Tag Archives: reality

Treasure? If you say so…if you say so…LEGEND OF THE SUPERSTITION MOUNTAINS

LEGEND OF THE SUPERSTITION MOUNTAINS on History Channel


(2/5)

Pros: The myths surrounding this mountain range are fascinating…


Cons: …but watching a group of half-assed treasure hunters struggle through them is not.

In the past couple of years, History Channel seems to have decided that America Unearthed could be used as much as the next show as the inspiration for a whole lineup of new programs (to be honest, after a block of shows more or less inspired by Ancient Aliens, the change is not entirely unwelcome). 2014 saw the debut of The Curse of Oak Island and Search for the Lost Giants, a pair of reality television programs that played more like protracted treasure hunts than genuine documentaries. That trend has continued into 2015 with the February premiere of Legend of the Superstition Mountains, a show in which a group of would-be prospectors head into the Arizona desert in search of the infamous Lost Dutchman gold mine.

ominous music playing
*ominous music playing*

takes its name from a 19th German immigrant named Jacob Waltz, who supposedly stumbled upon an incredibly rich mine, which may have originally belonged to a group of Mexican prospectors, in the mountainous desert east of Phoenix. After a deathbed confession in which Waltz revealed cryptic clues about the whereabouts of the mine, various adventurers made it their goal to find it, using an odd stone map as a guide or at least, starting point. Many of these adventurers never returned – Indian attacks, mysterious disappearances, and general mayhem loom large in the mythology of the Superstition Mountains and the mine reported to lie within them. Though many historians have disputed various facts relating to the mine’s existence, interest in this lost treasure has persisted to this day…which is where the new History Channel program comes in.

grave of the deutschman himself
The grave of the lost Deutschman himself, Jacob Waltz.


Essentially a replication of the basic formula of The Curse of Oak Island, Legend of the Superstition Mountains follows an eclectic team of would-be treasure hunters on their search to discover the location of the gold mine. Leading the expedition is Wayne Tuttle, who has been researching the mine for decades. Though somewhat wary of recruiting others join him, for the purposes of the program, Tuttle has enlisted the help of police detective-turned-treasure hunter Frank Augustine, seasoned gold miner Woody Hampler, self-proclaimed “rock hound” Eric Deleel, and “tech expert” Eric Magnuson. Because, you know, a show about a single dude looking for gold would be boring. Inevitably, conflict arises among the team (in the first episode, the main problem seems to be Woody’s frail physical condition, which makes the hike into the remote wilderness increasingly difficult), but the show also (perhaps over-)emphasizes the potential lack of trust between Tuttle and Augustine. Augustine has in his possession a replica of a “tesoro map” which he believes will lead to the treasure, but whether or not anyone can believe his claims that various landmarks the team encounters are the same ones apparently referenced on his map is anyone’s guess.

physical similarities
Despite some striking physical similarities, even the show’s “wildcard” character Woody don’t got nothing on the genuinely disturbed but somehow entertaining Face from Alaska Monsters.

Like most of History Channel’s pseudo-documentary reality shows of recent times (Oak Island and Lost Giants in particular), Legend of the Superstition Mountains is likely to get really good only when something of legitimate value is discovered. Walking around in the desert speculating about what may lie over “that there ridge” can only sustain viewer interest for so long and this program isn’t nearly as outwardly entertaining as the clinically moronic likes of the typical monster hunt show. Superstition Mountain’s first episode culminated in the team locating the “heart-shaped rock” depicted on the tesoro map – which Augustine promptly declares as having a carved ‘X’ on it. This whole scenario left me more than a little skeptical – and not only because the rock didn’t appear to me to look “heart-shaped” at all. In the same way that a group of morons literally bumping uglies with various legendary beasts on shows like Mountain Monsters seems blatantly fabricated, it seems very unlikely that a team of half-assed adventurers (who supposedly have been searching for the Lost Dutchman mine for decades) would miraculously stumble onto the correct location of the treasure now that a TV crew has been entrenched with them. Also, if they found the mine that quickly, it wouldn’t make for much of a series, would it?

put that down!
Hey, put that down! We can’t find gold until at least the season one finale!

In the same way that the Curse of Oak Island show constantly reminds a viewer of the curse which supposedly dictates that “one more will have to die before the island reveals its secrets,” Legend of the Superstition Mountains makes sure that a viewer is well-aware of the bloody, mysterious history of the region. This tendency reaches an almost ridiculous level when the producers decide to include occasional, numbered “Mysterious Death” segments in which we’re told about one or another person who died while searching for the treasure. Since there’s no hard evidence to back up any of these stories, I think taking them with a grain of salt is probably the best option: traversing the Arizona desert can be hazardous for any number of reasons, most of which probably have precisely nothing to do with any sort of “curse.” You’ve got to hand it to the show’s producers though for making what could have been a pretty tiresome, bland program as sensational as possible – History’s team of video editors have their reality TV formula down pat at this point.

the whole gang
The whole gang settles down for a little fireside chat.


Even if this series would be at least somewhat worthwhile if the team does in fact eventually find treasure, for the time being, we’re left with a slickly-produced but undeniably manipulative show that pushes a viewer’s suspension of disbelief – to say nothing of his patience – to the breaking point. Like The Curse of Oak Island, the basic premise of Legend of the Superstition Mountains simply doesn’t seem all that compelling – not when individual episodes would likely revolve mostly around a rather dull group of guys hiking through the desert bickering about what may be “out there.” The presence of the camera crew tells me that the sense of danger in the program has been greatly exaggerated – I really doubt anyone is going to run out of food or water or be attacked by mountain cannibals – and since there’s virtually no honest evidence backing up any of the program’s claims, most viewers would undoubtedly be better off waiting for a Eureka moment which may or may not ever actually turn up. Fascinating though the myths of the Superstition Mountains are, this reality show based on them is strictly par for the course – a passable time-waster perhaps, but perfectly skippable.

“It’s Like an Art Commune of Naked Girls…” SUICIDEGIRLS: UK HOLIDAY

SUICIDEGIRLS: UK HOLIDAY

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(4/5)


Pros: Attractive women; cool music; nice photography; slick editing

Cons: A few

Launched in 2001 as a platform to present softcore pin-up photos of “alternative” models (i.e. ones who don’t quite fit in with traditional standards of what women should look like, often due to the fact that they have elaborate tattoos and/or piercings), the SuicideGirls brand has grown increasingly popular over the years and ultimately branched out into other things aside from the pay website which has always been its focal point. The fifth SuicideGirls video production entitled UK Holiday was produced in 2012, and after the more playful and comedic and the reality horror movie which both debuted in 2010, seems more a throwback to the earlier and DVD releases which were essentially video centerfolds.


Mel

UK Holiday documents a week long photoshoot that occurred at a remote English mill that has been converted into a weekend home. Some thirty models from around the globe traveled to the location to meet and mingle with other SuicideGirls and also produce their own photo sets shot around the grounds. SuicideGirls photo sets are made to be a reflection of the interests and personality of the models featured in them, thus each girl seen in the DVD which chronicles the UK getaway more or less got to determine at least some aspects of how their centerfold was designed and photographed. Many of the photo sets featured here are more realistic in nature, but a few have a more fantasy-like look about them, and while there’s no explicit sexuality seen in this DVD, there’s a lot of suggestive posing and some light lesbian activity.

pool

The cinematography by Aymeric Montouchet revolves around slow pans and gentle camera moves, and the editing during the program is quite slick, often combined with subtle digital effects to create a dreamy vibe. Various music cues from a variety of mostly unknown music acts are incorporated into the program nicely to compliment the mood that the various models are seeking in their individual sets. Given the fact that many of these women sport tattoos and piercings, one might think the soundtrack would be more aggressive, but it’s actually very relaxed and chilled out – I’d probably label most music here as falling into the indie electronic genre. As might be expected, the focus of the DVD program is clearly on T&A nudity, with the camera lingering on images of bare breasts and buttocks. Director Mike Marshall has been around for every SuicideGirls DVD release, and is an old hat at making these films look more classy than might be expected in the world of soft porn – the SuicideGirls product has much more in common with what is regularly seen in the more upscale Playboy magazine than what one would find in the more explicit and/or trashy Hustler or Penthouse.

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One of the things that has made SuicideGirls stand out from other modeling sites out there is the fact that they’ve embraced models of various ethnicities and body types. The women featured in UK Holiday come from a wide range of countries, and each of them get to personally introduce their photo set. This allows the viewer to get some insight into their various personalities and thought processes, and it’s pretty interesting to hear about their motivations for becoming a SuicideGirl and posing naked. A few of the models here fall in with what I might label as the “Goth crowd” and many are pale to the point of looking like they haven’t seen sun in years, but overall, they seem like your average girl next door types who just happen to have tattoos and maybe don’t try and fit in with the crowd. I actually find this quite refreshing in a society that’s grown to have a very specific look in mind when selecting models for advertisements and the like, and provided a viewer can accept the heavy amounts of ink and piercings that these girls are sporting, all of them are very attractive and often quite cute. I should point out that for most of these women, “body art” is probably the more accurate way of describing their tattoos: they clearly aren’t of the jailhouse variety.

wings

Along with the photosets, brief glimpses of everyday life around the mill are seen, and there are some short humorous vignettes that show the girls having fun during this UK Holiday. One that stands out is an outing in which several girls ventured to a local pub to perform karaoke: one can only imagine what the reaction was in this sleepy town when a group of rambunctious young women entered the local tavern. A few of the photographers and behind the scenes crew also gets to speak about their approach to the material here: the producers of the program have clearly gone out of their way to give everyone involved a chance to speak their mind, even if only eighteen of the thirty or so girls who traveled to the mill are featured in video centerfold sets.
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One thing I did notice about the program is that it seems to have been made from the perspective of a fourteen year old male – UK Holiday makes a deliberate effort not to include any below the belt frontal nudity. This seems rather odd considering that lower nudity is presented without reservation in the previous SuicideGirls DVDs and on their website, and may be disappointing for some viewers who may have been expecting a more well-rounded amount of exposure. It does ensure however that this program would generally fall in line with the standards of an R-rating.

pole

All in all, SuicideGirls: UK Holiday provides what I suspect most viewers would want: a substantial amount of nudity from a wide array of attractive women. In terms of what those familiar with the SuicideGirls brand would want, this program offers a bit of everything, is substantially arty rather than exploitative and trashy, and is put together very well. Obviously, UK Holiday wouldn’t be appropriate for nor of interest to every potential viewer out there, but it’s outstanding for what it is. This is about as good a cheesecake release as one will get in the 2010’s.


Limited Edition DVD or Blu-ray is available directly from the SuicideGirls website. Also available as a digital download.


0/10 : No violence.


2/10 : Fleeting instances of strong profanity.


10/10 : FAPTASTIC! Loads of nudity from attractive “alternative models.”


8/10 : Women with tattoos and piercings getting naked. And there’s a lot of them.


Food for thought: “I suppose there’s still going to be some kind of stigma attached to women with tattoos. I think that’s a shame, but in a few years’ time, that shouldn’t be the case.”

Shoot First, Invent Monster Later: SWAMP MONSTERS on Discovery Channel

SWAMP MONSTERS on Discovery Channel

(0.5/5)

Pros: Lots of gunfire – it must be good then, right?

Cons: A complete waste of time – it’s not even remotely entertaining or good for a few laughs

Late in the going of the premiere episode of the newest “let’s hunt down a monster” program called Swamp Monsters, one of the characters in the show declares that the whole operation of tracking down a mysterious, dog-like creature “seemed choreographed.” Truer words have never been spoken in the genre of “speculative documentary” programming dealing with the process of hunting down purported monsters…

I'll just leave this here...
I’ll just leave this here…

Blatantly ripping off the basic formula of Mountain Monsters (a show that was none too great in its own right), Swamp Monsters follows a quartet of outdoorsmen from the – get ready for it – Bayou Enforcement Agency for Supernatural Threats (or BEAST) as they “risk life and limb” to investigate reports of various monster-like creatures in the Louisiana bayou. Impossibly, within moments of starting their investigation, the crew is revealed to be “hot on the trail” of the creatures they’re looking for – despite the fact that the animals they’re after probably don’t exist in the first place. The show’s premiere episode (airing August 28, 2014 on the Discovery Channel) dealt with the pursuit of a “devil dog” sort of creature known locally as the “Grunch.” Following a handful of interviews with some of the most sketchy eyewitnesses in monster-related reality TV history and the employment of a half-assed, almost ridiculously elaborate trapping system designed to capture the creature in question, the BEAST group eventually goes on the offensive during a nighttime hunt in which they arm themselves to the teeth with what appears to be semi-automatic rifles. Here’s the kicker though: despite their trap being “infallible” and the gang’s tendency to shoot at anything and everything around them to the point that I probably could have been convinced that I was actually watching a low-budget film chronicling the war in Vietnam…they never find a damn thing. Go figure.

I’m forced at this point to repeat the assessment of the team’s tracker:  “this seems choreographed.”

for as real...
For as “real” as this show is, the gang may as well have been tracking this creature down…

Much like Mountain Monsters, the gang of “good ol’ boys” featured in this show seem suspiciously like low-rent actors going through the motions of attempting to hunt down imaginary monsters. All the stereotypical characters are here: the aforementioned tracker named Boudic, team leader Elliott, “weapons and tactics expert” Yak, and the obligatory “wild man” character who goes by the name of Nacho. As might be expected, the program emphasizes the cohesiveness of this unit, as if none of these “investigators” would be able to handle any sort of operation if forced to tackle it by their lonesome. For all I know, that could be a factual statement – these guys seem not to be the sharpest tools in the shed, cracking lame jokes whenever possible to up the camaraderie level on display. Hell, they invariably refer to each other as “brah,” so they must be best friends since forever, right?

brahs
“Bros in the Bayou”

Just in case the characters don’t seal the deal on this show being a complete crock, a viewer can always rely on the old fashioned monster action to keep himself entertained – or so one would think. Unfortunately, the more of these monster hunt shows that are made, the less credible any of them are – it’s pretty bad when the average crypto-reality (i.e. monster) show on TV these days makes Finding Bigfoot look positively scientific by comparison. Swamp Monsters unleashes some of the most crude and awful-looking CGI renderings of monsters I’ve ever seen and doesn’t even bother to concoct phony home video monster footage to “convince” the viewer that the Grunch is real. Frankly, I’m flabbergasted for the need for this program at all in light of Discovery’s pretty pathetic Beasts of the Bayou program that debuted earlier this year: how much demand could there honestly be for cajun-fried monster shows – especially ones that are this bad?

see the monster?
See the monster? Yeah, neither do I…

As is typically the case in monster-related reality TV shows, it’s impossible to believe that what we’re seeing is happening spontaneously. The camera seems to be aware of things happening before they actually do: if this was a recording of a live event, the camera would follow the action, not predict it. I also have a very hard time buying the fact that the terrain seen in this episode is as inaccessible as the characters would lead us to believe with their constant bickering: there simply wouldn’t be a multiple camera set-up in a location that’s full of quicksand. The whole of Swamp Monsters is very “stagey” and overly dramatic: this is the first and so far only monster show that creates “tension” by revealing that the swamp the characters are trudging through is full of mosquitoes that – GASPmay be carrying the West Nile virus! Though there were many moments during this debut episode that left me rolling my eyes in disgust, for the program to create drama by cashing in on public fear of an epidemic is a new low for crypto-reality TV. In the end, when Nacho breaks out a FLIR thermal imaging camera after declaring he’s surrounded by Grunches only to see nothing in the viewfinder, that says all one really needs to know about the authenticity of this program.

sad thing is
Sad thing is, it doesn’t take much to make the bayou out to be a pretty darn creepy place.

I never thought I’d say this, but I’m actually getting sick of all the monster programming that’s turning up on the “education” channels these days. The fact that new series are popping up every other week, with even more on the way, is plain ludicrous: these shows are beating a at this point and further programming will only initiate the final death roll that will put the crypto-reality genre out of its misery. The sad thing is, I love shows like this – or at least what shows like this could be if they actually had some inclination to present genuine information. Unfortunately, there seems to be precisely no effort on the part of the producers of many of these programs to conduct a more scientific, factually-based investigation: it’s much more convenient to follow a script, manipulate an audience to an outrageous extent, and create false drama with things occurring just off-camera.

Where's swamp thing
Where’s Swamp Thing when you need him?

The fact that Swamp Monsters is phony as all get out honestly isn’t it’s worst trait. The thing that kills it is that it’s not even all that entertaining as reality TV: what is the point of this show? It’s extremely lazily produced and easily the lowest common denominator of a genre of programs that’s notoriously bad in the first place. Thankfully, it appears that viewers would only have to suffer through two additional episodes (dealing with …yawn…the Honey Island Swamp Monster and the “Old Faithful” of bayou monster program subjects, the Rougarou/Cajun Werewolf) which apparently will air on the Destination America channel sometime in the future. I sincerely hope that this atrocious series is not renewed; thinning out the ranks of monster programs on TV might might just make the concept fresh again. As it stands now, this whole genre of program is on most definitely on life support…and fading fast.

Surveying The Spooky Side of American Folklore: MONSTERS AND MYSTERIES IN AMERICA

MONSTERS AND MYSTERIES IN AMERICA

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(3.5/5)

Pros: Straight-faced, “You Decide” approach

Cons: Doesn’t try and prove anything: this merely presents various myths and legends

Since the late 1970s, there have been a string of speculative documentary television shows that examine various mysterious phenomena from around the world. After programs like In Search Of… pioneered the genre, shows such as Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World, Unsolved Mysteries, and Sightings would continue this type of programming, with a new series seeming to pop up every decade or so. By the 2000s, public fascination with monsters and the unknown was pretty well established, and by the end of the decade, more specialized types of programming were hitting the airwaves – Monster Quest and Destination: Truth for example focused almost exclusively on the hunt for unknown animals (or monsters if you like), while other programs (such as the endless variety of Ghost Hunter type shows) had their own specialties. Starting in 2013, the Destination America channel (home to the positively ludicrous Mountain Monsters series that’s like Finding Bigfoot for morons) started airing Monsters and Mysteries in America. This program examines a variety of unknown occurrences taking place in the United States, with each episode typically focusing on the myths and legends of one state or region.

After a six episode first season which took a virtual tour of the regions of the country (Appalachia, the Badlands, Ozarks, etc.) and the monster myths associated with each one, season two of this program began in December 2013 with a twelve episode run. This second season continued in much the same manner as the first, even if the individual shows didn’t declare that they were about specific regions of the country. In a similar manner to Dark Matters: Twisted but True, each episode of Monsters and Mysteries in America chronicles a trio of stories dealing with reports of monsters or strange occurrences. While many of the topics discussed in this series deal with cryptozoology (i.e. the study of unknown animals; basically, a fancy, scientific name for the study of supposed “monsters”), some focus on such topics as alien abductions or more supernatural types of phenomena.

skinwalker
“…eyes forward. Just keep walking…!!”

Perhaps my favorite aspect of the program is the fact that, even if the show does cover some relatively well-documented incidents or stories like that of the , , or the tale of alien abductees , many times the producers go out of their way to feature stories that aren’t typically covered in these types of shows. Thus, things like the Pukwudgie, , and get an equal amount of airtime. Having been a mystery/crypto buff for decades, I like the fact I wasn’t previously familiar with some of these stories – a definite bonus after hearing and seeing the same accounts over and over again for years. Although some of these accounts seem almost inconsequential, it’s cool that this series “covers the bases” and examines a wide variety of topics, from Bigfoot to lake monsters, aliens to shadow people.

Running an hour in length during its broadcasts, each topic covered in the episodes is given about fifteen minutes of screentime. Eyewitnesses and persons who can corroborate their accounts typically narrate their story while recreations of the incidents (with actors portraying the roles) are seen. Following this, there’s some examination of any physical evidence relating to the case as well as some explanation provided by supposed experts or historians. I should mention that this show relies a lot more on artists’ rendering of any of the creatures and events discussed than on any physical or photographic evidence, which is a little disappointing. On the other hand, the program does do a superb job of making the recreations seem genuinely creepy. Presented in a very cinematic manner, these dramatizations are accompanied by special effects, spooky music and sound cues, and a palpable sense of dread. Though they are occasionally goofy, the recreations here are far and away better than those seen in shows like Finding Bigfoot and Monster Quest mainly because Monsters and Mysteries doesn’t over-rely on cheesy, computer-generated graphics.

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Beware – the eyes of the MOTHMAN!

With so many similar shows already on the air and more which seem to pop up regularly, Monsters and Mysteries in America would have to do something special to really stand out from the crowd, and I think to an extent that this program does. As shows like Mountain Monsters and Uncovering Aliens have pushed credibility beyond the breaking point and stuff like Finding Bigfoot and Ancient Aliens have become so predictable and formulaic that they’re no longer very fun to watch, Monster and Mysteries in America has done the unthinkable: taken itself seriously. There’s no denying that some of the material in this show is ridiculous to the point of being unintentionally hilarious, but the tone of the program is (to its credit) refreshingly sober. I also have to say that the eyewitnesses in this program are usually pretty convincing in their descriptions and explanations and often seem to be genuinely affected by the process of recounting their story (“I’ve never seen the Lord Jesus Christ, but I have seen “). Whether what they say happened is true or not, one gets the feeling that most definitely believe they saw or experienced something unusual.

On the downside, the show’s creative staff makes no attempt at all to disprove any of the stories featured in the program. I can understand that this show is mainly there to examine popular (and not-so well-known) myths and legends, but when you’ve got a program making outrageous claims, it sometimes helps to at least try to make it seem like the people telling the story are credible. An episode I watched that dealt with the evil gnome-like was centered on a story told by what seemed to me to be a very enthusiastic (and potentially a bit, shall we say “eccentric”) older gentleman. To say I wasn’t convinced by his story was putting it nicely, and some accompanying video footage that supposedly shows a Pukwudgie lurking in a blueberry bush while a woman convulses on the ground as if she’s been possessed simply didn’t do it for me. Any of the “experts” interviewed about the topics featured in these episodes do little more than rattle off additional information supposedly known about the creatures/circumstances discussed; they don’t offer up many opinions or any sort of analysis. In the end, Monsters and Mysteries in America is very ambiguous, leaving it up to the viewer to sift through the information (and scant actual evidence) provided while sort of assuming that a viewer is of the “I want to believe” persuasion.

drawing
This program relies much more on stories and drawings than actual evidence of any type, which has its good and bad aspects.

I guess the best thing I can say about Monsters and Mysteries in America is that this show generally doesn’t inspire the usual “eye-roll and groan” response that most similar TV programs seem to provoke. The producers here don’t seem particularly interested in taking a real stand on any of the topics, instead, they provide information from the people who supposedly experienced or witnessed these events. Honestly, I like this ambiguous, “here’s the story; you decide” approach better than the “lets invent a monster whether it’s here or not” mindset that permeates shows like Mountain Monsters or Finding Bigfoot. Though Monsters and Mysteries is another program about the unknown that’s unlikely to ever present hard evidence supporting any of its claims, I’d call this the best of the current batch of monster-related TV programming.

Goofy? Sure, but this segment about “black-eyed children” is more than a little creepy: