Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Village In Her Head

Something about the Winter Solstice awakens the human spirit, regardless of one’s particular faith. It’s a time of whimsical magic, and it transports us to a realm where our sense of wonder is the only compass we need to guide us. It truly is “the most magical time of the year,” despite all the humbugs with which contemporary life attempts to burden it. Sadly, the calendar changes far too soon, and we ring in the New Year with a toast to the past and a vague hope for the future before succumbing to all those humbugs that tailgate our existences through the rest of any given year. Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza and all the other Winter Solstice celebrations, all about renewal in one way or another, fall sway to economic uncertainty, unnamed wars, collapsed 401Ks and any number of conditions that keep us up at the most inopportune times.

At least, that’s how it works for most of the population.

There are people on this planet, however, who find magic in the most mundane quarters. Elke E is one such person. As a child of eight or so, living in Germany, she had the grand idea of making a doll house from an old shoebox that she found in the attic of her parent’s house .She cut and glued and painted and drew until she had a perfect little home of her very own, replete with table, chairs, bed and probably other things that are important to an eight year old girl. Not content with her cardboard furniture, she took it a step further and upholstered them with bits of fabric.

Fast forward some forty years later. The eight year old girl is married now, and living in America, happy, but not on the soundest financial footing as Christmas approaches. She also has a three year old niece, and minimal funds with which to buy her presents. But she still remembers her dollhouse, and she still has her sense of wonder. Rescuing a storage box from work, she sets about to resurrect that piece of her childhood and bequeath it to her niece Shelby. Using bits and pieces of things she already had, or were otherwise going to the trash heap, she constructs, by mid- December, a lavishly furnished home for Shelby’s dolls, and adds other hand-made characters and pets to keep them company. It’s an instant hit, not only with Shelby, but with Shelby’s circle of friends, and eclipses in popularity the store-bought toys they had all received.

Perhaps more importantly, the project reawakens Elke’s own inner child and inspires her to make impromptu gifts for her friends, who, in turn, show them off to their friends, who urge her to take her crafts to the next level, and sell them commercially. She initially shrugs off such suggestions, though, considering it too time-consuming and labor-intensive to be a viable undertaking. Besides, she reasons, nobody would pay money for sculptures made from recycled cardboard packaging. For her, it’s a labor of love, and a way to share her magical memories of childhood holidays spent in Stein am Rhein, Switzerland.



As enchanting as these miniatures are, what’s even more amazing is the care that goes into each handmade piece. Elke’s blueprints for her works are in her head. She starts with a vision of how the finished product will look, and works backwards to make the vision a reality. This entails an enormous amount of resourcefulness, creativity and preservation, since she works, with the exception of her environmentally friendly paints and glue, only with cardboard packaging that would otherwise end up in a landfill somewhere. Thus, otherwise discarded frozen dinner packaging, empty cigarette packs and various and sundry throwaways become the foundation for her creations. . Once she’s completed the basic construction, she spends days painstakingly detailing each piece by hand, even adding frosted windows that reveal lighted interiors. In the end, each miniature stands on its own, but is easily integrated into a larger village.

With the Holiday Season of 2008 winding down and the uncertainty of 2009 looming before us, it’s heartening to know that some element of magic remains to remind us that it wasn’t such a bad year after all. Elke E’s villages serve as a reminder that every year holds its own magic. They’ve proven so popular, in fact, that she’s decided to expand her crafts to include other holidays and everyday events. As well as introducing a site that showcases her work and includes her thoughts on a variety of subjects. It’s currently under construction, but, once live (in early 2009), should be entertaining and informative. In any case, Elke E is set to launch her childhood dreams into a vibrant reality.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Watching the Watchmen
When Watchmen was first published in 1986 by DC Comics as a 12-part miniseries, the term “graphic novel” was barely known in the United States. The Europeans and the Japanese had been taking the comics medium seriously for years, though, with the French referring to their publications as “albums” and the Japanese unabashedly gearing their work to adult audiences. In the States, where the medium was invented, they were still comic books, largely relegated to a literary and graphic ghetto. A revolution had been quietly festering for years, however. Jim Steranko’s work on Marvel’s Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. built on Jack Kirby’s action style, and redefined what could be told in the confines of a 7”X10” vertical layout. Neal Adams and Denny O’ Neil laid the groundwork for resurrecting Batman from campy cartoon to grim avenger. Mostly, only the comics diehards took note at the time. That all changed in 1986, when writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons, along with colorist John Higgins, teamed to produce a 12 part series for DC called Watchmen.

Watchmen wasn’t a superhero story so much as it was a tale of youthful excesses and midlife crisis set against a backdrop of murder, conspiracy and global turmoil in an alternative 1980’s. That it continues to reflect the uncertainty of Western Society As We Know It may explain why those 12 issues evolved into a single edition that’s never been out of print since first published, It also explains why a movie version, once thought impossible, is scheduled for release in March 2009. And it definitely explains why Time named it one of the 100 most important novels of the last 75 years.


Twenty some-odd years later, comes Watching the Watchmen, artist Dave Gibbons’ recollections on how the masterpiece came to be. At 256 pages bundled in a 12”X9.5” hardcover edition, there’s no denying that this is a book that any fan of Watchmen would consider an essential companion piece to the series that became a graphic novel. Given Watchmen’s cult status, that’s not surprising.

But Watching the Watchmen is much more than a coffee table book. Sure, there’s a wealth of art (early sketches evolving into finished illustrations), and that would be enough from a historical perspective. Dave Gibbons’ detailed memories of how it all came to be paint a landscape of the world before computers and FedEX, where everything was actually done by hand, and delivered via cab to the participants in the project. Consequently, the book works as a time capsule that seems somewhat quaint today, even though it all came about scarcely twenty years ago.

It’s hardly necessary to be a fan of Watchmen to appreciate Watching the Watchmen. What Gibbons achieves here is more than a memoir of the creative process that goes into any collaborative effort. It’s a personal recounting told from the illustrator’s point of view—writer Alan Moore’s perspective is absent here, due to his ongoing disputes with DC. That’s all the better in this case. Because of his writing prowess, Moore tends to eclipse his collaborators. To see in detail the creation of this seminal work from the artist’s perspective is is resultantly quite refreshing. As much as Moore’s story deconstructed the superhero mythos, they would have been shallow without the almost detached approach Gibbons’ nine panel grids imbued the characters with a sense of ennui in the face of global devastation.

At its core, Watching the Watchmen is more art book than scholarly history. The design of the book, by Chip Kidd and Mike Essl, both of whom are noted for their design work on various adaptations of Batman in film and graphic novels, ensure that Gibbons’ sometimes scattered sketches and remembrances remain cohesive. As a result, the artwork, from marker layouts to pencil sketches to the rare finished art is a joy to behold.
With The Dark Knight a serious Oscar contender and Frank Miller’s The Spirit opening Christmas Day and the film adaptation of The Watchmen coming out in March, superheroes are the new canon of 21st century literature. “Who watches the Watchmen?” is no longer merely a clever catchphrase—it may be a clear indicator of movie trends in 2009. That in mind, Watching the Watchmen may be the perfect gift for anybody interested in pop culture, film evolution, contemporary art or graphic novels in general. It’s a book I’d strongly recommend as a gift this year.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

What Jack Bauer Did on His Summer Vacation
When last we saw Jack Bauer at the end of Day Six, some eighteen months ago, he was psychologically battered and bruised, sitting at ocean’s edge, contemplating his next move. Saving the world from certain annihilation, one day at a time, is a thankless job, and by the end of Day Six, Bauer was getting no respect. He was, however, in deep ka-ka because some of his more (ahem) aggressive methods in making the world safe for truth, justice and apple pie. Faced with the possibility of Federal indictment, not to mention the insurmountable forces of the Writer’s Strike, Bauer did what any action hero would do: he cut his losses, got the hell out of LA and toured the world.

We catch up with Bauer in 24: Redemption, finding him doing missionary work in the fictional African country of Sangala., which is a sort of Uganda, Somalia and a number of other hot spots rolled into one. Oddly enough, the man who runs the school for troubled boys is an old cohort of Bauer, Carl Benton (Robert Carlyle, Trainspotting, The Last Enemy, The Full Monty), a redeemed man with a never fully disclosed past.

This is 24, however abbreviated as it may be—the events take place between 3 PM and 5PM (Is that Sangala time or Washington DC time?) and events quickly go south. Jack is served with a subpoena to testify before Congress about the more unsavory operations of CTU and his direct involvement in torture of suspects. Before he can bail to parts unknown, however, a local warlord attacks the school where Bauer is working, in an attempt to “recruit” new child soldiers in his rebellion against the government there.

Meanwhile, back in Washington, newly-elected president Allison Taylor (Cherry Jones) is about to be sworn into office, amidst all orts of nefarious shady doings, most of which appear to be instigated by Day Seven’s high villain, Jonas Hodges (Jon Voight), a corporate slimeball who apparently has some dealings with the rebels in Sangala.

24: Redemption borrows heavily from other sources, particularly the film Blood Diamond, and it doesn’t stray far from the 24 formula. Bauer is called into action, however reluctantly, and by my count, kills 14 rebels in the first shootout, which lasts about 90 seconds. Surprisingly, the story holds together, more because of Carlyle’s character than Sutherland’s.

What really makes this 2-disc edition worth owning are the special features. Besides the obligatory audio commentary that accompanies the extended edition of the feature, this set includes featurettes not usually seen in what is essentially a promo for an upcoming season. Of course, there’s fluff in the featurettes. “24: Season Six in Four Minutes” succinctly highlights the story points of that flailing season without getting into all the plot holes that make us wonder why we sat through that semi-season. “The Exclusive First Look at Season 7,” consisting of the first 17 minutes of the premiere episode airing in January opens up a whole new can of intrigue and assorted worms that remind us why we watch week after week, ignoring all 24’s time warp improbabilities.

“The Making of 24: Redemption” is a nice little piece, and illustrates the differences between filming in Los Angeles and South Africa. Even lighting presents a new set of challenges because of the country’s proximity to the South Pole. It’s interesting to note, too, how the South African crews imparted time-saving techniques to the American crews. It’s rare to see these kind of tidbits in a TV feature DVD, and it leaves even the most casual viewer with an appreciation of how film comes to be.

By far, the best of the special features is the mini-documentary “Blood Never Dry.” The child soldiers portrayed in 24: Redemption are a reflection of very real presence in our world, and this documentary tells the tragic story of the “child soldiers.” These are children, often as young as eight or ten, snatched from their homes, often seeing their families killed before their eyes, indoctrinated to be killers through brainwashing and forced drug addiction. It’s an insidious, and overlooked, disaster confronting the world. More information can be found at unicef.org and child-soldiers.org.

The DVD also offers the broadcast version of the movie (87 minutes) and the extended version (102 minutes), although those but the most dedicated 24 fans will notice any difference in the two versions.

24: Redemption
is by no means a work of art. Many times, it seems like a lukewarm, made for TV version of Blood Diamond. And you can’t escape the feeling that it’s a promo made to revive interest in as series that was running the bases in Day Six. That being said, 24: Redemption is a nice segue between Day Six and the upcoming Day Seven. Considering that Kiefer Sutherland’s contract runs out in 2009, and considering that this is, after all, Day Seven, it might be time to retire Jack Bauer with dignity.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Creedence Revived
As much as we wax nostalgic about all the great music that came out of the sixties, precious little of it is remembered by the twenty-first century public. Sure, the Beatles stood the test of time, and the Rolling Stones continue to limp their way into immortality. But I can pretty much guarantee you that if you mention the Yardbirds, the Dave Clark Five or even the Kinks to the average person under forty, you’ll get a blank-eyed response. American bands fared no better. Does anybody today remember Country Joe and the Fish or Quicksilver Messenger Service or Jay and the Americans?—no, people remember catchy tunes they heard on their tinny transistor radios. We remember the Doors because of “Break On Through” and “LA Woman.” We remember Creedence Clearwater Revival because of a remarkable string of hit singles.

Of course, I’m oversimplifying here, and I certainly don’t want to discount the contributions of artists like the Grateful Dead or Jefferson Airplane of the Velvet Underground. The vast majority of people may know “Sweet Jane” or “Truckin’” or “Somebody to Love”, but they’ll be hard-pressed to name the artist, much less tell you anything about them. Nor are they overly interested in doing so. It’s the songs that matter, man.

And that’s why Creedence Clearwater Revival, or Creedence, or CCR, or whatever your pet name might be for them, are still a mainstay of American rock and roll after all these years. They hit on a common chord in the American psyche, some sort of racial history rooted in the blues, the swamp, the bayou, that mythical arena of arenas where everybody shares some common ground, regardless from where they hail. The members of Creedence were from the San Francisco Bay area, not the bayou swamps they made the personification of America. They nonetheless tapped into a spirit that was uniquely American—the same restless force that birthed the blues, country and western and even rock and roll. What they pulled out of that was a distillation of where American rock began, and a portent of where it was going.

Forty years after the debut of CCR’s debut, Fantasy Records (now under the auspices of Concord Music Group) has released the six albums that comprised their career as a quartet. In essence, it’s a complete Creedence Clearwater Revival collection. Granted, there was one more album, Mardi Gras, but it hardly represents the canon of the band—the band was splintered by infighting, and Tom Fogerty had left the band, reducing them to a trio that was bored with each other. And it showed in that final effort—it was a critical and popular flop, and it was the end of CCR. All good things come to an end.

But the six albums Creedence released at a breakneck pace from 1968-70 earned the band, and particularly John Fogerty, a lofty place in rock history. The band’s eponymously titled debut, propelled by their hit version of Dale Hawkins’ “Suzie Q,” launched them into stratospheric fame, missing Billboard’s Top Ten by one point. Another cover, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You,” introduced thousands of suburban kids (myself included) to a grittier, darker bayou sound, and prompted us into an investigation of the roots of the sound that CCR espoused. Another highlight of the debut is “Porterville,” a song Fogerty had written some years earlier, and considers his first “real” composition.

What makes this freshman effort important is it marks a departure, and a transition, in rock’s late adolescence from flower power to more of an everyman experience. Creedence was a band that had spent years (in various incarnations) honing their craft in clubs and bars. In the process, they built their own version of rock mythology, one more closely aligned to bar patrons than making social statements. The album largely reflects the values of a working band stretching their wings. The 40th anniversary edition of Creedence Clearwater Revival is a noteworthy remaster of the debut album, containing four bonus tracks, including “Call It Pretending” (the B-side of the band’s first single), their first recording of Bo Diddley’s “Before You Accuse Me” (found later on Cosmo’s Factory), as well as live versions of “Ninety-Nine and a Half” and “Suzie Q.” Former Rolling Stone editor Ben Fong-Torres, wrote the booklet notes, which also includes reproductions of the singles’ package art, and photos of the band at the time.

As auspicious as the debut was, “Suzie Q” barely missed cracking the Billboard’s Top Ten, topping at #11, and the second single never made the Top 40. It wasn’t until the dying days of 1968, when the band released “Proud Mary,” and its B-side “Born On the Bayou,” that the band exploded on the scene. Released in advance of the band’s sophomore album release Bayou Country, the single was a smash hit, and inspired countless covers. No less a personage than Bob Dylan declared it his favorite record of the year. Creedence were suddenly stars, and Bayou Country went platinum. The British Invasion and psychedelica were effectively demolished.

Bayou Country was more than CCR’s first major hit—as San Francisco Chronicle critic Joel Selvin says in the notes that accompany the reissue, “it announced Creedence Clearwater as a bright, vital force in rock and staked a place for what was yet to come.” Creedence had created a sound that was born of a mythical south that never existed, but resonated with the romance of a Mark Twain novel combined with a vaguely outlaw spirit. Besides Selvin’s illustrated notes, the reissue includes an extended take of the jam “Bootleg,” more definitive of the Creedence sound. It also features versions of “Born on the Bayou” and “Proud Mary” from the band’s farewell 1971 European tour. By this time, Tom Fogerty had left the band, and these recordings are interesting historically, showing a band on the verge of dissolving. While those performances represent a shadow of the band at its prime, the 1969 live jam “Crazy Otto” displays the band at its most playful.

Bayou Country showed CCR were no one hit wonder—they knew how to work a room, and they were on a roll. They released two more albums in 1969. Green River debuted in August of that year, and its title track was an instant radio hit. It also yielded “Bad Moon Rising,” which has gone on to be the unofficial theme song of every vampire and werewolf movie made since the eighties. Taken in context, though, the album shows a band restless to be more than a Top 40 band, hiding relevance in catchy tunes. That sentiment is most eloquently expressed in “Lodi,” about a singer who barely missed his gold ring.

Green River illustrated Creedence’s greatest strengths, and it also showed some of its insecurities. They were a bar band made good, after all, and they knew how to rock a room. “Commotion” and their cover of Ray Charles’ “Night Time Is the Right Time” prove that. But the band had also begun to resort to filler, and some of the lesser known tracks are more rambling blues jams at best. The bonus tracks on this reissue seem thrown together, consisting of two unfinished jams, and three uninspired live performances (as a trio) from their 1971 farewell tour. Dave Marsh, of Rolling Stone fame, provides the liner notes.

Willie and the Poor Boys, released later the same year, further solidified CCR’s standing as the hit machine of the time. More importantly, it placed the band in the center of the social upheaval of 1969. “Fortunate Son” wasn’t an anti-Viet Nam war song so much as it was a diatribe against the machinations of wealth pitted against the powerless who served in the war. It was one of the few times that CCR was overtly political, and it’s relevant to this day. “Down on the Corner,” the hit that details the everyday routine of the mythical Willie and the Poor Boys is also a sort of an origin story of CCR, and a tribute to American working bands. These two songs alone would make the album noteworthy, but it’s also a more sure-footed album than Green River, and includes polished covers of blues classics “Midnight Special” and “Cotton Fields.” Bonus tracks include previously unreleased live performances of “Fortunate Son” and “It Came Out of the Sky”, both from the 1971 European farewell tour. As other performances from that tour, they’re rather flat. But the live version of “Down on the Corner” from a jam session Creedence did with Booker T. & the MG’s in 1970 more than makes up for those shortcomings. Liner notes are by NYT contributor Ed Ward.

Cosmo’s Factory was released in August 1970, and it was the biggest, and arguably the best, of the five consecutive Top Ten albums the band released between 1969 and 1970. Two singles in advance of the album’s release had already generated the requisite buzz for its success—“Travelin’ Band/”Who’ll Stop the Rain?” had been released in January, and “Up Around the Bend” followed in April. Cosmo’s Factory is, by any standards, one of the essential rock albums. It encompasses all the elements by which rock lives in one masterpiece. It seamlessly pays homage to rockabilly, blues, country and soul, melding the genres into something that sounded unique. It certainly contained some of their biggest FM hits—“Run Through the Jungle,” “Lookin’ Out My Back Door,” “Who’ll Stop the Rain?” and their signature cover of Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard it Though the Grapevine.” The reissue also features three bonus tracks—a bare-bones take of “Travelin’ Band,” with no horns overdubs, a live version of “Up Around the Bend” from the 1971 European tour (Could they be thinking of releasing this performance as a future album?), and an unreleased version of “Born on the Bayou,” recorded with Booker T. and the MGs. Legendary Village Voice critic Robert Christgau provides the liner notes.

By 1970, Creedence was the best-selling band in the world, surpassing even the Beatles. If Cosmo’s Factory was CCR’s White Album, its successor, Pendulum, was certainly their Let It Be. The band was imploding, with the other three members rebelling against John Fogerty’s autonomy, insisting they should share some writing credits. He finally agreed, and Pendulum would be the last Creedence album he produced. It’s a disjointed affair, with band members laying down their parts remote from one another. Even at that, it produced two last gasp hits for the band—“Hey Tonight” and “Have You ever Seen the Rain?”. For the most part, though, the internal tensions of the band can almost be felt—it’s as though they’re phoning in the performances, and, in many ways, they actually were. Tom Fogerty left the band two months after Pendulum’s release, effectively ending Creedence Clearwater Revival as we think of them. While the remaining members would release one more album, Mardi Gras, it was a critical and commercial failure.

The bonus tracks on the reissue of Pendulum are lackluster, consisting of “45 Revolutions Per Minute (Parts 1 & 2)”, a promotional single that hyped Creedence’s popularity, and compared them to the Beatles. It’s a satire of “Revolution No. 9” that doesn’t quite work. The other bonus is a previously unreleased live version of “Hey Tonight,” recorded during --are your ready?—the 1971 European final tour. Joel Selvin returns to pen the liner notes.

The Creedence Clearwater Revival 40th Anniversary reissues are a handsome collection, with packaging that reproduces, as nearly as a CD can, the cover art of the original vinyl editions. The supplemental material accompanying each disc enhances the historical significance of the band’s short career, and the remastered sound is flawless. Though a case could be made for packaging the reissues as a boxed set, hearing them as individual works, and savoring them in the context of the time they were released is more satisfying. Creedence was a band based on individual songs, not concepts. They had no pretensions to art, and it’s only in retrospect that we realize their importance in the rock canon. Creedence and their mythical American South paved the way for Springsteen’s equally mythical Jersey. Mellencamp’s Midwest and countless other bands still sweating it out every night in seedy rock and roll bars.

It’s about the song, after all.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Crash Is Only a Fender Bender
Nothing is random in the universe. Molecules collide and interact constantly, shaping events in a dance that’s anything but haphazard in retrospect. The film Crash personified that motif as it detailed how seemingly unrelated lives intersect in utterly unexpected ways. In the process, it examined the prejudices that quietly shape us as individuals. It was a quiet film, unsettling in its pedestrian pacing. It went on to win the 2005 Best Picture Oscar. While a case could be made that Crash won by default, cancelling out the achievements of its competition, which included Brokeback Mountain, Munich, Good Night and Good Luck and Capote, the fact remains that Crash took a fresh, if sometimes heavy-handed look at the subtleties of the prejudices that divide us.

With its ensemble cast and intersecting storylines, Crash often played like a TV episode. In fact, it was originally envisioned as a TV series before it became a movie. As cable network Starz’s first foray into original programming, Crash has come full circle.


Starz touts Crash the TV series as a groundbreaking entry exploring similar themes as the original movie, but nothing in the first two episodes quite connects. In fact, there’s little that compels the viewer to care overmuch as to how the various plotlines might eventually connect. The characters here, by and large, are unsympathetic, propelled by cliché devices that hardly lend any credence to the notion we’re all connected. Dennis Hopper, as wacked out, over the hill and over the top record producer Ben Cendars, appears to be the centerpiece character of this hodgepodge. The first episode opens with him exposing himself to his female driver, while muttering Greecian-inspired, albeit incoherent, poetry. It then cuts to a soft focus sex scene—you know, the kind that shows nothing, but places the curves where the imagination fills in the blanks—which introduces us to the obligatory tainted cops in the series. From there, we cut to the Brentwood home of a real estate developer for whom things are not going well. His wife is going through a midlife crisis, while still trying to maintain their lifestyle. To top it all, her father has a choking problem in the middle of dinner. The EMT in the ambulance happens to be a Korean who has a Korean gang past.

It’s not so much that these characters don’t have the potential to be compelling. But they’re drawn so broadly, and their situations so irrelevant to Reality As We Know it, it’s hard to sympathize with any of the principals. Admittedly, Crash the movie had only about two hours to make its point. As a TV series committed to thirteen episode, it can move at a more leisurely pace. That being said, the fact remains that it’s essential to grab the viewer within the first ten minutes of the pilot. With the first ten minutes of Crash, we got bad poetry and masturbation. By the end of the second episode, we got requisite bad cops and A Streetcar Named Desire pleas to illicit lovers. If Starz wants to be a player in premium cable original programming, it’s going to have to pick up the pace.

You can see the first two episodes of Crash here. It’s also playing throughout the month on both Starz and its sister network, Encore.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

The Last Enemy: A Future That Feels like the Present
If you think you’re being watched, you’re not paranoid. If you know you’re being watched, you’re a realist. In our digital world, every move you make is being tracked by somebody who laughs at the notion that crosscut paper shredders enhance out personal security. In a universe of 1’s and 0’s, paper trails are replaced by bits and bytes colliding in cyberspace. You’re being watched all the time, from red light cameras to surveillance systems that rival Vegas planted in your neighborhood grocery to instantly accessible street view pictures of your domicile to every yahoo with a cell phone.

The Last Enemy, the debut entry of Masterpiece Contemporary (premiering on PBS Sunday 5 October, 9P EST) is a chilling, all too real cautionary tale about our devotion to security at the cost of personal identity. Originally broadcast earlier this year on BBC, the five-part miniseries is theoretically set in a near future, but its theme of a society underscored by personal surveillance strikes unnervingly close to home.

Stephen Ezard (Benedict Cumberbatch, Atonement) returns to Britain from a four year stint in China, where he was researching the mathematical structure of the Universe, to attend his brother Michael’s (Max Beesley) funeral. Michael was apparently killed in a roadside bomb n Afghanistan, and to Stephen’s surprise, he’s mourned by numerous acquaintances due to his relief work in the region. Even more surprising to Stephen is that he finds himself in an affair with his brother’s widow, Yasim (Anamaria Marinca) the same night. He was late for the funeral—she didn’t attend it.

If all that sounds a bit convoluted and more than a little murky, it’s because it is. It’s also the foundation around which most of the events in The Last Enemy revolve. Stephen is a stranger in his own land, which has instituted more stringent surveillance on its citizenry after a terrorist attack on London. He barely recognizes the England he left years ago, rife as it is with biometric ID cards, security cameras virtually everywhere, and the implementation of the “Total Information Awareness” program, which gives the government unfettered access to personal data of every citizen. It isn’t long , however, that Stephen finds himself the media spokesman for TIA.

In the first episode, the viewer may come away feeling as confused as Stephen Ezard. He’s reintroduced to an old college flame, Elinor Brooke (Eva Birthistle, The State Within), who is now the minister responsible for pushing through Parliament. He’s also kidnapped and terrorized by a rogue government agent played by David Carlyle (The Full Monty), determined that the bewildered Ezard knows all about a conspiracy.

The Last Enemy looks at the side effects of a society trading personal freedoms in favor of heightened security, and the corruption that inevitably ensues when bureaucrats are imbued with power owing as much to corporate interests as it does to national security. In the end, it asks if the individual must be trampled, revealed as “the last enemy” of a secure state.

Throughout the miniseries, The Last Enemy holds that proposition close to its sleeve, and forces us to look at our willingness to sacrifice personal liberties in the name of the State’s greater good. That it does so as a taut, action-mystery only enhances its message. It's to writer Peter Berry's (Prime Suspect 6: The Last Witness) that it's a tale that is so in tune with reality that it never comes off as obvious. In fact, nothing is as it seems at first glance. It’s not a series to watch casually, requiring the viewer pay attention to the clues it drops haphazardly along the way. But for the viewer willing to invest five and a half hours to unravel its mystery, it’s ultimately a satisfying, if often unsettling, experience.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Dexter in Decline?
Watching the season opener of Dexter, I couldn’t escape the feeling the series has settled into a state of complacency. In the first season of the series, we had a dark antihero dispensing unholy retribution to those who had escaped justice by slipping through cracks in the justice system. Dexter was almost a merry prankster of mayhem in those days, slicing and dicing evildoers with elfin abandon by night, and dispensing doughnuts to his coworkers at the Miami police department by day. We liked the guy, and it was all so deliciously silly, we didn’t mind a bit that he was a serial killer, albeit a serial killer who only preyed on other killers.

The second season of Dexter was a little more complex, as Dex realized that he wasn’t as emotionless as he thought he was, and he discovered that he liked girls after all. The fact that the pieces of his victims were inadvertently discovered by treasure seeking divers off the Miami coast complicated his dreamy world, of course, but only in the smallest way. Dexter was still operating under Harry’s Code, even after he realized that most of it was based on a lie his adopted father had perpetuated. Dexter emerged unscathed, though, as we knew he would all along. Sure, it cost some lives, most notably his nemesis Doakes, and it caused him to reexamine the Code. But what mattered was that Dexter had affirmed himself as no longer a student, but a master of dealing out death to the deserving.

“Our Father.” the season premiere of Dexter, is essentially Dexter telling his dentist how he spent his summer vacation. It’s darkly comic, of course—he went to the carnival, which was a secret killing ground for a child predator. His relationship with Rita has blossomed apparently, with sex being an overriding factor. In fact, most of the time we see Dexter and Rita together, they’re doing the nasty. He’s also settled into the role of surrogate father with Rita’s kids. It’s almost a Leave It to Beaver lifestyle they have, sans the June Cleever pearl necklace. (Come to think of it, nobody ever knew exactly what it was that Ward did when he left their cozy suburban home.)

We do know what happens when Dexter leaves the house. When he goes to delete a drug dealer who got away with murder years before, things go horribly wrong. The dealer gets away, and Dexter ends up in a struggle with a person who wasn’t supposed to be there. It’s a battle involving a knife, with predictable results. Dexter, in his very personal view of ethics, grapples with the fact he’s killed somebody without knowing if they met the criteria of Harry’s Code.
And in his twisted logic, he begins investigating his latest victim, mostly to justify his killing.

Complicating matters is the fact that his victim appeared to be a community activist, who also happened to be the brother of renowned prosecutor Cuban immigrant and ambitious Assistant District Attorney Miguel Prado (Jimmy Smits). who also happens to be an old flame of Lt. LaGuerta (Lauren Velez) Thus is the cat and mouse game established for the season.

Admittedly, I’ve only seen the first episode of the new season, and I’ve been watching Dexter from the beginning. Maybe that’s part of the reason I can’t escape the feeling I’ve seen this before. Deb is vying for a promotion, and she’s involved with wrong guy once again (this time a fellow cop being investigated by IA), oh—and she got a haircut. Angel has been promoted to Detective Sergeant, filling the void left by Doaks’s death. The ghost of Harry is still influencing Dexter’s actions, regardless of how he proclaims himself the new master. And Dexter is still adhering to the first rule of Harry’s Code: don’t get caughet.

Dexter’s producers have said the first season represented Dexter’s birth, the second season his adolescence and the current season his adulthood, Umm, okay. My question is, does adulthood also represent a realization of mortality? All good things come to an end, and while I want to believe that Dexter has a lot of surprises in store, my gut feeling is that this will be its last season. And I’m hoping it goes out in a blaze of glory.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Almost Forgotten, A Film that's a Privilege to View

You can’t be a prophet in your own village. At least, that’s the way the Hungarian proverb goes. But what if your village is the world stage and your words are more pronouncements on contemporary society than dire warnings for a future that may or may not happen? You might want to ask Peter Watkins about that.

When his film Privilege was released in 1967, it was almost universally savaged by British critics. They called it “hysterical,” “flailing”, “juvenile,” “a hopscotch of film and television”—and those were some of the more reserved comments. Critics in America, by and large were a bit kinder in their assessments of the film, hailing it as “uncompromising,” “crisp,” and even “brilliant.” Looking back at it over forty years later, critics on both sides of the Atlantic all were right. And they all were wrong.

What makes Privilege fascinating after all this time is how eerily close its scenario has become to the everyday workings of media manipulation in our contemporary culture. Released in 1967, and postulating a near future of 1970, Privilege was more a symbolic representation of what Watkins saw as the current state of society than anything resembling social science fiction. At its most simplistic, the film chronicles the rise and fall of Steven Shorter, the most successful pop star in Britain’s history. Shorter (Paul Jones, former lead singer of Manfred Mann), caught up in his own PR, is more puppet to the combined forces of the media, government and church, than he is an actual personality. He’s devoid of any independent thought, shifting his persona according to the whims of his handlers, transforming from cathartic victim of society to pitchman for the benefits of apple consumption to an advocate of utter conformity. It’s only when his government-hired portraitist Vanessa Richie (Jean Shrimpton) gradually becomes his lover that he begins to question his complicity in media manipulation.

Privilege was one of the earliest “mockumentaries,” and its distributor, Universal, as well as the press, both in the UK and the US, really didn’t know what to make of it. Watkins’ previous work, The War Game, had already been banned by the BBC, and on this, his feature film debut, the British press of the time marched in lockstep with the conservative government, ridiculing the film in the most minute detail. American marketing, not surprisingly, capitalized on its youth appeal, and sensationalized the film’s more subtle commentary.

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In actuality, Privilege was neither sensationalistic or naïve. Nor was it Orwellian, as some have claimed. It’s really about sacrificing one’s individuality at any cost for that proverbial fifteen minutes of fame, and the consequences of such a choice. In the process, it turned out to be prophetic. In our contemporary society, fame is fleeting, manufactured largely by gossip and scandal. That’s our cathartic release. We live vociferously through the travails and transformations of our Star of the Moment. In that regard, Privilege emerges as profoundly prophetic. With Privilege, Watkins foresaw the self-mutilation of acts like Iggy and the Stooges, and the anarchic posturings of the Sex Pistols. Shorter’s handlers can easily be viewed as a prototype for Malcolm McClaren, or for that matter, any number of contemporary political campaign managers.

Perhaps because it was so spot on in its observations about the collusion of media and government, Privilege languished for decades as a cult oddity, turning up here and there on late night TV movies, with not a pristine print available anywhere, even to Watkins himself. Finally, with New Yorker Films digitally restored DVD release of the film, Privilege is available to a new, more savvy audience. It’s not a splashy package, presented in 1.85:1 aspect ratio an delivererd in mono sound. Besides a bio of Watkins, the only bonus feature on the disc is the 1961 CBC documentary short “Lonely Boy,” about then 19-year old pop sensation Paul Anka. Besides being an award-winning film in its own right, “Lonely Boy” served as something of a blueprint in the making of Privilege, and illustrates how even in 1961, stars were molded, not born. The real bonus feature of the Privilege DVD is the accompanying booklet that offers commentary from Watkins and others about the controversy and the significance of the film.

Granted, Privilege is far from a perfect film. Watkins’ cinema verite approach sometimes overshadows his storytelling. But its significance lies in the fact that it puts all the ballyhoo surrounding stardom in its proper place, and forces the viewer the viewer to realize we’re all co-conspirators in media manipulation.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Fiery Tears of 9/11--As They Happened

I remember that Tuesday morning in 2001 as if it happened seconds ago. In my case, I was scurrying around my apartment getting ready for work. The Today Show playing in the background. It was almost time for the local traffic and weather update. Today had broken for commercial, something about hygiene products or the best lending deals around—I don’t know. I never really paid attention to those commercials. But what did catch my eye was when the commercial interrupted in mid-way, and a voice-over said a plane, size unknown, had crashed into the World Trade Center.

My first reaction was that they’d gotten their tapes mixed, and that this was a glitch advertising some upcoming disaster movie. In the scant moments that followed, I realized how horribly wrong I was.

I didn’t go to work that day.

I think a lot of us didn’t.

When everything we had ever thought had been turned inside-out in a matter of minutes, nothing seemed to matter that much. We were numb in disbelief. I was in Dallas, You were wherever you live. But it didn’t matter. We were all as one, a singular voice screaming “Why?!” Imagine what it was like in New York City.

As the events of September 11, 2001 unfolded in New York City, some witnesses were frozen with shock, some helped others, and many ran as fast as they could from the growing disaster. Then there were those who grabbed their video cameras. Despite the chaos and danger, many people kept their cameras rolling throughout the catastrophe. The special 102 MINUTES THAT CHANGED AMERICA premieres Thursday, September 11, 2008 at 9 p.m. ET/ PT on The History Channel without commercial interruption. With footage from more than 100 individual sources, carefully pieced together in chronological order, the special is a permanent historical archive for future generations to see.

102 Minutes That Changed America presents amateur and professional footage, woven together without narration or commentary, to provide the viewer with an immersive and emotional experience. This documentary faithfully records and captures that historical morning as it happened and the way it was experienced from people’s initial bewilderment that a plane could slam into these iconic skyscrapers on such a clear, sunny, day to the sudden, awful recognition that America was under attack.

Over the 24 months it took to research 102 Minutes That Changed America, the production team screened more than 500 hours worth of professional and amateur videotape, as well as more than 30 hours of audio recordings from New York City Fire Department and New York City Police Department radio transmissions and 911 calls.

Among the videographers are two New York University seniors filming from a high-rise dormitory just blocks from the World Trade Center. Immediately after the first plane’s impact, these young women pick up their camera and begin recording the smoking North Tower. Their confusion turns into panic when they observe objects plummeting from the tower windows. Then, in their viewfinder, the second plane impacts the South Tower. Terrified, the girls must decide whether to stay on the 32nd floor or flee with their friends to the ground floor. ?
Meanwhile, six blocks south, another camera follows firefighters trudging toward the flaming towers, as radio communications from the 72nd floor call for reinforcements to help put out the inferno above. Civilians on the street, many of whom are just emerging from their subway commute, wonder at first why the building is on fire. Bystanders who suspect terrorism wonder if another attack is imminent, and whether it will strike them next.

From other points around the city-- in Times Square, on Staten Island and in New Jersey as well-- onlookers stare in disbelief at the sight of the burning towers. They express concern for the well-being of the workers potentially trapped inside the Trade Center, and for friends who may live or work nearby. A woman filming out the open window of her lower Manhattan studio is blown off her feet by the force of the North Tower’s collapse, and then enveloped in the its suffocating cloud of debris.

This is powerful stuff, made all the more so by the fact that it was all recorded as it happened, by the people who witnessed it. There are no editorial comments, no commercials to give one pause. It’s a gripping piece of history, recorded by hundreds at the exact moment it happened from their particular points of view. In those individual viewpoints, we find a commonality, a singular voice that unites us all. 102 Minutes That Changed America is an historical document not to be missed, particularly in these times where politics eclipse that tragic day.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Heavenly Intervention in the Courtroom

One of the best things about last year’s Writers’ Strike is it forced the networks to take a few chances with programming, thus giving offbeat series like Eli Stone a shot they might not have gotten in a more traditional TV season. A show about a corporate lawyer who, due to a brain aneurism that gives him hallucinations, andmay or may not be a prophet as a consequence, most likely would have disappeared after a few episodes in an ordinary season. That’s assuming it would have even been aired in the first place.

Eli Stone did air, though as a “mid-season replacement” in the heat of the Writer’s Strike, premiering Thursday 31 January 2008 at 10P EST, and maintaining that slot through a 13 episode run that ended 17 April 2008. It wasn’t a ratings juggernaut in that run (then again, what was?) but it attracted a following substantial enough to secure it a second season on the new ABC fall schedule. (Premieres 14 October, 9p EST.)

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Watching the DVD release of Eli Stone: The Complete First Season, it’s easy to understand why ABC picked the series up for a second season. Imagine all those Frank Capra movies you grew up with placed into a 21st century context, where good guys don’t always win in the end, put in the requisite romance, add a few musical numbers and ratch it up a bit with some cool CGI effects, and you have a reasonable backdrop for the series. What really makes it compelling, though, is that beneath all that razzmatazz, Eli Stone touches a universal core of the human heart.

Rather than produce yet another courtroom procedural, creators Greg Berlanti and Marc Guggenheim opted to utilize the setting as a larger stage in the quest for self-realization. When we first meet Eli Stone (Jonny Lee Miller), he’s a cutthroat trial lawyer on the fast track, devoid of any semblance of conscience. That’s before he sees George Michael performing in his kitchen at a most inopportune time. It’s a hallucination, of course, brought on by an undiagnosed brain aneurism. It could be something more, according to his acupuncturist—he could be receiving these visions as divine inspiration, and may, in fact, be a prophet.

Prophetic visions or not, Stone’s hallucinations usually have a bearing on this current case, and often his personal life. That they happen to usually include Broadway-class musical numbers is merely incidental. And that his concept of God bears an uncanny resemblance to George Michael shows that the series never takes itself gravely seriously. Unlike antecedents such as Aly McBeal or Cop Rock, intertwines Stone’s musical hallucinations in such a way they actually enhance what might be an otherwise dry plot. Since we share his hallucinations (or are they prophetic visions?), we relate to his plights, whether it’s taking on unlikely cases, sacrificing his true love for the greater good or dealing with the pesky tumor that may kill him at any given moment.

Eli Stone: The Complete First Season is a rarity among TV series DVDs. Largely because the season plays out as a series of mini-movies minimally linked by ongoing plot threads, each of the thirteen episodes stand on their own as stories unto themselves. They’re dramatic without being preachy, comedic without falling back on pratfalls and touches on mortality without being morose. The acting and direction are superb, especially for a show that was a mid-season replacement in the heat of the Writer’s Strike. Think of it as a courtroom procedural if directed by Terry Gilliam, where fantasy and reality play out on the same canvas.

Unlike a lot of TV boxed sets, Eli Stone has the aura of a labor of love. It’s presented in 1.78:1 aspect and Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound, and the reproduction is crystalline. Of course, there are bonus features, including the obligatory bloopers and deleted scenes. Thankfully, this set also has features that actually enhance the viewing experience, including pieces on how and why the show was created in the first place, an explanation of the Eli Stone-George Michael connection, a shot on how the CGI effects figured into the story and a look at the economy of the sets, hosted by co-star Natasha Henestridge. There’s an extended pilot episode with audio commentary by the show’s creators.

Season Two promises to open a new chapter in the ongoing story of Eli Stone. Regardless of how that goes, Eli Stone: The Complete First Season stand on its own as a hallmark in the evolution of television. It manages to be a quiet spiritual journey of one man without slipping into the abyss of religiosity. As such, it opens new avenues of conversation. And it does so with a smile and a wink.

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Robert Drew Kennedy Films: A Past that Mirrors Our Times
With the 2008 Democratic and Republican conventions upon us, and the Presidential race finally entering its last lap, US politics are a hot ticket. They’re burning up all the networks, and they’re the darling of the tabloids. Pity that in all that coverage, issues are buried beneath the glam factors of potential First Ladies and candidates’ favorite pop culture heroes. Given that, it’s not surprising that some circles liken the McCain-Obama election race to the Kennedy-Nixon contest of 1960. Indeed, there are parallels, magnified out of proportion though they may be. Then, like now, the times were more about drama than substance. TV was the New Media of the time, and just as the Internet sometimes stumbles as it finds its footing, television for the most part didn’t quite realize the power it held. As one might expect, seeds of revolution were quietly taking root, with politicians and documentarians shaping a new zeitgeist.

Robert Drew was instrumental in reshaping the voice and visage of the news, taking it from a “talking head” format to something more immersive and immediate. In the process, he invented the cinema verite style of film journalism. Thus, The Robert Drew Collection - JFK Revealed (Primary / Crisis / Faces of November) (1963) offers an intimate look of JFK, the likes of which had never been recorded, and also serves as an historical document in its own right. These films represent the origins of cinema verite, wherein the viewer becomes a passive participant in the film. There’s no narration, only the players in the film followed silently by hand-held cameras, leaving the viewer to draw his own conclusions about the events transcribed.

The first film in the collection, Primary, follows the campaigns of Minnesota senator Hubert Humphrey and upstart Massachusetts senator John Kennedy as they vie for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1960.The contrasts between the two are stark: Humphrey is an old-school politician attempting to appeal to Wisconsin voters’ agricultural roots at the expense of the “eastern elite”, portraying himself as a champion of the common man. Kennedy, on the other hand, can be perceived as a celebrity adored by urban voters and youth, a rock star before that term was used in politics. The real stars of the film, though, are the voters of Wisconsin, whose views are surprisingly diverse. And even though we know how it ends, Drew’s filmmaking prowess makes it a nail biting finish.

Crisis picks up three and a half years into Kennedy’s administration, centering around the civil rights showdown with Alabama’s governor George Wallace. By this time, Drew and his crews had pretty much perfected their “fly on the wall” technique, and had unprecedented access to the White House and to the Governor’s Mansion in Alabama, as well. Thus, we see both sides of the conflict, centering around Wallace’s refusal to admit two African- American students to the all- white University of Alabama. It all comes to a head on 11 June 1963, when Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, at the behest of Attorney General Robert Kennedy, confronts Wallace on the steps of the university. And though it all ends peacefully, the wranglings leading up to the Kennedy victory in the case are the stuff of drama.

The final film in the collection, “The Faces of November,” is a scant eleven minutes long, and is credited as a bonus feature in the set. Nonetheless, it may be the most moving piece in the collection. It could best be described as an account of JFK’s funeral, but that would be giving it short shrift. It’s a quiet tribute to the man, made all the more poignant by the fact that we feel we know the man as a result of the other films in the collection. The faces we see in the film represent all the faces of America in November 1963, and they show an America that mourns as one.

Those expecting a crystalline restoration of this collection may be disappointed. It’s what it is, analog warts and all. In no small measure, it evokes memories to those who lived through those times, and gives a grainy sense of history to those who did not. There are running commentaries on Primary and Crisis to put it all in historical perspective, as well as featurettes featuring Drew and his collaborators discussing their vision of a documentary style that owed as much to the photos of Life Magazine as filmmaking.

Mainly, though, the Robert Drew Kennedy Collection demonstrates, however unintentionally, the cycles of history. Watching them, particularly Primary, it’s nigh impossible to see how much the face of America has changed. It also illustrates how little our hopes and fears have changed. In that context, particularly in the Obama-McCain race, the collection offers invaluable perspectives on what actually makes a president credible.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Saturday Mornings Were Never Like This
Make no mistake about this: anybody born in America in the latter half of the twentieth century was predestined to be just a little bit warped. And why wouldn’t we be? We leaped straight from the womb to the waiting arms of TV, which our enlightened post-war parents found to be the perfect nursemaid. They were right, of course. Without infantile exposure to what was then late afternoon and Saturday morning TV, we may never have experienced the skills necessary to surviving in the 21st century.

Without Buffalo Bob and Howdy Doody, Captain Kangaroo and Grandfather Clock, and Shari Lewis and her menagerie of conniving puppets like Lamb Chop, we might have gone through our lives without knowing that those damn puppets have lives of their own. Had it not been for Bozo and, yes, even Ronald McDonald, we might have thought the Joker is a quaint anomaly. Don’t even get me started on Chuck E. Cheese—my niece, when she was only four, demonstrated how terrifying that mofo really is.

Since we have to confront our fears in order to overcome them, it’s not surprising that the TV generation resorted to making fun of their demons. Paul Reubens, in his Pee -Wee Herman persona, pioneered that particular catharsis way back in the late 70’s in clubs and early 80’s on HBO, before hitting the mainstream in 1986 with the CBS Saturday morning series Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. It was a work of genius, full of talking chairs and sunflowers, innuendo that only adults would get, and genies and cowboys of guestionable gender. As adults, we found the satire a biting memory of our own childhood TV experience. My 18 month old daughter just found it mesmerizing. It worked out swimmingly for us both, although we found it funny for different reasons.

Comedy Central’s TV Funhouse took that Saturday morning premise to a different reality, one decidedly not designed for toddlers to enjoy with jaded parents. Created by Robert Smigel (You Don't Mess With The Zohan) and Dino Stamatopolous (Moral Orel), the series ran only eight episodes between 2000-01 before being cancelled for being “too expensive” to produce. Really?—kinda makes you wonder what sort of budgets basic cable worked with at the dawn of the Millennium. After all, except for a few simple cartoon shorts, the series was pretty much basic production values. Once you start wondering about that, you start wondering if maybe TV Funhouse was just a little too out there for a PC- conscious corporate mindset.

Imagine Quentin Tarantino as the executive producer of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, with Robert Ramirez directing the individual episodes, and you’ll have a very rough idea of how deliciously twisted TV Funhouse was. The concept’s innocent enough—a children’s TV show hosted by Doug, with each episode having a theme—“Western Day,” “Mexicans Day,” “Safari Day,” “Chinese New Year’s Day”—all designed to educate children in historical and cultural matters in an informal, easy to understand manner. The problem is, is his puppet co-hosts, the Anipals—a name-dropping dog, a cuckolded rooster, a turtle whose favorite transportation is “the tubes” (which begins with being flushed down the toilet) and a cat with jazz aspirations and an adulterous wife—have better ways to spend their time. Rather than waste moments on Doug’s lame themed shows, they’d rather go whoring in Tijuana or partying in Atlantic City with Robert Goulet., or turn Doug’s spinal fluid into a meth-like version of Christmas Spirit.

It’s all very surreal, made all the more so by the clips and cartoons that litter the main story, and ultimately hold it all together. Cartoons like “Wonderman”, whose superhero ethic is based on getting his alter-ego laid, is even more cool in that it’s inspired by the Max Fleischer “Superman” cartoons of the forties. “The Baby, the Immigrant and the Guy on Mushrooms” has a deceptively innocent charm about it. And then there are the take-offs on the early fifties “educational” films, particularly “Mnemonics: Your Dear, Dear Friend.”

Yeah, you could make a politically correct case about the show’s crassness and its adult content, but you’d miss the point of the series. In its peculiar way, it rekindles our link with childhood, when our sense of wonder collided headlong with the realities we were going to have to face, one way or another. You could go on and on about how stupid it is, but you’d only show that you lost your sense of wonder somewhere along the way. TV Funhouse manages to straddle the dichotomous nature of wonderment and guttersnipe realities, and gleefully reawakens the chaotic demon-child we try, unsuccessfully, to repress.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

The Words and Music of Patti Smith Barely Scratches the Surface
Rock and roll knows no limits—that’s why it’s survived despite the changing whims of social mores. It’s a stentorian spirit, sometimes laying low while culture tests its will with namby-pamby versions of its soul. It’s clever in its strategies,though, allowing the forces of the lowest common denominator to think they’ve tamed it, homogenized it, bloated it beyond recognition. It worked with Elvis, didn’t it?

The thing that is Rock and Roll pays it no mind—its minions are legion, and they all want to be a part of the Mother Organism—for every one who falls victim to the mainstream, at least a thousand are gathered in garages to renew the primordial spirit from whence Rock drew its first breath, kicking and screaming to heaven and hell that it would not be denied. It may be compromised and commercialized by the business, and alternately vilified and sanctified by the critics, but its three chord structure is a fortress that’s ultimately impervious. It’s a universe unto itself, a self-contained society that reinvents itself as it goes along.

Patti Smith is more than a minion of Rock—she’s a high priestess whose dedication to the beast has, for more than thirty years, had a profound influence on its evolution. In the book The Words and Music of Patti Smith, author Joe Tarr attempts to dissect Smith’s career by examining every track she ever recorded in microcosmic detail. At 119 pages (149, if you count the supplemental bibliography, footnotes and index), Tarr has written the longest record review in the history of humankind. I don’t mean that as a compliment, either.

While Tarr may mean to offer a critical retrospective of Smith’s works, he relies heavily on reviews that were published at the time to validate his point. He looks at the reviews of the time the albums were released to paint a picture of Smith that’s politically correct, but offers little insight into the artist herself. He’s more concerned with pigeonholing Smith as a fan who became an icon than focusing on the boldness with which she pursued her career. In the process, he obsesses on “Rock ‘N’ Roll Nigger” for several pages, citing the N-word word itself as a basis to dismiss the song, and completely ignoring the real meaning of the lyrics, especially the “outside of society” part.

As a biography, The Words and Music of Patti Smith doesn’t offer any new insights into the artist’s life. It’s all been documented before, much of it quoted here. It quickly becomes apparent that Tarr is relying on old news to write a book, interjecting retrospective (and somewhat biased) personal viewpoints wherever the fancy strikes him. As criticism, it doesn’t fare much better. Granted, Tarr painstakingly looks at every song on each of Smith’s albums, too much so, in fact. He precedes every breakdown with the amateurish, and conceited, “this song is about…” intro. It’s been a hackneyed tool of amateur critics since Rock allowed journalism into its sphere, and it’s usually followed by a series of personal prejudices to illustrate the critic’s viewpoint. Rock music—indeed, all music, is impressionistic, and its meaning changes, for the listener and performer, with each new performance. Here’s an example:

To be fair, Tarr’s book offers an introduction of Patti Smith’s work, and her continuing influence, to an audience who may only have heard of her in the press, but are unfamiliar with her actual music. For those who have followed her career, The Words and Music of Patti Smith comes across as a lopsided account of her career from someone a generation removed from the New York scene that spawned punk.

More than any other woman, and more than most men, for that matter, Patti Smith has embodied the primal spirit of rock. Without her, there would be no Chrissie Hynde or Joan Jett. And without her, and the whole CBGB scene of the late seventies, there probably wouldn’t have been a Sex Pistols or Clash. She embraced the androgyny that her male counterparts had hinted at from the earliest days of Elvis, and forged a new path for every skinny wannabe rock star. She’s never shied away from politics or social issues, and she rocked them even when it was unfashionable.

That thing that is Rock and Roll would breathe much heavier without her presence. And that same entity can only shake its head in amusement when guys like Joe Tarr intellectualize her ad nauseum. The only way to appreciate Patti Smith is to listen to her albums. Sure. She slips every now and then, but she always regains her footing.

While The Words and Music of Patti Smith tries to offer a solid portrait of Patti Smith, it slips frequently, and never quite regains its footing.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

The Allure of Anglo-Saxon Attitudes
Nobody lives in the present—it can’t be done. By he time we perceive a moment, it’s already the past, leaving us to plot our next miniscule future. In fact, the present is the only abstract in our concept of time, no matter how we try to dismiss the future as unknown. If the present exists at all, it’s only as an asterisk to remind us of the moments we’ve experienced before we plunge headfirst into the next moment. As much as we like to think we walk down a path that leads to that resolution we knew we deserved, we’re always trying to catch up.

See, time isn’t a river that we raft through, and it’s not a quantum field. For humans, it’s more like a mist that shrouds us, breaking only in moments of lucidity or regret. What we were and what we are cohabit the same space, playfully sparring to determine who we are, and who we will ultimately be. The British mini-series Anglo-Saxon Attitudes, newly released on DVD by Acorn Media, and based on the 1956 novel by Angus Means, brilliantly explores time as a series of decisions and their consequences. In the process, it skewers the hypocrisy of several cherished social mores.

Gerald Middleton (Richard Johnson) is the central character of Anglo-Saxon Attitudes, an aging historian of stiff upper lip demeanor haunted by the errors of his past. In 1912, he was witness to the celebrated unearthing of a pagan fertility idol at an archeological dig, buried with an early Christian bishop. It wasn’t long after that he discovered that overly endowed figure may have been a fake, planted there by the son of the expedition’s leader. And somewhere around that time, he began an affair with Dolly (Tara Fitzgerald) the fiancée of the roguish son (portrayed by a young, pre-Bond Daniel Craig.)

Forty some-odd years later, time has changed everything. Middleton married, not to his true love, Dolly, but to a shrewish Danish woman, Inge (Elizabeth Spriggs) whose seemingly frivolous eccentricities mask her dominating nature. Despite her frigid sexuality, they managed to spawn three offspring, all of whom go through their lives blissfully unaware of the little disasters they perpetrate. Gerald and Inge divorced eventually, but remained entangled in each other’s lives.

Time changed everything. Time changed nothing. All that time, Middleton kept the secret of the phallic symbol to himself, and kept his love for Dolly close to his heart. Now he wants to somehow rectify his past, and change his life for the unknown better, once and for all. The problem is, his past and present keep colliding, altering his future at every turn.

Andrew Davies did a remarkable job of adapting the Means novel, deftly moving the characters from one time frame to the other, using Middleton’s anguished memories as a framing device to tie it all together. In the process, Anglo-Saxon Attitudes deflates pomposities that are inherent not only in British society, but globally as well. It’s satire in its most potent form, exposing our follies so quietly we only realize it in retrospect. It’s not the sort of satire to make you giggle, but it will make you smile in places. It’s no wonder that the miniseries garnered a BFTA “Best Serial Drama” award in 1992.

The DVD is presented in its original 1.33:1 format, and is a beauty to watch. The video reproduction is crisp, and the sound separation is flawless. There aren’t a lot of bonus features—filmographies of the principals and biographies of Means and Davies are about it, but they illustrate what a stellar production it was. Anglo-Saxon Attitudes has a running time of 229 minutes, and is presented on two discs. Oh, it also features a small appearance by a 16-year old Kate Winslet, in one of her earliest roles.

Anglo-Saxon Attitudes, despite its pastoral pace (or perhaps because of it), remains an engrossing piece of drama that illustrates how lives unfold haphazardly, and reach their climactic moments largely unnoticed.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Jurassic Fight Club: No Rules In the Prehistoric World
I’m not really sure why we’re fascinated by dinosaurs. Maybe it’s wired into the Collective Unconsciousness, some racial memory that serves as a constant reminder that the world can be scary if we’re not vigilant. Perhaps it has something to do with our ego, as we look at the world we’ve made in our own image, and reflect naively on how far we’ve progressed. Or it could be that we watched way too many Ray Harryhausen movies, especially Valley of Gwangi, as a child.

What it really gets down to, though, is dinosaurs reside in our dreams. They transport us back to a time before dragons existed, to a land we walk upon to this day, transformed by millions of years of upheaval. Earth was a very different place 100 some-odd million years ago, an unforgiving environment where only the strongest, most brutal creatures survived.

Jurassic Fight Club (premiering on the History Channel Tuesday, 9P EST) explores that world with extensive live-action HD location production, as well as hours of full-CG imagery recreating the dinosaur battlefields where the weak were separated from the strong. In recent years, archaeologists have gained new insight into a predatory world inhabited by cunning, quick-thinking, highly maneuverable dinosaurs. Not only is the series fascinating from a scientific viewpoint, but it’s extremely entertaining in its detailed recreations.

The premiere episode “Cannibal Dinosaur,” takes the viewer back 70 million years to a late Cretaceous Madagascar, and focuses on the tiny island’s largest predator of the time, Majungatholus. Standing about nine feet tall at the hips (compared to Allosaurus, at 16 feet), and weighing around a ton, Majungatholus was a medium-size predator. On the isolated island of Madagascar, it reigned supreme. With its sharp serrated teeth and powerful tail, no other native creatures could surpass it in brute force. None, that is, except another Majungathalus.

That’s the conclusion modern-day paleontologists come to when they unearth the bones of a Majungatholus who came to a grisly end 70 million years ago. What follows is a detective story that could have easily been called “CSI: Jurassic”, and involves a mating ritual gone terribly awry. As unlikely as it sounds, the episode is engrossing and dramatic, balancing the dry facts with a likely scenario that draws the viewer deeper into the mystery. The climactic battle isn’t overplayed, but ends with a resolution that’s at once numbing and disturbing, but somehow satisfying.

History Channel has committed to a 12 episode run of Jurassic Fight Club. It’s a promising series, which looks to explore the strategies and minds of various prehistoric predators. What emerges is a fresh portrait of various dinosaurs, and shows us that we’re just now beginning to realize they were far more calculating and complex than we grew up believing.

As a companion to the series, History Channel has launched a minisite that complements the battles depicted in the episodes. The prominent feature of the minisite is an interactive game called Jurassic Fight Club: Turf Wars. In addition to the game, the minisite includes a program synopsis, an episode guide for upcoming and archived episodes, a Dinopedia featuring an introduction to and stats for the featured dinosaurs, image gallery, discussion board, a multimedia gallery filled with wallpapers, posters and screensavers, and a three-tiered video player. The game is what will initially draw visitors.

Jurassic Fight Club: Turf Wars allows players to take control of prehistoric creatures and assault their opponent with a wide variety of special moves and techniques, including ferocious lunges, vicious bites and punishing tail whips. The pre-premiere debuts two dinosaurs, a dueling pair of the aforementioned Majungatholus. As the season progresses, the cast of characters will grow larger and larger. Following the television broadcast-premiere on July 29, new beasts are unlocked each week allowing players to recreate epic showdowns featured on air. The detailed 3D models and lush backgrounds, pulled straight from the Jurassic Fight Club program, will bring these prehistoric brawlers back to life for an epic gaming experience.

You can link to Turf Wars here:

The game was developed by This is Pop, the company that developed the highly successful, award winning Bible Fight Club game for Adult Swim. The Jurassic Fight Club series producers’ 1080, the production company known for providing creative and practical post-production solutions, created dinosaur animation assets for the game.

Both Jurassic Fight Club and Jurassic Fight Club: Turf Wars feature extensive live-action HD location production as well as hours of full-CG imagery, recreating the dinosaur battlefields where the weak were separated from the strong. So watch the series, play the game and be glad you live in a world that’s only threatened mostly by humans.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Future Unwritten, Illuminated in Word and Song
Every person’s life if full of little moments that become seminal only in retrospect. We simply aren’t wired to process the significance of a moment as it happens. Often, we go to our deaths only vaguely aware of the moments and people who shaped our identities, leaving it to acquaintances we left behind to define us.

In Julian Temple’s documentary, The Future Is Unwritten, it’s largely left to the acquaintances and notable fans of Joe Strummer to define him. Strummer, lead singer, rhythm guitarist and unofficial head honcho of the Clash, had already left this mortal coil, having died in his sleep 21 December 2002. Even at that, his presence is felt throughout the film, as he largely narrates the history of his too-short life. Far from being a gimmick, his narration—culled from his 1990’s BBC radio program and various interviews through the years—adds an extra dimension to his turbulent and enigmatic life.

Fittingly, the narrative approach of The Future Is Unwritten is in itself enigmatic and non-linear. Utilizing family home movies (dating from Strummer’s early childhood, when he was just wee John Mellor), archival footage from the times that shaped his life, animation based on his cartoon drawings, and live Clash footage, Temple’s film comes across as more a rich collage than a biography. The end result is a portrait of a Joe Strummer who was not merely the “punk rock warlord” he fancied himself to be. That was only one facet of Strummer’s personality, the one he most often let his public see. He was a lot more complicated than that.

Temple, whose previous films include the Sex Pistols documentary The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle, paints Strummer as a conflicted soul here. He was ruthless in his pursuit of being a rock star, tossing his mates the 101ers to the curb when he was given the opportunity to join the upstart band the Clash. Once he went punk, he played the role to the hilt, and infused it with a political agenda not seen before in the idiom. That’s not to take anything away from Clash mates Mick Jones or Paul Simonon—they were the musical backbone of the band—but it was Strummer who guided the band into a new phase of rock music. And for a time they lived up to their self-proclaimed hype of being the only band that mattered.

Success took its toll, as it is want to do in rock. After releasing London Calling, arguably the single most important album of the 1980’s, and following it up with the audacious Sandinista!, the Clash released Combat Rock. It was a dancehall and MTV hit, pushing the Clash into the top 40. It also heralded the end of the Clash, with the band splintering, and Joe Strummer retreating into a period of seclusion.

The Future Is Unwritten recalls all those glory days, as well as Strummer’s “wilderness years” before finally showing his reemergence in his final few years with his final band the Mescaleros. It’s compelling stuff, made all the more so by its campfire framing device, in which various people, mostly celebrities, none identified, offer personal remembrances of Strummer. It’s an impressive cast, including Bono, Martin Scorcese, Red Hot Chili Peppers Flea and Anthony Kiedis, Johnny Depp, John Cusack and Matt Dillon, as well as the people who knew and worked with Strummer through the years. It’s all done at night, outside, sitting around bonfires, and has the aura of a wake.

The Future Is Unwritten is by no means a glossy celebration of Joe Strummer’s life—it looks at him warts and all, and what we see is a man who tested himself and those around him. I guess he was the punk warlord, after all.

The DVD release offers few extras, but what few it does offer are priceless, particularly the bonfire interviews that didn’t make it to the final cut. It’s presented in a 1:33:1 ratio, and (oddly) Dolby 2.0. I would recommend picking up the soundtrack CD to fully appreciate the power of the music that really is an integral part of the story.

The Clash was one of the most important rock bands of all time. Joe Strummer was at their core, and he was fundamental in the fabric of all rock that was to follow the Clash. The future may be unwritten, but the embers of the past write its prologue.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Monk and Psych: Reinventing the Detective Genre

There’s a reason the detective genre endures generation after generation. And that’s because there are only two kinds of people in the world—those who love mysteries, and those who hate mysteries. Those who love mysteries love the process of peering around the corner to see what lies beyond. They don’t need a vested interest in the back story of the mystery—they’re in it for the puzzle, and nothing more. They play Sudoko and obsess over the New York Times crossword puzzle. Those who hate mysteries are usually detectives. Mysteries drive them nuts—they are driven to know the who, how, where and why of a situation. Mysteries eat at their very core, upset their equilibrium, offering them no rest until they have answers. They’re generally a bit more obsessive than the average mystery lover, and they usually don’t mesh well with textbook methods.

Cops and private eyes, at least the hard-boiled sort, are not really detectives so much as they are just regular joes doing their job. Real detectives are seriously flawed in one way or another, whether it’s Sherlock Holmes dealing with his cocaine habit or even Bruce Wayne combating his obsession to dress up as a bat. We relate to these characters on a couple of levels—they give us hope that we can rise above our daily drudge, and we can be appreciated as the geniuses we always knew we were. The more flawed the detective, and the more ingenious he is in spite of (or in some cases, because of) his weaknesses, the more we empathize with him.

When it comes to flaws and weaknesses, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more sympathetic character than Adrian Monk. For six seasons, Tony Shahloub’s portrayal of the obsessive-compulsive detective has enthralled viewers, with equal parts Chaplinesque tragicomedy, tantalizing mysteries and an undying belief in the underdog. Monk may seem completely off-track through most of any given episode, but in the end, he’s always triumphant, and always humble.

Monk begins its seventh season Friday night, 18 July at 98 P EST on the cable USA network. “Mr. Monk Buys a House” finds the detective coping, not too successfully, with the death of his therapist, Dr. Kroger (Stanley Kamel, who died unexpectedly earlier this year). Hector Alizondo (lately of the mercifully departed Cane) debuts as Monk’s new therapist, and does an admirable job, infusing a new personality into the role. Monk, while investigating a possible murder (which was of course originally ruled an accidental death) impulsively decides to buy the house of the deceased. Brad Garret (Everybody Loves Raymond) delivers a delightful performance as a handyman who may be even more deceptive than he seems. There’s a reason why Monk has racked up all those Emmys and Golden Globes, and if this episode is any indication, expect more pling this year.

Flaws come in all kinds of flavors, and one of the tastiest involves the need to misdirect, to sell snake oil to the rubes, as it were. Psych (season premiere debuting right after the Monk premiere, 18 July, 1 P EST) stops barely short of that, but it does capitalize on the art of the scam. Now beginning its third season, Psych continues the adventures of Shawn Spencer, who solves crimes with powers of observation so acute the precinct detectives think he's psychic – at least that’s what he lets them believe. The thing that makes Psych work is it never takes itself seriously. The protagonists, Shawn (James Roday) and Gus (Dule Hill), work as seamlessly as Robert Culp and Bill Cosby did in I Spy—updated, of course, and all played with a wink and a nod.

Things are complicated in the season opener, when Shawn’s mom (Cybill Shephard), herself a criminal psychic, re-enters his life , further complicating his his relationship with his father (Corbin Bernsen). Making things even more convoluted is the fact that Gus’s day job employer considers his work with Psych a conflict of interest. It’s a complex day, to be sure, not unlike all the days we face, but with an added layer of absurdity.

The murder mystery is not dead. Neither is the detective genre, They have merely found a new audience. Let me rephrase that. The audience was always there, It just took cable, or more specifically, USA, to alert us to that fact. The Monk and Psych season premieres redefine maxims like “TV Worth Watching”, because they are.

Not only are Monk and Psych worth watching,
Monk and Psych Are Back! Wanna Prize to Celebrate?
I'm pretty excited about the return of Monk and Psych--so much so I'm giving two--that's two Prize Packs to celebrate. Thanks to the good folks at USA , 2 Winners Will Receive a PSYCH & MONK Friday Night Prize Pack with the following goodies included:
Psych Season 1 on DVD
Monk Season 5 on DVD
Psych Pineapple Stress Toy
Psych Coffee Mug
Monk Bobblehead
Psych & Monk are back this Friday, July 18th on USA Network!
MONK, the critically acclaimed original series starring Emmy, Golden Globe and SAG award winner Tony Shalhoub premieres its seventh season on USA Network on Friday, July 18, 2008 at 9/8c. Emmy-winning and Golden Globe-nominated character actor Hector Elizondo will portray Dr. Neven Bell in the seventh season as Adrian Monk’s (Shalhoub) much-needed therapist. Join others on the official fan page on Facebook or visit monk.usanetwork.com.
PSYCH, USA Network’s hit original series starring James Roday (“The Dukes of Hazzard”), Dulé Hill (“The West Wing”) and Corbin Bernsen (“Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” “L.A. Law”), will kick off its third season with all new cases on USA Network on Friday, July 18, 2008 at 10/9c. Golden Globe winner and Emmy nominated TV legend Cybill Shepherd joins the cast as Gus' mom. Join others on the official fan page on Facebook or visit psych.usanetwork.com.
Entering to win couldn't be any simpler. All you need to do is send a blank email with the header MONK/ PSYCH GIVEAWAY. Winners will be emailed gor their shipping address. And you have until August 18 to enter.
Good luck!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Savoring the Silliness of 305 and Superhero Movie
One thing I’ve learned working as a pop culture critic over the years is that some things just really are not designed to be seriously criticized. Maybe it’s because my formative years consisted in overlapping parts of classic literature and Mad Magazine, fifties jazz and punk rock, Italian wines and cheap beer, TS Eliot and Lenny Bruce, Michelangelo and Jack Kirby, Richard Burton and Warren Oakes, Stanley Kubrick and Roger Corman and numerous other dichotomies. Or it could be all those scattergun reference points, scrambling for their private piece of brain-wrinkle real estate, finally settle for a time share arrangement. Once that happens, all those pop culture fragmented creatures, like it or not, take on personality fragments of their neighbors.

That’s why, when I think of Star Trek, the first thing I think of has nothing to do with the franchise itself—it’s a Mad satire of the series I read as a kid, and the only thing I remember of that is two word balloons. Spock says, “I can’t believe my ears,” to which Kirk replies, “I can’t believe your ears, either.” I cracked me up then, and it still does.

Along that same timeline, Marvel Comics introduced a new series called Not Brand Echh!, a spoof of their own characters, and a good-natured swipe at DC (who was Brand Echh in the Marvel PR of the time), as well. It was Mad for comic book geeks, especially Marvel geeks such as myself. The Mighty Thor was lampooned as the Mighty Sore, the Hulk was the Bulk, Superman was Stupor-Man, and in any given 8-pager, the characters invariably had billboard messages stamped on their shoe soles.

The point is, Mad and Not Brand Echh! were not satires—they were parodies. There’s a big difference. Satire points out foibles through sarcasm and wit. Parodies go for the cheap joke—they’re supposed to be stupid. Two movies released on DVD this week are parodies—stupid, puerile parodies full of inside jokes, sight gags and juvenile nudges. What makes them fodder for fanboy cliques is that they also step on their sacred cows of the moment, the Spider-Man franchise and the green screen epic 300.

305 is as much a sequel to 300 as it is parody—sorta. It began life as an humble video short on YouTube, and focused on five inept accountant types assigned to guard a goat path against the advancing Persians. Essentially, it was a what if the staffers of The Office were placed in ancient Sparta sort of affair. It became a major hit on YouTube, attracting more than 4 million viewers. What makes it important is that it is the first viral video to be made into a feature film.

The movie takes up after the events of 300, where we find that the five inadvertently caused the deaths of the 300 by leaving their post at the goat path to unsuccessfully join the main battle. The problem was, the goat path was the route by which the Persians entered. 305 expands on the premise of the original viral video, taking up a year later, and follows the exploits of the Five as they try to redeem themselves. Their path to redemption crashes through the fourth wall, ignoring all sense of history or timelines. Consider it a parody of The Office, if that show was set in Sparta. It’s a Mad magazine-style send-up of that sitcom, and a spoof of the over-praised 300, as well. If 305 has any pretensions at all, it’s that it was done in green screen, as was 300. The DVD’s special features even spoof the green screen process.

While 305 strives for the classic Mad spoof style, Superhero Movie takes its cues from Not Brand Echh!, combined with the now all too familiar touches you expect from the team that produced the Scary Movie and Naked Gun franchises. It’s taken a bit of heat in some quarters for—quote unquote—ripping off the Spider-Man movies. That’s a ludicrous criticism. Superhero Movie uses the origin of Spider-Man as a springboard to lampoon the entire superhero genre, in much the same way the Not Brand Echh! eight pagers did. There are references to the Fantastic Four, the X-Men and even Batman, none of which necessarily enhance the story. Nor were they meant to. They’re incidental gags, poking fun at the somber tones comics have taken of late. It’s all a slapstick farce, and to review it as anything more would be an exercise in pomposity.

Superhero Movie and 305 are unlikely to be remembered as comedy classics, at least not by this generation. They are what they are. Both films have a running time of just over an hour or so, more than ample time to scatter gun their way through plots that were never meant to be more than a launch pad for humor that never rises above a collegiate level. Both DVDs have an excess of bonus features to over- compensate for the actual movies’ lengths, including the requisite outtakes, deleted scenes and the obligatory alternate endings.

All that notwithstanding, these two movies offer something we don’t see that often these days. Yeah, they’re silly, stupid, frequently vulgar and puerile to a fault. But they remind us that not everything has to be art, or relevant, or socially conscious. In troubled times, we want nothing more than to step away for a moment, bundle up in our personal security blankets of incongruity. 305 and Superhero Movie are lineal descendants of The Three Stooges shorts of the Depression and WWII era. While they never sacrifice a sight gag for an attempt to make a meaningful statement, both movies have their moments when they inadvertently make a comment. Are they funny? That depends on your mood, or who’s watching the movie with you, or how you feel about fart gags or brawls amongst world leaders of peace.

But here’s the thing. If you don’t intellectualize Superhero Movie or 305, and if you don’t deify the source material, you’re going to find yourself chuckling in spite of yourself.

After all, they’re supposed to be stupid, stupid.