Morning Joe’s Donald Trump Problem

Maybe they shouldn’t have put him on the air so much.  Maybe they shouldn’t have privately advised his campaign.  And maybe they shouldn’t have been so chummy with him for all these years.

When Donald Trump declared himself a candidate for President in June 2015, few were more enthusiastic about it than Joe Scarborough.  The former Republican Congressman was an early champion of the future President as was Mika Brzezinski, his fiancé and co-host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe.  Trump was a frequent guest on their program during the early days of the overlong 2016 federal election campaign.  The interviews were not noted for their toughness.

Considering his routinely inflammatory, xenophobic, sexist, contradictory, revisionist and often blatantly dishonest rhetoric, Scarborough & Brzezinski’s shameless, early shilling for Trump had long been a source of ridicule and criticism, especially within their own cable news network.

Not helping matters was a leaked piece of audio that illustrated their penchant for subservience, not to mention Scarborough’s initial reluctance to turn down a possible Vice Presidential candidacy as Trump’s running mate.  Scarborough even went so far as to publicly brag about advising Trump “to speak in complete sentences at debates.”

Even after publicly criticizing his proposal for a Muslim travel ban in late 2015, Scarborough & Brzezinski continued to see Trump socially.  (They stayed at Mar-A-Lago over the Christmas/New Year’s holidays that same year.)  The day after it was first announced as public policy through a highly condemned & legally contested executive order this past January, there they were having lunch with the man in the Oval Officethe same man who offered to officiate their wedding during their Mar-A-Lago stay.  (Scarborough has been a frequent guest at the Florida resort.)

After Trump had won the election, as he sheepishly admitted recently to Rolling Stone, Scarborough told him over the phone, “I hope we’ll be friends after this.”

Despite occasionally spatting at each other on Twitter and TV over the last year, their off-air social engagements resumed unabated, at least up until a few months ago.

This week, after once again poking the beast by foolishly questioning his mental health, President Trump responded in his favourite forum by lambasting Scarborough & Brzezinski the only way he knows how, by cruelly lying.  (Do we really believe anyone still recuperating from a facelift (that appears not to have actually happened) would ever be in the vicinity of the most judgmental man on the planet?)

The backlash was predictable.  And then, the Morning Joe hosts countered Trump’s laughable tweets by claiming that the White House wanted an apology for their public criticism.  If they sufficiently grovelled, a National Enquirer story exposing their then-secret relationship would be killed.  (They came out as an engaged couple in Vanity Fair in May.)  They didn’t and true to the threat, it ran.  That raises a whole lot of abuse of power questions.  (The National Enquirer officially endorsed him for President.  Trump has a close, longstanding relationship with its owner, David Pecker.)

But what about Scarborough & Brzezinski’s own embarrassing conduct in this whole mess?  In the early goings of the 2016 campaign, they gave Trump a lot of free publicity and not a lot of scrutiny, inexcusable behaviour for broadcasters on a national news channel.  (As Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi reported on the campaign trail last year, Trump gave them a warm shout-out during a New Hampshire rally.)  Even after they started questioning some of his worst ideas on Morning Joe, they maintained their already established off-camera relationship with him right up until January this year (as far as we know) which was far less hostile.

Scarborough is now claiming, with a straight face, that the man he and his fiancé stupidly sucked up to in 2015 and 2016, for the purpose of getting exclusive access, is not the same man currently occupying the White House.  Has he really forgotten Trump’s original campaign announcement where he smeared most Mexicans as criminals, rapists & murderers?  Was he not aware of Ivana Trump’s claim that her husband raped her (later retracted because of considerable pressure from his legal team)?  Did he miss how Trump and his father wouldn’t allow black people to rent apartments in their buildings back in the 1970s?  I could go on but you get the idea.

You’d have to be a complete dunderhead to believe that 2015 Trump was more reasonable than 2017 Trump.  You don’t even have to do any research to realize Scarborough is completely full of shit.  I’ll use the most obvious example.  2015 Trump suggested a Muslim travel ban.  2017 Trump has tried three times to implement it.  Explain to me again how the 2015 version was more acceptable.

As for Trump brutalizing the Morning Joe couple on Twitter, I have next to no sympathy for them, mean tweets notwithstanding.  When you make the decision to roll around in the mud with a pig, expect to be corrupted by the filth.  No amount of washing will make you clean.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, June 30, 2017
11:23 p.m.

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Published in: on June 30, 2017 at 11:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

Booty Call

Roger Ebert actually liked this movie.  So did Gene Siskel.

I didn’t.

First, the title.  It’s deeply misleading.  It should’ve been called Double Date.

Tommy Davidson has been dating Tamala Jones for 7 weeks.  They haven’t had sex.  Why?  Because Jones wants to make sure he’s “the right one”.  Talk about antiquated thinking.  Wouldn’t you want to know immediately if you’re sexually compatible with this guy?  Why delay your disappointment if he’s not?

Davidson’s best friend is Jamie Foxx who constantly gives him a hard time about this.  They make a bet about whether Davidson will finally consummate his relationship on this particular night.  Jones’ best friend is Vivica A. Fox who lives directly across from her in their apartment building.  She correctly notes on multiple occasions that Jones is a big prude.

All four meet in a Chinese restaurant (the women live in Chinatown) where their server turns out to be an unfunny gay stereotype who hits on Foxx.  When Fox lays eyes on her date for the first time, she’s not impressed.  She doesn’t like his hair which leads to two obvious jokes.  But after Jones complains about a gangster’s lit cigar (she’s very anti-smoking), Foxx mosies on over there to politely ask him to put it out.  In Mandarin.  (He learned the language from kung-fu movies.)

When he returns triumphant to the table, Fox insults him in Mandarin.  They argue in Mandarin.  In English, she brags about being rich (yet she lives in the same building as Jones) while all he can boast about is his gold gas card (he’s doesn’t drive).  You know exactly where this is going.

After dinner, Fox cleans up at the pool table.  Then, it’s back to Jones’ place for a game of cards and a mutually unsexy game of footsie.  Jones has a little dog named Killa who plays a major role in putting the bickering Foxx and Fox together.  The joke is they don’t realize it.  Let’s just say it’s quite gross.

Fox has a weird fetish.  She gets turned on when her partners do impressions.  So, Foxx indulges her by citing famous quotes from Jesse Jackson and Martin Luther King, curious choices considering their well-known philandering.  His impressions aren’t particularly good.

Then he does Cosby, which takes on a whole new meaning today.  I’ll admit it.  One of his lines made me laugh.  He also throws in a little Captain Kirk, as well.

With Foxx and Fox out of the apartment, Jones finally decides to get it on with Davidson.  There’s a peculiar moment where she thinks she’ll die having sex if he doesn’t wear a condom.  (Does she not trust him?)  Unfortunately, when he pulls one out of its wrapping, it falls to the floor and that goddamn dog snatches it.  Why even bother trying to get it back?

When Davidson learns that Foxx doesn’t have any spares (he didn’t bring any), it’s off to the store to buy some more.  38 dollars later, Jones grumbles they’re lambskin, not latex.  So, Foxx and Davidson go to a different store where they encounter two more tired stereotypes, a couple of Indian immigrants, and a hypocritical churchgoing judge (a pre-stardom Bernie Mac) who lectures them on the sins of fornication.  (Cosby should’ve played this part.)  Back in Jones’ apartment, with everything seemingly back on track, Davidson proceeds to go downtown when the clearly germophobic Jones insists he use some Saran Wrap.

Say what?

With none in her kitchen, an increasingly irritated Foxx is dragged out of Fox’s apartment by Davidson one last time to go back to that same variety store run by the same two Indian guys to buy some.  But then a gunman shows up.  Foxx actually suggests they steal some food and booze because of the distraction but thankfully doesn’t go through with it.  When they attempt to sneak up on him, that allows one of the clerks to pull out an uzi and proceed to needlessly destroy his profits.  It should be noted that he completely misses the gunman.

Finally back in his girlfriend’s building and not knowing what the fuck he’s doing, Davidson makes a very dumb decision.  So does Foxx.  When you find out that Jones wanted Davidson to use the Saran Wrap on her not him, you start questioning his loyalty and his intelligence.

Thoroughly fed up, Foxx and Davidson decide to bolt.  The women plead with them to return.  Then, Foxx slips up, Davidson gets accidentally shot in the leg, and we’re suddenly in the ER where the cheap jokes and well-worn clichés continue to pile up rather quickly.

The misnamed, critically jackhammered Booty Call became a surprise, modest hit during its theatrical run 20 years ago.  Would I have laughed more if I saw it back then?  I’ll never know.  What I do know is that two laughs in 80 minutes is woefully inadequate for a sex comedy.  (The name of the gangster in the restaurant, a blatant groaner, is the only other funny moment.)

The film is so shallow, so strange and so obvious, it never gets on that comic roll it desperately needs to work.  What it thinks is truly outrageous is just plain annoying and icky.

Booty Call should’ve been a sexy, laugh riot.  Instead, it’s depressingly deflating.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, June 25, 2017
3:40 p.m.

Published in: on June 25, 2017 at 3:40 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Wolf Man (1941)

Besides its lack of genuine scares, The Wolf Man has a major credibility problem.  Larry Talbot is an idiotic, opportunistic sleaze and not at all sympathetic.

The son of Sir John Talbot, a wealthy scientist, Larry left Talbot Castle 18 years ago only to return because his older brother was killed in a hunting accident.  No longer playing second fiddle, he stands to inherit the entire estate as the sole heir.  (Is he really that sorry to not have to share all that dough?)

After fixing his father’s telescope in the family attic, Larry turns creepy as he spots a beautiful woman in an open, upstairs window.  If this were an 80s horror film, she’d be practically naked.  But because this is 1941 we’re talking about, she’s fully dressed and ready to go to work in her father’s antique shop downstairs.

Larry immediately visits the place hoping to get a date.  He hits on Gwen, the woman from the window, so relentlessly you know he’s not big on consent.  She repeatedly turns him down.  (“What big eyes you have, Grandma,” is his idea of flirtation.)  That does not stop him from announcing he’ll be outside the shop door at 8 p.m. expecting her to be there.  The fact that she is actually waiting for him when he arrives is particularly strange most especially when we find out not too long afterward that she’s engaged to another man.  That does not stop Larry from pursuing her.

Much to his annoyance, Gwen brings along a friend to have their palms read by travelling fortune tellers. During one fateful session, the one played by Bela Lugosi freaks out, warns Jenny, the friend, to get the hell out of there before transforming himself into a werewolf (actually a dog, for some unexplained reason) and killing her.  Thanks to a nifty cane with a silver, wolf-shaped handle he had just bought in the antique store (purely to impress a seemingly unimpressed Gwen), Larry kills the wolf not realizing it’s Bela.

From this point on, Larry and Gwen become controversial figures in this village.  She gets “slut” shamed for merely walking and talking with him.  And after a gravedigger gets murdered one night, Larry is correctly viewed by some of the gossipy townspeople as the prime suspect.  When he arrives at church for the funeral, everyone stares at him, even his own father.  He doesn’t stick around for the service.

Before he kills Bela, Larry gets bit.  (You never actually see it happen as he wrestles with him in dog form.)  But the wound disappears, soon to be replaced by the mark of the werewolf.  New victims have a pentagram magically show up on the palms of their hands that can only be seen briefly by their future killers.  When it shows up on Gwen’s hand late in the film, Larry realizes he needs to leave before the full moon returns.

But none of this would be happening at all if he had listened to Maleva, Bela’s fortune telling mother, who is not at all upset, for some reason, that he killed her son.  She gives him a special necklace that he is supposed to wear at all times to prevent him from transforming.  But the stupid idiot gives it to Gwen believing it will protect her from him.  He still attacks her in the film’s finale.

Lon Chaney, Jr., the son of the legendary Lon Chaney, Sr., perhaps the first Method actor before such a term existed, does his best to make Larry Talbot a tortured everyman caught in a no-win situation.  But because he’s so domineering towards Gwen, a white man on the verge of inheriting extraordinary wealth from his father (now that he no longer has to compete with his brother) and a dolt about his own well-being, it’s extremely difficult to care about his preventable dilemma.

Even though the film only runs about 70 minutes, it takes about half the running time before we see Chaney in The Wolf Man get-up.  Below the waist, the make-up is terrific.  (The feet look the way they should.)  Above the waist?  Not so much.  He doesn’t really resemble a wolf.  Just a really hairy guy who needs a manicure.

And yet, the film is beautifully photographed in black and white (Blu-ray doesn’t just improve colour films), has a lovely production design for the most part (the castle and antique store interiors are particularly elegant) and features some tremendous camera work.  Note the crane shot in the attic scene when Sir John climbs the ladder to check out his telescope.  Very smooth, very cool.  Or the moment where he catches Larry just before he leaves the castle.  It’s perfectly framed showing the growing distance between father and son, and how the influence of Sir John still towers over his youngest child despite Larry’s considerable height and long absence from his life.  (In the telescope scene, note how Larry kneels down at one point, looking up at his father for approval after he fixes the device.)

Claude Rains is effortlessly good as Talbot Sr. but by God, why do they make him so skeptical of Larry’s werewolfism?  When the movie begins, there’s a graphic that notes that lycanthropy is “a disease of the mind”, according to science, Sir John’s area of expertise.  But according to legend (which is capitalized) and the people who live near Talbot Castle, sufferers do take on the physical characteristics of wolves and embark on killing sprees.  Why doesn’t anyone listen to them?

The local authorities don’t believe Larry when he says he killed a werewolf because they find Bela’s human body.  (When he tries showing his bite mark, it’s already healed.)  And when the gravedigger is offed, they’re convinced an animal did it, not a human, even though Larry’s tracks lead directly back to Talbot Castle.  They’re not smart enough to realize what the audience already knows.  Sir John himself is doubtful that Larry has been cursed by Bela’s bite, although he does agree to tie him to a chair in his bedroom, only to find himself face to face with his transformed son out in the nearby forest in the final act.  It shouldn’t take him this long to become a believer.

Evelyn Ankers has the rather thankless role of being Larry’s love interest which causes her nothing but grief.  First, because the guy won’t leave her alone.  Second, because the townspeople give her a hard time about it.  And third, and most absurdly, because she actually considers running away with him (she doesn’t break off her engagement) when he decides to leave town.  When did she go from being completely uninterested to completely besotted?  This is yet another one of those movies that claims with a straight face that if you wear a woman down long enough, she’ll eventually fall for you.  Nope.

The ending of The Wolf Man made it difficult for Universal to churn out traditional sequels like they did for Frankenstein.  So, instead, they resurrected the character for crossover films like House Of Dracula, House Of Frankenstein (neither of which are scary), Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man and the terribly unfunny Bud Abbott Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein.  Like Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers and countless other franchise horror villains, death was never an obstacle when making shameless follow-ups.

Unlike its predecessor Werewolf Of London, the original Wolf Man has been mostly credited with creating the basic template for all the many imitators that have since followed (although there is some dispute about how much screenwriter Curt Siodmak actually invented rather than borrowed).  But historical importance aside, it’s not much of a scarefest.  Now over 75 years old and greatly hindered by the restrictions of the now thankfully discarded Hays Code, it can’t help but show its deteriorating age.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, June 24, 2017
4:27 p.m.

Published in: on June 24, 2017 at 4:27 pm  Leave a Comment  

Vampire’s Kiss

I have a theory about Nicolas Cage’s performance in Vampire’s Kiss.  When he looked at the script, he knew it was awful.  No scares, no laughs.  But instead of turning down the lead role he was offered, he decided to be mischievous.  How else to explain his peculiar acting choices?

Let’s start with his voice.  You notice something’s off immediately.  After spending the entirety of Peggy Sue Got Married sounding like Pokey (Gumby’s pal), here he comes across as a snootier valley dude.  He’s an erudite Spicoli but far less charming.

Then, there are his needlessly overbroad physical movements.  Out of nowhere, he bulges his eyes, overdoes facial expressions, jumps on a desk, laughs a little too hard, sings too much, screams and runs around like a maniac.

Oh yes, he also eats a live roach.  In what has become perhaps the most infamous moment in his entire acting career, while feeling peckish in his kitchen, he foregoes retrieving something from his fridge and settles for the doomed creepy crawly roaming the top of his stove.  There’s no trickery here.  That’s a real bug that he puts in his mouth.  How many takes did this scene require, I wonder.  As Survivor and Fear Factor later revealed, he was a decade ahead of his time.

Cage plays Peter Loew, a seriously troubled, deeply obnoxious literary agent.  When we first meet him, he’s seeing a therapist (Elizabeth Ashley), a cougar who thinks he has unrealistic romantic standards.  That’s not his actual problem.

Rather quickly, we discover he’s a misogynist.  (“Cunt” appears to be his favourite word.)  He drunkenly dismisses the profession of Jackie (future Eve’s Bayou director Kasi Lemmons), a cute woman he picks up in a club.  (They bond over the Fantastic Four.)  She works for the phone company but is too giggly, horny and drunk herself to feel insulted.  She could do way better.

In the midst of getting it on, a bat suddenly shows up, a very cheap looking bat.  Jackie leaves the apartment while Peter literally tries to “shoo” it away.  They end up taxiing it to her place.  But Peter, already a loathsome character, is forever changed.

On another night, Peter meets Rachel (Jennifer Beals) in a restaurant and takes her home for a nightcap.  Then, she bites him.  Feeling deeply unsatisfied in his love life, he suddenly finds what he’s been missing. (“You chose me,” she whispers after stabbing his neck with her teeth.)  But Rachel is too good to be true.  She’s controlling and demanding.  And, as it turns out, not exactly trustworthy.

When Peter goes on a second date with Jackie, he coldly ditches her at the art gallery.  Despite being thoroughly pissed off with him, he somehow convinces her to meet with him at a bar to make up for it.  But Rachel makes sure he never gets there.

If it isn’t clear already (it’s right there in the title), Rachel is a vampire.  What’s not clear is whether she actually exists.  For you see, Peter at times appears to be talking to himself.  The morning after his life-changing encounter with Rachel, he makes a cup of coffee for her.  But when he shakily hands over the cup and saucer, no one is in his bed to take it.

While singing in the shower, he opens up the curtain to let in no one who then somehow proceeds to tickle him.  And then, near the film’s conclusion, he literally walks into a building and carries on a conversation with it.  There’s no reply from the building, of course, but then we’re suddenly in another therapy session where his shrink introduces him to his dream woman (Jessica Lundy) who is clearly a figment of his imagination.  (The film awkwardly cuts back and forth between the therapist’s office and the street suggesting that maybe Elizabeth Ashley’s character isn’t real, either.)  No matter, he quickly grows agitated with her and calls her a “cunt”, as well.

In the midst of his very obvious mental breakdown, there’s an extremely annoying subplot involving one of his writer clients.  He wants Peter to find the very first contract he signed for a publishing deal so he can have it framed.  Peter summons his long suffering secretary Alva (Maria Conchita Alonso), who he secretly lusts for, to go through file after file after file until she finds it.  She has to drop her other duties in order to make time for this nonsense.

When he’s not yelling at her and pointing at her like a cartoon dog, he’s constantly harassing her and chasing her into the women’s bathroom.  Growing increasingly alarmed and terrified of his out-of-control antics (he and his fellow employees bizarrely laugh off the bathroom incident), she phones in sick one morning.  But Peter finds her address and ultimately cajoles her to come back.  Once they’re in the taxi, though, he’s back to being an asshole again.  Did I mention this is a comedy?

Her worried brother Emilio (Robert Lujan), a car mechanic, reluctantly agrees to give her blanks for the gun she’s been quietly hiding in her purse.

Even after the writer calls Peter to let him know that finding the contract is not a huge priority, Alva still isn’t let off the hook.  The resulting “pay-off” of this whole storyline might be the most irritating aspect of the entire picture.  Talk about a complete waste of time.

After being bitten by Rachel, Peter doesn’t go through the traditional vampire transition.  The “joke” is he thinks he’s becoming one but is deeply delusional.  When his fangs don’t grow in quick enough, he decides to buy fake ones.  But the best ones are too expensive, so he opts for the $3.50 set which he proceeds to wear to a club where he murders a cokehead and gets a rude awakening from Rachel.  (How I wish it was the Rick Rude finisher.)

He starts wearing sunglasses indoors because now he supposedly is more sensitive to sunlight.  He flips over a couch and sleeps underneath it on the floor, a makeshift coffin.  He collapses at the sight of a neon cross.  And he pretends he can’t see his own reflection in the mirror.

It’s baffling why any woman would want to be with Peter, especially Rachel.  (Is she merely setting him up?  If so, why?)  He’s so detestable, so self-absorbed.  Every woman is beneath him.  He’s like Patrick Bateman, only far more neurotic.  His encounters with Rachel somehow make him an even worse human being.

When he’s not buying into the idea that he’s the newest member of the undead, there are times where he feels trapped by it and suicidal.  After cornering poor Alva (he eventually assaults her), she pulls out her gun and he demands she finish him off.  But she shoots at the floor.  He ends up putting it in his mouth.  Not realizing those bullets are blanks deepens his false self-belief.  His “indestructibility” becomes his ultimate vulnerability.

Only a gifted actor like Nicolas Cage could deliver such an embarrassing performance like this.  You get the feeling he’s trying so hard to avoid being bored.  The result can only be described as manic desperation.  Not once is he funny.  Not once is he scary.

Could this story have worked if it wasn’t played for non-existent laughs or scares?  Possibly.  But certainly not with Cage who refuses to dial it down.  We don’t care about Peter before he gets attacked and we care even less after he completely falls apart.

I used to think Amos & Andrew was his worst movie.  I stand corrected.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, June 23, 2017
5:50 p.m.

Published in: on June 23, 2017 at 5:50 pm  Leave a Comment  

The ‘Burbs

Who has moved into 669 Mayfield Place?  For an entire month, nobody knows.  No one in this non-descript neighbourhood has seen anybody coming and going from the residence at all.  And what’s with that weird noise coming from the basement?

The lack of certainty arouses deep curiosity amongst the residents, especially Tom Hanks who is awakened in the middle of the night by that mysterious humming.  He gets as far as his next door neighbour’s lawn before giving up and going back to bed.

So begins Joe Dante’s The ‘Burbs, a weird, misguided comedy that also fails as a half-hearted thriller.  It’s been nearly 30 years since I first saw it during its theatrical run.  It has not aged particularly well.

Part of the problem is that the film has exactly one laugh.  The other part of the problem involves its main characters.  They’re unsympathetic busybodies fueled by unwarranted paranoia and overwrought suspicion, that is until the movie cops out in the worst possible way.  Rick Ducommun is especially annoying as the overbearing budinski who frequently imposes his large presence on Hanks.  There’s one scene where he walks in uninvited during a family breakfast and starts eating a lot of their food.  He’s rarely at a loss for words.  He is not funny at all.

Hanks is having a staycation (he refuses to go to the family cottage) and when he’s not lounging around doing nothing important, annoying wife Carrie Fisher in the process, he’s stupidly listening to Ducommun who is absolutely convinced with zero evidence that his new next-door neighbours are up to no good.  Another neighbour, Bruce Dern, an army vet with an American flagpole on his property and a much younger wife (Wendy Schaal), is just as obsessed as they are.

When the neighbourhood crank (Gale Gordon), whose poodle keeps crapping on Dern’s lawn, suddenly disappears, instead of being relieved that the old bastard is gone, the clueless amateur sleuths sense foul play, pointing fingers at the enigmatic neighbours.  At one point, they actually break into the old man’s house where Dern’s wife discovers his discarded toupee.  Hanks looks after his shit-happy dog and leaves a note behind that is bizarrely misinterpreted later on as a threat.

Initially too afraid to actually meet the new neighbours, Hanks and Ducommun only get as far as their rickety front porch.  The wood is falling apart and for some reason they encounter bees, a sure sign of comic mediocrity.  (A similar bit pops up in Daddy Day Care, a far worse disaster.)

It isn’t until Fisher suggests they properly introduce themselves about halfway through the movie that we finally hear from the three men who live there.  Henry Gibson, a doctor who paints to relax, sounds like a Nazi.  Brother Theodore, his brother, mostly glares without blinking.  And Courtney Gains looks like The Wolf Man in mid-transition.  (There’s a scene where Gains drives the family car from the garage to the sidewalk just to stuff a bag of garbage in a can.  Our desperate heroes, quietly observing across the street, think there’s a body inside.  They are not correct.)

The get-together is, as expected, extremely awkward.  (When Gibson offers his hand to Hanks when they first meet, it appears to be covered in blood.  It turns out to be paint.)  The new neighbours are understandably uneasy.  Their overly nosy visitors struggle to make small talk when they’re not asking pointed questions.  In between, there are long stretches of uncomfortable silence.  Just in case you thought the bee gag was too highbrow, Hanks eats a raw sardine on a pretzel as the foley artists needlessly amplify the juiciness.  Moments later, while pretending to sneeze, he spits it out in a newspaper.  Subtle.

While in their bathroom, he makes a startling discovery:  the missing neighbour’s toupee along with his subscription magazines.  One question would clear up that mystery.  It’s never asked.

There’s more.  One night, Hanks looks out his window to see the three men digging in their backyard.  (Makeshift graves?)   One afternoon, his dog, Vince, finds a bone.  (Is it human?)  With Ducommun’s story about a murderous soda jerk still ringing in his ears, Hanks sends his wife and son away so he can be part of something incredibly stupid, an illegal break-and-enter mission to find any evidence of their missing neighbour.  (Shouldn’t the police handle this, fellas?)  As always, Corey Feldman, another local resident, continually watches from his front porch with bemusement.  He claims this is “better than TV”.  He’s not very bright.

Once in the basement, Hanks starts foolishly digging in the dirt.  He should’ve just looked in the furnace.

As the felonies pile up, it all appears to be a big, tragic misunderstanding.  But then, something happens in the back of an ambulance that defies logic.  One character makes an unnecessary confession to another.  Why would you do this?  Why reveal this to an idiot who didn’t actually find anything incriminating on your property and may actually go to prison for a while?  Besides, how do you expect to flee without detection, even if you do succeed in killing him?

Joe Dante has made better films than this.  The Howling is good.  Matinee is great.  The ‘Burbs, on the other hand, is his worst effort to date.  The movie knows that the weird neighbours have to be guilty of something, otherwise Hanks, Ducommun and Dern will look like complete jerks for needlessly harassing them.  Actually, they look like jerks period for profiling their low-key neighbours in the first place.  Almost everything they believe about them comes not from solid evidence but from their own feverish, discredited imaginations.  No, they’re not Satanists.  No, they’re not cannibals.  No, they didn’t kill the cranky neighbour.  No, they didn’t stuff a body in the garbage.

The bogus “twist” at the end, a fortuitous fluke, is somehow supposed to justify all these false accusations and save our “heroes” from serious legal jeopardy.  But it’s an unjust reward for needless, unwarranted privacy violations.  We don’t like it when the police do this in real life, so how can we justify it in a terrible movie?

Because the neighbours aren’t very scary or compelling to begin with, just unusual and socially awkward, the last-minute reveal lands with an unconvincing thud and feels hypocritical, especially after all these contrived, false-alarm coincidences.  (Maybe irony and satirical role reversal would’ve helped the film’s comic tone which is astonishingly weak.)  It also exposes another glaring weakness.  The villains are dumb, too.  If you were expecting to get away with your own felonies, why would you leave all that evidence in the trunk of your car?

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, June 17, 2017
7:32 p.m.

Published in: on June 17, 2017 at 7:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Acquiescence

Pretending to care about actual change
Until they’re safely out of range
They convince themselves they talk a good game
But they’re determined to keep things exactly the same
Shocked by the loathing and widespread contempt
Can’t even bother to make an earnest attempt
Feigning sympathy for your tales of woe
All while strengthening a brutal status quo

Slaves to corruption and leaders who kill
They bombed millions and stuck you with the bill
They don’t give a fuck about the working poor
They all line up to support the next war
Afraid of offending their biggest donors
Constantly making embarrassing boners
They rigged their own system to put forth a loser
Who couldn’t even defeat a racist abuser

A revolt is raging within their ranks
This is what you get for defending the banks
The knives are out and blood will be shed
They won’t rest until you’re dead
But go on, keep pursuing your conspiracy theory
As your fading supporters grow increasingly weary
They don’t believe your opposition is bold
They know too well how easily you fold

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, June 16, 2017
11:29 p.m.

Published in: on June 16, 2017 at 11:29 pm  Leave a Comment