Latest 3 Things

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

3 Sequels Better Left Un-Made

As Hollywood (and our latest generation of young adults) becomes more and more bereft of creative ideas, we have been increasingly subjected to a parade of ill-considered and hastily executed sequels that no more capture the essence and soul of their storied predecessors than your karaoke version of Bon Jovi does. And yet, as slick trailers with stoic voiceovers continue to promise a transformative combination of reminiscence and artful revision, we continue to march into ever-more comfortable and over-priced theaters, only to be woefully disappointed yet again. Hollywood knows that the places that certain movies hold in our hearts is so unassailable that even the chance that we might be able to feel that way yet again - especially as we've grown older and further from the wonderment we were once capable of - will get that twenty bucks out of our wallet faster than the latest Bring It On sequel can get to DVD. But there are a precious few films which they have left alone. A small cadre of inviolate stories which even the promise of hundreds of millions of dollars cannot inspire the violation of their memories... or so we hope. So here it is Hollywood, I'll continue to suffer your prequels, sequels and remakes, so long as you promise to leave these scant survivors alone; 3 sequels that you'd best leave unmade:

1. Top Gun 2. The temptation to recreate the magic of this 1986 blockbuster must have been overwhelming. This testosterone-filled portrait of the fighter-pilot chic of the mid-80's is arguably the most quotable movie of all time. With more memorable one-liners than all the Die Hard movies combined, and more potential leading men than Oceans Eleven, Twelve and Thirteen, this movie was almost single-handedly responsible for the home movie rental shop explosion. The idea that you could bring the magic of this brash, loud and sexy romp home to your living room to relive whenever you'd like, was too tempting to be ignored. I recall many video club memberships were signed based on the promise that there would be a copy of Top Gun available guaranteed. But it can't be redone; it just can't. Since that time, Tom Cruise has gone couch-jumping crazy, Anthony Edwards has been the most recognizable television doctor since Alan Alda, Kelly McGillis took two marriages and twenty years to figure out something we all knew back then (that she was gay), and Val Kilmer has gained enough weight that I think he might be preparing for a mitosis. The military not only isn't cool anymore, it's downright pedestrian. These days, serving your country is something you only do if you fail to study hard, do your homework or make an effort to be smart... right John Kerry? It's not his fault, there are a nation of people who feel the same way. The idea that in 2010 you could walk into a beachfront bar in a uniform and pick up on attractive women is now laughable to the point of derision. What's more, no matter how bad the special effects were, how spectacularly inconsistent the cut scenes of flying and flight controls seemed, or how tactically ridiculous any of the combat exercises appeared, fixing any or all of that simply wouldn't make a better movie. In fact, it would probably make it worse. Modern casting directors would likely turn any revisiting into a fourth High School Musical, or worse - and replace the cheese-filled but genuine bravado with a neutered and facile masculinity written and edited by people who wouldn't know masculinity if it walked up and slapped them, and portrayed by young men whose only interest in it would be locating it in potential love interests. Top Gun is perhaps best treated by that immortal exchange between Maverick and Iceman - Top Gun was a good movie... still is a good movie... yeah, that's what I meant.

2. Star Wars: Episodes 7-9. Though I rage against it, it's inevitable that these movies will be made. Ever since we first realized that the original movie was "Episode IV" and that only one of a planned nine-part story, we've dreamed of what wonders the remaining and untold chapters might hold. Even the epic disaster and titanic disappointment of Episodes I-III haven't truly killed the curiosity that George Lucas planted in us as adolescents. But for the good of us all, they shouldn't be made. At this point, it seems a foregone conclusion that Lucas himself won't undertake this venture anyway, but the licensing fee he might command for the rights for someone else to do so might simply be too much to resist. At this point, it's hardly as though he has a franchise to worry about protecting. Even after the hyper-feminine and soulless slop that he giddily served up us to as a prequel to one of the greatest modern allegories ever, the Lucasfilm empire is still able to hock original Star Wars fare with little or no impairment. Is there any doubt that we'll all flock to the theaters, DVD and Blu-Ray aisles when they turn the original three movies into 3-D? But, as we learned with the abortive and ill-advised prequel episodes - just because there is a demand for something, doesn’t mean that it should be answered. One can only imagine what might result from the next attempt to amend this storied space opera, especially when this time it won’t be under the watchful and caring eye of its original creator. I think I’ve had quite enough of discovering the inane and dispassionate pasts of the iconic characters of my youth. I’m not sure I can take learning that they have even less interesting futures.

3. Ferris Bueller's Next Day Off. In fairness, I could have put any of the John Hughes “Brat Pack” films here. Because I no more want to see what the current generation thinks might happen on Ferris’ next malingered day of freedom, more than I want to see them tell me what they think might happen the next time the Breakfast Club gets a Saturday detention, or what hi-jinks and heartache Samantha’s seventeenth birthday might entail. But there is something ubiquitous about Ferris, something that escaped the simple zeitgeist-nature of the story, some gleeful and youthful innocence that we all seem able to share in with him, regardless of the generation from which we came. Even my parents could agree, Ferris should be inviolate. Because there is only one generation capable of producing a “Ferris” and it has long since grown up. There simply isn’t a need for a Ferris anymore. There is no more innocence to recapture, as the generations that have followed have sold their souls to the shameless self-promotion offered by MTV, MySpace, Facebook and YouTube. There is no use for icons when each young person truthfully believes themselves to be one. And what point is there to a “coming of age” story when we expect that our youngest generations have either done so long before their high school years, or will fail to do so at all? Schools no longer have a Ferris, and friends no longer have a Cameron. School administrators can hardly be relied upon to even feign an interest in attendance and discipline (lest they become the target of litigation, parental complaint or outright dismissal) let alone the caricatured determination of Mr. Rooney. The truth is, there are no comedies left in the stories of modern American high school - because there’s nothing funny about what’s happening there. As we watch year after year’s worth of children spiraling into self-absorbed and delusive comas of sloth, entitlement and utter-unimpressiveness - the wonderfully simple and exciting scenes of our own high school days seem as fantastic and impossible as the worlds of Avatar and Harry Potter, and the scenes of modern day schools as desolate and dramatic as any dystopian wasteland that could be imagined by Terminator franchises or Mad Max epics. The truth is, I’d be more surprised and bemused to find a modern day high school student having a single day on than anything else.

* * *

Film is not a commodity, no matter how hard they try to make it one. At its core, and despite the tremendous and awful business machinery built around it, film is still art and art cannot simply be supplied when there is a demand. I’m certain we’d all like to see a second Mona Lisa, a tenth Beethoven symphony, and just one more Frank Lloyd Wright house - but there is also some value in the wanting of these things. Stories, creations and careers come to an end, though our appetite never does. It is the scarcity of genius in art which makes it valuable, and that scarcity can neither be controlled or overcome. Artists will reach the end of their inspiration, ability or even time on this Earth, and that will be that. What painting was to Renaissance Europe, film is to twentieth and twenty-first century America. It is our art, our expression, and when we become as historic as the Europeans of that era, it will be how we are remembered. While only time will tell which bits and pieces of this media will ultimately become the masterpieces upon which we shall be judged, we ought to be careful to protect those few which we might fairly hope become those that do so. And so, dear Hollywood, in your relentless quest for dollars, spare those stories which simply cannot be made better by continuing to tell them - and see if these latest lost generations can begin to find their way by telling a few stories of their own.


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

3 Sports Hates

I can't take all of the credit for this idea. Though I engaged in this behavior for many years prior to the phrase being coined by the transcendentally talented sports writer Bill Simmons, it was still he who first inked a column about "Sports-Hate" (Running On Sports-Hate Empty, and yes, you should read it). But upon reading it, I finally felt validated. I had often felt the seething ire that I held deep down inside for certain sports teams, players and/or fans was anomalous. Everyone else seemed able to look at sports with a certain aplomb. They'd root and cheer when they won, perhaps even become petulant in defeat. But there was no hate, even against rivals. Sure they might say they hated a team, or a player - but if really pushed on it, it really turned out to be more of a strong dislike. They could separate the players as people from the team, or even the players as players apart from their true off-the-field persona. But not me. I hated with all the fervor of a centuries old jihad, the passion of a civil war, and the abandon of a revolution. And, as it turns out, I am not alone. Sure, there aren't a nation of us - but behind every few fans who tell you it's not that big of a deal - there is one who's fury burns with a white hot rage normally reserved for violent felons, ex-lovers and the perpetrators of genocide. And on behalf of these secret denizens of the sports landscape, I present my three sports-hates:

1. Laker Fans. It's a funny thing to have spent five years living in LA, and to not have become a Laker fan - especially when I didn't really have an NBA team of my own to supplant when I arrived there. But, a precious few weeks after first setting foot as a resident on the immortal Sunset Strip, as a function of good timing, good fortune, and healthy bit of serendipity, I was cast as a member of the Clippers Fan Patrol; the coed cheerleading team of the lowly Los Angeles Clippers, and my fate as a southern California basketball fan was forever altered. I was quickly adopted by the STAPLES faithful who forswore the purple and gold in favor of good old red, white and blue. Even as a freshly minted attorney working in Century City, I quickly found myself swept onto the earthy azure sea of the white collar-blue collar divide that seemed to separate Laker fans from their Clipper counterparts. In truth, we considered ourselves apologists for the other-than-Hollywood parts of our fair city, casting aspersions upon our building co-habitants as fame-whores, wanna-be's, and TMZ-fueled mouth breathers, who wouldn't know good basketball if it walked up and slapped them (though, unless they were 19 year old Colorado hotel employees, it was a fair bet that it wouldn't). And as I, personally, became more loathsome and aggrieved by the showbiz set, my hatred for Laker fans began exceed the level I had simply adopted from the Clipper crowds at-large. What's more, it far outpaced any animus I had for the team itself. I could see that despite their outsized swagger, the Lakers were a talented bunch. But their fans, who, apparently as a function of the inflated ticket prices, couldn't afford to wear up-to-date jerseys, were mindless, manner-less, and mouth-breathing caricatures of actual basketball fans. I don't root against the Lakers because I want those 12 players to lose, not do I support the wave of domestic violence it will doubtlessly cause. No, I root against them because their fans are the worst losers (throwing things on the court) and also the worst winners (i.e. rioting in the streets) the NBA has ever seen, and nothing makes me smile like seeing them trudge out of the arena like the collective fat kids that dropped their ice creams.

2. Yankees. For those of you who came along for last year's Tru Love ride, you'll remember that my Yankee hatred is not breaking news (For Hate of the Game). Alex Rodriguez is the most easily hate-able Major League ballplayer since Barry Bonds was testosteroning balls out of the ballpark, and the centerpiece of the Yankees roster. With one exception (their unflappable, unindictable and, ultimately, unhate-able team captain, Derek Jeter) they are a group of professional athletes who have utterly and completely bought into their own hype. They treat their pinstriped uniforms like superhero costumes and take the field with the air of returning war heroes - despite the fact that they are overpaid and overrated ballplayers, who have won far less than you might expect from looking. Watching a team this smug play our national pastime is akin to watching a teenager drive a cherry red, mint, '67 Corvette, and then bolting an exhaust pipe on it to make it sound "cooler". Meh. What's even worse is how regularly they trot out the great Yankees past - upon whose broad shoulders the current Yankees have built largely unearned fortunes, and who enjoy little if any of the massive wealth they made possible. It's clear that the smart folks up in the front office know full well that one replay of the Lou Gehrig "Luckiest Man" speech is worth vastly more than the untold hours of sound bytes, ill-considered commentary and self-aggrandizement that the current crop of pinstripers seems to exclusively produce. I don't hate the Yankees for what they are, but what they aren't and what they pretend to be. Aside from Mr. Jeter, these Yankees hardly qualify as a shadow of the great men that preceded them, and the fact that no amount of losing can convince of the same is even stronger testament to my point. No one (outside of NYC) loves a perennial front-runner that constantly whines about how tough it is being in first place.

3. Notre Dame. I have a special kind of hate for the Fighting Irish. Sure I've written about it (Irish Eyes Are Crying, The Reckoning), ranted about it, called into radio shows about it, and generally let anyone who dares to watch college football with me hear all about it - but I still feel as strongly about it as I did the day it started in 1995. On that day, on the Notre Dame campus to take the field as Bill the Goat, for the first and last time in my ten years in the Navy, I felt ashamed of my uniform. I have had a lot of emotions directed at me as a function of my service, but only once did I ever receive pity; only once was I ever made to feel like I was a lower class of citizen for being relegated to public school and fighting for freedom to earn my scholarship; only once did my gold N feel like a scarlet letter rather than a badge of courage. And I haven't ever, nor will I ever, forget it. It's somehow lost in all of its private school puffery that Notre Dame is in Indiana (and not, like in a "nice" part, either). It's quickly overlooked by sidewalk alumni that the vast majority of Notre Dame's athletes are neither Irish nor Catholic (though they do seem strangely predisposed towards fighting). They toss around "Blue and Gold" as though they were the first to put the two colors together, though not only did we have the colors first, we also wore them on football uniforms before they did (look it up). The last great quarterback this Quarterback U produced was Joe Montana and they have won only one bowl game since 1995 (the Hawaii Bowl in 2008 against, er, Hawaii), and yet their fans insist, every year, they're a favorite to win the National Championship. If there was ever a school that captured the blindly self-absorbed zeitgeist of the current generation of young adults, it is Notre Dame. I don't just want them to lose, I want them to all come down with season ending injuries simultaneously - yes, seriously. I want them embarrassed, driven from the field of play in shame, and laid low in front of their friends and loved ones. I take inexplicably tremendous joy in their defeat, and the two greatest sports moments of my life have been in 2007 and 2009, when we twice drove a nation of Irish fans to tears and lamentations by beating them on their own field (on back to back visits). They remain the only two times I have cried from simply watching a sporting event - and both times, with tears of joy.

* * *
The phrase "for love of the game" is commonly tossed around (and also used as the title of an otherwise-forgettable Kevin Costner love story disguised as a baseball movie) as a constant reminder of just how visceral our connection is with sports. Because while it's easy to say that they're "just games" - most of us know better. They're microcosms, morality plays and allegories. They are us at our best and at our worst. They are brief and bright opportunities for us to be our outsized and primal selves. Whether as players or fans, we often forget our polite selves, shed our political correctness, stand up and scream with a mindless fury that reminds us just how it is we got to the top of the food chain in the first place. But as much love as their is in sports, their is just as much brilliantly pure hate. It is precisely this volatile balance that makes these games the unavoidable spectacle that they are. And for every player or fan who feels of the "love" of the game, there are countless others who ride the fury and wonder of the hate it inspires to similar or even greater highs. Lest we forget that it is great evil that begets great good, and animus which inspires amity. So like so many others, for the sake of love, the thing I love most about sports, is all the things it gives me to hate.

Monday, May 10, 2010

3 Bad Sayings

There are a lot of good sayings out there; bits of common knowledge passed down from the ages that get coined into catchy phrases, rules of thumb and the morals of stories. We've heard most of them so often that they've become part of our popular lexicon, and we learned them young enough that they're an assumed part of own ideologies. And in fairness, the majority of them are simple truths that we've each seen proven to be true over and over again. Most things don't stand the test of time with a universally applicable truth to them. Most. Because there are a few of these sayings which are not only a little off, but completely wrong. I suspect that at some point they become so ubiquitous that someone suggesting that they might be the slightest bit off is immediately dismissed - but nevertheless, I'm still here to point out 3 Old Sayings That Are Completely Off:

1. It Takes Two To Tango. Technically this is only correct if you add the following caveat: "..if you don't want to look like some loser ballroom dancing alone." But let's be honest, you've seen plenty of people dancing by themselves when most everyone else is paired up. And that's just fine - who are you to tell folks what constitutes dancing or not? Hell, outside of the Electric Slide and shaking your butt, you can't dance even with someone else holding your hands.

What's more, this is the sort of idealized blame-sharing that our latest generations have used to treat sole culpability for anything like an absolute impossibility. I expect this really has its most applicability for moral violations that involve romantic missteps - inasmuch as dishonest trysts require (at least) two complicit individuals, but even then there are plenty of cases where some horrible person was deceiving everyone else involved and really is solely to blame. In a world where taking responsibility has become the rarest of personal integrity plays, it doesn't make much sense to begin every inquiry of wrongdoing with an immediate search for someone else to blame. Sometimes people are evil enough to put a "tango" together all on their own.

2. Slow and Steady Wins the Race. The idea that "pacing" one's self is always a sound strategy for winning is precisely the kind of universal advice that has generated an entire nation of obese children, and a generation of young adults who believe that the right to "relax and take it easy" is actually somewhere in the first ten Amendments to the Constitution. In real life, the fat kid walking around the track does not beat the runner who sprints it. In real life, sprinting ahead as fast as you can will afford you plenty of opportunity to stop and catch your breath when you really need to, and still end up way ahead of that tub-of-lard who can't be bothered to break a sweat - else he might put himself into coronary distress. We constantly see examples of superhuman dedication and work ethic - and how it leads to tremendous success. Of course, we don't hear as often of those who put in that kind of effort and don't make it - because they're there too. But that notwithstanding, one thing is for absolutely certain, taking it easy has never made a winner of anything out of anyone.

3. Don't Judge A Book By Its Cover. Honestly, this may be the dumbest of dumb sayings. How else are you supposed to pick a book? Wait for a friend to recommend it? What's more, when a book chooses its own cover, that's precisely how you should judge it. The notion that everyone one you see could possibly be a good person "on the inside" is the kind of naivety that con artists and thieves depend on for a living. If this sort of Kumbaya nonsense was native to any other species, Natural Selection would have long-since rendered it extinct. In the rest of the animal kingdom if something looks dangerous, costly or otherwise difficult - it's treated accordingly. That's why skunks stink, snakes hiss and porcupines are pointy. Can you imagine what might happen to a possible predator that wanted to give skunks, snakes and porcupines the benefit of the doubt and just go ahead and try to grab them anyways? The reality is that if you don't judge a book by it's cover, you're going to end up with a very unfortunate book collection. But hey, at least you're a good person, right?

* * *

For every bad saying there are dozens more that you should pay attention to, and plenty which I try and live by every day. The wisdom of the ages shouldn't be lost on us simply because it hasn't all withstood the test of time. After all, the golden rule is still golden, you still reap what you sow, and in the end, the love you get is equal to the love you give (hey, it doesn't all have to be that old). The real value of old lessons comes in our ability to test them against all that is new in the world - and we shouldn't be surprised to find that, in this process, a few of them (even the most tested, storied, and seemingly inviolate) ultimately become no more useful than the prevalent technology (or undergarments for that matter) from that same era. To turn a blind eye to this "natural selection" of idioms makes you the intellectual equivalent of someone using carrier pigeons and wearing a codpiece, or at least a Zach Morris phone and abercrombie boxers. Wake up and smell the 2010, folks. You'll find that with sayings, much like phones and underpants, older doesn't always mean better, and a little "new" can really change your outlook on life.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

3 Bad Suggestions

The world is full of bad advice. No matter where you live, or when you lived, there have always been hosts of people willing to peddle you their suggestions, recommendations and pitches. For the most part, unsolicited advice is usually bad, though not always ill-intended. In fact, most advice that is offered to us is meant to be helpful. It is quintessentially human to try and help other learn from our experiences - especially when we learn their experiences are much like our own. Up until recently, however, this entire process of finding out about someone and/or what they're going through, applying to your own knowledge/experience and coming up with advice/suggestions/etc. was something only accomplished by humans. With the advent of "smarter" technologies, however, algorithms have been developed that scour through the data trails we leave behind to provide us automated advice and computer-generated personal suggestions for everything from spelling to shopping. Between these suggestion machines and good, old-fashioned hard selling, advice is worse now than it's ever been - here are the 3 worst suggestions I'm getting:

1. A Good You-Google-izer. Google revolutionized the way the internet services are paid for. By making the vast majority of its technologies free to the end user, and providing businesses tools to access those users is a targeted fashion at a premium price, Google generated the dominant model for web-portal success. As they have grown, they have integrated this technology into nearly every facet of internet life - most successfully, perhaps, into e-mail - with my beloved Gmail. Gmail changed the way I looked at e-mail. Made it easier to use, and useful as a life archive of sorts, where you would never need to delete old e-mail. Instead you'd simply put it away into a search-able library - there to remain forever more. Though it was completely free, I paid for this new luxury by suffering a few targeted advertisements in mostly unobtrusive places. But, what made these ads unavoidable was not how well they had picked out what to peddle to me, but rather how poorly. For example, the following items have been hocked to me by my Gmail account: cut rate mammograms, vegetarian cookbooks, Botox training courses, and discount flights to Haiti. More than the inanity of these ideas, these ads make me wonder just what the hell is in my e-mail to make it seem like I might actually buy any of them. For all its global power and forward thinking, the world's most advanced search engine has looked through over six years of my correspondence and determined that I'm a health-obsessed middle-aged woman who may be a fugitive from the law. No wonder Facebook is kicking their ass.

2. Checking Ahead. I remember when I first saw the iPhone keyboard on its screen and thinking to myself, "Wow, that's going to be hard to type on" - and to be certain, it was. But thankfully, Apple worked with Google (see item 1, above) to help and develop an "intelligent" spell checker that would work in real-time as you typed on their tiny on-screen keyboard to determine what you meant as opposed to what your fat, clumsy fingers actually wrote. It accomplishes this by using (a) an existing dictionary, (b) the names in your Contacts list, and (c) the words you type and "teach it" as you use the keyboard. For the most part, it's an extraordinarily useful too. However, through some combination of the aforementioned sources, it has learned to generate some very interesting spelling "suggestions": i.e. every time I try to type "silly"; my iPhone recommends "silky" - trust me, this can make an otherwise innocuous e-mail very creepy (who even says "silky" anymore?); any time I do actually try to use a little foul language, my phone seems bent on Disney-fying my diatribe - it's hard to be taken seriously when your messages are punctuated with "duck", "shot" and "motorscooters"; and if capitalize anything it assumes that it's a proper noun and leaves it be - which is making the fact that I still can't reliably spell "Wednesday" a major source of embarrassment. But to its credit, this spell checker does know the word "y'all" - which makes me wonder just how California these Google and Apple folks are, after all.

3. I've Never Liked To Try. There was a time when the only gainful employment available to me was in fast food. As a teenager, I needed a job (a prerequisite for the car I so desperately desired), and I was neither attractive, charismatic or well-connected enough to land something posh. So, rather than try and fight the inevitable, I put in an application and received employment at the local McDonald's. As a result, I was introduced to the "giving" side of the "suggestive sell" long before I ever received it. So, I knew that being greeted with a prospective purchase was a corporate ploy to get something out the door that we had too much of, or that wasn't selling well, and consequently, have never purchased something so suggested to me. In fact, if the item I was looking to consume was suggested to me, I would actually avoid buying it and get something else. I've never even known anyone who has gone to a fast food restaurant, and decided to purchase an item that was suggested to them by their "server". But apparently this technique is effective enough to have remained in place over the past twenty years (at least). I expect that if you're weakly constituted enough to regularly consume fast food - you might be the sort of person that would decide that in addition to the gut rot you're purchasing, that you'd also like the fat and terribleness that has been recommended by the fast food expert now facing you. But take it from an "inside man" - this is one suggestion you should never take.

* * *
These days, I find myself giving more advice than I receive; which is startling because as a newly minted member of the 35-49 demographic, I've got a whole new group of people who are dying to give me their professional opinion (real estate agents, stock brokers, life insurance agents, etc.). But nevertheless, I have more people in my charge than ever before, and for the past five years, a license which leads them to believe that my advice actually carries some weight/expertise with it. It's a heady thing to give advice - especially when you know it will be heeded. Which makes the current trend of either ill-considered, profit-motivated, or computer-generated advice all the more surprising. For my part, I'll stick with the old school version, both with the advice I give, and the advice I take. It may not be any safer, but at least it has less calories.