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January 31, 2011

Women and Wikipedia

Women pay gap

Wikipedia has determined that only 13% of its contributors are women. The site's usefulness depends on all kinds of people sharing knowledge about subjects they're interested in. Everybody benefits when the knowledge of a vast number of individual people is centralized in one place, and Wikipedia has done a fantastic job at collecting individual knowledge -- of guys in their mid-20's.

The Times article about the low contribution rates of women includes surprised speculation from people in media and computer studies about why this might be. I don't want to be cynical, but do these people live in the same world I live in?

Let's look at some major areas of public life:

Sensing a trend?

Of course there's a big difference between becoming a Senator or a CEO of a big company and contributing to a Wikipedia article. ANYONE can write something on Wikipedia. You still don't have to register with the site to add some verifiable facts to an existing article, and there's a help page for new contributors.

Since women's knowledge is so radically underrepresented in Wikipedia, we're all losing out. I don't know about you, but I probably look something up on Wikipedia every day. I don't want to only find what dudes are interested in up there.

Two examples in the Times article: "Is a category with five Mexican feminist writers impressive, or embarrassing when compared with the 45 articles on characters in The Simpsons?" "The entry on Sex and the City includes only a brief summary of every episode, sometimes two or three sentences; the one on The Sopranos includes lengthy, detailed articles on each episode."

Sure, it's just pop culture, but this is part of what happens when women are in so few visible leadership positions. As Catherine Orenstein, founder of The OpEd Project says in the Times piece, "When you are a minority voice, you begin to doubt your own competencies." Fewer women in media, business, and government seems to also mean fewer women and girls sharing a bit of knowledge in an online article about TV shows, authors, historical figures, cities, bands, or artists they like and know something about.

Contributing to Wikipedia doesn't require leadership or ambition, but it does require women and girls to think, "I have something to say", and with few exceptions, that's not happening. Boys and men obviously think they have plenty to say, and they're already saying it awfully loudly and in painstaking detail. Ladies: please speak up, I can't hear you.

In thinking about the small numbers of women in leadership positions in business, I realized that at every single job I've had since college, the person at the top has been a woman. This now seems incredibly statistically improbable, and I feel really lucky.

[Note: a reader points out that Wikipedia is intended to be a repository of known facts, not personal analysis or research, as described in the No Original Research entry. My point remains that contributors reflect their own personal interests by adding facts to an entry, making the whole of Wikipedia a sum total of the interests of its contributors, so if those contributors are 87% dudes, well, you get a lot of stuff about Matchbox cars and Civil War Reenactments.]

January 27, 2011

Spidey: That's what $65 million looks like

Spider-Man on Broadway

I went to see Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark last night with our old friend and former contributor Emily. We found some discounted tickets, and figured it was our cultural duty to bear witness to the most ambitious, bloated, beleaguered, and expensive theatrical production in Broadway history.

While some theater critics are trying, with growing annoyance, to follow the preview convention and not review the show until it officially opens (at last report, on March 15--are the producers cursing their own show?) other people, like Glenn Beck, have happily shared their critiques. Unlike Glenn Beck, I think we'd all be better off skipping the show and keeping both our kidneys.

Beck says that the reason he liked the show, and others didn't, is that there's "too much action and flying around." Not quite. The only good parts of the show were the action and the flying around, and there wasn't anywhere near enough.

Here's how you'd make this show good: More Flying Around. Cut the first 45 minutes of exposition and talking. Get Peter Parker and Norman Osborn to transform into their superhero/supervillain alter-egos in the first 5 minutes. Then get to the scene where the main actors all fly through the air, literally using all the space in the theater in a way no other show I've ever seen has done. There's one fantastic moment when you in the audience feel like you're on top of the Chrysler Building looking down at the traffic below, and it's awesome.

Other than the flying around, which there isn't enough of, scenes were good if they looked like rock concerts. Specifically: a scene right out of Lady Gaga's last tour with a chorus of taut, sinewy soldier dancers wearing militaristic leg-warmers and hot pants. A scene of super-villains vamping down a runway with cool exploding costumes made out of armor and lizard skin and pretend bees, which Em thought looked just like a Misfits concert. And a scene of a mythical Spider-woman hovering ghost-like over a sleeping Peter Parker and whisper-singing a creepy, dreamy song, like something out of a Tori Amos video.

Another way to make the show good: More The Edge-Style Guitars. The music is forgettable and weak, except for a few song intros that had that big, arena-filling, shimmery, delay-heavy guitar sound that, considering it was written by U2, I though we'd hear more often. A brief piano-lounge rendition of "We'll Have Manhattan" by the Green Goblin got the biggest laugh of the night.

This show looks like what you get when you spend most of your $65 million budget on insurance.

January 26, 2011

Mark Bittman gets political

Mark Bittman, The Minimalist

Today Mark Bittman announced that he's ending The Minimalist cooking column in the NY Times after 13 years. He's had a great run of making cooking at home feel accessible, smart, and fun.

I don't know if Mark Bittman and I just naturally have similar approaches to cooking and food, but after reading his columns and cookbooks (How To Cook Everything, regular and vegetarian editions) over the years, I often find myself thinking "What Would Mark Bittman Do?" when faced with an unexpected shortage of a key ingredient or a dish that isn't coming together quite as I'd hoped.

Bittman makes me feel like I can cook anything I want to, and that once I've messed around with a type of dish or ingredient, I can and should improvise and trust my instincts. Plus, he's really funny. I flip through sections of his cookbook that I'll probably never use (e.g. meat, sauces, cauliflower) just because he's such a hilarious guy who clearly has fun in the kitchen. As he says in his departing column, "I never maintained that my way of cooking was the 'best' way to cook, only that it's a practical way to cook. (I'm lazy, I'm rushed, and I'm not all that skillful, and many people share those qualities.)"

He's a guy who has no problem with shortcuts that makes sense, like sauce in a jar or the most versatile and delicious of all condiments, ketchup ("I mean, why not?"). But he's driven up the wall by how expensive and cruddy packaged salad dressing is when it's ridiculously easy and cheap to make fresh yourself.

So now that he's not The Minimalist anymore, he's going to start another Times blog about food and politics, which is a direction he's been moving toward for a while now. He did a fantastic talk at TED in 2008 about food and what's wrong with what we eat. This talk, in conjunction with Food, Inc., changed the way I think about the food industry forever. I especially like the kind but blunt way he talks about the food his own mother served at a time when eating in America was mostly about meat, thrift, and convenience, and seemed to involve a lot of canned pineapple.

"What I see as the continuing attack on good, sound eating and traditional farming in the United States is a political issue," he writes, introducing the new blog that will launch next week. Over the years, he's turned into an eloquent food crusader speaking out against meat-heavy diets and processed crap, and now he'll get a dedicated space to rail against Big Food. I'm psyched.

Here's a collection of his best cooking videos, including the outstanding Kitchen Starter Kit one, and here's a collection of all his columns, dating back to 1997.

January 25, 2011

Oscar Nominations

Mark Ruffalo and John Hawkes, Best Supporting Actor nominees

A lot of the Oscar nominations that were announced today were expected, but we've got a few nice surprises as well.

My favorite category this year is Best Supporting Actor. There's Mark Ruffalo for The Kids Are All Right (a role he made look effortless but was probably really hard to pull off) and John Hawkes for Winter's Bone (above); Jeremy Renner, who was the best/only good thing about The Town; Geoffrey Rush who kept the scene-stealing in check in The King's Speech; and Christian Bale, who turned the volume up pretty freaking high in The Fighter, but was irresistibly fun to watch. I'd be happy for any of these guys to win.

Some interesting selections:

Coen Brothers > Chris Nolan
Christopher Nolan didn't get a Best Director nomination for Inception, a big surprise. I would argue that directing Inception was much harder and more complicated than directing either The Social Network or The King's Speech, but I wasn't so thrilled with the end result. The Coens were a long shot for True Grit, but that movie's huge box office success seems to be paying off in other ways for them.

Winter's Bone > The Town, and 127 Hours > The Town
Both got nominated for Best Picture, and The Town didn't. Nice.

Michelle Williams > Ryan Gosling
The only nomination for Blue Valentine is for Michelle Williams as Best Actress. She's phenomenal in this movie, while Ryan Gosling, who I usually like, is a little clumsy and awkward.

Hailee Steinfeld < Best Actress
She's in every single scene, but it probably made sense for the True Grit people to offer Hailee Steinfeld as a contender for Best Supporting Actress instead of Best Actress, because she has half a chance of winning. Best Actress is going to be a death match between Natalie Portman and Annette Bening, and the Academy would give it to Bening partially to make up for past losses to Hilary Swank. Melissa Leo will probably win Supporting for The Fighter, which she doesn't quite deserve in my opinion, but at least Hailee's in good company.

Banksy > Eliot Spitzer
Exit Through the Gift Shop, one of my favorite movies last year, got a Best Documentary nomination, and Client 9, the Eliot Spitzer doc that the man himself participated in, didn't. Neither did Davis Guggenheim's education reform doc Waiting For Superman, which looked sort of one-sided and emotionally manipulative. Man, I hope Banksy stencils the Kodak Theatre.

January 24, 2011

The Son of No One

Channing Tatum in Son of No One

Dito Montiel has made two mediocre movies about tough kids in New York--A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, about growing up in Astoria, and Fighting, about underground bare-knuckle boxing. He gets big stars for his small-budget movies (Robert Downey, Jr., Shia LaBeouf, Terrence Howard) and writes interesting stories about people living on the margins, but somehow his movies don't quite come together. I can't tell if they're supposed to be character-driven indie movies or formulaic studio star vehicles, because they're both of those things simultaneously.

Now he's got a new one at Sundance that stars Al Pacino, Channing Tatum (above, who Montiel thinks is "a great actor" and has cast in all 3 of his movies. Mm-hm.), Juliette Binoche, Katie Holmes, and Tracy Morgan. Look at that cast. Indie or mainstream? I don't know. Adding to the confusion, the title, The Son of No One, is a reference to The Replacements' "Bastards of Young".

Here's the trailer:

It's got crooked cops, family secrets, a non-flamboyant Al Pacino, a non-funny Tracy Morgan, and it's shot in Astoria. It has the aura of gritty indieness. But the feel of the trailer makes the movie look like any of the dozens of studio movies with big stars about corruption, spies, high-level cover-ups, and cops out for justice that typically feature Ray Liotta and/or Al Pacino (both of whom are in The Son of No One). Like Righteous Kill, Body of Lies, We Own the Night, Spy Game, Narc, the list goes on and on.

So I can't tell what to make of Dito Montiel and his style. Maybe his career goal is to be the Tony Scott of Sundance. Or a mainstream Martin Scorsese, with Channing Tatum as his De Niro. I predict Juliette Binoche's performance will be good in a way that makes it seems like she's in a different, better movie than everyone else, and 5.6 stars on IMDb.

January 20, 2011

Why Vanity Fair is the best magazine, even with covers like this

Justin Bieber cover of Vanity Fair, Feb 2011

Of all the magazines I subscribe to, Vanity Fair is consistently the best, the one I'm most likely to read cover to cover. Sometimes carrying my copy around with me and reading it in public or on the subway can be a little embarrassing, due to covers like the one on the current issue (February).

I don't know if the general public understands that, yes, I'm reading a magazine with Justin Bieber on the cover, but the article that I'm reading at this moment is about how J.D. Salinger's experiences on the beaches of Normandy influenced the development of the Holden Caulfield character, or about the history and culture of The Guardian newspaper and how that determined its rocky partnership with Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.

Or maybe I am, at this moment, reading the Justin Bieber article. But this is what really makes Vanity Fair great: I would guess that it's the best Justin Bieber article yet written, anywhere. I'm not completely kidding, here. In this article, we learn that Justin understands that more guys might start coming to his concerts after he turns 18; that he can solve a Rubik's Cube in 2 minutes; that Kanye's remix of one of his songs features Raekwon; and that his mom is younger than I am. (I know!)

Most of the reason this Justin Bieber article is so good and relevant to a non-tween audience is the author, Lisa Robinson. She's interviewed Lady Gaga, Michael Jackson (many times) and Kanye, and written articles about pop stars that reach beyond the existing fans. Which brings us to her Justin Bieber article, which I have to say is a really good read.

Just about all the celebrity stuff in Vanity Fair is good, even after losing the beloved Dominick Dunne (especially the features on dead movie stars and the making of classic movies by Sam Kashner.) The political stuff is good, the analysis of the financial crisis was probably the best anywhere, and the random pieces on the world's greatest surfers or a Florida private investigator that caught a serial killer are unexpected and consistently great.

My only complaints: too much stuff about the Kennedys, and the occasional piece that is so exclusively targeted to the extremely rich or people who wish they were extremely rich that I can't get myself to read it. I'll read an article about what kind of psychology/pathology inspires a person to spend $80 million on a yacht, but I don't much care about the yachts themselves.

January 12, 2011

First look at Fincher's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Rooney Mara in Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Now that everyone's seen Rooney Mara in The Social Network, we thought we had an idea of how good she'd be in David Fincher's remake/adaptation of Swedish novel and movie The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Today we're seeing some photos of her in character as spiky, blood-thirsty vigilante avenger Lisbeth Salander, and they look pretty good.

Specifically, Rooney Mara looks great. Very snarly and severe in the cover shot, and I love her "fuck the world" sneer in the cigarette/ink shot. The dragon tattoo is supposed to be on her character's back, I'm pretty sure, so I maybe she's getting a Snoopy on her butt.

Mara didn't even have pierced ears before the shoot started, so I hope she's embracing the new look. She looks like she'll be at least as much of a patriarchy-slashing badass as the Swedish film version of Lisbeth. Here's the W article about Mara and Fincher and the shoot.

I wonder if Fincher's version is going to be as filled with rage as the book would suggest: remember, the original Swedish title is Men Who Hate Women, and the author Stieg Larsson was sort of consumed with horror about sexual violence, after witnessing an episode as a teenager.

The movie's being shot in Sweden, which sounds like a good idea, and the character names haven't been anglicized. Trent Reznor says the soundtrack will have lots of strings.

January 11, 2011

Judy Clarke: defending our crackpot assassins

Judy Clarke

The latest star to emerge from the Tucson shootings is Judy Clarke, who will be Jared Loughner's public defender. Clarke is our nation's biggest superstar in defending world-famous psychopaths who commit mass murder. She's already defended the Atlanta Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph, Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, the woman who drowned her two young sons Susan Smith, Oklahoma City bomber Tim McVeigh, and she also helped with the defense of the US citizen charged in the 9/11 attacks, Zacarias Moussaoui.

Here's what I want to know: with such an incredibly dramatic legal career involving some of the most infamous murderers of our time, why haven't we gotten a movie based on the life and career of Judy Clarke? Or at least a TV miniseries? I'm thinking either Judy Davis or Cherry Jones to play Clarke. How about a title. "Counselor of Evil"? "The Mercy of the Court"? "Defender of the Damned"?

This is a woman who has made a life out of representing some the most hated people on the planet. Obviously, she's not going for acquittal in these cases. Clarke opposes the death penalty, and has been pretty successful at getting life sentences for her clients.

Let's look at her track record:

Not too bad--I'd say Loughner has a decent shot at avoiding the death penalty. Which probably means that a whole lot of people out there will continue to despise Judy Clarke.

Clarke is characterized by everyone who knows her as unassuming and low-key, avoiding all publicity and media, but she's also "tough as nails", "invisible to the press", and motivated by a strong personal objection to capital punishment. A death-penalty lawyer and friend of Clarke's says, "Judy would probably say if the public saw everything she sees, it would look at the client or the case differently."

Apparently she's really good at getting the public to see cases from her point of view: she's humanized the most monstrous killers just enough to persuade a jury to give a life sentence. I would guess this also depends on gaining the trust and cooperation of her clients. In Loughner's case, that will probably be especially hard: he sounds like a non-communicative, possibly schizophrenic nutcase. But she's done it before with other obviously mentally ill clients. Only two people other than McVeigh have been executed in the federal court system since the federal death penalty came back in 1988.

Also: her husband's name is Speedy Rice.

A tough, driven lawyer in a floppy-bow tie breaking down the defenses of child killers and terrorists, convincing the most psychopathic ideologues to plead guilty: I want to watch that movie.

January 6, 2011

Crying and sex

Crying woman, Lichtenstein

A new study suggests that men become sexually un-aroused when they smell women's tears. Crap. Guess I wasted all that time I've been spending crying in bars trying to get laid.

It seems that all the data for the study was gathered by subjects watching movies. Scientists at Weizmann Institute in Israel recruited six women who were top-notch criers, plus a few back up auxiliary criers, in order to get a continuous supply of fresh tears. The researchers had them watch your typical tear-jerk movies, like Life Is Beautiful and Terms of Endearment, as well as some movies that look absolutely terrible, but are apparently still scientifically effective: My Sister's Keeper and When a Man Loves a Woman.

To measure sexual arousal, the men who sniffed these women's tears (and saline solution for the control group) had to watch a different kind of movie: 9 1/2 Weeks, "the more explicit European version, which has been validated as being particularly arousing."

Turned out, the tear-sniffers didn't get into all that erotic strawberry eating and creepy sexual humiliation as much as the other guys did.

As part of the baseline study, they also had the guys watch a sad movie, to see if the women's tears were specifically a sexual turn-off, or if they just made them feel sad. The men watched classic sports-themed father-son tear-jerker, The Champ, which is about down on his luck boxer Jon Voight and his lovable young son and first-rate bawler, Ricky Schroder, and involves a protracted final scene that is legendary for provoking tears in even the stoniest of men.

Here it is if you want to watch it out of context and see if it still works. I bet it does--it's got seriously all the triggers.

We've all got movies that reduce us to tears, and I often wonder how similar those lists would be from person to person. I've got my share of the predictable, obvious movies that make me cry (Brokeback Mountain, It's A Wonderful Life), those that are sort of embarrassing (Moulin Rouge, Deep Impact, Dead Poets Society), and those that I don't really understand (Mulholland Drive).

I love hearing about what movies have made other people cry, so if you've got some to share, I'm listening.

January 5, 2011

America still loves Westerns

Coens at True Grit premiere

One last thing about True Grit then I'll shut up about it. It turns out that it's kind of a big hit: it's still #2 at the box office after being out for 2 weeks, and it looks like it's going to make more money than The Social Network, which had previously been this year's big indie-ish hit.

It's also the biggest hit yet for the Coen brothers, already doing better than their previous top-selling movie No Country For Old Men, and that one, arguably also a Western, won Best Picture. We might not necessarily think of the Coens as guys who make Westerns, but judging by the movies that the most people want to see, apparently they are. Another universally loved movie of theirs, at least on video, is Raising Arizona, which has a lot of classic Western elements too (desert setting, highway showdown, bank robbery, warthog from hell, etc.)

The difference with True Grit is how straight they tell the story: it's not ironic at all, and the characters all speak in that wonderful formal, heightened language with no winking. It's an uncomplicated, funny Western. Asked why this one has done so well with mainstream audiences after 15 movies, Ethan Coen suggested, "We just outwaited everybody."

The Academy has been pretty obvious in its recent attempts to make the Oscars more accessible and popular to mainstream audiences, so the surprise success of True Grit just about guarantees that it's going to pop up on nominations lists, sort of like a more deserving The Blind Side.

Ever stalwart!

January 3, 2011

Top movies of 2010

Another Year

The year started out slowly, but over the last month or so we've gotten a lot of great stuff. I watched 15 or 20 fewer movies this year than I do in a typical year, which I think is because of the relatively uninspiring Hollywood studio output--with few exceptions, every movie I loved was a little indie film.

So here's my list of top movies, with a few others that were notable in other ways:

Another Year
If you're going to make a movie about people's inner emotional lives and relationships with each other, you can't do much better than how Mike Leigh does it. He's always been really good at this, but over the last 10 years or so, he's gotten so incredibly perceptive about human nature and life in general that it feels like he's making movies about people you actually know.

I wrote a page of notes after watching Another Year which I'll spare you, but what makes this movie so great is its speculation on happiness: why are some people so effortlessly happy, while others try like crazy to find happiness and are still miserable? Because it's Mike Leigh, he has some things to say about class, but in this movie he seems to think that having a nice car, house, spouse, and lots of nice fresh produce certainly doesn't hurt. Mostly, we just need love and attention to be happy, but if we don't get it, nothing will ever be enough.

Lesley Manville is getting all the attention for her amazing and very big performance, but she sometimes turned up the needy desperation a little high. I liked Ruth Sheen's subtlety and quiet confidence even better--her character's happiness doesn't have much to do with luck.

A Prophet
The best movie I've ever seen about guys in prison. Tough, violent, and quietly relentless. We watch the young Malik El Djebena as he grasps the complicated power dynamics around him, and slowly transforms himself into a criminal mastermind.

Exit Through the Gift Shop
Banksy makes a documentary about street art, adding his own art form to the long list of revered institutions he has defaced. I love how self-deprecating he is in his talking-outline-of-a-head segments. Even if the whole story was an elaborate fabrication, it's still hilarious and inspiring.

The Kids Are All Right
In lots of ways this little sex comedy was the most mainstream family drama of the year. This might be Annette Bening's year to win the Oscar, except that there's also Natalie Portman.

Black Swan
There are some things wrong with this movie, but I really love a potboiler ballet horror melodrama. The freakiest, funnest movie I saw all year. The more I think about it, the more impressed I am with Natalie Portman's performance. She's best in the scenes when it's just her, sometimes a little too much of a wide-eyed ingenue in scenes with other people, but she absolutely owned this role and I can't imagine the movie without her. Darren Aronofsky could really get an Oscar for this.

Winter's Bone
Southern gothic detective story set in burned-out Ozark meth labs. Jennifer Lawrence is unstoppably great as a no-nonsense teenager out to save her family. The posse of badass Ozark ladies led by Dale Dickey scared the hell out of me.

True Grit
An uncomplicated, funny movie that understands exactly what's good and entertaining about Westerns. I love 13 year-old Hailee Steinfeld and her total refusal to be adorable.

The Social Network
The subject matter is incidental: what's good about this movie is its examination of loyalty, ambition, betrayal, jealousy, and isolation. It's my favorite one yet by David Fincher.

I Am Love
As the film editor for Time Out New York wrote: Can Tilda Swinton star in every movie from now on? It's a gorgeous gasp of a melodrama, but Tilda's mounting energy kept it from being an overly-romantic swoon.

Tiny Furniture
My biggest surprise of the year. I was totally prepared to hate the self-indulgent, privileged recent college grads at the center of this movie, and ended up loving the self-indulgent, privileged recent college grads at the center of this movie. It's a riot, and Lena Dunham has become my new hero.

A few other movies I liked: The King's Speech and Kick-Ass, which both transcended their tired old genres. Greenberg and Please Give, the best movies yet by directors Noah Baumbach and Nicole Holofcener. And the other best comedies of the year, Youth in Revolt, Four Lions, and Scott Pilgrim.

What did you like this year, and what did I miss?

Here's the list from 2009.

About January 2011

This page contains all entries posted to Amy's Robot in January 2011. They are listed from oldest to newest.

December 2010 is the previous archive.

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