Sunday, September 27, 2009

Movie Review: The Informant

I was looking forward to the Informant - mostly because it was well reviewed and starring Matt Damon who rarely disappointments. However, I was disappointed. The movie is based on a true story of Vice President on a large corporation who decides to go to the FBI about price fixing. What's truly amazing is that the FBI goes along with him and works to gather evidence when in fact he is lying to them in almost every conversation, yet in fact the price fixing is happening. Its too hard to explain in a review but somehow the movie just lacks a spark, the thing that makes great movies. Am I sorry we paid full price, yes. Would I suggest Netflixing it? Maybe. All in all I say save your money and time.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Movie Review: Inglorious Basterds

First off let me say that I am a huge Pulp Fiction fan. Quentin Tarentino's other movies get mixed reviews - some are gory for the sake of being gory (see Kill Bill parts 1 and 2) but Pulp Fiction was the perfect blend of violence, plot, and stellar dialogue.

In Inglorious Basterds Tarentino once again mixes violence, plot and dialogue to make a riveting film. He introduces American audiences to a new star, Christoph Waltz who played the evil Hans Landa. Best villain since Darth Vader in my opinion. His character captures the audience from the very first "chapter" of the movie and every time he is on screen he is riveting. Compared to him Brad Pitt is just a pretty boy with a really strange southern accent.

Speaking of Mr. Pitt - he is the one thing I don't feel very sure of in the movie. The Basterds are a group of 8 Jewish American soldiers who's job it is to kill Nazi's and bring back scalps. I know that some scalping took place in the movie - however I didn't watch those parts at all - and I can assure you Marina did not either. Major yuck factor. The Basterds are terrific and even add to their forces as the movie progresses. But Brad Pitt is just not that good at accents - you can almost every time he speaks that he's thinking about his accent. And his effort to play a real man also seems forced. I found myself trying to cast the role of Aldo Raine in the movie and finally I came up with young Robert Mitchum - he would have been absolutely perfect in that role - he had the right mix of Southern Drawl (think Night of the Hunter) and real menace that would have made him perfect. Pitt becomes more a figure of humor every time he speaks, which is a relief during some of the more violent portions of the movie.

So do I recommend this movie - absolutely see it. Brad Pitt isn't in as much of it as you'd think from the commercials and the other characters are all fascinating. Be prepared for some violence - ok a lot of violence - but once you get through Chapter 1 you will see why I am voting Christoph Waltz for the Oscars. He literally blows you mind as he conducts the most civilized and horrifying of questioning in French, German and English.

When is a gift card not a gift card - at Santana Row in San Jose

Ok, I don't normally do product rants - but this time I just have to. I received a Santana Row gift card about two years ago as a gift. I used it once or twice then it became lost in an old wallet. I rediscovered it during a recent purse/wallet reorg and it went into a little wallet where I keep all my gift cards. I went to use it last night and was horrified to find it had expired - which I challenged because in California gift cards can't expire. We went over to the Santana Row Concierge and found out that the card shouldn't have been expired but I did discover to my horror that Santana Row had been assessing a $2.50 per month "fee" on the gift card - so in the time the card lived in my old wallet it lost about a lot of its value.

I got home last night and immediately checked all my other gift cards. None of them are due to expire (I have a lot of Starbucks cards from an old boss who handed them out at the drop of a hat - since I don't drink coffee I use them very rarely but they are great for buying water in airports). So why does Santana Row, a bastion of high end shopping, feel that they have to charge such fees? You think they'd want to encourage shoppers to patronize their stores and if I have a positive experience I'm more likely to return to shop again. I doubt the purchaser of my gift card ever thought to look at the fine print (really fine - I had to get my reading glassed to read it) . As a recipient it never occurred to me that I should read fine print on a gift card since I knew they couldn't expire.

So this is just fair warning to everyone as they gear up for the holiday season - check your gift cards carefully - it seems that Santana Row has found a loop hole in California's law on gift cards/gift certificates. Who knows what other desperate retailers might do? The Santana Row concierge said - it's not really a gift card - she got that right.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Running a Charity Auction

I was horrified today when I realized it's been a month since I blogged. My only excuse is that the Grace Hopper Celebration is looming and I have a boat load of deliverables - more about that when they are delivered, and I was also spending my evenings and weekends working on a charity auction I did up in Lake Tahoe last weekend.

On the way home tonight I was thinking about how to break down the auction into its component parts and I think I found it. So here goes.

Running a successful auction involves 4 key components:

1. The audience - you need to fill the audience with people who have a passion - either for the objects you are selling or the charity you are supporting. I was lucky - I was doing the auction at a fan convention so the audience was pre filled with enthusiastic fans who were eager to see just what kind of memorabilia we had collected. The other important part was that if you are doing the auction as part of a larger event, make sure you don't have competition for the audience's attention. I would have been doomed if there had been a panel against me . But since there was no competition even non bidders came in to see what was being offered. The more people the more pressure is being applied for someone to bid. And some of those non bidders will often bid just to fill a void.

2. The Auction Items - you need a wide range of things to fill an auction. If you only have high ticket items you lose your audience except for those with deep pockets. You want people to win and get excited about a perceived bargain. I saw people ecstatic over winning a $10 item and others thrilled about a $1700 item. Our auction was great because it had a mix of memorabilia, paintings, and some new items - specifically some beautiful quilts and wall hangings made by one of the attendees. I think each of those items (there were 4) each brought in more than $700. There was one I just adored but I had promised myself no more big items.

3. The Team - an auctioneer can not manage an auction alone. The convention leadership supported me by soliciting donations. I put together the auction form and sorted the items in order. My friend Marina (who loves it when I give her shout outs in the blog) spent an evening with me writing up the index cards for all the items. Then I had my intake buddy - Carla - who helped me collect all the donated items, the team who helped bring everything down from my room and setup for the auction; the runners during the auction who showed the items to the audience and delivered the winning cards; and then the team who helped distribute the items. But I will say the most critical person was my facilitator Susan who kept me running during the auction. She was the one who would hand me the card for each item - made sure the runners had it and generally kept everything moving. I know she did a great job because the auction was flawless - we finished on time and broke all our previous records. And we both missed the cruise on the Lake the next morning because we were both physically exhausted. Without Susan the auction would have been a disaster and I thank her for it.

4. The Energy - I used to be a trainer and I always believed that as a speaker of any kind you have to emit energy to the audience in order to engage and hold their attention. I have always chosen to do this with humor. I love it when the energy is there - and it was on Saturday - people responded from the very first and that made it incredible. The only rough part was at the end of the auction when all the energy was used up. I ended up flat on my back with one of our convention director's giving me a Reiki massage - which by the way worked wonders. Pat - I thank you so much.

So the stats- we raised $15,500 in the auction - selling 108 items in exactly 120 minutes of auction time. The next day we raised another roughly $300 with a mini auction which was great fun as well. Our highest ticket item was $1700. The lowest were I think $5. We even had one person bid on something that somehow we had managed to lose track of - it had literally disappeared. The woman very kindly bid to save us the embarrassment of dealing with the seller. When we found the item she kept the item and frankly what an incredibly generous thing to do. The money raised went to several very deserving charities.

So that was my 4th time calling a charity auction - hey I'm from New Jersey - I talk fast. I know this was our last gathering with this group but so many people came up to me afterwards and assumed I was a professional auctioneer I must admit I'd like to do more. Not every day- I don't think I'd survive it - but if you know a charity that needs an auctioneer - well give me a call.