Chris Rocks The 2016 Oscars As Spotlight & Mark Rylance Pull Off Big Upsets

Poor Sylvester Stallone.  The Creed star was considered a shoo-in for Best Supporting Actor at this year’s Academy Awards, the 88th annual ceremony.  But alas, like Eddie Murphy in 2007, despite collecting numerous trophies for reviving Rocky Balboa for his seventh silver screen appearance, he was ultimately passed over for British Shakespearean actor Mark Rylance who took home the only Oscar for Steven Spielberg’s acclaimed Bridge Of Spies.  How delightfully ironic that a pro-Palestinian activist snatched one away from a longtime supporter of Apartheid Israel.

Speaking of Zionists, Leonardo DiCaprio finally took home a Best Actor Oscar for his performance in The Revenant.  He thanked Michael Caton-Jones, who cast him in the underappreciated This Boy’s Life, and longtime collaborator Martin Scorsese, who directed him in Gangs Of New York, The Aviator, Shutter Island, The Wolf Of Wall Street & The Departed, while also making a public plea for powerful people to finally do something about global warming.  When talking about indigenous people, it’s a shame he didn’t mention the long illegally occupied Palestinians.  But he’s for Apartheid Israel so they were ignored, as usual.

Last year’s Best Director winner Alejandro G. Inarritu won again for helming The Revenant while lensman Emmanuel Lubezki made history becoming the first Best Cinematography winner to snatch the gong three consecutive years.  He won last year for Birdman and in 2014, he received his first Oscar for Gravity.

Mad Max: Fury Road, the fourth and best reviewed chapter in the recently revived franchise (which laid dormant for 30 years), took home six trinkets, the most of any nominated film, all in technical categories:  Best Costume Design, Best Production Design, Best Make-Up & Hairstyling, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing.  It was the Star Wars of this year’s Oscars.

Speaking of The Force Awakens, as expected, like The Martian, Carol and Brooklyn, it was completely shut out.  Nominated composer John Williams, however, got a couple of shout-outs from C3P0 and Best Original Score winner, the legendary Ennio Morricone (The Hateful Eight), despite having a hilariously bad seating arrangement.  Having 5 golden gongs for creating some of the greatest movie music ever doesn’t mean anything, apparently.  Even the bear from The Revenant got to sit in the balcony.  (A killer sight gag, by the way.  He seems much nicer than his on-screen character.)

Best Supporting Actress went to the lovely Swedish-born performer Alicia Vikander from The Danish Girl while Best Actress was awarded to the glammed up Brie Larson for her acclaimed work in Room.  Larson thanked the Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals for giving the film an early boost before its theatrical run.  (It’s out on DVD & Blu-ray this coming Tuesday as is the aforementioned Creed.) (UPDATE: The Danish Girl is out on home video Tuesday, as well.)

Besides Mark Rylance’s remarkable upset for Best Supporting Actor, Best Picture did not go to The Revenant as anticipated but to Spotlight, the highly regarded drama about the Boston Globe investigative team that helped expose some of the darkest secrets of the Catholic Church.  Spotlight also won for Best Original Screenplay.  The film ended up winning the first and last awards of the evening.

Far more predictable were the winners of Best Documentary Feature, Best Animated Feature and Best Foreign Language Film.  Amy, about the troubled Amy Winehouse, Inside Out, the hugely popular Pixar film, and the Hungarian Holocaust drama Son Of Saul won those categories, respectively.

Other big winners included The Big Short which won Best Adapted Screenplay and a slimmed down, bearded Sam Smith (Chris Rock humourously mistook him for George Michael) whose forgettable James Bond theme, Writing’s On The Wall from Spectre, stole the glory away from Lada Gaga’s Til It Happens To You, the theme she co-wrote with the highly decorated Diane Warren from the anti-campus rape culture documentary The Hunting Ground.  Gaga’s passionate but overwrought performance, which received a standing ovation and movingly featured a number of male & female survivors on stage with handwritten messages on their arms, was introduced by Vice President Joe Biden who also got an undeserved standing ovation, an ironic choice considering his reputation for being overly handsy with women.  He got in a plug for the It’s On Us campaign launched by the White House last year.

As for host Chris Rock, much to my surprise, he was much sharper and funnier this year than his previous hosting gig back in 2005.  The #OscarsSoWhite controversy proved to be, for the most part, a comedy goldmine for him as he took some very funny shots at a good-natured Kevin Hart (I was surprised he didn’t get him back), interviewed black filmgoers in a comically effective pre-taped spot, had mostly funny presenter intros, a great running gag involving a Suge Knight imposter in the balcony and threw to a Black History Month segment with Angela Bassett pulling an amusing swerve on the boycotting Will Smith.  Not every joke in his monologue hit the mark but most of them did.  I particularly enjoyed the Girl Scout Cookies segment which revealed that Hollywood stars are always too hungry at the Oscars and carry around way too much cash.  Rock’s berating of DiCaprio and his kiss-off to Harvey Weinstein, in particular, were stand-out laugh out loud moments.

The best musical performance did not come from any of the overly orchestrated & ultimately underwhelming Best Original Songs, which only featured the overrated big-name nominees anyway, but from Dave Grohl whose low-key acoustic rendition of The Beatles’ Blackbird, a sly choice (Paul McCartney wrote it as a tribute to the black civil rights movement in the late 60s), nicely accompanied the traditional In Memoriam segment which began with Wes Craven and ended with Leonard Nimoy.  For once, the audience didn’t applaud until the very end.  Even cheekier was the song that played over the closing credits.  It was Public Enemy’s Fight The Power from Do The Right Thing.

The complete list of winners:

BEST PICTURE – SPOTLIGHT

BEST DIRECTOR – Alejandro G. Inarritu (THE REVENANT)

BEST ACTOR – Leonardo DiCaprio (THE REVENANT)

BEST ACTRESS – Brie Larson (ROOM)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – Alicia Vikander (THE DANISH GIRL)

BEST SUPPPORTING ACTOR – Mark Rylance (BRIDGE OF SPIES)

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY – SPOTLIGHT

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY – THE BIG SHORT

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE – INSIDE OUT

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE – AMY

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM – SON OF SAUL

BEST ORIGINAL SONG – Writing’s On The Wall (SPECTRE)

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE – Ennio Morricone (THE HATEFUL EIGHT)

BEST COSTUME DESIGN – MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN – MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

BEST MAKE-UP & HAIRSTYLING – MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

BEST FILM EDITING – MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

BEST SOUND EDITING – MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

BEST SOUND MIXING – MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS – EX MACHINA

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY – THE REVENANT

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT – A GIRL IN THE RIVER: THE PRICE OF FORGIVENESS

BEST ANIMATED SHORT – BEAR STORY

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT – STUTTERER

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, Feburary 29, 2016
1:50 a.m.

Published in: on February 29, 2016 at 1:51 am  Leave a Comment  

2016 Oscar Predictions

BEST PICTURE – THE REVENANT

When you really stop and think about it, this year’s race for Best Picture is only between three nominated films.  That means we don’t need to discuss The Martian, Brooklyn, Bridge Of Spies, Room or The Big Short.  They are all serious long shots.

Mad Max: Fury Road, the fourth in the series and the first not to feature Mel Gibson, was both a huge summer blockbuster and critical favourite.  It could play a spoiler role here but I don’t think it’ll garner enough votes to pull it off.  It will have to settle for some consolation technical trophies.

When the nominations were first announced last month, I immediately thought Spotlight, another highly acclaimed critical favourite, had the inside track.  But then I remembered the late, great Roger Ebert’s long standing belief about how the Academy picks this category:  they vote with their heart.

Although it has the lowest fresh rating of all eight nominated films on Rotten Tomatoes (82%), ever since it went wide in early January to big financial returns, The Revenant has been the most talked about nominee.  Those who have seen it have been emotionally shaken by it.  Yes, it was made by the same man who gave us Birdman, last year’s winner, but that will in no way hurt its chances.  I’ll be very surprised if The Revenant isn’t named Best Picture.

BEST DIRECTOR – Alejandro G. Inarritu (THE REVENANT)

Speaking of Ebert, as he famously noted every year at this time, the winner of the Director’s Guild of America prize goes on to win the Best Director Oscar about 90% of the time.  Last year’s DGA winner, Alejandro G. Inarritu, who won for Birdman, went on to take the Oscar for the same film.  This year, he won the DGA for The Revenant which means, barring some unforeseen circumstance, he will repeat the feat.  It’ll be the third time in Academy history a director has won back-to-back Oscars.  John Ford did it in 1940 & 1941 as did Joseph L. Mankiewicz in 1949 & 1950.

BEST ACTOR – Leonardo DiCaprio (THE REVENANT)

He was first nominated in the supporting category for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape back in 1994.  (He lost to Tommy Lee Jones (The Fugitive)).  Eleven years later, he was nominated in the lead category for playing Howard Hughes in The Aviator.  (Jamie Foxx won for Ray.)  Then came lead nominations for Blood Diamond (a loss to Daniel Day-Lewis (There Will Be Blood)) & The Wolf Of Wall Street (a win for Eddie Redmayne (The Theory Of Everything)), the latter resulting in another nomination for Best Picture since he was one of the producers.  (Birdman won.)

That’s right.  Leonardo DiCaprio is 0 for 5 at the Academy Awards and therefore, he’s due for a win.  It helps that fellow nominees Redmayne (The Danish Girl) & Matt Damon (The Martian) already have trophies so they won’t be collecting any additional dust collectors this year.  There’s plenty of time to reward Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs) down the road.  And if it was any other year, Bryan Cranston would be a shoo-in for Trumbo.

But the Academy will give it to DiCaprio as a make-good for not nominating him for Titanic.

BEST ACTRESS – Brie Larson (ROOM)

Cate Blanchett (Carol) already has golden gongs for The Aviator and Blue Jasmine.  Ditto Jennifer Lawrence (Joy) who won three years ago for Silver Linings Playbook.  70-year-old Charlotte Rampling (45 Years) had never even been nominated before this year so her bid will surely come up short.  Brooklyn’s Saoirse Ronan was previously up for Best Supporting Actress in 2008 for Atonement (she lost to Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton)) and could pull an upset here.

But the critically acclaimed Room has to win something and Brie Larson will be the beneficiary.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – Alicia Vikander (THE DANISH GIRL)

Of all the acting categories this year, Best Supporting Actress is without question the most difficult to predict.  Right away, you can forget about Kate Winslet.  Once a perennial Oscar bridesmaid, she finally won Best Actress in 2009 for her performance in The Reader.  Don’t expect her to snag a second gong for Steve Jobs.  We can also count out first-time nominee Jennifer Jason Leigh for The Hateful Eight.  (If she did win, you could consider it a lifetime achievement honour for all her highly regarded performances that didn’t get recognized by the academy.)

Canadian Rachel McAdams (Spotlight) has a decent shot but her career is going fine so she doesn’t really need the push.  Neither does previous nominee Rooney Mara (Carol) who was last singled out for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.  That leaves Swedish actress Alicia Vikander, a good looking gal who’s young, dating fellow nominee Michael Fassbender and will be starring in the next Jason Bourne movie.  As far as I’m concerned, the Oscar is hers to lose.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – Sylvester Stallone (CREED)

Like Best Actor, this one looks like a lock for a longtime Hollywood favourite.

Christian Bale (The Big Short) already has a sparkly trinket for The Fighter so he’s out of the running.  Three-time nominee Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight) won’t be called to the stage.  British actor Tom Hardy (The Revenant), so brilliant in The Drop and The Dark Knight Rises, could pull off a surprise win but I doubt it.  Longtime Shakespearean thespian Mark Rylance (Bridge Of Spies) will have to settle for being a first-time nominee.

It’s been 40 years since Sylvester Stallone played the title character in the overrated Rocky which won Best Picture.  He lost the 1977 Best Actor gong to the very dead Peter Finch (Network).  After four lousy sequels, Stallone revived the character ten years ago in Rocky Balboa, which received decent notices.  Now playing the mentor to the son of his original rival in the acclaimed spin-off Creed, he will finally get rewarded, albeit in the supporting category, for his most famous role.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE – INSIDE OUT

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE – AMY

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM – SON OF SAUL

BEST FILM EDITING – THE REVENANT

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE – Thomas Newman (BRIDGE OF SPIES)

BEST ORIGINAL SONG – Til It Happens To You (THE HUNTING GROUND)

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT – SHOK

BEST ANIMATED SHORT – SANJAY’S SUPER TEAM

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT – LAST DAY OF FREEDOM

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY – Roger Deakins (SICARIO)

BEST COSTUME DESIGN – CINDERELLA

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY – Tom McCarthy & Josh Singer (SPOTLIGHT)

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY – Adam McKay & Charles Randolph (THE BIG SHORT)

BEST SOUND EDITING – MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

BEST SOUND MIXING – THE REVENANT

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN – THE DANISH GIRL

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS – MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

BEST MAKE-UP & HAIRSTYLING – MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, February 23, 2016
3:40 a.m.

Published in: on February 23, 2016 at 3:40 am  Leave a Comment  

5 Deserving Candidates For A Proposed Jobber Wing Of The WWE Hall Of Fame

They were paid to lose and lose often.  They only had one job:  to make the superstars they worked with look credible and dominating.

They were the unsung heroes of the glory days of professional wrestling back when the squash match was far more common, particularly on Television.  You would watch them every week as they elevated the statuses of countless big name performers by selling, submitting and getting pinned.

The impolite term is jobber.  The more accepted vernacular is enhancement talent.  Regardless of what you call them, they served a paramount purpose putting over the biggest stars in the history of the business.

By the mid-90s, as WCW and the WWF went head to head on Monday nights, jobbers were mostly phased out.  WCW dropped them first.  When Raw was trailing Nitro in the ratings, the WWF soon followed suit.  With rare, notable exceptions since (think Ryback in all those 2-on-1 handicap matches with nobodies in 2012 or some of the early WWE Ascension tag encounters last year), big names strictly face big names now.

And yet, when it comes to the WWE Hall Of Fame, the massive, historic contributions of full-time jobbers are completely overlooked.  Every inductee thus far has been a superstar of some repute whether they won championships, had great matches or engaged in memorable feuds.  While numerous Hall of Famers got their start as jobbers (Shawn Michaels, Mick Foley, Curt Hennig) or ended their careers putting over the next generation (Pedro Morales), that’s not why they were ultimately inducted.

There’s a simple solution to rectify this unfortunate oversight.  Add a jobber wing to the WWE Hall Of Fame.  And induct the following 5 performers in the first year:

1. S.D. Jones

He was the big man from Antiqua who wore those colourful Hawaiian shirts and was defeated so many times on weekly Television by so many major stars.  Special Delivery Jones was one of the most familiar faces on WWF weekend broadcasts in the 1980s even though he almost always lost.  Live events were a slightly different story where, despite defeat after defeat, he still managed to win a number of encounters over fellow jobbers and even big names of the era like Mr. Fuji, “Superstar” Billy Graham, “Luscious” Johnny V & Baron Mikel Scicluna, as noted by the invaluable site, The History Of WWE.

As noted by Wikipedia, Jones was a 3-time territorial tag champion back in the mid-70s when he worked for the NWA.  And the closest he came to duplicating that success was being paired with Tony Atlas to challenge Mr. Fuji & Mr. Saito for the WWF tag belts in a series of matches in 1981.  They always came up short (although Atlas would win the straps with Rocky Johnson two years later during a TV taping).

In 1983, he was one of the many who tried and failed to bodyslam Big John Studd who offered him $8500 at the time if he succeeded.  And he was the first guy on TV to put over a returning Sgt. Slaughter who had been absent from the WWF for two years.  Slaughter would turn face and go on to feud with The Iron Sheik.  Speaking of the Sheik, months after he served his suspension for an incident involving Hacksaw Jim Duggan in the summer of 1987, Jones gave him his first win back during a February 1988 house show at the then-named Meadowlands in New Jersey, also helpfully noted by The History Of WWE website.

In 1985, Jones was famously squashed by King Kong Bundy at the first WrestleMania in less than 30 seconds which helped raise the profile of the monster heel to memorable feuds with Andre The Giant, Hillbilly Jim and Hulk Hogan.  (Jones was Andre’s tag team partner in the infamous November 1984 TV match against Studd & Ken Patera when the Eighth Wonder of the World’s hair was cut against his will.)  That same year, he was even on the cover of the original Wrestling Album.  He’s in the Land Of 1000 Dances video, too.

As Vince McMahon’s marketing machine went into full effect, Jones was the only jobber to get his own action figure.  In fact, he had two.  One with a red shirt and the other with a more typical yellow/blue top featuring painted palm trees.  (Hulk Hogan and Andre The Giant were the only others to have doubles.  FEBRUARY 22 CORRECTION:  Actually, Hogan had 3.)  He continued to win occasional matches at house shows while almost always losing on TV (in 1987, he gave Outlaw Ron Bass his first MSG victory) right up until 1988.

In 2006, he inducted his good friend and former tag partner Tony Atlas into the WWE Hall Of Fame.  Two years later, he died just days after suffering a severe stroke.  For all the good he did for two generations of McMahons, S.D. deserves his own induction.

2. Steve Lombardi

Long before he was the cigar-chomping Brooklyn Brawler in dirty, tattered clothing and Abe “Knuckleball” Schwartz with his face absurdly painted like a baseball, this New York native was the go-to jobber for putting over so many WWF stars in the 80s and 90s.  When Ricky Steamboat debuted in 1985, Lombardi was the first guy he pinned on Television.  During a 1987 house show at Hamilton, Ontario’s then-named Copps Coliseum, I saw him get destroyed by The Ultimate Warrior.  In 1988, when Owen Hart was The Blue Blazer, Lombardi put him over during Hart’s first match at the revered Madison Square Garden, according to The History Of WWE.  And in 1996, he put over a young Rocky Maivia in a try-out match.  (The Rock praised Lombardi in his autobiography.)

Practically every big name that worked for the promotion during that time can claim they had at least one win over Lombardi.  (During this period, he also occasionally played Kim Chee, Kamala’s masked, safari-attired handler.)  In early 1989, he aligned himself with Bobby “The Brain” Heenan who had just been fired by The Red Rooster during a Saturday Night’s Main Event taping.  Now going with The Brooklyn Brawler moniker, Lombardi attacked Rooster and Gorilla Monsoon during a Prime Time Wrestling broadcast.  That set up a series of matches between Brawler and Rooster that began in February and ended in August.

According to The History Of WWE, and it should be noted they don’t have complete results, Rooster pinned Brawler at least 63 times.  (I bet the real total is even higher.)  In the end, Lombardi only got one victory which came during a MSG show on February 20.  As Rooster was attempting to suplex Brawler back into the ring from the apron, Heenan pulled his leg out from under him and held it down while Brawler got the 3-count.  (Curiously, this would be the same finish in the Ultimate Warrior/Rick Rude WrestleMania 5 match-up that put the IC belt on the Ravishing one two months later.)

At the very next MSG event, Rooster beat Brawler with Heenan notably banned from ringside.  After their program ended, it was back to jobbing for Lombardi until he briefly feuded with the mustachioed Big Bully Busick in 1991.  In late 1993, early 1994, according to Wikipedia, he briefly replaced Matt Borne as Doink The Clown before his brief, ill-advised stint as Abe “Knuckleball” Schwartz.  Returning to the Brawler gimmick in 1994 he later won the right to a WWF Championship match in 1997 against then-titleholder Shawn Michaels who only retained thanks to the interference of his D-Generation X buddies.  Lombardi got some measure of revenge when he pinned Triple H three years later in a handicap match on an episode of Jakked.

Although he has made the odd TV appearance since (he supported Kamala as Kim Chee in the gimmick battle royale at WrestleMania 17), these days Lombardi is an off-camera road agent who always attends the annual WWE Hall of Fame ceremony and is often singled out for his contributions to the business.  One of these years, he should be invited to talk about them on stage.

3. “Leaping” Lanny Poffo

Not many jobbers had an actual gimmick but this Canadian-born curly-haired second generation performer with the sparkly silver trunks had a memorable one.  Arriving with his brother, Randy Savage, to the WWF in 1985, before every match, the poet laureate would recite a poem usually about his opponent(s) and get them riled up by mentioning their current rival(s).  Then, he would throw out Frisbees which contained those same verses to every crowd he entertained.  And yes, he wrote every word.

More often than not, it would be all for naught.  He would usually get his ass beat.  (Savage, on the other hand, would go on to become InterContinental Champion and a 2-time World Champion.)

Only rarely would Poffo defeat his opponent (almost always a fellow jobber) with a moonsault off the top rope, a move rarely seen in 80s wrestling.  And he had one of the stiffest punches in the business (at least that’s the way it always looked and sounded).  Poffo’s in-ring abilities afforded him plenty of “hope spots” in his countless squash matches against the biggest names, mostly heels, of the day as he put over a substantial number of them in the second half of the 80s.

During a Saturday Night’s Main Event taping in 1987, Poffo was booked to take a headbutt from Andre The Giant during a 20-man battle royale.  Unfortunately, Andre hit him a little too hard before eliminating him.  Poffo’s face was a bloody mess and he had to be stretchered out of the arena.  According to Wikipedia, the bridge of his nose had to be stitched up.

At a WWF house show in Madison Square Garden in March 1989, The History Of WWE website notes that Poffo turned heel declaring his support for his brother (without acknowledging that fact) who was about to drop the WWF title to Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania 5.  From then on, he was The Genius, maintaining his rhyming ways but now also positioning himself as some kind of great philosopher and ring strategist.  (He started carrying around a fancy clipboard he would often use a weapon.)  Channelling the daintier aspects of Gorgeous George, Poffo, now with long straight hair, would hilariously prance around the ring, doing cartwheels all the while baffling his opponents and winning.  The previous year, he put over Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart at the outdoor WrestleFest ’88 supercard in less than five minutes.  In 1989, Neidhart was putting him over.

When his brother defeated Hacksaw Jim Duggan to become the Macho King in the fall of 1989, it was Poffo who recited a poem in his honour during his televised coronation ceremony.  Although Canadian promoter Jack Tunney (the fake WWF President) did acknowledge their real-life familial relationship during a radio interview on a local Hamilton, Ontario radio station in the late 80s, the WWF itself never once brought it up during this era.

The Genius would go on to be “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig’s cornerman and advisor as he feuded with Hulk Hogan for the WWF Championship.  In perhaps his greatest moment, with a big assist from Mr. P, Poffo got a count-out victory against Hogan during a late 1989 Saturday Night’s Main Event taping.  (They later stole his belt and smashed it to bits.  It has long been rumoured to have been recycled as the Hardcore title.)  Poffo & Hennig would team up to face Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior on another SNME and lose.  But the post-match clothesline fest would continue to build the Hogan/Warrior WrestleMania 6 storyline.

Poffo would eventually split from Hennig (Heenan would manage him to his first IC strap) and move on to represent The Beverly Brothers for a time in 1991 and 1992 while occasionally teaming with them, sometimes successfully, in six-man tags.  Poffo would leave the company before the end of ’92.

Poffo briefly returned to the WWF in 1994 before being offered the Gorgeous George gimmick from Savage who had somehow acquired the rights to use it.  But WCW never booked him and Savage gave the idea to his then-girlfriend Stephanie Bellars instead, as noted by Wikipedia.

Savage would die of a heart attack while driving with his second wife in 2011.  After many years of resistance (because his brother wanted the whole family inducted which included father Angelo whose yellow trunks inspired Hulk Hogan), Poffo finally accepted the honour of inducting the Macho Man alone into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2015.  When is some prominent figure going to induct the poet laureate himself?

4. Barry Horowitz

As he was being introduced before every match, this proud Jewish American would buck himself up with a pat on the back.  The gesture got over so well the WWF turned it into a T-shirt.  Too bad it didn’t lead to many victories.

For much of the late 80s and early 90s, he did jobs for practically every major star you can think of during his tenure.  Only rarely, particularly during house shows, did he ever win.

Things started to change in 1993 when he appeared as a masked wrestler named The Red Knight during a 4-on-4 elimination match at the Survivor Series, his first pay-per-view.  Captained by Shawn Michaels, Horowitz’ team would see all its members defeated by The Hart Family.

Horowitz would go on to challenge The Quebecers for the tag belts by aligning himself with The 1-2-3 Kid.  He would also get an InterContinental title shot against champion Jeff Jarrett.  He lost both bids for championship glory.

Then came 1995.  Horowitz was booked to face one of the Body Donnas, a tag team with a fitness gimmick.  During a solo TV match against Skip, Horowitz got the surprise win which led to the famous Jim Ross line, “Horowitz wins!  Horowitz wins!”  In their rematch at SummerSlam, Horowitz was victorious once again.

After beating Hakushi in another upset, Horowitz started teaming with him.  They would both be eliminated during a traditional tag match at the 1995 Survivor Series.  Horowitz’s final hurrah would be his one and only appearance in the Royal Rumble match in 1996.  Despite drawing a high number (25), Owen Hart threw him over the top rope.  After that, it was back to jobbing until he was let go by the WWF in 1997.  He would go work for WCW for two years before a final run on the indie scene.

Long before his jobber/underdog days in the WWF, Barry Horowitz won a number of titles working the territories in the NWA.  But for all the good he did elevating the stars of his day, it’s his enhancement talent period that deserves to be enshrined in the WWE Hall of Fame.

5. “Iron” Mike Sharpe

He was billed as “Canada’s greatest athlete” and in the early 80s was even managed by “Captain” Lou Albano which led to exactly one WWF title shot against then-champion Bob Backlund.  (He lost.)  With a suspicious-looking forearm band, a famously hairy chest and a relentless grunt, things were looking good for this Hamilton, Ontario native, at least in the beginning.  But then, he split from Albano and there were no more title shots.

For a little more than a decade, “Iron” Mike Sharpe, the third second-generation wrestler on this list, was a reliable win for a whole slew of WWF superstars.  He was the first TV opponent for Tugboat.  Along with Tony Ulysses, as noted by The History Of WWE, he helped put over a new team called The Powers Of Pain during their first televised WWF tag bout.  And when Ivan Putski had a comeback match at Madison Square Garden in 1987, as noted by Wikipedia & THOW, Sharpe gave him the win.

When Hulk Hogan needed someone to shoot wrestling scenes for a video that would air on Dolly Parton’s short-lived variety show, Sharpe was the guy who got the job.  (According to Wikipedia, Sharpe was Hogan’s tag team partner when they wrestled in Japan.)  Along with Horowitz, he would continue to work as enhancement talent well into the mid-90s but unlike Horowitz, despite his early push, he would never get another one, although he did beat Boris Zhukov of The Bolsheviks in round one of the 1988 King Of The Ring tournament.  (The Red Rooster made him submit in round two.)

It’s a testament to how good he was as a heel that the three times I saw him live at Copps Coliseum in the 80s, he was always booed by his hometown crowd.  Some time after retiring in 1995, he started a training school for the next generation.  But then an unfortunate gardening accident in 2007 derailed everything (a massive cut on his one of his legs led to a serious infection) and Sharpe basically became a wheelchaired recluse, too ashamed, sick & depressed to go back to his much happier life, until his death earlier this year.

The WWE acknowledged the end of his life through a press release but there were no ten rings of the timekeeper’s bell nor a tribute video on either Raw or Smackdown.  No dedication in his memory, either.  An induction into the jobber wing of the WWE Hall Of Fame would be the best way to honour his seriously underappreciated legacy.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, February 22, 2016
3:46 a.m.

Published in: on February 22, 2016 at 3:47 am  Comments (1)  

TWODE Turns 10: Reflections On A Decade Of Blogging

February 19, 2006.  A new website debuted on MSN Spaces.  It was not an immediate sensation.  By the end of the year, after 161 items were posted, many of them predating the site’s existence, it accumulated a measly 3200 hits, a non-scientific count that included the author’s own daily visits.  The real total was probably less than 3000.

By the end of that year, MSN Spaces became Windows Live Spaces.  And in 2007, with a shifted focus, the site started to grow.  In between more archival material being unveiled were new pieces covering the ongoing bloodletting at Sun Media.  128 postings led to roughly 10000 page views, more than tripling the first year’s count.  Encouraging.  A few professional writers began leaving comments & writing emails, most of them supportive, all of them enlightening.  A couple of new blogs noted the Sun Media coverage, one of which offered the site owner an opportunity to write, a gig that lasted nine months.

Over the next two years, fewer relics of a writing past surfaced as almost all the postings were created specifically for this platform.  Annual hit counts stayed relatively consistent, averaging more than 10000.  No big breakthrough just yet.

Then, in the fall of 2010, the big announcement.  Microsoft was phasing out Windows Live Spaces by the spring of 2011.  There were three options offered:  1. Save all your entries & comments (but not your lists, site design or guestbook) on a flash drive.  2. Relocate your site (just the entries & comments) to WordPress.  3. Delete it or let Microsoft delete it for you.

I went with 1 & 2.  And I’m glad I did.

After a slow start at the new digs, The Writings Of Dennis Earl began to grow.  Modestly.  Between mid-September and December 2010, page views were barely 1100.  In 2011, thanks to a couple of unexpectedly popular Gene Simmons Family Jewels pieces, the overall hit count was over 23000.  In 2012, they were over 26000.

After going back down to 23000 in 2013, they jumped to almost 40000 in 2014, the same total as last year.  What can be attributed to the expanded audience in the last little while?  I’m a Huffington Post Contributor and have nearly 700 Twitter followers.

But still no breakthrough.  Despite some positive developments since this site moved from Windows Live Spaces to WordPress, I’m not a household name and I’m not raking in the big bucks.  I’ve not made one cent from blogging these past ten years, though it’s not for a lack of trying.

During the Spaces era, I had an Amazon ID.  No one bought any of the books on my list despite hundreds of clicks.  And because I’ve never owned a credit card, I couldn’t participate in one of their ad programs, not that it was terribly lucrative.  As far as I know, for their part, WordPress doesn’t offer any moneymaking opportunities for bloggers.

So, why do I keep doing it?  I’m 40 now, still at home, jobless, dateless and spend most of my time doing solitary things.  It’s not what I envisioned for myself, by any means.  Have I just wasted a decade of my life?

The answer is no and I’ll tell you why.  Without this site, a number of old friends I had lost touch with for years would not be back in my life right now.  Without this site, I wouldn’t have blogged for Fading To Black.  Without this site, I wouldn’t be a Huffington Post Contributor.  Without this site, I wouldn’t have a voice, a way to relate & attempt to make sense of myself and our ever tumultuous world at large.  Without this site, I would not have an outlet for that voice.  Without this site, I wouldn’t be on Twitter.

Without this site, I’m not sure what I would be doing right now.  Finding a day job has been next to impossible.  I’m either overqualified for menial tasks or seriously underqualified for important ones.  For a time, I actually signed up with an employment agency which proved frustratingly fruitless.  I’ve pretty much given up on having a love life.  You meet plenty of cool women online (I’ve made numerous friends on Twitter, for instance) but distance, availability and reciprocation, as always, are the ultimate roadblocks.  I’m no longer confident attempting to mingle with women in my own city.

I’m eternally grateful to my ever patient parents for allowing me to stay in the family home.  It helps that we have a great relationship.  But even they are wondering if I’m ever going to get a life of my own.  I’ve been asking myself that same question for too many years now.

The irony of all of this is that this site would not exist were it not for one woman.  And not just any woman, either.

I met her through Yahoo Messenger in late 2004.  She was 18, I was 29.  We instantly hit it off and chatted online & on the phone for three weeks.  Then, she changed her profile.  It said she was in love with an American soldier.  I was pissed.  We weren’t exclusive or anything.  But she wasn’t truly single like I was led to believe and we had talked about getting together for New Year’s Eve.  An angry email was fired off (after she avoided talking to me for a day and a half; I also needed time to think about what I wanted to say) followed by an apologetic explanation & a peace offering.  But I wanted more than friendship.  A second angry email soon arrived and then another attempt to smooth things over.  Shortly thereafter, the communication stopped altogether.

Three months later, we tried again, the anger completely subsided.  The engagement with the American soldier was off.  (He was the one who insisted she change her Yahoo profile.)  Two months after numerous phone calls and online chats, we finally met in person.  She was now 19.  The chemistry we felt online was right there offline as I had my first ever make-out session in a local park.  We made love three times during our second date at her house eight days later.  After holding out for so long, it felt so right to finally let go.  Later that night on the phone, she told me she could still smell me in her sheets.

She came to my very small 30th birthday party (she got me the terrific Mystic River on DVD) and we fooled around some more.  On our fourth & final date, we went to the movies.  The whole time we were together, we talked every day on the phone.  There were a lot of laughs and a lot of love.

During the reconciliation, she suggested I blog about our relationship which she was already doing.  I politely declined.  But seven months after we broke up for good (she never stopped talking to that American soldier and when confronted, refused to choose me over him), I revisited her suggestion.

I was a 30-year-old with zero prospects.  After only consulting a couple of sites (not realizing there were many more to choose from), with some trepidation, I launched The Writings Of Dennis Earl with no fanfare on MSN Spaces.  The original plan was to focus on the outside worlds of politics, movies, music, & professional wrestling, not my own life.  Three months after it began, I broke down and wrote about being a terrible student council president in high school.  It was only supposed to be one piece.  But the bad memories I had shamefully hoarded since 1992 just poured out of me.  It ended up becoming an eight-part epic.  A 14-year guilty obsession finally laid to rest.  Over time, more personal reminiscences started appearing.  Another failed relationship (that stayed online and on the phone) with another much younger woman in 2007 led to more pieces.  The following year, I finally wrote about my one and only sexual experience with my then-19-year-old ex during a particularly depressing time.

Despite voluntarily ending the relationship in the summer of 2005, it took years to finally make peace with it.  Looking back, however, it was always meant to be short-term.  She liked country music and Adam Sandler movies.  I don’t.  She was looking for a husband.  I don’t want to be married.  She wanted kids.  I have no desire to procreate.

Whatever anger and disappointment I felt at the time for not being able to keep it all going has long since dissipated.  I’m at peace with what happened.  I’ll always be appreciative to her for first, loving me the way she did and second, for inspiring me to start this blog.  It’s funny.  My vision for this site did not in any shape or form involve posting personal stories.  TWODE was primarily conceived as a critique centre, a singular place to share my political opinions & views of various forms of entertainment.  I never anticipated revealing so much of myself in so many different ways, and not always intentionally, either.

But that’s the surprisingly welcome reality.  This site would not exist if it wasn’t for my ex, a kind, sweet, beautiful, quirky woman who I hope is doing well today.  It’s been 11 years since we’ve talked.

Speaking of the present, The Writings Of Dennis Earl currently has close to 1000 entries overall and almost 160000 hits in the WordPress era alone (roughly a third of that total represents my time on Spaces).  There have been productive periods and long stretches of inactivity.  I’ve been alternately praised and criticized by prominent folks and readers both named and anonymous.  I’ve made smart observations and offered incredibly stupid predictions that failed to come true.  I’ve been goofy and dead serious.  I’ve praised and condemned.  Through it all, I’ve strived to be as honest as I can with everything I’ve showcased here.

Now that this site is officially a decade old, the familiar questions are popping up again.  How I can make it better?  How do I reach a bigger audience?  And most importantly, how can I make money with it?  Unfortunately, there are no easy answers.  There never have been.

But despite the uncertainty of my own future, it’s reassuring and comforting to know that whenever I want to say something, whatever it is, and say it immediately without waiting for an editor’s approval, I have my own outlet.  All I have to do is type, edit and post.  That’s a wonderful privilege for a writer like me to have.  I will never take it for granted.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, February 19, 2016
2:55 a.m.

Published in: on February 19, 2016 at 2:55 am  Comments (1)  

Black Christmas (2006)

Billy Lenz never had a chance to be normal.  Born with yellow skin and caught in the middle of his parents’ deeply dysfunctional marriage, he is only truly loved by his father.  Continually abused & dismissed by his heartless, chain-smoking mother, his life completely changes when the man she’s having an affair with makes her a widow.

After witnessing the burying of his dad’s body under the front porch of his family house, Billy is chased up the attic.  A combination lock keeps him up there for years until one fateful night when the troubled young man reaches his inevitable breaking point.

That’s just part of the crazy back story for this updated version of Black Christmas, a horror remake that’s equal parts silly & grotesque, not to mention nonsensical and extremely dumb.

25 years after the traumatized Billy decided to end his torture on Christmas, he’s locked away in a mental asylum doing what he always did in the family attic:  silently rocking back & forth in a wooden chair.  As Christmas 2006 approaches, he lays a rather simple trap for a dopey security guard who pays the price for walking into his cell without back-up.  (Can you really stab someone to death with a sharpened candy cane?)

Meanwhile, his old family house has long since been transformed into a sorority house.  As house mother Andrea Martin (who previously appeared in the 1974 original) and a few of the sisters prepare to exchange gifts (one of which is for Billy who they stupidly think is dead; it’s a useless superstition to keep them safe, you see), someone has already started killing some of them off.  Unsurprisingly, it takes forever for the survivors to figure out what’s actually going on.

The movie tries to swerve us by insinuating rather dishonestly that a couple of supporting characters are the possible killer.  Kyle (Oliver Hudson (yep, Kate’s brother)) is dating Kelli (Katie Cassidy).  During an early conversation in his car, he tells her, “I’m your family now,” a variation on Billy’s strange catchphrase.

Plus, he’s a kinky motherfucker.  He made a sex tape with one of Cassidy’s sorority sisters, the same tape the other woman just happens to be watching on her laptop (before getting offed by the real murderer) in the same room Kyle just happens to suspiciously sneak into later on during one of numerous, predictable False Alarms.  (Was he going to break up with her even though he claims she’s an ex?)

Then, there’s Eve (Kathleen Kole), the seemingly out-of-place, bespectacled sister who wraps her gifts in newspaper, just like Billy’s dad did for his presents.  But it’s not just any newspaper.  Oh no.  It’s newspaper that contains old articles about the Lenz family murders.  Her one and only appearance prompts a ridiculous, misleading flashback.

Billy’s mother is fucking his stepdad on the top of the staircase when he suddenly falls asleep before they’ve finished.  Angered by his impromptu snoring (guess he wasn’t feeling the ride), she turns her attention to the noise she hears up in the attic.  While up there, as usual, she finds Billy rocking back and forth aimlessly in his chair when she suddenly disrobes.  The very next scene shows a newborn baby with the very helpful graphic, “Nine months later.”  Just in case you didn’t get that disturbing connection (which actually comes across as unintentionally cheesy), horndog Kyle helpfully spells it all out again for you when he’s discovered by the surviving sisters coming out of the other woman’s bedroom.

That’s around the same time Kyle’s embarrassing sex tape secret is discovered in a very funny scene that leads to more embarrassment when he admits there’s more than one tape.

But let’s return to the flashback for a minute.  The new addition to the Lenz family is Agnes, a Neanderthal-looking gal who is treated way more humanely than Billy which makes absolutely no sense.  (She unwraps a Christmas gift from mom, something Billy never got to do as a boy.)  On this particular Christmas night, he somehow escapes the locked attic, briefly taunts his mom on the phone and kills everybody except Agnes, another puzzling moment.  Instead, he just takes out one of her eyes and puts it in his mouth.  After strangling his mother with Christmas lights, he still feels a bit peckish.  So, as the cops arrive to survey the bloody crime scene, he’s savouring some freshly cooked mom meat.  (And yes, it tastes like chicken, apparently.  During the asylum scene, they serve him actual poultry because it reminds him of her.  Who knew abusers could be delicious?)

In the very first scene of the film, a sorority sister named Clair is murdered.  Then, later on, we meet her estranged older sister who somehow enters the house without knocking (guess they don’t lock their front door) and, like Eve, is immediately albeit wrongly viewed with suspicion.  (She doesn’t share Clair’s last name because she’s married but is going through a divorce.)  Wondering what the hell happened to Clair, she refuses to leave until she finds her.  (Psst.  Her dead body’s in the attic, stupid.)

At some point, the power goes out and wouldn’t you know it, someone has to flick the breaker switch which is conveniently located outside right under the front porch.  Poor Lacey Chabert (Party Of Five, Mean Girls) is saddled with this thankless assignment which involves going outside in the cold, wintry weather and not being able to finish her cigarette because of that goddamn melting icicle.

As the numbers of the beautiful & the clueless inevitably dwindle with little hope for relief (it will take 2 hours for emergency personnel to arrive at the sorority house because of the icy roads), it’s only a matter of time before old Billy boy finds his way his back home as he hopes for a family reunion that would give Freud a massive heart attack.

I’ve yet to see the original Black Christmas, one of the most influential slasher films of all time.  But by God, it has to be better than this.  This absurd retread asks us to believe the following:

  1. That a kid with jaundice had a dad who loved him & a mom who hated him and they stayed together for years despite intense mutual loathing without once considering divorce.
  2. That the same mother also raped him, willingly conceived a child with him & lovingly cared for their hideous daughter (played by a man as an adult who looks like David Johansen) while still keeping him locked up in an attic for years.
  3. That he would spare the life of his daughter/sister, a daily reminder of his rape, during his first massacre.
  4. That both Billy & Agnes would then go on to become unrepentant serial killers (sorry, spree killers) and enthusiastic cannibals despite having no legitimate beefs (forgive the pun) with their next victims.

And that’s just the back story.  As for the sorority sequences, they’re needlessly gruesome & far more routine in nature.  In fact, as time goes by, you can start ticking off all the usual clichés one right after the other:  hot, naked girl in the shower being secretly ogled by a nefarious antagonist (check); constantly creaking doors & floorboards (check); villain POV shots (check); threatening phone calls from the villain (check); the power suddenly going out never to be turned back on (check); disappearing characters never to be seen alive again while the other characters take forever to discover this (check); a voice of reason urging everyone to stick together which doesn’t actually happen (check); villains who should be dead after being seriously burned suddenly coming back to life just to go after the resourceful-in-a-crisis Final Girl in a hospital (check).

Billy Lenz understandably transitions from victim to victimizer in order to permanently escape his inhospitable home life.  He correctly views this as the best and perhaps only way to survive.  And that’s where his malevolence should end.  But the makers of the Black Christmas update really, really want to shock you.  So they turn him into a cannibal, just like his wacked out sister/daughter who does most of the butchering, smothering and gouging in & out of the sorority house.

It’s clear the movie also wants to be darkly humourous at times (there’s a weak reference to Dick Cheney, for example) but I’m pretty sure most of what made me laugh wasn’t supposed to provoke that kind of reaction.

Back to Agnes.  What possible motivation could she have to reunite with the rape victim who made her half-blind?  Unlike Billy, Agnes wasn’t abused by her mom.  Shouldn’t she be, oh I don’t know, terrified of him?  (Need I remind you he pulled out her eye and ate it?)  Why would she ever want to return to the scene of her disfigurement?

I’ve seen a lot of bad horror films in my life but I have to say I’ve seen far worse than the shameless Black Christmas.  Yes, it’s needlessly graphic.  Yes, it’s stupid and often laughable.  Yes, it’s far from frightening.  But the talented cast (which includes Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Michelle Trachtenberg) do their best to prevent it from being even worse.  Without fully fleshed characters to care about and original, atmospheric scares, however, they’re left floundering around like fish removed from the sea probably wondering why they signed on for this crap in the first place.

According to the Black Christmas trivia page on the Internet Movie Database, writer/director Glen Morgan proclaimed at the time of its theatrical release that if it didn’t do well, he would probably never direct another feature film again.  A decade after it flopped with audiences & critics, he was proven correct.

I’m not upset about that.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, February 14, 2016
7:02 p.m.

Published in: on February 14, 2016 at 7:03 pm  Comments (2)  

Are The SAG Awards A Major Influence On The Acting Academy Awards?

This past Sunday, the annual Screen Actors Guild awards were handed out for the 22nd time.  Most of the focus was on the number of winners who are Black, a major statement considering the recently announced all-White acting Oscar nominations.

But what about influence?  In this space in the past, I’ve twice examined the supposed impact the bowling trophies, aka the Golden Globes, have on the Academy Awards.  Now let’s see if the SAG Awards fare any better.

There is no Best Picture category at the SAGs but there is a Best Ensemble Cast prize which is essentially the same thing.  Unfortunately, out of 20 past ceremonies, only 10 Best Ensemble winners went on to win Best Picture, a 50% success rate.  (There was no Best Ensemble category during the first SAGs in 1995.  The Birdcage was the only SAG winner not to get a Best Picture Oscar nomination while the cast of Braveheart wasn’t nominated for a SAG.)

Birdman won both the Best Ensemble SAG & the Best Picture Oscar in 2015 so Spotlight, this year’s Ensemble Cast winner, is hoping for the same result.  We shall see.

Best Actor SAG winners do a lot better at the Oscars.  Only 4 of 21 victors have lost the Best Actor Academy Award for the same performance in the same category, a 81% success rate.  (Traffic’s Benicio Del Toro, the 2001 Best Actor SAG winner, wasn’t even nominated for the Best Actor Oscar.  That’s because he was singled out in the Best Supporting Actor category which he won.)

Here’s another important statistic.  Since Jamie Foxx pulled the double in 2005 for Ray, the SAG Best Actor winner has gone on to win the equivalent Oscar every year since.  That’s 11 consecutive times.  A very good sign for Leonardo DiCaprio who just won the Best Actor SAG for The Revenant.

Best Actress SAG winners are far less certain of winning the Best Actress Oscar.  Only 13 of the past 21 recipients have gone to take both prizes, a 62% success rate.  (In 2009, Kate Winslet, who won the Best Actress Oscar for The Reader, was nominated for the Best Actress SAG for her performance in Revolutionary Road which she lost to Doubt’s Meryl Streep.  She won the Best Supporting Actress SAG for Revolutionary Road which was not nominated for an Oscar.)

The good news for this year’s Best Actress SAG winner, Room’s Brie Larson, is that the past 6 SAG winners have gone on to win the equivalent Oscar.  It’s no guarantee of success but a hopeful sign nonetheless.

Best Supporting Actress SAG winners have only slighter better odds.  14 of the past 21 winners have gone on to snag the Supporting Actress Oscar, a 67% success rate.  (Marcia Gay Harden (Pollock) and Jennifer Connolly (A Beautiful Mind) are the only Oscar winners in this category to not get nominated for the respective SAG.  Kim Basinger (LA Confidential) & Gloria Stuart (Titanic) tied for the SAG but Basinger won the Oscar outright.)

Also like Best Actress, the past 6 Supporting Actress SAG winners have also taken the Academy Award, a good sign potentially for The Danish Girl’s Alicia Vikander.

Finally, there’s Best Supporting Actor.  Only 11 of the 21 SAG winners in this category are also Oscar winners, a 52% success rate, a statistical coin flip.  (Django Unchained’s Christoph Waltz, who won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar, wasn’t nominated for a SAG.)

That statistic goes down even further when you remember that this year’s Supporting Actor SAG winner, Idris Elba (Beasts Of No Nation), didn’t even get nominated for an Oscar.  So that statistical coin flip becomes an actual coin flip:  50%.

So, as you can see, much like the Golden Globes, winning an Actor is no guarantee of winning an Oscar, with the notable exception of Best Actor SAG recipients.  But expect most of this year’s SAG winners to pull a double, regardless.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, February 2, 2016
2:51 a.m.

Published in: on February 2, 2016 at 2:51 am  Leave a Comment