Few Surprises At Speedy 2011 Oscars

When you’re wrong, you’re wrong.  The King’s Speech was the big winner at the 83rd annual Academy Awards, one of the speediest ceremonies in recent memory.  The highly regarded feature was named Best Picture over The Social Network.  Roger Ebert’s reading of the tea leaves turned out to be correct.  As expected, Colin Firth was named Best Actor for playing the stuttering King George VI.  His sometimes amusing speech was overly self-deprecating for the most part.  Just because you’re a Brit, that doesn’t mean you can’t show a wee bit of pride for winning and being respected.

After I made my pick for Best Director, I cursed myself for forgetting about the Director’s Guild of America prize.  Roughly 90% of all DGA winners go on to win the Oscar.  This year was no exception.  Tom Hooper won both for helming The King’s Speech. 

David Fincher didn’t stand a chance.  Damnit!  

Hooper’s anecdote about how the whole idea for the film got started (his lovely mom, who attended the ceremony with him, saw a stage version of it and pitched her son the idea of turning it into a cinematic production) was absolutely touching and revealing.  Hooper ended his speech with the amusing quip:  “Always listen to your mother.”.  70-something screenwriter David Seidler won the film’s other prize, Best Original Screenplay.

The highly regarded Inception also won 4 Oscars for Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing and Best Cinematography.  As for the last category in that list, Roger Deakins’ winless streak continues.  The True Grit DOP is now 0 for 9.

Despite losing out on most of the big prizes, The Social Network did manage some consolation victories of its own.  Aaron Sorkin took home Best Adapted Screenplay and defiantly kept rattling off thank yous despite the returning menace of the Play-You-Off-Stage Orchestra, a tiresome cliche still waiting to be retired.  (Let the winners speak, for Christ’s sake!)  In a bit of a surprise, Trent Reznor, best known for his great Nine Inch Nails recordings, shared the Best Original Score Oscar with collaborator Atticus Ross.  The Social Network also won for Best Film Editing.

Three other notable films each secured two gongs a piece.  Randy Newman won his second Oscar (his first in almost a decade) for the catchy Toy Story 3 number, We Belong Together.  Too bad his quirky voice was completely drowned out by the music during his live performance.  His remarks during his acceptance speech, however, were feisty and funny.  The animated blockbuster was also named Best Animated Feature.

Alice In Wonderland won for Best Costume Design and for Best Art Direction while The Fighter cleaned up in the supporting acting categories.  Despite criticism for her open campaigning, Melissa Leo nonetheless managed a Best Supporting Actress victory.  Quite stunned but thankful, the passionate Leo managed to achieve something that hasn’t happened during a live awards show in years:  she cursed without being silenced.  For once, there was no goddamn delay.  More please.

A bearded, gracious Christian Bale took home The Fighter’s other award for Best Supporting Actor.  The famously tempermental Welshman briefly made light of his Terminator: Salvation tirade via his co-star’s utterance of “fucking” and then rightly noted how lucky it was that his film didn’t get lost in the shuffle of the marketplace as so many smaller-scale pictures do year in year out.  He even got in a website plug.

In the other feature film categories, Inside Job predictably won Best Documentary Feature while In A Better World provided the evening’s only true upset when it was announced as The Best Foreign Language Film winner.  (Scroll down to see the complete list of winners.)

As for the show, James Franco (who was sometimes stiff in his line readings) and Anne Hathaway (who giggled too much at times) were pretty much hit-and-miss as hosts, particularly in the monologue.  The opening film montage where they found themselves inserted in various scenes of Best Picture nominees (plus Back To The Future) was skillful from a technical standpoint but not very funny or original, despite a couple good laughs.  (Billy Crystal did this bit much better over a decade ago.  More on him in a moment.)  Overall, I longed for last year’s home run team of Alec Baldwin (who returned in the opening montage) and Steve Martin.  However, Franco’s drag bit was amusing (as was the obligatory but still funny Charlie Sheen one-liner) and his “Congratulations, nerds!” toss-off after the Scientific and Technical Awards segment was a nice bit of cheek in a show that sorely lacked it.

Much funnier were Billy Crystal (who introduced a needless and laughless Bob Hope Oscar hosting tribute which did however feature a neat modernized introduction for the next presenters) and a slowburning Kirk Douglas who despite looking really pale and sometimes sounding incomprehensible (thanks to a long ago stroke) ended up managing to be very funny as he dragged out the suspense for the announcement of the winner of the Best Supporting Actress prize.  His compliment to Leo was particularly funny and sweet.  Robert Downey Jr. was a good sport during a funny moment with Jude Law regarding a particularly low point in his life.

How wonderful it was to not have the In Memoriam segment ruined by any inappropriate applause for missed favourites.  As the names and faces of recently departed industry members flashed across the screen Celine Dion covered Charlie Chaplin’s Smile backed by an orchestra.  When it was over, there was just one round of clapping.  Keep it that way from here on out.

Unfortunately, the annoying “And the Oscar goes to…” line returned.  Last year’s “And the winner is..” was much better.

Probably the most entertaining film package involved auto tuning, that dreaded studio technique overused in so many hit songs these days.  (Damn you, Cher!)  By transforming regular dialogue from films like The Social Network and Harry Potter into electronic vocals was quite clever.  The Twilight Eclipse portion itself was hilarious.

Also cool was the background of the set which reminded me of the opening and closing of Merrie Melodie cartoons.  The arching screens were dazzling especially when filled with images from Shrek, Gone With The Wind, Titanic and stars in a night sky during Gwyneth Paltrow’s performance of Coming Home.

Despite the lack of shocking victories, the show moved briskly as there was little lag time between awards.  In just a little over three hours, it was all done.  Next time, though, bring back the comedians.

Finally, there’s the matter of the annual Earl Oscar Pool.  For nearly 20 years, we’ve bet on who will win the golden naked men.  This year, there’s good news for me and a little bad news, too.  The good news is I won my 12th pool by correctly guessing 14 winners out of 24 categories.  The bad news is so did my dad and grandma.  (My mom had 13 correct, unfortunately, so her slump continues.)  So, for the first time ever, there was a 3-way tie for first place.  My winning streak is now up to 7.

The complete list of winners:

























Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, February 28, 2011
2:52 a.m.

UPDATE WITH CORRECTIONS:  Tom Hooper’s mom actually saw an unrehearsed, unproduced stage reading of The King’s Speech, not a proper production as originally stated.  Also, he actually said, “The moral of the story is:  listen to your mother.”  A re-viewing of Randy Newman’s performance of We Belong Together revealed a much clearer vocal track.  For some reason, what sounded just fine on tape didn’t sound audible live.  And Bob Hope’s original voice wasn’t the only one you heard during the Billy Crystal segment.  As Canadian Press TV Critic Bill Brioux noted on Twitter, Dave Thomas did the introduction of the presenters at the very end.  It’s so pitch perfect I didn’t notice it until re-watching that segment.  If you stuck around for the closing credits, however, Paul Feig (who created Freaks And Geeks) was also credited for impersonating Hope.  According to reports, Feig’s original take was scrapped in favour of Thomas’ but he retained credit nonetheless. 

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
2:17 a.m.

Published in: on February 28, 2011 at 2:52 am  Leave a Comment  

2011 Oscar Predictions (Part Two)


Of all the acting categories this year, without a doubt this is the toughest one to call.  When you think about it, the winner could be anyone here.  That being said, I can’t see three-time nominee Amy Adams winning for her work in The Fighter.  It’s simply not the supporting performance from that movie that people are talking about. 

Also a long shot is first-time nominee Jacki Weaver.  Now in her early 60s, an Oscar win at this point would seem more like a lifetime achievement prize for her long career in Australia than a reward for one acting job.  I don’t see it happening.

Helena Bonham Carter was previously nominated 13 years ago in the lead Actress category for The Wings Of The Dove.  (She lost to Helen Hunt.)  Although she could squeak through here, it would be a surprise to me.

To me, despite the open field, this one boils down to two highly regarded performances:  Melissa Leo’s much talked about work in The Fighter and 14-year-old Hailee Stanfield’s performance in the True Grit remake.  Interestingly, Leo has been considered the favourite since the nominations were announced but something weird happened during the campaign part of the competition.

Leo took it upon herself to actively campaign for the golden trophy by taking out glossy ads in the trades looking uber-glamourous and even admitting as much when asked about it.  However, and this is completely ridiculous, some members of the Academy are upset about this.  Apparently, it’s a no-no to actually want to persuade voters to pick you in this manner, even though studios buy For Your Consideration ads before the nominations are even announced.  (So it’s ok to campaign for a nod but not a win?)  As a result, Leo is now saying it wasn’t her idea.  Whatever.

At the end of the day, picking the winner of this category comes down to a simple question:  who needs the Oscar the most?  Adams, Carter and Leo, all former nominees, have respected careers going and while a win for either of them would be satisfying, they’ll continue to work regardless of the outcome on Sunday.  Jacki Weaver’s life in entertainment has been going fine since 1966.  A victory would probably only make one big change in her life.  She might actually get offered parts in Hollywood films.  Up to this point, she’s worked almost entirely in her native Australia.

That leaves the young Hailee Steinfeld who, like Leo, has won a number of prizes already for her True Grit performance.  In a business that thrives on youth and is always looking for the next big thing, awarding her The Best Supporting Actress Oscar would make the most sense from a business standpoint.  Just look at Anna Paquin who shocked many by winning this gong nearly 20 years ago.  Her lovely performance in The Piano, one of the best films of 1993, was a breakthrough moment for her.  (She wasn’t even a teenager at the time.)  Thankfully, she’s been able to continue working in high profile ventures like the X-Men movies and TV’s Tru Blood. 

Awarding Steinfeld this trophy could lead her down a similiar career trajectory.  And if enough Academy members are annoyed enough with Melissa Leo’s campaigning to not vote for her, Steinfeld could receive their support instead as a protest.  I’m betting that’s what’s going to happen.  Hailee Steinfeld for Best Supporting Actress.


Three first-time nominees battle it out with a Best Actor winner and a young star with two consecutive certifications in the race for Best Supporting Actor.  Geoffrey Rush, who was terrific as the tormented David Helfgott in Shine, has been up for this particular award once before for Shakespeare In Love.  He was also nominated for Best Actor a decade ago for playing the free-spirited Marquis De Sade in Quills.  Although he might squeeze out a victory, he already has an Oscar for playing Helfgott.  A possible spoiler, I still don’t forecast him securing a second golden naked man.

I also don’t see two-time nominee Jeremy Renner (who was up for Best Actor last year for his work in The Hurt Locker) snagging a win, either.  Judging by the way his career is going, though, he’ll have other opportunities.

That leaves three well respected actors all up for their first Academy Award.  Mark Ruffalo and John Hawkes (who you might remember from the overrated Me And You And Everyone We Know) look like absolute longshots.  Despite his embarrassing blow-up during that now infamous Terminator: Salvation shoot, Christian Bale will make good on his first bid.  He has proven to be one of our best actors despite coming across as a total jackass when he ranted and raved against an unfortunate crew member during the making of that terrible Terminator sequel. 

American Psycho.  Little Women.  Batman Begins.  These are just three films that showcased his tremendous talent in very different ways.  Considering all the buzz he’s received for his performance in The Fighter (not to mention a recent SAG award) he has all the momentum going into Sunday night.

Besides, anybody who can survive Newsies has my respect.


If this category had existed in the 1990s, there’s no question that Pixar would have had even more golden trophies to find shelf space for.  The original Toy Story was an extraordinary achievement, a fully realized three-dimensional animated feature that within half a decade changed the face of the movies.  (To be fair, it receive a special Oscar in 1996.) 

Oh sure, we still get the traditional old-school hand drawn 2D pics from time to time but they’re in the minority now.  Everything else looks like Toy Story.

Some have argued that the 1999 sequel is even better (I wouldn’t.).  Nevertheless, more than 10 years later, the third title in the series once again won over almost every critic who saw it (it has a 99% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes) and audiences swarmed to it this past summer. 

True, How To Train Your Dragon and The Illusionist also earned most critics’ seal of approval (98% and 90% RT fresh ratings, respectively).  But like Best Picture, this category is all about voting with your heart.  Toy Story 3 for Best Animated Feature.

And now, here are my picks for all the remaining categories:


















The 83rd Academy Awards, co-hosted by James Franco and Anne Hathaway, airs live on Sunday, February 27th on ABC (CTV in Canada) beginning at 8 p.m.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, February 25, 2011
3:45 p.m.

CLARIFICATION:  ABC’s Oscar coverage begins with a 90-minute Red Carpet show at 7 p.m.  The actual awards ceremony starts at 8:30 p.m.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, February 27, 2011
1:31 p.m.

Published in: on February 25, 2011 at 3:45 pm  Leave a Comment  

2011 Oscar Predictions (Part One)

Since 2006, the year this website began, I’ve been prognosticating the Academy Awards.  Well, here we are in 2011 and the tradition continues.  Without further ado, let’s forecast who the lucky winners will be this year, shall we?


For the second year in a row, ten nominated features are competing for the Academy’s top prize.  And just like last year, most don’t have a chance in hell of winning. 

Toy Story 3 is only the third animated movie to ever be singled out in this category (Up and Beauty And The Beast are the others) and while, like its predecessors, it made a lot of money and received almost universal praise from critics, it’s not about to make history.  The animated drought will continue.

Also not likely to win is 127 Hours, the true story of a mountain climber who had to cut off his own arm in order to escape being trapped between two boulders.  The film was directed by Danny Boyle who also made Slumdog Millionaire which won in this category two years ago.  Another critical favourite, I don’t see the Academy rewarding Boyle again.

The lesbian-themed family drama The Kids Are All Right was also well reviewed but the last time a gay love story was nominated, it lost.  That would be Brokeback Mountain back in 2006 which was upset by Crash.  The losing trend will continue.

The Coen Brothers are back with a remake of True Grit which is reportedly more true to the spirit of the original novel than John Wayne’s 1969 version. It, too, won over the vast majority of reviewers.  Unfortunately, like Danny Boyle, The Coens already have a recent Best Picture win under their belts.  That would be No Country For Old Men which snagged the big gong in 2008.  Count them out in 2011.

Also count out Winter’s Bone, the dark drama that quietly came and went this past June despite great support from critics.  It’s just too unknown to compete with the higher profile titles.

Rocky and Million Dollar Baby are the only boxing movies to win past Best Picture Oscars.  The Fighter isn’t likely to join them. 

And then there’s the ballet thriller, Black Swan.  Directed by Darren Aronofsky, this isn’t the first time one of his movies has been a contender for the big prize.  The Wrestler was selected for consideration in 2009.  It lost to Slumdog Millionaire.  However, his slump won’t end this year.

That leaves three remaining nominees:  Inception, The King’s Speech and The Social Network.  After its spectacular summer run, Christopher Nolan’s thriller was already inspiring Oscar buzz.  But that seems to have died down quite a bit in recent months.  In the end, despite the mostly strong reviews it received, Inception might be just too complex for Academy members to champion.

For me, this Best Picture race boils down to a period film about an insecure ruler and a modern-day mercurial Internet genius.  Roger Ebert has said many times that the nominee that moves you the most tends to get the duke.  That makes The King’s Speech a pretty strong contender.

But David Fincher’s film about the origin of Facebook has been a monster success the second it landed in theatres this past October.  It has a 97% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  (The King’s Speech has a 95% rating.)  It has won a dozen Best Picture prizes already, mostly from critics organizations.  (Speech has only been able to win a quarter of that total.)  And it amassed 220 million in worldwide box office totals.  (Speech earned 210 million globally.)

Also in the film’s favour is its nominated screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin, who is much beloved in Hollywood.  (The West Wing claimed 26 Emmys during its 7-year run.  Sorkin owns 5 of them.)

With a chance to look hipper than usual (much like the Grammys did recently by giving The Arcade Fire the Album Of The Year trophy), although The King’s Speech could squeak through with a victory, The Social Network has the edge.


Immediately eliminate The Coen Brothers.  They already won for No Country For Old Men.  Three of the remaining four nominees are enjoying their first trip to the Oscars.  But sadly, Darren Aronofsky, Tom Hooper and the notoriously tempermental David O. Russell won’t need to prepare speeches.  They don’t stand a chance.

That leaves two-time nominee David Fincher who oversaw The Social Network.  He’s come a long way from his debut feature, Alien 3, a difficult project that divided critics and audiences way back in 1992.  (I wasn’t a fan.)  He’s redeemed himself since then with fine thrillers like Seven and Panic Room.  (Fight Club would’ve been added to this list if it weren’t for that ridiculous twist ending.)  After being passed over in this category two years ago for helming The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button and for sheer career perserverance, it’s his time for glory in 2011.  David Fincher for Best Director.


Two of the nominees in this category have already won.  Javier Bardem, who played the heel in No Country For Old Men, and Jeff Bridges who finally won last year for his work in Crazy Heart.  The Academy rarely rewards an actor two consecutive years in a row (Tom Hanks was the last repeater) so Bridges is out.  And it’s not like Bardem’s performance in Biutiful is getting nearly as much traction as his portrayal of Anton did in Old Men.  Cross them both off your list of potential winners.

Jesse Eisenberg is young and will have plenty more opportunities to win in the future.  Ditto James Franco who’s co-hosting the ceremony this year.  They’re out, too.

That leaves Colin Firth, the 50-year-old Brit best known for playing dashing leading men in romantic dramas (Pride & Prejudice) and comedies (those awful Bridget Jones movies).  He’s already won 11 acting prizes for his acclaimed portrayal of King George VI.  The Oscar will make it a dozen.


Four frequent nominees compete against a newcomer in the race for Best Actress.  Right away we can discount Nicole Kidman.  She won in 2003 for playing the troubled Virginia Woolf in The Hours.  She won’t be winning a second.  Michelle Williams was previously nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her work in Brokeback Mountain.  I don’t see her winning for Blue Valentine.

Annette Bening’s fourth attempt at securing a golden naked man will once again come up short.  Her third try for Best Actress won’t be the charm. 

That leaves first-time nominee Jennifer Lawrence and the very pregnant Natalie Portman.  Although Lawrence could prove a spoiler (she’s already snagged a number of acting trophies for her performance in Winter’s Bone), Portman is so beloved and respected (does anyone ever say anything bad about her?), I can’t see her losing.  Natalie Portman for Best Actress.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, February 21, 2011
9:42 p.m.

Published in: on February 21, 2011 at 9:43 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Fifth Anniversary

So, how did it all begin?  How did a 30-year-old stay-at-home son with no job and no woman suddenly decide to blog? 

It was February 2006.  My Mom was concerned that I wasn’t moving forward in my life.  There were no prospects for employment nor romance.  With one exception, I had lost touch with all of my friends.  I was a master in the art of hibernation.

That had to change.  As I was thinking about what to do to make that happen, I remembered my ex.  We had met through Yahoo Messenger of all things in the fall of 2004.  We talked online and on the phone for three weeks and then we stopped.  There was another guy in the picture.

Despite being incredibly angry, I held out hope that we would somehow still meet off-line.  I obsessively checked her MSN Profile page every day for three months.  (I couldn’t look at her Yahoo page at all.  Too upsetting.)  Surely, she would indicate on there when she was single again. 

And then it happened.  March 14, 2005.  No more mention of him.  For the first time since December 2004, I examined her Yahoo page, the place where I first learned about this other guy.  All references to him were mysteriously erased.  Hmm.  Was it truly over between them?

On Yahoo, she had four links.  One led to her blog.  Poring over every entry, the evidence was overwhelming.  I could get her back.

Three decisions were made.  I would forgive her for what happened.  I would add her to MSN Messenger and reconnect with her.  And I would try to convince her to meet with me in person.

But there was a problem and I’m sad to say, it involved the Police Academy franchise.

Sometime in early 2005, the public library had put all 7 of those movies on order.  I reserved my copy of each and by late February/early March, they started arriving at my local branch.

Unfortunately, by the time I went to pick them up, only 6 of them were available for borrowing.  The third chapter, Back In Training, was conspiciously absent.  A little upset that I wouldn’t be able to do them in order, I did something incredibly brave.  After screening the first two titles in the series, I skipped ahead to Citizens On Patrol (number four) and worked my way through to Mission To Moscow (which, contrary to popular belief, did get a theatrical release).

The same day I learned that my ex had broken up with him, Police Academy 3: Back In Training finally arrived at the library.  Despite the indisputable fact that this is the worst comedy franchise in cinematic history (you can count all the laughs on one hand), I wanted to see that last title. 

Feeling quite strongly that my ex would somehow be a distraction to this private, solitary film screening, one last decision was made.  Yes, I would talk to her again.  Yes, I would forgive her for not telling me about him and yes, I would explain why I wanted to meet her in person.  But if I didn’t watch Back In Training first, I would never get another chance.

Besides, I needed another day to sort out my feelings. 

Like all the others, Police Academy 3 was horrid, a stinking turd of a sequel.  No laughs, no joy, no brains, no point.  Seeing it after Mission To Moscow instead of following Their First Assignment made no difference at all, much to my relief.  And my feelings about my ex hadn’t changed.

We reconnected on March 15.  At some point, she tried to convince me to join her on Xanga.com.  However, her little slice of the web was quite personal.  She enjoyed writing about her daily life and felt it would be a good idea for me to do the same. 

Out of the question.  I had no interest in baring my soul in quite the same manner that she had been doing for months.  I didn’t feel comfortable making this lovely development in my private life public.  (On the other hand, I had no problem with her writing about me.  I found it flattering.)  Nothing she said would change my mind.

Long story short, after nearly two months of online chats and phone calls, we finally met.  There was a strong physical chemistry between us, much to my relief, and she became my first lover in May 2005.  We got together four times and always had fun.

Sadly, she never did get over him.  The day after Canada Day, I was left with little option.  When asked to choose who she preferred to be with, she refused to pick.  It was over.  Because she didn’t want to deal with this in person, I had to end it over the phone.  We haven’t spoken since.

Six months later, I remembered that chat session we had about her blog and her request for me to join her on Xanga to blab about our relationship.  Dismissing the idea of posting such personal material in such a public manner, I nonetheless reconsidered the overall blogging concept.

I asked myself a question:  What if I had a website that resembled a series of newspaper columns?  The concept was appealing.  There would only be one writer, one critic, one poet, one reporter, and most importantly, one editor.  I would answer only to me.  The possibilities were seemingly limitless.

It was an exciting idea and soon, the search was on for a suitable place to pursue it.  Not knowing at the time that there quite a few options open to me, I only looked at two sites (Xanga was never a serious contender). 

Myspace.com wasn’t writer-friendly, so I quickly dismissed it.  Then, I checked out MSN Spaces.  There was a bit more flexibility in terms of the layout and it was glaringly obvious that it was a blog-centric service.  Whatever I wrote would get a nice showcase right on the home page.  You wouldn’t have to click a link to read my latest thoughts right away.

Despite being a wee bit squeamish about going through with this, I decided to take a chance anyway and see what would happen.  (If it wasn’t clicking, I could easily cut my losses and delete everything.  No harm done.)  But first, I needed a name.

I’d like to say I went through hundreds of suggestions agonizing over each one before settling on a winner.  But the truth is far more mundane.  The Writings Of Dennis Earl was the first and only title that popped into my head.  I liked the sound of it, the simplicity, the honesty and that’s what I chose.

With a URL selected and a brown film theme downloaded, it was time to start writing.

And so, on February 19, 2006, exactly five years ago today, I announced my intentions and began posting like a madman.  Almost 500 pieces later, here we are in a new location in a much calmer state of mind.  Over the years, this website has followed the decline of Sun Media, assessed the merits of various films, TV shows, and albums, offered original poetry, and yes, even stories about my personal life.  (My ex got her way after all.)  I’ve made predictions about sporting events, The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction ceremonies and the Academy Awards.  I’ve reached out to beautiful women recently single and bemoaned others becoming unavailable to me.  There have been political rants, entertainment history pieces and memories of being a wrestling fan.  All in all, an eclectic batch of material.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

And to think, none of this would’ve been possible were it not for a beautiful young woman who changed my life in more ways than one.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, February 19, 2011
6:11 p.m.

Published in: on February 19, 2011 at 6:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

The American (2010)

The waiting.  The constant driving.  The deceptions.  The hiding in plain sight.  The relentless paranoia.  The loneliness.  The misery.  The guilt.

Being an assassin isn’t easy.  The sacrifices you make for your own peace of mind are tremendous.  No matter how great the pay, no matter any illicit, forbidden thrills being a human exterminator can bring at times, you can never relax and be yourself.  You’re married to the job for life. 

That’s the lesson George Clooney learns in The American, a sly, quietly compelling drama that is far more interested in the assassin’s daily routine than always presenting a coherent plot.  (Intense concentration is highly recommended.)

Case in point:  the opening sequence.  Our bearded hero is having a good time with a hot European babe.  They’re staying in a cozy cabin in a Swedish forest in the dead of winter.  While out for a walk in the snow one morning, they get shot at.  Clooney’s experience as a marksman for hire quickly ends the tension. 

Then something surprising happens.  He kills his woman!  Whoa, what’s going on here?  Isn’t he supposed to be the good guy?  After knocking off another sniper, Clooney high-tails it out of there and heads to Italy. 

A jolting way to open a movie but some important questions go unanswered.  Besides his woman, what was Clooney doing in Sweden in the first place?  Why were they targetted for assassination?  Who hired their attackers?  And how did they find the unsuspecting lovers in such a remote area? 

We’ll never know.  What matters more to director Anton Corbijn (the famed Dutch rock photographer) is how Clooney exists after that.  His job is all he has.  He’s a modern nomad, never staying in one place for very long for very obvious reasons.  His facial expressions are often intense and grim.  He views the world as one giant minefield where one false move, one little mistake could blow him apart for good.

In Italy, a now clean shaven Clooney meets with his boss, Pavel (Belgium actor Johan Leysen who I initially thought was Terence Stamp), in a local cafe.  Pavel gives the tortured assassin keys to another vehicle and instructs him to lay low in a specific area of the country for a while.  But when Clooney arrives at his destination, he gets out of his new car, makes eye contact with three local residents who meet his gaze head on, and instantly realizes that he could find a better place to reside temporarily.  Pavel might think he’s losing his edge but Clooney’s instincts are still razor sharp.

If this movie is as realistic as it appears, then being an assassin is truly a dull, empty profession.  You’re constantly on the road with almost no traffic in sight.  (Some of the most beautiful shots in the movie simply involve Clooney’s solitary car in motion.  The symbolism is powerful, a lonely traveller unable to truly enjoy the breathtaking surroundings because of his constant restlessness.)  You don’t have any real friends or family.  Much of your time is spent working tirelessly on your own.  You eat and drink alone.  You wait a lot.  The only exciting parts of the gig are killing people and getting shot at (not to mention non-committal sex with hookers).  It’s just no way to live.

At some point, we start to understand why Clooney murdered his girlfriend in Sweden.  And when he finds himself falling for a beautiful prostitute (the very sexy Irina Bjorklund), his natural paranoia kicks into overdrive, especially when he discovers a pistol in her purse. 

Meanwhile, more Swedish assassins are hunting for him and he has a new assignment, which he insists will be his last.  He meets another beautiful woman (Thekla Reuten) in a public area.  She wants a semi-automatic weapon so compact it’ll fit in her purse.  Clooney can’t promise that but he can offer something that’ll fit in a suitcase.  She’s cool with that.  Reuten also wants a silencer.  Clooney can’t promise that, either, but he can create a makeshift device that will greatly reduce the noise when she pulls the trigger.  A deal is made.  Payments will be made in installments.

What follows are a number of cool scenes where Clooney goes to work securing the necessary parts to put together this weapon.  It’s a pretty mundane job, especially the assembly, and it requires a strong sense of ingenuity and patience.  Clooney never once gives the impression that he derives any joy from this.  It’s pretty routine for him, the utter definition of tediousness.  It’s neat to watch.

Are American movies overly chatty?  After screening The American, I’m beginning to think so.  This is the most quietly enthralling drama I’ve seen since Cast Away.  There are lots of scenes where the actions and looks of the characters, not to mention the gorgeous outdoor visuals, speak much louder than any dialogue exchange ever could, with some notable exceptions. 

Clooney’s mysterious assassin could’ve easily been played by Clint Eastwood.  They share the same philosophy about speaking:  only do so when absolutely necessary. 

He does a lovely job capturing the essence of this haunted man through his body language and dark facial expressions, as well as through his low, haggard voice.  Despite his mysterious nature and the grimness of his job, we sense the goodness in him.  He’s stuck in a lifestyle that’s been slowly sucking the life out of him.  Good people have had to die and that’s eating away at his conscience.  There’s a nice little scene where half of his face is covered in shadow with the other side clearly visible, an effective visual reminder of the internal struggle he’s been facing for a while.  In another, he has a nightmare about Sweden.  He may be an assassin but he can’t shut off his emotions.

I liked the supporting performances, too.  Reuten, Bjorkland and Leysen, all unfamiliar to North American audiences, make strong impressions here.  Paolo Bonacelli, who plays the kindly and remarkably observant Father Benedetto, has the best dialogue to work with and is the most memorable character in the movie.  His scenes with Clooney are touching and revealing.  The assassin and the priest have more in common than you would think.

By the time we reach the third act, we have a sense of how things are going to go but the film manages to surprise us just enough to keep us emotionally involved in the outcome.  It’s a well-plotted sequence of events that ends the way it should.

And yet, The American could’ve been so much more.  It’s sometimes too mysterious for its own good.  (A little background on the opening tragedy would’ve been nice.)  It’s like the characters are well aware they’re being watched by an audience eager to know more about them and so they make sure not to reveal too much about themselves, especially their individual histories.  They tend to keep us at a safe distance. 

As entertaining and convincing as Clooney’s relationship with the whore is (they have a very erotic sex scene at one point), it’s not exactly original.  Neither is the whole one-more-assignment-and-I’m-done storyline.

But because the film is made skillfully and subtly, it’s easy to forgive these shortcomings.  The slow, deliberate pacing, those stunning visuals, the quiet nature of the proceedings all make the more exciting moments stand out more than they normally would.  And if there were still any doubts about George Clooney being this generation’s Cary Grant, The American will erase them for good.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, February 19, 2011
4:45 p.m.

Published in: on February 19, 2011 at 4:45 pm  Comments (1)  

Availability Of 2011 Oscar-Nominated Films On DVD

The 83rd Academy Awards will be handed out Sunday night, February 27th and there’s a good chance you haven’t seen many of the nominated features.  (You’re not alone.  I haven’t seen any of them.) 

But you’re in luck.  A fair number of these titles are readily available for rent or purchase on DVD.  In fact, half of the Best Picture nominees can be screened right now in the comfort of your own abode.  Inception, The Kids Are All Right, The Social Network, Toy Story 3 and Winter’s Bone, to be more specific.

Also available are The Wolfman, Iron Man 2, The Town, Alice In Wonderland, Gasland, Exit Through The Gift Shop, Restrepo, Salt, Animal Kingdom, How To Train Your Dragon, I Am Love and Dogtooth.

Here’s what’s coming to DVD over the next couple of months:

Unstoppable (February 15)

127 Hours (March 1)

Inside Job (March 8 )

Incendies (March 15)

Hereafter (March 15)

Tangled (March 29)

Waste Land (March 29)

TRON: Legacy (April 5)

Country Strong (April 12)

Harry Potter & The Deathly Hollows, Part 1 (April 15)

The King’s Speech (April 19)

The Way Back (April 22)

As of this writing, no official release dates have been announced for True Grit, The Tempest, The Illusionist, Black Swan, The Fighter, Blue Valentine, Another Year, Biutiful, In A Better World, Outside The Law, Rabbit Hole or Barney’s Version.  However, some of these films are still in their current theatrical run if you would prefer catching them on the big screen.

In the meantime, keep your eyes on this space.  My annual Oscar Predictions are coming soon.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, February 11, 2011
1:13 a.m.

UPDATE:  The Fighter is pencilled in for a March 15 release.  Rabbit Hole is coming to DVD on April 19.  And The Way Back has been moved from that date to April 22.  (I’ve made the correction in the original piece.)  However, there appears to be a discrepancy about Black Swan’s home video debut.  Rogers Video Direct service has it coming out on March 29 but a number of websites are reporting March 8.  Confusing things even further, it’s available for pre-order at Amazon but no release date is listed.  Hopefully, this will be cleared up shortly.  In the meantime, all I can say with certainty is that it will be out sometime next month.  Special thanks to Rob Kerr for passing on most of these tips to me.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, February 20, 2011
3:33 p.m.

UPDATE 2:  I can now confirm that Black Swan is indeed scheduled for a March 29 home video release, not March 8.  Comingsoon.net and Rogers Video Direct both have the correct release date now.  (Thanks again to Rob Kerr for passing on the original tip.)  Speaking of the former, they also report that Blue Valentine is out on DVD May 10th and the recent remake of The Tempest will be available on June 7th.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, March 6, 2011
1:03 a.m.

UPDATE 3:  True Grit is coming to DVD on June 7. 

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, March 17, 2011
2:17 a.m.

Published in: on February 11, 2011 at 1:13 am  Comments (1)  

Olivia Wilde, I’m Here For You

You’re one of the most beautiful women in the world.  You’ve appeared on two hit TV dramas.  You’re in a commercially successful movie.  You’re a photographer’s dream.  Hell, even Megan Fox finds you irresistible.

But your personal life has seen better days. 

People Magazine has revealed that you’ve just separated from your husband (David Duchovny’s Italian doppelganger) after just 8 years of marriage.  Reportedly, the two of you aren’t living together anymore and have been having problems “for quite some time”, according to an unnamed source.

Olivia Wilde, I’m here for you.  Sure, I’m a human javelin living in Costanzaland, but you’d have a difficult time not smiling around me.  Silliness would abound.  It certainly beats feeling upset about a situation that might not be repairable.  Besides, you could use the cheering up right now, right?

We could talk about your upbringing in Washington, D.C., what it was like being babysat by Christopher Hitchens, and your love for Oscar Wilde, the man who has inspired you so much you adopted his surname as your own.  (We could talk about the controversy surrounding his supposed deathbed conversion to Catholicism.  I’m sure you have a strong opinion on that.)

I’d love to hear stories about your acting career.  What was it like having significant roles on shows like Skin, The O.C. and House?  What did you learn from those experiences that you’ve carried with you into your forays into film work?  I’d love to know if Jeff Bridges, your co-star in Tron: Legacy, is as cool and decent a person off-screen as he comes across on-screen.  I imagine he did another one of his photo scrapbooks during the shoot and you make more appearances in it than anybody else.

We could talk about the ridiculous way people treated you as a blond, hence your understandable change to a brunette.  Did anybody take you seriously and treat you well before the dye job?  I would’ve.  In fact, as great as you look with darker hair (like a femme fatale from a black and white film noir), I miss your original hair colour.  I first remember seeing you that way on The O.C. and I’ve been smitten ever since.  Honestly, you look great either way as anyone who saw Year One can attest. 

We could also talk about your love of classic cars (what are “suicide doors”?) and maybe you could take me for a spin in your 1958 Chevy Biscayne or 1959 Thunderbird Convertible.  I bet either one is a sweet ride, especially with you at the helm. 

I’d love to know about your friendship with Kumar (Does he talk about his experiences working in the Obama White House?), how you became a vegetarian and your experiences learning about acting in Ireland.  (How cool that you have dual citizenship.)

Now, granted, I’m not really a dog person (they hump my leg without buying me dinner first) so I’m not sure if I would get along with your beloved Paco.  But if you wanted to do a walk-and-talk with him, I think that would be ok.

Regardless of what you decide, Olivia, I hope your personal situation will improve and you’ll be in a better place emotionally. 

And with that, I offer you this:

Hang out with me and you won’t feel sad, boo
Olivia Wilde, I’m here for you.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
3:50 p.m.

Published in: on February 8, 2011 at 3:50 pm  Comments (1)