Movie Review: American Hustle

2.5 out of 5 HelloNeimans

Movie Review Haiku:

Tons of hype for this,
Fell short of expectations,
Boring, but for Bale.


Movie Review in Detail:

I know this movie is getting tons of hype, great press, and positive reviews across the net. Well, I’m here to contradict all those. American Hustle was a completely adequate movie. That is the best description I believe it deserves. Given the star studded cast … Bale, Lawrence, Adams, Renner, Cooper, CK and De Niro … you had to have expected more from basically the same cast as Silver Linings Playbook.

The Worst: Even with a great cast, this story with simply dull. There was never a part during this movie where I was excited, on the edge of my seat, or eager to see what happens next. I was simply bored throughout the whole thing, and don’t understand why so many people herald this as an Academy Award shoe-in. I don’t know how you can call this a “hustle” movie, as it had none of the surprise elements of the Ocean’s 11 trilogy or other conman-type dramas. There were no tricks, no gimmicks, and no reveals (save one extremely predictable ending). Again, I was bored.

The Best: No question, the best part was a quality performance by Christian Bale. In stark comparison to some of his other roles, Bale was great at playing the sleazy conman that can barely keep his life together. Good back story for him, good on-screen struggles, and a great element of reality to trying to live a double-life. I believe the internal torment he portrayed, and I loved the opening scene making up his hair that puts things instantly into perspective. Amy Adams had some shining moments as well, but I found both Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence annoying, and the storyline was just weak all around.

Verdict: Skip it, rent The Sting, and have a much more enjoyable evening.

Movie Review: The Book Thief

5 out of 5 HelloNeimans

Movie Review Haiku:

One of the best books.
Can film meet expectations?
… above and beyond!


Movie Review Detail:

As I mentioned briefly in a previous post, The Book Thief is one of my new favorite books. During the 2012 “year to get back into reading”, it easily became one of my favorite reads for the year. The book is so deeply emotional and gripping, that you truly feel a part of the story and history at play. Almost as if you too play the role of Death, waiting on the imminent passing of these in-depth characters. The book was powerful, epic, and life-changing … so obviously expectations for the film adaptation had to be placed low.

That was a huge mistake. This film kept me at the edge of my seat, and even though I knew what to expect it still kept hold of me throughout. I was as passionately moved by the film now as I was by the book a year ago, and truly appreciate all the work that went into this story by Markus Zusak. Powerful dramas like this truly tug at my heartstrings, desperately pulling at my eyelids in a 2 hour battle to fight back tears. At 32, it takes a lot from a movie to bring me to tears, and although I managed to stay dry … let’s just say my sister Devorah would laugh at how close this got to our 1994 screening of Legends of the Fall.

What amazed me the most about this film adaptation, is how PERFECTLY cast it was, especially knowing they were mostly nobodies. I can not get over how much every character matched my internal image: Liesel, Rudy, Hans, Rosa, Frau Heinrich … each perfectly resembling the vision for each character in my head. Liesel and Rudy especially, who have done nothing but one-off German films to date … absolutely stole every scene. And the one star, Geoffrey Rush … another impressive role to put on his shelf next to Captain Barbossa and Lionel Logue.

I know the critics don’t match my sentiments, but I urge to you see and decide for yourself. If every actor isn’t nominated for a “Best” award this year, I will be significantly let down, but I know there is some stiff competition this year. And they don’t have to win, but Sophie Nelisse and Emily Watson certainly have my unregistered vote.

The Cleanse: Day 8

Well, i am now officially halfway through this program (if you include the elimination diet week). Overall, I definitely am enjoying this challenge and experience, and still recommend it to anyone. However, as anyone who has done something like this before can attest, one of the most difficult components of a cleanse is the ability to stay social.

“Mike, haven’t seen you in a while, want to grab drinks after work and catch up?”
“Mike, I am hosting a Sunday brunch for all our friends, hope you can make it”
“Mike, you guys free for a double-date? Dinner and a movie?”
“Mike, Passover Seder starts at 6pm, see you then.”

The last one is the worst. Symbolic Matzah? Four cups of wine? Mom’s signature pot roast? Doing this over passover sounded easy, but i completely forgot about the seder. (Sorry mom, I know you spent all day cooking, and i promise to eat the leftovers in my freezer as soon as this is done).

It’s not that you can’t be social, it’s just that doing so can get tricky. The Clean Program book talks about keeping your routine and going out as often as you’d like, but instead of fixating on alcohol, to use the time to educate your friends why you are doing a cleanse … a bit hokie, but it worked the first time while I sipped club soda.

Going out to dinner is also not that tough, because most restaurants can accommodate with gluten-free entrees, big salads (no tomatoes of course), and the like. But its tough to miss out on all the other delicious looking menu options and ask the waitress for chicken skewers and a side of sauteed spinach. Editors Note: thank you Butcher Block for not judging.

My coworkers have given great recommendations for future outings, such as the Ecopolitan or Tao Natural Foods in uptown. We are going to try one of those this week for date night, if anyone wants to be courageous and make it double-date night, just let me know!

The Cleanse: Day 4

On Saturday, I shared with you the list of foods that are approved and “clean friendly”. Eating those foods alone would be a significant change in habits and health. But, now let me share with you what goes with that food.

Spoiler alert, it’s a lot.

And, I mean a lot.  In total its about 15 pills, and 4 scoops of various powders. Every. Day. I won’t lie, this is the part that turns most people off, because it just doesn’t seem normal to digest a daily supplement whose claim is that it “contains 60 billion micro-organisms per pill”. The kit that Clean Program sells for $425 contains all these supplements in their own brand/mix. But we were able to identify what the true supplements were and spent about $100 at GNC/Amazon. After just a few days I have learned a couple things. 1) Brown Rice Protein tastes like cr*p. 2) Garlic pills do not sit well. 3) There are a lot of f*cking pills!!

  • EASE – Natural Brand Papaya Enzyme (3 daily)
  • BALANCE – Metagenics Insinase (3 daily)
  • CLEAR 1 – Saccharomyces Boulardii 50 Vegetarian Caps (3 daily on empty stomach)
  • CLEAR 2 – Metagenics CandiBactin BR (2, twice, daily)
  • NOURISH – Jarrow Brown Rice Protein Powder (2 scoops, twice daily)
  • MOVE – Natural Brand Super Fiber with Probiotics (2 scoops, twice daily)
  • ENCOURAGE -Ultra 50 Billion CFUs Probiotic Complex (1 daily)
  • RELIEF – Ultra Mega Green Men’s Whole Food Enhanced Multivitamin (2 daily with food)
  • GARLIC – GNC Odorless Garlic 1000 mg Herbal Supplement (1 daily at night)
  • MILK THISTLE – GNC Milk Thistle Herbal Supplement 200 mg (1 daily)
  • OLIVE OIL – 2 tablespoons (nightly)

So that’s the list. Its scary, definitely questionable, and likely something that will make my skin turn green. But, I will continue to take these every day for the next 17 days, ’cause I do stupid things without question when its part of a personal challenge. I can honestly say I will likely take some of the eating and nutrition habits with me after this cleanse is over, but I highly doubt i’ll keep downing shot glasses of olive oil before bed.

The Cleanse: Day 1

For those of you that don’t know the background story, here are the Cliff’s Notes:

  1. My manager has talked up his experience doing the Clean Cleanse  since my team met him last summer.
  2. About 2 weeks ago two members of my team decided they wanted to give it a try.
  3. They asked me if i was interested and I said no.
  4. They asked me again if i would give it a try, and since I can’t say no to anything when asked twice, I reluctantly agreed.
  5. We went to GNC and spent about $100 each on supplements and I was given the page above as a starting point.
  6. Until Monday, i hadn’t even looked at the book or read what this was even about.

Using the sheet above, we began the “Elimination Diet” on Monday to give us one week of eating only clean-approved foods. This was not only a suggestion of the program, but also a test to see if i was willing to put up with it. All I can say is … wow. By cutting out red meat, dairy, eggs, gluten, starch, sugars, soy, nightshades,etc. … my body feels like a 21 year old kid again. I am full of energy, sleep soundly, wake up refreshed, and i definitely sold. If the rest of this cleanse is horrible, at least I know i’ll be changing some eating habits long-term

Fast forward to today. Now the real test begins.

The actual Clean program calls for a shake at breakfast, a shake at dinner, and a solid lunch from the clean-approved foods every day for 21 days. In addition, there is a plethora of dietary supplements, enzymes, proteins, and probiotics that i will be taking as well (more on that fun next time). Dana and I bought a blender, are headed to Whole Foods to stock up on Coconut Nectar, Millet and Organic Mangos, and the Cleanse is officially on.

My goal is to blog at least every 2-3 days to keep you updated on my progress, but this is also the middle of our project go-live preparation, last-minute wedding planning, and MBA finals … so give me a bit of slack on how much I fit in.

Ready? Set? Clean!

There and Back Again, a Minnesotan’s Holiday

And just like that, the trip is over. Having “graduated” from FGV’s Doing Business in Brazil course, I am now ready to tackle the professional world as a fully educated Sao Paulan. My classmates and I spent the past 48 hours reminiscing about the experience, what we learned, what we saw, and what it would be like to truly do business with this emerging market. Although it was an amazing experience and extremely educational, we generally all agreed on one thing … don’t do business in Brazil.

Ok, to be fair, that statement really deserves a “yet” on the end of it. Most of our teachers talk about the upcoming opportunities and how to navigate them today. But what they are really saying, once you read through the lines, is that the possibility will exist in the future, but not yet. Maybe 10-15 years is all it will take, but there is quite a bit of internal business that needs to get worked out before I take my next business venture down there. At US$12 for a Big Mac Meal, Brazil is not ready for quite yet.

It was a great experience, and a ton of fun, I highly recommend anyone else attend the FGV program and join me in the ranks of Brazilian graduates. As for me, I rejoin to the real world tomorrow and am already thinking about what teachings I can be brought back with me here (besides the corn off the cob street vendor … whom I already miss very dearly).

Obrigado, Sao Paulo.

Teva Excursion to Paraty – Day 2

In the previous Day 1 post, I left you wondering just how much crazier a second day in Paraty could be. After all, we barely survived Day 1, so would Day 2 be more or less? To the very pleasing ears of my future wife, Day 2 was not nearly as insane and I had many less near-death experiences 🙂

9:00am – Wake in the Hostel room after a decent 7 hours of sleep. We watched the first half of the Packer/49er game at the Centro the previous night but were kicked out around 2pm when the bar closed and never saw the outcome (sorry Pack fans, but I was thrilled to see the next day’s results). We walked home in a torrential downpour, and sleeping outside in a hammock in the rain was not going to happen. I’m adventurous, but not quite enough for that … yet.

10:00am – Team Bad-a** hit the road for the beach. After yesterday’s excursion, we were looking to relax a bit more. But, don’t be fooled, we were not going to lay down a towel and relax … in fact, the word relax has no meaning to Team Bad-a**. We immediately walked to the pier to hire a boat and tour the surrounding islands. Most available boats looked like century old tugboats with far too much use, and far too little adventure. But there was one boat that stood out like a diamond in the rough. We walked straight to the speed boat with a 150 hp motor and said “how much?” A little negotiating and the aptly named XS-FUN was ours for the day at US$50 per person.

11:00pm – We spent the next 4 hours touring a dozen private beaches, lagoons, waterways and coves. I was in Thailand last year touring the Phi Phi Islands, and I must admit … they have NOTHING on Paraty. These were far more beautiful, pristine, and picturesque than the island from The Beach. We swam with turtles and tropical fish, visited islands of ospreys and monkeys, dove into the bluest waters and lived a life of luxury for the afternoon. A couple pictures here do it no justice, but trust me, you should be jealous. The only dangerous part was the complete void of safety. No life-jackets given, no slowing down for passing boats or wakes, and only a slight fear of shark infested waters.

5:00pm – Our driver, Francisco, dropped us back at the pier and we made our way to the Hostel to pick up our stuff and go. Our bus driver, the prima-donna diva that he was, refused to bring the bus to us, so we had to walk a few blocks to him. We were late leaving the hostel and lost the group, which meant another 30 minutes of wandering the town trying to find our bus … and prepare emotionally for being stranded. Finally someone else found us and we jumped on the bus for the loooooooong trip home. To pass the time, I watched Pitch Perfect … twice.

1:30am – After a grueling 8.5 hour bus ride, we were finally home. At least this time we were able to make bathroom breaks more often … though out of spite for our prissy driver, I chose to relieve myself on the back of the bus instead of the gas station facilities. Take that Mr. Anderson. But the trip was done and we had just enough energy left to lay out our wet clothes, do a quick check in the mirror, and pass out until morning.

I don’t know if I will ever make it back to Brazil, but if I do, I will have to find a more efficient way to visit Paraty again. If you are every anywhere in South America, find a way to make the trek. You will not be disappointed and will surely have your own Teva Excursion.

Week 2 Takeaway: Doing Business in Brazil

For my 2nd week takeaway paper, I continue last week’s focus on one key quote, concept, or theme from each professor/guide, and how it helped shape my unique cultural understanding of doing business in Brazil. Again, after evaluating my notes and pictures from the week, I submitted this as homework assignment my week to the program. As with last week, take much of my “facts” with a grain of salt, as they are neither verified nor validated.

Marketing in Brazil: “To work hard means nothing, if I don’t have a specific purpose” – Prof. Marcelo Prado

I struggled with this course for 2 reasons. One, it was the first class after our ridiculous trip to Paraty and I was barely alive, let alone awake. However, I also struggled because the course did very little to focus specifically on marketing in Brazil. This was more of a beginner’s course in general marketing and did not dive very deep into the unique qualities of Brazil and Sao Paulo. Unfortunately, the quote above really represented my key takeaway from this class. Just like in general business, a marketer must find the WIFM (“what’s in it for me?”) or the relevance that I care about, in order to gain my attention and win me over. Unfortunately, Prof. Prado did not find my WIFM, so his own words were ultimately his own demise.

Multinationals in Brazil: “Everyone needs 3 friends to survive doing business in Brazil.” – Prof. Rodrigo de Mello

I continue to be intrigued by how distrustful the business environment is in Sao Paulo. Prof. Mello helped reinforce what most of our teachers have insinuated all along … don’t do business in Brazil. If I was not deterred yet by the insane inflation rates, taxes/tariffs, traffic, lack of timeline respect, etc. then this class put the final nail in the coffin. We have a phrase in the US that President Teddy Roosevelt coined for his foreign policy – “speak softly, and carry a big stick”. This seems to translate well to what Prof. Mello told us about his business policy – Everyone needs 3 friends to survive doing business in Brazil:

  1. A good accountant to navigate the complex tax system
  2. A good lawyer to understand which laws to follow, and which to ignore
  3. A friend with connections in the government, in order to speed up the red tape

Why do you need this? Well, apparently because of the financial, legal, and regulatory implications, starting a business takes an average of 6 months to get off the ground. In the US, you could probably do this in about a week, but Brazil’s “lack of trust” culture appears to put so many complex demands on an emerging business owner: contracts need to be signed, notarized, government approved, re-notarized, etc. Your signature is literally not valid unless it matches a notary’s database and they have stamped the contract with their validation so. If a legal issue ensues, then forget it. Taking a case to court may never get resolved, so contracts have to have negotiation situations built in just to avoid that possibility. It is tough to do business in Brazil, and even harder to start one.

Negotiations in Brazil: “You are being watched for what you do, not what you say.” – Prof. Mark Burgbridge

Great class! Negotiations in Brazil are much like negotiations everywhere, but one key difference is the business that takes place after a negotiation is complete. Did you get everything you want; did they get nothing they want? Revenge is often common in these situations and given the complex legal system navigation, a reneged business deal could mean issues are never resolved. But Brazil relies very heavy on the relationship and trust of the person before a negotiation takes place. Because of the difficulty to navigate issues after the fact, trust is highly important up front. This is why most conversations begin with casual banter – any common ground you can discuss in advance will lay the foundation for a more trustworthy negotiation. “Oh, you studied at FGV? So did I … This is a commonality that you can now build a foundation of trust off of for the future. Here are a few other interesting facts about negotiations and general conversations in Brazil; for every 30 minute business meeting, here are some key figures of “Non-verbal communication” in Brazil vs. the US:

  • 0 silent periods of 10+ seconds (3.5 in US)
  • 28.5 conversation overlaps (10.3 in US)
  • 5.2 minutes of eye contact (3.3 in US)
  • 4.7 touches during conversation (0 in US)

Logistics and Operations in Brazil: “Shipping west and north along road/river intermodal tracks is cheaper than the direct eastern route” – Prof Manoel Reis

As mentioned earlier, Brazil is one of the world’s leading exporters of coffee, soybeans, sugar, ethanol, orange juice, cattle, port, chicken, pulp/paper, iron ore, steel, auto parts, and more. However, much of this country is disjointed, with no true logistics transportation system to rely on for supply chain use. For example, railroad tracks were never standardized, which means most rails in urban settings are a different size than rural ones. Even still, there are no major railroads connecting the producers of goods to the export locations in any direction. The quote above is crazy, yet true. For example, most of the soybean production takes place in the central and southern regions of Brazil – in theory, within 1000 kms of the export ports on the east coast. However, it is half the cost to drive them 1000+ kms east to the Madeira River, then another 1000+ kms up to the Amazon River, then another 1000+ kms up to the northern port city of Belem. This trip takes 7-10 days (twice as long as going east to Sao Paulo), but is literally half the cost. The infrastructure is simply not in place to support transportation on roads or rails in Brazil yet, and the River is a much more navigable landscape today. There are some major projects in line to create 12,000 km of standard rails going north/south and east/west in Brazil, but this will cost an estimated US$30 billion and years to complete.

End of Program Reflection: Innovation and Ideation in Brazil (updated)

(I updated this to reflect my end of program essay instead of just the week 2 reflection)

In the past two weeks, we have spent many hours studying, analyzing, and discussing the culture of Brazil and Sao Paulo’s growing economy as an emerging market for business.  The unique culture has been a key theme to understanding how to do business in Brazil, such as work ethic, currency inflation, taxation, etc.  However, the most intriguing cultural theme I have taken away from this course and my time in Sao Paulo is the interesting emphases placed on innovation or “ideation” as it is commonly called.

This was never more prevalent than during our company visits to Brasilata and Embraer.  These two companies proudly championed their innovation methods and “idea generation” as a pivotal reason to their success.  Through the visits to these companies, speaking with their representatives, and relating teachings during the classroom courses, it has become clearer to me why this works.  In today’s global and social world, doing business in Brazil has created an environment where employee interaction with the company’s innovation demands are encouraged, rewarded, and recognized.  This is seen in the business strategies employed by these 2 companies, the government’s support of innovation in general, and the work ethic of companies to support employee ideation.

The frontline of this capability relies in the company employees.  For example, using the Kaizen strategy to drive process improvements, both Brasilata and Embraer generate 15,000+ ideas a year from their employees to help drive efficiency in production, process, and methodology.  With every employee in both these companies seemingly engaged in day-to-day idea sharing, I wonder how this process would work at my office back home. The team I work for is engaged in a project to deliver a new social media tool which can help generate and measure ideas for enterprise effectiveness.  However, while working on this project, I have struggled with how we can truly maximize this tool’s adoption by our 350,000 employees. In theory, the concept is the same as popularized at Brasilata and Embraer, but the adoption of this tool and the consistency of its use (as with any IT solution) represent the greatest learning I can take away from Brazil.

While visiting Embraer and Brasilata, the biggest support of ideation practices appears to be the revolutionary shift in company culture that supports it. Innovation/ideation has become the #1 priority from leadership as a way to improve the company environment, profits, and success. Building this culture of change, like with any IT or Process project, is of course the most difficult piece. Not only are you trying to build adoption of the tools and systems in place (both technical and procedural), but you have to build adoption of the ideation process and concepts as well. When I look at most IT projects I have worked in the past, this has never been a large enough focus. The priority is too often on the IT solution (the tool, the system, the process), and rarely on the benefit of innovation and opportunity for the people and the possible future culture shift.

To build this culture towards innovation and ideation, one must truly know their current culture and understand what small shifts can be made over time to influence it.  At Brasilata, for example, one small shift was by labeling all their employees as “Inventors” on their job descriptions. At Embraer, another is how employees change assembly line positions with each aircraft completion (thus providing fresh minds to evaluate idea opportunities to the same task every few months).

Innovation and Ideation is not something you can force, nor can you expect, just because you put a IT solution (e.g. tool) in place to support it.  However, with the right “small shifts” to align people in the organization towards the concept naturally, I do think it can become a generally accepted practice over time.  At my company, for example, we have new social media tools, but now need to look deeper into our culture to see what will create the necessary environment to best utilize them.  For example, when will people want to use the tools, when will they want to generate everyday innovation, and when will they want to share these ideas more systematically with the enterprise?  When we can answer those questions, then our company culture will have moved towards this global change.

Another component that has likely helped Brasilata and Embraer drive innovation in their workplaces, is the economic stimulus/subsidy that Brazil’s government provides.  As discussed in class, it may be a complex process to qualify and leverage this government help, but the rewards are already beneficial in the long run for the company.  Creating an environment to support constant ideation now will drive further company innovation long-term.  In the short-term, Brazilian companies can leverage government subsidies, tax breaks, or stimuli, while in the long-term they can create the ecosystem for continual improvement and competitive advantage to their core business models.

Brasilata and Embraer provide great motivation to further expand innovation and ideation practices at any industry and corporation. For Brazil, this appears to be the right combination of tools, programs, and technology at the right time.  As Brazil grows its economic footprint as an emerging global economy, the technology and tools are already available and used by Brazilians today.  Social media tools such as Facebook, blogging, Twitter, email, etc., have already created a social ecosystem where people share their thoughts and opinions with others.  These thoughts and opinions are then “liked”, “forwarded” and “shared” within those tools, thus creating a natural hierarchy of ideation recognition.  Because of this, employees joining the workforce already possess the necessary culture to embrace this at an enterprise level.  At my company, we employee many older generations that naturally resist technology like this, and therefore will have a harder time embracing the culture of ideation necessary for this level of enterprise innovation.  But as more young generations enter the US work place, this culture will be more naturally acceptable nationwide.  I have no doubt the young culture that is drowning in social ideation in the US today will eventually help us transition ideation to the businesses we work in.  For Brazil, the timing was perfect to do this naturally during their booming economic growth – but for the US, we need a little more coaxing to create it more forcefully.