Let’s All Go to the Lobby

As a consultant, voracious reader, serial networker, author, father of 2, and sometime runner, I am not entirely familiar with the notion of “free time.”  There are times, nonetheless, when I force myself to carve out a few hours, kick back with friends and family and lose myself in a good movie.

Here, in no particular order, are the top 5 titles in my library:

1. The Godfather

Well before his over-the-top “Hoo Ah!” character in Scent of a Woman, Al Pacino played perhaps the most complex, transformative character in all of movie history.  The evolution of Michael Corleone from squeaky clean, Ivy League-educated, decorated war hero to cold, calculating orderer of murders is truly bone-chilling.  The Godfather, along with its phenomenal sequel, is a case study in the elements of a perfect movie: plot twists, gorgeous cinemascapes, impeccable dialogue and delivery, and a powerful soundtrack.  In addition to Michael, the characters are complex and engaging, from the hot-headed Sonny, to dim-witted but dangerous Fredo, to ever-strategizing Tom Hagen.  The movie offers many practical lessons in management, as noted by Fast Company‘s Lydia Dischman.

2. Goodfellas

Next to The Godfather, Goodfellas is arguably the best movie about organized crime, earning a nod from Roger Ebert as “the greatest mob movie of all time.”  All of the usual Martin Scorcese suspects are here, with Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci, and of course, a steady montage of Rolling Stones tracks.  Ray Liotta‘s gravely narration, coupled with the signature Scorcese classic rock soundtrack, provide the perfect audio complement to the visuals.  It’s a treat to accompany Henry Hill on a roller coaster ride from petty street hood, to high-ranking soldier, to “average nobody,  a schnook.”  Finally, in the bombastic Tommy DeVito, Pesci pulls off what is perhaps the most amazing blend of comedian / psychopath.  He essentially reprises the role a few years later, to less impressive results, in Casino as Nicky Santoro.

3. National Lampoon’s Animal House

John Belushi was arguably the greatest talent ever to come through the ranks of Saturday Night Live, inspiring Chris Farley, Horatio Sanz, and countless other young comedic stars.  The talented cast of Animal House notwithstanding, Belushi steals the show as Bluto with minimal dialogue and nearly 100% physical comedy (aside from the classic “Germans bombed Pearl Harbor” speech).  Animal House is based on the college experiences of writers Dartmouth grad Chris Miller and Washington University alum Harold Ramis.  I felt a personal connection with the film, having attended Wash U a few decades after Ramis.  Of course, the school I attended in the 90’s bore little similarity to the hedonistic playground where Bluto and his friends golfed, dined, and played with horses.

4. National Lampoon’s Vacation

As I’d alluded to in my post on Yahoo! it’s painful to see the descent of once-promising stars.  Anthony Michael Hall is now a bloated caricature of the delightful character he played in Vacation (as is Chevy Chase).  As with Animal House, I feel a personal connection with Vacation and John Hughes’ other movies as they were set in my stomping ground, the northern burbs of Chicago.  I could relate to Rusty as a youth, bellyaching about family trips to “boring” places such as Devon Avenue (Chicago’s “Little India”).  As a husband and father of 2, I now relate more to patriarch Clark Griswold whenever I try to “sell” my kids on trips to boring places such as…Devon Avenue (it’s a 15-minute drive vs 5 hours, but no less painful of a dragging process).  To bridge the gap, every vacation, whether it’s Wisconsin Dells or Washington DC, starts off with a family rendition of “Hey! Ho! Let’s Go” by The Ramones.

5. Office Space

No review needed.  Just seven words: TPS ReportsCase of the MondaysFlair.  <Shudder>.

No Real Plot Twists Here, But…

Movies are a great way to level set reality, especially after an exhausting day at the office or at home.  As with sports, alluding to movies helps to forge common ground in personal, professional, and academic settings: you can tell a lot about a person by the movies they dig.

I encourage you, gentle reader, to watch or re-watch these films next time you’re checking your queue on Netflix or roaming the aisles of the video store (yes, they still exist).  To fans and foes of these films, please reach out and let me know your thoughts.  You can submit comments below, or hit me up at ntorsekar(at)chicagobooth.edu.

And to paraphrase my fellow movie buff Roger Ebert, until next post, the balcony is closed.

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Requiem / Paean for a Dot-Com Darling

It’s a tale that unfolds more than we care to count, but is heart-wrenching to see nonetheless.  We’ve seen it many times: a young star meets with great success early on.  Their ascent is met with many accolades and kudos.  Then, they fall from grace.  Scandal; missteps; a change in public sentiment.  No matter how hard they try, they can’t reverse their fall from the great heights.

Sock puppets and search engines

yahoo pets.comI’m talking, of course, about Yahoo!, the once-revered icon of the late 1990’s dot-com era.  Two young Stanford grad students, Jerry Yang and David Filo, unleashed on the world an indexing service that would help navigate journeys on the increasingly congested “information superhighway.”  In this context, Yahoo! was nothing short of revolutionary.  Even its silly name seemed to capture the slightly irrational, but very fun, mood of the time.  This was when “burn rate” was a proxy for a company’s growth prospects, Herman Miller chairs and foosball tables represented credibility, and Jack Welch could get upstaged by a sock puppet as a company spokesman.

I have fond memories of that era: it’s when I moved to Chicago, fell in love with the woman with whom I just celebrated 11 years of marriage, and arrived at the very satisfying answer to the Frequently Asked Question, “what the hell are you going to do with a History and French degree?”  It’s why I still have a great deal of affection for this Sunnyvale company, even after the Microsoft acquisition debacle, the dustup over Carol Bartz ignominious departure, and the Scott Thompson resume kerfuffle.

Having logged time at two financial services companies, I was obviously a big fan of Yahoo! Finance.  There were two services, however, that capture the era well.

Yahoo! MailWashington University alums will recall standing in line waiting for the sterile “green screen” terminals to check their “Pinemail” in the Olin Library.  I quickly tired of the clunky interface I used to check my email after leaving St. Louis, and abandoned my “@wustl.edu” account for a Yahoo! one.  Granted, I am on the whole underwhelmed by Yahoo! Mail, given their glacial pace of introducing upgrades, and the fact that their integration with Outlook is a joke.   However, my Inbox is an ever-evolving scrapbook, a digital collection of moments I’ve shared with friends, family, and professional connections.  It’s why even though I have a Gmail account I’m still not parting with my Yahoo! account.

Geocities.  Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram have found a captive audience in folks looking for exposure – sometimes a little too much, as in the case of the “oversharenting” moms and dads examined in The Wall Street Journal.  It wasn’t always this easy.  I hate pulling out the “in my day” card, but you had to sort of know what you were doing in the late 90’s to publish content.  Geocities was the middle ground between Facebook and WordPress, that offered some primitive drag and drop tools for building and maintaining Websites.  Through Geocities I was able to share pictures with relatives in India, develop a Web portfolio to show hiring managers that a liberal arts grad could write code, and acquire a minor following from folks interested in sound clips from Goodfellas (one of my all-time favorite flicks).   Geocities has unfortunately gone the way of Delicious, Briefcase, and other sunsetted properties.

Holding out for a Hero (or a Good Product)

Ashton Kutcher was recently tapped to play Steve Jobs in an upcoming biopic.  At time of writing, if we were to associate a celebrity with Yahoo!, it would unfortunately be the likes of Lindsay Lohan or some other misstep-prone, washed up train wreck.  I’m holding out hope though.  Few seem to recall that the Apple of today was very much like Yahoo! before Jobs rescued it from the brink in the late 90’s – incidentally, while Yahoo! was riding high.  To win over the hearts and minds of customers and investors, Yahoo! needs to completely reinvent itself like Jobs did with the iPod, as opposed to half-baked, poorly executed attempts at innovation such as Livestand, and now Axis.

I’d like the next chapter of  the Yahoo! story to unfold like the amazing scene in Limitless when Eddie Mora shakes off the cobwebs, gets to work, and starts kicking some serious butt.  It would be nice for Yahoo! to replace “LiLo” with Bradley Cooper as the star with whom they are identified.  As talented as he is, however, I’m not sure Cooper could pull off the Jerry Yang look.  There’s always Eddie Murphy.

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