The Other Side Of Outsourcing

Often one reads of the way that so many tasks are outsourced and the way that companies feel that they can have tasks done by others for cheaper than they can do it for themselves, but often the practical outcome does not match up with the promises that happened ahead of time.  Indeed, just today I had to listen to a fairly long rant from a couple of coworkers of mine about how they want to bring a task that is currently outsourced in-house so that it could be done better.  Even though these are pretty busy people, there is still a recognition that things could be done better even by new people who have to be trained than by people who have no accountability to the way things need to be done.  Part of the appeal of outsourcing is being able to blame someone else for problems [1], but if one is going to accept ultimate responsibility anyway it would be better just keep internal control of it.  Here are some reasons why:

If you’re going to take the blame, you may as well have the authority.  This was the reason that seemed to be at the core of my coworker’s concern.  Part of the appeal of outsourcing is, of course, getting rid of tasks that you don’t like doing and having someone else do them for you.  Sometimes, though, you are the one that is asked over and over again about these tasks even if someone else is responsible for doing them, and eventually the excuse that so and so has to make the changes ring hollow when you are the one ultimately in charge.  If you are unable to pass the buck of questions about whether or not something is being done, then you should have the power to do what you are asked to do, since it is difficult to motivate external partners to have your priorities.  They will do what is most convenient to them and will be under a minimum of supervision so that they do what is profitable or useful to you, and since that is the case that there is always more friction than one would assume in the handoff and accomplishing of tasks, it is best to keep essential and important tasks in house even if they are irritating to do.

Things will seldom be done as well as you would want them done or when you would want them.  In many cases, there is a swan song of efficiency in doing only a few things in house and ten outsourcing as many as possible to those who claim expertise.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t often pan out the way you would hope.  For one, the company that is doing an unwanted but important task is likely not to enjoy it any more than internally, and it will not have the same importance externally because one client will likely be only a small part of their tasks and the payment they receive will likely be on a contractual basis rather than a task-specific basis.  Even if there is friction and tasks are not done to the quality one would like or on the schedule that one would wish, there is a strong disincentive to end such a relationship because it would be an admission that one’s goals of saving costs and getting rid of unwanted tasks was a failure, and may require an increase of headcount internally in order to do the tasks that were outsources, which can be difficult to justify and difficult to attain.  Often you will have a higher priority for the quality of your data and processes than other people you are paying to work on them will have who are at arms length from the company and its reputation, so this is a case where closer is better.

Finally, it will always cost more than you think.  Part of this has to do with the fact that the cost of something not working out well is not only in money but also in time and irritation.  If you have to e-mail someone dozens of times to get something done and it takes days or weeks longer than you could do yourself, then you are not really getting the most out of outsourcing.  If you are promised a low monthly charge on a given service but find out there are hidden costs and fees related to the outsourcing, where you are billed for the added headcount in the company you outsourced a task to, as was the case in one notorious project I was involved in over the course of a couple of years, then you are not getting the most out of outsourcing.  Often what happens here is creative accounting, in that there will be a low cost promise but that promise doesn’t include all the costs, and where there are attempts at creative accounting to make it seem like a better deal than it is.  These kinds of deals usually go sour in the end.  You know the drill:


[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: The Disaster Artist

The Disaster Artist:  My Life Inside The Room, The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made, by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell

One of the more chilling lines in this book–and there are a lot–is when the actor that the author replaces comments that “The Room” was going to be on his imdb profile forever.  This is a compelling piece of work if you, like me, are fond of bad movies and stories of bad movies [1].  There is something glorious about something so incompetent as this film is and the way that it went from just an ordinary bad film into something so bad that it’s good, and likely the sort of work that closed off a part of its director and writer’s heart forever.  What this book does and does so well is to set a terrible movie in a compelling context that allows you to see the story of how it was made and get to know at least a little into the dark mind of the person who made it.  The book makes a lot of references to the excellent film/book “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” although Tommy Wiseau doesn’t appear to be very talented at anything except acquiring enough money to make a vanity project that turned into a cult classic for being an unintentional comedy of epic proportions.

This book is written in a highly nonlinear fashion that increases the interest of its subject material, as if the author was not merely the writer, but someone putting together a puzzle as best as possible to solve a mystery and present it to the reader.  Part of that mystery is Tommy Wiseau the man, someone whose background is mysterious and full of subterfuge.  What is his real name?  Where does he come from?  How old is he?  Where did he get his money?  There are all obvious questions that the man is deeply unwilling to explore.  The other part of the mystery is how this man with a dark past and a lot of unexplored and frustrated longings ended up creating a baffling film that violates all sense of plausibility and continuity and that meant as a cry of the heart ends up being riotously funny to anyone who sees it.  Although he embraces the humor now, this film was entirely serious and the author proves it through a detailed description of a tense and dramatic and painfully awkward filming process that included some terrifying sex scenes and several sets of decreasingly competent film crew and some cringeworthy acting and dialogue that includes such meme-worthy lines as:  “Hi doggie” and “You are tearing me apart, Lisa.”

This is a book that delivers on its promise of giving an insider’s perspective on the making of a terrible but somehow compelling film.  The book also delivers on its promise of giving a plausible if dark tale of how Wiseau grew up on the wrong side of the iron curtain and made his way through illegal immigration first to France and then through sponsorship by a relative to the United States where he formed a new identity and kept his own dark personal history private.  Part vanity project, part hopeless dream, “The Room” appears to be a much more tragic tale than it would appear at first glance.  It is the way that someone poured their passion and soul into a work which cost $6 million to make and looks extremely cheap but which demonstrates an appalling lack of talent and ability in its creation.  Someone the film caught on as an unintentional comedy in large part because of the lack of self-awareness of Wiseau and the bravery of the rest of the cast and crew in limping to the finish.  This film may not discourage someone from dreaming of Hollywood success, but at the same time it is an ode to friendship and to sheer stubbornness in pursuing the dream of stardom.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: Bambi Vs. Godzilla

Bambi Vs. Godzilla:  On The Nature, Purposes, And Practice Of The Movie Business, by David Mamet

I got this book from the library and I have to say that it was a funny book to read.  Just its title alone–a knowing reference to one of the more famous short films of the late 1960’s–gives an idea of the sort of humorous writing that this book will contain.  And, truth be told, this book is clearly written to an insider audience.  Anyone who reads this book will care a lot about the movie business and will likely be a writer, as it seems that writers are those who read books for the most part [1].  At any rate, this book has all the hallmarks of a book written for insiders, with inside jokes as well as a sort of openness that comes when a writer expects to write for a sympathetic audience.  To be sure, this is not a book written with critics in mind, who the author seems not to like, but rather is written for those who could consider themselves fans or at least people who are somewhat idealistic if also a bit cynical about how the movie industry works.

In terms of its contents and structure, the book has a laid back and somewhat rambling but also deeply entertaining feel to it.  The book begins with a discussion about the good people of Hollywood, which in the minds of the author mostly means the writers and crew members who toil to create art that is not particularly appreciated by those who make the most money.  The author also talks candidly about Jews and show business and discusses his ideas on population genetics and the like.  After this comes a few chapters on the repressive mechanism that tends to encourage bad films and an improper response to film on the part of many producers and their sycophants.  A few entertaining and practical chapters on screenwriting follow, including the way that screenwriters tend to be, in the author’s rather provocative language, raped and accused of theft by many producers, as well as three important questions for any screenwriter to ask about his or her script:  Who wants what from whom?  What happens if they don’t get it?  Why now?  Some chapters on learning technique in filming by experience follow, as well as some basic principles about dramatic distance and setting up the enjoyment of delayed gratification and the compact between filmmakers and the audience.  After this come some rather humorous discussion on genre, including the cop movie, film noir, religious films, and the author’s thoughts on sequels.  At this point the author gets into the swing of passing judgment on critics and actors, some of it positive and some of it negative, before closing on his views of the crimes and misdemeanors of the film industry, particularly as it relates to manners and the purpose of the Oscars, with some lovely closing material including an annotated list of films referenced in the book.

At a bit more than 200 pages this is certainly an enjoyable book to read.  As someone who is both a prolific critic of books as well as a prolific writer of original material (including quite a few plays), I am not sure the extent to which I am considered as a member of one category of reader or another.  I did not agree with everything the author said, and certainly we have very different political and moral worldviews to be sure, but at the same time I felt this author to be someone who defended the artist and thought it important that those who make films maintain a level of respect for the audience and what the audience wants from a film.  The author also points out the stress and difficulties faced by people who want to make art in a world that values the bottom line and tends to want to make fewer and fewer films as time goes on in order to take fewer risks on films with small budgets and niche audiences that might actually have the chance to be worth remembering decades from now.

[1] See, for example:

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The Chiang Mai Diet: Part Two

Having previously discussed the context of the Chiang Mai diet in a previous discussion [1], today I will share my tips on how you too can lose up to a third of your body weight just like I did, while living in supposedly the safest place on earth.  The laughing you get while thinking of northern Thailand as the safest place in the world will help to burn some calories, but for the most part my weight loss tips do not involve a lot of exercise.  In this handy weight loss guide I will give some proven ways that you can lose weight and some tips if you want to be particularly extreme about your weight loss, all while eating three or more full meals a day.   Losing massive amounts of weight need not involve starving yourself or drinking only water or grapefruit juice.  No, you can do it with Thai food.  How, you ask?  Let me show you how.

Ordinary Tips:

Mountain Rice:  Two words.  Mountain rice.  If you want to lose the weight, one of the most effective ways to do it is to replace your bread and other starchy items with indigestible mountain rice.  You’ll really lose those pounds in a hurry when you fill yourself with food that your body will not know what to do with because it lacks the right gut bacteria.  If the rice isn’t tasty enough on its own, you can eat it with eggs or other food.  It’ll just be coming out again in a few hours, so there’s no need to make the eating unpleasant.

Eat Local, Part One:  Part of eating local will be not eating what locals don’t eat.  And what’s that?  Red meat and dairy.  The Thai aren’t big on eating beef and if you want to eat like the locals, neither will you.  Eating of dairy food is so limited that government campaigns to encourage the eating of calcium pills in order to avoid bone loss can be found, much to your likely laughter.  You won’t be laughing when you go to the grocery store and find that an ordinary block of cheese costs several weeks of your wages.  The money you save by not eating beef or dairy products will keep the weight off in a hurry, though.

Eat Local, Part Two:  Subtracting that meat and dairy products means that you will be free to try to the local food.  If you’re not allergic to tropical fruits like mango, you will be able to feast on a wide variety of very strange fruits year round.  If you are, then you should at least be able to enjoy some spicy Thai dishes.  When the people cooking you ask if you want it farang style, tell them ‘mai’ (no), and have them cook you up some excellent dishes like basil leaf chicken with a fried egg on top (or krapow gai kai dow), and you will be enjoying some tasty dishes that will likely also irritate your bowels if they are a bit sensitive to the spicy peppers.  Your intestines will not be thanking you for eating spicy food, but you will definitely be able to eat tasty foods and lose weight in a hurry.

Food Shortages:  Another way to keep the weight off that will not require any effort on your part is the food shortages that result from the annual floods.  All that rain has to go somewhere, and the odds are that at least some time during your time in Thailand that your local grocery stores will be running out of food because of floods in Bangkok.  Nothing says that you’re living in the safest place in the world like going to the local Tesco Mart and finding nothing but bottled water, cheap Chinese beer, and twenty varieties of ramen noodles to buy.  Try keeping the weight on when pondering what makes squid happy on the happy squid ramen noodle packages.  You’ll lose those pounds in a hurry.

Extreme Chiang Mai Diet:

If these tips are not extreme enough for you, here are some ways that you can really lose the weight:

Go To Prison:  Living in the safest place in the world has its problems, including a great amount of political instability and a corrupt military that periodically overthrows elected governments [2].  If you are the sort of person that can’t shut up and happens to read and write politically sensitive material, you could find yourself in prison for lese majeste [3], and in the three to eighteen years of hard living in Thai political prison that would result, you can trust that you will have lost a lot of weight.

Live like a Buddhist monk:  If you’re a Buddhist monk it’s not all about talking on your smart phone when going from monastery to monastery in your saffron robes or taking care of abandoned animals or giving people advice on what lottery numbers to pick.  Sometimes you want to lose that weight and gain a bit of merit points as well, and if you want to do that you’ll have to go vegetarian.  No more eating fish soup with those adorable fish eyes pleading at you, or eaten your weight in chicken every week desperately trying to keep the weight on.  No, go vegetarian and your weight will definitely plummet as you beg for plain rice balls every morning.

Become an agricultural laborer:  One of the qualities that makes areas safe to live in is the ease of growing your own crops, and if you’re willing to do a bit of exercise you can really lose the weight by becoming an agricultural laborer.  Does your patron/boss have a few rai of land that he needs to turn into a productive farm?  If so, then you just may be in luck, weeding, planting rice and other crops, taking advantage of the tropical climate to work year round on the fields in the often burning sun.  If you want to burn those calories you can take advantage of growing all kinds of crops, from rice to cabbage to corn to various types of peppers.  You’ll thank me when your back starts to hurt and your scrawny water buffalo working with you starts looking appetizing.

If you eat like this for a year or more, you’ll lose that excess body weight, or I’ll give you your money back, in bhat of course!

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

[3] See, for example:

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Book Review: The Anxious Christian

The Anxious Christian:  Can God Use Your Anxiety For Good?, by Rhett Smith

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Moody Publishers.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

The subtitle of this book rather gives the game away.  The obvious answer to its question, for those who have read and believe Romans 8:28, is that God can use our anxiety for good.  God can use all kinds of things for good that are not good–rape and murder come to mind, along with other horrible things–and the fact that the author asks if God can use the raw materials of our psyche for good is rather begging the question.  Of course God can use the way we are and what we experience for good.  Does it mean that such things themselves are good?  Not necessarily.  This is not a book that views the anxiety of a Christian as a good thing, per se, but rather starts from the true assumption that many Christians, myself included [1], are anxious people and then explores how God can use that for good in our lives and in our world.  This is not a book that speaks of ideals as much as it does the real, and remembering that allows one to appreciate it if you happen to be an anxious Christian as many people are.

The book takes about 200 pages to deal with the author’s points about anxiety.  The eight chapters of this book are bookended with a discussion about the author’s stuttering–when it began and how the author lives life with his struggle.  In between the author discusses the way that believers should embrace anxiety and welcome uncertainty and avoid being caught in a rut.  Our anxiety tells us we are on unsafe ground, and that can lead us to grow if we persist in anxiety until we reach the desired end.  The author reimagines anxiety as a way that God can improve our lives through taking risks and building faith and trust, and discusses the way that many believers wrestle with God as Jacob did so long ago.  The author talks about the need to live intentionally and not merely by unconscious habit as it is so easy to do.  After that the last two chapters look at the need for believers to set and live by godly boundaries as well as refine and improve relationships rather than keeping people at arms length merely because they are difficult to deal with.

There is a lot to praise in this book.  Clearly this is an author who speaks from experience about his struggle with anxiety and his fears about the women of his life dying as so many did during his youth from breast cancer.  The author clearly wishes to justify his own decisions to embrace therapy (even with non-Christian therapists) and to embrace medicinal treatment for his condition and urges that on others, and there are some who will find this approach a bit uncomfortable.  The author clearly approaches, if not cross altogether, the line between description and prescription in areas where there is considerable debate and disagreement about matters of mental health.  Thankfully, though, the book avoids becoming a whiny ragamuffin gospel with efforts of self-justification that remove all pleasure or all moral responsibility from the book.  This is a book to handle with care, but one to read for encouragement if you happen to be a person who is already clinically anxious.  This is not a book about anxiety as an absence of trust in God, as many anti-anxiety books are, but rather a book about how one deals with anxiety as a clinical condition as a believer, which is something that all too many people have a great deal of experience with.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: How To Overcome Worry

How To Overcome Worry:  Experiencing The Peace Of God In Every Situation, by Dr. Winfred Neely

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Moody Publishers.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

In many ways, this book requires a great deal of proper framing of one’s expectations.  At around 100 pages even when one includes its appendices, and those pages are very small ones as this book could almost fit inside of one of my pockets, this is not a book that offers a thorough treatment of worry and anxiety.  The author treats these as synonymous terms, and he also comments that he does not wish to treat clinical anxiety that is the result of trauma [1], but rather the sort of worry that people have as a result of a lack of faith.  And that is a thoughtful place for this book to rest, in that it encourages believers to develop a faith in God that gives one peace while not attacking those whose anxiety is the result not of a lack of faith but as a result of traumatic experiences in a fallen world full of broken people.  Even to such people who read this book carefully, the author’s perspective allows him to avoid blaming while also encouraging others to build their faith.

The author deals with the subject of worry in five chapters.  The first chapter examines the troubled waters of worry, and includes what it is that people worry about and how worry is often related to the dynamic between our concern about people and their lack of concern for us.  After that the author discusses the bold biblical imperative not to worry, and then spends a chapter discussing the antidote to worry in prayer and cultivating faith and trust in God.  The author then spends some time talking about the precious promise for hard-pressed people that He will give us peace, and not expect us to create that peace for ourselves.  The fifth and final chapter of the book deals with how we walk in freedom from worry, again, with a focus on prayer and faith and trust in God.  After this main section of the book there are three appendices, the first showing a pattern for prayer, the second a list of scriptures to memorize and call to mind to aid in the battle against worry, and the third one a set of questions for individual reflection and group study.

How is one to view this book?  Is it a helpful one?  I think it can be, although its helpfulness is limited to those who have a belief in the scriptures as a guide to one’s life as well as the model of behavior that we seek to attain and who are willing to trust God to work within us the sort of patience and faith and confidence that is necessary to live without worry and in His perfect peace.  The author is wise to note that this cannot be done through our own efforts, and is also wise and compassionate to note that some people struggle with anxiety at a deeper level than others because of the experience of deep suffering and evil.  It is unclear why the author does not wish to talk about this at a deeper level, but the fact that he acknowledges it is a noteworthy accomplishment and a way that the book serves as an encouraging guide to overcome worry rather than a bludgeon against those whose anxiety springs from trauma rather than from an absence of faith, given that not everyone who deals with the subject is thoughtful in distinguishing between these two things.

[1] See, for example:

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The Chaing Mai Diet: Part One

For the past few days I have received at least a few messages that stated that Chiang Mai, a small city of about a quarter of a million people in the north of Thailand [1], was the safest city to live in in the whole world.  As someone who lived a not particularly safe year and three months there, I found this a hilarious thought, because if Chiang Mai is the safest place in the world to live, this world doesn’t have much in the way of safe places to live in.  The articles and their discussions struck me as more than a little bit ridiculous, as if the fact that Mark Faber enjoys living there makes it safe for everyone.  As far as places to live go, it’s certainly decent enough if–and the ifs are important–you have no interest in Thai politics, are okay with occasional protests/riots, and don’t mind an absence of good bookstores and are able to afford eating as you wish.  I will get to this more in the second part of the blog.

In thinking about my experience in Chiang Mai, I thought of a diet based on my own experiences in Thailand.  When I arrived in Thailand I weight a bit more than 200 pounds and when I left Thailand about fifteen months later, I weighed less than 150 pounds.  I did all of this while eating three to four times a day, at least, trying desperately and largely unsuccessfully to keep the weight on.  I will comment, as I said, at more length in part two of this entry on how my weight loss tips can work for you in getting rid of that unwanted third of your body weight, even if keeping it off will be a bit of a challenge, no doubt.  Given this dramatic weight loss, I thought it would be worthwhile to begin my discussion with a bit of context.  Any place where one can lose nights of sleep because of concerns about the police establishment, where politics is unstable and life is dangerous for those who don’t know how to keep their mouths shut, and where one can lose a third of their body weight while eating three or four (or at times even five) times a day is clearly not a place that is for everyone.

For most people, Chaing Mai is a perfectly decent place to live.  There is a lot of scenic beauty in Northern Thailand, the cost of living is generally pretty low, as long as one knows where to eat, and the ordinary people are quite friendly.  If you’re a person who is content to dwell at the surface level of life and enjoy the surface level smiles and friendliness of those around you, you will enjoy this country a lot.  It is not, however, a country that rewards those who are looking for depth.  Not a lot of people enjoy reading–and the expat literature one finds can be pretty terrible for those who read in English at least.  It is a good place to go if you have a taste for spicy food (more on that in part two) and have an appreciation of peasant farming.  Not a lot of people eat beef or dairy products, and so those who like red meat and dairy food will be out of luck.  Even so, the local food is tasty enough that one will likely have a few favorite dishes among the ones that can be found.  As for this picky eater, I loved kao soy and krapow gai kai dow in particular and regularly made time and saved money to eat both of these tasty dishes in the course of my time there.

As I close part one, I would like to set up the context for the Chiang Mai diet.  If you desire to enjoy this supposedly safest place in the world and eat your way to losing up to a third of your weight, then stay tuned for my suggestions on how you can do just that, all without the burden of excessive exercise.  This isn’t a diet plan that is going to require you to run or play takraw, although that will help you to lose weight faster.  This is a diet plan that depends only on the local conditions as well as one’s diet, and one can do all of this without spending large amounts of money as is the case in most rival weight loss plans.  In fact, the less money you spend, the better.  Are you prepared to live cheaply and in constant danger of a visit from the special police for blogging about Thai politics all while losing a crazy amount of weight?  If so, read on…

[1] See, for example:

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Movie Review: The Disaster Artist

The Disaster Artist is a film based on the book by the same title (review forthcoming) by Greg Sestero, who was one of the lead actors as well as the Line Director for the so-bad-its-good film “The Room.”  Although I have yet to see “The Room,” I must admit that I have some fascination with it from the clips I have seen as well as the meme-worthy dialogue from that film that I have come across over the years.  As a connoisseur of bad art [1], I must say that I found much to enjoy here.  This is a film about the darker side of Hollywood, where decent people find themselves making horrible films in sweatshop conditions for something that will either be entirely forgotten or will mark them for all time as having been involved with a horrible film.  In this film, in fact, there is a funny line from one of the characters asking if the film goes badly can it be removed from one’s IMDB record, which struck me as just the right note one would want to take with this sort of film.  The short answer, of course, is no.  IMDB is like that permanent record children are so afraid of, capturing every reality show and every bad film in some stage of production so that you are known for your work for good.

Although I enjoyed this film, I thought it was not quite as good as the book.  This is a cliche for a reason, as the movie telescopes a few interesting aspects of the book that would have been nice to see, such as Greg’s success as a bit actor and in a film that took place in Romania, or the way that Greg’s family responded to “The Room” as a foreshadowing of the laughter that would result from repeated viewings of the film over the years.  The film also telescopes the gradual reply of Tommy Wiseau from hurt over the ridicule and lack of initial success for the film to his adoption of a false narrative to claim that he always meant it as a joke, and the crew turnover in the making of “The Room,” which included three directors of photography according to Sestero’s work.  This film does its best to make Wiseau into a sympathetic figure, but it is not entirely successful, for reasons I will get into below.  This is the sort of movie that one will appreciate for a variety of reasons.  Its source material is so solid that even an incompetent filmmaker could make a worthwhile film out of it, as might have been the case here (more on that later as well).  The film shows a seedy side of Hollywood that is entertaining to watch, and the dialogue is pretty funny as well.  The characters are likable, for the most part, and certainly relatable even if one hasn’t seen “The Room” as was the case for me.

Even though I enjoyed this film, I have to admit there was a lot about this film that made me uncomfortable.  There is definitely a creepy subterranean homoerotic vibe going on in the relationship between Tommy and Greg in this film, and given that the actors who play these two characters are brothers (James and Dave Franco), it added layers of awkwardness and cringiness to the portrayal.  When one sees Tommy act jealous of the attention he gets from his girlfriend Amber and one listens to the Rick Astley song “Never Gonna Give You Up” at a particularly poignant scene, and one hears the skepticism of Greg’s mother over Greg being called “babyface” by the vastly older Tommy, who is in constant denial about his age, one gets several layers of discomfort.  One feels a high degree of concern and sympathy for the actress who plays Lisa being forced to endure cringy sex scenes with Tommy, and finds Tommy’s conduct in general to be abusive–he lambasts Lisa for having moles right before they are to enact a love scene, films the making of “The Room” as a way of keeping tabs on cast and crew discontent, fails to provide water for the cast leading to considerable discomfort, and generally acts like a lout, making the film’s attempt to view him as sympathetic as more than a little bit disingenuous.  This film, despite its efforts at softening its portrayal of Wiseau, shows that outsider directors and no better than insider ones at respecting the dignity of their cast and crew, and that part of the appeal of making a film is the power that filmmakers have over others, something that ought to make would be stars and especially starlets uncomfortable.

Probably a large part of the appeal for me was how meta this film was.  There are a lot of aspects about this film that demolish the fourth wall between the film and the audience.  Among the most obvious is a post-credits scene that is worth waiting for, as well as the numerous and sometimes distracting celebrity cameos that fill this film.  At several times, for example, there are comparisons made between the original movie and this adaptation that show the match to be a pretty close one, except this film has way better audio and the actors and actresses are better looking here and less normal looking as was the case with the originals.  Among the more poignant areas of metafiction that are evident here is that just as “The Room” was a misguided passion project for Tommy Wiseau, who was not competent as a writer, actor, or director, so too this film was a passion product for James Franco, who shows himself being not a particularly competent director either.  At least he goes all-in as an actor, where he should probably stay from here on out.  This film is more Wiseau than it lets on, and may even be the more entertaining for that, for its lack of self-awareness even as it seeks to be aware about an outsider director whose lack of self-awareness is legendary.  There are layers of irony here on top of each other, and that is part of the thrill of this worthwhile but unsettling film.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: Breaking Up Is Hard To Do…But You Could Have Done Better

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do…But You Could Have Done Better, by Hilary Campbell

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Net Gallery/Animal Media Group.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

Most people have experienced the pain of a breakup, sometimes in ways that were particularly comical or tragicomical, and for such people who want to share their embarrassing experiences and put a humorous light on them to take the sting out of the experience, this book is a hilarious and unsurprisingly awkward tour of user-submitted stories.  As might be imagined, the author was inspired to start this as a blog project from her own breakup experiences, and guessed correctly that there would be plenty of other people whose experiences with love and romance have been particularly awkward [1].  The result is a book that does allow for a laugh among people that places their own awkward experiences in a context that shows that others have it just as bad if not worse, which is hard for some of us to manage given the disastrous nature of our own relationships.  At the very least, a book like this encourages us to believe that our misfortune in love is at least not our fault alone, if at all, whether or not that is accurate.

This book is organized in a pretty simple and straightforward fashion.  First comes a story about some sort of awkward and botched breakup and then there is a drawing of some kind that shows it in a humorous light.  The stories and drawings are the stars of this show, and names have been changed to protect the identity of the guilty as well as the (relatively) innocent.  Included in this story are cowardly breakups by phone or text, a lot of cheating partners whose behavior is uncovered in unusual ways, breakups that are followed by regret and failed attempts at reconciliation, such as when someone is called a model who ends up being a kleptomaniacal stripper.  Some of the breakups are from people who are young, sometimes older, but in all cases something clearly went wrong.  Some of the more poignant experiences are attempts at scaring someone into intimacy through pregnancy that do not go well or times where someone has spent a great deal of effort to make a long distance relationship work only to find out that the other person wasn’t putting in the effort.  In some cases one of the partners wanted a more serious partner and the other one just wanted to keep it casual, with inevitable heartbreak.

Yet even though this is a lighthearted book that takes heartbreak as an opportunity to create beautiful drawings as well as tell humorous stories, there are deeper elements to the book as well.  One of the darker elements of the book is the way that our longings tend to push us into intimacy, and that often our feelings our engaged when our bodies are engaged, despite the fact that the time and situation may not be ideal.  Our attempts at making a clean break from the past may be hindered by our regrets or the fact that we were a good enough partner that someone else would regret no longer being with us.  This is a book that reminds us that although we may laugh about our misguided attempts to hold on to people or the way that we or others may not have acted honorably in our relationships, that our attempts to laugh it off and shake it off do not mean that we cease trying to connect with other people no matter how we have been hurt before.  Our optimism and the intensity of our longings tends to make us keep trying again, hoping, sometimes against hope, that this time we will get it right.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: Downward Dog

Downward Dog:  Series Haiku From A Very Serious Dog, by Samm Hodges & Phineas Hodges

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Net Gallery/Animal Media Group.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

As a deeply melancholy person myself, there is something deeply appealing about the melancholy dog at the center of this book [1].  What this book does, and does particularly well, is to try to crawl within a particular dog, who happens to be the dog that the author(s) got from an animal shelter, and to attempt to view life from the point of view of a reflective and loving if somewhat downbeat animal.  The result is a view of a dog’s life in all of its complexity from a dog that is full of angst in a way that draws considerable insight about the life of human beings whose suffering from loneliness and monotony may not be so different from that of the animal whose reflections are turned into lovely and gloomy haiku here.  As it is easy to think of many people who love dogs and who want to imagine life from the point of view of a dog, it is unsurprising that this book likely has a large and appreciative audience.

The book itself is simple, being divided into a series of cute illustrations along with touching haiku from the point of view of a dog.  We see a dog feeling ashamed about having torn some shoes to shreds and having peed in the house out of anxiety and fear about being left alone for so long, about the way that dogs are sensitive to the moods of their owners, the way that a cat torments a dog with taunts about being unloved with an owner who never comes home, a dog’s yearning for a family he will never have, and the endless monotony of eating the same dog food over and over again.  Beyond these reflections, there are thoughts about the growl that results from the dog’s sensitivity to a man who comes too close, and the concern about how a dog ages far faster than a person, and the way that love feels like a welling in the heart.  The drawings of the book are particularly cute and the haiku range from the adorably mopey to the deeply profound and touching, as when the dog wonders what a cancer scare means for his owner and struggles with intense loneliness.

Sometimes it is easiest to understand ourselves by putting ourselves in the place of someone else.  We live in an age that celebrates sterility, and yet a stray dog with a fear of being unloved can have a vision of unborn children that he will never get to have because of being neutered.  Likewise, people are often lonely and that is what leads people to get pets, only often because of our busy lives those pets can go many hours in the course of a day without human interaction, which one could easily see making them anxious about whether they are loved themselves, just as children and adults can easily feel the same way.  Likewise, much that humans take for granted in life is a mystery for dogs, such as the way that the doors close when people want to be with their “friends” or that a dog might feel neglected when some other animal is given too much attention or the way that a dog might want to show its friendliness only to feel ashamed at disapproval because of an inability to understand what it is like to be too friendly.  Haiku are often written in praise of nature, and in this book it happens to a form of poetry that is well-suited to describing life from the perspective of a lovable dog.

[1] See, for example:

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