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.
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.
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.
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.
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.