Are people who post on comment boards for real?

imagesJuly 14, 2014 – If you read news websites, you’re likely familiar with the comments section that accompanies most articles. Depending on the topic, you could make a case that the opinions left by readers are far more influential than the actual article.

Grammar aside, sometimes readers’ comments can be thoughtful and amusing, but most often they are negative ramblings that we can all do without. Always, they leave me scratching my head, wondering if the reader would state his or her opinion out loud in front of a crowd. Probably not, since it’s easier to cause a ruckus and hide behind the anonymity of social media.

Do the opinions on comment boards reflect how most people feel? If so, there doesn’t seem to be much hope for society. It’s gotten so bad that many are asking the question, is it time to kill the comments section?

Some news sources think so. For example, Popular Science recently shut down the comment section for all of its articles because they feel comments are “bad for science”. However, that’s not likely to happen with too many other news publications.

Jon Terbush, an associate editor at theweek.com, recently wrote about a study from the University of Wisconsin that found commenters can negatively influence a reader’s comprehension of the story. The study concluded, he writes, that “uncivil comments not only polarized readers, but they often changed a participant’s interpretation of the news story itself.”

Of course, we don’t have to read comments, but human nature makes it difficult to look away. Here are a few examples of how negative comments can change the story, or at least cause readers to overlook the actual message behind it.

Last week news sites ran a story that focused on Elizabeth Hasselbeck’s opinions about Rosie O’Donnell coming back to “The View”. Former host Joy Behar jumped into the ring to add her two cents, and the comment boards went crazy. It’s not surprising that the debate was turned into a political argument, and political discussions can get heated. But most commenters didn’t focus on the politics. The majority attacked these women (or praised them) for the way they looked instead.  O’Donnell  was referred to as a fat, angry lesbian, and Hasselbeck a dumb blond, but one that was easy on the eyes, as if that should have any credibility. Behar fell into the former category with O’Donnell. She was also called an aging witch who grows older by the minute (don’t we all) with her sagging skin and wrinkles.

Here’s another example. Several months ago, I followed a story about Lena Dunham, the writer and star of HBO’s “Girls” that focused on how often she appears naked in an episode. Many shows on HBO tend to feature gratuitous nudity, yet no one seemed to take a stand until Dunham decided to disrobe. During a recent press conference, the media asked her about it, and she answered that it’s real life because, “sometimes people are naked.” I don’t recall this question ever posed to the writers, producers, or stars of “Boardwalk Empire”, “Sex in the City” or “Game of Thrones”.

If you’re familiar with Dunham, or the show, you know she’s not the typical model thin girl we’re used to seeing on television. In fact, she looks more like the typical American woman, and therein lies the problem. The comment boards teemed with people complaining about her nakedness, and many of the comments were downright cruel: “Seeing her naked made me want to vomit.” “Yikes, who would want to do that?” “Trust me; no one wants to see that girl naked!” “Why is this show still on? Especially when the star is so unattractive.” These are the milder PG-rated comments. Dunham, however, seems to have a healthy self-image, or at least she isn’t afraid to show her body. You have to give her credit for courage, especially when she knows she’ll be criticized.

If nudity disappeared in all television shows and movies, I wouldn’t miss it. From an artistic point of view, however, many believe, like Dunham, that it keeps the story real. The commenters, however, must believe nudity is provided purely for their enjoyment,  and if it doesn’t meet their standards of beauty, it is their duty to attack. I am willing to bet that Dunham looks better than most of the people who criticized her, and commenters that attack her for the way she looks are not doing anyone a favor by spewing their opinions.

So, let’s get back to the original question. Are those leaving these hurtful and unnecessary comments for real? Or, are they simply invented characters hiding behind an avatar, and looking for their 15 minutes of fame? Either way, why are they so angry?

Someone, please try to make sense of this and reassure me that we are not doomed.

The reincarnation of Boxerjam?

downloadJuly 11, 2014 – In February, I stumbled upon the sad news that my favorite online game site, Boxerjam, had shut down. I bewailed my disappointment on this blog and fellow fans reached out to share their stories with me. They would also miss the games they came to know and love, especially the site favorite, “Strike a Match”.

One reader who commented was on the team instrumental for bringing Boxerjam to life. Candisse Reynolds shared this news:

“The creators of the games on Boxerjam have started anew and are developing mobile application games for phones and tablets. We have just launched our first offering ‘Move Your Vowels’. It is available on both iTunes and Google Play. We also have a little game called ‘Piki Paka’ on our website.”

You can find the new website at http://www.jamandcandy.com.

Jam and Candy is a partnership between Julann Griffin, Maureen Roberts, and Candisse Reynolds. Their combined experience spans every aspect of media and entertainment. The three partners also made up the J-A-M in Boxerjam, and their new endeavor is cleverly named in a similar fashion keeping the Jam (the first initials of Julann and Maureen, I’m assuming), and adding the Candy (a shorted version of the name Candisse).

The look and feel of the site gives off a similar vibe of the old Boxerjam site, but the only game available on the site didn’t hold my interest, and I kept thinking there had to be more than blowing up a balloon without trying to pop it. “Move Your Vowels” looks like it could have potential, but my “older” eyes don’t allow me to enjoy games on my iphone; I’d rather play on the website. With more games promised soon, I’ll check back on occasion to see what turns up. This talented team struck gold before with Boxerjam, so I believe they can do it again.

Another reader recently commented that it looks like “Strike a Match” is on its way back. I couldn’t find confirmation of this, and fear they may have found an old site with outdated information. Although, we can hope that Jam and Candy can replicate it.

Check out their new site and let me know what you think.

Movie review: They Came Together

MV5BMTkzNzA2Nzc1Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzcwNzk3MTE@._V1_SX214_AL_July 11, 2014 — The romantic comedy is a tough genre to crack. They may be plenty in number, but it’s rare that one comes along that it is well written and enjoyable, without being too sappy or cliché.

If you like romcoms, and you appreciate a good parody, most likely you’ll enjoy “They Came Together”, the movie that celebrates the sappy and cliché, because it spoofs the romantic comedy genre in similar fashion to what “Airplane” did for disaster movies, and what “Scary Movie” did for horror films.

“They Came Together” is not quite as slapstick as the other two examples above, but it is silly, funny and enjoyable, thanks to the likable leads, Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler. Some critics describe their effort as a slap in the face to Nora Ephron, who wrote the genre so well, as her screenplays of “When Harry Met Sally” and “You’ve Got Mail” play heavily into this film. However, I see it as more of a tribute. Like they say, you know you’ve made it when they parody you on “Saturday Night Live”.

Ephron’s films were well written, and not necessarily the sugary sweet romcoms that are easy to make fun of, that are also parodied in “They Came Together”. Still, it’s the good ones that are clearly recognizable, like Ephron’s films, and “Jerry Maguire”. More subtlety, there is a touch of “Pretty Woman”, which deserves a slap in the face, in my opinion, for making prostitution look like a fairy tale. What is romantic, or funny about life on the streets and working for a pimp?

The supporting cast (Ed Helms, Bill Hader, Ellie Kemper, Cobie Smulders, Michael Ian Black, and Christopher Meloni) are top-notch, too. It’s easy to see why they wanted to be a part of this film, even in small roles. It seemed they had a great time making it. Sure, there are a few scenes that go way over the top, but if you’re going to do a parody, you might as well go to the extremes.

“They Came Together” opened in theaters on June 27. It’s also playing On Demand as part of Comcast’s same day as theaters promotion, which I am enjoying to the max. While I love to go to the theater to watch movies, there is something convenient about watching new releases in your living room, and at a more reasonable price than a movie ticket.

Pop art in Philly, part 2

MagicGarden_R.Kennedy_12-587July 7, 2014 — Last week, this blog highlighted Philadelphia’s pop art sculptures in the downtown area. Today, we’ll venture over to South Street, to visit Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens.

In the 1960s, local artist Isaiah Zagar (pictured) began decorating South Street with mosaic tiles, producing more than 120 displays during the 50 year period. His amazing work is also featured at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, located at 1022-1024 South Street, a display that took 14 years to create. For the Magic Gardens, Zagar used mosaic tiles, along with folk art statues, bicycle wheels, colorful glass bottles, mirrors and china.

The display is definitely worth the trip to see in person!

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Happy Birthday America!

Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed
Independence Hall, Philadelphia

July 4, 2014 — Today, the USA celebrates its 238th birthday.

We don’t look a day over 200, when we celebrated our bicentennial, if you ask me. On the other hand, it seems like we’ve been around forever.

It’s strange to think America is only 238, a mere toddler when it comes to other countries that are thousands of years old. Stranger yet, when you consider how long the land has actually existed before we claimed it. Only for a brief moment in time will it be referred to as the USA.

Just something to think about while watch fireworks today.

Movie review: Lucky Them

downloadJuly 9, 2014 – When I read the synopsis of “Lucky Them” (before I saw the movie), I immediately thought of “Almost Famous”.

It’s not difficult to make comparisons. Both tell the story of rock journalists on the road to track down a story, both are based on semi-autobiographical elements of the scriptwriters’ lives, and both are good films about the world of rock and roll. Aside from that, they’re quite different.

Emily Wachtel (the semi-autobiographical author) and Huck Botko wrote the Indie romcom that tells the story of a seasoned rock journalist who covers the Seattle music scene and lives by its code (she has fish named Kurt and Courtney, for example). The journalist, Ellie, played by Toni Collette, is assigned to track down her musician ex-boyfriend to commemorate the 10th anniversary of his disappearance. Collette has amazed me since I first saw her in “Muriel’s Wedding” in 1994. Her character reluctantly accepts the assignment, if only to find out once and for all what happened to him. Did he commit suicide, as many suspect, or did he simply disappear by choice?

Collette has based her vast career on not repeating herself. Her characters are typically unique and interesting, from the shy, awkward wannbe bride in “Muriel’s Wedding” to the suicidal mom in “About a Boy”, to the woman with multiple personalities in “The United States of Tara”. She shines whether in a starring or supporting role, and always delivers a fine, believable performance. In “Lucky Them”, she plays her character as complicated, strong, vulnerable, flawed, and likable. She is also a woman who is easy with men, especially if they are musicians.

The supporting cast is just as strong. The fascinating Oliver Platt, one of the most underrated character actors of our time, plays her wise-cracking editor, and the hilarious Thomas Haden Church, with his offbeat, dry sense of humor, plays a man Ellie doesn’t know very well (they dated briefly), yet he invites himself along for the ride in an attempt to film her journey for a documentary. I laughed out loud at many of their shared scenes, and in particular at one that takes place during a conversation about throwing a bouquet at a wedding. Church delivers a line in that scene that is the funniest I’ve experienced in a long time.

The film also contains an appropriate cameo appearance by a big name actor, but I don’t want to ruin the surprise.

Throughout the 90 plus minutes, I enjoyed the tightly written and realistic dialogue, the interesting twists and turns in the plot, many laughs, and best of all, I had no clue how the story would end. That’s often the mark of a well-written script for me.

“Lucky Them” premiered last fall at the Toronto International Film Festival. It’s received a number of positive reviews, and is playing now at select theaters throughout the country. You can also catch it as I did, on “The Same Day as Theaters” promotion on Comcast On Demand.