Thursday, January 13, 2011

P for Portman...Natalie Portman, That Is

It’s a good time to be Natalie Portman. She’s been acting in films for more than fifteen years, but she’s finally getting the good roles in good films, and she’s letting her talent shine. And she’s making the transition from America’s Sweetheart to an edgier, sexier Natalie. Things are finally coming together in all kinds of ways for the 29-year old, Israeli born actress. She’s got a commercial and critical success with Black Swan, and is a strong front-runner to win an Oscar for Best Actress for her performance. She’s already been nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance. Plus, she’s pregnant and engaged. That’s not great news for single, red-blooded, hetero men, but she seems happy.

Her debut came at age 12 in the 1994 thriller, The Professional. She made a strong impression as a tweener professional-hitgirl-in-training in a cast filled with experienced quality actors like Jean Reno, Gary Oldman, and Danny Aiello. A succession of roles in middling films followed. The films ranged from the sappy Anywhere But Here and Where the Heart Is to the pretentious and overrated indie Garden State. That’s right, you heard me: Garden State was a pretentious, unoriginal dud. She shaved her head for V for Vendetta, and I must say, I found that kind of sexy. OK, very sexy. I remember coming out of the theater after seeing that, and the guy behind me was complaining that the film was “too political.” What was he expecting, a sports film? Perhaps the best-known role of the lot was as Queen Amidala, the teenage royal who would become the mother of Luke Skywalker, in the last (and worst) three Star Wars films. She’s worked hard and regularly gave solid performances, but never really had the right vehicle to showcase her talents.

That all changed with Brothers, Jim Sheridan’s 2009 remake of a Danish film. Brothers is about a military family dealing with the stresses of the war in Afghanistan. Portman plays the role of Grace, the wife of a Marine Corps captain played by Tobey Maguire. When Maguire’s character, Sam, goes MIA in Afghanistan and is believed killed, Grace becomes close to his ne’er-do-well brother, Tommy, played by Jake Glylenhaal, who was recently released from prison. Tommy has always been the family screwup, living in the shadow of his brother, a high school football star. Tommy is trying hard to get it together, and his relationship with Grace and her children helps him find his center for the first time in his life. Their lives become even more complicated when it turns out that Maguire survived, and is returned home to a family that was moving on without him. Maguire’s character is suffering from post-traumatic stress and haunted by his time in captivity, and has difficulty returning to his old life. He senses the closeness between his brother and his wife and suspects infidelity, but he can’t control his anger. Maguire and Gylenhaal turn in good performances, and Portman plays her role with the maturity of an accomplished actress. She’s thoroughly believable as a young widow and mother trying to hold her family and life together.

Portman is the master of small gestures in Brothers. After learning that Sam is KIA, she sits on the couch in the dark and calls her own number repeatedly, just to hear Sam’s voice on the voicemail message. There’s a pivotal scene in front of the fireplace in Brothers that contrasts markedly with a similar yet unoriginal scene in Garden State (in fact, that’s when I got up and walked out on Garden State, it was so lame). Grace smokes a joint with Tommy, and comes out of her shell for the first time in the movie, revealing herself as a person, not just a wife or mother. At one point, Grace looks completely lost and alone. Natalie conveys all this with her facial expressions more than her words, something she’s able to do throughout the film. When she learns that Sam is alive and coming home, there’s a look of astonishment on Natalie’s face that is the kind of non-obvious choice an accomplished actress makes.
Portman’s strong performance in Brothers was followed in 2010 by her role in Black Swan. This is the first time Portman has had the central role in a film, and she nails it. Portman plays Nina, a young ballet dancer in New York who lives with her mother while striving for a lead role in Swan Lake. This is not your light and fluffy ballet movie. Portman does much of her own dancing in the film, which does not sugarcoat the toll that ballet takes on the young ballerinas. The director, Darren Aronofsky, previously directed Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler, and Black Swan has much of the same ethos. Every time a dancer went up on her toes, I cringed. You can hear the bones crack and joints grind under the strain. There’s a scene near the beginning where Nina and her mother are at breakfast. Nina’s breakfast is half a grapefruit, and that’s probably all she will get to eat all day. I counted at least three episodes where Nina is in the bathroom, trying to throw up. Portman apparently lost weight for this role, and even if the camera adds ten pounds, she looked rail thin.
Nina is so driven to succeed, both at home and in the studio, that she goes mad under the strain. She lives with her mother, whose failures as a professional dancer lead her to ramp up the pressure on her daughter. She doesn’t just mother Nina, she smothers her. Nina seems to have no life outside of the dance studio and her apartment. She gets up in the morning, eats a miniscule breakfast, dances all day, visits the bathroom to spit up the nonexistent contents of her stomach, and returns home to spend the evening mutilating her toe shoes and her body. Her mother is a master manipulator. When Nina comes home after winning the star role in Swan Lake, Mommy Dearest has a big cake waiting for her. Nina’s afraid to eat a bite, the pressure to maintain her weight is so intense. Her mother responds by trying to dump the cake in the trash, and lays a first-class guilt trip on Nina. Nina’s lost in some kind of extended childhood, with her room looking more like the room of a ten-year old than the room of a 22-year old. She’s trapped amongst fluffy unicorns and pink bunnies. I’d go mad, too.

She loses touch with reality, and the viewer is left wondering what, if anything, is real. Portman captures Nina’s transition from sheltered insecurity into delusion beautifully. The ballet’s director pushes her to become more sexual, more wanton, so that she can dance the role of the black swan, while playing on her fears of losing the role to her rival, played by Mila Kunis. Portman’s Nina is jealous of the more uninhibited Kunis, fears her, and is sexually attracted to her all at the same time. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but let’s just say (for the benefit of those hetero males) that Natalie has come a long way from Queen Amidala. A long way.

Portman has several films scheduled for release in 2011, and they all look like lighter fare – light comedies and adventure films. First, there is No Strings Attached, which will be released this month. Natalie plays a young woman who works out a friends-with-benefits arrangement with Ashton Kutcher. The film looks amusing, light romantic comedy at most, but it will show whether Natalie can pull off sexier roles. In May, there will be Thor, in which the Norse god of thunder is punished by being sent to live among humans like Natalie Portman. Lucky Thor, those Norse gods have all the fun. I’m not a huge fan of movies adapted from comic books, but this one looks good. And there is Your Highness, a medieval fantasy romp in which Natalie gets to show a lot of cleavage and kick some ass with swords and longbows. None of these are of the caliber of Black Swan, but if she brings home some awards, in particular an Oscar, look for Natalie Portman to get a lot more high quality roles. There are also rumors that Portman will produce and star in the film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  I've always said, you can't go wrong with zombies.

If Natalie has any faults, it's that she's a vegan. Probably the healthiest-looking vegan I've ever seen, but still, a vegan.  I would be OK with her eschewing meat, but vegan is just a bit too far. I can't imagine a life without butter, or real half-and-half in my coffee.  How do you make chocolate mousse without egg whites?

Last but not least, Natalie is pregnant and engaged, apparently in that order. Her fiancĂ© is a ballet dancer who did the choreography for Black Swan and had a small onscreen role. He’s named after a bug. I kid you not, look it up. I just hope she doesn’t come up with stupid Hollywood names for her child. Please, Natalie, don’t name your kid “Apple” or “Hummingbird” or anything like that. And if things don’t work out with the bug guy, feel free to ring me up. Make your parents happy.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

What Now for Michigan Football?

In my previous post I recommended that Rich Rodriguez be let go as head coach at Michigan.  He's a good man, and a good coach, but it just isn't working out. Dave Brandon, the athletic director, has yet to say what he's going to do. It seems very unlikely that he hasn't made up his mind yet.  One way or another, all the evidence is in.  If he was going to keep Coach Rodriguez, he could just say as much publicly so that the uncertainty would be over. This would certainly help recruiting.  So, I have to believe he knows he's going to fire RichRod, and doesn't want to make an announcement until he has a solid verbal agreement from a new coach.

Most of the speculation is surrounding former Michigan QB and current Stanford head coach, Jim Harbaugh.  He's done a great job at Stanford, turning it around in four years and posting an 11-1 record this season. Despite his success, the seats are still empty at Stanford's games.  That has to be frustrating. Stanford has offered him a cushy extension, and Harbaugh says he hasn't even looked at it yet. Hard to believe, but the fact that he hasn't signed it yet tells me he's looking for something better. I read today that the San Francisco 49ers made an overture to him, and that has to be attractive. Jumping to the NFL, and being able to stay in the same metro area.  But he may not like the chemistry with the 49ers' head office.  Plenty of other colleges are looking at him too.  I can't see him picking another school over his alma mater, however. The next most prestigious vacancy -- the University of Florida job vacated by Urban Meyer -- has already been filled.  So it's the NFL or Michigan.  I betcha a dollar he's been talking to Brandon. 

Other names are floating around, too, including former Michigan player Brady Hoke.  He's been head coach at San Diego State for the past two years, with a 13-12 record. Prior to that, six years at Ball State with a 34-38 record. It's not as impressive as what Harbaugh has done, but if Harbaugh isn't available and the school demands a Michigan alum, Hoke might be it.

I don't really care one way or another if the next coach is a Michigan alum.  All this stuff about the coach having to be a "Michigan Man" is nonsense, based on a misinterpretation of what Bo Schembechler meant several years ago.  For me, a Michigan Man is a talented head coach that can win games, maintain the integrity of the program, and represent the school to the highest standards. If that guy happens to come from Toledo, or Oklahoma City, or whatever, fine by me.

But here's my advice to the next head coach.  The first phone call you make after accepting the job should be to Denard Robinson.  You need to reach out to him and assure him that he's still the starting QB at Michigan.  I'm not sure that RichRod did this with Ryan Mallett, and since transferring to Arkansas Mallett has excelled. Any head coach, and especially Jim Harbaugh, a former QB, should recognize the unique skills that Denard Robinson has. Robinson broke all kinds of records this year, and he still has room for growth. He can excel even in a pro-style offense.  Even drop-back QB's have to run draw plays, and they get flushed from the pocket too.  The difference is, Robinson can score TDs every time he does it. Maybe he should be playing in an offense that protects him better from crushing tackles on every play. It would be a real crime if a new head coach failed to capitalize on the gifted playmaking of Robinson as a quarterback.  Indeed, that should be a question Brandon should ask of his candidates. Anyone who says he doesn't think Robinson should be Michigan's QB should get a polite "thank you, don't call us, we'll call you."

Time for A New Coach

I've been on the fence about whether to keep Rich Rodriguez as Michigan's head coach, but after yesterday's Gator Bowl debacle (calling it a "game" would be too kind), my mind has been made up:  RichRod must go. 

Previously, I thought that if he committed himself to bringing in a new defensive coordinator and special teams coach, and to recruiting bigger players, he should be given another chance. His offense was exciting and dynamic enough to warrant more time.  Prior to the Gator Bowl, Ryan Van Bergen, a starting defensive lineman, said the defense would show up and play well against Mississippi State because they've had 4 weeks to prepare, just as the defense played well against U-Conn in the first game of the season.  Well, that doesn't cut it with me.  Teams are expected to be prepared to play well with only 1 week of preparation, otherwise it would take all year just to play 11 games.  If Van Bergen needs 4 weeks to prepare for each game, perhaps he's playing for the wrong program. In fact, even with 4 weeks of prep time, Mississippi State shredded the Michigan defense for 52 points.  Fifty-two points.  And Mississippi State is considered middle-of-the-pack in the SEC.  Their offensive line blew open holes, their big running backs and quarterback Chris Relf stomped all over the Michigan defenders, and the receivers had a relatively easy time against the defensive backs.  Unacceptable.  From the beginning of the year to the Gator Bowl, the defense showed absolutely no improvement, and set all kinds of Michigan records.  Worst rushing defense in Michigan history. Worst passing defense in Michigan history. Worst scoring defense in Michigan history. Worst defense in Michigan history.  Yes, the defense set records, but the wrong kinds of records. 

Special teams were once again a mixed bag.  Michigan players did a fine job of running back kickoffs and MSU's rare punts, putting the offense into good field position time and again. It was great seeing Martavious Odoms back on the field, and he was one of the few players who actually played well.  The offense, however, failed to capitalize on their great field position, but more on that later.  Michigan's kicker failed on yet another easy field goal, leaving Michigan with a 4-for-14 field goal record on the season.  Of course, when you lose 52-14, one field goal doesn't matter very much, but that's beside the point.  And then there was the blocked punt.  Special teams haven't improved a bit over the course of year. 

That brings me to the offense.  Rodriguez's spread offense is dynamic and exciting, especially in the hands of Denard Robinson.  My oh my, they could rack up the points.  42 against U-Mass.  65 against Bowling Green.  42 against Indiana. 67 against Illinois.  But those are all middling opponents.  Against quality teams with stout defenses, the offense sputtered and stalled.  Against Michigan State, only 17 points.  Against Iowa, only 28 points.  Against Penn State, only 31 points.  Against Wisconsin, only 28 points.  Against the hated Buckeyes, only 7 points.  And against Mississippi State, with 4 weeks to prepare, only 14 points, all of them in the first quarter.  And we lost all of those games.  Most of them weren't even close.

Part of the problem with the offense is that Denard Robinson is a young quarterback, playing in only his first full season, so he needs more experience reading defenses.  That's to be expected, and I have no doubt Robinson will improve next year, just as his passing game has shown so much improvement.  He's a talented young man with a great feel for the game.  If the offense hasn't played well, it isn't fair to lay it all on Robinson's shoulders. 

Play calling has been as much a problem for the offense.  One of the Mississippi State linebackers, K.J. Wright, had this to say:

“Michigan was real predictable in what they were doing,” Wright said. “So I just looked at the formation and knew what they were doing. Before the ball was snapped, me and Chris [White], we knew what they were going to do.”

Rodriguez is supposed to bring an unpredictable, razzle-dazzle offense, and here he was outsmarted by a senior linebacker.  

My biggest knock on Rodriguez's offense, however, is that the players are too small.  Over the course of the 2009 season, QB Tate Forcier was constantly getting knocked out of the game and played injured for much of the latter half of the season. The roster lists him at 6'1, 190 lbs., but that's got to be generous.  He may be 190 with all his equipment on, and with a tackling dummy strapped to his back.  Denard Robinson was repeatedly getting knocked out of games during this past season, and he's generously listed at 193 lbs.  Considering how frequently he runs and how many hits he has to take, that's just too small.  Compare Forcier and Robinson to these other top college QBs:

Auburn's Cam Newton is 6'6, 250 lbs.
Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor is 6'6, 233 lbs.
Both these guys are big, fast, and mobile, and could easily play the spread offense.  And they can take the hits.

Look at Michigan's running backs:

Vincent Smith is 5'6, 180 lbs.
Michael Shaw is 6'1, 188 lbs.
Fitzgerald Toussaint is 5'10, 200 lbs.
Phil Monolo is 5'9, 186 lbs.
O'Neil Swanson is 5'10, 162 lbs.
Stephen Hopkins is 230 lbs. 
Teric Jones is 5'9, 198 lbs.
Michael Cox is 6'0, 211 lbs. 

Only two of those running backs top 200 lbs., and they rarely get to touch the ball.  The guys that get most of the handoffs -- Vincent Smith, Michael Shaw, and Fitzgerald Toussaint -- should be playing in Pee Wee League.  Michigan is the place where big backs come to play:  Butch Woolfolk, Tyrone Wheatley, Tim Biakabatuka, Chris Perry, Anthony Thomas.  These guys hurt you, they make you pay for the privilege of trying to tackle them.  If the offensive line doesn't open up a big enough hole, these guys will make it bigger.  Sure, we've had some small backs that have done well in the past -- Jamie Morris and Michael Hart -- but they were the exception, not the rule. And they were exceptional players, too.  

Look at the running backs RichRod is trying to recruit for the team:

Justice Hayes is 5'10, 175 lbs.
Demetrius Hart is 5'8, 190 lbs.  

Granted, these are 4-star recruits, but they are too small to play in the Big Ten.  They'll do fine if they never get touched by a defensive lineman or linebacker, but how likely is that to happen?

This leads me to recruiting in general.  For 2011, Michigan's recruiting rank at is a puny 28th.  Even Cal (that's Cal-Berkeley, not Southern Cal), came in higher, at #15.  USC came in #6, and they are on NCAA probation!  Three other Big Ten teams, and perennial rival Notre Dame, all have higher-ranked recruiting classes than Michigan.  For 2010, Michigan's rank was 20th. In 2009, the class that brought us Denard Robinson, Michigan's rank was #8.  Michigan should be competing for the best players in the country year in and year out, but I get the sense that RichRod still has a West Virginia mentality when it comes to recruiting. West Virginia was never good enough to compete with the top 10 programs in the country, and didn't try.  Michigan is in a different class though. High school players shouldn't have to ponder whether to go to Michigan or to South Carolina. It should be a no-brainer.

All of this has led me to the conclusion that another year with Rodriguez as head coach won't improve things. Too much is wrong with the program. Under his stewardship, we've become the laughingstock of the Big Ten. We've been unable to beat Michigan State and Ohio State. We are no longer feared.  I have no doubt that Rodriguez is a good man, someone who cares deeply about Michigan and the young men he is coaching. It's not enough, however. It's time to cut our losses and find a new head coach.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Ruminations on Michigan Football

I'm a RichRod convert. 

There, I've said it.  After three of the worst years in the history of college football's most storied program, I think the best course may very well be to keep Rich Rodriguez as head coach.  There was an interesting discussion about this between the TV play-by-play guys (one of whom was former Michigan quarterback Brian Griese) during the Illinois-Michigan game on Saturday.  They talked about how RichRod was something of a genius when it comes to putting together an offense, and how in just three years he's turned Michigan's offense into an explosive powerhouse.  After all, on the first play of the game Michigan QB Denard Robinson hit receiver Roy Roundtree on a 75-yard pass play for a touchdown.  Do you risk losing that because the defense sucks (and it truly does suck)?  Or do you shake things up below the head coach level instead? Ron Zook did it at Illinois, and turned his team around, particularly on defense.  Being good TV commentators, they never did state a conclusion, but I think they were on the right track.

I love what RichRod has done for the Michigan offense.  Under previous coaches, our offense has been plodding and predictable, if powerful.  Opposing teams always knew exactly what Michigan was going to do, and Michigan was fine with that. We were going to smash that ball into our opponents' faces, and let them stop us if they could.  Usually they couldn't, but more and more in recent years, our offense came up short.  Under Rodriguez, we are racking up yards and points like they are on sale at Costco.  It's fun to watch.  Really fun. 

The problem is, the defense is allowing the opposing teams to match us point for point.  We put up 67 points against Illinois, but they scored 65 points against us. And that's been the pattern regardless of the opponent, whether it's a strong team like Iowa or a weak team like UMass.  So the problem is the defense, without a doubt, and that means Greg Robinson, the defensive coordinator, must go. We can argue back and forth about injuries, and inexperience, and whether previous head coach Lloyd Carr "left the cupboard bare," but that won't change anything. In two years, Robinson hasn't produced any measurable improvement on defense. If anything, we look worse this year than last.  Someone has to take the fall, and given how great the offense looks, that someone has to be Robinson. 

Aside from what I've said above about RichRod, here's something else I really like about him -- he's not afraid to take chances on offense. Going for it on 4th down instead of punting or trying a field goal, that's unheard of at Michigan. Lloyd Carr would sooner eat raw donkey entrails than go for it on 4th and long.  RichRod does it frequently, and his gambles usually pay off.  Now, some of this is necessity, because our field goal kickers suck, but I give RichRod points for gutsiness.

Here's what I don't like about RichRod.  One, since he arrived there have been problems with compliance with NCAA regulations. That shouldn't happen at Michigan, and he better understand it. I think he's gotten the message.  Two, our special teams, and in particular our field goal kickers, suck.  We need to get that turned around pronto.  Three, he's a bit of a spaz.  Maybe he's normal, but he just looks like a spaz because his predecessor was so buttoned-down.  Even so, he isn't Bo, and therefore he hasn't earned the right to be a spaz...yet.

Here's what I'd like to see over the remaining games this season:

1.  Defense, naturally
2.  Better special teams play
3.  Fewer turnovers
4.  Lots more Stephan Hopkins.  This guy is a 235-lb bruiser of a running back, and he rarely gets the ball.  Against Illinois, he had 5 carries for 45 yards, including a touchdown and a 32-yard scamper.  He should be in there on any short-yardage down.  This guy running downhill will punish defenses. Oh, and he's a freshman.  So give him the ball.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Paper Chase

I refer to  the 1973 film, about first-year Harvard Law students, starring Timothy Bottoms, John Houseman, Lindsey Wagner, James Naughton, and Edward Herrmann, among others.  A great film, and one which holds a great emotional importance to any law student of the past 35 years.  They are all so pompous, self-importance, self-absorbed. And not that intelligent, despite all their protestations to the contrary.

John Houseman, as the fearsome Professor Kingsfield, is probably the most terrifying predator of modern film history. He makes Jason, Freddie Krueger, and the shark from Jaws seem like a bunch of pussies.  There's one scene in particular, where he has a law student (played by James Naughton) on the ropes, and he's about to eviscerate him, when another student distracts him from the kill.  He gives Naughton a look as he turns to the other student, a look that says "I'm going to melt the flesh from this pathetic loser, and then I'm going to return to you and eat your beating heart while you watch...don't go anywhere."  It's absolutely chilling.

Lindsey Wagner, as the love interest and Kingsfield's daughter, is ethereal.  She's got timeless beauty, the kind that should have transcended her role as The Bionic Woman.

If you haven't seen this gem of a film, get thee to your local video store with all due haste.  If you have seen it but not recently, see it again.

The Right Person in the Right Job

Yeah, right.  Since closing my business, I'm now back in the job market, and so I've become attuned to these mismatches.  This morning I went to a job search workshop at Jewish Vocational Service.  I arrived about five minutes late, despite the fact that I left home an hour before for what is usually a 30-40 minute trip.  I had to wait 20 minutes for the N-Judah tram to show up, and when it did arrive it was packed, and I had to stand.  Plus it was a slower-than-usual trip in, with several delays.  So I was a few minutes late arriving, with a badly-needed coffee in hand on this cool, damp morning.  The receptionist didn't greet me, didn't say good morning or hello. She merely said "you're late, and you can't take coffee in to the workshops." 

At that point, I was frazzled, and just not in the mood.  To put it delicately.  It doesn't exactly give me great confidence in a vocational service that puts an obviously-unfriendly bitch in a receptionist role.  I should think some basic and obvious skills for a receptionist would be friendliness and courtesy.  Apparently the world has changed. 

And frankly, having such a clearly-inappropriate person in that particular job at that particular agency is an insult to all the job-seekers that agency is supposed to be helping.  There are dozens of people who would be happy to have that receptionist job, and who would make an effort to do it well, and yet the JVS puts that person out front.  A good receptionist, someone with "people skills," would have said to me "Good morning.  They've just started, but I don't think you've missed anything important.  It's just down the hall to the right.  Oh, and in the future, we prefer that people not bring outside beverages into the workshops."

Unfortunately, I see this all too frequently.  I remember a trip to Office Max to pick up some supplies for the store.  I had four items on my list, but could only find one of them.  So I go up to the checkout, and the clerk asks "were you able to find everything you were looking for?"  I answered "no," and she ignored my answer and proceeded to ring up the one item I had.  I just stood there, stunned. It really isn't her fault, it's the fault of whoever hired her.  Her boss either didn't coach her as to how to respond to the situation, or he did but she didn't really care.  Either way, this was a person that should never be put out where customers might encounter her. 

We've all received telemarketing calls from people whose language skills are so rudimentary, we can't even understand what they are saying. I'm not talking about heavily-accented callers from Bangalore, India. I'm talking about Americans who aren't even capable of speaking English clearly.  If they aren't calling out, they are certainly on the other end of the line when we call in to customer service.  I can't imagine a company is really interested in serving their customers if they put such people in a customer service role.  Have you ever called Sprint's customer service department?  Neither has Sprint CEO Dan Hesse, or he wouldn't make TV commercials that talk about how important customer service is to Sprint.

But these are the kind of people that too many companies hire for customer service roles.  My suggestion is to punish these organizations by refusing to do business with them.  I left Office Max that morning and haven't been back.  And I dumped Sprint, because when they hire brain-dead people for customer service, people who can't solve problems in a quick and efficient manner, they are telling me they don't care about me or my time.  So why should I care about making them more profitable?  And as someone who is out there in the job market, like I said, I'm insulted when I see that a company has hired grossly unsuitable people.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Membership Has Its Privileges

Apparently I'm hot, and hot people should breed with other hot people, to improve the species.  At least, that's my takeaway from this e-mail from an online dating service I've been trying recently:

"We are very pleased to report that you are in the top half of OkCupid's most attractive users. The scales recently tipped in your favor, and we thought you'd like to know.
How can we say this with confidence? We've tracked click-thrus on your photo and analyzed other people's reactions to you in QuickMatch and Quiver.
. . .
Your new elite status comes with one important privilege:
You will now see more attractive people in your match results.
This new status won't affect your actual match percentages, which are still based purely on your answers and desired match's answers. But the people we recommend will be more attractive. Also! You'll be shown to more attractive people in their match results.
. . .
Suddenly, the world is your oyster. Login now and reap the rewards. And, no, we didn't just send this email to everyone on OkCupid. Go ask an ugly friend and see."

Of course, I don't have any ugly friends. That's another advantage of being so damned attractive.  Now if you'll excuse me, I believe Jennifer Aniston is calling...