Remembering 2009, My Fourth Year Of Blogging

“Well, kid, you slept through another one.”

It was a bitterly cold January morning when my mom made that remark in her Broadway voice.  Moments earlier, she had walked into my bedroom to look out the window.  As I laid there with my eyes shut hearing her say, “Holy shit!”,  I wondered what was happening.  I found out as soon as she left.

The local paint supply store had erupted in flames and no less than three fire trucks had arrived on the scene to try to put it out.  It was so cold the storefront was loaded with water hose icicles.  Practically every window was smashed and you could see the fire rise and fall in intensity, particularly from the roof.  Mom came back at some point and we spent the next hour talking and watching the firefighters do their job.  We saw a number of them seeking warmth and shelter in a parked Hamilton Street Railway (HSR) bus.  At various times, we could see their breath when they had a moment to take one.

After a while, I got really cranky because I really wanted to get back to sleep.  (It was still dark at this point.)  Thankfully, Mom left and I went back to bed.  Several hours later, I woke up refreshed and went back to the window.  The fire was finally extinguished, although one hose attached to a extremely long fire engine ladder continued to shoot water at the blackened building, most likely to keep it from freezing which it did during the times when it wasn’t turned on.  No one was injured and there were no casualties.

It was a sad way to start 2009.  You felt for the owners of the building who, in an instant, thought they lost their business.  (They ended up moving into a smaller store in the same area later in the year.  The remnants of the damaged building were eventually demolished by a local company.  The space has since been transformed into a parking lot.)  And it was one of the many stories I never got to blog about in real time this year, a defining theme.

The main problem involved my computer, a Pentium III that was slowly dying.  When I would try to type, the cursor would freeze repeatedly before finally showing the words on-screen.  It became an endless headache for a number of years.  (Why I put up with these annoying delays for as long as I did I have no idea.)

Just before Christmas 2008, my computer completely lost power.  After taking it in to the shop, I was told the power cartridge had died.  I was advised to start looking for another computer, preferably a used one, since it was likely that the new cartridge would only keep things afloat for another six months.  As we moved through the seasons, my hard drive kept freezing, lagging and crashing.  It didn’t help that my mouse was acting up as well, freezing and lagging repeatedly.  There was constant rebooting and constant gnashing of teeth.  Finally, it was getting to the point where the computer wouldn’t even recognize my mouse.  Getting to the start-up page was a rare occurrence.

Thankfully, Dave, my friend of 25 years, helped me decide on a replacement.  (The timing was perfect.  We were about to go to the movies twice to celebrate each other’s birthdays, something we’ve done off and on for years.)  After going to several shops in the city, we settled on a used place and picked up a Pentium IV for a little over 100 bucks.  There was a three-month warranty and the price was right.  When Dave helped me to set it up, however, there were a couple of problems.  One, we forgot to check if it had a phone jack.  (I’m on dial-up.  I can’t afford high-speed.)  You guessed it.  It didn’t.  Thankfully, my quick-thinking friend unscrewed the jack from my old hard drive and added it to the Pentium IV.  Worked like a charm.

The other problem was the mouse.  The guy from the computer place told me it was faster than the Pentium III which was why it kept lagging and freezing all the time.  Unfortunately, it was still doing that on the new machine.  The one-year warranty on this 25-dollar laser model had expired so Dave suggested we make a quick trip to the store and buy a cheaper one.  10 bucks later, I had a functioning mouse, another laser type which I like just fine.  I’m hoping it lasts a lot longer than a year.  (The old-school wheel mouse that came with the Pentium III lasted seven.)  As for the computer, it was a good purchase.  No more lagging, freezing is rare (when it does happen, thanks to Windows XP (the old one had Windows 98), after closing all the windows you can get right back to where you were, for the most part) and it’s far quieter than the Pentium III (what a noisy little bugger it was).  To save money, I decided against adding a DVD-ROM drive.  (I had one in the Pentium III which allowed me to watch anything with subwoofer, stereo sound.  Pretty awesome, especially when watching a rocking concert or a terrific movie.)  I already have a DVD player in my TV which, unlike my dead computer, has a remote control.  (Whenever I wanted to pause, rewind or play on my previous computer, I had to get up and click the mouse.)  The only current problem is my scanner.  It’s simply not compatible with XP.

Thanks to my computer issues, I didn’t get a chance to write very much about the death of Michael Jackson in the summer, one of the most shocking events of the year.  By the time the Pentium IV was up and running, so much had already been said, there was no need to pile on.  Timing is everything with blogging and unless you’re out of the gate early, it’s hard to be original.  I did manage to slip in a few comments while writing about this year’s memorable MTV Video Music Awards.

Speaking of deaths, there were three that were personal.  Dorothy Barron was a kindly chiropractor who knew that I suffered from a good number of food intolerances the moment she met me.  Her advice and recommendations saved my life.  She died in September at the age of 89 and I wrote a tribute to her here.  Gene Sutton was the most powerful woman at Delta Secondary School during my four-year tenure there and was always kind to me whenever I spoke with her.  She died in August at the age of 64.  Writer/director/producer John Hughes died around the same time which inspired this double tribute.

Finally, there was Ron Ribbins, a beloved family member from England who died this year after a long battle with cancer.  I last spoke with him on the phone around Christmas 2008 and he sounded really weak but did cheer up when talking to me and his other Canadian relatives.  In his last photographs the Naval veteran was confined to a bed and looked painfully thin.  My aunt and her daughter had been planning a trip to Ol’ Blighty for the summer and there was concern Ronnie wouldn’t make it by the time they arrived.  Amazingly, he did and lots of pictures were taken with them.  Looking forward to the visit may very well have kept him going that much longer.  That and the constant correspondence he had with my grandma which had been going on for decades.

I first met him and his son, Steve, in person when they visited Hamilton in 1988.  He was a cheerful man, good humoured and fun to be around as was Steve.  When my grandparents were on the verge of celebrating their Golden Anniversary in 1995, the family decided to surprise them by flying not only Ronnie and his sweet wife, Audrey, in to see them but also my grandfather’s brother, Charlie (who looks like Chaplin), and his delightful wife, Olive, as well.  Grandpa was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s then (he died in September 2000) but despite that, the big reunion was one of the highlights of that whole day.  (We rented a hall at my mom’s local church for the afternoon.  Then-Hamilton mayor Bob Morrow also stopped by to offer congratulations, as well.)

Later on, it was suggested we all go bowling.  I’ll never forget a particularly bad frame Ronnie had.  I playfully told him he was a crappy bowler.  Astounded by this, he noted to everyone in that unmistakably British accent, “Did you hear what Dennis said?  He said I bowled like crap!”.  I still have the score sheet.

After his stint in the Navy, Ronnie was the gardener at Wimbledon.  One of my favourite gifts was a Wimbledon Championship T-shirt he sent me through the mail.  It came in the right size and I wore it until it wouldn’t fit anymore.  It’s still in a drawer somewhere.  One of his last gifts were these cool Beatles’ stamps, each representing a famous album cover.  He was a great man and I wish I got to spend more time with him when he was well.  I will always treasure those visits he made to Canada.

Although productivity was down quite a bit in 2009, I still managed to offer over 50 new entries on this website, a good number of which were poems.  During that period when my Pentium III was being most uncooperative, I worked on one entitled Nobody Cares.  The idea was to write about a supervillain in four verses of eight lines, something a little more intense and detailed.  After getting most of it worked out on paper, I was able to finish it off online and get it posted here.  It was the final entry typed on my old computer.  It remains a personal favourite.

Most of the poetry this year was autobiographical (Frustration, Looking For A Muse, Forever Haunted) but other entries like Overreactor and the recent Precision are fiction.  Overreactor was inspired by a number of news stories involving right-wing extremists who have such enormous resentments against other people, particularly women, that they snap and commit mass murder.  I wanted to get into their skin and understand that mentality before they act.  I figured they were confused and frequently went back and forth over their planned crimes before making a final decision.  Normally, I like to rhyme in my poetry but I thought it would be more effective to try free verse.  I used the same technique for Precision which speaks for itself.  It’s very challenging to write in this manner but once you have something you can post, there’s a sense of accomplishment that never leaves you.

I didn’t screen a lot of movies this year.  (About 30, actually.)  Sadly, most of them were lousy and not worth writing about, although I did make exceptions for the latest Friday The 13th, Laws Of Attraction, Resident Evil: Extinction, Twilight, Terminator Salvation, Look Who’s Talking Too, and Year One.  In all, I only enjoyed three movies in 2009:  last year’s Body Of Lies, the original The Hills Have Eyes and The Howling.  In truth, I’ve been having a lot of problems with screenings lately.  I worry constantly about being in the right mood and being distracted to the point where it can take far longer than a film’s running time for me to get through a single title.  Furthermore, I rewind and pause way too much (not to mention all those bathroom trips).  It’s really annoying because I have so many movies I want to see (and potentially write about) and I’ve put a good number of them on the back burner because of this ongoing problem.  I know it’s a perfectionist thing with a hint of OCD on top for seasoning but I hope to ease past that and get back to comfortable screenings again.  How this will all be resolved is uncertain.

Meanwhile, more reworked reviews from my unpublished, incomplete ’90s manuscript, The Movie Critic: Book One, were put on display this year.  I’m not sure if any more will be published in 2010 (there are less than 20 to decide on) but we’ll see.  It’s always great to take these messy first drafts and polish them into something coherent all these years later.

Speaking of movies, this website challenged the conventional wisdom surrounding the so-called importance of The Golden Globes as an accurate Oscar predictor.  After examining the evidence, it’s plainly clear that this is a myth.  Just ask Mickey Rourke.

The changes in late night Television was the focus of two pieces this year.  I liked Conan O’Brien’s final 12:30 show but found Jay Leno’s last Tonight Show seriously lacking.  Since taking over the 11:30 slot on NBC, Conan has gotten funnier and looser, greatly improving the format of the show.  Thanks to frequent interjections by trusted sidekick and friend Andy Richter (The Tonight Show’s announcer), his opening monologues are even more enjoyable than they were on Late Night.  Twitter Tracker, in the great tradition of The All-Night Sausage Party, is guaranteed hilarity.  And those remote pieces are frequently spot-on.  The ratings might be down but The Tonight Show is a better program with Conan as its host.

Other highlights this year included laying the smackdown on Sun Media’s Michael Coren (he doesn’t believe women should serve in the military); The Toronto Star’s Antonia Zerbisias for her lame, hypocritical comments about Howard Stern and that crazy woman who wanted to auction off her virginity (the woman later backed out of the whole thing); my thoughts on the whole Gosselin family drama; supporting the pop singer Rihanna after her terrible ordeal with Chris Brown; and the silliness of Tiger Woods maintaining a wholesome image.  There weren’t many CD reviews to offer this year so it was cool to assess Metallica’s terrific Death Magnetic album, as well.  Here’s hoping there’s more where that came from.

For the first time since the Fading To Black period, I’ve been writing for other entities, another reason you didn’t see many entries in this space this year.  Thanks to Employment Hamilton, I’ve been submitting pieces to MonkeyBiz.ca.  Although only one piece was briefly published (more on that in a second), I’m hoping my other submissions will be seriously considered soon.  I’m also a volunteer writer for Green Venture, a local environmental organization that gave me three opportunities to write for them this fall.  I had a short little item in the October 2009 issue of H Magazine, another small piece that ended up on MonkeyBiz for a surprisingly brief period of time and a research project for the greenventure.ca website that is coming soon.  It’s been a learning experience not without its challenges but ultimately, I’ve been very satisfied working on environmentally themed pieces.  It’s always nice to branch out and expand your knowledge of things.

Ultimately, though, my top writing priority remains this website.  Despite offering far fewer pieces in 2009 than in previous years, hits are up slightly from 2008.  As of this moment, The Writings Of Dennis Earl was viewed roughly 13000 times compared to last year’s total of 11000.  The grand total of hits over nearly four years of existence is close to 38000.  Not a spectacular number but any growth is progress.

So, what’s next?  Well, hopefully, more opinions on entertainment, more poetry, more commentaries on interesting things in the news and also more history pieces.  Like last year, my annual Winners & Losers Of The Year series will wrap up in January.  I managed to get three installments posted in December and hope to have 2 or 3 more ready to showcase soon.  (Parts four and five are in draft mode at the moment.)  I have lots of other ideas on what to write about in 2010 but for now, I’ll keep them to myself.

In the meantime, thanks to all of you for visiting, reading and commenting.  Feedback, whether it’s positive or negative, is always welcome.  Keep coming back as more material will become available to check out in 2010.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, December 31, 2009
5:08 p.m.

CORRECTION:  All this time I thought it was “Rhianna” but in truth, her name is actually “Rihanna”.  My apologies for the mistake.  The correct spelling has finally been added to the original story.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, February 25, 2012
6:29 p.m.

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Published in: on December 31, 2009 at 5:09 pm  Leave a Comment  

Winners & Losers Of 2009 (Part Three)

 
Winner:  New York Yankees
 
It had been almost a decade since the greatest franchise in baseball history won the big championship.  Despite routinely qualifying for the post-season in the subsequent years following their triumph over The New York Mets in 2000, The Bronx Bombers were in a World Series slump.  (The Arizona Diamondbacks beat them in seven in 2001 and The Florida Marlins snatched the trophy from them in six in 2003.)  In 2008, under the leadership of new manager Joe Giraldi, The Yanks didn’t even make the playoffs.  But this year, their first in the new Yankee Stadium, would see their fortunes reversed.
 
Five months into the season, despite a somewhat shaky start in April and the absence of slugger Alex Rodriguez for several weeks (not to mention the revelation of his steroid use during his Texas Rangers days and ex-manager Joe Torre’s scathing criticism of him in his book, The Yankee Years), their first place ranking in the American League East would never be seriously threatened for the rest of 2009.   Winning more than 60% of their games altogether, they earned over 100 wins.  Soon thereafter, they went 7-2 in the first two rounds of the post-season sweeping the Minnesota Twins in three and ousting The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in six.
 
All that stood in their way of their 27th championship were The Philadelphia Phillies who were defeated by The Toronto Blue Jays during their last World Series appearance sixteen years earlier.  All eyes were on Alex Rodriguez, notorious for choking in October.  After a typically disappointing start, A-Rod came to life during a pivotal moment in game three.  He appeared to have hit a double after a long drive hit the lense of a TV camera high up in the stands.  But after being reviewed by the umpires (a first for Major League Baseball), the ruling was changed to a 2-run home run (there was a man on first at the time).  Had the camera not been there, the ball would’ve cleared the fence.  All in all, A-Rod batted over 400, hit two more home runs and had six RBIs for the series.
 
In game six, The Phillies were down by six runs in the fifth inning.  Despite a two-run homer in the sixth, the road team couldn’t muster any more offense.  With a final score of 7-3, The Yankees sealed the deal in their new stadium.  Hideki Matsui won the MVP trophy.
 
Loser:  The Osbournes Reloaded
 
In 2002, they had a very entertaining MTV reality show that was alternately funny and sweet.  It ran for three seasons.  Seven years later, they completely misfired with a meanspirited and disasterously unfunny prank show on Fox.  Originally scheduled for a six-episode run, the pilot was so awful the show never returned after its first airing.  Among the lowlights:  little kids dressed as Ozzy and Sharon go on a movie date and proceed to insult every single person they encounter; Ozzy and middle daughter Kelly work the Drive-In at a fast food restaurant cursing out customers and hurling their orders at them; an unsuspecting boyfriend is forced to make a decision about marriage by his incredibly pushy girlfriend.
 
Longtime Washington Post TV Critic Tom Shales, among the many who panned the program, said it best when he dismissed the show as “Must-Flee TV”.  Exactly nine months after it aired, neither the pilot nor any of the five unaired episodes have been released in any shape or form.  May they remain unseen forever.
 
Winner:  The Beatles
 
It was a September to remember for one of the most successful bands in rock and roll history.  Honouring the late John Lennon’s lifelong fascination with the number nine, two major releases helped maintain The Fab Four’s ageless legacy in 2009 when they hit the street on the ninth day of the ninth month.  A year after it was announced, The Beatles Rock Band video game, which features dozens of original songs you can play along to, was released to overwhelmingly good reviews.  The sensational graphics and the opportunity to download even more Beatles tracks not part of the original game certainly added to the critical acclaim.  Over half a million copies were sold in its first month of release.
 
But that was nothing compared to the praise bestowed on the band’s remastered studio catalogue.  Please Please Me, With The Beatles, A Hard Day’s Night, Beatles For Sale, Help!, Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Magical Mystery Tour, “The White Album”, Yellow Submarine, Abbey Road and Let It Be, plus Past Masters (the two-disc collection of non-album A-Sides, B-Sides and rarities), not only received tremendous reviews from publications like Rolling Stone and Mojo Magazine but also became hot sellers all over again.  In fact, a number of these titles were outselling current releases on the album chart.  (As a result, Billboard Magazine is changing its rules of eligibility.)
 
As someone who always liked the sound quality of the original CDs, I never understood those who advocated a complete overhaul of the catalogue.  It seemed unnecessary to me.  That being said, the new versions sound great and not overproduced.  (Unlike numerous reissues lately, you don’t have to turn them down to save your ear drums.)  The liner notes have been expanded to include historical and recording information, and feature original artwork, photography and album notes.  Finally, with the exception of Past Masters, early pressings are enhanced with video only viewable with a computer that is equipped with QuickTime and Windows 2000 or higher.
 
All in all, not a bad year for a band that broke up almost 40 years ago.
 
Loser:  Jim Balsillie
 
In 2006, he couldn’t purchase The Pittsburgh Penguins.  In 2007, he failed to become the new owner of The Nashville Predators.  This year, he made a bid on the bankrupt Phoenix Coyotes.  Would the third time be the charm?
 
In a word?  No.  After announcing his intentions in early May, the 48-year-old Ontario businessman spent the next five months fighting off the executives of The National Hockey League who adamantly oppose Balsillie’s plan to have a franchise relocated to Hamilton.  Despite securing the rights to Copps Coliseum for potential home games and lining up a couple of corporate supporters, his efforts were once again all for naught.
 
By September, a court rejected Balsillie’s final attempt to have his bid honoured legally.  Since he won’t appeal this latest setback, the dream of another professional hockey team in Southern Ontario remains unfulfilled.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, December 31, 2009
2:54 p.m. 
Published in: on December 31, 2009 at 2:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

Precision

Locking in on a target
A natural selection
Walking fragility hiding in a facade of strength
Tragically unaware of exposed vulnerability
Zeroing in on the weakest part of you
Slowly closing the gap between safety and terror
Never revealing the immediate danger you’re in
Your pace is brisk and with purpose
But you’re really going nowhere
Your solitary spirit is irresistible
Time to squeeze it out of you for good
You should’ve kept walking
Everybody else did
Caring was your first mistake
The second you turned your head
All rational thought was exterminated
Amongst the oblivious
A silent response to your muffled protests
You’re drowning in a human sea of indifference
The collective passivity amuses me
Your humanity quickly draining
Yet you stubbornly cling to life
The harder you fight the less I care
When you finally go limp
My work is done
It was as if you were never there
 
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
2:54 p.m.
Published in: on December 29, 2009 at 2:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

Winners & Losers Of 2009 (Part Two)

Winner:  Matthew Morrison & Jane Lynch

He’s a good-natured high school teacher passionate about reviving the unpopular Glee Club.  She’s a vindictive gym teacher out to destroy it.

Broadway actor Matthew Morrison and Jane Lynch are easily the best performers on Fox’s uneven breakout hit, Glee.  Morrison plays Will Schuester, a supremely nice guy stuck in an awful marriage with a woman so evil she pretends to be pregnant in order to keep him in line.  Lynch is the hilariously blunt Sue Sylvester who coaches The Cheerios, the high school cheerleading squad she refuses to have upstaged by Morrison’s singers.  Every week, for the most part, they butt heads in one tense scene after another.

Morrison’s Will is a stubbornly determined man who, curiously, is able, for the most part, to stand up to Sue’s relentless antics but is frequently put in his place by his manipulative, ice cold wife, Terri (Canadian actress Jessalyn Gilsig stuck with a thankless assignment).  That is, until he discovers the truth.  Without question, that whole sequence is the best one in the entire series.  Note to the wise:  don’t lie to Will.

Aside from Glee, Lynch has been one incredibly busy actor this year.  On TV, you could see her on shows like Kathy Griffin’s My Life On The D-List, Two And A Half Men, Party Down, The L Word, the telefilm Mr. Troop Mom (co-starring comedian George Lopez), as well as commercials for XBOX 360, and hear her on animated shows like The Spectacular Spider-Man, Handy Manny, and the Family Guy spin-off, The Cleveland Show.  She provides a voice in the latest Leisure Suit Larry video game and if that weren’t enough, she also participated in the making of six films (theatrical & straight-to-video features plus live-action shorts), most notably Post Grad (which Roger Ebert liked), Julie & Julia (with Meryl Streep and Amy Adams) and the third Ice Age movie.

While I tune out during a lot of the American Idol-inspired production numbers (if I want to hear Jump, I’ll listen to 1984, thank you) and would like to see less of the evil Terri (now that Will has figured everything out), whenever Lynch and Morrison are on-screen (not to mention the strong supporting cast who thrive on their soap operatic storylines), I pay attention.  Here are two solid performers worthy of Emmy consideration.

Loser:  Men Who Harm Women

20 years after the horrific Montreal massacre, we still can’t protect every woman from needless, undeserved harm from the world’s biggest assholes.  From Chris Brown’s brutal assault on Rihanna to that poor 15-year-old American kid who was beaten and gangraped (as well as robbed) for hours by her disgusting classmates outside her school’s homecoming dance while she was waiting for her dad to pick her up to the reality show contestant who was savagely murdered by her husband (who later killed himself to avoid prosecution) to the psychotic online diarist who killed innocent women at a gym in Pennsylvania to the sweet, compassionate and brilliant Harvard student who was strangled just days before her wedding leaving her fiance, family and friends completely devastated to that weirdo who bit a woman after a New Moon screening to this horrible “honour” killing to a New Zealand creep convicted of injecting a needle filled with his HIV-positive blood into his sleeping, now-infected wife (because he thought that would convince her to resume their halted sex life) to the 18-year hell that Jaycee Dugard had to endure, like the women who were slaughtered December 6, 1989, we mustn’t forget those who were unnecessarily killed and abused in 2009.  These were good, decent women who deserved far better treatment than they ultimately received.  If only there was a way to end the hatred permanently.

Winner:  Susan Boyle

It was a story that would’ve never happened without a big assist from The Internet.  An ordinary, middle-aged woman from a village in Scotland entered a TV talent competition.  When she walked out on stage during her televised audition there were zero expectations from the audience and the judges that she might actually sing.  No one took her seriously.  Her goofy, care-free personality, her age and surprising confidence were met with derisive laughter and indifference.

But then, she opened her mouth and began to belt out a number from Les Miserables.  In a matter of seconds, the instantly and collectively harsh judgments of Susan Boyle vanished and were replaced with deep and utter astonishment, enthusiastic cheers and a whole new fanbase.  No matter what your taste in music, it was difficult not to be moved by that performance.  (Even the sometimes brutal Howard Stern enjoyed it.)  Boyle easily advanced into the next round of Britain’s Got Talent.

What would’ve been strictly a national story suddenly turned global when clips of her appearance started turning up on YouTube and were immediately picked up by the international media.  The world reaction matched that of the original British audience.  Suddenly, millions of people beyond the borders of Ol’ Blighty had emotional investment in the outcome of this show.  The newfound celebrity did shows like The Today Show and Larry King Live, ready to sing other songs.

There were two more entertaining performances (Memory from Cats and a reprise of I Dreamed A Dream from Les Miz) as Boyle inched ever closer to the possibility of realizing her dream of becoming a professional singer.  Alas, she finished second, losing in the end to a dance troupe.  Before she sang a single note, no one expected her to advance beyond the first round.  After that memorable performance, she suddenly became a huge favourite to win the whole damn thing. When she lost, it was actually considered an upset.  How bizarre.

Although the experience has been at times too overwhelming for her (she was briefly institutionalized and there’s been a lot of weeping not to mention the occasionally public thumb sucking), she did manage to do some dates on the BGT tour.  By the time her debut album surfaced late in the year, demand was quite high.  I Dreamed A Dream sold over 400,000 copies in Britain and over 700,000 in America in its first week.  (She has the highest all-time selling debut for a female in the latter country.)  Although reviews have been mixed, probably due to an easy listening record filled with almost all covers of recognizable songs, the critical reception is not likely to sway fans from seeking it out.  No matter what happens next (there are troubling signs of more mental breakdowns), 2009 was Susan Boyle’s breakthrough year.  Her mum would be proud.

Loser:  Roman Polanski & His Supporters

They finally got him.  31 years after he cowardly fled America to avoid a potentially long jail sentence for raping a 13-year-old model (which had been one of six charges plead down to a single, less serious “unlawful sexual intercourse” offense), the legendary Polish filmmaker was ironically nabbed in Switzerland, a nation he’s vacationed in for decades without incident.  In the country to accept a Lifetime Achievement Award from The Zurich Film Festival in September, he’s been stuck there ever since.  (After being jailed for a bit, he’s currently under house arrest in his own Swiss chalet and there’s a very good chance he may very well be extradited back to the United States.)

Incredibly, Polanski, not his young victim (now in her 40s and understandably, wanting the whole mess to go away), received a tremendous, undeserved outpouring of support.  First, the foreign ministers of Poland (his birth country) and France (the nation he fled to in 1978) urged his immediate release.  Although they would ultimately change their mind, due to public outrage, most of Polanski’s supporters continue to stand by him.  A ridiculous petition, featuring prominent names like Martin Scorsese, David Lynch and, if you can believe it, Woody Allen, urging his immediate release started circulating.  Even the great Roger Ebert, while not excusing Polanski’s horrible crime, thinks there’s been a miscarriage of justice based on his view of the critically acclaimed Wanted And Desired documentary.  (More on that in a second.)  But the worst defenders have been Huffington Post blogger Bernard-Henri Levy and author Gore Vidal.

During an interview with The Atlantic, Vidal called Polanski’s rape victim “a hooker” (she wasn’t), insisted with a straight face that the media got the story all wrong (they didn’t) and that the Academy-Award winning director was himself a victim of racism (nice try).  The contradictory Levy, while admitting the victim’s sexual abuse is “a serious crime”, has never specifically detailed what Polanski did to her (he downplays the anal rape as “unlawful sex”, for instance) and has written numerous hyperbolic pieces pleading for an end to Polanski’s suffering (as if continuing to freely make movies in Europe and live the good life is so terrible).

According to Wanted And Desired (which I’ve not seen), the original judge in the case is accused of throwing out a plea deal arranged by the attorneys in order to possibly give Polanski a 50-year sentence.  Polanski bailed before actually hearing what his real sentence would be.  (Ebert quotes in his review both the prosecutor and Polanski’s victim saying that they don’t blame Polanski for fleeing, as a result.)  Unfortunately, according to this Salon.com story, the movie apparently has a vendetta against the judge offering negative details that seem irrelevant to Polanski’s ordeal while leaving out others that would show the judge in a more positive light.  Not only that, it reportedly doesn’t actually detail what Polanski did to violate the young model he was photographing for a European version of Vogue.

Regardless of how the case was handled (clearly, it shouldn’t take more than 30 years to resolve this damn thing), Polanski has no one to blame but himself.  The facts speak for themselves.  He drugged and anally raped an innocent, underage girl despite the fact that she repeatedly refused his advances and wanted to go home.  He was just supposed to photograph her, not ruin her life.  Instead of staying in America in 1978 to face the music and legitimately appeal any overly harsh sentence that was coming to him (which he can still do if ever acts like a man and flies back to the country), he willfully became a fugitive and didn’t suffer any longterm consequences.  (Not being able to accept his Best Director Oscar in person in 2003 is not a reasonable person’s idea of suffering.  Nor is being married to this woman for 20 years.)  As a result, he’s not in any position to dictate to anyone what should happen next.  Neither are his misguided supporters.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, December 7, 2009
6:08 p.m.

CORRECTION:  It’s Rihanna, not Rhianna.  The correct spelling finally appears after all this time.  My apologies for the mistake.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, February 25, 2012
6:49 p.m.

Published in: on December 7, 2009 at 6:08 pm  Leave a Comment  

Winners & Losers Of 2009 (Part One)

 
Winner:  Megan Fox
 
Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen was an international commercial juggernaut, even bigger than its 2007 predecessor.  She landed her first lead role in Jennifer’s Body which garnered some raves from Richard Roeper, The Globe & MailSlateRoger Ebert, The New York Times, Time Magazine and Rolling Stone, among others.  She hosted the 35th season premiere of Saturday Night Live.  She’s one of the most searched celebrities on the Internet.  Maxim Magazine voted her the second hottest woman on the planet (just behind Olivia Wilde).  Her controversial interviews generate frequent news coverage.  And she was hired to model in her underwear.
 
Loser:  Megan Fox
 
Critics savaged Revenge Of The Fallen.  Jennifer’s Body generally received mixed reviews and only made back its small budget.  Her mostly unfunny SNL gig, where she played one pretty character after another (greatly limiting comic possibilities), was overshadowed by new cast member Jenny Slate’s accidental cursing (“I fuckin’ love you.”) and U2’s typically stellar 3-song performance.  Furthermore, Fox didn’t even bother to mention Jennifer’s Body during her opening monologue.  She was harshly criticized by three anonymous crew members on Michael Bay’s official website for being an on-set diva after comparing the Transformer director to both Hitler and Napoleon during an interview with a British magazine.  (The website comments were quickly removed, Bay distanced himself from them, another anonymous crew member defended her and Fox offered a quick, general denial of the unproven accusations many months later without thanking the guy that stood by her.)  Her overexposure led to a one-day online boycott by irritated blogs.  And according to a sometimes unflattering New York Times Magazine profile, she has a tendency to bullshit in interviews and frequently hides behind transparently phony images.  With more movies to come in 2010, a sizeable non-Transformers hit that enhances her acting reputation is more desperately needed than more hatefully memorable quotes.
 
Winner:  The Pittsburgh Penguins
 
In the 2008 Stanley Cup Final, the two-time champions were defeated by The Detroit Red Wings in 6 games.  However, 2009 would be a different story.
 
After going 45-28-9 in the regular season, The Pens returned to the post-season with only one goal in mine.  After disposing of The Philadelphia Flyers in six, The Washington Capitals in seven and The Carolina Hurricanes in four, they were one step closer to achieving it.  Meanwhile, the defending champions were knocking off The Columbus Blue Jackets, The Anaheim Ducks, and The Chicago Blackhawks on their own route to repeat glory.
 
For the first time in 25 years, the same two NHL teams battled it out in two consecutive championship series.  (The Edmonton Oilers and The New York Islanders previously squared off for The Cup in 1983 and 1984.)  After dropping the first two games on the road, Pittsburgh bounced back in games three and four.  Then Detroit skunked The Pens 5-0 in game five, giving them a three-games-to-two advantage.  It would be their last victory in the series.
 
Pittsburgh tied the series at home after a close game six but had their work cut out for them in game seven.  In the second period, Max Talbot scored two goals within nine minutes of each other, giving the road team a huge, surprising boost.  Although Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury lost his shutout late in the third, Sidney Crosby (who accumulated 31 points in the post-season but lost the Conn Smythe to teammate Evgeny Malkin who earned 36) and company held on to win The Penguins’ third Stanley Cup.  It was a thrilling end to a remarkable season.
 
Loser:  Conservatism
 
Robert Novak and William Safire died.  The wildly unpopular Sarah Palin mysteriously resigned midway through her only term as The Governor of Alaska.  She released a political memoir riddled with factual errors and endless whining.  Lou Dobbs quit CNN.  The New York Post published an offensive editorial cartoon regarding President Obama’s stimulus bill.  Two of their former employees are suing them for wrongful dismissal.  Google had to remove an equally offensive doctored photo of Michelle Obama, The First Lady, when it would pop up during searches made through the site.  Among the many Glenn Beck transgressions this year, his false assertion that Obama is a racist and hates white people (even though he has a caucasian mother) which cost him more than 80 advertisers for his afternoon Fox News Channel program was the most damaging.  Owner Rupert Murdoch agreed with him, than lamely backtracked through a spokesperson.  The Washington Times is on the verge of collapse. 
 
The pathetic “Birthers” movement (right-wing conspiracy theorists who are desperate to prove Obama isn’t an American citizen (he was born in Hawaii, not Kenya and yes, he has a legitimate birth certificate) and therefore not eligible to be President) has been an utter failure.  Ditto The Tea Party movement.  Speaking of which, racism and illogical comparisons to notorious dictators like Hitler and Stalin abounds amongst the protestors (as well as in The Conservative Media).  Misguided activists have shouted down politicians and fellow citizens during public health care forums because they dislike the public option The Democrats support.  Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomeyer had to withstand numerous smears against her character and gender because she was Obama’s nominee.  (Despite the resistance by conservatives, she was confirmed and started her first term this October.)  In late January, Supreme Court Justice John Roberts unintentionally screwed up Obama’s oath during his inauguration which led to another crackpot theory that the 44th President couldn’t take office because he wasn’t officially sworn in.  (He had a redo not too long afterward at the Oval Office which went much more smoothly.)  A number of Conservatives cheered when Chicago, where Obama once worked and lived, lost a bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympics.  Others whined when he won The Nobel Peace Prize.
 
Andrew Sullivan and Little Green Footballs blogger Charles Johnson belatedly left the party.  Rush Limbaugh was dropped from a group of bidders hoping to purchase The St. Louis Rams thanks to decades of hateful commentary catching up to him.  He also openly and continuously hoped Obama would fail.  ACORN had its public funding needlessly cut off after the grassroots organization was repeatedly smeared over unproven election fraud and a suspiciously edited series of videotapes put together by a couple of untrustworthy right-wing activists.  Fox News refused to broadcast numerous Obama press conferences.  Bill O’Reilly’s constant reference to murdered abortion doctor George Tiller as “Tiller The Baby Killer” came back to haunt him.  Arlen Specter became a Democrat.  Clear Channel, one of the Republican Party’s biggest corporate supporters, overpaid Limbaugh to keep him on the radio and is seriously broke.  Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman refused to concede his Senate seat to Al Franken until many months of legal timewasting.  (He never had the votes to beat the longtime SNL comedian.)  CNBC’s Jim Kramer got bitchslapped repeatedly by Jon Stewart.  His colleague, Rick Santilli, embarrassed himself, as well.
 
Far-right Republicans made a big, public push for Doug Hoffman in a local election for New York’s 23rd District.  He finished a distant third and the more moderate Republican candidate he replaced, the pro-choice, pro-gay marriage Dierdre Scozzafava, endorsed Democrat Bill Owens who won the seat.  Conservatives complained that Obama’s address to the country’s schoolchildren was “indoctrination”, even though numerous past Presidents, including George W. Bush, have given speeches like this.  After the speech, they were strangely silent.  A song honouring Obama and other famous African-Americans became a failed cause celebre for increasingly desperate Republicans.  South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford got caught skipping work to screw around with his Argentinian mistress.  Although 28 of the 37 ethics charges against him were recently dismissed, he still faces the possibility of either impeachment or censure.  Nevada Senator John Ensign was in an extramarital and political pickle of his ownFox News ceased being a credible news organization by becoming the unofficial opposition of Obama and the Democratic Party.  Nevada Governor Jim Gibbons is against gay marriage but not against screwing around on his beautiful, extremely accomplished soon-to-be-ex-wife.
 
Were it not for the cowardly Democrats, who repeatedly refuse to listen to their constituents and sue for libel against those who consistently misrepresent their views and maliciously hammer away at their reputations, The Grand Old Party would be in even sadder shape. 
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, December 6, 2009
4:27 p.m.
Published in: on December 6, 2009 at 4:27 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Stupidity Of Maintaining A Cleancut Image

Up until last week, Tiger Woods came across as one of the least rebellious athletes in the world.  Aside from a speeding ticket eight years ago, there have been no drug issues, no arrests, no violence, no criminal convictions, no jerky behaviour of any kind.  Then, The National Enquirer ran this story.  Shortly thereafter, the golfer crashed his SUV around 2:30 one morning.  Initially, it was nothing serious.  Woods only suffered minor injuries and damaged a neighbourhood fire hydrant as well as a tree.  Then TMZ offered context.  Reportedly, Woods and his Swedish wife, Elin Nordgren, had been having a serious argument regarding the revelations in The Enquirer story which ultimately led to the accident.  Not too long after that, more allegations of adultery surfaced
 
Although there has been far too much mainstream media coverage of the matter (which means less reporting on The Middle East, government corruption and actual crime; you know, important stuff that affects us all), the whole sordid tale does offer one important lesson for those hoping to achieve some kind of celebrity in the world of sports and/or entertainment.  Never misrepresent yourself as an angel.  Eventually, you’ll be found out and it could cost you in more ways than one.
 
Woods comes from a long line of famous people who learned this lesson the hard way.  OJ Simpson, Chris Brown, Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan and Mel Gibson are just a handful of examples.  How the unimportant revelations about his personal life will affect his exceedingly lucrative athletic career remains uncertain.  The truth is it shouldn’t.  He’s not going to jail and he’s already paid a fine even I can afford (although TMZ reports he may be ordered to pay additional fines for the damaged hydrant and tree).  Let me put it this way.  When was the last time you saw Michael Jordan pitch Nike on TV?  What happened to Bill Cosby hawking for Kodak and Jell-O?  Their cash-generating good guy images were never the same after their infidelities became public.
 
The idea that you need to pretend to be this unblemished hero for your country in order to achieve the most success is nuts.  (Just ask Michael Phelps.)  At the end of the day, Tiger Woods is famous for hitting a dimpled white ball into a series of holes with a series of clubs.  So is John Daly.  The difference is Daly doesn’t pretend to be a saint and couldn’t if he tried.  When you think about it, it’s amazing how Woods was able to keep his indiscretions out of the glare of the increasingly unethical media for as long as he did.  But as an aside, what was he thinking texting, emailing and voicemailing the other women in his life again and again?  Was he too arrogant or deluded to think his dumb actions wouldn’t catch up to him in the long run, especially when he has this vulnerable good guy image to protect?  It’s hard to have sympathy for such a foolish man who stands to lose so much.
 
Like Daly, guys like Jack Nicholson and Howard Stern have never had to worry about having a soiled reputation.  Nicholson’s long thrived on being a lovable bad boy with the devilish grin which has served him well for decades both in the movies and in real life.  Stern’s long career in radio has been traditionally devoted to dissecting both the good and bad qualities of his controversial personality, much of it fodder for comedy.  Unlike Woods, neither pretended to be above temptation or build their whole "brand" on an unrealistically wholesome image.  In fact, for all his numerous flaws, Stern’s remarkable willingness to frequently reveal the darker aspects of himself (which led to his ongoing decade-long devotion to intense Jungian therapy) has completely eliminated the very need for a more positive image.  For better and for worse, that sometimes irrational but often very funny guy on the radio is a real person, not a phony, sickly sweet caricacture.  And believe it or not, there’s more good than bad there.
 
As always in situations like this, I have sympathy for the wife and kids.  They didn’t do anything wrong here and deserve much better treatment than they received.  As Woods digs very deep into his fortune to figure out a way to prevent more damaging details from surfacing, he ought to let go of the idea that his actions go against his values when, for the last few years, they perfectly embodied them.  Whether he admitted it to himself or not, he knew what he was risking. 
 
If only he had Nicholson’s rep.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, December 6, 2009
12:42 a.m.
Published in: on December 6, 2009 at 12:42 am  Leave a Comment  

Twilight (2008)

Isabella Swan is one gloomy teen.  When we first meet her, she’s an impossibly pale beauty living with her mother and stepdad, a minor league baseball player, in sunny Arizona.  The cheery topics of death and leaving home are very much on her mind.  Instead of joining them on their trip to Florida, she’s off to Forks, Washington instead.  In this dreary small town of 3000 resides her father, the chief of police.  He’s a good man but their relationship is unexplainably strained. 
 
Isabella, or Bella as she prefers to be called, starts attending Forks High School in the middle of second semester.  During one cafeteria lunch hour with her new girlfriends, she learns about the Cullens, an odd clique of students who were "adopted" by the town’s doctor and his wife.  That’s when Edward catches her eye. 
 
So begins Twilight, an overlong, slow-paced melodrama that features one of the most awkward, unconvincing screen romances I’ve ever seen.
 
Edward is played by a terribly miscast Robert Pattinson, the British actor who previously popped up in a couple of Harry Potter sequels.  He looks more like a gay werewolf before the transformation than the "vegetarian" vampire he actually is.  (Vegetarian meaning he drinks the blood of animals, not humans.  Yeah, I didn’t get it, either.)  He also looks too old to be in high school.  However, for some unknown reason, Bella (Kristen Stewart) is drawn to him.  When they first lock eyes, he offers a puzzled glare that seems to say, "What are you looking at?"  I was wondering the same thing.
 
Their next encounter occurs during Bella’s first biology class.  While she’s standing in front of a fan near the front of the room, Edward has an odd reaction.  He seems repulsed and can’t even look at the dark haired cutie.  He soon tries to get removed from the class altogether but to no avail.  Not too long after that, he goes missing for a few days.  When he returns to class, his attitude completely changes.  He’s actually friendly to Bella who is conveniently seated next to him.  But their conversation is far from spectacular.  It’s hard to imagine two other actors having less chemistry together.
 
After Edward saves Bella’s life in the school parking lot, he’s back to the old hot-and-cold routine which inspires the Bella comment:  "Your mood swings are giving me serious whiplash.".  Eventually, Bella learns the real reason for his odd behaviour.  He’s a 90-year-old vampire deeply torn about his feelings.  He wants to grow close to her but worries about losing control and giving in to the temptation that her blood presents.  Curiously, Bella isn’t unreceptive at all to being bitten on the neck despite Edward’s warnings.  (It’s not like her demeanour would change, if she did.  She’s not exactly the life of the party.)  She also doesn’t seem to mind that the guy follows her wherever she goes, is exceedingly nosy and even sneaks into her bedroom to watch her sleep which fascinates him.  (Like the members of his clan, he’s always up and atom.)  He’s also not exactly the warm and fuzzy type.  He can be rather rude at times.  No matter what he does, though, he can’t repulse her entirely.  What a darling couple.
 
Meanwhile, a couple of local citizens have been killed, one of whom (Ned Bellamy) was a longtime friend of Bella’s dad.  (He previously played that scary Vietnam vet that Elaine kept promoting out of fear at the J. Peterman catalogue on an episode of Seinfeld.)  Law enforcement suspects these were animal attacks but the audience knows better.  The real culprits soon make life difficult for Edward, his adopted family and Bella.
 
By the second hour, Pattinson and Stewart continue to have such little heat between them, she has to tell the audience during one of her periodic voice-overs that she’s in love with him.  You would never know otherwise. 
 
Twilight was originally a best-selling novel by the lovely Stephenie Meyer (who makes a brief cameo as herself during one of the diner scenes).  It has to be better than this detached film version.  The beautiful Stewart is reduced to looking and sounding sullen and unhappy throughout the entire picture, even when she falls for Edward or engages with friends and family in a positive way.  Even her chuckle sounds worldweary.  She comes across as very uncomfortable the whole time.  Her Bella is not exactly cold.  She’s more indifferent than anything else.  Her distant personality makes it very difficult to root for her and care for her well-being, especially during the film’s last act when a tracker vampire lays a deadly trap for her. 
 
Taylor Lautner does what he can with the limited screen time he has playing the mysterious Jacob, an old childhood friend of Bella’s who is obviously too friendly and good looking for her to consider as a potential love interest.  If only he looked like a more worn down Adam Lambert and acted like a dick, he’d have a shot.  Billy Burke is effective as Bella’s dad.  It would’ve been nice to learn why they have such an odd relationship, though.  It’s not always awkward between them but we have no idea why they’re not closer.  Did he side with her mom in the divorce?  Was her father a different man back then?  It’s all a frustrating mystery.
 
As for Bella’s new friends, Justin Chon, who plays the overbearing Eric Yorkie, is easily the most irritating.  One wonders how anyone can tolerate him for more than a few seconds.  Peter Facinelli seems a little young to be playing Dr. Cullen, Edward’s vampire father, and as always, he’s too much of a Tom Cruise clone.  (Perhaps he should change his name to Peter Facsimile.)  It doesn’t help that he looks like Lestat from Interview With The Vampire, either, with that blond hair of his.  The other vampires, both good and bad, aren’t terribly memorable and aren’t given much to work with.  How they’re all able to keep their secret in such a small town seems a bit of a stretch.
 
I will say this for Twilight.  It looks great.  There are lots of inviting exterior shots and the film is generally well photographed.  What’s missing is the atmosphere.  For a romance fraught with complications, it’s strangely mute in its old fashioned sensibility.  When Edward and Bella finally kiss in her bedroom, it’s about as convincing as Liza Minnelli and David Gest’s public displays of affection, minus the gag factor.  There is absolutely no chemistry between them.  It feels like the screenplay is more interested in bringing them together than the actors.
 
Because Meyer wrote three more novels involving these characters, more movies in the series are on the way.  (New Moon was released this year and Eclipse is due in 2010.)  With a character actor stiffly pretending to be a leading man and a romance that is utterly without passion or intrigue, the Twilight sequels have their work cut out for them. 
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
7:46 p.m.
Published in: on December 1, 2009 at 7:46 pm  Comments (4)