Monday, April 30, 2012

Messing With Comcast

I found out my bill for 2 HDDVRs, internet and free HBO next month was $100 rather than $85, which it had been. They said that was because I only got a half discount next month because it expires halfway through June.

Without any threatening or arguing whatsoever he offered to give me another discount, which would make my bill $89 instead of $85 and extend through October. I took it, and deleted the sports package, which is $8 a month but was free until halfway through next month. I only need that for the NFL Network, so I won't re-subscribe to it until September.

So now my bill will be $81 and I have HBO until August, when the promotion will expire. At which point I'll call and complain that I was told it would last until October with my discounts, so they'll respond by giving it to me for free at least until then.

The key is not in your manner, but just getting on the phone with someone who feels like giving out discounts. Usually that's the cancellation retention dude, but today it was just a regular operator.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

In Memory Of Howard Strayer, 1933-2012

I saw Grandpa as a sort of superhero. As early as I can remember, my Mom told me that I was choking on a piece of food when I was a baby, he was the first one who noticed. He picked me up and dislodged it somehow. Even though I don't actually remember it happening I have a little movie about how I imagine things went down stored in my brain. I always saw him through that lens, this source of incredible strength and calmness.

When I was a kid and we would come up to visit, it was a big deal that Casa Grande had its own Walmart, and the whole extended family would roam around the store for what seemed like hours. One time, when my little sister Laura was probably 4 or 5, she wanted a teddy bear that cost $8. "That's stupid," I said. "No teddy bear is worth $8." He put me in my place by saying, "Well, it might be. That depends on how bad the buyer wants it." That lesson stuck with me as much as anything I learned four years of business school.

The closest we ever got was when I was 13 and my sisters and I took turns spending a week with him and Grandma during the summer. I was freaked out about going to high school, and his words of reassurance were "I remember back when I was a hairy freshman. Don't think I'd like to try that again." Then he laughed. It was a short conversation but made me feel a lot better, as if he was saying, "Yep, it will be tough, but I got through it and can laugh about it, and so will you."

That week we did some puzzles together - Grandpa always enjoyed logic puzzles and had a big box of them - and he would suggest books. I spent a bunch of time watching cartoons on TV. When Popeye came on, Grandpa would wander in and watch with me. He told me he remembered them from when he was a kid. He would make comments and it occurred to me that his manner of speaking and the sound of his voice were a little like Popeye's. Grandpa was also like Popeye in that he was strong - as strong as I could ever imagine a man to be.

Review: The Five Year Engagement

There’s got to be more than just one of Jason Segel. There’s no way one dude can juggle a starring role in a sitcom along with writing, producing and acting in multiple movies a year.

If there is a Segel cloning machine out there, that’s a good thing for the movie industry. Maybe they should make three or four more of him in order to crowd out the awful romantic comedies. Segel’s vision (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek, The Muppets) may be often hit-and-miss, but they’re rarely predictable and never boring. As an actor, he nails the sympathetic beta male motif. Even when he doesn’t make you laugh, he manages to get you to feel bad for not doing so.

Only smoldering, take-charge actresses work well with Segel, which is why Emily Blunt is an inspired choice. She can devour the likes of Matt Damon with a “you’re lucky to be seen with me” aura, so Segel  can easily pass off his just-lucky-to-be-there shtick. They play the self-torturing couple at the core of The Five Year Engagement, ever the wedding cake samplers but never the cutters.

Segel’s character is a chef who is aching for a shot at the big time in San Francisco, while Blunt is a psychology grad student who must either follow her career track to Michigan or waste all her education.
If this were a Nicholas Sparks adaptation, they would break up, write letters to each other and fend off attacks from abusive exes. If this were a Katherine Heigl romcom, they would meet cute, plan out the wedding, break up due to a misunderstanding at the hour mark and elope at the end.

But this is a Segel comedy, meaning things will unfold at their own weird pace and logic. There will be much penis humor, idle chatter and a meandering plot that repeats itself a bunch of times. Sometimes you’ll fight the urge to pull out your phone to check the time, and others you’ll laugh so hard you’ll embarrass yourself.  
The movie isn’t always funny, but even when it struggles to keep its tone it’s got soul. The characters feel more like real people with real stuff to deal with than fake constructs with cookie-cutter solutions to their issues. But of their 99 problems, a penis joke ain’t one. My favorite involved a clever use of carrot and some ranch dip, and there was also a poignant observation about Disney princesses.

The Five Year Engagement isn’t always cohesive and could have used a shave and a haircut from a ruthless editor, but it does more good than bad, leaving you tired but content. Not bad for whichever Segel clone was assigned to handle this movie.

Starring Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Alison Brie and Chris Pratt. Written by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller. Directed by Stoller. 124 minutes. Rated R.

My novel, Stormin' Mormon, is available as a Kindle book for $1.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Top 5 Dumbest Symbols On My Keyboard

1. @ — Email saved this one. I still see it as representing the word "asshole."

2. # — Resurrected by Twitter. In particular, annoying Twitter users who think they know how to use it but don't.

3. & — Just go out and say the word "and," you lazy bastard. Using the symbol only saves you one keystroke.

4. ^ — This arrow is simply fodder for emoticons. It exists for no other reason.

5. % — Totally outmoded by the decimal system.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Review: The Lucky One

If those guys who make all those Scary Movie-style parodies ever tried to make fun of Nicholas Sparks books, you’d hardly be able to tell their mockeries from the originals. The author, who has figured out the magic formula to make forgiving romantics swoon and everyone else cough up a hairball, has no fear of repeating himself and striving for romance that’s so romantic it stretches past the point of absurdity, deep into space into the orbit of Neptune.

Take a line of dialogue that serves as the catch phrase for The Lucky One. Logan (Zac Efron), a mysterious, solemn drifter, stares into the eyes of broken-heated Southern belle Beth (Taylor Schilling), and says, with a straight face, “You should be kissed every day, every hour, every minute.”

That line shows exactly how The Lucky One can work on two levels. Romantics are like “Ohmigawd! He’s soooo in love with her just like Edward is with Bella when he watches her while she sleeps,” while normal people just laugh – both at the movie and those people.
Those who can appreciate it on either or both levels will find plenty to adore in the movie, just as in the Sparks movies Message in a Bottle, A Walk to Remember, The Noebook, Nights in Rodanthe, Dear John and The Last Song. Just like James Bond movies or Kardashian marriages, seen one and you’ve seen ‘em all. The fact that you’re willing to see another one says something about the sturdiness of the concept.

There will always be a place in moviedom for unabashed romances about strong, silent types who sweep sad Southern belles who weren’t quite sure if they could ever love again off their bare feet, protecting them from angry, abusive exes. You’ve got to hand it to Sparks for riding his one-trick pony loud and proud.

Actors who can mutter Sparks’s dialogue without bursting out in laughter also deserve credit. Donning depression stubble and an upside-down version of his dopey High School Musical perma-grin, Efron does some solid work as Logan. His character is the Lucky One of the title, because, it figures, he’s the one who gets to rock Taylor Schilling’s body in a PG-13 sex montage midway through the movie.

A war vet who suffers from spontaneous shell-shock moments every bit as comically random as those in South Park, he scoops up a picture of Beth on the battlefield, then tracks her down after some astoundingly fast computer research.

He finds Beth running a riverside doggie hostel along with her firecracker granny (Blythe Danner) and her Ronald McDonald-haired boy. Oh, and over there hiding in the bushes is friendly Abusive Stalker Ex (Jay R. Ferguson), just waiting to make Logan look better by acting a fool and allowing our man to put him in his place.

It takes many days, hours and minutes of longing stares until Logan and Beth get to having daily, hourly and minutely sex, but once they get there they more than make up for lost time. Abusive Stalker Ex is probably watching and slamming plates, but that takes place offscreen and doesn’t kill the mood. What does kill the mood is Logan’s dark secret, which causes a five-minute dispute between the lovers that leads up, naturally, to a tense action sequence involving a collapsing bridge.

I really wish I could tell you the end, but you’ll never hear from me whom a house somehow hilariously falls on and kills, The Wizard of Oz-style. Your eyes will certainly be filled with tears as the credits roll. Does it really matter whether they came from heartmelt or laughter?

Starring Zac Efron, Taylor Schilling, Bythe Danner, Riley Thomas Scott and Jay R. Ferguson. Written by Will Fetters, adapted from the book by Nicholas Sparks. Directed by Scott Hicks. 104 minutes. Rated PG-13.

My novel, Stormin' Mormon, is available as a Kindle book for $1.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Top 5 Burger Joints

1. Five Guys — I'm a huge fan of slop, which is why Wienerschnitzel almost made this list. If you order a Five Guys burger "all the way," they pile on the slop so high that you can barely hold the burger afterward. It's just a gelatinous mess. Meaning, perfection. The fries are also phenomenal. The choice between cajun fries and regular is as tough as Sophie's choice and Betty/Veronica.

2. Fatburger — This was my No. 1 throughout most of my life, until that trashy whore Five Guys lured me away. This place puts freakin' egg on a burger. I don't often order it that way, but it's really comforting to know I can have it that way if I please.

3. Freddy's — They're called "steakburgers," but are really just hamburger like everything else, as my scientific tests have concluded. Well, not like everyone else, because the patties alone taste better than almost all other chains. So good that the scragglemeat (my name for the crumbs that drop off onto the plate) is too fantastic to throw away. You need to either lick the plate or tip it toward your mouth and funnel it all in.

4. Culver's — The fries here are disgusting, leaving the burger to do all the heavy lifting. And that they do. Big,  flavorful patties, crisp veggies and buns slopped up with luscious butter do the trick.

5. In-N-Out — In-N-Out is better than most ubiquitous chains — although Burger King and Carl's Jr. can hang — but nowhere near as good as the giants of the industry. At least they're cheap and relatively low-calorie.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Review: The Three Stooges

What could have been a complete disaster turns out to be a half-watchable tribute to the olden days of slapstick comedy. The Farrelly brothers do a passable job of imitating the classic Vaudeville style, nailing the timing, rhythm and outlandishness of the choreographed chaos.

Chris Diamantopoulos and Will Sasso are frighteningly accurate in their resurrections of Moe and Curly. The weak link is Sean Hayes, who overdoes it in his attempt to ape the original, as Larry. Speaking of Larrys, Larry David is also a whiff in his absurdist role as a megalomaniacal nun who stalks the halls of the Stooges' orphanage. He brings very little to the character, serving only as a wink to parents who are lugging their kids along to the carnage.

The gang is good for the usual smattering of ridiculous laughs -- a urine-soaked scene inside a nursery is a high point -- but like the originals, can only sustain the madness for brief periods. I doubt that the giants the movie is imitating would have been able to pull off a feature film that sustained their shorts' level of excellence, and it's far too much to ask the same of these newbies. I hope this is the start of a franchise, but not of feature-length sequels. Just three-minute-long shorts that play as prologues to real comedies.

Friday, April 13, 2012

How To Say Goodbye To A Job You've Loved For 3 Years

Let's say you started blogging for a consumer affairs website in May 2009 or so. You adored the job and relished the chance to go at it every day, dizzy at the massive audience and the power of consumer activists' abilities to Care Bear Stare even the biggest, baddest corporations into cowering fools. But circumstance has forced you to resign and melt away from the site like a Marty McFly photo. In that case, you may feel it's time to type up a farewell post. 

Resist that urge. Nobody likes reading those things. But if you must, keep the following tips in mind: 

* Thank the people who made it possible. Express vague gratitude to the brain trust who transformed the blog from something Gawker was ready to toss on a trash heap into a more professional and relevant media dynamo, and for allowing you to be a part of it. Don't point them out by name so as not to embarrass the deserving, nor enrage those you'd leave out.

* Don't tell them why you're quitting. Explaining your next career move is unbecoming. And besides, it sucks all the mystery and speculation out of the deal. Plus you wouldn't want to take yourself out of the running to become the next Best Buy CEO or University of Arkansas football coach.

* Use the opportunity to tell off angry commenters like you always wanted to. Just kidding. Let them have at you one last time and chuckle at their passion and demented creativity, just as always. 

It should go without saying that you should refrain from promoting your books, blog or Twitter account.

And for the love of blog, be careful how you wrap things up. 

After all, can you think of anything lamer than ending a post with a question?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The 5 Worst Things About Baseball

1. Everyone feels the need to take a break between every single pitch.

2. Pitchers need to warm up every inning.

3. The designated hitter exists.

4. Obese, out-of-shape "athletes" can compete at a similar level of others.

5. The season is 162 games long.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

How To Overcome Procrastination, Once You Get Around To It

It's often appealing to put things off rather than get them over with. You get to avoid responsibility and comfort yourself with rationalizations that you're somehow better off waiting rather than acting. But the way to get ahead is to leap into action while others are convincing themselves it's OK to do nothing.

Fabulously Broke in the City offers a way to overcome the urge to procrastinate, theorizing that boring yourself into action is the key. If you take away alternatives to mundane tasks, they become more attractive, for lack of more appealing options.

Once you find yourself reasonably bored, approach your to-do list and knock off your tasks. The thinking goes that if you condition yourself to accomplish your goals rather than put them off, you'll end up with much more time to do with as you please.

Overcoming Procrastination; I've Finally Found the Secret! [Fabulously Broke in the City]

Friday, April 06, 2012

My Broken Coin Reviews SOASS

My Broken Coin came through with a nice review of Secrets of a Stingy Scoundrel. Here's an excerpt:

Phil has mastered the art of sarcasm to perfection. Secrets of a Stingy Scoundrel is pure entertainment to read.

The book covers almost every aspect of our lives that involves money. You will find money advice on eating, relationships, the household, leisure, entertainment and so on. You name the area of life you want to explore, and I bet you will find at least one money-grabbing guideline in Secrets of a Stingy Scoundrel.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Review: American Reunion

For all American Pie alumni not named Alyson Hannigan, the decision to make yet another unasked-for movie in the series was a no-brainer. It was either that or Celebrity Rehab. So everyone you remember from the original movie and its decreasingly funny sequels is back, including the sad, animatronic approximation of Tara Reid concocted by plastic surgeons and Botox.

It's been nine years since the last American Pie; it only feels like 50. American Reunion seemed practically destined for failure, with its band of burned-out, typecast-and-discarded actors huddling together for the sake of teaming up once again rather than comedic design.

So it's all the more pleasant a surprise that American Reunion is funnier than all other movies in the series combined. Remember that Twilight Zone episode where the old people come out and play kick the can, rediscovering their youth for a little bit as they transform back into little kids? That's sort of what happens here, courtesy of the writing/directing team of Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, the team behind Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay.

All the funnier jokes are disgusting and wrong, which is just as it should be for an American Pie movie. If poop in a beer coolers, sex organs trapped in laptops and obliviously creepy 30-somethings socializing, flirting with and fighting kids half their age aren't funny to you, you'd best steer clear. But if you've defiantly not allowed yourself to mature a bit since 1999, American Reunion will be your happy place.

Everything that has to click into place does just that. Jason Biggs carries the film with his hapless klutz schtick and Seann William Scott is more outrageous than ever as a gleefully idiotic manchild who doubles as someone who would be a terrifying sexual predator if he weren't so obviously a screenwriting construct. Everyone else is a bit player who stays out of the way for the most part, stepping in when necessary to claim stray punchlines while filling out a convincing rapport with the band of long-lost buddies.

So many comedies start off with an insanely funny first 15 minutes or half hour, only to die out, setting up a contrived crisis, solving it humorlessly and calling it a day. But not this one. I was sure American Reunion wouldn't maintain its momentum after its start, but it never fell off. Like a blackjack player who inexplicably keeps hitting winning hands despite all odds, the movie pushes farther and farther, letting the ridiculousness of its characters crowd out the insignificant plotlines.

Somehow, there's even something resembling a heart to the riotous proceedings. Each character is dealing with some sort of midlife crisis and relationship problem -- sexless marriages, rehashed high school flings, dead-end careers -- and the filmmakers spin their insecurities and failures into comic gold. The movie heedlessly telegraphs its payoffs, builds up to them in a comedic avalanche, then makes you feel as though you're a part of it when it hits.

During the end credits, pangs of nostalgia follow the laughs in a bittersweet chaser. We see current shots of each actor juxtaposed with their bright-eyed 1999 versions. They were all impossibly young. So were we.

Starring Jason Biggs, Seann William Scott, Alyson Hannigan, Tara Reid, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Mena Suvari, Chris Klein, Eddie Kaye Thomas and Eugene Levy. Written by and Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, with characters by Adam Herz. Directed by Hurwitz and Schlossberg. Rated R. 113 minutes.

My novel, Stormin' Mormon, is available as a Kindle book for $1.