Kick-Ass

Kick-Ass isn’t a superhero movie.  It’s a lazy mob saga drenched in fascism.

It’s not about likeable individuals with special powers who abide by a long established code of ethics to foil seemingly unstoppable supervillains.  It’s about wronged parties seeking misguided revenge against reckless, ordinary goons by targeting them for extrajudicial assassination.  How is this ok?

In yet another one of his strangest performances, Nicolas Cage is one of those wronged people.  He needlessly served five years in prison thanks to a frame job by a generic mob boss named Frank D’Amico.  Left alone to fend for herself, his pregnant wife died giving birth to their only child, the charismatic Chloe Grace Moritz.  (For some reason, Cage has documented his tale of woe in comic book form.)

No longer serving as a law enforcement drug warrior, he has been secretly training his game 11-year-old daughter to fight alongside him as they both attempt to take down D’Amico and his operation without any assistance from his former employers, his more sensible ex-partner (and one-time guardian of Moritz) being a notable exception.

In one of many uncomfortable scenes played for non-existent laughs (what a mistake to make this a comedy), Cage tests Moritz by popping a few “low velocity” bullets into her protected chest to prepare her for the pain of getting shot.  (Talk about Father Of The Year.)  At night, when they begin systematically eliminating D’Amico’s absurdly outmatched associates, she becomes a purple wigged, Lone Ranger masked Hit Girl and he becomes a Batman wannabe named Big Daddy.

Despite being petite, in a number of implausible sequences, this foul-mouthed sidekick singlehandedly takes out in brutal fashion a large number of D’Amico’s heavily armed men.  I haven’t witnessed action scenes this preposterous since the first Charlie’s Angels movie.

Meanwhile, Cage makes the odd decision to alter the cadence of his voice for Big Daddy in a very awkward way.  I’m not sure this was the intention but it sure sounds like he’s trying to imitate William Shatner with his sometimes delayed, sometimes bombastic staccato delivery.  It doesn’t work.  He sounds daft, especially in his final scene.

After taking out a bunch of D’Amico’s drug dealers, Hit Girl encounters Kick-Ass, a not-so-skilled wannabe superhero who’s only in this godforsaken place because he’s trying to impress a cute girl who unfortunately thinks he’s gay.  (Don’t ask.)

He’s really a nerdy high school kid tired of being picked on by those punks in the parking lot who keep shaking him and his friends down for their cash, phones and comic books.  When he’s not masturbating thinking about his busty English teacher (is that really appropriate attire to wear around hormonal young dudes, Mrs. Zane?), he dreams of transforming his defenseless self into a skilled, fighting machine.

Gene Siskel wisely noted that if a superhero doesn’t have a decent costume to wear, the movie won’t be decent, either.  When Kick-Ass orders a hideous green scuba diving outfit over the Internet, it’s one of the many reasons you question his sanity.

With absolutely no athletic ability whatsoever, he makes the fatefully foolish decision to confront his two parking lot tormenters where despite getting a few licks in, he takes the beating of his life.  Incredibly, he survives.  But more importantly he’s lost a lot of feeling and has acquired metal plates which means he can take even more punishment.  He’s The Brooklyn Brawler without any sense.

Inevitably, while confronting three attackers who chase and beat up a man for reasons that are never divulged, Kick-Ass becomes an Internet folk hero when cell phone videos of the battle are posted online. News channels cover the story while the local comic book store starts cashing in.  Craig Ferguson thinks he’s dressed like a transvestite.  So many missed opportunities for clever satire here.

Hit Girl and Big Daddy become his mentors but that will bite them in the ass pretty hard when Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Superbad’s McLovin) transforms himself into Red Mist.  Despite his tricked out ride, he’s exactly like Kick-Ass, a lonely guy looking for a purpose and a self-esteem boost.  He contacts Kick-Ass through his popular MySpace page (the movie was released in 2010).

Unfortunately, he’s a deceptive little shit.  Frank D’Amico is his father.  Red Mist is bait for Kick-Ass to be lured into a trap that goes horribly wrong.  D’Amico is under the mistaken impression that an inept high school teen is responsible for his recent losses and not the vengeful ex-cop he doesn’t realize is out to get him.  In fact, he never learns this, even when he’s confronted by Cage’s daughter in a hyperviolent scene that is incredibly cringeworthy and irresponsible.

Besides the complete lack of funny, perceptive moments, it’s the grotesque violence that ultimately makes Kick-Ass such an off-putting film.  This isn’t a fun experience at all.

The movie can’t decide whether to be realistic or a fantasy so it tries to be both which fatally underscores its muddled existence.  While of course it’s believable that an inexperienced high school kid with zero martial arts training would repeatedly find himself on the receiving end of so many blows, there’s no way in hell a young child could ever inflict the kind of mayhem routinely seen in countless shoot-em-ups while only suffering a bloody nose.  And why does Hit Girl have such a potty mouth?  Did we not learn our lesson from The Last Boy Scout?

There’s a creepy scene where Kick-Ass sneaks into his high school crush’s bedroom while she’s brushing her hair.  After she understandably freaks out and proves once again that he’s such a wimpy character, he finally reveals his true identity and sexuality.  Then, they have sex.  Sure.

When Red Mist’s betrayal leads to the capture of Big Daddy and Kick-Ass, D’Amico arranges a live Internet broadcast where they are viciously beaten by his masked hired hands in front of the whole world.  (Would TV news channels really cut away because of excessive violence?  Give us a break.  And why would people be watching this on TV in the first place?)  A gal pal of Kick-Ass’ now-girlfriend hugs one of his terminally unfunny friends and looks away in horror.  Meanwhile, while his friend is getting humiliated in real-time, this guy is looking awfully pleased with himself.  And no, he doesn’t know Kick-Ass is his friend.  Still, as Hit Girl would put it, what a douche.

The very first scene in the film is a heartless swerve.  As the future Kick-Ass narrates his rationale for being a vigilante, we witness another poor misguided sap plunging to his death.  The movie wants us to believe our hero has already died two minutes in.  But then he reveals the man is an Algerian with mental health problems.  Tone-deaf.

Early on in the film, Cage’s former partner on the police force pays him a visit.  It’s the first of two personal warnings that D’Amico is after him (and one of his fellow officers is on his payroll).  As he leaves, he says something wise.  He tells Cage that he owes his daughter a childhood.

The makers of Kick-Ass owe us an apology.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, April 22, 2018
6:35 p.m.

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Published in: on April 22, 2018 at 6:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

XXX: Return Of Xander Cage

Vin Diesel is one lucky son of a bitch.

Back at the start of the 2000s, he broke through in three films:  Pitch Black, The Fast And The Furious, XXX.  All were popular enough to spawn sequels.  But instead of appearing in the follow-ups to all three, Diesel restricted himself to just one:  The Chronicles Of Riddick, the second Pitch Black movie.

When 2 Fast 2 Furious and XXX: State Of The Union were released, he was persona non grata.  Hell, he was even killed off in XXX 2.  Instead of cashing in on his success, Diesel thought it was a better idea to appear in The Pacifier.  Yeah, it made a shitload of money, too, but try sitting through it.  Has anyone been begging for a sequel to that garbage?

His other film projects didn’t turn as a big a profit, though, so inevitably he came crawling back to the cinematic playgrounds responsible for his fame.  First, he returned to The Fast And The Furious franchise which added The Rock to the cast and became even more lucrative than before.  Then, he made another Pitch Black sequel, Riddick.

For a decade, Diesel expressed public interest in doing a third XXX.  But there was the inconvenient problem of his character being dead.  No problem.  Let’s just pretend he faked his death and we can all get back to cashing multi-million dollar pay cheques again.

Finally released in January 2017, XXX: Return Of Xander Cage is less a movie than a cynical exercise in formula restoration.  Like Vin Diesel himself, it is smug, contemptible and completely obnoxious.

If you recall the original, Diesel was an extreme sports fanatic recruited by Samuel L. Jackson for a top secret government program called Triple-X.  (Shouldn’t Diesel’s XXX tattoo on the back of his neck be redacted?)  He was essentially James Bond with no hair, lots of tattoos and little charm.  16 years later, he hasn’t changed.

When we first see him in number three, he’s become something of a folk hero.  Laying low in the Dominican Republic, the local townspeople want to see the Brazil-Germany football match on TV.  Long story short, Diesel makes it happen by stealing a satellite signal from a cable tower.  The whole sequence is played out mysteriously until all the TVs in the area tune into the match just as it begins.  (Def Con One this isn’t.)  Disappointing the Dominicans, not the audience, is the “crisis” he’s averting.

Instead of being approached again by Jackson (who must’ve studied John Malkovich in Red 2), Diesel is put through a strange test of sorts before conferring with an icy blond (and extremely dumb) Toni Collette, another high ranking government official although I don’t remember what her actual position is.  As we witness for ourselves at the start of the film, a satellite comes crashing down on Earth just as Jackson is pitching Brazillian footballer Neymar Jr. on joining the Triple-X program.

Before briefing Diesel, Collette reveals in a not very discreet meeting with other high ranking officials (can’t you morons afford curtains or better security?) that someone has a device her team has nicknamed Pandora’s Box because it has the ability to select any of a wide number of satellites as potential bombs to be dropped on people they don’t like.  (Why not drones?  Don’t satellites completely disintegrate upon entering Earth’s atmosphere?)

Why is this happening?  Two words:  mass surveillance.  They want it to stop.

Of course, this explanation turns out to be bullshit.  It’s all a ruse because some government officials want to discontinue the Triple-X program for good.  Why?  Who the fuck knows or cares?

The government meeting gets interrupted by what turns out to be another Triple-X agent.  He crashes through the windows with no curtains and somehow manages to singlehandedly take control without receiving so much as a scratch.  He also snatches what he thinks is the Pandora’s Box device right from Collette’s hands.  It’s actually just a prototype that can only select one target.

Along with his three fellow Triple-Xers, the international foursome retreat to an island in the Philippines where there’s considerable disagreement about what to do with the device they don’t yet realize isn’t the real Pandora’s Box.  One wants it destroyed.  The other wants to use it for some reason.  Neither decision will change anything.

Meanwhile, after literally ejecting the team of grunts Collette assigns to him on a giant military plane he’s been commissioned, Diesel instead recruits a terrible DJ, a bearded maniac who keeps track of how many crashes he’s survived (close to 200) and Ruby Rose, a self-appointed protector of wild animals.  Through an impromptu weapons deal, they’re allowed into an island party thrown by the other Triple-Xers (the ones who stole the Pandora’s Box prototype).

There’s a bizarre scene where Diesel sits down with two of them and live grenades are passed around in an unexciting game of chicken.  (How is it they don’t know they’re all in the same government program?) Quickly clicking a button prevents certain obliteration.  Not clicking would’ve been more interesting.

Then, a couple of helicopters arrive and shortly thereafter, the expected chaos ensues.

In what becomes an irritating recurring theme throughout the film, those who point their massive weaponry at Diesel don’t do the obvious thing by shooting him in the head.  Instead, they let him yak and yak and yak (or they blather on too long) until he determines how to get himself and his team out unscathed while they all lay dead on the ground.

The worst example of this is during a later scene on that commissioned war plane.  Toni Collette keeps talking and talking and while she does eventually shoot Diesel, does she aim for his rather large cranium?  Nope.  She pops him three times in the chest where it’s highly unlikely he’s not wearing impenetrable body armor.

Inevitably, the two sets of Triple-X teams align for the common cause of stopping the continuing threat of those falling satellite bombs.  A very annoying Nina Dobrev plays a government gadget guru and tech whiz who alternates between interfering with the Pandora’s Box’s targeting (basically delaying a strike from a specific satellite) and bizarrely lusting for Diesel.  (Every woman except for Collette has the same unconvincing reaction to him.)  She’s never been out in the field facing any kind of hostility before so of course she gets to kill baddies, intentionally and accidentally, as well.

XXX: Return Of Xander Cage is deeply in love with itself, especially when it thinks it’s being funny (it never is) and during its increasingly ludicrous action stunts, one of which was filmed in a downtown street in my hometown.  The heroes always know they’re never in any real, serious danger so they constantly snark and smirk while punching, kicking and shooting.  Put simply, there’s too much showing off and not a lot of intriguing storytelling.

Ice Cube makes a surprise cameo in the nick of time reprising his role from State Of The Union but all his appearance does is depressingly suggest a future pairing.  Because XXX 3 made money, this seems unpreventable.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, April 13, 2018
5:01 p.m.

Published in: on April 13, 2018 at 5:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

London Has Fallen

Early on in London Has Fallen, we learn about a notorious international arms dealer.  He’s from Yemen and he lives like a king.  In the middle of his daughter’s lavish outdoor wedding, a mysterious figure sends a text message indicating his presence.  Moments later, the party is attacked by an American drone.

But two years later, we discover he has survived.  And he is very, very angry about what has happened to his daughter.  (Curiously, no other victims are mentioned.)

Like its predecessor, Olympus Has Fallen, London Has Fallen is deliberately myopic about the effects of America’s draconian foreign policies.  In the earlier film, North Koreans had a legitimate gripe about unmentioned US sanctions that were causing mass famine.  In the sequel, it’s Obama’s heartless drone wars killing Muslim civilians.  When these inconvenient truths are pointed out by the villains in both films, their anger is cruelly dismissed by US government officials whose xenophobic bloodlust trumps any and all humanitarian concerns.

It’s particularly galling to see Yemen exploited as a setting here for the purpose of selling US war propaganda when you consider how much it has been decimated by Saudi Arabia & its American ally these last three years.  It’s not the poorest Middle Eastern country by choice.

Once again, Gerard Butler, the torture-happy secret service agent who singlehandedly ended the North Korean siege of the White House in Olympus, is back by President Aaron Eckhart’s side.  He’s now an expectant father (Radha Mitchell returns to her thankless role as his partner) thinking of retiring for good.

But then the British Prime Minister suddenly dies.  This means there will be a state funeral filled with foreign leaders except the unnamed Russian President which is clearly a cheap dig at Putin.  Despite the tight security, it all goes horribly wrong when various law enforcement officers start opening fire on everybody and numerous bombs go off all across London.  Several world leaders are murdered but Butler is able to protect the President and his entourage.

As they make their frantic escape, they are trailed by determined gunmen on motorcycles.  Not all of the President’s team make it to their waiting helicopter.  Once onboard and in the air, not only are they attacked, so too are their two doomed flying escorts.

As RPGs fly through the air obliterating the American contingency, Eckhart and Butler’s copter crashes hard leaving them the sole survivors.  They have no other option but to run as endless guerrillas continue to hunt them down.

Despite its uncomfortably racist overtones, this whole sequence is, if you’ll forgive the bad pun, well executed if completely preposterous.  Like Olympus, London makes a mockery of national security procedures proving once again that there is no such thing as being and feeling completely safe.  Having said that, though, how could this scene possibly take place in the real world?  It would require an unfathomable amount of stupidity and laxity that defies common sense.

At any event, it soon becomes clear that all of this violence (and the ensuing blackout) is only happening because of that ill-advised drone strike.  When the international arms dealer also points out that the American government also sells weaponry to shady characters, just like he does, that goes over like a lead balloon.

Once again, Morgan Freeman becomes the acting President back home in Washington.  Promoted from Speaker Of The House to Vice President (because the last VP was executed), he and his team assist the Brits in their investigation of the arms dealer.  A mole is correctly suspected and unlike Dylan McDermott in Olympus, the former’s reasoning for turning heel are much clearer.

Butler and Eckhart make their way to an MI6 safe house where we meet the lovely Charlotte Riley in a very good performance as a cynical British spy.  Perhaps realizing that Olympus was too much of a Die Hard rip-off, Butler doesn’t get to pull off his one-man John McClane act this time around.  Riley’s efforts alone prove invaluable to ending the crisis, even if they’re not always ethical.

Back on the run, just when they think it can’t get any worse, Butler watches helplessly in his crashed, flipped, borrowed getaway vehicle as Eckhart gets kidnapped and later threatened with a decapitation to be broadcast live on the Internet for the whole world to see.  Good thing some British grunts are in the area.

Shortening the running time (99 minutes instead of two hours) and changing the locale does not make London Has Fallen a better movie than its predecessor, despite the improved action sequences.  No amount of superficial adjustments can overcome its disgusting white supremacy.  This becomes abundantly clear during the final speech where once again American arrogance is preferred over the wisdom of isolationism.  Being repeatedly warned about the chronic foolishness of interfering in geopolitical hot zones where consequential actions can haunt for decades is openly combatted with a stubborn determination to maintain the role of empire despite the growing mass resistance to this crumbling philosophy.

This crucial lesson will still not be learned in Angel Has Fallen.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, April 10, 2018
4:17 a.m.

Published in: on April 10, 2018 at 4:18 am  Leave a Comment  

Olympus Has Fallen

America’s history in the Korean Peninsula is an ugly one.  From 1950 to 1953, the military bombed the North so often and so brutally they had literally run out of targets to attack.  Hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians were obliterated thanks to the use of questionable weaponry and deliberate recklessness, the full extent of which is only now coming to light.  Although there’s been no violence since, the Korean War is still going on today.  Only a tenuous truce has prevented more bloodshed on a mass scale but for how much longer?

It’s no wonder this permanent stain on America’s political legacy is mostly ignored in Olympus Has Fallen, a sometimes silly but often troubling piece of blatant propaganda that dismisses legitimate North Korean anger towards historical war crimes and ongoing repression.

President Aaron Eckhart is preparing to meet with the leader of South Korea to work out a possible solution to the North’s growing military presence on their border.  Unfortunately, his security detail has been secretly infiltrated by Northern commandos.

Meanwhile, a couple of North Korean pilots have seized a US Air Force plane and arrive in DC with guns a-blazing.  The scene starts out so ridiculously and implausibly I laughed out loud.  But then the violent attack goes on and on until part of the Washington Monument gets destroyed.  That’s an effective moment that also serves as an unwelcome metaphor.  Because the monument is quite phallic, its partial decimation suggests deflated military strength caused by a sleeping national security state.  But we need less toxic masculinity, not more.

As the attack from the air is happening, secret service agent Cole Hauser (who’s quite good here) quickly ushers the President and the South Korean team to the legendary underground White House bunker.  This is a very stupid decision because once safely ensconced that’s when the North Koreans take control.  A former agent Dylan McDermott turns heel and hilariously notes to Eckhart that he’s not exactly a fan.  He also points out that the President is owned by the superrich.  It’s never clear, however, why McDermott betrays his country.  There’s no mention of a pay-off.

So, why is this happening?  The North Koreans are fed up with all their suffering and mass starvation caused by all those barbaric US/UN sanctions that are conveniently not mentioned, for if they were we’d be more sympathetic.  (Kang, their leader, is also pissed off about what happened to his parents.)

So, how are they going to punish the US?  By activating Cerberus, a secret nuclear program that normally would be used to prevent wrongly launched missiles from detonating, something that hasn’t been needed thus far.  The North Koreans want to use it to blow up the nukes on American soil.

But the program can’t be used without the implementation of three codes.  Thankfully, the individual possessors of those codes are in the bunker with them.  In the worst scene in the movie, Oscar winner Melissa Leo, the outmuscled Secretary of Defense, gets brutally beaten until the President orders her to give up her code.  It’s such an unconscionable sequence I cringed all the way through it.

What would likely take days to crack now will only take minutes since the third code, which the President possesses but the North Koreans never ask for, is the only code left to hack.  Why don’t they force Eckhart to give it up?  Probably because their original plan to kidnap his young son to force him to choose is foiled by another former secret service agent Gerard Butler (who also co-produced this nonsense).

Butler blames himself for the harsh death of the First Lady (Ashley Judd), a weird sequence that opens the film.  While en route to a fundraiser under less than ideal weather conditions, the President’s car spirals out of control and hangs perilously over the edge of a bridge.  Eckhart is able to escape but before Judd’s seatbelt can be completely cut off the vehicle plunges into the hard ice below.

Now working a desk job in the Treasury Department, Butler springs into action during the air attack and like John McClane in several Die Hard movies, he singlehandedly reduces the odds of a nuclear holocaust.  (The North Koreans also want American troops and naval ships to be pulled out so they can invade the South and forcefully unite the two countries.)

Because the President and the Vice President are cooped up in the bunker, hawkish Speaker Of The House Morgan Freeman is the acting President.  Butler communicates with him, secret service director Angela Bassett, general Robert Forrester and a whole slew of Pentagon no-nothings through the President’s satellite phone.  (Gotta love the shocked deputy NSA director whose mouth is frequently open.)

There’s a very dumb sequence where Freeman and Forrester order six military helicopters to attack Korean snipers on the White House roof even though they’ve been warned about launching any kind of countermeasures against them.  (Kang isn’t opposed to executing hostages on the spot.)  When Butler warns them that the Koreans have acquired the top secret Hydra weapon and they should cancel this doomed offensive, he’s overruled but proven correct.  It’s only after most of the copters go down that Freeman finally calls it off.

The Koreans also request a fully fuelled chopper to make their eventual escape.  When it blows up suddenly, only a fool would think the threat is over.

Olympus Has Fallen was directed by Antoine Fuqua who directed Denzel Washington to his second Oscar in the sharp, cutting Training Day, a far more cynical film about American institutions.  Here, he prefers the offensive, simplistic story of Koreans bad, Americans good.  Any critiques about US government malfeasance are kept to a minimum and not dwelled on.  There is neither guilt nor outspoken regret for racist policies.  Just righteous anger against these evil infiltrators.  How dare they attack us when all we’ve done is help starve their people?

Imagine if the roles were reversed and it was America invading North Korea.

That said, the film suggests the national security state is run by incompetent idiots who can be easily outsmarted by more sophisticated foreigners they foolishly underestimate.  That is painfully on the mark even though the way it’s shown here is preposterous.  America is run by notorious paranoids and there’s no way this could ever be pulled off in the real world.

Setting aside its questionable politics, the film follows the Die Hard playbook way too closely.  Butler secretly takes out Korean goons whenever he can just like John McClane did to those thieving Germans.  Kang taunts him just like Hans Gruber.  Butler taunts him right back.  Butler frequently communicates with the Pentagon over a secure line undetected by the stereotypical baddies.  (Remember John McClane’s private walkie talkie convos with Sgt. Al, his contact on the outside?)  The botched US military response.  (Remember the FBI idiots in Die Hard?)  And of course, the obligatory code cracking scene.

The numerous fight scenes have their moments (is Butler an Alberto Del Rio mark?) but this is hardly a fun movie.  A whole lot of innocent people get brutally killed purely to put heat on villains that are walking stereotypes.  When you don’t care about the plot, you’re less invested in the gun play and fisticuffs.  Put simply, this is one of the more violent action films I’ve seen in recent years.

As always with movies like this, there is a countdown clock.  Once Cerberus is activated, a thoroughly fatigued Butler (does he ever stop to pee?) needs the override code to stop the coming of Armageddon within five minutes.  Why is it set for five instead of one or two?  Maybe to give the villains enough time to safely leave American airspace which, of course, doesn’t happen.  Or maybe to give that NSA guy with the shocked, open mouth plenty of time to recite a password even a toddler on their worst day could guess.  I’m not sure it was intended to be funny but by God it is.  Hashtag?  Backslash?  Are you fucking kidding me?

When the crisis finally ends, there is the obligatory speech where the fallen and the survivors are honoured and remembered for their sacrifices.  But then, there’s the usual sanctimonious bullshit about how America was attacked for its values and for its freedoms but not for its cruel bombing campaigns and economic sanctions against foreign countries it continually invades.  There’s more crap about how the US finds its united strength when it’s under assault (What is this?  Independence Day?) but no second guessing of its increasingly aggressive and inevitably failed empirical ambitions.

History is for suckers, apparently.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, April 10, 2018
4:04 a.m.

Published in: on April 10, 2018 at 4:04 am  Leave a Comment  

Shutter (2008)

At the beginning of Shutter, professional photographer Joshua Jackson marries a beautiful grade school teacher Rachael Taylor.  All seems perfect until they go on their Japanese honeymoon.

While driving to their cabin, Taylor plows into a mysterious woman who appears out of nowhere.  The car crashes into a nearby tree knocking out the occupants.  When the couple awakens, the woman has disappeared and there’s no blood on the road.  Taylor is frantic and guilt-ridden.  Bizarrely, neither think it’s a good idea to go to the hospital.

They eventually make it to their destination where Jackson reassures Taylor about the woman’s well-being and they cheerfully snap some outdoor photos together.  The honeymoon is short-lived, though, because the photog has been assigned to do some fashion shoots for his old colleagues in Tokyo.

While Jackson’s off directing Asian models for undetermined campaigns, a bored Taylor roams the city encountering nothing but hostility and indifference.  She also spots the mystery woman she hit with her car which causes her to freak out.

Jackson’s been spotting the woman, too, but for a while, he suspiciously keeps this information to himself.  Long before it’s properly exposed, we generally know why.

Taylor and Jackson both notice on their own a weird presence in their photos, a bright light that appears to be human.  His outdoor shoot is completely ruined because of this unwanted photobombing.

Apparently, this phenomenon is called spiritual photography.  Jackson’s assistant takes a curious Taylor to meet her ex-boyfriend, the publisher of a magazine completely devoted to the subject.  Although the photos in every issue are fraudulent (Taylor spots an employee photoshopping a fake ghost-like image in one such snap), the publisher shows her his growing collection of real ones.  (With so many authentic photos at his disposal, why does he keep them secret?  How come they’re not in the magazine?)  He also tells her about a recent profile they did on some renowned spiritualist who might shed some light, so to speak, on her problem.

By this point, Jackson has conceded to his newlywed bride that she’s not crazy nor is she delusional.  So, off they go to meet this eventually agitated spiritualist who points out what the audience has already figured out.

After doing some exploring and investigating on her own, Taylor confronts her husband about a photo she found.  Cornered, Jackson cops to having a past relationship with the mysterious presence in that photo, a cute Japanese translator he met during a shoot long before he met his new wife.  After her disapproving father died of an undisclosed illness, he claims she became more needy and clingy and he broke things off.  But she wouldn’t leave him alone.  She also started hurting herself to get his attention.

Back in the present, a couple of Jackson’s sleazy work colleagues become haunted by her presence as well. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why they’ve been targeted.

Completely spooked, the couple eventually decide to leave Japan and return to New York.  In a scene that defies logic, Taylor makes a shocking, predictable discovery.  Let’s just say what’s revealed is in extremely bad taste despite some thankful restraint.  Once our suspicions about Jackson are confirmed, we are baffled by his rationalization for his actions (watching is still participating, dude) and why he kept incriminating evidence lying around.  Taylor finds out the hard way she married a stupid asshole.

Shutter is one of a growing number of bad American remakes of Asian thrillers.  It’s not as awful as The Grudge but it’s certainly worse than The Ring and The Uninvited.

The film takes way too long to get going.  There’s neither an unsettling atmosphere nor genuine tension.  And because the plot is completely unsurprising, there’s no suspense, either.  Rachael Taylor has an appealing presence (she looks great in close-ups, Gene Siskel’s definition of a movie star) but her character takes forever to figure out what the audience already knows.

Jackson isn’t charming enough to land a babe like Taylor and he isn’t believable enough as the creep he turns out to be once all is revealed.  And because the mystery woman is portrayed as a psychotic heel for much of the movie, by the time it’s confirmed that she’s been seriously wronged, we question why she spares the one person who could’ve saved her.

In the end, it’s not clear to me who suffers the worst fate.  The man who can’t electrocute himself to death, the spirit with low self-esteem who still wants to be with him or the viewer.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, April 10, 2018
3:52 a.m.

Published in: on April 10, 2018 at 3:53 am  Leave a Comment  

2018 Oscar Wrap-Up

They didn’t fuck it up.

After the embarrassing Best Picture debacle from last year’s Academy Awards ceremony, there were no head smacking repeats for the mostly predictable 90th annual event this year.  Unlike 2017, Warren Beatty & Faye Dunaway were given the correct envelope and revealed the correct winner.

Besides taking home Best Picture, The Shape Of Water also won for its production design and its original score.  As expected, Guillermo Del Toro was announced Best Director.  In a year where the academy spread the gold around, The Shape Of Water won the most with four.

Despite not taking any major prizes, Dunkirk won three technical gongs.  It swept the sound categories and won for best editing.  The Pixar flick Coco won two for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song.

Also winning two golden naked eunuch statues was Darkest Hour.  Besides taking Best Make-Up & Hairstyling, Gary Oldman was named Best Actor.  Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri also snagged a pair.  Sam Rockwell took home Best Supporting Actor (he dedicated the award to his friend, the late, great Phillip Seymour Hoffmann and thanked his hot girlfriend Leslie Bibb for lighting his fire) while an extremely enthusiastic and giddy Frances McDormand, in full-on intersectional feminist mode, won her second Best Actress prize.

Blade Runner 2049 was another double winner.  Longtime cinematographer Roger Deakins ended his ridiculously long slump by finally taking an Oscar on his 14th try.  Look at this small sample of the dozens of films he’s lensed in his 35-year-career:  Sid & Nancy, The Shawshank Redemption, Dead Man Walking, A Beautiful Mind, Skyfall, twelve Coen Brothers movies including Barton Fink and No Country For Old Men.  The man has been responsible for photographing some of the most beloved films of all time.  Much to my consternation, Blade Runner 2049 also won for Best Visual Effects.  It was my original prediction until I switched to War For The Planet Of The Apes based on what I had read online.  I should’ve stuck to my instincts because I would’ve been right.  (Despite that, I had my best year of predicting ever.  I went 20 for 24.)

Alison Janney on her first nomination won Best Supporting Actress for playing Tonya Harding’s toxic mother in I, Tonya.  She humourously quipped that she did it all on her own before thanking a bunch of people including the members of “Team Janney”.  Get Out’s Jordan Peele made history becoming the first Black man to ever win Best Original Screenplay while legendary director James Ivory, who thanked his late, longtime collaborators producer Ismail Merchant and screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, was awarded the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for penning the gay love story Call Me By Your Name.  Up until tonight, Ivory was the only one of the Merchant/Ivory trio to not have a golden gong of his own.

Chile’s A Fantastic Woman, starring the glamourous trans actor Daniela Vega was named Best Foreign Language Film while Icarus, which documents Russia’s systemic doping scheme, was named Best Documentary Feature.  Icarus was my initial prediction but in a wide open category that even FiveThirtyEight.com couldn’t predict I thought Last Men In Aleppo might pull an upset.  Again, should’ve gone with my first thought.

In a moment of true awkwardness that went unacknowledged, accused rapist Kobe Bryant won a Best Animated Short Oscar for Dear Basketball which is based on his retirement letter.  With all the stage talk of equality and change and making things better for women, it’s more than obvious that some abusers are still more popular than others.  The status quo is powerful for a reason.

Despite the predictability of the awards themselves, returning host Jimmy Kimmel was in mostly fine form despite the hit and miss opening intro.  There was an inspired bit where he teased winners with the prospect of winning a jet ski and a cheap vacation if they made the shortest speech.  (Phantom Thread’s Best Costume Design winner Mark Bridges, who got all his thank yous in under 40 seconds, came in at the end of the show riding his new prize.)  I was delighted when he said no one would be played off if they went on too long but goddamn it, that turned out to be false advertising, as a few recipients were given the orchestral hint to wrap it up.  Let them speak, for Christ’s sake.

Kimmel got in his obligatory digs at Matt Damon and even made Christopher Plummer a reliable punchline, one of which was cleverly tied in to the very first Oscars ceremony.  I’m not sure he needed to crash that Wrinkle In Time sneak preview with some selected celebrities but I did enjoy those ridiculous hot dog cannons.  More often than not, he was funny.  But presenters like Jodie Foster, Maya Rudolph and Tiffany Haddish were just as good with their comic timing, if not better.

However, it’s enough with the glorification of the military already.  Having overly pausy Indigenous actor Wes Studi (The Last Of The Mohicans) onstage to plug an unnecessary clip package of war movies made it even worse.  Diversifying the presentation of propaganda isn’t progress.  Applauding his Vietnam service was weird and tone-deaf.

Oh, and why wasn’t John Mahoney included in the In Memoriam segment?

The complete list of winners:

BEST PICTURE – THE SHAPE OF WATER

BEST DIRECTOR – Guillermo Del Toro (THE SHAPE OF WATER)

BEST ACTRESS – Frances McDormand (THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI)

BEST ACTOR – Gary Oldman (DARKEST HOUR)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – Allison Janney (I, TONYA)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – Sam Rockwell (THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI)

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE – COCO

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM – A FANTASTIC WOMAN

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE – ICARUS

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY – Jordan Peele (GET OUT)

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY – James Ivory (CALL ME BY YOUR NAME)

BEST ORIGINAL SONG – Remember Me (COCO)

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE – THE SHAPE OF WATER

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN – THE SHAPE OF WATER

BEST COSTUME DESIGN – PHANTOM THREAD

BEST FILM EDITING – DUNKIRK

BEST SOUND EDITING – DUNKIRK

BEST SOUND MIXING – DUNKIRK

BEST MAKE-UP & HAIRSTYLING – DARKEST HOUR

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY – BLADE RUNNER 2049

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS – BLADE RUNNER 2049

BEST ANIMATED SHORT – DEAR BASKETBALL

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT – THE SILENT CHILD

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT – HEAVEN IS A TRAFFIC JAM ON THE 405

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, March 5, 2018
1:58 a.m.

Published in: on March 5, 2018 at 1:58 am  Leave a Comment  

90th Academy Award Predictions

BEST PICTURE – THE SHAPE OF WATER

Nine films are gunning for Oscar’s top prize in the most wide open race in more than ten years.

Let’s save time by eliminating the long shots.  Call Me By Your Name, Phantom Thread, Darkest Hour and Lady Bird are just happy to be included here and have next to no chance of winning.

Maybe if it had more acclaim and more nominations, The Post would be talked about as a serious frontrunner.  There’s a very, very small possibility of it pulling off an upset as a way for the academy to rally behind the media in this bizarre Trump era but I highly doubt it.  It’s just not as well regarded as All The President’s Men.

Since the nominations were announced in late January, only four nominated films have been considered strong contenders.  At first, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was seen as the likely winner.  But it’s been plagued by controversy about its content, a bad sign.

Dunkirk was a big hit during the summer both with critics and audiences and while there’s been complaints about its storytelling as well, it has already faded as a possible trophy snatcher.

In my view, Best Picture this year is really between the two remaining nominees, a horror film about liberal racism and an unlikely love story by a director who specializes in horror films.  It’s been over a year since Jordan Peele’s Get Out stunned most everybody who saw it but with a still mostly white, predominantly older motion picture academy voting on the winners, I just don’t agree with those who think it can win.

Yes, Moonlight won this category last year over the favourite La La Land despite that embarrassing bungle by Warren Beatty & Faye Dunaway but would the academy vote for a Black-themed movie two years in a row?

I’m skeptical it has the numbers on its side (there are reports that a number of academy members refused to even screen it because it’s not a “traditional Oscar movie”) which is why I’m going with Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape Of Water.  Even though it faces a plagiarism lawsuit, almost everyone who’s had a chance to look at it loves it.  As the much missed Roger Ebert noted back in the day, academy members vote with their hearts when picking Best Picture.  Based on what critics have said, The Shape Of Water is that kind of movie.

Oh, and by the way, Beatty & Dunaway will announce the winner.  God help us all.

BEST DIRECTOR – Guillermo del Toro (THE SHAPE OF WATER)

Ebert pointed out again and again over the years, if you win the Directors Guild Of America award, nine times out of ten you go on to win the Oscar.  Guillermo Del Toro won the DGA this year for helming The Shape Of Water.  He will snag the golden naked man, as well.

BEST ACTOR – Gary Oldman (DARKEST HOUR)

For much of his career, Gary Oldman has been a chameleon.  He’s played a self-destructive punk rocker (Sid & Nancy), Lee Harvey Oswald (JFK), a lovesick vampire (Bram Stoker’s Dracula) and Commissioner Gordon (The Dark Knight Trilogy).  Despite allegations of abuse and racist comments, he has remarkably avoided being another #MeToo casualty.

In Darkest Hour, he disappears again as Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister who went from being an admirer of Adolf Hitler to a bitter foe in World War II.  It’s the kind of part anyone would kill for because it’s the kind of part that assures Oscar glory.

Oldman’s fellow nominees for Best Actor are a mix of first-time contenders and multiple past winners.  Denzel Washington (Roman J. Israel, Esq.) already has two gongs.  The supposedly retiring Daniel Day-Lewis (Phantom Thread) has three.  They don’t need any more.  While there’s always the possibility of a genuine upset (Get Out’s Daniel Kaluuya is more likely to be a shock winner than Call Me By Your Name’s Timothee Chalamet), it’s highly doubtful this year.

Barring some unforeseen circumstances, it’s Oldman’s Oscar all the way.

BEST ACTRESS – Frances McDormand (THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI)

All but one of the nominated actresses in this category are either multiple past nominees or winners.  Right off the bat, three-time winner Meryl Streep is not going to be called up to the stage for her portrayal of Katherine Graham in The Post.  Neither is three-time nominee Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird).  Yes, this 23-year-old Irish lass already has three Oscar nods to her name.

After breaking through in The Wolf Of Wall Street four years ago (she was the dame with all the dough taped on her naked body), Australian Margot Robbie received her first official recognition from the academy for playing the villainous American figure skater Tonya Harding in I, Tonya.  It seems unlikely she’ll win.

That leaves Sally Hawkins (The Shape Of Water) and Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri).  Although the British Hawkins has been nominated before for her supporting work in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine and is playing a mute character not unlike Oscar winner Holly Hunter did in The Piano, she’s competing against a perennial academy favourite.

It’s been more than 20 years since McDormand first won Best Actress for playing the smart, pregnant cop in the otherwise overrated Fargo.  Overall, she has five nominations in her long career.  Now 60, much of the praise heaped on Three Billboards has been because of her well regarded performance.  I will be very surprised if her name isn’t called out on Sunday.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – Alison Janney (I, TONYA)

Here’s something that doesn’t happen very often.  All the performers in this category are middle-aged.  And all but one are first-time nominees.

58-year-old Alison Janney is best known for playing President Martin Sheen’s press secretary on The West Wing (which resulted in multiple Emmy wins) and a MILF on Mom.  62-year-old Laurie Metcalf came out of the Steppenwolf theatre group in Chicago to become Roseanne’s TV sister and Sheldon Cooper’s evangelical mother.  She also tried to seduce John Candy in Uncle Buck and tormented Bruce Willis onstage as Annie Wilkes in Misery.

61-year-old Lesley Manville (Gary Oldman’s first wife) has appeared in numerous Mike Leigh films and co-starred with Angelina Jolie in Maleficent.  Although primarily known for her music, 47-year-old Mary J. Blige has been acting as far back as 1995.  She played Malcolm X’s widow Betty Shabazz in the TV-movie Betty & Coretta.

45-year-old Octavia Spencer previously won for her popular performance in The Help.  A three-time nominee (she’s the only Black woman in Oscar history to receive two consecutive nominations), she’s been acting in movies since her debut in A Time To Kill.

So, who has the edge?  Not Spencer who already had her push in 2012 and is doing just dandy on her own now.  Blige is a longshot.  Metcalf has had a great three-pronged career in film, TV and theatre and really doesn’t need a golden gong.  It would be really interesting if Manville won on the same night as her ex-husband but that’s highly doubtful.

That leaves the well-liked Janney who critics singled out as a scene stealer in I, Tonya.  She’ll snag it on Sunday.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – Sam Rockwell (THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI)

There’s only one first-time nominee in a sea of perennial never-wons and one past recipient in the race for Best Supporting Actor.

I can’t remember a time when Willem Dafoe wasn’t acting in a movie.  Previously nominated for Platoon and Shadow Of The Vampire, the third time won’t be the charm for him this year.  Like his Shape Of Water co-star Octavia Spencer, two-time nominee Richard Jenkins won’t have to worry about preparing a speech.  He’s not going to be called to the stage.

Neither is Christopher Plummer, the last-minute replacement for the disgraced Kevin Spacey in All The Money In The World, who is the only previous winner here.

Woody Harrelson, another three-time nominee, will have to watch from his seat as his Three Billboards co-star Sam Rockwell makes his way to the front of the house to deliver his acceptance speech.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY – Jordan Peele (GET OUT)

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY – James Ivory (CALL ME BY YOUR NAME)

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM – A FANTASTIC WOMAN

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE – LAST MEN IN ALEPPO

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE – COCO

BEST FILM EDITING – DUNKIRK

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS – WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES

BEST COSTUME DESIGN – PHANTOM THREAD

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY – BLADE RUNNER 2049

BEST ORIGINAL SONG – Remember Me (COCO)

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE – THE SHAPE OF WATER

BEST SOUND EDITING – DUNKIRK

BEST SOUND MIXING – DUNKIRK

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN – THE SHAPE OF WATER

BEST MAKE-UP AND HAIRSTYLING – DARKEST HOUR

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT – DeKALB ELEMENTARY

BEST ANIMATED SHORT – DEAR BASKETBALL

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT – HEROIN(E)

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, March 3, 2018
3:40 p.m.

Published in: on March 3, 2018 at 3:40 pm  Leave a Comment  

Hide And Seek (2005)

Hide And Seek is one of those pretentious thrillers that deludes itself into thinking it’s really something clever instead of the generic, unscary mess it actually is.

Robert De Niro and Amy Irving are an unhappily married couple with a young daughter (Dakota Fanning). After swallowing some pills with wine and having one last intimate moment with her kid before bedtime, she has an awkward conversation with her psychologist husband before retreating to the bathtub surrounded by candlelight.

Hours later, when he realizes she’s not in bed with him, a worried De Niro arises and discovers her dead body floating in her own blood.  Fanning stands in the bathroom doorway watching him weep and is never the same.

Now mostly silent and blankly staring, the blue-eyed, dark-haired Fanning is looked after by De Niro’s former protégé, the kindly Famke Janssen.  De Niro is planning to move her out of the city and into the country.  Janssen strongly opposes this idea because the child needs stability, not more upheaval.  De Niro is convinced that getting her as far away from the scene of her mother’s death is the best thing for her.

Because it’s the off-season, there aren’t many people around in their new neighbourhood, just the nosy, by-the-book sheriff (Dylan Baker), a forgetful real estate agent (David Chandler) and the friendly Melissa Leo and Robert John Burke, a couple in mourning.  Over time, we learn they had a daughter who looked exactly like Fanning which explains Burke’s interest in her (and all the toys in their living room).  Leo and Burke appear to be in an abusive relationship but curiously, the movie doesn’t dwell on it.  De Niro offers his professional services to Leo but she declines and the matter is dropped altogether.

As soon as they arrive here, Fanning starts acting strangely.  Once inseparable from her beloved doll Alex, she suddenly abandons it.  (De Niro finds it in the trash one night.)  And she claims to have a new friend, “Charlie”, who becomes a bad influence.

De Niro meets Elizabeth Shue, a hot divorcee looking after her niece.  When he invites them both to the new house, the niece is scared away but Shue comes back only to face resistance from Fanning.

Meanwhile, De Niro keeps having a recurring nightmare about New Year’s Eve.  We’re teased with little snippets here and there until we learn the full truth.  Some nights, at exactly 2:06 a.m., he suddenly wakes up only to walk towards the bathroom to ultimately discover a message written in blood and sometimes a dead body in the tub.  Up to that point, we’re led to believe Fanning is a Creepy Kid being manipulated by some supernatural force with a venomous streak and De Niro, in deep denial, is too stupid to see it.

Then comes that ridiculous twist which undermines everything.  It’s more than obvious that the filmmakers were trying to imitate M. Night Shyamalan but they clearly lack the skill and care to pull it off successfully.

Consider the scene where Shue shows up unannounced, lets herself in when no one answers the door and goes upstairs to try to make peace with Fanning.  While that’s going on, we see an oblivious De Niro listening to music in his headphones as he once again jots down his misguided observations about his troubled daughter.  Fanning’s in the middle of a game of hide and seek and when Shue opens the closet door, she gets a big surprise.

Later, when that scene is revisited, we find out who was in the closet.  But it’s just not possible without rewriting history which is precisely what happens.  (Otherwise, one person can’t be in two places at the same time.)

When you think about it, there’s actually a twist within the twist.  We think the reason the Amy Irving character dies is because of an exposed indiscretion but it’s really because she has a much closer relationship to Fanning.  Unfortunately, we barely get to know these characters in the abbreviated opening sequence and therefore feel emotionally disconnected from them, even before the inevitable tragedy.  We’re not as moved as we should be going forward.

As a result, Hide And Seek begins as a disappointingly bland, uninvolving melodrama but by the time of the big reveal it diminishes itself as a routine and deeply dishonest slasher flick.  De Niro was far scarier and more menacing as the vengeful Max Cady in the brilliant Cape Fear remake.  Here, I was baffled by his contradictory actions and complete lack of self-awareness.  Also puzzling is Fanning’s behaviour around him.  If she doesn’t tremble in his presence, why should we?

And what about that dopey ending?  The movie can’t seem to make up its mind about Fanning’s own state of mind as it reverses itself once again, just to tease the idea of a possible sequel which, thank God, has not been made.

All horror films involve some kind of emotional manipulation.  But when they start outright lying to you, that’s a betrayal.  Hide And Seek never levels with its audience and while it may think it gives sly clues to the big twist long before it happens, it’s really just lying to itself.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, March 2, 2018
10:19 p.m.

Published in: on March 2, 2018 at 10:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

Unofficial 2018 Winter Olympics Awards

Worst Decision By The IOC Since Awarding Hitler The Summer & Winter Olympics

Instead of banning the entire country for its systemic abuse of illegal performance enhancing drugs during the 2014 Sochi games, the cowards of the International Olympic Committee allowed some Russian athletes to compete but not under their own flag (they had to use the five-ringed Olympic banner as a substitute), they had to be referred to as Olympic Athletes of Russia and whenever they won Gold (which only happened twice) the Russian anthem would not be played.

Somewhere out there, Nikolai Volkoff is quietly weeping.

Most Surprising Doping Violation

Russian curler and Sam Rockwell clone Alexander Krushelnitsky who flunked two drug tests (he tested positive for polonium which allows more oxygen to flow in the blood and greatly improves your strength) and was stripped of the Bronze medal he won with his wife Anastasia Bryzgalova in the debuting Mixed Doubles curling event.  As a result, Norway, the team they beat for it, are now recognized as the 3rd place finishers in the tournament.  Who knew you needed an extra edge for sweeping a slow-moving stone?

Best Cheerleader Not Sent By North Korea

Cheryl Lawes, the proud mom of Canadian Mixed Doubles gold medallist Kaitlyn Lawes, who was often seen during her matches with teammate John Norris whistling and cheerfully whooping it up in the stands.

Most Unintentionally Prescient Surname

Emma Miskew, a member of the Canadian womens’ curling team who were shockingly eliminated from the round robin marking the first time since the return of the sport to the Olympics that the Great White North won’t take a medal from this event.

Best Tribute To Chris Jericho

The “Clipboard of Power” held by an Olympic official at the top of the hill during the big air events.  He just made the list!

Please Buy Him A Shirt Already

Tonga’s flag bearer Pita Taufatofua once again marched out to the opening ceremonies (and posed on stage during the closing ceremonies) shirtless and overly oiled.  We get it.  Put your clothes back on.

If At First You Don’t Succeed, Fail, Fail Again

Dutch long track speed skating behemoth Sven Kramer has won Olympic Gold in the 5000 metres and the team pursuit but has long coveted winning the toughest distance of them all, the 10000 metres.  In 2010 during the Vancouver games, his coach misdirected him to the wrong lane causing him to be disqualified.  At Sochi four years later, he finished second capturing the Silver.

Would 2018 be any different?  Nope.  Kramer would finish off the podium in sixth.  Now 31, this is likely his final Winter Olympics.

Cheekiest Way To Get A Curse Word On Live TV Without Opening Your Mouth

After every jump, Swiss big air snowboarder Sina Candrian would cheerfully show this message on the palm sides of her fingerless gloves:  “Fuck yeah!”

Most Enduring Winter Olympics Mystery

All the beautiful, talented women competing in curling.  I’m not complaining.

Most Surprising Curling Fan

Mr. T who declared his love for the sport on Twitter and on CBC Radio.  Curling is cool, fool.

Best Belated Audition For A Role As A Villain In The Hunger Games

The flamboyant, poofy-haired NBC figure skating colour commentator Johnny Weir.

Most Welcome Political Development

The thawing of tensions between the Koreas.  North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un sent his sister to Pyeongchang to invite the South Korean President to visit.  Korean athletes marched in the opening ceremonies under a unified flag, the first time in over a decade.  The womens’ hockey team featured players from both countries.  The handshake at the opening ceremonies.  Here’s hoping this all leads to the official end of the Korean War.

Still The Worst Way To Settle A Tie

The shootout in hockey which eliminated the American men from medal contention and cost the Canadian women the Gold medal.  What’s wrong with sudden death overtime?

Most Unlikely Moment To See A Squirrel

During one of the round of eight match-ups in the womens’ parallel giant slalom event, a furry friend nearly got run down by one of the competitors while going for a brisk run on the snow.

Worst Timing For An Olympic Update

On several occasions during Canadian coverage on CBC and specialty partners TSN and Sportsnet, an update graphic would appear right over another graphic detailing stats of a competing athlete and/or information about the event taking place.  Very annoying and just plain dumb.  What’s the point of posting stats if you can’t fucking see them?

Best Recovery From An On-Site Injury

Canadian freestyle snowboarder Laurie Blouin suffered a terrible injury when she crashed during a training run which resulted in a black eye.  Thankfully avoiding a concussion, she was able to get some rest before entering her delayed slopestyle event.  With the black bruising now faded to yellow, she went on to win Silver.

Worst Disappointment After Said Recovery

During the debuting big air competition, Blouin wiped out so hard in her first jump, she didn’t attempt her remaining two, taking her out of medal contention.

Most Enthusiastic Coach

The exhuberant Chinese aerials coach who cheered every time one of his athletes nailed their jump in aerials which was often.

Worst Response To A Journalist’s Question

When asked by ABC News reporter Matt Gutman whether he felt the settlement he reached with a former bandmate regarding his repeated abuse and sexual harassment of her would “tarnish his legacy”, American Gold medallist in the halfpipe Shaun White dismissed the serious blight on his record as “gossip”.  Gutman later noted on Twitter that fellow sports journo Chris Brennan had observed that no female journalists were permitted to even pose direct inquiries of their own.  White later apologized for his word choice but not for the actual harassment and abuse.  Maybe he should change his nickname to The Rotten Tomato.

Most Surprising Controversy

Whether Canadian curler Rachel Homan was right to remove that burned stone from the house in the 5th end during a round robin match with Denmark.

Most Gracious Display Of Sportsmanship

The Top three finishers in the 15K cross country race waited until every single competitor crossed the finish line.  When the final skier, Mexican German Madrazo, who has only been skiing for a year and only on snow for a few months, crossed the finish line, they scooped him off his feet and carried him like a king in a touching display of solidarity and support.

Second Most Gracious Display Of Sportmanship

The German mens’ hockey team, initially crushed by their overtime loss to the Russians (sorry, the Olympic Athletes of Russia) in the Gold medal match, ended up posing with the gracious winners for photos on the ice after both teams received their medals.

Most Surprising Musical Selection For A Figure Skating Routine (tie)

German Paul Fentz skated to Paul Anka’s swing cover of Oasis’ Wonderwall while Hungarian Ivett Toth used an amalgamation of AC/DC’s Back In Black and Thunderstruck.  Is a Nine Inch Nails ice dance routine coming soon?

Most Unfair Treatment Of An Olympic Medallist

Thanks to a disqualification of a South Korean athlete who initially finished second in a photo finish in the 500 metres final, French Canadian short track speed skater Kim Boutin was bumped up from 4th place to 3rd resulting in her first medal, a Bronze.  South Koreans weren’t happy and absurdly took out their frustration on Boutin on social media.  (Shouldn’t they be more upset at the officials who actually made the call?)  Things apparently got so bad she first locked down her accounts and then deleted them altogether.  Boutin would have the last laugh, however.  She would go on to win another Bronze and a Silver, without controversy, and was chosen as the flag bearer for Canada in the closing ceremonies.  Suck it, haters.

Does Kesha Know She Has A Sister?

Austrian snowboarder Anna Gasser who won the Gold medal in big air.

Most Shocking Upset

After disposing of Sweden in the quarterfinals, Germany went on to humiliate Canada 4-3 in the semifinals of mens’ hockey.  Thanks, Gary Bettman.

Best Vindication After Being Screwed Out Of A Medal In A Previous Olympics

In Sochi, Russia four years ago, Canadian luger Alex Geogh finished fourth but because of a Russian doping violation she was bumped up to third.  As a result, she was expecting to receive a Bronze medal.  But after the decision was reversed, she went back to her original position.

In 2018, Geogh would not be denied.  Not only would she win Bronze in the womens’ event she would also capture Silver as part of the team relay.  Her first podium finish marked the first time a Canadian luger of any gender had won an Olympic medal in this discipline.

Most Unlikely Rap Fan Named After A Female Body Part

Slovenian snowboarder Tit Stante who wants the authorities to release the incarcerated Meek Mill already.

From A Hospital Bed To A Bronze Medal

Almost a year ago, Canadian snowboarder Mark McMorris was fighting for his life in a hospital bed after hitting a tree while riding with his friends and shooting footage in Whistler, British Columbia.  According to Wikipedia, “McMorris suffered a fractured jaw, a fractured left arm, a ruptured spleen, a pelvic fracture, rib fractures and a collapsed left lung.”  He would ultimately recover following two “successful surgeries”.

Although he wasn’t able to win a medal in big air, he did manage to snag the Bronze in slopestyle after briefly leading the competition.  This marks the second straight Olympics he has won 3rd in this event.

Meanwhile, the Polish-born Canadian Wojtek Wolski was playing hockey in Europe in late 2016 when he went headfirst into the boards resulting in a serious concussion and a broken neck.  While hospitalized, he was first told he would heal in four weeks.  Then, the doctors corrected themselves.  It would actually be four months.

During the mens’ hockey tournament in Pyeongchang, Wolski was a breakout star for Team Canada.  Despite the shocking loss to Germany in the semis, Canada would recover to take the Bronze away from the Czech Republic.

Best Helmet Design

The Iron Man helmet worn by South Korean luger Yung-Sun Bin who went on to win his country’s first ever medal in the sport, a Gold.

Most Selfless Motivation To Win An Olympic Title

German figure skater Bruno Massot made a mistake during the short program of the pairs competition and felt so bad about it during a press conference afterward, he promised that he wouldn’t let his Ukranian-born partner Aliona Shavchenko go home without a Gold medal.  A three-time Olympian, Shavchenko had only managed to win Bronze in two of those games.  After setting a record with their score in the long program, Massot made good on his word.  Erupting into tears upon learning the good news (he had already bowed to her on the ice following their performance), the pair finished first.  As a result, at age 34, Shavchenko became the oldest woman to win figure skating Gold.

Most Overexposed Canadian Broadcaster

Fake laugher Craig McMorris, Mark’s older brother, who did colour commentary for slopestyle & big air, did a recurring segment with fellow Canadian athletes involving tea drinking and karate and co-hosted CBC’s overnight coverage of the games with Kelly Van Der Beek.  That’s too much McMorris.  He’s not as funny as he thinks he is.

Most Cringeworthy Moment

All the wipeouts in skiing, moguls, big air, halfpipe and slopestyle.

Is That His Favourite Led Zeppelin Song?

CBC cross country commentator Nigel Reed who made at least two on-air references to Over The Hills And Far Away.

Weirdest Method Of Removing Injured Skiers & Snowboarders

Whenever someone would crash hard in the snow and not get up, medical stuff rushed in to put the seriously hurt athlete in an orange body bag, then place them in a sled which was attached to a snowmobile and dragged away.  Was The Undertaker the driver?

Most Remarkable Fact About The 2018 Canadian Olympic Team

They were able to win 29 medals (11 Gold, 8 Silver, 10 Bronze), their highest count in a single winter games ever, without winning Gold in mens’ and womens’ hockey and mens’ and womens’ curling.  That’s a deep squad.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, February 26, 2018
3:50 a.m.

Published in: on February 26, 2018 at 3:50 am  Leave a Comment  

Room 237

“The way to criticize a movie is to make another movie,” Jean-Luc Godard famously asserted.

The makers of Room 237 have taken that advice to heart.  This intriguingly obsessive documentary about Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining will make you look at the epic horror film with very different perspectives, even if some of these bold arguments are a little out there and unpersuasive.

As disembodied voices dissect various elements of the film (we never see them on-camera as they talk), Room 237 rotates between clips of The Shining (including behind-the-scenes footage) and various other Kubrick movies to old newsreel footage and moments from numerous other titles, with some clever amalgamation of some thrown in for good measure.

Let’s be clear about one thing.  You need to see The Shining first.  Thankfully, I’d seen it on Christmas Eve last year so it was still fresh in my mind.  (It is genuinely unsettling.)  As the disembodied voices take us through specific scenes – sometimes in real time, sometimes in slow motion, sometimes in freeze frames, sometimes repeatedly – they point out unusual things you may very well have missed.

For instance, there’s a scene where Danny Torrance, the little boy with the imaginary friend, is playing with his toys in the lobby of this fabulous resort his parents have been assigned to look after during the winter off-season.  All of a sudden, a ball rolls toward him.  Notice the pattern of the carpet.  When Danny stands up, now notice the carpet again.  The design has been flipped in reverse.

Here’s another example.  After we first meet Danny, he’s brushing his teeth in the family bathroom.  As the camera slowly moves towards him in the hallway, you see his bedroom door.  There are stickers all over it.  Take particular notice of Dopey, one of the Seven Dwarfs.  In a later scene, when he’s being examined for illness, look closely at the door again.  No Dopey.

There’s more, way more.  Jack Nicholson’s character, Jack Torrance, the troubled, abusive alcoholic novelist trying and failing to write a new manuscript (he only manages one line repeated endlessly), has an unusual typewriter.  It’s German with an eagle symbol.  At one point, without any warning or notice, it changes colour.

When Jack goes in to the office for his job interview, the employee sitting next to him is wearing solid pants.  Then, in other shots, he wears striped ones.

What’s going on?  Did Kubrick get sloppy with continuity or did he have something else in mind?  The movie convincingly argues for the latter.  The Torrances are trapped in an actual nightmare where marvellous improbabilities abound.  (Where’s the cord on that TV?  Does it run on batteries?)  Certainty is an illusion.

Before The Shining, Kubrick made the war epic Barry Lyndon.  One disembodied voice asserts that he was a “bored genius” when he made that film, that it was too straightforward and pretty.  It didn’t challenge him as a filmmaker.

So, when he decided to do a very loose adaptation of Stephen King’s novel (the famous maze was an invention for the film), he went out of his way to know everything about Colorado (where the film is set) and added so many layers of details that decades after the movie’s original theatrical release, obsessives are still spotting curious things they missed during earlier screenings.  (The movie begins with a big-ass disclaimer pointing out that nobody associated with The Shining including Warner Bros. who released it endorses any of the views expressed.)

He also became fascinated with subliminal advertising even going so far as to seek out information directly from those who employed this technique in their commercials.

Here’s my favourite example used in The Shining.  At the end of the film, there’s a dissolve of an old framed photo shown in two different close-ups.  If you pause the transition at just the right moment, it looks like Jack Nicholson is sporting a Hitler moustache.  One overly imaginative invisible commentator suggests with a straight face that you can see Kubrick’s face in the clouds during the breathtaking opening credits sequence but I think he’s full of shit.  I sure as hell didn’t spot it.

As recounted in The Shining, The Overlook Hotel was built on sacred Native American land, a burial ground.  There’s an infamous recurring scene where a river of blood suddenly pours out of an elevator and into the lobby.  The hotel manager notes early on that the workers had to fight off pissed off Indigenous warriors in order to finish the construction.  One commentator suggests that the blood is coming directly from the dead buried right under the hotel whenever the elevator goes all the way to the bottom floor.  Because of how you see the river being released (it squeezes itself out of the side) it also serves as a vivid metaphorical reminder.  Though we may try to ignore the genocides of the past, they can never be truly concealed.

When Room 237 is not asserting that the film is about the bloody legacy of American settler-colonialism (hard to argue with that when you consider all the symbolism), it’s pointing out weird connections to The Holocaust.  I mentioned the German typewriter earlier.  The eagle symbol was appropriated by the Nazis.  The more Jack Torrance types on it, the more genocidal he becomes.  I wouldn’t dare spoil all the other fascinating details of this particular theory.

However, I have to mention this other one which is nuts.  One commentator who might require a thorough mental examination believes that Kubrick faked the footage of the historic Apollo 11 moon landing, even though he believes the mission itself was real.  How does he arrive at this conclusion?  Well, there’s the 2001 connection.  Plus, he thinks the Apollo footage was done through a technique called “front projection”.  (He claims experts back him up but they’re not named nor do they appear in the film.)

Furthermore, in The Shining, Danny is wearing an Apollo 11 sweater.  The ball that gets thrown to him leads him to Room 237 which he argues is the “moon room” based mainly on two things:  1. the distance between Earth and the moon is 237,000 miles and 2. the tag on the door that says “ROOM No.”.  He finds the small “o” to be curious.

There’s much more but it’s obviously nonsense.  Near the end of the film, the invisible commentator reveals himself to be rather paranoid.  I don’t think the IRS gives a shit about your crackpot assertions.  That said, you can’t say his misguided comments aren’t humourously imaginative.

Perhaps the most surreal moment in Room 237 is an experiment.  One commentator decided to have the beginning and the ending of The Shining playing simultaneously through a technique known as superimposition.  The results of this crazy idea are fascinating and spooky but also suggest a lack of a social life.

There are so many far-out ideas and revelations in Room 237 (The Shining’s connections to 2001 and other Kubrick films, Disney’s animated Three Little Pigs and other fairy tales, the number 42, that skiing poster, Jack reading Playgirl in the hotel lobby) that it manages to make you appreciate Kubrick’s achievement that much more, even if he didn’t necessarily intend what the commentators believe he did.  Although The Shining got terrible reviews during its initial release (pause that article to read a brutally succinct assessment of Shelley Duvall’s deeply underrated performance as Mrs. Torrance), like 2001 which initially faced similar resistance from professional critics, it has since become a towering influence on cinema and pop culture in general.  (For instance, when I was a college DJ, on our playlist there was an actual alternative rock band called Mrs. Torrance.)

Unlike the two survivors in the film, those who repeatedly watch The Shining looking for alleged secrets not yet exposed, like the mysterious, passionately devoted commentators in Room 237, will find themselves trapped in a “dream world” they can never truly escape.  How fitting that a perfectionist filmmaker obsessed with every small detail has inspired the most devoted of his supporters to excavate them with the same dedication.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, February 18, 2018
7:21 p.m.

Published in: on February 18, 2018 at 7:21 pm  Leave a Comment