Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

Written by Hombre Divertido

The old saying that you can’t go home again is true, yet we all look to visit places from our past. Yes, we may be older and the memories may have faded over time, but it is often an enjoyable experience nonetheless. Such is the case with this return visit to Narnia.

Much of the innocence of youth, and naivety associated with our four heroes is lost this time out. They are older and more experienced, and though we may miss what we once knew, there is plenty of excitement still to be discovered in the interesting land that is Narnia.

Our heroes, Georgie Henley (Lucy), Skandar Keynes (Edmund), Anna Popplewell (Susan), and Wiliam Moseley (Peter) have only been back in our world for a year, but 1300 years have passed in Narnia when they are summoned back by Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes), who is fleeing for his life from his evil uncle Miraz (Sergio Castellitto), who is out to secure the throne for himself and eventually his son. Caspian is befriended by the long-thought-extinct Narnian creatures hat have been in hiding. Caspian and our four heroes lead the Narnians in a mighty battle against Miraz and his mighty army.

Yes, this film lacks the simplicity of the four children finding their way in a strange land that we came to appreciate in the first outing, but this time around the story is faster paced and far more visually impressive. The cinematography and special effects are a treat for the eyes, as are the performances and vocal talents.

Where this film may struggle is in finding its audience. Though there is an obvious effort to avoid the display of violence that is clearly occurring, it is still too much for young children. The mature audience may find the mythical creatures too silly to appreciate.

For those who can appreciate the subtle humor of the Narnians, and the action without blood, this is visually stunning popcorn movie that will leave you wanting for the next installment.

Recommendation: Catch it while is in the theatres. At 144 minutes of humor, action, and beautiful imagery, you are sure to get your monies worth.


Written by Hombre Divertido

The loss of a loved one is an isolating experience, and having an actor of John Cusack’s talents playing someone in that situation can actually work against you.

In Grace is Gone, Cusack plays Stanley Phillips, father of two, manager of a Home Store (think Home Depot), frustrated patriot who could not get into the military because of his eyesight, and husband to Army Sergeant Grace Phillips. When Stanley is informed that his wife has been killed in Iraq, he must now tell his two daughters (Gracie Bednarczyk and Shélan O'Keefe). Faced with this daunting task, he avoids the situation and takes his daughters on a road trip.

The actors’ performances are solid, and that is what makes this film so challenging. It is difficult for the rational person to understand and relate to the irrational thoughts and actions of someone who has suffered such a tragedy, and thus it takes too long to get to know these people. Little assistance is provided by writer/director James C. Strouse, who gives us too little insight into the family. We don’t know Stanley or his daughters, and never get to meet his wife. We are simply left to watch Stanley struggle.

The film achieves one level and sustains it throughout the film. At 92 minutes, more depth could have easily been provided. This film should be relatable and possibly even a comfort to those who have suffered through similar situations, but since that tragic-stricken group is in the minority of the viewing audience, better-rounded character development would have better served the audience.

The Special Features on the DVD include “A Conversation on Grace” which includes interviews with Strouse, Cusack, and others involved in the film. Unfortunately many goals of the film are discussed, most of which were not accomplished. Also included is “Inspiration For Grace is Gone” which profiles a real family that suffered a similar tragedy. Had the actual film given us this much depth into the family, it would have been a far superior film.

Recommendation: Though the performance of Cusack is solid, it is difficult watching this character make what seem to be bad choices, when so many bad choices were made behind the camera. This film is simply too one dimensional to recommend.

The soundtrack which features music by Clint Eastwood is worth a listen.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Written by Hombre Divertido

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
will leave you scratching your head and wondering why you didn’t enjoy it more.

Considering the amount of times this project stalled due to a poor script, you would think the final product would have been better. At its core this outing is simply too convoluted and unbelievable. Yes, it may be difficult to say that the three previous films were believable, yet they contained a quality that is sorely lacking here.

It is not the performances for the most part, though Harrison Ford gives an awkward portrayal of our hero, but it appears to be more related to what he has to say than how he says it. Cate Blanchett is quite fun as Irina Spalko, the leader of the Russian squad out to possess the power of the Crystal Skull, and it is enjoyable seeing Indy reunite with Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), though much more could have been done with said reunion. John Hurt, like Ford, is saddled with awkward writing that gives him little to do. He also may have been disturbed by the similarities between the Crystal Skull and that of his previous alien nemesis. Shia LaBeouf and Ray Winstone are along for the ride, but their characters are simply too under developed, as are most of the relationships in this film.

The major problem here is that as we watch Indy and friends attempt to track down the Crystal Skull and the legendary Lost City of Gold before the Russians get to it, we are not drawn in by the outlandish CGI-inundated perilous situations. The line that separates what we are willing to accept as possible and plausible was certainly pushed to the edge in the three previous outings, but in most cases there was simplicity to the situations that allowed us to accept and enjoy the ride. We are so far over the line in this film, that it exceeds laughable and hits disappointing.

Gone are the days of Indy and Short Round (Ke Huy Quan) being trapped in a spiked-filled shrinking room reliant on Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw) to free them while dealing with every creepy crawly creature known to man in the previously worst film of the series, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. With the Crystal Skull, we get no situations that draw the audience into the film.

Considering the legendary talent associated with this film, it simply should have looked better. We know we are in trouble in the first minutes of the film when we see our hero and his Russian captors standing outside the government warehouse where we last saw the raided Lost Ark. The soundstage on which this was shot is so poorly decorated, that you can literally see where the horizon backdrop meets the ground. Throughout the film, the CGI effects are distracting and disappointing.

Recommendation: This film lacks energy, integrity, and the essentials to engage an audience. Poor character, relationship, and story development leave the audience on the outside looking in. There are a few laughs to be had, but the biggest one comes from the ridiculousness of the climax. The Last Crusade should have been just that, so rent it and Raiders rather than spending your money on this.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Richie Rich/Scooby-Doo Hour: The Complete Series, Vol. One

Written by Hombre Divertido

Warner Brothers brings to DVD the first seven episodes of the Hanna Barbera production The Richie Rich/Scooby Doo Hour which premiered in 1980 on ABC and ran for two seasons. As this was the first effort to bring Richie Rich from the extensively successful comic book series to television, what better way to insure success than to combine it with the already established animated juggernaut that was Scooby-Doo?

In what was clearly an attempt to market this show to the extremely young viewers of the day, the producers streamlined the previously more involved Scooby-Doo adventures into brief seven-minute episodes that featured only Scooby, Shaggy, and Scooby’s nephew Scrappy-Doo. As with the Richie Rich portion of the show, the stories are short, full of a lot of action, and for the most part, surprisingly well animated. Perfect for the short-attention span of children then and now. The succinct stories might have something to do with Academy Award-winner Paul Haggis (Crash, Million Dollar Baby) being listed as one of the writers.

For the young at heart who are looking for the Scooby-Doo cartoons and Richie Rich comic book stories they grew up with; sadly, this is not for you. Fred, Daphne, and Velma aren’t involved in the Scooby-Doo stories other than an occasional guest appearance, the stories have little meat to them, and even more disappointing are the rare explanations at the end of the story. In most cases the monsters really are monsters, witches, etc., or there are actually no monsters at all.

The Richie Rich stories hold little elements of the classic comic books. Most of the stories revolve more around the supporting characters such as Richie’s dog Dollar, and some of his servants, and lack the simplicity of the comic book stories as far too many gadgets are used to justify storylines.

The only true extra in the set is brief documentary entitled "The Story of Richie Rich" and consists of interviews with people involved with both the comic book and the animated series. Interestingly, the goal of keeping the animated series true to the comic book is mentioned, which is surprising considering the failure to do so from a story perspective. From an animation point of view, they may have been successful in making the Richie Rich cartoons look like the comic book, but this is not a good thing. They look faded and display limited dimension when compared to the far more vibrant episodes of Scooby-Doo.

Recommendation: Good fun for kids who are not familiar with Scooby and Richie. With seven episodes each consisting of three Scooby-Doo and three Richie Rich adventures, there is a lot of material here. The stories are brief and fun to watch. The failure to have the monsters exposed as bad guys in some of the Scooby-Doo stories was an interesting choice, and may turn some parents off.

For the grown ups looking for fond memories of these two characters: Look elsewhere.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


Written by Guest Reviewer Mel Odom

When Teeth first started getting shopped around as a possible film project, the premise raised immediate interest…and eyebrows. No one, after hearing the subject matter, could have been totally comfortable with the prospect of the film. I known when I read about it I had my doubts whether the movie could be successfully made in a manner that would allow it the screen time it needed at the box office. However, the potential as a cult hit and a fan favorite nagged at me like a, well, sore tooth.

The idea just wouldn’t go away. As evidenced in the DVD’s special features, the concept of a toothed vagina is spread over several cultures around the world, though there have never been any actual reported cases of it.

Still, I was intrigued and prepared for the worst. I figured the gratuitous violence and potential for maiming scenes would be at an all-time high. Instead Director Mitchell Lichtenstein choose to tell a solid story based in a dysfunctional family and with the jaded view of high school as a backdrop. Both of these areas are way too common in our world these days, and they allow Teeth to explore those areas while at the same time shocking the viewer with the diametrical opposition of Dawn’s innocence and capacity for vengeance.

I’m not familiar with Jess Weixler’s other work, but she turns in a great performance as a budding ingénue with a secret that she doesn’t even know about. If she doesn’t get typecast as the Teeth girl, I think she’s going to pull down some serious roles in the near future.

John Hensley stars as bad boy stepbrother Brad. He’s been around several television series (Nip/Tuck) and movies, but just hasn’t broken out. He portrays evil really well in this film. I didn’t like him from the moment he stepped on stage and I waited constantly for him to get his comeuppance.

The movie, for all the imagined gore that comes to mind, is surprisingly less graphic than I thought it would be. The scenes of violence are less bloody than they could have been, and were maybe more jarring because of it.

The pacing is slow at the beginning, but it builds Dawn’s character and shows what she’s up against. All the betrayal she’s going to face is skillfully negotiated up front in the build-up, and most viewers that stick with this one are going to understand where she’s coming from when the end of the movie comes.

However, the “adaptation” that Dawn harbors within her is never – to my satisfaction – adequately explained. It’s supposed to be a jump in evolution, but no one hazards a serious guess as to how this happened. Demonic possession would have been an easy plot hook to hang it all on, but that wasn’t present either. So the biological difference that gives the movie its name and its bite is more a plot convenience than anything serious.

Overall, I enjoyed the movie. As with any good horror movie with a touch of black comedy, there were moments when I didn’t know whether to be appalled or howl with laughter. Sometimes I did both – at once. Teeth is a lot of what viewers will expect to see based on the premise, but the movie has some definite seriousness to it as well as a message about being female in today’s world.

1800 Black Label Select Silver Tequila

Written by Caballero Oscuro

Although this new tequila is from established maker 1800, the most important number to keep in mind is 100. 1800 Black Label Select Silver Tequila is reportedly the first 100-proof premium tequila on the market. It’s 100% agave and distilled twice to make it “100% smooth” according to their marketing. We Snobs don’t put much faith in marketing, so we needed to take a taste test to substantiate the claims. Frankly, I’d never sampled 1800’s wares before, personally considering them to be a cut below premium due to their lower price point and as such only useful for mixing into maragaritas. Turns out I was wrong, at least about the Black Label product.

At first whiff, the Select Silver smells like a high-quality product, and thankfully it’s no deception. Unlike most silvers, 1800 blends in a touch of aged tequila to give it added depth of character without sacrificing its crystal-clear color. Okay, so it looks good and smells enticing, but how’s the taste? Well, first of all, if you’re accustomed to downing shots of 80-proof tequila, rest assured that the bump up to 100 proof is most definitely noticeable. This baby burns going down, but it’s a good burn, mixing in a touch of pain to go with its overwhelming pleasure. You’ll want to keep your favorite curse word handy when you come up for air, because that first shot is definitely a doozy. Feel free to mix it up or go with the same curse again on round two, you’ll still need it.

But here’s the thing: the taste is fantastic. The blend of clear silver with a hint of more robust aged tequila produces a sensory delight that will make you want to go back for more even as you’re fighting back tears from that first shot. You’re guaranteed to feel completely alive and invigorated as you experience this new concoction, just take it easy since that 100 proof could sneak up on you quickly. You could use it as a mixer, and maybe that’s even the recommended method of ingestion, but in this reviewer’s opinion it makes no sense to dilute this pure pleasure with anything else save maybe the classic lime and salt accompaniments.

The tequila comes housed in 1800’s classic standard glass bottle design, although it’s instantly recognizable as a different beast thanks to its classy new black and silver label. The weighty stopper offers a bit too much resistance during extraction due to its snug faux-cork plastic bottom, which may cause some unfortunate party fouls by careless fiesta animals, but definitely keeps the bottle’s precious contents secured. No word on whether or not reposado and anejo varieties are forthcoming in the new 100 proof Select line, but they would seem to be naturals once this excellent silver conquers the market. For more information, visit the 1800 website.

Monday, May 19, 2008

National Treasure 2: Book Of Secrets

Written by Fantasma el Rey

National Treasure 2: Book Of Secrets continues along the same lines as its predecessor, bringing back original core characters while adding a new villain. The two-disc collector’s edition DVD set is loaded with many special features that include audio commentary and making of featurettes.

The plot in NT2 follows very close to that of the first film, the cast journeys to various places in search of clues to decipher the whereabouts of a lost treasure as a bad guy of sorts is hot on their trail and at a point one step ahead. Oh, and the F.B.I is involved again as well. The strong characters that made the first film return with just as much chemistry as before. Nicolas Cage (Ben Gates), Jon Voight (Patrick Gates), Harvey Keitel (F.B.I. Agent Sadusky), and this time Ed Harris is the heavy (Mitch Wilkinson). Yet with NT2 we are taken to further points on the globe that get our heroes ever closer to their treasure, which is the Lost City of Gold.

The story involves Gates’ great-grandfather, the Presidents’ secret book, and John Wilkes Booth and the plot to assassinate President Lincoln. During a lecture on the missing pages in Booth’s diary, Wilkinson accuses Gates’ ancestor of being in on the plot to kill Lincoln. And the hunt and action begin first to clear the good name of Gates. Then they stumble onto the Confederate states’ plot to find the Lost City of Gold to continue the Civil War.

The adventure takes them to Buckingham Palace and Paris, France for more key clues and them back to the White House, into the Library of Congress for the actual Book of Secrets, and then finally inside the Black Hills of South Dakota and Mount Rushmore. (I suggest for all to look deeper into the contrast of Mt. Rushmore being carved into the Black Hills and how it concerns Native Americans) Oh yeah, then there is the kidnapping of the President of the United States to boot. Keep in mind that all the while the basic plot as outlined above is moving right along.

This isn’t a bad thing as it keeps the film from becoming overly serious about itself. For over two hours I never lost interest as the characters kept me smiling and the action/adventure kept me looking forward to the next scene. Cleverly placed history mixed with some smart obstacles for our film friends to overcome makes this just as fun as the first. The history is everywhere and speaks for itself.

For the action there is a car chase on the London streets that involve not only witty gags but the use of the automobiles built-in safety camera for driving in reverse. While in the caves and caverns of the Black Hills there are a few Indiana Jones-like booby traps in the way of finding the Lost City of Gold. We’ve seen most of this before but it is done well again for NT2.

I love the history involved in these films and the questions that arise as to is it fact or “for the story” fiction. These questions are answered as you listen to the audio commentary by director Jon Turteltaub and actor Jon Voight; both do a great job in shedding light on the truth vs. fiction in their movie. The remaining special features are on disc two and include several behind-the-scenes featurettes including deleted scenes, a blooper reel, a look at the Library of Congress and various other “making of” segments.

The film’s pace, little known historical facts, and the overall chemistry of the actors is what makes the National Treasure films so much fun to watch. As you get involved in any story that sweeps you away, you can overlook some of the minor flaws in plot, continuity or other small flubs, and wacky schemes and themes (like an intelligent President). If you’ve seen National Treasure 2: Book Of Secrets before then this will be a good way to view it again. If you missed it in theaters, then here is your chance to join the adventure to the heart of Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills of South Dakota in search of the Lost City of Gold. I know that the minds behind these two films are looking to make another but if it plays the way they hint at, involving the President, then it may border on hokey, we’ll just have to wait and see.

Thursday, May 15, 2008


Written by Fumo Verde

So who are these terrorists in Iraq and what is it that they hate about freedom and liberty that they would blow themselves up to fight against it? Meeting Resistance is a documentary that brings humanness to those who we are fighting in this global war on terror of which the front lines are now Iraq. Who are these Iraqis and why after being suppressed for so long by a brutal dictator will they not accept this liberty of which we have fought so hard for them to have. Directors Steve Connors and Molly Bingham do a fine job of finding out and present it to us in a unique style meant to show why people fight against what we as Americans think is best for them.

Connors and Bingham were in Baghdad a few months prior to the beginning of the war and stayed throughout the conflict and into the early beginnings of the occupation. After the fall of Saddam and the looting was over, they noticed the small-arms fire U.S. soldiers were taking every so often. With the bombing of Abu Hanifeh and the attack on the scared shrines of Imam’s Hussein and Abbas, they noticed those “every so often” attacks happening more and more. While some were calling it an insurgency and saying that it was Al Qaeda and Saddam loyalists that were at the root of all the troubles, Connor and Bingham wanted to find out for themselves. Through their contacts and with a lot of luck, they were able to interview twelve Iraqis who consider themselves to be part of a resistance.

It is interesting to hear what these people had to say. Some of the people were here for jihad: a young man from Syria, and a lieutenant from the Mojahed who believes that an attack on an Islamic nation is a direct attack on Islam itself. But most of this insurgency comes from local people, individuals who have lost loved ones and feel a sense of pride in their nation, and now that it has been invaded they feel they must kick the invader out. Most of these people hated Saddam, but they now hate the Americans. They see how when the Americans are attacked they just start spraying bullets in all directions killing whoever or whatever is in the path of those flying bullets. This is why IEDs became the weapon of choice. The resistance fighters know that to keep the community on their side, they have to try and keep the civilian tragedies at a low, or else their local support wanes. The question about who is killing the civilian population Connors and Bingham can only speculate that it must be politically motivated because the resistance cannot afford to lose the support of the civilian population.

We learn that money and weapons are coming in from outside sources, but we also come to understand the Iraqi people use their own money. These people are barely making it to survive yet they will take part of whatever they have earned for the day and give to the group they are fighting with. They want us out of their county and they will do whatever it takes to get us out. If we think that we will be in Iraq for a hundred years and all will be peaceful like it is in Korea, guess again. The Iraqi people, like people anywhere, will overcome hardships and religious riffs to unite and fight off an occupying force for as long as it takes. And though religion plays a big part in the lives of these Iraqis—for even fighting for your own country, a nationalist idea—is still a fight for Islam.

To this day the pentagon has confirmed that we have killed about one hundred thousand insurgents, and yet they keep coming and coming. This will be a generational war were the children we have today will be fighting the children of these resistance fighters tomorrow. It is our duty a citizens to know and understand the enemies we fight and Meeting Resistance is one step closer to understanding what we have truly gotten ourselves into.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


Written by El Fangorio

Dear Diary of the Dead, you suck.

More of a remake than a sequel, Diary of the Dead starts off the same way Night of the Living Dead did 40 years ago: for no apparent reason, the dead have started to rise and are attacking and eating the living. A small group of kids from the University of Pittsburgh are out making a student horror film when this phenomenon occurs. All of them stereotypes, from the self-absorbed director to the big-breasted blonde that wants to be taken seriously, to the tech geek with thick horn-rimmed glasses, to the tough-as-nails heroine (always a brunette with long hair). All of them assholes. Not a likeable character in the bunch. Did I mention the Olde English buzzkill of a professor that they run around with? He quotes Dickens (I kid you not) and when choosing weapons, prefers a bow and arrow to a gun. He’s also quite adept with a broadsword. It’s not long before they are on the road, trying to figure out what’s happening, all the while filming it for the Internet. Because when your dead grandma is out in the backyard, trying to eat the dog, the first place you run to for answers is Myspace. It’s this caliber of WTF ineptness that runs rampant throughout the course of the film. Beware. The groaning you hear is probably your own.

Shooting an entire film in first-person POV only works when it’s plausible that somebody would actually be filming the footage. Nobody would ever hold on to a camera, up to their eye no less, all the while there are zombies attacking. It’s one thing to choose to film the things coming after you but to sit back and capture the footage of it eating your friends and loved ones instead of friggin’ helping them is not only cruel but just plain improbable. Even the makers of Cloverfield knew to acknowledge a camera strap that would hold the camera at your side (albeit changing the angle drastically) so that you can flee in terror like a normal person These assholes just keep on filming and then justify it by saying that “it’s addictive. You can’t put the camera down.” Let me see that camera please.

I understand the reason the cast is young is because they are all amateur filmmakers and what other way are you going to explain a large group of people (read: douchebags) with camera equipment, but come on. I would have gladly let it slide had it been a bunch of geriatrics at an in-home “how to film your grandkids” session when it hits the fan, or hell, just a bunch of people who just happen to own video cameras. It could happen. Watching these young, attractive idiots only makes me realize why so many of the generation above me hated slasher films. On that note, had this film been done without pretension, it would have just been a “zombie vs. teenagers” thing, which would have been just fine in my book of low standards.

According to the supplements, this film was made in the “Blair Witch style” so that it could be looser. This way, Romero wouldn’t have to be locked down with any one idea. Well nothing could be more obvious since most of the characters change from scene to scene. One has an accent that goes in and out, one thinks it’s all a hoax, then doesn’t, then does. One couple is so in love that they actually tell the camera, “we’re in love,” but when one of them dies, the other never mentions them again. She never even cries about it. For that matter, nobody acts scared.

Another poorly realized couple is our leads, a Rita Rudner-looking thing (okay, maybe they’re not all attractive) and her prick of a boyfriend who’s also the genius behind wanting to film all this. They obviously hate each other and you have to laugh when they drop her off at her folks to see who’s been munched on, and she says, “So I guess I’ll just get a hold of you?” as if it wasn’t the end of the world and there were still phones that worked. He almost drives off when his buddy mentions that someone should probably stay with her just to be on the safe side. Good call.

Nobody is making amateur mummy movies. Not above the age of eight anyways and certainly not the type pious enough to deem himself “The Messenger of Truth.” So when we open up with this scenario, we can already tell what’s going to happen later on, especially when the character playing the mummy is still wearing the damn bandages back in the safety of his own home (and days later). Gee I wonder, will we see a zombie mummy shambling about later on? Yeah it’s a great visual (and my favorite idea) but again, totally improbable and telegraphed far too early to enjoy.

That mummy character. One minute he’s totally fine. The next minute he’s been chomped. And though I realize we are supposed to be surprised by this, it still seems to come on too strong and out of nowhere. Plus the actor is abysmal. His zombie motivation being (and I quote from the supplementary) “doing a funny walk and hoping nobody laughs.” Where are these chumps coming from? Oh yeah, Pittsburgh.

Can you seriously hack into a surveillance camera? Okay, how about when the only person who knows how to is killed? Can you still? Because they somehow do.

More bad judgement: Romero thought it wouldn’t play as dramatically without a score, so the film has background music. Think of Cloverfield or The Blair Witch Project having a score. Not only does it totally distract from the cinema verite but it’s hard enough believing that during the stress of a full-on zombie attack, one would find the time for all the editing, dissolves, and fade-outs that occur, let alone composing and laying down a soundtrack.

I could seriously go on and on as I’m quite passionate about how much I hated this film. It’s not even that I was hoping for something great. Far from it. These are zombie films. I’m only here for the dead and the red. And for those out there that just want to know the quality and quantity of each of those? I shall quote Romero himself: “There aren’t as many zombies in this one.” And there isn’t. Just a lot of despicable actors doing a really bad job. As for the gore, it’s definitely there and I’d be lying if I said it was lackluster. As one should hope, Romero still knows how to make a scary zombie and he’s still sick enough to think of some incredibly creative kills. I’m purposely leaving out some of the good parts (both of them), since I hardly expect a Dead fan to sit this one out. But these highlights only prove further how much he failed in the other departments, to completely render this film the mess that it is.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Pot Culture: The A-Z Guide to Stoner Language & Life by Shirley Halperin & Steve Bloom

Written by Fumo Verde

“Hey man, are you cool?”
“Don’t worry, man. He just wants to know if you smoke pot.”

These lines out of the movie Dazed and Confused break it down real simple, and they remind me of a time when even mentioning the word “pot” was dangerous. I lived through the “Hugs Not Drugs” and Nancy’s “Just Say No” bullshit, and if you wanted to know if someone burned bowls you had to ask that question in just the right way, or else get busted. No matter where we are, stoners always seek out and find other stoners. This is what gave Halperin and Bloom the idea to assemble all this info from across the weed nation and compressed it down into a 230-page marijuana encyclopedia. I can’t say that the authors got everything associated with weed life, there's no explanation for the origin of 420, but what they do get presents the stoner culture in a way that one can grasp be ye high or sober.

The forward by Tommy Chong is pretty cool, but the introduction by the authors sums it up pretty well: they were amazed at how stoners will always find others who puff. How we as stoners go about finding each other is kind of a ritual. In our world, talking to someone who isn’t cool could get you in a shitload of trouble, so, as not to offend or get busted, we blazers have come up with our own words and rules and this is the authors’ inspiration for this guide.

This book not only gives us the explanations about things such as “Pinching,” the act of steeling weed from a bag that’s not yours, or “the Summer of Love,” which was kicked off with the Human Be-in on Jan. 14 1967 in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, it also serves as a guide on how to make an apple pipe, described by up-and-coming actor Jonah Hill, or what a “pope” is used for. It also shows the proper etiquette for smoking out with others. If you’ve never sparked up, this book is the insider’s guide on what makes the use of marijuana the kind of kinship it is.

Reading this book reminded me of shit I did in high school and it taught me stuff that I never knew. Like, I didn’t know that Paul McCartney’s song “Got to Get You Into My Life” was his ode to marijuana. Now that song has a whole different connotation for me. I think I dig it more now than I have before, the song that is.

Like the book says, the pages cover A- Z and give definitions for many of the slang terms we use today such as “gram,” “hash,” and “blunt.” This guide also teaches you how to keep your buds fresh (hint: glass mason jars) and how to clean out your bong or pipe. They have listed some of the best “pot” bands around and have compiled a list of “weed” friendly festivals, such as the Bonnaroo Music Festival in Manchester, Tenn. (expect a report later this summer filed by a certain Masked Movie Snob or two.) Every page has a little surprise and since 90% of the book is in color, there are some fantastic and legendary photos from weed icons like Jerry Garcia, Bob Marley, and modern-day weed-warrior Woody Harrelson. At the very back, just before the credits, one can also find some tasty recipes for some delicious pot treats.

True, this book doesn’t capture everything in the culture that I have deeply embraced, but it does one of the best jobs that I have ever seen. This is a fun book that every toker should get their sticky green fingers on. Clever and informative, Pot Culture teaches the new stoners how to tune in and reminds us old vets where we came from, and gives us all a sense of where we will be going. Great book and a must-buy for all us loadies.

Monday, May 12, 2008


Written by Puño Estupendo

Actor Steve Zahn can add another mediocre movie to his already impressive list of unimpressive films. Strange Wilderness does have some great ingredients to it when you look at it on paper though. First-time director Fred Wolf was a writer for Saturday Night Live, it's under Adam Sandler's umbrella of Happy Madison productions, and it has a cast that's fairly talented if not charismatic. Steve Zahn is easily the most likable guy in the movie but he's still not engaging enough to lift this flick up from a C to a B (A is not even on the table for this one). Seems to be a recurring theme for Zahn. I generally enjoy his performances but his flicks end up very lackluster, and Strange Wilderness is no exception.

Zahn plays the slightly dimwitted son of a television nature show host. With his father now dead, Peter (Zahn) struggles to keep his father's show on the air as it's host. His crew consists of more likable people: Adam Sandler regulars Allen Covert and Peter Dante (Grandma's Boy), Justin Long (Waiting and Dodgeball), Kevin Heffernan (Farva from Super Troopers), Ernest Borgnine, Jonah Hill (Superbad), and even the "Hot Blonde" in the form of Ashley Scott. Of course they're facing cancellation and have three weeks to get a "big idea" and keep themselves on the air. Well what could be bigger for a nature show than to get footage of Bigfoot? Yup, it's pretty ridiculous. The jokes are predictably low-brow, and there's lots of chuckles to be had, but it never quite puts you over the top with solid laughs. There are a couple of scenes that pull no punch for their effect, which is cool, but it's overall level of wit stays in the midrange.

With a running time of 87 minutes, you'll have plenty of time to check out some of the extras. There are the usual chunk of deleted scenes/outtakes etc., and a Comedy Central fluff piece with cast interviews. No big deal, pretty standard stuff but that's not necessarily all bad. This is a "set it and forget it" kind of movie, just put it in your DVD player for a bunch of chuckles and a fun cast, but take comfort in the fact that if you leave the room for a minute or two, or answer that phone call, you won't have to worry about it.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones, Volume Three: The Years of Change

Written by Musgo Del Jefe

The title of this DVD, like the collection itself, is long and tells many stories - The Adventures Of Young Indiana Jones - The Complete Volume Three: The Years Of Change. The first volume, The Early Years told the stories of a younger, innocent teenaged Indy. The stories highlighted his innocence. The second volume, The War Years played off the innocence of Indy and his generation with the cold realities of World War I. Story after story focused on the humanity inside the inhumanity of the war. Our character, Indy, survives relatively intact despite the brutality surrounding him. This last volume completes the series with seven "episodes" on nine discs and a tenth bonus disc. But how do you focus a series dealing with the post-WWI Jazz Age when we viewers know what Nazi-based adventures are yet to come in the feature films?

You can't talk about this ten-disc set without talking about the extras. In fact, with over 15 hours of special features, they dominate this collection. There are 30 different documentaries to accompany the different episodes. I'm reinforcing my opinion from Volume Two that the documentaries should be watched before each episode. Knowing the context of the times and the people that Indy comes in contact with, helps give depth to most of the superficial scripts. These documentaries are not the typical "Behind The Scenes" documentaries seen on most discs. Many of these included in this collection are ripe for the High School or College classroom. I find the biographical documentaries to be the most rewarding. This collection's best being on Ernest Hemingway, Erich von Stroheim, Louis Armstrong, and Edith Wharton.

The First World War is essentially over and continues for only the first two episodes. The intrigue of that war and what destruction it wrought on a whole generation still make it the most interesting backdrop for these Indiana Jones stories. The first one, "Tales Of Innocence" is a simple tale and maybe my favorite in this collection. The two stories - Indy and Ernest Hemingway falling in love with the same woman and Indy and Edith Wharton developing a forbidden attraction to each other while Indy searches for a traitor - are light on the surface but that belies a hidden depth. These unrequited loves hint at what will become the post-war "Lost Generation." After what Indy has seen in the War, what meaning will there be in life? And how does he truly give his heart when he's seen so much death and destruction?

The other World War I episode, "Masks Of Evil" transitions us to the adventurous Indy. In it, Indy finds himself in Transylvania up against Vlad The Impaler (Dracula) and his undead army. What better way to end the war stories but with the nightmare that even the dead will come back to fight. Ultimately this is a lighter story that will lead us directly into the treasure-hunting Indy that we've come to love in the feature films. The next episode, "Treasure Of The Peacock's Eye" is right out of the serial tradition. Here, at the end of the war, we see Indy set off on a quest for Alexander The Great's treasured "Eye Of The Peacock." The adventure will take him from London to Alexandria to the South Seas with lots of great swordplay in-between. As he heads back to America at the end of this episode, the die is set for all of his future treasure-hunting adventures.

Indy will encounter more adventures back in America. He'll meet with Louis Armstrong (a couple times), Ho Chi Minh, Lawrence Of Arabia, and Al Capone and Eliot Ness. He deal with racism, gangsters, Twenties Hollywood, and the Jazz Age. But these adventures seem to lack the life-altering adventures of the War. In "Scandal Of 1920" we have Indy working on a musical and in love trouble again. In "Hollywood Follies," Indy is working on the movies of Erich von Stroheim and John Ford and eventually solving a murder. These are fun stories that play out more like traditional TV dramas.

By the end of "Hollywood Follies", you feel like the character is being throttled. These last couple adventures seem determined to place Indy back in 1920's society but they've forgotten about "The Adventures . . . " part of the title. As fictional stories within historical events, there has never been a show as well done as this one. The documentaries included on these discs are worthy of their own release and any viewer would be well served to watch them. But they overwhelm the actual product. The documentary on Ernest Hemingway is my favorite in the collection because it delves into the dark secrets of the man's past. The episode is not informed by that characterization. He becomes merely a stock player - a love rival for Indy who happens to be a writer. Taking away the dramatic background of the First World War brings these problems out in the open. This collection includes episodes that lack the overall focus seen in the previous two collections. But it's still a rich, worthy addition to any library.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

IRON MAN Fires On All Cylinders

Written by Hombre Divertido

If this is a sign of things to come in this young summer season, we are in for one great ride. Jon Favreau directs Robert Downey Jr. in the well-paced adventure written by Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby and Art Marcum & Matt Holloway and succeeds where many have failed in the past, when it comes to superhero films, by keeping it simple.

Introduce us to the character, show us how he became a superhero, and have him fight a bad guy. Simple. You would think, but when looking back on the multiple-villain blockbuster disasters of the past, there is always some concern going in.

Here we get some great insight into Tony Stark (Downey Jr.) the billionaire playboy and genius head and chief weapons developer for Stark Industries. Not only is Downey perfectly cast, but displays wonderful comedic timing reminiscent of the sarcastic characters of his youth.

Stark is in Afghanistan with his Air Force pal Rhodey (Terrance Howard) to show the military Stark Industries newest weapon when Stark is taken hostage by insurgents and forced to build them a weapon. Instead he manages to build the first of his super suits right under their nose in one of the more far-fetched premises in this outing.

Stark does manage to escape with the use of the first iron outfit, and returns home with a new attitude about the business he is in. Making a change in the direction of Stark Industries helps to flush out the scheming antics of his associate Obadiah Stane played subtly by Jeff Bridges.

With the help of his faithful assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) Stark manages to refine the suit of iron, enact revenge on the insurgents in Afghanistan, and beat down Obadiah who has built a bigger suit, all while cracking wise, and winking at the audience.

This is 126 minutes of popcorn fun that is sure to leave you wanting more Iron Man. The story is well paced, the dialog is well crafted, the special effects are not obvious, and the music compliments the story.

Howard may be the only weak link in the cast, only because he does not present a strong military presence that some might expect, but he makes up for it by creating a likeable sidekick presence. A few more action scenes could have added to the fun of this film, and some may say that the ending was a little anti-climactic for an action blockbuster, but in this case less is more. Keep it simple and leave them wanting more.

For the true comic buffs: This has one of the funniest cameos by Stan Lee, the creator of many Marvel superheroes, who appears in all the Marvel films. Also, make sure you stay for all the credits. Recommendation: Don’t miss this fun action film. May be too much blood and innuendo for the real young kids, but good family fare for the rest.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Speed Racer The Next Generation: The Beginning

Written by Hombre Divertido

Set as a series to run on Nicktoons, premiering a week before the feature film adaptation, and featuring the voice of Peter Fernandez, who not only wrote the original theme song, but also voiced the original Speed Racer, this new DVD release from Lionsgate would seem to have a lot going for it. From a marketing standpoint it does have a lot going for it; but from a quality standpoint, unless you are seven-years-old or younger, it leaves a lot to be desired.

The animation resembles a video game more than anything else, and the opening sequence displaying an armadillo crossing the road appears to be incomplete from an artistic perspective. Unfortunately, it is simply a preview of things to come. This film is incomplete in more ways than one. From our main character’s non-existent last name, and everyone’s acceptance of that, to the plodding mechanical animation, pointless virtual racetrack, and story that serves no purpose other than to introduce the characters for the television show, this is advertising at it’s best and worst.

Should the new motion picture be successful, there certainly could be interest in a new television animated series for children, but that may be too big of a risk to take. This film will be a huge disappointment to any fan of the forty-year-old original series, and would have a hard time bringing in new fans.

In this film we are introduced to Speed, an orphan who arrives at a racing school run by Spritle Racer (Fernandez) younger brother of the legendary Speed Racer who disappeared many years earlier. Speed’s son X (Apparently named after the original Speed Racer’s older brother) also attends the school and is the resident hot shot. Lost yet? Yeah, it’s a bit confusing. Fans of the original series will get it, and see the rest of the story coming. Youthful viewers being introduced to the Racer family for the first time might be a bit concerned as to the make-up of this clan, but there are far more important things to be worried about.

Speed manages to make some friends, acquire not one, but three cars including the Mach 5 and 6, and find danger both on and off the racecourse.

This film is not all bad. Fernandez adds a nice touch as his vocal quality remains consistent to the original series, some of the supporting characters are enjoyable, and the music adds a nice touch, but the story is simply too trite, and most will see it as nothing more than a device to get you to watch the new series.

The bonus features include a making-of piece that you should watch before the film, an introduction to each character, and a racing game that will make it quite clear who this film is targeting.

Recommendation: Young children might be used to, and subsequently more appreciative, of the video game animation and the simplicity of the story, and combining this film with future episodes of the television series might allow for a story to develop, but this is not for the fans of the original series. It simply lacks the pacing and energy that was Speed Racer.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

SOLARIS (1972)

Written by El Mono Santo

We have no interest in conquering any cosmos.
We want to extend the earth to the borders of the cosmos.
We don't know what to do with other worlds.
We don't need other worlds.
We need a mirror...
Man needs man.


After watching Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris (not to be confused with the Clooney clone) my love of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey waned. Though 2001 preceded it by four years, Solaris makes Kubrick's masterpiece resemble a Hollywood film. The two share many similarities. And yet the similarities seem entirely accidental. Both directors used very different methods of film-making for very different reasons. Perhaps it would be better to call Kubrick's film a "space ballad" and Tarkovsky's a "soul probe." Kubrick's arm reaches forward, out, away from present being to the dream of what we might become. Tarkovksy reaches deep inside to ask what we are.

As the opening quote indicates, Solaris plays with a paradox of human motivation. We turn our heads to the cosmos seeking to uncover it's wonders. "The truth is out there" as The X-Files put it. And yet if there was extra-­terrestrial life - an OTHER kind of life than what we - could we recognize it? Or would we be invariably led, like a Modern Narcissus, to see nothing more than our own reflection? Our concepts of "life" and "being" and "mind" are anthropomorphic. They are contained and given meaning by a frame that is human. But if there was a different frame? In Solaris, that frame is a foreign planetoid or its ocean. Tarkovsky might ask me whether even there I am reducing it to something resembling "the human." At any rate, when human beings came to this deep-space ocean, it reacted.

The main character, Kris, is a scientist sent to the space station to examine its remaining crew and evaluate their psychological standing. Ironically, it will be the scientist, like those he wished to examine, who will be the one psychologically evaluated. Above the churning, morphing ocean of Solaris, contact between humankind and the other is made. And the point of contact is conscience. As the fog of sleep overpowers Kris and the crew, they awake to find that memories etched into their mind by a fingerprint of remorse, guilt, or the tension between ethical/moral dilemma and duty have taken on flesh. We are led to believe, for example, that one crewman, Gibarian, is perpetually haunted by a version of his own perversion - presumably an innocent daughter he blamed himself for molesting. Unable to face a too-­real reflection of his inner demon, Gibarian commits suicide. Caught within his own web of conscience, Kris chooses to embrace it instead of reject it. Will this lead Kris to deeper union with "the other" or further strand him in the island of his own humanity?

In a style similar to Hitchcock's Rope, Tarkovsky limits his cutting and splicing of many scenes. This is done in opposition to his Soviet film-making comrades who wanted to force perspective through their editing. Instead, Tarkovsky leaves us hanging inside the space of the character in near realtime and forces the camera to follow. Truth is thus unveiled through question, not propaganda. Combined with a very minimalistic soundtrack, this stretches out the moments of the film and causes the audience to enter into the self-awareness and meditative ambiance of its characters. And like 2001, there were many instances of incredible cinematic mise-en-scene.


Written by Hombre Divertido

Take the Disney classic Swiss Family Robinson, throw in the family classic Home Alone, add a little of the under-appreciated Stranger Than Fiction and a sprinkle of Raiders of the Lost Ark and you have Nim’s Island. Though this project warrants the reference to the four films mentioned, it doesn’t quite manage to deliver the same level of entertainment.

Though it comes close, it seems a bit too unsure of itself, and there is a general lack of commitment by the writing teams of Joseph Kwong & Paula Mazur and directors Jennifer Flackett & Mark Levin to one aspect of this multi-layered endeavor. Had they simply been willing to truly invest in each storyline, and provide a well-rounded 120-minute motion picture, the result could have easily been a family classic. Though the film contains numerous enjoyable aspects, it is too heavy-handed in its delivery, and the performances are a huge disappointment.

Where it does succeed is in its ability to channel some of the classic episodes of The Wonderful World of Disney. Had the writers focused more on Nim (Abigail Breslin) and her adventures on the tropical island where she lives with her microbiologist father, and the Home Alone scenario of fending off invaders with the help of her animal friends, the movie would had been simply more enjoyable. Though the addition of Nim’s contact with her favorite author (Jodie Foster) who she believes is an Indiana Jones-esque hero, brings about some pleasant fantasy scenes that are well crafted, it tends to draw away from what the audience wants to see.

Jodie Foster has not made a comedy since Maverick, and not a good one since Freaky Friday, and there must be a reason for that. As an agoraphobic author who decides to travel around the world to save a circumstantially abandoned Nim, Foster is in way over her head. The comedic chops of Helen Hunt, Tina Fey, or Joan Cusack would have been far better suited for this project. Breslin also seems a bit out of her element in this role, as she seems too emotionally inconsistent to endear her to most audiences.

Based on the novel by Wendy Orr, Walden Media has created another beautiful film to look at, with great special effects, but even those elements are not enough to hold the audiences attention for the 94-minute jaunt that does not really go anywhere you don’t see coming.

Recommendation: If you have children, take them to this on a Saturday afternoon for some safe, predictable, and somewhat satisfying entertainment. Or just pick up a copy of Swiss Family Robinson and head home for a far more enjoyable entertainment experience.