Techmeme's 50 Biggest Tech Stories of 2010

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A good trip down memory lane. Say what you will about Gizmodo's iPhone 4 story and the potentially shady methods used to obtain it, but I think it will be regarded as the tech scoop of the decade.

Top 10 (Groups of) People I'm Glad I Started Following on Twitter in 2010

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Even though I've tried my best to move all my Twitter content to my blog, I'm still quite active on Twitter and enjoy scanning through my feed for the latest happenings in the worlds of media, politics, journalism, and film. Here are 10 (groups) of people I'm glad I started following on Twitter in 2010 [If I follow you and you're not on this list, it doesn't mean your tweets aren't awesome and that they haven't changed my life; just that I probably didn't START following you this year. By the way, you can always follow me on Twitter, if you wish]:

Maria Popova - If there's one person you follow as a result of reading this list, make it this one. An incredible writer, Maria is also a master curator of interesting, artistic works from all across the internet. Must-follow!

Give Me Something to Read, Longreads, and Instapaper - Because together, these services have changed my life.

DRUNK HULK - I didn't get on the Drunk Hulk bandwagon until 2010, but I'm certainly glad I did. Every one of this guy's tweets always manage to give me a smile or a chuckle. My only complaint? Sometimes he sounds less like "DRUNK HULK" and more like "WITTY AND ERUDITE HULK." False advertising.

Dustin Rowles from Pajiba and Vince Mancini from Filmdrunk - I would argue that no two people in the film blogsphere are smarter or funnier than these two guys. They also are the only two people who seem to take film and entertainment journalism with the requisite grain of salt that it requires. Many laughs have resulted from their writings, Twitter and otherwise.

Scott Mendelson from Huffington Post, Linda Holmes from NPR, Steven Zeitchik from the LATimes - Zeitchik offers a healthy dose of insight from his post at the center of the entertainment industry. Holmes is probably the most fair-minded writer on pop-culture that I've ever read. And I've really become a huge fan of Scott's writings this past year, which are always provocative and well-said. Of course, I don't always agree, but if I did, life would be boring...

Rachel Sklar from Mediaite - Whip smart and very witty, Sklar's writings for Mediaite (a site for which I hope to one day write) are always a must-read for me.

Jay Rosen - No other Twitter account I've ever followed provides a more comprehensive look at the interesting questions going on today in the world of journalism. If I wasn't already in a Masters program, I would totally apply to be in his program in NY (which is also being taught by the genius Clay Shirky).

Adrian Chen and Foster Kamer - Speaking of journalism, these guys hail from the Gawker media empire, and it shows: both provide insightful commentary on media and journalism, with a humorous, biting twist (Kamer has gone on to work at Esquire, which will undoubtedly yield interesting results).

Matthew Seitz from Salon and Sean M Burns - Matt Zoller Seitz has forgotten more about film than I will ever know. Also, he's a damn good writer with an appreciation for what it takes to make a good slide show and/or video essay. Meanwhile, Sean Burns offers fantastic one-sentence reviews of films from the person I know whose movie tastes most resemble Jay Sherman from The Critic. But your Twitter account is locked, Sean, preventing others from getting a taste of your film knowledge glory. WTF, mate?

Tasha Robinson, Nathan Rabin, and Keith Phipps - I've been blessed to be able to interact with each of these humongously talented individuals on the /Filmcast this year (and hope to have them on again frequently in the future). There's a reason why AV Club was singled out as the one publication that would bring about the pop-culture apocalypse...

Honorable mentions: Cole Abaius, The Playlist, Hannah, Jim Roberts, Ray Pride, AdFreak

How Do You Reconstruct a 550-Year Old Battle?

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At first, I wasn't too taken by The Economist's detailing of how the medieval battle of Towton was reconstructed. But by the end of the piece, I was fascinated and impressed by how much work goes into these things. If you're any sort of a science dork, as I am, trust me, it's worth a read:

Piecing together what happened on a single day 550 years ago is exceedingly difficult. Even observers would have found it hard to discern a precise order of events in the confusion. Contemporary accounts of the battle may be politically biased or exaggerated. Mr Sutherland says that the idea of medieval soldiers slugging it out for ten hours, as the conventional view of the battle has it, defies credibility; he thinks there was a series of engagements that led to the main battle and that took place over the course of the day....

The battlefield was first swept for ferrous materials such as arrowheads. That search proved frustrating. The trouble was not too little material, but too much—bits of agricultural machinery and other things dating from after the battle. Looking for non-ferrous items—things like badges, belt buckles, buttons, pendants and coins that would have been ripped off during the fighting—proved to be much more fruitful. After identifying clusters of these personal effects, which seemed to mark the main lines of battle, researchers went back to looking for ferrous materials and started finding a concentration of arrowheads.The battlefield was first swept for ferrous materials such as arrowheads. That search proved frustrating. The trouble was not too little material, but too much—bits of agricultural machinery and other things dating from after the battle. Looking for non-ferrous items—things like badges, belt buckles, buttons, pendants and coins that would have been ripped off during the fighting—proved to be much more fruitful. After identifying clusters of these personal effects, which seemed to mark the main lines of battle, researchers went back to looking for ferrous materials and started finding a concentration of arrowheads.

Myles McNutt Reflects on Showrunners vs. Critics

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Colleague and /Filmcast favorite Myles McNutt has written a reflection on Kurt Sutter's dismissal of certain TV critics, who have been none-too-pleased with the latest season of Sons of Anarchy (which Sutter currently showruns):

[M]y greater issue is that Sutter seems intent on profiling critical responses, a profile which is bleeding down into the show’s rabid fanbase. I think it’s one thing to dismiss critics entirely: I think it is perfectly reasonable for a creator as admittedly hyper-sensitive as Sutter to stop paying attention to what critics are saying, and I would not be offended if Sutter said he didn’t give a shit what I said about his show. However, instead of fueling a general apathy towards critical responses, Sutter profiles critics as lazy, unoriginal, and reductive; he portrays male critics as linear, incapable of grasping the complexity of the series, instead of simply disagreeing with them. In the process, the real hivemind in this situation is revealed to be those who commented on Sutter’s blog post, spewing back the same rhetoric about lazy critics with very little originality – the most alarming part of Sutter’s piece is not his own comments, but instead the degree to which the dichotomy between critics and “real” fans of the show was picked up by the 50+ comments which followed.

For his part, Sutter has already responded to McNutt via Twitter, saying:

You missed the fucking point. or perhaps the point is that you lean away from the point so you can masturbate all over your blog. To be fair, I only got thru 1/3 of your blog, then I got bored & confused, so I switched to porn and masturbated all over MY blog.


Classy.

Update: The dialogue continues! Here's a screenshot of further Twitter dialogue between McNutt and Sutter. Sutter has also listed some of his favorite TV critics and bloggers (so we know he doesn't hate everyone):

Kevin Smith's Twitter Tirade (December 30, 2010)

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Wow, it's been an interesting day on the Twittersphere today, hasn't it? Just a few days after director Kevin Smith publicly stated he would not do interviews with press for his upcoming film Red State, he's let loose with a bunch more thoughts on movie bloggers, his career, the film industry, plus extended a strange offer.

The following tweets are from Smith's Twitter account today. I've aggregated them all here for easy reading. Looking on the entire corpus, it's a breathtaking, intense critique, and a personal account of a man who's trying to reinvent himself.

A few movie websites this morning have chided me for talking about not doing press on Red State. Number one, that's ironic right there. Even I say I'm not doing Red State press...and press writes about it. But I never said I'm not talking: said I always talk plenty right here. So if you can always ask me anything you want right here (and often get a LONG-ASS response), what's the damage? Besides, the only story in RedState that really needs telling is the MichaelParks story - and, as per usual, NOBODY is writing it. "Gotta wait & see on the Parks of it all. Don't wanna be out front, first with THAT story. Now - the boring story of how KevinSmith Tweeted he's not doing press? THAT'S news!"

And one month from now, when EVERYONE ELSE is writing the MichaelParks story, these websites who wasted their time/space on a fruitless war of words with me are gonna wonder why other websites get more hits/have more followers/earn more than their site does. I'M TELLING YOU THIS FAR OUT: why the FUCK aren't you writing about the MichaelParks story? First one out there gets the top Google hits. But these swing have zero vision; it's all "Kevin Smith is gonna hurt his career not talking to press." Seriously: Someone actually wrote that story today (naturally it was a movie news site). The site that's accomplished merely a fraction of wha tother movie sites in the online fraternity/sorority have, suggested that - since I'm not gonna play the game the normal, boring way, I'm gonna hurt my career.

Once again, these motherfuckers are a day late and a dollar short? Hurt Kevin Smith's career? Have you SEEN this: smodcast.com? I ain't hurting the career of Kevin Smith, I'm taking a fucking chainsaw to the career of Kevin Smith. That's what you gotta do as an artist: when everyone's comfy, pull the fucking chair out from under their settled asses while showing 'em something they're not used to seeing from anybody, least of all YOU. And if you lose some people in the process, so be it: art should be a little dangerous, scary & thrilling - ESPECIALLY for the artist. You think there isn't some tiny part of me that stops & says "You can make this SO much easier on yourself & the journey of this film if you just do what you've ALWAYS done and go hat-in-hand to the snark-factory..."? But nothing about RedState has been done conventionally; why should I start NOW? Best piece of advice I can give a bunch of people who only wanna shit on what I do? Go find MichaelParks and BECOME the interview of record. Stop writing about how you're mad at me, or how I'm not doing it your way, or how I'm gonna hurt myself. Write about something original: the guy who the entire WORLD is about to wanna talk to. The money's out there; pick it up it's yours; you don't, I got no sympathy for you.

"Hurt Kevin Smith's Career"? Bitch, I've ANNIHILATED Kevin Smith's Career. And now? I get to remake it, all over again. And I've got a dopey movie blogger to thank for it: one day, one of these hymens wrote "Kevin Smith owes his career to people like me" - said people being bloggers, critics, movie journalists. I gave this some serious thought & realized I'd never know whether that theory was true or not.

But while I couldn't validate the veracity of the statement, I realized it didn't matter: if people like this were to thank for my career, then I didn't want that career anymore. So I made SModcast. And now RedState. And then combined the two. And realized I could do it without the help of the same people who don't seem to have anything nice to say about not only my flicks, but ANYBODY'S flicks they see. Their game is rigged; why play it? I go to the carnival, I wanna ride the roller-coaster, not waste money on the rigged games of chance, the rewards of which are cheap, empty prizes that don't seem nearly as cool in the light of day, away from the cotton candy haze. If they weren't convinced that I made my own way the first time, I'm happy (and more importantly, EXCITED) to do it again, one more time - just to prove that point.

And if you're gonna make art, you SHOULD reinvent periodically anyway. Lots of jackasses writing about my craft & how I conduct it weren't even BORN when I built my shit from scratch. They can't possibly be expected to be impressed by shit they couldn't witness for themselves because they were just cum when it happened the first time. So rather than continue being the same ol' KevinSmith that all these movie sites kept insisting I was, I practiced my game, skated night & day, and learned to stay out of the scrum & figure out where the puck was going. I stopped being the KevinSmith they loved to bitch about; the KevinSmith they chided to change. So I changed. And guess what? Now they're bitching about that? And trying to scare me with some booga-booga bullshit about hurting my career. Like I said: the game's rigged. So why play it on THEIR terms? KobayashiMaru that shit: at the very worst, you get bitched-out by cowards. At best? You BECOME James Tiberius Kirk.

Shortly afterwards, Smith  extended an offer for up to 48 movie webmasters to go to his house for a screening of Red State, which prompted a whole other wave of hand-wringing and further questions. I'll address the implications of that offer in a separate post.

The End of the World Began on October 5, 2010

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Cord Jefferson argues that he knows PRECISELY when the end of the world began:

Most people don't know this, but the beginning of the end of the world happened on October 5 of this year. That's the day Frito-Lay announced it was ceasing production of most of its compostable bags due to customer noise complaints. That is, full-grown adults had whined so much about the biodegradable bags' unusually loud crinkling that Frito-Lay caved and returned to housing its chips in standard, difficult-to-recycle mylar containers. It was one of the dumbest decisions made this year, and it went largely unnoticed for the abomination it was.

Pajiba's Brutal Takedown of Kevin Smith (and Movie Bloggers)

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When Dustin Rowles from Pajiba gets pissed, I get the hell out of the way. There's something I find addictive about Rowles' incendiary language. It's the language of righteous indignation, language that doesn't give a ____ who or what gets caught up in the ensuing maelstrom. And because his latest attack targets both director Kevin Smith and some of my fellow movie blogger colleagues (and probably myself?), I present an excerpt here without further comment:

If you follow Kevin Smith over on the Twitter, I pity you. I follow Kevin Smith because I love the guy, but Jesus Christ: The man alternates between two personalities: Pitch-man, trying to sell his wares and promote his film (and the endless Smodcasts) or King of the Motherfucking Bitches. Everyone complains on Twitter — my God, it’s an endless stream of whiny motherfuckers who are either detailing every goddamn boo boo they’ve ever experienced, or taking umbrage with something someone else said or wrote. I bet you didn’t know that there were 140 characters in “YOU SUCK! PAY ATTENTION TO ME,” but that’s probably because you don’t follow enough movie bloggers on Twitter.

But nobody whines more than Kevin Smith, not even the movie bloggers who constantly whine about Kevin Smith. Lately, the dude refuses to shut the fuck up about movie critics and movie blogs and how they’re ruining society and sending us into a dark dystopian future where we’ll never be free to run Cop Out on a continuous loop until our fucking brains bleed out of our head.

The Last Processor of Kodachrome

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A sad story from the NYTimes about the last processor of Kodachrome (the first successful color film):

At the peak, there were about 25 labs worldwide that processed Kodachrome, but the last Kodak-run facility in the United States closed several years ago, then the one in Japan and then the one in Switzerland. Since then, all that was left has been Dwayne’s Photo. Last year, Kodak stopped producing the chemicals needed to develop the film, providing the business with enough to continue processing through the end of 2010. And last week, right on schedule, the lab opened up the last canister of blue dye.

I still think back with nostalgia to my college days, when I spent countless hours in the darkroom, developing and printing film on real photo paper. And while I love the convenience of digital, I'm sad that this way of photography is slowly fading...

Viagra Cinema

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Matt Singer has an insightful piece on how Sylvester Stallone's films have mirrored the actor's career:

What Stallone's done is basically without precedent. All of his former rivals for action film supremacy have faded away or moved on; all of his predecessors turned to moodier and more reflective work by the time they were his age. This is a situation that suits Stallone, since endurance was always the most important value of the "Rocky" movies. Rocky Balboa's greatest strength as a boxer wasn't his footwork or his punching power; on those fronts, he was mediocre fighter. What made Rocky extraordinary was his ability to take a punch and never go down. Though he has occasionally tried to distance himself from the character in his career (typically when he's working on something other than blue-collar action films) it's clear that Balboa is an extremely autobiographical character for Stallone. Rocky's story is Stallone's story: the dreams of an opportunity to prove your greatness, the struggle to remain hungry amidst the trappings of success and fame, the realization that you've lost your spark, the desire for one last chance.

When Journalists Fight About Wikileaks

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I was going to write a blog post detailing the battle currently taking place between Glenn Greenwald and Wired magazine but Blake Hounshell has already done it for me:

I love a good blog fight as much as anyone, but after reading several thousand words of accusations and counter accusations being slung between Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald and Wired's Evan Hansen and Kevin Poulsen, I'm left scratching my head trying to figure out what, exactly, this particular dispute is all about. For those of you who haven't been paying attention, first of all: congratulations.

How Wired's "Collar Bomb Heist" Story Came Together

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Every now and then, I come across a feature article that's so enthralling, it demands my attention and won't surrender it until I finish reading. Rich Schapiro's "The Incredible True Story of the Collar Bomb Heist" for Wired magazine's January 2011 issue is one of those pieces. It's written with such energy and momentum, and leads to such a devastating conclusion, that I daresay it is one of the best reading experiences I've had all year. The article begins as follows:

At 2:28 pm on August 28, 2003, a middle-aged pizza deliveryman named Brian Wells walked into a PNC Bank in Erie, Pennsylvania. He had a short cane in his right hand and a strange bulge under the collar of his T-shirt. Wells, 46 and balding, passed the teller a note. “Gather employees with access codes to vault and work fast to fill bag with $250,000,” it said. “You have only 15 minutes.” Then he lifted his shirt to reveal a heavy, boxlike device dangling from his neck. According to the note, it was a bomb. The teller, who told Wells there was no way to get into the vault at that time, filled a bag with cash—$8,702—and handed it over. Wells walked out, sucking on a Dum Dum lollipop he grabbed from the counter, hopped into his car, and drove off. He didn’t get far. Some 15 minutes later, state troopers spotted Wells standing outside his Geo Metro in a nearby parking lot, surrounded him, and tossed him to the pavement, cuffing his hands behind his back. Wells told the troopers that while out on a delivery he had been accosted by a group of black men who chained the bomb around his neck at gunpoint and forced him to rob the bank. “It’s gonna go off!” he told them in desperation. “I’m not lying.”

When a piece begins like that and doesn't let up for 5,000+ words, you know you're in for a literary treat. The piece is now online in its entirety, and I'd strongly suggest you go read it immediately. I'll wait.

I had the chance to chat with Schapiro about how he put together the piece. Schapiro spent hundreds of hours poring over public records, case files, and court documents. He interviewed over 70 individuals, which included, according to Schapiro, "friends of the people who were charged, people who were charged themselves [that] I developed relationships with, people who worked on the case -- the local people in Erie, the county coroner, people in the county courthouse..." It's a staggering work of journalism that spans years and I'm impressed at how tightly the final piece reads given how much work Schapiro put into it. 

When I asked him what the hardest part of writing the feature was, Schapiro explained:

The story has so many turns. It really is, I think, a case of truth-stranger-than-fiction. You couldn't make this stuff up, what actually happens between these characters. The sequencing -- telling the story, trying to figure out the order, ordering the story in such a way that it makes sense and will allow readers to follow along...it's very easy to get lost in the bizarre events that happened after Brian Wells passed away, and actually, what led to that as well. So, telling the story in an organized, meaningful way that is still gripping and still accessible for readers was one of the greater challenges. Fortunately, and I can't say this enough, the editors I was working with at Wired were fantastic and, no doubt, improved the story.  


Indeed, with so many characters and with such a complex timeline, the challenge of pulling together an enthralling, coherent narrative must have been considerable, but I think the feature pulls this off expertly.

I told Rich how cinematic I thought the piece was, and how it bears certain similarities to the Saw series of movies. But Rich brought up another parallel, saying, "What I kept thinking about when I was writing was its similarities to another film: The Usual Suspects." It's an apt comparison that gives you a sense of how twisted and surprising the final story becomes. In the end, "The Collar Bomb" heist piece is the perfect marriage of solid investigative journalism and skillful, stylish writing. And if you haven't read it yet, go check it out now!

Here's the audio of my entire interview with Schapiro:

Listen!

Disney Has a Command Center to Maintain Line Movements

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Apparently, every part of the Disney experience is carefully managed, including line wait times:

Deep in the bowels of Walt Disney World, inside an underground bunker called the Disney Operational Command Center, technicians know that you are standing in line and that you are most likely annoyed about it. Their clandestine mission: to get you to the fun faster. 

Looks like The Simpsons was right on in their portrayal.

Harry Potter was a Good Christian

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Turns out Harry Potter isn't the Antichrist personified after all! At least, according to Yale University professor Danielle Tumminio, who argues that Potter actually exhibits values that any Christian should seek to emulate. From CNN:

“I see him best as a seeker in a world where Christianity is not the vocabulary. I see him best as a seeker trying to live a life of faith in the same way a Christian seeker tries to live a life grace,” Tumminio told CNN. Tumminio said she wrote God and Harry Potter at Yale: Teaching Faith and Fantasy Fiction in an Ivy League Classroom, to explore the contention by conservative Christians that Harry Potter is akin to heresy. “I felt like the conversation about the Harry Potter series among Christians was really narrow,” Tumminio said.

Analyzing the Spielberg Ending

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Are Spielberg's movie endings really as crappy as we all remember them to be? Sean Weitner takes another look (via Matt Seitz).

This Makes Me Want To Be an EMT

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Chris Jones, on the strange happiness of the emergency medic:

[P]aramedics are a surprisingly sunny bunch. They understand that it's all so much randomness anyway, a cosmic confluence of vectors. One night, four kids got into a car and raced down the slushy streets until the driver lost control. The car spun like a roulette wheel before it was finally stopped by a streetlight. One kid, unlucky enough to have chosen the seat that ended up with the streetlight in it, suffered massive head injuries. The other three walked away. They knew the out-of-body feeling that follows the cheating of death, the feeling that every day between that day and their last will be a gift that so easily could have gone unopened. Paramedics know that feeling better than anyone, because they walk out of nightmares unscathed again and again. They know what a genuinely bad day really looks like, and they know that day will come for them, too, but today is not that day, and that knowledge alone was reason enough for Suzanne to smile.

One Man's Quest to Watch "Secretariat"

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Roger Ebert has an incredibly heartwarming story about how one of his readers tried to track down a copy of Secretariat for her grandfather. Wow. The power of movies. That is all.

New York Times' Murrow-Stewart Comparison Draws Criticism...Against Walter J. Thompson

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The New York Times recently ran a piece that compared Jon Stewart to Edward R. Murrow due to his advocacy of the Zadroga bill, which provided billions in much-needed funding for 9/11 first-responders. I've always thought Stewart has had more of an effect on our discourse than he himself will willingly admit, so I read the Times article was interest. Many others did too, but most commentators noted that the piece lacked the journalistic bite that usually accompanies a Times article of this sort. Why? Because Syracuse Professor Walter J. Thompson was quoted prominently.

What's wrong with that? According to NYTPicker back in October, Thompson has been interviewed by 78 different Times reporters for 150 separate stories:

To these 78 NYT reporters, Thompson has offered a convenient shortcut past that necessary evil of journalism: the expert quote. Thompson's superior ability to deliver short, pithy comments on a wide spectrum of topics, on deadline -- along with his handy "professor" title -- has made him indispensable to the hordes of NYT reporters who've desperately dialed him for that all-important dollop of hot air.

Referring to the new Times piece, The Observer puts it best: "The man's brain waste literally becomes New York Times headlines! Oh to be a sophomore at Syracuse looking for a thesis advisor!"

"The Kids Are All Right" Is All Right

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The other day, film critic Scott Mendelson released his list of the most overrated films of 2010, which, when tweeted by me, provoked a bit of a firestorm on Twitter. On Scott's list was The Kids Are All Right, a film which I've previously listed as one of my favorite films of the year (although to be honest, it probably won't make the final cut). Scott also linked to Kim Voynar's thoughtful piece on the film. It's this latter piece that I'd like to very briefly respond to today. The following contains spoilers for The Kids Are All Right.

Voynar and others have some pretty serious problems with Lisa Cholodenko's film. One of the points Voynar makes (that I agree with) is how poorly the actual kids are handled in this film. They are given very little screentime, and their character arcs are handled with the broadest of brush strokes. Voynar continues, though:

Herein lies another problem with the script: It’s younger brother Laser who convinces big sis Joni, who’s just turned 18, to get in contact with their sperm donor/biological father, but the script doesn’t really explore any issues around why a teenage boy raised by two women might be curious about his father or desire a male adult in his life. But once they meet, it’s Joni who’s more drawn to Paul, while Laser is unimpressed; it’s Joni who first suggests getting together with Paul again.

It almost felt to me as though this was a deliberate choice on Cholodenko’s part, to deny that this might be something a boy raised by two women might face as he hits his teen years. If we can accept that in general, boys raised by single moms, or in matriarchal family structures with a grandmother and mother but no father figure might, at some point, benefit from having a male mentor of some sort in their lives (uncle, family friend, Big Brother volunteer, pastor, coach), why wouldn’t the same hold true for a boy raised by two moms?

Voynar doesn't acknowledge that a) maybe Laser just doesn't find Ruffalo's character as interesting as he thought he would, an interaction/dynamic that undoubtedly occurs frequently in real life and b) Laser does indeed take Ruffalo's advice to heart not to hang out with Laser's emotionally abusive friend. Sure, the latter is not the most subtle plot development, but it certainly addresses Voynar's concern about this matter.

Voynar also takes issue with Jules' implied bi-sexuality:

The relationship that develops between Paul and Jules I found particularly problematic. It’s never said or implied that Jules was previously bisexual, but the script treats her sexual identity as something she can just cast aside. And while I got that she was connecting with Paul emotionally, that he was accepting of her in ways that Jules feels Nic is not, that he “gets” her in a way which perhaps she didn’t even know was lacking in her life, I didn’t buy that this would translate into lesbian Jules suddenly hopping in bed with a guy. Paul and Jules developing a friendship, him becoming her confidant, them maybe talking to each other all the time and shutting Nic out, and that feeling threatening to Nic? That, I would buy...To me, by not explicitly establishing Jules as bi, Cholodenko loses a lot of credibility here.

Jules' act of adultery was indeed surprising, and the lack of any explicit explanation with regards to bisexuality is a noticeable omission. But did the situation seem inconceivable to me? No. Especially not in this movie, which almost prides itself on treating unconventional sexual situations with nonchalance. In the end, Jules establishes she can't run away with Paul's character because she states, emphatically, "I'm a lesbian!" And while she did derive some emotional and sexual satisfaction in being with Paul, this was short-lived and more emblematic of the problems with Jules' marriage (and the inappropriate seeking behavior it inspired) than with any deep-rooted desire to cast off her sexual identity. I understand the desire for a movie such as this to have a more coherent stance on sexual/gender issues, but that might not have been Cholodenko's over-arching goal.

Voynar concludes by interpreting the film's apparently-pat ending:

And then in the end, rather than actually dealing with the underlying issues between Nic and Jules, Cholodenko uses Paul as the scapegoat. The kids more or less forgive Jules for making a choice that threatened their family, while Paul is flatly unforgiven and shunned from the fold. He didn’t ask for any of this to be brought into his life, but it was, and now it’s changed irrevocably who he is and what he wants out of life … but he can’t have it with these children.

I don't remember who pointed it out first, but it's interesting that The Kids Are All Right reverses the typical gender roles in films. Usually, it's the female who serves merely as a plot device to get the male protagonist to realize something about himself and about his future direction. Said females are often discarded or given short shrift (plot/character-wise). But in Kids Are All Right, it's Ruffalo's character who gets completely disregarded, both from the perspective of the film and the perspective of its protagonists. In other words, The Kids Are All Right doesn't shortchange Ruffalo's character any more than a normal film shortchanges its female side characters. If anything, the film's crime is that it makes Ruffalo's character too likable and too fully-formed, which is why his last scene in the film feels so abrupt and unexpected. What's going to happen to this guy? The audience wants to know.

More to the point, I have a much different take on the ending of this film. Annette Bening does have that brilliant, Oscar-worthy moment towards the end, in which she expounds on the difficulties of marriage (saying that it's "fucking hard"). But I do not get the sense that the removal of Paul from their lives is going to solve all their problems. Bening's speech is part-conclusion, part-beginning. They've struggled through the horrors of an adulterous affair, and now they're going to have to go through the painful process of rebuilding their family. It's not a pat resolution. It's the acknowledgement that there is still much work ahead. But maybe, just maybe, everything will be okay in the end.

Voynar continues:

They are half his kids in the purely biological sense, but they are all Nic’s and Jules’ in the emotional one. The problem is, I didn’t see anything in his previous interactions with the kids that would convince me that, having wanted to meet their biological father for so long, they would excise him from their lives so readily because their mom decided to have an affair with him.

Really? If anything, the kids' dismissal of Paul is an affirmation of how good a job Nic and Jules have been at raising them. Faced with an intruder that completely f*cked things up, their reaction is to cast it out of their household. Maybe that's what the title is all about; that these kids,who have weathered growing up in an unconventional family and an adulterous affair with a sperm donor that they themselves sought out, still understand that in the end, family is the most important thing, and the ties that bind aren't necessarily biological ones.

The Totally Rad Show's Media Mash-Up Segment is Brilliant

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I always loved The Totally Rad Show, but now that they've been making shows on basically a daily basis, I dare say that they're even better than before. The newer, shorter format allows for even more experimentation with different show types and formats. What results is some truly original content that combines humor, geekery, and media knowledge into something that everyone can enjoy.

In particular, I find their Media Mashup segments to be brilliant. Aside from Jeff Cannata's clues (which occasionally border on completely non-sensical), these are a blast to watch, and follow the cardinal rule of any good game show: they are fun for the viewer to play as well:





"Tagline Takedown" is also pretty damn good:



P.S. You know I love you, Jeff.

Merry Christmas!

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The other day while I was walking through Harvard Square with my friend/roommate Matt, we passed by a homeless person who wanted some money to buy "a cup of soup." Some people were warmly responsive, while others actually mocked him under their breath. Matt and I decided to get him that cup of soup. I recorded an audio blog of the subsequent encounter:

Listen!

It's in giving that we truly receive. Here's hoping everyone does a lot of receiving this year.

If you're reading this, then please know that I'm grateful for your readership and support. I hope you have a lovely Christmas, and a happy new year.

The Gutting of the Cinematical Brand

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[Updated post with audio below. Original post follows.]

The first paid online writing gig I ever applied to was for a movie blog called Cinematical. In April 2007, I wrote an application to then-Managing-Editor Kim Voynar at the Weblogs Inc. website, before the huge blog network was acquired by AOL. A week or two later, I sent a follow-up e-mail to Kim, who said she'd never received my application, and also that there were no openings available for the site.

I didn't let the sweet, sweet sting of rejection stop me, though. I wrote for a movie website called CHUD, and in late 2007, I began podcasting with two fellow movie nuts. Our podcast was later acquired by /Film, which I currently call my online film home.

Still, I'll always remember the prestige and joy that that Cinematical held in my mind. In a time when "blog" was a word that wasn't nearly as widespread as it is today, Cinematical seemed like the perfect blend of edginess and respectability, of energy and expertise. Even the name seems to roll of the tongue and signify how fun and lively writing about movies can be. The site has had its ups-and-its downs over the years, but under the guidance of people like Erik Davis, I felt like it really came into its own in the past year or two.

That's why I was apprehensive when I first heard in September that they'd be merging with moviefone, another AOL property. From AOL's perspective, the move makes complete sense. Why maintain two separate movie-related properties when you can achieve synergies by merging them together? And Cinematical still remains intact, with many of the same voices and the same great content (the URL Cinematical.com still functions but directs to a Moviefone branded landing page, along with the Cinematical branding underneath. The effect is mildly confusing).

Still, I was dismayed this week when I saw movie advertisements quoting people from Cinematical as being from "Moviefone." In my opinion, this is the clearest sign that Cinematical, as a brand, is on the decline (Just the other day, Olivia Wilde also identified the site as Moviefone, when thanking it for its glowing Tron Legacy review). Again, I understand completely why AOL would want this to be the case. EVERYONE knows what Moviefone is (didn't we all see that Seinfeld episode with its delightful parody of the ubiquitous service?), and having that immediate name recognition has to help when you're printing out posters or airing commercials. Unfortunately, few outside of our world know what Cinematical is (ditto /Film). The fact that Cinematical's brand can be unraveled with one sweep of the corporate pen is a chilling reminder of the dangers of having a corporate overlord, although I can't say it's that much easier roughing it as an independent site. 

While I know that the folks at Moviefone put out great content, that name will never mean the same thing to me at Cinematical does. Back in the day, it was on the frontier of a revolution surrounding the way movies are written about and covered. And it stood for so much of the good stuff that warms my heart and energizes me.

It will be missed.

Update: I have spoken with Cinematical editor Erik Davis about this post to get his perspective. Here's audio of our conversation:

Listen!

Food Blogger S. Irene Virbila Is Unmaksed, Photographed, Ejected from the Premises

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The LATimes has the fascinating story of S. Irene Virbila, the restaurant critic for, well, the LA Times. Apparently, Virbila was at a restaurant called Red Machine when the managing partner of the restaurant, Noah Ellis, approached her, photographed her, refused to serve her and her friends, and then posted her photo on the internet. This was particularly destructive because Virbila had worked hard to maintain her anonymity for many years:
Times Food editor Russ Parsons said Virbila contacted [Ellis] after the incident and was upset by it. It was humiliating to be confronted in such a manner, Parsons said, and Virbila felt violated to have her picture taken without her permission. But mostly, he said, “She was upset because she has worked extremely hard for more than 15 years to maintain her anonymity in the L.A. restaurant scene.”

Parsons said that a truly anonymous restaurant critic is increasingly rare in a world that revolves around instant communication and a camera is as close as your cellphone. Some media outlets say true anonymity is impossible and, as a result, no longer try to go to great lengths to hide a critic’s identity.

To be fair, Ellis explained his motivation thusly: “Our purpose for posting this is so that all restaurants can have a picture of her and make a decision as to whether or not they would like to serve her. We find that some her reviews can be unnecessarily cruel and irrational…"

It's interesting to see the parallels between food critics and film critics. Most film critics have never felt the need to hide their identity, primarily because historically movie studios couldn't exactly "serve" film critics in the direct way that food establishments serve food critics. These days, all-expense paid junkets and set visits probably create just as many conflicts of interest for film critics, if not more, than catered parties for food critics. But food critics AND film critics from major newspapers are on the decline anyway, because it's just hard to compete with the massive throng of unrelenting, unpaid, free workers that comprise the internetz.

Shocker: The New York Times Does Not Apply The Same Journalistic Standards To Its Wedding Annoucements Page

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Remember that NYTimes wedding announcement that detailed how the newlyweds broke up their previous marriages to be with each other? And how lots of people considered that to be tasteless?

Jeff Bercovici did something that the New York Times apparently couldn't be bothered to: he contacted the jilted ex of the woman in the story. And let me tell you, that guy was not too happy about his family's dirty laundry showing up in the paper:

The primary story here is not that interesting...People lie and cheat and steal all the time. That’s a fact of life. But rarely does a national news organization give them an unverified megaphone to whitewash it.

So let me get this straight. The New York Times does not bring the rigorous fact-checking might of its organization to bear on wedding announcement stories? Scandalous.

My Tentative Top 10 Movies of 2010 (Revised)

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I had the chance to visit my old professor, Austin Sarat, today. As usual, he asked me to give him some film recommendations. Here's the e-mail I sent him, which features a tentative list of my top 10 films of 2010 (feel free to compare this with the previous list I made in August [hence the "revised" in the title of this post]. Damn, there've been a ton of great films in the past few months!). Tune into the /Filmcast this Sunday for my final list:

***

Professor Sarat,

So good to see you today, and glad to hear you and the family and the academic career are going well. Do check out the materials I gave you. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Here's a very tentative list of my Top 10 films of 2010, with links to Amazon Blu-Ray listing where appropriate:

1. The Fighter
2. The Social Network
3. How to Train Your Dragon (for the kids)
4. Animal Kingdom (you will probably find this film boring, but I really enjoyed it)
5. Mother
6. Inception
7. The Kids Are All Right
8. Toy Story 3
9. Black Swan
10. The King's Speech

Other movies that I enjoyed, but that you might not necessarily enjoy:
Catfish - a fascinating documentary about how people construct their identities online these days
Exit Through the Gift Shop - another great documentary, this one about the nature of modern art, as told by graffiti legend Banksy
Winter's Bone - regarded by many as one of the best films of 2010

Let me know if you find anything worthwhile here. And let's keep in touch!

Sincerely,
David

Copying an Entire Article Can Still Be Considered Fair Use

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Techdirt reports on Berkeley law professor Jason Schultz's amicus brief, in which he explains why reproducing an entire article within your article can still be considered fair use (and thus, legal):

Indeed, the Supreme Court, the Ninth Circuit, and this Court have all found the use of entire copyrighted works to be consistent with the fair-use doctrine. Those rulings recognize that copyright law balances two important public interests: promoting creative expression and encouraging the use of copyrighted works for socially beneficial purposes.

Looks like I should start cutting-and-pasting more frequently for my blog posts...

For a good primer on fair use, especially as it relates to bloggers, check out Rachel Sklar's detailed analysis.

Movie Websites Are in a Race to the Bottom

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Nick Nunziata, editor-in-chief at CHUD, has written his take on how the role of movie websites has changed over the past decade or so. It rambles a bit, but there are some genuinely good insights about how studios have been increasingly selective about who they grant access to and how they distribute their information to the masses:

There are amazing reps at the studios who have legitimate relationships with some webmasters that aren't a front and are actual relationships. The same goes for a lot of the filmmakers, though there are a few big names who are 'friends' with webmasters mainly as a means on promoting their product. It's a weird, ever-changing dynamic but it works. It works because the smaller film companies still have a more natural relationship with the internet. The studios have won the war but the sites have won the key battle: Shining a light on the great movies. There's always room for the balance to exist as the websites find the gems that aren't getting forty million dollar ad campaigns. But I think we as a whole have become marginalized.

There's also a great deal of thinly-veiled contempt for sites (which I assume includes /Film) whose purpose is, at least partially, aggregation:

The thing I've noticed now (it's good to get the point in paragraph six, FINALLY) is how many of the sites are covering stuff that previously would have had no place in our editorial visions. Viral videos. Homemade spoofs. Minutia that is at best tangentially connected to what the sites are intended for. The kind of things we'd typically run on our message boards or link from our Facebook accounts. There's a part of me that feels it's cheap and beneath many sites (and we're guilty from time to time with stuff in our 'Watch it Now' section) but it's also survival. It's just plain survival. It's cheap content and people respond to it, a fact that incenses me. 

I think Nunziata is primarily responding to the nagging feeling that the internet is both getting dumber, and making us dumber. It's hard not to sympathize with this point of view; when some 20-year old is raking it in by posting a photo of a cat who looks like Hitler, while the 2,000 word essay/interview you just slaved over is getting 10 pageviews per hour, the whole of humanity loses something.

But I think Nunziata makes a number of wrong turns in this piece, even if they're not made explicitly. First, there's the unspoken conflation of film news and film criticism, a conflation that seems to occur time and time again in the discourse on this topic.

I have a great deal of respect for the concept that there are experts in certain fields, and that art and culture can be serious areas of study. And while I think we are all learning, some people have clearly been learning for longer than others. We should all revere film expertise, whether we disagree with it or not, and we should all respect the concept that some people may be more equipped to expound about film than others, and that there can be true cultural value in this act of expounding (even though I'd argue there's still some value to throwing around lay-opinions).

But many film websites also choose to write about film news as well (/Film included), and the "news" moniker raises the parallel idea that film websites do "journalism." To quote Maude Lebowski, I think writing about film news can be a fun, zesty enterprise. It can entertain people and stir up lively debate and discussion. However, only in certain instances should this be considered seriously as journalism. What those instances should be is probably worth another post. But will the world really lose out if it doesn't know what your take is on ____ being cast in _____ movie? I'm not so sure.

What I'm trying to say is that film criticism is not the same thing as covering film news. And even though many websites do both, these two things should not be viewed as equals or equally valuable.

The second thing I take issue with is the implication (again unspoken - and maybe I'm incorrect in how Nunziata feels about this) is that there's something wrong with aggregation. Setting aside the fact that some of the most successful websites on the internet started out as aggregators: I don't know about Nick, but a lot of us got into this because we love films, and we love geeking out about them. Go to slashfilm.com and you'll see film news and movie reviews, but also viral videos and posters. Sure, some of the latter might get more traffic than some of the former. But does that mean our site should be looked down upon? What I love about /Film is that, at its best, it restores in me the joy and excitement of movies. If that's all that a site aspires to, does that make it worthy of scorn and derision? I say no.

Finally, there's the idea in Nick's piece that somehow, external forces have conspired to marginalize movie websites. But it is nowhere written that those with the best writing or the best ideas or the best content should expect to rise to the top. In the wild west of the internet, those that are most successful have been able to combine these elements with business and technological savvy, which allows them to reap page views and revenue. Just because you are old does not mean you have to be irrelevant. Likewise, just because you are the best does not mean you should expect that to be enough.

Update: Nick has responded to this post via Twitter:

Thus, I take back the relevant parts referring to /Film that I've written above. Any misconstrual is my fault, though I think that many of my points still stand.

Gaming The New York Times

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Thomas Weber has written an account of how he used the Mechanical Turk to game the New York Times' "most e-mailed" list:

What could have propelled a stale, bone-dry story to the top of the Internet's importance arbiter? I can tell you: It was me. More precisely, it was a group of people under my direction who all, at my request, emailed that particular story within a relatively short timeframe to learn exactly what it takes to make the most-emailed list. How we did it—and how many people it took—reinforces a lesson of our viral media age: Even at the biggest newspaper website in the world, the content that is spotlighted as most engaging reflects the judgment of a group far smaller than the overall audience, and can even be gamed by those motivated enough to do so.

Just as interesting as his methods is the fact that he chose to publish the article at all. By revealing his methodology, Weber makes it increasingly likely that the Times will take action to prevent this kind of gaming in the future, hence rendering the specifics of his article irrelevant. And while the idea of the few dictating the consumption of the many is fascinating, haven't we always known about this? Still, you gotta admire the brazenness and the methodology on display here.

Julian Assange's Lawyers Upset About Leaked Police Reports

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In a shocking lack of irony-awareness, Julian Assange's lawyers are all upset that the Guardian published leaked police reports detailing Assange's past sexual escapades. From The Australian:

Bjorn Hurtig, Mr Assange's Swedish lawyer, said he would lodge a formal complaint to the authorities and ask them to investigate how such sensitive police material leaked into the public domain. "It is with great concern that I hear about this because it puts Julian and his defence in a bad position," he told a colleague.

Not that Assange has any experience with putting people/governments in bad positions or anything.

When Church Goes Wrong

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From the Washington Post (via Longreads) comes the story of William M. Drumheller, a church pastor who was also a convicted murderer. The resulting story, which occurred after his charges were revealed is illustrative of how seriously -- and perhaps wrongheadedly -- small-town folk take their church (I should know; my parents fall into this category too).

This Wedding Announcement Troubles Me

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Today's NYTimes has a wedding announcement that prominently features lives that have been destroyed as a result of the happy couple:

So Ms. Riddell was surprised to find herself eagerly looking for Mr. Partilla at school events — and missing him when he wasn’t there. “I didn’t admit to anyone how I felt,” she said. “To even think about it was disruptive and disloyal.” What she didn’t know was that he was experiencing similar emotions. “First I tried to deny it,” Mr. Partilla said. “Then I tried to ignore it.” But it was hard to ignore their easy rapport. They got each other’s jokes and finished each other’s sentences. They shared a similar rhythm in the way they talked and moved. The very things one hopes to find in another person, but not when you’re married to someone else. Ms. Riddell said she remembered crying in the shower, asking: “Why am I being punished? Why did someone throw him in my path when I can’t have him?”

Needless to say, Ridell and Partilla divorced their their spouses and wound up together. These sorts of things happen all the time, but it is unsettling to see it detailed on the NYTimes wedding announcements page (whose existence I'm not a big fan of to begin with). But I guess, if you're going to write about weddings in the first place in a national publication, you might as well feature them in all their messy, hurtful glory.

Fox News Makes You Dumber

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A study [PDF] conducted by WorldPublicOpinion.org (managed by the University of Maryland) has shown that greater exposure to Fox News was associated with greater levels of misinformation. Quoting the NYTimes:

“Almost daily” viewers of Fox News, the authors said, were 31 points more likely to mistakenly believe that “most economists have estimated the health care law will worsen the deficit;” were 30 points more likely to believe that “most scientists do not agree that climate change is occurring;” and were 14 points more likely to believe that “the stimulus legislation did not include any tax cuts.”

This association held even in instances when the person voted Democrat (i.e. regardless of party affiliation). Fox's response to the study:

Asked for comment on the study, Fox News seemingly dismissed the findings. In a statement, Michael Clemente, who is the senior vice president of news editorial for the network, said: “The latest Princeton Review ranked the University of Maryland among the top schools for having ‘Students Who Study The Least’ and being the ‘Best Party School’ – given these fine academic distinctions, we’ll regard the study with the same level of veracity it was ‘researched’ with.”

It should go without saying that some silly Princeton Review rankings should have absolutely no bearing on the accuracy of the study or the issues that it raises. That being said, this is the most prominent instance of a large corporation issuing a response that amounts to "Bitch, please" that I can think of.

Your Apps Are Watching You

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The WSJ devised a system to track the data the data that an iPhone was transmitting via apps. What they found was...troubling?

Few devices know more personal details about people than the smartphones in their pockets: phone numbers, current location, often the owner's real name—even a unique ID number that can never be changed or turned off. These phones don't keep secrets. They are sharing this personal data widely and regularly, a Wall Street Journal investigation has found. An examination of 101 popular smartphone "apps"—games and other software applications for iPhone and Android phones—showed that 56 transmitted the phone's unique device ID to other companies without users' awareness or consent. Forty-seven apps transmitted the phone's location in some way. Five sent age, gender and other personal details to outsiders.

Meanwhile, Kim Mai-Cutler has a fantastic response to this that raises legitimate concerns about pieces like the WSJ's:

On the whole, the “What They Know” series is great for mainstream consumer education. But its scare-mongering and sometimes simplistic descriptions of industry practices creates risk that uninformed policymakers will draft poorly targeted legislation. It could end up being unnecessarily destructive to consumer Internet businesses or be so cosmetic that it doesn’t really fix underlying problems.

Why Talking About Julian Assange Has Become Utterly Terrible

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At least online, talking about Julian Assange has become an almost unbearable task. Anna North from Jezebel explains why:


Seriously, do you want to have a Terrible time? Mention rape allegations against anyone with a popular following, whether it's Roman Polanski or an athlete like Ben Roethlisberger. Watch as people you ordinarily like and respect bend over backwards to explain to you how their hero could not possibly have done something like that. Watch as they then bend over even further, to tell you either that a) that person's accuser must obviously be untrustworthy because she was drunk or not a virgin or wrote a feminist blog or b) that whatever the hero did cannot possibly be rape because a hero would never rape anybody, because he is a hero! And just keep watching as all these people you once thought of as fair-thinking are forced to chip relentlessly away at their conceptions of consent and basic human rights, all to protect and excuse the person they think is awesome.

Will Studios Lose The War with Netflix?

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Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes has been really taking it to Netflix the past few weeks, insisting that the video distribution company doesn't have the cojones or muscle to go up against old media companies like, well, Time Warner. Terry Heaton has a blog post insisting that Bewkes is wrongheaded and that people bet against Netflix at their peril:


The lessons for local media are many, beginning with admitting, once again, that consumers are in charge. We also need to learn the lesson that Netflix is teaching us about digital video — that people want it when, how and where they want it. This speaks to one of our favorite topics: on-demand, unbundled distribution. It also speaks volumes about how people will pay for a wonderful service. It may not be as much as we’d like up front, but give it time. 

Heaton's post is heavy on philosophy, light on practical matters. Like, how exactly will Netflix turn a profit if the Starz deal costs $200 million to renew in 2012? I agree with the thrust of Heaton's argument that disruptors such as Netflix (or Netflix-like technologies) will eventually win the day, and consumers will eventually be able to get what they want, when they want it. But will Netflix (the actual, specific company) be the one to take us to that consumer nirvana? That's still not clear.

Charlie Kaufman's Intro to Synecdoche, New York

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The Rumpus has published Charlie Kaufman's introduction to the shooting script of his film, Synecdoche, New York. It's everything you'd expect a piece of Kaufman writing to be: amusing, neurotic, brilliant, and thought-provoking:

Maybe it’s easier to see people as peripheral. Maybe that’s why we do it. It’s a weird and daunting experience to let other people in their fullness into our minds. It is so much easier to see them as serving a purpose in our own lives. In any event, this somehow seems to lead me to some of the things explored in the screenplay that you, imaginary person, are holding in your hands right now. And the relentlessly experienced life of yours that has brought you to this book at this time will now perhaps interact with the relentlessly experienced life of mine as it is represented by this script. I hope we recognize each other.

Seven MORE Great Longreads of 2010

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Alright, so I spoke too soon.

The other week, I posted my favorite longreads of 2010. Since then, however, I've been introduced to variety of websites that have had even more awesome long reads (not to mention I've also had time to go through my own archive of Instapaper articles). With the year winding up, I've been able to blast through a bunch of them and present to you seven more reads that I think are worth your time:

7) The real-life Swedish murder that inspired Stieg Larsson - A gripping tale of a murdered, mutilated body, and an investigation that ripped apart reputations and captivated the Swedish media. A real-life murder mystery.

6) Sledgehammer and Whore - A hilarious story about an unexpected hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold from the twisted mind of a TV writer.

5) Letting Go - Up there on the list of "articles that changed my life and the way I think about things," this piece by Atul Gawande delves into some systematic problems with the way end-of-life care is discussed in our country from the perspectives of both patients and doctors. See if the following blows your mind:

Like many people, I had believed that hospice care hastens death, because patients forgo hospital treatments and are allowed high-dose narcotics to combat pain. But studies suggest otherwise. In one, researchers followed 4,493 Medicare patients with either terminal cancer or congestive heart failure. They found no difference in survival time between hospice and non-hospice patients with breast cancer, prostate cancer, and colon cancer. Curiously, hospice care seemed to extend survival for some patients; those with pancreatic cancer gained an average of three weeks, those with lung cancer gained six weeks, and those with congestive heart failure gained three months. The lesson seems almost Zen: you live longer only when you stop trying to live longer.

This is a must-read for anyone that thinks end-of-life decisions may one day be relevant to them. Which is basically all of us. Be sure to check out the accompanying Fresh Air interview as well.

4) Tie: Art of the Steal and The Ballad of Colton-Harris Moore - These pieces have a great deal in common: they are both about misunderstood individuals who happen to be geniuses at stealing and eluding the authorities. They're also thrilling to read, and interesting character studies. I recommend checking them both out before the inevitable film adaptations are announced.

3) Who Killed Ayana Stanley-Jones? - An earnest examination of the tragic circumstances that led to the death of young Aiyana Stanley-Jones. Written by Detroit native Charlie LeDuff, this piece delves into the abject poverty of Detroit with brutal honesty.

2) The Theory of Relatability and Rethinking Justin Long's Face - An excellent meditation on online film criticism by Michelle Orange. Orange writes about the pursuit of excellent in film and film criticism, and thoughtfully deconstructs what we are to think and feel in an age when our written words can echo all the way across the internet and reach the very ears we are insulting. On the film Going the Distance, and its "relatability," Orange writes:

Blame Oprah if you want to, but relatability has been fermenting as both a cultural phenomenon and evaluative rubric since the 1970s, when a combination of factors moved the social concept of the self to the front of the culture. The mainstreaming of therapy and therapized language, the platonic “we’re all the same” rhetoric of the civil rights and equality movements, the merging of high and low culture, and rampant individualism conspired to form a kind of cultural currency, a new dialect that had the ear of the country...The most dangerous thing about relatability is the way it is often presented (and accepted) as a reasonable facsimile of or substitute for truth. This, I worry, may handicap our culture so violently that recovery, if it comes at all, will be generations in the reckoning; if in the meantime we lose our appetite for the real thing we are pretty much doomed. The pursuit of truth is a basic human instinct, and guides our engagement with ourselves, with art, and with other human beings; the scourge of relatability—and its sweetheart deal with another basic instinct, adaptation—puts all three relationships at risk.

1) Unauthorized, But Not Untrue - Kitty Kelly explains why "unauthorized" is not a dirty word when it comes to biographies. A breathtaking look back at a prolific career (although a touch on the self-congratulatory side).

Gawker Media's 50 Most Popular Passwords

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So Gawker media was hacked this weekend, and the result is a pretty huge clusterf*ck for the site and many of its users, whose passwords and account info has been splayed out for all the internet to see.

The WSJ has an entertaining article about the top 50 Gawker media passwords. Check out their article for some fun analysis, but in the meantime, here are the top 50 most popular passwords for Gawker media commenters (in descending order of popularity):

1. 123456
2. password
3. 12345678
4. lifehack
5. qwerty
6. abc123
7. 111111
8. monkey
9. consumer
10. 12345
11. 0
12. letmein
13. trustno1
14. dragon
15. 1234567
16. baseball
17. superman
18. iloveyou
19. gizmodo
20. sunshine
21. 1234
22. princess
23. starwars
24. whatever
25. shadow
26. cheese
27. 123123
28. nintendo
29. football
30. computer
31. fuckyou
32. 654321
33. blahblah
34. passw0rd
35. master
36. soccer
37. michael
38. 666666
39. jennifer
40. gawker
41. Password
42. jordan
43. pokemon
44. michelle
45. killer
46. pepper
47. welcome
48. batman
49. kotaku
50. internet


Note that of the 180,000+ passwords exposed, over 3,000 of them used "123456" as their password, almost 2,000 used "password," and over 1,000 used "12345678." The lesson here, of course, is choose stronger passwords. And it goes without saying, but if your password for ANYTHING is the same as one of the words/phrases listed above, change it now!

The Spike TV Video Game Awards Were a Disgrace

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Or, to quote Jeff Green, a "fucking disgrace":

You can bet your ass that most of the behind-the scenes "editorial" work that goes into the making of this show is the wheeling-and-dealing with the EAs and Ubisofts and Bethesdas and the like to get those exclusive trailers on the show. And the game publishers, still dazzled like the little children they are in the bigger universe of the entertainment industry, get seduced by the idea of being on TV, of the "glamor" and "prestige" of it all...And by running announcements like Bethesda's new Elder Scrolls game (and, yep, I'm as excited as you guys are for it), they give themselves the veneer of importance simply be serving as the vehicle for a commercial. The publishers get their free ads, the awards show gets its exclusives: Everybody wins! Everybody, that is, except for the poor gamer, who may have naively turned on the show expecting to see something with a modicum of respect and sincerity for the industry it was supposedly saluting. I watched this show by myself and was still embarrassed, and was monitoring the remote control in case my wife or kid came down and saw me watching. And, yeah, I know exactly what that sounds like.

A Brief Round-Up of Tron Legacy Reviews

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My screening for TRON Legacy is tonight, but a bunch of reviews have already hit the internet. The consensus is that it's visually thrilling and emotionally empty. Very few reviews enjoyed it on a level deeper than that. Here are a few reviews that I enjoyed reading.

Katey Rich at Cinemablend says the movie is a sad metaphor for the phenomenon it's describing:

In making his visually spectacular but emotionally bereft film about people trying to escape the digitized world they've created, first-time director Joseph Kosinski has somehow made a movie that's a metaphor for itself, and full of handy advice for audience members who may be anxious to get out this glitzy, oppressive universe after just two hours inside. Cribbing its plot liberally, and incoherently, from sci-fi adventures of the past and treating its actors more like computer programs than human beings with independent thought, Tron: Legacy creates a computerized and dark world that's intended to be terrifying, but falls so in love with its own digital trickery that it becomes the machine it supposedly rails against. It's a good-looking machine, sure, but one that's all clicking parts and no beating heart.

Jonathan Crocker from Total Film calls it a mixed bag, saying it's "a film that awes and bores in frustratingly equal measure. Visually and musically, it’s a triumph. Dramatically, it needs some re-wiring."

Anne Thompson is doubtful of the film's long-term prospects, saying:

Even with late-inning tweaks from Pixar writers, the story is silly. And while Bridges, Garret Hedlund as his son, Olivia Wilde as his surrogate daughter, and Grid key players James Frain and Michael Sheen do their best to keep things lively, this movie is almost as inert as the first one (it looks so primitive now). But like the first Tron, which had a huge impact on Hollywood, this sequel (which is rumored to have cost more than $200 million) also pushes the frontiers of what’s possible. The movie delivers enough of a wow factor to pull in viewers. But I doubt that Disney has a super franchise on its hands.


Eric Kohn calls the film a "Spectacle of Nothingness" and has some good videos and accompanying links for his review. A highly recommended read:

I suppose “Tron: Legacy” contains enough of a cream filling to justify the hype, but there’s nothing surrounding the cream. The accusatory tone is a byproduct of its overall flimsiness. It works decently as entertainment for at least an hour or so because it distances viewers from the nonsensical plot. The sci-fi component mostly exists on an abstract level; forget about real science. The characters are enjoyably familiar archetypes and thoroughly acceptable on that purely superficial level. (Pixar’s writers supposedly doctored the screenplay, although it seems as though they gave up after the first act, which features the best scenes and fewest effects.) The quest isn’t nearly as problematic as the increasingly diminishing sense of humor that ultimately gives way to self-importance. “Perfection,” Flynn says at one point, “is unknowable.” Such pop philosophy worked in “The Matrix” precisely because the Wachowskis always lingered on the edge of parody, but in “Legacy,” Flynn unleashes his knowledge with a straight face. It’s impossible to take the movie seriously when everything flashy on the screen functions as a spectacle of nothingness.


 Look for my thought later, either here, at /Film, or on the /Filmcast.

Android Has Done Verizon (Almost) No Favors

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The other day, the Wall Street Journal posted a leak of Verizon's device sales. This leak was fairly unprecedented, in that it allowed for a very fine-grained analysis of how well Verizon is doing in the mobile space, especially compared to their very similar competitor (in size and reach), AT&T.

Mobile guru Horace Dediu has an interesting portrait of Verizon based on these figures. It's of a company that's flailing. Verizon has bet big on Android, hoping that it could be a beachfront in the war against Apple and the iOS. But it hasn't worked out that way; based on the chart, most Android customers have been former Blackberry users. And while overall growth has occurred, it's been eclipsed by the growth of the iPhone:

By 2009, Verizon was probably optimistic that they could head off AT&T (and Apple) at the pass. With the vast array of vendor Android roadmaps laid out in front of them they saw a way to stem the flood of defections. I think that optimism dissipated sometime this year and was replaced by a more dreadful prospect than what iPhone presented in 2007. It is perhaps coincidental that the rumors of a Verizon deal with Apple seem to have started in earnest right after August. It’s thin, circumstantial evidence, but the only evidence we have to corroborate the data above is that Verizon has been signaling more desperation. Reading further into the data, I would say Verizon faced these problems and decided that they had to throw in the towel. Apple may be the devil, but so could be Google. Apple was predictably evil. But Google? The devil you know is perhaps better than the one you can’t predict.

[For further Verizon-related reading check out Michael Mace's post on what's really wrong with Blackberry (via Daring Fireball)]

Unnervingly Accurate Graduate School Promotional Video

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What It Feels Like To Be Stupid, When You Used To Be Smart

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From Quora (via Slate) comes this fascinating first-hand account of a man who had an arterial problem that depleted his brain and nerves from much needed nutrients. The results prove that ignorance is, in fact, bliss:

[O]nce I got used to it and resigned myself, it was great. Even though I knew I had a worrying illness, I was happy as a pig in mud. I no longer had the arrogance of being frustrated with slow people, I abandoned many projects which reduced a lot of stress, I could enjoy films without knowing what would happen (my nickname before this used to be 'comic book guy' if you get the reference), and I became amazingly laid back and happy go lucky. I got on with people much better. I developed much more respect for one of my friends in particular who I always considered slow - it turned out he is much deeper than I thought, I just never had the patience to notice before. You could say I had more time to look around. The world just made more sense. The only negative, apart from struggling to perform at work, and having to write everything down, was that I no longer found sci-fi interesting - it just didn't seem important. (I'm not joking, although it sounds like a cliché.)

On the Role of Context in Film Criticism

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IFC host Matt Singer joined the /Filmcast this week, for a fascinating discussion about Gareth Edwards' Monsters. Afterwards, he wrote this great essay on the role of context in film criticism, an especially important issue in evaluating an ultra-low budget film like Monsters:

In the case of "Monsters," I think our review of the film was fair. The film has strengths and weaknesses, and I don't think the extraneous matters surrounding the former compel you to simply ignore the latter. You don't need to see other Ford films to dig "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance." You might need to know about its production history to really love "Monsters" (if you don't believe me, read the online comments from viewers who clearly didn''t know much about the movie outside its trailer and were disappointed by the film).

Couldn't have said it better myself. All of Matt's work is thought-provoking, and I love it when we get him on the show.

Brief Thoughts on the Daily Show App for iPhone/iPad

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Those of you who read this blog know how big a fan I am of Jon Stewart's The Daily Show. For years, I have longed for a way to get content from The Daily Show onto my iPhone/iPad (without having to pay $2 per episode on iTunes). The Daily Show's website is, unfortunately, laden with flash, making it inaccessible to my iDevices.

With the recent release of The Daily Show iPad/iPhone app ($1.99), I thought that this dream might be within reach. But while the app does give you access to clips from recent episodes, the app's complete lack of organization make it useful for only the casual fan or passerby.

Here are some random observations about the Daily Show app:



- The tag cloud (pictured above) of Topics is a neat feature in concept. You can pinch-to-zoom and when you choose a topic, it gives you a bunch of segments relating to it. The problem is that there is no option to choose the topics that are the most recent (kind of an important option for a show called The DAILY Show). Plus, this screen takes forever to load.

- Whenever I go to The Daily Show's website, I'm primarily looking to do one of two things (maybe three): 1) Watch last night's episode in its entirety, and 2) Watch complete segments from last night's episode [or 3) Go digging through the archives for some happy memories]. This app doesn't allow me to do any of those things, instead opting for a "Quotes" section that gives you random, unorganized segments. There is no option to sort by date/chronology here either.

- On the positive side, the app looks great, and there's a neet little "Tweets" window that lets you see recent Daily Show-related tweets, as well as tweets from the various correspondents. And the "Quotes" section of the app, for all its randomness, is elegant and colorful.

The Daily Show website is a pretty amazing creation. It contains a searchable, tagged, back catalog of pretty much every episode and segment ever created during Jon Stewart's stint. I was hoping for something that might make SOME of that easily accessible, but this app did not fulfill that need, opting instead for a random grab-bag approach.

If you are jonesing for a fix of Daily Show and don't have access to a computer, then The Daily Show app will meet your needs. But don't expect anything close to what you'd normally get just by visiting thedailyshow.com.

Latino Review's Bizarre Steroid Advocacy

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Today, film scoop-master El Mayimbe published a piece on Latino Review that left me speechless. In it, Mayimbe gives advice to Hugh Jackman on how to prepare for his upcoming role in Darren Aronofsky's The Wolverine. Mayimbe insists that Jackman ignore the advice he's been given to consume 6,000 calories per day, and instead, embrace a proven workout that uses anabolic steroids:

May I introduce you sir to the BRING YOUR BODY BACK STACK. Perfect for a man your age! Designed by John Romano, this cycle is designed to produce maximum body with no visible side effects, (i.e. no acne, no oily skin, and no undo aggression) and is kind to you liver and kidneys...The following steroids have been singled out because of their desired effect with little or no side effects, no water retention, low liver and kidney toxicity, and synergy when combined...

Mayimbe then goes on to list, with clinical ease, some of the steroids that are most effective in this regimen, such as Nandrolone Deconoate and Primobolan.

If this is a satirical article, meant to lampoon the modern excesses of the modern male workout, then I have to say it is brilliant. It nails the macho tone completely ("Well, I have a slight problem with that advice. First of all its unrealistic and the biggest crock of shit I ever heard") and its QVC-style salesmanship is right on the money. Plus, the explicit advocacy of steroid use, not to mention the provision of weight-gain advice on a movie blog at all, feels so out of place that it is Jody Hill levels of hilarious.

If, however, Mayimbe was serious, then this thing is f*cking nuts.