Sunday, December 29, 2013

Comparing 2013 Movie Box Office With Movie Search Trends on Google

Just out of curiosity (or perhaps late-night boredom), I decided to compare the top ten movies of 2013 in terms of box office receipts against the top ten movie searches on Google during the 12 months of 2013.

To my surprise, there was a big difference between the two lists. Only three films appeared on both: Iron Man 3, Man of Steel, and Despicable Me 2.

I took the box office figures from the 2013 domestic grosses reported by Box Office Mojo.

As you can see from the Box Office Mojo list below, the top-grossing movie of 2013 in the United States was Iron Man 3 (it grossed over $409 million); it was the number two search on Google.

Man of Steel was the top search term on Google but only the fourth-ranked grosser at the box office (with just over $291 million in receipts).

The animated Despicable Me 2 was ranked seventh in Google searches and third in box office receipts (charting just under $368 million in ticket sales).

Source:  Box Office Mojo

Top-grossing films that didn't make Google's trending search list included The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Monsters University, Gravity (with Sandra Bullock and George Clooney), Fast and Furious 6 (starring Vin Diesel and the late Paul Walker), Oz the Great and Powerful with James Franco, Star Trek Into Darkness, and the animated holiday release, Frozen.

Trending search terms on Google's list that did not reach the top ten in box office receipts included the zombie saga World War Z, Jobs (the Steve Jobs biopic featuring Ashton Kutcher), The Conjuring, Baz Luhrmann's post-modern take on The Great Gatsby, The Purge (with Ethan Hawke), Pacific Rim, and Mama (starring Jessica Chastain).

I should mention that I have not seen any of the fourteen movies that span these two top-ten lists.  (The most recent narrative films I've seen this year are Nebraska, with Will Forte and Bruce Dern, and the overrated August: Osage County, as well as the political documentaries Caucus, Our Nixon, and The Kennedy Half-Century.)

Setting aside that (embarrassing?) admission, are you as surprised as I am by the relative lack of correlation between the two top-ten lists? If you have a theory to explain it, leave a comment below.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

What Were the Top 10 Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner Stories in 2013?

Over at, I have posted a listicle featuring the top ten stories reported by the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner during 2013.

I used Google Analytics to provide the statistics and generate the top-ten list. Technically, the article I listed as number 10 was number 11.

The reason for that is that the article that came in ninth, according to Google Analytics, was originally published in November 2010. It's an interview I conducted with author and documentary filmmaker Mary McDonagh Murphy at the Virginia Film Festival that year, when she presented Hey, Boo: Harper Lee & To Kill a Mockingbird.  (That film covers the same ground as Murphy's 2010 book, Scout, Atticus, and Boo: A Celebration of To Kill a Mockingbird.)

I suspect that the staying power of that three-year-old article, "Filmmaker: To Kill a Mockingbird was ‘ammunition in the civil rights movement'," is largely the result of web searches by high-school students doing research for a term paper about Harper Lee's famous novel or its well-regarded movie version.

Since just nine of the top ten stories for 2013 were actually published in 2013, I decided to skip number nine and include number 11 to reflect more accurately the events of this year.

Here's part of my summary of the 2013 top ten. I'll omit the "number one" article for now. If you want to see that story and be as surprised by it as I was, click here.

Virginia politics, the 1963 Kennedy assassination, humorist Tina Fey, marijuana legalization, liquor laws, and the Boston Marathon bombers dominated the most popular stories reported by the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner during 2013.

Given that 2013 was a gubernatorial election year in Virginia, it comes as no surprise that articles about Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe (now governor-elect) and his Republican rival Ken Cuccinelli drew a large number of views. Cuccinelli, in fact, was the subject of three of the top-ten stories, although Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis entered the top ten only in an interview about the election with political scientist Larry Sabato. Marijuana-smoking lieutenant governor candidate E.W. Jackson (R) also made the list.

The JFK assassination was a trending topic on Twitter and Google through much of November, and an interview with Lee Harvey Oswald's co-worker ranked third. (An interview with another assassination witness just missed the cut, at twelfth among 2013 stories.)
Publishing this top-ten list continues a tradition I began in December 2011.  That first yearly list was divided into three parts published over three days: Part I, Part II, and Part III.  The second annual top-ten list, in 2012, was slimmed down into a single article published on the last day of the year.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Signature Theatre to Resurrect Political Musical 'The Fix'

Welcome news arrived in the form of an emailed news release from Arlington's Signature Theatre this week.  To mark the end of its 25th anniversary season, Signature will be reviving The Fix, a musical play about political corruption that was produced there in 1998 in its first American outing.

For someone like me, whose interests in musical theatre and politics rarely overlap, this is a development worth celebrating.

As explained in the press release:

The revival, directed by Signature’s Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer, will round out an anniversary season chock-full of work by some of the Theatre’s brightest collaborators from the past 25 years.

“The Fix paints a picture of American politics that’s part fun-house, part haunted house,” said Schaeffer. “It’s twisted, and it pushes boundaries. It instantly became one of Signature’s favorite projects. And on top of that, it’s one of the shows most requested by our audiences. It’s only fitting that we close the season celebrating our first 25 years by bringing it back in an all-new production.”

With a rock-laced, eclectic score and scandalous lyrics, The Fix skewers the American bureaucratic machine. Reminiscent of Sondheim, with tinges of Kander and Ebb and a voice uniquely its own, it is a darkly brilliant, over-the-top, audaciously fun ride through the shenanigans of political elections.

When a popular presidential candidate dies in his mistress’s bed, his ambitious wife Violet thrusts their lackluster son Cal into the spotlight. With the help of her strategic brother-in-law, Violet transforms Cal into the perfect citizen. Together they create one of the most dysfunctional – and brutally entertaining – almost-first families ever.
(My original review of The Fix from April 1998 can be found here.)

Writing in the Washington Post Style section, Jessica Goldstein reports:
For its 25th anniversary season, Signature is bringing back “The Fix,” a production which, unless the political process somehow gets squeaky clean between press time and when you read this, is as relevant a show today as it ever was. “The Fix” will run in 2015, from May 12 to June 28.

“I say it’s ‘The Manchurian Candidate’ meets ‘Caligula,’ ” said Signature Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer, who directed the 1998 production and will helm 2015’s as well. For the young’uns, that basically means it’s like “Scandal” meets, well, “Scandal.”

The script will be getting some tweaks to allow for changes in “the communication things, sending this picture and that,” Schaeffer said. Even our fictional politicians don’t know that no one wants to catch them with their pants down on Twitter. “John [Dempsey, who wrote the book and lyrics] is looking to make it even more dangerous.”
Signature's current musical production is the classic Gypsy, with a book by Arthur Laurents, music by Jule Styne, and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.  The show, directed by Joe Calarco, has been extended through January 26 and first reviews should appear early next week.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Obligatory Dylan Sprouse Nude Selfie Blog Post

Twitter is abuzz with conversation -- some adulatory, some snarky -- about the semi-nude selfies of Disney Channel actor Dylan Sprouse that have been making the rounds since they were leaked sometime on Sunday.

Sprouse himself -- who co-starred with his twin brother, Cole, on the Disney Channel series The Suite Life of Zack and Cody and its sequel, The Suite Life on Deck -- has approached the situation with a great deal of equanimity and maturity for a 21-year-old celebrity on hiatus to earn a college degree at New York University, where he is studying video-game design, poetry, and studio art.

On his Tumblr page, Dylan Sprouse wrote:

First off, I will state that the reason I’m making light of the situation is because I don’t think what I did was wrong. To be blunt, I was proud of my progress in the gym, thought I looked hot, and wanted to share it. I’m of the mindset that whoever you are, if you are proud of your body and want to show it off, so be it! You do you. There is an odd taboo with the human form (especially in the USA) and I don’t particularly think its a good thing to teach people that you should “hide yourself” as something incredibly sacred. Blah blah blah, that’s a medieval notion.
Indeed, even a cursory look at the leaked photos shows that chunky teenage Dylan has been transformed into svelte young man Dylan, enough to stimulate salivation among (literally) thousands of fans on Twitter and Tumblr, both male and female.

Young Mr. Sprouse has approached this situation in a fashion that could teach a few things to Anthony Weiner, Geraldo Rivera, and other selfie-senders (even Justin Bieber, whose alleged nude selfies lack an identifiable face). He's a reflection of his generation, which lacks inhibition and recognizes that there's no reason to be embarrassed about something that most people would be proud of.

Dylan Sprouse even had a strong enough sense of humor to turn the most revealing photo into a t-shirt, which he apparently plans to wear around campus at NYU.  He also quipped on Twitter that "at least you can't see my third testicle," while his twin brother Cole -- an archaeology major at NYU known on Instagram for fighting "camera duels" with amateur paparazzi -- shyly admitted that "now they've basically seen me naked which is weird I guess."

Interestingly, this is the same Sprouse brother who recently posted an intelligent, insightful retort to Joe Jonas' self-pitying article about how badly he was treated by Disney as he piled up millions of dollars and myriad adoring fans.

And here's a final bit of Cole and Dylan Sprouse trivia:  The twins share the same birth date as President Barack Obama -- who is himself associated with a famous selfie.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Today Is Repeal Day - Let's Celebrate!

Today, across the country, Americans are celebrating "Repeal Day." As David Boaz of the Cato Institute put it, "Today is a great day for freedom."

What's the celebration about? We are commemorating the 80th anniversary of the 21st Amendment, which was ratified on December 5, 1933, and took effect ten days later (coinciding with Bill of Rights Day). Ratification was confirmed by a vote of the Utah legislature to repeal the 18th Amendment that prohibited the manufacture, distribution, and sale of alcoholic beverages within the boundaries of the United States.

While it would be easy to attribute the celebration to nothing more than the desire of Americans to imbibe a shot and a beer without bribing a police officer or paying a mobster, the repeal of the Prohibition amendment represents something far more fundamental: It means that, despite Ronald Reagan's quip that "the nearest thing to eternal life we will ever see on this earth is a government program," it is indeed possible to end programs that fail miserably, are counterproductive, increase the size and scope of government, and intrude in the private lives of citizens.

In other words, the 21st Amendment should offer a lesson for everyone who wants to repeal Obamacare (or, for that matter, marijuana prohibition and NSA domestic spying).

Although recent history may give more reason for pessimism, it is not impossible to reverse a bad government program. The effort may take hard work, extend over a long time (Prohibition lasted almost 14 years and its effects are still with us -- such as Virginia's socialist liquor monopoly), and encounter setbacks, but success can happen.

With that in mind, to quote Franklin D. Roosevelt, "What America needs now is a drink!" Toast now; legislate later.

(Cross-posted from Bearing Drift)

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Georgetown's Mask & Bauble Launches Fundraising Drive to Light Stage III

Just in time for #GivingTuesday (which follows #BlackFriday, #SmallBusinessSaturday, and #CyberMonday), the Mask & Bauble Dramatic Society at Georgetown University has announced a fundraising drive to purchase new lighting equipment.

Now in its 162nd season, Mask & Bauble claims to be the oldest continuously-operating student theatre troupe at any U.S. college or university -- and, even if it's not the oldest, it certainly is in the top three or five.

Mask & Bauble's storied history includes putting on shows at the White House during the Kennedy administration, helping to create the legend of Camelot that was revisited so extensively last month. It launched the careers of Tony-winning playwright John Guare, Tony-winning director Jack Hofsiss, and Oscar-nominated actor Bradley Cooper, among many other theater professionals too numerous to name.

According to an email sent to M&B alumni and a post on the group's web site:
Our current lighting system in Stage III is on its last leg, and needs to be replaced. As many alumni can attest, the current dimming system in Stage III has been a problem for the past several years, with many productions suffering from flickering lights and spontaneous blackouts. In order to keep the electrics in Stage III in show-ready condition, we are officially launching our "Keep the Lights On!" campaign to raise the funds necessary to purchase and install a new lighting system for Stage III!
I know the current lighting system at Stage III in Poulton Hall is far more modern than the one in use during my years as a lighting technician and designer there. I remember how we used to have to jump into a pit below the tech booth and grab live electrical cables to switch them from one circuit to another. It's statistically incredible that nobody was turned into a human lightning rod.

The M&B email continues:
Replacing this system, which is about fifteen years old, will cost an estimated $33,000. Mask & Bauble has already committed $5,000 to the project, and we are hoping to secure an additional $5,000 through Georgetown funding outlets.

That leaves us with $23,000 to raise, and together, we can make that happen!

Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to Mask & Bauble today by clicking the button below. For larger gifts, feel free to make arrangements with the Department of Performing Arts' Administrative Director, Ron Lignelli. All donors will be acknowledged via Mask & Bauble's standard tiered gift recognition structure, with two additional tiers*.

Sponsor: $50+ (your name appears in our program, newsletters and notices)
Benefactor: $150+ (a season subscription for 2)
Name Your Dimmer!: $700 will purchase a whole dimmer for M&B!
Angels: $1,000+ (complimentary invitation to our annual Banquet and Awards Ceremony)
Name Your Dimmer Rack!: $8000 will purchase an entire dimmer rack for M&B!

All donations large and small are very greatly appreciated, and every little bit will help us reach our goal. All donors over $700 will be acknowledged on a plaque that will be hung in Stage III.
To contribute something to this campaign to bring light to the stage, visit this secure donations web site:

If that URL is too long, try this one: