Farewell To The Centre Mall Cinemas

This is a tribute to a multiplex.  For much of my life, I have watched movies.  I’ve tried to dissect them, to understand them, to enjoy them, to appreciate them, to think of ways of making them better.  It is a lifelong love affair. 

Today, I screen most movies on DVD.  Back when I was a teenager looking for something to replace the void that professional wrestling left behind (I’m not kidding about that), I was an avid moviegoer.  Back then, I rented tapes occasionally and went to the theatre, with some exceptions, every week, mostly alone, sometimes with pals.  Now, I almost never go to the movies, I occasionally rent DVDs but mostly borrow DVDs from the public library.  (They have a much bigger selection than your local video store.)

In 2001 it was announced that the Centre Mall Cinemas, a place I frequented so often it became my second home, shut down its doors for good.  During my teen years I screened more movies here than in any other cinema.  When the announcement was made that fall I was flooded with nostalgia.  I thought it would be a good idea to write a loving eulogy to the place and submit it to the Forum page of The Hamilton Spectator.  Sadly, it was never published. 

I had written 3 drafts, the final of which is presented here for the first time.  I have so many memories of that time in my life that I couldn’t fit them all into this piece.  Not mentioned in the article:  the time I was hit on and picked up by a couple of teenage girls while waiting to screen the second Mannequin movie only to have them ditch me and move on to other guys in the theatre (they were annoying the hell out of the usher working that night and if memory serves, they may have gotten kicked out before the movie began); being kicked out of Bad Moon, a little-seen 1996 horror movie I tried to sneak in and see, even though I was the only one in the theatre (no one paid to see it that night); being thanked by a nice older guy in the bathroom after I recommended he see Primal Fear which he and his wife enjoyed.

After the Centre Mall Cinemas closed, the location was renovated into a bingo hall which closed some time last year.  The building was demolished earlier in 2006 and rumours are running rampant about what’s going to happen to the space.  No one knows for sure.  When it gets rebuilt in the near future, it will either be some kind of discount grocery outlet or an expansion of the longstanding Canadian Tire.  Whatever happens, it won’t replace the many memories I have of the multiplex that once thrived in that very spot.

FAREWELL TO THE CENTRE MALL CINEMAS
By Dennis Earl

When I heard the news for the first time, I wasn’t exactly surprised. In fact, looking back, I’m amazed it took so long to get official confirmation. The Centre Mall Cinemas are no more. It screened its last batch of films on the last Sunday in October 2001. The location has since been renovated into a bingo hall. How sad.

All my life, I’ve been a movie fan, but never more so than in the last 12 years. As I became a teenager, little did I know that I would be going to the movies far more often than I did as a young child. Although my parents took me to see all the family films and the big blockbusters like the Star Wars sequels and Raiders Of The Lost Ark, that didn’t amount to many trips to the theatre.

By the 1990s, the mulitplex was king and sure enough, because of its close proximity to me, I made many a trip to the Centre Mall Cinemas.

From its opening on Barton Street in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada in January 1969 to May 1986, there were only 2 cinemas there, Cinema West and Cinema East, each 700 seaters. My parents took me to see The Jazz Singer there in 1980. I was 5 at the time. I remember before the film started I was scolding a fat kid for eating popcorn. I was allergic to it and of course, was jealous of anyone who could digest that crap. “Mommy! Do you see what he’s eating? Junk food!” I scolded over and over again until my folks told me to pipe down.

Then, they added 6 more theatres in the spring of 1986, which were, naturally, much smaller. It was a great way to bring in more business by offering 8 titles instead of 2, sometimes even more than that. I saw The Karate Kid, Part II twice that year. And throughout the remainder of the decade, I would also see films like The Princess Bride, The Abyss and Great Balls Of Fire among others.

When Cineplex Odeon announced that it was being sold to the Onyx Corporation and would be filing for bankruptcy protection resulting in the closing of some of their theatres, I figured the Centre Mall Cinemas would be on its way out. And sure enough, in the fall of 2001, it was announced that its lease wouldn’t be renewed. It’s a shame, really. I have so many memories of that place. I’ve seen movies in all 8 cinemas hundreds of times, with friends, family and even by myself, most of which I screened in the 1990s when I was writing movie reviews for Delta Secondary’s newspaper, the Omnia, and newsletter, the Om-Lette, and later on for The Satellite, Mohawk College’s weekly publication.

I remember the time the fire alarm went off during an afternoon screening of The Super (1991). The Joe Pesci comedy wasn’t working for me when all of a sudden a loud ding ding ding went off. The usher quickly came down the aisle and told us to wait by the exit down at the left hand corner of theatre 7. The movie kept playing for a few more minutes until the projectionist stopped it.

I remember it was raining that day. Someone opened the door and we waited until the usher came back and gave us further instructions. When he did, he told us to have our tickets ready to re-enter the theatre in order to see the rest of the movie. Most people left for good. They hated the movie that much. When I went around to the front entrance, I dug my crumbled ticket out of my shoe, (because my psychedelic fishbone shorts had no pockets) showed it to the usher and was back inside. (I only kept it in my shoe when I wore shorts with no pockets or I was planning to see a different movie. Wink wink.)

In the end the fire was minor at best. Some popcorn mishap. No real damage at all. And the rest of The Super was no better than the earlier scenes.

I remember a fight broke out during a screening of Priest (1995). All of a sudden, the entire first row got up, most of them trying to break up a loud, verbal disagreement between 2 guys who were starting to throw punches at each other. An usher came down and escorted the entire row out of the building. Someone yelled, “Shut up! I’m trying to watch the movie!” The rest of the screening went off without further disruption. I’m glad because the movie was one of 95’s best.

I used to sneak into R rated films long before I was 18.

In the summer of 1990, I was only 15 but I wanted to see Die Hard 2 in the worst way. I saw the first one on video numerous times and couldn’t wait to see the sequel on the big screen. I went down to the mall on an afternoon in July. My plan was to pay for Ghost Dad, the Bill Cosby comedy which I had already seen, put up with that for a half hour (since it started 30 minutes before Die Hard 2 began) and then sneak in without being seen and watch the movie I wanted to see in the first place. My plan worked seamlessly until the 90 minute mark of the movie when the usher spotted me.

He came in the wrong side. He entered from the right, I was seated on the left. As he noticed me and made his way around, I moved past a guy who was sitting in my row so I would be on the right while the usher entered the opposite side. I was hoping to do this until he got frustrated but the guy in my row got fed up and told me to face the music. The usher returned me to Ghost Dad which was just starting up again in theatre 2. Oh joy. When he left, I waited a few minutes before returning to good ol’ theatre 3 to watch the rest of the movie. Just as they were about to land some of the planes at Dulles Airport, after John McClane wiped out the terrorists, the usher returned and I left the theatre and went on home. I loved the movie. It went on my top 10 list that year, the first such list I ever made.

A month before my 18th birthday, after I saw the very funny Hot Shots: Part Deux, I bumped into 3 friends from high school who were waiting in line to see Cliffhanger in theatre 7. I was planning to see Sidekicks next with Chuck Norris when they asked me to join them. I was worried I would get caught. But they reassured me that the usher wouldn’t even check. Sure enough, he didn’t. The Centre Mall ushers were notorious for rarely checking tickets. I rarely got caught. But early on in the movie, I was freaked.

During the opening sequence where Sylvester Stallone tries to rescue a woman mountain climber, the sound mysteriously disappeared and the lights came on. Oh God, I thought. They know I’m not 18! Thankfully, I was mistaken. The usher came down and told one of the patrons they had a phone call. I remember when he finished talking another audience member asked in a loud voice, “Could you please rewind the movie?” His request went unheard. The lights went down again, the sound was restored and there were no further interruptions.

The Centre Mall Cinemas were my life from 1990 to early 1997. I saw almost everything that was there from Back To The Future Part III to Star Wars: Special Edition. I snuck into R-rated movies, PG movies, AA (Adult Accompaniment, the Canadian equivalent of the American PG-13) movies and even family films. I rarely got caught. I always felt their admission prices were way too high for a teenager, even when they briefly offered a 6 dollar youth rate, and so after seeing one film, the one I paid for, I would see something else. In between screenings, I would hide in a stall in the bathroom (not the most pleasant place to hang out) until the second film was almost ready to begin. I saw a lot of double features that way. It was great.

Also, there was this unwritten policy that said that if you were 14 you had to pay adult admission which for a while was 7.50 then became 8 dollars and eventually, an absurd 8.50, before going down to 6.99. (Matinee admissions were slightly cheaper, usually between 4 and 5 dollars.) My buddies and I always tried to pay the child’s rate of 4 dollars. By the time my voice changed at age 15, I only had a few more months left before they caught on to me and charged me the right admission.

During the 90s, I remember the busiest nights of the place were Tuesday nights (Half Price Tuesdays, now just a discounted night), Friday nights (when new movies opened), and most especially Saturday and Sunday evenings. In 1990, they had routinely sold out showings of Dances With Wolves which played from November that year to either the spring or summer of 1991. Matinees were packed for Home Alone that year, also. Every once in a while, a movie would play there for ages like The Silence Of The Lambs, the above mentioned blockbusters, Titanic, the Special Editions of the Star Wars Trilogy or more recently Traffic, Cast Away and American Pie 2. But during my final trips there, I noticed that attendance had been down, WAY down. When I went to see Hannibal on a cold Saturday afternoon in February 2001, there were maybe 50 to 70 people there. This was opening weekend. This is a movie that made 200 million dollars in North American cinemas. And yet, in good ol’ theatre 7, one of the two original 700 seat auditoriums, most seats were empty.

So, what happened? Why did it close down? Why wasn’t it renovated more extensively? I noticed some of the screens in the smaller theatres were showing their age. There were very noticeable holes, something I never saw a decade earlier. The floors were extremely sticky from all the spilt pop, chewed gum and god knows what else that landed on them throughout the decades. Ripped chairs, the old purple grey designs, this place never aged in its last 15 years.

Well, the real problem is what they exhibited and what they didn’t. For much of the 90s, Cineplex Odeon and Famous Players did something smart. They divided up which movies they would screen by choosing distributors. Famous Players only played movies released by Paramount, MGM, United Artists, C/FP Distribution (Canadian indie), Warner Bros., Tri-Star, and Disney (which included Touchstone and Hollywood Pictures).

Cineplex Odeon exhibited films from The Samuel Goldwyn Company, Savoy (now defunct), Gramercy, Malo, Miramax, Universal, 20th Century Fox, Columbia, Sony Picture Classics, and of course, Cineplex Odeon Films. Occasionally, a movie that just left a Famous Players theatre would briefly play at an Odeon multiplex. For example, in 1990, I remember Pretty Woman and Days Of Thunder played at the Centre Mall after being exhibited at Famous Players theatres. In 1991, What About Bob? came to the Mall after a good run at Jackson Square, the 6-screen downtown multiplex. Addams Family Values and The Three Musketeers went through a similar routine in the fall of 1993. But this was rare.

Sometime in 1997 or 1998, the rules changed. Movies that would play on Odeon screens could also be played on Famous Players screens at the same time. And as a result, the number of titles coming into Hamilton theatres were dropping. The Centre Mall was once very good at getting some of the important, smaller films like Hearts Of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, the 1991 documentary about the making of Apocalypse Now, The Grifters (1990), Wild At Heart (1990), Homicide (1991), a David Mamet film featuring a then-unknown William H. Macy and countless others. When 2000 came around, I was looking forward to seeing new documentaries like Beyond The Mat and The Filth And The Fury. They never came here. Almost Famous played at the newer Upper James cinemas on Hamilton Mountain, but not the Centre Mall. And there are many other examples too numerous to mention here.

When Cineplex needlessly expanded in the late 90s, it was inevitable that this plan would backfire big time. Odeon and Famous Players were not offering many alternatives. As far as Hamilton is concerned, without the Broadway Cinema, a downtown repertory theatre which closed in the summer of 1998, there is no independent cinema around to exhibit the smaller films that the big chains refuse to exhibit locally.

Theatre closings are becoming freakishly common here. We’ve lost the discounted 4-screen Lime Ridge Mall cinemas, another Hamilton Mountain multiplex. The aforementioned art house, Broadway, plus Fiesta Mall in nearby Stoney Creek, Ontario in 2000. (This doesn’t include all the old 1-screen theatres that have all but disappeared throughout the last 2 decades. Most of these abandoned buildings were renovated into carpet stores, night clubs, even live theatre venues.) I’ve been to all those places and I miss them all. All we have left are Jackson Square, the remaining Burlington, Ontario cinemas, Silvercity in Ancaster, Ontario (an over-priced, big ass multiplex) and the Westdale theatre in Westdale, Ontario, currently the oldest and sole single screen auditorium in my area.

I will miss the Centre Mall Cinemas more because I was there more often than at any other cinema. It was within walking distance from my house. I never had to pay 4 dollars in bus fare to get there and back. On a hot day, I could get cool there. On a cold day, I always found warmth. And I could see late shows and run home in a flash. No problem. And the movies. God, I saw so many great movies there. Schindler’s List, A River Runs Through It, American Beauty, Mr. Saturday Night, Die Hard 2, Awakenings, Trainspotting, Jurassic Park, and countless others. I also saw horrible films like Weekend At Bernie’s 2, Car 54 Where Are You? and many more I’ve since forgotten.

Much of my teenage life was spent in that place. I developed opinions there, a sense of taste, and a true appreciation for film. Those experiences have shaped me, given me hope and plenty of time to dream. It’s too bad. Things were going so well for that place. Then, Cineplex got greedy.

So long, Centre Mall Cinemas. You will be missed.

 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, April 30, 2006
8:24 p.m.
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Published in: on April 30, 2006 at 8:29 pm  Comments (4)  

6 CFNY Year-End Countdowns (1994-1996 and 1998-2000)

Last summer I stumbled upon a very good site called SpiritOfRadio.ca.  It’s an unofficial tribute to a very important radio station in Canada.  Broadcasting on FM 102.1 in the Southern Ontario area, CFNY was one of the first truly maverick stations in the country.  It found its footing in the late 70s and early 80s when it mostly played cutting edge or alternative music.  If you loved Elvis Costello, Iggy Pop and Gang Of Four, to name but 3 examples, CFNY was likely the only station that played their music.   (Check out the site for more information.  It’s loaded with lists, testimonials, history and even a chatroom.)
On July 1st, 2005, the first day I looked at the site, I noticed that it was missing some year-end countdown lists, mainly from the 1990s.  Instantly, I headed for the closet.
For several years I would get up before 9 a.m. on either New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day to follow CFNY’s annual album countdowns.  After forgetting about tuning into the 1993 year-end countdown I made it a point to not miss any of the others.  As a result, I have complete charts from 1994 to 2000.  (In 2001, CFNY went back to doing a year-end singles countdown and I lost interest.  Here’s hoping that, in the future, they go back to counting down the albums of the year rather than just individual songs.)
I rooted around my closet and found several countdown charts that I had written down.  I decided to fire off an email.  I expressed appreciation for the site, offered some corrections for their existing lists and painstakingly listed all the entries for 6 year-end countdowns covering the years 1994-1996 and 1998-2000.  (On their site, they ask for completed charts that are missing from the Charts and Lists section.)
I never heard back and never wrote back.  The charts I emailed were never posted – neither were the corrections I sent – and I felt like a total dick because I had spent an hour or two typing up those damn charts, all for nothing.
It’s been nearly a year, I’m tired of waiting and I’ve decided on a different course of action.  I am presenting 6 missing countdowns that you won’t find anywhere else on the Internet.  Presented in chronological order, these are the top 102 CDs of 1994, 1995, 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000, according to the CFNY listeners who voted for them.  Normally, something like this would be found under Lists, a section of my website that remains blank because I still have no idea what to do with it.  Unfortunately, you can only do 100 items per list and as you’ll see, each list has 102 entries.  That’s why they’re here.
Here’s hoping this will lead to these charts finally being added to spiritofradio.ca, which is where they belong.
1994
    1. Nine Inch Nails – The Downward Spiral
2. Green Day – Dookie
3. Nirvana – MTV Unplugged In New York
4. Hole – Live Through This
5. Stone Temple Pilots – Purple
6. R.E.M. – Monster
7. The Tragically Hip – Day For Night
8. Beastie Boys – Ill Communication
9. Blur – Parklife
10. Soundgarden – Superunknown
11. The Cranberries – No Need To Argue
12. Weezer – Weezer
13. The Offspring – Smash
14. Pearl Jam – Vitalogy
15. Smashing Pumpkins – Pisces Iscariot
16. Sloan – Twice Removed
17. Tori Amos – Under The Pink
18. Suede – Dog Man Star
19. Sarah McLachlan – Fumbling Towards Ecstasy
20. V/A – The Crow Soundtrack
21. Beck – Mellow Gold
22. Pop Will Eat Itself – Dos Dedos Mis Amigos
23. The Stone Roses – Second Coming
24. Moist – Silver
25. Veruca Salt – American Thighs
26. Oasis – Definitely Maybe
27. Morrissey – Vauxhall & I
28. James – Laid
29. Liz Phair – Whip-Smart
30. Alice In Chains – Jar Of Flies EP
31. Live – Throwing Copper
32. Sonic Youth – Experimental Jet Set, Trash & No Star
33. Our Lady Peace – Naveed
34. Sugar – File Under: Easy Listening
35. The Gandharvas – A Soap Bubble And Inertia
36. Crowded House – Together Alone
37. Bad Religion – Stranger Than Fiction
38. The Charlatans U.K. – Up To Our Hips
39. The Watchmen – In The Trees
40. V/A – Natural Born Killers Soundtrack
41. Killing Joke – Pandemonium
42. Cracker – Kerosene Hat
43. The Rheostatics – Introducing Happiness
44. The Jesus & Mary Chain – Stoned & Dethroned
45. The Lowest Of The Low – Hallucigenia
46. Crash Test Dummies – God Shuffled His Feet
47. Frente! – Marvin The Album
48. Bjork – Debut
49. 54-40 – Smilin’ Buddha Cabaret
50. V/A – Pulp Fiction Soundtrack
51. Therapy? – Troublegum
52. Luscious Jackson – Natural Ingredients
53. Love Spit Love – Love Spit Love
54. hHead – Jerk
55. Violent Femmes – New Times
56. Erasure – I Say, I Say, I Say
57. Toad The Wet Sprocket – Dulcinea
58. The Killjoys – Starry
59. Ween – Chocolate And Cheese
60. V/A – If I Were A Carpenter
61. Dada – American Highway Flower
62. King Cobb Steelie – Project Twinkle
63. Frank Black – Teenager Of The Year
64. Dinosaur Jr. – Without A Sound
65. Sinead O’Connor – Universal Mother
66. Inspiral Carpets – Devilhopping
67. Lush – Split
68. Treble Charger – NC-17
69. Pulp – His & Hers
70. Velocity Girl – Simpatico
71. Pure – Generation 6-Pack
72. Pavement – “Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain”
73. Elvis Costello – Brutal Youth
74. James – Wah Wah
75. Peter Gabriel – Secret World Live
76. They Might Be Giants – John Henry
77. Barenaked Ladies – Maybe You Should Drive
78. Rymes With Orange – Trapped In The Machine
79. Bryan Ferry – Mamouna
80. Meat Puppets – Too High To Die
81. Spirit Of The West – Faithlift
82. Cause & Effect – Trip
83. Kristen Hersh – Hips & Makers
84. Helmet – Betty
85. V/A – Melrose Place Soundtrack
86. V/A – Kiss My Ass
87. Sara Craig – Sweet Exhaust
88. Furnaceface – This Will Make You Happy
89. Portishead – Dummy
90. V/A – 1994 CFNY New Music Search
91. Rollins Band – Weight
92. Jale – Dreamcake
93. Possum Dixon – Possum Dixon
94. Adorable – Fake
95. Arrive – Carnival Of Life
96. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Let Love In
97. Eugenius – Mary Queen Of Scots
98. Jah Wobble’s Invaders Of The Heart – Take Me To God
99. MC 900 Ft. Jesus – One Step Ahead Of The Spider
100. Cowboy Junkies – Pale Sun, Crescent Moon
101. Grant Lee Buffalo – Mighty Joe Moon
102. L7 – Hungry For Stink

1995
1. Smashing Pumpkins – Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness
2. The Tragically Hip – Day For Night
3. Pearl Jam – Vitalogy
4. Green Day – Insomniac
5. Red Hot Chili Peppers – One Hot Minute
6. Foo Fighters – Foo Fighters
7. Bush X – Sixteen Stone
8. R.E.M. – Monster
9. Silverchair – Frogstomp
10. Oasis – (What’s The Story) Morning Glory
11. Live – Throwing Copper
12. Collective Soul – Collective Soul
13. Alanis Morissette – Jagged Little Pill
14. The Presidents Of The United States Of America – S/T
15. Radiohead – The Bends
16. Soul Asylum – Let Your Dim Light Shine
17. The Tea Party – The Edges Of Twilight
18. Goo Goo Dolls – A Boy Named Goo
19. Catherine Wheel – Happy Days
20. Elastica – Elastica
21. Lenny Kravitz – Circus
22. Better Than Ezra – Deluxe
23. Blur – The Great Escape
24. Joan Osborne – Relish
25. Filter – Short Bus
26. Our Lady Peace – Naveed
27. Portishead – Dummy
28. The Cranberries – No Need To Argue
29. Matthew Sweet – 100% Fun
30. Alice In Chains – Alice In Chains
31. Rusty – Fluke
32. The Stone Roses – Second Coming
33. David Bowie – Outside
34. Primus – Tales From The Punchbowl
35. White Zombie – Astro Creep 2000…
36. Garbage – Garbage
37. Mad Season – Above
38. Blind Melon – Soup
39. Hum – You’d Prefer An Astronaut
40. Rancid – …And Out Come The Wolves
41. Edwyn Collins – Gorgeous George
42. V/A – Batman Forever Soundtrack
43. Natalie Merchant – Tigerlily
44. The Rentals – Return Of The Rentals
45. KMFDM – Nihil
46. Smoking Popes – Born To Quit
47. Throwing Muses – University
48. Odds – Good Weird Feeling
49. Tripping Daisy – I Am An Elastic Firecracker
50. Seven Mary Three – American Standard
51. Toadies – Rubberneck
52. Ned’s Atomic Dustbin – Brainbloodvolume
53. Monster Magnet – Dopes To Infinity
54. V/A – Testimonial Dinner: The Songs Of XTC
55. The Charlatans U.K. – The Charlatans U.K.
56. Spirit Of The West – Two-Headed
57. PJ Harvey – To Bring You My Love
58. Simple Minds – Good News From The Next World
59. Passengers – Original Soundtracks 1
60. Change Of Heart – Tummysuckle
61. Pearl Jam – Merkinball EP
62. Juliana Hatfield – Only Everything
63. Lisa Loeb & Nine Stories – Tails
64. The Skydiggers – Road Radio
65. Sandbox – Bionic
66. Adam Ant – Wonderful
67. Siouxsie & The Banshees – The Rapture
68. Glueleg – Heroic Doses
69. Bjork – Post
70. Econoline Crush – Affliction
71. The The – Hanky Panky
72. Dandelion – Dyslexicon
73. Heather Nova – Oyster
74. 1000 Mona Lisas – The EP
75. Meat Puppets – No Joke!
76. Ramones – Adios Amigos!
77. Menswear – Nuisance
78. Sponge – Rotting Pinata
79. Black Grape – It’s Great When You’re Straight…Yeah!
80. The Wolfgang Press – Funky Little Demons
81. V/A – Angus Soundtrack
82. Electrafixion – Burned
83. Letters To Cleo – Wholesale Meats And Fish
84. Urge Overkill – Exit The Dragon
85. Morrissey – Southpaw Grammar
86. V/A – 1995 CFNY New Music Search
87. Everclear – Sparkle And Fade
88. Buffalo Tom – Sleepy-Eyed
89. Rev. – If The Colour Hurts
90. V/A – Kids Soundtrack
91. 13 Engines – Conquistador
92. Mike Watt – Ball-Hog Or Tugboat?
93. Hayden – Everything I Long For
94. The Innocence Mission – Glow
95. Peter Murphy – Cascade
96. The Amps – Pacer
97. V/A – Judge Dredd Soundtrack
98. Crash Vegas – Aurora
99. Sleeper – Smart
100. The Super Friendz – Mock Up/Scale Down
101. Belly – King
102. Delerium – Semantic Spaces

1996
1. Smashing Pumpkins – Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness
2. Oasis – (What’s The Story) Morning Glory
3. Soundgarden – Down On The Upside
4. The Tragically Hip – Trouble At The Henhouse
5. Pearl Jam – No Code
6. Garbage – Garbage
7. Bush X – Razorblade Suitcase
8. R.E.M. – New Adventures In Hi-Fi
9. Stone Temple Pilots – Tiny Music…Songs From The Vatican Gift Shop
10. Nirvana – From The Muddy Banks Of The Wishkah
11. Marilyn Manson – Antichrist Superstar
12. Alice In Chains – Unplugged
13. Moist – Creature
14. Tracy Bonham – The Burdens Of Being Upright
15. I Mother Earth – Scenery & Fish
16. Foo Fighters – Foo Fighters
17. Radiohead – The Bends
18. Primitive Radio Gods – Rocket
19. Fun Lovin’ Criminals – Come Find Yourself
20. Smashing Pumpkins – The Aeroplane Flies High (Box Set)
21. Sheryl Crow – Sheryl Crow
22. Sloan – One Chord To Another
23. Rage Against The Machine – Evil Empire
24. Beck – Odelay
25. Marilyn Manson – Smells Like Children
26. Ashley MacIssac – Hi, How Are You Today
27. Red Hot Chili Peppers – One Hot Minute
28. Counting Crows – Recovering The Satellites
29. 54-40 – Trusted By Millions
30. Porno For Pyros – Good God’s Urge
31. Blur – The Great Escape
32. Poe – Hello
33. The Cranberries – To The Faithful Departed
34. The Killjoys – Gimme Five
35. Kula Shaker – K
36. The Watchmen – Brand New Day
37. Better Than Ezra – Friction, Baby
38. Tool – Aenima
39. The Lemonheads – Car Button Cloth
40. The Doughboys – Turn Me On
41. Odds – Nest
42. Cracker – The Golden Age
43. Stabbing Westward – Wither Blister Burn & Peel
44. The Refreshments – Fizzy Fuzzy Big & Buzzy
45. The Presidents Of The United States Of America – II
46. Screaming Trees – Dust
47. Dishwalla – Pet Your Friends
48. Pulp – Different Class
49. Butthole Surfers – Electriclarryland
50. V/A – The Crow: City Of Angels Soundtrack
51. The Cure – Wild Mood Swings
52. V/A – Spirit Of The Edge, Vol. 2
53. Eels – Beautiful Freak
54. Pluto – Pluto
55. The Verve Pipe – Villains
56. Spacehog – Resident Alien
57. Goldfinger – Goldfinger
58. Sebadoh – Harmacy
59. 311 – 311
60. Cake – Fashion Nugget
61. Nada Surf – High/Low
62. Love & Rockets – Sweet F.A.
63. Rusty – Fluke
64. Sublime – Sublime
65. Social Distortion – White Light White Heat White Trash
66. Sponge – Wax Ecstatic
67. Cast – All Change
68. Catherine Wheel – Like Cats And Dogs
69. The Heads – No Talking Just Head
70. Republica – Republica
71. Ministry – Filth Pig
72. Jars Of Clay – Jars Of Clay
73. Local H – As Good As Dead
74. Suede – Coming Up
75. No Doubt – Tragic Kingdom
76. Slowburn – Slowburn
77. Lush – Lovelife
78. Limblifter – Limblifter
79. Reacharound – Who’s Tommy Cooper?
80. Ash – 1977
81. The Tea Party – Alhambra EP
82. Gin Blossoms – Congratulations I’m Sorry
83. Treble Charger – Self=Title
84. Paul Westerberg – Eventually
85. The Bluetones – Expecting To Fly
86. Black Grape – It’s Great When You’re Straight…Yeah!
87. Ruby – Salt Peter
88. Manic Street Preachers – Everything Must Go
89. Skinny Puppy – The Process
90. Soul Coughing – Irresistable Bliss
91. The Rheostatics – The Blue Hysteria
92. Cowboy Junkies – Lay It Down
93. Self – Subliminal Plastic Motives
94. Phish – Billy Breathes
95. Superdrag – Regretfully Yours
96. Tori Amos – Boys For Pele
97. Geggy Tah – Sacred Cow
98. Universal Honey – Earth Moon Transit
99. Electronic – Raise The Pressure
100. Ammonia – Mint 400
101. Salt – Auscultate
102. Starkicker – Beach Music

1998
1. Garbage – Version 2.0
2. Beastie Boys – Hello Nasty
3. Hole – Celebrity Skin
4. Pearl Jam – Yield
5. The Tragically Hip – Phantom Power
6. Marilyn Manson – Mechanical Animals
7. Smashing Pumpkins – Adore
8. Goo Goo Dolls – Dizzy Up The Girl
9. The Offspring – Americana
10. R.E.M. – Up
11. Creed – My Own Prison
12. Beck – Mutations
13. Days Of The New – Days Of The New
14. Lenny Kravitz – 5
15. Barenaked Ladies – Stunt
16. Big Wreck – In Loving Memory Of…
17. U2 – The Best Of 1980-1990 & B-Sides
18. Econoline Crush – The Devil You Know
19. Oasis – The Masterplan
20. Alanis Morissette – Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie
21. Monster Magnet – Powertrip
22. Sloan – Navy Blues
23. Fastball – All The Pain Money Can Buy
24. 54-40 – Since When
25. Stabbing Westward – Darkest Days
26. Matthew Good Band – Underdogs
27. Depeche Mode – The Singles 86-98
28. Rob Zombie – Hellbilly Deluxe
29. V/A – City Of Angels Soundtrack
30. Third Eye Blind – Third Eye Blind
31. Pearl Jam – Live On Two Legs
32. Big Sugar – Heated
33. Semisonic – Feeling Strangely Fine
34. Cake – Prolonging The Magic
35. Korn – Follow The Leader
36. Harvey Danger – Where Have All The Merrymakers Gone?
37. Eve 6 – Eve 6
38. Rammstein – Sehnsucht
39. V/A – Godzilla Soundtrack
40. Natalie Imbruglia – Left Of The Middle
41. Ben Folds Five – Whatever And Ever Amen
42. The Watchmen – Silent Radar
43. Fuel – Sunburn
44. Bif Naked – I Bificus
45. Jerry Cantrell – Boggy Depot
46. The Crystal Method – Vegas
47. The Flys – Holiday Man
48. David Usher – Little Songs
49. V/A – The X-Files: The Album
50. The Killjoys – Melos Modos
51. Soul Coughing – El Oso
52. Eagle Eye Cherry – Desireless
53. The Cardigans – Gran Turismo
54. Sheryl Crow – The Globe Sessions
55. Propellerheads – Decksanddrumsandrockandroll
56. V/A – Great Expectations Soundtrack
57. Better Than Ezra – How Does Your Garden Grow?
58. Rusty – Out Of Their Heads
59. Dave Matthews Band – Before These Crowded Streets
60. Girls Against Boys – Freak*on*ica
61. Cornershop – When I Was Born For The 7th Time
62. Shawn Mullins – Soul’s Core
63. Natalie Merchant – Ophelia
64. Emm Gryner – Public
65. New Radicals – Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too
66. Placebo – Without You I’m Nothing
67. Black Lab – Your Body Above Me
68. Pulp – This Is Hardcore
69. Wild Strawberries – Quiver
70. PJ Harvey – Is This Desire?
71. Everlast – Whitey Ford Sings The Blues
72. Pluto – Shake Hands With The Future
73. Mono – Formica Blues
74. The Miller Stain Limit – Radiate
75. V/A – Lilith Fair: A Celebration Of Women In Music
76. The New Meanies – Three Seeds
77. Orgy – Candyass
78. Scott Weiland – 12 Bar Blues
79. Feeder – Polythene
80. V/A – 1998 Edge 102 New Rock Search
81. Tori Amos – From The Choirgirl Hotel
82. God Lives Underwater – Life In The So-Called Space Age
83. Neil Finn – Try Whistling This
84. Athenaeum – Radiance
85. Esthero – Breath From Another
86. Local H – Pack Up The Cats
87. Portishead – Portishead
88. Melanie Doane – Adam’s Rib
89. Finley Quaye – Maverick A Strike
90. Joydrop – Metasexual
91. Soul Asylum – Candy From A Stranger
92. Hayden – The Closer I Get
93. Ian Brown – Unfinished Monkey Business
94. Seven Mary Three – Orange Ave.
95. Pure – Feverish
96. The Urge – Master Of Styles
97. Dishwalla – And You Think You Know What Life’s About
98. Cowboy Junkies – Miles From Our Home
99. Spacehog – The Chinese Album
100. K’s Choice – Cocoon Crash
101. Sprung Monkey – Mr. Funny Face
102. Grant Lee Buffalo – Jubilee

1999
1. Limp Bizkit – Significant Other
2. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Californication
3. Nine Inch Nails – The Fragile
4. Korn – Issues
5. The Tea Party – Triptych
6. Fatboy Slim – You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby
7. Foo Fighters – There Is Nothing Left To Lose
8. Rage Against The Machine – The Battle Of Los Angeles
9. Bush – The Science Of Things
10. Matthew Good Band – Beautiful Midnight
11. Live – The Distance To Here
12. Our Lady Peace – Happiness…Is Not A Fish That You Can Catch
13. Kid Rock – Devil Without A Cause
14. V/A – No Boundaries
15. Chris Cornell – Euphoria Morning
16. Beck – Midnite Vultures
17. Sugar Ray – 14:59
18. Creed – Human Clay
19. Sloan – Between The Bridges
20. The Chemical Brothers – Surrender
21. Blink 182 – Enema Of The State
22. I Mother Earth – Blue Green Orange
23. The Offspring – Americana
24. Smash Mouth – Astro Lounge
25. Stone Temple Pilots – No. 4
26. Beastie Boys – Beastie Boys Anthology: The Sounds Of Science
27. Lenny Kravitz – 5 (1999 Re-Issue)
28. Lit – A Place In The Sun
29. Days Of The New – Days Of The New (2)
30. Moist – Mercedes Five And Dime
31. Filter – Title Of Record
32. Serial Joe – Face Down
33. Silverchair – Neon Ballroom
34. Edwin – Another Spin Around The Sun
35. Godsmack – Godsmack
36. Tal Bachman – Tal Bachman
37. Collective Soul – Dosage
38. Manic Street Preachers – This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours
39. Big Sugar – Heated
40. The Cranberries – Bury The Hatchet
41. Marcy Playground – Shapeshifter
42. See Spot Run – Weightless
43. Oleander – February Son
44. Powerman 5000 – Tonight The Stars Revolt
45. Cake – Prolonging The Magic
46. Moby – Play
47. Sloan – 4 Nights At The Palais Royale
48. Alice In Chains – Music Bank (Box Set)
49. Len – You Can’t Beat The Bum Rush
50. Ben Folds Five – The Unauthorized Biography Of Reinhold Messner
51. Kula Shaker – Peasants, Pigs & Astronauts
52. Metallica – S&M
53. Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals – Burn To Shine
54. Finger Eleven – Tip
55. Citizen King – Mobile Estates
56. Sarah McLachlan – Mirrorball
57. Everlast – Today EP
58. Blur – 13
59. Nickelback – The State
60. Marilyn Manson – The Last Tour On Earth
61. 311 – Soundsystem
62. Fear Factory – Obsolete
63. Lo Fidelity Allstars – How To Operate With A Blown Mind
64. Bif Naked – I Bificus
65. Sevendust – Home
66. Counting Crows – This Desert Life
67. Dunk – Time To Fly
68. Suede – Head Music
69. 54-40 – Heavy Mellow
70. Matthew Sweet – In Reverse
71. Mike Ness – Cheating At Solitaire
72. Thrush Hermit – Clayton Park
73. The Living End – The Living End
74. Staind – Dysfunction
75. By Divine Right – Bless This Mess
76. Tori Amos – To Venus And Back
77. Tin Star – The Thrill Kisser
78. Unwritten Law – Unwritten Law
79. Holly McNarland – Live Stuff
80. Jimmy’s Chicken Shack – Bring Your Own Stereo
81. Soul Coughing – El Oso
82. Gob – How Far Shallow Takes You
83. Third Eye Blind – Blue
84. David Bowie – Hours
85. Scratching Post – Destruction Of The Universe
86. Fun Lovin’ Criminals – 100% Colombian
87. V/A – Edgefest 99
88. The Marvelous Three – Hey! Album
89. Fiona Apple – When The Pawn…
90. Ron Hawkins & The Rusty Nails – Greasing The Star Machine
91. V/A – Woodstock 99
92. Danko Jones – My Love Is Bold
93. Stroke 9 – Nasty Little Thoughts
94. DDT – Urban Observer
95. Blinker The Star – August Everywhere
96. The Flashing Lights – Where The Change Is
97. Crash Test Dummies – Give Yourself A Hand
98. Luscious Jackson – Electric Honey
99. Bare Jr. – Boo-tay
100. Danger Man – Danger Man
101. Tricky Woo – Sometimes I Cry
102. Tonic – Sugar

2000
1. Radiohead – Kid A
2. Limp Bizkit – Chocolate Starfish And The Hot Dog Flavoured Water
3. U2 – All That You Can’t Leave Behind
4. Green Day – Warning
5. Incubus – Make Yourself
6. Blink 182 – Enema Of The State
7. Treble Charger – Wide Awake Bored
8. 3 Doors Down – The Better Life
9. The Tea Party – Tangents: The Tea Party Collection
10. V/A – Mission: Impossible 2 Soundtrack
11. Papa Roach – Infest
12. The Tragically Hip – Music @ Work
13. Moby – Play
14. Deftones – White Pony
15. Our Lady Peace – Spiritual Machines
16. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Californication
17. Barenaked Ladies – Maroon
18. The Offspring – Conspiracy Of One
19. Matthew Good Band – Beautiful Midnight
20. Pearl Jam – Binaural
21. A Perfect Circle – Nom De Mers
22. Creed – Human Clay
23. Headstones – Nickels For Your Nightmares
24. Smashing Pumpkins – Machina: The Machines Of God
25. Marilyn Manson – Holy Wood: In The Shadow Of The Valley Of Death
26. Rage Against The Machine – The Battle Of Los Angeles
27. Blink 182 – The Mark, Tom & Travis Show
28. Stereophonics – Performance & Cocktails
29. Nickelback – The State
30. Oasis – Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants
31. Korn – Issues
32. Godsmack – Awake
33. V/A – Family Values Tour ’99
34. Stone Temple Pilots – No. 4
35. Econoline Crush – You Don’t Know What It’s Like EP
36. The Tea Party – Triptych
37. Rage Against The Machine – Renegades
38. Collective Soul – Blender
39. Orgy – Vapor Transmissions
40. Our Lady Peace – Happiness…Is Not A Fish You Can Catch
41. Pearl Jam – The Bootleg Collection (25 CDs)
42. Goldfinger – Stomping Ground
43. Foo Fighters – There Is Nothing Left To Lose
44. Fuel – Something Like Human
45. Travis – The Man Who
46. Richard Ashcroft – Alone With Everybody
47. Finger Eleven – The Greyest Of Blue Skies
48. Everclear – Songs From An American Movie, Vol. 1: Learning How To Smile
49. The Dandy Warhols – Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia
50. Catherine Wheel – Wishville
51. Serial Joe – Serial Joe
52. Godsmack – Godsmack
53. Sum 41 – Half Hour Of Power
54. Coldplay – Parachutes
55. Everlast – Eat At Whitey’s
56. Gob – The World According To Gob
57. Nine Inch Nails – Things Falling Apart
58. 54-40 – Casual Viewin’
59. (Hed) Planet Earth – Broke
60. Edwin – Another Spin Around The Sun
61. Eve 6 – Horrorscope
62. Kid Rock – The History Of Rock
63. Oasis – Familiar To Millions
64. Slipknot – Slipknot
65. The Mighty Mighty Bosstones – Pay Attention
66. The Wallflowers – Breach
67. Everclear – Songs From An American Movie, Vol. 2: Good Time For A Bad Attitude
68. Limblifter – Bellaclava
69. Disturbed – The Sickness
70. V/A – The Million Dollar Hotel Soundtrack
71. Kittie – Spit
72. Supergrass – Supergrass
73. Ron Hawkins & The Rusty Nails – Crackstatic
74. No Doubt – Return Of Saturn
75. Lenny Kravitz – Greatest Hits
76. Rancid – Rancid
77. Smashing Pumpkins – Machina 2: Friends & Enemies Of Modern Music
78. Wheatus – Wheatus
79. Linkin Park – Hybrid Theory
80. Vertical Horizon – Everything You Want
81. Clark Nova – Host
82. MxPx – The Everpassing Moment
83. Queens Of The Stone Age – Rated R
84. Zuckerbaby – Platinum Again
85. The Cure – Bloodflowers
86. SR-71 – Now You See Inside
87. The Bloodhound Gang – Hooray For Boobies
88. King Cobb Steelie – Mayday
89. Cypress Hill – Skull & Bones
90. Good Charlotte – Good Charlotte
91. Starling – Sustainer
92. Dynamite Hack – Superfast
93. The Suicide Machines – The Suicide Machines
94. Bif Naked – 5 Songs & A Poem
95. BT – Movements In Still Life
96. Jet Set Satellite – Blueprint
97. Vast – Music For People
98. The Special Guests – <First Album>
99. Apollo 440 – Gettin’ High Off Your Own Supply
100. Euphoria – Euphoria
101. Wild Strawberries – Twist
102. NOFX – Pump Up The Valium

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, April 27, 2006
1:27 a.m.

Published in: on April 27, 2006 at 1:33 am  Comments (6)  

Fahrenheit 9/11

There are 2 interesting trends taking place right now in popular culture.  Firstly, President George W. Bush is getting goofed on more than ever, and secondly, it’s no longer taboo to dramatize 9/11. 
 
President Bush has been the rightful subject of ridicule for years on late night Television.  Leno, Letterman, Maher and Conan have told countless jokes about how dumb he is.  Ditto for Saturday Night Live.  But have you noticed that the chorus of dissenters in Hollywood is getting bigger and louder? 
 
5 years ago this month, there was a short-lived TV show called That’s My Bush, created by Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the guys that gave us South Park.  (By the way, if Vice President Al Gore won the 2000 election, their show was going to be called Absolute Al.)  Only 8 episodes made it to air before it got cancelled because, apparently, the ratings were bad and it was an expensive show to produce, despite strong reviews.  (All this according to the Internet Movie Database.)  Even though it was really a goof on the whole sitcom genre and not any President in particular, with the exception of the aforementioned comedians, it was the first Hollywood production, that I can remember, to poke fun at the Republican President.
 
Then 9/11 happened and there seemed to be a sabbatical on taking pot shots at Bush.  As the second Persian Gulf War was being pushed by the Administration and not fully scrutinized by the media (with some notable exceptions) Hollywood started releasing a number of war films like We Were Soldiers, Hart’s War, Tears Of The Sun, Black Hawk Down and Windtalkers.  In 2003, while the war was on, anybody who was critical of the President was either booed, scorned or subjected to needless boycotts and slander.  Michael Moore got booed at the Oscars when he questioned the wisdom of the war after receiving a standing ovation for winning the Best Feature Documentary prize for his marvellous but flawed Bowling For Columbine.  The Dixie Chicks suffered a bit of a backlash simply because their lead singer, Natalie Maines, stated that she was ashamed the American President was from Texas.  (What wasn’t said very often at the time was that immediately afterwards, her bandmate, Emily Robison, said that, nonetheless, they supported the troops.  Hardly controversial.)  The Dixie Chicks’ boycott proved ineffective (their 2003 American tour was a massive success) and they’re back with a new album in a much different political climate.  Their new single even addresses what happened 3 years ago.
 
In 2002, if you saw a President Bush-type bit in a movie – The Master of Disguise and I Spy come to mind – it was most likely to not be very hard-hitting or critical. Today, with the Administration battling scandal after scandal after scandal, Hollywood has suddenly grown a spine.  Leslie Nielsen plays a hapless Bush-like President in Scary Movie 4.  Dennis Quaid does the same thing in American Dreamz.  And as the President tries to hang on for the rest of his final term, I’m sure things are going to get a lot worse for him in real life and in the movies.
 
That brings me to the other interesting trend happening now in the movies:  9/11.  2 prominent Hollywood films are coming and one wonders if people will give them a fair shake or, as I sadly suspect, will loudly complain without actually seeing the movies, which is a disgraceful way to go.  Later this summer Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center hits theatres (look for it in August) but first up is United 93.  Already there’s controversy.  The trailer has been pulled in some theatres because some filmgoers complained (a ridiculous reason to stop showing a trailer) and some are loudly wondering whether we’re ready for a movie like this. 
 
That leads me to my review of Fahrenheit 9/11, the terrific Michael Moore documentary that became a massive hit in the summer of 2004.  I saw it in the theatre and was quite pleased with how it turned out, as you’ll read.  He’s planning a sequel for release next year and one hopes it goes even further in its investigation of the shadiness of the Bush Adminstration than the original did.
 
This is a fairly lengthy review that has never been seen before.  Some of it is a little out-of-date.  I reference the 2004 Presidential election which was still a few months away and I gauge Michael Moore’s chances of winning another Oscar.  He foolishly didn’t submit it in the Documentary Feature category.  Instead, he pushed it for Best Picture.  An arrogant mistake.  If the sequel to Fahrenheit 9/11 becomes a massive success artistically and commercially, I would expect him to try for another Documentary Oscar.
 
I wonder how many disenfranchised conservatives will watch this movie now and whether they will still be quick to dismiss what Moore argues for in the movie.  An idea worth exploring as the American mid-term elections approach.
 
FAHRENHEIT 9/11
By Dennis Earl

Michael Moore is the bravest American not in a military uniform. I have never seen anyone so willing to tell a story that the mainstream media seems so unwilling to tell themselves. His fourth documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11, covers President George W. Bush’s troubled first term in office. It begins with a reminder of the Florida recount in 2000 (“Was it all just a dream?” he sarcastically opines.) and leads to a scene in Congress I remember very well: numerous members of the Congressional Black Caucus pleading with the President of the Senate (the defeated Vice President Al Gore) to protest the results of the election and possibly re-open the whole sorry mess in order to get to the bottom of it all. Gore refuses because not one Senator agreed to sign on with the Caucus. A rule’s a rule, after all, even if breaking it meant giving him the White House.

It’s curious that Moore would open with that because much later when he focuses on the second Gulf War, we meet several, young black men from his hometown of Flint, Michigan who either have relatives fighting in Iraq or are considering going there to fight themselves because they have no other employment options. (We learn that Flint, officially, has a 17% unemployment rate; unofficially, one woman speculates it’s probably closer to 50%.) There’s a fantastic scene where we meet two recruiters who have the Midas touch when it comes to convincing lower-income Americans to not only think about a military career but possibly fight in a war right now. One guy’s a little unsure so one of the recruiters asks him about Shaggy since the guy is interested in pursuing a music career. He’s a little dumbfounded when the recruiter tells him Shaggy’s a former Marine. And they’ve got a sale. Also worth noting is that the recruiters never bother to go to the richer areas in the city. Curious and sad how history never changes.

The film does a good job exploring some familiar stuff regarding the Bush family’s seemingly shady dealings with the Saudi Royal family and the Bin Laden clan. Moore compares Bush’s salary of $400,000 to the billion-plus supplied by the Saudis and convincingly argues that the Saudis have easily bought influence with this White House. They also have a vested interest in our economy: 6-7%. (We learn these relationships go back 3 decades to the time Bush’s father was CIA director. Interesting sidenote: he’s the rare ex-president who still looks at incoming classified intelligence.) We find out that the Bin Laden family was never questioned about Osama because they were flown out of the country 2 days after the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. While everybody else’s flights were grounded (including Ricky Martin’s!), the Bin Laden clan (who still maintain contact with Osama, sadly enough) were able to get away with no problem. Moore includes clips of Joe Friday on Dragnet to illustrate his well-taken point that we should’ve questioned the Bin Laden relatives. Are we letting Osama escape our grasp on purpose? We did, after all, give him a 2-month headstart during the botched Afghanistan war.

Since this is a Michael Moore film, there are several satirical jabs at the Republican Bush Administration. I particularly liked the Bonanza parody, the use of the theme from Greatest American Hero during Bush’s ill-advised “Mission Accomplished” photo-op, goofs on the Coalition of the Willing (mostly puny, unpowerful countries) and all the stuff involving abuses of the Patriot Act, (a sheriff’s deputy spying on a small, peace organization that swaps stories and eats cookies) incompetent screeners at the airport (a mother having to drink all of her baby’s breast milk because of its supposed dangers, for instance) and the stunning refusal of every politician Moore comes in contact with to sign up their kids for the war. (One polite politician humours Moore by taking a brochure. I wonder how long it took him to throw it in the garbage.)

The section devoted to Iraq could’ve been even more jarring and perhaps tighter but it is still quite effective. I am reminded of Gangs Of New York and that stunning scene where all the poor, male, Irish immigrants go directly off the boat and right into the firestorm of the Civil War while the more well-off naturalized Americans, who can afford to pay their way out of the war, hurriedly do so. Now, the rich just don’t volunteer. The poor have no choice.

It doesn’t take much to make President Bush look ridiculous but the film wisely lets him do it all by himself without being unfair. There’s some odd footage of the President looking bewildered just before he delivers one of his most important addresses to the nation: the announcement of the beginning of attacks on Iraq on March 19, 2003, 2 days ahead of schedule. He appears to be smirking quite a bit before turning serious when he’s on the air. He smirks over and over in the film just like in real life. It is deeply troubling. During the opening titles we get some interesting behind the scenes footage of important Republicans, including Bush, getting their make-up done, fixing their hair and, absurdly, laughing, as if none of what they’re doing is at all grave. The obvious implication is that they think this is all showbiz and not at all real. It’s hard to disagree.

One wonders if it’s at all possible for a conservative Republican to like this movie without actually agreeing with it or, better still, to change their mind about the war and/or the Bush Administration in general. For me, having been familiar with numerous elements of the film, I wasn’t exactly a tough sell. I never liked Bush. I always viewed him as shady and completely unserious and now I view him as deeply scared of being President of the United States to the point where he doesn’t do the right thing under pressure. One of the most overpublicized moments in the film is the 7-minute video (shown in clips here) of the President continuing to stay in that damn classroom reading My Pet Goat with a class of young kids instead of taking charge of a scary situation and trying to reassure the public that things would get better. Can you imagine if FDR did this in 1941 while Pearl Harbour went on? How about JFK during the Cuban Missile Crisis? It seems unfathomable. I shouldn’t be surprised since it’s revealed here that Bush spends nearly half his time on vacation. (42%, according to the Washington Post)

Fahrenheit 9/11 is not a great film. There are numerous facts it leaves out that would make this administration look even more culpable than it already is but it is deeply revealing, never boring, sometimes hilarious and it always makes you think. Its biggest flaw is its overly sunny portrayal of Iraq in the moments before it would be bombed to kingdom come. The people seem just a little too happy to live in a country ruled by a ruthless and widely unloved dictator. But, in the end, the movie isn’t about Saddam at all. It’s about the credibility of the American President. And he seems to have very little left. There’s a stunning montage where we learn from Powell and Rice, in early 2001, that Iraq is contained, not in possession of weapons of mass destruction and not a threat to us. Good luck finding similar quotes AFTER September 11.

As we head into another tedious election, one wonders, regardless of the outcome, if things will get better. If we elect a Democrat instead of a Republican this time, will that solve all our problems? The movie is mostly critical of the Republican higher-ups. At one point, it criticizes the Democrats for agreeing with the rationale for the war and voting for it. (Sadly, Senator Byrd, the only guy to vote against it, is not mentioned nor interviewed.) It seems to me that Moore is limiting his attacks too much at times. A democracy cannot flourish without a healthy opposition. It should’ve delved deeper into why they sided with the administration. Do they have ties with the Saudis as well?

The talking head interviews in the film include some outspoken Democratic politicians and a couple of authors who all offer interesting insight into this administration. (One senator says the Patriot Act, like a lot of bills, was passed without being read. The administration has a sneaky way of printing bills in the middle of the night so that it is virtually impossible to read it all and therefore voice a reasonable objection.)

It seems impossible to make a great documentary about this administration in under 2 hours. There’s plenty of areas where they are vulnerable. Although it focuses mainly on the war and its related areas, another documentary could focus entirely on Bush’s failed environmental policies, for instance, or even his astounding reluctance to curb excessive spending. Fahrenheit 9/11 arrives at a time when the documentary genre is entering an exciting new phase, a remarkable period of commerciality and widespread critical acclaim. When the nominees for Best Documentary Feature are announced next January, there’s a very good chance that, for the first time, all 5 nominees will be well-known to the public. And there might not be a guaranteed Oscar victory for Michael Moore. But with this remarkable film, he has a very good chance.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, April 22, 2006
3:02 p.m. 

Published in: on April 22, 2006 at 3:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

Induct Iggy – Twice

When I listen to his music I feel like his priest. I feel as though he is confessing to me intimate thoughts that he doesn’t even share with people in his personal life. He reveals painful memories of love affairs gone wrong, of immoral behaviour now regretted, of the difficulties in getting the music business to understand what he’s tried to accomplish with his music.

What will it take to get Iggy Pop inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? He’s been a trailblazing musical eccentric for 5 decades now and has yet to receive the ultimate thank you for all of his tireless efforts. Without his indelible prints the terminally cyclic world of rock and roll would be very, very different.

Personally, I’d like to see him honoured twice. First, for his work with The Stooges and second, for his much superior solo work. If Eric Clapton can be accepted three times for being in The Yardbirds and Cream and for his own solo work, why can’t Iggy be recognized once? I’d settle for that. I’m sure he would, too.

So, what gives? How is it that Patti Smith is in and Iggy remains shut out? That the artists and groups he inspired – among them, U2, The Ramones, The Clash, The Sex Pistols – have been voted in and he’s still waiting? Why do the disciples get more respect than the original? Even his peers, David Bowie and Lou Reed, have been acknowledged. But not Iggy and most definitely not The Stooges, despite the latter being selected a few times as a finalist. (The required number of votes to seal the deal were not achieved.)

Those in the music business who consider themselves to be cutting edge or, at the very least, vastly different from the fluffy darlings of the mainstream pop world, owe a considerable debt to Iggy Pop. There are many poseurs in the world of music that I’m sure Iggy would like to run over with a bulldozer, most especially those who disgrace the open-ended genre of alternative rock. But he’s the real deal, warts and all.

Everything you need to know about the man himself is exposed in his lyrics. I don’t know of anyone else, except maybe John Lennon, who can be tender and thoughtful one moment and heartless and cruel the next. He is the Sigmund Freud of music, forever frustrated and confounded by women. He can be merciless in his observations and he can be generously complimentary. He’s written songs like Tiny Girls and Look Away which deal with his hebophilia, his fascination with underage ladies. He seemed to be at his lowest when he made Tiny Girls with David Bowie for The Idiot album. Singing with deep solemnity, he rattles off all the reasons he despises women. 2 years later, he wrote and recorded Girls for his New Values album. It radiates with love and affection and quiet appreciation. This love/hate dynamic is evident throughout his catalogue.

Iggy Pop is a master lyricist who spares no one, not even himself. Each studio album he’s made is a time capsule capturing the man at his most naked. Some records are more accessible than others but I find myself drawn to all of the ones I’ve heard so far. (Kill City is now the only album he’s made that I’ve not yet experienced.) A curious thing happens to me when I listen to certain Iggy Pop records. This pretty much began in 1996 when I seriously started getting into his back catalogue. I remember buying the first two Stooges albums and coming home to play them. The second one, Fun House, sounded demented. The arrangements were loose and chaotic. The last song on the record, L.A. Blues, featured nothing but screaming and fragmentary noises. I liked a few songs off the record but the rest didn’t connect. Years later, I listen to it again and I find a few more songs grow on me, except L.A. Blues which remains the worst song Iggy ever wrote.

I remember getting The Idiot for Christmas one year and only liking a couple of songs. I ended up selling it (along with a bunch of other CDs) in order to raise money for a Beach Boys box set I wanted. Last year, I gave the album a second chance after getting a public library copy. I ended up liking half the record. This year, after listening to that same library copy several more times, my appreciation for The Idiot has grown to the point where I feel there are no bad songs on it anymore. I should’ve never sold my copy in the first place. I’ve had similiar experiences with Brick By Brick, Avenue B, Zombie Birdhouse, Raw Power, and Lust For Life. These are much better albums today than they were when I first listened to them.

Iggy Pop’s music is like wine. You like it better when it’s aged. He exemplifies that part of the human spirit that more sensible people keep under wraps. Despite revealing ugly personality traits, there’s an undeniable beauty to his melodies. They’re guided along effectively by his unvarnished vocals. He once wrote in a record company bio that when he heard Frank Sinatra sing at age 5, he wanted to do the same thing. During his most tender moments on record, like his only American Top 40 hit, Candy, or Ordinary Bummer, or Beside You, his most surprising influence comes shining through.

His best song remains Lust For Life, also his most familiar thanks to its constant licensing. His best album? American Caesar. Better than any of his solo work and most especially, the three records he made with The Stooges. All facets of Iggy Pop’s personality are heard on that eclectic, magnificent record.

The use of that album title is a good example of another recurring Iggy theme: the use of literary references. American Caesar is the name of Douglas MacArthur’s biography. In Lust For Life, he makes a reference to “hypnotizing chickens” which was something William S. Burroughs wrote in The Ticket That Exploded. The Idiot was a famous Dostoevsky novel. Dostoevsky is name-checked in the American Caesar version of Louie Louie. The line “exterminate the brutes” in Wild America is a nod to Joseph Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness.

Besides sex and literature, Iggy is never afraid to tackle his dealings with the music business. Kill City, Neon Forest, and Butt Town say things no one else has the balls to declare. His disgust is palpable and unmistakable. Despite working with David Bowie, Steve Jones, Don Was, Green Day, Sum 41 and members of Blondie among many others, he’s never had the consistent commercial acceptance lesser artists receive and take for granted. The music business has never understood him and vice versa. Confusion breeds no support. And no support means a life of struggle for acceptance. But struggle builds character, he once sang. And he’s still going strong, still making good music for real people of all persuasions.

All that’s missing is an invitation to the hall of immortality. Iggy Pop has earned the right to be there. Twice.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, April 21, 2006
1:41 a.m.
Published in: on April 21, 2006 at 1:39 pm  Comments (2)  

Are Director’s Cuts Necessary?

In 2004, I screened 2 versions of an important American film within a week.  My dad had bought the Apocalypse Now Redux DVD and I didn’t want to see it until after I checked out the original 1979 version which I ended up renting.  Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam masterpiece originally ran for 2 hours and 33 minutes.  The running time of his 2001 extended version, the aforementioned Apocalypse Now Redux, is an incredible 3 hours and 22 minutes.  Believe it or not, there is an even longer version of the film available.  According to the Internet Movie Database, there’s a nearly 5-hour “workprint” edition that has never been officially distributed but, apparently, it’s a circulating bootleg.  I love great, long movies but isn’t it a relief that both of the official versions of that great masterpiece are considerably shorter than that?  (More on this in a moment.)
 
I’ve been wanting to talk about this subject for a long time.  The necessity of director’s cuts.  Because of America’s screwed-up ratings system more and more films are being sanitized for their theatrical releases and then popping up on home video in “unrated extended versions”.  You’d be surprised at the wide range of titles this affects.  Take, for instance, The New Guy.  Horrible movie.  One of the worst I’ve ever seen.  Its running time is a merciful 88 minutes.  Several months after its short run in theatres and its debut on DVD, an unexpected Director’s Cut appeared.  It runs for 92 minutes.  Yes, that’s right.  It’s the same movie plus 4 minutes.  Honestly, if you hated the original as much as I did, is there any chance in hell you’ll change your mind after seeing the Director’s Cut?  I always try to keep an open mind about movies but let’s be real here.  Why would I waste my time with this version, unless it was theatrically released (which it wasn’t), when I had such an unpleasant time with the original?
 
In all of my years of watching movies, I’ve never had 2 different opinions about 2 versions of the same movie, which brings me back to Apocalypse Now.  The original is so great why the need for an alternate version?  Well, Coppola felt it needed to be improved in some way.  (I know geniuses are supposed to be on the edge of insanity but this is nuts!)  His solution?  To re-release the film and incorporate nearly an hour of added footage that was previously only seen in that bootlegged, workprint version.  Did he succeed?  Is Redux the better version?  My dad thinks so.  I disagree.  While I appreciated all the new footage I felt Coppola got it right the first time.  Even though both versions are first-rate, Redux feels unnecessary.  The first film plays better.  It’s smoother with fewer diversions before the encounter with Brando.  Sure, it’s cool to see more of him, Martin Sheen and those sexy Playmates but, the original movie wasn’t flawed to the extent that it needed something to enhance it.  It didn’t need fleshing out in any way.  Chalk it up to an insecure director worried about the legacy of his masterstroke.
 
George Lucas did the same thing nearly 10 years ago when 3 of his beloved Star Wars movies got the Special Edition treatment.  I made it a point to see the first one in theatres since that was the only one of the original trilogy I had never screened in a theatre.  (I was only 2 when the original was first released.)  I still haven’t seen the extended versions of The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi and now, I deeply regret not seeing them in the theatre.  At some point, I will get caught up with them.  As for Star Wars: Special Edition (or A New Hope, as the purists would prefer), like Apocalypse Now Redux, I liked seeing the new footage but felt the original was superior.  When the trilogy was issued on DVD, there was more tinkering, especially with Jedi.  (I have to ask:  why can’t filmmakers settle on a cut of their film and move on already?  I’m talking to you, Mr. Lucas.)
 
It doesn’t help that the original versions of those movies are not scheduled for a DVD release which is crazy considering they were issued on tape many times.  Hopefully, Lucas will reconsider and realize that giving movie fans what they want and deserve is a win-win for everybody, including him.  It’s not as if this is a bad business decision, right?
 
But let’s get back to my initial question:  Are Director’s Cuts Necessary?  Roger Ebert would probably argue “yes” for some films and here’s why.  Sometimes films are sent to film festivals before they’re actually finished.  Remember the negative reaction Cameron Crowe’s film, Elizabethtown, received when it played Toronto?  People knew going in that the film wasn’t quite ready yet but that didn’t negate the bad assessments.  When a different version was issued in theatres Ebert praised the new edit on his TV show while also commenting on his disappointing experience with the unfinished cut he saw in Toronto.  However, the film failed to find an audience during its theatrical run and one wonders if previewing an incomplete cut of your movie at the most prestigious film festival in North America was such a wise strategy.
 
Then, there are movies that suffer from studio interference.  When Blade Runner was issued in the summer of 1982, it featured narration by Harrison Ford which director Ridley Scott was deeply unhappy about but Warner Bros. fought for.  10 years later, he reissued the film minus the narration while making other changes. There was supposed to be a special edition DVD of the movie featuring even more versions of the film but since its announcement several years ago we’re all still waiting.  This is important to me because I’ve not seen either of the American theatrical cuts.  I think I’ve only seen parts of the European version when I was really young.  (I can’t remember now but I don’t think I saw it from beginning to end, just bits and pieces.  I can only remember the incredible visuals and the intense violence, that’s it.)  Seeing both North American versions of this movie would really answer my question about the necessity of director’s cuts.
 
Then, there are those rare times where 2 versions of the same movie are issued simultaneously in different parts of the world, sometimes in the same country.  Cinema Paradiso was originally a 3-hour Italian film when it played in Europe but the original North American version was cut down to 2 hours.  (A few years ago, the director’s cut finally played in theatres.)  When Basic Instinct was issued here in 1992, it was missing a sex scene that was shown exclusively in Europe. 
 
And then, there are these 2 films:  Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet and Once Upon A Time In America.  Both Branagh and director Sergio Leone wanted long running times for their respective movies.  But dopey studio executives preferred shorter versions of their films to get theatrical releases.  When Roger Ebert assessed the Leone film he gave one star for the 2-hour version and four stars for the 4-hour version, believing that to appreciate the film you need to see the whole thing, not half the story.  I respect that view even though I think Once Upon A Time In America is way too long and not a very successful film.  (I found myself curiously uninvolved in the lives of these characters.)
 
However, according to the Internet Movie Database, Leone originally had a 10-hour cut to work with! He edited it down to 6 hours hoping to release the film in 2 three-hour parts, which, come to think of it, would’ve been a good idea considering the later-day successes of The Lord Of The Rings and Kill Bill movies.  He changed his mind and settled on a 4-hour running time, disappointed that an additional 45 minutes of footage he felt necessary to telling the story properly couldn’t be included.  The studio fought for an even shorter version and that’s why some theatregoers got to see a 2-hour version rather than the 4-hour cut.  Only the 4-hour version is available on DVD.
 
Hamlet went through the same unnecessary hassles.  A 2-hour version, as well as the full 4-hour version, saw theatrical release until critical outrage provoked a change in strategy.  As a result, more theatres screened the full film rather than the shorter version.  I recommend Hamlet even though I believe it loses a bit of steam by the end.  The first 2 and a half hours are the most energetic and entertaining.
 
Just look at this list of titles:  E.T., Alien, The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, Frank Miller’s Sin City, the American Pie trilogy, The Exorcist, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Almost Famous.  All of them feature commercially available director’s cuts (that’s just a sampling of what’s available) and more are on the way.  Look for extended versions of The Missing (Ron Howard’s 2003 movie), Mr. & Mrs. Smith (with Brad Pitt & Angelina Jolie), The Hills Have Eyes remake, and many, many more.
 
What to do about all this madness?  It’s fine to put out another version of your movie if you got it wrong the first time or if saboteurs ruined your original edit.  But, for the most part, do we really need more than one version of a film?  And in the cases of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, Blade Runner and the original Star Wars trilogy, why can we only see the director’s cuts and not the originals on DVD?   Until the Motion Picture Association of America stops enforcing silly rules that result in ridiculous re-edits and filmmakers settle on one cut of their films, it appears the phenomenon of the director’s cut will continue to haunt us forever.  What a waste of time.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, April 20, 2006
5:11 p.m.
Published in: on April 20, 2006 at 5:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

Frank Miller’s Sin City

Frank Miller’s Sin City makes Pulp Fiction look like The Sound Of Music.  It is a stunning achievement.  From the opening fade-in to the last line of dialogue you are transfixed, mesmerized, blown away.  I love the look of this movie, the performances (including the narration by various actors), the atmosphere, the dialogue, the action, all of it.  It is one of the best movies I’ve seen this decade.  Why this film was completely ignored by the Motion Picture Academy remains a perplexing and frustrating mystery.  It deserved the industry’s support.
 
Like Pulp Fiction (a very good film in its own right, don’t get me wrong), it’s really a series of short stories edited together to make a feature and some characters are in more than one story.  The opening scene sets the tone for the rest of the film.  Josh Hartnett (in his best performance since O) is speaking with a beautiful young woman out on a balcony.  Amongst incredible black and white scenery Hartnett narrates in between dialogue exchanges.  He’s deeply smitten but senses the woman is in danger and longing to flee to safety.  The look on her face as he makes his observations confirms his suspicions.  It is a look of intense worry and anguish.  But there’s more going on in the scene than we realize.  When it’s all over, a murder has taken place which agonizes the assassin.  The pay-off is Hartnett’s last line.  Everything went according to plan.
 
That’s the genius of this movie.  The characters know a lot more than the audience does, which is as it should be.  The best moments of any great film are the unexpected ones. 
 
The rest of the movie focuses on three fascinating storylines.  In one such story, Bruce Willis plays an aging, honest cop in a department infested with corruption who’s out to stop a pedophile/serial killer.  Willis is in over his head in this one because the perp is Nick Stahl who happens to be the son of a powerful and scary Senator (played with great confidence by the always reliable Powers Boothe).  Not only that, he’s got a bum ticker that gives him temporary fits of unbearable pain at the worst possible moments.  His doctor has advised early retirement and as a result, Willis is driven to stop Stahl’s psychotic crimes on his last night on the job.  
 
Willis’ partner is the great Michael Madsen who’s not too keen on him pursuing this case for obvious reasons.  But Willis is determined to stop another young girl from being victimized.  Nick Stahl is amazingly evil here playing the sick perv about to violate another innocent victim.  He has this fetish for hearing the screams of his victims when he commits his immoral acts but Willis, thankfully, intervenes before anything underhanded takes place.  The things he does to Stahl in this movie would make any victim of a sex crime stand and applaud.
 
In another story, Mickey Rourke, giving a career performance here, plays Marv, a character that could only exist in a graphic novel.   With the face of a beast, the temerity of a gladiator and the world-weary soul of a loner, he is stunned to discover the sudden death of his beloved Goldie (the photogenic Jamie King), a woman he had just met in a bar.  Someone’s setting him up for her death and he’s none too happy about that.  He soon becomes obsessed with finding her killer.  His journey leads into some extraordinarily fantastic action sequences which are among the best I’ve ever seen.
 
Finally, in the other story, there’s Benicio Del Toro in a first-rate performance playing Britney Murphy’s slimeball of a boyfriend whose days of guilt-tripping and broad-beating are numbered when he runs into Murphy’s newest squeeze, Clive Owen.  In a brilliant scene, he forces Del Toro’s head inside a recently urinated toilet bowl.  Owen has a bad feeling about this cat and follows him all the way into Old Town where we meet his ex-lover played by Rosario Dawson in a commanding and surprising performance.  She has a wonderfully expressive face for film noir and she’s clearly enjoying herself as I’m sure all the actors did while making this exhilarating movie.  She’s a prostitute who looks after all her co-workers in one of the most dangerous sections of the city.  But these are not ordinary streetwalkers.  They’re an army of walking sex who will turn on you the very second you cross them.  One such character, frequently referred to as "deadly little Miho", can slice and dice you better than Martha Stewart with a Ginsu.  Her remarkable skill comes in handy.  
 
Much like Schindler’s List, Sin City is filmed in startling black and white with dramatic, unsubtle flourishes of colour.  (Remember the girl in the red coat in Spielberg’s movie?)  I love Clive Owen’s red sneakers, Alexis Bledel’s hypnotic blue eyes, the creepy-looking Yellow Bastard, Michael Clarke Duncan’s fake golden eye and all that white blood.  This is an amazing movie. 
 
Now I’m not at all familiar with creator Frank Miller’s graphic novels but I can see why Robert Rodriguez, who co-directed the movie with Miller and even went so far as to quit the Directors Guild of America so Miller would get official credit for his efforts, was so gung-ho about making a movie about his work.  Sin City introduces us to a world of grit and sex, of torment and release, of folly and revenge.  It’s a world few of us would ever visit, let alone experience on a day-to-day basis.  But from a safe distance it is a fascinating environment.  This is the most exciting action/thriller I’ve seen in years. 
 
It’s very difficult for a writer to trust Hollywood with his creations but to Rodriguez’ eternal credit, he doesn’t betray Frank Miller.  Together they have created the greatest movie based on a comic book or graphic novel ever. 
 
David Lee Roth once told MTV that if you had any Van Halen albums in your collection they would melt all your other records.  If you have Frank Miller’s Sin City in your DVD collection, most of your titles will suffer the same fate.     
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
6:54 p.m.
Published in: on April 19, 2006 at 6:59 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Passion Of The Christ

Easter is upon us and what a perfect time to showcase a controversial review of a controversial movie.  It’s been 2 years since the highly profitable release of Mel Gibson’s The Passion Of The Christ.  Very rarely does a movie cause such extreme reactions in people as this one did.  You either loved it (like Roger Ebert who gave it a 4-star review) or you loathed it (like The Toronto Sun’s Liz Braun who gave it 1 out of 5).  When I screened the film on DVD on November 19, 2004, I found myself very much in between those extraordinarily emotional views, as you’ll read in my previously unseen assessment.
 
Since I started this site back in February I have received exactly one comment.  Perhaps that will change with this review.  I don’t know what it is about religion and Jesus Christ but when you say certain things about both it sets people off in the most surprising ways.  People have way too much passion for this stuff, if you ask me.  But I welcome any feedback on any of the writing I submit on my site here.
 
As an atheist, I’m often very tough on movies like this because I expect them to maintain a reasonable level of logic.  That being said, the mysteries of this subject have made for some interesting movies over the years like Priest and The Last Temptation Of Christ to name but two.  I highly recommend both.
 
Without further delay, here’s what I thought about The Passion Of The Christ.
 
 

THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST
By Dennis Earl

 

 
Jim Caviezel may be the bravest man to play Jesus of Nazareth in the movies. That being said, he is the least interesting of all cinematic messiahs. In Mel Gibson’s The Passion Of The Christ, the last hours of Jesus are given the fundamentalist treatment and the movie suffers tremendously for it. Taking pretty much everything literally, the film follows the supernatural elements of the gospels far too closely to ever come close to telling a cohesive story of an actual, real life hero.
 
The movie doesn’t spend much time introducing characters or allowing the audience to get to know them and care about them. Director/co-writer Gibson expects you to reach deep into your childhood memories and pull out those automatic responses to all the familiar elements of this story from your tedious days in Sunday School. Problem is, I didn’t care. The movie isn’t terribly moving and is way too slow, even at just over 2 hours.
 

Beginning with a babbling, shivering Jesus in the forest with a few of his closest disciples, Judas Iscariot (Luca Lionello) makes a deal he will regret. He accepts a bribe from some unsavory characters and leads Roman soldiers to Jesus’ outdoor hangout. Despite a scuffle between the warriors and the disciples – really, did we need that whole real-time-slowed-down-then-sped-up-again-so-Peckinpah-could-be-proud routine? – Jesus doesn’t resist but gets a swollen eye anyway and is taken to a local Jewish temple where his long abuse continues.

The movie never really makes Jesus much of a threat to the High Priests’ way of life and so, it baffled me why they wanted to kill this guy so badly. (Caiaphas, the Head Jewish Priest, twice mentions something about Jesus vowing to destroy their temple and rebuilding a new one in 3 days, but shouldn’t there have been a series of scenes, or perhaps just one, that showed Jesus backing up his threats?)

After "eyewitnesses" come forward to talk about the Galiean’s "magic" and how he uses devils "to cast out other devils", the unconvincingly angry mob start beating on the guy and take him to the governor Pontius Pilate (Hristo Shopov) who has no interest in satiating their bloodthirsty demands.

He briefly speaks with Jesus and you start to wonder if his enemies are right after all. The dude really is arrogant with his I’m-the-only-way nonsense. No wonder people got bent.

Still not convinced he should be killed, he tells the mob to take Jesus to see Herod (Luca De Dominicis), a wig-wearing, fruity wingnut who also doesn’t see the need for an immediate death sentence. He orders them to return to Pilate who, begrudgingly, (and much to the annoyance of his wife) agrees to have Jesus beat up a little bit. 70 lashings later, Pilate gives the crowd a choice. He remembers that a prisoner is given amnesty every year and asks the crowd should they spare Jesus or a murderer named Barabbas. You guessed it, Jesus is screwed. They’d let a convicted killer roam the streets before freeing the King of the Jews.

What follows is not as brutal as everyone has made it out to be.

Nothing but a bloody, lacerated mess, Jesus is forced to wear a crown of thorns by a laughing Roman soldier and his buddies continue to have their way with him. It is decided by the High Priest, after they choose to kill Jesus over the freed murderer, that crucifixion is the way to go. So, onward the mob and the Roman soldiers go as they continue to make Jesus regret being a sacrificial lamb. It takes us forever to get to the expected finish and I just wished they got on with it already. The violence isn’t the problem (that’s actually quite tame, to my surprise). It’s the pacing.

Despite beautiful scenery, convincing sets, and those effective Roman soldiers who come off as tamer Nazis, the film lacks a point. We’ve been here before, we know the start, we know the important moments, and we know the finish. Instead of being faithful to the published Gospels, wouldn’t it be great to get a Jesus movie that reflected reality and didn’t pander to the most self-righteous of so-called Christians?

The best movie I’ve seen about Jesus is Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation Of Christ, a great film that truly explored the character of Jesus, his relationships and what he felt God’s expectations of him were. Although it has familiar elements, it felt fresh, convincing and the ending was a nice surprise. By contrast, Passion goes through the motions. It has no interest in the characters or in reaching the audience’s deepest thoughts and emotions. It has no interest in altering any element of the story or challenging our perceptions of "the Messiah". Its only interest is to show Jesus’ sacrifice for man in foreign languages that sometimes sound like Klingon.

As for the violence, it doesn’t even come close to the horrors of say Apocalypse Now, The Last Of The Mohicans or even Schindler’s List, all superior films that knew how to evoke that horrible feeling in your stomach when you see violence at its most intense. (Only twice did I have those feelings in this movie: first, when the Roman soldiers, all having the time of their lives, start whipping Jesus with something far worse than wooden canes, and second, when nails are hammered into his hands. Awfully hard to screw up the recreation of the latter.)

Despite being a box-office phenomenon and receiving some glowing reviews, The Passion Of The Christ is nothing more than a pandering bore.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
9:37 p.m.
Published in: on April 12, 2006 at 9:49 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Last Seduction

Spring cleaning is a great way to get back in touch with your past.  Since April 3rd, I’ve been posting numerous pieces from my days in college.  Some of these things were published in the student newspaper, The Satellite, between 1993 and 1996, while others have been awaiting some kind of showcase for over 10 years.
 
On Valentine’s Day, 1995, I went to see The Last Seduction downtown.  I’m rather glad I saw it alone because there’s no telling what kind of influence it would’ve had on my date that night had I brought one.  The review you’re about to read never made it into The Satellite.  It was a writing assignment for my professor Richard Giles who was a major supporter of my writing, so much so, in fact, that he offered me a chance to be The Satellite’s Broadway Cinema correspondent where I would have the chance to write about the movies in every issue of the paper, not just selected ones.  (The Broadway Cinema was a cool, one-screen independent theatre that exhibited all kinds of pictures from around the world.  It went out of business in 1998.)  The thing fell apart when the entertainment editor never bothered to make it happen since it was his responsibility to set it up.   It’s too bad.  My life might’ve been different and better.
 
Back to The Last Seduction.  This was one of my favourite films from 1994.  Even though it originally aired exclusively on HBO it did get a theatrical release.  However, it was disqualified from the Oscars because of its affiliation with Television.  Apparently, to be considered, your film has to have been released in theatres first.  In my view, as long as it gets a theatrical run, who cares?  Because of the disqualification, Linda Fiorentino, the film’s captivating star, missed out on what would otherwise have been a surefire Oscar nomination, maybe even an actual victory.  Even though she was fine in Dogma, her performance in The Last Seduction might be her best.
 
 

THE LAST SEDUCTION

By Dennis Earl

Rarely in American movies do we see women in control of a given situation. Often they are portrayed as victims, whores, mothers or any other ridiculous stereotype you can think of. Let’s face it. Women are capable of doing so much more in the world and yet, we almost never see their accomplishments on the big screen. Behind the scenes, it’s the same story. No matter how hard young Hollywood tries to improve the status of women in the studio system, old Hollywood continues to limit the number of women in powerful executive positions. In front of the camera, they continue to stand by the inaccurate characterizations of women. It’s about time we started changing our perceptions of everyone and not just women, either.

What makes The Last Seduction so refreshing is its freedom to allow a very intelligent woman the opportunity to control her own life, and the men in it, without compromise. The movie stars Linda Fiorentino (Vision Quest) in an unforgettable performance as Bridget Gregory, every sexist male’s worst nightmare. She’s fiercely independent, brilliant, stunningly beautiful in every possible way and has a mean streak that you wouldn’t believe. She has a talent for writing words upside down and that sexual appetite of hers is, to put it mildly, different.

The movie begins with a successful drug deal. Bridget’s husband, Clay, (Bill Pullman in fine form) is a "prescription" drug dealer who sells the narcotics for about $100 000. When he brings the money home, (all of it stuffed in his shirt because his customers wouldn’t give him a suitcase to stash it in) Clay makes the fatal mistake of smacking Bridget right in the face. (It’s amazing what one slap will do to a person.) Once Clay hits the showers, Bridget steals the money and heads out to New York State.

The movie only gets better from there. Bridget meets a dumbass local named Mike (Peter Berg from Late For Dinner) who harbours an embarrassing secret from his past. She controls the relationship every step of the way. She has sex when she wants it and despite the wishes of Mike, refuses to have any emotional involvement or sparkling conversation with him. Meanwhile, Bridget’s irate husband hires a private investigator (Bill Nunn from Do The Right Thing) to get back the money but, as the audience discovers, this is not an easy task.

The Last Seduction was directed by John Dahl whose other 1994 film, Red Rock West, was a good, twisty entertainment about a drifter (Nicolas Cage) who rolls into a small town looking for work and ends up being mistaken for an assassin. I liked that film but it hardly compares to The Last Seduction.

Dahl is the new master of film noir. He gives us characters who are clever, dirty, mischievous and memorable. This film is no exception. Linda Fiorentino gives an incredibly rich performance and it’s a shame she didn’t receive a Best Actress Oscar nomination because her work in this movie is the best performance I’ve seen this past year. Period. By the way, The Last Seduction and Red Rock West were both disqualified from Oscar consideration because they both aired on Pay-TV earlier in 1994. Let me go on record by saying this is a ridiculous technicality and the fact that both of these wonderful films even got a theatrical release was an achievement in itself. (Both films originally aired on HBO and TMN after failing to find distributors).

The Last Seduction is an excellent film. See it while you still can, and where it was meant to be seen in the first place: at your local cinema.

 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, April 9, 2006
7:23 p.m.
Published in: on April 9, 2006 at 7:25 pm  Leave a Comment  

Lit From Within

This is a very short review of a terrific benefit album released 11 years ago.  Never accepted by The Satellite (Mohawk College’s student newspaper), it has remained unseen until now.  I had a really strong reaction to Lit From Within as you’ll discover.  I think the CD is long out-of-print but you might be able to hunt down either a used copy in the record shops or a new one online.  It’s worth checking out.  There’s some compelling material on there.
 
LIT FROM WITHIN
Various Artists
**** (out of 5 stars)
By Dennis Earl
 
 
Lit From Within is one of the more inventive benefit CDs I’ve heard lately. Not only does the album condemn rape and violence against women, it also showcases some of Canada’s most eclectic musicians and spoken word performers. It’s a concept album, dealing very candidly with the feelings a woman has before, during and, especially, after a sexual assault. This is a very good album and it contains some of the most disturbing poetry I have ever heard. The best poetry comes from Evelyn Lau. Her two selections are called Bruises, which is absolutely brilliant, and Nineteen. Lau has a cold and rather stoic approach to reciting poetry. And it is harrowing to listen to.

In Nineteen, Lau uses a dead flower as a metaphor for the state of an abused woman in a damaging relationship. It is wilting away in the grocer’s white pail. The men bring home "dead flowers [that are] uprooted in their hands." They have the power over their women and control of the situation. But, sooner or later, the women plot to either kill their lovers or simply run away: "Is it not enough that you got away?"

On the musical side of things, there are a number of previously released tracks thrown in with some new ones. They include yet another rendition of Sarah MacLachlan’s Good Enough, (it’s still a marvellous song), Crash Vegas’ spooky abortion number, Clinic (from Aurora), Mae Moore’s beautiful Pieces Of Clay and Taste Of Joy’s lacklustre Dear John (from Trigger Fables).

But the most effective song on the album is by the unpredictable Meryn Cadell. It’s called Save and who knew the goofy Cadell could break your heart with her vocals. It’s a stunning number from an underrated musician.

By the way, all of the proceeds from Lit From Within go directly to Canadian Rape Crisis Centres across the country. I’m wondering whether that’s really going to help women in these centres. I mean, what happens there? How do they learn how to avoid getting involved in a destructive relationship? How effective are these centres? Do women come out even more timid than before or are they smarter? Do they make better choices?

I hope these questions are answered in another concept album as compelling as this one.

 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, April 9, 2006
1:37 a.m.
Published in: on April 9, 2006 at 1:40 am  Leave a Comment  

From The Published Archives: Walk On

Here’s one of my favourite CD reviews from the Satellite era.  Published November 7, 1995 on page 17, this is my 4-star (out of 5) review of John Hiatt’s 1995 album, Walk On.
 
 
WALK ON
JOHN HIATT
 
By Dennis Earl
Special To The Satellite
 

John Hiatt is one of those rare musicians who are hard to label with a single word. Sure, he’s a singer/songwriter (a good one, actually), he dabbles in a bit of country (without the twang) and straightforward rock ‘n’ roll (both acoustic and electric). But he also experiments with alternative music; discarding the pop mood and replacing it with a darker tone and playing fuzzy, misery-soaked guitars. No wonder he’s a fixture on college radio. He’s a musician who refuses to place commercialism on a higher platform than artistic merit. Quite simply, he rocks!

His latest effort, entitled Walk On, is a splendid showcase for Hiatt’s talent as an effective and observant social commentator. Songs like "Shredding The Document" (which features Gary Louris & Mark Olsen of The Jayhawks on back-up vocals) and the title cut effectively cut beneath the surface of familiar situations like domestic abuse and dysfunctional lowlifes on exploitive TV talk shows to reveal a bitter truth: we only get involved when it matters to us directly. Who cares about everyone else’s problems? If it doesn’t concern me, why should I give a damn. That is what our society has become: selfish and self-important.

Other standout cuts include "The River Knows Your Name," a beautiful ballad about cleansing the soul and expressing your pain, not repressing it; "Wrote It Down And Burned It" which condemns violence against women; and the first single, "Cry Love," a song that seems to be saying to the listener, "Hey! This relationship didn’t work out. So what? Move on and you’ll find another." Not only are all these songs lyrically sound, the music is equally as hooky and melodic, as it should be. There’s no sense in writing deep lyrics if the music is going to sound bad.

There is not a single bad song on this CD. Plus, there are 2 bonus cuts; one of them credited on the last page of the lyric booklet, the other uncredited. The credited bonus cut is called "Thundering Through Pattenburgh", a selection from a CD entitled "From Safety Values To Ribbon Rails," which you can buy through the mail (the address is given on the same page). It’s not a John Hiatt song but rather, a journey through the city via the sounds of the outdoors. Crickets can be heard as an oncoming thunderstorm brews in the background, gradually getting closer and louder. Then, out of nowhere, a subway train screeches by and then, as quickly as it came, the sounds die down and the disc ends. It’s a nicely-recorded selection that fits in nicely with the other material. It’s a fitting companion to "Wrote It Down And Burned It." (By the way, I don’t know what the other song is called but it is also compelling.)

Even though he’s been performing for years, John Hiatt’s Walk On is a good indication of even better music to come. He’s a terrific songwriter and his off-beat voice is rich with distinction, character and genuine soul. He’s not a pretty vocalist like, say, Thomas Yorke of Radiohead, but rather, a "character" vocalist like that of an Art Bergmann. It’s raw, flawed, unpolished. And it works. The man who gave us "Have A Little Faith In Me" and "Perfectly Good Guitar" is in fine form once again. And, if your a fan of Bonnie Raitt, you can listen to her wonderful falsetto as she does back-up duties with Hiatt on "I Can’t Wait."

Wait ’til it goes on sale, you bargain hunters, and then, buy this thoroughly enjoyable CD. You’ll be glad you did.  
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, April 9, 2006
1:02 a.m.
Published in: on April 9, 2006 at 1:04 am  Leave a Comment