What Do You Think Of Your Hero Now?

You openly vouched for his authenticity
You fell so hard for his smooth audacity
You saw those places filled to capacity
Yet you missed his blatant mendacity
It’s not in your nature to openly doubt
You silence the truth with a stubborn shout
But here comes a question that will furrow your brow
What do you think of your hero now?

He lies about drones and the NSA
He hounds whistleblowers to make them pay
But your reaction to this is never dismay
It’s always to look the other way
How can you operate in this state of denial?
Your response to dissent is so infantile
The honeymoon is over. There’s no more wow.
What do you think of your hero now?

It’s all downhill from this moment on
The nightmare’s permanent. There is no dawn.
And while you can’t resist the urge to fawn
Before you know it, he will be gone
The anger is rising to such a degree
That there’s no more acceptance of his hypocrisy
I have one last question, if you will allow
What do you think of your hero now?

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
5:51 p.m.

Published in: on October 29, 2013 at 5:51 pm  Comments (1)  

Why President Obama Can’t Distance Himself From The Growing NSA Scandal

They can’t make it stop.  No matter how many times they play the victim, no matter how many times they scream “traitor” or “national security”, no matter how many times they claim to be misunderstood, they can’t make it stop.

And the world keeps getting madder and madder and madder.

For nearly five months now, The Obama Administration has tried to reassure an increasingly pissed off planet that its supremely powerful secret surveillance programs are only used for “counter-terrorism purposes”.  “No one’s reading your emails or listening to your phone calls,” The President has said.

But with the sheer volume of emails and phone calls the National Security Agency has been silently collecting globally since 9/11, how could they resist the temptation not to?  It’s like putting a mountain of cocaine in front of an addict.  The lure of the high is just too strong.

And now we are all too aware of it, thanks to the courageous whistleblower Edward Snowden.  His leaking of thousands of pages of secret NSA documents have been the focus of countless media reports on the breathtaking scope of American international spying.

And there is still more to come.  The Washington Post’s Barton Gellman and former Guardian reporter/columnist Glenn Greenwald are each writing books that will surface next year.  In the meantime, more bombshell revelations are expected before the end of this year.

Just how out of control has the NSA been?  Instead of strictly focusing on “terrorist threats”, they’ve also been privately spying on commercial businesses in Brazil and France, dozens of foreign embassies, dozens of foreign leaders, the United Nations, news media outlets like The Associated Press & Al Jazeera, and practically anyone else who uses a telephone and a computer.

Incredibly, defenders of the NSA continue to argue that all of this excessive spying makes America safer.  Really?  Did the Hoovering of everyone’s information stop Benghazi last year?  What about this year’s bomb attack during the Boston Marathon?  How about the recent Navy Yard massacre?

Furthermore, these same stubborn fools claim that all nations do what they do.  They spy on each other in secret to stay ahead of the game.  So, Europe eavesdrops on President Obama’s phone calls just like the NSA eavesdrops on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s electronic yakfests?  All other countries spy on everybody else’s phone and internet communications?  Nice try.  (Even if these comparisons were true (and yes, other countries do spy on their own citizens and some other nations), how does that ever make America’s actions acceptable?)

Speaking of Merkel, one report out of the German media notes that Obama not only knew of the spying on her treasured cell phone as far back as 2010 (he told her the opposite when she called him about it) he also approved its continuation.  The NSA is denying this but can they actually be believed on anything anymore?  They falsely claimed there wasn’t a mass surveillance state in the first place!

And what about Obama himself?  Has anything he has said since June when these damning stories first started surfacing convinced anyone that he’s above the actions of his own spying partners?  Is it really possible he had absolutely no idea any of this nonsense was going on or that he didn’t give his full-throated approval?  Come on.

Back in August during a rare East Room White House press conference, he claimed, “…a general impression has, I think, taken hold, not only among the American public but also around the world, that somehow we’re out there willy-nilly just sucking in information on everybody and doing what we please with it. Now, that’s not the case. Our laws specifically prohibit us from surveilling U.S. persons without a warrant. And there are whole range of safeguards that have been put in place to make sure that that basic principle is abided by.”

Well, if there are “safeguards” in place, they’re not working.  The NSA is “out there willy-nilly sucking in information on everybody and doing” whatever they “please with it.”.  (Why do you think they need all those secret data centers for storage?)  Considering what we know now, how can the most powerful man in the world possibly deny that?

And how can he possibly distance himself from this growing scandal that threatens to completely derail his second term?  The answer is he can’t.  Obama owns this scandal.  He’s consistently defended the NSA’s actions while condemning Snowden’s dissent, he’s played down the significance of the revelations that continue to get worse and worse, and he has shown no real change of heart regarding his deep and abiding love for secret surveillance in general.  Don’t be fooled by his supposed calls for “review” and “transparency”.  It’s all smoke and mirrors to maintain the status quo.

But the status quo is marked for extinction.  And so is his presidency.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, October 28, 2013
7:22 p.m.

Published in: on October 28, 2013 at 7:22 pm  Comments (1)  

The Enduring Legacy Of Lou Reed

Back in June, a friend of mine treated me to a movie for my birthday.  I hadn’t exactly slept well the night before, so I was hoping I would still be alert enough to have a good time.  (I was but the movie was crap.)  Before it started, we were bombarded with the usual array of needless ads for products I will never buy.  Then came the trailers.

Because we were about to screen a horror movie, most of the previews were for other, upcoming horror movies.  There were sneak peeks of The Conjuring and the recently released remake of Carrie starring Chloe Grace Moritz.  (There was also one for Kick-Ass 2 starring, you guessed it, Chloe Grace Moritz.  I want her agent.)

It was near the conclusion of another trailer (the title of which escapes me now) that this rather tired birthday boy suddenly perked up.  (March 25, 2014 UPDATE:  It was You’re Next.  Terrible film.)  Without any warning, the chorus of Lou Reed’s Perfect Day started playing.  I hadn’t heard it in a multiplex cinema since Trainspotting back in 1996.  Back then, I preferred Duran Duran’s cover version which Reed himself praised as being superior to his own.

But on that June evening, I had a very different reaction.  Reed was never a classically beautiful singer (he often sounded like a more street savvy Bob Dylan) but on Perfect Day, he comes as close as humanly possible.  I was moved by his performance that night.  And in the days that followed I found myself both singing and whistling the song no matter what else I was doing.  As far I can remember, that had never happened before.

More recently, I was watching TV when an ad for the new PlayStation 4 came on.  What’s the song all of those young actors are singing?  It’s Perfect Day.  More than 40 years after its release, the song remains as relevant as ever.  So is the artist who made it.

And now he’s dead.  Rolling Stone reported today that Reed has suddenly died at the age of 71.  It was only five months ago that he underwent a successful liver transplant.  He is survived by his longtime lady love, his third wife, performance artist Laurie Anderson.  He never had any children.

Long before alternative rock was even thought of as a viable music scene worthy of any corporate exploitation, it was initially considered far too weird and dangerous to ever appeal to the masses.  Lou Reed was one of those original weirdos, a temperamental Raymond Chandler fan who viewed both critics and even some of his fellow musicians with great disdain while simultaneously creating some of the most enduring music of the classic rock era.

Blame his parents for his often sour demeanour.  When he was a teenager prone to fits of violence and “homosexual tendencies”, they ordered him to undergo electro-shock therapy which proved so damaging Reed often suffered severe lapses in his memory.  After graduating from college in his early 20s, he briefly returned home only to find himself, at his parents’ urging, taking a tranquilizer drug called Placidyl to mellow him out.  But there was never any drug powerful enough to ever really subdue the permanently acerbic Lou Reed and that includes heroin.

After brief teenage/early 20s flirtations with garage rock, do-wop, college DJing and even quickie songwriting (most notably a parody of a dance craze number called Do The Ostrich), The Cranky One co-founded the most important 60s band in American history.

The Velvet Underground were never going to be as well-regarded or respected as The Beatles.  They were never going to sell nearly as many albums.  But they did start a quiet revolution that is still being felt today.  I believe it was Brian Eno who famously noted that the only people who ever bought Velvet albums ended up forming bands of their own.  R.E.M. being one of them.

Thanks to their brief association with pop artist Andy Warhol (who was looking for a house band to tour with his Exploding Plastic Inevitable multi-media shows), the band achieved a bit of notoriety that led them to an unlikely record deal with jazz label Verve.  It also led to the temporary addition of a new member:  Teutonic model Nico who ended up having affairs with both Reed and bandmate John Cale.  (Warhol insisted she be added to the line-up.  After Warhol’s dismissal, Nico was out of the band.  Reed & Cale would go on to write songs for her solo albums.)

The Velvet Underground & Nico was one of the many significant releases offered to the public in 1967 (Sgt. Pepper, The Doors and Are You Experienced? all but drowned it out for attention) and easily, one of the greatest debut albums of all time.  At the very least, it sounded like nothing else available.  At the most, it gave David Bowie a future.  Drummer Moe Tucker didn’t play conventional hi-hat/snare drum patterns.  She played African tribal rhythms instead.  The guitar playing was loose, loud and jangly.  Cale’s viola playing a cacophonous yet strangely moving attack on all your senses.  The subject matter was often drenched in sex and drugs.  Next to nothing was sugarcoated.

If there was one song that defined Reed’s Velvet period (and perhaps the band itself) it was Heroin.  Based on his own dark experiences with the drug, it was written very much as a cautionary tale, a warning to those foolish enough to be seduced by death as he was for a thankfully brief period.  It always perturbed him that people thanked him for inspiring them to try the drug after hearing the song.  He always hoped it would have the opposite effect.  The line, “It’s my wife and it’s my life”, perfectly summarizes the harmful, monogamous nature of addiction.

Reed’s association with The Velvets would only last a few more years but he would offer even more gems like the epic blast of distortion known as Sister Ray (from White Light/White Heat), the gentle, romantic complexity of Pale Blue Eyes (from The Velvet Underground) and the endlessly hooky Rock And Roll (from Loaded).

Beginning in 1971, Reed embarked on a seemingly doomed solo career taking all his unrecorded Velvet songs with him.  But when David Bowie produced his Transformer LP for release the following year, for the first time he would attract mainstream attention.  Walk On The Wild Side, a sly tribute to Andy Warhol’s Superstars of The Factory, actually cracked the Top 40, the only song in his catalog to ever do so.  Perfect Day, an album cut, was the B-Side.  Vicious was inspired by a conversation with Warhol.  Satellite Of Love was later covered rather brilliantly by U2.

Throughout the next several decades, The Cranky One resented having to live up to the Gold status of that album.  For a time he even had a serious falling out with Bowie for many years.  (They eventually reconciled.  Reed made an appearance during Bowie’s 50th birthday MSG gig in 1997.)  But he still managed to impress critics and fans on occasion.  Many will cite 1974’s Rock And Roll Animal and 1982’s The Blue Mask as being two of his best.  Others will make the case for 1973’s Berlin.  As someone who hasn’t heard many of his solo records, I’d like to single out one I enjoyed back in the day:  1996’s Set The Twilight Reeling.

It features one of his most underappreciated songs ever, Adventurer, a loving, lyrically crammed tribute to Anderson.  It’s been almost 20 years since I last heard Reeling but I remember snippets of Egg Cream and the goofy Sex With Your Parents with fondness, as well.  I wouldn’t mind hearing it again, actually.

Like any longtime artist, Reed made some missteps.  His most infamous album was Metal Machine Music, a two-record collection of tuneless distortion that appeared in 1975 as a big fuck you to his label RCA for demanding another Top 10 album like Sally Can’t Dance too quickly.  Not many have heard it all the way through.  Reed later admitted that he might’ve been stoned at the time of its creation.  RCA had to release it because he had creative control.  It effectively killed all the momentum Sally had generated.

And then there was 2011’s Lulu, another double album recorded with Metallica of all bands.  With his grizzled voice now allergic to melody and the band clearly humouring him by playing along without complaint, it’s far from an ideal epitaph.  But at least Howard Stern admired Junior Dad.  (He admitted on the air a while back that he played the 20-minute disc two closer ten times in a row one day.  Brave man.)

Despite his past issues with Bowie and his Velvet bandmates (an attempt at recording new material in the 90s fell apart because of the usual creative differences during a brief reunion), Reed still managed to find time to collaborate with a whole slew of other artists over the years.  In the 80s, he worked with Simple Minds and The Tom Tom Club.  In the 90s, he recorded with The Smithereens and Vince Gill.  And more recently, he’s appeared on tracks by The Killers, Gorillaz and Metric.  He obviously never stopped listening to new music.  (According to music historian Alan Cross, he was a Barenaked Ladies fan.)

He didn’t suffer fools gladly (check out his rants on the Take No Prisoners live album from 1978), he could be a real asshole without too much provocation and he was often his own worst enemy, particularly when it came to dealing with the press who he long despised.  A songwriter with a strong pop sensibility, he didn’t always embrace it in his work.  A well-noted sourpuss, he could also be quite generous with his praise.  He may have had a negative attitude about a good number of things and people but he could also write the loveliest of melodies with the softest touch.  Consider Jesus from The Velvet Underground album as a fine example.

Despite these well-documented personality flaws and contradictions, the importance of Lou Reed’s contribution to music cannot be understated.  The Velvet Underground inspired David Bowie and Iggy Pop which began a chain reaction of influence still reverberating in the modern era.  Even his solo work, sometimes overshadowed by his Velvet period, has its big share of supporters.

I’ve often thought that the mark of a true talent is that they make you completely forget how much you dislike them personally.  Lou Reed may have had a very cool relationship with the guardians of the culture but his music had a very warm one with the world.  May he rest in peace.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, October 27, 2013
7:44 p.m.

UPDATE:  Reed died of liver failure, so the transplant he had wasn’t successful after all.  How sad.

As an aside, I want to belatedly acknowledge The Cowboy Junkies who famously covered Reed’s Sweet Jane back in the late 80s.  Instead of remaking the Loaded version, Margo Timmins and company reworked the original take, which you can hear in live form on a highly recommended compilation called The Velvet Underground Gold.  Reed rewrote the lyrics and tinkered with the arrangement before it was recorded for the fourth Velvet album.  The Junkies’ cover did wonders for their career (it essentially put them in the spotlight) but it also gave Sweet Jane a second chance to connect with a more receptive modern audience.  To his credit, Reed was most appreciative.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
8:16 p.m.

Published in: on October 27, 2013 at 7:44 pm  Comments (2)  

Hell In A Cell Trivia

1. The very first Hell In A Cell match, which featured Shawn Michaels against The Undertaker at In Your House:  Badd Blood in October 1997, is best known for the debut of Kane, The Dead Man’s brother.  What has been forgotten is that it was a number one contender’s match for the WWF Championship.  Because Michaels won, thanks to Kane tombstoning The Phenom, he was booked to face WWF Champion Bret Hart at the 1997 Survivor Series the following November.  We all know how that turned out.

2. Since the introduction of this concept in 1997, there has been at least one Hell In A Cell match every year except 2001.

3. Before it was given its own pay-per-view in 2009, the match was booked for various supercards like WrestleMania 14 and Survivor Series 2007.  It has never taken place during a Royal Rumble event.

4. When Triple H enters the Cell as either WWE Champion or the World Heavyweight Champion, he never loses.

5. When Triple H teams up with Shawn Michaels in a HIAC match, D-Generation X always wins.

6. No Hell In A Cell match that has ever aired on Monday Night Raw has ever resulted in a clear-cut winner.  During a June 1998 episode, The Undertaker and Stone Cold Steve Austin battled Mankind and Kane to a no-contest.  Two months later, during another Raw show, a match between Kane and Mankind ended the same way.

7. Despite creating some of the most memorable moments of his career inside and out of that giant cage, Mick Foley has never won a Hell In A Cell match.  He’s 0 for 4.

8. At the 2013 HIAC pay-per-view, Shawn Michaels will become the first man to act as a special guest referee in the Cell for a second time when he oversees the Randy Orton/Daniel Bryan match for the WWE title.  He previously officiated The Undertaker/Triple H epic at WrestleMania 29.  Mick Foley is the only other special guest referee in the history of the concept.  He was the third man in the ring during the H/Kevin Nash Cell match at Badd Blood 2003.

9. The World Heavyweight Championship has only changed hands once in a HIAC match.  At the inaugural HIAC pay-per-view in 2009, The Undertaker took the gold away from CM Punk in the opening contest.

10. John Cena has never successfully defended the WWE title inside the Cell at a HIAC pay-per-view.  He dropped the belt to Randy Orton at the 2009 show.  Then, in a triple threat match against Punk and Alberto Del Rio in 2011, thanks to the interference of his personal ring announcer Ricardo Rodriguez, Cena lost it to the Mexican Aristocrat.

11. The Hell In A Cell match has been held at more Badd Blood pay-per-views than at any other non-HIAC WWE supershow.  Besides Michaels/Undertaker in 1997, Triple H beat Kevin Nash in 2003 and defeated The Heartbreak Kid in 2004.

12. The Triple H/Michaels 2004 Badd Blood HIAC match is the longest one in history.  According to Wikipedia, it lasted nearly 50 minutes.

13. There were 3 HIAC matches between June and August 1998 (2 Monday Night Raws and King Of The Ring).  11 years later, there were 3 Cell matches in one night at the first HIAC pay-per-view.  There has never been more than 3 in a given year.

14. The upcoming HIAC match between Daniel Bryan and Randy Orton marks the one and only time two challengers will contend for a vacant WWE Championship inside the Cell.  In every previous HIAC title bout, there was always an established champion defending his belt.

15. The Undertaker and Triple H have both won 6 Hell In A Cell matches apiece, the most in the history of the concept.  However, The Dead Man has appeared in more Cell matches altogether.  12 compared to H’s 9.

16. Batista is the only man to successfully defend the World Heavyweight Championship in a HIAC match twice.

17. WrestleMania 29 wasn’t the first time H and Taker wrestled in a HIAC match.  At Armageddon 2000, they were 2 of the 5 challengers after Kurt Angle’s WWF Championship in the only Six-Pack Challenge that has ever taken place inside the Cell.  (The name actually didn’t exist back then.)  Stone Cold Steve Austin, Rikishi and The Rock were the others.  Angle retained.

18. When CM Punk seeks revenge against Ryback and Paul Heyman at this year’s Cell event, it will be the second handicap match in the history of HIAC.  The first was D-X vs. The Big Show and Vince & Shane McMahon back at Unforgiven 2006.

19. Speaking of Punk and Ryback, after the 2013 HIAC event, they will be the only 2 competitors to have wrestled inside The Devil’s Playground in back-to-back HIAC pay-per-views.

20. There is only one Cell match that has never taken place on TV or at a pay-per-view.  On September 26, 2011, WWE Champion John Cena defended his title against CM Punk, Alberto Del Rio, Jack Swagger and US Champ Dolph Ziggler in a HIAC match that took place after Monday Night Raw went off the air in Kansas City, Missouri.  According to Wikipedia, it lasted 5 minutes.  Cena retained.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, October 18, 2013
11:53 p.m.

Published in: on October 18, 2013 at 11:53 pm  Comments (1)  

The 5 Worst Film Franchises Of All Time (Part Two)

3. Friday The 13th (1980-2009; 12 movies so far)

While lying in bed on the morning of Friday, January 13th, 2006, I decided it was finally time to tackle the entire saga of Jason Voorhees.  (No, I wasn’t high at the time.)  Later that night, I began with the 1980 original.  A year and a half later, I was completely caught up with the original series.

Jason, a disfigured kid, drowned in Crystal Lake while two irresponsible camp counsellors, both suffering from a bad case of the hornies, were too busy getting busy to save him.  Soon after, they end up getting killed and the camp is temporarily closed.  When it reopens years later, more counsellors are murdered including a future star named Kevin Bacon.  (He gets stabbed through the neck after sex.)

When you find out who is actually committing the murders, it’s ridiculous and totally unconvincing.  As it turns out, that twist is about as smart as this infamously dumb franchise ever gets.  In Part 2, Jason turns out to be alive and bumps off the sole survivor of the first movie.  You would think that would satisfy his need for revenge.  You would be wrong.  In his mind, all camp counsellors are the enemy.  Why not politicians?

For the rest of the 80s, he would continue to utterly decimate a whole slew of actors you would, for the most part, never see again.  It isn’t until the latter stages of Part 3 that he finally establishes a distinctive look, the old school Jacques Plante goalie mask which he wears in every subsequent sequel.  (When you don’t possess a distinctive personality you need all the help you can get.)  After getting killed off in The Final Chapter (number four if you’re keeping track), he was on hiatus for A New Beginning (an imitator took over his killing spree) only to return to take out Horshach in Part VI, Terry Kiser (Bernie from the Weekend At Bernie’s movies) in Part VII and soap star Scott Reeves & Kelly Hu in Part VIII.

After 8 pitiful releases from Paramount, Jason moved to New Line Cinema.  In 1993, he was killed off yet again in Jason Goes To Hell:  The Final Friday, another awful entry.  The most notable moment in the film is the ending when the finger glove of Freddy Krueger pulls his hockey mask back down to hell.  The year after the masked one was resurrected yet again for the futuristically deplorable Jason X in 2002, the two most prolific horror villains of the 80s returned together in Freddy Vs. Jason.  As I wrote in that linked review, “it’s the worst Nightmare On Elm Street movie and the best Friday The 13th sequel, a dubious double achievement.”

After 11 films, both Paramount and New Line thought it would be a swell idea to remake the original 1980 film that began all this bullshit.  Released in 2009, this version of Friday The 13th is just as bad as the first one.  Unfortunately, it made 90 million globally so the worst horror franchise of all time will live on.  Fuckers.

2. The Mighty Ducks (1992-1996; 3 movies)

Before he was Pacey on Dawson’s Creek and Peter on Fringe, Canadian actor Joshua Jackson was Charlie, the only talented player on his embarrassingly bad childhood hockey team in The Mighty Ducks.  Issued by Disney in the fall of 1992, the film is about a self-absorbed lawyer (Emilio Estevez) who is ordered to coach the worst team in the history of the cinema as punishment for driving drunk.  (He was once a hockey sensation in his youth.)  A predictable underdog movie with the usual smarmy Disney life lessons thrown in, I was astounded at how unfunny it was when I screened it at my local multiplex.  I don’t remember laughing a single time.

Because the film was a modest hit, it spawned a sequel:  D2:  The Mighty Ducks.  And I thought the first one was bad.  Like the original, this 1994 follow-up (which I watched on VHS in 2002) inspires no laughs.  Neither does D3:  The Mighty Ducks, which sees our obnoxious, humourless heroes trying to adjust to life in a snooty prep school.  I finally watched this 1996 stinker three years ago.  It wasn’t easy.

Of all the trilogies I’ve seen in my lifetime, this one is, without a doubt, the worst.

1. Police Academy (1984-1994; 7 movies)

While it’s never fun watching scareless horror films that revel in gore and graphic close-ups, there’s nothing worse than a laughless comedy.  So what could possibly be worse than suffering through three Mighty Ducks turkeys?  How about seven Police Academy movies.

Yet another underdog franchise, this one revolves around misfits wanting to break into law enforcement.  (Good Lord.)  I’ll admit that parts of the 1984 original made me laugh.  (Damn you, hilarious sound effects genius Michael Winslow.)  But ultimately, the film is just too stupid for its own good.

Because of its success, Warner Bros. flooded the marketplace with five more installments during the rest of the 80s.  After a very light hint of a chuckle during an innocuous scene early on in Police Academy 2:  Their First Assignment, even a comedy archeologist would have a hard time digging up a single laugh at any other moment in the rest of this franchise.  And that includes the little-seen seventh chapter, Mission To Moscow, a sequel I’m sure Sons Of Anarchy’s Ron Perlman (who played the heavy in that disaster) regrets ever appearing in.

How bad is this series?  Let me put it this way.  Even if you watched them all out of order, the result would be exactly the same.  You wouldn’t lose your place in the series because there’s little continuity between the sequels other than recurring characters.  You wouldn’t be asking yourself “who’s that guy?” because that guy is a humourless bore you could care less about.  It’s all about those painfully unfunny one-liners, physical gags and sound effects.  When all seven films were on order at the public library, I reserved copies of every one with the hope of screening them chronologically.  Unfortunately, all but number 3 arrived at the same time which meant that I had to go from Their First Assignment right to number 4, Citizens On Patrol.  After going all the way through to Mission To Moscow, Back In Training (the aforementioned third entry) finally arrived at my local branch.  As I watched it, I realized that I didn’t miss anything.  Even if I watched it right after number 2, I still would’ve hated it.

Curiously, the only thing I’ve never hated about this franchise is the orchestration that plays over every opening title sequence.  Who knew that such a horrifying mess of a series could inspire such a memorable theme song?  I’ve whistled it many times in the nine years since I subjected myself to all seven of these witless disasters.

Unfortunately, once the music dies down, the only thing to keep you slightly entertained are the number of famous faces that pop up at various moments back when they were struggling performers.   Besides Kim Cattrall in the original (and the aforementioned Ron Perlman in Moscow), look for JAG’s David James Elliott in Back In Training; Sharon Stone, David Spade and a very young Tony Hawk (yep, the skateboard guy) in Citizens On Patrol; Janet Jones (Mrs. Gretzky) and Matt McCoy (the second Lloyd Braun on Seinfeld) in Assignment: Miami Beach (McCoy also appeared in City Under Siege) and Claire Forlani in Moscow.

Then again, don’t bother unless you want to suffer through the worst film series in the history of Hollywood.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, October 13, 2013
12:11 a.m.

Published in: on October 13, 2013 at 12:11 am  Comments (1)  

The 5 Worst Film Franchises Of All Time (Part One)

It generally works like this.  You make a movie that becomes a hit.  The studio greenlights a sequel.  If it does really well, another one will be made.  And depending on how that one performs, it could lead to even more installments.  Next thing you know, you’ve got a franchise.

Most movies don’t spawn follow-ups and most follow-ups don’t lead to additional chapters.  Furthermore, not all sequels are spontaneous.  Some are actually planned out well in advance.

But usually, when the opportunity to expand the legacy of beloved characters for the sake of making easy money presents itself, it proves very hard to resist.  Unfortunately, some studios don’t know when enough is enough.

Few franchises are as great as the original Star Wars Trilogy.  Some, like the Alien series, are hit and miss.  Most tend to be average and forgettable.  Then there are those that get off to a bad start and get much worse over subsequent sequels.

Here are the five worst film franchises in the history of the movies:

5. Saw (2004-2010; 7 movies)

Before the fall of 2004, Lionsgate was an indie distributor best known for releasing controversial titles like the 1998 remake of Lolita and American Psycho, both modest performers at the cinema.  But after the release of the first Saw movie, they became the house that Jigsaw built.

After the low-budgeted thriller earned over 50 million at the domestic box office, a sequel was commissioned for 2005.  Saw II made over 85 million.  Realizing they had a franchise on their hands, Lionsgate ordered a new entry in the series for each of the next five years.  Although Saw III brought in 80 million during its 2006 run (nearly half of that total came during its opening weekend), none of the remaining installments would prove as commercially viable.

Saw IV took in 63 million, Saw V grossed roughly 57 million, Saw VI made less than 30 million and Saw 3D’s final take was less than 50 million.  Add it all up with the international totals and you’ll be shocked to discover that all of these films collectively accumulated 873 million worldwide.  Who knew there was a huge global market for low-grade torture films?

Make no mistake about it.  The Saw franchise is not about good storytelling, it’s simulated revenge porn (not to be confused with the revenge porn that California recently outlawed).  At the heart of these deeply unpleasant movies is John Kramer, a successful engineer gone mad who wants to teach others the real meaning of life and death by placing each of them in time-limited, claustrophobic situations where their instincts are tested.  Few make it out alive.  The rest keep the coroner busy.

Why is he continually doing this?  At first, we think it’s because of his terminal brain cancer which leads to an unsuccessful suicide attempt.  (He wants these kidnapped guinea pigs to appreciate their lives as much as he now appreciates his.)  But in later sequels, there’s also the fallout from his ex-wife’s miscarriage (which leads to a divorce) and the insurance agent who cancels his coverage.

Kramer frequently rationalizes his crimes by saying he’s not a murderer.  His victims always have a choice to live.  Yes, but they have to suffer for that choice which makes him, at the very least, a cinematic Dick Cheney.  Not cool, dude.

As much as I liked Tobin Bell’s portrayal of the philosophical Jigsaw (he slices off a piece of skin shaped like a portion of a jigsaw puzzle from each of the dead as a calling card), I never understood nor fully accepted his extreme motivations for putting deeply flawed, mostly unsympathetic people through absolute hell.  Granted, seeking perverse revenge on the drug addict who unintentionally caused his ex-wife’s miscarriage (fucking door knob) and the aforementioned insurance agent who wouldn’t cover an experimental treatment that might prolong his life makes sense.  But why care about “rehabilitating” all the rest?  He looks like an out-of-control busy body with too much time on his hands.  And quite frankly, his technique stinks.

Despite being killed off at the end of Saw III, Jigsaw remains a central figure throughout the rest of the series thanks to flashback after flashback.  (He was thankfully never artificially resurrected.)  Watching these scenes, you feel the filmmakers are constantly covering their asses about previous gaps in logic, often unpersuasively.  Consider the end of Saw IV where a certain officer of the law turns out to be an accomplice.  A whole back story has to be created for Saw V in order to justify his actions.  The result:  more tedious revenge porn.

Consider the end of Saw III.  It takes two more movies to find out what happens to that grieving ex-husband’s daughter.  When the resolution happens at the start of Saw V, the result is improbable and anticlimactic.  And consider the end of Saw II.  I’m pretty sure a certain major character from the first movie is discovered lying there dead in that scuzzy bathroom.  So, how is he still alive in Saw 3D?  Or was that someone else?  Honestly, who gives a shit.

Although there are some clever twists, which partially explains the dark appeal of this dreadful series, and that catchy end theme (an always welcome sign that the movie’s about to end), it’s the agonizing torture scenes that define the franchise.  While the first Saw shows a bit of restraint (probably because of its small shooting budget), from the second film onward nothing is left to your imagination.  Bones break, skin rips & burns, arms & legs are decapitated, eyes are pierced, lungs burst, hair & teeth are pulled, and on and on and on.  I defy anyone to watch any one of these sequences and not make a face.  I envy those who wisely look away.

By the time you reach Saw 3D, whatever minor cleverness this series once possessed is completely gone.  I’ve seen a lot of violent films in my life but this seventh (and hopefully, final) entry is one of the most depraved.  Even more infuriating is the ending which doesn’t resolve anything.  If Lionsgate falls on hard times any time soon (not bloody likely since they bought out the studio that brought you the Twilight Saga), you could easily see an eighth Saw in the future.  God help us all, even us doubtful atheists.

4. Final Destination (2000-2011; 5 movies)

The more-disturbing-than-scary Saw films may be intensely violent but at least there’s some level of intelligence happening (albeit with a large dose of pretension mixed in).  Face it, there’s nothing smart nor frightening about the brutal Final Destination series.

In the 2000 original, Devon Sawa plays a high school student who startles his fellow classmates when he wakes up having a terrible premonition.  They’re on a plane that’s about to fly to France for a school trip when he freaks out warning everyone that they’re all going to die in an explosion.  Several other classmates follow him off the plane as he gets kicked off.  While waiting in the terminal, they all watch in horror as Sawa’s nightmare becomes reality.

Breathing a collective sigh of relief, this small group of grieving teens doesn’t realize that they’re still in grave danger.  Apparently, “Death” is very pissed off that they screwed up his plans and so he sets out to kill them one by one in the order they were supposed to die on the plane.  How does he do this?  By defying every natural law in existence.

A so-so affair with an ultimately ridiculous supernatural premise, this don’t-cheat-death-or-else formula would be poorly repeated four more times over the next decade.  Final Destination 2 involves a multi-vehicle highway mishap while number 3 involves a roller coaster ride from hell.  The fourth entry, the blatantly dishonest The Final Destination, is set at a stock car race gone horribly wrong while Final Destination 5 involves a collapsing bridge.

Beyond the first one (which the late Roger Ebert praised), the sequels serve no good purpose other than to cash in.  (The series ultimately earned 665 million internationally.  Ugh.)  To see new casts make the same mistakes as the original (before belatedly realizing the inevitable) is beyond annoying.  2, 3 and 5 are awful entries but The Final Destination is the absolute worst in the series.  It remains one of the worst horror films I’ve ever seen.  It has no value whatsoever.  As pessimistic as the Saw franchise is, this is actually the most depressing horror saga in the new millennium thus far.  No matter what, you can’t cheat “Death”.  But if you’re smarter than me, you’ll avoid this entire series altogether.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, October 12, 2013
11:43 p.m.

Published in: on October 12, 2013 at 11:43 pm  Comments (2)