Monday, July 28, 2008

Holy Middle Management, Batman!

So I watched The Dark Knight and loved it, for many reasons but primarily because it successfully survived the poor business management style of the parent company.

Like most aspiring screenwriters, I psychoanalyze movie companies the same way I would psychoanalyze a future client. The whole idea is to build a product (i.e. screenplay) that this particular client would want to buy (i.e. give me a truck full of money).

This is one reason why screenwriters often get sidelined into conversation topics like, "What kind of films does Paramount make?" "Where is Universal investing their money this year?" and "How can I get Mark Cuban to give me some of his millions?" They are trying to put the different studios on the proverbial psychiatrists comfy couch and then bilk them for tons of money.

To add to my personal hubris, I have taken some Business Management 101 classes and do some consulting work. So I can pretend I know everything there is to know about large corporations as opposed to BSing like some other screenwriters do.

One of the basic management theories proposed by Hersey and Blanchard is called situational leadership. There are four styles of leadership and you are supposed to use the appropriate style in a given situation. And every time I've heard about this theory in class, I am told, "A common management mistake is to go straight from level 1 - Directing (i.e. micromanagement), to level 4 - Delegating (i.e. complete hands-off)."

Which makes me think of the Batman movies.

See, when I see Warner Brother movies in general and the Batman movies in particular, they seem waver between very this-is-so-corporate to who-the-heck-greenlit this? Allow me to provide some examples.

Tim Burton's Batman - No Tim, you can't cram in a hundred villains who look like characters from old German silent films. Just have Jack Nicholson do everything.

Tim Burton's Batman Returns - What the heck, Tim. You made us money once. Go ahead and have the penguin bite someone's nose and then drive a stupid-looking little Batman toy car. And Batman gets out of the situation by kicking the bottom out of the Batmobile? Sure. Sounds kooky.

Joel Schumacher's Batman Forever - No no no, Joel. You cannot make this into a musical. You can have your flashy costumes and muscled men and choreographed fight sequences and long discussions about, and I air quote, "partners," but pushing it into the arena of camp is strictly off limits.

Joel Schumacher's Batman and Robin
- What the heck, Joel. You made us money once. Do whatever you want.

Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins - As much as I appreciate your vision, Chris, it sounds very dark. Maybe if you gave Batman a love interest... that might lighten some things up a little, right?

Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight - What the heck, Chris. You made us money once. We trust your judgment and your pitch-black vision of what this film should be. Kill them all.

The way information is organized betrays the bureaucracy behind the information and this is no exception. And to prove that it isn't Batman-centric, look at the Matrix movies also from Warner Brothers. Despite what your local philosophy student might tell you, the first Matrix is a straightforward sci-fi/kung fu/action film that follows a very established formula. It is only after the studio stands back and lets the "director's creative vision" flow forth that things go completely off the rails.

So it says something about Christopher Nolan as a director to have a competent and entertaining product once the training wheels come off and he's given carte blanche to do anything he wants. (The only thing that comes close to indulgent is hiring his brother to do the screenplay, but I'll take Jonathan Nolan over Spider-Man 3's screenwriter/brother Ivan Rami any day of the week). He has effectively broken the Batman self-indulgent-director's-sequel-curse, and for that he should be applauded.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Tales of the Occult - My Encounter with a Tarot Card Reader

To break from the happy happy joyful funtime that is this blog, I have decided to spend a week telling stories of the deranged and disturbed. That’s right, this week is Tales of the Occult here on this blog. Each story of the occult will SHOCK and TERRORIZE if it doesn’t totally BLOW YOUR MIND!

Today’s story – the last story in this series – Encounters with a Tarot Card reader!

I pretty much outgrew the whole Tarot card thing years ago. I sold all of my sets on eBay to help pay for my wedding - including the one designed by Dave McKean that single-handedly paid for my Groom’s cake and about five dozen chocolate-dipped strawberries. (It was a limited 1st edition.)

But we found ourselves at a party one time with a guy I have affectionately nicknamed Mr. McSkuzzy. Mr. McSkuzzy had a deck of Tarot cards and he would sidle up to you and perform free Tarot card readings if you were 1) female and 2) pretty.

I think in some circumstances that Tarot cards can be effective. If you have something on your mind, a problem or interpersonal situation, that you need to clarify and articulate, they provide a great way to do so. They work like Rorschach tests – there is no inherent meaning to the pattern, but it is easy for you to project your own inherent meaning into the mess. They do not predict the future and do not give the person dealing the cards any insight or control over the person for whom the cards are being dealt.

This was apparently news for Mr. McSkuzzy, who seemed to claim that only he truly understood the cards and only he could use the cards to tell you what your problems were and you had to truly open yourself completely and totally to him and his energies for the cards to work.

And he would go from pretty woman to pretty woman, saying things like, “The cards tell me that you have issues with your parents.”

“Wow! It is like they can see right through me!”

“The cards also say you have some credit card debt.”

“It is so true! It is eerie how it is so true!”

“The cards also say you hate your job.”

“Those cards are amazing!”

While watching this I leaned over to the Mrs. And calmly explained what was going on here. “This dude is scamming these women. This is totally ridiculous.”

“I’ll handle it,” said the Mrs.

She turned her head ever so slightly to Mr. McSkuzzy and batted a single eyelash.

BOOOM! Mr. McSkuzzy was right there across the table from her, a carton cloud in the space where he once stood.

“Care to have your cards read, beautiful?”


“Whoa. It looks like you got The Wheel. You must have a lot of credit card debt, huh?”

“No. We’re pretty responsible with our money. In fact, our investment portfolio is doing very well.”

“Are you sure? Because the cards say financial problems.”

“They may say that, but our brokers say something else.”

“Yes. Um…. Hurm… Looks like your next card is the Empress. You must have some mother issues.”

“I have a mother, if that is what you mean. No, we get along fine. In fact, we’re going shopping together this weekend.”

“Are you really focusing on the cards? I mean really focusing and opening yourself up to the energies here?”

“I’m trying, sure.”

“Because it doesn’t work if you don’t believe.”

“You mean, like a pyramid scheme?”

And with that he picked up his cards and walked away, leaving the score Mister McSkuzzy 0, The Mrs. 1.


Your mind is blown. Your nerves are shocked and all of your senses are now terrorized! And now we have concluded our series - Tales of the Occult!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Tales of the Occult - My Encounter with Teenage Witchcraft

To break from the happy happy joyful funtime that is this blog, I have decided to spend a week telling stories of the deranged and disturbed. That’s right, this week is Tales of the Occult here on this blog. Each story of the occult will SHOCK and TERRORIZE if it doesn’t totally BLOW YOUR MIND!

Today’s story – MORE Witchcraft!

I managed a video store when the movie The Craft came out. For those of you who have not seen the film, it was made by and for pierce-me-up teenage goth girls who wear black lipstick and leather and practice witchcraft.

Frankly, these people baffle me because I get them mixed up with all the different fashionable special interest groups. For some reason, I link teenage witches with groups like PETA, which believes that no animal should be harmed ever under any circumstances. This would seem contradictory to someone who worships pagan gods – gods that regularly demanded the blood sacrifice of animals. But I am not one to judge.

I also associate teenage goths with people who regularly glorify the so-spiritual-and-tuned-to-the-land-that-they-were-contacted-by-aliens Native American cultures - cultures that routinely kept women away from such “male-only” activities like reading. The fact that black-lipsticked suburban girls worshipped a culture that would have made them do nothing but plow a field and bear children may seem strange and ridiculous, but it takes all types.

Anyway, back to the video store. When the movie The Craft came out, flocks of teenage girls would come to the video store, pick the tape of the shelf, and gently caress it, cooing words like, “It is so real. So true.”

So I decided to watch the movie. Big mistake on my part.

For those of you who haven’t seen The Craft, it is about teenage witches who prance around and do spells and stuff together. They worship a being called Mamon who they describe as “the football field that God and the Devil play on.” This means they worship Astroturf. They have parties where instead of doing their hair and nails together, they practice magic that does their hair and nails for them. One of them turns her hair blonde with the power of magic, which led me to hope that the next one would accidentally turn her hair pink and then summon the Teen Angel from Grease. The Teen Angel would sing a song and they would go back to high school after dropping out of the Hogwarts School of Beauty. Sadly this does not happen.

What does happen is that the most obviously insane person in the group asks their St. Mamon of Astroturf for all the powers of the universe. And Mamon gives her all of this power.

This is the point where the movie completely loses me, because I do not believe anyone should worship any being that is dumber than a box of rocks. Mamon may be all powerful as Astroturf and yadda yadda, but he is an exceedingly poor judge of character. In fact, I am quite sure all of the other pagan gods actively mock Mamon for being so stupid.

“You would probably give all of your power to Eddie Murphy so he can make more movies where he plays all of the characters, you are that dumb!” they would say. And all Mamon could do is put on heavy mascara and weep a little, so that the mascara would run all over his pale goth-like cheek.

Seriously, if there is a guy on the side of the road wearing a tinfoil hat and babbling on and on about “gamma rays from Venus,” would you give him first strike nuclear capabilities? Of course not, but this is exactly what Mamon does.

And the rest of the movie consists of the obviously crazy insane, but now all-powerful witch wreaking havoc while the other witches try to stop her. Or something like that. Maybe there is a prom and some sisterhood of magic traveling pants in there somewhere, I don’t know.

Anyway, after actually watching the movie I began to try to talk to these teenage goths in the store about what a waste of time the whole thing was. Their response was to hate me for it. They would cradle the little video tapes in their arms, protecting these tapes from the horrible horrible video store manager who watched the movie and thought it was stupid.

Maybe they cursed me. Maybe they cursed my video store. Maybe they even CURSED THIS BLOG! I will never know because I never saw them again.


Your mind is blown. Your nerves are shocked and all of your senses are now terrorized! Join us next time for the final Tales of the Occult!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Tales of the Occult - My Encounter with a Wiccan

To break from the happy happy joyful funtime that is this blog, I have decided to spend a week telling stories of the deranged and disturbed. That’s right, this week is Tales of the Occult here on this blog. Each story of the occult will SHOCK and TERRORIZE if it doesn’t totally BLOW YOUR MIND!

Today’s story - encounters with a Wiccan!

One of the most important lessons I learned about managing a video store is this – No matter how brain dead you might find that person behind the counter to be, the manager turned away about fifty people who were way way worse.

I interviewed people all the time, and not very many of them had what you would call social skills. One such fellow applied for the incredibly important position of assistant manager trainee.

I began my speech, “The assistant manager trainee position is a very important position, not to be taken lightly. There is a lot of responsibility and hard work. It is an hourly wage, but can lead to a salaried position and a long-term career with our company.”

“I will need certain days off.”

“That is fine. We keep our schedules flexible. There has to be a manager on duty at all times. The store manager sets his or her hours first, then the assistant manager. The assistant manager trainee has to fill in all of the gaps, but the longer you work here the more we can accommodate your schedule.”

“It is for religious holidays.”

“That’s fine. What I usually ask when writing up the schedule is to give me at least two weeks notice and I will write your day off into the schedule. If you don’t give me two weeks notice, it will be up to you to get someone else to cover your shift. And potentially in your case, that someone should be either the manager or the assistant manager.”

“My holidays are based on cycles of the moon.”

“No problem. Just give me the two weeks notice when you need the days off. Now about the employee discount-“

“Don’t you want to know what my religion is?”

“Not really. That is your business. Now, about the employee discount-“

“I’m a Wiccan.”

“That’s nice. Now, part of the job is knowing movies so you can sell them to customers.”

“Do you know what it means to be a Wiccan?”

“No. We offer a decent benefits package with health and dental in it.”

“There are other words for what I do, but they have negative connotations.”

“Good to hear. We inventory our films by genre and then alphabetically within a specific genre.”

“I practice witchcraft.”

“Bully for you. We have the ability to special order films if they aren’t in stock.

“Doesn’t that scare you a little?”

“We get all types here. Now about our layaway program….”

Needless to say, magical WitchBoy did not get the job. Maybe he cursed me. Maybe he cursed my video store. Maybe he even CURSED THIS BLOG! I will never know because I never saw him again.


Your mind is blown. Your nerves are shocked and all of your senses are now terrorized! Join us next time for more Tales of the Occult!


I post this and then a news story hits the wires:

Wiccan Stabs Herself during Good Luck Ritual

Tales of the Occult - My Obsession with Tarot Cards and Psychology!

To break from the happy happy joyful funtime that is this blog, I have decided to spend a week telling stories of the deranged and disturbed. That’s right, this week is Tales of the Occult here on this blog. Each story of the occult will SHOCK and TERRORIZE if it doesn’t totally BLOW YOUR MIND!

Today’s story – Adventures with Carl Jung and Tarot cards!

Long before I found the current state of wedded bliss which I live in now, I was a mess. I was in a relationship I considered a loving one, and opened my heart to another person. The downside about opening your heart completely to love is that you also open your heart completely to pain.

And much like a high-pressure hose forcefully disconnected from a socket, a completely flowing love tends to twist and wither the moment it separates, gushing gush gush as it does so. It is difficult to shut off this flow, so what most people do is just reconnect it somewhere else as quickly as possible. Hence, the rebound relationship or, in my case, the compulsive hobby.

During a breakup, you reach out and cling to anything that seems stable and supportive. In my case, I reached out to Carl Jung. Jung is great for break-ups, and I heartily recommend reading his work discussing way people relate to each other. You know that line from Jerry McGuire, that “You complete me” line? Totally stolen from Jung.

If you allow me to digress for a second, both Freud and Jung developed theories that were in no way scientific. They may be interesting hypotheses, but they cannot be tested in laboratory conditions to prove their validity. I assume someone could do a focus group or a mall survey to see if people do really want to kill their fathers and marry their mothers, but surveys and statistics have dubious scientific merit, too.

Most serious psychologists and psychiatrists who like to think the study of the mind should be a scientific study treat Freud and Jung as a pair of wacky old uncles who lived in an apartment filled with newspapers and cat pee. Yes, they did great things but they essentially they were kooks with no real bearing on the serious world of science.

Professors in English departments, however, are not put off by this lack of scientific integrity and dance around both Freud and Jung and consider what they have to say very insightful, even if it can never be scientifically proven.

But that is totally beside the point. The point is that Jung was into some really wacked-out stuff. He believed in UFOs and the occult. He followed astrology and talked at length about the dawning of the Age of Aquarius (that song also totally ripped off Jung). And, after reading his essays about archetypal images and dream interpretation, I decided to invest in about three different sets of Tarot cards. You know, to help me understand archetypal images and interpret my dreams.

Tarot cards do not predict the future. They present a set of archetypal images to the person who then adds meaning to the mix. Much like the Rorschach inkblot test, it can be a diverting parlor game, but the scientific methods behind it are just as dubious as those of Jungian psychology proper. But this does not change the fact that they are pretty neat and some of the artwork on them is really compelling.

So for a few months I would read the works of Carl Jung and then play with Tarot cards. I would ask the cards such deep and ponderous questions like, “Should I order my pizza with sausage and pepperoni?” and the cards would give me images like The Fool and Death – images I interpreted as “No. You should stick with the Veggie Lover’s. It will be kinder to your digestive tract.”

This fooling around with the occult all came to a head one evening when I was playing a little game of Spider Solitaire with my Tarot cards. I shuffled the deck, cut it and then played the first card. The first card is supposed to represent you and how you see yourself. In this case the card that came up first was The Hanged Man.

Anyone who knows me very well knows that if I don’t like how things are going in a game, I will try to do whatever possible to start over. My favorite word when losing in poker is “misdeal.” And I felt the same thing here with the Tarot cards.

“I am not the Hanged Man,” I said, “Misdeal!” And then I promptly reshuffled, recut, and redealt the cards. I flipped up the first card.

It was The Hanged Man.

I scooped it up, reshuffled, recut, and redealt the cards one more time.

It was The Hanged Man again!

Frustrated, I scooped up the cards and reshuffled them once more. I looked at the deck from the side and noticed that one of the cards was bent and that whenever I cut the cards, this card in particular would always come out on top.

To my horror...

I discovered...

The bent card was...

The Hanged Man!


Your mind is blown. Your nerves are shocked and all of your senses are now terrorized! Join us next time for more Tales of the Occult!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Happy Birthday to the Silliepie Williepie!

On July 17th, my little brother will have a birthday.

To celebrate, I am presenting Five Fun Facts about Wubbahed.

1. Growing up, an unnamed older sibling often told the young Wubbahed, “Mom and Dad had me and said, ‘We must have another!’ Then they had you and said, ‘We need to stop.’”

2. He has been known to abandon jigsaw puzzles with only one piece remaining. He will lose interest, slump his shoulders, and say, “Where is that !@#$%@!in’ puzzle piece?” After abandoning the puzzle, his elder, puzzle-finishing brother has been known to go, “Look at this abandoned puzzle! I wonder if this piece I magically found in my pocket will fit into it? Oh, look! I finished the puzzle.”

3. Sometimes in his Executive Suite at his big time New York ad agency, he receives letters and packages addressed to “Wubba ‘Please Call Me Silliepie’ Turnage”. His personal assistant, Waylon Smithers, hands him this mail with a quiet little, “Does this mean I can now call you ‘Silliepie,’ sir?”

4. He has very delicate skin. Sometimes even the gentle wafting of a summer breeze can cause his tender skin to bruise.

5. All of his trials and tribulations have given him character.

Happy birthday, Silliepie Williepie!

P.S. Alex, hang in there. I will respond to your blog entry next.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Adventures in New Mexico

It says something about the vacation place when you spend four days there and don't have many pictures of the trip. Many times it means that things are so tedious and frustrating that you don't want the moment ever recorded. However, in this case it meant that I was so caught up in the excitement of the moment that I forgot to whip out the camera and take a picture. Large chunks of this trip are undocumented, but I hope everyone likes the pictures I do have.

On Friday we flew into Albuquerque and immediately drove to the village of Corrales, where we stayed at the Casa de Koshare Bed & Breakfast. This is a great little place.

After checking into our room - The Storyteller Suite - I stretched out on the overly-cushioned bed and listened to the rain pitter on the roof. It was the most relaxed I've been in weeks.

We could have stayed in the Casa de Koshare the whole time I would not have minded at all. Not only did they have a little courtyard where they have concerts and weddings...

...they also have a labyrinth (which I solved on my first attempt).

Saturday we spent in Rio Rancho with The Mrs. old college roommate and her family. We went to a few Indian ruins and had some delicious New Mexican food.

There is a rule in New Mexico. When you order anything, the waitperson asks you "Red or green?" This means do you want it covered in red chili sauce or green chili sauce. Practically everything edible is doused in one or the other, and sometimes both depending on whether you order the combo platter or not.

I did not get any pictures of the college roommate's family or the Indian ruins, but I did get about 4,691 pictures of Lilly, the family dog.

Lilly is a great dog, and even posed with the Mrs. feet.

In Santa Fe, we visited several museums and galleries including, much to my surprise, the Chuck Jones Studio Gallery. I had no idea it was there, so this was a most pleasant surprise. I have been a fan of Chuck Jones since forever and loved browsing a gallery filled with original works of not only his, but Dr. Seuss's and Charles Schultz's as well. Bliss!

And wouldn't you know it, to get to the gallery you have to turn left at Albuquerque.

Of course, after making the Chuck Jones connection it seemed painfully obvious that he would have a gallery in Santa Fe. After all, the landscape through New Mexico is filled with coyotes and road runners. And it is easy to imagine a giant Acme anvil falling off of a cliff like this.

There is a lot of art in New Mexico. I told the Mrs. that there was probably a disproportionate number of sculptors from this part of the country because so much of of the New Mexico topography is about spacial relationships.

For one, the sky there is huge.

Plus the land makes such interesting shapes all by itself, so creating art seems like the natural response to things.

Plus there seems to be an odd sense of humor about the place - a sense of humor that gets reflected in the local art - even the graffiti.

From the outside, a lot of the houses look exactly alike. If you are someone like me who navigates by landmarks ("turn left at the Walgreens and go until you reach the bank that was once a Pizza Hut") this is a real problem ("turn left at the adobe house until you get to the adobe house - if you reach the adobe house you've gone too far"). We did regularly get lost and every time I muttered, "I should have taken that left turn in Albuquerque..."

We had many great adventures getting lost in the middle of the desert, surrounded on all sides by local color. Let me tell you, there is nothing quite like getting lost and then being confronted with the local wildlife population. Fortunately, the Mrs. has the ability to tame the savage beast.

New Mexico is in an area known as the "high desert." It is very dry but also cooler than one would expect from a desert. The landscape might seem arid, but there is a prickly kind of beauty right where you least expect it.

All in all, I consider it time well spent. I might even consider buying property there someday.