Fake Progressive

Selfish dick who does what he wants
Hateful prick who bullies and taunts
The stench of failure endlessly haunts
Callous ignorance he deliberately flaunts

Fake progressive who settles for less
Always aggressive and making a mess
Status quo slave often burned by a guess
Can’t convince voters to just say yes

Habitually unwise and completely out of touch
This phony disguise has become too much
So many wasted years dependent on this crutch
Pressured to perform, he fails in the clutch

Professional windbag who just won’t quit
Horrendous douchebag with bile and spit
Lacking true insight and deprived of wit
His political judgment isn’t worth shit

Feigning interest in people’s pain
A boring centrist and exceedingly vain
A giant head with a tiny brain
No more free rides on this gravy train

Lost and confused about the coming change
Tossed and refused and feeling so strange
Left behind on the loser range
Too late to go back and rearrange

A sanctimonious hack emboldened by a fight
Given the sack when proven none too bright
Immune to true suffering because he’s white
Never gives a damn about their perilous plight

An overdue humbling so richly deserved
Typical bumbling that hurts the underserved
A discredited strategist poorly preserved
A place at the table no longer reserved

A pest and a tool with no future to come
No rest for this fool starving for a crumb
There are no thoughts, just a continuous hum
Once he was the shark, now he’s the chum

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, December 15, 2017
7:54 p.m.

Published in: on December 15, 2017 at 7:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

It Follows

It Follows is the most overrated horror film since The Blair Witch Project.  When it was released in 2015, a stampede of critics fell all over themselves to praise its non-existent virtues.  What exactly were they so excited about?

More weird and perplexing than truly terrifying, it takes a good 20 minutes to figure out what the hell is even going on.  In the end, there are far more questions than satisfying answers.

Early on, we meet Jay (Maika Monroe), a troubled high school student who loves to swim.  There’s no father in the picture so it’s just her, her younger sister and their mother.  Jay’s been seeing Hugh (the fittingly named Jake Weary), a Rob Thomas clone who seems a bit off.  During a movie date, to kill time they play the trade game.  It works like this.  You pick someone, a stranger in your surroundings, who you’d like to trade places with, the other person has to guess who you picked and why you chose them.

While sitting in a repertory theatre awaiting the beginning of Charade, Hugh says he selected a woman in a yellow dress.  But when Jay turns to spot her there is no one standing in the exit.  Suddenly feeling a bit freaked out Hugh wants to bolt.  Instead of watching Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn on the silver screen they go to dinner.  As Jay sips on an alcoholic beverage some mysterious figure is seen outside the window walking slowly towards their restaurant.  Ho hum.

On their next date, Jay and Hugh finally have sex in the back seat of his car.  (They have no chemistry.) Afterwards, while lounging in her underwear, she goes on and on about how she pictured this time in her life as a young girl and her fondness for spontaneous road trips with no predetermined destinations.  After rummaging around in the trunk, to show his appreciation a smitten Hugh returns to cover her mouth with a chloroform-soaked cloth.

The next thing we know, some slow-walking naked woman is approaching them in an abandoned parking garage on an otherwise quiet evening.

Hugh isn’t a rapist or a murderer.  He’s a panicked victim.  Before seeing Jay, he had a one-night stand with someone and ever since, it has been following him.  What is it, exactly?  Well, apparently, it’s an apparition that assumes many human forms, sometimes naked, sometimes fully clothed, sometimes familiar to those it targets, that can only be seen by those who have been cursed by this thing.

Hugh deliberately had sex with Jay so he could “pass it on”.  Now all she has to do is fuck somebody else and both of them will be left alone.

But, of course, Jay doesn’t do this for a good 40 minutes.  Instead, she stupidly lives her life in a permanent state of paranoia.  Any time some silent stranger gradually approaches her she flees hoping to avoid all physical contact with them.  There’s one moment where her complacency almost costs her.

Why is it so patient and why is it so murderous?  Who knows and who cares.

Jay ultimately becomes a prisoner in her own home, often locked away in her bedroom with zero appetite.  (What are those pills she’s taking?)  But it still finds her, so she hightails it out of there one night and declares she won’t return.

Supported by her initially skeptical but supremely worried baby sister Kelly (Lili Sepe), their two loyal friends – yearning Paul (Keir Gilchrist) and bespectacled electronic bookworm Yara (Olivia Luccardi) – and her doubtful yet concerned neighbour Greg (Daniel Zovatto), Jay eventually discovers that Hugh hasn’t been straight with her.  First of all, that’s not his real name.  Second of all, there’s a very good reason he has never invited her back to his place.  It’s a pigsty.  Plus, the windows are covered with newspapers while dangling empties serve as some kind of a lo-fi alert system.

Jay eventually tracks him down at his mom’s place (he appears to be fatherless, as well) where he once again tells her what she needs to do to be free of this curse.  And once again, she needlessly suffers a close call before finally taking his advice.

It’s during that close call that Paul, her first kiss and the guy who has been secretly pining for her ever since despite kissing Kelly as well, realizes Jay isn’t crazy.  He’s none too pleased that he isn’t her first choice for a survival bonk.  (Greg and Jay have a history.  Kelly has a thing for him, as well.)  As it turns out, her decision backfires spectacularly.  Why go for the guy who is the least convinced of your dilemma?  And why no plan for when it inevitably comes calling for him which you know is going to happen sooner or later?

The group hatches a scheme to lure it to their old stomping grounds, an indoor pool in the rundown section of Detroit.  (They all live in the “good” neighbourhood, you see.)  It should be a truly frightening sequence.  But because the film hasn’t done the hard work of making us care about these forgettable, unfunny characters or properly pacing the plot (this thing moves way too slowly), it’s a huge letdown.  The ending doesn’t really resolve anything, so the cycle of unexplained stalking continues, probably leading to another film down the road.

Deep down, It Follows really, really wants to be Halloween but it can’t possibly match its power, so it settles for superficial tributes instead.  Jay is named after Jamie Lee Curtis who played Laurie.  And the teens have a thing for old, cheesy sci-fi horror films.  (Remember the young girl who watches The Thing From Another World, which is actually very good, in Halloween?)

As a result, It Follows lacks the earlier film’s considerable tension.  Not to mention it’s far from original (How is this different from any other Body Snatcher-type picture?  Plus, the “it” is a rip-off of Stephen King.).  It isn’t funny (A fart joke?  Really?).  And apart from one early visual, where are the genuine scares?  (A ball suddenly hitting a window?  A piece of plaster coming undone?  Come on.)  The ever changing villain lacks the singular, shuddering presence of Michael Myers.  And the music is often distracting, unlike John Carpenter’s classic electronic score which set the mood so perfectly in Halloween.

There are also a lot of scenes where our heroes don’t do anything terribly interesting.  They play cards and wait.  They lounge on the beach and wait.  They set up their doomed swimming pool trap and wait.  If they had clever things to say, I wouldn’t mind so much.

Dean Cundey’s stellar camerawork in Halloween was obviously a significant influence here.  But there are too many 360 degree camera moves (this was annoying in Blair Witch, too, especially when nothing is happening) and few of the other shots evoke much dread.  Despite its occasionally pretentious sprinklings of literary quotations (a little Dostoevsky here, a little T.S. Eliot there), It Follows employs a fairly generic hybrid premise (relentlessly mysterious villain hounding horny teenagers in order to inhabit their bodies).  Unlike Halloween, though, there are no emotional payoffs and its non-linear gimmick is maddening.

I’m not a big fan of nonsensical horror films, particularly those that play out like a bad dream.  I’m old school.  I prefer a coherent story.  But I always try to be open-minded and allow myself to be proven wrong.

I gave It Follows every chance to win me over.  Like its baffling villain, I was exceedingly patient.  But from its opening scene to its last, it fails to truly get under your skin.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, December 13, 2017
4:21 a.m.

Published in: on December 13, 2017 at 4:21 am  Leave a Comment  

A Hard Day’s Night & Help!

Every once in a while, there’s a movie I dislike that practically everybody else loves.

When it’s not being absolutely terrifying, The Exorcist just isn’t very interesting or involving.  Zero Dark Thirty is pure propaganda trash.  And The Producers, the original Mel Brooks production, is really not that funny.

Nearly 20 years ago, I sat down to watch A Hard Day’s Night for the first time.  I hated it.  (Roger Ebert watched this two dozen times in his life?)  Were it not for all the well-crafted pop songs I would’ve loathed it even more.

I had the same reaction to Help! which I thought was worse.

But that was 1999, not a happy year for me.  So, having just screened both films again recently, now that I’m in a mostly better headspace, what’s the verdict today?

I still hate them, only slightly less now than before.

A Hard Day’s Night tries to convince us that The Beatles are miserable.  Everywhere they turn, as established in the famous opening sequence, there are screaming fans chasing them down.  They’re never at home and always on the move avoiding ravenous teenagers.  They go from train to hotel room, from hotel room to town car, from town car to a TV studio where they rehearse and later perform in front of a live, screamingly giddy audience.  And then it’s back in the town car to a helicopter that will take them to their next gig and their next hotel room.

But if they’re so unhappy, why are they constantly smiling and laughing, especially during the chase scenes and song cues?  And why are they running away from turned on fans at all?  (The real-life Beatles were notorious horndogs.)

Their exasperated manager, Norm (Norman Rossington), a fictionalized Brian Epstein, isn’t exactly a strict taskmaster, as much as he would like to be.  He just gets slightly annoyed when John Lennon repeatedly calls him a “swine” or when the whole band buggers off to dance badly with hot babes instead of answering stacks of fan mail in their hotel.  (A side point:  what is so terrible about spending a day writing back to your fans?)

When they get to the TV station they encounter the rather foppish, high-strung director (Victor Spinetti) who is rightly worried about problems during the broadcast.  (Why no security under the stage?)  When Norm insists they get locked in their dressing room after rehearsals so they don’t miss showtime they instead bolt through the fire escape to jump around like twits in a field.

Paul’s “very clean”, shit-disturbing grandfather (Wilfrid Brimbell) convinces Ringo Starr to put down that book and enjoy his life away from the band.  (They goof on him a lot.)  So, the drummer pulls out his camera and goes outside where he gets into all kinds of unfunny predicaments.  (By the way, did he invent the selfie?)

There’s a weird moment where a couple of exuberant fans spot him, so he goes to a store to acquire a disguise of sorts.  After he leaves, they’re long gone.  When he tries to engage a woman in conversation with the new look he’s pleased by her hostile reaction.  It should be noted at no point do any of The Beatles ever complain about their passionate fans, so moments like this are baffling in their dubious construction.  In an earlier scene he bails on the idea of talking to a eager woman on a train because she thinks she’s just leading him on.  Really?  Where’s your self-esteem, man?

Ringo’s absence causes a crisis but of course, the full band makes it back in time for their entertaining live show.  One wonders why they didn’t just do a straightforward concert film instead.

Oh right.  The screaming.

It’s a shame because when The Beatles play their original material your irritation completely disappears and you start to groove.  (If I Fell remains one of their prettiest ballads.)  But then the songs end and the bad jokes continue.

I don’t remember how many times I laughed in 1999 but this time, it was just twice in one scene.  It’s a delightfully cheeky moment that stands out amongst so much dead-on-arrival corniness.

By comparison, Help! only has one laugh, a throwaway gag that surely inspired the Zucker Brothers.  But, once again, with the exception of the music, there’s a whole lot of stupidity to suffer through.

A cult with absurdly strict rules about human sacrifice starts hunting down Ringo for his rather prominent red ring.  You see, the woman who was going to be disemboweled for some mountain goddess is spared because although she’s painted red she also has to be wearing that damn ring before being offed.  She mailed it to him to spare her own life.

How do they know Ringo has it now?  They spot it on his hand while watching a film of the band rolling through the title song.  How did they acquire the footage?

So, for the entirety of the film, this rather inept cult routinely fails to get the ring back.  (Did they ever think of just politely asking for it?  Or maybe find another one in a Cracker Jack box?)  This endless process of foiled retrieval takes so long Ringo becomes the new sacrifice instead.  It takes a while for the entire band to seek out experts who can get the ring off since it appears to be rather tightly latched on to his precious digit.  None of their methods work.  The band start playfully suggesting the idea of a new drummer.  It would’ve been really funny if they called Pete Best.

Victor Spinetti, the freaked out director in A Hard Day’s Night, plays a mad scientist who becomes obsessed with the ring, as well.  Unsurprisingly, he’s just as dopey as the cult.  Ditto his bumbling assistant.

Eleanor Bron plays one of the cult members who inexplicably becomes an ally and protector of The Beatles after her own botched attempts at retrieving the ring.  Her babyface turn feels awfully convenient, I don’t care how much she likes Paul.  (Her anti-sex cult leader would rather kill babes than fuck them.)

Unlike A Hard Day’s Night where comic scenes, as bad as they are, naturally lead into songs, with a couple of exceptions, the Help! tracks just kinda happen rather randomly.  One minute, there’s a dumb batch of jokes and then, here comes You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away.  And why the fuck are they recording tracks in an open field instead of a studio?  Hard to believe Britain was once an empire.  In this movie, their army is quite vulnerable to a sneak attack by idiots.

To get away from the cult and mad scientist, the band first goes skiing (cue Ticket To Ride) and speed curling, then escapes to The Bahamas which is supposed to be the decoy destination (it’s all over the British papers) but since no other location is mentioned, they end up there anyway.  (Amazing how a disguised Ringo and John nailed how they would look in the future.)  Did I mention this is a stupid movie?

It is here that the cult decides to bring their ceremonial sacrifice set with them so they can save time.  (Have budget, will travel.)  But, of course, Ringo’s ring suddenly loosens at just the right moment and after a rather chaotic final confrontation, all is well once more.  Needless to say, there is no actual suspense.

Amazingly, Help! has its share of devoted fans but even they acknowledge this is a big comedown from A Hard Day’s Night.  (Truthfully, it’s just slightly worse than its overpraised predecessor.)  Forgive the pun but let’s be perfectly blunt.  No amount of good tunes can alleviate the tedious plot which should not take 92 minutes to resolve.  For all its dorky non-sequiturs, at least the earlier film captures the early mania of The Beatles and builds to a natural climax that effectively showcases their undeniable skill as writers and performers.

Help!, on the other hand, feels like a blatant cash-in and a retreat, an opportunity for salivating film executives to make a quick buck and a baked vacation for a hot band that would thankfully abandon this tomfoolery for exquisite ambition.  Nature abhors a vacuum which is why The Monkees were created.

Yellow Submarine, the psychedelically animated third movie (which only features The Beatles in one scene), is actually better than both of these overrated disappointments (it features some of their greatest cuts) but again, not as good as people believe it to be.  (I’m less fond of the out-there animation and don’t find it very amusing, either.)

That leaves only one Beatles movie for me to assess.  So when is Let It Be arriving on Blu-ray?

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, December 2, 2017
2:42 p.m.

Published in: on December 2, 2017 at 2:42 pm  Leave a Comment  


There are certain films that could only have been made in The Sixties.  Bob Rafelson’s Head is one of them.  As I was watching it for the first time I couldn’t help but think that there’s no way it was made with sober minds.  Sure enough, I eventually make my way to Wikipedia and discover that marijuana and LSD played prominent roles in its creation.  Indeed.

I’d like to tell you the plot but there isn’t one.  Instead, The Monkees (Davy Jones, Mike Nesmith, Peter Tork & Micky Dolenz) travel back and forth from one nonsensical cartoony set piece to another and back again until the credits roll.  In the end, the search for laughs and coherence proves fruitless.  (I’m still stunned that Jack Nicholson, who has a brief cameo along with Easy Rider co-star Dennis Hopper, collaborated on the “screenplay”.)  This is treated rather embarrassingly as a point of pride.

Davy gets pummelled by Sonny Liston.  A thirsty Micky argues with an unseen narrator as he discovers to his frustration an empty Coke machine in the desert.  Mike and Peter make bets as to whether a bikini-clad dame will jump off a building.  The lads unwittingly find themselves auditioning for a shampoo commercial.  But that’s not giant prop hair they’re tumbling around in.  It’s the actual hair of Victor Mature who in another scenario, a western scene, towers over them like Godzilla.  They end up getting sucked into a vacuum cleaner by his hairdresser.

And on and on it goes.

Of course, there’s also music.

During the opening scene, The Monkees interrupt the ribbon cutting ceremony for a new bridge.  Micky (and a very noticeable dummy in some shots) takes the plunge as this movie’s most famous cut, Porpoise Song, pops up on the soundtrack.  (It also looks like he’s jumping on a trampoline in that pretentious layered montage.)

Once he’s in the water the psychedelia arrives along with a couple of mermaids.  (The colours are pretty but whatever.)  As his body floats to the top at the conclusion of the song (which sounds like a bad Sgt. Pepper outtake) he’s suddenly seen making out with a groupie in the pad he shares with his bandmates.  They also get to kiss her.  Afterwards, Mike wants to know who was the best but she calls it a four-way draw.  When he whispers a request for her to return when he’s alone she just laughs and leaves.

The awkward weirdness doesn’t stop there.

Frank Zappa shows up out of nowhere to critique Davy after he does a forgettable solo number.  Then the cow pipes in.

Annette Funicello weeps for Davy’s decision to get beat up instead of pretending to play the violin for a living while Teri Garr wants Peter to suck the mysterious venom out of her finger.  Was she bit by a snake or a scorpion?  Who the fuck knows?

Lacking enough material for an already meandering 85-minute feature, clips from TV ads and old movies fill in the gap.  A useless man-on-the-street segment is tossed off to kill more time.  A Vietnamese man gets shot dead at point blank range (shown more than once).  And then the empty lunacy returns, some of which is racist.  (Seeing Native Americans (or are they white guys in redface?) referred to as “savages” never stops being appalling.)

After The Monkees perform one of only two good original songs during a brief concert sequence (the other is heard while harem girls dance while a third uneven one set during a surprise birthday party for Mike has its catchier moments as well), the fans rush the stage and tear off their clothes.  Well, actually, they tear the clothes off of very fragile department store mannequins that serve as obvious satirical stand-ins.  The Monkees were always conceived as a fake group who only had to show up to sing.  And like their inspiration, The Beatles, they were instantly commodified.  The point is more than obvious.  The fans aren’t attacking substantial human beings.  They’re attacking a shoddy product.

Peter punches a guy in drag and starts wondering if this is so great for his image.

A little late to be asking questions.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, December 2, 2017
4:06 a.m.

Published in: on December 2, 2017 at 4:07 am  Leave a Comment  

Hudson Hawk

There are two types of awful movies: the ones you remember with laughter and the ones you forget entirely.  Hudson Hawk is in the latter category.  When I first screened it on tape several months after its ill-fated theatrical run in 1991, I deplored it.  Before screening it again 26 years later it was difficult to recall much of its story.  During the screening, I now understand why.  And yes, I still hate it.

A supremely smug Bruce Willis smirks his way through numerous situations as the title character, the world’s greatest cat burglar.  He’s so good at the job he’s been doing a dime in the clink.  Upon being released he reconnects with his good buddy Tommy (an overly cheerful Danny Aiello).  Despite vowing to stay clean The Hawk is roped into a labyrinthian scheme involving three precious artifacts of Leonardo Da Vinci.

500 years ago, the Italian inventor was commissioned to make a bronze horse statue.  But a massive bronze shortage forced him to create a machine that would allow him to manufacture his own.  By accident, he creates gold instead.  (That bar is too tiny.)  Da Vinci has hidden three parts of his invention, one apiece in each of those aforementioned artifacts spread out all over the world.  (Why?)  The Hawk is threatened by a mobster (Frank Stallone, if you can believe it) into snatching the first one, a miniature bronze horse, which is hidden in a safe in an auction house.

Hawk, a cappuccino-lovin’ jerk who knows the running times of every pop standard you throw at him, is so cocky during the job he has time to do a lame duet with Tommy.  (They do another one during a rescue mission in the final act.)  They can afford to do this because the guards at this place are a little slow.  After barely escaping with their lives Hawk belatedly realizes he stole a forgery.

He then attends an auction where he meets a Vatican representative (the beautiful Andie MacDowell) who authenticates the real bronze horse.  But before it’s sold the place blows up.  The horse ends up getting stolen by a kinky couple (overly hammy Richard E. Grant and Sandra Bernhard), the real architects of all this bullshit.

James Coburn plays a corrupt CIA guy who ships The Hawk in a box to Italy where he’s supposed to steal Da Vinci’s famous codex from the Vatican museum.  To make sure he plays ball Coburn has his “candy bar” agents (their earlier code names were venereal diseases) follow him and accommodate his cat burglar needs.  (A pre-stardom David Caruso, who plays Kit Kat, should be thankful he got paid for not saying a single word.  All his dialogue is printed out on business cards.)  After a quick scouting of the place and its high tech security system Hawk easily accomplishes his mission.  Yep, the guards in the Vatican are just as inept.

Not realizing MacDowell is a nun (and a Vatican spy) Hawk keeps trying to put the moves on her.  Of course, she’s only pretending to like him at first because she knows he has eyes on the codex.  And of course, she starts to really like him when she finally realizes he’s just a patsy.  From the very start this romance is extremely forced.  Bruce Willis just isn’t charming enough to make this woman question her faith.

Refusing to go through with the third and final robbery The Hawk hatches a last-minute plan to get out of it.  But Coburn and company aren’t completely stupid.  Along with the candy bars, he manages to do the job himself.  However, CIA guy is too much like a James Bond villain when it comes to disposing of his enemies.  And you know what that means.

All of this leads to the inevitable finale where it looks like the heels are going to get their way but they make a bad decision and everything falls apart.

Hudson Hawk was originally a song co-written by Willis and musician Robert Kraft who came up with the original concept for the story back in the early 80s.  It was also the name of the production company that made Blake Edwards’ Sunset, a western comedy Willis starred in with James Garner.  (A trailer appears on the DVD.)  How unfortunate that the name has forever been associated with this remarkable disaster.

Despite being marketed as an action flick (“Catch The Excitement. Catch The Adventure. Catch The Hawk.”), Hudson Hawk is really a comedy, a completely unfunny one.  Come to think of it, the action pieces aren’t that great, either.  (Admittedly, Da Vinci’s flying contraption is pretty cool.)  Consider the ambulance scene.  The Hawk is lying on a gurney.  At one point, it goes crashing out the back doors.  It’s only able to keep up with the traffic because of a sheet attached to the vehicle.  Someone flings a cigarette.  The Hawk catches it and takes a puff.  Then, he throws it away disgustedly because it’s menthol.

The ambulance and the gurney eventually get separated.  There’s a toll ahead.  The Hawk manages to throw the correct amount of change into the bin so he won’t go crashing into the barrier.  The ambulance catches up to him but then inevitably flips over and explodes.  At no point during this sequence is there any suspense.  God knows there aren’t any laughs.

You have to feel for Andie MacDowell.  In one excruciating scene, she’s reduced to making dolphin noises.  Really bad dolphin noises.  She would thankfully redeem herself by appearing in Groundhog Day & Four Weddings And A Funeral, two of the funniest romantic comedies of the 90s.

The rest of the cast don’t fare much better.  In the right role, Sandra Bernhard can be very funny.  (She was great on Roseanne.)  But here, as the racist, hat-wearing Minerva, she’s given absolutely nothing to work with, which explains why she’s so over the top like Grant.  (Can we retire ball-lickin’ dog jokes, please?)  James Coburn more or less plays his mysterious CIA guy straight but the result is depressingly the same.  The less said about the other candy bars, the better.  (That rape joke is appalling.)

Perhaps to keep from crying (and not just as scripted in one scene), Danny Aiello laughs more than any other performer in the film.  (Denial is a hell of a drug.)  As for Bruce Willis, this has to be his worst performance.  From the very start, The Hawk is an obnoxious, fat-shaming homophobe who doesn’t live up to his reputation.  The only reason he’s able to get away with these brazen thefts is because of the lackadaisical security.  I find it hard to believe that the real Vatican would leave itself so vulnerable like this.

The ridiculous plot is overly complicated to the point where you wonder how the characters themselves can even follow along.  God knows they can’t trust each other.  Furthermore, when Minerva, the Bernhard character, explains her reasoning for seeking all these missing gold machine parts, you question her logic.  The Bre-X scam and the sobering realities of today’s gold market itself make this look like a complete waste of time.  And because the cartoonish villains (there are way too many of them in this movie) are overly dependent on the heroes to get the long dormant machine working again in the first place, it’s no wonder the whole thing blows up in their faces.

No laughs, no thrills, no point.  That’s how Hudson Hawk should’ve been marketed.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, November 26, 2017
6:22 p.m.

Published in: on November 26, 2017 at 6:22 pm  Leave a Comment  

Over The Top

In the very funny documentary Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story Of Cannon Films, there is much deserved mockery for the often low-brow, low budget hokum that became the production company’s infamous trademark.  Near the end of its life in the late 1980s, Cannon, led by the enthusiastic but often out-of-touch Menahem Golan & Yorum Globus, was running on fumes.  Its last batch of cinematic offerings did Warner Bros., the distributor of many of them, no favours.

Their Superman sequel, The Quest For Peace, killed the Christopher Reeve franchise.  Masters Of The Universe did not launch its own, despite a closing credit tease for one.  And although Bloodsport thrusted Jean-Claude Van Damme’s flexible physicality into the mainstream, it also unleashed his pitiful acting.

But no late 80s Cannon Film epitomizes the deteriorated state of the company more perfectly than Over The Top, the most honestly titled movie they ever made.  As humourously noted in Electric Boogaloo, Director Golan legitimately believed that young movie fans would flock to a thoroughly predictable story about arm wrestling.  He somehow managed to throw a lot of money at star Sylvester Stallone who not only foolishly accepted the lead, he also co-wrote the script.  Having finally seen it 30 years after its underwhelming theatrical stint, I’m amazed he didn’t have it removed.

Stallone plays Lincoln Hawk, a truck driver who abandoned his wife and child for reasons that are hinted at but never fully explained.  His son, Mike (David Mendenhall), has just graduated from a military prep school.  When he’s summoned to the colonel’s office after the ceremony, he’s not happy to see Linc.  In fact, because he’s never met him before, his dad has to show him an old wedding photo of him and his mom before he reluctantly agrees to climb into his battered old truck.

Shocked to see so many posted photos of himself on the interior, the spoiled Mike, who initially refers to Linc as “sir”, can’t contain his bitterness or his obnoxiousness about his absent father and his poor eating habits.  (He never got all those letters Linc sent to him as he was growing up.)  At one point, he feigns being sick in order to jump out and literally run out into oncoming traffic.  After declaring his hatred for Linc, ever the optimist, his father says this is fine, at least it’s a starting point.

It doesn’t take long before Mike starts warming to Linc especially when he lets him drive his truck.  (He’s not exactly 16.  Or licensed.)  But he’s soon all weepy again after he’s forced to partake in a best two-out-of-three arm wrestling contest with some punk they meet in a restaurant arcade.  Of course, Mike loses round one.  But after an obligatory pep talk from pops (he’s no Burgess Meredith), he takes the next two and all is well again.

Then, he’s temporarily kidnapped by his grandfather’s goons.  An overly tanned and mysteriously wealthy Robert Loggia wants custody which can only truly happen if Linc is completely out of the picture.  (Grandparents don’t have automatic parental rights.)  Linc’s wife (Susan Blakely) is hospitalized awaiting heart surgery and is the real reason Linc & Mike are being forced to belatedly bond.  After retrieving him from grandpa’s goon squad, by the time they make it to the hospital, unsurprisingly, it’s too late.  Why she needed the surgery in the first place is never explained, nor why it went wrong.

Blaming his dad for driving him here instead of taking a flight (shouldn’t he blame his dead mother since this was her idea?), Mike turns into an angry cry-baby again and cabs it back to grandpa’s estate.  After hilariously ramming his already battered truck through the gate (the guards won’t let him through) and front door of his property, Loggia’s personal secretary convinces him to sign away his paternal rights while he’s in lock up.  Linc can’t sell his temporarily-back-to-being-skeptical son that he’s fit to raise him into adulthood.

But then the kid inevitably finds those elusive letters Linc sent him and all is forgiven.  Stealing one of his grandfather’s vehicles, he joyrides to the airport, hides on a plane with the luggage and joyrides the rest of the way to Vegas where his dad has entered the world arm wrestling championships at the Hilton.  Having sold his truck for 7000 smackers, Linc is somehow able to legally bet it all on himself.  (What about entrance fees?)  But no worries, a brand new truck, along with a lot of dough, is offered to the winner.

Because he has an earlier encounter with five-time world champion “Bull” Hurley (the hilariously bugged-eyed Rick Zumwalt who resembles Big Show during his Fu Manchu period) at a local dive, we know who the two finalists of this supremely silly competition will be.  And despite Bull being undefeated in five years, there is zero doubt about the outcome.

Made for 25 million, Over The Top couldn’t even make back its budget.  But it was able to win Razzie Awards.  It’s not hard to understand why.  There are more laughs here than in most comedies.  Watching these enormous men grunt and groan their way through suspenseless arm wrestling matches, in between some of them cutting promos on each other, almost all of which end in mere seconds, cannot be taken seriously at all.

The soulless music certainly doesn’t help.  Despite the contributions of Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander, Sammy Hagar and Eddie Money, there’s not a single good song on the soundtrack.  While they’re riding in Linc’s truck, one such misfire is heard on his radio.  Linc likes it so when Mike keeps turning it off, he keeps turning it back on again.  His son eventually gives up.

As it turns out, so did the filmmakers.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, November 21, 2017
5:06 p.m.

Published in: on November 21, 2017 at 5:06 pm  Leave a Comment  

Fifty Shades Darker

How do you know you have too much money?  You can pay people to do your stalking for you.

In Fifty Shades Darker, Anastasia Steele (a breathy-voiced Dakota Johnson) learns this awkward fact firsthand from her still abusive paramour Christian Grey (a never charming Jamie Dornan).  While discussing his troubled ex, a jealous submissive mourning the death of her husband who recently died in a car crash, he pulls out a rather detailed file on her.  Naturally, Ana asks for hers.  It covers so much minutiae she’s shocked his people didn’t keep track of her bathroom breaks at her old job at the hardware store.

And yet, this is not a dealbreaker for her.

If you recall the original Fifty Shades Of Grey, Ana filled in for her sick roommate to interview Christian in his corporate office.  Despite having absolutely no chemistry whatsoever, a spark was lit.  After drawing up a contract, he eventually introduced her to The Red Room, a private area in his lavish apartment where he sexually punishes his victims.  Belatedly realizing he’s overly controlling and would remain closed off emotionally through their not-so-steamy kink sessions, she walked back into his penthouse elevator and left his abusive ass.

But you knew they wouldn’t stay apart for long.  At a friend’s photo exhibit at the beginning of Fifty Shades Darker, she runs right into him.  Because her friend is secretly in love with her, much to her shock, she’s featured prominently in six of his blown-up pics.  Christian buys them all because he doesn’t want anyone “gawking” at her.  Yep, he’s still an asshole.

Inevitably, they go to dinner where he tries to order for her.  Inevitably, he convinces her things will be different this time.  Inevitably, she wants to reconnect slowly.  Inevitably, they fuck almost immediately.

But it’s also inevitable that she will be presented again and again with uncomfortable revelations that temporarily force her to step back but never break off the relationship for good.  At a salon, for the first time she sees the woman that molded Christian into the dull maniac he has become.  The always elegant Kim Basinger (so great to see her again after so many absent years) plays the bitter cougar who runs the place.  (They only have a platonic business arrangement now.)  She’s the one that seduced the corporate takeover artist as a teen and introduced him to whips and adjustable ankle locks.

Despite being very upset about being taken here, the relationship continues.

At another point, she learns the ugly truth about his rough bedroom demeanour.  He deliberately finds women who resemble his biological mother.  (Paging Dr. Phil.)  He finally admits he’s no dominant but rather a sadist.  When Christian invites Ana to live with him, incredibly, she doesn’t say no.

No longer slumming it at the hardware store, Ana now works for Seattle Independent Publishing.  She’s an assistant to her transparently sleazy editor boss Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson) who clearly studied the harassment techniques of Harvey Weinstein.  A concerned Christian warns her he goes through assistants very quickly.  After he inevitably makes his move Ana knees him in the balls and, thanks to one phone call to SIP’s CEO, she gets a promotion.  Good thing she’s read all those incoming manuscripts.

Like its predecessor, Fifty Shades Darker fails in its brief, lazy attempts to make the dickish Christian Grey more sympathetic by giving him a sad backstory.  He has recurring nightmares about his traumatic childhood where we learn his father slapped his real mom around and put out his lit cigarettes on his little chest.  This explains why Christian greatly restricts Ana’s hand movements but inevitably, because he’s desperate to keep her in his life, she’s eventually allowed to go past the lipstick boundary she draws on him.

When she asks about his real mom (MILFy Marcia Gay Harden reprises her role as his adopted guardian), he claims she was a crackhead who died of an overdose.  Is he telling the truth?  Curious how he doesn’t mention the domestic violence.

As the second chapter of this planned trilogy concludes, a weird, random near-tragedy convinces Christian to do something he never thought he would ever do and a new enemy quietly plots his revenge.

After watching two of these films now it’s hard not to notice the similiarites with the otherwise more chaste Twilight series.  Like Bella Swan, Ana Steele is a virgin who gets deflowered by a creepy domineering man with whom she has an unhealthy on-again, off-again relationship.  Like Edward Cullen, Christian Grey is tortured, often emotionally detached and deeply paranoid about romantic rivals.

And like the Twilight series in general, the Fifty Shades films are not terribly exciting nor emotionally involving, especially during the love scenes which are astoundingly unsexy.  Dakota Johnson is a good-lookin’ dame with a hot bod but because we have such contempt for the chiselled Christian we feel nothing as he surreptiously fingers her in a crowded elevator, puts a couple of stringed silver balls in her pussy and spanks her in his old childhood bedroom, not to mention all the other steamless boning that takes place.

At least he has good taste in music.  (He works out to The Police but sadly, not Every Breath You Take.)

Basinger’s character is convinced Ana is all wrong for him, that she doesn’t understand his needs, that she’s just the latest in a long line of discarded would-be subs.  To the contrary, Ana has felt she can soften his edges enough so he can open up to her more which annoyingly already appears to be happening.  And yet, he hasn’t completely evolved.  Before the fallout with Jack, she’s supposed to go on a business trip with him to New York (red flag) which Christian forbids.

Make no mistake about it, Christian has never seen Ana as an independent, autonomous person with the right to say no.  He has always viewed her as a prized possession, one he covets more than anything else he has ever acquired in his life.  The more she resists and contemplates, albeit halfheartedly, escaping for good, the more panicked and needy he becomes as he unconvincingly lures her back in with what she truly wants:  deeper intimacy.

But how do you achieve true intimacy with a wealthy jerk-off who has so much baggage that he has never made peace with?  How do you maintain monogamy when the remnants of his past are still very much a part of his present?  I’d like to say the answer is you can’t.  But Fifty Shades Freed, the upcoming final installment in this heatless franchise, will most likely disagree.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, November 17, 2017
12:22 a.m.

Published in: on November 17, 2017 at 12:22 am  Leave a Comment  

Neon Maniacs

“When the world is ruled by violence and the soul of mankind fades, the children’s path shall be darkened by the shadows of the Neon Maniacs.”

So begins this extremely cheesy, not so scary regurgitation of tired horror clichés.

Who are the Neon Maniacs?  They’re monster archetypes who only come out at night to kill cops, birds and teens for reasons that are never ever properly explained.  This is for those who thought Friday The 13th was too cerebral.

After the super serious narrator utters those pretentious opening lines to a black screen, we fade in as a fisherman gives up trying to catch something.  As he walks back home, he spots an animal skull, flips it over and finds a pack of trading cards featuring, you guessed it, the Neon Maniacs.  When he looks at one featuring a demon with an axe, guess what happens.  I don’t think I was supposed to laugh that hard.

During the day, the monsters hide in a locked, abandoned storage space under the Golden Gate Bridge. When night falls, they start to roam looking for new victims.  It just so happens that a bunch of drunken, horny teenagers are hanging out in a nearby park.

Only one, a virgin, survives.  Yeah, I didn’t see that comin’.

When she gives a statement to the police, because this is a very dumb horror film, they don’t believe her. They think it’s a terrible prank.  When virgin girl returns to school, the sister of one of her missing friends angrily confronts her in the cafeteria.  Shortly thereafter, the principal sends her home for a while.  It’s hardly a punishment.  Her parents are on a European vacation and she gets to lounge around in her swimwear by the family pool.

While making one of his deliveries for his father’s grocery store, an aspiring musician with a big ol’ crush on her (he intervenes on her appreciative behalf during the lunchtime fracas) refuses a tip in exchange for a movie date.  But on their way to the theatre, the monsters catch up with them on the subway.  Unlike the way they immediately confront virgin girl’s friends at the park, these now suddenly hesitant villains corner the burgeoning couple…and do nothing else which eventually allows them to get away unscathed.  There’s another predictable incident on a bus with a similar outcome.  That special effect has not aged well.

Meanwhile, a horror-lovin’ tomboy, an aspiring filmmaker, keeps bugging virgin girl for intel on the Neon Maniacs, thanks to an informative call from one of her gossipy collaborators.  (The only evidence of their existence is some green goo left behind in the park.  The cops can’t determine what it is exactly.  Where’s Grissom when you need him?)  She’s tight-lipped so one night, tomboy takes her giant camcorder with her on a surveillance mission and makes an important discovery.  Water is their weakness.  Good God.

Near the end of the film, there’s a really terrible battle of the bands event at their high school.  Virgin girl’s new boyfriend turns out to be a wimpier Rick Springfield as his pitiful group competes with an even worse glam metal foursome.  (I owe Krokus an apology.)  Cut in the middle of these bad performances are scenes of the surviving Maniacs secretly infiltrating the school.  (Guys, breaking glass seems unnecessary when you can just walk right in through the open door.)  Because everybody on the dance floor is in costume, they blend in until tomboy spots one.

Out comes the squirtgun.

Although Neon Maniacs has a couple of genuine laughs (tomboy burns a nervy cop for riding her bike without permission, for instance), this hopeless, derivative mess produces more unintentional moments of amusement than actual frights.  (The easy listening synth-pop soundtrack doesn’t help matters.)  The cops take forever to actually infiltrate the monsters’ secret lair and they’re not exactly thorough, either.  The pacing is rather sluggish, as well.

Looking back, the timing of the film’s original release felt off considering how unpopular most slasher films had gotten by the middle of the 80s.  (In contrast, monster movies never go out of style which is probably why the heels aren’t human.)  There is zero interest in offering any kind of backstory for these one-note nocturnal demon killers.  (Where did they come from?  Why do they live in San Francisco?  What do they do when they’re not homicidal?  Why are they homicidal?)  And it’s hard to fear them when they can be easily defeated by a basic necessity.

As for the ending, yes, it’s most unsatisfying but what would you expect from a threadbare plot that uses mystery as a cover for its complete and utter lack of cohesion?  Put simply, there is no resolution and it’s completely ridiculous.

Neon Maniacs had a very brief theatrical run in 1986.  Is anybody surprised?

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, November 13, 2017
9:13 p.m.

Published in: on November 13, 2017 at 9:13 pm  Leave a Comment  


Can we stop pretending that Rob Zombie is a legitimate filmmaker?  At this point, with six theatrical features under his belt, there’s no escaping this undeniable truth.  The man is a hack, an overwrought schlockmeister who is so bereft of original ideas he’s now recycling his own.

Set on Halloween 1976, 31 is a derivative cross between his debut House Of 1000 Corpses and The Running Man.  A van full of travelling circus freaks get sneak attacked by another group of circus freaks.  The five survivors are kidnapped (three get stabbed to death) and informed by Roddy McDowell (who looks like an extra from Amadeus for some unknown reason) that for the next 12 hours, it’s kill or be killed.  (He makes random announcements over a loudspeaker while one of his colleagues makes periodic countdown updates.)  The action takes place in what looks like an abandoned prison.

Each is given a number and odds on how long they’ll last which ultimately get adjusted throughout the course of the film.  McDowell and two other powdered-wigged old ladies (one of whom is Jane Carr, the sex-obsessed divorce counsellor from Dear John) place their bets accordingly.

First, they have to survive Tiny Latino Hitler.  Then, a couple of Leatherface wannabes, a tall German man in a tutu, his much shorter girlfriend and the big boss, as it were, Doom-Head (Richard Brake), a chatty freelance murderer.  Imagine if Jack Nicholson played The Joker while looking like Heath Ledger from The Dark Knight but without the wit and actual terror.  Considering how much of a raging misogynist he is, it’s amazing he has a girlfriend.  Fun fact:  he likes banging while watching Nosferatu.

Speaking of that, hardly a moment goes by without a female character being referred to as a bitch, a cunt or a whore, and almost everybody is obsessed with sex but in repeatedly gross and annoying ways, both tired Rob Zombie trademarks.  (We could be spared the cake joke and the baby joke.)  Not content enough to fail solely as a director, he once again bombs as a writer offering some of the clunkiest, overwritten dialogue you’ll ever hear.  (One character makes up a terrible song while on the toilet.  And yes, because this is a Zombie production, you hear the plop near the end of it.)

We spend way too much time in the beginning of the film getting to know the victims who we immediately don’t like and don’t care about.  Zombie’s charismatic wife, Shari Moon Zombie (the only one to appear in all of his terrible movies), is an oversexed pothead with a lion bandanna for a top who teases a grumpy old man at a gas station.  (Yep, she gets “slut” shamed for it.)  Former Sweathog Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs employs a very bad Jamaican accent.  Meg Foster (who played a witch in The Lords Of Salem), Jeff Daniel Phillips (Moon’s fellow DJ in the same film) and Kevin Jackson round out the cast of unsympathetic victims.

As the game of death drags on, it’s not a surprise who the final survivor will be.  But did they actually survive?  31 ends rather inconclusively for reasons I suspect involve yet another unnecessary sequel.  Instead of finishing off the last “contestant” in an instant, Doom-Head gets gabby.  In between a punch to the head and a brief but not fatal strangulation, he wastes time by quoting a famous revolutionary and declaring his intentions.  Just as he’s about to finish the job he just got paid double to do, time runs out.  The sole survivor, bloodied and bleary-eyed, staggers out on the street walking nowhere in particular.  Then, a van pulls up behind her and a man steps out.

You guessed it.  It’s Doom-Head.  (The name Joker was already taken.)  They stare each other down, he pulls out his trusty switchblades…

And that’s it.  Fake home movie footage of our doomed heroes in happier times plays (did we just get Thelma & Louised?) and a van with a devil head on the back doors rides down the road as a cool acoustic instrumental plays and the end credits roll.

Rob Zombie had such a difficult time raising money the traditional way for 31 he had to resort to crowdsourcing.  Maybe the industry is finally acknowledging what I have believed since the beginning.  The man can neither write nor direct.  He doesn’t know how to scare you.  He only knows how to irritate and disgust you.  That being said, 31 is not his worst film.  (At least no one gets raped this time.)

Zombie appears incapable of making an effective thriller but he knows a good pop song when he hears one.  And every once in a while, in between pretentious 70s-style freeze frames and hard-to-follow shakiness, there’s a decent camera shot (like the one that introduces Doom-Head who at first resembles a shadowy, stick-figured alien as he walks towards his first victim) and a somewhat successful attempt at Tarantino-like small talk.  You have to admit the cockroach bit in the opening scene is fascinating.

But his lack of a terrifying imagination is undeniable at this point.  He just doesn’t possess the professional polish of a John Carpenter or the clever, philosophical underpinnings of a Wes Craven.  He has no love for his characters, especially women.  And he doesn’t know how to suck in an audience like Alfred Hitchcock.  He traffics in bloody mediocrity by the truckload because he can’t produce original, suspenseful scenarios.

Put simply, when a Zombie production begins, you just want it to end already.  But like franchise horror villains who won’t stay dead, you know he’ll be back to bore us once more.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, November 5, 2017
3:09 p.m.

Published in: on November 5, 2017 at 3:09 pm  Leave a Comment  

Revisiting Harvey Weinstein’s 2014 Appearance On The Howard Stern Show

On January 15, 2014, Harvey Weinstein appeared on The Howard Stern Show.  He was in to promote two new movies, August: Osage County, which starred Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep, and Philomena with Steve Coogan and Judi Dench.  Much of the fawning discussion revolved around successful moneymakers for Miramax and The Weinstein Company which helped solidify Weinstein’s professional reputation as an art house mogul with the golden touch.

But in the wake of the endless deluge of sexual harassment and assault stories that have recently plagued the now fired co-founder of TWC (who also just got banned from the Motion Picture Academy) (October 16 UPDATE: he’s also been kicked out of the Producers Guild of America.), some parts of the interview are worth another look.

According to MarksFriggin.com, Mark Mercer’s superfan site that’s been summarizing daily broadcasts of The Howard Stern Show for decades, at one point during the interview, Weinstein volunteered a story he claimed was an exclusive:

Harvey said he’ll tell him a story that he’s never told.  He said he had a script called Good Will Hunting years ago.  He said that they needed 1 million dollars to make the movie.  Harvey said he walked in and had a meeting with Kevin Smith and someone else.  He said at one point there was a blow job scene.  He said they put that scene in the movie to test the movie studio heads.  They were wondering who read the script and he was the only one who noticed it.  He said that’s how the movie got made.”

The official HowardStern.com website relayed the same story this way:


First up, Harvey wanted to tell a story that he could never tell before (because he’s never been in a long-form, uncensored environment like Studio 69 [in the Sirius/XM building]).  He met with the young, unknown duo of Ben Affleck and Matt Damon when they were shopping around their script Good Will Hunting.

Harvey liked the script, except for one odd scene where the professor (played by Robin Williams) gives another professor a blow job.  Ben and Matt said they put that scene in as a test – Of all the executives they met, Harvey was the only one who noticed.  He’s one of the few ‘moguls’ who actually reads scripts.”

A little later on in the interview, according to MarksFriggin.com but curiously not mentioned on HowardStern.com, there was this now uncomfortable exchange:

“Howard said he has to imagine that every starlet in Hollywood wants to blow him.  Harvey said it works that way for the actors.  Howard said actresses could be made a star overnight.  Harvey said the risks are too great and he can’t do that.  Howard said he’s saying he can’t just go into a room and pull down his pants and tell someone to do something to him.  Harvey said there are some that may have done that but that’s not what he does.

Howard said he knows some directors who have said the same thing.  There’s not that much of that going on.  Harvey said there really isn’t.”

With the massive, ongoing fallout following several damning exposes in The New York Times, The New Yorker and more recently, The Washington Post, among numerous other publications online and off, which has inspired other women to publicly accuse other prominent Hollywood talent for similar abuses, this part of the interview has aged rather poorly, to put it mildly.  Stern, a supposedly good interviewer, looks really dumb here buying into Weinstein’s load of bull without question.  (October 16 CLARIFICATION:  TMZ has released audio from the interview.  Reading Stern’s quoted questioning plays very differently than Mark Mercer’s admittedly imperfect summary.  Although he did not call him out for lying, the way Stern premised his question (“Don’t tell me it doesn’t work like that.”) reveals that he wasn’t a naïve observer.)  (Also, Katharine Hepburn won 4 Oscars so Weinstein’s daughter was wrong about no woman in Hollywood ever achieving that.  Weinstein claimed she said that Streep would win her fourth for her work in August: Osage County.  She didn’t.) 

After briefly discussing politics (Weinstein supported NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg and vowed to take on the NRA which he called “a disaster area”), according only to MarksFriggin.com, Stern brought up his second marriage:

Howard said sex with his wife must be through the roof.  Howard asked if he worries about his wife, Georgina Chapman, running around behind his back.  Harvey said it’s a solid marriage.  He said she’s great.”

Oh, the irony.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, October 15, 2017
6:59 p.m.

UPDATE:  From MarksFriggin.com’s report of today’s broadcast:

“Howard said he knew he was lying…Howard said he knew a girl who told him years ago that she had met with Harvey and he had come on to her and she laughed.  Howard said she was laughing about it and said she got up and left.  Howard said she made it seem like it was no big deal…[With regards to Hollywood in general] Howard said there’s a lot of pedophilia going on too.”

So, why didn’t he call out Weinstein for lying to him right there and then in 2014?  And why did he seem to agree with him by noting that other directors had told him the same thing about the lack of harassment and abuse, another big whopper?

Later, during Robin’s news, as a number of Weinstein stories came up for discussion, there was this summarized exchange:

“Howard asked why it didn’t come out back then.  Robin said no one jumped on it.”


Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, October 16, 2017
5:49 p.m.

Published in: on October 15, 2017 at 7:00 pm  Leave a Comment