Explaining The Three Week Silence

It’s been unusually quiet in this space lately.  You might be wondering why.  Naturally, an explanation is in order.
 
Every so often, you need a break from writing, for whatever reason.  It can last anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks, never longer than that, thankfully.  It all depends on that next good idea, when it pops into your head and when you sit down to develop it into a finished piece.  After the heartwarming story of Rachel Marsden’s surprise dismissal from The Toronto Sun three weeks ago, I decided to take it easy for a couple of days, not knowing when I would return to blogging.  5 movies were screened (although tempted, there was no burning desire to write about any of them), a number of old entertainment magazines were read (I’m so backlogged, you have no idea), and there was plenty of uneven poker playing and friend interaction on Facebook.
 
But there were other reasons why you haven’t read anything new in this space in a while.  Lack of motivation based on lack of actionable premises.  Off and on misery from the continually unsettled weather (I’m very susceptible to constant, dramatic changes in the barometer).  And general frustration about various other matters that should probably not be discussed in any length here.
 
Let’s face it.  As hard as you try, you go through slow periods where you accomplish very little.  True, I haven’t completely stopped writing.  There’s been plenty to write about and link to on Fading To Black.  But lately, it’s been more difficult than usual to start a new writing rhythm in this space.
 
The good news is that’s about to change.  I’ve started working on the first of what I hope will be several installments of my annual Winners & Losers Of The Year series.  There were seven chapters last year so we’ll see how things progress this year.  God knows there are plenty of 2007 contenders for both categories.
 
There may be more end-of-the-year type material next month as well (depending on how I feel) and it might be time to go back into the archives to dust off some older pieces.  It’s been quite a while.  Here’s hoping this site ends the year on a strong note with plenty of good stuff for you to check out.
 
In the meantime, keep your eyes on The Writings Of Dennis Earl.  Expect to see some new offerings here very soon.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
11:14 p.m.
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Published in: on November 28, 2007 at 11:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

Marsden’s Exit Long Overdue

Yesterday, this website reported how odd it was that Rachel Marsden’s name was missing from the list of Toronto Sun political columnists.  It appeared as though she had been dropped from the tabloid.
 
We now have confirmation that this, in fact, is true.  Early this morning, an anonymous commenter posted a statement here which was taken directly from Marsden’s official site.  Originally posted “late last night” but later updated, according to Toronto Sun Family blogger John Cosway, the complete comment reads as follows:
 

“Sun Media Column Statement:

Attention terrorists and Islamofascists:  You can now read the Toronto Sun without having your delicate sensibilities offended, as my weekly column is no longer with Sun Media.  I am currently exploring US syndication and other venues for the column.  In the meantime, you can continue to read it here at RachelMarsden.com, every Monday.  And yes (to respond to some of your queries), after more than 2 years of writing weekly for the Sun, I’ve been under a new Editor-in-Chief, since October 5th, who comes from Canada’s most liberal newspaper:  The Toronto Star.  My column about Islam was spiked on his first day at the job.  Best of luck to any principled conservatives who remain.

– Rachel Marsden, November 7/07″

 
 
After two years and over a hundred columns, The Toronto Sun finally did the right thing by dropping this notorious pretend journalist, who should never have been hired in the first place.  As this website has noted here and here, Marsden is a ridiculously sloppy writer.  She was an ongoing embarrassment for a daily that doesn’t need any more bad news at this point.  Also, it should be noted that it doesn’t really matter how conservative her views are.  If you can’t get your facts right or make an argument without coming across as a total lunatic, you have no business writing for a newspaper.  How Marsden has been able to maintain this sham of a career for as long as she has remains baffling.
 
Where does one begin with her official statement?  Is it really a good idea to come across as petty, paranoid and whiny after being rightfully fired?  When she was let go from the late night Fox News program, Red Eye, her tone was completely different.  How come she couldn’t be as gracious with her Sun Media statement, as well?  How come she didn’t thank Lorrie Goldstein and Rob Granatstein for supporting her in that Salon.com article?  They foolishly vouched for her and one wonders if they’re both regretting that now.  Furthermore, being publicly bitter over something that was caused by your own actions is as immature and unprofessional as you can get.  This is not a wise move on her part.  One wonders if she’ll leave Canada and continue to press her luck in America.  They can have her.
 
For more fallout on Marsden’s exit, check out these two entertaining stories on The Toronto Sun Family Blog here and here.  John Cosway has a new poll up on the site asking visitors to pick a replacement for Marsden.  I went with “Guest Columns”.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, November 8, 2007
3:11 p.m.
Published in: on November 8, 2007 at 3:12 pm  Comments (1)  

Is The Sun Done With Rachel Marsden?

There was something curious about The Toronto Sun’s website last night.  If you briefly examined the list of the paper’s political columnists, something stood out about one name in particular.  Beside the name "Rachel Marsden" wasn’t the link to her pro-torture column which was published on Monday.  Instead, a piece from April 17, 2006 was listed.  (It was about "forcing" people to join the military.)  But when you clicked that link, you got an error message.  While her highly criticized waterboarding column is still available online (Marsden has the link on her site), for some unknown reason, it wasn’t listed beside her name anymore.
 
Also curious last night was the Sun Media columnists page which lists all the political opinion writers for Toronto and its sister publications.  When you got to Rachel Marsden’s name, however, no link was beside it.  In fact, you just saw this:  ( ). 
 
While checking the site today, it was a completely different story.  Look at this and see if you can find Rachel Marsden’s name anywhere.  That’s right.  It’s disappeared.
 
Check this one out, as well.  No brackets, no Marsden.
 
A Canoe search brings up a number of her past columns but if you go to her Toronto Sun home page here, you’ll notice it’s blank.  Normally, there would be links to her seven most recent pieces published in the paper.  Not anymore.
 
All of this begs an obvious question:  is The Sun done with her?  Because it sure looks that way.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
1:15 p.m.
Published in: on November 7, 2007 at 1:16 pm  Comments (2)  

When A Stranger Calls (2006)

Where would horror films be today without The False Alarm?  You know the set-up.  A young, beautiful woman is all alone.  It’s quiet for ages until a sudden noise is heard mysteriously in the house.  The woman looks around quickly wondering where it’s coming from.  More silence.  Then, that noise returns.  She has to investigate.  She moves cautiously and alertly, getting closer and closer to the source of the sonic disruption.  If she’s freaked out enough, she’ll have a weapon in her hand.  Usually, though, she’s unarmed.  The music sounds more and more sinister as each second slowly ticks by.  By this time, the noise has mysteriously disappeared.  But then, out of nowhere, she’s nearly startled out of her perfect skin.  It was just the cat.  Damn you, Chester!
 
The 2006 remake of When A Stranger Calls uses endless variations of that scenario to the point of tedium.  After a while, you get so fed up with the manipulation that you actually wish for something horrific to happen.  Those looking for big scares here will be sadly disappointed.
 
The aptly named Camilla Belle plays a typical high school student with the usual teenage dramas.  She’s having a hard time concentrating on her running for the school track team because she caught her girlfriend in a smooch with her boyfriend who, for his part, unsuccessfully professes his innocence to her.  They’re still a couple but the matter remains unresolved.  She spent so much time trying to sort everything out on her cell phone that she went over her minutes.  Not terribly pleased about it, her parents pay her outstanding bill.  Her father insists that she pay them back by working babysitting jobs.  So, he drives her to her first gig and marvels at the amazing property she’ll be spending the night in.
 
It really is something.  A doctor and his second wife give us a brief tour.  There are no light switches.  As soon as you walk into a room, it brightens with electricity.  As soon as you leave, the darkness returns.  Their bathroom has two sinks.  There’s so much space you could have a game of Twister in there and not feel claustrophobic.  They have fish and birds coexisting peacefully together in a special room.  (The kindly housekeeper, Rosa, looks after them.)  There’s even a guesthouse where the doc’s college-age son from his first marriage stays during unannounced appearances.  All the while, you wonder do all physicians have it this good?  And what happened to his first wife, anyway?
 
The charming couple are very thankful to Belle for stepping in at the last minute.  They’re eating out on this night and may even catch a movie afterwards.  Their two, much younger kids are already fast asleep upstairs so looking after them should be a breeze.
 
But the movie is entitled When A Stranger Calls and this will be no ordinary night.  Looking bored for much of the film, Camilla Belle, a babe in every sense of the word, nonetheless does the best she can playing an underwritten character.  Her face reminds me of a young Jane Russell with her long, dark, shoulder-length hair, her red, full lips, that cute, distinctive nose and those beautiful brown eyes.  She’s got movie star quality and yet, still looks like the girl next door.  (Richard Roeper thinks she’s more attractive than Lindsay Lohan.)  Now if only she can take on more fulfilling roles.  Only then will she grow in stature.
 
As the uneventful day turns to night, weird, unexplained things start happening.  It’s so quiet that background noises demand her immediate attention.  (What else is there to do?)  Every single time she investigates something out of the ordinary, it turns out to be nothing.  This must happen at least half a dozen times.
 
Then, the phone starts ringing, especially after the house’s security system goes off.  At one point, she gets cranked by her boyfriend’s buddy.  Click.  Another caller, this one an unidentified male, asks her if everything’s alright.  She thinks it’s that nice doctor checking in on her.  The guy hangs up on her without responding to her query.  Another phone call.  Her girlfriend gives her a head’s up about her boyfriend’s plan to call her.  Then, he calls but his connection sucks and the conversation is frustratingly brief.  There are more calls.  Then, the heavy breather starts bothering her.  She gets connected to a very nice police officer who can’t do anything about it because the guy’s not threatening her in any way.  Nonetheless, he keeps calling and calling and calling.  (Just once, you wish he’d say "Baba Booey!" to break up the endless monotony.)  She’s instructed by the cop to keep him on the line for at least a minute so law enforcement can trace his whereabouts but this dude is onto that game.  It takes three-quarters of the movie’s running time for Belle to finally learn what the audience has long known.  The heavy breather’s in the house.  Whoop-de-do.
 
The movie is obviously based on that famous urban legend about the babysitter who keeps getting calls from some crazed murderer who just happens to be in the house with her.  What doesn’t make any sense is why this particular villain (who is neither scary nor interesting) targets this particular girl in this particular house on this particular night.  (How did he know she would be alone?)  When he finally reveals in one pivotal phone conversation that he wants Belle’s "blood all over me", we still don’t know his motive for attempting to murder her.  Revenge?  Bloodlust?  What, exactly?  And how is he able to stay hidden all the time when the house has that very helpful, automatic light system?  So many more questions could be asked here but what’s the point?  There are no compelling answers.
 
For a horror film, When A Stranger Calls is remarkably bloodless, which explains its soft rating (PG in Ontario, Canada; PG-13 in the States).  There’s virtually no suspense here, no dilemma to get emotionally involved with.  It’s all too familiar and dull.  But it’s not as dumb as I’m making it sound.  It’s more half-hearted in its efforts than stupid.  It’s not nearly as obnoxious or disturbing as those godawful Friday The 13th pictures and besides Belle, we like many of the supporting characters, especially her father and that nice couple, who aren’t on screen for very long, unfortunately.  At one point, her hot, blonde pal, who couldn’t resist planting one on her man, makes a surprise appearance.  (Has she ever heard of a phone?)  She proudly proclaims, "I’m a bitch," which, I guess, is her way of making amends for what she did.  For a story sorely lacking in edge, moments like that stick out more than those tedious False Alarms, which isn’t saying much.
 
By the film’s routine third act, we’re so used to being cheated that the actual moments of terror feel seriously underwhelming.  Were it not for the presence of Belle and that magnificent waterfront property, where much of the film takes place, this would be a far worse film.  One thing is for certain, though.  Because this film made money, this 21-year-old brunette will get more chances to prove her worth as an actress in the near future.  It’ll be interesting to see what she can do with a better role in a more original screenplay.  She certainly deserves one.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, November 5, 2007
7:05 p.m.
Published in: on November 5, 2007 at 7:06 pm  Leave a Comment  

Get Rich Or Die Tryin’

This movie got terrible reviews during its surprisingly brief theatrical run in the fall of 2005.  After a decent opening weekend, the film quickly lost its commercial momentum, too, and failed to break even.  What a shame.  It’s an underrated gem that gives you a much better sense of who this 50 Cent character really is.  Also, if you ever harboured any delusions about becoming a gangbanger, you need to see this movie.  It’ll scare you straight.
 
Named after his major-label debut album, Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ is a slightly fictionalized version of Curtis Jackson’s harrowing life story.  Renamed Marcus, we quickly learn just how difficult it was for him to have a normal life free from danger, pain and temptation.  We meet his mom, a waitress who gave birth to him in her restaurant who also moonlights as a drug dealer.  (Disappointingly, it’s never really explained why she takes that risky second job.)  There’s a key scene where she gets out of her car in the middle of the day and proceeds to yell at a fellow hustler, who looks like Rick James circa the early ’80s, for working her turf.  Not too long after, she’s murdered.  Marcus thinks the James clone is responsible and he becomes obsessed with finding him.  
 
With no father in the picture, Marcus moves in with his grandparents (Viola Davis and Sullivan Walker) and eight other kids.  It’s tough for him to fit in.  With so many mouths to feed, it’s difficult to keep your food on your plate.  The sleeping arrangements are a nightmare.  Everybody has to double up and it’s quite uncomfortable.  Marcus does something smart, though.  Annoyed by the culinary thievery at the dinner table, he douses one of the culprits with water, causing a loud commotion.  His kindly grandpa (who played Bill Cosby’s buddy/petanque opponent on a memorable episode of The Cosby Show) relocates him to the laundry room where he learns the true value of privacy.  Besides, he needs the space to develop his burgeoning talent as a rapper.
 
Well before that, he writes a remarkably mature rhyme for Charlene, his first love.  But it’s highly suggestive nature offends Charlene’s mother and stepfather who quickly move their daughter out of the area, thereby preventing any possible hanky panky. 
 
During these early scenes, Marc John Jeffries, perfectly cast as the younger version of Marcus, does a good job of involving us in his already disorienting life.  It’s astounding how much he resembles Curtis Jackson, too.  You’d swear they’re related in some way.  The once emotionally available, happy-go-lucky kid soon becomes withdrawn and closed off after the brutal murder of his mom.  Self-preservation becomes a personal commandment.  By the time 50 Cent takes over the role for good, he becomes the ultimate poker player.  Impossible to read and outplay, for the most part.
 
Still as a troubled child, Marcus follows in his mother’s footsteps so he can buy that pair of sneakers he likes and eventually, as a grown man, that white S500 Mercedes he doesn’t have a license to drive.  He knows the game and the players and still foolishly jumps in.  Being a pre-teen drug dealer is dangerous business.  Three slightly older dealers beat him up one day over territory but he’s rescued by a nasty character named Majestic (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje from Lost in a terrific performance) before things get completely out of hand.  He takes him to a fast food joint and laughs at his youthful chutzpah.  He takes him under his wing and the little man pays his dues.  There’s a great moment where 50 Cent, who does an entertaining job narrating this thinly veiled version of his pre-stardom years, notes that the benefits are few and far between for this kind of drug dealing, especially when you consider the very real risk of doing serious time in prison.  You’re better off earning minimum wage in that fast food restaurant.  Illegitimacy is the road to ruin.
 
But everything changes when Majestic improves their inventory.  Soon, the bottom line is fattening and joy briefly returns to Marcus’ face.  There’s even a side order of swagger to go with it.
 
Then, he reconnects with Charlene (played as an adult by the beautiful and effective Joy Bryant from Antwone Fisher) after a decade apart.  She’s training to be a dancer and much to her old pal’s delight, they have a future together.   (One gets the impression she stayed single for him after all these years.  We never do learn what happened to her after she left, though.)  There’s a nice moment where Charlene reveals that she hasn’t forgotten the sexy song Marcus wrote for her when they were kids.  The air becomes thick with the promise of consummation.  It changes their lives forever.
 
There’s so much more to this story.  An ongoing turf war between the Black drug dealers, led by the towering Bill Duke, and the Columbians, who, curiously, despite being trigger-happy competitors, continuously supply them with crack.  A rapper named Dangerous who’s anything but.  A coup.  A jail sentence that reforms a lost soul.  A dream slowly becoming reality.  A life-changing alliance with a trusted friend.  Needless to say, there’s plenty of material here to fill its two-hour running time.
 
Directed by Jim Sheridan, who made the superior In The Name Of The Father, it’s a compelling examination of the tragic cycle of pain that broken Black families find themselves trapped in in America.  I would’ve liked to have learned more about Marcus’ mother, though.  In the few scenes she appears in, she leaves an indelible impression.  Encouraging her son’s musical ambition, she worries about him loving her too much to the point where his instincts override his common sense.  But even she can’t protect him from all the intoxicating dangers of the street.  She’s a broad in every sense of the word.  Tough and independent, yet warm-hearted and dependable.  Her most memorable piece of advice to Marcus is this:  always treat the ladies with kindness.  She insists that he promise to do that no matter who he gets involved with.  In those later scenes with Charlene, when childhood admiration turns to deeper grown-up emotions, you immediately observe that he was clearly listening. 
 
50 Cent does something particularly well here.  He doesn’t demand that you care about him and he doesn’t beg for your sympathy.  Cheap manipulation isn’t part of his incredibly strong constitution.  He tells his story as directly as he can with no sugarcoating of his regretful actions.  We witness him target people for murder and selling death to customers one dimebag at a time.  Yet, you still find yourself rooting for him, especially in the final act when he learns some things that bring about confusion and tremendous rage.  We admire his strength, his determination to change his ways after a tough prison sentence and his natural devotion to his mother and his girlfriend.  He’s very much his mother’s son which makes her death all the more tragic.  You realize in time that any mob-related profession requires one to perform tasks completely at odds with one’s own personality.  As a result, Marcus has a hard time opening the door emotionally to those in his inner circle, especially Charlene.  His music becomes a necessary outlet for all of the emotional turbulence flowing throughout his bullet-riddled body.
 
The performances here are really strong, as previously noted.  But I want to single out Terrence Howard, in particular, who does great work playing 50 Cent’s prison confidant.  Try as you might, you can never catch him in a false note.  He’s as brilliant in this movie as he was in Crash.  Here’s hoping he gets offered more interesting parts like this one in the future.  It looks bright for him.
 
There’s a rare authenticity here that serves as a powerful education for the easily seduced.  Drug dealing on these unwelcoming city streets is long, tedious, unrewarding and scary.  Advancement is impossible.  Death, all but certain unless you exit immediately.  But even then, like a career in pornography, you can never really escape it.  It’s the ultimate stalker and no restraining order will ever keep it at bay.  Pungent with the permanent odor of desperation and sadness, it is indeed a miracle that Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson ever made it out of this nowhereland where hope and freedom are forever elusive.  If only rap could rescue the less talented.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, November 5, 2007
2:59 a.m.
Published in: on November 5, 2007 at 3:00 am  Leave a Comment