Saturday, March 31, 2007

Air Quality Improvements Cited as Reason for Decreased Crashes

The Western Skies Monitoring Group today released a report citing air quality improvements over the past five decades as a leading cause of decreased UFO crashes in the western part of the United States. “We haven’t had a major incident since the mid-seventies.” said Max Eydenbrow, Western’s director. “It’s very encouraging.”

“This has really increased our credibility and standing with our interstellar neighbors,” said a senior official with the Bush administration, who declined to be identified because he was not allowed to talk to the media. “We used to get complaints all the time, and we almost went into interstellar war after the Roswell incident. But now that we’ve gotten the particulate counts in the atmosphere under control, UFOs can navigate a lot better and incidents are way down.”

Increasing industrialization had led to deteriorating air quality in most US states, particularly over major urban centers, until the Clean Air Act of 1970 under President Nixon began to curb emissions of particulates from industrial and utility sources. Eydenbrow explained that those particulates damaged the UFO’s interstellar guidance systems and caused them to become unstable, most famously in Tunguska, USSR and Roswell, New Mexico.

“Imagine trying to drive your car by the Grand Canyon to take pictures, but the windshield is totally spattered with bugs,” the official explained. “Now imagine that your car is going six light years per hour and you’re trying to read a map and the kids are in the back seat screaming because they want to get out and run around. Of course you’d plummet into the canyon to your fiery death, just like the aliens. And their relatives had begun to blame us for having such crummy air in the first place.”

But there is still a long way to go. Eydenbrow noted several near-misses, including an incident where a passenger plane in Manchester was almost hit by a UFO in 1995. “We’re currently developing a project to broadcast the flight plans of every airplane in the world into space, sort of an AM travel advisory for our alien visitors. That way, they know where there’s bad traffic and where they can fly without risk. It should really benefit space tourism.”

He cited the recent announcement of a spaceport being constructed in Arizona. “We’re hoping to have a welcome center there, as well as some duty-free shops for these VIP tourists. After all, we want them to feel welcome during their stay on Earth.”

Asked about negative publicity with extraterrestrials in the past, Eydenbrow did acknowledge that there had been some missteps in relations. “Films like Independence Day and War of the Worlds don’t help, frankly. And I don’t even want to talk about Fox’s irresponsible Alien Autopsy show. But, at the end of the day, they’re an advanced society with intergalactic travel, and we have nice views and cheap souvenirs. I think they’ll come.”

Weather report: light blogging

I'm not going to blog much today and tomorrow, but I'm suffering a strong case of bloganoia, the feeling that if I don't post something (anything!) then the my readers will decide I've shot my wad and go read other blogs and never come back. Or worse, turn off their computers and discover the joy of sunlight!

So, blogging is light owing to weekend stuff, but I'll be back come Monday.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Hollywood Pins 2007 Hopes on "Raiders" Sequel

Already reeling from a disastrous start to 2007, totally devoid of any hits or films that have captured the public’s imagination, Hollywood has pinned its hopes on the upcoming Indiana Jones movie to turn around the waning fortunes of cinema. Details of the fourth installment of the popular “Raiders of the Lost Ark” series have thus far been kept secret by the filmmakers, but recently some clips and a script excerpt from the movie appeared on the popular web sharing site Although they have since been removed and those who posted them prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, details of the movie have now begun to leak out and show that this will indeed be the blockbuster movie that 2007 so desperately needs.

“It’s a dramatic, bold concept,” said an anonymous studio executive reached for comment on Tuesday. “We’ve tried to incorporate every element of a successful movie, and we’ve also been true to the historical details, carefully recreating every element of costume from old photographs and archives and validating the historical characters that we use. We’re certain that this will be a cinematic achievement on the order of Ben Hur or Titanic, or if not, at least Porky’s.”

Set in the late 1940s, “Celsius 10/27: Indiana Jones and the Inconvenient Truth” reveals that Indiana is, in fact, a secret government assassin, and that the character of his father, played by Sean Connery, is only his handler and works directly for the infamous Senator Joseph McCarthy. Indiana turns against the government at the beginning of the film, after he assassinates Babe Ruth during a Yankees press conference. Indiana is told that the Bambino is going to announce that he is a communist and thus is an enemy of the state.

Jones finds the note cards in the Sultan of Swat’s breast pocket that reveal that the true purpose was to announce that Ruth was homosexual and plead for tolerance. In a touching scene that is a dramatic departure from previous “Jones” movies, Harrison Ford’s character reminisces of his own brief fling in the 1920s with industrialist John D. Rockefeller.

Indiana must go on the run, pursued by government agents on the payroll of Joe McCarthy, who declares Jones a traitor to the country and public enemy #1. Indiana is aided by Amelia Earhart, played by Olympia Dukakis, and a young boy named Barack Obama, who hides Indiana in his Illinois basement when government agents storm the town and kill most of the locals in a hail of bullets. The agents arrive after a little blond-haired girl outside Rodham’s Pest Control sees Indiana in town and calls the government.

In the final action sequence Indiana discovers that McCarthy himself is just a pawn of the evil corporation Standard Oil, controlled by none other than Indiana’s old lover John D. Rockefeller, his head now attached to a giant robotic body that has a howitzer for a belly button and belches smoke and grime out its backside. After a dramatic battle Indiana destroys the Rockefeller cyborg and escapes the country to Cuba, where he and his lover Truman Capote live out their lives in socialist bliss on the beach.

Critics are already hailing it as the blockbuster hit of the year, a “sure-fire smash with lots of cross-genre appeal” and the “bravest movie in decades.” Oscars are expected to follow suit, which would be an astounding first for an action movie.

No bias to see here

So has one of their ubiquitous lists out on Page 2, this time purporting to rank and measure the degree of suffering of various fan bases around the country. It is, like a lot of Page 2, mildly amusing. The list itself was totally subjective, with a quasi-mathematical formulation that boils down to “how much we feel the fan base has suffered”. The list is 46 teams long.

But I got to thinking: can this list be used to prove or disprove allegations of ESPN’s east coast bias? Since numbers are the only thing which can resolve “bias”, I decided to do a statistical check of the list to see if they were rating the suffering of one particular region or another more severely, and thus betraying where their sympathy lies.

Here is my theory: if there is no bias, then the average ranking of each geographical area would be roughly the same. If there is bias, then the east teams (or wherever) would have a lower average rank, because ESPN is inclined to be more sympathetic to them than to teams from other regions.

First I simply split teams at the Mississippi. Any team east of the river (or its imaginary vertical line to the north) was East, to the west was West (Vancouver was west, Toronto was East). The average East ranking was 22.8, West average was 24.2. Conclusion? If there’s bias, then it’s slightly to the East, but the list looks fair when viewed like this. I will make the caveat, though, that 3 of the top 4 teams are from the East (Buffalo and Philly twice), but that doesn’t itself give any evidence of bias.

Then, I split the list into a more geographically diverse group, by East, Midwest, Southeast, and West. This gets more subjective: is Houston in the Southeast or the West? Is Detroit in the East or Midwest?

Ultimately I put teams in New York, Pennsylvania, Toronto, Massachusetts, and Washington, DC in the East. In the Midwest I put the Ohio teams, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Missouri, Wisconsin, and Kansas City. In the Southeast there were all teams in Texas and the traditional SEC states (KY, TN, FL, etc). Everything else went into the West: Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, California, and Utah.

The results here were surprising: West average ranking was 20.1, and East average was 20.5. So there’s no bias between the two. The Midwest, though, ranked at 25.6, and the Southeast a very happy 31.4.

There’s clearly a bias here, and it exists on the coasts. I don’t believe that somehow the average fan in the Southeast or the Midwest is that much more significantly happy than the fans in the East or the West.

Worse, I forgot to mention the main reason that they built the list: to tell Chicago Cubs fans to shut up, because their suffering isn’t nearly as bad as other fans around the country. The Cubs did not make the list; presumably they are 47th. What this ultimately says about ESPN, their attitudes towards sports fans in the Midwest and Southeast, and their opinion of Chicago in general, I leave to somebody else to judge.

Whither the Weekly

As you can probably tell, one of my formative writing influences at a tender age was reading the Weekly World News. My grandmother used to buy a copy at the supermarket every week, and when we went over on Sundays my brother and I used to read through it and get a laugh out of the various articles, particularly the horoscopes and “Ed Anger’s America”.

Last summer my wife, knowing my fondness for the world’s largest-circulating weekly newspaper, picked up a copy of the Weekly World News. I read through it, and was amazed at how far it’d slipped. First of all, I didn’t like the disclaimer at the beginning that it was all made up. I preferred when the WWN acted like it took itself serious; I mean, we all knew the stories were fake, but there’s no reason to be so obvious about it. Can you imagine running something at the bottom of SNL skits that said “PARODY – NOT MEANT TO BE AN ACTUAL DEPICTION”?

Secondly, it’d become so self-referential as to be ridiculous. Apparently a regular feature is now the serial adventures of a time-traveling transvestite who constantly talks about past exciting adventures, and bat-boy was splashed over every other page. Sure, I loved the two or three bat-boy stories back in the heyday, and my favorite banner headline from WWN remains “Missing World War 2 Squadron Seen on the Moon”, which was itself a reference to a story from several issues earlier when they detailed the re-emergence of the famous ‘ghost squadron’ of WW2 lost in the Bermuda triangle.

It all sadly pointed to a once-great franchise that had run out of ideas and now floundered in an intellectual wasteland. It’s pretty similar to what has happened to the Los Angeles Times; at least, that’s what I read, because I’ve never met anybody who actually reads it or read it myself.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Nude Protest Turns Violent, Raccoons' Fate Uncertain

A nude protest by the animal-rights group 'Animals “R” People 2' outside of Kennelbunkt Memorial Stadium last night became violent, with 12 protesters injured, two seriously, when wild raccoons attacked them during the traditional “Back to Nature” pre-season celebration.

“We were here to protest three things,” said Dakota Starlight, spokeswoman for ARP2. “Firstly, we’re not at all happy about the incredible number of animals murdered to make leather for balls, jerseys, shoes and helmets in sports. Secondly, people eat way too many hot dogs at sporting events. Thirdly, the barbaric practice of rescuing injured animals instead of allowing them to die as nature intends must be stopped. Mother Gaea has a plan, and it’s up to us to make sure it’s implemented properly!”

The protest was orderly until the traditional “Releasing of the Raccoons”, when injured and rescued raccoons are released back into the wild. A group of nude protesters abandoned their picket line to storm the cages and keep the animals inside, chanting “Death for those who Nature wills!” Panicked, the raccoons which had already been let out attacked the nude protesters and a violent melee ensued.

“It was like a horror film,” said Deputy Earl Spunkenmeyer. “There were raccoons hanging off of people’s arms and legs and other appendages. We were afraid to use our guns, so finally we had to tear gas the whole mess and call in a Hazmat team to sort it out.”

Ryan Jerks, a college student at Kennelbunkt Polytech, was one of the two seriously injured. Reached for comment from the hospital, he said “I just came down to see some naked chicks, maybe score with a granola girl. Instead I got one of my testicles bit off by a giant rat.”

The Kennelbunkt “Back to Nature” celebration, which dates back to 1893, is a tradition where all injured and rescued raccoons of the last year are released back into the wild by the Kennelbunkt humane society as a thank-you gift to nature for allowing the use of the raccoon as the mascot of the local minor-league team, the Kennelbunkt Raccoon Raiders. It traditionally brings good luck to the team, which notes in its media leaflet that it has not finished in last place in the league in over forty years.

Asked if the disruption is expected to bring bad luck to the team this year, team owner Arty Goodenrich replied “I think it means we’ll win the pennant this year. After all, what could a raccoon enjoy more than biting naked people?”

Popcorn and Necrophilia

Okay, I admit it: I'm behind the curve on stuff. But I couldn't let the Orville Zombiebacher commercial go by me without at least some comment on how disturbing it was.

This is the state of the art for marketing in 2007: we can digitally recreate an advertising icon in necrophilic homage, but we can’t give him anything interesting to say. The recreation itself is entirely creepy: Orville’s head is too big, his fellow actors have the familiar “I have no idea what’s going on in the blue screen” look so common to CGI effects, and his skin color is not the proper tone for a living human.

It reminded me of the campy drawings from Monty Python in the 70s, where a cutout image of a Queen Victoria eats someone at the end of a sketch because they couldn’t think of any other way to end it. Quite frankly, the technology hasn’t advanced so much further, either.

Orville’s son (apparently) has no problem with this, saying that his dad would have thought it was cool. Orville was apparently on the cutting edge of corpse re-animation.

But is it really a good idea for us to allow digital recreations of people to stand in for their once-living counterparts? As digital recreations become better and better, it is entirely possible that one day we could recreate on film any person, in both voice and image, doing anything we please. This opens up whole new avenues of mischief.

Imagine Anna Nicole Smith and her son advertising for Bermuda: “it’s to die for!” Or OJ Simpson slashing mattress prices. Or Mahatma Ghandi for PETA saying that if you eat animals, your soul will rot in hell for all eternity. We could expect to see Ronald Reagan pushing Alzheimer’s drugs and Bill Clinton selling condoms.

To go one step further, why not remake Casablanca with the original cast? Or better yet, pair up Humphrey Bogart and a hot new starlet for a remake? Or, if you wish, remake Casablance with the original cast, but throw in the nudity and bloodletting that the story (according to modern standards) truly demands? The day is not far off when this will be technically possible. And when the digitally-produced porno “Cockablanca” comes out, with Humphrey’s Bogart in a full-frontal shot, it’ll probably be too late to protest.

Tasteless? No more so than an episode of Fear Factor or Survivor. And this would appeal to the lowest common denominator, with the bonus of having an edgy “buzz” that Holywood just can’t resist.

Perhaps some of them would have even approved. But the point is this: without them to say yes or no, we cannot definitively judge. And what about those for whom no relevant estate can be found? Or those whose heirs disagree about the proper treatment of their legacy? If one heir of Martin Luther King wants to sell his likeness for the new “I have a dream of Pepsi” commercial, and the other doesn’t, then who is to say which is correct? What about foreigners, or those who have been dead for more than 100 years?

It would be best, of course, if filmmakers could refrain from such foolishness and truly be creative without having to resurrect the dead. But this would require risk, which most of them stridently avoid, and runs counter to the current tide of sequels and remakes. So we can expect to see a flood of deceased icons pushing this or that product, and starring in new roles and remakes. Some uses will be funny, and others will be inappropriate, and still others simply bizarre and disturbing like Orville in this commercial.

Don't think this could ever happen? Compare the album production of Tupac Shakur and Biggy Smalls pre- and post-mortem. Tupac's been dead a decade, but he's still cranking out albums. Why not do the same thing with dead celebrities as well?

Perhaps it’s time to make a blanket rule: no digitally creating the deceased and putting words in their mouths. If that strikes you as too restrictive, then perhaps all such use must require a big on-screen disclaimer: “DECEASED PERSON PORTRAYED DID NOT GIVE PESONAL CONSENT”, except in cases where the deceased did, in fact, give specific consent. It might not stop the tide, but it should at least put a damper on popcorn sales from a corpse.

The State of Internet Dialogue

The other day I was reading a back-and-forth debate between two people in the comments of an Internet blog, when one of them accused the other of an ad hominem attack. The response was some variation on “screw you” only he was much more colorful and it went to 2 or 3 paragraphs.

It made me hungry. I love hominy! I can’t imagine anybody attacking it, except maybe one of those Atkins diet freaks. I wasn’t familiar with Ad Hominy, so I figured that maybe it was genetically engineered or something and so maybe that was the source of controversy.

Then I re-read, and realized that the argument had gone a lot further than I realized: one of them had actually issued an attack ad against the other. You know the kind, where the music that they use has lyrics that are the exact opposite of the message the commercial is trying to convey. Like when Levi’s used the song “Favorite Son” but never bothered to listen past “some folks are born, made to wear the flag” to hear that he is clearly saying that he’s not one of those people.

But then I realized that it wasn’t an ad homonym attack, and I had to get out the dictionary. My first attempt failed over at Wikipedia, where “ad hominem” came back as “a dirty trick favored by Republicans, who are stupid and immature and fart too much.” Figuring maybe it’d been tampered with, I went to another dictionary, a paper one, and found out that accusing someone of an ad hominem attack is a debate tool used by overeducated people to avoid having to respond to grade-school slurs hurled at them.

Isn’t that typical of the state of discussion on the internet now? In one corner, you have a preening intellectual who is using all the tools of Latin conjugation and debate formality to pick apart the method of his opponent. And in the other corner you have a foul-mouthed troll who swears like a bankrupt pirate in a whorehouse whose debate strategy is to hurl four-letter curses at his opponent in an attempt to keep the level of the discourse no higher than 6th grade.

Oh, sure, occasionally you get two preening intellectuals who go on for pages and pages about ad hominem strawmen using sock puppets, and every comment page eventually ends up with filth-spewing guttersnipes attempting to out-vomit one another, but the general nature of the debate on the internet seems to always evolve into preener versus screamer. Then somebody says ‘Nazi’ and you can pretty much guarantee that the discussion is, for all intents and purposes, finished.

Internet debate has become like pro wrestling: it’s not about winning arguments, it’s about looking good to the people in your corner. The event is scripted so that both sides can believe that “their guy” won at least a moral victory if not a factual one; if he didn’t, they can retire thinking that it’s not his fault because the other guy cheated.

Heaven forbid that two mature adults engage in honest debate on an issue in the Internet without resorting to picking apart the apparatus of debate or lobbing verbal Molotovs at one another. That leaves the opportunity for a reader to say “hey, I never thought of that, that’s a good point.” That’s called learning, and outside of the University of Phoenix it’s absolutely forbidden on the Internet. At least, that’s what the popup ads tell me.

Far better to set up a mismatch: a philosopher gallivanting about on his rhetorical high horse versus a gutter-mouthed swamp thing wallowing in his own filth. Each round the philosopher can retreat to his corner where the others congratulate him on his rhetorical acumen while the troll retreats to his corner where the other thugs slap him on the back and chuckle about how good his insult was against the pencil-neck.

And therein lies the problem: both sides think they’re winning. The thing I don’t understand is why the rest of us keep reading it.

Welcome, Driscollites!

A big thank-you to Ed Driscoll for his kind words and the link to "Bigfoot No More?" on his blog, and welcome to all his readers who have ended up here. Have a look around, forgive my amateurishness, and come back to catch up on the latest news that the so-called "Traditional" Media is just too afraid to report on!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Bigfoot No More?

Prominent environmental groups today declared April 1 a “National Day of Mourning” for the loss of another species to global climate change. Researchers today confirmed that there are no surviving members either in the wild or in captivity of the genus Homo Erectus Hirsutus, also known as the Pacific Bigfoot.

Chet Bellweather, Chief Researcher of the Pacific Bigfoot Resource Centre, confirmed that they now believe the small population of Bigfoot still remaining in the Pacific Northwest had finally become extinct. “Sightings have been decreasing for years,” he said. “Thirty five years ago we’d get five or six sightings a week during the spring, with at least one car accident involving a Bigfoot every month. In 2000 we only had two sightings, and we haven’t heard anything since early Fall 2002 when some hikers saw a baby Bigfoot get eaten by a bear.”

“This magnificent species has been on the edge for years,” said Kathy Viracocha, president of Hooray for Animals!, a California NGO that aims to promote public awareness of animal habitat destruction. “Deforestation, human encroachment on their natural territory, and the increasing loss of their main food sources have stricken this once-noble species, possibly our nearest evolutionary ancestor, from the catalogue of biodiversity. Mankind’s genocidal urges simply cannot be sated: first the dodo bird, then unicorns, and now Bigfoot.”

“Clearly this is once again the birds of man-made climate change coming home to roost.” Al Gore stated through a press release. “Bigfeet were designed for colder weather: big mukluk-type feet, lots of hair, and a diet that mainly consisted of evergreen needles and pine cones. But now we come along with SUVs and private planes and zinc mines and drive them to extinction. Mark my words: a great reckoning is coming, and we can only hope that Mother Nature is kinder to us that we have been to the Bigfeet!”

Asked about the condition of other endangered fantastic megaflora, Bellweather was similarly pessimistic. “The Yeti, Bigfoot’s Asian cousin, has been hanging on the edge of extinction for some time as well. And I’ve been getting pessimistic reports from Scottish colleagues about the numbers of Loch Ness Monsters sighted over the past few years. Few people realize how fragile these animals are. In a rare success story, since their successful introduction in the US in the 80’s Leprechauns appear to be out of danger.”

Bellweather added sadly that, “Of course, back in ‘72 I’d have said the same thing about Bigfoots. You just never know, do you?”

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The new Frankenstein

The evil Martha Stewart is at it again, terrorizing some poor villagers in the town of Katonah. The village is going to try to fight off her sinister corporation, Omnimedia Death Star Incorporated, to keep her from using their town in her trademark. They're worried, the article says, that "village business owners are concerned about whether they will be able to use the hamlet name..."

Hamlet? Although the article's author tries hard to portray this as some idyllic little woodlands town, in reality the average home price here is $912,000. So the short version of this story is: rich homeowner's group tries to block richer business owner from stealing name of posh old-money hideaway before they can profit on it themselves. I'm crying a river for these poor villagers. Quick, somebody start up a legal defense fund!!

Stupid is as stupid does

So I read here that actor/comedian Eddie Griffin totalled a million-dollar rare Ferrari practicing for a charity race. There's just so much wrong with that sentence that I don't know where to begin. If you owned a million-dollar rare car, why in the world would you let an actor slash comedian drive it in the first place?

It's apparently part of a collection owned by Griffin's latest film's producer, Daniel Sadek. One can only hope that he'll gather up all the actor/comedians he can find and have a big smash-up derby for charity. Can you imagine how much money you'd raise off of former SNL alumni alone?

Not lame, just ill

Starting a blog is like starting a business: most of them fail early. I'd like to robustly defend my nonexistant reputation by saying that I got sick last week, thus curtailing my blogging. Not that I blogged all that much anyways, I just wanted to officially say that's the reason there's been nothing for a week or so. And how am I? Much better now, thanks.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Unholy Union: AFL and ESPN

In case you didn't know, ESPN bought part of the AFL in order to leverage its Monday Night Football package. I think this was ultimately a bad idea on their part. See, ESPN is afraid that the NFL is going to build up the NFL Network to be a competitor against them, and ultimately they want to build up a competitor to the NFL.

So they picked the AFL, which they describe as a "fun, high-scoring product" in an interview with USAA. If you go to the AFL webiste, you can find a copy of their mission statement, which just oozes fun and high scores from it:

“To serve our community with pride and passion as a quality example of individual and team excellence on the field, in the office, at the arena and within the community by consistently exceeding our customers’ expectations by demonstrating the highest character, appreciation and respect for our game, customers, teammates and partners as a cost-effective and visionary organization providing a total entertainment experience.”

What gets my heart pumping is the stuff about being cost-effective and visionary, with a total entertainment experience. Does that mean there's a chance that I might get to play in the game? I think 'A Fan as QB' night would certainly fulfill all three of those parts of the mission!

Seriously, that reads like the worst of the stuff you see from corporations today, a vanilla blend of buzzword BS that doesn't mean anything and nobody can remember. If the AFL were serious, their mission statement would be something like this: "To knock the NFL on its butt and take over the football universe." It's short and to the point.

Now, over on, they continue the program of degrading the NFL that they began with Playmakers. You can read a list of the best commissioners (prompted by the passing of Bowie Kuhn) on Page 2, where they complain that "steroids are a real problem, Super Bowl has become an abhorrent sideshow, rampant franchise movement..." when discussing Paul Tagliabue. They also sneak in that Pete Rozelle "stole revenue-sharing idea from AFL" to pimp their own product.

I don't deny that steroids are a problem in pro sports, but they're a problem in all of them. If the Super Bowl is an abhorrent sideshow, why are we clamoring for the same system in college football? And I don't know that I'd characterize the franchise movements as 'rampant', and since they didn't water down the final product on the field (like baseball and hockey have done) I think I can forgive them the moves that did occur.

Nothing good for anyone will come of the merger between the AFL and ESPN. What they don't seem to realize is that there are two professional football leagues in the US (NFL and NCAA); Arena represents a third. It's possible they'll be a niche, but in the meantime ESPN gives the NFL more and more reasons to build up a broadcasting competitor. And once ESPN begins to lose its stranglehold on sports information, they'll begin to crumble.

Don't believe me? Just ask Time-Warner how it's faring in the CNN-Fox battle. Once forced to compete, most former monopolies find themselves at a distinct disadvantage to their newer rivals.

How to read a movie review

Looking at all the hubbub about the movie '300', I couldn't help but think that many people need some guidance in reading a movie review. So here is a handy set of guidelines that I use when reading movie reviews, and a few points to keep in mind.

Rule #1: Always go to the professionals. Let's face it: anybody that sees a movie and then immediately runs to the computer to post a review has had an extreme reaction. Everyone else wanders off to more interesting pursuits. And more often than not that extreme reaction was a negative one. So the flood of 'F' grades that appears on Yahoo Movies or IMDB isn't really telling you anything except that some cranks saw it (see rule 6).

Rule #2: Remember that the professionals are probably unqualified to review the movie in question. Reviewers are like everybody else, in that they have favorite kinds of movies. But the paper isn't going to have three reviewers, one for action and one for comedy and one for art house movies. They'll have just one, so the critic must pass himself off as a jack of all trades and pretend to like all kinds of movies. But people with real passion for movies, who decide to be critics, more often than not come from the Art house clique than anything else (it seems). So they're not really the best person to give an opinion on a sword-and-sandals epic or the latest gripping technological thriller.

Rule #3: Everything is a three-point scale. If a reviewer uses a five-star system, it means that 4 stars is average, 3 stars is bad, and five stars are movies that are his specialty (see rule 2). They don't actually use one or two stars (see Rule 4 for exception). This is so that they can legitimately claim that they're not hurting the business of the theaters who, after all, pay for a lot of ad space. But if a reviewer says "Worth seeing" and gives it 3 stars, what she's really telling you is "I would rather jab my eyes out with hatpins than see this atrocity again."

Rule #4: Always read one home and one away review, and adjust accordingly. Find a reviewer who should like it and a reviewer who should hate it, and see what they say. Low scores from the 'home' reviewer are especially damning. If the movie reviewer for 'Greenwich Salute to Angst' says that the newest French film exploring middle-class ennui isn't poignant enough, and gives it only 4 stars, it's probably a terrible film. Low scores from the 'away' critic are a perversely good sign; if the local critic hated the French film but loved 'Coed Car Chase 2' then that's a boost to it's score. The lower the bad rating, the better. Find a film that gets 0 stars on the 'Away' review and you might have an all-time great on your hands.

Rule #5: Remember the code of the playground. Reviewers do not like to be only one pushing a movie unless they're getting a kickback from the studio, nor do they like to badmouth critical successes. You don't get invited to the Oscars like that!

Rule #6: As usual some people are just cranks. This is particularly true for the non-professional reviews, where people delight in being negative about a movie simply because so many of the other people liked it. But the same vibe exists in the critics' world also, albeit more rarely.

Just remember that, since movies are so expensive, you might be better off waiting until it comes out on video. Of course, be sure to rent it legally, as the days of no-knock raids against video pirates cannot be far off. Happy viewing!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Evil geniuses

I stumbled across a show the other night and I saw that they had one of those ubiquitous phone-in surveys to vote for this or that person to be this or that. And it suddenly occurred to me that the people running the show were evil geniuses. Not only do they get you to write the script for the next show for them by identifying heroes and villains, and not only do they get market research to see who polls well and what polls poorly, but they get you to pay 95 cents for the privilege! This is the exact opposite of the old gimmick in the mall where they'd give you five bucks to waste twenty minutes taking a survey. You're doing them a favor, and you're paying for it, and you end up happy and invested in the show and so you have to watch it and you end up driving up its ratings. Then the cycle continues, ad nauseum infinitum.

And I asked myself: how can I get in on that action?

First post

The first post of anything is supposed to be lame and stupid, sort of a mike-tapping 'is this thing on?' moment. In this I hope not to disappoint.

I predict that at least tens of people may someday read this.