The Sad, Slow Decline of IMDb

Posted on May 29th, 2010 in Commentary by EngineerBoy

Did Disney at least buy you dinner, IMDb?

I started visiting the IMDb site way back in the day, even before they were bought by Amazon.com.  Back then, IMDb was a site for film lovers and film scholars, an encyclopedic collection of information and opinions about film (and, later, television).

However, once Amazon.com purchased IMDb they have slowly but inexorably worked to “monetize” the traffic on the site.  They added a fee-service called IMDb Pro, which provides deeper and newer information, and they have also blithely accepted saturation advertising for any and every piece of crap excreted by Hollywood, as long as the budgets were big enough.

For example, the screen shot to the right is of the home page today, and as you can see it is *plastered* with advertising for and editorial references to Disney’s “Prince of Persia”.  By all accounts, this film sucks mightily, and will quickly take its place in the pantheon of mass-produced, mass-marketed, money-grubbing, mediocre, mainstream, meaningless films, and no self-respecting site for film fans would feature it so prominently.

Seriously, what would you think if you visited the Architectural Digest site, and found the front page emblazoned with a half-dozen ads for mobile homes, or if you visited the Bon Appétit site and found they were garishly sponsored by McDonald’s, touting the return of the McRib, for a limited time?

You’d think that they had sold out, wouldn’t you?  But that doesn’t stop IMDb from whoring itself out to the highest advertising bidder.  You see, IMDb is no longer run by or for film buffs.  It’s run by Amazon.com as a vehicle to sell you entertainment, or to sell advertising to companies that want to sell you entertainment.  IMDb has dropped all pretense of being an arbiter of or commenter on the quality of the films on its site and/or in general.  Oh, it still lets members post reviews and ratings, and links to external reviews, but there are apparently no quality barriers to the films they allow to be advertised and prominently featured on their site.

In the interest of fairness, I will stipulate that IMDb is still a great source of information, and if you can block or ignore the advertising, it can still be a valuable resource.  But it’s become like WalMart – a soul-less emporium that has a vast selection but has no sense of quality or discrimination about their offerings, other than low-prices.  I sometimes go to WalMart, when I have to, but it is a joyless, draining chore.

And that’s exactly what IMDb has become to me – the WalMart of film information.  I go to IMDb for specific reasons – to look up an actor or actress, to find the details of a particular TV show episode, etc, and then leave immediately.  But what I don’t do is browse IMDb as entertainment, like I used to.  Back in the day I could wander the virtual halls of IMDb, coming

Steve Miller’s “Jungle Love” and the TV show “Lost”

Posted on May 28th, 2010 in Commentary by EngineerBoy

You probably wouldn't remember, I probably couldn't forget

Today I was sitting in the car in the car wash listening to tunes, and I heard an old favorite – “Jungle Love” by The Steve Miller Band, from 1977.  The song sounds kind of pop-y and like a confection, but the lyrics have, to me, always been more poetic and abstract than the tune and the refrain.  Here are the lyrics, as best as I can decode them (leaving out the refrains):

I met you on somebody’s island
You thought you had known me before
I brought you a crate of papaya
They waited all night by your door
You probably wouldn’t remember
I probably couldn’t forget
Jungle love in the surf in the pouring rain
Everything’s better when wet

But lately you live in the jungle
I never see you alone
But we need some definite answers
So I thought I would write you a poem
The question to everyone’s answer
Is usually asked from within
But the patterns of the rain
And the truth they contain
Have written my life on your skin

You treat me like I was your ocean
You swim in my blood when it’s warm
My cycles of circular motion
Protect you and keep you from harm
You live in a world of illusion
Where everything’s peaches and cream
We all face a scarlet conclusion
But we spend our time in a dream

Now, I’ve only seen a few random episodes of the TV show “Lost”, but during the leadup to the recent finale my daughter was home from college catching up on episodes so that she’d be ready for a finale viewing party, so I got some summary information about the show, the characters, the plot, the show structure, etc.

And I have to say, based on my limited information about the show, the lyrics above sure seem to evoke the vibe of the series.  Specific examples include this lyric:

I met you on somebody’s island, you thought you had known me before

Which almost seems like almost a one-line summary of the series.  Everybody is flashing forward and backward, into and out of parallel universes, vaguely remembering or forgetting each other.

And this one:

You treat me like I was your ocean, you swim in my blood when it’s warm

They are on an island surrounded by water, regularly in the ocean trying to escape or move between islands, spilling a lot of blood in the process – so much that you might say they were…swimming…in it?

Then there’s this one:

My cycles of circular motion protect you and keep you from harm

Isn’t that the crux of the show, every X number of minutes somebody has to go down the hatch and push a button or something, and in doing this repetitive, circular process they are protecting everyone and keeping them from harm?

And then the final lines:

You live in a world of illusion
Where everything’s peaches and cream
We all face a scarlet conclusion
But we spend our time in a dream

Sounds like “world of illusion”

Iron Man 2 (***)

Posted on May 10th, 2010 in Commentary,Engineerboy,Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy

"If you could make God bleed, people will cease to believe in Him."

Iron Man 2 is a not-disappointing sequel, however it’s also not as entertaining as the original.  But, there have been only a very few sequels that equaled or surpassed their predescessors, so that’s not surprising. 

What was surprising, for me, was the understated performance by Mickey Roarke as Ivan Vanko (right), Iron Man’s nemesis with a family grudge in this installment.  Calling his performance “understated” is an…well…understatement, because Vanko is of course a larger-than-life comic book villain.  However, within that context, Roarke’s performance is carefully restrained and excellently realized.

Also well cast and well characterized are Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer, head of a competing defense contracting firm, and Garry Shandling (Garry Shandling?!??!?) as Senator Stern, Iron Man’s foe in the Senate who is looking to have the government own (and exploit) the underlying Stark technology.  Scarlett Johansson also does a good job as Natalie Rushman, Tony Stark’s new assistant who is “from legal”.

The story…well…the story gets us from Point A to Point B very effectively, but it felt like a transition piece instead of a complete story.  That may be the way it has to be for movies based on comic books, since the comics have been around for decades and have much more story material than can be compressed into a movie (or two, or three).  However, it seems like a movie of this caliber should at least strive to end at a more momentous and climactic juncture.

The film-making is also sloppier than in the first one.  As an example, there is a sequence where Tony Stark appears as Iron Man at his own Expo (about the size of a World’s Fair) and is attacked by an army of drone robots.  These drone robots are similar to Iron Man, can fly, and are packed with advanced weaponry.  Iron Man takes off with the fleet of drones in hot pursuit, launching a continuous stream of weapon fire at him.  Does Iron Man fly as far away from the gathered expo-attendees?  No, he spends five minutes swooping and diving around the Expo, causing the drone-fire to strafe the crowds of innocent bystanders below, over and over and over and over again. 

He has no reason to hang around the Expo, there’s nobody he needs to rescue, nothing he needs to disarm or defeat, and if he had simply headed as far and as fast away from the Expo as he could he would have saved many, many lives.  In fact, after his 5 minutes of induced-strafing-of-the-innocents, he finally wises up and says something like, “Holy crap, I better get away from the Expo!”, and then zooms off.  Narcissistic personality disorder, indeed.

But, overall, it doesn’t disappoint, which is a bit of faint praise, but also a bit of a relief.  I really liked the first film, and was very worried that the sequel would go off the rails.  It didn’t.  It

My dogs eat Scotts® Organic Choice® Lawn Food

Posted on May 8th, 2010 in Commentary,Engineerboy,Product Reviews by EngineerBoy

Dogs eat it, flies swarm to it

I thought I’d try to be a little more gentle on the environment and use an ‘organic’ fertilizer for our yard.  I found Scotts® Organic Choice® Lawn Food at the local Home Depot and decided to give it a try.  I just spread it this weekend so I can’t speak to its greening or healthifying effects on the lawn, but I can state, unequivocally, that my three dogs and every fly in the general area *love* it.

I first spread it on the front lawn, without any drama, and the only slight warning sign was the very…er…’organic’ smell of the stuff.  However, it smelled like it could be a rich source of nutrients, if you know what I mean and I think you do.

Then I spread it in the back yard, where our dogs have access to the fenced yard.  I locked them in the house while I spread it, and as soon as I finished and let them back out all three of them started snuffling around the entire yard like prized truffle pigs.  Things took a turn for the worse when I noticed that all three of them were also licking the grass and ground and ingesting the fertilizer grains.

I also noticed that there were flies all over the yard, landing randomly all over the grass, apparently drawn in by the organic lawn food.  Note that I’m pretty meticulous about keeping our yard clean of doggie bombs, so the appearance of swarms of flies is not normal.  Also, the flies weren’t hanging around any dog piles, they were all over the yard.

I locked the dogs back in the house and figured I’d try watering the Scotts into the yard and see if that would help.  It didn’t, it only seemed to add an irresistable ‘gravy’ to the granules and made even more attractive to my dogs and the flies.

So, now, here I sit with my dogs locked in the house, waiting for the time when (I hope) the Scotts has lost its mojo enough that my dogs won’t continually graze on it.  The stuff claims to be safe for kids and pets, and there’s even a picture of a kid and a pet laying in a grassy yard on the label, but I bet this stuff isn’t designed to be a dietary supplement. 

I checked the Scotts site here, but they don’t have any helpful information, and as of the time of this posting the “View Label” button on that page returns:

“We apologize for the inconvenience, but this information is no longer current and accessible.”

Similarly, the ‘FAQ & Help’ tab says:

“Sorry, no F.A.Q. material for this product is available.  If you have product questions Scotts experts are available by email and phone in our Help Center.”

Which neither answers my questions nor is helpful.

So, if you’re like me and you’re exploring more natural ways to keep your lawn green, and you’re wondering