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
PSYCH, USA Network’s hit original series starring James Roday (“The Dukes of Hazzard”), DulĂ© 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
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.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

A Different Kind of Cop Show, Eh?
Life these days is stressful. It costs over a hundred dollars to fill the belly of that behemoth SUV, and that’s only going to let you run everyday errands for a week or so, and that’s if you consolidate lunches, meetings, shopping, grooming trips and just getting to work. Once you do get to work, you have to deal with office politics, and the gossip of who’s stabbing who to climb another flimsy rail up the corporate hierarchy. And to top it off, you have to worry if your cherished salsa and chips are going to end you up in the hospital with a case of salmonella. As if that weren’t enough, a retired senator/economist from Texas has the audacity to tell us, in perfect “I’m alright, Jack” style, we’re a nation of whiners.

We’re not whiners by any means—we’re stress junkies. We thrive on it, and when real life doesn’t feed us with enough tension, we’ll get a vicarious fix through the TV. Seeing those hopeless souls on game shows and reality series give us a momentary sense of smug superiority, just knowing we would have chosen the obvious “T”, and not the what kind-of-idiot-are-you “L.” In the comfort of our living rooms, we lord over all we survey, and pity the poor souls dripping in flop sweat on the screen.

Flashpoint (premiering on CBS Friday, 11 July, 10P EST, and on CTV—check your local listings) is all about stress, at least in the pilot episode. This Canadian import begins in the height of the conflict, as we see a really, really stressed out Croatian holding a gun to a woman’s head while a negotiator (Enrico Collantini) tries to talk him down, despite language barriers. Meanwhile, a police sniper is perched on a rooftop, coldly awaiting orders to neutralize the perp. It’s a brief moment that establishes the tone of the show. It cuts to a few hours earlier, when the day was just another day. The police sniper (Hugh Dillon) is a family guy, thinking he’s planning for a colleague’s retirement party, despite it conflicts with his wife’s fortieth wedding anniversary. The Croatian hostage taker began the day thinking he’ll reconcile with his estranged wife, despite a restraining order to the contrary.

It’s in the backstories that Flashpoint differs from the usual procedural cop show. It’s not the slam-bang take no prisoners action adventure to which American audiences are accustomed. There’s plenty of tension and stress in the pilot episode, but it’s tempered with an underlying sense of emotion. It achieves something very rare in television—it causes you to empathize with all the characters, rather than just dropping bodies to and fro.

As it stands now, Flashpoint is slated for a thirteen episode run. On CBS. But if the pilot is any indication, this is a series that should be picked up for the fall season. It’s a well-crafted show, full of irony mixed with action, served up in a balanced blend that’s more cinematic than episodic. It would be a shame to lose a show that illustrates how our day to day lives really aren’t that stressful, relatively speaking.

Friday, July 04, 2008

The Spirits of Patriotism

All politics aside, it’s a pretty safe assumption that just about everybody in America supports our men and women in uniform. There’s a lot more to it than a yellow ribbon decal on the rear window of the family SUV, though. People throughout the country are coming up with creative ways to show their support, from every walk of life. And while I don’t usually equate patriotism with a trip to the liquor store, a new line of premium spirits offers an interesting take on ways to show support for the troops.

Newly launched in Pennsylvania, Brave Spirits is a line of 100% American-made premium spirits with lofty monickers: Valor Vodka, First In Whiskey, Standing Guard Gin and At Ease Rum. David Fox says he founded Brave Spirits on the principle “to honor, to remember and celebrate the men and women in uniform who protect and defend America everyday: firefighters, police officers, Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard and their families. Brave Spirits recognizes the dedication that these men and women constantly demonstrate to keep Americans safe. Every component of the Brave Spirits product line, from labels to ingredients to distilleries, is distinctly American-made. “


Everything about the Brave Spirits line bristles with a gung-ho sense of Americana, from the names of the spirits, to the distinctive bottles (which are vaguely reminiscent of wooden soldier silhouettes), to the company’s insistence that all of the liquors are 100% American-made. While I’m foursquare for buying American, I also have snobbish prejudices when it comes to spirits. I’m suspicious of gin that doesn’t come from England, or vodka that’s not imported, or rum not with a Caribbean pedigree, or bourbon whiskey not from Kentucky. So it was not without a bit of trepidation that I approached the Brave Spirits line I was pleasantly surprised—they’re not half bad.

I began my investigation with First In Whiskey. It’s a very smooth bourbon, easily taken neat or as base for highballs. It’s distilled and in Kentucky, and aged in American Oak barrels. Slightly sweet, and without the burn of many whiskeys, it’s a genteel spirit ideally suited for cocktail hour.

Drinking American whiskey is one thing—it’s part of our history. Vodka is another story, though—it didn’t become a fixture in American culture until the 1950’s, when it began to supplant gin as the base ingredient of cocktails. As a base for cocktails, Valor Vodka works better than say, a Gordon’s, or most of the lesser vodkas. Straight, it’s rather bland, lacking the kick of a premium vodka. I’m not sure if it’s because it’s refined from American grains, but it’s not up to snuff compared to truly premium vodkas from Scandinavia or Russia. It’s great as a mixer, though.

At Ease Rum, on the other hand, is surprisingly delightful. Rum goes back to America’s roots even more than whiskey, having its origins in the Caribbean in the 15th century. It’s not a stretch, then, to distill sugarcane grown in Florida and age the product in American oak barrels. At Ease is a light rum, and can be easily drank neat, or used as a base for summertime cocktails.

Finally, Standing Guard Gin reminds us that even in America, no man is an island. Juniper berries are not abundant in the States, so some had to be important, making the gin the only product in the line that’s not 100% American- produced. Nonetheless, it has a distinctly American air about it. Smooth neat, and perfect in the classic gin and tonic. It’s not bad as a martini base, either.

All in all, I’ll have to give the Brave Spirits line of liquors an A+ for dedication to their marketing concept, as hokey as their branding is. I have to wonder if the jingoism in their marketing will hurt them in the long run, since they’re targeting a very specific market.

I’ll give them an A- on their actual product, though. The dedication that Brave Spirits has in its mission is laudable, but it would mean precious little if the spirits didn’t deliver the goods. By and large, it does. I found all four of the spirits in the line to be smooth—perhaps a little too smooth, in some cases—but all in all, above average spirits well-suited for cocktail parties seeking a somewhat slightly higher level of style.

At a suggested retail of $20 per 750ml bottle, the Brave Spirits line is something of a bargain. Perhaps more importantly, “Brave Spirits believes in giving back to those who sacrifice for American freedom and the protection of others. For every bottle of Brave Spirits product purchased, $2.00 goes to the Brave Spirits Foundation, composed of retired members of America’s services, which collectively decides the proper charities and foundations to donate these proceeds to; that is the institutions that help men & women in uniform to stay safe, recover and celebrate with friends and family.”

I like the “giving back” concept, even though I’m inherently suspicious of nameless foundations. But if raising a glass of cheer to the people who protect us makes us a little more aware, I’m all for it.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Election Day Reminds Us Who We Are

If there’s one thing that makes America unique in the world, it’s the synergy that dives the country. We come from different places, we bring our native cultures with us, we settle into little neighborhoods, we bicker among ourselves and bemoan the larger powers that be—at least until we become a part of those larger powers that be.

It’s of note that America has survived for well over 200 years, with the same Constitution it’s always had, amended here and there to clear up ambiguities and oversights, but for all intents, the same document that’s always guided us. And we’ve guided it, through the power of our vote.

Election Day, part of the PBS series P.O.V, debuts 1 July (10P, EST—check your local listings) looks at the current state of the election process. Actually, it focuses on the 2 November 2004 election day from eleven different points of view.

Election Day works on a number of levels, but it ultimately succeeds as an engrossing and oddly entertaining moment in American history. That’s not to imply that it looks at the 2004 election as a farce, or that it takes any partisan side. It’s not about Bush versus Kerry—in fact, neither of them rate more than a scarce mention, and that only as side notes in the frenetic pacing of the documentary. It’s not even about politics, at least not in the way it’s usually covered in film. Election Day instead focuses on the real power, that being the citizenry of America, that make this democracy work.

After the debacle that was the 2000 election, director Katy Chevigny set out to make a film that focused not on the political wranglings that make the mainstream news, but rather on the more intimate concerns of the American public. To that end, she organized film crews in eleven cities, each representing a unique mindset that nonetheless resonates with the collective concerns of Americans today. From Chicago, where a Republican poll-watcher rails against the Democrat machine there, to New York, where a fifty-year old ex-con gets to vote for the first time in his life, to Florida and Ohio, where volunteers keep a vigilant eye on the vote, to South Dakota, where Native Americans are urged to cast their vote, to rural Minnesota where every vote is considered important—Election Day is a tapestry of snapshots from across America, united by the fundamental belief that each and every vote is important.

Election Day, largely because of its rapid cutting from one locale to another, is more thriller than documentary. There are no requisite talking heads interviews, no journalist commentaries, no slant left or right. There are only people, in their individual ways, doing their part to make sure that America stands as a democracy. It’s an inspiring tale that illustrates that Americans are more vigilant about the process than they’re often given credit for. That it premieres just prior to Independence Day makes it all the more poignant. It gives hope that the contentious nature of Americans ensures that the country is just getting its second wind.