film

Success Profile: Former MIT Blackjack Player Deals Startup To Twitter

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Former MIT Blackjack Player Sells Startup For $50m

By Michael Gendel

 

The name Jeff Ma may not mean much too many of us, but he’s led quite the life. He’s an MIT graduate, former consultant for the Portland Trail Blazers and San Francisco 49ers, and is the inspiration behind the cult film 21, starring Kevin Spacey and Kate Bosworth.

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Jeff Ma – MIT Graduate, Star Blackjack player and creator of recent Twitter acquisition: TenXer

And now he finds himself $50 million richer after selling his startup business to Twitter.

His company tenXer, which works under the idea that one developer can do the job of 10, provides management software in order to aid developers, helping them work together and release more things in a faster manner, which of course is perfect for Twitter in today’s market.

After working closely with Ma, Twitter bought out the brand at the beginning of April, and has shut down tenXer to work directly under the Twitter name.

Ma said of the acquisition, “We will be shutting down tenXer and continuing our work within Twitter.

“We are excited to apply what we’ve learned in the last three years to a world-class engineering organization.”

It’s just the latest service to be bought by the social media juggernaut, with them buying ZipDial and live-streaming app Periscope already this year.

But in Ma, they’ve invested in someone who already has a history with the brand.

The companies in the past have worked together, with tenXer having pulled in a number of data sources to help startups with making decisions, as well as Twitter using them as a case study discussing the benefits of advertising with Twitter.

Although Ma’s reputation dates back much earlier than that; he has become quite the expert in predictive analytics dating back to his time studying mechanical engineering at MIT.

There he met Bill Kapan who helped him learn the rules of blackjack and become an expert at the game. Ma, among others, eventually won a serious amount of money in casinos across the US, most notably in Las Vegas.

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Ma was the inspiration behind the cult film 21, starring Kevin Spacey and Kate Bosworth.

While he took a step away from the game after graduating in 1994, he was to leave quite the imprint on the industry. Bringing Down the House, a book by Ben Mezrich which semi-fictionalized his time as part of the MIT Blackjack Team, was eventually turned into a movie by Robert Luketic, the man behind Legally Blonde and Win A Date With Tad Hamilton!. The movie 21 is somewhat better than those offerings and even sees Ma make a cameo appearance as a casino blackjack dealer.

Success is in his blood, and combined with his expertise of analysis (which made him so good at blackjack), Ma transitioned into the world of sports, creating a sports analytics firm called Protrade.

He said of the venture, “I had read the book Moneyball, and wanted to leverage what I had learned in blackjack. Originally, I wanted to start a sports consulting firm.”

Ma and his team began doing just that. Taking inspiration from the Oakland A’s attempts at putting together a competitive baseball team through analysis and evidence-based thinking, they did some consulting with the NBA’s Trail Blazers and the NFL’s 49ers, but that didn’t last and it was apps for sports fans which really took off. Next up for Ma was Citizen Sports.

Ma and his team became the first to begin fantasy football on Facebook, and at one point had the leading sports app on the iPhone. Yahoo then purchased the company for a figure rumored to between $40 and $50 million.

That recent $50 million is therefore only adding to his wealth.

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The company itself will still be working within the walls of their San Francisco office, and continuing to work on improving efficiency and effectiveness by tracking key pieces of software, to analyze daily work habits.

It’s unsure however if that will now be offered outside the walls of Twitter, although it isn’t thought the company had developed a large client base yet anyway, due to little interest developing on its new found owners.

What will be interesting is to see where entrepreneur Ma goes next. He’s continually coming up with new ideas – most of which have been a success – by channeling his skills on the blackjack table and into business.

He noted that in his first book, The House Advantage: Playing The Odds To Win Big In Business, was published in 2010.

He’ll no doubt put those skills into action once again, and maybe even see another book noting his experiences with Twitter, particularly as he has a large passion for writing.

“Writing a book is one of the most rewarding and inspiring things you can ever do. The process of writing is incredible… I’ve never been so intellectually curious in my life.”

As for Twitter, they’re developing quite the catalogue of acquisitions now with the likes of Vine, TweetDeck, and Namo Media all in their books.

However, rumors are also circulating that tenXer could in fact see Google become their new owners with the search engine rumored to be looking at purchasing Twitter.

They already have a good relationship, with Twitter handing off some of its ad sales to the California brand, and with Google apparently sitting on a $60 billion pile of cash, it could easily afford it. And with assets like tenXer and their other recent purchases to sit on, the take-over would look more and more appealing.

We’ll of course, have to wait and see though. More than $1.5 billion was added to the value of Twitter, just through sheer rumor that Google could launch a bid last week, although there’s plenty more we should keep our eye on, most notably tenXer.

It’ll be interesting to see how Twitter utilizes this over the coming months, and in particularly whether they advertise it for use outside of their own business. They unleashed Fabric, their mobile development platform to the world after buying it out so there’s no reason the same won’t happen again, especially as they’ve already championed it with a case study a while back.

Where Did The Week Go…

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Men’s Warehouse Guy Fired

There’s very few things a person can guarantee in life.  But George Zimmer managed to find one with his catchy line, “You’re gonna like the way ya look, I guarantee it,” in regards to a man purchasing and wearing a suit from apparel retailer Men’s Wearhouse.

For years Zimmer has observed and spoken (with his two packs-a-day/Scotch voice) about the appeal of wearing a nice suit.  No doubt drawing inspiration for The Most Interesting Man in the World, Zimmer has always appeared cool, calm and collected in those commercials.  I’d be fascinated to see his demeanor now after being ousted by his own company.

George Zimmer-Patrick Fallon:Bloomberg
George Zimmer | (Patrick Fallon/Bloomberg)

The Men’s Wearhouse Inc fired Executive Chairman Zimmer, the face of the company he founded 40 years ago, sending its shares down as much as 6 percent.

Men’s Wearhouse gave no reason for his dismissal but Zimmer accused the board of trying to silence him for expressing concerns about the direction of the company he started in 1973.

In a statement released by Zimmer, he expressed his disappointment over the board’s unwillingness to create an open dialogue on the future of the company.

“Instead of fostering the kind of dialogue in the boardroom that has, in part, contributed to our success, the board has inappropriately chosen to silence my concerns…”

Zimmer was president from 1974 to 1997 and chief executive from 1991 until June 2011 when he became executive chairman.  The company had seen sales rise by more than 5 percent in its most recent quarter so the news of Zimmer’s dismissal are a little puzzling.

Let’s be honest, all I really care about is whether or not we’ll get any more commercials from this guy.  According to reports, the company has the legal right to his image and 500 hours of footage.  You’re going to see more of Mr. Zimmer, I guarantee it.

Jerry Seinfeld Online Comedy Show Returns 

One of the best things going on the web is Jerry Seinfeld’s literally titled series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee The show is simple; Jerry chooses a vintage car, calls up a comedian friend of his for a cup of coffee, and documents the whole experience with cameras mounted in the car. 

Jerry Seinfeld-EW
Jerry Seinfeld | (Entertainment Weekly)

Episodes usually last for about 15 minutes and they consist of Jerry just having a casual conversation with a fellow comedian.  Sometimes they talk about comedy, sometimes they talk about lousy waiters and small dogs.  You know, nothing.  Despite the simplicity of the show, it’s endlessly fascinating and engaging.  Seeing Seinfeld and someone like David Letterman just walking down the street talking like a couple of regular fellas is a sight to behold.

Season one featured interviews with Alec Baldwin, Larry David, Ricky Gervais and Mel Brooks.  Episodes featuring Sarah Silverman and David Letterman have already aired in the second season and future guests include Chris Rock and Seth Meyers.

If you have 15 minutes, please check this out.  Instead of the usually scripted talk show, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee offers an intimate and organic experience between two artists.  Plus the close-up shots of coffee being made is surprisingly enticing.  And this is coming from someone who doesn’t drink the stuff.

Netflix Instant Pick: A League of Their Own

When people talk about great baseball movies, the usual suspects include Pride of the Yankees, The Natural, Field of Dreams, Bull Durham and Major League.  I’d like to add 61*, Baseball: Ken Burns Documentary and The Sandlot to that conversation too if I may.

But another one that is often over-looked is Penny Marshall’s A League of Their Own.  Set during World War II, the film chronicles the real-life women’s baseball league that was formed at a time when baseball couldn’t afford to be absent.  Starring Geena Davis, Tom Hanks and Lori Petty, A League of Their Own is an entertaining and often funny team sports movie about sibling rivalry, friendships and the joy and hardship of baseball.

Davis and Petty play sisters from Oregon who are wooed by a scout to join the start-up league.  Loving the idea of playing baseball for a living, the pair quickly learn that it’s not all fun and games.  They must deal with an unruly manager (Hanks), gender stereotypes and a lack of fans.

A league of their own-imdb
A League of Their Own | (IMDB)

The film works because the cast is endlessly likable and the baseball scenes are entertaining and credible.  You really believe these ladies trained to play baseball.  Davis and Petty feel like real sisters and the rest of the team, including Madonna and Rosie O’Donnell, have memorable lines and scenes that raise their characters beyond one dimensional.

And then of course there’s Tom Hanks as the washed up Jimmy Dugan.  Hanks gained 30 pounds for this role and he’s never had more fun.  The classic “There’s no crying in baseball” scene is of course great, but there’s also great little moments featuring Hanks and Davis.  The Dugan character could have easily been played as nothing more than a drunken buffoon for comedic relief, but credit Marshall, the writers and Hanks for allowing Dugan to follow a real character arc throughout the film.

A League of Their Own truly is in a league of its own.  It’s surprisingly hilarious at times and full of heart and tenderness without ever seeming sentimental.  Plus it ends on a note that feels both unconventional and sweet.

Iron Man Robs Bank

Earlier this week, Robert Downey Jr. finally settled contract disputes with Marvel and signed a two-picture deal to appear in two Avengers sequels.  However, it seems Iron Man couldn’t wait that long to get paid.

The same day Downey Jr. likely signed his contract, a man wearing an Iron Man mask robbed a bank in Florida.

http://youtu.be/Iv0_r7nUeXs

According to Deadline, Flagler County Sheriffs say the 5-foot-4 gunman (maybe it was Scarlett Johansson asking for more money.  Or Mark Ruffalo.  Seriously, that dude is short) showed up in a Palm Beach Wells Fargo branch and demanded cash on Thursday afternoon.  Trading the cumbersome and heavy metal suit for a tan jump suit, the person jumped on the counter Heat-style and waived a gun around.  The robber then decided to avoid drawing attention flying away and instead drove off in an unassuming maroon car.

Just when we all thought Downey Jr. had fully-rehabilitated himself, he goes and robs a bank.  And…shrinks.

Film: Largest animation festival in the US comes to Eugene

This year, Eugene will host the largest animation festival in the United States. The third annual Northwest Animation Festival is showing at the Bijou Art Cinemas this weekend in its first foray out of Portland.

Festival Director Sven Bonnichsen, who founded the festival in 2010, says that this year has been the festival’s most successful, garnering more submissions than in the past two years combined.

“It’s important to me to have this kind of scale because, if you look at festivals internationally, the best films get shown at all the festivals,” Bonnichsen said. “But there’s so many excellent films that need to get seen. You really have to have scale in order to make sure that up-and-comers get seen as well as the masters.”

The festival, which showed its 154 animated films in Portland earlier this month, will take place at the Bijou Arts Cinema this Friday through Sunday. Submissions were whittled down to the best from 628 submissions from around the world, featuring American films as well as animation from Germany, the UK, Japan and France. The festival includes an animated short from “Portlandia,” as well as a new film from “Adventure Time” creator Pendleton Ward. Oscar-nominated and winning shorts, such as Disney’s “Paperman” and PES’s “Fresh Guacamole,” will also be shown.

Bonnichsen, a Portland animator who specializes in constructing armatures for stop motion puppets, wanted to create a “world-class” festival, and the range of creativity in this year’s screenings beautifully showcase the expansive possibilities animation offers filmmakers. Some are even helping to redefine the concept of animation.

One such example is “Modern No.2,” a four-minute mesmerizing journey into music, color and rapidly-changing geometry. According to Bonnichsen this short, created by Mirai Mizue, is an example of the “new wave of Japanese abstract animation.”

Another, Mikey Please’s “The Eagleman Stag,” caught Bonnichsen’s eye with its paper craft animation and the main character’s obsession with the passage of his life.

“It is a film that, in eight minutes, packs in more ideas and more story than a lot of feature-length films,” Bonnichsen said. “It makes a really intriguing point about perception of time. It’s enormously clever and well-written.”

The festival begins Friday, May 31 at 7 p.m., continuing Saturday and Sunday at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. Afternoon tickets are $10, evenings are $15. A three-day pass is $50.

Cutting the Cable: Week 2

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Cutting the Cable Cord: Week 2

Well here we are, 8 days after turning all of our cable boxes in anpoltergeistd telling Comcast to take their $130 cable bundles and shove em… And I’ll be Mayan’d… The world didn’t friggin end! Yet.

The true cord-cutters test will come this Sunday evening when we have friends over to watch the Walking Dead and we’re able to pull it off without a hitch. On the other hand, I am starting to believe that I was only afraid of losing cable because cable wanted me to be afraid of losing it. With the set up we have going now, and thanks to some late-night homework on my part, I believe I’m more than prepared for any of my family’s audio/video entertainment needs.

house-of-cards-posterThe name of the game in cord-cutting is cover your bases. You know there is a show you like and you know when it’s on and what channel, there are ways to get those shows as early as 15 minutes after they air. There’s the standards, like Netflix, which has become the cord-cutters banner for streaming media. Seriously, they have about two-thirds of any TV show, movie, or cartoon you could ever want to watch… for $8 a month. Sold. The most exciting thing about Netflix is their original programming. We watched House of Cards a few weeks ago, and it was exceptionally compulsive television. Produced and directed by David Fincher, one of the most talented filmmakers on the planet, Netflix made the bold move of releasing the entire season at once. They plan on doing the same thing for their next original show, the resurrected Arrested Development. However, besides original programming, they don’t add newer content ever… So Netflix is really good for a video library of all the old stuff you love and maybe want to watch or catch up on… But new episodes of Breaking Bad won’t be on until a year after they air.

Then there is Amazon Instant Video. I’m not 100%, but I think these guys get most their new episodes the next day, in full HD (except for HBO, and I’ll talk about that later). Although I have not tried it yet, this is a great option. I hear Hulu Plus is good, but no AMC, no money from me. I can get it elsewhere. Then there is iTunes… but with Apple, I love their technology but I hate dealing with them in any way, shape, or form. I’m sure I’m missing a few others, but only because I want to get to the meat and potatoes of my point here.

xbmc1My point is XBMC, which I find amusing because it comes from the Xbox which I’ve never owned, and often bashed for its lameness. If I wanted a Wii or an Xbox I’d buy one, but I’m a serious gamer. XBMC is a FREE multi-media player that runs on your computer and organizes all of your movies, shows, music, games, all in one place… and then you plug in your TV as your monitor and GO! I took an “old” Dell Optiplex 960, while not the best machine, still has a few cores to work with, and I simply ran an HDMI cord from the back of the PC to our plasma screen in the living room. Then I tucked it out of the way, turned it on, and let it know where my audio and video files were. Then it sprang to life.

XB uses online databases and scans your library, then throws it all together in a nice user-friendly format that’s completely customizable. You don’t like the way the cross-media bar looks or works? Change it. There are websites full of skins for it, and all of them have individual settings you can adjust to make it how you want it. Then the features! It allows you to use “add-ons” that let you access all manner of live tv, streaming video, all from sites like Hulu, Amazon, Comedy Central, any place that has their shows online for free, you can watch through XB. Instead of going to ABC.com to watch Once Upon a Time, it serves it for you. There are also add-ons that link to material that is slightly less than legally streamed, but it’s not against the law per se to watch, depending on your morality stance and your patience with non-HD content. I tried one for academic purposes only and watched the latest episode of The Americans 15 minutes after it aired on cable. Whoever is streaming these shows is on the ball.

xbmc-ios-remoteThen there’s the remote. Guess what? It’s an app. It’s a really cool app. It not only has the remote as a touch-screen on your phone but it allows you to browse your library on your phone as well. Want to watch a movie? Pull up your XBMC remote, look through your library, then hit “play.” It’s that easy. Oh, and did I mention Air Play? WITHOUT APPLE TV. Yes that means all you suckers who paid hundreds for your fancy little boxes got just that… Fancy little boxes. I can be looking at the IMDB app on my phone, see a trailer I want to watch, and throw it up to the TV from anywhere in my house. If I’m watching or listening to something on my phone I want to put on the plasma screen I tap one button. I love it.

There’s also a nice little app called Splashtop 2 for the iPhone and iPad that will stream any (wirelessly) connected computer to either device. I’ve had this awesome app for a year now, it lets me play Eve Online while I’m not sitting at my computer. It lets me control the Dell from the couch… Or the shower for that matter. So if XB dies I just open Splashtop, start it up again, and go! I’m still working out the kinks, but so far it’s worked fairly seamlessly. We tried it again last night for academic purposes, we chose a cool add-on program called “Navi-X” that hosts a ton of streaming content. There are a few dedicated genre playlists that people have created, and of course we found ourselves looking through the Sci-Fi movies. There was practically every popular contemporary science fiction movie in that list. My wife had never seen Solaris with George Clooney and Natascha McElhone (Karen from Californication), so we gave it a shot. The best part? All of them are 720p, high-def streams!

photo-3Well technology wouldn’t be technology without a few hiccups, and of course 10 minutes into the movie it stopped and we couldn’t get it started again. So with a little ingenuity I was able to find a copy within minutes and we were back up and running… And that seems to be the way it is without cable. Cable is a product, served up for a specific reason and has been updated, perfected, and worked on for decades. It’s designed to bring you TV and movies seamlessly, and it does. The issue is that mega-corporations that truly don’t care about anything other than the bottom line supply that product. All of this new technology is only a few years old, there are still a million bugs to work out, so it’s expected that not everything is going to work 100% of the time… But it better come Walking Dead time I tell you!

game-of-thrones-season-3-posters-jaime1Game of Thrones starts next weekend, and I’m curious as to how soon I’ll be able to get HD episodes from Amazon… Since HBO wants everyone to use their HBO Go app now, and you can only use that if you have a current cable package with an HBO subscription. Why doesn’t HBO simply make their Go app a stand alone product? Some of us can’t afford to fork over hundreds a month just to get one show! I’d gladly pay HBO a flat fee a month to be able to watch their brilliant programming… But they are so in deep with their cable company partners they can’t even rock the boat without fear of losing what? Their bottom line. I think they could more than cover their losses by making HBO Go a subscription-based service, and bring it to the millions out there who have to pirate Game of Thrones because they is no other way to watch it.

Long story long, between the PS3 and the XBMC, I think we’re covered. I can get any show just a few hours after it airs, live TV broadcasts, March Madness, and tons of other stuff. So far, cutting the cable has worked okay, however it has only soured me even more for the cable companies. It’s not a jealousy thing either, it’s a have-and-have-nots thing. If we could occupy Time Warner I think it would be a great idea… But what are the options? Pirate movies? Oooo, that’ll show em. Protest? That only gives them more ammunition. I suppose grass-roots legislation, but I’m fairly sure they’ve got their backs covered on that one.

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Cutting The Cable

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Cutting the Cable Cord: Day 1

cable_cordHow much is your cable bill? How about when you let it slide for a few weeks? Ever pick it apart and read the fine print? Now let me ask you this: Do you know what Stockholm Syndrome is?

You know, the one where the hostages lose their minds and start to feel a bond with the kidnappers? It’s like the story of the frog in the pot. The water’s warm, it keeps getting warmer, it feels great and relaxing, and then it’s frog soup.

Well this analogy can be used for anything in our society today, from the inability of our government to function on even the basest levels, to the Doritos Cool Ranch Taco at Taco Bell, the water is boiling… and we’re too relaxed to notice we’re about to be soup… But I’m talking about cable television.

infographic-cutting-the-cableWho knows this game? Your bill is too high so you call up Comcast and say you need to cut back some services and possibly switch to Dish… The representative pretends he or she hasn’t played this game every 5 minutes for the last 5 years and gives you free HBO for six months and a boost on your internet speed… and maybe if you’re lucky will cut your bill down enough to make you feel like you’re empowered, like Comcast really cares about your business and wants to keep you as a customer.

I played this game for over 10 years and I can’t do it anymore. So as of today, as painful as it might be, my family has “cut the cord.” I turned in all of our cable boxes and gave up the charade of cable television. After literally months of back and forth, pros and cons, and swearing “this’ll be the week…”, tonight we are free. We can watch whatever we want without the constraints of “the guide.”

Let’s face it Comcast, “the guide” is the same crappy blue boxes you implemented 20 years ago. I’ve been staring at the same unresponsive menus and horrible interface for the better part of my adult life. Well, all of it actually… And yes I know that says something about my lifestyle, but I assure you, I do all things in moderation… ESPECIALLY moderation. While they might have added HDTV programming and On Demand (which now completely sucks because there and commercials and you can’t fast forward) to the mix, it’s still the same 25-year-old technology they’re selling us as next year’s model.

the-cable-guy-tbi-1Our last bill from Comcast was $601.00. That’s six hundred dollars, and that’s not a typo. That was also the last straw. Yes, it is three months worth of bills cause of their stupid bill-in-advance system, but still… $600??!! We had an HD-DVR in the living room, an HD box collecting dust, and an old black Motorola doing the same… Plus HBO (half price) and Showtime (half price) and a myriad of shit channels we don’t EVER watch. So I packed them in the trunk, went down and took a number in line, and stood there watching Netflix on my iPhone just to say “**** you Comcast.” It would have been a much more satisfying experience if the dude at the counter hadn’t been so damn cool. So that plus internet works out to $200 a month. That’s $2400 a year. Are you beginning to see the water bubbling?

We’ve got 2 PS3s, 1 Sony Blu-Ray, a Wii, a half dozen i-devices, and an HDTV antennae. We’ve also ordered the Boxee, which will be here Tuesday. It uses an internal HDTV antennae to record live TV, DVR-style, and stores it on a server without a limit to how much you store. Did you say no-limit cloud storage? We’ve got Amazon Prime, we’ve got Netflix, and we’ve got resourcefulness.

amazzzonI’ll admit, it was a little overwhelming. Simply because cable has been such a part of my life, especially HBO and lately AMC, but now I can just BUY those episodes when the day they air anyway. Then I’ll own it! In the next month, two of my favorite shows return, and even if I have to pay $40 for an HD season of Game of Thrones, $40 for Mad Men, $40 for True Blood, etc… That’s still less than one #$%& Comcast payment! And it’s a cost that’s spread out over a few months, and lets me add my favorite shows to my video library!

It’s time to change the channel from cable television… To boldly go where no one has gone before and all that… Huzzah!

To be continued…

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Film Junkie

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This week I am debuting a movie column that will cover all aspects of the film industry. Whether it’s reviews, news or simply an observation, I will cover it for your reading pleasure. In this first edition, I will be reviewing a little seen independent film that has suddenly been put back in the spotlight thanks to a highly-publicized Internet hoax.

Manti Te'o
Te’o may have been involved in an elaborate Internet hoax.

The term “Catfishing” online has been thrust into the lexicon this week amidst news of a Notre Dame football scandal where it was discovered that star linebacker Manti Te’o’s deceased girlfriend Lennay Kekua never existed. Te’o said in a statement that he was the victim of “a sick joke” – that he was duped by online predators into believing Kekua was real. It’s only been a couple of days since this story broke, but we may soon learn the truth as Te’o is scheduled to give his first interview Friday. It’s a story that has become so big and so juicy that Lance Armstrong should be personally thanking each and every person involved.

But where does this term “Catfishing” come from? The answer is a 2010 documentary, and now an MTV show, about one man’s strange journey into the heart of online chat-room darkness.

The tag-line for the film Catfish is “Don’t let anyone tell you what it is.” Another piece of advice should have been, don’t watch the trailer because you’ll be thinking about it as you watch the movie.

The notion that a trailer misrepresents or misinterprets what a movie is really about isn’t surprising. The job of a movie trailer is to sell the movie so people go see it. But in the case of Catfish, the trailer marketed it as a mysterious -is-it-real-or-fake documentary thriller about a young New Yorker searching for his Facebook crush. The first half of the movie kind of sets it up as that. Sort of a Blair Witch Project for the Internet generation. But as the movie nears its conclusion, it doesn’t scare you. It only cautions you about the world we live in. Where not everyone is who they say they are online.

Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman decide to make a documentary about Ariel’s brother Nev. Nev is a 24-year-old photographer who specializes in shooting dancers. One day Nev receives a package of a painting someone has done of one of his published photographs. It’s from an 8-year-old girl named Abby. The painting is remarkable and Nev begins to correspond with Abby and her mother Angela. The fact that Henry and Ariel decided to make a documentary about Nev and right when they start to make the film, Nev receives the painting from Abby seems like too big of a coincidence and basically sets up the question of whether or not this actually happened to them.

Nev receives many more paintings of his photographs and over the course of 9 months, he forms a friendship with Abby’s family through Facebook. At some point he becomes particularly interested in Abby’s 19-year-old sister Megan. They become very close through the Internet and over the phone. Megan writes music for Nev, he flirts with her through text messages and eventually he wonders if this is the girl of his dreams. An opportunity opens up for him to be close enough to see her in person.

Catfish
The many paintings Nev received from Abby.

The three videographers fly to Vail, Colorado to shoot a dance event. On their way back East, they decide to take a detour to meet Megan and the family in Ishpeming, Michigan. It’s time to put a face with the voice over the phone and all of the pictures online. To say everything goes the way they thought it would is an understatement so I won’t reveal anything further.

The film can be frustrating at times because you’re fooled into expecting one movie, and getting another. When the three men start to realize that something isn’t quite right with Angela’s family, the movie becomes an interesting procedural where they use technology in an attempt to uncover the truth. But by the end you may feel unsatisfied and slightly disappointed with what they discover. The final act is dramatically affective and depending on what type of person you are, you’ll either find it sad or slightly disturbing.

Ultimately, the film is an engaging and fascinating commentary on identity and the life we present online and the life we actually live. The film is never boring and the characters, particularly Nev, are likable. The film was marketed as a mysterious thriller and even the title, Catfish, is mysterious. By the end you’ll know the meaning behind the title and while it will come across as thoughtful and deep, it may also feel a little contrived and artificial. But that’s really the whole movie in a nutshell and the question you’re asking yourself as you watch it. Is it completely original and real or is it a hoax acting as a metaphor about how we want other people to see us versus who we actually are?

In the wake of the Te’o story, curiosity in Catfish might go up exponentially. While I may not have loved the film, I’m still thinking about it and that’s always a good enough reason to recommend people see it.

Catfish is available on Netflix disc, Blockbuster and Redbox.

10 Horror Films To Watch This Halloween

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Whether you watch them to be scared, for laughs, or for a wave of spooky nostalgia, scary movies are an essential part of the Halloween experience. I’ve compiled a list of 10 great horror films for people to discover or re-discover. This isn’t a scariest-movies-of-all-time list; It’s a list of great movies taken from a couple different horror sub-genres in hopes of recommending a movie for everyone.

Pinhead from the movie “Hellraiser” is the author’s favorite horror-movie character.

1. Hellraiser: Is there a creepier group of villains than Pinhead and the Cenobytes? This film is not only my favorite horror film ever, but it also has the best special effects of any 80’s movie I’ve seen. The plot involves a puzzle box that summons the Cenobytes, masochistic demons who travel through time and space, who inflict their own brand of pain and pleasure on Christie Cotton and her broken family.

2. Killer Clowns From Outer Space: If you’re scared of clowns, watching this film could test the limits of your ability to handle scary. If not, it’s just fun film from the 80’s about clowns killing people with their clownish alien technology. This film is good for a late night laugh, but I have to admit, the clowns are pretty creepy.

3. Hocus Pocus: As an adult who is very skeptical about kids movies I think this movie is fantastic. Bette Middler and Sarah Jessica Parker star in this movie about 3 witches who suck the life out of children to stay young and beautiful. It’s up to some teenagers, a little girl, a zombie, and a cat, to stop the Sanderson sisters from stealing the souls of children.

4. Dead Alive: From the man who brought you The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Peter Jackson, comes the bloodiest Zombie movie ever. When a strange animal spreads the zombie virus in New Zealand it’s up to a mama’s boy to prevent the zombie apocalypse. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to fight zombies with a lawnmower you must watch this film.

5. Planet Terror: In this Robert Rodriguez creation Rose McGowan’s character proves why having an M16 for a leg might be the best defense in the zombie apocalypse. Bruce Willis, and Quentin Tarantino also star in this film about a military experiment imploding and turning people in a small town into zombies.

“It’s alive!” Gene Wilder as Dr. Frankenstein in “Young Frankenstein.

6. Young Frankenstein: Filmed in black and white, this Mel Brooks classic picks up when Dr. Frankenstein’s grandson, who goes by the same name, inherits the Frankenstein castle and travels to Transylvania to understand his grandfathers work in re-animating dead tissue. Gene Wilder kills in this comedic rendition of Frankenstien.

7. Nightmare On Elm Street: Imagine if Wolverine of the Ex-Men was not only a psycho but the ugliest man on earth, and he had Leonardo Dicaprio’s job on the film Inception. Now imagine the carnage that would result. This is one of the best horror films to come out of the 80’s, and it will make you nervous about having a bad dream.

Jack Nicholson goes crazy in “The Shining.”

8. The Shining: This film brings a trifecta of excellence to the table with Jack Nicholson pulling off the best crazy-man performance of all-time, Stanley Kubrick  as director, and Stephen King writing the book that the film was adapted from. The film combines elements, psychological, supernatural, and slasher horror into one classic film. Creepy twins, a crazy writer, a hysterical wife (Shelley Duvall did an excellent job), and the classic “red rum” scene make this movie a must see.

9. Frankenweenie: This is the only film on my list that is currently in theaters right now. I admit that I was skeptical going into the theatre, but I loved this movie. This is Tim Burton’s best work since The Nightmare Before Christmas. The film is animated in black & white in vintage-Burton style. What makes this movie so great is the morbid humor and cleverness infused throughout the movie. It’s great for the whole family.

Captain Spaulding is one of the best characters developed over the last decade in the realm of horror films.

10. House of 1000 Corpses: This movie gave me nightmares. When a group of young writers are told about the Dr. Satan Tree and decide to research this myth they run into a sadistic family, and the legend of Dr. Satan becomes reality. Captain Spaulding who runs a chicken joint/gas station/murder ride provides a little bit of comic relief in this intense film. Rainn Wilson of The Office stars in this film by Rob Zombie. Warning: This film is extremely scary and violent.

 

Relive an old classic at Crescent Village’s “Movies Under the Stars” series

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Why is Casablanca considered one of the greatest love stories in American cinema? The leading man doesn’t end up with the girl. He hardly spends any time with her in fact and when he does it isn’t exactly rosy. But at its core, Casablanca really isn’t about lovers, it’s about heroes. This year marks the 70th Anniversary of its release and you can see it on the big screen for free this Friday.

One of the classics.

Released in 1942, during the height of World War II, Casablanca captured the fervor of national pride in America. Throughout the film, America is thought of as the place to escape to. Casablanca is a place that remains unoccupied by the Germans, but their grip overseas is tightening by the day, so tourists who have taken refuge in the city are eager to leave while they still can. But one man seams content.

Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) is an exiled American and former freedom fighter. Owner of the most popular nightspot in town, Rick runs the place without any affiliation but to himself. He’s perfectly fine with his neutrality in a world where men are fighting other men. “I stick my neck out for nobody,” he says comfortably to a Nazi sitting in his club.

He knows however, that one day his comfortable life style will be in jeopardy when the Germans arrive, but he does have enough influence to pay off the local police captain so perhaps he can hide away forever. Then “of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”

It is Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman), the woman Rick loved years ago in Paris. Under the cloud of the German occupation, he arranged their escape, but she abandoned him, in his mind, at the train station on the night they were to leave. Now she is with Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), a hero of the French Resistance.

Scorned by their unexpected separation in Paris and by the emergence of another man, Rick has no intention of seeing her or helping them escape Casablanca. But when Rick learns the truth about why she left him at the train station, they plan to run off together using a pair of transit letters that Rick has acquired. Well, that was their original plan anyways.

I miss black-and-white movies.

Like many of his roles, Bogart plays Sam as a smart, tough-minded cynic who ultimately shows his noble side. In one scene, after it’s revealed that Ilsa was married when she met Rick in Paris and couldn’t risk being on the run with him from the Germans, he still helps a young couple in a similar situation. Despite the risk of exposing his casino as dirty, he still sees what future the couple can have, and what he couldn’t have with Ilsa.

In contrast, Bergman’s performance is just the opposite. Referred to as a kid by Rick multiple times, Ilsa is the young idealist who sees a future for herself and the man she loves. Bergman’s face illicites confusing emotions but who could blame her since neither she nor anyone else on the film knew for sure until the final day who she would end up with. Her lack of knowledge helped her performance become more emotionally convincing.

The film does lack a stylistic quality. Perhaps if it were directed by Orson Welles at the time, he would have infused a little more creativity in the shot selection, but Casablanca was based on a play and you can see why a more creative direction wasn’t necessary when the acting and writing were so perfect.

“We’ll always have Paris.”

Ultimately, Casablanca is about sacrifice. Sacrificing love and destiny to fight for a greater cause. Moviegoers today might see the film as too sentimental and dated, but it remains a timeless story full of cynicism, regret and redemption.

The film won three Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay. If you haven’t had a chance to see it, check it out on a big screen in glorious black-and-white at Crescent Village this week.

Casablanca is the third movie in Crescent Village’s summer series: “Movies Under the Star.”  It will be shown on Friday, August 10 at 8:20 pm.  Admission is free and you are asked to bring your own chairs and blankets.

Local Cinema Watch

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by Ryan Beltram
Eugene Daily News

What’s up movie fans. This week in local cinema we’ve got three new films opening. Last week the Bijou debuted a holiday film about an evil santa kidnapping children. This week they show another unconventional Christmas movie involving Santa and martians. Besides that, they also have a well-reviewed film about the events leading up to the financial crisis starting. One new film begins at David Minor and it’s the best summer blockbuster from this year.

At the Bijou this week:

Margin Call: Drama – 2011 – 107 Min – Rated R. Starts on Friday, Dec. 16 at 5:30 and 8 pm; additional showing at 3 pm on Saturday and Sunday.

Featuring an excellent cast that includes Kevin Spacey, Stanley Tucci, Paul Bettany and Jeremy Irons, Margin Call follows a group of people working at an investment firm in the summer of 2008. After being laid off by the firm, Eric (Stanley Tucci), a senior risks analyst, slips a USB drive to Peter (Zachary Quinto), an entry-level analyst too young and cheap to fire.

While in an empty office, Peter views the information on the drive and realizes the firm and the market are on the brink of disaster. Peter’s discovery starts a chain reaction of higher-ups calling an all-night meeting to discuss whether they should inform others of the impending financial meltdown or cut their losses and get out when they can.

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians: Comedy – 1964 – 81 Min – Not Rated. Special screenings at 12:30 am on Saturday and Sunday.

If you looked up B-movie in the dictionary, it would probably list this film among others. Upset that their children have become obsessed with television and its romantic portrayal of Santa Claus, Martians head for Earth to kidnap the jolly fat man. In the process of grabbing Santa, the Martians also take two children and return to Mars.

But the power and spirit of Christmas overcome the Martians as they begin to embrace happiness and holiday cheer. How Ed Wood didn’t get his hands on this movie is amazing.

Still Playing at the Bijou:

The Way: Showing at 5 and 7:45 pm, Wednesday and Thursday. Playing at 4:50 and 7:30 pm, Friday-Sunday with an additional screening at 2:15 pm on the weekend.

Into the Abyss: Final two showings at 4:45 and 7:05 pm, Wednesday and Thursday.

Rare Exports : A Christmas Tale: Showing at 9:25 pm, Wednesday and Thursday. Playing at 10:10 pm Friday-Sunday.

Midnight in Paris: Playing at 12 pm Saturday and Sunday.

The Room: Showing at 10:30 pm Friday and Saturday.

One new film opens this week at David Minor:

Rise of the Planet of the Apes: Action – 2011 – 105 Min – Rated PG-13. Opens on Friday, Dec. 16 at 7:25 pm.

If you had told me at the beginning of the year that the best summer movie would not only be the last one of the summer, but also a remake/prequel of a tired franchise, I would have been shocked. But to my and many people’s surprise, Rise of the Planet of the Apes turned out to be an emotional, entertaining film.

You would think the star of the movie would be James  Franco. But really the lead of the film is Andy Serkis  playing Caesar, a genetically-enhanced chimpanzee  experimented on to find a cure for Alzheimer’s  disease. Following an argument with his boss on the  legitimacy of his work with the chimp, Will (James  Franco) takes the animal home with him and raises it  as if it were his own child. The film follows Caesar’s  childhood and progression into an extremely intelligent  creature.

But when an incident with a neighbor forces Caesar to  live with his own kind, he begins to realize the true  nature of man and the role apes play in this world.  How the filmmakers were able to cram this much  story in under two hours is amazing. The best  summer blockbusters are the ones that can balance  the spectacle and story equally. Rise of the Planet of  the Apes does that and also ingeniously sets up a  sequel that could feel like its own story and not a  retread of the first film.

Still playing at David Minor:

Friends with Benefits: Showing at 4:50 pm, Wednesday, Dec. 14. Showing at 7:25 pm Dec. 15-16 and Dec. 18-21. (Saturday showing is cancelled).

Super 8: Showing at 4:50 pm, Wednesday, Dec. 14. Showing at 9:20 pm Dec. 15-21.

Our Idiot Brother: Showing at 6:50 pm, Wednesday, Dec. 14. Showing at 9:20 pm Dec. 15-21.

The Hangover Part II: Final two screenings at 6:50 and 10:40 pm, Wednesday, Dec. 14.

Cowboys & Aliens: Showing at 8:40 pm, Wednesday, Dec. 14. Showing at 5:15 pm Dec. 15 and Dec. 17-21. (Friday showing is Cancelled).

Crazy, Stupid, Love: Showing at 8:40 pm, Wednesday, Dec. 14. Showing at 5:15 pm Dec. 15-21.

30 Minutes or Less: Final showing at 10:40 pm, Wednesday, Dec. 14.

Local Cinema Watch

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Ryan Beltram, EDN

This week doesn’t bring too many changes to the local cinema scene. But there are a few debuts that are worth mentioning, including a film about a father and son relationship, a doctor attempting to create a new form of skin and a movie that is so bad you have to see it to believe it.

Two films debut at the Bijou.

The Skin I Live In: Drama/Thriller – 2011 – 117 min. – Rated R. Starts on Friday, Nov. 18, at 5:25 PM and 8 PM. An additional screening is at 2:45 PM on Saturday and Sunday.

The Skin I Live In

A doctor kidnaps a woman and uses her as his guinea pig to perfect something that has become his obsession. No, I’m not talking about The Human Centipede. I’m referring to Pedro Almodovar’s latest film, The Skin I Live In.

Antonio Banderas plays Dr. Robert Ledgard, a plastic surgeon whose wife was burned in a car crash. Since her death, Dr. Ledgard has been obsessed with creating  a new type of skin that will protect against any type of trauma. After twelve years of work, he believes he has perfected his new skin and now he needs a test subject.

He picks a woman without a cosmetic flaw so as to be sure that his new skin is perfect. But as the scientific community starts to grow skeptical of his work, his past is revealed, showing how his patient is closely linked to the tragic events that led to his obsession.

The Room: Drama/Romance – 2003 – 99 min. – Rated R. Showing at 11 pm Saturday and Sunday.

For one weekend each month, the Bijou has been playing this notoriously bad movie from 2003. I don’t know anything about this movie other than the fact that it’s supposed to be so bad it’s become a cult classic. Judging by the trailer, if you’re into bad acting, unintentionally funny dialogue and perhaps the creepiest looking lead actor ever in a movie, then feel free to check out The Room. I’ve attached the trailer so you can judge for yourself.


Still Playing at the Bijou:

Take Shelter: Showing at 5, 7:45 and 10:20 pm, Wednesday and Thursday. Also showing at 7:30 and 10:10 pm on Friday with an additional screening at 2:15 pm on the weekend.

The Interrupters: Last two showings at 7 pm on Wednesday and Thursday.

The Last Circus: Last two showings at 9:45 pm on Wednesday and Thursday.

Midnight in Paris: Showing at 4:45 pm on Wednesday and Thursday. At 5 pm Friday-Sunday.

At David Minor this week, one new film debuts.

Beginners: Comedy/Drama/Romance – 2010 – 105 Min – Rated R. Debuting at 5:30 PM on Thursday, Nov. 18-23.

Beginners

Ewan McGregor stars as Oliver, a man still mourning the death of his father, Hal, (Christopher Plummer) when he meets the unpredictable Anna (Melanie Laurent of Inglourious Basterds). This new love opens up memories Oliver had with his father, who, following the death of his wife of 45 years, came out of the closet.

Suddenly an openly gay man at 75, Hal started to live as happily and open as he can for as long as he can. The sudden honesty of Hal brought the father and son closer together, and now Oliver want to take the lessons of love, bravery and humor his father taught him, to love Anna.

Still Playing at David Minor:

Bridesmaids: Showing at 7:30 pm on Wednesday, and at 9:30 pm Thursday, Nov. 17-23.

Crazy, Stupid, Love: Showing at 5:20 and 7:30 pm Wednesday, and 9:30 pm Thursday, Nov. 17-23.

Edward Scissorhands: Showing at 9:40 pm Wednesday, and 7:25 pm Thursday, Nov. 17-23.

Horrible Bosses: Showing at 9:40 pm Wednesday and 5:30 on Thursday, Nov. 17-23.

Water for Elephants: Showing at 5:20 pm on Wednesday and at 7:25 pm on Thursday, Nov. 17-23.