Monday, June 30, 2008

A hit, and a...

Oops. But they're allowed.

Amazon has been at the forefront of one-to-one marketing since the beginning of time, or at least since Al Gore invented the internet. Way back in the dark ages, when I think we still had to call up and give our credit card number over the phone (!), Amazon opened as (self-described) "Earth's Biggest Bookstore."

You know me - I never met a bookstore I didn't like - how could I resist that? I not only ordered a book from them, I also signed up for their "Eyes" service, which, as described in their 1997 SEC filing:

allow[ed] customers to specify an author, title or subject area and receive notice automatically when a new book is published that matches their criteria.

Sounds simple now, doesn't it? Ridiculously amateurish, almost. Almost. Back then, though - let me tell you, one small step for Bezos, one giant step for mankind. There wasn't anything like it - if your favorite author came out with a new book, no one was going to tell you - let alone if another author like your favorite author came out with a new book. Well, Amazon was going to tell you. Amazing.

We got used to that pretty darn quick - and one-to-one e-marketing became rapidly and significantly more sophisticated. You may not even think twice about the little lists you see as you shop online - "Customers who looked at this item also looked at... " or "Customers who bought this also bought these..." It's a whole lot of brain-power spinning somewhere trying to wring every last penny out of you - I mean make your shopping experience as fulfilling as possible.

Every now and then, though, those automated marketing algorithms throw out a suggestion that makes you remember that HAL is just IBM shifted one letter backward in the alphabet and Dave is actually human and still has the advantage (if only by a hair).

Such as... this morning in my inbox, I received an email from Amazon with "recommended add-ons for" the neoprene iPod nano armband I recently purchased. Want to guess the top recommended accessory? I'll give you a minute. Yup, you got it. An iPod nano. Ya think?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Fat Michael by any other name

Is... Cavendish?

It is if you're a banana. A sick banana, that is.

My dad sent me an interesting Op-Ed from the New York Times, by Dan Koeppel, author of Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World - which points out that the banana we eat today is not the banana my dad ate when he was a kid. Something rather all the more fascinating to me as my friend (and erstwhile roommate) had made this very same point to me not that long ago. What are the odds?

According to Koeppel, 100 years ago the popular banana was a varietal called the "Gros Michel," and it was, by all accounts, tastier, sturdier and larger than the one, the "Cavendish," that we consume today. And this is not the past as seen through those "good ol' days" lenses - this was the estimation of the banana cartel itself, when faced with the prospect of its dying mainstay.

Caught in a mess of its own making (go figure) as the Gros Michel succumbed to a blight (the Panama disease) that had started killing the bananas in the early 1900s, and that, by the 1960s, ultimately rendered the tastier and larger fruit nothing but a sweet memory, the banana industry needed to find a new variety that could withstand the blight. The hardier Cavendish, immune to the Panama disease, was the winning entry.

Well, lo and behold, what goes around comes around, and the Panama disease is back today, bigger and nastier than before, and the Cavendish this time is not immune. The efficiencies and economies of scale engineered way back when to secure the financial success of the banana republics are now backfiring.

Dependent as we are on a single variety of banana to provide us cheap bananas, sadly, when one gets sick, they all get sick. Yes, we have no bananas. Ruh roh.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Who says Mike Meyers isn't making us laugh?

Albeit, he ain't making us laugh at the movie theater - but why be picky? A laugh's a laugh, no matter how small (Dr. Seuss, on the other hand - now he's always good for a laugh, or at least an honest chuckle).

Love Guru, MM's latest, has pulled an unbelievable but true 16(!) on Rotten Tomatoes. Which is rather surprisingly high, given the reviews.

If you need a laugh - or just want to feel a bit better about yourself - read a few... some of my faves (oh, and here are some more - and even more, on the HuffPost, no less):

At 88 minutes, The Love Guru would have benefited from a trim of roughly 80 minutes. -- Kyle Smith (New York Post)

...downright anti-funny, an experience that makes you wonder if you will ever laugh again. -- A.O. Scott (New York Times)

Compared to "The Love Guru," "Get Smart" is "Citizen Kane." -- Joe Morgenstern (Wall Street Journal)

With the sad dearth of summer movies, at least the movie critics are entertaining us. Thank goodness for small favors.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

In this case, the sequel to the sequel is a good thing

Have you downloaded the new Firefox? Firefox 3.0? Not, by the way, Firefoxier, or The Return of Firefox, or Firefox: The Last Browser. Just Firefox 3.0, speaking for itself.

Anyway, it's pretty darn nifty. And, like Barbie, it comes with some awesome accessories - I mean add-ons.

If you're a Gmailer, you've got to install the Better Gmail 2 add-on immediately - it tiers your labels, highlights your messages, customizes your signatures, and just makes things better (hint: after you install it, to manage it, go to the Tools menu in Firefox, it should show up just above Options). If you're a multi-Gmailer (I confess), you absolutely, positively need to install Gmail Manager, which puts a groovy button in the lower right corner of your browser showing ALL your gmail accounts, including domain hosted accounts, where you can easily switch back and forth, see new message snippets - all without logging out and in, in and out. How happy am I?

Then there's this image/video thing called PicLens that somehow makes me feel like my PC is a Mac - don't ask me how, because I haven't the faintest. That's not its intent by the way - its intent is some truly fantastic way to browse and look at images and videos, but as I was browsing and watching, I all of a sudden felt like the cool Mac guy and not the poor PC dweeb on those commercials. Sigh. And if you happen to already have a Mac, I think it might explode from sheer bliss.

Oh, and to make sure you don't forget to do all this? Install Remember the Milk - a task manager that shows up in your gmail window (and/or on your G-calendar). You can categorize, organize, date, complete, postpone tasks - if you have a blackberry, for $25/yr, you can sync to your task list on your phone. How cool is that?

Stay tuned - I'll share more goodies as I find them. I'm nice that way.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Too many goodbyes...

Seems as though a lot of people don't remember that it was Cyd Charisse (who died in Los Angeles yesterday) in this number in Singin' in the Rain.

I remember it so clearly as the first time I saw those legs. Check them out... even Gene Kelly can't pick his jaw up off the floor.

There was more to the sequence after this - a whole flowy ballet thing that as a little girl I found sort of boring - but I was absolutely spellbound by this part, Cyd in her emerald green dress and shoes, dancing circles around Gene Kelly. Seriously. Circles.

Turns out, that scene was her big break - the movies we know her from (Silk Stockings, Brigadoon, The Band Wagon) all came after that - but for me, it's all about that green dress - and those legs. And of course, that flipping gold coin.

Don't believe me? Watch for yourself:

There's a video. Don't miss it - click here!

And here's another one:

Don't miss it - click here!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A little school pride

So it turns out that one of my high school classmates won a Tony the other night and also a nod from the LA Times for best Tony moment:

Here's what gets my vote: when Lin-Manuel Miranda accepted the Tony for best musical score for "In the Heights," rapping madly with joy. Backstage, he revealed to us that he'd made up most of it as he went along. If true, this chap is a Broadway genius, as proved when he sang to the composer of "Sunday in the Park with George" in the audience: "Mr. Sondheim, I made a hat . . . where there never was a hat . . . . and it's a Latin hat at that!"...
By doing a rap riff on that "Sunday" scene in his own acceptance speech for "Heights," Miranda was more than just paying homage to a master. Miranda was showing us that he has the potential to be the next Sondheim — and the Latin one at that. It was a bravura, bone-chilling moment and, it turns out, that much of it may have been impromptu at that. Which makes it all the more impressive still.

I'd like to point out that Mr. Sondheim, who has won a record five Best Musical Tonys and who received an honorary Tony that night, attended my college - so, you know... double pride-whammy for moi. By proximity. Or something.

Can't say you didn't see that one coming

So, the hot story on the campaign trail - at least the only campaign trail I'm watching - is the slimming of the Hillster's chances to grab that second seat. Okay, maybe slimming is not quite the right word choice - fizzling? Vanishing? Going down the drain? Going up in smoke?

Jason Horowitz, of The New York Observer, wrote this yesterday:

A former bundler to Hillary Clinton just called in to tell me that Barack Obama's selection of Patti Solis Doyle as chief of staff to the campaign's eventual vice presidential nominee is the "biggest fuck you I have ever seen in politics."

It's not like politics is known for keeping the gloves on as it is. So that's saying something.

Can't say I'm surprised. A team player she has not shown herself to be this year - smart, yes. Determined, sure. Indefatigable, tenacious, stubborn and mule-headed, no doubt. But realistic, supportive, cooperative, self-effacing? Um, no. Not so much. Guess where that lands you, Hill?

(Remember the "if Hillary were a movie character" game? How about this one: the Wicked Witch of the East, crushed under a house (a white house, in fact, if I remember correctly). Ding, dong... well, you know the rest.)

Monday, June 16, 2008

Did you see that?

It's true.

I confess.

For a long time I thought the only thing less exciting than watching golf was doing laundry. And that's saying something.


Let me tell you - I was wrong. W-R-O-N-G. Wrong. The US Open this weekend at Torrey Pines was riveting. My first inkling came in the form of a text from a friend - "Tiger had one of the most exciting rounds of golf ever. People were going nuts... he was down 5 strokes with 6 holes to play. Two eagles and a birdie later, he is one ahead going into the final round."

I managed to catch most of the final round - holy cow, that was still some drama. If you'd written it, they would've tossed it back to you and said, "no way, too melodramatic, tone it down."

Rocco Mediate, 45 years old, ranked 158th, qualifies to play in the US Open only after winning a sudden death play-off. Four rounds of golf later, he's in the lead. There's just one player, one shot, between him and the championship. But the player is Tiger Woods, 32 years old, ranked 1st in the world (for a record 500 weeks). And the shot? Just a birdie on the 18th hole. Which Tiger makes. Of course he does.

And the playoff round is on. 18 more holes. Rocco is ahead by one going into the 18th, where Tiger has a chance to eagle the hole and win, but he misses. Then Rocco has a chance to birdie the hole and win, and he misses. And, ba da bing, the playoff round is tied too.

Now they're on to sudden death. (See what I mean? If I handed you this screenplay, you'd think it was absurd.)

Oh, you want to know what happens? Tiger wins the championship - but (though I'm sure not for him) it seems almost beside the point. ''This is probably the greatest tournament I've ever had,'' said Tiger.

It certainly was some of the greatest drama I've ever watched. There's a reason they say it's the journey that counts, not the destination... It may have been golf, but that seems beside the point too.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

No coffee, video?

Since April, Starbucks has been offering a "pick of the week" - music and music videos available free on iTunes - to its customers. Well, to anyone who walks in and takes a "pick of the week" card, actually.

But, as per Starbucks' habit of coming up with nifty promotions and then not actually promoting them (which brings a whole new perspective to the concept of consumer marketing), no one really seems to know about it.

I had this conversation last week with one of the baristas when I asked if my venti iced coffee would be the same price as a grande if I bought it with my Starbucks card.

The cashier looked at me like I had two, maybe three, heads. I didn't make this promo up, mind you - I read it somewhere, and in a Starbucks too. Off he scuttled to find someone else to take care of my clearly outrageous request.

It turns out the promotion I read was for frappucinos only - but the manager (yes, this question required a manager) quite nicely offered to honor the promotion even on my lowly iced coffee. The conversation we had was even more interesting... no matter how hard he tries, he cannot seem to publicize effectively the various promotions and benefits that Starbucks offers to its customers. The little promo cards fall off (didja catch that? they're "little"), the managers aren't fully notified of new policies (such as the free soy and flavor syrup upgrades for Starbucks card users), and on and on. Hmph.

For all of Howard's claims to the contrary, and I don't really (ok, maybe I do a little) doubt he's trying, it's not really seeming like he means it.

But I did get Duffy's Mercy for free this week - so that's something, anyway.

Thanks, Howie.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Carole, Carole, Carole...

When all else fails, write about what you know - or what you love. Clearly, all roads lead to Carole King...

But they start with Cary Grant, inimitable as always in The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer:

"Hey, you remind me of a man."
"What man?"
"The man with the power."
"What power?"
"The power of hoodoo."
"Who do?"
"You do."
"Do what?"
"Remind me of a man."
"What man?"
"The man with the power."
"What power? Oh, never mind!"

How, you're thinking to yourself (I know you are), am I going to get from there to Carole King? After all, she's no Kevin Bacon. Don't you worry your pretty little head - just leave the heavy lifting to me. Do try to keep up, though.

Sidney Sheldon wrote the screenplay for The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer in 1947 (and, by the way, won an Oscar for same). That same Sheldon - whom you may be more familiar with as a pulp fiction novelist from the 70s and 80s - also created the TV show I Dream of Jeannie in 1964. Stay with me now... Carole King and Gerry Goffin wrote a theme song for that show, although their theme wasn't the one used. Don't know why, but it wasn't. Hmph.

Some 35 years later, however, Carole did get her TV theme song, albeit for a Lorelai, not a Jeannie.

Where you lead, I will follow... anywhere that you tell me to. If you need, if you need me to be with you, I will follow, where you lead.

Who could say it better than that?

Monday, June 09, 2008

Movie dearth?

Is it just me? Where are the summer movies?

I haven't been excited to go see a movie since Iron Man - and I was a teen-ager when I went to see that. Okay, maybe it wasn't that long ago, but it was a while. Really.

Let's review, shall we? Indiana Jones did not get any rave reviews from my peeps who matter (I believe the words "retarded" "crap" and "idiotic" were used). Spielberg et al., broke the 11th commandment - and what did he get? The movie's RT score of 78 doesn't come close to the first three installments' stellar 95, 91 and 93.

Sex and the City, you ask? Well, sure. That's one, but kinda one-dimensional in the scheme of movies.

The Incredible Hulk has gotten as much confused buzz as it has spill-over good buzz from Iron Man... and a good thing it has that going for it. The first question people ask is, haven't we seen that already? Er, maybe once or twice. At least now we know that this particular version is set up to be part of Marvel's Avengers movie universe. And it will have a Robert Downey, Jr. cameo - but going to a movie to see a cameo? Not promising.

Then we've got Get Smart - and I have to say, I have high hopes for that one. Great cast: Steve Carell, Anne Hathaway, the Rock (sorry, Dwayne Johnson), Alan Arkin, Terence Stamp. Keep your fingers crossed.

Then we have Hancock - which is definitely that movie with a curl in the middle of its forehead: it's going to be very, very good, or terrible. Directed by Peter Berg - you know, of Friday Night Lights (though also of The Kingdom, keep that in mind). And it does have the unbelievably watchable Will Smith going for it, so...

There are a few others (The Dark Knight, Mamma Mia) and I hope a few sleepers. Maybe it's just a distinct lack of attention that I'm feeling. Where's the love, studios? Don't you want us to come see your movies?

Friday, June 06, 2008

Thursday, June 05, 2008


I did not get enough sleep the other night - and I was kuh-rank-ee.* I need my sleep. All 8 hours of it. I don't know if it's beauty sleep, but it sure is moody sleep - as in, I'm in a foul mood if I don't get enough of it.

A few of my friends are of that annoying race who only seem to need about 10 minutes of sleep on a bed of nails to wake up every morning bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. What planet are they from?

How much is too much? Too little? According to an article in the New York Times,

[although] the lead researcher, Dr. Daniel F. Kripke, now an emeritus professor, could not explain the findings, studies have found that people who sleep the least or the most are more likely to have high blood pressure, symptoms of depression or heart disease. Sleep deprivation can also inhibit the body’s ability to produce insulin and increases the risk of diabetes.

Sleep the least or the most? I don't find that helpful. Either you sleep too much or too little - you're telling me I have to get it just right? Who do I look like? Goldilocks?

One study showed that people who slept nine hours or more were twice as likely to get Parkinson's disease as those who slept six hours or less (aha! score one for the scant sleepers). But no, it's not that easy (heaven forbid) - another study evidently revealed that "people who sleep less tend to weigh more." A point for the sleep gluttons. And so it went, one for you, one for me, one for you, one for me. Feh.

You know what I think? I think you should sleep as much as your body tells you. If you deprive it, it ain't gonna be happy, and if you stupefy it with sopor, it also ain't gonna be so thrilled.

So, me - I'm an 8 hour girl. After that, give me a good strong cuppa joe (preferably black cat - and those of you who know, know), and I'm good to go. And as for you, maybe you're one of those 5 hours and up and at 'em folks. I hear they exist. You do your thing, let me do my thing - we're good. But try to convince me I don't really need my 8 hours - you might lose a limb. I'm just sayin'.


Wednesday, June 04, 2008

I noticed

In case you think it slipped by me, I did notice that both posts yesterday were about movie remakes. Kind of an accident, actually.

And that one was hopeful, while the other was... not. So let's have it out. Right here. Right now.

Sometimes moviemakers can bring something new and fresh to an existing movie, they can modernize it, retell it, spin it, focus on something different, redraw the characters... do all sorts of things that make a remake not necessarily a bad thing. I liked The Thomas Crown Affair, as re-envisioned by John McTiernan (oddly enough, the remake earned a 67 on RT, while the original Norman Jewison-helmed version earned a 76). James Mangold's version of 3:10 To Yuma (RT: 89) last year was a great showcase for Russell Crowe and Christian Bale (though I thought Ben Foster stole every scene he was in). But how many people do you think even knew it was a remake? Let alone had seen the original 1957 version (RT: 95) with Van Heflin and Glenn Ford?

So, yes, there are those lesser known movies that, remade, shine once again for a whole new audience. Or, retold, tell a new tale. But again - isn't there enough content we haven't seen before? Do we have to see the same thing twice? But that's clearly a whole other post...

And then there is the Americanization of Emily (RT: 100) -- I mean of foreign films. Which sometimes goes well. I never saw Trois Hommes et un Couffin (RT: 86), but I saw and loved Three Men and a Baby (RT: 71). And sometimes not. Remember La Femme Nikita? Awesome. RT: 86. Remember Point of No Return with Bridget Fonda? Not so hot. RT: 45.

Like adaptations, it seems to me, unless remakes are interpretations, they're just line-by-line, scene-by-scene recreations. If that's all you're going to do, why bother? (Gus van Sant's version of Psycho very much withstanding.) Add to that, if you're going to take on a movie with actors of lore -- well, you'd better have a very, very good reason. How do you recast Cary Grant? Audrey Hepburn? Gregory Peck? Marilyn Monroe?

Then you have movies that are in and of themselves inviolable (or should be). Whatever alchemy of writing, casting, lighting, costumes, direction and production came together that moment to create that particular magic on the screen - let it be. Let it be. Let it be. Oh, sorry, John and Paul. Seriously though. This happened long before I was blogging, but there are a few of you out there who might remember me when the infamous remake of Sabrina was released. It wasn't pretty. My only consolation? The producer himself later apologized: "What was I thinking when I made 'Sabrina'?" Yeah, buster, what?

The Women is a movie I think is ripe for a remake. Not many have seen the original (sad but true) and it's a sharp and funny premise, with some great characters. If it's redone right - it could entertain a whole new audience.

Seven Samurai, on the other hand. Wow. The whole new audience should just rent the original. Or skip it. No, they should rent it.

Anyway, being the sneaky gal that I am, I got a peek at The Weinstein Company's upcoming production slate. Take a breath now:

Citizen Kane
To Kill a Mockingbird
North by Northwest
and Gone With the Wind.

I'm just kidding.
I hope.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Don't (re)tread on me

I find it hard to believe that there is so little original good content out there.

But there must be. Because how else to explain that The Weinstein Company is remaking Seven Samurai (RT: 100)? Which, in case they don't know, has been done once already on this side of the Pacific (The Magnificent Seven, RT: 94).

It gets better. Along with "Shanghai," an original screenplay by Hossein Amini starring Jon Cusack, Gong Li and Ken Watanabe, and "Forbidden Kingdom," written by John Fusco, and starring Jet Li and Jackie Chan, the Seven Samurai remake will, and this is a quote from the Harv-man himself, "blaze the trail for high-quality, action-packed, Asian-themed adventures."

Wow. I couldn't say it better than

Seven Samurai described as an action-packed, Asian-themed adventure? Kill me.

A remake made right?

This looks promising...

Yes. Video here. Click here if you don't see it. Seriously. Click!

I'm a fan of the original... Clare Boothe Luce, wife of Henry Luce, publisher of Time, Life and Sports Illustrated, wrote the play and Anita Loos (of Gentleman Prefer Blondes fame) wrote the screenplay. George Cukor directed. And the cast included Rosalind Russell, Joan Crawford, Paulette Goddard, Marjorie Main, Norma Shearer, and Joan Fontaine. Hard to beat, but... Diane English (she of Murphy Brown fame) wrote and directed the remake, and the cast is self-evident. So here's hoping.

By the way, Clare Boothe Luce was first married to George Tuttle Brokaw. Divorced from Boothe, Brokaw went on to marry Frances Ford Seymour. When Brokaw died in 1936, the newly widowed Seymour married Henry Fonda later the same year. She and Fonda had two children, Jane and Peter. It's a small world.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Wolfgang who?

So, what's in a name? If it's your name, aren't you entitled to it? Perhaps not.

Wolfgang (Puck, that is) is suing Wolfgang (Zwiener, that is).

I bring you this story as an interested party on several counts - a steak eater who has fairly despaired of finding a good steak in LA, a New Yorker, and someone with a name.

Nutshell version (mine): The two Wolves signed an agreement in 2007 covering the use and representation of their names in and outside of their home turfs (why is it wolf and wolves, but turf and not turves?).

The history as I understand it goes like this: WZ, a long-time waiter at Peter Luger's steakhouse in NY, opened a very good steakhouse in NYC (and not in Brooklyn - HUGE bonus), in 2004. Three years in, as he expanded, he and that other Wolfgang - who, I assure you, does not cause much of a stir in the Big Apple - shmoozed, discussed, agreed and signed. Case closed. Or not. Because now, after WZ opened his latest outpost in Beverly Hills, it's Wolfgang v Wolfgang.

Nutshell analysis (also mine): Despite the 2007 agreement , Pucko is marking his territory with a nuisance suit. In good ol' New Yorker fashion, WZ is pretty much saying, we covered this already, nein? Ja, nein.

P.S. I've had the steak at CUT by Wolfgang Puck (the one in BH) and at the newest Wolfgang's Steakhouse by Wolfgang Zwiener (also in BH) and Zwiener's steak wins. By a mile. WZ can surely improve some things (service, wine list, bread) - but, damn, that steak is fine.

P.P.S. It's about time a New Yorker opened a steakhouse in La La land. I mean, really.