Jay Drezner - Just trying to keep up with my much more famous brother
Monday, July 11, 2005
  This Blog Must Die All good things come to an end, and more accurately, most bad things end even quicker. Using that theory, I have decided that it is time to end my blog in a blaze of glory (OK, more like a little whimper).

Why make such a decision? My rationale is as follows:

1) As we're approaching my birthday, and coincidentally, the second anniversary of my blog's creation, I realize that my frequency of posting has become more and more sparse, to the point where blogger doesn't even remember me when I go to it (I guess those cookies must expire at some point).

2) I haven't been able to see as many movies as I've wanted to recently, and despite the fact that I've actually seen Revenge of the Sith, Mr. & Mrs Smith and Cinderella Man all in the past month or so, this onslaught of free time is about to end. I'd rather watch two movies than see one and spending the time to write a review on it.

3) I'm taking on a new job within my firm, hence the ending of free time.

4) In the end, I feel like the benefit of having this blog was outweighed by the costs of maintaining it, so like any rational business person, I'm canceling the project.

I'd like to thank my much more famous bother Dan for his birthday gift from 2 years ago. It provided me a lot more enjoyment for far longer than I ever thought. And to any and all who ever came to read my little musings, I hope you felt it was worth your time.

Take care all. For all my friends overseas and elsewhere, you know how to get in touch with me.
Tuesday, May 24, 2005
  Sabbatical Well, for those who have visited in the past several months and were wondering why I wasn't posting anything, there are several possible theories:

1) I've given up on seeing movies
2) I've given up on blogging
3) I've been stuck under something very heavy with no access to the Internet

And the answer? A bit of all three, but mostly #3. What was I stuck under you wonder? That would be my wedding to the wonderful Pamela Devon, now Pamela Drezner. While we were planning the big event, we basically didn't go out to see any movies and I certainly didn't have the chance to post on the blog.

Now that we're back from our amazing honeymoon, I'm hoping to post a bit more often, mostly because I'm hoping to get out there and see all the upcoming Summer Big Budget Movies (starting with Revenge of the Sith). 
Monday, March 28, 2005
  Robots It's been a while since I've seen my last movie. I think that has more to do with the quality of offerings out there rather than our lack of time. Also, between Pam and I, there are certain genres which we likely will never see in the theatre due to one of us casting a veto on the selection (i.e. Pam and war movies, me and depressing dramas). However, both Pam and I agreed that seeing Robots was a good idea. We both like animated films with adult underpinnings (i.e. Shrek, The Incredibles, etc) and thought this would follow in that theme. So here's the review.

1) Pet Peeve (if any) - This one is easy. Pretty much all of the kids movies I had seen before were in Chicago (Finding Nemo, The Incredibles) with my nephew or elsewhere, but never in New York. We always went to a matinee showing because we never wanted to keep the kids out too late (i.e. past dinner time / bedtime, etc). Therefore, Pam and I went to a 7:00pm Sunday evening showing of Robots on the Upper West Side, thinking there wouldn't be too many kids given how late / in the middle of dinnertime it was. Not that we don't like kids mind you, its just that its a lot easier to watch a movie without a bunch of two to four year olds screaming out the lines that were just said or asking their parents why something just happened in that really loud "I don't know what it means to be discreet yet" voice. Well, let me tell you, I think Manhattan is a slightly different market than most, since not only were there a ton of young kids in the audience for this Sunday night movie, but even as we were leaving the theatre, we saw all the people in line for the 9:00pm showing and there were a ton of kids in that line too! The people in front of me in the movie ticket line were with two kids (the younger one was one and a half years old) and they got tickets to see The Ring 2! What parent thinks its a good idea to take your little toddler to a horror movie?

2) Plot Line - Didn't know anything about the plot line of Robots before I saw it, I didn't even see any real previews, and in retrospect, that may have been a mistake. I just assumed it would be as witty / engaging as most other recent animated films. I was wrong. The concept, a world entirely populated by robots which seems to have no government and only one manufacturing company, seems excessively narrowminded and unimaginative, as if the writers tried to create a setting that would fir their plot line. The plot line itself, invoking the little guys against the evil corporation who is trying to maximize profits (think The Insider, A Civil Action, Robocop), always gets a bit tired for me given my profession, but I suppose is good enough to build on. In a way, the film even touches on such sensitive issues as euthanasia (i.e. when is a robot too old to fix?) which I'm sure made this movie a big hit with right to lifers (hint: the answer seems to be "Never"). Only problem was that most of the characters were not compelling enough to really care about and therefore there were really no feelings of concern. I've read elsewhere that the original movie was supposed to be 20 minutes longer than it actually was but was cut down by the studio. This could explain the lack of character development outside of Rodney Copperbottom.

3) Special effects - The animation was very good as usual. Nothing stood out in particular as being special or poor. Solid job here.

4) Actor performances - Always difficult to do in an animated film since everything is done by voice. Most of the critiques here are probably meant for the writers as opposed to the actors (although I have been under the impression that some actors have certain script control over their characters). The cast of the movie is absolutely stacked, filled with heavy hitters like Ewan McGregor, Robin Williams, Halle Berry, Jennifer Coolidge, Dianne Weist, Stanley Tucci, Paul Giamiatti, Dan Hedaya, James Earl Jones, Greg Kinnear Jim Broadbent, Amanda Bynes and Mel Brooks. There are also a lot of cameos that you would never notice by such notables as Jay Leno, Terry Bradshaw, Al Roker and Paula Abdul. The only thing I will pick on is the voice performance of McGregor (who I normally am a huge fan of) but I don't understand why they kept Ewan's light Scottish accent for Rodney as an adult, particularly as his parents didn't evince any tones of that and neither did the actors playing the voices of Rodney as a younger child.

5) Music - Music was OK but was mostly background as opposed to other animated films where music took a much larger place in the film (i.e. almost any Disney flick, most of the Pixar stuff as well). A little bit of a disappointment compared to other animated films.

Overall, to critique the movie well, we needed another category which would have been called "writing" because that's where I thought this movie fell over. Across the board on the other categories (plot, actors, music, etc) I thought the movie was a slight disappointment to what may have been very high expectations. However, where things fell over the most was in the writing which created a movie that was not particularly compelling, left very little room for character development (apart from Rodney) and didn't have particularly good jokes. In my opinion, not worth the $10+ for a first-run viewing for adults or kids. You'd be better off putting your hard-earned bucks into something else 
Thursday, January 06, 2005
  Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason I know it's been an entire month since my last post. In fact, this movie was one I saw around a month ago but just didn't have the attention span to post the review until just now (plus I deleted my entry twice!). In the next several weeks, I'm going to be doing a bit of blog soul searching and try to decide if this medium is something I'd like to continue putting effort into. While I really enjoy the writing (and hope somebody enjoys the reading), I'm not sure with all of the other stuff I'm supposed to be planning (i.e. wedding, apartment renovations, etc) if this is the best use of my time. More to come later.

1) Pet Peeve (if any) - It needs to be brought up right away. Renee Zellweger went a bit too far in the weight gain department for this sequel. Given the timeframe is around four weeks after the conclusion of the first Bridget Jones (or after over 90 wonderful shags according to the voice over), all I can conclude is that those shags were exceptionally short and non-athletic in nature because it looks like Bridget put on an additional 10-20 pounds and almost all of it went to her neck and chest. In the first Bridget, which it is impossible not to compare this movie to, Zellweger was cute and slightly overweight but in no way fat, at least the way I identify it. In this sequel, Jones loses the cute factor and replaces it with a more noticeable bosom and looks like a fat girl trying to fit into her clothing from 10 years ago, or maybe in this case, four weeks ago. FYI, this is no way an indictment of Renee Zellweger or the way she looks. I'm still a huge fan despite this slightly over-pudgy appearance and her more recent Goth look.

2) Plot Line - I must excuse myself for not having read the book on which this sequel is based (not did I read the original). From what I have heard, the movie goes off-plot in several place (like the inclusion of a certain sex-crazed former boss) and an extended weekend skiing trip. Regardless, the plotline of the sequel does not compare well to the original. The twists are often forced (SPOILER: like the way in which Bridget and Mark manage to initially split themselves up and how Daniel Cleaver and Bridget end up back together SPOILER OVER). Perhaps the most disappointing part of the plot was the movie's tendency to go for the easy laugh at the expense of a more involved and humorous film. After all, there should have been plenty of material to work with but having Brdget make an ass out of herself in front of various grovernment officials was just too easy and seemed to be targeted to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Not that LCD humor can't be funny or good, it's just a disappointment coming off the original Bridget Jones movie.

3) Special Effects - Completely irrelevant to this kind of movie. Only thing of note is how they managed to squeeze Zellweger into some of the dresses she wore in this movie many of which had various parts of her anatomy spilling out. Don't know if that was special effects or just plain bad sizing, but it was impressive.

4) Actor Performances - Quickly said since this is the second time I've tried to write this (yes, once again I managed to delete my entire post), I though the actor performances were a bit wodden and typecast. In particular, Colin Firth, who I normally am a big fan of, seemed to go over the top to stick to the wet blanket Mark Darcy role which I thought was inappropriate given where the last movie ended. As for Hugh Grant, this article may give you a sense of where his mind is at. His performance seemed to be almost completely impromptu and off the cuff but then again, that could be the mark of an amazing actor. As for Renee, aside from the fat neck thing which I assume was a bit out of her control (who makes that kind of decision anyways?), I can't complain about her. She's too cute.

5) Musical Score - Two points of view here. Immediately after seeing the movie, my friend Sue remarked about how much she enjoyed the music and didn't I agree? A couple of days later, someone else who I don't remember casually mentioned to me how much they didn't like the music in Bridget Jones 2. So what's the real answer? To help jog my memory, I bought the CD for the soundtrack and gave it to my fiancee for Christmas (I'm so sweet, I know). Quick conclusion is that there are several tracks which are quite enjoyable (Beyonce feat JayZ's Crazy in Love, Mary J Blige's remake of Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word, Kylie Minogue, etc). However, there is one significant exception to this and it is found in Track 16, Minnie Riperton's remake (?) of Loving You. This one track poisons the rest of the CD to the point where, if you've listened to the whole thing, the only sound you remember is the scarily high trills of Minnie. A very sane friend of mine who heard it was almost driven into a murderous rage. It's that bad.

So that's it. Fun movie but went for the lowball humor. Probably not worth more than $10 to see (movie tickets in NYC has finally topped the $10 mark!) but would do for a video or pay per view rental. 
  Why Be on a Board Part 2 This isn't a movie (sure sounds like it would be a boring one though, doesn't it?). This is a follow-up to a post I wrote well over a year ago entitled, Why Be on a Board?

In the original posting, I questioned the worth of serving as an Independent Director on the Board of a for-profit listed company and doubted the worth of it versus the risks / costs. Specifically, I mentioned the risk of liability and how while some of it would likely be covered by Directors & Officers insurance (commonly called D&O insurance), it was possible that not all of it would be.

Damn, I'm smart. Today in the news, 10 ex-Directors of Worldcom are being forced to pay in aggregate $18 million dollars out of their own pocket to a class action suit by investors. There are a couple of perspective on this from the article in the New York Times.
Yesterday's settlement is a disturbing precedent for directors, whose duties to look after shareholders' interests have come under harsh scrutiny in the three years since the failure of Enron.

That's one way of looking at it. Here's another:
"New York State has done a great thing for shareholders everywhere," said Greg Taxin, chief executive of Glass Lewis, an institutional investor advisory service in San Francisco. "This may be one of the most important steps toward reinforcing the importance of performing the directorship duties with fidelity toward shareholders. It's going to be very sobering to board members around the country."

In another quote:
If there ever was a case where directors should reach into their own pockets, this is it," said Nell Minow, editor at the Corporate Library, an independent research firm specializing in corporate governance. "What I hope this is a harbinger of is the greater pursuit of justice in whatever form by plaintiffs with a significant amount at stake and the obligation of fiduciaries."

I suppose it all depends on how you look at the responsibility of the Directors and what they were actually being charged with. From the article, it seems like the two most egregious examples of breach of fiduciary duty were

1) The massive accounting fraud at Worldcom where $4 billion in expenses were reclassified as capital expenditure to inflate near-term earnings; and
2) Lending Bernie Ebbers $408 million in corporate funds to cover a margin call made on Ebber's WorldCom stock when it was starting to slide.

What I'm not sure of is what the actual charges against the Directors consisted of and whether there was more than this. However, assuming these were the only two charges, I'd hope that #2 was the tripping point and not #1. I've said this before as well, but I believe it is unrealistic to expect any Board member to replace the external and internal audit functions (which is who I believe should have caught the fraud at WorldCom). The exact purpose of the internal audit and external audit function is to ensure the accuracy of reporting and Directors rely upon this work. If they could not rely upon such work, what's the other option, investigating all accounts on their own? These are Directors, not auditors or employees. They are supposed to provide corporate governance, not private detective and nanny services. Even in the case of giving an executive a corporate loan, it should be clear that to do so is not an illegal action in and of itself. There are a lot of public corporations out there who have made loans to executives and it's a perfectly legal tactic to attract better corporate talent. True, in the case of WorldCom, the dollar figures involved are fairly significant, but if at the time you believed that WorldCom's future was inextricably tied to Bernie Ebbers, then as a Board member isn't it understandable that you would vote for such an action? Would I have done the same? Maybe not but, to be clear, I believe that it's a business decision made by the Board, not a question of legality. Of course there's also a level of materiality here as well. How large would the payment had to have been to take it to the shareholder? I'm not sure.

So once again, not that anybody is knocking down my door for me to serve on their Board, but if I was ever offered the chance, this kind of precedent is exactly the kind of thing which would make me hesitate to sign on. WorldCom directors were paid $35,000 a year and $1,000 per meeting attended. In return, they in aggregate lost approximately $250 million on the bankruptcy of WorldCom (since, as good Directors, they owned the stock) and were then hit with a legal settlement which required them to pay out approximately 20% of their net worth (excluding property). As one observer phrased it:

Securities lawyers called the WorldCom settlement a significant development. Thomas A. Dubbs, a partner at Goodkind Labaton Rudoff & Sucharow in New York who represents SunTrust Banks in its shareholder suit against WorldCom, said that while the company's failure was so large that it might be considered unique, the payments by directors could start a trend.

"One of the great paradoxes of securities litigation is that recoveries are often limited as a practical matter by the amount of directors' and officers' liability insurance available," Mr. Dubbs said. "To the extent that amounts are recovered aside from the D. and O. policy, this is an important development and will enhance the deterrent effect of the securities laws with respect to directors' obligations." (my emphasis added)

You're only partially right Mr. Dubbs. The deterrent is that the most qualified candidates for Director positions will be deterred from ever accepting an offer to serve on a Board and Corporate Governance will instead become the realm of the mediocre. The slippery slope has begun.
Monday, December 06, 2004
  Incredibles OK, I tried to post this around a month ago when Pam and I went to Chicago to visit much more famous blog brother's newest addition. We took out my non-blogging nephew Sam (who I'm sure will be blogging soon) to see the Incredibles. I had written a wonderful, highly analytical post examining the pros and cons of the movie (far more of the former than the latter) and was all ready to post when my entire screen went blank and my effort was dispatched to the purgatory of unpublished Internet material. I've since found out the hard way that whenever I highlight all of the text in Blogger and press the down arrow (not backspace, the down key), I lose the whole post. Can somebody make this complaint to Blogger? I'm not spending my hard-earned money to pay for this kind of service (ed. what do you mean, it's free?).

Suffice it to say, The Incredibles is a pretty damn good movie. One of the best I've seen this year in fact. It doesn't just go for the cheap laugh, has interesting characters and a good plot line. A bit scary for your average four year old (even your extraordinary four year olds) because there are some real villains / monsters / machines with nasty things, etc in the movie and I could see how it could cause nightmares in your average toddler, but still, a very good movie for us adults. If you haven't gone to see it already (which it seems like most people have, go for it).
Saturday, October 23, 2004
  Team America: World Police
1) Pet Peeve (if any) - As with most Trey Parker / Matt Stone movies, my biggest pet peeve is almost always the gratuitous swearing. Don't get me wrong, I don't mind swearing in the movies or in the world in general, it's that Parker / Stone obviously get a kick from putting swears into movies (a bit like Beavis & Butthead to an extreme) and don't really care if its in context. Many times it is done well and creates a lot of additional humor (see one of my favorite songs below under Musical Score). Overall though, I'd give them a 50% hit ratio. Take out that 50% and it makes an even better movie.

2) Plot Line - Was the plot line any good? Does it matter? This is a movie that addresses current issues in America's foreign policy, global security and relationships in the workplace and achieves it all using marionettes. The plot line is purposefully ridiculous and is therefore enjoyable. Anybody who expects anything serious out of these two really doesn't understand them. It manages to make fun of both the hardline right ("You're either with us or you're with the terrorists") and the hardline left (Michael Moore, Alec Baldwin and others of their ilk).

3) Special Effects - Did I mention the entire movie is of marionettes? Actually, I heard that this movie cost around $30 million to produce which I have to assume didn't all go into the marionette-sized reproduction of Times Square, the Panama Canal, Kim Jong Il's palace and Mount Rushmore. The marionettes actually don't seem like they're controlled by the strings (maybe it's all done on the computer?), in part because I didn't see any strings attached to the knees of any of the characters which would kind of be required to show the walking, etc. Once again though, this misses the point. The effects were done well enough for me to think I was watching a movie entirely acted out by marionettes so they were good enough. All except for the montage scene of Gary visiting various spots in Washington D.C. Absolutely hilarious.

4) Actor Performances -I'm going to have to take a pass on this category this time. Parker and Stone do most of the voices and most of them will bring back memories of various characters out of South Park (i.e. Kim Jon Il = Cartman). One random thing though was the voice of Spottswoode which was provided by Daran Norris who's performance immediately made me question whether Phil Hartman was really dead or not (most unfortunately, he still is). Also, whoever played Matt Damon showed an originality and verve I haven't seen in some time. Bravo.

5) Musical Score - Anybody else remember the Academy Awards when South Park: The Movie was nominated for Best Song? It was 1999 and the song Blame Canada was nominated. Of course, most of us thought Blame Canada was just a proxy vote for Uncle Fucker. This time around, the music only got better. Team America was full of some great songs. My personal favorite was the Team America theme song which seemed to be America, Fuck Yeah! Other great titles included Everyone Has AIDS, Pearl Harbor Sucked and I Miss You, We're Going to Need a Montage, I'm so Ronery and You are Worthless Alec Baldwin (you need to wait until after the credit for this one).

Overall, great movie. Really not appropriate for kids under the age of around 15 due to all of the swearing and the gratuitous marionette sex scenes (no I'm not kidding here). Also, for those of you who don't like seeing anybody throw up, I'd avert your face for a good three minute puke marathon (which I personally thought was hilarious but Pam almost got sick herself watching).

p.s. I just noticed that Catwoman made IMDB's Top 100 Worst Movies of all Time. Obviously there was a lot more wrong with that movie than just the previews I saw. It's being put into the same territory as Gigli and Stop! or My Mom will Shoot.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004
  Shaun of the Dead Yes, it's been a little while since I last saw and reviewed a movie. However, given the average American sees around five to six movies in the theatre per year, I'm still well above the norm.

So last night Pam and I went oot to see Shaun of the Dead (referred to as "SOTD" hereafter) for some random movie madness.

1) Pet Peeve (if any) - Two things on this one. Firstly, in the movie's promotional materials in the US, its biggest claim to fame is that it is endorsed by Peter Jackson (the Director of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy or "LOTR") as being "The best movie I've seen all year" or something like that. With all due respect to Jackson, this comment could be a bit misleading to some. Most people only know Jackson for his amazing work on LOTR and are completely unaware of Jackson's much more twisted side as evidenced by some of his earlier work including Bad Taste (which has a somewhat similar storyline to Shaun of the Dead) and Meet the Feebles (which I can only describe as the Muppets on Acid - it's also Pam's favorite film). After seeing those films, you have a much better understanding of why Peter Jackson would be shilling for SOTD.

My second pet peeve is more of a personality quirk I've only recently discovered in myself. Fact is, I don't like to watch realistically dumb characters in movies, and SOTD has plenty of these to spare. There's something amazingly frustrating about watching a movie character, saying to yourself "What a frigging idiot" and then realizing that their behavior is fairly commonplace in today's society. However, for some reason, unrealistically dumb characters in movies (Dumb & Dumber is a good example) don't bother me at all., mostly because they are obviously fictional characters and do not represent anything remotely close to my every day interaction with other people. Another good example of annoying, realistically dumb characters are John C. Reilly's character in Magnolia and a lot of William H Macy's roles (think Fargo, The Cooler, Boogie Nights, Magnolia and Mystery Men).

2) Plot Line - I give SOTD all the credit for coming up with an innovative plot line and in particular, the way the plot manages to develop despite the idiocy of many of the primary characters (OK, mostly Ed). Somehow, SOTD manages to wrap up comedy, romance and horror all into one plot line which I find pretty impressive. Most of the film was fairly unpredictable, all the way through to the ending which I won't ruin for anybody in this review.

3) Special Effects - Like most movies which involve horror of some sort, there's plenty of blood, skewering and entrails to go around and for the most part it is done pretty well. The zombies (Damnit! I said the zed word) are portrayed pretty convincingly and some of the zombies reminded me of my favorite video game (House of the Dead - the original). There is one scene in particular which is particularly unexpected and gory and while it is done pretty well, I seriously do not recommend this film for any kids below the age of around 13-14.

4) Actor Performances - This movie isn't going to have a lot of the big names that people in the US will recognize. Simon Pegg as the lead character Shaun was very good, particularly in expressing his character's development as the film progresses. Nick Frost, who plays the inconsiderate and fairly stupid Ed must have done a pretty good performance. His character certainly annoyed me. Other noteworthy actor performances came from Lucy Davis (for anybody who has ever seen The Office on BBC, she'll look familiar) and Bill Nighy (from many movies but most recently Love, Actually) who plays Shaun's father-in-law. As for Kate Ashfield, who plays Shaun's love interest Liz, I must say I have a very soft spot for cute blonde women with Australian or, in this case, British accents. The world needs more of them.

5) Musical Score - While I can't name any of the songs by name, I thought the score was quite good for SOTD. Music is an obvious passion for Simon Pegg (who also co-wrote the movie) and is shown very amusingly in one of the trailers. Watch out for Sade! On the down side, feeling somewhat obligated to the horror genre, SOTD has a lot of mini-crescendos in the musical score combined with slight shocks on the screen which are meant to cause people to jump in their seats. Personally, I thought a lot of these were a bit unnecessary, but it could just be that I'm not a big fan of the horror genre altogether.

Overall, a very funny movie which combines horror, comedy and romance effectively. Not suitable for kids under 13-14 (it's rated R), but am overall a big fan of the British script, acting and humor. By the way, if you don't want to pay $20 (for two tickets, not including the ludicrously priced snacks and drinks) to go see the movie at the theatre, it's already available on DVD in the UK for 13 quid (plus shipping and handling and a multi-zone DVD player which I just happen to have). I'd expect the extra features on the DVD to be quite entertaining as well.
Pardon the url tag (implying that I may be a genius), but this website was originally known as "Jay Benjamin Drezner is an unrecognized genius" and was written by my brother as a birthday gift. Since then, I've tried to turn this site into a personal log of news and observations from a Yank living in Australia and has now moved back to the US.
My Favourite Links
~ My almost genius (but more famous) brother's blog
~ My wife Pam's amazing travel website
~ My local Aussie Rules team - the Sydney Swans
~ My favorite bar in New York - Brother Jimmy's
~ My cousin Andrew's blog - he's a sophomore at Carleton

My E-mail address
jbdphi at hotmail dot com

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