Monday, November 26, 2007

HAPPY DAYS: The Third Season

Written by Hombre Divertido

Is it possible that the series that literally jumped the shark actually did so before the storyline played out? Since the series aired for eleven seasons from 1974 until 1984, it would be tough to say that the third season was the beginning of the end, but it certainly reflected a drastic change in the focus of the show.

Season Three is simply when it became Fonzie’s (Henry Winkler) show. When Happy Days premiered in 1974 after having its pilot run on Love American Style, it was a coming-of-age show revolving around Richie Cunningham (Ron Howard) and his exploits with pals Potsie (Anson Williams) and Ralph (Donny Most). Fonzie was relegated to a supporting character.

Ironically the title of the first episode of Season Three is “Fonzie Moves In,” and that is exactly what he does in more ways than one. Fonzie rents the apartment above the Cunningham’s garage, which allows for the character to be involved in more storylines. Though not the complete end of the original format of the show; the writing was clearly on the bathroom wall.

Though Season Three still has some fun episodes, there are more stories revolving around the Fonz, than in the two previous seasons combined. What makes this season work more than those yet to come on DVD is that Fonzie is still just the local tough guy and mentor to Richie, and not yet the all-powerful superhero that he would eventually evolve into.

With legendary television director Jerry Paris at the helm for all but three of this season’s episodes, they all have a solid pace and a nostalgic feel to them. Some of the episodes are a bit too contrived such as “Two Angry Men” which has Mr. Cunningham (Tom Bosley) and Fonzie squaring off in court over a collapsed roof, but there are some gems here. In “Richie Fights Back” we see some of the best comedy generated by Ron Howard in his seven seasons on the series, and in “A Date with Fonzie” we are introduced to Laverne and Shirley.

There are actually no extras in this set, though they are listing the “second anniversary” episode as a special feature. Unfortunately it is nothing more than a contrived thirty-minute episode that revolves around a surprise birthday party for the Fonz where the regulars sit at Arnold’s and reminisce while clips from the previous two seasons are shown.

Recommendation: Get it while it is still good. Some bonus features would have been nice, but this is a must-have for the true fan, because it’s pretty much downhill from here.


Written by Hombre Divertido

Though poorly marketed, Disney proved with Meet the Robinsons that they could still make a movie that would be enjoyable for children, and entertaining for adults.

Like a bright shiny new toy, Enchanted is sure to keep children busy for the one hour and forty-seven minutes it is on the screen, but adults will get bored with it quite quickly. At its core, Enchanted is nothing more than a poorly explored "fish out of water" concept. The story lacks depth and continuity and most of the performances are one-dimensional.

The Disney fairytale meets romantic comedy written by Bill Kelly and directed by Kevin Lima features Amy Adams and James Marsden as a Princess and Prince who find themselves transported from their perfect animated lives to the live action of New York City. Adams hits all right beats as Giselle, and though she is sure to join the Disney Princess club, it takes far too long for the character of Giselle to get where we all know she is going. Marsden manages to give the best performance and generates the most laughs.

The biggest disappointment has to be the performance of Patrick Dempsey as the divorce lawyer who comes to the aid of Giselle. Dempsey shows no range and the audience is left to count the amount of times his hairstyle changes within each scene.

Also in the cast is Susan Sarandon who is horribly underutilized as the evil queen. Though her motivation is muddled, her performance is fun, and the film needed more of her and less of Timothy Spall, who, though he looks the part of the queen’s flunky, gives a forced performance.

This film had a great opening weekend, and it will always play well to the young, but the plot will leave adults asking far too many questions, and fundamentally this new toy is not as bright and shiny as it should be. The animated sequences are not as vibrant as they should be, and the live action sequences are visually awkward and seem thrown together.

Disney created a fun movie for kids, but they could have easily filled out the story and utilized more opportunities presented by the concept, and created a more well-rounded film.

Recommendation: There are just too many unanswered questions and unexplored opportunities here. Take the kids and leave your brain in the car, or just wait for the DVD and head for the other room when the kids cue it up.

Saturday, November 24, 2007


Written by Hombre Divertido

Yes, Hollywood can still make dialogue-driven films that will keep you entertained for ninety-two minutes. Robert Redford stars in, directs, and co-produces, a script by Matthew Michael Carnahan that results in a well-crafted play on film that is subtle in its brilliance.

The film also features Meryl Streep and Tom Cruise as a television journalist and a senator respectively, who interact in an interview within the Senator’s office in one of three scenarios that loosely tie together to make up Lions for Lambs. Streep is engaging as the reporter who is in conflict with what to do with the information she is receiving from the Senator, and though Cruise gives a charming performance, he simply looks too young for the role.

Story two of the three features Redford as an aging but still energetic and optimistic political-science professor who engages in a debate/counseling session with a brilliant but cynical student portrayed by Andrew Garfield. Redford displays his well-honed acting chops here and still has charisma oozing from every pore, but Garfield seems intimidated and gives a forced performance in the story that takes the longest to develop and tie into the other two.

The final piece of the puzzle features Derek Luke and Michael Pena as two soldiers injured and trapped on a snowy mountain ledge in Afghanistan as Taliban forces close in. Certainly the most action filled of the three stories, and as this segment develops, the audience is left wanting for more each time we break away.

The political views displayed in this film are heavy-handed and quite possibly will turn off those with opposing perspectives, and sometimes the dialogue does seem to contain a lot of hot air, but the characters and performances are solid enough to make this an enjoyable tale to watch develop.

The details of how all these pieces come together to form this piece of art won’t be revealed here, because watching it happen is a huge part of the fun.

Recommendation: Not since Glengarry Glen Ross has a play on film been so enjoyable to watch. The performances for the most part are first rate, and it is great to see Redford at work again. Worth your money at the theatre or on DVD.

Friday, November 23, 2007

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation - The Complete Seventh Season

Written by Senora Bicho

CSI is currently in its Eighth Season and shows no signs of slowing down. The show and characters continue to mature and improve. The Seventh Season was extremely well done and is one of the best in its history.

Anthony E. Zuiker created CSI at the request of Jerry Bruckheimer who was looking for an idea for a television show. Based on a suggestion from his wife, Zuiker pursued the idea of a forensic crime show and the rest is history. CSI follows a Las Vegas crime scene investigative team headed up by Dr. Gil Grissom (William Petersen) that uses science to capture the bad guys. One thing that sets CSI apart from other crime dramas is its look and feel. Fundamentally, it is a well-written show with thought-out cases and interesting characters but being set in Las Vegas adds another layer to the show. The writers fully exploit the aspects of the city. For example, in the season premiere one of the murders occurs in one of the Cirque Du Soleil theaters. They also visit casinos, hotels, and brothels.

The colors of the city also come to life and play off of the inherent darkness of the show. Perhaps my love of Vegas enhances my love of the show but the amazing shots of The Strip really helps to set the stage for the terrible things that happen in every episode. The first time I watched CSI in high definition on a big screen I was memorized. The picture looks incredible; this is one show that really benefits from HD and I couldn’t imagine watching it any other way. There is also an intentional use of color for different scenes to set the mood, for example there is a blue hue in the lab and in the morgue that creates a creepy atmosphere. The special effects are also top notch, especially their signature visual explanations of fatal wounds. In addition to the great look of the show, the sounds are equally good. I have discovered a lot of terrific songs thanks to the show and the score selected always matches the tone of the scene perfectly.

Season Seven continues the formula that makes CSI so successful while adding in some new ideas. For the first time in the shows history, there is a season long arc. In the season opener, we are introduced to the miniature killer and the hunt continues until the finale. While the show is extremely dark and intense, there are also moments of light and fun. “Toe Tags” is one of my favorite episodes of the season and it really highlights the cleverness of the show. It tells the tales of four crimes all from the eyes of the murdered people while they sit in the morgue. “Lab Rats (aka While the Cat’s Away)” is another amusing episode where lab technician David Hodges (Wallace Langham) gathers all of the lab techs together to try and solve the miniature killer murders.

A new character is introduced for part of this season. Petersen requested time off to return to the theater, so they needed someone to fill that space. Liev Schreiber was the perfect addition as Mike Keppler, a crime scene investigator from Baltimore. Keppler is an interesting character with an intriguing storyline. He also brought a different dynamic and friction to the group; I was sorry to see him go after only four episodes. There are many other great guest stars in Season Seven including Roger Daltrey (it is very appropriate that he finally makes an appearance since his vocals have covered the opening credits since the debut of the show with The Who’s “Who Are You?”), John Mayer, Ned Betty, Ally Sheedy, Kevin Federline and Danny Bonaduce to name a few.

The crimes are always at the forefront but there are intimate moments with the characters that further their development and continue to form a bond with the viewer. The romance between Grissom and Sara Sidle (Jorja Fox) continues and is finally unveiled to the rest of the team. What I like about the show if that they give you a glimmer of the characters personal lives but it doesn’t become like a soap opera. The main characters are never completely free from harm, which makes them vulnerable. In the season opener, Catherine Willows (Marg Helgenberger) is slipped a date-rape drug and ends up naked in a run-down hotel room. Later in the season Greg Sanders (Eric Szmanda) is brutally attacked by a group of thugs and in the finale Sidle is pinned under a car thanks to the miniature killer.

Numerous commentary tracks are provided in the season collection. Naren Shankar, Executive Producer and Co-Writer, and Ken Fink, Co-Executive Producer and Director, discuss “Built to Kill, Part I”, “Sweet Jane,” and “Living Doll;” Richard Lewis, Director, and Dustin Lee Abraham cover “Fannysmackin;” Martha Coolidge, Director and Matthew Mungle, Make-up Effects Artist, walk through “Living Legend;” Richard Catalani, Writer and Technical Adviser, and Lewis dissect “Law of Gravity;” and Brad Tanenbaum, Director, and Sarah Goldfinder, Writer, along with all of the lab techs chat about “Lab Rats”. All of these commentaries are extremely production heavy and provide the thoughts and ideas behind the scenes and storylines.

The other special features include “Inside ‘Built to Kill’” a making-of featurette that showcases all of the production work that went into shooting in the Cirque Du Soleil theater. “Miniature Murders” discusses the origin and development of the “miniature killer” storyline along with information on the construction of the miniatures, both of which are really interesting. “Who are You? Inside ‘Living Legend’” is about the creative process behind that episode. “Las Vegas: The Real Crime Solvers” is pretty self explanatory, Dr. Albert Robbins (Robert David Hall), the head coroner on the show, visits the real Las Vegas crime lab and talks with the people that work there. It is definitely nowhere near as glamorous as the lab on TV. “The Evolution of CSI: Season 7” talks about how the show has progressed over its history. “Smoke and Mirrors: Directing Feature Television” highlights the directorial efforts behind the series and provides interviews with some of the directors from Season Seven.

CSI is deeper than a simple crime drama and Season Seven raises the bar even higher. It is intricate and smart. There is a lot going on at any one time with characters and storylines that continue to evolve. The writing, directing and acting combine to create something unique. It is hands down the best forensic crime drama on television and sets the standard for all others to try and live up to.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Love American Style: Season 1, Volume 1

Written by Musgo Del Jefe

Although the air dates for Love American Style: Season 1, Volume 1 run from September 29, 1969 to December 22, 1969, this show is pure early Seventies. It's certainly our memory of the early Seventies, looking back almost 40 years later. The bright colors, the hip, quick cuts, the corny jokes and the quirky Herb Alpert-ish score. But 38 years later, what this really represents is an important transition to the core ABC shows that would dominate the ratings for the better part of the Seventies and early Eighties.

Love American Style represents a genre that really doesn't exist anymore - the anthology show and more specifically the comedic anthology show. The formula is basic but really it's brilliant. The hour-long shows consist of anywhere from two to four stories. These separate stories are surround by short filler gags heavily influenced by Laugh-In. These "short attention span" gags were unrelated to each other and usually starred a core group of actors, "The Love American Style Players." The theme song is sung by The Cowsills (best known for Hair) and it's catchy happiness along with the fireworks and red, white and blue heart tell the viewer that this is going to be a light-hearted party. The flexibility of this formula was perfect for syndication (where I first encountered the show at Noon-time just before The Hollywood Squares in the late Seventies). The filler jokes allowed the shows to be edited to 30 minutes by filling out the 20-minute stories.

Because the only criteria for this show is to be about "love", there's a variety of stories that can be adapted for the show. One is the extended joke. In "Love and the Hustler," Flip Wilson plays Red, a Muhammad Ali of the pool-hustling world. The extended skit has Red boasting about his skills until the final reveal when the hustler gets hustled. Only the final line of the piece brings the piece back to a "love" theme. Same for "Love and the Pill" where two parents are first concerned that their daughter may be having sex with her boyfriend and then concerned that something might be wrong because she isn't. These single-scene pieces are cheap to film, usually taking place all in one location and in one time period, like a Saturday Night Live skit.

The second type of story is what I call the "One Man Play". In this type, the set-up is very simple and allows one actor to showcase their comedic talents, including physical humor. In "Love and the Living Doll", Arte Johnson plays a Woody Allen-ish character trying to make his neighbor jealous. The clever episode allows Arte to show off his physical talent by wrestling and dancing with a blow up doll and later letting him try to explain his way out of an accusation of murder when a nosy neighbor sees him disposing of the doll. My favorite of this set is "Love and Who?" featuring TV veteran Sid Caesar. Sid wakes up in a hotel room in Vegas unsure of what happened the night before when he started at a party in L.A. The story showcases Caesar's comedic timing as he finds out that he got married (he's already married!), and starts to try to piece together what this new bride might look like. His one-sided phone conversations with the party host in L.A. and the wedding chapel are worthy of Bob Newhart's best.

The last type of story is the "Pilot" piece. Many of the longer stories feel like rejected pilots or try-outs for a pilot. In fact, Season Three will spin-off both Happy Days and Wait Until Your Father Gets Home. The episode, "Love and the Phone Booth" is a well-acted, well-written story that lasts about forty minutes. There's great chemistry between the actors and it would be easy to see an ongoing story between the lovable nerd from Indiana and the free-spirited naive girl from San Francisco.

This genre works well because of its variety. Stick around and you'll find something to latch onto in almost every episode. There's great writing, quality TV directors like Jerry Paris and a bevy of upcoming actors and established film actors. Volume 1 features Regis Philbin, Shari Lewis, Morey Amsterdam, Harrison Ford, Norman Fell, Robert Reed, Ozzie Nelson, Broderick Crawford, Phyllis Diller, Larry Storch, Bill Bixby and Connie Stevens along with tons of other TV regulars from the Seventies.

The format spawned ABC's biggest hit of the Seventies, Happy Days, a show that spawned other ABC hits in Laverne & Shirley and Mork & Mindy, shows that helped anchor Tuesday nights for almost a decade. The format itself was perfected a few years later with The Love Boat and Fantasy Island - two shows that would conquer Saturday nights for ABC, a tradition that would last into the late Eighties. The Love Boat would take essentially the same format and add a compelling permanent cast around which the weekly stories (three or four usually) could be told. This anchor of an appealing cast is just what Love American Style is missing, ultimately. There's no host (ala Ricardo Montalban) to lead us through the stories each week. Viewers like that steady character to comment on the storylines.

The first release is a bare bones set. You get 12 episodes on three discs and no extras. Some of these episodes must have a helluva background story and I'd love to hear some commentary from these TV icons. You don't get TV shows like this anymore, so keep bringing these out on DVD.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

CHINATOWN (Special Collector's Edition)

Written by El Conquistadorko

may not the be the best movie ever made—director Roman Polanski doesn't count it as his personal favorite (that honor goes to The Pianist)—but it's certainly among the most compelling films in cinematic history. Released in 1974, the movie actually looks like it was made when it takes place, in Los Angeles circa the Great Depression. It started as an idea by screenwriter Robert Towne, who attended a city hall meeting on a disastrous dam project and got the idea of penning a noir script based on the essence of LA life: water.

Towne envisioned a mystery centering on ex-cop Jake Gittes, who left the force after getting into some kind of unspecified hot water in Chinatown, which Towne figured would make a great script title and mysterious metaphor for the dark forces that really run LA and get away with monstrous crimes in broad daylight—like building a city on stolen water from the Owens River Valley. That particular historical conspiracy serves as the backdrop for what begins as a simple divorce case, when Gittes is hired by someone claiming to be the Evelyn Cross Mulwray, wife of a prominent water engineer, Hollis Mulwray, who suspects her husband of infidelity.

When Gittes leaks photos of the engineer frolicking with a young girl, the real wife, played by Faye Dunaway, confronts him with his mistake. From there, the movie becomes murkier, as Gittes struggles to find out who really hired him, an investigation that quickly turns into a murder probe, as the water engineer is found dead in a dry riverbed. When police determine he actually drowned, the suspense grows and eventually pits Gittes against just about the entire LA power structure, which is ultimately personified by land baron Noah Cross, as chillingly portrayed by John Huston. Crucial to the mystery is the relationship between Cross, Evelyn Mulwray and her husband's “girlfriend,” a puzzle that Gittes solves in one of the most intense bitch-slapping sessions ever put on film.

How Gittes solves the mystery just in time to helplessly stand by as its tragic consequences unfold is a story best left to the film itself, which has never looked as good as it does on this special collector's edition. Amazingly, digital technology does nothing to erode the beautiful Panavision color scheme that (along with Towne's dutiful use of actual, well-preserved LA landmarks like Echo Park) makes the movie look like it was actually shot in the 1930s. Screenwriter Towne apparently realized it was possible to shoot a movie set forty years earlier on location in LA when he read a book published in 1970 called Raymond Chandler's LA, which featured contemporary photographs of architecture dating from that era.

When production of the movie began, Polanski and Towne still hadn't agreed on whether any of the action would take place in Chinatown. In his original script, Towne used Chinatown simply as a metaphor, but Polanski insisted at least one scene had to take place there, and eventually Polanski convinced Towne that the movie's climax should occur in Chinatown. Meanwhile, Towne and Polanski argued well into the filming of the movie, just what should take place in that final scene. Suffice it to say that Polanski's instincts were right on the mark, as Chinatown has one of the most disturbingly and perfectly noir endings of any movie.

Those particular details are just a few of the informational nuggets that come from a trio of bonus featurettes included on this one-disc release. The most interesting, “Chinatown, the Beginning and End” features interviews with Polanski, Nicholson, and Towne, although notably not Dunaway. It reveals that the film (in its inception if not its actual content) was really a buddy picture: Towne, who won the only Oscar for the film, was a roommate in the early 1970s with Nicholson, whose character, Gittes, was named after mutual friend Harry Gittes, an artist and eventual Hollywood producer who went on to produce About Schmidt, which Nicholson starred in.

Nicholson also happened to be friends with Polish director Roman Polanski, whom Nicholson asked to direct Chinatown. Polanski wasn't happy about returning to LA, because a few years earlier, his pregnant wife, actress Sharon Tate, had been murdered by acolytes of hippie cult-leader Charles Manson. Fortunately, Polanski was impressed enough by Towne's script to accept Nicholson's invitation, and after a half-year rewrite session with Towne, they began filming.

The rest, as they say is history, and even though it took 35 years for a collector's edition DVD of one of the best movies in the history of cinema to finally be released—and it doesn't even have a director's commentary—it's worth the wait.


Written by Fumo Verde

Feed sounds like a Michael Moore film about livestock but it isn’t. If it were a film where politicians were caught saying things like Sen. Allen’s “macaca” statement, or Sen. Craig’s “I have a wide stance…” explanation of why he solicited gay sex in an airport restroom, that could have been interesting, but that’s not what this is. Yes, the feeds were live back then during the presidential race of 1992, but it just wasn’t funny and even then most of these wonks running for office knew if a camera was on, the whole world would soon know. I respect this film for the political/media history it recorded, but to try and sell it as a funny documentary just doesn’t sit well with me.

Pat Buchanan was splitting the Republicans and Paul Tsongas was the Democrats front-runner while George H. W. Bush was the sitting incumbent and that’s all he did in this film was sit there. The old news footage of him in the grocery store amazed by how a scanner worked was funny a few years later, but at the time the American people couldn’t believe that this guy was making policy that changed our lives. The zany cast includes former presidential candidates (sounds like that pre-owned car shit…just call it used) Tom Harkin, Jerry Brown, Bob Kerry, and spoilsport Ross Perot. Someone needs to do a documentary on just what Perot says because 90% of it means nothing if you really listen.

The film had two funny moments. The first was when a young Governor Bill Clinton was being interviewed by some local news anchor who asked if he had ever had an extra-martial affair. Clinton responded by saying, “If I did, I wouldn’t tell you” rather than, “No.” The other had to do with a speech Tsongas was giving. Straight-laced reporter Sam Donaldson arrived a little late and there was banter between Tsongas and Donaldson. It really brought me back to the days when politics between each party and the news folk wasn’t as mean-spirited as it is today. There was laughter about the room and it put a smile on my face. Other than that, the rest of the clips didn’t have very many funny things happen in them.

If you want a glimpse of a young Hillary Rodham Clinton, the cameras were on her already as Bill ran. Even back then she was shrewd. Hillary always knew the camera was on so there were no slip-ups. Be it Jerry Brown worrying about the straightness of his tie, or Ross Perot trying to tell some stupid story or joke, there was not much humor in these feeds. Kind of sucks since the cover says things like “Laugh out loud funny - Rolling Stone,” and “Thoroughly Bizarre! - New York Times,” and "Hysterical! - Texas Monthly.”

For those of us who love CSPAN, Feed is a cool little doc that covered the ’92 election, but for anyone else, you have better things to do.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians

Written by Hombre Divertido

Debuting in September of 1985, Galactic Guardians was the last incarnation of The Super Friends and surprisingly one of the best.

The Super Friends had premiered twelve years earlier, and had been through some changes that resulted in some sad efforts, but Galactic Guardians was an attempt to allow the show to grow up with the viewers that had invested their time over the past twelve years, and for the most part it succeeds. It clearly laid the groundwork for some of the more cutting-edge shows featuring DC superheroes that would follow.

Sadly the show lasted for only one season. All 10 episodes are available on this new DVD release, and as in any series, there are some gems here, with a few clunkers. What may have hurt this show is that the first episode that aired “The Seeds of Doom” was pretty rough. Though it contains the origin of Cyborg, and origin stories are always a huge hit with fans, the episode is not as visually appealing as the rest, the sound quality is poor, and the storytelling is awkward.

Investing in all ten episodes is well worth the time, as there are some wonderfully crafted episodes here such as “The Wild Cards,” which has the nostalgic feel of an original Super Friends story to it, or episodes with more depth such as “The Fear” that deals with the origin of Batman, and “The Death of Superman” that deals with…well, you probably figured it out. It is episodes like this that may have been too violent for the Saturday morning crowd. Though appealing to the viewers that had grown up with The Super Friends, said viewers had probably moved on from Saturday morning cartoons. Had this show aired in an era where it could have appeared on The Cartoon Network in the evening hours, it quite possibly would have lasted longer. Though not up to the level of the current Justice League animated series from a storytelling perspective, it does posses superior qualities.

Where this series and many other such efforts did fail was in giving the viewers what they wanted: More superheroes. In these ten episodes we get plenty of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and the two new team members Firestorm and Cyborg, but little of anyone else. This is supposed to be a team, and though The Flash is featured prominently on the cover, he has one line in the ten episodes. Also neglected or virtually overlooked are Aquaman, The Green Lantern, and Hawkman. The series also is far too limited in its selection of villains, as Darkseid is featured too often. Taking the team into space for many of the episode should have opened up more storylines than it did.

The series does boast an amazing vocal talent pool including Adam West, Casey Kasem, Ernie Hudson, Rene Auberjonois, Danny Dark, B.J. Ward, and many more.

The only bonus in the set is a short featurette containing interviews with the writers and artists that worked on the show. Though informative, it seems thrown together and a bit self-serving. The show is good, and this piece could have and should have gone deeper.

Recommendation: This is good stuff, and just hearing The Super Friends music, which remains in this series, will give you a hankering for a bowl of cereal. For a fan of DC Superheroes, this is a great addition to any collection. For someone not as familiar, this would be a great place to start developing an appreciation.

The War: A Ken Burns Film Soundtrack

Written by Fumo Verde

For those of you who have seen The War: A Film by Ken Burns, this CD contains the music. With all the images of life during wartime, this soundtrack, like those of a major motion picture, energizes the feelings and the emotions this film arouses. Running like the film itself, the music follows the seven-part series as it weaves the story and gives it a deeper soul, one that combined well with the stories told by those who were there.

This disc has some fabulous music by great contemporary artists such as Yo-Yo Ma, Wynton Marsalis, and Norah Jones. Other material was taken from the time it was made like 1945’s “It’s Been A Long, Long Time” (Jule Styne/Sammy Cahn) sung by Bing Crosby with Les Paul on guitar. Sad songs such as this one and others like it paraded across the airwaves during the war because it was a depressing time.

“If You Can’t Smile and Say Yes” (Louis Jordan/Timmie Rodgers) by Nat King Cole and his Trio reflects the current events of the time with lyrics like “Don’t you the’s a war on/ Everything is rationed,” and a few bar later, “Baby, let bygones be bygones/ ‘Cause men are as scarce as nylons.” The war was on everyone’s mind and the music back then, like music now, got them through their days while inspiring hope and anticipation.

My favorite song on this CD is “American Anthem” (Gene Scheer). It plays at the opening and the ending of the documentary. Amanda Forsyth & Bill Charlap perform it as an instrumental to close the disc, but I love what Jones does with it to open the CD. With soft and gentle piano playing ever so delicately, her voice sings out for the voices that cannot:

“Battles fought together/ Acts of conscience fought alone/These are the seeds from which America has grown /Let them say of me/ I was one who believed/ In sharing in the blessings I received/ Let me know in my heart/ when my days are through/ America-America I gave my best to you.”

You could pick up this CD by itself and you wouldn’t be disappointed in the music, but you wouldn’t really understand the whole picture or what value it lent to the making of the film. This disc has a fantastic marquee but it helps if you have seen the film. If you have, then each song will remind you of what was sacrificed during that time, in battle and on the home front. See The War then pickup this CD.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

MELROSE PLACE: The Third Season

Written by Senora Bicho

Melrose Place originally aired from 1992-1999. The show was created by Darren Star as a spin-off from his already popular teenage drama Beverly Hills 90210. Star knows how to do TV and went on to develop the mega-hit Sex and The City. Melrose Place is also one of the many shows produced by the late, soap-opera genius Aaron Spelling. The combination of these two television giants proved to be very successful.

Melrose Place began as Beverly Hills 90210 with adults. It was about a group of people who all lived in an apartment complex on Melrose in West Hollywood. Everyone was nice to look at and they were the best of friends, this equated to a boring show with low ratings. Spelling then called on an old friend, Heather Locklear as Amanda Woodward, to spice up the show. She was initially brought in as a guest star but they were smart enough to realize that the show couldn’t survive without her. She was the only aspect of the show to earn a Golden Globe nomination for years 1994 to 1997. With her addition, the show was changed to a good, old-fashioned, down-and-dirty soap with skyrocketing ratings.

Season Three contains plenty over-the-top storylines and outrageous behavior. The season starts off with Michael (Thomas Calabro) getting run down and ending up with amnesia. Who would dare to run over Michael, the conniving, bad boy doctor? His ex-wife Jane (Josie Bissett), his wife Sydney (Laura Leighton) or his fiancée Kimberly (Marcia Cross)? One of the great lines of the season is delivered by Michael after he gets his memory back and realizes it was Kimberly that ran him over, “Kill me or love me but make up your damn mind!”

Locklear helped to save the show but Cross was always my favorite. They turned her devilishly evil and flat-out crazy. In this season, she kidnaps Jo’s (Daphne Zuniga) baby under the guise that it was a stillbirth and her downward spiral results in her blowing up the apartment complex in the finale. The explosion was originally scheduled to take place during the finale, but the Oklahoma City bombing took place early in the month so it was put off until the start of Season Four. Matt (Doug Savant) the sole gay character finally gets a love interest. Savant and Cross have both gone back to their soap roots with the now popular Desperate Housewives.

Jake (Grant Show) is almost blown to smithereens on his boat, thanks to guest star Kathy Ireland, and survives to break more hearts and protect those he cares about. He also finally finds the family he has been desperately looking for in his father and his brother Jake (Dan Cortese). Alison (Courtney Thorne-Smith) deals with the aftershocks of her newly discovered child abuse and calls off her wedding to Billy (Andrew Shue). When Billy moves on, she turns to alcohol for comfort. Billy doesn’t do much this season but move from girlfriend to girlfriend until he finally weds Brooke, a new addition this season, played by Kristin Davis who later went on to bigger fame in the aforementioned Sex and The City. Jack Wagner, familiar to soap fans from his long run on General Hospital, also joined the cast as Amanda’s new on-again, off-again love interest and the hospital chief of staff. The finale is nice and juicy and leaves you wanting more with the explosion at Melrose Place, Jake and Jess falling from a building, and Matt set up for murder.

I was a huge fan of the show when it originally aired but would not have thought about purchasing any of the seasons. Watching Season Three reminded me of all of the reasons I enjoyed the show: crazy storylines, fun dialogue, attractive stars, and interesting characters. What I noticed this time around though is how the women looked: healthy. Don’t get me wrong they are thin, beautiful women running around in their mini-skirts, cut-off shirts, and tight clothes, but they actually have arms, stomachs, and no protruding bones. I miss those days of normal looking actresses and it makes Calista Flockhart, Ellen Pompeo, and others look even more unattractive.

The Season Three DVD set includes three “Too Hot for TV: Special Features.” “Melrose Place According to Jake” offers insights from Star and Spelling along with an interview with Show. “Melrose Place: 7 Minutes in Hell” highlights key quotes and scenes from the season. “Everything You Need to Know About Melrose Place: Season Three” features comedians Michael Colton and John Aboud who star in VH1’s The Best Week Ever and I Love the ’90s. They provide commentary on the storylines and scenes from the season and a few chuckles. However, none of these extras are particularly interesting or add anything of value to the set.

If you loved the show, then you should still get a kick out of it now, and if you never saw it but love campy drama, it is definitely worth checking out. Melrose Place holds up and brings laughs along with clever writing.


Written by Fumo Verde

Hitler: A Career isn’t like any of the other documentaries I have seen about Hitler. There isn’t talk of megalomania or his fatalistic charm. They don’t call him a mad genius who came close to conquering the world. No, the narrator in this documentary calls him what he was, a rabble-rouser who knew how to use fear, brutality, lies, and propaganda to get what he wanted. He played to the people’s wants and desires by tapping into their feelings of self worth that had seemed all but lost after the German defeat in World War I.

Very well put together with some rare “early party” footage. The story gives Hitler’s basic background up to his battle experiences on the Western Front, but it mainly sticks to how he became leader of the German people. What I thought was done skillfully was the way this film dismantled one of his speeches, showing step by step how he would work the crowd. Timing with Hitler was everything and during his speeches he would use this to his advantage, along with body gestures and a specific pattern during the speech that would feed upon the energy and emotion of the frenzied crowd. The film follows him all the way to his demise showing everyone that this man wasn’t so smart and truly had no plans to save his people.

This films digs real deep into what Nazism is, showing the complexities and contradictions of not only the movement but the leader himself. It explores the man and reveals his inequities and lonesomeness that plagued him wherever he went. There is amazing archival footage of Hitler’s early days before he became Chancellor of Germany, when the Party was only a few thousand strong, to those final days in the bunker just before he committed suicide. Why and how the National Socialists rose so quickly can be attributed to Hitler as well as its fall. For we learn that as more and more Germans started to believe in him, the man himself started to believe the propaganda he created. After a few battle victories he helped organize, Hitler thought he had become a great warrior general, those who he dreamed of while listing to the symphonies of Wagner.

Great orators say powerful things. They don’t need to work the crowd so they can get the best response. This DVD brings to light why all those people seemed so in a trance when Hitler spoke and how he used timing and body language to seduce those around him and how he played upon their worst fears to make him look like the only savior on the horizon. Hitler: A Career is one of the best films I have seen that explains how and why so many followed a man who rallied around hate and terror.

THE JAZZ SINGER (Three-Disc Deluxe Edition)

Written by FilmRadar's Karie Bible

If you love Hollywood history, this DVD is a must-have item for your home library. The Jazz Singer kicked off the sound revolution with a bang. It wasn’t exactly the first “all talking picture,” but it was the first silent with talking sequences that worked and ignited the public’s interest.

I’ve seen some other (and even earlier) silents with “talking” sequences, but they always feel very awkward. It is almost like the minute the sound and dialogue started, someone threw on the brakes and the film just came to a screeching halt. The Jazz Singer feels like it is hitting its peak when the sound comes in, and Al Jolson is the main reason this film works so well. There is something very electrifying about him.

This Three-Disc Deluxe Edition set features a new digital transfer for the film with restored picture elements and a refurbished soundtrack. It looks and sounds fantastic! There are also several Al Jolson shorts. Disc 2 of this collection features a wonderful feature-length documentary called “The Dawn of Sound: How Movies Learned to Talk.” It provides fascinating insight into the sound revolution and the impact it made on the film industry and on the movie-going public. Disc 3 contains a whopping 3-1/2 hours of rare, historic Vitaphone shorts. Many of these feature Vaudeville performers and in many cases it is the only surviving record of their work. If you’ve ever seen the Vitaphone programs at UCLA, then you know how wonderful and entertaining these shorts can be. I’m really hoping that more and more of the Vitaphones will get a DVD release in the future. The box set also includes a set of black and white postcards and three booklets about the film. The packaging is very nice and really well done.

Warner Bros. Home Video has done a first class job with all of the materials and they are hands down the best studio when it comes to releasing classic titles.

Friday, November 16, 2007


Written by Pollo Misterioso

Think about where you come from. More importantly, think about where your name comes from and what it means. The Namesake (2006) kindly reminds us of the importance of family history and the responsibility given to every new generation; but by the end of the film it feels strained by the length of its message.

The Namesake from female director Mira Nair (Vanity Fair, Monsoon Wedding), is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Jhumpa Lahiri, with the same title. More than just an adaptation, Nair lived in Kolkata (Calcutta), India and New York in her lifetime, which are the two settings for the film.

This is the story of the lives of the Ganghuli family, beginning with the journey to America with the father Ashoke Ganghuli, played by Ifran Khan and his wife Ashima, played by Tabu .The film opens with a train accident in India that determines the fate of the entire family, or at least for Ashoke, who decides that he needs to see the world after this near-fatal experience. Without straying from his cultural codes, he presents himself to Ashima’s family to arrange a marriage so that he can move to New York and start a new career and family.

When their first child Gogol, played by Kal Penn (Van Wilder, Harold and Kumar go to White Castle) is born he is given two names of which he can chose to become his true name. But America removes Gogol from the practices of his immigrant parents as he tries to find a way to fit in. In a way to feel “normal” Gogol changes his name to his other given name, Nikil, after his high school graduation. We then follow Gogol through different moments in his life—graduation, girlfriends, marriage, family—as he waivers between his names. His ultimate decision of his identity reflects his inner struggle for who he is and who he wants to be.

Sacrifice is what makes The Namesake powerful. Every character struggles between what they want and what they need, to retain a sense of identity. But the length of the film drags the message away from the viewer. It’s only so long that we can watch and try to understand this family. Many of the scenes are simply emotional set pieces, used to have the audience understand the characters. It’s as if we wouldn’t connect enough with these characters, so we are made to see everything, but you will form a bond with this family immediately.

There is so much careful attention paid to the customs and feelings associated with this immigrant family. Even though there was an attempt to make the two cities, New York and Kolkata, the same, the Indian culture is loved through the eyes of the camera. Everything from the clothing, the food, the city life, are all vibrant and alive. Khan gives such a warm and strong performance as Ashoke, often with close-ups on his face, showing emotion only through his eyes. He is the father that loves unconditionally, not always understood with words.

A name becomes more than just a name—it is a connection with the past, present and future. For The Namesake, one’s name is sacrifice and understanding, what it means to represent one’s heritage and oneself, if only the length of the film took its own advice and sacrificed some of the content to better itself as a whole.

The two standout DVD extras are "The Anatomy of The Namesake: A Class at Columbia University’s Graduate Film School" and "Fox Movie Channel Presents: In Character with Kal Penn." The former is definitely worth watching if you are interested in the filmmaking process. Nair gives a seminar about the process of creating this film. There are production-cost breakdowns along with her explanation of her own connection with the material. A very interesting setting and insight into the film. The latter is an interesting interview with Kal Penn about his connection with the character. He read the book and fell in love with Gogol and he explains his similarities and differences with this particular character.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (2-Disc Collector's Set)

Written by Senora Bicho

The It’s A Wonderful Life 2-Disc Collector’s Set is being released in time for your holiday-viewing pleasure. It is considered by many to be the best holiday film ever made and is one of the best films, in my opinion, of all-time. It was originally released in January 1947 and was not an instant success. Reviews were mixed as it ranked 26th at the box office that year. It was a financial failure, even though it was nominated for five Academy Awards and Frank Capra won the Golden Globe for Best Director.

In the 1980s it was revived thanks to broadcast television, where it aired on many channels throughout the holidays, and the introduction of the VCR. The film also got some attention when it was colorized. The original thought was that this would make it appeal to more viewers. It was not well received, and Capra and Stewart both strongly opposed this version. I did also and always removed the color from my set. Thankfully, the black-and-white version soon returned to TV.

It’s a Wonderful Life
is the story of honest, hardworking family man George Bailey, played by James Stewart in perhaps the best and most well known performance of his career. The film begins with prayers from various people in the small town of Bedford Falls seeking help for George. Pan up to the heavens and Clarence (Henry Travers), an angel trying to get his wings, is assigned to the task. To prepare him for the assignment, he is shown pivotal events from George’s life.

From an early age, George is determined to get out of the town and make an exciting life for himself. After high school he plans to travel the world, go to college, and then start a career building something big. George saves money while working at his father’s Building and Loan. As he is about to start off on his adventure, his dad has a stroke and dies, which leads him back to his father’s business. He also finally finds romance with Mary (Donna Reed) who has loved him since childhood. Although he couldn’t follow his big dreams, he ends up married with four kids and running the Building and Loan in little Bedford Falls. He has accepted his life and is happy.

Then it all starts to crumble. Henry Potter, played devilishly perfect by Lionel Barrymore, has long wanted to bring down the Building and Loan because it is the only thing in town he doesn’t own. When George’s dimwitted but lovable Uncle loses an $8,000 deposit, it finds its way into Potter’s hands. He of course doesn’t return the money. Instead he calls the police claiming that George has embezzled it.

George goes on the run, facing both financial ruin and jail time. He regrets all of his decisions and considers ending his life so his family will benefit from his life-insurance policy. When he is at the depths of despair, Clarence appears and shows him that ending his life is not the solution; however, George then comes to the conclusion that he should have never been born. Clarence grants his wish and George goes on an adventure that proves how wrong he is and leads to the best ending in cinema history. It makes me cry like a baby every time I watch it.

It’s a Wonderful Life
is a great film for many reasons. There are strong performances by all of the actors; they play real people that you come to love or hate. Also, the messages and themes are about what truly makes a life rich, and it is not money. You need to appreciate what you have and not lose sight of what is important. Also, one person can make a difference no matter how small and seemingly insignificant. As we head into the holiday season, this film is a great reminder about spending time with those people you love rather than the commercial aspects that have become so much more prevalent today.

I love this film and strongly feel that it should be a part of everyone’s collection; however, I can’t say that this DVD set is wonderful. It includes both a restored black-and-white version and a colorized version. The black and white looks amazing and sounds great. It is crystal clear and so much better to watch compared to the grainy television version I have watched repeatedly over the years, but I can’t say how much better it is compared to last year’s 60th Anniversary Edition release that also included a restored picture.

The colorized version is the only new item included in this set and is extremely distracting. I have always been against the colorization of classic films and this furthers my belief. In the film, people’s skin looks yellow and the other colors do not look natural. However, it is a restored version and has not been available previously, so for those that prefer to watch it in color (and you should be ashamed of yourselves if you do), this is your chance to own it. There are no other new special features. There is a making-of featurette and a Frank Capra remembrance that have been included on every released version since the 1990s. If you already own a recently restored version of It’s A Wonderful Life, you are all set. Now you just need to go buy some eggnog, build a fire, sit back, and enjoy.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007


Written by Fumo Verde

I have been a student of the Second World War for over twenty years. I have a mini-library with well over 200 books on the subject from top authors and military experts from around the world. When it comes to war movies and documentaries, I have seen them all—twice. The War beats them all. It sits above Hollywood’s idea of what war is, reaching beyond the Military Channel’s tactical strategies. This film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick brings the courage, the pain, and the reality of what the Second World War was to those who lived through it on the home front and the battle line.

I won’t get into the complexities of why we fought, or what type of country we were before this great conflict began, and neither does Burns. He gives you the basic background, though his main focus is on the war itself and those who were in the thick of it. The stories come from the heart because the folks that were interviewed lived it. The war ran their lives morning, noon, and night. No matter young or old, the whole country took part, and that’s what this film shows.

This was total war, which meant that even the folks at home had to sacrifice too. Every American citizen participated in many different ways, whether it was buying war bonds or helping on a scrape metal drive or a rubber collection party. The American people rolled up their sleeves and pitched in. Women filled the workplaces making tanks, bullets, grenades, and bombers. Kids collected metal and rubber, which they brought in by the wagonload. Everyone was taking part; everyone felt that they were in the fight.

From the towns of Waterbury Connecticut; Sacramento, California; Luverne, Minnesota; and Mobile, Alabama the men and women of the Greatest Generation tell us their stories. At the time these four cities were unique, yet they still had that small-town American feel to them. Burns is quoted on the inside cover of this four-disc box set, “The Second World War was fought in thousands of places, too many for any one accounting. This is the story of four American towns and how their citizens experienced that War.” To try and cover the whole country would have been impossible, but by narrowing down the locations and people from these cites, Burns pieced together a story that spanned the entire reach of the war.

Keith David is the narrator while Josh Lucas, Samuel L. Jackson, Eli Wallach, and a host of others add voices to the letter writers who didn’t make it back home. Tom Hanks provides the voice for Al McIntosh, owner and editor of Luverne's Rock County Star Herald, whose inspiring editorials and down-to-earth common sense seem to ease the fears of his fellow citizens. All these fine actors did an outstanding job in relaying the feelings that were in these correspondences and newspapers; they brought to life the emotions of these fallen heroes.

Starting with the attack on Pearl Harbor, the film follows the progression of the war, but it’s not all battles with big guns going off. Between each fighting step of the campaign, Burns intercedes with a scene from home. Images give the viewer a break from the savage fury that is war. You will see many dead bodies and even many more wounded ones, but you cannot understand this story without visualizing the real cost of what war is.

One of the most stunning moments in this whole epic was the Time Magazine photo, the first of its kind mind you, of three dead Marines whose bodies were still stuck in the sand. These pictures showed the American people what was really at stake, what the “true” cost of freedom is. This image did not break the American spirit like some thought it would. Instead, it strengthened it, creating a fortitude to work harder and faster. If you really want to see what a nation looks like when it is united, this film will show you. This war defined our nation and the stories told here help to break down those definitions, by bringing a face to the words that are telling this history.

These faces have expressions such as Olga Ciarlo when speaking of her brother Babe. His letters home to his family, especially his widowed mother never reflected the life he was living on the front lines in places like Anzio. In one letter he tells his family he’s doing fine, and there is not much for him to do except eat and sleep. The savage and fierce fighting up the Italian peninsula conveys what is really happening as it becomes the backdrop for the letter being read aloud. To measure the degree of what Babe Ciarlo kept from his family, narrator David recants the numbers of dead and wounded at Anzio: 7,000 killed, 36,000 wounded or missing, and another 44,000 non-battle casualties from frost bite or shell shock. The dead bodies are disturbing, almost as disturbing as the wounded, and this is just a small glimpse of the big picture. The stories from both the home front and the battlefront weave a tale of fear, angst, anxiety, will, and determination that has been unrivaled since. Before the Second World War, we were still a developing country; after the war, we were a superpower.

From Wake Island, to the liberation of Dachau, to the dropping of the atom bomb, The War puts into prospective an era that changed the history of our people, our nation, and the world. The words from Churchill’s speech after the Battle of Britain holds as much truth now as it did then, and for the generation who fought and died in this war we owe at least a bit of thanks for what we have today for “…Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

If you love history or even want to understand what the big brouhaha is all about, see Ken Burns' The War. It will enlighten your mind about how our country used to be. Thanks to all veterans of foreign wars and those who serve our country now.

Roots: The Next Generations

Written by Musgo Del Jefe

The historical mini-series has gone the way of the dinosaur, at least in name. From the mid-'70s to the mid-'80s, we were privileged to experience some of the best long-form storytelling ever to be seen on television. Roots kicked off the trend in 1977 with the finale still reigning as the third highest-rated program ever to air on television. This lead to some remarkable adaptations of works considered too long to make into theatrical films. The best were led by entries like Centennial, Shogun, Masada, The Winds Of War, and North and South. The multi-part series is the perfect format to tell a sweeping historical drama. Told over many nights or weeks, the best of these drops into key moments in the lives of the characters, tell an episodic story, and lay the groundwork for an ongoing theme.

Roots: The Next Generations followed a mere two years after the success of the original series. Roots told the story of Alex Haley's African-American family from its origins in Africa with Kunta Kinte through the end of the Civil War with Chicken George and his son Tom (Alex's great grandfather). The story of Haley's family from Africa, through being forced into slavery, through the days as slaves in America to freedom at the end of the war was as a powerful story. While telling the story of Haley's family, there are the rich stories of family and tradition that apply to all viewers. It's no surprise the rise in interest in genealogy that happened after Roots aired. And there's the story of America and the growth of a young nation that happens around the family. For a family caught up in slavery, the end of the Civil War and Emancipation was a natural emotional stopping point for the first miniseries.

The Next Generations picks up the torch in post-Civil War Tennessee in 1882. Chicken George is now an old man and his son, Tom Harvey is struggling as the first generation of freed blacks. The first miniseries' journey from freedom to slavery is mirrored by Next Generations' journey from slavery to freedom. Harvey struggles to raise his family in this new world. He must struggle with Jim Crow laws, the Ku Klux Klan, and the role of blacks in a free society. His daughter will marry Will Palmer by the second episode in 1896 and their child, Bertha, will be Alex Haley's mother.

The third and fourth episodes deal with Bertha and future husband, Simon Haley. Simon's experience in World War I fighting with the 92nd Infantry Colored marks a nice tent pole mark for the story. The bravery of these soldiers will begin to place them on a path to equality that will make it possible for Alex Haley's (played to perfection by James Earl Jones) opportunities in World War II in the Pacific and his ultimate freedom to pursue a career in writing.

The last episode details the final leg of the journey that will take us neatly back to the start of the very first episode of Roots. Alex collaborates with Malcom X on his autobiography and has a controversial interview with American Nazi, George Lincoln Rockwell (Marlon Brando in full-blown overacting mode - ala Apocalypse Now and Superman). The professional success he gains leads to Alex's 12-year quest to retrace his family history all the way back to Kunta Kinte in Africa. The triumph of his quest is not just that of an African-American, it goes much beyond that: it's the continuity of the family. It's the family overcoming history. There's an oral tradition throughout these episodes that overwhelms whatever historical events are taking place. Alex Haley's confirmation of the family stories is a point of pride and validation that we all can feel.

The seven episodes released on seven discs are still powerful to watch. The mixture of TV and film actors (Henry Fonda, Richard Thomas, Olivia de Havilland, and Marc Singer are just a part of the 53 stars) makes a great mixture that really brings the characters to life. The production value is not what we would expect of an "event" these days. There are fancy set decorations and most of the film is produced on Hollywood back lots. The biggest change in the 30 years is the free and excessive use of the "N-word". In context, it completely fits the plot and in fact, Haley himself in a later episode admits that it doesn't hold any power over him because it's been used so many times. But with today's sensitivities, it's shocking to hear the likes of Henry Fonda and Harry Morgan using the word.

The Next Generations was presented over seven straight nights. While miniseries just don't air this way anymore, the watching experience of TV shows on DVD is very similar. I like the way seven separate 105-minute films tell the story of three generations over an 80-year period. There's a rhythm that's hard to find in today's episodic television. I wish there was a way today to adapt longer pieces of literature in a similar method.

The link of these stories is that of progress. Elizabeth tells her father Tom Harvey, "The scars from slavery aren't on your back, they're in your soul." It would take three generations and maybe even more to heal these scars. These are the stories of triumph. Two steps forward, one step back but always moving. Each generation builds upon the success of the others. Will Palmer would run a lumber company and his son, Simon, would use that success to go to college and become a professor. Alex would use his father's success to become a prolific writer. That's the story of America. The story of American families.

The DVD set is not full of many extras. There's a Behind-The-Scenes Documentary on the last disc that offers little insight. But with a story like this to tell, that is easily forgotten. A good story is more than enough.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


Written by Puño Estupendo

I can read your mind. I know you've been wondering when Hilary Swank was going to star in a supernatural horror film and if your life would be complete on a spiritual level were that to happen. Well I'm here to give you a mixed bag in the answers to your questions.

The Reaping is
a tale of supernatural horror and it does star Hilary Swank, but it really doesn't have any of the wonderful goodness that you've been praying for.

When a small, middle of podunk town is facing (what appear to be) the 10 plagues of the Bible, they reach out for help to Katherine Winter. A professor whose specialty is in the debunking of unexplained phenomena, she grabs her former assistant and travels down there with every intention of calling foul yet again. A river of blood? Surely this can all be logically explained? Maybe not. The townsfolk seem to be of the belief that it's being caused by a little girl.

As her investigation deepens, her personal issues rise to the surface. Though obviously charmed by Doug, her solicitor and hunky guide around town, she just can't let herself give in to either him or the plagues that are also defying her logic. Her sleuthing takes her through a pretty predictable cast of locals, from the religious zealot to the super-normal housewife; the set-up is nothing new. There's a conspiracy brewing here and they want that poor little girl killed! Professor Winter had better work some stuff out quick or there might literally be hell to pay! Is the little girl innocent or evil incarnate?

The Reaping
has a couple of things going for it. It's shot fair enough and everything to do with each of the plagues looks great. What it suffers from is its forwardness. I couldn't help but think that the original story for this was probably pretty good, but after being Hollywood-ized, it got completely dumbed down so it could easily be spoon fed to the masses. It's kind of predictable at times and very clichéd when there really was no need to be. This is driven home by the fact that they manage to keep Hilary in some shorts and tank tops to give just the right amount of T&A factor without going too ridiculous with it. That's pretty much the recurring theme here. Everything is just predictable enough to keep it from being great, but not so much as to make it truly painful.

Without divulging spoilers, the plot does lead to a couple of interesting places. It's just too bad that the cost of that ended up being its smarts.


Written by Puño Estupendo

Sometimes a moviegoer strikes out. For whatever reason, you find yourself in the distasteful position of having just watched a complete piece of shit movie. It lingers in your brain with thoughts like, “Someone actually put up a lot of money to make that horrible waste of time?” and you scratch your head in disbelief. Same thing goes for an actor or actress that blows you away at how untalented they are and you just can't believe that they have any sort of fame whatsoever.

Keeping these things in mind, take to heart the name “David Arquette” and let your hopes of life having a fair-and-balanced reward system be completely dashed against the jagged rocks of failed cosmic karma. As if knowing he's out there as an actor isn't heartbreaking enough, now the man is writing, producing and (stab my eyes!) directing.

This brings us to his film The Tripper. Touted as a horror/comedy, I feel it very safe to say that it doesn't come close to being either scary or funny, but it definitely is disturbing. With a mixed cast of head-scratchers and good-enoughs, Arquette attempts to tell a tale about a serial killer with a Ronald Reagan-fixation who is killing modern-day “hippies” that are gathered in the forest for some sort of music festival. With a staggering amount of Reagan-era references that are just a little outdated, Arquette tries to make some grand statements about politics and social themes that are neither new or even, in this case, particularly well done. Mix in some awful attempts at gore and murder and you're pretty much caught up to speed on what to expect.

Now the truly sad thing is that some of the people in front of the camera are pretty good here. Jaime King is very likable in this, as is Lukas Haas, and you get surprise appearances by Paul Reubens and Thomas Jane. What they're doing in here kind of baffles me more than a little bit and leads me to think that Arquette must be a pretty charming guy to have talked these people into this movie. There's enough in the on-screen charisma amongst the cast to suggest to me that everyone involved in the making of this flick enjoyed themselves quite a bit. In the supplemental behind-the-scenes feature, everyone interviewed speaks kindly of him and are really positive about their involvement, but it's just not enough to make this thing work on any level.

I could rip on this all day long, and am quite tempted to do so, but I think you're catching my drift. At the risk of not giving a proper description of the movie, there's no need for you to waste any time watching it; I wasted my time for you. Took one for the team on this one, so don't say I never did anything for you. You’re welcome.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Sarah Silverman Program: Season One

Written by Fumo Verde

Get ready to laugh your ass off because Season One of The Sarah Silverman Program has hit DVD. Some call her humor offensive, tasteless, and abrasive, but this what the world needs right now. Silverman takes on racism, bigotry, and other social issues with a clever wit by bringing out the irony and mindless stupidity of such “wedge issue” positions. Accompanied by her older sister Laura and a fantastic cast and crew, The Sarah Silverman Program is a must-see for those who can stomach such an outrageous comedian.

All six episodes are on this DVD and the hilarity ranges from Silverman getting drunk on cough syrup to her going down to the local clinic to get an AIDS test because she has the blahs and needs something to cheer her up. Before her test is done, Silverman is on crusade to rid the world of either AIDS or those who have it. It isn’t as much about AIDS as it about SARAH. When Silverman finally learns that she doesn’t have AIDS, all her crusading comes to an immediate stop. And why not, she doesn’t have the blahs anymore.

My favorite is the “Not Without My Daughter” episode where Silverman quasi-adopts a young girl so she can enter her in the Little Miss Rainbow Contest. When the eight-year-old is about to quit, Silverman sees the crown in her grasp and gives her a pep talk by using abortion as the underlying theme. “Do you want to be a quitter, or do you want to go out there and have the abortion of your dreams.”

Besides the sidesplitting laughs being thrown around by Silverman and her “daughter,” played by Laura Marano who does a superb job, Silverman’s gay neighbors, Steve and Brian, are tracked down by the FBI for a phone conversation they had. With the bomb squad ready, they prepare to open the cop car Steve laid a bomb in. At the same time, Marano starts to sing “Amazing Grace” for her final song, and everything goes into slow motion. By the end of her song, the bomb squad cop opens the car door only to shout out in silence, “It’s a fart!” My eyes are still tearing up over that whole scene.

Call her what you want, but I see Silverman as the female Lenny Bruce of today. She pushes the limits of what is being said about these issues on TV, or to better put it, what is not being said. She reverses the bigotry and hatred and pulls it off beautifully. Besides being intelligent, funny, and quick, Sarah is smoking hot too. All that and a potty mouth, what more can a boy ask for? There are some extras on here too, a little karaoke, intro sequences, and commentary with Steve and Brian.

By playing on the edge, Silverman has created a show that has a humble “American pie” look with a shit-eating grin. This show is one of the most intelligent comedies out there and though abrasive humor can even make Fumo Verde blush, don’t discard what is being said. The Sarah Silverman Program: Season One is out now, so pick it up as soon as you can.

Friday, November 02, 2007


Written by Hombre Divertido

Sean Penn directs from a screenplay he wrote from the book by Jon Krakauer on the story of Christopher McCandless. A young man who, after graduating from college, drops out of society and makes his way to Alaska while meeting people and experiencing adventures along the way. The story is engaging and thought provoking, and for the most part the movie does the story justice.

Penn seems to employ two types of directorial techniques when telling this story, one for the first part of the film, and another for the second. In the first half of this 140-minute endeavor the choices made by Penn at times create distractions. The choice to tell the story in different time frames takes a little getting used to, as does the need to make the film look more artistic than necessary. The side-by-side framing, close-ups, and awkward angles that plague the opening segments are like watching something a child would do with a new toy. Perhaps in the second half of the film the audience simply gets used to the director's style, but it would appear that Penn makes more traditional choices that better suit the telling of this tale.

Emile Hirsch portrays McCandless with a youthful exuberance, and though he bares a resemblance to McCandless, he appears to be in over his head here as he fails to keep up with his stellar supporting cast that includes: Marcia Gay Harden, William Hurt, Vince Vaughn, Catherine Keener, and Hal Holbrook. The performances of this fine ensemble leaves the audience wanting far more of them and less of Hirsch.

Where Penn does excel is in the cinematography. Beautiful parts of our country are explored here, and the locations shots are breathtaking. The narration by both Hirsch as McCandless and Jenna Malone as Christopher’s sister Carine are also extremely effective, especially in the case of Malone, who brings a subtle intensity to her voiceover that makes the emotional journey real to the viewer. Abandoning the voiceovers in favor of on-screen titles makes for a far less powerful ending than certainly could have been achieved with the continued narration, and leaves the audience wanting for Carine's words.

Recommendation: Aside from the brief nudity and sexual content, this is solid family entertainment, which is sure to become a classic. Yes, perhaps a more traditional telling would have been more effective, but Penn should be applauded for his efforts, even those that failed. The performance by the supporting cast alone makes this film worth seeing, and you will be left wanting to know more of their stories. The cinematography should be seen on the big screen, so catch it while it’s still there.

BABEL (Two-Disc Special Collector's Edition)

Written by El Conquistadorko

One of the best movies to hit screens in the past several years, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's 2006 film weaves together three stories—a pair of Moroccan brothers who fatefully make contact with an American tourist and later become hunted as terrorists, a deaf Japanese girl whose distant father is surprisingly tied to the incident, and the tourists' two kids who are brought to Tijuana by their maid and run into problems at the border. The movie is the third installment of Mexican director Inarritu's so-called “death trilogy,” following on the heels of the well-crafted Amores Perros and slightly less-than-satisfying 21 Grams.

Without giving too much away, suffice it to say that the gun you see in Act One does get fired, but that the tragic results are not as predictable as you'd think. The movie is a beautiful work of cinematography and masterful storytelling, and although it relies on the same technique of interwoven plot lines that marked Inarritu's first two films, it doesn't use the same anti-chronological device that Inarritu used so well in his debut feature Amores Perros (that whole movie is wrapped around a car crash) but which proved so irksome in 21 Grams. Instead, the movie follows a single trajectory as the camera shifts from one character's perspective to another, following the arc of a single bullet and the investigation that follows from its tragic destruction.

Babel features superb acting performances from Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, Boubker Ait El Caid and Said Tarchini (two non-actors who play the Moroccan brothers), and especially Rinko Kikuchi, who gives a convincing and heartbreaking turn as Chieko Wataya, the deaf, sexually frustrated Japanese teenager. It also contains one of the most intensely surreal sequences put on screen in recent memory: a scene where Cheiko and her deaf friends drop acid and stumble grinning, arms interlocked, through Tokyo until they wind up in a public fountain, soaking wet.

The new DVD of the film contains two discs, the second of which includes a feature-length bonus feature—a making-of documentary called “Under Construction.” The documentary kicks off with two American school kids asking Inarritu why he called his movie Babel, at which point he tells them the Biblical story of how God punished mankind for its architectural hubris by forcing them to speak different languages, a more powerful way to divide people than religion, politics or race.

The film traces the movie's production from Morocco to Japan, Mexico and the United States, and is mercifully devoid of the typical mind-numbing celebrity interviews that mar most DVD bonus featurettes, which are about as entertaining as your average daytime TV commercial, although it does include some funny footage of Gael Garcia Bernal clowning around with an American accent, pretending to be a border guard. Instead, the documentary shows Inarritu at work with his actors, most of whom aren't: like the eight teams of deaf-mute Japanese girl volleyball teams he assembled for one scene or the several hundred Mexican actors he used in Tecate to enact a wedding reception scene.

“Under Construction” stands well as its own movie, much in the same fashion as making-of documentaries like Hearts of Darkness about the filming of Apocalypse Now and Les Blank's 1982 film Burden of Dreams, about the making of Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo.

Even if you already have the original DVD release of Babel, you might want to consider selling it. The new special edition is worth buying for Disc Two alone.