Friday, October 31, 2008

Ebert smack-down round-up

After the controversy of Minutegate, Roger Ebert has found it necessary to redeem himself. In case you had not heard, Ebert "walked out", or rather turned off, a movie after 8 minutes and then wrote a scathing review. At least he was honest enough to mention this in his review, you might say. But this was an independent movie about gay kids with no publicity (until now, anyway), and the weight of Ebert's disproportionately large thumb has the ability to stamp out any prospects for what looks like a well meaning (although, according to Ebert, very poorly made) film.

There is little question, though, that his latest blog posting has fully redeemed him. "I may make mistakes from time to time," Ebert seems to be saying, "but for some critics, their entire career is a mistake." I wonder which critic he was talking about?

Well, it has not taken long for people to figure it out. Ebert, to his credit, never mentions the poor lad's name but makes it absolutely clear who he is talking about. I mean, who else has "friends" throw them a party in Vegas with the "Britney Spears of Korea"? Must be talking about the K-Fed of Korea.

Below is some of the buzz on the blogosphere and beyond. But first, a special shout out to Thighs Wide Shut--the originator of the image above-- with Thumbs Downing His Knows. They seem to have allowed Ben and Harry to take over their entire page.

Second, it is worth pointing out Gawker's critical assessment of Ebert's article. They write:

Then there's this piece of useful advice: "But in hard times like these, do not say, "Reason enough to get it!" Of course in his 2006 review of Take the Lead, [Ebert] says: "That said, Antonio Banderas is reason enough to see the movie."

But this takes Ebert's words totally out of context. What Ebert actually says is this:

It is admirable that the DVD of "Cool Hand Luke" contains an extra where they guess how many eggs Paul Newman ate while filming the egg-eating scene. But in hard times like these, do not say, "Reason enough to get it!"

Anyway, here is a sampling of the rest:

Cinematical: Ebert Lays Down the Law for Critic Conduct

Defamer: Ben Lyons Gleans Valuable Starfucking Tips From Roger Ebert

PopWatch: Roger Ebert savages rule-violating film critics (one critic in particular)

Karina on SpoutBlog: Roger Ebert’s Code For Critics: Don’t Be Ben Lyons

The Portland Mercury: The Eeb Has No Patience for Hackery

Movie Man: Roger's Rules for Critics

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Don't Feed the Lyons describes the release of the Burn After Reading DVD:

From Joel and Ethan Coen, the Academy Award®-winning directors of No Country For Old Men and The Big Lebowski, comes this brilliantly clever and endlessly entertaining movie that critics are calling, "smart, funny, and original" (Ben Lyons, E!).

C'mon, guys, don't do that, you are only encouraging him. Besides, this was a decent movie. I am sure you could find a more worthy critic to blurb than that.

Worse than Ben Lyons - This guy

I don't know who he is, but he is a nut comparing gay marriage supporters with Hitler. Remember to Vote No on Prop 8 (if you live in California) and then encourage your gay and lesbian friends to get married outside of this guy's church on Sunday morning:

PS The Yes on 8 idiots keep spreading nonsense about how keeping gay marriage in California is going to mean that children are going to be taught about it in schools. Of course, that is ridiculous, but I say, so what? You teach them about straight marriage, why not gay marriage? Maybe a princess can marry a princess (as the commercials say), is that going to bring the end of civilization?

Is Ben Lyons the Sarah Palin of Movie Critics?

This is the latest from Criticwatch. He starts by quoting Lyons:

“It’s really important to tell people to go out and see W. so they can talk about it and have an opinion about it and this freedom of speech of course that allows us to go and talk about a film about a current sitting president.”

He then continues:

It’s official. Ben Lyons is the Sarah Palin of film criticism. Honestly, if I told you that came from the Katie Couric interview series you would believe it. THIS freedom of speech. You know that whole thing? That crazy little amendment that allows both Ben Lyons to say dumbass things about movies and guys like me to find new ways to write him up until producers come to their senses and replace him with somebody qualified to use it.

Other ways that Lyons is the Palin of film critics?
- He is the far lesser sidekick of a pair facing long odds at success.
- He told Microsoft "Thanks, but no thanks," to that Xbox advertising deal.
- John McCain thinks he is totally qualified to host At the Movies.
- He can field dress himself.
- He can see the Hollywood sign from his house.
- It's all about job creation.

Any other ideas?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Worse than Ben Lyons - Elizabeth Dole

In defense of the ignorant American voter, it's time to take a look at the scare-mongering Republican politician. It looks like some people have not learned their lesson from the backlash John McCain has found from stupid tactics like these.

The voice at the end saying "There is no God," is supposed to sound like Kay Hagan, Elizabeth Dole's opponent in the North Carolina Senate race.

The big dog smacks down the poodle

Roger Ebert slams Ben Lyons without even mentioning his name. Oh yes he did.

Roger's little rule book for critics is a lesson in how to avoid becoming Ben Lyons. Readers of this blog will likely recognize some of the references Ebert makes.

He starts with:

We can't be too careful. Employers are eager to replace us with Celeb Info-Nuggets that will pimp to the mouth-breathers, who underline the words with their index fingers whilst they watch television. As the senior newspaper guy still hanging onto a job, I think this task falls upon me.

And continues:

Keep track of your praise. If you call a movie "one of the greatest movies ever made," you are honor-bound to include it in your annual Top Ten list. Likewise, for example, if we describe a film as "the most unique movie-going experience of a generation," and "one of the best films of 2007, and of the last 25 years," it's our duty to put it in the Top Ten of 2007.

But here is where it gets really good. Recognize any of this behavior?

Accept no favors. For example, if some "friends" throw you a birthday party at a classy Vegas joint they hope to fill with movie stars who are your "friends," say thanks, but no thanks. That crosses the line, even if the "Britney Spears of Korea" truly is your close personal friend. Your only real friends come to the party you throw for yourself in the activities room of your condo building, and they bring their own booze. [Note; If the Britney Spears of Korea is the real thing, Britney Spears should be known in Korea as the BoA Kwan of America.]
. . .
No commercial endorsements. This used to be a given in journalism ethics. A critic must be especially vigilant. If you express approval of a product, you must sincerely believe what you are saying. How will we know you're sincere?
. . .
No posing for photos! Never ask a movie star to pose with you for a picture. No movie star ever wants to do this. They may smile, but they're gritting their teeth. "It is the Chinese Water Torture," Clint Eastwood told me.
. . .
Sit down, shut up, and pay attention. No cellphone use. No texting during the movie. No talking out loud. No sucking up the last Coke out of the Kidney-Buster.

You rule, Roger Ebert.

Richard Dreyfuss - Worse than Ben Lyons?

Possibly, for this week anyway.

You rarely hear an actor--even a good actor--criticize the movie they are in while it is still out. Not that I entirely disagree with Dreyfuss--W. is 6/8 of a great movie (or, if you prefer, 3/4), and the ending is off, and it won't have a long-lasting historical impact. But I think it is a decent movie and calling Oliver Stone a "fascist" is a bit out of line.

HuffingtonPost won't let me embed video, as far as I can tell, but you can find the link here to his appearance on The View.

Most actors won't even attack an old movie they were in, unless it was a real dog, like George Clooney in Batman & Robin. I remember when the Beverly Hillbillies movie came out, Cloris Leachman did an interview saying how clever she thought the original TV show was.

At least Dreyfuss was honest enough to say that he only did the movie for money. Maybe we will hear a mea culpa from Dreyfuss in the next few days about how he smoked crack before going on The View and didn't mean anything he said. We'll see . . .

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

I didn't do this!

Seriously, I didn't. But I did notice, in a friendly review of this blog, that Ben's Wikipedia page has been, shall we say, "altered". The review mentions that this was done at least as early as Monday night, and almost 24 hours later it has only gotten worse. Here is a snippet:

To most of his friends and acquaintances, Ben is considered a douche bag for his boisterous attitude and overabundance of self-love. However, to the general public (and to himself, but only on lonely Thursdays), Ben is known as The Infamous Quote Whore, a.k.a. Ben Lyons, Super-Mega Douche. Lyons first earned his incredibly accurate moniker on the playground in second grade, when a recess bully attack on a then eight-year-old Ben was quickly thwarted by his father's ever-expanding cheque book. Upon being saved, Ben exclaimed, "Intense! Incredible! The best recess of all-time!" and was then quoted in the school news paper the following Monday. He has since made a complete "career" out of his simple, uninspired talent to provide interchangeable adjectives in any given situation.

Oh, it gets worse, see for yourself. I may be critical and sarcastic, but I avoid being mean-spirited or offensive. Unless it is deserved.

Again, don't blame me. I never touch the Wikipedia--I know somebody who did try to alter something once with good intentions only to have it immediately reset. Very frustrating. So I am pretty surprised this has sustained itself for so long. But there it is.

Worse than Ben Lyons?

Oh yes, you can do much worse than Ben Lyons. I mean, just to be fair. For example, it must be said that Ben is by far not the worst film critic associated with Jeffery Lyons. Mediocrity isn't enough--it takes a particular sort of evil to stoop that low into the depths of hell.

Then why pick on Ben? Because he has helped destroy my cherished At The Movies. Once that train wreck has been canceled or Lyons is replaced, and that can't be any more than six months to a year, I can put this blog to rest. In the meantime, I have a mission.

On that note, and in light of the current election season, I will have some "worse than Lyons" postings just to keep things in perspective.

First up, the lunatic right-wing American voter! Not all of them, of course. This one, form Virginia, is likely going to feel awful lonely down there once Obama wins that state on election day, which he probably will. That doesn't stop idiots like these from spewing their filth with a proud ignorance:

Burn, Hollywood, burn

rocket. describes her Public Enemy Number One (and it ain't Flava Flav):

I’m not just hating on Ben because of a shitty resume, a career forged almost entirely on the basis of being aggressively mediocre, and a truly heinous exhibition of Hollywood nepotism. I’m hating on Ben because he seems to have no desire to reach beyond this things. And I’m also hating on him because, at the “Transformers” premiere last summer, he spent the entire after-party discussing his stylist’s choice of footwear for the evening, turning down free churros, and waving at famous people he loudly called his friends – who then ignored him and ran (Andy Samberg and Seth Green were two of these people). . . [T]he second Ben Lyons opens his mouth, there is only thing that is apparent – he desperately wants to be cool. He desperately wants to be popular. And he is desperately afraid that any statement, opinion, or view that is not every shade of vanilla will destroy his ability to be any of those things. He’s also an asshole. . . Like a Herpes outbreak, he tends to pop up when you least expect him to, when it’s least appropriate, when it’s most painful. Like at a screening of “Battle in Seattle” at the Landmark. Like at a Q&A where a moderator is entirely unnecessary (and unwelcome).

Oh, Ben Lyons . . . couldn't you stop being a poser for just a couple minutes?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Lyons lowlights

A few choice nuggets of unwisdom from this weekend's At The Movies:

High School Musical 3:
Ben recommends "Rent it" because if you have kids who are fans of the series you may not have much of a choice but to see it, "Even though it may be cringe inducing for the rest of us." I am pretty sure that Ben includes himself among "us", which begs the question, why would you recommend a movie that is "cringe inducing"? Maybe he is worried about alienating his base over at E!

Pride and Glory
"I want some violence. I want some chase scenes." Yes, we all know that there is not enough of that in movies these days. I mean, if I see another overtly complicated drama with challenging ideas soaking up all the space at the multi-plex, I don't know what I am going to do.

"Some of the British humor went right over my head . . ." Nuff said.

W. (as part of 3-to-see):
You should go see it because it is "free speech" (whatever that means) and it is, "One of the most important films of our generation." Don't get me wrong, I liked W., probably more than a lot of Bush critics. But it is not exactly a probing analysis of American politics--most of the criticisms are pretty timid and mainstream--especially compared to all of the documentaries released in the last few years that actually hit US policy pretty hard. I think Ben just doesn't know how to appreciate a film without gushing, in the hopes that he can blurb his way onto a movie poster.

Friday, October 24, 2008

A video game expert as well

This press release was posted by FishbowlLA:

Last night in Hollywood, CA, Ben Lyons, film critic for E! Entertainment and host of At the Movies, hung out with friends and played some of Xbox 360's most anticipated entertainment games for this holiday. He put his movie knowledge to the test playing Scene It? Box Office Smash and showed his friends how to star in their own movie with You're in the Movies on Xbox 360.

Now, who in the world gets a press release sent out about them using a product? Oh, yeah, Ben Lyons . . . I guess Microsoft thought this would be cheaper than paying for a fake blurb.

Of course, playing video games might be difficult when Roger Ebert won't let you use your thumbs.

Top Films of the Summer

Hmm, I wonder what would have pushed The House Bunny up to the top five of Ben Lyons’ Top 10 Summer ‘08 Films:

8. The House Bunny: Even though my dialogue was cut out of the film, Anna Faris was the funniest actresses at the movies this summer, hands-down.

I guess it was an honor just to be considered for a speaking role . . .

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Criticwatch quote of the week

There are several, but this is the choice one:

You know what hurts a movie like Max Payne is the success of the Batman franchise. That obviously is about story and character so they think for all films of the genre it’s gotta be about story and character and this whole backstory of him losing his wife. I don’t care about that. I wanna see Max Payne shoot people. That’s all I want from a movie like this.

Erik Childress goes on to write that: "Once again, Lyons is confusing the difference between the elements themselves and how they are portrayed."

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Ben Lyons turn 27, mental age turns 14

Get out your beer bong, folks, it's gonna be a kegger!

E! TV personality Ben Lyons celebrated his birthday Saturday night at Body English for Smashtime, which he hosts weekly along with the co-stars of the Daily 10 (Photo by Erik Kabik). Lyons was joined by celebrity friends including Sopranos star Jamie Lynn Sigler, Aaron Yoo from the movie 21, Korean singer and the Britney Spears of Korea, BoA Kwon and Smashtime hosts Clinton Sparks and Sal Masekela. Lyons was presented with a birthday cake, in where Body English staff surrounded him with sparklers

Ben is accurately described as an "E! TV personality" and NOT as a movie reviewer. It does, however, mention that the party was attended by "the Britney Spears of Korea". Dude, I didn't realize you had friends in high places.

Ebert apologizes

Roger Ebert apologizes for panning an independent film after watching only eight minutes of it. This is an interesting article which is very honest in that it not only makes up for a mistaken review but also delves into the responsibility of the film critic to both the audience and the filmmakers.

Now, when will Ben Lyons apologize for the enormous mistakes he has inflicted on all of us?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Ben Lyons is an inconsiderate moron

The Sudden and Surprising Death of At the Movies!

. . . Ben Lyons, on the other hand, is a handsome kid. He's lovable, like a retarded puppy dog. And its nice to see him upholding the family tradition, just like the son of a doctor or a lawyer might do. And he's nice. He always comes with this blinding white smile. Thing is, I've seen him at critic screenings before. He likes to stand up before the film starts and talk really loud. He's not the only one, a lot of press and on-line critics are guilty of this. In a movie theater, where he is shouting over the crowd, I can't turn him off. Never one to agree with the overly simplistic way he describes the films he likes, it sucks to see him on the TV, now occupying space on what was once one of my favorite TV shows. When I worked at E!, he'd run around the halls, claiming to be some kind of Movie Expert. But ask him a question, and he'd just give you one of those retarded puppy dog, blank eyed stares. He really didn't know that much about film. Still, I was sort of happy for him. Because, being nice does go a long way. A handshake here, a "hey, how's it going?" there. The kid did good. Great. So what if he's a lousy look at me critic? But then, Ben Lyons sat down next to me at the Towelhead screening. And I lost any respect I had for him as a televised film critic right then and there. Because he obviously hadn't studied his predecessor's guide to filmgoing etiquette.

Mr. Lyons remained on his cell phone for the entire duration of Towelhead. While he wasn't talking on the phone, he did spend most of the two hour running time click-typing out texts. His head was continuously pulled down, face away from the screen. His zombie-like eyes bathed in that annoying bright blue light. He then later went on to give the film a "Don't See It" review on his show . . .

Weekly words of un-wisdom

Just noticed this new web page on which looks promising. Hopefully, it will not turn out to be too "overtly complicated" to follow.

Ben Lyons tackles third show

Just in case this "movie review" stuff doesn't work out . . .



Tuesday, August 12th 2008, 4:00 AM
Ben Lyons

Ben Lyons

Ben Lyons, film critic and entertainment correspondent on the E! Network and new co-host of the syndicated program "At the Movies," is adding one more line to his résumé: host of Nickelodeon's "My Family's Got GUTS."

But the busiest man in Hollywood says he's having too much fun to realize it's all work.

"I work hard, but it doesn't feel like a job," Lyons, 26, told the Daily News yesterday from Orlando, Fla., where "GUTS" is in production. "I take it seriously, it's a responsibility, but I get to watch movies and talk to celebrities for a living. I'm the luckiest guy in the world."

"My Family's Got GUTS" is an updated version of the network's hit extreme sports competition series from the '90s. In its latest incarnation, "GUTS" will feature families instead of individual competitors, and the season will be organized into two 11-episode tournaments.

"'My Family's Got GUTS' celebrates sports and fun, healthy competition and lifestyle, while building on Nickelodeon's history of creating topnotch game shows for kids and their families," said the network's executive vice president of original programming development, Marjorie Cohn. "The series that asks, 'Do You Have It?' will challenge families to get active and use teamwork to prove they have what it takes to win."

Australian TV personality Asha Kuerten will be Lyons' co-host.

Lyons says he was a huge fan of the original series and couldn't wait to try out some of the new-and-improved challenges, including something called the Air Slalom.

"I got to test that out this morning," Lyons said. "Basically, you're hooked up to a snowboard and you go through a giant slalom course while you're 25 feet in the air. It's snowboarding without the snow. For a kid from New York who never got on a mountain until he went to Sundance, to snowboard and actually be good at it was a real thrill."

Though Lyons' day job at E! still gives him a thrill - he says he still gets "starstruck" - he's having the time of his life running around the "GUTS" set, interviewing kids who are just as excited to be there as he is.

"The kids aren't trained to talk in sound bites, and sometimes they freeze up on the cameras a little bit, but they don't mind if you ask them personal questions," said Lyons on how the "GUTS" contestants compare to the Hollywood fare he normally deals with.

"But I'd love to see someone like Charlize Theron come on the show and make her way through Avalanche Peak and deal with the frozen stalagmites."

Monday, October 20, 2008

Student, meet the Master

Ben Lyons says that he watches a movie every day.

Roger Ebert, on the other hand, can review an entire film after watching only 8 minutes.

That is a level of efficiency only a master can attain. Step aside, young man.

OMG, ur so kewl!

Ben: Dude, it's me and Harry Potter!

Daniel: Who the f#$! is this dork?

Why stop Ben Lyons?

July 21st 2008, a day to live in infamy. We have been subjected to so much nonsense since then, especially out of the mouth of Ben Lyons.

I did not expect much from the post-Ebert At The Movies--I could not help but think that the "new direction" the show was going would not be a good one, especially after hearing something about more red carpet interviews. But as a long time viewer, I had little choice in the matter.

I have not been eager to watch At The Movies since then, only catching bits of it on occasion because that is what I am so used to doing on Sunday night at 6:30pm. I was immediately unimpressed and not eager to watch again.

But this past Sunday I turned it on out of habit and realized that the situation is just no longer tenable. Not only do I need a more serious film review show on TV, but more importantly BEN LYONS NEEDS TO BE STOPPED! He is making a mockery of one of the hallowed institutions of popular American film-going.

In particular, two reviews stuck out. First, on the new movie What Just Happened starring De Niro as a Hollywood agent, Ben goes so far as to say that he liked it because he is a Hollywood insider but he cannot recommend it to most people who might not understand it. This is preposterous, offensive nonsense. The role of the critic, as Roger Ebert once wrote, is not only to reflect popular opinion but also to shape it. If a critic enjoys a movie, they should say why and defend it. If the majority of the audience might not follow it, it is the job of the critic to urge them to view more movies (or literature or theatre or whatever) not to dumb down their recommendations to the lowest common denominator. Ben even says that it "Doesn't have the commercial appeal of something like Entourage. It's a little more adult than that."

Gee Ben, are you just trying to tap into the commercial appeal of a movie and ride its coattails, or are you willing to say why a movie which might not have commercial appeal--starring De Niro, Sean Penn, and Bruce Willis!--is worth seeing. Granted, I am sure it is no I Am Legend . I guess this is Buena Vista Entertainment's method of appealing to young people--dumb it down. Oh, and by the way Ben, you are NOT that much smarter than the rest of us. Not by a long shot.

In another review of The Secret Life of Bees, Ben seems to have no grasp of what makes a movie worth seeing. He defends it by saying it is about acceptance, understanding, etc. then accuses his co-star of not understanding or caring about these issues because he did not like it! Again, his co-star says there is no compelling reason to see this film, to which Ben (Lyons) responds that seeing a young actress (Dakota Fanning) at this stage in her career is reason enough.

What?! I am not defending or slamming the movie--I have not seen it. But this is not film criticism--this is talking about a film. But, to cite Ebert again, a movie is not what it's about, it is how it's about it. Ben's reviews, on the other hand, wallow in third grade book report territory. We need a seasoned mind with a firm grasp of how a film works and an ability to help others appreciate it.

This needs to stop NOW. Buena Vista Entertainment made a huge mistake in taking the show in a "new direction". By the way, I started watching this show in high school, when it was Siskel & Ebert, and I never thought twice about the age of the guys I was watching. I loved it because they, like me, loved movies and new a hell of a lot about them--much more than I did.

It is time to bring that back.

What is the greatest movie ever made?

Citizen Kane, of course. "That's the official answer," according to Roger Ebert, in a very thoughtful article on what is a great movie and what is a critic's favorite movie.

Our Ben is no prisoner to fashion, though, as evidenced by the poster for I Am Legend, shown below. That is Ben's blurb at the top:

I cannot help but wonder at what point some ad exec will find this to be just a bit too hyperbolic and unbelievable. There comes a point when people see through this sort of nonsense and won't believe anything on the poster. Unfortunately, fawning and self-congratulations will get you very far in Hollywood.

Ben's resume

This is the guy who replaced Roger Ebert on "At The Movies". Seriously.

Born and raised in New York City, after checking out a few semesters at The University Of Michigan (Go Blue!), and working in the music business in NYC, I bounced to LA and changed my life forever. I'll always love my New York Knicks, Post, subways, bagels, Central Park, street vendors from Senegal, you name it. All that. Shout out to my family, Lil' Hannah, The Power Pack, Dylan McKay, Redman, Chris Childs, Ricky Slade, Momager, Elton Brand, Big Ian Ziering, Coach Voelkel, Diddy, Iqball up in Blimpie's, Rocky from Cavs, The Clipse, Mobb Deep, Al Gore and anybody else out there making a difference and making it rain at the same time. Holla at me day or night, Come hang out next time you are in Las Vegas. I do it big at SMASHTIME Saturdays at The Hard Rock Hotel with me, Clinton Sparks, and Big Brother Sal Masekela. Get Familiar with The Daily Ten!!! You don't see Access Hollywood in the club, right? Go Knicks... BL

Also, according to his Wikipedia page: Lyons plays basketball and golf and deejays every week at L.A. social venues the Dime and the Roosevelt Hotel.

Couldn't they have just walked into another club and found another DJ? Aren't these guys a dime-a-dozen in L.A.? Oh yeah, I forgot his most important qualification.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

My God, it's full of stars!

Ben Lyons, poser with famous people.

I have to admit, I don't know who many of these people are. And I think calling fellow E! hosts "stars" is a bit of a stretch.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Turning ordinary people into punch lines

THE BEST documentary films seek out fascinating subjects unfamiliar to the audience whose stories allow us to take a fresh look at the world. Comedian Bill Maher, star of the film Religulous, certainly seems to think he has found such a subject--himself.

In fact, the entire film plays like a stand-up comedy act where the people he is interviewing are just as often the punch lines as Maher's condescending comments. The result is a film that does little to illuminate religion in modern life and politics and is often downright reactionary.

The fundamental problem with Religulous is that Maher's focus is on interviewing religious people in order to expose how stupid they are--especially compared to such a clever interviewer as himself--while he never attempts to take a deeper look at the social circumstances behind religious ideas and institutions.

At least three of his interviewees express exasperation on camera that they felt ambushed by his film and didn't realize that his line of questioning would be so harsh toward their beliefs. In the meantime, Maher throws out a series of pre-rehearsed zingers to ridicule his unsuspecting subjects.

Presumably, Maher, an opponent of George W. Bush and the Iraq war, sees himself as an anti-religious Michael Moore. But while Moore has his own brand of smugness, he is much better at finding interesting subjects who can speak for themselves. Moore also has respect for working-class people and avoids ridiculing their opinions when they are working through their contradictions.

There is a world of difference between Moore's ambush of gun-nut Charlton Heston--who certainly had a little idea of what he was getting himself into when he agreed to be interviewed for Bowling for Columbine--and Maher's accosting of Christian truck drivers in their makeshift chapel. That is, while Moore attempts to show the stupidity of the powers-that-be, Maher is focused on showing the stupidity of the little guy.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

MAHER IS not only condescending, he is also a hypocrite. Even though he is an agnostic who is opposed to institutional religion, he is also a Zionist. This may be one of the reasons why he doesn't investigate the political views of evangelical Christians more closely, as they would agree with him on the need to defend Israel, and focuses on ridiculing their theology instead.

Furthermore, Maher never questions the lunatic fantasies of Orthodox Jewish Zionists in Israel and their often violent, racist and theocratic attitudes. Instead, he interviews a Jewish rabbi wearing a Palestinian flag pin who is an anti-Zionist--as though he is the crazy one!

The film dishonestly edits one of his responses to make him appear dismissive of the Holocaust and plays up his associations with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Though the rabbi refuses to be caricatured, his views aren't investigated much further, as Maher storms out of the interview after he is himself exasperated. Apparently, Maher was even less prepared for this interview than the Christian truckers he ambushed earlier.

This line of thinking is brought to its logical conclusion toward the end of the film with a discussion of Islam. While most religions are made to appear merely stupid, Islam is presented as inherently violent and dangerous, in particular by a representative of the World Court at The Hague, who explicitly says, "Islam is a violent religion."

In discussing criticisms of religions versus violent responses in defense of them, Maher asserts, "The people who do the killing usually wind up on the Muslim side," conveniently forgetting all of the Muslims who have found themselves victims of U.S. and Israeli policies. And when a Muslim woman he tells this to insists that not all Muslims are violent, the film cuts to Maher telling the camera that he thinks Muslims only say this sort of thing in public but in private they know there is something wrong with their religion.

He goes on to question Muslims about violent passages in the Koran and even refers to it as an imperialist religion that at one point ruled a large part of the world! Even more shocking, in a discussion of the "Islamic threat" to Israel, the film points out that there are 1 billion Muslims in the world but only 14 million Jews. One might be forgiven for concluding, after hearing Maher, that the Holocaust was perpetrated by the Islamic Middle East and not the "enlightened" Christian West.

If "religulous" ideas are an irrational belief in improvable supernatural phenomena, then Bill Maher's views should be identified as "areligulous"--irrationally opposed to religion, Islam in particular. Had he taken a moment to investigate his own prejudices, he might realize that he is spouting the same sort of offensive nonsense about Islam as Jewish Zionists and evangelical Christians.

Instead, Maher makes the same mistake as the militant atheist Christopher Hitchens--by demonizing the "enemy religion," he makes the reactionary forces among the dominant religion all that much stronger.

Several documentaries have been released in recent years with an interesting take on religion, including Hell House, Devil's Playground and Jesus Camp. All of these take a critical look at religion in the lives of young people but also allow the subjects to speak for themselves.

This does not keep the filmmakers from clearly criticizing what we are seeing, but in the end we get a much more nuanced and interesting picture of the people behind the ideas. We are allowed to sympathize with the individuals in the movies but we are also given an honest look at both the attraction and the torment behind religious beliefs.

Religulous does none of these things. Ultimately, it is a vanity project by a comedian who provides a shallow commentary that is more condescending than funny and more effective at justifying the status quo than challenging it.

W(hat, he worry?)

Oliver Stone's "W." doesn't probe as deep into the psyche of his subject as his "Nixon" does, but Stone makes the case--convincingly--that there is not much depth to probe.

Granted, there are some cartoonish elements, in particular the portrayal of Condoleeza Rice and a few obligatory scenes that don't add much to the film--the famed pretzel incident, for example. In a sense, it threatens to devolve into a "lowlights" of the Bush presidency, where every "misunderestimated" sentence spoken by the President is given a chance to air. Josh Brolin's protrayal, though, is spot-on. Sure it is a bit of a caricature, but what exactly have we seen over the last 8 years? Brolin takes Bush's voice and mannerisms and gives us a new look at him behind the cameras--a bit buffoonish, but just enough so to make him believable AND ridiculously funny.

But "W." is at its best where it really should be at its worst--lengthy staff meetings in the White House with the cabinet discussing war strategy. This ought to fail miserably, but instead these scenes are a fascinating portrayal of the various tensions and opinions that played out in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq. In moments like these Bush seems completely out of his element--not a simpleton too stupid understand the issues, but a simple man with a very simplistic view of the world. When it all unravels, he just cannot understand why people don't appreciate him more.

There is little political context to the events that play out, although this is a part of the lead character's narrow world view. For example, there is almost no discussion of the Democrats role in the Iraq War, although we do get a scene of all the major Dem's--Clinton, Kerry, Dodd, Biden, and Kennedy--applauding Bush's State of the Union preceding the 2003 invasion. Junior's relationship with his Dad is similarly overplayed a bit in terms of understanding the man, though it is portrayed well with James Cromwell as "H.W.".

Finally, it must have been hard to write an ending, considering the timing of the release, but the one that was chosen was especially confusing and dissatisfying. Nonetheless, "W." maneuvers its way around a number of even larger pitfalls to make it well worth seeing.