Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Science and media coverage

Whenever you see a piece on some branch of natural sciences in popular media (e.g. newspapers), odds are overwhelmingly in favor of said piece being trite, utterly boring, poorly written and not in any way informative, regardless of what academic level the reader has achieved. If the writing isn't boring, it's old-school sensationalist disturbing, typically related to health ("Drinking diet soda will give you brain tumors, scurvy and the bubonic plague", or "How following our advice from two months ago is gonna give you heart disease") or global warming (which by the way is an issue I take very seriously, but it pisses me off to no end when every front page has "global warming will kill us all" when the weather in Norway is nice and warm for more than two consecutive days, but the same POS journalists invariably stay silent when it snows for a week straight in October, or it's 20 below for more than a week in January). Apparently, journalism is derived from "journal", which is Swahili for "yelling 'FIRE' in a crowded room" and the suffix "-ism", which typically denotes something bad.

Some nuanced coverage that doesn't insult the reader's intelligence is what I'm looking for. This topic is something I've discussed with Kjerstin at her blog on several occasions, predictably without reaching any agreement/grand solution. Basically, I don't agree with the contention that the prerequired knowledge base is the same for reading a piece on science as for reading other types of news, and I don't think that science can be adequately reported at the cost of detail. In other words, I don't subscribe to the Dogbert philosophy of "Don't waste resources improving your product - find dumber customers".

If you actually bothered to read the discussion and feel that I grossly oversimplified our respective standpoints in the above paragraph.......feel free to insert a particularly smug smiley here. 'Cause that's what happens when details are omitted.

Way back in the day, though, science was happenin' in the media. Einstein, Oppenheimer & the rest of the Los Alamos people, Carothers, Feynman...the list goes on. They were heroes of their age. Granted, these were exceptional scientists and amazing discoveries, but the concepts they championed weren't exactly simple, and neither was the way the theories were communicated. Still, this was reported as big news - complete with huge profiles on the scientists - and way back in the day (up to and perhaps including the sixties) a significantly lower percentage of the population completed higher education than today. So if science was newsworthy and read by everyone when the average educational level was way lower - shouldn't it work better today? What else was different?

Were the journalists better back then? I can't really think of a good reason why that would be true. However, one important difference is the level of competing media outlets then and now. Compared to, say, the 1950's, the sheer number of publications, radio stations, tv channels etc. today is completely overwhelming. In turn, this probably leads to the need for shorter sound bites, a higher image-to-text ratio, so that's obviously one difference. It doesn't necessarily explain the embarrassing lack of serious media coverage science experiences today, though. Is it just that nothing cool has been invented/discovered since the 60's? Absolutely not.

But guess what - science used to be cool, and academic achievements were something to be proud of. It was OK to skip levels at school if you found your present level was too easy. Norway included. Now? Not in an equalitarian country like Norway, where the ideal is that everyone's at the same level. That works out the same way as assuming that the geometric average of a survey represents an actual population segment - not at all. Nevertheless, it's not PC to rank students, nor is it PC to rank schools.

Curiously, this does not apply to sports, or the bizarre cross-section between sports and education - the elite athletic high schools or whatever they are (Toppidrettsgymnas/Idrettsgymnas). Here, it's totally cool to a) rank the schools and b) rank the students according to their achievements. Nobody complains about this, and yet it's a part of the public school system. Maybe that's got something to do with the fact that athletes are among the heroes of our time - 19-year olds who can't form coherent sentences. Nor will they be able to do this after their careers are over and they've got jobs as sports commentators. Wonderful. Other role models of our time include the profession known as "glamour models". I can think of several other names for both the occupation and the people who do it for a living.

And the funny thing is that the same people who need to have science dumbed down to single-syllable words don't seem to have this problem when it comes to anything pertaining to sports. If some soccer player gets a connective tissue injury, the next day every single person is a freakin' physician, with surprisingly detailed knowledge about the injury and possible outcomes, treatment strategies, etc. They actually bothered to look up information because the topic at hand was cool.

If we make science cool again, we can elevate the level at which science is presented in the media. Only then can science get the media coverage it deserves - not by dumbing down the material. In one of the aforementioned discussions, one person commented that becoming a journalist only requires two years of (not so challenging) education. That's actually not bad, compared to the absence of any formal requirements for becoming minister of education. Or even prime minister....

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The SLJ-factor: Addendum

Anders raised an interesting point - seeing as how Hollywood is latin for "form over substance" and heavily favors looks over abilities, how would female actors fare when applying the Samuel L. Jackson-factor (SLJ)?

My take was that over time, quality prevails, so in order to take it to the test, I tried applying the SLJ-factor to two female actors I consider to be absolutely top-notch, and compared the resulting SLJ-factors with what I obtained for two vacuous bags of plastic, make-up and hair-extensions.

Meryl Streep: Not the most prolific actress, and known for the quality of her work. I've seen 8 of her movies, and liked 6, yielding an SLJ-factor of 0.75.

Jodie Foster: 6 out of 9; SLJ = 0.67

Angelina Jolie: I've suffered through four miserable movies in which she appears (none of them had the words "tomb" or "raider" in the title) - SLJ = 0.

Sarah Jessica Parker: This merchant of HBO-level risque crap has appeared in five movies I've seen. I thought they all sucked. SLJ = 0.

So yeah; the system works, at least for me. Notice that none of my examples utilized "naked teenager number seven" from ___(insert random movie title here)___.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Evaluating Actors - The Samuel L. Jackson Factor

Samuel L. Jackson has played in a truckload of movies. If you do a search on IMDB, you'll find more than a hundred hits on Shaft, or his alias Samuel L. Jackson. Much like the case of Chuck Norris and Walker, Texas Ranger, I'm not really sure which character is the fictional one.

Anyway; not only has Samuel L. Jackson played in an extraordinary amount of movies - an exorbitant fraction of these movies are total garbage. Granted, even good actors can be seen in bad movies (Hello, Nicholas Cage), so obviously talent is not enough - the choice of movies in which they participate also greatly affects how we perceive an actor. SO; the number of movies with Samuel L. Jackson I actually like divided by the number of S.L. Jackson movies I've seen ought to give me a coefficient which is proportional to how good (according to my taste) an actor Shaft really is. Obviously this works for every actor, but I will name it after Samuel L. Jackson, since he is the reason I came up with the idea, and also since I suspect that his ratio will serve well as a baseline (did I mention that he has appeared in a LOT of crappy movies?).

It just so happens I've seen 30 movies featuring Shaft, and I thought 5 ofof these were good - Changing Lanes, Pulp Fiction, Menace II Society, Eddie Murphy's Raw and Star Wars III. That gives a SLJ-factor of 0.17. In other words, being that past performance is the best available indicator of future performance - if Samuel L. Jackson is featured in a movie, the odds of me liking it are way less than 1 in 5. Thus; in my estimation, Samuel L. Jackson sucks as an actor.

So lets try this with another actor - like the aforementioned Nicholas Cage. Three minutes on IMDB tells me that I've seen 14 movies with him, of which I enjoyed 8. That gives a SLJ-factor of 0.59, or in other words, when new Nick Cage movies come out, I've got better than even odds to like it. This despite the fact that I've seen "Peggy Sue Got Married", "Gone In Sixty Seconds", "Guarding Tess" and "8 MM". Cage always does a good job, even though the cover of the movie might be able to suck a minivan through a keyhole.

Edward Norton? I've seen 6 movies with him and truly enjoyed 5. That's an SLJ-factor of 0.83 right there, which fits well with the fact that he is one of my absolute favorite actors.

Tom Cruise, on the other hand, is to me the poster boy for most of what sucks about Hollywood. I've seen 21 movies with him, of which I think 4 are good - SLJ = 0.19. Less than 1 in 5 Tom Cruise movies appeal to me, so odds are I won't be standing in line to get tickets to any of his movies.

Jack Black appears to have disappointed me lately, what with "Nacho Libre" and "Pick Of Destiny". If I'd bothered to calculate his SLJ-factor, I'd known that it's the other way around - dude got lucky with "School Of Rock" and "High Fidelity". The remaining JB-movies I've seen were atrocious, and out of the 11 movies I've seen with him, I enjoyed 2 - SLJ = 0.18.

Ben Stiller? Dude has a checkered record at best. I've seen 12 of his movies, and thought 6 were good - "Along Came Polly" (only because of Hank Azaria, but still), "Zoolander", "Meet The Parents", "Keeping The Faith", Mystery Men" and "There's Something About Mary". SLJ = 0.5, and even odds of me liking a future release from the talented member of the Stiller family.

See how well this works? You try it......

Monday, May 21, 2007

2 more movies

Since we can post some reviews about movies ; my turn whith what I saw this week end.

Spiderman 3:
Surprisingly, I didn't really like it. Surprisingly cause I kind of liked the first two but this one is particularly long and uninteresting. Why so many vilains (bad guy in comic, nerdy, language) (3) since only one would have been enough (like in the first two features). Moreover (we're on the m-factor blog, dudes) the sand man sucks !!!! The special effects during his "birth" are great but I couldn't stop thinking that it was special effects and not an actor playing and it's not so good I guess if you can remark the technique instead of being in the movie.

Babel: Damn a Brad Pitt movie. But Let's not forget that he has some some fantastic movies in the past (Seven, Fight Club). Ok some were crappy (Meet Joe Black is probably in the top 10 of the worst movies ever made). So, Babel: That's a fantastic movie. I will not say more cause i didn't know anything about the movie before seeing it and it's like that that good movies should be seen (F.....g trailers where you can see all the storyline of the movie). So trust me and rent that one. If you don't like it; you're an idiot.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Three Movies

....so we saw three movies this weekend - The Pick Of Destiny, The Departed and Clerks II.

The Pick Of Destiny (2006)
Dammit - I've lost all faith in Jack Black by now. Even though this is partly based on the HBO show, and even though they play all original songs in this one, I just don't find Jables and Kage funny anymore. Dio has a cameo in this one, as does Tim Robbins and Ben Stiller, but it just doesn't happen. Even the songs are much, much weaker than what you'll find on the debut CD - no "Tribute" or "Wonderboy" to be found here. The best part of the movie is the fact that Kage uses BC Rich guitars for his tricked-out electric rig.

The Departed (2007)
Ok - I admit it - DiCaprio did a good job in this one. Still, I'm probably one of about three people to see this movie and find it quite boring. The actors are there - Nicholson, Wahlberg, Damon, Martin Sheen, even DiCaprio, so that's not the problem. The story is cool, the movie is well-made....but it drags on for too damn long. After about an hour I found myself thinking "DAMN - it's still almost an hour and a half left". Which isn't a good thing, I guess. Moreover - this did not happen when I saw Godfather (I and II), Contact or even LOTR part I, all of which are longer movies. Movie of the year? I really hope not...

Clerks II (2006)
Dante and Randall are back, dammit. More importantly, Kevin Smith is back! This movie was surprisingly good - on par with the original Clerks and Mallrats. You might have to be a KS fan, though, which goes for all the NJ movies. It's hard to believe now, but I remember back in the late 90's, I turned down watching Clerks at least once (sorry Anders, Rene and Øyvind - youse guys totally knew what youse was talkin' about all along), mostly due to the movie being a) lower than low budget, b) it totally rocked the film festivals (which in my book is a bad omen - the critics' choice typically ends up being a french movie about Polish mine workers in Hungary in the 19th century), and c) the storyline doesn't quite sound appealing - two clerks at a convenience store in New Jersey - whassupwi'that?

Anyhoo - if you like Kevin Smith, Jay or Silent Bob, this is the movie for you.

Cheating economy majors

Today I read in Dagens Næringsliv that 82 - count'em; 82 - students at the Norwegian School of Management (BI) were caught cheating on take-home exams, and were consequently expelled for a semester. As if this wasn't bad enough, the students have pressed charges against the school - not because they claim to be innocent (i.e. did not cheat), but because the punishment was unnecessarily harsh, and the school rules are too strict concerning cheating. The students admit that they cooperated on individual assignments, and even suggest that the only students who didn't cheat in this particular finance course were the ones with the smallest social circles, i.e. available cheat buddies.

Save for the fact that lawyers don't care if the clients are innocent or not - what kind of Lionel Hutz-clone would take on such a case (apparently her name is Henriette Hillestad Thune)? It's not as if they were forced to attend this school, and they definitely knew they were cheating. Considering how they compunded this by admitting to guilt in national media suggests that Hillestad Thune might be among the worst legal minds ever. Unless, that is, she manages to win, in which case BI and its lawyers ought to spontaneously self-combust from the shame.

In the aforementioned piece, three preppy (well; duh) students are quoted with such gems as "I think the rules are too strict. What's most important is to learn, and there is no reason to uphold such strict guidelines" (Camilla Aldén). Other quotes suggest that the only reason the number of students caught cheating was so low, was that the school didn't bother to check properly.

It's really bad that the students cheated, but even worse that they lack the moral fibres to admit they did something wrong and hence accept their punishment. In my opinion, they should have been completely expelled, and forbidden from ever working in the field of finance again. After all, these students are going to be working with other people's money when they graduate - either as personal financial consultants, or within corporations, and they have clearly demonstrated that a) they have no qualms about cheating, and b) even faced with the fact that they cheated, they don't find anything wrong with it. Is that the kind of people you want working with - potentially - the budget in your company or your personal finances?

Conceptually, this is the same as allowing convicted pedophiles to work in a kindergarten.

Friday, May 18, 2007


Sick and tired of the horrible surveys and poor statistical treatments of these you encounter in the news? Then what you need to do is get a hold of the book

Freakonomics - A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner (2005)

I picked up this total gem of a book at Arlanda airport, Stockholm, in the Fall of 2006 on the way back from a spectroscopy seminar which turned out to be no more than a glorified beer-run.

The book started out as a NY Times profile on the brilliant young economist Steven D. Levitt, before they discovered that there was plenty of material for a book. The resulting masterpiece includes chapters titled "How Is Ku Klux Klan Like a Group of Real-Estate Agents", "Why Do Drug Dealers Still Live With Their Moms" and "Where Have All The Criminals Gone".

If you want to know exactly how real-estate agents are screwing you, why insurance suddenly became less expensive in the late 90's or why the value of a new car drops with as much as 25% the minute the car is driven out of the dealership, this is the book for you.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

What qualifies as sport?

Seeing as how Anders sort of opened the lid on the can of worms that is professional sports......what separates a sport from a simple leisure activity? Is it implied that there are winners and losers (which is sort of the crux of any form of gambling and team affiliation)? Does the level of physical exertion play a role in separating leisure activities from sports (e.g. chess versus decathlon)? What about the definition of victors/losers? Is the quantitative/objective victory (i.e. more goals scored, heavier weights lifted, distance travelled quicker, etc..) better suited to sports than qualitative/subjective evaluation (like figure skating, synchronized swimming or bodybuilding)?
To my mind, the true test of any definition of "sport" is whether or not golf ends up being classified as a sport. That's the test right there - if golf ends up in the same category as ice hockey, powerlifting and football (i.e. not the pile of boredom and poor acting that is soccer), then it's back to the drawing board.

Sports are for... ?

Well, since Wilhelm has a deep and genuine interest in sports, I though I should post this.

The Norwegian Confederation of Sports (NIF) has just recently elected a new president, which is basically the head of all sports here in Norway. Before the election, it was a great deal of fuzz around the election and the candidates.

One of the candidates really caught my attention. Barbro Lill Hætta-Jacobsen is a young woman from the northern parts of our country, which was suggested as a candidate. So far so good, getting a young woman in among those old men doesn't sound as a bad idea after all. And, the only(?) formal requirement for the presidency is that the candidate has to be a member of confederation and has been a member at least one month. And everybody that place soccer, handball, etc here in this country is a member. However, Mrs. Hætta-Jacobsen had trouble meeting that requirement. The only sports experience she has, is a month of amateur sports for her company ("bedriftsidrett").

Not much, eh? She basically got no experience or special knowledge of sports or sports politics. So what else does she have going for her? Well, in an interview she claims that her background as a physician makes her qualified for the job. I couldn't really see why practice medicine should give her extra competence as an administrative leader, but I guess that if she has background as a sports physician, I could see the benefit. So I check. She is actually a district physician in Harstad. How is that relevant at all? According her, because "her job as a physician has made her realize that activity is important". Did she have to go 18 years at school and practice medicine a couple of years before realizing that?

So what do I think? That her background as Miss Kautokeino is equally important, since that learned her a lot about making speeches and meeting other people. And war and peace and politics and stuff...

Monday, May 14, 2007

Spiderman 3 - Attack of the Nerds

I read a piece at Nettavisen (in Norwegian) where your not-so-friendly neighborhood dorks from moviemistakes.com have elected Spiderman 3 the most mistake-ridden movie of the year. They found 17 mistakes, including in some scenes, you can see the contact lenses Toby McGuire wears, when the story clearly states that Spiderman doesn't need corrective lenses on account of him having been bit by a radioactive spider in his teens and thus acquired various superhuman powers.

Read the "shock-bracketed" sentence with a Comic Book Guy from Simpsons voice for effect.

This is a movie based on a comic wherein the basic premise is that if you somehow get exposed to radioactivity by acident, you're somehow endowed with superpowers, and these freaks of nature are concerned with contacts being visible? That's actually pretty funny. I wonder if watching movies for the sake of finding technical faults is an effect - I mean superpower - acquired from years and years of having your lunch money stolen.

Pitching science to high school students

...is not an easy task. Pitching some specific branch, like, say, polymer science, is even worse. When you've got 20-30 minutes to make an impression, every minute counts, you just might be what Shakespeare referred to as "shit out of luck". You have no idea about the level they're at - they might be light years ahead of you when you were a senior in high school (not unrealistic, I might add), or they might be completely ignorant. Approximately 99.9999% of this depends on the science teachers at the high school in question. If the teachers are competent (both within their subject and pedagogically) and motivated, it's actually possible to learn stuff in high school science class. Or so I've heard. The flip side is that if your high school science teachers are troglodytes, you might end up as a lawyer or a realtor, and we wouldn't want that.

Gym teachers have had a bad rep for as long as I can remember, but the emerging trend is very well conserved in the following saying: "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach. Those who can't teach, teach high school science." So I wasn't too enthusiastic about giving a presentation to high school students today.....

I have to say it went pretty well, though. The 10 or so students and their teacher were cool enough, asked questions and stayed awake, despite the fact that I was the last post on their program. The teacher was laid-back, and not at all the questions-guy I anticipated based on previous experiences. You know the type - the kind of guy who sits up all night the day before the visit, leafing through a whole year's worth of Scientific American and Illustrert Vitenskap with a shit-eating grin, looking for material to ask about for him to appear smart. This dude was cool - a bit too much of the obsessive picture-taking kind for my taste, but cool nonetheless.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

"Vintage" or "aging"

This is a hostile take-over of the m-factor blog!

Seriously, mr Wilhelm as graciously let me contribute to his blog, so I though I would just I would give it a go.

Since was just surfing some good ol' guitar porn (try
www.vintagenationals.com for a start), and I do love some of those guitars that are now know as "vintage". Which is basically an old guitar that some people thinks have superior sound or other qualities compare to their modern counter-parts? Hence, you have a distinction between "old/used/crap" and "vintage". For people that are into collection vintage instrument, the condition of the guitar is essential for determine the value of the instrument, "mint" being the highest grad and bringing the premium prices. I can understand this, as you will be more for an instrument that looks new. Just like you would pay less for a used car with worn paint and long mileage on it.

So far, so good. But, then you get to the so called "reissues". Let's use the Gibson Les Paul as an example. The Gibson custom shop* produces reissues from the 50's Les Paul, which will cost you from 20 000 NOK and up. A 50's Gibson Les Paul is considered the most collectible guitar in the world, and mint species are going for up to 2 000 000 NOK, so I can clearly see the marked for a reissue at an affordable price.

But this is the part I don't get: If you get some dude to take a Les Paul reissue guitar, scratch the paint with a razor, put the metal parts in acid, file down through the paint in some places and generally just give the guitar a good beating, the price of the guitar is doubled or tippled. Because it is now "aged", i.e. looks like it has been played a lot. Why? A 50's Les Paul drops in value as it gets worn. And a reissue guitar that has gotten its wear from playing also drops in value. Why is that? It doesn't make any sense at all.

And, here is the great part; I once saw I guy selling a used "aged" Les Paul reissue. And the condition? "This guitar has a little playing wear, apart from the aging done at the factory..." Does that increase or decrease the value?


*Can you call it a "custom” model when the mass produce it?
But that's another discussion

Friday, May 11, 2007

Norwegian book - Et Bra Band

Discovered this Easter completely by accident while browsing through a book store in Rørvik, Nord-Trøndelag. Et Bra Band, by Anders Bortne is a really cool novel about a Bergen-based punk-rock band (The Seculars) who almost make it to the - by Norwegian measures - big time. It's well-written and whatnot, but what really impressed me was the familiarity with the rock scene in Bergen, seeing as how I've spent a little over six years in that town. The record store owner/charicature Engelen is there, as is Dennis from Garage. It's a pretty good description of being in a small, touring band - especially the parts about going to concerts with other bands and discussing how much they suck in comparison to your band, band members not showing up for rehearsals, the wonders of getting lost on the way to the pub/club you're gonna play and not having time for a proper sound-check, playing practically empty venues, and various other 'Tap moments.

Fantastic book, but as far as I know, it's only available in Norwegian......

Part Vier: Eurovision Song Contest

I admit it - since Wig Wam brought metal to the Eurovision Song Contest, I've followed the finals, and I'm enjoying it. Not necessarily so much for the actual music, being as how one has to sift through lots of poor Enrique Iglesias imitations, bizarre medleys of techno and non-4/4 ethnic "world" music (i.e. a boatload of people on stage each with a drum and a stick) and horrible, horrible gut-wrenching ballads in French to hear the few listenable songs. Rather, it's cool to watch in the same way as watching the tryouts for Idol (American or domestic), with the added bonus that you might pick a favorite you actually care what happens to.

Like Iceland's contribution this year - Valentine Lost, performed by Eirikur Hauksson - the singer for 80's Norwegian metal act Artch. Dude is an excellent singer, and the song had the classic "Mr. Crowley" (or I Will Survive) chord progression. Eirikur even threw in some major Dio poses during his performance for good measure. I would've liked this song even outside of the ESC context (i.e. if placed next to other credible artists). So did he get to the finals? Hell no. Did they vote through a bunch of songs which seemed to serve no other purpose than to provide microphone-wielding strippers with a background track? That's a big 10-4. They even voted through a Turkish guy who looked like the embodiment of an STD infomercial.

So I guess I'm screwed. Still, watching the finals is going to be a lot of fun, when combined with a party, a wager and a few iced teas from this place called Long Island.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Computers as educational tools

For many years, the computer has been introduced to younger and younger generations as a source of entertainment, but also as an educational tool. By introducing computers at an early age, the children are better prepared for entering the workforce as knowledge workers. Computer games aid in the development, because it promotes logic, problem solving and hand-eye coordination. Because kids suck up knowledge like sponges, you simply need to place them in front of the computers, load up a game, and they'll learn to operate the machines at speeds we can only imagine. At least that's what the manufacturers claim.

So does it work? Are the newer generations more computer savvy than the rest of us?
  • Do they read at an earlier age and write with a more expansive vocabulary at their demand? Not in the slightest - at least as far as I can observe. As a matter of fact, it appears that the traditional vocabulary (i.e. based on words you'll find in a dictionary) is increasingly eschewed in favor of abbreviated, MSN-optimized language. Cool if you're on MSN, not so useful if you're writing a term paper, report, exam, application or other real-life applications.
  • Language skills? For sure, the command of the English language has improved over the generations, but how much of this is caused by internet and how much is caused by general influence of foreign (particularly American) culture is hard to know.
  • Logic and problem solving? Not at the university level - courses based around formulating a problem into sets of equations are perceived as harder by the newer generations of students.
  • Programming? So not true at the university level - because of the increasingly user-friendly interfaces, programming skills are down.
  • Hand-eye coordination? Probably, but only with respect to application in computer games - this is a very specialized skill after all....
  • General computer skills (i.e. Office): Can't really say I've noticed a difference. The standard settings in Excel and PowerPoint generally prevail......

..I'm sure they rule at owning people on the internet, though

Friday, May 4, 2007

What's with the drinking water in Sweden...

...that's helped produce so many extremely good lead guitar players? Besides being the birth place of the greatest guitar player ever, bar none - Yngwie J. Malmsteen (in case you wondered), the country has produced such luminaries as Magnus Karlsson (my second favorite guitar player, as probably not known from Last Tribe, Starbreaker and the Allen/Lande projects), John Norum (Europe, Dokken, etc), Kee Marcello (Europe), Johnny Öhlin (Dionysus), Carljohan Grimmark (Narnia), Jonas Hörnqvist (Treasure Land), Chris and Michael Amott (Arch Enemy), and the list goes on....

Since Norway has about half the population of Sweden, shouldn't we by sheer force of statistics have produced half the number of great lead guitar players Sweden has?

Part Drei: Movie Soundtracks

One would think that a really successful merger of music and film would be the cases where you can't hear the music without immediately drawing a connection to the movie, and vice versa. While this might not always be a good thing; i.e. it might not necessarily equate to said movie being among your favorites, at least it is an indication of a successful soundtrack. Off the top of my head, I can at least list the following cases where this applies* (*Results and Opinions may vary):

  • Star Wars (all of them) - Duh.....
  • Titanic - "Near, Far, Where-eeeeeeeeever you Are.."... not a favorite, but I sure know where it's from
  • 8 Mile - Rockin' movie and a kick-ass soundtrack. The version of Sweet Home Alabama is priceless...
  • Shine - Rachmaninoff and
  • Immortal Beloved - Gary Oldman as Beethoven - fantastic incorporation of music. One of my favorite movies as well
  • Rock Star - Sometimes this reminds me of the gigs we used to play - awesome music in this movie
  • This Is Spinal Tap - ..other times, this is how I remember gigging :-(
  • School Of Rock - ...but this is probably closer to how it really was
  • Top Gun - Not a big fan of Tom Cruise, but it's impossible to think about this movie without hearing some of the accompanying music
  • Rocky (all of them) - Survivor, James Brown and Vince DiCola......
  • Bill & Ted's movies - ..Excellent Adventure and Bogus Journey, respectively. Keanu Reeves playing himself...but dude used Steve Vai for the soundtrack, so I remember...
  • Wayne's World I and II - Totally resuscitated Bohemian Rhapsody, Foxy Lady etc. Excellent, Party Time
  • Sleepwalkers - I only include this because they used "It's A Monster" by Extreme in the soundtrack..
  • Crossroads - Never mind that this movie is about the Robert Johnson legend - it's got Steve Vai!!! And Eugene's Trick Bag sent thousands of aspiring guitarists back to their bedrooms...
  • Last Action Hero - AC/DC is included, but the main attraction for me is "Angry Again" - one of my favorite Megadeth songs of all time, and a great crowd pleaser
  • Shocker - Crappy flick with soundtrack from Megadeth - "No More Mr. Nice Guy"
  • Karate Kid Part 2 - I can't even think about this movie without hearing "Glory Of Love" with Peter Cetera. This movie was hyooge when I was in the 6th/7th grade.
  • The Adventures of Ford Fairlane - Dice doing "Ain't Got You"...
  • Flashdance - Hey; I never said nothin' about having to like the movie...
  • Fame - The TV series was infinitely better than the movie.
  • Friday The 13th - ....yeah, I know......
  • Terminator - You know what I'm talkin' about
  • Deer Hunter - Cavatina was also the theme song for some demented Norwegian television program for children
  • So I Married An Axe Murderer - Totally 90's, with "There She Goes" and Spin Doctors. Also with Mike Myers' Scottish thang and beat poetry. Party On...
  • Doors - Jim Morrison is probably the most overrated lyricist and frontman this side of Cobain.
  • The Bodyguard - Haven't even seen the movie, but boy do I ever know what the main song from the soundtrack is..
  • Grease - Duh again
  • Ghostbusters - Someone ought to pay Huey Lewis and the News every dime of royalty from this theme song...
  • Neverending Story - Again, I haven't seen the movie, but Limahl has made a living out of this one song.
  • Pulp Fiction - ...the horrible "Twin Peaks" music......
  • James Bond - ..i suppose these atrocities should be mentioned...
  • The Good, The Bad and the Ugly - Spaghetti Western movies in general
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey - Also Sprach Zarathustra
  • Pretty Woman - not a favorite, but...
  • Dirty Dancing - Patrick Swayze extravaganza
  • Notting Hill - Good stuff............

Revised and expanded edition, now including:

  • Blues Brothers - memorable stuff for sure. Why on earth didn't they include their version of the Tammy Wynette classic "Stand By Your Man" on teh soundtrack?
  • The Godfather - How could I overlook this one.......
  • Days Of Thunder - Anyone remember the hit "Show Me Heaven" with Mariah McKee from way back in 1990?
  • Beverly Hills Cop - Throwback to when Eddie Murphy had teh ratings
  • The Way We Were - Annoying, but true
  • Walk The Line - How could I forget?
  • More?

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Part Deux - Evaluating Actors/Actresses

In keeping with the theme from the previous post - how do you rank actors and actresses? How do you compare character actors such as Jack Nicholson, DeNiro, Dustin Hoffman, Christopher Walken and Steve Buscemi to the actors who can apparently play any damn role (think Edward Norton, Nicholas Cage and Geoffrey Rush)? Should character flexibility count for anything, or can you be just as good essentially playing the same role in every movie, like Bruce Campbell or Robert Englund?

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Evaluating Art. Part one - Movies

Scott Adams has recently written an entry about "Judging Art" in his blog. Note how my clever substitution of the word "Judging" makes it look like I designed the title by my very self.

His main point is that instead of applying the standard, subjective criteria of (essentially) "do I like this", the quality of art should be judged by how well the artist achieves his or her objectives, whatever they might be. Thus, when art achieves its goal, it must be considered great. The primary example he mentions is the comic strip "Garfield" by Jim Davis, who set out to create a massively popular comic strip. Seeing as how he has realized this goal, "Garfield" is great art (if you consider comic strips as art, that is) regardless of its content or how many people actually find it amusing.

Although I do not necessarily agree that this is a good way of measuring anything but the artist's fragile grasp of reality, it certainly opens up for different interpretations of books, movies, music, paintings and whatnot than the ones you've already applied. It also requires the goals of the artist to be clearly stated as the project is released, so as to avoid situations wherein for example Jack Black would be able to say "Yeah; I was tired of being funny, so I made Nacho Libre just to get out of the media and lose momentum for a while" after the fact. Ditto Eddie Murphy post 1988.

Still, the method does not provide you with any criteria by which to estimate your potential interest for the product prior to e.g. watching/renting/buying a movie. Although if I had known ahead of time that George Lucas set out to emulate the massive success of Teletubbies by incorporating a similar character in his prequels, it would certainly have affected the odds of me seeing Episode 1 - The Merchandising Misanthrope....

Anyway; in the simple view that the quality of a movie is affected by the components (i.e. the script/story, the choice of actors, the director, etc.), it should be possible to get a decent estimation of whether or not the movie sucks by evaluating parameters independently, such as:
  • Storyline/script: Here, you often don't have much to go on, even if it's based on a book you've read several times, or a historical event. Even movies based on excellent novels can suck (e.g. "The Man in the Iron Mask"), and if you're assuming historical accuracy from movies based on actual events, I've got some prime office space in WTC2 you can rent real cheap. What you can safely assume, however, is that any movie based on a computer game probably won't have much in the way of what one traditionally refers to as a "plot".
  • Actors/Actresses: Parameter wherein the quality is proportional to [presence of (Gary Oldman + DeNiro + Ed Norton + Nicholas Cage + Allison Janney + Meryl Streep + Glenn Close +..) plus absence of (Tom Cruise + Leonardo DiCaprio + Keanu Reeves + Antonio Banderas + Samuel L. Jackson + Angelina Jolie + Mary-Louise Parker +...)]
  • Director: ...what I like to call the "Absence of Michael Moore and whomever made The Blair Witch project"-factor
  • Title/taglines: Phrases/words to avoid: "Snakes on a ...", "Frat", "ex-marine", "ex-black ops", "...this time, ...", "Revenge Of The........", "James Bond"
  • Budget: Sometimes, small, independent films can be absolutely great, i.e. "Clerks". However, if a movie comes with the label "as seen at the Sundance film festival" or something to that effect, odds are it's more akin to "The Blair Witch project". And that's not a good thing..
  • More?