Abolish The FCC

Here’s another column from 2004 that was rejected by The New York Times Op-Ed page. Censorship is one of my big interests and nothing annoys me more than when misguided organizations, who don’t follow everyone’s right to free speech, push wimpy government regulators to fine equally wimpy broadcasters for content that never comes remotely close to being offensive.

No one in the entertainment business has suffered more from the wrath of the foolish than Howard Stern, who I defend here much like I did in my previous posting, What Is Indecent. I’ve been a supporter of his for a long time and will never understand why he continually gets raked over the coals for simply doing great radio. It’s one thing to find him unfunny or too over-the-top or even hypocritical. (One could certainly make the case for those last two things.) It’s quite another to make it incredibly difficult for him to do his job by unconstitutional means. I mean can you blame him for switching to satellite?

Expect more free-speech columns in the future as well as some archival material.

By Dennis Earl

HAMILTON, Ontario – In 2000 and 2001, there were roughly less than 800 complaints filed with the Federal Communications Commission over so-called objectionable programming. In 2002, that number shot up to approximately 14,000. In 2003, if controversial FCC chairman Michael Powell is to be believed, there were over 240,000. As of late November 2004, the FCC received 1,068,767 complaints according to their guesswork. That’s an astounding figure. Are American media watchers and listeners more outraged today than they were some 3 years ago?

Hardly. According to a revealing article in Mediaweek Magazine, virtually all the complaints came from one source: the Parents Television Council. It is because of this organization’s corruption of the complaints process that the FCC should die. All it is doing is pursing an agenda that the vast majority of Americans, if they paid attention, would not support. The fact that the FCC continues to go along with this nonsense makes it increasingly irrelevant. It’s just a governmental extension of the PTC now.

I never understood why individuals or organizations waste their time criticizing programs on the grounds of bad taste, when it is such an impractical approach. Considering the immense problem of media misinformation, why aren’t there more complaints to the FCC about shoddy journalism, partisan slander and libel?

Regarding the PTC, why do all forms of entertainment have to be family-friendly in order to be deemed acceptable? Why does everything have to be sanitized for our own protection? And why does the FCC listen to this organization seriously when they have no case?

Take Howard Stern, for instance. This may come as a shock to the clueless fools in both the PTC and the FCC but not everyone believes his brand of comedy is obscene. I’m one of those people. I’ve been a fan for over a decade now and don’t understand why hardcore conservative activists and government regulators are more concerned with controlling what all of us listen to and watch instead of protecting the eyes and ears of their own kids. The PTC’s idea of good parenting is to treat us all like children who can’t enjoy any programming on radio and television without their explicit approval. That’s not democracy, that’s fascism.

As for the FCC, why do they fine broadcasters for programming that a vast majority of Americans do not find obscene? What happened to the concept of the community standard, sanctioned by the Supreme Court?

On the PTC website, there’s a link celebrating Stern’s recent announcement that he’s leaving FM radio to risk his career with the unproven satellite market. PTC Executive Director Tim Winter claims in an online posting that it’s a victory for decency that Stern is leaving Infinity Broadcasting. But considering that no two people can agree 100% on what’s indecent or not, how is this a good thing? He claims that “[t]he real victors are the millions and millions of American families who will no longer be subjected to Stern’s pornographic ranting during their morning drive time.”

Really? All of these allegedly offended families had guns pointed at their collective noggins by people who said, “You must listen to the Howard Stern Show or die!”? Give me a break. Why would anyone listen to a show they don’t appreciate instead of tuning into one they would enjoy? There’s a reason you have a radio dial, people. Use it. Find a show you feel is appropriate for your family and leave Howard Stern and all the other broadcasters you can’t stand alone. None of them deserve the ridiculously exorbitant fines your partner in crime, the FCC, levelled against them. Oh, that’s right. We can’t have our own preferences that differ from yours because your children are listening. But who let them listen in the first place?  

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, February 25, 2006
11:27 p.m. 

Published in: on February 26, 2006 at 12:35 am  Leave a Comment  

What Is Indecent

Every year, the Toronto Sun has a great contest open to the public.  They invite readers to submit their own opinion columns and they give you a word limit of 650 words to get your points across.
I’ve entered the contest 3 times since it was established in 1996.  What follows is my most recent entry from last year’s contest.  Entitled What Is Indecent, it’s still very timely considering things haven’t changed since I wrote it.
After losing the contest (and not even getting an honourable mention), I passed it on to the Op-Ed page of the New York Times who turned it down by giving me the silent treatment.  This 636-word essay has remained unpublished until now.
The one good thing about the experience with the Sun occurred shortly after I tried faxing my column to their offices.  I got a call from a nice woman named Sherry Johnston who was responsible for rounding up all the entries but sadly, wasn’t a judge.  She left me a message saying that she, too, was a Howard Stern fan and liked what I wrote but it was very hard to read so she requested I re-send it.  So I faxed it again and received a nice email reply where, once again, she praised my piece, told me she tapes Stern on her VCR every morning “when I don’t screw up the buttons” and burns each day’s show on a CD so she can listen in her car.  I wrote her a thank you email and told her about this site, MarksFriggin.com, where a written rundown of the show is posted shortly after every broadcast.  It’s an invaluable site for anyone who misses even just one Howard Stern radio show.  The best part is the 10 years worth of archives plus links to many Stern-related online articles and much more.
Here’s my 2005 Toronto Sun Column Writing Contest entry:
By Dennis Earl
It is the question that haunts our time. It is the question we cannot answer. It is the reason why we are divided.

What is indecent?

On one side of the debate you have the Puritans, the people who think we’re all going to hell in a hand basket because the rest of us like to have fun and they’re against that. Their beliefs are so stiflingly rigid that either you’re with them all the way or you’re the enemy.

They’re the ones who decry adult entertainment, sex education and evolution. They write books about legislating morality and organize campaigns to shut down broadcasters, writers and everybody else in the media they feel have steered from the path of righteousness and all that is decent and good. They’re the reason Howard Stern, CBS and Fox receive ridiculously large fines for equally ridiculous reasons. They support censorship of opposing views except their own. They think everything can be solved with more Jesus talk. They’re so annoying they even turn off people who agree with their views on abortion and gay marriage.

On the other side, you have everybody else. Or, as I like to call them, people with lives. They’re not nearly as obsessed with our pop culture as the Puritans. They simply don’t have the time. They choose what they want to read, see and hear and are more offended by restrictions of choice than anything else. Sadly, they’re not nearly as vocal as the self-appointed arbiters of “good taste”, which has led to the current cultural ice age.

Howard Stern is right. He can’t be the only one who speaks out against this. It’s not just his right to free speech that is threatened now.

Again, I ask the question: what is indecent? Surely, we can agree that child pornography is morally offensive. But what about when the media tries to explore the dark impulses of pedophiles, particularly during high-profile court cases? Is the treatment of the subject of pedophilia and rape literature as offensive as the subject itself?

As I write this, I am reminded of Roger Ebert’s mantra about the movies: “It’s not what it’s about, it’s how it’s about it.” Far too often, the critics of sex and violence in entertainment merely complain about those subjects and not the filmmakers’ treatment of them. To the Puritans, it’s all about protecting the children from anything violent or sexual. But what they’re really trying to do is control the marketplace and the choices of legal adults. It’s called reality and they can’t handle it.

But they always make an exception for religious-based entertainment, such as The Passion Of The Christ. At the time of its release, Ebert said it was the most violent film he ever saw and he was shocked that its US rating was an R and not an NC-17. (It was 18A here.) If it was anybody else but Christ getting pummeled, kids would not have been allowed to see it, religious groups would’ve organized protests and we would’ve seen the usual, pointless, televised hearings about the lack of morality in our films.

There’s a disturbing hypocrisy here. The Puritans want to be the Supernannies of our pop culture and yet, at the same time, they want to showcase on the Internet every single thing that offends their sensibilities and which anybody, including kids, can download. I just don’t understand their thinking here.

As an entertainment fan, my blood boils frequently when the subject of indecency rears its perpetually ugly head. There is no reasoning with a Puritan when it comes to freedom of choice and most especially, freedom from religion. It’s one thing to advocate family films, social conservatism and religious devotion. It’s quite another to denounce anyone who finds morality in opposing beliefs.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, February 25, 2006
5:00 p.m.

Published in: on February 25, 2006 at 5:06 pm  Leave a Comment  

Ungrateful Sex Pistols Incapable Of Saying Thank You

On March 13, 2006, The Sex Pistols will be among a small number of musical notables who will be formally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.   (The others are Blondie, Black Sabbath, Miles Davis, Lynyrd Skynyrd and the founders of the now-defunct A&M Records, Herb Alpert & Jerry Moss.  There will also be some Sidemen inductees which haven’t been announced yet.)   It’s an incredible honour for a notorious foursome known for only one proper studio album, Never Mind The Bollocks Here’s The Sex Pistols. 
And yet, there’s a problem.  The band has announced they will not attend the ceremony at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City.  On John Lydon’s official website, as well as the official band site, there’s an unsigned, crudely handwritten, one-page message that looks like it was written by a drunken, failing English student.  (More on that shortly.)
Lydon, better known as Johnny Rotten because he’s a dentist’s worst nightmare, is the band’s long-time frontman.  One wonders what he and his on-again/off-again bandmates are thinking by publicly posting this badly expressed rant against those in the music business who would dare to honour their achievement by voting them in democratically.  Think about it.  You’re in a band that made one big splash and faded away, only to return every now and again for the occasional reunion tour.  A group of music industry notables decide now is the time to honour that terrific album you put out nearly 30 years ago and your response is to badmouth them and your honour?  Then again, graciousness has never been this band’s strength.
Not once have I heard any of the members express any gratitude to the people who’ve supported them at any time during their careers.  Not for any of the good reviews they received, for musicians who cite them as an important influence, for anyone who dares to give them an award and certainly, not for anyone who pays them a compliment for anything they’ve done.  (John Lydon once publicly complained that he gets tired of people saying “Great gig, man!” after a show.  He is the only person in the world who has allergic reactions to positive feedback.)
But this railing against the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is the most embarrassing thing they’ve ever done.  Why is it so difficult to say “thank you” for being considered?  True, it took 6 tries but so what?  At least your band won’t be forgotten.  Would it kill the band once, just once, to show some appreciation after years of bad press, boycotts, government bans and even violent attacks from passersby?  Isn’t it better to receive this honour than getting stabbed in the hand so bad you lose all feeling in it?  (Ask John Lydon about that.)  Isn’t it also better than being in a coma?  (Ask John Lydon about that, as well.)
This message that they’ve endorsed (without any of their signatures present) is childish and dumb.  Calling rock and roll and the Hall of Fame “a piss stain” in comparison to the Pistols is the height of undeserved arrogance, particularly from a band so stupid they fired their original bass player (Glen Matlock, an important songwriting contributor) and replaced him with a guy so out of his mind on drugs he couldn’t play on stage or in the studio.  That move plus the ill-fated US tour in 1978 assured the band’s swift demise.  (Sid Vicious, the replacement would-be bass player, died in 1979.)  It’s clear they think they’re better than everybody else in the Hall which might explain the long delay in honouring them.  If they’re truly the best, how come they haven’t written a new song in 30 years? 
Riddled with spelling and grammatical mistakes, not to mention a whiny, sucky-baby attitude, it’s hard to take any of their ungraciousness seriously.  It’s also a bit hard to understand.  What is so bad about being recognized for a great album? 
Then, there’s this: “Fame at $25,000 if we paid for a table, or $15,000 to squeak up in the gallery, goes to a non-profit organisation [sic] selling us a load of old famous [sic].”  Are they saying this isn’t truly an honour because they have to pay for it and if they did cough up the dough, it would go towards preserving an important history they refuse to recognize?  This requires a more cogent explanation.  I’ve always believed that getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is no honour because you have to pay $10,000 (and be voted in by a committee) to get one.  I have never heard of paying your way to get into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  The Sex Pistols would’ve made a much stronger case for snubbing the induction ceremony if they provided actual proof that this is no honour and is actually a scam to get money out of aging rock stars.  But because none of them are capable of putting coherent sentences together, their statement meanders and annoys, instead of winning you over.   And as I said, they’re incapable of saying thank you at any time for anything remotely positive whether it’s geniune or not.  The words “graciousness” and “Sex Pistol” are never found in the same sentence.
Also confusing is this:  “If you voted for us, hope you noted your reasons.  Your [sic] anonymous as judges, but your [sic] still music industry people.”  And your point would be?
Finally, the annoying message ends with this: “Were [sic] not coming.  Your [sic] not paying attention.”  And the last line once again emphasizes the band is better than everybody else because they’re not part of the mainstream.  They’re probably more upset they can’t compete with the mainstream considering it took 19 years for their album to sell a million copies in a country that has 300 million inhabitants.     
There’s no better way to say this.  The Sex Pistols are a one-album wonder and are lucky to even be talked about today in any kind of reverent tone considering how many more important performers who’ve had actual, fulfilling, long-term careers (like Iggy Pop) remain locked out of the Hall. 
I hope they reconsider their foolishness and attend the ceremony.  I also hope they learn to say “thank you” at some point in their life.  I know I’m wasting my breath.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, February 24, 2006
6:59 p.m.
Published in: on February 24, 2006 at 7:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

Oscar Predictions (Part Two)

In a previous posting, I made my predictions for the following Oscar categories:  Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress and Best Animated Feature.
Because I wrote so much, I decided to post what I had already written.  This posting will focus on the remaining categories for this year’s Academy Awards.  And without further ado, here they are:
There are only 3 nominees in this category this year which hasn’t happened since 1989.  The frontrunner has to be Dolly Parton who wrote and performed Travelin’ Thru for Transamerica.  In The Deep from Crash and It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp from Hustle & Flow are unlikely to take the Oscar.  Parton’s famous theme song to 9 To 5 was nominated 25 years ago.  It was her only previous nomination.  Chances are, because she lost that time around, she’ll win it this year.  And since she’s the most famous nominee in the category, it’s a no-brainer.
Here’s something unusual.  Only 2 of the nominated films in this category are up for Best Picture.  Steven Spielberg’s controversial Munich and Paul Haggis’ directorial debut, Crash.  Rounding out the category are Ron Howard’s Cinderella Man (which was snubbed in most of the major categories except Best Supporting Actor), The Constant Gardener and Walk The Line.  Considering it has to juggle a lot of characters and subplots, I’m betting Crash takes this one.  Usually, the winner for Best Picture also wins this category.  But as I noted in my previous posting, Brokeback Mountain will be named Best Picture.
This has frequently been a controversial category.  Originally, there was a committee of volunteers who screened films and selected nominees.  After the Hoop Dreams debacle, that all changed.  As a result, more familiar titles are getting recognized and 3 such titles jump out at you from the short list this year.  Murderball was a popular doc at Sundance in 2005.  It’s about quadriplegics who play wheelchair rugby.  Then there’s Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room.  It would be interesting if that one wins.  Highly acclaimed, it does have an outside shot.  But you have to give the edge to March Of The Penguins, a movie so popular it outgrossed some of the Best Picture nominees.  The smart money is on Penguins but it would be something if the Enron documentary pulled an upset.
Paul Haggis was nominated last year for adapting two short stories from an anthology into Million Dollar Baby.  He lost to Charlie Kaufman who won for his annoying Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind script.  This year Haggis and his writing partner, Robert Moresco, are competing in the original screenplay category along with Woody Allen (Match Point), Stephen Gaghan (Syriana), Noah Baumbuch (The Squid And The Whale) and George Clooney & Grant Heslov (Good Night And Good Luck).  Woody Allen is frequently nominated for his scripts and he has already won for Annie Hall.  Stephen Gaghan won for Traffic.  Clooney will win Best Supporting Actor instead of this category.  And Noah Baumbuch will have to content himself with the nomination.  That paves the way for Haggis and Moresco to collect the trophy.
Another easy one to call.  Based on a famous short story, the adapted screenplay for Brokeback Mountain, without question, will beat out the scripts for Capote, The Constant Gardener, A History Of Violence and Munich.  I’ll be shocked if it doesn’t win here.
Frequently a difficult category to predict, I’m going with this World War II drama about a resistance group called The White Rose who fight the Nazis with fliers of defiance in Munich, Germany 1943.  Another possible winner is Paradise Now, the Palestinian film about 2 life-long friends who become suicide bombers.  Joyeux Noel is a French war film set during the first World War. Tsotsi is about a week in the life of a violent South African gangbanger and Don’t Tell is about an Italian actress coming to grips with a painful childhood memory. 
This award could go to any of these films but Sophie Scholl: The Final Days is the only one that deals with Nazis and the Academy has been known to reward films that deal either with the Holocaust or resistance movements.  It’s not a lock but history tells me this German film will take it.    
3 first-time nominees compete with the legendary John Williams who snagged his 44th and 45th nominations this year scoring Munich and Memoirs Of A Geisha.  He’s up against Alberto Iglesias who worked on The Constant Gardener, Dario Marianelli who did Pride & Prejudice and Gustavo Santaolalla who composed the music for Brokeback Mountain.  Williams has already won 5 Oscars so this one’s up for grabs among the newbies.  I’m giving the edge to Santaolalla’s score for Brokeback Mountain.
Here are my predictions for the short categories:
Here are my predictions for the remaining technical categories:
The 78th Academy Awards take place Sunday night, March 5th at 8 p.m.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
1:03 a.m.
Published in: on February 22, 2006 at 1:10 am  Leave a Comment  

Oscar Predictions (Part One)

Every year at this time my family places bets on the Oscars. We started this in 1992, the year The Silence Of The Lambs made history by becoming the third film to win the big 5 prizes (Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Director and Adapted Screenplay). My Dad won that year even though he didn’t see the broadcast. (He was working the afternoon shift.) He also hadn’t seen many of the nominated films. I did and I still lost. More on that in a moment.

In the beginning, only 3 people participated: my Dad, my Mom and myself. Then, my grandmother on my Mom’s side joined in the fun in 1997.

I’ve won the most pools: 6. Plus, I’m the defending champion. Mom and Dad have each won 4 times and Grandma has won only once. (Dad and I shared a victory in 2003. All of our other victories were individual.)

Originally, because I went to the movies all the time and rented like crazy (there were very few nominated films I didn’t see before the ceremony), I picked who I thought deserved to win. Not a good strategy if you want to win your Oscar pool. It only worked once for me (in 1995) and then, when I stopped going on a regular basis, I changed my strategy. Starting in 1998, I went the “prediction” route and have since won 5 of the last 8 Oscar pools.

Here’s part one of my predictions for the 78th Annual Academy Awards honouring the best films of 2005:


Roger Ebert believes that Crash, his favourite film last year, will take the big prize. He has argued many times for its excellence and if he’s correct here, it will be the second year in a row that Oscar’s Best Picture winner and his favourite film of the year are the same. (Million Dollar Baby was last year’s Best Picture winner and Ebert’s #1 film.)

He goes on to say that Brokeback Mountain, the favourite in this category, is losing steam and will be overtaken by Crash at the Oscars. How he came to this conclusion boggles the mind. He couldn’t be more wrong.

Crash succeeded in finding an audience thanks to strong critical notices and audience word-of-mouth. If it wins, it wouldn’t be the first film not released in December to win Best Picture. (The Silence Of The Lambs was issued on Valentine’s Day, 1991 and that was on a Thursday!) But, in my view, there’s no way it will win. Why? Because Brokeback Mountain has not lost steam and in a category filled with controversial, politically-charged dramas, this one is the safest of the bunch.

It should be noted I have not seen any of the films and this is purely a prediction. Since its release late last year, Brokeback Mountain has been the most talked about nominee in the category. There have been endless parodies: Howard Stern’s Buttcrack Mountain and Artie Lange’s Backdoor Mountain bits; Brokenote Mountain, American Idol’s satirical goof on some of its cowboy contestants; Jimmy Kimmel Live’s parody during his third anniversary show involving amorous Mounties; Curb Your Enthusiasm star and Seinfeld co-creator Larry David’s New York Times Op-Ed called Cowboys Are My Weakness; Willie Nelson’s new song called Cowboys Are Frequently Secretly Fond of Each Other and on and on.

According to rottentomatoes.com, a great site that compiles critics’ views, Crash earned a fresh rating of 77% while Brokeback Mountain has a fresh rating of 85%. Brokeback has earned 66 million so far at the box office while Crash only earned 55 million and it’s already on DVD. Brokeback has won Best Picture prizes at 13 different ceremonies including the Golden Globes, the recent BAFTAs in Britain, and from numerous film critic associations based in L.A., New York, San Francisco, London, England and Vancouver, British Columbia. How many has Crash won? One. Guess which critics group gave it to them. Yep, the Chicago Film Critics Association. Where’s Roger Ebert from again? Chicago. And yes, he’s a member of the association.

Crash is a movie that deals with race relations. Munich is about Middle Eastern politics. Good Night, And Good Luck is about Senator McCarthy’s Communist witchhunt and the brave journalist who questioned his ethics. Capote is about the story that inspired his novel, In Cold Blood; killers who may or may not get the death penality for their crime. Brokeback Mountain is about two men who discover they’re gay, are in love with each other and try to deny it because of the era they live in. With gay couples in certain countries finally receiving the right from their national governments to be interlocked in marriage in some form or another, it is unlikely the momentum of that breakthrough and all the other reasons I mentioned will stop Brokeback Mountain from collecting the Best Picture prize this year.


The last time Ang Lee was up for Best Director, it was for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, a fine action film that I felt wasn’t as great as others made it out to be. He won the Directors Guild of America award for that movie but lost the Oscar to the more deserving Steven Soderbergh who won for Traffic, a much better film. This year, once again, he’s the DGA’s choice and that automatically puts him in the lead for the directing Oscar. He has directed one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year which will see its already sizable audience increase in the coming weeks.

This will be a make-good for his loss in the same category 5 years ago.

As for the other nominees, I don’t see any spoilers here. Spielberg’s won twice before and Bennett Miller (Capote), Georgy Clooney (Good Night And Good Luck) and Canadian Paul Haggis (Crash) don’t have near the support that Ang Lee has right now. Few DGA winners have lost the Best Director Oscar, which Lee knows first-hand. Unlike 2001, however, history’s in his favour this year.


I’ve been a fan of this guy since I saw him in Scent Of A Woman. (He was that obnoxious twerp who kept hounding Chris O’Donnell.) He’s done good work in films like The Talented Mr. Ripley and most especially, Almost Famous, where he played the greatest music critic of all time, Lester Bangs. (If they ever make a biopic of that guy, here’s hoping Hoffman is wooed back to play him again.)

I’ve only seen clips of his performance in Capote and it’s pretty clear he’s going to win for the same reason Jamie Foxx won last year for his work in Ray. He nails it. Ever since the movie premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, a cloud of Oscar buzz has hovered around him. In a category filled with acclaimed performances, I don’t see anybody coming close to beating him.

Joaquin Phoenix has been nominated before for playing the villain in Gladiator and in any other year, he’d probably win this category. Terrence Howard, who went from being in that Jacksons miniseries a few years ago to an Oscar nomination this year, also starred in Crash and 50 Cent’s movie, Get Rich Or Die Tryin’. He has no chance of winning. Neither does Heath Ledger who can rest assured Brokeback Mountain will win Best Picture. As for David Straithairn, one of my favourite actors who I first wrote about in my grade 12 high school English class, it would be a miracle if he won on his first nomination.

Mr. Hoffman, here’s your Oscar.


I’m still suprised this film wasn’t nominated for Best Picture considering all the widespread praise it received. (It has an 83% fresh rating from rottentomatoes.com.) That being said, it will win one major Oscar, and Reese Witherspoon will be the lucky recepient. All her competitors are going to be sadly disappointed. Judi Dench and Charlize Theron have already won, so count them out. Keira Knightley is young and will have other opportunities to be recognized. Felicity Huffman’s performance in Transamerica has gotten plenty of praise but I think the Academy views her more as a TV actress than a movie actor. Her commitment to Desperate Housewives (now in its second season) is a safety net that prevents her from strictly focusing on movies which will hurt her chances this year.

Just when you thought Witherspoon was going to become the new Meg Ryan permanently, along comes this project which challenged her to sing like a country legend and hold her own with a cantankerous method actor. (Witherspoon has admitted that during the preparation for her role as June Carter Cash she frequently clashed with her co-star, Joaquin Phoenix, who played Johnny. They rarely got along during the making of this movie.)

I can’t think of a more lovable actress in Hollywood right now. I never hear anything bad about her, she’s much loved by the business and is a bankable movie star. Her reward will be her first Oscar. I can’t wait for her acceptance speech.


I first remember George Clooney as Booker on Roseanne. (He worked in the plastics factory with her and her pals.) After working on numerous other TV programs including two ERs (the lesser-known sitcom and the well-known medical drama), he’s the most handsome man in the movies. And thanks to Syriana and his directing debut, Good Night And Good Luck, he’s now a well-respected filmmaker unafraid to roll around in the muddy world of politics.

Since Good Night won’t win Best Picture and Syriana wasn’t even nominated, he will win here for his supporting work in the latter. The Academy loves it when actors add some pudge and Clooney, like Reese Witherspoon, is a much-beloved movie star who has earned their respect for taking on challenging roles.

Matt Dillon won’t win. (Perhaps he’ll be punished for doing that horrible Herbie: Fully Loaded movie, which was released a month after Crash.) Paul Giamatti’s nomination is a make-good for Sideways. (Remember, he was snubbed last year.) William Hurt’s won before and Jake Gyllenhaal will have to be satisfied with just the nomination.

It’s Clooney all the way for Best Supporting Actor.

There’s usually one surprise every year and I think this category, as in past ceremonies, will give a much-needed jolt to the proceedings. It’s really a race between Amy Adams and Rachel Weisz. Frances McDormand’s already won for Fargo and Catherine Keener’s been nominated before and will lose again. I just can’t see Michelle Williams winning here, but stranger things have happened.

Although Weisz has won numerous awards for her work in The Constant Gardener, she doesn’t need the Oscar. She was in The Mummy movies and delivered fine performances in Enemy At The Gates and the very sweet About A Boy. I’ve had a crush on her since screening the disappointing Chain Reaction at my local cinema in 1996.

Amy Adams, on the other hand, needs this more than anyone in the category. According to critics, she’s the stand-out character in this little-seen indie film. An Oscar would give her better roles, boost her profile and would be an excellent selling point for any movie she would star in in the future. It’s not a lock but I think Roger Ebert is right on this one. Amy Adams for Best Supporting Actress.


This category was established in 2002 with Shrek being the first winner. This year is very unusual. There are no Pixar or Disney nominees, Robots got snubbed and old-fashioned animation techniques won out over 3D computer animation.

Howl’s Moving Castle is from the much-beloved Japanimation giant, Hayao Miyazaki, but he won the 2003 Oscar for his film, Spirited Away. I don’t expect a repeat. Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, another one of his stop-motion features, is not nearly as loved as his 1993 film, The Nightmare Before Christmas. That leaves the claymation antics of Wallace & Gromit In The Curse Of The Ware-Rabbit which has an incredible 95% fresh rating at rottentomatoes.com.

They first made their mark in animated shorts. (A Close Shave won the Best Animated Short Oscar in 1996.) And now with their first feature-length adventure, it seems unlikely they will lose this award. Thanks to its success, I wouldn’t be surprised if more Wallace & Gromit movies are in the works. We may have another animated franchise on our hands here.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
6:19 p.m.
Published in: on February 21, 2006 at 7:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

Taste & Entangled (2 Poems For The Price Of 1)

Writing poetry is a lot of fun, especially when one of your personal creations excites a member of the opposite sex.  I haven’t written many but I’ve decided to include 2 here for the price of 1.  Listing them as separate entries doesn’t make sense to me because they seem connected. 
Taste, the first poem, might have been submitted to the Poets’ Corner section of The Toronto Sun.  It was most likely rejected because it was too long (they told me they only consider short poems) or maybe it was too racy?  I’m not sure now because it’s been a few years.  If I didn’t submit it to The Sun, it was most likely offered for consideration in an erotic poetry anthology.  I wish I could remember.
Either way, it’s very open to interpretation.  It’s not necessarily a sexual poem if you don’t personally feel that vibe when you read it.  Some women might think I’m talking about chocolate, for instance.
In any event, Taste is all about the senses coming together to find true passion.  The second poem, Entangled, is when that all goes wrong.
I really tried to write something meaty here in as few words as possible.  I may have submitted this to some websites a few years ago but much like Taste, it remains unpublished until now.
I hope you enjoy this section of my website because I’m thinking about writing some new poems, something I haven’t done in many a year.

By Dennis Earl
It lands on my tongue
So refreshingly sweet
Moisture competing
With intensifying heat
Never experienced this pleasure
In all my days
Cooling sensation
And enveloping haze
My tongue is not selfish
It spreads its joy around
My lips have been missing
What my heart has found


By Dennis Earl
Ruled by emotion
Enslaved by devotion
Cursed by erosion
Devoured by commotion
Long time entangled
Common sense strangled
Participants wrangled
Souls become mangled
What choices to make?
What vows to break?
What punishment to take?
What sincerity to fake?
Cracks are showing
Anger is growing
Fear is flowing
Release is knowing

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, February 20, 2006
6:05 p.m.
Published in: on February 20, 2006 at 6:13 pm  Leave a Comment  


Sometimes anger is a great motivator for writing.  I remember in the late 1990s getting into useless arguments with my mother and how sometimes that would inspire some poetry.  Stifle is an example of that.
I really like the intensity of this one.  It deals very heavily with the constriction of religion.  In 1996, I got fed up with it all and became an atheist, much to my mother’s annoyance.  Things are better now between us but it caused a conflict throughout the rest of the 1990s.
Much like Fear, this is a pretty honest poem and I’m very proud of it.  According to the original, handwritten draft, I wrote this on May 31st, 1997.  The last two lines of the first verse originally read:  "You have succeeded by controlling my mind/You have succeeded by shutting me down".  Then I added another line that read:  "For now".  After dropping that last part, I slightly reworked lines three and four. 
Another change occurred in the middle of the third verse.  Line 4 of that section now reads, "All because of doubt and I’m unwilling to pray".  Originally, it said: "All because I’m shy and unwilling to pray."

By Dennis Earl

You have succeeded by shutting me up
You have succeeded by breaking me down
You have failed to control my mind
You have failed to shut me down
You dance around the truth, inventing the facts
Not everything you say is precise and with tact
I sit here and I stew and I wish I had control
I choose to suffer by swallowing your vitriol
I do not claim perfection, not anymore
You have won the battle, I will win the war
You say you’re followers of God, warm and soft and sold
When I offer my disagreement, you tell me I’m cold
I’ve lost all reasoning. I’m hopeless, you say.
All because of doubt and I’m unwilling to pray
I’m sick of following you and your non-existent Lord
I’ll retreat to my room again and continue to be bored
You don’t understand what it’s like to be me
Neurotic, compulsive and wreaking of envy
I can’t overcome the failures of my youth
I will never form "the crowd." I am always aloof
My talents come from you and my neuroses as well
Guess which one of us is going to hell
I will proceed on an uncharted course
I don’t know about you but I want a divorce
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, February 20, 2006
5:40 p.m.
Published in: on February 20, 2006 at 5:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

Pick Me

Ever since I first logged onto the internet at home in the summer of 2001, I’ve kept myself busy.  In the beginning, when I was serious about getting published, I did a number of Google searches in order to find writing opportunities.  It was either in 2001 or 2002 that I found one such opportunity.
An anthology of animal-related poetry was being put together and no, this wasn’t another International Library of Poetry scam.  Anyway, I offered this poem, Pick Me, as a submission.  It’s from the perspective of an animal you’d see at the local animal shelter.  The sad creature is talking to a young child hoping to get adopted.  It’s a pretty loose structure.  Sometimes I rhyme, sometimes I don’t.
I worry that this one came out a bit too sentimental and manipulative, which is perhaps why it was rejected for that anthology.  I’m held onto it ever since and this is the first time it’s ever been showcased.
See what you think.  Maybe I’m too hard on this one, but it’s not one of my best poems.
By Dennis Earl
Pick me
I’m the one you want
Look how cute I am
I’m young
I’m friendly
You can’t take your eyes off of me
I’m homeless
I’m without family
Release me from this cage
Look at what they feed me
Look at how I live
This is no way to be
You can change that
Pick me
I’m the one you want
Forget about the others
I’m the one you want
I was taken from my home
Where I lived all alone
No family to care for me
No affection at all
Food was scarce
So was warmth
You’re the lucky one
You have both
These people who keep me in this cage
Have all the best intentions
Saving sad souls like me
From inevitable termination
But it gets quite lonely
My peers keep disappearing
I don’t know where they went
But they’re not coming back, I’m fearing
They’re just like me
Looking for a home
And when they don’t find one
Who knows where they roam
I will treat you kindly
And expect the same in return
I won’t be a bother
I will fit right in
You know you want me
You know you can’t resist
You can’t look away
From a face such as this
But then I hear you talking
To the big people who came with you
You plead and plead and plead your case
They don’t agree with you
You look so sad
Sadder than me
And it’s all just because you couldn’t
Pick me


Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, February 20, 2006
5:28 p.m.
Published in: on February 20, 2006 at 5:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

Apocalypse Now 25th Anniversary Review

This is the first in a series of pieces that I submitted to The New York Times Op-Ed page which have never been published. According to an article on their website, they receive well over 1000 submissions every week. In other words, if you’re like me, you have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting something in that newspaper.

That being said, one of my writing goals this year is to have an Op-Ed in the Times. I’ve submitted several items to them over the years and not one of them has ever been considered. Starting today, I’m going to be presenting these rejected columns. Finally, the public will have a chance to see what I submitted.

First up is this 2004 assessment of one of my favourite films, Apocalypse Now. I had first seen the superb documentary about the making of this movie, Hearts Of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (Gene Siskel’s favourite film of 1991), at my local cinema in early 1992. For some reason, it took me 12 years after that to see Apocalypse Now on DVD. My dad bought Apocalypse Now Redux, the 2001 extended version, and I had been putting off screening it until I saw the original version. I finally rented the original Apocalypse in February 2004. I had no idea how powerful the movie was going to be. As I watched it, I was reminded of revelations in the documentary:  the super-long shoot, Martin Sheen having a heart attack during filming and Francis Ford Coppola’s battles with Marlon Brando over his character, his weight and the script. I was completely blown away.

I’ve decided to keep the review as is because I’m really proud of it and it makes little sense to remove the dated portions. I reference the 2004 US elections and Senator Bob Kerrey whose past Vietnam actions caused needless controversy a few years ago.

I highly recommend Apocalypse Now, Apocalypse Now Redux and Hearts Of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, 3 of the greatest films ever made.

One more thing. I’ve decided not to make a correction in the review about Martin Sheen’s narration. Apparently, his brother, Joe Estevez, did all of Capt. Willard’s voiceovers which is pretty incredible because they both sound exactly alike. (He also doubled for him in the movie after Sheen’s heart attack. He received no credit for any of his good deeds.) I had no idea about this until I checked out The Internet Movie Database, which is an invaluable resource for movies.  Check it out at imdb.com.
By Dennis Earl

“Are you an assassin?”

“I’m a soldier.”

“You’re neither. You’re an errand boy sent by grocery clerks to collect a bill.”

This memorable exchange between the gonzo Col. Kurtz and the psychologically wounded Capt. Willard is just one enduring example of why Apocalypse Now is one of the greatest movies ever produced. This year marks its silver anniversary and the most remarkable thing about the film today is its timelessness and emotional wallop. It’s a film that hits you in the gut early and that gut feeling intensifies through to the end and even days afterward. This is not a film that is so easily forgotten.

Neither a pro nor anti-war film (although some will argue for the latter) and filled with characters who are not strictly good or evil, Apocalypse Now is more about the psychology of violence as seen through its American soldiers. There have been more violent movies about Vietnam and war in general, but director Francis Ford Coppola is more interested in internal violence, the violence lurking within the soul of every man stuck in the war zone.

Vietnam isn’t the only war being waged in this film. There’s also the war of the ethic, what American warriors should or shouldn’t do during the course of battle.

When the film opens, Capt. Willard (Martin Sheen in one of his best performances) has spent a week in Saigon off-duty. It’s killing him. He’s dying to go back. We learn he can’t quite adjust so easily to life outside the war zone. His marriage has broken up. There is no job or family waiting for him back home. Perhaps, he has unfinished business in Vietnam. As he says to the audience through his deeply revealing narration, “I wanted a mission….and when it was over, I never wanted another.”

His assignment is to find his way through the winding rivers of Vietnam and end up in Cambodia where he will come into contact with Col. Kurtz (Marlon Brando at his finest), a legendary Green Beret who offended his superiors in Washington by waging a more successful campaign against the Viet Cong than they did. Once he arrives at his compound, Willard must assassinate Kurtz “with extreme prejudice.”

During the scene where Willard is briefed about his assignment he is played audio tape of Kurtz’ demented rantings. It is but a glimpse into the tortured psyche of the army legend. As Willard will discover through his own personal experience with his target, Kurtz had a revelation about the enemy and it was this precise moment where he “got off the boat.” He discovered that the Viet Cong were willing to go so far as to chop off the arms of little children to win a war. The discovery of this pile of human debris shook Kurtz to his core. He wept. But then he became a believer. He realized that the reason America was losing the war was because it was not willing to be as indecent in battle as the Viet Cong and Cambodians, who were more than willing to do so. From that point on, he waged his own successful campaigns against the enemy. (Disturbed by his sudden change in character, and the unauthorized assassination of 4 Vietnamese intelligence officers, his superiors found his methods “unsound”.)

When Willard and the surviving members of an American patrol boat – who have the thankless task of getting him to his destination safely through enemy territory – finally arrive at his compound, the lingering stench of death is everywhere: Bodies and detached heads litter the environment untouched as permanent reminders of the lessons learned not only by Kurtz but his eager followers.

Willard is not the first man assigned to kill him. Very briefly, we meet Colby (played by a then-unknown Scott Glenn) who became seduced by Kurtz’ intellectualism and probably felt safe under his command like the other hundreds who survive here. (In an earlier scene, Willard looks at a letter Colby tried to write to his family explaining his situation.)

What happens in Apocalypse Now isn’t nearly as important as its emotional impact. We know war is hell. But do we know how the experience of war truly feels?

With a decorated Vietnam vet running for the U.S. Presidency this year this war has come back into the spotlight again. Democratic candidate John Kerry returned to America after serving his country to testify about what he saw. He talked about things Apocalypse Now is more than willing to show; that of civilians being killed, accidentally and sometimes, on purpose. Consider the scene where the patrol boat’s leader (the great Albert Hall) notices a civilian boat and decides to investigate without Capt. Willard’s consent. What happens next is tragic. A misunderstanding leads to trigger-happy consequences as the patrol boat’s youngest crew member, Clean (played by 14-year-old Laurence Fishburne), overreacts with foolish bravado. When you watch this scene you immediately understand how easy it is to get confused, to make split second decisions that aren’t always the right ones. It makes one greatly empathize with people like Bob Kerrey who found themselves in similar circumstances. For those who have never been in the war zone to criticize the actions of those who have is deeply hypocritical. I doubt very highly that anyone would’ve reacted differently than Clean, (or Bob Kerrey, for that matter), given those circumstances and that heightened, tense atmosphere.

By the time Willard and 2 surviving patrol boat crew members arrive at Kurtz’ compound in Cambodia, the movie is literally drenched in intensity and madness. And then Willard meets Kurtz and we experience the best scenes in the movie. Brando’s method of taking his time to speak in a resigned, deathly tone; taking dramatic pauses in the middle of sentences, hiding mostly in shadow, is ingenious. We neither hate nor love Kurtz but are mesmerized by him. When he talks about his war experiences and his startling revelations about the enemy, we completely understand why Willard admires him. But he has a job to do. But will he find the closure he so desperately desires?

For a film that is now a quarter of a century old to be as powerful for me today as it was for the audiences who saw it in 1979 is a remarkable achievement. It is that rare movie that makes you say, “Wow,” out loud more than once. Filled with great performances from top to bottom, stellar Academy Award-winning cinematography, and painfully incisive writing that incinerates the protective “happy” bubble that protects our souls from such reality, Apocalypse Now is Vietnam, just like Francis Ford Coppola proclaimed at his famous press conference. And as Kurtz tells Willard late in the movie, “I never want to forget.” Neither do we.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, February 20, 2006
12:58 p.m.
Published in: on February 20, 2006 at 1:46 pm  Leave a Comment  

Scary Movie 2

I saw this movie with my buddy on July 5, 2001 at my local cinema which, sadly, went out of business the same year. It was one of the most unpleasant experiences I’ve ever had at the movies. Looking back, I’m reminded of the time I saw Problem Child 2 with my mom during a trip to the United States way back in 1991. Both are gross-out comedy sequels that were only made because the originals made money. (Although, the Scary Movie franchise has been far more successful and the 4th installment will be released in theatres on April 14.)

The Scary Movie franchise exists in the first place because of Scream, one of the most influential horror films in recent years. As is well known, the working title for Scream was Scary Movie.

Believe it or not, as an aside, this is not the first time a film called Scary Movie has been released. The first appears to be a little-seen 1991 horror film that starred Butch Patrick from The Munsters and John Hawkes (who was in Me And You And Everyone We Know), who made his debut in this movie. The movie features the music of the Butthole Surfers.

For more on the film, which I’ve not seen, check out director Daniel Erickson’s website.

Apparently, the film has never had a national release and only played in Austin, Texas where it was filmed. I don’t believe it’s on either VHS or DVD.

Back to Scary Movie 2. I wrote this review sometime in the summer of 2001 on my brand new PC (which I am typing on as I write this). I was trying to get published and was able to get an article accepted into The Hamilton Spectator. I wrote this review and submitted it to a website that politely rejected it through an email. I reworked it and tried another website. Same deal. No dice.

I originally had two drafts of this review and have decided to make some changes in order to present a more timeless review. Gone are the references to Scary Movie 3 which has come and gone and, at this point in time, remains unseen by me. In the first draft, I wrote that this was one of the worst movies of the year which is now changed to “one of the worst films of 2001.” One paragraph has been greatly reduced for rhythm purposes. In the previous drafts I mentioned the movies that are made fun of in Scary Movie 2 and argued that you don’t even have to see the original movies to know where the jokes are. If you’ve seen the ads, you know where they’re going with their satire. It took too long to make that point, so I’ve made it here instead, excising it from the final review.

The original ending from that first draft replaces the revised ending of the second draft which speculated on the then-forthcoming Scary Movie 3.

I hope all of that is straightforward. And now, my assessment of Scary Movie 2.

By Dennis Earl

There’s a sequence in Scary Movie 2 that painfully shows its sophomoric desperation. It’s a parody of The Exorcist, specifically the famous vomit scene. In the original film, the possessed child, Regan, spits up a bowl of split-pea soup all over the unsuspecting Father Karras, hoping to scare him out of her bedroom. In Scary Movie 2, they don’t actually make fun of the scene, they extend its running time and overload it with more vomit. This means that not only does the tortured young girl get to vomit on priest Andy Richter, he gets to vomit on her in return which makes the other priest (James Woods) vomit on the kid and pretty soon we’ve got a 3-way puke-a-thon happening. The scene could’ve worked if it actually made fun of something. Instead, it merely picks up the moment from the original film and gets carried away with it. More puke doesn’t mean more laughs.

There are so many equally gross and unfunny sight gags like that that I spent most of the time watching the movie with a permanent wince on my face. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.

Scary Movie 2 tried to skewer supernatural horror films the same way the original made fun of teen slasher movies. I didn’t like the original Scary Movie at all, with the exception of a few effective gags. I don’t think it’s possible to goof on movies like the Scream pictures when those films are already making inside jokes. I also found it to be so depressing and downbeat and gross that it was hard to get into the rhythm of the comedy. Scary Movie 2, I’m afraid, is even worse. It has no rhythm at all. It’s one of the worst films of 2001.

Movies like this don’t depend on plot, they depend on laughs. Scary Movie 2 comes from a long line of gag-a-minute comedies which date all the way back to 1975’s Kentucky Fried Movie. It wasn’t until Airplane! was released 5 years later that the genre started to catch on. Many imitators later, we have this movie which is less of a satire and more of a test of the audience’s endurance for gross-out material. It’s a John Waters movie with a bigger budget.

The plot: Professor Tim Curry and his handicapped assistant, David Cross (from Mr. Show) convince some high school kids (the familiar faces of the original film) to inhabit a house they believe is haunted under false pretenses.

Now forget what I just told you. It means nothing. Besides, the movie doesn’t properly lay the groundwork for big, funny payoffs anyway. Instead, we get one useless, gross gag after another. A bird that defecates on a wall, a rape of a possessed clown (don’t ask), a odd butler (Chris Elliott) with a bizarre habit of doing disgusting things around food, James Woods jumping on top of the possessed child (she’s 12, guy), Woods praying on the toilet for relief from constipation while bees swarm him and cover his face, and on and on and on.

Much of the movie wreaks of deadline desperation. The Wayans Brothers had no idea Scary Movie would be a big hit. The sequel reveals how unprepared they were to tackle the recent supernatural films only a year after the original’s release.

The only effective horror movie scene parody is a quick riff on the famous scene in Hannibal where Ray Liotta’s lid is removed from his head. When you see who’s lurking in Shawn Wayans’ head, it’s a very big laugh, the biggest in the movie. There are a few chuckles as well but they’re not directly related to scene parodies. Wayans gets in a good dig about Whitney Houston’s pot use before being smoked as a joint himself by a giant, vengeful, marijuana plant.

Another problem I had was the constant battering of Anna Faris’ character. She’s a pretty, likeable actor who is wasting her time with this series of films. And speaking of Faris, why is her character in this movie in the first place? If you remember, her character is based on the Neve Campbell character, Sydney, from the Scream movies. What does Sydney have to do with parodies of The Haunting, The Exorcist and all of these other horror films? Why are the other cast members here as well, especially those who were killed off in Scary Movie? Wouldn’t it have made better sense to hire different actors who somewhat resemble the actual characters from the movies being skewered here?

I don’t know why I even bother. The movie is a complete waste of time and if you must see it, don’t eat beforehand.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, February 20, 2006
3:14 a.m.
Published in: on February 20, 2006 at 12:09 pm  Leave a Comment