August 2008 Archives

davidsloanwilson.jpgIn the fifth chapter of his 2007 book Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin’s Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives, David Sloan Wilson writes:

“It turns out that something very similar to my desert-island thought experiment has been performed on chickens by a poultry scientist named William Muir.”

That probably sounds odd.

It will likely sound even odder when you find out what the desert-island thought experiment is: a set of three hypothetical situations to explore human morality through the lens of evolution.

clone-wars.jpgHow badly has George Lucas damaged the Star Wars franchise? At Box Office Mojo, The Clone Wars’ revenues are being compared to Final Fantasy and TMNT — and after two weekends, it’s losing to both.

The Clone Wars would appear to show that Star Wars is now being greeted with audience apathy and critical disdain; with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 18, it’s just a little better than Mirrors, the scribes say.

It could be that the world is simply seeing the movie for what it is: a commercial for the Cartoon Network animated series slated for the fall. I’d prefer to think that critics and audiences alike are trying to compensate for hype-fueled lapses in judgment over the past decade. Revenge of the Sith had a baffling Rotten Tomatoes score of 79, which followed more-reasonable but still far-too-generous scores of 63 and 66 for the other two Star Wars prequels. And the trilogy had a combined domestic gross of $1.1 billion. Shame on all of us. (I’m not above reproach.)

The Clone Wars dropped to eighth place in this week’s Box Office Power Rankings, with Tropic Thunder and The Dark Knight finishing first and second — just like last week. The new releases simply couldn’t compete, with The House Bunny finishing third, Death Race fifth, and The Longshots seventh.

Continue reading for the methodology and the week’s full rankings — in a chart that you might actually be able to follow!

village.jpgWe were in the play area of the department store — most likely building things with Legos — and two girls were taking great delight in excluding me. They were speaking a language I didn’t understand, and it wasn’t exactly a private conversation. They would glance my way during their exchange and occasionally laugh. I felt mocked, which was exactly what they wanted.

They were speaking Pig Latin, I figured out later.

Of course, Pig Latin is only effective as a private language through a certain age, but we update and upgrade our codes throughout our lives.


If you’ve visited here before, you’ll probably notice that Culture Snob has chucked its four-year-old-plus custom design.

The new design is a slightly modified Mid-Century template by Jim Ramsey. This is done in conjunction with a recent upgrade of the publishing software to take advantage of some new features.

For the time being, some features — including audio — are not available.

If you run into any problems, miss any features of the old site, or just need somebody to talk to, please e-mail me at

Update: The audio player on individual articles is now working. Basically, I’m restoring features one at a time to the templates.

vicky.jpgIt’s not a surprise that Tropic Thunder unseated The Dark Knight last weekend after four-week reigns atop the box-office charts and the Box Office Power Rankings. Good reviews, some protests, Ben Stiller, and a white-hot Robert Downey Jr. will do that, although its $40-million six-day take has to be considered something of a disappointment in light of its $92-million production budget.

What isn’t a disappointment is Woody Allen, who sneaked into the box-off top 10 and landed in third place in our rankings. With Vicky Cristina Barcelona showing in just 692 locations — earning the second-best per-theater average of the weekend — Woody rode good reviews to a great showing. A weekend gross of $3.8 million isn’t much, but that’s the beauty of the Box Office Power Rankings: Three out of four ain’t bad at all.

Just ask George Lucas and Keifer Sutherland, whose new movies scored within three points of each other (and low) on both critical measures and were less than 50 bucks apart on per-theater average. The Clone Wars’ higher theater count gave it the overall-box-office edge on Mirrors, but neither will be bragging: They finished fifth and sixth in the rankings.

Continue reading for the methodology and the week’s full rankings — in a chart that you might actually be able to follow!

Continuing on

rarariot.jpg(This article dates from late January 2008, when it was published, in slightly different form, in the River Cities’ Reader. Ra Ra Riot’s debut album, The Rhumb Line, is out today on Barsuk Records.)

The future of Ra Ra Riot sounds as if it’s in doubt.

The New York group has an album that’s being mixed and mastered, but it doesn’t have a label. The band is hoping for a May release, but that could be pushed to September. It’s now considering its options — such as self-releasing a digital version of the album — if it doesn’t find a corporate home soon. It wants the album out there, but it wants a label push, too.

“We don’t want to sit on this record forever,” said guitarist Milo Bonacci last week. The band plans to take some time to write new songs next month, but “to make sure that [a second record] is even going to happen, this album needs to get off the ground, and we need to tour to support it.”

If this sounds like standard unsigned-band talk, it is.

And it isn’t. In June, 23-year-old Ra Ra Riot drummer John Pike died under mysterious circumstances after leaving a party following a show in Rhode Island.

Earning the Buzz


tnt.jpgAs dismissive as many people are when it comes to blogs, what’s often neglected is that they can sometimes represent genuine grassroots movements. And Minneapolis’ Tapes ’n Tapes has been a major beneficiary.

Even though Tapes ’n Tapes’ members have been made poster boys for the term “blog band,” keep one thing in mind: The group deserves the hype. As My Old Kentucky Blog wrote: “Argue it until you are blue in the face, but this ‘blog band’ proved that we music blogs actually get it right some times.”

In addition to “blog band” — which is mostly said with derision — Tapes ’n Tapes have acquired another term of ambivalence: “indie-rock classicists,” which suggests that the band is too busy gazing back lovingly to chart a course forward.

But that’s never been a fair criticism for Tapes ’n Tapes, whose two albums are consistently surprising and never performed with less than full conviction — even as their components are eminently familiar, starting with Grier’s natural vocal resemblance to Black Francis/Frank Black.

A Sound of Thunder

tropicthunder.jpgIf we accept that there is some cachet associated with being THE NUMBER-ONE MOVIE IN THE COUNTRY!, why would a studio release a movie on Wednesday in August?

Last week, Pineapple Express and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 debuted on Wednesday. The Dark Knight ($26.1 million) beat them both over the weekend — with Express earning $23.2 million from Friday to Sunday and Pants drawing $10.7 million.

But Pineapple Express had grossed $18.1 million through Thursday, meaning that after its first weekend, it stood at $41.3 million.

If a majority of the people who saw the movie on Wednesday and Thursday would have seen it in its first few days of release no matter what, a Friday-opening Express would have soundly beaten the Knight over the weekend.

So if Batman squeaks by the Wednesday-opening Tropic Thunder this weekend, the studio has only itself to blame.

gonewind.jpgBecause nobody has pushed The Dark Knight off its perch (either in the weekly box-office-receipts charts or in our Box Office Power Rankings) ... .

When Batman ($445 million through August 11) knocks Star Wars ($461 million) off as the second-highest-grossing movie in domestic-box-office history — which should happen this weekend — please keep the accomplishment in perspective.

Adjusted for ticket-price inflation, The Dark Knight at that point will still need nearly $130 million in additional gross before it even cracks the top 20. And it will need roughly $800 million more to catch Star Wars in inflation-adjusted revenues ($1.26 billion).

But let’s keep that in perspective. The Dark Knight exists in a culture with frenzied competition for your attention and your leisure dollars. When Star Wars opened, the moving-picture options available in my house were limited to three networks and the three other movies playing at our local cinema.

So while I don’t think it’s fair to say with a straight face that The Dark Knight will have beaten Star Wars at the box office after this weekend, it’s just as unfair to say it’s almost a billion dollars short of Gone with the Wind ($1.43 billion in inflation-adjusted receipts). The truth lies somewhere in between.

Continue reading for the methodology and the week’s full rankings — in a chart that you might actually be able to follow!

memento.jpgI start an essay for most every movie I see. Whether I actually finish the essay — or even make any headway on a thesis — is another matter entirely.

Today I’ll be the old man who runs out of candy at Halloween and starts handing out worthless crap that’s lying around the house. July was tiring, and the first weekend of August was exhausting, and in the absence of having something real to give you, you get this.

I’ll spare you the beginnings of an essay on George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead, because the two paragraphs I wrote bear a striking resemblance to something written more than four years earlier, but everything else is fair game. Coherence, cogency, and complete sentences are neither promised nor implied.

Why bother?

For one thing, my Google Docs and hard drive are clogged with these fragments, and by publishing them I am freeing myself, turning my demons into angels.

Second, I think it’s really funny to see exactly how far I didn’t get in writing about Eastern Promises and Stranger Than Fiction, even though I have notes (with the former) and some recorded ramblings (with the latter) that would serve as ample raw material.

Third, maybe somebody wants an intimate look at my writing process. Not likely, but ... .

Fourth, maybe there’s an idea or reading that might interest somebody. The Memento piece is actually fairly substantial, although it’s missing context and connective tissue.

xfiles.jpgIron Man started the summer on May 2, and The Dark Knight signified the end with its release on July 18. Based on what we’ve seen in recent weeks — and the uninspiring upcoming release calendar in terms of potential blockbusters — that’s how Hollywood is marking the season these days.

The major new releases the past two weekends have ranged from the expired (The X-Files: I Want to Believe) to the tired (The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor), with the requisite Will Ferrell comedy in Step Brothers and the movie with what might be the most annoying cast ever assembled in Swing Vote. (I can’t imagine a more unholy film-acting trio than Kevin Costner, Kelsey Grammer, and Nathan Lane, and the movie still had room for Judge Reinhold?)

The Mummy and Step Brothers did just fine in their opening weekends, but they can’t fool the Box Office Power Rankings. The Dark Knight is an unstoppable force with its combination of stellar reviews and record-breaking receipts, but the newcomers are even being bested by other older releases. This past weekend’s major entries — The Mummy and Swing Vote — finished sixth and seventh, respectively, in the rankings, one hamstrung by abysmal reviews and the other sunk because nobody saw it. Step Brothers is performing strongly by our measures, while The X-Files looks to be the biggest miscalculation of the summer. Aside from Chris Carter needing the work, what was the point?

Continue reading for the methodology and the week’s full rankings — in a new format that you might actually be able to follow!