Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Gabba Gabba Hey, I'm a Dork

There's this great moment on the The Ramones' "Greatest Hits Live" album (a 1996 release that recorded one stop in their farewell tour), where Joey intones "Here we are, home sweet home, New York City!"

Is it weird that every time I cross into New York City, I sing to myself the exact same lyrics, in the same cadence?

Yeah, I thought so.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down

I would really hate to be the editor of the Quantitative Marketing & Economics academic journal right now. They're about to publish an article that is already receiving a failing grade from critics.

Marketing professors from Duke University, Florida Atlantic University and Carnegie Mellon University have co-authored a piece of research looking at film criticism and their findings have been utterly lambasted by the very people whose work they surveyed.

According to the news release put out by Duke, the study "examines the meaning of silence by professional film critics". It finds that "many film critics, faced with far too many movies to write about, tend to avoid writing reviews of bad films that they’ve seen. At the same time, a few critics, faced with the same overwhelming choice, tend to avoid reviewing good movies that they’ve watched". They also released a scale of those critics who "provide the most information about poorer movies" and "most information about the finer flicks". Talk about a survey having a false premise.

The research utterly misses the mark, primarily because it looks like the professors don't know a thing about film criticism and the system in place at some of the nation's largest-circulation newspapers. It's story assignments, stupid. As Pat Saperstein, a senior editor at Variety, puts it in a letter to Romenesko: "[T]he top reviewers with the most seniority are assigned the highest-profile, most prestigious films, duh. Younger, more inexperienced reviewers get the films the top critic doesn't want -- the genre films, kids' pics and other lower-prestige fare. That's the way it works at every paper I've ever heard of -- so why isn't it mentioned in the study?"

(I have a question on methodology as well: How do they back their system on which films critics actually saw but didn't review -- and, to put it in perspective, there were 527 films released domestically last year -- and how do they define critics' information on the films?)

And I'm sure this concept has been picked up by a good number of news consumers as well-- a reviewer not reviewing a film does not mean a damn thing. And here's the kicker: According the the news release, "the researchers are now exploring the relationship between a movie’s critical acclaim and its box office sales. Among other things, they aim to pinpoint the critics who have the biggest impact on ticket sales."

I'm already shaking my head at their next endeavor, this sequel, which is another false premise and presumably builds upon the results of this one-- critics don't grade for box office, but for quality. I'm willing to save them some grant money and predict they'll find little linkage; for example, this weekend's #1 film ("Tyler Perry's Madea's Family Reunion") wasn't even screened in advance for critics.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Memo to Self, #303


Stop falling asleep with your eyeglasses on. It's really becoming a problem, as you wake up with them all bent out of shape and you're forever bending them back into something like their original form. And the book you're reading when you enter dreamland somehow becomes flung to the other side of the room. Altogether, not good at all.

Also, please throw away the 3-month-old yogurt cups burrowed in the back of your fridge. Your fridge is not a lab experiment, you can already see the vanilla flavors have garnered a nice, healthy green sheen to them.

Otherwise, you're doing good.

Rock on and cheers,

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Village Voice: Now 30% Less Relevant!

According to the Boston Phoenix's Mark Jurkowitz, Sydney Schanberg has resigned as the Village Voice's "Press Clips" columnist. And it looks like the column -- which boasts such prestigious alumni as Alex Cockburn and Jim Ledbetter -- has been put on a permanent hiatus.

This is distressing. The media criticism column, of which Schanberg took over last April, has long been one of my must-reads. During his tenure, his columns were more insightful and 'big-picture' than the majority out there-- not focusing on the media minutiae of the day, but the landscape as a whole.

The 70-year-old Schanberg himself was a hell of a hire for the Voice, as he won the 1976 Pulitzer Prize for international reporting while at The New York Times. There, he climbed the ladder from copy boy to Southeast Asia correspondent, where his harrowing experiences in Cambodia served as the basis for the film "The Killing Fields."

In the Phoenix article, Schanberg says that "it was clear to me at that writers's meeting that [executive editor Mike Lacey] did not want a press column...he said he didn't want any stories that referred to other people's work."

This move is a backwards move for the Voice and was one of the paper's strengths. So, unless the new owners of the Village Voice change their minds, a New York institution is now lost.

Here's to hoping Schanberg continues his media criticism elsewhere.

Monday, February 20, 2006

"Everything Bad is Good for You" Could Be Better

When I first spied Steven Johnson's "Everything Bad is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter" at the Strand, I'm pretty sure I shook my head as I read the dustjacket's description. I asked myself, "Can this be true?"

Here's Publishers Weekly's take on it: "Worried about how much time your children spend playing video games? Don't be, advises Johnson—not only are they learning valuable problem-solving skills, they'd probably do better on an IQ test than you or your parents could at their age. Go ahead and let them watch more television, too, since even reality shows can function as "elaborately staged group psychology experiments" to stimulate rather than pacify the brain...Johnson lays out a strong case that what we do for fun is just as educational in its way as what we study in the classroom (although it's still worthwhile to encourage good reading habits, too)."

After starts and stops for several months, I finally finished it in late January. It wasn't the length of it -- it checks in at a quite manageable 199 pages -- but the central ideas Johnson presents here (that we're getting smarter, not dumber, in this media age) on pop culture do not ring true to me; mainly because of this disconnect, I kept setting it aside for other books that flew in over the transom.

Johnson makes some very valid points about the rise of IQ over time and how videogames teach children to problem-solve, but too often it comes across like he's painting too broad a stoke. Anyone can cherry-pick the supporting data that "Arrested Development" and "The Sopranos" are smarter than the shows of yesteryear because ofadditionall plotlines and characters, as well as that the complexity of the latest "Final Fantasy" is miles ahead of "Pac-Man." But the direct correlation that he makes, and attempts to prove, to us being smarter overall because of this is suspect. He doesn't back it up all that well. Circular reasoning, anyone?

The case, I'm sorry to say, is not that strong at all. All in all, the book's an entertaining read, but it comes across more as a graduate thesis topic being presented than something proved; it's an area that needs additional study and further research. Me, I'm looking forward to Mike Judge's next film, "Idiocracy" (out in October, as of this writing) which takes the opposite view-- I think that's a little more dead-on.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Let Down by "Freedomland"

Ever been really, really disappointed by the film adaptation of a book you really, really liked? That's how I feel this weekend with Richard Price's "Freedomland". Skip it.

My mistake was dismissing the across-the-board negative reviews and the pushed-back release date as indicators of something to avoid. Lou Lumenick of the New York Post was probably the most directionally correct in his review, calling it "a tedious melodrama that squanders the talents of Julianne Moore and Samuel L. Jackson, as well as a tough-minded novel by Richard Price." Claudia Puig of USA Today also gets it right, saying that "[t]he movie tries to be all things to all people: a violent mystery, a psychological portrait, a sociological statement, even a horror film. No character gets off without spouting cringe-inducing dialogue or lines that have been heard hundreds of times before." Moore was especially off-target in her take on Brenda Martin.

Directed by Spike Lee, the adaptation of Price's "Clockers" was a really good film, one of my favorites. But, with "Freedomland", director Joe Roth (2004's "Christmas with the Kranks") ultimately butchers the source work into a hack-y mess. I was hoping for a great deal more, especially with Price writing the screenplay himself (which I read and I can assure you was far better than what appeared on screen).

My bookshelves contain the entire canon of Price's work, and love his contributions to the best show on television, HBO's "The Wire". But this adaptation misses the mark entirely. The adage of the book often being better than the film is entirely true here.

Related thought: I wish there were a service that matched your film tastes to a critic. While I have extremely weird tastes, I find myself agreeing with Lumenick and Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum more often than not, but such a service would be tres cool.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Andrew Krucoff, Fashion Model (Or Not)

When Gawker Jobs was first introduced on January 19th, I was pretty sure I knew who the fellow holding the "Help Wanted" sign was (reproduced at right). In a wonderful in-joke that only a few got, the picture is of Andrew Krucoff, he who was fired this past fall from Conde Nast and who has filled in for the editors every once in a while.

Known fondly as the Gawker mascot, I congratulate Krucoff on his new gig as a model. No wonder he hasn't posted lately on his Young Manhattanite blog, he's most likely been busy with Fashion Week.

But how does he look in a Wonder Woman outfit?

Krucoff lied, that rat bastard. Sigh...and God know he's too short to be any type of model.

So who is the picture of?

Sunday, February 12, 2006

What Newspapers Are Not Good For

While most of my friends spent this "Blizzard of 2006" in New York City, I was in Connecticut. Shoveling snow. For what seemed like forever.

And I learned yet another reason why people hated newspapers: Using the snowblower, my mom sucked up the Sunday edition of the Connecticut Post, causing it to stop working. After cursing the paper, I shoveled some more.

Until I came up with the bright idea of pouring hot water would dissolve the paper, which had entirely clogged up the blades. And it worked. (I should have been an engineer.)

Thank God we had already found the New York Times-- can you imagine the damage that could have done?

Thursday, February 02, 2006

CNN Tries Humor, “Daily Show”-Style

I would have thought I was watching the "Daily Show" yesterday morning, not CNN, had I not known better. Whenever they introduce a "DS" correspondent, titters normally come from the audience -- and viewers -- at whatever his/her title of the day is, such as the memorable "senior pedophile expert."

CNN took it to a whole 'nother level yesterday, when Miles O’Brien introduced senior political correspondent Candy Crowley, senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre and senior political analyst Bill Schneider for a segment on Tuesday's State of the Union address.

Let's observe. From the transcript:
Miles O’Brien: I've got to talk to my agent. I need to become a senior anchor, I think. What do you think? Jeez, you guys...

Candi Crowley: It helps a lot.

Jamie McIntyre: Senior just means old.

Candi Crowley: Yes, that's -- this is what you do when you get on in years and there's nothing more they can give you. They say senior.

Miles O’Brien: Senior.

Jamie McIntyre: I want to become chief next.

Miles O’Brien: Ooh, chief. We could do that, too.

Jamie McIntyre: Chief correspondent...

Miles O’Brien: Or super senior, how about that?

Jamie McIntyre: Yes.
Miles O’Brien: Thank you, seniors, one and all. Our most seasoned reporters' roundtable ever.

Jamie McIntyre: Hey, Miles?

Miles O’Brien: Yes?

Jamie McIntyre: I think you should call me Pentagon bureau chief, because, you know, I'm in charge over here until Barbara Starr gets back.

Miles O’Brien: Yes. And then we know who runs the show, right?

Jamie McIntyre: Yes.

Miles O’Brien: Thank you very much to our trio. Appreciate your insights this morning.

Heh. The transcript for this exchange can be found