Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Bob and Harvey Bet Big on Their Golden Boy

Bob and Harvey Weinstein have some ground to cover if they want to regain their 1990s golden touch; a run of films that brought in 249 Academy Award noms, 13 best picture noms and 3 Oscars for best picture. For their next big bet, they brought in their Golden Boy: Quentin Tarantino.

According to a New York Times article from August 15, the Weinstein boys have stretched themselves too thin among other ventures including fashion, TV and social networking websites. Somewhere along the line, the Hollywood wonder brothers forgot about what they do best, filmmaking.

With the opening weekend of “the new film by Quentin Tarantino,” The Weinstein Company saw an above-estimates $37.6 million take at the domestic box office with another $27.1 million abroad. The PR/marketing blitzkrieg leading up to the August 21st release certainly helped amp up anticipation, not to mention the hype over torture-horror prince, Eli Roth’s, supporting role, and of course Brad Pitt bringing back the goatee.

Is this the pure genius of Harvey and Bob orchestrating a comeback from the man who gave the world “Pulp Fiction”? Or are they riding on the coattails of a director who speaks to the generation of today’s 20 and 30-somethings?

All of the ingredients are in place. Brad Pitt as the lead. A World War II revenge story. The Jews taking names and scalping Nazis. And of course all of this in a time when fans drool for the Tarantino who gave us “Reservoir Dogs”. I can’t count “Death Proof;” “Grindhouse” was made for two people. Tarantino made “Death Proof” for Robert Rodriguez and Rodriguez made “Planet Terror” for Tarantino.

At the midnight showing of “Inglourious Basterds,” the theater at Sunset Place in Miami was packed with Tarantino lovers. With cheers as soon as the titles hit the screen and when the titles ended the film, this movie was about getting our Tarantino fix for the next 3-5 years. Though critics have been mixed, love it or hate it, the fans came out to support and the fans are who Bob and Harvey care most about (they pay the bills).

In “Inglourious Basterds,” instead of the gratuitous death count in “Kill Bill,” Tarantino opts for a small amount of violent, graphic kills. We knew this was coming from the trailer but had no idea how much we would squirm. Tarantino roles out his predictable story in a no-frills linear fashion without the joy of uncovering characters, interconnecting relationships and multiple story lines as in his previous efforts. He had his fun title fonts and contrasting music. He had his doses of comedy with violent absurdity.

This Tarantino film was like Tarantino on auto-pilot; Tarantino without soul. Depth to the characters was lacking and for a film about the “Basterds,” there could have been more time with them on the hunt. Regardless, Tarantino didn’t keep me guessing. Where was the moment when Butch Coolidge runs into Marselius Wallace on the street in “Pulp Fiction”?

“Inglourious Basterds” will give The Weinstein Company the boost they needed. We saw this coming. And after this film’s run at the box office, fans will agree that Tarantino still has “it”. The real question is whether Bob and Harvey Weinstein still have “it”. And they do, as long as you consider “it” to be Quentin Tarantino.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

I'm back

After nearly a year long hiatus, it is time to get back to writing. I'm feeling good about what's to come. I got commentary coming on movies, politics, social issues, personal annoyances. Keep coming back.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Monday, September 22, 2008

A Sein of Change

Barack Obama is not a Muslim, and as George Costanza and Jerry Seinfeld would say, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

There’s a general misconception–a 10-12% misconception to be specific–among registered American voters that Barack Obama is a Muslim despite factual evidence from the media, interviews,, and not to mention from Barack Obama himself, that he is not and never has been. Still, some people need convincing.

Obama, a Christian, was born to a Muslim-turned-atheist Kenyan father and a Christian-turned-secular mother from Kansas. His parents divorced when he was two. He lived in Indonesia from 1967-1971 where he attended both a Muslim and a Christian school. The media as well as the Obama campaign have debunked claims that the Muslim school was a “madrassa” or radical Muslim fundamentalist place of learning.

Raised in a secular home by his mother and stepfather, he was attracted to Christianity by the Trinity United Church of Christ by his own accord in the ‘80s.

As we know in this post-September 11th heightened state of fear, any possible connection to the Islamic faith often immediately labels one with the scarlet letter of “M” for Muslim. More than a few of the good people of America have presumed a couple of bad apples equate the entire law abiding Islamic faith to radical extremists.

Given this country’s xenophobia and worsened foreign relations, under the current presidential administration, this type of malevolent misconception will turn a percentage of voters over to the other presidential ticket out of fear. In a tight race according to the current polls–worth as much as TV clairvoyant Ms. Cleo’s predictions–Obama cannot afford to lose any votes over religion.

When there are more important issues facing our country, religion should not be the number one concern for any voter. It appears that tolerance and compassion have been left along the wayside for these religious citizens who are supposed to follow the philosophy of “love thy neighbor.”

Disregarding the spin put out by those who alter the truth to win, who will lead our country in the opposite direction from where we are headed? The concerns of Iraq, Afghanistan, global warming, the economy, gay rights, housing foreclosures, job layoffs, and the rest of our country’s laundry list of real woes have become tired and mundane. Changing the focus from the real issues to the insignificant ones brings more negative attention to the Obama-Muslim smear campaign and less to the new McCain/Palin Variety Show.

It is so difficult to convince those who refuse to open their minds and heart and listen. Straight from the man himself, Obama has set the record straight about his faith multiple times in what appears to be a man correcting the false claims about his childhood and background, not a man distancing himself from a religion on some citizens place on Uncle Sam’s unpopular list.

Regarding personal issues between the two presidential campaigns, Obama has publicly established himself as sticking to the many troubling issues facing our country not the distracting issues or Sarah Palin’s daughter. You may never change the minds of some people, so how do you get the 10-12% of voters living under a veil of false illusion of religious differences to begin putting the issues of true concern at the forefront?

Like the Obama campaign, one has to hope for change when voters journey to the polls. Come November 4, hopefully Americans will put aside their religious prejudices and select the candidate qualified to lead America into a new decade.

Whether Obama or McCain takes the presidency for the next four years, let us at least hope that their administrations will guide this country toward more compassion and acceptance and less division. The religion of the candidate should not be an issue, and if a qualified candidate was a Muslim, the founders did not think there was any thing wrong with it.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

The Real World of Social Networking

As little as ten years ago, it seemed average teenagers matured into adults after earning a college degree and entering the “real” world.

Entering the “real” world today, for that same teenager, now appears to be one-click away at LinkedIn, the online networking site that “strengthens and extends your existing network of trusted contacts.”

Plaxo is another online site “meant to be a better way for you to stay in touch with the people you actually know and care about — your family, your real-world friends, and the people you know from business.”

And let’s not forget that professes itself as “a premier social-networking destination” that “helps people keep in touch with their friends and make new ones” through “a fun media experience.” Tagged has 70+ million registered users, but the competitor, Hi5, has 80+ million registered members and is “one of the world’s largest social networks and a top 20 website globally.”

MySpace. Facebook. They are still around too.

Recently, my Gmail inbox has been flooded with requests to become a “contact” or “friend” or “linked-in” with friends, old classmates, business associates, and family. As my luck would have it, each person is on a different social networking site that basically provides the same online service with minor differences. Staying in touch now requires five online accounts and time spent updating profiles.

This world of online friendship is familiar territory for teen, young adults, and college co-eds. And now adults of all professions, who once dared not swim in these unchartered Internet waters, are starting to flood the online friend zones.

A couple of months ago, it seemed foreign for a person I met at a business meeting to request to connect via a networking site. An occasional social network user since 2004, I have come to equate social networking sites to areas where countless hours are wasted browsing the profiles and sometimes-scandalous pictures of friends and people you wanted as friends.

Despite my association of online networks as a breeding ground for publicly visible Internet debauchery, I have slowly begun to ease into the idea that the lawyer I met at a networking event for my film making endeavors is now my social network buddy.

Are these same adults with successful business careers updating their profiles and tracking their friends at three in the morning before going to bed?

I ran into a business associate at a South Beach event that lasted past one in the morning. We both left around the same time, and I returned home around two to go to bed but not before a little Facebook nightcap. To my surprise, that business associate had already updated their Facebook status twenty minutes earlier alerting the online world of their upcoming day.

I will contend that as more adults and business contacts create Facebook accounts and artists and entertainers create MySpace pages, it appears these online social networking sites are becoming “professionalized” and accepted for all.

So whether you decide to get “LinkedIn,” “Tagged,” or “poked” on Facebook, these sites provide a means of staying connected with people and a way to indulge your inner voyeur. And now that college students are not the only ones scanning profiles, our elders can indulge in the pleasures that come with creating an enticing profile and finding that person you have not spoken with since the summer of 6th grade.

A guilty pleasure? A revolutionary communication tool? Whatever you use it as, it seems having at least one social network account is a must to keep us all interconnected and entertained.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

And So the Gas Goes...

I stared at my car’s gas meter, the needle hovering in the last quarter ready to engage the “low gas” light at any moment. The closest Exxon-Mobil had regular gas at $4.09 a gallon, but I had seen gas as low as $3.99 in some parts of Miami, just not in Coral Gables where I was.

After my Blackjack PDA’s Internet failed me while browsing websites for cheap gas in the area, I took matters into my own hands, driving along US-1 hoping for a deal. The possibility of saving five to seven cents at the pump overcame my thought of wasting additional gas. After passing three stations in a span of a couple miles, I was forced to turn around as the “cheap stuff” was at the original Exxon-Mobil.

A recent graduate of the University of Miami paying some bills with freelance film and video work, I, like many Americans, have become “fuel efficient”. The metrorail and metromover have quickly become my preferred method of transportation for frequent trips from South Miami to Brickell and downtown and Omni areas.

What was once solely used for trips to the Orange Bowl during my days as a UM undergraduate now is an economic solution for not only myself but also several friends; not to mention a perfect way to avoid Miami rush hour.

With constant talk of paying around $80 at the pump, I realized I was not alone with my gas conscious obsession. Friends working in the Brickell and downtown areas have opted for the metrorail in place of their fuel unfriendly cars.

Suddenly, I was envious of my friend’s Toyota Prius, and it seems my generation is as well. The June 29th New York Times article, “As Gas Prices Rise, Teenagers’ Cruising Declines,” detailed a growing trend for both high school and college-aged drivers to find new commuting solutions and to make smarter decisions when it comes to everyday activities.

This nationwide concern has trickled down to the generally apathetic, young-adult generation who now appear to be taking a proactive stance. Whether parents are forcing their children to be gas conscious or the teens and twenty-somethings are maturing, the gas crisis is hitting the pockets of all Americans.

This consciousness is becoming an obsession, hopefully a good obsession. With movie ticket prices around $10, a Friday night at the movies is better spent at home exploiting your Netflix subscription.

Eating out has lost its appeal as well. Eating on a limited budget, spending an average of $20 for a decent meal, plus the gas it takes to get to the restaurant, does not help keep money in your pocket. My roommates and I now opt for the healthier and more financially conservative option of cooking at home.

And so it has come down to cutting back on some of the luxuries the young adults of my generation have grown accustomed to and settling for less costly options. If there was something besides turning 30 that could crush the “I just wanna party” attitude of young adults, it would be a downturn in the economy fueled by the rising oil prices.

My day ends a little easier knowing that I share a similar economic sentiment with my peers as well as my elders. My generation is transitioning into working-class adulthood. The realities we only thought our parents faced now become our problems. With both young adults and the older generations becoming greener and more financially frugal, perhaps change is on the horizon.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Big Ross and Me

With the deaths of Tim Russert and George Carlin, the nation is now without two people to hold us accountable for our national actions and decisions.

NBC and HBO have a little less spring to their lineup. But beyond how George Carlin transformed our public vernacular with “Seven Words You Can Never Say on TV” and how Tim Russert was in many respects, NBC News, these two men bridged a gap between a generation of fathers and sons. Fathers saw the emergence of each one’s career and their sons became fans by following in the footsteps of their dear ‘ol dad.

My father, Ross, an avid news and politics buff, reserved Sunday mornings for his news shows, including “Meet the Press.” At the insistence of trying to educate me on current events, he always encouraged his children to watch or listen with at least one ear. In a household where even the most minor of disagreements with political analysts or news anchors often meant tuning out, it was my father’s unwavering respect for Russert’s objectivity that told me this was a man worth listening to.

Passages from his book, Big Russ and Me, were recited in the car, at dinner, while doing my homework; wherever my father found himself to be reading it. Even though my father was reading from Russert’s book, it was clear he could have easily been reading from a passage in our own book, “Big Ross and Me,” and my father was proud of that.

In middle school, I asked my father to recommend a book to read from his impressive collection. With my budding comedy obsession, he gave me George Carlin’s first book, Brain Droppings, realizing I was old enough for this introduction. Something about his exploitive-laced rants made him more appealing than old Abbot and Costello shorts from the ‘50s that started my comedy foundation.

The natural progression from Carlin’s books was his live albums. My mother did not approve of these “parental advisory” CDs. My father ended this short disagreement by telling her, “It’s George Carlin, modern philosophy.” My father’s insistence on allowing George Carlin to expose the idiosyncrasies of our culture meant Carlin came with my father’s approval.

The appeal of Carlin and Russert to a wide range of ages and multiple generations strengthened the bond between fathers and sons, sons and grandsons; it was an opportunity to reach a common ground, to sit and enjoy something together, to create conversation.

Among the many people, movies, music, and books my younger self ignored for being “old or boring,” Carlin and Russert were never part of the recommendations I brushed off. And at their deaths, my father and I had little to say but how sad it was and how much our collective consciousness has lost.

This is a generation of men who transcended their respective generations; men who brought together a nation under comedy and political news. On the day of Russert’s death, his entire network was brought to tears as Tom Brokaw and Andrea Mitchell anchored with heavy knot in their throats.

Without my father, I would not have felt the loss of Russert and laughed with the rest of the country as we watched the endless amount of Carlin retrospective clips. Russert guided his viewers with the strong parent and child relationship that was instilled in him; he was the father carrying us through the complicated and often turbulent political landscape.

And George Carlin was right there to inform us that we are all diseased (see his 1998 HBO special). In a country so intent on sensitivity and political correctness, Carlin, in his affirmative raspy voice, was there to slap us back into reality and tell us we all die and do not simply “pass away.”

Russert was a voice of reliability and credibility, one that goes a long way in news. His son, Luke, is 22 like myself. Luke and I both graduated from ACC conference colleges in May; Luke from my University of Miami rival, Boston College. Our fathers and mothers both shared in this proud moment.

I If I am privileged to one day have a son, he will know of Carlin and Russert from the history of our nation and will hopefully share in the joy and knowledge that these men brought me.

My father and I will always share the memories of Russert and Carlin unfolding before our eyes. George Carlin and Tim Russert made us watch and pay attention. They made us listen. They transcended their own generation.

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