Archive for the Opinion Category

Movies I Almost Missed… Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

Posted in Movie Reviews, Opinion with tags , , , , on October 20, 2016 by ThommyMac

LevineIsBUSTED

OK, this is a biggie and it was thanks to my dearly departed and very sadly missed younger brother Tony that I saw it. He turned me on to it as well as the original Robocop*, I had zero intention of seeing either. He rarely said “No, you will really dig it” so when he did, I would. Good ol’ IMDB says:

An examination of the machinations behind the scenes at a real estate office. (Maybe why it didn’t reach the audience levels it deserves.)

Director: James Foley Stars: Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Alec Baldwin, Alan Arkin

Sometimes when a play is made into a film, the cast and director fit so well as a team and run with the material so that the sum really is greater than the parts. And what a team! Jack Lemmon, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin, and Al Pacino are in the zone, pretty much in that order. Surprisingly (to some) Alec Baldwin is absolutely p-e-r-f-e-c-t in his small role. For some reason that role doesn’t seem much of a reach, hence it’s realism and believability. Kevin Spacey does what he does best, which is hold his own. Looking at the cast that he is “holding his own” with shows how he got his reputation. I did not realize how many folks have missed this gem. Willy Loman’s rat race was a conga line compared to what these cats faced, let alone what sales must be like in our so-called information age. “Oh come on, what’s the point? What’s the f*ing point? in any case I gotta argue with you, I gotta knock heads with the cops, I’m busting my b*lls selling your dirt to deadbeats”

As a one-time owner of a one-man IT company, I hit a voice over IP webinar that, who knows how, got my cell phone number. The sheer numbers of sales calls generated by that one slip-up was amazing to behold. If you had the same problem due to attending one by a clip joint who pretends it assists nonprofits, my user name at Gmail is a good way to get a hold of me. It’s in the Philly area and had to change its names, allegedly because folks were getting wise to them. The reason I bring that up is the horrible desperation that hangs over most salesman. By “men” I mean “human” which embraces female as well. Before I forget the movie does NOT have any of the usually pleasant “B“s such as bare breasts, blood, bodies, or beasts. What it does have is an awful lot of swearing. I don’t mind but it does have as much as a Tarantino film. I do mind all the “C” words being bandied about. I understand not everyone grew up in the south side of Pittsburgh way back when it was allegedly a tough neighborhood but calling someone any of the “C” words in my day? It was generally a warning to put up your dukes. Then again, nowadays a simple fistfight will get you charged with simple assault. Then you’ll even have to pay for the counseling of the punk who started it but called the cops after he lost. **embarrassed silence** Or so I have heard. “Get on the phone to Pittsburgh. American Express there and tell them Mr. Morton is on the one o’clock.”

In the ‘Premier Properties’ office, where 90% of the story takes place, there is an old time dot matrix banner. It’s on the left, hanging on the wall above the window into Williamson’s office. It is with no little irony the words are “Salesman are born not made.” As a long time IT guy for a variety of endeavors, I have seen many positions and departments in action. Sales is a world unto itself but there seems to be three distinct types of salesman. Before we go any further I should say that I genuinely admire successful sales people. Like any hack politician, I could say some of my best friends work in sales. OK, time to move on. The first is what all of them aspire to be as personified by Ricky Roma. A smoothie, naturally born con man who can manipulate people the way an artist can put their imprint on a medium. Indeed, these guys and gals are artists and people are their medium. Sales quota? They haven’t missed one since they first heard their calling working the phones for a phone spam company. Maybe it’s the gullibility of the folks who actually buy tickets to those fireman or police benefit magic shows. “When I talk to the police I get nervous.”

Their first trick is absorbing 99% of the donation in admin costs. Then they go perfect their chops with a standard cattle call sales gig like working an automobile lot. They watch the newbies burnout their built in leads such as family and friends and then flame-out or fall by the wayside. After a gig or three they find their niche. Real estate, high end cars, software, or whatever needs moved and they can move it. I knew a salesman got his A.S. in programming but didn’t dig it much. It did give him some connections and he went on to sell enterprise level software way back when 3.5″ floppies were being phased out. During routine email archives I truly by accident saw one about his great job in landing some huge sale. His commission? $18,000 for that single sale and he was nailing them. Keep in mind this was back when your car couldn’t hold $20 worth of gasoline.They are born salesmen and stand on a pyramid whose base is made of failures and newbies. This leads us to the second class of salesman, “the failure”. Almost any who are not a “Ricky Roma” class salesman fall into this one. “A man doesn’t walk on the lot lest he wants to buy.”

Like Willy Loman, these deluded fools have always felt it is far more important to be liked instead of known. They have tried and tried but from Fuller Brushes to Real-estate Developments to Used Cars, they can’t make quota 3 fiscal quarters in a row. Before this seems hypocritical and mean-spirited, my past problems were self-medicating and now a dozen years in the past. These folks are either masochists or have a weaker grasp on reality than yours truly. Like Willy, they dream of the day when they can call buyers, line them up with sellers and make a mint with a phone call each morning. I used to want to play guitar and be a rock star but that was outgrown by my second year in the Army. The point is there is a talent requirement that just isn’t there and most of us know when we just ain’t got it. “They’re standing out there waiting to give you their money! Are you going to take it? Are you man enough to take it?”

Almost 20 years ago I walked in to do Saturday maintenance on the servers at the best job I ever had. We did it on Shabbat because, ironically, sales would cry they were finalizing some big deal on any given Friday. This was long before I became a practicing Jew but G-d wants us to earn a living, so 1 out 4 each month wouldn’t haver been too bad. Anyhow, that particular Saturday was a beautiful summer day. To this day, I don’t mind off-hour server maintenance. That day I knew if things went without a hitch, it would be over soon. No big updates or patches to cause any of the heartache that NT 4 was infamous for. Plus the drive to and from Oakmont, PA was along the very picturesque Allegheny River Boulevard and was usually a pleasant one. As was my habit, I went to each area to tell whoever was there I was taking the systems down. I would make an announcement over the PA after that physical verification. If it was end of quarter, there was even odds some poor sap would be in the sales department area, running on their self-made hamster wheel of pain. “We’re adding a little something to this month’s sales contest. As you all know, first prize is a Cadillac Eldorado. Anybody want to see second prize? (Holds up prize) Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you’re fired.”

On that particular Saturday the lone sales guy who was there about defecated when I told him I was taking the systems down. I remember it as if it were yesterday. He looked like the bald guy popular in commercials during my youth. He was the one who always ran out of Miracle Whip right before finalizing a sandwich. Being a kinder, gentler soul back then I patiently let him rant and then replied. “Guy, first off MIS does this every Saturday morning even on holiday weekends. Second, who are you going to reach on a Saturday morning? Seriously. Nobody important would be my guess. Third, if you are this close to quarter and not making quota, ruining a Saturday ain’t going to help. If I were in your shoes I would go play with the kids or walk in the park and leave the pain for Monday.” Instead of being touched, as I had hoped, he did the usual flurry of sales department bullshit. Sputtering about telling the VP on me, some deal worth a million bucks on the line, dedication, blah blah blah. For those wondering, in another quarter he was forced to walk the plank. Who are the third type?, you ask. They are one of the newbies who all hope to conquer the world. English or Art majors with student loans already on their backs, mostly. Almost all of them hope they are the one in a hundred “Ricky Romas”. All I can say to that is “Coffee is for CLOSERS

*Yes, his recommendation of the 1st Robocop was on the money as well.

Seven stars for Waterloo (1970) ? SEVEN?

Posted in Movie Reviews, Opinion with tags , , , , on October 17, 2016 by ThommyMac

Waterloo2

Tagline: One incredible afternoon Napoleon met Wellington . . . at Waterloo.

Waterloo 1971  Director: Sergey Bondarchuk

Starring Rod Steiger, Christopher Plummer, plus many others, and thousands of Soviet soldiers.

**shakes head in mixture of disbelief and sadness** Fan boys and shills inflating IMDB’s ratings system would be my guess. Then again, members of the TCM forum react to this film much like People magazine’s average coverage of JFK Jr. , so you got me. Now, if this were a very expensive comedy, Rod’s portrayal of Napoleon would be BRILLIANT. Rod Steiger, per usual, playing to the rafters should not be a surprise to anyone. His Napoleon? Think Bugs Bunny, hand on stomach while sporting Nappy’s infamous chapeau and you’re close to the delivery. To be fair, Bugs’ director probably explained the character a little better. Plus rumour has it that Bugs was infamously easy to work with. Chris Plummer, whose in more bombs than most folks realize, is not going to have some Yank out do him. Not quite as bad as say fellow Canadian big Billy S. but he does slap some glazing on. Him and Rod’s declarations on the battle field had me feeling like I broke the Kosher dietary law regarding ham. Using that clever bit of foreshadowing, the battle scenes are the main reasons to watch this.  Those scenes were incredible and would be well nigh impossible to create in this era of CGI cut n paste.

For friends who are not that big into 19th century European history, one of the most infamous bad calls using one’s cavalry occurred at Waterloo. Nappy thought he had Wellington on the ropes, mistaking him pulling back to tighten his line for THE retreat he was hoping for, so he sends out the Emperor’s reserves. I know this is a movie review but bear with me for a second. General de Brigade (Brigadier General if you ain’t already figured that out) Pierre Farine du Creux, of the 14th Cavalry Division was told to prepare his brigade, and six squadrons of the 5th and 10th Cuirassier Regiments, to charge the ridge in the center of Wellington’s position. His superior Charles, Count Lefebvre-Desnoettes gets wind of this and begins a urinating contest too complicated to get into right now. You’d probably have to be a fellow combat arms vet to get it, anyhow.  The bottom line is Boneyard’s cavalry were squandered in a move more like the Chicago stockyards than a battle.  That is all included in a combination of helicopter and dolly shots that have to be seen to be believed. I would give up many things to have seen this at the theatre with a new 70mm print.  The incredible amount of extras with a skill set are due to Dino De Laurentis’ always creative financing.

To get more dough and cut down costs Dino went to good ol’ Mosfilms. If you weren’t a teenager during the Cold War, that is most likely only gonna elicit a shrug. Mosfilms was the Soviet Union’s state owned and operated film industry. Your folks probably better remember it as the evil empire’s propaganda machine. Having a Russian mom, I grew up hiding that fact. Institutionalized racism against Russians in the guise of “Anti-Communism” was the order of the day for 40-some years. I could name some US propaganda flicks of my own but that’s beyond the scope here. Let’s just agree Dino going to Mosfilm with hat in hand was unique and VERY uhhhh ballsy at the time. That unlikely marriage led to the following end credit:

SteigerNappyCreditRedArmy

Having watched this 3 more times to correct the review, it is definitely worth watching. The aforementioned battle scenes are inimitable and using the Red Army for extras gives it a depth and realism that would be close to impossible to film today.

“Waterloo” stirred up some deep nostalgia for me. The first time I watched it I was 12 and it was with my dearly departed Dad. A little black and white with aluminum foil attached to the rabbit ears. This was a noble, if doomed, attempt to overcome Jones & Laughlin’s steel mill. That mill was between us and WTAE Pittsburgh until my 1st year in the Army. Again, I can only dream of what it looked like in Panavision with a screen with the proper ratio. It also reminded me of the hours and hours of playing Stratego with one of my favourite persons on the planet, Mike Janesko. Goodness, we could spend an entire rainy day playing it.

Then again, the 2011 farce “No Strings Attached” got 6 stars so I really oughta chill on Waterloo getting 7. Like any old man, I just don’t deal with inflation too well.

But if 5 is middling, 7 ain’t too bad at all. On examination, 7 stars is fine.

-Thom MacIntyre

Movies I Almost Missed…

Posted in Movie Reviews, Opinion with tags , , , on October 4, 2016 by ThommyMac

let_us_prey_ver2

Let Us Prey (2014)

There are so many GEMS out there, for many reasons, I almost didn’t see. A fair chunk I had passed by because of who the “stars” were. As I mature in my movie enjoyment, I have quit "not seeing" movies because someone I consider a dud is in it. These entries come from a list I had created over at the inimitable IMDB.com. The list was getting long enough to where a movie’s numerical place doesn’t mean much of anything. Sometimes forced to watch it for social reasons, I have been surprised by all of the flicks I would like to cover. I want to give credit where credit is due. Not all of the films I want to cover are great but I feel ALL are worth watching. The short descriptions are courtesy of the aforementioned IMDB and are no doubt copyrighted. As you have probably guessed, the accompanying critique is courtesy of yours truly. I will try to post a new one weekly before or immediately after Shabbat. It will depend on the time Shuls starts and when I get to the synagogue. I have to revamp\re-write so as to never have any spoilers, even if the movie being discussed is 50 years old. If I ever do slip, write me at raran2099@outlook.com

IMDB says “Held in a remote police station, a mysterious stranger takes over the minds and souls of everyone inside.” (92 mins.) with the tagline “Darkness shall rise.”

Director: Brian O’Malley Stars: Liam Cunningham, Pollyanna McIntosh, Bryan Larkin, Hanna Stanbridge

This is a very clever film, if a bit on the disturbing side. It has great dialogue, above average acting, and is definitely a movie worth the hour and a half it takes out of our finite time in this thing we call life. It shows how great writing, solid acting, and a talented crew can make the very most out of a budget. That is starting to be a theme with me, I think. It’s hard to discuss this one without giving anything away. OK, being a wannabe writer all my life, I ended up hanging out with the bohemian crowd most of my post-Army life. I don’t wanna sound like a politician but I do want to get a couple things out of the way. A HUGE chunk of the bohemian crowd is gay so it stands to reason a healthy of my friends is gay. You’ll notice I didn’t say “Gay friends” because a person’s sexuality is so off the radar with me but I don’t want to catch any heat for honest observations. The same goes for blacks. I grew up in a black part of Pittsburgh so a large percentage of my friends are black. Growing up that way didn’t make me talk like Justin Timberlake but it did open up this metal head to some awesome Motown as well as R&B stuff. Notice I didn’t say “African-American” because all my black friends HATE that term. OK, I just wanted to get that stuff out of the way early in what I hope turns out to be a series.

Guess what? There WAS a reason why I brought that up. I have to stress to any gay writers out there, realistic hetero pillow talk sounds NOTHING like what you read in Penthouse. I’m not into talking about sex with anyone but my partner but I imagine hetero pillow talk and gay pillow talk is very similar, depending on what’s your bag as a couple. So, friends who end up watching this, the scene with the couple having sex early in the flic actually does establish some stuff and is not indicative of the conversations ahead. Those all seemed very believable. Well, I found them believable given the circumstances. SO its pretty much a clever script and solid acting overcoming a tight budget. Good direction and cinematography as well. There are some really disturbing moment but these moments are earned, not just simple gross out like, I dunno, “Cannibal Holocaust” or something. So check it out. I watched it on Netflix. As thrilled as I am to get notes from readers, do not point out how few stars anything I review has garnered. Pieces of sh1t like “No Strings Attached” gets more stars than whatever? Pfft.

Yeah, baby, yeah!!!!

Posted in Current Events, Info, Opinion, Pittsburgh with tags , , on September 25, 2016 by ThommyMac

pghskylnWebSize

It is no surprise to me BUT the ‘Burgh was mentioned in MSN travel today:

America’s Most Underrated Cities!

Most folks who know me know that deep down I love my hometown, especially now that I am back in the Squirrel Hill area. Absolutely EVERY ‘Out of Towner’ I have talked to is floored at how nice the city is, especially its appearance and people. I am pretty widely travelled and I can only think of 2 cities where strangers at the bus stop routinely strike up a conversation. Here (Pittsburgh, PA USA) and Nashville TN. A sunny day in London, UK can make it quite friendly but the ‘Burgh is friendly pretty near all the time. And the amazing or charming thing is how that little bit of conversation transcends. Gay folks, black folks, punk rockers, hipsters, wannabes, even city hicks will all talk a little waiting for the bus. THAT can’t be quantified but is pretty darn cool. It can even be life changing if not actually life saving. I’ll share an example that I have only shared with close friends until now. It is so hard to believe this happened over 30 years ago. I was 1/2 drunk and waiting for a bus. My dad had taken his own life 18 hours before and I was NUTS. An older black fellow in a housekeeping uniform saw the tears streaming down my face. They wouldn’t go away no matter how hard I tried to stop or hide them. He asked me what was wrong and I told him. He hugged me long and hard and tried to give me $20. I said no thanks and he said “let a brother buy a nephew a drink”. I took the 20 and bought a case. This was the mid 1980s and $20 could get you a case of Genny Cream and a couple packs of name brand smokes. He never did say his name but I never forgot that guy. Think that would happen in, ohhhh, say Philly? Asking someone the time there could lead to a fist fight. I can say it without apology, I love Pittsburgh, PA. Maybe that is what kept me around the 4 times I had a chance at a good gig far away.

-T

On Your Way to a Casino? Food For Thought

Posted in Gaming, Math, Opinion with tags , , , on September 25, 2016 by ThommyMac

Many think card games are easily beatable by card counting. This is reinforced by the movie “21” and the ‘fact’ that there are only 52 cards in a deck. Make no mistake, when the winning results are based solely on a total, the odds drop. When winning can be based on a total, a sequential order, or any combo therein, it gets complicated FAST.  The thing to really wrap your head around first is each card has a different value that is static. Even without rigging the game, the house always wins. Why? The key is each card being truly unique and  how many combinations that can be produced by 52 cards. That makes 52 (well, duh) factorial combinations. If you didn’t pay attention in your senior year of math, do a search on 52! (keeping the exclamation point) or just search on factorial properties. That will clear up any doubts that those 52 cards produce a truly unimaginable 80658175170943878571660636856403766975289505440883277824000000000000 possible combinations. Look or even stare at that number for a minute. If you use a hand cranked shuffler your Gramma used for Pokeno or diligently shuffle a deck a couple times, that combo in your hand has never come about before and probably never will again. That alternately comforts me or bums me out on depressing Sunday mornings thinking about the nature of life and if any Higher Power really cares about me or us. Then there is the old joke about the mathematician who gets financially clobbered in Vegas. Believing his supposedly superior intellect and post-grad degree would carry him over the odds, he takes his life savings out west and loses it all.  He cries to another tearful loser “Bernoulli’s principle should of carried the day!” in the parking lot of some casino. Having just gambled away his hardware store in Batavia, NY the man next to him is in no mood to listen to a guy in a tweed jacket with fuzzy elbow patches sing the blues. The man gives him a hard look and says “Mister, mob or not, them cards ain’t never heard of no Bernoulli!”

-T

sad-main_full-300x300

Yes, I ‘updated’ the joke a bit. Kids grow up so fast. I was born the year the original “Spy Who Came In From the Cold” was filmed and it looks like a hundred years ago. **sigh** Anyhow …