The Friday Hot Sheet

I have a doubt.
Perhaps not so much a doubt as a quiet concern. Recently I was informed that I would be switching managers at my job. See, my actual real boss is the head honcho of the operations division of our company, a job that requires him to constantly travel and oversee all sorts of really important things. So in an effort to provide me with some form of oversight that I could actually see, report to, and go to if I ever needed help -- my boss sort of assigned me to be under one of his department heads as a sort of "surrogate boss."

The guy I first got is pretty much my age, very busy in his own right, and in a completely different building from where I work. He's also extremely laid back, more of a "hands off" type of manager (which I prefer) and has sort of a sense of humor about the fact that he's in charge of me despite hardly knowing what I do at all but understanding full well that it has next to nothing to do with his department.

What all that means is that when I first met him he was like, "There's really no reason for you to come to most of our team meetings, since you aren't working on the things my team does. You and I will have a regular face to face once in a while -- but you seem to be pretty self-reliant as it is. So as long as you don't screw up royally or need anything fixed, I see no need to keep tabs on you every single second of the day."
This worked really well for me.
My new boss has a status meeting every morning at 8:30 am. And he wants me there. Being used to my old fake boss, I almost let out a sarcastic laugh when I first heard about this.
But apparently he's serious.
I know for a lot of you 8:30 is like when your first break happens after showing up to work at the ass-crack of dawn, but I'm more of a Jeff Spicoli type of morning employee, preferring to show up on a slightly more um ..fluid time schedule. I do quality work, I don't need to be shown what do to -- and for a while now I've been rewarded for this by not being tied to certain time restraints or earmarks. Not that I can't understand the value of such things, but that my job isn't really the kind of gig that benefits either way by the computer being on right at 8am. I'm usually better showing up casually and then staying later to hit the grindstone when others are already gone.

Next week marks the beginning of me having to be there at a certain time, and while I recognize the importance and the possible consequences of this ritual, getting out the door like that on what is essentially a lifestyle change has got me a little worried. I'll do what I have to do to keep what is really a pretty good job, but I know myself well enough to know that there might be a few bumps along the way.
So before I turn off all the lights and go to sleep at noon to ensure that I'll show up to work on
time Monday Morning -- here are this week’s risers and fallers, and the buzz as it looks from here..
World Cup SoccerI feel like this subject is really played out. America hates soccer, doesn't even have the decency to call it by it's real name, and has no appreciation for the World Cup blah blah blabbity blah. It's a subject I've written about extensively in the past -- but the argument never really changes. And in the end, I think really that's what's so exhausting about it.

Look -- it's not that the World Cup doesn't have the potential to be an exciting event, or that soccer is somehow too deep for most American fans to grasp. It's not even that fans in this country are so ingrained into their love for high-scoring, stop-and-start action, high physical contact styled sports that we aren't patient enough to appreciate the artistry happening on the field.
It's the annoying attitude that gets thrown at sports fans in this country for not
instantly loving World Cup Football just because it's the worlds favorite game.
I'm sorry everybody else in the world, international soccer is boring to watch on live TV. Yes there are hunky guys playing the games and the occasional hottie in the stands (which, btw is the lamest argument anyone could ever use to try to get you to watch it. Watching a sport because you want to see sexy people is essentially the equivalent of watching porn hoping for romance. Sure you might find it now and then, but guess what you have to sit through along the way?) -- but the pacing of the game seems so haphazard when seen on the small screen that it's hard to get a real perspective on just how much tension is or isn't happening between the opposing teams that are actually playing the game.

Soccer is exciting on the field. All of the things that make it great -- the creativity, the fluid style of play, the agility and focus that it takes for the great players to make the jaw-dropping plays that they make -- all of that happens where the ball touches the grass.
And yet -- for some reason International soccer matches
almost always seem to be broadcast using wide angle shots.
I think it's so you can see the play developing as it happens, but unfortunately the result is that it always kinda looks like there's 5 guys just standing still on a huge grass field while one guy sorta goofs around with the ball 50-60 yards away from the net he's supposed to be attacking. In other words, because of the way the games are broadcast, there's very little individual context apparent to the casual viewer. All that fancy footwork seems like wasted time.

It's not that the sport is too slow --- it's that the action going on isn't visually presented in a way that TV viewers can connect to. As a result, World Cup soccer matches rarely seem to have a point for the uninitiated unless there's an actual chance on goal.

It's a combination that makes for dull sports television -- mainly (I think) because even the announcers aren't able to deduce how a given play is developing until after it actually happens -- so they're always sort of waiting for something to talk about (or worse, trying to generate excitement out of things that have little or no value to the game as a whole).
You watch club matches from England or Italy, and there's a sort of snarl. You can sort of sense rivalries. You notice the tension. World cup soccer (at least to me) rarely has that. Sure there are international rivalries, but where are the individual subtexts? Where are the victories of the moment?

I would love it if the Americans could pull off a big run. But it's a snowballs chance in hell. And once they're out of it -- what do I have to hold onto as a casual viewer? Especially with the South Africans blowing those damn horns non-stop during every single second of the game?
The Karate Kid The Will Smith/Jada Pinkett financed remake of the 80's classic opens this weekend, marking the first real starring vehicle for their son Jaden. There's been a lot of hype surrounding this one, partially because of the names involved -- but also because unlike a lot of remakes of 80's films that have come out in the past few years, this is really more of a sacred cow than some of the other things Hollywood has tried to resurrect in the name of a quick buck.

It's one thing to make a movie based on a TV show like The A-Team -- something that never had a movie treatment before -- but the love people have for the Karate Kid is in many ways unique. The 1984 original is an iconic film from that era -- which is sorta weird when you think about it -- because the whole idea of "a reluctant older mentor teaches the brash and impatient young student a skill that in turn brings them together as friends and teaches them something special about their own lives" genre is one of the most standard plots in all of Hollywood.

Half the movies that come out every year are essentially the same sort of story as The Karate Kid, -- except that instead of karate it's boxing, or bowling, or talking to girls, or using a lightsaber, or whatever.

Which in a lot of ways is what made the original Karate Kid so special. For such a lame run-of-the-mill plot premise of a movie starring some barely known teenage heartthrob and a guy who was best known for playing Arnold on Happy Days, the success of The Karate Kid is a testament to the performances they gave, and really -- the heart that the film exuded to audiences even though everyone who watches it knows exactly how it's going to end.

So to milk that sentiment just to kick start the career of a celebrity kid who never had to slog it out in summer stock or act like he loved eating McDonald's fries in commercials initially comes off as a little condescending. And yet, the buzz surrounding this film is huge. Would it just be a hack remake? Would it stain the legacy of the original by turning the whole thing into an overblown action film?
Fortunately, the answer is no.
The story uses a similar frame to the original, but really only as a reference. The familiar ideas of a family that moves to a new place and a kid who angers a local bully after flirting with a girl are all there -- but moving the setting to China helps change this into more of a traditional Kung-Fu story than any kind of rich kid versus poor outsider sort of thing.

In reality, the film is essentially our introduction to Jaden Smith as a lead actor. And he's a charming kid -- a lot (possibly too much) like his dad. What I mean by that is that there are moments when he acts so much like Will Smith that you sort of start to blur the lines between your affinity for the father and project it onto the child -- especially when he's turning on the charm in the non-action scenes. It works mostly in Jaden Smith's favor here, but it's the sort of thing that could wear thin in a few years -- especially if they should decide to do another movie together and we end up with some sort of "Dueling Fresh Princes" scenario.

Fortunately, where the movie really shines is the surprisingly nuanced performance by Jackie Chan as Mr. Han -- essentially the Mr. Miyagi role. Chan is of course an accomplished action superstar, which creates to me what is the most interesting division between this new one and the original.

Essentially in the original, Pat Morita's Mr. Miyagi doesn't seem like the kind of guy who knows much in the way of fighting skills. Even though he fends off a few bullies early in the film -- his age makes him seem kinda feeble. Then when he starts teaching Daniel-san by making him fix his fence and wax-on, wax-off his car it seems like the old man's just bullshitting him in order to get some free labor to finish his garden with.

Even after the realization is made that there are karate fundamentals being taught in the chores that Myagi is making Daniel-San do, you still get the sense that the majority of the karate skill development happening is taking place on Ralph Macchio's part under the supportive encouragement of Myagi. Simply put, the original version is really a story about a kid growing up and becoming a young man by facing a challenge.

But here we have Jackie friggin Chan as the teacher. You know the guy knows his stuff. So the change from repeating what seems like menial tasks into kung-fu skills comes off a lot better here. Or perhaps better said -- the audience has a better feel for the "growth" that Jaden Smith undergoes, and in a lot of ways it builds the connection a different way -- because as an audience, we know that Jackie Chan knows what he's doing as a teacher, so the film is essentially watching the journey that Jaden Smith takes to figure it all out.

Perhaps because Jaden Smith is so babyfaced, but largely because of the way the story is told -- his character is in many ways still a kid when everything's said and done, just one who's life has been enriched by his specific journey and experiences learning Kung-Fu from Jackie Chan.

Above all that are fight scenes that are not only well choreographed, but believably brutal as well. Stuff looks like it hurts in this movie, which makes the bad guys seem badder and the eventual ending seem that much more of a sweeping moment for everyone.

My only real complaint about the film was the utterly played out practice of having hand-held shaky perspectives as part of the quick-cut camera style they use to film the fight scenes. Remember all the one-on-one fights Matt Damon had in the Bourne series? It's a lot like that. You can tell something is happening, but you can't always see what it is. And compared to the inviting wide angles that are used for the rest of the film, those shots get to be annoying after a while.

It's not a perfect movie by any means -- but it's a fun ride, and it really does a nice job of presenting China as both a place of natural beauty and strict cultural beliefs without being too condescending along the way.

But best of all, even though there's no Billy Zabka or Cobra Kai here (which I thought might be a problem) -- the villain in this film is a dick. It takes a lot (even in a movie) for a little kid to make you want to see him get kicked in the face, but the baddie in this film pulls it off with flair. Oh man did my son hate that guy while we were watching this.
Banlieue 13If you're looking for a fun little action film to spend an afternoon at home with -- check your NetFlix for something called District 13. Lots of movies try to use the first 15 minutes to grab an audiences attention with an action sequence, but this film totally nails it. Especially the way they use Parkour.

If you're not familiar, Parkour is that free-running thing you see where guys climb over walls and essentially climb buildings without ropes that has shown up in James Bond movies and most recently in that Prince of Persia movie no one saw. Well if you like that, you're gonna love this movie -- because one of the stars is the guy who invented it.

The version I saw was all in French, which means you have to read subtitles to follow along -- but the characters are are so much fun that it's almost like you really don't care what the story is (which is good, because like a lot of action films the premise is kinda retarded).

A quick note here for the ladies reading this who usually don't get into action movies -- alongside the high-speed chases, hand-to-hand fighting, and video game style boss battles that make this a great film for guys -- this movie is also loaded with the kind of actors that suggest that even in a crime-ridden future, there are apparently no ugly men in France, and even the ones who might qualify as less than hot speak with an accent -- so it's sorta game on anyways. Simply put, it's got a little bit of something for everybody.
Trouble Hunters  It's the weekend -- time to cut a little loose and do the things you can't usually get away with during the week. Sure you've spent the last five days chasing down paperwork vampires and fighting off all those zombies who work the customer service phones at the financial aid offices, but now it's time to take some time for yourself. All you really need is a place to go, some good friends to hang with and a rousing anthem to get you on your way.
..You know we're right.

[Listening to:  Rufus - "Tell Me Something Good" ]


JerseySjov said…
im more than familiar with parcour. the idiots i hang out with like to yell "hardcore parcour!" and then jump over obstacles [usually playground equipment or oth], especially after a few drinks. they know full well that's not really what it means, but they don't care.

i was a little worried that the new karate kid was going to suck, since there's a lot of pressure that comes with a remake/reboot of something like that, so im glad it got at least one good review!
JerseySjov said…
*that should say "other idiots" not just "oth" whoops
Satorical said…
Ebert loved the Karate Kid, which means I'll rent it.

The World Cup is like the baseball postseason to me: it's when I actually get interested.

Glad you saw D13, which was a ton of fun. The sequel is not nearly as good, in part because there's not as much parkour, in other part because of a ridiculous SuperFriends approach to the film's climax.

TroubleHunters is a perfect college song.

Godspeed on being on time for every 8:30 meeting. If that's the only real requirement your new boss has, you're a lucky man.
A co-worker of mine recently got fired because she kept coming into work "so late".

The time she usually got it? 8:30 am.