Why the Internet is Winning

I do most of my shopping online because I live in Los Angeles, and Los Angeles excels at making everything much more difficult than it needs to be. Film shoots beget street closures beget gridlock beget aneurysms. If you somehow make it to the store, you find a Thunderdome atmosphere overstuffed with people enraged it took them 20 minutes to find a parking spot, and you are in their fucking way. No, thanks. I’d rather be a shut-in.

But I received a Barnes & Noble gift card from my mother for Hanukkah, and I thought, “I haven’t been to a book store in awhile. I used to love going to book stores, and I miss them a lot. This will be fun.” I found myself in Santa Monica on a recent Sunday for a brutal and bloody afternoon of War of the Ring with an old friend. After the battle cries ended, I ventured to the Santa Monica Promenade, an ongoing social experiment pitting an army of homeless people against an invading horde of tourists in a crowded outdoor mall. Who will win?

I avoided the car-pinball parking structures and managed a street spot near Barnes & Noble. Signs announced that I would be towed if I didn’t move my car by 5 PM. It was 4:15. I had plenty of time. Or I should have. I walked down the street, into the store, past the not-smiling security guards and up the two escalators to the Science Fiction & Fantasy section.

WoolFirst item on my list: Shift by Hugh Howey, the follow-up to his completely captivating Wool. (I lost more sleep to this book than any in recent memory, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Drug pushers should take lessons in addictiveness from Howey.) Given the holidays had just passed, I didn’t expect fully stocked shelves, but I found inventory thin enough to make Calista Flockhart envious. No Shift for me.

I did manage to find a few titles after poking around. With only one book left on my list, I set out to find Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh. I have been reading her blog a lot lately and was super-excited to read her bizarro life stories in book form. I rode the two escalators back down to the ground floor, thinking that’s where Humor lived. Nope. A sales associate led me back up to the second floor, located the section and a hardback copy of the book. I had wanted paperback, and she told me I could find it downstairs on a display table. I rode the escalator back down, wandered around and found a table with hardback copies – no paperback.

Time ticking away, frustration building, and tow truck images flashing through my mind, I decided Allie Brosh would have to wait. I queued up to pay and soon found myself face-to-face with a gentleman who asked me if I’d found everything okay. “Actually,” I said. “I’m looking for a paperback copy Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh, and I couldn’t find it.” He actually sighed. And then he said something like, “You can’t come to the front of the line and then expect us to help you find something. You need to talk to customer service over there.” He pointed a customer service desk near the elevator. He continued, “Do you want to go talk to them now?”

I can’t say that’s his exact quote, but it was the gist. He had asked if I had found everything I needed and then refused to help me find anything. The guy was a dick. If I remember correctly, he also had a goatee and a beret… a fucking beret.

I paid and walked over to customer service. To their credit, they weren’t dicks. The kind woman told me to go back up to the third floor and look for a table called “Laugh Out Loud,” and I’d find the book there. So I rode the two escalators back upstairs, checking my watch, now imagining calling my girlfriend, asking her to drive an hour to get my car out of a Santa Monica impound lot. But I wanted that book, dammit.

Hyperbole and a HalfI wandered the third floor for awhile, checking every table I could find for “Laugh Out Loud.” No luck. I wasn’t laughing out loud. I was getting “Muttering Under My Breath Angry.” I eventually told another customer service associate what I was looking for. She sighed loudly and said that they had taken the “Laugh Out Loud” table down, but she guessed that customer service on the first floor didn’t know that. Apparently, customer service had divided into warring clans, and I was to be a non-combatant casualty. The woman called first-floor customer service, and then I rode more escalators. And there, sitting on the customer service counter, were paperback copies of Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half. Holy fucking shit! I grabbed one, paid for it, and got the hell out of there. And no, I didn’t get towed.

I used to like stores. I spent much of my young adult life working retail – fond memories, mostly – and am sad to see that world eroding away. But this visit to Barnes & Noble couldn’t have been a clearer indicator as to why. Lousy customer service and poor inventory don’t make happy customers. The whole process of buying a few books took over a half-hour, many sales associates, two loud sighs and probably twenty escalator rides. It would have taken five minutes online.

P.S. Hyperbole and a Half is completely hilarious and great, well worth the effort to locate. I had to set the book down five times just reading the first story because I couldn’t stop laughing. Brosh’s sharp wit and ridiculous illustrations support surprisingly poignant and insightful stories, all of them worth your time. Get it!

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Put Your Phone Away

Please? I was really excited to see this movie, and now you’re ruining it. The light from your phone illuminates the theater like the beam from the Luxor. It’s distracting, and it rips me out of the experience of enjoying the film. I can clearly see that you’re texting someone, and I can almost make out the words. You put the phone away after a minute, but then it’s back out moments later for more texting.

Texting

I whisper a couple times, “Can you please put away your phone?” You ignore me, of course. I say it louder, “Put your phone away!” You look back angrily, as if I’m bothering you. But you’re bothering me and everyone else, and you don’t have the right. You’re not home in your living room. You’re in a crowded theater full of people who have paid real money to watch this film. Instead, we’re watching you text.

A few minutes later, I go get a meek employee from the concessions stand. She tries to talk to you, but you insist on standing up and getting in my face, threatening me. You put your hand on my arm, and I shake it off. The theater employee intervenes, and I go back to my seat. The employee and security talk to you for awhile in hushed whispers while you glare at me. By now, you’ve completely wrecked the movie for me. The ruckus we’ve created has probably ruined the movie for many of the other folks in the theater, as well. Thanks for making me into an asshole.

At least you keep your phone off for the rest of the film.

As the credits roll, you get up, come over and say something about wanting to see me outside. I do my best to ignore you, and you go away eventually. I always watch the credits because I like to see the names of everyone who dedicated so much time and energy to make the movie, the movie you just ruined. This also buys me a little time. Maybe you’ll cool off. Maybe you’ll go away. Leaving the theater, I request a refund and ask for security to escort me to my car. People can be crazy, and you’ve clearly demonstrated you’re a hothead asshole with something to prove. I’m not a fighter, and you might have a knife or worse. Fortunately, you’re gone. And that’s the end of it.  Until the next time I try to enjoy a movie at the theater, that is.

Will you put your phone away? Please?

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Franchise Hogs

I read this morning that Logan Lerman, the guy who plays Percy Jackson in Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, is very close to being cast as Peter Parker in the upcoming Spider-Man reboot.  I enjoyed Lerman in The Lightning Thief.  I thought he did nice work evolving his character’s unsteady charm into the winking confidence that his demi-god required.  As Peter Parker, I’m pretty confident that he would deliver a solid and likeable performance, embrace the awkwardness and insecurity that defines Parker, and ultimately rise to the heroics that makes him Spider-Man.  That’s all fine.

However, none of this forgives him being a franchise hog!  Popular actors cashing in on multiple high-profile franchises is really nothing new.  Did people cast aspersions on Harrison Ford for playing Han Solo and Indiana Jones?  Did they level criticism on Humphrey Bogart for playing Rick Blaine and Sam Spade?  I can’t say, but these days franchise hogging seems to have become an epidemic.  It seems like every time I read the entertainment headlines there’s another franchise hog, and it’s gotten out of control.

Shia LaBeouf first got me thinking about this when he appeared in Transformers and then Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.  I like Shia LaBeouf, and I know he worked for years to get to where he is.  I’m sure when his agent came to him with the possibility of working on either film, he hesitated to think about the greater good.  He just screamed, “Hell yes!”  The idea of working with Steven Spielberg or even getting punched by Michael Bay were too good to pass up.  No one can blame him.

Let me back up for a second and define what I mean by “franchise.”  Entertainment lawyers may debate me, but I mean movies that are based on materials that have a devoted fan base and will likely lead to sequels.  I’m talking about reboots, comic book movies, book adaptations, TV crossovers, etc.  You know what I mean.  Shia LaBeouf can make Eagle Eye and Disturbia all day long, as far as I’m concerned.  The problem lies when he starts popping up in things that have become iconic to our culture, playing household name characters (or characters from tremendously popular movies) over and over: franchise hogging.

There have been plenty of other offenders lately.  The surly and gravel-chewing Christian Bale chomped down on Batman and Terminator, a major issue for me.  Should he be allowed to be both Bruce Wayne and John Connor?  Robert Downey, Jr. played Tony Stark in Iron Man along with Sherlock Holmes.  Shouldn’t he just get one?

Why is this a problem?  It breaks the spell.  I want to disappear into my entertainment.  I want Batman to be Batman, dammit!  I don’t want to be distracted thinking I just saw him fighting robots in the future.  I don’t want to wonder if Jude Law will make a wink-wink cameo in the next Iron Man movie.  I just want to grab on for the ride and not be distracted by stuff like this.  Hats off to Peter Jackson for mostly avoiding huge name actors for the Lord of the Rings movies.  Not to say that he went with unknowns, but can you imagine if he had cast Tom Cruise as Aragorn?  What if Tom Hanks played Bilbo Baggins?  Why not Cameron Diaz as Galadriel?

I also believe in spreading the wealth.  Years ago, a friend of mine who does voice acting was lamenting the loss of voice work to name actors.  Yes, Billy Crudup and Morgan Freeman, we’re talking to you.  If you listen to the voice work in commercials these days, you’ll recognize Edward Norton , David Duchovny, Tom Selleck and so on.  These jobs used to go to unknowns, but more and more big name actors (or their agents) have been muscling in on the voice action.  I understand wanting to ride the gravy train that their success provides, but that half-day’s voice work would have paid someone else’s rent for a year.

The same goes for franchise hogging.  Why not let somebody else get their big break?

Hollywood economics aside, franchise hogs mostly upset me as a fan.  Nowhere is this more evident than in comic book movies.  I grew up reading comics as a kid, and I still love them today.  I celebrated the victories of comic book heroes and mourned their losses.  They even helped me to better understand some of my own challenges growing up.  While I didn’t have blue skin like Nightcrawler, I did know what it was like to feel ostracized sometimes.  Peter Parker didn’t always get the girl, and neither did I.  When you grow up loving these characters and their journeys, you want them brought to the screen with the greatest of care.  And it’s a fucking honor to get to play their parts.

You shouldn’t be playing multiple superheroes.  Period.  Ryan Reynolds played Deadpool in the awful X-Men Origins: Wolverine and is set to appear in his own spin-off film about Deadpool.  Awesome!  But wait, he’s also going to be Green Lantern?  And both movies are set to be released next year?  What the hell?  How can he be in both the Marvel and DC universes?

Unfortunately, it gets worse.  Chris Evans was recently cast as Captain America in The First Avenger: Captain America.  Congratulations, Chris.  You look the part, you’ve got natural charisma, and you’ve proven yourself as a leading man and ensemble player time and time again.  I can really see you wielding the shield, but you might be the biggest franchise hog of them all!  Some of us are trying to forget the Fantastic Four movies, but we still remember you as the Human Torch.  How are you supposed to play two characters in the Marvel universe?  How does that work?

Why should we care about franchise hogs?  Why does any of this matter?  Because movies matter.  There will always be a little kid in me that goes to the theatre to experience things far greater than I could ever experience in my own life.  I want to live out dreams.  These actors are our guides, and we look to them with trust and adoration.  They shouldn’t mislead us.  They shouldn’t confuse us.  They should do right by the stories that they help to tell.

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Disney Buys Marvel

I was all motivated to write tonight, but I just might drink tequila instead.  All day today I had this nagging sensation that something was horribly wrong.  I tried to write it off as personal jitters, as it was my first day back at work in awhile.  But I couldn’t shake it.  The feeling persisted.  And then I read that Disney bought Marvel for four billion dollars.

What does this mean?  My first reaction was fear and rage (as it is to most things).  Will Disney dull Marvel’s creative edge?  Will it squash the less family-friendly titles and characters?  What will happen to imprints like Icon, Marvel Knights and MAX?  Will The Punisher be put down?  Will Wolverine be de-clawed?  Will Bambi join the Avengers?

Or will Disney pump money into Marvel features?  Will uber-projects like The Avengers really get made?  Will Disney add Marvel rides to its theme parks?  Will generations of children that would have never known comic books actually discover them?

It’s possible that some some good with come of this.  Maybe.  I certainly hope so.

spider_mouse2

(Image borrowed from here.)

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Fallen Heroes

Dear Heroes,

WTF?  Seriously, I don’t know what else to say.  I don’t mean to be a dick or anything, but WTF?  What the hell is going on with you this season?  You used to be one of my favorite shows.  I believe I once said, “Heroes might be my favorite show of all time.”  No longer.  I recently tried to defend you, calling you a “guilty pleasure,” and even that’s probably a stretch.  Lately, I’m just confused and annoyed.  Stuff just happens each episode, and there seems to be no real reason for any of it.  Are you jerking us around?  Sylar was bad, and now he’s good.  Now he’s bad again!  I got your nose!  Seriously, WTF?  Another save-the-future storyline?  Really?  And then the eclipse?  That turned out to be a very nice segue to nowhere.  I’m not abandoning all hope for you yet, even if I should.  Please turn things around soon.  I would write more, but I’m too frustrated.

Sincerely.

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