Monday, January 31, 2011

Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas

I was lucky enough to go to Las Vegas last week for MarketingSherpa's Email Summit, held at Caesars Palace. Good conference, good to see friends, to meet some folks I've been in touch with via Twitter IRL, and make new connections thanks to my tendency to over-tweet when I go to events like these (no kidding; I posted 118 tweets in three days, the most of anyone else at the conference). Learned some, networked a bit, represented my employer well, and would call the trip a productive one.

Blah blah blah. This isn't my work blog. I don't need to defend why I was there.

I'd rather tell you how unimpressed I was with Caesars. The place really shows its age; the rooms aren't very nice, the ventilation isn't very good, food options didn't do much for me, I had a bad view ... and the hotel was overpriced too. For example, they charged us $25 for wifi if we wanted it in the conference rooms and in our rooms. Oh, and that was $25 per day. Then, Caesars had the nerve to try and charge me double for my stay because they messed up and didn't have me down for the special conference room rate. Thankfully, I had my reservation confirmation printed out and with me, so the situation could be corrected.

Suffice it to say, when the snow storm hit Boston on Wednesday and I got "stuck" in Vegas another night, I moved next door to the Bellagio. Now that's a class operation. This place was an upgrade in every way (and yet, not more expensive), from the comfortable bed to the turn-down service. Simply stated, the Bellagio should be the standard for every other hotel in Vegas. And the view. Wow, the view. I paid $30 extra (on my own, not on the company dime) to have a room overlooking the fountains. Calling it "worth it" doesn't even come close to doing it justice. Next time I go back to Vegas, I'm staying at the Bellagio again.

It's worth noting that I spent part of that extra night on Wednesday in "Old" Las Vegas, enjoying the Freemont Street Experience. That was, um, different. But it was a good time.

I learned a lot on this trip, but the biggest lesson of all was that I need to get out to Vegas more often, and I need to go on a non-work trip so I can really enjoy myself. Here's hoping that happens soon.


Sunday, January 30, 2011

They're Here!

Unless it's, you know, a booty call or something, you never want the phone to ring after 12 a.m. Especially if you've been out, and you're, well, not sober. Because when people call after midnight, it's usually not for a good reason.

But sometimes the phone rings after midnight for a good reason. A very good reason.

Such was the case this past Tuesday night, when the phone rang and I learned that I had two new nephews. Yes, they were a few weeks early. I guess Marc and Ian just couldn't wait to meet their uncle and they arrived at just 31 weeks. I was in Las Vegas when I got the call (and yes, I had had a few drinks), so I was sorry that I couldn't be there to welcome them, like I was when my niece, Abby, was born. But neither were my folks or my sister's in-laws. The whole thing apparently happened so quickly, so unexpectedly, and so soon that no one could truly prepare. (The fact that my sister and brother-in-law had picked up their new minivan just days earlier was pure luck.)

So ... now I have two little nephews: Marc Owen (4 pounds) and Ian Benjamin (3 pounds, 15 ounces), who were born at 2:27 a.m. and 2:28 a.m. on January 26. I'm not going to get to meet them for another few days, and I can hardly wait.

Two boys. How cool. How fun. How long do I have to wait till we can play wiffle ball, or till they can crawl all over me and try to pin me to the ground? These guys are gonna be trouble, and it's gonna be awesome.

Oh, and in case you're wondering about Abby ... she's handling it all just fine. She loves the idea of being a big sister, and loves the tshirts, the hats, and the bracelets that say "Big Sister." We'll see how well she handles it when Marc and Ian — or "Mookie" and "Alex," as she calls them — come home from the hospital in a few weeks. I think she's gonna be great. And if she needs a little love and attention, she knows who she can count on to give it to her. (Hint: It's me.)

And just for the record, Abby, Marc, and Ian can call me any time.

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Fired Up

These past two years, I've never stopped saying how lucky I am. At the end of 2008, I voluntarily left my old job because I'd found a new one at a growing, successful company — one that's kept on growing. While others lost their jobs or had their paychecks cut, my job remained stable and my salary actually increased. And while many people said 2009 was an awful year, I said the exact opposite. I don't tell you all this to brag. I tell you because while watching the film The Company Men, I was reminded of just how lucky I am.

As opposed to other films that show the effects of the economy on working class Americans, The Company Men shows what happens to more affluent white-collar people when they lose their jobs. In the film, Ben Affleck plays Bobby, an arrogant young executive at Boston-based global shipping company GTX, who is laid off as a result of downsizing and has a hard time dealing with his changed life. The difficult economic climate also affects his boss, Gene (Tommy Lee Jones), the company's original employee, and his colleague Phil (Chris Cooper), both of whom try to stop the layoffs and have a tough time adjusting when the axe falls on them too.

Of course, focusing on guys with big houses and fancy cars proves to be a reason why The Company Men isn't the engaging film it could have been. After all, it's really hard to have much sympathy for people like Bobby, who stubbornly keep their Porsches and their golf club memberships even though it's now a struggle to pay the mortgage and college tuition. It takes until halfway into the film for Bobby to get over himself and not live in denial, and that's why the second half of The Company Men is better than the first. Also, it's tough to buy into the plot twist that Gene is having an affair with the head of human resources, when he disagrees so strongly with what she's doing. (Then again, she's played by Maria Bello, so I guess I do understand.)

But aside from those grievances, The Company Men is not a bad movie. For one thing, it's marked by fine acting across the board. You do eventually feel sympathy for each one of the guys, and for the family members who are also affected — or at least you feel it for Bobby's family. (It's worth noting that Kevin Costner gives a nice, quiet performance as Bobby's working class brother-in-law, who gives Bobby hope and purpose when no one else will.) Writer/director John Wells (ER) has created a film that illustrates the ridiculousness and emptiness of motivational outplacement counselors, shows the heartbreak that happens when a potential job opportunity doesn't pan out, and gives voice to the frustration that results when people don't just lose their job and paycheck, but their whole identity as well. In fact, The Company Men would make a decent double-feature companion for Up in the Air because it too makes an interesting statement about our current economic climate.

Of course, The Company Men won't be considered a classic like Up in the Air was. But the performances make the film worth seeing, and who knows, maybe it'll make you feel lucky too. I'm giving The Company Men a B.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

You Always Hurt the Ones You Love

In the absolutely devastating film Blue Valentine, Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams play Dean and Cindy, a couple whose marriage is on the rocks (to put it mildly). Over the course of the movie, we see in flashbacks how the couple met and fell in love — it's this juxtaposition that pretty much defines the expression "the gamut of emotions." Blue Valentine is a love story gone wrong, and at its center are two excellent, award-worthy performances by Gosling and Williams. They help make this a very impressive film.

Dean and Cindy's relationship began with a case of love at first sight — for him more than for her. But Dean charms Cindy, and wins her over. We see part of that, in a truly sweet scene where he performs a goofy-sounding version of "You Only Hurt the Ones You Love" while playing ukulele, and while she dances along. (The scene makes up the basis of the film's great trailer.) We only get glimpses of how the relationship turned sour, but flash-forward six years and the couple is past the brink. He may still love her, but it's clear she's done.

Blue Valentine treats its subject with real honesty. There's no line-reading going on here — all the dialogue was improvised — and that helps to give everything a more natural, from-the-heart quality. It also helps to make Gosling and Williams' already moving performances even more notable. Like their characters, these two actors are flying without a net, and when, at film's end, the two go their separate ways (not a spoiler), it may be for the best, but you still feel sad that what started out as a promising romance ultimately crashed and burned. Thankfully, the film itself doesn't suffer the same fate. I'm giving Blue Valentine an A–.


Monday, January 03, 2011

You Just Know

How do you know when the movie you're watching is not worth your time? Here are the first 10 answers that come to mind:

1. When it's a romantic comedy with almost no laughs, and surely fewer than can be found in a dud like Little Fockers.
2. When Jack Nicholson is totally wasted, and he gives a performance that seems to imply he knows he shouldn't be there.
3. When Reese Witherspoon is absolutely, seriously adorable, but the film is still unwatchable.
4. When you feel sorry for Paul Rudd, because he's starring in his second disappointment in six months' time.
5. When it's a movie about a talented, popular, confident, inspiring softball player who unexplainably is cut by her team and proceeds to show no signs of confidence, making one stupid and inconsistent decision after another.
6. When you wish you'd seen it sooner, only so you could include it on your annual list of least-favorite movies.
7. When it's a romance, but you really don't want the leads to end up together at the end.
8. When it's a "modern romance" that seems to know very little about modern romance — or other modern conventions, like cell phones, for example (i.e., neither of the high-powered businessfolk use a Blackberry or iPhone).
9. When it's about 20 minutes longer than it should be.
10. When it's called How Do You Know.

I'm giving this one a D.