Remembering 2006, My First Year Of Blogging

I’ll say to you, my readers, what I’ve been saying to myself for the past 12 months:  "It’s been a strange year." 
This is the 162nd time I’ve written something for my blog, easily, my proudest achievement in a year not filled with them.  When I began this website on February 19th, I did so with some trepidation.  I have never done anything like this before, so I really had no idea what to expect.  It didn’t take long for me to embrace the concept of blogging, which was a surprise.  I’ve discovered that the best way to resurrect a dead writing career is to start your own site.  It did wonders for me.  I have never written so much good material in a single year.
In the beginning, I focused mainly on the past.  I made it a point to showcase on here some of the best examples of my writing throughout my life.  I even added behind-the-scenes introductions, so it was clear when I was talking about older pieces.  But, almost immediately, I found constant inspiration to write anew.  I took The Sex Pistols to task for not being more appreciative and gracious about their Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction.  (Why is it so difficult to say thank you?)  And I even took a stab at predicting the results of the most recent edition of The Academy Awards.  I did very well with that, despite getting the Best Picture winner wrong.
Later on, I decided to post examples of my published writing under the title, "From The Published Archives".  Initially, I wanted to cover my high school and college years.  I was never going to present my Hamilton Spectator pieces because I thought there might’ve been copyright problems.  But after thinking about it some more, I changed my mind.  I’m glad I did.  Those 7 articles have gotten more exposure than they ever did in newsprint.
The strangest event that happened to the site this year was the sudden yet, thankfully brief, disappearance of my blog.  Originally, I had chosen a film reel background which I miss dearly.  The blog covered most of the background.  But starting in late March, it literally went invisible.  You could still read the contents if you dipped into the archives but you couldn’t see anything on the home page.  It was very frustrating and mysterious.  After sorting it all out with Technical Support, I had to abandon the film reel layout and settle for a blue background with white circles.  I hated it.  But at least the blog was restored.
Several months ago, I scrapped that ghastly design and replaced it with this cool, outer space set-up.  While I miss the original look of my site, I’m very happy with its current appearance. 
2006 was the year MSN Spaces transformed into Windows Live Spaces and I have to admit, for the most part, it is a improvement.  Originally, before the change this past summer, my site only covered 3/4 or so of your screen.  Now, it fills the whole page.  So far, I’ve had only one complaint about my blog set-up.  Respectfully, I’m happy with the way things are, so there won’t be a change.
After endless amounts of needless frustration, I finally figured out how to activate my Amazon book list which so far has generated one click but no sales.  I need to get back into book reading again so I can add more entries.  As I’ve said before, I’ve read and enjoyed every title on that list and I hope you will support this site by purchasing some terrific books.  You will not regret it.
It’s too bad things didn’t work out with Kanoodle, otherwise I’d have Sponsored Ads on here, as well.  With the addition of banner advertising – you know, those rectangular ads at the top of the screen? – perhaps it will be possible in 2007 for site owners to earn money every time a visitor clicks on the banner.  Something to consider, folks.
From the beginning, I’ve always considered my website a work in progress.  I never conceived it as a diary but rather, like my own newspaper column.  Rather than allowing someone else the opportunity to butcher my words, I am my own editor.  I’m also my own publisher, reporter, critic and producer.  This site is 100% me and I like having that control.  I’m proud of the writing I’ve done this year and I hope you’ve enjoyed the many pieces I’ve showcased here.
And to think, none of this would’ve happened if it wasn’t for my ex-girlfriend.  Last year, when we tried for the second time to have a proper relationship (which went better than the initial run), she tried to get me to sign up with this site called Xanga, one of the many blogging outlets available on the net.  She had been writing for months and wanted me to blog, as well.  I had no interest whatsoever in blabbing about every minute detail of my life.  I prefer mystery.  6 months after the relationship ended, I thought about putting together a website but instead of focusing on my everyday existence, I wanted a place to show off my writing.  I checked out MySpace and didn’t care for it.  MSN Spaces seemed a better fit for me and while it is far from perfect, I’m sticking with it.
When you’re a complete unknown with practically no media contacts, the likelihood of generating a lot of hits in your first year of blogging is very slim.  Indeed, as of this writing, I’ve had over 3200 viewings.  That’s a misleading number, though, because that includes all of my visits to the site whether I’m just looking things over and/or updating.  Things have perked up a bit during the final months of the year thanks to fellow bloggers like Fading To Black, Kevin Costner’s Korner and Toronto Sun Family who have linked either to specific entries I’ve written or the home page itself.  Thanks to their plugs, slowly but surely, more readers are coming to the fold.  It also helps that my entries pop up in web searches every day.
Despite all this modest advancement, it has not been a good year for me personally.  I’m still unemployed and I still live with my parents.  It has been impossible to find jobs I’m qualified to do.  And when I have found something worth pursuing, for the most part, I never hear anything back from potential employers.  In fact, I didn’t have one single interview this year.  One small company in Hamilton told me to stop bothering them with emails when I was trying to find out why nothing was happening with this cool job that I thought I had a good shot at getting.  (Shortly after they filled the position, it became available again.  They didn’t sound like the greatest company to work for, so I didn’t bother trying again.)  I even signed with two temp agencies and none of them could find work for me.  If I didn’t have bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.
I normally screen over 100 movies every year but this year I only managed to see 49, only 5 of which I thoroughly enjoyed.  Pitiful.  TV has never been more dull and even though I was able to hear some terrific albums this year, this wasn’t a particularly exciting year for music, was it?  (I’m thankful that my music collection got me through this lacklustre year.)  And don’t get me started on my non-existent social life.
But it wasn’t all bad.  This site has kept me going.  I was able to re-connect with an old friend from college and we’ve been emailing each other since the summer.  A blogger friend wants to meet me in the new year and talk over coffee, which is something I sadly don’t ever get to do being stuck at home all the time.  Everybody was happy with the Christmas gifts I got for them this year.  And I saw the two best films of the decade so far:  Crash and Frank Miller’s Sin City.
I’ve been continuing to clean up my life in more ways than one and I really feel that this website has slowly put me on the path to independence, something I crave more and more everyday. 
Every day I’m on this site, I always look at my blog lists.  I’m amazed at the amount of writing I’ve done this year.  Besides writing movie reviews of the few films I did get to see (as well as posting old ones), I also delved a bit more into my past.  I’m most proud of my 8-part series, Memories Of A Really Bad Student Council President.  I wasn’t planning on writing that much about it but when you keep this information locked inside you for so long, inevitably it spills out onto the screen in a matter of seconds.  Even though the subject matter is painfully personal, it permanently put to bed this terrible period of my life.  I realize that I don’t obsess about it so much anymore.  I was finally able to articulate this year what I couldn’t back in high school.  Essentially, it has become one less thing to worry about.  I accept what happened and have learned a lot of hard lessons.  Now, if I can only stop obsessing about everything else that bothers me.
One of the things I hope to do in 2007 is not promise so much on here.  There were a number of ideas that just never came to fruition.  I never did figure out how to write about my college internship with The Royal Canadian Air Farce.  I wanted to do more than one Christmas-related piece.  I never did post those music lists.  And I still don’t know how to put together a guestbook.  But amazingly, I did manage to accomplish a lot of what I set out to do here.  That’s progress and I hope it continues next year.
I want to wish readers and visitors a Happy New Year.  I look forward to continue writing on here and maybe, just maybe, all of this hard work will lead to a paying gig of some kind in 2007.  In the meantime, The Writings Of Dennis Earl is ready to enter its second year.  Email me at or leave a comment on my site.  I welcome your feedback.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, December 31, 2006
4:50 p.m.
Published in: on December 31, 2006 at 5:03 pm  Leave a Comment  

Wacko Jacko Has No One To Blame But Himself

The downward spiral of Michael Jackson continued in 2006.  He fought over the custody of his kids with ex-wife Debbie Rowe, he shut down the infamous Neverland Ranch (although there are still some people who live and work there), he moved back to America to live in Las Vegas with the Sultan of Brunei, and he seemed to spend more time in courtrooms than in recording studios.
Despite hooking up with of The Black Eyed Peas to work on his next studio album and signing a new management deal, all these civil cases he’s been dealing with have taken up the majority of his time.  Not that I feel sorry for him in the least.  How he has escaped jail time for his crimes against children remains an enduring mystery.  And I’m still angry with him for screwing over Paul McCartney.  (Remember how he sought the former Beatle’s advice on acquiring publishing rights to music catalogues and then outbid him (and Yoko Ono) for all those Lennon/McCartney collaborations?)
The latest news about Jackson is quite shocking.  First, there’s the dismal state of his finances.  According to Roger Friedman of Fox News, he’s currently in the hole for over 300 million dollars.  Unbelievable.
He blames all his current woes on his accountants who he recently filed suit against.  (It’ll be up to the law to decide if Jackson is right on this.  Considering how much of “a ridiculous liar” he is, to use Bill Maher’s apt phrase, I’m betting it’s his own fault.) 
Secondly, Friedman is reporting that he’s ending the year estranged from his family and longtime supporters.  As the years go by, fewer and fewer people are putting up with his bullshit.
I wrote about Jackson’s crumbling fortunes in 2002 in this previously unseen commentary.  It was written in consideration for the YourPlace page in the entertainment section of The Hamilton Spectator but was never approved for publication.  After reading an interesting piece in Rolling Stone magazine that year and following the ongoing coverage of his increasingly dismal existence on Television, I decided to put something together quickly.
I’ve decided not to change what I wrote (with the exception of one small, grammatical correction) even though I know more about that period of Jackson’s professional life now than I did four years ago.
Firstly, in 2001, according to Wikipedia, Jackson told Tommy Mottola personally that he wasn’t interested in re-signing his studio album contract with Sony.  (Mottola was the guy responsible for signing Mariah Carey to the label.)  This happened just before his last studio album, the ironically titled Invincible, was issued.  (The company has been issuing greatest hits packages only ever since.)  That’s part of the reason why he fearlessly badmouthed the guy in a memorable press conference the following year.  In his eyes, he had nothing to lose, and he probably thought it was a bad-ass move on his part, a real rock and roll gesture, if you will, to stick it to the man.  (I explain this reasoning further in the piece.)  As for Mottola, he left Sony to buy out Casablanca Records which he currently runs.
It turns out no one took Jackson’s ridiculous ranting very seriously.  Mottola never filed a libel suit against him and while he won’t be making any albums of new songs for Sony, they still have the right to recycle his old material as much as they’d like.  It remains to be seen whether he’ll sever all ties to the company before embarking on his comeback.  Anybody interested in signing this has-been?
Jackson’s recent attempt to aid the victims of Hurricane Katrina with a star-studded celebrity tribute single, like his September 11 charity song, has never seen the light of day.  I’m not even sure either track was ever recorded and/or properly mixed and mastered.  Jackson is well known for wasting money on bad business deals as well as producing music that has never been released.
I really like this piece.  I’m very disappointed it was never accepted by The Spec.  Thankfully, through this website, it gets a second chance.

Wacko Jacko Has No One To Blame But Himself
By Dennis Earl

It has to be said. Michael Jackson’s latest rantings and ravings underscore one important fact: the man is going broke. Rolling Stone magazine reported that Jackson might be on the verge of bankruptcy due to an unsteady stream of revenue and the fact that he continues to spend unwisely. Jackson was once truly the King of Pop. Now, sadly, he has reduced himself to public charity case.

His recent public criticisms of his label, Sony, and its chairman, Tommy Mottola, reveal the inner workings of an increasingly desperate superstar who clings to the illusion that his current reputation and the state of his musical career are the faults of others. According to reports, Sony has Jackson tied to a contract until 2004. There’s a good chance he’ll be released but not without consequences.

Calling your boss “a racist” and “the devil” certainly won’t resolve anything. In fact, it could lead to libel charges. That is, if Mottola feels the accusations start to stain his business dealings. That’s only if the music community takes Jackson seriously which, so far, it hasn’t.

Jackson’s assertion that he is coming forward to protect black artists is a joke. Jackson, unlike the original black rock stars of the 50s, has been extremely fortunate in his career. (Because of his remarkable solo success, he gets a higher royalty rate that most performers.) After all, Bo Diddley didn’t earn enough moolah to buy the entire catalogue of Lennon and McCartney’s Beatles music. And he certainly doesn’t live in luxury like Jackson does on his Neverland Ranch. And what exactly has Jackson done for poor black artists anyway?

Let’s get real here. Jackson is an egomaniac of Mount Olympus proportions. He blames his record company for not promoting his latest album, Invincible, nearly enough to his satisfaction. It should be noted that the album cost tens of millions of dollars to produce and ads for the release flooded television sets last fall. (Sony says they spent 25 million in advertising strategies on top of the 30 million Jackson spent making the album.) In other words, Invincible has to be certified diamond status (10 million copies sold), at least, in order to come close to breaking even.

Although the album has gone double platinum, while pretty respectable for most artists, it’s not good enough for Jackson who normally sells tens of millions of albums per release. (A relentless perfectionist, it sometimes takes him 5 years to make a studio recording, making each release an event.) And in this case, 2 million albums sold is indeed a financial failure considering the obscene amount of money funnelled into the project.

Jackson is also miffed at Sony because, according to him, they didn’t allow him to release a song to benefit victims of the September 11th attacks. What would any record company stand to gain from preventing a charity single to be released?

The truth is Jackson has wasted money in various causes and business ventures and seen almost all the projects die before lift-off. He’s tried helping children in Africa and financing amusement parks, but he has nothing to show for it.

As for his music career, it’s been on the decline since the 1990s. Although Dangerous (1991) was a popular release spawning many hit singles, it was clear Jackson’s best material was behind him. By the time he was hit with child molestation charges in 1993, it was only a matter of time before his bottom line started to suffer.

Truth be told, I think people don’t care ultimately what kind of a man you are as long as you deliver the hits. Jackson has continued to do that despite producing increasingly lackluster albums. (You Are Not Alone, from 1995’s History, debuted at #1 on Billboard. It was written by another stained performer, R. Kelly.)

Even if the child molestation charges never came to fruition, Jackson would still be in the situation he’s in now. Even though he reportedly settled for 20 million with the family of the boy he supposedly molested, he has spent far more on failed business projects. And don’t forget the 55 million that was sunk on Invincible.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, December 29, 2006
3:42 p.m.
Published in: on December 29, 2006 at 3:47 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Elephant Vs. The Mouse

America is 2 years away from electing its next President, number 44 to be precise, and already, there’s rampant speculation as to who the leading candidates will be.  It is in this climate that I present this previously unseen opinion piece.
It was written in late 2004, just after the last election which saw President Bush win his second term.  I conceived it for The New York Times Op-Ed Page but they weren’t interested.  It’s been hiding in my archives ever since.
The title is a reference to a famous remark Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau made in 1969 during an official visit with President Nixon:  “America should never underestimate the constant pressure on Canada which the mere presence of the United States has produced.  We’re different people from you and we’re different people because of you.  Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant.  No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is effected by every twitch and groan.”
Nixon detested Trudeau and famously called him an “asshole”.  The ever-quotable Trudeau famously retorted, “I’ve been called worse things by better people.”
The Elephant Vs. The Mouse was my attempt to discuss the then-recent deterioration of Canada/US relations strictly from a Canadian perspective.  Some of it is dated now.  Carolyn Parrish is long out of politics and Paul Martin is no longer the Prime Minister.  Things have improved a bit since Stephen Harper won the federal election almost a year ago.  But inevitably, there have been disagreements. 
In the new year, it will be interesting to see if the Americans finally wise up and admit they were just as wrong about Maher Arar as we were.  If they don’t do the right thing, will our government have the balls to force them to change their malicious position?  Stay tuned.  In the meantime, enjoy my piece.
By Dennis Earl

HAMILTON, Ontario – In my country, American Presidential Elections are always closely observed, and this latest one was no exception. Although Canada (and the rest of the world) would’ve preferred Senator John Kerry as the next commander-in-chief, President George W. Bush remains the leader of the free world. Both our countries need to spend some quality time together in order to have a serious discussion about our dysfunctional relationship.

Relations between Canada and America haven’t been this bad in decades. Not since the War of 1812 and much of the Pierre Trudeau era, anyway. What happened to this historic friendship?

It all began during the Presidential campaign of 2000 when the ruling Liberals, led by Prime Minister Jean Chretien, openly stated their preference for Vice President Al Gore over then-Governor Bush.

In December 2002, during a NATO conference in Prague, Chretien’s secretary, Francois Ducros, unintentionally ignited a firestorm when it was reported that she had privately called the President a “moron”. She later resigned.

The Bush Administration, so fond of nicknames, referred to our then-PM as “Dino”.

Then came the buildup to the war in Iraq. Although publicly the Liberal Government was opposed to the war (despite supporting former President Clinton’s similar Iraq policies), privately they authorized the deployment of naval ships in the Persian Gulf. In March 2003, Ambassador Paul Celucci remarked ironically, “The Canadian naval vessels will provide more support to this war in Iraq than most of the 46 countries that are fully supporting our effort there.”

As the war progressed, we were ignored in Mr. Bush’s State Of The Union addresses and initially cut out of any reconstruction projects in Iraq. (The Administration eventually relented on the latter.)

Meanwhile, after taking questions during a press scrum, renegade Liberal politician Carolyn Parrish, not realizing that a camera was still rolling as she was walking past with a smile, made this infamous declaration: “Damn Americans. I hate those bastards.”

But she didn’t stop there. Earlier this year, she declared during an outdoor press conference that she refused to join the “coalition of the idiots” who supported America’s proposed missile defense shield. She was joining “the coalition of the wise,” who were against it. Despite public criticisms by Prime Minister Paul Martin, she remains unrepentant and continues to speak out.

When Senator Kerry publicly supported the importation of cheap, Canadian drugs to the United States, it was argued by some that if that policy became a reality there would not be enough drugs for Canadians, let alone our friends to the south. That hasn’t stopped some Americans, particularly senior citizens, from coming here and finding some deals. None of this would be an issue if drug companies didn’t have such a stranglehold on the American political system and continuously gouge its consumers with ridiculously high prices.

Besides Iraq, prescription drugs and unhelpful public outbursts, 2 more issues need to be addressed by our two countries: marijuana and beef. Recently, the Liberals have reintroduced their bill to decriminalize marijuana, despite harsh criticism from both sides of the debate. The Bush Administration believes in maintaining the status quo which has proven to be tragically unsuccessful. A compromise has to be made. But can one be made by a states-rights Administration who in 2002 arrested a number of ill people in California for using legal medicinal marijuana? (Medicinal marijuana is legal in Canada, also.)

America’s banning of Alberta beef is probably the only issue that can easily be resolved at this time. Since only one cow tested positive for mad cow disease, the ban was unnecessary and remains foolishly misguided. It is needlessly hurting both our economies.

There’s been some talk here of President Bush coming to Canada to meet Prime Minister Martin and in a show of goodwill, leaving for America with his own Alberta cow. While that smacks of a rather hokey photo-op, it would be preferable if Bush cancelled the ban and allowed for the resumption of Canadian beef exports.

Prime Minister Martin is considered more conservative than his predecessor, Mr. Chretien. His years as finance minister helped eliminate the national deficit. President Bush could heed his advice on that.

Now is the time to get the President in this country long enough to have serious discussions about our differences and make some headway on those issues where, potentially, our paths could lead to common ground.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, December 28, 2006
10:14 p.m.
Published in: on December 28, 2006 at 10:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

Christmas Gifts For The Truly Deserving

It’s a tired cliche.  Every year around this time, writers from all over the world pretend to be Santa Claus for just one column, offering gifts to numerous celebrities in numerous fields of public life.  How sickening.  How appalling.  How ridiculous.
Here’s my list:
To Pam Anderson:  A decent man who isn’t famous.
To Lorrie Goldstein:  A chill pill.
To Christopher Hitchens:  Humility and a comb.
To Antonia Zerbisias:  The courage to criticize her newspaper more often, especially when they ruined Christmas for 85 of its parent company’s employees.  Someone needs to be a voice for the wrongly dismissed.
To Britney Spears:  Common sense.  And my phone number.
To Eric Margolis:  A raise.
To Suri Cruise:  A happy childhood and lots of privacy.
To Steve Nash:  An NBA Championship.
To The Red Hot Chili Peppers:  The Grammy award for Album Of The Year.
To The Strokes:  Higher album sales.
To Paris Hilton:  Permanent obscurity.
To Donald Trump:  Permanent baldness.  (He’s incapable of having a good hair day.)
To the citizens of New Orleans:  Their city back.
To OJ Simpson:  A special, reserved seat in hell.
To The Goldman and Brown Families:  Piece of mind and OJ’s money.
To Lindsay Lohan:  A tutor.  And my phone number.
To Dina Lohan:  Parenting skills.  And my phone number. 
To Ann Coulter:  A sense of decency.
To Rachel Marsden:  A new line of work.
To Michael Coren:  Respect for gay people, atheists and all others who possess more intelligence than he does.
To Kirstie Alley:  A lifetime supply of make-up and a slimmer figure.
To Bill Brioux:  Another gig writing critically about TV.
To Val Gibson:  The return of her missing cat.  And my phone number.
To Warren Kinsella:  A litigation-free 2007 and piece of mind.
To The Green Party:  Electoral victories in 2007.
To Howard Stern:  His entire terrestrial radio audience.
To Artie Lange:  Permanent sobriety and an appointment with Jenny Craig.
To Dick Cheney:  Better aim.
To President Bush:  A dose of reality.
To Rachel Giese:  An attraction to guys.  And my phone number.
To Prime Minister Harper:  An effective environmental policy.
To Blogger Fading To Black:  A new job and the courage to identify yourself.
To The Troops:  Plane tickets home.
To Lt. Gov. James Bartleman:  A lifetime extension so he may continue to spread goodwill to natives in Ontario.
To The Edmonton Oilers:  A better power play.
To Bryan McCabe:  A pay cut until he learns how to be a better defenceman.
To the members of the FCC and CRTC:  Layoff notices.
To Sherri Wood:  More writing assignments, a raise and my phone number.
To laid-off Sun Media and TorStar employees:  New jobs in a less hostile working environment.
To Katie Rees (former Miss Nevada):  Two shoulders to cry on.  And my phone number.
To Jennifer Aniston:  A hug.  And my phone number.
To Michael J. Fox:  A cure for Parkinson’s.
To Tara Conner (Miss USA):  My phone number.  (Bring Miss Teen USA.)
To Gov. Schwarzenegger:  A speedy recovery.
To Mia Farrow:  Canonization.
To Johnny Rotten:  Class.
To Premier McGuinty and The Ontario Liberals:  Unemployment.
To Roger Ebert:  A speedy recovery.
Merry Christmas, everyone.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, December 24, 2006
5:06 p.m. 

They Deserved Better

Last year, I entered The Toronto Sun’s annual column writing contest.  It had been many years since I last participated but I had some ideas for the 2005 contest and wanted to submit something particularly strong.  (To read it, click here.)
Once I settled on my final draft and short bio (which was one of the contest requirements), I then proceeded to fax The Sun my entry.  The next day, after returning from the grocery store with my mother, I noticed there was a message on our family answering machine.  I played it back and heard the voice of this lovely woman who proceeded to tell me how much she enjoyed my entry.  But there was a big problem:  it was very difficult to read.  Apparently, the ink on the fax transmission she received was very faint.  While she was able to understand it and thoroughly enjoy it, she insisted I fax it again. 
After following her directive, I received the nicest email from her in return.  After saying that the second transmission was successful she once again told me that she agreed wholeheartedly with what I wrote and much to my delight and surprise, she turned out to be an enormous Howard Stern fan, like myself.  (Since he made the move to Sirius Satellite Radio this past January, I have no idea if she followed him over there.)  I wrote her back to thank her for her kind words and to tell her about this Stern fan site, which gives readers daily rundowns of the show.
That nice woman was Sherry Johnston, one of the original Toronto Sun employees (Day Oners, they call them), something I didn’t realize until I saw her picture in the paper this past November next to a few other people who have also been with the paper since the beginning.  (This was for their 35th Anniversary “celebration”.)  Much to my disgust, I read today on Toronto Sun Family Blog that she is one of the many loyal employees who undeservedly got fired by Quebecor this year, yet another victim of hurtful and needless company cutbacks.
She was The Sun’s original secretary and it was her job in 2005, as I’m sure it has been every year they’ve had this column writing contest, to collect all the hundreds of entries the paper receives from aspiring (and, in latter years, professional) writers.  When she told me that if she was a judge, she would’ve voted for my entry, I can’t tell you how nice it was to receive a compliment like that.  Even though that’s the only time I’ve been in contact with her, she made a strong impression on me that I won’t soon forget.  (I still have that email she sent me.) I hope she is doing well, despite the shameful way she was removed from the paper.  She exemplifies why people love this newspaper.  She has the human touch.
As I look at the other names on that list of recently excised employees, I feel not only sadness but also absolute anger.  As far as I know, not one of those people did anything to deserve their fate.  They had jobs to do and they did them.  Some of those names are unfamiliar to me because of the nature of their positions.  We never hear about the typists who work their fingers to the bone everyday putting things together for the paper.  We never hear about the mail messengers or the copy editors who work just as hard.  Their efforts are as integral to the paper’s success as the reporters and columnists whose names we do recognize.  It’s absolutely unacceptable to me that all of these loyal employees have to fall on their swords for nothing.  Sun Media is not an unprofitable company.  It made over 200 million in profits last year, as I believe it did the year before.  Just because Sun Media and Quebecor want higher profit margins than they already have does not give them the right to pull the hearts out of all these men and women who simply went about their business working for this newspaper.  It’s disgraceful how they’ve been treated.  It’s unconscionable. 
Toronto Sun Family blogger John Cosway, who worked at the paper for 19 years before taking a buyout, said it best in an entry he posted on December 14th:  “In the first two decades of the Toronto Sun, management went out of its way to avoid having to fire an employee.  You had to pull a Don Ramsey and get the paper successfully sued for libel, resulting in a hefty fine, before being shown the door.  But that was before Doug Creighton was ousted.   Since that day in November of 1992, the bean counters have been busy crunching the staff and payroll numbers.  It has become an annual game of employee roulette and the losers have often been the most loyal employees.”  (To read the entire entry, click here.)
Is it any wonder then why most of the editorial staff voted for unionization 3 years ago?  So much for the good old days.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, December 22, 2006
10:15 p.m.
Published in: on December 22, 2006 at 10:23 pm  Comments (2)  

Why Sun Media Must Divorce Quebecor Or Die

In 1989, Peter Worthington had enough.  He was fed up with the direction The Toronto Sun was taking and he could stay silent no longer.  He decided to pen a highly critical column.  He said, in no uncertain terms, that The Sun wasn’t a serious newspaper anymore.  Next thing he knew, Doug Creighton had fired him.  (3 years later, Creighton himself would be forced out by the board of directors.  Nice way to treat one of the founders of your newspaper.)
And while Worthington would return (he remains a columnist, as of this writing), there’s a sense of deja vu quickly creeping back into the picture.  I can’t help but wonder if he’s having those rebellious thoughts again, even though he has never supported the idea of unionizing Sun employees.  I’ll say what I’m sure he is thinking again:  The Toronto Sun is not a serious newspaper anymore.
Now, I’ve never been an admirer of this guy.  (I prefer the more astute Eric Margolis.)  But there is one thing I do respect about him:  his courage.  From his war record, his tireless advocacy for a free Tibet and respect for animals, one never associates cowardice with Peter Worthington.  Who better than him, then, the original editor, to speak out about Sun Media’s current troubles in his column?  Isn’t it about time he realized that the longer he stays silent, the less credibility he will possess as a Day Oner?  He’ll be 80 in 2 months.  What does he have to lose by defending his fellow employees and lashing out at Quebecor and Sun Media for its shabby treatment of them?
As I noted in Part Two of my Winners & Losers Of The Year series earlier this month, this has been an awful year for the company.  Embattled and increasingly unhappy employees have been subjected to round after round of layoffs (a regular occurrence since Quebecor officially took over the company in 1999), a number of columnists have disappeared without any clear explanations, and there have been an unusual amount of “retirements”.  Writers have dropped hints in their columns about the days when things were better, leading one to believe there will be more exits.  Loyal readers of the paper are being kept in the dark about the upheaval behind the scenes.  (My mom had no idea that Bill Brioux was canned, for instance.)  Fortunately, The Sun’s competitors as well as blogs like Fading To Black and Toronto Sun Family, and even union websites are filling the enormous information vacuum.  Generally, they’re all painting a dreary picture.  From what I’ve read and heard, it’s very likely to get worse unless Sun Media files for divorce.  Now.
The latest news is a brewing war between unionized employees and Sun Media.  Toronto Sun editorial workers were sent a message yesterday by Maryanna Lewyckyj, the outspoken Toronto Sun Union Unit Chair (and recently dismissed employee) who informed her fellow comrades that the Southern Ontario Newspaper Guild (SONG) had filed “a ‘related employer’ application with the Ontario Labour Relations Board regarding Sun Media.”
She said the application was “a legal argument that Sun Media is playing a corporate shell game by eliminating jobs from its unionized workforce and creating a parallel non-unionized workforce to avoid union jurisdiction.”  The union is fighting back in this manner in order to prevent the company from “attempt[ing] to circumvent our collective agreements by stealing jobs from our bargaining units and putting them into a new, non-union entity.”  What a mess.
Sun Media “has two weeks to respond” to the union’s grievance and afterwards, a “mediation hearing” will be scheduled by the OLRB “likely by about February.”  What are the chances of this important story getting tremendous play in the Sun papers?  If you’re thinking “fat, slim and none”, you’re not alone.  Perhaps it’s time for Sun employees to expand its Save Our Sun publicity campaign.  The public needs to know how they’re feeling and how badly things have deteriorated.  (Perhaps a full page ad is in order?)
It’s becoming increasingly evident that the marriage between Sun Media and Quebecor has reached the point of no return.  Maintaining the status quo will only make things worse.  Sun Media needs to be independent again.
Back in the late 90s, besides Quebecor, Sun Media was courted by TorStar, the owner of their longtime rival, The Toronto Star.  They offered the 2-year old corporation roughly 750 million dollars which was ultimately (and unsurprisingly) rejected.  One can’t help but look back at that offer and wonder how different Sun Media’s situation might’ve been if they had accepted that deal, rather than the one they signed with Quebecor.  Then again, considering the upheaval at TorStar these days (85 employees were recently and coldly laid off, just days before the Christmas holiday with even more to come next year), it seems more than likely that Sun Media would be in the same situation, or they might’ve been even worse off.  Regardless, the good old days are long over.
It should be noted that Sun Media remains a profitable company, which makes all these employee dismissals puzzling.  (The company can more than afford all the people it has hired over the years.)  It still generates hundreds of millions of dollars in steady profits every year, even if there is no significant growth of any kind.  But its sense of greed has overtaken its sense of reason and humanity.  It also has a credibility problem.  (More on that, shortly.)
The fact is Sun Media and Quebecor are a bad match.  Sun Media has long had the human touch despite my problems with them on issues of honesty and correcting the record.  Quebecor is a typical corporation where the bottom line appears the central focus.  Its leader, Pierre Karl Peladeau, is not well loved and a Google search explains why.
It wasn’t always this way. 
Out of the ashes of the defunct broadsheet, The Toronto Telegram, arose the city’s first successful tabloid.  It didn’t need a union because workers were treated just as well as management.  (Toronto Sun Family Blogger John Cosway has written that he never once had to request a bigger paycheque during his 19 years with the paper.)  The success of The Toronto Sun led to all the offshoots in other major metropolitans:  Calgary, Ottawa, Edmonton and Winnipeg.  Gradually, these newspapers would become part of the second biggest newspaper conglomerate in the country. 
But Sun Media has aligned itself with a company that has no understanding of Sun Media readers or its employees, in particular.  By constantly shuffling the decks, the paper has alienated a number of its loyal readers.  With columnists and reporters coming and going at alarmingly frequent rates, it can expect even more readers to tune out and get their fix of news and opinion elsewhere. 
Newspapers depend greatly on the loyalty of their readers.  There’s an unusual bond between them, something Quebecor doesn’t understand and probably doesn’t care to understand, either.  All they care about is money.  And it shows.
When you remove beloved columnists who have enjoyed feisty, tug-and-pull relationships with their readers, without offering any legitimate reason why, is it any wonder that your circulation starts to decline?  (According to one report I read, readership has dropped 25% since Quebecor took over.  That’s a staggering number.)  By relying on columnists with enormous credibility problems (Michael Coren, Rachel Marsden, Licia Corbella) to increase their readership, curious moderates will not be convinced to remain loyal customers.  When you hire a readership editor who has been truly critical exactly once, how is that assuring the public that your company represents the epitome of honest journalism?  And when that same readership editor has been missing in action for almost 2 months now, how is that a positive sign?  The secrecy is scary.
One of the dumbest decisions Quebecor ever made was to start producing a free transit tabloid called 24 Hours.  It is so widely read it has eaten into the readership of The Sun.  Not smart and no wonder there’s so much resentment from longtime Sun employees. 
Unlike The Sun, Quebecor’s idea of a non-unionized workforce is a defeated workforce, a workforce unwilling to buck the system and fight for their rights, a workforce that places Quebecor’s needs over those of its readers and the truth.
That is why Sun Media should re-consider its association with this company.   
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, December 21, 2006
9:16 p.m.
UPDATE:  I forgot to acknowledge The Toronto Sun Family Blog for posting Maryanna Lewyckyj’s message to Toronto Sun Editorial Members.  My apologies for not including this in the original piece.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, December 21, 2006
11:36 p.m.
Published in: on December 21, 2006 at 9:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

Big Shiny Tunes Trivia

Last night I listened to Big Shiny Tunes 11 for the first time.  It’s the latest entry in the enduring alternative hits compilation series.  Despite the lack of star power, it’s loaded with strong material.  I enjoyed 14 of the 19 songs on the 72-minute album after only one listen, which is pretty amazing since I was only familiar with a handful or so of the tracks before picking up the CD yesterday from the library.  (That being said, I won’t be adding it to my CD collection.  I prefer studio albums.)
The series began in earnest back in the fall of 1996 and after its remarkable success, follow-ups have been popping up at the end of every year like clockwork.  It’s not easy putting these albums together.  What listeners don’t realize is that it takes many months of phone calls and meetings with bands, label heads, A&R people and MuchMusic executives to make it all happen.  First, MuchMusic, in association with 3 major labels – Warner, EMI and Universal – come up with a list of artists and songs they would like to have for their annual compilation.  Then, it’s a matter of getting permission from the artists and their labels to include their tracks on the CD and to work out royalty deals.  Lesser known artists are probably more likely to say “yes” to the idea of allowing one of their songs to get exposure through the BST series.  It can be a major boost.  (Just ask Mobile.)  Bigger acts might be a harder sell, depending on their status and what the labels involved want.  Plus, some bands would rather give away a unreleased song that can’t be heard anywhere else instead of a hit single.  Others give their blessing to the use of remixes or even album cuts.  Another factor to be considered is Canadian content.  How many Canadian alt-rockers should be included? 
Once everything is sorted out, all that’s left to do is to decide on the album’s artwork and to master all the accepted songs.
Last year, after I listened to BST 10 (which I also enjoyed), I decided to borrow copies of the earlier 9 compilations so I could hear them over the holidays.  (The library had every installment except number 4.  Order a replacement, pronto!)  As I was going through the records, I thought about doing something very nerdy.  I decided to list all the artists that ever appeared on these albums (excluding the Big Shiny 80s and 90s double CDs, which are separate releases and not part of the annual ongoing series) along with all their songs that made the cut. 
I learned some interesting things. 
Let’s start with this.  What do the following bands have in common?
U2, R.E.M., The Strokes, Interpol, The Tragically Hip, The Offspring, Green Day, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Oasis, Depeche Mode, Alanis Morissette, Metallica, Hole and 54-40. 
Stumped?  The answer is none of them have ever appeared on any of the annual, year-end Big Shiny Tunes compilations.  (Yes, I know, a lot of these acts have hit songs on the Big Shiny 90s releases.  As I said before, those are separate from the main series.)  Why not, you wonder?  Probably because they refused permission (for whatever reason) or the labels preferred the participation of other artists.
Let’s try another one.  What act has appeared on more BST albums than any other?
That would be Nickelback who have quite a hit streak happening.  Including their appearance on BST 11, they have been on 6 of these releases.  One of their earliest hits, Breathe (from their second album, The State), marked the band’s BST debut when it was featured on the fifth album.  Ever since Too Bad (from Silver Side Up) appeared on BST 7, they’ve had one song on every follow-up to date.  Add it up and you’ll realize they have been on 5 consecutive BST CDs.  Pretty amazing for a group that has its fair share of detractors.  They’re the Grand Funk Railroad of the new millennium.  Universally loathed by critics but well regarded by their legion of fans who keep them popular.
Sum 41 is in second place with 5 appearances.  Before Nickelback broke the record, they had songs on 4 BST releases in a row.  (BSTs 5-8)
Next in line with 4 songs on 4 separate albums are Blink 182, The Tea Party and The Red Hot Chili Peppers.
After those bands are Weezer, Radiohead, Lenny Kravitz, Theory Of A Deadman, Coldplay, Billy Talent, Alexisonfire, Sugar Ray, Matthew Good Band, Stone Temple Pilots and Sam Roberts each with 3 appearances.  Speaking of Radiohead, they’re the only band in the history of the series to appear on the first three albums consecutively.  No one has been able to get songs on all 11 albums.
The following performers have appeared twice:  Not By Choice, Queens Of The Stone Age, Yellowcard, Three Days Grace, The All-American Rejects, Puddle Of Mudd, 3 Doors Down, Third Eye Blind, Mobile, AFI, Moist, Matchbox 20, Marilyn Manson, Linkin Park, Limp Bizkit, Kid Rock, The Killers, My Chemical Romance, Goo Goo Dolls, Smash Mouth, Sloan, Simple Plan, Garbage, Foo Fighters, Filter, I Mother Earth, Gorillaz, Bush and The Chemical Brothers.  Disturbed would’ve made this list as well had the song Stricken not been ultimately excluded from the BST 11 track listing.  (For some strange reason, it’s still advertised as track 18 on the MuchMusic BST 11 website despite its official omission.)
The remaining 81 performers have only managed to appear once and that includes Korn, Franz Ferdinand and The Smashing Pumpkins, believe it or not.
Moving on.  How many bands have broken up since the series began 10 years ago?  Let’s go through the list of 14.  There’s The Age Of Electric, Big Wreck, Blink 182, Bush, Serial Joe, Stone Temple Pilots, The Killjoys, Pluto, Moist, Porno For Pyros, Econoline Crush, Treble Charger, Jane’s Addiction (who briefly got back together before disbanding a second time), I Mother Earth, and The Tea Party.   
There has also been 1 reunion since the start of this franchise.  The Smashing Pumpkins (who allowed the inclusion of Ava Adore on BST 3) broke up in 2000 but reunited 5 years later.  Hopefully, we’ll see a new album next year. 
2 BST bands had to change their names in the last decade.  Bush, the defunct British group led by Gavin Rossdale, had to change their name to Bush X in Canada because another band from the 70s had dibs on it.  However, this only applied to the first Big Shiny Tunes CD.  The following year, they were back to being plain old Bush again after a deal was made with the former (and now, deceased) lead singer of the Canadian band who threatened to sue them in 1995.  Canadian band Pilate (who had a song on BST 9) had to change their name to Pilot Speed in 2006 because of similiar circumstances.
The music business is like politics.  Longterm stability is rare and uncertain, and that’s one reason why certain performers end up making music under more than one name.  Here are a number of performers like that who’ve made multiple appearances on Big Shiny Tunes albums.
After the national success of his “Band” (who appeared on BSTs 3-5), Matthew Good scored a solo hit with Weapon on BST 7. 
Perry Farrell appeared on the very first BST with his second big band, Porno For Pyros.  When his old band, Jane’s Addiction, reunited for a new studio album in 2003, Perry made his second BST appearance with the song, Just Because, which you can hear on BST 8.  Speaking of Jane’s Addiction, guitarist Dave Navarro (who played that killer lick on Just Because) also played guitar on the song, Aeroplane, by The Red Hot Chili Peppers, another track that ended up on the first BST.  Navarro was one of a number of guitar players who were called on by that band to replace the troubled but brilliant John Frusciante for most of the 1990s.  Thankfully, John cleaned up his act (he had a nasty drug habit which he finally kicked) and he was welcomed back to the fold by the end of the decade. 
Chad Kroeger, the frontman for Nickelback, recorded a famous duet with Saliva’s Josey Scott for the Spider-Man Soundtrack entitled Hero.  That song appeared on BST 7 along with Nickelback’s Too Bad, marking the only time that the same singer has appeared on two songs on the same BST release.  He’s also scored commercial success as a producer, thanks to working with Theory Of A Deadman (BSTs 7 & eight) and Default (BST 6).
Dave Grohl’s post-Nirvana outfit, The Foo Fighters, have appeared twice on these compilations (BST and BST 3).  Dave also played the drums for Queens Of The Stone Age on the song, Go With The Flow, which appeared on BST 8. 
Ian Thornley was the only Canadian member of Big Wreck, a Boston-based quartet which had one monster album, In Loving Memory Of… (a fitting title), which spawned That Song (BST 3), before petering out in the new millennium after a failed sophomore release.  (I would still love to hear it.)  Far from defeated, Ian formed a new outfit entitled Thornley and made his return to the BST series with the song Come Again (BST 9). 
Besides his solo work, Sam Roberts helped out K-OS on the song, Dirty Water, which is on BST 10. 
Besides appearing on 2 BST records with Moist, lead singer David Usher has had a thriving solo career.  His lone solo appearance on BST occurred in 2001 when his track Alone In The Universe was included on the sixth album in the series. 
Damon Albarn, best known for leading Blur, has also had success with Gorillaz.  Interestingly, he’s made more appearances with the latter than with the former.  (Song 2 was featured on BST 2.  Clint Eastwood and the Grammy-nominated Feel Good Inc. were on BST 6 and 10, respectively.)
In between the two Age Of Electric studio releases, the Dahle brothers (Ryan and Kurt) formed a side project called Limblifter.  Each of these bands have had one song included on a BST album.  (AOE’s Remote Control appeared on BST 2 and Limblifter’s Tinfoil was on the first BST.)
And finally, Tom DeLonge, a former member of Blink 182 (who have made numerous appearances in this series), formed a new group called Angels & Airwaves who are on the eleventh album.
Of all the bands who’ve appeared on these CDs, I Mother Earth is the only band to feature two lead singers on two separate singles.  Original singer Edwin can be heard on One More Astronaut, the very first song on the very first BST.  And replacement vocalist, Brian Byrne, takes over singing duties for the song, Summertime In The Void, which is on BST 4.
Another question.  How many cover songs have appeared on a BST set?  The answer:  3.
Orgy’s version of New Order’s Blue Monday (BST 4), Marilyn Manson’s re-working of the old Eurythmics’ hit, Sweet Dreams (BST) and Lenny Kravitz’ cover of The Guess Who’s American Woman (also on BST 4).
How many alternate versions (meaning remixes) of hit songs have there been on these albums?  Let’s see.  There was the Tom Lord-Alge Mix of Temptation by The Tea Party, a remix of Collective Soul’s Precious Declaration (which didn’t seem much different from the original), The Hot Rod Herman Mix of Rob Zombie’s Dragula and the TLA Mix of Breathe by Moist.  So, the answer is 4.  There hasn’t been a remix of any kind on any BST release since number 4.
How many album cuts have appeared?  There was Beck’s Novacaine, Ophelia by Moist, Three MCs And One DJ by The Beastie Boys, and Nickelback’s Flat On The Floor, bringing the grand total to 4. 
What about BST songs that were released before the studio albums they would later appear on?  How many times has that happened?  I count 3.  Weapon, the first single from Matthew Good’s 2003 solo debut, Avalanche, was previewed on BST 7 in 2002.  Econoline Crush’s You Don’t Know What It’s Like (from their 2001 swan song, Brand New History) popped up as the last song on BST 4 in 2000.  Mobile’s catchy single, Montreal Calling, appeared on BST 10 in 2005.  It would later show up on the band’s debut, Tomorrow Starts Today, which finally was released in the spring of 2006.
There has been exactly one B-Side on a BST release:  Heaven Help Us by My Chemical Romance (BST 11).
What was the most successful single from the series?  One Week by The Barenaked Ladies.  It was number one on Billboard’s Hot 100 Singles Chart in 1998 for, you guessed it, one week. 
And finally, how many acts have actually appeared on all 11 records?  Would you believe 126? 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
10:03 p.m. 
Published in: on December 20, 2006 at 10:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

From The Published Archives: Great Performances In Bad Movies (Part Two)

On January 4, 2003, the concluding installment in my Great Performances In Bad Movies series appeared in The Hamilton Spectator.  It was featured on pages 16 and 17 of The Magazine, the name of the paper’s Saturday entertainment section.
The first part appeared the previous Saturday and focused exclusively on male actors.  The second part was devoted entirely to actresses.  It was nice to have two pieces published back-to-back like that, ending 2002 and commencing 2003 with showcases of some of my best writing.  It’s too bad I would only have two other Cinephile pieces published that year. 
Although, I was initially encouraged to keep submitting pieces, inevitably the tide turned and I was told to stop sending in so much stuff.  I was so offended by this about face that I ceased writing any entertainment items for them, an easy decision to make considering I made a grand total of $120 that year.  If they want me to write for them again, I want to be paid like a real writer. 
Don’t get me wrong.  It’s not that I didn’t appreciate the "honourariums" I received in 2003 for my work.  Those cheques marked an important achievement for me.  I could finally call myself a paid writer.  But a man can’t live on $40 per published article.  If I’m going to stop living like George Costanza, I need a salary.  In the meantime, I’ll stick with my website and keep an eye out for any paid writing opportunities I should take advantage of.
In any event, The Spec didn’t have any pictures of the movies I talk about in this particular piece.  As a result, they used whatever file photos they could find.  The good news is they picked 4 terrific shots to accompany the text.  There’s a beautiful shot of Jennifer Jason Leigh in short, blond hair looking absolutely bored with her right hand glued to the side of her porcelain face.  (Or maybe she was just tired that day.)  And there’s also a snap of Angelina Jolie on the red carpet in her famous white pantsuit at the Academy Awards, a publicity still of the ageless Ellen Burstyn and an action shot of Elaine Stritch on stage.  All in all, it was a good-looking layout.
The caption under Leigh’s pic attempted to make a reference to her character in Single White Female.  Unfortunately, it says the she "longs for Jane Fonda’s identity."  It was Bridget she was actually obsessed with.
Like part one, part two of Great Performances In Bad Movies (which was renamed "Great actress in bad movies" by The Spec) required almost no editing.  A slight change here and there was all that was needed before publication.
I should note something I’ve been meaning to address on this site for a while now.  In my first blog entry, Let Me Introduce Myself, which I posted February 19th, I promised that I wasn’t going to curse on here.  Anyone who has been reading the contents of my website will note that I haven’t kept my word.  Every once in a while, I’ve broken my promise.  I mention this because the following article has the word "fuck" in it.  When I submitted this piece to The Spec, that word was represented like this:  "f***".  In the paper, they changed it to "f___".  I think it’s ridiculous to not show the entire word.  I’m an adult.  This site is read by adults.  It’s an insult to everyone’s intelligence when you censor a real word like that.  So, I’ve decided to make that change. 

By Dennis Earl
Special to The Hamilton Spectator


A stand-out piece of acting can liven up even the dullest of movies. Last Saturday, I listed some examples of great male performances in terrible films. Now it’s the ladies’ turn. Here are some female performers who managed to rise above the dreck:

Rebecca DeMornay in The Hand That Rocks The Cradle (1992)

The eternally vivacious blonde plays the heavy in this surprisingly popular but ultimately stupid thriller. DeMornay is an expectant wife who suffers a miscarriage when she learns on Television that her sleazy gynocologist hubby (the always effective John DeLancie) has killed himself over allegations that he molested his patients. When DeMornay sees the woman who came forward (Annabella Sciorra), she plots revenge by becoming the woman’s new babysitter. It’s a bit of a stretch that the family would not do a thorough background check on this woman. If they did, they would know why she’s there. But it’s fun to see the devious DeMornay quietly outfox the dopey parents. I love what she says to the Ernie Hudson character when she becomes well aware of his suspicion: "Don’t fuck with me, retard!"

Jennifer Jason Leigh in Single White Female (1992)

Here’s another thriller where the villain is stronger than the material. Bridget Fonda is looking for a roommate and places an ad in a newspaper which catches the attention of Leigh. At first, Leigh appears shy and kind and the two women immediately bond. But Leigh is the obsessive type and she longs to have Fonda’s identity. (Love the scene when Leigh gets the same short haircut as Fonda.) I also love how she tries to steal away Fonda’s boyfriend (played by Steven Weber) and how she eventually discards him. (Who knew a high heel could be so lethal?) Fonda is actually good in the movie, too, but it’s Leigh, one of the bravest performers out there, who can play a creepy villain as well as any man.

Alison Elliott and Ellen Burstyn in The Spitfire Grill (1996)

Awarded the Audience Award at Sundance, this preposterous melodrama is somewhat watchable thanks to 2 terrific performances. Elliott is Percy Talbott, a recently released convict who makes a fresh start in a small town filled with gossips and busy bodies. She gets a job working at the old Spitfire Grill, the only restaurant in town, run by the cantankerous Hannah Ferguson (Burstyn). As expected, they don’t get along at first, but as the movie clips through one absurd plot twist after another, they become very close. Burstyn is very good playing the cranky old widow who hopes to leave the restaurant business for a quiet life. Also wonderful is Elliott (The Wings Of The Dove), who makes the troubled, thin-skinned Percy a likeable young woman you care deeply about. Too bad the film is overly hokey.

Angelina Jolie in Playing By Heart (1999)

The year she gave an Oscar-winning performance in Girl, Interrupted, Angelina Jolie also had a memorable turn in this claustrophic serio-comedy. Overcrowded with unconvincing romances and too many unfunny characters, leave it to Jolie to steal the show in her scenes with Ryan Phillippe, the one romance that clicks. Jolie plays Joan, a punky, fast-talking beauty tired of having short term relationships with men that treat her appallingly. She meets Keenan (Phillippe) at a club while she’s on the phone having yet another fight with her latest loser boyfriend. Phillippe and Jolie have immediate chemistry, but he withdraws too much for Jolie to take. Once we find out why, it’s heartbreaking. Jolie is so good here her spirited performance doesn’t feel scripted. She makes the character a natural extension of her own very unique personality.

Susan Ward in The In Crowd (2000)

Here’s another useless thriller with a superb villain. Susan Ward plays Britney, a she-devil in a push-up bra who seduces and then tries to eliminate Adrien (Lori Heuring) who she thinks is 1) stealing her boyfriend and 2) stealing her seductive popularity at a local beach resort. Adrien isn’t a squeaky clean hero. She was institutionalized for an episode of "erotomania" and is given a second chance by her shrink who gets her a job at the resort. At first, it appears the vampy Britney is attracted to Adrien but then the movie unconvincingly changes direction and reveals the dark-haired sexpot to be a murderous, easily perturbed turf protector. Before it goes down that tired, familiar road to ruin, Susan Ward’s Britney is deliciously slinky and deceptive. She nicely underplays the role and gives you the impression she’d rather sleep with the competition than kill her. Ward made the 2002 Maxim Hot 100 list at a respectable 36.

Elaine Stritch in Autumn In New York (2000)

It’s just a small role, but Broadway legend Stritch is superb playing the fiesty, all-knowing grandmother of heart cancer sufferer, Winona Ryder. When we meet her, she’s flirting with an old friend (Richard Gere) who used to date her daughter. "Did you make a deal with the devil?" she coos when she sees the ageless restaurateur for the first time in years. She has another great scene with Gere when they reminisce about the past and she warns him about getting close to her granddaughter. Forget about the dopey romance between Gere and Ryder, who need new agents. It’s Stritch who’s on her game.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, December 18, 2006
9:11 p.m. 

Published in: on December 18, 2006 at 9:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

From The Published Archives: Great Performances In Bad Movies (Part One)

In 2002, I was submitting a number of entertainment pieces to The Hamilton Spectator.  Much to my delight, some of them were published.
In the beginning, I wrote for the YourPlace page of the entertainment section.  This was an opportunity for young writers, like myself, to get exposure and see their work in print without monetary compensation.  Between May and August 2002, I saw four of my articles printed under the YourPlace heading.  It was a great feeling every time I saw something I created right there in the newspaper.  My friends and family were always proud.
Several months after the last YourPlace article surfaced, I was informed by email that some of my rejected pieces were being considered for another section of the newspaper.  I was delighted. 
The Spec used to name their Saturday entertainment pullout The Magazine.  I was told that 3 of my unused YourPlace submissions would be relocated to a new page called Cinephile.  There was a higher word limit (over 200 more than a 700-word YourPlace piece) and, naturally, all you could write about was the movies.  It sounded promising.
Earlier in the year, I had this great idea that I wanted to write about.  I had been screening lots of movies, mostly full screen tapes from the public library, and many of them were terrible.  But while suffering through a number of these dreadful productions, I noticed a pattern that intrigued me.  Every now and again, I would see something spectacular in the midst of all this mediocrity.  It was usually a great performance delivered by an actor who seemed immune to the fact that they were in a bad movie.
I decided to flesh out this premise in consideration for YourPlace in the summer of 2002.  Unfortunately, I immediately knew that no matter how much editing I was planning to do, my proposed piece was always going to be too long for that section.  I also had another thought.  Why not squeeze out two articles on the same subject?  I certainly had enough material to work with.  So, I went with this approach:  Part one would focus on great male performances in bad movies, part two would focus on their female counterparts.     
Several months after I submitted both articles by email, I learned that they, indeed, were both too long for YourPlace.  Without telling me personally beforehand, the editor of that page had passed my two-part series on to the editor of Cinephile who wanted to publish them.  She also wanted to pay me, the first time anyone offered to do such a thing.  I received an "honourarium" of $40 and disappointingly, it was only for one of the pieces.  My mom had noticed that and wondered why I didn’t complain about not receiving the other $40 I probably should’ve received.  The short answer is I’ve never been good at confrontation and ultimately, I didn’t think I would’ve gotten the money if I addressed the issue personally with that editor.  So, I let the matter go.  It was only $40, anyway.
The timing of the publication of these two pieces was perfect.  Part one surfaced in the December 28 edition of The Hamilton Spectator, the last Saturday of the year.  At the bottom of the cover page, the article received a nice, little plug.  Beside the small, rectangular picture of John Travolta holding a cell phone to his ear while in character from the movie Swordfish appeared the title, "Great acting in bad movies".  (My title sounded classier but the sentiment was the same.)  Directly underneath was this:  "Sometimes the only reason to watch a forgettable film is the stand-out performances."  Cool.  It was a great, personal thrill to see that for the first time.
The article appeared on pages 16 and 17 of The Magazine.  My headline was replaced with "Great acting, bad movie", which appeared in big, bold letters.  (I’ve decided to restore the original title because I prefer it over the Spec’s choice.) 
A much bigger version of that front-page Travolta snap appeared as well as a large shot of Linda Fiorentino and Paul Newman from the movie, Where The Money Is.  There was also a small picture of Val Kilmer, probably taken while out at a premiere.  As I’ve said before, The Spec apparently doesn’t have a vast archive of file photos for films, so when I wrote about older titles they would simply use whatever they could.  In the end, my published words mattered more to me than what pictures were chosen.
The best part of the article was this short sentence that appeared at the end of it on page 17:  "Next Saturday in Cinephile:  Actresses’ performances in bad movies."  That was the first time any of my work has ever been previewed (or teased) in any publication.  It was sensational.
Actually, I’ve just noticed they teased part two right under the headline.  It reads:  "Cinephile looks at wonderful performances by male actors that are, unfortunately, the only reason to watch thse films.  It’s the actresses’ turn next week[.]"  I love that.
This may very well be the best article I ever wrote for The Spec.  There were exactly two edits made.  "On screen" was correctly changed to "onscreen", and the order of the actors I mentioned in the piece was changed.  Ray Liotta, Dennis Hopper, John Travolta, Paul Newman, Val Kilmer and Al Pacino appeared exactly in that order in the newspaper.  I’ve decided to restore the original order because I’m too lazy to switch the order around so it reflects the printed version.  In truth, the order really doesn’t make a difference.  It is still one of my strongest articles.

By Dennis Earl
Special to The Hamilton Spectator


Great acting isn’t exclusive to great films. Even the bad ones feature juicy, unforgettable portrayals. A stand-out performance can easily overshadow the mediocrity of the film you’re watching. Sometimes, a sensational acting job gets recognized by various awards committees while the bad film itself receives almost no acclaim.

Here are a few examples of top notch acting by men in films of questionable quality:

Ray Liotta in Unlawful Entry (1992)

I was never fond of this routine intruder-from-hell thriller with its predictable third act but I have a deep fondness for Ray Liotta as the villain. He plays Officer Pete Davis who’s assigned to a home invasion case involving a distraught married couple played by Madeleine Stowe and Kurt Russell. At first, Officer Davis is extremely helpful to the frightened lovers but slowly, he starts ingratiating himself into their lives. He starts showing up unannounced at their home. (There’s a great shot of his unanticipated reflection in the couple’s swimming pool in one scene.) He becomes obsessed with Stowe in particular and who could blame him? After appearing friendly at first he soon slips into creepy stalker mode. (At one point, it appears he’s watching the couple have sex. But he’s too clever to be caught.) Because of the thin blue line at the police station, no one will question Officer Davis. In fact, when his partner (played by Magnum P.I.’s Roger E. Mosley) gets suspicious, Davis doesn’t hesitate to dispose of him. His initial charm, eventual cold demeanour, fierce brutality and complete lack of hesitation and consideration makes him a most effective villain. The performance was so good MTV nominated him as Best Villain in 1993. It’s the only reason to watch the movie.

Dennis Hopper in Waterworld (1995)

It’s a terrible action film with an unlikeable Kevin Costner as its hero but Dennis Hopper, Hollywood’s most reliable villain, steals the show as Deacon. With an eye-patch over one eye, giving him an added edge, Hopper brings down the house when he taunts the hero by saying, "You’re the turd that just won’t flush!"

Val Kilmer in The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996)

In this ridiculous update of the famous H.G. Wells novel, Kilmer plays a henchman of Dr. Moreau (a sadly bloated Brando), a scientist who "raises" his man-beast experimental manifestations as his own children. Kilmer is equally ruthless as Brando’s Moreau and he’s a terrific mimic. The best scenes in the movie involve Kilmer channelling Brando. So funny you’ll wet your eyes.

Al Pacino in The Devil’s Advocate (1997)

Pacino’s been good in so many acclaimed movies it’s hard to imagine him popping up in stinkers. In this 1997 disappointment, Pacino chews up the scenery big time playing the head of a powerful New York City law firm. He woos ambitious litigator Keanu Reeves to the firm not fully disclosing that he’s really the devil. In speech after speech, Pacino continually establishes himself as the ultimate cinematic ham. You wish the movie was as good as he is.

Paul Newman in Message In A Bottle (1999) and Where The Money Is (2000)

Well into his 70s and still a strong on-screen presence, Newman has quietly excelled in a small number of films in the last decade or so. Since his Oscar nomination for Nobody’s Fool, none of his other films have made money or gotten glowing reviews. But he continues to do strong work even in so-so fare. In Message In A Bottle, he plays Kevin Costner’s father and turns out to be the more charming of the two actors. You get the feeling that Robin Wright Penn, a reporter who falls in love with the widow Costner, would rather be with the sly Newman than the guy the script tells her to get close to. Newman is hilarious at times in this overly melodramatic weepy and he’s far more dramatic than the film itself. He’s even better in the unfunny Where The Money Is, playing an extremely smart convicted bank robber who cooks up a brilliant scheme to get out of jail. He masterfully pretends to be a stroke victim so he can spend less time in prison and plan his eventual escape from his new, temporary residence, a less-guarded seniors home. His nurse, played by Linda Fiorentino, starts believing he’s a fake and once she exposes him, reluctantly convinces him to pull off a big heist of their own. With Fiorentino’s husband along for the ride, it’s Newman who garners the best dialogue and quietly seduces the intrigued Fiorentino. He’s the only actor who could’ve pulled off this role. Too bad the movie isn’t up to his excellence.

John Travolta in Swordfish (2001)

In one of his most confident appearances onscreen, Travolta opens the uneven Swordfish with a great speech about the crap Hollywood is so good at producing. (Was he thinking of Battlefield Earth?) Next thing we know we’re in a bomb situation and Travolta is the charismatic, chatty villain orchestrating it perfectly. Although the script wants him to occasionally waste his enemies with state-of-the-art automatic firepower, Travolta gives you the impression he’d rather contract out the dirty work and talk about movies all day long. In one of the movie’s unused endings, Travolta tells Halle Berry about The Maltese Falcon. Perfectly appropriate considering how much Travolta’s performance is reminiscent of Sidney Greenstreet. He’s charming and cunning in equal terms. You like him but you’re always wary of his motives. This is Travolta’s best work in 4 years.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, December 17, 2006
2:53 p.m.

Published in: on December 17, 2006 at 3:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

Time To Kill Off Sun TV And Trouble Brewing At The London Free Press

It’s been almost a year and a half since Toronto One was rechristened Sun TV, or as I like to call it, Suck TV.  During its brief, 3-year existence, the station has gone through 3 owners:  Craig Media (which no longer exists), CHUM (which had to sell the property because it already owns enough Toronto-based channels) and Quebecor (its current owners).  Quebecor has owned the Sun Media corporation, in more ways than one, since a successful merger became official in January 1999.  At the time, joining with Quebecor was considered a better option than being swallowed up by TorStar (The Sun’s longtime rival who made an unsuccessful bid for the paper in 1998).  Many are regretting that the merger happened at all.
Since then, the Sun Media chain has been in turmoil.  It has suffered greatly from round after round after round of firings.  Many columnists have disappeared without any official explanation.  Other departures were described as “retirements”.  In turn, it has hired some questionable columnists (the controversial Rachel Marsden comes to mind).  Overall, there is a growing collective feeling of outrage and sadness among many of its employees who long for the days when Doug Creighton ran the show in Toronto. 
Which brings me back to Sun TV’s troubles.  On the Canadian Media Guild website there’s an archive of announcements regarding the union’s dealings with Sun TV’s management.  Since January of this year, the Guild has been trying to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement with the company in order to protect the jobs of its employees and then, to get on with the business of running the station better.  There have been 8 such announcements in 2006, the most recent of which was released in November.  As of this writing, there is still no agreement in place between the two parties.
The CMG put forth its proposals, based on the surveyed wishes of Sun TV employees, on January 30.  (It’s the usual list of demands:  fair wages, harassment-free workplace, etc.)  The next day, they announced that Sun TV management would examine those proposals and get back to the union.  Both parties agreed to meet again in a month.
2 months later, Sun TV fired 13 employees from the station.  According to CMG, they were informed of this terrible news “only five minutes before the employees themselves were informed.”  They further noted, “[u]nder federal law, the employer is not supposed to make alterations to its operations without the union’s consent. We are exploring our legal options.” 
On March 24, a day after the union publicly reported those dismissals, it announced that it was “considering filing a complaint with the Canada Industrial Relations Board about the disgraceful treatment of employees.”  In the same press release, they had this to say about Quebecor:  “If the company has a plan for breaking into the English-language TV market, no one seems to know what it is.”  The union further complained that “[t]he broadcast licence granted to the station by the CRTC calls for editorial independence between the Sun and Sun TV; it is not clear how that will be fulfilled if the station’s only current affairs show relies on the newspaper’s editorial employees.”
That’s a reference to CANOE Live, Sun TV’s suppertime newscast.  Apparently, Quebecor couldn’t find any local Canadian talent willing to host the program so they recruited Indiana broadcaster Janette Luu for the job.  (She had previously been a reporter at ABC and NBC affiliates in Fort Wayne over an 8-year period.)  Much of the program involves Janette interviewing Toronto Sun reporters and columnists about stories covered in the newspaper.  Occasionally, guests like Ontario PC Opposition Leader John Tory make appearances but mostly, the bulk of the program is made up of one set of Quebecer employees interviewing another set of Quebecor employees. (There are no proper stories by TV reporters because Quebecor disbanded the ENG department.  They also axed the marketing department which leads one to wonder how they intend to increase their viewership if they don’t have anybody on-board to publicly push all of its programming.) 
This has not made for compelling Television (I can only take the program minutes at a time) and not exactly the winning formula for eating into the ratings of its more established local competitors who have respected anchors and reporters.  How long before the 7-month-old disaster (which got a critical pummelling from Toronto Star Media Critic Antonia Zerbisias) is put out of its misery is anybody’s guess.  Considering the channel’s history of not sticking with its homegrown programming, I’d be very surprised if it’s still on the air this time next year.
In April, The Canadian Media Guild and Sun TV management finally sat down to talk about reaching an agreement, nearly 3 months after the CMG announced its employee proposals.  Both sides agreed to work on the “non-contentious issues” first before getting to the more difficult and controversial matters at hand.  A follow-up meeting on May 24 led to more preliminary discussions of each side’s interests.  The union announced that it was hoping that this method of conciliation would lead to an agreed upon deal “without too much drama.”
But on September 5, a deal between the two camps was nowhere in sight.  The President of The CMG, Lise Lareau, publicly grumbled that day in a statement entitled Get With The Program, Sun TV, that since Quebecor took over the station, Sun TV “has become even less of a player.  The new owner is unable or unwilling to produce, or even purchase, shows that people want to watch.”
A quick perusal of the schedule confirms this fact.  All night informercials, reruns of Canadian shows like The Beachcombers, Danger Bay, and King Of Kensington, re-airings of American programs like Chico And The Man, Leave It To Beaver, Family Affair and Here’s Lucy (the Lucille Ball sitcom viewers don’t want to see again and again), and collectively ignored in-house productions like The Grill Room (a sports roundtable yakfest) and CANOE Live haven’t exactly set the local TV scene on fire.  Any current shows that are aired like 60 Minutes or Scrubs are simply simulcasts, meaning Sun TV airs these American staples at the exact same time American stations broadcast them.
Lareau further noted, “Sun TV management has recently cut back hours for studio technicians because there’s not enough work for them to do – and no clear plan as to how that work is ever going to come back.  Even more troubling was management’s recent inability to meet payroll for a group of temporary employees.” 
All of this leads to these important questions:  Why is this union wasting time negotiating a contract for its members with a company that has no idea how to efficiently run an English-language TV station?  Is it really worth spending almost a year trying to reason with people who can’t make payroll?  Why work for a company that has never had a show in the Top 30?  It’s lunacy.
I’m no fan of unions because I value individuality over the mob mentality but I’m definitely on the side of the CMG in this one.  They’ve been more than professional in their dealings with Quebecor.  But they’ve got to look in the mirror and realize that they’re not welcome in the company.  It’s time to cut their losses, kill off Sun TV and help find jobs for their members in places that will actually welcome them.   
I remember the days when The Toronto Sun bragged about being the only non-union paper in the city.  Employees shared profits with each other, 10-year veterans got an automatic 2-month vacation and it was rated one of the top 100 companies to work for.  
Those days are as good as dead.
If that weren’t enough trouble for Quebecor to deal with, now they may be facing a revolt at one of their dailies.
On December 12, The Professional Writers Association Of Canada issued a press release regarding The London Free Press.  They announced that Sun Media is urging its employees to sign a contract that would remove their right to compensation with regards to their reprinted material.  In other words, let’s say if a LFP columnist has his/her piece published in LFP, they get paid the same as before.  But if the company wanted to reprint that piece in another Sun daily, like The Toronto Sun, for instance, if they signed that restrictive contract, they wouldn’t be compensated for their work.  PWAC is urging its members to reject the contract and they believe they have the numbers to make it happen.
Last week, I reported the email exchanges I had with former Winnipeg Sun columnist Lydia Lovric.  She wrote me personally to explain why she left the paper.  She mentioned that Sun Media had urged her to sign away her right to reprint compensation so they could publish her column in any of their papers without paying extra.  In a follow-up email, she explained that, on principle, she left the company because she felt that policy was wrong.  She noted that the paper she currently works for, The Vancouver Province, pays for the right to reprint columns.
This is the exact same situation that’s happening at The London Free Press.  One wonders how many other Sun employees, past and present, will come forward to tell their tales of woe as we all try to understand why Quebecor is going out of its way to alienate its journalists.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, December 14, 2006
9:19 p.m.
Published in: on December 14, 2006 at 9:27 pm  Leave a Comment