Thursday, August 28, 2008


Written by Puño Estupendo

It's the early ‘80s and Will Proudfoot (Bill Milner) is a young boy who, because of the religion his family practices, is not allowed films, music, or any other of the modern trappings of the town they live in. He's a great kid with a talent for telling stories through his collection of drawings he carries with him everywhere.

Lee Carter (Will Poulter) on the other hand is a boy that causes mayhem and breaks rules without breaking a sweat. Whether it’s vandalism or sitting in a theater with a camcorder and a cigarette videotaping the Stallone mega-hit First Blood, Lee Carter is bad news.

While both boys are sitting outside their classrooms in the hall, (Will for not being able to watch a film being shown and Lee for doing something horrible that you wish you could've seen) the two meet and their lives change from that point on. Will ends up seeing Lee's bootleg of First Blood and gets so wound up by the movie, the two boys begin shooting their own version (via camcorder) with Will starring as the Son of Rambow.

Written and directed by Garth Jennings, Son of Rambow is a great tale of childhood friendship. Through the boys’ relationship, Jennings shows how genuine and moving a youth’s friendships can be, for good and for bad. With a wonderful collection of characters, including a new-wave exchange student from France, the film hits its notes really well. The laughs are great, the characters are unbelievably likable, and it pulls on the heartstrings just enough without beating you over the head.

The DVD comes with a few supplementals like the obligatory commentary track and making-of. This is a good disc that should inspire multiple viewings. If Garth Jennings keeps making films like Son of Rambow, then he should definitely be one to watch in the future.

In the U.S., the DVD will be available exclusively for sale at Best Buy and for rent at all major rental locations. It will be for sale or rent at all major retailers in Canada.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Written by Pollo Misterioso

What Happens in Vegas is like a bad mixed drink. All the elements for a popular Hollywood romantic comedy are there, but something doesn’t blend right, leaving you with a bad aftertaste.

The tag line for this film is “Get Lucky,” marketed along with two huge grins from the lead actors, Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher. Both of them haven’t been seen in a film for a while and by pairing them together (and lucky for us), they seem to be making a comeback.

Tackling the romantic comedy genre should be easy. You take two unlikely people and introduce them to one another. There then must be a problem as to why they cannot see each other, or cannot be with one another. They eventually fall in love and live happily in their fantasy world. Like I said, it should be easy—somehow Vegas makes it very hard.

Diaz plays Joy McNally, a businesswoman who hates her job and has just been dumped by her fiancé. She is emotionally unstable and her biggest flaw is that she is not truly happy, doing everything for everyone else. Kutcher plays Jack Fuller, a hotshot furniture-maker that recently has been fired from his job by his father and who simply cannot finish anything, including rolling dice for craps.

When they both go to Vegas, with their best friends, played by Rob Corddry and Lake Bell, Joy and Jack meet, get drunk, get married, and in the middle of deciding their annulment win three million dollars. Back in New York, in an attempt to preserve the sanctity of marriage, the judge orders that the money is frozen for six months as they live together and try to make it work. Unfortunately for them, they must pretend to be happy in order to be awarded the money, but that doesn’t mean they don’t try their best to hate one another in the process.

What seems to be a good idea turns out to be a series of sick jokes. Most of the film is spent watching one of them try to sabotage the other. This has the potential to work, but only if it comes off as lighthearted and funny, but here it doesn’t. Reminiscent of the film The Break Up where two hours is spent watching people argue, most of the film is watching two characters (who you know will fall for one another) hurt each other in cruel ways. Not to mention that the whole movie talks about how good-looking both of them are, shouldn’t they just be attracted immediately?

This is not to say that there are not some genuine parts to the film; most are carried by the awesome cast of actors behind the two stars. Simply watching Zach Galifianakis is funny and most of the ridiculous comedy is written for the friends. When Joy and Jack finally fall for each other, it is heartfelt and wonderful to see. The two gorgeous lead actors are finally looking comfortable and gorgeous at each other.

In the DVD extras the director Tom Vaughan says that Ashton and Cameron did not have to audition for these parts, they were pitched for them. If these were the two actors in mind for this movie, they should have thought about what these actors are best at. They may both be good at physical comedy, but this movie tries to make light of mean tricks and they just fall short.

What Happens in Vegas plays off the idea of “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” unfortunately for this film, it would have been better if it did.

The DVD extras on this film are definitely worth watching on this film. The best extra is “DVD Extra Time with Zach Galifianakis” where he interviews the director. It is hilarious and borderline inappropriate. There is also a short interview between Cameron and Ashton where they discuss their own interpretation of the film and what actually happens in Vegas.

Sunday, August 24, 2008


Written by Fantasma el Rey

Chicago 10
’s tagline, “The Convention Was The Drama. The Trial Was The Comedy,” is perfectly illustrated in the films’ hour and forty-three minutes. Blending actual footage and animation makes this documentary something different and unique, as were the participants in those events of 1968. Chicago was not only host to the Democratic Party convention that year but also to youthful subculture figures who would rise out of the chaos of those days as legends. Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Tom Hayden, and Bobby Seale would become inspiration for many, many people for years to come. Not only in the world of politics but in music as well, fueling the fire for bands such as Rage Against The Machine and System Of A Down.

The 1968 Democratic convention was to be the stage for one of the largest gatherings of youth in peaceful protest. There were to be bands playing and hippies dancing toward peace in nearby Lincoln Park but that was not to be the case. As the crowd grew and the march began, police presence became more visible and active to prevent anyone from getting too close to the steps of the International Amphitheatre. Alternate routes were taken, yet things still got bad. Violence erupted everywhere, much of it caught on film.

The key figures were rounded up and accused of conspiracy, inciting to riot, and other charges related to the protests and so on and so forth. There is more to the story but that is what Chicago 10 goes over and covers in graphic detail. I’m not going to recreate those days here in type; I’ll let you watch the film or seek out more detailed accounts of those days than I could ever give.

The film does do a wonderful job in bringing back to life those days of color and horror, though. Existing archive film is used when and where available while animation based on court transcripts is used for the courtroom and other places where cameras were not present, as in that key moment when the “Yippie” (Youth International Party) name was born. During those latter scenes, the actors used as voice talent for our main characters do good work in capturing the personalities of the people they are voicing. Hank Azaria (Abbie Hoffman), Mark Ruffalo (Rubin), Jeffery Wright (Seale), and Roy Scheider (Judge Julius Hoffman) lend their skills to help paint the picture.

Also lending talent and punctuation to the film is the music of the Beastie Boys and Rage Against The Machine. The music is put to good use by writer/director Brett Morgen and highlights scenes perfectly, providing an energy level that must have matched the electricity that was in the air in those uncertain times.

From start to finish my eyes were fixed on the screen as the images of the courtroom and around Chicago played out in front of me. Morgen has arranged the scenes so the movie flows back and forth between the events, pulling moments from during and prior to both the convention and the trial. This method not only keeps the film fresh but gives it a pace that pushes it forward, holding your interest while upping your anticipation of what will happen next.

Some of the unbelievable events that came out of the trial are played out for us. Even though it’s animated, it makes one think how close to a police state the nation was, or is. To see Seale bound and gagged to his chair in the courtroom (the precedent was actually set in a case years prior) and to see how certain rights were denied today we think these things can never happen in our country but they did and not that long ago.

On the other hand Chicago 10 illustrates how the older generation could see these youths as loud-mouthed troublemakers. Morgen took nothing away from Abbie’s or Jerry’s personalities and a more conservative viewpoint can point out that they were acting up and being juvenile merry pranksters. They did wear judicial robes to court and Abbie was fond of blowing kisses to the jury, but that, my friends, is for you to decide. I suggest reading more on the lives of the Chicago 10 or 8 or 7, depending on how you look at the case (if you count the lawyers as Jerry did, it’s 10 along with Seale, who’s was eventually tried separately). So go steal this DVD and draw your own conclusions.

The DVD has one special feature that is a remix video by a contest winner that uses scenes from the movie to sum it up in a few minutes. The rumor mill has it that two sequels are in the works as well as a live-action film. Should be interesting to see how those pan out. Don’t forget to vote.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

DC Super Heroes: The Filmation Adventures

Written by Hombre Divertido

When Superman came busting through the rock wall in Filmation’s 1966 animated series The New Adventures of Superman, baby boomers went crazy at the sight of the Man of Steel jumping off the comic book pages and on to the small screen. The half-hour series, which contained two Superman shorts with one Superboy story sandwiched in between, was a huge hit.
The following year the show was expanded to an hour under the title of The Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure and featured not only Superman, Aquaman, and Superboy stories, but also stories with other characters from the DC library. Watching the show was always exciting because you never knew which superhero would be featured that week. During the 1967 –1968 season The Atom, Hawkman, The Green Lantern, The Flash, The Teen Titans, and The Justice League of America appeared in three seven-minute cartoons each. Warner Home Video has released all eighteen of the classic shorts on a two-DVD set.

What was so exciting back in 1967, and still holds true today, was that for comic-book fans, this was the first time that heroes other than Superman and Batman had been brought to animated life on the screen. Getting to see The Atom, Hawkman, The Green Lantern, and The Flash in cartoons was a huge treat. This series was fun long before any of the Super Friends incarnations and was superior simply because the stories were closer to those being depicted in the comic books.

Though the animation is outdated and repetitive, the stories similar (most written by George Kashdan), and the look of the heroes more bland than the comics and cartoons of today, these classics are still well worth watching for young and old. Lou Scheimer, who along with Hal Sutherland started Filmation Studios, stayed true to the comic books of the era, and produced quality stories. Though the openings for each cartoon don’t seem to have weathered the years too well, the actual individual segments are remarkably sharp and vibrant.

The sound quality is also excellent, and you can’t get too much of the legendary Ted Knight as the narrator.

The packaging is above average as it is quite vibrant and displays the superheroes embossed on the cover as well as boldly on each disc.

For those that want to look deep, there are flaws to be found here: Aquaman is featured prominently on the packaging, yet does not appear in any of the cartoons. There are continuity errors to be found in many of the cartoons where items appear that were not previously seen, and liberties are taken with the abilities of the some of the superheroes. Probably most disturbing are the episodes in which The Green Lantern is seen flying with his pal Kyro on his back ala Ace and Gary from Robert Smigel’s “The Ambiguously Gay Duo” animated segments.

Only one extra here, but it’s good. “Animation Maverick: The Lou Scheimer Story,” follows the career of the driving force behind Filmation Studios, and of a man who cared about his art, the industry as a whole, and his country. It is a well-made documentary that is both entertaining and educational.

Some more extras would have been nice, and including the individual closing credits for each segment certainly would have allowed us to appreciate the vocal and artistic talent utilized.

Recommendation: Not to be watched without a huge bowl of cereal. Baby Boomers will appreciate this wonderful walk down memory lane, and fans of DC and classic animation will appreciate the history lesson. Also a great way to introduce young children to not only the DC world, but that of Filmation as well.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Written by Pollo Misterioso

Smart People
is a simple film. It is sometimes predictable, has some small surprises, but is really about the small tragedies that happen in life and most importantly about just being human.

This film, directed by Noam Murro, played at Sundance Film Festival and had a limited release in theaters afterwards. With a small cast of only five characters, all with star power, this is a quintessential indie film.

Dennis Quaid plays English professor Lawrence Wetherhold at Carnegie Melon University. He is stubborn, pompous and painfully miserable with his mediocre life. He has two kids, Vanessa (Ellen Page) and James (Ashton Holmes) and a freeloading brother Chuck, played by Thomas Haden Church, who all show up after Lawrence gets into an accident and is unable to drive himself for six months. Due to his accident, he is reunited with an old student Dr. Janet Hartigan (Sarah Jessica Parker) who is his doctor and love interest.

Lawrence is trying to get his book published and become head of the English department. Both of these events challenge him to think about what is truly important to him and if it is what he really wants. Vanessa acts like a forty-year-old woman stuck in an eighteen-year-old body; she cooks and cleans for the house, all while buried in her studies as she tries to get the perfect SAT score. Her journey begins when her uncle arrives and teaches her that she can have fun and make friends.

In small films like this, when the story is so sharply focused on the development of the characters, the interaction of the ensemble is so important. Bottom line, this cast works. With the delicate subjects explored (this includes an interesting relationship between Vanessa and Chuck), there is a seriousness kept, but never does it become uncomfortable or tragic to watch.

Quaid is perfect in this role. By growing a beard and gaining some weight, he becomes an uncomfortable character to watch, as Lawrence is also uncomfortable with his own changes. There is something endearing and appealing about watching an ordinary man deal with realistic problems.

Playing Dr. Hartigan, it is sometimes hard to see Parker as anything but Carrie Bradshaw, but in this film she pulls it off. With a refreshing new take on a damaged woman, she exudes pain through simple looks and head nods given to the camera.

All of these people are hurt or socially inept in some way. Lawrence’s son is the only one in the family that seems to have gotten out just in time, but even he still harbors a deep resentment towards his family and father. Collectively these people are well educated and well off, but they can’t seem to emotionally pull it together, playing off the title of the film. Smart People shows the common stupidity of life and sometimes it’s just nice that simple films can provide a simple message, showing that we are all alike and that everyone has problems.

There are two DVD extras worth watching for this film. They include “The Smartest People” which is a collection of interviews with the cast and crew that breaks down the film by characters and explains the casting choices. “Not So Smart” is a quick extra that has funny outtakes, showing just how well the cast worked together. Other features include Deleted Scenes and Commentary with the filmmaker and writer.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Dexter: The Complete Second Season

Written by Senora Bicho

Good versus evil, how easy is that to define? Rick Warren recently hosted a discussion with Barack Obama and John McCain and asked the question “Does evil exist and, if it does, how should we deal with it?” Both candidates agreed that evil does exist, but is evil always so easy to identify? The second season of Dexter delves deeply into this issue and raises far more questions than it answers.

Dexter is the story of Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) who works for the Miami Police Department as a blood-spatter analyst. He was orphaned at a young age and raised by Harry Morgan (James Remar), a police office who recognized his tendency for violence early on. Instead of trying to change Dexter, Harry decided to channel those urges for good and instructed him to focus his desire to kill on only the most heinous criminals. So by day he uses his talents to catch them and at night kills those that got away.

In season two, Dexter starts to question what he is doing. He wonders, “Am I a good person doing bad things or a bad person doing good things?” When the police discover his underwater dumping ground, a large manhunt that includes the FBI begins. Sergeant James Doakes (Erik King), who has been suspicious about Dexter since season one, is also on his tail, desperate to find out what he is hiding. As Dexter tries to follow the investigation and worries about being caught, he starts to learn more about his dark past too.

Deb (Jennifer Carpenter), Dexter's adoptive sister, continues to suffer the after-effects of her relationship with the Ice Truck Killer from the previous season and moves in with Dexter, but she manages to find a new more normal love interest.

Dexter’s relationship with Rita (Julie Benz), the divorced mother of two, gets more complicated, and he is forced to enter rehab for drug abuse to cover up his real addiction. A new character to this season, Lila (Jaime Murray), becomes his sponsor and ends up doing more harm than good. Keith Carradine and JoBeth Williams also join the cast.

Hall is the foundation of the show and without him the show would not be nearly as interesting. He is a wonderful actor who is perfectly cast in the title role. I was initially concerned when I heard that he was going to be the star as I had only seen him previously in Six Feet Under. While he was terrific in that show too, it was a vastly different role and I wasn’t sure he would be able to pull off this character. However, he has exceeded all of my expectations. You are able to see and feel Dexter’s struggle, learn to truly care about him and even come to cheer him on. The supporting cast is also stellar and each character brings in their own demons and issues to the story.

The DVD collection includes all 12 episodes but leaves a little to be desired in the special features department. Showtime is more interested in reaching new subscribers than in making the fans happy. They offer a $25 rebate and include two episodes of their other series: Brotherhood, The Tudors and Californication. The DVD case claims that the bonus content available online includes a Michael C. Hall podcast and interview; however, at the time of this review it was not available. Even if it was why should true fans have to have Internet access to be able to access the only items of real interest? Instead of trying to force shows on me that I don’t care about or that no one else is watching, focus on what the Dexter fans care about: new and interesting information. I have no problem with Showtime trying to bring some attention to their other shows but that should not be their only concern. I own several collections of HBO series and they include commentaries, behind the scenes documentaries, and much more. Take a lesson, Showtime. It won't kill you.

Season two of Dexter was even better than season one and provided a lot of excitement, interesting storylines, and raised thought-provoking questions. If you were one of those viewers who only saw the show on CBS, now is your chance to see it complete and unbutchered. Season Three starts on September 28th but considering the shenanigans by Showtime in regards to this set, I am not encouraging you to become a subscriber.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


Written by Musgo Del Jefe

Watching a Guy Maddin film is hard work. But it's rewarding work. As you peel away each layer of the film, you are rewarded with a sweeter layer deeper within the film. "Brand Upon The Brain!" is the middle of Maddin's "Me Trilogy" - Cowards Bend The Knee and My Winnipeg being the bookends.

With each film, Maddin creates a unique atmosphere. I've always felt like his films are discoveries. They weren't really made (and certainly not in current times) but just found. This film is reminiscent of early Russian and German silent films of the Twenties. At least in its style - the B&W photography, the cue cards, the foley, and the narration. But the thematic elements of the plot are purely modern. Guy's blending of older styles with unique, disturbing stories is what so often draws comparison to the early films of David Lynch - particularly The Grandmother, Eraserhead and The Elephant Man.

The plot is almost just another part of the atmosphere of the film. It is simple enough that it probably couldn't exist on its own as a more mainstream film. But when interwoven with such a challenging film style, there becomes layer after layer of secrets to unlock. The story is told in twelve chapters. The older Guy Maddin is called home to his island by his dying mother to repaint the lighthouse. The lighthouse was his childhood home and it served as an orphanage run by his overbearing mother and mad scientist/inventor father. What a beautiful set up in that first chapter. The Super-8, grainy black-and-white shots of the lighthouse and the barren island tell more about the story than twenty minutes of exposition ever could. Painting over the childhood home to cover up the cracks, the lone beacon on the island that served to always watch over Guy wherever he went, and growing up among orphans even though his parents were still alive. It's powerful and the character does not speak a word.

The painting brings back powerful memories that lead us to the adventures of young Guy Maddin. Like any memory, as a viewer we never know how trustworthy our guide is and we can always forgive the exaggerated scenes as part of the older man's embellished storytelling. Young Guy spends his days with his sister (known only as Sis), slightly older. Their mother watches their every move from the top of the lighthouse, the brilliant white light cutting across the darkness of the island, her voice screeching, unrecognizable except for the subtitle of the title card. Their father toils away in the basement inventing mysterious objects. I'm reminded of a combination of Thomas Dolby in "She Blinded Me With Science" and Kate Bush's "Cloudbusting" with Donald Sutherland.

Teen detectives, Wendy and Chance Hale, arrive on the island for an investigation when adoptive parents discover holes in the back of their children's heads. The detectives, known as "The Lightbulb Kids" have a very literary introduction making them seem even less real. Almost like a figment of Guy's imagination. From here out, we are introduced to some very rich and slightly uncomfortable sexual subtexts. Guy develops his first crush on Wendy (as she's the first to visit the island). In the next chapter, Wendy disguises herself as her brother Chance to continue her investigation. As Chance, Guy has a "boy crush" on him but still misses Wendy. Sis falls in love with Chance who falls in love back but is afraid to show that she's really Wendy.

All this time, the connections are getting tighter. Wendy and Chance are the same person. And both children have unnaturally close relationships with their opposite sex parent. Guy is often drawn into bed with his mother and Sis is summoned alone to her father's laboratory. Father's biggest experiment is to make his wife younger. This turns the notches up even more with a mother becoming closer in age to her children and further from her husband.

The film's final few chapters delve into the deep, dark secrets of the family. They include vampirism, organ harvesting, lesbianism, and loads of repression. Each revelation only hints at a greater storyline. It's haunting to watch the images and the words on the screen. But they only tell a portion of the story. The narration (by Isabella Rossellini) doesn't just mimic the words on the cards, it tells the story on another level. Interjecting phrases or repeating a key line. And the score (Jason Staczek) keeps the story marching forward - not letting the viewer dwell on any single frame.

I found the film challenging in a good way. I've been disappointed with some of Maddin's previous films for their style-over-substance issues. But here, the story fits the style. It is hardly contained by the style and threatens to burst out at every seam. But Maddin keeps it under control - each layer hinting at something just beyond our view or under the surface. This world is fully formed and the director is letting us see just enough. That's exactly how a film that's ultimately about secrets and repression should be.

Like most Criterion Collection products, the extras on the DVD are superb. This film was performed live in its original run with live orchestra, foley, singer, and narrator. Some of those other narrators are available as bonus tracks. I highly recommend the Crispin Glover version as an interesting comparison to the Rossellini track. The documentary, "97 Percent True" is a 50-minute piece that needs to be digested almost as closely as the film. There are two short films and a deleted scene also included.

If you enter Guy Maddin's world, embrace it. This fairy tale film will bear out many viewings to decipher. But the construction of the film will make that very pleasurable indeed.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Muhammad Ali: Made in Miami

Written by Hombre Divertido

Due out August 12th from PBS Paramount, this sixty-minute documentary chronicles the champion’s formative years in the magic city. The title of the new release stems from legendary fight physician Ferdie Pacheco, who once said, "Cassius Clay was born in Louisville, but Muhammad Ali was made in Miami."

Anything that features the charismatic Ali is certainly going to be entertaining, and this well-made documentary is no exception. Picking up from the eighteen-year-old Ali’s gold medal win in the 1960 Olympics in Rome, the documentary follows Ali to the famed Fifth Street gym in Miami where he would develop into the greatest of all time under the tutelage of Angelo Dundee.

The documentary contains wonderful footage, and insightful commentary from key players in the Ali camp as well as news sources and historians who weave the story instead of the standard narrator. The lack of a customary narrator was a bold choice, and resulted in an extremely effective and engaging final product. The film is well paced, and produced.

The challenge here is that this is not the first telling of this story, and contains little new information. It excels in detailing the relationships and eventual triangle of Ali, Malcom X, and Elijah Muhammad, and contains a pleasant account of Ali’s meeting with the Beatles, but focuses too much on the first Liston fight, which has been told at length in numerous other projects. Though the goal as listed on the product was to explore the critical role that Miami played in the evolution of Ali, it tends to drift too far from that goal, and Miami is more of a footnote.

As this story focuses on Ali’s time in Miami, it certainly leaves the audience wanting more. The story is well told, but is incomplete in that it leaves off at a critical time in the champ’s life.

Not much here to speak of in the way of bonus material. A preview of the documentary, and a filmed conversation with the two producers are good, but the preview serves little purpose packaged with the actual film, and the conversation, though mildly informative, is filmed like something on public access and is tough to watch though the appearance of what appears to be a moth in the studio is humorous.

Recommendation: This is a well made and enjoyable sixty-minutes and if you don’t own any DVD’s on the life of the icon that is Muhammad Ali, you could certainly do worse, but you will want to buy other films to complete the story.

Monday, August 11, 2008

High Times Presents: The 20th Anniversary Cannabis Cup

Written by Fumo Verde

All right, Stoner Nation, this one is for those of us not so fortunate enough yet to get our asses over to Holland and hit the weed-friendly city of Amsterdam. Since I haven’t hit the Cup myself, this DVD provides a little insight to what we as stoners call our “Oscars.” This hour-long documentary allows us a judges’ eye-view of how winners are chosen. Breeders and growers from all over the globe have come here to prove themselves. Like the North Shore of Oahu for surfers, the Cannabis Cup will either make or break one’s career in the world of pot growing. So pack a freshy-fresh, find the lighter that works, and prepare to see some of this planet’s most amazing marijuana.

The celebrity judges included people who you would know if you always read High Times. I don’t read the magazine, so I honestly had no idea who these people were. I knew they were important though, because their names flashed up on the screen, and if I wasn’t so high myself I would have remembered to write them down, but when in Holland, do like the Dutch. The one thing I will say for these judges is they knew their pot. When people start delving into the realm of botany and begin to extrapolate about glandular trichomes, that’s where I pack a fresh bowl and start flicking my lighter. It’s interesting and I know it’s important because this will determine the level of THC, but I’m more into the high and the taste. If you are looking to become a grower you need to listen to what these people are talking about. When you figure it out, grow some grass, and I’ll come over and smoke it and tell you if I’m stoned.

Watching the judges smoke was a thrill, but listening to them discuss how the mellowness or harshness of the bud compared to the others they were smoking and how the flavors of the pot came out and surprised their tasted buds was the real treat. I learned that if you sneeze after taking a solid hit off a doob, then this bud is a winner. To some, sitting around a room and smoking joint after joint might be the best way to determine which pot is a winner, but for me it the memories, or lack, of the high and how it felt; this for me at least will decided if I buy that strain again.

But the Cannabis Cup isn’t just about the weed. It’s about the coffee shops and the owners too. As a judge you not only have to rate the weed, but the shop that supplied you with it too. One must judge on the atmosphere of these shops. You must rate the music, lighting, and the character of the shop itself, the knowledge of the people working there, and how friendly they were. There is a list of items of which a judge must score upon and you must do it in a five-day period. To me this seems insane as you try to run around the city and hit as many coffee houses as possible while being lit up like a kite. Your vote does count when it comes to who has the best shop and all that goes with it, but when it comes to deciding what breeder has the best indica or best sativa or hybrid, well those decisions are left up to the panel of experts I told you about before. Kind of like the Electoral College but for weed.

Let us not forget about the hash, either. If you want to blend in with the locals and not look like a tourist, then mix your hash with tobacco and the people will think you know what you are doing. There are two types of hash that seem to flow in the city. Nederhash is hash made locally in the Netherlands while import hash comes from places such as Morocco, Lebanon, and India. Like weed, hash has crazy names and flavors too, such as Triple X and Bubblemania. The film described how hash is made and how best to utilize it when it comes to getting stoned. Almost every shop has its own kind of bud and hash, so when judging, one must not get too high so you can remember what you just had.

The extras on this DVD bring you a special performance with Redman, some high-resolution pictures of bud so you can dream of smoking it, along with some funny interviews and a look at what High Times is calling “the world’s biggest bong.” A neat little booklet comes with it too, showing the winning buds and hash. It also has a map of the shops in the city so if you go there you can visit the places you saw on the DVD.

This wasn’t a very exciting film but it did give me a look at what to expect when I finally go to Amsterdam next summer. Though the Cup is held in November, I would rather not hit up the place when the tourist factor is so high. If you’ve been interested on how this event came about and what it looks like when you are there, then this DVD is a great window to look through before making plans for a trip.

Now if you will excuse me, I must get involved with some Train Wreck.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Comedy Central's Kenny vs. Spenny: Volume One - Uncensored

Written by Puño Estupendo

Belief in someone's ability to take having no shame to an art form is what Kenny vs. Spenny basically brings to the table. Kenny Hotz and Spencer Rice compete in what can only be described as the most ridiculous competitions a moron could think of. With episodes such as "First Guy To Get A Boner Loses" and "Who Can Eat More Meat?" this is slacker comedy at a pretty high level. Comedy Central's two-disc set of this quest for moronic glory, gives you eight previously aired episodes and two bonus ones. Having seen a lot of Kenny vs. Spenny on television and Youtube, I was kind of disappointed that the set didn't include more. Then again, a little bit of "Who Can Blow The Biggest Fart?" goes a long way so there's not really much to complain about.

The set-up for every episode is that Kenny and Spencer, each with their own camera crew in tow, come up with a contest for the both of them to compete in. Sharing a house they go about their strategies. Kenny finds some surprisingly genius ways of cheating, Spencer seems to be honestly shocked every time it happens, and then the loser has to submit to "humiliation."

Kenny's lack of shame is what really fuels the whole show. Nothing seems to embarrass him at all, and that's the freedom that something this stupid needs to make it work. And work it does; maybe not for the easily offended or squeamish, but it works. It's easy to see how a lot of viewers will fall into camps over whom to root for. Kenny is the over-the-top bastard of the two, but there are moments of evil genius that his cheating attains. Without spoiling anything, his cheat in "Who Can Be Tied To A Goat The Longest?" made me cheer at his brilliance.

Spencer, though trying to keep to some idea of taking the high road, has his moments as well. There are times when you want him to just beat Kenny's ass, and Kenny gets some close calls out of the deal, but it's a moment-by-moment thing as to who you want to see win. To top it off, the closing moment's "humiliation" usually hits a low note of its own and includes a scene of the loser having to make out with an old lady without skimping on the use of tongue.

I'm not really sure how much this will stand up to repeated viewing, but it made me laugh a lot and it's a huge joy to make some of my more easily unsettled friends watch. These episodes work great for small gatherings, and I think that's the funniest thing about these discs. It's funny when watching by yourself, but do everyone a favor and get a few people to watch them together.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008


Written by Puño Estupendo

It's pretty rare, but every so often I see an older movie that I didn't know anything about, and then immediately ask, "Where the hell has this been my whole life?!" I am very pleased to announce that Human Lanterns is one of those movies.

I make no secret about the fact that I get down right giddy every time I see the Shawscope logo pop up before a film. It doesn't mean that the film is going to be good, but I'm just a huge fan of the genre, and the Shaw Brothers studio is almost on par with England's Hammer Studios as far as I'm concerned. It's no coincidence that the two companies worked together at one point, but that's for another time.

Human Lanterns has carried a rep about itself, kind of an infamy. I've always read mention of it here and there but no copy was ever to be found. All the tales about it being a kung-fu/horror movie (and just slightly crazy) have had me curious about it for a long time. It mixes genres very well, much better than others that have tried. It's definitely a kung-fu flick with period costumes, clangy swords, and swoosh sound effects, but here's the rub: they decided to throw a serial killer into it.

Two of a village's upper class are constantly trying to outdo each other. Lung and Tan seem to have everything you can have except for self control when the other is around. Both are obnoxious, but both are likable enough as well. During an argument the two are having during a big social to-do, there's mention of the annual lantern contest, and both vow to rub the other's face in it after they've won. To help insure his victory by having the most bad-assed lantern the village has ever seen, Lung starts a series of events that will eventually bring horror upon everyone involved (including himself). A madman starts playing the two against each other, all the while perfecting the art of making lanterns from the skin of the women closest to Tan and Lung.

I fucking loved it!

Don't let the age of this film fool you. Though it came out in 1982 and looks like a normal kung-fu movie on the outside, this is definitely a nasty piece of work. It's very exploitive in ways that I'm not used to seeing from Shaw Studios. Director Sun Chung doesn't shy away from the nastiness at all. The actions in this movie are mean, with scenes of women having their skin removed and even a rape, the latter of which was really jarring. Not because of its graphic nature (because it's not very graphic), but because it was in there in the first place. Usually such a thing is only insinuated in the world of kung-fu and so I was kind of shocked with what he showed on screen. But Sun Chung gives fans of exploitation cinema something very rare here, he gives them a wonderfully twisted tale, full of blood and fighting, but he delivers the goods on the look as well.

The colors in Human Lanterns are fantastic. The cinematography gives the film a real thick texture which reminded me (once again) of the Hammer Films. This makes for the one-two punch as far as I'm concerned, and this one is joining my collection as a "must show" to friends that enjoy cult cinema.


Written by Hombre Divertido

Perhaps Tropic Thunder will be the comedic hit of the summer; Step Brothers certainly isn’t.

Oh, Step Brothers is funny. The script is shallow, and the characters underdeveloped, but enough comedy is generated by witnessing how many different ways the talented duo of Will Farrell and John C. Riley can drop the F-bomb to warrant a viewing for those looking for comedy in what has been a bleak summer. There is enough profanity in this film to spawn a drinking game. Like a drinking game, Step Brothers will leave you wondering the next morning as to what you thought was so funny during the experience the night before, but, for whatever reason, you will laugh as the game is being played.

Written by Farrell and director Adam McKay who first paired Farrell and Riley in Talladega Nights, Step Brothers chronicles the story of two middle-aged losers who still live at home. The “boys” are brought together when the mother of Brennan (Farrell) played by the versatile Mary Steenburgen marries the father of Dale (Reilly) played by Richard Jenkins and they all move under one roof. The movie has consistent success as the two lead characters hate each other and are tormented by Derek (Adam Scott in a one-dimensional but funny performance) the successful younger brother of Brennan.

As attempts are made to progress the plot, the laughs are left behind, and more outrageous characters are introduced in attempts to salvage the final thirty minutes of this ninety-five minute outing. The two main characters eventually make a completely muddled transition to adulthood and manage to squelch the laughs with the premise of the film in one fell swoop.

McKay proves he is a far better director than writer as he manages to glean enough laughs from the profanity and physical antics worthy of The Three Stooges found in a script that is nothing more than a weak idea that might make a decent Saturday Night Live sketch.

Recommendation: The laughs here are far cheaper than the price of a movie ticket, but there are laughs to be found, and one could certainly do worse this summer. You won’t remember much of what you thought was so funny when you saw it, so enjoy what you can when you do.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Johnny Cash: The Man, His World, His Music

Written by Fantasma el Rey

The award-winning PBS documentary series P.O.V., now in its 21st season, will proudly present Johnny Cash: The Man, His World, His Music on Tuesday August 5th. This rarely seen gem by Bob Elfstrom was filmed in 1968-69 while Johnny Cash was at one of the highest points of his career. Bob and his crew, consisting of “My camera, my sound recordist Alan Dater,” were able to capture the Man In Black drug free and in good spirits as he works, relaxes at home and reminisces with old friends. The film blends live performances and scenes of everyday life very well.

Today, Johnny’s overall life and exploits are well known, from his youth in the cotton fields of Dyess, Arkansas to his days at Sun Records, his marriage to June Carter and his reemergence as a musical outlaw legend. Elfstrom’s film covers a bit of Johnny’s past in his own words but is a portrait of the man at that one moment in time and his career when the sky was the limit and the future was as bright as June’s smile. The live At Folsom Prison album was his biggest-selling record and he was riding its wave, one that would see more hit songs and a television show that would run for 58 episodes from 1969-71. But that is in the future and the Johnny of Elfstrom’s film isn’t concerned about that; he’s living well and doing what he loves with the people he loves and that’s what matters.

Johnny seems comfortable with the camera as it follows him from place to place, the tour bus, the stage, and home. We get see him perform at a prison near Christmas time and at a Native American Indian reservation close to the Wounded Knee massacre site. He and June joke and interact with the inmates, composed mostly of young greasy-haired hoods and depression-era men, making them roar with cheer and laughter, and then they tour the Wounded Knee site with a grandson of one of its victims and a tribal elder dressed in traditional ceremonial attire as guides. The viewer is also present as Johnny receives his award for Album of the Year at the Country Music Awards for At Folsom Prison.

Yet the moments that are best are those of Johnny with the folks that he loves best and holds most dear: June, his family, and his friends. Whether its on the tour bus driving to a show and talking youth and cotton picking with rockabilly king Carl Perkins or sitting at home with June picking his guitar and talking about recently written songs and country music, he holds your attention. Johnny has that gift of making people listen when he talks and it’s through those talks that we get glimpse of his life and beliefs and how they shape his music.

Through the camera’s eye we follow Johnny back stage at shows where he talks with fans of all ages and young musicians hoping to make a go at country music. We are there as Johnny and a gum-chewing Bob Dylan record “One Too Many Mornings” as Dylan works on his Nashville Skyline album. We even get to go along as Johnny, June, and his sister Louise visit the Cash family home in Dyess and recall what it was like to live there and how Mom and Daddy (Carrie and Ray) made ends meet.

Throughout the documentary the music of Johnny Cash fills our ears and our heart as he tells the story behind some of his songs (“Big Foot”) and explains the meaning of others (“Great Speckled Bird”) or playing in the background of scenes (“Cisco Clifton’s Filling Station”). Additional songs performed and used in the film include “Ring Of Fire,” “Daddy Sang Bass,” “Land Of Israel,” “Jackson” (with June), “Orange Blossom Special,” “Busted,” “Big River,” “The Long Black Veil,” and of course “Folsom Prison Blues.”

Bob Elfstrom has done a magnificent job in preserving and documenting this moment in time and the life of a legend. In subtle ways we get the story of Johnny’s life in his own words as he saw it. We can see, hear, and understand why the world and his family love him as much as they do. You don’t have to be a die-hard Johnny Cash fan to appreciate what Elfstrom has given us by truly bringing to life Johnny Cash: The Man, His World, His Music. It’s easy to see why P.O.V. would choose this film to air on their series. Check your local listing to catch the point of view of Johnny Cash in 1969.


Written by Fumo Verde

This is a documentary about how our government, in this case George W. Bush’s judicial branch, screwed Tommy Chong. Yes, screwed. Director Josh Gilbert takes us on a fascinating tour of this bodily invasion, providing us with unbelievable details about how Bush’s court systems works and how Tommy used his legal woes to his comic advantage. You almost feel bad laughing knowing that he ends up doing time, but his comic genius cannot be suppressed, nor will his spirit be beat down. Stoner nation, this is a must see for us so we can learn the truth about what happened to one of the icons of our culture.

So what happened? In 2003 the U.S. Justice Dept. decided to add a little more to the cost for The War on Drugs with another cool 12 million by coming up with Operation Pipe Dreams. Attorney General John Ashcroft must have thought this sounded like a movie that Tommy would be perfect for, so he brought in U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan to get him to take the lead role. Like a Canadian Mountie, Buchanan always gets her stoner, which isn’t really hard to do, just follow the green haze along with the smell of skunk and the flicking of Bics and boom, there we are.

Call them water pipes if you must, but we all know a bong when we see one. There are a few states which won’t let you ship bongs into their state, such as Pennsylvania, so if you make bongs and someone calls you from there, and you ship the bongs to that person it is illegal. Chong Glass knew the laws and if you watch you will hear them telling the customer on numerous recorded phone conversations, “Sorry sir, it is a federal offense to ship to your state, so we cannot do this.” The customer, a DEA agent or maybe an agent form the Federal Bureau of Intimidation, was persistent and even offered to pick up his product. The transaction went through and the product was ready for pick up, but the Pennsylvania customer never showed. This bogged down the production line so Chong Glass was forced to ship them. This trap, along with Operation Headhunter cost the tax payers around $12 million and caught 55 glass dealers, yet only one was sentenced to prison. Can you guess who it was?

Tommy’s case never went to trial due to the threat of incarceration to Shelby and Paris Chong, his wife and son. He copped a plea but was promised there would be no jail time yet served nine months. He chided on a radio show one day, “The only weapons of mass destruction the Bush administration ever found were my bongs.”

Gilbert turns this sad and blatant use of the law into a comical but scary documentary showing us that our government, no matter who is in charge, will take you down if they want to. Archival footage of Chong with Cheech on stage and in radio interviews from back in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s gives the film a backdrop adding color and body to the story. From pre-jail Tommy to post-jail and a little bit beyond, Gilbert takes us through the whole spectrum of events. All of this is pieced together with bits of Tommy doing some stand-up, and why not since he has some new material now. If a person had never heard of Cheech and Chong and saw this film, they would understand what was going on; you can’t get lost on this, even after a massive rip of a five-footer. As for the extras on this DVD, there’s a “night before” home video of the Chong family and a special something of which I really don’t want to give.

a/k/a Tommy Chong is funny and you will laugh but at the same time one must think our government, especially this administration, was way out of line here, but then again they acquaint pot smoking with terrorism. “If you smoke pot, you are aiding the terrorists” was the mantra after 9/11 but Stoner Nation isn’t as stupid as this administration. What happened to Tommy was bullshit just as are the raids on the medical distributor shops out here in California. The war on drugs is a lost cause and trying to scare us by locking up Tommy didn’t help.

If anything it has motivated Stoner Nation to get off the couch and help fight the war on weed, somewhat. This film is a voice to that cause and Tommy is one of the flag bearers. This film is a wake up call to Stoner Nation and a watch your ass call to Woody Haralson, either way if you hear strange knock at the door, lock it and yell back “Dave’s not here!”

The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet: Best of Ricky and Dave

Written by Hombre Divertido

Sometimes when someone does something so well, and makes it look simple, the accomplishment is not given its due.

Ozzie Nelson was a brilliant man who took a successful radio show and brought it to television where it became one of the longest-running series in the history of the medium. Ozzie produced and directed the show and also contributed to the scripts while the mode of communication was in its infancy. He was not only one of the forefathers of the family sit-com, but of reality television as well.

Yes this was a television show, but one that chronicled the lives of the Nelson family as well. Ozzie bought his entire family to television, allowed them to play themselves, in stories based on actual family events, told on a set that was fashioned after their own home. The family chemistry was real, the stories were simple, and are as enjoyable to watch today as they were when they ran on ABC from 1952 to 1966.

Shout Factory has released a four-disk set which includes twenty-four episodes of the groundbreaking series. Entitled Best of Ricky and Dave, these episodes focus on the two sons of Ozzie and Harriet, who grew up over the fourteen-year run of the show for all America to see. The stories posses a charisma, the laughs are solid, and the production value was far ahead of its time. The fact that these shows still stand-up today are a testament to the brilliance of the senior Nelson.

It continues to be amazing as to how Ozzie was able to allow the show to develop as his family did. When the boys married the real life wives were added to the cast, and proved to be talented actresses. Along with the performances of the talented cast, there are plenty of guest stars to look for including Tuesday Weld, Stanley and Barry Livingston in pre-My Three Sons performances, and Richard Correll who would later to go on to appear on Leave it to Beaver, to name a few.

Why the series is not being released in the customary season-by-season format is a legitimate question, but does not take away from the quality of this set. The bonus material is both entertaining and educational. Not only are there a dozen singing performances by Ricky Nelson, but also classic episodes form the radio show. The trivia game is overly simplistic, but having a bonus radio episode as the prize for a perfect score is a novel idea.

Though more episodes with the boys from the first two seasons where Ricky displays comic timing beyond his years would have made this set more enjoyable, and the dropping of such episodes as “The Tangled Web” which only featured a brief appearance by Dave and Rick certainly would have allowed for more title-appropriate material to be included in the set, there is certainly enough quality material to make this set worth owning.

The storylines in these shows may have a familiarity to them, as they served as the basis for many similar plot lines in family comedies for years to come.

Recommendation: This is classic television as its best, and makes for good family entertainment today. This is a talented family that deserves far more recognition when the innovators of the industry are discussed. An entertaining and educational set that should be included in all classic television collections.