Mid-Season Report Card

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We’re in the home stretch for a bunch of shows at this point, with the last few episodes burning off in the weeks before Christmas. Here’s my mid-season (or ‘end of season’ report card for each show):

Gossip Girl – the show has proven itself outside of the trappings of attending ‘school’, which limited them in the first two seasons, but it still suffers from way too much ‘lightswitch flipping’ where the character’s relationships – friends or otherwise – are way too on again, off again. The big storylines of the season are kind of flops: Juliet feels way too old and the show will never takedown Serena, Dan the baby daddy was a short-lived catastrophe (PS: we need more Dan!), and the fact that costars Blake Lively and Penn Badgley have broken up in real-life makes the show a little bit…well, par for the course.
Grade: B-

Life Unexpected – I’ve quite enjoyed this season, despite it still not quite living up to its potential. Bringing Tash in as a less bedraggled version of her S1 self was wise, although the addition of Ryan’s sister Paige has really done nothing for his character or the show. Exploring Ryan & Cate’s bigger relationship issues is important, but I didn’t like the random Julia storyline. I didn’t love the ‘Minnesota’ storyline, although the tangled mess its made and the introduction of Sam (of Degrassi fame) seems promising. Also major props for bringing in Emma Caulfield, who I can never disassociate as Anya from Buffy, but she makes a surprisingly sweet and interesting match for Baze. Theory: Emma (it’s her name on the show) mentioned early on she had a four-year relationship with a married man. I guessed immediately her hesitation towards Baze was the fact it was with his father, and his dad’s bizarre reactions during the Thanksgiving episode make me thing this is the unsurprising bombshell the creators are going to drop sooner rather than later. But I like Emma! And Sam! Come on guys!
Grade: B+

One Tree Hill – Oh god why do I still watch this show? I used to joke with my sister about how terrible the first two seasons were, then I accepted OTH into my life when it peaked from Seasons 3 to 5 (debatably parts of 6 were decent) as a slower-paced character study. Now? It’s just terrible. I find myself often fast-forwarding the scenes with Quinn and Clay (although the latter is hot) because I can’t stand them and their random interjection into the series’ regulars. I also find that the chemistry the original leads has it lacking – they’ve built little worlds around each of the main characters for them to live in, but I miss seeing them together. The rare scenes between Haley and Brooke or Nathan and Mouth are among the best. Also it seems at least one storyline per episode is totally effing pointless – see: the treasure hunt with Quinn & Jamie last season, or the bucket list for Brooke this past week. This show just feels like it has completely lost the plot, and the only reason I’ve had to justify watching it for seasons 7 and 8 was to ‘see how it ends’. So OTH – END IT.
Grade: D

Parenthood – Probably my favourite scripted show at the moment. The interesting thing about Parenthood is that, like OTH, it doesn’t really have an ‘end game’ in mind, but yet it works so much better. The events of the show follow relatively realistic timelines and in many cases, there are no easy answers or hasty resolutions to the storylines (ex: Max’s aspergers, Camille and Zeke’s marital strain). The show is still a little sprawling for its own good – we need more Mae Whitman! – but in general I get really excited when I see this on my PVR.
Grade: A-

America’s Next Top Model – An interesting season in that Tyra’s guest stars and challenges and prizes much more reflected the never-ending theme of ‘high end’. The build-up of Ann kind of sort of made sense, and I’m glad they saw it through, but I’m sceptical about her real-world adaptability (i.e. will she be able to stomach rejection? Will she be able to do commercial work?). Overall a positive direction for the show to go in, here’s hoping they keep it up.
Grade: B+

Survivor – I know a lot of people are kind of at odds with this season. In some ways the cast has been pretty unlikable – there’s no ‘heroes’ in this bunch to root for like JT of Tocantins – but they’ve also been pretty memorable. Jimmy Johnson, Jimmy T, NaOnka, Marty, Alina, Brenda – all of them have been more notable players than many others eliminated before the final three. I haven’t minded this season, but it’s not one of their strongest – the game changers were eliminated early on (to be fair, in game-changing moves) and with the big quitfest this past week, it kind of sucks that happened. I’d have loved for Jimmy J to have stayed on longer. Overall I’m curious to see how this season ends though – everyone left is NOT who I would have picked in the beginning to go all the way.
Grade: B

The Office – The show has really lost its footing in the last few years, feeling increasingly gimmicky and contained versus long-term storylines, whether they be office-related (like the multiple season implosion of Dunder Mifflin) or character-related (hello romantic storylines). There have been some laughs this season, but overall its kind of par for the course of the latter Office seasons.
Grade: B

Saturday Night Live - Oh woe is me at how bad this show has gotten. The writing is terrible, the sketches wayyyy too-oft repeated, and the reliance on Kristen Wiig painful. I have no words, other than to say, Lorne Michaels, give me a call if you want something good to happen with your show. I'm at the point now where I analyze every sketch to say "That wasn't funny. That was terrible. What were they thinking?" versus actually just enjoying it and laughing.
Grade: D-

The Amazing Race – There’s no way an all-female team won’t win at this point. At least that’s my theory. Although fact, despite the fact they keep on winking at the fact one of the final three teams could MAKE HISTORY re: all females, lest we forget during the All Stars season two of the final teams there were females-only as well, and the Franken-team of Danielle and Eric nabbed the win. This season has been kind of lacklustre, as the format gets tired – I’m hoping the rumours about another All Star edition or a celebrity edition are true, as I’d love to see them shake things up a bit. I felt like Brook and Claire were shoved down our throats as the rah rah team to cheerlead for (double sidenote: no team that has used the U-Turn has ever won the show to my knowledge, so in theory, B&C are going to win), while the doctors, while admirable, are kind of boring. I’m not asking for buckets of drama, but a little more enthusiasm and a lot less restraint would make this team easier to root for. Jill and Thomas are just your typical cute, cocky, young couple that tends to excel on this show. I kind of like them, but I’m also rooting for an all female team to win – it sucks that an otherwise likable (if unmemorable team) is kind of being cast as the villains this season. In fact, the belief that I have that this will happen is the main thing that elevates this season’s grade.
Grade: B

- Britt's On

All My Movies: Anchorman

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Starring: Will Ferrell, Christina Applegate
Costarring: Steve Carrell, Paul Rudd, Fred Willard
Times Watched: 4-5
Genre: Comedy / Dude Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes / Metacritic: 66% / 63

Road To Ownership: I'm pretty sure this movie made its way into my collection via my boyfriend.

The Plot: It's the 1970s and Ron Burgandy is the top rated evening news anchor in San Diego. However, his supersize ego appears to meet its match when an ambitious female reporter named Veronica Corningstone joins the team. The twosome quickly fall for one another, leading to a kinder, gentler, Ron, but all of that falls apart when a chance encounter gives Veronica the big break she needs - resulting in her promotion to co-anchor with Ron, and demotion to ex-girlfriend of Ron's. Sabotage and rage are the name of the game after that basically.

The Good & The Bad: Well, this is basically a Will Ferrell for you. A quintessential one in fact. The movie is centered around a egocentric character, with everyone else essentially there as set pieces for gags. The plot is generally pretty spastic, consisting mostly of sketches and random dude moments, while the ending is laughably bad. Basically it's like Ferrell and his crew sat in a room and thought, what is the most retarded story we could possibly come up with and still convince people to not only buy tickets for it, but watch it again and again (for the record, I've only seen this movie as often as I have because of watching it with other people).

That being said, Ron Burgandy is one of Ferrell's more memorable, and marginally more successful characters, partially because it's one of his first big starring roles. Many of his other characters - such as in Semi-Pro and Talladega Nights - are basically riffs on the same thing: let's take an amusing job, cast an egocentric dolthead, and cobble together a ridiculous story (note: although Old School follows the same 'sketch' format, Ferrell is not the star, therefore it's also acceptable). Much like the first 'Pie' film, the replication of this formula wears thin after awhile, and even then stretches of this movie pass where you know they've thought they're doing something funny, but they aren't.

Best Scene: Although it's TOTALLY ridiculous and inserted just for a random bunch of cameos, the alleyway news team gang fight is my favourite part. Mostly because seeing Ben Stiller as a laughably bad 'Spanish Language News beetches!' anchor is amazing.

Worst Scene: The ending is pretty damn terrible. Like, really terrible. And the animated 'unicorn ride' is pretty ghey as well.

Best Character: By default I'd have to go with Will Ferrell. While some of the minor scene stealers in other Ferrell films take the cake, this movie is all Ron, all the time. Honorable mention goes to Christina Applegate for managing to inject rigid Veronica with some laughable humor and girl power empathy.

Worst Character: I don't find David Koechner funny, ever. Not on The Office, not in this movie, not in any movie. The fact he makes me laugh 0.0 times in this movie earns him the low honour of being the worst character.

Soundtrack of our Lives: some classic 70s tunes are spun throughout, but the Semi-Pro soundtrack is about 10000000x better.

If You Like This You'll Like: Basically any Ferrell movie - Old School, Elf, Semi-Pro, Blades of Glory, Talladega Nights, etc.

RATING: 2.5/5

All My Movies: American Wedding

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American Wedding
Starring: Jason Biggs, Alyson Hannigan, Sean William Scott, Eugene Levy
Costarring: Eddie Kaye Thomas, Thomas Ian Nicholas, January Jones
Times Watched: 4-5
Genre: Comedy / Dude Comedy / Romantic Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes / Metacritic: 56% / 43

Road To Ownership: I *must* have bought this when I was still living at home and watching the bulk of my movies on a 4:3 TV. That's the only way I can explain the choice to buy a film in full screen instead of widescreen.

The Plot: The movie opens with Jim and Michelle celebrating their graduation over a formal dinner - the same dinner where Jim plans to propose to Michelle. After some typical opening scene hilarity ensues, the couple moves forwards with their plans - including Michelle's dream wedding plans going awry, the arrival of her sister Cadence, and Jim needing to learn how to dance. For whatever reason, Stifler really plays a big role in this film (look at the poster for further evidence) and one of the major resolutions of the film involves Stifler's character, as opposed to couple drama between Jim and Michelle. Kevin and Finch are once again resigned to major supporting roles, although Finch is thrown a few more bones than the underused (and needed) Kevin.

The Good & The Bad: This is easily the worst of the Pie films to hit the theatres. The lack of pacing / timeline (just how long are Michelle's parents staying with Jim's family, and how many months does this film span?), the overexaggeration of Stifler's character, the lacklustre conflicts and their rapid resolutions, and the slapdash way the events link together as a bunch of random sketches makes it feel more like a bad Will Ferrell movie than a sharp, jaw-dropping Pie film. There's something seedy about it altogether - the cinematography doesn't feel right, and the characters are hollow shells of the personas they developed and grew into across the first two movies. Although Jim still does some of the biggest physical comedy scenes, it feels like he's relegated to window dressing, when the movie is supposed to be about his wedding. Ditto to Michelle, who seems to work better as a surprising sex kitten in small doses as opposed to her random sexual interjections popping up in grand contrast to the slightly more grounded character she's supposed to be regarding her family and wedding dreams.

There are a few pros however. The sly nods to the earlier Pie films - like Stifler freaking out at the 'you go, we go' moment or the boys telling Kevin to shut up when he talks about 'the next step' - are welcome for longtime fans. Trimming the fat off the sizable cast should have worked better than it did - how is it that in the first film when the cast was double the size, we got to know ALL of the characters five times better? The evolution to more of a romantic comedy is only somewhat successful - the battle over January Jones is more fulfilling than any sort of romantic resolution. Jim and Michelle manage to escape the entry relatively unscathed, yet the scene of Michelle walking down the aisle is still a little sweet and moving (despite the hilarious conversation going down between Stifler and Finch at the same time). All in all the film feels like a nice farewell to the series and the progression of Jim, the true star of the show.

That being said, I've said it before and I'll say it again - the main issue with the latter two films is it doesn't have a big, overriding storyline with an end outcome. You never question whether Jim and Michelle are going to get married, in fact it's hard to ask any questions at all the first time you watch the film as it really does hop from place to place with little rhyme or reason.

Best Scene: As with the first two films, I have to go with the 'big' scene of the movie - the bachelor party. Having watched the unrated version the last few times, I can't even remember what's in the film and what isn't (if you only saw it in theatres), but the unrated version does go on WAY too long. That being said, the best moments of the film come from Jim discovering the hijinks his friends have been getting up to, including the absolutely priceless shot of Finch under the Levenstein's breakfast bar. Much like the first two films, it's the reactions of the uninvolved (the webcam viewers and the radio listeners) that really *make* this type of scene.

Worst Scene: As I was watching the movie, I was thinking "Oh for sure, the retarded dance-off between Stifler and Bear" but then the chocolate/dog shit scene came on and I was like "OH DEFINITELY THIS". My answer stands - the dog shit scene is quite possibly the worst scene of the entire series. While Stifler's past gross-out scenes were hilarious in some way, this one was just cringe and gag-worthy. Fail.

Best Character: For whatever reason, Eddie Kaye Thomas' Finch is awesome in this movie. He's more attractive than in the past, still tucked up in his ivory tower but not channeling the weird guru vibe of the last film. His less-than-convincing portrayal of Stifler actually makes the role that much funnier, and the battle over Cadence more interesting. He finally has some solid confidence against Stifler, and the final encounter with Stifler's mom is amusing (as is the reactions of the MILF guys).

Worst Character: I don't know WHO was giving Seann William Scott directions in this film, but he actually acts like he has a mental disability. His body language, facial expressions, and boyish cackle all add up to a deranged, slow, irritating version of the cocky, snappy, dolt that was a welcome foil in the first two films. It's just...terrible, and the fact he's such a major addition, like Michelle, proves that certain characters are best used in small doses.

Soundtrack of our Lives: Another fantastic soundtrack, arguably the best in the series. Mixes a few big name artists (and songs - Jakob Dylan's cover of 'Into The Mystic' is great) as well as some interesting indie acts and songs. Maybe not as memorable as the other soundtracks in terms of their mainstream relevance, but still great.

If You Like This You'll Like: The more sketch-oriented comedies that have proliferated the market in the last decade, such as 'Knocked Up', 'Old School' or 'Anchorman'.


All My Movies: American Pie 2

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American Pie 2
Starring: Jason Biggs, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Alyson Hannigan, Seann William Scott
Costarring: Chris Klein, Mena Suvari, Tara Reid, Shannon Elizabeth, Jennifer Coolidge, Eugene Levy
Times Watched: I'll go in the 7-8 range.
Genre: Comedy / Dude Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes / Metacritic: 52% / 43%

Road To Ownership: I specifically remember this as being one of the movies I purchased from Blockbuster when I had mono in high school.

The Plot: We meet up with the fab four fellows that starred in the first Pie film, after their first year of college is complete. The boys may be older, but when it comes to love and sex, and they're generally no more wiser than when we last met them. Eternal planner Kevin decides the boys are in need of some good quality bonding, and rents a cabin on the lake for the summer (on the advice of his brother). From here, each guy once again undergoes his own sexual journey, although Jim takes even more of a front and central focus than in the past, along with specific gambits designed to involve multiple cast members and memorable scenes over advancing the plot. Jim is struggling to figure out what makes a good lover, Oz is dealing with time apart from Heather, Kevin is coping with unresolved feelings for Vicki, and Stifler and Finch are still at odds over Stifler's mom.

The Good & The Bad: I used to say I liked AP2 better than AP1, but I'm not so sure that's true. On one hand, the polish of AP2, and the lazy hazy days of summer feel make it somewhat more appealing than the first film. On the flip side, it feels like many of the gags are set up just to top the hilarity of the first film - the lesbian scene and the superglue scene as cases in point. Although to the film's credit, they aren't entirely just rehashing the main elements of the first film - other than a sly nod to apple pie in the opening scene, and the early party scene, there aren't too many crossover elements.

That being said, I think the first film is stronger because the concept is more fresh, and more importantly, the four leads are treated as just that - leads. When you look at the next (and final) big screen entry into the series, American Wedding, you'll see there is a reason why they eliminated the characters of Oz, Heather, Natasha, Vicki, etc. In this film virtually everyone but Jim and Michelle feels a bit forced at one point or another. Even the three mains are basically there to fulfill either watered down sidestories (Oz and Heather's time apart stands out as one of the movie's biggest weak points, other than Stifler interrupting their phone sex) or propping up the stunt scenes. The trend is continued with American Wedding, wherein Jim and Michelle basically have ALL of the storylines - a shame because the original film was a treat with the 'will they wont they?' element.

That's not to say there aren't a bunch of laughs and enjoyment to be had with this film. In general, I would say I enjoy them equally but I recognize the original film is better. There are so many classic moments in the second movie, as well as a genuine bit of growth for the characters that continues on into the final incarnation with Jim and Michelle's wedding. On that note, the movie does a good job of putting together a slapstick couple and allowing you to still feel some empathy for them, resulting in a surprisingly sweet ending, with a twist dating back to the beginning of the film.

Best Scene: As I said with AP1, the most memorable scenes of the first two films are both the funniest, but also the most...gratuitous to put it lightly. In a vague tip to Nadia and Jim's bedroom / webcam encounter, the second film features the 'lesbian' scene, wherein Stifler, Finch, and Jim get caught by the two women whose house they're painting. Stifler calls them out as potential lesbians and what follows is a game of tit for tat, although the true hilarity of the scene isn't what's actually happening in the room with the girls, but the reactions of Kevin, Oz, and the dozens of people who happen to be tuned into the same radio frequency. The boy's reactions are pretty choice in the room as well, I suppose.

Worst Scene: When I was watching the movie, I recall thinking of a scene and going 'Yeah that's it!' but now that I reflect back, I'm having a harder time deciding. I will say the worst plotlines are Vicki and Kevin's confusing friendship (and how it disappears for 3/4 of the film only to resurface momentarily at the end) and Heather and Oz's pointless long-distance dating. I also get the serious heebie jeebies from the end of the trumpeting scene.

Best Character: my hat goes off to Jason Biggs again in this one, for his hilarious physical comedy and dedication to making Jim as much as a fool as possible while still managing to make him a tiny bit cocky and fairly endearing.

Worst Character: Despite their storyline being my fave in the first film, Heather and Oz are really pointless in this movie. Vicki and her man meat date at the end are equally annoying, as is the whole 'And Vicki got HOT' (read: thin and braless) plot point.

Soundtrack Of Our Lives: Once again, another fantastic soundtrack, representing some of the great millenial pop punk bands including Blink, Sum 41, Three Doors Down, and Michelle Branch.

If You Like This You'll Like: Obviously American Pie and American Wedding, although I can't recommend any of the straight-to-dvd releases. This film is a slightly jarring mix between crazy hijinks and a more focused love storyline, which means some of the other movies I recommended last time might not be as appealing. Something like Wedding Crashers, The Hangover, or Eurotrip - all regarding friendship among men, as this film examines - are great picks.

Bring It!

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Oh I have no shame, but plenty of it at the same time, in admitting that I have seen all five Bring It On movies, concluding with the fifth one just today. I know, it's shameful. I do. I have good taste in movies for the most part, and I primarily watch the BIO films with fascination in the same way that I do a 'dance' film (for the routines!), plus they're minefields for starlet cameos. In fact many people who have been in BIO films end up going to have solid acting careers.

I won't preface this post much more other than saying that yes, I will explain how and why I've seen all five, and that the one I remember the least is the third one, so forgive any inaccuracies as I move onto...my all time Bring It On ranking! And if you've never seen the films and don't want to be spoiled, do not read on.

Starting with the worst...

5) Bring It On: Fight To The Finish (#5)
The Conflict: Latin Ghetto & Geeks vs. Snobby Pros (debatably a class conflict)
Notable Faces: Christina Milian, Nikki Soohoo (of Lovely Bones and Stick It),
I just watched this movie today (and earlier this week, I can't take too much cheer in one sitting) starring Christina Milian, the pop singer, as the head cheerleader Catalina (Lina). Go free movie channel previews from my cable provider! Anyway Lina starts out in East LA as a Cuban-American ghetto fabulous hoodrat head cheerleader. No joke, the stereotypes are out of control up in herre. Anyway apparently her gold-digging (I kid) mom has married a white man named Henry and the Lina is off to Malibu to live in a dream house that appears to use the sets from Clueless and The OC, leaving behind her East LA squad to perish (note the Lea Michele of Glee fame cameo as an extra in the opening sequences!).

In Malibu, apparently the majority of the school's best cheerleaders have formed their own 'All Star' league that practices across the street, leaving Lina to coach a ragtag team of second rate brainy cheerleaders. She recruits her own sistahs from the hood and they start to whip the team into shape, only to be sabotaged. Of course Lina is interested in the brother of the head bitch, Avery, from the other team, although Avery doesn't do much to sabotage their relationship, weirdly. Anyway Lina manages to overcome all odds and basically make the majority of the mini-conflicts in the film null and void and by the end of the movie, the Malibu Dream Team wins.

Look, I'm not expecting a Bring it On film to be filled with much substance, but the two reasons why one watches a BIO film - the cheering and the laughable scriptwriting - were sincerely lacking. Compared to the other films I felt like we barely got to witness a full routine (although the tumbling on the day 1 preliminaries of the all star championships was bananas), and the final two routines didn't have the wow factor, or weren't filmed as interestingly as the past films. Plus Lina's whole ghetto fab attitude and wardrobe was distracting and annoying, and also a little cringeworthy given how heavily they played on latin stereotypes. Also there was a lack of cheerleading puns, which is never a good thing in the BIO world.

4) Bring It On Again (#2)
Conflict: Popular Prepsters vs. Artsy Outcasts
Familiar Faces: Bethany Joy Galeotti (of One Tree Hill) plays a ditzoid wannabe head cheerleader and Felicia Day (of Buffy and Dollhouse) plays an artsy outsider on the renegade squad.

I saw this movie, and the fourth one, because they had a Bring it On marathon on MuchMusic in the last year. Fun! Okay, so BIO has graduated to college. Whittier and her pal Monica get inducted into the school's prestigious cheer squad, and are taken under the wing of alpha female Tina. However, Whittier has a thing for a random DJ that Tina doesn't approve of, and Monica and Tina butt heads, which eventually gets both girls cast off the team. Determined to prove the prepsters wrong, Whittier and Monica start their own rival league made up of various outcasts from the other arts clubs that have been thwarted in the school - drama, dance, etc. - because the cheerleading squad is sucking up all the funding. Once again, the underdogs win it.

This will sound so terrible, but my main issue with this film is the fact everyone looks SO WRONG. For leading ladies, Whittier and Monica are kind of...no...and Whittier's leading man is a BIG NO. Tina also doesn't really fit the hot cheerleader mould. If they were doing a film on getting into a country club, then yes, Tina makes sense, but her restrained pearl-wearing persona just didn't match up with the aggressive cheer spirit these films are supposed to be about. I also have a fundamental problem with the team Whittier and Monica create. Without exception, in the other films the two rival teams are actual professional teams (although the 'Sea Lions' in the fifth film are supposed to be terrible, they catch on pretty quick). In this instance, the new members of the renegade team are impossibly good given the short timeframe, and I recall thinking this was one instance where their routine was *not* as good as the defending champions, yet they still won. Overall though the cheering and terrible scriptwriting was more enjoyable so I give this one a slightly better ranking than #5.

Bring It On: All Or Nothing
The Conflict: Old Loyalties vs. New Ties and Class Conflicts!
Familiar Faces: Hayden Panettiere (of Heroes fame) and Solange Knowles (Beyonce's little sis), plus Rihanna is giving away computers!

It's funny, while I was watching 'Fight to the Finish' today, I literally thought out this plot in my head and thought "Hm, it would have been so much more interesting had they done things *this* way" only to realize it was the plot of the middling Bring It On: All or Nothing. In reverse of the fifth film, prepster Britney (Hayden Panettiere) is sent to the 'ghetto' after her dad loses his job and all of their money. Nothing like poor economic times to make a peppy movie full of spirit!

Anyway, at the new school she is marginalized by the team's domineering head cheerleader, Camille (Solange Knowles) and greatly misses her old frenemy Winnie and her boyfriend Brad. Frustrated with her social standing at her new school, Britney decides to skip a game the team is supposed to cheer at to go to a dance at her old school. Big mistake. Camille finds out and kicks Brit off the team, and her supposed pals at her old school are anything but - apparently Winnie and Brad have been boinking since her departure, and no one is really missing Little Miss Spirit.

Although she isn't on the team, Britney still attends the competition to win a guest spot in a Rihanna music video and free computers for her school, wherein she wishes her former teammates, the Pirates, good luck. When they embarrass her and she stands up for her former new teammates, the Warriors, Camille invites Britney back into the fold. They realize the Pirates are going to kick their a$$ until Britney suggests they start krumping, impromptu, in a mirror image of what the Pirates are doing. This isn't a real cheerleading competition, obviously, nor is it reality as per their pitch perfect performance. Rihanna likes their "ghetto" moves and declares the Warriors the winners!

Like I said, I don't remember this film so much, other than thinking Solange Knowles hair was jacked up and Hayden Panettiere has a really funny, stubby, gym body. My distinct memories of the other four films puts it in the middle though, plus I love a good Rihanna cameo.

2) Bring It On: In It To Win It
The Conflict: Straight up cheer bitchery, and I think something to do with East Coast vs. West Coast. Plus one boy's struggle to be a cheerleader instead of a martial artist.
Familiar Faces: Ashley Benson (mean girl Hanna on Pretty Little Liars), Jennifer Tisdale (Ashley Tisdale's sister), Michael Copon (Felix from One Tree Hill)

It's summertime which can only mean one thing: cheer camp! At a theme park! With two rival squads - the Sharks and the Jets (hah) - fighting for supremacy so they can represent Cheer Camp Spirit-Thunder at the Cheer Camp Championships! Plenty of cheer hilarity ensues, including a poolside cheer-off, the return of the legendary Spirit Stick, and a cheer rumble that results in injuries all around. After letting their rivalry get the best of them, it appears neither team at Spirit-Thunder will go the Cheer Camp Champs, until they decide to put their differences aside to form a new squad, 'The Shets' (with merged uniforms), to go head-to-head with Camp Victory's main team, 'The Flamingos'. Once again, the star team wins, and once again I thought the other team had better moves for the most part.

Regardless of which, this movie had tons of the things that make a good BIO film - cheesy scriptwriting and cheerleading. The tortured romance between Penn (Michael Copon) and Carson (Ashley Benson) was laughably drawing on West Side Story, and Penn's storyline of needing his friends to raise money so he could go to camp under his dad's nose was hilarious. I felt like the final competition lacked the buzz level of some of the other finales - it's a summer competition with only two teams! - but the fact they didn't try to do an underdog story of ragtag cheerleaders vs. pro cheerleaders helped. So did the fun theme park setting. I want to go to cheer camp if it means spending a few weeks at a theme park dammit!

1) Bring It On (#1)
The Issue: Privilege vs. Heart
Familiar Faces: Kirsten Dunst, Eliza Dushku, Gabrielle Union, the gals of 3LW

Was there any question? I mean really. The original film was by the far the best, filled with tons of terrible scriptwriting, a sisterhood-esque bond mixed with cheer bitchery, a relatively acceptable level of cute romance, and fantastic cheerleading throughout. Plus kudos to the creators for not letting the Toros win (even though I dug their routine more - but thought the other team had better tumbling), in a 'My Best Friend's Wedding' kind of twist that the other films have yet to revisit. You were cheering equally for the Clovers and the Toros in some ways, another plus over the other films. Everything also (logically) feels bigger - the final showdown has a pro feel that the other films don't ever come close to matching (given their smaller budgets) which gives this film a definite leg up.

Plus the dorky script is given life by the actors who make the most of what they're given. Kirsten Dunst does with this film what Reese Witherspoon did with 'Legally Blonde', in taking a vapid, thankless role and making it hilarious, memorable, and endearing. There's simply no comparing the endless string of sequels here, and for all the cringeworthy moments this film contains, it's still a millenial classic that any girl will confess to watching when it pops up on cable one quiet Sunday night.

- Britt's (bringing it!) On

All My Movies: American Pie

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American Pie
Starring: Jason Biggs, Chris Klein, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Sean William Scott
Costarring: Eugene Levy, Alyson Hannigan, Mena Suvari, Tara Reid, Natasha Lyonne, Jennifer Coolidge, Shannon Elizabeth
Times Watched: I'd say 10 is a fair guess? That sounds so high!
Genre: Comedy / Dude Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes / Metacritic: 58% (really?) / 58 (double really?)

Road To Ownership: I still have no idea to this day how I got into the theatre to see this movie. Wasn't it rated R? I was only 15 at the time it came out, yet I distinctly remember 'sneaking' into the theatre to see it with my sister and her best friend. Anywho, one of the two of us scored some deluxor edition which I still own to this day.

The Plot: Four middle of the road high school guys make a pact to lose their virginity by the time they graduate - namely, at prom. Each guy plays a certain archetype and has their own storyline to overcome: Jim, the socially awkward, sexually naive one who's parents really just don't understand. Kevin, the cocky ringleader with a long-term girlfriend that can't bring himself to say he loves her to get her in the sack. Oz (Chris), the popular jock who lays it on thick while trying to be sensitive, until he realizes he can't have it both ways. And Finch, the astute, debonair high schooler that sips macchiatos, studies latin, and has a thing for older women.

The Good & The Bad: This is one of the movies of us millenials' generation, plain and simple. Although the brand has been severely watered down with the straight to video releases (similar to the 80s 'Meatballs', or National Lampoon's for that matter), the original trio of films - particularly this first one - still holds its own as the birth of the dude comedy, chockful of dirty jokes, rampant sexual hormones, and a killer late 90s soundtrack. Sure it's crude and mildly insulting to women, but at the end of the day, Pie is great fun, and still makes me laugh no matter how many times I watch it - often at different jokes every time.

Watching it this time around I did pick up on some implausibility in the plot I never really noticed before. Namely, that the entire action of the film takes place over three weeks. It seems like a LOT happens, particularly with Finch's rise and fall, Kevin patching things up with Vicki, and of course, Oz's relationship with Heather. That being said, let that detail go (and all the other little tweaky bits throughout) and you've got a pretty hilarious film with a relatively basic plot - will they or won't they? - that makes for a solid hour or two of entertainment.

One thing I like about the Pie series is that despite how much of it is played for laughs, these guys, and many of the encounters / relationship scenarios they're put in, FULLY EXIST. Say what you want about the films, they often posit the worst parts of awkward humanity and make you cringe and giggle at the same time (which actually, is the downfall of the last of the original films, American Wedding, which goes for camp more than crass way too often). Add to the fact the four main guys have great chemistry and fulfill their awkward harmonious balanced group of friends perfectly, plus some great support from the various archetypal females, and you've got a relatively solid roster of acting performances from a bunch of film virgins (hah).

Best Scene: The two most famous scenes from the first two Pie films (aside from the aforementioned 'pie' incident) mix some of my favourite bits with my least favourite - namely, Jim and Nadia's 'study session' and the painting crew's lesbian encounter in the second film. They are the ones most blatantly filled with gratuitous sex, but they are also the ones with some of the most memorable, hilarious moments of the film. The reactions to Jim's dance are five times funnier than the actual act, even moreso when you groan, laugh, and slap your thigh in tandem with the characters on the screen. There are many great moments, but this one is the best!

Worst Scene: I'm going to go with Finch shitting in the bathroom after being poisoned by Stifler. Although the jizz cup scene is disgusting, at least it has a hilarious payoff. Finch shitting? I felt bad for the guy (although he got the last laugh) and the shit humour is not on par with the cleverness of many of the other scenes.

Best Character: I thought long and hard about this while watching. By definition, Oz was the heartthrob of the film and his storyline is still the most appealing to a gal years later (although admittedly I found new 'depth' of all things in Kevin and Vicki's plot this time around)...but really, this award obviously goes to Jim. Jason Biggs, as a newbie to the acting circuit, really gave it his all and was willing to do anything and everything to make us laugh. The thing I appreciate is he wasn't just funny doing pratfalls and sex stunts, he had plenty of humour in the guys' everyday dialogue. Here's hoping a good project comes his way soon.

Worst Character: Nadia. Aside from Shannon Elizabeth's terrible accent, this is the one character that is NEVER funny. Tara Reid, Alyson Hannigan, and Mena Suvari all have playful, humorous moments...Nadia is just a patsy in the boy's horndog game, and when you really stop to think about it, oh my god how horrible is the video incident for her?

Soundtrack of Our Lives: Classic 90s tunes. From Veruca Salt and Harvey Danger to the be all and end all of 90s tunes - Semi-Charmed Kind of Life, you've got a killer power punk soundtrack here. Worth a listen!

If You Like This You'll Like: Obviously the next two pie films, American Pie 2 and American Wedding. Also the slew of dude horndog comedies that came out after it. Van Wilder, Tomcats, Road Trip, Eurotrip, etc. Also some of the more recent dude comedies that have a bit more bite to their screenwriting - Wedding Crashers, 40-Year-Old Virgin, and the like. It's like the guys from American Pie have grown up and are still just obsessed with sex.

It Was The Best Of Times, It Was The Worst Of Times...Project Runway Season 8 Finale!

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Wowie! I have to say, this year's reality television has, for the most part, been a bit more compelling than usual. To get my other programs out of the way:

Amazing Race - I have a strong hunch *this* will be the season for the all female team to finally clinch it. Thus, watching the two remaining female teams will prove to be interesting. I'm still heartbroken the glee guys are gone, and not in love with the remaining ladies (Dustin & Kandice for reals!) but I'm crossing my fingers this pans out.

Survivor - I have a feeling this season will start to stretch its legs at the merge. There are plenty of interesting characters this season but the way they've been arranged, and split up, has proven to be a little problematic for the producers. I suspect this week's forthcoming merge will really bring some interesting personalities and conflicts to the forefront. Will Marty be able to create a counter alliance and save his ass? Are Sash and Brenda the next Todd and Amanda (circa China)? Will Alina prevail over her former tribe's haters? When the hell are they going to boot Naonka? How will Holly and Jane fare in the new 'blended' tribe? And please, please tell me Fabio will stick around as he is hilarious / awesome / kind of dreamy in a himbo sort of way?

ANTM - I have to say, I am digging this season of America's Next Top Model. It's still gimmicky and faux fashion as all hell, but I am impressed at the roster of guests Tyra has brought in, and I appreciate that they are more involved with the girls and at panel, versus bringing in the latest celeb flavour of the week. My gut is saying Kayla will take it based on her edit, but I'm also rooting for friggin gorgeous Jane, and curious to see how Ann's storyline plays out. This has been my most must-watch show of the season...

After Project Runway that is. This season was a resounding success, and not just with me apparently - ratings were up, fans were pleased, and naysayers returned to the season with fresh promise. The main reason? The show's casting directors did an excellent job, proving that a good talent competition doesn't necessarily lie in the talent, but the personalities at hand. The last few seasons had pretty boring designers and a lack of the bitchery that made the first few seasons rock. They also, in my humble opinion, were a little lacklustre in the design department. Maybe it's just because the show has been on for 8 seasons, but I feel the last three in particular have felt tired in terms of being WOWed on the runway. The last time I remember feeling like the final showdown was indeed a showdown (or might be a showdown) was the Kenley/Korto/Leanne finale, and indeed it was one of the better finales we saw.

This season? Well, the first three or four episodes proved promising. Gretchen's heinous bitchery was a riot (and regardless of her crocodile tears at the reunion, it was bitchery, same as all the other nasty comments made by other designers...hers was just more notable because it was tinged with self-righteousness, as if her commentary was somehow constructive), the designers ganging up on Michael Costello was an interesting storyline, and evolution of Mondo from weirdo to whiz kid was a joy. That being said, I felt this was quite possibly the worst final 3 collections in the show's history. In fact, after viewing all of the decoy collections, I was sorely disappointed by them all.

Let me explain. Andy and Gretchen's final collections were, to me, equally blah. I thought Mondo should have won, however I have major issues with his show as well. Andy, eliminated first and without much conversation, was screwed because of his devotion to Laotian fabrics, and therefore had to complete 10 looks in 10 days - instead of the 45 days the designers were supposed to get. I thought he did the most interesting things with his clothes, but it often looked like he was being different for the sake of being different construction-wise, versus finding ways to make existing silhouettes feel fresh and interesting. I liked his two colours - green and grey - but I felt like he fell into the trap the judges discussed on the show last week, wherein a collection is NOT just about colour, but about a story. Andy's work could have used some more diversity in colour (or even sticking to the same colour scheme with different fabrics) and it ultimately made his work fall a little flat. I just felt like there wasn't a story behind it other than the fabric's origin and the distracting headpieces. I think back to collections I didn't even like that much - like Mila's 'shadows' last season or Irina's winning 'New York warrior woman', and at the very least I can point to the fact there was a definitive vibe and feeling with both of those shows that rightfully knocked out Andy South from taking the crown.

In that sense, Gretchen's created 'woman' did earn her some points in my book, and apparently the judges. The fact that the woman Gretchen designs for her is herself also probably did her some favours, because it's easier to buy into a design concept when it reflects a designer's incredibly strong point of view, as Gretchen demonstrated week after week both on the show and on the runway (sidenote - WT EFFFFFF was up her with ridiculous sheer dress for the win? Parading around in panties when you take home the crown is not my cup of tea). For that matter, I hated the crocheted panties that popped up throughout her show. No one but Beyonce or Lady Gaga (while on holidays in Bali) would wear those things. I also hated her pattern and fabric choices for the most part, although - forgive me if this sounds weird - I sort of enjoyed her worldly, muted colour palette. It had a very now feel when you just absorbed the colours and not the gross patterns / materials she chose. I loved the two longer dresses she created (including the final one pictured above) and I could see her stuff selling where I always thought it would - the likes of Urban Outfitters or ModCloth, although most ProjRun designers aim a little higher than that. That being said, I literally wouldn't wear 99% of this collection, including the pieces I 'liked'. I could see Nina's point that they would work in a fashion spread, but I would flip right through it because her clothes are just NOT appealing to me, at least not in this collection.

That brings us to Mondo, the clear winner of the show from a finale collection perspective, a fan's perspective, and a producer's perspective (seriously, I'm stunned the big wigs didn't step in here). First of all, let me say, I was not really a fan of Mondo's design work on the show. I felt like it was all pattern and little innovation in terms of construction or pairing together items in new ways. If you look at the T Lo post on his work throughout the season, it was consistently standard in terms of what he made, and it often felt like he won the challenges because everyone else was so damn lacklustre in what they brought to the table.

But his finale collection won me over in terms of who should have won the season. Let me get the stuff I didn't like out of the way first of all:
- I agreed with Nina's commentary that his styling was very young and it definitely hurt him and made things costumey. There is a lack of sophistication for the woman that is supposed to buy Project Runway winners' collections, and the 'wow' factor that makes his clothes so appealing will surely be filtered down in the actual design realm, thus making him a dicey choice for the win in a very marginal way - can he dial it down?
- I hated the polka dot dress. Hated. I didn't like it with the short bubble skirt either, and I thought that short bubble skirt was horrendously constructed.
- I didn't mind the headbands but the pom poms on the shoes combined with the headbands and the slightly draggy-doll makeup was a little OTT.
- Once again, I'm going to point out his silhouettes were incredibly basic. His most interesting pieces were the ones he bedazzled in my opinion, and that tunic dress everyone was fawning over was a CARBON COPY of the 'square-inspired' leisure wear outfit he created for Heidi's challenge. The high-waisted jumbo plaid pants? Ditto to his 'print-making' challenge outfit. I felt like there was a serious lack of innovation, as there was on the show, at showing me something different, and if the judges wanted to talk us out of the win, that's what they should have honed in on.

Now let's talk about what I did like:
- I am a big fan of sparkles, colours, and rainbows, and Mondo's collection had all of the above in spades. That being said, my sense of style is intimidating for some people - I tend to embrace really dramatic looks and as Heidi explained, while I wouldn't wear one of his looks H2T, I could certainly incorporate almost every single piece of his collection into my existing wardrobe, and that is something I absolutely can't say about the other two collections.
- I LOVED his prints. I've been feeling Mexican-inspired tapestry prints lately and seeing them in Mondo's collection reaffirmed my desire to snap some up for myself. MIA's sense of style let a glimmer of 'Neon Indian' seep into the fashion world a couple of years ago, and based on what I saw for the Spring 2011 runways I anticipate Mondo's collection will still seem very now (and a very bad decision by the judges) by next summer.
- The leggings with the funky prints are something I would fully want to own. They remind me a lot of Douglas Coupland's stunning circuit board / test pattern collection for Canadian retailer Roots, that I am in...love...with. It's hard for me to put into words how I would own his entire collection, and the fact that Mondo's collection reminded me of it made me go squee!
- As I said before, Mondo's best looks were the ones he customized with his own doodads. The pailette-embellished tank, and the skull top and bag were among my faves, but I understand how a big chunk of the shoppers out there might be a little...gah.
- I thought Jessica Simpson felt a little out of her element among the judges, but I do credit her one comment that if you walked into a store and saw Gretchen's collection on a rack, it'd be a little...blah. If you saw Mondo's however, you would naturally gravitate towards it.

Le sigh. At the end of the day none of the finale collections really wowed me or took my breath away or confirmed in my mind that a specific person should win. No matter what, I'm a little choked Gretchen won, mostly because I feel it was a product of the show not wanting to repeat itself with a designer that has a similar avant garde LOOK AT ME aesthetic to last season's winner, Seth Aaron Henderson. ProjRun has never been a show that cares much about (unlike ANTM) having the first "fill in the blank" designer, so I don't know why it would have been a big deal to have Mondo win when he's a designer with a similar, but more whimsical aesthetic to a past designer. After all, Irina's collection was a goddam doppelganger to Christian Siriano's (hats and all) and she still won.

I'm not disappointed in the series as a whole though, and I won't be walking away from it. The story-building process this season was really strong (although surprising they didn't give Gretchen a better edit if they handed her the win...) and I feel like the show's creators are learning as they go for what resonates with audiences and what doesn't. They've had two blah seasons and one weak design season since moving to Lifetime, and I imagine they'll be brainstorming ways to keep fans coming back. At the very least we got to see one of the BEST judging sequences ever, one I like to call 'the lesser of two evils' when deciding a winner. Till next time!

- Britt's On

All My Movies: American Idol - Search for a Superstar

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American Idol: The Search for a SuperstarStarring: The Idol Crew + contestants from Season 1
Times Watched: I'll go with 3?
Genre: Music
Rotten Tomatoes / Metacritic: NA

Road To Ownership: Let me explain! Do you remember what a BIG DEAL Idol was in its first, and in particular, second seasons? It was the biggest sensation in town, hot on the heels of another summer reality sensation, Survivor. I was in high school at the time and received this DVD as a Christmas gift in a Secret Santa exchange.

The Plot: The bulk of the DVD is about an hour long, give or take, and basically gives you a rushed overview of the first season of American Idol. You get some glimpses of the auditions - including Kelly Clarkson's and a handful of the worst ones out there - snippets of the top 30 round, a week-by-week recap of the theme, eliminated contestants, and usually one or two of the top performances, and then at the finale you get to hear Justin Guarini sing 'A Moment Like This', plus Kelly's emotional rendition after winning (which is subsequently butchered by Nikki McKibbin or whatever her name was). There's also a few other features that mash together cast interviews, behind-the-scenes clips, and moments from the show.

The Good & The Bad: You know in retrospect, it would have been cool had Idol put this DVD together properly. They *rush* over all of the weeks so quickly, and include not one, but TWO Nikki performances, plus some of Justin and Kelly's worst performances (in the penultimate episode). It would have been nifty had they featured every contestant at least once, as well as at least three or four songs from Kelly - also, why no love for the 'Big Band' week, which in my opinion had some pretty great moments? Bah!

Er, anyway. Although there is some fun nostalgia with watching this DVD - a pre-groomed Kelly! A tiny set where security hazards (crazed fans) exist! Pre-crazy Paula! Brian Dunkelman? - it's ultimately a pretty disappointing recap of the first, great, socially phenomenal season of American Idol. Awhile back they reaired the season with commentary from the contestants and judges and it was way more interesting (when I caught a glimpse anyway) than this thing, although it made for entertainment while ironing when I watched it, I guess.

I just wish they'd done more performances, less recaps / talking. Like, did you need to include each competitor's goodbye video? That's one of the WORST filler-worthy parts of the show? Having every group number (and not just the majority) would have been nice as well, cause at the end of the day, seeing the singing is all I want to see! Plus it would have been nice to include some of the judges' more memorable critiques / reactions - like after Kelly's 'Natural Woman' performance. God I'm getting impassioned over this.

Best Scene: Kelly Clarkson singing 'Natural Woman' or her winning performance of 'A Moment Like This'. So ironic when you consider how vehemently she broke things off with the Idol crew after the series. But for reals, the latter was a pretty iconic pop culture moment in the 00's.

Worst Scene: Justin's performance in the penultimate show. Really producers, of all the performances, you included this one? I would have much rather seen "Get Here", which is what he was *known* for.

Best Character: Er...Ryan Seacrest does a decent commentary?

Worst Character: Brian Dunkelman. You got fired for a reason bro, and it's your fake tears after the gang's performance of 'That's What Friends Are For'.

Soundtrack of our Lives: The best of the 60s, 70s, 80s, big band...yeah you get it.

If You Like This You'll Like: Apparently there are other idol DVDs out there, plus I'm sure a good chunk of the show's breakouts have concert DVDs to their names.

GRADE: 1.5/5

All My Movies: American History X

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American History X
Starring: Edward Norton, Ed Furlong
Co-Starring: Beverley D'Angelo (of National Lampoon fame!), Fairuza Balk, Avery Brooks
Times Watched: 1
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes / Metacritic: 84% / 62

Road To Ownership: This is another one of the boy's movies that I've never watched. Apparently he watched it in 'Electronics', aka the high school filmmaking course he took. It struck him enough that he bought it and watched it one more time, but last night was the first time he'd watched it in however many years.

The Plot: The film opens with Danny Vinyard rousing his brother Derek from having sex with his girlfriend because a couple of black guys are jacking his car. As a revered neo-Nazi, Derek snaps, pulls a gun on the hooligans (who, for the record, are specifically targeting him after a basketball court feud), and ends up killing them. Three years later and Derek is quietly released from prison, a changed man. He is disturbed to find out however, that Danny has spent the last three years idolizing his older brother and falling into the same cult-like devotedness to Cameron, the man that first brainwashed Derek with Nazi idealism all those years ago. Danny has been tasked with writing an essay about Derek's arrest and the events that led him there, which we hear about through Danny's voiceover and see in flashbacks provided by both brothers.

The Good & The Bad: This movie was very different from what I thought it would be, partially because at one point I assumed it was about Malcolm X (durr). It was stirring, but not in as haunting a way as one might think. Sure it was disturbing to see these people so filled with hatred and bile, and everytime Ed Norton had his shirt off, you definitely did a double take (and not just because his bod was ridiculous) at his tattoos, but really the filmmaker did an excellent job at showing the sheer naivete of the characters, especially Derek's 'rise' and fall so to speak in the Neo-Nazi world.

In this instance, the black & white really worked for the flashbacks. Aside from making it easy to jump back and forth across plot points, it also served as a visual reminder that Derek used to see things quite literally in black and white, that his vision was very obscured and cut and dry. The progression of his character from the smug, vicious killer we see in the beginning to the desperate, searching man at the end were excellently delivered through the story's set-up, and most importantly, through Ed Norton's incredible acting job (but more on him later). There was some beautiful artistry (even when it was painful to watch) throughout, although sometimes the director got a little too friendly with the slow motion / high-speed camera effect.

There are a couple of weak areas though. The film does a good job of setting you up for some tension, that something bad will happen, you just don't know what (although in review, the repeated importance of the relationship between Derek and Danny and the 'what if it happened to you?' discussions set things up quite well for the ending). However, I felt like the specific delivery of the ending was kind of random...which debatably might have been the point, but it still didn't feel like a balanced payoff to how the film opened.

I have less problems with the ending than I do with some of the shadowyness regarding what Sweeney (the black principal that encourages both brothers to see the error of their ways) was trying to get Derek to do, both when he visited him in jail and towards the end when him and the cop asked him to 'step in' and talk to his people...whatever that meant. I felt like Sweeney working with the cops and collaborating with Derek and teaching Danny all could have had a stronger payoff / connection to one another. In fact Sweeney's character was kind of a bizarre shadowy enigma - why DID a guy with two doctorates settle with being a principal / vigilante justice seeker in a rough area of LA? I don't know. In general it felt like there were a number of loose threads that weren't wrapped up quite as smoothly as they could have been. I also sincerely wonder what effect the final major event in the film would have on all of the main characters. I sort of feel like a teacher writing in the comments of a paper you turn in - I wish they had just pushed things a little further in some areas.

One final note. A lot of people have noted that the film goes for shock value in order to elevate itself - the infamous curb stomping and shower raping scene in particular are frequently cited. While I couldn't watch the curb stomping, I think the inclusion of those particular scenes was there to show the monumental shifts in power and in effect, demeanour, of Derek, and thus were well-executed and important to the story.

Best Scene: The opening scene was very artfully, dramatically directed - music and all - and the return to it midway through the film (with more context) was truly chilling. The glint in Edward Norton's eyes, the feeling of 'this is my chance!' in comparison to the reformed man we've gotten to know provided an excellent character study.

Worst Scene: I found the dinner table flashback a little hard to follow - were they talking about the grocery store the gang Danny and Derek belong to knocked over? - and also a little long, and a little frustrating to watch. Also I'm uncertain about the timing - did that conversation happen the same night that Derek got arrested? In retrospect it provided a very good set-up for the ending, but it was a little oblique compared to the rest of the film.

Best Character: Derek, obviously. I don't know why he isn't more appreciated, but Ed Norton is easily one of my favourite Hollywood actors, without me ever explicitly stating it. Whenever I see a film with him in it I'm amazed by the levels of depth and interest he can bring to a whole range of characters. In this film in particular, he has the most expressive eyes I've ever seen - especially as demonstrated in the jail scenes.

Worst Character: Davina, the boys' sister. She felt like dead space, other than to be a marginally more forceful commentary than their somewhat oblivious mother about how stupid Danny and Derek are being in their devotion to Cam at different points. It's also baffling because she seems way older than she apparently is. Her weird maturity and total disbelief in the boys' naivete just feels jarring compared to Danny's security in Cameron. You would think with a sister so adamant against his skinhead lifestyle and a brother in jail, Danny would smarten up, but apparently Divina is useless. Also Seth Ryan (played by Hollywood's go to angry / fat character actor Ethan Suplee) was hella annoying, but that was the point I think.

Soundtrack of Our Lives: An interesting mix. The haunting choir score of the opening and closing was used to great effect- these innocent angelic voices against the monstrous acts we witness. Beyond that you've mostly got some thrasher rock music here and there.

If You Like This You'll Like: Well, anything with Edward Norton logically. Also films about counterculture, jail, and racial tensions. Trainspotting and Requiem for A Dream come to mind for some reason. Boys In The Hood, Elephant...

Final Grade: 3.5/5

New Faces, Same Ol Thang

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You may have noticed in my recap of new fall premieres, I failed to talk about Saturday Night Live. The thing is, I wanted to wait to let the newbies have a bit of time to stretch their legs before I talked about it. We're still only two episodes in and I'm still hesitant to jump on one side of the fence or the other, but after doing more work on my self-imposed music project and noticing the one of the newbies' first starring sketch had earned a spot on the YouTube home page, I felt the need to speak up.

Here's a question that once upon a time had a very easy answer when it came to Saturday Night Live: what makes for a good episode, season, or 'era' of the show? Is it the cast or the writing? At one point, it would have been a no brainer to answer the writing, for you can have a comedic genius on your show (as a regular or a guest) and completely waste them if the writers' don't sharpen their pencils to a fine comedic point. SNL always had a reputation of hiring good talent, the cream of the crop more often than not, so any shortcomings often fell on the writers, and not the infinitely talented cast.

Nowadays however, it seems bland and blander are continually dragging the show down in terms of both cast AND writing. The main problem of the current era, as I've stated in the past, is the men are generally interchangeable and forgettable, right down to their names. The breakout stars of the male-dominated cast have been the ones who have a little something extra - like Andy Samberg and his digital shorts or Fred Armisen's chameleon-like getups (although to Bill Hader's credit he does play a good movie scene stealer, it's just too bad most people don't know his name). On the flip side, this was okay for awhile because we had some really solid female leads in the form of Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, and Kristen Wiig.

Now that Wiig is on her own however, the talent seems dangerously unbalanced. Wiig is ridiculously overused, and often thrown into sketches as the centrepiece in variations on a similar theme (which often have to do more with her making faces for the camera rather than throwing out clever deliveries of amusing lines). Wiig is a greatly expressive actress, fantastic at embodying different characters, but more often than not they just make her into a really OTT performer because the writers are too damn lazy to write some great dialogue. Consider that the majority of her most famous characters are well known for the words and inflections they use - Penelope, Judy the travel guide, and the Target Lady - versus the ridiculous facial expressions of the likes of Gilly.

We've gone through several ladies over the years designed to accompany Wiig as the female cast dropped out to make babies and career moves. Casey Wilson was unceremoniously turfed after two unimpressive seasons as a featured performer. Jenny Slate's amusing doorbell bit didn't save her f-bomb-laden reputation after one season. Abby Elliot was mysteriously upgraded to full cast member status this season despite having ZERO characters to her name (other than a half-baked, irrelevant Angelina Jolie impression), and still failing to do anything of note in the first two episoides. Naveen Andrews made it through her first season, which is fine by me as I thought she showed the most promise of last year's new gals. And finally we now have new meat in the form of Vanessa Bayer.

VB is the one who had the aforementioned YouTube clip, a segment of her hosting a talk show to replace Amy Poehler's hilarious 'Dakota Fanning Show, the similarly titled 'Miley Cyrus Show'. Poehler's take was hilarious because she portrayed Dakota Fanning as anything but a bubblegum blonde, regularly sending barbs in the direction of her piano playing sidekick and outsmarting the majority of her guests. In contrast, Bayer's Miley impression was a lot more dead on with who Miley actually seems to be - a slightly obnoxious loudmouth with a really, really grating way of speaking. There were all of two funny moments in the sketch: when she claimed she was also seeking out darker roles like Johnny Depp, and the clip of the movie she was in with Andy Samberg, but other than that, a good impression does not a hilarious sketch make. Yet SNL is shoving it down the throats of the masses as this week's buzzed about moment...

Which no doubt means they'll trot it out a million and one times. I don't know what's up with the writers these days, but it seems once they hit on a formula that maybe sorta kinda works, they drive-it-home. How many times did we see 'What Up With That' last season (and have already seen it once this one)? Or the same troop of unfunny bits - Keenan's alien sports co-host, the 'Scared Straight' segments (that are only remotely funny cause the boys always look like they're going to laugh), or the oft-repeated 'Fred Armisen takes over a talk show and can't help'? Egads, I'm getting frustrated just looking at this.

Typically speaking, I enjoy seeing a few old favourites return, but for the most part the show has failed to produce any memorable characters other than the ones Wiig has produced. While I get jazzed for the occasional appearance of one of her characters, the writing has dropped of considerably, and the fact she's so overused makes me less interested to see much more of her than I already do. Some of the best sketches in recent memory have been the ones that are standalone pieces (like last year's hilarious 'Single Ladies' bit), or the first time you encounter something like 'What Up With That'. At the very least, writers, make a radical variation on the theme to surprise us and make us laugh. Let Lindsay Buckingham sing instead of Keenan!

As for the other cast members, so far the other two white dudes have seamlessly blended into the cast of forgettable faces, and I don't mean that in a nice way. I'm happy the show has added some more diversity in the form of another African-American male, but much like Bayer's Miley impression, just because he does a 80% job of Will Smith, doesn't mean he's going to be super funny. The show is just in such a terrible place right now, with flagging talent on the main cast and a lack of creativity to let the featured performers (and ahem, Abby Elliot) step up to the plate and do something worth talking about that is actually FUNNY.

Finally, to conclude my SNL rant I'm going to repeat what everyone in the blogosphere seems to be repeating: what the hell is up with the lack of host inclusions? Aside from Abby Elliot, they get less lines and interaction than anyone else they're featured in a sketch with. There's an old rule in advertising that if you run out of ideas, you should go back and look in the archives to see what worked with the best sketches - and hosts - ever. I'm not saying rip a sketch off from the 1970s, but I am saying pay attention to what makes something funny or unfunny, because right now the writers seem to have no clue with what to do with the majority of their hosts. Jon Hamm and Justin Timberlake are two of the best hosts in recent memory, but even their more recent episodes were flagging compared to just a couple of short years ago (which begs the question - who all has been shuffled out of the writing department lately?), and I'm sure the multiple-time hosts like Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin have noticed it as well. One of the best episodes in the current era I can think of is the hilarious Christopher Walken episode. And you want to know why peeps? Because it picked up on so many elements of his character (including the awesome 'Walken Family Reunion') and what it would be funny to see him do - not, where can we stuff this celeb into a main cast member set piece?

I see the challenges SNL is currently grappling with, but the formula they're messing with is so old, I'm just wondering why they're so adamant at destroying their legacy with such terrible casting, writing, and use of hosts over the last few years.


- Britt's On

Comprehending Can Con

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Lately I've been working on a self-imposed project regarding the radio industry, part of which has involved some judicious analysis of the Canadian Content standards imposed by the government run CRTC (radio & television commission). For those of you that aren't aware, the CRTC requires a certain level of programming be Canadian on a daily basis. So if you're wondering why your favourite pop station plays excessive amounts of Hedley or Drake, CanCon is the reason.

Back when CanCon was first introduced, it was admittedly kind of a joke. You only needed to have 25% of your weekly playlist be Canadian music, and it could air at anytime. By the time the 90s rolled around, this number was bumped up to 35% - both on a weekly basis, and during peak hours from 6 AM to 6 PM. Given that the average hour of programming has 10 to 14 songs, this averages out to about 4-6 songs per hour needing to be part of the MAPL system. That is, Canadians had their hands in at least of two of the following: the music composition, the vocal performance (artist), the production, and the lyric-writing.

On one hand, the fact this system really strengthened itself at the same time as the Canadian music scene went stratospheric points to the fact that CanCon 'works' to develop new artists, which at the end of the day is what it's all about - providing a platform for Canadian musicians to celebrate their individuality and actually work as a musician (no matter what element of the MAPL system they're involved in) for a living.

On the flip side, 35% is awfully high, and doesn't really do tons for Canadian artists. Basically if you're lucky enough to have a breakout single (or a one hit wonder) you'll get airplay - and plenty of it - creating a false sense of popularity and credibility. I remember being a youngster in the 90s and thinking "I can't stand The Tea Party and Moist but they must be HUGE given how often MuchMusic plays their tunes!" If CanCon didn't exist, I doubt a good chunk of the musicians the proliferated in the 90s would have been as big as they are - but is that a good thing or a bad thing if a decent number of them only produced mediocre work at best?

The other problem with the 35% rule is if the goal is to develop new Canadian talent, the sheer lack of new Canadian talent again makes this a bit of a throwaway rule, and has actually made popular music even more disposable than the name 'throwaway pop' implies. More often than not, you'll hear a slightly dated Avril Lavigne or Nelly Furtado tune on a popular music station in order to make their CanCon targets. This works out well for the stations because neither artist is obscure enough to prompt a switcheroo (wherein you go channel surfing), but in terms of developing new Canadian talent? Well, it's not. Instead what you've got is very skewed radio station formats that don't want to risk overplaying Drake's latest single too many times - they essentially have twenty to forty 'must play' songs during the peak hours, 95% of which probably don't include any Canadian music whatsoever. They then pepper each hour with various Canadian tunes that are either current (and where hot Canadian artists are a godsend) or a tiny bit out of date, such as singles from their previous albums.

My overall thought is I like the idea of Canadian Content, on paper. Just like communism sounds good on paper. Artists like Hedley would probably be nowhere with it, so that's kind of nifty. On the other hand, I think it's seriously messing with the airwaves and allowing for more diversity on what we hear when we tune in for some free music listening. There's plenty of up and coming acts from other parts of the world that would love the exposure, but weirdly Canadian radio only responds (at the moment) if a song BLOWS UP and is thus worthy of their very limited 'hit list'. It makes us behind the times in the latest trends and artists, unfortunately, which in turn has many folks switching off their radios altogether in favour of their personally crafted iTunes mix.

My suggestion on how to fix the CanCon issue? I think I'd reduce the total requirement for CanCon a bit during peak hours - down to 30%, but keep the 35% for the overall week. I'd also make a requirement that on hit music stations, 10% of the tuneage should be released in the last two years, or perhaps 5% in the last year, to make music directors a little more creative in mining new Canadian talent. I'm sure that overcomplicates things which is why they make it a flat 'rate' of 35%, but I guarantee if you sat down and looked at a chart station's playlist or even just flipped on the radio when tackling a major house project for the day, you would easily recognize the issues I'm talking about.

- Britt's On

Issues Degrassi Has Never Dealt With

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I promise this'll be my last Degrassi post for awhile, other than to review their season premiere that's happening on October 8th. I'm just about finished up with rewatching the first six seasons (having watched seasons 7-10 in the last year) and I just read a fantastic article with the show's current Exec Producer, Stephen Stohn, that had a ton of insight for fans of the original series, the next generation, and the current generation (just titled 'Degrassi' these days). Check it out here: http://www.ksitetv.com/ksitetv-interview-with-degrassi-executive-producer-stephen-stohn/

Anyway in the article Stohn mentions they've done 236 episodes, in contrast to the original 65 episodes Linda Schuyler and Kit Hood produced thinking they had told every story there was to tell. You may drop your jaw at that number and think, has Degrassi REALLY covered 236 issues? The short answer is no. While the first few seasons of TNG had a much more issue of the week format, as the series has progressed many issues are told across multi-part A-plot episodes, while others branch out across dozens of A-Plot and B-Plot storylines that could last a season or longer (see: Marco's sexuality). So realistically if I sat down and counted, they've probably covered countless issues, plus a good number of the shows plots, particularly in the later seasons, dealt with 'event' issues - like who to cast in a play, the stress of year-end finals, reactions to the shooting or JT's death, etc.

That being said, there is still a fair bit of ground for Degrassi to cover, shockingly enough. Some of these ideas are borrowed from the original series, some are things that just haven't been done, and some are modifications of existing plotlines. Without further ado, I bring you: Issues Degrassi Hasn't Dealt With:

ADOPTION - Other than Liberty giving up her baby for adoption and Derek briefly telling Liberty he was adopted, this plot hasn't ever really been fully explored. It could be a piecemeal development, spurred on by the likes of 'multicultural day' to find out one's heritage, only to realize something isn't quite adding up. Someone I know found out their dad wasn't their real dad via a letter delivered to their high school...needless to say it made for a pretty emotional showdown between kid and parent(s), and has space for future development i.e. trying to hunt down the birth parent with no luck, meeting the birth parent, considering leaving their adoptive parents for the birth parent only to find it's a bad idea, or living with the birth parent and loving them, getting angry and rebelling against the adoptive parents, etc. So many possibilities Degrassi! This was a big plot for Wheels on the original series, but it could definitely be reinvented for the next next generation.

SUICIDE - The show always has to tread a fine line between storylines that will seriously screw their characters' storylines up and storylines they can conceivably come back from. This is why you don't see them getting DUI's, even though drinking and driving IS a teen issue. Anyway, it's shocking Degrassi has never done a suicide storyline as it was the major death plot point in the original series, and it's the only teenage type death they haven't done yet (and would make for a huge plot point on par with the series' two other deaths), other than a tragic car accident or something (ahem, drinking & driving). Rick did not commit suicide (unlike his school shooting compatriot on One Tree Hill, Jimmy, ironically enough), and JT certainly didn't, other than his half-hearted attempt with the pills...there's definitely a few characters that could be potential suicide victims. Perhaps Eli's tortured artist will catch up with him, Fiona's mental instability, Riley being bullied for being gay (see: the recent rash of suicides in the USA), or Adam's identity challenges will make him do the deed. A suicide pact might also be an interesting tip-off for one character, it's just a question of whether the series will save the hero before they die. Obviously it's way more powerful when a character does leave, they just have to make sure they're okay with them leaving. Hence, don't kill Eli!

HE SAID SHE SAID - Can I just say this was one of the most frequent plot points in my actual high school? A couple would break up and rumours would run rampant about who did what as the couple basically divided everyone between who was friends with who. By the time we graduated things got a little fragmented. There was obviously an opportunity to do this with the KC/Jenna/Claire triangle, although Jenna & Alli seem to have patched things up and Claire was even around them at the S10's mid-season finale dance prep. Perhaps if Eli and Claire breakup this could be an interesting storyline.

DUELLING EXES - In theory this has been done, but primarily between the ladies and not strongly enough (again see: missed opportunity for Clare/Jenna drama). I think with Declan's return this season there is room for some interesting developments for Declan to try and win back Holly J from Sav's grimy clutches.

INTERRACIAL DATING TENSION - I give credit to Degrassi for being 100% realistic about this, that interracial dating isn't an issue for 99.9% of the population these days. That being said, this was a choice storyline from the original series between Michelle and BLT, and I'm surprised not a single one of these oh-so-traditional, uptight 'cultural' parents (Marco and Riley's in particular) haven't been inserted into an oblique "You're dating HIM/HER"? plot line.

ABORIGINAL ISSUES - This is a minefield, and one that isn't particularly relevant to the show's huge US fan base, so I don't blame them for not tackling it. If anything it's something they would have done in the earlier seasons. Regardless, I can't believe Degrassi has never had an Aboriginal character, as there is a rich amount of opportunity for them to be a good role model for the Aboriginal community and also tackle some of the issues facing Aboriginal people in Canada. If they came from a disadvantaged family, wanting to break the mould would make for an interesting storyline.

SCHOOL CHEATING - This is such a basic issue that has barely been touched by Degrassi. Toby tried to hack the system for Jimmy and Paige handed in a bought essay in University, but the show has never done the classic 'steal the test answers' plot line that is used on so many other shows, which would make perfect sense for a character that is struggling with their studies. Or there's ye ol' chestnut from the original series where Yick handed in a paper that Arthur's older sister Stephanie Kaye (ah she was so cool hah) wrote the previous year - Yick received a better mark on the paper than Stephanie did, proving Raditch's bias.

DEPRESSION - I wish they had done more to explain Paige's S6 breakdown. I know someone who has been prescribed as having actual panic attacks, and that is another specific plot device they could have used (while also visiting the checks and balances of taking your meds vs. being overmedicated). Anyway, the show hasn't ever really tackled depression. Craig had a mental disorder and Emma's extreme mood swings post-shooting and during Spike & Snake's split were tied to other issues (safe sex & eating disorders), so the show hasn't ever really had a character that is suffering from clinical depression. Might be a good lead-up to a suicide storyline!

STALKING - We had Darcy's creepy internet 'pal' and Rick was debatably interfering with Terri's life, but no character has ever been continually stalked for longer than one episode. Perhaps it might be a way to write off one of the two villainous duds introduced this past season - Fitz or the antagonistic football player, Owen - as they stalk Bianca or something.

UPPERS & DOWNERS - Have there seriously been no caffeine pills consumed on this show?

I could go on...all one has to do is look at episode lists for the likes of Dawson's Creek, The OC, One Tree Hill, Gilmore Girls, etc. to see there are plenty of opportunities abound for the show to continue on.

Finally a parting thought: we now have three Degrassi babies circulating out there. Who do you think will lead the third generation's development? If the show continues on its current schedule of one school year every year and a half (they've talked about next summer being the wrap-up for the current seniors), then:

Mia's Baby Isabella - Conveniently named after a Twilight character, Bella will be teenaged (at least grade 9 aged) in about a decade. She was three years old when we met her and Mia was in grade 10. Mia would now be a senior with Holly J, Sav, and Anya which would make Bella five, so for her to be a full-blown 13 or 14 year old is ten years down the road which seems ample time for a reboot. By then, Nina Dobrev's CW-infused career might be flagging and she might be willing to come back, or they could just cast someone new as her mom, or she could be living with her dad since her mom is in theory a supermodel.

Liberty's Unnamed Baby Boy - Adopted boy is off in Seattle, and was born when Liberty was in grade 11, which would make him about three years old by now. Perhaps his journey could start by opening up the chest Liberty gave him and discovering he's, gasp, adopted!

Jenna's Unnamed Fetus - At this point the show looks like they're going to make Jenna go through with the baby. This is the only baby storyline they haven't tapped yet - despite arguments that Mia's storyline was all about the rigors of being a teenaged mom, Jenna's is part Liberty's (being a pregnant mom) AND part Mia by taking us through her baby journey from start to finish. Although a miscarriage might make for an interesting late-in-the-game twist (would she feel sad? relieved?), I suspect she'll have the baby. Obviously this one will take the longest to mature which means it's either the most or least likely to lead the crusade for D:TNG 2.0.

S'all. Any other Degrassi topics you can think of that have never been touched? I think suicide & adoption are the two biggest ones for sure. Yes they were covered on the original series, but there's a ton of new, long-term development ways they could look at them.

- Britt's On

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