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June 2008 Archives

June 30, 2008

IM movie clips

Sidney Pollack in Tootsie

A new service called PopTok allows users to insert video one-liners of movies into instant messages and email. Creator Illi Edry describes the inspiration for his service:

"Everybody quotes films. We produce one hour of television broadcasting for prime time at a cost of millions and at the end of the day, people quote one sentence. I came to the realization if the one hour is supporting that sentence, let's keep the sentence."

Of course, it's this mentality that led to the whole world repeating "You're so money!" and "Yeah baby!" over and over again in 1997, but I see his point. (Damn, my references are old. I just can't think of any annoying catchphrases from Iron Man.)

The service is being tested now, but they say they already have 2,000 snippets licensed from studios that you can drag into your IM conversations. Neat!

The site offers a few examples of their available clips, which are mostly famous 2-3 second bits from movies like Austin Powers, American Psycho, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Borat, Scarface, some Bugs Bunny, and a Kanye video.

I thought I'd suggest a few clips I'd like to see:


June 26, 2008

Times Square, dirty and Dursty again

Kathleen Durst's missing person poster

Today the Times examines the recreation of 70's era Times Square on W. 38th St, for a movie called All Good Things. The movie is about (or at least "inspired by") the story of Robert Durst (crazy oldest son of the prominent real estate family) and his first wife Kathleen who, along with just about everybody else in Mr. Durst's life, is presumed to have died under very mysterious circumstances.

The movie is directed by Andrew Jarecki, who did the excellent documentary Capturing the Friedmans, another story about a cryptically messed-up family. Kirsten Dunst plays the long-lost and similarly-named Kathleen Durst, who vanished in 1982 after 10 years of marriage to Robert. Ryan Gosling also stars, and I'm guessing/hoping that he plays Durst. If you thought his delusional, tic-y loner in Lars and the Real Girl was a little unnerving, wait till you see him shaving his eyebrows and doing primal scream therapy.

You can read lots more about Robert Durst's epically strange and dangerous life in a very thorough bio. Highlights include Asperger's syndrome, witnessing his mother's suicide, almost certainly killing 3 people and dismembering 1, living as a not-very-convincing woman, and stealing a chicken salad sandwich.

The Times post goes into detail about how much Times Square has changed, and the regret that many New Yorkers feel for the transformation of the gross but thrilling area into a mall.

Earlier: Robert Durst is a free man, getting back into real estate

June 25, 2008

Germany-Turkey throwdown

Turkey Germany flags

This afternoon, Turkey plays Germany in a semi-final game of the Euro Cup. I really love the added political drama of international sports when one country plays its own former colony, like when Senegal trounced France in the very first game of the 2002 World Cup. Games like that don't happen much in the Euro Cup, but the long and mostly exploitative relationship between Turkey and Germany means this game is going to be a good one to watch, even if Turkey doesn't have the greatest chance of winning.

I happened to go see Fatih Akin's great new movie The Edge of Heaven last night at Film Forum, and it's all about messy interactions between Turks and Germans. His earlier movie, Head-On from 2005, was incredibly good; this one deals with some of the same difficulties of the Turkish population living in Germany, but gets into even better stuff about parents and children, the things people will do to try to take care of each other, and the unlikely connections that can form between people from different worlds. It was fantastic, but way too complicated for a brief summary.

The Edge of Heaven's original title in German translates to On the Other Side, which is better. Here are a few glowing reviews, from A.O. Scott, Roger Ebert, and the Guardian.

(One note about the cast--the most famous actor in the movie is Hannah Schygulla, who was in a bunch of Fassbinder movies in the '70's, and played the title role in The Marriage of Maria Braun. She's still awesome.)

Germany's Ulrich Schnauss also played a free concert at the World Financial Center last night--I caught most of it. Now I just gotta get some stuffed eggplant and shish kebab and get ready to watch Turkey face Germany starting at 2:45.

In case you're interested, here's some background on the Turkish population in Germany. The short version: Germany invited Turks to come into the country after WWII because they needed cheap labor. Loads of Turks came over, and today make up the largest minority population in Germany, but weren't given citizenship. Most children of immigrants aren't citizens either. So today, there are millions of Turks in Germany, many of whom are 3rd generation residents and may have never been to Turkey, but aren't citizens. It sucks.

Starting in 2000, Germany allowed children of foreigners born in Germany the possibility of citizenship, so maybe things are changing.

UPDATE: Germany won, barely. They pulled out a winning goal in the last minute of the game, plus the whole world missed Turkey's surprise last goal because of satellite broadcasting problems. Bleegh.

June 24, 2008

You know you're a '00's kid if...


VH1 started its newest installment of the "I Love The..." series last night with "I Love the New Millennium", a show that looks back fondly on the decade that we're still in.

Message boards on VH1 and IMDb are full of "Are you kidding me?" and "What's next? 'I Love 45 minutes Ago'?" comments, but personally, I have no problem with a nostalgia show about just a few years ago. I don't feel especially nostalgic for when I was 9 or when I was 16. I feel nostalgic for when I was 27.

The 2000 and 2001 shows were on last night; 2002 and 2003 play back to back tonight. There were a few obvious segments in last night's episodes that didn't exactly capture the zeitgeist of years past because nothing has changed since then (remember the iPod? and when people downloaded music off the internet?) But there were a few bits that really did feel like a return to a not-so-distant long-lost era:

  • Failed football experiments: XFL, Dennis Miller hosting Monday Night Football
  • Dude, Where's My Car?
  • Kelly Ripa's debut
  • Sisqo

Many of the hosts of the old shows are back, with the deadpan Michael Ian Black delivering a solid half of the commentary. Dee Snyder is back, squeezing this new show in between episodes of "Rock the Cradle" and "100 Most Metal Moments", as is the most inexplicable of the regular VH1 commentators, Luis Guzman. The guy does 4-6 movies a year and still has time for this crap? He does a good job though. Also back are two members of The Donnas.

New commentators include Toofer and Josh from "30 Rock". Maybe they did this show during the writers' strike?

A few things from our current decade that I already feel nostalgic about:

  • Canceled TV: "The Job" and "The Lone Gunmen"
  • Low Culture (a highlight or two)
  • Fametracker
  • Common and Kanye on "Chappelle's Show" doing "The Food" live [video] (to be honest, the first time I saw this clip from the show was just a few days ago, but the pre-Jamie Foxx Kanye wearing a Kanye West t-shirt and blazer, with Dave Chappelle raising his fist in the studio/kitchen was instant wistfulness.)

June 23, 2008

WMD or single malt?

Whisky distillery

Ever wonder what secret WMD plants look like? They look like whiskey distilleries. Wired has a funny story today about our intelligence agencies and how they gather information about the chemical weapon development around the world.

Bruichladdich, a small whiskey producer on Islay in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland, got an email one day from the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency (part of DoD), asking why their distillery webcam had recently gone offline.

Yikes. The folks at the whiskey company had a quiet heart attack, cleared out their bank accounts, smuggled their families out of the country, then nonchalantly emailed back asking why the DoD was interested in their non-threatening little distillery.

Someone in the Chemical Weapons department said they had been using the distillery's webcam as part of staff training because chemical weapon processes look very similar to the distilling process.

The distillery posted the story on their site, with emails from the DTRA agent who contacted them. Explaining her employer's interest in the distillery, the agent wrote a very friendly, non-Rumsfeldian email explaining the similarities between making whiskey and making WMDs:

"As part of a training class we went to a brewery for familiarization with reactors, batch processors, evaporators, etc. before going in the field. It just goes to show how "tweaks" to the process flow, equipment, etc., can create something very pleasant (whiskey) or deadly (chemical weapons)."

So, of course, Bruichladdich started producing "WMD 1 - The Weapons Inspectors" whiskey, and created a graphic to help the casual webcam surveiller distinguish between the two different kinds of WMDs:

Whisky of Mass Destruction

[click to enlarge]

[I just learned this story is several years old. Rats.]

June 19, 2008



Reprise opened in limited release about a month ago. It's by a first-time Norwegian director and stars young actors unknown in the US, so it isn't going to draw any viewers from Kung Fu Panda, but it's one of the better movies I've seen so far this year.

It can be tricky to make a movie about young, idealistic artists prone to immaturity and mental illness, because these characters tend to be pretentious, self-indulgent, and irritating (see The Doors, The Basketball Diaries, Glitter.) Reprise follows two longtime friends in their early 20's whose young writing careers diverge when one becomes an instant success. I think it (mostly) succeeds because equal time is spent watching these guys and their group of friends talk about the Ramones and make fun of each other's porn collections as we hear them talk about Heidegger and the metaphors they use in their novels.

It's still can get tedious watching these moronic boys blather on about how smart/tortured they think they are, but that makes it more satisfying when they finally grow up. And makes you a little bit glad you're not 23 anymore.

Since I always think about movies I like in terms of other movies I like, here are a few comparisons:

There are a fantastic couple of scenes that use the same kind of fragmented approach as the central hotel bar/hotel room seduction scene in Out of Sight, skipping around between a few times and places to show how a long encounter unfolds.

The super-condensed fast-forwarding of the characters' lives, like in Run Lola Run. We see a few different possibilities of what could happen to the guys in Reprise, but I especially like the uncertainty in this movie about what really happens to them and what they imagine might happen.

The rapid back-and-forth between cerebral musings about the nature of life, love, poetry, etc., and raucous punk concerts and crazy party scenes, like in 24 Hour Party People. Also, Reprise should win some special award for Most Ecstatic Use of Le Tigre in a Feature Film Soundtrack.

Here's the review by Manohla Dargis, who loves it, and by Roger Ebert, who thought it was OK but flawed.

June 17, 2008


The promo above shows that MTV is trying to reintroduce music videos. And it is promoting them by poking fun at itself and its all-reality-all-the-time programming. In this ad, Pete Wentz is talking with some MTV reality girl and tells her: "Music videos still exist, and we're playing them on MTV for you."

The show is called FNMTV which I thought was a pun on "Friday Night MTV" when the show premieres, and "Fuckin' MTV" which would be kind of awesome. And maybe it is, but they also claim "F is for Feedback, N is for new."

The feedback is the most annoying, absurd aspect. And this is why MTV is not as good as it used to be, when it really showed videos. On repeat airings of the show, random viewers submit their comments, as recorded at home, and they are broadcast with the videos. So you can't even watch the damn video.

You can watch the fan videos here. Here's a fan response to Flo Rida's "In the Ayer." The fan in question says "I really really liked it." I'm glad I know that. There's lots more, all on about that level.

Watching the show with the feedback on top of the video, felt like watching pop-up videos, only worse, and without really being able to hear the song.

I feel bad, because I am completely in favor of MTV showing more videos (and not just for the summer, thanks) but this execution is ridiculous.

In honor of OTB


Last weekend our city saw a dramatic, last-minute state takeover of New York's Off-Track Betting industry, which saved it from getting shut down. Thank you, Governor!

In honor of city's 68 betting outlets and 1,500 employees, I decided to exercise my hard-won wagering liberties and head to my local OTB to play some ponies.

The short version: it was pretty fun. The other people there were helpful and friendly, if not exactly interested in making small-talk. I made a bunch of bets and came out ahead by $5.25, and the OTB was overall not as depressing a place to spend a half-hour as you might think.

Having no idea how betting on horse races works, I completely relied on the guidance and patience of the staff at the OTB near my office. I learned a couple things from the very nice woman who got me set up: it's easiest to just tell the staff person at a betting window what races and horses you want to bet on rather than fill out a complicated lottery-ticket style card. You can bet on as many horses as you want in any given race, right up until about a minute before the race starts. There are television screens around the room that post details and odds for all the upcoming races at each of about 10 tracks.

screens at the OTB

About the atmosphere: I was the only woman in there, apart from 1 or 2 staff people. The rest of the 50 or 60 patrons represented a cross-section of male New Yorkers: all ages, races, nationalities, a few different languages, guys in baseball caps and jeans and guys in expensive-looking suits. Some were in and out in 10 minutes, some made themselves at home.

Between races, there was a lot of milling around, scrutiny of the Daily News racing charts, and conversations that went like this:

"I hate Delaware Park, it's just an awful track. I play that track, and if I had played the triple, I would have won $400. Instead I pick favorites who don't pay. Am I right?"

"Of course you're right. You're always right."

"Delaware sucks. It's a terrible track."

A nice Danny Glover look-alike who I sat next to compared picks with me, and we both won a bunch of cash on a horse non-ironically named Price of Freedom. He said he comes in there pretty regularly, but is also "trying to keep my marriage", so has to be careful. I asked him if he was glad the state kept all the parlors from closing, and he said he would have been relieved to see them close. No matter what had happened, you would still be able to bet online, he said, or call in bets, but the OTB outlets make it almost too easy to play too much.

Other guys were more openly enthusiastic that the outlets are still open, and one dude loudly thanked a teller at a window for making it through the negotiations and staying in business.

The OTB website has a lot of information about how to bet, how odds work (I have no idea what the mathematical basis is for this stuff, but if you're going to go to an OTB, just print out the odds page and bring it with you for reference) and the daily race schedules.

Betting on horses at an OTB reminded me a lot of playing craps at a casino: you can either figure out how to play the complicated way, like some of the serious players in there are doing, or just do it the simple way. You can make bets on sequences of horses or across a series of races, or you can play the easy way and just bet on a horse or two to win, then make some cash, then go to the nearest bar and feel secure in your fiscal responsibility because you are essentially drinking for free. Perfect!

UPDATE: It looks like the Daily News was at my local OTB yesterday, too. They interviewed a diverse bunch of players (including a retired Navy vet, a guy known as "Johnny Mac", and a preacher) who were generally not too excited about the 21% of their winnings that the state collects. I contributed $1 yesterday, part of the estimated additional $9 million the state will collect every year.

June 13, 2008

The mental world of children's merchandising

Here's what Strawberry Shortcake looked like in olden times of the 1980's:

Strawberry Shortcake, 1980's

Here's what she's looked like in recent years:

Strawberry Shortcake, 2000's

And here's her new look, unveiled earlier this week:

Strawberry Shortcake, 2008

The changing look of Strawberry makes me wonder--how do companies market toys and merchandise to small children who can't always verbalize their preferences as consumers? Do 6 year-old girls really want to own more Strawberry Shortcake stickers and sleeping bags if she looks like a skinny-armed anime character with swishy white-girl hair?

It seems like the dessert-themed Strawberry Shortcake series of dolls, which all had candy-scented plastic heads, would be an easy sell to any generation of kids, as long as they love candy. But in the interest of relaunching the brand with a whole new line of toys, clothes, and movies, the Times describes how American Greetings updated Strawberry Shortcake, which demonstrates that marketers don't even try to understand young minds. Here's how to rebrand a popular line of toys:

First, make up a nonsensical marketing concept phrase to describe the desired new image, which in this case downplays the candy-fixation of the old toys: "fruit-forward". (The Times writer manages to work the magnificently absurd "fruit-forward" into the article twice without a single smirky aside.)

Then, get together a group of product licensees and ask them to pick the new design they like best.

That's it.

Most of the old Strawberry Shortcake characters are still around for the relaunch, though Huckleberry Pie, the only boy in the group of friends, has been transformed from a goofy overall-wearing hayseed to a cool skater.

The head designer of the new line of toys notes that some characters "who didn’t immediately shout out fruit" have been phased out. One casualty of the fruit-forward revolution is Mint "rhymes with julep" Tulip, whose scented plastic doll head smelled like Jim Beam.

A few other attempts at rebranding children's toys that didn't work out: Loonatics, which were Bugs Bunny and crew restyled for the 21st century to be menacing and scary, and Earring Magic Ken, who wore a mesh T-shirt, purple leather vest, and one earring. The Times recalls, "The character drew howls from consumers, who did not see him as a realistic boyfriend for Barbie."

[tx T-Rock]

June 12, 2008

Straight people: Start being more like non-straight people

I love my Moms

Lisa "Opt out revolution" Belkin has a piece in the upcoming NYT magazine about parents who, radically, share the work. The Times is clearly prepared for this to be the most-emailed article of the week, having already given Belkin a blog entitled "Equal Parenting". As usual with Belkin, the article is really about middle class problems. Although she claims that the maldistribution of domestic work persists across economic classes, this 'solution' is apparently only appropriate for middle class couples.

Many of the couples in Belkin's article used an organization called Third Path, to help them figure out how to organize work and family time. Third Path will give couples "one-on-one coaching to develop their unique work-family solution" for the low, low price of about $125 per hour. Third Path helpfully suggests that you could give (or request) this coaching as a wedding or baby shower gift. Ew.

This week the Times also published a piece on what straight folks can learn from same-sex couples,(something Belkin also discusses):

"In heterosexual couples, women did far more of the housework; men were more likely to have the financial responsibility; and men were more likely to initiate sex, while women were more likely to refuse it or to start a conversation about problems in the relationship. With same-sex couples, of course, none of these dichotomies were possible, and the partners tended to share the burdens far more equally."

So the take home message seems to be: Be fairly wealthy, be more like gay people, pay for expensive life coaching.

Image by arimoore.

June 9, 2008

James Freys of the world not doing so well these days

Wildly successful writer and loathed memoir-fabulist James Frey has been having a rough few years. One thing he can be thankful for: he's not a child molester.

Another guy named James Frey got busted over the weekend for soliciting some kids in Washington Heights. First he offered a 9 year-old boy $5 to run away with his pants half way down. That same day he allegedly punched a girl in the face for refusing to give him her underpants. Ew.

The story ends well, though. He got caught when a group of teens, led by the older brother of the kid Frey offered $5 to, circled around Frey and cornered him until the police got there. "That's my brother. I didn't want anyone to hurt him," said 14 year-old big brother Jamel Hadley.

The Post has a good picture of the resourceful group of kids who captured the evil predatory James Frey:

Kids who captured James Frey

Sex offender James Frey was also arrested in 2005 for abuse. Here's his file in the state sex offender registry, which makes the other James Frey look like an eagle scout.

Media punching-bag James Frey has a good interview in this month's Vanity Fair. He seems like he's more or less doing OK. Janet Maslin seems to have forgiven him enough that she wrote her review of his new novel (we're all just coming right out and calling it fiction this time) Bright Shiny Morning in his old style of short, sharp sentences, which he thankfully seems to have left behind.

June 6, 2008

God is my co-pilot

As if pro-life license plates (now on the road in ten states) weren't bad enough, South Carolina has approved these cross-bearing license plates. Apparently anyone opposed to them is closed-minded:
“I didn’t see a constitutional problem with it,” said Mr. Grooms, a Republican who is chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. “We have other plates with religious symbols on them and phrases like ‘In God We Trust.’ Just because it’s a cross, some very closed-minded people don’t believe it should be on a plate.”

June 4, 2008

"Assassination" political art show shut down

Assassination art show getting papered over

The Democratic primary may be over, but it looks like we're still, on some level, freaking out about having a woman or a black man as our next president.

A Boston-based artist named Yazmany Arboleda was installing an art exhibit in a gallery today called "The Assassination of Hillary Clinton / The Assassination of Barack Obama". But don't worry, says the artist--he means the character assassination of the two candidates, as perpetrated by the media.

Well, the NYPD didn't care what kind of assassination he meant, and by 9:30 this morning had papered over the title on the gallery doorway. The artist, who just hit the free publicity jackpot, says he still plans to open the show on Thursday, but it sounds like it will run for only two days.

The NY Times post on the exhibit links to two websites that show its pieces, which mostly consist of doctored campaign photos, book jackets, and print ads about each of the candidates. The exhibit looks "edgy" to the point of being stomach-turning.

In case you're interested in learning more racist and sexist jokes and references about these two people, there's a whole bunch of them at the Obama exhibit site and the Clinton exhibit site. The artist says his exhibit is a "metaphorical"critique of the media, presumably the media's sexism and racism in how it covered the candidates during primary season. Critical analysis of sexism and racism is one thing, but when your art consists exclusively of cruel, belittling material, you could end up just looking like a jerk.

But it's not the content of the show that concerned the cops, or the Times, just the title. The cops took the artist in for questioning, then released him. The Times points out that the subject of assassination has come up in many cultural works, but--you know what's coming next--"in the post-9/11 context, recent comments touching on assassination during this political season — including references by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton — have hit a nerve, and have been followed by apologies."

Both candidates are protected by the Secret Service, and Obama has had Secret Service coverage for over a year, which is apparently the earliest that any candidate has been given protection.

June 3, 2008

Political theories

Hillary and Sex and the City

Slate offers a few political theories today, largely about the intersection of politics and pop culture:

  • First one: part of the reason Sex and the City did so well this weekend is because its main fan base, white ladies, could no longer deny that their favorite political candidate has lost the nomination. According to this theory, both Hillary Clinton's campaign and the movie (which had the highest grossing opening weekend ever for a romantic-comedy) represent a "weirdly conflicted feminism": the SATC ladies are successful and independent, but their lives revolve around status, money, and the men in their lives, while Hillary arguably got as far as she did because she's married to her own Mr. Big. So much for the feminist revolution.
  • Next is another theory about Hillary: since she keeps winning primaries, especially in big states, why doesn't she have more superdelegates supporting her? Theory: the superdelegates have learned from history that a party that fights with itself through the convention will lose in November. If she were running in the free-wheeling '70's or '80's when the news was only on for a half an hour a day, she might still have a chance. As it is, the political big shots who serve as superdelegates are trying (and failing) to minimize negative press and keep their party from looking like a chaotic bunch of squabblers.
  • And finally, an insinuated conspiracy theory: 90 year-old West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd was mysteriously hospitalized hours after criticizing Dick Cheney's "contempt and astounding ignorance toward his own countrymen" when Cheney made a cheap incest joke about West Virginia.

June 2, 2008

Get saved with Slim Cessna's Auto Club

Slim Cessna's Auto Club, Mercury Lounge, June 1, 2008

[from a video by lzplksk]

Last night I went to see Slim Cessna's Auto Club at the Mercury Lounge with a friend who came from another city just to see them. From the little I knew about them, I was expecting a country-gospel influenced rock band, but their live show is more like a 1936 rockabilly pentecostal tent revival, the kind that has snake handling. It was fantastic.

You can walk into a Slim Cessna show and be Jewish or agnostic or a lapsed Catholic or whatever, but you're probably going to come out a member of the Church of God. It's as close to a religious experience as a lot of people in our generation are going to get on a typical day, at least at a rock show. The six members from Denver may look like the bad guys in a Flannery O'Connor story, but they seem like real sweethearts. The band has an album called "Always Say Please & Thank You", which I don't think they mean ironically.

They've got a lot of songs about damnation, but it seems like there are an equal number about Jesus and salvation, too. They're like a gospel band that is totally aware that you've got to do a lot of sinning before you can be redeemed.

The band includes all the standard rockabilly elements you would expect (upright bass, pedal steel guitar, banjo) but there are some surprises too, like a double-neck guitar with a Jesus and Mary hologram. They also yodel.

There are a bunch of pics on Flickr of last night's show and Friday's show in Greenpoint. A few good short videos are up there, too, which give you a little taste of their energetic fervor. Lots more on YouTube.

There are some free downloads available on the band website, and a list of the remaining tour dates for the next week or so.

Also: I was just thinking about Bo Diddley last night--Slim Cessna's rhythmic, reverb-y guitars and dark lyrics reminded me of him. Here's the Times obituary.

About June 2008

This page contains all entries posted to Amy's Robot in June 2008. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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