business news in context, analysis with attitude

So last weekend, Mrs. Content Guy and I decided to go to the movies, and we ventured down to a little art theater near us to see Arbitrage, the new financial thriller starring Richard Gere. (Really good, but I'll get to that in a minute...)

While I like patronizing the local independent art theater, I always feel like I'm getting an inferior experience. The projection system is old-fashioned, the screens are small, the seats are less comfortable and the building itself is ramshackle - not nearly as nice as the AMC multiplex with digital projection and stadium seating that is twice as far away but always worth driving to; but in this case, Arbitrage was only playing at the art house, and I wanted to see it.

It was only later in the weekend that I realized that I didn't have t go the theater at all to see Arbitrage - it actually was available to rent on iTunes for $6.99 (less than the $20 I spent at the theater). We could have watched it at home on a flat screen high definition TV not that much smaller than the movie theater screen, and could have enjoyed a glass of wine while doing so.

What interests me about this is the way in which the film industry - and the TV business, for that matter - is breaking away from traditional distribution practices as it tries to reach out to the consumer in new ways. The simple reality is that for many movies, it does not matter whether one sees it on a theater screen or a television screen, especially since so many televisions are technologically advanced. It matters more for "big" movies that depend on special effects, and it is important not to lose touch with the community aspect of going to the movies. But last Saturday night, watching Arbitrage at home would have been just fine.

On the television front, while most network programs begin their seasons next week, I've watched the pilots for several shows already - for free on iTunes, because the networks realize that they have to find new ways to attract viewers. (My verdict is that "Last Resort," looks like it has real promise, "Revolution" was pretty good, "Men with Babies" was awful, and "The New Normal" seemed pretty funny.)

This is a great metaphor for what many businesses have to do - to be willing to re-examine how they do things and reconsider how they connect with customers. We're living in a new world, and old ways of doing business, of attracting and keeping customers, simply isn't enough. And to go back to a line we've tossed around before, in a time of fundamental change, incremental business shifts simply aren't enough.

Now, about Arbitrage...this is a strong thriller from first-time director Nicholas Jarecki, about a highly successful hedge fund guy (Gere) who finds himself trying to find his way out of a nightmare - his company is for sale at a time when he's had to commit a Bernard Madoff-type fraud in order to keep it afloat, while at the same time his personal life is in turmoil.

In some ways, Arbitrage is the flip side of last year's Margin Call, which looked at what happened in an investment firm during the early hours of the 2008 financial crisis. In that film, Jeremy Irons played the CEO - it was a memorable supporting turn, but a small part of the movie. In Arbitrage, it is as if the CEO role has been brought front and center.

And Gere is the perfect guy to play it. He's always been a resourceful and talented actor who sometimes has made questionable movie choices, but as he's gotten older, he's gotten better - more sympathetic, more vulnerable, and more willing to explore a character's darkness. He's great - and supported by a wonderful cast that includes Susan Sarandon, Tim Roth and two wonderful young actors named Brit Marling and Nate Parker. (Also watch for Stuart Margolin - who years ago played Angel on "The Rockford Files," in a small but crucial role.)

Go see it. Or watch it at home. Up to you.

Some other notes...

• Just finished "The Sentry," the latest Joe Pike novel by Robert Crais, and it is a typically strong thriller taking place in modern Southern California.

In "The Simple Art of Murder," Raymond Chandler once wrote about Southern California, "Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor. He talks as the man of his age talks, that is, with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness."

I would not go so far as to say that Joe Pike is not himself mean ... but Crais has created a character who is unafraid, who has a great sense of honor, and who has graduated from supporting roles in his Elvis Cole novels to become the centerpiece of his own. Pike helps lost souls, but he seems like one himself...and following his adventures is a worthwhile pursuit.

• I've never liked so-called "reality TV," because it seems totally unreal to me. That said, I cannot overestimate how thrilled I am that "The Voice" has returned to television, because it is, quite simply, the happiest show on television. (Or at least it makes me the happiest that I am while watching TV.) It is, at its core, an old-fashioned talent contest, but unlike some such shows, there is absolutely nothing mean-spirited about it. The singers - even the ones who don't get picked - are talented. Some of them are supremely so, and their performances are transcendent. And the judges - Adam Levine, Blake Shelton, Cee Lo Green and Christina Aguilera - manage to be both competitive and supportive as they build their teams.

I have no idea how long "The Voice" can keep it up, but for the time being, I cannot wait from one week to the next to see what will happen.

My wine of the week is the 2009 Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Gris, which is bright and creamy and wonderful...

That's it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I'll see you on Monday.

KC's View: