Archive for June, 2010

28
Jun
10

When Tom Cruise acts his age, audiences will return

I don’t make it a point to criticize celebrities very often, even though they often say and do dumb things. So a few years back when Tom Cruise had some of his more famous melt-downs and garnered national admonishment for it, I didn’t say a peep. The sad truth is that as whacky as Tom Cruise is he is actually pretty normal for the average Hollywood celebrity. His marriage to Nicole Kidman lasted well over a decade, and it seems he is in a good and stable relationship now with actress Katie Holmes.

Regardless of Tom Cruise personal triumphs and tragedies, I only concern myself with what I see on the screen or if an actors life effects what they do on the screen. Tom Cruise the human being may be a wreck, but Tom Cruise the actor most certainly is.

If you haven’t heard the news the latest Tom Cruise flick “Knight and Day” tanked at the box office, earning just 20 million despite a heavy ad campaign and a five day weekend ( the film opened on Wednesday).  What bothers me most about this is that many younger filmgoers will only know Tom Cruise as an embarrasment and not the bona fide star he once was.

Tom Cruise is 47, soon to be 48, but you wouldn’t know it from his recent plastic surgery. It looks as if Tom Cruise has had his teeth capped, his face lifted, botox for his eyes, possibly hair plugs, and is obviously working out non stop and tanning non stop to maintain his 1985 image. Tom Cruise desperately wants to be the Tom Cruise from Top Gun, Cocktail, and the Color of Money. But hey Tom, let me clue you in on something: It’s over.

When Tom Cruise made The Color of Money in 1986 with actor Paul Newman, many people felt his career would roughly paralell that of Newman’s, who was a mentor for the young actor. Like Paul Newman the Tom Cruise of the 80’s was impossibly good looking, and charming beyond belief. Both men had a smile that melted women’s hearts and piercing blue eyes. Both men were short, and half-jewish, but seemed larger than life on screen. They were both married to knockout blonde actresses and had success at a relatively young age. But most importantly both actors took risks in their careers in order to shake their pretty boy image.

Paul Newman took risky roles like The Hustler and Cool Hand Luke, and Tom Cruise did the same in Born on the Fourth of July and Rainman. Tom Cruise, like Newman, also knew how to use his good looks and charm to play against type such as the naively vulnerable Vinny in The Color of Money, and the egocentric failure of a man in Jerry Maguire, who slowly realizes just what a joke his life has been.

But what set Paul Newman apart from other great actors of his generation was his ablity to age gracefully and have a sense of humor about the whole thing. In the Towering Inferno, Newman was cast opposite Steve McQueen, but rather than balk at the role, or try to steal every sex scene from the up and comer, Newman gracefully played an older, more vulnerable hero who was willing to let the young stud actor take the bigger moments from him. Newman did the same thing when he worked with Robert Redford, an actor so handsome that few male contemporaries were willing to share screentime with him. In both cases, Newman’s subdued performances not only made his co-stars look good, but reminded audiences of why Newman was just so cool to begin with. Newman didn’t have to look good to look good. Audience loved him the same way every time.

Newman was able to continue this tradition throuhghout his life, earning oscar nominations in his sixties for The Verdict, and The Color of Money, and two in his seventies forNobodies Fool and Road to Perdition. Growing old never hurt Newman, and Tom Cruise could learn a lesson from this.

It seemed as if Cruise understood his place in Hollywood when he agreed to take smaller parts in films like Magnolia, or his comic turn in Tropic Thunder, or his willingness to go darker in Collateral, but lately that hasn’t been enough for Cruise. Not satisfied with more mature roles that require real acting (and less pay) Tom wants to be a box office king again and demands top billing in such overblown thrillers as Mission Impossible 3 and now Knight and Day.

Their something sad and pathetic about grown men who don’t know how to act their age. Their is nothing wrong with being 50. Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart made good films throughout their fifties, but they usually played older, family men with vulnerabilty. They weren’t handsome young studs anymore.

Tom Cruise has many ardent fans, and I am one of them. It is impossible for the people of my generation to forget about what Tom Cruise once was. He was a bigger star for a longer period of time than just about anybody who worked in the industry. John Wayne is the only other actor that comes to mind who stayed on top as long. So Cruise’s fans will always be there for him, but not when he makes bad movies or continues to look and act like a 23 year old kid.

It is time for Tom Cruise to grow up. When he does the audiences and the fame he so craves, will return.

Sincerely,

Jack B.

24
Jun
10

Not crazy about Gold, or Gold Investment companies

It seems that every time I turn on the television these days I can’t escape watching another commercial for a gold investment company. If you watch Fox News in particular you might be inundated with anywhere from one to three gold investment commercials per hour, depending on the programming. Whether it is Goldline or Rosland-Capital it seems there are a lot of companies vying for your hard earned dollars with the promise of turning that flimsy money into someting of real value: Gold!

You may wonder why all of these Gold Investment firms have popped up in recent years. The main reason is fear. Gold Investment firms are praying on people who have money by convincing them that the declining U.S. economy will not hold up in the long term and that investing some or most of your money in gold offers you real security. Please do the right thing and don’t give in to your fears. The real truth is that Gold investment is by and large a fraud perpetrated on uneducated consumers.

I should say at the outset that I am not an investment banker. I have some experience investing in a Savings account and short-term bonds but I don’t claim to be an investment expert. But that doesn’t mean I don’t know my  history or a sham when I see one.

The buzz word in investing these days is “diversify” as in diversify your portfolio. The idea is that if you don’t have all of your money in one place you won’t lose it all if one form of investment goes belly up. But diversifying actually runs counter to the idea of investment in the first place. If your goal is to beat inflation then your money needs to be in an area with huge potential gains. In fact now is a good time to invest in the market because the market is down and stands to go up. It stands to reason that the more people invest in gold in a bad economy it will only drive down the price of gold in the short term. You must also keep in mind that no one in the world market is really investing in actual gold anyway. The U.S. currency has value that the IMF and other regulators give it. Gold may retain value if the American economy collapses but under that scenario what will you sell it for? If Gold doesn’t have value in the U.S. market and you are a U.S. citizen then it has no value.

You must also keep in mind that Gold investment firms usually do not sell you real gold anyway. They sell you Gold Bonds or certificates that hold the place of gold. But these bonds aren’t necessarily backed by the government and if these investment firms falter you may get nothing for your investment. Even if a gold company sells you real gold they will sell it above market value in order to make a profit. You would be better off in most cases shopping on Amazon for rare comic books and antiques.

In the 1880’s President Cleveland sought to improve the U.S. economy by selling U.S. bonds backed by gold. The problem was that the bonds sold were so expensive that only the wealthiest americans could buy them and soon J.P. Morgan and other investors owned most of the U.S. treasury. The U.S. government responded by printing more money, selling more bonds, and eventually taking us off the gold standard completely. One lesson from this is that the U.S. market can offset the value of gold and has done so previously. Even in gold investing their are no sure things.

It is not easy to sell gold quickly and for a good price. And you can’t go out and spend it or buy a house with it or invest it quickly in another asset. It is true that gold will always have some value. Like silver or diamonds, assets that take time and energy to mine are rare and thereby worth something to most people. But few Americans can afford to buy enough gold to really invest for the future, particularly if the market crashes.

I know the U.S. isn’t doing so hot right now, but trusting in the American economy long term is still the best way to go. Gold investment firms are praying on people’s fears so that they can make a profit for them, not you. 

Something to think about,

Jack B.

09
Jun
10

Don, Dex, Walter White, and How Television Reclaimed Masculinity

Okay, so an Ad Man, a serial killer and a meth dealer walk into a bar… alright, I don’t have a good joke to go with this set-up but seriously there is something unique, and yet strikingly simmilar about three characters found on t.v. right now. Don Draper, Walter White, and Dexter Morgan, the protagonists for Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and Dexter respectively are all decidedly masculine characters, and I don’t think I realized until just the other day that this is really key to driving these show’s success.

The most successful shows on television are pushing the envelope more and more these days. HBO’s True Blood and the very masculine Hung are other examples, but I don’t think it is the nudity, the violence, or the exremism found in these shows protagonists that accounts for their success. What all of these shows have in common, and something that few shows in recent years had going for them is a strong male lead, and a decidedly masculine point of view.

In the T.V. show Dexter Michael C. Hall plays a nebbish, lab-rat working inside Miami’s homicide department by day and ridding the town of killers by nights. Dexter is a serial killer who only kills other killers (or mostly does). Hall’s performance in Dexter is brilliant, not unlike his performance as David on Six Feet Under. Dexter is not your normal guy of course. In many ways he is an evil and horrible person. Yet Dexter’s attitudes towards his career and his family are representative of traditional male values. Dexter works hard, tries to fit in and help out with his co-workers and community, and loves his wife and kids (although not as much as he loves killing people). If Dexter were not a killer he would be almost the idea family man, and a role model for other young men to look up to. It is also true that in Dexter the leading male character has all the power and makes all the critical decisions. Dexter has held the lives of his sister, his wife, and his co-workers in his capable hands, and it his decisions, good and bad, that drive the show.

In Mad Men we have a slightly less idealized version of what masculinity entails, but a male perspective never-the-less. Don Draper, and to a lesser extent his male cohorts at Sterling Cooper are the kings of their domain, and they have the freedom and luxury of behaving however they want. In most dramas and sitcoms men are beholden to their wifes and family, but not in Mad Men. Don Draper is a serial liar, a man who cheats on his wife regularly, hides his entire past from his family, and yet… feels fine about all this. Draper never begs his wife for forgiveness, he never shows remorse for all the terrible things he does. Draper is the embodiment of  a post-war mindset that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Draper is hardly the ideal role model, but their is a rugged determinism about him that makes him very appealing to both men (and definately women) alike. In Mad Men it is the men who rule the roost, and this is very different than what you will see on most television shows. I think this explains why Mad Men has brought in such a large male demographic of viewers. Most men can’t (or shouldn’t) behave the way that Don does, but it is fun to see him doing it…

In Breaking Bad Walter White (played briliantly by Bryan Cranston) learns he has cancer and may not have long to live. In order to support his family and pay his medical bills he uses one skill he has (chemistry) to manufacture and sell methamphetamine. The consequences of his actions lead to a downward spiral of death and destruction, but in the short term the reason why we root for Walter is because most men can empathize with him.

Walter’s wife is a control freak who monitors her husbands spending, tells him when to be home and what to eat, and controls their family dynamic. His boss at his second job does not respect him and he is embarrased that many of his colleagues from college have gone on to bigger and better things while he is stuck teaching chemistry. When Walter decides to “break bad” all of this changes. All of the sudden Walter claims the positions of power he feels were denied him. He makes more money than his peers, he is feared and respected, and even his wife is pleased with his new-found attitude and dignity.

Walter is a classic example of the everyman who one day wakes up and lashes out. The reason why we support Walter is that many men feel disabled, impotent, just like him. When Walter reclaims his masculinity we hope that we too might do the same (though maybe not in such extreme ways.)

What has made these shows unique and made television so successful is the attempt to reconnect audiences with strong male protagonists, something that was lacking in television and film for years. It is not that Walter, Dex, and Don are perfect men (far from it) but the fact that they are men that makes them special. Real men aren’t always in touch with their feelings, they don’t look like Brad Pitt, and they aren’t always home for dinner on time. Real men are men precisely because they are flawed but don’t apologize for it.

I don’t know where these shows are heading, but male themed shows seem to be on the rise in both availability and popularity. HBO’s Hung which debuted last summer is another example of this. I for one look forward to this new point of view. It is okay now for men to reconnect with their masculinity. T.V. has brought the alpha male back, and it’s about damn time.

Sincerely,

Jack B.