National Treasure (2004)

Jon Turteltaub’s National Treasure is a beautiful con job, an engaging cross-country jaunt of conspiratorial whimsy.  Seamlessly mixing historical fact with utter bullshit, it is both deeply implausible and surprisingly entertaining.

The movie opens in 1974 as a young boy goes up to the attic one night trying to investigate something he shouldn’t.  His grandfather (the delightful Christopher Plummer) catches him and wonders what the hell he’s doing.  Ultimately, however, he feeds his already insatiable curiosity by telling him everything he knows about the long history of a secret treasure and its final connection to America’s Founding Fathers.

40 years later, that inspired young boy grows up to be Nicolas Cage whose childhood intrigue has grown into full-blown obsession.  (If my math is good, he’s the fourth generation male in his family to pursue this.)  He’s on the verge of making a major breakthrough in his ongoing search for that elusive fortune, thanks to major funding from a very charismatic, blond-haired Sean Bean.  Years of investigation and code cracking have led him to the Arctic Circle where him and his team find an old ship called the Charlotte buried under tons of snow.

Once inside, they seemingly hit a dead end.  There appears to be nothing but dead skeletons, hammocks and barrels full of gunpowder in there.  But wait!  Some cheeky fellow has hidden something in one of them, a rather intricately carved meerschaum pipe that, as it turns out, is integral to finding the treasure.

There’s also a riddle which Cage solves rather quickly.  And that’s when Mr. Bean turns heel.  Since Cage determines that the Declaration of Independence has a treasure map on its reverse side (a wild hypothesis he most definitely needs to confirm), Bean declares he will steal it.  (It turns out he has experience with heists.)  Cage is appalled by this and wants nothing to do with his crackpot scheme.  Out comes the handgun and now we have a stand-off.

A desperate Cage lights a flare and long story short, when it’s accidentally dropped, everyone bolts and it’s good-bye Charlotte.

Along with his quick-witted, tech-savvy sidekick Justin Bartha, Cage returns to D.C. to try to warn the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security about Mr. Bean’s diabolical forthcoming heist.  Knowing his family’s history, though, no one takes him seriously, not even the beautiful Diane Kruger, a bigwig at the National Archives.  (In her case, he actually uses a fake name hoping in vain for a more supportive response.)

Despite her skepticism, though, Cage makes a connection with her regarding her treasured collection of George Washington campaign buttons.  She only needs one more to complete the set and he just so happens to have the missing button at home.  Score one for the nerds.

Realizing he has to steal the DOI in order to save it, he conjures up a plan that depends very highly on lax governmental security, weak passwords, the full support of the initially reluctant Bartha and a whole lot of luck.  As admittedly clever as it sounds in theory, there’s no fucking way it could work in real-life.  The restoration room surely isn’t left this unguarded in the real National Archives, even during special public events.

While waiting for his meeting with Kruger, Cage peruses a brochure for the NA’s upcoming 70th Anniversary gala.  He correctly figures that Bean will make a play for the DOI document that night so his hope is to grab it first.  But there’s a big problem.  He’s not on the gala guest list.

No worries.  Thanks to technology and a really out-of-it security guard, he’s let in as a fake maintenance guy and then, after a quick change in the can, Cage is able to blend in with the actual invited guests dressed to the nines.  He once again encounters Kruger and it’s clear something is stirring between them.  Still, that doesn’t stop her from asking someone if he’s even on the guest list.

Meanwhile, Bean & his band of burglars arrive on the scene, so the race is on.

This sequence alone is one of the many reasons why National Treasure, for all its improbabilities, is such cheeky fun.  Skillfully plotted, acted and directed, it’s far more thrilling than the Ocean’s Eleven remake.  We hope Cage gets to that restoration room where the protected DOI is waiting to be freed long before Bean & his thieving comrades get there.

A thoroughly predictable plot twist (that I still thoroughly enjoyed) sees Cage, Bartha and an understandably pissed off Kruger band together when the original plan inevitably goes awry.  (Should’ve brought more cash, Cage.)  After some expected bickering (why does Kruger have to shut up, exactly?) they end up at Jon Voight’s house and let’s just say he’s not too thrilled to see his son Nick Cage.  (Amusingly, he thinks he knocked up Kruger.) A longtime skeptic of the treasure hunt, our heroes are crushed to learn that some crucial letters he once had have since been donated to a museum in Philadelphia.

After confirming the DOI treasure map theory and getting an important clue, it’s off to look at those letters.  But Bean and his goons are there as well, and they’re not stupid.  A careful examination of the displayed historical documents leads to the acquisition of an important piece of equipment.  Cage, Bartha and Kruger have little time to savour their progress, though, as the heels close in on them.  The chase is on so they split up.

Unfortunately, Kruger and Bartha, through a rather avoidable contrivance, lose the DOI to Bean, and Cage gets nabbed by FBI agent Harvey Keitel who is determined to put him in prison for a very long time.

Right from the beginning, National Treasure has to immediately hook you.  That’s why the first scene is the most important, so crucial to its overall success.  With its promise of a big pay-off once this long lost treasure trove is finally unveiled, if the five-minute backstory setting it all up isn’t compelling to start with, then the next two hours and five minutes will feel a lot longer than they should.  Thankfully, Christopher Plummer is an excellent salesman and Cage is a supremely zen hero with equally likeable allies.  Their obsession becomes our own.

Our patience is thankfully rewarded with an ending that would feel right at home in an Indiana Jones movie, not an easy feat for a PG-rated Disney flick with no intense violence or overly elaborate special effects that lead us to that moment.  (The bloodless action sequences are, for the most part, well executed, especially the church scene in the third act.)

National Treasure is smart enough to recognize it can’t be taken too seriously so its preposterousness is wholly embraced by mostly well-timed quips and frequent skepticism from a very funny Jon Voight who is constantly annoyed by the seemingly endless amount of clues set up by the forefathers to protect their historic treasure.  (They wisely believed the massive collection shouldn’t be owned by any one person, especially kings & tyrants.)

Cage & Kruger have a nice chemistry, mainly because they have so much in common.  Equally fascinated with American history & antique artifacts, despite her early attempt to flee (because she’s worried about getting shitcanned from the National Archives), once she’s sees for herself that Cage was right with his hunch, she’s all in.  From the second they meet, the movie establishes them as intelligent equals, especially when it comes to their dating histories.

As for the villainous Bean, one wonders if he would really fall for Voight’s deception considering he, too, is as smart as Cage.  (They always seem to be in the same place at the same time for the exact same reason.)  Regardless, his dialed-down performance is effective, despite his level of cruelty being greatly limited by the PG rating.  From the moment he turns on Cage in the Arctic Circle, we want him to fail.

National Treasure may have divided critics during its profitable 2004 theatrical run but I had too good a time to dismiss it like an arthouse snob.  I liked the cast, I laughed at most of the jokes, I enjoyed most of the action and I fell for its fantastical story.

You got me, Jerry Bruckheimer.  You fucking got me.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, August 29, 2015
5:11 p.m.

Published in: on August 29, 2015 at 5:12 pm  Comments (2)  

Why Did The National Post Secretly Cut Parts Of Margaret Atwood’s “Hair” Column?

Earlier today, The National Post published this piece from legendary Canadian author Margaret Atwood.  (It’s well worth reading.)  In the midst of poking fun at the Conservative government’s relentless fixation on Liberal leader Justin Trudeau’s “nice hair” (because that’s the only nice thing they can say about him), Atwood makes some serious points about Prime Minister Stephen Harper:  how he wastes taxpayer’s money on his personal appearance; his party’s history of vicious, personal attack ads; his secret benefactors; and, of course, his role in the Mike Duffy scandal.

But just hours after the piece first surfaced, it was mysteriously yanked from the website.  (For a time, you could only access the Google cache version.)  This did not go unnoticed online.

Then, just as mysteriously, the piece returned.  Unfortunately, changes have been made, changes that have not been acknowledged by the Post at all.  (According to Buzzfeed, it was “management” who demanded these changes, not the editorial department.)

So, what’s different about the reposted “hair” column?  All told, not much, with the exception of a few suspicious deletions & one curious addition in its second half.

The first change comes in paragraph 11.  It originally began thusly:

“Next: Why should the taxpayer foot the bill for the micromanagement of Harper’s hair?”

Now it reads:

“Next: Why should the taxpayer foot the bill, even in part [my emphasis], for the micromanagement of Harper’s hair?”

The first deletion occurs four paragraphs later.  Paragraph 15 begins the same way in both versions:

“Don’t go there, Cons! Because then we’ll all start thinking about ‘hiding.'”

These next two sentences are not in the revised posting:

Why is Harper still coyly hiding the 2-million-dollar donors to his party leadership race?   Don’t we have a right to know who put him in there?  Who’s he working for, them or us? [my emphasis]”

Instead, paragraph 16 from the original version begins right where the second line of paragraph 15 left off.  But then, this line, the second-to-last from the original paragraph 16, has been excised:

In his [meaning Harper] earlier quoted comment, ‘I don’t care what they say,’ who are they? [my emphasis]”

The last line of that paragraph – “Aren’t you agog to know if you’re on Harper’s hidden ‘enemies list’? – remains intact.

Moving on to paragraph 17.  The final omission occurs at the end.  These two lines are missing from the revised posting:

“[Regarding Harper’s reaction to the Duffy scandal] He’s given four mutually exclusive answers so far.  Is there a hidden real answer? [my emphasis]”

All that’s left of the second-to-last paragraph is this line from the original:

“Why is he hiding what he knew about the Duffy cover-up, and when he knew it?”

Both versions end with the same line in a separate paragraph:

“And if he’s hiding all this, what else is he hiding?”

So, has there been any explanation from the Post about why they felt the need to post the piece, disappear it for a time and then repost it with these changes without notifying readers at all?

Gerry Nott, the vice-president of Postmedia, the parent company of The National Post, told The Toronto Star, “The column was taken down because the necessary fact checking had not been completed…Senior editorial leadership at Postmedia also had not concluded whether the column was aligned with the values of the National Post and its readers.”

This sounds like bullshit.  If Buzzfeed’s reporting is correct and management demanded these changes, and not the editorial department, then fact checking isn’t the problem.  It’s political embarrassment.  It’s no secret that the Post, founded by ex-con Conrad Black, has always been a right-wing newspaper, like its tabloid competitor, The Toronto Sun.  Are the paper’s meddling managers planning to urge the editorial board to endorse Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a Conservative, for reelection in the coming weeks as we approach the October election date?  Is this why the Atwood column lost four significant lines just hours after it was first posted without incident?

It’s also no secret that the Post remains a money loser.  Who knows how much more financial hemorrhaging it can take after nearly 20 years in business.

Regardless, this looks bad, really bad.  I mean if there really were mistakes made that weren’t caught before the “hair” column was first posted, obviously correcting them as quickly as possible (with an added note acknowledging such changes) is imperative.  But there weren’t any mistakes, none that I can see, anyway.  Instead, we get this somewhat sanitized version of Atwood’s work (which apparently first appeared on Walrus Magazine’s official site before the Post reposted) with no explanation whatsoever.  That’s not acceptable.

The Post needs to immediately address its readers and explain why the above-noted changes I laid out were made in the first place.  Whether we will accept their reasoning, if they even address this at all, remains an open question.

As for Atwood, the controversy has done nothing but helped her piece.  As I write this, #hairgate (terrible name) is trending at number three on Twitter.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, August 22, 2015
12:44 a.m.

UPDATE:  Unbeknownst to me, hours before this was posted, Toronto journalist Jonathan Goldsbie had already noted all the differences between the two columns as I eventually did on Twitter.  Meanwhile, Canadaland reporter Jesse Brown has an excellent story on how Postmedia VP Gerry Nott played a major role in the censorship of Atwood’s now widely read piece.  He asks several pointed questions about why it ever happened in the first place.  We’ll see if he gets any good answers.

Additionally, he reveals that contrary to what Nott told The Star, the “hair” column was properly edited and vetted before its first posting on The Post’s website.  Nott ordered the changes made without first notifying Atwood.  Brown also notes an additional change made before the column’s original publication:

“…a reference to Harper’s ‘enemy stakeholders list’ was changed to ‘enemies list.'”

Unlike the post-publication alterations made when the original column was pulled, Atwood approved the edit.  You can read Brown’s full story here.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, August 22, 2015
3:43 p.m.

Published in: on August 22, 2015 at 12:44 am  Comments (2)  

Angry Conservative Supporter Earl Cowan’s Facebook Postings

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is not having a very good week.  Former chief of staff Nigel Wright just concluded five days of testimony at Senator Mike Duffy’s bribery trial which revealed a whole lot of collusion from various members of the Conservative party including the inner circle of the PMO.  Instead of being asked by reporters about his election platform, he’s being grilled on a daily basis about his involvement in the scandal which has led to routine deflection, outright denial and robotic, easily discredited talking points.

But, cheer up, Dear Leader!  Earl Cowan is here to defend you.

Who’s that, you ask?  It’s this guy.  This past Wednesday, after another round of tough questioning from the press, Cowan went right up to a pack of reporters and let them have it.  He downplayed the significance of Senator Duffy’s questionable expenses and, in an infamous moment, referred to them collectively as “lying pieces of shit”.   (You may have seen the video on the news or online.)

Ever since, he’s become known as the “Angry Con”, the unfortunate face of an increasingly corrupt, authoritarian, right-wing government.  Parody accounts have already started popping up on Twitter.

So, who is this maniac, anyway?  Well, according to his LinkedIn page, he’s a farmer from Etobicoke.  MacLean’s Magazine reported last year that he was the heckler who told then-Toronto Mayoral candidate Olivia Chow to go “[b]ack to China” because he claimed she wasn’t Canadian.  And on Facebook, he’s had plenty to say about Sun Media stories particularly when they involve Conservatives he supports.

As it turns out, he’s long been a proud defender of Mike Duffy and Stephen Harper.  In an October 22, 2013 Facebook posting, he wrote:

“If we had honest media in Canada the Prime Minister would not have to waste his time on trivial issues.
We want Senators to have residences in the areas they represent, and they must also have residences in Ottawa to attend sittings of the Senate.  Duffy claimed the best residence as an expense.  He did nothing wrong…We have the government that we deserve.”

While complaining about pipeline protesters in another posting on October 23, he played the role of Conservative apologist:

“Everybody tries to maximize their expenses, and the Prime Minister is not a tax auditer.  The protesters against gas exploration in NB are putting the economy of Canada at risk, and deserve 15 articles to expose their hypocrisy.  Duffy’s expense claims are insignificant, and have no effect on the national economy.”

A week later on October 30, Cowan claimed:

“Our Prime Minister Harper is doing an excellent job of governing Canada, and our Senator Duffy has not done much wrong…no serious person pays any attention to this silly affair.”

For some reason the comment (also seen on the defunct website, like all his publicly available Facebook offerings) was posted three times.

Besides being a die hard Harper and Duffy supporter, Cowan is also a major fan of the Ford family.  When Rob & Doug Ford were about to do their one & only broadcast for the now-defunct Sun News Network on November 14, he exalted:

“This breaks the Toronto Star’s strangle hold on the truth.”  (He has a real problem with the CBC, too.)

Three days later, he complained about the “the Toronto Council Lynch Mob” and how their “attacks” would “hurt the whole city”.

On December 16th, in response to a Sun News article about then-Mayor Rob Ford dancing with a church choir, while directly addressing a fellow commenter, he claimed:

“To John Nador:  I have, actually, spent time with criminals, crack, and pot users, and drunks, and I once had Christmas dinner with a drug dealer.  He was cold.  Next week we celebrate the birthday of a guy who hung with tax collectors, questionable women, and Samaritans.  Do you relate to the words: ‘unctuous fool’?”

On May 1, 2014, regarding Rob Ford’s numerous drug addictions, he suggested:

“Put all Toronto politicians and media people into rehab somewhere in Greenland, and let Rob Ford run the city.”

Cowan also defended Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson (he called him Phil “Anderson”) on December 19, 2013, criticized the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision to strike down our antiquated & dangerous prostitution laws on December 20 and defended the use of robocalls during elections on April 24, 2014:

“Robo-calls are an excellent way for politicians to speak directly to the voters, without being censored, distorted and ignored by the Media Party.”

On April 25, Cowan posted this incoherent rant about the Canadian Senate comparing it to a fire department that “sit[s] around doing nothing except waste money until the day your house is on fire!”, and noting that the “only consistency” about five listed Prime Ministers (“Diefenbaker, Trudeau, Mulroney, Chretien, and Harper”) is “they were all better than Hitler, Stalin and Mao, so the Senate never had to act.”

Curious how he includes two Liberal PMs.

“The Senate works pretty well now,” he continues, “it is cheap insurance against tyranny but the important thing is that after they are appointed Senators must be independent of the Government, and that means no restrictions on them.”

So, why does he support Harper when he doesn’t believe in an independent Senate?

On May 1, 2014, the same day he suggested everybody but Rob Ford go to rehab, Cowan revealed himself to be a proud feminist while discussing the Donald Sterling case:

“The moral of the story is this:
The relationship that any man has with a woman, his wife, girlfriend, mother, doctor, etc., is a BUSINESS RELATIONSHIP.
Men should not say anything that they would not say in court, or a news conference.
Men think that the women they love, love them back.  Maybe, but ‘love’, means something different to modern women.”

And on September 17 that same year, Cowan defended Apartheid Israel’s horrific assault on Gaza by questioning the innocence of Palestinian civilians through questionable logic:

“I would like to consider the issue of ‘innocent’ civilians, – women and children, in Gaza.
If some extremists built a rocket launcher under a Toronto hospital, and fired rockets into Buffalo, would the American army invade Canada?
Certainly not!
The Buffalo Police would phone the Toronto Police, and the perpetrators would be arrested in minutes. Later, American prosecutors would meet with Canadian prosecutors and decide who would lay which charges.
The point is, that in order for civilians to be considered ‘innocent’:
1) The civilians must be in control of their government, and
2) Their government must be able to maintain law and order, sufficient to prevent people living inside their borders from attacking other countries .
Why have the ‘innocent’ civilians of Gaza, themselves, not stopped the rockets?”

Because they were too busy trying not to get killed by relentless Israeli bombs & military assaults, all funded by the US & Canadian federal governments, while locked helplessly inside an open prison.

Anyway, because of privacy settings, it’s not certain if Cowan is still active on Facebook.  Only his comments on Sun News articles are visible and the last one was posted in early February.

Regardless, if this is the kind of supporter who gets vetted and approved for Conservative campaign events, the Harper Administration should be very worried about its reelection prospects.

(Special thanks to Twitter user @marionetta for the tip.)

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, August 20, 2015
4:21 a.m.

Published in: on August 20, 2015 at 4:22 am  Comments (2)  

The New Nixons

A shared sense of paranoia
A deep hatred for exposure
A sinking feeling of failure
A desperate need for closure

Proponents of ruthless aggression
Supporters of widespread spying
Enablers of horrific abusers
Champions of the innocent dying

Determined to silence the righteous
Terrified of what they know
Committed to destroying their good names
Worried what the media will show

Fooling themselves into thinking
These growing storms will pass
Hoping their hidden crimes
Won’t anger the middle class

The original fell on his petard
When reality was closing in
The others are fighting like hell
But running out of spin

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, August 11, 2015
12:26 a.m.

Published in: on August 11, 2015 at 12:26 am  Comments (1)  

The Man With One Red Shoe

Charles Durning is the director of the CIA.  Longtime agent Dabney Coleman really wants his job.  And Tom Hanks is an innocent man caught in the middle of their secret civil war.

That’s the set up for The Man With One Red Shoe, an almost completely laughless comedy with limited unethical thrills that celebrates its 30th Anniversary this year.

Knowing full well that Coleman is plotting a coup against him Durning lays a trap for his bitter rival in Morocco at the start of the film.  But thanks to Coleman’s fellow agent Lori Singer, it completely backfires.  Durning’s man gets nabbed for hiding a whole lot of cocaine in a Mercedes Singer personally delivers to him.

Back in Washington, the arrest causes big time political problems for Durning who is dragged unwillingly in front of a Senate committee to explain himself.  Constantly clearing his throat and pretending to be completely unaware of the facts (that’s what they all say) he’s given a reprieve by the deeply annoyed Senate chairman George Martin (no, not The Beatles’ producer but a fine actor nonetheless).  He has 2 days to get his story straight.

Rather than rest on his nervous laurels Durning summons an underling (Edward Herrmann) to his house to let him know that his country estate is filled with bugs planted by Coleman and his agents.  (Herrmann initially thought he meant cockroaches.)  He then lays yet another trap for his rival by instructing Herrmann to pick some mysterious person up at the airport at a specific time.  Coleman takes the bait not realizing that Herrmann will be selecting a random stranger who just got off their flight.

That poor sap turns out to be an oblivious Hanks who, you guessed it, is wearing one red shoe.  Why?  Because his buddy (Jim Belushi) is a lame prankster who decided to temporarily steal the other one.  (He returns it not that long afterward.)  He also replaced the peanuts Hanks wanted to eat with fake ones which causes dental problems but we’ll come back to that.

Anyway, Herrmann is hoping Coleman will be completely convinced that the globetrotting Hanks (he’s a respected concert violinist with compositional ambitions) is a brilliant agent so his rogue band of spies will not only secretly track him right up until Durning’s second appearance in front of that Senate committee but hopefully also get caught committing a felonious act in the process.  Regarding the former, Coleman doesn’t disappoint as he becomes increasingly convinced that Hanks is the real deal and not a harmless decoy.  One wonders how he ever got a job at the agency.

Back to the business of those fake peanuts.  Hanks books an appointment with his dentist which allows Singer to lead a team of agents to plant bugs and screw around with stuff in his apartment while he’s away.  (Why the focus on the old chair and his clothes, though?)  For some odd reason, Coleman thinks Hanks has microfiche film hidden in one of his teeth (he also thinks he’s sexually repressed because of his eyes and his handwritten signature), so a CIA dentist (curiously not Laurence Olivier) is sent in to extract not one but all of them, just to be safe.

As you would expect, things don’t go smoothly.  By the time Hanks arrives to discover no receptionist he’s scared out of the lobby upon hearing a groggy patient groaning in semi-consciousness.  Apparently no one told the CIA dentist what Hanks looks like since he takes all the teeth of a fellow agent he accidently incapacitates.  Poor bastard.

Meanwhile, Singer and her team of bug planters are still at his apartment when he unexpectedly returns early.  Hanks recognizes her from the airport (she purposefully bumped into him to grab some quick humint) and remains deeply smitten.  (The feeling, unsurprisingly, is mutual.)  Stalling for time by making up some bullshit cover story, it takes three tranquilizer darts to the ass to finally knock him out.  (“Amazing.  Usually one is sufficient,” marvels one of the old-timers.)

Once they leave and after he comes to, a confused Hanks enters the bathroom only to discover tomfoolery.  Turning on the sink now turns on the shower, turning on the shower turns the toilet into a bidet and flushing the toilet turns on the sink.  (Weren’t they just supposed to plant hidden microphones?)  Watching Hanks try to wet his hands in the sink while constantly flushing is the only genuine laugh in the entire film.  Why we never see him complain to the super about this in order to get it all fixed I have no idea.  His lack of suspicion is ridiculous.

Meanwhile, Belushi’s sexy wife Carrie Fisher (the couple plays with Hanks in the same orchestra) can’t keep her hands off him.   Despite Hanks being clearly not interested for moral reasons, she continually persists and, in what has to be a low point in her career, wants to role play as characters from Tarzan including Cheeta the chimpanzee.  (She looks great in her leopard patterned underwear, though.  I’ll give her that.)

In the meantime, an increasingly paranoid and dimwitted Coleman is losing patience.  (Durning’s testimony is on the horizon.)  He orders Singer to do the old honeytrap deal on Hanks who falls for it hook, line and sinker.  (To be fair, she is hot and available.  That is some backless dress, young lady.)  While at his apartment, she discovers a new composition he’s been working on.  (When he’s not writing, travelling or being the lead violinist in the orchestra, the Julliard-trained bachelor also teaches underprivileged kids how to play, including his own stuff.)  As she’s about to take snaps of his sheet music, he quickly snatches it away.  (He had been struggling to finish it but thanks to his attraction to her, it’s all done now.)

Singer gets needlessly suspicious.  Coleman thinks it’s some kind of secret code.  (Is he on crack?)  When Hanks tries to slip in some of these notes during a live orchestra performance it completely pisses off David Ogden Stiers, his tempermental stickler of a conductor, who orders him to stop straying from what they’re playing.  When the notes are put through a CIA supercomputer, only garbled, nonsensical words come up, like certain lyrics from Weird Al’s Smells Like Nirvana.  That still doesn’t persuade Coleman to drop his pointless pursuit.  (He persistently maintains that Hanks’ ordinary life is all too convenient to be real.  He needs a vacation.)

By the time Singer invites Hanks over for a post-concert get-to-know-ya-better about an hour into the movie, she is mostly convinced that he’s not one of Durning’s loyalists.  (Some twenty minutes later on a subway train, she asks him directly and he reassures her finally.)  A now supremely stubborn Coleman refuses to believe the truth and orders her to keep the seduction going.  Hanks ends up spending the night with her after premiering the forgettable song she inspired him to finish.  When he leaves, it’s time to “liquidate” and not in the Jeff Schwarz sense, if you catch my meaning.

The Man With One Red Shoe is a 1985 remake of a 1972 French film entitled The Tall Blonde Man With One Black Shoe, the latter of which inspired a sequel two years later.  I would like to see those earlier pictures.  Here’s hoping they’re better than this hapless, unfocused retread.

Predictable and almost never funny, like a lot of inferior comedies, Red Shoe never finds its rhythm or purpose.  The clearly illegal civil war between Durning & Coleman would’ve been a lot more fun if the film had figured out consistent ways to goof on their collectively paranoid narcissism.  (I do like the idea of a seasoned spy being so skeptical of everyone they meet it utterly destroys their own common sense.)  But despite Durning being clever enough to anticipate Coleman’s surveillance tactics and Coleman wisely avoiding getting caught up in the Morocco debacle early on, neither man ultimately realizes the real threat to their ambitions, something even I correctly figured out well in advance.

As for Hanks, without sharp writing, he’s lost at sea here.  Ditto Belushi who tries a little too hard during one gag that involves him breaking the fourth wall.  (He, too, finds himself getting more and more paranoid, especially after he discovers his wife is not so devoted to him.)  Both deserve better as does Fisher who has nothing to do but literally throw herself at Hanks.  (She did have an incredible body back then, though.  Jesus.)

As weak as the film is, it does have some good character performances, some cool cinematography (there’s a great two-way mirror shot, for instance) and it’s always educational getting insight, albeit the dated variety, into the mass surveillance state, even in fictional form.

But thirty years after flopping painfully at the cinema, The Man With One Red Shoe feels like a lost opportunity, a missed chance to savagely satirize one of the most crooked, despicable secret organizations in the American government.  God knows they deserve a cinematic comeuppance since they’ll never be held accountable in the real world.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, August 9, 2015
8:16 p.m.

Published in: on August 9, 2015 at 8:16 pm  Comments (2)  

Weekend At Bernie’s

Bernie Lomax is the Hugh Hefner of the insurance world.  He has everything.  Wealth, a prestigious job, a fancy car and his date card is always full.  He’s the envy of Richard and Larry, two unhappy underlings who dream of living his life.

But Bernie has a secret.  He’s ripping off his own company.  And he’d do anything to protect himself and his lavish lifestyle.  And I mean anything.

When Richard (Jonathan Silverman) and Larry (Andrew McCarthy) discover a discrepancy involving excessive insurance payments during a hot Manhattan weekend on top of the roof of their mostly abandoned office building, they’re eager to show their boss what they’ve found first thing Monday morning.  But Bernie (Terry Kiser) isn’t exactly a morning person (blame the alcohol and cocaine) so they have to wait until after lunch to have their meeting.

Initially disputing their findings, he eventually concedes the bare minimum.  That two million dollars should not have been paid out.  So, as a thank you, he invites them to his secluded beach house for the weekend.  He also insists they call him Bernie (not Bern) instead of Mr. Lomax.

Foolishly thinking this is the big break they’ve been waiting for, our two excited heroes can’t wait to finally taste the good life.

Meanwhile, Bernie is terrified of exposure.  He has an emergency dinner meeting with his fellow insurance scammer, a former mob boss (he’s more into straight investing these days) demanding a hit be put out on Larry and Richard.  (Bernie also wants to pin the blame for his stupidity on them.  He must’ve just watched Dog Day Afternoon.)  The mob guy plays along but once Bernie leaves the table, he tells one of his goons to shake off the assassin rust and take out the coke-addicted playboy instead.  He knows Bernie’s been boffing his girlfriend.  (Hell, even Stevie Wonder knows.  They’re not exactly discreet.)

So hours before the arrival of his mesmerized employees at his own Playboy Mansion at the beach, the once gregarious insurance guru is already a stiff waiting to be found.

It is the moment Richard & Larry discover his dead body (not right away, it should be noted) that Weekend At Bernie’s, already a profoundly dumb movie, becomes even dumber.  Rather than immediately call the cops like rational people, they ultimately maintain the ruse that Bernie isn’t really dead so they can stay.

As it turns out, his beach house (which could not be more aesthetically unpleasing from the outside (what’s with the cube design?); it isn’t so lavish on the inside, either) is party central.  Guests, some already good and sloshed, file into Bernie’s open place to drink his free booze and mingle, many of them young, beautiful, single women in bikinis.  (God damn, Tawny.)

Despite having serious doubts, the straight-laced Richard is convinced by the more rebellious Larry to repeatedly put down the phone and enjoy the company.  Despite not ever saying a word and never moving a muscle on his own, no one else notices that Bernie is dead!  Not the guy who wants to sell him a black Maserati, not the woman who steals his pocket stash of coke, not Hanz & Franz (one of whom gives him a massage and neck adjustment), not the woman who accidentally sits on his hand thinking he was copping a feel, not even the alcoholic harasser who’s the last to leave.  No one!  At one point, Richard even asks out loud to no one in particular, “Doesn’t anybody realize he’s dead?”

I have a better question.  Didn’t the filmmakers realize there was no way to make this work?  Think about it.  When you die, rather quickly you start to stiffen.  (Bernie remains rather limber for a corpse.)  You start to smell pretty bad.  (At no point does any character notice a foul dead guy odor.)  You don’t have a pulse.  (Despite being touched a lot, no one notices an absent heartbeat or breath.)  And you’re remarkably silent.  (Characters carry on conversations with him not caring that he never audibly responds.)

When we first see a fully alive Bernie in this perpetually sunny paradise, everybody knows him.  He knows everybody.  He interacts accordingly.  After he dies, no one notices his sudden silent treatment and lack of voluntary movement.  What the fuck?

To keep the ruse going, Richard & Larry become his pathetic puppeteers, moving the appropriate body part at the opportune time to fool his idiotic neighbours and friends.  When they attempt to get off the island with him, they literally tie his shoelaces to their own to create the illusion they’re all walking together.  No one notices the shoelaces!

As if this wasn’t all incredibly annoying already, the mob guy’s hitman returns and notices Bernie up and about wrongly thinking he didn’t kill him.  (The mob boss’s philandering girlfriend is secretly observed having sex with his corpse (yep, she didn’t know) by another of his associates.)  That leads to a couple of painfully stupid scenes where he keeps “killing” an already murdered man.  He “strangles” him, he shoots him several times in the chest.  Over time, he becomes convinced Bernie is immortal.  Over time, I became convinced he was born without a brain like the filmmakers who made this insulting piece of shit.

Then there’s Gwen (Catherine Mary Stewart), a cute summer intern at the insurance company who Richard has been crushing on from afar.  Too nervous and dopey to have a normal, mature conversation with her, it takes him a while to finally get a date.  Unfortunately, he lies a lot.  Too embarrassed to admit he lives at home with his parents (ahem), when his thirsty, groaning underwear-clad dad unintentionally interrupts his nighttime makeout session with her, he treats him like his butler.  His dad doesn’t play along.  She leaves soon thereafter.

But then there she is at the same secluded island (her parents have their own summer home here) attending the same impromptu beach party at Bernie’s retreat conveniently running into a highly apologetic Jonathan who nonetheless can’t stop lying.  Gwen must be really hard up for dates if she thinks this jackass is a catch.

I first saw Weekend At Bernie’s with some friends as an easily impressed teenager at my local multiplex in the summer of 1989.  I don’t remember how many times I laughed as an ignorant 14-year-old but I did enjoy it.  (So did one of our classmates who got caught smoking by an usher as he was watching the film a few rows in front of us.  I wonder what happened to him.)

Four years later, I had a very different reaction to Weekend At Bernie’s II.  I had seen a lot more films beginning in the summer of 1990 and had become far more discerning by the summer of 1993.  I still consider it the worst movie I ever saw in a theatre.

After all these decades, I now feel the same way about the original.  My God, there is not a single, intelligent, genuinely funny moment here.  Not one.  Silverman and McCarthy are audience repellent, to borrow TV critic Bill Brioux’s excellent phrase.  We could care less about their predicament.  As for Terry Kiser, I hope he got paid a lot.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, August 9, 2015
6:09 p.m.

Published in: on August 9, 2015 at 6:09 pm  Comments (2)  

A Tribute To “Rowdy” Roddy Piper

“Rowdy” Roddy Piper is dead.  I can’t believe I just typed that.  But according to TMZ Sports, it’s true.  He was only 61 years old.  He leaves behind a wife and four grown children.

30 years ago, when I became a professional wrestling fan, Piper was my guy.  He was loud, flamboyant, hilariously obnoxious, a bit nuts and an underrated worker.  There was just something about him that drew me to his constant antics, even when they went over the line.  (He once called Bruno Sammartino a “wop” to his face.)  Without question, he was the most entertaining performer in the World Wrestling Federation.

Growing up in Canada in the 1950s & 60s, Piper had a tough upbringing.  Tired of not getting along with his parents, he left home at age 12 where he became a street kid for years.  As a teen, he fell into pro wrestling and boxing thanks to a kindly priest who saw potential in him.

His first match was the stuff of legend.  Wrongly introduced as “Roddy The Piper”, he lasted 10 seconds against Larry “The Axe” Hennig, Mr. Perfect’s father.  (He would later wrestle Curt Hennig in the early 1990s.)  He was 15.  From there, he moved on to the AWA where he put over the company’s stars of the early to mid 1970s.  He had a long program in the NWA’s San Francisco territory with the Guerrero family where he generated tremendous heat for his insulting stunts.  One time, as a “goodwill gesture”, he announced he would play the Mexican national anthem on his bagpipes.  Instead, he played La Cucaracha.  The fans wanted to kill him.  And nearly did.

In the second half of the 70s, he landed in the NWA’s Mid-Atlantic territory, where he became lifelong pals with Ric Flair, his frequent rival, occasional tag team partner and favourite drinking buddy.  With his plaid trunks and forceful personality, he stood out.  As the decade closed out, Piper also had a successful albeit short run in the Pacific Northwest where he got a couple of championship pushes.  He also did his first movie, a Henry Winkler comedy called The One And Only with Chavo Guerrero, Sr.  (Piper wasn’t credited.)

Near the end of his NWA run in the early 1980s, he became a babyface and feuded with Greg Valentine.  During the infamous dog collar match at the first Starrcade event in November 1983, Valentine hit him so hard with his chain, Piper lost half his hearing in his left ear.  Ironically, the dog collar gimmick was The Rowdy One’s idea.  Piper won the match.  Curiously, Valentine’s US title was not on the line.

To give him time to somewhat recover from his devastating injury, Piper entered the WWF as a manager of heel wrestlers like “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff (who he later feuded with) and “Dr. D” David Shultz.  In early 1984, he got his very own promo segment, the pioneering Piper’s Pit, which was almost entirely improvised and eventually became a staple of live events as well as weekly TV.  (Valentine was a guest and cryptically referenced their NWA program.)

Once he was ready to go back into the ring, he kickstarted a memorable feud with Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka.  During Snuka’s second Piper’s Pit appearance, Hot Rod dominated the conversation by repeatedly insulting him and then, out of nowhere, smashing a coconut in his face.  As Snuka destroyed the set by walking right into it, Piper kept on attacking him.  After rubbing a banana in his face, Piper started whipping him with his belt.  At one point, he even spat on him.  An infuriated Snuka was not quick enough to catch him as Piper promptly exited the scene.  Good thing that door was locked.

Near the end of the year, Piper’s role as perennial antagonist became far more important.  During the Christmas 1984 house show at Madison Square Garden, he interrupted a special ceremony for Cyndi Lauper and Captain Lou Albano who were both being honoured for their charity work.  In one of the most significant moments in WWF history, Piper destroyed Albano’s award right on his head, kicked Lauper while she was down and powerslammed her then-manager David Wolff.

The incident paved the way for the first WrestleMania as Piper would start challenging Hulk Hogan for his world championship.  The War To Settle The Score, which took place during another MSG house show in February 1985 (and aired live on MTV), led to the direct booking of that supercard’s main event.  Piper never did get his deserved world title push (like TWTSTS, he came up short during a rematch at The Wrestling Classic that November), but without his involvement in this risky storyline, WrestleMania and the WWE would not be where they are today.  As Piper noted on his Born To Controversy DVD, the fans didn’t come to see Hulk Hogan, they came to see Hulk Hogan kick “Rowdy” Roddy Piper’s ass.  Big difference.

Piper was never fond of Mr. T (and vice versa) which gave their worked feud genuine heat.  (Piper didn’t think T respected the business or pro wrestlers in general.  He also didn’t think he belonged in the ring.  Many years later, however, they eventually made peace.)  Although the “boxing” match they had at WrestleMania 2 was, in retrospect, rather pitiful, the events that led up to it were typically provocative.  Piper and bodyguard “Cowboy” Bob Orton shaving T’s pal, The Haiti Kid, to give him a Mohawk on Piper’s Pit.  Orton holding down T after their “boxing” match as Piper whips him with his belt on Saturday Night’s Main Event.  Not to mention the constant put-downs.

After being disqualified for bodyslamming T at WM 2, as he left the ring with Orton and his cornermen, the crowd started chanting “Roddy!  Roddy!  Roddy!”.  After a brief hiatus, inevitably he returned to a hero’s welcome as he squashed AJ Petruzzi with one arm behind his back during one of the WWF’s weekly TV tapings.

Piper’s ‘face turn led to a terrifically tense program with “Adorable” Adrian Adonis.  During his time away, Adonis got his own talk segment, The Flower Shop.  Now that The Rowdy One was back, this led to a conflict and ultimately betrayal.  Once loyal bodyguard Orton jumped ship to side with Adonis, as did the “Magnificent” Muraco.  After all three attacked him, Piper went on to destroy The Flower Shop set.  As he battled his new rivals throughout the rest of 1986 and right into 1987, behind the scenes Piper made a big decision.  After 15 years in the business, it was time to go to Hollywood full-time.

At WrestleMania 3, in what was supposed to be his retirement match, Piper put Adonis to sleep (not very persuasively, by the way) and let Brutus Beefcake shave him bald (a stipulation to humiliate the loser).

A year later, he starred with Keith David (who would later do narration for numerous WWE documentaries) in the John Carpenter secretive alien invasion horror film, They Live.  The film’s most famous line – “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass… and I’m all out of bubblegum” – wasn’t in the original script.  Piper had it jotted down in his notebook which he often used for promo ideas during his wrestling career.

Just 2 years after walking away from the WWF, Piper made a surprise return to host Piper’s Pit at WrestleMania 5.  Now sporting longer hair and a slimmer build, he took down Brother Love and the late Morton Downey Jr. with his usual acerbic comments as well as a handy fire extinguisher.  (Downey kept blowing cigarette smoke in his face.)  Shortly thereafter, Piper would resume his in-ring career.  At SummerSlam, he helped The Ultimate Warrior regain the InterContinental Championship by coming out to moon Ravishing Rick Rude.  They feuded for the rest of 1989.

In retrospect, his decision to paint half his body black for his WrestleMania 6 encounter with Bad News Brown was probably not a wise one.  (As he noted on his Born To Controversy DVD, thanks to a purposeful mix-up perpetrated by some of his cheeky colleagues, it took weeks to wash it all off.)  And while his early 90s feuds weren’t nearly as compelling as his 80s work with Snuka, Hogan, Orndorff & Mr. T, he did have a short, decent run with the IC strap.  He beat The Mountie for it at the 1992 Royal Rumble.  This led to perhaps his best WWF match at WrestleMania 8 when he dropped the title to Bret “The Hitman” Hart in a rare high-profile battle of the good guys.

Throughout the next decade, Piper would only make occasional appearances in the WWF.  He refereed the Bret Hart/Yokozuna world title match at WrestleMania 10 in 1994 and the Hart/Bob Backlund submission match at WrestleMania 11.  It didn’t have a great ending & the storyline that inspired it was rather anti-gay, but Piper’s “Hollywood Backlot Brawl” with Goldust at WrestleMania 12 was brutally entertaining.

As the NWO angle started gaining tremendous traction in WCW in 1996, Piper revived his 80s feud with world champion Hulk Hogan.  At Starrcade, during a non-title encounter, The Rowdy One finally pinned The Hulkster.  The following year, he beat him in a cage match, as well.  Long after aligning with a reformed Four Horsemen as they battled the NWO, Piper had a brief US title push and even feuded with old pal Ric Flair.

In 2003, Piper would return to the WWE and interfere in the Mr. McMahon/Hulk Hogan match at WrestleMania 19 when the referee was knocked out.  This led to a less than convincing heel run with the late Sean O’Haire as his new bodyguard.  (By this point, fans wanted to cheer Piper, not scorn him.)  Piper got more heat during his infamous appearance on Bryant Gumbel’s HBO show, Real Sports, where he spoke out about pro wrestling drug abuse than he ever did feuding with Mr. America (Hogan in a mask.)  The interview got him fired from the WWE.

But he would come back two years later to get inducted into the imaginary WWE Hall of Fame with Hogan the night before WrestleMania 21.  At the Showcase of the Immortals, Piper interviewed Stone Cold Steve Austin and took a stunner.  The following year, he reteamed with Ric Flair to win his only WWE tag team championship.  The reign lasted eight days.

While booked to work a traditional elimination tag match involving 4 legends (including Flair) & The Spirit Squad at Survivor Series 2006, Piper got dealt a huge blow.  He was diagnosed with cancer.  He was ultimately replaced by Ron Simmons.

Although he would make a full recovery, Piper was never the same.  During the 2008 Royal Rumble match, he briefly revived his feud with Jimmy Snuka.  Neither man looked ring ready in what was thankfully a short nostalgia spot.  (They ended up eliminating each other.)  At WrestleMania 25 the following year, Piper teamed with Snuka & an ageless Ricky Steamboat (Flair was in their corner) to tangle with a villainous Chris Jericho in a 3-on-1 handicap elimination match.  (Piper first worked with Y2J in 2003 during the launch of the latter’s Highlight Reel, one of the many promo segments inspired by Piper’s Pit.)  Hot Rod threw a dropkick so pathetic I felt sorry for him.  Only The Dragon proved a worthy adversary for Jericho who went on to defeat all three men.

Piper would continue to make occasional appearances in & out of the WWE right up until this year as well as host the odd Piper’s Pit segment (the last one was in 2014).  I just finished watching WrestleMania 31 earlier this week and there’s a funny moment where Hot Rod congratulates the then-new IC Champion Daniel Bryan backstage by kissing him on top of his head.

In between all his numerous wrestling gigs, Piper racked up dozens of TV and mostly straight-to-video film credits.  (He also contributed his voice to the video game Saints Row IV in 2013.)  None were as acclaimed as They Live which has gone on to become a cult fave.  At the time of his unexpected death, Piper had at least five productions completed and had booked at least three more to shoot.  Despite being a middle-aged cancer survivor he still maintained the boundless energy he possessed during his 80s heyday.  (Jesse Ventura tweeted that Piper once worked 91 days without a day off.  Top that, Darren Young!)

“Rowdy” Roddy Piper’s pro wrestling legacy is so essential that without his contributions to the business, particularly in the 1980s, Hulk Hogan, Vince McMahon Jr. and the WWE would not be household names today.  (Piper’s Pit played a major role in promoting the Hogan/Andre The Giant match at WrestleMania 3.)

Every hero needs a prickly villain to vanquish.  Piper was that villain, the right man at the right time paired with the most popular star of all time.  (In later years, he actually wore a black VILLAIN T-shirt.)  He was also a very likeable albeit crazy babyface which explains why he got along so well with The Bushwhackers.  The only weak spot in his wrestling career was his stint as a colour commentator.  As good as he was at hyping his own fights & tossing off memorable lines that endure to this day (“I was rowdy before rowdy was cool!”,  “Just when they think they’ve got the answers, I change the questions!”), he was no Jesse Ventura or Bobby Heenan when it came to witty analysis during in-ring action.

When I was a kid, I dressed up as Piper for Halloween.  My wrists were taped, I wore a kilt, a cheapo red Piper T-shirt (I never did find a Hot Rod one) and brown winter boots with painted on “laces” and the initials “RP”.  (Thanks, Mom.)  But because it was so cold that night, I had to wear a winter coat over much of the outfit.  I was so bummed.

As I reflect on his career now, I’m grateful I had the chance to see him wrestle live even if it was just the one time.  It was December 13, 1986.  Piper got an InterContinental title shot against Randy Savage (who we lost in 2011).  It was the second ever WWF house show at the then-named Copps Coliseum and the first to be captured on tape.  (This match can be seen on the most recent Randy Savage DVD collection.)  All I remember now is that they brawled outside the ring and The Macho Man won by count-out.  Still, what a thrill to see him in person.

For a man who so strongly defined professional wrestling in the modern era and influenced countless others (The Rock and CM Punk clearly studied his promos), it’s a great injustice he was never world champion.  It also sucks he never established himself as a proper movie star.  God knows he had the talent and the charisma.

Regardless, in anybody else’s hand, it was just a microphone.  When it was in “Rowdy” Roddy Piper’s hand, it was a nuclear bomb.  May he rest in peace.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, August 1, 2015
1:38 a.m.

Published in: on August 1, 2015 at 1:39 am  Comments (2)