2018 top movies

24 02 2019
Here are my top 10 favorite movies of the year, whether you want it or not.  Some are awards darlings, some are just good movies, and one (or more?) are just movies I really enjoyed and want to pump up a bit.  I like what I like, you can like what you like- movies are fun like that!

1. If Beale Street Could Talk – Full disclosure:  I didn’t like Moonlight.  This works for me though, a lot, and I’m not totally sure why.  Maybe the period piece (1970’s Harlem) nature of it sparks a bit more interest, or maybe the performances just lock it in more for me.  The score has a lot to do with it too- it’s honestly kind of mesmerizing.  Either way, this is a mostly slow-burning drama with moments of explosive emotion that I would recommend to everyone who’s into that kind of thing- but dim the lights and focus on it (don’t start watching it while folding laundry, like I did- you’ll never finish that laundry folding until the credits roll).

2. Roma – Possibly the best shot movie of the last… 10 years(?), which is pretty impressive since it’s entirely in black and white and has no discernible special effects or spectacle to it.  It’s a slow burn (or bleed, really) and has a natural and wholly immersive vibe to it that’s tough to find in movies (especially recent films).  I’d say that if this doesn’t win best cinematography, you might as well scrap the award entirely.  Probably my pick for winning Best Picture, but I wouldn’t say it’s hugely better than my other favorites this year.

3. Overlord – Even after seeing so many other films, this is still one of my favorites of the year.  It handles the zombie Nazi plot with absolutely straight seriousness and the cast of largely no-name actors really pull you in.  The characters have enough specificity to feel real and get you invested, but the plot doesn’t bog down in B stories or side work.  It’s pretty straightforward and would still work without the zombie element.  It’s expertly edited and soundmixed (the opening air drop scene is among one of the best I’ve seen in ANY war movie).  An original story and as good a war or horror movie as you’ll find lately.  Nobody went to see this movie.

4. Mission Impossible: Fallout – Yet another excellent installment in the series, and pretty easily the best action movie of the year.  The stunts are largely practical and it’s incredibly refreshing to see.  The plot is functional and makes sense, and the fine cast (Cruise, Cavill, Baldwin, Ferguson, Pegg, etc) keep it rolling with light humor and genuine teamwork.  But let’s be real- the plot just gets us to those amazing action parts.  I hope they make 10 more of these.

5. Bumblebee – Hailee Steinfeld shines in this heartfelt coming-of-age story about a teenage girl trying to connect with others after the tragic death of her father.  Also: transforming robot fights.  Seriously though, this is a very well-acted movie dramady with some action parts scattered in, but largely it’s a capable ET-like story with the aforementioned Steinfeld and the mute space robot she stumbles upon.  Excellently directed by Travis Knight whose previous film Kubo and the Two Strings is also well worth a watch.  I love it.

6. Green Book – Simple narrative really but everything feels very tight story-wise and, like other movies on my list, the performances elevate it to excellence.  Mahershala Ali works mainly in subtlety and plays incredibly well off of the more animated (but believable) Viggo Mortensen.  A very solid serious turn for director Peter Farrelly (who, similar to Adam McKay, is better known for wacky comedies).

7. BlacKKKlansman – Possibly Spike Lee’s best movie and easily one of his funniest, but at no times is it goofy or derivative.  A bit heavy-handed with the news footage stuff at the end, but with the benefit of some hindsight I realize that it was vital to draw some obvious parallels to our current racial and political climate.  Well-cast but not overly dynamic or hammy.  Never boring, and worth watching and rewatching.

8. The Favourite – So I normally don’t like Emma Stone because she whines a lot and always looks like her eyeballs are about to explode, but even she is great in this.  Of course, Olivia Colman is better (but not as good as she is in Peep Show, the greatest British sitcom of all time).  This was much funnier than expected and plays like Shakespeare as adapted by David O. Russell, or something.

9. Annihilation – The smart, female cast-led sci-fi movie that so many were hoping that Ghostbusters 2016 might be.  Visually stunning.  Philosophical without being heavy-handed or absorbed in its own message (which is largely undefined and left to the viewer).  A slowburning sci-fi mystery that doesn’t treat its audience like idiots or feel the need for over-the-top action or overacting to get a theme across.  Nobody went to see this movie.

10. American Animals – A fun but well-grounded heist film that pokes fun at heist films, but is also done in a half-documentary style that totally works.  Solid performances and really clever cinematography and camera work keep things lively, even during the fairly dull (but necessary) exposition dumps.  Nobody went to see this movie.

The next 10 best:
11. Mandy – Nic Cage shouting at things while drunk and covered in blood- what’s not to like?  There’s a freaking chainsaw fight.  Seriously though, this is like if Death Wish was made by David Lynch and Stuart Gordon, while on acid.  The visuals are surreal but never baffling, and the sound quirks are similarly creative (though a bit overdone at times, I think).  Cage’s best performance since… ever?
12. Game Night – A shockingly good comedy in a landscape full of similar-feeling “Jason Bateman”-like comedies that have been coming out in piles over the past decade or so.  Fantastically cast with Bateman, Kyle Chandler, Jesse Plemons, and Rachel McAdams, who is particularly great and has comedic acting chops that I’d say rival any other comedic actress working today (her delivery on this makes me laugh every time https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XMIpVrz7v9k).  Credit to my friends for recommending this, as I don’t always seek these kinds of movies out on my own.
13. Widows – A heist movie that somehow works, with very little heisting.  Strong female leads in a fantastically cast (Daniel Kaluuya is, like, 8th or 9th billed?  Wow.  And he crushes it!), well-paced, tightly-written, and very well-directed movie from the director of 12 Years a Slave.  Nobody went to see this movie.
14. Black Panther / Avengers: Infinity War – Both of these are really fun and exciting comic book movies with some heavier ethical (for BP also racial and socioeconomic) elements that come off really well.  These are both favorites of the year but I won’t bog this down in repetitive praise that have already been heaped on them by others.  But rest assured, I like them and you should see them.
15. Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse – A fresh take on a character that has been done and redone and redone and redone already.  The unique animation style captures what makes comic books so captivating and unique.  It moves at a breakneck pace but never feels too messy or schizophrenic.  It’s just weird enough to be fun without getting schlocky or silly, but it has humor in all the right spots and a stellar voice cast (Hailee Steinfeld, Nic Cage, and Mahershala Ali show up on this list again!) cement this as one of the best animated movies (and certainly one of the best Spider-man movies) I’ve ever seen.
16. Private Life – Feels like it’s trying to be an “indie film” in a way that I normally dislike, but the really strong performances by Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn bring it way, way up for me.  A simple story but with rich enough characters that it works.  Stream it on Netflix!
17. Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far On Foot – Joaquin Phoenix had a good 2018 with this, The Sisters Brothers, and You Were Never Really Here (though I thought that movie was kind of meh), but this was my favorite performance of his by far.  The character is complicated, tortured, but most of all FUN, in a story that is sometimes anything but.  It’s about an alcoholic paraplegic.
18. 22 July – A cold and realistic dramatization of the 2011 terrorist attacks in Norway that is really about the nature of fear and the process of building a life when your plans for yours are collapsed and seem impossible to reassemble.
19. The Other Side of the Wind – I didn’t totally love it but I think it’s great that we actually got a new Orson Welles-directed movie in 2018, 33 years after he freaking died.  It feels autobiographical, sure, but with the benefit of three decades of hindsight, it has an extra layer of sadness to it.  Sigh… miss you, Orson.
20. Venom – Oh, you didn’t think I’d get through this list without mentioning Venom, did you?  Hear me out… Wow… where to start?  I have seen this movie 5 times and I notice more and more weird stuff every time.  It’s an accidental schlock masterpiece, even with a $100 million budget.  It totally works because the lead actor is fine with being capable of pretty much anything.  The Venom stuff is good but not even the best stuff in the movie really.  It feels like a comic book movie in the truest sense- it’s fine with its own oddness and willing to ham it up a bit.  Sure, some very cool visuals and some memorable action scenes.  But overall, yeah, Tom Hardy makes this movie really work.  Ask me about it sometime- I will give you an hour-long analysis on how weird and great it is.
Quick hits… you should see these:
-Old Man & the Gun – Likely Redford’s final role.  It’s solid.
-Bohemian Rhapsody – It’s good.  There’s a ton of bullshit around it, but it’s fine.
-Stan & Ollie – Story is meh but performances are great.
-Sorry To Bother You – Takes a weird, weird turn that mostly doesn’t work for me, but it’s overall pretty good.
-Won’t You Be My Neighbor – It’s a Mr. Rogers biopic.  Didn’t blow me away but sure… it’s really good.
-Solo – It’s a good space heist movie.  But it’s part of the Star Wars universe so expectations were crazy high.
-Upgrade – A funky sci-fi (body horror too?) flick that is super fun to watch.
-Apostle – Dan Stevens is my new favorite actor.  A good, weird cult movie on Netflix.
-Ballad of Buster Scruggs – A Cohen brothers joint in 6 parts.  I think that 3 or maybe 4 are very good.
-Isle of Dogs – I went in expecting one thing, and finished it with that exact same thing.  It’s a fun watch but I’m not the biggest Wes Anderson fan.  When you say “Isle of Dogs” it sounds like “I love dogs”, so that’s neat too.
-First Reformed – Very good Ethan Hawke performance in a somewhat heavy-handed but very good movie.
-They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead – And we do!  Miss you, Orson.
-Hereditary – Falls apart at the end.  For me at least.  Put it’s disturbing as hell.  I like it!
-A Star Is Born – I… didn’t hate it!
-First Man – It’s booooring.  I love the Apollo missions and all moon landing stuff, but this is so dull that it’s a struggle to get through.  Gosling mostly does his Gosling thing where he makes a serious face and looks around (like in Blade Runner 2049, which is a much better movie).  Honestly, Armstrong is a largely uncontroversial figure and the story is so well-known that there isn’t much tension.  There’s a tiny bit with his wife (the movie’s clear attempt at an “Oscar” scene, where they argue) but that’s about it.  The visuals in the landing scene look neat (and looked great in IMAX), but damn… this was pretty disappointing.
-Eighth Grade – Good but I think a bit overrated, but I really like Bo Burnham and I think this solidifies him as a strong new voice not only comedically but as a filmmaker.  Very curious to see what he does from here.

“Twas the Day Before Christmas (A Poem For the Packers)”

24 12 2013

Twas the day before Christmas and all through the states,
Packer fans were anxious but continued to wait.
The games had become what we’d repeatedly feared,
An injured Aaron Rodgers, not medically cleared.

The season looked dire, twas tough to find wins,
For just one healthy Rodgers was worth a thousand Matt Flynns.
But Matty tried hard, scraped out a few comebacks,
And the playoffs were still possible, no time to relax.

Thompson, McCarthy, and Dr. McKenzie,
Had worked up the fans into quite a big frenzy.
Holding A-Rodg out so long, for fear of collisions,
With vague press conferences and “organizational decisions”.

But now it was time to make the post-season,
And it was versus the Bears, so there’s another good reason,
To suit up the prophet, the savior, the whiz,
Who hails from Butte County, wherever that is.

Plus Lacy, The Hammer, running for big gains,
Receivers Jordy and Boykin, and Quarless and James,
And let’s not forget, we may even see Cobb,
Who’s never a stranger to a well-placed A-Rodg lob.

The defense, okay, they’ve been far from real stout,
Lots of under-performers, or the jury still out.
But the Packers’ offense can always push to a win,
I mean, let’s not forget that great twenty-ten.

So fans hope against hope, for our QB’s return,
The news that, ideally, we’ll very soon learn.
Some fans will go out, others are nervous at home,
And some of us dorkier ones write a poem.

But if Rodgers is out, fulfilling our fears,
We’ll root on Matt Flynn, and have a few beers.
So I’ll leave you with this, which we already know,
The Bears still suck.  GO PACK GO!

-Dan Port

Words of Wisdom Dump

16 10 2013

A running list of my Words of Wisdom from the Baseball Press Podcasts:

-Work hard, be smart, and keep your ear to the grindstone

-Three of the qualities of the most respected people in the world are honesty, directness, and integrity.  So if you can learn how to fake those, you’ll be just fine

-Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Put them in the fridge, or they’ll go bad.

-Help control the pet population- don’t let your pet meet strangers on Facebook

-Whether it’s drinks or women or whatever your vice, the key is moderation.  But not too much moderation.

-If you want a date to go well, do what I do: use a nice, silk table cloth, set out the finest silver and glassware, prepare only the choicest cuts of meat, and of course only drink the most expensive box of wine you can find.

-No matter how old you are, it’s always important to have dreams… even if it’s that one where you’re at school in your underwear

-No matter how true it is or how proud of it you are, it’s never a good idea to list on a job application that you have a strong “pimp hand”.

-With Sex and the City 2 coming out, now is the time to get tickets… and by tickets, I mean plane tickets to go to Vegas and party with your buddies while your wives are busy seeing the movie.

-If you can’t find happiness at the bottom of a bottle of beer, try switching to cans.

-If you can’t say anything nice, then you’re probably going to grow up to be a complete jerk

-If you get in an argument with a soccer fan, remind him that baseball games don’t typically end in ties

-If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.  If life gives you lemonade, throw some vodka in- it’s cocktail time.  But in honor of safe driving month, don’t drink and drive, stumble home like the rest of us.

-In baseball, as in life, it’s always important to keep track of your balls

-Nothing good in life ever comes cheap, except for ramen noodles, which are awesome.

-It’s always important to control your anger and not take it out on your coworkers, especially when you have friends and family you can take it out on instead.

-In honor of Independence Day, I’d like to invite everyone out there to do something patriotic.  You can raise a flag.  You can donate some time to a worthwhile charity.  Or you can do what I do every year and get a big group of people together and reenact the James Brown “Living in America” part from Rocky IV.

-Be careful what you buy in bulk.  If you buy massive amounts of toilet paper or deodorant, people will make certain assumptions about you.

-Whenever you have to deal with someone who is really irritating, just remember that there are at least six other people in the world who are more annoying… and I happen to work with all of them.

-Even in these tough economic times, it’s not smart to save money by cutting your own hair.  But if you do, you should probably use scissors and a comb instead of using a lighter and wet paper towels like I did.

-Never let yourself get too arrogant or overconfident, because there’s always a person out there who’s smarter, cooler, and better-looking than you… and that person is me, Dan Port.

-Never trust a man with less than ten teeth, less than two eyebrows, or more than one cell phone.

-The best gift that you can give someone is the gift of friendship.  But that seems pretty cheap, so you might want to at least pick up a card on the way home.

-There are some questions in life that have no right answer, like:  if a tree falls in the woods and no one is there, does it make a sound?  Or if a girl you’re dating asks how much you think she weighs.

-Give a man a fish and you’ll feed him for a day.  Teach a man to fish, and he’ll spend every weekend getting drunk in a boat with his buddies.

-Please don’t be one of these people who say they like “all types of music”, because unless you listen to calypso, acid jazz, and Mongolian throat singing like I do, you’re just a liar.

-If you buy a gift for someone and their party is cancelled, it’s perfectly acceptable to keep it for yourself.  And that’s the story of how I got my Dora the Explorer backpack.

-Don’t bite off more than you can chew, unless you’re one of those snakes that can dislocate its jaw and swallow things whole, in which case, thanks for listening to the podcast.

-Never let a girl come between you and your friends, family, or career, unless she’s like really, really, REALLY hot.

-It’s very hard to look masculine drinking something from a straw, unless you happen to be drinking the blood of your enemies.

-You’re only as old as you… are indicated to be on your birth certificate or government-issued photo ID.

-Live life like you’re gonna die, because you’re gonna.  And if you drive like an idiot, it’ll probably be pretty soon.

-What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but you can always steal the towels, the soaps, and the ashtrays from your hotel room.

-Don’t talk on your cell phone in a public bathroom, especially if you’re in a Chinese, seafood, or Mexican restaurant.

-Time heals all wounds, but you might want to go ahead and invest in a good health insurance, just in case.

-While it’s true that a penny saved is a penny earned, unless you want to work until you’re like a thousand, you might want to put more than that in your 401k every month.

-Physical fighting is only childish and stupid if you’re bad at it.

-If you only see one movie this year, go see The Social Network.  Also, you might want to try to see more than one movie in a year.

-Money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy nachos and beer.  So, you know, there’s always that.

-To financial investors: if they do end up legalizing marijuana, be sure to put your money in all the right places.  My recommendations would be PepsiCo, which owns Frito Lay, who makes Cheetos, and also a company called Yum Brands which owns Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut.

-If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  If it is broke, you probably shouldn’t try to fix it either because you’ll just make it worse.  Call somebody.

-There’s nothing wrong with regifting, but there are a few things you should avoid regifting: 2010 calendars, personally monogrammed items, and perishable food items.

-At your company Christmas party, be sure to drink responsibly and behave yourselves or you might end up with an embarrassing nickname.  Take it from me, Dan “Puke Pants” Port.

-Given the option, always go with an artificial Christmas tree.  Aside from being cheaper in the long run and not posing a fire hazard, you won’t have to clean up any needles after the holidays.  Unless your relatives are messy heroin addicts- then you’ll have to clean up lots of needles.

-It’s always important to celebrate the holidays, even if you’re away from home.  This year, I was visited by three ghosts who wanted to teach me the true meaning of Christmas.  But that was pretty boring, so we all just got drunk on eggnog and went to a strip club instead.

(End of 2010)

-Despite their name and tasty colors, urinal cakes are not, in fact, delicious.  Trust me on this.

-You’ll attract more flies with honey than with vinegar, but if you’re trying to attract flies, you may want to consider a new hobby.

-Never bring a knife to a gun fight.  You could, however, bring a gun to a knife fight.  However, if you’re getting into all these fights, you may want to consider a change in lifestyle.

-There are three simple things that will make a beautiful woman at a bar interested in you: nice hair, nice shoes, and a nice attitude.  If you don’t have at least two of these, you might want to stop drinking and start looking for an Adam’s apple, because that might not be a woman.

-The best revenge is living well, but prank phone calls and toilet papering someone’s house is pretty good too.

-When life presents you with a tough decision, it’s always good to listen to your heart.  But not literally- it won’t help you and it just makes like a steady beating sound.

-Life moves pretty face- if you don’t tell people you’re dying and steal a Ferrari once in a while, you could miss it.

-The only stupid question is one that is never asked, but before you ask someone, you might want to go ahead and try Googling it first.

-If you’re out at a bar and you see a girl and you tell the bartender you’re going to go hit on her, be sure he hears the word “on” or you might find yourself surrounded by bouncers pretty quickly.

-There’s nothing to fear but fear itself.  And bears.  Bears are really scary.

-You want to scotch-guard all your furniture, because if there’s anything you want to avoid, it’s those unsightly scotch stains.

-It’s perfectly fine if you never see eye-to-eye with others, especially if you’re really really tall like I am.

-Sticks and stones may break your bones, so don’t get into fights when you’re out camping.

-Actions always speak louder than words, but if you yell into a megaphone it might be kind of close.

-If you can’t afford to leave a decent tip, you can’t afford to be there.

-Poker tips: fold early and often, don’t overplay mediocre hands, and if you wear sunglasses at the $2 table people are gonna make fun of you… especially me.

-Despite the old adage, fighting fire with fire won’t work and will definitely ruin that backyard barbeque.

-Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and really really boring.  So don’t be afraid to stay out late.

-The grass is always greener on the other side, unless you’re colorblind- then it’s a slightly brighter shade of grey.

-If you ever think a drink is too strong, it’s not.  You’re just too weak.

-It doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, it only matters whether I win or lose.

-Never tell a girl she needs more makeup, unless she’s a clown, a mime, or she’s going to be a zombie or something for Halloween.

-Never hit a man with glasses, because glasses don’t do a lot of damage.  Hit him with bottles instead, or bricks if you can get them.

-Dating is a lot like being a major league pitcher- you always want to be starting, setting up, or closing, and you never want to end up being the mop up guy.

-There’s greatness inside of each and every one of us, so be careful about sneezing, pooping, or vomiting too much because it might leak out.

-Good things come to those who wait, but yelling and making a big scene works too.

-Getting a tattoo is a great way to express your love and affection for someone because nothing says love like something that only be removed by bloody surgery or lasers.

-Most shoes can be fixed with duct tape and staples, but for fashionable shoes check out Zappos.com

-The most painful thing you can do to yourself is lose confidence and self-respect, but badly stubbing your toe on a coffee table is a close second.

-If you’re on the treadmill at the gym and listening to a game on your headphones, be careful that you don’t yell “nice!” right when the woman in front of you bends over to stretch.

-One of the worst things you can do in a tense situation is panic, but the absolute worst thing you can do is to panic, then vomit, then slip and fall face-first in the vomit.

-If you ever get caught picking your nose in public, at least try to scoop out something impressive like a playing card or your car keys.

-There are some things you shouldn’t do when you’re in a rush.  Shaving is one of them, particularly if you’re shaving somewhere other than your face.

-If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with, or just stalk that person and use scare tactics to make them love you.

-A great new activity I love is Frisbee golf, but get good clubs because it’s really hard to hit a Frisbee very far.

-Never buy a drink for a strange woman, because strange means weird and you don’t want to buy drinks for weird people.

-Don’t use whiskey stones if you enjoy chewing your ice cubes.

-They say close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.  Personally I love horseshoes and hand grenades- there’s nothing more fun to play with at a company picnic.

-If you’re not a fan of home security systems, just do what I do and don’t keep anything valuable in your home at any time.

-Faking a peanut allergy isn’t as funny as you’d think, particularly on a crowded airplane.

-If you can totally remember the craziest night of your life, it probably wasn’t really the craziest night of your life.

-Never tell your buddy how hot his mom is, particularly if you’re giving a speech at her 60th birthday party.

-There’s greatness inside of each and every one of us, so be careful about sneezing, pooping, or vomiting because some might leak out.

MLB All-Nautical Team

3 08 2012

Ever notice that a good amount of MLB players have nautical/ocean/etc-based last names?  Ever wonder if you could assemble a decent team of those guys?

Not all these guys are currently on a big league roster because hey, some positions were a bit “watered down”.  Sorry.

Starting Pitchers:

Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox – Pronounced “sail”.

Anthony Bass, San Diego Padres – Bass is a type of fish.  A delicious fish.

Brandon Beachy, Atlanta Braves – Beaches are fun.  Beachy fun.

Mike Leake, Cincinnati Reds – You may not want one, but in boating a “leak” can happen.

Duane Below, Detroit Tigers – Sure he’s started just one game this year, but he’s the fifth starter.

Relief Pitchers:

Corey Wade, New York Yankees – Not on the club right now, but too good a name to ignore.

Jeff Manship, Minnesota Twins – Man.  Ship.  Perfect.

Tyler Clippard, Washington Nationals – Not exact, but a “clipper” is a type of boat.


Dane Sardinha, Baltimore Orioles – Hasn’t played in the big leagues since last year, but “sardine-ah” is too perfect.

First Base:

Mike Carp, Seattle Mariners – Carp is a type of fish.  He’d room with Sardinha and Bass.

Second Base:

Pete Orr, Philadelphia Phillies – Can’t get anywhere in a rowboat without an “oar”.


Brent Lillibridge, Cleveland Indians – The utility man gets the start at short here.  Lilli-“bridge over troubled waters”.

Third Base:

Scott Rolen, Cincinnati Reds – Pronounced “rollin”, as in “down the river”.


Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels – Rooms with fellow fishies Bass, Carp, and Sardinha but gets the best bedroom.

Jason Bay, New York Mets – As in “sitting on the dock of the-“.

Jerry Sands, Los Angeles Dodgers – Probably rooms with Beachy.  Too bad Chris Coste retired.

From the Bar Stool: Seat Wars

30 06 2012

Being at a bar is often like being at war.  Alliances rise and fade, supply lines run thin and, like any war, territory is key.  Also, the ground is dirty and sometimes covered in blood.

Here, territory equals seating, and seating is one of the most important strategies in any bar.  There are many key spots in a typical bar, and many details associated with securing and defending them.

Seat wars (like all wars) are a two-stage affair:  attack and defend.


If you enter a mostly empty bar, the choice of seat is entirely yours, and that choice depends on intent.  The only real universal guideline is not to sit right in front of a bathroom or “Employees Only” door, unless you want to get pumped into by almost-pissing-in-their-pants drunks and guys carrying kegs all night.

THE TAPS- If you want to talk to the bartender(s), whether you’re flirting or just buddying up, the seat closest to (but NOT directly in front of) the beer taps is best.  One might think catching them near the register or at a liquor well is just as good, but that’s incorrect.  You don’t want to bug someone while they’re punching something up or dealing with a half-dozen ingredients.  Tap time, on the other hand, is slow time.  Just don’t launch into long stories that they’ll feel awkward walking away from when the foam begins to dome.  And as a bonus, you may get any beer mispours (though you should never ask for it).

Sitting directly in front of the beer taps is okay, but eye contact will be trickier from there and may increase your wait time for fresh booze (an awful proposition).

THE WAITSTAND- The waiter/waitress landing pad is a high-traffic area and is best avoided, though it will give the best dialogue and insight into the workings of the bar.  In slow times, both the waitstaff and bartenders will tend to congregate around it and (once you’re a known regular and in a circle of trust) will rap about all of the best stories and bar-related gossip.  But be warned:  when things get a bit busy, it’s the spot that you’re most likely to get a spill on you.  You’ll suddenly go from compatriot to obstacle, and genuine smiles from the staff may morph into stiff, forced grimaces.  Stay out of the way.

TABLES- If the bar has tables and there’s no server on yet, it’s best to avoid the tables.  The bartender may tell you to get your drinks (and food) at the bar anyway, and if he/she does take the trouble to leave the bar to take your order, you’ll both feel pretty awkward about it.  When things are busier and there is a server on duty, the tables can be just fine, but be aware that your wait time may be more than it is at the bar.  The reason for this (aside from possible understaffing and distance-to-walk issues) is simple:  the waiter/waitress adds an extra layer of communication to a drink or food transaction.  While getting a drink at the bar involves a simple two-person circuit, the server adds a messenger and delivery element, not only for you but for all other table customers being served.  Table seating is obviously better for groups to converse, but singles or doubles should take the bar when possible.  The bar is more fun anyway.

“CORNER” SEATS- Corner seats are seats taken at the L-shaped section or the literal “corner” of a bar.

In yellow: “corner” seats at the bar.  The four in between are “seat” seats.

These seats are tricky and have some positives and negatives to them.  On the one hand, if you and your companion both secure seats at the same corner, eye contact is easier to maintain.  Also, bar space (for meals) is usually better, though that depends heavily on seat spacing and alignment.  Negatively, these seats leave you more likely to get bumped into by walking passersby who attempt to cut a corner (we’ll call them “Danica Patricks”) and you could end up getting slammed into the painful wooden corner.  In addition, departing customers (or possibly employees) may utilize the extra space to place dirty dishes.  Corpse dumping is sometimes the price you pay for extra real estate- just ask any farmer in a high-murder area.

SEAT SEATS- These (“seat” seats or “edge” seats) are more or less equal, though there can still be strategic benefits.  Mainly, you want a seat buffer between yourself and other customers, particularly if you have a coat or bag to set down.  If you regularly order the same type of cocktail or shot, seating near the bottle may save time and/or allow you to easily point out your choice to bartenders who don’t know you very well.  Other concerns could be:  stool comfort, television positioning, knee-level coat hanger location, under-the-bar gum population (check carefully, with a napkin), and attractive drinker proximity (you want to be close, but not too close to that sexy neighbor).  It’s fine to shift positions here between bathroom/jukebox/Ms. PacMan trips, as needed.

WALL SEATS- For advanced barflies and regulars, “wall” seats are ideal.  Simply, these are seats that allow the best observational vantage point, and they’re often up against a wall.  Savvy drinkers need to be prepared for anything from promotional shot girls to armed robberies, and a seat that allows a clear view of all entrances, exits, patrons, employees, and furniture is best.  Law enforcement members and Jason Bourne wannabes may instinctively choose these seats anyway, but mainly they’ll be populated by cynical and judgmental people-watchers who wish to point out flaws to anyone who will listen.  The Statler and Waldorf of any bar will usually end up here.

“How does a hipster spell ‘beer’?” “Easy: P-B-R!”

The biggest problem with taking these seats is that, depending on the bar layout, your visibility to a bartender may be obscured.  Overall, though, it’s probably the best spot in the house.

ATTACK SUMMARY- Choose quickly and decisively depending on your preconceived goals.  Like when you pick a Monopoly piece.


Once a chosen seat is secured, the real battle begins.  Defending your seat might be easy, or it may be tougher than calculating a tab after eight Long Islands.  Of course, saving your seat in an empty bar is much easier than fighting a crowd, but these strategies should be applicable in nearly any level of traffic.  The secret is to read the environment and never assume anything about anyone.

Note: With all defenses, pushing the chair in as close to the bar as possible is optimal.

THE BUDDY SYSTEM- Obviously telling a friend “save my seat” is the easiest and most effective way to keep your seat, but it isn’t foolproof.  You have to anticipate how long you’ll be MIA, along with how reliable your buddy is.  If it’s a dear friend you came in with, they’ll probably watch your chair until the bouncer tosses them out at closing, if need be.  A casual acquaintance may get distracted or impatient or give your seat to an attractive member of their desired gender or just someone who really negotiates for it.  Gauge your buddy’s tolerance for your missing time and don’t dilly-dally- a smoke break should be just one cigarette, a bathroom trip should be expedient (though capped with a hand wash), and a hop out to get food or something from the car should be done with pep and urgency.  Don’t take advantage of your buddy, and be sure to do the same for him or her when they need to break away.

Of course, always be sure your drinking buddy is a real person.

THE LEAVE BEHIND- The leave behind is somewhat risky but effective in all but the busiest and most douchey of bar crowd scenarios.  It’s really simple- leave a jacket, hat, bag, or other fairly large personal item behind (on your seat or on the bar right in front of it).  Beware of leaving small, pocketable (aka stealable) items like sunglasses or cell phones.  A cheap(ish) jacket that clashes with the color of the seat or bar it’s set upon works best here, as it is very hard to miss.

My sweatshirt is sitting here right now, and he’s had a few

There is some risk here:  without anyone to watch over your item, it could easily be stolen or knocked to the floor.  And no, you cannot ask the bartender to “watch your stuff” or your seat- they (perhaps like your non-existent buddy) have better things to do.  Also, don’t set a napkin on a seat and expect that to do the trick for you, as it will just be perceived as trash.

THE COVERUP- The coverup is the most common and most successful form of seat defense, though it has its problems as well.  Simply, leave your drink in front of your seat with a coaster (made of cardboard) or a napkin (or several, depending on sturdiness and bar crosswinds) on top of your glass.  This is less stable with wine glasses, but most cocktail and beer glasses make strong bases.

“I’ve got you covered.” -Talking Napkin

A drinker not only secures a seat via the coverup, but his/her drink as well (losing one’s seat and a fresh drink to an over-exuberant bartender would indeed be adding insult to injury).   It might be obvious, but having a fuller drink adds validity to the coverup, as covering an empty or near-empty glass with a napkin or coaster might look like an accident of circumstance and get both tossed in the sink.  There is, sadly, a chance that a not-so-savvy drinker will not recognize a coverup as a seat/drink saving technique, but a bartender or bouncer usually will and will usually back you up on any misunderstanding, assuming you’re not a dick about it.

Note: Don’t be a dick about things.

However, the coverup is a very unstable proposition with bottles of beer (or wine coolers, if you’re in that kind of place, you oddball), so there’s a modified version…

THE BOTTLE STUFF- This is a pretty self-explanatory, slightly-altered version of the coverup, but there is one important aspect to not overlook:  folding.  If you haphazardly crunch a napkin into a bottle of beer (particularly a near-empty one or an opaque brown bottle or one with a large label that obscures the liquid level inside) a bar employee (or even another patron attempting to be “helpful”) may assume it to be trash.  You don’t have to fold the napkin with the precision and expertise of an origami artist (though that may help), but pretending it’s a tuxedo pocket square might do the trick.

Now that’s one good-looking bottle!

This might be some crap somebody left behind.

DEFENSE SUMMARY- It’s essential to do something to mark your territory (and no, don’t do it like animals do- the bouncers won’t understand), because even the most embedded bar regular can lose a seat and be forced into an annexation strategy.

Usually, asking politely will do the trick.  Waiting for a fellow patron hovering over your spot to collect and carry several drinks is perfectly reasonable too, so long as they don’t linger without reason.  Be patient and let your intentions be known and it usually works out in your favor.  If it doesn’t and things get confrontational, don’t worry too much.  Following the above guidelines should give you no problem securing your seat and continuing your evening at the bar.  When you’re no longer able to stand, you’ll be glad that you took the time to lay claim to your territory with such preparation and vigor.  Cheers.

Overanalysis: Rich Guy Shows, Part Two- Shark Tank

22 05 2012

On the surface, ABC’s Shark Tank appears to be just another “panel” reality show in the mold of American Idol, America’s Next Top Model, and any number of other programs in which amateurs present their work to a panel of sassy judges in hopes of getting a contract or deal of some kind.  And really, that’s what Shark Tank is, but it is so, so much more than that, and the show is very worthy of overanalysis by nerdos like me.

Shark Tank is the American adaptation of an overseas and Canadian program called Dragons’ Den.  The concept is pretty simple:   a few filthy rich investors listen to pitches from inventors and small business entrepreneurs and decide if they want to invest their own money (and possibly their time and expertise) in exchange for company equity.

Not a bad idea, really, but it sounds pretty humdrum.  Financial transactions are not exactly edge-of-your-seat excitement, as anyone who has spent an hour in line at their local branch can attest.

The real “hook” here is that this is not a stuffy business meeting.  Some of these ideas are brilliant.  Some are awful.  This one, for example, is so ridiculous that even Robert, the “nice” shark, absolutely shreds it.

As you can see, the sharks can be quite a group of characters.  You may have noticed the mean bald-headed guy dripping with sarcasm in that clip.   His name is Kevin O’Leary and he’s like a cross between Bill Gates, Daniel Plainview, and Scrooge McDuck.

One of these guys is a cartoonish, bloodthirsty tycoon who will do anything in pursuit of a dollar. The other is a duck.

While there is a rotating panel of sharks, in the more recent (and honestly, better) episodes, the group usually consists of FUBU clothing magnate Daymond John, Manhattan real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, technology investor Robert Herjavec, and the aforementioned Kevin O’Leary.

The trickiest thing about a show like this is that it forces the sharks to forever toe the line between savior and villain, since they could potentially rescue and revive companies or crush the dreams of optimistic inventors who have staked their livelihoods on an idea or small business model.

Most of the sharks do a pretty decent job of this.  Corcoran often plays the role of a sympathetic motherly shark, usually offering encouragement (even to horrible ideas, like the sticky note one above) and, when not interested in investing, will even offer an easy out like “it’s not an industry I know anything about” or “I just don’t personally like the product.”  It’s a kind way to let them down, certainly, when compared to a more general condemnation.

Daymond John doesn’t stray too far from Corcoran’s method, though he will get argumentative and hard-nosed when the situation calls for it.  He isn’t overly outspoken, but he shows himself as incredibly savvy when it comes to product distribution strategies and he rarely dismisses anything too quickly.  Indeed, coming from an urban minority background and making a fairly unlikely fortune by catering to that demographic seems to have made him keen to spotting the next FUBU around the corner.  He is certainly smart enough to know that it doesn’t come along very much, but he appears determined to notice it if it does.

Mark Cuban is easily the most famous of the panelists but, oddly enough, the most middle-of-the-road in terms of his decisions and demeanor.  It isn’t unusual for a business pitch to focus specifically on Cuban as a conduit for promotion or expansion (sometimes very transparently) but he mainly sits back and speaks only when he is addressed directly.  His role on the show is a welcome deviation from his public rep as the obnoxious, loud, referee-berating courtside owner of the Mavericks and, either by design or coincidence, it makes his more reserved statements just that much more interesting.  Overall though, he’s a softy.  A prime example of this is when he is directly pitched a product called the “Profender”, which over-complicates and adds a horribly unwieldy component to the simple act of simulating a basketball defender’s hand.  Cuban is all smiles and no one trashes what is, in this writer’s opinion, a terrible and wildly expensive product.

[Side note: I worked for the USC men’s basketball team for two years and I can honestly say that I could not imagine trying to use one of these Profenders in a practice.  Aside from the massive cost difference between a $10 broom and a $200 or $500 Profender, the awkward need to slide the wheels across the floor are a disaster waiting to happen.  It would only take one incident of rolling that thing into a player’s ankle to get the Profender banned and the company possibly sued, not to mention my ass getting fired for causing the injury.  To me, the Profender feels like those kitchen devices designed to easily microwave an egg- it over-complicates a simple thing and fills a very, very small niche.]

The crux of Shark Tank‘s entertainment really lies with Kevin O’Leary and Robert Herjavec (both of whom appeared on the Canadian CBC edition of Dragons’ Den).

While O’Leary seizes his role of the villain with gusto and dishes out phrases like “Don’t cry over money because it never cries over you” and “To me you’re radioactive”, Herjavec takes a lighter approach.  He is just as outspoken as O’Leary (and sometimes more outspoken) and will critique his fellow sharks’ decisions nearly as much, but comes across far more as the cool Uncle Donald to O’Leary’s mean Uncle Scrooge.

Thankfully this blog isn’t popular enough for Disney to sue me.

It’s easy to see why these two were carried over into the U.S. version of the show.  O’Leary carries the sarcastic nickname of “Mr. Wonderful” and is willing to ham up his cold-heartedness just enough to make him loathsome but likeable in that Jack Sparrow or Tony Stark sort of way, mainly because deep down we suspect it’s just an act.  Herjavec and O’Leary are not always foils, but the show really strikes a certain vibe when they are and, at times, they absolutely carry the program.  O’Leary’s actions suggest he might want to be a bit of a TV star, and watching him verbally carve up hopeful entrepreneurs makes me really wish that he could take Donald Trump’s place on NBC’s Celebrity Apprentice (overanalyzed last week).

With Herjavec, however, there don’t seem to be any less-than-genuine moments.  If he tells you an idea is bad, or that your deal valuation is off, you believe him because you expect him to level with you.  Even if he rejects a product or idea, he’ll usually find something positive to say about it, and if he doesn’t and he honestly thinks you need to give it up and try something else, he’ll say it.  I can’t locate a clip, but on more than one occasion he basically says “You’re smart, you have other ideas- this isn’t the one that makes you.”

And overall, that is what really makes a show like Shark Tank so addictive and watchable:  hope struggling versus acknowledgement of failure.  It’s a microcosm of not only the American dream but the worldwide dream of using your wits and sweat to make yourself into something, even if you start modestly (in the show’s intro, they mention that Herjavec is the son of an immigrant factory worker, and that makes you like and trust him even more).

Sure, there’s plenty of schadenfreude in seeing ridiculous pitches, and there’s a lot of joy in critiquing what others could have done to land a deal, but as cheesy as it sounds, the biggest fun is seeing something you (even kind of) believe in- something that makes you step back and say “hey, that’s cool, hope it works out for them.”

But yeah, if that doesn’t get you, O’Leary (and the rest) dropping some sharp one-liners certainly will.  (Jump to 3:30 to see both Herjavec and O’Leary get particularly harsh.)

It’s a fun show, ain’t it?

Overanalysis: Rich Guy Shows, Part One- Celebrity Apprentice

8 05 2012

I don’t watch a lot of reality television.  The manufactured drama is often intolerable, and watching unlikable people battle for the title of Top Attention Whore has never been my thing.  I got four minutes into a viewing of Jersey Shore before giving up- I hated everyone.  If I want to watch people I hate, I’ll watch a political debate.  If I hate everyone, there are no stakes.  With no stakes, there’s no real drama.  Not all reality shows are like this, but a lot of them are.

Anyway, like I said, not really a fan.  But I do watch some reality shows.  I used to watch the Gordon Ramsay one on Fox where he yelled at everyone for no reason.  Wait, they’re all like that?  Well, I forget which it was.

Now, though, there are two reality shows that I watch regularly: Celebrity Apprentice and Shark Tank.  They have little in common other than that they star powerful rich people.  Celebrity Apprentice is in its umpteenth season (that’s not a number, but I know it’s been on for a while) and Shark Tank is in its… third season?  They’re only like 10 episodes seasons or something.

Without further stupidity, let’s begin the overanalysis…

Celebrity Apprentice

The Celebrity Apprentice stars Donald Trump as himself with his grown children, various cronies, and haircut in supporting roles.  It’s an off-shoot of his former show The Apprentice, in which Trump runs a series of business-related exercises to find a winner and make that person his apprentice.  In the celebrity edition, famous faces compete to raise money for their respective charities.

From a format standpoint, the show actually works pretty well.  Though a lot of the celebs are of the washed-up, “get me some TV time” variety, they’re all generally well-known and it’s fascinating to see if their public persona is true or plays well in a competitive environment like this.

The roster for this season is: Clay Aiken, Michael Andretti, Adam Carolla, Tia Carrere, Lou Ferrigno, Debbie Gibson, Teresa Giudice, Victoria Gotti, Arsenio Hall, Penn Jillette, Lisa Lampanelli, Dayana Mendoza, Aubrey O’Day, Dee Snider, George Takei, Paul Teutul Sr., Cheryl Tiegs, Patricia Velasquez

What made me watch this particular season was my interest in a few of the cast members, namely Star Trek alum George Takei, Indycar driver Michael Andretti, magician Penn Jillette, and TV’s original Incredible Hulk Lou Ferrigno.  I figured that, at the very least, seeing some of these folks in action would make the show watchable, even if the orchestrated drama got to intolerable levels.

The assigned tasks are mainly based in event planning and/or marketing, so some of the celebrities, while capable people with talents, didn’t prove very useful.  On the other hand, even some of the celebrities who performed well seemed destined for an early departure because they were unable to assert themselves and, in doing so, stir up the drama that a high-profile reality show requires.  It’s this delicate balance- you need to do well but you also need to be interesting (and misbehave a bit) while doing it.

Take two players who departed fairly early- George Takei and Michael Andretti.

From his decades on television and in movies as Star Trek‘s Mr. Sulu to his more recent status as a gay cultural icon and internet sensation (his Facebook page is always putting out great stuff, by the way), Takei seemed like an ideal pick for a show like Celebrity Apprentice.  However, he is also a 75 year-old man and while he seems pretty sharp and energetic, clearly he got confused or frazzled easily.  He is interesting, charismatic, and entertaining, but I personally don’t think I’d trust him to run a lemonade stand, let alone a task with hundreds of thousands of dollars at stake.

Conversely, Michael Andretti has spent his entire life dealing with the rigors of managing and driving for race teams- something that is more complex and unpredictable than anything that the Celebrity Apprentice staff could dream up.  Andretti was booted fairly early but oddly, not because of anything negative he did.  On a task that involved showing off a new Buick sedan, he contributed some commentary but was chastised for not leading the task.  He was also easily the most soft-spoken and least “TV-friendly” of the cast, so it’s fairly obvious that he was simply cut because he wasn’t entertaining enough.  Again, that’s fine, but it’s somewhat misleading to frame a show as a well-defined competition and then drum up reasons to have Trump cut him loose.

Racing legend, 42 Indy victories, not good on TV.

Compare Andretti’s odyssey with that of Teutul, who is more of an engineer and mechanic than he is a television presence.  However, unlike Andretti, Teutul has spent a lot of time on television as one of the stars of American Chopper and, as a result, has at least a cursory understanding of how to play to a reality TV audience.

As Celebrity Apprentice moves along, the typical dramatic archetypes emerge, and this is what really fuels the drama (even if it is heavily edited and orchestrated).  Aubrey O’Day (a mid-20’s model/singer/something) and Lisa Lampanelli surface as heavy-handed creative leaders, Lou Ferrigno and Dayana Mendoza are mindless workerbees, and (interestingly) Arsenio Hall and Clay Aiken strike up a friendship/alliance as regular guys.

The Hall/Aiken alliance isn’t all that shocking when examined, though, as the two really cement themselves as the “every man” characters, commenting on the chaos around them and not getting too caught up in the emotional sludge of any given situation.  Hall lets his emotions get the best of him on occasion, but his bright disposition and genuine wit eventually lead him back to a path of sanity, even when confronting O’Day about her tendency to take all credit.

Aiken, on the other hand, rarely deviates into any sort of lunacy.

American Idol runner-up and worldwide music star Clay Aiken is close to the most surprising aspect of this show (aside from Penn Jillette’s role, which I’ll get to).  Aiken is almost Gomer Pyle-esque in his “aw shucks” persona and southern boy friendliness, and it is either a genuine character trait or he has gotten alarmingly good at faking it.  I’m leaning toward the former, particularly since his strong work ethic correlates to it.  He is the most likeable of all the cast members (or, appropriately, cruises just behind Andretti), and even on the rare occasions where he gets frustrated, he does so in a controlled way and later laments his (mis)behavior.  I knew very little about him prior to seeing him on here and, while I doubt his music is my kind of stuff, he’s earned a lot of my respect here.

Despite the haircut, generally a normal kind of guy

But of all the cast members, the most befuddling is Penn Jillette.  Jillette has worked in television before, but mainly makes a living as half of the magician duo of Penn & Teller, who earn millions each year performing in Las Vegas and around the world.  Unlike most of the cast, he is really as famous now as he’s ever been, and (as Trump comments in an early episode) he is giving up millions in performance fees to go on Celebrity Apprentice to earn just thousands for his charity (he even departs a few tasks to go perform).   Indeed, a $50,000 prize for winning a challenge seems like a pittance compared to what Penn could earn in his day job, and one has to wonder if he’s doing the show simply as a means of trying something new, in a social experimentation sort of way.  He has worked with think tanks in the past and has taken semi-active roles in political and socio-economic discussions, so having a curiosity about Trump’s show wouldn’t be all that surprising.  Still, it seems oddly beneath him, and he sometimes slips into what Aiken defined as a “condescending attitude” during tasks.  He acts as if he’s the smartest guy in the room because, really, he almost certainly is.

Both probably richer than Trump right now

[Side note: It’s always fascinating me that the primary gimmick of Penn & Teller’s act- namely that Teller never speaks- is still ongoing at this point.  The pair have been performing together for over thirty years, and still Teller is a silent performer.  Meanwhile, Penn is doing interviews on CNN and a litany of lucrative side work.  Teller can’t even do a radio interview.  One has to wonder if he is jealous of Penn in any way, or if he’s far more content to be silent.  In a way, he’s found a loophole to fame- no one comes to him for any commentary or bugs him for interviews because he has built his celebrity persona around silence.  Maybe Harpo Marx started it.]

Overall though, the show’s weirdest element is Donald Trump himself.  Ignoring his ridiculous hairline (the whole world knows he’s balding, yet he keeps up this facade) and similarly ridiculous orange-tinted faux tan skin tone, he still seems like a somewhat confused old man trying to mediate a discussion he doesn’t quite understand.  His boardroom interrogations come off as if someone has explained hours of drama to him in two minutes, and he spouts generalizations and half-informed commentary in hopes of spurring an argument.  Even more unsettling, though, is the way he gets caught up in meaningless details like Dayana and Aubrey’s youthful sexiness and Arsenio’s wardrobe.  Indeed, nearly any other context in which a seventy year-old man is doing this would be grounds for some sort of legal intervention.  Furthermore, even his introduction at the start of each task borders on ridiculous (I mean, honestly, it’s laughable when Trump calls Walgreens “a great store”- are we really to believe he’s ever shopped at one?).

Clearly buys a whole lot of Cheetos at Walgreens

Trump’s persona is far more caricature than character at this point, and even his 1980’s and 90’s identity of the rogue millionaire business mogul has been done repeatedly better by the likes of Richard Branson and Mark Cuban (the latter of whom I’ll get to in the Shark Tank analysis).  He was once oddly likeable in a Gordon Gekko “greed is good” sort of ridiculousness, but now his act seems desperate and his golden palaces seem like pathetic over-trying.  His presence as mediator does little more than bog the show down (at least up until he actually fires someone) and the boardroom drama seems like a weak derivative of the drama captured (or created) by tactful editing during the task itself.  One has to wonder if the show would be spiced up more by handing the star role to one of his grown children or cronies, or even some sort of wildlife creature (my vote: grizzly bear).

Overall, the show works… sort of.  Trump’s presence gives the whole thing an unevenness, and the last part of each episode seems like a grinding halt compared to the break-neck pace and drama that precedes it.  It really succeeds in spite of him.  The celebrities’ motivations are what drives the show- and it’s not their quest to help their charities.  Rather, they’re out to prove that they’re smarter than their colleagues, better leaders, and (most importantly) still extremely relevant forces to be paid attention to.  Whether that is petty or not is purely in the eye of the viewer, but it’s hard to say that it isn’t pretty darn entertaining.

Next time: Rich Guy Shows, Part Two- Shark Tank