The Mating Season – Day Twenty Four – #40movies40days

g_the-mating-season-gene-tierney-john-lund-76c98The Mating Season is a good old fashioned Power of Love story in the best sense of the word.

Ellen McNulty (Thelma Ritter) is forced to sell her hamburger stand, so she decides to visit her son Val (John Lund), who lives in another city. Val has recently married a socialite, Maggie (Gene Tierney). To help her out, her husband hires a maid and promises to send her over right away. In the meantime, Ellen arrives. Maggie, her daughter-in-law, mistakes her for the maid. Ellen begins to tell Maggie who she really is, but she is worried that saying anything might cause Maggie embarrassment, so she doesn’t reveal who she is and decides to pretend to be a maid. The next morning Ellen arrives with her things. She wakes Maggie up and when she realizes that her son didn’t explain everything yet, she keeps pretending to be a maid. She tells him that she will only be underfoot if she lives in the house as a mother-in-law. She eventually talks him into the idea but he doesn’t like it very much.
Maggie’s mother (Miriam Hopkins) decides to come for a visit and she is nothing like Maggie. She is a snob and she doesn’t like Val one bit. While helping Mr. Kalinger (Larry Keating), Ellen realizes that his son, Kalinger Jr. (James Lorimer), is taking credit for work actually done by Val and tells Mr. Kalinger the truth.
Mr. Kalinger then invites Val and Maggie to the party. At the party, Maggie gets into an argument with an important female guest (Cora Witherspoon) after the woman insults her, and Maggie storms out. Val, realizing that this woman carries a lot of influence, forces Maggie to call the party to apologize to the woman. She does so unwillingly, leading to another fight.
The next morning, Val and Maggie make up and steal away in a closet for a kiss. Ellen’s friends are at the door and ask to speak to “Mrs. McNulty”. At this point it is revealed that Ellen is Val’s mother. Maggie is furious with Val for hiding his mother’s identity from her. She and her mother leave for a hotel. Maggie later confronts Val at his office. Val tries to explain himself but Maggie won’t listen. She tells him that he has become a snob and that she is moving to Mexico.
Mr. Kalinger decides to get Val and Maggie together. He convinces Maggie to come to the hotel bar with him for a good-bye drink, knowing that Val will be there for a party. When Maggie sees Val, she again scolds him for trying to hide his mother and leaves the bar. Val leaves the party and rushes to retrieve his mother. He brings her back to the party and begins introducing her to the ‘snobs’. Maggie, who has come back to the bar, witnesses Val introducing his mother to the woman who had insulted her at the earlier party. Ellen tells Maggie’s mother that it is time for both of them to leave the apartment. Ellen lands on her feet, however, as Mr. Kalinger decides to marry her.

Ellen McNulty (Thelma Ritter) runs a hamburger stand that’s underwater with the bank.  She can’t afford the payments and it’s not worth what she borrowed. (Some things never change.)

Her son, Val  (John Lund), has been asking Ellen to come live with him.  She hitchhikes from New Jersey to the Midwest, where her son has a good job in a large manufacturing company (some things have changed drastically).

Ellen’s son, Val, is an upwardly mobile junior executive (Power of Ambition) who has recently married Maggie (Gene Tierney). His new bride is not rich but grew up in the diplomatic corps and has very wealthy and important friends and political connections.

Val hires a maid to help Maggie with their first big dinner party. In the meantime, Ellen arrives unannounced. Maggie, her daughter-in-law, mistakes her for the maid. Ellen (Power of Love) wants to spare Maggie embarrassment, so she doesn’t reveal her true identity.  Instead, Ellen decides to make herself useful and to just go along pretending to be a maid.

137px-Thelma_Ritter_in_The_Mating_Season_trailerEllen convinces Val that she will only be underfoot if she lives in the house as a mother-in-law. She knows Maggie needs help as a young wife and convinces Val to continue the ruse.  Although Val loves his mother, there is something inside him that is deeply embarrassed about his humble beginnings and his unsophisticated mom.

Maggie’s drama queen mother (Miriam Hopkins) arrives for a visit. She is a (Power of Idealism) snob who doesn’t think Val is good enough for her daughter. She is more impressed with the boss’ son Kalinger Jr. (James Lorimer).  Jr. is a playboy and a cad (Power of Excitement), who is also in love with Maggie.  Jr. is also passing off Val’s hard work and ideas as his own.

During the negotiations of an important contact, Maggie (Power of Conscience) takes exception to the rudeness and  snobbery of the main client’s wife (Cora Witherspoon).  After confronting the woman, Maggie storms out of an important social outing surrounding the deal. Val, realizing that the client’s wife carries a lot of influence, forces Maggie to apologize. Maggie does so unwillingly, leading to another fight between the newlyweds.

Ellen skillfully intervenes in the angry aftermath. The young couple make-up with a romantic duck into the closet (the only place they can really be alone). Ellen’s friends arrive at the door unexpectedly and Ellen’s ruse is exposed.

matingMaggie is furious with Val for hiding his mother’s identity from her. She and her mother leave for a hotel. Maggie later confronts Val at his office. She tells him that he has become a snob and that she is leaving him and is moving out of the country.

Mr. Kalinger Sr., who has fallen for Ellen, arranges for Maggie to meet him at hotel bar for a good-bye drink. Val proudly introduces to Ellen to the important clients. Maggie sees how much Val loves his mother. Her heart melts.

Ellen tells Maggie’s mother that it is time for both of them to leave the newlyweds to themselves. Ellen lands on her feet as the fully smitten Mr. Kalinger Sr. asks her to marry him.

No matter how high you rise, nothing is as important as family, no matter how humble or unsophisticated. It’s a timeless lesson.

The China Syndrome – Day Nineteen – #40movies40days

China-Syndrome1-150x150The China Syndrome was released in March 1979 and less than two weeks later the Three Mile Island accident occurred.  Pictures and news reports were eerily similar to the film.  The problem at the actual nuclear plant was caused, much the same as in the film, by technical failure made worse by human error. I’d never seen The China Syndrome and decided to catch up with it after all the news reports of the escalating problems and potential nuclear catastrophe in Japan.

Jane Fonda (Klute, Julia) plays a television news reporter who is not taken very seriously until a routine story at the local nuclear power plant leads her to what may be a cover-up of epic proportions. She and her cameraman, played by Michael Douglas (Wall Street, American President), hook up with a whistleblower at the plant, played by Jack Lemmon (Save the Tiger, Missing). Together they try to uncover the dangers lurking beneath the nuclear reactor and avoid being silenced by the business interests behind the plant. Though topical, the film (produced by Douglas) works on its own as a socially conscious thriller that entertains even as it spurs its audience to think.
In the film, Jane Fonda plays an attractive Power of Ambition television reporter who has been hired mostly for her looks and pleasant manner on camera.  She reports on funny human interest stories, cute animal stories and other charming “local color” stories for a local television station.
Fonda wants to advance her career, be taken seriously as a reporter and cover more substantive news but she believes the way to get along is to go along.   She’s not one to stand up to or antagonize her bosses.  Over the course of the story her backbone stiffens and she pursues an important story at the potential cost of her career.
Michael Douglas is a Power of Truth freelance camera man.  He is a 60’s radical hardened into a 70’s skeptic.  He has no problem with being outspoken, even belligerent, and he is quick to dig deeper and take matters into his own hands against his bosses’ instruction.  He sees conspiracies and threats around every corner.  (Just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.)
When filming a puff piece on “energy in California” the two visit a nuclear power plant and are witnesses to some kind of accident.  It’s unclear exactly what happened and the company line is that it was a “potentially costly event that was swiftly contained.”  Reviewing the footage and the strength of the company’s reaction (and their strong-arming tactics with the television station) prompt Fonda and Douglas to believe a cover-up of epic proportions is underway.
clipboar493594Fonda persuades Jack Lemon, a Power of Conscience whistleblower at the plant who was involved in the “event,”  to share his concerns and warnings.  This information would result in a shut-down costing the company multi-millions of dollars.  Further dastardly doings ensue as the company goes to the most extreme measures to contain the “radioactive” bad publicity that would shut the plant and “contaminate” their bid to build another nuclear plant in in the state.  The China Syndrome is a fast-paced socially conscious thriller that entertains and is surprisingly contemporary.
Greed, fear and short-cuts are at the heart of a potentially epic disaster in the film.  On a much smaller scale I think some combination of those three things are at the heart of almost every self-inflicted human disaster.  It’s so easy to grab for more than you need, fear facing the truth and to try to take the easy way out.  Each of those things only make the situation worse.
Energy conservation and thrifty sustainable living can be derided as dowdy, too austere and generally no fun.  But at its heart overconsumption is grabbing for more than you need, fear of facing the truth and trying to take the easy way out (and believing your actions will never catch up with you).  Yes, cold hearted corporations certainly are in for a nice big share of the blame in our current energy and economic problems– but am I taking enough responsibility myself?  Why should I expect them to give up their selfish self-centered ways if I am not willing to give up mine.  Gandhi famously said:  “Be the change you want to see.”

The Adjustment Bureau – Day Four – #40movies40 days

adjustment-bureau-movie1I chose The Adjustment Bureau as my next movie because it was a WGA screening and I was mildly curious about it.   I wasn’t particularly keen to see it because I thought it was another one of those– you never know what is real, or a dream, or a dream within a dream, or madness and the ending is ambiguous because you don’t know if something actually happened, or if someone dreamed it happened, or if it was a mad delusion that didn’t happen at all.  I know this kind of story is all the rage right now but it strikes me as exemplifying the difference between complex and complicated.

I love movies that are complex and morally ambiguous– movies that require me to figure out where I stand in a story where there are no clear answers and only hard questions.  I am liking less and less movies that are complicated and ambiguous in a way that is frustrating and requires me to puzzle out the logistics of a situation rather than consider the essential humanity (or inhumanity) of a character.

So I was worried The Adjustment Bureau was a movie in that complicated and logistically ambiguous zone.  In fact, that’s not the case at all.  Although the movie has many flaws, at it’s heart is a hard human question.  Before you read further PLEASE NOTE– SPOILERS below.

The story opens on David Norris (Matt Damon), a young charismatic politician who is losing an election because of a youthful college prank.  A photo resurfaces, makes headline news and destroys his narrow lead .  He retreats to the men’s room in the election night hotel headquarters to practice his concession speech.

Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt) is hiding in the men’s room to escape the security guards who threw her out of a wedding she crashed.  Elise overhears David’s muttered speech and urges him to tell the truth instead of repeating the carefully parsed words provided by his pollsters.  The security guards give chase and Elise flees without telling David her name.  David goes on stage, begins delivering the same old speech, then throws away his notes and gives an honest ad hoc speech that launches his next Senate bid.

On his way to work, long after the election, David is supposed to be intercepted and delayed for ten minutes.  Instead, he meets Elise again on the bus.  They emotionally reconnect and she gives him her first name and telephone number.  The delay never happens and David arrives at work on time.

In the office, he witnesses someone being “adjusted.”  There are weird electron wands, men in futuristic Swat Team attire and other mysterious men in hats and somber grey suits.  David is shocked, runs and is chased down. A door in the top-floor office opens and suddenly he is in a locked underground parking garage.

When he is captured in the garage David learns about the adjustment bureau.  The non-human bureau (beings with special powers) keeps people and situations “on plan.”  This plan is created by the “chairman.” According to the plan, David was supposed to meet Elise once, be inspired to give his speech and then lose track of her.  Instead, by chance and administrative screw-up they reconnect.

the-adjustment-bureau-2010David is told he will win his next election and four more.  He may never mention the existence of the bureau to any one ever and he must forget about Elise. A bureau member destroys her phone number.  David tries to remember the number later.  Another bureau member appears and David is told that even if he does remember the number, his call will be dropped, the phone will be busy or the number will have changed.

David refuses to give up.  He rides the same bus route (where he met Elise) at the same time every day for three years.  He is constantly searching for her wherever his day takes him.  One day, he finally spots her walking along the sidewalk parallel to the bus route.  David jumps off the bus and tells her he was mugged, his wallet taken and her number was destroyed.  He’s tried Google and everything he could think of but couldn’t locate her.

It turns out Elise founded a small dance company and was engaged to her brilliant choreographer.  She broke off the engagement after she met David. The two are in love and believe they are meant to be together.  More chases and more revelations about the adjustment bureau ensue.

The story boils down to this– David is told he will be president and will be in a position to do much good, but only if he lets go of Elise.  Elise will become a famous dancer and an important choreographer, but only if she and David don’t reconnect.  If they stay together, she will wind up teaching dance to six year olds in a small studio somewhere.  By pursuing her, David will not just destroy his dreams but hers as well.  David leaves Elise in the hospital, where she is recovering from a sprained ankle.  David watched her dance and she fell (to prove the bureau’s point).

Fast forward, David is in the final leg of his flourishing Senate campaign.  He is so far ahead even he can’t screw up his lead.  Then David reads in the paper that Elise is set to marry her previous fiancee, the choreographer.   David abandons he campaign stop and rushes to Elise.

One of the bureau members takes pity on David and explains he was told a half truth.  David finds out that the death of his father and brother were orchestrated by the bureau to create an emptiness in him, a hole that David kept trying to fill by public applause and the warmth of the political limelight. The real reason the bureau wants to keep David and Elise apart is that if they have each other, they will have “enough.” Their emptiness will be filled and they won’t have to substitute the drive for material, political or artistic success for love.

The Adjustment BureauMuch has been written about who the Adjustment Bureau is– are they angels and is the “chariman” God?  Let’s look at what the bureau does–  it creates a hunger in people that can be directed to fulfill the bureau’s purpose.  The adjustment team dangles the promise of doing good in front of David when, in order to win, David goes back to his same campaign manger and presumably the same or better pollsters.  David is taught to be just authentic enough to convince people to vote for him.  A few good works will be buried in a mountain of compromises.  The bureau dangles the promise of fame to Elise but the price is an unhappy loveless marriage.  (The fiancee loves her but she is deeply unhappy about marrying him).  That sounds very much like the “glamor of evil.”

The bureau uses a time-proven strategy fueled by fear– fear of not having enough, not being enough or not leaving enough of a legacy. It tries to convince David that political power (even though he knows he is the bureau’s puppet) is worth more than love.  It argues that teaching dance to six year olds is a failure and is too high a cost to pay for love and commitment.   The bureau fears a love that is so strong and so fulfilling that it is “enough.”  They cannot allow a love that is so satisfying that it leaves no desperate hunger left to fill.  The bureau offers the choice between love and fear.

How much is “enough” for me? How much is contentment, gratitude and balance worth in my life?  How fast do I have to run?  What would happen if I slowed down?  Am I fueled by fear- not having enough, not being enough, not leaving enough behind?  Or am I fueled by love– being with the people I love and doing only those projects I love?

It’s strange how all four of these randomly selected movies, movies I didn’t know all that much about, all seem to have something profound to say about this Lenten journey.




In my view of things The Adjustment Bureau is a Power of Ambition movie.  As such it asks the question:  What is the meaning of success?  Outward trappings, prestige, position, popularity, status and worldly achievement?  Or real relationships, authenticity and honest self-assessment?

Rango and My Own Lenten Observance – #40movies40days

blue-eyes-1I dodged a couple of potentially catastrophic bullets very recently.  I’ve had a droopy eye lid for a while now.  It’s gotten to the point that when I am tired, it’s hard to read– My eye lid sags, causes eye strain and makes me feel very sleepy.  Reading at night is the worst.

After returning from my most recent trip to Europe, I went to the eye doctor.  I thought I had a bit of a muscle tone problem and it would be mendable with a small nip and tuck– and while I was under the knife– maybe I would just do a few other small tweaks as well.  Win win.

Instead, I was diagnosed with Horner’s Syndrome.  I was informed there are four possible causes of Horner’s– shingles (which I did have but in the wrong place to be a factor) brain tumor, brain aneurism or lung cancer.  Each option was more horrific than the next.  It took a month (over 30 days) of waiting to get the MIR appointments and neurology appointments that I needed to hear the answer.

The good news was I was given the all clear on all fronts.  The doctors said that sometimes the reason for Horner’s is not discoverable.  But it is a neurological weakening of the eye lid muscles. I can get the nip and tuck when my insurance company approves, so perhaps this is a tweakable situation yet.

ash-wednesday11Cut to– Yesterday, on Ash Wednesday, the Lenten season started.  Ash Wednesday is a day to remember “you are dust and unto dust you shall return” (a quote from the book of Genesis).   The fleeting nature of life is something that hits uncomfortably close to home given my recent reprieve.

Lent is a period of time (40 days) of reflection, discernment and renewal.  It ends on the glorious miracle of Easter Sunday–  If you believe in the Resurrection.  Or it ends with the more secular egg hunt and Easter basket goodies, if you are a general holiday celebrator.  The egg is a long-time pagan symbol of new life so we still are tapping into the renewal thing with Easter eggs.

Every religion or cultural tradition has a period of annual inward looking, contemplation and sense of starting over or symbolic rebrith.  It’s important at times to stop, whatever our belief system, and ask– what are we doing? Are we just living by rote or routine?  And “is this what I want out of my life or am I who I want to be”?

One of the reasons people “give things up” during Lent is to take themselves out of their comfort zones.  People often choose giving up chocolate, smoking, sweets, drinking, mindless television-watching, etc. to break those habits (for a time) that are self-indulgent, self-destructive or that keep us in an anesthetized state.  Lent is supposed to move us out of the rote and routine of our lives and challenge us to look at ourselves anew.

rangoSo what does all this have to do with Rango (the first full-length ILM animated movie)?  Give me a moment to set things up before I move in for the personal payoff.

Rango is the story of a chameleon who, during a car accident, falls out of a family vehicle and escapes when his glass habitat shatters on the asphalt.   He is stranded in the desert somewhere between Nowhere and Las Vegas.

Although the film has much to recommend it– wonderfully detailed animation, unusual and odd character choices (moth-eaten, flea-bitten, broken-down and patched up every one), a fully realized visual world and inventive set pieces that are fast, furious and funny– these great elements just don’t add up to much. On first viewing there is so much visual cleverness, so many movie send-ups and western spoofs going on it’s easy not to notice the story is a mess and the characters are very poorly defined.

Here’s how Lisa Schwarzbaum put it in Entertainment Weekly

Rango takes a long time finding a story line to stick with. First the lizard, liberated from domestication by humans, gets a crash course in outdoor life skills. (In the desert, blend in!) He staggers into a dusty town called Dirt and decides to reinvent himself as a gunslinging hero. (In town, stand out!) After being rewarded for inadvertent acts of bravery as town sheriff, he decides that being a hero is too hard. Then he changes his mind and sticks to his, er, gun. (Actually, a single bullet)

This isn’t a movie that will hold up well after repeated viewing.  Rango, the character, can’t seem to make up his mind whether he is a Power of Ambition character (boasting, bragging and pretending to be something he’s not because he feels like a fraud or a fake inside) or a Power of Idealism character (a unique and extraordinary creature who is trying to figure out how he can maintain his individuality AND be part of or fit into a community AND be true to his special destiny.)

Everything and the kitchen sink is thrown into the movie– parts of Chinatown are graphed onto High Noon with side excursions into The Man with No Name.  But nothing adds up, makes sense or has a deeper emotional meaning, relevance or resonance.

Beans, the female lead iguana, tells us she is worried about losing her daddy’s farm but we never see the land or her personal connection to it.  Someone is dumping water but we never find out why or for what specific purpose, unlike in Chinatown.  The actual answer to the problem in the film is not water dumping but a shut off water valve that someone closed.  There is no narrative coherence anywhere.  There is lots of action and very little heart.

Here is how Ty Burr puts it, writing The Boston Globe:

Just as often, though, everyone mills around waiting for the story to go somewhere. “Rango’’ wants to send up every sagebrush cliche it can, but the screenplay just piles those cliches on top of each other and waits for alchemy to happen. The director is Gore Verbinski, the mastermind of the “Pirates of the Caribbean’’ franchise, and like those movies, “Rango’’ is a highly watchable but somewhat frustrating mix of sloppy plotting, rascally attitude, and Big Action.
It’s a fun movie and a noisy one, but not the great work of family-friendly gonzo this particular crew could have created with just a little more focus. Back to your workstations, boys, and let’s see what else you’ve got.

(E)veryone mills around waiting for the story to go somewhere. “Rango’’ wants to send up every sagebrush cliche it can, but the screenplay just piles those cliches on top of each other and waits for alchemy to happen.

The director is Gore Verbinski, the mastermind of the “Pirates of the Caribbean’’ franchise, and like those movies, “Rango’’ is a highly watchable but somewhat frustrating mix of sloppy plotting, rascally attitude, and Big Action. (IMO those movies go nowhere either)

It’s a fun movie and a noisy one, but not the great work of family-friendly gonzo (filmmaking that) this particular crew could have created with just a little more focus. Back to your workstations, boys, and let’s see what else you’ve got.

Okay so here’s the personal Lenten observation part.

Like this film, my life is filled with a steady stream of creative and inventive action sequences.  I have a bunch of projects and lots of other things going at full blast.

What are they adding up to?  Do they have a strong narrative through-line that is clearly defining who I want to be and how I want to live my life?  Is my focus clear enough or am I just addicted to the frantic activity?   Do I just mill around between action sequences waiting for the story to go somewhere?  What is all this activity in service of.  Food for thought for 40 days.

So what am I going to do about it?  I’ve decided to watch 40 films in 40 days and write about them from a personal standpoint as I puzzle through how I want to be reborn on Easter morning.  It will be a journey of looking at my life through the lens of movies– some contemporary and some old school– I hope you will join me.

Rather than just write about Character Types and story construction I want to look at my own life and how I am constructing my own story.  Do you ever want to take a step back and ask yourself– just what is most important and how do my choices define me?  Do you ever wonder what your frantic activity adds up to in the end?

Okay, I know this just sounds like piling on more activity but I am also committed to quitting work at 5PM for 40 days and giving myself time to think about the larger narrative arc of the time (hopefully lots and lots) that I have left.  I am going to do a better job of prioritizing and putting the larger purpose of my life first.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on all this and about the questions you struggle with in your own life as you move from project to project.  Comment here or on my ETB FaceBook Page.   #40movies40days

NFL Leadership Styles – Can You Help?

Sometimes it is really useful to look at the Character Types of real people to see how what they do or say defines them.  The SuperBowl and the magnificent victory by Green Bay and their young quarterback Aaron Rodgers is a great example to start off with.

I’d like to type all the major players in the NFL in terms of their leadership styles.  I’m looking for some help here– with quotations or a link to a video as an illustrations.  I did a similar article on Celebrity Chefs on TV and how their cooking and food presenting style reflected their Character Type  Can you help fill out the NFL roster and comment on your favorite players?  Interview or commentary links or player quotes are really useful as illustrations.  See the leadership definitions below.


Let’s start with Aaron Rodgers as a Power of Conscience leader.  Notice in his David Letterman interview below he talks about leading by example.  That is what the best Power of Conscience characters do.  He also talks about responsibility, duty, preparation, practicing hard and putting in the time to do the job well. That doesn’t mean he isn’t passionate about the game or inspirational– it just means that those qualities are not the primary attributes of leadership to him.

The Power of Conscience character leads by showing fairness, firmness, consistency, justice and providing a good example.  They believe the rule of law is humankind’s salvation.
The best Power of Conscience leaders are “servant leaders” who have  the humility to serve the greater good of others. Power of Conscience leaders teach their followers to be of service themselves.

The Power of Conscience character leads by showing fairness, firmness, consistency and providing a good example.   The best Power of Conscience leaders are “servant leaders” who have  the humility to serve the greater good of others. Power of Conscience leaders teach their followers to be of service themselves.

Here is Aaron Rodgers on leadership in his own words.

Dandy Dozen Movies FootballPOWER OF IDEALISM

Power of Idealism leaders are passionate and emotional leaders. They are inspiring and challenge their followers to give their all to a glorious cause.  They create a sense of special destiny and often link their mission to the grand heroism  or glories of the past.  These characters lead their followers into a lost cause or an impossible battle.  They know the odds are grim and victory is improbable but they charge in anyway.  What they are after is valor, honor and a grand and glorious legacy—the kind of immortality to inspire others in story, song or legend.  Who in the NFL leads in this way?

The player who comes to my mind is George Gipp.  In the film, Knute Rockne All American, Knute quotes George like this:

Knute Rockne: Now I’m going to tell you something I’ve kept to myself for years. None of you ever knew George Gipp. He was long before your time, but you all know what a tradition he is at Notre Dame. And the last thing he said to me, “Rock,” he said, “sometime when the team is up against it and the breaks are beating the boys, tell them to go out there with all they’ve got and win just one for the Gipper. I don’t know where I’ll be then, Rock,” he said, “but I’ll know about it and I’ll be happy.”


Power of Reason characters are more loners than leaders.  When they are  put in charge (or they take charge) they use their intelligence, expertise, knowledge and technical skills to lead (or sometimes to dominate) others.  They are most comfortable as experts or technicians.

These characters are not very skilled at interpersonal relationships.  They don’t naturally engage or charismatically inspire others.  They usually don’t like the genial chit-chat of team banter and camaraderie. Instead, these characters  attract followers with their problem-solving abilities, technical ability, specialized experience or practical know-how.

When Power of Reason characters want to take command they argue that they are the most experienced or qualified to lead.  They argue that they are in fact the intellectually or skills-based superior choice.  Who in the NFL leads like this?


Power of Ambition characters are most often potential leaders, protégés and young, upwardly mobile strivers.  They are impatient, high-energy individuals who want to get things done and who put a very high premium on accomplishment (right now!).  They are often willing to take short cuts and cut corners to get ahead.  They value fame, popularity and status.

These characters think well on their feet and are flexible and adaptable in a crisis.  They can talk themselves into or out of any situation.  When it serves their purpose they can fit in, with an almost chameleon-like ability, in any situation.  They can be witty, engaging, amusing and “great in the interview room.”  They are very charming and personable, if rather boasters and braggers.

The fictional player who fits this type is Brian “Smash” Williams’s (Gaius Charles) on Friday Night Lights.  He is talented, arrogant and likes taking short cuts and avoiding hard questions.

Smash Williams: Takin’ it like a man, Matty. You know, avoiding the calls, ducking out, hidin’ in the bushes.


Power of Will characters bring many wonderful leadership qualities to the NFL community.  They are decisive and authoritative.  Others naturally look to them to them to take charge.  They are strong, bold and  forceful leaders.  These characters stand out from the crowd with a commanding presence.   Their philosophy is “win or die.”  They see the world as a battlefield where only the strong survive.

Power of Will characters motivate others through the sheer force of their personality and their innate toughness and charisma. They are big dynamic characters who can “fill up a room.” Each wonderful quality of Power of WIll leadership has a set of corresponding Trouble Traits.  Decisiveness becomes rashness when a leader fails to delay action long enough to fully consider the consequences of an action or doesn’t have the patience to listen to others.  Leadership that is unilateral and absolute or will not permit dissent easily slips into dictatorial megalomania and colossal paranoia.  Who in the NFL leads like this?

The person who comes to mind first for me is iconic Green Bay Coach, Vince Lombardi, who famously said:  “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” He was a big larger than life leader who had incredible force of will.


Power of Excitement leaders make everything fun and can recast anything as a amusing game.  Their boyish charm and charisma can make them natural leaders. People gravitate toward these characters and follow them quite joyfully, rather like children who follow the lively, captivating music of the Pied Piper.  They have lots of natural or innate talent but often lack the discipline and drive to excel under difficult circumstances.

Power of Excitement characters rarely are happy in a leadership position.  They do not like the responsibility, follow-up and attention to detail that real leadership requires.  If it’s not interesting, amusing or enjoyable these characters get bored, don’t show up or make a quick exit.  Power of Excitement characters excel at  instigating and finding interesting opportunities, but don’t always count on them to bring any crucial item in on schedule.  Is there anyone in the NFL like this?


Power of Love leaders rarely like to be out in front in a take charge position.  They prefer to exercise their control as the “power behind the throne”.  Power of Love characters usually “lead” in supportive roles.  They are great mentors and excel at providing encouragement and emotional support.

Power of Love characters view leadership as serving others, being of practical use and creating the sense they are indispensable.  These characters get real satisfaction from pushing others forward and seeing them do well.  They tend to bond with individuals more strongly than the team as a whole.  Who in the NFL leads like this?


Power of Imagination leaders are able to sense the deep internal connections that bind and unify all of us.  They lead by bringing together and inspiring others to see this bigger picture, this sense of common purpose or a larger universal mission.  At first glance, these assembled individuals might seem to be contentious or have little or nothing in common.

Power of Imagination  characters inspire united action by convincing disparate individuals that:  “We’re all in this together” and “If we work together we will all achieve something important or worthwhile.”  They are often gentle, shy or unassuming individuals who are the glue that holds a team together.  Who in the NFL leads like this?

favre vikingsPOWER OF TRUTH

Power of Truth characters often use an initial affable and friendly approach to solving problems, pursuing goals and leading others.  These characters don’t tend to be natural leaders. They don’t generally gravitate toward the front of the group.  They tend to be too suspicious, anxious, self-doubting and second-guessing to expose themselves to the front and center scrutiny of others.

Brett Favre is this kind of leader.  I wrote an analysis of him in an earlier post.  Power of Truth characters value loyalty and commitment very highly, but they can be very unsettled and indecisive. They can become self-doubting and suspicious to the point of paralysis.  At that point, they no longer trust their own instincts.

Brett’s is legendary for his retirement indecisiveness. In their darkest moments, these characters worry that they can’t believe anyone or anything.  They suspect everyone is lying to them and every situation is not what it seems.  They constantly look for little clues to confirm their doubts, suspicions and anxieties.  These characters continually test and probe when operating out of fear. They insist others constantly prove themselves.  They try to read the secret meaning in, or second-guess every move, every action and every decision made by others.

I’d love to fill out these profiles in leadership with your favorite NFL nominees.  It’s most useful if you have quotes or links to interviews or commentary that backs up your choices.  Please comment below or on my FaceBook ETB Page.  Please share it with your football-loving friends so we can get a dialog going.

Tony Curtis & The Power of Ambition

Sidney Falco in 21Tony Curtis passed away at the end of September 2010.  Here is what Time Magazine has to say about one of the roles that defined him as an actor, Sidney Falco in The Sweet Smell of Success.  It is a stunning example of a Power of Ambition protagonist falling to the Dark Side.

(In the film) Sidney Falco, Broadway publicist, is telling his secretary Sam how far he wants his ambitions to take him: “Way up high, Sam, where it’s always balmy. Where no one snaps his fingers and says, ‘Hey, Shrimp, rack the balls!’ Or, ‘Hey, mouse, mouse, go out and buy me a pack of butts.’ I don’t want tips from the kitty. I’m in the big game with the big players. My experience I can give you in a nutshell, and I didn’t dream it in a dream, either. Dog Eat Dog. In brief, from now on, the best of everything is good enough for me.”

An actor doesn’t often get a role that upends his Hollywood image and reveals his inner demons. Tony Curtis, who died Wednesday at 85 of cardiac arrest at his home near Las Vegas, found that dream-nightmare part in the 1957 Sweet Smell of Success. Sidney Falco, a name that replaced Sammy Glick as the slick nogoodnik par excellence, is a pretty boy on the make — all hustle, no morals, and with a line of patter like petty larceny…

…Another refugee from the New York streets, and one of the first postwar actors to produce his own movies, (Burt) Lancaster … cast him in Sweet Smell as Sidney, the publicist trying to get his clients’ items in the gossip column written by Lancaster’s J.J. Hunsecker.

In the script, by Ernest Lehman and Clifford Odets, Sidney’s status floats between villain and victim — he peddles flesh and secrets, and pins the Commie label on an innocent young musician, before getting climactically framed by J.J. — but (actor) Curtis was the victor in the movie. It’s easy to imagine that, that when the actor first read this script, he thought exultantly, “That’s me all over!” A shark in the Broadway aquarium, Sidney looked like a million bucks, all counterfeit.  FULL ARTICLE HERE

A character driven by the Power of Ambition can be a hardworking, eager, charming optimist with a “can-do” spirit— or a lying, manipulative, backstabbing striver who will do anything to get ahead in life.

The definition and meaning of “success” is at the heart of a Power of Ambition character’s story.  The basic question for this character’s emotional journey is: “What does it profit a person to win the whole world but lose his or her own soul?”

That what we watch Sidney Falco do, lose his soul, over the course of The Sweet Smell of Success.  It is a film well worth watching and a master course in the Power of Ambition Character Type.

Cougar Town – When a Character Doesn’t Ring True

cougar-town-etbscreenwritingI caught up with the Cougar Town premiere online and thought it was absolutely terrible.  The best words I have to describe this raunchy and demeaning show are desperate, pathetic and insulting.  Courtney Cox’s character asks her son why he doesn’t laugh at her sex-obsessed jokes and he says:  “Because they make me sad.”  Bingo!

I have nothing against sex-obsessed women who fret about aging and the difficulty of finding love.  I am a big fan of Sex and the City. But that show has something that Cougar Town lacks– authentic characters who feel real. Carrie and her crew each has a distinct and very specific take on sex and romance that defines who she is, how she sees the world and what love means to her.

Carrie Bradshaw is a well-defined Power of Idealism character.  Throughout the series, she is obsessed with the emotionally unavailable Mr. Big.  These characters believe that what is perfect but unavailable or unattainable is infinitely more desirable than what is flawed but possible or achievable. They are always reaching for the unreachable star.

Charlotte York is a Power of Conscience character and the most conservative and uptight member of the ensemble. While the show focuses on sexual liberation, Charlotte is the voice of more traditional values.  Perfection to her is what is proper and socially correct.

Samantha Jones is a Power of Will character and views sex as power.  She is always the one in control of the sexual power in her relationships.  She decides when, where, how much and what kind of sex she will have.  She is loud, lusty and unashamed of her passions.  She is unapologetic when she decides to move on to new conquests.

Miranda Hobbes is a Power of Ambition character.  She is extremely career-minded and has her sights firmly fixed on a prestigious law partnership.  She often views sex as a distraction to her work.  In one episode she and her lover fight over the fact she wants to schedule sex and refuses to let passion distract her from important work-related obligations.

Each of these women is thoroughly believable and acts consistently with specific attitudes about life and love.  I recognize women I know in the characters in Sex and the City.

Cortney Cox’s character is is poorly defined, cartoonish  and utterly inauthentic.  She acts like a thirty-year old Judd Apatow guy trapped in a one-note joke about being desperate but clumsy in the attempt to get laid.  I have no idea what her cardboard cut-out character believes about life or love or why she is doing what she is doing.  To you tell you the truth I don’t really care.  Someone please put this excruciatingly pathetic show out of its misery.

Here are some additional reviews that hit the nail on the head.

WALL STREET JOURNAL   (T)his is the 21st century, where pole dancing passes for a statement of female liberation. So it should come as no surprise that Jules will search for self-esteem in frequent sex and the proof that she is still “hot.”  Such a quest could be made funny, but here it mostly isn’t. Ms. Cox is struggling with some ugly material and often seems desperate.

CHICAGO TRIBUNE  Cougar Town is one of those shows with a trendy topic at its core, but it’s hard to see how the show will work long-term, and the screechy and semi-frenetic tone set by the pilot doesn’t help.

VARIETY  (T)he execution here is consistently about as subtle as a kick to the groin — and represents the least appealing component in ABC’s quartet of new Wednesday-night comedies.

HOLLYWOOD REPORTER  Cougar Town is a mess of a place no one would want to visit, even for a half-hour. With a little luck, though, it’ll have a short shelf life.

The Informant! – Power of Ambition

The-Informant-etbscreenwritingIn Steven Soderbergh’s film The Informant!, Matt Damon plays a pitch perfect Power of Ambition protagonist.  Although some critics and arm chair commentators have complained that the movie moves too slow or is boring– I disagree.

I found the fevered unraveling of Matt Damon’s character and his deceptions and lies fascinating to watch.  There are no big actions sequences, no shoot-outs and no chase scenes.  If you come to the theater looking for an action-packed thriller like the Bourne series or the sharp witty seriousness of whistler-blower  Erin Brockovich you will be disappointed.  SEE THE TRAILER IN VIDEOS

This is a meticulous character study about the bland banality of corporate greed, the endless self-justification of scheming executives and the deluded self-seeking that’s eating away at the American Dream.   The upbeat jangle of Marvin Hamlisch’s insistently perky elevator music underscores Whitacre’s deluded optimism.  Steven Soderbergh deliciously deadpan comedy is a brilliant, subtle and painfully funny expose of the empty calories (literally and metaphorically) that’s been making America both overfed and undernourished at the same time.

Damon’s character is biochemist and ADM Division President, Mark Whitacre, the highest-ranking corporate official in U.S. history to expose wrong-doing in his own company.  Whitacre sets off a massive FBI investigation into a global price-fixing conspiracy filled with secret meetings, concealed taping, wire taps, pay-offs and laundered money in Swiss and Bermuda off-shore accounts.

The object of all this intrigue is lysine, a sweet corn-based food additive, that is in nearly everything we eat or drink.  As the movie opens, Whitacer glowingly describes the many lucrative uses of  his company’s products (“corn goes in one end, profit comes out the other”).  When a virus derails the company’s production of  lysine, Whitacere is forced to come up with a solution fast.

He lies and tells management there’s a mole in the company, a corporate saboteur from a Japanese rival who wants a payoff to stop injecting the virus into the production line. Whitacre is shocked when the company calls in the FBI. Special Agents Brian Shepard (Scott Bakula) and Bob Herndon (Joel McHale), catch Whitacre in the lie about the mole and the fun begins as Whitacre spins an even bigger story.  He accuses ADM of fixing prices and divvying up the market for the corn-based food additive by ADM and other international corporate giants.

Whitacre begins an increasingly bizarre journey where lie enfolds lie.  The dorky but puppy dog charming scientist with the floppy pompadour toupee likens his situation in ADM to Tom Cruise in The Firm.  It’s an apt, if over-weaning, comparison to another Power of Ambition character.  An even closer movie comparison would be to Matt Damon in The Talented Mr. Ripley, a movie that also explores dark and twisted side of the Power of Ambition character.

Like Ripley, Mark Whitacre is a bland but eager to please guy who is obsessed with being liked and inflating his own importance.  Whitacre believes he should be running ADM and uses the price-fixing conspiracy to oust his superiors. He is obsessed with assessing the relative friendliness of everyone he meets.  Despite his double-dealings, greed and moral transgressions he believes that he is one of the “good guys” and his many “good friends” at ADM will welcome him into the top spot after he has taken most of the company management down.  He lies about a key biographical fact because of a study about personal likeablity. He justifies every twisted manipulation of the truth or of others with an incessant internal dialogue filled with odd facts, off-kilter observations and self-promoting rationalizations.

Like all Power of Ambition characters Whitacre is exceptionally adept at self-justification and at distracting himself from his own crimes and ethical short-comings.   Always the eternal optimist Whitacre enthuses, “There are so many really nice people in the world.” even as his web of deception is unraveling around him and one last lie earns him three times the prison sentence the other executives face.

Power_of_Ambition ETB ScreenwritingA character driven by the Power of Ambition is a staple of American movies.  This Character Type can be a hardworking, eager, charming optimist with a “can-do” spirit (Tom Cruise as the title character in Jerry Maguire)—or a lying, manipulative, backstabbing striver who will do anything to get ahead in life (Anne Baxter as Eve Harrington in All About Eve).  Jim Carrey in Liar Liar is another comedic version of the type.

Power of Ambition characters can be aspirational characters who want to rise from a lowly station to a more exalted one. Or they can be prostitutes, frauds, fakers or con artists, always on the hustle. In either case, their personal vanity, status, popularity and social importance is key to these characters sense of self.


The Power of Ambition

Power of Ambition ETBScreenwritingPersonality

Power of Ambition characters believe that nothing is as important as projecting a successful, polished or accomplished image– Even if the character has to go deep into debt or lie, cheat and steal to do so. Image is everything to these characters.

How others view or rate them is crucial. They value themselves and others by the toys, the trappings, the prestige, the awards, the money, the status or the other public forms of recognition accrued. How it is accrued is irrelevant.

Power of Ambition characters want the reassurance of the visible, tangible evidence of their outward success or status.  The definition and meaning of “success” is at the heart of a Power of Ambition character’s story. Is success truly measured from the outside or from the inside?

A character driven by the Power of Ambition can be a hardworking, eager, charming optimist with a “can-do” spirit—or a lying, manipulative, backstabbing striver who will do anything to get ahead in life.  These characters are eager charmers, con artists, slick salesmen/saleswomen, lovable impostors and literal or metaphorical prostitutes.

They can be aspirational characters who want to rise from a lowly station to a more exalted one.  Or they can be selfish whores, frauds, fakers or con artists, always on the hustle.  In either case, their perceived status, popularity and social importance is key their sense of themselves.

Power_of_Ambition ETB Screenwriting

Character Examples

Christopher, Uncle Junior and Carmela in The Sopranos; Miranda in Sex and the City; David Brent in the UK version and Michael Scott in the US version of The Office, are all great television examples of this character.  For more television examples see the Power of Ambition blog posts.

Film examples include:  Vivian Ward in Pretty Woman; Bud Fox in Wall Street; Vicomte de Valmont in Dangerous Liaisons; and Suzanne Stone in To Die For.  Tom Cruise has played many Power of Ambition characters over his career including:  Charlie Babbitt in Rain Man, Jerry Maguire in Jerry Maguire, Vincent in The Color of Money, Mitch McDeere in The Firm, Jasper Irving in Lions for Lambs, and Frank TJ Mackey in Magnolia.  For movie examples see the Power of Ambition blog posts.

Power of Ambition eBook

The Power of Ambition Character Type eBook explains how these characters are alike and how each character is made individually distinct. It Ambition help you develop unique, original, evocative and authentic Power of Ambition characters that fully explore all the contradictions, reversals and surprises of a fully formed human being.

Discover the Power of Ambition character’s specific goals, unique emotional obstacles and very distinct responses and reactions to any opportunity, challenge or threat. Create this character’s Immediate Tactics, Long-term Orientation and Strategic Approach in a way that is recognizably “true” at every step of the story and during every moment of screen time. The audience Ambition instantaneously recognize and relate to your character because your character is complex, three-dimensional and “feels real.”

This eBook is thorough analysis of the Power of Ambition Character Type in his or her many guises and roles as a protagonist or a member of a larger ensemble. It is packed with numerous examples from film, television and even real life! Examples from scores of scenes and dozens of quotes from film and television characters clearly illustrate this character’s motivations and psychological dynamics in a story.

Power_of_Ambition ETB Screenwriting

Comprehensive Analysis

The Power of Ambition Character Type eBook illustrates exactly how to create and differentiate this character based on his or her:

(1.) World View (beliefs about how the world works) What are the essential core beliefs that motivate a Power of Ambition character’s ordinary actions?

(2.) Role or Function (position in the story or role in the ensemble) What do the other players look to a Power of Ambition character to do or provide in the story?

(3.) Values in Conflict (competing values that push the character to extremes) What opposing choices or goals establish the Power of Ambition character’s moral code? What is this character willing to fight, sacrifice or die for? And why?

(4.) Story Questions (emotional journey in the story) What personal issues, dilemmas and internal conflicts does a Power of Ambition character wrestle with over the course of the story? What does this character ask of him or her self? What is this character’s Leap of Faith in an emotionally satisfying story?

(5.) Story Paradox (emotional dilemma) What is the duality or the contradiction at the heart of a Power of Ambition character’s story struggle? How is the character’s internal conflict expressed in actions.

(6.) Life Lessons (how to complete the emotional journey) What must a Power of Ambition character learn over the course of the story to make a clear, satisfying personal transformation? What actions lead to this character’s emotional salvation?

(7.) Dark Side (this character as a predator or villain) What happens when a Power of Ambition character’s actions are driven entirely by fear? How might or how does the story end in tragedy?

(8.) Leadership Style (what defines and qualifies this character as a leader) How does a Power of Ambition character convince others to follow? How does this character act to take charge and command?

(9.) Film Examples (the Power of Ambition character as a protagonist)

(10.) Television Examples (the Power of Ambition character as central to an ensemble)

(11.) Real Life Examples (historical Power of Ambition figures on the world stage)

Frost/Nixon and the Power of Ambition

Frost Nixon ETB ScreenwritingThe film Frost/Nixon is one of the best of a dispiriting lot this movie-going Holiday Season.  Although there have been some remarkable performances in the current crop of films, many of the stories on screen have been weak and unsatisfying.

In contrast, Frost/Nixon has it all– towering performances and a tight script that builds to a satisfying finish.  The film is the story of an epic battle between two Power of Ambition characters.  The characters and film are pitch perfect.

Power of Ambition characters fear failure in the eyes of others and in the eyes of the world. The worst thing that could happen to these characters is being publicly “unmasked” for the fraud, failure or loser they fear they are.

Image is everything to these characters.  They are terrified of any kind of public embarrassment, becoming unpopular or appearing to be of no public or social  importance. They are always keeping score and worry that they will fall behind somehow. It is nearly impossible for these character to admit their mistakes or acknowledge their failings.

In their worst moments these characters exhibit manic depressive swings— obsessive self-serving action punctuated by nearly paralyzing shame, despair, self-loathing and feelings of inadequacy, inferiority and failure.

The following scene from Frost/Nixon articulate the Power of Ambition character’s fear perfectly.  The scene is intimate, personal and comes at just the right moment in the story.  Before their film taping session Nixon calls Frost’s hotel room late at night:

We’ve sat in chairs opposite one another, talking for hours, it seems– days on end– and yet I’ve hardly gotten to know you. One of my people– ah– as part of the preparation of this interview–did a profile of you, and I’m sorry to say– I only got around to reading it tonight. (Nixon looks in the file: sees evidence or Frost’s humble childhood)  There’s some interesting stuff in there. The Methodist background, modest circumstances. Then off to a grand university. Full of richer, posher types. What was it? Oxford?


Did the snobs there look down on you,too?

I .. I ..

Of course they did. That’s our tragedy, isn’t it, Mr. Frost? No matter how high we get, they still look down at us ..

I–. really– don’t know what you’re talking about ..

Yes, you do. C’mon. You know exactly. No matter how many awards– or how many column inches are written about you– or how high the elected office is for me– it still isn’t enough, am I right? We still feel like the little man? The loser they told us we were? A hundred times. The smart-asses at college. The high-ups. The well-born.The people who’s respect we really wanted. Really craved. And isn’t that why we work so hard now? Why we fight for every inch. Scrambling our way up, in undignified fashion, whatever hillock or mountain it is, why we never tire, why we find energy or motivation when any sensible person would lie down, or relax.  (Nixon looks in the file: articles about FROST’s failure in America. The network show being canceled)  If we’re honest for a minute. If we reflect privately just for a moment– if we allow ourselves … a glimpse into that shadowy place we call our soul, isn’t that why we’re here now? The two of us? Looking for a way back? Into the sun? Into the limelight? Back onto the winner’s podium? Because we could feel itslipping away? We were headed, both of us, for the dirt. The place the snobs always told us we’d end up. Face in the dust. Humiliated all the more for having tried so pitifully hard. Well, to hell with that. We’re not going to let that happen. Either of us. We’re going to show those bums, and make them choke on our continued success.Our continued headlines. Our continued awards, power and glory. We’re going to make those motherfuckers choke. Am I right?

You are. Except only ONE of us can win.

And I shall be your fiercest adversary. I shall come at you with everything I’ve got. Because the limelight can only shine on ONE of us. And for the other, it’ll be the ‘wilderness’. With nothing and no one for company, but those voices ringing in our heads.

It is my belief, facts are less important than the emotional truth of a story.  Just because it never really happened that way doesn’t mean it isn’t true!