, my dad had a massive heart attack and died.

Three days later, I was at his funeral, standing in front of more than 100 people– friends and family– trying to sum up my dad’s life in a five minute speech.

This is what I said:

 

 

I GREW UP AN ONLY CHILD.

BUT WITH MY DAD AROUND, THAT TERM IS REALLY JUST A TECHNICALITY.

MOST OF YOU HERE HAVE EXPERIENCED HIS ‘JOIE DE VIVRE’ AND HIS SILLY SENSE OF HUMOR.

NOW IMAGINE ME AS A 13 YEAR OLD.  MY FRIENDS WOULD BEG TO COME OVER FOR DINNER…. NOT TO HANG OUT WITH ME… BUT TO GET A FRONT ROW SEAT TO WATCH MY DAD PERFORM.

YOU NEVER KNEW WHAT YOU WERE GOING TO GET.

ONE NIGHT, MY DAD PRETENDED HIS RIGHT LEG WAS ACTUALLY THE PET DOG MY MOM WOULD NEVER LET US HAVE.  THROUGHOUT THE ENTIRE MEAL, HE COMMITTED TO THIS PIECE OF ABSURDIST PERFORMANCE ART, MAKING HIS LEG BARK, PETTING IT, FEEDING IT SCRAPS OF MEAT. THE MORE MY MOM BEGGED HIM TO STOP, THE MORE IT EGGED HIM ON. MY FRIEND, WHO WAS OVER THAT NIGHT, IS NOW A GOVERNMENT WORKER IN D-C AND SAYS IT’S STILL THE HARDEST HE’S EVER LAUGHED IN HIS LIFE.

MY BEST FRIEND SINCE COLLEGE LOVES TO TELL THIS STORY ABOUT MY DAD.

BEFORE OUR JUNIOR YEAR, HIS FATHER ARNOLD—WHO I’M SO GLAD IS HERE TODAY WITH HIS WIFE, ALTA—PULLED US ASIDE, PUT HIS ARMS AROUND US AND SAID, ‘BOYS, WORK! WORK! WORK!’

A COUPLE DAYS LATER, MY DAD PULLED US ASIDE, PUT HIS ARMS AROUND US AND SAID, ‘BOYS, FUCK! FUCK! FUCK!’

BUT IT WASN’T ALL FUN AND GAMES.

LIKE FATHERS AND SONS THROUGHOUT THE AGES, WE DIDN’T ALWAYS SEE EYE TO EYE AND THERE WERE TIMES I QUESTIONED WHAT LESSONS I WAS SUPPOSED TO DRAW FROM HIS LIFE.

TRAGICALLY, IN DEATH—THESE LIFE LESSONS NOW SEEM PAINFULLY OBVIOUS.

1)    ALWAYS BE YOUR OWN MAN.  FOR BETTER OR WORSE, MY FATHER WAS A TRUE INDIVIDUAL. HE WAS NOT AFRAID TO SWIM UPSTREAM.

2)    BE A GREAT HUSBAND.  MY DAD WAS COMPLETELY DEVOTED TO MY MOTHER.  5 OR 6 YEARS AGO, MY MOM CAME TO VISIT ME IN CALIFORNIA AND I COULDN’T BELIEVE THAT  EVERY TWO MINUTES HER PHONE WOULD RING & IT WAS MY DAD CHECKING IN ON HER.  NEARLY 47 YEARS OF MARRIAGE AND THEY STILL ACTED LIKE NEWLYWEDS.

3)    AND FINALLY—HE TAUGHT ME TO ALWAYS, ALWAYS KEEP IT LIGHT, HAVE FUN AND TO NEVER LOSE THAT CHILD’S PERSPECTIVE ON THE WORLD.

I DON’T KNOW IF MY DAD HAD SOME SORT OF PREMONITION OR IF IT’S JUST ONE OF THOSE COINCIDENCES.  BUT THE LAST TIME I SAW HIM, SIX WEEKS AGO OVER THE HOLIDAYS, HE DID SOMETHING HE’D NEVER DONE BEFORE.  HE WALKED ME OUT TO MY CAR—HELD ME TIGHT—AND JUST KEPT REPEATING, ‘I LOVE YOU, SON.’ OVER AND OVER AGAIN.         AND I BELIEVED AND I FELT FREE.

AS YOU’VE HEARD, MY DAD LOVES CHESS.

FOR YEARS, WE’VE BEEN PLAYING GAMES ONLINE… E-MAILING MOVES TO EACH OTHER BACK AND FORTH. USUALLY, HE WINS.

WE WERE IN THE MIDDLE OF A CLASSIC BATTLE WHEN HE DIED.

I WAS SURE I WAS GOING TO BEAT HIM THIS TIME.

AFTER MY MOM CALLED AND TOLD ME ABOUT HIS HEART ATTACK, I CHECKED MY E-MAIL… AND THERE IT WAS MY DAD’S FINAL MOVE… PLAYED JUST HALF AN HOUR BEFORE HIS DEATH.  FITTINGLY, HE HAD SEEN SOMETHING I MISSED AND HAD COMPLETELY TURNED THE TABLES ON ME—PUTTING ME IN CHECK.

NOT THE FIRST TIME I HAD UNDERESTIMATED HIS POSITION.

SO TODAY, AS WE GATHER TO REMEMBER HIM….SHED SOME TEARS.  BUT HE WOULD ALSO WANT YOU TO EAT SOME GOOD FOOD, LAUGH… AND LOVE—NOT JUST LIFE, BUT EACH OTHER.

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False Prophet

Monday, January 16, 2012

He has fallen.

On one level, I understand Tebowmania.  An overlooked, unpolished athlete, told his entire life he doesn’t have what it takes, proves the skeptics wrong and  sticks a thumb in the eye of conventional wisdom.   It’s the ultimate Rudy story, and who doesn’t love rooting for the underdog.

Except there’s one big problem with this narrative.

In this case, the establishment is right.  Tim Tebow can’t play.

Now, if you’re one of the faithful, you might be shouting, ‘What about his record?’

True, Tebow is 8-5 as a starter and seems to have some good leadership intangibles.  But  Tebow Nation is conveniently forgetting  there are 11 men on the field.  Trent Dilfer won a Super Bowl with a Baltimore team built on defense and a strong running game, and despite his ring  no one has ever suggested he was a great quarterback.  In fact, when people are feeling charitable, the best they can do is  toss out words like ‘decent’ and ‘competent’ to describe Dilfer’s career.

But Tebow has an emotional hold on people which defies all logic.

Here’s the hard truth. Tim Tebow is not a quarterback.  A quarterback’s primary job is to throw the ball, and Tim Tebow can not throw.  In 30 years of watching football, I have never seen a less accurate quarterback.  It’s often hard to tell if he’s trying to hit one of his receivers or commit intentional  grounding . As soon as the ball leaves his fingertips,  after his awkward and mechanically incorrect motion,  it floats  like a sickly, warbly badminton birdie.  No surprise, Tebow completed just 46.5% of his passes, easily the worst percentage in the league. His  QB rating wasn’t much better, 72.9, ranking him as one of the NFL’s 5 worst at his position.  It could have been worse, but his throws are so wild, it’s just as difficult for defensive backs to intercept his passes, as it is for his receivers to catch them.

Now, time to address the elephant in the room.

Tebow wears his evangelical faith on his sleeve. What he believes is his business, and he has the right to express himself, but as a non believer I find him annoying at best- sanctimonious at worst.  Many NFL players are deeply religious, but they don’t paint  bible passages on their face, kneel down in prayer after every touchdown (as if God really cares about the Denver Broncos) or start every news conference by thanking “my lord and savior Jesus Christ.”  Even Kurt Warner, a man of deep faith, has publicly suggested Tebow “tone it down.”  This aggressive form of  Christianity has predictably captured the imagination of Palin/Perry/Bachman-Nation, who see Tebow as one of their own.

Fortunately, unlike politics,  it’s hard to spin facts in the world of sports.  So anyone who watched the Patriots’ thorough 45-10 demolishment of the Broncos this past weekend,  got a glimpse into Tebow’s NFL future.  He was a feeble 9/26 with 136 yards, most of which came in garbage time.

The Lord may have big plans for Tim Tebow, but they’re certainly not in the NFL.

 

 

 

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Best and Worst of 2011

Friday, December 30, 2011

BEST MOVIE: MONEYBALL

I walked into the theater fully expecting to hate it.

Based on the inspiring Michael Lewis book , Moneyball shows how  Oakland A’s GM Billy Beane  changed baseball by evaluating players using…. wait for it…. quantitative analysis.  OK, not exactly a cinematic concept.  I was picturing Brad Pitt, pulling a Russell Crowe, writing batting averages and RBI’s on his office window.

But the book means a lot to me and I was sure Hollywood would mess it up, mainly because its main theme is that your gut instincts are not to be trusted.

This flies in the face of Hollywood tradition as movies usually  encourage us to lead with our hearts.  Fall in love, trust your feelings, make impulsive decisions and everything will work out in the end.

Amazingly, Moneyball did not sell out.  Aaron Sorkin’s script  is just as crisp and compelling as his work on ‘The Social Network.’ Brad Pitt actually turned in a memorable performance.  Jonah Hill and Phillip Seymour Hoffman deliver great supporting roles.  And best of all, the movie inspire us to take big risks in life. Not with our hearts, but with our minds.

RUNNER UP: A BETTER LIFE

This tiny indie movie tells a powerful tale of an East L.A. gardner’s relationship with his son.  Deserves a  top spot on your Netflix queue.

 

WORST MOVIE: A DANGEROUS METHOD

The longest 100 minutes of 2011 was trying to stay awake through this turkey.

Keira Knightley plays a mentally ill woman caught in a love triangle between Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. It may sound like a workable concept, but absolutely no heat shows up on screen.  Instead we are treated to endless, talkie, overwrought scenes.  Keira Knightley is completely exposed as just another pretty face Her portrayal of a woman in the grips of madness was ludicrously, laugh out loud bad.

Hard to believe David Cronenberg, who directed A History of Violence and Crash (the good one, not the lame Academy award winner) could be responsible for this mess.  He should have heeded the advice Freud  famously gave his patients, ‘If you can’t do it, give up!’

 

BEST TV SHOW: BREAKING BAD

Around a year ago, tired of hearing my friends raving about BB, I decided to give it a try .  I watched the pilot, liked it, and then started watching every episode in order.  Within 6 weeks I was sleep deprived but all caught up and completely in love.

Breaking Bad is a true American classic.  Possibly my favorite show of all time.

It’s what happens when a network lets talented creative people do what they do best without interference. After all, Breaking Bad breaks every  false premise most networks accept as storytelling dogma:

1) The protagonist is unlikable

2) The protagonist is not seeking redemption (at least not yet)

3) The protagonist was a hard working, quiet family man when the series started and he was miserable.  He is now  a criminal mastermind and seems far more at peace with himself.

4) There’s no love story (with the  exception of Jesse’s girlfriend in season 3)

5) The cast is not particularly good looking.

6) There are few “big” moments. Breaking Bad is a slow burn.

If you’re not on board yet, make a New Year’s resolution and get started.  It’ll cost you some sleep but will be well worth it.

WORST TV SHOW: PAN AM

This is what happens when a network does not let talented creative people do what they do best.

The show was supposed to be network TV’s answer to Mad Men.  Instead it is a living, breathing testament to why the network model is dying.

Pan Am follows every simple-minded premise too many executives believe comprise a hit show (i.e.; good looking cast, lots of big moments, continuous conflict, lots of sex and love triangles etc…)  But as Henry Lee famously said way back during the OJ Simpson trial, ‘Garbage in.  Garbage out.’  Operate under a set of faulty assumptions about what makes a show work and you get dreck like this.

Granted, I only made it through two episodes but the show was utterly unwatchable.  Sure, the girls are great to look at and there are some nice, scenic shots but it’s all in service of complete nonsense.  The plot lines are designed for an audience with the emotional maturity level of a ten year old.

Many have called this the golden age of TV.  There are so many excellent, cinematic TV series to chose from.  But the networks haven’t caught on, and are still trying to program for a broad, mainstream audience which doesn’t exist anymore.  It’s already been broken up into hundreds of little pieces.  And shows like Pan Am will do not nothing but make them drift even further away.

 

BEST ALBUM: THE KILLS/BLOOD PRESSURES

2011 was a very mediocre year for music.  There were a lot of albums I liked (The Strokes, Rome, Beastie Boys, Dum Dum Girls, Cage the Elephant, Radiohead, the Horrors) but no classics.  I doubt I’ll be listening to any of these records in five years.  In fact, I still have Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs in heavy rotation, so nothing knocked my socks off this year.

The best of the 2011 lot might be The Kills’ Blood Pressures.  Haunting, atmospheric, cool; this is music you can’t listen to until the sun goes down.  The album sounds a little bit like Mazzy Starr with better instrumentation and more edge.

BTW: If you’re looking for a good gym workout CD, try Watch the Throne from Kanye and JayZ.  A couple of the songs are total duds, but overall it has great energy, and will carry you through your half hour elliptical session.

 

WORST ALBUM: RHCP/I’M WITH YOU

First off, I’m sure there were plenty of  worse albums released this year, but my expectations for the Red Hot Chili Peppers are sky high.  To me, By the Way and Californiacation were classics, two of the best albums of the new century.

‘I’m with You’ is not a terrible record.  The songs are light, catchy and radio friendly, but the edge is gone.  With the release of Californiacation, RHCP had reinvented itself as this generation’s Nirvana.  The songs were melodic, introspective, and had tons of depth.  You could feel the pain of heartbreak, recovery and the melancholy of lost youth in every cut.

But now RHCP is just another easy breezy band, looking to cash in on their marquee name.  The songs are as easy as a beautiful day in LA. But while Anthony Kiedis used to sing to lonely people under the bridge, his new songs are for the beautiful people shopping on Robertson.

 

 

 

 

 

 

BEST BOOK: THE IMPERFECTIONISTS

This collection of interconnected short stories about people who work in a failing newspaper is stunning.

The stories are deceptively simple, but pack a huge emotional wallop.  Tom Rachman is able to capture the dichotomy between the strong face people put on at the office and their emotionally weak and needy home lives.  With amazing sensitivity, Rachman portrays the vulnerability and pain of each of his characters.

No one reads newspapers anymore, but The Imperfectionists will make you nostalgic for the days of the daily rag.

 

 

WORST BOOK: THE CLINTON TAPES

This is what happens when you take what would make a really good magazine article and try to turn it into an 800 page book.

Long winded, repetitive and meandering, reading The Clinton Tapes felt like reliving the 90′s in real time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Handicapping the GOP primaries

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Even though my liberal Hollywood friends don’t want to hear it, this is an election the Democrats should lose.  Not because President Obama hasn’t done a solid job, but because the average American swing voter makes his decision based on two factors. Am I better off than I was four years ago? And which candidate would I rather sit down and have a beer with?

The answer to the first question, for many people, is no.  The second question has always been a problem for Democrats.  Their wonky, Ivy League educated candidates seem far more comfortable sipping a nice, aged Chardonnay at an elegant restaurant than sitting down with an unemployed blue-collar worker in a red-state watering hole.

And yet, the GOP seems determined to blow this most winnable of elections, in the same fashion the Dems shot themselves in the foot nominating the robotic,  blue-blooded John Kerry in 2004.

If you are a Republican, watching the GOP debates must be a lot like trying to order dinner at Red Lobster- plenty of options, none appetizing. The Republican party’s  purge of intellectuals from its ranks have exacted a heavy price- it’s no longer  necessary to have even a basic working knowledge of government or current events to seek the nomination.  The only  requirement is the ability to repeat the following catchphrases with emotion and conviction: less government, no new taxes, in God we trust, and if Obama supports it, I don’t like it.  Try it at home.  Mouth these words in the mirror over and over again.  When you feel you’ve got it down, form an exploratory committee for 2016.  If anyone dares question your credentials, just call them an elitist snob.

So, Las Vegas style, here are my odds on the GOP candidates chances of winning the nomination.  I won’t be taking any actual bets unless you want to put down some cold hard cash on Rick Santorum or Jon Huntsman.  If you do, call me, we’ll work something out.

MITT ROMNEY

This is a true gut check for the Republican party.  Forget all the  flip-flopping and triangulations, Romney has one quality none of the other candidates possess- the ability to beat Obama in the general election.  The hard truth is, Obama governs from the center.  Romney governs from the center.  On the most pragmatic  level it wouldn’t make a wit of difference which one gets elected.  But Romney could sell independents, disenchanted with the President, on the idea that he’d be a CEO President, fiscally sound without all the regressive social positions.

But that’s exactly where Romney fails with the base.   He isn’t one of them.  And it goes beyond the  Mormon issue.- there’s  the Massachusetts issue. That’s where he hatched his health care plan, which became the framework for Obamacare.  As Governor, he was pro-choice, moderate, reasoned and balanced; everything the rabid base of the Republican Party is not in 2011.

It’s telling that as GOP frontrunner after frontrunner crashes and burns, Romney’s poll numbers stay steady in the mid 20′s.  It’s fair to say that number reveals the  percentage of long-time Republicans who have stayed in the party despite its violent lurch to the right.

Bottom line, if Romney wins the nomination, he gets the White House.  But he’ll have a much harder time making his case to the  GOP wing nuts than the Independents who’ll decide the general election.

ODDS: Even Money

NEWT GINGRICH

I’ll give him this much, he’s smart.  His achilles heel is hypocrisy.  A candidate who likes to talk about God country and morals should not be thrice married- informing one wife he was leaving her for another woman, while she was in the hospital undergoing chemo treatments.  This is the same man who was shamelessly leading the parade for Bill Clinton’s impeachment, wagging his finger at the President for having an extra-marital affair-  while at the same time, unknown to us, he was having his own extra-marital affair, with his secretary.

Now Newt and his supporters will attack the messenger, saying these issues don’t matter and that it’s just another example of liberal media bias (Newt actually had the gall to accuse the Fox News Channel of a liberal bias, when pressed for answers at one of the earlier debates), but the Evangelical base he’s counting on to deliver him votes may see things differently.

Newt’s other big problem is that, while 90% of what he says appeals to the Tea Party types, he is a free thinker who will veer off course from conservative dogma.

The fact that he’s the current frontrunner only speaks to how poor this field is.  If he gets nominated, he’ll be trounced Barry Goldwater style.

ODDS: 3-1

HERMAN CAIN

In 2008, a pundit took an interesting position.  He said electing someone as well-educated and well-spoken as Barack Obama did not make us a color blind society.  That would only happen, he argued, when Americans would elect a black man as incompetent as some of our worst Presidents.  If that’s true, then Herman Cain could be one of the most important civil rights figures of the past 100 years.

Cain is so stunningly unqualified to be President, he makes Sarah Palin look like an elder statesmen.  This is a man who thinks Cuban is a language, doesn’t know the difference between a pro-life and pro-choice position and knows nothing about the world outside of the Godfather’s Pizza delivery zone.

President Obama and his team must be watching the GOP primaries in awe, amazed that they even have a chance to go up against the silliest mainstream candidate of our lifetime.  Matching Cain against Obama would be about as fair as having LSU face UCLA in a bowl game

ODDS 5-1

RON PAUL

I admire the man’s consistency and he has the underdog’s freedom to say exactly what he thinks, but Paul is unelectable.

The GOP has been accused of wanting to roll back the clock to the 1950′s.  But Paul takes things a step further, wanting to go back to  the 1900′s, when government had almost no vital function in our lives.  It sounds OK until you consider America was only one of 7 world powers back then, the average male only lived until his mid 40′s and robber barons were creating monopolies making it hard for small businesses to survive.

That, combined with his dovish, bordering on pacifist, foreign policy positions make him a perpetual GOP gadfly.  He’s starting to look a lot like this generation’s Harold Stassen.

ODDS 12-1

MICHELE BACHMAN   

There’s a price to pay when you wage a war on people who believe in science and education,  and that price is Michele Bachman.

Here’s a woman who said that  last summer’s east coast earthquake was God’s way of delivering a message about deficits.  She has claimed that there’s not one scientific study showing carbon dioxide is a harmful gas and she thinks that swine flu outbreaks only happen during Democratic administrations.

And yet, we are somehow numb to all this, and treat her as a credible candidate.

Is this really the party that used to preach high standards and individual excellence?

ODDS-20-1

RICK PERRY

Here’s the candidate for people who liked George Bush but found him a little too stuffy and intellectual.

Even the GOP base thinks he’s clueless and that speaks volumes.

ODDS 50-1

RICK SANTORUM

The last time we heard from this moral crusader he lost his Senate seat by 18 points.  He’s just staying in the race to audition for a FNC talk-show.

ODDS 300-1

JON HUNTSMAN

You got to love this guy’s moxie.  The former Governor of Utah has served in the Obama administration and has publicly called him a “great leader.”

He is running to restore civility and moderation to the Republican party.

Surprise! He’s barely registering a blip in the polls.

ODDS-OFF THE BOARD

 

 

 

 

 

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The Descendants: A Review

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

There are some basic rules of screenwriting and director Alexander Payne breaks them all in the new George Clooney vehicle The Descendants.

If you’ve ever taken a screenwriting course, you know the golden law of cinema is show don’t tell.  This is shattered in the first 15 minutes of the film, which essentially consists of a long George Clooney voice over, filled with exposition, telling us all about the world we are about to (we hope) inhabit.

Another rule is that characters need some sort of motivation or inciting incident to change.  This too is broken rather early, when Clooney’s nightmarish daughter (played well by Shailene Woodley) suddenly transforms from the teenager from hell, so bad she makes Lindsay Lohan seem demure– into George’s fun-loving and responsible partner in crime.

A third rule is that movie’s should have a consistent tone.  You can’t be Beaches one minute, and Leatherheads the next.  But that’s exactly the high wire act The Descendants tries to straddle.

I would like to say that Alexander Payne, the genius, broke all the rules, won, and  posted another notch on his indie belt, next to semi-classics like Election, Sideways and About Schmidt.  But the result here is an uneven film, watchable but ultimately disjointed and forgettable.

George Clooney plays Matt King, a wealthy Hawaiian, who’s world is closing in on him.  His wife has just lapsed into a deep come, following a tragic boating accident.  King’s bedside vigil is complicated when he learns his wife was having an affair before her accident, and had planned to leave him. Shaken, King embarks on a quest, with his two daughters in tow, to find this mystery man and confront him.

And this is where the movie runs into problems.  Both of King’s daughters are introduced to us as raging nightmares.  The 10 year old bullies her classmates and enjoys throws lawn furniture into swimming pools for no apparent reason.  The teenager drinks, can’t stand to be around her father, and just wants to spend time with her knucklehead boyfriend, who ends up tagging along for the ride.  And yet, inexplicably, out of nowhere, they turn into fun, comedic sidekicks.  Their anger is gone.  They love their father and want to help him solve the mystery.  It’s disorienting, like seeing an actor play two very different roles in two completely different movies.

And in many ways, The Descendants is several different movies in one; slapstick shtick one moment- a tearjerker the next.  When Clooney finally tracks down his wife’s lover, it turns out the man is a successful real estate agent with a wife and two children of his own.  We see Clooney spying on his nemesis, ducking in and out of the shrubs- hamming it up, old school vaudeville style. Minutes later, when he actually confronts his wife’s lover, the scene is played out melodramatically without a hint of irony or humor.

Yet, despite all these flaws, The Descendants does have its redeeming qualities.  Beau Bridges and Robert Forster are great in small supporting roles. And Alexander Payne does a nice job incorporating Hawaii as a supporting character, giving us a great sense of the authentic location, warts and all, as opposed to the glossy version of the island we are used to seeing in surfing movies and bad TV shows.

Clooney does a game job, trying to rise above the flawed material.  In his understated way, he makes us feel the pain and confusion of a middle aged man who is forced to confront  the truth that what he thought was an ideal life, is anything but.

The Descendants has some very good moments, but ultimately doesn’t rise above its flaws.  It’s entertaining, but not engaging; occasionally moving but not memorable.  If you feel the need to see George Clooney on the big screen this fall, The Ides of March is a much better choice.

The Descedants hits theaters on November 16th.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Basebore

Monday, October 17, 2011

At a time when sports ratings are skyrocketing, and networks are spending record amounts of money to buy the rights to DVR-proof live sporting events, baseball ratings continue to plummet.

The low point may have come two Mondays ago.  Sports fans were faced with the choice of watching the Yankees fight for their playoff lives against the Tigers on TBS or they could tune into ESPN to watch the winless, Peyton-less Colts square off against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  You guessed it, fans chose Josh Freeman over Derek Jeter and A-Rod; Peyton’s understudy Curtis Painter over Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera.  Worst of all, it wasn’t even close.  The ho-hum Monday night matchup out-rated the playoffs by a 2-1 margin.  Things got even worse last weekend, when the ALCS got beat by SpongeBob reruns on Nickelodeon.

The problem? In my opinion, the baseball season is no longer a compelling narrative.  Sports seasons, after all, are the ultimate reality show.  32 contestants show up with aspirations of greatness.  Through an arduous process of elimination, we narrow the field down to two contestants and they square off for the ultimate prize.  It should be exhilarating.  And it used to be.    But baseball, through its greed, has destroyed its own story line- to the point that fans would  rather watch one of the worst teams in the league play a meaningless regular season game– or even more horrifying, watch a talking sponge navigate life underwater.

So what went wrong? Money- otherwise known as expanded postseason.  While MLB owners were lauding Bud Selig for introducing the wild card and creating an additional round of playoffs (the powers that be are now considering adding two more teams to the postseason mix) , they were unwittingly destroying the very things that made baseball America’s favorite sport.

The first problem is that the talent margin between teams in baseball is very small.  In fact, since 1998 the team with the best regular season record has only won the World Series twice.  So what do the playoffs really mean? Nothing.  As A’s GM Billy Beane famously said, “The playoffs are a crapshoot.”

But the wild card did more than just ruin the playoffs, it destroyed pennant races.  In the old days, you had to win your division to make the post season.  Period.  This made for some legendary Septembers, with the final month of the season fraught with anxiety and tension.  Now, if the two teams are any good, the second place team has the cushion of the wild card.

So MLB has created a narrative where the 162 game season has little meaning, followed by a playoff which rewards randomness far more than greatness. And they wonder why no one cares?

As a lifelong baseball fan, here are three suggestions to bring meaning back to the MLB season:

1) Eliminate the wild card

In my proposal, the six division winners would advance.  The team with the best record in each league would get a first round bye, with teams 2 and 3 battling it out for the right to face the best teams in the Championship Series.  This year, the Yankees would have gotten a walk to the ALCS while Detroit and Texas battled it out.  In the NL, the Phillies would have gotten to sit back and watch Milwaukee and Arizona play.

This would accomplish a few things:

1) Restore pennant races.

2) Incentivize teams to play hard for the best record  and the first round bye.

3) It would minimize the randomness of the postseason, giving the teams which displayed excellence over the long 162 game season a much better chance to advance to the World Series.

2) Make the first round a best of 7

The best of 5 first round format rewards flawed teams with one stud pitcher.  A best of 7 series is a much fairer way to determine who deserves to advance.

3) Play the games with no off  days

One of the biggest flaws with the current playoff system is that it doesn’t test depth.  Teams rarely have to go past their third pitcher in the rotation, and rarely need to go deep into their bullpens.  This dynamic allowed last year’s Giants, with its anemic offense, to essentially ride the arms of its two stud starters and bearded closer to a world championship.  But does anyone seriously think they had the best team? Why do we play the regular season under one set of rules and then change the rules of engagement for the postseason?

Of course, baseball will never consider proposals like this.  Just like Wall Street investment bankers, they live quarter to quarter  and will never pause to consider the long term effects of their quick-fix solutions.

The NFL has learned that, in sports, less is more.

But baseball seems intent to follow its more is more philosophy to the bitter end.

Some might see the playoffs getting out-rated by reruns of a cartoon sponge as a wakeup call, but like SpongeBob, the MLB owners prefer to keep their heads safely underwater.

 

 

 

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RIP I-Web

Sunday, October 9, 2011

It’s a cruel world.

Steve Jobs has been dead for less than 72 hours and I’m already jumping ship.

No, I’m not buying a PC, but I have taken this blog off of I-Web, which is certainly not Apple’s finest piece of software.

Now I get to introduce all sorts of fancy new features like video links and reader comments.  Welcome to 2002, right?

Anyway, I hope you bookmark this page and check out my analysis, thoughts, rants on everything from movies, pop culture , sports, books to politics.  And please leave comments. Jobs never got around to putting that feature into I-Web.

 

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Diary of a reality TV road trip

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The phone rings and you fumble for the receiver.
A cheerful recorded voice tells you this is your wakeup call and wishes you a wonderful day.
You slowly open your eyes and start taking inventory.
You see the blue 70’s rug that made you laugh the first time you walked in. Yep, must be Providence. Oh wait, maybe that was two days ago? You stagger up and open the shades. The architectural monstrosity known as the Meadowlands stares you in the face and then it all comes rushing back…. the late night flight to Newark, the 2am check in.
Reality TV isn’t just about bitter housewives, pawn shop owners and cooking competitions. There’s a whole alternative reality going on which never gets captured on digital bytes. Its stars are the producers and crew who leave their loved ones behind and hit the road trying to make a little TV magic.
I just got back from that type of road trip- an intense 4-city, 10-day whirlwind for a show I SP:

DAY ONE
If you ‘re the type of person who likes to go to bed and wakeup at the same time every day; if you like to eat three square meals and work regular hours, then stay far away from the film/TV business.
I know I am going to skip lots of meals and sleep over the next ten days, so it’s fitting that our flight has a cruel 7am departure time.
The good news is that we’re on Jet Blue, the only airline that actually has enough leg room for my 6’3” frame.
We land at JFK and after an annoying series of shuttles and trams get our rental car and head up to Long Island.
Our first shoot is two days away and as soon as we land I start feeling that good nervous energy.
The producer on my team, Marla, feels it too so we decide to delay the hotel check-in and start meeting with some of the characters we’ll be working with.
This is one of the best parts of the job.
Two hours after landing, we find ourselves in the office of a small newspaper publisher who paces back and forth, lecturing us on the relative merits of different fast food hamburgers. He is incredibly passionate on the subject. Marla and I exchange furtive glances, enjoying the spectacle. This man will make good TV. Anyone with a strong world view makes good TV. Great TV happens when you get someone with a strong world view and a healthy lack of self awareness. That combination is not easy to find.
Later that night, knowing this may be our only chance, we head to Manhattan with the crew for some dinner. Riding back on the Long Island Rail Road is like being trapped with all the people who auditioned for Jersey Shore but didn’t quite make the cut.

DAY TWO
On the west coast, people are way too media savvy and you sometimes get the uncomfortable feeling they’re playing a part instead of just being themselves. I’ve interviewed so-called real people in LA who will ask, ‘I should put part of your question into my answer, right?’ I happen to be against that interview approach, believing it leads to logical rather than emotional soundbites, but it is a common reality practice and it’s kind of disconcerting that these ‘regular’ people know that.
This, fortunately, is not a problem on the east coast. I spend the day with the people we’re going to be shooting with the next day. Marla and I immerse ourselves into their world and fall in love with these unique, salt of the earth characters. On the drive back to the hotel, we debate who our favorites are.
That night we cram for our big shoot day, re-watching videos, going over everyone’s bio, making sure we know every piece of relevant information about their lives.
Our call is for 6:30 the next morning so at 11 we pack it in.

DAY THREE
The hotel wake-up service rings at 5:30 but I’m already up. I’m usually a good sleeper, but I tossed and turned all night. Opening day jitters, I guess.
We get to the shoot location and start pounding Dunkin’ Donuts coffees.
Shoot days are like game days for athletes. There’s a certain energy on a set that’s hard to beat. I walk the DP’s and lighting people through the various locations we’ll be shooting in and they get to work.
The day goes by in a blur. I can’t eat on shoot days so by the time we wrap late in the afternoon, I am completely drained.
But we’re not close to being done.
Marla and I jump in the car and drive to JFK.
Next stop- my home town of Boston.
We arrive at Logan at around 11pm and pick up our rental cah.
We meet our next subjects for a very late night drink and immediately fall in love with them and their world.
At 2am we stagger to our hotel and check in, putting an end to a grueling 21 hour day.

DAY FOUR
We check out of our hotel at 10, feeling a little bit refreshed and drive up to Providence to spend the day with some new reality characters.
Again, we find salt of the earth people with big personalities and a compelling story.
This may sound strange, but I’ve learned you always have to find a way to like your subjects, or at the very least be able to put yourselves in their shoes and see life through their eyes.
I learned this the hard way when I tried to pitch a documentary to HBO about 7 years ago. I had cut some tape of my subject and I thought it was pretty funny but the executive said, ‘It’s good but I get the sense you don’t like this woman.’
I was confused. “Well, this person is kind of delusional and crazy. Why do I need to like her for it to be good TV?’
‘You need to have empathy for her. And if you don’t have it, the audience won’t.’

DAY FIVE
It’s July 4th and I take the afternoon off, taking a train from Providence back down to Boston to catch a game at Fenway Pahhk. I went to Boston University and skipped many classes to sit in the bleachers and cheer on the Sox, forgiving the team for torturing me throughout my childhood. This time, we have lower box seats and despite the intense humidity and John Lackey’s horrendous outing, It’s fun to be back .
That night, I start feeling the pressure.
We have a very ambitious shooting schedule- Providence in the morning, Boston at night, and I want everything to be executed perfectly.

DAY SIX
Another early call. Lots more Dunkin’ Donuts coffee. The Providence portion of the shoot goes great.
Later, in Boston, we have a couple hiccups and a few scary moments but get everything we need. It’s been a twelve hour day and I feel completely drained.
I’m neurotically obsessing about a couple of the things that didn’t go as planned and realize I need to take my mind off things. With a late call the next day I go out with the crew for a couple beers.
Sipping a Sam Adams at a North End dive a drunk girl with a hardcore accent asks where I’m from.
‘I live in L.A. but I’m originally from Brookline.’
‘So you’re Jewish.’ She slurs. Ah, I miss Boston. Some things never change.
‘I am.’
‘Well then you’re not really from Boston.’
I’m still not sure what that means but decided to slide down to the other end of the bar and not crawl deeper into that rabbit hole.

DAY SEVEN
We spend the day shooting with our Boston characters. I love these guys. Unlike the townie girl at the bar, they make me feel nostalgic for my hometown.
That night we say goodbye and it feels melancholy, like the last day of summer camp.

DAY EIGHT
We are in Newark, New jersey, the final stop of this whirlwind tour.
This shoot has concerned me for a while.
For some reason, I could never connect with these people over the phone. I’ve been hoping that will change when I spend time with them in person. Thankfully, it does.

DAY NINE
It’s the final shooting day. I’ve now moved to that phase beyond fatigue. Five hours of sleep suddenly feels like a luxury and I have no appetite until dinnertime.
In the morning I hit the gym and weigh myself. I’ve lost three pounds. Could I market a reality road trip diet plan?
The shoot goes well and as soon as our production manager calls out, ‘That’s a wrap!’ I feel a thousand pound weight drops from my shoulders.
We go back into the city and celebrate the end of the shoot.

DAY 10
I am supposed to meet a girl I went to college with for lunch. I rummage through my suitcase and find exactly one clean shirt and match it with a baseball hat and a pair of jeans I’ve already worn a few times. I haven’t seen this person in (mumble, mumble) years and she will either buy my story about this ten day trip or walk away thinking I’m homeless.
Maybe I’m trying to compensate for my dirty appearance, but I pick up the check and then leave the credit card at the restaurant. I don’t notice this until I try to check in for my flight but at this point I’m too ragged to care.
I get home and crawl back into my own bed. I slowly doze off, feeling good. Good, that the shoots went well. Good, that I’m lucky enough to tell stories for a living.

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Super 8

Friday, June 10, 2011

I grew up on Steven Spielberg.

Each of his movies is like a little time capsule. A memory from a different point in my life.

Close Encounters was one of the first films I ever saw in a theatre. I went with my friend Howie and his parents. The aliens seemed way cool and I remember riding home, listening to 8-tracks in his parents’ car.
I watched Raiders with a girl named Anne. We had just finished day camp, bought some smelly chinese food, and snuck it into the theatre. Chewing on spare ribs, I had a hard time concentrating. All I could think about was whether to put my arm around her. I never did.
I was getting into a surly faze by the time E.T. came out. I remember snickering as the girl in front of me sobbed throughout the movie.

The first hour of Super 8 plays like one of those old Spielberg movies.
J.J. Abrams directs the action in a grand, old fashioned style. Everything feels big, but not in that 2011, A.D.D. way. Instead, the camera sweeps in and out of cinematic locations, making everything feel larger than life.
The story is set in the late 70’s.
We’re introduced to four friends, representing all the archetypal Spielberg characters, making a movie on a Super 8 camera.
First, there’s the chubby kid. He’s the director of the movie who’s obsessed with the project and bosses everyone around. Wonder who that could be based on?
There’s the short kid, who defends himself by being a wiseass.
There’s the quiet kid.
And then there’s our protagonist, played by newcomer Joel Courtney.
In the powerful opening scene, we see him outside on a swing as friends and family pay their final respects to his mother, who died in a violent workplace accident.
We quickly learn that his father is incapable of warmth or compassion and if you don’t see what this is leading up to for the movie’s final scene, then you need to brush up on your Spielberg.

The action kicks off when the boys, shooting a scene at a train station, get thrown from the platform as a pickup truck drives straight into an oncoming caboose, setting off a fiery crash.
All this happens while the camera is rolling, and the film may provide clues to the mystery.
It’s an intriguing premise, but the story quickly unravels from there.
Unlike Lost, Abrams is determined to wrap up all the loose ends of this mystery and his answers are far from satisfactory. In fact, they’re downright silly.

Super 8 is a strange movie. I liked everything about it except for the story.
The atmospherics are great. The music, the wardrobe, the hairstyles all scream 1979. I should know. I have the grade school pictures to prove it.
The middle school love story between our protagonist and Dakota’s little sister, Elle Fanning, is effective.
A word about Elle. She’s the real deal. I was never a fan of her big sister. Dakota always came across to me as a 40 year old yenta trapped in an 8 year old’s body. But Elle performs with soul and depth and steals every scene from her young co-stars.

We’re in the middle of Hollywood’s silly season and if you’re determined to hit your local multiplex, you can do a lot worse than Super 8.
But ultimately, it’s only half a movie.
Great camera moves, an interesting premise, a nostalgic soundtrack, and a couple of really good performances in service of …. well, pretty much nothing.
J.J. Abrams’ story feels like Spielberg, but it’s not the real deal. It’s an exercise in style over substance. An empty shell, painted in pretty colors, but ultimately hollow to the core.

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