A very brief but heated rant on the George Zimmerman trial

July 8, 2013 - 2 Responses

Look, I just have to say this.

This damn George Zimmerman trial is driving me insane.

I covered quite a few trials back in my newspaper days, and I don’t think there’s any way on earth Zimmerman can be found guilty of Murder 2, especially given the shoddy police work following Trayvon Martin’s death.

Regardless, I want Zimmerman’s punk ass convicted anyway, because he’s a lying, pathetic, slimy, steaming sack of shit. He’s damn well responsible for unnecessarily instigating a situation that led to a teenager getting killed for nothing more than minding his own business. (And yes, I know Martin was no perfect shining angel. That doesn’t matter in the slightest. He didn’t do a damn thing to initiate this situation.)

And it’s all just an incredibly depressing reminder of a society that lets weird little wannabe action heroes run around with handguns, despite (in this case) Zimmerman’s history providing plenty of reasons he wasn’t emotionally qualified for concealed carry. It escalates any conflict into a potentially deadly situation.

Okay, I feel better.

Well, not much better.

Thoughts on George Takei, Rick Polito, ghostwriting, and macrame — except for the macrame

June 13, 2013 - 6 Responses

 

Everyone knows Rick Polito, of course. He’s one of the most successful coaches in men’s college basketball.

Oh… sorry. That’s Rick Pitino. (And honestly, if you’re reading this, it’s a fair bet you don’t know who that is either.)

Anyway, few people know who Rick Polito is, which is unfortunate. He’s a former journalist, he does some ghostwriting, he lives in Colorado (Boulder), and he’s incredibly funny. (All of which reminds me of a Rick I know well, except for the incredibly funny part.)

Actually, there’s probably at least one thing you’ve seen from Polito, this brilliant summary of The Wizard of Oz:

Image

Come on, how perfect is that?

So maybe that’s why I couldn’t help but feel for Polito after the dust-up this week regarding his revelation that he’s been one of the people contracted to ghostwrite Facebook posts for George Takei.

Because everyone knows who Takei is. Sure, he was well known to many for being Sulu on the original Star Trek. After that, well, he had a lean decade or three. But Takei’s popularity has seen a massive upswing in massive years, thanks both to his coming out and his amazing facility for social media, especially at his age (76). Takei has an astonishing 4.1 million Facebook fans, and I’m one of them.

Takei has more than 700,000 followers on Twitter. Polito, as of this writing, has exactly 371.

The brouhaha arose when Polito told media blogger Jim Romanesko that he ghostwrites some of Takei’s posts for $10 a pop, a revelation that caused some degree of consternation around the Internet. It came out while Polito was trying to get some press for his YA horror-comedy book, Dark Shift. (I haven’t read it yet, but it’s averaging an impressive 4.9 out of 5 stars on Amazon’s user reviews, and it’s just a 99-cent Kindle download, so I’m sure I’ll be checking it out.)

Many people were disappointed to hear that Takei leans on this kind of help, being unaware that a lot — and I mean a lot — of celebrity posts and tweets are ghostwritten. The degree to which this happens varies, but if you think your favorite movie star or singer is spending time every day coming up with all that content, think again.

I ghostwrite for a few clients, one of whom has a huge — if far from Takei-like — Twitter following (more than 150,000 followers). Every once in awhile, if she needs a joke, I provide one. It’s mighty rewarding to see something I wrote get hundreds of retweets and favorites. If I posted it under my name, with my paltry following, it would be lucky to get a dozen.

(Momentary humblebrag: One tweet did very well after Patton Oswalt retweeted it, which basically made my life.)

I don’t charge my client for tweets or Facebook posts, though the option was offered. I do it to maintain a good relationship, so I can continue to charge a fair rate for helping with her books, TV show pitches, etc.

Anyway, I can’t help but feel for Polito. While Takei has taken a bit of guff over the revelation, I’ve seen more blowback directed at Polito, which is a bit unfair. Few people care about some freelance writer providing jokes for a celebrity. (Believe me.)

Takei has a massive fan base — although, let’s be honest, at least some of that fan base was built by his posting humor provided by outsourced writers. Takei still would be very popular if he never used a single ghostwriter, but it’s fair to say he wouldn’t be quite this popular.

By comparison, my Twitter-prolific client would have a huge following regardless of my contributions. She’s genuinely funny, and my contributions amount to a fraction of 1% of her posts. Also, we have a good working relationship. We communicate directly on everything we do, even though I’m in Denver, and she works in L.A. and New York.

A couple of things about the Takei-Polito situation bother me. Polito later emailed Romanesko to say:

I wrote an apology to George and Brad and their guy said he’d pass it on. I just said that I’d been looking for any mention of my book I could get and that I hadn’t meant to expose anything.

I don’t update his page. I’ve had no direct contact with George. I’ve sent him some memes, as have other comedian types and I was happy for the exposure.

There’s something odd there. You have a talented humorist helping to expand your brand (and thus expand your wallet) with posts and tweets appearing under your name, and you have no direct contact with him?

Here’s what Takei had to say to Wired:

What is this hoo-ha about my FB posts? I have Brad, my husband, to help me and interns to assist. What is important is the reliability of my posts being there to greet my fans with a smile or a giggle every morning. That’s how we keep on growing.

Um, I don’t know that I’d characterize a grown man and professional journalist as an “intern.” I’d be interested to know how many other professional humorists contributing to Takei are considered “interns.”

Granted, lots of people do very well for themselves with things they did not personally write. For example, late-night hosts generate their monologues from jokes conceived by a huge staff of writers. However, it’s the host who has to deliver those jokes for maximum impact. The delivery plays a huge part in how the joke performs, much like a singer covering someone else’s song.

When you post something ghostwritten on Facebook or Twitter, you’re not really adding anything to the equation. You’re copying and pasting a joke someone else wrote.

Sure, there’s some skill involved in selecting the material, and you might tweak it a bit to fit your voice, but it’s hard to argue that you’re adding much value in the process. The only value you’re adding is your popularity (and the wide exposure of your forum, but that exposure isn’t helping the ghostwriter, because he or she isn’t being credited in any way).

That’s not necessarily to excuse Polito’s revelation, for which he’s apologized. I don’t know his arrangement with Takei (or his middleman), but that’s not something one typically should disclose. When you ghostwrite, you accept that your reward is payment, not credit. If you don’t like that, demand a different arrangement, or do something else.

But it’s also impossible not to sympathize with Polito’s plight. He’s trying to sell a book, he’s looking for exposure, and he’s written some great stuff people have loved — except much of it is under Takei’s name. Did he consider inquiring whether Takei would provide some exposure by recommending Polito’s book on Twitter or Facebook? I don’t know.

In fairness to Takei, he has shown Polito some love before. He posted a couple of Polito’s synopses — with credit — on his Facebook page last year, calling Polito a “master of movie synopses.” In addition to the Wizard of Oz post, Takei posted this gem of Polito’s:

INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE: Tom Cruise is a soulless recluse who lurks in the darkness and sucks the life from all who come near him. He’s also in this movie about a vampire.

It got 47,000+ likes, as well it should.

P.S. Weird postscript: Out of curiosity, I followed Polito’s Twitter feed just as I was finishing this post. My handle is (@RickAfterDark.) Out of the blue, I got this tweet from him:

sun

Yep, this is just another of my regular, like-clockwork posts, those things I do all the time here at my blog.

August 17, 2011 - Leave a Response

Adam Penenberg seems like a perfectly nice guy, and we had a good discussion several months ago when the Fast Company contributor agreed to do a “crowdsourced” column about Servio, a crowdsourcing company I do some work for. I ended up doing some editing on the column and a few interviews. I don’t know that the Servio honchos will be doing backflips over the end result, which finally published today, but you know what they say about any news being good news. I mean, if they still say that. Whoever they are. But I digress.

Carmelo Anthony with a Panda on His Lap

LeBron James since has followed suit with his own panda-lap pic, but it just doesn't have the same effect. I mean, look at the face Melo is giving us here, then look at the panda. It's brilliant. Too little, too late, LeBron.

Regardless, the one thing I’ll take Adam to task for is not telling me my name in the online version of his column would be linked to this blog, though I guess that makes more sense than this, or this, or Carmelo Anthony with a panda on his lap. I mean, I wake up at the crack of 10:34 and realize, hell, that Fast Company piece finally ran, there’s a link to the blog, and I’d damn well better get a new post up.

The least Adam could have done was give me a heads-up, seeing as I haven’t updated this blog since something like 1978. Hey, I’ve been busy. I’ve been editing a book. I’ve been ghostwriting a novel. I’ve been working on my own novel. And I’ve had to assist a highly dangerous avian force in a rescue mission to retrieve their progeny from a group of swine—with no more than a slingshot at my disposal. It’s been a jam-packed year.

So if you happened to get here from the Fast Company column, yeah, this post appears because I thought it would be good to get something up. And I suppose I actually should thank Adam for prompting me to do so. Now, considering the unexpected effort I’ve had to put forth before noon, I’m going back to bed.

Red Riding Hood, freedom of speech, and curious interpretations thereof

March 20, 2011 - 5 Responses

I have way too much work right now for an efficient, productive person, much less the lazy, unfocused bastard I am. Given that I’m juggling three different deadlines right now — and yes, “juggling” is my term for “being two weeks behind on” — I actually was fairly proud of the three uninterrupted hours of editing work I put in tonight. On a weekend, no less. While recovering from the flu.

(Yes, I deserve the Purple Heart. Or whatever equates to the Purple Heart for someone whose closest brush with the military was an questionable fraternization matter in the back of an Old Navy.)

That all went to hell about an hour ago. I got two private messages from IMDB users, which would be the first two I’ve received since somewhere in the general vicinity of ever.

Life in Hell cartoon about film critics

I was stuck for an image, and this is cute. You can click it to make it bigger. But you knew that, right?

I kinda figured what prompted these messages even before I read them. A couple of weeks ago my film critic buddy Christian Toto invited me along to a screening of Red Riding Hood. I miss the days of free screenings and getting paid for film reviews from my days at the St. Petersburg Times newspaper, so I tag along when I can.

You can see my review of Hood in the previous post on this site (or, if you’re as lazy as I am, just click here). I also posted it under the User Reviews on IMDB. Thanks largely to Christian giving me a jump start on the other reviewers, plus a pretty good “people found [this] review useful” ratio (88 of 114 at present), my writeup is the first one you see for the film.

The first message I received was flattering. It was from the owner of a Blu-Ray review site who checked out some of my work and asked me to contribute. Sure, why not!

(If you’re thinking “Why not? Because you’re already behind on three deadlines, dumbass,” then I have one thing to say to you: Um, shut up.)

The other message was slightly less cordial. It’s probably more fun if I don’t preface it further. Just read and enjoy:

Read the rest of this entry »

Grandmother, what big suck you have

March 8, 2011 - 2 Responses
Picture of Amanda Seyfried in Red Riding Hood.

She sure is pretty. And she's also... um... well... she sure is pretty.

(Okay, maybe I should have given that title a little more thought. But anyway…)

You’d be hard pressed to find a better example of a film ruined by trying to be too many things to too many people than Red Riding Hood, which opens Friday and, by all rights, should close Saturday.

The most obvious audience Hood hopes to attract is fans of the Twilight film series, snagging the director of the first film, Catherine Hardwicke, and refashioning the Little Red Riding Hood folk tale into, in a remarkably half-assed way, a love triangle between three extraordinarily uninteresting characters. (If all three had been eaten by the wolf in the first act, we might have been onto something.)

What’s weird about Hood, which inexplicably counts Leonardo DiCaprio as one of its producers (stick to swimming in icy water, Leo), is that this romantic angle is not its main thrust. It doesn’t have a main thrust.

In fact, for a supposedly sexier take on a classic folk tale, it’s in desperate need of thrust in general.

Read the rest of this entry »

M*O*S*H 

December 22, 2010 - Leave a Response

Mosh pitST. PETERSBURG – We shared moments over the past two minutes as intimate as lovers. And Alex and I were just now exchanging names.

Well, barely. Talking was harder than breathing. And breathing was impossible.

We hunched over, heads bowed, reduced to violent, concussive coughs, trying yet failing to mine some refreshment from this steaming soup. One hundred yards from Tampa Bay and I’m somehow drowning on dry land.

Summertime Florida’s daily visitor was nothing but a frustrating tease, a sick joke. It threatened an appearance, a hope-inspiring glimpse of its slip, so we coveted the darkening clouds, the heat index ramping to three digits.

But no shower today, not a chance, not for us. The cloud cover barely softened the debilitating heat. We knew the truth: We had bowed down to false gods who blared punk rock, and this was our penance. Painful enough in the afternoon, it now was early evening, and the Vinoy Park heat had conquered me.

I spat again.

The hulking Alex Nodderal, at 6 feet 2 a brick wall, got his voice back first – one benefit of being 22 years old. He pulled his West Coast Choppers T-shirt away from his thick chest, analyzed it and, smiling at me, said:

“That blood can’t all be mine.” Read the rest of this entry »

Rick is rejected by eHarmony — TWICE.

December 1, 2010 - 6 Responses

You may have seen the commercial: Smiling guy looks through a magazine that resembles Playboy. Closes it, shrugs, and says, “Nope. Still gay.”

Rick with a prohibited symbol over his faceA red “brand” slams down:

REJECTED BY eHarmony.

Then, a voiceover:

“Who knows why eHarmony has rejected over a million people looking for love? But at Chemistry.com, you can come as you are . . .”

So goes the assault on eHarmony.com, a popular online “matching” site, by its newest competitor.

The ad shades the truth a hair: If you’re gay or lesbian, eHarmony won’t consider you long enough to reject you; the site doesn’t do same-sex matching. Chemistry.com does.

If you’re straight – which you must specify upfront – eHarmony then allows you to answer more than 250 questions about yourself.

But not everyone who completes eHarmony’s questionnaire gets to use its services.

* * *

A few months ago, after friends related their experiences with dates set up through eHarmony, I decided to give it a try.

After an hour of rating myself on hundreds of criteria, I was dying for the ordeal to end. Still, I carefully considered the questions and statements, answering them honestly.

Finally, I reached the penultimate page and hit “save and continue.” Bring on the ladies.

The next page read:

Unable to Match You at This Time

Read the rest of this entry »

To hell with The Expendables

August 17, 2010 - 4 Responses
Expendables poster

So how many of these guys would you actually expect to be members of the Expendables crew in the film? All nine? Eight? Seven? How about... five. Yes, five. (Okay, 5 1/2 if you include Dolph, who's on the team for about 10 seconds. I'm not counting Dolph.)

(I know I promised this post a few days ago, but a few emergency jobs came up. So anyway…)

That’s right, to hell with The Expendables.

Furthermore, I feel like Barack Obama.

(You saw that coming, right?)

I mean, except for the whole thing where I’m not the President of the United States. Or black. Or tall. Or the secret leader of an exclusive club dedicated to the eradication of meerkats.

Other than that, I feel just like the Prez. He stood his ground on his convictions, said he supports the right to build a mosque at ground zero. He decided to say what he felt is right, and everyone stood up and told him to go to hell.

(Mind you, I’ve heard good opinions on both sides of the debate. I’m not saying the Prez is right. I’m saying he’s standing up for what he believes is right, which is far more honorable. But anyway…)

And because my opinion of a cheesy summer action movie is every bit as important as my buddy Barack’s ballsy stand, I say to you again:

To hell with The Expendables. It’s a seriously lousy movie. Just because it has a few fun moments doesn’t mean it’s not a seriously lousy movie.

It’s fair to say not everyone agrees with my stand. Though the film technically has a “rotten” rating of 42% at Rotten Tomatoes, that still means more than 4 out of 10 reviewers essentially gave his crapfest a thumbs-up.

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A few not-so-brief thoughts on Inception (SPOILERS)

August 9, 2010 - One Response
Inception Teaser Poster

Leo must have REALLY had to go.

Yes, I finally got around to seeing Inception last night. I dug deep and spent the full $17 for the IMAX version. It’s a little late in the game to do a full review, so I’ll just hit some quick (well, relatively quick ) thoughts. And if by chance you haven’t seen the film, rest assured that

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

…follow. So don’t say you weren’t warned.

(Actually, go ahead and say it. But no one will believe you, John Edwards/Jeremy London/Wall-E.)

(Yeah, that’s right, Wall-E. You know what I’m talking about, you little can-opener bastard. But we can hash that out later.)

Thank God someone still makes movies like this

This is an action-packed, effects-filled (but not effects-driven) summer movie that thinks it’s still cool to challenge viewers, to have well-rounded characters and complicated twists and best of all, a perfectly ambiguous was-it-all-a-dream ending. (Yeah, it has flaws too, but we’ll get to that.) Much like Christopher Nolan’s previous film, The Dark Knight, it’s both a summer movie and a “film.” These things do not have to be mutually exclusive, Hollywood. How much more proof do you need?

Inception still is a far cry from perfect

(Told ya.) As much as I enjoyed it–a point that I’ll get to further in a moment–it has issues. Nolan doesn’t do that great a job of conveying all the rules of the dream universe in a very organic fashion (next time shell out a little dough and let J.J. Abrams or Joss Whedon do a polish on the script), and ramping up the Hans Zimmer score over every scene of pretty people talking about what you can do and can’t do inside a dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream-within-a-pastry doesn’t always make it interesting.

Also, for a film so determined to explain every single dream world rule to death, isn’t it odd that the actual technology involved gets no explanation whatsoever? How is Ellen Page (that’s right, I’m too lazy to look up the characters’ names right now) able to “create” these worlds? I get the idea that it doesn’t matter if it’s all dream, but if it’s all a dream, would we get endless explanations about all the other stuff? Finally, why do you cast Michael Caine for all of two tiny scenes?

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Dinner for Schmucks review

July 30, 2010 - 3 Responses

Dinner for Schmucks posterIt’s remarkable how quickly the new comedy Dinner for Schmucks disappears from your brain. I can recall laughing my way through the vast majority of the film–mostly soft laughs, but there were more than a few big, hearty laughs from deep down in the diaphragm. (One might more economically call such a laugh a “guffaw,” but guffaw is such a silly word I refuse to acknowledge I might ever participate in one.)

Despite the inarguable fact that I was entertained throughout the entirety of Dinner for Schmucks — a film that never actually uses the word “schmuck,” but we’ll get to that — I can’t deny feeling rather empty while considering it a little more than a day later. I think this must be why many reviewers are giving the flick fairly lukewarm marks, though they had to be laughing their respective asses off on occasion just as I was.

There are lots of reasons not to respect the movie. There’s the fact that it’s reportedly a fairly pale “reimagination” of a French film, Francis Veber’s Le dîner de cons (The Dinner Game). (I haven’t seen the original, so I can’t compare.) The screenplay is inarguably mediocre. Some of the characters, especially those at the eventual dinner, are lazily imagined. And it’s disappointing to see Paul Rudd, who’s capable of much more interesting, brilliantly caustic characters (in Wet Hot American Summer and Anchorman, for starters) relegated to playing yet another purely-reactive straight man.

And yet… Dinner for Schmucks is funny. Very funny. Occasionally laugh-out-loud funny. It’s like a frozen Snickers bite-size bar when you’re having a chocolate craving: Incredibly satisfying for about five minutes… after which, you’ll forget all about it.

Yet I can’t help wanting to recommend Schmucks, and dammit, that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Because for the ninety minutes you’re in the theater, it is a lot of fun. It’s a much better date night film than, say, the relentlessly mediocre Date Night.

Read the rest of this entry »

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