Thursday, June 28, 2007


Written by Hombre Divertido

Live Free or Die Hard; either way it’s fun.

Keep your spider-men, pirates, green ogres, and silver dudes. You can let Evan build the Ark, as long as you let John McClane (Bruce Willis) crash it, cuz he is what summer is all about. No awards to be given here; this film knows its purpose and serves it well. Like visiting a friend you have not seen in far too long, and as simple as heating up a piece of pizza the next morning; this movie satisfies.

Maybe not moving as fast physically, but still able to banter with the best of them, our hero is thrust into the middle of a techno-terrorist conspiracy in which a former government employee (Timothy Olyphant) is taking control of all that is run by computers, from the back of his big rig, in order to steal all of the money in the United States. Oh, and make the point that he is smarter than everyone else of course. Luckily grizzled NYPD Senior Detective John McClane is once again surrounded by bad guys, and one hot martial artist bad girl (Maggie Q.), who couldn’t hit the ground with their guns if they dropped them.

Apparently McClane missed all the computer-training classes offered by the city, because he was too busy playing Pong and waiting for Betamax to come back, thus is reliant on his sidekick in this outing; computer hacker Matt Farrell (Justin Long) who just happened to be an unwitting pawn in the whole evil scheme, and is subsequently being hunted by our bad guys who are trying to tie up loose ends.

Long appears to be channeling a young Keanu Reeves in appearance and performance which serves him well here. Especially when we watch officer McClane escape the aforementioned big rig, as it careens down a collapsing freeway, by jumping on to the tail of an earthbound stalled jet and surfing it to safety in a stunt so ridiculous you’ll believe Sandra Bullock could jump a bus over a gap in the same freeway.

Yes, some of the stunts are way over the top, and the simplicity of escaping peril by crossing a floor covered with broken glass when you’re not wearing shoes has given way to CGI flying cars, but at least there is commitment to giving the audience what it wants. Far more commitment than in the scene where McClane attempts to convey the dark side of heroism to Farrell in a show of emotion by an action hero that will rival Rambo’s monologue at the end of First Blood for worst of all time. At least the powers that be in Stallone's outing made the effort. The audience here was treated to a scene so awkward that it appeared that someone walked in and said: “What are you guys doing? Cut this out and just blow something up!”

If you are hoping for an appearance by Bonnie Bedilia as Mclane’s ex-ex-wife, or Reginald VelJohnson as John's old pal Sgt. Al Powell, no such luck. You will get to meet Lucy McClane, played quite efficiently by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who is not only her mother's daughter, but more importantly daddy’s little girl, as she manages to not only infuriate her dad, but the head bad guy as well. She shows sequel potential herself as she manages to rumble with and shoot a henchman along the way.

So maybe we are missing a few friends from the past, and some of the scenes and stunts may not always work, but this is popcorn faire at its best and is certainly worthy of its predecessors. Please Bruce; don’t make us wait so long to see John McClane again. He’s a relatable character that works in the right and wrong place all the time.

Recommendation: It’s been far too long since we’ve had this kind, and this much fun at the movies. Stop reading and go now.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007


Written by Jámon Y. Huevos

Mikael Hafstrom’s 1408 gets to take a seat of honor next to The Shining as the second of two truly great haunted hotel movies to spark from the mind of Stephen King. John Cusack plays Mike Enslin, the author of two books of haunted hotel reviews. Having separated from his wife after the untimely death of their daughter, Enslin would like nothing more than to believe in the afterlife; unfortunately, he’s never seen any proof. That all changes when he spends the night in room 1408 at New York City’s Dolphin Hotel.

John Cusack cannot receive enough accolades for his taut performance of the heart-broken Enslin. Eighty percent of the film is Cusack in a room by himself and he pulls it off in amazing style. It’s Cusack’s own genuine humanity that shines through so many of the characters he portrays, and Enslin comes off as witty, smart, funny, and sad in a rich and multi-dimensional performance. You just want to hang out with this guy; however, you do not want to hang out in room 1408.

Room 1408 is spectacularly haunted. The screenwriters and director refuse to cut the audience apart with cheap thrills. Even when they have something jump out of the shadows, you feel like those moments were earned because of the more subtle terrors filling the screen for most of the movie. The horror starts slow and then builds and builds. Every possibility is loaded into that room, from ghosts and gruesome murders to fire and ice. This is one roller coaster that is ninety percent slow movement up a long hill, ripe with tension and fear, and ten percent gut-wrenching drop. It’s all about timing and special effects, and the editors and artists work some great magic.

There is one sour note in 1408, and it is very sour. Samuel L. Jackson is an empty hole of acting nothingness in the center of this film. 1408 finally proves that unless Jackson is being shot at, he should stay home in bed. Virtually everybody else in the cast is able to hold their own against Cusack’s magnetism. Of special note are Mary McCormack as Enslin’s wife and Jasmine Jessica Anthony as Enslin’s daughter. Jackson, on the other hand, tries to act entirely with his eyebrows and a straight-edge speaking cadence. This makes his performance look like two caffeinated inch worms frolicking atop a single piano note. It’s an interesting visual, but there ain’t nothing there.

1408 does exactly what it sets out to do, send shivers down your spine with an intelligent story. I’m not sure it could have worked without John Cusack in the lead; he is the perfect everyman. That aside, 1408 is a smart psychological drama with some great bumps in the dark.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

North Mississippi AllStars: Keep On Marchin'

Written by Fantasma el Rey

I first heard the North Mississippi AllStars when I bought their first album Shake Hands With Shorty out of curiosity. I had seen the CD before and wondered at the band's name and song titles, such as "Po Black Maddie" and "Shake 'Em On Down." I picked up the disc and it's been in my rotation ever since, and deservedly so, because these Southern Kats lay down a mean country/blues boogie that's infectious and new.

The AllStars line-up has not changed from that first album released in 2000. The trio, brothers Luther (guitar/vocals) and Cody Dickinson (drums) and Chris Chew (bass), love what they do, which shows every time they take the stage, from small clubs to large open-air festivals. These gents are house rockers and always leave you wanting more. From the opening chord pick on the cigar-box guitar (Luther plays an actual homemade cigar-box guitar) to the last bass pluck the North Mississippi AllStars give us their all.

The concert DVD, Keep On Marchin', recorded live in Burlington, VT, on 11/11/05, captures the magic that the AllStars posses as a unit, providing two hours of jammin' blues-based rock 'n' roll. Luther plays a stinging, wicked guitar as brother Cody keeps time and beyond, kicking and banging out solid beats that keeps the feets moving. All the while Chew's bass thumps in and around, fattening the sound and adding to the vibe of fun and brotherhood this three-piece band projects.

It doesn't mater how these kats play because it's their passion that gets to you. No matter if they're stompin' out low-down, "mean as hell" blues like "Shake 'Em On Down," "Going Down South" with its hip hop/ blues back beat or slowing the pace down with "Hurry Up Sunshine." They can even play that real rock drive on "Bang Bang Lulu" with the same sounds that delivered early rock 'n' roll to the masses.

And these good ol' boys haven't forgotten their Southern rock heritage either, taking every opportunity to extend a song and jam. "Ship" opens with five minutes of instrumental work before the vocals begin. "Psychedelic Sex Machine" is Cody's chance to shine on the electric washboard (that's right, electric washboard) cutting loose and transforming this old-time jug band instrument into one of the future by bending and extending notes on the Wa-Wa pedal. Chew's bass work comes to the fore here as well, thumping and pulsating fat, "funkdafied" rhythms while Luther moves behind the skins keeping the beat.

What makes the N.M. Allstars stand apart from the rest of the current blues/Southern rockers is their blending of old and new. Their songs are based in the roots and traditions of the South from blues, country, and rockabilly. One can even see traces of Chew's gospel upbringing, and it's easy to see that they've learned well from their father, legendary producer Jim Dickinson. At times adding elements of hip-hop, or as Luther puts it "Dirty Southern Gangsta' Rap," by looping certain voices and instruments to sound like it's being scratched by a DJ gives the music its own spin. The mixing of all these Southern sounds blend very well together and is a testament to the inventiveness and solidarity of this band of brothers.

All in all the North Mississippi AllStars should not be missed whenever they're in your town or near your town. These guys work hard, love what they do, and it show on stage night after night, no matter if it's a club, beer joint, honky tonk, or hole-in-the-wall pub. Go out and support one of the best young solid blues-rocker acts around, and pick up Keep On Marchin' and every CD that they have released.

Monday, June 25, 2007


Written by Jámon Y. Huevos

The mid-80s Hong Kong action film, Above the Law, directed by Cory Yuen, begins with a bang – a whole bunch of bangs. Bullets fly, cars crash, feet hit noses. It’s everything one would expect from the genre. However, it’s pretty tough to get into this film, but you’ve got to stick with it if you’re a fan of high-octane action on a dime budget.

Nobody is going to accuse Above the Law of having a deep plot or great acting. In fact, the first twenty minutes are nearly bad enough to knock you out of the film for good. Then four cars attempt to simultaneously hit our star (Yuen Biao) in a parking garage. It’s a great scene with amazing stunts and extremely well placed ramps leading up the backs of the ubiquitous Mitsubishis. These are real stunts, too; the old-fashioned, non-CGI kind that blow your mind. Sure, you sometimes see the ropes and pulleys, but you also see the very real sweat, pained contortions, and smatterings of genuine human blood.

Cynthia Rothrock and Peter Cunningham have great moments in Above the Law. Brought in to help sell the film overseas, both martial arts experts are truly incredible on screen. They have lame dialogue, stupid entrances and exits, bad hairdo’s, but, holy cow, they kick a ton of ass. Cunningham is especially devious as an assassin with the world’s tiniest heart. After killing all the adults in the room, he blows up the leftover children from a distance. Dang, that’s a tough-hearted dude.

Halfway through you will realize there is not going to be a happy ending. In fact, this is the double-downer version of the film. Even the alternate endings don’t add much hope. One alternate ending is even more brutal, and that’s with somebody surviving. Those alternate endings are fun to watch; in fact, the special features are what sold me on Above the Law. It was the long interviews with Yuen Biao, Cynthia Rothrock, and Peter Cunningham that ended up giving the film a bit of much needed depth and placing it squarely in its moment in history.

Above the Law is for Hong Kong cinema fans. Nobody else is going to be won over by this over-the-top presentation. For fans, though, it is a very special treat.

Saturday, June 23, 2007


Written by Fumo Verde

If you think the "Bay of Pigs" incident was the only attempt to remove Fidel Castro from power, you need to see this documentary. It's a story of how one sovereign nation has tried to take out the leader of another. You may laugh at the title, but it is a sad truth. Since his rise to power in 1959, Castro's enemies have been plotting his demise. They want to free Cuba from his grip, have tried almost everything, and aren't about to stop.

Director Dollan Cannell opens up this world of shadow agents and assassinations, giving us an in-depth look at the many attempts to bring down one of the world’s most loved and hated men of the twentieth century. He presents the stories of the people who schemed and attempted, how and why they tried, and those that foiled the plot.

This has been one of the most informative and clever documentaries I have seen in a while. Conspiracy-mongers, time to freak out because it is all here. Did the C.I.A. take part? Why yes they did, but so did a lot of Cuban Nationals and even friends of Castro. The first culprit was a man who knew Castro when they went to the university together. Enrique Avarez was a close friend of Castro, but he soon realized that the cigar smoke clouded Castor’s true intentions. He says, "Fidel is for Fidel. People say Fidel was a communist; he was nothing. Fidel is a Fidelista, full stop. For him, that's it."

After the revolution, Castro was still walking around unprotected. Avarez bumped into him at a restaurant and thought that his assassination would be an easy thing to do, but couldn't bring himself to do it. That was attempt number one, and it's not even counted in the number of the title.

Cannell takes us on a trip that includes snipers, a poison milkshake, and exploding baseballs. The C.I.A. didn't try to kill Castro at first. They had better ideas, like cutting off Samson’s hair to sap his strength, and putting powder in his boots that would make his beard fall out. I still don't see how that would work, but those were our tax dollars and well, the government knows best, right?

Fabian Escalante has now retired, but in the early '60s he was the head of Cuban Intelligence. He had so many spies throughout Cuba, it was said you could not light up a cigar in Havana without him knowing. He was so good at stopping the plots to kill Castro, Cuban TV made a show out of his escapades.

Other stories come from the Cubans hired by the C.I.A.; these include Antino Veciana, Felix Rodriguez (the man who gave the order to kill Che Guevara in 1967), and Luis Posada Carriles. They tell of attempts they planned and tried to execute (pun intended). Veciana was recruited by the C.I.A. back in the early '60s. He now owns a boating supply store in Miami, but tells of one attempt he put together where he had four men in an apartment room across the way from the Presidential flat where Castro was living. Veciana had gotten the men a bazooka and aimed it right into Castro's room. What happened? The leader of the group told Veciana that they couldn't fire the bazooka without it being seen, so they abandoned the operation. "No one is suicidal," Veciana said. "You need at least a small chance of getting away."

Every plot worth trying was tried, from blowing up his car with a hand grenade to using remote-controlled model planes that would blow up once inside the window of the library where Castro was speaking. My favorite is the one where the C.I.A. gets his ex-girlfriend to try and hide poison pills in a jar of cold cream. When she went to get them out, they had melted. Castro had asked her if she had come back to kill him. She said yes, and she started to cry. He handed her his pistol and told her to do it. She pointed the gun at him and after a minute she put it down. When he asked her why, she said she couldn’t do it. Castro replied, "Nobody can.”

It was right after that failed attempt that D.C. went balls-out to get rid of Castro once and for all. Ike started it, and in the depths of the Miami Zoo, exiles were being trained to land on Cuban shores and take back the island nation from its evil dictator. Thus the "Bay of Pigs" operation was born and executed under Kennedy. Cannell states that Kennedy was one of the Presidents who pushed the C.I.A. the hardest to kill Castro, and as irony would have it, an assassin’s bullet found Kennedy instead.

As plot after plot failed, the hardliners in Miami started going after other targets, members of their own community who wanted to make peace with Castro. One of these hardliners gone awry is Dr. Orlando Bosch, a man who admitted firing a bazooka at a Polish ship headed for Cuba. He was also implicated in the bombing of a Cuban airliner, which killed 73 passengers and crew. C.I.A. documents reveal that days before the bombing an associate of Bosch's was overheard saying, "We're going to hit a Cuban Airplane. Orlando has the details." Bosch was considered to be one of the most dangerous terrorists in the Western hemisphere and was in and out of U.S. and Venezuelan jails. Thirty-one countries refused to take him because of the acts he has committed, yet Pres. George H.W. Bush granted him residency.

Cannell has given a great history lesson with facts and views from both sides of the equation. The war against Castro will never stop. Even at the end of the documentary, we learn of a man who was arrested for owning a stinger missile he was planning on launching at Castro, and the list keeps getting longer. 638 Ways to Kill Castro is entertaining and educational; it also provokes the question concerning who we call terrorists.

The extras include an interview with Ex-President Jimmy Carter, an interview with Ricardo Alarcon, President of the Cuban National Assembly, a look at the 1976 Cubana airline atrocity and Luis Posada Carriles, another terrorist who lives among us, and more.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Rufus Wainwright: Release the Stars

Written by Jámon Y. Huevos

When I first heard Rufus Wainwright’s “Oh What a World” from his amazing Want One, I had to keep playing it over and over again because I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. That song is immediately funny, smart, witty, and, dare I say it, jaunty. All of Want One had me at the edge of my seat. Wainwright has a couple more albums under his belt now, and his latest, the self-produced Release the Stars, is a worthy addition to his work.

There is the immediate fear that Rufus Wainwright producing Rufus Wainwright will be over the top, sentimental, self-conscious, and self-amused. Luckily, each and every song in Release the Stars is able to cavort with the edge without tumbling over. That said, it is easy to hate this CD for the first few rotations. One feels as though there is a single twelve-part song being reeled out here; however, over time, the songs break away from each other to show their own dimensions and sensibilities.

Of special note is the haunting “Leaving for Paris No. 2.” Just piano, bass, and Wainwright’s vocals delivering a letter, no, a sticky note, explaining the title. Simple without being simplistic, the song resonates with deep emotion and thoughtfulness. Every line is a compact gem: “And when I get there, I will lose the ring you gave me.” See? Compact, gemlike. Also, the final track, “Release the Stars,” is a finale in every sense of the word. It sounds as though Wainwright is beginning to gather his Broadway show. I’ll bet he wore high heels and a diamond-studded tiara in the studio while belting out, “Didn’t you know that old Hollywood is over? So why not just release the gates and let them all come out. Remember that without them there would be no Paramount.” It ain’t Sinatra, but it sure is Minnelli, and Wainwright makes it work.

If you are a Rufus Wainwright fan, then you will neither be surprised nor disappointed by Release the Stars. If this is your first contact with the son of the equally fascinating Loudon Wainwright III, you’ll want to quickly get back to the basics with Poses and Want One and Want Two; those CDs are the primers for this new polished work.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Welcome Back, Kotter - The Complete First Season

Written by Hombre Divertido

Long before Jerry Seinfeld and Ray Romano were sought after by the networks to build sitcoms around their material, a stand-up comedian by the name of Gabe Kaplan had great success with a little show called Welcome Back, Kotter (ABC 1975-79).

Based on Kaplan’s material and the characters from his time in high school, Welcome Back, Kotter follows the exploits of Gabe Kotter (Kaplan) a teacher who returns to his alma mater to teach a group underachievers known as the “sweathogs,” of which he was once a member.

Kaplan was surrounded by a group of talented young actors including: Ron Palillo as the class oddball Arnold Horshack, Lawrence-Hilton Jacobs as the class smooth talker Freddie “Boom Boom” Washington, Robert Hegyes as the class tough guy Juan Epstein, and of course, John Travolta as the super-cool leader of the group Vinnie Barbarino. This ensemble had great chemistry and created some quality comedy for its time.

As was common in the seventies the shows have a very theatrical feel due to the way they were filmed and the limited sets consisting of the Kotter's one-room apartment shared by Gabe and his wife Julie (Marcia Strassman), and the classroom at the school. One cannot help but get the feel of watching a play as we are introduced into the world of Buchanan High School. The reoccurring bit of Kaplan closing each show with old school jokes only reinforces that theatrical feel, as his bits are reminiscent of vaudeville.

Though the writing is typical seventies sitcom set-up punch, and the far-fetched scripts establish the characters as a comedy team rather than a teacher and students, it works, especially in season one. In these first twenty-two episodes we get to watch our characters develop and grow, and it makes for very enjoyable viewing. Eventually Travolta’s Barbarino will be the breakout star before we even knew who Fonzie was, and the stories will begin to focus far too much on him. That is not the case in season one, as each character gets the spotlight.

This set is packaged in memory-inducing fashion, but only contains two extras. The first being what has become standard when bringing back shows from the seventies: a short documentary of the show hosted by someone from the cast, in this case Strassman, which often appears thrown together. This effort is not completely worthless as it does contain some interesting facts, but certainly could have been longer and gone into more detail. The second is the original screen tests of the four sweathogs and Strassman. It sounds far more intriguing than it turned out to be, and will most likely be boring to the non-thespian viewers. The unadvertised extra of seeing award winning actor James Woods as a geeky teacher in the first episode makes up for the others.

Recommendation: It’s a must-have for the fans of the show as it remains as much fun to watch now as it was then. For those not familiar with the show, it’s got a young John Travolta, and is a quality sitcom that makes for good watching 30 years later.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Redemption Song: The Ballad of Joe Strummer

Written by Fumo Verde

As the ‘70s became the ‘80s one could hear the faint voice of rock n' roll off in the distance, as disco balls and roller boogies were the new scene. That whisper became a rage breaking through the underground of the London streets: the punks were taking over. Of all the bands to be hatched out of the Punk scene in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s, The Clash had something to say, or to put it better, Joe Strummer had many things to say.

Chris Salewicz was a close friend of Strummer and was asked to write his obituary when he died in December of 2002. Salewicz felt just a couple of paragraphs in a column wouldn’t do, not for a man like his friend Joe, so he presents Joe from the inside, giving you the perspective of a rock icon like no other, because being there counts. Redemption Song: The Ballad of Joe Strummer defines the man many called the front man of the Punk sound, and Salewicz recounts not only what happened but gives you the history of why it happened.

I like how Salewicz starts the book off with the death of Strummer. As he explaines the feelings and emotions that ran through Strummer, he opens up little doors into Strummer's life, such as how his folks met in a hospital during World War II. Anna McKenzie was a nurse and Ron Mellor happened to be a wounded solider. After the war, they married and Ron took a civil job and became a foreign diplomat.

Strummer was the second son, born John Graham Mellor in Ankara, Turkey on August 21, 1952. As a young boy the family never settled down, moving wherever the British Government wanted Ron to go next. They went to places like Egypt and Germany before John was sent off to boarding school in London. Strummer never forgave his parents for leaving him and his older brother David. He also would never forget the day he learned of his brother’s suicide. Salewicz states he tried a few times to have Strummer talk about the death of David, but the conversation never got too far. Some feelings people take to the grave.

Salewicz speaks with some of John Mellor’s old roommates and friends back when he was at the University for Art. Mellor wanted to be a cartoonist before he heard the sound of Woody Guthrie, but then John Mellor became Woody Mellor. He along with Tymon Dogg would roam the London Underground and Woody would strum his ukulele. Salewicz explains how this bright and tough young man became the names he had so chosen, why John became Woody, then from Woody to Joe Strummer. Salewicz describes how Strummer evolved and how he honed his musical forte and writing skills, how The Clash formed, and how the Sex Pistols, along with the whole punk scene, ignited Strummer. The Clash were different. While all the other punk bands from the first wave of British Punk sang about anarchy, Strummer and The Clash sang about left-wing ideas and desires.

Salewicz doesn't candy-coat Strummer's story. He tells you about the booze and the parties, the pain felt when he fired Mick Jones, the co-founder of The Clash. There, and through interviews with Jones and Paul Simonon, Salewicz brings you into the moments that made up this history. Salewicz also opens the windows into Strummer’s personal life. The love he felt for his kids, their mother Gabby, and his wife Lucinda, the woman he loved the most, are key elements that made Joe Strummer the man he was. Plain, simple and opened up for the whole world to see, Salewicz puts Strummer's story on display, showing us that he wasn't just the bad boy lawbreaker he wanted us to believe he was. He had thoughts, ideas, dreams, desires, and most of all fears. Fears picked up from childhood and onward, just like the rest of us, that's who Joe Strummer was. He was many things but average wasn't one of them. He managed to relate the problems, the fears, and the anger felt by the youth of his time against the establishment. Poetically mixing politically charged lyrics with intense well-played music. The Clash became what Punk Rock was meant to be.

The real story of Strummer is in the details and Salewicz hits the nail on the head. If you're the type of person who loves to get into the dark lonely places of other people’s minds, Redemption Song will fill that hunger, especially if you are a big fan of The Clash or the history of music itself. Thank you Chris Salewicz for shedding some light on a tough guy, a loud-mouth, a rebel, and letting us know that he too was one of us, yet he used his talent well and tried to do his part in changing the world for the better.

Sunday, June 17, 2007


Written by Fantasma el Rey

American Pastime is set during World War II and is the story of a Japanese American family’s relocation to an internment camp. Revolving around baseball, jazz, and family, it is a good-hearted movie that tells a wonderful tale but at times takes the all-too-beaten path in doing so. An enjoyable film and in some respect one could call some of the themes timeless.

Spanning the years 1941 to 1946 we see how the Namuro family copes with life in Camp Topaz, Utah. Attempting to make the place more than merely livable, they begin to fix the camp by giving it a feel of home. Youngest son Lyle (Aaron Yoo) loves jazz and baseball and aided by the latter was to be the first Namuro to attend college. Then along came Pearl Harbor, bringing Lyle’s dreams to an abrupt end. Lyle grows to hate baseball rejecting his father’s offer to play on a camp team. Instead Lyle starts a swingin’ jazz band and, to help ease his misery, sells booze and gambles.

He also takes interest in Katie (Sarah Drew), the daughter of the camp’s military supervisor (Gary Cole). This of course causes greater tension in the nearby town of Abraham. Lyle finds himself at ends with his father and now with Katie’s pop as well. As if that weren’t enough, rebellious Lyle and his respectful, older brother Lane begin to feud over right and wrong. To ease the tension between town folk and “prisoners,” a climactic baseball game is arranged that pits the local pro team, including Katie’s father, a long time Yankees prospect, against Camp Topaz’s best. Of course, Lyle makes a return to the diamond in this ultimate showdown.

The Romeo and Juliet love story and the effect it has on the two different families is a story we’ve seen before as are the clashes that go on within the two lovers’ families. The squabbling brothers and the squabbling father and son, while the understanding mother tries to hold it together and play peacemaker, are very familiar plotlines as well. Not surprisingly, the game’s final outcome is decided between Lyle and Katie’s father. We’ve seen these formulas enough and I would rather watch a documentary on baseball and the interment camps. Although I can see how it must be told this way in order to reach a wider audience, which allows for some fine performances from Aaron Yoo, Sarah Drew, and Gary Cole.

To his credit Director Desmond Nakano does well in mixing actual vintage footage throughout the film. I do admire the fact that he also includes a scene where camp dissidents try to rally other internees to ask questions. Like why other Americans weren’t put into camps. The Germans and Italians were also enemies of The U.S.. Were they not interred because they were harder to spot, making them less of a target for violence? If that’s the case, then I guess it was for their own protection that the Japanese were locked away and forced on their “trail of tears.”

Overal, American Pastime has accomplished its goal in telling a story about a little know fact of our history and how baseball, that all-American game, played its part by presenting the story in an entertaining way everyone can relate. When I’m in the mood or if it’s on television I will probably watch again, which is the mark of a good movie.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer:

Written by Hombre Divertido

If you found yourself looking forward to the first film two years ago, you might have been disappointed as it was nothing more than a lengthy introduction to our characters, and their respective origins i.e.: We’re going to tell you this story for the sole purpose of telling you another in two years.

If you appreciated the lengthy intro, and are looking forward to the second installment, than you may enjoy this outing, but many will be disappointed. Since the writing, acting, and special effects, are inconsistent, it should be no surprise that the final result is hit and miss throughout.

Up until the third installment, Spider-Man seemed to be the only comic book brought to the big screen by writers who understand the basic principal of keeping it simple. The story of the Silver Surfer, what he is doing here, and the havoc he is wreaking, is unexplored and contains more holes than the giant ones he is creating around the world.

On the plus side; the special effects used to generate the Silver Surfer are some of the more enjoyable in the film. Much better than those used to create Reed Richards aka: Mr. Fantastic. The lack of quality in the effects used to display his ability to stretch his body are only out done by the lack of quality in the performance of Ioan Gruffudd in the role. He appears miscast and awkward throughout the endeavor. This is unfortunate as the other three members of the team give fine performances and have developed chemistry that only makes the poor performance of Mr. Gruffudd seem obviously less fantastic than the rest.

As mentioned: The chemistry between Johnny Storm (Chris Evans), Sue Storm (Jessica Alba), and Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis), works well. The performances are good, the relationships are developed, the respective motivation is clear, and the dialog is fun. They manage to create some enjoyable moments in the film.

So, we get to see our heroes trying to deal with fame, responsibility, unusual powers, and forces attacking the earth. Not a lot of new ground covered here, but Johnny’s enterprising escapades, Ben’s dealings with his new look and it’s impact on relationships, Sue’s desire to have a normal wedding, and the fact that they are trying to be a team, do create some freshness. Unfortunately, the action sequences in Europe reach a fromage factor the likes of which have not been seen since Superman IV.

There are some enjoyable moments in this film, and with some good popcorn and a cold soda, you could certainly find worse movies to spend ninety-two minutes sitting through. Nonetheless, the first two Spider-Man movies set the bar for comic books on the big screen, and this just comes across like an effort where less time and money has been expended.

Recommendation: Wait for it to come out on DVD, and watch the two Fantastic Four films together with your children.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Little White Lie: Honesty

Written by Fumo Verde

If you like music with a little harder edge than you have heard on the radio these days, then Little White Lie might be the band you've been waiting for. Fresh from winning the 2007 Orange County Music Awards for best Hard Rock Artist, Little White Lie brings us their debut album Honesty and once hearing it, one can understand why the Lie won the award. Fierce guitar chords powered up with thumping bass lines and volatile drumbeats give Little White Lie their hard rock stripes and they can wear them with pride. Bring in front woman Jennifer Loe and now you have a band that contains the total package. Her vocal talent blends well with the style of rock the instruments bring to the table.

Loe may be the singer, but don't call the rest of the band her backup. Ben Conroy's drumming is incredible and the power he contains could light up a small town. Add Matt Jones on the bass and the pure brute strength of the band comes alive. Mix in the guitar fury of Jake Boxer with Mike Muenzer’s amazing guitar style, and “Boom,” Little White Lie comes at you like a bat out of hell.

The first song "Eternal Sleep" opens up in your face and doesn't apologize. At first, I thought I had put in an old Iron Maiden CD. Loe has the range to follow and fly with the guitars chords Boxer and Muenzer are taking off with, and I say "taking off" because these two katz fly, into the stratosphere, babies. "Lie and Wait" is a song of sorrow and pain reflected not only by the words, "My eyes filled with tears/ left me blind/ now I feel alone./ Bruised and broken my life/ from chocking down these words/ you say won't go away”, but by the melody itself. The music soars to the highest part of the heavens and grinds you down all the way to the gates of hell, then back again.

Honesty, though it only has six tracks is packed with power and passion, you can hear right from the start. Their music has meaning that comes at you full throttle. It's honest and raw, hence the name of the CD, and it opens up a darker side of the O.C., one beyond punk and pop. Little White Lie is going off and gathering fans as they rock the O.C. music circuit and with the strength of a supernova nothing can stop them. Check them out on their Myspace page or go see them live—however you do it, you won't be disappointed.

Thursday, June 14, 2007


Written by Hombre Divertido

Kevin Costner actually plays a part with some range, though it took the addition of William Hurt to really add depth to Mr. Brooks. It is the relationship between Earl (Costner) and Marshall (Hurt) who both are encompassed by Mr. Brooks that makes him so intriguing.

Mr. Brooks is a successful businessman, dedicated family man, pillar of the community, who just happens to have a penchant for murdering people. Goaded along by Marshall, Earl Brooks picks people, and then picks them off with a great attention to detail, while bringing a class to the story of a serial killer not seen since Dr. Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs.

Director Bruce A. Evans who also co-wrote the film with Raynold Gideon, manages to endear the killer to us with scenes that are light and humorous. The film has an An American Werewolf in London quality to it as we are shocked by the graphic violence, yet still amused by many aspects.

The normal aspects of Mr. Brooks make him relatable to us, which only makes his nocturnal endeavors far more terrifying. The audience can’t help but find itself not only rooting for him to get caught, but to get well.

The supporting cast equally brings a level of quality to the endeavor as does their storylines. Demi Moore as the successful detective out to catch Mr. Brooks and others while dealing with a messy divorce, and Dane Cook as a voyeur who blackmails Mr. Brooks to gain insight into his world, both shine in their respective roles.

This is an entertaining 121 minutes, though Costner’s portrayal and the depiction of the character in the script both seem inconsistent as he is established as somewhat of a nerd, who eventually becomes as smooth as the murderer inside him. Nonetheless, the relationships inside Mr. Brooks and the dialog that stems from said relationships make this film worth seeing.

Scheduled to be the first in a three-part story, it will be interesting to see if the cast returns and if the disease is indeed hereditary.

Recommendation: Should make for an interesting visit to the theatre and create good post-viewing conversation.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Where is the World Going, Mr. Stiglitz?

Written by Fumo Verde

What is globalization? We have all heard it mentioned in media sound bites, but do we really know what it's all about? Joseph Stiglitz does and he's here to explain it in 380 minutes across two DVDs. Stiglitz, who was Chairman of President Clinton's Council of Economic Advisors, Senior Vice President and Chief Economist at the World Bank, and winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize in Economics explains to us what the visions of globalization looked like and how it has measured up to those who had envisioned it from conception. This is a crash course in World Economics with a professor who has taught at the universities, such as Columbia, Oxford, Princeton, Stanford, and Yale. Luckily, you don't have to worry about a final exam.

Stiglitz discusses the subject of globalization in a way even a clownshoe such as myself could understand. For those of us who hate math and recoil at the thought of economics, this DVD makes it palatable. Stiglitz isn't an actor so don't get ready for a charismatically charged discussion. I have to be honest and admit I fell asleep five times while watching it. This was like sitting in traffic court; if you can pay attention, you can actually learn something. What is being said in this two-disc set is the truth about globalization from one of its architects, and unfortunately he's not telling us everything is coming up roses.

So why did globalization fail, Mr. Stiglitz? There were many reasons, two of which stuck with me. These were in the areas of subsidies and trade barriers or tariffs. The IMF and the World Bank come to developing countries and offer them loans for different reasons depending on each country's problems. If that country accepts the loan, it has to follow certain rules, such as to cease subsidizing its agricultural industry. This happened to most of the underdeveloped countries and is still happening today.

Seventy percent of the people from those countries depend on agriculture for their survival. Once the subsidies stop, the farmers can only depend on what they can get out of the land. That's when the trade barriers and tariffs for that country must be removed, another rule to follow if the country wants the loan. As the trade barriers come tumbling down, in come the industrialized nations to "invest." The farmers have to sell their corn for a certain amount, 50 cents a pound. When the investing nation comes in, it doesn't have to deal with regulations, so it can sell its corn for 10 cents a pound.

If the main idea of globalization was to make the world richer by bringing the third world into the first, undercutting them at the dinner table isn't going to do it. The example above isn't one I made up; it was how Stiglitz told it because that is the way it happened. Investors are making money and the first-world nations are seeing better economies, but making someone less off to better myself leaves me with an even more bitter taste in my mouth about world politics and the banks that finance them than I already had.

The section on "Global Financial Institutions" was revealing. If Wall Street wants to invest in a developing country and it has its eye on a candidate that will enact laws and regulations, which would benefit Wall Street, they will blackmail, by way of pulling out investments, the country into electing the person they want. If their candidate doesn't win, the investment money dries up. An investment firm certainly has the right to put its money where it wants to, but to interfere with the democratic process of another country should be beyond a company's limits, and Stiglitz lets you know why.

If you want to understand what may happen in the next decade, Where is the World Going, Mr. Stiglitz? will help open your eyes and mind to what is really happening out there. From budget deficits to immigration woes, these discs cover the monetary ups and downs that have and may still occur in the not-so-far future. The information is awesome, sometimes overwhelming, but it is understandable. I wish the people who put this together with Mr. Stiglitz would put in some eye candy, pictures or scenes of other parts of the world, just to keep me awake. I understand the seriousness of the discussion, but if you are going to watch this, do it in segments and leave the herb alone. If you are looking for entertainment, this isn't it.

We all keep saying politicians never answer the big questions, that's because we as the people don't ask those questions. This DVD set will get you motivated to ask those questions and it will give questions for you to ask. Stiglitz doesn't have all the answers and he doesn't imply it either, but he does cut through what we have all heard and gives honest assessments from what has happened, what is happening now, and what might happen if we don't work out this ever-growing problem of a shrinking world. Globalization was supposed to help us all and it hasn't.

Monday, June 11, 2007

CHiPs: The Complete First Season

Written by Hombre Divertido

For any fan of the original series, this is a pleasant ride down memory highway. For anyone not familiar with the show, it may appear to be in conflict with itself, and it was. Based on its success, most people did not care. At least not 30 years ago. Disco was in and so was CHiPs. Supposedly based upon actual stories from real California Highway Patrolmen, the series took said stories and turned them into milk toast with a nice layer of slapstick.

For six seasons, Jon (Larry Wilcox) and Ponch (Erik Estrada) chased, raced, and gave great face, without ever pulling their guns. They made time for every child they encountered, and flirted with every beautiful woman. Realistic? No. Fun? At times, but you will find yourself laughing at it more than laughing with it. The plots are simple, the acting cheesy, and the staged crashes that send cars flying through the air will have you pausing the DVD to look for the well-placed ramps.

There are great similarities in the scripts as each episode has one major case at the foundation, several small happenings, and some involvement in a sporting event. Watching the episodes in succession will make the redundancy more apparent and cause a craving for Screaming Yellow Zonkers and Tang.

The first season may not have been the best of the run as our characters are still being fleshed out, and the chemistry is just not there, primarily due to a lack of supporting characters. Eventually CHiPs becomes far more of an ensemble, but in these 22 episodes it’s all about Jon and Ponch. The above referenced awkwardness is obvious as Larry Wilcox does not seem to know how to play the straight man to Estrada’s clown. As the writers became better at writing for this team, the chemistry developed.

Though the extras are few in this set, the presentation and packaging are reminiscent of the show; bright and fun. A somewhat-aged Estrada does some extremely brief and pointless intros into more than half the episodes. The only other extra is sort of a bio on him, combined with some info on the show, but it appears thrown together. Wilcox is noticeably absent from the endeavors.

One fun aspect of watching these shows is spotting the guest stars. Be it actors who had established themselves years before CHiPs came along like Jim Backus, Richard Deacon, Carl Ballantine, Phyllis Diller, Hunt Hall, and Broderick Crawford, to famous athletes like Rosie Greer, and Ben Davidson, or actors who would go on to their own shows or movies like Gary Sandy, Mills Watson, Ellen Travolta, Gerald McRaney, and Edward James Olmos.

Recommendation: If you liked CHiPs then, you probably will now, though, possibly not for the same reasons. It will make a good gift, but may be considered a gag by some.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The War at Home: The Complete First Season

Reviewed by Jámon Y. Huevos

I’ll bet two-hundred bucks that at the end of every day of shooting, the cast of The War at Home went to dinner at a swanky glass and steel restaurant and said, “If we just had some good writers, this show could really take off.” Meanwhile, at a Denny’s across town, the writers ate their Grand Slams and lamented with, “If we just had some decent actors, this show…” The truth, though, is everybody associated with this trash is at fault and should be held accountable.

The War at Home: The Complete First Season wants to be a very modern, very hip sitcom for, I guess, politically incorrect liberals. Michael Rapaport plays Dave Gold, an insurance salesman with a pretty wife and three spunky kids. Rapaport is great in movies, lame on television. Somebody must have told him to ham it the hell up because he does and then he does some more. Rapaport has better comic timing than this which is why I’m sure he went home each night and screamed about the writing.

Dave’s wife Vicky, played by Anita Barone, has the better role as a mother who has to come down on her children for doing all the things she used to do just fifteen years earlier. That joke, however, wears thin quick. The Golds have three children, Hillary, Larry, and Mike, and surprise, surprise, each one has a completely different personality with quirky traits. Hillary is the hot daughter with a brain and heart—not since Married with Children has a television show so thoroughly encouraged middle-aged men to consider criminal sexual penetration of an underage girl. Larry is in the show so the father can make “fag” jokes about his own son. And, folks, I don’t mean “gay” jokes; these are definitely “fag” jokes. Youngest son Mike is in the show to give us an idea what a normal kid is supposed to look like. This way, if we aren’t sure what is meant to be a funny character trait, we can look to Mike for a view of “normality.”

The War at Home: The Complete First Season is an absolute wreck from episode one to episode way-too-many. The acting is stilted and clumsy. The writing is obvious and trite. The “clever monologues, flashbacks, flash-forwards and confessionals” (back of the box b.s.) are not clever, and the word “confessional” is about as misused as a goldfish in a Chinese restaurant. There are some special features; unaired scenes that were unaired and not meant to be seen, and a gag reel which is appropriately titled.

Recommendation: Buy a copy of The War at Home: The Complete First Season and take it back to your trailer home where you can yuck it up in the same sweaty chair you use to masturbate to Adult Swim.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007


Written by El Mono Santo

Take some classic Svankmajer, throw in Little Shop of Horrors, add a touch of Pinocchio, and the result is a dark, quirky comedy in which secret, inner monsters are made incarnate.

Jan Svankmajer, the famous Czech Cinema Surrealist, is perhaps best known for shorts like Darkness-Light-Darkness or his feature length Alice (Neco z Alenky). Like all his films (and characteristic of Surrealism itself) Svankmajer focuses on self-consuming human desire. This takes many forms from consumption of food to sexual lust. The single most obsessive desideratum in Little Otik, however, is procreation. A barren woman’s unquenchable, animal desire for progeny animates an uprooted tree stump. Unable to reveal the irrational nature and terrifying appetite of her offspring, and surrounded by a community that can’t help but stick its nose into other people’s business, the couple engages in a humorous series of attempts to maintain a normal life.

Svankmajer may use less of his signature stop-motion animation, repetitive activity, and earthy, visceral sound production than usual, and come much closer to traditional narrative than previous films, but don’t think you won’t get a healthy dose of Surrealism. One of my favorite moments was when an old man lusts after a small girl. The girl’s eyes widen with fright as she watches his pants unzip of their own accord and a human arm reach out from the area of his genitals to grope her. Other memorable moments were several inconspicuous homages to Luis Bunuel’s Un Chien Andalou sprinkled throughout
the film (though I’ll let you investigate those for yourself).

Besides run-time and an anti-climatic ending, my biggest gripe with the film was its sexist leanings. It seemed to portray at least a subset of women as so entirely needful of childbearing that they are unable to function or live a happy life without it. It is easy to laugh at the absurd longings of the wife, including its influence on her weak husband, if one thinks of the film as doing little more than overdoing a stereotype. But like most surrealism, it has a point. And also like most surrealism, that point can be easily missed. Sometimes it's just a lot of fun to miss it.

Monday, June 04, 2007

The Beach Boys: The Warmth of the Sun

Written by Hombre Divertido

Touted as being compiled and sequenced by The Beach Boys themselves, one might wonder how and when since recent entertainment news reports have them squabbling in court. One might also wonder if the fact that they chose which songs to use, and the order in which to place them, really warrants the re-selling of this music.

One might wonder a lot of things; but once you listen to all 28 tracks, you’ll be happy you did. In that mix you will find songs you have heard before, some you may have not heard before, and at least one that you may have heard before, but not by The Beach Boys. Unfortunately; it is the latter that is not only one of the biggest surprises, but disappoints on the CD as well.

With their ability to harmonize, you would have though that The Beach Boys’ rendition of the Mamas and Papas classic “California Dreamin’” would have been better, but sadly, it fails in the inevitable comparison. The composition is awkward, and the harmony is not all that it could be or should be.

If The Beach Boys cover of another group’s classic is the worst thing on a CD with 28 tracks, you can only imagine what the other 27 tracks consist of. No need to imagine; this is worth obtaining. If not for the classics such as “Catcha Wave,” “409,” “You’re So Good To Me,” and “The Warmth of the Sun,” then for the more rarely heard “Disney Girls,” “Don’t Go Near The Water,” “Feel Flows,” and many more. The true fan will appreciate the chance to hear these cuts while someone less educated on The Beach Boys’ library of music will appreciate the history lesson.

To provide a qualified answer to the question posed in the first paragraph; the fact that The Beach Boys did sequence these themselves may indeed warrant the re-selling of this music. Though technology may allow us to do it ourselves, the effort is appreciated. Listening to all 28 tracks in a row does paint a nice picture. There is a pleasant flow to the story being told whether that story is simply of The Warmth of the Sun, or of a group of talented artists, who were ahead of their time and whose longevity, durability, and quality of their music is as endless as the Southern California summer.

Recommendation: Will make a great Father’s Day gift

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Mooney Suzuki: Have Mercy

Written by Fumo Verde

I had never heard anything from Mooney Suzuki before this CD and upon a first listen didn't think I was missing anything. Have Mercy is a good album, but there wasn't much on it that made it stand out for me. We start off with "99%," which brings me back to the times of seeing local garage bands and paying three bucks because there was a keg in the back by the pool. The song rips open with a lone guitar riff and the sounds of hands clapping. Then the band opens it up like a Harley on Pacific Coast Highway. It's a good old foot-stomping tune with rockin' guitars and a steady drumbeat.

A similar R&B thumper, "This Broke Heart of Mine," follows it. With a catchy chorus repeating "When it's gone, then its gone/ the lovin' is gone then its gone/ your loving is gone," I found myself singing this to myself when I was sitting in the water waiting for waves last week. Hmmm, maybe this CD does have something that stands out for me, maybe.

"Ashes" has a driving beat with great guitar work and some dark lyrics telling a story of sorrow and death, "When Autumn comes/ blackbirds flying,/ I'm alright/ I'm only dieing/ Ashes, ashes we all fall down." A screaming guitar solo enhances the eeriness of the words. Again, I'm tapping my foot and remembering the long line for the keg tap.

"Little Rock and Roller Girl" follows. The band's light-heartedness comes into play as they sing about The Rolling Stones, The Ramones, and as shout out to Brian Jones, letting the girl know that now matter how old she gets, she'll never be older than dinosaur bones or any of those folks I just mentioned.

I didn't think I cared about this CD, but as I wrote about it, I found out that there were some sweet songs on here, "Mercy Me" with its gritty sound and sharp lyrics gives off the feeling of hearing this song in some dive bar where you know the band had to pay to play. The guitar work on this jam leaves me with images of dark streets and dirty drug deals gone wrong, although I know the lyrics say something else. When it comes to lyrics with drugs in it, "Good Ol' Alcohol" fills the prescription. This song will endear itself to all of us who have been "there and back" with booze, drugs and whatnot. Now I remembered why I paid three bucks for Miller on tap, chilled in a steel garbage can: it was the music. Well that and the weed we smoked as we trampled over someone's flower garden.

Is this disc growing on me? Maybe so, because this CD has been lingering in the back of my mind. The musicianship is top notch and the group really has it together. Some songs are fun, others are a little darker, but all are simple with steady, rock-hard beats and catchy choruses that loiter in the memory banks and pop up asking for change every once in a while. I need to hear more of Mooney Suzuki, but as for Have Mercy, I give it a solid rockin' A.