Beneath this hesistant gaze
Beyond the awkward silence
Is confident articulation
Smothered by emotional violence

He chokes on the words
That are so easy to think
The dryness is overwhelming
He pauses for a stiff drink

But the terror is unrelenting
He breaks out in a sweat
He feels so embarrassed
This is a moment he’d love to forget

Shadowed by inadequacies
That don’t really exist
Influenced by illusions
That intensify the mist

Surrounded by beauties
He can never approach
Mislabels himself a loser
He could use a good coach

So he’d rather hide online
and act all perverse
A fleeting dose of comfort
Now revealed in this introverse

It’s an insane way to live
Enjoying life from within
Putting up invisible barriers
So no one can get in

It’s such a mistake
He’d much rather be free
But all of his thoughts are colliding
Destroying serenity

It’s just not that easy
But there’s still time to traverse
All of these conflicted feelings
Laid out in this introverse

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, July 29, 2011
6:15 p.m.

Published in: on July 29, 2011 at 6:15 pm  Leave a Comment  

Family Jewels Finale’s Infuriating Lack Of Resolution

What a rip-off.  After five weeks of build-up, the sixth season finale of Gene Simmons’ Family Jewels ended not with a “yes” or a “no” but with yet another of those infuriating “to be continued” title cards.  Nine measly episodes and no pay-off?  As Mean Gene would say, “Give me a break!”.

For 28 years, Simmons and his longtime companion Shannon Tweed have been “happily unmarried”, to use the Kiss co-founder’s famous phrase.  But, as Tweed herself noted on the show’s sixth season premiere, things haven’t been going very well for the last three.

As noted in this space previously, it’s most likely the revelation of a secret sex tape in 2008, that featured Gene with another woman, that has caused all this friction.  Although you would never know it since not once this year did anybody mention it on the show.

Yes, it’s been established, despite the lie detector episode from season two (that Gene mysteriously passed), that Gene hasn’t been completely monogamous in the last 30 years.  But the extent of his infidelities have never been properly specified.  The lack of complete candor within the family and with the audience has been more than a little disappointing.  (If only they would submit to an interview conducted by Howard Stern.)

But back to the finale.  After several on-camera shrink sessions (the one with the family last week was the most brutal even though it could’ve gone even further), a number of foreign trips and extensive periods of separation, Gene finally does something he never expected to do in his personal life:  attempt to settle down with one female.

Realizing what he has with Shannon, a terrified Gene meticulously plans a romantic getaway to the stunning Caribbean getaway Belize where he will bare his soul and hope for a true reconciliation.  No business meetings, no cell phone distractions (he throws it in a pitcher of water during dinner one night), no self-absorption.  Gene really goes out of his comfort zone to show his true love and affection for his suspicious common-law wife on this important trip.  In all my years of watching this show, I’ve never seen him so desperate to please.  He has never taken such a serious gamble in his entire life.

Whether you love him or hate him, though, you’ve gotta give him credit here.  The show has long established his reticence for the outdoors and untamed wildlife (I can relate) but he sucks it up to give his appreciative gal a great vacation.

He couldn’t have picked a better location.  From tubing in bat caves to climbing up the legendary Mayan Temples to swimming with sharks to a panoramic helicopter ride over the truly awesome Blue Hole, Belize really does set the mood for the entire hour as everything leads to that key final scene on a pier.

And let it be said that despite the lack of a proper conclusion, Gene sweetly lets down his guard, actually apologizes (a true rarity for him) and says some touching things while Shannon (who looks stunning in that red dress) can do nothing but absorb them in a state of tearful shock, especially when he goes down on one knee.

And after several painful seconds of silence, the episode ends without a resolution.  According to Wikipedia, season seven is scheduled for this fall.  Why?  Wouldn’t it have made more sense to reveal the answer now instead of forcing us to wait a few more months, especially when People Magazine is already reporting that the relationship is pretty much kaput?

Yes, you read that right.  Since taping stopped, Simmons and Tweed have split, or at least that’s the impression you get from People.  (No official break-up announcement has been made.)  According to the article, the Belize episode was filmed “several months ago” and apparently, it didn’t really change anything.  Tweed recently revealed that she doesn’t even live in the family home anymore and that there’s a “slim chance” the couple will ever rekindle their longterm romance.

As I’ve written previously, the whole marriage issue was a red herring anyway.  It’s Gene’s behaviour that’s been the real problem, the true stumbling block to a happy future with Shannon.  He’s selfish, arrogant, constantly on the road and never without babes in his company.  And his long absences, not to mention his stubborn unwillingness to scale down his professional life, have led to long simmering resentments from both his woman and his two kids.

Throwing away his core, personal beliefs in an incredible act of desperation looks like a last ditch effort to save the unsaveable.  As Tweed noted in this recent article, “I’ve been trying for a long, long time.  I hope for an epiphany, but good luck.”.

So, now what?  Will we really have to wait until the autumn to see the rest of that proposal scene?  And more importantly, will it even matter by then?  Shannon’s already left.  Does a “yes” or “no” really mean anything at this point?

After a month of watching Family Jewels this season we’re still no closer to knowing the full truth about this couple’s estrangement.  One wonders why any of us even bothered to watch at all.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
12:42 a.m.

UPDATE:  Entertainment Weekly reports that the show was watched by an estimated 3 million viewers, making it the most successful episode in the history of the series.  Furthermore, it notes that new episodes of Family Jewels start airing again on September 6, so it will be a late summer return, not a fall re-entry.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, July 28, 2011
12:13 a.m.

CLARIFICATION & UPDATE:  This episode actually ended the first half of season six. is reporting that A&E is planning to release all the Family Jewels programs from 2011 in two new box sets.  Look for Season Six Part One and Season Six Part Two on June 12.  And just as an aside, how dumb was I in believing Gene & Shannon were truly broken up?  This is one of those moments where I wish I was less naive.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, February 29, 2012
4:45 p.m.

Published in: on July 27, 2011 at 12:59 am  Comments (2)  

Subtle Character Study

Mediocre Howard Stern impersonator
Inconsistent theologian
Currently a Catholic apologist (again)
Hypocrite supreme
Anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-Muslim, anti-Liberal asshole
Egotist in public, self-loather in private
“Literary prostitute” who can’t handle the criticism

Conservative caricature
Overinflates the size of his audience
Research and facts are foreign concepts to him
Endless spewer of bullshit
Never will be respected

Secretly nicknamed “Bloaty McFatAss”
Unable to compete with intelligent broadcasters
Cold-hearted for a “Christian”
Kisses right-wing ass to survive
Sucky News Network’s latest partisan hack

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, July 25, 2011
7:49 p.m.

Published in: on July 25, 2011 at 7:50 pm  Comments (9)  

Gene Simmons & Shannon Tweed Need To Get Real With Their Audience

It’s the undeniable elephant in the room.  The patriarch has strayed but no one is saying when and how and with whom and for what reason.

So goes the ongoing struggle to make sense of the tension between Gene Simmons and his longtime companion, Shannon Tweed.  If you’ve been following the sixth season of Gene Simmons’ Family Jewels closely like I have, you probably share my fascination and frustration.

To recap:  During the premiere episode, Gene brought a couple of beautiful women with him to his latest business dinner.  When it was over, he was photographed exiting the restaurant with both of them on each arm.  The pic was mysteriously sent to an openly weeping Shannon, an odd occurrence on the show.  (Not once did she ever have a problem with him hanging around babes before.)  Later, she confronted a confused Gene who proclaimed his innocence.  Ultimately, she left the family home and temporarily moved into a hotel room.  Because she insisted, a reluctant Gene eventually went to a therapist.

Since that time, the show has jumped back and forth from sequences that were taped last year to more recent developments.  One of the more moving episodes involved a trip to Israel where Gene learned for the first time of his extended family, thanks to previous arrangements made by Shannon.

When he visits his father’s grave (a man he has publicly villified for decades), the phony rock god persona he’s carefully cultivated since the early 70s instantly melts away leaving behind a guilt-ridden, immensely sad son named Chaim Witz expressing feelings the audience rarely sees.  This guy, I like.  The Demon?  Not so much.  He’s way too full of himself and in denial of reality.

If only there was as much honesty and clarity about his deteriorating relationship with the former Playmate Of The Year.  Since that sixth season premiere, it remains unclear why she is so upset with him.  The words “unfaithful” and “womanizer” have popped out at times but no specifics have ever been freely offered.  It’s truly maddening when you want to understand the whole troubling situation.

In an earlier piece, I speculated that the real reason Shannon has been angry at Gene was because of a sex tape he appeared in three years ago which he unsuccessfully tried to keep private.  Throughout the season, Shannon and even her son, Nick, have noted that the last few years have been difficult.  So, why hasn’t anyone mentioned the sex tape?  Is it really that much of a taboo subject for a reality show that has pointedly promoted this estrangement?

When Howard Stern appeared on Larry King Live back in 2006, he made a good point he’s made for years.  That he’s always admired broadcasters and performers who are real with their audience, whether they’re decent people or not.  When are Tweed and Simmons going to be completely real with theirs?

When are they going to stop acting coy?  When are they going to end this annoying dance around this persistent issue?  You can’t go on TV and show viewers only the good side of your private life, like this family has done in the five previous seasons of their show, while keeping the darker stuff off-camera.  That’s not reality.  That’s propaganda.

If you’re going to devote a considerable amount of time on the breakdown of a longterm relationship, you can’t skip anything.  What would be the point?  Based on what’s been shown so far, it looks like Shannon is just upset about that damn picture.  But that’s obviously not the problem.  It’s merely a symbol.

Beyond the question of fidelity, there’s also Gene’s stubborn refusal to scale down his workaholic ways (to be fair, a central theme throughout the series), especially when he’s bored or not the centre of attention.  Consider the very revealing episode where he accompanied Shannon back to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, the place where she spent much of her pre-Playboy existence.

At one point, Shannon tries to tell her man about the city’s decision to name a street after her, a lovely honour most of us will never have the privilege of enjoying.  But she never manages to break her news because Gene rudely interrupts her by focusing on himself, at one point with a historical Kiss reference.

When she’s asked to do a ceremonial face-off for the local hockey team, Gene has to be given something to do so he won’t be bouncing off the walls.  (He ends up being a goalie during a break in the game.)  When she’s given an honourary jersey with the number one on the back, Gene wonders why he has number two on his.  When she’s out of her seat at the arena, a couple of women (whose faces are blurred) are sitting on her boyfriend’s lap as photos are snapped right in front of Shannon’s family.  And when she does a radio appearance, he just has to squeeze in that reference among other self-indulgent moments.

In the most recent episode, the second-to-last of the season and easily one of the strongest this year, Gene’s therapist is flown in during a Kiss tour stop.  Although she is understandably shy about talking about it, daughter Sophie eventually opens up on camera to the point where you wish she would go even further.  (Nick has strong opinions, as well, and seems less uncomfortable talking about his family life.)  Clearly, there’s a lot of resentment about Gene’s lengthy absences from home, among other things.

Which brings me to the tease for the season finale.  Is Gene, the most famous critic of marriage today, about to do a 180 in order to save his relationship and bring his family closer?  If so, what a stupid idea.  I’ve long believed that the issue, despite countless half-joking comments to the contrary, hasn’t been the nature of their union, it’s always been Gene’s selfishness.

Here’s a guy who probably never has to work a day in his life ever again thanks to all the hit records he made with Kiss and all those ridiculous endorsement deals that turned him into a self-parody.  So, why does he keep doing it?  He’s addicted to the attention from his audience, especially the females, hence his constant need to be surrounded by them, whether he actually fools around with them or not.  Hell, at one point, while in his Demon get-up just before a show, he actually inappropriately flirts with his therapist right in front of Shannon!  (Dr. Wexler actually has to remind him of their strictly professional relationship.)

When the therapist sits down with the entire family, one point is made abundantly clear.  Gene shouldn’t do what his kids and common-law wife want, it’s what he wants that matters.  Does he really want to be married?  Is Shannon the only woman he wants to be intimate with from here on out?

I seriously doubt it.  A good friend of mine asked me in a Facebook message last month if I thought they were on the verge of splitsville.  I said no.  But now, having seen several more episodes and read a good number of articles about this near 30-year relationship, I’m starting to have my doubts.

Whatever Gene and Shannon decide to do, regardless of their TV show, is their business, as I noted previously.  But if they want to become closer and leave the mistakes of the past behind, they need to start getting real with each other and, while they’re on TV, their audience.  Nothing will change if the status quo remains the same.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
1:55 a.m.

CLARIFICATION & UPDATE:  What I originally thought were the final two episodes of season six are actually the final shows of the first half of that year.  Speaking of that, A&E is releasing all the Family Jewels programs from 2011 on DVD in late Spring.  Look for Season Six Part One (which ends with the proposal cliffhanger) and Season Six Part Two (which concludes with the wedding) on June 12.  Season seven is scheduled to air sometime this year but no official announcement has been made just yet.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, February 29, 2012
9:33 p.m.

Published in: on July 20, 2011 at 1:55 am  Comments (13)  

The Crow: City Of Angels

One of my least favourite genres is the revenge picture.  The set-up is almost always the same.  In the beginning, the hero or someone close to that character is violated in some manner (sometimes it’s rape and/or a robbery but usually it’s murder) and the villains (beginning with nasty underlings) are hunted down one by one until the big final confrontation between the sympathetic protagonist and the real source of his or her unrelenting rage.  Yawn.

It’s nice when a picture deviates from this formula in some way (the original Death Wish, Sudden Impact, Gangs Of New York and The Limey come to mine) or is so skillfully made you don’t mind its conventionality so much.  The Crow fits neatly into the latter category.  Sadly more famous for the preventable tragedy that claimed its star, the film was nonetheless a fine piece of cinematic pulp fiction. 

Had Brandon Lee not died at the hands of an uninspected prop gun, thanks to his charisma, affability and commitment, it’s likely he would’ve had a nice long run as a second generation movie star.  (The worst part of his untimely death, however, was that he never got to enjoy married life with his fiance.  He died days before their wedding.)

When he signed on to do The Crow the original plan for him was to appear in a trilogy of features.  After his death, the sequels (3 of them, ultimately) were still made but each starred a different leading man each playing a different character. 

The only other film in the series to get a theatrical release was The Crow:  City Of Angels, the first follow-up.  Having finally screened it 15 years after its brief late summer run in theatres, I’m appalled by its utter vacuousness.  Thanks to its artistic and commercial shortcomings it’s all too easy to understand why the other sequels bypassed your local multiplex.

In the first film, an engaged couple are murdered by home invaders.  In City Of Angels, it’s a single dad and his son who get taken out by a drug lord’s goons after they accidentally witness a street killing.  I’m convinced that French actor Vincent Perez was cast purely because of his uncanny resemblance to Brandon Lee.  It sure wasn’t for his acting.  He’s terribly uneven here and his thick accent (never properly explained) often gets in the way of his delivery.  His less than professional work reminded me unfortunately of the oeuvre of Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Like the earlier feature, a crow somehow brings his underwritten character (but not his son) back to semi-life.  A young tattoo artist (the beguiling and sadly misused Mia Kirshner) has foreseen his tragic demise and resurrection in recurring nightmares.  (Why, you ask?  You’re asking the wrong person.)  Thanks to that same black bird, she witnesses firsthand his return to the half living. 

After intially remembering bits and pieces of what happened to him and his little boy (more flashbacks happen throughout the picture), Perez knows what needs to be done.  So the hunt is on for the men and one woman who ruined his family life. 

All of this routine, far from compelling business is set in a very bleak, undated Los Angeles.  (I’m presuming it’s set in the future.  Not that that matters, though.)  One of the only good things I can say for this mess of a movie (besides some of the music) is its convincing atmosphere of loneliness and dread.  Thanks to the art direction, City Of Angels looks and eventually feels the way it should, like a grimy hell on earth on the verge of becoming a ghost town.

In virtually every scene set outdoors (with one notable exception), there is little bustle or hustle.  This shithole is literally caked in dirt and smog.  Clouds of dust (or is that fog) engulf every part of the city.  There is literally no sunshine.  Not even a decent drug habit or a good wank in the Peep-o-rama can spare you from this misery.

Richard Brooks, probably best known for being the assistant D.A. during the first couple of seasons of Law & Order, plays Judah Earl (no relation), the drug lord/pimp who orders the hit on Perez and his kid.  You’d think he would enjoy such an act of depravity since 1) he makes a point of noting how he gets off on the pain of others and 2) the event, like many of his organization’s crimes, is captured on video for repeat viewings.  But he ends up sounding and looking very bored throughout the entire movie, like I did.  It’s the epitome of a joyless performance.

Case in point:  he has an eyeless psychic (don’t ask) who pores candle wax on a tied-up naked gal.  As he watches, you could probably snap your fingers several times in front of his eyes and he wouldn’t blink or even get annoyed.  I don’t know about you but I never blankly scowl at a naked lady.  I prefer a sheepish grin.

When you think about it, the elimination of Perez and his child (which isn’t a well produced sequence, by the way, despite being shown way too much) is totally unnecessary.  I don’t remember seeing any government officials or law enforcement agents roaming the streets of this turd bucket.  So what’s the point of rubbing out witnesses to your crimes if there are no consequences to your actions in the first place?

You could argue that Brooks and his thugs simply like to hurt people because they can.  But in one key flashback sequence, his minions aren’t really that keen on doing his bidding this time.  I mean, sure, they do end up committing the murders but it’s not like they had a choice, right?

I’m an enormous Iggy Pop fan but what the hell is he doing here?  He looks the part of a nasty thug but I didn’t really hate him all that much.  Despite a considerable amount of screen time as Brooks’ most chatty underling he’s just not very natural in the part.  (Maybe he should’ve been the drug lord.  At least he enjoys being a bad guy.) 

It doesn’t help that he’s saddled with some really odd dialogue that borders on cheesy.  At one point, during the peep show sequence, the look of horror on his face made me laugh out loud.  Not good.  He has an endless supply of charisma but taking this part was an enormous mistake.

And what’s the deal with Kirshner and Perez?  At the start, we think she’s his widow (which would explain all the dreaming) but then it turns out that the mother of his child is some drug addict we never meet because she’s long out of the picture.  The movie toys with the idea of them possibly having a romance but thankfully never follows through.  They don’t have any chemistry to begin with.

Throughout City Of Angels, you can’t help but wonder why anyone would want to live here or even do business with its few remaining citizens.  What’s the appeal?  How can you make a decent living in such a dire environment?  It’s a pretty depressing place where the idea of having hope is not only pointless, it’s silly.  The fact that the movie doesn’t even address this is one of the many reasons it fails so miserably.  In the end, it’s nothing more than atmospheric nonsense.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, July 17, 2011
1:12 p.m.

Published in: on July 17, 2011 at 1:12 pm  Comments (2)  

Jennifer Lopez, I’m Here For You

I just heard the terrible news.  After seven years of legal matrimony, your latest marriage has fizzled.  How awful for you.  You must be completely heartbroken. 

Jennifer Lopez, I’m here for you.  Sure, I don’t possess any Latino heat, especially when I take my shirt off, nor can I salsa like nobody’s business.  But because of my severe wiggleitis, you won’t know the difference.

We could dance the night away in your time of need.  You could wear something sparkly.  I’ll slide into my thong.  With a big assist from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack all the pain you’re currently feeling will easily slip away.  You can even feel me up while we boogie.

If your self-esteem has been shattered, let me put it back together with endless compliments.  You were warm and sympathetic in The Cell, sexy and smart in Out Of Sight, and sweetly beguiling in Jack.  I also enjoyed My Family, the best movie you’ve appeared in to date.  (I’m a bit behind with your oeuvre.)

You look at least ten years younger than your age, your smile lights up every room you walk into and your sculpted legs could split a midget’s body in half.  No one dresses sexier than you, young lady.  You’re the best cure for erectile dysfunction. 

How am I doing?  Too much?  Let’s move on.

You must have lots of great anecdotes about working with Jack Nicholson, Robin Williams, Robert Redford, Jane Fonda, Jon Voight, Richard Gere, Ralph Fiennes, George Clooney and Sean Penn.  I could listen to you talk about your moviemaking experiences for hours.  Then again, I could also massage your spectacular ass for hours but I digress.

We could bond over our abandoned dance careers.  Long before you broke through as an actor and singer, you strutted your stuff in rap videos.  Long before I started this blog, I was the master of the flap ball change. 

Long before you became famous playing the slain Tejano singer, Selena, you were a back-up dancer for New Kids On The Block.  Long before I started The Writings Of Dennis Earl on Windows Live Spaces, I was a tap dancing Berenstein Bear. 

And long before you released your first album (which has sold more than six million copies), you were a Fly Girl.  Long before I became a blogger, I was a Boogie Woogie Bakery Boy.  Good times.

I’d love to know what really happened to you and Diddy that night of the infamous nightclub shooting, why your TLC reality series never happened and whether your experience as an American Idol judge has been a positive one.  (I wouldn’t mind hearing some dirt on Steven Tyler, come to think of it.  What’s his deal?)  I’m also curious about your Cuban restaurant Madre’s.  Anything on the menu I would enjoy?  And how come your childhood nickname was The Supernova?

Like a lot of celebrities, you make room for philanthropy in your busy schedule.  Why do you support Children’s Hospital Los Angeles?  Why is that a cause that’s dear to your heart?  Speaking of that, is there any chance you can take a meeting with that dope Jenny McCarthy and explain to her why vaccinations are so important and not easily dismissable?  The entire world thanks you in advance.

Whatever you decide to do, Jennifer, I hope you and your twins will be ok during this difficult time.  You’ve been here before and you’ll make it through.

And with that, I leave you with this:

If you’re in need of solace or a warm body to screw
Jennifer Lopez, I’m here for you.

P.S.  I haven’t seen Gigli.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, July 15, 2011
11:18 p.m.

Published in: on July 15, 2011 at 11:18 pm  Comments (2)  

Super 8

It’s 1979.  Joe Lamb is in a pretty bad place.  His beautiful mother recently died in a mysterious industrial accident and it’s far too soon to let go.  When we first meet him, he’s sitting motionless on a swing clutching a silver locket staring at it with his head down.  He’s too upset to join his friends and family who have gathered inside his home to eat and mingle after her funeral.

Thankfully, he has a couple of distractions.  Charles, his demanding best friend since Kindergarten (his family welcomes the grieving Joe with open arms and free food), is a budding George A. Romero.  He’s making a very low budget zombie movie called The Case and has enlisted the help of a few of their mutual friends to make it happen.  (He’s hoping to enter the finished film in a local film festival.)  

When Charles decides to give his heroic detective character a wife, Jackson becomes smitten with his friend’s casting choice, which inevitably causes tension.  (As the aspiring filmmaker would put it, the whole situation is not exactly “mint”.)

Alice is a pretty blond from down the street whose troubled father often tangles with Joe’s dad, Jackson, the deputy sheriff of this small Ohio town.  (Jackson actually arrests him when he comes to the post-funeral gathering.)  Along with the bespectacled, easily nauseous Martin, braces-wearing firework obsessive Cary and wide-eyed Preston, the gang of six head out for a location shoot at a train station.

Up to this point, J.J. Abrams’ Super 8 is a pretty ordinary movie with not much going for it.  Then, when Alice (a breakthrough performance for Elle Fanning, Dakota’s younger sister) rehearses her lines for a key scene with Martin (Gabriel Basso), the aforementioned detective, all the boys (Joel Courtney (Joe), Ryan Lee (Cary) and Zach Mills (Preston) among them) and the audience are stunned. 

She doesn’t need to look at the script, she knows her lines cold.  And the collective emotional reaction she brings out of them (and us, for that matter) leaves them completely speechless.  (Martin even wipes away a tear, at one point.)  In a latter scene, she does another nice job rehearsing what she’ll do as a zombie which mesmerizes Joe.

Bossy director Charles (an overbearing, unlikeable Riley Griffiths) has a Robert Rodriguez moment when a train is heard in the distance.  Figuring the moment will greatly improve his production values, he orders everyone in place to get the scene shot quickly.  (Why would he do that when the rehearsal was as close to perfect as he’s ever gonna get?)  But while the actors now have to shout their lines, thereby completely ruining the emotional centre of the scene, Joe notices a pick-up truck driving purposely in front of the passing train.

What happens next is easily the best produced sequence in the movie, an exhilarating cacophony of wanton destruction that produces a whole bunch of unanswered questions (some of which are never properly dealt with) once everything calms down.  (How convenient that the abandoned yet slightly damaged Super 8 camera they were using never stopped rolling.)  The kids, who absurdly survive without any serious injury, are shocked to learn that the driver of the pick-up is a science teacher from their school. 

Initially thinking he’s dead, he turns out to be very much alive, another highly improbable moment.  He clearly knows what he was doing but offers no helpful details, just the usual warnings to the already frightened kids to keep their mouths shut or all their parents will die.

Nevertheless, Joe snags a souvenir, a unusual-looking white object that Charles notes looks a lot like a Rubik’s Cube.  (There are thousands more spread out amongst the debris.)  Meanwhile, the military suddenly swoop in to survey the extensive damage and ultimately, to keep Deputy Sheriff Jackson (Kyle Chandler doing the best he can with a limited role) and the rest of Lillian, Ohio completely in the dark.

When we finally learn what those mysterious cubes do, it’s actually quite cool.  There’s a scene late in the film where most of the kids break into their high school to watch some old home movies their science teacher had locked away in a trailer in the parking lot.  (How come the military guys didn’t find them first?  They weren’t exactly difficult to track down.  Neither was that Super 8 camera from the accident site but I digress.)  A film that rolls on a school projector solves the mystery of the cubes.  An audiotape the science teacher made of the incident fills in the backstory.

Long before that, weird events take place shortly after the train crash.  The Sheriff goes missing from a gas station as well as the walkman-wearing attendant.  Long stretches of telephone wire suddenly vanish along with a repairman.  The town’s canine population up and leaves.  (Many of them are unexplainably accounted for by residents from a neighbouring county a little later on.) 

At a boisterous town hall meeting a woman complains about missing microwaves from her store and an old man claims to hear military chatter on his CB.  Deputy Jackson wisely pulls him aside and gets the frequencies.  After a fight with her drunken, lonely father (a miscast, distractingly sideburned Ron Eldard), Alice goes missing, as well.

Super 8 began as a simple, storyless pitch from Alias creator J.J. Abrams to Steven Spielberg who liked the idea enough to have his Amblin Entertainment company produce the actual project.  Maybe he should’ve looked at a script first.  Although it is thankfully not the usual braindead summer fare (there is some intelligence at work here), it never really comes together the way it ought to.  It’s a major disappointment.

The subplot about Joe’s mom’s death doesn’t really work.   (Hard to care about someone we barely get to know.)  Ditto the distance between Joe and his dad and Alice and her Iggy Pop-meets-blond-Elvis father.  The budding romance between Joe and Alice isn’t believable and their filmmaking pals aren’t terribly memorable, fully developed nor particularly lovable, even though they do have their moments.

And once you find out what the military is so eager to keep secret you realize that the lack of originality of this revelation really hurts the film’s credibility.  That being said, that train sequence is astonishingly good as are all of the effects in the film (except for that shy something you don’t get to see until the third act (a forgettable hybrid of other somethings from better movies) and maybe the other train sequence that humourously pops up during the cute, amusing end title sequence). 

Elle Fanning is wonderful as the naturally gifted, sweet and loyal Alice, the only character I genuinely cared about.  What a mistake to reduce her eventually to just another damsel in distress predicament.  And how about a shout-out to 7th Heaven’s David Gallagher, all grown up as the stoned store clerk who, because of his crush on Charles’ hot but whiny older sister, gets roped into being the crew’s chauffeur.  His love for the weed inspires the film’s single funniest line.

Despite feeling curiously unattached to most of these characters, the ending is really neat and quite touching.  There’s not a nerd in the world who won’t feel something while being dazzled by the visual splendour put on display.

But it deserves a better movie.

(Special thanks to Dave Scacchi.)

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, July 10, 2011
7:26 p.m.

Published in: on July 10, 2011 at 7:26 pm  Comments (2)  

From The Published Archives: Roger Ebert Publicly Responds To Two Of My Movie Answer Man Questions

Roger Ebert has been a film critic for The Chicago Sun-Times for almost 45 years now.  Despite numerous bouts with cancer, previous issues with obesity and alcoholism, the inability to chew and digest solid foods, several surgeries, a shrinking body, a missing jaw, restricted mobility and the complete lack of a speaking voice, he continues to screen and critique cinematic offerings on a full-time basis.  Not only that, he also blogs about various topics, continues to oversee the annual Ebertfest film festival as well as his new PBS show, and is currently putting together his memoirs.  I greatly envy his work ethic.

Because of his high profile TV gig with the much missed Gene Siskel in the 70s, 80s and 90s, Ebert has no doubt been asked thousands of questions about film.  Sometime in the 1990s (unless I’m mistaken), he started a bi-weekly Sunday Sun-Times column called The Movie Answer Man in an effort to answer these voluminous written queries.

Over the years, I’ve sent him five such questions (if I’m remembering correctly), two of which were published in edited form in two separate MAM columns in 2004.  Unfortunately, I don’t have print copies of them but thankfully, they’ve been posted on as individual entries separate from the action packed columns they were a part of.

The first one was printed on May 2, 2004 and if my memory is good, it was the last question posed in that particular column.  (A month before its release, Ebert personally emailed me an early, less detailed reply, as well.)  As you will see, I was a bit confused about this business of full-screen and widescreen.

Back in 2000, when I started to get caught up with movies after a few years of depressing inactivity, because I had a 13″ Television set and no DVD player, almost all the films I watched in my room were VHS cassettes that filled the entire screen.

Deep down I knew I wasn’t seeing the complete images of these movies that were first shown in theatres but prior to the late autumn of 2001 I had very little choice.  Very few tapes were available for rent or borrowing in the proper aspect ratio.  And in those rare instances where I could see something in widescreen, the picture looked even smaller, even though nothing was sacrificed.  (The subtitled moments on Pearl Harbor were particularly difficult to read.)

A year and a half before I submitted my question to Ebert, I finally began the long overdue process of phasing out full-screen screenings.  (I had begun renting widescreen DVDs in September 2001 but continued to watch full-screen tapes.)  It may have been a Movie Answer Man column, I’m not sure now, but I remember reading a response to a reader who was defending full-screen.

Ebert sounded so angry that it convinced me once and for all that unless a movie was filmed to fit your screen, it’s best to stick with widescreen.  His argument made sense to me.

When I bought my first PC in the spring of 2001 (which included a DVD-ROM drive), this became a lot easier.  By the start of 2003, almost everything I watched was in the proper aspect ratio which remains my screening policy today.  (It also helps that I now have a much bigger TV set with a build-in DVD player.  It’s a good thing, too, since my computer speakers started to act up  in early 2009 during the first 10 minutes of the original Wes Craven flick, The Hills Have Eyes (I watched the rest of it on my TV), and the PC itself was unusuable later that summer.)

The second question was published with a response on December 26, 2004.  It concerns the Best Documentary Feature category and how one of the announced finalists (which eventually got a nomination and lost) wasn’t released in the current year.

Ebert posed my query to an Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences bigwig (Executive Director Bruce Davis who will soon leave the post) who gave a very interesting answer.  As you’ll see, at the time, documentaries had a different timeline of eligibility than any other type of movie.

Seven years after this was publicly sorted out for me, The Academy finally announced they were making a change.  For the next round of nominations the timeline will be extended to include the entirety of the current year plus the last four months of 2010.  For the 2013 ceremony and every one thereafter (unless they make another rule revision), the year of eligibility will be the same as Best Picture.  In other words, January 1 to December 31.

So, what were the other three questions I asked Ebert that weren’t answered publicly in his column?  One concerned the lack of a Best Animated Feature nomination for Final Fantasy, I do believe, another was a response to another question from a reader about Blockbuster Video’s stupid (yet thankfully discarded) anti-widescreen policy (which, to his credit, he personally replied to by email) and the other involved Gene Siskel.

When they did their Top 10 Films of 1998 show, Roger picked Dark City as his favourite.  Gene didn’t like it when they reviewed it earlier in the year but because of his sparring partner’s enthusiasm for it on their Best Of program, he vowed to give it another chance.  I simply asked Roger if Gene did, in fact, rescreen that movie before he died in February 1999 and if so, did he change his mind.  I still want to know.

Movie Answer Man

Roger Ebert / May 2, 2004

Q. Why is it that films released before the 1950s are not available on DVD in widescreen? I realize this was the pre-Cinemascope era, but weren’t the old movie screens rectangular rather than square like the TV sets?

I ask because the double-disc version of “Casablanca” (for which you provided a commentary) is only available in “standard” form. The recent Chaplin reissues are also full-screen only, not to mention “Gone With the Wind,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “The Birth of a Nation” and countless others. Why would you participate in a DVD project that would not showcase your favorite film the way it was shown in the cinemas?
Dennis Earl, Hamilton, Ontario

A. The widescreen format was not introduced until 1954. Before that, virtually ALL movies were shot in the ratio of 1:1.33. That’s not square, and neither is your TV set, but four units wide for every three units high.

The movies you mention are presented correctly on those videos. If they were wide-screen, that would involve chopping off some of the top and bottom of the original picture — an experiment that was actually tried with “Gone With the Wind” and “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” with disastrous results.

Movie Answer Man

BY ROGER EBERT FILM CRITIC / December 26, 2004

Q. The Motion Picture Academy recently announced the top 12 contenders for the 2004 best documentary Feature category. One of the finalists is “Tupac: Resurrection,” which was released in 2003. Call me crazy but I thought to be eligible for a documentary Oscar this year, your film must be released between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31 of this year. How did a film that came out November 2003 get nominated this year?

Dennis Earl, Hamilton, Ontario

A. Bruce Davis, executive director of the Motion Picture Academy, replies: “The feature and short documentary categories, along with a couple of others that involve heavy viewing loads for the groups determining the nominations, have always had a different eligibility year from the ‘standard’ categories. With last year’s shift of our show date into February, the difference has become even greater: though the calendar year remains the eligibility period for dramatic features, the year for documentaries runs from Sept. 1 to Aug. 31. ‘Tupac’ didn’t become eligible until the current (77th) Awards year.”

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, July 6, 2011
10:05 p.m.

Published in: on July 6, 2011 at 10:05 pm  Comments (2)  

From The Published Archives: The Discovery

“Weird but good!  I would like to use your story in the November issue of Aphelion.”

It was September 17, 2000.  Cary Semar, the then-Short Story Editor of an online science fiction zine, had really enjoyed my first submission.  It was a personal triumph.  This email message marked the first time I ever had a piece of fiction accepted for publication.  Yes, there was no money involved and yes, it would only be posted online but it was a welcome breakthrough nonetheless.  A complete stranger I’ve never met in person thought I had something.

For years, I fantasized about what it would be like to attend my own funeral.  How many would show up to mourn me?  What would they say?  Would there be excessive weeping?  Would people be happy to be rid of me?  How much of a void would my absence be in their own lives?

The Discovery evolved out of this concept.  It tells the tale of a long suffering comedy writer and the deteriorating relationship he has with his longtime boss, a TV vulgarian with a lot of personal problems and a demanding personality.  The approach I took was darkly comic and dramatic.  You can decide if I ultimately succeeded.  Personally, I’m proud of the story and was happy to see it made available online, even just for a short time.

The original story opened with two lines:

“In an instant, I was dead. Just like that, my life was over.  Now, I awaited the aftermath.”

But Semar wanted them dropped.  (“The gimmick of having a dead narrator is a cliche…You would be amazed at how many first person dead stories I get.”)  He also wanted a key plot point changed but I successfully fought him on that.  In the end, we made a compromise.  I excised the opening and the rest of the story remained pretty much untouched.

As promised, The Discovery was posted in the November 2000 issue of Aphelion but only for a month.  And that was my decision.  Semar told me I had the option of having it pulled after 30 days or it could stay there for as long as the site is in existence.  Thinking at the time that I could sell it somewhere else, I requested its ultimate removal.  Today, when you try to access the story, you’ll see this instead.  (Sadly, no cache copy of the original posting exists.)

Unfortunately, I never did try to sell the story elsewhere but I don’t regret my decision.  Ever since I began this website, I’ve thought about reposting it exclusively on here.  When the tenth anniversary of its publication quietly passed, I missed a welcome opportunity to revisit it as well as the circumstances behind its creation.  But while working on 10 Great Songs Of The 1990s (Parts One and Two) recently, I pulled it out again, re-read it and realized that despite missing the anniversary last year, it wouldn’t be a big deal to publish it now.

Semar was very kind to me after I wrote him a thank you email in December 2000 for accepting and posting the story.  He said The Discovery was “very original and skillfully done, but perhaps a little too cerebral for most Aphelion readers.”.  That last comment referred to my disappointment in the lack of feedback for the story.  He further noted, “Unfortunately, very few people take the time to comment on stories and you really need to knock their socks off to stir them out of their lethargy.”  He also encouraged me to “keep writing”.  Speaking of Aphelion, it continues to publish monthly issues online.  The most recent one was released this past May.

For this reposting, despite a strong temptation, I’ve ultimately decided to not restore the original opening.  Semar was probably right.  Maybe I did give away too much in those two lines.  Anyway, what you’re about to read is, I believe, exactly what was posted all those years ago on Aphelion.

One last thing.  I named the villain Jimbo Willson in tribute to my old friend, Shane Willson, who, it should be noted, is a much nicer guy.  After losing touch with him for about a decade we reconnected on Facebook not too long ago.  We’re not as close as we were in our younger days (he’s a happily married man with a cat that thinks it’s a dog) but it’s good to know that at any time we can message each other and get caught up.



By Dennis Earl

“You stink, Charlie. This is the worst crap you’ve written yet.”

Picture it, a nice spring morning, hardly any traffic, the trees swaying ever so slightly as the wind gently caresses their aging textures, the sun with a clear view of the land below, unobstructed by non-existent clouds, producing a pleasantly warm atmosphere, the various sounds of wild life heard throughout the area, the overall calm and serenity felt just by being out there. I tried desperately to maintain my concentration from the inside while I was being scolded by my boss. Reality was winning.

“How do you expect me to get laughs with this garbage, huh? We were once a Top 10 show, remember? This is gonna bury me! Have you forgotten about the goddamn sweeps? Are you even listening to me, you dumb bastard?”

I really wasn’t. But I humoured him.

“What’s wrong with it?” I asked innocently.

“It has no zingers. Where are the zingers? I’m looking and looking and looking and I can’t find any zingers. Where are the goddamn zingers?”

“What about the bit involving Wally The Wacko, the turtle and the nutcracker? That’s pretty good.”

“Pretty good?” His sarcasm was killing me. “Let me tell you something, Charlie. I’ve been in this business for 45 years. I know funny when I read it and this ain’t funny. Look at this trash. It isn’t even offensive! Where are the Catholic jokes? The busty broads? You don’t even mention the word ‘vagina’ in here once! You do have a penis, don’t you, Charlie?”

“Last time I checked.”

“There’s not one joke about minorities in here, either. Not one epithet!”

“The network asked us to cut down on those, remember?”

“When was the last time anyone listened to an executive, Charlie?”

Then, there was silence, the second longest 25 seconds of my life. (I actually timed it. I’m that sad.) I was expecting another order to re-write part one of our sixth season finale. (Draft #13, to be precise.) My writing staff were fed up, as usual. But we were well paid, a rarity in our business. HE demanded quality.

“I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, Charlie.” He paused. All of a sudden, I felt a horrible ache in my throat. It had to come, sooner or later. After all, we were #33 and falling.

“Your instincts have let me down for the last time. We shouldn’t be going down this road every goddamn week.” He paused one last time. Drama was his real gift. “You’re through. Get the hell out of here!”

I had known Jimbo Willson for 30 years. 30 LONG years. A crabby, portly man who looked old and rubbery even then, he felt sorry for me. I had dropped out of grade 11, hoping to become a great comedy writer. Jimbo was a close friend of my father’s, a fellow comedian who quit the business to look after me. (My mom was the breadwinner, the CEO of a major record label. I hardly saw her.) One day, my dad told him how disappointed he was in my lack of scholastic ambition. He wanted me to go back and eventually graduate. It wasn’t in my future.

“Does he have a job?” Jimbo inquired.

“He’s allergic to work,” My dad responded.

“He can be my assistant. He can take care of the crap I can’t stand taking care of.”

And that’s how I met him. I started out doing his laundry, forging his cheques, buying his pornography and coke, recycling his beer cans, paying the staff every week, updating office equipment, stuff like that. Not completely unpleasant, as you can imagine. It’s not as if he received his beloved porn RIGHT AWAY. By the way, his favourite was Anal Monthly.

When I was in my mid-twenties, he threw me a bone. I started writing jokes for his stage act. He never liked them, or rather he never SAID he liked them. That didn’t stop him from throwing them into his act and getting big laughs. I never did get a thank you. Just more grief.

For years, Jimbo toured the country, using my material and passing it off as his own, as all great comedians do, especially the ones on late night Television. (Most people forget that behind every funny and successful talk show host is a staff of 20 writers, the real funnymen.)

The Jimbo Willson Show went on the air the day before my forty-first birthday. The set-up was simple. Jimbo played himself, a shady, hilarious, struggling stand-up comic who will do anything and everything to outshine the competition in the club circuit. One rookie comic was killed in every episode. Gene Roddenberry would’ve been proud.

I was hired as the head writer with 5 other scribes assisting me with the jokes. It was one nightmare after another. First, the jokes weren’t rude or funny enough. Then, they weren’t timed properly. Next, the story was all wrong. It needed to be re-written. It’s any wonder the shows ever got made at all.

By this point, Jimbo’s nose candy habit was out of control. He only sniffed it because he thought it made him funnier. (It was my jokes, stupid.) He got angrier and louder and even more difficult to please than usual. His tenth wife convinced him to straighten out. The day he left detox, he filed for divorce. His rehab counsellor became wife #11.

Jimbo Willson never did know the meaning of the word ‘gratitude’. So why did I work for him for so long? Why did I take so much abuse?

The morning of my dismissal, I went home with all my stuff from the ofice and thought about my next move. But then, I remembered an old idea that I had that was rejected by Jimbo last season. On the show, his biggest rival was Wally The Wacko, a tall, lean, gonzo comic who liked to bash himself in the head with his own dangerous props. (He also used objects belonging to members of the audience.) Wally decides to go away for a while, just to see what happens. That got me thinking. What if I disappeared suddenly, without any warning? Would anyone miss me? What would Jimbo Willson say in my absence? I wanted to know for sure.

2 days after my firing, the police made a horrible discovery. No one had heard a peep from me since I left Jimbo’s office and my friends were worried. The phone endlessly rang. The mailbox was still full. All the lights were off. No one was answering the door. Everyone feared the worst.

There was a reason for the silence. The house was on fire. By the time the police arrived on the scene the firefighters had already quieted down the fiery blaze. There was nothing but smoke and ashes. Everything was reduced to blackness. There were no floors anymore. Just one big crumbled mess. Inside, there was a body, burnt beyond recognition. Who was it?

The DNA tests were inconclusive. There wasn’t much of me they could use for testing. Nobody came forward with any new leads. Presumption became fact.

Attending your own funeral is a bizarre feeling. No one expects you to be among the observers in the church. They expect you to be dead.

It was a worn-down, decrepit old building that was going to be torn down in 2 weeks. Attendance had dwindled over the years and the building was sold to a developer who was planning on knocking it all down and replacing it with an unemployment office. (There’s a joke in there somewhere.)

It was a packed house. Unusual, considering I had so few friends within the business. It only took me a few minutes to realize why there were mostly writers in attendance. Word spreads quickly in our business.

“Please rise and join us in singing hymn #227,” said the minister.

After the hymn, the minister addressed the congregation: “Today is a time of great sadness. We are gathered here in God’s house to remember a man we knew as Charlie. A friend and a great talent.”

Wow! My first compliment.

“He was an enigma, a mystery, a man few were intimate with.”

He ain’t kiddin’.

“He had a certain wit, something I will never forget. When I think of Charlie, I always remember his best one-liner: Why can’t I put window dressing on my salad?”

Dead silence. It was a groaner, after all. And no, it wasn’t my best line. No wonder Jimbo’s show was getting killed in the ratings. When did I start writing crap like that?

“And now, Jimbo Willson.”

I had been sitting in this place for 30 minutes and no one had recognized me. I wore no disguise. I wore the same clothes the day I was fired. (Yes, I did a wash.) No one cared. Even my friends and family didn’t bother to turn around and look at the corpse sitting in the balcony. Something was up.

Jimbo looked angry and fatter, if that was possible. 2 weeks had passed since my death and I read in the paper that he had been overeating more so than usual. (He loved the pastries.) He also kept working. Part one of the season finale was finally taped after the latest re-write. The second part was re-written for a fourth time and had yet to be taped. Nothing had changed. I had my answer.

Before he got up to the podium, he looked at the giant painting of myself (I never let anyone photograph me), and then, collapsed.

“Call an ambulance!” someone yelled.

Everyone rushed to his side but there was nothing they could do. It all happened within seconds. All those women and drugs. All that food and bitterness. They had finally taken their toll. The lousy bastard. What was he going to say?

Suddenly, the service was postponed. “It will be re-scheduled at a later date,” the minister said vaguely. “An announcement will be made soon.

Jimbo was taken out of the building by gurney. He revived his sagging career at my funeral. I left in disgust. No one noticed.

After everyone left, I hung around outside, wondering what to do. Suddenly, someone quickly grabbed me from behind and threw me in the back of Jimbo’s ambulance. I couldn’t believe what I saw.

“So you faked your death, huh? What do you think I’m stupid, Charlie?” Jimbo was staring right at me. He was sitting up on the gurney. Maybe he shouldv’e given straight acting a try. He’s a natural. “Everybody knows, you moron. Why do you think they’re all ignoring you? You let them down. You might as well be dead.”

I was dumbfounded. How did he know?

“Through the wonder of technology,” he replied. “Everywhere you go, I go, pal.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” I shouted, not caring about the volume.

“I always wondered why my magazines were always late. Then, I noticed the writers. They dressed better than I do. Supplies were always missing. I never seemed to have enough money for myself. I wonder why.”

So, he thought I was a thief? Well, it wasn’t true. He was right about the magazines, though.

“You know damn well I don’t steal.” I called his bluff. He had nothing on me. The truth was the writers were drug-free and Jimbo wasn’t. He loved his nose candy.

“You think you’re so clever with your tinted car windows, fake rotting corpse and secret hideaway. I saw it all, Charlie. There are hidden cameras in both your houses and your car. And when you go out, someone is always watching.”

“What do you want from me?”

“All the money you stole.”

“I didn’t steal anything from you. All that money went up your nose!” I was furious.

“If you don’t co-operate, I’ll go to the press. I know you got the body from the special effects department. Pretty convincing, unless the secret is revealed.”

“No dice, fatty.”

We weren’t alone. 3 of his well-toned bodyguards were surrounding us. The one on his left had a vein on his neck that was pulsating so much I thought it was going to burst. That’s how he got the nickname, “The Vein”. He pulled a knife, grabbed me hard and pointed it at my throat.

“So, what’s it going to be, Charlie?”

It took me 25 seconds to think it all through. (I actually timed it. I’m that sad.) Without warning, I pulled the knife that The Vein was holding and jabbed it right in my throat. He was still holding the knife as I gasped for air. The stupid bastard left it in. He was stunned.

“Jesus Christ!” Jimbo started hyperventilating. Then, he yelled, “My heart!” He keeled over within seconds. For real, this time. The bodyguards left the ambulance in a flash. They weren’t looking for help. They were leaving for good.

I finally pulled out the blade. Blood was gushing like crazy. I was a lost cause.

On the floor of the ambulance was a piece of paper. It must have fallen out of Jimbo’s pocket when he fell over. I didn’t have much time left. I uncrumbled it. At the top were the words, “Why I’ll Miss Charlie”. The rest of the paper was blank.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, July 1, 2011
11:56 p.m.

Published in: on July 1, 2011 at 11:57 pm  Leave a Comment