You’re Sweet

You’re a sweet boy
But you don’t have a clue
You can’t read minds
What is wrong with you?
You got a little nosy
And I didn’t approve
Let this be a lesson
Beware your next move

You’re a sweet boy
But you don’t know shit
Compassionate to a fault
You just don’t quit
Your innocent queries
Are incredibly offensive
Is it any wonder
I feel so apprehensive

You’re a sweet boy
And I know you mean well
But trying to understand me
Just makes me want to yell
When I’m deliberately vague
You should stop being so curious
Do the opposite of what you’re thinking
And I won’t be so furious

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, March 14, 2015
2:47 a.m.

Published in: on March 14, 2015 at 2:47 am  Comments (3)  

9 Terrible WrestleMania Matches (Part Two)

5. Brock Lesnar vs. Goldberg (WrestleMania 20)

Wrestling fans love thinking up fantasy matches.  Hulk Hogan vs. John Cena.  Steve Austin vs. CM Punk.  So, when the WWE booked WCW legend Bill Goldberg against The Next Big Thing Brock Lesnar for WrestleMania XX back in 2004, it looked like a dream come true.

Under normal circumstances, it probably would’ve been.  But the match was doomed long before it ever happened.

Word had gotten out that Goldberg had not renewed his contract.  A week before the event, Lesnar announced he wasn’t planning to return, either.  (He was fed up working through injuries on a full-time schedule.)  The fact that both men were planning to have their final WWE match together at WrestleMania made their pairing all the more anticlimactic.  With no title on the line and no real interesting story to tell in the ring, despite months of slowly laying the groundwork for it, disaster was inevitable.

Despite the presence of Stone Cold Steve Austin (who had wrestled his own final match at WM 19 in a losing affair against The Rock) as special guest referee, neither Goldberg nor Lesnar looked the least bit interested in working that night.  In fact, the match took forever to get going which greatly annoyed the impatient Madison Square Garden audience.  As they booed and chanted negatively throughout the punishingly long 13-minute encounter, Goldberg finally ended it with a Jackhammer.

When Austin delivered his finisher, the Stone Cold Stunner, to both men afterwards, it got the only positive reaction.  While Goldberg hasn’t worked a match since, despite giving the crowd the double bird that night, Lesnar would eventually return under surprisingly welcome circumstances in 2012.  Two years later, he demolished John Cena to become the current WWE World Heavyweight Champion.

6. Aki Bono “sumo wrestles” The Big Show (WrestleMania 21)

When Cody Rhodes was the InterContinental Champion in 2012, he began mocking his WrestleMania 28 challenger over his lack of success at the Showcase of the Immortals by showing highlights of his failures.  One of those failures was an embarrassingly worked sumo wrestling match in 2005 with Japanese legend Aki Bono.

Dressed in traditional garb, The Big Show’s less-than-spectacular ass was singled out in particular for ruthless mockery.  It also didn’t help that in very short order, after a few needless delays, Bono ultimately threw him out of the ropeless ring.

On a night that saw both John Cena and Batista get their first world title pushes, this was not The Big Show’s time to shine.  As for the match itself, let’s be blunt here.  It was filler.

7. Jerry “The King” Lawler vs. Michael Cole (WrestleMania 27)

Good Lord, where to begin with this travesty?  During the first season of NXT, back when it was a competition show to find the next breakout superstar, play-by-play commentator Michael Cole suddenly starting taking a serious dislike to contestant Daniel Bryan.  Cole’s new heel turn would soon see him repeatedly butt heads with longtime broadcast partner, Jerry Lawler, on Monday Night Raw.  They would often bicker over the merits of then-WWE Champion The Miz.

After Cole cost The King his last opportunity to win the WWE Championship (and even brought up his mother who had just died prior to the 2011 Elimination Chamber pay-per-view in an interview), both men were booked in a grudge match at WrestleMania 27.  Jack Swagger helped train Cole for the event.

Cole was so worried that Lawler would thrash him at the announce table he started broadcasting in a glass box nicknamed the Colemine.  When it was their turn to fight, Cole came out in a ridiculously bright orange amateur onesie complete with old-school protective head gear.  Much like Brock Lesnar & Goldberg seven years earlier, there wasn’t a lot of early physical contact as special guest referee Stone Cold Steve Austin oversaw this pitiful display.  But Cole did yammer away at Lawler on the mic for a bit.

In the end, Lawler got a submission victory.  But thanks to the actions of the Anonymous Raw General Manager (that awful laptop computer gimmick), the decision was reversed and Cole won by DQ.  (Austin apparently got too involved for the GM’s liking.)  The feud dragged on needlessly for two more pay-per-views.  (To be fair, I did like the Extreme Rules match that also involved Swagger and Jim Ross.)  It only ended when Cole apologized to Lawler after tasting The King’s foot following another painful match at Over The Limit.  Cole’s heel character was thankfully discontinued in the fall of 2012.

8. John Cena vs. The Rock (WrestleMania 29)

They lied to us.  When the WWE began a year-long build for the main event of WrestleMania 28, they said John Cena facing The Rock was Once In A Lifetime.  But after The Rock won the WWE Championship from CM Punk in a mostly forgettable affair at the 2013 Royal Rumble and after Cena won the Rumble match itself, the rematch was on.

And what a disappointing rematch it was.  While their first encounter was good rather than great, number two felt very derivative and stale with no innovation or exciting spots.  (It didn’t help matters that Rock got seriously hurt in the middle of it.)  The backstory involved Cena having a bad year after losing to The Rock.  His marriage ended and he wasn’t able to win a championship in all of 2012.  Now the WWE Champion, The Rock simply wanted to prove that he could beat Cena again.

Despite their endlessly entertaining promos during this much shorter build to their rematch, the result of this title bout, like Hogan/Slaughter in 1991, was as predictable as it comes.  After outsmarting The Rock in the finish, Cena became the champion again.

The next night on Raw, Brock Lesnar was supposed to start a year-long build with Rock that would’ve culminated in a match at WrestleMania 30.  But because the former champ needed immediate surgery for his injury, that was completely cancelled.  The consequences of this cancellation would be felt the following year.

9. Brock Lesnar vs. The Undertaker (WrestleMania 30)

With The Rock out for WrestleMania 30, Lesnar needed a new opponent.  Although The Undertaker reportedly requested a match with Daniel Bryan, he got The Beast Incarnate instead.  (Bryan, of course, had a superb match with Triple H and went on to beat Randy Orton & Batista in a satisfying triple threat main event for the WWE World Heavyweight title.)

As the build began, Lesnar’s mouthpiece Paul Heyman began declaring that his “carnivore” would finally end The Dead Man’s long running WrestleMania streak.  At that point, Taker was 21-0.  Lesnar started wearing a t-shirt that said, “Eat. Sleep. Conquer The Streak.”  During one of his last promos before the event, Heyman said that Lesnar winning the match was not a promise, it was “a spoiler”.

Much to the utter shock of many, he was right.  Lesnar would indeed be the “1 in 21-1″.  I’ve noted in this space before how The Streak should and would be broken at some point.  But by an established talent like Lesnar who didn’t need any more heat in a match that was astoundingly slow and plodding without any real memorable spots?  Quite frankly, The Dead Man truly looked dead out there.  The remarkable energy he exhibited in his classic WM battles with Triple H & Shawn Michaels alone was glaringly absent at WrestleMania 30.  Taker’s WM 29 match with CM Punk was so much better.  After so many years of defying his age, it had finally caught up to him.

So, why did Vince McMahon decide to kill The Streak?  To jolt the floundering WWE Network, of course, which had just launched after a two-year delay.  It was a bad move, though.  Having lost half his fortune McMahon is now no longer a billionaire (I know, boo hoo).  But more importantly, he took away one of the easiest selling points of WrestleMania.  With Taker scheduled to take on Bray Wyatt at WrestleMania 31, imagine how much more compelling it could be if The Phenom had everything to lose and The New Face Of Fear had everything to gain.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, March 4, 2015
9:54 p.m.

Published in: on March 4, 2015 at 9:55 pm  Leave a Comment  

9 Terrible WrestleMania Matches (Part One)

Steamboat vs. Savage.  Austin vs. Hart.  HBK vs. The Undertaker.

Three great feuds that inspired several classic matches on the grandest stage of them all.  For 30 years, WrestleMania has showcased some of the greatest one-on-one encounters in the history of professional wrestling, memorable battles that have lived on beyond their original pay-per-view airings.

Sadly, not every match in its history has gone so smoothly.  Throughout the decades, the Showcase of the Immortals has had its fair share of athletic fumbles, ill-fated encounters that suffered from bad bookings, missed spots, heatless programs & indifferent, apathetic superstars.

Here are 9 such examples presented in chronological order:

1. Mr. T “boxing” Rowdy Roddy Piper (WrestleMania 2)

The main event of the Long Island, New York portion of the second WrestleMania was a return match of sorts between two of the participants in the main event of the original WrestleMania.  In 1985, Rowdy Roddy Piper teamed with “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff to face Hulk Hogan & A-Team star Mr. T.  Hogan & T got the win in a fun, entertaining tag match which helped begin the WWF’s launch beyond its then-territorial boundaries.  The following year, for some reason, Piper & T were booked in a “boxing” match for WM 2.  (Of course, T played Clubber Lang in Rocky III but still.)

The renewed rivalry began in February 1986 when Piper’s bodyguard “Cowboy” Bob Orton suddenly decided he wanted to box.  On his behalf, Piper challenged anyone to be his opponent.  Thanks to Hogan outsmarting Hot Rod during a Piper’s Pit segment Mr. T was one of two men who accepted.  (Jose Luis Rivera was the first.  He lost.)  The result was a briefly worked match on Saturday Night’s Main Event which ended after 2 rounds.  T won when Orton was knocked out of the ring.  (Yes, he won by count-out.)

After the match, Hot Rod kneed him from behind and with Orton now back in the ring holding him down, Piper whipped T with his own belt.  On a different Piper’s Pit during a weekly TV taping, Piper & Orton gave T’s friend, The Haiti Kid (a little person), an unwanted Mohawk haircut as a “tribute” to him.  Then, during a pre-taped segment on another weekly broadcast, Piper visited “the A-Team set” where T had to be held back by his entourage after Hot Rod repeatedly insulted him.

Piper & T didn’t have to fake their intense hatred for each other.  It was very real.  So, why were they stuck in a contrived boxing match where both men were booked to routinely pull their punches?  Wouldn’t a true contest have made more sense and been far more engrossing than a storytelling exhibition?

At any event, by today’s standards, the actual four-round match was a disappointing disaster.  No devastating punches were ever thrown.  Late in the bout, T was supposed to nail Piper with a roundhouse which would knock him right out of the ring.  Unfortunately, when he threw the punch, T came nowhere near Hot Rod’s face who overcompensated by overselling the miss.  When an enraged Piper returned to the ring, he threw his corner stool as hard as he could at a puzzled T.  The match ended when Piper bodyslammed T, causing a DQ.

How badly did the Nassau Coliseum react to the match after it ended?  They chanted “Roddy!  Roddy!” as Piper & Orton left the ring.  That’s right.  They rooted for the villain who lost.  After a brief hiatus, Piper would begin his first of many short-term babyface runs.  Despite a short return as a referee “enforcer” in 1989, T would never work a WWE match again.  On the plus side, he did get inducted into the WWE Hall Of Fame.

2. Hulk Hogan vs. Sgt. Slaughter (WrestleMania 7)

The Ultimate Warrior was supposed to be the man, the top babyface in the WWF.  After getting the ultimate push, a world title victory over Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania VI no less, the plan was for him to have a long title reign.

But Warrior was no Hogan.  And so, at the 1991 Royal Rumble, after just 9 months as champion, the villainous Sgt. Slaughter dethroned him, thanks to the constant interference of Macho King Randy Savage & Sensational Queen Sherri.

With Warrior & Savage set on a collision course for WM VII, Hogan was booked to take on Slaughter, the American military man who absurdly supported Saddam Hussein in the first Iraq War, in the main event.  (His considerable mic skills made up for this implausible heel turn.)

With next to no suspense, Hogan & Slaughter wasted 20 minutes of the audience’s time in this seriously underwhelming title match.  (How many times do we need to see Slaughter thrown chest-first into those soft turnbuckles?)  Warrior & Savage’s “retirement” battle proved to be far more gripping & memorable.  It also had an awesome post-match segment.  (Elizabeth rescued a defeated Savage from a vindictive Sherri and then they reconciled through a touching embrace.)

Put simply, Hogan & Slaughter could not compete with them.  In the end, as expected, Hogan became a three-time WWF Champion.  It was less of a big deal than his two previous title triumphs.  And despite the Gulf War already being over a month before WrestleMania VII even happened, the feud dragged on til late summer.  Slaughter would eventually realize his mistake, beg for forgiveness and become a ‘face again.

3. The Undertaker vs. Giant Gonzalez (WrestleMania 9)

Long before The Streak became an annual WrestleMania storyline filled with exciting, first-rate matches, The Phenom participated in plenty of snoozers.  None was worst than his sluggish confrontation with Giant Gonzalez in 1993.

Manager Harvey Wippleman had previously sent Kamala The Ugandan Giant after him in 1992 to no avail.  Now it was the nearly 8-foot Gonzalez’ turn to take on The Dead Man.  (The feud began when he eliminated Taker from the 1993 Royal Rumble match without actually being an official entrant.)

Gonzalez was not known for his speed or scientific ability.  He was slow as shit and moved awkwardly on his feet.  Despite the valiant effort of The Undertaker to try to get something going with him, this was a loser right from the get-go.  It ended mercifully when Gonzalez got disqualified for smothering him with a cloth soaked in chloroform (I’m not kidding) handed to him by Wippleman, one of the rare times an Undertaker WrestleMania encounter didn’t end with a pin or submission.

After seemingly being knocked out for a short while and stretchered out to the back The Undertaker would eventually return to beat on Gonzalez in an extended post-match scrum that was only slightly better than their actual boring match.  It would be many years before Taker would start having great WrestleMania matches.  Sadly, Gonzalez died in 2010.

4. Hulk Hogan vs. Yokozuna (WrestleMania 9)

Oh brother.  Bret “The Hitman” Hart had just dropped the WWF Championship to the 1993 Royal Rumble winner Yokozuna in the main event of WrestleMania 9, thanks to Mr. Fuji throwing salt in the champ’s eyes while he had the challenger in the sharpshooter, which should’ve been the end of the much maligned Vegas show.

But it wasn’t.  Just before the match got started, Hulk Hogan declared his intention to challenge the winner of this title bout.  After Yoko’s victory, out he came to check on Hart outside of the ring.  Hart motioned for him to take on the new champion.  Fuji accepted his challenge on behalf of Yoko.  In less than 30 seconds, Hogan was once again the WWF Champion.  Hart has long complained about this booking and with good reason.  (Hart claims he was supposed to face Hogan but the Immortal One was against the idea.)  Why take away Yokozuna’s greatest professional moment with a deflating squash during the WWF’s biggest show of the year?  And honestly, why did Hogan, who failed to win the tag titles with Brutus Beefcake in their WM match against Money Inc., need another title run at this stage of his career?

Just a few months later, however, Yokozuna would thankfully regain the title at King Of The Ring 1993.  After a proper title run, he would eventually drop it back to Hart at WrestleMania X.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, March 4, 2015
9:00 p.m.

Published in: on March 4, 2015 at 9:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

Activist Civil War

We should be united by a common goal
With everyone aware of their important role
Devising solutions to our growing concerns
Sparking revolution until the system burns

But instead of dismantling the status quo
Internal disputes are stealing the show
It’s harder to push for structural reforms
When these relentless language fights become raging storms

The Privilege Police are out in full force
Screaming at “offensive” allies until their voices are hoarse
We’re not your bitter enemies, we’re your loyal, puzzled friends
This self-destructive squabbling just never ends

It’s vitally important that we’re all treated with respect
But being quick to accuse is hardly circumspect
Alienating partners so fast you can’t see
How does any of this help break the patriarchy?

Whatever happened to keeping our “eyes on the prize”?
Or would we rather cut each other right down to size?
Purposeful misunderstandings are becoming such a bore
It’s pointless to get sucked into an activist civil war

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, February 27, 2015
3:43 a.m.

Published in: on February 27, 2015 at 3:43 am  Leave a Comment  

2015 Oscars Wrap-Up

Birdman, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Whiplash were the big winners at the 87th annual Academy Awards.  Collectively, they took home almost half of the 24 awards up for grabs.

Birdman’s Alejandro G. Inarritu ended up personally collecting three of the four gongs his universally praised film won in the three-and-a-half hour ceremony.  Besides snapping up the expected Best Director trophy, he shared the Best Original Screenplay award with three other screenwriters as Birdman also went on to unseat early frontrunner Boyhood for Best Picture.  The film also won for its cinematography.

Also winning four Oscars was Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel which took golden dust collectors for Best Costume Design, Best Make-Up & Hairstyling, Best Production Design and Best Original Score.

As expected, Farmers Insurance pitchman J.K. Simmons won Best Supporting Actor in the event’s first presentation for his much praised performance in the sleeper film Whiplash which surprisingly won additional honours for Best Sound Mixing and Best Film Editing.

Other surefire winners included Citizenfour which was named Best Documentary Feature, the Polish Holocaust-themed Ida which grabbed the Best Foreign Language Film trinket, writer Graham Moore whose penning of The Imitation Game was named Best Adapted Screenplay, Julianne Moore who, after four previously failed attempts at winning an Academy Award, finally won Best Actress for playing a woman with Alzheimer’s in Still Alice, and John Legend & Common whose original song Glory was Selma’s only triumph.  Their live performance was the only one of the nominated songs to receive a standing ovation.  The film’s overlooked lead, British actor David Oyelowo who played MLK, was moved to tears.

Despite the number of predictable winners, there were some surprises.  Big Hero 6 upset How To Train Your Dragon 2 for Best Animated Feature and a clearly tickled Eddie Redmayne wrestled Best Actor away from Birdman’s Michael Keaton for his portrayal of legendary scientist Stephen Hawking in The Theory Of Everything.

In the end, each of the eight nominated Best Pictures got at least one trophy.  Patricia Arquette ended up getting the only one for Richard Linklater’s experimental epic Boyhood.  She was named Best Supporting Actress.  (The complete list of winners is at the bottom of this piece.)

As for the Oscar telecast itself, a special request to the Academy.  Don’t ask Neil Patrick Harris to host again.  Most of his one-liners were turkeys, his opening song with an unfunny Jack Black and surprisingly tuneful Anna Kendrick was more hit than miss (the background visuals were cool, though), his interaction with seat fillers was time-filling pointlessness, his specially protected predictions bit was nothing more than a lame way to recap highlights of the show, and his quip after Citizenfour’s triumph was despicable, outrageous and deeply offensive.  Edward Snowden isn’t a “traitor”, asshole.  The tasteless line took some luster away from Oscar-winner Laura Poitras’ greatest professional moment.  Fuck you for saying it.  In fact, you should apologize for doing so.

Families became a recurring theme of the acceptance speeches after Whiplash star J.K. Simmons sweetly thanked his wife and “above average” kids.  Another welcome thread was politics.  Citizenfour director Laura Poitras noted the dangers of mass surveillance while rightly thanking NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and truth tellers just like him for exposing criminal wrongdoing.  (What a shame that journalist Glenn Greenwald, who held Poitras’ Oscar while she spoke, didn’t get to layeth the smackethdown on the candy asses of the Obama Administration.  Like the live performance of that Lego Movie song, that would’ve been awesome.)

Despite having a cheat sheet, Boyhood’s Patricia Arquette got a rousing response when she ended her speech with a plea for equal pay and rights for women.  Charming Imitation Game screenwriter Graham Moore revealed he attempted suicide when he was just a teenager and urged those who feel different to “stay weird”.  A deeply poignant moment that was only eclipsed by the powerful comments both Common and John Legend made about mass incarceration and the continuing struggle for black equality.

Despite being a terrible host, Neil Patrick Harris did have some funny moments.  His opening line about the Oscars being the “whitest” was welcome as was his failed attempt to get Robert Duvall’s attention.  But without question, the funniest part of the program was all the Travolta material.  The former Sweathog was a pretty good sport about his famous mistake butchering Frozen singer Idina Mitzel’s name last year.  But he got a little too handsy with her face when they presented an award together.  (At least he got it right this time.)  Thankfully, Harris got an additional laugh out of that.  Also amusing was Alejandro Inarritu’s claim during one of his numerous acceptance speeches that he was wearing Michael Keaton’s tighty whities for good luck.  During one of his more serious moments, he pleaded for more respect for Mexican-American immigrants and especially for his fellow countrymen back home.

As for my predictions scorecard, I went a disappointing 12 for 24.  Had I gone with Big Hero 6 (my initial guess for Best Animated Feature) before ultimately settling on How To Train Your Dragon 2 and Birdman for Best Picture (instead of Boyhood, although I did say Birdman was in the running), had I taken a chance on Eddie Redmayne (who, to be fair, I did say was a potential spoiler) and had I not picked Interstellar for so many technical wins (it only took Best Visual Effects), I would’ve had a better evening.

The complete list of winners:

BEST PICTURE – BIRDMAN

BEST DIRECTOR – Alejandro G. Inarritu (BIRDMAN)

BEST ACTRESS – Julianne Moore (STILL ALICE)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS –  Patricia Arquette (BOYHOOD)

BEST ACTOR – Eddie Redmayne (THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – J.K. Simmons (WHIPLASH)

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY – Alejandro G. Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris Jr. & Armando Bo (BIRDMAN)

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY – Graham Moore (THE IMITATION GAME)

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE – CITIZENFOUR

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM – IDA

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE – BIG HERO 6

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS – INTERSTELLAR

BEST COSTUME DESIGN – THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY – BIRDMAN

BEST MAKE-UP & HAIRSTYLING – THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

BEST FILM EDITING – WHIPLASH

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE – Alexandre Desplat (THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL)

BEST ORIGINAL SONG – Glory (SELMA)

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN – THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

BEST SOUND MIXING – WHIPLASH

BEST SOUND EDITING – AMERICAN SNIPER

BEST ANIMATED SHORT – FEAST

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT – CRISIS HOTLINE: VETERANS PRESS 1

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT – THE PHONE CALL

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, February 23, 2015
1:13 a.m.

Published in: on February 23, 2015 at 1:14 am  Leave a Comment  

2015 Oscar Predictions

BEST PICTURE – BOYHOOD

History and fiction collide in the race for Best Picture this year with half of the eight nominated films based on real people & historical events.  And that’s where the controversy begins.

Selma, about the famous 1965 civil rights march in Alabama led by Martin Luther King Jr., has taken its knocks for its alleged misrepresentation of then-President Johnson’s role in the struggle for equality.  Meanwhile, American Sniper, the most financially successful of all the nominated films, is proving to be the most divisive.  The real Chris Kyle dehumanized Muslims with both his derisive rhetoric and venomous action during his troubling war experience in Iraq.  According to those who have seen American Sniper, this is all greatly downplayed.  In fact, some have argued he’s portrayed rather heroically.  Plus, there’s the deal with the fake baby.

In a lot of ways, the Sniper controversy reminds me of what happened to Oliver Stone’s JFK almost 25 years ago.  Nominated for 8 Oscars (it only took two for editing & cinematography), many complained it misled audiences with its positive portrayal of former district attorney Jim Garrison who failed to convict innocent lawyer Clay Shaw for the assassination of President Kennedy.  The stubborn, foolish Garrison, the subject of much ridicule in his time, was a lot less sensible and oratorical in real life.  That said, it was a brilliant film that in no way intended to be realistic.  As Roger Ebert noted in his four-star review in late 1991, JFK captured the very real paranoid zeitgeist of the era as it forcefully challenged the prevailing historical winds of conventional wisdom whether wise or otherwise.

At any event, JFK lost to The Silence Of The Lambs back in 1992 and I suspect the unrelenting heat that American Sniper has generated since late last year will see it lose this year’s Best Picture race, as well.  Besides, its director Clint Eastwood, already has a couple of these gongs for making Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby, so he doesn’t really need a third.

Despite universal acclaim, it’s not likely the mostly white academy will go with the black-themed Selma, either.  If I were to read the tea leaves of their souls, my guess is they’ll think voting for 12 Years A Slave was sufficient.  Then again, I could be wrong.

That said, what about the others?  Whiplash is a true dark horse, a surprise inclusion that will unfortunately stand no real chance of winning.  Ditto Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game and The Theory Of Everything.  I don’t see either of them gathering enough of a groundswell of support to pull off an upset.

In my view, Best Picture this year is really between Birdman and Boyhood.  Academy members have a choice between a washed-up actor making an unusual comeback or an epic about a young boy literally growing up on screen.  Ebert always said that voters go with their heart in this category, so considering the subject matter of Boyhood, that’s the one that will take the golden naked man.

BEST DIRECTOR – Alejandro G. Iñárritu (BIRDMAN)

When you win the Directors Guild of America award, nine times out of ten you go on to win the Best Director Oscar.  Since he won the former for directing Birdman, Alejandro G. Iñárritu will win the latter, as well.

BEST ACTOR – Michael Keaton (BIRDMAN)

Easily the most competitive of all the acting categories this year.  If there’s going to be an upset of any kind Sunday night, it might be here.  Benedict Cumberbatch has won much praise for his portrayal of real-life codebreaker Alan Turing in The Imitation Game.  It’s the kind of performance that usually wins: mathematical genius celebrated as a war hero until his homosexuality is discovered leading to a needlessly tragic early demise.  Another possible upset:  first-time nominee Eddie Redmayne as a young Stephen Hawking just as his developing ALS forever changes his life.  Oscar voters love actors who play physically tortured souls.

Less likely to snag the gong are Steve Carell (Foxcatcher) or Bradley Cooper (American Sniper).  Speaking of Cooper, this is his third straight nomination following previously unsuccessful bids for Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle.  The growing controversy over the reported softening of Chris Kyle, the bigoted veteran he plays who in reality referred to the Iraqi citizens he relished murdering as “savages”, will likely continue Cooper’s Oscar slump.

That leaves Michael Keaton.  Ever since the release of the well-reviewed Birdman last autumn he has been the de facto frontrunner for Best Actor.  Barring some unforeseen circumstances (like I said, either Redmayne or Cumberbatch could pull off an upset here), the veteran Keaton, who has never won before, will take the trophy on his very first nomination.

BEST ACTRESS – Julianne Moore (STILL ALICE)

Unlike the Best Actor category, the Best Actress race feels like a foregone conclusion.  Reese Witherspoon has already won once before for playing June Carter Cash in Walk The Line so it’s highly doubtful she’ll win again for Wild, despite receiving tremendous reviews for her performance.  Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night), another critical fave, is another former winner.  The French star snagged her unexpected Best Actress gong for her portrayal of iconic French chanteuse Edith Piaf in La Vie En Rose, the role that essentially launched her very successful career in Hollywood.  So count her out, as well.

First-time nominees Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl) and Felicity Jones (The Theory Of Everything), both British coincidentally enough, are just happy for the recognition.

That leaves Julianne Moore, the perennial Oscar bridesmaid, a five-time nominee who has never been asked to walk down the aisle.  She is a highly respected performer who is long overdue for the big prize.  It would be an enormous surprise if her name isn’t called out during the presentation for this category.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – Patricia Arquette (BOYHOOD)

This one looks like a lock, as well.  Perennial nominee & three-time winner Meryl Streep is surely a huge long shot for the Sondheim musical Into The Woods.  God knows the legendarily gifted performer doesn’t need any more awards.  Laura Dern, a two-time invitee to the Oscar party, isn’t going to win for her work in Wild.  Emma Stone (Birdman) has to be content with her first nomination.

Although The Imitation Game’s Keira Knightly could pull off an upset here, surely Emmy winner Patricia Arquette (Medium) has the inside track.  More than 20 years ago, Entertainment Weekly included her in a piece about less successful Hollywood siblings.  Back then, she was just Rosanna’s little sister struggling to get out of B-movies.  Today, she’s on the verge of joining an elite class of actors.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – J.K. Simmons (WHIPLASH)

Unlike Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor is the opposite of competitive.  Robert Duvall (The Judge) already has a Best Actor gong for his work in Tender Mercies.  Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher), Ethan Hawke (Boyhood) & Edward Norton (Birdman) are all return nominees who shouldn’t worry too much about preparing a victory speech.  In the end, one man stands apart from the crowd.  That would be the former J. Jonah Jameson himself, J.K. Simmons. The Law & Order alumnus is going to win for his highly regarded performance in Whiplash.  Maybe now he’ll stop doing those Farmers Insurance ads.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE – HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2

The real shocker in this category is the complete absence of The Lego Movie, a major critical and commercial blockbuster during its theatrical run last March.  In fact, when it came out, I said to myself that it was probably going to win this particular award.  Now that it’s been completely snubbed, it’s not so easy to pick a winner from the actual nominated list.

That said, I can’t see either The Boxtrolls or Song Of The Sea taking it.  Nor is it likely the Japanese film, The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya will come out on top.

This is really between How To Train Your Dragon 2 and Big Hero 6.  Like The Lego Movie, they were both beloved by critics & moviegoers making my decision very difficult.  Since the former got better reviews & has won more awards, I’ll go with the sequel.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE – CITIZENFOUR

It’s still rather stunning that Life Itself, the highly acclaimed story of film critic Roger Ebert, was completely rejected for Oscar consideration.  After collecting countless awards, many felt it was not only the frontrunner but the probable victor.  (It even aired a few times on CNN before arriving on home video this week.)  Of the five films that did make the cut, only one has been talked about just as much:  Laura Poitras’ Citizenfour.  A previous nominee for My Country, My Country, it would be an absolute shock if the name of her highly praised film isn’t in that sealed envelope on Sunday.  A victory for Citizenfour would also be a victory for Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower who proved once & for all that President Barack Obama is more authoritarian than liberal and should definitely be impeached.

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM – IDA

BEST FILM EDITING – BOYHOOD

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS – INTERSTELLAR

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE – Hans Zimmer (INTERSTELLAR)

BEST ORIGINAL SONG – Glory (SELMA)

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN – THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

BEST SOUND MIXING – INTERSTELLAR

BEST SOUND EDITING – INTERSTELLAR

BEST COSTUME DESIGN – THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT – THE PHONE CALL

BEST ANIMATED SHORT – THE DAM KEEPER

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT – OUR CURSE

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY – Richard Linklater (BOYHOOD)

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY – Graham Moore (THE IMITATION GAME)

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY – THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

BEST MAKE-UP & HAIRSTYLING – GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, February 19, 2015
11:59 a.m.

Published in: on February 19, 2015 at 11:59 pm  Leave a Comment  

Tammy

You almost had me, Kathy Bates.  You almost had me, if for just one moment.

It’s a testament to her depth of talent that she came thisclose to fooling me with one short, well delivered speech.  It happens more than an hour into the abysmal Tammy.  In the film, Bates play Lenore, a happily attached lesbian who’s living the high life.  (She owns over 20 pet stores and lives with Sandra Oh.  Not a bad deal.)  During a Fourth of July party at her lavish estate Lenore lays down some much needed truth to the disillusioned title character, played by Melissa McCarthy.

Tammy’s just been publicly humiliated by her alcoholic grandmother Pearl (a gray-haired Susan Sarandon), a longtime friend of Lenore’s, in front of all the mostly lesbian partygoers and is feeling quite sorry for herself.  Lenore gives it to her straight, so to speak.  She talks about how being gay wasn’t always “in fashion” and how she worked hard to achieve her success over the years.

She says this because Tammy’s life is in shambles.  Her husband is having an affair with Toni Collette.  She gets fired from her crappy fast food gig because she was late one too many times.  (She was delayed this last time because she accidently hit a deer (really, an obvious special effect) on the highway.  (It thankfully survived.)  She didn’t see it because she was rooting around in her back seat for lip balm.)  And she’s on the run for robbing the restaurant she no longer works for.

Basically, Lenore tells her to grow up already.  (“You’re not mysterious,” she tells her.)  If she’s unhappy with her life, Lenore points out, she should stop complaining about it and make some changes to improve it.

Lenore is absolutely right.  Unfortunately, she’s also a total hypocrite.

When we first meet her, she wants to help Tammy cover up the evidence of her robbery.  Because of her lifelong love of blowing shit up, she decides to burn her borrowed car (the getaway vehicle).  (The car that hit the deer is abandoned after it stops running.)  Then, in a rather silly ceremony at the party, she torches a jet ski Pearl had to pay for because Tammy damaged it at some water resort (it was attached to the getaway vehicle).  So, why is she lecturing Tammy when she’s part of her problem?

Tammy herself is also a big hypocrite.  Long after she discovers her husband’s affair, we learn she let the ice cream man play with her boobs because she developed a hankering for Klondikes.  Grandma Pearl went even further with him.

Speaking of Pearl, her life sucks even worse.  Desperate to get out of her daughter’s house (she lives with Alison Janney and Dan Ackroyd) she convinces Tammy to take her with her on a road trip thanks to having almost 7000 in cash, nearly 5000 of which goes towards paying for the damaged jet ski.  Unfortunately, she neglected to tell her obnoxious grand-daughter that she forgot all her medication for her diabetes and high blood pressure.  She also neglects to tell her she bought 32 Oxycontin pills off a local street pusher because her regular meds weren’t working.  Not helping matters is she always washes them down with booze.

Clearly lonely, on their listless journey they end up in a Kentucky honky tonk (the house band does a decent, countrified Hard To Handle) where they meet two other sad sacks:  Earl (a bearded Gary Cole), a separated farmer still caring for his ailing wife, and his son Bobby (an extremely tolerant Mark Duplass) who works for him.

Earl and Pearl hit it off a little too well (they end up getting it on in a car and inside a hotel room after quickly downing the sauce) while the overeager Tammy comes on just a tad too strong with Bobby.  While he’s waiting in line outside the honky tonk’s men’s room, she starts frenching him like a maniac.

Incredibly, although deeply startled by her sudden boldness, he’s not completely turned off.  (He might be just as desperate as she is.)  While waiting outside the car where Pearl & Earl are ravaging each other, he gives her his number before leaving.  Because Pearl is just as much of an asshole as Tammy, her grand-daughter is forced to sleep outside the hotel room while the drunkards continue to fuck.  The next morning there’s Bobby again coming to check on her and to pick up Earl.  It doesn’t require too many brain cells to see where all this is going.

Later that day, Tammy finally unloads some pent up resentment on Pearl.  Apparently, Pearl mysteriously left the family home when her grand-daughter was just 10 and Tammy never got over it.  (Her sudden departure may have had something to do with Pearl trying to get it on with Ackroyd, her reluctant son-in-law, who politely rebuffed her.)  So she ditches Granny only to learn in a phone call from her mom Alison Janney that Pearl is headed for a big crash since she left behind all her pills.

After turning back towards the diner where they were having breakfast, Tammy finds Pearl now in a variety store continually spiking her slushie.  Drunk out of her skull and not willing to budge from her spot at the machine, the irritated owner eventually calls the cops.  Long story short, Tammy & Pearl end up in jail.  Tammy gets bailed out but because those Oxycontin pills weren’t prescribed to her, Pearl stays put.

That’s when a dead broke Tammy decides to rob her old fast food restaurant in a scene so unbelievable and so poorly constructed it destroys any possibility of comic riches.  (Can’t they tell that’s not a real gun in that paper bag and don’t they recognize the voice of their former co-worker?)  It’s embarrassingly bad, and as it turns out, totally unnecessary.

Truthfully, this whole humourless movie is awkward.  (There is not one single laugh to be had.)  I can’t imagine anyone wanting to spend any amount of time with Tammy or Pearl.  The dimwitted Tammy is astoundingly childish when things don’t go her way.  Consider the scene where she gets fired.  Not content with insulting her admittedly dickish boss after getting the ax, she decides to contaminate some customer orders with her saliva and hair follicles, as well.  (Why?  What did they do to her?)  Then she tells everybody how bad the food is as if they didn’t already know.  Surely, being in this shitty restaurant (and movie) is punishment enough.

As for Pearl, it’s not hard to understand why Tammy doesn’t always get along with her.  She’s incredibly selfish and at times, very meanspirited.  (As an aside, I’m not buying the gray hair.  She’s way too wild to have a conventional appearance.)  When she puts down Tammy at Lenore’s Fourth of July party, it hits such a sour note that the whole mood of the film changes.  (Not that this was a joy to watch to begin with.)  After an hour of deeply annoying, completely unfunny physical comedy, the last half hour is a rather maudlin melodrama.  Regardless, you know exactly where everything will end up.

Put bluntly, this whole movie is sad.  (Witnessing Tammy’s whole life falling apart doesn’t provoke any laughter.)  It’s very difficult to find much wit and humour in these loathsome characters when they are far too aware of their own misery and don’t have anything remotely clever to say.  Watching Tammy, you get the feeling all the actors had a great time making it.

It’s too bad I had a horrible time subjecting myself to it.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, February 14, 2015
3:48 a.m.

Published in: on February 14, 2015 at 3:48 am  Leave a Comment  

Comic Book Confidential

It’s hard to imagine a time when comic books were ever dangerous, that they so threatened the status quo – the very order of things! – that something had to be done about them.  To today’s youth, in this much more open-minded cultural climate, the very idea of this happening now in the era of hardcore pornography is probably laughable and absurd.  It defies logic, really.

But in the 1950s, smack dab in the midst of overwhelming Cold War panic over Communists both real and imagined, comic books represented the antithesis of all that is good and decent about America.  Well, actually, it was the often comically graphic horror titles that rattled their fragile cages.  These deliberately overwrought tales of murder, cannibalism and decapitations so worried the self-appointed conservative guardians of the time that because children are impressionable and can’t tell the difference between reality and fantasy (ha!) the big fear was that they would readily imitate all the artistic depravity depicted in these pages all the while never once recognizing the consequences of their actions.

In Ron Mann’s excellent documentary Comic Book Confidential, the freedom to be as provocative as possible is just as essential as having a good idea for a story.  We meet artist after artist who have used satire as a lacerating tool against societal standards that are too rigid, too ridiculous and oftentimes, too cruel.

Late in the film there’s a fantastic segment on Art Spiegelman, the creator of the highly acclaimed Maus.  His parents were Polish Jews who survived the Holocaust.  Spiegelman reimagines their traumatic experience by pulling an Orwell.  All the characters in Maus are animals.  Persecuted Jews are mice while authoritarian Nazis are cats.  Shown samples of his finished work are startlingly poignant.  By portraying both victims & murderers as animals Spiegelman deftly conveys the utter inhumanity of war, as powerful as anything seen in Schindler’s List.

A bit earlier, there’s Sue Coe, who sees the value of propaganda in comics.  She created a graphic novel about Apartheid South Africa that ended up being smuggled into the country’s ghoulish prisons and giving hope to the persecuted black men there who felt their quiet cries of anguish went unheard in the rest of the world.

Shary Flenniken’s visually accessible and seemingly kid friendly Trots & Bonnie slyly snuck in explosive adult subject matter like rape and capital punishment while the legendary Robert Crumb fiercely challenged the taboos of his time with unvarnished sexual & racial content, most notably in Fritz The Cat.

These fearlessly daring artists easily defied the restrictive uselessness of the Comic Code Authority, the “solution” to all those misunderstood horror comics in the 50s.  Instead of just sending new issues right to the press, they had to be approved beforehand by this new censor.  As a result, for a considerable time, comics got bland and the business started to suffer.

William M. Gaines, whose father created the comic book concept in the 1930s just by folding the funny pages like an ordinary book, tells an incredible story about how he couldn’t even show sweat on a black astronaut’s face in one of his science fiction tales.  It was only after he threatened a lawsuit that they backed off and let him do it.

There’s amazing archival black and white footage of some guy using liquid paper to eliminate something “objectionable” from an unfinished galley page.  And, in an even more ridiculous moment, we get a Before and After with a female character from a horror comic.  In the Before, she’s a hideous monster.  In the After, a beautiful woman, effectively ruining the idea.

But that’s nothing compared to an actual snippet of a film that shows what happens when “gangs of kids” decide to get together in the woods to read horror comic books together.  It hilariously argues that doing so motivates an impressionable lad to immediately jab a tree with a knife and another to devilishly contemplate hitting his pal with a rock.

In spite of the imaginary threats conservatives screamed these creations represented back in their time, perhaps the most fascinating thing about the comic book universe both then and now is just how much of a big tent medium it truly is.  (That said, it would’ve been nice to have seen more artists of colour represented here.  With the exception of one, everybody is white.)  Besides the cutting edge radicals hoping to make big political statements with their work, there are mainstream legends like Stan Lee, Will Eisner and Jack Kirby who ushered in the era of the superhero.

To learn that American soldiers in World War II read issues of Captain America to boost their morale while hunkered down in muddy barracks in between heated battles with Nazi Germany is utterly fascinating.  (The creators of these particular titles wanted to do their part during the war since they couldn’t serve.)  Amongst the many gloriously eclectic covers of various titles covering six decades of work showcased lovingly throughout the film, there’s a memorable one showing Captain America slugging Hitler in the face.

There’s also room for feminists like the aforementioned Flenniken and Lynda Barry, who reads a very amusing snippet from one of her graphic novels about a terribly misleading educational film about menstruation.  Despite so many white men dominating this industry (Flenniken notes that they even wrote so-called “girl comics” despite not relating in any way to women), there is still enough space for alternative voices to be heard and for audiences to embrace their work, most especially in the decades following the release of this very film.

Which brings up another important point about the inclusiveness of comics.  You don’t have to be a superb artist to do superb work.  You just need an original idea, a way to realize it and a reliable method of distribution after its completion.  (In 1988, the year this film was released, a Xerox was an aspiring artist’s best friend.)  Put simply, comic books are the punk rock of modern literature.

Long before the writers of Seinfeld mined seemingly minor incidents from their real lives for numerous storylines on Television, frequent Letterman guest Harvey Pekar was doing the exact same thing for his famed American Splendor.  In Confidential, he notes his obsessional personality as he recaps a story shown in illustrated form about stealing Jazz records from a radio station.  It’s better than anything I saw in his overrated 2003 biopic.

Love & Rockets, which inspired the famous British band, is about two Latina friends who flirt with lesbianism.  Jaime Hernandez, one of the three brothers who created the influential comic (he’s the only one who appears on-screen or is even mentioned, for that matter), reads a slice-of-life snippet from an issue involving one of the women struggling to find 50 bucks to buy some much coveted boots.

Besides horror, direct parody also threatened the establishment.  While playing pool with a couple of babes, Dan O’Neill recalls how his racy Air Pirates parody of Mickey Mouse so infuriated the Walt Disney Company they sued him for copyright infringement.  (The story involved incest and Mickey literally going down on Minnie.)  Like he did in court (when he wasn’t recorded snoring during the proceedings), O’Neill persuasively argues to the audience that you can’t do a proper parody of a famous character without drawing the actual likeness of that character.  Otherwise, no one gets the joke.

The case, which definitely deserves its own documentary, dragged on for almost a decade before it was finally settled.  Like Crumb (who actually did get his own acclaimed film), O’Neill is as colourfully eccentric as you would expect a comic book artist to be.

Speaking of parody, Harvey Kurtzman talks about his contributions to Mad Magazine which went out of its way to slay as many sacred cows in politics and pop culture as humanly possible.  Gaines compares the thunderous impact of the publication’s initial popularity with that of the Marx Brothers arrival on both Broadway and in the movies.  And Bill Griffith’s cheerfully disconnected Zippy The Pinhead comics (he actually dresses up and briefly raps as the character in a weird segment) makes its own social comments as the surreal free spirit freely interacts Gump-like with famous figures both real and imagined.

Despite being nearly 30 years old now, hairstyles and technology aside, Comic Book Confidential doesn’t feel the slightest bit dated.  Often scored with appropriately thematic and catchy pop songs of the past, the relentless display of frequently vivid comic art will seduce even the most hardened cynic.  (I wonder how many dreams and careers were inspired by it.)

When Sin City creator Frank Miller, whose darkly compelling reimaginings of Batman are shown, talks about the 80s being a terrible time because of Reagan’s America, he could easily be talking about Obama’s America today.  The issues that these talented artists grappled with in their time haven’t gone away.  In fact, they’ve greatly intensified.  The difference now, long after the film’s theatrical run, is that comic books have greatly expanded their reach.  Numerous superheroes and graphic novel anti-heroes have been continuously adapted into enormously lucrative film franchises & TV shows both animated and live action.  Hell, for a time, there was even a Broadway musical about Spider-Man!  As a result of all this corporatization, the unthinkable has happened.  Comic books are now part of the establishment.

But if this film teaches us anything it’s that there will always be insubordinate troublemakers in this world, particularly in the always fertile underground, more than eager to gleefully stab the invisible bubble of the powerful to expose their very real and very vindictive paranoia, and to keep pushing the limits of their own seemingly boundless creativity.  Best of all, you don’t even have to be a fan of the medium to appreciate this, most especially this wonderful film (which won the Canadian Oscar for Best Documentary).  Comic book artists’ full-on embrace of free expression both safe and dangerous, a right we always take for granted and are in the serious process of losing, is at the heart of everything they do.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, February 11, 2015
3:04 p.m.

Published in: on February 11, 2015 at 3:04 pm  Leave a Comment  

Despicable Lie

Phony platitudes from an empty soul
Public practice for your greatest role
Meaningless gestures from a pretentious fool
Swimming the shallow end of the gene pool

Pointed jabs make you lose your mind
Even when they’re just the written kind
Stop denying the truth, you despicable lie
As you feel all the warmth inside you die

There isn’t a whopper you won’t believe
Being less than perfect? You just can’t conceive!
Beneath the glamour is an ignorant twit
Regarding your nonsense, no one gives a shit

A vacuous vessel for duplicitous men
Regurgitating garbage again and again
You always fall for the same old charm
And blithely ignore the sound of the alarm

The result is embarrassment you sweep out of sight
So it doesn’t dare put you in a negative light
But not everyone wants to play your silly game
Your avoidance of reality is laughably lame

I used to be mad but now I’m greatly amused
My conscience is clear while you’re completely confused
May your skin grow thicker as times get tough
Because what’s coming next will be punishment enough

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, February 10, 2015
2:20 a.m.

Published in: on February 10, 2015 at 2:20 am  Leave a Comment  

Flames Of Resentment

I seldom express how I really feel
The rage inside, the lacklustre appeal
I’ve longed to remove the protective seal
And offer the world a shocking reveal

I seldom encounter a friendly face
As I stumble around this desolate place
It’s hard to react with respectful grace
When all they see is an empty space

I seldom discover a safe way to turn
Such contemptuous looks from the collectively stern
No progress is made with no lessons to learn
So, these flames of resentment will continue to burn

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, February 9, 2015
8:35 p.m.

Published in: on February 9, 2015 at 8:35 pm  Leave a Comment  
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