Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Grandma's Celebrity Gossip


Our popular California columnist shares unfortunate observations about celebrities behaving badly.

Last month, I went out to dinner with Adele Luskin. What with her bursitis, cataracts and shingles, she doesn’t get out much, but she’d do anything to get away from Phyllis, her nudnik of a schnur.

To the West Valley Olive Garden she drove us. Such a nice one, too -- not so many Italians -- and the breadsticks are to die for. About four dozen between us we stashed in our purses.

Five o’clock rolls around, and we’re waiting for our meal, when in walks that zhlubby-looking actor, whose name I can’t remember, with Nobody Famous. They sit down two booths from us. He was in that TV show with the wife who was in the cockamamy cult with Tom Cruise and John Travolta, but she (Leah Remini) got out of it, and later he was the mall cop (Kevin James).

So the waitress comes to their table and recites the Olive Garden spiel. Then to Kevin James she says, “Do you have any questions?” And he tears into her like a beggar on a blintz. “You do not speak directly to me!” He yelled. “You speak to my personal assistant! You are not to look me in the eye!” And on and on.

Such a shtuss he made that the poor girl ran off in tears. The big shtunk! I wanted to jump up and shove a sharopnikel in his grauber pisk, but I couldn’t find even a breadstick -- so deep they were buried in my purse.

Later, at the beauty parlor, when I told Gigi the story, she shrugged and said, “Old news. He’s known as one of the biggest shmucks in Hollywood.”

She went on to say that even worse than Kevin James are Christian Bale (arrested for yelling at his family on a press tour), Justin Bieber (caught on video spitting on his fans from a balcony), and Jerry Seinfeld, who slammed his eggs on a hotel concierge’s desk and demanded they be cooked again.

And in her neighborhood, Meryl Streep is known as The Nasty Lady for always cutting in line at the grocery store and being a major oysvorf. 


Monday, September 26, 2016

Movie Monday: Storks

Here's a pleasant family movie that I can recommend for adults and children..

The story is intricate.  It starts with a little boy named Nate who craves the attention of his parents, who unfortunately are busy working all the time.

In the family attic, Nate happens upon an old pamphlet advertising stork deliveries of babies.  Nate mails a request for a baby brother/playmate.

Nate's letter arrives at an Amazon-like company where storks, now seven years out of the baby business, deliver packages instead.  (There is of course a bad CEO stork in a suit; where would movies be today with out bad guys in suits?) Through a more complicated plot device than needs to be spelled out here, a baby arrives and needs to be taken to Nate's house.

There is more folderol involving a sweet-natured, slightly goofy stork named Junior; an-18-year-old girl (okay, woman), Tulip, who was raised by storks; some meaning-of-life agonizing about the nature of storks, and the development of Nate's relationship with his parents.

Then there are the challenges of delivering the baby.  Along the way, Junior and Tulip encounter a pack of wolves who perform impressive, funny tricks.  There are penguins too, and the penguins are funny.  (Film penguins are always funny.)

Plus the baby -- a girl, as it turns out -- is sweet and charming.  Storks, wolves and penguins fall in love with the baby at first sight.

As I said, it's complex.  But it's not cynical.  There were two-year-olds in the theater where I saw the movie, and they laughed out loud many times.  They were charmed by the animals' affection for the baby.  They loved the funny Wile E. Coyote-style silly bits.  They enjoyed seeing Nate and his parents work together to prepare for the arrival of the baby.  They even understood the part about how frustrating it is for adults to get babies to go to sleep at night.

I'm a little harder to amuse than small children, but I laughed during the movie too.

So here's what I say:  If you're going see just one avian movie with a kid, this is a much better choice than the angry birds piece that came out earlier this year. "Storks" was designed as a fun family story, and "The Angry Birds Movie" was designed to sell video games and more angry birds movies.  Big difference.


The stork-delivering-babies theme, while well done, is quite dated.  Years before the Younger Person joined our family, the Significant Other and I talked with an older couple who had a 10-year-old son.  The son's teacher was pregnant, and the parents discussed with the boy how the teacher had a baby in her stomach.

"The baby is not in her stomach!" he yelled back in correction.  "It's in her uterus!"

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Toilets in Art

Below is an image of an 18-carat solid gold toilet.  It was made by artist Maurizio Cattelan and loaned to the Guggenheim Museum in New York last May, just in time for the spring season of art fairs.

The toilet is an exact copy of a popular porcelain Kohler model, and it was placed in a single-stall restroom to be used by museum-goers.

Unfortunately, as I noted in a May 7 post -- "Art's Shock Jock" -- the toilet did not work.

Last week it was announced that the toilet, which the Italian artist named "America," is now functional.  There were reports in the news of arts fans who had tried the golden toilet and affirmed that it did the job for them.

(I have no idea how it could take four months to rejigger the exact replica of a common toilet to get it to work. Our plumber could do this in a single day, easily.  You would have to pay him travel time and a higher hourly rate than that charged by any of our doctors, but we're talking a solid gold toilet here.  Relatively, though, the price would be quite modest.)

An earlier press release from the Guggenheim said the toilet was the artist's reaction to "the excesses of the art market." In fact, this work of art is an excess that, if sold, will redound to the benefit of the artist's already large fortune. (Cattelan's latest reported sale, of a child-sized statue of Hitler, fetched $17.2 million at an auction in May.)

There has not been much discussion of why the toilet was named "America," but my inner skeptic suspects that it is not an homage to our country.

The toilet now resides in the Guggenheim, where it probably will stay until a wealthy investor wants to purchase it.  Meanwhile, a full-time guard is on duty nearby, which is only to be expected in a country where people steal flip-flops in the changing room at the gym.

(Here's a thought:  Maybe Cattelan could convince Vladimir Putin to buy "America;" VP is by some estimates the world's wealthiest person, possibly because of smart 401k investments in his KGB days. He seems like the kind of fellow who'd enjoy having a commode with this name in his personal quarters.)

As you might say, "America" is good to go, literally, but I'm not sure it's a reason to visit the Guggenheim.  (BTW, I believe some insiders refer to the museum as "the Goog.")

Recycled Toilet Art

Over the last 40 years, many old toilets have been replaced with newer, more water-efficient models.  In some parts of California, the government will give you as much as $150 toward a new throne and carry your old one away.

In other parts of the country, people have tried to find new uses for old toilets.  One favorite use, which I have seen only in photographs, is as a planter.  Here is one example; there are hundreds of other such pictures on the internet.

Personally, I cannot recommend this look.

Here's another idea, circa 2014, from the city of Foshan, in China's Guangdong Province.  (Chinese cities tend to specialize in product areas, and Foshan is known for ceramics.)

This is called "A Waterfall Built out of Recycled Toilets," which was mounted by artist Shu Yong and his team during the city's Pottery and Porcelain Festival. 

All 10,000 toilets were synced up to a single tap, and when the tap was turned all the toilets flushed at the same time, creating the waterfall.  Pretty ingenious, if you think about it, and particularly impressive compared to the Guggenheim's four-month effort to get just one single toilet to flush.

The Original Toilet Art

Sometime around 1917, Dada artist Marcel Duchamp bought a porcelain urinal from a supplier, signed it R Mutt and submitted it for an art show in New York.  A few years earlier, a more conventional work of his had been rejected for an art show, and he was said to be offended by this.

New things were happening in art at the time, and his belief seems to have been that if an artist said a particular piece was art, well, it was art.  If you think about what we've seen in art since that time, the notion makes a certain amount of sense.

The original Duchamp urinal has since disappeared, but the Tate Museum in London has the copy pictured below.  Please note: In the artist's original display, the work was positioned reclining on its back, not upright as shown here.

Tate curators described the urinal this way:

            Simple in form but rich in metaphor, the work has generated many interpretations
            over the years, and continues to be seen as a work that challenges – or, at the least,
            complicates – conventional definitions of art.

Think about Andy Warhol encountering this piece as a young man.  If this is art, he may have said to himself, why not a Brillo box or a Campbell Soup can?  At that time, when the unsophisticated public was puzzled by and/or weary of Abstract Expressionism,  Pop Art gave people recognizable images that were more understandable.


The large picture is that art is a continuing conversation.  Most art (including, I'm guessing, toilet bowl planters) is forgotten over time, but certain ideas resonate and move the conversation forward.  I'm not sure that the golden toilet will be donated to and featured in a museum 200 years from now, but Duchamp's urinal idea is nearing its centennial and still is part of the discussion.

You never know.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Movie Monday: Eight Days a Week

This documentary about the Beatles' early years is screening now on Hulu.  I saw it over the weekend at an art film house, where the show apparently sold out every showing.

It's fun to watch because, even today, the Beatles story is such a surprising one.

One day the Fab Four were obscure 20-year-old English musicians who had spent years writing and performing catchy dance tunes at small clubs in Liverpool and Hamburg.  The next day, they were an international phenomenon unlike anything that had been seen before or, arguably, has been seen since.

Starting in 1962 the Beatles performed in increasingly larger venues and were the heartthrobs of apparently every teenage girl on the planet.  (While their records sold in the millions, their recording contract was not favorable, and so they made most of their money from live performances. This sounds a little similar to the current situation.)  Finally, four years later, after a "concert" before 56,000 people at Shea Stadium in Brooklyn, the lads had had it.  They never performed for a live crowd again.

The movie includes well-restored film and sound from the 1960s, plus interviews with three of the four, as well as with people who knew and admired the band and with general commenters who provide a little bit of context.

True as it seems to be to the events, "Eight Days a Week" doesn't do much to account for why Beatlemania arose so suddenly when it did.  I suspect there were at least three reasons.

First, the Baby Boom, the largest generation in world history, was coming of age.  The Beatles and their music resonated with the young people.   It didn't hurt that the Beatles' hair -- long by that day's standards -- annoyed the heck out of boomers' parents, who had no idea what all the fuss was about.

Second, the Beatles were cute and attractive to young women.  True, Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley had legions of female fans, but there were four Beatles, all of them young.  If you didn't like John, you probably did like Paul or George or Ringo.

Third, the culture was far less splintered then.  When the Beatles came to New York and performed on the Ed Sullivan television show, a popular talent show, 75 percent of all the television viewers in the country watched.  No broadcast, not even the Super Bowl, commands that kind of market share these days.

The movie is interesting and well made, but it was released with the cooperation of Apple Corps, which owns the Beatles name and music and associated properties (there's a Beatles video game, etc.), and this shows.

While the film discusses John's flip remark about the Beatles being "more popular than Jesus" and current-day Paul admits that "we were all a little high" on marijuana during a 1965 recording stint, there is no mention of their LSD use the next year.  These were serious matters 50 years ago.

In contrast, it goes on a bit long about the band's refusal to play in segregated stadiums.  It was an excellent gesture, of course, but easy for the Beatles in a moment when the country was riven by civil rights unrest and many brave people, not protected by hundreds of police officers, suffered for their activism.

Much is made of Paul and John's cooperative songwriting -- far better than the sum of their individual parts -- but there is no mention of the developing rift between them.  George, apparently a self-contained loner, and happy-go-lucky Ringo are mostly carried along for the ride.

I wish the film had taken at least a glance at how music and the culture had begun to change during the Beatles' touring years.  The Rolling Sones released their first album in 1964.  From there, rock music grew many branches -- acid, metal, funk, punk and hip hop among them.  Everything from fashion to film to politics was rattled by the boomers' growing pains.

In the theater where I saw the movie, the 50-something man sitting in front of me had rather large earplugs (distenders that left round windows in the middle of his earlobes.)  My guess is that he had several tattoos as well.

Back when the Beatles were the big new thing with mop top haircuts and suits and ties -- a man this age would have found them strange and weird.  Now, I guessing, to the man in the theater, the early Beatles look quaint and cute and almost square.

What a long strange trip it's been.



Saturday, September 17, 2016


This is a gorgeous car that changed the automaking world.   It's a 1970 Lamborghini Miura S, and I saw it last week at the Nashville's Frist Center for the Visual Arts.

The museum's current exhibit is called "Bellissima: The Italian Automotive Renaissance 1945 to 1975," which ends next month.

"Belissima" translates into English as "gorgeous," and the cars in this show fit that bill.

Before the release of this car, Ferraris and Maseratis had dominated the Italian performance car business.   The two firms were founded by car racing enthusiasts who moved into manufacturing and then, after a long interruption during World War II, returned to making stylish, powerful cars.

Fierrucio Lamborghini, by contrast, was what used to be called a motorhead.  He was raised on a farm and spent the war working with vehicles for the Italian Army.  Later, held by the British as a prisoner of war, he became adept at improvising fixes for damaged jeeps and tanks when replacement parts were scarce.

After the war and as European economies revived, he saw a need for new tractors and found ways to manufacture them using now-remaindered materiel.  This made him a wealthy man, and it is not surprising that he also developed an interest in expensive automobiles.

There is a story, possibly apocryphal, that Lamborghini spotted a flaw in one of his personal cars, a Ferrari, and that he went to visit the company's head, Enzo Ferrari, to discuss the matter.  Enzo, regarded always as a difficult fellow, refused to see Ferrucio, who took the car to his own factory where he replaced the part to good effect.

From there, he moved into design, starting in 1965 with a low-slung chassis that later became the base for the car above.  He brought in designers Nuccio Bertone and Marcello Gandini, and the result was the Miura series.

According to notes from the museum:

           Overnight, the P400 made everything in the Ferrari road-going car lineup obsolete.
           It would be years before Ferrari built a full-sized mid-engine sports car for the road.
           Compared to a bulky Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona, the slender Miura resembled a
           stiletto on cast magnesium wheels. The four-liter, 350-bhp, six-carburetor V-12 was
           transversely mounted, directly behind the seats, as the youthful engineering trio had

Other Lamborghini models followed, but the Miura was always the founder's favorite and was the premier European sports car of its era.  Even today, its lines look timeless.

Here's a picture of Ferrucio Lamborghini with an early product and a later one.  As an American, I find the range impressive.  Can you imagine a John Deere roadster or formula car?


-- Also in the exhibit are three Alfa Romeo BAT cars from the 1950s.  Like many American cars from the same period, they have fins on the back.  But where the American fins seemed like missiles bolted onto the backs of cars, the Italian fins are sleek and seem to conform more cleanly to the cars' bodies.  Different countries, different aesthetics.

-- A biographical movie, "Lamborghini – The Legend," is said to be in the works.  Filming started this summer.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

New Jersey Patois

People in New Jersey were gratified to learn yesterday that one of the state's signature expressions has found its way into the famed Oxford English Dictionary.

Here it is:

     "Fuhgeddaboudit:  In representations of regional speech (associated especially with New
     York and New Jersey): 'forget about it,' used to indicate that a suggested scenario is unlikely
     or undesirable."

That's according to the OED.  I have lived several years in New Jersey, and in my experience, the term also can mean what it sounds like, i.e., "Forget about it," albeit with a frisson of hostility, which also is common in New Jersey dialogue.

My impression is that the term became popular in Mafia films and televisions shows, particularly "The Sopranos."


Next year, if the OED compilers are looking for another, similar New Jersey expression, I would encourage them to check out this common term:

       Whaddayouwant: This refrain traditionally is employed by employees of the state
       Division of Motor Vehicles.   It means, "Why don't you go away and die?" and has been
       adopted broadly by other public employees and clerks at retail establishments.

Talking in New Jersey

Here are some additional constructions that can be useful to visitors to the Garden State.

Jersey:  This is how many locals refer to the state.  This reference is so well understand that no one confuses it with the other Jersey, one of the English Channel Islands.  Confusion does arise among out-of-staters, who seem to believe state residents call their state "Joisey."  My guess is an actor, possibly Joe Pesci, who was born in Newark, was instructed to use this incorrect pronunciation in one of the Mafia movies by director Martin Scorsese, who hails from Queens, New York, and may not know better.

Jersey Slide:  This is a maneuver much favored by drivers on I-95, known as the Turnpike. Traditionally, the slide is a quick multi-lane change from the far left lane onto a freeway exit, but it can be employed for any quick crossing of two or more lanes, typically without the use of a turn signal.

Jughandle:  This is a traffic innovation developed by Jersey engineers to help drivers make safer left turns on roads with heavy traffic.  The jughandle (don't ask me why it is one word) is a soft right that leads to a traffic signal at which the road can be crossed or a U-turn can be executed.  Here is a descriptive sketch.

It can take a little while to get used to driving on a road with jughandles, but they do make a certain amount of sense.

Benny:  A term of derision popular with residents of the state's coastal cities.  "Bennies" are out-of-towners who vacation near the ocean and annoy local residents by taking up all the available parking spaces.

Down the shore:  Bennies do not "go to the beach" in Jersey.  They go "down the shore."

New Jersey's Most Common Words

By far, the most popular word in Jersey is fuck, which generally is used as a conversation filler and not necessarily with any concern for its vulgar definition.  Another popular word is shithole, a local variation of "asshole," the term of art in other states.

Yo is Jersey's word for "hey."

Here is a short conversation in Jersey-speak:

                      First Person:  "Yo, let's go down the shore!"

                      Second Person:  "Fuck, yeah!"

Monday, September 12, 2016

Movie Monday: Sully

Give Clint Eastwood his due.

Pilot Chesley Sullenberger's landing of an A340 jetliner with two dead engines in the Hudson River in 2005 was a one-off.  No one had managed a water landing of a commercial jet before, anywhere.

Everyone on board survived.  Ferries and helicopters from New York and New Jersey whisked all the passengers and crew to safety in less than half an hour.

And somehow Eastwood got a 96-minute feature movie out of the material.

I'm not saying the movie is bad.  The film recreation of the jet's perilous decline and dangerous hover over and then on the water is stunning for its realism.  The portrayal of Sullenberger as a confident but modest man whose life prepared him for the ultimate three-minute challenge reads true.

There are doubts -- Sully's subsequent nightmares of flying airplanes into New York buildings, an FAA investigation into the cause of the crash -- that are credible.  The pilot did have bad dreams, and commercial jet crashes virtually always are attributed to pilot error, except in this case.

Tom Hanks, his hair dyed gray, portrays a careful, principled Sully whose modesty and self-control are rarely seen now, in film or life or political campaigns.

The timing of the "Sully" release, on the weekend of 9/11's 15th anniversary, was canny.  Box office sales -- $45 million worldwide -- were hailed as a great success for a post-summer movie.

(Never mind that a Captain America movie took in more than nine times as much on its first weekend in May, which does raise questions, if you think about it.  My guess is that superhero fans do not think about these things, however.)

This is said to be a movie for adults, with 80 percent of the audience over the age of 35.  The average age looked to be 70 or more in the theater where I saw the show.

The film is fine.  It does not drag.  It does not lose its focus.

Is it one for the ages?  I'm not so sure.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Fifteen Years Ago

I wasn't in New York on 9/11.  It was a beautiful day, and I was pulling weeds outside when my father called to ask after the health of the Significant Other.

"He's fine.  Why?" I asked.

"You'd better turn on the TV," Dad said.

An hour or so later, I picked up the Younger Person at his school, which closed early that day.  By then, the husband of one of the teachers in the upper grades was dead.  So was the sister of a woman who lived on the next block over.

The next week, I talked with an economist whose office overlooked the twin towers.  "I saw things I shouldn't have seen," he said.  He meant hundreds of people jumping from the scorching top floors of the buildings.

The week after that, on Sunday, we went downtown.  Lines of heavy trucks were carting wreckage out of the city, a process that took months.  The harsh, acrid smell was everywhere.

What I remember most are the pictures.  Families and friends had posted notices and photographs all over the area, hoping that loved ones would be found alive.

All the missing people were dead, of course.  Their families, at best, might recover part of a leg or a piece of jewelry.  For most families, there was nothing to find.

I rarely think of these things now, but on this day every year the memories return.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Leveraging the Celebrity Brand -- Politics

Yesterday, I spoke of the Burberry company, now a sort of fashion conglomerate whose latest pitch might be this:  "If you like our coat and our plaid, why not try our lipstick?"

It may work, it may not.  But it sure happens a lot these days, particularly with celebrities


Here are two examples:

1). Two months ago, the fine actress Helen Mirren appeared before a Senate subcommittee to speak in favor of a new piece of legislation to aid Holocaust survivors and relatives in recovering family possessions stolen by the Nazis.  This bill was not controversial -- cosponsors included Charles Schumer, D-NY, and Ted Cruz, R-Tex.
        What did Mirren have to offer?  Well, in a movie last year, she played an elderly Jewish woman who attempted to reclaim family possessions that were seized by the Nazis.
         I raise this not to say that the bill lacks merit but to note that there are probably real people in this country whose lost family art has never been recovered.  Why not get their stories?  Why publicize someone who has acted the part instead?

2). Two years ago, actor/comedian/whatever Seth Rogen appeared before a congressional committee to promote Alzheimers research; his mother-in-law had developed early-onset Alzheimers, and he had seen the devastating effects on her and  her family.
          I don't doubt Rogen's sincerity.  But there must be hundreds of thousands of other people, anonymous but real, who have spent years of their lives caring for relatives with dementia.  There must be hundreds who have devoted their lives, full-time, to promoting this cause while Rogen, understandably, has devoted his own time to his on-camera career. Why not ask these others to share what they have learned from their efforts?

Yes, yes, maybe the congressional hearings included testimony from lesser proles with more relevant experience.  But, if so, why was all the press devoted to the movie stars?

Being famous has pluses and minuses.  One of the pluses is that you can leverage your "brand" in different ways.  Athletes get shoe contracts.  Beautiful models endorse expensive cosmetic products.  And well-known actors who want to develop gravitas can leverage their well-paid day jobs into fronting for efforts that should be able to stand on their own.

Why can't the people who have worked in the trenches on important issues be regarded seriously?  Why is it that we prefer to hear -- or the media prefer to present -- these stories from people who have spent careers cultivating celebrity personae rather than from people who have walked the walk?

The Election

Enough of this seriousness.  Let's talk about some of the celebrities who have been giving us voting advice this year.

For Clinton:  Kim Kardashian, a high school graduate who is famous for appearing in a reality television show, for an enormous surgically enhanced derriere, for product endorsements and for a Twitter claque of more than 40 million people with too much time on their hands.

For Trump:  Richie Incognito, a football player now with the Bills but who was let go by the Dolphins after rookie Jonathan Martin "told investigators Incognito joked that he and other teammates would rape Martin's sister, a medical student none of them had ever met. Incognito also used racial slurs with Martin, made jokes about slavery and routinely demeaned Martin for not being 'black enough.'"

For Clinton:  Cher

For Trump:  Ted Nugent

For Clinton:  Miley Cyrus

For Trump: Phil Robertson, the Duck Dynasty patriarch

For Clinton: Lady Gaga

For Trump:  Mike Tyson

None of these people has any special background in domestic or foreign policy. At most, their prominence may have moved them to the front of the lines for meet-and-greets with the candidates they favor.

Their insights into the suitability of one candidate over another are by definition very limited.  Adopting a modicum of modesty would suit them better.


Again, it's back to marketing.  If you have an established brand -- let's call it fame -- shouldn't you be careful about how far you seek to leverage it in a pretty noisy and crowded political system?

Personally, I think it's all Burberry lipstick.  I'm not buying it.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Leveraging the Brand: Burberry


You are certainly familiar with the Burberry brand.  The company was founded as a military supplier in the 19th century and then became known for the (not particularly rainproof) khaki trench coats it supplied to British soldiers in World War I.  The coats were double-breasted and came with waist belts that included metal loops that I once heard were for securing grenades, which certainly might have been handy during trench battles.

Trench coats were popular with movie tough guys in the last century, perhaps most notably Humphrey Bogart, whose trench was known for years afterward as the "Casablanca coat."  Other stars adopted the fashion, including Kirk Douglas, Steve McQueen, Sophia Loren and the Hepburns (Katharine and Audrey.) As the trench caught on, other companies from high-end Aquascutum to mid-priced London Fog released their own versions.

After some years, Burberry reasserted itself in the market by marketing the traditional lining fabric found in its trench coats (see left.)  That plaid got slapped on everything from scarves to watchbands to rubber boots to very unattractive patterned shirts for men and women.  This was a good strategy in the years when people signaled how expensive their clothes and handbags were by wearing and carrying items with polo players and LV insignias, among others.

Burberry also moved into other products.  It now has three high-end fashion lines: regular Burberry, Burberry Prorsum (fashion-forward) and a casual line.  There are 63 Burberry stores in the United States alone and many others worldwide.  Inside you will find unbelted coats and skirts and and assorted clothing for men and women.

Over the years, I have bought two nice Burberry trench coats, one in red without the plaid lining, and liked them very much.  I also have visited a Burberry store several times but never have bought any of the company's other products, which I found expensive and, frankly, not that interesting.

(My fashion rule:  If I visit the same store three times and never see anything I like, that's it; I don't go back.)

But my lack of enthusiasm has not dimmed the hopes of the Burberry organization.  It is putting its name on more and more products and getting further and further from the items that made it famous.

This is called leveraging:  Using one's known strength to move into different areas and extend one's reach.

A few weeks ago I saw a Sephora advertisement for a new Burberry product.  Here it is:

Yes, Burberry is now marketing mascara.  Also lipsticks, foundations, concealers and eyeshadows.

But not to me.  You can carry this leveraging business too far.

Tomorrow: Celebrities and Political Brands

Monday, September 5, 2016

Movie Monday: Don't Think Twice

Anybody over the age of 20 can remember the disappointment of not getting a much hoped-for job.
This is not fun in real life, but it's a laugh riot in this small movie that deserves more attention than it has received.

The genius of this production is its framing within a comedy improvisation troupe whose members have lived and worked together for 11 years.  Existential crises arise when one of the players leaves to join the cast of a Saturday Night Live-type show and the group loses the lease on its New York performance space.

Effectively the troupe is a family, but a really funny family.  We see how its players have trained to play off each other and keep the humor going in front of audiences.  We also see how they revert to humor in awkward moments -- after a funeral, say -- when a painful nerve is exposed and is cauterized quickly by an equally awkward but hilarious series of riffs.

In general, comedy is harder to carry off than drama.  "Funny but true" is an even more difficult juggling act, but "Don't Think Twice" accomplishes it, seemingly  with ease.  As the credits role, a piano rendition of the Bob Dylan song plays and you realize, in a bittersweet way, why the film critic for The Atlantic called it "one of the best comedies of the year."

Movies Now

So why isn't this movie in more theaters? All summer long, every publication from Variety to the New York Times has lamented the lousy quality of endless sequels and the many expensive films that have turned out to be stinkers at the box office.

True, the movie isn't for children because its themes resonate best with people who've had a job or two.  It also lacks gratuitous nudity, foul language and gunshots.  There isn't a single stabbing.  Is this a problem now?

On the plus side, I would think the potential audience is large.  There are comedy clubs and improv groups all over the country.  There are more than 50 college film programs turning out people who have experience making documentaries and small movies and who are interested in seeing more.

Obviously the production was not expensive, but expensive didn't make "Suicide Squad" any better.  And seven weeks in, "Don't Think Twice" still is selling a respectable number of tickets in the small number of theaters where it can be found.  The word of mouth has to be good.

Given all this, why wouldn't a film distributor try to make a movie like this one available more broadly?

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Wacky Platform Boots

Here is a boot much featured in the fashion press for this year's fall season.  It comes from designer Marc Jacobs and also is being sold in basic black and mauve.  

If you walk out on the street wearing these, you will be eight inches taller.   You either will look very skinny or flamingo-esque.

I don't know how popular these boots are or will be, but there are a number of them at the moment. 

Paris-based Vetements is pitching a more subdued platform look.  If you find it boring in black, well, there is also a neon yellow version. 

Vera Wang has introduced these models.

Balenciaga's much touted offering comes in winter-white patent leather as well as fruit-colored shades. 

Finally, these two budget models from Demonia by Pleaser can be purchased on Amazon.

This boot has a topper of stretchy fabric.

And this one is available in a nine-buckle model.  (Nobody has the patience to fasten that many buckles;  I'm pretty sure these boots have zippers as well.)
(Of course this firm is all over the combat boot thing, which I mentioned in an early August post on the Dr. Martens revival.)

Platforms are not just for boots.  There have been sky-high platform sandals and high-platform shoes as well this year.  The trend that started a couple years ago with flat to mid-heeled shoes may now may be reaching its figurative and literal apogee.

Not So New

In fact, high platforms have been popular before.

Here is a picture of some 1970s-era platforms that I found on a website called  They look familiar, don't they?

(I would not be surprised if platform shoes were a fashion "thing" in ancient cultures, but I am a modern observer, not an anthropologist.  Such unwieldy shoes in earlier times, perhaps as now, may have signaled high social status, indicating that the wearers were ladies of leisure -- such lofty heights  effectively would hobble women, making it impossible for them to haul water, clean floors or tend to meats roasting on spits.  If there were feminists in those times, there also might have been social critiques as well.  But I digress.)

This trend also was big in the 1990s, especially with English designer Vivienne Westwood, who may have been the first to call such footwear "platforms." Her point was that very tall shoes functioned as the base on which a beautiful woman was displayed, rather as a classical figurative sculpture often is displayed on a square plinth platform.

Westwood may have had a point.  Here is a small statue of Peter Pan on a plinth.  Without the platform, the statue might go unnoticed.


These boots are interesting and unusual, but they are not for awkward people.  I'm pretty sure that I could not walk far on them without falling down.

In fact, this happened.  There was a famous incident at a Vivienne Westwood show in Paris in 1993.  Supermodel Naomi Campbell walked down the runway in (I believe) a pair of Westwood shoes like the nine-inch number shown below.

Here is the unfortunate result. 

Youtube has similar videos of similar falls at fashion shows in the years since.

Long story short, there are boots and shoes for walking and boots and shoes for looking good, like a statue on a plinth.

It may be that exaggerated platforms, like the Marc Jacobs one pictured at the top, are to everyday footwear what concept cars are to normal automobiles.

Keep this in mind if you are considering investing in boots like these.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Thoughts on the Paperwhite

About six weeks ago, I took the plunge and bought a Kindle Paperwhite, the latest Amazon ebook reader.

I had dragged my feet on this, but the Significant Other and the Younger Person -- early adopters when it comes to technology -- loved their Paperwhites and seemed to be reading more because the devices were much easier to carry than actual books.

Like most people over the age of 12, I grew up reading books printed on paper and, more recently, books on my iPad.

Because I've been traveling around this year, getting a smaller device made sense.  But from my point of view, this Paperwhite thing is not an unmixed blessing.  Some thoughts:


-- My Paperwhite will hold between 1,000 and 2,000 books, which is considerably more than even my largest handbag.

-- As with my iPad, the Paperwhite makes it easy to get books.  There is not much of a discount over printed copies of best sellers, but plenty of classics are available at minimal or no cost.  Plus, many libraries now make ebooks available for time-limited borrowing.

-- The Paperwhite is backlit and easy on the eyes.  I actually turned the light down a good bit, per my own taste.   The type size can be adjusted as well.

-- Charging the Paperwhite (it requires its own separate charger, alas) takes just a few hours.  Amazon claims that one charge will last six weeks, but my experience suggests that this may be an optimistic assumption.

Irritating Details

 -- The Paperwhite displays advertisements, mostly for books, when the device is turned off.   Most of these books are mighty obscure, and I'm not inclined to investigate them further.  My guess is that Jeff Bezos and the gang collect ad revenue or a cut of the sales from impoverished authors for these slightly annoying promotions; if you want to opt out of the ads, it will cost you $20.  Either way, Amazon wins.

-- Some of the Paperwhite features are silly.  If your finger lights on a given word, say "the" or "house," up pops a helpful dictionary definition of the word.  Even people with very limited vocabularies will not appreciate this.
         Another annoying feature is the underlining of sentences that previous readers of the same book have highlighted as significant.  Every single one of these sentences is a broad truism.  Personally, I don't care if 151 people have highlighted a given sentence.  I'm pretty comfortable figuring out what is important to me.

-- The Paperwhite's operations are more intuitive than those of the earlier iPad reader, but it still takes some time with youtube how-to videos to learn how to work this gadget.
      This is not a problem people had with genuine books, except perhaps the generation that lived during the period when when reading formats switched from scrolls to bound books.

-- Going back and forth on a Paperwhite is a pain in the neck.   This is not so true with nonfiction books, where chapter names give a good idea where to look for a datum or discussion you want to reread.
       But fiction is difficult.  When I read a novel, I sometimes want to trace back to see how the writer set up an action or described a character.  While it is true that you can mark pages as you go along, often a question arises only later.  In a book-book, you can open to the general area where you think the passage may be and page back and forth to find what you seek.  Not so with a Paperwhite or, indeed, any ebook.
        I recently read an interesting, funny ebook that I wanted to discuss on my blog.  I looked for several specific passages for about a half hour and then gave up.  Too much work.

Philosophical Issues

-- There are questions about what you buy when you buy an ebook.  If I read a traditional book and know that I won't read it again, I can give it to a friend or donate it to the library for its annual book sale.  Not so with an ebook.
-- Amazon collects information on how we use ebooks.  This is not exactly an invasion of privacy -- Amazon probably won't report that Kim Kardashian read only 57 percent of a given book, assuming she has time to read between photo shoots and all.   But the company can, and almost certainly does, aggregate data on how far most people read into a given book.  This generates information that can be used when choosing whether to promote an author's subsequent book and how to price that book, among other things.
          Maybe this shouldn't bug me, but it does.  Again, when I buy a traditional book, it's my business whether I read it or not.

-- There are other ownership issues.  The following comes from a Tim Guy article, "The Best Ebook Reader," at  (The site critiques digital products, among others, and collects a small margin when its readers use the information to make purchases.)

             When you purchase an ebook from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple, or Google,
             that book is protected with a digital rights management scheme, which means that the
             book is available for reading only on devices that support each store’s DRM system. For
             example, you can read Amazon-purchased ebooks only on Kindle devices or in Amazon’s
             Kindle apps for other platforms—you can’t view them on a Barnes & Noble or Kobo reader.

             In addition, DRM raises questions of ownership. This issue first came to light in 2009 when
             Amazon remotely deleted digital copies of certain George Orwell books from some Kindles.
             A recent example (in early 2016) was Barnes & Noble’s announcement that the company
             would stop selling Nook content in the UK, leaving customers wondering whether they
             would lose access to previously purchased content. (Barnes & Noble says it has partnered
             with Sainsbury’s to offer “continued access to the vast majority” of titles, but it has provided
              no information yet about what “majority” means or which titles customers may lose.)

             This isn’t an issue specific to any one seller, and it isn’t a problem with the DRM-free ebooks
             you can purchase from some independent sellers or download from sources such as Project
             Gutenberg. But DRM is worth keeping in mind, because it means, among other things, that
             once you commit to an ebook reader, you’ll likely end up sticking with it because you won’t
             be able to transfer your DRM-protected ebooks to another e-reader platform.

-- I can remember when people got annoyed about Borders running small bookstores out of the book market. Then Amazon ran Borders out of the book market.
            Amazon now is the big daddy of all ebook sellers.  By using the Paperwhite, I effectively have been enlisted to help that company run all the other, smaller players out of what is left of the book market.