The WWE’s Hopeless Addiction To Its Own Nostalgia

Last night I did something I hadn’t done in four months.  I watched Monday Night Raw.

What a mistake.

For more than three hours, there was little to get excited about.  Judging by much of the reaction of the audience who attended the show, I’m not alone.

So why did I give Raw another chance after all this time?

Three reasons:

1) Hulk Hogan was going to be on.
2) I was curious how the build to WrestleMania 30 would begin.
3) Mick Foley said it was going to be the “Raw Of The Year”.

Hogan hasn’t worked for Vince McMahon Jr. in seven years.  For much of that time, he was wasting his talents with the poor man’s WCW, TNA.  Now he’s back to host WrestleMania 30, a nothing role for a legend.

But his real purpose in opening Raw was to shamelessly shill for the WWE Network, the long delayed on-demand video service that finally launched before the broadcast.  Sadly, it wasn’t the only pitch we heard for it last night.

Look, I get it.  This is a big commercial venture for the company.  Its debut was delayed for two years and now that it’s available, they want everybody to know about it.  Understandable.  But when you spend the entire three-hour broadcast talking about it you’ve turned your already overlong, uninspired flagship wrestling show into an epic infomercial.  The constant selling was smothering last night.

Furthermore, only Americans can order the service right now.  Everybody else has to wait, including Canada.  The WWE Network won’t be launched here until late 2014/early 2015.  However, if it generates the kind of longterm buzz and positive attention the company hopes it will, the wait will be worth it for fans eager to pay to devour a considerable amount of videotaped history of professional wrestling at their leisure.  (In the meantime, they can enjoy the vast number of DVDs and Blu-rays already available not to mention all those free tube videos all over the ‘net.)

In a way, it’s fitting that the WWE Network talk dominated the show.  It perfectly symbolizes the current problem with the WWE:  its hopeless addiction to its own nostalgia.

From a boa-wearing Hogan cupping his ear to the strains of Rick Derringer’s Real American to his famously liberal use of the word “brother” in his sales pitch to the New Age Outlaws doing their tired Degeneration-X schtick to the world title rivalry between former Evolution compadres Batista and Randy Orton to the returns of Ric Flair, Booker T and The Undertaker, the company continues to let its past overshadow its future.

You know I really shouldn’t include Taker in that list since his show-closing segment with Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman was the only one that held my interest from start to finish.  The Beast Incarnate is the next man to attempt to break The Streak and the start to this story was strongly booked, teased a compelling drama and made perfect sense.  How many other current storylines meet that criteria?

And nearly three decades later, I still enjoy seeing Hogan doing his 80s babyface routine.  The ear cupping, the “brother” antics, the “whatcha gonna do” stuff, even the Derringer song (which was actually written for Barry Windham & Mike Rotundo).  It all appeals to my inner 10-year-old.

But I’m 38 now and I stand by my point.  The old is getting far more play on TV than the new.

I mean just look at the younger talents that didn’t appear on Raw last night:  Cody Rhodes, Damien Sandow, Tyson Kidd, Titus O’Neill, Darren Young, AJ Lee, Kofi Kingston, Dolph Ziggler, Natalya, Brodus Clay.  And don’t forget CM Punk who left the company in a frustrated, injured huff a few weeks ago.

True, we did get The Shield, The Wyatts, Cesaro, Big E, Emma, Sheamus and an Alexander Rusev vignette.  But who got the biggest pops last night, aside from the unstoppable Daniel Bryan?  Hogan and The Undertaker.  That’s a big problem.

An even bigger problem is the renewed rivalry between recent Royal Rumble winner Batista and the WWE World Heavyweight Champion Randy Orton.  Ever since The Animal returned last month as a good guy (he exited as a self-victimized villain in the summer of 2010), increasingly disgruntled audiences have showered him with so much hatred the WWE’s creative forces have had to make immediate changes to this angle in order to appease them, a tall order if ever there was one.

According to one online dirt sheet, Batista’s heel turn was originally planned for WrestleMania 30.  But because he was reportedly booed so mercilessly at the Rumble and the Elimination Chamber, as evidenced by his out-of-breath promo last night, it’s been expedited to this week.  (He’s scheduled to do another one on the next Smackdown which was hyped as being a “candid” moment with the audience.)

Channelling John Cena throughout the exchange with The Viper (after he distracted him to lose against Del Rio), it’s clear that this program is in serious trouble.  The fans want Daniel Bryan in the main event challenging for the strap.  They don’t want “Bootista” battling the defanged Orton, an old pairing from a decade ago.

And who can blame them?  Batista did not look good in his Elimination Chamber rematch with Alberto Del Rio on Raw.  He was sluggish and unpolished, a far cry from his original run with the WWE.  As for Orton, while I was glad to see him become a villain again last summer, his most recent title push at the 2013 Hell In A Cell was one of the reasons I stopped watching Raw in the first place.  As I’ve said before, he represents the past not the future.

As for the annoyingly downgraded Bryan, he’s taking CM Punk’s place at WrestleMania.  It was The Straight Edge Superstar who was supposed to renew his very good feud with Triple H for the event, not the Yes Man.  And while there is a history between the two that goes back to the aftermath of last year’s SummerSlam, will a regular one-on-one encounter with The Game really make up for all the horrible ways the WWE has treated Bryan during his meteoric rise in the eyes of the fans?

No, of course it won’t.  It’s not a title match, it’s a delayed grudge match that probably should’ve happened at the end of 2013.  But because of Punk’s sudden exit, it’s happening now.  What possible bump could Bryan get out of it other than the kayfabe satisfaction of beating Vince McMahon’s son-in-law?

Which brings me to Mrs. Foley’s baby boy.  On his Facebook page yesterday, he had high expectations for Raw.  “…I really believe tonight’s episode of ‘RAW’ has a chance to be the episode of the year.”

To be fair, Foley has been very critical of the WWE lately, as he noted in that entry.  (He was so upset that Bryan didn’t appear in the Rumble match he wanted to break his own TV.)  But the optimist in him led him to believe that “the people in charge at WWE are just too smart to allow Wrestlemania – their biggest event of the year to take place with so much of [its] fanbase down on the product.”

He further remarked, “Timing in the wrestling business, as in much of life, is everything. If WWE has that magic bullet in its chamber they NEED to fire that shot that will be heard around the world TONIGHT!  Waiting any longer would, in my opinion, greatly harm that essential timing, and make the process of getting the WWE Universe motivated for Mania far more difficult.”

They didn’t listen.

Instead of a hot show that thrusted The Bearded One into the Batista/Orton title match and set up some fantastic conflicts for WrestleMania 30, we got a forgettable broadcast with only a few, short-lived bright spots – the fans booing Batista and chanting for CM Punk, Bray Wyatt’s incisive promo to John Cena, Cesaro’s incredible in-ring strength, parts of the Christian/Sheamus match (especially that stiff knee lift and creative finish) and the final segment with Taker, Lesnar and Heyman – and next to no buzz.

This nostalgia addiction is not a new problem for the WWE.  As others online have pointed out, it’s been a significant issue these last few years, especially when it comes to booking the company’s biggest supercard.  Instead of getting the next generation of full-time superstars over to the point where they’re ready to be positioned for higher profile matches at the event, they bring back already established part-time talents from the past:  The Rock, The Undertaker, Brock Lesnar, Chris Jericho, Triple H and Batista.  Granted, some of these guys can still go (when’s the last time Taker had a bad Mania match?) but The Dead Man aside, they’re taking up key slots that should be filled by guys like Ziggler and Bryan.

Let me put it this way.  When two of your best new talents, Bray Wyatt and Roman Reigns, are having a boring match that generates no reaction from the paying crowd while an old-timer like Hulk Hogan can just show up and get thunderous cheers, you have a serious problem.

It’s a problem new subscribers of the WWE Network will be repeatedly reminded of as they immerse themselves in the very nostalgia that threatens the longterm future of the WWE itself.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
7:29 p.m.

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Published in: on February 25, 2014 at 7:29 pm  Comments (1)  

36 Things I Loved About The 2014 Winter Olympics

1. The beautiful snow-capped mountains that could be clearly seen during all the daytime skiing events.  Breathtaking.

2. The fact that the mayor of Sochi, Russia is named Anatoly Pakhomov.  Yes, he has “homo” in his last name.  Oh, the irony.

3. All the kind athletes who adopted those abandoned stray dogs.  I’m not a pooch fan by any means but this was lovely.  These critters will now enjoy happy lives.

4. Canadian Gilmore Junio’s decision to give up his spot in the mens’ 1000 metre long track speed skating competition to teammate Denny Morrison.  Morrison should’ve qualified at a pre-Olympics event but because he fell just a short distance from the finish line, he missed the cut.  Thanks to a coach’s suggestion, Junio offered Morrison his spot in the Olympics.  Morrison ended up winning Silver.  He also secured a Bronze in the 1500 metres.  Both medals were his first individual achievements in the Olympics.

5. The Canada vs. US womens’ hockey final.  The Canadians were extremely fortunate to win their fourth consecutive gold medal in an absolute thriller of a finish.  It was the most entertaining game of the entire Olympics.

6. There were no terrorist attacks, despite widespread fears and the ongoing crisis in nearby Ukraine.

7. Canadian cross country coach Justin Wadsworth offering a new ski to Russian Anton Gafarovski who was struggling to finish the semifinals of the mens’ free sprint with a broken one.  (He had a couple of bad falls earlier in the race.)  Gafarovski was the last competitor in the event and thanks to the sweet gesture by Wadsworth he was able to cross the finish line.

8. That mysterious Russian guy at the medal ceremonies who pronounced Canada “Cahn-ah-dee” in his native tongue.  I can’t stop imitating him.

9. The three French-Canadian Dufour-Lapointe sisters, two of whom won the top two spots in female moguls.  Sigh.

10. The excellent CBC segment on three Canadian male figure skaters and their historic struggles at the Olympics.  Hearing first-person accounts from Kurt Browning, Elvis Stojko and Brian Orser many years after their famous Gold medal disappointments was sobering, enlightening and increased my respect for all three men.  Patrick Chan now knows how they all feel.

11. Swiss hockey player Luca Cunti.  Somewhere in America, Howard Stern is giggling.

12. The Russian fan who wore a makeshift miniature podium on his head at a ski jumping event.

13. Jennifer Jones and her amazing curling team.  The Manitoba native led her squad to Canada’s first Gold medal in female curling in 16 years.  And they did it without losing a game.  Awesome.  More sighing.

14. The US mens’ hockey team didn’t score a single goal in their last two games of the tournament.

15. French-Canadian Charles Hamelin and Marianne St. Gelais are not only still romantically involved, they both won medals in short track speed skating.  Hamelin won a Gold in the mens’ 1500 metre individual final and St. Gelais earned a Silver with three teammates (Jessica Hewitt, Valerie Maltais, Marie-Eve Drolet) in the womens’ 3000 metre team relay.  Sweet.

16. Canadian Snowboarder Mark McMorris won a Bronze in the first-ever mens’ slopestyle with a broken rib.

17. 41-year-old Japanese ski jumper Noriaki Kasai finally made it back to the podium 20 years after his first Olympic games in 1994.  He won an individual Silver on the large hill and a Bronze in the team event.  And yes, he’ll be back in 2018.  It will mark his eight consecutive Winter Olympic appearance.  Astounding.

18. 43-year-old Teemu Selanne’s memorable final performance for Finland in the Bronze medal hockey game.  The longtime Anaheim Duck scored two goals (one of them a clever backhand) to help his team skunk America 5-0 in his last Olympic appearance.  There were plenty of hugs to go around.

19. Canadian Jan Hudec ended his country’s 20-year medal slump in alpine skiing.  He shared a Bronze with Bode Miller in the mens’ Super-G.

20. Womens’ ski jumping finally debuted.  What took the IOC so long?

21. The introduction of slopehill and slopestyle.  Good Lord, these men and women are gutsy and supremely talented.  Exciting events.

22. The camaraderie between all the freestyle skiers and snowboarders at the bottom of the hill.  Really nice to see.

23. Goaltender Carey Price’s overall performance for Canada’s male hockey team.  If only he played that well for the Habs, my Dad wouldn’t rag on him so much.

24. Those astoundingly beautiful female curlers.  Swoon.

25. Mogul skier Alexandre Bilodeau, female bobsledders Kaillie Humphries & Heather Moyse, and the mens and womens hockey teams all repeated as Olympic champions for Canada after winning Gold in Vancouver four years ago.  Amazing.

26. The electronic projections on Fisht Olympic Stadium’s roof.  So cool.

27. Latvian goalie Kristers Gudlevskis’ outstanding performance in the mens quarterfinal game against Canada.  He made 55 saves.  Canada won a squeaker 2-1.

28. NBC’s fascinating 20-year anniversary retrospective of the Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding story that led to the famous showdown at the Lillehammer Olympics.  I never fully appreciated what Kerrigan went through until I watched this special.  She is a remarkably gracious and empathetic human being, a far more sympathetic figure than the self-victimizing Harding who still denies the important role she played in her own needless downfall.

29. Canadian Skeleton racer John Fairbairn’s brain helmet.  Nifty.

30. Canada’s encouraging progress in luge.  Three fourth place finishes overall.  Our best ever.  Will we finally make the podium in 2018?  Let’s hope so.

31. Ron MacLean’s prime time segments with Clara Hughes and Adam Van Koeverden.  Despite taking place in the middle of the night in Russia, the discussions about athlete depression and inspirational Olympic stories were most welcome.

32. The Russian singers who sang Daft Punk’s Get Lucky during the Opening Ceremonies.

33. Those notes of encouragement Canadian athletes sent to each other for inspiration.  Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse’s written message to the womens’ hockey team led the squad to write one of their own for their male counterparts.  They proved effective.  For the second Olympics in a row, Canada was unbeatable in hockey.

34. The crowd reactions at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C. and businesses across the Great White North after goals were scored and victories were attained by the mens and womens’ national hockey teams in the semis and gold medal games.  Too bad they weren’t in Sochi.

35. Ron MacLean’s revealing interview with Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse.  The story of how they made peace after a major falling out makes their second Gold performance all the more impressive.

36. Canada’s overall medal count:  10 Golds, 10 Silvers, 5 Bronze.  Our second best tally ever.  We had 26 in Vancouver (14 of which were Gold).  Lots to be proud of in 2014.  Looking forward to 2018.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, February 24, 2014
3:21 a.m.

Published in: on February 24, 2014 at 3:21 am  Comments (1)  

26 Things I Hated About The 2014 Winter Olympics

1. The nine-hour time difference between here and Sochi, Russia.  As a result, the only live events I was able to watch on TV were broadcast after midnight (9 a.m. Russian time) and in the early afternoon before 3 p.m. (midnight Russian time).  Watching important moments replayed long after they happened isn’t nearly as exciting.

2. The creepy revelation that Russia had secret surveillance installed in hotel bathrooms.  Chuck Berry would be proud.

3. No Brian Williams.  The former CBC broadcaster’s absence was clearly felt throughout the past two weeks.  Remind me again why he was let go in the first place.

4. The horrible mistreatment of punk rock protest group Pussy Riot by the Russian authorities.  Why is the government so afraid of dissent?

5. No medals for Canada’s female long track speed skaters.  How badly we miss Cindy Klassen, Kristina Grove and Clara Hughes.

6. No medals for Canada’s skeleton competitors, either.  Poor Mellisa Hollingsworth crapped out again and 2010 Gold medallist Jon Montgomery didn’t even qualify.

7. More doping scandals.  Will the Olympics ever be drug-free?

8. NBC’s continuing disinterest in offering live coverage.  Thank goodness for CBC, TSN and Sportsnet.

9. Canada 3’s dreadfully scary crash near the end of their second run in the four-man bobsled competition.  Imagine being in a flipped over sled sliding on your head at breakneck speed for about 20 straight seconds.  Not fun.  Good thing all four guys wore helmets and are reportedly ok.

10. The endless controversy over figure skating judging.  Will it ever be considered completely legitimate and free of shady political agendas?

11. All those commercial breaks during the Closing Ceremonies.  Why can’t this be aired commercial-free?

12. That dopey linesman who nearly cost the Canadian women the gold medal in the hockey final.  The team is very lucky that that American shot hit the post while the net was empty.  If it went in, we would’ve never heard the end of it.

13. The phony controversy over Lebanese skier Jacky Chamoun’s sexy pics.  Why do we hate female sexuality so much?  Dumb.

14. Canada didn’t win any Gold medals in figure skating.

15. Russian long track speed skater Olga Graf quickly zipping her skin tight outfit back up after realizing that she wasn’t wearing anything up top underneath.  Damnit.

16. Charles Hamelin’s numerous falls during various short track speed skating qualifiers.  So unfortunate.

17. The criticism regarding Canada’s male hockey team not scoring enough goals.  As long as they were winning, who gives a shit?

18. The moment from the Opening Ceremonies where the malfunctioning fifth ring didn’t work correctly wasn’t shown on Russian TV.  They showed the rehearsal footage where it did work instead.  So silly.

19. 2010 Canadian Olympic Snowboard Cross Champion Maelle Ricker didn’t successfully defend her title.  In fact, she didn’t even make it to the podium at all this time.  She finished a disappointing 21st.

20. All those nasty wipeouts in the freestyle and downhill skiing events.  The more we learn about concussions, the more I fear for the mental health of these fallen athletes.  Nasty.

21. There’s still no two-women luge nor four-women bobsled events.  Why?

22. The IOC refused to allow athletes to pay tribute to the late skier Sarah Burke by acknowledging her on their helmets.  Cold-hearted bastards.

23. CBC commentators Glenn Healy, Craig Simpson and Jim Hughson talking about anything but the Finland/US Bronze medal game on a couple of occasions during play.  Stop being influenced by Monday Night Raw’s announce team.  It’s annoying.

24. The unfortunate crashes that eliminated a number of Canadian freestyle skiers in the quarterfinal and semifinal heats.  Heartbreaking and infuriating.

25. Toronto Mayor Rob Ford jumping up and down like an idiot in City Hall after one of Canada’s hockey teams scored.  Hasn’t he reached his bottom yet?

26. The next Winter Olympics will be held in South Korea in 2018.  Can we please pick a country not surrounded by hostility and in a better time zone?  Dictators and vast time differences suck.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, February 24, 2014
3:05 a.m.

Published in: on February 24, 2014 at 3:05 am  Comments (1)  

2014 Oscar Predictions

BEST PICTURE – 12 YEARS A SLAVE

Here’s an interesting statistic.  In the last ten years, seven Best Picture Oscar winners have premiered at The Toronto International Film Festival:  Paul Haggis’ Crash (which actually debuted in 2004, eight months before its Spring 2005 theatrical release), No Country For Old Men, Slumdog Millionaire, The Hurt Locker (a 2008 selection that played in theatres in 20o9), The King’s Speech, The Artist, and Argo.

Now here’s another one.  Of the nine Best Picture nominees up for the prize this year, four premiered at TIFF.  That means American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Her, Nebraska and The Wolf Of Wall Street have no chance of taking the big gong.  None of them played the festival last September.

Of the four that did, only two are serious contenders.  So forget about Dallas Buyers Club and Philomena as well.

Gravity was the biggest commercial hit of this pack of nine and received overwhelmingly enthusiastic reviews from critics.  But ever since it won the audience award at TIFF last year, 12 Years A Slave has been riding a wave of support that shows no sign of receding.  Its victory will expand TIFF’s Best Picture Oscar streak to seven.

BEST DIRECTOR – Alfonso Cuaron (GRAVITY)

Historically, if you win the Director’s Guild Of America prize, nine times out of ten you win the Best Director Oscar.  This year, Gravity’s Alfonso Cuaron snagged the former which means he’ll take home the latter.

BEST ACTOR – Matthew McConaughey (DALLAS BUYERS CLUB)

As soon as I saw the ads for it on TV last fall, I knew the race was over.  Let’s face it.  There’s absolutely no reason whatsoever to talk about the other nominees for Best Actor this year.  They’re just happy to be recognized.

20 years ago, Tom Hanks slimmed down to play a wrongfully dismissed gay attorney dying of AIDS in Philadelphia.  It was the role that redefined his career.  The star of Splash and Bachelor Party was finally seen as a serious actor.  That first Best Actor Oscar led to a second for Forrest Gump and a whole slew of criticially acclaimed blockbusters, most of them dramas.

It’s highly unlikely Dallas Buyers Club’s Matthew McConaughy (the star of such turkeys as The Wedding Planner, How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days and Fool’s Gold) will ever enjoy the kind of second act Hanks has experienced in the last two decades.  But maybe his highly respected performance as a scarily thin AIDS patient who supplies fellow sufferers with much needed medicine will help reset his trajectory.  Regardless, it will be a real shock if he doesn’t win on Oscar night.

BEST ACTRESS – Amy Adams (AMERICAN HUSTLE)

In 1993, Woody Allen’s Husbands And Wives received two nominations:  one for Allen’s screenplay and one for Judy Davis in the Best Supporting Actress category.  Allen had already won two previous writing Oscars for penning Annie Hall and Hannah & Her Sisters so he wasn’t expected to snag another.  (David Webb Peoples’ Unforgiven won Best Original Screenplay that year.)  But Davis was considered an absolute lock for Best Supporting Actress.

What prognosticators forgot, or more likely, didn’t anticipate was the continuing fallout from Allen’s personal peccadilloes amongst traditionally squeamish Academy members.  As recently noted in this space, Allen’s now estranged daughter, Dylan Farrow, first accused him of sexual abuse in the summer of 1992.  Also, then-longtime partner Mia Farrow discovered that Allen had been having a two-year affair with her adopted daughter, Soon-Yi Previn.

What followed was intensely ugly.  After splitting up, Allen initiated a “frivolous”, unsuccessful child custody battle that dragged on for nearly a year.  It would not be resolved until early June 1993, many weeks after the Oscars.

Best Supporting Actress was the first award presented that March evening.  But when Jack Palance opened the envelope, he announced Marisa Tomei (My Cousin Vinny) as the winner.  Davis got punished for being in a Woody Allen film.

And I suspect the favourite in this year’s Best Actress race will meet the exact same fate.  Cate Blanchett is expected to take the award for her highly acclaimed performance in Allen’s Blue Jasmine.  (She’s received numerous awards for it already.)  But now that the adult Dylan Farrow has courageously given a public voice to her violated younger self through the power of the written word, the normally media-shy Allen has found himself once again on the defensive.

It’s not hard to understand why.  You can find credible information that thoroughly debunks the unapologetic filmmaker’s transparently bogus declarations of innocence rather easily online.  Unlike the early 90s, Allen can no longer run away from his despicable past.  And if history is any guide, Blue Jasmine will lose all three gongs it’s up for.

But there’s another compelling reason Blanchett should be very worried about her Oscar chances this year.  Of the five Best Actress nominees, only one has never won an Oscar before.  And it’s not her.

Blanchett previously won Best Supporting Actress for playing Katharine Hepburn in Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator.  Judi Dench won that category for her very small role as Queen Elizabeth I in Shakespeare In Love.  Sandra Bullock won Best Actress for her work in The Blind Side.  And Meryl Streep already has three naked golden men in her expansive trophy collection.  (By the way, the real-life Hepburn won four in her lifetime, the most of any actor, male or female.)

A similar situation arose in 2003 in the Best Actor race.  Four previous winners (Daniel Day-Lewis, Michael Caine, Nicolas Cage and Jack Nicholson) competed against an Oscar newbie (Adrian Brody).  I vividly remember thinking upon learning the nominations that year that Brody would take it solely because everybody else in his category had already won at least once before.  (Caine has two and Nicholson has three.  Then-one-time winner Day-Lewis would add two more in 2008 and 2013.)

But then Day-Lewis, so memorably villainous in Scorsese’s Gangs Of New York, kept winning all the preliminary prizes, so I switched my vote to him.  When Halle Berry announced Brody as the winner for his much praised performance in The Pianist, I was pissed.  (Had I gone with my original instinct, I wouldn’t have had to split the family Oscar pool that year with my dad.  D’oh!)

I’m not making that mistake again.  That’s why I’m predicting an Amy Adams upset.  Her work in the critically revered American Hustle marks her fifth Academy Award nomination.  Despite being previously nominated for Junebug, Doubt, The Fighter and The Master, she’s never won.  As far as I know, she’s respected by audiences, critics and Hollywood alike.

And, best of all, she’s never worked with Woody Allen.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – Lupita Nyong’o (12 YEARS A SLAVE)

A wide open category this year.  Julia Roberts won a Best Actress prize for Erin Brockovich more than a decade ago but few are expecting her to win a Supporting gong for August: Osage County.  Nebraska’s June Squibb could pull off an upset but I doubt it.  And because Sally Hawkins is in Blue Jasmine, she’s as long a shot as you can get.  She’s tainted by the Allen connection.

That leaves last year’s Best Actress winner Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle) and newcomer Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years A Slave).  In the near 100 year history of the Oscars no woman has ever won Best Actress one year and Best Supporting Actress the next.  Furthermore, the goofy Lawrence is already an established star who doesn’t need further validation.

Nyong’o, on the other hand, could really use an Oscar.  (Following her highly regarded debut in 12 Years A Slave, she’ll next be seen in the upcoming Liam Neeson action flick, Non-Stop, later this month.)  A win would greatly raise her profile and allow Hollywood a rare opportunity to push a woman of colour, something that should be happening more often.  I suspect she’ll take the gold.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – Jared Leto (DALLAS BUYERS CLUB)

The last time someone was nominated for playing a transgendered woman was Transamerica’s Felicity Huffman who was up for Best Actress back in 2006.  She lost to Reese Witherspoon who played June Carter Cash in Walk The Line.  This year, Jared Leto plays a transgendered woman suffering from AIDS in Dallas Buyers Club.  The 30 Seconds To Mars frontman has been cleaning up on the awards circuit thus far for his performance.  Expect that trend to continue on March 2nd.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE – FROZEN

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE – THE ACT OF KILLING

BEST FOREIGN FEATURE – THE MISSING PICTURE

BEST FILM EDITING – 12 YEARS A SLAVE

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY – Spike Jonze (HER)

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY – John Ridley (12 YEARS A SLAVE)

BEST SOUND MIXING – GRAVITY

BEST SOUND EDITING – GRAVITY

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY – GRAVITY

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE – Thomas Newman (SAVING MR. BANKS)

BEST ORIGINAL SONG – Ordinary Love (MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM)

BEST COSTUME DESIGN – 12 YEARS A SLAVE

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT – HELIUM

BEST ANIMATED SHORT – GET A HORSE!

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT – FACING FEAR

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN – GRAVITY

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS – GRAVITY

BEST MAKE-UP – DALLAS BUYERS CLUB

The 86th annual Academy Awards will be handed out on Sunday, March 2nd on ABC and CTV, beginning with the pre-show at 8 p.m.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, February 20, 2014
12:50 a.m.

Published in: on February 20, 2014 at 12:50 am  Comments (1)  

Damaging Woody Allen Details From A 1997 Connecticut Magazine Article

In the November 1997 issue of Connecticut Magazine, journalist Andy Thibault profiled Frank Maco.  In the summer of 1992, Maco, the state prosecutor, was investigating the Woody Allen molestation scandal.  Allen’s then-seven-year-old adopted daughter, Dylan Farrow, accused her father of fingering her vagina on multiple occasions.

Although Maco ultimately dropped his investigation (he worried about putting Dylan through a potentially traumatizing trial despite the fact that she was more that willing to testify in front of her assailant), Allen’s behaviour throughout it was suspicious.  Here are the most damaging details noted in the article:

1. Contrary to what 60 Minutes reporter Steve Kroft asserted in his 1992 TV interview with Allen, the filmmaker was initially quite uncooperative with both Connecticut and New York police.  He spent several months refusing to submit to interviews.  At one point, he “tried to set preconditions” before sitting down with the Connecticut side.  “One of the preconditions was that any statements made by Allen could not be used to impeach him.  The state police did not comply.”

Another precondition involved having Maco witness Allen making his statement in front of law enforcement.  Worried that this would needlessly complicate his possible prosecution of the case (the defense could potentially put him on the stand during a trial), Maco refused.

2. When Allen finally sat down for an interview with Connecticut police in January 1993, the session lasted almost four hours.  One of the focal points was the incident in the attic.  (Dylan:  “He put his finger in my vagina.  He made me lay on the floor all ways, on my back, on my side, my front.  He kissed me all over.  I didn’t like it…Daddy told me not to tell and he’d take me to Paris, but I did tell.”)

Despite first claiming he had never been up there, “[p]olice found hair fibers in the crawl space consistent with Allen’s” and even fingerprints, physical evidence that placed him at the scene of the crime but didn’t necessarily prove culpability, as one CSI expert noted in the article.  Allen later conceded that not only was it possible that “he might have reached into the crawl space on occasion, either to grab one of the children or to give them a soda… it was” also “possible that [his] prints would be found there.”  That said, because he kept going back and forth with his answers, the “police characterized Allen’s statements as inconsistent.”

3. At least 10 private investigators were “hired by different lawyers and subcontractors”, all of them on Allen’s payroll, to dig up dirt on Maco and the Connecticut police in order to discredit their investigation.  “The private detectives included former FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration agents” who were particularly focused on “Sgt. John Mucherino, a primary investigator for Maco.  They wanted to know if Mucherino was a drinker or a gambler, if he had any marital problems.”  Ironically, some of the PIs were “former state cops who were friends with Mucherino.”  The article doesn’t mention if they found anything useful.

4. Several Connecticut police officers believed that it was Allen’s team who started “the false rumor” that someone in law enforcement “was trying to sell a videotape of Dylan” making her accusations directly to her mother, Mia, “to the tabloid media.”  A trooper was investigated by Internal Affairs over this but was cleared of any wrongdoing.  However, if it’s true that the defense was responsible for this wild goose chase, the dirty tactic proved effective.  As a result of the IA affair, the investigation into the abuse claims was suspended for 10 days before being reactivated.  Maco told Connecticut Magazine, “About this time, I was told there was a campaign to disrupt the investigators, being orchestrated out of New York.”

5. It was Maco who “commissioned” professional experts at Yale University to put together a report examining the credibility of Dylan’s abuse claims.  Furthermore, the county prosecutor specifically wanted the group “to determine whether Dylan was a viable witness who could stand up in court.”  Unfortunately, they concluded that no sexual violation of Allen’s adopted daughter had taken place.  However, there were several, notable problems with their findings:

i) “The Yale team used psychologists on Allen’s payroll to make mental health conclusions.”

ii) “Custody recommendations were made even though the team never saw Allen and any of the children together.”

iii) “The team refused to interview witnesses who could have corroborated the molestation claims.”

iv) “The team destroyed its notes.”

v) Dr. John Leventhal, “the only medical doctor on the team, did not interview Dylan.”

vi) “The night before Leventhal gave a statement to Farrow’s attorney, he discussed the scenario with Abramowitz, the head of Allen’s legal team, for about 30 minutes.”

vii) Leventhal aside, other members of the Yale team did interview Dylan a grand total of “nine times”, which an outside expert said was “excessive”.  (“The danger is the child feels like she’s not believed if she’s asked the same question over and over.”)  “For three consecutive weeks” of questioning, Dylan said Allen “violated her sexually.  In several of the other sessions, she mentioned a similar type of abuse.  When Dylan did not repeat the precise allegation in some of the sessions, the team reported this as an inconsistency.”

viii) “Leventhal himself later admitted” while under oath during the custody battle that among the “several mistakes” he made “was his false characterization of Dylan’s active imagination as a thought disorder” or “a fantasy problem”.  He initially found her “loose associations” troubling.  When Dylan talked about seeing “dead heads” in the attic, it was just a harmless reference to “a trunk” in the family “attic” where Mia “kept wigs from her movies on wig blocks”.  “The magic hour” was nothing more than Mia’s fanciful way of “describ[ing] the dark sky upon leaving New Haven in the evening…”  It wasn’t an example of “magical thinking” which Leventhal ultimately confessed, in sworn testimony, was a faulty conclusion.

ix) Leventhal never did determine Dylan’s fitness as a trial witness.  “Regardless of what the Connecticut police wanted from us…we weren’t necessarily beholden to them.  We did not assess whether she’d be a good witness in court.  That’s what Mr. Maco may have been interested in, but that’s not necessarily what we were interested in.”

Is it any wonder Maco noted in the article “that enlisting Yale’s assistance was the biggest mistake he made in the case”?

“I gave their report very little weight,” he told Connecticut Magazine.

6. After announcing in September 1993 that he was dropping the investigation against Allen to spare Dylan while simultaneously asserting that the filmmaker wasn’t exactly innocent, an infuriated Allen responded with two “ethics complaint[s] against Maco with both the Statewide Grievance Committee—a lawyers’ disciplinary group—and the state Criminal Justice Commission, which hires and fires prosecutors.”

The CJC cleared Maco at the end of 1993, two months after Allen’s desperate filing.  But a close SGC vote (6-5 “with two abstentions”) determined that an investigation was necessary into Maco’s actions.  “The vote overturned a ruling by Maco’s local committee, which had found in his favor.”  A Superior Court Judge ridiculed the overruling calling it “star-driven, sloppy and careless.”  There was suspicion that the committee might have “just wanted to see Woody Allen”.  Maco was offered a chance to apologize and settle with Allen but refused.  “I did nothing illegal, unethical or immoral,” he told Connecticut Magazine.  “I’ll go anywhere to defend that.”

In the end, according to a brief 2013 blog update published with the reposting of the original 1997 article on the official CM website, it took four years for the SGC to realize that the CJC was right all along.  As a result, Rico was cleared a second time in 2001.  Allen had lost both attempts to punish him for his aborted prosecution.  Two years later, after more than 30 years on the job, Rico retired.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, February 12, 2014
8:22 p.m.

Published in: on February 11, 2014 at 8:23 pm  Comments (1)  

Damning Woody Allen Details In 1993 Child Custody Decision (Part Three)

26. In denying Woody Allen custody of Dylan, Satchel and Moses, New York Supreme Court Justice Elliott Wilk noted that Allen “has demonstrated no parenting skills that would qualify him as an adequate custodian”.  Despite providing money to Mia’s family, reading and telling stories to the kids, purchasing gifts for them and “oversee[ing] their breakfasts”, none of this makes up for “his absence as a meaningful source of guidance and caring in their lives.  These contributions do not excuse his evident lack of familiarity with the most basic details of their day-to-day existences.”

27. Besides never bathing his kids and rarely getting them dressed, Allen’s other parental deficiencies: “[h]e knows little of Moses’ history, except that he has cerebral palsy; he does not know if he has a doctor.  He does not know the name of Dylan and Satchel’s pediatrician.  He does not know the names of Moses’ teachers or about his academic performance.  He does not know the names of his children’s friends.  He does not know the names of any of their many pets.  He does not know which children shared bedrooms.”  He would only attend parent-teacher events if Mia insisted he come along.

28. Allen “seldom communicated” with Mia’s children from her previous marriage to Andre Previn which, for quite a while, included Soon-Yi.  “He apparently did not pay enough attention to his own children to learn from them about their brothers and sisters.”

29. “Mr. Allen characterized Ms. Farrow’s home as a foster care compound and drew distinctions between her biological and adopted children.”  When Allen was “asked how he felt” about having sex with “his children’s sister”, he responded that Soon-Yi “was an adopted child and Dylan was an adopted child.  He showed no understanding that the bonds developed between adopted brothers and sisters are no less worthy of respect and protection than those between biological siblings.”

30. “None of the witnesses who testified on Mr. Allen’s behalf provided credible evidence that he is an appropriate custodial parent…none would venture an opinion that he should be granted custody…even Mr. Allen could not provide an acceptable reason for a change in custody.”  When his own attorney asked him point blank “why are you seeking custody of your children?”, “Mr. Allen’s response was a rambling non sequitur” that “consumed eleven pages of transcript.”

31. “Mr. Allen’s deficiencies as a custodial parent are magnified by his affair with Soon-Yi…The fact that Mr. Allen ignored Soon-Yi for ten years cannot change the nature of the family constellation and does not create a distance sufficient to convert their affair into a benign relationship between two consenting adults.”

32. “Mr. Allen admits that he never considered the consequences of his behaviour with Soon-Yi…Mr. Allen still fails to understand that what he did was wrong.  Having isolated Soon-Yi from her family, he left her with no visible support system.” Justice Wilk went on to say that Allen also didn’t care how his actions affected Mia, “the Previn children for whom he cared little, or…his own children for whom he professes love.”

33. The Justice noted that Allen’s response to Dylan’s sexual abuse allegations was to “attack” Mia, “whose parenting ability and emotional stability he impugned without the support of any significant credible evidence.”  Allen’s “trial strategy” was to “separate his children from their brothers and sisters; to turn the children against their mother; to divide adopted children from biological children”; to cause dissention within Mia’s group of professional household helpers and to create additional tensions between them and the family.

34. Allen’s “self-absorption, his lack of judgment and his commitment to the continuation of his divisive assault, thereby impeding the healing of the injuries that he has already caused, warrant a careful monitoring of his future contact with the children.”

35. When Allen tried to assert in testimony that Mia preferred her biological kids over her adopted ones, Justice Wilk noted, “There is no credible evidence that she unfairly distinguished among her children or that she favoured some at the expense of others.”

36. “There is no credible evidence to support Mr. Allen’s contention that Ms. Farrow coached Dylan or that Ms. Farrow acted upon a desire for revenge against him for seducing Soon-Yi.  Mr. Allen’s resort to the stereotypical ‘woman scorned’ defense is an injudicious attempt to divert attention from his failure to act as a responsible parent and adult.”

37. When Mia told a shrink that she hoped Dylan was making up her abuse story, the Justice noted that this “is inconsistent with the notion of brainwashing”, which Allen asserted in testimony.  Justice Wilk found it “highly unlikely” that “Ms. Farrow would have encouraged Dylan to accuse her father of having sexually molested her during a period in which Ms. Farrow believed they were in the presence of a babysitter.” The Justice went on to say that Mia wouldn’t have allowed the Connecticut Police to question Dylan “if she did not believe the possible truth of Dylan’s accusation.”

38. Justice Wilk praised Mia’s decision to regularly allow Allen to see Satchel under proper supervision, noting that she understood “the propriety of balancing Satchel’s need for contact with his father against the danger of Mr. Allen’s lack of parental judgment.”

39. “Ms. Farrow also recognizes that Mr. Allen and not Soon-Yi is the person responsible for their affair and its impact upon her family.”

40. Justice Wilk “was not persuaded the videotape of Dylan” describing her ordeal “is the product of leading questions or of the child’s fantasy.”

41. Despite believing that “it is unlikely” Allen “could be successfully prosecuted for sexual abuse”, he wasn’t persuaded “that the evidence proves conclusively that there was no sexual abuse”.  Regarding the events of August 4, 1992, he was convinced that the “credible testimony” of Mia, Allen and two shrinks “prove that Mr. Allen’s behaviour toward Dylan was grossly inappropriate and that measures must be taken to protect her.”

42. Young Satchel Farrow didn’t care for Woody Allen as a young boy.  Satchel “would push him away…not acknowledge him…kick him and [scratch] his face” when his father tried putting him to bed.  He would also cry when Allen held him.  He had the opposite reaction while in Mia’s arms.  In the custody case, Allen claimed that this was because Mia made a “conscious effort to keep him apart from the child.”  However, Justice Wilk disagreed:  “Although Ms. Farrow consumed much of Satchel’s attention, and did not foster a relationship with his father, there is no credible evidence to suggest that she desired to exclude Mr. Allen.  Mr. Allen’s attention to Dylan left him with less time and patience for Satchel.”

43. While trying to get Satchel out of bed one morning in 1991, Allen in a fit of rage “grabbed Satchel’s leg” and “started to twist it” after the boy kicked him and screamed at him to leave him alone.  With Mia in the room, Allen said, “I’m going to break your fucking leg.”  Mia was able to successfully separate the two before the situation escalated much further.  Dylan later recounted the incident during her interview with the Connecticut Police.

44. Justice Wilk described Allen’s “interactions with Moses” as “superficial” and “more a response to” the boy’s “desire for a father…than an authentic effort to develop” an actual “relationship”.  In 1984, when Moses directly asked Allen if he “would be his father”, Allen “said ‘sure’ but for years did nothing to make that a reality…There is no evidence…that Mr. Allen used any of their shared areas of interest” like music and sports, to offer two examples, “as a foundation upon which to develop a deeper relationship with his son.  What little he offered…was enough to encourage Moses to dream of more, but insufficient to justify a claim for custody.”

45. Moses was so upset about Allen’s affair with Soon-Yi, he wrote down his intensely angry feelings about the betrayal in a letter he personally delivered to him.  He wrote, “…you can’t force me to live with you…You have done a horrible, unforgivable, needy, ugly, stupid thing…about seeing me for lunch, you can just forget about that…we didn’t do anything wrong…All you did is spoil the little ones, Dylan and Satchel…Every one knows not to have an affair with your son’s sister…I don’t consider you my father anymore.  It was great having a father, but you smashed that feeling and dream with a single act.  I HOPE YOU ARE PROUD TO CRUSH YOUR SON’S DREAM.”  After reading the letter, Allen decided to “wrest custody of Moses” from Mia, wrongly believing that she wrote it.  Moses confirmed to a shrink that he was the sole author.

46. “The common theme of the testimony by the mental health witnesses is that Mr. Allen has inflicted serious damage on the children and that healing is necessary.”  In light of Allen’s “serious parental inadequacies”, Justice Wilk ruled “it is clear that the best interests of the children will be served by their continued custody with Ms. Farrow.”

47. “What is clear is that Mr. Allen’s lack of judgment, insight and impulse control make normal noncustodial visitation with Dylan and Satchel too risky to the children’s well-being to be permitted at this time…It is unclear whether Mr. Allen will ever develop the insight and judgment necessary for him to relate to Dylan appropriately…she feels victimized by her father’s relationship with her sister…Mr. [Allen has a] demonstrated inability to understand the impact his words and deeds have upon the emotional well being of his children.”

48. Justice Wilk declared “that Mr. Allen will use Satchel…to gain information about Dylan and to insinuate himself into her good graces…that Mr. Allen will, if unsupervised, attempt to turn Satchel against the other members of his family.”  He was also convinced that Allen wanted Soon-Yi to be a part of the “visitation arrangement without concern” for how this would affect the children and Mia.

49. “In short, I believe Mr. Allen to be so self-absorbed, untrustworthy and insensitive, that he should not be permitted to see Satchel without appropriate professional supervision…”

50. “Mr. Allen compounded the pain that he inflicted upon the Farrow family by bringing this frivolous petition for custody of Dylan, Satchel and Moses…Because Mr. Allen’s position had no merit, he will bear the entire financial burden of this litigation.”

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, February 9, 2014
2:04 a.m.

Published in: on February 9, 2014 at 2:05 am  Comments (1)  

Damning Woody Allen Details In 1993 Child Custody Decision (Part Two)

12. Allen’s relationship with Mia’s adopted daughter, Soon-Yi Previn, began in 1990.  Up to that point, according to Allen himself, “She was someone who didn’t like me.  I had no interest in her, none whatsoever.  She was a quiet person who did her work.  I never spoke to her.”  That all changed when they started going to Knick games together in New York.  In the weeks that followed, Allen did something to Soon-Yi he’d never done before when visiting Mia.  He said “hello” to her.

13. Over time, the relationship between Soon-Yi and Allen grew closer, especially when she started going to college in the fall of 1991.  According to Justice Wilk, “[s]he was naïve, socially inexperienced and vulnerable.”  According to Allen, “she was lonely and unhappy at school…”.  They had daily phone conversations while she stayed with Mia on weekends.  Her frequent contacts with Allen went unmentioned to her mother.

14. It was January 13, 1992 that Mia found the six nude photographs of Soon-Yi that Allen had taken and left “on a mantelpiece” in his apartment.  “She is posed reclining on a couch with her legs spread apart.”  According to Allen, Soon-Yi had expressed an interest in modelling.  Mia angrily called Allen.  She later confronted Soon-Yi.  When she found out they were having sex, “Ms. Farrow hit her on the side of the face and on the shoulders”.  She later “told her older children what she learned.”

15. Following the tense phone call with Mia, Allen went to her apartment where he noted she was “ragingly angry” with him.  “She begged him to leave.”  But he later “came back less than an hour later” to have dinner with the kids in what Mia later testified “was a rather silent meal”.  She further noted that he acted “as if nothing had happened” while uncharacteristically conversing with her kids.  But” one by one”, five of them including Moses, “took their plates and left” the table.  Mia would exit the apartment shortly thereafter.

16. It was during this period in late 1991 that the couple “retained counsel and attempted to negotiate a settlement of their differences.”  Allen told Mia he broke it off with Soon-Yi.  He lied.  “A temporary arrangement enabled Mr. Allen to visit regularly with Dylan and Satchel but they were not permitted to visit at his residence.  In addition, Ms. Farrow asked for his assurance that he would not seek custody of Moses, Dylan or Satchel.”

17. Despite agreeing to sign a waiver in February 1992 where he would relinquish his “custodial rights to Moses, Dylan and Satchel” if Mia died before he did, he secretly signed “a second document…in which he disavowed the waiver, claiming that it was a product of duress and coercion”.  It read in part, “I have no intention of abiding by it and have been advised that it will not hold up legally and that at worst I can revoke it unilaterally at will.”

18. When Mia threw a birthday party for five-year-old Dylan in Connecticut, Allen arrived “and monopolized Dylan’s time and attention”.  On the bathroom door near the guest room where he stayed for the night, Mia posted “a note which called Mr. Allen a child molester” in “reference” to “his affair with Soon-Yi”.

19. “In the summer of 1992”, Soon-Yi kept getting calls from a “Mr. Simon” while she was a camp counsellor.  She went on to lose the paying gig.  Although she told Mia she quit, her mom later received a letter from the camp noting that she was actually fired thanks to the mysterious Mr. Simon.  As it turns out, “Mr. Simon was Woody Allen.”  Knowing that Mia would be monumentally pissed off if she knew she was at Allen’s apartment, “[s]he refused to tell Ms. Farrow where she was staying”.

20. On August 4, 1992, Allen went to see Mia and the kids in Connecticut.  Mia was out shopping with a friend when he arrived.  A babysitter was “previously instructed” to not let Allen “be left alone with Dylan”.  Unfortunately, “[f]or a period of fifteen or twenty minutes during the afternoon”, she lost track of both of them.

21. Later that same day, this same babysitter “observed Mr. Allen kneeling in front of Dylan with his head on her lap, facing her body.  Dylan was sitting on the couch staring vacantly in the direction of a television set”.  When Mia came back from her shopping trip, a friend observed “that Dylan was not wearing anything under her sundress”.

22. After the babysitter later told Mia about the TV incident, she asked Dylan “whether it was true that daddy had his face in her lap yesterday”.  According to Mia’s sworn testimony, “Dylan said yes.  And then she said she didn’t like it one bit, no, he was breathing into her, into her legs, she said.  And that he was holding her around the waist and I said, why didn’t you get up and she said she tried to but that he put his hands underneath her and touched her.  And she showed me where…her behind.”

23. Feeling that professional shrinks weren’t properly recognizing her growing worries about all of this, Mia personally recorded Dylan with a video camera describing another incident involving Allen.  “…Dylan told Ms. Farrow that she had been with Mr. Allen in the attic and that he had touched her privates with his finger”.  (This is the same incident that the adult Dylan later recounted in her 2014 New York Times blog posting.)  Mia openly hoped her daughter was making all of this up.  (“Let’s hope it is her fantasy.”)  A week after being informed of Dylan’s accusation, Allen broke his word to Mia and started his legal fight for custody.

24. Two days before the start of 1993, “Dylan was interviewed by a representative of the Connecticut State Police.”  During the interview, Dylan said that “while at Mr. Allen’s apartment” sometime in 1991 “she saw him and Soon-Yi having sex.  Her reporting was childlike but graphic.  She also told the police that Mr. Allen had pushed her face into a plate of hot spaghetti and had threatened to do it again.”

25. “…Dylan told Ms. Farrow…that in Connecticut, while she was climbing up the ladder to a bunk bed, Mr. Allen put his hands under her shorts and touched her.” As Mia later recounted on the witness stand, Dylan “was illustrating graphically where in the genital area” as her daughter was telling her the disturbing details.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, February 9, 2014
1:39 a.m.

Published in: on February 9, 2014 at 1:40 am  Comments (1)  

Damning Woody Allen Details In 1993 Child Custody Decision (Part One)

It’s been more than 20 years since the bitter split between Mia Farrow and Woody Allen.  But contrary to the cliché, time hasn’t healed all wounds.  In fact, the hurt is even stronger now.

When Allen won an unprestigious lifetime achievement award at the Golden Globes last month (longtime friend and former ex Diane Keaton accepted in his predictable absence), his estranged son Ronan Farrow (an MSNBC broadcaster) tweeted the following the night of the broadcast:

“Missed the Woody Allen tribute – did they put the part where a woman publicly confirmed he molested her at age 7 before or after Annie Hall?”

The seven-year-old he’s referring to is his sister Dylan Farrow, the now 28-year-old writer who was first publicly interviewed about her childhood trauma for a Vanity Fair article late last year.  Recently, however, she wrote an absolutely devastating firsthand account of what happened to her on the blog of New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof.  It is one of the most powerful pieces of writing I’ve ever read.

Since its publication online, the story has attracted major media attention and fierce debate.  (Her Vanity Fair comments were curiously ignored.)  Dylan’s words cut so deep Allen offered a pathetic, unapologetic, misleading rebuttal in the Times himselfShe responded exclusively to The Hollywood Reporter.

Now that she has officially transformed herself from a victim into an outspoken survivor hoping to inspire others to own their own harrowing, traumatic experiences publicly like she has, it’s important to know the history of this story.

There’s no better way to do so than by reading this, a June 7, 1993 New York Supreme Court decision that concluded the brutal, months-long custody battle between Allen and Mia Farrow over three of their kids.  Revealed in these 33 pages is a Woody Allen that will shock you, disappoint you and ultimately infuriate you.  Here are the most damning details:

1. In the first five years of their courtship, Allen wanted nothing to do with Mia’s children, including newborn Moses, who was adopted shortly before they started dating.  During this period, they had “virtually a single person’s relationship” as they maintained separate residences.  (Weirdly, they never cohabitated during their 12 years together.)  According to the late New York Supreme Court Justice Elliott Wilk who wrote the decision (he died in 2002), Allen viewed them as an “encumbrance.  He had no involvement with them and no interest in them.”

2. “In 1984, Ms. Farrow expressed a desire to have a child with Mr. Allen.  He resisted, fearing that a young child would reduce the time that they had available for each other.  Only after Ms. Farrow promised that the child would live with her and that Mr. Allen need not be involved with the child’s care or upbringing, did he agree.”  Justice Wilk goes on to say that Allen’s support for this was “lukewarm”.

3. After half a year of failed attempts at conception, Farrow instead adopted a newborn girl she named Dylan in 1985.  “Mr. Allen chose not to participate in the adoption and Ms. Farrow was the sole adoptive parent.”

4. “Mr. Allen’s attitude toward Dylan changed a few months after the adoption.”  He started visiting her at Mia’s apartment during “some mornings and evenings” as well as Mia’s “country home in Connecticut”.  He also “accompanied the Farrow-Previn family on extended vacations to Europe in 1987, 1988 and 1989.  He remained aloof from Ms. Farrow’s other children except for Moses, to whom he was cordial.”

5. After Mia became pregnant with son Satchel in 1986, “Mr. Allen did not touch her stomach, listen to the fetus, or try to feel it kick.”  He “had shown no interest in her pregnancy”.  According to Mia, he was also “squeamish about the delivery process” so she enlisted a friend to become her Lamaze coach.

6. Early on in her pregnancy, Mia “began to withdraw from Mr. Allen”, and after Satchel’s birth in late 1987, “she grew more distant” from him.  As she tended to her new son’s needs, Dylan got less attention from her.  As a result, “Mr. Allen began to spend more time with Dylan and to intensify his relationship with her.”

7. “During a trip to Paris, when Dylan was between two and three years old, Ms. Farrow told Mr. Allen that ‘[y]ou look at her [Dylan] in a sexual way.  You fondled her.  It’s not natural.  You’re all over her.  You don’t give her any breathing room.  You look at her when she’s naked.'”

8. Allen would spend “play-time in bed with her, by…reading to her in his bed while dressed in his undershorts, and by his permitting her to suck on his thumb”.

9. According to Mia, “Mr. Allen was overly attentive and demanding of Dylan’s time and attention.  He was aggressively affectionate, providing her with little space of her own and with no respect for the integrity of her body.” Four different witnesses, including Mia herself, “testified that Mr. Allen focused on Dylan to the exclusion of her siblings, even when Satchel and Moses were present”.

10. In 1990, in the midst of “evaluat[ing] Dylan to determine if she needed therapy”, Mia “expressed her concern to Dr. [Susan] Coates[, a clinical psychologist,] that Mr. Allen’s behaviour with Dylan was not appropriate”.  Dr. Coates later described Allen’s relationship with Dylan as “inappropriately intense because it excluded everybody else, and it placed a demand on a child for a kind of acknowledgment that I felt should not be placed on a child”.  She recommended therapy for Dylan by referring her to another psychologist (sessions began in 1991) and tried to explain to Allen herself  “that his behaviour with Dylan was inappropriate and…had to be modified”.

11. When Mia was eager to adopt another child in 1991, Allen was worried their increasingly distant relationship would result in her “discontinu[ing] his access to Dylan”.  They came to an agreement.  She would “sponsor his adoption of Dylan and Moses” while pursuing her additional adoption as planned and “he would not take Dylan for sleep-overs…unless I was there.  And that if, God forbid, anything should happen to our relationship, that he would never seek custody”.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, February 9, 2014
1:18 a.m.

Published in: on February 9, 2014 at 1:18 am  Comments (3)  

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

Loneliness.  It’s what a young boy feels in his father’s absence, what a loyal wife endures in the aftermath of her husband’s betrayal, and what a mysterious visitor experiences upon being unceremoniously abandoned by its own family.

For a beloved children’s film, Steven Spielberg’s E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial is unusually heavy.  It is definitely not for the stoic.  In all the years I’ve been watching movies, few have consistently wrecked me as much as this one.  And yes, I’m talking about both theatrical versions here.

The remarkable Henry Thomas plays Elliott, the middle child of his broken California family.  When we first meet him, he’s desperate to convince older brother Michael (Robert McNaughton who should never ever sing publicly again) and his jerky teenage friends to join them in their night-time board game.  After a brief bit of obligatory mockery, he’s invited to play as soon as he brings back the pizza they just ordered.

But on his way back to the house, he hears something in the backyard.  It sure sounds like someone’s messing around in the shed.  After putting down the pizza he takes a ball and throws it directly into the shed’s opening.  Someone or something catches it and throws it right back.  Completely freaked out, Elliott accidentally steps on the pizza box as he bolts back inside warning everybody including his beautiful single mom (Dee Wallace Stone) to not go out there.

So, naturally they all go out there.  But it’s too late.  The noise has stopped and all they find are unusual footprints.  Absurdly, Michael thinks they’ve got a coyote problem.

That wildly off-the-mark speculation doesn’t deter Elliott.  He keeps going outside, his curiosity overriding his common sense.  (“You’re crazy, Elliott,” he mutters to himself on one of his private excursions.)  Despite his initial terror, what he ultimately finds is an unlikely kindred spirit, an advanced alien life form just as sensitive, inquisitive and alienated as himself.  He finally meets someone who completely understands what he’s going through emotionally.

This wasn’t supposed to happen.  If everything had gone according to plan in the film’s opening scene, the quirky creature and its brethren would’ve all gotten back on their nifty spaceship undetected after a night of gathering vegetation from a California forest.  But the sudden arrival of insistent men in pick-up trucks ruins all of that.  (Despite a valiant effort, the creature is too far away from the ship to get back on it in time.)

Once Elliott and the alien establish trust through Reese’s Pieces (the long-necked critter can’t get enough of them), the kid invites it into his family’s home.  After Elliott cleverly fools his mom into believing he’s too sick to go to school, he spends the following day deepening their bond.

There’s a lovely, charming scene where an engaged Elliott tries to have a conversation with his new friend as he shows it his Star Wars action figures, among other items.  The wide-eyed E.T. hangs on his every word.  In the 2002 20th Anniversary Edition, there’s an exclusive sequence set in the family bathroom.  As the alien has way too much fun lying underwater in the bathtub, Elliott takes a call from his concerned mom at work.  Eager to get off the line, he repeatedly pretends he’s on the verge of puking.  The pay-off is hilarious.

Eventually, Michael and baby sister Gertie (funny Drew Barrymore at her most adorable) meet E.T. themselves and come to feel equally as protective of their unexpected guest who fascinates them all at every turn.  (He can make objects levitate and has the power to heal.  Eventually, he picks up some English, too.)  Their mother, still reeling from their father leaving them for another woman, is too distracted to notice.  A bit of a contrivance (it takes her forever to meet the alien despite obvious clues of his existence in the house) and a lost opportunity for additional comic and emotional bonding.

Meanwhile, those men from the forest are closing in on the family as they grow ever more excited that they’re about to make a huge scientific discovery.  They have to hurry because E.T. has made a makeshift communication device out of ordinary household items and has already used it to contact its own family who left it behind so suddenly.

The close bond forged with this alien and this little boy has always been the beating heart of this film.  And more than 20 years after I last screened it as a child, I feel that bond even more intensely as a grown man approaching 40.  After watching both theatrical versions within three months of each other recently (the original being slightly preferable to the still very fine 20th Anniversary Edition), I remain devastated by its third act.  From the moment a scarily pale E.T. is discovered in a severely weakened state by Michael down by the forest river far from his makeshift communication set-up, the tears start flowing.

They continue to flow when E.T. openly feels the rejection of the family’s startled matriarch when, in an unintentionally cruel, impulsive manner, she removes the kids from his vulnerable presence.  (Elliott isn’t the only one with abandonment issues.)  And yet more tears are created when the only way to save Elliott is to make an incredible personal sacrifice.  The young lad’s speech to his friend following that sacrifice is so heartbreaking I’m starting to relive the deep sorrow I felt in that moment as I write this.  (Keep it together, D-Man.)

Of course, that sense of loss is temporary.  E.T.’s sudden resurrection is filled with such joy and humour you immediately forget how awful you just felt a moment ago.  You also tend to forget how unlikely it is that Michael & Elliott could ever have gotten their alien friend away from the authorities so easily to the point where they completely abandon their pursuit of them altogether.  (Why would these scientists give up their whole purpose for existing in this movie?)

But that obvious flaw is purposeful.  Without it, the last tearful moment can’t happen.  In an ironic ending that always leaves me distraught, two lonely, wounded souls brought together by circumstance urge the continuation of their sweet friendship.  “Come,” the alien pleads, referring to a ride on his spaceship.  “Stay,” his human friend counters, never once considering the risks of it accepting such an offer.

A sigh and a single word signify reality.  It can never happen.  And what follows is the most touching embrace I’ve ever seen in a film, so moving in fact that once again I’m reliving that moment emotionally while recounting it.  (Damn you, Spielberg.)  The alien’s gentle hand movements reveal so much unconditional love.

And once again, the young child, so hurt by his father’s selfishness, will now have to cope with another loss, the even larger absence of the only being that knows exactly how he feels.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, February 7, 2014
1:25 a.m.

Published in: on February 7, 2014 at 1:26 am  Comments (2)  

Why I Don’t Blame CM Punk For Leaving WWE

Professional wrestling is a brutal business.  You’re constantly on the road far away from your friends and family with little time off.  You’re constantly putting your body through relentless punishment, more so than outsiders realize.  You’re constantly interacting with members of the press relentlessly promoting your character, your current storyline, the next pay-per-view, the next live event, the next DVD and the prime-time shows you appear on, all for the company you work for.  You’re constantly competing with other talent for the top spot on the roster.  And you’re constantly fatigued thanks to early wake-up calls, late night sleep times, long interviews, long matches and inevitable creative differences.

In short, professional wrestling is not for everybody.  Only the truly gifted, the truly creative, the truly athletic, the truly dedicated, the truly determined, the truly passionate and, dare I say, truly stubborn are able to thrive for any amount of time in such a dangerous industry.

But even the best in the world have their breaking point.

Earlier this week, CM Punk reached his.  According to online accounts, The Straight Edge Superstar personally told WWE owner Vince McMahon he was done and he was going home.  (He didn’t appear on Raw or Smackdown nor at any recent house shows.)

It’s not hard to understand why.

The Chicago native has been battling numerous injuries in the last couple of years and, with the exception of a two-and-a-half month break after WrestleMania 29 in the Spring of 2013, has worked through pretty much all of them.  At a recent Comic Con Q&A session, he said he’s also been battling a mysterious illness that has baffled the WWE medical staff.  (Hope it’s nothing serious.)  Furthermore, ever since his worked feud with longtime friend and mentor Paul Heyman concluded last fall, he’s been adrift creatively.  No world title shots or reigns, no hot programs comparable to his past work and despite being a popular babyface, his other longtime friend Daniel Bryan has supplanted him as the ultimate good guy in the eyes of the fans, even more so than the polarizing John Cena, Punk’s greatest rival.

According to TMZ, Punk isn’t too thrilled with his friend Dave Batista coming back to possibly headline WrestleMania.  The Animal won his second Royal Rumble last week and will face the winner of the recently announced six-man Elimination Chamber match for the unified WWE World Heavyweight Title at the thirtieth annual Showcase Of The Immortals in April.  (Champion Randy Orton defends against Bryan, Cena, Antonio Cesaro and the returning Sheamus and Christian at the EC event later this month.)

Punk, who was the first entrant in the Rumble, lasted almost an hour before being eliminated by Kane, an Authority stooge he had been feuding with in recent weeks.  (He had already eliminated The Devil’s Favourite Demon earlier in the match but the big man stuck around at ringside to get his timely revenge.)  According to the online “dirt sheets”, Punk was ultimately going to rekindle his great, but short-lived 2011 program with Triple H for a rematch at WrestleMania 30.  (The Game defeated him in a very good No DQ encounter with the COO job on the line at Night Of Champions 2011 before teaming with him in a losing effort against Awesome Truth at Vengeance that same year.)

But the real-life Phil Brooks wasn’t happy about this plan.  It’s been well known for quite some time now that he wants to main event WrestleMania, one of his last major goals before retiring.  An encounter with Triple H will most certainly not be booked as the final match to go on that night.

Then, there’s the matter of compensation.  The WWE finally announced the launch of their long delayed on-demand TV Network (happening near the end of this month) which will feature every future pay-per-view starting with WrestleMania 30.  According to this, it’s not yet certain how the wrestlers will benefit from this new arrangement.  (PPVs will cost subscribers just 10 bucks per show compared to the 50 dollars they currently fork over.)  Punk is reportedly not entirely satisfied with how he was paid for previous high profile shows.  It’s not hard to imagine further disgruntlement over future, possibly smaller pay days thanks to this significant PPV price cut.

Finally, there’s Punk’s contract.  As he revealed recently, it officially runs out in July.  Despite being absent from TV and live events lately, there’s a lot of uncertainty about his future right now.  Is his current departure just another much-needed extended break that will result in a later return for one more run?  Will he renew for a couple more years?  Will he ask to be let go before then?  Will he ultimately wrestle elsewhere?  Or will he try his luck with MMA or some other creative venture?

For now, his absence is clearly being felt by WWE fans.  They’re constantly chanting his name at tapings and live events, and they continue to bring signs in support of the former WWE Champion which doesn’t always please the powers that be.

If anything, this story embodies a much deeper problem, one that neatly ties in with a recurring theme in Punk’s career.

When he turned heel in 2012 in the middle of his second WWE title run, he demanded “respect” at every turn.  Obviously, because he had turned on the fans, he wasn’t getting a lot of it.  Many years earlier behind the scenes, it was the same situation.

As well documented in the terrific CM Punk: Best In The World DVD documentary, many influential players in the WWE saw little potential in him when he first joined the company in 2005.  He was a smaller guy with two many tattoos and a major chip on his shoulder.  To them, he didn’t look like the future of the business.  Were it not for Paul Heyman routinely championing him, it’s clear he would never have been given a chance to shine in the first place.  (Not mentioned on the DVD:  Shawn Michaels was also a major supporter.)

In 2011, when the WWE finally gave Punk an opportunity to do what he does best – vent his very real frustrations articulately in character – it made him an overnight sensation.  His feuds with John Cena and Triple H finally elevated him to the top of the card as he received two WWE title pushes, the second of which lasted for more than a year.

But how often did he headline pay-per-views during that reign?  Rarely.  And who did he end up putting over for the championship in a disappointing encounter at last year’s Royal Rumble?  The Rock, a full-time movie star back for a part-time title reign and only to pass the belt on to Cena at WrestleMania 29.  Punk lost the rematch at the 2013 Elimination Chamber and when he challenged Cena for his WrestleMania title shot on Raw, he lost that one, too.

Despite working highly regarded programs and matches with The Undertaker, Chris Jericho and Brock Lesnar last year, the excitement that once surrounded Punk’s ‘face turn in the summer of 2011 was long gone.  The explosive promos that heavily incorporated real-life elements into his storylines greatly toned down.  Punk was no longer the unpredictable rebel who represented angry, disappointed fans better than any other wrestler in the business.  To paraphrase a line from his 2011 pipe bomb, he became another “spoke on the wheel”, another hired hand the company depended on whenever they needed him.

But here’s the thing.  CM Punk deserves to be more than just a reliable mid-card utility player.  From the way he looks to the way he talks to the way he works in the ring, he’s unlike any other performer you can think of.  Despite being heavily influenced by guys like Harley Race, Roddy Piper, Shawn Michaels, Kurt Angle and Bret Hart, among numerous other talents, Punk is smart enough and distinctive enough to stand out in this more family-friendly era of wrestling.  In a company that thinks like Nickelback, he’s a Sex Pistol.

But the WWE has never fully appreciated his talents, despite all of his success, just like they’re not fully appreciating the natural phenomenon that is Daniel Bryan.  If it were up to me, Punk would still be the WWE Champion, and The Yes Man would be challenging him for that title in the main event of WrestleMania 30.

Obviously, that’s never going to happen.  Why?  Because the WWE isn’t listening to its audience any more.  With little serious competition from any other organization, they see no need to push boundaries or challenge our expectations.  They keep bringing back past-their-prime performers to juice sales for their biggest show of the year, not realizing that those numbers would be just as high, if not higher, if they ever bothered to properly and consistently push the next generation of superstars currently languishing in their mid-card.

They punish talented, outspoken guys like Dolph Ziggler and hold back first-rate athletes like Tyson Kidd so The Old Age Outlaws can enjoy yet another tag team title push and the 50-something Sting can finally work a WrestleMania.

Judging by the visceral disapproval collectively voiced by the audience who attended the Royal Rumble recently, CM Punk isn’t the only one who can’t take it anymore.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, February 2, 2014
2:09 a.m.

Published in: on February 2, 2014 at 2:09 am  Comments (2)