Welcome back (again) to Entertainmentopia, my name is Erich Becker, and I founded this thing nearly 25 years ago. What you'll find here is  one man's opinions and sometimes coherent posts on a number of different topics on a blog that just wants to be a small island, in a big ocean and put words on the screen as a creative outlet. Welcome and enjoy!


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Death of Seasons from director Chance White and writer/star Delfo Baroni busts in from the independent scene clearly wearing its influences on its sleeve but also proposing an interesting, new spin on the conventional psychological thriller that mixes parts of the genre’s best techniques and staples together to produce a film worthy of your time and money.

Produced on less than $10,000, Seasons never really shows its low-budget roots and cleverly uses real-world sets to mask these budget limitations, employing the use of both handheld and still cameras the view into this world is intricately paved out by White’s vision, especially the use of long range zoom in shots and long cuts. One particular cut has the film’s two protagonists walking the sidewalk of a residential street, never missing a beat the tit-for-tat dialog continues until either a very obvious cut is employed or a misplaced stylistic device seems to detract from the very impressive camera work. Seasons is easily one of the best independent films from a technological and stylistic standpoint with the aforementioned camera work combined with concise editing, and great lighting effects.

From the very beginning the filming and editing seems to employ a very Se7en-like Fincher cut with quick, distorted jump cuts, muted color palette, and image flashes akin to Tyler Durden appearance in the first act of another Fincher masterpiece, Fight Club. The film seems to channel many different films including Clerks with its liquid dialog, philosophical debate in the oddest of places (a Tarantino like conversation in a corner café), and pairing of two main characters who seem to have nothing in common but play off each other so well.

The script is generally tight and, as mentioned previously, Baroni’s dialog, while choppy at times, has the flow of some of the industries’ most respected linguists. The film isn’t completely linear, and as it goes on it becomes a bit harder to determine if things are indeed jumping from event to event, or are truly running in a straight line. The character’s clothing indicates that former rather than the latter. Generally this isn’t completely distracting, but it could be better established on how this should be interpreted by the viewer.

The story itself centers around two individuals who are dealing with the trials and tribulations of life in different ways. Aaron is torn between the physical desires of his human being and the spiritual requirements of his religion as he tries to find a happy balance with each side pulling him further off-center. Gabriel’s story is harder to pin down as the American Psycho-like ending may leave more questions than answers but after listening to the commentary provided and reading deeper into the film’s meanings one can see into the mind of the disposed character.

There’s an odd “musical” number in the film’s second act which doesn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the film, even after the ending is revealed. In fact, the second act in general seems to drag on a bit and slows down the film’s taut, brisk first act which brings the viewer into the world of Gabe (Baroni) and Aaron (Justice Leak). The third act picks up once again as the narrative comes to a head, although the big reveal ending does come off slightly confusing as the viewer searches for motives to Gabriel’s actions they might not have picked up on earlier in the film.

The film’s cynical commentary and religion vs. atheism arguments resonate well as social commentaries, whether intended or not, on the nature of the world we live in. Most of this is embodied in the conversations Gabe has with his cantankerous, blind neighbor Mr. Harper (Kermit Rolison) who’s less than bright outlook on life certainly highlights the dark comedy aspect of the film.

Death of Seasons excels as a film that never lets the low-budget, independent stigma bring it down. The excellent direction by White and wonderful writing and portrayal of Gabe by Baroni only solidify the film’s ascension to the top of the indie scene. With some tightening of the script in a few places, and some smoothing of a few rough spots of dialog it wouldn’t surprise me to see Death of Seasons on a theater marquee in the very near future.

For more information on Death of Seasons, check out the official website right here.

Grindhouse, the double-bill experiment from cult directors Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, is a hard movie to review because each film has its own unique style and its own premise, and largely varying degree of quality. Planet Terror, from Rodriguez, and Death Proof, from Tarantino, are spliced together with purposely distressed film, scratches, missing reels, and fake movie trailers connecting the two like an old school, double feature. Unfortunately, none of those in the film’s target demographic could even tell you what a Grindhouse was, let alone try to comprehend what a double-bill would be.

Planet Terror is the better half of Grindhouse, there’s no doubt about that, Robert Rodriguez’s zombie adaptation is fresh, action filled, humorous, and brimming to the top with style and enough substance to keep the audience entertained through its brisk 90 minute runtime. The characters have enough dimension to keep you enticed in their actions, and the missing reel gag only seems to further solidify them as some of the coolest you’ll see on the big screen this year even though, by all other standards, they are 2D replicas of archetypes we’ve seen on the big screen thousands of times.

Still they feel fresh, almost as though the stigma of knowing that Grindhouse, and the films contained within are suppose to be hollow, action-filled romps where enormous amounts of gore fill the screen and movie-making caution is thrown to the wind.

The story focuses on a group of survivors, lead by the mysterious El Wray (Freddy Rodriquez) who can do more with two butterfly knives than most can do with a fully automatic machine gun. The most memorable action sequences in the double-bill take place in Planet Terror, notably Rose McGowan as the gun-legged go-go dancer who lays waste to a group of zombies near the end of the film from the back of a bike and later rocket jumping over a wall. Outlandish? Most definitely. Fun? Most certainly.

With characters like the aforementioned El Wray, devilish Doc Block (Josh Brolin), and Bruce Willis as a corrupt, and changing, Army officer you’d be hard pressed to not find something to smile and awe about in Planet Terror. There might not be something for everyone here, but you’d have to really hate movies in general to not find something to laugh, gasp, or cringe at in this explosive exposition.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Tarantino’s contribution to the film which comes off as a long, boring, talking-head theater filled with nonsensical dialog that does little to forward the story, and without focusing on the main attraction (Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike) the audience is left amazingly bored.

Death Proof feels like part of a Tarantino movie, but without the snappy dialog and intertwining action sequences to fill up the slow parts. Whereas Pulp Fiction gave us a long conversation at Jack Rabbit Slim’s but rewarded us with good dialog and the knowledge that Uma Thurman was about to get a six-inch needle in the chest. In Death Proof we get four twentysomething girls talking for what feels like hours, like we are caught in a bad dream where teenage girls rule the world and we can’t get off the phone with them.

When the action finally starts up, we’re left with one car chase, as spectacular as it is, it feels almost forced, to the point where when the words “The End” appear on the screen the audience is left dumbstruck with confused looks, almost as though they’ve just witnessed something utterly perplexing there isn’t words to describe it in the English language. The feeling is a wave of disappointment filling over you as you realize that the genius who brought us such masterpieces as Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction also gave us this in a Grindhouse format that was suppose to blow our socks off.

Something can be said about the quality of the film when several of the audience members were calling for more fake trailers from director’s Eli Roth, Rob Zombie, and Edgar Wright just so they didn’t have to listen to more talking in Death Proof.

Grindhouse‘s varying degree of quality is a real shame because both directors are versatile, talent individuals who should have made double-bill the very best film of the year. Instead, Rodriguez once again impresses and Tarantino uncharacteristically disappoints and we’re left to wonder what could have been. What if both films were released separately? What if Tarantino had added more action? And will we ever get to see the contents of those missing reels? One can only hope the inevitable superstar DVD release will answer more than a few of these lingering questions.

Planet Terror Rating: B+
Death Proof Rating: D

The success of Weird Al in the record industry is fully seen with his 2006 release of Straight Outta Lynwood which features some of the best Al songs since Bad Hair Day and its collection of hits. The album is, for the most part, the most solid experience we’ve seen in years and this all comes to a head with the albums first single “White and Nerdy“; which screamed up considerable buzz for both Al and the album showing the world that he’s still got it.

While it takes time to usually issue an album of parodies, so the dated tracks like “Canadian Idiot“; spoofing Green Day’s title track from their Grammy-award winning album can be excused for being a bit late to the scene, but the content in the songs makes up for their tardiness. The thought of launching a pre-emptive strike against our neighbors to the north should put a smile on any American’s face.

After some problems with licensing of the initial single “Your Pitiful“; the release of the CD was pushed back to omit the song (which was subsequently only released online). Several of the songs popped up before the CD’s release in addition to the aforementioned single. “Weasel Stomping Day“; was shown on Robot Chicken as a music video, which is subsequently included on the second disc of the CD/DVD set. The “We Are the World“;-inspired “Don’t Download This Song“; puts Al’s tongue firmly in cheek and calls out to all the P2P downloaders around the world to not download the freely released MP3 from weirdal.com.

With the standard mix of original content and parodies, Straight Outta Lynwood makes up a careful balance, and nearly every song has something to offer the listen and entice them back for a second listen. The only weak point of the original material is the second track “Pancreas“; which is an ode to the digestive organ in the body. “I’ll Sue Ya’“;, while an original track, is clearly influenced by the abusive cords and lyrics of the newly reassembled Rage Against the Machine. The song really comes into its own with the provided video which makes the lyrics stand out as visuals course across the screen.

The main stand out on the album is the 11-minute “Trapped in the Drive Thru“; parodying R. Kelly’s similarly titled “Trapped in the Closet“;, which takes us through one couples journey to just get something to eat and what the lack of onions can do to a man.

Lynwood offers the listener six animated videos at the time of purchase for “Don’t Download this Song,”; “I’ll Sue Ya,”; “Virus Alert,”; “Close But No Cigar,”; “Pancreas,”; and “Weasel Stomping Day.”; Each video is animated by a different artists with the likes of Seth Green & Matt Senreich (Robot Chicken), John K (Ren and Stimpy), and Academy Award nominee Bill Plympton. The DVD also includes karaoke versions of each of the album’s songs and a Dolby 5.1 mix of all the songs for your listening enjoyment.

In the end Lynwood is Al’s biggest commercial hit thus far in his long and illustrious career and it couldn’t have come at a better time. With so much material just ripe for the parody treatment, one can only hope that services like MySpace, allowing the artist to better connect with their fans, only fuels the fire more and we’re treated to more songs in the shortest amount of time possible.

There’s a lot to like about TMNT, but maybe not all the right things. First and foremost those of us who are in our early 20’s and grew up with the original cartoon and spent endless quarters in the arcades hammering on the old Konami cabinet will find a lot to like about the new film as seeing the mutant turtles on the big screen again is enough to satisfy.

For newcomers to the series, TMNT offers an ample introduction to the turtles, their master, and their fallen foe, The Shredder, who is reduced to nothing more than a two line explanation. In fact, that’s the reason many fans of the franchise will be disappointed with this 2007 update, many of the elements we remember have been taken out and a new, cliché-riddled storyline has been put in place concerning monsters from another dimension and an immortal business man with unknown intentions.

While a majority of the film focuses on the turtles and the fallout from the Shredder’s death (being a sequel to the live action films of the early 1990’s) one can consider this a reintroduction to the characters and a way to get them back on the big screen and set up sequels, this update is lacking in many things we would have expected to see. After abolishing Krang and the Technodrome from the live action films and putting a laughable third installment out, the fans of the franchise can only hope that Mirage and the film’s license holders come back to the comics, and even the recent cartoon series which provides a reasonable update to the characters as well.

With that said, TMNT is an enjoyable way to spent 87 minutes at the theater if you aren’t expecting brilliant storytelling and an endless supply of jokes. Few and far between does the humor resonate with the audience and, as mentioned before, the story could have been a little more relevant to long time fans of the series that would have killed to see a Shredder vs. Splinter match up on the big screen again.

What TMNT does very well is animation and the designers at IMAGI should be commended in as many ways possible for bringing the unique style they have devised to the big screen with the flair and technical prowess the studio has. One particular action scene has Raphael and Leonardo squaring off on the rooftop in the rain. As the camera moves around and eventually ends up peering up from the ground, the real beauty of the movie is shown.

For being as anticipated as it was TMNT does disappoint in some respects, but when you look at it as the first part of a new silver-screen legacy for the mutated turtles you can see where the creators were going and how they might be able to really turn on the nostalgia with some very ambiguous lines towards the end of the film. Could the Shredder or Krang be back the next time around? If they want to keep the fans enticed in this rebirth, they had better plan on it.

Zodiac, the story of the Zodiac killer and his spree in the late 1960’s thru early 1970’s is a pervasive look into the mind and mind games of a serial killer wonderfully presented on the big screen by David Fincher. It’s hard to say if many are seeing the film based purely on memories of the horrific events in northern California or for the marketing machine pushing the film from the director of Se7en. In either case, the audience is treated to a visually stunning masterpiece of cinematography and storytelling that once again raises the bar for each.

The film immediately hooks you with its pre-credit sequence about the attempted murder of two victims and maintains that hook relying on Fincher’s dark visual style and the compelling story of the police’s pursuit of apprehending the self-named Zodiac which eventually morphs into the quest of a former San Francisco Chronicle cartoonist, Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), to finally discover the identity of the Zodiac killer and come face to face with him.

Gyllenhaal’s performance is excellent, perfecting the portrayal of the debating Graysmith who becomes involved in Zodiac case little by little by overhearing meetings at the Chronicle which eventually turns into his own private investigation into the elusive killer’s identity ultimately coming to a conclusion that has since been disproved by partial DNA evidence.

Those familiar with Fincher’s work, especially that of Panic Room and Se7en, will see many similarities in his style here but some amazing new camera work as well. The opening shot of the film is a long cut out of the passenger window of a car as it passes down a rural residential street is just one of the many ways Fincher visually wows the audience during the film. Several times during the movie I leaned over to those I was seeing the film with and simply said, “that’s cool.” Very few directors can get that sort of reaction to their choice of camera shots, but Fincher routinely manages to push the bar higher and higher.

Another strong point about the film is its authenticity accurately portraying early 1970’s fashion and live style right down to the retro Paramount and Warner Bros. logos opening the production up.

Focusing back on the cast of characters, Robert Downey, Jr. makes yet another strong project decision by inheriting and owning the role of Chronicle writer Paul Avery, whose presence fades as the film goes on, but is never forgotten. His snarky comments and alcoholic breakdown near the film’s turning point are definitely one of the most memorable aspects of the entire movie. Mark Ruffalo, sporting some bad 70’s hair, also stamps your memory with his portrayal of Zodiac lead investigator David Toschi who becomes disenfranchised over his many years working on it.

The only complaint about the film is its running time which normally feels like a brisk two hours and 40 minutes, but at times can seem to drag here and there with bits that could have been trimmed and still preserve the overall integrity of the narrative. Other than that, Zodiac is easily the best movie released this year and its strong cast, compelling story, and rock-solid direction are all the more reason to see this film.

The History Channel, known for its specials, once again steps up and brings us into The Dark Ages, a time in human history filled with turmoil, death, and personal triumph in the face of the civilized world after the fall of Rome and the Western Roman Empire. Like the specials before it, the narrative is told through the use of reenactments, still paintings, historical retellings from academia, and use of computer graphics.

The term Dark Ages seems to be a misconception among scholars around the world, having picked up a rather harsh stigma because of the near universal suffering (at least in our eyes) after civilization fell into disarray. The world, as played out in countless literary texts over the years, has reverted back to an earlier lifestyle one filled with hardship, disease, but a common existence with only the will to survive to keep them going.


The special, premiering Sunday, March 4th, starts with the fall of the Western Roman Empire after the city of Rome was sacked and a string of inept Emperors doomed the “Mother of the World” to death. A major point focused on by the programming is the rise of Christianity from a backroom, banned religion to the driving force of some of the world’s most powerful men, culminating with the battle against the Islamic movement who were bent on taking over territory in Europe after the fall of the Empire.

Surprisingly there is little focus on the most well known event of the Dark Ages, the Black Death (aka Bubonic Plague) that whipped out nearly 100 million people across the continent, that’s nearly 50% of the population in Europe. I did find it strange that the programmed did only touch on the plague’s ravages across the civilized world, but it was only a small part of the roughly 600 year span from the mid 5th century to the beginning of the 11th. The program ends with a looking at the daring and vicious raids by the Vikings into the British Isles and the rest of Europe taking treasure and murdering all that opposed them.


Writer/Director Christopher Cassel uses the same techniques employed in his excellent debut, Rome: Engineering and Empire, to bring the life of the early middle ages to the viewer. Some of the reenactments are regrettably low budget (and it shows) but the use of computer graphics presents the historical data like never before, something history books could never present in today’s society.

With the nomenclature’s place in popular culture The Dark Ages is an engaging experience showcasing the little known events that compose this dark time in history not related to the Bubonic Plague. While the material is not as exciting, or impressive as previous History Channel programs like Engineering and Empire or weekly series Digging for the Truth, there’s enough material here to truly appreciate Cassel‘s work and the drive to educate and entertain.

The Dark Ages premieres Sunday, March 4, at 9/8c on The History Channel.

Royal Faceoff, and independent picture from director Stu Pepper, is an intriguing picture with a unique, but odd story that sets a young girl, trying to change the world for the better, to London to challenge the crowned Queen of England to remove her image from all currency in the former British colonies and commonwealths. The premise is both good and bad for the film as its unique plot allows for some interesting story dynamics we’ve never seen before in a film, but the sheer odd-ball nature of it makes it almost impossible to take the film seriously at times because the suspension of disbelief is so great there’s nothing real to grab on to.

The film opens up with one of the most cheese-tacular opening songs of all time relaying the events of the film (a version also closes up the movie providing an ending summation), but as you progress through the movie its hard to determine if the production is progressing with tongue planted firmly in the co-screenwriter’s cheeks or if most of the film was written with a straight face. There are some points in the film where the actors really overstep and try to hard to create some artificial humor, which makes you laugh, but for all the wrong reasons.

The storyline itself could be interpreted two ways, as either a satire of the American tendency to overstep our international bounds and make unneeded changes to countries we have no business meddling with, or a simple feel good family-type comedy one is likely to find on ABC Family on a Friday night. The film works out far better with the former rather than the latter. There are also some curious subplots about Diana and her family being direct descendents of the infamous traitor Benedict Arnold and the Queen’s love letters to former President Truman. Added into the whole, these subplots don’t seem to gel entirely with the rest of the production.

Pepper and co-writer Michael Sausville’s scripted dialog ranges from witty in parts to downright groan inducing in others, especially when the lead character’s parents are interacting with her, the quick cuts and dialog play host to some inconsistencies and have a “home-movie” feel to them at times making themselves more obvious than they need to be. Coupled that with two very awkward montages, one of Diana, in a bikini, listening to her boyfriend play on his guitar and the other as an introduction montage to London in which we are treated to still pictures of the roofs of buildings, and you can see how the movie can feel awkward at times.

It’s a shame because Pepper’s direction is spot on in some instances with some great perspective shots and use of existing sets. You can tell the film was done with a minimal budget (especially since London looks conspicuously like southern Florida), but this doesn’t really detract from the film. What do distract the viewer is the Gandhi-inspired flashbacks where both Diana and her dad, curiously, share the same visions but more than one of them go on for far too long to the point where it looks like the film is being padded out, and the fact that this is a very dialog heavy film with no action shots to break anything up and give the viewer some reprieve throughout its nearly two hour runtime.

I certainly don’t want it to sound like I hated this film, far from it; it’s a curious, but interesting movie that has great ambitions but maybe not the script and budget to back up those ideas to their full potential. As mentioned before, examining it as a satire of the American culture, even if it was never intended to be held in such light, opens up a realm of possibilities for the feature. As a family-centric piece about a young girl whose class assignment gets a little out of hand, it’s an adequate vehicle for young girls as an inspirational piece. The film isn’t for everyone, and ambition might have been bigger than execution here, but Pepper has a keen eye and seems adept at working with a minimal budget, so here’s looking forward to the next from him and his team.

If someone came up and told me that one of the most entertaining reality series on TV would be based on at car dealership in the Nevada desert, complete with a blue genie, I’d have sold them some of my ocean front property here in Phoenix, but after viewing select episodes from the second season of King of Cars, its no lie.

King of Cars takes place at the aforementioned car dealership, Towbin Dodge, in Las Vegas where diligent owner, Chop, who is featured in DUB magazine via a photo shoot in the opening of “Ugly Truckling,” one of the second season’s episodes, takes running a dealership to an unheard of level. We’ve all bought cars before, whether new or used, it is a daunting, and sometimes terrible, experience depending on the dealership, but just about everyone who has had a bad experience may need to flying into Las Vegas and buy a car here.

While you have to expect some playing up for the camera, the sales team at Towbin provides a two fold experience for the viewer, it goes behind the scenes to show you, as a consumer, how deals get down in a dealership, and may give you some insight into the cut-throat world of selling cars, and the incentives that go with them. In “Ugly Truckling” a team of two is tasked with bringing together contestants vying for $1000 by having the most ugly, deplorable truck on four wheels. The episode itself whisks by its 22 minute runtime leaving you wanting more because the on-the-lot experience is just ripe with material to be filmed.

In fact, it’s surprising that so much material can be turned out from a car dealership to fill a reality show, but the charismatic personality of Chop and his staff makes for great, sometimes excellent, TV.

Chop himself may be the “star” of the show, filling out the cheesy, yet entertaining, opening credits wonderfully, but the sales team he has constructed and the positions he puts them in is what creates the material for these episodes.

The second episode we were able to review focuses on the promotion of one employee and a back-stabbing competition to fill his former position which is ultimately decided by a basketball game when both contestants closed the same number of deals during the work day. This episode, in particular, really focuses in how hard car salesmen work to close that deal and help you out, while also having them work for something behind the scenes. The competition really brings out the great relationships between the sales staff, even in an environment such as this.

The show’s editing also makes it a point to not always show the happy endings, with some sales falling through at the last minute, and shots of utter disappointment on the face of both customer and salesman. It’s a tough job, and King of Cars shows the good and bad aspects of it, but the good is the focus of the show and the humor really brings that out.

You may have never heard of King of Cars before, but its definitely one of the most entertaining shows on cable, and this half-hour series would be a great edition to your viewing or DVR habits.

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