Birth, Death and Everything In-between

I’ve been so overwhelmingly lucky in my life. Not the luckiest, but in terms of a middle of the road, not bad looking, charismatic, outgoing regular guy, I’ve reached and achieved things that make me incredibly content with my life.

I’ve never really had to deal with tragedy. Hardship, sure. Frustration, worry, distraction, desperation, sadness, and other things in that realm, without question. But tragedy is something different.

Tragedy is something so profoundly life altering sad and shocking that time seems to stop. You’re only in that moment of the world never being the same, you don’t even remember what life was like seconds earlier before this tragedy and you don’t know if you’ll ever be able to experience again.

Celebrity deaths are interesting phenomenons in our society. Even just ten years ago you might not hear about someone passing away until the next day in the newspaper, or from a daily updated news site on the internet. With Twitter and social media now, the entire world knew within hours, maybe minutes, of the discovery. There is an entire discussion on the merits, pros and cons of this, but that’s for another day.

A celebrity passing away is a tragedy for those close friends and family who have had their lives touched so much by them, just like any family member would feel. However, the ripple affects go on and on as people who may not have been as invested as the people one ring closer but they are still affected. These people have influence over so many lives, they’ve given optimism and joy to so many people, and, it seems, sometimes there just isn’t anything left for themselves.

This year has seen a lot of my childhood influences struggle or suffer in someway. Jim Kelly, quarterback and legend of the Buffalo Bills, has had a much publicized battle with cancer right after the Bills long time owner, Ralph Wilson Jr. passed away after making it to 95. The team in flux itself with potential new ownership also feels like a fight for survival in some way.

And now, Robin Williams. Robin was by far my favorite actor growing up as a child. Along with Dana Carvey, Bill Murray, and Jim Carrey, these actors may have had more of an influence on teaching me humor and entertainment than almost anything else. I wouldn’t be who I am today without Williams’ eccentric mannerisms, Carvey’s impressions, Murray’s comedic timing and Carrey’s willingness to do anything to get a laugh.

These are things that emotionally affect me, in a strong way, and in the overall hierarchy of life it worries me how, even though these people and things have been part of my life since inception, they are still relatively distant in terms of ripples.

All of my grandparents are still alive and, despite a few recent health related issues, are relatively healthy and active. I know one day this won’t be the case, just like it won’t be the case with my aunts and uncles, my parents, the love of my life, my pets, my friends, and me. It’s hard to even type it out, that’s how unprepared I am for what’s to come.

Turning 29 next month doesn’t scare me, but ever more increasingly I find myself thinking about the past instead of the future. I’m still a very young man with my most important accomplishments still to come but I’m finally admitting to myself that I’m starting to have enough life experience to know that life is about the experience.

When you love your life as much as I love mine, it’s increasingly tougher to not wait for the house of cards to fall crashing to the ground but for now I will continue to admire it, protect it and be grateful for the years it took to build it.

An Obituary of a Portfolio

When I started trading stocks on August 1st, 2012, my primary goal was to have a savings account that would provide an opportunity to increase its value over time, rather than sit ideally by.

Now, cashing out completely on February 14th, 2014, I’m proud to say, in that regard, it was a successful endeavor.

Could it have been more? Of course. Were mistakes made? Many. But unlike many who paddle out into the stormy waters of Wall Street, I survived and came back better for it.

Over the past 16 months I’ve woken up feeling like I won the lottery and gone to bed distraught at losing hundreds on the day. It definitely takes an emotional toll and I’ve grown personally connected to each stock I’ve ever held. They all have unique personalities and they feel like real, tangible people that I’ve met and dealt with.

Clearwire ($CLWR) – My first buy. You had so much potential and if I were a more patient man you would’ve helped me more, but your volatility and unpredictability made a blockbuster win become just a minor one. You ended up getting bought out for $5 a few months after I sold you, and while I was proud of all you accomplished, it was my first taste of true disappointment.

Galena Biopharma ($GALE) - I’m not ready for you yet. We’ll come back.

Medical Marijuana ($MJNA) / Growlife Inc. ($PHOT) – My first, and only, and last, experience with penny stocks. I never thought I would be so excited about a stock hitting $0.36 as I did when MJNA was rising 15% a day for an entire week. I, also, never thought I’d feel such terror as you came crashing down 50% in a single day. You made me scared to use the rest room knowing at any moment you could lose everything I put in. Ultimately, you were two of my biggest losing sales and most amateur moves.

LSI Corp. ($LSI) – My first attempt at a ‘technical trade’. I studied you for a week, looking for the perfect chance to strike, waiting for you to bounce off a support price, cross a moving average, and be ready to pop a short squeeze into the moon. You plummeted, I sold out at my stop, and you promptly went up every day for the next week. Go to hell.

Pandora ($P) – My first two day trades. You lost me money in the morning but you gave it all back to me in the afternoon. While I ultimately made a minor profit, you gave me my first thrill of day trading that would be my downfall. Watching you cross profitability and cancelling out my morning losses was one of my favorite moments from trading. I will listen to a sad ballad station in your honor.

Galena Biopharma ($GALE) – No, no, still not ready.

Twitter ($TWTR) – Probably too emotional of a play, not enough research, but a quick morning loss on a swing play is not the best way to start a day. You will be a $100 stock someday though and I love your product, but I knew nowhere near enough about you as a stock to have made this move. Lesson learned.

Buffalo Wild Wings ($BWLD) – My first big earnings play. I researched so much, felt so confident in this play and ultimately it was a win, just not in the quantity I had hoped. Unlike…

Zillow ($Z) - You beat expectations and still went down. Another reminder that the more you think something is true, the more likely it isn’t.

Angie’s List ($ANGI) – I don’t even want to talk about you.

Regal Entertainment Group ($RGC) – Record box office results last year, little to no regional competition, and you miss earnings by a tonnnn. Ultimately the trade that pushed me out. Also learned an important lesson about selling out and how ‘market price’ can fluctuate so much in the time it takes to fill out the sell form.

Galena Biopharma ($GALE) – *deep exhale* … I can’t hate you because you were by far my biggest win. My longest held position at over 13 months, there was a time when I thought I’d be naming my boat after you someday. You were also one of the most controversial stocks in social media and I enjoyed defending you against bears and high-fiving in your honor with bulls. Every morning you’d be one of my first tabs to see what kind of day it would be. Watching you pull a short squeeze made me feel invincible and watching you fall off a cliff set an emotional toll that would be difficult to bury. Ultimately, you deserve credit. You turned my pennies into quarters and will be contributing to my upcoming wedding. While I may not thank you in the speech (you would’ve had to hit $10 for that) I will publicly acknowledge you here and say, from the bottom of my heart/wallet, thank you.

While I’m disappointed to be out of the game, I’m grateful for the mental vacation. Knowing that you have real, tangible, money going up and down on a daily basis was beginning to provide a level of stress that I have never experienced in my life. Dreaming about green and red arrows is not something anyone should strive for.

I do know that stock trading is something I feel I can be successful at and will continue to improve on. I will 100% be back at some point and, by then, will have matured enough with this experience to not let the weight on my shoulders burden me on a daily basis.

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“Money is only a tool. It will take you wherever you wish, but it will not replace you as the driver.” – Ayn Rand

American Hustle

American Hustle Should Work, But Doesn’t

Warning: All movie reviews contain minor spoilers.

Watching the trailer for this movie, it seems like an exciting twist filled, Ocean’s Eleven type, “big score” movie which promises money, power, sex, and chaos.

You realize, later, the trailer tells you right away what’s coming. It set up the premise with Christian Bale’s comb over presenting a forged painting and asking if it was so good that it was impossible to tell the difference, who was really the master? The painter or the forger?

The question is left lingering and the movie hopes to answer that by presenting Bale’s character, Irving, as a mastermind con artist, along with his partner, Sydney, played by Amy Adams. They, however, early in the movie get caught by Bradley Cooper’s character, Richie, an FBI agent, and are then stuck working for him to try and avoid jail time. The overambitious agent continues to snowball the operation to a bigger and bigger bust that increasingly concerns Irving. It’s now between Irving and Richie on who is the master of their situation as we watch a back and forth between two worthy advisories wrestle for control with Sydney in the middle, with her allegiance constantly swaying.

On paper, and written out, it sounds pretty good, right? It quickly comes apart, however, as consequences never come about, fears are never confronted,  and most of the ‘action’ that takes place is in the form of words with little to no meaning behind them.

David O. Russell (who wrote/directed and was nominated for multiple awards for Silver Linings Playbook) seems to think that plugging a familiar and talented cast in over the top (borderline distracting) wardrobes/hairdos having clumsy conversations with one another would be enough for the audience, and critics, to swoon over.

And he’s right, for the most part.

The film has already been nominated for several Golden Globes, SAG awards, and soon to be Academy Awards. For what though? I’m not sure.

The writing isn’t particularly crisp. Even re-reading the original premise question that Irving presented, “The forger or the painter?” it seems silly now. Of course, the painter. He was the one who originally created the art, the forger was able to copy it. It wasn’t from his mind, the curves, the details, the imperfections. That’s what makes the art, the process just as much as the finished process. This film may fall victim to the same idea, passing itself off as artwork but really being a forgery.

Russell returned a cast he knew, Cooper/Lawrence/DeNiro from Silver Linings Playbook and Bale/Adams from The Fighter. Some would argue that Lawrence and Cooper play remarkably similar characters, and I can see that. These versions are much more watered down and without reason for their hysteria which simply makes many of their antics feel like a pause in the story to give a desperate child some attention rather than plot altering.

With so much familiarity, perhaps there wasn’t the same drive or passion that previous films had. Each scene seems to be going through the motions, well acted, but without any feeling of depth. I openly laughed multiple times when a character (mostly Cooper) would have a dramatic outburst, a literal guttural scream, over something that didn’t seem worthy of such a reaction.

Each character had moments like that, scenes that seemed to indicate huge events or turning points in their situation but seemed as life altering as marking a checklist in a grocery aisle.

The actors performed well, but the context and reasoning always felt lacking. Lawrence never truly felt like the wild card wife that could ruin everything. DeNiro didn’t scare me as the mob boss getting involved. Adams, who I feel was the best of the ensemble, was so over the map in terms of character motivations/emotions that you could never tell when she was playing her role within the role. While this could’ve been great if the audience knew where she stood at her core, that was never established. It, therefore, unintentionally rendered every potentially powerful scene meaningless until it could be revealed later whether she was being sincere or not.

With a master con man, you’d expect that there was always a plan the entire time. Thinking a few steps ahead of you and surprising you that, while he may have seemed out of control, he had his hand on the switch the whole time. American Hustle tried to pass off Irving as this genius con man masterpiece hanging on the wall but there is no evidence to back that up. His biggest ‘scam’ is taking money from people and not giving them any. At no point did I feel that he was in control, and at several points he stumbled into a solution that was successful more on the incompetence of others than his own doing.

We were left with caricatures rather than grounded in reality people that the audience could relate to, root for, empathize with, mourn over, etc. The only character that came close to this was Jeremy Renner’s Mayor Carmine Polito who had more back story than most of the main characters which made me feel invested in his outcome most of all.

Ultimately, the biggest downfall of the movie for me was the lack of consequences throughout. Every conflict resolved itself quickly, without tremendous action, effort or planning. Every time something needed to be done, it was done. The most pushback, perhaps, was having to ask twice. Because of this, when a character became overly emotional or upset over a situation there wasn’t a reaction from the audience because everything always seemed to work out. The characters felt like they were riding the wave of action rather than causing it.

American Hustle watches like a film that wants to be recognized as such, as if it were created in a lab specifically to be an award nominee. It would’ve been easy to write that the film was magnificent, it may have the best cast of any film this year, but like a forgery there was just something off.

This was a difficult review to put into words simply because almost everything, on its own, works so well but all put together it falls flat. Somehow, someway, it may have conned it’s way into the gallery in the short term, but I don’t anticipate it leaving a lasting impression like true art does.

 

American Hustle
 
 
 
Nailed ItGreat performances, especially from Amy Adams. Louis CK and Bradley Cooper also have great chemistry together.
Missed OpportunitiesEverything comes too easily, characters not grounded in reality.
Casey's Score55/100
Second Opinion
"I thought the actors brought the characters to life, especially Amy Adams' Sydney. The ambiguity of [Bale & Adams] actions kept me guessing. You could never really tell who Sydney was loyal to. I also thought the twist at the end was clever. It showed Irving wasn't just a simple con man, and gave him a conscience." - Amit Avrahami

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