Remembering 2017, My Twelfth Year Of Blogging

This was a terrible year.

America elected an idiot as its President.  Radical Buddhists are raping, torturing and murdering Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.  The US military is supporting Saudi Arabia’s barbaric destruction of Yemen which has led to a severe humanitarian crisis, mass famine and a huge cholera outbreak.  The US occupations of Iraq, Afghanistan & Libya remain disastrous and bloody.  The Syrian civil war continues to wreak havoc on its remaining citizens who are unable to flee to safety.  As a result of all of this, we’re facing the biggest refugee crisis in more than half a century.

Mass shootings remain an American epidemic.  White supremacists are making an undesirable comeback.  US police killed over 1000 people.  Muslims face abuse and murder at levels much worse than in the time after 9/11.  Trans folks, especially WOC, are beating beaten, discriminated against and murdered.  So much ice is melting in the Arctic that permafrost is being exposed for the first time in a long time.  The Korean War is still going on.  And the Republicans just gave themselves and their super-rich benefactors an undeserved Christmas bonus that will continue for many Christmases to come.

There were so many horrors unleashed on the world these past twelve months that I incessantly tweeted about almost all of them.  Unfortunately, all that tweeting didn’t inspire a lot of blogging.  In fact, for the most part, I steered clear of covering all this depressingly bad news in this space.  Why?  Well, with so many capable journalists covering these thankless and unforgiving beats with typical thoroughness, what could I have added to these important conversations beyond short statements?  Even having a large platform as an unpaid Huffington Post Contributor didn’t provide motivation for me to join in.  (I haven’t submitted any pieces in two years.  That’s going to change soon.)

For much of 2017, I wanted to escape and not just from the endless supply of downbeat news.  I also wanted to escape from my own life (no job, no woman, still at home) and the best way to do that is to watch movies.  A lot of movies.  For the first time in 15 years, I screened more than 200 of them in a single twelve-month period.  More than 40 of them I enjoyed, which was roughly the number I wrote about here.  Most of my selections were not released this year.  In fact, I went deep into the archives for much of 2017.

Whether it was horror (Cathy’s Curse, Alien: Covenant, Neon Maniacs, Class Of 1984, 31, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Tales From The Hood, It Follows, Wolf Creek, Wolf Creek 2, Vampire’s Kiss, The Wolf Man (1941), Cat People (1942), Blair Witch, The Exorcist III, The Entity, The Purge: Election Year), comedy (Hudson Hawk, The ‘Burbs, Miami BluesBooty Call, Bird On A Wire, Beverly Hills Cop), musicals and concert films (Head, A Hard Day’s Night, Help!, Pink Floyd The Wall, The Song Remains The Same, Katy Perry: Part Of Me, Eddie & The Cruisers, Eddie & The Cruisers II: Eddie Lives, Purple Rain, Step Up, Step Up Revolution), science fiction (Star Wars: The Force AwakensInterstellar), action (Over The Top, The Marine), animation (A Cat In Paris, The Transformers: The Movie), drama (Fifty Shades Darker) or documentary (Dirty Wars), for the most part, film was my welcome refuge from the growing global storms.

But you can’t ignore them completely, especially now that Donald Trump is the American President.

With Robert Mueller replacing James Comey as the man in charge of investigating alleged collusion between Trump loyalists and Vladimir Putin’s Russia, here’s hoping all of these questions I posed back in May will eventually get answered.

Trump’s shocking rise to the White House did not come out of nowhere.  It was the result of decades of shameless enabling from powerful dolts in the media.  During his two-year campaign for the Presidency, few were as publicly and privately devoted to his candidacy as Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski.  In June, when the hosts of Morning Joe suddenly turned against him, I noted how they couldn’t just run away from someone they had dumbly championed for quite some time.

Another on-again/off-again loyalist is Anthony Scaramucci, who initially and quite adamantly opposed Trump’s Presidential run.  Once Trump secured the GOP nomination, however, he turned into an insatiable suck-up and was eventually hired to run the struggling Communications Dept. in the White House replacing a disgruntled Sean Spicer who quit his other job as Press Secretary in protest.

But days before he was to officially start, The Mooch called Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker and cut promos on all his enemies, most notably racist media mogul Steve Bannon.  The most infamous comment from that impromptu phone interview inspired this song parody of a single famously covered by Simply Red.

Trump trolls were aggravating Bernie Sanders supporter John Cusack so much, he decided to mass block them on Twitter.  Unfortunately, I was blocked, as well.  (I wasn’t the only Trump critic to get caught in the net.)  A very nice lady on the site tried to get his attention with the hope that he would unblock me.  But as of this writing, I still can’t see his tweets while signed in or interact with him anymore.  I have to say as someone who has defended him for years and even had a couple of positive exchanges with him, this is a bummer.  When I wrote about this back in the summer, I even pinned the article to my Twitter page, hoping for a resolution.  I’m not sure what it will take to get him to correct his mistake.

Speaking of mistakes, Howard Stern’s interview with Harvey Weinstein on his Sirius/XM radio show back in 2014 was a missed opportunity to expose the formerly feared Miramax/Weinstein Company executive long before the flood of terrible accusations hit like a nuclear bomb beginning in early October.  As he admitted once the stories came out, Stern knew then what we all know now.  Why didn’t he confront him about this when he had the chance?  Let’s face it.  He blew it.

Six months before Weinstein’s shocking plummet from the heights of Hollywood power, Bill O’Reilly himself was in deep shit.  In April, The New York Times revealed a number of secret settlement payments to women who worked for Fox News.  We’re talking millions in hush money to protect the most popular broadcaster on the network from serious accusations of harassment and abuse.  The outrage was so palpable, in order to put out the growing inferno, Fox paid him a year’s salary ($25 million) to get rid of him for good, although he did return once to make an appearance on Sean Hannity’s show.

Remembering that O’Reilly had written (or rather, had someone ghostwrite for him) a bunch of books, I decided to rifle through one in particular, a greatest hits package, if you will, of previously published comments.  Keep It Pithy is a collection of shamefully recycled “wisdom” that in the wake of his downfall offered unexpected revelations.  He was hiding in plain sight this entire time.

These weren’t the only prominent figures who kept terrible secrets for decades.

Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka was one of the most flamboyant superstars in professional wrestling history.  Just before the national rise of the World Wrestling Federation in the mid-1980s, he murdered his extramarital girlfriend Nancy Argentino who he regularly abused.  For over 30 years, he avoided facing serious charges until he was arrested in 2015, thanks to renewed journalistic interest in the faded story.  Unfortunately, it was too late.  The case was dismissed on humanitarian grounds late last year.  Snuka had developed dementia and was diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer which ultimately killed him back in January.

Cancer had also ravaged the body and voice of Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, one of the greatest stickmen of all time.  The manager of numerous superstars (Ric Flair, Curt Hennig, Big John Studd, King Kong Bundy, Andre The Giant, Rick Rude, Nick Bockwinkel and many others), he was an even better colour commentator, especially when he teamed with close pal Gorilla Monsoon who died nearly 20 years earlier.  When Heenan died in September, the loss reverberated beyond the world of professional wrestling, a testament to his sharp comic timing and insight.

Let’s shift gears now and focus on poetry.

Stubborn Young Fool was inspired by a Twitter fight with porn star Eden Alexander who didn’t care for my criticisms of Hillary Clinton.  We had been friendly for years but apparently, I crossed a line pointing out uncomfortable truths.  She blocked me.  The poem’s harsh tone summarizes the whole infuriating experience.  If I learned anything, it’s this.  Arguing with Clintonistas is a waste of time.  They prefer to live in denial.

Another public figure I used to be friendly with was Warren Kinsella, the overrated Liberal strategist.  He was the subject of three poems this year.  The Prince Of Dumbness, a goof on his Prince Of Darkness moniker (which he stole from Ozzy Osbourne), was inspired by a Huffington Post piece where he declared he was now a feminist while also admitting to being a shitwipe to women in the past without being terribly specific.  (Does he have anything to worry about, I wonder?)  A well-known “liberal” Zionist, I also roasted him for being a PEP, progressive except for Palestine.  Liberal In Denial covers similar ground and also focuses on his bad neoliberal politics and references his many political feuds.  Fake Progressive is pretty self-explanatory.

The Acquiescence is a play on #TheResistance.  It’s all about the Democratic Party’s ongoing civil war pitting out-of-touch Hillary Clinton acolytes against pissed off Bernie Sanders supporters.  Thanks to Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, the Democrats are now more in tune with the needs of Corporate America than ordinary citizens, most especially the poor.  The poem is rightly cynical and scathing about it ever being a true opposition party without serious structural reform.

The other poems I wrote this year were more personal.  Hot Persuasion is a tribute to a beautiful horror movie fan I’m friendly with on Twitter who often posts provocative pics of her incredible body in various forms of undress.  (They were apparently too spicy for Instagram who removed her account.  She had to start a new one.)  I’m still too shy to tell her that I wrote it in her honour.

Plunge Into Darkness addresses the seductive nature of negative thinking while Alone In The Shade bemoans my sexless, jobless existence.  Disappear The Silence is a rare non-rhyming experiment that initially started off as a fictional slice of horror.  I was imagining a stalking-type situation.  But as I kept writing it, I realized it was really about having a panic attack and the crucial importance of having a support system to calm you down.

Because I only wrote a little more than 60 pieces in 2017 and didn’t offer anything new to The Huffington Post, hits were down for the second straight year.  By the time the new year begins, The Writings Of Dennis Earl will have accumulated almost 25000 hits in the last 12 months.  It was 30000 last year.

So, obviously, I have some work to do.  That said, nearly half of the page views were for my Seinfeld trivia pieces which continue to attract attention years after they were first posted.  (The earliest stories are almost 10 years old now.)  Also remaining popular is this CM Punk article which has been seen almost 13000 times and What’s Really Going On With Shannon Tweed & Gene Simmons?, which had already passed the 30000-hit mark last year.  It remains the most widely read of all my blog entries.  If only my new stuff attracted as much interest.

Speaking of old entries, it was beyond flattering to have this Woody Allen story linked in this People Magazine article, something that doesn’t happen too often.  And in another Woody Allen piece, a reader wrote one of the nicest, most thoughtful comments I’ve ever received.

So it wasn’t all bad news in 2017.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, December 31, 2017
10:24 p.m.

Published in: on December 31, 2017 at 10:24 pm  Leave a Comment  

What Sucked In 2017

1. Bobby “The Brain” Heenan died.

2. President Trump’s racist travel ban on Muslims.  The first version caused needless chaos at America’s airports at the start of the year until it was stayed by numerous lower courts.  The second version was also rejected.  And while the third is also facing legal resistance, the Supreme Court has decided to keep parts of it active for the time being.  So many innocent people have suffered needless aggravation and turmoil because of a paranoid moron.

3. Fist Fight.  The worst film of the year.  Doesn’t Ice Cube get tired of playing the Angry Black Guy who scares white people?  Zero laughs.

4. Jinder Mahal became WWE Champion.  Why?

5. Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington committed suicide.  Depression is a bitch.

6. The Best Picture cock-up at the Academy Awards.  Warren Beatty grabbed the wrong envelope (Best Actress) and instead of going off-stage to grab the right one, he stalled and handed it off to an oblivious Faye Dunaway who announced the winner as La La Land even though Emma Stone’s name was also visible on the card.  La La Land’s producers were almost through with their acceptance speeches when the mistake was finally corrected live on-air.  Because of incredible incompetence, a special moment was ruined for the real winner, Moonlight, which had otherwise pulled off a rare Oscar upset.

7. HMV went bankrupt.  I bought so many CDs there over the years.  They had such good deals, too.  What a loss for music retail.

8. The Killers’ Wonderful, Wonderful.  False advertising.

9. John Cusack accidentally blocked me on Twitter.  Someone please tell him to remedy this injustice immediately!

10. The persecution of Reality Winner.  She doesn’t deserve prison for leaking to journalists and she shouldn’t be in custody.  She’s no threat to anyone.

11. Jonathan Demme died.

12. OJ Simpson got paroled.  Does anybody believe he’s been fully rehabilitated?

13. Tortured whistleblower Matt DeHart got 18 months cruelly added to his already questionable sentence.  The lack of mass public outrage for his infuriating case is astounding.

14. Bill Cosby wasn’t convicted for assaulting Andrea Constand, thanks to two jurors in denial.  Thankfully, he faces a re-trial next June.

15. Ex-drug warriors in Canada jumping on the upcoming marijuana legalization bandwagon.  I’m so old I remember when Julian Fantino claimed with a straight face that legalizing pot was the same as legalizing murder.  Now he’s about to cash in along with other former cops & politicos while longtime activists and people of colour continue to be persecuted for no good reason.  Disgusting.

16. The ongoing genocide of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.  Aun Sung Sui Kyi is no hero.  On her watch, innocent people are being brutally beaten, raped, tortured and murdered.  History will not be kind.

17. The murder of protester Heather Heyer during the Charlottesville protests.  White supremacy remains the most dangerous force in America.

18. Depeche Mode’s Spirit.  It doesn’t have any.  Easily, their worst album.

19. Julia-Louis Dreyfus was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Hope they caught it in time.

20. The Las Vegas shooting massacre where hundreds of country music fans were gunned down by a rich, disgruntled psychopath during an outdoor Jason Aldean show.  (His motive remains unknown.)  The Manchester shooting massacre where dozens of young Ariana Grande fans were murdered near the end of her UK show.  And the shooting massacre in a small American church where half of the small congregation were wiped out.  Toxic masculinity is terrorism.

21. Andre De Grasse hurt his hamstring which prevented him from running one last race against retiring track legend Usain Bolt during the World Championships.  The timing was awful.  In his last amateur competition, Bolt finished 3rd in the 100 metres.  De Grasse would’ve won.

22. The overexposure of Corey Graves on colour commentary on WWE television.  He’s supposed to be a heel yet he rags on Elias & a now-villainous Enzo Amore.  He’s not funny.  He gets into pointless arguments with his fellow announcers.  And he’s just plain annoying.  Matt Striker, all is forgiven.

23. Fifty Shades Darker.  Abusive relationships aren’t sexy.  And there’s still one more of these dangerous films to come.  Make it stop.

24. The endless smearing of Hillary Clinton’s growing list of critics.  It isn’t feminist to defend a war criminal.

25. The California wildfires.  Fort MacMurray 2016, only much worse.

26. Gord Downie died.

27. Jake Tapper attacked Linda Sarsour and the Women’s March movement on Twitter for honouring wrongly convicted revolutionary Assata Shakur, who escaped prison decades ago, on her birthday.  The nasally CNN blowhard trusts the FBI more than intelligent people.  Would you expect anything less from a Zionist?

28. Speaking of which, Apartheid Israel still illegally occupies Palestine with major financial support from several Western governments including my own.  Plus, Donald Trump announced America’s long established policy to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the latter of which he falsely declared the capital of the white supremacist state.  How long before a third intifada?

29. The political and criminal persecution of hundreds of #J20 protesters and journalists who covered the Inauguration Day march.  Even though it hasn’t led to serious, longterm prison sentences, the disquieting way it has been allowed to carry on for almost a year is an outrage.  Corporate media doesn’t care about human rights or independent journalists.

30. MSNBC broadcaster Joy Reid had to address old resurfaced blog entries that revealed she made homophobic remarks about Republican turned Democrat Charlie Crist.  I’m still waiting for her apology to Chelsea Manning.

31. Spain’s ruthless crackdown on Catalonia separatists.  Is it any wonder they want no part of your country?

32. Gitmo is still open with 41 prisoners remaining in legal limbo, most of whom are innocent.

33. The Phoenix pay system which has caused chaos for Canada’s public servants has still not been fixed two years after it was implemented.  Proposed by Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, it’s now become a Liberal problem for Justin Trudeau.  What exactly was wrong with the previous system?

34. The re-embracing of Bush-era neocon war criminals by both CNN and #TheResistance.  Any movement that believes Bill Kristol, Michael Hayden, David Frum and James Clapper are trustworthy progressive allies after all the damage they’ve done to innocent people is a movement that deserves endless ridicule and collective scorn.

35. Erica Garner, the daughter of wrongfully murdered Eric Garner, died.  The struggle for justice must go on.

36. The cop who killed Philando Castle won’t serve a day in prison.  At least he lost his job.

37. The ongoing harassment of journalist Barrett Brown by the Department of Justice and the Bureau of Prisons.  It’s never a good idea to pick a fight with a truthteller who knows your darkest secrets.

38. The backlash to Kathy Griffin regarding her provocative photo of her holding a bloody fake head of Donald Trump.  They acted like it was his real head.  As a result, she lost an endorsement deal, can’t get booked in an American venue to do stand-up and was fired from CNN.  She won’t be co-hosting their New Year’s Eve show this year.  At least Europe still loves her.

39. Gothamist and DNAInfo were shut down because their billionaire owner opposes journalists forming unions.  Regardless of your view of unions (there’s plenty to criticize), retaliation is never acceptable.

40. Underworld: Blood Wars and Resident Evil: The Final Chapter.  Two terrible endings to two terrible horror franchises.  Both Kate Beckinsale and Milla Jovovich, two talented actors, deserve so much better than to be stuck for over a decade in all this empty junk.

41. Monster Trucks.  It was completed years ago before being dumped without much applause in January.  Not even the wonderful Jane Levy could save this charmless shite.

42. Life, The Belko Experiment, XX and Rings.  What was that about a horror revival?  I’m not seeing it.

43. All the other terrible movies I saw this year:  Vampire’s Kiss, Head, A Hard Day’s Night, Help!, Over The Top, The Boss, Ghostbusters (2016), Beverly Hills Cop, Beverly Hills Cop II, Beverly Hills Cop III, The Purge: Election Year, Masterminds, Central Intelligence, Dirty Grandpa, Mike & Dave Need Wedding Dates, Why Him?, Tusk, Yoga Hosers, McLintock!, High Spirits, Angry Birds, Hudson Hawk, Big Top Pee Wee, The Chaperone, Nine Lives, Ice Age: Collision Course, Superman III, Brewster’s Millions (1985), Cabin Fever, Cabin Fever: Patient Zero, The Marine, Airborne, Casino Royale (1967), Beat The Devil, The Perils Of Pauline, Step Up Revolution, Wet Hot American Summer, Night Of The Comet, 31, My Boyfriend’s Back, Pure Luck, Wolf Creek, Wolf Creek 2, CB4, Elephant Boy, Phantasm Ravager, Grizzly, Neon Maniacs, Feast, Dead Alive, Tales From The Hood, Cathy’s Curse (both versions), The Freshman (1925), College (1927), Our Hospitality, Steamboat Bill Jr., Booty Call, Peter Pan (1953), Tremors, Losin’ It, The Adventures Of Ford Fairlane, Jaws 3, Jaws The Revenge, Silent Night, Joe Dirt, Black Dog, The Remaining, Home, Vacation, Batman (1966), Storks, Jetsons: The Movie, The Secret Life Of Pets, Orca, Daddy Day Care, The ‘Burbs, Rudyard Kipling’s The Second Jungle Book – Mowgli & Baloo, The General, Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein and Blair Witch.

43. Sean Astin blocked me on Twitter.  Rudy, no!

44. All the botched reporting on the Trump/Russia investigation.  Woodward & Bernstein weren’t this sloppy covering Watergate.

45. I had a falling out with Eden Alexander because I criticized Hillary Clinton.  Twitter friendships are way too fragile.

46. Donald Trump’s dumb threats to North Korea.  He’s not the first US President to unwittingly convince that country to stock up on nukes.  Furthermore, the UN’s cruel sanctions won’t end the ebbing and flowing of stupid tension but it will needlessly hurt an innocent Korean population which is already happening.  A better idea would be to finally end the Korean War once and for all.

47. The Edmonton Oilers were eliminated in the second round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs after a tremendous season where they earned more than 100 points.  Bad refereeing, botched replay calls but also a lack of scoring when they needed it killed their first post-season in over a decade.  Next year’s prospects look bleaker.

48. Tom Petty died.

49. The endless jokes about Trump’s covfefe tweet.  He meant to write “coverage”, assholes.  Time to stop beating this dead horse.

50. All the hurricanes that hit the United States and Puerto Rico which still hasn’t fully recovered thanks to a negligent Trump Administration.

51. The ongoing drug war in the Philippines.  Duerte is a monster who needs to be held accountable.

52. Saudi Arabia’s devastating bombing campaign on Yemen which has led to a serious humanitarian crisis.  Why are Western governments still financially supporting this murderous, anti-democratic regime?  They have all blood on their hands.

53. Trump’s botched Yemen raids.  Civilian murders are rising and no one is raising hell about it.

54. The crackdown on Standing Rock protesters and journalists.  The way we continue to abuse Indigenous folks is an embarrassment and an outrage.  We’re a long way from reconciliation.

55. Sean Spicer and Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Frequently hostile to the press, shamelessly covering for a serial liar and completely discredited.

56. Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka died without facing justice for murdering Nancy Argentino.

57. Crying Ashley was acing her final drive on Canada’s Worst Driver without weeping a single tear until she nearly ran into two pedestrians.  Were it not for host Andrew Younghusband pointing them out, she wouldn’t have hit the brake in time.  After admirably overcoming her fears while driving, because of this unfortunate miscue, she wasn’t able to graduate.  So close.

58. The horrific Grenfell tower fire in the UK.  The most tragic thing about it, besides the needless loss of life and displaced citizens, is the fact that it was completely preventable.

59. CBC’s Power & Politics invited Gavin MacInnes on as a guest.  Never put a Nazi on TV unless you can destroy them completely.

60. Queens Of The Stone Age frontman Josh Homme kicked a photographer’s camera so hard it hit her right in the face during an annual KROQ concert.  He then cut his face until it was bloody and then mocked the mighty Muse, one of the other bands on the bill.  Two insincere apologies followed.  What is wrong with him?

61. All those horror stories from passengers of various American Airlines including that poor man, a doctor named David Dao, who was dragged off a United flight because he refused to give up his seat to an employee.  According to Wikipedia, he suffered “significant injuries as a result: a concussion, broken teeth, a broken nose, and other injuries”.  After initially victim-blaming him, the airline eventually apologized and settled a subsequent lawsuit.  We hate to fly and it shows.

62. All the men and women who suffered numerous indignities because of the powerful men who harassed and abused them in various professional fields.  So much talent forced out because of toxic masculinity.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, December 31, 2017
7:55 p.m.

What Rocked In 2017

1. Whistleblower Chelsea Manning was released from military prison after having her draconian 35-year sentence commuted by outgoing President Obama.  She should have never been convicted in the first place.

2. President Trump pulled the United States out of the Trans Pacific Partnership.  The only good thing he’s done for the working class.

3. Roy Moore did not become a Senator.  Unlike most observers, I wasn’t surprised at allHe doesn’t believe women should work, vote or become politicians.  He hates Muslims.  He doesn’t believe in the separation of church and state.  He waxed nostalgic for the slave era.  As the Washington Post reported, he enjoyed stalking, harassing and assaulting teenage girls in his 30s.  And he’s a sore loser.  As of this writing, he still hasn’t conceded to incoming Senator Doug Jones.  In fact, despite the vote being officially certified, he has falsely asserted the accurate results were fraudulent because of, wait for it, Black people.

4. JBL finally left the commentary table on Smackdown Live after being a dick to Mauro Ranallo who ended up being moved to NXT.  His weekly obnoxiousness won’t be missed.  Added bonus: JBL blocked me on Twitter along with a whole lot of other folks.  Why?  Because we all tweeted positive things about Ranallo.  What a snowflake.

5. Anthony Scaramucci’s impromptu phone interview with Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker.  It cost him a communications job within the Trump Administration (he was fired before his first official day) but it was absolute gold.  Can Trump please re-hire him just for the material?

6. Martin Shkreli is in prison.  Too bad being a greedy asshole doesn’t result in a life sentence.

7. Queens Of The Stone Age’s Villains.  Still heavy and melodic but a lot funkier than usual.  Josh Homme emotes like no other.

8. Bill O’Reilly was fired from Fox News, but only after The New York Times revealed numerous multi-million dollar settlements he secretly made with women who accused him of sexual harassment and, in one case, verbal abuse, and ongoing pressure from a sort-of advertiser boycott (the ads were simply relocated to other Fox shows).  The once powerful bark has been reduced to an insignificant yelp.

9. The Festival Of Friendship on Monday Night Raw.  What does Chris Jericho get for humourously and touchingly work shooting his love and respect for “best friend” Kevin Owens?  A brutal beating and the loss of his US Championship at WrestleMania 33.  The high point of a very entertaining story.

10. Alien: Covenant.  Ridley Scott is incapable of making a bad Alien film.  Far scarier and gorier than its underappreciated predecessor, Prometheus.  Michael Fassbender impresses again, this time in two distinctive roles.  He should get nominated for an Oscar but won’t.

11. Coldplay’s Kaleidoscope EP.  In a year filled with so much bad news and haunting dread, leave it to Chris Martin and company to overwhelm you with their much needed inspirational beauty.  Your move, U2.

12. The new 280-character limit on Twitter.  How maddening it had been trying to précis your thoughts to one or several users with 140 and include a link so they would all fit in a single tweet.  I hate restrictions.  Now how about adding an Edit button?

13. Bernie Sanders’ Medicare For All push which attracted widespread support from Americans and even some prominent Democrats.  What was once considered impossible is now quite doable.  He would’ve won.

14. Raging racist Marine Le Pen did not become the President of France.  But she connected with more voters than her equally racist father.  The future might be more ominous.

15. “Who wants to walk with Elias?”  I pop every time.

16. The summer eclipse.  In some parts of Canada and the US, it was total.  In others, you could still see part of the sun.  The coolest part for my family was seeing it through a miniature light show in our downstairs bathroom.  Imagine seeing tiny circles shaped by growing then departing shadows off and on for hours.  Pretty nifty.

17. Project Veritas tried to fool The Washington Post into believing that one of their dopey undercover operatives had been impregnated by a young Roy Moore.  Not only were they not fooled, they exposed the inept scam in two viral articles.  The value of skeptical journalism writ large.

18. Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey.  This overrated fascist supported heartless stings on vulnerable Muslims, secretly infilitrating Black Lives Matter and defended agents impersonating journalists.  Good riddance.

19. The two-part A&E Elizabeth Smart documentary.  A remarkable young woman and her loving family recall her nine months of torture as a teen in the captivity of a hypocritical rapist.  Despite all the horror, vividly retold in unflinching detail, the shocking story has a happy ending.  She’s blissfully married with two kids, wrote a best-selling, acclaimed book about her ordeal and advocates for victims while her attacker is in prison for life.  Justice.

20. Big Wreck’s Grace Street.  Their third rocking album since their welcome reunion.  Now middle-aged, Ian Thornley, the Canadian Chris Cornell, is still angst-ridden and heartbroken.  I wouldn’t want him any other way.

21. Jeremy Corbyn’s strong showing in the UK election.  He singlehandedly exposed the media and the Tories for what they really are:  substantially weakened, morally bankrupt neoliberals.  Theresa May’s poor judgment as Prime Minister (she thought it was a good idea to call this election well before she had to) has sealed her fate.  Her forthcoming resignation is an inevitability.  The future is Labour.

22. Shane McMahon vs. AJ Styles at WrestleMania 33.  The opening match which had one of the weakest builds of the year still somehow ended up being the best encounter of the entire show, one of the better events in recent years.  Shane O’Mac has redeemed himself after putting over The Undertaker in that lousy Hell In A Cell match.

23. Leah Remini: Scientology & The Aftermath.  David Miscavige’s worst nightmare.  Season one won a much deserved Emmy.  Season two should nab one, as well.  (What a gut wrenching series of shows it showcased.)  It’s not a benign church, it’s a ruthless, capitalistic cult that ruins lives.

24. The President Show.  Forget Alec Baldwin.  Anthony Atamaniuk’s pitch perfect Trump impersonation is far superior and darker.  The media-hungry leader of America gets the comic drubbing he deserves in the form of a fake talk show co-hosted with his own ass-kissy sidekick, Vice President Mike Pence (wonderfully shameless and secretly conniving Peter Grosz holding his own).  So, when’s fake Bernie Sanders getting his own show?

25. Foo Fighters’ Concrete & Gold.  A welcome return to rollicking form after the disappointing Sonic Highways experiment.

26. The downfalls of Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Mark Schwahn, Jeremy Piven, Dustin Hoffman, Jeffrey Tambor, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Mario Batali, Israel Horowitz, James Toback, Louis CK, Mark Halperin, Danny Masterson, Al Franken and many, many others thanks to numerous reported accusations of sexual harassment and assault by hundreds of women and dozens of men.  A long overdue reckoning.  This is only the beginning.

27. Bowe Bergdahl was released from military prison.

28. Split.  Proof that The Visit was not a fluke.  M. Night Shyamalan has indeed revitalized his creativity by focusing more on his own complex characters than getting lost in big budget special effects.  James McAvoy delivers a memorable performance as a deeply troubled man with two dozen distinctive personalities.  And Bjork doppelganger Anya Taylor-Joy is also good as one of his troubled, kidnapped victims.  Along with her very fine appearance in The Witch, she’s a star in the making.

29. All the other wonderful movies I screened this year:  The Skeleton Key, Dirty Wars, Citizenfour, Life Itself, Heavy Metal, Gimme Shelter, Jimi At Monterey, A Christmas Carol (2009), The Shining, The Adventures Of Milo & Otis, Diamonds Are Forever, The Man With The Golden Gun, The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker, A View To A Kill, Dominion: Prequel To The Exorcist, Purple Rain, Class Of 1984, Firestarter, Neil Young: Heart Of Gold, Neil Young Journeys, Rust Never Sleeps, Ladies & Gentlemen The Rolling Stones, Katy Perry: Part Of Me, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Jungle Book (1967), The Witch, The Last Waltz, The Stranger (1946), Hitchcock, Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films, Whirlpool, Interstellar, Rocky Balboa, Twilight Zone – The Movie, All Things Must Pass, Nosferatu The Vampyre, Metallica: Through The Never, Streets Of Fire and Eddie & The Cruisers.

30. The Arcade Fire’s Everything Now.  More moving, well-crafted brilliance from Canada’s best band.  My favourite album of the year.

31. A&E’s superb Drew Peterson docuseries.  Despite being a foolish philanderer, it seems highly improbable that he murdered his pregnant wife.  What a miscarriage of justice.  He must be freed.

32. #MeToo.

33. Don Meredith, a married anti-sex preacher, resigned from the Canadian Senate two years after being exposed by The Toronto Star and The Globe & Mail as both a serial sexual harasser and a predator of a young teenage girl.  Stephen Harper sure knows how to pick ’em, doesn’t he?

34. Once wrongly incarcerated at Gitmo for over a decade until his release last year, Mohamedou Slahi’s best-selling but heavily redacted Guantanamo Diary was finally released without the redactions.  I would like to read it.

35. Robyn Doolittle’s Unfounded series in The Globe & Mail.  Sexual assault has not been taken seriously by Canada’s police departments for far too long.  And now, thanks to Doolittle’s dogged reporting, a number of them, including the RCMP, are re-examining their decision to drop so many investigations based on flimsy, sexist assumptions.  We’ll see if victims will finally see justice now.

36. Nine Inch Nails’ Add Violence EP.  Tortured emotions you can dance to.

37. The fall of Milo, the billionaire-financed racist transphobic dickwad who was one of the architects of the long discredited and dangerous GamerGate.  He got turfed from Twitter, lost his book deal (it was released independently and instantly bombed) and got fired from Breitbart (the far right website that launched him) because he condones predatory behaviour of underage boys.  He also couldn’t properly organize a “free speech” event featuring similar right-wing dopes, doesn’t write his own garbage (he has a team of ghostwriters, the lazy cunt), does karaoke with Nazis and his book editor’s harsh comments about his trashed book publicly surfaced.  The sooner he goes away forever, the better.

38. Toronto FC won their first MLS Championship.  The franchise isn’t even a decade old.

39. Impractical Jokers.  The Moronic Beatles of hardcore hidden camera improv.  Even the reruns are funny.  Larry!

40. Braun Strowman, especially when he was beating down Roman Reigns on Raw.  A monster heel with extreme agility who’s on the verge of being world champion some day soon.

41. Ariana Grande’s kindness towards the surviving victims who attended her Manchester show and were shot by a mass shooter.  And that tender moment where she stepped in for a young girl who was overcome with emotion while singing with a choir during a benefit concert following the tragedy.  Compassion is good.  We need a lot more of it.

42. The women of the Canadian Home Shopping Channel.  They should rename it The Milf Channel.  Oh my!

43. Colin Kaepernick’s quiet protest against police brutality.  He might no longer be a quarterback in the NFL but his kneeling during the national anthem has become a powerful statement against white supremacy.  We haven’t heard the last from him.

44. Brock Lesnar vs. Goldberg at WrestleMania 33.  They accomplished more in five minutes than the entirety of their hesitant, meaningless encounter at Wrestlemania 20.

45. Michael Flynn, Omarosa, Sean Spicer, Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus and Tom Price all left The Trump Administration, some in absolute disgrace.  Expect more exits and embarrassing revelations in 2018.

46. Omar Khadr finally got compensation and an apology from the Canadian government for his wrongful incarceration at Gitmo and the horrific abuse he suffered for a decade.  May he live the rest of his life in peace.

47. Christy Clark is no longer the Premier of British Columbia.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, December 31, 2017
7:20 p.m.

Published in: on December 31, 2017 at 7:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Song Remains The Same (1976)

Maybe they should’ve called it Dazed & Confused.

Led Zeppelin’s one and only concert film, The Song Remains The Same, doesn’t begin with a live performance.  Instead, we get an inexplicable action scene.

A mob guy and two of his armed goons pay a visit to a bunch of other gangsters who are playing some kind of weird board game.  Once they arrive, out come the tommy guns.

You have to go to Wikipedia to understand the inclusion of this bizarre scene.  The mob guy ordering the hit is the band’s legendarily protective manager Peter Grant who often drove record label weasels crazy with his demands for his clients.  The scene is supposed to be metaphorical, a harsh fantasy regarding Grant’s cynical feelings about the crooked music business.

But does the casual viewer know what Peter Grant even looks like?  I was familiar with his reputation but certainly not his face.  Even so, why is this baffling scene opening a concert movie?

It’s not the only weird moment.

Instead of jumping right to music (there’s a quick shot of white doves flapping around in slow motion followed by a morning in New York City fast forwarded through to nighttime), we see each member of the band at home.

Singer Robert Plant and his wife watching their two young kids play around naked in a stream.  Bassist John Paul Jones, looking like Emo Phillips with that incredibly silly haircut, reading a children’s story to his own daughters.  Drummer John Bonham driving around in his fancy car and working on his farm.  And guitarist Jimmy Page, without a woman or kids, playing what looks like a harmonium outside his estate.

It takes almost 15 minutes before the band takes the stage at Madison Square Garden to bugger up Rock And Roll.  The drums sound off which ruins the track.  But thankfully, that’s followed by Black Dog where the band is more in sync.

Instead of sticking with the concert footage all the way through, though, the filmmakers often jump to random scenes that are distracting more than enlightening.  They include:

Peter Grant complaining to Robert Plant about bootleg merchandise being sold.  Peter Grant complaining to more people at the venue about bootleg merchandise being sold.  A woman begging passersby for tickets to the concert.  A couple of fans without tickets getting snuck in by cops and the filmmakers.  Another fan, one without a shirt, being tackled, placed in a room and eventually thrown out of the building with no explanation.

Even during the live performances, the filmmakers can’t help themselves by cutting away to more fantasy nonsense as the music plays.

While the band rolls through the uneven title song we see Plant riding on a horse and fighting medieval soldiers with his sword in slow motion while trying to hang out with a woman who is not his wife.  During the epic Dazed & Confused, Page is seen climbing a mountain to find an old man who turns out to be him wearing prosthetic make-up.  During another track, Jones wears a freaky mask while riding his own steed and bothering his wife for no reason.

During the tedious extended drum solo that is Moby Dick, Bonham’s fantasy sees him riding a funny car, working on his farm, driving his fancy car around town and hanging out with his wife and son.  In other words, his real life recreated for the cameras.  (Jason, who would become a professional skin slapper in his own right, based on the footage we see, clearly showed promise at a very young age.)

Late in the film one song is literally interrupted a couple of times to inform us that the band was robbed of over 200,000 dollars while staying in a hotel.  Again, you turn to Wikipedia to learn that the money was never recovered and it was likely an employee who was the culprit.  (He apparently fled to Jamaica with the dough.)  Why was this inserted?  It’s like CNN repeatedly interrupting something you’re enjoying with Breaking News that isn’t important or properly contextualized.

Setting aside all of these completely unnecessary indulgences, there’s still a big problem with the concert footage itself.  As the band would later confess, this isn’t Led Zeppelin at their best.  Barely half the songs are any good.  Dazed & Confused, the strongest cut, is nevertheless way too long, thanks to all kinds of added guitar flourishes not heard in the original studio version.  While entertaining, it runs nearly 30 minutes.  Just a tad excessive.

And furthermore, according to Wikipedia, some of the shots are studio recreations done long after their MSG gigs (the band taped three shows in 1973 and somehow didn’t capture enough close-ups).  I have to admit, you can’t tell the difference.  But still, that’s pathetic.  No wonder this material took three years to get released in theatres.

Because this is a 70s movie, we get pretentious variations of the split screen, occasional visual splashes of outdated, annoying psychedelia, one moment of exploding, low-scale pyrotechnics and of course, a disco ball.  Another staple of the decade, the flaming gong routine, makes a brief albeit welcome appearance.  Few rock clichés are as profoundly missed as that one.  But other than that, the look of this film is not very appealing unless you enjoy getting up close and personal many times with Robert Plant’s blue jean-covered bulge.  And yes, back in the day, I’m sure many did.  (The band were notorious womanizers, contrary to the phony devoted family men image presented here.)

Led Zeppelin were one of the greatest studio bands of all time and yet, one of the most self-indulgent on stage.  We can be thankful that the Moby Dick solo in this movie runs only 15 minutes rather than the 25-minute version found on the triple live album How The West Was Won.  Yes, it’s nice to see fiery live takes of Whole Lotta Love and Stairway To Heaven outside the confines of a studio setting.  But the inconsistency of their live performance overall here is deeply disappointing.

As the band noted later on, the MSG shows came at the end of their ’73 tour when they were burned out and not as energetic.  The unfortunate evidence is right there on the screen.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, December 31, 2017
1:43 a.m.

Published in: on December 31, 2017 at 1:43 am  Comments (1)  

Pink Floyd The Wall (1982)

I first saw Pink Floyd The Wall back in college in 1993.  There was a supplemental course where we had to break up into small groups and pick a film to present to our classmates.

One group selected the original Poltergeist.  Another picked Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels.  A third went with Aliens.  Without my support, my group chose Monty Python & The Holy Grail but didn’t bother to include me in the assignment.  (They did all the work and during our presentation I just stood there like an disinterested extra but I digress.)

A fifth group presented The Wall.  What a strange film.  Dark, depressing, weird.  I couldn’t decide whether I liked it or not.

Nearly 25 years later, I finally watched it again.

Roger Waters had never written a screenplay before and it shows.  Darting back and forth between the past and present, reality and nightmare, it’s as emotionally disconnected as its tortured anti-hero.  And it’s still dark, depressing and weird, only more so now.

Bob Geldof plays Pink, a rock star hibernating in a disgusting hotel room watching old war movies in a silent stupor.  He’s never gotten over the death of his father, a soldier in World War II.  And he has terrible relationships with women.

His mother was overly controlling during his childhood.  His wife has left him for an anti-nuke activist.  And in one uncomfortable scene, he erupts at an otherwise mesmerized groupie nearly missing her head with the large objects he hurls at the wall.

He also harbours fascist tendencies.  With his hair slicked back and his eyebrows imperfectly sliced off with a razor, he eerily channels the more sinister elements of David Bowie’s Thin White Duke persona minus the dye job.  Geldof has an unmistakable charisma but his character isn’t very sympathetic, although the movie tries very hard to find convenient scapegoats for his misogyny and xenophobia.

In a flashback scene, we see him desperately attempt to find a replacement father figure on a playground.  But he’s rejected.  In another one, he’s never far from his mother’s confining embrace.  He can’t sleep alone.  A third shows him being humiliated by a teacher for daring to write poetry in class when he’s supposed to be learning about acres.  There’s also a series of cringeworthy scenes where he watches an old war movie about a soldier who’s named his black dog Nigger.

Because this is all based on Pink Floyd’s famous double album of the same name, The Wall is a musical, albeit a very uneven one.  There’s very little dialogue but a whole lot of familiar tracks not necessarily heard in their original forms.  I’ve always loved Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2) and thankfully, it remains a powerful anti-authoritarian statement.  Parts 1 & 3 are good, too.  Besides this trilogy, there are a couple of other standouts as well.

But there are several others that are sluggish and uninspiring.  Geldof takes the lead on one such dreary number (heard twice) where he reveals absolute contempt for his rapturous young audience of aspiring Nazis.  He pointedly notes how they all have that “space cadet glow”.

Pink Floyd The Wall also features occasional animation.  The Nazi’s fatal appropriation of the Swastika is replaced with two hammers.  In one of the best sequences, a bunch of giant red and black handled hammers goosestep in unison.  Toxic masculinity and white supremacy are a natural tag team.

Because of the film’s schizophrenic, non-linear narrative any attempts at profound political statements are either muddled or overly simplistic.  (War is bad.  Rock stars are like dictators.  Kids without fathers grow up miserable.  It’s all the women’s fault that the teachers are mean.).

However, there is one notable exception.

In another good animated sequence, British Imperial war planes suddenly turn into flying white crosses.  One white cross on the ground turns red as blood rolls down a nearby sewer drain.  So much treasure wasted for the impure pursuits of a “Christian” empire.  Maybe the whole film should’ve been animated.

At one point, Pink’s willful isolation pisses off his manager (Bob Hoskins, if you can believe it) who, with assistance, breaks into his place and has him pumped with drugs to supposedly revitalize him.  Instead, he turns into a monster.

Eventually, in an unconvincing finale, he learns through an imaginary trial to break down the wall of indifference that has surrounded him for years.  As dark as this movie is, this is a remarkable cop out.  How does a violent man with no hope and ugly views of women and people of colour suddenly decide to feel again?

Directed by Alan Parker, Pink Floyd The Wall is certainly one of the more ambitious rock musicals committed to film.  It wants to rightly condemn imperial violence and how it damages families while also wanting to draw awkward connections between rock stars and fascists.  But it doesn’t know how to achieve any of this through powerful emotion or sly cleverness.  Quite frankly, David Bowie & Iggy Pop did it on better on record.

Roger Waters was originally cast as Pink because the character’s complicated life mirrored his own at the time.  He had failed marriages and felt increasingly at odds with his own rock stardom.  The bigger Pink Floyd became in the post-Syd Barrett blockbuster 70s, the less he felt connected with his own audience.  As he argued at the time, the kids coming to shows in his view were only there for his celebrity and not necessarily for his musical ideas.

That’s not very persuasive when you consider the remarkable chart success The Dark Side Of The Moon alone enjoyed for roughly two decades.  Long after its 1973 debut, it stayed firmly planted on the Billboard Top 200 Albums Chart right up until the mid-90s before it was relegated to the archive chart.  Did people really buy that record because Roger Waters is famous or because they loved the album and what it represents?

In the two scenes where Bob Geldof’s Pink insults his teen audience by calling them stupid they don’t revolt nor do they riot or boo.  Instead, they stare in admiration, applaud their approval and dance in unison.  It reminds me of a scene from The Simpsons where Bart imagines doing the same thing during a show where the crowd cheers his open disdain for them.

The movie is depressing not because it dares to grapple with these dark ideas and themes.  It’s depressing because it doesn’t know how to properly explore them in a coherent story.  It suffers greatly from a lack of a consistently good musical score, collapses from the weak structure of its convoluted screenplay and uses its tired misogyny as a convenient crutch.  There isn’t a single major female character who isn’t to blame for Pink’s sordid existence.  Ditto his strict teacher.  And the war scenes, like much of the film, lack intensity.

In a number of ways, Pink has a lot in common with President Donald Trump.

Both blame minorities and women for their self-hatred.  Both are unrepentant abusers.  Both seem sad and lost and in deep denial of their character deficiencies.  Both are emotionally distant and have volcanic tempers.  Both attract the naïve in astonishing numbers.  Both have an unhealthy addiction to Television.  Both refuse to accept responsibility for their own problems.  Both seem trapped in lives that offer financial rewards and undeserved positions of power but not transcendence and nirvana.  And both are unworthy of anyone’s sympathy.

35 years after its commercially successful and critically acclaimed theatrical debut, Pink Floyd The Wall has no shortage of supporters.  (Roger Ebert included it in his Great Movies series.)  But after two screenings, I can’t share their enthusiasm.  Like its fascist protagonist, this movie’s too dour and hateful to embrace.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, December 29, 2017
5:54 p.m.

Published in: on December 29, 2017 at 5:54 pm  Comments (1)  

Disappear The Silence

A glance across the room
Purposeful avoidance
The sudden tightening of muscles
The escalation of intensity

Slowly drawing nearer

Collective ignorance
Total indifference
Drowning noise the perfect cover

Slowly drawing nearer

Attention diverted
Unmistakable laughter
A wave of self-consciousness

Slowly drawing nearer

Disappearing space
A shadow looming
A quiet fire approaching

Slowly drawing nearer

A paused conversation
A pained realization
A changed expression

Slowly drawing nearer

Self-control evaporating
The desert becomes a river
No more stillness

Slowly drawing nearer

A blinding sight
A haunting spectre
An unwelcome past resurrected
Impossible to breathe
Minutes feeling like hours
Shuddering in its presence
Suddenly alone in the crowd

And then, a gentle touch
And a look of concern
Disappears the silence
For now

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, December 28, 2017
3:49 a.m.

Published in: on December 28, 2017 at 3:49 am  Comments (1)  

Fake Progressive

Selfish dick who does what he wants
Hateful prick who bullies and taunts
The stench of failure endlessly haunts
Callous ignorance he deliberately flaunts

Fake progressive who settles for less
Always aggressive and making a mess
Status quo slave often burned by a guess
Can’t convince voters to just say yes

Habitually unwise and completely out of touch
This phony disguise has become too much
So many wasted years dependent on this crutch
Pressured to perform, he fails in the clutch

Professional windbag who just won’t quit
Horrendous douchebag with bile and spit
Lacking true insight and deprived of wit
His political judgment isn’t worth shit

Feigning interest in people’s pain
A boring centrist and exceedingly vain
A giant head with a tiny brain
No more free rides on this gravy train

Lost and confused about the coming change
Tossed and refused and feeling so strange
Left behind on the loser range
Too late to go back and rearrange

A sanctimonious hack emboldened by a fight
Given the sack when proven none too bright
Immune to true suffering because he’s white
Never gives a damn about their perilous plight

An overdue humbling so richly deserved
Typical bumbling that hurts the underserved
A discredited strategist poorly preserved
A place at the table no longer reserved

A pest and a tool with no future to come
No rest for this fool starving for a crumb
There are no thoughts, just a continuous hum
Once he was the shark, now he’s the chum

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, December 15, 2017
7:54 p.m.

Published in: on December 15, 2017 at 7:54 pm  Comments (1)  

It Follows

It Follows is the most overrated horror film since The Blair Witch Project.  When it was released in 2015, a stampede of critics fell all over themselves to praise its non-existent virtues.  What exactly were they so excited about?

More weird and perplexing than truly terrifying, it takes a good 20 minutes to figure out what the hell is even going on.  In the end, there are far more questions than satisfying answers.

Early on, we meet Jay (Maika Monroe), a troubled high school student who loves to swim.  There’s no father in the picture so it’s just her, her younger sister and their mother.  Jay’s been seeing Hugh (the fittingly named Jake Weary), a Rob Thomas clone who seems a bit off.  During a movie date, to kill time they play the trade game.  It works like this.  You pick someone, a stranger in your surroundings, who you’d like to trade places with, the other person has to guess who you picked and why you chose them.

While sitting in a repertory theatre awaiting the beginning of Charade, Hugh says he selected a woman in a yellow dress.  But when Jay turns to spot her there is no one standing in the exit.  Suddenly feeling a bit freaked out Hugh wants to bolt.  Instead of watching Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn on the silver screen they go to dinner.  As Jay sips on an alcoholic beverage some mysterious figure is seen outside the window walking slowly towards their restaurant.  Ho hum.

On their next date, Jay and Hugh finally have sex in the back seat of his car.  (They have no chemistry.) Afterwards, while lounging in her underwear, she goes on and on about how she pictured this time in her life as a young girl and her fondness for spontaneous road trips with no predetermined destinations.  After rummaging around in the trunk, to show his appreciation a smitten Hugh returns to cover her mouth with a chloroform-soaked cloth.

The next thing we know, some slow-walking naked woman is approaching them in an abandoned parking garage on an otherwise quiet evening.

Hugh isn’t a rapist or a murderer.  He’s a panicked victim.  Before seeing Jay, he had a one-night stand with someone and ever since, it has been following him.  What is it, exactly?  Well, apparently, it’s an apparition that assumes many human forms, sometimes naked, sometimes fully clothed, sometimes familiar to those it targets, that can only be seen by those who have been cursed by this thing.

Hugh deliberately had sex with Jay so he could “pass it on”.  Now all she has to do is fuck somebody else and both of them will be left alone.

But, of course, Jay doesn’t do this for a good 40 minutes.  Instead, she stupidly lives her life in a permanent state of paranoia.  Any time some silent stranger gradually approaches her she flees hoping to avoid all physical contact with them.  There’s one moment where her complacency almost costs her.

Why is it so patient and why is it so murderous?  Who knows and who cares.

Jay ultimately becomes a prisoner in her own home, often locked away in her bedroom with zero appetite.  (What are those pills she’s taking?)  But it still finds her, so she hightails it out of there one night and declares she won’t return.

Supported by her initially skeptical but supremely worried baby sister Kelly (Lili Sepe), their two loyal friends – yearning Paul (Keir Gilchrist) and bespectacled electronic bookworm Yara (Olivia Luccardi) – and her doubtful yet concerned neighbour Greg (Daniel Zovatto), Jay eventually discovers that Hugh hasn’t been straight with her.  First of all, that’s not his real name.  Second of all, there’s a very good reason he has never invited her back to his place.  It’s a pigsty.  Plus, the windows are covered with newspapers while dangling empties serve as some kind of a lo-fi alert system.

Jay eventually tracks him down at his mom’s place (he appears to be fatherless, as well) where he once again tells her what she needs to do to be free of this curse.  And once again, she needlessly suffers a close call before finally taking his advice.

It’s during that close call that Paul, her first kiss and the guy who has been secretly pining for her ever since despite kissing Kelly as well, realizes Jay isn’t crazy.  He’s none too pleased that he isn’t her first choice for a survival bonk.  (Greg and Jay have a history.  Kelly has a thing for him, as well.)  As it turns out, her decision backfires spectacularly.  Why go for the guy who is the least convinced of your dilemma?  And why no plan for when it inevitably comes calling for him which you know is going to happen sooner or later?

The group hatches a scheme to lure it to their old stomping grounds, an indoor pool in the rundown section of Detroit.  (They all live in the “good” neighbourhood, you see.)  It should be a truly frightening sequence.  But because the film hasn’t done the hard work of making us care about these forgettable, unfunny characters or properly pacing the plot (this thing moves way too slowly), it’s a huge letdown.  The ending doesn’t really resolve anything, so the cycle of unexplained stalking continues, probably leading to another film down the road.

Deep down, It Follows really, really wants to be Halloween but it can’t possibly match its power, so it settles for superficial tributes instead.  Jay is named after Jamie Lee Curtis who played Laurie.  And the teens have a thing for old, cheesy sci-fi horror films.  (Remember the young girl who watches The Thing From Another World, which is actually very good, in Halloween?)

As a result, It Follows lacks the earlier film’s considerable tension.  Not to mention it’s far from original (How is this different from any other Body Snatcher-type picture?  Plus, the “it” is a rip-off of Stephen King.).  It isn’t funny (A fart joke?  Really?).  And apart from one early visual, where are the genuine scares?  (A ball suddenly hitting a window?  A piece of plaster coming undone?  Come on.)  The ever changing villain lacks the singular, shuddering presence of Michael Myers.  And the music is often distracting, unlike John Carpenter’s classic electronic score which set the mood so perfectly in Halloween.

There are also a lot of scenes where our heroes don’t do anything terribly interesting.  They play cards and wait.  They lounge on the beach and wait.  They set up their doomed swimming pool trap and wait.  If they had clever things to say, I wouldn’t mind so much.

Dean Cundey’s stellar camerawork in Halloween was obviously a significant influence here.  But there are too many 360 degree camera moves (this was annoying in Blair Witch, too, especially when nothing is happening) and few of the other shots evoke much dread.  Despite its occasionally pretentious sprinklings of literary quotations (a little Dostoevsky here, a little T.S. Eliot there), It Follows employs a fairly generic hybrid premise (relentlessly mysterious villain hounding horny teenagers in order to inhabit their bodies).  Unlike Halloween, though, there are no emotional payoffs and its non-linear gimmick is maddening.

I’m not a big fan of nonsensical horror films, particularly those that play out like a bad dream.  I’m old school.  I prefer a coherent story.  But I always try to be open-minded and allow myself to be proven wrong.

I gave It Follows every chance to win me over.  Like its baffling villain, I was exceedingly patient.  But from its opening scene to its last, it fails to truly get under your skin.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, December 13, 2017
4:21 a.m.

Published in: on December 13, 2017 at 4:21 am  Comments (1)  

A Hard Day’s Night & Help!

Every once in a while, there’s a movie I dislike that practically everybody else loves.

When it’s not being absolutely terrifying, The Exorcist just isn’t very interesting or involving.  Zero Dark Thirty is pure propaganda trash.  And The Producers, the original Mel Brooks production, is really not that funny.

Nearly 20 years ago, I sat down to watch A Hard Day’s Night for the first time.  I hated it.  (Roger Ebert watched this two dozen times in his life?)  Were it not for all the well-crafted pop songs I would’ve loathed it even more.

I had the same reaction to Help! which I thought was worse.

But that was 1999, not a happy year for me.  So, having just screened both films again recently, now that I’m in a mostly better headspace, what’s the verdict today?

I still hate them, only slightly less now than before.

A Hard Day’s Night tries to convince us that The Beatles are miserable.  Everywhere they turn, as established in the famous opening sequence, there are screaming fans chasing them down.  They’re never at home and always on the move avoiding ravenous teenagers.  They go from train to hotel room, from hotel room to town car, from town car to a TV studio where they rehearse and later perform in front of a live, screamingly giddy audience.  And then it’s back in the town car to a helicopter that will take them to their next gig and their next hotel room.

But if they’re so unhappy, why are they constantly smiling and laughing, especially during the chase scenes and song cues?  And why are they running away from turned on fans at all?  (The real-life Beatles were notorious horndogs.)

Their exasperated manager, Norm (Norman Rossington), a fictionalized Brian Epstein, isn’t exactly a strict taskmaster, as much as he would like to be.  He just gets slightly annoyed when John Lennon repeatedly calls him a “swine” or when the whole band buggers off to dance badly with hot babes instead of answering stacks of fan mail in their hotel.  (A side point:  what is so terrible about spending a day writing back to your fans?)

When they get to the TV station they encounter the rather foppish, high-strung director (Victor Spinetti) who is rightly worried about problems during the broadcast.  (Why no security under the stage?)  When Norm insists they get locked in their dressing room after rehearsals so they don’t miss showtime they instead bolt through the fire escape to jump around like twits in a field.

Paul’s “very clean”, shit-disturbing grandfather (Wilfrid Brimbell) convinces Ringo Starr to put down that book and enjoy his life away from the band.  (They goof on him a lot.)  So, the drummer pulls out his camera and goes outside where he gets into all kinds of unfunny predicaments.  (By the way, did he invent the selfie?)

There’s a weird moment where a couple of exuberant fans spot him, so he goes to a store to acquire a disguise of sorts.  After he leaves, they’re long gone.  When he tries to engage a woman in conversation with the new look he’s pleased by her hostile reaction.  It should be noted at no point do any of The Beatles ever complain about their passionate fans, so moments like this are baffling in their dubious construction.  In an earlier scene he bails on the idea of talking to a eager woman on a train because she thinks she’s just leading him on.  Really?  Where’s your self-esteem, man?

Ringo’s absence causes a crisis but of course, the full band makes it back in time for their entertaining live show.  One wonders why they didn’t just do a straightforward concert film instead.

Oh right.  The screaming.

It’s a shame because when The Beatles play their original material your irritation completely disappears and you start to groove.  (If I Fell remains one of their prettiest ballads.)  But then the songs end and the bad jokes continue.

I don’t remember how many times I laughed in 1999 but this time, it was just twice in one scene.  It’s a delightfully cheeky moment that stands out amongst so much dead-on-arrival corniness.

By comparison, Help! only has one laugh, a throwaway gag that surely inspired the Zucker Brothers.  But, once again, with the exception of the music, there’s a whole lot of stupidity to suffer through.

A cult with absurdly strict rules about human sacrifice starts hunting down Ringo for his rather prominent red ring.  You see, the woman who was going to be disemboweled for some mountain goddess is spared because although she’s painted red she also has to be wearing that damn ring before being offed.  She mailed it to him to spare her own life.

How do they know Ringo has it now?  They spot it on his hand while watching a film of the band rolling through the title song.  How did they acquire the footage?

So, for the entirety of the film, this rather inept cult routinely fails to get the ring back.  (Did they ever think of just politely asking for it?  Or maybe find another one in a Cracker Jack box?)  This endless process of foiled retrieval takes so long Ringo becomes the new sacrifice instead.  It takes a while for the entire band to seek out experts who can get the ring off since it appears to be rather tightly latched on to his precious digit.  None of their methods work.  The band start playfully suggesting the idea of a new drummer.  It would’ve been really funny if they called Pete Best.

Victor Spinetti, the freaked out director in A Hard Day’s Night, plays a mad scientist who becomes obsessed with the ring, as well.  Unsurprisingly, he’s just as dopey as the cult.  Ditto his bumbling assistant.

Eleanor Bron plays one of the cult members who inexplicably becomes an ally and protector of The Beatles after her own botched attempts at retrieving the ring.  Her babyface turn feels awfully convenient, I don’t care how much she likes Paul.  (Her anti-sex cult leader would rather kill babes than fuck them.)

Unlike A Hard Day’s Night where comic scenes, as bad as they are, naturally lead into songs, with a couple of exceptions, the Help! tracks just kinda happen rather randomly.  One minute, there’s a dumb batch of jokes and then, here comes You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away.  And why the fuck are they recording tracks in an open field instead of a studio?  Hard to believe Britain was once an empire.  In this movie, their army is quite vulnerable to a sneak attack by idiots.

To get away from the cult and mad scientist, the band first goes skiing (cue Ticket To Ride) and speed curling, then escapes to The Bahamas which is supposed to be the decoy destination (it’s all over the British papers) but since no other location is mentioned, they end up there anyway.  (Amazing how a disguised Ringo and John nailed how they would look in the future.)  Did I mention this is a stupid movie?

It is here that the cult decides to bring their ceremonial sacrifice set with them so they can save time.  (Have budget, will travel.)  But, of course, Ringo’s ring suddenly loosens at just the right moment and after a rather chaotic final confrontation, all is well once more.  Needless to say, there is no actual suspense.

Amazingly, Help! has its share of devoted fans but even they acknowledge this is a big comedown from A Hard Day’s Night.  (Truthfully, it’s just slightly worse than its overpraised predecessor.)  Forgive the pun but let’s be perfectly blunt.  No amount of good tunes can alleviate the tedious plot which should not take 92 minutes to resolve.  For all its dorky non-sequiturs, at least the earlier film captures the early mania of The Beatles and builds to a natural climax that effectively showcases their undeniable skill as writers and performers.

Help!, on the other hand, feels like a blatant cash-in and a retreat, an opportunity for salivating film executives to make a quick buck and a baked vacation for a hot band that would thankfully abandon this tomfoolery for exquisite ambition.  Nature abhors a vacuum which is why The Monkees were created.

Yellow Submarine, the psychedelically animated third movie (which only features The Beatles in one scene), is actually better than both of these overrated disappointments (it features some of their greatest cuts) but again, not as good as people believe it to be.  (I’m less fond of the out-there animation and don’t find it very amusing, either.)

That leaves only one Beatles movie for me to assess.  So when is Let It Be arriving on Blu-ray?

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, December 2, 2017
2:42 p.m.

Published in: on December 2, 2017 at 2:42 pm  Comments (2)  


There are certain films that could only have been made in The Sixties.  Bob Rafelson’s Head is one of them.  As I was watching it for the first time I couldn’t help but think that there’s no way it was made with sober minds.  Sure enough, I eventually make my way to Wikipedia and discover that marijuana and LSD played prominent roles in its creation.  Indeed.

I’d like to tell you the plot but there isn’t one.  Instead, The Monkees (Davy Jones, Mike Nesmith, Peter Tork & Micky Dolenz) travel back and forth from one nonsensical cartoony set piece to another and back again until the credits roll.  In the end, the search for laughs and coherence proves fruitless.  (I’m still stunned that Jack Nicholson, who has a brief cameo along with Easy Rider co-star Dennis Hopper, collaborated on the “screenplay”.)  This is treated rather embarrassingly as a point of pride.

Davy gets pummelled by Sonny Liston.  A thirsty Micky argues with an unseen narrator as he discovers to his frustration an empty Coke machine in the desert.  Mike and Peter make bets as to whether a bikini-clad dame will jump off a building.  The lads unwittingly find themselves auditioning for a shampoo commercial.  But that’s not giant prop hair they’re tumbling around in.  It’s the actual hair of Victor Mature who in another scenario, a western scene, towers over them like Godzilla.  They end up getting sucked into a vacuum cleaner by his hairdresser.

And on and on it goes.

Of course, there’s also music.

During the opening scene, The Monkees interrupt the ribbon cutting ceremony for a new bridge.  Micky (and a very noticeable dummy in some shots) takes the plunge as this movie’s most famous cut, Porpoise Song, pops up on the soundtrack.  (It also looks like he’s jumping on a trampoline in that pretentious layered montage.)

Once he’s in the water the psychedelia arrives along with a couple of mermaids.  (The colours are pretty but whatever.)  As his body floats to the top at the conclusion of the song (which sounds like a bad Sgt. Pepper outtake) he’s suddenly seen making out with a groupie in the pad he shares with his bandmates.  They also get to kiss her.  Afterwards, Mike wants to know who was the best but she calls it a four-way draw.  When he whispers a request for her to return when he’s alone she just laughs and leaves.

The awkward weirdness doesn’t stop there.

Frank Zappa shows up out of nowhere to critique Davy after he does a forgettable solo number.  Then the cow pipes in.

Annette Funicello weeps for Davy’s decision to get beat up instead of pretending to play the violin for a living while Teri Garr wants Peter to suck the mysterious venom out of her finger.  Was she bit by a snake or a scorpion?  Who the fuck knows?

Lacking enough material for an already meandering 85-minute feature, clips from TV ads and old movies fill in the gap.  A useless man-on-the-street segment is tossed off to kill more time.  A Vietnamese man gets shot dead at point blank range (shown more than once).  And then the empty lunacy returns, some of which is racist.  (Seeing Native Americans (or are they white guys in redface?) referred to as “savages” never stops being appalling.)

After The Monkees perform one of only two good original songs during a brief concert sequence (the other is heard while harem girls dance while a third uneven one set during a surprise birthday party for Mike has its catchier moments as well), the fans rush the stage and tear off their clothes.  Well, actually, they tear the clothes off of very fragile department store mannequins that serve as obvious satirical stand-ins.  The Monkees were always conceived as a fake group who only had to show up to sing.  And like their inspiration, The Beatles, they were instantly commodified.  The point is more than obvious.  The fans aren’t attacking substantial human beings.  They’re attacking a shoddy product.

Peter punches a guy in drag and starts wondering if this is so great for his image.

A little late to be asking questions.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, December 2, 2017
4:06 a.m.

Published in: on December 2, 2017 at 4:07 am  Comments (2)