Monday, May 20, 2019

"Wild Bill"

Not Mr. Hickok, but William A. Wellman, one of Hollywood's iconic "Golden Age" directors. Wellman was born in Brookline, MA in 1896, and lived up to his nickname. He was expelled from high school for dropping a stink bomb on the principal's head, and he was noted as a ferociously competitive ice hockey player. (Douglas Fairbanks Sr. once watched him play ... and remembered him. Wellman, the story goes, was not reluctant to brawl with opponents.)

Before the U.S. entered World War I, Bill Wellman was off to Europe as an ambulance driver, but soon joined the French Foreign Legion and the Lafayette Flying Corps. He flew in combat for four months and was credited with three official "kills" and five more "probables" before getting shot down ("by ground fire!" he once said disdainfully) and breaking lots of bones ... which left him with a limp and -- years later -- crippling arthritis. Bill W. left the foreign legion in 1918 and joined the U.S. Army Air Corps, but the war ended before he could return to combat. Training new pilots in San Diego, he would fly to L.A. on weekends at the invitation of Doug Fairbanks. Doug got Wellman an acting job in movies after he was discharged, but Wild Bill hated emoting before a camera and soon quit, working his way up through the studio system to director.

Wellman directed live-action features for the next thirty-five years. His most notable silent film is "Wings" ("Best Picture" Oscar, 1927). A sampling of his sound movies would include "A Star is Born" (which won him the Academy Award for Best Story), "Nothing Sacred", "Beau Geste", "Island In the Sky", and "The High and the Mighty". (And Wild Bill's last screen credit? "Story by" on the 2018 "Star is Born" remake.)

But TWO of W.B.'s more notable works, both released in the month of May, were ...

"THE PUBLIC ENEMY" (May 15, 1931)

The movie that made James Cagney a star. Wellman promised Warners production chief Darryl Zanuck the most violent, slam-bang gangster picture yet made, and delivered the goods. Shootings, beatings, and James Cagney falling through the front door stone dead at the end. The scene where Cagney smashes a grapefruit into Mae Clarke's face was concocted by Wellman. The writers had written a scene where cooked eggs were used, but Wellman decided that was too messy. (Mae Clarke -- the victim -- wasn't crazy about EITHER breakfast food being smashed into her face, but ... you know ... 1931.)

"THE OX-BOW INCIDENT" (May 21, 1943)

Bill Wellman had wanted to direct Walter Van Tilburg Clark's novel about a lynching in the old West for years, but a producer at Paramount held the rights. When the producer got fired and needed money, Wellman bought rights to the book for $6,500.

And then he couldn't get the story made, because no studio head wanted to do it. (Apparently nobody thought a grim story about multiple hangings was commercial. Who would have guessed?)

Darryl Zanuck, now head of 20th-Century Fox, didn't like the property any better than the other moguls, but he agreed to do it with a half-million dollar budget ... IF Bill Wellman would agree to make two other movies at Fox. Which Wellman did.

And, in case you're wondering, those other two pictures that Wild Bill got roped into directing were "Thunder Birds", a Technicolor World War II aviation picture that received so-so reviews but made money ... and "Buffalo Bill", a big-budget Western. Wellman didn't care for it, nor did Maureen O'Hara and many of the other actors. But that didn't prevent the movie from being one of Fox's highest grossing features of 1944.

And "The Ox-Bow Incident"? Despite the low budget, the black-and-white Western starring Henry Fonda, Harry Morgan and Jane Darwell failed to turn a profit. Some of that was due to the subject matter, but the other reason is that Zanuck gave the movie a mediocre release. It only turned a profit after it was theatrically re-issued. And today, of course, is considered a classic.

Regarding Index Funds

Why anyone invests in individual stocks or high-cost, actively-managed mutual funds is a bewilderment. And as financial advisor Rick Ferri points out:

The truth about index funds must be repeated over and over because lies are constantly being told. Index funds are not evil, they are not destroying the markets, and will not blow-up your portfolio. ... The critics of index investing range from big fund companies to small investment advisers who claim to have strategies that perform better. ... The research cited, when there is any, is often conjured up by an active fund company that’s trying to hold onto their dwindling market share.

A small investment adviser from Wisconsin who favors active strategies wrote the Forbes article [about "Why Index Funds Are Not Good Investments".] His conclusions about index funds were far different than the evidence available in all the mainstream studies of passive versus active investing.

[Journalist Jason] Zweig talked with the adviser and investigated his data source. He found a slanted Fidelity internal report for adviser use only that claimed active managers outperformed index funds in most styles. However, in the back of the report, in small print, was a note stating the active fund data Fidelity used to make this claim was incomplete. High fee active funds and poor performing active funds were excluded. ...

And whattayaknow! As soon as Zweig wrote an article about the above in the Wall Street Journal, Fidelity tucked their "report" away where no civilian's prying eyes could see it.

But let's cut to, as My Aunt Betty often says, the chase. Warren Buffett, one of the most successful investors on the planet, recommends the Vanguard's S & P 500 Index Fund. Vanguard builds many of its asset-allocation funds with Total Stock Indexes. The late John Bogle, founder of the Vanguard Group, advocated indexing.

With recommendations and endorsements like that, why would anyone put most of their investment money in higher cost active funds?

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Wick End Box Office

Keanu Reeves threequel action movie comes in at the top of the Big List, while also doing well overseas...


1) John Wick: Chapter 3 -- 3,850 -- $57M -- $57M (1st weekend)

2) Avengers: Endgame -- 4,220 (-442) -- $29.4M (-53%) -- $770.8M

3) Pokemon Detective Pikachu -- 4,248 (+46) -- $24.8M (-54%) -- $94M

4) A Dog’s Journey -- 3,267 -- $8M -- $8M

5) The Hustle -- 3,077 -- $6.1M (-53%) -- $23.1M

6) The Intruder -- 2,231 (+9) -- $4M (-44%) -- $28M

7) Long Shot -- 2,110 -- $3.4M(-46%) -- $25.7M

8) The Sun Is Also A Star -- 2,073 -- $2.6M -- $2.6M (1st weekend)

9) Poms -- 2,750 -- $2.1M (-61%) -- $10M

10) UglyDolls -- 2,030 (-1,622) -- $1.6M (-62%) -- $17.2M

And outside of Mr. Wick's energetic killing, Pokemon declines 54% while The Avengers: Endgame drops 53%, and UglyDollstumbles 62% and now clings to the tenth position. It will likely be gone from the Big List next week.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

401(k) Investing

... or simply, investing in general.

I'm a believer in "tilting" away from the broad equities markets (Total [Domestic] Stock Market Index; Total International Stock Market Index; etc.) but it's of limited value if you don't stick with it.

Because if you have a stake in Small Cap Value funds (say), you have to understand they can underperform the broad market indices like the Total Stock Market for freaking YEARS. And when that happens, people usually bail out. They get discouraged, they get panicked, they LEAVE. Often at exactly the wrong time.

... When the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index hits a record high ... we ought to be reminding ourselves of the near certainty of stock market declines that will test us just as the ones that began in 2000 and 2007 did. ...

Check your account statements as seldom as possible, especially when markets are falling.

We humans tend to experience pain from losses much more acutely than whatever joy we might experience from an equal-size gain. “If you’re watching as the markets go down, you are twice as unhappy as you would be happy if they went up by the same amount,” Professor Pagel said. “So looking at the market is, on average, painful.” ...

After years of investing, I've figured out there's a lot to be said for playing your investment stash down the middle and plunking your dough into an asset allocation fund. Vanguard's LifeStrategy Funds and Target Date Funds are both good choices; I'm sure there are others.

But if you want to deviate from the market, buying more small cap or mid cap or maybe even more Emerging Market funds, strive, to the best of your ability, to avoid tinkering with them. The easiest, least painful way to do that? Put the contributions into the funds on autopilot, and don't look at them on a daily or weekly basis. Don't even look at them once a month. Looking at your stash of investments every year or two is all that you'll need.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

The Russkies

Russia has become one of the lower cost providers of theatrical and television animation:

... Growing interest in new Russian animation work — just one indicator is Netflix’s buy of the series “Leo and Tig” and “Be-Be Bears” from Moscow-based Parovoz ... The two seasons of shorts, about animal adventurers, have done well with kids worldwide. ...

Dmitry Pleshkov of Russia’s Licensing Brands says business is brisk for his company as well. Their previous animated 3D feature, “Two Tails,” scored $3.4 million at the international box office, “a very good result for an independent, relatively small-budget, production.”

Their new film, the 3D feature “The Big Trip,” now out on Russian screens and just released theatrically in Turkey, set records for a non-franchise animated pic, Pleshkov says. ...

Russia has created and sold animated tv shows and features on the international market for years.

In the Soviet era, Soyuzmultfilm was a major producer of animation, creating hand-drawn shorts and features, also puppet animation. Its feature The Snow Queen (1957) had a worldwide release that included the United States.

Today, Russian animation studios such as Wizart, Paravoz and Animaccord are the new up-and-comers in Russia. Product for TV finds it way on to various global platforms; theatrical features are distributed to global markets mostly outside north America, grossing considerably less than American and European long-form cartoons.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Hybrid Box Office

The 100% animated feature UglyDolls resides at #7 in its second week, but there are three other hybrid and super hero movies (with animated effects aplenty) doing brisk business ...


1) Avengers: Endgame -- 4,662 -- $63.1M (-57%) -- $723.4M

2) Pokemon Detective Pikachu -- 4,202 -- $58M -- $58M (1st weekend)

3) The Hustle -- 3,007 -- $13.5M -- $13.5M (1st weekend)

4) The Intruder -- 2,222 -- $6.6M (-39%) -- $20.9M

5) Long Shot -- 3,230 (-192) -- $6.1M (-37%) -- $19.7M

6) Poms -- 2,750 -- $5.1M --$5.1M (1st weekend)

7) UglyDolls -- 3,652 -- $3.9M (-54%) -- $14.2M

8) Breakthrough -- $546K -- $2.4M (-37%) -- $37.1M

9) Tolkien -- 1,495 -- $2.1M -- $2.1M (1st weekend)

10) Captain Marvel -- 1,504 (-739) -- $1.8M (-58%) -- $423.8M

Pokemon Detective Pikachu, title character voiced by global wiseacre Ryan Reynolds, took in $103 million overseas, running its global weekend total up to $166,765,242. Avengers: Endgame has now gathered in $2,489,617,092, and Captain Marvel the other superhero movie in the Top Ten (after ten weeks!) has accumulated $1,124,614,676.

UglyDolls has made $16,127,888 on a global basis.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Wage Information

What people make has long been a touchy subject. If you're of a certain age, you were taught it wasn't polite to ask about somebody's weekly salary.

But think about it: if you've got no idea what others at the studio/company/plant are making, how're you gonna know what YOU should be asking for? The New York Times has noted of late how the hunger for salary information has grown:

... [Columnist Alison] Green recently asked readers of her “Ask A Manager” website to share their job title, where they live and how much they make each year. Answers were anonymous; the data was compiled in a spreadsheet on Ms. Green’s website so people could sort through the data.

Within a half-hour, she had 1,000 responses. A day later, so many people posted their salaries her website froze. So far, three weeks later, she has more than 26,000 responses, everything from an accountant in Chicago who makes $90,000 to a librarian in Austin who earns $39,000. She was surprised by the overwhelming response: Previous surveys in 2014 and 2017 garnered a fraction of interest, fewer than 2,700 comments apiece. ...

Liz Dolan, the host of the podcast “Safe for Work” and a former marketing chief at Nike and the Oprah Winfrey Network, said she used to believe that salary information should be private.

“Now I see it is about secrecy, and that is a bad thing,” she said. ...

Some states and cities protect the sharing of wage information. California enshrined the right of employees to publish and share salary information decades ago, yet for a long time in the 1990s Disney required that salaries of animation artists be kept confidential, and studio administrators instructed employees not to let other employees know what they made.

The practice only ended when the Animation Guild pushed back on the practice and made an issue of it.

Los Angeles animators, writers, bord artists and technicians have shared wage details for years, and the Animation Guild has published them. Why fly blind about where salaries are in t he cartoon bi if you don't have to? Knowledge is power. And in times like these, working stiffs can use all the power they can get.