Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Dez Bryant vs. Jeff Ireland: No Mama Drama

This article is dedicated to Bobby Shoemaker, a true NFL expert.

Players in the NFL are not just judged by their talent, but by their emotional maturity. Many talented athletes have entered the NFL and had their careers ended by stupid decisions. Todd Marinovich’s NFL career was ended by drug usage within two seasons (and he was drafted before Brett Favre). Plaxico Burress is currently in prison for unlawfully carrying a handgun with which he accidentally shot himself in the leg. Darrell Russell had a successful NFL career before drug use led to him being suspended for 1.5 years, which led to a decline in his performance and early end to his NFL career. He died in a car crash in 2005. All three of these men were first-round picks, but their actions led to short NFL careers. That is why teams want to make sure that the players they select will be responsible and mature.

Last year, the San Francisco 49ers wanted to have a psychiatrist evaluate quarterback Matt Stafford because his parents were divorced. He refused and they made it clear that they would not draft him. It did not matter because they had the tenth pick and he was the first pick of the draft. Was the request of a psychiatrist to evaluate him unreasonable? Yes. But was it beyond insulting? No. He was able to politely decline their request and was picked up way before they had a chance to draft him.

There is a difference between actions being reasonable, unreasonable, and beyond insulting. For a player to turn down a reasonable request can make the player look bad to the public. If a potential NFL player refused to run the 40-yard dash or prove how much weight he can bench press, the refusal of a reasonable request could make teams look at the player in a negative light. If teams ask an unreasonable request of a player, the refusal can be done in a way that will not make teams look down on the player. Maybe the 49ers didn’t like Matt Stafford’s answer, but it made no impact on the team with the first draft pick. Since the question was unreasonable, Stafford’s answer was very reasonable.

Then there are actions that are beyond insulting. The General Manager of the Miami Dolphins, Jeff Ireland, decided to ask wide receiver Dez Bryant if his mother was ever a prostitute. He wanted to see how Dez would react. Dez was angry, but he did not show his feelings. Jeff Ireland is lucky that Dez Bryant did not attack him.

Dez Bryant’s mother was involved in drugs, but there were no allegations of prostitution. Had there been actual rumors, it may seem fair for Jeff Ireland to address the rumors. Had Jeff Ireland asked him about his mother’s involvement with drugs, it would have been reasonable. But Jeff Ireland was only looking to provoke a fight for the sake of testing the tempter of Dez Bryant.

In my personal opinion, this was an abuse of Jeff Ireland’s power and verbally abusive to Dez Bryant. Let’s look at the situation this way. Dez Bryant is a potential employee interviewing for a job with multiple companies. He will go to the team that drafts him with the highest draft pick. If one team is not interested in him and he is not selected before they have a draft pick, then he will be drafted lower. His goal is to impress every team that he can so he can be drafted as high as possible. Jeff Ireland, as a boss, was asking a question that was more than unreasonable. It was beyond offensive.

Talking about a player’s mother in such a disrespectful manner is abusive. To question her sexual morality is almost as bad as to accuse her of sexual immorality, because it is an accusation without any proof of her sexual history. Jeff Ireland’s choice to question if Dez Bryant’s mother was a prostitute is worse than asking if she was a slut. He is implying the possibility that she had sex with men for financial gain.

I hope that the NFL puts a fine on Jeff Ireland or the Miami Dolphins fire him. What he did was not a mistake. It was a horrific question into the morality of Dez Bryant’s mother for the sake of provocation, not knowledge. I am a fan of the Washington Redskins and Dez Bryant has been drafted by the Dallas Cowboys (the rival team of the Redskins). While he plays for the rival team, I hope that he has a great career in the NFL…

…with the exception of games in which he plays against the Redskins!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Popcorn Directors vs. Great Directors

This article is dedicated to Jarrett Lee Conaway, a graduate of the University of Virginia and the graduate film school program at the University of Southern California (yes the program that’s really hard to get into). May you become a director who makes GREAT popcorn movies.

There is a debate among those who consider themselves to be students of cinema. The debate is whether it is more important to have directors who make big-budget entertaining films (aka popcorn movies) or directors who make great dramatic films on a small budget (the “great” directors). Recently, there was a film made that is called “Great Directors” which is about directors who have made critically acclaimed films that are powerful, but not aimed at reaching a large audience. Usually the directors who make low-budget dramatic films believe that the makers are big-budget popcorn movies are not talented. In the film community, it is not a secret that big budget directors like Michael Bay and Brett Ratner are not respected. I have decided that it is time for me to play referee between the two sides and state where I believe that the film industry should go.

In 1997, the American Film Institute created a list of the 100 Best Films. At the top of that list was Citizen Kane. At the time, there were many of the films on the list that I had never heard of. What is Citizen Kane? Is it really that great? I had to find out. I started renting film after film from the list. I still have not seen everything on the list, but I have seen a majority of the films (79 out of 100). Seeing these films gave me the opportunity to see films that were excellent in many ways. Some of them were excellent big budget films. Others were very emotionally powerful. What many of these films had in common was that they were big budget films that were both crowd and critic favorites. Films like Forrest Gump earned the most money in their years of release and won Best Picture.

If I had to put myself in one camp, I would align myself with the films by the great directors over the popcorn directors for one reason, I’m looking for films that really grab my emotions and make me think. My favorite films of the 2000-2009 decade were No Country For Old Men, Red (2008), and Precious. To me, those films were powerful. Not only were they entertaining, but showed the good and bad of society and allowed the audience to see characters that were well developed. I love when a film makes me think about the human experiences in which the conflicts are more detailed than who plays the good and bad guys. The film The Godfather is a great example. The characters in the film are in the mafia. They are criminals. But the film is not about how evil they are. It is really about a family and how one son who was not in the family business had to join for the protection of his father. The character of Michael Corleone is not an evil person, but circumstances lead him into a life of crime and murder. The film is also about his father, who is not an evil man, but must live with the choices that he has made by entering the mafia and allowing his sons to be a part of his business.

The Godfather is one of those films that is respected by mainstream audiences and by critics. Films like The Godfather, Ordinary People, Lawrence of Arabia, and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest are the reason why I love films with a passion. Those films were not complicated, were accepted by mainstream audiences, by critics, and each of them won Best Picture.

But in the category of great films by great directors, there are a lot of great films that the majority of audiences will have never heard of, but would love if they had seen them. As someone who has turned to different films, I can recommend Aguirre- The Wrath of God, Fitzcarraldo, Withnail & I, and many others. When I was in college, I recommended that two students rent Withnail & I. One of them after seeing it said to me “I am Withnail” because he noticed how much he was like the Withnail character. They would have never seen the film without my recommendation. There are powerful films that most audiences have never heard of, but would enjoy had the audiences seen the films. Here’s one recommendation. See the film All That Heaven Allows which is about a younger man dating a woman who is between ten and twenty years older than he is. It is a great movie. But then I want you to rent Ali: Fear Eats The Soul, which is a remake of the film. Instead of being simply a film about the woman being older than the man, she is white (assumed Christian) and he has dark skin and is Muslim. This film is way more powerful to see the differences taken to a higher level than simply age.

While I love films that have extremely compelling stories and are critically acclaimed, I’m also human and love a film that is pure, dumb entertainment. Movies like Superbad, Borat, and Bruno do not touch my heart. I don’t feel that I’ve examined society by seeing them. I don’t take them serious and I’m not looking for artistic achievement from them. What I qA looking for are movies that would make me laugh, and those three films did a great job making me do so. When I see the fourth Shrek movie, I don’t need a touching story about how an ugly ogre will be accepted by society. I need the film to make me laugh. When I see Russell Crowe in the new version of Robin Hood, I want to see some great action.

Sometimes the audience wants a film to simply satisfy their hearts, not their heads. To watch a movie for laughs, action, or romance, the audience is looking to fulfill their emotions. The desire for humor can be satisfied with a great comedy. The desire for adventure can be satisfied with a great action movie. The desire for romance can be satisfied with a movie about two people falling in love. These are emotions that people feel and they know exactly what they want to get from their movies. The stories do not have to be complicated. The characters do not have to be well developed. The movies can be completely predictable as long as they give the audience what the audience actually wants.

I do not believe that the film industry can survive with only low budget powerful films. Even if the screenplays are better and the films have high critical ratings, not everyone wants to see powerful films all of the time. Sometimes people come home after a long day at work and they watch television for entertainment. If the only television options were shows on the History Channel, Discovery, and low-budget productions of famous plays from Broadway, then the audiences would not be satisfied. Sometimes people just want to be entertained and not have to think about issues. Society needs big budget films as much as it needs low budget dramas. In both cases, audiences need to have their desires satisfied.

I think the logical conclusion is that the film industry should make more films that have a big budget but the films should be both successful at the box office and with film critics. We don’t need every big budget film to be as bad as Transformers 2. If an Oscar-winning screenwriter worked with Michael Bay, then Bay’s next movie could be another big budget action movie, but have better developed characters and a decent plot. We as audience members have the right to ask for Michael Bay to improve the dialogue and character development in his movies. The low budget dramas will continue to be made, but hopefully some of those directors will get the attention that can help them get the financing to make great films with a bigger budget and more famous actors and actresses.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Even George Washington Had Overdue Books

There have only been two areas in which having media materials overdue causes people to be fined. The first is Blockbuster, which removed then may have reinstated late fees on the video rentals. The other would be libraries. Recently, it was discovered that George Washington had two library books checked out that were never returned. I don’t think that the library will be able to collect any late fees.

Is it time for the practice of late fees at libraries to be altered, or eliminated? I think so.

The practice of charging late fees for items that were not properly returned is simple, makes sense, and can be enforced even 200 years ago. The most effective part of having fees for overdue books is the fact that people can be compelled to pay attention to due dates without the need of technology. Once someone is informed of a due date when checking out a book, that person is responsible for returning the book on time, or else he or she will owe money. The late fees would motivate people to return books on time. In the possibility that a person cannot return a book on time, the person would still be motivated to return the book as soon as possible in order to minimize the amount of money owed to the library.

The reason why this practice should be altered is because with technology, more can be done to ensure that people return books to the library on time. Maybe libraries should have a person’s e-mail address on file so they can e-mail someone who checked out the book that it will be due the next day. An e-mail reminder can even be set into the library system with the use of software to send e-mails on certain days.

Also, I must say this. When someone checks out a old book that has not been checked out for a while, and no one has the book on the waiting list, holding that book late should not require a penalty because the person has not denied another user the ability to check out the book. There is a difference between new releases that are popular and items that are randomly checked out. For libraries to charge late fees for a book that no one else has requested just seems trivial because there is no reason for a book to be checked back in earlier if no one is currently requesting it.

While I believe that the library system should use technology to remind people of overdue books, I don’t believe that fines for books being late should completely be removed. Instead, books should have a due date and a fine date. By the due date, the person should either have the book checked out for a longer period of time. When Blockbuster removed late fees, they noticed that people were holding onto their videos for a long time after the due date. Some people will just continue to hold onto late items unless there is a financial penalty. Blockbuster had to bring back late fees because people were holding onto movies way too long. Basically, without some form of enforcement, the consumer is likely to hold items way past the due dates.

I must confess that just like George Washington, I had an overdue book that was way overdue. In 1997, I checked out a biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Last year (2009) I returned it to the library of my old high school. I realized as I walked through the high school to get to the library that the seniors were in kindergarten when I had checked out the book. These kids were only 6 years-old and now they are 18 years-old and about to go off to college. When I returned the book, I reminded the librarians that I had raised a lot of money for the library when I was a student. They did not charge me a late fee for the book.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Kal Penn: Leaving Obama For Harold & Kumar 3

Kal Penn is not just another Democratic actor in Hollywood who supported Barack Obama in the 2008 election. After Obama won the Presidency, Kal Penn was appointed to the position of Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement. To take this job, Kal Penn had to leave the show House.

Kal Penn is probably the most famous actor in the United States of Indian origin. I do not mean Native American. I mean origin of the country India. He is famous for playing the pothead Kumar in the Harold & Kumar movies. Now he has decided to leave the Obama Administration to make Harold & Kumar 3.

While I am a supporter of President Obama, I have to admit that giving a political job to an actor was probably not the best decision to make. Obama has been in office for less than two years and Kal Penn is already leaving political life to return to his acting career. I think that it does not help the Obama Administration to have placed an actor into a political position that the actor would only fill for a small period of time before the desire to return to Hollywood became too strong to resist.

In my opinion, President Obama should not place any other celebrities in political positions. While celebrities love to get involved in politics, I don’t think that many of them are willing to give up four to eight years of their lives for political positions. I think that before being offered the job, Kal Penn should have been asked to stay in the position for a certain number of years. Leaving after only two years sends the message that Kal Penn either 1) did not like the job or 2) felt that returning to Hollywood would be more rewarding.

There have been Hollywood actors who have given up years of their acting careers for politics. The two most famous cases are Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Both men became the Governor of California. Ronald Reagan later became the President of the United States, something that Arnold is not eligible to do, since he was not born as a citizen of the United States. But I think that while both of these men spent years in politics, they did so in leadership roles. Being in a leadership role as governor, a person is less likely to step away from that role than someone in a lower position. Kal Penn was not in a position of authority. I feel that he took his position out of the excitement to serve President Obama, but not with a commitment to serve for many years.

While I think that the Obama Administration should not have chosen an actor for a position within the administration that he would only serve for a short period of time, I think that Kal Penn has made the right choice to return to Hollywood and his most recognizable role. Sometimes actors spend years avoiding the film roles that made them famous in the first place, only to return to the film years, or decades later. In the early 1990s, Paul Hogan turned down millions to make Crocodile Dundee 3. His other films did not do very well at the box office. Years later, he finally made Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles. The movie probably would have done a lot better had it been released in 1991 instead of 2001.

For years, Sylvester Stallone avoided making another Rocky or Rambo movie. After making his third Rambo movie in 1988 and his fifth Rocky movie in 1990, it is fair to say that both series had enough films made to end where they did. Then Stallone had a horrible acting career in the 1990s. None of his characters were that memorable. After waiting way longer than he should have, he made the sixth and final Rocky film in 2006 (16 years after part 5). He then made a forth Rambo movie a whole 20 years after part 3. Surprisingly, both films were great. The Rocky film gave the series a respectable ending. What really surprised me was how much I loved the fourth Rambo movie. In my opinion, the fourth Rambo movie was the best action film since Gladiator.

Kal Penn must know that shunning the character which made him famous would be a bad idea. Maybe in the future, he will have some truly great film roles, but to many people, he will always be Kumar. I loved the first Harold & Kumar movie, but wasn’t very pleased with the second one. I hope that the third Harold & Kumar movie will be great. Someone else can fill Kal Penn’s role in the Obama Administration. No one else can replace Kumar.
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