Friday, August 31, 2007

Passion - Part II

Previously I wrote about my friend Chris Cory, who is super passionate about his pit bull Coral. But Chris isn't the only passionate person I know. A few years ago, my friend Hollie wrote a short film script. She entered it in a contest and it won! The prize was working with a mentor who helped her further shape and refine her script.

That might have been enough for some people--but not Hollie. In addition to writing, she is also an actress--so rather than waiting around for someone to cast her in a breakout role, she wrote herself a juicy part in her script. The next step was to make the film. Not so easy! Even if you're Spielberg and with studio backing and millions of dollars at your disposal, making a movie is HARD! It's even harder when you are a complete newbie scraping up cash from wherever you can and wearing as many hats as Hollie did--writer, star, executive producer...

But that's where passion comes in. Hollie raised the money, rounded up the cast and crew and even managed to find a bar that would let them shoot the film there after hours. Which meant starting shooting at 3 am--for three days in a row! Try remembering lines when you're that sleep deprived! She pulled it all together, refined her script even more and worked her ass off to make this project a reality.

And now it is. Last Call was shot and edited and completed and will be making the rounds of the festival circuit starting this fall. Hopefully it will bring Hollie some much deserved attention--for her acting and for her writing. But whatever happens with the film, it is definitive and tangible proof of passion, commitment and follow-through--a dream come true.

Good Luck, Hollie!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

On this Day/Song of the Day

Given that today is the birthday of Panic! at the Disco's guitarist/lyricist Ryan Ross (all of 21 freaking years old! Just barely legal, but already a huge pop star...), I thought featuring one of Panic's songs would be appropriate. Not only do they sport one of the coolest names for a group ever--along with unique song titles to match--their songs boast some of the most hyper-literate lyrics in pop music.


I Write Sins not Tragedies

Oh, well imagine,
as I'm pacing the pews in a church corridor,
and I can't help but to hear,
no I can't help but to hear an exchanging of words:
"What a beautiful wedding! What a beautiful wedding!"
says a bridesmaid to a waiter.
"And yes, but what a shame, what a shame,
the poor groom's bride is a whore."

I chimed in with a "Haven't you people ever heard of
closing a goddamn door?!"
No, it's much better to face these kinds of things
with a sense of poise and rationality.
I chimed in, "Haven't you people ever heard of
closing a goddamn door?!"
No, it's much better to face these kinds of things
with a sense of...

Well in fact, well I'll look at it this way,
I mean technically our marriage is saved
Well this calls for a toast, so pour the champagne
Oh! Well in fact, well I'll look at it this way,
I mean technically our marriage is saved
Well this calls for a toast, so pour the champagne,
pour the champagne!

I chimed in with a "Haven't you people ever heard of
closing a goddamn door?!"
No, it's much better to face these kinds of things
with a sense of poise and rationality.
I chimed in, "Haven't you people ever heard of
closing a goddamn door?!"
No, it's much better to face these kinds of things
with a sense of poise and rationality.

I chimed in, "Haven't you people ever heard of
closing a goddamn door?!"
No, it's much better to face these kinds of things
with a sense of poise and rationality.
I chimed in, "Haven't you people ever heard of
closing a goddamn door?!"
No, it's much better to face these kinds of things
with a sense of poise and rationality.

The "No Culture" Club

I was answering a marketing survey question about my "cultural heritage" and foods, rituals, traditions, etc. related to it. I paused and thought. I am a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant upper middle-class product of the suburbs (WASPUMPS)--I don't have a cultural heritage!

If you grew up Irish, you had whiskey and beer, St. Patty's Day and Catholic guilt. If you grew up Jewish, you had Hannukah or Chanukah and bagels and lox and Jewish mother guilt. If you were of Italian descent, you had Joe DiMaggio and Sly Stallone (Yo, Adrian!) and manicotti and rigatoni and the Mafia.

What do WASPUMPS have? They have ethnic food aisles in grocery stores now--Asian foods, Mexican foods. If they had an "ethnic" food aisle for WASPUMPS, what would be in it? Marshmallow Fluff? Cheetos? Jel-lo? Vanilla Wafers?

The word "ethnic" seems to conjure up scenes of the multi-cultural patterns of a city--fruit vendors, delicatessens, cathedrals and temples and mosques. The chatter of foreign languages, the colors of skin, the fabrics of saris and burqas, kente cloth and batik. And of course the fragrances of the food--curries and spices...

In the suburbs, we had none of those flavors or fragrances. But we did have fireflies and tadpoles and the song of crickets at night in the summer. We had Red Cross swimming lessons--our punishment for having summer vacation. Our mothers would drag us there while we were still comatose--the shock of the icy cold pool water waking us up as we learned to dog paddle and tread water.

Come winter, we would try to scrape together enough snow after the first dusting of the season to build a sorry looking snowman. Praying that the weather report calling for "possible accumulation" meant a cherished snow day off from school. Poring through the Sears catalog for ideas to add to our Christmas lists.

We had Barbies burrowing under canopy beds and G.I. Joes buried in the backyard. Popsicles and Nestlé Quik. Saturday morning cartoons and Frosted Flakes. Gilligan's Island and Star Trek and Get Smart. Slumber parties and sleeping bags, hopskotch and jump rope, yo-yos and pet rocks. Our mothers were Girl Scout leaders and baked cookies for class parties, our dads coached Little League and manned the barbeque grills.

And that's my culture. The rituals and traditions of the WASPUMPS. A shout out to all my peeps!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Until I'm living the dream, I'm working to pay the rent...

One of the first things I noticed about Los Angeles when I first moved here is that just about everyone is a dual personality. This isn't to say that they're "two-faced" although I've met many Angelenos that fit that description, but that they do one thing to pay the rent until they can do what they REALLY want to do--and get paid for it! Yeah, your waitress is really an actress and the flight attendant is actually a producer and that guy in tech support is really a director and I'm really a writer--but I pay the bills (for now!) doing bookkeeping...

The other thing I noticed about L.A. is that the work ethic is definitely more laid back. Sure you have some movers and shakers--agents, lawyers, bankers, CPAs--but most people's career-track or work life is much more amorphous. Dilettantes and dabblers are welcome here. The Monday through Friday nine-to-five grind is more the exception than the rule. Casual Friday? Try casual Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc.

Due to the flexible nature of work in Los Angeles, there are some pretty interesting ways to earn a living. In addition to your typical Administrative Assistants, Accountants, Customer Service Reps, Sales people, Office Managers, Computer programmers and such, you have job openings for more unusual positions--from wearing a furry animal costume at a theme park to corralling unsuspecting passers-by into a focus group for a movie test screening.

Sometimes the uniqueness of the job is due to its title. Hey this is Hollywood and it's all about billing. Like Starbucks and their "Baristas," Target and their "Guest Service Team Members" (because you and I aren't "customers," we're "guests!") and the NEW AT&T has "Retail Sales Consultants." But my two favorite job titles come from recent Craigslist postings--first, the Pita Pit is looking for "Rolling Technicians." Can you imagine yourself at a party and you meet someone and they ask what you do for a living? "I'm a Rolling Technician at the Pita Pit." Even better than that is the position of "Cupcake Associate" for the hottest trend in snacks these days--Sprinkles Cupcakes. Hey, Oprah and Paris eat them so they must be good! But how fun must it be to work as a "Cupcake Associate?" CA's make $12/hour--not bad considering your average overworked Production Assistant generally makes $10/hour. Unless, of course the Production Assistant is an intern (which is code for "Slave Labor" in L.A), in which case they make $0.00/hr.

In addition to billing, "casting" is also involved in many jobs in Los Angeles. I'm sure the shirtless hottie standing outside Abercrombie & Fitch applied for the position with a headshot rather than a resume and many ads for Personal Assistants (which is code for barely paid slave labor in L.A.) require a picture along with resume. Heaven forbid we might actually have to interview ugly people for the job! I just saw a posting today casting the "role" of Concierge/Leasing Consultant for a posh upscale apartment building in Westwood. When you're paying $7k a month in rent, you definitely want whoever is working the front desk to be attractive.

Oh yeah--we've got jobs for dog wranglers, sign spinners and clutter busters. There's a job for anyone and anything in Los Angeles. Would you believe an ad for Narcotics Canine Handler? You could take Rover home and have him sniff out the 420 for you, confiscate it from your hapless neighbor and kick back and smoke some weed at home. Good job, Rover! If that's not up your alley, then how about something a bit more creative? Do you walk around permanently on tip-toe and manage to stay vertical even with a grossly cantilevered chest? Then check out the the Barbie Product Design Manager job! While most taggers would be slapped with a misdemeanor if caught, a recent ad on Craigslist was looking to pay a Graffiti Artist to do body graffiti for a photo shoot. That sounds pretty awesome--but I suppose it depends on the body. If it's the A&F shirtless guy or a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model, then SWEET! But if it's Rosie O'Donnell or Dennis Franz then no amount of money would be enough...

Last but not least--there was a posting for a very specific niche position. A Public Relations assistant to work in the Gay and Lesbian division. I had no idea PR firms were so segmented. I wonder if they have a "pop stars exhibiting bipolar behavior" division, "actors doing multiple rehab stints" division and a "famous for no reason DUI" division. But anyway, the ad states that they are looking for someone "with a passion to learn the business from the bottom up." Maybe they don't mean that the way it sounds. At least they didn't require a photo along with the resume...

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Cell Phone Woes - Update

After a couple more weeks of AT&T deliberately dropping my calls (apologies to all my friends who were on the other end at the time!), I finally said "No mas!" and went online in search of a new provider. T-Mobile was the top contender--good J. D. Power ratings, a wide selection of affordable plans and a plethora of cool free cell phones to choose from.

My only issue was the whole text messaging thing. I hate TM and I don't want to send or pay to receive them. Unlike Verizon or AT&T (I'm not sure about Sprint), T-Mobile doesn't have the option of disabling the feature. But with a little research on the Internet, I found a way around it--thanks to Jonas at TechNudge Live. Apparently you can block ALL text messages via a spam filter where, instead of specifying key words that are "spam," you create a filter character string that MUST be in the subject line. With this little trick up my sleeve, I felt confident about moving forward with a T-Mobile plan.

I decided on the Motorola RAZR phone. It's slick and sleek and looks like something out a Bond movie. It was also FREE! Gotta love that. In fact, I got the phone for free, plus up to $70 in rebates via an offer on Wirefly. It was pretty easy to compare phones and plans online--my only glitch was right before I went to place my order, I could not find where I needed to note that I was porting my old number from another carrier.

So I called Wirefly's customer service. I just need to know where I enter my current cell phone number for the order. I get an Indian (big surprise!) customer service rep named Robert or Robbie or Robin. It was hard to tell with the accent. Anyway I try to explain that I just want to submit my order online, but he says he can take care of the whole thing for me. Sure he can...

He takes down all the info I've already input online and then proceeds to attempt to sell me insurance for the phone. No thanks. Accessories--a car charging kit? Nope. A pouch to protect it from scratches? No. Then he reads me the terms of service which I must agree to. Online I would just breeze right past that and "X" the little box, but with Robbie I have to listen to the whole thing and insert my assent at the end of each paragraph. Then he puts me on hold while he makes sure my credit info is good. Comes back and tries to sell me the insurance again. Aggravated I say, "This is why I wanted to place my order online." Confused he asks, "Why?" "Because I wouldn't have waste time listening to sales pitches!" A bit hurt he counters that he was only trying to make sure I knew about all these great offers. I'm NOT interested! I tell him.

He wraps things up and I'm good to go. Today FedEx delivers my brand new RAZR phone--now I just have to figure out how it works. Usually that means playing around with it through trial and error, but today I decide to read the manual. Have you ever read a product manual before? They're hilarious. Under "Safety and General Information" it warns that "Persons with pacemakers should:

  • ALWAYS keep the phone more than 6 inches from your pacemaker when the phone is turned ON
  • NOT carry the phone in the breast pocket
  • Use the ear opposite the pacemaker to minimize the potential for interference
  • Turn OFF the phone immediately if you have any reason to suspect that interference is taking place."
I'm glad I don't have a pacemaker!

The manual also warns that you should "turn off your phone prior to entering any area with potentially explosive atmosphere." Good grief! This sounds like a plot device in an action movie. Character enters potentially explosive atmosphere. His cell phone rings. KA-BOOM!!! Character blows up. His cell phone skids across the ground. Through the receiver, the evil snicker of the villain is heard...

The manual also warns about seizures/blackouts and repetitive motion injuries--but this seems to be in relation to playing video games on the phone, so I'm safe. As long as I stay away from potentially explosive atmospheres...

Under "Use and Care" the manual cautions keeping the phone away from:
Liquids of any kind (makes sense)
Extreme heat of cold (Okay...)
Dust and dirt (I'll try!)
Cleaning solutions (if I can manage to keep it from dust and dirt, cleaning solutions won't be necessary...)
Microwaves (It says not to dry your phone in a microwave oven. Seriously! Since I'm not supposed to get it wet, I have no idea WHAT would possess me to dry the phone in the microwave.)
The Ground (Don't drop your phone!)
Now I just have to wait for T-Mobile to activate my phone so I can cancel my service with the NEW AT&T (See ya! Wouldn't want to be ya!). And then hopefully I'll be able to have complete conversations (preferably after 7 pm or on weekends, guys...) with my friends.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Scientists find YET something else that causes cancer...

According to an article in The Washington Post today, Oral Sex Causes Cancer.

Whoa. Bummer...

Research indicates that in addition to cervical cancer, HPV may be responsible for cancers of the throat and tongue. Stupid researchers. They take away cigarettes, alcohol, caffeine, nitrates, cyclamates, trans fats--looks like there's nothing left but vegetables, distilled water and the missionary position. I bet they find out celery causes cancer next...

Some may find this positive news. Yet another excuse to avoid--well, you know... Women always had TMJ (temporomandibular joint) syndrome, but this is even better! Sorry, honey--you know I'd love to do my Linda Lovelace impression, but you wouldn't want me to get throat cancer, would you?

Those still willing to take the risk should know that out of the 45,000 head and neck cancers each year, 80-90% are caused by alcohol or tobacco (so they're still on the list!). And, the link has not been definitively proven--it's just an implication thus far.

But on the positive side, a recent shows that, despite alleged cancer risks, seniors are still having sex. According to another article in The Washington Post,

"...[M]ore than half of those aged 57 to 75 said they gave or received oral sex, as did about a third of 75- to 85-year-olds."

You go, Grandma! Cancer, schmancer...

The Nines at the Nuart

Got anything going on this Friday? You might want to check out the exclusive Los Angeles premiere of The Nines at the Nuart Theater in West Los Angeles. Screenwriter John August, making his directorial debut with this film, will be around for a Q&A after the 7:30 pm showing (along with cast which includes hottie Ryan Reynolds--who I've been crushing on ever since Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place and Gilmore Girls cutie Melissa McCarthy aka Sookie St. James). Director and cast will also be on hand to introduce the film to the audience at the 10 pm showing. Need I say more?

For more info on the event, check out johnaugust.com for details and poke around the site for posts about the project--as well as August's great screenwriting insights. The Nuart is just blocks from where I live, so I couldn't miss this opportunity to hear John talk about the project and his process (even if I do have to rearrange my yoga class schedule!). I've already bought my ticket--maybe I'll see you there...

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Connection vs. Isolation: The Internet Paradox

It must be pretty obvious by now that I love the Internet. Love, LOVE, LOVE the Internet. (Thank you Al Gore!) It's often easier to get a hold of me via e-mail, I get more of my news online than by watching TV newscasts (thus escaping Anchorbots and their passion for using the phrase "pit maneuver") and even avoid crowds in the stores by doing my shopping online.

Forget encyclopedias, we've got Wikipedia! Who needs a dictionary or thesaurus taking up space on your bookshelf when you can get it on the web? Phone books? Outdated. Maps and atlases? Antiquated. We've got it all right here, baby. Shopping, entertainment, information. Soon there won't be any reason to ever leave home.

Of course, it would get sort of lonely if we never left the house. But the Internet even has a solution for that. Beyond e-mail and instant messaging (the former I love, the latter I hate), the web has become a social networking tool. In the infancy of the world wide web, there was a website called "Six Degrees"--operating under the famous principle that everyone on the planet is connected to any one person by no more than six steps or people. SixDegrees begat Friendster which begat MySpace and Facebook and LinkedIn--and the cultural phenomenon of "social networking" blossomed.

But the ease of making social connections hasn't come without a price. According to a recent article in The Washington Post, the stress of maintaining one's social network can be exhausting. Citing the experience of one Facebook user who had to declare a moratorium on accepting new "friend" requests, writer Monica Hesse wonders what happens when the social networks collapse under their own excess:

And then . . . chaos? Isolation? Abject misery? When we reach that point where a utility that is supposed to bring us closer to our friends actually makes us hate our friends -- and the death grip that managing them has on our time -- where will we go from there?
Social networks bring us closer to our friends? What friends is she talking about? I remember setting up my profile on Myspace. Within hours I was receiving friend requests not just from assorted musicians, bands and comics, but a 19 year-old Goth girl in Chicago, an overweight suburban Mid-Western dude, a would-be Lothario in Vienna. Why were these people requesting to be my "friend"? I didn't know them. Had never met them. Would probably never, ever meet them.

I looked at the Goth girl's profile for clues. She had well over a thousand friends. I could count mine on one hand. Then it hit me. It's not about networking or making connections--it's a new hobby called "people collecting." While this strategy works well for bands or musicians trying to build a following and as a way to inform their fans of upcoming tours or CD releases, it makes no sense for the rest of us. Can you REALLY be friends with 1,000 people? Or even 100 for that matter?

Friendship, in my opinion, requires that the parties involved have some interests or history or values in common. It requires a common and mutual interest in each other's lives and well-being. It requires some time invested to touch base--either by regular or semi-regular e-mails and/or phone calls and on occasion whenever possible, in person meetings. Friendship happens "IRL," it's not virtual. You can certainly make a connection via an online source--whether it be a message board, online group meeting facilitator like Meetup.com or social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook.

When Hesse asked Ogheneruemu "O.G." Oyiborhoro, a George Washington University junior with 3,456 friends on Facebook who he would turn to if he needed help finding a new apartment--not one of his 3,456 "friends" would qualify.
""The furthest I'd go with Facebook would be to ask someone to borrow a textbook. I'd want to actually trust the person" for a bigger request.

[Says Hesse:] To use a social networking site for actual social networking would be an impertinence. An imposition."
So if a social networking website isn't good for...um, social networking--what the hell is it good for? Provided that one limits their friends, contacts and connections to:

1. People they actually know
2. People they would want to know or
3. People they have a good chance of actually meeting (i.e.; geographic proximity)

then Facebook or MySpace might be useful ways to maintain contact. You can upload recent pictures, blog about your new job or send out a bulletin to announce the sale of your latest screenplay (wishing...). Or you can collect people. 'Cuz we all know that whoever dies with the most Facebook "friends" is the most beloved person on the planet--NOT!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

51 Birch Street

Doug Block's latest documentary 51 Birch Street poses the question, "Do we really know our parents?" and "Do we really WANT to know our parents?" When the filmmaker's mother dies suddenly, it is a shock to the entire family. But nothing compared to the stunning news that his 83 year-old father has reconnected with a former co-worker from 35 years ago and is remarrying--only three months following the death of his wife of 54 years!

This sequence of events inspired Block to investigate the mystery of his parents' marriage. Using interviews and memories of family members, photographs and even his mother's old diaries, he creates an intimate and evocative portrait of the inner workings of a typical American family. How well do we really know the people we've spent our lives with? Block searches for answers and takes the audience on this very personal--yet wholly universal journey.

Doug Block is sort of a one-man show when it comes to his documentaries--producer, director, writer and even cameraman. His first film, THE HECK WITH HOLLYWOOD!, explored the trials and tribulations of three first-time independent filmmakers, and his second feature, the Emmy-nominated Home Page, chronicled the lives of several pioneers of personal expression on the internet. . Block is also the founder of The D-Word, a worldwide online community of documentary professionals.

51 Birch Street was released on DVD on August 14th and is available at Amazon.com. The story of the Block family is complex and contemplative, introspective and self-reflective. It is also completely engrossing and profoundly affecting as it resonates with the familiarity of every family.

Friday, August 24, 2007

So long, Saturn!

It turns out that two of my co-workers have Cancer rising, as do I. This led to a discussion about how sucky the last couple of years have been--first with Saturn's limiting influence in our first houses and now with the financial restrictions it has placed upon our second houses. But all that's due to lighten up as Saturn moves out of Leo and into Virgo. Whew! Big sigh of relief...

Anyway, the conversation reminded me of how much I missed talking about astrology. I used to dabble in it a while back--doing natal chart readings and synastry comparisons for friends and acquaintances. Even skeptics were intrigued after listening to me talk about the different influences in their charts.

The main thing to keep in mind about astrology is that it's not just about "What's your sign, baby?" The sun sign--that is the astrological cycle occurring when you were born--is just one piece of the puzzle. So the correct answer to "what's your sign?" is "All of them." Each individual chart is comprised of all twelve signs, all twelve houses and all ten planets. Throw in some nodes, Chiron and some assorted asteroids and you've got yourself an astrological chart that's almost as unique as a fingerprint.

The other thing to keep in mind about astrology is that it's not about fate or predictions, it's about cycles and energy. Sure, having Jupiter transit your tenth house is a great time to make advances in your career, but if you never take advantage of it--meet with a headhunter, revamp your resume, get out to networking events--then you're not using the energy or the cycle to your advantage.

If you're interested in checking out what your natal chart looks like, all you need is your date, place and time of birth. The time is very important because it determines your ascendant and the rest of the house delineations. You can guess-timate it, but your best bet is birth records. Fortunately I was born in an army hospital and have it written up in military time. The best source for free natal charts is AstroDienst aka Astro.com. They have a whole menu of charts as well as a function where you can log in and get a personalized daily horoscope based on your natal vs. transiting planets. Star IQ also has a personalized horoscope function via e-mail, as well as loads of interesting info and articles.

To interpret what your chart means--your Sun in the fifth house, your moon in Pisces, etc.--I highly recommend Steven Forrest's The Inner Sky as a resource. The book lays out each sign, planet and house and gives wonderfully clear and insightful stories for each. I also love Mythic Astrology: Archetypal Powers in the Horoscope by Ariel Guttman and Kenneth Johnson. This book explores all the different myths associated with the signs and planets and really helped me gain a deeper understanding of the meanings behind the symbols. For a more psychological approach to chart reading, Stephen Arroyo's Astrology, Psychology and the Four Elements has a very Jungian approach to interpreting charts. Not surprising, since Jung himself used astrology in his practice.

If reading your horoscope is enough for you, then at least check out the work of some of my favorite astrologers on-line. (Those Chinese fortune cookie type blurbs in your morning newspaper are what gives astrology a bad name!):

Jon Cainer writes horoscopes for the UK Daily Mail as well as posting daily, weekend, week ahead, monthly and year ahead predictions for each sign on his website. That's over 4,000 horoscope a year!

Rob Brezny's Free Will Astrology is posted weekly and features his trademark poetic, hippie optimism. Sample for Cancer:

According to the Haggadah, an ancient Jewish text, the first thing God made, before anything else, was the Torah. This book was "written with black fire on white fire." The 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet became the raw materials out of which the Divine One forged heaven and earth. Now you, Cancerian, have a chance to get firsthand evidence of the power that language has to shape experience. In the coming days, I suggest that you formulate what you say with great precision. The words you use will have the power of the ancient magical incantation, abracadabra, which is derived from the Aramaic word meaning "I create as I speak."
Eric Francis is a prolific and passionate writer, journalist, activist, photographer and astrologer. He's also a Pisces. His Planet Waves is more than just horoscopes. It's a wealth of information on planetary influences, with special emphasis on his favorite planet--Earth.

Shakespeare got it right when he said: "It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves." But knowing and understanding your "stars" and the cycles can improve your odds at controlling your destiny. At least that's what this Capricorn sun with Cancer rising and a Gemini moon thinks!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

This is it for today, I swear...

It seems my time blogging might be better put to use filing lawsuit ala federal inmate Jonathan Lee Riches. This post in the OFF/beat blog cracked me up:

"During his time behind bars, Riches has filed no less than 19 lawsuits in federal court, almost all handwritten, in which he sues people (living and dead), companies (real and imagined), ideologies, websites, landmarks, universities, charities, planets, books, historical documents, countries, movies, rappers and the "13 tribes of Israel." And that's a partial list. One lawsuit, in fact, takes 56 pages to name 783 defendants."
Unbelievable...

Happy Birthday Blogger!

Blogger.com--home of my blog as well as hundred of thousands of others--celebrates its eighth birthday today! Whoohoo!

So that makes Blogger a Virgo (all about being service-oriented and achieving perfection) on the cusp of Leo (creative self-expression)...Who says astrology is bogus?

Many happy returns, Blogger...

Word of the Day - Freegan

It's the compounding of the word "free" and the word "vegan"--which is a person who avoids products from animal sources or products tested on animals in an effort to avoid harming animals. The PETA crowd for example...

But Freegans are so much more than non-leather wearing, carrot-chomping, rabbit-loving folk. According to Freegan.info:

Freegans take this a step further by recognizing that in a complex, industrial, mass-production economy driven by profit, abuses of humans, animals, and the earth abound at all levels of production (from acquisition to raw materials to production to transportation) and in just about every product we buy. Sweatshop labor, rainforest destruction, global warming, displacement of indigenous communities, air and water pollution, eradication of wildlife on farmland as "pests", the violent overthrow of popularly elected governments to maintain puppet dictators compliant to big business interests, open-pit strip mining, oil drilling in environmentally sensitive areas, union busting, child slavery, and payoffs to repressive regimes are just some of the many impacts of the seemingly innocuous consumer products we consume every day.
According to the website, the strategies for "Freeganism" include:

1. Waste reclamation - Yup, that would be "dumpster diving" aka "digging through the trash." I always thought that chick who rummaged through the dumpsters at 6 am was a homeless person--turns out she's a Freegan. She's also a major pain-in-the-ass waking the entire neighborhood up with her foraging, but that's another topic.

2. Waste minimization - OK, if we MINIMIZE waste, what will there be to reclaim? Freegans recycle, compost, repair and reuse whenever possible. Did anyone have a older relative that saved tin foil in a giant ball? Or one who meticulously opened gifts so as to save the wrapping paper and ribbon? Or perhaps knows someone who has a pile of completely unusable old MacIntosh computers stacked up in a corner? I bet you thought they were frugal or a pack rat, but in reality they're FREEGANS.

3. Eco-friendly transportation - You might think this refers to George Clooney's Tango--but Freegans are more environmentally conscientious than People Magazine's "Sexiest Man Alive," Leo DiCaprio or even Al Gore! Freegans choose not to use cars for the most part. They use other methods of transportation including trainhopping (the preferred method of transport for hobos--I mean "Freegans" is now "eco-cool." Perhaps Roger Miller's "King of the Road" will start zooming up the charts at iTunes...), biking, walking, skating, and hitchhiking. (They left off scooters, Segways, kayaking and hang-gliding--all viable and eco-friendly modes of transportation...)

Says the official website, "Hitchhiking fills up room in a car that would have been unused otherwise and therefore it does not add to the overall consumption of cars and gasoline." Are they kidding? Didn't their moms tell them to never accept rides from strangers? They've made horror movies about what happens to people who thumb for a ride...

4. Rent-free Housing -
Freegans believe that housing is a RIGHT, not a privilege. Seriously? Man, now I really need to check into being a Freegan! My little studio costs me a grand a month. I can think of better things to do with that cash. So how does one score some rent-free housing? According to Freegan.info:
"Squatters are people who occupy and rehabilitate abandoned, decrepit buildings. Squatters believe that real human needs are more important than abstract notions of private property, and that those who hold deed to buildings but won’t allow people to live in them, even in places where housing is vitally needed, don’t deserve to own those buildings."
Hmmm--I just watched Midnight Cowboy the other night and I thought Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman played two guys who were forced to live in a decrepit, condemned tenement building because they had no money. In reality, they were FREEGANS! How cool is that?

5. Going Green - It's a huge issue these days--the ecosystem, global warming, sustainable living. What could be wrong about going green? Again, freegans take things one step further by not merely buying organic or growing their own food, but by becoming "wild foragers"--and some even "
take the foraging lifestyle even farther, removing themselves from urban and suburban concepts and attempting to "go feral" by building communities in the wilderness based on primitive survival skills."

Speaking of horror movies, I'm getting a pitch idea...A group of college co-eds get lost on a hiking expedition in the wilderness. With no contact with civilization they are forced to forage to survive! I call it "Night of the Living Freegans."

6. Working Less/Joblessness - Is this a great lifestyle or what? You thought Seth Rogen played a slacker in Knocked Up? Nope. He was a Freegan! Your thirty-something son who lives in your basement and plays video games all day? He's not a loser, he's a Freegan! We don't have to be mindless drones, working for "the man" to pay the rent. We don't have to contribute to "the system." As Freegans, "
we begin to realize that, as workers, we are cogs in a machine of violence, death, exploitation, and destruction."

Raina Kelly, a writer for Newsweek, is testing out the Freegan lifestyle for 30 days and blogging about her experiences at Newsweek online. I don't believe her experiment will include quitting her job, moving into a cardboard box or foraging through dumpsters, but a more sensible and moderate application of the philosophy.

As for me, I think I'll head down to Palisades Park in Santa Monica, round up a few homeless guys sleeping on the ground and put together an expert panel on the subject. Check us out at The Learning Annex seminar titled "On the Fast-track to being a Freegan."

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Go Mountaineers!

According to an item in The Washington Post blog OFF/beat, my alma mater West Virginia University has been ranked America's Best Party School--according to the Princeton Review.

Good to see some things never change...

Is TV Gay Enough?

...so read the title of a link on my ISP's home page. With a subject that titillating, how could I resist clicking on it? What I found--in reaction to a recent GLAAD Study on network television's portrayals of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender characters as reported by Reuter's--was a message board survey to elicit reaction on the study.

Note: If you are gay or know and care about someone who is gay, do NOT read the messages on this forum! And if you do, don't bother rebutting the ignorance. As the saying goes, "Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and it annoys the pig..."

Response was particularly narrow-minded and vehemently bigoted--partially due to the fact that the survey options as to how they would rate TV's portrayal of GLBT issues/characters was limited to:

Excellent: Representation has never been better -- I'm truly impressed!
Good: A nice effort, but there's room for some improvement.
Fair: They're just filling quotas -- much more work needs to be done.
Failing: It's never been worse -- open your eyes to the world, network execs!

with no option for the "Isaiah Washington" response of:
None of the above: Get all faggots off TV!!!
Many responses were fallacy-ridden claims such as homosexuality is against nature (but not according to this article in National Geographic), or that all homosexuals are pedophiles (again, a mistaken assumption) or when logic and reason (and I use those terms very loosely!) fails, then The Bible thumpers cite "God's Word" or "God's Will."

According to the GLAAD study, there is still much work to be done--but we've certainly come a long way in depicting all sorts of different races, cultures and lifestyles since the days of Leave it to Beaver. It was in 1977 that ABC introduced a gay character in the form of Jody Dallas (played by Billy Crystal) on the prime time comedy Soap. ABC broke ground again with a gay character on a daytime drama with Emmy-winning performance of Eden Riegel's Bianca Montgomery on All My Children and recently introduced a transgender character and storyline (Zarf/Zoe) to the show.

Long before Doug Savant was Felicity Huffman's "lesser half" on Desperate Housewives, he portrayed Matt Fielding--a gay man and, ironically, the moral compass of the "depravity-filled" Melrose Place. Although Matt rarely was shown in a relationship, his presence and Savant's performance helped "normalize" the perception of gays in America.

Unlike the overrated and GLAAD-awarded Will and Grace--which (although fitfully funny) did little to portray gays and lesbians in a positive or normal light. In my opinion, the over-the-top, stereotypical depictions of gays as self-absorbed drama queens accomplished little in educating or changing public attitudes. Certainly there are gays who are flamboyant drag queens--but there are gays who are unassuming accountants as well. While it's certainly easier to get a cheap laugh from the clichéd kitsch of a Jack McFarland, a more nuanced and three-dimensional characterization would go a long way towards opening minds.

With Will and Grace's exit from the airwaves, gay characters on network TV may have decreased in number, but according to an article in The Hollywood Reporter they have increased in complexity--thanks in part to characters such as Dr. Kerry Weaver (Laura Innes) on NBC's long-running ER, Andrew Van de Camp (Shawn Pyform) of ABC's Desperate Housewives and Kevin Walker (Matthew Rhys) on another ABC drama, Brothers and Sisters.


The shows GLAAD did like? Well, in addition to Brothers and Sisters, they also gave kudos to Ugly Betty--which not only features Michael Urie, playing Betty's gay co-worker Marc St. James, but also the transgender character of Alex/Alexis Meade (Rebecca Romijn) and possibly gay but definitely fey character of Betty's nephew, Justin played by Mark Indelicato.

Is TV gay enough? For many of the "red state" mindset, the answer is TV is too gay and their solution is to slam the closet door shut. But given that this ugly and small-minded attitude still persists, obviously TV isn't gay enough--or Black enough, or Asian enough, or Latino enough, or female enough. But I hope we come to a point where we don't create gay characters vs. straight characters or black characters vs. white characters, but rather intriguing multi-faceted characters--some of whom that just happen to be gay (or Black or Latino or female...)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Pure Hapa Makana Milk Facial Cleanser

I remember going into a drugstore once with a boyfriend and feeling like a kid in a candy shop. Aisles of make-up, skin care, body products--each one a potential treasure in the eternal quest for youth and beauty. "This is why I love being a girl!" I said to him. He countered with "This is why I glad I'm NOT!"

Too bad for him--he has to stay in his rut of Ivory soap and aftershave. I get to be transported to the lush tropical islands of Hawaii--courtesy of Pure Hapa, a skin care line created by self-described "Hapa" girl (part Hawaiian) Nadyne Kealaokopono Kim-Orona. Inspired by her Hawaiian grandmother's ritual of using coconut milk to cleanse her skin, she created the Makana (meaning "gift") Milk Facial Cleanser. A combination of coconut milk, honey extract, rice bran extract and orange flower extract (which gives the cleanser a heavenly, almost "good enough to eat" scent), it gently cleanses the skin and leaves it feeling toned but supple.

I've been using the cleanser for the past couple of nights and I can certainly attest to its gentleness and effectiveness. It's got a nice creamy consistency and leaves my skin completely clean without being drying. The coconut milk has anti-aging properties while the honey extract is a natural anti-bacterial agent and the rice bran extract improves skin elasticity.

“It has always been my dream to create a skincare line crafted from the purest Hawaiian botanicals and fruits, blended with healing, anti-aging antioxidants from Asia. Pure Hapa brings soothing Hawaiian tropical and herbal blends into your home for a beneficial, natural and pampering spa experience!,” says Nadyne.
The Makana Milk Facial Cleanser is the newest addition to the Pure Hapa line and will be available starting in October. But you can check out the rest of the Pure Hapa line which features skin care products such as the Sweet Papaya Facial Exfoliant, Hawaiian Essential Facial Serum and Hapalicious Body Wash at www.purehapa.com.

I've also been using two Pure Hapa body creams--the Sweet Pineapple Sugar Cream and the Haupia Orange Soufflé Body Cream. The Pineapple Sugar Cream is a sinfully rich, creamy sensual delight! It's very emollient and the scent is light and yummy. It's a bit too emollient for the summer--but I'm looking forward to slathering it on come the drier winter months. The Soufflé Cream is lighter and airier in texture--much more suitable for summer wear.

Even if you can't get away for a trip to an island paradise, the scents of the Pure Hapa products can bring that tropical Hawaiian feeling to you! Not that I've ever been to Hawaii, but this is what I imagine it smells like...And better yet, proceeds from each sale of Pure Hapa products benefit the Queen Lili’uokalani Trust, providing for orphaned and destitute children in Hawaii.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Studio 60 - R.I.P.

The Fall TV season will soon be upon us (and not a moment too soon!) but one of my favorites from last season won't be on the schedule. I know when NBC announced that they would air not one but TWO shows set behind the scenes of a sketch comedy show ala SNL, many people had bets on which one would get canceled. Would 30 Rock, the Tina Fey half hour version starring Alec Baldwin make the cut or Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, the Aaron Sorkin hour version featuring the star-studded ensemble cast be the winner? As it turns out, despite having ratings than were less than stellar, 30 Rock lives on for another season and Studio 60 died a quiet death. Although mourned by a few fans (hence the cancellation), the ratings for Studio 60 were actually better than those for 30 Rock. Go figure...

The ostensible reason for the lack of ratings was that, although Studio 60 was classic Sorkin--smart, topical, well-written, well cast, well acted--it just wasn't funny. Certainly not as funny as Alec Baldwin's self-important Jack Donaghy or Tracy Morgan's diva-esque Tracy Jordan. And certainly not as funny as one might expect for a series about a sketch comedy show. And herein lies the rub--it wasn't SUPPOSED to be funny. Studio 60 was an ensemble drama. It was The West Wing set in the world of television rather than politics. Sure, maybe the comedy sketches could have been funnier. Maybe the show could have exposed the back-biting, power tripping and insanity of the behind the scenes look at a Hollywood production.

But Studio 60, like The West Wing, was based on the presumption that those who work in the industry--like those who make a career in politics--are noble, decent, honest and idealistic souls. Having lived in D.C., I found the integrity of Sorkin's White House a bit hard to swallow. I mean I WISH politicians had the social conscience of Toby Ziegler or Josh Lyman, but we all know better, don't we? Studio 60 was Sorkin's arena for bringing up a variety of topical issues--the Iraq war, the religious right, censorship. And if people had seen the show for what it was--a drama exploring a variety of social topics set in the world of television--it might have succeeded.

Unfortunately, it didn't. But it's not the first time a show that I've loved has been given the shaft. Here's a few more shows that went to an early grave despite being of much higher caliber than The Bachelor or According to Jim:

1. Sports Night - another Sorkin gem set behind the scenes of an ESPN-like sports show. Starring Peter Krause before Six Feet Under and Felicity Huffman before Desperate Housewives, Sports Night featured classic Sorkin witty dialogue and great character interaction. And Joshua Malina! Sigh...

2. My So Called Life - Claire Danes starred as Angela Chase in this realistic look at teen life which also featured a young Jared Leto and Bess Armstrong as Angela's mother. Canceled after only 19 episodes, that last show still haunts me. Brian (played by Devon Gummersall) has coached--ala Cyrano--Jordan Catelano (Leto) into winning back the heart of Angela. Even though he himself has a long-standing crush on her. At the end of the show, Angela realizes it was Brian's heartfelt words and not Jordan's and then...

I'll never know what might have happened. Aaarrggghh!

3. Cupid - starring and produced by Jeremy Piven and co-starring Paula Marshall, this show was about a man who claimed to be the Roman god of love and insisting he was tasked by Zeus to unite 100 couples so that he can return to Mount Olympus. Is he Cupid or is he crazy? We will never find out because ABC juggled the show's scheduling so much they killed any chance of it finding an audience. Those who did find the show still sorely miss it...

4. Action! I was at a party the other night and someone brought up this short-lived satirical comedy starring Jay Mohr as producer Peter Dragon and featuring the wonderful Ileana Douglas. I'm a sucker for inside Hollywood fare and this was a bitter, cynical and unflinching look at the business.

5. Profit - before Adrian Pasdar was one of the Heroes, he was a psychopathic corporate climber in this show about ambition, greed and murder. Dark, edgy and totally repellent--in the best possible way! The most recent of the Ocean's flicks stole a bit from this show--in one episode, Jim Profit puts a tack inside his shoe and steps on it in order to skew and thus pass a polygraph exam. A similar scene in Ocean's 13 has Livingston Dell (Eddie Jemison) pulling the exact same trick.

6. Buffalo Bill - Dabney Coleman, Joanna Cassidy and Geena Davis before she was--well, Geena Davis, starred in this sitcom about the outrageously obnoxious host of a local TV talk show. Acerbic, witty and a hell of a lot of fun! What is it about me and liking all these shows featuring men who are @$$holes? Think maybe I have something to work out in therapy? Hmmmm...

Are there any short-lived shows that you sorely miss?

My New Favorite Blog

If you're a fan of News of the Weird, you should check out OFF/beat, Emil Steiner's blog about news stories so strange yet "you-can't-make-this-shit-up" true. The blog features stories about stupid laws, moronic criminals, overzealous law enforcement, mind-bogglingly inane lawsuits (check out his on-going updates on the $54 million litigation over a missing pair of pants...) and other assorted news items so outlandish they make tabloid headlines look tame in comparison.

Check it out!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Talk to Me - Update

A few weeks ago, I posted a review of the movie Talk to Me starring Don Cheadle. While I enjoyed the movie and found Cheadle's portrayal of DC icon Petey Greene to be moving and fascinating, apparently Greene's family is upset. For more details and insights into the life of Ralph Waldo "Petey" Greene--and the liberties Hollywood takes when telling a story--check out the story Left Out of the Picture in The Washington Post.

I still liked the movie...

Cell Phone Woes

About four years ago--after not having a cell phone for several years--I caved in and signed up with AT&T. I mean, the OLD AT&T--before they got bought out by Cingular. The sales rep asked me if I wanted to be on the TDMA network or GSM. Uh, what? Which do you recommend? I was told that the TDMA was the more extensive network, so I said I'd take that one. Less than six months later, Cingular acquired AT&T and took over my cell phone plan. They then made plans to eliminate the TDMA network. When I upgraded my service a year later, the sales rep neglected to inform me of this plan--but soon after that I started getting offers for new improved phones on the new "improved" GSM network. I checked in and found that to get a new cell phone with all the bells and whistles I'd have to downgrade my service plan and pay more money. Are you kidding me? Do I look like a sucker?

Within a year, I started getting "switch over to GSM or die" notices from Cingular. Well, actually it was "switch because the TDMA network will die" notices...Apparently I had until February 2008--or even sooner--before I would have no cell phone service. Then Cingular was bought out by AT&T--now the NEW AT&T. Unfortunately the NEW AT&T is not much different from Cingular or even the OLD AT&T for that matter. Not only do I continue to receive warning letters about my phone network's imminent demise, but they've taken to bringing down towers so that any given moment my service cuts out in the middle of a call. They've also slapped on a $4.95 surcharge to punish me for having the temerity to continue usage of a network that they originally recommended.

So it's time--it's way past time--to get a new cell phone provider. I'd love to leave AT&T--I mean Cingular--I mean the NEW AT&T because their service quite frankly sucks, but I'm in a quandary over which service to switch to.

Based on research of other providers, there are really only two other options--Verizon or T-mobile. Both have fairly high J. D. Power customer service ratings and fairly extensive network coverage--although Verizon slightly outranks T-mobile on both counts. T-mobile has more and better plan pricing options, numerous free cell phones and night and weekend minutes starting at 7 pm--while Verizon's night and weekends minutes don't begin until 9 pm.

So I was all ready to make the switch to T-mobile. And then it happened--on Thursday I got a text message reading "Sushi tonite?" There was no name or number attached to it, so I had no idea where it came from. I had been trying to arrange a sushi night out with my friend Peter and his wife Mary Ann, so I called him. "Did you text me?" It wasn't him. Then I thought it might be my friend John, who has texted me on several occasions, but before I could call and check, my friend Jack called. "Did you get my text?" I explained that I did but that there was no name attached to it, so I didn't know who had sent it.

Now the problem isn't with no name or number being associated with text messages--it's the text messages themselves. I HATE THEM!!! I hate IM, I hate text messages. Call or e-mail--end of story. But it got me to thinking--these little messages cost money. 15 cents a piece on most plans if you don't have a text plan added to your cell phone service. And if I don't want to send or receive texts--do I have to? Well, if I sign up with T-mobile--apparently I do. This is pretty obnoxious--to pay for a service that you don't want or don't use with no way of opting out. Spammers are starting to catch onto to the lucrative potential of cell phones and even though it's illegal, there's not much one can do to stop it.

If a spammer texts my phone--or a friend who doesn't realize it irks me and that I have no text message plan sends me a message--I have to pay for it whether I read it or not. I can call customer service, complain about the spam message, get my 15 cents refunded and also file a complaint against the spammer with the FCC. But have you ever waited for a customer service rep? Imagine spending eternity on hold--all to get a 15 cent refund. I bet many customers can't be bothered with a the hassle. And I bet cell phone service providers and spammers are counting on that. You think there might even be a bit of collusion on both their parts? It seems to be a win-win situation for the spammers and service providers--the customer is the loser all the way around.

So for now I'm stuck with my quickly disintegrating TDMA network. But at least I'm not in a position where I'm dissatisfied and under a contract with a whopping early termination fee. Some people are going to extreme measures--even faking their own deaths--according to a recent article in The Washington Post. Perhaps in the near future, T-mobile will wise up about allow customer to disable/block text messaging or Verizon will start their nights and weekends at 7 pm like the rest of their competition. Until then, my option for being able to block unwanted text messages AND have nights and weekend minutes starting at 7 pm is Cingular. I mean the NEW AT&T. Sigh...

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Song of the Day - The Story

iTunes has this cool thing going where every Tuesday they post a free song by an up-and-coming artist for you to download. Now if you're a rap fan, the country tune on offer may not appeal to you but sometimes there's a gem up for grabs. And hey--who can argue with FREE?!!!

One such free iTune turned out to be a gem for me--Brandi Carlile's The Story. It was featured on an episode of Grey's Anatomy a while back--but I won't hold that against her.

(Seriously, how annoying has Grey's gotten? And I don't care how much they're paying Ellen Pompeo--she'd better watch her step! Having the show named after your character is no guarantee of anything. Just ask Valerie Harper whose eponymous show was renamed Valerie's Family and then The Hogan Family after her salary dispute led to her character's demise.

Now that the
Grey's producers have another "Grey" waiting in the wings in the form of Meredith's step-sister Lexie, it doesn't matter how many cardio-thoracic and neurosurgeon hotties are on call. The next time she's turning blue and they've charged the defibrillator as high as it will go, the producers will let her walk towards the light if she tries to hold out for more money.

Of course, the producers/writers are somewhat to blame for creating the dark and twisty "it doesn't matter that I'm a promising surgeon with a hottie boyfriend and my own house, I'm gonna let myself drown because my demented Mommy was mean to me" character. Oh please! Get over yourself. But Ellen Pompeo truly raises the bar for portraying the gratingly flat and whiny waif. Ugh. And she's looking a bit old to be an intern...)

Back to Brandi--at a mere 26 years-old, it might be hard to buy such lyrics as "All of these lines across my face, Tell you the story of who I am..." but damn does she ever sell it. Forget Amy Winehouse--she and her overdrawn eyeliner and tattoos can stay in rehab. Brandi Carlile is the real deal in my opinion. Her style on The Story is ragged whiskey and cigarettes morphing into a wailing blues crescendo.

Enjoy!


The Story

All of these lines across my face
Tell you the story of who I am
So many stories of where I’ve been
And how I got to where I am
But these stories don’t
mean anything
When you’ve got no one
to tell them to
It’s true
I was made for you

I climbed across the mountain tops
Swam all across the ocean blue
I crossed all the lines
and I broke all the rules
But baby I broke them all for you
Because even when I was flat broke
You made me feel
like a million bucks
Yeah you do
and I was made for you

You see the smile that’s on my mouth
Is hiding the words that don’t come out
And all of my friends who think that I’m blessed
They don’t know my head is a mess
No, they don’t know
who I really am
And they don’t know
what I’ve been through
but you do
And I was made for you

All of these lines across my face
Tell you the story of who I am
So many stories of where I’ve been
And how I got to where I am
But these stories don’t
mean anything
When you’ve got no one
to tell them to
It’s true
I was made for you

Oh yeah, it’s true
I was made for you

Friday, August 17, 2007

Reviews You can Use

It has been said that the "customer is always right," but sadly many of us have experienced quite the opposite in our dealings with vendors. Shoddy workmanship, couldn't care less customer service, defective equipment, expired warranties--who doesn't have a horror story of a purchase gone awry? Now with access to the Internet, not only are we able to warn our friends about the Thai restaurant that gave us food poisoning, we can share that experience with numerous strangers as well.

An article by The Washington Post profiles the online review site Yelp.com, which is one of the newest and hippest places where consumers can voice their opinions--both positive and negative. Need to find a Thai restaurant that WON'T give you food poisoning? Or a massage therapist who can really smooth out all your kinks? Or a dry cleaner to get the evidence of the afore-mentioned food poisoning out of your most favorite silk blouse?

That's the beauty of Yelp.com--and other local review sites such as Citysearch and the Insiderpages. You can not only give your opinions, but you can research the experiences of others as well. Just keep in mind that people are far more likely to vent their spleen when they have a negative experience, and remain silent when their experience is good. That being said, if there are ten reviews on a Thai restaurant and seven say that the service was terrible, the food was awful and they ended up with food poisoning the next day--chances are that's a place you want to avoid.

If you're looking for some sort of restitution or you want to make sure management is aware of your negative (or even positive) experience, PlanetFeedback is the way to go. Not only are the experiences of others available for you to peruse and use as guidance as to whether or not you want to do business with a company, but the site will help you craft a coherent letter to the company's management. (Note: this probably won't be effective with the little Thai restaurant down the street whose Green Curry required you to get your stomach pumped--or the little Mom 'n Pop dry cleaning establishment that ruined your silk blouse, but it will get your letter to major companies like Dell, Wal-mart or Bank of America.)

Before you buy that new CD Player or ceiling fan, you might want to check out epinions.com for user reviews on a wide variety of products. You can also find user reviews at many retailer websites like Amazon.com, BestBuy and Circuit City. Based on customer reviews you can find out BEFORE you buy an item whether it is easy to use or will it break down in three days.

For great technology reviews--software, hardware, peripherals and gadgets, c|net is the site to check. The site features products which have been given c|net's editors seal of approval, but also ratings by end users like you and me.

And for reviews on products that are near and dear to my heart--skincare and makeup products, the best resource I've found is at Makeup Alley. The site boasts 938,372 reviews of 79,678 products (and counting!) so if you're wondering if that new moisturizer will make your skin look as luscious as the model in the magazine ad, Makeup Alley is a great tool.

Finally, because you can't believe everything you read on the Internet, Snopes.com can finally put your mind to rest about the Neiman Marcus cookie incident (Talk about customer service horror stories! But the cookie recipe is awesome...), whether microwaved water kills plants or if you should worry about a roving band of kidney thieves harvesting the organs of unsuspecting travelers. I'll give you a hint--they're all FALSE.

So hip hip hooray for the Internet once again where you can just about anything about almost everything. Before it was caveat emptor--"let the buyer beware." Now with online review guides like Yelp and Citysearch it's more like, let the buyer be AWARE!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Netflix Quick Picks - Round 2

Whereby I tell you what's worth adding to your queue and what you can skip. Ahem--here it goes:

1. Seven Samurai - This is classic Kurosawa, however, it's not for the mindless movie watcher. First, it's almost 3 and 1/2 hours LONG!!! That's even longer than David Lynch's Inland Empire which felt like it was NINE HUNDRED HOURS long. This one has an intermission, but in my opinion all DVDs have intermissions. Put it on pause, get up and pee, grab a snack, check your e-mail. Then hit play. Whatever.

Also, it's black and white. I know that for some of you, a movie isn't really a movie unless it's in Technicolor. Third, it's in Japanese with subtitles. And like most Japanese movies, you'll have a character babbling for three minutes in Japanese with a three word subtitle. Uh, really? I think he said more than that...

The last issue is that Seven Samurai is the movie that The Magnificent Seven was based on. Now, I loved The Magnificent Seven, but as soon as I figured out the Seven Samurai was essentially the same story (I had seen The Magnificent Seven first...), I sort of lost interest in watching the old, three and a half hour long, black and white, Japanese with English subtitles version. I made it through most of it. In my opinion, stick with the Americanized version. In addition to being an hour and a half SHORTER than the original version, it features James Coburn--as well as great performances by Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Robert Vaughn, Charles Bronson and Eli Wallach.

The other thing I liked better about The Magnificent Seven over Seven Samurai is that the villagers in the remake are decent, noble, hard-working people who are being terrorized by Eli Wallach and his gang of banditos. In the original Japanese version, the villagers are portrayed as a bunch of whiny crybabies. Seriously--who wants to root for a bunch of whiners?

2. Point Blank - Interesting and edgy editing and chronology and of course Lee Marvin is aces. But ultimately I wasn't really thrilled by this neo-noir thriller.

3. Cat Ballou - Again Lee Marvin is excellent and Jane Fonda looks so pretty it hurts. Part western, part musical comedy--sort of like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly meets Oklahoma. It didn't quite work for me, but it was a mostly enjoyable ride.

4. Rock School - This documentary about Paul Green's Philadelphia music school for kids is a major snore. Unless you're majorly into Frank Zappa (as is Paul Green and by default all his students), you won't quite see the point of a nine year-old yelling Black Sabbath lyrics off-key into a microphone. Rent the Jack Black comedy School of Rock instead. You'll enjoy it much more.

5. Klute - Jane Fonda's career-defining performance also features a young Donald (Kiefer's dad) Sutherland in the title role. Other than being amazed at Fonda's stunning looks, this movie didn't do all that much for me. But it is a classic, so it's worth seeing.

6. The Long Goodbye - Neo-noir featuring Elliot Gould as Phillip Marlowe. Yup, that's right--Elliot Gould. Directed by Robert Altman. I love Altman; The Player, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Gosford Park, M.A.S.H.--all brilliant. Classics. The Long Goodbye is classic and brilliant for many people, but not for me. Noir is supposed to be taut and terse, not loose and loopy. Skip it--see Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon or (if it's not a "movie" unless it's in Technicolor) Joseph Gordon Levitt in Brick instead...

7. Volver - Penelope Cruz stars in this odd tale of mother-daughter love and sacrifice. It meanders a bit, but is ultimately engrossing thanks to the charm and sass of its star.

8. The Machinist - Christian Bale looking like he weighs less than Mary-Kate Olsen in this psychological thriller about a man with an extreme case of insomnia. It may not be that Bale's Trevor Reznik CAN'T sleep as much as he WON'T sleep. Excruciating to watch Bale's amazing performance of a tormented man whose grip on reality is slipping away with the rest of him. If you liked Jacob's Ladder, definitely add this to your queue!

9. Vanilla Sky - Tom Cruise was the perfect choice to cast as the man with everything and to whom everything comes easily. Dreamy, trippy, gorgeous.

Next up--more Christian Bale in American Psycho and Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman in the classic Midnight Cowboy. Stay tuned!