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If Kevin Smith tried to write a teen sex comedy, the rough draft might look something like this movie. Luckily for us, Smith left the tired genre alone. And so, here we are in 2008, and along comes Superbad.

We've seen Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

We've seen Porky's.

We've seen American Pie.

We've seen the thousands of other movies that have adopted this formula (annoying teenagers trying to get laid + alcohol = hijinks).

So where else is there to go with this kind of a movie? Nowhere. A teen sex comedy is a teen sex comedy, period. This movie goes way too far in its desperate attempts to sway the viewer into thinking it's something deeper. It isn't. It's a parade of unlikable teenagers on a quest for booze and sex with a nice little moral at the end to make us feel like we weren't wasting our time. At least the aforementioned movies didn't kid themselves about their intent.

This isn't a terrible movie, but it's certainly not very good. There are a few genuine laughs along the way. But its silly little "social commentary" and its insistence on developing empty, one-dimensional characters are nothing short of pitiful.

Don't believe the hype.

Super Troopers

I feel like a lower life form after having sat through this
There are some movies that are bad.

There are some movies that are downright terrible.

There are some movies that are so utterly unwatchable that they will undoubtedly etch themselves into the top tier in the history of the worst cinema every conceived.

And then, there is Super Troopers.

Super Troopers is one of those movies that is so ill-conceived, so dreadfully unfunny, so frustratingly unsatisfying that it seems criminal. It is astounding to me that this movie has a 6.8 rating as I write this, and that so many people find it to be such a hilarious "classic". Don't get me wrong, I can appreciate dumb comedies (Dumb & Dumber is one of my favorite comedies) but this is sub-retarded material here. I wouldn't have even found this funny at thirteen years old.

The plot involves a bumbling Vermont highway police force who happen upon a drug smuggling ring. They, along with their sworn enemies, a local police squad who seem to have everything going for them, battle it out to try and crack the case first. Terminally unfunny antics ensue.

I don't know much about Broken Lizard, the comedy troupe responsible for this celluloid torture, but if this is their best work, as many fans claim it is, then I'd hate to see what they're followers consider to be average. The fact that this has a cult following will forever be a mystery to me.

20 Dates

Good for viewers who can appreciate celluloid pranks
Recently divorced Myles Berkowitz has an idea for a movie: date twenty different women, film the encounters, and hope to God that there is a real spark between him and one of the subjects. Remarkably, his agent Richard seals a deal with bigshot producer Elie Samaha, and Berkowitz is given $60,000 to make his movie. So goes the plot for "20 Dates", a comic "documentary" about finding love in LA. Note my usage of quotation marks around the word documentary.

This is indeed a fake documentary--at least a majority of it is--but it is not fake in the same sense as movies like "This Is Spinal Tap" or "Best in Show" are fake. This is a serious attempt to dupe the viewer into believing they are witnessing actual events with genuine, spontaneous human interaction. Fans of filmmaker Huck Botko will know exactly the type of movie I am talking about.

Having said that, I am actually a big fan of films that manipulate audience perception, and this film does a great job at it. Unless you have some inside information about film legalities and some background on the producers of this film (which I did) this could very well pass as an honest-to-goodness documentary. It's actually quite believable, especially during the first half-hour or so.

As long as you aren't angry or taken aback at the notion of being deliberately misled, then you will probably find this film to be very funny and enjoyable. It's not four-star material, but it is certainly very clever and loaded with some funny, memorable dialogue.

Just Before Dawn

Standard slasher fare
After the box office success of Friday THE 13TH in 1980, scores of uninspired filmmakers sought to cash in on its popularity by producing their own low-budget versions of Friday, replete with the tired old "slasher-in-the-woods" motif. These formula films usually borrowed liberally from (read: shamelessly ripped off) the original film, sometimes scene for scene. JUST BEFORE DAWN is an unremarkable example of such a film, and had it not been for today's cult/horror DVD distributors' compulsive need to re-release virtually everything they can get their hands on, it would've remained in the realm of obscurity where it belongs.

In JUST BEFORE DAWN, five twenty-somethings travel into the wilderness to check out some newly acquired property. They set up camp, despite multiple warnings that some deadly, unnamable horror lurks within. They ignore the warnings, of course, but before they have time to meditate on their mistake, the party begins getting picked off one at a time by a machete-wielding maniac.

JUST BEFORE DAWN isn't really a bad film, it's just bland and unoriginal in every way. Every conceivable cliché that we've all come to expect from these types of films is here in spades, including a crazy old farmhand who tries to warn the kids of danger, plenty of false "jumpy" scares, and an obligatory skinny dipping scene. Of course, the morally impure die first, setting up the climax for the one naïve, innocent girl to fend for herself against the murderous madman. And, as one would expect, there are lots of point-of-view stalking scenes, and even those oh-so-clever shots where the killer's massive boot steps dauntingly into frame as he stalks his prey.

There are a few glimmers of creativity peppered throughout the film, but they are few and far between. An interior shot of the killer hoisting himself up onto the roof of an RV unbeknownst to its passengers provides a brief instance of genuine fright, as does a scene where the hapless heroine clings helplessly to the top of a tall tree as the killer slowly chops it down. The actors, though not great, are unusually dedicated to their roles, often performing some pretty risky stunts, like rolling down a steep hill at full speed, tumbling over a waterfall, and running across rickety rope bridges.

There is somewhat of an unexpected twist towards the end of the film, and the final scene is well-composed and chilling (the absence of soundtrack except for the cheery singing of birds was a wise choice), but it can't compare to the brilliantly conceived, heart-stopping conclusions of films like Friday THE 13TH and SLEEPAWAY CAMP.

Speaking of SLEEPAWAY CAMP, fans of SC might be interested in seeing Mike Kellin (who portrayed the camp's irresponsible camp counselor Mel) play an eccentric old coot named Ty, and older generations will be amused by Oscar winner George Kennedy's performance as the forest ranger Roy McLean. Other than that, JUST BEFORE DAWN may be of interest to hardcore horror fans with a taste for the obscure, but others will find it to be a waste of time.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

A breathtakingly beautiful, utterly perfect film
Peter Jackson has achieved the impossible with the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy. He has crafted a motion picture that is not only technically perfect, but visually mind-blowing and immensely entertaining in every respect. And what's more, Jackson has not only accomplished this feat once, but three times in a row! THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING and THE TWO TOWERS were exciting, breathtakingly beautiful motion pictures, and THE RETURN OF THE KING is no different. Like its predecessors, RETURN is rich with dazzling special effects; a haunting, melodic score; and hundreds of amazingly well-choreographed battle sequences—all set against the stunning backdrop of rural New Zealand.

The series flows seamlessly from one film to the next, yet each film stands on its own as a unique, original work of cinematic art. In THE RETURN OF THE KING, Frodo and Sam carry on their trek to Mount Doom to dispose of the One Ring, while a seemingly endless war for the future of Middle Earth rages on around them. Meanwhile, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli all venture to the Cursed Mountains to seek assistance from the lost souls who forever dwell there; as the beautiful elfin queen Arwen is torn between her father's wishes of joining her people for eternal life and her own desire to sacrifice her immortality in order to be with Aragorn.

There's a lot going on in the LORD OF THE RINGS films, and unless you're already familiar with the story (I wasn't), it can be difficult to keep track of the many characters and subplots. Broken down, the LORD OF THE RINGS storyline is nothing more than a good-versus-evil tale, albeit a complex, multilayered one. The pacing is suitably evenhanded, allotting equal amounts of screen time to the various colorful characters and journeys taking place within Middle Earth. THE RETURN OF THE KING never once falls into the trap of showing too much or too little of a certain subplot, and it never progresses too far without providing ample information about what is taking place elsewhere.

Though I was impressed with virtually every facet of the RINGS trilogy, what strikes me most about these films is Jackson's astounding attention to detail. Every shot is impeccably executed, right down to the last frame. The set design, costumes, weaponry, and even the traits and mannerisms of the different races of characters are perfectly and meticulously conceived. The amount of time and dedication invested into these films is truly unfathomable—just take a look at the credits! The computer-generated characters are some of the most impressive I have ever seen, particularly the subtle movements and detailed facial expressions of Gollum. However, the CG creatures still lack the naturalism of organic movement, and at times their interaction with human characters seems too obviously staged. There's a certain fluid, overly smooth quality of their movement that makes it seem artificial. We certainly have come a long way in the field of computer animation, but we still have quite a ways to go to combine it with live action and make it seem completely believable. This is not to say that the CG in LORD OF THE RINGS isn't great, just that it's not perfect. Still, it's probably as close to perfection as is humanly possible at this point.

THE RETURN OF THE KING swept the Academy Awards in 2004, raking in a well-deserved, unprecedented eleven Oscars. Not bad for a guy whose first foray into feature film-making was a low-budget gorefest about flesh-eating aliens!


ALIEN is undeniably terrifying, but still suffers from a few flaws
Ridley Scott's ALIEN is an immensely terrifying film. But the terror that it instills within the audience is of a kind that is sadly unknown to most viewers today. These days, what passes as "horror" is a mishmash of hyperactive editing, cheap scares, bad rock music, and explicit death scenes. ALIEN is the antithesis of all that.

ALIEN is a classic exercise in substance over style. Granted, it *is* a remarkably stylish film. It's hard not to notice the flashy visuals, the exhaustingly intricate production design, and the terrifying creature effects. But what's unique about ALIEN is that it never actually depends on any these elements to scare the viewer. It's already a frightening movie at its core; it just uses these elements to enhance the scares and add more believability to the story. Whereas most other big-budgeted horror titles rely solely on their special effects and lavish production values to frighten the viewer, ALIEN doesn't have to--its enthralling storyline, crafty camera-work, and masterful direction are effective enough on their own.

What makes the horror of ALIEN so successful is that it sets up a feeling of anxiety and dread in the very beginning, and continues to slowly and gradually pile on the tension until the explosive climax. There are long, lingering shots where nothing seems to happen and characters don't communicate with one another--yet, the amount of tension in these scenes is unbearable. You *know* something just isn't right. The film creeps along rather slowly, even after the alien life form is discovered and makes its way aboard the ship. The entire time, you're expecting the worst; and yet, oddly, you never see it coming.

After twenty-five years, ALIEN still succeeds in being an exceptionally nerveracking picture. But there are a handful of areas that appear dated or otherwise out of place. Most obviously, the "futuristic" computers and electronics onboard Nostromo are clunky and primitive--almost laughably so. But since personal computers were still in their infancy during the time of production, an issue such as this is easy to overlook. What's puzzling, though, is the discontinuity regarding the special effects. In most of the SFX-intensive sequences, the effects are carried out with striking realism, even by today's standards. But in other scenes, the creature appears to be nothing more than a rubbery hand-puppet, or in a couple instances, a guy ambling around in an alien costume. There's also a startling jump-cut that substitutes a prosthetic head for the actor's real head that is more distracting than effectual. While none of these unbefitting visuals ever actually detract from the quality of the film, one must wonder why these few instances of special effects artistry are so mediocre while the rest are nothing short of amazing.

Parts of the plot were hackneyed and predictable, particularly the false scare involving the cat and the entire subplot about science officer Ash being a robot bent on destroying the crew and transporting the murderous alien to Earth for the United States government. I found this part of the story to be totally forced and completely unnecessary, even detracting somewhat from the perfect simplicity of the plot up to this point (although it did make for some interesting anti-governmental themes). And I'm all for on screen titillation, but were those prolonged Sigourney Weaver underwear shots really necessary? Still, despite these minor gripes, I still consider ALIEN to be among the greatest and most well-made sci-fi/horror films I have ever experienced--not to mention one of the scariest!

The Day the Earth Stood Still

A classic sci-fi story tempered with a stilted (but still worthwhile) message of peace on Earth.
THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL seems to be the quintessential example of early science fiction films imbued with thoughtful social and political commentary. It was written, shot, and exhibited during a time of extreme political tension: the beginning of the Cold War, when the second wave of anti-Communist paranoia was back in full swing. On the surface, this bit of history may seem irrelevant to the subject matter and the message of the film, but having an understanding of the state of the world at the time it was made will allow you to appreciate its content that much more.

In THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, the people of Earth are alarmed when a flying saucer lands in Washington, D.C. As the otherworldly spacecraft descends onto the lawn of the Mall, the army and the police force have their weapons at ready. "Every eye, every weapon is trained on that ship," says a news anchor, seconds before the door to the ship slowly draws open and a benevolent life form named Klaatu emerges. Klaatu states his intentions of "peace and goodwill" and cautiously approaches the crowd, then produces an unknown object from his spacesuit. Without hesitation, one of the trigger-happy guardsmen fires. Klaatu, having committed no crime other than looking suspicious, then lay on the ground injured with hundreds of weapons still aimed at him, ready to be fired. This provocative image sets the tone for the rest of the movie.

What I found most interesting about this film was that it focused more on the human populace's reactions to an alien's arrival on Earth, rather than on the arrival itself. There are a few exciting moments of special effects and out-of-this-world technology that we have all come to expect from science fiction movies, but a great deal of it concentrates on Klaatu's concealment of his identity as a "spaceman" as he interacts with a typical suburban family. From the conversations he has with these well-meaning but ignorant people, we are introduced to the hysterical and destructive nature of the American middle-class, and for all intents and purposes, the rest of the world. In one memorable scene, a discussion over dinner (with the disguised Klaatu present) reveals that some people, including one of the family members, are suggesting that the fugitive "spaceman" be destroyed because he is actually a Communist spy!

As the story progresses, we learn of Klaatu's intentions for arriving on the planet Earth: to prevent our usage of newly acquired atomic weaponry from destroying neighboring, inhabited planets. After organizing a summit for "the world's greatest thinkers" (that is, high-level scientists from every field), Klaatu presents an interesting, albeit flawed, ultimatum: disarm your atomic weapons and live in peace, or else suffer complete annihilation. What had previously been a completely anti-violent movie was now tripping over its own logic. The good intentions of this "peaceful" race of "more advanced" life forms were now marred with a very primitive, humanlike flaw: the threat of violence to solve problems. Perhaps this was writer Edmund H. North's way of saying that violence, no matter how despicable, is also inevitable, perhaps even a necessary evil? Whatever the intent, I was fascinated (but quite honestly, disappointed) at Klaatu's conflicting messages about violence and destruction. However, even though these themes put a damper on what would have been the perfect anti-war story, it does force its viewers to think about humans' (and by extension, perhaps even aliens') predilection towards justifying violent behavior, and the backwards idea many of us have that by threatening violence, we will somehow prevent more violence.

Lucas, the Ear of Corn

You've come a long way, Bill Plympton
This early effort from the now-famous cult animator Bill Plympton tells the mournful story of a curious little ear of corn named Lucas who gets separated from his mother and sent off to the city to be sold as food. The crude artwork looks to have been made with crayons and construction paper, and the animation is primitive and shoddy, but that's what gives this amusing little number its charm. The voice acting surpasses the animation in terms of quality, with Lucas's mother sounding appropriately affectionate and nurturing, and Lucas himself having a cute and innocently inquisitive voice. LUCAS, THE EAR OF CORN is very unlike any of Plympton's more recent work in both style and content, but it does demonstrate his knack for originality and the darkly bizarre, almost dadaist sense humor that is consistent throughout all of his animation.

The Adventures of Robin Hood

A fun, lighthearted, and colorful (literally!) take on the classic Robin Hood legend.
I should start out by saying this: I am not much of a fan of adventure movies. Though the swashbuckling swordplay, flamboyant costuming, and retooled good-versus-evil story lines are exciting to many moviegoers, I find the whole genre to be mindless, hokey, and tiresome. Having said that, there are still a few films that are so unique, they almost persuade me to abandon my anti-adventure film prejudice altogether. THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD is one of them.

So what sets ROBIN HOOD apart from the other corny adventure yarns of its time? The answer is quite simple: it's just really damn good. Errol Flynn brings the title character to life in a way that has since been unmatched. He is bold, funny, charming, loyal, and athletic, though not completely without weakness. Flynn pulls all the punches to make the outlaw hero jovial and likable, despite his shameless overconfidence. You can't help but to root for him. In short, Flynn's performance was utterly perfect. It's impossible to picture a better Robin Hood.

The rest of the cast did an equally amazing job: Olivia de Havilland was enchanting as the radiant Maid Marian, Melville Cooper was consistently funny as the bumbling High Sheriff of Nottingham, and Claude Rains had the subtle, bitter disposition of Prince John down to a tee. Even the uncredited townsfolk were believable.

The real star of the show, however, is the brilliant use of the Technicolor process. The costumes, set design, and art direction were all specifically tailored to bring out the brightest, most dazzling colors, and they all succeeded unequivocally. Even now, where color is the standard, I have rarely seen such a striking array of reds, greens, blues, and yellows. Heck, even animated films aren't this colorful! ROBIN HOOD won a well-deserved Oscar for its editing, which is speedy yet deliberate. There is no lag in the action, and the film wastes no time with unimportant dialogue. But at the same time, it isn't dizzying or unpleasant to watch. Still, I did find myself looking at my watch towards the ninety minute mark. It's about this time when the movie goes a little overboard with the climactic fighting scene, which was clearly intended for those who enjoy the nonstop, bustling action that these kind of movies are meant to provide. Even so, the fact that I, a person who typically cringes at the thought of watching a swashbuckler, enjoyed THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD as much as I did really says something about how successful and influential this film is.

'Halloween' Unmasked 2000

Fans will find this documentary lacking in insight
I saw a stripped-down version of this mini-documentary (simply titled "HALLOWEEN: UNMASKED"--minus the "2000" part) on the second tape of my nifty "20th Anniversary Collector's Edition" two-tape set from Anchor Bay. It basically consists of Dee Snider (of Twisted Sister fame) narrating a brief history of the 1978 horror classic HALLOWEEN, followed by interviews with Jamie Lee Curtis, Moustapha Akkad, Nick Castle, and Debra Hill. Oddly enough, John Carpenter--nor any of the other cast and crew, for that matter--was not featured in the version I saw.

The interviewees are likable and fun to listen to, and it's clear that they really do have a genuine fondness for this cult classic, but they don't reveal anything that the die-hard Michael Myers fans don't already know. Nick Castle's segments are probably the most entertaining, especially when you consider that this laid-back, goofy-looking guy is the same man who horrified millions as Michael Myers in the original HALLOWEEN film.

As a whole, though, this documentary is pretty standard "DVD extra" fare. It isn't really engaging enough to pique the interest of the average viewer, and it isn't nearly insightful enough to satisfy the die-hard HALLOWEEN fanatics. Actually, I found the deleted scenes and the trailers (also featured on tape 2) to be much more interesting and entertaining.


Haunting and dreamy, though utterly horrifying.
Just as the 9/11 tragedy scared everybody in the movie industry into thinking twice about including even the mildest of "unpatriotic" themes or any action sequences where planes crash into buildings, the Columbine High School massacre aggrandized school shooting into one of those taboo phenomena that nobody was allowed to talk about, write about, joke about, or make movies about. But, as the Columbine incident is now just passing its sixth anniversary, it looks as if enough time has elapsed for filmmakers to feel "safe" about making movies containing school-related violence again.

So out of the smoke comes ELEPHANT, Gus Van Sant's haunting story of a sudden, unexpected massacre that erupts at a suburban high school. Despite the potential "action-movie" subject matter, the film is deliberately slow-paced, with long, laborious shots of seemingly insignificant acts and numerous lapses of unbroken silence. Though this style has been challenged as being pretentious and "artsy", I actually found it to be infinitely effective. Firstly, it brings about an immeasurable sense of tension and ominousness that couldn't possibly have been achieved by any other means. The overall voyeuristic style combined with the subtle jadedness of the characters creates an inescapable feeling of dreaded uncertainty in the viewer--you know something bad is going to happen, but you don't know when or what.

Secondly, Van Sant's unique visual style accurately portrays the monotony of everyday high school life. There are the long walks between classes, the half-hearted, obligatory greetings to the other kids passing by, the constant drone of teenage voices in the cafeteria--it's all here, and it's realistic enough to give you flashbacks of your own high-school experiences. Maybe that's why ELEPHANT's finale, though inevitable, is so shocking. There doesn't seem to be any real lead-up to the chaos, and the perpetrators have no real motive for their crimes, other than a general hatred for their classmates. By all accounts, there is absolutely no expectation of these events, except for a general sense of foreboding that none of the characters seem to be aware of. And yet, it all makes perfect sense, somehow.

The actors in ELEPHANT are mostly untrained, but ironically enough, this only adds to the blunt realism of the film. The kids are pretty much just being themselves the whole way through: hanging out in the hallway, engaging in (probably unscripted) conversations about trivial topics, etc. To use true "actors" would only make the whole ordeal look forced and would detract from the film's seemingly uncontrolled atmosphere.

There are several other minor touches about this movie that I really loved--like the brief moment when the oft-bullied Michelle breaks out of her complacency and looks to the sky in bewilderment, as if she was sensing her own impending doom. Also, the idea that the shooters picked off the students without thought or discrimination was a particularly bold but successful move. The fact that they targeted both the popular crowd and the outcasts showed just how heartless the murderous duo were, and succeeded in highlighting the baselessness of their crime. Finally, I respected Van Sant's choice to frame the entire movie in a square, rather than in the traditional rectangular format. For whatever reason, the square picture gives the film an odd kind of "home movie" feel, and curiously enough, somehow makes the visuals feel all the more genuine.

But ELEPHANT is not without its share of flaws. Although Van Sant does a decent job of touching on the many hardships and annoyances of teenage existence, it is clear he is trying to cram far too much social commentary into one 80-minute film. The scenes of teasing and many of the allusions to teenage politics worked well, but the bulimia scene and the numerous gay references were awkward and re-markedly out of place. Likewise, the archetypal portrayals of the gunmen as being trench coat-clad rejects who play violent video games and idolize Hitler was more than a little clichéd.

Still, despite these minor quibbles, ELEPHANT is a beautiful and jarring piece of modern cinema that should not be ignored. It's a film which requires patience and contemplation on the part of the viewer, so Hollywood-types should be forewarned. Those who do give it a try will find that, underneath its deceptively simple storyline, ELEPHANT has a lot to say--it's just hard to decipher exactly *what* it's saying.

A Clockwork Orange

A thoughtful and stylish film, although deeply troubling.
Filmmaker Stanley Kubrick was no stranger to controversy. Even though most of his efforts were highly praised by critics everywhere, films like PATHS OF GLORY, LOLITA, and DR. STRANGELOVE rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. The same can be said about his 1971 film, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, which received huge critical acclaim despite the fact that it is without a doubt the most notorious title in his filmography. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE is indeed an excellent picture, but it's not hard to see why it has earned such a sordid reputation.

Watching A CLOCKWORK ORANGE is like immersing yourself in a barbaric, futuristic nightmare. The cops are corrupt, the government is increasingly intrusive, and the kids are getting their jollies from raping, robbing, and rumbling. In other words, it's just like today--only much more surreal.

Kubrick's vision of a violent, sadistic future is uniquely disturbing. Rather than showing the chaotic, digitized, robotized, post- or near-apocalyptic future that we're all used to seeing in other sci-fi movies, Kubrick opts for a colorful, vibrant, and unfittingly serene landscape. The interiors are darkly lit and uncomfortably roomy, the furniture is gaudy and abstract, and the architecture is almost Escher-like in its complexity. This sort of `neo-apocalyptic' setting is most likely what makes the film all the more alarming, since we as viewers are not accustomed to seeing such primitive acts of violence and barbarism atop a vibrant, modern-art backdrop. Even the graphically violent scenes are orchestrated in an upbeat and dance-like fashion, such as the scene wherein Alex and his droogs sexually assault a woman to the tune of "Singin' in the Rain".

The messages in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE are equally troubling. The film clearly stresses the importance of the human right to a free will, but it also makes clear the problems that come along with such a right--namely, that given the choice, many people will choose to be hateful and vicious, simply because they can be. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE also seems to suggest that there is no hope for dangerous individuals such as Alex; that those who lack a conscience now will lack a conscience forever, regardless of what happens to them--a troubling message indeed.

Though much of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE is overtly shocking, it is still a relatively humble film. It is evident that Kubrick had a lot to say with this movie, but rather than deliberately blurt his ideas at the viewer to get his point across, he wisely chose to implement the tiniest of subtleties in order to convey his messages. This is what makes A CLOCKWORK ORANGE stay fresh and interesting, even with repeat viewings. It is one of those films where no matter how many times one sees it, he will always pick up on something new.

Det sjunde inseglet

Chilling, audacious, and awe-inspiring. An undisputed masterpiece.
The mysteries of religion and death have long been a popular focus among artists of all media, including film. And while many films question these mysteries, they seldom provide any real insight into the world of the unknown. In Ingmar Bergman's THE SEVENTH SEAL, these mysteries are not only questioned; they are dissected, splayed, and scrutinized.

THE SEVENTH SEAL could very well serve as sort of a manifesto for existentialism. Its deep acuity and haunting imagery is powerful enough to jar even passive viewers out of their complacency and force them to examine their own reality. The delicately crafted story centers around a 14th century knight named Antonius Block and his ongoing game of chess with a shadowy, hooded figure: Death. Bergman uses this allegory not just to personify death, but to illustrate the lengths man will go to in order to avoid it. In the end, however, Death is a much better player than any of us, and though he may humor some of his opponents by letting them think that they have the advantage, the end result is inevitable: Death always wins. No matter how skillfully we plan our moves or how determined we are to win, we can never beat Death.

In Antonius's search for answers, he encounters a variety of very unique characters, each with their own outlook on life, death, faith, fear and love. Their commentary on such matters is often dryly funny and always brilliant, continuously and effectively challenging our perceptions of the world around us. For me, the dialogue was definitely the high point of the film, as it was extremely thought-provoking and carefully constructed throughout. Almost every line spoken is, in one way or another, daunting and unforgettable. Jöns's description of love as "the blackest of all plagues" is a quote that will forever be engraved in my mind.

THE SEVENTH SEAL truly is a remarkable accomplishment in the world of cinema. It is a deep, mesmerizing, and darkly beautiful work of art. More importantly, THE SEVENTH SEAL is one of those rare movies that doesn't just entertain, but also has the power to change the way one thinks.

Citizen Kane

CITIZEN KANE may let some people down, but it's still worth seeing.
It's a difficult undertaking for someone of my generation to watch a film like CITIZEN KANE. Not because it's "too old" or "too boring", but because it has been hailed--almost universally--as the single best motion picture ever made. And while the anticipation of seeing a film with such overwhelming acclaim may be quite exhilarating, actually watching it is ultimately an intimidating and somewhat disappointing experience.

This isn't to say that I thought CITIZEN KANE was a bad film; in fact, I thought everything about it was downright brilliant. From the enchanting performances right down to the meticulously planned camera movements and clever lighting tricks, there isn't a single element of CITIZEN KANE that isn't a stunning achievement in all areas of filmmaking.

CITIZEN KANE's storyline is deceptively simple. Even though the plot unfolds by jumping in and out of nonlinear flashbacks, it is surprisingly easy to keep track of. The straightforwardness and relatively fast pace of the story are what make it seem intimidating. Because everything moves smoothly along without any standstill, it feels like we are being fooled-like there is something much greater that we just can't seem to grasp. As a first-time viewer, I knew from its reputation that there must be *something* that separates this movie from all the others; something buried within its simple plotline that everybody else has seen, but that I just could not seem to get a handle on. And then, during those final frames, that something was revealed, and it all began to make sense. To me, it was these moments of confusion and uncertainty followed by a sense of enlightenment and appreciation that made watching CITIZEN KANE such a meaningful experience.

But no matter how great of a movie CITIZEN KANE really is, it can never live up to one's expectations. Although I do feel that it is deserving of its acclamation, the constant exposure to its six decades worth of hype and praise will invariably set most modern viewers' standards at a height that is virtually unreachable--even if it really *is* the best movie of all time.

Good Bye Lenin!

Hello, Masterpiece!
The destruction of the Berlin Wall in 1989 was a historically significant event not just for the people of Germany, but also for much of the rest of the world. Aside from reuniting two vastly different political systems, this remarkable incident marked a turning point for the capitalist uprising occurring within many of the other socialist states. Filmmakers worldwide have since explored the causes and effects of the German Reunification, and even today, they continue to bring new insight and a fresh perspective to an event that occurred nearly fifteen years ago. Wolfgang Becker's GOOD BYE, LENIN! is among the most recent of such films, and probably among the best of them as well.

Rather than charging head-on at a specific political standing, GOOD BYE, LENIN! uses carefully controlled satire to poke fun at the absurdities of both communist and capitalist societies. And despite criticism from gung-ho supporters of either system, Becker is careful not to take sides or appear sympathetic toward any political institution. Instead of concentrating exclusively on the governmental changes of the newly reunified Germany, he wisely opts to narrow his focus on the effects that these changes have on one particular Berlin family. By doing this, Becker is able to show the challenges of adapting to a new, unfamiliar way of life in a context that is much more personal and easier for the viewer to identify with.

The humor in GOOD BYE, LENIN! is plentiful, and Becker takes advantage of every possible opportunity to fit in a comedic moment. Even during the most somber parts of the story, the film never lets go of its astute sense of humor; and because the humor is always thought-provoking and cleverly executed, it never feels forced or gratuitous. The running joke about Alex's unremitting quest for Spreewald pickle jars and the scene where Alex's bedridden mother is perplexed by the Coca-Cola banner hanging from the building across from hers' are brilliant examples of the movie's sharp, yet sensitive wit. Aside from just being funny in themselves, these bits work doubly well because of their uses of symbolism and metaphor. The Spreewald pickles, now impossible to find because of the fall of the GDR, are representative of the `good old days' when Alex was familiar with the ways of his country and when his mother was in good health. His almost frantic search for them shows his longing to return to the way things used to be. Likewise, the unfurling of the Coca-Cola banner is the perfect embodiment of all the capitalist changes occurring within the new Germany. Once you begin to see the Coca-Cola and Burger King logos, you know that capitalism has truly grabbed hold and that there is now no escaping its embrace, for better or for worse.

GOOD BYE, LENIN! makes great use of this type of imagery to emphasize the country's transformation and to provide insight to the emotions of the main characters. A most notable instance of this is the scene where Alex's mother, a staunch supporter of socialism, finally leaves her home to a very different East Germany than the one she remembered. She then looks to the sky and sees a helicopter airlifting a statue of Lenin off the top of a building. As Lenin is being hauled away, his outstretched arm seems to be reaching out to her, as if he's calling out for her to rescue him and his ideals, and restore her beloved country.

Alex's complex lies and meticulous attempts at preserving the past for his mother are innocent enough at first, but eventually they begin to take on a life of their own. The lengths he goes through to maintain the atmosphere of a bygone era and keep his mother happy are indeed funny, but they are also very tragic as well. Though the lies do work temporarily to keep his mother oblivious to the events outside of her apartment, they also plunge Alex and his family into such a deep pool of deception that they eventually lose their closeness with one another. The stress of keeping up the façade becomes unbearable for Alex, and at one point he even wishes his mother were dead.

Other humor was purely cultural, and probably only appreciable by people who have actually experienced the Reunification. I noticed this only because of the native German family sitting in front of me at the theater, laughing in unison at dialogue and images that didn't look to me like they were meant to be interpreted as humorous. But still, even though the older generations of German people are likely to get more out of this movie, it is still a hilarious, heartfelt, and incredibly rewarding experience for people of all cultures and ethnicities.

Ripley's Game

The Most Dangerous Game
For every mediocre movie that makes it to the theater, another far superior movie will lay dormant and unseen, never quite making it to the big screen. There is possibility that the latter film will become a "sleeper" hit at the video rental store, but even so, the fact that it never even got a chance at becoming a box office success is pure cinematic injustice. Never have I felt so strongly about this belief than after my recent viewing of Liliana Cavani's thoughtful, stylish thriller, RIPLEY'S GAME.


Though apparently screened elsewhere in the world, RIPLEY'S GAME was never given a theatrical release in the United States. Though I don't know the exact reason for this, my guess is because of its subject matter. For one thing, the distributors probably felt it was too intellectual for the average moviegoer. Moreover, Ripley's Game is very dark and unsettling, almost overwhelmingly so; and even the most seasoned fans of suspense flicks may have a hard time digesting the events depicted onscreen. Another reason may have been because the movie has the anti-hero come out strong in the end, which goes against our country's traditional "the good guy always wins" plot structure. But whatever the answer, one thing is for certain: it's a shame that the American people were never given the chance to see this wonderful movie the same way the rest of the world was.

Based on the central character of a successful series of novels, the "talented improviser" Tom Ripley is played by veteran actor John Malkovich. Normally a character as ruthless and complex as Ripley would be too unbelievable to accept, no matter who the performer. Malkovich, however, plays his part with the utmost precision, contributing so many subtle eccentricities and nuances to his character that Tom Ripley seems to come alive with the most frightening realism.

Tom Ripley is an extremely complicated and multifaceted character. Within his words and actions lie many contradictions. Despite his evident lack of a conscience, he does show a hint of compassion every now and then. His unexpected appearance on the train and his willingness carry out the murders for Jonathan shows that Ripley is indeed sympathetic of him and his plight, and perhaps even fascinated by his vulnerability. Jonathan is also the only character (aside from Ripley's lover, Luisa) who he opens up to, sharing intimate details about his childhood and his feelings. It is during these moments when we really see the private, humanistic side of Ripley, and not just the smug, cold-blooded façade that he shows to everybody else.

On the flipside, Jonathan is just as enthralled with Ripley as Ripley is of Jonathan. While Ripley is drawn to Jonathan because of his indelible purity, Jonathan seems to secretly admire Ripley's "live-fast" persona; and now, with the recent news of his leukemia, Jonathan probably feels the need to experience life at its fullest-something he knows Ripley does every day. This would explain why he continues to associate himself with Ripley, allowing himself to fall deeper and deeper into a pit of danger and excitement. His moment of triumph comes when he takes a bullet for Ripley, which not only represents a form of payment he felt he was indebted to Ripley, but also acted as "cure" for all the problems in his life-especially his terminal illness. Therefore, he was able to "beat" leukemia before it was able to kill him, and instead die in a way that was heroic, exciting, and memorable. This ultimate act of courage, love, and spontaneity in such a predictable human being shocked and puzzled Ripley, a feat which must be nearly impossible considering his utter lack of emotion. In this way, Jonathan was able to beat Ripley at his own game.

Aside from this one interpretation, the movie's title works on a number of other levels as well. Ripley views his "every-man-for-himself" lifestyle as a game that he is continuously playing, but that can never truly be won. Likewise, fellow con artists and criminals are forced to play Ripley's game when negotiating with him, testing their wits to see if they are clever enough to scam him. Of course, the meaning of the title isn't set in stone, and each viewer is likely to interpret it differently. Also, because of the cerebral, subjective nature of this film, multiple viewings will no doubt yield multiple interpretations in most viewers.

One of the high points of RIPLEY'S GAME is its somber, creepy mood, which is enhanced greatly by the film's music and art direction. The otherworldly harpsichord soundtrack coupled with the lavish, almost heavenly decoration of Ripley's mansion is breathtaking, and succeeds in making Ripley and his lover seem "above" the audience in all respects. The camera always pans very slowly as it shows the soothing, elegant artwork in the background, emphasizing Ripley's permanent calmness, even in the most harrowing situations. It's the subtle, almost unnoticeable touches like these that make this film so disconcerting.

RIPLEY'S GAME is proof positive that a movie doesn't have to be a financial success in order to be worth watching. Despite its relative obscurity, this brainy, satisfying thriller has a lot to offer.

M - Eine Stadt sucht einen Mörder

Marvelous! Magnificent! A Masterpiece!
A quick word to video renters: AVOID THE VERSIONS FROM BARR ENTERTAINMENT and BUDGET VIDEO! Aside from using the grainiest, scratchiest, and noisiest prints I've ever seen, the subtitles on these tapes are a joke. They only kick in about 40% of the time, and seem to paraphrase the characters' dialogue instead of actually translate it. Even when they do show up, they're often unreadable because the white text blends in with white objects on the screen. If you can get ahold of it, watch the Criterion DVD! You'll be glad you did!


In the world of film, there is certain subject matter that is just too taboo to be explored by mainstream filmmakers. Even now, with Hollywood's shameless predilection for blood, sex, and drugs, some topics are still just too iffy for the Steven Spielbergs and the George Lucases of today. Movies that contain serious portrayals of homosexual romance, scenes of rape, or strong anti-governmental themes are big no-no's in Hollywood; but the biggest way to guarantee a permanent shun from Columbia Pictures or DreamWorks SKG is to make a movie about child murder. Better yet, why not make the child murderer a sympathetic character?

This is exactly what Fritz Lang did in his phenomenal 1931 feature, M. M was truly ahead of its time, and not simply because of its early use of synchronized sound. What amazed me most about M was that it featured a character who, when introduced, is utterly despicable. The audience quickly learns of his unforgivable crimes, and although none of the murders are actually shown, they are talked about in grim detail, with the camera often focusing-almost unbearably-on the reactions of the distraught parents as they speak of their children's demise. As the film progresses, however, our perceptions began to change, and we start to take pity on this man, all the while coming to the realization that the vigilant mob who wants to beat this man to death is no better than the murderer himself. After all, is mercilessly pummeling a defenseless man to death somehow more `civil' than killing a child? To some, the answer may be yes; but to me, murder cannot be divided into degrees of acceptability like that-it is wrong, no matter who does it or who it is done to, period.

But it goes much deeper than that. Aside from just feeling sympathy for the murderer simply because an entire town wants his head on a stick, you can't help but be affected by his genuinely sorrowful personality. After all, he honestly cannot control what he is doing, and he is just as horrified learning about his crimes as the parents of the children he kills-perhaps even more so, since the shock of discovering that you are the one responsible for such evil is a probably an impossible one to recover from. His speech at the end is not only heartfelt and pitiful, but it's thought-provoking as well. As short of a speech as it is, it provides a great deal of insight into the relatively simple mindset most people have regarding issues like these.

Another fascinating quality about M was its constant, almost overwhelming references to angry mobs and vigilante justice. Even before the final chase segment, there are many scenes wherein a dominant force bullies an innocent person or group of people with little or no justification. The scene that sticks out most in my mind is one where a man is beaten down by some nearby pedestrians, simply because he asked a child if she knew the time. The main purpose behind this particular scene is obvious: it serves as a harrowingly realistic portrayal of the dangerous type of hysteria that can infect a highly emotional group of people. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that these types of scenes were probably meant to be sly references to the recent settlement of the Nazi party in Germany. Lang seems to be commenting not only on the steadily growing support of the party, but also his disdain for their violent and often dictatorial methods of government and international relations.

M is a movie that not only forces you to think, but to feel as well. Peter Lorre's portrayal of the murderous antagonist (or is he the protagonist?) is both frightening and heartrending, and Fritz Lang's script and direction are both first rate. M's cinematography is also marvelous, not only helping to tell its story in a fluid, stylish manner, but also causing the film as a whole to give off an ominous, unsettling vibe.

Cool World

Cool and unusual
Animated films and cartoons have always been looked upon as an art form that caters primarily to a younger audience. Though this may be an unfair assessment to make, it is a logical one, since the child-friendly Walt Disney Company has dominated the animated film industry right from its inception after introducing the world to Mickey Mouse in 1928. After that, there has only been a handful of daring artists who have tried to disengage the squeaky-clean stereotype that animated films had since been branded with. Ralph Bakshi was such a man.

In 1972, Bakshi wrote and directed FRITZ THE CAT, a full-length animated feature film that touted a self-imposed X-rating and worldwide critical acclaim. Exactly twenty years later, Bakshi would go on to direct COOL WORLD, his sixth and most recent adult-oriented animated film to date.

On its own, the artwork and animation in COOL WORLD is excellent. The girls are sexy, the villains are ugly, and the backdrops have a surreal, almost psychedelic quality to them. The use of rotoscoping (still a relatively new technology at the time) to fluidly illustrate some of the more complex human movements was a wise choice, making the animated `Doodles' seem all the more lifelike. The animators went to great lengths to make their characters' interactions with live actors and actual scenery seem genuine. Many subtle touches, like the cartoons casting real shadows in the Humanoid world, and the direct eye contact between the Noids and the Doodles, were added to enhance the believability of these otherwise unbelievable situations.

Still, despite the great animation and the artists' valiant efforts at making the two-dimensional animation intermingle with our three-dimensional universe, the movie's visuals, while very impressive, are ultimately ineffectual. No matter how well these images are drawn, their lack of depth makes the contact with the live actors seem awkward and even distracting at times. Granted, they did the best they could at combining two very different mediums, but no amount of detail can shake the feeling that you're merely watching a 2-D overlay atop of a 3-D film, rather than 2-D characters within a 3-D film as was intended.

The high point of the film, I think, was Kim Basinger's portrayal of Holli Would as she fervently attempts to adjust to Humanoid life. Basinger is suitably perky as the deviant Miss Would, and did an outstanding job emulating the actions and mannerisms of her cartoon counterpart. Basinger succeeds at making Holli's reactions to the Las Vegas public both hilarious and embarrassing for the viewer, a feat which is probably not easy to pull off.

Gabriel Byrne's performance as Jack Deebs is another example of fine acting in this film. Byrne's character, although probably not as scared or confused by his predicament as he should have been, is portrayed convincingly, and there's enough of a well-developed backstory to accept his antisocial attitude and somewhat pessimistic outlook on life. Byrne also handles Deebs's gradual transition from calm and collected to a state of panic and exasperation exceptionally well, and his sheepishness as he futilely attempts to disassociate himself with Holli and her embarrassingly eccentric behavior is another high point in the film.

Brad Pitt plays his role as Detective Frank Harris in typical Pitt fashion. This is not to say he did a bad job, but his performances tend to be bland and unmemorable, and this movie is no exception. Even as early as 1992, the year COOL WORLD was released, we've already seen Pitt play the same no-nonsense `tough guy' character in a half-dozen or so other films, and he doesn't exactly add any kind of flair to make this role distinguishable from his others.

COOL WORLD's plot, although thin, is exciting and very original. The pacing is lightning fast, constantly jarring the viewer with over-the-top cartoon sight gags and playful innuendos. There are chase scenes, fight scenes, sex scenes, and death scenes; all seemingly back to back, and all set to an awesome adrenalin-pumping techno soundtrack. From the opening title to the closing credits, COOL WORLD plays out like a cinematic roller coaster.

However, as exciting as the movie was, I couldn't help feeling gypped after finally seeing it. COOL WORLD, although undoubtedly a clever picture, lacks the social themes and political commentary (as well as the bold, overt explicitness) that Ralph Bakshi is famous for. In FRITZ THE CAT, Bakshi takes jabs at a wide variety of hot-button issues and events that were controversial at the time, such as the Black Panthers, the alarming rise of police brutality, and the hippie movement. Cool World, at least from my own personal interpretation, is devoid of any kind of theme or commentary whatsoever.

Overall, COOL WORLD doesn't really do anything that hasn't been done before. We've already seen adult-oriented animation in FRITZ THE CAT. We've already seen the `cartoon/reality crossover' in WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT. And we've already witnessed rotoscoped animation in Bakshi's own THE LORD OF THE RINGS. But just because it isn't groundbreaking does not mean it isn't entertaining. When it comes to action, excitement, and eye candy, COOL WORLD definitely delivers the goods.

Living in Oblivion

More than just "a movie about a movie" (minor spoilers within)
Ever since the invention of motion pictures in the 1890s, watching movies has been a favorite pastime of people all over the world. Knowing this, one should find it surprising that the average person knows little to nothing about what actually goes on during the production of a movie, nor does he or she understand how much backbreaking work is put into even the most abysmal features. For the uninitiated, Tom DiCillo's 1995 feature Living in Oblivion will serve as a both an education in filmmaking and a wake-up call to better appreciate an art form many of us take for granted. It can also be seen as a light-hearted warning to those who are considering a career in the movie industry, or as a refreshing, close-to-home satire to those already involved.

To briefly summarize, Living in Oblivion is a film about the making of a film--an independent, low-budget drama with the same title. Steve Buscemi plays Nick Reve, the film's hopelessly frustrated, strung-out director who's just trying to make it through the shoot in one piece. The many hurdles--both technical and personal--that come with the territory of shooting a low-budget picture are depicted in a way that is unnervingly realistic, yet absolutely hilarious at the same time. We learn right from the get-go that filmmaking is one of those ventures where anything that can go wrong will, and Nick Reve's movie is certainly no exception.

Aside from just being well-acted, the characters in Living in Oblivion are very original and complex. I found such depth in character to actually be somewhat surprising, since the movie's premise is relatively simple, and much of the character development isn't really needed for the jokes to work. But the fact that DiCillo has incorporated a distinct personality and back-story into all of the main parts really helps add to not only the believability of the characters and their actions, but to the viewer's emotional attachment to them as well. Even though we're laughing, we can feel Nick's aggravation as take after take is blown by one minor difficulty or another, and by the time he finally cracks and vows not to finish the production, the audience shares in the disappointment of the onscreen crew, who have been giving their all to make sure that this film makes it to completion. As viewers, we can see that Nick's production is really nothing more than a tacky romantic drama, but because it is a labor of love, we develop a relationship with it anyway, and are therefore genuinely saddened during those few moments when all hope is lost.

Living in Oblivion is also rife with imagery and visual effects that help to punctuate its mood as well as the characters' relationships with one another and with Nick's movie itself. The first third of Oblivion (Nick's dream sequence) is in black and white, while the scenes of his production are shown in color. To me, this represents Nick's total devotion to the project. This movie is everything to him (it is `the light', so to speak), and showing its scenes in color juxtaposed with the stark black and white shots to represent reality help illustrate his passion for his work. Conversely, Nicole's (the lead actress, played by Catherine Keener) dream sequence uses the exact opposite technique, showing the movie's scenes as black and white, while reality is in color. Again, this helps to justify her relationship with the picture-reluctant and detached.

Living in Oblivion may appear simple and unremarkable on the surface, but appearances can be deceptive! Hidden within the film's straightforward storyline and seemingly pessimistic humor lies a very clever look at the human need for involvement, power, passion, and triumph. It may be difficult to pick up at first, but repeated viewings will tell you that this is undoubtedly more than just a `movie about a movie'.

The Birth of a Nation

Easy to appreciate; hard to sit through.
For the most part, I found D.W. Griffith's THE BIRTH OF A NATION to be an amazing picture. Even by the strict standards of Hollywood epics today, almost everything about this film was truly remarkable-especially when considering all of the technological limitations of the time. It's hard to believe that this was the first feature-length motion picture ever made, because Griffith really has the style down to a tee. It seems like learning how to shoot and edit such a long, well-flowing story would be a skill that would take several films to master, but it looks as if Griffith virtually perfected the craft on his very first try.

Despite BIRTH's long running time, the film rolls swiftly by without missing a beat. The plot was surprisingly complex, beginning with a touching portrait of the friendship of two very different families, and soon branching off into several thematic subplots involving romance, war, despair, bigotry, and honor. Given the intricacy of the story, I was impressed at how clearly and concisely it played out, especially after reminding myself that film has never been used to tell such a grand story before.

All praise aside, however, there were some areas of THE BIRTH OF A NATION that I found to be utterly appalling. Namely, the heroic depiction of the Ku Klux Klan and the portrayal of blacks as vicious, easily led savages made my stomach turn. The disclaimer at the beginning of the picture claims that Griffith's intent was not to be racist, but merely historically accurate. Needless to say, this is wrong on both counts: not only is THE BIRTH OF A NATION a disgustingly and overtly racist picture through and through, but a great deal of the so-called facts regarding the Civil War are either grossly skewed in favor of the Griffith's conservative Southern mentality, or they are just plain made up. Though this movie is most definitely a groundbreaking achievement in film-making, it most certainly isn't a likable one.

To me, watching THE BIRTH OF A NATION was a worthwhile experience for historical purposes, and it really is easy to appreciate the tremendous effort that went into making it. But even so, I found it difficult to actually enjoy such a blatantly racially prejudiced movie.

America's Most Haunted Places

Lacking in many areas, but still worth a look.
This short-lived series produced for the Travel Channel focuses on a different American city in every episode, and showcases what are supposedly the most haunted tourist attractions in each one. The show looks and feels the way you'd expect it to--that is, it uses the exact same format of every other documentary series on basic cable. Everything, from the goofy reenactments to the overly dramatic host to that trademark "slow-zoom-on-still-photographs-and-illustrations" effect, is completely done by the book.

The series is informative, and entertaining enough to hold one's interest, but it doesn't deliver in those areas where films about the supernatural are expected to. For one thing, the subject matter is presented very matter-of-factly, without any attempt to spook the viewer. This makes all of the genuinely scary stories and situations presented therein seem merely fascinating rather than chilling, and the boring narration and interviewees actually make some of them seem mundane. Secondly, the ridiculous reenactments and sheer lunacy of some of the "witnesses" and "paranormal experts" they choose to interview really put a strain on the show's credibility. True, the locations they visit in the series are supposed to actually be haunted, but on many occasions the validity of such claims is dampened by the eccentric interview subjects. Can't they interview more people, and filter the obvious wackos out during editing?

And lastly, but most importantly: WHERE IS THE GHOST FOOTAGE? In every single hour-long episode of this series, there is not a single photograph or video clip shown to back up their claims. And keep in mind that these are places where such photographic evidence is known to exist, and is actually easily available in books and on the web. Including this type of material would *greatly* improve this series, both by making it more believable and more interesting, and scarier as well. Unfortunately, the poor "dramatizations" that they opted for do the exact opposite.

Still, despite all my nitpicking, AMERICA'S MOST HAUNTED PLACES is worth checking out. Hardcore fans and believers of the paranormal and supernatural will benefit most from the experience, but even many casual viewers will probably take some interest. And the series does do a terrific job of promoting their locations, which should be expected (after all, this is the Travel Channel!). In fact, I may start making notes of some of these locations as future vacation spots. Anybody wanna accompany me to the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose?

The Kids in the Hall

The most original sketch comedy program on TV.
Whether you love 'em or hate 'em, you have to admit that there's never been anything like the KIDS IN THE HALL. Sure, sketch comedy shows are a dime a dozen, but these guys set themselves apart from all the rest with their unmatchable brand of bizarre, surreal, and often gender-defiant skits. The show is usually downright hilarious, although some of the jokes do miss their mark on occasion. But even the most unfunny sketches are entertaining, simply because of how insane they are.

The humor in KIDS IN THE HALL is, for the most part, purely unexplainable, and sometimes it's actually subtly disturbing--an experimental sort of comedy that best fits in the "either you get it or you don't" category. When watching KITH with a group, the viewer response will invariably be split: one half will be teary-eyed from laughter while the rest of the gang will be hopelessly confused or frustrated, making condescending statements like "I don't see how you think this is funny!"

It's clear that these lovable Canucks decided from the get-go that they were going to do exactly what they wanted, without too much concern for genre standards, formulas, or even success. And that, I think, is the secret to their success. Whether they intended to or not, these five KIDS succeeded in carving themselves a very distinct niche in the world of sketch comedy, towering above even SNL because of their fresh style and consistent hilarity.

Faces of Death: Fact or Fiction?

An insult to viewers everywhere.
Those looking for the history of the notorous FACES OF DEATH series or an explanation of the controversy regarding the validity of its footage--don't be fooled. FACES OF DEATH: FACT OR FICTION? doesn't tell you anything you don't already know. FOD director John Alan Schwarz (who insists on using the pseudonym Conan Le Cilaire) and the woman interviewing him carefully tiptoe around the main purpose of this tape, constantly becoming sidetracked with unfunny anecdotes, completely unrelated and long-winded rants, clips from the series itself, and sometimes flat-out lies about the FOD films. FACT OR FICTION? is not informative in the least, and resembles more of a promotional tool for the now-defunct series than it does an actual documentary about it. And with an appallingly hammy performance by the supposedly cancer-ridden "Dr. Louis Flellis", as well as end credits attributed to names like Richard Head and Johnny Getyerkokov, you can't help but feel insulted, disappointed, and ripped off.

Mystery Science Theater 3000

Excellent! Ranks right up there with "The Simpsons" and "The Daily Show" !
For those unfortunate few who have never seen an episode of Joel Hodgson's MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 (referred to by fans as 'MST3K'), here is a brief rundown on all the fun you've missed out on. Dr. Forrester is your typical mad scientist. He sports big glasses, an oversized lab coat, crazy hair, and an insatiable urge to take over the world. In an effort to kick off his latest foolproof world-domination scheme, Dr. Forrester abducts a dry-witted janitor named Joel Robinson from the research center they both work at. Joel is blasted into space in an apparently escape-proof ship called the Satellite of Love, forever doomed to orbit the planet Earth. Forrester keeps contact with Joel via satellite transmission, and each week sends hims an unbearably awful b-movie which he is forced to watch. The mad doctor's idea is to keep sending movies that are so mind-numbingly terrible that it will eventually drive Joel and his viewers to insanity, thus giving him an easy outlet for conquering the world. To help preserve his sanity, Joel uses parts from the ship to build four wise-cracking robot friends that keep him company and help us to avoid cinema-induced lunacy by mercilessly heckling the films.

The show aired weekly, and re-introduced old 1950s-70s era drive-in swill to a world that has long forgotten about it. The movies they chose--The Brain That Wouldn't Die, Time of the Apes, and (most notorious) Manos: The Hands of Fate, for example--were truly some of the most awful abominations in cinema history, and how they were able to find clear, working prints of these (mostly) obscure films is beyond me. Not only was it great to be able to witness some of these "masterpieces" first-hand, but the non-stop commentary by Joel, Tom, and Crow was absolutely hysterical. There was never a dull moment when those boys hit the SOL's onboard movie theater. On occasion, there would be a break from the movie to show a humorous sketch that would further the basic plot of the show. While many of these segments were admittedly not all that funny, they didn't last long, and Forrester would call for "MOVIE SIGN!" again in no time. Come to think of it, it may not even be that these primitive skits weren't funny, but that they simply paled in comparison to the sheer hilarity that took place in the ship's movie theater.

MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 is one of the few television programs that seems to be loved by virtually everybody. Seriously--I know of not a single person who didn't like this show, nor have I ever read a single negative comment or review of it. That being said, why on Earth was such a brilliant show like MST3K canceled? It couldn't have been because of poor ratings, since the show had a huge cult following and a substantial amount of regular viewers. If anyone has any information regarding why this series was taken off the air, please contact me!

Premium Blend

A comedy show for small-minded folks with no attention spans.
While attempting to showcase the funniest men and women in the world of stand-up comedy, PREMIUM BLEND only succeeds at making them all seem excruciatingly lame. This substandard television series begins with an unwatchable segment by the host, who is always somebody so unbelievably unfunny that it is actually painful to sit through. After the host concludes his or her godawful "comedy" routine, the show cycles through about five or six different relatively unknown comedians in a mere twenty-two minutes.

The problem with PREMIUM BLEND isn't that the featured comics aren't funny (except for the hosts--they always suck no matter what); the problem is that none of the performers are really given a chance to shine. They have about three or four minutes at the most, and they only have time to tell the shortest, most outmoded jokes in their repertoire. Most stand-up comedy involves long stories with detailed explanations, as well as occasional references to earlier parts of the act in order for it to really be funny. Since they are only given a thin slice of time, they are only able to tell a few "differences between men and women" or "white people vs. black people" jokes, which have been beaten to death in the past and are seldom funny in the first place. So even if the comics are the most hilarious individuals on the planet, you would never know it from watching PREMIUM BLEND.

The show's only real saving grace has got to be the musical acts. Excellent yet mostly unheard-of bands (like Tuuli or the U.S. Bombs) provide the soundtrack during each performer's introduction and during the show's end credits. But again, not enough of the music is ever really heard for people to form a legitimate opinion on the band.

Despite its shortcomings, Comedy Central's PREMIUM BLEND does have the *potential* to be good, but a few changes must be made first. A) Extend the show's running time to 60 minutes as opposed to only 30. B) Cut the number of featured comedians in half. C) Let the band play an entire song at the end of the show. D) EITHER a) Completely do away with the host OR b) find a host who is actually capable of making another human being laugh. Jim Breuer and Harlon Williams are *never* funny under any circumstances.

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