Raising the Bar
On the MRQE
by Patricia Quigley ’78
looking for the scoop on a movie released in 1942 or 2002, produced
in Hollywood or Italy, fans can get the details from Stewart Clamen.
Clamen, an instructor in the Computer Science Department at Rowan,
is the creator of Movie
Review Query Engine, a site he says is the world’s largest
directory of online movie reviews and one that gets a thumbs up
from no less than Roger Ebert, Pulitzer Prize-winning Chicago
Sun-Times and television film critic. “I visit MRQE daily
at the very least, and find it an invaluable resource. It’s
one of the obligatory websites for movie lovers,” Ebert says.
MRQE is devoted to cinema of all sorts according to Clamen, who
earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science and engineering
from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a master’s
degree in computer science from Carnegie Mellon University.
The site links visitors to reviews written by professionals and
amateurs from throughout the world, from the internationally recognizable,
such as Ebert, to teenagers with an eye for the unique and an ability
to write. “Any random guy/girl who writes fairly well can
be indexed by me,” Clamen says.
Clamen, who lives in Cherry Hill, began MRQE as an expansion of
movie listings he and colleagues at Carnegie Mellon started on the
web when Pittsburgh newspapers went on strike in 1992. Another student
suggested it would be great to click on a movie title and get a
review, and Clamen ran with the idea in late 1993.
MRQE drives itself. “I don’t manually add reviews,”
says Clamen, who always has had an interest in movies and was involved
with MIT’s Film Society. “The site works automatically.
It effectively goes out and seeks reviews from known places.”
MRQE links visitors to 200 to 300 other sites with the number of
critiques ranging from 293 reviews for Star Wars: Episode I—The
Phantom Menace (1999) in mid-May to four articles on The
Phantom Tollbooth (1969) to three reviews for Phantom of
the Opera (1943).
MRQE includes reviews of films produced throughout the world in
English, German, Italian, French, Spanish and Norwegian, among other
languages. The site links to the Internet Movie Database, which
includes such information as casts. Premiere magazine, as well as
other publications, has mentioned MRQE, which Yahoo! Internet Life
has listed among its 10 best sites.
The site also includes some reviews of straight-to-video releases,
television shows and books. All told, MRQE has links to close to
240,000 articles of more than 27,000 productions, with that number
growing daily. Visitors review about 30,000 titles a day.
Clamen believes his website, to which he devotes about an hour a
day, has an important role. “I’m promoting not just
the Hollywood movies. I promote the foreign and independent movies,
the ones that don’t have publicity machines behind them,”
he says. “I like to think that I’m helping people see
movies they might not otherwise see.”
Plugging parents into pop
by Susan Ferrier ’03
ow outrageous is MTV’s “The Osbournes”? Which
singer has cleaner lyrics, Ashanti or Michelle Branch? And exactly
why did this week’s box-office smash earn a PG-13 rating?
Deciphering which movies, music and television shows are appropriate
for kids can be a daunting task. That’s where Bob
Smithouser ’86 steps in.
Smithouser, who joined the Christian nonprofit Focus on the Family
11 years ago, is devoted to helping parents and teens wade through
the messages and the muck of pop culture. Smithouser is the editor
and principal writer for Plugged
In, a monthly newsletter for parents, as well as a columnist
for Brio (for girls) and Breakaway (for boys)
Smithouser’s reviews are designed to help parents and teens
make informed, intelligent choices about the subject matter found
in pop culture. “We do our best to let families know who’s
saying what so they aren’t blindsided,” Smithouser says.
For example, both Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
and ET: The Extra-Terrestrial are rated PG but one may
be a better choice for family viewing.
The co-author of Chart Watch, a pop music encyclopedia which examines
the lyrical content of over 400 popular CDs, Smithouser is adamant
that censorship is not the answer. “In a pluralistic society,
we have to take the good with the bad when it comes to freedom of
speech issues,” he says. “Our plea is for ‘citizenship’
and a sense of social responsibility.”
Smithouser’s goal in every review is to give an evenhanded
look at the media’s message. Each critique examines the lyrics’
“pro-social content” and the “objectionable content”
and wraps up with an overall summary.
Although the evaluations come from a Christian perspective, Smithouser
has received praise from both the secular and non-secular communities.
Mark Kemp, the former music editor of Rolling Stone and former VP
of music editorial at MTV Networks, wrote to Smithouser, “[I]
was absolutely bowled over at the intelligent, open-minded yet very
focused nature of your music reviews. You listen, hear and ponder
the records, which is something most reviewers—Christian or
secular—fail to do on even the most basic levels.” Smithouser
considers remarks like this, “from people who don’t
consider themselves religious,” to be some of the most complimentary.
Media content was not always a concern for Smithouser. As an advertising
major at Rowan, he spent four years learning how to change people’s
opinions through creativity and an emotional hook, not unlike the
entertainment industry. When thinking back to his college years,
Smithouser admits, “ I did realize just how subtly a person’s
attitude and behaviors could be shaped over time by what they watch
and listen to.”
Smithouser is preparing for the September release of his newest
book, Movie Nights. The book offers curricula for 25 popular
€lms plus provides a preliminary activity, probing questions, a
follow-up activity and a bit of trivia. “Sometimes it’s
hard for parents and teens to find a way to talk about social, character
and worldview issues in a fun, non-threatening context,” says
So, if going to the movies and listening to music is work, how does
a pop-culture reviewer spend his free time? Smithouser says, “A
perfect evening’s entertainment is listening to a Yankees
baseball game online while I play on the floor with my kids.”