Bird On A Wire (1990)

I have this test for a certain kind of actor.  If you can make me forget you’re an asshole in real life for two hours, then I have to admit you’re scary good at your job.

For a long time, Mel Gibson passed this test.  A raging xenophobe & homophobe and a violent misogynist off-screen, he could turn on the charm rather easily on-screen.  It helps explain why he got away with being a terrifying abuser for so long.

Take his role in Bird On A Wire, for instance.  In the film, he plays a paranoid pacifist hiding in plain sight through the FBI’s witness relocation program.  15 years ago, while seeking Acapulco Gold with a pal in Mexicali, he got entangled with a couple of crooked federal drug agents.  They roped them into doing a major drug deal which went horribly wrong.  One of the narcs (David Carradine) killed his friend and a federal agent.  After three months in jail, Gibson testified against him and he’s been moving around the country with different names and accents ever since.  (Apparently, he briefly ran Columbia Pictures, a funny inside joke.)

When we first meet him, he’s a bored, isolated, prank-lovin’, pony-tailed Southern mechanic in a Detroit gas station.  One rainy night, his past begins to catch up with him.  A customer in a BMW pulls up and the minute they lock eyes, he knows his cover’s been blown.

Goldie Hawn, a high-powered corporate attorney, is the driver.  Thinking they were on the verge of marriage 15 years ago, she was led to believe he died in a plane crash.  She even went to his memorial service.  When confronted, Gibson plays dumb, pretending he doesn’t have a tattoo and he’s a Vietnam vet.  Hawn knows better.

In a panic, Gibson tries to re-connect with the FBI agent who has overseen his case.  But he’s retired now and, as it turns out, rather senile.  So, he’s put in touch with Stephen Tobolowsky, the worst possible guy he could talk to.

Shortly thereafter, a now paroled David Carradine (yeah, that’s believable) and an indicted Bill Duke (who escaped during the ill-fated drug deal debacle) pay him an unexpected visit.  (They need to eliminate him so they can get back to smuggling.)  But because Carradine is gabby, Gibson survives with only butt pain, thanks to Hawn’s impeccably timed return.  (Hesitant villains with bad aim are the lamest villains of all.)

For the rest of the movie, the formerly devoted couple alternate between bickering, laughing, running, driving, flying, starving, ogling and, inevitably, screwing, all while continually tipping off their whereabouts and yet implausibly avoiding serious calamity.  (Gibson gets shot three times but never in a dangerous area.)  Hawn is pissed about being kept in the dark all this time but, even though she has a new boyfriend, she never got over Gibson.  Despite having a fling with a gun-totin’ veternarian (Joan Severence in one of her better performances), he feels exactly the same about Hawn.

It’s a delicate balancing act trying to make a funny action film, let alone one with a dickhead leading man, and Bird On A Wire can’t pull it off.  The chase sequences mostly lack genuine excitement and consistent comic ingenuity.  There’s a really funny moment, though, when Gibson makes a cheeky observation about Hawn as they’re climbing up a ladder, but that’s a rarity.  Most of the gags just don’t work.

Gibson and Hawn have such an easy, natural chemistry that when they argue, to a certain extent it feels a bit phony.  Shouldn’t she be more relieved than angry he’s still alive?  And even though he’s an old-school hippie who still sings Dylan at the top of his lungs and she’s now a loaded capitalist stuck in a dead-end relationship with some overworked nerd, their oppositional tension isn’t believable, I don’t care how many times she mumbles.  When they spend the night in a crummy motel (which inspires a couple of laughs), all it takes is a dick joke and one night of intimacy to make Hawn let go of her mostly contrived grievances.

All the while, Carradine, Duke and Tobolowsky continue to stalk them until the expected final confrontation.  After finally reconnecting with the now-retired FBI agent, Gibson and Hawn are advised to make their way to a nearby zoo.  Gibson used to work here during a past identity and he’s expecting to find a cache of weapons in the control room.  Good thing he knows how to unlock cages.

I first watched Bird On A Wire on my 15th birthday during its 1990 theatrical run.  I kinda liked it (I still love The Neville Brothers’ catchy Leonard Cohen cover) and was blissfully unaware of Gibson’s real-life dark side.  Now in my early 40s (and knowing a lot more about his general awfulness), I understand today why critics were not as enamoured.

There aren’t many surprises here except maybe the denseness of the heroes.  As paranoid as Gibson is in the film, he’s not very smart.  After being wrongly accused of murder early on, he doesn’t exactly keep a low profile.  In fact, he doesn’t change his appearance at all.  Plus, he drags Hawn to some of his former stomping grounds.  Tobolowsky and company correctly anticipate his next moves because they know all his former identities, and it takes him forever to finally realize that.  Hawn isn’t much help to his cause.  At one point, she makes it worse.

Even though Gibson is far from truly hateful in the film (he’s more of a reckless, harmless goof than anything else), he does offer an unnecessary impression of a sissy hairdresser, a tired stereotype.  I have to admit that when he gets beaten up and shot at, I wasn’t terribly upset, even though his character is more principled than the actor who plays him.

There’s an unwritten rule in Hollywood that assholes are often cast as heroes and actual gentlemen play the nastiest villains.  There are exceptions, of course, but not in the case of Mel Gibson.  If Bird On A Wire had been a lot funnier and smarter, the charm con that he long specialized in would’ve prevailed once more.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, April 30, 2017
6:40 p.m.

Published in: on April 30, 2017 at 6:40 pm  Comments (1)  

Cat People (1942)

Irena has a secret.  And it’s slowly destroying her will to live.

French actress Simone Simon plays the Serbian beauty, an enigmatic artist who doesn’t believe in her own talent.  At a zoo, she meets Oliver (Kent Smith who looks like Sting in certain shots), a corny, overbearing designer of ships and barges for a construction company.  She’s been trying to sketch a caged black panther but keeps throwing away her efforts.

One such crumbled toss attracts his attention.  (She misses the garbage bin so he throws it in for her.)  After pointing to a poetic sign as a way of flirting with her (insert eyeroll here), he makes his move, doing the old “I never met an artist before” routine.

Within minutes, he’s walking her home, wondering if he could write her a letter to ask her out.  (Really?  You’re talking to her right now.)  She’s not feeling it.  So he suggests a second letter.  (Red flag, toots.)  But then, she suddenly invites him in for tea.  After making it up the stairs to her apartment, she says he’s her first friend in America.

They’ve been talking for three minutes.

So begins the original Cat People, one of the weirdest horror films I’ve ever seen.

After noticing her peculiar perfume, Oliver sits quietly in the dark with a lit cigarette as his new lady friend starts humming for some reason.  As he goes to put it out, a lion from the nearby zoo roars.  Irena doesn’t mind.  Like the darkness, the noise soothes her.  But don’t get her started on those lady panthers.

When she finally turns on the light, he lights another cigarette (Jesus, buddy, think of your lungs) and notices an unusual figurine on her table, a man on a horse holding a stabbed kitty by the sword.  Irena returns to tell him quite the tale about that very man.

Long story short, her village people were enslaved and the guy on the horse rescued them. But he discovered “dreadful things”, like those who were worshipping Satan.  Plus, “the wisest and most wicked” managed to flee.  What she doesn’t mention is that she can somehow turn into a cat.

In no way does any of this turn off Oliver who shortly thereafter decides to buy Irena a kitten.  Because nothing says love like giving someone unnecessary responsibility.  Unfortunately, human cats and actual pussies do not get along too well.  So, it’s back to the pet shop to make a substitute.  But none of the other animals in the store like her, either.  Oliver ultimately gets a bird.  Not a smart choice, as it turns out.

Within the first ten minutes of this movie, Irena and Oliver are already declaring their love for each other.  (I’m pretty sure they’ve only had two dates.)  And despite not even swapping spit a single time, the domineering fellow already declares they will be married.  (Gee, have you ever heard of asking, pinhead?)

At their restaurant reception following the unseen ceremony (where pig heads are prominently displayed in the window), one of his work buddies notes to Alice (Jane Randolph), a fellow co-worker, that Mr. Impatient is now suddenly having second thoughts about the marriage because, get this, he thinks Irena is “odd”.

Gee, what tipped him off?

Meanwhile, as the movie drags on, Alice (who I originally thought was a lesbian), suddenly declares her love for Oliver after he confesses by the water cooler at work that this Serbian chick with the French accent is ruining his happy streak.  He’s so white he’s never been miserable.  Eventually, he admits he loves her, too.  But after a late night work session, when they part, they shake hands!  What a perv.

By this point, Irena has seen a shrink who thinks she’s full of shit (Oliver also doesn’t believe her village people story) and feels threatened by the presence of Alice.  You see, two things turn Irena into a murderous cat: a sex drive and jealousy.  She can’t consummate her marriage because it’ll turn her into a killer.  She also starts stalking her romantic rival on foot and on the phone.  In other words, if she can’t have sex with her husband, no one can.

When she’s not doing that, she’s hanging out at the zoo confronting that same black panther from the opening scene.  Feeling similiarly imprisoned, albeit in a more metaphorical sense, she makes a fateful decision that explains that one sketch left behind outside its cage.

Cat People has an undeserved reputation as a horror classic.  It’s not scary, it’s ridiculous.  Were it not for its magnificent black & white cinematography and set design, it would be much worse.  Because it only runs for 73 minutes, the relationship between Irena & Oliver is expedited to the point of absurdity.  Despite its groggy pacing, the movie rushes through their courtship to get to the love triangle with Alice.  The actors try their hardest to sell this nonsense and to their credit, there are no unintentional laughs.

The filmmakers really want us to suspend our disbelief but that is an impossible task.  Irena’s nightmare involving cartoon cats will never be scary.  Neither are the stalking scenes which lack genuine tension.  (We never feel Alice or her husband are in any serious jeopardy.)  And we could care less about the unsympathetic Oliver and his dilemma about whether he should get an annulment or have his wife institutionalized so he can finally hook up with the other woman.  (You can’t divorce an insane person?  Really?)  Why is he hanging around Irena when he has horny Alice at the office?  Why is he drawn to someone who doesn’t want to fuck?

Like The Blair Witch Project many decades later, Cat People asks you to be scared of something you can’t see.  It had to go this route because the budget was small.  As it turns out, so is its imagination.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, April 27, 2017
3:56 a.m.

Published in: on April 27, 2017 at 3:56 am  Comments (1)  

Revealing Quotes From Bill O’Reilly’s Keep It Pithy (Part Two)

“…Hillary Rodham Clinton wrote that ‘it takes a village’ to raise children.  My parents and their friends thought it takes parents.  They were sorry that some of my friends had maniacs for parents, but they didn’t interfere.  And they didn’t want anyone poking their nose in our house, either.” (SEVEN, pg. 76)

“…can I say that my father was always looking out for me?  No, I can’t…my father had demons that intruded on his parental duties…my father set a terrible example by inflicting unnecessary pain on his children.  He did not do this on purpose.  He simply could not control himself.” (SEVEN, pg. 77)

“…these kids have been taught one lesson very well in their twelve years of so-called schooling: They are not going to be held accountable for failure.  When you have a lot of people believing that, you’re in real trouble.” (SEVEN, pg. 78)

NAMBLA’s website, as of this writing, is still up and running.

You don’t want to go there, I’m guessing.” (SEVEN, pg. 80)

[from O’Reilly’s Ten Commandments of Effective Parenting, first seen in Who’s Looking Out For You?]

“3. Parents who are looking out for their children will be under control in the house.  There will be no random violence, intoxication, sexual displays, uncontrolled anger, or vile language…If it is a chaotic mess, the parents are not looking out for the kids.


7. Rules will be enforced but explained.  Parents who truly look out for their kids understand that there are rules in society and that high standards of behaviour are the key to a successful life.  Rules are good.  But rules must have a logical objective…

8. Parents will be honest at all times.  Lead by example.  No lying, no cheating, no nasty gossip, no cruelty, no manipulating…”

9. Parents will be respectful of their parents.  Grandparent abuse or neglect is among the worst possible things a child can see.  This is a very important commandment.  You can’t effectively look out for your kids if you don’t look out for your folks.  (Even if they don’t deserve it.)” (SEVEN, pgs. 81-4)

[from O’Reilly’s lame, satirical “secular Ten Commandments”]

“ONE: Thou Shalt Not Make Any Judgment Regarding Most Private Personal Behaviour.  Man/Woman Is the Master/Mistress of the Universe and His/Her Gratification Is Paramount.” (EIGHT, pg. 89)

“Thanks to increased competition, you are now much more likely to hear all sides of a story.  Sometimes that’s more information and more scandal than you might want to hear, but it’s your right and your job as a citizen to face up to it.” (EIGHT, pg. 90)

“The reason that we wretches [journalists] are under so much suspicion is that we are perceived as being arrogant.  That charge is tossed my way often.  I’ll let you make the call.” (EIGHT, pg. 91)

“We have an obligation to report on school principals like the one in Plymouth County, Massachusetts, who refused to publicly discipline two students who engaged in oral sex on a school bus in full view of other young students.  I mean, what kind of message does an educator send when he believes disgraceful public conduct is a private matter?

The fourteen-year-old girl and the sixteen-year-old boy who humiliated themselves and corrupted other children most likely got their oral sex education from the entertainment media (or President Clinton).  We have an obligation to scrutinize show business and so-called ‘celebrities’ who behave disgracefully.  We have an obligation to hold the corrupters personally accountable.

But we are not doing it.  And because of this cowardice and apathy, the forces of darkness are allowed to go to the bank unchallenged and, at times, even glorified.” (EIGHT, pg. 91)

“You will rarely see an article written about me that does not describe me as ‘contentious,’ ‘bombastic’, ‘a blowhard,’ or ‘bullying.’  While that assessment may be accurate… (EIGHT, pg. 92)

“…you can go ahead and hose people all day long, amassing great wealth and power, but what, exactly, does that mean?  Nada, that’s what.  Note to the greed-heads and evildoers: You may be remembered for your misdeeds, but only as objects of ridicule or revulsion.” (EIGHT, pg. 93)

“…most bad people, out of cowardice or self-interest, attempt to disguise their evil.  Some get justice, but some do not.  For me, that’s the most frustrating part of life: seeing evil individuals continue to harm people with impunity.” (EIGHT, pg. 94)

“Sex is supposed to be a private activity between consenting adults who are honest with each other, sharing pleasure and affection, and then shut up afterward.

Men, if a woman shares her body, take it as a gift of affection, not proof that you’re stud of the month.

Ladies, if you said yes without being forced, then don’t brag to your coworkers or your homegals.” (NINE, pg. 98)

“Dykes on Bikes?  Take a hike!  Can’t you ‘express yourself’ without throwing it in our faces?

…I don’t want to have to try to explain why Jack is dressed up like Jill or Jill is wearing a buzz cut.  The kid shouldn’t have to be dealing with any sexual ideas at all, much less a couple of thousand folks marching around in drag or half-naked in order to ‘celebrate your sexuality.’  Give us all a break.  Express your sexuality where the rest of us do, if we have any sense: at home, with the blinds drawn.” (NINE, pg. 99)

“Like Ann Landers, I’ve come up with a little manual for dealing with the opposite sex…Bring on the cheek-to-cheek, the heavy petting, and the home runs, but not ever with any of the following prohibited, ridiculous lines:

He says,


‘Look, I just want to talk to you.  Nothing will happen if I come in.’ Lock the door.


She says,

‘Let’s be friends.’  Fine.  Date her best friend.

‘My sister’s got two beautiful kids.’  Whatever you do, do not have sex with this woman.

‘I’m not that kind of girl.’  Get the telephone number of her best friend right now.” (NINE, pgs. 103-4)

“I don’t tolerate victimizers or charlatans or liars or manipulators.” (NINE, pg. 109)

“…I have instituted the two-call rule…If I call a person twice and don’t receive a call back, that relationship is over.  I leave a short message saying that I will not be calling again.


“I want to deal only with people who are respectful of others, even in a casual setting such as a restaurant.  Be aware of how others are treating you and question that treatment if you feel it isn’t square.” (NINE, pg. 110)

“If you have to convince someone to be your friend, the concept of friendship falls apart.  Like love, you can’t force it.” (NINE, pg. 111)

“In my early years, I had no idea that I would rise so high in my career; nor did my friends.  They were betting on the penitentiary.” (NINE, pg. 111)

“For people like me…disaster is always in play, constantly present on the horizon…both my mother and father were possessed by a nagging fear that stuff would inevitably go wrong.

“..Americans born into wealth and power usually do not have that fear.  That’s because things always seem to work out for them.  Money buys security from harm and often can mitigate difficult situations.  Power, as we’ve discussed, leads to opportunities.” (TEN, pg. 118)

“Ms. [Rosie] O’Donnell demonizes anyone she disagrees with, and her musings are not to be questioned.” (TEN, pg. 119)

“Burt [Reynolds] took full advantage of Dallas [in 1977 while shooting Semi-Tough] with hot and cold running babes in his hotel suite and fleets of limos…I kind of liked him…But even I had enough smarts to see that he was headed for a fall.  He was too cocky to the wrong people…” (TEN, pg. 123)

“What kind of power does Oprah wield?  Well, Parade magazine reports that she makes $260 million a year.


Having that kind of money can literally drive a person crazy.


With everything almost instantly available, everything becomes rather ordinary.  For that reason, the ultrawealthy, if they are not ultracareful, can become bored, jaded, or, even worse, sadistic or self-destructive.  The awful behaviour of some celebrities and power brokers illustrates that point beyond a reasonable doubt.  Just ask Caligula.” (TEN, pg. 127)

“I know that sometimes I come off as ‘all about me.'” (ELEVEN, pg. 142)

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, April 23, 2017
2:42 a.m.

Published in: on April 23, 2017 at 2:42 am  Comments (1)  

Revealing Quotes From Bill O’Reilly’s Keep It Pithy (Part One)

Four years before he would be shit-canned for being publicly exposed as a creepy serial harasser, famously self-absorbed and thin-skinned Bill O’Reilly released a silly, contradictory book called Keep It Pithy: Useful Observations In A Tough World.  (Spoiler: it’s mostly useless.)  At less than 150 pages, it’s also a shameless recycling of highlighted passages from five of his previous books (with occasionally new but brief comments on those same passages).  Basically, it’s a written version of The O’Reilly Factor, his once long-running Fox News Channel program that just got cancelled.

When The New York Times revealed a few weeks ago that O’Reilly and Fox had privately settled with a number of female employees who complained about his abusive, lecherous behaviour at work and on the phone (resulting in 13 million in payouts), following the departure last summer of the channel’s co-creator Roger Ailes who had his own legal problems with women, it set in motion a chain of events that led to the end of an era.  Hopefully, it will also end O’Reilly’s book career.  The man’s a fucking self-parody.

Looking back on it today, among other things, it’s hard not to notice the blatant hypocrisy of a man who claims to be a faithful Catholic who’s just “looking out for the folks” with the reality of who he actually is, a gross, lying, adulterous, cowardly, violent, overpaid bully who can’t keep his hands to himself or even live up to his own self-described “traditional values”.  (When he criticizes others, he’s really criticizing himself.) I mean, on page 30, there he is defending Bill Cosby’s now discredited “morality” lectures against the Black community right next to a photo of the comedian himself.

At any event, here are the most revealing quotes from Keep It Pithy (the bold passages are the new bits O’Reilly wrote as comments, lead-ins and exits to his previous words):

“Many publishers have asked me to simply reprint my past stuff.  I’ve always said no.  That’s because some of what I’ve written is obsolete.  Dated.  Not relevant to anything anymore.  That happens because life passes quickly and seasons change, to say the least.  What was fascinating five years ago may be very boring right now.” (INTRODUCTION, pg. ix)

“…Please keep in mind that in order to move forward, you have to look backward.  We all must understand what has happened in our lives, in the country, and in society in order not to repeat mistakes and, most important, so that we can find the most moral path to happiness and prosperity.”  (INTRODUCTION, pg. xi)

“Back in 2006, I had fun imagining in my book Culture Warrior a future State of the Union speech by a U.S. president named Gloria Hernandez.  Here’s a summary of that imaginary pol’s goals and philosophies:

“…a ‘one-world’ approach to foreign relations that would prevent the U.S. government from imposing a policy that would benefit America first…a touchy-feely vision of our society that places individual self-expression and rights over self-sacrifice and adult responsibility.”  (ONE, pg. 3)

“The brilliant men who forged the Constitution…also believed for both moral and practical reasons that the greater good must always take precedence over individual selfishness.” (ONE, pg. 4)

“Most of these quotes from my writings will require no explanation.  My core values have not fundamentally changed.

Too late now!” (ONE, pg. 5)

“The sad truth is that most high-profile media people are looking out for themselves and themselves alone. On any given day in Manhattan, you will see them dining in incredibly expensive restaurants with other powerful people.  You will see them at swanky parties and black-tie charity events.  You will see them at their lavish vacation homes in the Hamptons, Aspen, or Loudoun County, Virginia.  You will not see them at Wal-Mart.” (ONE, pg. 8)

“To this day, I keep these lessons close:

  1. Keep a clear head.  [That means avoid getting hammered as much as possible.]
  2. Don’t compromise when you know you’re right.
  3. Give most people the benefit of the doubt.
  4. Don’t fear authority.
  5. And definitely have a good time.” (ONE, pg. 10)

“…I know that true, unrepentant evil exists. And I firmly believe it will be punished…” (ONE, pg. 16)

“Many letters to The Factor give me clear road maps to the devil’s den – and suggest I’m headed there.” (FOUR, pg. 42)

“[The Catholic Church’s] leadership is made up primarily of elderly white men who have spent their lives playing politics and currying favour with the conservative zealots in the Vatican…[They’]re all men of guile, power players who enjoy their wealth and influence…who play the same kind of callous game – that is, amassing power and money while completely forgetting the mission that Jesus died to promote.” (FOUR, pg.43)

“With such leadership [in the Catholic Church], it should come as no surprise that the clerical sex scandal broke wide open.  With a few exceptions…Catholic leadership in America is made up of venal, self-absorbed men who embrace the daily philosophy of ‘cover my butt’.  When Cardinal Law learned of abusive priests, did he leap up in outrage, throw out the perverts, and call the cops?  No, he did none of those things, according to his own sworn testimony.  Instead, he kept the situation quiet so it wouldn’t hurt his standing in Rome.  Thus his solution to child molestation by his priests was to pay the victims off and have them sign a nondisclosure agreement…That policy, of course, led to the brutalization of hundreds more children, but did Law care?  He dodged and weaved and attacked the press until finally the evidence became so overwhelming that he was publicly humiliated…But even after the crimes and payoffs became public, the Vatican refused to take aggressive action against Law and the other perversion enablers.  And so the reputation of the Catholic Church in America arrived where it is today – completely down the drain.” (FOUR, pg. 44)

“My last word on religion is a practical one based on timeless logic: If you live your life subject to the rules of Judeo-Christian tradition…then you will do more good than harm on this earth.  You will love your neighbour and help other people out.  You will not do things that hurt others or yourself.” (FOUR, pg. 45)

“In helping me to determine right from wrong, good from evil, and trying to correct injustice, my Catholic faith is invaluable.


“Religion has been a very positive thing in my life.  Without it, I would never have been motivated to expose bad guys and celebrate heroism.  Most media people are self-interested and cautious.  But I see my job as much more than a big paycheck and a good table at the bistro du jour.  I am on a mission.” (FOUR, pgs. 46-7)

“Greed is the destroyer of success.  You cannot be creatively successful and greedy at the same time.  I’m talking about both material and emotional greed here.” (SIX, pgs. 57-8)

“The true heroes of America are not the new Internet billionaires or the overpaid sports stars and movie actors or the wise guys who jack up their companies’ stocks…The true heroes of America…go to work for a modest wage, fulfill their responsibilities to their families and friends, and are kind and generous to others – because that’s the right way to live…

But the rich and powerful have forgotten or never learned that bedrock truth.  Or they simply don’t care.

But forget them. 
Each of us is, to a large degree, in control of our own lives.
That includes me…” (SIX, pg. 59-60)

Self-indulgence, and especially harmful, debilitating self-indulgence, is not going to give you what you want.  It will keep you from getting what you want.” (SIX, pg. 60)

Kids seven to ten years old in Palmdale, California, were required by the school district to take a very disturbing sex survey.  Sample question: ‘How often do you think about sex?’  That’s not a misprint, folks.” (SIX, pg. 64)

Remember ‘Captain’ Lou Albano, the wrestler?  He always said, ‘This stuff is fake.  Don’t try it at home.’

So listen to me, someone whom you know from TV, when I say, ‘Be careful what you let your kids watch, and what they start to believe, if they fall for everything they see on TV.” (SIX, pg. 65)

“People basking in the spotlight – and I don’t just mean politicians – are forever presenting terrible examples to the children of America.” (SIX, pg. 66)

“…when they see other kids harming their bodies by drinking, smoking, taking drugs, or engaging in irresponsible sex, explain that these losers do not value themselves highly.  They’re doing themselves in because they’re unhappy about their lives; they don’t feel popular enough or attractive enough, so they fall for the short-term illusion of substance-induced kicks or cheap sexual thrills.” (SEVEN, pg. 73)

“History clearly demonstrates that without structure and accountability, human beings have a tough time staying on the rails…An effective person must incorporate discipline into his or her life, and a just society must demand responsibility from its citizens.” (SEVEN, pgs. 74-5)

“You can hope that you’ve raised someone who will join the forces of good in America, not a candidate for an entry-level job in the porno industry.” (SEVEN, pg. 75)

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, April 23, 2017
2:11 a.m.

Published in: on April 23, 2017 at 2:11 am  Comments (1)  

Blair Witch

It’s clear right from the beginning that the cast of Blair Witch haven’t seen The Blair Witch Project.  As a result, they make the exact same mistakes as the doomed characters in the earlier film.

Strike that.  They do see the ending online, thanks to a couple of rednecks who post it on YouTube.  In no way, however, does watching this footage discourage them at all from what they’re about to do.

The fate of Heather Donahue’s character has long been an obsession of her paramedic brother, James (James Allen McCune).  Because her body was never found, he dumbly believes there’s still a chance she’s lost somewhere in the seemingly vast Black Hills Forest.  He was only four when she decided to make a documentary about the mysterious Blair Witch of Maryland.  Now a grown man, he foolishly decides to conduct a search party of his own.  The authorities were unable to locate her and her two fellow crew members, along with numerous other victims over the centuries.

His longtime pal, Peter (Brandon Scott), convinces mutual friend Lisa (Callie Hernandez), who’s making a documentary of her own, to come with them and cover the search.  Peter’s girlfriend, Ashley (Corbin Reid), tags along, as well.

Rewriting history a bit, we learn that the footage of Heather’s demise was discovered by Lane (Wes Robinson who looks like the love child of Miles Teller and Sean Penn) and his girlfriend Talia (Valorie Curry), not law enforcement.  The foursome make a stop at their house before hitting the forest to find out where exactly they made their discovery.  Curious themselves, Lane & his gal, who have lived in Maryland their entire lives, won’t divulge the location unless they get to join the party.  Peter, a black man, isn’t too thrilled with the idea especially after spotting the couple’s Confederate flag proudly displayed in their living room.

Despite clearly seeing someone else in the Heather video, James’s friends are highly skeptical of this Blair Witch business.  As Lane and Talia take them deep into Black Hills, they offer a little background.  One such story makes Peter laugh out loud.  Guess who the witch kills first.

As they make their way through a cold creek, Ashley steps on a piece of glass.  But even after her foot gets the first aid treatment, the cut never heals (in fact, it spreads up her leg) and she eventually falls ill.  After spending the night in their makeshift camp site, they awaken to discover those mysterious branch symbols from the first film and that it’s 2 p.m.  Freaked out, they all decide to leave, the one and only sensible decision they make.

But once Lane confesses that he and his gal pal made the symbols themselves, Heather’s brother and his friends suddenly aren’t so scared anymore and stupidly decide to go back.  The rednecks decide to bolt on their own.

But, of course, once you enter Black Hills Forest, you can never leave (unless you’re law enforcement or discover raw footage, apparently).  The original foursome learn this the hard way when they make a second attempt to leave.  Their hours of walking bring them right back to the camp site.  Eventually, the sun stops coming up.

A starved, fatigued Lane and his equally starved, fatigued girlfriend suddenly return at one point claiming they’ve been wandering around the forest completely lost for almost a week.  (It’s only been a day.)  Inevitably, the gang gets separated as one by one they disappear into nothingness.

Like The Blair Witch Project, all roads lead to the witch’s decrepit abode, the same place Heather discovered before she went missing.  (On a dark and stormy night, it curiously materializes out of nowhere.)  In fact, Lisa relives part of the original’s ending shot for shot before literally bumping into Heather’s brother who runs in first hoping to somehow find his sister in this rundown, wooden labyrinth.

Blair Witch is the third and hopefully final chapter of this disappointing series.  The overrated 1999 original was followed by a conventional dud called Book Of Shadows in 2000.  It’s clear the only reason we have number three nearly 20 years later is because the found footage horror genre, which The Blair Witch Project helped popularize, has long since gone mainstream mostly thanks to Paranormal Activity and Cloverfield.

With the notable exceptions of The Visit and The Last Exorcism, I have not been a chief supporter of these types of films.  They’re often contrived, not terribly scary and stupid.  Blair Witch very much resembles that remark.

Yes, the technology has advanced quite a bit since the original.  Instead of just camcorders and walkie talkies, this time around we also get earcams with GPS and even a drone that predictably gets stuck in a tree.  What we don’t get are interesting, intelligent characters and a clever story.

The movie isn’t as bad as it could’ve been because of a welcome lack of gore and the effective art direction.  But by God, how many false jump scares do we need to endure?  How many shaky, POV shots?  In order to have this ill-fated trip to the forest take place, the characters have to be mostly ignorant about the events of The Blair Witch Project.  If they do have a strong sense of history, we have no movie.  Smart people wouldn’t set foot in Black Hills.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, April 16, 2017
3:05 p.m.

Published in: on April 16, 2017 at 3:05 pm  Comments (2)  

Liberal In Denial

A flamethrower with really bad timing
Out of touch with the angry masses
Stunned to once again be kicked to the curb
Impotently ranting as his time passes

Foiled by the shifting of the winds
Stuck in the past that will never return
Struggling to understand the new reality
Foolishly thought that it was her turn

An absolute master at collapsing bridges
So many relationships severed and torn
A downfall caused by pitiful decisions
A satisfying defeat that no one will mourn

Completely convinced of his own acumen
As arrogant as Margaret Thatcher
Two failed attempts to acquire modest power
You couldn’t even get elected dog catcher

Fatuous and lame, predictable and fake
A liberal who’s not very progressive
Dangerous positions rejected by most
Time to reach for that anti-depressive

When it all goes to shit you blame someone else
A sure sign of your chronic immaturity
How you long for a hero as dull as yourself
One who meets your criteria for purity

Racist and sexist without acknowledging such traits
Is the very definition of denial
Projecting your flaws onto those who oppose
You’re not noble at all, just vile

Contradictions abound when you lack consistency
Sometimes I wonder if you’re drunk
The glory days are over for you, I’m afraid
There’s no escaping this monumental funk

A verbal assailant who lives for the joust
But crumbles when challenged with facts
You can’t win with silence or petty retorts
You’re running out of retaliatory acts

Stop believing you’re on the inside
Such delusions make me laugh and cough
Some words of advice you need to hear
Do us a favour and kindly fuck off

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, April 15, 2017
4:00 p.m.

Published in: on April 15, 2017 at 4:00 pm  Comments (1)  

Plunge Into Darkness

Say good-bye to your negative thoughts
Stop giving them space to breathe
Don’t take the plunge into darkness
It’s too dangerous to believe

Illusions are powerful, especially when they’re sad
Giving in increases your stress
They only wound when you lose your focus
Stop living in a state of duress

Deep inside you know they’re lies
Deceptions dressed up as “proof”
They burrow deep inside your mind
It’s no wonder you act aloof

You’re drowning in shame, hiding your pain
Suffering for no reason at all
Take the first step to reverse your malaise
Refuse to take the fall

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, April 14, 2017
6:56 p.m.

Published in: on April 14, 2017 at 6:56 pm  Comments (1)  

The Prince Of Dumbness

I’m not fooled by your latest pose
The smell of bullshit right under my nose
A backroom stooge who’s forgotten his place
A sexist past you’ll never erase

Born again “feminist”? Don’t make me laugh
After all, you’re the king of the avoidable gaffe
Remember the cartoon on your stupid blog?
Impulsiveness is the curse of the glory hog

When it comes to Palestine, you’re in denial
What passes for thinking is frankly juvenile
An entire population seems to disappear
Because without the status quo, you have no career

Funny how Igor thinks he’s Dr. Frankenstein
You’re oh so progressive except for Palestine
Does their suffering not matter? Help me understand
Do you approve of the thieving of their homeland?

The master strategist once had the golden touch
But one campaign decision proved to be too much
All it took to cause such fatal devastation
Was making a false claim of transit segregation

Shortly thereafter, he was out of a job
Which gave him more time to be a cultural snob
Yet another cruel lesson that won’t be learned
When you create your own fires, expect to be burned

A paper sniper who lives for the pointless feud
But beware what you say or you’re gonna get sued
Your neutrality on Iraq was so incredibly brave
I didn’t know you had a reputation to save

A myopic centrist lost in his own hype
Backed another loser who couldn’t sell her own tripe
Just like him, he thought she was a winner
Imagine his shock when both were done like dinner

How much longer before you finally realize
That no one believes your new phony disguise
You care more for winning than doing what’s right
The Prince Of Dumbness, so ballless and slight

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, April 12, 2017
8:29 p.m.

Published in: on April 12, 2017 at 8:29 pm  Comments (1)  

Purple Rain

Purple Rain is all about seduction, how it spots you in the crowd, seeks you out and grabs you until you can’t resist despite some understandable reservations.  Look past the appealing surface and you will see uncomfortable darkness.  But it’s not so easy to let go.

It’s how The Kid attracts the immediate attention of Apollonia, even if he doesn’t always treat her with respect.  It’s how the womanizing Morris Day lures her with a career push even though she isn’t the slightest bit attracted to him.  It’s how he convinces the owner of the First Avenue club to consider dropping The Kid’s back-up band, The Revolution, as a regular act in favour of a girl group he’s putting together.

It’s how The Kid’s abusive father keeps his terrified mother from fleeing.  It’s why The Kid can’t help but imitate his misogynistic behaviour.  It’s how The Kid keeps The Revolution together despite grumblings about his tardiness, cold demeanour and not being open to band members’ song ideas.  And it’s how he captivates club audiences with his considerable charisma and untouchable musicianship, an indisputable fact that even Morris Day & The Time, Dez Dickerson and Apollonia 6 can’t deny.

It seems a bit of a stretch that Prince as The Kid would ever consider Day, as funny and as talented as he is in his own right, serious competition (are Jungle Love and The Bird, catchy dance numbers notwithstanding, even remotely in the same league as Let’s Go Crazy and When Doves Cry?) or that his audience would ever decrease but cinematic convention demands such a plot.  (His unwarranted jealousy of Day getting too close to Apollonia, however, is easily convincing.  He really doesn’t have anything to worry about.)  To the film’s credit, though, when The Kid’s club gig is on the line in the final act, it leads to the deeply moving title song where for once the audience’s tears feel genuine.  God knows it got to me, too.

Apollonia is a 19-year-old beauty who flees New Orleans, successfully avoids paying for a $37.75 cab ride, rents a room at the Huntington Hotel and manages to sneak her way into First Avenue where she becomes immediately transfixed by The Kid.  (She did not deserve a Razzie for her underappreciated performance.  Her facial reactions are spot-on.)  It helps that he’s in the middle of playing perhaps the greatest Prince song of all time, Let’s Go Crazy, which is a lot longer here than on the soundtrack.

After his set, when they lay eyes on each other for the first time on the floor of the club, the lust is palpable.  But so is The Kid’s eccentric playfulness.  As Morris Day & The Time take the stage, the odd one is right behind her one minute and then gone in an instant when she turns around.  He eventually convinces the naive goddess to ride with him on the back of his motorcycle where he drives her to a lake and in a very humourous moment, tricks her into stripping down to her panties in order to jump into the freezing cold water.  She’s mad but only briefly.  You got me, you sexy motherfucker.  Her shy smile gives her away.

His home life is much more turbulent.  The Kid has a terrible role model in his black father (a genuinely scary Clarence Williams III), a former musician and songwriter, who gets into terribly violent screaming matches with his petrified white mother (a mostly muted Olga Karlatos).  (The Kid gets whacked for attempting to intervene during an early fight.)  After one such incident, she threatens to leave.  But where would she go?  The Kid’s dad, often upset about her supposed inability to keep a clean house (what’s stopping him from doing it himself?), knows it’s a bluff.

The Kid knows this shouldn’t be happening but when Apollonia announces she’s joining Morris Day’s girl group, in a rage he smacks her with an open hand.  (She had just pawned a piece of jewelry so she could buy him a guitar he likes.)  Unlike his father, he’s instantly remorseful but a damaging pattern has been established.  A later confrontation sees him almost doing it again but he somehow manages to not follow through.  Like many abusive men, The Kid’s father attempts suicide after another unwarranted attack on his wife.  This leads to a violent temper tantrum, a surprise discovery, an exposed lie, and decidedly mixed feelings.

All of this built-up tension makes the performance of Purple Rain, the epic ballad he dedicates to his father, all that more powerful as The Kid, clearly realizing he fucked up, leaves it all out on the stage, but thinking afterwards, incredibly, that it just wasn’t enough either for the audience or Apollonia herself.  The film cuts between Prince’s gutwrenching vocals (you can feel his guilt in every note) and intense close-ups of the mesmerized clubgoers, some with tears in their eyes.  (I was emotional, too.)

My favourite reactions come from the club owner Billy (the effective Billy Sparks), particularly the second one where he nods in amazement.  Even he is impressed by what he’s seeing and hearing.  Having pushed The Kid to deliver the goods, he now knows he can’t fire him.  He’s too valuable to the club.

When The Kid returns for a more upbeat and triumphant two-song encore, even Morris Day is having a good time.  (Before even taking the stage, there’s a great moment where he cruelly (but hilariously) mocks The Kid’s family situation and then when no one is around, looks very worried about what’s to come.  It’s the only time he drops his phony playboy act, his metaphorical mask temporarily removed.)

Purple Rain is far from a perfect movie.  The camera is too tight on the famous Jungle Love dance.  (The leg movements are cut off.)  Even though there are no bad Prince songs (I even liked Sex Shooter, another undeserving Razzie “winner”) few are in the class of Let’s Go Crazy, When Doves Cry or the title cut.  We could be spared the scene where Day’s assistant Jerome disposes of an angry flame on his behalf (not all of The Time’s frontman’s antics are funny, in fact, he can be quite sexist).  The Kid’s mom is purely a victim and not enough of a fully fleshed character.  And you wonder if there should’ve been a darker ending.  Abusers are too easily forgiven in this movie.

That said, there’s no denying the deftness of this enterprise, the way the highly entertaining concert performances neatly tie in to the building off-stage drama, a point Gene Siskel first made back in 1984.

Prince was a unique talent in his time, a singer, a songwriter, a producer, a versatile musician who could shred as well as Jimi Hendrix and emote as powerfully as Smokey Robinson.  He could even out-James Brown James Brown.  (His on-stage athleticism had few peers like Michael Jackson.)  But he was also complex as evidenced by his thinly veiled cinematic alter-ego.  Note one weird scene where he pretends to be a puppet to dismiss Revolution bandmate Wendy’s early demo which he eventually turns into Purple Rain and another when he tries to kiss her cheek as a belated thank you during the live performance of that song.  Her awkward reaction is unmistakable.

Distant, indifferent and sometimes flat-out jerky, like Saturday Night Fever, Purple Rain’s protagonist isn’t a hero or a villain but a complicated human being struggling to stay sane and ruthlessly ambitious in the midst of so many bad influences.  Like the dance floor where Tony Manero shined in his famous white polyester suit, the First Avenue concert stage is The Kid’s most trusted shelter from his emotional firestorms.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, April 10, 2017
7:48 p.m.

CORRECTIONS:  The club is First Avenue, not 7th as I erroneously noted a number of times.  Also, it was Wendy, not Lisa, who Prince dismisses over a demo that forms the musical basis for the title song.  The text has been corrected.  My apologies for the mistakes.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, April 11, 2017
2:04 a.m.

CORRECTION:  Apollonia didn’t find a cheap apartment, she rented a room at the Huntington Hotel.  The text has been corrected.  I regret the error.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, April 11, 2017
3:37 a.m.

Published in: on April 10, 2017 at 7:48 pm  Comments (2)  

Class Of 1984

In Class Of 1984, Perry King plays Mr. Norris, a music teacher not unlike architect Paul Kersey in Death Wish.  Both are idealistic in their non-violent principles to the point of heartbreaking blindness.  Both are men of peace unknowingly entering worlds of terror that severely test their personal philosophies.  Both are vulnerable to retribution because of the women they love.  And both reach their breaking points over the same thing.

The movie opens with Mr. Norris arriving at Abraham Lincoln High School on his first day.  Despite being the originator of Kurt Angle’s 3 I’s (“Industry, Intelligence, Integrity”), it is a troubled institution in serious decline.  The biology teacher (Roddy McDowell) carries a gun in his briefcase.  Students enter through a metal detector.  The place is littered with vulgar graffiti.  And no one seems to know what to do about Stegman (Timothy Van Patten) and his terrifying group of Nazi terrorists.  (Yes, the leader of a small group of unrepentant white supremacists is Jewish, a curious contradiction never ever addressed.)  Countless suspensions have only emboldened their criminal activities.

Stegman rules by fear and profits from depravity.  He is one of the most remorseless villains I’ve ever seen.  (Even the rapists in Wes Craven’s The Last House On The Left regretted murdering those girls.)  No one scares him and no one threatens him without consequence.  He is so arrogantly brazen that even after impressing Mr. Norris with his surprisingly good piano playing (Van Patten wrote and performed his own song), like the current President of the United States, he can’t accept being rejected for exhibiting such a snotty, rude attitude.  Mr. Norris, it turns out, is no pushover.  For the first time in his life, Stegman starts feeling insecure about his status.  He may no longer be untouchable.

Class Of 1984 doesn’t shy away from brutal violence as it repeatedly demonstrates just how menacing Stegman’s crew truly is.  Very briefly we meet a rival gang of black students who make the mistake of selling drugs at Lincoln High.  This means profits are down considerably for the white supremacists who also exploit teenage sex workers.  Stegman’s terrorists beat up one of their dealers in the school washroom and then later, they whollop the entire gang with weapons in an outdoor rumble near a bridge.  As a result, we never see these black kids again.

Give this movie credit.  It gets this point right.  Right wing fascism is the most dangerous phenomenon.

As Mr. Norris prepares his students for an important concert, Stegman oversees a bathroom drug deal that goes horribly wrong.  A bad batch of angel dust leads to a dramatic suicide.  Michael J. Fox (before he had to add the J to his name) plays the smart-ass yet sympathetic trumpet player who tries to warn his doomed friend about his misguided plan.  Even though Mr. Norris confronts the gang shortly after the deal goes down, he hopes Fox will still come forward since he saw everything.  Fox knows better.  Just to make sure, Stegman and company deliver a compelling reason for him to stay quiet.

When a paranoid Stegman wrongly thinks that Fox is exposing him to a cop (Al Waxman in a fine supporting performance), a new recruit is ordered to stab him.  The gang cleverly instigate a cafeteria brawl to avoid the possibility of eyewitnesses.  But Fox eventually gives up the name from his hospital bed to his increasingly concerned teacher.

Mr. Norris’ initially peaceful resistance to Stegman’s sense of entitlement begins a war that ultimately escalates exactly the way you expect it to.  First, stage blood is squirted into his face just steps from his house.  A childish warning.  Then, his car gets blown up.  A more ominous message.  In a scene that somewhat echoes a similar moment in Dirty Harry, after mocking his infuriated teacher’s normally zen nature, Stegman purposefully bashes his own head a number of times in the bathroom and wipes his blood on his enemy’s hand hoping the incoming school security guard will connect the dots.  (Norris does get charged with assault.)  Still stubbornly thinking you can reason with a teenage fascist enabled by a delusional, passive single mom, it’s only after being directly threatened by this monster that Norris starts to finally crack.  Stegman’s beautiful red convertible gets quite a thrashing in his apartment building parking lot.  This time, Norris is the untouchable one.

Norris’ friend, the shell-shocked biology teacher, who literally drinks on the job because he can’t cope with having unresponsive students, undergoes a similar breakdown much sooner than Norris.  When Stegman’s Nazis kill all his rabbits and rats, he finally has a reason to pull out that gun in class.  Later, he attempts to run them all over outside their club hangout where Teenage Head performs.

When we find out early on that Norris has a pregnant wife (executive producer Merrie Lynn Ross), it’s only a matter of time before she’s assaulted.  (Her refusal to go to her mother’s house immediately is predictable but tragic nonetheless.)  It is easily the most disturbing scene in the film.  But without its inclusion, the final act wouldn’t work.

After being lured into a violent trap just as he’s about to begin conducting his students during that important school concert, Norris finally realizes you can’t reason with a Nazi.  You have to kill them all.

Adolf Hitler famously said that if Germans had quashed his racist movement before it ever rose to power, he wouldn’t have succeeded in orchestrating one of the worst genocides in human history.  Class Of 1984 feels the same way about its own teenage Nazis.  It fully understands the insidious nature of their violent white supremacy.  They don’t respond well to hippie talk.  Despite suspension after suspension handed down by an otherwise hapless principal who looks like Mr. Roper and a police officer who can only do so much within the law (these juvenile delinquents can’t serve life sentences despite their long rap sheets), the only real deterrent is brutal force, especially since they refuse to end their relentless bullying.

Mr. Norris is left with no alternative but to singlehandedly defend himself, his wife and his unborn child as he lays deadly, spontaneous traps of his own for these despicable heels who deserve everything they get.  It’s a testament to how well crafted this film is that I loudly cheered for him every step of the way.  He’s fully justified in his actions.

Class Of 1984 is a gruesome B-movie with some surprising intelligence and skill despite its predictable plot and lousy theme song.  (Maybe Alice Cooper should’ve written his own cut instead of singing someone else’s weak number.)  Decades after its release, its seemingly overwrought warning about the rise of school violence in America has become sadly prescient.  Imagine how even scarier Stegman and his band of bullies would’ve been if they had access to guns like the Columbine killers.

The terrific Timothy Van Patten is so obnoxiously deceptive and manipulative, so disgustingly sexist and hateful, every time you see his smug expression you want to punch him.  You eagerly look forward to seeing his inevitably turbulent fall.  Thanks to his musical talent and unspoken Jewish heritage, Stegman ends up being a much more interesting villain than you expect.  His sharp performance reminded me a bit of the blond bully who torments Ralph Macchio in The Karate Kid, which sadly hasn’t aged as well as this film.  His fellow gang members are all well played by mostly unknown Canadian actors who wisely present themselves as cheerful sadists with no moral lines to cross because they don’t believe in restraint.  It’s clear as the movie progresses that, without fierce resistance, it’s only a matter of time before they become savage murderers.

Perry King is well cast as their arch nemesis, a decent man whose increasingly volatile situation demands increasingly hostile responses and therefore, the erosion of his core values.  That erosion, however, is necessary to his survival even if it blackens his once peaceful soul.  Roddy McDowell is also good as the crestfallen biology teacher who feels absolutely broken by his lack of scholastic progress.  (He could’ve been given funnier lines in his earlier scenes, though, which are far less heavy.)  Although he initially advises Norris to go along to get along to avoid crossing Stegman and company, once his lab animals are massacred he becomes unhinged.

We’re told over and over again that it’s next to impossible to implicate Stegman’s gang in any number of crimes they commit because of the lack of cooperative witnesses.  But even despite that, they’re able to avoid serious prison sentences because of the numerous legal loopholes for young offenders like them.

What about DNA?  It’s never mentioned.  Then again, proper forensic testing wasn’t widely available as it is today.  But never mind.

What matters is that this is a well-crafted thriller, terrifying in its message and oh so satisfying in its resolution.  Like Quentin Tarantino’s far superior Inglourious Basterds, Class Of 1984 knows full well that the only good Nazi is a dead one.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, April 8, 2017
2:44 p.m.

Published in: on April 8, 2017 at 2:44 pm  Comments (2)