The Invisible Man (2020)

It is far too easy to get in and all but impossible to get out.

To find yourself unwittingly trapped in an abusive relationship is to find yourself the unwelcome star of your own private horror movie.  Lured by an attractive charmer only to discover you’ve fallen for an insecure beast, a most terrifying dilemma.

Cecilia Kass knows this all too well.  For over two years, she’s been involved with a mad scientist named Adrian.  He controls every aspect of her life:  what she eats, what she wears, what she says, even what she thinks.  He knows a lot of her secrets.  He uses violence to punish her for even the slightest “infraction”.  He cannot and will not accept her as autonomous and independent.  He’s R. Kelly in whiteface.

They live together in a modern-day fortress.  Car alarms in the garage, security cameras everywhere else.  There’s even a giant wall separating his labyrinthian property from the outside world.  Only the truly courageous would ever attempt a departure.

But in the gripping opening eleven minutes of The Invisible Man, a petrified Cecelia through pluck, luck and skill manages to do just that on her desperate quest to achieve long sought liberation.  In an instant, we understand her fear.

As played by Elizabeth Moss in a breakthrough performance, she is so traumatized by Adrian she remains on high alert.  Two weeks after escaping, there she is still unable to doze off, standing and staring transfixed out of the window while her cop friend James (a wide-eyed and sometimes sarcastic Aldis Hodge) tries to comfort her and convince her that she’s no longer in danger.  She’s become so agoraphobic, even making it to the mailbox just steps from the house is an unbearable ordeal.

But once she manages to do it, there’s a letter that will change her life.

Adrian has apparently committed suicide.  (Is that urn even full of anyone’s ashes?)  His brother Tom (slimy Michael Dorman), a lawyer representing his estate, informs Cecelia, in the presence of her loyal, no-nonsense sister Emily (Harriet Dyer), she has inherited five million dollars to be paid in $100000 monthly installments.  Adrian has also left behind a bitter parting statement.  Tom only gets to read the beginning because an indignant Emily rightly cuts him off.

As a thank you for taking him in, Cecelia buys James a new ladder which his teenage daughter Sydney (Storm Reid) climbs to discover an envelope that reveals a college fund has been established in her name.  The champagne flows and the mood, for once, is jubilant.

But, of course, it will be short lived.  Cecelia will soon discover what the audience already knows.  Adrian faked his death to secretly spy on her.  That’s not all he does.

Through clever special effects, we see just how easy it is for the now invisible Adrian to wreak havoc on Cecelia’s already fragile state without being detected.

He secretly drugs her, cleverly sabotages an important job interview, steals a big knife from the kitchen counter while surreptitiously burning her bacon and eggs, sends a brutal email to her deeply insulted sister (the victim-blaming is not cool) and continually attacks her on multiple occasions.  In a very effective scene, she is startled to find him standing on the comforter he yanks off her and Sydney in their bedroom.  In an even better one, they have a violent struggle in the kitchen.

When Adrian attacks Sydney out of nowhere, the poor kid, completely disoriented and confused, wrongly blames Cecilia.  A now infuriated James removes his daughter and himself from the scene (instead of conducting the more obvious eviction suggesting he’s conflicted about truly abandoning her longterm) leaving an increasingly mortified Cecelia alone with her attacker.  Dialing her persistent ex’s cellphone leads her up to her friend’s attic where she discovers the knife and her missing architecture drawings.  She also confirms her suspicions.

It’s all too common in horror films for the heroes to be disbelieved despite being absolutely right about what’s happening to them.  The disbelievers tend to be portrayed as gullible idiots.  The genius of The Invisible Man is that the manipulative Adrian, always a couple of steps ahead, justifies their doubts about Cecelia by making it look like she’s responsible for his diabolical acts in very convincing ways.  When she rightly pleads her innocence it’s plausible to believe she’s the one who’s delusional and paranoid based on the available evidence.

The shocking scene in the restaurant being a key example.  How can you prove you’re innocent when you’re the one holding the murder weapon?  Not only is Adrian able to get away with so much cruelty, he has a co-conspirator.  Cecelia immediately senses this, as do we, long before that belated confession.

Running a little over two hours, The Invisible Man, which has next to nothing in common with the H.G. Wells novel beyond the title, despite having some familiar, predictable elements, never once feels bloated or overlong, a rarity for horror films that run longer than a hundred minutes.

From the very beginning, we’re on Cecelia’s side.  She is sweet, necessarily resourceful and no longer resigned to being a victim.  We appreciate her complicated sister.  We like James and Sydney, too.  There’s a very good scene where father and daughter are attacked in their own home.  Storm Reid’s emotional reactions are disturbingly effective.

Elizabeth Moss reminds me a lot of Jodie Foster with her similar look and low-key vulnerability.  The greatest instrument a horror actor has is their face and Moss makes the most of hers like in the scene where she walks into her friend’s bathroom and just stares blankly into space still processing Adrian’s “suicide”.  Or that intense look she gives Tom when he offers her two shitty deals to end her suffering.  It’s a testament to her talent that she made me forget she’s a dopey Scientologist in real life.

The mostly unseen Adrian is played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen who, when we do see his face, resembles Adam Levine but with a creepy smile.  We despise his misogyny and his heartlessness.  He’s like Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List.  He doesn’t want to kill Cecelia, despite frequently assaulting her, he would rather torture her for the rest of her life by pinning all his crimes on her and force her to live with him in perpetual misery.  When he kills, and he kills a lot of people in this movie, it’s to transfer his guilt onto her.  He’s an absolute master of gaslighting.  The goal is to make her submit and completely dependent on him.

But he’s also quite arrogant.  Despite coming up with a pretty good scheme to explain away his disappearance, Cecelia is on to him.  There’s a scene where she returns to his fortress and makes an important discovery.  That eventually pays off in an expected way during the film’s satisfying conclusion.  His sudden nice guy act fools no one.

Some will question her morality but many, who know firsthand the nature of abusers, and how the “justice” system is incapable of holding them to account and even reforming them, will be envious and hopefully find catharsis.  On the other hand, I suspect many survivors will feel too triggered to even watch this.  There are a lot of tense moments.

A cross between Sleeping With The Enemy and Hollow Man, but a whole lot smarter and scarier, The Invisible Man is an unexpected sleeper.  Written and directed by frequent Saw & Insidious collaborator Leigh Whannell, this is easily his best work.  Were it not for the COVID-19 pandemic, it would’ve been an even bigger theatrical hit than it already was.  Surprisingly made for less than ten million and earning over a hundred million internationally, it is a deservedly profitable success.

The Australian filmmaker understands what Cecelia is going through.  In a later scene where she’s trying to explain to James the cop that Adrian remains a threat to her well-being despite the final events in his house, she correctly observes that his whole motivation is to make her out to be “the crazy one”.  To his credit, James is no longer a doubter, ditto the teenage Sydney.

Whannell has sympathy for his heroine, except for the ill-advised comment a wounded Emily makes about Cecelia being too “weak” to leave the formidable Adrian on her own.  That should’ve been scrapped and feels needlessly mean.  He apparently has less sympathy for Adrian’s dog, Zeus, who remains on his property seemingly all alone with no one apparently caring for him, except for the few moments where he runs into Cecelia.

Because Adrian is so determined to control her entire life from the shadows, we see firsthand the power an abuser, especially one with institutional and financial protections, can wield for so long with zero consequences.  He even manages to make himself look sympathetic at one point.  When you can control the narrative in seemingly endless ways, you are invincible.  Perhaps that should’ve been the title:  The Invincible Man.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, July 5, 2020
10:27 p.m.

Published in: on July 5, 2020 at 10:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

Revolution (2013)

After premiering Sharkwater, his groundbreaking documentary, in Hong Kong more than a decade ago, director Rob Stewart fielded questions from the audience.  A sharp young woman asked why he even bothered trying to save the great whites and all their relatives when scientists have predicted the entire ocean will be completely depleted anyway before 2050?

A flummoxed Stewart stalled repeatedly.  (“That’s a good question.”)  Despite his experiences as a marine biologist, he didn’t know quite how to reply.

Revolution, the entertainingly informative sequel to Sharkwater, is his eventual, belated answer, offered several years after being put right on the spot.  Tragically, it would be the last film he would complete in his lifetime.

The scene with the young woman is a sobering conclusion to a quick, mostly visual recap of the earlier film that opens this flawed follow-up, a sequence that also includes a brief montage of Stewart’s successful media tour appearances where he does promotion for Sharkwater on NBC talk shows and Larry King Live (with TMZ boss Harvey Levin filling in).  He also encounters extremely enthusiastic kids of various shades eager to discuss his terrific debut.  (They treat him like a rock star.  He looks the part.)

Like Sharkwater, Stewart is at his best in Revolution when sharing his knowledge of the environment and its many quirky, colourful inhabitants.  Learning about the flamboyant cuttlefish, the various “misfit” sea creatures who live and hide in “the muck”, deceptively predatory coral, brainless jellyfish growing in numbers in the absence of other species, the rise and fall and rise and fall again of the perpetually endangered Canadian Lynx and why Lemurs, the wide-eyed tree-dwellers with their graceful, human-like dancing are the only primates in Madagascar is all fascinating and enlightening.

Stewart is also persuasive and effective in explaining the climate crisis in terms even kids can follow, for the most part, even though there’s a lot of information to digest.  On his own and through a litany of experts young and old, Black, Brown, Indigenous and white, we learn, among other things, that the ocean is becoming more acidic (thanks to astonishingly excessive amounts of carbon dioxide) and therefore less hospitable to marine life, almost all of which have been wiped out already, “more than 90%”, which was also pointed out in Sharkwater.  There’s a “dead zone”, one of hundreds filled with dead coral and not much else, so big in the Gulf of Mexico it’s “bigger than Connecticut”.  If that’s not ominous enough for you there are now 75% fewer forests, as well.  It’s no wonder each shocking on-screen graphic is accompanied with the same horror cue.

Stewart connects the dots between the pollution in the air, the missing trees and the pollution in the sea; the ruthless expansion of big polluters, their endless greed, the politicians who enable them despite the breaking of various laws and the precipitous decline of the planet’s health; the rise in peculiar seafood delicacies (shark fin soup), the increasingly sloppy fishing expeditions and the near extinction of the underwater class system.

Never shy about blurring the lines between filmmaker and activist, Stewart is however far less successful at being an on-camera Michael Moore (it’s just not his personality) even though Sharkwater has gotten more substantial results as noted in the more encouraging third act graphics.  (Shark fin bans are becoming politically popular, whereas they don’t make cars in Michigan anymore and Bush got reelected.)  He’s more of a knowledgeable tour guide than a muckraker, despite his urgent pleas for reform.

Consider the sequences where the self-described neophyte participates in rallies and protests.

In Ottawa, just outside Parliament Hill, the Toronto native delivers a nice, supportive speech as the emcee of “the biggest climate change rally in Canadian history” (which looks rather small to me), but not an impassioned, inflammatory one that might’ve scared the then-ruling Stephen Harper Conservatives into at least thinking about scaling back their mindlessly aggressive degradation policies.  (After all, they did shut down all those science libraries without warning or much public backlash and, as Stewart notes at the conclusion of the event, swiftly killed an environmental reform bill.)

Seven years after its release, and two years before Mr. Brownface became Prime Minister, the horrifyingly scarring Alberta Tar Sands are still in business, but thankfully scaled back now because of COVID-19 and a slowed-down economy.  The big fear of it expanding into the US have not yet come to pass.

While walking and chanting with American protestors, including the actress Daryl Hannah, in Washington, D.C. as part of a rally to force the shut down of a coal plant powering the White House (Stewart notes similar protests across America have prevented the building of 22 new ones), there is so little interest from the police in stepping in to stop them that their plan to get arrested for blocking the entranceway and draw media attention for their antics is a complete bust.  No one cares.

“It seemed protesting might not be enough,” Stewart notes dryly.  Or maybe the protest needs to be more threatening to the establishment beyond Robert F. Kennedy cutting decent promos on the government.  I mean why call your movie Revolution if you’re too timid to launch one?

Finally, there’s the trip to the 2010 UN Climate Conference in Cancun, Mexico.

Stewart participates in a borderline cornball stunt where he cuts a promo on Harper’s non-existent climate policy while wearing a silly shark costume after a bunch of Canadian kids, all activists themselves, make mock sales pitches about selling the destruction of their future to the highest bidder.

There’s an admittedly funny bit where someone sings satirical lyrics to the Jurassic Park theme while activists bearing dino flags dance around her.  But considering how residents in Minneapolis burned down a Target and a police precinct in the aftermath of a Black man being murdered by cops (resulting in the recent push to abolish the whole department), this “tactic” is not exactly “drastic”.

Stewart claims they all tried to get private meetings with politicians (to try to shut down the Tar Sands) but none would agree to an on-camera interview.  More should’ve been done to get their attention.  There are clearly no Larry Kramers in this crowd.

Being named Fossil Of The Year for being the biggest saboteur of climate change negotiations five years in a row didn’t shame Canada into becoming David Suzuki, nor has the new regime been any better.  (Trudeau is just as bad a polluter.  His government actually bought a pipeline with taxpayer money.)  Indigenous protestors, who are directly impacted by the carcinogenic Tar Sands because they live near the area, are more serious with their message but just as ineffective.  Peaceful rebellions are overrated.

One protest, however, does cause alarm and yet it too is so gentile and peaceful, you’re amazed at the fallout.  Activists stand outside the doors to the conference hall counting out the number of people who died because of climate change in the last year.  They demand justice and political reform.  What they get is a swift exit from the conference.  As a number of activists weep on a bus than sends them away, an observing, highly ambitious 13-year-old Bavarian tree planter, mortified by the whole needless spectacle and who simply wants a better future for his generation, is reduced to tears himself.

Much more effective is a UN address from another teenager, a girl from Lebanon, who calls out the global political establishment for caring more about protecting businesses than preserving the planet’s health.  She openly derides their cynicism, wondering earnestly why there’s any more need for negotiating when time is running out.  Next to Kennedy’s stick work, it’s as close to a pipe bomb as we’re ever gonna get here.  One wonders if Greta Thunberg took notes.

It’s fairly obvious that capitalism is the culprit, the real catalyst of Earth’s decline.  It’s why killing sharks for their fins became such a booming business.  It’s also the reason for all the overfishing in the oceans, especially the tragic mistakes.  (Look at all those dead, unwanted seahorses in all those glass containers, a shocking image.)  It’s always been profits first, decency second.

It’s also why 51 of the top 100 global economies are not countries, but corporations, including the big oil companies itching for a piece of the Tar Sands action.

And yet, the word “capitalism” is never mentioned.

When activist after activist and scientist after scientist point out that the system needs to change, that the planet’s needs should come before corporate profitability and that humans should be in harmony with the land and each other, rather than locked into perpetual competition, and immediately cut down on unchecked consumption, it’s a little peculiar how they all dance around the obvious solution.  It even has a name:  socialism.

In a couple of scenes, we get a sense of the opposition to this inevitable change.

A former Greenpeace activist turned deliberately dishonest Tar Sands advocate (without explaining why he switched sides or how much he’s getting paid to sell out) complains about the fear of no gasoline in millions of cars if those pesky environmentalists get their way.  (Is he auditioning to be a Scooby Doo villain?)  He declares with a straight face that everything’s on the up and up in the ol’ TS.  Everything’s clean, man!  Nothing to see here.  And animals?  Who gives a fuck about them?  First Nations communities are completely ignored.

Thankfully, we get the real shit on what goes on in this horrible eye sore that can be seen from space from scientists and Indigenous activists with more integrity, but it would’ve been nice to hear Stewart push back directly on his bullshit himself.

The beautifully photographed Sharkwater did a masterful job of convincing me that everything I believed about sharks was completely wrong.  They are not a threat to humanity.  (Not only is it rare to be bitten by a shark but if you do, you’re most likely to die from bleeding out rather than becoming their next hearty meal.  They’re afraid of us more than we are of them.)  In fact, they’re so essential to the smooth running of the underwater ecosystem that their profound decline in numbers is changing the order of things down below and definitely not for the better.

But the movie also suffered from White Saviour syndrome.  Stewart sometimes got too carried away with his first-person, sometimes self-centered crusade to see that he wasn’t the only one worried about the shark problem.  He didn’t have to educate anyone in South America.  They already knew.

In Revolution, there’s a gut check moment where he’s told his carbon footprint is too high.  He confesses that the experts lowballed the actual number.  In a bitterly ironic revelation, his planet-saving jaunts around the world to make his movies may have unwittingly helped contribute to its decline because of his over reliance on gas-guzzling vehicles and planes for transportation.  It’s a welcome moment of humility for a guy who got a little carried away with being an environmental superhero in the earlier film.

There was also more drama in Sharkwater as demonstrated in the Sea Shepherd sequences where heartless shark poachers are confronted by these dedicated enviro protectors.  After being screwed over and grounded by some thoroughly corrupt authorities Stewart and his pals ultimately make a courageous run for it.  It’s only after they’re safely out of their oceanic jurisdiction does the captain, otherwise a stoic figure of fearlessness, express an outward sigh of relief.

There’s no such excitement in Revolution (the activists being sent away just doesn’t compare) but there are a lot of “inspirational graphics” and a shameless plug for a not so revolutionary app during a conclusion that briefly turns the film into an infomerical.

Just before the end, we learn about a class in a beautiful island greatly inspired by Sharkwater who write letters to their governor demanding a ban on shark finning which he dutifully signs, much to their delight.  Stewart goes to meet them after their teacher writes to him and they’re thrilled at his high-fiving presence.  In turn, he’s clearly amazed at the impact of his film.  While the gorgeous looking Revolution doesn’t come close to matching its power, it positively continues the conversation he started.

Alternately depressing and yet strangely hopeful, if a little preachy at times, it reminds us of the fragility of life, the crucial importance of healthy ecosystems and the irreplaceable animals who inhabit them.

There have been five mass extinction events in Earth’s epic history and we might be in the middle of the sixth.  Stewart may be gone now (after a preventable drowning while filming his third doc that was later finished by his family and friends) but the kid who thinks we should protest and riot for Mother Earth gives me hope for the future.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, June 9, 2020
4:19 a.m.

Published in: on June 9, 2020 at 4:19 am  Leave a Comment  

Gran Torino (2008)

We all know Walt Kowalski.  He’s our grandfather, our co-worker, our boss, our uncle, our neighbour, our father-in-law, maybe even our own father.  He’s that grumpy gus who alternates between glaring and yelling when he’s not groaning or shaking his head in disgust.  He has horrible politics.  He views the neighbours with suspicion especially if they’re not white.  And over time, he will have alienated everyone who’s ever cared about him giving him exactly what he wants: total solitude.  At least dogs don’t judge.

In Gran Torino, Walt Kowalski is played by Clint Eastwood in one of his best performances.  Nearing 80 at the time of its making but still retaining that same squinty-eyed handsomeness that made him a star decades earlier, he is the quintessential right-wing crank, a Korean War veteran without a filter.  Sometimes, the epithets he flings are filled with venom, other times he’s like a roaster at the Fryer’s Club.  But not everyone appreciates the “joke”.

The movie begins at a funeral.  Walt’s wife has died.  We meet his family.  Some of the grandkids are openly disrespectful.  His son, a car salesman, hates him.  Their social interactions are the definition of awkward.  Needless to say, there’s a healthy buffer zone.

At the wake back at Walt’s place, his bratty teenage granddaughter is more interested in her phone than her grandpa’s genuine sorrow.  In a truly nervy scene, after getting caught sneaking a smoke in his garage, she wonders if he’ll bequeath to her some of his belongings after he croaks.  He’s too offended to even offer a tart rebuttal.

Next door lives a sweet Hmong family, refugees from the Vietnam War, in a house that is falling apart.  As a large gathering arrives for a baby celebration, out come the racial slurs.  There’s a humourous running gag involving their grandma who doesn’t speak English but makes her disdain for Walt perfectly clear.  The feeling, of course, is mutual.

There’s an incident that spills over on Walt’s property.  And yes, the old codger comes out with a rifle and barks, “Get off my lawn!”  No one gets shot and peace is quickly restored.  Suddenly, Walt is showered with food and flowers from the relieved family.  They all go in the trash.

But then the teenage daughter, Sue (the charming Ahney Her), befriends him.  She invites him over for another family gathering where he belatedly realizes he shouldn’t have thrown out all that food.

Later, when she’s confronted by a group of sexual harassers on the sidewalk while walking around with a date, Walt happens to survey the scene from his pick-up truck.  He drives up, is accosted by the young men (all Black), gets out of the car, convinces them he’s not to be fucked with, offers more blatant racism and gives a relieved Sue a ride home.  For his part, the freaked-out white guy she leaves behind (played by Eastwood’s son Scott) gets called a “pussy”.

Even though he openly believes in discredited stereotypes about Asian people (like the one about them all being extraordinarily smart), Sue offers one of her own.  As she puts it, Hmong girls get a great education while the boys end up in jail.  Her brother Thao (a very sympathetic Bee Vang), who Walt calls Toad, is not like his gangbanging cousin, however.  He’s quiet and withdrawn, unsure of himself and often relegated to doing “women’s work” like washing the dishes and gardening.

When the cousin and his buddies pressure him relentlessly to steal Walt’s beloved 1972 Gran Torino, still in pristine condition and first put together back when he worked in the now-disappeared Ford factory in Michigan, inevitably he gets caught.  Although he’s pissed at the intrusion (out comes the trusty rifle again), it’s a life changing moment for the both of them.

Gran Torino’s set-up is pure formula: the old white bastard softening his growl to bond with a timid young man of colour who eventually finds his courage and purpose.  As Thao is ordered by his mom to do a week of chores at Walt’s place, the film’s surprising sweetness sneaks right up on you as does its biting comedy.

Walt is friends with a barber (John Carroll Lynch).  Their patter is pure racial roasting.  They’re self-aware Archie Bunkers.  Walt appears to be his only customer.  As he grows closer to the kid, the old man tries to teach him “guy talk”.  He has him come in and out of the shop a couple of times to practice.  This pays off extremely well when Walt manages to get him a job interview with a friend at a construction site.  To see this Hmong kid make a connection with his new white boss over being screwed over by imaginary mechanics is the funniest bit in the whole picture.  There really is a secret white guy language.

But Thao’s cousin continues to hound him.  One of his goons puts a cigarette out on his face.  When Walt pays the guy a visit, he pounds the shit out of him and offers a warning that goes unheeded.  The gang retaliates, Sue is horribly violated and Walt needs time to think.  This is no time to be stupid.

The very effective Christopher Carley plays a young priest who eventually manages to convince the cranky Walt to come to confession, his wife’s dying wish.  It’s here he admits what the audience already knows.  He’s in pain.  He saw and did things in Korea that have never left him.  He can’t shake those horrible images, only some of which he acknowledges.  He regrets not bonding with his son.  After so many years, he still can’t relate to him.

At his wife’s funeral, Walt lets out a nasty sounding cough.  Later on, the coughs worsens but now, there’s a bloody discharge.  He visits the doctor.  They want him hospitalized.  He makes a call to his son.  He actually tries to be his father for once, asking how everybody is.  The son is shockingly indifferent and makes an excuse to get out of the call.  But after he hangs up, he looks confused.  He senses something’s off.  A missed opportunity.

Despite his tough guy act around Thao, Walt loves him.  He enjoys his company, sees his potential, maybe even recognizes qualities he once possessed before he got absorbed by the system.  In a bittersweet irony, he’s a replacement son and Sue, his substitute daughter.  “You’re a good man,” she tells him after all the good deeds he does for the family.  “I’m not a good man,” he replies in a rare moment of humility.

The truth is more complicated.  There’s no excusing his ugly bigotry, no matter how many times he tries to pass it off as edgy comedy, even after he warms to Sue and Thao’s family.  And his views on masculinity are certainly tinged with toxicity (although he’s ultimately right about Thao needing to stand up for himself).

But look at those scenes where Walt interacts with his next door neighbours.  He pats a little kid’s head as she passes through the living room, a big no-no in Hmong culture which he didn’t know, which he doesn’t understand.  (She later comes to his house to make a request and he’s charmed by her adorableness.)  He’s friendly and appreciative of the women feeding him.  (No more chucking their delicious goodies in the dustbin.)  A girl with a crush on Thao makes small talk with Walt in the basement as they hang with their friends.  Her non-judgmental attitude puts him at ease.  Knowing how she feels about the shy Thao gives him an in.  He might be gruff about it but he does care about the kid and wants him to be happy.  After all, he has no male role model.

And how about Walt’s volcanic fury over Sue’s assault?  He cries alone because he fears exposing his vulnerability.  Like a certain Republican President, he wrongly sees it as a weakness never to be shared.  It’s this quietly raging, internal conflict that fuels much of his irritability and shame.

Gran Torino ultimately is about closure through redemptive acts.  It’s about reaching that moment in your life when you realize you don’t have a lot of time left and while you might not be able to right every wrong you committed, maybe you can still end on a high note.  You may have forever alienated your real family, who aren’t exactly decent people themselves, but maybe there’s a chance you can do something so courageous and heroic, this selfless act will stand as your real legacy, even if it can’t entirely atone for a life of prejudice.

Walt isn’t a good man or a bad man.  He’s a frustrated man, a guilt-ridden man, a lonely man, a broken man.  He may think he likes living alone with his loyal dog Daisy but he feels neglected and rejected, a misfit in his own town that has changed beyond his recognition.  Thao and Sue represent what his life could’ve been if he made better choices and had more appreciative kids.

Eastwood is on very familiar ground here.  Walt could easily be Dirty Harry in retirement or William Munny if he lived in the city.  (There’s a lot of Rudy from the first Survivor in him, as well.)  He is a violent man who wishes he wasn’t.  He is a racist man who can see past his dehumanization up to a point even if he can’t quite let go of bad ideas and crude jokes.  He is a regretful man who wishes he was a better father.  Only Eastwood could’ve pulled off this tricky, complicated performance.  We care about this asshole, but he’s still an asshole.

Walt’s most heroic act isn’t what he does for the Hmong family, the neighbourhood where the gangbangers live or even the expected rewards he leaves behind for his new friends.  It’s preventing a good young man from ruining his own future.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, June 6, 2020
3:04 a.m.

Published in: on June 6, 2020 at 3:04 am  Leave a Comment  

Mediocre White Man

Mediocre White Man
Jumping in the fire
Everyone still wondering
Why he won’t retire
Thinks he’s so great
When he’s actually the worst
Only got his power
Because mommy got there first

Mediocre White Man
Racist to the core
A venomous bigot
A colossal bore
A balding midget
A worthless cunt
Always failing upwards
A publicity stunt

Mediocre White Man
The opposite of clever
He’ll finally get respect
On the 12th of Never
Hates smarter women
The epitome of class
He can take his condescension
And shove it up his ass

Mediocre White Man
Just can’t take a hint
Hope he drinks the water
If he ever visits Flint
Insufferable gasbag
A whiny little bitch
Hope he drives his fancy car
Into the nearest ditch

Mediocre White Man
Made a crucial gaffe
Thought he was insulting me
Instead he made me laugh
Tired of his rhetoric
It’s completely out of whack
He stupidly supported
The war in Iraq

Mediocre White Man
Time to call it quits
I’ve found more insight
In my afternoon shits
Deliberately infuriated
Indigenous folks
Can’t tell the difference
Between a fact and a hoax

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, May 22, 2020
5:46 p.m.

Published in: on May 22, 2020 at 5:46 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Open Door Now Shuts

Beware of deprivation
It leads to overkill
Lowering standards
No more denying your will

Regretting your impulses
After the fact
An ongoing dry spell
Breaking the pact

You swore you wouldn’t return
There’s no future here
Denying your needs
Feeling the fear

Yearning for connection
Impossible to ignore
Options are limited
The process is a bore

Hours of rejection
Brief moments of delight
Not worth the effort
An embarrassing sight

To deny yourself pleasure
Is the cruelest of cuts
But after years of devastation
The open door now shuts

Straining to find the nerve
To set a new course
Instead of repeating mistakes
And then feeling remorse

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, May 22, 2020
12:36 a.m.

Published in: on May 22, 2020 at 12:36 am  Leave a Comment  

The Coming Rage

A rumbling discontent
An escalating fear
Haunted by creeping shadows
Redacting the truth

Mobilizing resistance
While avoiding detection
Compiling the grievances
Expanding daily

Testing strategies
On vulnerable targets
Weaknesses spotted
Foundations shaken

Relentless attacks
Countered with ferocity
Endless resources
Delay their demise

Burn it all down
This philosophy of hate
This source of injustice
Watch it disintegrate

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, May 19, 2020
2:53 a.m.

Published in: on May 20, 2020 at 2:53 am  Leave a Comment  

Flood Of Anticipation

Scintillating view
Intoxicating scent
Awakening desire

Scorching intensity
Rising expectations
Entering paradise

Flood of anticipation
Filling the void
Soaked in admiration

Widespread tingling
Torturous teasing
Mouthful of pleasure

Sumptuous delights
Dramatic transformation
Ecstasy overload

Constant blushing
Emphatic release
Cooling sensation

System recharged
Euphoric afterglow
Begging for more

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, May 19, 2020
4:36 p.m.

Published in: on May 19, 2020 at 4:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Consequence Of Drive

A singular focus
Cancelling out
The hum of uncertainty
That lingering doubt
Driving through the tunnel
Staring straight ahead
Blurring the passings
Clearing your head

Embracing this path
But not avoiding the traps
Awaiting the milestones
Hundreds of laps
Breakthroughs are coming
Progress to be achieved
Ignoring the damage
Willfully deceived

Calling your name
Refusing to look
Can’t stop now
Just starting to cook
Deliberately ignored
Obtain the goal
To be adored

Escaping resentment
At a steady clip
Any moment now
Your fortunes will flip
No hesitation
No wasted motion
Must experience
Complete devotion

A smoother ride
A steadier groove
No time to rest
You’re on the move
Nearer and farther
The moment of truth

Choices are made
They can’t be undone
Onward and upward
With the rise of the sun
The heat you feel
Isn’t what you expected
They’re more divided
Than you ever suspected

The higher you climb
The hotter the blaze
But you haven’t been careful
You’re lost in the haze
You finally arrived
Your ultimate desire
But look at the hatred
You deservedly inspire

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, May 18, 2020
1:33 a.m.

Published in: on May 18, 2020 at 1:33 am  Leave a Comment  

Prisoner Of Sympathy

Questioning motives
A sure sign of disrepair
A vague accusation
Distrust laid bare
A week of silence
After six years of chat
No further explanation
The line is flat

A disrupted rhythm
A permanent pause
An awkward tension
An unjust cause
A misunderstanding
Frozen in place
A waste of time
A past to erase

A cracked foundation
Too broken to seal
Paranoid delusions
Too dumb to be real
Endless confusion
Never set aside
No longer tolerant
Emphatically denied

A hovering gloom
A dark cloud of regret
A sudden disengagement
An unexpected reset
Toxic feelings
Difficult to shake
A lingering resentment
Left in its wake

Constant support
Never deprived
But when the roles reversed
Suspicion arrived
An uncomfortable revelation
An exposed duplicity
Shattering the illusion
Of synchronicity

A rock solid rapport
Crumbled into dust
There was no chemistry
Not even lust
Ironic considering
The subjects discussed
This final occasion
Ending with disgust

A prisoner of sympathy
Too polite to be blunt
Exceedingly kind
Despite baring the brunt
A series of fires
Extinguished on cue
No time for other matters
Time to slip out of view

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, April 22, 2020
7:11 p.m.

Published in: on April 22, 2020 at 7:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

John Carter

The story of how Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess Of Mars finally hit the big screen after nearly a century of delays is certainly more interesting than the eventual feature film inspired by it.

Originally conceived as a possible animated movie for Warner Bros. in the 1930s the stalled project passed through studio after studio decade after decade until it finally landed for a second time at Disney where it ultimately became a derivative action epic.

Released in 2012 and renamed after its reluctant hero, there was much anticipation for John Carter.  With an obscene 250 million shooting budget plus 350 million more attributed to promotion all at its disposal, no expense was spared on the uneven visuals.  If only there was as much care put into the actual, overly familiar story.

The aptly named Taylor Kitsch plays the title role, a wealthy, obsessive treasure hunter.  Widowed and rendered childless through mysterious circumstances, like Lt. John Dunbar, he’s a cavalryman tired of fighting “shameful” wars.  Kitsch tries to sound like Eastwood with his soft, gravelly tone but he looks like a Guess Jeans model in need of a shave.

After multiple escapes, all played for non-existent laughs, from a team led by fellow officer Bryan Cranston, who wants him manning a colonial post in Arizona, the two end up paired together and, while being pursued by pissed off Apaches, retreat near a mysterious cave where the hero suddenly and violently encounters a man transported from another world.

As the stranger lies dying in the dirt, he chants something in a mysterious language.  Kitsch hangs onto his glowing blue medallion and after the final word is uttered, he himself is teleported to Mars, or Barsoom, as the natives call it.  It takes him nearly an hour to realize where he is.  He’s pretty but stupid.

In the opening scene, we are told that the red planet is not airless or dead, but it is dying, thanks to a triumvirate of sorcerers who interrupt a forgettable civil war to recruit Dominic West as their newest puppet dictator.  Bestowing him with a powerful weapon that vaporizes his growing list of enemies, they seemingly give him free reign to rule but in truth, he does what they tell him to.  (His immediate attempt to screw them is easily anticipated and instantly thwarted.)  They do this because they want to be perceived as legend.  I think they’re just lazy and cowardly.  I’m amazed none of them are named Trump.

Meanwhile, Kitsch is discovered by a tribe of green aliens, each with a set of ram-like horns on their faces and two sets of arms.  Their leader is voiced by the always committed Willem Dafoe (they’re all CGI characters) who thinks the visitor’s name is Virginia, his home state, a tired running gag, before he’s given a new Martian name you won’t remember.

Upon landing on Mars, Kitsch suddenly turns into Super Mario, discovering quite by accident that he can’t walk normally.   Instead, he leaps and bounces about so much he cuts down on travel time considerably.  Dafoe’s alien is adamant he demonstrate this power to his tribe or else.  Curiously, there’s a scene where he actually does this in a failed effort to try to retrieve that time-travelling medallion but I guess that doesn’t count.  Kitsch also learns he’s as strong as Hercules.

Resistant to being an on-call circus monkey, he’s taken prisoner where he’s given something to drink.  Suddenly, instead of listening to made-up gobbledygook passing for a foreign language, he now hears perfect English.  This is some potent shit.

In the meantime, West and his overseers are determined to conquer the city of Helium where sadly no one speaks in a really high voice.  They hatch a secret plan.  Rather than just bomb the place like everywhere else they’ve destroyed, they force the ruling king into a bad deal.   Make your hot daughter, the princess, West’s wife and they’ll rule together.  Of course, there’s a swerve waiting in the wings.

The princess is a master swordsman and a scientist.  She’s on the verge of discovering that West’s new weapon is actually The Ninth Ray.  (Don’t ask.)  But one of the shapeshifting sorcerers deliberately delays that eventual awareness through not-so-subtle but undetected sabotage.

Once she knows of West’s intentions, she bolts and is rescued by Kitsch who at first only sees her as a damsel in distress.  (The movie is set in the 1880s.)  Alternately, it takes her quite a while to believe his story.  She’s also pretty but stupid.

John Carter is a shameless patchwork of a whole bunch of other famous movies.  The floating boats in the desert are straight out of Return Of The Jedi.  Kitsch’s dilemma and the breathtaking Utah scenery feel a lot like the original Planet Of The Apes, especially the sequence where they travel by river.

The scene where Kitsch and two of the green aliens find themselves battling two giant hairy beasts, also with two sets of arms, is the dungeon scene with Luke from Jedi with the white snow creature from The Empire Strikes Back set in the outdoor arena from Gladiator.

The aftermath, where the hero finds himself covered in the creature’s blue blood, suddenly turns into a tribute of sorts to Braveheart, where Kitsch rallies the green aliens for an eventual invasion of Helium.  All the routine fight scenes, not always easy to follow and sometimes difficult to see especially when set at night, are straight out of countless swords-and-sandals epics.

And am I wrong in thinking that the disruption of the wedding is straight out of The Graduate?  All that’s missing is Simon & Garfunkel and a bus ride into the credits.

And yet, there are some enjoyable moments, most of them humourous.  One of the green aliens smacking Kitsch in the head when he fucks up.  Another alien wiping away the tear of her strict father during a second wedding. The princess watching her clone fleeing and declaring, “I’m getting away!”  And Willem Dafoe’s rival, voiced by Thomas Hayden Church, looking very bored when one of his hairy beasts isn’t getting the job done, so he orders a second to enter the fray.

My favourite CGI character is easily lovable Woola, Kitsch’s faithful animal companion that won’t be denied.  Honestly, who wouldn’t melt at the sight of an instantly loyal, supremely speedy, always panting Martian dog?  And I’m not a dog guy.

But of course brief seconds of pleasure can never overcompensate for an otherwise overlong 132-minute running time.  Some critics were brutal in their assessment of John Carter perhaps because their expectations were so severely unmet.  When you have a deep appreciation of the long running series of Burroughs’ more popular and acclaimed original stories, you feel the mediocrity more personally.  The truth is, for me anyway, it’s a more average disappointment than a full-on disaster as it showcases very forgettable characters with equally forgettable names reciting dialogue that sometimes sounds corny.

That said, it also has a White Saviour problem at its heart.  The tribe of greenies can’t defeat West and his army on their own.  They need the long-haired hunky honky to lead them to peace through violence.  Even the redskinned princess (a very white Lynn Collins in redface (she’s not the only one) is not offensive in itself, no sir), fully capable of swordplay and scientificy stuff on her own, has to be saved time and time again.

The movie was directed by Andrew Stanton, the Pixar filmmaker who made WALL-E and the seriously overrated Finding Nemo.  He had grand ambitions for John Carter.  It was supposed to be the first in a trilogy of epic adventures, not unlike Star Wars.  But because it lost hundreds of millions of dollars, Disney wasn’t willing to sink any more into a follow-up, let alone two.

John Carter even ends with a possible title for that unmade second film.  If only they got it right the first time.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, April 19, 2020
9:52 p.m.

Published in: on April 19, 2020 at 9:52 pm  Leave a Comment