Saturday, November 18, 2006

O.J. Pimpson

Despite desperate attempts on the part of certain Republican operatives to focus attention on a standard, unexciting power struggle within the upper eschelons of the soon-to-be Democratic Senate, I think the thing everyone was talking about this week was OJ. Well, him and Borat. People sure do love that wacky, mixed up guy...

But mainly, OJ. The Juice. Nordberg. The Nicole Brown-related news this week has been nostalgic for me. Reminds me of high school to see Fred Goldman ranting on my TV. Like that fucking Cranberries song "Linger" that I've always hated, yet for some reason brings me back to my sophomore year in high school with such uncanny clarity that I almost can't stand to hear it for more than a few seconds.

People are still upset about the OJ Simpson verdict. All he did was butcher his ex-wife and her friend, and then try poorly to cover it up before running from the cops in extremely half-assed fashion! Oh, yeah, and then hire expensive scumbag lawyers to select the dumbest jurors possible so they could lie to them and waste everyone's time and money, so OJ could play golf all day and pretend to look for "real killers" rather than accept his punishment. Lighten up, people!

Seriously, though, OJ Simpson is a murderer and deserves to be in jail. But he's not, because rich people, and especially famous rich people, play by different rules in America. If you want to be upset, there's your cause for upset.

Personally, I'm not thrilled with the idea of OJ Simpson making money off of waving his guilt in front of everyone's face now that he's immune to prosecution for his crimes. But I still can't shake the feeling that people are upset about this case for the wrong reason. And that reason is: racism! Neat!

I think white people are so upset about OJ, in large part, because they don't like the idea of a black man killing a white woman and getting away with it. I know, I know, people are upset by miscarriages of justice. But how many wrongfully imprisoned people do we have in America? We release more and more innocent men and women every month because of newly-discovered DNA evidence. And conversely, how many murderers get away without being punished? Tons! Thousands! You may even know someone who has killed with impunity. How would you know?

But OJ seems to stick in America's craw. They can't get over it. So they focus their hatred on him personally, rather than the real problem, which is that the prosecution fucked up miserably and the wealth and relative celebrity of the defendant was rather directly used to influence the outcome of a murder trial. (Also that the whole thing was a total media fiasco from day one, giving insight into the fundamentally flawed cable news enterprise years before its nadir as the propaganda wing of BushCo.)

I'm not saying this is true of all Americans. But it seems to pop up sometimes in odd ways. Here's Bill O'Reilly:

"Here's a man many believe did kill those two Americans, Nicole Brown Simpson being mother of his two children. Yet Simpson is participating in a project that is exploiting the murders. Shamefully, the Fox Broadcasting Unit is set to carry the program, which is simply indefensible, and a low point in American culture. For the record, Fox Broadcasting has nothing to do with the Fox News Channel."

Many believe did kill those two Americans? OJ's American. What, is Bill O'Reilly now a crusader against American-on-American crime? What if they were from Bolivia? It would have still been wrong, right Billy? (Also, that shit about Fox Broadcasting having nothing to do with Fox News Channel? Yeah, it's not true.)

You think Bill O'Reilly's upset because OJ is a murderer? He's never seemed to care about shocking, deplorable violence before unless he sees an opening for a little attention. Here's Bill making light of Bush's favored abuse techniques, mocking whiny liberals who dare oppose Dear Leader and generally supporting our right to hold potentially innocent men against their will for years at a time and torture them.

So, yeah, torture, no big deal. Get over it, pansies. But OJ Simpson on the Television! That crosses the line!

I mean, this Fox TV special horseshit is 10,000 kinds of wrong. You don't put murderers on TV so they can get thinly-veiled confessions off their chest for fun and profit. You just don't air that sort of thing if you have any class or if you are a corporation concerned with how sane poeple will consider your brand from that point on. I mean, this tarnishes the brand identity of the Fox corporation, which is a company that's exclusively about their brand identity. Cause it sure as shit ain't their quality prime-time programming.

But an OJ half-confession is not the most upsetting thing to happen this month. We're in the midst of an evolving environmental calamity the likes of which few non-scientists can even really comprehend. We're caught in the middle of a dystopian nightmare-conflict we created that's responsible for a body count in the hundreds of thousands. Our President, after promising to work with the Democrats to compromise on key national issues, has decided he'd rather not play nice and plunge the nation into a constitutional crisis over judicial nominees. We're still kidnapping people, imprisoning them and torturing them.

This is frightening shit and it's all real and it matters a hell of a lot more than any fucking stupid crap OJ could possibly ever write. I don't care if OJ's penned a sequel to "Madame Bovary" that's twice as good as the original. He should eat shit and die. The OJ thing lingers because the racism thing lingers. And America, I've got to ask, do you have to let it linger? Do you have to? Do you have to? Do you have to let it linger?

[NOTE: Want proof that Americans, particularly Americans with power over other Americans, still act on their fundamentally racist impulses? Here are some UCLA Campus police officers tormenting an Iranian-American US citizen with a taser gun. Don't watch this video if the idea of a group of cops standing around barking orders at an innocent young man who simply didn't have his student ID, who's screaming out in pain with each new electrical charge sounds like something you can't handle. It's shocking and brutal and stomach-turning and it makes me want to mail them back my diploma with a request for a full tuition refund. I'm not using it anyway.]


It's sadly appropriate that Woody Allen's latest comedy concerns ghosts. In Scoop, the writer/director has become a ghost of his former self. Many of the signposts of Woody's classic films pop up in this forgettable, joke-free comedy, but they're like dim apparitions, present in a twisted version of themselves for a brief moment before fluttering away into the ether.

I know he's prolific by nature, but it seems strange that Allen would bother to make a film each year unless inspired by some great new idea or passionate artistic urge. Scoop evidences neither. It feels like penance, like Allen giving himself over to the immediate task of throwing a film together even though he, personally, could care less whether or not it's capable of actually providing any laughter or entertainment value. Could filmmaking have, at this point in his long and storied career, become a compulsion for Woody? Is he incapable of taking a break and recharging, giving himself time, perhaps, to discover a new source of inspiration?

(Yeah, I know he's getting kind of old, but if this is the best he can turn out, better to just retire now...I say all this as a huge fan. But I think that even a short break between projects might help the guy come up with something more enjoyable than this blandifesto.)

Even Allen's performance betrays his lack of enthusiasm for the enterprise. In his first scene with co-star Scarlett Johansson, Allen looks down at the floor the entire time and flubs a few of his lines. Could that have possibly been the best take? Or was it the only usable one?

It's particularly disheartening to see such a pinched, awkward effort come right on the heels of Allen's best film in over a decade, Match Point (which also starred Scarlett Johansson, in a role better suited to her abilities). This new film shares much more in common with Allen's career-low, pre-Melinda and Melinda period that included such grim death marches as Small Time Crooks, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, Hollywood Ending and his unwatchable nadir, Anything Else.

As in most of those films, Allen starts with a big, goofy 1930's-style comic premise. Sandra (Johansson), a plucky young journalism student vacationing in London, meets the ghost of a dead reporter (Ian McShane) during a magic show, who tells her the identity of the infamous Tarot Card Killer. With the help of the jittery, over-the-hill magician who first conjured the spirit (Allen), she must gather evidence against her suspect, wealthy heir Peter Lyman (Hugh Jackman). That is, unless she falls in love with him first.

It's extremely broad and kind of silly, but I see no reason why this premise could not have been turned into a servicable comedy. (Is not one of his career highlights, Sleeper, broad and silly?) But Allen stumbles at literally every step. Most fatally, he hasn't designed one single funny character. Not one.

Johansson and Jackman have zero chemistry (surprising when you consider that they played lovers in another film this year, The Prestige). In this case, it's because their characters are total duds with almost no personality. They're not interesting apart, so why would they make an interesting couple?

Sandra resembles a character Woody might have written for himself years ago; she's urbane, pessimistic and cynical yet somehow still enthusiastic about life. But rather than go over the top like Allen or one of his better stand-ins, Johansson underplays all of the hysterics, the theoretically "funny" moments. So they fall totally flat. Allen has cast her because of her physical attributes, getting her into her underwear or swimsuits whenever possible, but perhaps didn't pause to consider her ability with physical comedy.

Jackman fares even worse. He's saddled with a dilemma from the beginning - he must be likable and charming yet also a potential serial murderer - which he solves by making Peter a complete blank. Sandra seems to like him, but we sense it must be just because he's attractive and rich and has a nice collection of antique musical instruments. He fails to express a single interesting or original thought in 90 minutes. He's got kind of a Prince Charming complex, like a guy who has sat in a room for 30 years doing nothing but practicing his genteel romantic patter in case a young, beautiful woman ever comes by for him to respectfully woo.

For a guy who's used to working with large, talented ensembles, Allen hasn't given himself many funny co-stars with whom to play around. Johansson, though she's been overexposed and on a bad streak lately, can be good in films, but she's not all that funny. Jackman's not funny. The only other major character is undead reporter Joe Strombel, played by the delightful British actor Ian McShane.

McShane has kicked ass in movies and TV for 30 years (he's best known to Americans as the moustache-twirling wildman Al Swearengen on HBO's stellar "Deadwood"), but his character exists purely for the purposes of exposition. Allen needs Sandra to hear about Peter Lyman somehow, and the idea of her hearing it from a ghost is funny. But the ghost himself doesn't get to be funny.

So Joe shows up and explains the in brief little bursts and then disappears on cue. How did he get back to Earth from the afterlife? Where's he going when he vanishes? What does he care about getting a good story if he's dead and won't get any credit? At one point, he interjects randomly into a conversation that he's going to go away forever, and then he does and we never hear from him again. Even Poochie went out with more fanfare.

Joe's story opens the film in excellent, classic Woody Allen fashion, on the boat across the River Styx, escorted by the Grim Reaper. He has died of a heart attack but seems kind of nonplussed about the whole thing. He starts talking to a recently deceased woman, who tells him that she discovered the identity of the Tarot Card Killer and was then poisoned. What a scoop! If only Joe could somehow get this information to a live reporter, he'd be the first one in the world with the story!

At this point, I thought the film was going to be great. What's more Woody Allen-esque than opening a screwball comedy with a serial killer, a funeral and a boat trip through the Land of the Dead? I soon realized that this would be the only inspired sequence in the whole film. Counter-intuitively, despite his familiarity with death-focused comedy, Allen can't even muster any good one-liners for his ghosts.

A feeling of weary laziness just hangs over the proceedings from this point on. Sometimes, Allen sets himself up for a joke and then doesn't even take a swing. In one scene, his blue collar Brooklynite is led into a massive, opulent English garden, a slow underhand pitch to any Marx Brothers fan, let alone Woody Allen, and all he says is, "Wow, this is amazing." Wow, this is amazing? YOU'RE WOODY ALLEN! WHERE'S THE PUNCHLINE?

The Depression-era spirit of Scoop ought to bring out Allen's sharpest comic instincts. Those are the films that inspired him as a young person to write comedy. And it's not just the Preston Sturges reference points (mistaken identities, poor people sneaking into high society, last minute reversals) that suit Allen's sensibilities. He works in some classic vaudeville jokes into the magic routines. It's a wacky romantic comedy with an attractive female lead! It's not like this isn't familiar ground. Woody once was capable of writing really lively, intriguing female characters - women who weren't just refractions of his own nebbishy personality. Sandra's a pair of empty glasses.

[Okay, one more thing I'll mention, but this criticism reveals the ending of the movie, so don't read any more if you plan on renting Scoop next week.

Okay, so, in the end, we find out that Peter isn't really the Tarot Card Killer. However, he did pretend to be the Tarot Card Killer in order to get away with murdering a prostitute who had been threatening blackmail. Unfortunately, the chronology of events doesn't make sense. Joe Strombol becomes convinced, in the afterlife, of Peter's guilt before he murders the prostitute. So it's just a coincidence? Joe was wrong about Peter, but then accidentally turned out to be right because Peter later decided to murder a woman?

This may seem like a minor complaint but it totally derails the movie (as if it didn't already have enough problems). The whole thing is a mystery, albeit an uneventful one. How can it be that the final solution makes no sense and is based around a totally unbelievable, stupid coincidence? It means that Joe Strombol's not a good reporter, that the whole thing happened because of stupid blind luck. Not good, Woody...Not good.]

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Secrets and Lies

We get a lot of strange, unfillable requests at the video store. Customers will read some random article about a movie or even provide a vague description of something they once saw on television and simply assume that we can obtain a brand-new, professionally mastered DVD copy within a few days. Perhaps the most hilarious example was the woman who thought we made the DVD's ourselves in the back of the store.

"That title's out of print," my co-worker explained. "There aren't any more copies."

"Well why can't you make some more?" the idiot customer replied, imagining, deep within the bowels of Laser Blazer, some fantastical device similar in design to a Bessemer Converter, in which entire movie reels are ground into easy-to-transport, high-quality DVD's.

Sometimes, people will hear an infomercial or radio ad for some self-help product and assume that we will necessarily carry such things. Most of the time, the fake guru behind these fraudulent lectures sells the products him or herself, the better to gouge gullible senior citizens without the hassle of going through a middle man.

Recently, a lot (a lot!) of people have been asking about a movie called The Secret. At first, I assumed it was some TV movie or whatever that came out on DVD that we simply forgot to pre-order. But I couldn't find any evidence of the thing's existence in our computer. It was only when a customer indicated that it might have a secondary title, something like The Art of Happiness that I grew suspicious.

It turns out, The Secret is a movie that proposes to teach viewers, over the course of 2 hours, the success technique employed by history's greatest geniuses and achievers. It's available on DVD, but only from this website, but you can also download it to your computer for the low low cost of $5.

The Secret has existed throughout the history of humankind. It has been discovered, coveted, suppressed, hidden, lost and recovered. It has been hunted down, stolen, and bought for vast sums of money. Now for the first time in history, The Secret is being revealed to the world over two breathtaking hours.

Look, people, here's a tip: If someone's offering to sell you history's greatest secret, an understanding so deep and penetrating that it has inspired centuries of searching and conflict, for $20 on a DVD...that person is a liar. Okay?

It takes all of 2 seconds on this website to figure out the obvious branding these charlatans are going for. All the graphics, the copy, the style of the entire enterprise smacks of The Da Vinci Code. They're clearly hoping the same fools who believed the dross in that book will accept this new quasi-historical fiction with the same blank, slack-jawed, unquestioning outlook.

A number of exceptional men and women discovered The Secret, and went on to become known as the greatest people who ever lived. Among them: Plato, Leonardo, Galileo, Napoleon, Hugo, Beethoven, Lincoln, Edison, Einstein and Carnegie, to name but a few.

Hey, where are the women? But besides that blatant discrepancy, doesn't this list sound totally made up? Like a compilation of Great Men of History that someone just threw together. I mean, what do these people even have in common aside from noteriety? Scientists, philosophers, musicians, physicists, businessmen, politicians, astronomers, novelists and generals? Any secret that could apply to all of them would have to be so vague and widely applied, it would be utterly meaningless.

Fragments of The Secret have been found in the oral traditions, in literature, in religions and philosophies throughout the centuries. For the first time, all the pieces of The Secret come together in an incredible revelation which will be life transforming for all who experience it.

Yowza. An incredible revelation which will be life transforming for all who experience it. Just like Kangaroo Jack!

They're really going for the hard sell here. Why do I feel like this copy was composed by Sheldon "The Machine" Levine? "We're offering life-transforming revelations this week, Dan. I'm trying to do you a favor!...Um, Grace, can you get me Socrates on Line 5 and two first-class tickets for myself and Charles Baudelaire to D.C. for next Tuesday?"

Some of today's greatest teachers will be presented in The Secret and will impart this special wisdom that has been known by so few. They include some of the world's leaders in the fields of business, economics, medicine, psychology, history, theology and science.

And by "business, economics, medicine, psychology, history, theology and sicnece," they mean, "a bunch of touchy-feely New Age bullshit." I mean, let's just take one of those claims...Theology? Who are the world's leaders in the field of theology and are they really on this DVD? Does Pope Joey Ratz make an appearance?

Included are; 'Miracle Man' Morris Goodman, who tells his awe inspiring story of how he recovered from paralysis by using The Secret.

This must be how Christopher Reeve walked around in those commercials! And you all thought it was just cheesy special effects...

Dr. Denis Waitley, who used various aspects of The Secret in training Olympic athletes and Apollo astronauts to reach new heights of human endeavour.

I'm surprised that Olympic athletes and Apollo astronauts share the same trainer. Doesn't seem like these two activities would have overlapping skill sets like that. For starters, it's probably unsafe to actually throw a javelin inside a lunar module. Those walls are made of, like, tin foil.

Doctors in the fields of medicine and quantum physics explain the science behind The Secret.

As you can see, the use of The Secret opens up a transdimensional portal, m-hai, in which high speed positrons collide with feel-good vibrations, creating a vortex of wealthonomy and happitude. Glavin!

Best selling authors and philosophers including Bob Proctor, John Assaraf, James Ray and Joe Vitale, explain how they have created lives of phenomenal success utilising The Secret.

To the Google!

Bob Proctor is another bogus self-help guru who runs an outfit called LifeSuccess Productions LLC. Hey, if these guys have the secret to eternal happiness, how come they have to spend so much time hawking merchandise on poorly-designed websites?

Anyway, this creepy Proctor asshole has written a book called "You Were Born Rich." His website declares on a garish blue masthead - "If you can tell me what you want, I can show you how to get it." Bob, I want you to go the fuck away and stop cheating sad, desperate people out of their hard-earned money with your lame, unoriginal collection of useless platitudes and easy answers. Can you show me how to get what I want?

An author, perhaps, if you want to define the term loosely. But he's not exactly Schopenhauer.

John Assaraf runs a ridiculous company called OneCoach that...say it with me now...teaches the secret for getting what you want in the business world! The only guy who would call this idiot a philosopher is maybe David Brent. (Or, for you American fans, Michael Scott.)

James Ray wants to offer you "wealth in all areas of your life." That is, unless they're referring to the assasin who killed Martin Luther King. Becuase, say what you will about that guy, but he was ambitious and knew how to get things done. Here's a taste of this Ray character's heady philosophical writings...

Just like the harmony created by each unique and important instrument in an orchestra causes your emotions to soar (like an eagle rising on an invisible thermal), complete harmony in your life causes your level of happiness, wealth and success to soar.

That kind of sounds like it was written by Stephen Colbert. "Like a majestic eagle rising on an invisible thermal, this War on Terror's about the really take off!" Otherwise, though, this guy's definitely on the level of a Heidegger or, at the very least, John Stuart Mill.

Finally, poor poor Joe Vitale. I'm going to insist you all visit his personal website, which has thus far been the highlight of my day. (And it's getting pretty late.)

Besides being one of the five top marketing specialists in the world today, and the world’s first hypnotic writer, Joe is also a certified hypnotherapist, a certified metaphysical practitioner, a certified Chi Kung healer, and an ordained minister. He also holds a doctorate degree in Metaphysical Science and another doctorate degree in Marketing.

Oh, well, a certified metaphysical practicioner. I had imagined he was the rogue loner of the metaphysical practicioner game, practicioning on his own out there with no licence.

And what the fuck is a hypnotic writer? Does he write while hypnotized? Is he writing prose that will actually hypnotize the viewer? Is it just an entire book saying "You are getting sleepy...your eyelids are getting heavy...look at this picture of a stopwatch and imagine I'm waving it in front of your face...everything's getting dark..."

Seriously, I love that paragraph. I'm going to make it my description in my Blogger profile. It fucking rules. I'd say it's probably the most hilarious resume I've ever seen. I wanna be a certified Chi Kung healer!

Anyway, four testimonials, four egregious lying phonies. I thought this was some great secret! How come they can only get hucksters to appear in their video discussing its intricacies and details? Were Stephen Hawking and Thomas Pynchon unavailable during the week they "borrowed" that camera from Best Buy? You know, before they had to return it to get their money back?

Tonight, a guy came into the store looking for The Secret, and after I told him we didn't carry that title, he actually told me the secret. (He claimed to want the film only to see how the filmmakers are reapplying a very old technique called "visualization.") All of these guys in the film are pitching the same line, which is pretty much a variation on "the power of positive thinking."

As in any kind of visualization exercize, they tell you to imagine the thing you most want in the world all the time as a way of actually achieving that goal. It's the same idea behind the sports psychologist telling his patient to imagine the ball going through the hoop or into the cup. First you see it in your mind, then you reproduce that action in reality.

I don't doubt that this could work on some level, becuase it's built on one of the most simple and logical principles in all of Communication. Humans can detect confidence, even on a subconscious level. Someone's facial expressions, body language, tone of voice and mannerisms communicate as much, if not more, than what they actually say. So if we make an effort to project confidence, people pick up on that and assume we know what we're talking about. Thus, imagining that you are successful will cause people to treat you with respect, which will in turn cause you to become successful.

A-duh. Most clever, alpha-dog individuals figure this out on their own by junior high school. If you talk to girls like a frightened little supplicating puppy dog who desperately wants their companionship, they will not take you seriously. But if you act aloof like you don't care what they think, they won't be able to resist blowing you underneath the stairs in the back of the gymnasium during the Holiday Dance.

(I only figured this out a few weeks ago, but it occurs to most guys much earlier.)

The Secret adds one additional level. You don't just visualize the thing that you want, you actively force yourself to believe that this thing has already happened, much in the way a devout Christian forces him or herself to believe that a man turned water into wine and came back from the dead.

Yeah, it's insane. (At least Christianity has several thousand years of tradition and history.) They encourage you to become delusional, pretending to achieve things that you have not achieved. I think Jon Lovitz used to teach this same technique on "Saturday Night Live."

And the proof they offer for their program's success, before you shell out $20? A few douchetards who have become rich teaching other people about the program. This is like when fundies try to prove stuff in The Bible by quoting from The Bible.

What about all the people who try The Secret and then don't become rich and famous hawking The Secret? They're just walking around with a strong belief that they're millionaire playboys. They're still just braindead slobs! You've now done these people a significant disservice. Before, they were just miserable losers. But now they're miserable losers in an advanced stage of denial.
Well done, Joe "Mr. Fire" Vitale! By the way, that's a stupid nickname! And you look like a doofus! And your poorly-written and unconvincing personal website makes me doubt your abilities as a self-proclaimed marketing genius!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


Every comedy set in the world of college must, by law, rip off certain scenes from Animal House. So I don't fault Accepted for having a generally not funny and tedious final 20 minutes in which the main characters must defend their wacky, sophomoric hijinks in front of a deeply serious panel of crusty old Ivory Tower elitists. It's the law, after all.

I still say someone needs to come blow the lid off the campus comedy genre. There are some hilarious comedies of this style - Old School, Back to School, even PCU - but they're all so stale and predictable at this point, so obviously trying for that old Bluto Blutarsky magic. Accepted is a worthwhile addition to the format, notable because there are so few mainstream comedies coming out of studios that actually work in any way, shape or form. If I could afford higher standards, I'd probably dismiss the film as fluff, but I'll take what I can get.

Here's something that kind of pisses me off. I'm trying to write big, broad, mainstream comedy scripts not unlike Accepted. But when I turn in a script, every little detail has to be figured out. No logical inconsistancies are ever permitted. In my last script before the one I'm currently engaged in revising, I had a car trip from West Hollywood to Manhattan Beach take about 20 minutes. I was told it would be more like 45 and that this would never fly. I also had a character agree to a rather bizarre living situation in order to kickstart my plot and was similarly told that this was way too outlandish and needed to be better explained.

Yet here we have a movie that's not only totally ludicrous from minute one, but blatantly inconsistant. Bartleby Gaines (Justin Long) is presented as kind of a Ferris Bueller figure. An expert liar and a quick thinker, he seems to have high school pretty much all figured out. That doesn't include, unfortunately, the college admissions process. So while his best friend Schrader (Jonah Hill) eagerly awaits his arrival at Harmon College, Bartleby must figure out a way to avoid his father's disappointed wrath.

The whole first act is sloppy. Bartleby's not only smart but clever. If he really didn't get in to any schools, we sense he'd still figure out a way to make it on his own for a semester before applying again. And what kind of parents totally ignore the issue of college until their child graduates high school, then randomly remember to ask what school he or she will be attending one night over dinner?

Anyway, that's just my personal beef about having to write scripts on spec, which is much more exacting in this way than just being well-known and connected already and churning something out. The point is, despite these logistical flaws, Accepted actually works pretty well. It's funny in kind of a sly way. Focusing on character-based comedy and witty dialogue rather than outrageous schtick, impressions, pop culture references or farce means that Steve Pink's directorial debut doesn't come off as desperate for laughs like a lot of other recent comedies.

There are some dopey jokes, sure, but not a lot of really obvious, easy ones. (This may be the first college comedy ever without a single beer joke.)

Bartleby's plan, which involves renting out a mental hospital and revamping it as a de facto college, probably wouldn't work, but Adam Cooper, Bill College and Mark Perez's script makes it just plausible enough to get through 85 minutes. The South Harmon Institute of Technology (S.H.I.T.) starts out as an excuse to get out of the house and play PlayStation, but turns into a community of charming rejects who unite to...well, get out of the house, play PlayStation and skateboard. Oh, and check out hot girls in bikinis.

What I really liked about the set-up was that it gave the characters money to fool around with. (Because students show up at their fictional school with tuition checks, they can actually afford to renovate the building and buy lots of video games and pool toys.) It makes the payoff in the second half much more satisfyting. These kids had a million dollars to play around with. They could have just blown it like everyone expects, but instead they use it try and learn something and better themselves. That's actually kind of an uplifting message for a teen comedy.

Another master stroke was casting Lewis Black as the school's nominal "dean," an ex-academic with a fiery temper and an expertly-tuned bullshit detector. Black's monologues and rants, most of which would have fit in perfectly on "The Daily Show," are some of the highlights of the film.

Finally, the script cleverly cuts back and forth between Bartleby's impromptu experiment in education and his friend Schrader's humiliation at the hands of Harmon's most villainous fratboys. Evil preppy frat boys are the villains in pretty much every college comedy and the ones here in Accepted are totally anonymous and generic. But Hill's a pretty talented comic presence (he'll be seen next in the 40 Year Old Virgin follow-up Knocked Up) and he milks these scenes for all they are worth. (He's the guy in the hot dog suit in the commercial instructing you to question him about his weiner.)

I liked Accepted way more than I expected. It's an above average comedy than never quite rises to the level of hilarity. I doubt I'd ever watch it again, but hey, it kicks the ass of Nacho Libre up and down the block.

The Double Life of Veronique

Each shot, each image, of Krzysztof Kieslowski's 1991 masterpiece The Double Life of Veronique has some deeper significance. His films are so dense with symbols, motifs and subtle threads, you sense this must reflect the way the man actually saw the world - not a random, senseless collision of moving parts, but an elegant and synchronous universe of interconnectivity. In everyday life, we're unable to detect the hand of fate shuttling us all around, so Kieslowski attempts to slow time down in his films, to demonstrate how "coincidence" is really just a convenient euphamism for fate.

The Double Life of Veronique opens with an inverted image. As a young girl, the main character(s) look(s) on a city from upside-down. We see a reverse cityscape, dimly-lit buildings floating above a blue night sky. The film to follow presents an equally capsized perspective, only metaphysical instead of geographical. Everything is recognizable - the people with their jobs and their commutes and their private hopes and dreams, the bustling streets of post-Cold War Paris and Warsaw playing themselves - just as a night sky is still recognizable upside-down. The ingredients are all present but their sense, their order, has been violated.

Kieslowski uses this set-up to provoke. Is the identity crisis at the center of The Double Life of Veronique truly impossible? How could you prove or disprove an unspoken emotional and spiritual bond between strangers? (You couldn't, because the moment the two became aware of one another's existence, they would cease to be strangers.)

Kieslowski presents us with a barrage of surreal-yet-theoretically-possible circumstances, strange events that we all know can and do actually occur, from unlikely coincidences to low-grade extra-sensory perception to the uncanny realism of a well-executed puppet show. He then challenges us with the far-reaching implications. If one logic-defying event is possible, couldn't all of our ideas about what is "reasonable" and what is "irrational" be wrong?

The purposefully vague final sequence in the European cut of the film shows Veronique driving up to a tree while her father works in a woodshop nearby. She moves down her window and touches the tree and her father looks up from his project at the same moment. His tools and equipment are loud so he couldn't have heard his daughter outside, yet he sensed her presence. These sorts of peculiarities do exist, even if we don't fully understand the how's and the why's. So if it's possible for a father to sense his daughter nearby, couldn't two people in different nations who have never met still be somehow connected in a way that defies human understanding?

Gorgeous French actress Irene Jacob opens the film as Weronika, an adventurous and child-like Polish girl auditioning for a position singing in a prestigious Warsaw company. Much of Weronika's brief story focuses on her sensory experience of the world. She delights in holding and bouncing a small rubber ball and in pressing her forehead against a glass window on a chilly day. When her chronic heart troubles act up, she lashes about in a public park, knocking leaves off of benches and short walls. When her life comes to an abrupt halt during a virtuoso choral performance, we feel the thud of her head knocking against the wooden floorboards. Whenever possible, Kieslowski gives the audience insight into Weronika's tactile experience, whether it's dust blowing in her face or the warmth of a glint of sunlight creeping around half-closed blinds.

When Weronika dies, Veronique, a music teacher and singer living hundreds of miles away, gets a strange feeling of loneliness and isolation. It's as if someone close to her had died. Does Kieslowski want to emphasize Weronika's perceptions so that he can then show them transferred into Veronique? Or perhaps he's demonstrating that Weronika is a real person, not a dream or creation of Veronique, but a genuine doppelganger whose fleshy existence offers a challenge to our logic. These two girls never met (though they once came close) and know nothing of one another, yet they are somehow sharing a union of not only soul but body.

Over the next few scenes, Kieslowski will reveal literally dozens of connections between these two women (boht, naturally, played by Jacob). They both lost their mothers at an early age. They both suffer from heart disease. They were born of the same day. They have great musical ability. (One of the most significant connections between the two women is the piece of music Weronika sings on the night of her death. Veronqiue begins teaching it to her pupils soon after.)

But beyond these superficial coincidences, and the fact that specific objects owned by one girl occasionally pass to the other, Weronika and Veronique are tied together by something more. Obviously, they are discussed in tandem because Kieslowski has chosen to make a film about them. But more importantly, the women seem to share inner lives. They both have boyfriends but seek out something more fulfilling than the men in their lives can provide. Specific actions occur to both of them, like watching an old woman cross the street or fidgeting with a ring.

Again, Kieslowski seems to offer something of a rhetorical challenge. It's arguable that there's nothing terrifically unique about Weronika and Veronique. You could probably scrutinize dozens of women throughout Poland and France and find some of the same age who look alike and have similar aspirations, backgrounds and personalities, even names with the same root or origin. Factor in the science of psychology and our understanding of things like archetypes and we begin to understand how much "strangers" can have in common. (Of course, cinema itself is predicated upon common, shared reactions. Filmmakers can reliably make us excited or scared or sad because we all occupy similar emotional planes.) So if we can agree that strangers would have so much in common, why is it so outrageous to make the leap that these connections are more than simplistic and coincidental?

The two girls are not identical. Weronika is more outgoing and bubbly than Veronique, while Veronique seems to have more money and is generally more urban and sophisticated. Impressively, Jacob turns in two unique and individual performances even though she's playing two identical women. Without altering her physical appearance at all, she accurately conveys the shift between Weronika and Veronique. Each woman has a love scene and the differences in body language are immediately noticeable, with Weronika's playfulness directly opposing the colder and more reserved Veronique's.

Kieslowski highlights this notion throughout the film, using backwards and upside-down imagery as well as lots of shots with mirrors and reflective glass. Weronika and Veronique are not the same person, but two people having similar experiences. (An intriguing quesiton is whether Veronique would have suffered the same fate as her twin had she not given up singing.) It's a testament to Kieslowski's originality and inclusive nature. He didn't make a typical psychological thriller about divisions within the mind of the main character and he didn't make a romantic thriller about conflicts within an interpersonal relationship. This is not the story that happens to one or two people. In filming a thriller about individuals who never meet, Kieslowski encompasses not a few individual and idiosyncratic characters but the sum total of humanity.

There's far too much going on in this film to discuss in a blog entry. Long-form papers could (and, I'm sure, have) been written on the subject. At this point, I've seen most of Kieslowski's films and this remains one of my absolute favorites, something of a distillation of some of the guy's more prominant themes and ideas. Though not as overwhelming as experience as the Decalogue or the Three Colors trilogy (though it's close), this may be the best entryway into the guy's sensual and mysterious artistry.