Chronic Cheapness

Posted on April 3rd, 2006 in Commentary by EngineerBoy

So I had an experience yesterday that caused me to need to come here and vent. Mynagirl and I work for the same company in a downtown Houston office building, and our building has a cafeteria. It is a garden variety corporate cafeteria, with food that is neither really good nor really bad, and fairly reasonable prices. They typically have four or five general areas for food…a mexican line (tacos, burritos, taco salads, quesadillas, etc), traditional food line (chicken breast, meat loaf, fish, turkey, vegetables, etc), sandwich line (sandwiches), grill line (hamburgers, grilled chicken sandwiches, chicken fingers, fries, etc), and twice a week a pasta line where they make pasta to order.

There is also a salad bar, dessert area, frozen yogurt machine, Starbucks cofffee, fountain drinks, bottled drinks, and fresh fruit.

So, not bad for a corporate cafeteria.

But yesterday when Mynagirl and I sat down, there was a man and woman at a table not really that close, but close enough for us to have to endure the guy pontificating for 20 minutes. The subject of his sermon? He ranted and raved and railed about the fact that the cafeteria was “ripping me off” because they charged him for the extra cup of gravy that he asked for and for the cup of ice and water that he got.

Now, some of you are saying, “Yeah, brother, right on…fight the power!”, while the majority of you are saying, “Man, what a cheap bastard.” I fall squarely into the latter category, and find that as I get older I am beginning to have less and less patience for people who have an entitlement mentality. These are people who somehow expect the world to be “fair” and somehow perceive that large organizations like businesses and governments should somehow have bottomless pits of money that they should be used to make life easier for cheap bastards with a sense of entitlement.

In the specific example of the guy yesterday, here’s what happened from my perspective:

Cheap Bastard (CB) orders chicken fingers which come with a little plastic cup of gravy. CB asks for a second little plastic cup of gravy, thereby taking more gravy than is built into the food costs. CB then is surprised and offended that the cafeteria wants to charge him $0.25 for this cup of gravy.
CB comes into the cafeteria empty-handed, and has not bothered to purchase and schlep his own bottled water with him (which the cafeteria allows), nor has he filled his own cup with water from one of the many water fountains available all over the building. Instead he grabs a cup that the cafeteria provides, goes to the ice machine that the cafeteria bought and maintains and fills the cup with crushed ice from the crushed ice machine provided by the cafeteria, then moves to the push-button water-dispenser that was purchased and is maintained by the cafeteria and fills the cup (with water that the cafeteria pays for), then

Inside Man (***½)

Posted on April 1st, 2006 in Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy

Your money is "safe" with him

After seeing this movie it became clear to me what low expectations I have from Hollywood films these days. This film was a solid, well written, well acted, intricately plotted action flick, and I realized I hadn’t seen anything like it since…well…since a very long time. It’s not quite as good as Die Hard, but it’s better than Collateral, to give you an idea of where I’d put it in this genre. It’s a bit unfair to compare anything to Die Hard, since that’s the film that both defined this genre and has ruled as the best intelligent action picture ever made ever since, IMHO.

However, Inside Man is right up there. First of all, it was astonishingly refreshing to see Denzel Washington not play Denzel Washington for the first time in a long time. Here he plays an NYPD hostage negotiator who gets pulled into a Dog-Day-Afternoon-like standoff at a bank robbery that isn’t what it appears to be. Denzel’s character is extremely competent, but he’s not a super-sleuth or a John McClane-like bad-ass. However, he uses a combination of his instincts, street-smarts, and determination as he attempts to unravel the mysteries with which he is presented.

Also refreshing to see is Jodie Foster, looking exactly her age, playing a character her age, showing wrinkles and laugh lines and looking spectacular doing it. Not only that, but she plays an amazingly amoral “consultant” who helps people’s problems go away. Her character can be summed up by noting that after she has blackmailed the Mayor of New York City into doing what she wants, he responds by saying “You, my dear, are a magnificent cunt.” And she is.

Clive Owen and Christopher Plummer also both shine in their roles, and the supporting cast is nearly perfect. All of this is directed with flair by Spike Lee, and also with a bit of Spike Lee-iness. There are some trademark shots and scenes that mark this as a Spike Lee Joint, but he has proven here that he can deliver the big-studio, big-budget, big-grossing ($66 million and counting) hit, while still making a great film. That skill seems to have escaped most directors today.

I’m curious if Spike was able to leverage his status as a premier director to keep control of his film and maintain the intricate and sometimes nearly opaque plotting. My take is that today’s studio execs fear films that challenge audiences to pay attention and think, and instead seem to reflexively add in slow-motion kung fu, slow-motion gunplay (with pistols held sideways in that “cool” way), techno-music-driven flash-cut montages in nightclubs run by the bad guys, any time they think a film is getting too cerebral.

In any case, I really liked this film, and if you’re a fan of action movies that challenge you to keep up and don’t mind that there’s not any kung fu or sex, then this might be a film

Thank You for Smoking (**½)

Posted on April 1st, 2006 in Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy

This is one of those rare instances where I read the book before seeing the movie, and the cliche holds true, the book was better. Much better. That’s not to say that the film was bad, but the pecking order is great book followed by slightly above average film. One of the best parts of the film is the performance of Aaron Eckhart as Nick Naylor. Nick is a lobbyist for Big Tobacco, and he hasn’t so much as sold his soul as he has failed to control his awesome power for convincing. He’s managed to convince himself that Big Tobacco is being unfairly treated and mis-characterized by the government and the press, and with his pure belief he is able to charm and sway just about anybody to open their minds, even if just a smidge, to consider the fact that Big Tobacco just may not be the incarnation of the Devil.

Now, if you’ve read much of this site you’ll know that I’m not pro-smoking (he understated), but intellectually I’ve also felt that the government is acting quite hypocritically with regards to tobacco. Since tobacco is legal, the constitutionalist in me says that it should be treated as such and not harassed and over-taxed. If we as a people say that tobacco is legal, let it be legal. Now, that’s not to say that I believe it should be ubiquitous, and in fact I would happily agree to having tobacco legal to smoke, but have it be illegal to inflict others with one’s effluvia. In other words, I won’t tell you you can’t smoke if you don’t tell me I have to inhale your blow-by gasses.

Parking high horse.

One of the things I like best about the film is that it doesn’t demonize Nick Naylor, and instead shows him to be a superstar, while also beginning to question if he’s playing for the right team. He has a young son, and the film plays up the fact that Nick is ambivalent about how to reconcile his desire to be a good dad with his desire to do a good job. This aspect of the film is what I think weakens the impact, as it attempts to humanize Nick without making him pick sides.

For example, there’s a scene where Nick’s bosses send him to visit an old, cancer-stricken former Marlboro man and take him a briefcase full of cash, no strings attached. No confidentiality agreement, nothing. Just, here, here’s some money from us to you. An implied guilt trip. And Nick not only delivers the money and the message, but he spins the interaction in such a way as to leave Mr. Dying Marlboro Man (played wonderfully by Sam Elliott, who in retrospect seems born to play a dying former Marlboro Man) with only one option – take the money (for his family after he’s gone) and keep his mouth shut (so that he won’t be