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They’re Going to Need A Bigger ‘Media Matters’

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012 - by Jehuda

Fox News’ Winning Streak Hits 10 Years: “Fox News made it 10 years in a row as the top-rated cable news network, a streak that began after Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes’ operation first overtook CNN in total viewership in January 2002.”

Congratulations, FNC.  I don’t watch like I used to, but I still catch a little Greta after work – and Red Eye on my DVR every now and then.

As for the Media Matters snark, I can’t help to note – as I have in the past – that if Media Matters thinks Fox News is the reason why the Left can’t get its message out, the problem is probably the message.  The fact is Fox News is watched on average by  less than 2,000,000 people a month.  That’s less than 1% of the U.S. population.

(Cross-posted at The Rhetorican)

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John Carter’s Long Road from the Civil War to the Silver Screen

Monday, January 30th, 2012 - by Chris Queen

One of the most anticipated motion pictures of the first half of this year is Disney’s John Carter. Slated for a March 9 release, the sci-fi/fantasy stars Friday Night LightsTaylor Kitsch as the title character, a Confederate soldier who is transported to Mars, where he becomes involved with the conflicts between the various nations of the planet — known as “Barsoom” to its inhabitants.

John Carter boasts an impressive cast and crew. In addition to Kitsch, the film costars Bryan Cranston, Lynn Collins, Willem Dafoe, and Dominic West. Pixar veteran Andrew Stanton directed and cowrote the script with Mark Andrews and noted author Michael Chabon. Emmy- and Oscar-winning composer Michael Giacchino wrote the score.

With so many big names involved in the production, as well as a budget soaring over $250 million, it’s no surprise that Disney aficionados and movie buffs have kept John Carter in their sights for a few years now (I can remember hearing about it as far back as the summer of 2008). With such anxious anticipation, the film has generated plenty of buzz, both positive and negative.

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This movie’s circuitous road to the big screen is a fascinating one. It’s a long journey that encompasses a century and involves an array of twists and turns that befit an action epic. So buckle up and enjoy the ride.

The character of John Carter was the brainchild of author Edgar Rice Burroughs, best known as the creator of Tarzan. Burroughs’ first published work was the serialized novel Under the Moons of Mars, which he sold to All-Story Magazine for $400 in 1911, before he completed his first Tarzan novel. The novel first appeared in book form as A Princess of Mars in 1917. Burroughs expanded the saga of John Carter into a series of eleven books, including a two-novella collection published after his death.

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From PJTV: Vodkapundit’s Week In Blogs

Monday, January 30th, 2012 - by PJ Lifestyle

One pundit, plus five minutes, four ounces of vodka and two olives = millions of blogs:

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Here are the links to the items that Steve mentioned:

http://ladyliberty1885.wordpress.com/2012/01/25/sotu-iii-propellerheads-edition/

http://campaign2012.washingtonexaminer.com/blogs/beltway-confidential/obama’s-sotu-ratings-tank-12-worst-presidency/339116

http://www.politico.com/politico44/2012/01/state-of-the-union-registers-at-th-grade-reading-level-112236.html

http://mrctv.org/videos/will-occupiers-sign-petition-banning-conservative-hate-speech

http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2012/01/does-newt-own-a-beet-farm.php

http://mediamythalert.wordpress.com/2012/01/21/abc-unaccountably-excludes-bill-clinton-from-lineup-of-pols-who-led-double-lives/

http://cnsnews.com/news/article/under-obama-price-gas-has-jumped-83-percent-ground-beef-24-percent-bacon-22-percent

http://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2012/01/25/hhs_secretary_asked_if_obama_actually_cares_about_obamacare.html

http://www.forbes.com/sites/paulroderickgregory/2012/01/25/warren-buffetts-secretary-likely-makes-between-200000-and-500000year/

http://www.foxnews.com//leisure/2012/01/20/electric-car-parking-perk-or-privilege/

http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0112/71834.html

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Is Darren Aronofsky Shooting His New Biblical Epic Noah this Summer?

Monday, January 30th, 2012 - by Dave Swindle

FirstShowing.Net reports a wonderful rumor:

Darren Aronofsky has never been one to get films easily afloat, per se, and may have just as many sinking or dead in the water projects as he does completed ones (granted his completed films are brilliant masterpieces including The Fountain). But his latest planned project, the biblical epic Noah, could be setting sail as soon as this summer. According to a little bit of the telephone game with cinematographer and frequent collaborator Matthew Libatique (who worked with Aronofsky on Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain, Black Swan and nearly The Wolverine) it sounds like the film could be shooting this summer.

Greenlit Aronofsky projects that collapse and disappear are a dime a dozen (do not get your hopes up!) but if this one makes it to theatres it sounds like we’re up for another mystical, visual experience in the vein of 2006′s The Fountain. After the darkness of Black Swan – which was Aronofsky in his self-destructive Requiem for a Dream mode — something bigger and brighter will be a good change of pace.

Those who have not seen the most underrated film of 2006 are invited to do so, here’s the trailer:

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The Rage Behind a Woman’s Stare

Monday, January 30th, 2012 - by Helen Smith

Yes, this is the headline of a Washington Post column (you may need a subscription to view it) about–you guessed it–women who do too much (thanks to the reader who emailed the article):

Like our love, women’s anger — the simmering rage toward our families, our mates and assorted males that can turn even the calmest woman’s expression into The Death Look — is always there. Even when it’s the last thing on our minds….

Surprised by my sudden bitterness, I asked, “Why do we keep doing so much with so little help?” “Because no one else will do it,” Ilena snorted. “Because we can’t live in a house that looks like a cyclone went through it,” I added.

Because we’re the wife, we agreed. The mom. The girl.

Millions of Death-Look-wearing women ask, “What can I do?” yet few embrace the obvious answer: “Stop!” Stop with the cleaning, the arranging, the cheerleading, the shopping, the whole relentless shebang. Some who do stop see their homes’ disarray devolve into a chaos that’s unbearable — for them, not their families..

I wonder what a Male Death Look would look like? A desperate look that says “Stop with the body guarding, fixing the faucet, mowing the lawn, earning much of the living, the light-bulb changing, the honeydo list…. and on and on.”

But we’ll probably never know because what men do is not valued by most female journalists and the white knight males who support them in their sexism. In addition, men keep their anger against women to themselves as complaining will only serve to get them tagged as a misgogynist or whiner. This needs to change.

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Djoker!!!

Sunday, January 29th, 2012 - by Roger L Simon

Mirror, mirror on the wall. Who’s the greatest tennis player of all?

Well, it’s a matter of opinion, of course. But speaking as one who has been a tennis fanatic from about the age of seven (fan and player), who has seen most everyone live from Rod Laver and Pancho Gonzales onwards, I would have to say Novak Djokovic.

Living in LA and working normal business hours, and having had a tough week anyway, I went to sleep at about 12:30AM, even though I suspected the forthcoming Nadal-Djokovic final in the Australian Open that was about to start in Melbourne would be epic. Restless, I awakened an hour later, went upstairs to watch the two superstars already pummeling each other at the end of the first set, before falling asleep again after an hour or so.

When I finally awoke at 6:30, it was barely over. The two men men had been playing for five hours and fifty-three minutes, before Nola finally prevailed yet again. (For context, the longest previous major final was nearly an hour shorter.)

Talk about fitness. This is like running a couple of marathons while batting a ball back and forth at a hundred miles per hour.

Tiger Woods once called Roger Federer the greatest athlete in the world. Move over and make room for Novak Djokovic – and Rafa Nadal as well. It’s no surprise when these guys pull their shirts off at the end, they are ripped. People used to think of tennis as a namby-pamby gentlemen’s sport. Forget it. These guys could run rings around just about anybody in the NBA and have energy to spare.

A couple of other things about Djokovic. He seems to be a fabulous guy with a great sense of humor. Besides his unbelievable tennis, his winning persona has allowed him to do something else extraordinary – become the face of Serbia, erasing the evil visage of Slobodan Milosovic.

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Isn’t it Annoying Having to Lie to People About Your Job?

Saturday, January 28th, 2012 - by Dave Swindle

At Cracked.Com, one of their best new humor articles this past week was John Cheese’s The 6 Stupidest Things We Use to Judge People We Don’t Know.

The first item immediately struck a chord with me:

#6. Where You Work

Regular readers know that I used to work at a truck wash for big tractor/trailers. In 15 years of employment there, there wasn’t a single day when I was proud to tell someone what I did for a living. In fact, if I was meeting a stranger for the first time and I knew that there was no chance of us ever seeing each other again, I’d flat out lie. “Oh, you’re a lawyer? That’s awesome. I build nuclear warheads with my penis.”

I did it because I knew the reaction my job produced wasn’t one of interest. It was one of sympathy. “Well, hey, at least you have a job, right? Not many people can say that in this economy.” As if I needed the reassurance of a stranger to justify my occupation.

But that one is not in a “respectable” job — perhaps they make just over minimum wage — is only one way people are judged for their employer.

Ever since moving to Los Angeles in spring of 2010 I’ve started being much more vague when most people ask what I do for a living. (We’re 15 minutes from Hollywood — bluest part of the country imaginable. “Editor for conservative new media publication” in LA is a bit like being a bacon donut and pornography salesman in Mecca.)

I’m not ashamed of what I do and more than capable of defending myself should a debate ensue, but if it’s a social gathering do I really want to attract the attention or make people feel uncomfortable? I’m more than happy to reveal to people the ideological origins of our President (which is what these discussions usually devolve into) but is a casual get-together really the place? And besides — do the sane, polite people in the room really want to hear about politics? It’s a social event — the point is to relax and escape the world’s troubles, not wallow in how divided our country can be.

So usually if we’re at a party or the subject comes up in casual conversation with a neighbor or random stranger I’ll just say I’m a writer and an editor (not even specify new media) and count on them not being inquisitive enough to dig further. (And it’s LA  so this is a safe bet.)

Has anybody else had any versions of this problem? That assumptions and prejudice about your job necessitate some social obfuscation?

(And btw, check out Brent Smith’s ode to bacon at his blog Random Dude Eats Random Food – the source of that terrifyingly beautiful image of the bacon donuts.)

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The Seven Most Penetratingly Brilliant Quotes Of All Time

Friday, January 27th, 2012 - by John Hawkins

Some people love cats, other people love music, and I love quotes. I mean, I REALLY love quotes. I’ve compiled more than 100 different collections of quotes, at one time I ran an all quotes website, and I have 5 different brand new Twitter accounts that do nothing but pump out quotes each day — (@capitalismfacts, @selfhelpquote, @testifyChrist, @masculinequotes, and @rightquotations).

So, when I tell you I know quotes — I know quotes and I’ve had my life changed by them. That’s what is so extraordinary about quotations to me. You can take a book’s worth of wisdom, distill it down into a single quote, and it can endure through the ages impacting lives, perhaps even hundreds of years from now. Here are 7 such profound quotes.

1) “Nothing in life has any real meaning except the meaning you give it.” — Tony Robbins

Many people wave off Tony Robbins because they think of him as the cheesy, overly-excited, big-toothed guy they see doing infomercials on late night TV. This is a mistake because Robbins has a knack for simplifying complex ideas down into easy-to-use concepts that go beyond anything I’d have thought possible before he came onto the scene.

In this case, what he’s referring to is the fact that almost everything that happens to you has no intrinsic meaning. Is a funeral a time for celebration because the person who passed has gone on to a better place or a time to be deeply sad? Is the emotion in your stomach before you give a speech fear or your body getting you ready to perform? If you walk up to someone of the opposite sex and she brushes you off, is it because there’s something wrong with the situation, something wrong with you, or something wrong with her?

Once you recognize how arbitrary many of the things that happen to you are, you can stop merely reacting to events and start asking a better question, “Which of the possible interpretations of this event best serves me?”

The meaning of this? Obviously clowns are going to stab you when you go to sleep.

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A Music Video Worth Having Stuck in Your Head Today

Friday, January 27th, 2012 - by Dave Swindle

I’m generally not much for pop music — especially of the bubble gum variety — but the innovative, Michel Gondry-directed music video for Kylie Minogue’s 2001 “Come into my World” makes an already-catchy tune even more addictive:

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I think the reason why I like the video so much (apart from its bold, single-take technical achievement) is the way order and chaos are balanced. As the video progresses the scene’s background grows increasingly frenetic as doubles, triples, and quadruples of characters must share the same frame. But all the while the bouncy, electronic beat and simple lyrics remain steady and consistent. The world might seem sometimes like it’s collapsing around us and the madness multiplying. But each of us is capable of controlling how we respond internally. We don’t have to be blown back and forth by whatever new challenge or uncertainty confronts us today.

(P.S. This video and other really cool Gondry-creations are available on Director’s Series, Vol. 3 – The Work of Director Michel Gondry.)

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Open Season On the Web?

Thursday, January 26th, 2012 - by Jehuda

Hawaii may keep track of all Web sites visited:

Hawaii’s legislature is weighing an unprecedented proposal to curb the privacy of Aloha State residents: requiring Internet providers to keep track of every Web site their customers visit.  Its House of Representatives has scheduled a hearing this morning on a new bill requiring the creation of virtual dossiers on state residents. The measure, H.B. 2288, says “Internet destination history information” and “subscriber’s information” such as name and address must be saved for two years.

Note also that Hawaii’s Senate majority whip – Democrat Jill Tokuda – had this to say: “I was asked to introduce the Senate companions on these Internet security related bills by Representative Kymberly Marcos Pine after her own personal experience in this area.”

Might Kymberly Pine’s “experience in this area” have anything to do with speech and political sentiments she’d like to monitor or outright curb?

SOPA, PIPA, and now this.  Will other states follow?  Never underestimate our elected officials when it comes to curtailing your freedom…

UPDATE: Incidentally, Pine is a Republican.  Her ardent accuser and web tormentor is not exactly popular.  Sounds like someone wants to perform a little surgery with a machete here.

(Cross-posted at Rhetorican.com)

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Will HBO’s Luck Be as Good As David Milch’s Previous Masterpiece Deadwood?

Thursday, January 26th, 2012 - by Dave Swindle
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This Sunday, January 29, is my 28th birthday and there are three parts of the plan to make it a success: a morning trip to DisneyLand, homemade sushi for dinner (April just got this sushizi sushi maker thing — expect a write-up about it here on PJ Lifestyle sometime next week,) and in the evening on HBO it’s the premiere of Luck, the new drama from Deadwood creator David Milch starring Dustin Hoffman. (Also expect my review Monday morning here at PJ Lifestyle.)

There are few TV shows I’ve enjoyed as much as Deadwood over the last decade. The reinvention of the Western mesmerizes with its unique dialogue, vivid characters, twisting plot, unique setting, and startling action. I’ve probably watched the whole series at least twice and should watch it again. (If nothing else so I can compare it with The Wire which I’m almost finished watching.)

Will we now get that same intensity and drama only at a horse track?

So far so good. Check out this preview of the show at The Atlantic:

When it comes to luck, and the new HBO series Luck, there is no in-between. There is only good luck and bad luck. And the nine-episode-long morality play brought to us by creators Michael Mann and David Milch–not brought to us, more like thrown in our faces–doesn’t pretend to argue otherwise. The low are raised high in this dark work about human vanity and vice. And the high are laid low. Good things happen to bad people. Bad things happen to good people. And then bad things just happen. It’s a dramatic series, and a powerful paean, for all you people out there who don’t believe that shit just happens.

About the only thing about Luck—which premieres on Sunday at 9 pm Eastern—that comes directly and honestly at you is the title. The title–and of course the horses, the magnificent animals, who grace the screen in every episode as brilliant props.

Read the whole thing. It looks like we’ll have a show that could deliver some potent, serious moments:

At the bottom end of the spectrum, we are introduced to a group of four diehard gamblers, led by the brilliant Kevin Dunn as the disabled, breathless, cranky Marcus. At the other end of the line is Dustin Hoffman, as Ace Bernstein, the mobbed-up guy just out of prison who has eyes for a special horse, the racetrack, and for California racing itself. The only thing they have in common, aside from wanting to spend a lot of time at the track, is that they both have a dim view of human nature. And why not? One is scarred on the outside; the other on the inside. One expresses it in virtually every sentence. The other hides it behind a rich mask

Yes, I’m thinking it’s going to be a good birthday (even though 30 is now starting to get a bit too close for comfort.)

 

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Top Five Nasty Scary Good Pulp Fiction Writers

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012 - by Hannah Sternberg

Lots of pulp.

Schools never assign the books you actually want to read. Or, if they do, they don’t read them the way you want to. Recently, pulp fiction seems to have been getting a bit of an airing on campuses, in classes with names like Pop Literacy and Cultural Trope Analysis, classes I took enthusiastically when I was in college. Still, they seem to miss the point. I’ve written papers trying to find the deeper intellectual elements of a pulpy book that prove, in the accepted academic terms, why it’s as great as I’d always suspected.

The problem, I realize now, is that the reason pulp fiction is great is because it’s fun, and fun is not something you can intellectualize very far. We study classic novels because they unlock deep, serious emotions or reveal uncomfortable truths about the human condition or represent a significant period in history. That is the stuff of seminars, theses and entire departments. We read pulp fiction because it’s fun.

Of course you can analyze pulp fiction. You can talk about how an author makes his or her book uniquely fun; the technique, the style, the subject; you can talk about different kinds of fun and how they might make us grow at the same time; you can delve into cultural themes in the content; but you can’t really explain a pulp novel’s greatness except with some variation on “It’s damn good fun.”

I’m on a crusade to prove that entertainment has value in itself, not just as a dose of sugar to help audiences swallow more important themes. Entertainment allows us to temporarily shut down our brains and waken later with emotions refreshed. Entertainment allows us to feel Big Emotions without shame; in the postmodern era, earnestness is considered a weakness, but entertainment gives us the opportunity to feel, earnestly.

Here are my top five seriously entertaining authors, beginning on the next page.

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Review: LG BD670 Blu-ray Disc Player

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012 - by Ed Driscoll

To give you a sense of how far video technology has advanced, and how far prices have plummeted, let’s first go back to the mid-1990s. Back then, Pioneer Elite’s CLD-97 laser video disc player was one of the finest video playback systems a consumer could buy. Selling at about $2500, it weighed 37 pounds and its exterior case featured a sleek, rich piano black finish with rosewood side panels. With the right source material, it was capable – for its time – of a stunning picture, and can be seen as one of the last steps in the 12-inch laser disc’s evolution before the 4.7-inch DVD came along in the US back in 1997.

But that’s all Jurassic-era history. Currently selling for $124.77 on Amazon, the LG BD670 3D Wireless Network Blu-ray Disc Player with Smart TV leaves the $2500 CLD-97’s picture quality in the dust. And unlike the home theater technology of the 1990s, it’ll talk to your home’s local area network, too.

Amongst the formats it supports, the LG BD670 is capable of playing high-definition Blu-Ray discs, which output up to a 1920×1080 picture, plus 3d Blu-Ray discs, conventional DVDs, compact audio discs (CDs), WMA, and MP3s . We’ll get to those last two in just a minute.

The LG BD670 does a very good job of upconverting most DVDs before outputting them to an HD television. I wrote my recent review of Boardwalk Empire based on standard definition DVDs played through the LG BD670 on a 55-inch LCD TV and thought, man, this picture looks great. Of course, when the Blu-Ray review copy finally arrived from HBO, I was blown away by how sharp it was; you could discern the weave in Nucky’s proto-zoot suit. Or read the text on the bottles of Pimm’s No. 1 he procures for a politician he’s bribing. Watching Apocalypse Now in Blu-Ray, it was possible to read the “Winston” script on the band of Martin Sheen’s cigarette while he was taking a drag. On some films, this can lend dramatic differences in perception. The pace of 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, a film I’ve seen dozens and dozens of times over the past decades, on pan & scan VHS, a couple of different letterboxed laser discs, DVD, and on a few rare occasions in revival theaters, seemed noticeably faster. The difference was that I could make out the myriad fine details embedded into every shot as eye candy. And I could watch Keir Dullea – almost always photographed in long and medium shots to frame him in his environment  – act. It was a potent reminder of how much is lost, even on high-quality playback systems such as anamorphic standard definition DVD.

Speaking of which, the results can vary in quality when watching a standard definition DVD on the LG BD670. I already mentioned the anamorphic standard-definition DVD version of Boardwalk Empire. But plenty of DVDs have been released in TV’s traditional 4X3 format. My DVDs of the legendary early-1970s Thames TV series The World at War probably looked their very best on the LG BD670, but there’s only so much its electronics can do for a series consisting of alternating WWII newsreel footage and 16mm interviews. The worst offender I’ve seen so far was my first generation DVD of the 1989 Michael Douglas, Ridley Scott potboiler Black Rain, which Paramount issued in letterboxed non-anamorphic format shortly after the DVD format debuted. All of the smoke and diffusion in the cinematography made for a muddy, pixilated image after so many lines of resolution were lost in the letterboxing format. (Fortunately, it’s now out on Blu-Ray.)

(Disclosure: my LCD TV doesn’t have 3D, and I’m not a fan any format that requires me to wear extra glasses over my own glasses, so I did not test any 3D discs.)

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Game Review: The Lord of the Rings – War in the North

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012 - by Bryan Preston

Thanks to OnLive’s cloud gaming technology, between campaign road trips I’ve been able to play through the first hour or two of Snowblind’s Tolkien-inspired adventure game, The Lord of the Rings: The War in the North.

The game’s storyline takes place in parallel to Frodo Baggins’ heroic quest to destroy the Ring. War in the North covers some of the off-screen action of Middle Earth’s battle to hold off the evil hordes. Players can play as one of three uniquely skilled and outfitted characters, a melee dwarf, a human ranger and an elf with mostly defensive and healing powers who can also jump into the melee fray. The co-op play opens up offline multi-player.

War in the North’s visuals and environments are stunning, as good as Skyrim’s though the game play here isn’t as deep and the world isn’t nearly as vast. You can obtain new items for your characters and outfit them, giving them new abilities as the story progresses and you level up. But War is more story-driven and less of a sandbox game than Skyrim, and thus feels a bit smaller, and also a bit less of a chore to figure out.

The combat in War is graphic and brutal without crossing the line into M rating territory, which may be a selling point to parents struggling to keep young kids from delving into mature-level gaming too soon. It’s as violent and graphic as any of the LOTR movies, but not more so, and from what I’ve seen the killin’ is confined to those creatures and villains that need killin’. It’s very satisfying to find yourself in the midst of a swarming horde of orcs, commence swinging your sword or axe and see enemy limbs go a-flying. Especially after a long day of writing about politicians. When your health gets low from sustaining injuries in the battle, your elf mage (if you’re one of the other characters) can heal you, bringing you back into the fight. If you’ve ever pondered being in the middle of one of Tolkein’s epic battles then War in the North should be on the “buy” list. The combat can get a bit repetitive, but that’s true of pretty much any game on the market. The three characters could be more customizable and interesting, but they’re not bad. The game’s focus is more on what they do than who they are or what they say, making them a bit forgettable.

For me, the bottom line on any game is whether I find the story, strategy and button mashing compelling enough to keep wanting to play. Some games look great but just don’t bring it, and you lose interest. The story in Batman: Arkham City, which I reviewed here in November, on the other hand, is as strong as any Batman movie and motivates you to burn up hours to get to the end, and the game looks and plays fantastic. War in the North’s story isn’t that strong and the combat isn’t quite as compelling, but it’s strong enough to have held my interest despite my being on the road so much lately.

It’s Tolkein’s world, brought to life in co-op close combat. I give The Lord of the Rings: The War in the North 3 stars out of 5.

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Male-Female Hour on Dennis Prager Today: Pick Up Lines, For or Against?

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012 - by Dave Swindle

The subject of the Male-Female Hour on today’s Dennis Prager show was lighter than most and a welcome diversion from the constant primary trash talk: pick up lines. What are effective ways a man can let a woman know he finds her attractive without appearing like a creep or an idiot?

After all, in today’s politically correct world what’s intended as an innocent pick-up line can be interpreted as sexual harassment.

One of the callers made the obvious point that pick up lines needed to be considered in context. The kinds of things that might work for a 19-year-old college kid at the club isn’t what the 45-year-old divorcee should use when he meets a woman at a book store.

During the hour Dennis sat incredulous at some of the cheesy lines his callers used. When finding that some even worked he had to lament that perhaps his standards were too high.

Maybe it’s just that lines are effective in different locations to attract specific kinds of women.

For example, this list of Star Wars pick up lines has a few chuckles and could be of use to those cruising for dates at Star Wars conventions. This one might work if accompanied by the right costume:

Anybody else have any suggestions here? Any pick-up lines work or fail for you? What should a man say to break the ice and make a good first impression?

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Congratulations to Demián Bichir and A Better Life

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012 - by Charlie Martin

Demián Bichir has been nominated for Best Actor for his performance in A Better Life, which I reviewed here.  (Story by Roger L Simon.)

With no false modesty (and little of the other kind) I’ll quote myself:

If the Academy is watching, and a bigger name actor isn’t playing a mental patient or tragic leftist politician, that one scene should get Bichir one of those gold statues.

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A Bridesmaids Rip-Off Starring Kirsten Dunst Emerges at Sundance

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012 - by Dave Swindle

Chris Lee of The Daily Beast reports from Sundance:

Explosive bathtub puking? Check. Lengthy monologue about blow-job semantics? Affirmative. Copious cocaine consumption? Strip-club bathroom sex? A suicidal Xanax binge? Check. Check. Check. Such are the many and varied wonders of the pitch-black indie comedy Bachelorette, starring Kirsten DunstIsla Fisher and James Marsden—a movie that premiered here in Park City on Monday that your rangey correspondent managed to watch in a secret ski-chalet screening Friday morning.

Early on in the film, a druggy, barely hinged party girl portrayed by Lizzy Caplan characterizes one of her friend’s romantic entanglements as being “like a Jane Austen novel on crack.” That’s as apt a description as any for Bachelorette, an antic caper shot through with doses of Neil LaBute-esque cross-talking dialogue. Sight unseen, the movie has already been tarred by comparisons to last year’s breakout hit Bridesmaids for the films’ shared marital milieu and shoot-milk-out-your-nose-laughing raunch factor.

Let’s cross our fingers that The Bachelorette eschews the nihilism that doomed Bridesmaids.

One reason to be hopeful: the wonderful Kirsten Dunst. Bridesmaids was the product of its star, Kristen Wiig. (She is the one most responsible for its thematic problems — and its success with connecting with its target audience to become such a box office hit.) Dunst, on the other hand, is an acting prodigy, highly regarded since her Golden Globe-nominated performance in Interview with the Vampire.

Looking through Dunst’s filmography one year in particular stands out. In 1999 she starred in the drama The Virgin Suicides and the two satirical comedies Drop Dead Gorgeous, and Dick. Dunst was only 17 at the time. She turns 30 this year at the end of April.

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Art, Lust, and Doing the Dishes: The Controversy of Scarlet Street

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012 - by Kathy Shaidle

“Scarlet Street’ has so many beautifully subtle touches in it that it really has to be seen several times in order to be fully appreciated: the parallel between Kitty and Chris’s flower (his ‘problems with perspective’); the expression that flashes over Kitty’s face when Chris ‘confesses’ that he’s a married man; the brief reference at the beginning to Chris’s superstition, which will eventually bring about his psychological downfall. Like many Lang films, it deals with the concept of criminal justice, and is a clever, cruel and fascinating film — a little dated technically, but far ahead of its time, and one of the greatest and blackest film noirs from the forties. The climax is still one of the most chilling in film history — more frightening than most of the great horror films.”

In my latest edition of “Movies for Grown Ups,” I’m introducing you to another film without robots, car chases or “cool” special effects.

Scarlet Street is a film noir, but not one of those detective centered ones like The Maltese Falcon or Kiss Me Deadly.

Because it was directed by a refugee from Hitler’s Germany – Fritz Lang – this movie features the kinky backstreet misanthropy – a kind of doomed, sadistic stoicism — that’s standard issue with Teutonic filmmakers. Think of Billy Wilder’s dingy, (un)romantic comedy The Apartment or von Sternberg’s grotty The Blue Angel.

Those two movies deal with erotic obsession — never thought of Jack Lemmon as a stalker before, had you? — and so does Scarlet Street. Yet it is so much more.

Here’s the plot:

Chris Cross (played by Edward G. Robinson) is an aging, lowly clerk whose miserable marriage and tedious job are only made bearable by his hobby. He’s a painter whose expressionistic canvases are painted in the bathroom — when his shrewish wife permits it. (Note: the video below was ripped from a public domain copy of the film. Keep reading to find out how to view a superior print.)

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Mostly he’s shown wearing an apron and cleaning up the apartment, while she nags him in the background.

One evening, fate brings Cross into the path of a lazy, slovenly “actress” named Kitty (who’s really a prostitute, but the Hays Code forbade Lang from spelling that out.) To his own amazement, the timid clerk rescues Kitty (played by Joan Bennett) from a brutal attacker. She repays the favor by pretending to befriend him.

“Pretending” because Cross doesn’t know that Kitty’s attacker was really her boyfriend/pimp Johnny. (Actor Dan Duryea specialized in skinny, snake-like wife-beaters on the make; he’ll remind modern viewers of an unsavory mutation of Richard Widmark and William H. Macy.)

Flattered by her attention, Cross lets Kitty mistake him for a famous artist – a fib that inspires the vulgar pair to take the old guy for all he’s worth.

Kitty talks Cross into renting a studio apartment in Greenwich Village so he can paint in peace (in fact, she just wants a fancy new place to live.) He duly sets up an easel, and moves his finished canvases out of his own home before his wife makes good on her cruel threat to throw them away.

A series of twists and misunderstandings leads a renowned art critic to mistake Kitty as the artist responsible for these unusual paintings. She can’t very well deny it, and Johnny won’t let her, now that “her” paintings are commanding high prices in upper crust galleries.

When Cross finds out what’s happened…

I’ll leave it there.

It pains me to do so, because Scarlet Street’s intricately plotted, edge-of-your-seat twists are among its greatest achievements, and I’d get a little frisson of excitement retelling them to you right now. However, it wouldn’t be fair.

Let’s just say that “following your dreams” can sometimes become a nightmare, especially when three people decide to blithely believe what they want to believe, with tragic consequences.

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How Sparkly Nail Polish Doomed the Green Bay Packers

Monday, January 23rd, 2012 - by Ed Driscoll

When did America start having emotional meltdowns over sports? A pair of recent events during the run-up to the Super Bowl highlight a disturbing trend among sports fans.

Most recently, as Peter King writes at Sports Illustrated, fans of the San Francisco 49ers aren’t handling Sunday’s defeat in the NFC Championship game very well:

Nice crowd the 49ers have on Twitter. One of their “fans” tweeted to Williams (@KyleWilliams_10): “Jim Harbaugh, please give @KyleWilliams_10 the game ball. And make sure it explodes when he gets in his car.”

It’s only sports, people. Only sports. Around here, the fog will come up tomorrow.

I know Jim Harbaugh has tried to transform his formerly finesse-oriented team into tough blue collar-style bruisers, but who knew he’d also turn San Francisco’s formerly wine and sushi-enjoying crowd into snarling Oakland Raiders-style fans?

Similarly, assuming it’s not play-acting to deliberately create a viral video (and it wouldn’t be the first time, if that turns out to be the case), this clip is a fascinating look at the mindset of a crazed sports fan, crestfallen that the Green Bay Packers lost in the playoffs:

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Vince Lombardi built the Packers of the 1960s into a tough, Spartan football team, and the Packers fans of that era were similarly flinty and cool. (Pardon the frozen tundra-inspired pun.) Looking down from NFL Valhalla, what would Lombardi think of the above video?

I love the magical thinking implicit in blaming her sparkly nail polish (!) for the Packers’ loss. The solipsistic belief that she alone displeased the Football Gods so badly they caused the Pack to lose to the Giants on January 15th.

Then there’s the polypropylene cheesehead and Packers jersey she’s wearing. Hulu, the streaming video site, has a section devoted to the NFL, where you can watch NFL Film’s Lost Treasures series, which looks back at the founding of the league’s film division in the early to mid-1960s. Watching those episodes, you’ll quickly notice that prior to the 1970s, there was little in the way of NFL merchandise for adults to wear. If you watch newsreel footage of the 1957 NFL championship, when the Baltimore Colts beat the New York Giants at the legendary Polo Grounds, the majority of men in the stands wore sober business suits, top coats, and fedoras. This past Christmas, I watched an NFL Channel presentation on “The Longest Game Ever Played,” the double-overtime playoff battle between the Miami Dolphins and the Kansas City Chiefs, the last game played in Municipal Stadium, the predecessor to Arrowhead Stadium, the Chiefs’ current home.  As late as Christmas Day, 1971 there were still several men wearing suits, ties, and fedoras to games.

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How the Real Men in the Navy Make Their Coffee

Monday, January 23rd, 2012 - by Dave Swindle

How do our heroes in the military drink their coffee?

B Dubya, one of the commenters from my Sunday morning PJ Lifestyle post revealed the secret:

I had just aquired a taste for black coffee when I joined the Navy in the spring of 1970. In those days, Navy coffee was in packed in 5 pound rectangular tins; in the six years I spent on my first submarine, we would burn one of those in three days just in the engine room pot.

From the time I was 20 until I left the service at 32, I did not measure the volume of coffee I drank in cups. It was more like in quarts and probably averaged 6 quarts daily.

For a brief time, they tried to get us to drink freeze dried coffee, but it sucked so bad that the rews raised hell over it and the supply types were forced to go back to the real deal.

There is nothing like very strong engine room coffee to keep your motor running for two to three days in a refit period, when you are on deadline to get the ship ready to get underway and sleep is not an option. After a few years, the caffein “jitters” never appeared again, even after massive quantities of the stuff. In fact, like other stimulants, you eventually aquire a very high tolerance for it. While I don’t drink coffee by the gallon any more, I still drink at least a couple of cups of it before I go to bed and I sleep like a baby.

Decaf? You’re kidding, right? Might as well drink water as decaf.

One of the worst headaches I ever had was two days after the entire boat ran out of coffee at the end of an extended patrol in the North Sea. It was due to caffein withdrawal. Well, that and maybe one too many days in a 400 foot sewer pipe with 145 other guys without seeing daylight. The secong thing I did after we got back into New London was to drink and entire pot of coffee made to my specs (Most people who drink coffee I make eventually develop a taste for it of just give up and dilute it).

On a destroyer I was on before I went to the Mare Island NPTU, I know for a fact that the overhaul of that ship was largely financed via the exchange of cans of Navy coffee for yard bird services and parts, which we could not get at any price in another exchange medium (actual US currency). Of course, the overhaul was in Hunter’s Point Shipyard, which is located in Vichy San Francisco, so that may be the basis for the value of good old black market coffee.

Is there nothing coffee can’t do?

Coffee and a little Irish whiskey is my martini of choice to this day.

When I inquired further as to his methods, these instructions came:

My coffee technique is very simple. 2/3 cup of grounds for a 10 cup pot. I brew it into a carafe at home, because nothing kills coffee as effectively as leaving it open to air and over heat. I also keep my coffee cans covered and refrigerated; coffee left open and at room temperature oxidizes and turns sour, both in smell and taste.

I don’t like Starbucks, as a rule. Over roasting just smells and tastes burned to me. I absolutely love the smell of fresh ground, regular roast coffee. The way I make it makes it taste the way it smells to me, warm and earthy, just a hint of bitter.

My mother’s mother was an Englishwoman named Winifred Alden. She taught me how to make tea, and I suppose it carried over to the way I like my coffee. To her, black tea was too weak if, after pouring a quarter inch into a white china cup, you could see the bottom.

As much as I like the way I make my own, I will drink coffee that has been on the burner for 8 hours and that you could float a horseshoe in, if that’s all that is available.

Ron Robinson and Kathy Shaidle also had some amusing coffee anecdotes to share in the comments.

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Why Does Fat Taste Good?

Monday, January 23rd, 2012 - by Charlie Martin

First is was salty, sweet, sour, and bitter.

Then salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami.

Now add fat.

 

 

 

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Overexposed: Lana Del Rey, Saturday Night Live, and How Indie Music Hype Cannibalizes Its Young

Monday, January 23rd, 2012 - by Jonathan Sanders
Lana Del Rey

Lana Del Rey: Indie music critics are turning on their supposed "next big thing."

Lana Del Rey has been built up over the last few months as the great white hope for music in 2012, a songwriter with the creativity to push herself in a unique direction while crafting music with hooks that are timeless and unforgettable. She’s “the gangster Nancy Sinatra,” a sultry musical minx who pouts her lips and controls the world.

Two weeks before her album Born To Die was set to release, she became the second artist to appear as the musical guest on Saturday Night Live who had not yet actually issued an album. She was a YouTube sensation, a modern example of where internet marketing can get you.

Hours after her performance, however, the ground was shaking beneath her career as a backlash mounted and the internet which built her up began rabidly tearing her down.

To get a better idea of what happened, it’s worth taking a look at a sketch which had aired earlier in the episode of SNL called “You Can Do Anything.” Vanessa Bayer and Bill Hader are hosts of a talk show touting the modern generation of YouTube sensations. “Now, thanks to technology, and everyone being huge pussies about everything, it doesn’t matter if you have skills or training or … experience, you can do it!” Hader says, describing a trio of inept performers who all feel they’re more famous than they truly are.

The rise of Lana Del Rey mirrors that sketch in a way which makes it seem oddly prescient in regard to what was coming when the singer would soon take the stage to perform her biggest hit to date, “Video Games.” She’d worked under her birth name, Lizzie Grant, for years and even got a recording deal with an independent label, but when “Video Games” became a hit on YouTube, she soon found herself signed to Interscope Records, which gave her the ability to fully eliminate the Lizzie Grant background details and fully become Lana Del Rey. Then the press run began, building her up relentlessly as the next big thing in music, when really her only experience had been in the studio.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. If you’re good at making videos, in an arena where you can tweak things until they’re exactly the version of your inner thoughts you want to release to the world, that’s perfectly reasonable. So is recording music in a studio, where a good singer can sound confident and assured, never having to step outside her comfort zone.

But on a live stage – particularly SNL’s live stage, appearing before millions on an iconic television show where image and sound don’t always blissfully mix – there’s not always a guarantee that you’ll get it right. One take, in front of a live audience, can make or break your carefully crafted public image. In the space of ninety minutes, a carefully built world where Lana Del Rey could be considered one of 2012′s surest things becomes one where the two-week wait to actually hear her debut album becomes a gauntlet she’ll have to run, hoping that she can survive the backlash and emerge at the other end unscathed.

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Chris Dodd Threatens Politicians: No SOPA, No Hollywood Money

Monday, January 23rd, 2012 - by Dave Swindle

TechDirt highlights a revealing comment from the new CEO of the MPAA:

Reinforcing the fact that Chris Dodd really does not get what’s happening, and showing just how disgustingly corrupt the MPAA relationship is with politicians, Chris Dodd went on Fox News to explicitly threaten politicians who accept MPAA campaign donations that they’d better pass Hollywood’s favorite legislation… or else:

“Those who count on quote ‘Hollywood’ for support need to understand that this industry is watching very carefully who’s going to stand up for them when their job is at stake. Don’t ask me to write a check for you when you think your job is at risk and then don’t pay any attention to me when my job is at stake,”

This certainly follows what many people assumed was happening, and fits with the anonymous comments from studio execs that they will stop contributing to Obama, but to be so blatant about this kind of corruption and money-for-laws politics in the face of an extremely angry public is a really, really, really tone deaf response from Dodd.

For some reason I doubt that the President is too worried about Dodd’s intimidations. “Oh and what are you going to do? Vote Republican? Or is Ralph Nader running again?” He surely must be thinking in response to his former Senate colleague’s empty threat.

Note the last sentence in particular and the attitude: “Don’t ask me to write a check for you when you think your job is at risk and then don’t pay any attention to me when my job is at stake.”

When one’s job is endangered by competitors it’s the role of government to pass laws to stifle innovators and maintain the status quo. In Dodd’s framing this is practically the equivalent of a bailout for GM.

But unlike Detroit and the banks, Hollywood isn’t going bankrupt. It’s just easier to dispatch Dodd and the MPAA to agitate for legislation than it is to innovate and deliver higher quality films and new entertainment technologies.

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3 iPhone Apps to Help Keep Your Health & Fitness Resolution

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012 - by Tania Gail

It is near the end of January and many New Year resolutions are hopefully still in progress. If you have decided to use the new year as the starting point to develop better health and fitness habits, I have three incredibly useful applications to assist in maintaining your resolutions. I use all three apps regularly, however, I have chosen not to share the information publicly.

My Fitness Pal:  A fantastic FREE application that tracks your food intake and fitness activities. The app includes the ability to share this information via social media if you so choose to do so.  The software tracks your information, producing charts to visually show your progress. You get detailed nutritional information on every food item you enter into your daily diary.  If find this application to be incredibly useful in seeing my overall diet and fitness progress.

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Runkeeper:  A free application for your smart phone that uses the GPS technology to track your fitness activity. You can share the information online with other Runkeeper users or just keep the info on your phone. It provides auditory updates of your progress during the activity, maps your routes, and provides detailed information on speed, time and distance of your activity.

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Fooducate:  Not sure about a food product you are about to consume?  Use this FREE application to scan the UPC bar-code and find out its Fooducate grade. The application grades thousands of grocery food items and provides a stoplight color code and letter grade. It also provides reasons for the letter grade assigned to the food item. Honestly,  I was shocked to find my favorite powerbar – Zone Perfect – rated a D+ in Fooducate.  The application also provides alternative foods to help users make better food choices.

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If you have decided to place an emphasis on healthier eating and increasing your fitness activities, today’s smart phone technology can have a positive impact on successfully maintaining your goals.

NOTE: All three applications are available in the Android marketplace.

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