Movie Review: Southside With You [2016]

My wife and I have always been fans of Barack and Michelle Obama as a couple – they’re smart, respectable, warm, lovable and all sorts of great. So when we found out that there was going to be a movie about how they met, we knew we had to watch it. (Fun story – I hadn’t known that the movie was out, and my wife bought the tickets intending it to be a surprise. But I went ahead and spoiled the surprise for myself, because that’s one of our things. We spoil our own surprises.)

I’m writing this from memory now – I liked how the movie opens really smooth, with Barack driving in his car, smoking a cigarette, and the opening credits come on with all these funky psychedelic colors. The film’s color palette was really kinda soft and warm and rustic – and it’s just a great contrast to the Barack and Michelle we see every day, in sharp, crisp colors and a cold, HDTV sort of glaze. Southside, in contrast, was really warm and soft visually, and I enjoyed that.

The actress playing Michelle (Tika Sumpter) is the star of the show, holding it all together. She’s the focal point of interest. You’d assume that a show about how the President met his wife would be a lot about the President, but it was really in my opinion a lot more about Michelle. About her concerns, her background, the challenges she faced. Barack comes across as relatively naive and even a little ignorant, while she seems cautious, tough, a little world-weary. And you just have to root for her.

Barack in the show is slightly pushy, almost a little too pushy, and I wonder how true to reality that was. It might just have been to drive the show forward. Michelle handled him with poise and finesse.

Aside – the show plots out a really great date plan. First he brings her to the museum, where they go over their shared interests in Black history. Then they have lunch at the park. Then they go to some sort of Town Hall, where Barack is the hero of the occasion, and everyone just keeps telling Michelle what a great man he is. Then they have dinner, and a movie, and ice cream. Real clever of Barack to squeeze in so many experiences in a single date – it makes it feel like they really went through a lot together in a very short amount of time.

There’s a great bit after the movie where Michelle runs into their superior at work, and there’s this really nuanced bit that follows. I was impressed with how the movie dealt with it, and I won’t spoil that for you – you should watch that for yourself.

Parker Sawyers does a decent job of portraying a young Barack Obama – not super impressive, but I do wonder if maybe Barack himself wasn’t all that impressive when he was younger. I think that was the point – we’re supposed to see Barack before he became this polished politician.

The show was predictable in a good way – you know that there has to be some sort of conflict, and it turns out to be about Obama being a little presumptuous, and about them navigating the sort of space between the two of them despite the obvious attraction. It’s a fun reminder that Michelle was his boss, the more “powerful” of the two when they were dating, etc… It’s also nice to see how they’re embedded in their families, in their community, and it’s nice to see an impression of how they have conversations about themselves, their histories and their future.

A really pleasant show, they explore some nice questions together about what they want to do in life (although spoiler alert: we know where they end up). Great date movie, and I imagine it must be especially great for young black folks to watch. I’d recommend it.

More movie reviews.

Movie Review: 2 Days In Paris [2007]


It’s interesting to watch a movie that’s set in 2007 – social media was just starting to become a thing, but it doesn’t yet feature in the films. My wife and I watched it together in October 2016 on a Saturday night while eating pizza in our living room. I suggested it because I was tired of the generally difficult and stressful shit we have been watching, and thought it might be nice to watch something maybe-romantic. (We last watched Southside With You, which was pleasant).

I was curious about it because it was written, produced and directed by Julie Delpy, who was the female lead in the Before Sunrise trilogy (Before Midnight review here). I was curious to see what her personal style was, and how much of it she must’ve brought to the table. Now I’m curious to see something directed by Ethan Hawke, if he’s done anything like that.

I didn’t know Adam Goldberg before this film – or if I did, I’ve never recognized him. I watched the film without a lot of expectations – I imagined it would be some sort of similar-but-different take on Before Sunrise.

Okay… in summary… I appreciated the film, but I didn’t really like it. I liked the treatment it got, but I didn’t really like the characters. I thought the characters were a little boring, stale, childish, immature – all of them. 35 year old adults behaving childishly. I don’t know a lot about France or French culture, but it seemed like Julie Delpy was either satirizing it for her personal reasons, or delivering stereotypes for some other reason I can’t tell. Do Parisians really talk about sex all the time, with people they’ve just met? Seems improbable.

I couldn’t really respect Marion (Julie) as a character, and thought it was odd or surprising that she would choose to write her own character in such a flawed, weak, irrational way. Was it an exaggerated version of her own weaknesses? Or an entirely fictional character altogether?

I found Adam Goldberg’s character (Jack) annoying too, with his snooty intellectualism and his constant sicknesses. But Julie is probably the worse of the two – irresponsible, impulsive, and prone to having loud arguments with people. Jack’s not exactly fun to be around either. The most likeable character in the show was probably Jean-Luc, the cat.

The interesting questions at the heart of the show are – what are the boundaries of a relationship? What is cheating and what is not? Are small lies okay? How much deception is okay in a relationship? What sort of relationship should an individual have with their exes, and how do you relate that to your current partner? The movie does a good job of bringing these questions up, but it doesn’t really bother trying to explore them in interesting ways – they’re just points of conflict, and they aren’t dealt with.

Some of the digressions seemed pointless – a bunch of oddball taxi drivers, Jack meeting a weirdo at a fast food place, running and being mistaken for a thief, some of the interactions between the friends at Marion’s friends, Marion meeting her ex again… all of that, I thought, should’ve been left out to focus on exploring the questions I mentioned earlier.

The film resolves with the characters supposedly having a 4-hour long discussion about being honest with one another about their needs and fears, and Julie narrating over it. It felt a little rushed and a little too tidy – I would have preferred that scene to be opened up more and properly dug into.

I did appreciate seeing a slightly different sort of film, seeing a French family, the arguments, the dynamics, the Parisian setting. But those are all things I can get elsewhere. Ultimately the movie left me feeling a little unfulfilled. I would still consider watching the sequel, because I like Julie anyway and I want to see how she followed up on this one.

Wouldn’t recommend this film, though. Sorry Julie. I can respect that your treatment of modern love is probably different from all the cliche romance-in-Paris films that I haven’t watched, but a film about romantic difficulties should have us rooting for the characters as they fail. Watching Marion and Jack break up had me think “Phew, well, about time. Damn kids. You’re in your goddamn mid-30s. Grow the fuck up, ya’ll.”

More movie reviews.



I want to make it a point to do annual reviews. Next year I’ll update it every month. But this is retroactive.



  • Postmodern Jukebox
  • Muse


Books read

  • Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!
  • Alex Ferguson – Leadership
  • Walter Issacson – Steve Jobs Biography
  • Hero With A Thousand Faces

Movies watched

  • Office Space
  • Princess Mononoke
  • Kung Fu Panda
  • Pulp Fiction
  • The Aviator
  • Meet the Patels
  • The Jungle Book
  • Lord of the Rings Trilogy (rewatched)
  • I Am Not Your Guru
  • The Terminal
  • Southside With You

Shows watched

  • Bojack Horseman (S1 to S3)
  • Game Of Thrones (S1 to S6)
  • Silicon Valley (S1 to S2)
  • Narcos (S1 + S2)
  • Jessica Jones S1
  • Luke Cage S1
  • Designated Survivor (Ongoing)
  • Daredevil (a couple of episodes)

My favorite marketing campaigns

I like…

  • How Warby Parker hijacked New York Fashion Week by being a little naughty and a little ingenious.
  • How Red Bull completely sponsors entire sporting events and does crazy stunts like the Stratos jump
  • How Tesla pretends it doesn’t do any marketing while actually facilitating a massive word-of-mouth campaign, encouraging user-generated content and doing lots of interviews and such (big fan here both as a consumer and a marketer)
  • Steve Jobs’ epic product launches, of course. “One more thing…”
  • Victoria’s Secret’s annual fashion show– they managed to grow it into such an epic event, they actually make huge profits from tickets and advertising WITHOUT selling any product
  • Dropbox’s and PayPal’s referral programs. Ridiculously successful, and effectively launched both of those scrappy startups into billion dollar co’s.
  • TOMS, for the way they bake the social/storytelling aspect into their business model: “buy a pair, give a pair”. People are instantly willing to spend more because they get to feel good doing it
  • GoPro – “Be A Hero”. Creating user-generated content and framing it as something aspirational. (Their competitor Contour had arguably a better product when they were starting out, but the marketing wasn’t as powerful. Contour’s founder actually said so!)
  • Tinder – they had a chicken or egg problem when they were starting out, like all matching/marketplace type services do. The founders would go to sororities to give talks, and then get all the girls to sign up. Then they’d go to the boys and show them all these girls… bingo. Also they’d host parties where you had to download the app to get in.
  • CrossFit – the genius is in how it’s franchised out, allowing people to form their own little cults and clans all around the world. And there are all these little details that add to it– the workout of the day, which makes people feel like they have to keep up, and the annual games, which adds a competitive/aspirational streak
  • Gmail, Facebook – it’s easy to forget that both of these services were actually pretty hard to get into in the early days– they were exclusive and you had to get invites or have the right email address
  • BlendTec – have you seen the videos? You’ve seen the videos.
  • PornHub – PornHub just keeps churning out one genius marketing campaign after another. They’ve mastered the art of making newsworthy announcements (ie “Give America Wood” – for every X amount of views on a certain category, they’ll plant 100 trees, etc)


Clay Christensen- what are we hiring this product to do?

  • Milkshakes. We hire products to do jobs for us. Motivating customers to buy what we’re offering. Market understanding that mirrors how customers experience life.
  • Customers that fit the model of the quintessential milkshake- you want it choclatier, chunkier, cheaper? No impact on profits/sales.
  • What job do you hire a milkshake for? What time, what were they wearing, were they alone? Did they buy other stuff?
  • half the milkshakes sold before 8am, alone, only thing they bought, drove off with it. Long and boring drive to work. “Somebody gave them another hand and they didn’t have anything to do.” Viscous milkshake- 20 minutes to suck it up the thin straw. I’m full all morning, fits in my cupholder.

Moral Failing Fallacy


Here’s something that’s taken me a long time to be able to identify and an even longer time to express succinctly.

Very often, when we analyze our own mistakes and failings, we tend to stop short when we arrive at something that sounds like a moral failing.

  • Why am I playing video games and procrastinating all the time instead of doing work? Because I’m lazy. I’m a horrible person.
  • Why am I overeating even though I’m obese? Because I’m greedy. I’m a horrible person.
  • Why am I never able to trust my loved ones? Because I’m jealous. I’m a horrible person.
  • Why am I always late, tardy, unreliable? Because I’m selfish. Horrible person.

It’s an incredibly powerful, unquestioned assumption. Man is intrinsically sinful and terrible, and if you find yourself engaging in behaviors that are sinful, it’s because you’re a sinful, terrible person. You’re a naughty child. You’re irresponsible. You’re selfish. That is WHO YOU ARE. Your parents were horrible, their parents were horrible. Man hands on misery to man, it deepens like a coastal shelf.

A great, powerful, unquestioned assumption about what it means to be a human being: sinful.

This usually makes you either feel guilty and ashamed, or angry and resentful. Two sides of the same coin. To cope with this emotion, you’ll probably indulge in even more destructive behavior. I’m so ashamed that I’m fat, I need to eat. I’m so angry that I’m a smoker, I need to smoke. I’m worthless. I’m pathetic.

In “Games People Play”, Eric Berne describes how, over time, people develop into specific roles that they play out in predictable scripts with one another. One of my favorite examples of this is the “Every Facebook Argument Ever” (attached in comments) which very beautifully captures the cycle of drama that happens on Facebook every single day.

What’s interesting is that this also happens in families, in workplaces, and most importantly– within ourselves.

Here’s an example of an unspoken fictional conversation inside a person’s head that you might relate to. Maybe imagine it’s just Anger, Disgust and Fear teaming up against Sadness, and Joy is nowhere to be found:

A: “FUCK! You’re late for the meeting! Why didn’t you wake up earlier? I set an alarm for you and everything!”
B: “I’m sorry. I couldn’t sleep. I was tired. I don’t know. I’m just an irresponsible, terrible person.”
A: “OMG. We are so screwed. Look what you made us do. WTF.”
B: “I’m sorry, I won’t do it again.”
A: “It’s happened a thousand times already. Obviously you’re going to do it again.”
B: “…”
A: “Why do you do this? Why? How can we fix this?”
B: “I don’t know. I’ve tried everything. I’m just horrible.”
A: “Fuck. This is so embarrassing, shameful. I’m so angry. I need to drink, smoke, insult people on the Internet.”
B: “I’m sorry.”
A: “Don’t lie to me. You’re obviously not. You’re full of shit, just like everybody says. Pathetic.”
B: “…”

When you surface it, it becomes obvious that it’s abusive language. And it perpetuates a horrible cycle that just keeps going. I imagine that if this spirals further, you get depression, and suicidal thoughts.

It’s so unpleasant that people do anything to escape or avoid it, and they don’t have the tools they need to confront it. The demons are too loud, and the victim is too weak and untrained to fight back.

In the absence of self-love we self-flagellate, which is unconscionably damaging. We become victims of broken homes INSIDE OUR OWN HEADS.

As long as this is the case, life cannot and will not get better.

A person who hates herself for smoking will not be able to quit smoking. A person who hates themselves for procrastinating will not be able to fix their problem by reading a bunch of “life hacks”.

Originally posted on Facebook.