Nothing will detect and respond to the reality of fear as swiftly as a market

On The Interview, Stephen Carter’s take worth reading:

Despite all the calls for Sony to stand up to the blackmail in the name of artistic freedom, it seems to me that the criticism is misdirected. Nothing will detect and respond to the reality of fear as swiftly as a market, and here the market has spoken. The relevant market actors are moviegoers. Theater owners are guessing that with “The Interview” in their multiplexes, holiday audiences will stay away in droves. From everything.

I’d like to think the owners are mistaken. I’d like to think that were “The Interview” in the theaters, millions of us would flock to the mutiplex and watch a movie — any movie — as an act of protest, to show the world we aren’t afraid. But I can’t say that in predicting the opposite the theater owners have made a wrong call. And if they’re right, so is Sony.

(ht Andrew Sullivan, where the guest editors are doing a great job imo.  Journalistic bias: guy who wrote The Interview Dan Stirling is former co-worker/friend, I root for him to get rich from this funny movie.)


Wild

Contains WILD spoilers! 

1) This movie has a high degree of difficulty.

I read 2/3s of the book Wild – abandoned it before I finished, but I did the same thing with Eat Pray Love and then years later started over and found it very impressive.  Perhaps a similar fate awaits Wild & me.

At least two top-notch women I know swear by Tiny Beautiful Things.  I like reading interviews with Cheryl Strayed, she seems like the real deal.

In books you can get into somebody’s head.  That is their killer advantage, and why I don’t think books are going anywhere anytime soon.  You just can’t do that in a movie.  Wild the movie does a pretty good job of this, but it’s sort of just doomed, imo.  This is a story about a person’s journey from one mental state to another, with most of the work done internally.  Very hard to dramatize.

While there are good tricks towards doing that in this movie, it comes up a little short on the radical innovations needed to tell that story in a movie.  Nick Hornby wrote the screenplay: a dude who is good at this kind of thing, his books make excellent movies, but maybe a true writer-director could’ve worked the solutions even tighter?

[One particular note: it seemed to me like all the cutaways should’ve cut a few beats earlier.  You’re always like, “ok, here we go, we’re about to cutaway to Cheryl’s childhood.”]

2) The story has a motivation problem.  

Cheryl decided to do this, herself.  No one made her, asked her, even cares if she accomplishes her goal.  So when she faces difficulty or problems, it easy to think “well, you’re the one who decided to hike the PCT, dumdum.  Why should I care about this?”

In a story, a person sets out to do something and arrives at a win/lose/draw (thanks to John Gardner for articulating that for me).  What would count as a win in this story?  Getting to Ashland?  No, who cares about Ashland, nothing but hippies in Ashland.   The goal of this story is: Cheryl restoring herself (whether or not she knows that’s the goal at the start).

But: that’s an internal goal, how will you show it in a movie?  It’s easier to answer these questions in a book, where Cheryl can articulate her reasons and get you with her and make you see that this particular journey is important even if nothing tangible’s at stake.

3) Still, pretty good movie.

Despite all that I thought the ending was pretty satisfying.  It’s hard to make a pretty good movie.  When Reese Witherspoon yells “FUCK YOU BITCH!” I thought that was good acting.

Sometimes I think all the hugely successful actresses [Reese, Anne Hathaway, etc.] are such intense people that when they act like normal people their instinct is to be way too intense.  I would argue Julianne Moore might be the best at not doing this.  Think how hard that must be: to act intense but not at your full-bore intense because you somehow intuitively understand that your own “full bore” is too strong for the screen.  Acting is crazy hard.

Like all criticism should, let this come with a disclaimer: it’s easy to be a critic hard to make a thing, makers > critics x1000!

4) Interesting sex stuff in this movie.  

I do remember in the book being jarred by the period of sexual degradation and heroin, hadn’t realized that was part of the tale.  It was new territory, I felt, in exploring a woman’s sexual… could we call it addiction?  self-punishment?  Cheryl’s not not in control at that point, right?  But she also isn’t having a great time.  It’s fucked up, she knows it’s fucked up.  But it’s not fucked up because she’s a slut, it’s fucked up because she’s not being the woman she wants to be (right?).

Whatever, it made me think/was also slightly titillating/made me feel kind of bad for the husband she was compulsively cheating on.  What are the nice guy husbands of America to make of Eat Pray Love and Wild, two biggest women’s memoirs of the last ten years, that both start with a woman leaving her nice guy husband for sexual adventuring?

How often in a movie do you see sex that is intended to be not rape but also not fun?

5) The music in this movie is kind of good but also kind of sucks.

That’s my take anyway.  What if I told you that in 2014 we were making an epic movie about a woman’s adventure across America?  Would you say that scattered samples of Simon & Garfunkel is the best we could do?  Fuck no!   Why didn’t they get some awesome woman to make a badass score like Eddie Vedder did for the man-equivalent, Into The Wild?

6) There’s a weird shoutout to REI in this movie.  

Where Reese calls them to get new boots and is like “you’re my favorite company ever.”  Maybe Cheryl really felt that way.  I have a bunch of stuff from REI, but sometimes I think their business model is based on making you think going outdoors is more expensive and complicated than it really is to sell you more junk.  Which, weirdly: in the same scene where Cheryl learns about REI’s return policy, the dude is like “you don’t need all this shit.”

Former REI CEO Sally Jewell is Secretary of the Interior.

Strikes me as a very Obama kind of pick: on the one hand, kind of hip and modern and innovative, but on the other hand she was still the CEO of a huge corporation.

7) Wild and Eat Pray Love are in long American literary tradition of spiritual narrative.

If I were a grad student at Yale I’d write my Ph. D. on this, trace it all back through Emerson and Puritan religious narratives and captive narratives of 18th century New England and I’d be the smartest boy in the seminar.  Since I’m not in grad school though I can make my point in one sentence which is that things that seem radical and new are often just new versions of an old tradition, we’re not so different from the past or as wildly inventive as we think we are, etc.

8) Is this how women go through life?  Constantly having to wonder if a random dude is a rapist?

Damn, that might be the most important aspect of Wild, seeing the world through a woman’s eyes, showing that tension of life.  When I walk around at 11pm or so in my neighborhood and I see women walking their dogs it always feels very tense.  My instinct to somehow indicate I am not a rapist usually just seems to make the problem worse.

ANYWAY: one reason I was excited to see Wild is I’ve been to many of the settings along the Pacific Crest Trail on fishing trips.  Here, for example, is a photo of Kennedy Meadows:

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Kennedy Meadows is like a plateau high up in the Sierras.  To get there you drive up a crazy 27-mile twisty road up from the 395.  If you find yourself there, be sure to stop at The Grumpy Bear:

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They’re happy to teach you about jerking meat:

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Don’t get it confused with the other Kennedy Meadows up in Sonora.

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While I was up there I crossed the PCT and wondered if it would be interesting to film a couple seconds of walking on it:

If you’d like to see Wild, but only have ten seconds, my film gets at similar themes but with more nauseating camerawork.


Australia forever

From Vulture’s* timeline of “How The Interview Got Made”:

October 27, 2014
Clark sends an even-more-toned-down version of the ending to the film’s international distributors. Most take the softer cut, but the Australian distributor requests the unedited version, saying it would prefer to “sock it to ’em.”

* yes in general I agree it’s wrong to read these private emails


YES!

Just great.


“What Happened When Marissa Mayers Tried To Be Steve Jobs”

This article, by Nicholas Carlson in the upcoming NY Times magazine, is one of the best business articles I’ve ever read (note: I don’t read that many business articles).

Here’s where the story really begins:

But as Alibaba’s stock soared, Yahoo’s dropped, an indication that the market seemed to concur with Jackson’s analysis: Yahoo’s core business was worth less than zero dollars.

That’s bad.  Next sentences:

A week later, Smith published an open letter calling for Yahoo to divest itself of its Alibaba assets, return the money to its shareholders and then merge with AOL. Redundancies could be eliminated, thousands of people could be fired and two former Internet superpowers would be downsized into a single and steady (if uninspiring) entity that sold ads against its collective online properties — news, blogs and Web products like email, maps and weather. “We trust the board and management will do the right thing for shareholders, even if this may mean accepting AOL as the surviving entity,” Smith wrote.

(Note that “could be fired” — non-business readers like me often gotta remind themselves that in business articles it’s often assumed that firing people is positive.)

The article goes on with punchy, succinct, clear explanations the challenges of tech companies, and specifically the challenge Mayers faced, and I don’t envy her:

Previous Yahoo C.E.O.s had underinvested in mobile-app development, plowing money into advertising technology and web tools instead. A couple of days into the job, Mayer was having lunch at URL’s when an employee walked up to her and introduced himself as Tony. “I’m a mobile engineer,” Tony said. “I’m on the mobile team.”

Mayer responded to Tony, “Great, how big is our mobile team?” After some back and forth, Tony replied that there were “maybe 60” engineers. Mayer was dumbfounded. Facebook, for instance, had a couple of thousand people working on mobile. When she queried the engineering management department, it responded that Yahoo had roughly 100. “Like an actual hundred,” Mayer responded, “or like 60 rounded up to 100 to make me feel better?” The department responded that it was more like 60.

But then it starts to unravel:

Mayer subsequently immersed herself in the redesign. Months into her tenure, she was meeting with Sharma’s team regularly in a conference room that started to look more like a design studio: projectors hung from the ceiling, rendering screens displayed on the wall. All around, dozens of foam core boards were pinned with ideas. Mayer would regularly interrogate designers about the minutest details of display and user experience. By early December, one day before Yahoo Mail was set to release, she convened a meeting at Phish Food, a conference room in the executive building of Yahoo’s campus, to talk about the product’s color. For months, the team had settled on blue and gray. If users were going to read emails on their phones all day long, the thinking went, it was best to choose the most subtly contrasting hues. But now, Mayer explained, she wanted to change the colors to various shades of purple, which she believed better suited Yahoo’s brand.

Well, see, purple sucks?  More great detail:

During a breakfast with Anna Wintour, the editor in chief of Vogue, Mayer asked if there might be any partnership opportunities between the magazine and Shine, Yahoo’s site for women. According to Mayer’s own telling of the story to top Yahoo executives, Wintour lookedappalled.

I bet she did!

Reuters photo stolen from NY Post article “Anna Wintour Has A Sense Of Humor Over Drag Parody Show” http://pagesix.com/2014/08/12/anna-wintour-has-sense-of-humor-over-drag-parody-show-about-her/

Bad to worse:

Yahoo Tech would sometimes go weeks without running a single ad.

Don’t know much about this, but that sounds terrible.

This delinquency eventually became a problem outside Yahoo. At a major advertising event in the South of France, Mayer sat for an interview with Martin Sorrell, the C.E.O. of WPP, one of the world’s largest agencies. In front of a filled auditorium, Sorrell asked Mayer why she did not return his emails. Sheryl Sandberg, he said, always got back to him. Later, Mayer was scheduled for dinner with executives from the ad agency IPG. The 8:30 p.m. meal was inconvenient for the firm’s C.E.O., Michael Roth, but he shuffled his calendar so he could accommodate it. Mayer didn’t show up until 10.

Fuck that.  Worse:

Mayer’s largest management problem, however, related to the start-up culture she had tried to instill. Early on, she banned working from home. This policy affected only 164 employees, but it was initiated months after she constructed an elaborate nursery in her office suite so that her son, Macallister, and his nanny could accompany her to work each day. Mayer also favored a system of quarterly performance reviews, or Q.P.R.s, that required every Yahoo employee, on every team, be ranked from 1 to 5. The system was meant to encourage hard work and weed out underperformers, but it soon produced the exact opposite. Because only so many 4s and 5s could be allotted, talented people no longer wanted to work together; strategic goals were sacrificed, as employees did not want to change projects and leave themselves open to a lower score.

This got ugly:

During the revamping of Yahoo Mail, for instance, Kathy Savitt, the C.M.O., noted that Vivek Sharma was bothering her. “He just annoys me,” she said during the meeting. “I don’t want to be around him.” Sharma’s rating was reduced. Shortly after Yahoo Mail went live, he departed for Disney. (Savitt disputes this account.)

Then this part is deeply weird:

As concerns with Q.P.R.s escalated, employees asked if an entire F.Y.I. could be devoted to anonymous questions on the topic. One November afternoon, Mayer took the stage at URL’s as hundreds of Yahoo employees packed the cafeteria. Mayer explained that she had sifted through the various questions on the internal network, but she wanted to begin instead with something else. Mayer composed herself and began reading from a book, “Bobbie Had a Nickel,” about a little boy who gets a nickel and considers all the ways he can spend it.

“Bobbie had a nickel all his very own,” Mayer read. “Should he buy some candy or an ice cream cone?”

Mayer paused to show everyone the illustrations of a little boy in red hair and blue shorts choosing between ice cream and candy. “Should he buy a bubble pipe?” she continued. “Or a boat of wood?” At the end of the book, Bobby decides to spend his nickel on a carousel ride. Mayer would later explain that the book symbolized how much she valued her roving experiences thus far at Yahoo. But few in the room seemed to understand the connection.

Strange.  But man, what great writing in this article.

Let’s give the last word to Aswath Damodaran:

Aswath Damodaran, a professor at N.Y.U.’s Stern School of Business, has long argued about the danger of companies that try to return to the growth stage of their life cycle. These technology companies, he said, are run by people afflicted with something he calls the Steve Jobs syndrome. “We have created an incentive structure where C.E.O.s want to be stars,” Damodaran explained. “To be a star, you’ve got to be the next Steve Jobs — somebody who has actually grown a company to be a massive, large-market cap company.” But, he went on, “it’s extremely dangerous at companies when you focus on the exception rather than the rule.” He pointed out that “for every Apple, there are a hundred companies that tried to do what Apple did and fell flat on their faces.”

from New York University’s beautifully done website: http://people.stern.nyu.edu/adamodar/


Friends

Credit Suzanne Hanover/Columbia Pictures

 

Great detail from this NY Times interview with Franco and Rogen:

Did you know you’d be friends right away when you met on “Freaks and Geeks”?

FRANCO I was just writing some poems about it. It sounds silly, but I think they’re actually pretty good. There was a period where Seth, Jason [Segel] and I all went to Jason’s house, and they would sit at one end of the room and smoke weed.

ROGEN He literally would sit in the corner.

More:

Did that camaraderie continue after the show?

FRANCO There was a point where most people on the show didn’t like me, because I took myself too seriously. I thought I was Marlon Brando or something. Then I pushed Busy [Philipps, a co-star] over, by accident. So everybody didn’t like me, I think, except for Seth.

ROGEN When the show ended, I didn’t talk to you for years. We kind of went our separate ways, for a long time.

FRANCO I ran into Judd [Apatow] at this film festival in Austin. He’s like, “Why don’t you come back to the comedy world?” And I was like, “Yes. I need to change something, because I’m miserable.” I was not happy as an actor, and I went and did “Pineapple Express,” and it was like, Oh, it’s Seth, and I know Seth. I could take huge swings. That made all the difference


Fist City

Loretta has such an admirable way of getting right to the point.