Sunday, February 22, 2009

Review: Religulous

Rich Knight
101 Mins
No Rate
Starring: Bill Maher, Larry Charles
Produced by: Bill Maher, Jonah Smith, and Palmer West
Written by: Bill Maher
Directed by: Larry Charles
Lions Gate Entertainment

Everybody already knows that religion is a touchy topic, so we don’t need a movie to tell us that. (Especially one with the keeping-it-real-comedian, Bill Maher). But the wonderful thing about Religulous is that it’s so entertaining that I can’t even think of the most devout Jesus freak who wouldn’t smile at least once watching this film.

The Movie: 5 Stars

Bill Maher is a genius. No matter what you might have thought of Politically Incorrect or what you currently think of Real Time With Bill Maher, he’s a genius, and this is not something I ever thought before watching this movie. But the brilliant thing about this documentary, which, as noted in the commentary (More on that later), was NOT included in the Academy’s list of best docs of last year, is that it manages to give a clear, defining point against religion and still be completely entertaining. I attribute that to Maher’s capability to not be malicious about his beliefs, and to talk to intelligent, passionate, and undoubtably kind people who are willing to put their faith on the line and talk to (And I’m serious about this) a modern day Socrates; one who doesn’t pull any punches and most importantly, asks the key question of, “Just how do really you know?” It’s the responses that he gets from that question that make this movie stand head over shoulders over any other answer-seeking doc in the past five years or so.

You see, because unlike somebody like Michael Moore, Maher goes in with a clear set of ideas but doesn’t lord them over the people he interviews. Instead, he asks his questions, waits for a response, and judges his next question on what that person had to say before he starts judging whether they know what their talking about or not. Really, if anything, Religulous is a film about a man seeking answers for why he feels Atheism is the way to go, instead of a back-handed slap to any religion that opposes it. Case in point is a scene with a Jesus recreationist in Florida who dresses and acts the part of the savior. Maher is never condescending to the man and even admits that his comparison of the blessed trinity to water being a liquid, solid, and a gas, is a pretty good explanation for it, even though he doesn’t completely buy it. On the flip side of things though is Micheal, I’m right and you’re wrong, Moore, who would have probably cut that scene out, as it gives the naysayers something to point out as being a good counter-argument against his points.

Not to say that I don’t like Micheal Moore or anything like that (I even get his newsletter), but Religulous, even though there’s no real connection to him and this movie, is the anti-Micheal Moore documentary, as it doesn’t have a clear agenda to rally against the people, but rather, just rally against the ideas that these people have set in place. In that way, I think less people would be offended by this film than say a, Bowling for Colombine as it doesn’t make the people who support their cause look like complete idiots, but rather, like people who believe in something and just haven’t seen the other side of things. Sure, Maher could have taken the easy path to get his points across by showing slack-jawed rednecks in the Bible belt area, but he doesn’t want to show the lowest common denominator. No, he wants to show politicians, scientists, and even (tried to show, at least) the Pope, just to see what their responses would be to some pretty literal questions.

But the best thing about this film, which is usually the best thing about any documentary with a point, is that you feel that you actually learned something at the end of it. I’m not talking about anything that would make a Catholic priest throw in their collar or anything like that, but questions that might make some people start to question certain things that they might not have ever questioned before, as it made me do, a life-long Catholic. If that’s what Maher set out to do, then he succeeded. On more levels than he may ever know.

The Disc: 5 Stars

Not only is Bill Maher a genius, but he’s also one of the most interesting people in the world to listen to, as heard by the commentary on the disc as well as his “Monologues Around the World” special features. The commentary is especially something special as him and director, Larry Charles, are cracking jokes from the very onset of the movie, even talking about how hard it was to “film” the beginning sequence of the Lions Gate logo with all the shifty gears and such. Maher and Charles continue on this comedic path, riffing on some of the people they interviewed, complaining about not being nominated for an Oscar, and bringing up the movie Casablanca any chance they get. If anything, it makes for some interesting discussion points throughout the entirety of the film.

One thing I would have liked to hear Maher talk more about, though, is the sections he filmed in the Muslim parts of the world. When watching the movie, I was seriously worried for Maher’s safety in those parts where he wasn’t taking seriously something some of the people there take VERY seriously—deathly serious, even—but he never really got to it. I guess it’s not as serious as the media makes it out to be. Also of interest is their take on which kind of religious people might have voted for Obama or not, which makes for some pretty hilarious asides during the commentary.

Next is the “Monologues Around the World,” feature, which is a nice added bonus as the scenes, which were far too long to ever include in the movie, still seem necessary to Maher’s overall thesis that he thinks religion is dumb. All of monologues bring his points closer to defining his tenets on Atheism and doubt, and might have made the movie even more controversial if they were actually kept in the film. And finally, the deleted scenes, while interesting, once again prove to be delete worthy in their existence, as most of them feature his guests talking more than Maher himself, which is never a good idea when you have such a master entertainer in the room. Trailers for other Lionsgate pictures round out the rest of the disc, but none of those movies look nearly as interesting as Religulous itself, which is usually the case with such a great film as this.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Reading Fairy Sprinkles Her Magic on the Washington Township Area

On a normal given day, Margaret Harmon likes to dress up in one of her many fairy outfits and head to a local school to reprise her role as “The Reading Fairy.”

But she’s not just doing this for kicks.

“I have a vision to create a literary icon,” Harmon says.

Lofty goals indeed, but one Harmon doesn’t see herself giving up on anytime soon.

“[I want kids to] see the Reading Fairy, and say ‘wow, reading is cool,’” Harmon says.

Starting her work as the Reading Fairy six years ago after seeing that her son had trouble finding an interest in reading, she got the inspiration for her character from a scene in the movie, You’ve Got Mail.

“I was sitting in bed one night, and the movie came on, and Meg Ryan just put on this silly hat and began to read to the kids and they were just captivated,” Harmon says.

Since that time, Harmon has gone to local schools in the area and has done projects with the kids from kindergarten to third grade, each time giving out a prize at the end of the story from her “Magic Reading Box.”

“I won’t let the teacher peek in it and I make her hold it until the end,” Harmon says.

Inside the box is a small gift for every student that connects the entire lesson together. One such prize from this purple mystery box, for example, contained a plastic snowflake for the book, Axle Annie, as snow is a common theme in the story. The word of the day was “perseverance,” and that too had a connection to the story, as “a snow flake has to persevere to get to the ground,” Harmon says.

The many plastic snowflakes didn’t come cheap though, and paying for it came completely out of pocket, as well as the cross-country trips she made to New Orleans to read to Katrina victims, as well as to Colorado to read to children in military schools.

Harmon has taken on a second job as a distributor in a greeting card company just to pay for it all.

Still, she thinks it’s all worth it to see children warm up to reading.

“[The military school represented] the final part of our beta test [to see if my character would work abroad],” Harmon says, “And I’ve found that kids really like the concept of the Reading Fairy.”

So much so, in fact, that Harmon has actually written a book that she hopes to self-publish of the adventures of her character called, Saving the Reading Fairy. It’s about reading books over the summer, a topic that she says many teachers have a hard time getting their students to appreciate at the end of the year.

And following that book will be another story, this one featuring the return of the Reading Fairy’s antagonist, Brainrotter.

“I don’t know if we’ll take the traditional publishing route with this next one,” Harmon says.”

One thing Harmon doesn’t want to do though is steal the thunder from any other literary market that tries to get children to read, as she supports any avenue that gets kids interested in literature.

“I’m not out there to reinvent the wheel,” Harmon says, citing examples of other organizations such as Scholastic that has Clifford the Big Red Dog as their mascot, “[But] My hope is that a child can walk into the library and get that warm and fuzzy feeling whenever they see the Reading Fairy.”


Community Works Together To Help Child In Need

It might take a village to raise a child, but as exhibited by St. Joseph’s School in Mendham, the non-profit organization, Healing the Children, and the Sisters of Christian Charity, it takes the love and awareness of a single community to actually take care of one.

“We act as what we call host parents,” says Sister Immaculata Arboline of the Sisters of Christian Charity about taking in children that Healing the Children arranges for them, “Healing the Children will provide transportation to and from the hospital, and we’ll provide the room and board,” says Sister Immaculata.

The child in question is three year old Ismerlin Mercedes Vasquez, who came all the way from the Dominican Republic just to get treatment. Ismerlin is part of Healing the Children’s International Inbound program, where children are brought in from around the world for medical problems that are untreatable in their country, but may have a solution here.

“She was about 18 months old [when we first took her in]” says Sister Immaculata, who also took in another child named Samir last year from Egypt. “[This past time] was Ismerlin’s third time here,” she says.

Besides the room and board provided by the Sisters of Christian Charity and the transportation and search for doctors provided by Healing the Children, there’s also St. Joseph’s School in Mendham that helps in with the caring process

“What we do is collect different supplies that can help a child,” Helen Kelly, the principal of St. Joseph’s says, “Children and family bring in these needs during Catholic School’s Week.”

Along with the supplies, the children are also paired up in groups to design pillows for sick children.

“The students draw butterflies and rainbows,” Kelly says of the various designs the children draw on the pillowcases to cheer up sick patients, “they’re very beautifully decorated.”

None of this would even be possible though if not for Healing the Children, which has been in operation since 1979, and has had a Midlantic New Jersey chapter since 1981. Over the course of these 28 years, the Midlantic chapter has helped more than 20,000 children, some outside of the country, and some within it.

“A very big part of who we are is helping others,” Principal Kelly adds, “And [Healing the Children] is a wonderful organization.”

To learn more about Healing the Children, check out their website at

Girl Scout Martial Artist Helps Special Needs People

To find the article on the site it appeared on, check it out here:
As a Girl Scout, soccer player, and member on the Varsity track team at West Morris Central High School, Erin Guida doesn’t have much time on her hands. But when she does, she enjoys balling them up into fists, punching them, and shouting out in Japanese.

“I started Karate when I was in the third grade,” says Guida, “and from the first time I saw it, I knew I wanted to do it.”

Attending Quest Karate on 59 East Mill Road, she’s been studying Isshinryu karate under her instructor, Tom Kately, almost as long as she’s been in the Girl Scouts, but not quite.

“My mom is the Girl Scout leader,” Guida says, “so I’ve been in the Girl Scouts since kindergarten.”

It was this passion for both the martial arts and the Girl Scouts that led her to carry on what she knew to the Matheny Medical and Educational Center, which is a place that helps special needs individuals with recreational activities. What the center does is help them in their physical, emotional, cognitive and social well-being.

And as part of her Girl Scout Gold Award, which is the highest award that a Girl Scout ages 14-18 can attain, she’ll be sponsoring a tournament hosted by Quest Karate as a fundraiser for Matheny on Saturday, February 22, at the Benedict A. Cucinella Elementary School.

“[For my Gold Award] I wanted to incorporate two huge aspects in my life—Karate and Metheny,” Guida says.

Guida, who has been going to Metheny ever since Quest Karate started going there in 2004, will be giving speeches for the tournament as part of her project. She hopes that the fundraiser will generate enough money to get new equipment for Methany.

“[Metheny] had to turn so many people away because we didn’t have enough equipment,” Guida says about what it was like when she first started going there, “and it has been so great to be able to help.”

The help she’s referring to is teaching the 23 students at Metheny who are taking martial arts, a way to protect themselves if they’re ever in danger, some of the students even in wheelchairs.

“I teach them katas, which are a series of blocks and punches,” Guida says, who admits that she was a bit nervous when she first started going there before she really started to open up to them, “[I also teach them to how] lift themselves up from their wheelchairs for their strength.”

The fundraiser for Metheny isn’t the first time that Guida has worked for her community, though.

For her Girl Scout’s Bronze Award, she created a dinner for senior citizens, and for her Silver Award, she created a series of games to help some of the younger scouts in her troop learn the ins and outs of things like camping and other Girl Scout activities.

That’s not all, though. In her spare time, she also teaches Karate to some of her younger scouts as well, teaching them all the way down from kindergarten up to her own age.

“I always volunteer whenever I can,” Guida says.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Seven Great Games That Girls Like To Play, Too

Find the article with pictures here:

What? Valentines Day? Again?! Wasn’t there one, like, just last year? Well, yeah, there actually was, but that doesn’t mean you have to get all huffy about it. And it also doesn’t mean that you have to put down your joystick (Ah hur, hur, hur, innuendo), just because your girlfriend/mistress/concubine wants to spend some quality time with you on February 14th. Recent studies, mostly ones I just made up, say that girls actually LIKE to play video games. Even better, many of them would actually like to play them with YOU. That is, of course, if you’re not a big jerk about it and don’t make an effort to beat them every chance you get. So below are great seven games that like girls, too. Enjoy.

1. Bust-A-Move—Multi-platform

Sure, those green and blue dragons are cute (Better known to Nintendo nerds as Bub and Bob from Bubble Bobble fame) but it’s the geometry that girls like...okay, and the cuteness I guess, too. Aiming that crane, bouncing those bubbles off the walls, and hearing those balloons pop is quite possibly the most therapeutic thing in the world next to listening to Yanni at the hair salon. Plus, there’s the whole skill-level thing to it, too, as nailing some of those one hit, stage clearering bubbles, is the perfect way to relieve some stress after a long, hard day’s work at the office. Play this one after a candle-light dinner and a long walk on the beach with her. Not because it’s a romantic game or anything like that, but because, well, who doesn’t like candlelight dinners and long walks on the beach?

2. Katamari Demacy—PS2

The story, the music, the fact that a rainbow comes out of the King of All Cosmos mouth—what’s NOT to like about this game? But females, especially my girlfriend, love how easy and intuitive it is to play. Pushing two analog sticks in one direction is pretty damn easy compared to the fifty or so commands that go into making King pull off a ten hit combo in Tekken. Oh, and did I mention the music? No other game has as snazzy a soundtrack as this little baby does. I want to wad you up into my life, TOO, Katamari Demacy.

3. Mario Kart DS—Nintendo DS

Co-op play has never been simpler than with this needs-only-one-game-to-play-together title. The DS is the perfect little system for couples, being that you can usually play against or with each other easily if that’s your intention. And how can you go wrong with Mario Kart? Seriously, how can you? This particular entry is one of the best in the series since it uses its hand-held status effectively, fitting smaller, less intricate stages on the portable screen to make up for some of the system’s inadequacies. Plus, your lady companion will never feel like a loser just because she’s fallen to last place. As with all Mario Kart titles, the best weapons are reserved for those in last place, making her feel like she ALWAYS has a shot at robbing you of that first place title with a well-used lightning bolt or a blue shell. Just make sure you don’t have a hissy fit when she beats you. That won’t look good on your character. Trust me, I know…

4. Cooking Mama—Nintendo DS

Here’s another DS game some girls will gush over. It provides all the fun of cooking but none of the scalding burns from spitting grease fires or dipping your hair too close to the stove. Plus, the protagonist is ever so cute. It’s the Nintendogs of cooking, if there ever was such a thing.

5. Guitar Hero/Rock Band—Multi-platform

Girls want to rock out, too. And nothing says rawk better than these two music themed games. I would’ve recommended Rock Band over Guitar Hero maybe a year ago, but now that G Hero has jumped on the multi-instrument bandwagon, either or will suffice for making sweet music all night long. Oh, and mad props to any guy who’s willing to do all the singing while she does the shredding or percussion work. Don’t forget the cowbell, love birds.

6. Tekken 5—PS2

Wha, wha, wha, what? Okay, this one may be a bit of a gamble, but I’ve actually seen quite a few women vying to be the king (Er, sorry, queen) of the Iron Fist Tournament. Maybe, and I don’t mean to offend you Tekken-philes, but it’s true, what newcomers and females like most about this series is that you can button-mash like crazy and still feel like they’re accomplishing something. Or maybe they just like the crazy assortment of characters—Panda, anyone? Whatever it is, any female I’ve ever introduced to Tekken has fallen head over heels in love with the game and have gotten deeply involved in its frenzied gameplay and sometimes lopsided matches. If you’re going to start her off with any fighting game, this might be the one. Just make sure you don’t start her off with DOA 4. They might not appreciate the, um, physics (think upper body….female anatomy), of the game.

7. Tetris-Multi-platform

And when all else fails, you always have Tetris. Good luck out there, Casanovas.

New York Comic-Con: Godfather II Hands-On Preview

Article look a little bland to you? Yeah, I think so, too. So check out the site it eventully wound up on to see a prettier, more sweet-16 looking lay-out, ye hear?


Following in the footsteps of its predecessor, The Godfather: The Game, the sequel is yet another more classy version of GTA, all dolled up and with a classic name standing directly behind it.


I didn’t really get to learn much about the story of this one since the booth set up at Comic-Con was really just showing you some of the gameplay, but from what I’ve read, this game follows the travails of a new mob member named Dominic as the last game’s, Aldo Trapini, didn’t make it to see the light of day at the end of the last one. Dominic, from the very onset of game play, seemed to impose fear in the people on the street who, just by walking up to them, would put their hands up and say things like “Please don’t hurt me,” when you’d walk up to them. Of course I would hurt them, punching them in the face and making them run for their life, but who wouldn’t? As in any open-ended sandbox game, The Godfather II doesn’t really penalize you for going off the beaten path, so I did, stealing a car and going for a little joyride. I found the controls to be smooth and unrestraining.

There wasn’t much else to the demo besides this, though, so I can’t really go into many of the details of what to expect next from the game. But if it turns out anything like the first one did, with a competent storyline that connects it all to the movies, then this one could turn out to be another good—but not great—game.

4 out of 5

NY Comic-Con: MadWorld Hands-On Preview

To see a snazzier version of this article, click here:


It’s hard to tell yet whether MadWorld is going to be a revolutionary title or just a game filled with button bashing boredom. Either way, it’s at least worth giving a look.


I know the new Wii game, MadWorld definitely has a storyline, because I skipped through the cutscenes before I played it yesterday (From what I saw, it has something to do with a mechanic named Jack with a chainsaw for a hand competing on an ultra-violent game show). But who cares about the storyline? All anybody’s going to talk about with this game is the distinctive art choice of casting it in black and white, and the fact that Nintendo is actually allowing a game like this on the kid-tested, mother approved Wii. I mean, Resident Evil 4 might have been violent and all, but this game makes that one look like Barbie Horse Adventures as this game has blood, gore, AND F Bombs dropped all over the place. And this is just from the demo I played yesterday. I can only imagine what the final product will look like.

Well, in my rather long play-time with the game (The guy at the booth didn’t seem to mind that I was playing for like, fifteen whole minutes), I got to really give the game a test drive, and I can tell you from what I played that I was impressed—but only for about five of those fifteen minutes.

First off, let’s start with the controls, which are surprisingly intuitive, making the game easy to just pick up and play. In the very beginning of the game, you’re dropped in some warehouse type building where goons rush at you right away. Pounding on the A button delivers some pretty devastating combos, but it’s not until you whip out that chainsaw that the third color in the game—blood red—starts to emerge. Blood went flying everywhere as I swung the Wii-mote up and down and side to side, eviscerating any goon who got in my way with my chainsaw. The visual style, upon first impressions, is very satisfying, and you eat it up right away.

But even in my short play-time with the game, with the demo ending in a room where I could toss my enemies into fans and throw them under a large, spike laden trap, I already felt my brief thrill with the game waning. So much so, in fact, that I almost even decided to hand over my turn to the next guy in line as I was getting a little bored just grinding enemies into a pulp and watching the blood splatter on the screen. There HAS to be more to this game, there just has to be. But upon first impressions, I’m starting to get worried that there really won’t be. In short, if the whole game’s like this, I have a feeling that this highly anticipated title is just going to be a mindless brawler like Streets of Rage or Final Fight, which isn’t bad or anything like that, but it’s certainly not the answer to God of War for the Wii that some people might have been hoping for.

I’ll definitely give it another try when it comes out on March 10th, but my anticipation for the game is nowhere near the level it was before I played the demo. With two other characters scheduled to be in the final product, here’s hoping that MadWorld turns out to be more Dynamite Cop than Fighting Force.

3 out of 5

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Mother Runs Program For the Arts

The unedited version is below, but if you want to read the article on the site it was posted on, click below.

With No Child Left Behind and state mandates saying that students must focus solely on math and English to pass the state tests, it’s the arts that sometimes get left behind these days. That’s where Jane Shatz comes in, a mother of three, and program director of the non-profits organization, the Morris County Arts Workshop, which she’s been in charge of since 2003.

“What the arts do is bring people together,” Mrs. Shatz says, “It’s a human understanding.”

Mrs. Shatz, who was formerly a New York ballet dancer, says she started the program mostly to make it easier for her to keep her three daughters in the arts without having to drive them back and forth to the city.

“I started the program for selfish reasons,” Mrs. Shatz says, jokingly, “Chester was really a cultural desert.”

Mrs. Shatz saw the potential though to change this “cultural desert” into a fertile spring, and enlisted other talented people she knew in the area to become teachers for her program, she now has 35.

“This community is very supportive of the arts,” Mrs. Shatz says regarding how many people around the area got on board and began to teach their specialties to the children, “I’m amazed by the response.”

Operating out of many locations in the Chester area, including the Dickerson Elementary School, the Bragg School, and the Black River Middle School, Mrs. Shatz says that the MCAW is open to all children and teens after school, even those outside of the area.

“We’re open to Morris County and beyond,” Mrs. Shatz says, who wants to make sure that the arts are available to all who desire to learn them, “We have scholarships [because] we don’t want financial reasons to be the reason people don’t come to us.”

Some of the programs that the little over 300 students learn are theater, drawing and painting, and even philosophy for 8-12 year olds, just to name a few of the classes that are now available.

“[We live in an environment] where we have all the technology you can ask for,” Mrs. Shatz says, “but I don’t think there’s anything that can replace making music together, or drawing together, or even knitting together.”

Art isn’t just for the children though, as senior citizens also get the opportunity to get their hands dirty and their feet moving, as the MCAW holds free seminars for them in the Presbyterian Church and the Wings Conservatory, too.

“We’d love to have our own building,” Mrs. Shatz says, wistfully, “Someday we will. Someday.”

If there’s one thing Mrs. Shatz wants people to know about the MCAW and art in general though, it’s that art shouldn’t be considered an elitist concept, but rather, something that should be open and available to everybody in the public.

“The arts should not just be for the rich or the affluent,” Mrs. Shatz says, “If you go to Italy, even a taxi driver can sing you an aria, [and that’s because] the arts need to be shared by everyone. There should not be a division.”

Showcases of the kids’ work will be up Tuesday, January 20th and Wednesday, January 21st. To find out more about the showcasing and about the group in general, check their website at