Thursday, March 31, 2005

Introducing ROSENBLURBS:

While Michael “The Convolutenator” Miner is the Reader’s most reliable purveyor of suckitude, JONATHAN “THE ROSENBAUMENATOR” ROSENBAUM is surely its most masterful. Consider his contribution this week. I was hoping for an extended exegesis of GUESS WHO, but, alas, J.R. Jones beat him to it, leaving poor Rosenbaum to concentrate his attention on 3 indie documentaries, two of which are about films. So I’m reviewing a reviewer who’s reviewing films on films. Freaky, dude.

Anyhoo, this week sees our boy in fine form. Over the course of the 600 or so words of his first review, the ROSENBAUMENATOR manages to find space to offer his thoughts on the “Hyperbolic Adjectives” from reviewers that get plastered on posters and DVD boxes. Yet he somehow does not manage room to offer even a single adjective to affix to the film under review, much less a considered evaluation of its merits and flaws; the only hint we have of his opinion are The Three Little Stars he gives it.

So it got me to thinking: somewhere in some extra-hellish office in Hollywood some movie publicist flunky must be charged with extracting possible blurbs from Rosey’s mottled prose. What could I do to make this poor soul’s SAD, SISYPHEAN TASK a little easier? I could do it myself!

And so without further ado, I present ROSENBLURBS, April 1 Edition. I’ve added exclamation points here and there to “spice things up” a bit!!

“I AM CUBA, SIBERIAN MAMMOTH is a 2004 Brazilian documentary!” –Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader

Jasmina Blazevic’s THE JOURNEY: PORTRAIT OF VERA CHYTILOVA is “frustrating and disappointing! .. None of the few clips shown is [sic] identified before the end credits!!” –Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader

“Watching [GOLUB: LATE WORKS ARE THE CATASTROPHES] I found myself alternately grateful, dismayed and bemused! ” –Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader

Just like I feel after reading a Rosenbaum review, except without the “grateful” part.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The Reader is not the New Yorker

It's hard to explain exactly what's wrong with a story like this week's cover feature, "Out of the Courtroom and Into the Street." It's typically Reader: Long and meandering, with frequent detours to describe local scenery, bits of history or trivial conversations. These are meant to provide color.

Clearly, the Reader's editors feel they're helping to keep an endangered style of writing alive. You may remember it from the old New Yorker (if not, check out John McPhee, A.J. Liebling and Joseph Mitchell.) Eschewing topicality, they chronicled offbeat, unheralded people and places -- certainly nothing you'd learn about from a press release. The story's interest was derived wholly from the author's immersive reporting, precise prose and keen eye for idiosyncratic detail.

I guess the Reader deserves some degree of praise for carrying the torch. The problem is, their writers don't actually have any of the qualities required for this kind of journalism. So you get stuff like the following.
[The principals in a burglary trial are visiting the scene of the crime.]

"'All right, John, any questions?' [Judge] Locallo asks [public defender John] Coniff. It's not clear to whom Coniff would address them, but the PD says he has none.

'Andy, any questions?' the judge asks [prosecutor Andrew] Dalkin. Dalkin likewise has none.

'Gil, any questions?' deputy Rhodes asks her partner softly. [Deputy Gil] Guerrero rubs his stomach. 'Yeah. Where can I get something to eat?'"
Ha ha ha. This is what passes for slice-of-life reporting in the Reader. Unfortunately, anybody who actually slogs through a few paragraphs of this stuff will be soured on reportage forever. Especially after they nod off on the El and wind up getting their wallet stolen.

Things that are actually good

Nathan Rabin and Scott Tobias really know what they're doing. Five or six years ago, how many people even bothered to read the Onion's AV Club? They took a section that was almost totally superfluous to the paper and turned it into a reason to read the paper in the first place.

I'm not sure why I like their movie reviews so much. They certainly aren't the only movie reviews I read (and what the heck was wrong with Bride & Prejudice? I loved Bride & Prejudice!) I think it's just that they have such a nice balance of erudition and hipster savvy. And "Commentary Tracks of the Damned" is pure genius.

Movies I learned about from last week's "Commentary Tracks of the Blessed:" Knightriders, The Mack, Once Upon a Time in China.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

The Convolutenator, man boobs, and a penis

All righty. Our tour this week begins on page 4, home of MICHAEL "THE CONVOLUTENATOR" MINER and his column "Hot Type," which I believe is supposed to have something to do with the print media in Chicago.

Thing is, every week he takes up a cause so obscure, and writes about it so confusingly, that it often takes until the very end of his turgid, meandering column to even figure out what it is that has him mildly irritated this time.

This week, as far as I can tell, he is mildly irritated that – PAY ATTENTION NOW -- the Sun Times sports desk suggested in an article that Cubs manager Dusty Baker refused to answer questions about a column in the San Francisco Chronicle that quoted an unnamed friend of Dusty who might have been the Tribune’s associate managing editor for sports who said that people in Chicago didn’t "get" Dusty because they were racist but in fact Dusty didn’t comment on the issue of race because none of the reporters at the press conference asked about race – STAY WITH ME HERE -- possibly because when the Tribune quoted 261 words of the San Francisco Chronicle column – HOLD ON! We’re ALMOST DONE! -- it left out the stuff about race and also maybe just because the reporters were scared to ask Dusty about race and in fact, Miner tells us, "I’ve heard a tape of the briefing and after Baker answered [some dude’s] last question several seconds went by in which nobody said anything."

On page 7, a PENIS.

On page 12: A "first person" story by a guy who drives a bus full of ENDEARINGLY RASCALLY OLD PEOPLE. An unpromising subject to begin with, made worse by our author’s attempts to affect a fancy prose style. Here’s his description of one lovable old coot:

"Watching his sagging breasts as they lolled about inside his teal tank top, I sensed his weariness, but the fire in his eyes gave the impression that hard living hadn’t broken him."

On page 16 we have what is perhaps the longest and MOST BORING PULL QUOTE in the history of journalism. Well, or at least in the Reader this week. Without further ado:

"What needs clarifying is where the red sneaker ended up after a burglary: where it came off will support the story of either the burglary victim or the defendant."

The quote, naturally, is BRIGHT RED. Psychologists say red is a "high arousal" color. Alas, not even flashing neon lights and loud siren noises could arouse prose this somnolent.

I pretty much skipped the rest of the issue except for a book review on page 28 which is, remarkably for the Reader, actually quite THOUGHTFUL and NICELY WRITTEN. Huh?!?

To Jen Sorenson, author of the review, I have a suggestion: STOP WASTING YOUR TALENTS ON THE READER. They DON’T DESERVE YOU. Start sending your clips to better publications, pronto. Trust me on this.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Partners in mediocrity

This is going back a bit, but the new Reader doesn't arrive til tomorrow, so I thought I'd play the game of "let's open to a random page in a random issue and see how long it takes to find something stupid." And it took no time at all!

I couldn't decide whom to sympathize with less when I read Miner's March 4 account of the doings at Crain's. (yeah, I'm obsessed with Crain's. Isn't everyone?) On the one hand, I was thrilled to hear that ASS Jeff Bailey had apparently been forced out as a result of everyone on the staff hating his fucking guts. Let's all throw refuse at his back as he shuffles out of town.

On the other hand, how much less work could Miner have possibly done on this story? I doubt he even took his feet off his desk. He cites all of two sources: one unnamed staffer and one "longtime reader" whose only credentials are that he's "a PR exec for major corporations." In other words, some random acquaintance of Miner's.

Could this story have possibly taken even half an hour to write? Lord only knows what Miner makes from his Reader work, but even if it's only $10K/year he's got to be pulling an hourly rate higher than ten anesthesiologists combined.

Monday, March 21, 2005

The time is now

Great news today! Crain's Chicago Business reports that the Reader is losing circulation. Between Time Out, RedEye, UR and the Onion, the doughy rag that has passed for this city's "alternative" news outlet may finally begin its long and painful decline into unmourned oblivion.

Crain's doesn't let you buy single articles, much less read for free (speaking of Chicago pubs that SUCK...) so here's a summary of the news for all to enjoy.

Under the savory headline "Reader? Less so, as circulation dips," we learn that the current 8% drop is the SIXTH consecutive decline since 1999! They can't even give it away! Crain's adds that "retailers [are] balk[ing] at letting stacks of newspapers clutter their entryways." A Borders spokesperson says, "When someone walks into the vestibule, their first impression shouldn't be papers on the floor." Especially not bricklike hunks of moth-eaten hippie platitudes.

The story also deals neatly with the Reader's bleating about how its online content has drained circulation. It points out that "freebies elsewhere, such as the Village Voice and LA Weekly...have put much more content online than the Reader does without seeing the circulation plummet." It's almost as if there's some unique factor contributing to the Reader's troubles. Like, say, complete and utter suckiness...

I've hated the Reader for years, and finally there's hope. If you're sick of groundless self-satisfaction, ponderous windbaggery and 7,000-word articles on some octogenarian granddad's picturesque Depression-era adolescence, stay tuned as the death-spiral continues.