Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Americone Dream Come True

I did it again.

As you may recall, last summer, I successfully led an effort to get Ben & Jerry's to come and give free ice cream to my coworkers. In fact, it was exactly this week that the ice cream truck rolled up to our building and gave out servings of tasty Ben & Jerry's ice cream to all who wanted it.

Well, Ben & Jerry's is at it again this summer, and so was I. All month long, I've been tweeting at @benjerrystruck to get them to come to our office, and Monday, when I saw that they'd be in Waltham and Lexington a day later, I really stepped up my efforts, enlisting the entire office to tweet and get the truck to come our way.

Late Monday evening I received confirmation that our efforts would be rewarded, and Tuesday afternoon, the truck arrived. Hundreds of my coworkers enjoyed delicious Americone Dream scooped fresh from the truck, and others got cups of Cookie Dough, Cherry Garcia, and other flavors. It was a perfect day: Meeting-free (for some folks, anyway), gorgeous weather ... and free Ben & Jerry's. What could be bad?

And I'll remind you, this all came about because of Twitter. For the small "price" of a few tweets saying how much I (and others) love Ben & Jerry's, we got lots of free ice cream. Ben & Jerry's got lots of "free" marketing and exposure, and generated lots of goodwill for its brand. It was a win-win for everyone involved.

Between the ice cream and Pretzel Crisps, plus good relationships I've developed, plenty of connections I've made, lots of information I've learned, and fun times I've had, I'd say Twitter's been very good to me. If you're not using it, I still say you're missing out.

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Friday, August 19, 2011

Lost and Found

I got lost yesterday. Again.

My company had its annual summer outing at the Nashoba Valley Ski Area, and on my way home, I decided I didn't like the route the Google Maps app on my iPhone was suggesting (i.e., Route 2). So, I opted to go back home the same way I got to Westford: By driving past Walden Pond and through the 'burbs, by my office, and then onto 128 and the Pike (or up Trapelo Road, if there was traffic on the highways).

I thought I knew where I was going. I was wrong.

After I passed Walden Pond, I made a wrong turn or two and ended up God knows where. Frustrated, I kept refreshing the route on my app, thinking I knew where I was and in what direction I was headed, and each time, it told me I was headed in the wrong direction and the time it would take to get to my destination was longer. So, I decided finally to trust in my app, and follow the now-new route it suggested, which required me to turn around and back-track a bit.

Eventually, after driving through Concord, Wayland, Weston, and some other towns, after passing by a farm (cows!) and some stores and places I wouldn't mind returning to on purpose, I arrived in a most familiar place: the intersection of Main Street and South Street in Waltham. How I got there, I have no idea. But knowing exactly where I was at that point, I made the turn onto South Street, drove by my alma mater (Brandeis U), and headed for home. In the end, a drive that should have taken me just under an hour took me about 75 minutes. Not so bad. I wasn't in a rush to get home anyway.

It occurred to me as I was driving that the situation I found myself in, aside from being all-too-regular, was a significant (and not exactly subtle) metaphor for my life — and maybe yours too.

In life, we often know what our destination is, and we think we know the best way to get there, no matter what anyone else is telling us. So we divert from a prescribed route, ignoring advice and guidance, and as a result, we get lost. Being lost can be a scary proposition for some because you're out of your comfort zone. But being lost gives you a new sense of perspective. It produces opportunities to see new places and things, ones you might not have experienced otherwise.

Getting lost on the way to a destination, while it can be frustrating, is not a bad thing. Yes, it may take longer to get there, but the experience can make you stronger and more confident, as you learn you can find your way, and can get there on your own.

Getting lost is humbling, because at some point you have to admit that you are wrong, and have to go back to where you came from (at least part of the way, anyway).

And it must be said: Not everyone gets to the same place in the same way. This is okay. There are multiple ways to get somewhere.

It's nice to know that help and guidance is always there, in the form of Google Maps or other resources (and people), but sometimes, if I find myself lost (due to my own wrong turns), I like to embrace it, and try to figure out my own way to the destination.


Friday, August 12, 2011

Caesar Is Home

So here's how the apes came to rule the planet, according to the new film Rise of the Planet of the Apes: Sometime in the present day, a scientist (James Franco) develops a cure for Alzheimer's Disease — one that not only restores normal brain function but improves upon it. Tests on chimps have the expected result: They get more intelligent. So these already strong beasts are now smart as well. And while the scientist is kind, and he takes good care of one chimp in particular named Caesar, he's the only human who does, so Caesar eventually gets mad. Sharing the drug with his fellow primates, he leads a rebellion against humankind and, well, anyone who's seen the other Planet of the Apes movies knows the rest.

This prequel chapter is a pretty cool addition to the saga, mostly because it's a movie about chimps and apes that features no actual apes and chimps. Instead, actors like Andy Serkis (Gollum in the Lord of the Rings saga and King Kong in the 2005 version), "play" the chimps (digital effects were added in post-production by Weta Digital, the folks behind Avatar). And that's impressive, because it allows these primates to give actual performances, ones with genuine emotion (sadness, menace, etc.). And in the final third of the film, when the chimps and apes go on the attack, it's awesome. Until then, though, Rise sort of plays like I Am Legend, with its similar premise of a medical advance that has adverse effects. (In the case of Legend, the end of the world was Emma Thompson's fault. Here, it's Franco's.)

Franco and his costars Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, and Brian Cox, do decent jobs. But actually, it's Tom Felton who provides the biggest thrill. Playing a bad-seed guardian of the primates in an animal shelter, you wait and wait for the chimps to have their way with the erstwhile Draco Malfoy. And when they do, it's rather satisfying.

Of course, that's kind of the odd thing about the movie: You never really know whose side you're supposed to be on. You know the humans won't "win," and it's not exactly like the chimps (cute though some of them may be) are "the good guys," so the film comes to a rather unresolved conclusion. Between now and when Charlton Heston crash lands on the planet (or Mark Wahlberg, if that's your preference), a lot happens. But for now, like the apes themselves, we're just left hanging. I'm going to give Rise a B. Damn, you dirty apes.


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Not My Piece of Pie

The premise is cringe-worthy and racially-charged: In the early 1960s, a white young woman in Jackson, Miss., interviews black housekeepers to learn what it's really like to work for such cruel and racist families. And yet, The Help tells its story with a fair amount of love and respect, so it is not as offensive as it could have been. Much of that is due to the dignified and heartfelt performance of Viola Davis, and of course, much credit also goes to writer/director Tate Taylor, a childhood friend of Kathryn Stockett, on whose book this film is based. (Octavia Spencer, another longtime friend of Stockett's who inspired one of the characters, also gives a notable performance.)

But love will only take you so far. While much care may have gone into the making of The Help, the movie itself will not be a winner for all audiences. It's a "women's picture" — which is to say not a dumb romantic comedy "chick-flick" — and I'm definitely not the target audience. I also didn't really dig yet another story about an idealist young white woman who redeems the persecuted black community. I'm just not sure Davis or Spencer's characters would ever have told so much to fresh-from-college Skeeter, even if she is played by the in-demand Emma Stone. So The Help, while not an awful movie, gets just a B from me. No doubt it will be beloved by many who've read the book, but it's not my piece of pie.


Thursday, August 04, 2011

Guns Hot

Dave (Jason Bateman) is a married man, the father of three kids, and a lawyer. Suffice it to say, he's settled, but with lots of obligations. His best friend Mitch (Ryan Reynolds) is perpetually single and unemployed, with all the time in the world to enjoy his life. So of course they each want each other's life. That's the premise of The Change-Up, a body-switching comedy from the creators of Wedding Crashers and The Hangover that actually is about as funny as you might hope it would be, given that pedigree.

Yes, you've seen movies like this before. But I can't remember one that was R-rated or this funny. Credit that to a screenplay that doesn't take itself too seriously, and a performance by Bateman that's more fun than anything he's done in recent years. For a change (no pun intended), he gets to loosen up and not play the straight man (as he does in movies like Horrible Bosses), and he's great. Also, um, Olivia Wilde is in the movie and that's a very good thing. To be sure, The Change-Up is not a smart, sophisticated comedy. It's got its token share of poop jokes and other broad, crude humor. But it's also got lots of laughs, and it's easy to like. So I'm giving The Change-Up a strong B.


Monday, August 01, 2011

All for Love

When I say that they don't make movies like Crazy, Stupid, Love very often, I'm serious. Yes, there are plenty of romantic comedies out there, some involving adults, and yes, a plot about a wimpy, broken-hearted man who seeks counsel from a cooler guy isn't new, but too infrequently is the movie as good — as smart, as funny, as warm-hearted, as alive — as this one is. And that's why Crazy, Stupid, Love is one of the best movies, not just of the summer, but of the year so far.

In CSL (no relation to Eat Pray Love, by the way), Steve Carell plays Cal, who is told out of the blue one night that his wife (Julianne Moore) has been sleeping with a coworker (Kevin Bacon) and wants a divorce. Reeling and broken hearted, Cal begins spending time in a hip bar, where he meets Jacob (Ryan Gosling), a slick ladies man, who takes Cal under his wing and schools him in the ways of wooing women. Jacob, however, meets and eventually falls for Hannah (Emma Stone), the only woman to resist his advances. Simultaneously, Cal's 13-year-old son Robbie (Jonah Bobo) tries to woo Jessica (Analeigh Tipton), his 17-year-old babysitter, who has a crush on Cal.

Despite its mildly slapsticky premise, CSL treats its subject (and the audience) with respect and care. Jacob may be a cad, but he's not a stereotypical bad boy. Cal may be down on his luck, but he doesn't spin out of control in a pathetic way that's inconsistent with who he is. And yes, Robbie may be a bit precocious and smarter than the average kid his age, and yes, all those plot threads (and others) do come together in a slapsticky scene late in the movie, but outside of those exceptions, screenwriter Dan Fogelman and directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa have created a world you can believe and characters you root for from start to finish.

Carell as Cal is as sweet and likable as he was in The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Despite his makeover and what he's been told by Jacob, and as much as he tries to move on, he knows he's still in love with his wife, who he's loved since they were in high school. He still sneaks back to his house to tend to the plants and lawn, and he picks up a woman (Marissa Tomei) by telling her he wants to show her off to his wife (in this case, that works). This sensitive performance has Golden Globe nomination written all over it. If anything, it's proof that leaving The Office wasn't a mistake.

And Gosling shows a side of himself that has heretofore been hidden in films like Half Nelson and Blue Valentine. You'd have to go back to Lars and the Real Girl to see him play a role this light and fun. Gosling's seduction scene with Stone is one of the sexiest things you'll see on screen all year, and I don't say that because they're both not wearing much clothing. Let's just say that like in the trunk scene in Out of Sight, sometimes dialogue, when written and acted well, can be really hot.

I could say more, but to do so would ruin the pleasure of seeing the movie and discovering it for yourself.

In lesser hands, CSL could have been like Date Night, a subpar Carell-starrer about a bored couple that finds the spark to continue. And CSL isn't exactly a date movie. That doesn't mean it's not romantic. It's just that it shows how complicated love can be, and how rewarding. No, CSL is not a movie you see very often. And that's what makes it a must-see. I'm giving it an A–.