Jan 31, 2011

88% Meat!!!

In 1993, we were all treated to a cinema classic when Demolition Man exploded onto movie screens.  It was a fun movie, to be sure.  Completely implausible, but fun.  It featured some big names actors - several who would even get award nominations and victories in future years.  The soundtrack was by Sting.  Like I said, fun movie.  Here's its IMDB page, if you are interested.  The basic story was a modern supercop (Sylvester Stallone, of course) was convicted of wrongfully killing an apartment complex full of people.  He was sentenced to cryogenic prison - he was frozen.  Many years later he is unfrozen in the sissified future to capture a violent criminal (Wesley Snipes) who had somehow escaped from this cryo-prison.  The future was pretty bizarre, played for laughs, and completely impossible to imagine.  In one of the more ridiculous examples of this future, everyone keeps talking about going to Taco Bell, like it is this big awesome deal.  Stallone's cop finally can't take it anymore and wonders why.  His partner (Sandra Bullock) explains that Taco Bell was the only restaurant that survived the "Fast Food Wars."  Every restaurant was now Taco Bell.

It really was one of the more brazen (and brilliant) product placements in movie history.  And it paved the way for Happy Gilmore to supercharge his golf swing with Subway subs, as well as allowed Tony Stark to demand Burger King after his release/escape from prison.  It also allowed for Taco Bell to develop one of their special combo meals that they are so known for.  Back then, Taco Bell was not really into that, yet.  This was one of their first big combo efforts.  Later, it would be replicated with their tie in with Congo and the "Volcano Combo."  It even led to the stupid Star Wars Episode I tie in with sister chains KFC and Pizza Hut.  Now, Taco Bell always has some kind of combo going that's tied in to something.  But, back then, it was unique.  I remember many times ordering the Demolition Man Combo.  Then I would go back to my dorm and become a demolition man in the bathroom.  Good fun.

I thought of this the other day when Taco Bell's plans to become the only restaurant on earth took a severe blow when it was sued for making the egregious claim that it used "meat" in its food.  Details of the lawsuit can be found here.  The basics of the suit is that Taco Bell is supposedly not meeting federal standards for "meat" by adding fillers, oats, water, circus peanuts to their beef.  "Attorney Dee Miles said the meat mixture contained just 35 percent beef, with the remaining 65 percent containing water, wheat oats, soy lecithin, maltodrextrin, anti-dusting agent and modified corn starch."  Amazingly, the suit does not want Taco Bell to stop this practice.  Rather, it wants them to now call their product "meat mixture" rather than "beef."

Taco Bell, naturally, did not take this sitting down on the toilet.  (They obviously don't eat their own products.)  They fired back with a threat of a countersuit and explained that "yuh huh" their meat is really animal.  They even have put up posters in their restaurants with the bold statement "THANK YOU FOR SUING US!"  If you read the poster - which I did yesterday at our visit to Taco Bell - it claims that their meat is actually 88% percent meat, and then only 12% other stuff.  SO THERE!!! HA HA!  They showed you!  You lying rat fishturds.  Eighty eight percent!  Eighty eight percent!

Waaaaait a minute...

Bragging that your meat is 88% meat is kind of like FSU bragging that 9 out of 10 of their male students obtain permission before engaging in sexual activity with someone.  "FSU!!!  Now with only 10% rapists!!!"  [Real fact from this website.]  Taco Bell even went on to list the rest of the stuff in their food.
"We start with USDA-inspected quality beef (88%)," Taco Bell said in an ad signed by company president Greg Creed. "Then add water to keep it juicy and moist (3%). Mix in Mexican spices and flavors including salt, chili pepper, onion powder, tomato powder, sugar, garlic powder and cocoa powder (4%). Combine a little oats, caramelized sugar, yeast, citric acid and other ingredients that contribute to the flavor, moisture, consistency and quality of our seasoned beef."  [That last category is 5%, since they didn't state it.]
Way to go Taco Bell!!  The poster actually says that they use the same USDA beef that we would use at home.  Doubtful.  See, I usually use a 93/7 beef to fat kind of meat.  If I'm buying for bulk, I'll use the 90/10 from Sam's.  I severely doubt the Mexican Phone Company is going to cough up that kind of money.  My guess is that the BEST they use is an 80/20 blend of ground chuck.  They may even have some other option we don't - like a 70/30 one.  NOW WITH MORE HOOF!!!  So, that 88% number is obviously not correct.  Let's say they use a 80/20 - being kind and all.  Using simple math, that means that the real "meat" percent is actually closer to 70%, with 18% being fat, 3% being water, 4% being spices , and 5% being oats, sugar, gym mats, batting, recycled tennis shoes.  (The truth of what they use is far more disturbing and uses the words "Cutter Grade.")

Now, if Taco Bell's numbers are right, they aren't too bad.  If you were make taco meat at home, your numbers actually would be worse.  Take one pound of ground beef (16 ounces), a packet of spices (1.25 ounces), and 3/4 cup of water (about 6 ounces).  The percents for that would be meat 69%, spices 5%, and water 26%.  Of course, some of the water and some of the fat cooks out, so those numbers would be quite different.  [Most of the time, I don't use water when I make it.  Just to share.]

I, for one, don't believe Taco Bell's numbers for a minute.  From what I noticed, no one was surprised at the original lawsuit and accusations.  People have heard bad things about fast food for years.  I have been told numerous times that Taco Bell's meat is a lower USDA grade than cat food.  This article actually shows one man's research into that claim.  [My favorite line in it is "it is all cow meat and by law cannot contain cow organs or tendons or hooves or anything except cow meat."]  This doesn't surprise me.  We know this.  There is a part of our mind that has accepted this.  We know that there is no way McDonald's has served all the hamburgers it claims to if they were all actually 100% meat.  We honestly don't expect it.  So what if they use "mechanically separated chicken" or cow meat as long it doesn't have hoof in it.  I actually have an easier time believing the lawsuit numbers instead of Taco Bell's.

Even if their numbers are accurate, the fact remains that the quality of their meat is hardly even comparable to what we would use at home.  To try to claim that their stuff is just like ours is insulting.  What the lawsuit against the Bell will probably try to do is to point out that the 88% number is not truly all meat - going by what else goes into its creation.  It's another example of a major corporation getting caught skating the line and then retaliating with spin doctors and lawsuits and bluster.  It's like when Denny's was accused of being racist, which then prompted them to do a similar "thanks for suing us" campaign.  It was something like, "Thanks for reminding us of what is important.  Thanks for reminding us that we should remember what elementary kids have hammered home every day - to not judge people by the color of their skin when they just want some pancakes."  Then they put plaques up in every store assuring us that they don't discriminate.

Look, we know how this is going to end.  Taco Bell is going to make some token apology.  They'll print a bunch of new posters to convince us they are "working harder."  They'll pay some people off, fire some executives.  The lawsuit will be a distant memory and Taco Bell won't go anywhere.  They may see some dip in sales for a few weeks.  But not every restaurant is open for "Fourth Meal" - or, as FSU students call it, "When the Munchies Kick In."  People won't stop going there because they don't care.  Like I said, no one was stunned by this news.  People will keep on thinking outside the bun and scarfing down cheap tacos and gorditas.  And Taco Bell can continue their quest for fast food domination.  I just ask that they don't insult me by bragging about the mediocre way they are doing business.  Don't throw "88%" in my face, like I'm supposed to be impressed.  You're Taco Bell.  You're disgusting.  You are not some authentic Mexican place with fresh hearty ingredients.  Don't pretend to be so.  Take your lumps, do what you have to do.  And then get back to what you do best - developing big combos, negotiating movie tie-ins, cooking crappy food, and thinking about how to save our future - with or without a defrosted Sly Stallone.

Jan 27, 2011

Changing Face of Sports

The Super Bowl is coming up in a little over a week.  This is the biggest single sporting event in the country.  Some would argue for March Madness - but that is spread out across weeks.  The Super Bowl is just a mammoth day.  It is treated the same as a holiday.  Stores put on Super Bowl sales - mainly electronics, food, and electronics stores.  Non-sports news devotes significant time to covering it.  It is just huge.  In fact, the hype surrounding the game has basically dwarfed the game.  Rarely does the game itself measure up or carry the same interest as the concept of the game.  Sure, some years like the Patriots/Giants matchup a few years ago and Saints/Colts last year can actually hold our interest.  But, for every game like that there is a Steelers/Seahawks that doesn't.

I've written about the Super Bowl several times on this site.  I've examined how the Super Bowl gains and loses interest based on how many national/regional/local teams are involved.   I've talked about how important the event is to me.  I've even looked at how the Super Bowl contributed to my eating problems over on my Darth Fatso blog.  This year, I wanted to look at the matchup - along with a little on the issue of loyalty in today's sporting world, especially when it comes to the Super Bowl.

For most of the fans of the other 30 NFL teams, you probably don't really care too much about the outcome of this game.  Sure, Browns fans hope the Steelers get annihilated.  The same goes for Vikings and Bears fans with the Packers.  But your average Dolphin fan or Cowboy fan or Rams fan (are there those?) probably doesn't really have a rooting interest.  [If you are gambler, of course that is thrown out the window due your financial interest.]  This year's contest has two very popular teams - ones who have a long history, many Super Bowl wins, a huge national fan base.  They are two of the six or eight truly national teams - franchises that have large groups of fans all over the country.  So, for the NFL, this is a great matchup.  People have a knowledge of the Packers and Steelers.  The game sounds important.  It has a Super Bowl aura about it - unlike something like Jaguars/Seahawks or Chargers/Lions.  Those games don't have the regal sound like this one does.

The really strange thing about this matchup, though, is that it shouldn't work.  Yes, there is a ton of history and everything.  But leagues always are hoping for matchups between big market teams.  You know, the LA and NY and Chicago and Dallas teams.  They want the ratings those teams bring - between their huge population and former residents.  Green Bay and Pittsburgh hardly qualify.  They are "small market" teams.  In every other sport, Pittsburgh is always in danger.  The Pirates are horrible.  The Penguins nearly disappeared a few years ago.  They don't even have an NBA team.  Green Bay is known for freezing weather, cheese, beer, and Brett Favre - and the legacy of an old team.  Basically, the city's entire identity is wrapped up in this team.  Without it, that city is just another Duluth or Lansing - a frigid northern city.

Leagues also want to showcase their super duper megastars.  They want Kobe and LeBron and Jeter involved.  They want Sid the Kid and Peyton/Eli Manning in it at the end.  In today's sports culture, the superstar is more important to the league than the team.  Free agency has seriously eroded team loyalty.  It used to be a team would sign a player and he would play there his whole career.  They went hand in hand. Think of the great players and you immediately think of their team.  Now, though, players jump ship all the time - even the big name guys.  Look at LeBron to see this demonstrated the best.  He should have stayed in Cleveland forever.  Those two should have gone together - with kids growing up as Cavs AND James fans.  Instead, he left for Miami.  Overnight, there were a ton of "Heat Fans."  Team loyalty isn't there.  It's hard.  You get attached to a team, then they trade half the team.  I'm a Magic fan.  I like the way the organization is run.  So I follow the team, and develop a fan relationship with the players.  You get to know them and connect with them.  Then they don't get resigned.  Or the team trades them away and takes on some head case (Arenas).  Shaq is the poster child for this.  Easily one of the ten best players ever - and he's played on SIX teams (and counting).

But the Steelers and Packers aren't jam packed with these stars.  The biggest name is Big Ben Roethlisberger - someone with a seriously damaged reputation.  Aaron Rodgers, while one of the best QBs in the NFL, still isn't a "name" player yet.  Troy Polamalu and Clay Matthews are both stars, but not on the same plane as the big names (Brady, Brees, Manning) - largely because they are on defense.  The rest of the roster is filled with guys doing their jobs without the fanfare.

The thing is, these are actually easy teams to root for.  They are doing things right.  The Packers are not owned by some mega-billionaire software developer or former Russians mobster.  The team is owned by the fans - people who bought shares in it years ago.  How cool is that?  Back when I was a child picking teams, I didn't care about that stuff.  I just hated the Packers because they had ugly colors.  Then they kept messing around with the Cowboys and Bucs.  Now, though, as I get more and more disgusted with the business end of sports - something like the Packers' ownership situation would get me to root for a team like that.  The Steelers are a family-owned team from the old days of the league.  They don't overpay for big name free agents.  Frequently they lose players to other raiding teams (Randel-El, Santonio Holmes).  But they just rebuild and challenge again.  They are loyal to their players and coaches - but they don't tolerate idiocy.  (Proof of that was when they seriously considered cutting Roethlisberger during his scandal this year.)  They have only had three coaches in the last 40 years  (Wha!?!?) - Chuck Noll 1969-1991, Bill Cowher 1992-2006, Mike Tomlin 2007-present.  And, with the way they treat coaches and how well Tomlin has done (and how young he is), he could be there for another thirty years.

The Steelers and Packers both have so many positives.  They have two of the best stadiums in the NFL - legendary Lambeau and the beautiful Heinz Field.  Their uniforms are two of the best in the league.  The Steelers are 6-1 in Super Bowls.  The Packers are 3-1.  Together they hold 20% of all Super Bowl titles. They have likable coaches, players, owners.  And both are located in hard-working cities with hard-working citizens who "deserve" something to rally behind.

This is why I find it so hard to believe an adult can stick with one team their whole life.  It may be different for someone who grows up in an area with a rabid fan base - like New York or Boston (shudder) or St. Louis.  But for most Americans who are trying to pick a team, how do you stay loyal?  Things change over time.  People change.  I don't like the same things I liked as a kid.  Why would I like the same teams?  I used to eat fern leaves and paint from off the chair in our living room.  I don't do that now.  I used to think the Flinstones were the funniest thing ever.  I owned albums by Nelson and Color Me Badd.  I had big round glasses.  Times change.  People change.  I'm older with a family.  I struggle financially and have a hard time having tons of sympathy for "financially strapped billionaires."  Different things are important to me.  When I was younger, something like uniform color or the team having the same name as my street (Georgia Avenue - UGA) could sway things for me.  Now, though, other things matter.

I used to have a complete set of NFL pencils.  They all laid there in a tray - each one painted solid in the team colors, with the team name written in the secondary color.  Later, I got another set with fancier markings - the logos, mascots.  I never used either set.  I just would arrange them in the order that I liked the teams.  Dallas was always first.  Washington was always last (biggest Dallas rivalry, also as a way to tick off my brother - a Redskin fan).  The Dolphins were always second to last - actually last, but the whole brother thing kept them from really going where they deserved.  Things in the middle would change over time.  But the bottom ten or so never changed much.  Washington, Miami, Oakland, Jets, PACKERS, STEELERS, Giants, 49ers, Broncos.  Without fail, those teams were in my bottom tier.  I hated those teams.

So imagine my surprise when I was watching the championship games last weekend.  Jets, Steelers, Packers, Bears.  I couldn't care less about those teams.  The Bears was the only team I never "hated" - largely because my dad was a huge Bears fan.  Yet, I found myself rooting for the Packers and Steelers.  As I thought back, I realized this was not the first time, either.  I remember rooting for Pittsburgh against the Cardinals two years ago and the Seahawks in 2006.  Why was I rooting for the Steelers?!?  And why in the world was I wanted Green Bay to win?  That was a new thing for me.  I realized that my total hatred of them really disappeared when Favre did.  Now, I admired those teams.  I had positive feelings for them.  That can't happen, can it?  If you hate a team, hate it forever.  Sure, if Pittsburgh was playing Jacksonville, I would have been rooting for them all to have their legs fall off.  But in this case, I actually found myself aligning with former enemies.

I've changed.  The league has changed.  Teams have changed.  Things that used to be important aren't now.  I loathe the Cowboys.  They used to be my team.  I had so much Dallas Cowboy stuff.  That was true through college.  But at some point, I just couldn't take them any more.  I got tired of the signing of guys of poor character.  I couldn't stand Jerry Jones and his weasel act.  Their ego and overinflated view of themselves just got to be too much.  Now, they have dropped into that bottom tier.  And a couple other teams have crawled out.  I'm excited for this game.  Either way, a good team will win.  The teams seem to match up well.  It should be a fun watch.  And, of course, the commercials and movie trailers will make up for it if the game is a snoozefest.  I just find it humorous that a matchup that would have sent me to the movie theater a decade ago actually has captured my interest.

Jan 26, 2011

Oscar Nominations 2011

I know that I didn't get this thrown up there on Tuesday like about forty million other bloggers.  I apologize to all those people out there who rely on my pithy and insightful analysis.  But, I often like to weigh in after the initial storm surge of panicky comments.  That way I can 1) steal all the good stuff I already read and 2) come across as extremely timely and "of the moment."  It's really a brilliant strategy.  It also keeps me from having to be lost in the deluge of other opinions.  Instead, I can float onto shore like the last piece of wreckage from a rapidly sinking ship.

People are never going to be completely happy with the Oscar nomination process.  Even if there was a way to nominate every worthy candidate, there would be some loud mouthed blogger that Yogi Bear got overlooked for Best Visual Effects or something inane like that.  "Ashton Kutcher soooo should have gotten nominated for Killers."  I have heard a bunch of complaints this year, most of them centered around the one big problem I had as well.  I'll address that big glaring problem, and then I'll bring up my patented financial assessment too.

Christopher Nolan gets the shaft.  This was the biggest source of discontent out there.  How in the world did Nolan get passed over for Best Director for Inception?  I have no clue, either.  If I was voting for the Oscars (which, thank goodness I'm not), I would have a pretty simple way of assessing the directing award.  Would this movie be as good if someone else directed it?  Was this movie made good primarily by the acting?  Can the movie be separated from the director and stand strong?  Was the director's vision clear and executed well?  Was it the script, or the director's execution of it?  Those are some simple questions I would ask.  For some movies, you can see the acting is so strong, the director was almost irrelevant - kind of like how some football teams would win the Super Bowl with a monkey as a coach (1990s Dallas Cowboys, for example).  I kind of see that in movies like A Few Good Men or The Usual Suspects.  But, when you look at Inception, Nolan is all over that movie.  No one ever mentioned any of the actors for an award.  The effects were impressive, but they were critical to the story.  And, quite frankly, this movie wouldn't exist without him.

It would have been like James Cameron not being nominated for Titanic or Avatar.  He was essential to those movies.  HE was the most important element.  That was Nolan.  I think all of Hollywood recognized that - which is why even Hollywood types were stunned.  Hans Zimmer, who wrote the score for the movie, was very vocal about it.  Even the Coen brothers - nominated for True Grit - wrote they hoped they didn't take anyone's place.  Most entertainment people believe they were referring to Nolan.  He wrote the movie.  It was his vision, his execution.  Inception was the most talked about movie of the year.  It was a highly original, highly intelligent movie that made $294 million.  Read that again.  TWO HUNDRED AND NINETY FOUR MILLION DOLLARS.  It wasn't a franchise or a comic book or a beloved novel. According to all Hollywood wisdom, it should have tanked.  Instead, it was the fifth biggest movie of the year and the most talked about.

Nolan is a brilliant director.  He should have been nominated for his last four movies - Batman Begins, The Prestige, The Dark Knight, and Inception.  It's sad, but I doubt he'll get nominated for the next film either - Dark Knight Rises - since a superhero movie will NEVER win a major category Oscar.  I guess we'll have to wait to see if he ever gets his due.

Ten Best Picture Joke.  The ten best pictures nominations was supposed to open the category up to other deserving films (translation: more popular movies to make the show watchable).  While it has been good to see films like Up, Toy Story 3, Inception, District 9, and The Blind Side get nominated, there still is a very clear line between "the films that would have been nominated in years past" and "the other films that have no real chance of winning but that hopefully will bring more viewers."  Last year, the category was split between legitimate (Avatar, Hurt Locker, An Education, A Serious Man, Up in the Air) and the fillers (Up, District 9, Inglorious Basterds, The Blind Side, Precious).  This year is no different.  You have the starting five (Social Network, True Grit, King's Speech, Black Swan, Kids are Alright) and the other guys (Inception, Toy Story 3, The Fighter, 127 Hours, Winter's Bone).

So, is it really a benefit to add the five movies when they have no chance?  Really, only three films even have a chance this year - Social Network, True Grit, and King's Speech.  Adding other films doesn't really do much.  I'm glad that it allows Pixar movies to be nominated.  But it infuriates me that they still don't get the respect they deserve.  It almost seems like, with the expanded nominations, it guarantees that Pixar will NEVER win.  What more can they possibly do that they have done with their last four films?  Toy Story 3, Up, WALL-E, and Ratatouille were all deserving of serious consideration.  Now, it is like, "Shut up.  You got nominated.  What more do you want?"  Pixar, at this point, could make the Citizen Kane of animated films and not win.

Animated Shortchange.  There were not enough animated films to allow for the normal five picture category.  So, instead, there are only three films.  I understand the rules.  But it is a shame that it happened.  I think Despicable Me and Tangled both were deserving of nominations.  They just got caught up in a rule issue.  It's sad, too, because those two movies signified so much more than just a good kids' flick.  Despicable Me was an original film based on no franchise, children's book, action hero.  (Much like Inception.)  It was the seventh biggest movie of the year based completely on the quality of the movie and word of mouth (with $250 million gross).  That needs to be rewarded.  Tangled signified the return of Disney animation - NOT done by Pixar.  It was a very good movie.  It was funny, touching, engaging.  It had lovely music and was equally attractive to boys and girls.  Disney has needed a hit like that to show that they can pull off animated films outside of Pixar - which they certainly did.  Again, that should be rewarded.  (In my opinion, the more quality animated films the better.)

Financial Gripes.  The inflated Best Picture category has helped to bring the overall per picture average up - just like it did las year.  Bringing in big money films like Avatar, Toy Story 3, and Inception will do that.  But we still see a ridiculous obsession with low grossing movies in the acting categories.  I can overlook the infatuation with King's Speech because it has made $57 million, and probably will earn more, since it hasn't been in theaters that long.  Plus, from everything I've heard, it is just phenomenally acted.  I can even try to get past stuff like Kids Are Alright ($20.8 million) and 127 Hours ($11.3 million).  But then I start to have problems.  Winter's Bone generated just $6.3 million, but got a Best Picture and two acting nods.  Blue Valentine and its NC-17 rating earned just $4.5 million and one acting nomination.  Then you have Nicole Kidman's Rabbit Hole nomination ($1.3 million) and Jacki Weaver's Animal Kingdom spot ($1million).  Maybe people were drawn to the animal references.  I just don't understand how a picture gets a nomination when it barely generates enough money to cover the ticket costs for the Academy voters!  How in the word can people say those movies deserved anything?  NO ONE SAW THEM!!!  I have a real problem believing that everyone who voted for those people actually saw those movies.  The biggest joke, though, was Javier Bardem's nomination for Biutiful.  This movie has generated ZERO DOLLARS!  It is a Mexican film that has not even been released.  There have been some screenings.  Julia Roberts has campaigned for the film and has hosted some private screenings.  WHAT THE HECK!?!  How in the world can the Academy with a straight face nominate a movie that is not even out for the public to see?  To me, that is a real problem.  Who voted for this guy?  I know people love him and love Julia Roberts.  But that is not an accurate representation of the movies for 2010.  I know that a lot of people were unhappy with Mark Wahlberg being left out from a nomination for The Fighter.  Well, there was his spot right there.

Of course, the Oscars will never get it 100 percent right - just like the Grammys, Golden Globes, MVP races, and People's Choice Awards will always be lacking.  They involve people - people will opinions. The problem is that the people voting have different opinions than the vast majority of the people voting with their wallets.  And there isn't really a way to make those two sides agree.  I guess that is part of the fun of it all.  Hollywood loves ticking off the public with their goofy nomination process and Americans love to complain about the goofy nomination process.  It's what makes the Oscars so dang much fun.  Well, not for Christopher Nolan.

Jan 19, 2011

Benefit of the Bat-Doubt

There was some huge news that broke today.  I'm not talking about the House repeal of the health reform measures.  I, of course, am talking about the news that Christopher Nolan has officially announced Anne Hathaway will be playing Selina Kyle (Catwoman) and Tom Hardy will be playing Bane in the new Batman movie.  For those of you who really care about this, you already knew that.  For those of you who don't care about this, here is a link to coverage of the health care repeal.

As you would expect, the news brought a lot of discussion and hand-wringing from the comic book fans out there in the blogosphere.  (And let's be honest, that's a good portion of the blogosphere.)  I already read some comments, wailing against the news.  One of the first comments I saw on a news story was, "NOOOOOO!  NOT HER!!!"  That person was apparently not happy.  Other people were angry that the villain was going to be Bane instead of Hugo Strange or whatever.  I thought the casting was interesting and really had no problem with it.  Here's my own personal reasons.  One, I like Anne Hathaway.  She would probably be in my list of five favorites actresses.  So I'm glad to see her in the movie.  In fact, when I have talked about how horribly miscast Katie Holmes was in Batman Begins, I have often said, "If it was someone like Anne Hathaway, the movie would have been perfect."  So, no gripes there.  Two, I like Tom Hardy - from what I have seen him in.  He was fine in Star Trek: Nemesis (also known as Star Trek X: The Remake of Star Trek II).  And he was very cool in Inception.  I think he will be fine.  Three, I love Bane as the villain.  He's one of my favorite Batman characters.  You know, as long as he is actually being treated the way he should be and NOT like some big dumb thug.

Beyond my personal likes and dislikes, though, there are some other reasons I wasn't frazzled by the news. My first reason is that we need to give Christopher Nolan benefit of the doubt at this point.  He has taken great care with the Batman franchise.  His vision has been incredible - actually giving the series even more depth and power.  Batman already was my favorite comic book hero by far.  My next favorite is Iron Man.  The same goes for the movie franchises.  Jon Favreau has done an amazing job with Iron Man.  But Nolan went far beyond that - taking the Batman films somewhere no one thought possible, both commercially and critically.  I mean, if The Dark Knight had come out a year later, it would have been up for a Best Picture Oscar (in the expanded ten film field).  A comic book movie up for Best Picture?!?  That doesn't even make sense.

Taking this further, here's two words - Heath. Ledger.  Remember the uproar when he got cast as Joker?  No?  Oh, man.  People went nuts.  "Are you kidding?!?  Isn't that the guy from Ten Things I Hate About You and Four Feathers?  The gay cowboy?"  They ridiculed his pretty boy looks.  They jumped on non-comic book credentials.  It was a feeding frenzy.  I remembered in Ten Things his smile, and I thought it could be workable.  Now, looking back, it proved to be genius.  Ledger thrust the movie into the stratosphere.  He won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.  Yes, an ACTOR in a COMIC BOOK MOVIE won an OSCAR.

So we have to cut Nolan some slack.  He got grief when he cast Christian Bale, who has been stunning as Bruce Wayne AND Batman.  (Most people in that role can get one side right, but rarely do they get both right.)  He got ripped a new one about Ledger.  People scoffed at Cilian Murphy as Scarecrow.  But, he was right on all of those things.  His movies have been brilliant.  And, when you take The Prestige and Inception into account, the guy is at the absolute top of his game.  To me, he's entered Pixar territory.  Until he screws up, you kind of have to give him some leeway.

The second reason I think this is good news has to do with Bane.  The character of Bane in the comics was incredible.  He was unbelievably strong, thanks to his dependence on venom - a super steroid that was pumped directly into his nervous system.  He had been trained to be a killer.  And he had spent his life figuring out who Batman was and how to break him.  And then he did break him.  It was the first time we ever saw Batman lose like that.  Bane systematically destroyed everything Wayne held dear - everything he relied on for strength. And then he broke his back and threw him off a building.  Eventually, Batman's replacement took care of Bane.  But years later he returned - free of the venom - to once again challenge Bruce Wayne as the only man who had ever defeated the Dark Knight.  Wayne's Batman eventually prevailed.  It was a villain worthy of Batman.  If Nolan can pull it off, which I think he can, the movie could be unbelievable.  Remember, at the end of the second film, Batman is on the run from the police.  Gotham believes he is a murderer.  He is going to have to do things alone, which is where Bane wants him.  I'm excited to see.

Now, I can understand some concerns.  When I say that Nolan has done a great job with Batman, that is certainly true.  But he has had some small missteps.  The biggest of those are in the female lead department.  Katie Holmes was horrible.  She wasn't as bad as Kate Bosworth in Superman Returns - who singlehandedly ruined what could have been good movie.  But she was close.  I cringed whenever she was on screen.  I hoped that the arrived of Maggie Gyllynhyll (is that the right number of y's?) would help.  But she didn't.  It made me wonder if it was the just the character was stupid.  Or does Nolan have a problem with directing females?  In Inception, most complaints center around Marion Cotillard's Mal character.  In The Prestige, none of the ladies did much to distinguish themselves.  I haven't seen Memento or Insomnia, so I can't be sure about those films.  If Nolan actually does have a problem eliciting good performances from females, this film could be in trouble.

Hathaway is a good actress.  She does funny.  She does dark and troubled.  She has an Oscar nomination.  She's the right calibre for the role.  BUT, is she Selina Kyle?  I think she could become her with the right direction, just like Ledger became Joker - even though he was not suited for it at first glance.  Kyle is a beautiful woman with distinctive features - which Hathaway can mirror well.  But the thing about Catwoman is that she is dangerous.  It is like, you know that you should just stay the heck away from her - but you can't.  Batman knows she's trouble.  He shouldn't hang out with her.  But he still does.  The fact that he tolerates her without constantly tossing her in jail shows her powers over men.  Does Hathaway convey that?  I'm not sure.  She doesn't seem like it.  That doesn't mean she can't.  But if Nolan has trouble helping ladies, then it could be a problem.

All in all, the news today did nothing to diminish my excitement for the film.  I love Batman.  I love Nolan's filmmaking.  I love the characters of Catwoman and Bane.  I like Anne Hathaway and Tom Hardy.  Hopefully it will let that film trilogy go out with a bang.

Jan 11, 2011

FERRET FIVE: Store Credit Cards

I have been trying to come up with an idea to generate some more posts.  I don't always have something thoughtful to say.  But I still want to waste your time with my useless opinions.  So I have a dilemma - come up with some half thought out post (which usually never makes it to posting) or not write at all.  My solution?  To add a new Subject Identifying Disc.  I am calling it the Ferret Five.  It is like a Top Five list, except adapted with my bizarre affiliation with the ferret.  (Some day I really need to explain that on this blog.  Good idea for later...)  The Ferret Five will be a quick little list about something that hits me - usually in the car or the shower.  Top Five lists are harder than you think.  Usually I get to #3 pretty well, and then struggle to get the last two.  So, while this may appear to be useless garbage, it actually took at least as much thought as my defense of Mike Vick.  (How'd that work out?  I managed to jinx both the Saints AND Eagles.  Good on ya.)

Here's my first list - the worst store credit cards to have.  I'm not talking about the danger of having credit cards in general.  This is a question of what store card would be the most dangerous for you to have?  I remember back when I was in high school and was looking for a job.  There was a Warner Brothers store in the Palm Beach Gardens mall.  I loved the store and they were hiring.  But my mom wouldn't let me work there.  She told me that she was afraid that I would spend too much of my income there on Batman paraphernalia.  She was probably right.  That is the kind of thing I'm talking about.  If you had a card for a store, what would be the most dangerous?  I did not count stores that have Visa or MasterCard partnerships - like the Amazon Visa or Borders Visa.  You can use those at other stores.  I'm looking at ones that can only be used in one store.  [Side Note: I don't have any of these cards.  I have had some cards in the past.  Now, I have none.  And I plan to keep it that way.  I'm not a Dave Ramsey acolyte or anything.  I'm an idiot.  And you wouldn't give an idiot a loaded weapon, would you?]

1. THE APPLE STORE CARD:  Was there really any doubt?  There are two Apple store options.  One is a regular store card.  The other has iTunes rewards with it.  Are you kidding me?  I wouldn't touch this card with a ten foot pole.  I survived working there without buying (too much) stuff.  But if I had a card there?  Good grief - the temptation would just be overwhelming.  The only redeeming element is that there isn't an Apple store in Tallahassee.  You may think this is crazy.  But I can tell you the truth - I can always find something to buy in the Apple store.  Mini speakers.  Software.  New iPhone case.  iTunes cards.  Gigantor iMac.  It never ends.

2. BEST BUY CARD:  I used to have one of these back in college.  Without a doubt it was a monstrous pitfall.  It would easily be number one, if not for Apple.  In some ways, it is even more dangerous than the Apple card because they carry DVDs and video games and cords.  (What?  You know how tempting cords are?  I don't know why, but there are many times I just wander through the cords and think about what they do and how it would be fun to have those.  Okay, I'm weird.)  Plus they have a lot of Apple stuff.  The thing that separates this and Apple is that most of the tantalizing things at Best Buy are cheaper and add up over time.  The Apple one just blindsides you.

3. TARGET CARD:  Ahhh, Target.  Who among us have not wandered into thine automatic doors and walked out having spent a hundred bucks on God knows what?  Target just sneaks up on you.  You're trying to kill time and you stroll up and down the aisles.  Things just magically jump into your cart.  "Ooooo.  This $4 shirt would look nice on Gabe."  Then you stroll over to toys.  "Hey.  This doll is 30% off."  You pass by DVDs.  "Are you serious?  The COMBO PACK is only $15?"  Before you know it, you've been laid waste once again.  I feel even more vulnerable at Target than Walmart.  At Walmart I have my defenses up.  I know they are going to try to trick me.  They have all these falling prices.  But I usually am immune to most of them.  Target, though, always seems to get me.  Maybe it's the Starbucks or the pretty artwork.  Having card there would just be a disaster.

4. MEN'S WEARHOUSE CARD:  "You're gonna like the way you look.  I guarantee it."  With that gravelly voice, it is like he's threatening you.  "You are going to come in here and you are going to like the way you look and then it's all over, buster."  I actually went into one of these stores and got some stuff for a wedding I was attending.  The problem is that they have really nice stuff - you know, for off the rack commoner clothes.  It is very easy to see yourself in these things and looking sharp.  They have great sales staff, mirrors everywhere, and very tantalizing sales.  The problem is, the stuff is so stinking expensive.  You're trying on a suit, thinking you look sharp.  They aren't mentioning the price.  You casually look at the tag.  "More than you're worth," is what it says.  "Like more than what I would get selling your body on the black market for parts."  And they have all these options - jackets, sweaters, shirts, pants, shoes, socks.  They'll deck you out.  One sweater I tried on was amazing.  It looked so nice and felt like it was woven from angel wings.  Three hundred bucks.  For a sweater.  Sheesh.  You won't be able to afford food for a month, but you'll look nice living in your box.

5. DILLARDS CARD:  Very similar problem to #4.  But they are more sneaky.  They always have stuff on sale.  Now, there are times when it is just about impossible to refuse their deals.  When the winter clothes go off the racks, they'll drop the price.  25% off.  About a month later, 50% off.  Then 75% off.  And then, there are times you'll hit it right and they'll be running some crazy "75% off and an additional 25% off and basically we have to get something for this shirt.  We're just saving face."  They do the same thing when the line switches from summer.  I cannot even count how many shirts I have gotten at Dillards on these sales.  I'm pretty sure every embroidered Defender Ministries shirts I've even owned was purchased this way.  That is the benefit of Dillards.  The catch is that all those $9 sweaters and $7.50 shirts add up.  And sometimes you only get them on the 30% sale.  You get nervous that all the good sizes will be gone, so you jump.  Plus, they sell lots of other stuff - like dresses and china and Christmas ornaments.  They run great sales.  Taking advantage once or twice is great.  But eventually it all adds up.  It's like the Tribbles of credit cards.

Kohls - The trickiest store out there.  Jack up your prices so you can always run sales.  But, man, can they be tantalizing.
Kay Jewelers - You'll always have a way to buy a present for your wife.  And then you'll pay on it until the next time you need a present for your wife.
Disney Store - I could probably avoid using this for a long time.  But that one time you wander in there with your guard down...
Any Gas Card - Between the fact each fill up is at least $50 and the fact that you can almost do your grocery shopping at most gas stations now, these suckers are just an invitation for disaster.

Jan 7, 2011

The Bizarre Case of Mike Vick

With the NFL playoffs starting this weekend, there is a new rash of articles about whether or not we should be cheering for Mike Vick, quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles.  For those three of you who don't know what this is all about, Vick was the superstar quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons.  Back in 2007, it was shown that Vick was in charge of a dog fighting ring - and was personally involved in the torture and killing of dogs.  He then was sentenced to 23 months in prison.  He served about 18 months of that sentence.  Then he returned to the NFL.  His first stint was as a backup and "wildcat" quarterback for the Eagles.  This year, though, he worked his way into the starting job.  And, over the course of this year, he has frequently shown the brilliance he used to exhibit, with a more mature temperament.  The Eagles won the NFC East and are a scary playoff team.

Back in 2007, there was much uproar about Vick's wrongdoings.  People came up with all sorts of suggestions for him.  They wanted him stripped of endorsements (which happened), penalized for his signing bonus (also happened), banned for life from the NFL (didn't happen), and beaten and treated like a fighting dog (uh, I don't think this happened).  Shoot, even I weighed in on the issue with this Pulitzer Prize winning post.  I went back and read it and the following quote stood out from all of the other stellar points:
My hope is that Vick and his buddies get a fast fair trial (supposedly in October). I hope that if they are truly involved in this, they are found guilty. And if they are, I want them to get the maximum sentence (six years in prison, huge butt fine). And then I want Mike Vick to be stripped of every endorsement he has. I want him to be banned from football for life. I want Nike and Powerade and the Falcons to sue him to get back signing bonuses and contract money. And then I want THAT to be the precedent for the other NFL athletes who decide to get involved in despicable actions. That would send a nice clear message.
It was a pretty high and mighty position to take.  But, what happens when Vick does something we don't expect?  Instead of remaining that arrogant evil supervillain we all had gotten used to seeing, he actually seemed to change.  He was a backup.  He supported the started. He said all the right things - and seemed to really genuinely mean them.  He created Public Service Announcements speaking out against dog fighting.  He made donations to help protect animals.  He has openly stated in interviews that he was wrong.  And it wasn't that simpering apology we are used to with stars.  He was explicit in stating his wrongness.  He has apologized.  He served his time.  He worked his way back up to the top.  And, when he got a second chance, he seized it.

Normally, we here in America are complete suckers for a comeback story. We love it when a player hits bottom and then scrapes their way to the top again. Shoot, we don't just feel that way about athletes - we feel that about all kinds of people. Robert Downey Jr, Mickey Rourke, and Sandra Bullock are all examples of this. They were down professionally, and then we embraced them once they finally got their talent to match their opportunities - while not shooting themselves in the foot. Donald Trump went from an egomaniacal billionaire to a bankrupt egomaniacal former billionaire to a beloved egomaniacal billionaire again. George Foreman was more loved on his second run at the heavyweight championship, and turned himself into a multi-million dollar industry.

In sports, we have awards like "Comeback Player of the Year." We celebrate players who can make it back from bad years or injuries. It is part of the sports culture. We do the same thing with teams. Would the Saints have been so supported last year if they had not always stunk and if the city hadn't been underwater? We love stories like that - overcoming the odds to reclaim success. So why is Michael Vick still so hated?

His crimes were heinous. That much is true. Injuring and killing animals is depraved and shows a major moral deficiency. He did his time. He was reinstated. He worked hard to get back in shape - mentally and physically. And he was willing to take a secondary position.  And he still has to deal with booing fans and newspapers running headlines like "Michael Vick: Top Dog." There are still fans who think he never should have been allowed back into the league.

It is bizarre. There are other players who have been suspended and brought back. Few have met the open hostility Vick has. Bret Favre has battled both painkiller and alcohol addiction issues - and scandalous accusations of his sexual impropriety while on the Jets.  Ray Lewis stabbed a man to death (allegedly). Donte Stallworth killed a pedestrian. Jamal Lewis ran a drug ring. Manny Ramirez and multiple others did steroids. And that is not to mention the countless drug using arrests, DWI arrests, domestic abuse arrests, holdouts, and halfheartedly played games. So, why is Michael Vick getting the short end of the stick?

It comes down to the fact that there are two things you can't do in this world - hurt a kid and hurt a dog. Think about it. In the movies, that is how you really know a villain is a SUPER villain. They are willing to hurt a dog. I remember watching Independence Day in the theater when it came out. There was a scene after the aliens started to attack. Fire is boiling down the streets of Manhattan - destroying everything in its path. A small group of people race into an alleyway. Their dog is chasing after them. The whole audience was terrified the dog wasn't going to make it. Now, mind you, like five million PEOPLE had just been crispified. The White House was destroyed. All over the world, complete devastation. But, dang it, if that dog had died, it would have been too much to take.

I think that is the kicker. He hurt dogs. They are cute and innocent. And, according to Vietnamese people, quite tasty. That is not to minimize his crimes. But it is to remember that they were animals. he was sentenced. He did his time. He is allowed to come back. Good for him if he does well. Why should he be denied the opportunity to earn a living? Vick would have been better off running a real life Fight Club or a human trafficking ring than a dog fighting ring. Then, he would have probably already have earned redemption.

As for me, I have changed my view.  I am glad that he was reinstated.  And I am glad for him that he has made the most of his opportunities.  Isn't that what our prison system is supposed to be all about?  Isn't the goal to rehabilitate people?  To teach them the right way to do things?  So, by all accounts of everyone who knows Vick, that happened.  He turned his life around, saw the error of his ways, and made a life change.  Is he supposed to be punished forever?  I don't think that is something that America stands for.  As a Christian, I know that does not mesh with my beliefs.

I don't have a team in the playoffs this year.  My Jaguars choked away their chance (shocking, I know).  The Bucs were kept out of the playoffs by the powerhouse 7-9 Seahawks "earning" a spot.  I have a soft spot for the Saints, because I like Drew Brees and I know Heath Evans - the Saints' fullback.  (Oh, I'm sorry.  I'll pick up that name I dropped.)  And, even though the Patriots are annoying, I am very impressed with how that organization operates.  But I will be cheering for Vick.  I want him to do well and to succeed.  That will give him an even bigger pulpit to speak out and teach others - and to show people that second chances do exist.  I don't like what he did.  But I like what he has become - and what lessons that can teach.