8 Reasons Pope Francis Isn’t A Liberal Reformer

Ever since he replaced the despicable Benedict XVI as the head of the Vatican back in March, Pope Francis has been the toast of the media.  Reporters, pundits, even comedians have sung his praises.  Why, exactly?  Well, mainly it’s because of some of the positive things he’s been saying lately.

Things like “I’m a sinner” and “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?” and “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!”.  But as the old saying goes, talk is cheap.  The new Pope can claim to be a more open-minded pontiff all he wants.  The truth of the matter is this 76-year-old man with more than 40 years experience working within the stubbornly conservative Catholic Church is no liberal reformer.  Here are 8 reasons why:

1. He’s against gay marriage.

Back when he was the Archbishop of Buenos Aires in his native Argentina, the former Jorge Bergoglio often butted heads with the government.  In 2010, as legislators were debating the idea of legalizing same-sex marriage, Mr. Enlightened had this to say about it:

“In the coming weeks, the Argentine people will face a situation whose outcome can seriously harm the family…At stake is the identity and survival of the family: father, mother and children. At stake are the lives of many children who will be discriminated against in advance, and deprived of their human development given by a father and a mother and willed by God. At stake is the total rejection of God’s law engraved in our hearts.

“Let us not be naive: this is not simply a political struggle, but it is an attempt to destroy God’s plan. It is not just a bill (a mere instrument) but a ‘move’ of the father of lies [aka the devil] who seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.”

“I invoke the Lord to send his Spirit on senators who will be voting, that they do not act in error or out of expediency, but according to what the natural law and the law of God shows them…We remember what God said to his people in a moment of great anguish: ‘This war is not yours, but God’s’: defend us, then, in this war of God.”

Bergoglio’s ignorant, paranoid comments (not to mention his desperate prayer) fell on deaf ears.  Argentina became the first Latin American country to officially recognize same-sex marriages that same year.  And for the record, no heterosexual families have been negatively affected by it.

2. He’s against abortion.

As the new Pope, he thinks the Vatican “obsesses” too much about this legal medical procedure.  But that hasn’t stopped him recently from condemning it outright:

“Each child who is unborn, but is unjustly condemned to be aborted, bears the face of Jesus Christ, bears the face of the Lord, who, even before he was born, and then as soon as he was born, experienced the rejection of the world.”

Actually, each child has the face of their parents but I digress.

Francis has also referred to abortion as an evil product of “throw-away culture” and believes that “not…allow[ing] the further development of a being which already has all the genetic code of a human being is not ethical. The right to life is the first among human rights. To abort a child is to kill someone who cannot defend himself.”

Tell that to the 40000 rape victims who get pregnant every year.  I mean is it so terrible to not want to bring into the world a living reminder of your trauma?  According to Mr. Open-Minded, it is.

3. He’s against gay sex.

Many have cheered his “who am I to judge?” remark regarding the LGBT community but he does not support their sexuality.  He didn’t invent the old love-the-sinner/hate-the-sin routine, but he firmly believes in it nonetheless.  To put it bluntly, he supports gay people but not when they fuck other gay people.  Yeah, that’s not having it both ways at all.

4. He favours the current rules on celibacy.

Last year, Archbishop Bergoglio made this remark in a book called On The Heavens And The Earth:

“For the moment, I am in favor of maintaining celibacy, with all its pros and cons, because we have ten centuries of good experiences rather than failures. What happens is that the scandals have an immediate impact. Tradition has weight and validity.”

In that same publication, he maintains that those who are sexual have to choose between having a love life and being a devout priest.  In his eyes, and that of the Catholic Church, they cannot have both:

“It’s a matter of one choosing again or saying, ‘No, what I’m feeling is very beautiful. I am afraid I won’t be faithful to my commitment later on, so I’m leaving the seminary.’ When something like this happens to a seminarian, I help him go in peace to be a good Christian and not a bad priest.”

Unlike Muslim imams, Jewish rabbis and Christian ministers, Catholic priests can’t be dads and husbands simultaneously:

“If one of them comes and tells me that he got a woman pregnant, I listen. I try to help him have peace and little by little I try to help him realize that the natural law takes priority over his priesthood. So, he has to leave the ministry and should take care of that child, even if he chooses not to marry that woman. For just as that child has the right to have a mother, he has a right to the face of a father. I commit myself to arranging all the paperwork for him in Rome, but he has to leave everything.”

Make no mistake about it.  Priests will remain forbidden to marry under his papacy.  As Francis put it in 2012, “For now, the discipline of celibacy stands firm.”

5. He’s against allowing women to become priests.

In his long recent interview with America Magazine, a Catholic publication, the pontiff was asked about the role of women in the church.  This is how he started:

“I am wary of a solution that can be reduced to a kind of ‘female machismo,’ because a woman has a different make-up than a man. But what I hear about the role of women is often inspired by an ideology of machismo.”

How very liberating, Francis.  This past July, he revealed just how inclusive he truly is:

“As far as the ordination of women, the Church has already spoken out and the answer is no. John Paul II made the Church’s stance definitive. The door is closed.”

Way to make the ladies swoon.

6. He’s against contraception.

It’s hard to imagine anyone in 2013 still being against birth control of any kind but Pope Francis is one of the remaining holdouts.

7. He’s against gay couples adopting children.

He considers it “discrimination”.  GLAAD is so proud.

8. He’s against dissent.

Despite claiming recently that’s he’s not a stickler for Catholic doctrine, he’s a stickler for Catholic doctrine.  Consider the story of Greg Reynolds.  The Australian priest supports ordaining women and is pro-gay.  You know what that means.  You guessed it.  He’s been kicked out of the church.

So, the next time someone tries to convince you that Pope Francis is a man of change, feel free to refer to this list.

You’re welcome.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
12:17 a.m.

Published in: on September 25, 2013 at 12:18 am  Comments (8)  

From The Published Archives: Keane’s Night Train EP

In late November 2010, I pitched an idea that was forwarded via email to the editor of Monkeybiz.ca.  Are you interested in a review of the latest Keane CD, I asked?  She was.  So, as requested, I submitted my finished review to one of her co-workers who had begun assisting her earlier that year.  The co-worker had become a fan of my work so I figured once all the usual negotiating over edits was concluded (which could sometimes be incredibly annoying), it would be posted tout de suite.

Unfortunately, there would be no further communications for the rest of the year.  As the weeks and months ticked by, I thought about firing off another email to find out what the hold-up was.  It wasn’t until late June 2011 that I finally did so.  Curiously, even after all that time, there was still no response.  A month later, the aforementioned editing assistant (who had since become the new editor (but now works for a marketing company)) finally got back to me after another email request for an update.

Deeply apologetic about the delay (she said she had technical difficulties accessing her old work email account), she asked me to re-submit the review to her new email address.  About a week after the second submission, I finally got notes and suggestions for my piece.  After making some minor revisions and additions, the finished review was finally published on Monkeybiz on July 29, 2011, 8 months after the original pitch.

Despite the long road it took to get to this point, I was generally pretty happy with the posted review.  However, for this Published Archives reposting, I’ve made a couple of minor changes.  I never felt it was necessary to add the phrase “British techno pioneer” next to Gary Numan’s name (the editor wanted “context” in case readers were unfamiliar with him).  It’s now been excised.  By the way, if you don’t know who Mr. Numan is, now you do.  (The editor also wanted me to add “Beach Boy” to Brian Wilson which I did reluctantly even though I complained that it was completely unnecessary.  (“Anyone who knows even basic music history knows who Brian Wilson is,” I wrote to her in an email at the time.)  Curiously, “Beach Boy” never did end up in the finished edit.)  And “aforementioned” has been restored to paragraph 8.  Sounds anal, I know, but welcome to my world.

Keane’s Night Train: An Album Review

Posted on July 29 2011 under Arts & Entertainment
By Dennis Earl

There’s a haunting, familiar elegance about Tom Chaplin’s voice. Even when he’s tormented by lost love or his own broken spirit, he still sounds remarkably pure and comforting. He’s the melancholic son Brian Wilson never knew he had.

Chaplin’s extraordinarily moving vocal style resonates throughout Night Train, the latest entertaining release from Keane, the brilliant British band he’s been leading for more than a decade.

More of a mini-album than a full-length release, this solid follow-up to Perfect Symmetry continues the recent experimental expansion of the band’s original keyboard-bass-drum sound. On Perfect Symmetry, they added a lead guitar. On this one, we get brief yet welcome forays into hip hop and world pop.

With the exception of the pointless yet thankfully short percussive instrumental opener House Lights, which for the most part is forgettable nonsensical chatter backed by experimental noise, the CD never steps wrong.

The synthesizers are front and centre right at the start of Back in Time, a chill-inducing wrencher that wouldn’t be out of place in Gary Numan’s repertoire.

The keyboards are pulled out again for Your Love, a song so electronically retro you’re convinced it was released in 1986, not 2010.  Curiously, it’s multi-instrumentalist/producer Tom Rice-Oxley who handles the lead vocals here.

He does a lovely job conveying the undying pain of lost love and the reluctance to leave it in the past. He should sing more often. The strong, meaty lyrics work well with the retro arrangement.

Canadian rapper K’naan provides the aforementioned hip hop element to two songs, both of which deal with the lasting impact of regret.

Stop for a Minute mourns the loss of an important romance due to chronic infidelity. Like Your Love, the protagonist is unable to let go of an essential partner. However, there’s also far more second guessing about the character’s overall decision-making capabilities: “Sometimes I wanna change everything I’ve ever done.”

While not nearly as moving as Back in Time, its reflective, philosophical nature gets to you in a deeply personal way nonetheless.

The bouncy Looking Back warns of the addictive nature of nostalgia and how it interferes with the joys of daily living: “Don’t waste your time just looking back.” Recreating part of the Rocky theme song as its basic hook, Chaplin’s soothing vocals are insistent on closure as he persuasively urges a reconnection to the present.

An acoustic guitar is brought out for the lovely Clear Skies. Accented by handclaps amidst a Spanish atmosphere, it reminded me a bit of U2’s When I Look at the World.

To alleviate the heavy nature of Night Train, Keane offers an unexpected, disco-flavoured cover. Japanese trio Yellow Magic Orchestra originally wrote and recorded Ishin Denshin back in 1983.

For the reworking, Keane harmonizes in English on every chorus while guest vocalist Tigarah handles the verses in Japanese. Her low-key singing never overpowers you, which is quite the contrast from Chaplin’s creamy vocals on other songs, but it suits the piece just the same.

Even though Ishin Denshin sounds more like a potential B-side than a necessary inclusion here, it’s unlike anything else in their catalogue. Think of it as a catchy throwaway and nothing more.

The closer, My Shadow, on the other hand, is vintage Keane with its instantly distinguishable keyboard sound and heartfelt, yearning lyrics. The song is so cinematic with its emotional sweep it wouldn’t have been out of place in a John Hughes movie. Come to think of it, much of this record has that feel about it.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, September 22, 2013
11:46 p.m.

Published in: on September 22, 2013 at 11:46 pm  Comments (1)  

Zombieland

This year marks the 45th anniversary of Night Of The Living Dead, the very first zombie movie.  Through the decades, it has spawned sequels and remakes and numerous imitators not just on the big screen but on the small one, as well.  Now I haven’t seen the original black and white 1968 film as of this writing, but I have screened a number of titles that were clearly inspired by it.  Unfortunately, none of them are any good.

Then I watched Zombieland.  Written by Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick, here’s a clever, funny and surprisingly sweet zombie movie I can actually rally behind.  It’s how the overrated Shaun Of The Dead should’ve turned out.

The charmingly nebbish Jesse Eisenberg plays “Columbus” (we never do learn his real name), a video game-obsessed loner unwittingly thrusted into a scary dilemma:  a nation-wide zombie apocalypse.  In the mostly sharp opening sequence, he narrates to the audience some of his personal rules he’s developed for outwitting, outplaying and outlasting the walking and running dead.  (The frequent reminder of these rules, and the subsequent introduction of new ones, becomes a reliable running gag.)  Not only are these tips quite sensible, they’re funny, as well.  The Cardio one, in particular, is hilarious.

Alone to fend for himself in Garland, Texas (the college student is hoping to reconnect with his elusive parents in Ohio, hence his nickname), he encounters “Tallahassee” (Woody Harrelson in one of his funniest performances), an easily irritated, tough-talking, gun-toting Southerner.  He’s got a pick-up truck with a number 3 on the side (an obvious NASCAR reference), a broken heart, a deep loathing for zombies, a chronic need to break shit and an understandable craving for Twinkies.  (I used to love them as a kid, myself, but haven’t had them in decades.  I’m not sure I can tolerate them any more, actually.)  He’s so determined to satisfy this particular craving he’s willing to risk his own life just to get his hands on one.  And no, Sno-Balls are not an acceptable substitute.  He just can’t get past the “inconsistency” of the coconut.

While en route to Texarkana with Columbus, Tallahassee spots an abandoned grocery store.  It is here we meet “Wichita” (the very sexy Emma Stone) and her little sister, “Little Rock” (Little Miss Sunshine’s humourously sassy and adorable Abigail Breslin).  The predicament they find themselves in seems pretty straightforward.  Little Rock got bit by a zombie and has to be put down.  Otherwise, the others will be in grave danger.

But of course, when the moment of truth arrives, no one gets killed.  And the men are suddenly left without transportation and all their weaponry.  (Sneaky gals.)  Inevitably, once Columbus and Tallahassee find a replacement vehicle with a whole slew of automatic weapons, they catch up to the sister con artists on an abandoned highway.  Tallahassee’s stolen pick-up breaks down so they’re all back together again.  (By the way, every one is named after a city they’re either from or heading to because knowing every one’s real names will intensify bonding which could make things difficult if any of them get infected or separated.)

All through the film, Columbus yearns to make human connections he’s been too afraid to pursue all his life.  His numerous phobias and insecurities once kept him permanently isolated.  Now the zombie invasion has forced him to be brave.  Despite her initial lack of warmth towards him, he develops a major crush on Wichita who, unfortunately for him, prefers bad boys.  Quite frankly, her first impression of him doesn’t help his overall chances with her.  She thinks he’s quite wimpy.  It’s a good thing there aren’t any courageously hunky survivors out there to compete with.  He’s having enough trouble winning her heart on his own.

Near the halfway point of Zombieland, I was concerned about whether this not-terribly-original premise (which does have its predictable elements) would be able to remain consistently funny as we reach its expected conclusion.  Those worries were immediately cast aside when our heroes arrive in California, pick up one of those Map Of The Stars and locate the mansion of Tallahassee’s favourite actor.  This sequence alone is the funniest in the entire picture.

After that hilarious pit stop, the ladies ditch the guys to check out a local theme park.  Wichita wants 12-year-old Little Rock to re-live a cherished childhood memory as an escape from all this chaos.  However, this turns out to be an incredibly stupid idea because turning on all the rides and lights attracts unwanted attention.  It’s up to Tallahassee and Columbus to rescue them in time since the ladies don’t have endless ammo and they are greatly outnumbered.

Before Zombieland, I never liked zombie movies.  As characters, they’re very limited in their appeal.  So, why do I like this particular zombie movie?  Because of the humans.

Harrelson, Eisenberg, Stone and Breslin are all well cast in their roles and each given smart, funny things to say.  Honestly, I never expected to laugh as much as I did.  But more importantly, we really like them.  Despite following the first-they-don’t-get-along-then-they-get-along-just-fine routine, even if they weren’t all trying to survive an increasingly tenuous situation you still believe they would want to spend time together in more peaceful circumstances.  In time, they learn an important lesson:  it’s not knowing first names that leads to bonding, it’s having shared experiences.

In between the surprisingly effective comedy and action sequences (Harrelson is clearly having the most fun battling the zombies) are a few sweet moments.  At the aforementioned comedy legend’s mansion, Wichita encourages Columbus to share a nighttime drink with her.  The year a selected bottle of French wine was made leads to a brief discussion about important personal milestones in 1997.  Wichita saw her first R-rated movie and got her first fake tattoo (a porpoise) that year.  Poor Columbus had a bad dental experience and was rejected by every girl who attended his school’s Grade 8 Sadie Hawkins’ dance.

This revelation so appalls Wichita, she immediately wants to dance with him.  At first, they rest their hands on each other’s shoulders at a safe distance (very Grade 8), but then they move closer and closer until they’re in a full embrace.  Wichita whispers a compliment in Columbus’ ear and it is so incredibly sexy I wanted to jump through the screen and cut in, with the hope that she would repeat it to me.

Stone and Eisenberg have such a nice, natural chemistry in this moment as well as the one near the end of the movie that I wouldn’t mind seeing them paired up in another romantic comedy down the road.  You see this coupling a mile away but it is unexpectedly heartfelt and touching.  It’s very difficult not to smile when they interact like this.

Just before the amusement park conclusion, Tallahassee decides to move to Mexico to start a new life while Columbus becomes deeply concerned for the ladies.  Sadly, he’s not very smooth on a motorcycle (a very funny moment).  Realizing how much he cares for the kid (and the girls), Tallahassee instantly changes his mind and they’re off to Pacific Palisades, the aforementioned fun zone.  In an even earlier scene, the Tennessee native teaches Little Rock how to shoot a target:  take a deep breath, exhale and fire.  The tip comes in handy in the third act.

Usually, when you see a trailer for a film, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what to expect when you see the actual movie.  You might even have an early sense about whether you’ll like it or hate it.  More often than not, these initial impressions will solidify into final opinions after complete screenings.  In other words, your instincts will turn out to be correct.  The promotional campaign for Zombieland was so underwhelming four years ago, one could be forgiven for having such low expectations.  Now having finally screened it, I understand why it has garnered so much praise.  It is the best romantic action zombie comedy I’ve ever seen.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, September 20, 2013
7:35 p.m.

Published in: on September 20, 2013 at 7:35 pm  Comments (2)  

Mental Cleansing

Write your pain and watch it die
See the words burn right through the page
Savour this moment and never forget
There is always hope outside the cage

Sing your pain and feel it struggle to survive
Letting it all go will give you a lift
Heal the wounds with the sounds of joy
Always embrace this special gift

Draw your pain and expose the lie
Examine it closely in your paper prison
The scary monster has lost its power
A chance for removal has now arisen

Share your pain within a protective group
They’ll wipe away your every tear
Release the anguish that’s been locked inside
And throw away your irrational fear

Soothe your pain with a gentle thought
It can be short or of considerable length
Release the guilt that holds you back
And revitalize your inner strength

Reveal your pain any way you choose
No more punishment for being in this state
All you need is a good mental cleansing
There’s no more time to hesitate

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, September 13, 2013
10:20 p.m.

Published in: on September 13, 2013 at 10:21 pm  Comments (1)  

Flashdance

30 years ago, you couldn’t escape it.  The hot young babe in the lead role.  The fashion trend she unintentionally started.  And, most especially, the music.  Whether you turned on the TV or the radio (or your mom ran a dance studio), you were bound at some point to hear something from its mega-selling soundtrack.

Flashdance was, in a word, unavoidable.  When it arrived in theatres in the spring of 1983, I was much too young to see it.  Now, after it quietly celebrated a milestone this past April, I finally sat down recently to watch it.  Quite frankly, after all these years, I’ve now learned that it’s nothing more than a series of music videos interrupted by occasional wit and mostly forgettable melodrama.

Lovely Jennifer Beals plays 18-year-old Alex, a welder by day, bar dancer by night and guilt-ridden Catholic in between.  She lives alone in an old warehouse with her trusty pooch, Grunt, where she secretly harbours a dream to become a great ballerina.  Unfortunately, when it comes time for her to apply to a high-falutin’ dance repertory in her city she can’t even bring herself to take an application, let alone fill one out.  Her kindly mentor, Hanna (the late Lilia Skalia), a former dancer herself, urges her to just go for it already.

So, what’s holding her back?  Two things:  her lack of formal training and her fear.  (Lucky applicants are invited to audition in front of a panel of five judges which can be quite intimidating.)  The closest she actually comes to living her fantasy is dancing (but not stripping, curiously) at Mawby’s Bar where her friend Jeanie (the late Sunny Johnson) works as a waitress but also aspires to be a great figure skater.

Now this is where the movie loses credibility.  As I remember vividly from news reports during the film’s initial release, Beals doesn’t do much of her character’s dancing (which isn’t all that spectacular anyway).  With the exception of close-ups, that’s French dancer Marine Jahan doing most of the work.  And you can clearly tell, too, especially during the strobe light routine.  Honestly, the filmmakers were deluded if they thought they pulled off the old switcheroo here.  Once you notice the difference, you can’t unnotice it.

Also not helping matters is Alex’s on-again/off-again relationship with her much older boss (Michael Nouri from The Hidden and The OC) who doesn’t even know at first that she’s working for him until one of his employees points this out to him during one of her early performances at Mawby’s.  (For some odd reason, the underling gives out her Social Security number as a clue.  As if anyone, except the NSA, would recognize someone’s identity like that.)

Despite rebuffing his early offers for dates numerous times, after confessing to her priest that she’s constantly thinking about sex (without giving the reason why), they eventually hook up.  Sadly, there’s very little sizzle in this utterly unconvincing May-December romance.  But there are a couple of obligatory fights.  One based on a misunderstanding, the other which greatly affects her future.  Neither of which is worth caring about.

The hairstyles aren’t the only things badly dated in Flashdance.  There’s also Jeanie’s boyfriend, Richie (an obnoxious Kyle T. Heffner), who works as a short-order cook at Mawby’s but also foolishly moonlights as perhaps the worst stand-up comedian ever.  His specialty?  Racist Polish jokes.  (A bit of advice, fella:  laughing at your own hack material doesn’t it make it funnier.  Ask Bill Maher.)

When Richie briefly departs for Los Angeles to try to make it big, Jeanie starts dating Johnny C. (the absolutely convincing Fear frontman Lee Ving), a sleazy strip club promoter who likes to grope and use the word “cunts”, yet still manages to get Alex’s pal to come strip for him.  (Money talks, people.)  He’s very lucky he only gets beer poured in his lap.

Why has Jeanie chosen such a soul crushing path for her life?  Well, after falling on her ass twice during a try-out for a professional figure skating show (the only sequence where Richie actually made me laugh, by the way), she’s pretty much given up on her dream.  (That’s odd.  When she’s just goofing around practicing with Alex on the ice, she’s actually quite good.  Then again, this wasn’t her first failed audition.)  It’s a good thing she has such a concerned friend willing to rescue her from this empty future.  Otherwise, she’d be completely stuck.

The late Phil Bruns (the original Morty Seinfeld) plays Jeanie’s dad in easily the film’s best performance.  Deeply unimpressed with Richie, he’s very skeptical that his daughter will ever be good enough for the Ice Capades.  Despite being humourously grumpy and unsupportive, after she craps out on the ice he reveals his big heart and cheers her up with a funny joke about her missed jumps.  Too bad he’s not in every scene.

For a film with such a massive selling soundtrack, it’s surprising how much of it now is hit and miss.  While even I can’t deny the irresistibility of retro gems like Maniac, Laura Branigan’s Gloria and Joan Jett’s I Love Rock & Roll (the latter two are only heard in the movie, though), it’s far easier to reject Manhunt, Seduce Me Tonight or that goddamned What A Feeling, the latter of which is played way too often.  (How it beat out Maniac for the Best Original Song Oscar I’ll never fully compute.)  As for Giorgio Moroder’s musical score, I particularly enjoyed his recurring instrumental love theme which is simply too good for such a weak romantic storyline.

By the time we reach the end, you realize something immediately.  You’ve already seen most, if not all of Alex’s big audition for the repertory company countless times before in the video for What A Feeling many years earlier which features two other professional dancers, besides the aforementioned Jahan, substituting for Beals.  One does the jumping somersault (that’s acro, not ballet), the other does all the break dancing (always fun to watch but again, not ballet).  As the end credits roll, you’re left with an overall feeling of, “That’s it?”

Looking back, Flashdance was clearly conceived as something of a feminist statement.  Alex is the only female welder working in a male-dominated company who wholeheartedly embrace her as one of their own.  (There’s a very funny scene where they applaud her first reconciliation with Nouri after a nasty public fight at work.)  She saves her friend from wasting her life in a strip joint.  And despite being a confessional Catholic, she completely owns her sexuality unashamedly.

At the same time, she needs a well-connected man to help her achieve her dream which inspires her to occasionally starve herself in a business that’s not exactly supremely supportive of women like her.

Talk about a conflicting message.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, September 3, 2013
1:00 a.m.

Published in: on September 3, 2013 at 1:00 am  Comments (1)  

Dredd

If Dick Cheney was a Hollywood screenwriter who decided one day to write a loose cross between Training Day and Robocop 2, the result would probably look an awful lot like Dredd.  The second film based on the famous British comic book character (1995’s Judge Dredd was the first), it more than lives up to its title.  And no, that’s not a good thing.

In the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust, 800 million people now live in a dramatically changed world.  Unemployment rates have skyrocketed.  Crime is ridiculously high.  (12 unlawful acts are committed in a single minute, more than 10000 in a single day.)  There are no cops.  And there is no court system.  Instead, we get extremely strict judges, roving law enforcement agents who 1) decide on the spot if someone is guilty and then 2) instantly determine their sentence.  Leniency and fairness are no longer applicable.  And you can forget about getting probation or community service for even the slightest violation.

There’s also little accountability.  Despite wearing badges with their last names on them, every judge wears a silly, Boba Fett-style motorcycle helmet that conceals half their face.  Interrogations can easily turn into renditions.  “Negotiations” with perps often means choosing between a life sentence without parole or immediate execution, all without a trial.  No one ever talks about making an appeal.  (There are no lawyers any more.)  And there’s no ACLU to help you overturn an unfair sentence.  It’s Dick Cheney’s wet dream come true.

Replacing Sylvester Stallone in the title role from the earlier film is the gravelly-voiced Karl Urban, a cold, detached lawman who you never want to cross or even support, for that matter.  (He’s way too trigger-happy.)  If he existed in the real world, Cheney would’ve recruited him for The War On Terror.  Like the former Vice President, he doesn’t believe in mercy or the Constitution.  Sounding like a modern-day Clint Eastwood, Dredd lives a permanently joyless existence fighting a war he and his fellow judges can’t possibly win.  Despite focusing much of his attention on homicides, he’s also gunning for machine-gun wielding drug dealers who pretty much run Mega City One.

The biggest of them all is Ma-Ma (Lena Headey from Game Of Thrones), a former prostitute with a bad facial scar who rose to power in the underworld by offing her violent pimp, stealing his business and eliminating much of her competition.  Somewhere in the Peach Trees building (a 200-floor shopping mall/apartment complex for the poor) is a secret laboratory where her employees continuously cook up endless batches of Slo-Mo, a drug so potent you temporarily feel as if you’re living your life literally in slow motion.  Considering the misery that oozes out of every pore of Mega City One, it’s not much of an escape.  (Then again, maybe I undervalue the concept of chemical numbness.)

Nevertheless, Slo-Mo is quite popular with the masses which means law enforcement does not approve.  Yes, the futile drug war refuses to die even in a futuristic comic book movie.

Helping Dredd to fight it is Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), a mutant whose parents died of cancer from the nuclear holocaust.  Despite barely missing her opportunity to become a judge, this young woman who can read minds gets another chance to prove her mettle by making snap judgments with the more experienced Dredd out in the field.  It’s up to him whether she passes or fails this big test.

After apprehending one of Ma-Ma’s dealers (Wood Harris) with the intention of interrogating him back at The Hall Of Justice (an ironic name if there ever was one), Anderson and Dredd unfortunately find themselves trapped in Peach Trees where they find him.  Thanks to the quick thinking of her reluctant techie (Domhnall Gleeson), a copper wire obsessive who had his eyes gouged out by his new boss and replaced with electronic substitutes, Ma-Ma is able to lock down the building so no one can escape.  Deeply worried that Kay (the Harris character) will sing like a canary while being tortured, the drug lord gets on the P.A. system urging anyone with the means to take out A & D to go ahead and do it.  Everybody else better stay out of the way, especially those who try to protect them.  Otherwise, you’re dead.

For a film with such an interesting opening (the narrating Urban may be blatantly imitating Dirty Harry in more ways than one thoughout but considering the dark nature of his character, it nonetheless works), how disheartening it is to see it not followed up with a strong, surprising story.  Put simply, there’s little to no suspense as to how all of this will eventually turn out.

Also disappointing are the lacklustre action scenes which are heavy on gore and light on reinvention.  After The Matrix Trilogy, Dredd’s straightforward machine gun fights just feel so ordinary.  They’re unspectacularly gruesome.

And there isn’t much in the way of savage political commentary here, either.  Right from the start, we realize that the citizens of this world live under constant surveillance (spy drones are not uncommon) where the only true resistance to this authoritarian state comes not from rebellious freedom fighters with noble intentions of reform but from ruthless, money grubbing drug dealers who probably wouldn’t exist were it not for the prohibition of their popular product.  And just like in the real-life drug war, law enforcement has been corrupted by its cancerous influence making the whole venture a complete waste of time and resources.

The closest this movie comes to questioning this brave new world is in the form of the Anderson character.  After reluctantly pulling the trigger on a bloodied, would-be bounty hunter, she accidentally encounters his widow in their apartment.  At one point, she suddenly spots a framed photo of the two of them (the couple have a young baby, as well) and for a brief moment feels terrible guilt.  But that’s quickly forgotten once she, Dredd and Kay, their handcuffed drug dealing perp, are on the move again to avoid being assassinated.  Later, in the hope of redeeming herself, she refuses to execute someone she believes is a victim of the drug lord’s cruelty, not a willing accomplice, which temporarily perturbs her more hardened partner.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not against bleak, futuristic thrillers in general.  Just the unchallenging ones that endorse Dick Cheney’s worldview.

Like the disappointing Dredd.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, September 3, 2013
12:27 a.m.

Published in: on September 3, 2013 at 12:27 am  Comments (1)