Are The SAG Awards A Major Influence On The Acting Academy Awards?

This past Sunday, the annual Screen Actors Guild awards were handed out for the 22nd time.  Most of the focus was on the number of winners who are Black, a major statement considering the recently announced all-White acting Oscar nominations.

But what about influence?  In this space in the past, I’ve twice examined the supposed impact the bowling trophies, aka the Golden Globes, have on the Academy Awards.  Now let’s see if the SAG Awards fare any better.

There is no Best Picture category at the SAGs but there is a Best Ensemble Cast prize which is essentially the same thing.  Unfortunately, out of 20 past ceremonies, only 10 Best Ensemble winners went on to win Best Picture, a 50% success rate.  (There was no Best Ensemble category during the first SAGs in 1995.  The Birdcage was the only SAG winner not to get a Best Picture Oscar nomination while the cast of Braveheart wasn’t nominated for a SAG.)

Birdman won both the Best Ensemble SAG & the Best Picture Oscar in 2015 so Spotlight, this year’s Ensemble Cast winner, is hoping for the same result.  We shall see.

Best Actor SAG winners do a lot better at the Oscars.  Only 4 of 21 victors have lost the Best Actor Academy Award for the same performance in the same category, a 81% success rate.  (Traffic’s Benicio Del Toro, the 2001 Best Actor SAG winner, wasn’t even nominated for the Best Actor Oscar.  That’s because he was singled out in the Best Supporting Actor category which he won.)

Here’s another important statistic.  Since Jamie Foxx pulled the double in 2005 for Ray, the SAG Best Actor winner has gone on to win the equivalent Oscar every year since.  That’s 11 consecutive times.  A very good sign for Leonardo DiCaprio who just won the Best Actor SAG for The Revenant.

Best Actress SAG winners are far less certain of winning the Best Actress Oscar.  Only 13 of the past 21 recipients have gone to take both prizes, a 62% success rate.  (In 2009, Kate Winslet, who won the Best Actress Oscar for The Reader, was nominated for the Best Actress SAG for her performance in Revolutionary Road which she lost to Doubt’s Meryl Streep.  She won the Best Supporting Actress SAG for Revolutionary Road which was not nominated for an Oscar.)

The good news for this year’s Best Actress SAG winner, Room’s Brie Larson, is that the past 6 SAG winners have gone on to win the equivalent Oscar.  It’s no guarantee of success but a hopeful sign nonetheless.

Best Supporting Actress SAG winners have only slighter better odds.  14 of the past 21 winners have gone on to snag the Supporting Actress Oscar, a 67% success rate.  (Marcia Gay Harden (Pollock) and Jennifer Connolly (A Beautiful Mind) are the only Oscar winners in this category to not get nominated for the respective SAG.  Kim Basinger (LA Confidential) & Gloria Stuart (Titanic) tied for the SAG but Basinger won the Oscar outright.)

Also like Best Actress, the past 6 Supporting Actress SAG winners have also taken the Academy Award, a good sign potentially for The Danish Girl’s Alicia Vikander.

Finally, there’s Best Supporting Actor.  Only 11 of the 21 SAG winners in this category are also Oscar winners, a 52% success rate, a statistical coin flip.  (Django Unchained’s Christoph Waltz, who won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar, wasn’t nominated for a SAG.)

That statistic goes down even further when you remember that this year’s Supporting Actor SAG winner, Idris Elba (Beasts Of No Nation), didn’t even get nominated for an Oscar.  So that statistical coin flip becomes an actual coin flip:  50%.

So, as you can see, much like the Golden Globes, winning an Actor is no guarantee of winning an Oscar, with the notable exception of Best Actor SAG recipients.  But expect most of this year’s SAG winners to pull a double, regardless.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, February 2, 2016
2:51 a.m.

Published in: on February 2, 2016 at 2:51 am  Leave a Comment  

Availability Of 2016 Oscar-Nominated Films On DVD & Blu-ray

No nominated actors of colour.  For the second consecutive year, movie fans are deeply angered by the lack of diversity in the four acting categories in the just announced nominations for the 88th Academy Awards.  Once again, it’s all about Whitey.

And, of course, there’s also the usual grumbling about snubs.  No Best Documentary Feature nod for The Hunting Ground, Going Clear or Where To Invade Next.  No Best Picture recognition for Star Wars:  The Force Awakens or Straight Outta Compton.  No love at all for Concussion or Beasts Of No Nation.

In the midst of all this annual bemoaning & groaning, why not check out the complete list of nominated feature films below and find out what you can see now at your local cinema & on video, plus what’s coming soon to DVD & Blu-ray in the coming weeks and months.

As always, when new release dates become available, this list will be updated.

The Oscars, hosted for the second time by comedian Chris Rock, will air 8:30 p.m. on Sunday, February 28.  In the meantime, happy screenings!

Amy – Now available on DVD & Blu-ray

Anomalisa – Now playing in theatres

The Big Short – Now playing in theatres

Boy And The World – Now playing in theatres

Bridge Of Spies – February 2

Brooklyn – June 28 but still playing in theatres

Carol – March 15 but still playing in theatres

Cartel Land – March 29 but now playing on Netflix

Cinderella – Now available on DVD & Blu-ray

Creed – March 1 but still playing in theatres

The Danish Girl – March 1 but still playing in theatres

Embrace Of The Serpent – Opening in theatres February 17

Ex Machina – Now available on DVD & Blu-ray

Fifty Shades Of Grey – Now available on DVD & Blu-ray

45 Years – Now playing in theatres

The Hateful Eight – Now playing in theatres

The Hunting Ground – Now available on DVD

Inside Out – Now available on DVD & Blu-ray

Joy – Now playing in theatres

The Look Of Silence – Now available on DVD & Blu-ray

Mad Max: Fury Road – Now available on DVD & Blu-ray

The Martian – Now available on DVD & Blu-ray

Mustang – April 12 May 10

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window & Disappeared – Now available on DVD & Blu-ray

Racing Extinction – February 23

The Revenant – April 19 but still playing in theatres

Room – March 1

Shaun The Sheep Movie – Now available on DVD & Blu-ray

Sicario – Now available on DVD & Blu-ray

Son Of Saul – Now playing in theatres

Spotlight – February 23

Spectre – February 9

Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Now playing in theatres

Steve Jobs – February 16

Straight Outta Compton – January 19

Theeb – May 17

Trumbo – February 16

A War – Opening in theatres February 12

What Happened, Miss Simone? – Now playing on Netflix

When Marnie Was There – Now available on DVD & Blu-ray

Winter On Fire: Ukraine’s Fight For Freedom – Now playing on Netflix

Youth – March 15

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, January 14, 2016
5:44 p.m.

UPDATE:  One Best Picture nominee will be hitting home video long after the Oscar ceremony comes and goes.  Brooklyn will arrive June 28.  Meanwhile, Carol is coming March 15.  Finally, Trumbo, which features Best Actor nominee Bryan Cranston in the title role, will be available on DVD & Blu-ray February 16.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, January 17, 2016
9:23 p.m.

UPDATE 2 & CORRECTION:  In the first update I erroneously stated that Carol was a Best Picture nominee.  The text has been corrected.  As for new release dates, both The Danish Girl and Room are scheduled to come out on home video March 1 while Youth, starring Michael Caine, will be out March 15.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, January 19, 2016
2:26 a.m.

UPDATE 3:  Mustang’s DVD/Blu-ray release date has been pushed back from April 12 to May 10.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, January 23, 2016
12:55 a.m.

UPDATE 4:  No new DVD/Blu-ray releases have been announced for the following films but there are ways you can see them right now.  Best Documentary Feature nominee What Happened, Miss Simone? is available on Netflix.  Best Animated Feature competitors Anomalisa and Boy And The World are currently playing in theatres as is 45 Years which features Best Actress nominee Charlotte Rampling.

Meanwhile, next month, two Best Foreign Film nominees will be opening in theatres.  A War debuts February 12 while Embrace Of The Spirit, as noted by the Los Angeles Times, starts exhibiting on February 17.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, January 24, 2016
1:18 a.m.

UPDATE 5:  Two more Best Documentary Feature nominees can be viewed on Netflix:  Cartel Land & Winter On Fire: Ukraine’s Fight For Freedom.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, January 24, 2016
1:53 a.m.

UPDATE 6:  Best Picture nominee The Revenant is coming to home video April 19.  Meanwhile, Creed, the spin-off of Rocky, is headed to DVD & Blu-ray March 1.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, January 29, 2016
2:26 a.m.

UPDATE 7:  Cartel Land hits DVD & Blu-ray on March 29 but as previously noted, if you’re a Netflix subscriber, you can see it right now.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, February 5, 2016
11:36 p.m.

Published in: on January 14, 2016 at 5:44 pm  Leave a Comment  

Bowie

I thought it was a hoax.  I really did.  There’s no way it could be true.  No way.  Someone is playing a cruel trick on us all.  Surely.  Hopefully.

But it is true.  David Bowie is dead.  His son, the filmmaker Duncan Jones, confirmed it on his Twitter account late last night as did Bowie’s longtime producer and friend Tony Visconti.

Less than two weeks ago in this space, I had just recounted the number of Bowie entries I had written in 2015.  There were five.  And I had noted the upcoming release of what will now be his final studio album, Blackstar.  Just three days after its release, he’s gone.  The reason:  cancer.  Fuck.

David Bowie’s sudden death at age 69 is shocking for a whole number of reasons, most notably the fact that so many of us didn’t even know he was sick.  (According to an official press release by his social media accounts, his struggle with the disease lasted a year and a half.) (JANUARY 12 UPDATE:  He had liver cancer and only a few people knew his diagnosis.)

It’s long forgotten now but there was a time when Bowie was a hardcore hedonist, a committed pleasure seeker who sought women, drugs & alcohol in ever copious amounts.  He was so strung out on cocaine for much of the 70s, he stopped eating regular food for a time, limiting himself to green vegetables, usually lettuce.  He thought aliens were out to get him.  He got drunk so many times in Berlin his worldview became bleak & helpless hence the dark music he would make at the end of the decade, his increasingly dangerous addictions fuelling his thankfully temporary fascination with fascism and Nazis.

How he survived overdose after overdose and personal & professional crisis after crisis is a testament to his incredible endurance and adaptability.  Besides his terrifyingly self-destructive habits, Bowie was screwed over by his then-manager Tony DeFries, a toxic business arrangement that took years to end and left him in serious financial upheaval.  His first marriage, an open relationship with his former muse Angela (Duncan’s mom), ended acrimoniously the same time he wanted to divorce himself from RCA, the label that released almost all of his most famous, influential material.

The fact that Bowie even made it to middle age in spite of all this adversity, debauchery & trauma is shocking in its own right.  And downright admirable.  (I haven’t even mentioned Mark David Chapman, John Lennon’s jailed assassin, who also contemplated murdering Bowie before ultimately targeting the former Beatle.  It was the rare topic the usually accessible Bowie declined to discuss for obvious reasons.)  It’s important to remember that there was a time where it looked like he wouldn’t even survive the 70s.

But survive that treacherous decade he did.  Not only did he survive, he grew in stature despite releasing music that few felt was better than the classics in his first full decade, although he was never short on good songs and albums.  As he gradually cleaned himself up, only one bad habit remained:  cigarettes.  In pictures and countless TV interviews, Bowie was often never without one between his fingers.  It all caught up to him before a gig in 2004.

Bowie was in significant pain.  A pinched nerve, he initially thought.  Ever the trooper, he went ahead with the two-hour show.  Immediately afterward, he sought medical treatment.  He was stunned to learn the truth.  He actually had a minor heart attack.  His doctor gave him an ultimatum:  give up the cigarettes or further put his health at risk.  Bowie finally gave up the smokes.

As a result, he would drastically scale back his public appearances.  Oh sure, there was a movie or TV role here, a special live gig there.  But for the most part, he would finally enjoy prolonged periods of privacy with his second wife, the model/actress Iman, and their now teenage daughter Alexandria.

Then, three years ago, out of nowhere, a new single followed by a new album.  The Next Day was Bowie’s first new studio effort in a decade.  (It was released in at least three different versions on CD alone.)  Recorded in secret very slowly over two years, it received glorious reviews upon its unveiling and deservedly so.  By the end of 2014, another new recording, the Grammy-nominated Sue, was included in Bowie’s most expansive greatest hits collection to date, the sprawling but by no means comprehensive 3CD set, Nothing Has Changed, which highlighted 50 years of music making.  A reworked version is on Blackstar.

Throughout his surprise return, Bowie had avoided engaging with the press.  He left that to Tony Visconti who produced all three recordings.  (However, when he won a Brit award in 2014 he did release a thank you statement while hoping Scotland would remain within the United Kingdom.  Remember the failed independence referendum they had?)

Now we know why.  Bowie saw his time was running out and by God, did he make the most of it.  MuchMusic aired about an hour of his videos earlier today, mostly from the 70s and 80s.  At the end, they aired new clips for Blackstar and Lazarus.  In Blackstar, it appears the mystery of Major Tom is finally solved.  His now skeletal body still in its spacesuit is discovered lying in permanent peaceful slumber.  In Lazarus, Bowie spends half of the time in bed and in the last scene climbs into some cabinet before closing the door locking himself in.

Death was often a theme in Bowie’s repertoire long before he ever got that awful cancer diagnosis.  Whether covering Jacques Brel’s My Death during the glammy Ziggy days, chronicling the disappearance and reappearance of Major Tom in Space Oddity and Ashes To Ashes, respectively, or addressing his own mortality in Dead Man Walking, the end was never far from his mind.

Neither was sex.  Consider the nude makeout scene, a tribute to From Here To Eternity, at the end of the China Girl video.  (I have to admit his buttocks were spectacular.)  Or Rebel Rebel.  Or Drive-In Saturday.  Or Time.  Or Suffragette City.  Or any number of songs in his vast, eclectic catalogue.

Bowie was never ashamed of his sexuality.  In fact, he’s quoted on the back cover of one of his most recent biographies admitting to being cheerfully promiscuous during his first flush with fame.  But when he met Iman, as he noted in an interview later on, he was already thinking of names for their children on their first date.  Although they only had one, they were happily married for more than 20 years.

These days, when a celebrity comes out of the closet, the world shrugs.  But when Bowie declared he was gay in 1972 (while promoting the Ziggy Stardust album), it was a proverbial earthquake.  Men in rock were expected to be macho, supremely virile, barechested conquerers like Robert Plant and Iggy Pop.  They were not supposed to be outrageously effeminate like Little Richard.

Bowie cleverly realized that by shocking his audience with non-traditional statements and moves like declaring he was homosexual (although he was indeed a macho, supremely virile ladykiller himself), he would stand out.  (His hero, Little Richard, a black man from the segregationist South, could never get away with that.)  Playing around with gender identity not only suited his image, it gave his songwriting a clear focus and identity.  It effectively separated him from the pack even if John Lennon initially dismissed it as “rock and roll with lipstick”.

Ziggy Stardust, you could argue, is the first fictional trans rock star.  Both Suffragette City and Lady Stardust employ female pronouns.  The gender of the protagonist of Rebel Rebel is never specified.  (“She’s not sure if you’re a boy or a girl.”)  Other songs like John, I’m Only Dancing seem to suggest a male character is only pretending to pass for straight when he’s really bisexual  (“She turns me on/But don’t get me wrong/I’m only dancing”).

The gambit worked in the free spirited UK but Bowie struggled for a similar break in the more sexually repressive America.  (It took three tries to get Space Oddity into Billboard’s Top 40 over six years.)  None of his glam anthems crossed over into the mainstream at the time.  It wasn’t until he directly addressed the US in Young Americans with his more soulful approach that he finally achieved the recognition he had long coveted.

And it might not have been as successful as it was were it not for the last-minute inclusion of the brilliant Fame, a blistering commentary on how shady managers ruin the charmed lives of rock stars, entirely inspired by a productive, late night bitch session with Bowie’s now close friend & supporter, John Lennon, who sang back-up vocals.  It hit number one.

Young Americans also benefited from the participation of Luther Vandross, then a young, hungry soul singer who Bowie hired to do arrangements and his own backing vocals.

From there, Bowie would undergo another dramatic transition to the cold detachment of Germanic electronica, first teased on the excellent Station To Station (which featured the hit Golden Years and the epic title cut with its slow build before its exceptional disco climax) then fully embraced on the laconic Low and “Heroes”.  Bowie has little memory of Station To Station’s creation because he was high on cocaine the entire time.  It was the last time he would make an album during punishing, successive all-night sessions.

When STS was ready to go, Bowie was riding in the back seat of his limo in Los Angeles one typically sunny afternoon when he spotted a familiar face walking down the street.  It was the troubled Iggy Pop, the former Stooges frontman.  (Bowie produced their third album, Raw Power.  His original mix remains controversial.)  He gave him a lift and eventually played him his new album.  Desperate to get something going again after his band flamed out for the second time, Iggy readily agreed to Bowie’s generous offer to tour Europe with him.  They ended up living in France and a then-divided Germany for a brief period.

The gesture solidified their friendship for years (although things cooled in the late 90s) and launched Iggy’s solo career.  Bowie helped spearhead The Idiot and Lust For Life (he convinced his label RCA to sign Iggy hyping him as the next Alice Cooper), both released during the UK punk explosion.  (He later produced Iggy’s eventual breakthrough, Blah Blah Blah, which included Real Wild Child.)  He even played keyboards in Iggy’s own touring band.  (They appeared on The Dinah Shore Show together, believe it or not.)  Years earlier, when another friend, Lou Reed, was similarly struggling, Bowie, fresh off his Ziggy Stardust triumph, produced Transformer, the album that spawned the classic Warhol Factory tribute, Walk On The Wild Side.  Bowie also penned Mott The Hoople’s biggest hit, All The Young Dudes, while also recording his own version.

After Lodger and Scary Monsters (both filled with classic hits and killer album cuts), the one-two punch of Under Pressure (with Queen) and the five-year-old Little Drummer Boy/Peace On Earth (with Bing Crosby), still the greatest modern Christmas song of all time, and the Baal EP, Bowie would be welcomed back to the American mainstream with Let’s Dance (which featured an unknown guitar slinger named Stevie Ray Vaughn).  Its blockbuster success genuinely startled him.  Combining dance music with the blues was seen as a unique hybrid.  Bowie never expected it to be his biggest album.  (It was nominated for the Album Of The Year Grammy.)  The title song would be his second and final US number one.  China Girl, originally recorded by Iggy on The Idiot, became a worldwide Top 10 giving The Jean Genie/Ziggy Stardust inspiration his first taste of financial stability.  (Bowie recorded other Iggy tracks on his next two albums.)

However, unable to relate to his new expanded audience and now uncertain about where to go next (he was also probably conflicted about the restoration of his fortunes after being screwed by DeFries which also had to have contributed to his reticence), Bowie greatly scaled back the edgy experimentation that defined his 70s work and played it safe with the covers-heavy Tonight (a good but not inspired collection) and the heavily criticized Never Let Me Down.

By the end of the 80s, Bowie was determined to get back on track.  The formation of Tin Machine with guitarist Reeves Gabrels and the Sales brothers (who played on Lust For Life) might not have panned out quite the way he intended, but it did spring him from his cushy, unfulfilling creative prison.  Never again would he feel the suffocating pressure of softening his avant garde ideas for mass appeal.

After Fame was remixed for Pretty Woman & Changesbowie (it was augmented by a nifty, visually arresting video) and Rykodisc reissued Bowie’s Polygram & RCA albums (many of which contained rare bonus tracks), Bowie resumed his solo career, first with Real Cool World (from the awful Cool World movie) and the album Black Tie White Noise which features a number of songs inspired by his second wife Iman who he had just married.  Standouts on the latter include Jump They Say (about his late schizophrenic brother Terry) and the belted out cover of I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday where he out-Morrissey’s Morrissey.

For the rest of the decade, Bowie’s alt-rock cred rose substantially even though the Let’s Dance audience had moved on.  Nirvana covered The Man Who Sold The World to much fanfare for MTV Unplugged.  (Bowie was often annoyed that fans thought Kurt Cobain wrote it.)  Nine Inch Nails joined him on tour.  And the guitar work on The Smashing Pumpkins’ Zero was clearly an unsubtle homage to Boys Keep Swinging.  Meanwhile, his hard rock edge returned.

Outside’s spoken word segments are skipable but not the songs, most especially The Heart’s Filthy Lesson, Strangers When We Meet, Hallo Spaceboy (the last Major Tom song) and A Small Plot Of Land (featuring the great pianist Mike Garson who played on Aladdin Sane).

The boisterous Earthling saw Bowie embracing jungle.  Best known for Little Wonder and I’m Afraid Of Americans (Trent Reznor’s remix is superior to the album version), it was released the same year he turned 50.  (In celebration, Bowie had a birthday concert at Madison Square Garden which featured guest musicians Dave Grohl, Lou Reed, Robert Smith, Frank Black and Billy Corgan.)

Bowie ended the 90s with the flawed but moving …hours which gave us the beautifully philosophical Thursday’s Child and the rocking, Stooges-inspired The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell.  The Dreamers features one of his most soaring late period vocals while This Isn’t Happening showcases one of Reeves Gabrels best hooks.  (A fan who won a songwriting contest wrote the lyrics.)

When Toy was scrapped (it later leaked online), Bowie presented Heathen instead.  (Slow Burn is a seriously underappreciated single, another great vocal showcase.)  Then came Reality and all its multiple versions.  The stellar New Killer Star was nominated for a Grammy.  Fall Dog Bombs The Moon, which was inspired by Dick Cheney of all people, is cutting social commentary about the collective indifference of rich, unaccountable sociopaths.  And his hurried, Spanish-inflected version of The Modern Lovers’ Pablo Picasso challenges one’s affection for the more relaxed original.

I could go on and on and on about this man’s life and career.  We haven’t even talked about his acting, how he played Andy Warhol in Basquiat, the villain in Jim Henson’s Labyrinth (the soundtrack has a number of bouncy Bowie originals), the detached alien in The Man Who Fell To Earth and Pontius Pilate in Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation Of Christ.  I haven’t mentioned his championing of bands like The Ramones, The Talking Heads, The Cure, Kraftwerk (V2 Schneider from “Heroes” was a direct tribute to the leader of the German foursome), The Polyphonic Spree and The Arcade Fire (who he performed live with during a Fashion Rocks event).  What about all the songs he did for other movies like Absolute Beginners, When The Wind Blows, The Buddha Of Surburbia and The Falcon & The Snowman, to name but four.  Nor have I run down his very funny Late Night With Conan O’Brien appearances.

There’s just so much, too much to document in a single tribute which is fitting after all.  Because there isn’t one song, one B-side, one concert, one album, one movie, one TV show or even one interview that singularly defines David Bowie.  You can try but it’s incredibly difficult.  There are just too many high points to choose from.

That said, let me highlight one moment of brilliance that is often overlooked.  In 1999, Placebo convinced Bowie to add his vocals to a single version of Without You I’m Nothing.  It’s this take that was added to their singles collection, Once More With Feeling.  Listen to the original album cut.  Then listen to the Bowie version.  Which one is the definitive one?

Do I even have to ask?

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, January 12, 2015
3:53 a.m.

Published in: on January 12, 2016 at 3:53 am  Leave a Comment  

Donald Trump’s Secret Song Choices To Replace Hail To The Chief

He had been threatening to do it for decades and no one took him seriously.  Even when he finally declared last June, he was still considered a longshot, a joke, a delusional plutocrat doomed to embarrass himself on the international stage.

But seven months later, however improbable it may be, the blatantly, unapologetically racist & sexist Donald Trump is the frontrunner for the Republican Presidential nomination.  Ever since he made his now infamous announcement, he has polled extremely well with potential right-wing voters, thanks in no small part to excessive, not always critical cable news coverage.  (I’m looking at you, CNN.)  Whether that will actually translate to caucus and primary victories remains an open question.  (The first vote is in Iowa on February 1st.)

Nevertheless, Trump is already making plans, prematurely.  How convinced is he that he’ll become the 45th President of the United States?  He’s contemplating replacing the traditional entrance theme, Hail To The Chief, with something more suitable to his abrasive, contemptible style.

Here is the secret list of songs he’s planning to choose from:

1. The Gentle Art Of Making Enemies (Faith No More)

2. Can’t Help Thinking About Me (David Bowie)

3. Walking Contradiction (Green Day)

4. Cocky (Kid Rock)

5. Hair (The Cowsills)

6. Better Get Used To It (Big Sugar)

7. Bigmouth Strikes Again (The Smiths)

8. My Big Mouth (Oasis)

9. I Don’t Care (Ramones)

10. All You Need Is Me (Morrissey)

11. Dodo (David Bowie)

12. Loser (Beck)

13. The Wall (Pink Floyd)

14. Back Off Bitch (Guns N’ Roses)

15. Hate (Iggy Pop)

16. Whatever (Iggy Pop)

17. Yeah, Whatever (Moev)

18. National Front Disco (Morrissey)

19. King Of Kings (Motorhead)

20. We Are The Champions (Queen)

21. Brilliant Disguise (Bruce Springsteen)

22. Mad World (Tears For Fears)

23. Simply The Best (Tina Turner)

24. The Right Stuff (New Kids On The Block)

25. Can I Play With Madness? (Iron Maiden)

26. Dum Dum Boys (Iggy Pop)

27. Cult Of Personality (Living Colour)

28. You’re So Vain (Carly Simon)

29. In A World Called Catastrophe (Matthew Good)

30. November Spawned A Monster (Morrissey)

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, January 10, 2016
4:41 p.m.

Published in: on January 10, 2016 at 4:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Answer Is Never

I wasn’t born without feelings
They completely disappeared
Lost now in the ruins
Of a cult I once feared
Surrounded by resistance
They’re armed only with the truth
I enjoy ending their lives
Especially the ones in their youth

Patrolling the rubble and desolation
Looking for fresh targets to snipe
Passing the time by mocking the oppressed
Dismissing their legitimate gripe
Blocking their path to independence
Seizing more and more of their land
Destroying their places of residence
Crushing them where they stand

Nearly a century of terror
Hasn’t brought me salvation
But I have become a master
Of dehumanization
Their spirits are not broken
Their will stronger than ever
Will they be conquered?
The answer is never

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, January 3, 2016
6:04 p.m.

Published in: on January 3, 2016 at 6:05 pm  Comments (1)  

Remembering 2015, My Tenth Year Of Blogging (Part Two)

With so much good writing in The Guardian, The Intercept, The New York Times and Vice in 2015, it was difficult to cover politics in an original way here.  But then came Earl Cowan and the Canadian federal election.

Cowan, a cranky old conservative who supported Stephen Harper (and the Ford brothers), became famous for a split second in the summer after ranting at TV journalists over the Mike Duffy fraud trial.  Once the media started playing his now infamous clip over and over again, he inspired numerous memes and parody Twitter accounts.  Someone on Twitter found his Facebook page and told me about it which inspired Angry Conservative Supporter Earl Cowan’s Facebook Postings, my most popular original piece this year.  Unbeknownst to me, Frank and Maclean’s wrote similar articles around the same time.  After his brief moment of infamy, Cowan has since dropped out of sight.  Someone should give him a talk show.

When one of Margaret Atwood’s National Post columns was suddenly removed from the web then reposted with noticeable edits, I asked why.  (I wasn’t the only one.)  And when Toronto Star columnist Michael Coren suddenly announced he was no longer Catholic nor anti-gay, I noted how he hasn’t reversed all of his awful political positions.

Politics remained a prevalent theme in my poetry this year.  Fragile Things was inspired by a prominent, thin-skinned American pundit who was stunned to find that few agree with his irrelevant views.  Activist Civil War notes the ongoing problem of political infighting, something I’ve experienced a number of times myself on Twitter.  Blind Assassins takes poetic aim at Obama’s drone assassination program while It’s Not Our Fault, National Insecurity and America’s Self-Interest Always Comes First criticizes Obama’s support for dictators and the war on Muslims.  The New Nixons references Obama and former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s authoritarian impulses.  Cruel Charade knocks a certain former high profile Liberal strategist who never took a stand on the 2003 Iraq Invasion but now is all for the war on ISIS while simultaneously being a fierce, stubborn defender of Apartheid Israel (even though he doesn’t believe that term is justified), while the harsh Despicable Lie and the more resigned You’re Not Listening mark the likely end of a long standing public dispute with a certain Chicago PD actress who stopped talking to me more than two years ago.

My biggest regret this year was getting into a pointless fight with someone well known on Twitter.  It was over Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.  It started with a tweet:  “Why does anyone take WikiLeaks seriously?”  Unaware of the context when I saw it, I got pissed off and foolishly responded.  Because of his support for the scary and cruel GamerGate (of which this person has been a target of harassment for months), his criticism of feminists and the controversial sexual assault charges he’s been facing for almost six years now, this person understandably despises him.  In turn, I support his website’s commitment to exposing excessive government secrecy & criminal acts and deplore his persecution by President Obama and the DOJ.  (For the record, I don’t support GamerGate or harassing women online.)

At the time of the argument, I asked “where’s the proof” Assange raped anyone.  (JANUARY 7 UPDATE:  I just remembered I also tweeted that Assange was never formally charged nor imprisoned.  Totally wrong.  He did turn himself in to British authorities, was arrested and temporarily jailed before being released on bail.)  Offended by the question, she blocked me.  (Annoyed, I blocked her, as well.)  In retrospect, it was a dumb thing for me to write having now read WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy which extensively documents the accusations against him.  (Assange, who has a reputation for being an aggressive womanizer, does not come off well.)  A day or so after it ended, I went through a week of panic that turned out to be unrelated (I wasn’t eating enough and was very gassy, a problem I’ve been having off and on ever since).  But once I calmed down, I wrote Absence Of Reason as a way of documenting the incident since I’ve deleted my side of the argument.  (If I had a do-over, I would’ve either not responded at all to that tweet or acknowledged Assange’s flaws while still defending the importance of WikiLeaks as a check on government power.)

Another unfortunate incident on Twitter led to You’re Sweet.  A vaguely worded tweet from someone I was friendly with led to a carefully worded question that didn’t get a full answer.  So a carefully worded follow-up was posted and next thing I know, I’m getting reamed in a series of direct messages for asking in the first place.  I apologized (I really shouldn’t have.  I did nothing wrong.) and I got a condescending response beginning with the words “you’re sweet” which angered me so much I wrote this poem that one commenter thought was about a child.  (This person is about 10 years older than me.)  I know it was just words on a screen from someone hundreds of miles away who I’ve never met in real life but it freaked me out for a whole week and I became very uncomfortable with the idea of ever talking to this person again.  So I stopped and felt immensely better.

I Always Have To Smile and A Labyrinth Of Pain were attempts to write about street harassment and low self-esteem from a woman’s point of view, respectively.  Speaking of low self-esteem, Nobody’s Type is how I feel about myself because of my numerous physical problems, unemployment status and current living situation that I believe are all unattractive to the opposite sex in comparison to more sculpted musclemen who don’t live at home and are living their dream lives.  Prison Of Fear focuses more on personal doubts about pursuing progress.

Other autobiographical poems this year included Fearful Lens about a real-life childhood bully I haven’t seen in almost 30 years (and hope never to encounter again), An Unreasonable Man (which is really about a family member but could also apply to me) and A.F. about a seven-year childhood crush that turned out to be a total waste of time and energy.  Flames Of Resentment and A Better Way To Feel Bad, on the other hand, are self-explanatory works of fiction.

Speaking of made-up stuff, let’s move on to the world of professional wrestling.  I was saddened by the death of “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, my favourite wrestler as a kid, and the retirement of AJ Brooks, the former multiple-time world champion.  I was deeply angered by Hulk Hogan’s exposed racism and Mick Foley’s stunning lack of outrage over it.  (He was remarkably silent about Jimmy Snuka’s arrest for murder.)  And I listed what I consider to be the worst WrestleMania matches of all time.  Perhaps I overstated the case against Jerry Lawler vs. Michael Cole at WM 27 in retrospect.  I recently rewatched the match on Lawler’s It’s Good To Be The King DVD release and there were a couple spots that worked.  Still, because Cole is more of an announcer than an athlete it remains a lousy match, just maybe not as bad as I originally assessed.

Last year, The Writings Of Dennis Earl was accessed almost 40000 times.  This year, it’s been accessed almost 40000 times.  (Hits are only up by almost 200.)  While I can’t complain about the consistent numbers (the small drop in postings didn’t make any significant difference), I was hoping for an expanded audience.

All the more reason to start rethinking the future of this place, what to keep doing, what to stop doing and what new ideas to finally pursue.  Honestly, I’m growing fed up with politics and would love to focus exclusively on entertainment, whether it’s pro wrestling, music or movies.  It sure beats getting into stupid Twitter fights with people you once admired.

Seeing all those movies and writing more reviews here than I had in years rekindled my love for the cinema even though I prefer watching everything now at home on DVD.  Having put up with a lot of crap in 2015, I’m hoping to see a lot more good stuff in 2016.  We’ll see how that goes.

In the meantime, I want to thank you, my readers, for visiting, for reading, for commenting, for linking, for following and engaging.  I read every message you send me, good & bad (well, except for that long-winded email), and appreciate every one of them.  I hope you’ll keep coming here to peruse the growing archives and check out my latest material.

Thanks for reading and responding.  Happy New Year.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, December 31, 2015
3:47 a.m.

Published in: on December 31, 2015 at 3:47 am  Leave a Comment  

Remembering 2015, My Tenth Year Of Blogging (Part One)

I turned 40 in June.  This website passed the 150000 hit mark in November.  And The Huffington Post published my 10th piece that same month.

More milestones are approaching and they’re approaching quickly.  Next February, The Writings Of Dennis Earl turns 10.  And at some point, my 1000th piece will be posted in this space.  (You’re currently reading number 968.  969 will be posted shortly.)

However, before we even reach these important breakthroughs, let’s be reflective and introspective as another year, one filled with highs and lows, is on the verge of ending.

Let’s start with HuffPo.  After becoming a contributor in 2014, I was able to get six columns published (seven if you count the one translated into French) that same year.  Disappointingly, my output was down a bit in 2015.  I only managed to get four items posted on their blog this year.  (I found it difficult to come up with more good, original ideas.  Not an unusual problem for me, unfortunately.)

The biggest of the four was Why Pope Francis Was A Liberal Reformer, an updated version of 8 Reasons Pope Francis Isn’t A Liberal Reformer which was posted in this space two years ago.  It has inspired almost 90 comments, 150 likes and one weird, long-winded email from a reader who, shall we say, didn’t care for it.  (No, I didn’t read the whole thing but I did save it.)  Another two-year-old piece, 4 Controversial Movie Castings That Ultimately Resulted In Triumph, only garnered one comment and 10 likes after it too was revised for HuffPo.  Although I mentioned Renee Zellweger’s surprise success as Bridget Jones, let the record show I hated that character and that movie (and its sequel).  I included her because most people disagreed with me.

Eight Men Who ‘Retired’ At WrestleMania (14 comments, 45 likes) expanded The Five Men Who “Retired” At WrestleMania from last year while Survivor Series Trivia (15 likes) was an improved, reworked version of this original 2014 offering which required numerous updates and corrections.

It’s a shame HuffPo doesn’t keep track of page views for its contributors.  It would be great to know how much of a following I have on there.

Speaking of followers, let’s talk about Twitter.  How in the hell did I get over 600 of them in three years?  Incredible.  (A quarter of that total follows this website directly.  Wish I knew how to get the numbers up here.)  I remember 2013 when I could count on two hands the number of users who wanted me in their timelines.  It’s a nice feeling to have so many folks, famous and anonymous, interested in my tweets and writings these days.  Well, except for Wil Wheaton, Bill Cosby, Warren Kinsella and a HuffPo entertainment reporter who all blocked me this year.  At any event, you can follow me @DennisCEarl.

As for The Writings Of Dennis Earl, what stood out here in 2015?  Much to my surprise, movie reviews, which represented almost half of the overall offerings.  (Output was down a bit in this space, as well.)

After a disappointing period of only managing to successfully screen roughly 30 to 60 pictures annually between 2006 & 2014, how delighted I am to note that I watched almost 140 this year.

Granted, I only liked 11 of them but still, that’s a huge jump from the 63 flicks I saw in 2014 of which only 7 were any good.

Unsurprisingly, of the 30 reviews posted in 2015, most focused on horror films.  Whether it was older titles like The Sender, Maniac, Sleepaway Camp, Curtains, Stagefright: Aquarius and God Told Me To, or more recent fare like Unfriended, The Purge: Anarchy, House Of 1000 Corpses and The Lords Of Salem, there was no shortage of crap to humourously skewer.  (Cinematic cheese often deserves a thorough, literary roasting.)

One of my favourite pieces of the year, though, was this more serious double review of both versions of the notoriously awful I Spit On Your Grave.  I’ve suffered needlessly through many a no-star feature these past 25 years but nothing compares to the completely joyless experience I had enduring these two despicable, irresponsible, pseudo-snuff films.  Watching two women get gangraped for an extended period of time, then observing their ugly, blood-drenched acts of vengeance was so unpleasant I’m truly amazed I didn’t cancel both screenings.  Harshly denunciating both of these films in this space ultimately felt cathartic and cleansing.

After more than 30 years avoiding it, I finally sat down and watched the theatrical cut of the original Halloween.  In the early 80s, I was terrified by the slightly longer TV edit and spent the rest of the decade haunted by the memory of Michael Myers’ original killing spree.  Nothing scared me more than John Carpenter’s pitch perfect score.  (I would love to find the soundtrack on CD.)  It took me until this year to finally work up the courage to watch it again, this time from an adult perspective.

Despite some flaws, Halloween remains a potent, merciless thriller and it inspired this enthusiastic review, another of my personal favourites this year.

I wish I could say the same for all its many sequels, six of which I also critiqued in 2015.  Like its predecessor, Halloween II scared me a lot as a kid when I watched it on TV.  The theatrical cut today, though, is far from terrifying.  In fact, like all the follow-ups in this franchise, it’s wholly unnecessary.  Halloween III: Season Of The Witch & Halloween 4: The Return Of Michael Myers are incredibly silly while Halloween 5 and Halloween Resurrection are vicious and just plain dumb.  It has its moments but Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, the seventh release, also feels like a needless retread.

As I was watching these seven films out of sequential order (7, 8, 4, 5, 1, 2, 3), based on what was available right away to speed up the process, I also checked out Rob Zombie’s two remakes.  Far bloodier and much less involving than Carpenter’s original, without question Zombie’s Halloween II is a bit more depraved than his own Halloween which is saying something.  After screening his other three features this year, I’ve yet to be impressed by the former White Zombie frontman.

While bad horror films at least offer the possibility of unintentional laughs, there’s not even the tiniest bit of consolation from subjecting yourself to miserably unfunny comedies.  In 2015, I encountered dozens of examples, a few of which I wrote about.

26 years after I first saw it with friends at my local cinema (which no longer exists), Weekend At Bernie’s has aged very poorly.  (I still think the sequel is dumber.)  Melissa McCarthy’s Tammy is just as horrendous.  And don’t get me started on the offensive I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, one of three typically lousy Adam Sandler movies I suffered through in 2015.  (Blended & Eight Crazy Nights were the others.)

Of the four Tom Hanks films I screened from his dreadful 80s period this year, The Man With One Red Shoe is the least terrible which speaks very lowly of his first decade on-screen.  (Dragnet, The Money Pit and Turner & Hooch are even worse.)  Before he raked in the dough for doing Two And A Half Men for over a decade, Jon Cryer was Maxwell Hauser in the outdated Hiding Out which I actually saw on a dubbed VHS tape.  And it took roughly two screenings to confirm that Horrible Bosses only has one genuine laugh.  (The slightly less bad sequel only manages to generate a few more.)

Blake Edwards’ “10” at least benefits from the compelling Bo Derek whose unashamedly free-spirited sexuality and intelligence temporarily distract you from her uptight, sexist, homophobic stalker, Dudley Moore.  One of my dad’s favourite films, I just can’t muster the same enthusiasm.

I was far more fascinated by the excellent documentary Comic Book Confidential.  Released in 1988, I’m surprised there hasn’t been a follow-up to cover the last couple of decades of this still vibrant industry.  Much to my surprise, I also enjoyed National Treasure, an unabashedly absurd but well crafted comic adventure that features one of Nicolas Cage’s less manic performances.

Speaking of movies, 25 Years After Seeing Back To The Future Part III In A Theatre, I’d Much Rather Watch Movies On DVD was an essay I’d been secretly wanting to write for quite some time.  Over the last decade, I’ve grown very tired of the excessively loud, very expensive cinematic experience.  And despite being invited out a few times after it was written, I’m maintaining my theatrical boycott.  I’m much happier with my neurotically drawn out home video screenings.  (I’m talking captions and multiple pee breaks.)

Let’s shift gears now to music.  My 2011 review of Breaching Vista’s Vera City became the last of my lost MonkeyBiz.ca pieces to get reposted here.  It’s one of only two critiques that actually inspired a response, in this case indirectly, from a member of a band I was evaluating.  (The other, incidentally enough, was this republished assessment of Yukon Blonde’s Tiger Talk as previously noted here.)  Although originally sent to my then-editor at the time of its original unveiling, the mostly positive comments were forwarded to me.  They were then heavily excerpted in the above link.

I’m a major supporter of David Bowie who has been remarkably busy with new projects the last couple of years after keeping a mostly low profile the last decade or so.  (Look for Blackstar, his newest album, on January 8.)  Last Christmas, I got the 3CD version of his most recent greatest hits package Nothing Has Changed from my parents.  Although generally excellent, I was disappointed it excluded some key singles which inspired the appropriately titled 12 Singles Disappointingly Omitted From David Bowie’s Nothing Has Changed.

Two days later came Five David Bowie Classics That Bombed In America.

When the alt-rock legend’s official Twitter and Facebook accounts announced the first of several career-spanning box sets in June, I reported Original Holy Holy Single Finally Makes CD Debut In New David Bowie Box Set.  (Why couldn’t it have been included on my Rykodisc copy of The Man Who Sold The World?)  In July, I listed 12 David Bowie Rarities That Have Never Been Released On CD.

Finally, 5 Rock Songs That Slyly Reference 5 Other Rock Songs was a long dormant entry that finally came together after listening to Bowie’s Queen Bitch for the first time in years.  I belatedly noticed that some of the lyrics were subtly referenced in The Killers’ Mr. Brightside.  I already knew that Bush quoted Life On Mars? in Everything Zen.

I was hoping to do more Bowie-related pieces but these were the only ones I managed to finish.  Maybe next year.

In the summer, I started watching old Degrassi Junior High episodes on MTV Canada.  (I hadn’t seen these in years and was unaware they were being aired again.)  With the song’s catchy opening theme in my head, I was walking to my local library one day when for some reason I imagined the lyrics rearranged to Live And Let Die, one of the best James Bond themes, although I was thinking more of Guns N’ Roses’ cover version.  That led to this goofy parody.  (Paging Axel.)  I wonder if Kevin Smith would be amused.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, December 31, 2015
1:54 a.m.

UPDATE:  After not being entirely happy with this original posting, I decided to make some alterations near the end of it.  I’ve relocated & expanded the Breaching Vista review section, moved 5 Rock Songs to the end of the Bowie paragraphs and made Degrassi Junior High the new conclusion.  I think it plays a lot better now.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, January 6, 2016
3:27 a.m.

Published in: on December 31, 2015 at 1:54 am  Leave a Comment  

50 Things I Loathed About 2015

1. “Rowdy” Roddy Piper died.

2. The CIA torture report remains classified.

3. Canada didn’t win the Womens’ World Cup.  At least they made it to the quarterfinals this time.

4. Hulk Hogan’s disgusting racism was exposed.  Hulkamania is dead.

5. The startling rise in global anti-Muslim hatred.  From vandalism and the torching of mosques to cruel remarks to ongoing mass surveillance to violent acts against women who wear hijabs and niqabs, Sikh men and others to the family who was forbidden from going to Disneyland to 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed being persecuted for making a clock to the constant torturing and droning of civilians in the Middle East and the despicably cold treatment of refugees fleeing in absolute terror, this decent community has suffered long enough.  It must stop now.

6. Jon Stewart ended his 16-year run hosting The Daily Show.  Trevor Noah has not made anyone forget that.

7. AJ Brooks left the WWE.  One of the best characters and performers of the decade thus far.  She’ll be missed.

8. Donald Trump’s racism and sexism.  It’s enough already.

9. Rob Ford has cancer again.  Hope he makes a full recovery.  Such an awful disease.

10. Despite being caught deflating footballs during a play-off game, The New England Patriots still won the Super Bowl.  Fuck the NFL.

11. Wes Craven died.

12. The NDP’s pitiful performance in the Canadian federal election.  Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to elect a leader who almost joined the Conservatives.

13. President Obama’s ongoing financial support of Middle Eastern dictators, most notably Sisi in Egypt and Netanyahu in Apartheid Israel.  The unspeakably cruel war against Muslims & Palestinians continues unabated.

14. Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka was arrested for murdering his girlfriend.  Why did it take more than 30 years to close the case?  Vince McMahon and many of Snuka’s former allies have a lot of explaining to do, as well as the original investigators from 1983.

15. The horrific bombing of Doctors Without Borders hospitals in Yemen and Afghanistan.  Saudi Arabia and America have hands so bloody they are permanently stained.  These war criminals must be held accountable.

16. Bill Cosby’s endless gaslighting of his dozens of victims.  He’s already lost the public, now he’s going to lose millions in civil court thanks to several doomed-to-fail lawsuits.  (JANUARY 7 UPDATE:  And he could also go to jail for assaulting Andrea Constand, thanks to last-minute criminal charges filed right before the start of 2016.)  Good thing Cosby Show reruns are profitable.

17. Porn star James Deen, the latest high profile man to be accused of multiple rapes.

18. The “terrorism” episode of CNN’s The Seventies.  Apartheid Israel got off way too easily while the Palestinian struggle was all too briefly mentioned and often misrepresented.

19. Elise Labott was suspended by CNN for tweeting compassion for Syrian refugees, then apologized.  Fuck CNN.

20. Scott Weiland died.  Drug addiction is a fucking bitch.

21. All the awful movies I suffered through this year:  I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry; Adam Sandler’s Eight Crazy Nights; Hiding Out; Disorganized Crime; Consuming Passions; The Purge: Anarchy; Blended; Tammy; Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen; Resident Evil: Afterlife; Resident Evil: Retribution; Man Of The House (1995); The Money Pit; The Sender; The Secret Of My Success; Underworld Awakening (twice); Sex Tape; Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde; Prom Night (1980); Dragnet; See No Evil (2006); Maniac (1980); Stagefright: Aquarius; The Reunion; The Walking Deceased; Winnie The Pooh (2011); Ice Age: Dawn Of The Dinosaurs; Ice Age: Continental Drift; The Messengers; A Night At The Roxbury; Curtains (twice); The Toolbox Murders (1978); Scary Movie 3; Scary Movie 4; Scary Movie 5; Evan Almighty; Horrible Bosses (mostly twice), Ouija; John Carpenter’s The Ward; Weekend At Bernie’s; The Man With One Red Shoe; The Dream Team; Summer Rental; See No Evil, Hear No Evil; Walk Of Shame; Zookeeper; Planet 51; Supercross; Leprechaun 2; Horrible Bosses 2; Sleepaway Camp; Money Train; The Monster Squad; Soul Man; 18 Again!; I Spit On Your Grave (1978 & 2010); Halloween III: Season Of The Witch; Halloween 4: The Return Of Michael Myers; Halloween 5; Halloween: Resurrection; Halloween (2007), Halloween II (2009); Angel, Angel, Down We Go; The Lost Boys; The Boy Next Door; Night At The Museum: Battle Of The Smithsonian; Night At The Museum: Secret Of The Tomb; Turner & Hooch; Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III; Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed; Unfriended; God Told Me To; The Lords Of Salem & House Of 1000 Corpses.

22. Kim Davis, the Kentucky public official who refused to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.  Great.  Yet another right-wing martyr on the wrong side of history.  Can we please find a way to fire her?

23. The sudden, painful injuries of Seth Rollins, Cesaro, Tyson Kidd, Daniel Bryan and Randy Orton.  The WWE can’t afford to lose anymore top-tier performers.

24. Jared Fogle was exposed, tried and convicted of being a pedophile.  How much did Subway know?

25. My monthly Internet bill is now over 30 bucks.  Why is dial-up so fucking expensive now?

26. All the innocent Americans, mostly Black, wrongly murdered by police officers.  When will Black lives actually start to matter to law enforcement and the government?

27. Saudi Arabia persecutes and beheads way more innocent people than ISIS but keeps getting billions in military aid from the Obama Administration, the Cameron Administration and the now defunct Harper government.  Sickening.

28. The fascist campaign to defund Planned Parenthood thanks to discredited, suspiciously edited videos by an anti-abortion group.  If you don’t like abortion, don’t get one.  Let women decide for themselves what they want to do about their reproductive health.  It’s not your business, fuckers.

29. The ongoing persecution of Bowe Bergdahl.  Honourably discharge this good man already and let him get on with his life.

30. Barrett Brown, Chelsea Manning, Jeffrey Sterling, Matt DeHart and the Hammond brothers are all still incarcerated.  President Obama’s true legacy as the jailer of truth tellers who expose his criminal acts.

31. All the mass shootings in America.  The NRA and gun manufacturers must be challenged more forcefully in 2016.

32. The USA Freedom Act.  A very weak “reform” law.  How about defunding the NSA instead?

33. Donald Trump’s denunciation of former POW Bergdahl.  He’s not a “traitor”, asshole, he’s a torture survivor.

34. Rahm Emanuel is still the mayor of Chicago despite helping to cover up a police murder with his own police department for a year.  The living definition of a piece of shit.

35. Dusty Rhodes died.

36. Alan Kurdi and all the refugees who died trying to flee to safety from the wars in the Middle East.  We must take them in and give them a fresh start.  After all, we’ve been destroying their home countries for years.

37. Hillary Clinton’s mostly white feminist supporters.  You’re setting yourself up for disappointment.  Why not rally around Jill Stein instead?

38. NBC fired Donald Trump from The Apprentice then allowed him to host SNL.  Way to be consistent in your “values”.

39. Neither The Toronto Blue Jays nor The Chicago Cubs made it to the World Series this year despite both getting to the second round of the play-offs in their respective leagues.

40. The horrid, anti-democratic C51 was passed.  Don’t expect Prime Minister Trudeau to repeal it.

41. The horrible stampede at Mecca.  Because Saudi Arabia is a Western ally with oil, there is no justice.

42. The January & November massacres in Paris, France.  So much for “we fight them there so we don’t have to fight them here”.

43. CNN’s constant fearmongering about “terrorism” thanks to reporting every unsubstantiated Obama Administration talking point on-air.  Why don’t they just rename it the “we’re all gonna die network”?

44. Stephen Colbert’s first Late Show.  So bad I bailed about halfway through.  I’ve yet to sit through a full episode.

45. The 50 Shades Of Grey movie.  S&M Twilight.  The least stimulating sex scenes of 2015.

46. The Woman In Black 2.  The atmospherically spooky first one made sense.  Uneven number two wants to inspire a franchise it can never be.

47. Shameless Zionist Sheldon Adelson bought the Las Vegas Journal-Review.  This won’t end well.

48. Howard Stern’s deplorable smearing of Roger Waters who supports BDS and a free Palestine.  Apartheid Israel has the worst allies.

49. Wife beater Ray Rice won almost all of his back pay (some 3 million dollars) after successfully suing the Baltimore Ravens for firing him after his pitifully soft 2-game suspension.  The only good news is that he’s not currently playing in the NFL.

50. Gitmo is still open.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, December 28, 2015
2:52 a.m.

Published in: on December 28, 2015 at 2:53 am  Comments (2)  

50 Things I Loved About 2015

1. Omar Khadr was finally released from a Canadian prison.  He should’ve never been sent to Gitmo in the first place.  May he finally have his name cleared, his sight restored and enjoy his new life in his new home.

2. Same-sex marriage was legalized in the United States, ten years after Canada had already done so.  Better late than never, nonetheless.

3. The Triple Threat WWE World Heavyweight title match between Brock Lesnar, Seth Rollins & John Cena at the Royal Rumble.  A real treat to see most of it for free on Monday Night Raw the night after it happened.  (Remember that terrible January snowstorm?)  Brutal & gripping, it featured a breakthrough, daredevil performance by Rollins who would go on to have his best year yet.

4. Danko Jones’ Fire Music.  He’s still got it.

5. The Bray Wyatt/Roman Reigns Hell In A Cell match.  The feud never made any sense (“Anyone but you, Roman”?  What?) but these young talents worked hard nonetheless and delivered some memorably stiff spots.  Seriously underappreciated effort wrongly overshadowed by the disappointing Undertaker/Lesnar HIAC.

6. The unloved Sun News Network went off the air permanently.  It’s not missed.

7. The indefatigable Jason Leopold, the self-described “FOIA terrorist”.  Fitzgerald was wrong.  There are second acts in America.  Currently breaking countless important stories for Vice, I’d love to see him write for The Intercept.  He was right about the true significance of Hillary Clinton’s private email server scandal.

8. The FIFA reckoning.  The end of the Step Ladder era.  Good riddance.

9. Muse’s Drones.  Timely, spirited bombast pointed directly at President Obama’s illegal assassination program.

10. Professor and author Steven Salaita won a justifiable six-figure settlement from the UIUC after being wrongly dismissed before ever starting his new job there, all because he publicly opposed the 2014 Gaza massacre by Apartheid Israel on Twitter.  Talk about a vindictive screw-job.  He deserves better.  Thankfully, he found another job, wrote a book about his experience and is carrying on.

11. Seymour Hersh’s thorough challenging of the official Obama narrative regarding the assassination of Osama Bin Laden.  We’ve been lied to from the very beginning.

12. Team Canada’s record-setting Pan Am Games performance.  Will this lead to a higher Summer Olympics medal haul in Rio?

13. Wrongly persecuted journalist Mohamed Fahmy was finally released from an Egyptian gulag and returned to Canada, no thanks to John Baird and the Harper Administration.  His two years of torture are finally over.

14. Revolution Records opened in my city.  17 CD purchases thus far with hopefully many more to come.

15. Bill Cosby blocked me on Twitter.  Warren Kinsella blocked me after I blocked him first.  Why so fearful, fellas?

16. Lindsey Graham & Bobby Jindal’s failed Presidential campaigns.  Terrible Republicans with terrible ideas outmatched by worse Republicans with worse ideas.

17. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s mostly compassionate refugee policy.  Why federal elections matter.

18. The escaped llamas.  Too bad they were captured.

19. Persecuted attorney Stanley Cohen was freed just before Christmas.  He should’ve never been imprisoned in the first place.

20. The return of Alberto Del Rio to the WWE.  Glad he beat John Cena for the US belt.  He’s in the best shape of his life and remains a killer in the ring.  All he needs is a solid rival.

21. The sudden legal trouble the obnoxious Martin Shkreli finds himself in.  No one sympathizes with anyone who jacks up the price of vital medicine by a considerable margin.  Greedy asshole.

22. Apartheid Israel and its right-wing supporters couldn’t prevent the US from making a deal with Iran with regards to their nuclear facilities.  Zionism is dying.

23. Daniel Bryan won the InterContinental title in a decent multi-man ladder match at WrestleMania 31.  A shame he didn’t get to have a long reign.  He has the most miserable luck.

24. Much to my surprise, President Obama outright rejected the Keystone XL pipeline extension.  Where were the protests for all the other US pipelines, including the existing XL which Obama quietly authorized?

25. The United States began restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba.  One of the few positive accomplishments of The Obama Administration.

26. Cranky, stubborn, journalist hating, Stephen Harper supporter Earl Cowan.  Hilariously out of touch with reality.

27. CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou was released from prison.

28. Diane Sawyer’s interview with Caitlyn Jenner.  Fascinating and deeply revealing.

29. All the good movies I saw this year:  Veronica Mars, Tarzan (1999), The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane, Prince Of Darkness, The Hitcher (1986), The Thing From Another World, John Carpenter’s The Thing, Halloween (1978) and National Treasure.  Plus two great ones:  Comic Book Confidential and The Drop.

30. The Bushwhackers’ acceptance speech at the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony.  Hilarious and endearing.

31. Norton Security only required one massive download after installation.  My last Norton Antivirus required dozens.

32. The Stephen Harper era in Canada is over.  We lost so much international respect and credibility these past nine years.

33. Brandon Flowers’ The Desired Effect.  Happily stuck in the 80s.  The more I hear him sing, the more he reminds me of a young Billy Joel.

34. Wrongly incarcerated and severely tortured for over a decade, British family man Shaker Aamer was finally released from the hell that is Gitmo.  May he find peace and tranquility and sue America for as much as he can get.  Here’s hoping his torturers get prosecuted someday.

35. Big E, Xavier Woods and Kofi Kingston, the current WWE tag team champions.  “New…Day rocks.  New…Day rocks.”  They’re also very funny, especially on commentary.  I’m loving the trombone.

36. Jorge Ramos.  Get rid of Anderson Cooper and replace him with this fearless journo who is just as tough on President Obama as he is on Donald Trump.

37. The Wyatt Family/Team ECW extreme rules match on Monday Night Raw the night after TLC.  No blade jobs necessary.  This one had plenty of memorable spots:  Braun Strowman flying over the announce table, Bubba Ray Dudley catching a flying kendo stick, Strowman clotheslining a falling Tommy Dreamer off the apron, Strowman carrying Dreamer then running and crashing through a barrier & Erick Rowan splashing Rhino through a table for the deserved win.

38. The Iggy Pop segment during the Miami episode of Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown.  The whole show should’ve been about him.

39. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s numerous scandals.  He’s right at home in the Republican Party.

40. David Sirota and the International Business Times.  They did first-rate reporting on numerous shady, corrupt Presidential candidates.

41. Seth Rollins cashed in his Money In The Bank briefcase to win the WWE World Heavyweight title at WrestleMania 31 during the Brock Lesnar/Roman Reigns match.  A good story with a great ending.

42. CNN’s The Seventies.  Despite its flaws, a riveting history lesson.

43. Ontario’s new progressive sex ed curriculum.  Why didn’t this exist when I was in school?

44. The Guardian’s eye-opening series on the once secret American drug war gulag Homan Square.  The Chicago PD remains as ruthlessly corrupt as it’s always been.  Spencer Ackerman deserves a Pulitzer.

45. The Palestinian BDS campaign continues to be a major pain in the ass to Apartheid Israel and its hypocritical, in-denial supporters.  May it continue to do so until the occupation finally ends.

46. The Intercept.  Now so much more than just a place to read the latest infuriating NSA disclosures.  An increasingly vital website.

47. Larry Wilmore’s relentless mocking of serial drug rapist Bill Cosby.  He’s hasn’t forgotten about you, motherfucker.  Neither have I.

48. Nicki Minaj calling out Miley Cyrus on the MTV Video Music Awards during her acceptance speech (too bad it didn’t lead to a Hell In A Cell match) and Kanye West’s hilariously moronic acceptance of his Vanguard lifetime achievement award.  Paul Heyman needs to teach him how to cut a coherent promo already.

49. This line from The Jim Gaffigan Show:  “You look like every bad guy on Downton Abbey.”  Killer.

50. Adele’s Hello.  The woman’s got pipes.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, December 28, 2015
2:16 a.m.

Published in: on December 28, 2015 at 2:16 am  Leave a Comment  

God Told Me To

He has a vagina on his stomach.  I repeat:  he has a vagina on his stomach.

Troubled New York City police detective Tony Lo Bianco makes this unintentionally hilarious discovery near the end of God Told Me To, a bizarre, disjointed and sometimes incredibly silly affair with a bit more ambition than your typical 70s horror movie.  Sadly, it is far from terrifying nor completely coherent.  In fact, it’s an uneven, screwy mess.

When the movie begins, Lo Bianco is called to the roof of a water tower where a young 22-year-old man has been picking off unsuspecting citizens with a scope rifle causing a colossal panic.  (Because it’s so poorly directed and filmed, there are more laughs than chills here, not to mention inconsistent blood effects).  He kills 15 in all.

The remarkably calm Lo Bianco bravely climbs up a ladder to talk to the equally calm mass murderer to get some answers and hopefully convince him to surrender.  When he asks him directly why he did it, the man simply says, “God told me to.”  Then, the shooter jumps to his death much to Lo Bianco’s absolute horror.

Completely stymied by this, Lo Bianco just can’t let it go.  (He visits another killer in the hospital who gives the same reason for his actions before he, too, breathes his last breath.)  While at the police station, he gets a tip from a mysterious whistleblower.  An unidentified police officer is going to start shooting people in the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade which is just about to start.  There’s no time to delay it but after warning one of his initially skeptical superiors at the parade site, cops on the scene are advised to keep an eye out.

To no avail.  Out of nowhere, Officer Andy Kaufman (in his first on-screen appearance) starts blasting away indiscriminately.  Just before he croaks, when asked why he initiated this sudden frenzy of violence, he explains, “God told me to.”  (Actually, writer/producer/director Larry Cohen says the line.  It had to be dubbed because an unmiked Kaufman was only mouthing the words.)

Later on, Lo Bianco speaks with a man who has just murdered his wife and two young kids (a son & a daughter) in his own residence.  He feels neither pity nor remorse.  In fact, he expresses a perverse pleasure for his actions.  He thinks he did a good thing.  Incredibly, he could not be in a more zen state.  Once again, when asked for his motives, he replies, “God told me to.”  Deeper into this gentle in-home interrogation, however, the usually even-tempered Lo Bianco, in a rare moment of uncharacteristic anger, suddenly flips out on him before his fellow officers take the killer away in handcuffs.  (Curiously, this particular shooter doesn’t die.  In fact, we never see or hear about him again.)

Unable to convince his superiors that all of these sudden mass killings are the result of divine intervention, Lo Bianco seeks out a science journalist to report on the “God” connections to the crimes, a key detail the NYPD has kept hidden from the public, as he hopes for an important breakthrough.  Once exposed, citizens start panicking in the streets (in a lame low-budget kind of way), the stock market starts to suffer and Lo Bianco is suspended from the force for breaking policy.

Eventually, he learns that “God” is some barefoot, late 60s Bowiesque, longhaired blonde guy with a golden glow, an uncommon ability to control people’s minds for malevolent purposes and yes, a vagina on his stomach.  (Instead of striking fear into the audience in his first scene, I laughed at his ridiculous appearance and movement.  The vagina deal is even funnier.)  When we first meet him, he’s living in the boiler room of an abandoned, decrepit apartment building because he supposedly doesn’t like to be seen in public.  (Not true, it turns out.  A number of people tell Lo Bianco well before this that they’ve actually seen him around.  They just didn’t get a clear view of his face, you know, because of his supposedly blinding complexion.  So much for being low-key.)

At any event, Lo Bianco also has his own personal problems to deal with.  A devout, true believing Catholic who has never gotten injured his entire life, he’s torn between two women:  his long suffering, plain jane wife Sandy Dennis who’s had three miscarriages and still tolerates his occasional pop-in visits & Deborah Raffin, his pretty, exceedingly patient, live-in, bespectacled, substitute teacher girlfriend who wonders not unreasonably when he’s going to finally get a divorce already.

Meanwhile, one of his corrupt colleagues gets stabbed to death by a drug dealer pal he foolishly double crossed (he busted some of his employees because he needed to meet an arrest quota) who then cleverly tries to mislead the police into thinking “God” guided the blade of his knife.  Lo Bianco, who stubbornly continues digging despite being temporarily off the force, is the only one who sees through the charade.

The more Lo Bianco uncovers about the origins of “God”, the more insane this story gets.  In a flashback, we learn how he was conceived 24 years earlier.  It involves a kidnapping, no actual sex, a floating naked woman, a mysterious light, a surprising vagina close-up and a spaceship.  It makes for a laughable visual used more than once.

Also peculiar are “God’s” disciples, a bunch of suit-and-tie types who work in some undisclosed high rise doing who knows what.  Honestly, what purpose do they actually serve beyond getting a head’s up from “God” himself when another mass shooting will take place?  What exactly do they get out of this deal?  Immunity?  (Guess that doesn’t apply to the old sweaty guy.)

Lo Bianco starts to embrace who he really is (there’s a very good reason he has lived a pain-free existence) while meeting with Sylvia Sidney, an old virgin in a senior’s house who really, really doesn’t like to be touched and is an important figure in his past.

But back to the stomach vagina.  What is the deal with that?  “God” was raised as a boy but the doctor who delivered him reports that the child wasn’t really born male or female.  When his mother referred to him as her son, he just went along with it.  So when did the vagina on his stomach first surface, then?  And where the hell’s his dong?  On his butt, maybe?

Speaking of “God’s” elusive matriarch, there’s a badly executed sequence where Lo Bianco pays her a visit and instead of having the opportunity to ask her some questions about her son, she comes out of nowhere to attack him with a knife.  The apartment stairwell is so poorly lit that the jump scare fails to raise much of anything out of you.  (And yes, in case you were wondering, “God told her to”, even though all she manages to get out is “Gah!”)

In the end, “God’s” credibility as an invincible guy with bad intentions and a stomach vagina pretty much falls by the wayside once he gets slapped in the face.  His girlish scream just slays me.

This is a truly strange picture not only because it contains more than a few cheesy moments in a wacked out, convoluted, overly mysterious story, but also because it features some surprisingly good acting when you least expect it.

Lo Bianco is instantly likeable as the smart, romantically conflicted (just dump the wife already) & dogged policeman.  No matter who he talks to, he is almost always exceedingly professional, never sarcastic nor judgmental.  His curiosity about the dark side of human nature makes sense considering his eventual purpose.  The only genuine scare in God Told Me To is his final reaction in the very last shot of the film.  That is one creepy, penetrating stare.

As for the love triangle plot, it’s harder to accept Deborah Raffin’s attraction and loyalty to the schlubby Lo Bianco than his stubborn refusal to leave Sandy Dennis which is clearly motivated more by guilt than devotion.  (It’s clear he doesn’t choose between them because he doesn’t want to hurt anybody, even if only he truly benefits from this awkward arrangement.)  Regarding his situation with Raffin, it’s just not a believable relationship to begin with.  That said, whenever Raffin and Dennis appear on screen, I didn’t laugh.  (Both do what they can in their more straightforward dramatic scenes with Dennis giving the stronger performance.)  Then again, they don’t encounter any stomach vaginas which eliminates the potential for unplanned hilarity.

Sylvia Sidney only has one scene but she’s good, too, as the long tormented virgin who has never been the same since being abducted at the 1941 World’s Fair.  (The flashback scene, however, is just plain goofy.)

Mike Kellin, who was hilariously awful in Sleepaway Camp, is better here in an otherwise thankless role as Lo Bianco’s boss even though the character is honestly not that swift in the few scenes he appears.  His hostility to Lo Bianco’s investigation of the “God” murders is too clichéd to take seriously.

God Told Me To is a real head scratcher.  Unlike the far superior Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, it views aliens as hostile god-like beings with purely murderous motives and intellects so superior no human mind can resist their invasive cranial manipulations.  And yet, it’s not clear beyond screwing with vulnerable men what their overall goals are.  What is the role of the disciples beyond covering up “God’s” criminal acts?  Why does he want to cause gun massacres exactly?  What is hiding in a shitty apartment supposed to achieve?  What’s with all the glowing?

And why the fuck does he have a vagina on his stomach?

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, December 13, 2015
12:08 a.m.

 

Published in: on December 13, 2015 at 12:08 am  Comments (2)  
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