Katy Perry: Part Of Me

There’s a moment in Katy Perry: Part Of Me where reality and fantasy uncomfortably collide.

The buxom wide-eyed pop singer, mostly cheerful, professional, goofy and charming, breaks down in a make-up chair.  She doesn’t explain why she’s profoundly sad but she doesn’t really have to.  Near the end of her exhausting year-long global tour in support of her biggest record, Teenage Dream, an unbearable truth emerges.  Her short-lived marriage to comedian Russell Brand is no fairy tale.

They had met on the set of Get Him To The Greek where there was an immediate attraction.  Brand wanted to just hang out but she wanted romance.  After a two-and-a-half hour dinner date, they became inseparable and eventually married.  Before she begins her ambitious tour, she makes sure to have days off so she can fly back home to be with him.  You can’t say she wasn’t committed.

But the constant back and forth takes a toll.  The normally tireless Perry is suddenly squeezing in 15-minute power naps before performing two-hour concerts to packed houses indoors and out and then attending post-show backstage meet-and-greets where you can’t be the least bit cranky.  (She refuses to disappoint her many sweet, dedicated fans including a young Make-A-Wish recipient.)  You wonder how she’s able to turn it on so easily and persuasively despite wanting to crash and collapse.

One night before a show in Sao Paulo, Brazil (the biggest date of the tour), the emotion flows, even after she decides to go on with the show.  Just before she rises as usual from a platform underneath the stage in her swirly, sparkly silver/red costume with a rare forced smile on her face, she is still weeping about him.  When the crowd collectively declares their love for her in Portuguese, the gesture is warmly received.  But there’s no escaping her private anguish.

Part Of Me turns out to be an apt title because we don’t really get the whole story here, just the approved version.  She’s clearly protecting her ex-husband (who is mostly a distant ghost) and their doomed relationship all while maintaining her affable, oddball, sex kitten mystique.  (Call her a real-life Jessica Rabbit but sillier.)  There is no anger, no bitterness, just disappointment.  (Her tears say it all.)  The love of her life wanted kids right away.  She didn’t.  She felt she could have the big career and the happy marriage and despite doing literally everything to make time for both, as she bluntly notes in a resigned tone, the latter still failed.  It’s a body blow, a shock, an unexpected rebuke to her child-like naivete.  (She was 27 during filming but freely admits to acting 16.)  This wasn’t part of the plan.  Hard work is supposed to pay off.  Love is supposed to be like a movie.

Stinging in a more subtle way, Part Of Me hints in one sentence Brand might not have been as dedicated. (For his part, he does pop up on certain tour dates to support his then-wife but the demands of his own career prevent him from further appearances, another reason cited for the quick split.)

Perry’s frustrating love life drifts in and out of the otherwise positive narrative in what is essentially a mostly entertaining concert film interspersed with numerous, revealing backstory sound bites from insiders, contemporaries, family and loyalists that unfortunately aren’t always separated from the performances.  This sometimes gives the film a cluttered, distracted feel.  You wish they’d let the songs breathe on their own without constant interruptions.  Then again, maybe that was the point, an editing metaphor for her life at that time.  Reality intruding on her carefully crafted candy-coloured playground.

By now, everyone knows that her rise to the top of the Billboard charts took almost a decade thanks to numerous obstacles and set-backs.

After abandoning her white gospel roots (her otherwise loving parents, both Penecostal ministers, were ruthless in “protecting” her from the insidious influences of The Smurfs and other “objectionable” family entertainment like The Wizard Of Oz), Perry hears You Oughta Know at a friend’s house and decides that’s who she should become, an Alanis clone.  (Peacock is the closest she comes to aping her unapologetically sexual lyrics.)

So, at 17, she purposefully seeks out Morrissette’s collaborator, Glen Ballard, who immediately takes her under his wing.  But after writing and recording new material and even making a couple of videos, nothing happens.

Then she’s off to Columbia Records where she’s paired with The Matrix, a red hot producing team who urge her to be more angry like…Avril Lavigne.  Seriously.  (There’s a funny moment during a vocal session where she humourously attempts to half-heartedly trash the booth before a take.)

In one of the best scenes in the film, a perplexed Perry wonders aloud why she can’t just write good songs. She is told that The Matrix have whole albums of said material sitting in a vault somewhere.  No one wants to hear them.  Shortly thereafter, the collaboration falls apart.

But as a publicist ally remembers, despite not releasing any of the material recorded for them, Columbia refuses to set Perry free.  They’re wise enough to know she will break through for another company if they drop her.  It makes you wonder, though, why they didn’t just let her be herself in the first place.

So the publicist steals all the “Katy files” on her way out the door as she approaches Capitol.  The then-CEO of the company notices her appeal immediately and signs her.  Unlike the awkward situation with The Matrix, Perry gets her creative freedom and ultimately wins her argument.  The people do want authenticity after all.

In so many ways, Katy Perry’s career mirrors that of other female superstars who had to demand their independence in order to be real with their audiences after having to go along with phony personas, both rejected and embraced, insisted upon by others who thought they knew better.  It’s hard not to think of Pink who reluctantly debuted as an R&B artist only to personally challenge her boss, LA Reid, by releasing a rock ‘n’ roll follow-up that expanded her fan base.  He had to concede her instincts were right.  I wonder if The Matrix did the same.

After the unexpected success of I Kissed A Girl from One Of The Boys, Perry herself was finally rolling, much to her management’s surprise.  The follow-up Teenage Dream album ended up being such a monster (well, Adele aside, as big a monster as we allow in this post-Napster era of declining record sales), five of its original six singles hit number one, a feat never achieved by The Beatles or Madonna.  (When the album was reissued, it spawned a sixth number one.  What was it called?  Part Of Me.)

The film captures the singer at the height of her commercial and creative appeal as it sees her travel the world with her trusted friends, family and co-workers all while maintaining a light, comfortable atmosphere despite keeping to a gruelling, punishing schedule.  (We could be spared fart stretching, though.)

It’s interesting how her upbringing involved so much travel.  As her brother David recalls, the Hudsons rarely lived a year or two in the same place because of their parents’ preaching tours.  It ironically prepared her for the nomadic rigors of her own career.

Perry’s lovely sister is the only family member on the payroll working on the tour.  In a funny sequence, she gets roped into playing the nerdy character Katy portrayed in the Last Friday Night video for a live performance of that song.  Despite half-jokingly demanding “triple pay” for the stunt, she turns out to be a good sport.  The rest of the time she’s rounding up excited superfans in silly costumes to climb up on stage for a surprisingly fun cover of Whitney Houston’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody which includes a boy in a homemade hot dog costume and a grown man in a leotard and colourful wig.  Like Kesha, another woman who has had to fight for her authentic self and break free from manipulative, powerful Svengalis, Perry inspires her mostly young fans to embrace their own eccentricities without judgment or external disapproval.

After Perry’s marriage falls apart, in a bittersweet moment of irony, her sister tries on dresses for her own upcoming wedding.  Genuinely supportive of her, Katy’s familial joy is still undeniably tainted by her own loss of happiness as evident by that very quick moment where she dabs her eye and looks away.  Like the crying scenes that precede it, it’s a rare display of vulnerability.

We also meet her outspoken grandmother who recalls Perry as a perpetual show-off who rolled her eyes too much.  (It’s neat seeing archival snippets of her from her childhood and teen years.)  During a stop in Las Vegas, her granddaughter pays her a visit in a sweet, funny scene.  Despite having a big smile on her face while attending one of her gigs, when asked at the end of the movie what she thought of Perry’s show, she gives a typically blunt answer:  “Loud.”

Part Of Me never really shows its subject in a remotely negative light.  It reminds me a bit of the underrated Elvis:  That’s The Way It Is, the 1970 concert doc that showed similar scenes of playfulness, kindness and skillful determination but no jerky diva behaviour or serious character flaws.  The Elvis doc showed Presley at the start of his Vegas period but before his astonishing, fatal decline.  Released in theatres two years after his celebrated TV comeback special, what had once been shocking was now palatable to gambling seniors.  All through it I wondered what juicy bits were kept carefully hidden.

I felt the same way about Part Of Me.  Much like Presley, Perry is genuinely likeable and sincere.  Her longstanding friendships reflect her strongest trait, her loyalty to her loved ones.  (Based on how she reacts to the end of her marriage, it’s clear she wasn’t the one who wanted a divorce.)  But she’s also faced criticism for her music, how she treated the subject of Ur So Gay, both of which go suspiciously unmentioned, and for some unfortunate moments of cultural appropriation which, to be fair, may have happened after this film’s release.  Unlike Madonna’s excellent Truth Or Dare, Perry isn’t seen having much of a temper or attitude problem.  (She might not be a morning person but she isn’t super grumpy about it.  Gently throwing a pillow at her assistant doesn’t exactly generate heel heat.)  Maybe she doesn’t have one or maybe she didn’t want that exposed.  We don’t know.  What we do know is that everybody, especially public figures, have character flaws which Perry isn’t really willing to reveal beyond being hopelessly addicted to the elusive idea of a fairy tale romance.

But what is revealed is genuinely fun, amusing, delightful, sobering and definitely inspiring.  Perry’s generally good in concert (I also enjoyed her Musicares rehearsal performance of Hey Jude, an appropriate selection, and only disliked a few numbers overall) despite being upstaged too much by voiceovered talking heads.  As she plainly states, her mission is to put smiles on faces.  Judging by my own reaction throughout Part Of Me, she’s good at her job.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, September 30, 2017
1:57 a.m.

Published in: on September 30, 2017 at 1:58 am  Comments (3)  

Path Of Resistance

I am a thought that rattles your senses
An emotional storm that overwhelms your defenses
The crack in the dam that exposes your weakness
A ray of light shining right through your bleakness

A flash of hope that illuminates the dark
A fresh idea leaving an indelible mark
A quiet revolution that will conquer your fear
A cleansing mechanism making your conscience clear

I am a noise uncomfortable to take
Truthful sounds that smother the fake
I alter the future with a single note
Your lies and deceptions will soon be remote

A path of resistance undeterred by your walls
A refusal of compliance with your accusatory calls
I am The No you refuse to accept
Change is easier when the king is inept

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, September 26, 2017
3:41 a.m.

Published in: on September 26, 2017 at 3:42 am  Comments (1)  

A Tribute To Bobby “The Brain” Heenan

“You listen to me, you’ll go straight to the top!  You don’t listen to me, you’ll never be heard from again!”

In the golden era of the manager, played by usually retired or semi-retired wrestlers who were exceptional talkers and could advocate for younger talent who couldn’t do it themselves, no one was more exceptional than Bobby Heenan.  Although, few remember his matches, everybody remembers his promos and colour commentary.  He would go on to inspire a legion of imitators, none of whom could top him.

Nicknaming himself “The Brain” for his supposed managerial genius (he was originally Pretty Boy but had to change it because that was also Larry Hennig’s gimmick), the fans preferred “Weasel” thanks to Dick The Bruiser who kept calling him that during his first year in the American Wrestling Association way back in 1974.  (Heenan’s career as a wrestler/manager began almost a decade earlier.)  Bruiser and his tag team partner The Crusher were feuding with Heenan’s team of Nick Bockwinkel and Ray “The Crippler” Stevens at the time.  Both monikers would survive the entirety of Heenan’s career in professional wrestling.

A natural heel with a very sharp sense of humour, the blonde motormouth who often wore glittery sports jackets had an uncanny knack of drawing heat for himself and the numerous wrestlers he represented.  When Bockwinkel and Stevens split, Heenan guided the former to several AWA world titles.  (He also advocated for the AWA tag champions Bobby Duncum Sr. and Blackjack Lanza.)  In 1983, Bockwinkel faced a popular new challenger in Hulk Hogan.  It began a long-running storyline feud between The Brain and the future megastar which carried over into the WWF shortly thereafter.  (Ironically, they were friends in real-life although they did have their tense moments.)

It was there in New York that Heenan truly shined.  In 1984, he stood in the corner for Ken Patera (who he also managed in the AWA) and Big John Studd as they took on Andre The Giant and S.D. Jones in an infamous TV tag match.  At one point, Heenan climbed onto the apron and handed Studd a pair of scissors.  What followed was the humiliation of The Eighth Wonder Of The World as his unruly head of curly hair was severely cut by both Studd & Patera who claimed his long locks as trophies.  Vince McMahon oversold the moment as the “raping” of Andre’s dignity.

Studd’s ongoing gimmick of offering $15000 (it was originally $10000) to anyone who could slam him (and then reneging on the deal when a few were able to do it) led to a match with Andre at the first WrestleMania.  If Andre couldn’t slam Studd within an hour time limit, he’d have to retire.  He scooped him up and threw him to the mat in less than 10 minutes.  As Andre was trying to throw the money to the ringside fans from a tiny WWF gym bag it was stored in, a frantic Heenan flew into the ring to snatch it from him before it was all gone.

The Heenan/Andre feud would carry on into the summer of 1985 when during a match with Studd in Toronto’s old Maple Leaf Gardens, King Kong Bundy would jump into the ring to prevent The Giant from giving Studd a haircut of his own.  Heenan ordered the bald Bundy to splash Andre whose legs were being held down by Studd.  As Bundy jumped into the air, The Brain would sometimes give him an extra push while he was in mid-air as he repeatedly landed on the helpless Giant’s chest.

A similar moment occurred during a TV segment that same year when Heenan was announced as the Manager Of The Year but because Hillbilly Jim gave his votes to Lou Albano, the “Captain” became the official winner instead.

Rightly infuriated, Heenan demanded his own brand of justice.  Studd tackled Jim and held down his legs as Bundy splashed him several times before the ring was cleared by babyface wrestlers from the backstage area, just like in Toronto.

During Hogan’s title defense against The Magnificent Muraco on Saturday Night’s Main Event in early 1986, Heenan mysteriously replaced Mr. Fuji as his cornerman.  And after he caused the beach bum’s disqualification, Bundy saved him from being choked out by the world champion.  Heenan then instructed Bundy and Muraco to do their worst to Hogan.  Lots of avalanches and splashes followed.  This set up the steel cage match between Hogan & Bundy at WrestleMania 2.  After he retained the title, Hogan got his revenge by atomic dropping, punching and whipping The Brain against the steel structure.  Nothing pleased a crowd more than watching The Weasel get his long overdue comeuppance.  It happened a lot.

When Andre returned, he would find a succession of partners to challenge Studd & Bundy for more than a year.  When The Masked Superstar (the future Demolition Ax) and Blackjack Mulligan (Bray Wyatt and Bo Dallas’ grandfather) were repackaged as The Super and Big Machines in 1986, Andre donned a mask himself and became The Giant Machine, a gimmick he recycled for stints in Japan.  The Machines & “Captain” Lou Albano (with a masked Andre in their corner) took on Studd, Bundy & Heenan himself in a six-man encounter at The Big Event in Toronto’s Exhibition Stadium.  The Heenan Family won by DQ.

In a surprise twist at the start of 1987, Andre would turn heel by aligning with Heenan in the build to his world title match against former friend Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania 3.  Andre would famously lose that match (The Brain desperately complained for a year that the early false finish was really a three-count) but after Heenan sold his contract to Ted DiBiase he would win the rematch through a screw-job during the live Main Event broadcast the following year.

During this same period, Heenan managed Paul “Mr. Wonderful” Orndorff.  After Orndorff & Roddy Piper lost to Hogan & Mr. T in the main event of the first WrestleMania, The Brain accidentally noted on TNT that he talked match strategy without the presence of his client.  Deeply offended and already feeling humiliated by being abandoned by Piper and bodyguard Bob Orton in Madison Square Garden, Mr. Wonderful fired him.  But the following year, after Orndorff turned on Hogan during a TV tag match against Studd & Bundy, they reconciled.  Orndorff would unsuccessfully challenge Hogan in a series of world title matches which included the main event of The Big Event and the steel cage match on Saturday Night’s Main Event.

When Heenan started representing “Ravishing” Rick Rude and started comparing Orndorff unfavourably to him, Mr. Wonderful fired him again and briefly aligned with Oliver Humperdink before leaving the company following the first Survivor Series where he once again became a Hogan ally.

After spending almost two years in prison under questionable circumstances, a now babyface and no longer blonde Ken Patera returned to feud with The Brain, his former manager, and various members of The Heenan Family in the summer of 1987.  In the storyline, Heenan abandoned his former charge, leaving him to rot.  The former Olympic strongman challenged him to a TV debate which led to Heenan ultimately wearing a neck brace long after he needed to.

When former eight-time NWA world champion Harley Race joined the WWF in 1986 and eventually became The King, Heenan stood in his corner until an accident during a Hulk Hogan match led to his retirement two and a half years later.  And no, he didn’t have surgery at the hands of The Immortal One, as The Brain humourously unintentionally asserted in a promo.

At the end of 1988, Heenan made another questionable deal with DiBiase.  He sold Hercules to him so The Million Dollar Man could have a slave which led to a mercifully brief program.

After nearly five years without managing a champion, Heenan finally had something to brag about in 1989.  He helped Rude beat The Ultimate Warrior at WrestleMania 5 for the InterContinental Championship (Warrior regained it at SummerSlam thanks to the antics of Piper who became an enemy of The Heenan Family) while The Brain Busters (Tully Blanchard & Arn Anderson) were able to dethrone the then-longest reigning world tag title holders Demolition during a Saturday Night’s Main Event taping.

When Ax & Smash regained the belts shortly thereafter, Heenan teamed Andre with Haku (who previously teamed with another Heenan Family member Tama) to form The Colossal Connection who won back the straps at the end of the year.  During a WrestleMania 6 rematch in 1990, after Demoltion won the titles for a third and final time, a pissed off Andre who was never tagged in (he was too hurt to bump) finally disassociated from The Brain, a routine that was repeated in a series of subsequent house shows that ended The Giant’s long in-ring career.

Another client who turned on Heenan was Terry Taylor who The Brain renamed The Red Rooster, one of the lamer nicknames in wrestling history.  Taking credit for his early undefeated streak while frequently knocking his abilities, a boiling point was reached during Saturday Night’s Main Event when Heenan’s tirades were aired during the match.  (He was miked for the whole segment.)

After Tito Santana beat him, Heenan ripped into Taylor who retaliated by decking him.  During a later Prime Time Wrestling interview with Gorilla Monsoon, Heenan’s new protégé Steve Lombardi (renamed The Brooklyn Brawler) attacked both men setting up a long series of matches between the two that were mostly won by Taylor.  At WrestleMania 5, Taylor, still going by the Rooster name and now with a silly dyed red faux hawk, easily defeated his former manager in a very quick in-ring encounter.

Things got a lot better for Heenan when he started managing Mr. Perfect Curt Hennig (Pretty Boy Larry’s son later known as The Ax) and guided him to two InterContinental Championship reigns in 1990.  That is, until he started feuding with Ric Flair.  The Nature Boy lost a losers leaves WWF match on Raw to Hennig in 1993 and so The Brain started representing “The Narcissist” Lex Luger who went after Hennig in his place.

Because of his quick wit and intelligent promos, Heenan was paired with both Gorilla Monsoon, his real-life pal, and later Vince McMahon at the commentary table.  The self-professed broadcast journalist would playfully antagonize an always exasperated Monsoon during their many appearances on Wrestling Challenge, Prime Time Wrestling (which spawned The Bobby Heenan Show) and taped house shows at Maple Leaf Gardens, Boston Garden and Madison Square Garden.  Monsoon’s constant refrain of “Would you stop?” whenever The Brain would get under his skin, lie or say something that bothered him was a staple of their endlessly entertaining schtick.

As a kid, I tended to prefer Monsoon and Jesse Ventura, incidentally the first guy Heenan managed in the WWF.  But as a man, there’s no question that Heenan and Monsoon were the best of their era.  When he wasn’t being the Rickles of wrestling, Heenan could masterfully and succinctly assess a wrestler whether he liked them or not.  When he noted The Undertaker’s Frankenstein-like invincibility, he famously asserted, “He’s not human.”  His outspokenness often got him into trouble like the many times he upset The Big Boss Man for mocking his mother which led to a brief storyline.

During the 1992 30-man Royal Rumble match, Heenan was at his memorable best when he shamelessly shilled for The Real World’s Champion Ric Flair who drew number 3 in the draw and ultimately won the vacant world title by being the last man standing.  Heenan’s humourously pleading “be fair to Flair” routine was so good (he’s in a perpetual panic for the entire hour), the entire match was included on a WWE DVD dedicated to his career.  (The entertaining accompanying documentary reveals his utterly charming devotion to his wife and daughter, quite the contrast from his roasty on-camera persona.)

In December 1993, Heenan was literally tossed off Monday Night Raw so he could take a break and recover from a longstanding neck injury.  But in early 1994, he would start working for WCW which allowed him to be closer to his family.  The Brain’s commentary stint there wasn’t nearly as effective as it was in the WWF.  With no Monsoon to drive crazy, it just wasn’t the same.  Dusty Rhodes, Larry Zbyszko, Mongo McMichael and Tony Schiavone were all unsuitable replacements.  The chemistry so easily achieved with his old friend just wasn’t there in the new environment.

The most memorable moments involved an accident and an impromptu eulogy.  Brian Pillman didn’t realize that Heenan was not to be touched which led to a live on-air expletive (Pillman later apologized) and when Gorilla Monsoon died in 1999, Heenan insisted this be acknowledged on the air even though his longtime friend wasn’t a WCW employee.  He later left the commentary table and wept.  (During his 2004 WWE Hall of Fame speech, in a touching conclusion, he wished that Monsoon had been there to see him be inducted.)

As he noted in one of his two autobiographies, Heenan’s experience in WCW was far from positive.  He was let go in early 2000, a year before the struggling company was bought out by Vince McMahon.

After that, The Brain would make infrequent on-camera appearances.  He did guest commentary with Mean Gene Okerlund at WrestleMania 17 during the very short gimmick battle royal (they also found themselves caught in the act with The Fabulous Moolah and Mae Young) and also worked brief stints with the XWF (where he reunited with Curt Hennig), Ring Of Honor (where he feuded with Jim Cornette) and TNA (where he attempted to represent Bobby Roode).

In 2002, Heenan’s charmed life changed forever when he was first diagnosed with throat cancer, a cruel twist of fate for a talented man who depended so much on the strength and bluster of his voice.  The consequences of that diagnosis would greatly affect his physical appearance and the sounds emanating from his lightning quick mind.  He would never fully recover.

Earlier today, after years of surgeries to repair his jaw and numerous damaging falls, Heenan died suddenly at the age of 72 surrounded by close family including his wife of nearly 40 years, Cynthia, and his only child, Jessica, who bore him his only grandchild, Austin, who is not yet 10.

As expected, tributes from some of the biggest names in wrestling past and present have been glowing and with good reason.  Bobby Heenan played a major role in the evolution of the business.  He began working in the WWF just as it was about to make its national expansion.  He helped elevate numerous talents whether they could speak or not.  And he could take a bump over and over again even if most of them were as a manager.  No one could turn an audience against him quite as quickly and as effectively as The Brain did.

Heenan never had a five-star classic as an in-ring grappler.  You can’t achieve that with Weasel Suit matches.  But he didn’t need to.  Heenan was first and foremost a talker, a great talker, one you looked forward to hearing every week.  Sure, he derided you as a humanoid and ham ‘n egger for rooting for the babyfaces that often went to war with his Family members and did dastardly things to make his clients happy and successful.  But he kept you laughing and laughing some more.  And he was smart.  Every time he offered an observation, you listened.  The WWE would not be where it is today were it not for him.

Throughout the history of wrestling, there have been great talkers, managers and commentators.  Bobby “The Brain” Heenan was all three at once.

Rest in peace, Weasel.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, September 18, 2017
2:14 a.m.

CORRECTIONS:  Bobby Heenan was actually 72, not 73.  And he married his wife Cynthia in 1978, not 1974.  The text has been corrected.  My apologies for the mistakes.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, September 18, 2017
11:41 p.m.

UPDATE:  The cause of death, according to The Tampa Bay Times, was “organ failure caused by throat cancer”.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, September 21, 2017
4:04 a.m.

Published in: on September 18, 2017 at 2:14 am  Comments (2)  

Wolf Creek 2

Jean-Luc Godard once said, as Roger Ebert often noted, “The way to criticize a movie is to make another movie.”

In a number of ways, Wolf Creek 2 feels very much like a critique of its predecessor.  The horror/torture scenes in the original were relegated to the final act and had some restraint.  In the sequel, instead of sitting through an hour of tedious build-up, you only have to wait 10 minutes for the explicitness to happen.  This time around, although women still get killed, the male victims suffer far more and for much longer.  And we now know why the villain targets tourists.  No more mystery on that front.

Unfortunately, none of these changes make a lick of difference.  Wolf Creek 2 is not an improvement over Wolf Creek.  In fact, it’s worse.

Once again, a devilishly gleeful John Jarratt returns as Mick Taylor, the Australian drifter who looks and sounds like a stereotypical cartoon but has a horrendous temper, a misogynistic outlook and an absolute hatred for visitors to the breathtaking Outback.  He is not as stupid as he sounds.

In the predictable opening scene, a couple of bored, corrupt traffic cops make the fatal mistake of pulling him over as he passes them on the otherwise vacated road.  He’s not speeding but they’re tired of snacking on munchies and not meeting their quota.  The movie teases a kill scene you know will be delayed.  After telling him his car is a piece of junk and giving him a ticket, they leave, cackling over what they think has been a success.

One of them immediately learns what the audience already knows.  Taylor is a crack shot who rarely misses.  The other won’t be seeing his kids again.  Needless to say, Mick won’t be paying that fine.  Gotta love white privilege.

Shortly thereafter, we meet Taylor’s next victims, a lovey dovey German couple on vacation.  Much like the doomed threesome in the original, they just have to see the famous Wolf Creek crater.  But unlike them, they’ve hitchhiked their way here.  Yes, they don’t have a car of their own.

As night falls, they decide to camp out in the area for the night and wouldn’t you know it, here comes jolly ol’ Mick in his crummy pick-up warning them about the consequences of trespassing.  The boyfriend knows he’s bullshitting and refuses to accept his offer of a ride.  You know what happens next and yes, it’s not pleasant at all.

At the same time, a British fellow trying in vain to have a cell phone conversation with his gal is driving through when he’s flagged down by the now frantic German woman.  With an always determined Taylor in hot pursuit, the chase is on until they temporarily run out of space.  Out comes the rifle.

After disposing all the evidence of Mick’s latest kill, British guy spends the rest of the movie trying to elude his relentless hounder.  At one point, the exhausted man with no more water to drink and no car to drive (it gets blown up real good) collapses at the front door of a kindly older couple who take him in, allow him to rest and even feed him.  There was a moment there where I perversely thought, I bet they’re Mick’s parents and this is all a set-up.  Nope.  They’re genuinely good-hearted people.  They have no idea what’s in store for them.

Neither does British guy.  Once apprehended by Taylor, he finds himself stuck on the worst game show you can imagine.  Mick will ask him a question, one of ten in total.  Any incorrect answers will result in missing fingers.  With his hands bounded by those zip-lock handcuffs that his captor never seems to run out of, British guy has to get his hands on that hammer.  Good thing he knows his Australian history.

Wolf Creek 2 is the personification of torture porn.  Released nine years after its slightly better predecessor, it revels in its brutality.  There’s a weird scene where Mick turns on the radio in a truck he’s stolen from his latest victim as he pursues freaked out British guy.  As The Lion Sleeps Tonight plays, a bunch of kangaroos jump to attention and suddenly start bouncing across the road.  The CGI doesn’t lessen the unnecessary carnage.

Despite the recent rise of supernatural thriller franchises like Insidious and The Conjuring, the low-budgeted Wolf Creek 2 proved there is still an unhealthy appetite for horror films that make despicable torture a central focus of their stories.  The film made three and a half times its budget.  If that weren’t depressing enough, the eighth Saw movie is coming out this October.  And there’s supposed to be a remake of Hellraiser on the way, as well.

Considering America’s re-embracing of “enhanced interrogation techniques” during the Orweillian George W. Bush era and the lack of accountability for the ongoing blackening of our collective soul, maybe we deserve gutter trash like this.  Wolf Creek 2 serves as an uncomfortable reminder that when we normalize bad ideas like torture in our pop culture, politics is easy.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, September 16, 2017
4:12 p.m.

CORRECTION:  The eighth Saw movie, Jigsaw, is actually coming out this coming October, as noted by Popternative.com, not next year, as I erroneously asserted.  The text has been corrected.  My apologies for the mistake.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, September 17, 2017
5:30 p.m.

Published in: on September 16, 2017 at 4:13 pm  Comments (2)  

Wolf Creek

How can we be afraid of Mick Taylor when he looks like a middle-aged Harland Williams and sounds like a pitchman for Foster’s Ale?  With his dorky laugh, long sideburns, cowboy hat and phony folksy demeanour, he temporarily fools three young, desperate, stranded vacationers into thinking he’s their lifesaver.

And to think, all of what ultimately happens to them could’ve easily been prevented if one of these victims wasn’t so cheap.

Wolf Creek opens with an Australian bloke named Ben (Nathan Phillips) buying a car for a road trip with his two comely British companions, Liz (Cassandra Magrath) and Kristy (Kestie Morassi).  The sleazy salesman thinks he’s on the verge of having a threeway with them which, disappointingly, never happens.  (Ben eventually has a very brief makeout session with Kristy who initially denies having a mutual attraction but that’s it.  These party animals are remarkably chaste.)

For a mere 1500 smackers, he buys a used piece of junk that barely works.  Right after he purchases it, an old mechanic has to get it running again.  A very bad sign.

After reconnecting with the women and enjoying one last night of drinking with the locals, they’re off to see the famous Wolf Creek crater in the Australian Outback.  Cinematographer Will Gibson, who shot the film on Hi-Def Video which was later transferred to 35mm, captures this abandoned, breathtaking environment with expansive wide angles that showcase its endless enormity and natural beauty.  That run-down red car looks awfully miniscule in the vastness of this isolated wonderland.

Their curiosity and sense of adventure now satisfied, they’re ready to leave.  But there’s a problem.  The fucking car won’t start.  (Of course.)  Even worse, none of them know how to get it working again.  Stuck in the middle of overcast, rumbling conditions and very far from civilization, as night falls, they decide to stay put until the morning.

But long before the sun rises, Mick Taylor (a hammy John Jarratt) arrives.  Suspiciously helpful (he won’t charge them for making any necessary repairs) and conveniently in the area, even though he’s heading back in the opposite direction they want to go, they agree to be towed back to his place.

Even before his inevitable heel turn, you know this is a very bad idea.  After hours of impatient riding, they end up in some abandoned mineral mine jolly ol’ Mick now calls home.

After dozing off, Liz wakes up not by the makeshift fire outside but inside one of the steel huts all tied up.  A bloodied, pantsless Kristy is heard screaming in the distance as Mick continues to torture her.  Meanwhile, somewhere on the property, Ben is crucified next to cages filled with salivating, barking dogs.  (An innocent question: how did Mick manage to move each of these victims to their new locations without any of them waking up?)

When Liz slices off her plastic zip-loc handcuffs and discovers Kristy’s fate, she creates a diversion to try to rescue her.  She manages to wound Mick (how do you miss his forehead from point blank range?) but stupidly, not kill him.  Tearing off in his pick-up truck with her traumatized buddy, she makes another preventable blunder.  With a somehow revived Mick chasing her in another car (he has plenty to choose from), it’s decided to make it look like they crashed and died in the crater.  Did they not think he would go down to make sure they were actually inside?

An even dumber decision is made when Liz leaves a wounded Kristy behind to go back to the mine to steal another car.  It’s during this return trip that we learn more about Mick’s criminal history.  (Decomposing carcasses and skeletons are everywhere.)  He loves to hoard mementos from his many victims and post media clippings of their mysterious disappearances.  Liz examines one of several camcorders he’s confiscated to discover his pre-torture patter is canned.  He uses the same lines every time.

Thinking she still has minutes to spare, she turns the key into the ignition of one stolen car and then we get an unscary homage to Halloween.  (Another innocent question: how in the hell did Mick manage to get in the back seat so fast (remember, he was at the crater in the previous scene) without detection?)

Wolf Creek makes the cardinal mistake of taking forever to set up this inevitable dilemma for Ben, Kristy and Liz.  The filmmakers think that the more time we spend with them, the more we will be concerned for their well-being.  In fact, the opposite happens.  Because they’re not fully developed characters who don’t say interesting things, have zero wit and often have poor judgment, we wonder why it’s taking so long for them to be put in danger.

Nearly an hour goes by before the horror starts and it’s not really that effective.  How can it be when you have a goofy cartoon character as your villain?  While I appreciated the fact that he isn’t stupid (he sounds like a hick but could easily be employed by the CIA), Mick Taylor is no Michael Myers.  The more he yammers on in Aussie speak, the more I appreciated the masked man’s muteness.  In the original Halloween, Myers had an eerie, disturbing presence.  He only spoke in belaboured breathing.  Taylor, on the other hand, never shuts up and is a generic slasher/torturer.  Furthermore, his motive is a bit unclear to me.  Why does he torture and kill in the first place and why does he collect belongings of his many victims when he doesn’t appear to have any actual use for any of them?  At least Leatherface was always in need of a new face.

I will say this for Wolf Creek, though.  It doesn’t cheat.  It discards the usual horror cliches (false alarms; jumps in the frame; suddenly loud staccato music beats) for an attempt at atmosphere.  Unfortunately, because we don’t have any emotional connection to the heroes, we could care less what happens to them. Released in the middle of the ugly torture porn era, it is thankfully somewhat restrained in its violence.  (Hostel and the Saw franchise are far more explicitly gruesome.)  That said, I still cringed at certain moments.  I do wonder if one scene was a tribute to Miami Blues.

Unlike most of its predecessors, Wolf Creek doesn’t end the way you expect.  But surprise or no surprise and regardless of how close it resembles “actual events” (spoiler: you’re being snookered on that front), there’s no escaping its considerable weaknesses.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, September 6, 2017
7:43 p.m.

Published in: on September 6, 2017 at 7:43 pm  Comments (2)