10 Cloverfield Lane

10 Cloverfield Lane is what I like to call an “Oh, come on!” movie.  Because at various points, you either think to yourself or say out loud, “Oh, come on!”.  Believe it or not, it’s an actual line of dialogue, the only time I laughed.

A sort-of sequel to the overrated 2008 found footage shockumentary Cloverfield, it drops that often contrived gimmick in favour of a more conventional narrative.  The result is the same, though.  Like its predecessor, it isn’t scary.  Put simply, it’s bullshit, which I also thought and said out loud more than once.

The heavenly Mary Elizabeth Winstead has spent her entire life running from scary situations.  In the opening scene, she quietly dumps her fiance (an unbilled Bradley Cooper) after an unseen, unexplained fight, leaves behind her engagement ring, packs up her stuff and moves out.  When he tries to call her from her car, she picks up but says nothing.  Then, because this is a horror movie, she gets into an accident.  You see it coming a mile away.

When she wakes up, she’s pantsless, barefoot (she never wears socks the entire movie, for some puzzling reason), banged up, groggy, handcuffed and locked inside what appears to be a basement.  Then John Goodman enters her room.  It turns out he’s a paranoid conspiracy theorist who claims that there’s been an attack.  They’re not in his house, though.  They’re in his underground bunker.  He’s been preparing for this moment for years.  It’s why he built the place.

The second we meet him, we have an immediate problem.  Goodman isn’t creepy enough.  (Kathy Bates, he isn’t.)  He’s the absolute wrong actor to pull off this role.  With the exception of one scene, I never felt intimidated by him.  This serious miscasting negates the few positives the film has going for it, like the terrific set design.  (We really do feel like we’re in a bunker.)

The movie also suffers from Tarantinoitis:  too much annoying small talk.  That becomes most evident when John Gallagher Jr. enters the story.  Unlike Winstead, he willingly wanted to come here.  His left arm in a sling, he too suffers from extreme fear.  He tells a story about being a great Track star in high school.  But because he was a shitty student, he wasn’t brave enough to go to college with all the smart kids even though he had a full scholarship and a ticket to ride.  Whatever, Nancy.

On more than one occasion, he deeply irritates Goodman with his constant yammering.  After a while, you wonder why he’s been tolerated for so long.  You get the feeling Goodman is looking for any reason to off him.  He’s a little too patient.  Considering Goodman’s intentions towards Winstead, it makes little sense why he keeps him around.

Upon waking up in her room, Winstead immediately plots her escape.  (I like how she sharpens the wooden end of one of her crutches into a shank, even though that plan doesn’t work out too well.)  But Goodman is determined to keep her indoors.  He insists it’s just not safe to go outside.  (I always thought he was lying about these potential threats, maybe even overselling the danger, but sadly, he isn’t.  It’s clear I’d forgotten about this movie’s predecessor.)  There’s a scene where the clever Winstead, easily the smartest character in the film, comes thisclose to leaving when suddenly a woman, Goodman’s neighbour, pounding on the other side of the door, demands to be let in.  She has very noticeable red open sores all over her face.  She’s in a state of panic.

Just moments before she literally pops in the frame (cheap horror gimmicks die hard), Goodman points out his dead hogs with the same condition (he has a farm), screaming at Winstead to reconsider.  Faced with her biggest fear yet again, Winstead realizes she’s stuck.  She doesn’t open the door.

Winstead later reveals to Gallagher that she’s a survivor of child abuse.  This explains why she chooses to stay in the bunker (better the devil you know than the devil you don’t) and her impulsive decision to dump Cooper after their fight.  (It’s not clear whether their argument was ever truly violent.)  She recounts a big regret.  While in a store, she witnessed a father not unlike her own repeatedly yanking on his daughter’s arm.  When the kid accidentally tripped, he punched her.  Winstead wishes she had intervened.

Faced with the very real prospect of never getting out of here, Winstead tries to make the best of it by doing puzzles with Gallagher and reading Goodman’s dead daughter’s old magazines.  (She wears some of her old clothes.)  They watch movies from his own personal VHS/DVD collections.  (He loves Pretty In Pink.)  She tries to decorate her bedroom to make it less gloomy.  And they eat dinner together like one awkward family.  These scenes of faux tranquility drag the movie’s already languid pacing down considerably.

But when the air filtration system gets jammed (she’s the only one who can fix it), her determination to flee returns with a vengeance.  She accidentally steps on a pair of blood-stained earrings, the same earrings Goodman’s daughter is wearing in a photo he has of her.  But when Gallagher sees the picture, he knows it’s not her.  It’s his sister’s former schoolmate who went missing two years ago.  Just before she finds the earrings, she also spots an alarming message scraped into a window.  Goodman hasn’t been fully candid.

Desperate for a solution to her dilemma, she figures out a way to protect herself should she ever manage to get past Goodman.  But once she escapes this nightmare, a more ridiculous one awaits, lest we forget this is a Cloverfield movie and if you’ve seen the first one, you know to a certain extent what that involves.

I don’t know about you but I’m getting tired of women-in-peril movies.  I’m also growing bored with alien invasion flicks.  10 Cloverfield Lane, Goodman’s home address in the movie, is half the former and half the latter, so it’s doubly tedious.  Long before his confession and a bit before she figures it out herself, it’s abundantly clear that Goodman’s motives toward Winstead are not altogether altruistic and her injuries are not at all accidental.  She’s a make-do replacement for a huge hole in his life that someone else once reluctantly filled.  It’s a bit too reminiscent of Don’t Breathe, which is only slightly better than this movie.

I have to admit, though, her makeshift hazmat suit would make MacGyver proud.  And as it turns out, it’s absolutely necessary in one scene.  How convenient, though, that she just happens to have a talent for designing clothes.  And how fortunate that Goodman doesn’t scoop up that bottle of liquor from her back seat.

In the final scene, Winstead has a decision to make.  Will she go to Baton Rouge or head towards Houston?  In other words, will she play it safe as always or take yet another risk?  Considering what she has just been through and in spite of what she tells Gallagher, it’s not believable she would make that left turn.

Dennis Earl
Hamiton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, May 28, 2017
5:33 p.m.

Published in: on May 28, 2017 at 5:34 pm  Comments (1)  

Eddie And The Cruisers/Eddie And The Cruisers II: Eddie Lives!

In 1963, Eddie Wilson and his backing band, The Cruisers, had the number one song in America.  Just a year later, he disappeared without a trace.

In 1983, a TV journalist starts contacting the surviving members for an anniversary report on her show, Media Magazine.  20 years after The Dark Side topped the charts, the absence of Eddie is felt stronger than ever.

Eddie And The Cruisers are not a real band but a fine fictional one first conjured up by novelist P.F. Kluge and then adapted for the screen by Martin & Arlene Davidson.  (They co-wrote the screenplay, she executive produced and he directed.)  The charismatically brooding Michael Pare plays Eddie as a likeable, loyal yet ruthlessly ambitious rocker with strong Springsteenian vocals.  (John Cafferty & The Beaver Brown Band provided the original tunes.)

After the rejection of The Cruisers’ experimental second LP, A Season In Hell (inspired by the famous poet Arthur Rimbaud who heavily influenced Patti Smith), Eddie takes off in his beautiful red convertible and is never seen again.  His car is found dangling perilously over the edge of a bridge.  No body was ever recovered.

It’s that lack of finality that lingers depressingly in the minds and hearts of the remaining Cruisers two decades later.  Despite trying to get on with their lives, they remain married to their happier past.  The lack of true closure cuts deep.  Lingering wounds still won’t heal.

Tom Berenger plays Frank, the affable former keyboardist who turned Eddie onto Rimbaud and fell for his feminist back-up singer/girlfriend Joann (Helen Schneider) which causes temporary tension but not expulsion.  The Wordman’s lyrics are needed too much.

Frank’s now a popular English high school teacher who shares his love of poetry and Joann sings in Vegas.  When they eventually reconnect all these years later, the chemistry is still there.  Buried desire won’t die.

Meanwhile, Sally (Matthew Laurence), the stubborn bassist who we also like, has assembled his own nostalgic version of the Cruisers complete with an Eddie soundalike.  They’re good but it’s not the same without the original frontman.  They play the way he wants, rather than Eddie’s approach, to appreciative boomer crowds in hotel restaurants.  (They can’t let go of the past, either.)  Doc (Joe Pantoliano), the band’s former manager, is an impatient oldies DJ.

After Berenger’s trailer home is ransacked (other former band members subsequently experience the same thing), he gets a call from Doc.  While visiting him at his radio station, he learns that the master tapes of A Season In Hell, the rejected second album that Satin Records wouldn’t release, are missing.  Plus, he heard there might be a movie in the works.  Maybe they’ll get hired as consultants.

At the same time, Maggie (Ellen Barkin), the curious TV journalist from Media Magazine, tracks down the surviving Cruisers one by one for interviews.  Only Frank is initially reluctant.  But inevitably, he opens up, too.

In between the effective modern-day scenes where the conflicted band members reestablish contact and Frank reminisces about their heyday with the sympathetic reporter, we get sharply observed flashback sequences that reveal key moments in The Cruisers’ timeline.  Frank’s introduction to the band before one of their early pre-stardom gigs.  His ill-fated romance with Joann (he also turned her on to Rimbaud).  Eddie teaching a pitchy Frank how to rock out on the keys while working on The Dark Side.  The tragic death of their sax player Wendell (Michael “Tunes” Antunes).  And the fateful moment when a cruel dismissal leads to an impulsive ride.

Critics weren’t too thrilled with Eddie And The Cruisers during its lacklustre theatrical run.  The film didn’t find an audience until 1984 when it hit home video and HBO started airing the film relentlessly.  As a result, The Dark Side, which peaked on the real Billboard Hot 100 in the mid-60s during its first release, ended up in the Top 10 in its second.  (It was the number one Album Rock Track for five consecutive weeks, as noted by Wikipedia.)  Another song, Tender Hearts (also the name of the fictional band’s hit first album but also a John Cafferty original from 1980), eventually hit the Top 40.  The soundtrack has since sold three million copies.

That’s as close to self-actualization as this movie will ever get.

Despite being a work of fiction, Eddie And The Cruisers are a credible band with a number of entertaining songs that pass a key test:  they hold up on repeat listens.  I like the way the film is structured, as well.  We don’t get the full faux-historical details in those flashbacks, just important snippets which preserves the mystique of the band, most especially Eddie Wilson, who is correctly positioned as a supporting player, rather than the lead.  When he talks about his hopes for the band’s music, it’s smart, endearing and believable.  He wants to be one of the greats even if his bandmates don’t believe they can live up to that perhaps impossible ideal.  We only get a taste of the Season In Hell album but the one song we do hear is as good as any of their previous cuts even though nothing quite tops The Dark Side.

I also like watching how the dynamics of the band play out.  Witnessing the members argue over whether to use dramatic pauses in the vocals to add more tension and seeing them pep up Frank’s much slower version of The Dark Side is fun and insightful.  It makes you appreciate how difficult it is to produce something everyone can live with that can somehow attract mass appeal.

I’m not sure the money-conscious weasels at Satin Records, the mostly unseen villains of this story, would keep A Season In Hell under lock and key for 20 years long after Eddie’s disappearance.  Why wouldn’t they have tried to shamelessly cash in right away?  Nevertheless, once we find out who has the tapes and who else has been trying to secure them, we understand both their motives.  It makes sense.  The past can become the present again.

Which brings us to the controversial ending.  As Maggie’s report wraps up on TV, there he is, the mystery man in disguise watching himself in his prime.  No one notices him, especially when he walks away with a knowing smile on his face.  Personally, I like the ending.  It’s jolting.  And let’s be clear about one thing.  It’s not a cheat.

Eddie And The Cruisers is about the difficulty of divorcing yourself from your greatest period because you never wanted it to end.  Notice how all the surviving characters struggle with this, even the enigmatic singer at the heart of this story.  The music they created together in the 60s is so embedded into their DNA they can’t escape it.  The past defines their present more than anything else.  All of their current jobs keep them deeply connected to their firmly planted roots.

All throughout the film, there is considerable doubt about the fate of Eddie Wilson.  The lack of a body, the intuitive sense that he never really left.  So when we suddenly see his reflection on that TV screen, it’s not as though we weren’t warned.

Because he didn’t truly die, six years later, we get the highly deflating Eddie And The Cruisers II: Eddie Lives!, which is a bit of a misleading title.  (We’ll get to why later.)  Pare returns as Wilson, now a construction worker named Joe West who somehow resides in Quebec.  (The movie was made by French Canadians.)  During a coffee break with a couple of co-workers in a local pub, he is transfixed by his old image on TV as Martha Quinn talks up his most famous song, then plugs an upcoming lookalike contest featuring contestants who look nothing like the real thing.  (Maybe that was the point.)

The Tender Hearts album has been rereleased and has gone platinum in a month, which is remarkable considering what was actually popular in 1984 (Van Halen, The Police, Michael Jackson), the year this movie is set.  It’s also a wink and a nod to the belated success of the original Eddie And The Cruisers soundtrack.

Wilson drives back across the border to check out the show without anyone noticing his presence, which seems hard to believe considering his less than brilliant disguise.  (Someone on the Internet later wrote that he looks like a longhaired Robert Goulet.)  He starts getting emotional as the crowd repeatedly chants “Eddie!  Eddie!” and we think for a moment he might out himself.  But he doesn’t.  This eventually establishes one of the fundamental problems with the movie.  His constant second guessing about his inevitable return to the spotlight.  (We learn early on that he never stopped writing songs, pages of which he later tries to burn to no success.  He has bad aim.)

Back in Montreal, while attending a Habs playoff game, he encounters aspiring artist Diane (Marina Orsini) who wants to paint him.  He’s not interested.  Their eventual, predictable romance has zero heat and ultimately becomes a major distraction.

While in another bar one night, Wilson checks out an uneven local band led by Colin James doppelganger Rick Diesel (Bernie Coulsen).  He befriends their sax player Hilton (Anthony Sherwood) who he once saw playing with Ike & Tina Turner and is later challenged by a skeptical Diesel to shred with his band.  In the middle of jamming, Wilson suddenly bolts during Hilton’s improvised solo.  Now thoroughly convinced of his skill (but strangely unaware of who he really is), Diesel seeks him out and eventually convinces him to critique his soloing on a lousy song he’s written.  Wilson complains that he isn’t letting the music breathe.  But when he tries his own solo, honestly it doesn’t improve the song at all.  It’s clear Diesel is too Eddie Van Halen for Wilson’s liking.  He’d rather he play more economically like The Edge.  Personally, I’d rather hear The Dark Side again.

Here’s a depressing observation.  Eddie Wilson in Eddie Lives! is just not a likeable character anymore.  He’s irritable, irrational, contradictory, needlessly jealous and out of touch with modern music.  Not only that, he stalls too much and is annoyingly indecisive.  He bluntly tells Diesel to quit his band only to help him form a crappy new one.  (In a thankless role, Platinum Blonde’s Mark Holmes becomes their new bassist.)  The material they generate is not fresh or innovative.  In fact, it sounds more like New Country, especially in the final concert scene when this new group, Rock Solid, opens some Quebec music festival with their grooveless stinkbombs.

Calling this Eddie And The Cruisers II is a bit fraudulent since the film isn’t about a long awaited reunion.  (Sally is the only Cruiser who returns from the original.)  It’s really a reluctant attempt at a second act with a different set of musicians.  (We really don’t care about their struggle to make it.)  The problem is that Wilson has to be dragged kicking and screaming back into the public eye even though this is what he really wants!  There really is no reason for him to act this way other than to draw out some contrived tension and create some kind of artificial suspense.  I mean do we really think he’s going to pull another disappearing act in the finale?  Please.

Satin Records, the label that refused to release A Season In Hell in 1964, finally does so to great success (come on) and also starts playing new unreleased Eddie Wilson singles that don’t feature The Cruisers and are instantly forgettable.  (There is no way any of them would be hits.)  Hearing these songs triggers Wilson’s temper and plays into his insecurities.  The weaselly executives play up the possibility that Eddie didn’t die to increase sales not realizing of course that they’re right.  They keep upping a reward for anyone with proof that he didn’t drown in that river.  No one comes forward.  But a couple of kooky broads go on Larry King to claim he fathered their kids, one of a small number of unfunny references to the discredited “Elvis is alive” conspiracy.

Another big problem with the film is Wilson’s weak explanation for how he managed to survive that crash.  First he says he doesn’t remember much.  But then he says when he hit the water he thought about Wendell, The Cruisers sax player who died of a heroin overdose, and decided to keep swimming.  (All the way to Canada?)  While I can understand walking away because of screwy record label politics, I can’t sympathize with the way he abandoned his bandmates by faking his death.  Let’s face it.  He’s a despicable coward.

There’s a scene where he approaches Sally on the beach (when did he become a father?) looking like he did 20 years ago.  The former bassist (who apparently isn’t doing the nostalgia circuit anymore) is royally pissed.  But after a few “I’m sorrys”, they embrace and all is instantly forgiven.  Sally later sends him a brief supportive telegram before the festival gig.  How convenient.

Like its predecessor, Eddie And The Cruisers II: Eddie Lives! was not loved during its 1989 theatrical run.  Unlike most critics in 1983, I’ll defend the original and its nervy ending.  I can’t defend this.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, May 27, 2017
3:07 p.m.

Published in: on May 27, 2017 at 3:08 pm  Comments (2)  

Hot Persuasion

You scream liberation without making a sound
Everywhere you walk becomes sacred ground
A sensuous revelation unencumbered by guilt
Hot persuasion so magnificently built

A human furnace on the coldest of days
A refreshing breeze in the hot summer rays
I’m always hypnotized by your enchanting spell
You could easily replenish the driest well

Skin so inviting I can’t help but stare
I’m looking at a beauty so incredibly rare
Sweet and kind, a delightful nerd
You can awaken the dead with a whispered word

You arouse the curious by shedding your clothes
You demand attention with your seductive pose
A bright young goddess with a creative flair
I can see it printed on your underwear

A lust for blood on the silver screen
An enthusiasm on par with the most passionate teen
A gamer, a lover, a delectable peach
A promising future is within your reach

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, May 26, 2017
11:29 p.m.

Published in: on May 26, 2017 at 11:29 pm  Comments (1)  

Some Unanswered Questions About The Numerous Investigations Into The Trump Administration

1. Why did Michael Flynn accept the job of National Security Advisor when reportedly he didn’t really want it in the first place?

2. Who really hacked the DNC’s email servers?

3. Why won’t Flynn agree to testify under oath in public?

4. Are there really secret recordings of private conversations between President Trump and James Comey?

5. What will be the focus of Robert Mueller’s investigation?

6. Will Flynn get immunity in order to compel his sworn testimony and relevant documents in his possession?

7. Is there a coup being planned by the national security state to remove Trump from the Presidency?

8. Why did Trump need the recommendations of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions when he had already made up his mind he was going to remove Comey from his position as FBI Director?

9. Why was Mueller named Special Counsel but not Special Prosecutor?

10. Where is the evidence Russia interfered in the 2016 US Federal Election, therefore tipping the vote towards Trump?

11. Will Democrats accept the final results of all these investigations if they all conclude that the election wasn’t rigged by Russia or anyone else?

12. What is President Trump so afraid of?

13. Why did Sessions not mention his contacts with Russian government officials during his confirmation testimony or on his SF-86 form?

14. How much does Vice President Mike Pence know about all of this?

15. Why didn’t Flynn previously disclose during the campaign that he was a foreign agent paid by a businessman with ties to the Turkish government?

16. If Russia wanted all of Obama’s sanctions against them lifted, what did The Trump Administration want in return?

17. What is the extent of Trump’s business interests in Russia?

18. Will Trump’s tax returns be subpoenaed by any of the numerous ongoing investigations?

19. Who is leaking all this damaging information about The Trump Administration?

20. Was Carter Page paid by the Russian government to infiltrate and spy on the Trump campaign?

21. Does the Russian government have any actual leverage over The Trump Administration?

22. Will Mueller’s investigation interfere with all the other ongoing probes?

23. When will the FBI submit the Comey memos to investigators?

24. When Comey was still the FBI Director, if he felt Trump was pressuring him to drop the Flynn investigation, why didn’t he come forward to say so months ago?

25. Did Trump really ask Comey three times if he was under investigation?

26. Why is Trump still loyal to Flynn when he has caused so much trouble for him politically?

27. Did Trump ever meet Carter Page and if so, what was the nature of their conversations?

28. Why did The Trump Administration allow a Russian photographer into the Oval Office during his May 10 meeting with two Russian officials when they didn’t want the US media to know about it?

29. Will Trump be impeached?

30. Why did Trump wait 18 days to fire Flynn when he was told by Obama officials well before then that the former head of the DIA might be compromised and possibly susceptible to Russian blackmail?

31. Why was Comey, a Republican, so secretive for almost a year about the Trump/Russia investigation which he eventually acknowledged in sworn testimony this year while being very open about the Hillary Clinton private email server inquiry?

32. Does Trump really like watching sex workers piss on a bed?

33. How many Trump officials will be resigning, fired or prosecuted when all is said and done?

34. Do the Russians really have compromising material on Trump and his aides?

35. How long are all these investigations gonna take and will they uncover the whole truth whether we accept it or not?

36. Is there really an Israeli spy embedded undercover with ISIS?

37. How deep is Jared Kushner’s involvement in all of this?

38. Does Trump regret firing Comey?

39. Who will be the new FBI Director?

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, May 26, 2017
4:19 a.m.

Published in: on May 26, 2017 at 4:19 am  Comments (1)