Friday, March 23, 2007

Looks out parents: Your teen might be listening to a blog!

I'm convinced that one of the most appalling wastes of billions of taxpayer dollars per year is the ads from the Office of National Drug Control Policy. To anyone who has actually used or at least encountered illegal drugs, they're laughable, which is why they're of course ineffective.

But the worst are the ads "helping" (and I use the term generously) parents talk to their teens about drugs. They're the worst kind of clueless bureaucrat trying to be hip bullshit. I just heard a truly great one on the radio today.

"Hey," it starts. "I'm your kid's MP3 player." Your kid's MP3 player is, of course, Black and sounds really "street-wise." I could almost picture him break dancing while recording the ad.

Your kid's MP3 player then continues (and I'm paraphrasing from memory, of course): "Do you know what's on me? Your kids are listening to all sorts of stuff, like podcasts and blogs. And people are talking about all sorts of things on them. Like drugs."

OK, so.... could somebody please tell the Office of National Drug Control Policy that you can't LISTEN to a blog?

And that's of course holding aside the larger question of whether MP3 players are now such a big pro-drug influence on America's teens that we need federally funded ads telling parents to be wary of them.

From anti-drug ads to abstinence-only education to government agency websites for kids, there's nothing more embarassing than the federal government's ham-handed and ill-informed efforts to educate us.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Why I "pwn with style"

I've never written an opinion piece for Variety before, but I just had to this week after reading the negative review of "300." It's not that I per se mind that many top critics trashed the movie, it's that they casually compared it to a video game... as if that's self-evidently a bad thing?!

Sure there are plenty of crappy video games, maybe even more than there are movies than books. But that's probably understandable given that it's only a 25(ish) year old art form, but it's already highly corporatized. That being said, there are lot of amazing video games that are clearly great art and outshine the vast majority of movies, like Shadow of the Colossus, Okami, Resident Evil 4, Katamari Damacy, any Zelda game, etc. etc. Even Gears of War, despite its inane plot and non-stop violence, has amazingly well designed levels that impress me as artistic creations in their way.

Anyway, I'm really proud of this piece, so I've got to urge anyone who happens on this blog to check it out. Here's the key point:

For today's movie critics, videogames are the new MTV musicvideo, a shorthand insult for any movie deemed too heavy on effects and visual panache at the expense of plot and coherence.

Anyone who has spent much time playing videogames -- a category in which, it seems safe to assume, few established film critics fall -- knows the comparison is both artistically demeaning and substantively wrong.


There has been a lot of discussion about my article online, especially on videogame blogs. But this is my absolute favorite thing anyone has said. I may even want to have it inscribed on my gravestone. It's from the comments in response to John Davison's blog at 1up.com:

"This fritz guy. He pwns with style it seems, me likes him."

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A Bubba Gump insider speaks!

I have yet to receive an official response from the Bubba Gump company about their insane policy on ice in drinks, but in the comments to my previous post, I got a great insight into their policies from a former employee:

I once upon a time worked at the Times Square BGSC and I am ashamed to admit that I've been that server before. Luckily, the TimesSq branch got smart and started using different glasses for the "no ice" requests.


The BGSC corporation is insane... their policies are completely absurd... For most of the specialty drinks they "automatically" come with the glassware which adds $4-6 to a drink that is packed with ice TWICE while it's made. (Mind you the strongest drink from their "bar" is the Blue Hawaiian with less than an ounce and a half of alcohol)


I also love his or her PS at the end:

p.s. the memorabilia in the restaurants isn't the real stuff from the film (are you kidding? they would never let a restaurant that serves their food on a tray with a newspaper have the real stuff)


The whole sordid story from my Bubba Gump source "PocaRoja" is here.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

QUESTIONS FOR THE BUBBA GUMP CORPORATION

My dinner at Bubba Gump on Saturday raised some important questions. To wit: Who created your corporate policy on the amount of beverage you will put in a glass without ice? And how much money does this save your corporation per fiscal year?

First some background. On Saturday Alicia and I and some friends went to Universal CityWalk, an overpriced faux-downtown teeming with tourists that I would usually avoid like Ann Coulter infected with the bubonic plague, especially on a weekend. But I wanted to see "300" on an Imax and that was the only theater nearby playing it, so there we were.

Parking and lines are of course a nightmare so I wanted to get there early, which meant we had to have dinner there. Dining options at CityWalk are a range of overpriced chains with kitschy themes and hour-long waits.

We ended up at Bubba Gump, the restaurant based on the heart-warming movie "Forrest Gump," because seafood sounded OK and it wasn’t quite as ethically disturbing as an $18 hamburger at the Hard Rock CafĂ©.

For anyone who doesn’t know, Bubba Gump is a seafood chain that in the lobby has real-honest-to-goodness memorabilia from "Forrest Gump," like a genuine call sheet with Tom Hanks' name. Man was that exciting to see up close behind glass.

There’s not enough genuine call sheets from the movie to put around the tables, so instead they just have random pictures and pennants and shit on the walls, a la "Uncle Moe’s Family Feedbag."

So we’re at the table, all is fine, and I decide to order something called a mango spritzer to drink. Hey, I'm gay that way. It’s a mix of mango and pineapple and orange juice and they charge $3.95. It probably costs them about 30 cents to make. But once you’re eating at Bubba Gump, you’ve given up questioning things like that. Or so I thought.

I ordered it without ice because I don’t like my drinks to get water-y.

Lo and behold, they bring it with ice. But that happens a lot. No problem. I just politely ask the busboy to bring it back without ice and he says OK.

Five minutes later, our waitress returns. The drink doesn’t have ice. But it's literally half full. That's correct. They took out the ice but didn’t full up the glass. And there was so much ice that I now have about half a glass of juice. For $3.95.

I asked where the rest of the juice was and she said they only left in as much as there would be with ice. I was so shocked I didn’t know what to say and she left. This was now an intense topic of conversation at our table. Did the waitress hate me? Was this some insane directive from Bubba Gump headquarters? Whatever it was, it feels actively hostile for a waitress to bring you a drink you ordered half full and tell you that’s all you're getting.

So when she came back, I told her, as politely as I could, that I wasn't going to pay $3.95 for half a glass of juice. She then informed that she wished she could fill it up, but it’s against their policy to give more than there would be with ice. First she said it was because the liquor costs so much. We told her there is no liquor in a mango spritzer, but she refused to budge. Eventually, she agreed to take the drink away and take it off my bill, because on principle I'm just not paying $4 for half a fucking glass of juice.

But the insanity’s not over. Oh no. Then she brings our food, as I'm happily drinking water. And she says "What can I bring you to drink to set things right?"

Before I could think about how insane this was, I blurted out "Can I have the drink I ordered?" But I could see on her face that this was a no-go. She’d rather bring me another drink… FOR FREE… then give me the drink I ordered… FOR $4. Rather than discuss this insanity, I ordered lemonade and moved on with my life.

(Yes, the lemonade had ice, but the idea of bringing that up to the waitress almost made my head explode.)

I'm left very confused and even frightened by this incident. And there are several questions that I would love to ask senior executives at the Bubba Gump corporation that I simply cannot get out of my head. They are:

-Who exactly developed your policy on not filling up drinks when the customer asks for no ice? Was there a committee or was it just one person? Did you conduct any market research before adopting this policy? If so, are you aware that I have NEVER SEEN A SINGLE RESTAURANT THAT DOESN’T FILL UP THEIR GLASSES and I haven been ordering my drinks without ice since I was like 12.

-How much money does this policy save you? Have you ever measured it against the cost of your customers interpreting it as a near-hostile act when a waitress brings a half full glass? Or do you see this as akin to negotiating with terrorists: "If we give in once, everybody will start ordering their drinks without ice and our profit-per-drink will plummet!"

-How do your bartenders and servers measure the appropriate amount beverage to go into a glass when there's no ice? Is there a small line on the glass that I didn’t notice? Do you have measuring cups at the bar? Do you have a machine pour the drinks with the exact right amount of beverage and then have wait staff fill up the rest with ice?

-How much money do you lose when a customer returns a half full glass because they expect a full glass of mango spritzer for their $4? Is this really less than the cost of just filling up the glass all the way? Or, again, is this a matter of principle that can't be measured in dollars and cents?

-When a customer is angry about this policy, why do you then offer to give them a different free drink? You have now borne the expense of one and a half drinks (or, to be precise, one drink and half a glass of ice), as well as the cost and labor to serve two drinks and wash two glasses. I am not a CPA, but I am confident that this is less expensive than just giving me a full glass of mango spritzer, without ice, in the first place. I would ask if it's a matter of principle, but I also can't discern the principle. Unless the principle is: "Customers who won't take their half a glass and like it don't deserve their first choice drink."

On the plus side, as our relationship with our waitress soured following the mango spritzer incident, she stopped asking us obscure trivia questions about "Forrest Gump."

But still, the mystery about Bubba Gump corporate beverage policy remains…

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Ironically, I think it's brains that Joe is short on

My friend and Dateline Hollywood partner Gil made this photo for the site. But it's so awesome, and has as much to do with politics as entertainment, that I felt I had to share it with the world here as well. Truly, it's uncanny...