Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Farewell to The Shield (No spoilers)

For me the most significant television event of 2008 was the final season of The Shield. For seven years viewers were challenged to explore their own values as characters did or suffered horrible things. A show where the perpetrators of bad things could suffer the consequences at any time, be it the same episode, later in the season, or even seasons later. A show were the line between the good guys and the bad guys was often blurred to the point of near non-existence.

This article is not meant to be a primer for people who haven't seen the show, though for those who haven't, it's about a corrupt cop who leads an almost equally corrupt strike team that ruthlessly maintains order in an especially volatile area of Los Angeles. Again, this is not a primer. I could go on about the incredible performances of Michael Chiklis (Vic), Walton Goggins (Shane), CCH Pounder (Claudette), Jay Karnes (Dutch), and so many others (it was rare for even a guest actor to drop the ball) but I've decided I'd rather this article be about how the show (and its characters) made me feel instead.

I will however say that the friendship between Dutch and Claudette was perhaps the best portrayal of a completely platonic friendship between two people of the opposite sex I've ever seen in TV and movies. With all the stunts pulled by the Strike Team this important aspect of the show is easy to overlook, but it was a key component of the show.

One of the amazing things about the show was its ability, no matter what the strength of the season opener was, to gain considerable momentum as the series progresses, as characters start making decisions that will impact the people around them later on. Vic and Shane in particular often came up with ideas that destroyed lives (sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively) with the less corrupt cops often suspecting things were rotten but never actually being able to prove their suspicions. It wasn't that the other cops were inept; it was that the Strike Team was quite good at covering their tracks. Ironically this was their Achilles heel as they sometimes became overconfident and did stuff that they could not entirely contain. Further momentum, to a lesser degree was gained by the usually unrelated cases of the other cops, with Dutch's cerebral way of capturing crooks standing in stark contrast to Vic's more streetwise approach.

What's great is that every major character had a good and a dark side. The Strike Team survived as long as they did despite their corruption because they were equally effective when used for good; Vic in particular was someone you could route for in one scene and hate in the same episode without seeming like it was two characters, which Kenneth Johnson's Lemonhead's Hell was that he was too loyal, to the point where he did stuff he himself found morale reprehensible. Acevada (played by Beneito Martinez) struggled between his morality and his political ambitions. Claudette's emotions and stubborness would sometimes deep six her good intentions. Dutch's insecurities and his sometimes overly methodical way of doing things made him an effective cop but he could be hard for his fellow cops to be around. Julien (Michael jace) was an earnest cop who faced struggles being true to himself when his own religious beliefs worked against him. Danny (Catherine Dent) tended to be overly hard on everyone, including herself. Corinne (Cathy Cahlin Ryan) was a nurse who struggled to get out of the shadows of a man who used headgames to make her to stuff she regretted. Etc. There were a few great celebrity actors who had a lot of impact on the show, and each of them added a little something to the show, but my favourite characters were the the ones that were in place in the first season. This is no dispect to other actors who did fine work; it was just that the first season case really captured lightning in a bottle.

The show also excelled in making its area of LA a character. This was important because a lot of shocking things happened on the show, but they never seemed gratuitous. Despite the fact that you often couldn't believe that they did that, it made sense in the context of the show, and usually (not always but usually) the more shocking the event, the greater the reprecussions later on.

The Shield was not cancelled. It chose a season to exit on and made its bows then. I find myself wanting more and hope that there will be some sort of special later on. At the same time though it's truly exciting to watch a series last seven seasons without the seams showing. There will be no dropping the show from my list of favourites because the final seasons diluted the show as a whole, no thinking that I'm still enjoying this but hope it ends before too much longer. The show started out great and ended great. It may be over but the characters have earned a permanent spot in TV history. I regret not being able to spend even more time with them, but I'm glad I got to spend the time I did with them.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Beacon Hill Birds - Winter Discovery

In contrast to my last blog post, this one's going to be really brief.

I was taking photos today, the second day of the first Victoria BC snowfall of the Winter 2008/09 season, and decided to visit Beacon Hill Park, theorizing corrently that the snow would be less cleared away there than in the more populated areas. Beacon Hill Park, for those of you who haven't been there, has a fairly large artificial lake, which was partly frozen, partly not when I visited today.

Which brings me to the topic at hand: The birds I saw there today were ducks and seagulls. While there were a few exceptions either way (and some birds were on land), most of the seagulls preferred to be on the ice rather than in the water, while most of the ducks preferred to be in the water rather than on the ice. It's probably not the biggest discovery of the 21st century, but it was an interesting phenomenom to witness and made for some great shots. And it gave me an insight on ducks vs. seagulls that I didn't have before today. And the exceptions were comforting because I like to believe that in most animal species, there's some rebel that wants to do his or her own thing.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

16 Memorable Moments (or Sets of Moments) at View Towers

I'm feeling pretty nostalgic today so I'm foregoing my usual "no personal stuff" rule for once to describe 16 memorable moments of living in View Towers for over 13 years (in brainstorming order):

  1. During the early years, there was a roach problem, and at least one of the roaches made it into my VCR. As the roach passed near the lighted areas such as the clock, its "outline" (the natural lines on its body) lighted up a nice yellow. Sometime after the roach incidents I rented Joe's Apartment for catharsis.
  2. My neighbour directly to the left of me (currently, as I type this) who often goes on rants of how you're all going to hell, and telling someone to shut up; sometimes his rants are given a extra oomph by his pounding on something
  3. The first major fire (after a lengthy period of false alarms) which wiped out a lot of the hallway to the 12 floor and even damaged the elevator (the woman responsible left her door open upon leaving the apartment, permitting the flames to spread). The flames went up I think three stories and a bit to the left. Despite this many people were content to remain in the building and watch, including one guy whose balcony was being licking by the flames (I think he eventually got around to leaving).
  4. Related to the above, the fire hoses turned out to have a lot of holes in them. Consequently after the above incident the fire hoses were removed "for our safety"
  5. The neighbours directly above me were always being noisy, usually fighting and bouncing things around (though once it was, er, a possible attempt to procreate). One night I found myself wishing that they'd finally do something to get kicked out (not knowing that they had already been given notice). The next morning at 4:15 I heard a lot of crashing, far worse than usual. I phoned security but no answer. I went to the bathroom as I debated whether to call security or the police, but then the fire alarm went off. They had burnt down their apartment, thus solving the noise problem nicely (except for the occasional repair sounds). Very minimal water damage to my place, happily
  6. I also had a rat problem very briefly. Once I had a friend over (who later moved into the building) when a rat in the kitchen deicded to play peek-a-boo. i'd see it briefly and try to point it out to my friend but as he turned his head the rat would disappear. My friend never did see it during the peek-a-boo situation
  7. Another time I saw an incredible amount of ants in my kitchen. Out of desperation I put a bunch of salt on the floor. That proved to be the only time I ever saw the ants
  8. The same friend from #6 and I got in the elevator (again, prior to his moving in). Two people got in the elevator and started fighting in front of the elevator buttons. i managed to hit the button for the floor directly above mine. When the doors opened, they continue fighting, but they were polite enough to shift slightly so my friend and I could leave the elevator
  9. This one's actually a series of events. Every so often what I call "The View Towers Express" happens, where stuff gets tossed off the balcony. Chairs, a TV, a bikini, a radio, and a sofa are among the stuff that has landed down below
  10. Another catch all: many times I've found myself roped into conversations with people who were drunk or otherwise intoxicated while waiting for the elevators. Most of these I'm amused by this and have responded politely, but if you'll permit a moment of seriousness among an otherwise funny blog post, one time a woman got in after a fight and had taken quite the beating. Sad, but as memorable as the more funny moments
  11. Another catch-all: yellow puddles are not unknown to stay in the stairwells for days on end
  12. The time that the sauna/hot tub was said to be closed due to "vandalism/moronism" according to a sign. Unfortunately they're closed for repairs most of the year, in part due to people using the hot tub as a free laundry machine
  13. It used to be the washers and dryers were on every second floor (one set of each per floor) with the coin-op areas usually ripped open (there is now a central laundry area which is keycard operated). Because the washing load took longer than the drier, people routinely would switch floors to dry their clothes, which in turn meant that other people would also need to shift their floors for drying. I once did this myself because it was pretty standard procedure and had to endure a pretty long lecture from one guy (who I suspect later removed my clothes before the cycle was finished so he could use the dryer)
  14. Likewise in the new laundry area it's common practice if all the dryers are full to remove the clothes from a dryer whose cycle is finished (this has happened to me more than once and it doesn't bother me because no one can know how long they'll have to wait). Once I did this to someone else and she showed up and freaked out
  15. For quite a few weeks this year, spray paint on one of the exits greeted vacating people with "F--- you"
  16. I'll end this on a happy note. View Towers used to have a free satellite which picked up TV land, so I was able to watch a lot of retro shows from my childhood (e.g. Star Trek: The Animated Series and the animated Fonz and the Happy Days Gang), plus some I passed over such as Hill Street Blues. The downside was the reception often suck. When the satellite finally had to be taken down, the rent actually got lowered.
I originally was going to do 10, but 13 years is a long time to be living in a strange place, so you all got a bonus.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Christmas Movies for the Holidays

TIMMY: Gosh Uncle Insanity, I really want to see a good Christmas movie this year, but I can't possibly watch the same sentimental crap every year. I mean, I'm only seven but I already know the words to Frost, Grinch, and Christmas Carol by heart.

UNCLE INSANITY: Well, Timmy. It just so happens you've come to the right place. Here are my picks of ten decent Christmas movies, in alphabetical order.

  1. Bad Santa: A drubnken department store Santa/thief finds redemption when he begins to care for a young boy. Difference between him and Scrooge is, he's still recognizable as the same person afterwards despite having changed for the better
  2. Batman Returns: a flawed movie to be sure, but it's a movie set around Christmas that has Christopher Walken in it, as well as Michelle Pfeiffer in a sexy catsuit. You could do far worse for Christmas movies
  3. Christmas Evil: Timmy, you must have noticed even at your young age the out of control capitalism in the stores this year. Well, things weren't a lot better in the 1970s, and in this movie a worker at a toy company decides to do something about it.
  4. Dead End: I'm going to put myself in the naughty list by repeating one of my Halloween choices. A family is heading to a Christmas dinner when the driver (the father) decides to take a short cut. Things don't go all that swell after that.
  5. Die Hard: Timmy, here you get to see action hero John McClane for the first time, dealing with a hostage situation in a building on Christmas Eve. If you really love McClane, he deals with another hostage situation, this time on a plane in another Christmas eve in Die Hard II, but the first Die Hard is the best of the two Christmas-based ones.
  6. Eyes Wide Shut: a man embarks on a surreal journey during Christmas as he deals with his feelings towards his wife. Timmy, you might cry a little because it was Stanley Kubrick's last film. I recommend watching the special edition because you get to choose between the version that was released theatrically with digital images added to one scene to obscure the pee-pee areas and the uncensored version.
  7. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: a death is investigated around Christmas in a village in this film based on a true story
  8. The Nightmare Before Christmas: another repeat from my Halloween list, as Halloween ghouls take over Christmas
  9. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians: Timmy, as you get older, you're going to appreciate unintentionally funny movies more and more. This pablum geared towards folks your age is a good place to start, with Martians kidnapping Santa. Santa saves the day with the help of some good Martians including a laughing idiot. And there's a catchy obnoxious theme song too!
  10. Trading Places: Once upon a time, Timmy, Eddie Murphy was actually funny. In this movie, set during the Christmas season, he plays a poor man who trades places with a rich man played my Dan Aykroyd.
TIMMY: Gosh, Uncle Insanity, that's a swell list. Thank you from saving me from the usual crap. can you think of any other movies?
UNCLE INSANITY: That's a very good question too, Timmy. Let me think of that some more. But in the meantime, this should get you start.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Review: Punisher War Zone

Punisher War Zone is the goriest movie ever made based on a Marvel character, and boy is it a lot of fun.

This third attempt to launch a Punisher movie franchise is by fast the best effort to date. Both of the previous Punisher movies had their moments, but this is the one where a lot of things really came together.

The filmmakers were wise in what they took from various eras. From the Punisher's early years (1970s) we get Jigsaw. Part of his origin here swipes a scene from Batman (1989) but that's forgivable because the rest of the origin is so visceral. From the 1990s we get Microchip. Perhaps not the best effective use of that character, but the movie juggles a lot of characters, mainly cannon fodder, er, bad guys. From the 2000s, we get Garth Ennis' Lt. Soap character, the comic relief, but wisely not quite as silly as in Garth Ennis' comics. And Bradstreet Hotel is undoubtedly a nod to the cover artist during the early 2000s, Tim Bradstreet.

The Punisher himself is well portrayed by Ray Stevenson, a paradox of deadened yet angry at the same time. When he accidentally kills an innocent early on in the movie he is quite shakened without but Stevenson wisely understates the Punisher's emotions rather than going for melodrama.

The movie is not without its flaws: some bits with Jigsaw move a little too close to Jack Nicholson territory, and there's at least one key scene where the Punisher casually wanders into a spot where people should be waiting for him. But the film is so entertaining with its over thee top violence that it's a lot of fun.

Which brings me to my most important point. As previously noted, the film is quite gory. People familiar with the writer-artist team of Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon on Preacher and Punisher should be able to visualize what they're in for in this movie. The violence is delightfully nasty and over the top, well earning its 18A rating (the equivalent of a US R, which it undoubtedly also received). There is no sex and not that much swearing that I can recall (though there is some), but for the violence alone, please leave your children at home. For that matter, if there's any risk of you vomiting during a movie, leave yourself at home; this is not the action movie for you. The movie is very gratuitous in its kills, arguably cheerfully so. This works well in the Punisher's universe (it's chilling how nonchalant the Punisher is in his kills) but they make sense in his world, and the audience is definitely meant to have fun with the kills. In fact the most tasteful kills are the ones you aren't meant to enjoy. But again, if you're not twisted enough to enjoy some creatively nasty kills, this movie isn't for you.

I on the other hand do enjoy a well-orchestrated bad guy kill so between that and and Roy Stevenson's performance, I give this film a solid recommendation. But don't say I didn't warn you about the violence.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Review: Quantum of Solace

Quantum of Solace has a lot of the elements that comprise a great James Bond film: lots of action, beautiful women, beautiful locations, good one-liners. One area that it falls down a bit on a bit is the lack of gadgets. In fact it's M, not Bond who gets the best toy, a fancy computer. However, they rebooted the franchise with the previous movie, Casino Royale, so I imagine they'll get to the gadgets in the meantime.

One thing I do like about the new Bond is its stronger sense of internal continuity. You can probably enjoy most of the film without seeing Casino Royale, but there are certainly bits you'll enjoy more if you've seen that film (a character from the previous film is mentioned a fair bit). There's also a cute allusion to one of the most famous scenes in Goldfinger (since it's a reboot Bond doesn't comment on the parallels directly, but it's undoubtedly intentional). And there is a nice revenge subplot with Bond's most important allies.

In Casino Royale I thought Daniel Craig struggled a bit with Bond's more human side, but here I thought he handled that side of Bond better.

One nitpick I do have is that, even though the series has always played a bit fast and loose with the laws of physics, Bond should have at least been limping at one point (in the real world there would have been broken bones or death, but in Bond's universe, limping would suffice).

Overall though I thought it was a fun action movie. Now bring on the gadgets!

Friday, October 31, 2008

13 Movies for Halloween

Not going out on Halloween? Want a decent movie to watch (or in one case, a great bad movie)? Here's some suggestions:

The Others: Creepy story of two families sharing the same mansion.

The Nightmare before Christmas: Halloween creatures take over Christmas.

Dead End: A family on a car ride attempt to take a short cut with dire consequences.

Love Object: A shy office worker transfers his feelings towards a woman in his office to a mannequin. Played for creepiness, not laughs.

Return of the Living Dead: Zombies and dark humour. They want your brains!

Halloween (1978): The 2007 version is fine too, but there's something especially creepy about this version.

Dawn of the Dead (1979): Again no slight to the remake, but the original story of people fighting zombies in a shopping mall is still the best.

Chopping Mall: Another good shopping mall horror, only this time with killer security robots.

Plan 9 from Outer Space: The classic unintentionally funny movie involves ghouls, alien invaders, and an obvious stand-in for Bela Lugosi.

Near Dark: A good ol' boy runs afowl of nomadic vampires.

There's Nothing Out There: A guy in a group of campers realizes they might be in a horror movie scenario.

Wilderness Survival for Girls: A group of girls camping either do terrible things in self defense or for no good reason. You decide which.

Highway to Hell: Sadly not on DVD yet, a hellcop kidnaps a woman and takes her to the titular road. Bad puns abound.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Halloween Wishes for 2008

As you may have noticed, Halloween this year falls on a Friday (so this essay can also apply to many other Halloweens to come, just not every year). As a result Halloween celebrators will be mixed with people trying to unwind after a week of work. So here's a few tips for enjoying Halloween this year.

1. Be sure to buy extra treats for your own kids. You may find more people not at home.
2. If you and/or your kid insists on pulling a trick on people who aren't home, remember the saying:"If you can't do the time, don't do the crime."
3. That person dressed up as a drunk might not be pretending.
4. Remember that some people turn into monsters for real when drunk, and wearing masks give them extra anonymity.
5. Don't let your kids eat chocolates shaped like bottles.
6. Don't bothered ringing the doorbells of people whose houses' music is turned up to 11. They won't be able to hear you and they may be unaware that it's Halloween.
7. Be careful when crossing the street with your kids to avoid drunk drivers. For that matter be extra careful on the sidewalk as well.
8. If you visit a house and the person answers the door and says, "I'm sorry, man, I forgot." Quickly say, "It's okay" and move on. You have a lot of houses to kill and don't have an hour to listen to the story of how they forgot.
9. If you yourself wear a Halloween costume to a Friday party, beware wardrobe malfunctions. Taking the Janet Jackson analogy further, consider pasties just in case.
10. Beware people dressed as vampires. Wine and blood look a lot alike when drunk.

Happy Halloween folks!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Cats Flushing Toilets

When I sent the invite to this blog to friends, I mentioned cats flushing toilets in jest. But then I decided it was hardly fair to say I would post on this and then not do so. So...

On YouTube there seems to be two types of videos of cats flushing toilets: ones where the cats actually do their business in the toilet and then flush it, and those that flush the toilet just for the whirlpool effect.

In the former category, I definitely admire the intelligence of the cats, and their willingness to give up some of their independence to make their family's life a bit easier. But I can't say i get much enjoyment watching such videos. Really I don't enjoy seeing humans doing their business and I don't enjoy other creatures do so either. I'm not offended by the act; we all do it, it's natural. It's just a pretty private thing for me. I do understand some people get amusement by it and some get turned on, especially if it's humans. And I also realize that, conversely, that many cats enjoy watching humans do their business. Again, though, it's a personal choice and not my thing.

The latter case, though, I do quite enjoy. I love the sense of wonder and fascination with stuff that many cats hold, and I enjoy the sense of wonder and fascination that some cats hold for what is pretty mundane for humans. It's hard not to try to get into the cat's head and try to figure out what the fascination is. Is the cat trying to figure otu how it works, or does the cat simply find the whirlpool effect relaxing? I can't begrudge it if the cat does: there is something relaxing about a water fountain, and when I watch the International Fountain in Seattle, I find I get very relaxed. I think the repetition is interesting too: the fact that the cat will repeatedly move to the handle to flush the toilet, then back down to watch the whirlpool efffect, then back up to the handle, etc., seemingly never getting bored by this.

I think that in doing this cats reveal that we should never take even the little stuff for granted, that we should never lose our sense of wonder. Most of us have less than a century to experience life. We should find the joy in it wherever we can, even in a toilet bowl.

DVD Caveat Emptors 1

Again shamelessly modifying an older e-mail, but there's lots of new content. Unfortunately, yes the "1" does mean I expect there will be a part 2, etc.

Most of this post relates to Wal-Mart, but there's some non-Wal-Mart material at the end.

Wal-Mart has taken to offering exclusive bonuses on DVDs, but only for the single disk versions, even if double-disk versions exist. I'll expand on this below using three examples currently for sale: Sex and the City, Iron Man, and The Incredible Hulk.

Sex and the City:
Wal-Mart is including T-shirts with select single-disks (as the T-shirts have the names of characters from the show, they're probably of limited appeal to men, but it's still a nice gesture, or would be if it was attached to the double-disk version). So...
You can get disk 1 with disk 2 OR
You can get disk 1 with Wal-Mart's T-shirt(s) BUT
If you want both disks and the t-shirts you have to buy them separately, meaning you'll have two disk-one's (plus a t-shirt with a fictional character's name across the breast area).

Iron Man
Wal-Mart is offering an exclusive bonus disk with the single disk version of the movie. :( So...
You can get disk 1 with disk 2 OR
You can get disk 1 with Wal-Mart's bonus disc (which has completely different material from the non-exclusive disk 2) BUT
If you want all three disks you have to buy both 2-disk versions separately, meaning you'll have two disk 1's (as well as a disk 2 plus an exclusive 2nd disk which isn't disk 2).

Incredible Hulk
Pretty similar to Iron Man, albeit with a slight (very slight, as I'll discuss at the end of this post) extra wrinkle. Wal-Mart is offering an exclusive bonus disk with the single disc version of the movie. :( So...
You can get disk 1 with disk 2 and 3 (more on this below) OR
You can get disk 1 with Wal-Mart's bonus disc (which has completely different material from the non-exclusive disk 2 and the non-exclusive disk 3) BUT
If you want all four disks you have to buy the 3-disk version and the single plus Wal-Mart disk version separately, meaning you'll have two disk 1's (as well as a disk 2 & 3 plus an exclusive 2nd disk which isn't disk 2 nor 3).

In all three cases I plan to wait for them to drop in price and then get the more common 2-disk versions. Wal-Mart's Iron Man & Incredible Hulk bonus disks are likely to have some scarcity appeal and I would be happy to have the extras but the "real" disk 2s have more interesting extras given that I'm forced to make a choice.

Pretty bone-headed in my opinion. An exclusive bonus disk is of greater interest to the DVD consumers who want everything. Connecting an exclusive disk to a single-disk version when a 2-disk version exists is nonsensical because the single disk buyers are generally the people who don't want to look at bonus material.

But I said I would tackle something that wasn't Wal-Mart, didn't I? Well, let’s revisit The Incredible Hulk. I said that with the non-single-disk version there are 3-disk, didn't I? It certainly announces it on the front cover. Sounds pretty exciting, doesn't it? Exciting enough that I might have bought it at over $20. Only one problem: I read the back cover.

Once you read the back cover you discover that the 3rd disk is simply a copy of the movie that you can download into your pc or iPod and... nothing else. If you'd rather just play the movie on your disk it has nothing that the first disk doesn't offer, and the first disk has additional extras (commentary and deleted scenes).

Now don't get me wrong, I'll still get this at some point. The second disk sounds like it's chock full of extras. My point is, if you're considering getting this, ask yourself if you'd buy it at the price listed if it had only 2 disks. If so, then go ahead and buy it; you'll probably be quite happy with your purchase. But if you would only buy it at the price offered if it had 3 disks, then wait until the price reaches 2-disk levels.

Review: Religulous

Note: This is a modified version of an e-mail I sent to the buddy I saw the movie with.

Premise: Comedian/political activist Bill Maher goes on a crusade to convert religious folks to atheism to save the world from Armageddon

This movie is Evil! The people who made it are going to burn in... oh, wait. this blog is called Sane Insanities. Very well, then, here's a sane review of the movie from someone who is in fact religious.

The movie didn't quite work for me. I did find Maher funny at times (the mock translations, etc) and did laugh at points at targets I agree with (I think a lot of televangelists are going to Hell for corrupting their religion). I think if you already agree with most of what Maher says, you'll probably find the movie very funny.
But here's why the film didn't quite work for me, despite the film giving me stuff to think about:
  • Maher makes numerous attempts to interrupt the subjects (one of my favourite bits was when the one guy wouldn't let him interrupt him).
  • Related to the above, Maher does not always let his subjects finish (he dismisses the one guy who said he had a series of miracles because he didn't agree that the first point was a miracle, and did not let him provide other examples; he did not address the guy's point that one incident in isolation might not be a miracle but that a series of events might illustrate a pattern).
  • He engaged in listening to subvert rather than understand: when he asked questions, he was clearly looking for stuff that he could use to throw in a zinger, as opposed to really trying to understand the other side's perspective (which he claimed was his goal at the beginning of the film). This is the reason why my favourite of the current crop of entertainment-based documenters is neither Maher nor Michael Moore but rather Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me, 30 Days). While he's also funny, he also makes a genuine effort to understand perspectives he disagrees with.
  • Maher does not tackle religion from a spiritual perspective, only from a purely logical perspective. While he addresses faith and how illogical it is, he does not address the fact that people seek out religion to feed some spiritual side of them (in fairness the film does show one guy alluding to this). He thus assumes that religion is purely a security blanket and does not really address other reasons why people seek religion.
  • Further on the logical bit, he ignores emotions completely beyond the aforementioned dismissing blind faith outright. To really understand religion you do need to look at the emotional side because it's absolutely critical to religion.
  • He goes for easy targets and does not address more difficult points when they come his way (the aforementioned pattern argument, plus there was a point in a Jesus-themed park where he dismisses the park's head's claim that people from other religions are welcome; later at that park when a Jesus actor sent a difficult question back at him, he gave a smirk but made no more effort to answer the question than "Jesus" did).
  • Related to the above, Maher shows disdain when people make fair points (he smirks when the guy running the Jesus park points out that he lets people come to the park and does not try to force religion on anyone, or even particular beliefs).
  • Again related to easy targets, he ignores those aspects of religion that have caused little harm over the centuries (the Wicca for example) and does not examine areas where religion has benefited people (e.g. providing food for the poor).
  • He contradicts himself a number of times (again he claims at the beginning he wants to understand religion but then makes no effort to do so in his journey; he claims he does not know, yet other times he claims he does know that there is no validity to religion).
  • He basically comes across as bullying the people he talks to; while funny he's also pretty mean-spirited even towards nice people (my gut feeling is that the Muslim woman he bullied probably isn't one of those Muslims who agrees with 9-11).
  • Maher does not address the belief that some religious people have (myself included) that while there are some facts in the Bible, a lot of the stories are allegories.
  • While he makes some intelligent points his inability to really understand the other perspective and in fact the need to come into people's religious centres with no real purpose than to make fun of them does suggest a certain level of insecurity about his atheism. Why is he so afraid to really understand the other side? Growing up I was regularly bullied by people who were afraid of me because I was different. I do see a lot of that in Bill Maher, at least in this film: he's afraid to let in anything that might chip away at his world view, so he takes a wrecking ball to other people's world views).
  • Maher claims, especially at the end that his film is designed to convert people to atheism, let frankly his attitude is more preaching to the converted. While again, he's pretty funny, you convince more people (at least in part) by trying to understand their perspective and comparing notes than by showing a complete lack of respect for deeply help beliefs and openly mocking them. In this area in particular the film must be considered a failure because for the most part it's unlikely to achieve what it supposedly set out to do.
  • The friend I was with would probably be annoyed if I didn't mention her pet peeve: that when looking at how gay people have been oppressed by religion, no lesbians were spoken to (they might have been glimpsed in a quick montage).
Now, watching the film wasn't a total loss or else I wouldn't have that much to say about it. I'm definitely not one of those radical bible-thumpers who think the film should be banned. I feel that the true test of believing in freedom of speech means willing to hear perspectives you don't agree with. I just didn't agree with much of what he said (beyond religion being abused by warmongers and televangelists. And yes, the guy who believes himself to be Jesus reborn is probably a crackpot). He also makes some good points on how religion can lead to bloodshed and the risk of us blowing up the planet sooner or later, but I don't think he realizes how distracting the religion part is to the message of "We really ought not to blow up the planet". I'm not saying he can't do a film about how religion can be self-fulfilling in the Armageddon department, but if you do, you ought to realize that religion is a highly complex issue and can't be dismissed as easily as the more extreme atheists want to believe.

Maher is a witty, intelligent guy, and if he were to do a documentary on something I agree with, I would probably laugh a lot. It would probably prove to be a severely flawed film when I dissected it unless he learned from this one, but I would laugh a lot more nevertheless.