Why Widescreen Is Better Than Full Screen

Here’s another rejected piece that I always wished was published. Turned down by The New York Times Op-Ed page and, possibly, The Hamilton Spectator, it was written in either late 2003 or early 2004.

Most of the original manuscript has been preserved but a major change had to be made in the original third paragraph after Roger Ebert corrected me on something important. From time to time, I submit questions for the Movie Answer Man, his popular biweekly Sunday Q&A column in the Chicago Sun-Times, and 2 of them have been published with the answers I was seeking. (He’s even emailed me personally a couple of times, as well. I’ll never delete those messages.) On May 2, 2004, he published my question about old movies only being available on DVD in full screen.

(To read my question and Roger’s response, click here.)

Thanks to him straightening me out on a major misconception I had, this revised version of Why Widescreen Is Better Than Full Screen plays a lot stronger and hopefully, it’s understandable to anyone not at all familiar with the business of aspect ratios and how important they are in terms of watching movies.

Other minor things have been changed to make the piece more timeless. With that settled, enjoy.

By Dennis Earl

I was in a video store a while ago when I overheard a customer complaining to a clerk about widescreen DVDs. He grumbled about letterboxing in particular. (You know, those black bars that sandwich a movie?) His beef was that it shrunk the size of the picture he was seeing. He much preferred full screen DVDs because the picture filled the entirety of his Television screen. I was in the new release section when I overheard this and I wanted to throttle him. Let me explain why. Widescreen DVDs are the greatest thing to happen to movies in a long time. Not since the Laserdisc has it been possible to not only showcase a film the way it was meant to be seen, but to also include numerous extras, like deleted scenes and audio commentaries, that enhance your enjoyment. What that silly customer doesn’t realize is that full screen movies, specifically VHS tapes, have been ruining the home movie experience since the 1970s.

You see, most movies today are shot in widescreen. When you’re looking at the back of a DVD jewel case you’ll probably notice something called an “aspect ratio”. This lets you know how the film is going to look when you play it no matter what you’re using to play back movies. Widescreen aspect ratios are usually 1.66:1, 1.85:1, 2.35:1 or 2.40:1. The higher the first number is in an aspect ratio the wider the image since that first number represents width and the second represents height.

Before 1954 (as Roger Ebert informed me by both email and through a printed response in his Movie Answer Man column) every movie was shot in full screen. I always thought old-style TV sets were square, but he corrected me by saying that they have an aspect ratio of 4:3 (or “four units wide for every three units high,” as he wrote on May 2, 2004 in the Chicago Sun-Times).

Therefore, it is impossible to show a widescreen movie on a full screen set without having to cut the left and right sides of the original print. Basically, this means when you watch a full screen version of a widescreen movie, you’re only seeing the middle. The left and right sides have been excised. The movie industry has a nice spin on this butchering technique: “This film has been modified from its original version. It has been formatted to fit your TV.” Sounds a lot better, doesn’t it?

The only way to see a widescreen film properly on a full screen set is through letterboxing. Yes, the size of the picture is smaller but you see the film the way the director wanted you to see it and exactly the way you saw it in a theatre. A true movie fan knows that. That guy in the video store is obviously clueless and needs help.

How would you change his mind? 2 words: widescreen TVs. During one recent Christmas season, there was so much demand for them that manufacturers couldn’t keep up production. They remain popular today. One of the great advantages of having a widescreen TV and widescreen DVDs is that you no longer need to see a film with rectangular black boxes on the top and bottom. With a simple click on your remote control, you can see a widescreen movie on a widescreen TV without letterboxing and, more importantly, without losing any part of the picture.

I don’t have a widescreen TV myself, but, like everybody else, I’ve seen the in-store displays. I was in a store a while ago and caught the tail end of Spider-Man on a widescreen TV and it was just like seeing it in the theatre. Now if a full screen copy of that movie was playing on that same TV, I would’ve seen black bars on the left and right sides of the screen in place of images. And if that grumbling video store customer had seen his precious full screen DVDs on a widescreen TV, he would’ve instantly realized what longtime movie fans have always known. Full screen video is a brutal rip-off.

As DVDs started to infiltrate the marketplace in the mid-90s, there was mass resistance on the part of Blockbuster Video, the largest North American chain, to stock widescreen titles. Although, Canadian stores have been smarter to stock, for the most part, both widescreen and full screen versions of movies, American outlets stuck with full screen only. Apparently, there were a lot of unhappy customers who complained loudly that the store was shortchanging them with these butchered versions. As a result, Blockbuster changed its policy. It would stock widescreen titles after all.

I have to admit I’ve seen plenty of movies in widescreen and full screen form and there’s no question that widescreen is always best. Before the emergence of DVDs and those 12 inch Laserdiscs, your chances of finding a widescreen version of your favourite movie on tape were remote. Even today, when you check out the tape section of any store that carries electronics, the full screen section is much larger than the piddly space given to widescreen VHS tapes.

I wonder how big that grumbling customer’s TV set is. It’s an important point when talking about widescreen vs. full screen. If he has a very small set – I have a 13 inch TV myself – it’s understandable that he would prefer full screen. (Smaller TVs aren’t always suited for widescreen, although I’ve seen a few on my set. My only complaint involves graphics which sometimes are just too small to read.) But if his set is, say, 17 inches or more, I would recommend widescreen instead.

Legendary film critic Roger Ebert always complained about full screen video in general but he has a compromise solution that may change that customer’s mind in a heartbeat. He feels that because not everybody has the good fortune to have in their possession a large, top-of-the-line widescreen or 4:3 set, it’s best to have DVDs that show movies in both full screen and widescreen. That way, the viewer can decide which version works best on his or her set.

Sometimes, all you can get is a full screen version of a movie on DVD. That’s particularly true of films made before 1954 in the era that preceded CinemaScope. But if you have choices, widescreen wins out every time.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, March 24, 2006
5:20 p.m.
Published in: on March 24, 2006 at 6:05 pm  Comments (4)  

The Worst Ashton Kutcher Movie

I have seen the worst Ashton Kutcher movie tonight.  After suffering through Just Married on DVD 3 years ago, I didn’t think that was possible.  Incredibly, I was wrong.  The movie is My Boss’s Daughter, one of three bad films Kutcher appeared in in 2003.  (Just Married and the so-so remake of Cheaper By The Dozen were the others.) 
I usually try to be as patient as possible when I start watching a movie because you gotta give the filmmakers time to establish the characters and the story.  Some films grab you from the opening frame and never lose your interest while others need anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes to slowly reel you in.  Then, there are the films that have a dynamite opening but no follow through, and others where, after a slow start, momentum builds and the quality of the film improves remarkably. 
It took 90 seconds to hate My Boss’s Daughter.  That’s a new record.  It took me a whole 3 minutes to start despising Surviving Christmas which I screened on DVD last year.
Where do I begin with this monstrosity?  You’ve got Kutcher, who has yet to prove he can carry a film, playing an honest, passive guy (right) who works as a messenger for Midnight Owl Publishing.  He wants to work in the Creative Department (where there’s an opening) but is deathly afraid of his boss who is played by a completely miscast Terrence Stamp.  (More on him in a moment.)  Kutcher has some ideas for the company but after seeing Dave Foley getting fired after leaving Stamp’s office, his confidence plummets. 
While in Stamp’s office, a terrified Kutcher makes a face while drinking coffee and after sampling the bitter java himself Stamp ushers in the new receptionist (Molly Shannon), completely humiliates her by saying a retarded person would make a better cup of coffee and fires her.  Then, he asks Kutcher if he was a little hard on her.  (Didn’t he pay attention to the horrible vitriol coming out of his mouth?)
Stamp’s performance isn’t right for a comedy like this.  He’s far too ornery and rigid to make the lines he’s reciting funny (not that he’s been given anything to work with).  For almost the entire film he’s got a permanent scowl on his face and as I write this I can’t help but think he’d much rather forget ever appearing in this trash.
The title character of the film is played by the lovely Tara Reid who really isn’t a bad actress as those very funny American Pie movies proved, but like Kutcher she needs to steer clear of mediocre scripts forever.  They’re not doing either of their careers any good.  Because of a ridiculous incident on the subway in the first scene in the movie she thinks Kutcher is gay.  He’s not.  He’s secretly got a massive crush on her and when she asks him to come by her father’s place at night he readily agrees thinking he’s going to get to go to a party with her.  But because he is the stupidest man alive he’s "unknowingly" agreed to housesit her father’s place and look after his pet owl, OJ, who is too depressed to fly.  Besides, Reid is spoken for and would you believe Kenan Thompson (yes, Fat Albert) is her boyfriend?  I didn’t, either.
Stamp gives him explicit instructions:  No visitors.  When the alarm goes off, feed the mice to the owl and make sure he takes his medication with water.  But, of course, shortly after he leaves, Kutcher is startled when Stamp’s estranged son, Red (Andy Richter), enters the living room and engages in, what has to be, the most painful attempt at ha-ha sex talk I’ve ever heard. 
Later, other visitors appear like Molly Shannon who’s hoping to get her job back, Michael Madsen, who wonders why he was handed a package of flour instead of cocaine and Carmen Electra, one of Shannon’s pals, who thinks she may have breast cancer.  Surely, the beautiful Carmen deserves better than to be fondled by Ashton Kutcher.
The jokes in this movie aren’t even jokes, really.  They’re cries for help.  A series of completely unfunny (and implausible) events leads to the owl flying out of the house for the first time in years (wow, didn’t see that coming) and into the open, upstairs window of a neighbour’s house.  Kutcher witnesses this and tries to explain to the occupants what’s going on, but they are so completely brain-dead they think he’s some clown named Albert trying to squirrel his way out of a date with the cute girl who lives there and who just happens to have a massive head injury.  (That whole bit, and a later scene, are blatant rip-offs of Dana Carvey’s SNL character, Massive Head Wound Harry.) 
I could go on and on with the plot here – I haven’t even begun to cover all the moronic moments that happen – but why should you suffer as much as I did?  I’m truly amazed that this wasn’t nominated for Worst Picture at the Razzies and I’m also astounded it made money at the box office.  (According to the Internet Movie Database, this terrible would-be comedy made about 15 million dollars.  Its budget was 14 million.)
Now I haven’t seen all of Ashton Kutcher’s movies but I’ve seen enough to realize he’s lucky he still has a movie career at this point.  He’s much better off sticking with Television.  Hopefully, he was smart enough to have signed a decent residual deal with the producers of That 70’s Show.  Otherwise, when everybody finally realizes he’s not talented enough to stick with the cinema, there’ll be many lean days in his future.
What went wrong here?   Everything.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, March 23, 2006
12:06 a.m.
Published in: on March 23, 2006 at 12:09 am  Leave a Comment  

In Praise Of Nip/Tuck’s First Season

Nip/Tuck is a soap opera for smart people.  It’s also a black comedy, a thriller and a tragedy all rolled into one.  I’ve just gotten acquainted with the show’s first season via DVD this past week and what a show it is.  From that moment in the first episode when we see a butt implant surgery in progress I became a fan.  The 66-minute pilot is one of the most astounding debut episodes of a TV series I have ever seen.
Debuting on the Fox offshoot channel, FX, in 2003, the show (set in Miami) is about two plastic surgeons – one married, one single – who have built their lucrative business from nothing.  Dylan Walsh plays Dr. Sean McNamara, the seemingly more level-headed of the two.  A married father of a teenage son and an 8-year-old daughter, on the surface, he seems to have it all.  Underneath, it’s all a horrible mess.  His wife, Julia, (played wonderfully by British actress Joely Richardson) has so much pent-up resentment towards him it all comes out in an explosive kitchen scene in the pilot where she ends up throwing a dish at him and declares, “…on your watch, a death has occurred, the death of you and me.  This marriage doesn’t even have a pulse anymore.”  (Such beautiful writing.)  And yet, the marriage perseveres, for better or worse, leaving you to wonder if Mrs. McNamara is a drama queen or too cowardly to move on.  It doesn’t help that both Julia and Sean have wandering eyes.
His son, Matt (John Hensley) is deeply self-conscious about his uncircumcised penis and wants his father to approve surgery for him.  Despite getting turned down by both his dad and his “uncle” Christian, he finds a DIY website online and foolishly tries to perform the procedure himself.  Inevitably, it all goes badly, he passes out at the site of his own blood and ends up having the surgery anyway after having a heart-to-heart with his father.  
He’s dating an attractive cheerleader (Kate Mara) from his high school but his world comes crashing down when he catches her fooling around with another cheerleader (Sophia Bush).   He finds out the hard way she’s really gay.  Later on, incredibly, he gets talked into having a threesome with these hot girls and during a follow-up encounter at his house, his mother walks in on the fun and festivities.  So freaked out, she calls the parents of the two hotties in order to have a “sexual intervention” with the three frisky biscuits.  Both funny and dramatic, uncomfortable truths are revealed which hurt the situation more than help. 
If that weren’t bad enough, Matt unwittingly gets involved in a hit and run accident involving a fellow student he never paid attention to before.  That sequence in episode 8, one of the most moving shows in the series, proves more than anything the foolishness of diverting your attention even for a second.
Australian actor Julian McMahon (Dr. Doom from Fantastic Four) plays Dr. McNamara’s partner,  Dr. Christian Troy, a sly ladykiller with a deep, dark secret.  Every time he scores with a hot chick, I can’t help but root for his conquests.  He’s James Bond with a license to slice.  Unfortunately, that kind of Hefneresque lifestyle gives him a couple of unrelenting headaches.  There’s Kimber (Kelly Carlson), a beautiful model with a poor self-image who, at first, blows off Dr. Troy while they’re drinking at a bar and then, can’t resist him when he just happens to mention he’s a plastic surgeon.  Their on-again/off-again courtship is spread over several episodes in the first season.  At one point, Kimber gets a tattoo of her new boyfriend’s initials: KT.  Unfortunately there’s no “K” in Christian.  (This woman is so dumb somebody should’ve put out an APB on her intelligence years ago.)
The other headache is Gina Russo (played by Canadian actress Jessalyn Gilsig).  Dr. Troy meets her at a Sexaholics Anonymous meeting and she sees right through his act.  That doesn’t stop the inevitable from happening.  She pops up later on to inform Christian he’s about to be a father.  (He gets a real shock in the season finale when he delivers the baby himself.)  I’m worried about the progression of this storyline because I like the idea of Dr. Troy playing the field instead of being tied down by a neurotic, angry hypocrite of a woman.  And yet, in the season finale, Dr. Troy reveals a side of him we rarely see.  It’s to Julian McMahon’s credit that, because he’s playing this character, we’re with him every step of the way despite his sometimes questionable judgment. 
If that weren’t enough, Nip/Tuck is loaded with strong, recurring supporting roles.   Among the standouts:  Julie Warner, wonderfully sympathetic as an unhappily married breast cancer survivor looking for implants but finding something else altogether; Valerie Cruz who plays Dr. Santiago, the new office shrink who stirs our two surgeons in ways not at all surprising; Jonathan Del Arco as the sweet and very funny transsexual Sofia Lopez; Joey Slotnick as the very slimy Dr. Merril Bobolit.  I can’t forget the great Roma Maffia (love that name) who plays Liz, the anasteseologist.  She has wonderful comic timing and is a strong presence every time we see her.  But the most chilling supporting character, without question, is Escobar Gallardo (played magnificently by Robert LaSardo).  He’s a ruthless Columbian drug dealer who pops up in the pilot and then, returns late in the season to wreak havoc on our doctors.  Smart, cold, bald and heavily tattooed (those are real, by the way), he might be the scariest TV villain in years.  The most unusual quality about him?  His obsession with Retro music. 
Nip/Tuck reminds me of a couple of great films:  The Doctor (1991) and American Beauty (1999).   The Doctor was probably the first movie I saw that revealed that surgeons like listening to music while they work.  William Hurt played the lead in that movie and he is as arrogant as Dr. Troy and as aloof as Dr. McNamara. 
American Beauty is all about the masks that people wear to hide their true selves, but those masks are gradually cracking, thereby exposing personality traits that would much rather remain hidden from view. That’s a perfect way to describe Nip/Tuck as well.  Patients are directed to respond to this statement in every consulation: “Tell me what you don’t like about yourself.”  They think the horrible pain they’re about to endure will rescue them from their own self-hatred.  As the show reveals, it almost never happens.
This is an unusual show.  It contains moments of searing drama and yet, it’s also very funny.  (The butt implant sequence early in the pilot contains probably the biggest laughs of the season.  3 big releases in one scene.)  It’s also alternately scary and comforting, sexy and creepy, joyful one minute, sad the next.
The show is smart enough (and ballsy enough) to show us the reality of plastic surgery and even use that as an appropriate metaphor for its storylines.  The special effects are so good during those scenes you’d swear you were watching real surgery.  No wonder the special effects team have won awards for their first-rate work.  
There are many surprise developments as the series progresses.  However, some of the plot twists are a little predictable. That’s ok, though, because even when that happens, I’m not taken out of the show.  I have such strong feelings for the characters, who are as complex as any you’ll find on TV, that as long as the show doesn’t get too outlandish (by its very nature it’s cheerfully overwrought), I would follow them anywhere.
The first season wraps up beautifully with a nice twist and, as expected, a revelation yet to come.  For those who have followed this show beyond 2003, you already know what that is.  For me, bring on the second season.
The first two seasons of Nip/Tuck are available on DVD.  I highly recommend Nip/Tuck: The Complete First Season.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, March 18, 2006
3:55 p.m.
Published in: on March 18, 2006 at 4:00 pm  Comments (1)  

Where’s The Outrage?

The FCC is at it again.  I found this interesting article online about the recent fines that have been handed down by the most corrupt political organization in America.  Apparently, they’re trying to extort nearly 4 million dollars from CBS and their affiliates for airing an orgy scene from a 2004 episode of Without A Trace, one of the most popular shows on TV right now.  (It’s so popular my Grandmother watches it.)
I haven’t seen the show in question but I don’t remember there being a huge outcry over it.   Also, in the same article, CBS is still going to have to pay that ridiculous fine of $550,000 for airing Janet Jackson’s nipple which viewers saw for what had to be a split second.   The FCC rejected CBS’s appealing of the ruling and are still expecting the money.  Let this be the moment of truth for the entertainment industry, the moment when they start growing some balls and fight back against the evil regulators who are so clearly in the pocket of the Religious Right they don’t have any common sense whatsoever.  (You can read the article here.) 
With all this madness happening right in front of our eyes, I thought it would be appropriate to showcase another anti-FCC rant which I submitted to The New York Times Op-Ed Page last year.  (Yep, it was rejected.)  It focuses on the changing of the guard at the Commission, when Michael Powell retired and Kevin Martin took his place.  In the piece, I argue that without a sufficient backlash against the regulatory fascism practised by the FCC, things would get worse.  Sadly, my prediction is already becoming true. 
Let’s hope CBS drops its dumb lawsuit against Howard Stern and sues the FCC instead.  It would certainly wake us all up and remind us that we cannot take our personal freedoms for granted.  No one has the right to declare anything obscene without passing the community standard test.   
By Dennis Earl

HAMILTON, Ontario, Canada – “Meet the new boss/Same as the old boss.”

 Won’t Get Fooled Again (The Who, 1971)

One can’t help but invoke Pete Townshend’s classic lyric when discussing the recent leadership change at the Federal Communications Commission. After a turbulent 4 years at the top, controversial Chairman Michael Powell is gone. His replacement is the bespectacled, boyish-looking Kevin J. Martin. Not yet 40 and looking half his age, the former attorney from North Carolina was a President Bush-appointed FCC Commissioner in 2001. Now the big kahuna in charge of ruining the entertainment industry, it is undeniable that the Commission’s unconstitutional mission of selectively fining and targeting broadcasters for increasingly debatable charges of indecency will not only continue, it will intensify.

Martin is one of those alleged old-school Republicans who believe in “limited government” and “competition, not regulation” when philosophizing about business in general. Sounds good but it’s a crock.

On April 5, 2005, Fox News reporter Stuart Varney asked Chairman Martin for a specific definition of indecency. It was a question Martin was incapable of answering directly. Instead, he tried to deflect attention away from his corrupt organization by saying that the Commission is merely enforcing what the courts have legally defined as indecent, a legal definition he didn’t bother to explain.

Then, he claimed that the incredibly dramatic increase in viewer and listener complaints since he joined the FCC 4 years ago, “is a serious and significant issue that the Commission needs to continue to be focused on”.

“You know when I first arrived at the Commission, we received a few hundred complaints per year from parents and consumers about what was on television and radio, and the next year we received a few thousand, and then the following year we received over ten thousand, and then the following year we received over a million complaints. What you’re seeing is an environment in which consumers and parents are increasingly concerned…”

No, dear Chairman, you’re wrong. 99.8% of those complaints you referred to came from one source: the Parents Television Council, that delightfully meddlesome, obsessively fascist organization that gets its jollies from scrutinizing hours and hours of entertainment in order to find things that few would consider truly offensive. Take away their corrupting and infuriating influence and you realize that few people with lives ever bother to complain about entertainment, both then and now.

But it’s about to get worse. Since Howard Stern announced his move to satellite radio, all of his governmental enemies are suddenly interested in “cleaning up” pay entertainment. Not only do they want to fine him and others with astonishingly high monetary penalties, they also want to throw all the indecent entertainers they don’t approve of in jail. It sounds like something out of an Orwell novel.

The main problem with all of this is the lack of sufficient outrage from the public and the entertainment industry. When the Bush Administration overstepped its boundaries during the overblown Terri Schiavo fiasco, public retribution was quick and fierce. As soon as they realized they didn’t have the public’s support, they dropped the subject and worked on screwing up something else.

So, why no collective anger towards the FCC and politicians who think they know what’s best for us with regards to our pop culture?

According to an article in the Washington Post, former chairman Michael Powell “proposed more than $4 million in fines over the past four years, more than all other former FCC chairmen combined.”

According to that same article, “Martin often said that indecency fines proposed in the past year were too low, and he called for broadcasters to be fined for each utterance or depiction of indecent material within a program.”

Until the public starts standing up for their own freedom of choice and for the rights of its entertainers, and the entertainment industry fights these ridiculous and unconstitutional fines for its programming, things are going to get much worse.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, March 16, 2006
1:25 a.m.

Published in: on March 16, 2006 at 1:30 am  Comments (2)  

Red Dragon

I was flipping through the February/March 2006 issue of Access Magazine, one of those freebie publications you can pick up at music stores, and in their Movie Preview section I read that there is yet another Hannibal Lecter movie coming out this year.  Entitled either Young Hannibal: Behind The Mask (according to the Internet Movie Database) or Hannibal: Behind The Mask (which is what Access says it’s going to be called), this will be the fifth film in the series.  I’ve seen 3 of them:  The Silence Of The Lambs, Hannibal and Red Dragon.  Only the first film in that list is worth a damn.
I screened Red Dragon (the 2002 remake of the 1986 original, Manhunter) on DVD on June 20, 2004 and I was so frustrated and disappointed with the movie I had to get my thoughts down quickly.  This is a fairly long assessment documenting much of the story and delving deeply into how I felt about it.  It’s hard to believe this film failed for me considering the astonishing cast.  I mean look at the number of Oscar-nominated/winning actors here:  Philip Seymour Hoffman, Anthony Hopkins, Edward Norton, Emily Watson, Ralph Fiennes, Harvey Keitel and Ellen Burstyn (who has an uncredited voiceover).  A dream cast, really, and yet they all participated in a mediocre production.
The upcoming Hannibal prequel, which focuses on his early years, won’t feature Anthony Hopkins in his most famous role, naturally.  But one wonders if he’ll have a cameo or play another role.  A quick scroll of the credits for the movie on the IMDB doesn’t list his name, so if he does appear it will be probably be an uncredited surprise.  Either way, here’s my review of Red Dragon:

By Dennis Earl

Brett Ratner’s Red Dragon opens during a symphony concert. 2 people notice the off-key playing of one of the flautists: the conductor, Lalo Schifrin, who winces and Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Oscar-winner Anthony Hopkins), who makes curious facial expressions of his own. Guess what happens to that troublesome flute player?

Soon after, Lecter is paid a visit by a longtime, trusted colleague, Will Graham (a woefully miscast Ed Norton), an FBI agent with a particular knack for solving incredibly difficult serial killer cases by seeing things through the eyes of the killer. Lately, he’s been trying to determine who’s been killing several victims and then forcibly removing a different body part from each of their remains. He suspects there’s a cannibalistic reason for this ghastly practice. After briefly discussing the case with Lecter, who provides no insight for him, Graham makes a startling discovery. But before he can make his move, he is stabbed by Lecter who quickly gets him on the floor and threatens to eat his heart. Graham is able to fend him off by stabbing him back and popping a few caps in him.

The experience leads to the incarceration of Lecter and the voluntary institutionalization of the psychologically wounded Graham who, after his release, later retires to the Florida Keys with his wife (Mary-Louise Parker) and young son (Tyler Patrick Jones). But years later, his old boss Jack Crawford (Harvey Keitel) pays him a personal visit and woos him back in order to solve the murders of two families.

Let me stop right there. Red Dragon was the first novel written by Thomas Harris that introduced us to the simultaneously cultured and demented world of Hannibal Lecter. Apparently unhappy with the first cinematic version of this story (1986’s Manhunter), we have this remake which, I think, is one Hannibal Lecter movie too many.

Back to the story. The Red Dragon is a serial killer nicknamed The Tooth Fairy by the press because he likes to bite his victims so harshly that it leaves a mark. The only thing is it’s not his teeth he’s using. It’s his grandmother’s. Ralph Fiennes (so brilliant as Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List) is let down by the overly empathetic script. Like some notorious serial murderers, his childhood defined his future. We get one audio flashback where his mother (an unconvincing Ellen Burstyn) threatens to slice off his penis if he wets the bed again. Now, really, would that be enough to turn you into a killer of innocent families? Why aren’t more examples given?

The Tooth Fairy works in a video duplication place where he fancies a blind colleague (Emily Watson) who, in turn, fancies him. Their relationship is odd. She does most of the talking and he just stares at her intently, listening patiently. She has no idea he’s a schizophrenic with homicidal and perverse sexual tendencies. He’s such a self-loather that he’s rather pleased by her literally blind attraction to him. There’s a truly odd scene where he’s watching videotape of the next family he’s going to kill and she notices how aroused he is, not comprehending it’s the MILF in the bikini that’s got his attention and not the hot blind lady feeling him up.

Philip Seymour Hoffman is cast in a thankless role as a sleazy reporter for The National Tattler. Graham and Crawford set him up one day by feeding him a mish-mash of half-truths and outright lies in order to get the attention of their killer. Unfortunately, the day after Hoffman’s story hits the streets, he’s kidnapped by the killer, forced to praise his greatness and slag the Tooth Fairy’s nemesis, Graham, on audiotape and is later discovered aflame literally glued to a wheelchair.

Red Dragon is an odd film. The more it plodded on, the colder and more depressed I felt. As I watched it, I wondered if it was me and not the movie that was bugging me. Sometimes, you’re just not in the right mood to watch a certain film and you can force yourself to get through a movie just to see how it all turns out. But the truth is I felt great before the movie began and by the time it ended I was miserable. Most bad movies you see you can accept for what they are without losing your cheerful disposition. You’re in too good a mood to let a mediocre film bring you down. But I had high expectations for Red Dragon. The TV ads I saw 2 years ago were mesmerizing. I’ll never forget Ralph Fiennes’ brilliant delivery. (“Before me you tremble!”) But when you see all that in context, it loses a lot. Or “oodles”, as Dr. Lecter would say.

Where do I begin with this mess? How about Ed Norton’s monotonous, emotionless performance? He is so good playing duplitious villains, as he did in Primal Fear and The Score, that he sincerely let me down playing the hero of this story. He is completely wrong for the role. We don’t care about him, I didn’t care about his family and therefore, never felt involved during the scenes where any or all of them are threatened by the Tooth Fairy.

Much of the movie doesn’t make any sense and as I sit here, I’m still asking myself obvious questions: 1. How would a tone-deaf flute player ever get past the auditions to become a member of a prestigious symphony? 2. How does that FBI guy crack the code of a secret message Lecter sends to The Tooth Fairy through an ad in the personals section of The National Tattler and how does The Tooth Fairy know what it really means? 3. Why is it necessary to shoot a potential rival for your woman’s affections with a silencer when you’re going to blow her and you away with a semi-automatic rifle and burn your own house down? 4. Who is going to risk their life to save anybody in this thoroughly dangerous situation even if a silencer wasn’t used? 5. Wouldn’t the neighbours notice the flames and the loud sounds they make when they burn stuff? 6. How are you able to drag a body into a burning house without detection, make the blind woman you’re both seduced by and threatened by believe you’re suicidal, pretend to act on that and then make her think the corpse is you when it’s the guy you shot with the silencer? 7. How did the blood splatter properly on her face and how the hell did the guy burn so fast when the Tooth Fairy just started the fire? 8. How did he escape without detection from any of the neighbours? 9. After succeeding with all of that, how do you arrive so fast at the Florida home of your nemesis and don’t even bother to bring your semi-automatic but rather a knife and a pistol?

The movie never has the courage to make The Tooth Fairy a true villain. It thinks naively that his peculiar romance with his blind co-worker is somehow keeping him alive, appealing to the little bit of humanity still lingering in him. Agent Graham says as much to her near the end of the picture. The problem is I never wanted to empathize with the guy, I wanted the movie to give me good reasons to hate him. Killing off families that I don’t care about and threatening characters who lack charisma doesn’t cut it with me.

Even Hannibal himself has become a disappointment. The more you see him, the more routine the movie is because you know he will: 1. play hardball with the FBI agent until he gets what he wants, 2. insult the guy and play on his fears, and 3. throw in a sarcastic quip, with or without an accent, depending upon his mood.

It’s funny. You turn on the DVD for this movie and the title page is better than anything that happens in the movie. Taking out certain lines of dialogue works very well for trailers and DVD title pages. Seeing everything in context leaves you greatly disappointed.

Director Brett Ratner is obviously paying too much homage to The Silence Of The Lambs here, from the look of Lecter’s jail cell at the behavioural correctional facility to Ed Norton’s walk down to his jail cell to their rather routine back-and-forths where Norton inevitably has to make deals with Lecter in order to get little clues about who the The Tooth Fairy is and where he might strike next. The movie lacks the humour of the Oscar-winning film, (its own attempts are really lame) it lacks rich characterizations, and, quite frankly, it simply lacks originality. As I was watching it, I immediately felt terrible because the movie was more of a rehash than a prequel. Much of it I’ve seen before and done better. Take the killings, for instance. Seeing dead bodies with little mirrors in place of eyes in the victims’ eye sockets just isn’t intense enough for me to care. Real killers come up with better stuff. Maybe it isn’t the idea, but the poor execution of that idea. Maybe I’m too desensitized to feel squeamish about the killings in this movie but then again, while I watched it I rarely felt the way you get when something rocks you in the tummy. Not once did this movie do that for me.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
3:15 p.m.

Published in: on March 14, 2006 at 3:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Return Of Saturday Night’s Main Event

On Saturday Night, March 18, it returns.  For the first time in 14 years there will be a Saturday’s Night Main Event broadcast on NBC.  It’s an unusual development considering how unnecessary it is to bring back this once great wrestling series.  More on that in a moment.  First, let’s go back in time.
Shortly after the first Wrestlemania in 1985, Vince McMahon Jr. called a press conference, along with NBC, to announce a new joint venture.  The then-World Wrestling Federation (originally an NWA territory called the World Wide Wrestling Federation) was planning some special late night wrestling shows for certain Saturdays every month or two during regular TV seasons.  Rather than air yet another Saturday Night Live rerun, the WWF would supply a 90-minute wrestling show, far different from their regular programming.
Back in the 80s, most of the matches you saw on TV were “squash matches”.  This means that a name wrestler would battle a “jobber”.  The name wrestler is paid to win.  The jobber is paid to lose.  There was almost no suspense as to who would win these matches.  For instance, if King Kong Bundy was set to battle Jim Powers, it was a foregone conclusion who the winner was going to be.  Even in handicap matches where one giant wrestler battled more than one opponent, you knew the result.  (Andre The Giant, King Kong Bundy and Big John Studd wrestled in these contests all the time and always won no matter which jobbers they faced.)
Occasionally, there would be an important match on these shows like a title match or perhaps something that would push along a storyline.  But for the most part, the squash matches were the norm.  They were short and the big names almost always won.  Saturday’s Night Main Event changed all that.
The first show (taped at the Nassau Coliseum, one of the sites for Wrestlemania 2) aired May 11, 1985.  Then-WWF champion Hulk Hogan faced off against Rowdy Roddy Piper’s bodyguard, Cowboy Bob Orton and retained his belt.  (2 years later, they squared off on TV again for a pre-taped match on either Wrestling Superstars or Wrestling Challenge (I can’t remember now) which aired during the Memorial Day weekend.  Same result.  Hogan remained champion.) 
The more important match that night was a 6-man tag team match.  The former WWF tag team champions, Barry Windham and Mike Rotundo (the USA Express) and Ricky Steamboat (before he was The Dragon) battled the then-current tag champs, the Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff (who beat them at Wrestlemania), and their partner, George The Animal Steele.  I was not yet a wrestling fan when this first SNME aired, (I started getting into it around the summer) so I don’t know exactly what happened.  All I know is after the match (which the USA Express and Steamboat won), Sheik, Volkoff and their manager, the much-missed Fred Blassie, turned on The Animal who, in turn, was rescued by the opposite team and by their manager, Captain Lou Albano.  As a result, for the first time in his career, I believe, George Steele became a fan favourite.  Albano became his manager and The Animal would stick with the company for the next 3 years.  He never did change his wrestling approach, though.  (He still cheated and loved the stuffing from the turnbuckles.)
The show returned that October.  Hogan defended his title against Nikolai Volkoff (no longer a co-holder of the tag team title) and won.  Later on, Hogan interfered in the tag team match between Studd & Bundy and Andre The Giant and Mr. USA Tony Atlas.  That set up a tag team confrontation between Studd & Bundy and Andre & Hogan on the next SNME which aired in November. (Studd & Bundy won by DQ in the match with Atlas and Andre, and lost to Andre & Hogan in the follow-up encounter.)
It was pretty clear this was a fabulous idea.  Although there were squash matches sprinkled occasionally throughout the show’s 7-year run, the vast majority of matches were big names going against big names.  Titles changed hands occasionally, bad guys became good guys and vice versa and there was even a spin-off, The Main Event.  That show was even more important than SNME.  Airing from 8 to 9 p.m. on one Friday night every February between 1988 and 1992, it marked professional wrestling’s return to prime time television.  According to an A&E documentary about wrestling, this was the first time wrestling had aired in that slot in 30 years.  Not since the early days of TV when networks filled their line-ups with wrestling programming had this happened.  (Important storylines involving Hulk Hogan, Andre The Giant and Randy Savage got major injections of drama thanks to these prime-time specials.)
And now, the show is back, airing, this time, at 8 p.m. on Saturday, March 18. 
After SNME and TME were over, Vince McMahon Jr. started doing live, weekly prime-time wrestling shows.  First, in 1993, there was Raw; then later, Smackdown.  After the WCW (another former NWA territory-turned-independent-company) scrapped squash matches altogether during its Monday Night Nitro program in 1996, the then-WWF soon followed suit.  No more Steve Lombardi, Johnny K-9, AJ Petruzzi or any of the other memorable losers who would agree to be beaten by the biggest names in the business. 
WWE Wrestling shows are now 2 hours long, live and feature nothing but superstars.  Why the need to bring back SNME?  I can think of only one reason:  money.  The show was very successful for both NBC and the then-WWF and it beautifully sold storylines to the public.  But with Raw and Smackdown and all those pay-per-view events, where’s the need?
For me, one of the biggest fans at that time, those Saturday night programs were fantastic.  I would always be far too tired to stay up to watch them so my dad, also a fan, would tape them for me as he watched them air and I would watch them the next day.  If my memory is good, I only missed the first show during its entire run.
Since the WWE became the only game in town, apparently its ratings are in decline.  It’s also toned down its act a bit which, from a business standpoint, is probably a mistake considering how it allowed the company to break from its rather restrictive family-oriented formula to expand into the future. 
Wrestling started to fall from grace for me sometime in the early 90s, right around the time I got into the idea of being a movie critic.  I kept watching on TV and video but I stopped going to the live shows in Hamilton.  I stopped being fanatical as the decade wore on.  (No more t-shirts, fake championship belts or magazine collecting for me.)  So, the return of SNME, from my perspective, is merely a cash-in for nostalgia sake and I’m not sure it’s going to make a whiff of difference in the long run. 
Wrestling hasn’t been the same for me since the Steroid scandal rocked it in the early 90s.  It also didn’t help that I was hopelessly naive about wrestling in general.  I can’t tell you how many arguments I got into about whether wrestling was real or not.  By the end of the 80s I accepted it for what it was: fantastic, athletic theatre.  But it was certainly much more exciting to believe it was real, that there wasn’t any show business going on.  (I should mention that I also believed in the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus up to age 12.  See what I mean about being hopelessly naive?)  I loved wrestling so much as a kid (it was an absolute passion of mine), but as we all learn in life, sometimes the strongest passions die, never to be reignited in quite the same way again.  Somewhere in the mid-to-late 90s, wrestling was over for me.  Now, I’m interested in its history, the behind-the-scenes stuff.  Expect more of that on here in the future.
Maybe the whole point of this Saturday Night Renaissance is to create new shows for a future DVD release.  During the Coliseum Video days, there were numerous best of SNME tapes.  It’s about time the company put out a complete DVD box set of every broadcast including all The Main Event prime time specials and any “dark matches” that took place off-camera during the SNME tapings.  They’ve done it with their Wrestlemania spectaculars.  Perhaps they’ll do it with SNME as well.
Check out wwe.com/shows/snme for information on Saturday’s Night Main Event’s upcoming return and for results from past shows.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, March 10, 2006
5:21 p.m.
Published in: on March 10, 2006 at 5:50 pm  Leave a Comment  

How Iraqis Relate To Shawshank

Has this happened to you?  Someone on Television espouses a point-of-view that is eerily similiar to your own.  If you had access to Larry King, maybe you would’ve got your thoughts out there first.  This happened to me a few years ago.
I had been catching parts of The Shawshank Redemption on Moviepix, a Canadian channel that showcases mainly older films.  It was presented in widescreen, something that, sadly, doesn’t happen often enough on TV.  I was always catching it either in the middle or close to the end and as I watched it on numerous occasions within the same week, something hit me.  There was a striking similiarity between the prisoners’ situation in the movie and what was taking place in Iraq.  So, I went to work on this piece.  It was sent to the New York Times Op-Ed page and as usual, their silence spoke volumes.
Later on, I showed it to my then-girlfriend who made some helpful corrections (small grammatical stuff) which, at first, because I’m anal, made me flip out.  Once I calmed down, I realized she improved the manuscript.  She loved it and was always supportive of my writing.  I’m trying to remember if I sent it in vain to The Hamilton Spectator or any other publication but I’m drawing a blank now.
Anyway, one night I was watching Bill Maher on Larry King Live and he, too, made the connection between the movie and the situation in Iraq.  I was stunned.  If the Times had published my piece, I’m certain he would’ve been quoting from my column.  That would’ve been the best, certainly a big boost for me.
Instead, I’m presenting the piece, as it was written in 2003, on my site.  Enjoy. 
By Dennis Earl

In The Shawshank Redemption, James Whitmore plays a long incarcerated murderer who finally gets paroled decades after his conviction. He moves into a small apartment and becomes a bag boy at a nearby grocery. But there’s a problem. He can’t cope living in the outside world. He’s been imprisoned for so long he can’t think for himself and adapt to his newfound freedom. His freedom ends up being short-lived. He hangs himself in his apartment.

I can’t help but feel the parallels between that character and the long-suffering Iraqi people in the real world. President Saddam Hussein is a lot like the warden played in the movie by Bob Gunton. He is unscrupulous and unrelenting in his actions. He loves power and proving to his people that he is firmly in charge.

In the movie, the warden is seen on the outside as an outstanding citizen while inside Shawshank Prison, he rules with an iron fist and is unanimously loathed. Only Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), an innocent accountant wrongly convicted of killing his wife’s lover, is aware of the warden’s biggest crime: cooking the books.

To anyone, like myself, who’s never had to be placed in a correctional facility, it would appear nonsensical for James Whitmore’s character to contemplate suicide after spending decades in a horribly enclosed hellhole. Why would anyone throw their life away after being freed? What we don’t realize is that being in prison, while terrible and soul-crushing, is very much a safe haven for directionless convicts. You get your 3 meals, your own bed, toilet, a chance to work (Whitmore’s character is a librarian) and even a period of outside recess every day you spend in the big house. In other words, it’s a routine that many prisoners adapt to very easily. You do the same things at the exact same times every single day. You don’t have to think and you don’t have to worry (except for potential harm from the guards or fellow prisoners). You merely follow the rules and you’re fine. Try to be a rebel (like Andy) and there’s trouble. Beatings, solitary confinement, humilation, psychological torture.

With Iraqis, it’s a similar situation. They’ve been held prisoner by Saddam since the early 1970s, even before he became their “official” leader. In the beginning, Saddam was benevolent, trying to make education a top priority, among other non-Islamic proposals. (Those who weren’t getting it or refused to were thrown in jail.) But inevitably, as the decade changed, so did Saddam’s tactics. The citizens were treated like the prisoners who stepped out of line in The Shawshank Redemption. There was rape, torture, murder, psychological mind games, the works.

Which brings us back to James Whitmore’s character in the movie. Once he leaves the harsh routine of prison life, he loses his grip on reality. It’s been so long since he’s actually had to take care of himself that he feels completely lost. It doesn’t help that he’s very old, has no friends in the outside world and is stuck with a demeaning job that would better suit a teenager. He had more respect as Shawshank’s librarian.

Morgan Freeman’s character, “Red”, the man who can get you things on the inside, goes through a similar ordeal when he is released near the end of the film. He starts to instantly relate to Whitmore’s dilemma after moving into his old friend’s apartment and taking over his job. Red has spent so much time in prison following orders that he frequently asks his boss at the grocery store permission to use the restroom. The boss tries to convince him that he doesn’t have to ask, he can just go whenever he needs to. But it’s difficult for Red. Like Whitmore, he’s used to the routine of prison life. It’s not easy to adapt to a less-hostile environment. It’s hard for us on the outside to relate to this, but you can’t just become a new, free-thinking, self-assured person after spending decades in excruciating confinement. After all these years, you get used to the routine no matter how unpleasant certain aspects of it might be. That’s why Red can’t relieve himself without a superior’s approval. Routine is the rhythm of life.

And this is the dilemma Iraqis will find themselves involved with once Gulf War 2 is over. After decades of living in an open prison, how easy will it be for them to throw away their traditions in favour of a free and democratic new beginning? As we know, Iraq is a tribal nation filled with Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis, all vying for control of the country. Saddam Hussein was well aware of this which is why he ruled with an iron fist. The chances of him being overthrown internally were extremely doubtful, also, thanks to his clever tactics. It is well known that he killed those who thought differently than him. Plus, he surrounded himself with an excellent army.

Transforming Iraq into a Western Arab State will be as difficult as any long-term prisoner adapting to his newfound freedom. The Iraqi people will not miss Saddam’s terrible methods of running his country, but they will miss the routine. When you’ve suffered as long as they have under his rule, it becomes oddly normal. The poverty, the hunger, the lack of human rights, the despair and, most importantly, the constant fear of Saddam’s wrath. Can these citizens truly embrace hope and a future of happiness and potential prosperity after a long period of devastation? In The Shawshank Redemption, Red resists the temptation to re-offend in order to be sent back to the familiar routine of prison life. Instead, he skips town and meets up with Andy to start a new life with a trusted ally. That’s something James Whitmore didn’t have when he was released. Will the Iraqis have the full support of the United States to start their new journey?

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, March 10, 2006
1:43 a.m.

Published in: on March 10, 2006 at 1:45 am  Leave a Comment  

Iggy Pop’s Lust For Life Album

In 2002, one of the most important albums of the 1970s turned 25.  That would be Lust For Life, which many consider to be Iggy Pop’s best solo album.  (In my view, American Caesar is the best.)  That year, thinking I had an interesting idea to go on, I wrote a 25th anniversary retrospective about the album and when it was done, I submitted it to The New York Times Op-Ed page.  Yep, they rejected it.  It has never been seen before.
I originally heard Lust For Life on CD in 1996.  A downtown record shop used to put out a cool, little newsletter every month and inside, there would be a music-related crossword puzzle.   It was a contest, actually.  All you had to do was get every answer right, submit your entry and hope an employee of the store would draw your name from a box presumably filled with completed crosswords.  Amazingly, that happened to me.  On my very first try.  I got a call saying I won a 20-dollar gift certificate.  So, I went down there, collected my prize, hemmed and hawed about what CD to buy and I noticed Lust For Life.  Unlike 90% of the stuff in this place, it was unused.  So, I snapped it up for $16.99 plus tax.  Incredibly, they wouldn’t give me the 46 cents in change.  Instead, the cashier filled out a tiny card saying I had 46 cents in store credit which was completely ridiculous.  Just give me the change and be done with it.  (I hung on to that stupid card for years and ended up throwing it out, unused.)
Looking at the manuscript I’ve made some slight changes but essentially, it’s the same piece from 4 years ago.  Much like the 25th anniversary tribute to Apocalypse Now that I posted not too long ago, I decided not to make it timeless.  Also, it’s probably a lot shorter than it should be, (I could spend a lot more time documenting Iggy’s contributions to music.) but I really wanted the New York Times to publish it.
More Iggy Pop entries are on the way.
The 25th Anniversary that shouldn’t be overlooked
By Dennis Earl

The great Lester Bangs once wrote, “Iggy Pop is a damn fool.” It was a compliment to a performer who was more than willing to do outlandish things in order to draw attention to himself and his music.

One of Iggy’s finest recorded moments of foolishness was his 1977 album, Lust For Life. It’s hard to believe but the record is 25 years old now. And it has aged very well.

The album is best known for 2 singles that have only recently become rock staples because of their frequent appearances in movies and TV commercials: Lust For Life and The Passenger. The Passenger was inspired by a Jim Morrison poem about travelling the world by car. Iggy worshipped The Doors and came thisclose to becoming their new singer in the early 70s after Morrison’s demise. But his drug habits and general recklessness put a quick end to that dream.

The hyperkinetic tribal soundtrack of Lust For Life got its inspiration from, of all things, a TV news theme. When Iggy and his good friend, David Bowie, were living in Berlin, the only English-speaking TV channel they could watch was the American Forces Network. All the other channels were exclusively German. Bowie, who wrote the memorable music to Lust For Life, liked the theme to AFN’s evening newscast. It was the starting point for the creation of one of the greatest rock and roll songs ever.

Lust For Life was never a hit in North America when it first came out. It wasn’t until 1996, some 19 years later, when it was immortalized in the opening sequence of the movie Trainspotting, that the song found a mass audience. (11 years earlier, the song was heard in an inconsequential scene in the 1985 comedy, Desperately Seeking Susan.)

From that point on, Iggy licensed the song for TV commercials. A lot of commercials. The song’s been heard in ads for beer, cruise ships, cars, and many other products. And now, it’s a staple of rock radio, both classic and alternative.

The album itself is not as great as that one song but it is one of Iggy’s most consistently listenable albums. Quickly recorded during the course of a fortnight in September 1977, the 9-track record (issued on CD in 1990) is an entertaining, sing-along bundle of contradictions.

On the opening title track, Iggy declares, “I’m through with sleeping on the sidewalk/no more beating my brains/with liquor and drugs.” 2 songs later, on Some Weird Sin, he’s changed his tune. “Things get too straight, I can’t bare it/I feel stuck, stuck on a pin….the sight of it all makes me sad and ill/that’s when I want/some weird sin.”

He’s “been hurtin’ since” he “bought the gimmick of something called love” in the title track and yet, that never stops him from his serial lusting. “I go crazy for your leather boots,” he practically cries on Sixteen. “Come to my waiting arms,” he softly coos to another potential young lover on the marvellous closer, Fall In Love With Me.

When I first heard the album 5 years ago, I felt there were slightly more good songs than bad. Now, I feel differently. Songs like Success, a sarcastic goof on potential superstardom, and Neighbourhood Threat, a simultaneous rant against the snobby rich and guarded fascination with the terminally downtrodden, have grown on me. What I missed before were the clever arrangements, particularly on Neighbourhood Threat where the cluttered, hooky arrangement emphasizes the weirdness of the sad soul in the song. I like how the song makes me feel. And I can’t describe it.

I hope I’m not making the album sound like a downer because it really isn’t. In fact, despite its heavy subject matter it’s a lot more fun than you’d expect. It easily outshines most of the crap being released these days.

Iggy Pop is a true student of rock and roll. And while he clearly added his own weird sensibilities to the legacy of this music, it’s still rock and roll. And it’s solid stuff.

Lust For Life, 25 years after its release, deserves to be celebrated.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, March 9, 2006
7:18 p.m.

Published in: on March 9, 2006 at 7:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

It’s Not Love, It’s Respect

Now that the Oscar hoopla has died down, it’s time to go back into the archives for today’s entry.  This is yet another rejected piece that has never been seen before.  Here’s the story behind it.
From time to time, I had been submitting (in vain, I might add) pieces for the New York Times Op-Ed page.  Because every single one was turned away, I decided to employ a different strategy.  Figuring every one of them was too long, I tried something shorter.  This piece you’re about to read, called It’s Not Love, It’s Respect, is well under 500 words.  I like it.  I think I make a good argument here, but, once again, no dice.  The Times never responded to the submission and it’s been waiting patiently on my hard drive for its release ever since.
This is from last year and was written rather quickly which is always a great thing for a writer, like myself, who obsessively hems and haws over every line, word and syllable I type on the screen.   It’s self-explanatory and here it is:
By Dennis Earl

Samuel L. Jackson might be the only actor who gets it. Thanks to his tremendous success in the movie business, he has a famous face and gets approached quite a bit by his fans. In between having to recite the Ezekiel speech from Pulp Fiction and being mistaken for fellow thespian Laurence Fishburne, he is told time and time again that he is well loved by these devoted fans. It is at that point that he corrects them by saying, “You don’t love me, you love my work.”

And he should be commended for saying that because he’s absolutely right.

One of the biggest reasons actors and other creative types lose their way is because they mistake respect from the audience for love. And when they’re associated with something stinky or artistically pungent, shall we say, and the audience despises their work within that project, there is an undeniable sense of rejection. It’s not just a stain on a performer’s career, it’s a personal affront. And that’s silly. If these people weren’t in the entertainment business, no one would give them a first thought, let alone a second one. We’re not rejecting their humanity, we’re rejecting their artistry.

Ever notice during an awards show on Television how some fool from the audience always lets out an “I love you” to the famous person on stage and how that same famous person always says, “I love you, too” right back to them? I’ve never understood that. When the celebrity uses those exact words – I love you, too – it further encourages these crazy fans to express their appreciation for good work the wrong way. Like Mr. Jackson says, it’s not love, it’s respect.

The “relationship” between the fan and the celebrity is like the “relationship” between a salesman and his/her customer. It’s never about the love, it’s all about paying for someone’s talent. That’s it. Nothing more.

If these weren’t creative people who birthed something that made you dance, laugh, cry or sing along, you wouldn’t waste so much valuable time falling in love with them and saying silly things to them in person. Or even worse, putting it in writing in much greater detail and sending it to them. And celebrities know more than anyone how delusional those superfans can get. (Can you say, “stalker”? I knew you could.)

Mr. Jackson has a great quote along these lines. Let me share it with you:

“I’m actually very ordinary, except people get to pay their money to come watch me work. The same way that we go to McDonald’s…we don’t care about the guy behind the counter, but if he was doing something special, we’d pay our money to go watch him cook that hamburger.”


Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, March 8, 2006
7:06 p.m.

Published in: on March 8, 2006 at 7:07 pm  Leave a Comment  

Winning The Oscar Pool And Eating A Little Humble Pie

I gotta give Roger Ebert his due. He called it right and I called it wrong. He said Crash would win because it affected Academy members much more deeply than Brokeback Mountain, which he felt had lost momentum heading into tonight’s broadcast. I countered that argument on here, shortly after he made his predictions, that there was no way he could be right. There was no way a film that made less money, won fewer awards, and was not constantly in the public eye (due to numerous parodies) could break through all that success and publicity and steal the big prize. Roger got this one absolutely right and he deserves credit for it. It reminds me of the time he correctly predicted that Shakespeare In Love would beat Saving Private Ryan for Best Picture in 1999. That year, I listened to him. It didn’t matter, though. I obliterated the competition that year and won my 3rd pool. I should’ve paid attention to him this year, even though, again, siding with him wouldn’t have mattered. I won my 7th family pool by getting 16 out of 24 right, the second highest total for me since my 17/24 victory back in 1998, the year Titanic was the dominant winner. (My dad still has the most impressive record: most correct guesses in a single year. That happened in 2004 when he got 19/24 right thanks to the The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King sweep.)

However, Roger Ebert was wrong about Best Supporting Actress, as was I. The favourite in the category, the lovely Rachel Weisz, who’s on the verge of childbirth, took the prize. It makes you feel so silly when you go to bat for an underdog thinking you’ve made a strong case for them and that you’re going to be rewarded for making an off-beat prediction only to find later that they had no chance in hell of taking it. Oh well.

There was another stunning surprise: the Best Song category. It’s Hard Out For Here For A Pimp from Hustle & Flow pulled an upset over Dolly Parton who my mom thought looked very thin tonight. (I have to agree. That’s the thinnest she’s ever looked.) She made a remark that if she had worn a loose-fitting dress, she might’ve been able to conceal her apparent weight loss. It also didn’t help that she absolutely butchered her nominated song. No wonder it didn’t win. (I didn’t like the live performance of It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp either – did I hear "witches" and "ship" instead of the real words? – but I did like that song from Crash. It helped that the woman who sang it, Kathleen Bird York, is pretty foxy.)

Speaking of that Pimp song, host Jon Stewart (who I thought was funny tonight), put it all into perspective when he said that Martin Scorsese has zero Oscars and Three 6 Mafia, the group that wrote and performed the song, have one. Apparently, one of them cursed during their acceptance speech because the sound cut out as they were talking, one of the many reasons people have stopped tuning into awards shows.

Other than that, it was a fairly predictable night. The complete list of winners is at the bottom of this entry.

There are two things that always bug me about the Oscars. One, the fact that people applaud rather inappropriately during the In Memoriam section (Bill Maher pointed this out in 2000 on an after-Oscars edition of Politically Incorrect, and having not noticed or cared that much before, I think he made a damn good point which has stayed with me) and that Oscar winners are frequently cut off during their acceptance speeches.

I don’t care how long-winded or boring they are, let them thank all the people they need to thank who, let’s be real here, appreciate being thanked. They’ve waited their whole life for this moment, they deserve it and we should be respectful and let them do their thing and not rudely play them off. And what was the deal with the music playing during the speeches? No wonder some people had trouble talking. That stupid orchestra wouldn’t shut up. It’s hard to think when you’re nervous, let alone when you’re distracted.

As for the In Memoriam segment, it’s disappointing that, even in death (as Bill Maher said back in 2000), some people are more loved than others. As the list of names and photos fly by, the more loved the person the louder the applause. Either applaud once at the end or don’t applaud at all.

On a lighter note, the funniest moments of the show weren’t Jon Stewart’s one-liners (although he did make me laugh a lot). The best bits were all pre-taped. The fake attack ads for Best Actress and Best Sound were funny. The Tom Hanks bit was funny.  (Live presenters Ben Stiller, Will Farrell and Steve Carell killed as well.)  But the most hilarious bit was the one near the beginning of the show where past Oscar hosts pop up to turn down the gig, thereby handing the reins, defacto-style, to Jon Stewart. (Is there any chance Steve Martin can host again?)

No one film dominated this year. 4 films all won 3 Oscars: Crash, Brokeback Mountain, Memoirs Of A Geisha and King Kong, a film some thought should’ve been up for Best Picture and possibly even more prizes. Crash and Brokeback Mountain lost all the acting awards while Geisha and Kong dominated the technical categories.  I wonder how many past Best Picture winners have also struck out in the acting categories. 

As for the speeches, the standouts were Reese Witherspoon, who despite sounding at times like Sally Field and Paula Abdul, still gave a sweet and heartfelt speech that I had been looking forward to since picking her to win Best Actress; Philip Seymour Hoffman, who paid tribute to his mom, who sounds like a remarkable woman the way he was describing her; Gavin Hood, who was one of the few genuinely excited winners tonight, for his film, Tsotsi, which won Best Foreign Language Film and Robert Altman, the winner of an honourary Oscar, who mentioned that he has the heart of a thirty-something woman beating within his chest and as a result, he may have some 40 years of living yet to come. (He received a heart transplant a decade ago which I hadn’t known about ’til tonight.)  Also worth mentioning:  Lily Tomlin and Meryl Streep’s fitting introduction to Altman which felt incredibly spontaneous even though it was probably very well thought out before-hand.  It was funny, energetic and, dare I say, Altmanesque. 























BEST ORIGINAL SONG – It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp (HUSTLE & FLOW)





Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, March 6, 2006
1:36 a.m.

Published in: on March 6, 2006 at 2:24 am  Leave a Comment