Friday The 13th: A New Beginning

Here’s something I’d like to see:  a horror movie that’s actually scary.  God knows I’ve been waiting a long time for one.  After screening an oldie yesterday, I remain pessimistic.
I had resisted screening the Friday The 13th franchise for decades.  I always felt that the Jason Voorhees character was a complete steal of Michael Myers and I had no desire to see a pale imitation over a scary original.  I changed my mind this past January when I rented the first 4 installments. 
None of these films are scary.  All of them are terrible.  I would’ve finished the first 10 films that month but the video store was missing chapters 5 through 9 on DVD.  Thanks to the Hamilton Public Library, I was able to get number 5.  I screened it last night. 
Friday The 13th: A New Beginning accomplishes two things.  It manages to be unintentionally funny on numerous occasions and more disturbing than scary.  Having seen half the franchise now I marvel at how ridiculous every film in the series has been so far.  More than once I have questioned the sanity of the filmmakers.
Released in 1985, A New Beginning was supposed to pick up right where The Final Chapter left off.  Corey Feldman plays the young hero in that disgusting disaster and in the last shot, while embracing his sister in the hospital, he suddenly glares at the camera revealing all is not well in his psyche.  Unfortunately, he couldn’t fully commit to doing the next movie.  (He was filming The Goonies at the time which I absolutely hate now.)  So, the filmmakers completely changed the storyline.
After a brief cameo by Feldman in the fifth movie’s hilariously bad opening sequence, we meet his character, Tommy, many years later.  (The movie is so lazy it doesn’t even bother to tell us how much time has elasped since the events of The Final Chapter.  Judging by the age of the actor who takes over the role, I’d say at least 10 years.)
Tommy, we learn, has been institutionalized for years.  He experienced a psychic breakdown during his traumatic battles with Jason.  Prescription drugs haven’t cured him of his sudden, explosively violent outbursts, nor have they stopped the relentless hallucinations of Jason.  He speaks little and is emotionally withdrawn from others.   
When we first meet the adult Tommy (played by John Shepherd), he’s being transferred by van to a work farm called Pinehurst.  It’s a place for nutty teens to prepare themselves to be thrusted back into the real world.  The only problem is I wasn’t convinced many of them were nuts.  Sure, Tommy fits the criteria but what about the goth chick who is always listening to music?  Or, the stutterer?  Or that horny couple who can’t keep their hands off each other?  How crazy can these people be if the cook’s grandson (Shavar Ross) is always hanging around never feeling uncomfortable?
And what’s the deal with the "no security" policy?  When Tommy meets the doctor who runs the place (what exactly does he do for the kids, I wonder), the guy tells him he can leave whenever he wants.  Well, why doesn’t he?  And what’s stopping the others?  Stupidity.
Meanwhile, Joey’s days are numbered.  He’s this obnoxious fat orphan who is more than a little slow and has no understanding of social graces.  After putting his chocolate-stained fingers on a freshly washed white sheet, he pesters this angry guy who’s trying to chop wood for some unknown reason.  (I don’t remember seeing a fireplace in this place.)  Joey goes on and on and on and pays for it dearly.  The axeman is taken away and we never see him again.  (He should’ve been given a medal of honour for killing off that useless Joey character.)  After Joey’s death, you gotta love how the others pretend they’re going to miss him even though he was nothing but a pest in his one big scene in the movie.
Soon after, more people are killed which leads one to believe that angry axeman escaped from police custody and can’t keep his bloodlust under control.  Or maybe it’s the dopey son of that white trash mom who is a chronic complainer and wants those horny crazies off her property.  But what about that strangely quiet paramedic?  Hmmm.
This is the first Friday The 13th film I’ve seen where there’s more laughter than disturbing content.  But don’t get me wrong.  The kills in this movie are horrible.  For instance, why are so many victims’ eyes removed?  And when the women are killed, why are they usually in some form of undress?  It’s not sexy to see hot nude women get killed, guys!  It’s goddamn depressing.  Trust me on this. 
It’s been noted for years that this franchise (along with the Halloween and Nightmare On Elm Street series) preaches a twisted kind of social conservatism.  As pointed out by the terrific Scream, if you’re a virgin, chances are you’ll survive.  If you can’t control your hornies, death welcomes you.  But in A New Beginning, no one is safe.  If you’re a stutterer who gets rejected by that hot redhead who just laughs in your face when you express your desire to get it on with her, you’re dead.  If you go to bed in just your underwear, you’re dead.  If you do a line or two of coke, you’re dead.  If you had some bad Mexican takeout and you need to use a Portapotty, you’re dead.  If you’re an incredibly hot naked female basking in the afterglow of a quickie, you’re dead.  If you’re a mysterious, grubby-looking stranger oogling that same female without being detected by her, you’re dead.  If you’re trying to fix a stalled engine in the middle of the night while your impatient buddy takes a crap in the woods, you’re dead.  If you’re trying to start the car again from the driver’s side after said crap, you’re dead.
One of the reasons I like watching horrible movies like this is to pick out familiar faces.  In the first Friday The 13th, for example, Kevin Bacon had a major role.  Let’s be honest.  There was no way, based on his performance in that movie, that anyone could’ve predicted that he would go on to have the great career he has had since then.  In The Final Chapter, besides Corey Feldman, you see Crispin Glover.  There’s one moment in that film that has to be seen to be believed.  He does the greatest spaz dance in the history of the cinema.  The funniest thing I’ve ever seen him do.   (The following year he starred in Back To The Future and his quirky career continues to this day.)
Then, there’s Shavar Ross.  He plays Reggie The Reckless in A New Beginning.  (That wouldn’t even pass for a decent wrestling nickname.)  He’s probably best known for playing Gary Coleman’s best buddy, Dudley, on all those old episodes of Different Strokes.  He’s one of the few bright spots in this movie.  Too bad he’s not given much of a character to play.  In fact, in movies like this, have you noticed that character development is suspiciously absent?  Besides the hot naked girls, how can we empathize with characters on the verge of annihilation when we know almost nothing about them?  I mean it’s crazy.  Characters come and go and their only purpose is to be slaughtered by a killer.  There’s nothing exhilarating about this at all.
And then, there’s the misogyny.  I’m not talking about the way the women are killed.  (All the victims, male and female, are brutally murdered in relatively similiar ways.)  I’m talking about the way some of the male characters refer to them.  And it doesn’t just occur in A New Beginning but in early sequels as well.  You can make a lethal and effective horror film without having your male characters act like total jackasses.  It turns off the women (who love horror movies as much we do) and men as well.  It’s gotta stop.    
It’s unbelievable to me that, as I make my way through the series, yet another sequel is in the works.  Not too long ago, it was announced that there was going to be a prequel to the very first Friday The 13th.  Why?  Is it necessary?  These movies are notorious for recycling (A New Beginning recycles the basic revenge plot of the first movie) and aren’t worth anybody’s precious time.  Stop the insanity.
It’s time to face facts.  There’s nothing remarkable about Jason Voorhees other than the fact that he’s a fan of Jacques Plante.  When you see him unmasked you think Toxic Avenger or that monster character from The Goonies.  You don’t get chills.  You just want him to put the mask back on.  (And remember, he didn’t start wearing the mask until well into the third film.)      
Having seen the first five films in this series, I wonder:  Could it get any worse?  As soon as I see number 6, I’ll have my answer. 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, June 30, 2006
10:43 p.m.
Published in: on June 30, 2006 at 10:55 pm  Comments (1)  

From The Published Archives: Boys For Pele

Here’s another CD review from The Satellite Era.  In January 1996, Tori Amos released her third studio album, Boys For Pele.  I hated it.  My written review of the album appeared on page 15 of the March 12th, 1996 edition of Mohawk College’s student newspaper.  (I have no idea why the review surfaced much later than the album’s release.)  I wasn’t the only one who despised it, either, as I mention in the opening paragraph.
I became a fan of Tori’s music in early 1994 when I was a volunteer DJ at Mohawk’s radio station, CHMR (now known as C101.5 FM).  The music director, Jayme Allen, put her second album, Under The Pink, on the Top 30 playlist and I would play numerous tracks from that record during the few months it remained on the list.  I enjoyed hearing all of them.  In June that year, my mom took me to Cheapies downtown, asked me to pick out 3 CDs I wanted for my birthday (which I did) which she then purchased and later wrapped for me to open on my 19th birthday.  (I never understood why she did that.  I could’ve just given her a list of numerous titles (like I’ve always done) and find out on my actual birthday what she actually bought for me.  It’s lame to know what you’re getting ahead of time.  It kills it for me.)
Under The Pink was one of those CDs.  (Siamese Dream and Junkhouse’s first album, Strays, were the others.)  I didn’t play it as often as I thought I would and when I needed to raise money for a Beach Boys box set I wanted, I decided to sell it to Dr. Disc (along with a bunch of other stuff I stopped listening to).  It’s amazing how much I don’t miss that CD today.  (I still have the other two records, though.)  In the meantime, I’ve cooled on Tori Amos.  I tend to like stuff I can sing along with rather than something I would just listen to and I haven’t listened to her music in years.
Back to Boys For Pele.  The one thing that sticks out in my mind the most about that album is one picture in the liner notes.  Believe it or not, Tori breast feeds a pig.  I always wondered if it was Babe.   
One thing has been changed about this review.  I rated CDs out of 5 stars (like every music critic did for The Satellite) and gave Boys For Pele 2 stars.  Somehow, Corey Martin, the Entertainment Editor who oversaw what went in that section of the newspaper, erased (probably by accident) the star rating I gave the album.  He couldn’t remember what I wrote, so he guessed one and a half.  The 2-star rating I gave this pitiful album (which I haven’t heard since I reviewed it 10 years ago) has been restored.
By Dennis Earl
Satellite Staff
Overwrought.  Too long.  Self-indulgent.  She can’t leave well enough alone.  She keeps writing nonsensical lyrics.
These are just some of the complaints critics have had about Boys For Pele, Tori Amos’ third solo album.  Released in January of this year, this 70-minute album has accumulated quite a list of detractors.  Among them:  David Browne of Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, and locally, Nick Krewen of the Hamilton Spectator.  You can add my name to this list as well.
Boys For Pele is a huge disappointment.  Especially, for me, considering I’m an enormous Tori Amos fan.  Unfortunately, this album doesn’t quite compare with her previous release, 1994’s Under The Pink, which was far more entertaining.  Although the album is nicely paced and is beautifully recorded, there is not a good song to be found among the 18 included here.  The main problem lies in Tori’s lyrics.  They’ve become indecipherable.  Just when you think a song is really working, both musically and lyrically, Tori goes off on a tangent and loses her focus.  "Beauty Queen/Horses" and "Father Lucifer" are prime examples.  Ultimately, she wrecks some potentially moving numbers.  This is a common occurrence on the album.
The first single, "Caught A Lite Sneeze," (one of the few songs I did understand), has a beautiful chorus which uses the demolition of a building as a metaphor for the break-up of a couple over another woman.  "Building/tumbling down/didn’t know our love was so small/couldn’t stand at all."  But the verses are evil.  The protagonist is so pissed off at this guy for not leaving his wife and kids that she pretends she is the volcano goddess, Pele, and imagines a mob of men in front of her, waiting to be sacrificed.  "I need a big loan from the girl zone," she wishes, hoping to avoid being mobbed.  This guy is a pig, she thinks, and therefore, all men are pigs who deserve to be executed simply for being males.  I never thought Tori Amos would reveal herself to be a man-hater.  This is unlike her.
The protagonist is no better than the small group of men who practice their exclusive religion of misogyny on a daily basis.  I think she needs to go on a relaxing vacation for a few months and clear her confused state of mind.  She needs it.
The other problem I had with the album was the thieving of ideas from superior sources.  There’s a song entitled "Little Amsterdam," which is about a white sheriff who is sexually involved with a materialistic (and inevitably, doomed) black woman in a "small Southern town."  The plotline seems to have been somewhat stolen from a great 1992 film called One False Move.  (The 4th best film of that year, by the way.)  This material is beneath Tori.  She is capable of writing great original music.  She doesn’t need to steal.  And yes, there’s a Led Zeppelin knock-off here called "Professional Widow".  I’m getting really annoyed with idea-starved musicians who keep ripping off "When The Levee Breaks" when they can’t unearth something new.  This song doesn’t even sound good, especially with that cheesy harpsichord.  It fills the ears with tuneless noises that are about as annoying as a Yoko Ono wail.
But, at least, Tori’s vocals are compelling some of the time.  Boys For Pele, believe it or not, is an album wreaking of ambition.  There are harpsichords here and gospel choirs and brass bands and especially, Tori’s favourite piano, the Bosendorfer.  Unfortunately, it’s the nonsensical lyrics and the overproduced production values that kill what would have been a good album.  The woman with the golden voice (reminiscent of Streisand) needs to write smarter and more moving lyrics in order to match those glorious melodies she composes.  But I’ll always admire her for being the most sensual piano player today.  No one strokes F# better than Tori Amos.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
12:51 p.m.
Published in: on June 28, 2006 at 1:07 pm  Comments (1)  

World Cup Second Round Wrap-up & Quarterfinal Predictions

I have redeemed myself.  I correctly predicted the winners of 6 of the 8 second round match-ups in this year’s World Cup.  As expected, Germany, Brazil, Argentina, England, Portugal and Italy won their games and are all one step closer to winning perhaps the ugliest trophy in sports.
On an unfortunate note, I went with the Swiss instead of the triumphant Ukraine.  (I don’t know about you but that was the most boring game I have ever witnessed in my young life.)  Despite not coughing up any goals from any team they faced, the Swiss blew it during the penalty kicks.  (Interestingly, this has been the only game thus far to get to the penalty kick stage.)   On three attempts to put it past the keeper, one hit the bar and the other two were kept out.  It was an utter disappointment.  The only good thing about the result is that there’s one less dull team to put up with during these finals.
Also, I’m very shocked that France defeated Spain even though history was on their side.  (France have won the majority of their matches over the years.)  They looked so shaky during the group stage I could’ve sworn Spain was going to knock them out.  After taking an early lead (on a penalty kick, no less), they gave up 3 unanswered goals and have been sent packing.  After playing so well in their first three matches, it’s an absolute surprise to me that the Spaniards are gone.  Still, I’m proud of my second round record.
And now it’s time to talk about the quarterfinal match-ups.  We started with 32 and now we’re down to 8.  Who will be the strongest of the remaining squads?  Let’s size up the teams.
Germany Vs. Argentina
The last time these two soccer superpowers battled it out it was the 2005 Confederations Cup tournament.  (It ended in a 2-2 draw.)  They’ve been kicking it back and forth on the pitch since the 1958 World Cup (which was held in Sweden that year).  Of the 10 times they’ve played on the International stage, there have been 4 victories for Argentina, 3 wins for Germany and 3 indecisions.  On any given day, either one of these teams can have their moment in the sun as their past history suggests.  But I still feel the same way about this Argentina squad as I did in the previous two rounds.  They look unbeatable to me.  (Although in the round of 16, Mexico exposed a rare defensive vulnerability.)  This will be very close.  One goal will decide who proceeds to the final four.  Argentina will win.
Italy Vs. Ukraine
The thumbsucker saved the day for the Italians.  But can he do it again in this crucial third round encounter?  These 2 soccer-mad nations have previously played each other on three different occasions.  Italy has defeated them decisively twice and the third match ended in a goalless draw.  We have seen many surprises in this World Cup tournament but this will be a predictable result.  I’m hoping for a much more exciting game.  Italy will win.
England Vs. Portugal
David Beckham single-handedly booted the English squad into the quarter-finals with his terrific free kick in the match against Ecuador.  They are set to do battle with a demoralized Portugese team.  The second half of the second round encounter with the Dutch was one for the history books.  Exciting, interesting and loaded with controversy.  A simple screw-up by the referee in that match after an injured player had been dealt with was the beginning of the madness.  (Long story short, the Dutch player who was given the ball just needed to kick it to the other team and play would resume as normal.  But he kicked it to a teammate who subsequently went for a goal.  It got worse from there.)  In the end a dozen players got cautioned (mostly on the Portugese side), 4 of which were sent off.  (In the end, each team played with 9 guys on the field, just like the Italy/USA group match.)
This result has greatly affected the starting line-up for Portugal.  Deco and Costinha have been suspended and won’t be playing at all against England.  Luis Figo (who did his Junkyard Dog impersonation for no reason in the Dutch game) is very lucky not to have been red-carded himself.  (Apparently, he was supposed to but was only given a yellow.)  Any more shenanigans from him (which also included pitiful attempts at pretending to be injured), if he’s still allowed to play, that is, and Portugal’s confidence will continue to plummet.  Other players will be carrying their cautions into the quarterfinals and like Figo will have to watch themselves.
England and Portugal have played each other 10 times previously.  The Brits have won 3 times while the Portugese have won twice.  (There have been 5 ties.)  All that considered, England have the advantage.  Despite the absence of Michael Owen (who wasn’t playing very well anyway), England have proven they can work very hard to score goals, but they need to score more often.  They will need to shut down the determined Portugese strikers completely if they are to be successful.  They are more than capable of doing this. 
The last time these two juggernauts met was in the quarterfinals of Euro 2004.  After battling to a 2-2 draw following 2 hours of play, Portugal won 6-5 on penalty kicks.  The result will be different this time.  Portugal will not have 2 of their best players on the field and with several others booked by the referee in the previous match with the Dutch, they probably won’t play as hard as they would like.  Beckham and the lads are the hungrier and more talented squad.  I’ll be rooting for them.  England will win.
Brazil Vs. France
8 years after their asses were handed to them, Brazil will be hoping for a better result against the team that skunked them in the 1998 Final.  France have been a slow starter in this year’s finals but they’ve steadily improved since the third group match (their first victory since they won the ugly-ass trophy in ’98).  They looked mighty impressive against Spain in round 2, coming from behind to win 3-1.  (If only Henry can stay onside for once in his life, they might be able to score more goals in the future.)  With captain Zidane back in the lineup (and scoring that third goal which was a beauty), their confidence is high. 
Brazil look like a team ready to repeat, but this will be a difficult game for them to win.  These 2 powerhouses have faced each other 7 times since 1958.  France won three times while Brazil managed two victories and they tied each other on 2 other occasions.  But here’s something else to ponder:  Brazil haven’t beaten France in 14 years.  Will their slump continue? 
This is a very difficult one to call.  It’s another one of those heavyweight encounters that could favour either team.  I greatly misread France’s collective psychological state and was surprised that they were able to fend off the Spanish attackers.  I will not make that mistake again.  Brazil are the greatest soccer nation in the history of the sport but France has given them plenty of trouble in the past.  I’m thinking Brazil will not have an easy time scoring against this vastly improved French team.  Brazil haven’t beaten them in a World Cup final since 1958 when they won 5-2.  They’ve not scored more than 2 goals on them in a single game since then.   With France finally finding open spaces near the goal, expect them to score big against Brazil.  It probably won’t be a shut-out and it may be so close it’ll get to the crucial penalty kick stage, but I don’t think this team of superstars will end their dreadful slump.  France will win.
When the semifinal match-ups are settled, I’ll be back to recap my picks and forecast round 4.  Here’s hoping we witness some amazing football this weekend.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
6:27 p.m.
Published in: on June 27, 2006 at 6:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

World Cup Predictions (Round Two)

There aren’t many compelling reasons to get up early in the morning on a regular basis but the World Cup would be one of them.  Since the 2006 tournament began a fortnight ago, I have seen 95% of the matches played thus far.  (It would’ve been 100% were it not for the past 4 days where 2 games were played simultaneously in the mornings and afternoons.  (I flipped back and forth so I wouldn’t miss any of the goals or terrific saves.  I was mostly successful.) It’s understandable why FIFA scheduled them that way (to avoid chicanery) but I would’ve liked to have seen all the games, which was my goal from the start.)  It was a struggle in the beginning to go to bed at a reasonable hour and then to rise at an ungodly time of the morning.  But I persevered and have seen some amazing moments.  (Unfortunately, it has to be said that a number of the games have been deadly dull.  Hopefully, that’s going to change.)
After doing reasonably well in the first round of predictions, it’s time to move on to the round of 16.  Will I do a better job of prognosticating this time around or worse?  In four days, I’ll have my answer.  Here’s what I think will happen in the 8 matches of the second round:
Germany Vs. Sweden
The former is the home team, they have the number one scorer and they look just as strong as they did four years ago when they made it all the way to the final game against Brazil.  The latter have struggled and need a win against a solid soccer nation to rebuild their confidence.  Germany and Sweden have a long history together going back to 1934 when they battled in that year’s World Cup.  (Germany won 2-1.)  They have faced each other 11 times since then (12 games overall) and Germany have won the majority of matches (7).  Besides that statistic and 4 draws, Sweden has only beaten them once, during a friendly in 1990.
Even without all that knowledge, I would still make the same prediction.  Germany are on a roll and are trying to move on after their terrible defeat at the hands of Ronaldo and company in the 2002 Final.  They seem hungry to me.  Khan hasn’t been in the net this time (he’s a back-up this year) but goaltending wasn’t really their problem.  (Sometimes, despite your best efforts, there are some shots you just can’t stop.)  Here’s hoping there are a lot of goals scored in this one.  Germany will win.
Argentina Vs. Mexico
Before the tournament began, I had no idea who I thought would win the whole shebang.  After seeing Argentina’s first two group matches, I now know.  They look unstoppable.  It’s been 20 years since they last won (controversially, it should never be forgotten) and I can’t even see Brazil, the defending champions, shutting down this South American juggernaut.
Mexico are a good team but they’re not Argentina.  They have faced each other 14 times in International competitions since the 1930 World Cup.  Argentina have beaten them 5 times.  Mexico has only claimed victory twice.  The remaining seven matches ended in draws.  Expect a lot of goals and a terrific match.  Argentina will win.
Italy Vs. Australia
Here’s a very interesting match-up.  2 teams who have never faced each other, not even in a friendly.  Australia surprised me during the group stage but I think their luck will run out against a much-improved Italy.  With the great Totti and Del Piero among others playing well, Italy’s going to have a better World Cup run this year than they did in 2002.  Italy will win.
Switzerland Vs. Ukraine
2 teams I seriously undervalued.  This might be the most difficult match to call.  Their World Cup rankings are very close together (the Swiss are 24th and the Ukraine is 28th).   Like Italy and Australia, they have never fought each other on the pitch.  Could be a very close, exciting match.  Both won 2 of their group matches and looked very confident.  The difference will be goaltending.  Ukraine got killed by Spain (the only team that scored on them) while Switzerland have yet to concede a single goal.  That should be the difference.  Switzerland will win.
England Vs. Ecuador
Once again, here are two teams meeting each other for the first time.  England struggled to get goals at times during the group stage but eventually managed to score 5 times.  They have suffered a major blow with the early exit of Michael Owen who suffered an excruciating leg injury that looks bad no matter how many times you watch the replays.  (He won’t be playing any games for the rest of the year.) It should be noted that he had been struggling through the group matches and perhaps his absence won’t be a factor.  On the plus side, Rooney looks very healthy and seems to be over his foot injury.  (He made his first start in the third group match against Sweden. When he was substituted in the second half of that game, his famous temper was exposed while he threw off his shoes on the bench.  Leave the childishness to McEnroe, eh?)  If he can produce assists and/or goals, England will be in great shape.  And never discount Mr. Beckham.  Seems like a lovely man and when he wants to, he can deliver when England needs him to.  He will continue to be an important factor for Brittania.  My Grandpa would’ve loved him, too.
As for Ecuador, who have qualified for their second consecutive World Cup, they could always shock us again with another win.  But England have a lot more to prove and with Owen out, they will be hungry for a victory.  Should be a close one with few goals.  England will win.
Portugal Vs. Netherlands
This one could easily go either way.  Holland are constantly picked to win the World Cup and always come up short.  Portugal is another favourite who have yet to win the odd-looking trophy.  They have played each other 9 times since 1990.  Portugal have the edge in victories (5 to 1.) and they’ve tied each other on 3 different occasions.  This year, the Netherlands have struggled in the goal-scoring department.  They seem to average a goal a game.  Not good if you want to keep progressing.  Portugal have scored 5 in their 3 matches and have had their problems as well.  In the end, history is a good guide.  Portugal will win.
Brazil Vs. Ghana
The easiest result to predict.  Unless the fierce Brazillians (who look increasingly tough in every match) fall asleep defensively, I don’t see them losing.  Ghana, Africa’s best hope for the championship, have stunned everybody with how well they’ve been playing.  Beating the United States and the Czech Republic (two Top 5 ranked teams, no less) will most definitely enhance their burgeoning reputation.  But, as Ryan Seacrest would say, the journey ends here.  These two nations have faced each other once before and it wasn’t pretty.  Or close.  In a 1996 friendly, Brazil won by a score of 8-2.  Will this year’s result be any different?  I think it’ll be a closer game but ultimately history will repeat itself.  Brazil will win.
Spain Vs. France
This could be the most entertaining match of the second round.  Incredibly, they have only faced each other 7 times since 1988.  And France has been the dominant team during their matches.  (They’ve won 5 games.)  But France has looked shaky thus far.  They’ve only won one game so far (but are undefeated).  They’ve struggled with their offense.  They don’t seem terribly united, either.  (Replays have picked up the occasional disagreement.)  Plus, their superstars, Zidane (who sat out the third match which they won) and goalkeeper Fabien Barthez, are on the verge of retirement.  They’ve already won the World Cup during their peak 8 years ago on home soil.  Could they possibly be determined enough to taste glory again?      
Their opponents are one of the strongest teams playing right now.  Spain have only coughed up one measly goal and they have produced impressive finishes 8 times thus far.  Their only victory against France happened to be the most recent encounter with that nation.  A 2001 friendly in Barcelona.  I have to go against history because Spain have momentum and France are not as solid as I anticipated they would be.  I could be wrong with this pick but I have to go with my instincts.  Spain will win.
Once the matches for the quarter-finals are settled, I’ll be back to assess my second round picks and make more predictions for round three.  Until then, enjoy the second round of the World Cup.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, June 23, 2006
6:57 p.m.
Published in: on June 23, 2006 at 7:24 pm  Leave a Comment  

Assessing My Predictions For The First Round Of World Cup 2006

So, how did I do?  After getting so many predictions wrong during the 2006 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs, did I redeem myself with my World Cup picks?  Let’s look at the evidence, starting with Group A.
I wrongly predicted that this was going to be "one of the most competitive groups this year".  Everything was decided after all 4 teams played their second games.  However, I was right about Germany making it to the next round.  They did, in fact, finish first (as I expected) with 9 points.  Along with Spain and Argentina, the Germans scored 8 times in their successive victories.  The home team looks very strong going into the round of 16.  I shouldn’t get too much of a big head since that was a very easy call to make. 
There was a genuine surprise in this group which led to my second incorrect prediction.  I felt that Costa Rica would finish second.  As it turns out, they finished last.  Didn’t even win a single game.  (What would you expect from a team that gave up 9 goals and only answered with 3 of their own?)  The general consensus was that Poland (who have had strong tournament showings in the past) would join Germany in the next round.  Wrong.  (At least I didn’t make that foolish prediction.)  The highly underrated squad from Ecuador stunned everybody with 2 straight victories, assuring them entrance into the round of 16. 
Moving on to Group B, I correctly predicted that England and Sweden would move on to the next round.  I just got their placings wrong.  Who knew England would win 2 games during the group stage?  (This is the first time they’ve ever accomplished that.) A tie with Sweden assured them first place.  However, advancing to round two was not an easy task at all for Sweden, who only managed one win in their matches.  I really thought they would take the group and England would squeak through.  Funny how the reverse happened.
Next is Group C.  I got this one exactly right.  Argentina finished first and The Netherlands came in second.  Both had the same amount of points (7) but thanks to Argentina’s absolute thrashing of Serbia&Montenegro they won the group. 
The Group D results were just as predictable as Group C.  Portugal won all their matches and won the group.  Mexico came in a distant second.  I picked both teams to advance in the order they finished. 
Group E was a completely different story.  A very tight group right from the get-go, my prediction that the Czech Republic (the second highest ranked team going into the tournament, right behind defending World Cup Champions Brazil) would finish second couldn’t have been more wrong.  After a strong showing against the overrated Americans (who finished last) the Czechs failed to score a single goal in their remaining matches.  Ghana, clearly the Cinderella team this year, shocked everybody by skunking the Czechs 2-0 and eliminating the underachieving US Squad in their final group match.  We’ll see how this second place team (ranked 30th going into the final stages) will fare in round two.  At least my prediction about Italy came true.  They finished first with 7 points.  (Ghana had 6.)
As I anticipated, Brazil won Group F (although they looked a little shaky in the goal-scoring department early on).  If Croatia had scored on that penalty kick against Japan they would’ve finished second like I predicted.  But the Japanese goalkeeper guessed right, kept the ball out and Croatia had to settle for a scoreless draw.  Australia is going to the next round in their place.
Group G was full of surprises.  First, France continued right where they left off 4 years ago by struggling to score a single goal.  Going into their last match with 2 ties, they finally won a game by defeating Togo, the worst-ranked team in the competition.  I correctly picked them to go through but they finished second instead of first, which was where I thought they would finish.  So, I was half right on that one.  Amazingly, the Swiss took the group with 2 victories and a tie.  Easily the most competitive group this year, the Korea Republic, my pick to come in second, very nearly got through.  (If France lost to Togo, they would’ve had enough points to go through without having to win or tie.)  Sadly, their loss to the Swiss ended their hopes of matching or topping their astounding result in 2002.
Finally, there’s Group H.  Spain didn’t let me down.  I expected them to win all their matches.  They won all their matches.  I expected them to win the group.  They did.  But Saudi Arabia failed to live up to my expectations of them.  (I thought they would finish behind Spain.)  They had a great chance to beat Tunisia (a game which had some terrific goals) but it ended in a 2-2 tie.  Without that crucial victory, it was very difficult to secure victories in their remaining matches. 
I completely underestimated the Ukraine squad.  Their two victories have assured them second place and a trip to the round of 16.  We’ll see how far they’ll go.
So, let’s recap, shall we?  Of the 16 teams to advance to the first knock-out stage, I correctly named 11.  (Not bad.)  As for placings, I correctly predicted where 8 of the 16 remaining squads would finish.  (This needs improvement.)
Coming up next:  who will advance to the quarter-finals?
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, June 23, 2006
5:31 p.m.
Published in: on June 23, 2006 at 5:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

From The Published Archives: The Age Of Innocence and In The Name Of The Father

1993 was a splendid year for movies and especially for actor Daniel Day-Lewis.  He excelled in two films:  Martin Scorsese’s The Age Of Innocence (criminally overlooked by the Academy Awards despite several nominations) and In The Name Of The Father.
I wrote reviews of both films for Mohawk College’s student newspaper, The Satellite.  The Age Of Innocence piece (my second review to get published following my assessment of The Good Son) appeared in the November 2, 1993 edition.  My review of In The Name Of The Father was the lead article of the Entertainment section in the February 1, 1994 edition.  (It appeared originally on page 10 and was accompanied by a cool photo of Day-Lewis getting tortured by an interrogator.)
I’ve decided to showcase these reviews collectively rather than individually because of Daniel Day-Lewis.  It was a banner year for the immensely talented actor.  He was so good in both movies that he could’ve received 2 Oscar nominations for his acting.  (He got the nod for Father.)  The funny thing is he had to turn down an important American film in order to do In The Name Of The Father.  What was the name of that movie he turned down?  Philadelphia.  Tom Hanks, the actor who beat him for Best Actor that year, owes the transformation and complete restoration of his career to Day-Lewis.  (Remember, Hanks started off the decade with flops like Joe Versus The Volcano and The Bonfire Of The Vanities.  Beginning with A League Of Their Own in 1992, he started to get back on track.  But that was a comedy.)  Had Day-Lewis decided to play the AIDS-stricken, closeted lawyer instead of one of the wrongfully accused Guildford Four, Hanks’ place in the movie business would be very different today.  One wonders if Day-Lewis would have been as good as Hanks in that movie.  We’ll never know for sure.
In The Name Of The Father got nominated for Best Picture even though it’s not as superb as The Age Of Innocence which, amazingly, didn’t get recognized.  That being said, they are both very strong films and if you’ve never seen them, I highly recommend you rent them as a double bill. 
Scorsese’s Latest A Real Treat
By Dennis Earl
Entertainment Staff
It’s difficult to imagine director Martin Scorsese making a period drama after viewing many of his street smart New York pictures.  After all, costume dramas are Merchant & Ivory’s specialty.  But, much to my surprise, he has once again proven his ability to make excellent films from various genres.
The Age Of Innocence, based on the award-winning novel by Edith Wharton, tells a story of how the slightest negative rumour can affect the prim and proper atmosphere in New York during the 1870’s.  The movie stars Daniel Day-Lewis as Newland Archer, an attorney who rarely shows his true feelings or speaks his true thoughts.  He’s engaged to May Welland (Winona Ryder), a beautiful young woman who is not as naive as she seems.  During a rapturous opera, Newland goes to the balcony seats to sit with his beloved.  Sitting next to May is her cousin, Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer), a controversial countess married to a wealthy European man whom she seeks a divorce from.  Ellen is the topic on everyone’s mind due to her alleged affair with another man, and her possible divorce which is considered a "no-no" in this society.
Newland is assigned by his firm to convince Ellen to keep the marriage flowing but, much to his astonishment, finds himself attracted to Ellen.  If both of these characters decide to leave their old lives for a new one, their reputations would be permanently damaged.  And so begins an off and on romance that gradually develops into a quiet scandal.
Martin Scorsese’s The Age Of Innocence is quite simply a beautiful movie.  Everything from the costumes to the music and the story itself are absolutely riveting.  We care about all three of these characters, which is not an easy achievement since only one of the characters shows true emotion at all times.
There have been a few criticisms about Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance.  Basically, they’ve said he lacks emotion in his facial expressions and his delivery of dialogue.  However, that is precisely the point.  During this era of living, people kept their opinions bottled up inside them or they just gossipped behind closed doors.  Day-Lewis does an immaculate job of playing a character who, under only secretive sessions, speaks freely to the woman he wants to be with, Michelle Pfeiffer.
The Age Of Innocence is a great entertainment and one of 1993’s best movies.
Miscarriage Of Justice
By Dennis Earl
Entertainment Staff
It is quite common in our society to read about notorious murder cases or trials, and then, to react with great sympathy for the victim and/or the victim’s family.  But what about the accused?  Could it be possible that the police have nabbed the wrong suspect?  And if so, why are they allowing the person(s) to be subjected to unnecessary interrogation?
This is the premise behind In The Name Of The Father, a powerful fact-based political drama that shows us how easily a miscarriage of justice can occur.
The movie stars Daniel Day-Lewis (The Last Of The Mohicans) as Gerry Conlon, a goofy hippie thief who spends most of his time thieving roof shingles and drinking heavily with his friend Paul.  At the beginning of the film, Gerry, while unlawfully taking some roof shingles, is mistaken for a sniper and is quickly chased by a band of British tank soldiers who are just waiting for the opportunity to annihilate some Irish bad boys.  This event leads to a scuffle between some of the neighbouring Irish and English soldiers.  Afterwards, Gerry’s father (Pete Postlethwaite) advises his unemployed son to live in London for a while until the situation improves in his home country.
Meanwhile, a series of bombs planted by the I.R.A. have obliterated two English pubs along with five victims.  This act results with the passing of the Prevention of Terrorism Act.  It proves to be a powerful law, giving the police freedom to arrest anyone, regardless of suspicion, and to hold them in custody for up to an entire week.
As a result, British lawmen arrest Gerry and Paul for planning and igniting one of the I.R.A. bombs.  Their hippie comrades are taken into custody as well as Gerry’s relatives.
Soon after, the trial of the "Guildford Four" takes place and despite the efforts of the DA, Gerry, Paul and the rest are convicted of a crime none of them has committed.
In The Name Of The Father is based on the true story of Gerry Conlon, a hippie delinquent-turned-author who wrote a novel upon which this movie is based.  It is through this movie that we learn how he became an adult during his 15 unnecessary years in prison.
The movie is a very effective thriller filled with well-directed scenes including the memorable interrogation scene where Daniel Day-Lewis reveals more dimension in his acting ability than ever before.  It is another great performance by the young actor who’s already being considered for a Best Actor Oscar Nomination for his portrayal of Newland Archer in The Age Of Innocence.
I also admired the opening and closing songs co-written by U2’s Bono.  The music prepares you for a journey that should never have taken place.  My only detractions of the film are the length (it needs to be at least 3 hours long to further develop the characters) and the dialogue which is quite unintelligible at times because of the thick Irish accents.
In The Name Of The Father is a worthwhile accomplishment for co-writer/director Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot).  Its revealing insight into the flaws of the justice system are worth viewing.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, June 22, 2006
2:48 p.m.
Published in: on June 22, 2006 at 2:53 pm  Comments (1)  

The Oilers Deserve Our Thanks

I was right.  The Oilers didn’t have enough left in the tank to put away the Carolina Hurricanes in the seventh and deciding game of the Stanley Cup Final.  (Truth be told, I was off by one game.  I picked Carolina to win it all in 6.) 
Watching that seventh game was deeply depressing.  No matter how many times I glared at the TV, no matter how many times I screamed, "Shoot the puck!!!", it was all for naught.  They still lost 3-1.  The game moved very slowly for me (despite what the easily excitable Bob Cole and Harry Neale felt on CBC) and it lacked the zip and excitement of the earlier games in the series.  After being down 3 games to 1, the Oilers astounded all of us with two consecutive victories.  It was Game 6 that was the most impressive.  In my view, it was their best play-off game this post-season.  They completely shut down the Hurricanes’ dangerous offense and scored some truly dramatic goals.  Those victories made the game 7 loss all the more distressing.
But enough about the disappointing loss.  I want to focus on the team itself and how proud I am of them for their tremendous efforts this year.  Remember, they barely squeaked into the play-offs and were not even considered to be potential finalists.  In fact, they weren’t even supposed to get out of the first round.  (This was supposed to be Detroit’s return to form.  Oops.) 
I was genuinely shocked that they defeated the Red Wings in 6.  Then, after dropping two road games to their second round opponents, the San Jose Sharks, they won 4 in a row to get to the Western Conference Final.  (They weren’t supposed to defeat the Sharks, either.)
I expected the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, their third round adversaries, to take them down in 7 after a long, hard-fought series.  It never happened.  The Oilers easily eliminated them in 5 games.  (In fact, they nearly swept them.)
But the Hurricanes were a team on a mission.  You could just sense it in every series they played.  Much like the Oilers in round two, they were down 2 games to zip during their opening round match-up with the Montreal Canadiens.  After replacing Martin Gerber with Cam Ward, the Hurricanes finished the series undefeated.  Then, they knocked off New Jersey and, most surprisingly to me, the Buffalo Sabres.
This was a much stronger Carolina squad than the one that lost the Cup to the Red Wings in 2002.  (Paul Maurice was the coach, then.  Maybe he can get the Toronto Maple Leafs to the Final next season.  You never know.)  They had stronger goaltending, deadlier offense and the best post-season power play.  They deserved to win the Stanley Cup and I want to congratulate them on an amazing season.  It will be very difficult for them to repeat.  (Just ask Tampa Bay.)
Led by Rod Brind’Amour, easily the best captain in the post-season, superb rookie Eric Staal and the vastly underrated Cory Stillman, their opponents never stood a chance. 
That being said, how about those Edmonton Oilers?  First, the goaltending.  That late-season acquisition of the Minnesota Wild goaltender, Dwayne Roloson, was genius.  Despite needing some time to adjust to his new team, he got us into the play-offs.  Then he won 12 games, getting the Oilers into the Final.  After that absolutely brutal collision in game 1 of the Final that forced him to watch the rest of the series, Jussi Markkanen stepped in and played brilliantly.  It was not his fault this team lost the Cup.  He may have let in a soft goal or two but he stepped up his play superbly and at an astonishingly quick rate, as well.  Jussi was brought into a crucial point in the series (after not playing for several months) and went 3-3.  Very respectable.  The Hurricanes’ offense and power play were just too strong even for this talented goalie.  Every time he made a save, regardless of the quality, I always said out loud to the TV, "Good save, Markkanen."  When Roloson was permanently sidelined, I was worried we would be weak in the goaltending department.  I worried for naught.  Markkanen proved he has the goods to keep his team in the game.  (Interesting tidbit:  he had a better GAA than Roloson.  2.17 for 6 games of work to Rollie’s 2.33 for 17 games of action.)  Remember, minus the empty netter in the last minute of the third period, he only let in 2 in the final game and not even Inspector Gadget could’ve stopped those shots.  Both Roloson and Markkanen deserve our thanks for their great performances.  (Just as an aside, I think if Roloson had not been injured, the series would’ve ended a lot sooner and the result would’ve been the same.  He did not look sharp in game 1.)
Next, I have to give it up for our offensive guys.  Fernando Pisani scored many a crucial goal for our team (especially that OT winner in game 5) and he was the only goal scorer in game 7.  (His early goal in the third period kept it close.  If only we had found a way to put more pucks at the net.)  Pisani had the most goals of any Oiler in the play-offs:  14.  Chris Pronger, our first-rate defenseman, had the best overall point total:  21 (5 goals, 16 assists).  Ales Hemsky, who can really skate circles around the opposing team when he wants to, had 17 points, the great Ryan Smyth ("Captain Canada") had 16 and Shawn Horcoff had 19.  It should be no surprise that all of these great athletes were among the top 5 Oilers with the best regular season point totals.  They played with their hearts and their souls, their brains and their brawn.  They deserve our thanks.
Our penalty killers and our defensive guys like Jaroslav Spacek, Steve Staios (who played a great game 7 despite making some blunders earlier in the series), Matt Greene, and all the others were amazing throughout the play-offs.  The Oilers were constantly short-handed in every series they played but it was only Carolina (and only during certain games) who were able to breakthough our first-rate shot blockers.  Take a bow, fellows and enjoy your rest.  You deserve it.  You had a great season and don’t let this get you down.  You’ll be back next season.
And finally, even though I am not a fan, I have a newfound respect for coach Craig MacTavish.  Whatever he did for this team this year, he was the guiding light that got us oh-so-close to tasting something we haven’t savoured in 16 years:  the sweet flavour of a championship victory.  I’ve long wanted him replaced by someone better.  I’ve discovered during this post-season that he’s right where he belongs.  Thanks Craig.  Good luck next season.
Despite all of my yelling, the brutal name-calling, my stress headaches, my sometimes bitter temperament, my angry looks, and my frequently high blood pressure, it was a terrific year for my Oilers.  I love this team and will continue to root for them next season.  I never expected them to get as far as they did.  They gave it their all and I’m proud of them.  Maybe next time I won’t underestimate their abilities so much.
This was one of the best teams in Oiler history.  Enjoy the summer, guys.  And see you next season.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
6:54 p.m.
Published in: on June 20, 2006 at 6:55 pm  Leave a Comment  

White Chicks

Gene Siskel had this great test for bad movies: What would be better? Watching actors playing characters in a terrible on-screen production or watching a documentary of the same actors being themselves having lunch together? Think about it. It’s a provocative question.

One wonders what he would’ve made of White Chicks, one of the worst would-be comedies I’ve ever seen. It wreaks of more than just desperation. It operates on the flimsiest of premises and, in my view, would definitely not pass Siskel’s rather clever test. In fact, it would’ve insulted his intelligence.

Shawn and Marlon Wayans play a couple of hapless FBI Agents who, in the real world, would’ve never been accepted into the training academy in the first place, let alone become actual agents. These guys are so stupid even the Police Academy would turn them down.

The opening sequence in the film ably demonstrates their incompetence. Buried under latex and fake hair (and speaking with excruciatingly bad accents), they pretend to be a couple of Mexican variety store owners. They speak mostly gibberish, save for a few familiar lines of La Bamba and Guantanamera. In walks a small, suspicious group of foreigners. The cops (and the audience) think these guys are up to no good. (They’re suspected of drug dealing.) They announce that the "ice cream" the variety store owners ordered has arrived.  Soon after a suitcase full of money is opened, all hell breaks loose. The FBI guys remove their latex masks and open up a can of whoop-ass. Then they discover the ice cream. Then, the real bad guys show up. And escape.

Their boss (Frankie Faison from all 4 Hannibal Lecter movies) is none too pleased with their efforts. If I was their boss, I’d fire them on the spot. What does Mr. Faison do? He orders them to clean up the mess they made. Wouldn’t that remove important evidence from the scene that the real bad guys left behind, like a bullet casing, perhaps? It’s hard to know at this point which of these three characters have the least intelligence.

Then we meet the Wilson sisters. They make Nicky and Paris Hilton (the obvious targets of this piss-poor satire) seem bearable by comparison. The Wayan Brothers are assigned the extremely thankless task of shadowing these rich bitches. Apparently, someone wants to kidnap them. Once you meet them, you wish someone would already. They are so disagreeable that even the Wayans can’t take them. They pick them up at the airport and on the way to the hotel where they’ll be temporarily staying, a fateful decision to open a passenger-side window leads to the near-death of a beloved pet. Can you say "poor taste"? I knew you could.

After one of the Wilsons (you really can’t tell them apart and why would you?) has a "bitch fit", one of the dopey FBI agents comes up with the bright idea of becoming them. Literally. A better idea would’ve been to let the kidnapper just take them away already so that the quality of the movie might improve. Then again, a whole bunch of annoying characters would have to be kidnapped for this movie to start winning me over.

Thankfully, the Wilsons are so astonishingly brain-dead, they agree to stay secluded in the hotel while our increasingly asinine heroes go about the incredibly unconvincing task of imitating them. (Whatever keeps them off-screen.) A bunch of scientists are brought in to create the full-body latex disguise the Wayans will be wearing during their weekend in the Hamptons. When you see them as the Wilsons it is utterly unconvincing. They look like aliens trying to imitate ditzy blondes. Really tall ditzy blondes with big feet. (The real girls are way shorter, guys.)

Just look at their faces. They’re bizarre. The eyes look wrong and their faces are nowhere near the same as the Wilsons. Plus, the Wayans Brothers are fairly fit men. They look like men dressed as women. Really unattractive women who walk, run, jump, flirt and sometimes talk like men, also. And when they do talk like women, they sound like that wrestler Chyna and not at all like the Wilsons.

Fortunately, everybody is fooled by their act. Yes, everybody, which means there is not one intelligent character in this movie (and that includes FBI Agents, close friends, and even a journalist). If there was, the Wayans’ true identities would be exposed in a second.

The make-up effects in this movie are the worst I have ever seen. Did no one associated with this production step back and really scrutinize how the Wayans really looked as the Wilsons? If the effect doesn’t work, the movie doesn’t work. News flash: the movie doesn’t work.

Believe it or not, I did laugh during a few sequences. (Most of the time, I cringed silently for long stretches.) When the fake Wilsons get acquainted with the incredibly stupid friends of the real Wilson sisters, who initially look puzzled but still believe they’re the real deal, (why no "bad facelift" jokes?) they all go to a party where we meet Latrell Spencer (Terry Crews). He’s an NBA star with a major jones for white broads. He’s also remarkably creepy, coming on so strong and sickly one wonders how he gets laid in the first place. (There’s a sick joke about how women who go to bed with him end up in wheelchairs. Not funny in the post-OJ era.)

He’s deeply in love with one of the fake Wilsons and later, during a charity bachelorette auction, he pays $50,000 to win a date with one of them. When they’re in his car together, the fake Wilson sister turns on the radio and the song A Thousand Miles begins. It should be noted that he/she has been trying everything on this date to turn off big Spencer (eating too much, biting a toenail right off the toe, insulting his playing ability, farting), none of it successful. The next thing you know, Spencer announces his love for this song. The way he moves his head to the music is the film’s funniest scene. (He has another funny moment during the nightclub sequence.)

If the word "stupid" had not yet been invented, this movie would inspire its creation. It knows nothing about the FBI, journalism, undercover work, women, friendship, conviction and, most importantly, comedy. So many things can go wrong in a comedy without affecting your enjoyment of it. You can hate the characters, the story, the way it looks and even the music. It can also be incredibly offensive. But it can always be saved by a lot of laughs. As long as it is consistently funny, you can forgive its less-important faults.

White Chicks is not funny. There is no way this premise could work comedically. The only way to convince the audience that the real Wilson sisters and the fake Wilson sisters look and sound exactly the same is to use the same actors for all four roles (and have the Wayans Brothers dub their voices at appropriate intervals). But it still wouldn’t be funny because the Wilson sisters are annoying. The fact they have equally irritating rivals (Brittany Daniel and Jaime King) with the same level of intelligence doesn’t help.

Add into the mix a deeply disturbed and controlling wife, two more dumb FBI Agents (who did make me laugh a couple of times, I have to admit), and forgettable villains (not to mention the least-developed crime story ever committed to film) and what do you end up with?

To quote Colin Mochrie on Whose Line Is It Anyway?, "Crap, crap, crap!"

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, June 18, 2006
5:15 p.m.
Published in: on June 18, 2006 at 5:48 pm  Leave a Comment  

From The Published Archives: The River Wild

Let’s go back to the fall of 1994.  Lots of good pictures released during that period:  Ed Wood, Pulp Fiction, The Shawshank Redemption, Quiz Show.  But there was also a ton of crap.  I’m talking about movies like A Good Man In Africa, Stargate and The Specialist.  Terrible, just terrible.  And those titles are just off the top of my head.
In September that year I attended an early public screening of The River Wild.  This was Meryl Streep’s first real attempt at doing an action picture and I felt she failed on this first attempt.  I wrote a review for Mohawk College’s student newspaper, The Satellite, and it was published under the headline "The River Wild:  More Bore Than Roar" (I rather like that one.) on page 10 of the October 4, 1994 edition.
I don’t know for sure if Streep was "eagerly awaiting the opportunity to try a new genre for a change of pace", having done all those heavy-duty dramas and the odd comedy for decades, but it certainly felt like it to me.  Too bad she was ill-suited for the material.  Still, I’d like to see her try again.  I think she would be good in an action film.
As you read the review (which appears almost exactly as it was published 12 years ago), you’ll notice the name Curtis Hanson.  I’m particularly harsh on him because 2 years before he directed this movie he made the hit thriller, The Hand That Rocks The Cradle, which had a great villain and a lot of stupidity.  He has redeemed himself in my eyes by making L.A. Confidential and Wonder Boys, two of the best films I’ve seen in recent years.  (He also made 8 Mile with Eminem which I have and still haven’t seen.  I’m lazy.)  This talented director certainly paid his dues before delivering the goods.
I also mention the great David Strathairn who has been one of my favourite actors since 1992.  I haven’t seen Good Night And Good Luck (the movie that earned him his first Oscar nomination) but having screened quite a few of his performances over the years it was a personal delight to see him breakthrough like that after years of quiet professionalism.  In The River Wild, he does the best he can with an underwritten role.  (As an aside, in my 1993 Grade 12 Advanced English class, I once wrote a journal entry about him and if I can ever find that damn thing, I’ll give it a looksy and see if it’s worth posting here.  I am constantly on the lookout for my old writing samples.)
Here’s my assessment of The River Wild:
By Dennis Earl
Special To The Satellite
The very thought of seeing Meryl Streep in a rip-roarin’ action film is an ambitious notion, to say the least.  Now that she has pretty much conquered the dramatic film and even attempted comedy, Streep has been eagerly awaiting the opportunity to try a new genre for a change of pace.  Unfortunately, in her new film The River Wild, Streep’s talents are wasted in a routine story that is more of a boring melodrama than it is compelling action.
Streep plays a teacher undergoing serious marital problems with her uptight, architectural husband (the brilliant David Strathairn wasted in this role).  He’s been spending more and more time at the office worrying about his precious designs while neglecting his wife and his son (Joseph Mazzello from Jurassic Park).  In order to resolve their situation, or at least attempt to, Streep decides to take the family whitewater rafting, an activity that made her a legend when she was a camp counsellor years ago.  But Strathairn can’t make the journey because he has important work to complete.  This results in an expected fight where Joseph Mazzello seizes the opportunity to insult his stingy dad for not spending enough time with his family.  Big deal.
Eventually, Streep and Mazzello head out to the Montana mountains where the former counsellor conquered the treacherous rapids of the Kootenai river.  They’re about to go downstream when Strathairn makes an unexpected appearance, revealing that he really does want to patch things up.
Also at the mountain range are Kevin Bacon and John C. Reilly, a couple of thieves who are trying to quietly escape the police after a successful robbery.  They need someone who has vast knowledge of river rafting to take them through to the end of the rapids where their getaway car is supposed to be parked.  So they befriend Streep and her family, buttering them up so well that they manage to convince them that they’re just a couple of innocent, inexperienced rivermen who need a tour guide to help them on their way.  That’s all.
Strathairn immediately suspects them of doing something naughty but it takes a while for Streep and Mazzello to finally catch on.  Once the truth comes out, the movie turns into a predictable action film where the end result is so obvious even Forrest Gump would know it.
The River Wild is a beautifully photographed piece of junk.  This could have been a riveting ride along the rapids just like Speed was on the Los Angeles freeway.  Unfortunately, the film is merely so-so and that’s disappointing.
Out of all the performances in the movie, only Kevin Bacon manages to convey a consistent and compelling tone throughout.  He portrays the head robber as a charming phony with a lot of violent tendencies cleverly hidden inside until everyone is aware of his plans.
I liked David Strathairn’s performance, too, but his character is seriously underwritten and lacks the fully-dimensioned qualities he deserves.  Meryl Streep, on the other hand, isn’t suited for this film.  Her performance is lacklustre and doesn’t have the charisma needed for an action hero.  Let’s hope she attempts another action film in the future but one that has the potential for a great adventure film.
As for the direction by Curtis Hanson, it, too, isn’t well-executed.  This is to be expected from the man who gave us The Hand That Rocks The Cradle, another piece of crap disguised as a thriller.
The River Wild is an action film better left unseen and even if you do decide to see it, you’ll forget it as soon as you leave the theatre.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, June 15, 2006
11:36 a.m.
Published in: on June 15, 2006 at 11:39 am  Leave a Comment  

From The Published Archives: The Good Son

When I attended Delta Secondary School between the years 1989 and 1993, I made it a point to pursue my creative interests through numerous clubs. After a year of classroom training, I played Alto Saxophone for Delta’s Concert Band beginning in Grade 10. (I played second guitar in the Jazz Band my first year, then, wisely, switched to the Alto Sax. Let’s just say that Slash has never lost a night of sleep because of this.)

Being interested in pursuing an announcing career, I joined D.R.B.S. (Delta’s Radio Broadcasting System), which was just a fancy name for the P.A. System. That was a cool gig, and so was writing for the school newsmagazine, OMNIA, and its supplementary newsletter, the cutely named Om-Lette.

After graduating in the summer of 1993, I was ready for Mohawk College. No more sax playing for me. Writing and announcing became my sole extracurricular interests.

In September, I bumped into fellow Delta grad, Carl Pissey (yes, that’s his last name and I’m sure he’s changed it), who was a fellow announcer in D.R.B.S. He was with this girl (whose name I don’t remember now) and I told them I was looking for CHMR, Mohawk Cable FM. They took me into the station, introduced me to the station manager and handed me a volunteer sheet to fill out. (I would be a DJ at the station for the next 5 years. In 1998, during my last year, it finally became a full-fledged FM station.)

Still interested in becoming a movie critic, I checked out Mohawk’s student newspaper, The Satellite. I found out the hard way that they had a specific protocol for submissions. You had to get your pieces in by Friday. They published every Tuesday and so, submitting your writing on Monday was just too late (as I discovered when I submitted typewritten copies of my reviews of True Romance and Boxing Helena. They’re supposed to be saved on a disc and then handed in.) Having seen how much time and effort is needed on Monday to get the paper ready for publication, it was a reasonable rule.

Once I knew what was expected, I was fine. I just wish, in retrospect, I had written a lot more and got published more. Most of the time, when I wanted to review a movie, I would have to pay for a ticket (like everybody else) to see that particular movie, which wasn’t a big deal. (Not once was I given a free pass during my Delta years.) So, I was spoiled by my first assignment. Entertainment Editor Brad Lickman handed me a free pass to see The Good Son. There was an advance screening scheduled for September 23, 1993 at the Centre Mall Cinemas. I took my mom with me to the screening that night.

It was a big deal to me, this assignment. I didn’t want to screw it up. It was exhilarating to go from writing reviews for OMNIA and Om-Lette at the high school level to doing the exact same thing at an actual College paper. It was an advancement, in my mind.

I wrote a quick review, saved it to disc and handed it in. When it was published on October 5, 1993 on page 11 of The Satellite, I was pissed off. Lickman’s editing skills did not impress me.

I wrote a numbered list of observations I made throughout the film. The numbers were removed and as a result, it undermined what I was trying to do stylistically.

But the biggest annoyance was this concluding paragraph which I didn’t even write:

“Despite good reviews, I would personally recommend at least waiting for The Good Son to be released on video, and even then you may be disappointed.”

I would’ve never written such nonsense. As you will read shortly, the movie is not worth seeing at all. Not in a theatre, not on DVD, not on TV and certainly not on an airplane. I confronted Lickman about this change (there’s something about people screwing with my writing that really gets me fired up) and told him that I didn’t approve of what he did to my review. I don’t remember yelling at him or anything but I certainly expressed to him that I wasn’t happy with what he wrote. He added thoughts to the piece that didn’t belong to me. It was way over the line for an editor to do that. To his credit, he never did that ever again. I’m glad I spoke up. (During my second year at Mohawk, he became the Managing Editor. As long as he didn’t tinker with my writing, that was fine with me.)

Needless to say, that paragraph has been excised from the review you’re about to read. I’ve also made some edits of my own, changing tenses here and there, rephrasing the beginning of a sentence, just little things I should’ve caught on my own 13 years ago. Essentially, this is what appeared in the paper.

This was my very first published piece in The Satellite. It’s far from perfect but it represented a step forward in my writing.  For the first time, I wrote a proper review. Unlike my OMNIA/Om-Lette pieces where I wrote endlessly about the plot and only a line or two about the quality of the film, this piece is filled with my thoughts and feelings about the movie from beginning to end.  Even though it’s awfully succinct and doesn’t describe the plot in painstaking detail, it’s better than anything I wrote during my Delta period. 

By the way, it was originally accompanied with a still of a toque-wearing Macauley Culkin (the villain in the movie) from Home Alone 2. You know that scene where he bumps into the two hapless burglars (Daniel Stern and Joe Pesci) and just starts screaming his head off? That’s where the photo came from. It must’ve been on file or something. (The Satellite received production information from film companies all the time but we must not have gotten anything for The Good Son.)

The best part was the caption: “Macaulay Culkin goes psychotic in The Good Son.”

By Dennis Earl
Entertainment Staff 

While watching Joseph Rubin’s The Good Son, there were many things I noticed. First, I have seen this movie countless times before in other “intruder-from-hell” thrillers, such as Unlawful Entry and Single White Female. Henry is not a difficult role for Macaulay Culkin to play since the character is merely the evil incarnation of Kevin MacAllister (Home Alone). Instead of setting traps for moronic burglars, Culkin kills a dog, breaks windows, causes a ten car pile-up and frames his cousin who is played convincingly by Elijah Wood.

There is not one original line of dialogue or a fresh scene in the film. Director Joseph Rubin (Sleeping With The Enemy) has an amazing knowledge of recycled, overused cliches including the villain’s death scene.

During the screening I attended the audience laughed at Culkin’s performance rather than crying in fear. Once Wood realizes that Culkin is not what he appears to be, he notifies his father and informs him of the terrible sins Henry has committed. However, Wood’s father never shows up for the rest of the film – hello!

Another scene in the movie has Culkin and Wood going to a bridge to have some so-called fun. Culkin drops a dummy out onto the highway and causes a ten car accident. Amazingly, no one sees who committed the prank even though the hero and villain are clearly visible during the entire incident and don’t flee until the horror subsides. Also, we never quite understand why Culkin attempts to kill his sister or his mother after Wood comes to visit.

The main problem with The Good Son is that it doesn’t have a solid screenplay. There are loose ends all over the place and many of them are not resolved by the end of the film. Poor directing, bad acting and a weak ending also contribute to this faulty flick. The only bright spot in the film is Elijah Wood. He delivers the only credible performance portraying the only intelligent character in the movie.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, June 11, 2006
10:03 p.m.
Published in: on June 11, 2006 at 10:25 pm  Leave a Comment