Warren Beatty’s Secret Post-Oscars Playlist

Poor Warren Beatty.  He had one job to do at the 89th annual Academy Awards and it proved too difficult a task.  No, it wasn’t La La Land that had won Best Picture but Moonlight.  (Somehow, he was holding a duplicate Best Actress envelope.)  Not helping matters was the fact that it took forever to make the necessary correction.  By that point, the La La Land team had already delivered most of their acceptance speeches.

Feeling embarrassed by the whole preventable debacle, Beatty has been privately nursing his wounds through music, relentlessly punishing himself for his unfortunate error.  I happened to have gotten a hold of the playlist:

It’s A Mistake (MEN AT WORK)

Screwed It Up (LIMBLIFTER)

I Was Wrong (SOCIAL DISTORTION)

Fuckin’ Up (NEIL YOUNG)

I Started A Joke (BEE GEES)

Dare To Be Stupid (WEIRD AL YANKOVIC)

Karma Police (RADIOHEAD)

Not Right (THE STOOGES)

How Bizarre (OMC)

Dazed & Confused (LED ZEPPELIN)

Out Of Touch (HALL & OATES)

Help! (THE BEATLES)

Foolish Games (JEWEL)

No, No, No (DESTINY’S CHILD)

I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (U2)

Wrong (DEPECHE MODE)

For Your Eyes Only (SHEENA EASTON)

Gotta Stop (Messin’ About) (PRINCE)

Do You Really Want To Hurt Me? (CULTURE CLUB)

Where’s The Love? (HANSON)

Something To Talk About (BONNIE RAITT)

Blurred Lines (ROBIN THICKE)

Causing A Commotion (MADONNA)

One Slip (PINK FLOYD)

Been Caught Stealin’ (JANE’S ADDICTION)

King Of Wishful Thinking (GO WEST)

I Missed The Bus (KRIS KROSS)

I Just Died In Your Arms Tonight (CUTTING CREW)

Thunderstruck (AC/DC)

Numb (U2)

Tragedy (BEE GEES)

My Favourite Mistake (SHERYL CROW)

Mr. Moonlight (THE BEATLES)

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, February 27, 2017
6:28 p.m.

Published in: on February 27, 2017 at 6:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

La La Land Wins Best Picture…Wait, No, It’s Moonlight…Bizarre Ending To Mostly Predictable, Political And Often Funny 2017 Oscars

What the fuck was that, Faye Dunaway?  What in the holy hell were you thinking, Warren Beatty?

The 89th Annual Academy Awards ended in a total embarrassment with the botched announcement for Best Picture.  After curiously stalling and staring and stalling and staring, a confused Beatty handed over the opened envelope to his oblivious Bonnie & Clyde co-star who claimed La La Land had won the final award of the evening.

After a number of acceptance speeches by the film’s thrilled producers, someone backstage came out to try to stop their presentation.  Why?  Because it turned out Moonlight had actually won.  Beatty & Dunaway apparently did not have the right envelope.

At one point, an incredulous Jimmy Kimmel, the host of the event, asked Beatty directly, “Warren, what did you do?”

A sheepish Beatty said that when he saw Emma Stone’s name, he got bewildered.  But instead of having the wherewithal to say, hey, wait a minute, I don’t think this is the right envelope, he put Dunaway in the awful position of reading the wrong name for Best Picture.  Good God, what a fiasco.  Considering how the show saved those clips of the nominees for the actual presentation, there was more than enough time to switch envelopes without anyone at home noticing.

Moonlight’s surprise win for Best Picture was its third award of the night.  New father Mahershala Ali, as expected, took home Best Supporting Actor.  He mentioned the birth of his baby daughter four days ago as he graciously acknowledged his wife’s patience through all the awards he’s been collecting for his well regarded performance.  He also thanked his teachers for all they taught him.  Moonlight also won Best Adapted Screenplay.

Despite the Best Picture screw-up, La La Land still managed to take home six golden gongs.  The aforementioned Emma Stone, who delivered a sweet, charming speech thanking friends, family and the people who worked on the film, took home Best Actress (Beatty had a duplicate envelope, apparently) and Damien Chazelle was named Best Director.  Neither victory was a surprise.  It also won for its original score, its production design, its cinematography and in a bit of an upset, for the song City Of Stars, over the number one smash hit Can’t Stop The Feeling!, the Trolls track that Justin Timberlake performed at the beginning of the broadcast.

Also unsurprising was sexual harasser Casey Affleck’s win for Best Actor for his work in Manchester By The Sea.  Is he planning a sequel to I’m Still Here?  For some reason, he was sporting Joaquin Phoenix’s bearded slob look.  Kenneth Lonergan, the director of the film, won for writing its original screenplay.

Best Supporting Actress Viola Davis (Fences) gave the most impassioned acceptance speech of the night as she spoke about the forgotten laying in their graves, their stories of love & loss and failure otherwise left untold were it not for artists who take up their cause.  She urged the business to “exhume” their experiences for the cinema.

Other predictable results included the excellent OJ: Made In America taking Best Documentary Feature and Zootopia winning Best Animated Feature.  Hacksaw Ridge, racist misogynist Mel Gibson’s comeback movie, managed to take two technical prizes of its own for its film editing and its sound mixing.  (The full list of winners is at the end of this piece.)

Next to Best Picture, the biggest surprise for me was Suicide Squad taking home Best Make-Up & Hairstyling over Star Trek Beyond.  That’s one more Oscar than Lion, Hidden Figures and Hell Or High Water received combined.  They were the only Best Picture nominees to get completely shut out of any golden eunuchs.

In the midst of the expected political speeches from some of the honorees (including one presenter who openly opposed President Stupid’s racist border wall) were some pretty funny moments courtesy of host Jimmy Kimmel who started strong with his monologue (he mocked Mel Gibson’s ghastly appearance quipping that Scientology was agreeing with him and sarcastically knocked the “overrated” Meryl Streep for “phoning it in” her entire career by listing a number of her acclaimed films), had a few off moments but then got funnier as the night progressed.  His response to the crowd’s cool reception to his OJ joke was better than the joke itself.

The constant ribbing of longtime good-natured punching bag Matt Damon continued as expected with the best gag happening during the Best Original Screenplay presentation.  Kimmel actually conducted the orchestra to play very loudly whenever Damon talked.  This followed him and fellow presenter Ben Affleck being announced as “Ben Affleck and guest”.  That followed Kimmel goofing on We Bought A Zoo during a spoof of stars honouring their favourite movies, a recurring segment throughout the show.  When Damon tried defending the performance on stage, Affleck humourously responded, “Really?”  If you want to see how self-deprecating these guys can really get about their movies, check out their very funny Good Will Hunting 2 spoof in the underappreciated Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back.

There was also a funny Oscars edition of celebrities reading Mean Tweets, a silly bit involving an unsuspecting tour group getting to meet some stars while passing through the Dolby Theatre’s sprawling auditorium and a failed attempt to get Donald Trump to tweet about the show.  Oh, and food fell from the sky a few times.  Plus, there was a cute tribute to The Lion King with the adorable kid from Lion.

All in all, Kimmel was a good host who didn’t have too many missteps.  But, by God, what the fuck happened with Best Picture?  Jesus, you had one job, guys.  One.  Come on!

THE FULL LIST OF WINNERS:

BEST PICTURE – MOONLIGHT

BEST DIRECTOR – Damien Chazelle (LA LA LAND)

BEST ACTRESS – Emma Stone (LA LA LAND)

BEST ACTOR – Casey Affleck (MANCHESTER BY THE SEA)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – Viola Davis (FENCES)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – Mahershala Ali (MOONLIGHT)

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE – OJ: MADE IN AMERICA

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM – THE SALESMAN

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE – ZOOTOPIA

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY – MANCHESTER BY THE SEA

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY – MOONLIGHT

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE – LA LA LAND

BEST ORIGINAL SONG – City Of Stars (LA LA LAND)

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS – THE JUNGLE BOOK

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY – LA LA LAND

BEST FILM EDITING – HACKSAW RIDGE

BEST COSTUME DESIGN – FANTASTIC BEASTS & WHERE TO FIND THEM

BEST MAKE-UP & HAIRSTYLING – SUICIDE SQUAD

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN – LA LA LAND

BEST ANIMATED SHORT – PIPER

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT – SING

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT – THE WHITE HELMETS

BEST SOUND EDITING – ARRIVAL

BEST SOUND MIXING – HACKSAW RIDGE

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, February 27, 2017
1:27 a.m.

CORRECTION:  The Oscars took place in the Dolby Theatre, not the Kodak Theatre as I erroneously stated. The text has been corrected.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, February 27, 2017
11:25 p.m.

Published in: on February 27, 2017 at 1:27 am  Leave a Comment  

2017 Academy Award Predictions

BEST PICTURE – LA LA LAND

No matter if there are 8, 9 or 10, since the expansion of the Best Picture category almost a decade ago, every annual race comes down to just three of the nominees.  That means in this year’s competition, if you produced Hell Or High Water, Fences, Arrival, Hacksaw Ridge, Lion or Manchester By The Sea, be satisfied with your nomination.  You ain’t gettin’ the gong.

In 2016, the real contest for the best movie of the year comes down to a little known story about Black mathematicians working for NASA, a love story/musical about beautiful white people struggling in Hollywood and a coming of age story about a Black kid in Miami.

Hidden Figures is the most commercially successful of this year’s crop of nominated films.  It’s also one of the best reviewed nominees.  And considering the racism of America’s current President and the #OscarsSoWhite campaign over last year’s Oscars, here’s a chance for the Academy to make a powerful statement.

But they won’t.  Moonlight, another universally loved drama, at least with critics, is in the same boat.

Remember, the Academy is mostly made up of really old honkies, who rarely reward films featuring people of colour.  Whitey usually votes for whitey.  So, despite having its detractors, the safe bet is on La La Land.  Besides, Hollywood loves itself too much to ignore movies that love it as well.

BEST DIRECTOR – Damien Chazelle (LA LA LAND)

Roger Ebert said it every year around this time but it bears repeating in his overwhelming absence.  Almost all winners of the Directors Guild Of America prize (about 90% of them) go right on to win the Best Director Oscar.  This year, the DGA went to La La Land’s Damien Chazelle.  The golden eunuch is his.

BEST ACTOR – Casey Affleck (MANCHESTER BY THE SEA)

If you’ve seen the TV ads for Manchester By The Sea, you’ve surely heard a quoted rave from longtime Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers.  In summary, he claims that Ben Affleck’s younger brother is a sure thing for Best Actor.  Indeed, for a while, this category seemed like a lock for him.

Then came the reminders of Affleck’s shitty behaviour during the making of the fake documentary, I’m Still Here.  (You know, the one where Joaquin Phoenix pretends to be a bearded rapper?)  During the making of the film, the younger Affleck and some of his crew members repeatedly sexually harassed two women who worked on the production.  The women later sued and both cases reached an undisclosed, confidential settlement.

Although he hasn’t faced a lot of hard questions about what happened (his few responses have not been all that candid, remorseful or reassuring), the stories resurfaced nonetheless which could potentially derail his long awaited Oscar triumph.  I’m reminded of what happened to Cyrano De Bergerac, the superb 1990 version with Gerard Depardieu in the title role.  While he had no chance at winning Best Actor (as expected, Jeremy Irons took the gold for being Claus Von Bulow in Reversal For Fortune), the film itself seemed a sure thing for Best Foreign Language Film.  But then, stories surfaced of Depardieu talking about being part of gang rapes when he was a teenager.  Journey Of Hope ultimately won the Oscar.

Further clouding the picture is Denzel Washington’s recent Best Actor win at the SAG Awards.  Every year since 2004, the Best Actor SAG winner and the Best Actor Oscar winner have been the same person.  Is that a spoiler omen?

There’s also the lovable dark horse candidate Ryan Gosling.  Like Affleck, he’s a previous nominee who’s never been invited to thank people on stage.  Because of feminist outrage over Affleck’s nomination, could he, not Washington, be the beneficiary?

Again, I’m reminded of Oscar history.  In 2003, it looked like either Martin Scorsese or Rob Marshall were going to win Best Director.  Instead, it went to cowardly child rapist Roman Polanski, a perennial no-show because of his legal situation.  The fact of the matter is this.  Talented white people rarely get punished for their personal misdeeds.  So, Casey Affleck has nothing to worry about.

BEST ACTRESS – Emma Stone (LA LA LAND)

At first, Natalie Portman, already a previous winner for Black Swan, seemed like the presumptive frontrunner for playing Jackie O.  But over time, things appear to have changed.  When you think about it, Portman really doesn’t need another Oscar, anyway.  Neither does perennial nominee and three-time winner Meryl Streep.

That leaves first-time nominees Isabelle Huppert & Ruth Negga plus two-time nominee Emma Stone.  Huppert is a legend in France having been nominated 16 times for the Cesar, the French Oscar.  It seems unlikely, however, that she’ll pull off an upset.  The African-born Negga was cast in 12 Years A Slave, a previous Best Picture winner, but all her scenes were dropped from the finished film.  Having gone mostly unrecognized in a number of previous shorts and occasional big features like World War Z, she could probably use a push here which would greatly raise her profile.

Stone was previously nominated for Birdman and stood no real chance of winning.  This year will be very different.  Barring an upset, I see her taking it.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – Viola Davis (FENCES)

Four years ago, Viola Davis lost the Best Actress Oscar to Meryl Streep.  This year, Streep is nominated in the lead category while Davis is up for Best Supporting Actress, so that’s one less obstacle to overcome.  Here are two more:  Octavia Spencer and Nicole Kidman already have golden gongs for previous roles.  Neither is in line for a second.  Michelle Williams is on her fourth nomination and has never won before.

But Davis, already an Emmy winner for being the star of the popular How To Get Away With Murder, is owed a make-good for losing to the mighty Streep in 2013.  Since she didn’t win for The Help, she’ll take it for Fences.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – Mahershala Ali (MOONLIGHT)

The #OscarsSoWhite campaign in 2016 seemed to have convinced the Motion Picture Academy to single out more stories about people of colour and the result this year has been numerous nominations for films like Lion, Moonlight, Fences and Hidden Figures.  In particular, seven POC have been recognized for their acting in 2017 and at least two will be going home with Academy Awards.

That means no second Oscar for Jeff Bridges and it means no big speeches from Michael Shannon and Lucas Hedges.

Dev Patel, the young star of Slumdog Millionaire, which won Best Picture and a bunch of other gongs almost a decade ago, could be a spoiler here.  But I’m sensing a win for Mahershala Ali.  The critically acclaimed Moonlight has to win something.  Plus, Ali is a Muslim who will surely have plenty to say about President Donald Trump.  Despite having already been handsomely rewarded for his performance in the film, he seems most likely to have his name called out Sunday night.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE – OJ: MADE IN AMERICA

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE – ZOOTOPIA

BEST FOREIGN FILM – TONI ERDMANN

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY – Damien Chazelle (LA LA LAND)

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY – Allison Schroeder & Theodore Melfi (HIDDEN FIGURES)

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT – JOE’S VIOLIN

BEST ORIGINAL SONG – Can’t Stop The Feeling! (TROLLS)

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE – LA LA LAND

BEST SOUND EDITING – ARRIVAL

BEST SOUND MIXING – ARRIVAL

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN – LA LA LAND

BEST FILM EDITING – LA LA LAND

BEST MAKE-UP & HAIRSTYLING – STAR TREK BEYOND

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT – SILENT NIGHTS

BEST ANIMATED SHORT – PIPER

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS – THE JUNGLE BOOK

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY – LA LA LAND

BEST COSTUME DESIGN – LA LA LAND

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, February 24, 2017
8:54 p.m.

Published in: on February 24, 2017 at 8:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Entity

The Entity asks us to believe that a single mom of three is not safe in her own home because an invisible rapist keeps assaulting her.  Supposedly based on a real-life story (that has never ever been independently verified), the woman is played by the beautiful and otherwise sympathetic Barbara Hershey.

A widow from a previous marriage when she was just a teen (which bore her a son), she has two daughters in a common-law situation that sees her spending most of the movie without a partner because Alex Rocco is always off on business trips.  (He pops in briefly in less than a handful of scenes.)

While brushing her hair and putting night cream on her leg one night, she is suddenly slapped, thrown on her bed and smothered by a blanket while being raped.  Just as quickly as it happens, her assailant bolts.  And her life is never the same.  On four more occasions, she will experience similar traumas:  while asleep, while on her couch, while in her bathroom and while completely disrobed on her bed.

Each time, I was repulsed (because Hershey’s acting is very good and rape scenes aren’t pleasant to sit through, let alone experience) but highly skeptical.  Why would a poltergeist target her, and her alone, for such violations?

The entity, as it comes to be known, doesn’t just rape, you see, it also causes destruction.  It shakes mirrors, yanks out dresser drawers, dislodges shelves, opens windows and slams doors.  And it doesn’t restrict its torture to Hershey’s family home.  While driving one day, it suddenly takes over the pedals, almost causing her to crash.  When she makes her second trip to her friend’s house (while they’re just about to leave for a wedding reception), the invisible beast causes havoc in the living room in a matter of seconds.

Hershey’s friend convinces her to see a psychiatrist and that’s when the much missed Ron Silver enters the picture.  He becomes her chief caregiver and right off the bat, his Freudian senses detect bullshit.  Unfortunately, the movie takes Hershey’s side, swallowing the preposterous idea that everything we see actually happened in real life.  (The film is based on a novel that had already taken liberties with the original story.)

He thinks everything she’s experiencing is the result of a delusional manifestation brought out by long repressed childhood sexual trauma.  We learn her father, a minister, did not respect her boundaries.  She ended up running away to New York when she was 16 when she got pregnant by her eventual husband who later died in a motorcycle crash.  Her son was born after he died.

While in a bookstore with her friend, Hershey overhears a couple of men talking about a case that sounds similar to hers.  She befriends them and convinces the two scientists to investigate her house.  While passing by a mirror in her living room, it shakes.  For the rest of the movie, they use their early 80s electronic equipment to try to figure out what the hell is going on.  At one point, the entity sends out bits of harmless green light towards them.  Is that supposed to be threatening?

All the while, Silver is not convinced she’s in any real danger.  He thinks it’s all in her head.  That was probably the situation in real life since the real woman at the heart of this story was an abusive alcoholic who lived in a shack with her four kids (Hershey has three in the film) that had been declared condemned.  Twice.  By comparison, occasional wine drinker Hershey and her family live in a typical California middle class residence.  There’s very little dysfunction and Hershey does not exhibit any mental illness whatsoever.

Silver’s Freudian tendencies get the better of him when he suggests that maybe Hershey has hidden sexual feelings for her teenage son (who has undisclosed disciplinary problems at school and looks after his sisters while she takes typing lessons at night school).  He’s clearly reaching, a sign of stubbornness.  (He’s not too happy about the scientists who’ve taken over her case.)  No wonder this discredited school of thought has long since been discarded by contemporary academics.

He’s probably right, though, that Hershey has never fully healed from her father’s violations but the movie makes no connection between that and the poltergeist assaults.  In fact, by the end of the film, we still don’t know why this is happening.  After a disastrous lab experiment (conducted in a gym) that results in a couple of unintentional laughs, the entity suddenly figures out how to talk.  I wish it stayed mute.

Despite not being a good film, The Entity is really better than it should be thanks to two strong performances from Hershey and Silver.  Their conversations have a nice, natural rhythm that adds undeserved authenticity to a story otherwise wreaking of nonsense.  (I also liked the opening title music which also plays during the end credits.)  The assault sequences are technically convincing when it’s just Hershey and the invisible demon (except for the last one which suffers from obvious special effects) but when family members try to rescue her, the little suspension of disbelief generated from these moments immediately dissipates.  You know none of this happened in real life.  It’s just not possible.

Because this is nothing more than unresolved paranormal propaganda, unlike Martin Scorsese (who named this one of his 11 favourite horror films of all time in The Daily Beast), I didn’t feel all that terrified.  More than anything, I was confused by why I should take any of this seriously.  Put simply, maybe The Entity would’ve worked a lot better if it was as skeptical as Silver.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, February 24, 2017
3:39 a.m.

Published in: on February 24, 2017 at 3:39 am  Leave a Comment  

The Exorcist III

A young boy has been brutally murdered at the start of The Exorcist III.  Hardened police lieutenant George C. Scott (in a typically gruff performance) knew the 12-year-old victim as a member of the Police Boys Club.  They were friendly.  At first, the killing appears to be the work of a disturbed racist possibly obsessed with religion.  But as the film progresses, it’s clear that racism isn’t really a factor at all.

A stark improvement over the muddled, sometimes silly Exorcist II: The Heretic, which is wrongly considered one of the worst films of all time (it’s bad, but not that bad), how unfortunate that despite being better it’s still not good enough to recommend.

Scott has never really gotten over the death of Father Karras (Jason Miller), the young exorcist who sacrificed his life at the end of the overrated original.  Every year on the anniversary of his fatal tumble down the stairs, Scott goes to the movies with another priest, an old friend named Father Dyer (Ed Flanders) to see It’s A Wonderful Life.  Both do it to cheer each other up.

Their conversations are overly jokey (when they’re not spiritually philosophical) which would’ve been fun if they produced a lot of laughs.  One example: Scott grumbles about his visiting mother-in-law’s eccentric method of cooking carp.  She buys it alive and has it swimming in his bathtub for three days before frying it.  He hasn’t bathed at all during that time.  Who gives a shit?

In the meantime, there are more unexplained murders: a priest in a confessional and, after being hospitalized for what he says are routine tests, Dyer, himself.  The killer has drained the entire blood supply from Dyer’s dead body into over a dozen small plastic jars.  Early forensic reports reveal that one person wasn’t responsible for all the killings which deeply puzzles and troubles Scott and his loyal team of investigators.

That leads him to the mysterious Patient X.  Locked up in chained cuffs in a secure wing of the hospital while connected to a device that monitors his brain activity, he was brought in 15 years ago after being found wandering around with no ID.  He has been catatonic during his entire stay.  When Scott gets a good look at his face (after hearing his name called out), he is startled.  Patient X looks uncannily like Father Karras. How can this be?  And how did no one else notice this before?

But then, while inside his dimly lit cell, X often transforms into Brad Dourif, who looks uncannily like The Gemini Killer, a depraved serial murderer executed by the state 15 years ago.  Dourif claims that he was given a second chance at life thanks to his unnamed “master” who somehow slipped him into Karras’ body without detection.  It has taken him years to become the new host.  He proudly takes responsibility for all the murders through long, admittedly entertaining diatribes. (Dourif doesn’t get nearly enough credit for his anti-hero charisma and conviction.)  Scott loses his cool at one point and breaks his nose.  Yep, this act goes unpunished.  He’s a cop, after all.

Eventually, we learn how The Gemini Killer, through Father Karras’ body, is able to continue his signature killings (decapitations, chopped off middle fingers, zodiac symbols carved into palms) without escaping his cell.  When you think about it, it’s rather clever.  Too bad it’s doesn’t produce a lot of decent, original, visual scares.  The walking on the ceiling routine we’ve seen before.

I’ll say this for The Exorcist III.  It is considerably restrained.  The most disturbing moments are often described, not shown.  That makes it more effective when it operates as a supernatural police procedural rather than the uneven horror film it ultimately turns out to be.  Its fatal flaw is that it refuses to divorce itself from conventionality.  Stripped down to the bone, it’s basically a so-so slasher movie with a twist.

The Gemini Killer threatens to escalate if Scott, a lifelong skeptic, continues to refuse to publicize his return to crime.  (Like Donald Trump, he craves press notoriety.)  At one point, even Scott’s teenage daughter is at risk.

This all leads to a rather disappointing finale that is heavy on the special effects and light on profound terror.  If that’s all it takes to win the day, then why didn’t it happen sooner?

By contrast, the original Exorcist is without a doubt incredibly frightening.  After seeing it in the theatre more than 40 years ago, my Dad, who is literally afraid of nothing, had to sleep with the lights on for an entire week.  It was only after going back to see it again that he eventually turned them off for good.

But when it isn’t scary, it isn’t interesting.  Regan, the possessed girl, is just another young damsel in distress with no real memorable character traits of her own.  (Only the devil makes her compelling.)  I don’t care about her mother’s acting career or divorce, nor Father Karras’ guilt about his mother’s death.  The only story that holds my interest is the ongoing battle between Max Von Sydow, the older exorcist, and Pazuzu, the demonic spirit that uses Regan’s physicality as a weapon.  When The Exorcist focuses on that part of the story, it’s terrifyingly brilliant.  When it doesn’t, the movie loses its edge, creating an infuriatingly uneven experience.

The Exorcist III is less frustrating to watch because it doesn’t aim for greatness.  (This is my second time seeing it having previously caught it at the theatre back in 1990.)  Its agenda is to make you forget all about Exorcist II and its baffling scenes of blinking lights, cascading sonic tones, James Earl Jones in a locust costume and Richard Burton’s blank stare.  On that level alone, it surely succeeds, which is a low standard to achieve.  Certainly, it’s less confused about its motives than the John Boorman fiasco.  Plus, it’s more intelligent despite going down familiar terrain.  It also contains this sharp zinger: “Jesus loves you.  Everybody else thinks you’re an asshole.”  And a welcome reference to Spaceballs.

But like the earlier sequel, it faces the impossible task of justifying its own existence, a common problem for horror franchises that refuse to die.  Based on writer/director William Peter Blatty’s novel Legion (incidentally, he died earlier this year), which dropped years after The Heretic, how could it possibly compare to the madness of William Friedkin’s disappointingly flawed original?

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, February 24, 2017
3:25 a.m.

Published in: on February 24, 2017 at 3:25 am  Leave a Comment  

Step Up Revolution

What happens when you expand upon an idea from Step Up 2: The Streets and combine it with a recycled love story from its predecessor?  You get Step Up Revolution, the dullest movie in the franchise thus far.

In Step Up 2, there’s a scene where a group of street dancers film themselves breaking out into an elaborate routine inside a subway train freaking out the unsuspecting passengers and alerting the local cops.  After fleeing without being arrested, they post the video online to get themselves a little buzz.

In Step Up Revolution, smug Sean (Ryan Guzman), a working class orphan like Channing Tatum in the first Step Up, leads another group of street dancers nicknamed The Mob (because they’re a flash mob, get it?) who orchestrate multiple public displays of dance, capture them on video and then upload them to the Internet.  Why?  To win a contest.

You see, if all their public dance videos can collectively generate 10 million hits, they win $100,000.  (We have no idea what they plan to do with the money.  Not that it really matters anyway.)  Curiously, they appear to be the only crew in the contest.  We never see any videos of their competition.

The best routine happens at the start of the film as the dancers file out of their parked cars and start dancing on the roofs.  But then things get a little over the top as low rider cars start acting like trained elephants at the circus, rising until they’re only on their back wheels.  As all of this is happening, a mostly mute graffiti artist (who you know will say something by the end of this movie), quickly puts together a multi-layered art display consisting of spray paint on several standing glass sheets.  It’s something of a calling card for everyone in Miami to see.  It’s not that great, really.

Somehow, this becomes the top story on the local news (which must mean this is a pretty boring place to live if this is the lead).  Reviews are mostly negative.  Two out of the three citizens interviewed for this report are more annoyed than impressed, which is how I ultimately felt about Step Up Revolution.

The Mob moves on to less memorable, mostly indulgent routines in an art museum (where they blend in with the paintings and sculptures) and a restaurant (where they wear masquerade masks).  Somehow, they’re always able to avoid being arrested for trespassing and being public nuisances.  Their stunts aren’t exactly tight, y’all.

After the parked car sequence, Sean meets rich girl Emily (a very stiff Kathryn McCormick who is no Jenna Dewan) at a daytime beach party and the quality of the movie dips considerably. They have zilcho chemistry.  She can’t get a drink at the bar (or recite a line with conviction) but can become a finalist in another contest to get accepted into a ritzy ballet studio.  (Dewan had a similar ambition.)  She’s one of five nominated students vying for a residency.  All she has to do is win over an impossible-to-please Mia Michaels, a judge from So You Think You Can Dance, the reality TV show that only seems to exist in order to cast these Step Up movies.

Sean works for her divorced father (Peter Gallagher), a cold-hearted real estate developer who makes the mistake of wanting to tear down Ricky’s, a favourite hangout of The Mob where they celebrate their successes (Sean never has to pay for drinks, for some reason), and other commercial & residential properties in that neighbourhood in favour of a gaudy tourist attraction.  (Sean is a waiter in Gallagher’s hotel restaurant.)

Traditional Emily is repeatedly told at the ritzy ballet studio that her technique is good but she lacks originality.  (How did she become a finalist, then?)  So Sean tries expanding her repertoire but he doesn’t really teach her anything new, to be frank.  He just holds her and lifts her and dips her.  She wants to join The Mob but Sean is worried she won’t be accepted because of the neighbourhood issue with her father.  Plus, Sean’s best friend, Eddy (Misha Gabriel) is immediately suspicious of her.  (Gallagher fired him from the hotel restaurant for being late to an employee meeting.  How villainous.)  So, predictably, they keep it a secret as Eddy rather quickly gives in.  They will both regret this decision.

Meanwhile, Gallagher is close to getting City Council approval for construction of his new tourist attraction which inspires The Mob to lead protest dances to save Ricky’s and all the other properties in their neighbourhood, much to the appreciation of the lazy residents there.  (How come these people don’t conduct their own traditional protests with signs and chants?  Like street dancing would be more effective?)  They stage a flash mob in the lobby of Gallagher’s office building (to a strange Radiohead remix) after pulling the fire alarm.  Then, without the approval of Sean, Eddy organizes a slightly more effective stunt during a gala for the project where The Mob neatly sabotages a video presentation (which unfortunately reminds us that Kathryn McCormick can’t act).  This is the only time they get caught and promptly arrested.

Freed from custody the next day (the movie is so disinterested in this part of the story there’s no follow through or resolution, it’s simply dropped altogether), Sean and Eddy come to blows and split up.  Before the foolhardy stunt at the gala (which disqualifies them from the online contest after being only a few hundred thousand hits away from victory), Eddy and The Mob discover the truth about Emily.  Afterwards, Sean fails to convince her he had no genuine role in the public debacle.  (A deleted scene on the DVD reveals he was against the idea from the start.)

With the situation looking bleak, can the neighbourhood still be saved?  Will Eddy and Sean make peace and reform The Mob?  Will Sean and Emily rekindle their boring romance?

Only a naïve child will be kept in suspense.  Step Up Revolution ends with one final dance protest that enlists the services of a number of cast members from previous Step Up movies including that guy that does a killer robot and Moose with his irritating exploding fist bump gimmick.  (We still don’t know the origin of his nickname.  I’m guessing it’s because he looks like one.)  It goes on forever although I did enjoy the breakdancing segment.

Call me crazy but I’m not sure the power of dance is so undeniable it could instantly melt the heart of a ruthless industrialist or that someone connected to a powerful ad firm would suddenly make an offer to a desperate dance crew once they finally stop protest dancing but the filmmakers are determined to have their obligatory, happy ending even if it completely lacks credibility.  If the anti-Dakota Access Pipeline water protectors started flash mobs, would that change Donald Trump’s mind about the project of which he has a personal, invested interest?  Wigga, please.

The Step Up movies have had a longstanding marriage with formula storytelling but you could always count on superb, sometimes innovative dance sequences to get you through the dull bits even if they weren’t nearly enough to overcome all this chronic predictability.  Up to this point, the movies have been slightly less than average.  Step Up Revolution, the fourth installment, is the first entry where you can’t even count on the dancing to alleviate your mental fatigue.  After the opening car dance sequence, the movie begins to drag considerably and despite a welcome moment here and there, you remain deeply disinterested in what you see overall.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, February 9, 2017
8:13 p.m.

Published in: on February 9, 2017 at 8:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

Step Up

Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan have such an obvious chemistry the moment they lock eyes for the first time in Step Up, it’s no wonder they ended up marrying in real life.  But because they’re trapped in a formula dance picture, the movie forces them to deny their feelings for a full hour.  And then it forces them to temporarily split up again just to make the final act more dramatic.

But that’s the problem.  Step Up isn’t dramatic nor romantic.  It’s routine business with otherwise entertaining dance sequences thrown in to fill out the overlong running time.

Tatum plays an adopted, street-dancin’ wigger with Black friends who steal cars for quick cash.  Dewan is a single-parented, classically trained ballerina in a bit of a crisis.  Her dance partner breaks his ankle and she needs someone to rehearse with before a big showcase that is crucial for her professional future.  Her partner is expected to recover in time for the performance.

Thanks to Tatum taking the fall for his friends after they all vandalize Dewan’s arts school upon leaving a house party (where Tatum gets into a fight with a jealous boyfriend over his Vanilla Ice-like dance moves with his girlfriend), his punishment is to perform 200 hours of community service there.  How convenient.

In the beginning, all he does is clean.  But after seeing Dewan, he wants to fill in for her injured partner.  (It sure beats vacuuming.)  She only agrees after some of her fellow students bomb their auditions with her.  (Really?  You guys can’t lift this tiny human being without falling?  Please.)

Inevitably, because they come from completely different worlds, it’s an awkward start.  She’s old school, he’s street.  She’s disciplined, he’s lackadaisical.  Tatum unsurprisingly quits right away before being shamed into coming back. (He has a reputation for giving up too easily.)  But eventually, over time, he commits, albeit up to a point (he tends to show up when he wants to, if he wants to, and not always promptly) and ultimately convinces her to do more of a hybrid routine for her showcase, something less stiff and traditional and with a group of dancers, one that the school’s director (the well-dressed Rachel Griffiths) openly considers risky.

Which, of course, is a good sign all will go well in the end.  But, of course, there are contrived complications leading up to that inevitable moment.  Dewan is dating a douchey pop singer, a fellow student, who uses their mutual DJ friend to get a record deal without bringing him on board.  The DJ friend, who is always suggesting music for her showcase routine, likes Dewan’s girlfriend but she too is dating a douchey pop singer albeit one a little older than her.

Both relationships are doomed to fail.  Dewan dumps the douchey pop singer for mistreating her DJ pal.  And her girlfriend spots her older boyfriend, the other douchey pop singer, making out with somebody backstage after they perform with the DJ friend at a club together.

When Dewan’s partner for the showcase performance recovers as expected, Tatum, knowing full well this arrangement was only temporary, takes the split personally.  He quietly mopes and refuses to take her calls.  Then, unsurprisingly, Dewan’s original partner gets hurt again, leaving her in the exact same position she was in at the start of the film.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what will happen next.

Step Up became something of a surprise success in 2006 as it would go on to spawn four sequels and put Tatum on the path to stardom.  How disappointing that the film itself is not surprising.  Consider the following:

Dewan’s mom is not supportive of her daughter’s dream, that is until we get close to the end when she suddenly remembers how important dancing is to her, a very familiar and not-so-sincere change of heart we’ve seen so many times before.  (Her dead father, a shipping executive who succumbed to cancer, was always on Dewan’s side.)  Her loud shout of “Bravo!” in the final act is a bit much and is classic overcompensation.

One of Tatum’s friends feels rejected when his wigger pal keeps bailing on pick-up games with him and his younger brother only to be sitting in the audience cheering him on during the showcase performance.  (Before then, he has a problem with rich white folks taking away his homey.)  Speaking of Skinny, the aforementioned younger brother, the second he steals a car from a notorious character in their neighbourhood, you pretty much know his fate is sealed.  By the way, that whole subplot feels completely unnecessary in a PG-film about aspiring teen dancers (it’s also not very well executed, if you’ll forgive the pun) but it’s one reason Tatum eventually makes peace with his hurt friend, yet another predictable moment.

And then, there’s Tatum’s hope to switch in his final year from his current public high school to this arts school that has changed his life.  But will he convince the always skeptical Griffiths he’s worth admitting?  Can the poor kid with nothing be accepted with all the rich kids who have everything?  It all depends on what his heart tells him to do in the final act.  Only those who have never seen a movie before will be shocked by his decision.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, February 7, 2017
9:07 p.m.

Published in: on February 7, 2017 at 9:07 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Marine

You know you can’t take much of The Marine seriously when even the villains are joking around.  Released in 2006, it was meant to kickstart John Cena’s acting career only a year and a half after he won his first WWE Championship.  What it actually did was set it back almost a full decade.

Overwrought and ridiculous from the opening frame, Cena plays the title character, an overzealous American soldier who gets honourably discharged for not waiting for back-up before singlehandedly rescuing captured POWs and blowing away their captors, one-dimensional members of Al Qaeda, during a mission in Iraq, an absurd scene that is both pure US propaganda and riddled with action movie clichés.  It’s thankfully the only anti-Arab scene.

Married to Nip/Tuck’s Kelly Carlson (here in a mostly thankless damsel-in-distress role), Cena’s the restless type, so he takes a crappy job as a security guard in a commercial building.  That leads to a confrontation with a misogynistic rich asshole who gets thrown through a glass window for provoking the hot-headed veteran after he “slut” shames his ex-girlfriend in her place of business.  Delightful.

Belatedly realizing he needs a vacation, Carlson convinces Cena to go away with her for a while.  When they stop at a highway gas station/variety store, they encounter Robert Patrick and his diverse group of dimwitted thieves.  Earlier in the film, they pull off a major diamond heist in the least ideal way possible.  They don’t protect their identities, the chatty Patrick ends up killing an inside guy for saying his last name out loud, plus a few cops get murdered before they get away.  In other words, they will be the subject of a police manhunt for the rest of the movie, something that could’ve been easily avoided.  Unsurprisingly, one of those officers is on the take.

When a nosy cop approaches Patrick as he’s putting gas in the gang’s stolen getaway car, one of his cronies overreacts and starts pulling the trigger, setting off a chain of destruction that can’t be undone.  The cop’s partner, sitting in a law enforcement vehicle, is also shot but is spared by his bulletproof vest.  Cena takes a fire extinguisher bump inside the store while the clerk gets popped by Patrick’s girlfriend accomplice.  Then Carlson gets kidnapped which might make sense if they’re hoping to collect a ransom.  But since this crew is exceedingly stupid, they just bring her along for no reason whatsoever, guaranteeing Cena’s inevitable pursuit.  Why he isn’t killed is puzzling.  He’s their biggest threat.

In one of The Marine’s most awkward moments (and there are a few), Patrick literally makes a play for Carlson while they’re hiding out in the woods.  His girlfriend is literally yards away when this happens.  Carlson wonders what the fuck he’s doing.  I’m wondering what the screenwriters were thinking.  In another scene, Patrick’s trigger-happy, cop-killing crony relates a painful childhood memory about sexual abuse at the hands of his male camp counselor that ties in with his hatred of rock candy.  It’s played for non-existent laughs but it’s so out of place, again, I question the wisdom of its inclusion by the screenwriters, especially when you consider the WWE’s long history of allegations of sexual abuse.  (Vince McMahon Jr. served as one of the executive producers.)

When the film is failing to make you laugh, it blows shit up.  As Patrick’s band of cronies speeds off, the gas station explodes into an inferno and somehow, Cena improbably survives.  It will not be the only time this happens to him.  In fact, it happens so much it will remind his many wrestling detractors of his SuperCena persona in the ring.  Cena gets beaten so much in this film, it’s a wonder he can still recite dialogue.

While chasing the diamond thieves in a commandeered cop car with no windshield, Cena manages to avoid getting hit a single time despite being bombarded by machine gun fire at close range.  How is this possible?

There’s a weird subplot where Cena gets captured by a couple of paranoid rednecks in the woods who wrongly mistake him for a cop.  (Guess they thought they were in 12 Rounds.)  We have no idea what they’re up to.  Despite tying him up, the ex-marine manages to get out of this strange situation rather easily.  His character must be a Van Damme fan.

Shortly thereafter, he gets back on track and finds the thieves & his wife who are hiding out in what looks like an abandoned cabin bar.  (Patrick and company have to wait for the cops to disburse before moving in.  They’re not the only dumb characters.)  As a couple of baddies go outside one at a time, Cena takes each of them out.  One even gets chokeslammed.  Carlson manages to temporarily free herself from her less than secure rope restraints and kick a little ass before being recaptured.  And yep, Cena manages to survive another explosion without suffering in the slightest.  More ridiculousness awaits in the typically overblown finale.

Vince McMahon Jr. got lucky with The Rock who remains one of the biggest movie stars in the world.  But he has long struggled to have other wrestlers on his roster achieve similar success.  Cena would follow The Marine, his worst movie, with so-so efforts 12 Rounds and Legendary, and his second-worst offering, The Reunion.  For a while it looked like he was the next Hulk Hogan, a massive wrestling star who couldn’t translate to movies.  But thanks to a funny cameo in the otherwise dreadful Daddy’s Home and acclaimed supporting roles in Trainwreck and Sisters, things are looking up for him.

Whatever stops him from making another Marine movie.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, February 7, 2017
8:48 p.m.

Published in: on February 7, 2017 at 8:48 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Purge: Election Year

Maybe we deserve a movie like this, one that dramatizes even in an exaggerated way how corrupt our politics have become.  Maybe we need to be reminded that when we allow governments, police departments and militaries to commit heinous acts of violence without consequences, this leaves the door wide open for future atrocities and inspires ordinary citizens to dehumanize at will.  And maybe we shouldn’t be surprised when this becomes general fodder for a pop culture supremely hostile to people who aren’t white and rich.  This is what happens when we don’t push hard enough for justice in the real world.  The wicked go unpunished and bad filmmaking gets rewarded.

If you’re keeping track, this is the third movie about an insane annual holiday implemented by far right religious fanatics who have hijacked the American federal government rebranding themselves The New Founding Fathers, which sounds like a heel tag team on Raw.

In the opening scene, a young girl is the sole survivor of a Purge massacre that eliminates every other member of her family.  (Why is she spared?  I have no idea.)  18 years later, she’s a US Senator running to become President.  Naturally, she’s opposed to The Purge but she’s running against an administration that has been in power for decades and has not suffered in the slightest for instituting a policy that disproportionately targets the poor and people of colour, although supposedly after all this time, it’s now suddenly a massive controversy.  A TV news anchor reports “dozens” of protests which seem a little small and late after all this time, quite frankly.  God knows these protests didn’t exist in the earlier films in this series, minus a few outspoken online rebels.

The NFF has long viewed The Purge as cathartic and cleansing, a way for Americans to purify and wring out their sin-soaked souls.  (How it survived non-existent court challenges, we’ll never know.)  But their grip on power is slipping which has them spooked.  For this year’s officially sanctioned 12-hour slaughterfest, it’s painfully obvious what needs to be done.  Only one murder needs to happen.

In the meantime, because of this supposed, belated backlash against The Purge, for the first time ever, no one is safe from danger.  If citizens want to off government officials, have at it.  (Maybe I’m daft but I don’t recall this earlier restriction in The Purge: Anarchy.)  Remember, all crimes committed between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. on March 21 (or 22, I don’t always remember the date correctly) are immune from prosecution.  This newly expanded policy is a desperate and doomed attempt to counter the growing evidence that most of the targeted victims are the poorest of the poor with little means to protect themselves and a sure sign of inevitable defeat for the NFF, one way or another.  No authoritarian government ever gives up power willingly or survives.

As always, we briefly meet a few, thinly sketched characters a couple days before the shit goes down.  Forrest Gump’s Mykelti Williamson is a variety store owner, J.J. Soria is his loyal employee, a formerly undocumented Mexican who became a citizen two years ago, Betty Gabriel is a loyal customer who tries to help the wounded on Purge night and Frank Grillo returns as the ex-cop who almost Purged over the death of his son in Anarchy.  This time, he’s the constantly paranoid chief of security for the Senator (Elizabeth Mitchell in her sexy specs), the aforementioned Presidential candidate, who decides to stay home during The Purge.

Grillo’s not happy about this and with good reason.  As it turns out, there are traitors on his security team.  As the NFF’s military goons, led by a white supremacist with bad facial tattoos, infiltrate the Senator’s pitifully protected residence, our two heroes barely sneak their way out but not before Grillo takes a bullet in the chest when they think they’re in the clear.  It’s only later he realizes why he was shot and not killed.

They eventually get tazed by a bunch of “murder tourists”, foreigners who have specifically travelled to the States to become willing participants in The Purge, but like many a villain in a James Bond film, they yak too much which gives Williamson and Soria plenty of time to wipe them out before they hand the election over to the NFF.  (They first spot them on the roof of their variety store which faces its own threats.  An obnoxious teen who gets caught trying to steal a candy bar (I’m not making this up) uses that as an excuse to lead an attack on Williamson’s business.)

As always, Purging incidents provide the ugly soundtrack and background visuals for most scenes as our main characters walk around and ride around looking for a safe place to hide until the 12 hours of brainless mayhem are up.  None of these moments are particularly scary.  How can they be when none of this is particularly different from the earlier chapters in this series.  As I noted in my review of Anarchy, it’s Assassination Porn and nothing more.

The Senator is determined to stop a secret rebel plot to assassinate the NFF’s leader, a super-religious conservative who enjoys making Purge sacrifices in church with his followers watching ever so intently, because she’s worried he’ll turn into a martyr.  (She also worries America is “losing its soul”.  That ship has sailed, Senator.)  The true legality of such a killing is never a concern.  And again, that’s been my biggest problem with this franchise.  It seems highly unlikely that such a murderous policy would ever be legal without a ruthless resistance in the first place.  When you consider the worldwide outrage over President Donald Trump’s Executive Order to temporarily end the influx of refugees from seven mostly-Muslim countries, which has thus far been curbed because of a court ruling, the idea of a Purge happening is very remote indeed.  That said, any politician who thinks the soul of a country can be saved after it allows such a terrible policy to flourish for a quarter century is kidding themselves.  You can’t revive what’s already dead.

The Purge: Election Year ends pretty much the way you expect it, although I am wondering why Election Day is in May and not November.  At any event, it seems pretty clear that we’re not yet finished with this thin, brain-dead concept.  Another resistance is brewing.  Too bad it’s not a real-life protest against this junky franchise.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, February 7, 2017
7:20 p.m.

Published in: on February 7, 2017 at 7:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

Stubborn Young Fool

I’m so sorry you’re an idiot
I regret that you’re so dumb
Who cares about my identity?
What does it matter where I’m from?
It’s sad you just can’t handle
This inconvenient truth
Your candidate is garbage
Her losing is the proof

You asked a sincere question
How could she possibly be worse?
So I supplied the answer
And you began to curse
“Check your privilege, cis white male!”
A reply that made no sense
“I’m embarrassed that you’re a follower”
I didn’t know you were this dense

As I tried to explain
How I came to my position
You were seething in response
And made an impulsive decision
You refuse to listen to facts
That can never be refuted
She’s hurt people of colour
So many it can’t be disputed

In the end you revealed
You’re a stubborn young fool
Who just didn’t appreciate
Being taken to school
I was kind and supportive
And you were once the same
But when I noted her flaws
I was the one to blame

I wasn’t looking to fight
Or to sour your mood
I’ve always been respectful
This time, you were fucking rude
I will always remember
Your derisive scoff
So take your own advice
And kindly fuck off

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, February 6, 2017
10:43 p.m.

Published in: on February 6, 2017 at 10:43 pm  Leave a Comment