Remembering 2007, My Second Year Of Blogging

It was exactly one year ago today.  With nothing new to write about, it was a perfect opportunity to take stock and look back at my first year of blogging. 
"It’s been a strange year," I noted at the time.  "I have never done anything like this before, so I really had no idea what to expect."
But despite some initial reservations about establishing this website, 2006 marked a new, exciting beginning for me as a writer.  For the first time, I had a regular forum.  Plus, because it’s a one-man operation, there was never any possibility of having your work severely cut by an editor or even rejected for consideration.  Very quickly, I came to appreciate the extraordinary amount of freedom I possess with regards to pulling together content.  You can get your points across with as many or as few words as possible.  Furthermore, with no built-in fanbase breathlessly anticipating entries, you can make your mistakes without attracting too much attention.  (Although I do appreciate it when they’re pointed out to me.  I’ve always hated screwing up and continue to try to maintain a consistent level of accuracy here.)
By the end of last year, this website accumulated over 3200 page views.  Not spectacular.  As of this writing, however, the overall total is almost 14000.  When you do the math, you realize that The Writings Of Dennis Earl has had three times as many viewings in 2007 compared to last year.  It’s still not overwhemlingly good when you think of the hits more prominent sites like The Huffington Post and Media Matters For America receive on a daily basis (we’re talking millions) but it’s encouraging nonetheless to see this website slowly grow an audience.
How did this happen?  Well, it all began when I started focusing on Sun Media and Sun TV.  After naming the former as a Loser Of The Year last December, the entry was picked up by a new blogger named Fading To Black.  After sending an appreciative email, we started corresponding on a fairly regular basis.  Follow-up pieces were also noted by that site.  Another new blog, The Toronto Sun Family, which launched around the same time as FTB, would also make note of some of my entries.  Over time, I was generating between 200 and 400 hits a week.  It was understood that most of my readers were professional media people.
And then I heard from Bill Brioux.
In January, he was one of a dozen Toronto Sun staffers let go by the heartless Quebecor.  It was very upsetting to me personally because he was one of the remaining reasons why I kept reading the print version of the paper.  (These days, I stick to the website.)  You didn’t always agree with his assessments but his sense of humour and his obvious skills as a TV critic kept you reading.  Unlike some of the tabloid’s political columnists and its Editorial Board, you didn’t mistrust him.  You always felt he was giving it to you straight.  (As noted before, he now writes a weekly column for The Canadian Press and you can check out his new blog here.)
At any event, after complaining about his unfair dismissal and writing about his final Sun column, he sent me an email.  It was so good it had to be posted.  His comments were picked up by five different blogs and of all the 289 pieces posted on this site so far, it remains the most popular.  Many times, I’ve checked my page view statistics and noticed that yet another person has accessed the permanent link to the original article.  It’s not certain how many have actually read it but it’s probably not an exaggeration to say that it’s been checked out at least a hundred times, give or take a few.  Toronto Star columnist Antonia Zerbisias told me in an email at the time, "…this post is sure making the rounds!".  Nearly a year after it was published here, it’s still being read.
Shortly thereafter, I heard from Bill’s old pal and former Sun colleague, Jim Slotek.  He pretty much took me and Bill to task over our views on the situation at the Toronto tabloid.  He didn’t seem terribly pleased that I published his email, either, when he wrote me a second message.  But it was another breakthrough.  Something I wrote got a professional writer so fired up they had to get in touch with me and question my viewpoint.  In the end, Jim thanked me for supporting the Sun staffers and recently wrote me a nice message about an article I wrote about Bill’s new book and blog.  I praised his column on global warming back in March.
The other piece that caught the attention of readers this year was TV Ad-Scam, a rejected Hamilton Spectator article from 2005.  It’s popped up in many Google searches throughout the year and, like Bill Brioux Responds, has been accessed here directly quite a few times.  (It helps that both articles are always on the first page of each search, no matter the phrasing.)  One site, which collected a number of articles about this duplicious Television Preview company, even quoted from it.  It’s easily the second-most read article on my site.
All in all, counting this one, there have been 127 pieces posted on The Writings Of Dennis Earl in 2007.  While that number is lower than last year’s total of 162, there were far less archive offerings.  (I do hope to get back to the older stuff again soon, though.)  Besides writing about Sun Media’s troubles, I also wrote extensively about Sun TV and how The Canadian Media Guild was having a hell of a time trying to secure the station’s employees a collective bargaining agreement.  No one else seemed to be going to bat for them as they struggled for stability in a highly competitive Canadian media market and so, an information vacuum opened up which I tired in vain to fill.  Ultimately, the union pulled out thanks to a lack of employee solidarity and it’s not known now what has been happening since.  As a result, the future of Sun TV remains unclear.  A friend urged me to keep covering the story to see if I could learn more information but to me it seemed like a long, difficult slog.  Unless people with reliable information are willing to come forward on the record to pass on their insight to me, there’s nothing new to report here.  Otherwise, I’d just be banging my head against the wall.  Plus, I was distracted by some personal drama.
It had been quite a while since I had a girlfriend and little did I know, my love life was about to perk up considerably this year, albeit briefly.  I met a young woman in a chatroom and after two days of friendly chatter, we switched to instant messaging.  In a couple of weeks, we were a couple.  The next month was even better as we continued to get closer and closer.  Despite some occasional phone calls (sadly, it was another difficult, long distance relationship), it was strictly an online thing.  Then, her ex started hijacking her computer and it became a nightmare.  She refused to seek help to be rid of him once and for all which placed a tremendous strain on me and our future together.  I really cared about her and worried about her safety.  It was a helpless situation and after putting up with it for a month, I reached my breaking point.  She had to do something or it was over.  I couldn’t take it anymore.  I had actually ended the relationship and said goodbye when suddenly, she agreed to call her brother and tell him everything.  He was plenty upset but one angry phone call later, her ex finally left her alone.  I had to talk her into trying again but a week later, she ended it for good, just before my 32nd birthday.  Nothing would change her mind, either.  We didn’t speak for almost four months.
Then, she left a couple of messages in my Guestbook and we started communicating again.  She explained what she was going through and it remains a mystery why she didn’t just level with me then about all of this instead of offering transparent bullshit.  I would’ve been a lot less angry and sympathetic.  Anyway, she wanted to be friends and after forgiving her for what happened, I realized that was better than nothing at all.  Besides, the alternative of not speaking to her again was unbearable and harsh.
That being said, there is something I wish we could’ve addressed further at the time we platonically reconciled.  She noted that one of her reasons for not meeting me in person was this fear she had that I would expect sex from her during our first, proper date.  As I said to her countless times, when you meet someone offline after getting to know them online and on the phone it’s a very different dynamic, less immediately intimate.  You don’t just start ripping each other’s clothes off the minute you see each other.  You have to see what it’s like to converse with them in person first.  Besides, you might be disappointed with the lack of chemistry or have a completely different feeling about them.  They might not live up to your expectations and furthermore, you just can’t force something unless it feels natural and right to both parties.  My feeling was if that chemistry we shared online materialized in person, the most we would do is make out and maybe grope each other.  If it went even further than that, well, that would be some first date!  But in the real world, even today, there’s no need to be in a rush about sexual matters when that person’s not going anywhere or looking elsewhere.  You’ll know when the time is right to fool around.
Anyway, when we were getting close to setting a date and time to meet during the summer, she talked about finding a place to park her car so we could get it on and even suggested spending a couple of nights in a hotel room.  Why suggest any of those things if you have this persistent worry of me demanding and expecting sex from you?  My guess is she got carried away and didn’t have the courage to tell me that maybe we should take things slow, which would’ve been perfectly acceptable.  Making out with her would’ve been just fine.  It doesn’t matter now, anyway.  We’re friends and the anger is no more.  Now if only she would get a better Internet connection so we could chat more often.
Shortly after the initial break-up, I finally signed up with Facebook.  It was the smartest decision.  Within a very short period of time, my friends list started filling up nicely.  While I’ve been able to reconnect with some of my closest school chums (and maintain that closeness), I’ve actually become closer with people I barely knew in high school.  Having a number of platonic female friends is a good thing.  Without this website, the summer would’ve been far more depressing.
Speaking of friends, two of them found me through this website in January.  The day after I posted an old article about Simon Cowell from American Idol, Carl Richards, a DJ for the Kingston station, Fly FM, left me a message on that entry.  We went to high school together and knew each other through a radio club (we were among a small group of teens who did morning announcements).  Soon, we started exchanging emails and instant messaging.  He made some shocking revelations that I didn’t expect but the friendship remains strong as it ever was.  I hope we get to talk more often now.
And then there’s my buddy, Rob.  He found my site by accident and fired off an email that, for some unknown reason, was relocated to my Junk Mail folder.  After fixing Microsoft’s mistake, we started emailing and instant messaging each other for several months.  By the spring, we started hanging out, getting caught up with the past, talking about various things and bonding over XBOX 360.  He likes to playfully bust my chops all the time but he’s a good dude and we always have fun together.  His friendship was one of many this year that helped me get through a very difficult time.  And, to think, we hadn’t seen each other in 10 years prior to his email.  It’s good to have him back.
As I write this, an old song has popped into my head.  It’s a round we were taught in primary school.  The lyric goes, "Make new friends, but keep the old.  One is silver and the other gold."  Corny but appropriate.  Besides rekindling all those old friendships, I’ve made surprising new ones this year.  Bill Brioux wrote me out of the blue one day asking me to do a story on his short film he submitted to the show, On The Lot.  It was another great opportunity he gave me to do some reporting rather than just commenting on other people’s work.  It ended up being one of my favourite pieces and was picked up by a couple other blogs including The Toronto Sun Family.  Speaking of blogs, Bill later told me that he was planning on starting one of his own and that I would be the first to know about it as soon as it was launched.  He’s a man of his word.  That piece turned out alright, as well.  His support and kindness has meant a lot.  Look for his new book, Truth & Rumours, which is officially released in America today.
And then, there’s Elaine Loring.  She was another one who discovered my site accidentally and became a fan.  Because of these Bill Brioux pieces I had been doing, she figured I knew Bill’s email address.  Like Jim Slotek, she’s an old friend.  Essentially, she wanted to get in touch with him.  Next thing you know, we’re exchanging these long, hilarious messages about our lives as if we had known each other for years.  (Honestly, she’s got tons of material for a book.  If only she had the time.)  At any event, she’s a great lady (a saint, actually) and I value her friendship.  One of the nicest people I’ve ever met.  After a long absence from the media scene, she’s returning to Global on a new show called Planet Soap.  (For many years, she covered daytime serials during newscasts.)  Look for it in early 2008.
In between the occasional movie review and political commentary, it’s been great fun doing these multi-chapter miniseries from time to time.  In January, there were three articles on one-hit wonder side projects and supergroups.  In the spring, there was a three-part remembrance of the third Wrestlemania.  In the summer, there was a countdown of the 10 greatest U2 singles, one of the most challenging things to put together.  And recently, I’ve been going through the Winners and Losers of 2007.
However, not all the news was positive.  After building a nice bit of momentum in the first half of the year, the website mysteriously started to freeze.  My page views started to plummet and my output was greatly reduced.  The Windows Live Technical Support Team eventually discovered the problem.  I had too many blog entries on the home page.  Once I reduced the number from 25 to 10, everything was back to normal.  But the damage was done.
Things started to perk up, though, with Sgt. Pepper Trivia.  In honour of the album’s 40th Anniversary, I put together as much interesting information about it as possible.  Since then, hits have gone down again and I hope to figure out more compelling ways to reach new readers.  How different things would be were it not for that annoying freezing.  Oh well.
On a more positive note, in the spring, I was invited to contribute items to the Fading To Black blog.  I’ve posted over 100 entries on there since April.  Only one piece was deleted (the right decision, actually) and only one person left a comment complaining about something I wrote which FTB seconded.  I never understood either complaint but there you go.  Despite that, it’s been a good fit for me so far and it was nice to break the news about Antonia Zerbisias ending her Toronto Star stint as its media critic.
Speaking of comments, The Writings Of Dennis Earl received a bit more feedback this year than in 2006.  Besides the emails from Bill Brioux, Jim Slotek and Elaine Loring, someone complained about my Ann Coulter piece, another disagreed about my thoughts on Toronto DJ John Derringer, some representatives of the CMG provided very helpful insight into the Sun TV matter while another respectfully rebutted some of my arguments in a particular story, a former journalist offered constructive criticism about my Lindsay Lohan article (too many "I"’s was one of her complaints), and Mike Jenkinson, a former Edmonton Sun columnist and editor, let me know the whereabouts of one of the many missing Sun Media staffers.  My old buddy, Dave, who I’ve known since 1984, left many positive comments on various pieces over the year which was great.
Last year, it was noted here that one person had clicked on my Amazon Book List.  Since then, there have been nearly 500 additional clicks but, sadly, still no orders.  Also, I dropped a number of lists in favour of new ones in order to keep things fresh.  And, as noted earlier, there’s finally a Guestbook for visitors to leave comments.
So, what’s to come in the new year?  Well, that’s a very good question.  You’ll find out the answer soon enough.
Happy New Year, everybody.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, December 31, 2007
12:05 a.m.
Published in: on December 31, 2007 at 12:06 am  Leave a Comment  

Winners & Losers Of 2007 (Part Six)

Winner:  Matt Damon
Ten years after breaking through with Good Will Hunting, this 37-year-old Massachusetts native is bigger than ever.  He was part of the ensemble cast of Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-winning film, The Departed.  (The cast itself was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award.)  He reprised his role as Linus in Ocean’s Thirteen, the third consecutive critically acclaimed blockbuster in the franchise.  (That cast was nominated for a Teen Choice Award.)
Then came The Bourne Ultimatum.  It scored with the vast majority of critics who gave the three-quel overwhelmingly strong reviews.  Audiences couldn’t get enough of it, either.  The film made over 200 million domestically and an additional 200 million overseas.  The Bourne Identity, the first film in the series (and a remake, believe it or not), only made half that much overall.  The sequel, The Bourne Supremacy, made roughly 300 million altogether.  Not only is Ultimatum the most commerically successful film in the series, it’s garnered the best reviews, as well.  How often does that happen?
And to top it all off, People Magazine named him The Sexiest Man Alive.
Oh, it’s good to be Matt Damon.
Loser:  The Spears Family
Let’s start with eldest daughter, Britney.  When she’s not running over the feet of omnipresent photographers, failing court-ordered drug tests, behaving boorishly during a magazine photo shoot, attacking a parked vehicle with an umbrella, damaging another parked vehicle with her car, shaving her head bald in a hair salon, wearing wigs to cover the baldness (pink is so her colour), frolicing in the ocean wearing a mismatched bra and panties in front of ominpresent photographers whom, at other times, she openly insults, threatening Paris Hilton with blackmail and going out in public not always wearing underwear, this deeply troubled pop singer is also going in and out of rehab for drug and alcohol addictions, openly courting the attention of the media for all the wrong reasons and getting arrested for driving drunk.
As a result of her ongoing antics, she’s lost custody of the two kids she had with Kevin Federline, she can’t drive them in her car, she got banned from The Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles and her former manager is taking her to civil court.  Her infamous appearance at the start of the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards was the subject of much comedic derision.  Appearing dazed and a bit out of shape, she halfheartedly lip synced her way through Gimme More, her first new single in 3 years.  MTV was so embarrassed they quickly removed the entire performance from its website which quickly made it one of the most sought after clips online.
She spends money like there’s no tomorrow, she skips important court dates in order to screw around (like driving in the middle of the night) and she’s even stolen a cheap lighter from a gas station.  But nothing tops the time she invited the media with her so they could shoot her handing her mother, Lynne, a restraining order which prevents her from seeing her grandchildren.  Classy.  Despite a brief reconciliation, they remain estranged as of this writing.
Speaking of the divorced Lynne, she’s been working on a “Christian parenting book”.  The project was put on hold, however, when her other daughter, Jamie-Lynn, suddenly announced her pregnancy to OK! Magazine.  She claimed in the interview to be in her 12th week but that’s a huge lie.  According to the website 2Snaps, The National Enquirer knew about her slip-up as far back as July and duly reported it on the 28th of that month.  Furthermore, the supermarket tabloid received a threatening letter from her lawyers who falsely claimed that they made up the story for the sole purpose of hurting “a morally upright 16-year-old girl” who “is a devout Christian with a spotless reputation, who lives in accordance with the highest moral and ethical standards in accordance with her faith.” 
Good one, guys.  
TMZ claims that OK! has offered Jamie-Lynn a million dollars after the birth of her baby for a photo shoot.  (Is she really that hard up for cash?)  They note that Spears is due to give birth sometime next spring.  I’m guessing late March, early April.
The young star of the TV program, Zoey 101, has been in a relationship with an older teen she met at church a few years ago.  Jamie-Lynn told OK! that he is the father.  (December 28 UPDATE:  That might be a lie as well, according to this.)  There have been conflicting reports about their status, though.  The Sunday Express in the UK reported that they’re planning a secret wedding while other papers and websites are claiming they’ve split.  Jamie-Lynn, herself, told OK!, “I kind of just keep my options open.  I have a bunch of friends that I always hang out with, a bunch of guy friends.”
Regardless, at this point, her regular TV gig is unaffected by her unplanned pregnancy.  (According to this, the fourth season of Zoey 101 is already in the can.  The third season wraps up in early January and the new season starts the following month.)   But by deciding to keep the baby, Jamie-Lynn has made things very difficult for herself in the long run.  One wonders what she’s been thinking this entire time.  As for mother Lynne, she’s stubbornly plowing ahead with her advice tome which, astoundingly, has not been cancelled.  (Its original April release has been delayed, however.)  The publisher of the book, who denies that Lynne’s memoir was ever about passing on wisdom to other parents, is selling it as a cautionary tale.  Entitled Pop Culture Mom (oh, the arrogance), it “will provide a window into the real-life world of fame, including the toll it extracts from some who aspire to it.  It will provide a much-needed corrective to a world obsessed with the wrong priorities.”.
And you thought The Kennedys were dysfunctional.
Winner:  Britney Spears
Despite making one stupid mistake after another this year, her latest album, Blackout, has been both a commercial and critical success.   Futhermore, the first single, Gimme More, peaked at number three on Billboard’s Hot 100 Singles Chart.  (It was number one in Canada.)  And she officially divorced Kevin Federline.
So it wasn’t all bad.
Loser:  Quebecor
In this space last year, Sun Media was singled out for having a particularly miserable 2006.  This year, it’s their shameless parent company’s turn.
In early January, The Toronto Sun’s Readership Editor Alison Downie was quietly fired after a two-year stint.  No reason was ever given for her dismissal.  In mid-January, former Editor-In-Chief Jim Jennings, a popular fixture in the Toronto newsroom who suddenly resigned in September 2006 in protest over last year’s seemingly endless rounds of layoffs, rebounded with a new gig at The Globe & Mail.  By the end of the month, TV Critic Bill Brioux, one of the most popular and respected writers at the tabloid, were among a small group of employees who were needlessly removed from their positions.  (Brioux quickly landed a gig the following month writing a weekly TV column for The Canadian Press which has greatly expanded his reach not only in Canada but worldwide as well, thanks to the Internet.  Check out his entertaining new blog here and look for his new book, Truth & Rumours, in the new year.)  On January 26, bylines were mysteriously removed for a day to simultaneously support the paper’s departing staffers and to protest Quebecor’s cutbacks.  As this website noted at the time:
“It’s a sad state of affairs when this is the way the newsroom publicly reacts to the latest round of job cuts.  Where are the angry columns from longtime pundits?  Why no special comment from the editors?  Where are those brave souls willing to spill their guts online?  In other newspapers?  On Television?  On the radio?  They are nowhere to be found.”
In early February, longtime Managing Editor Gord Walsh left The Toronto Sun.  Many within the paper credit him with keeping things afloat during this dark period, so it was another major loss.  (However, he would return eight months later to take on a temporary replacement gig.)  The day before Valentine’s Day, Sun Media’s longtime policy of unsigned editorials came to an end.  In its place were Point Of Views, signed opinions that represent the position of the paper, not the individual author.  (The Toronto Star and its sister papers have had the exact same editorial approach for years.)  Soon, identical POVs started appearing in all the Sun papers.  It was a blatant attempt to de-emphasize local editorial content.  This website criticized the decision at the time as did John Cosway of The Toronto Sun Family Blog.  By the end of the month, there were more staff cuts as a number of advertising sales employees were heartlessly shown the door.  It was particularly galling considering the fact that Quebecor’s newspaper revenues were up 2 per cent.
In March, all the Sun editorial boards and political columnists ignored The Walter Reed Scandal, The Winnipeg Sun offered buyouts to 45 of its employees hoping six would accept, The Ottawa Sun laid off five of its workers, The Calgary Sun dropped five of its own staffers (that paper’s Editor-In-Chief Chris Nelson abruptly resigned shortly before the firings and Publisher Guy Huntington departed at the end of the month), five more were dropped from The Toronto Sun (including popular Sex & Advice Columnist Val Gibson and highly regarded crime reporter Al Cairns), and Sun Media was shut out of the National Newspaper Award nominations.  Quebecor’s floundering hour-long, supper-time Sun TV news program, Canoe Live, was cut in half and moved a half hour earlier to 5:30 p.m.  The company’s decision to broadcast it in widescreen hasn’t changed anything.  Also, during this time, The Toronto Sun stopped publishing its Print Measurement Data statistics because of steep declines.
In April, Le Journal de Montreal, Quebecor’s French-language daily, locked out its workers for “refusing to extend their work week for the same pay”.  (Their colleagues in the press room walked out in solidarity soon after.)  The staffers ultimately decided to start up their own publication, a freebie called Media Matin.  Quebecor tried to shut it down in court but failed.  The lockout is now in its ninth month and MM is still being published, as is Le Journal, incredibly.  Meanwhile, The Edmonton Sun lost about a dozen more staffers, The Calgary Sun’s Sports Editor quit and there were a few more departures from the Toronto tabloid.  If all that weren’t bad enough, Sun Media papers were completely shut out of The Canadian Association of Journalists Awards.  Furthermore, The Toronto Sun Family Blog, an invaluable source for what’s happened to this company, reported the planned termination of hundreds of press workers (although, because of problems with Quebecor’s new printing press, they’ve been temporarily retained).  And finally, the Showcase section was renamed ENT.  What was wrong with “Showcase”, exactly?
In May, The London Free Press, The Simcoe Reformer and The Ottawa Sun all looked ready to hit the picket lines over contract disputes with Quebecor.  All three strikes were averted with last-minute deals.  Quebecor became the largest media conglomerate in Canada when it purchased Osprey Media.  How did it show its appreciation to Osprey staffers?  By extinguishing The Wallaceburg News, making cuts to The Haliburton County Echo and asking readers to do the work of professionally trained journalists.  Daniel Negreanu’s poker column was quietly axed, Calgary’s Page Six Columnist, Chris Gerritsen, left the paper and Ottawa Sun Columnist Geoff Matthews announced his departure in his final column.
In June, Quebecor was accused of union busting in Vancouver and they were shut out of a special media coalition formed for next year’s Olympics.  (They better have a hell of a plan regarding their own coverage.)  In August, after nearly two years of fruitless negotiations, The Canadian Media Guild officially stopped representing the embattled workers at Sun TV.  They had been attempting to secure their first collective bargaining agreement but without employee solidarity, in a work environment where the bosses have done everything in their power to slow this process down to an endlessly annoying and frustrating crawl, they reached their breaking point.
With autumn approaching, this website openly pondered the whereabouts of a number of inactive Sun columnists.  Thanks to personal emails I received as well as helpful messages sent to The Toronto Sun Family Blog, some people were accounted for, but others remain missing in action.  The fact that Quebecor hasn’t gone out of its way to inform its dwindling number of readers about these endless changes speaks volumes.  Rarely does a departing writer get a chance to say goodbye properly.  And forget about paying tribute to a recently deceased colleague, as Peter Worthington, The Sun’s founding editor, discovered.
In October, five months after averting a strike, The Ottawa Sun lost more staffers.  In November, The Toronto Sun “did not file circulation figures for the latest six-month Audit Bureau of Circulations report ending Sept. 30…”, which suggested more bad news.  (As John Cosway noted, “The Sun stopped quoting actual ABC circulation figures in its masthead in the fall of 2006.”)  And while notoriously inept columnist Rachel Marsden was finally canned after two years of continuous bullshit, she gracelessly whined and complained about her dismissal which no doubt embarrassed those who publicly and privately supported her uncaged madness.  (As an aside, you can add this to the list of reasons I gave for personally naming her a Loser Of The Year.  She never learns.)
Eventually, we all learned just how far The Toronto Sun has fallen.  Out of four papers competing for eyeballs in The Big Smoke, it’s dead last with weekday circulation under 200,000.  It’s dead last on Saturdays with 160,000 (The Star and The National Post are their only competitors that day) and, you guessed it, dead last on Sundays, too (almost 350,000 compared to The Star’s 430,000).
And that brings us to December.  More Sun writers like Licia Corbella and Sheila Copps left.  Another possible departure was noted on Toronto Sun Family.  And Quebecor’s financial troubles have been duly noted.
Throw in a specially taped Christmas message by Pierre Karl Peladeau, the much loathed Quebecor bigwig, that few employees could access and a plan to offer all your least favourite programming for free on Canoe and “bad” doesn’t sound like a strong enough word to describe this misguided company’s 2007.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
9:38 p.m.
Published in: on December 25, 2007 at 9:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

Winners & Losers Of 2007 (Part Five)

Winner:  Eddie Murphy
His critically acclaimed performance in the hit musical, Dreamgirls, earned him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination.  He once again provided the voice of Donkey in the hugely popular Shrek The Third.  His February comedy, Norbit, earned 95 million dollars during its theatrical run.  And he became a father again.
Loser:  Eddie Murphy
He lost the Oscar, which he was favoured to win, to Alan Arkin.  Shrek The Third was not beloved by critics who preferred the earlier installments.  Norbit got terrible reviews.  And publicly, he denied paternity of ex-girlfriend Melanie Brown’s baby.
Winner:  Rock Band Reunions
Nostalgia has always been a potent marketing strategy for the music business as 2007 once again proved.  This year, there was a plethora of old bands coming together again for either a full-scale tour, a new album or both.  Some of these second comings (or third or fourth, depending on who we’re talking about) were welcome while others were not (did we really miss The Spice Girls that much?).  Regardless, it was a rare bright spot for an industry struggling to understand the stunning decline of CD and concert sales.  Here are the four reformations that mattered the most.
After nearly 30 years as a solo artist, Iggy Pop was ready to entertain the idea of a proper Stooges reunion, the band that has served as a useful prototype for all the cutting edge, hard rock acts that have followed their path of death-defying masochistic sex-drenched depravity.  After recording a number of tracks for his last solo album, 2003’s Skull Ring, Iggy was ready to make the first proper Stooges album since 1973’s seminal Raw Power.  Old bandmates, Ron and Scott Asheton, along with new recruit, bassist Mike Watt and even saxophonist Steve McKay (who previously appeared on the 1970 album, Fun House), worked up a batch of new material for a new CD.  The Weirdness is the result.  Produced by Steve Albini (who recorded Nirvana’s In Utero among other notable albums from the ’90s), it’s a tight, energetic offering with no filler.  Iggy keeps the crooning to a minimum while mostly ranting about people he can’t stand and hot babes that turn him on.  Although reviews were mixed and sales were typically sluggish (they’ve always been an acquired taste), The Weirdness is a very strong offering from a band few ever thought would get back together.
Crowded House was another surprise reunion.  Some time after the suicide of founding drummer Paul Hester, according to Wikipedia, Neil Finn was preparing to make his next solo album.  He asked former bandmate Nick Seymour to participate.  At some point during the sessions, it was agreed that the new record should be a Crowded House album, rather than a solo offering.  Mark Hart, who joined the band in the early ’90s, soon came onboard and the band formally announced their plans in January.  Former Beck drummer Matt Sherrod was asked to replace Hester after the band held auditions for three weeks the following month.
In the summer, the band released their first proper studio album in 13 years.  (It’s sweetly dedicated to Hester.  The back cover features pictures of the surviving bandmates plus an empty chair representing his absence.  A touching tribute.)  Time On Earth, produced by Steve Lillywhite, presents one moving arrangement after another.  One song, Silent House, was co-written with The Dixie Chicks.  Other standouts include Even A Child, Say That Again and People Are Like Suns.  The critically acclaimed CD has inspired the band to create more music.  And if that weren’t enough, there’s a box set of rarities coming, as well.
Billy Corgan never could find happiness creatively after the demise of The Smashing Pumpkins.  He fronted the short-lived Zwan (which made exactly one album) and released a solo record that wasn’t nearly as respected as Siamese Dream or Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness.  In 2005, the Chicago native took out an ad in The Chicago Tribune announcing he was bringing his old band back.  Unfortunately, guitarist James Iha and bassist D’Arcy Wretzky weren’t returning.  But drummer Jimmy Chamberlain, who was also part of Zwan, was definitely onboard.
It turns out half a reunion is better than no reunion at all.  Chamberlain and Corgan went into the studio and created Zeitgeist, a surprisingly good album that spawned the memorable radio hit, Tarantula.  Along with a couple of hired guns, the new Pumpkins played a killer set at Live Earth.  And, if that weren’t enough, just like Crowded House, more music is on the way.
But, without question, the biggest reunion of the year involved The Police.  In celebration of the 30th Anniversary of Fall Out, their first single, Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland announced a full-scale tour.  Yet another greatest hits package, this one a self-titled double disc, surfaced.  They opened the telecast of this year’s Grammy Awards with a trippy, slightly reworked version of their late-70s classic, Roxanne.  They closed Live Earth with a strong set.  And they went on to generate the most revenue of any live act this year.  While Andy Summers has alluded to the possibility of the greatest rock trio in history making new music together, don’t hold your breath.  These guys are notorious for infighting.  To be safe, let’s take a wait-and-see-approach on that, shall we?
Loser:  The Republican Party
What happened to The GOP?  Their elected members were supposed to be fiscally responsible and socially libertarian.  Not any longer.  They were once stewards of the environment and a lot more sensible on foreign policy.  Not any longer.
Hypocrisy, endless pandering to extremists, double lives, wasteful spending, hateful rhetoric, chronic dishonesty, stubbornness, immaturity, paranoia, xenophobia, incompetence, criminality.  That’s the state of America’s scandalous political right wing in the new century. 
Among this year’s lowlights:  Disgraced then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ absurdly faulty memory regarding the suspicious firings of a large number of government lawyers; Idaho Senator Larry Craig’s creepy bathroom antics; “Scooter” Libby’s conviction in the Valerie Plame case; President Bush’s moronic commuting of his sentence; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s belated revelation of infidelity at the time of the Clinton Impeachment fiasco; Senator David Vitter’s daliances with the DC Madam’s call girls; the FBI investigating Alaskan Senator Ted Stevens’ shady business dealings; Iraq War architect Paul Wolfowitz caught giving his then-girlfriend a job at the World Bank; those shredded White House email messages; the ongoing torture of terrorist suspects; The President and his supporters getting caught overhyping the supposed Iran threat; the ongoing misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan; all those missing billions in Iraq; the shameful treatment of wounded soldiers at Walter Reed; Mike Huckabee’s idiotic remarks about AIDS & homosexuality as well as his highly questionable push to release a dangerous offender because one of his victims was a relative of Bill Clinton (the offender ended up committing more crimes, as a result); Rudy Guiliani’s deceptive 9/11 rhetoric and his continued association with numerous shady characters; Mitt Romney and John McCain’s transparent pandering to religious extremists, thanks to calculated flip-flopping; the continuing fallout from the Jack Abramoff scandal; Blackwater’s malfeasance; the vetos of numerous bills Americans support like SCHIP; Republican obstruction of Democratic proposals and on and on.  (That last link features scandals from before 2007, as well.)
Is it any wonder why so many members of this party are resigning and why many traditionally conservative voters are seriously looking at supporting The Democrats next year?  Can you blame them?
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, December 16, 2007
11:05 p.m.
CORRECTION:  A commenter correctly points out that The Police’s first single was actually Fall Out, not Roxanne.  The error I made has been replaced with this necessary correction.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, December 17, 2007
2:15 p.m.
Published in: on December 16, 2007 at 11:07 pm  Comments (1)  

Winners & Losers Of 2007 (Part Four)

Winner:  Foo Fighters
Thirteen years ago, after the sudden end of Nirvana, so little was expected of Dave Grohl and his future musical endeavours that when he reemerged with a new album in 1995, there was genuine, widespread surprise.  He was not supposed to be a talented singer/songwriter/guitarist in his own right.  How sweet it must be for him after all this time to remain the frontman and chief songwriter for one of the most respected bands in rock and roll today.
2007 ended up being another strong year for Grohl’s longtime post-Nirvana outfit, The Foo Fighters.  In the summer, the band reissued their Grammy-nominated second album, The Colour And The Shape, for its tenth anniversary.  The original 13-song release, which I didn’t fully appreciate until a couple of years ago, has been expanded to 19, with the addition of several covers and B-sides.  Also, they played a good set at Wembley Stadium during the globally televised Live Earth concert.
And, once again, they’re in contention for a number of Grammy awards.  Their sixth studio album, Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace is up for Album Of The Year and Best Rock Album.  The latter nomination is particularly special because it keeps a remarkable streak alive.  Every Foo Fighters studio release from the self-titled debut to Echoes has been nominated in that category.  (They’ve won it twice for There Is Nothing Left To Lose and One By One.)
Furthermore, the big single from Echoes, The Pretender, is up for three Grammies:  Record Of The Year, Best Hard Rock Performance and Best Rock Song.  When the awards are handed out early next year, look for Grohl to make at least a couple of trips to the podium.
Losers:  Quentin Tarantino & Robert Rodriguez
There’s no question they’re talented filmmakers.  (Pulp Fiction, Frank Miller’s Sin City and the overlooked Jackie Brown provide the evidence.)  But maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to make a 70s-inspired double feature (with fake trailers and ads stuffed in between) and then package it all as one massive release.  In April.  Against Will Farrell’s Blades Of Glory, Disney’s Meet The Robinsons and the Ice Cube sequel, Are We Done Yet?.
The three-hour and eleven-minute presentation was a financial stiff in North America, despite positive reviews.  Made for 67 milion, Grindhouse only accumulated a little over a third of its budget.
And if that weren’t bad enough, there’s the annoying issue of the DVD release.  Death Proof (Tarantino’s effort) and Planet Terror (the Rodriguez movie) were released in separate packages with expanded running times in the fall minus the fake trailers and ads.  This is fine for European fans who could only see the films one at a time.  (Grindhouse was curiously split up for its international theatrical run.)  But for us North Americans who’ve yet to see Grindhouse, it shows a lack of respect and artistic integrity.  Squeezing as much money as possible out of consumers was obviously more important.  While this article reveals that the complete experience is coming sometime next year in a new DVD package (something alluded to by Rodriguez during a featurette on the Planet Terror DVD), the original home video release strategy remains deeply insulting.
Winner:  Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
The fifth season of Canadian Idol began in early June after thousands of would-be warblers auditioned for the chance to be instantly forgotten.   Four months later, a construction worker from The Hammer named Brian Melo and Jaydee Bixbee, a teenage country singer from Alberta, were the last two standing.  The phrase, “Vote for Brian Melo”, sung to the tune of Donovan’s Mellow Yellow, could be heard continually annoying shoppers at a Sears location in The Centre Mall.  For his part, Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger urged his constituents on Facebook, no less, to keep Melo in the competition.
The people listened.  Melo was named the winner on September 11th.  His first single, All I Ever Wanted, went on to become a Top 10 hit.  October 12th was declared Brian Melo Day in Hamilton.  The Kiwanis Boys And Girls Club established The Brian Melo Fund, a new scholarship for artistically-inclined kids, in his honour.  And to top it all off, he’s been secretly dating fellow Canadian Idol contestant, Tara Oram, for months.  Not bad for a guy who had previously auditioned for the show numerous times in earlier seasons with far less success.
But Steeltown had even more to celebrate this year.  The city’s American Hockey League franchise, The Hamilton Bulldogs, made their third trip to The Calder Cup Finals.  After losing in five games to The Hershey Bears in 1997 and in seven games to The Houston Aeros in 2003, The Bulldogs redeemed themselves by winning their first championship in their decade-long existence.  The decisive game was number five, held in at the fan-packed Copps Coliseum, which was televised live by the local, public access channel, Cable 14.  They defeated Hershey 2-1.
Loser:  Lindsay Lohan
An ongoing sad story.  In January, the star of Mean Girls made her first of three trips this year to rehab.  She first checked herself into the Wonderland Centre in California where she proceeded to grant a phone interview to a British journalist proclaiming all was well in her life.  She spent a month there but her problems did not disappear.  In April, she told Allure Magazine, “I don’t know that I’m necessarily an addict.”  She also noted, “It’s so weird that I went to rehab.  I always said I would die before I went to rehab.” 
The following month, she got into her latest car accident.  According to a Beverly Hills police officer, while “driving westbound on Sunset Blvd.” she “lost control of her vehicle” and later fled the scene with her two passengers.  When the cops tracked her down, they found cocaine in her car and arrested her for driving drunk.  On May 28th, two days after the accident that, thankfully, didn’t kill anybody, she entered the Promises facility in Malibu, California, a stint that lasted 45 days.
No matter.  Two months later, according to this report, she followed the car of her assistant’s mother and ended up having a fight with her.  (Her daughter had just quit working as Lohan’s assistant.  Smart girl.)  It turns out she had been drinking.  Police arrested her again for driving while intoxicated among four other charges.  Once again, she was caught possessing cocaine.  She went to her third rehab centre, Cirque Lodge in Utah, soon after.
Because of the earlier incident in May, Lohan was ordered to wear a special ankle bracelet that would detect any alcohol consumption.  It’s long since been removed.
Ultimately, thanks to her acceptance of a plea bargain regarding both cases, she was sentenced to a day in prison (she ended up serving only 84 minutes in November), ordered to perform 10 days of community service, attend a mandatory 18-month alcohol rehabilitation program, placed on three years probation, “pay hundreds of dollars in fines and…complete a three-day county coroner program in which she’ll visit a morgue and talk to victims of drunken drivers”, according to E! Online.  
Then, there’s the business of her sagging film career.  She co-starred with Jane Fonda in Georgia Rule which received terrible reviews and failed to find a large audience.  The horror film, I Know Who Killed Me, fared even worse.  When her Mark David Chapman movie, Chapter 27 (Jared Leto plays John Lennon’s assassin), and another film called Dare To Love Me come out next year, for her sake, they better be critically acclaimed, commercial juggernauts.
Hard to believe she was once on a show called “Healthy Kids”. 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, December 15th, 2007
10:10 p.m.
Published in: on December 15, 2007 at 10:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

Latest Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Inductees Announced

In September, The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame announced its latest list of possible inductees.  Nine acts were shortlisted for consideration.  For my part, I went through each contender and predicted who would get the necessary votes for induction and who would come up short.  (You can read that entry here.)
Nearly three months later, the results are in.
As expected, Madonna has made the cut.  As this website noted at the time the nominations were announced, “…of all the artists up for induction, Mrs. Ritchie is the surest bet of them all.”  Indeed, it would’ve been a remarkable surprise had she been excluded.
John Mellencamp is joining her, another deserving artist I expected to be inducted.
Canadians will be happy with Leonard Cohen’s acceptance into The Hall.  It’s been a long time coming for the 73-year-old Montreal native.  As I noted back in September, “He’s already in The Canadian Music Hall Of Fame and The Canadian Songwriters Hall Of Fame.  This year, it’s The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame’s turn to honour him.”
Unfortunately, Donna Summer was snubbed as were The Beastie Boys.  (I expected both to be accepted.)  The latter choice is particularly puzzling considering how widely influential they’ve been musically on the rap scene and as activists for a free Tibet.  With Chic once again turned down for induction and Afrika Bambaataa given the cold shoulder (which I correctly prognosticated), there won’t be any disco or hip hop representatives heading into The Hall Of Fame this time out.
However, contrary to what I predicted, The Dave Clark Five and The Ventures are being welcomed with open arms to The Hall.  The former is probably best known for their 60s hit, Glad All Over, while the latter’s signature tune from the same decade is Walk Don’t Run.  The Ventures’ acceptance will be particularly gratifying to hardcore fans who have long campaigned on their behalf for the Hall Of Fame honour.
So, I batted 3 for 5, just like last year.  Not bad but not perfect.
Madonna, John Mellencamp, Leonard Cohen, The Dave Clark Five and The Ventures will all be officially enshrined March 10th in a special ceremony in New York.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, December 13, 2007
7:42 p.m.
Published in: on December 13, 2007 at 7:43 pm  Leave a Comment  

Evaluating Entertainment Weekly’s 1993 Star Watch Picks

Sometimes, it pays to be a pack rat.  And a slow reader.
While going through the December 24th, 1993 issue of Entertainment Weekly, I found an interesting little article on page 23.  At the end of the Jason Patric cover story (“Why Isn’t Jason Patric A Star Yet?”) is a short sidebar called “Star Watch”.  Six upcoming actors – three men, three women – are singled out for future stardom by a talent manager and an agent.  Although none of them were complete unknowns at the time, they weren’t household names, either.  According to the article, which was written by Rebecca Ascher-Walsh, “these six highly praised rising stars have yet to have a hit movie on their own.  But give them five years…and the troupe could be among Hollywood’s most wanted.”
Were the experts right?  Let’s go through the names one by one:
Julianne Moore
This beautiful redhead got her start in the theatre in the early 1980s before landing soap opera gigs on The Edge Of Night and As The World Turns.  As the decade ended, the North Carolina native moved from serials to TV movies.  By the start of the 1990s, she continued getting boob tube gigs while progressing to roles in theatrical features.  Her first memorable movie role was Annabella Sciorra’s skeptical sister in the surprise 1992 hit, The Hand That Rocks The Cradle.  By 1993, Moore was one busy actress appearing in four films.  Besides playing Aidan Quinn’s love interest in Benny & Joon and being naked in Robert Altman’s Short Cuts, she was one of Madonna’s victims in Body Of Evidence and a doctor who comes in contact with Harrison Ford in The Fugitive.
In the Star Watch article, a talent manager predicted, “She’ll win an Academy Award someday.”  To date, she’s been nominated four times, twice in the Best Supporting Actress category (Boogie Nights and The Hours) and twice in the Best Actress category (The End Of The Affair and Far From Heaven).  Two of those nods came in the same year (Hours and Heaven).  Now 47, but looking far younger, there’s plenty of time for her to snatch the big prize.
At any event, Moore’s breakthrough movie was a disappointing romantic comedy that may or may not have gotten an unintentional boost from co-star Hugh Grant’s infamous sex scandal.  (Two words:  Divine Brown.)  Released in the summer of 1995, a year and a half after being singled out for stardom, it made 69 million and paved the way for blockbusters like The Lost World: Jurassic Park and Hannibal.
Chalk one up for Entertainment Weekly.  They were right about Julianne Moore.
Tony Goldwyn
He’s that rare actor who’s managed to have a long career after being killed on-screen by Jason Voorhees.  (He gets offed in the sixth Friday The 13th monstrosity.)  Still best known for being the baddie in Ghost, he’s been jumping from the movies to TV and back ever since.  Despite being in big films like The Pelican Brief, Nixon, the animated Tarzan (he voices the title role) and The Last Samurai, superstardom has eluded him.  Since 2001, he’s started working behind the camera.  Besides helming the lousy romantic comedy, Someone Like You, with Ashley Judd and Hugh Jackman, he’s directed episodes of Law & Order, Without A Trace, Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, Dexter and Dirty Sexy Money.  Speaking of Law & Order, he appeared a couple of times on Criminal Intent this season.
Despite being compared to “a young, brooding Gary Cooper” by a Hollywood agent in the Star Watch article, he’s nowhere near as famous as the High Noon star.
One for two, EW.
Mary-Louise Parker
This foxy MILF sweetly tempted Kevin Kline in Grand Canyon and Mary Stuart Masterson in Fried Green Tomatoes, both released in late 1991 and worth seeing.  In a rather insulting manner, however, in EW’s Star Watch article, her dazzling looks are summed up thusly:
“Although she’s not a classic beauty, ‘she’s redefining Hollywood’s leading woman,’ says [talent manager Brian] Swardstorm.”
She was hot, then, and she’s even hotter today.  Even Stevie Wonder would agree.
But what about the article’s prediction?  After co-starring with Matt Dillon in the awful 1993 flop, Mr. Wonderful, Parker played Brad Renfro’s mother in The Client, a big hit in the summer of 1994.  Unfortunately, Renfro, Tommy Lee Jones and Susan Sarandon (who received an Oscar nomination for her performance) got all the attention.  In the entertaining Boys On The Side, which featured a young Matthew McConaughey, Parker joined Whoopi Goldberg and Drew Barrymore for a road trip.  Unfortunately, the film was a modest grosser.
Seven years later, she had a small role in the disappointing Red Dragon.  Ever since, she’s had far greater success on episodic Television.  After appearing in the critically acclaimed and highly decorated 2003 miniseries, Angels In America (based on the two-part Tony Kushner play), which earned her Emmy and SAG nominations, she appeared on numerous editions of The West Wing and later landed the lead in Weeds, about a surburban mom who sells pot.
One for three.
Campbell Scott
He’s been in great films (Dead Again), good films (Singles, Big Night) and boring crap (The Sheltering Sky).  Regardless, the son of George C. Scott and Colleen Dewhurst has been working steadily for over 20 years.  By the end of 1993, he was best known for playing a guy with leukemia in Dying Young.  (Julia Roberts played his caregiver.)  In the EW article, an agent declared him “one of the best actors working.  There’s no doubt in my mind he can go the distance.”
Since then, though, he’s mostly stuck with independent features.  There was Mrs. Parker And The Vicious Circle (with Jennfer Jason Leigh as Dorothy Parker), The Spanish Prisoner (with Steve Martin and Ed O’Neill), The Imposters (with Stanley Tucci), and the Canadian feature, Saint Ralph (with Jennifer Tilly).  He also received great notices for his performance in Roger Dodger.
Although, he has popped up in mainstream flicks like The Exorcism Of Emily Rose and Music & Lyrics, he hasn’t become a big star.  One suspects that’s not an accident.
One for four.
Fairuza Balk
This former child actor appeared in Valmont and Gas Food Lodging before landing on EW’s 1993 Star Watch list.  A few years later, she was one of the witchy babes in The Craft, a modest hit in the spring of 1996.  In the summer that year, she had a memorable supporting turn in the otherwise laughable disaster, The Island Of Dr. Moreau.  That was followed by the acclaimed American History X and the awful Adam Sandler comedy, The Waterboy.
In 2000, she was one of the groupies in the wonderful Almost Famous.  But by far, her best performance can be seen in Rebecca Miller’s Personal Velocity, a criminally overlooked gem from 2002.  Really three short films in one, Balk plays a pregnant woman, in a difficult relationship with a homeless black man, who tries to help a deeply troubled teenage runaway in the last segment.  There’s a devastating hotel scene and a surprise ending that is remarkably moving.  With a brisk running time of 86 minutes, it is highly recommended.  Kyra Sedgwick and Parker Posey appear in the other stories.
Like most of the names singled out in the Star Watch article, despite being a very good actor, not unfamous and routinely hired for movies, she’s not a star.  After seeing her in Personal Velocity, I find that disappointing.
One for five.
Dermot Mulroney
“It’s a movie or two away for him.”
That’s what a talent manager told Entertainment Weekly about this Virginia native’s chances for movie stardom back in 1993.  After making his film debut in Young Guns (following several years of TV movies and series guest shots), he kept working in picture after picture.  He appeared in Longtime Companion with Campbell Scott.  Along with his brother, Kieran (a narrator for a number of E! True Hollywood Stories and the guy that catches George Costanza double dipping a potato chip on an episode of Seinfeld), they played inept burglars easily outsmarted by Frank Whaley and a very curvy Jennifer Connelly in Career Opportunities.  After appearances in Point Of No Return (a dreadful remake of the French film, Nikita) and The Thing Called Love (the trained cellist contributed a song and performed on a number of other numbers on the soundtrack), big things were expected for him.
While he did, in fact, become a movie star, it took four more years and ten more films to make it a reality.  Before making the massive hit, My Best Friend’s Wedding, with Julia Roberts, he made appearances in films like Bad Girls, Angels In The Outfield, Living In Oblivion, Copycat, How To Make An American Quilt, Kansas City (directed by Robert Altman) and The Trigger Effect.  Angels was the biggest moneymaker (50 million) but Mulroney only had a small role.
Since then, he’s continued to find work on screens both big and small.  He popped up on a few episodes of Friends, co-starred with Jack Nicholson and Kathy Bates in the Oscar-nominated About Schmidt, and starred in the modest-grossing romantic comedies, Must Love Dogs and The Wedding Date.  This year, he acted in Zodiac and the Lindsay Lohan/Jane Fonda drama, Georgia Rule.  He’ll be back in a couple of new films in 2008.
Two for six.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, December 10, 2007
11:54 p.m.
Published in: on December 10, 2007 at 11:55 pm  Leave a Comment  

Bill Brioux’s New Blog And Upcoming Book

It’s been an eventful year for Bill Brioux.  After The Toronto Sun foolishly showed him the door in January, he quickly landed a new gig writing a weekly column for The Canadian Press called Brioux On The Box.  As a result, his words can be read in far more places than ever before, whether we’re talking about newspapers or websites.  (Click here and you’ll see what I mean.)  His dismissal is one of the reasons I stopped reading the print version of The Sun.
Also, he submitted an old student film called Puck Soup to the On The Lot TV competition.  The Fox show invited budding filmmakers from around the world to create 5-minute shorts and compete for the chance at a development deal with Dreamworks.  Brioux’s film never made it past the first round but it was available for free on the program’s official website for months.  If you never saw Puck Soup (or wanted to screen it again), however, it’s too late.  Along with all the other accepted entries posted online earlier this year, it’s been removed.  (If you visit, you’ll see a brief message congratulating the winner and thanking all the participants.  Hope you’re a fast reader, though.  In a matter of seconds, you’ll be quickly redirected to the official Fox site.)
And now, as 2007 winds down, he’s branching out.  This past Sunday, he launched his new website, TV Feeds My Family, which will allow him the chance to write additional TV-related items that can’t be squeezed into his regular Canadian Press columns.  With five entries already posted as of this writing, it’s off to a good start with entertaining stuff about the recent CBC documentary, The Pagan Christ, and unusual promotional items.  (Check out a bizarre 4-second clip meant to mysteriously promote the upcoming series, Terminator:  The Sarah Conner Chronicles.)  Brioux hasn’t lost any of the humour that makes his writing enjoyable to read.  (The Pagan Christ entry is entitled, “Christ You Know It Ain’t Easy”.  Can’t go wrong with a Beatles reference.  Remember the chorus from The Ballad Of John And Yoko?)
And if that weren’t enough, he’s got a new book coming out in a few weeks.  Truth & Rumours: The Reality Behind TV’s Most Famous Myths, whose existence was revealed to me in a Google search several months ago, is Bill’s foray into Richard Roeper territory, the weird and wonderful world of urban legends.  What crazy TV-centric stories he examines are actually real or pure myth?  Did Charles Manson really try to become a Monkee?  Did a certain commercial icon spontaneously combust as a result of too many eagerly consumed Pop Rocks?  And how did rumours about Marilyn Manson starring on The Wonder Years and Leave It To Beaver’s Jerry Mathers dying in Vietnam get started? 
After interviewing numerous TV figures for over 20 years while writing for publications like TV Guide and The Toronto Sun, Brioux has plenty of personal, archival information to draw on.  The book is officially released on New Year’s Eve but you can pre-order it by clicking here.
In an email, he writes, “I’m hoping to be doing a few store book signings in the Toronto area in the new year and I plan to keep people informed as to where and when on my site.”
In the meantime, check out his new blog (love the title) and continue to look for his Canadian Press columns on Google.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, December 7, 2007
4:42 p.m.
UPDATE:  Check out Bill’s funny email to The Toronto Sun Family Blog here.  For those who want to buy his book through, click here.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
11:12 p.m.
Published in: on December 7, 2007 at 4:44 pm  Leave a Comment  

Winners & Losers Of 2007 (Part Three)

Winner:  The Dixie Chicks
Four years after being unfairly pillioried for a public comment made during a concert in the UK, the most successful trio in country music history had a terrific 2007.  In February, the group won a handful of Grammy Awards.  Their Rick Rubin-produced CD, Taking The Long Road, won Best Country Album and Album Of The Year.  The breakout single, Not Ready To Make Nice (a Top 5 crossover hit last year), won the trophy for Best Country Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal (the fifth time they’ve won this category) as well as golden phonographs for Song Of The Year and Record Of The Year.  In Canada, Taking The Long Road took home the Juno for International Album Of The Year.
In June, their critically acclaimed 2006 documentary, Shut Up And Sing, won the Audience Award at The Sydney Film Festival in Australia.  Add lead singer Natalie Maines’ appearance in Pete Seeger: The Power Of Song, another well-reviewed non-fiction film, her recent public plea for contributions to a legal defense fund for three convicted teenagers profiled in the Paradise Lost documentaries and the fact that most Americans now agree with her views on The Iraq War, and it was a pretty damn good year to be a Dixie Chick.
Loser:  Dog The Bounty Hunter
Last year, it was Michael Richards and Mel Gibson.  This year, it’s Duane Chapman’s turn to live in the redneck doghouse.
In March, the mullet-haired ex-convict made the most regrettable phone call of his life.  During a conversation with his son, Tucker, he urged him in no uncertain terms to end his relationship with Monique Shinnery, a black woman he’d been seeing for several months.  Why?  Because he wanted to have the freedom to say “nigger” with his racist friends.  Don’t believe me?  Listen to this.  By the way, that’s the short version.
Mysteriously, a recording of the conversation found its way into the clutches of The National Enquirer who, unsurprisingly, turned it into a world exclusive.  It was soon picked up by the mainstream media.  (The prescient bounty hunter correctly worried that the leaking of his conversation to that particular tabloid would ruin him.  More on that in a moment.)  As he began his inevitable Apology Tour, first releasing a written statement of regret after meeting privately with his pastor (talk about a tired cliche) and then appearing on Larry King Live, The Enquirer followed up with more devastating news.
It turns out he doesn’t just hate African Americans.  He also loathes Mexicans, homosexuals and Asians.  The fact that he’s behaved this way for decades immediately nullifies all past and future acts of contrition.  Furthermore, his son’s girlfriend is planning to sue for defamation.  Take him to the cleaners, honey.
Not only is Chapman’s career as a bail bondsman in trouble, so is the fate of his A&E reality series, Dog The Bounty Hunter.  The channel announced it was pulling the show off the air and not producing any new episodes.  While it hasn’t been officially cancelled, it would be a huge surprise if it returned.  A number of advertisers have pulled their ads because of the scandal which means A&E will have an easier decision to make in the near future.  What an awful position for them to be in, too.  Maybe it wasn’t such a hot idea to do business with this hateful asshole.
Definitely not a Hallmark moment, eh, Dog?
Winner:  Casey Affleck
For a little over a decade, Ben Affleck’s younger brother found steady gigs playing supporting roles in films like Drowning Mona, Hamlet (2000) and the first two American Pies.  Then, in 2001, he became one of Ocean’s Eleven.  It wasn’t a terribly significant part but the remake of the 1960 Rat Pack original was enormously popular.  A hit sequel followed in 2004.  In between the two blockbusters was Gerry, a controversial Gus Van Sant independent feature that gave Casey a chance to play a lead for once.  (He co-wrote the script with Matt Damon, his co-star.)
But in 2007, the 32-year-old actor became a breakout performer.  After reprising his role as Virgil Malloy, the mustachioed thief who frequently bickers with Scott Caan, in Ocean’s Thirteen (which was another commercial hit for the franchise), he co-starred with Brad Pitt in The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford.  Playing Pitt’s nemesis, he garnered strong reviews for his work.
Finally, he had the lead in Gone Baby Gone, his brother Ben’s first directorial effort.   Based on the novel by Dennis Lehane (Mystic River), the autumn release earned a 93% fresh rating from the critics assembled on Rotten Tomatoes.
All of this begs an important question:  Will Casey receive an Oscar nomination playing Robert Ford or Patrick Kenzie?  Regardless, he had a great year and his future looks bright.
Loser:  OJ Simpson
How dumb can this man be?   He gets away with murdering two people, one of whom was his terrified ex-wife who he abused for years.  For over a decade, he was able to play golf any time he wanted, date any beautiful women who desired him and basically, live the high life without ever having to worry about money ever again, thanks to his generous NFL pension.  People still requested his autograph without any hesitation.  His conscience, such as it is, has never been a burden.  Ultimately, it’s hard to imagine him losing any sleep in this idyllic life he has disgustingly enjoyed for so long.
And yet, he can’t stay out of trouble.  In September, Simpson recruited a small group of friends to help him retrieve sports memorabilia he claims was stolen from him.  A meeting was arranged with a couple of dealers which the FBI knew about weeks in advance.  One of them, Bruce Fromong, a former Simpson pal, very cleverly, audiotaped the entire incident which was later bought by TMZ and posted on their website.  Some of the would-be robbers, we learned, were armed.  OJ is heard accusing Fromong of theft and urging his partners in crime to not let anyone escape.
Soon after, Simpson and all of his equally dopey cohorts were arrested in Las Vegas.  The former Buffalo Bill has to beat twelve charges this time around:  conspiracy to commit a crime, conspiracy to commit kidnapping, conspiracy to commit robbery, first degree kidnapping with use of a deadly weapon (two counts), burglary while in possession of a deadly weapon, robbery with use of a deadly weapon (two counts), assault with a deadly weapon (two counts), and coercion with use of a deadly weapon (two counts).   He’s pleaded not guilty to all of them.  So have two of his buddies.  The remaining three criminal masterminds have accepted deals and will testify against Simpson.  The trial begins in April.  If convicted, he could spend the rest of his sorry days in prison.  
All of this for $80,000 worth of crap.  As William Shatner once rapped, “No tears.”.
Meanwhile, Simpson’s ill-fated literary “faux-confessional”, which was scrapped late last year, along with an exclusive Fox TV interview with Judith Regan, after much public condemnation, ended up being published this summer after The Goldman Family won the legal rights to the original manuscript in court.  Retitled “If I Did It: Confessions Of The Killer” (Why is “If” still in the title?), despite being very upset about the project, The Goldmans, understandably, wanted to remind OJ that they’ll always be after him until he faces real justice, hence the book’s surprise release.  Denise Brown, Nicole’s sister, however, is angry at The Goldmans for doing this.  (She refused to share a stage with them on The Oprah Winfrey Show.  She ended up doing a pre-taped segment instead.)
Nevertheless, it’s the second consecutive Loser Of The Year honour for OJ.  Will there be a 3-peat in ’08?  Here’s hoping.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
11:54 p.m.
Published in: on December 4, 2007 at 11:55 pm  Comments (1)  

Winners & Losers Of 2007 (Part Two)

Winner: Martin Scorsese
The globally acclaimed director was hailed in this space last year for the tremendous critical and commercial success of his film, The Departed.  That same movie earns him a spot on the 2007 Winners list, as well.  After nearly 40 years in the business, the man who helmed Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas and The Aviator finally won an Oscar for Best Director in February.  How fitting that it was presented to him by Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, his filmmaking peers who all initially made their mark in the 1970s.  And if that wasn’t delightful enough for the fast-talking director, much to the surprise of many (excluding this website), The Departed was named Best Picture.  Jack Nicholson, one of the stars of that movie, wasted no time in making that announcement.  While it’s been argued that Scorsese should’ve won for Raging Bull and even Goodfellas, no one bemoaned his overdue victory in 2007.
Being on the short list for this year’s Kennedy Center Honours (along with Steve Martin, Brian Wilson, Diana Ross and pianist Leon Fleisher) wasn’t too shabby, either.
Loser:  Don Imus
If there’s one day this 67-year-old broadcaster would love to forget, it would most definitely be April 4th, 2007.  During that morning’s edition of Imus In The Morning on MSNBC, there was a discussion about the Rutgers University women’s basketball team, The Scarlet Knights.  While footage of the team in action was being played, Imus observed, “That’s some rough girls from Rutgers.  Man, they got tattoos…”.  His producer, Bernard McGuirk, responded, “Some hard-core hos.”  And then came Imus’ infamous remark, “That’s some nappy-headed hos there.”.  He laughed as he said it.
The invaluable Media Matters For America website did a story about it and very quickly, the shit hit the fan.  The story was picked up by The New York Times, USA Today, The Los Angeles Times and  The next day, Imus downplayed the controversy by saying that it was “some idiot comment meant to be amusing”.  That same day, both and MSNBC went into damage control distancing themselves from the growing mess.  On April 6, two days after the initial broadcast, Imus made his first stab at an apology.  The National Association of Black Journalists were unimpressed.  They released a statement urging his removal from the airwaves.  On April 7, Rev. Al Sharpton publicly agreed with their position.  On April 9, Rev. Jesse Jackson joined the chorus of critics.  All the while, Howard Stern was in his element.  It was vindication for all those years having to put up with Imus’ appalling redneck behaviour both on and off the air.  He had been sounding the alarm on this talentless assclown for decades.  Someone finally heard it.
Columnists like Lisa de Moraes of The Washington Post, Filip Bondy of The New York Daily News and Phil Sheridan of The Philadelphia Inquirer all added more critical comments about the incident.  Bondy’s colleague, Bob Raissman, presciently noted in his April 8 column that the only reason Imus would be fired was because of money.  “They will dump Imus in a second if this episode leads to companies — en masse — deciding to to [sic] stop advertising on the ‘Imus in the Morning’ show,” he wrote.
Realizing they couldn’t ignore the backlash any further, both CBS Radio and MSNBC announced on April 9 that they were suspending Imus for two weeks, beginning April 16, five days after his awful and painfully unfunny public comment.  Trying to save face, Imus foolishly agreed to appear on Al Sharpton’s radio show.  It was a public relations disaster.  Trying to defend himself further on his own program and on The Today Show on April 10 didn’t help, either.  Soon after, advertisers started backing away from supporting him.  It became abundantly clear to his employers that there was no reason to cling to the radioactive racist.  MSNBC fired him on April 11 and CBS Radio followed suit on April 12.  Soon, conservative pundits cried foul.  A number of them, rather obscenely, claimed Imus was “lynched”.  Even Bill Maher rallied to his defense, most disappointingly.  The media has collective shame on their hands defending this decrepit-looking neanderthal.  One wonders what on earth they stood to gain from it.
As Stern noted numerous times on his Sirius Satellite Radio program, though, (as dutifully reported by Imus is the luckiest broadcaster in America.  How so?  After settling his lawsuit with CBS (filed in May) regarding the terms of his contract (which encouraged him to be as outrageous as possible) in August, incredibly, he found another radio gig and a TV deal.  He returns to the airwaves this month but as Stern also observed, will anyone really care?  The DJs he’s replacing had higher ratings than him.  Furthermore, how long before he screws up again?  Let the wagering begin.
UPDATE (December 5):  Technical glitches marred his second day back on the air.  Uh oh.
Winner:  Al Gore
The former Vice President of The United States was named a winner by this website last year for his critically acclaimed and commercially successful documentary, An Inconvenient Truth.  It turns out he was just getting warmed up.  2007 was even better for him.  In February, as expected, Truth won the Best Documentary Oscar.  Although awarded to the film’s director, Davis Guggenheim, it was a major victory for Gore and the increased awareness of his longtime causes of global warming and climate change.  (Melissa Etheridge also won in the Best Original Song category, which was a surprise.)
That same month, Gore announced the Live Earth series of global concerts which were broadcast live on various channels for 22 hours on July 7.  According to Wikipedia, over 150 performers appeared on stage in 10 different countries on all 7 continents (America, Antarctica, Japan, China, Italy, South Africa, Brazil, Germany, Australia and the UK).  Solid sets from Lenny Kravitz, The Police, The Smashing Pumpkins, and numerous others made for an entertaining broadcast that was environmentally friendly.  (Look for Live Earth – The Concerts For The Climate In Crisis CD/double DVD release on December 4th.)  The official Live Earth website claimed the event was seen by 2 billion people (a million attended the gigs in person) and set a record for online video streaming.  (Over 55 million views.)  Despite criticism from Bob Geldof and others, it was a resounding success. 
That’s not all.  Gore was given one honour after another this year.  His most prestigous award was The Nobel Peace Prize he shared with The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for his continued leadership on the world’s most important issue.  The Spanish Prince of Asturias Award and The Sir David Attenborough Award for Excellence in Nature Filmmaking were two other honours he received for his tireless environmental efforts.  He was named an Honourary Fellow of The American Academy of Arts and Sciences.  Concordia University presented him with an honourary doctorate.  His best-selling book, The Assault On Reason, won a Quill Award.  He also won a Primetime Emmy for his Current TV venture.  He won so many trophies in 2007 that comedian Stephen Colbert humourously complained about his “rampant and wanton destruction of the global prizescape”.
While the usual suspects in the media and the right wing continually whined about his success and attempted to spread false information about him (what happened to graciousness, guys?), The War On Gore, Bob Somerby’s famous phrase about the media’s 1999/2000 campaign against the longtime Democrat, has lost traction with the public.  (Despite being urged to run for President again, however, Gore is done with being a politician.  Completely understandable considering all the crap he went through.)  When petty losers like Maureen Dowd of The New York Times, who used to make fun of him relentlessly, now crediting him for being one of the lone voices of reason on The Iraq War (he came out against the proposed invasion in 2002) and a strong spokesman for the environment, he is a true winner.  His success has made many in the media look terminally clueless.
One wonders if he’s ever going to get that collective apology he deserves from all of those bitter fools who conspired to keep him out of the White House.  Did they really think George W. Bush was the better candidate?
Loser:  Conrad Black
The most famous line from Oliver Stone’s Wall Street is this one spoken by Gordon Gekko:  “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.”  Newspaper mogul Conrad Black found out the hard way that it’s only good if it doesn’t put you in jail.
The 63-year-old author, the former chief executive of Hollinger, was accused in 2003 of misuing 7 million dollars of the company’s money for his own personal use as well as defrauding the company’s shareholders of tens of millions of dollars.  (This explains all of the charges more fully.)  Numerous lawsuits were filed against him and 4 fellow executives in 2004 and in 2005 he faced criminal charges.  One of those executives, David Radler, made a deal to testify against him.
The criminal trial began in mid-March in Chicago.  Numerous conservative pundits, like Peter Worthington and Eric Margolis of The Toronto Sun among others, rather embarrassingly, proclaimed his innocence.  (US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who also prosecuted the Valerie Plame case, had to put up with harsh criticism from Black’s ass-kissing friends in the media.  “Fitzhitler”, anyone?)  Worthington himself deserves a special prize for chutzpah when he stated that the jurors selected for the case weren’t smart enough to follow the evidence and reach a verdict.  (Chicago Sun-Times columnist Richard Roeper called him “a pompous ass” because of it.)  The 80-year-old columnist who covered the trial for The Sun went on to make a bold prediction on March 25:
“Conrad Black will be found not guilty, as will his four [sic] co-defendants, even more so: Ex-Hollinger execs Peter Atkinson, Jack Boultbee and Mark Kipnis.”
On July 12th, after spending nearly two weeks deliberating the case, the jury indeed acquitted Baron Black of Crossharbour of nine charges, the most serious one being racketeering.  But barring a Festivus miracle, he’s going to jail, thanks to being convicted on three lesser counts of mail fraud and one very serious count of obstruction of justice.  He faces a maximum penalty of 35 years plus fines and forfeitures.  We’ll know his official sentence on December 10.  (UPDATE:  6 and a half years plus a $125,000 fine.  More here.)
As for Atkinson, Boultbee and Kipnis, they’re going to the slammer, too.  Each were found guilty on three counts of mail fraud.
Way to call it, Petey.
But Black is no shrinking violet.  Expect him to appeal like there’s no tomorrow.  Then, there’s the matter of all these civil suits he’s involved in regarding the Hollinger scandal.  And finally, he has a libel suit going against Tom Bower, the author of Conrad & Lady Black:  Dancing On The Edge.  He’s suing for 11 million in that one claiming his good name was needlessly and viciously besmirched.
I don’t know.  Robber Baron Black of Crossharbour has a nice ring to it.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, December 2, 2007
2:41 a.m.
Published in: on December 2, 2007 at 2:43 am  Leave a Comment  

Winners & Losers Of 2007 (Part One)

Winner:  Seth Rogen
The lead role in Knocked Up.  Co-screenwriter of Superbad.  A voice part in Shrek The Third. 
It’s been quite the year for this 25-year-old Vancouver native.  After small appearances in films like Donnie Darko and Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy, not to mention recurring supporting roles in overlooked TV gems like Freaks & Geeks and Undeclared, he graduated to bigger parts in The 40-Year-Old Virgin and You, Me & Dupree.  Thanks to his long association with writer/director Judd Apatow (who directed him in Virgin and certain episodes of Geeks and Undeclared), Rogen had a major breakthrough when he starred as Ben Stone, the slacker who impregnates Katherine Heigl, in Knocked Up.
Not only was it a commercial smash (earning about 150 million domestically), it received rave reviews (it has a 91% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes).  Superbad, which was based loosely on his high school period (Rogen also has a small role playing a cop), has an 87% fresh rating and accumulated over 120 million in North America alone.  And even though he’s not one of the main characters in Shrek The Third, that film also found a large audience (over 320 million in domestic box office).
The young character actor will be back next year in a whole slew of films, according to his updated filmography on The Internet Movie Database.  Regardless of what happens next, he became the most surprising movie star of 2007.
Loser:  Rachel Marsden
This notoriously inept and long discredited ultra-conservative commentator received her overdue comeuppance not once but twice in 2007.
She was hired by the Fox News Channel in January to co-host Red Eye, a daily, hour-long, late-night chat program hosted by Greg Gutfeld.  Espousing her views on “dolphin rape” and the hygiene habits of Pakistani citizens, she furthered her reputation as a deeply disturbed individual.  But after nearly four months with the program, she was suddenly fired.  Marsden claimed that she was told the show was going in a “different direction” and as a result, she was the “first casualty”.  An anonymous source gave The New York Post a decidedly different reason:  “She’s out of her [bleeping] mind. She was doing crazy stuff.”.
What exactly is meant by “crazy stuff” remains a mystery.  However, the website Gawker claims she was ousted for trying to cozy up to both Shepherd Smith and an unnamed gay anchor, actions which they assert “freaked them both out”.  Whatever happened, it was not an amicable parting of the ways.  Marsden had to be physically removed from the Fox building by security (she downplayed the incident by arguing that Fox considers this “standard procedure” for departing employees) and despite releasing a statement on her website that was uncharacteristically diplomatic, she was far angrier about the dismissal in The Toronto Sun.  In her July 10th column, a thin-skinned rant defending her alleged credibility on American politics and history, she ended the piece thusly:

“Heaven forbid that an entrepreneur with international experience and a global perspective wants to come to the U.S., pay taxes, and reinvigorate the national debate. Apparently in this industry, those types of people are only allowed to sign our cheques.

Nowadays, even if the U.S. government certifies someone as one of the top political commentators in the world, you’re more likely to end up talking about Britney Spears’ crotch. If the winning strategy for the war on terror was in there, you can bet we’d have it by now.”

This is what she meant by being lamented by The Bush Administration.
Then, after the publication of her November 5th column defending the torturous practice of waterboarding, The Toronto Sun had enough.  Without much fanfare, she was quietly dropped by the city’s lone tabloid.  (As of this writing, there hasn’t been one letter published from a reader wondering what happened to her column.  Very telling.)  More bitterness followed on her website where she lashed out at the paper’s new editor-in-chief and the readers of the Daily Kos blog which had been organizing a write-in protest to the paper.  Despite the fact that Lorrie Goldstein and Rob Granatstein vouched for her while talking to Rebecca Traister of Salon, all she could offer was unprofessional whining about a supposed left-wing conspiracy stacked against her.  In truth, she greatly annoys both sides of the political spectrum who continually question her presence in mainstream media.
Although she’s moved on to guest appearances on CNN’s Situation Room and continues to post items and columns on her website, it remains uncertain how long she’ll maintain this sham of a career she’s got going.  One thing’s for certain, however.  Fox News and The Toronto Sun actually have standards.
Winner:  Movie Franchises
Hollywood has never resisted the lure of the sequel and this year was no exception.  Franchises, new and old, found either widespread critical acclaim, huge box office returns or both.  Shrek The Third didn’t wow film reviewers like its predecessors did but it still raked in almost 800 million globally.  Spider-Man 3 was a slightly different story.  Despite a number of bad reviews (including a recent pan by Roger Ebert), it still received a fresh rating of 62% as well as huge international box office (almost 900 million).
Live Free Or Die Hard, the fourth film in the John McClane action series, did respectible business around the world (almost 400 million) and earned an 80% fresh rating from Rotten Tomatoes.  Ocean’s Thirteen accumulated over 300 million internationally and received mostly good reviews.  The fifth Harry Potter film, The Order Of The Phoenix, continues to be a vital, commercial enterprise.  It earned over 930 million globally and strong raves from critics.  The third Pirates Of The Caribbean flick, At World’s End, managed to do even better.  It grossed over 960 million globally, making it the most successful film of the year.  (Reviewers, on the other hand, were mixed.)
Even the Saw series, now up to four chapters, remains popular with audiences.  In its first month of release, the latest installment has already made 100 million worldwide.  While Mr. Bean’s Holiday and TMNT weren’t nearly as profitable as other sequels this year (over 200 million and almost 100 million internationally, respectively), they still made money despite mixed reviews for the former and mostly pans for the latter.  The movie franchise enjoyed such profitability this year that even the critically trashed prequel, Hannibal Rising, which covers the early years of the cinema’s most infamous cannibal, made over 80 million in international box office receipts.  Not bad for a Lecter movie with no Anthony Hopkins or major stars and half the budget of the terrible Red Dragon.
As always, there’ll be more of these kinds of movies to come in the near future.  Hollywood’s helplessly addicted.
Loser:  John Tory
It was his election to lose and lose it he did in a significant way.  The Leader Of The Opposition and The Ontario Progressive Conservative Party was in pretty good political shape.  A week after he announced his party’s election platform in June, he was in a dead heat with Premier Dalton McGuinty and the ruling Liberals.  A number of voters were unhappy with McGuinty’s numerous broken promises and were looking for alternatives.  The Tories seemed to fit the bill.  But the former cable company executive made a fatal error during the official month-long campaign when he announced a 500 million dollar plan to fully fund religious schools with public money.  Traditional conservative supporters were aghast at the idea, even though, as Toronto Sun columnist Christina Blizzard noted, when Tory further explained himself to voters on a one-on-one basis he was able to convince them of the validity of his proposed policy.  (The point he was attempting to make was that it’s unfair to fully fund the Catholic system while neglecting other religious schools.  Either you fund them all or support none of them.  As he found out the hard way, neither option has any real chance of happening right now.)  But unfortunately, as Blizzard also pointed out, there wasn’t nearly enough time for the Ontario PC Leader to change every skeptic’s mind in that manner.  As a result, The Liberals were able to hammer away at Tory’s proposal right up until the election. 
Although, inevitably, Tory tried to soothe angry voters with the idea of a free vote on the policy if he became the Premier, the damage was done.  Dalton McGuinty sailed into reelection with his party only losing one seat in Queen’s Park.  (The Conservatives gained a measly two, if you can believe it.)  As for Tory, not only did his party blow a huge opportunity at forming the next provincial government, he lost his own bid to stay in the Legislature.  Instead of running for reelection in the Dufferin-Peel-Wellington-Grey riding (where he won nearly 60% of the vote in a by-election in 2005), he took on Education Minister Kathleen Wynne in Don Valley West, his old stomping grounds.  Wynne beat him by a 10 percent margin.  Even though he’s still technically the leader of the Ontario Tories, Bob Runciman has replaced him as Interim Leader.  Hard to be an effective Leader Of The Opposition when you’ve not only lost the privilege to sit in Queen’s Park but are also unable to make any direct criticisms to the Premier and The Ontario Liberals.
One wonders what would’ve happened if that one proposal had never seen the light of day.  The election results might’ve been very different.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, December 1, 2007
12:06 a.m.
Published in: on December 1, 2007 at 12:08 am  Leave a Comment