Room 237

“The way to criticize a movie is to make another movie,” Jean-Luc Godard famously asserted.

The makers of Room 237 have taken that advice to heart.  This intriguingly obsessive documentary about Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining will make you look at the epic horror film with very different perspectives, even if some of these bold arguments are a little out there and unpersuasive.

As disembodied voices dissect various elements of the film (we never see them on-camera as they talk), Room 237 rotates between clips of The Shining (including behind-the-scenes footage) and various other Kubrick movies to old newsreel footage and moments from numerous other titles, with some clever amalgamation of some thrown in for good measure.

Let’s be clear about one thing.  You need to see The Shining first.  Thankfully, I’d seen it on Christmas Eve last year so it was still fresh in my mind.  (It is genuinely unsettling.)  As the disembodied voices take us through specific scenes – sometimes in real time, sometimes in slow motion, sometimes in freeze frames, sometimes repeatedly – they point out unusual things you may very well have missed.

For instance, there’s a scene where Danny Torrance, the little boy with the imaginary friend, is playing with his toys in the lobby of this fabulous resort his parents have been assigned to look after during the winter off-season.  All of a sudden, a ball rolls toward him.  Notice the pattern of the carpet.  When Danny stands up, now notice the carpet again.  The design has been flipped in reverse.

Here’s another example.  After we first meet Danny, he’s brushing his teeth in the family bathroom.  As the camera slowly moves towards him in the hallway, you see his bedroom door.  There are stickers all over it.  Take particular notice of Dopey, one of the Seven Dwarfs.  In a later scene, when he’s being examined for illness, look closely at the door again.  No Dopey.

There’s more, way more.  Jack Nicholson’s character, Jack Torrance, the troubled, abusive alcoholic novelist trying and failing to write a new manuscript (he only manages one line repeated endlessly), has an unusual typewriter.  It’s German with an eagle symbol.  At one point, without any warning or notice, it changes colour.

When Jack goes in to the office for his job interview, the employee sitting next to him is wearing solid pants.  Then, in other shots, he wears striped ones.

What’s going on?  Did Kubrick get sloppy with continuity or did he have something else in mind?  The movie convincingly argues for the latter.  The Torrances are trapped in an actual nightmare where marvellous improbabilities abound.  (Where’s the cord on that TV?  Does it run on batteries?)  Certainty is an illusion.

Before The Shining, Kubrick made the war epic Barry Lyndon.  One disembodied voice asserts that he was a “bored genius” when he made that film, that it was too straightforward and pretty.  It didn’t challenge him as a filmmaker.

So, when he decided to do a very loose adaptation of Stephen King’s novel (the famous maze was an invention for the film), he went out of his way to know everything about Colorado (where the film is set) and added so many layers of details that decades after the movie’s original theatrical release, obsessives are still spotting curious things they missed during earlier screenings.  (The movie begins with a big-ass disclaimer pointing out that nobody associated with The Shining including Warner Bros. who released it endorses any of the views expressed.)

He also became fascinated with subliminal advertising even going so far as to seek out information directly from those who employed this technique in their commercials.

Here’s my favourite example used in The Shining.  At the end of the film, there’s a dissolve of an old framed photo shown in two different close-ups.  If you pause the transition at just the right moment, it looks like Jack Nicholson is sporting a Hitler moustache.  One overly imaginative invisible commentator suggests with a straight face that you can see Kubrick’s face in the clouds during the breathtaking opening credits sequence but I think he’s full of shit.  I sure as hell didn’t spot it.

As recounted in The Shining, The Overlook Hotel was built on sacred Native American land, a burial ground.  There’s an infamous recurring scene where a river of blood suddenly pours out of an elevator and into the lobby.  The hotel manager notes early on that the workers had to fight off pissed off Indigenous warriors in order to finish the construction.  One commentator suggests that the blood is coming directly from the dead buried right under the hotel whenever the elevator goes all the way to the bottom floor.  Because of how you see the river being released (it squeezes itself out of the side) it also serves as a vivid metaphorical reminder.  Though we may try to ignore the genocides of the past, they can never be truly concealed.

When Room 237 is not asserting that the film is about the bloody legacy of American settler-colonialism (hard to argue with that when you consider all the symbolism), it’s pointing out weird connections to The Holocaust.  I mentioned the German typewriter earlier.  The eagle symbol was appropriated by the Nazis.  The more Jack Torrance types on it, the more genocidal he becomes.  I wouldn’t dare spoil all the other fascinating details of this particular theory.

However, I have to mention this other one which is nuts.  One commentator who might require a thorough mental examination believes that Kubrick faked the footage of the historic Apollo 11 moon landing, even though he believes the mission itself was real.  How does he arrive at this conclusion?  Well, there’s the 2001 connection.  Plus, he thinks the Apollo footage was done through a technique called “front projection”.  (He claims experts back him up but they’re not named nor do they appear in the film.)

Furthermore, in The Shining, Danny is wearing an Apollo 11 sweater.  The ball that gets thrown to him leads him to Room 237 which he argues is the “moon room” based mainly on two things:  1. the distance between Earth and the moon is 237,000 miles and 2. the tag on the door that says “ROOM No.”.  He finds the small “o” to be curious.

There’s much more but it’s obviously nonsense.  Near the end of the film, the invisible commentator reveals himself to be rather paranoid.  I don’t think the IRS gives a shit about your crackpot assertions.  That said, you can’t say his misguided comments aren’t humourously imaginative.

Perhaps the most surreal moment in Room 237 is an experiment.  One commentator decided to have the beginning and the ending of The Shining playing simultaneously through a technique known as superimposition.  The results of this crazy idea are fascinating and spooky but also suggest a lack of a social life.

There are so many far-out ideas and revelations in Room 237 (The Shining’s connections to 2001 and other Kubrick films, Disney’s animated Three Little Pigs and other fairy tales, the number 42, that skiing poster, Jack reading Playgirl in the hotel lobby) that it manages to make you appreciate Kubrick’s achievement that much more, even if he didn’t necessarily intend what the commentators believe he did.  Although The Shining got terrible reviews during its initial release (pause that article to read a brutally succinct assessment of Shelley Duvall’s deeply underrated performance as Mrs. Torrance), like 2001 which initially faced similar resistance from professional critics, it has since become a towering influence on cinema and pop culture in general.  (For instance, when I was a college DJ, on our playlist there was an actual alternative rock band called Mrs. Torrance.)

Unlike the two survivors in the film, those who repeatedly watch The Shining looking for alleged secrets not yet exposed, like the mysterious, passionately devoted commentators in Room 237, will find themselves trapped in a “dream world” they can never truly escape.  How fitting that a perfectionist filmmaker obsessed with every small detail has inspired the most devoted of his supporters to excavate them with the same dedication.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, February 18, 2018
7:21 p.m.

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Published in: on February 18, 2018 at 7:21 pm  Leave a Comment  

Warm Bodies

When we first meet R, the hero of Warm Bodies, he’s having an existential crisis.  In the midst of an 8-year apocalypse, his days are filled with boredom and loneliness as he lumbers around an airport all day with all the other “corpses”.  When he’s not wandering around aimlessly imagining what life was like for the people he encounters he retreats to an airplane where he chills out to old vinyl hits like John Waite’s Missing You & Guns N’ Roses’ Patience and looks at all the items he’s collected and treasured.

He’s been in such a state for so long he doesn’t know who he is anymore.  He has no past.  (He doesn’t even remember his full name, just the first letter.)  But little does he realize, he does have a future.

As played by a grown-up Nicholas Hoult (About A Boy), he is internally thoughtful and neurotic (with considerable effort, he can only say a couple of words out loud at a time) but sadly not terribly funny or charming.  For you see, Warm Bodies is a zombie comedy and not a very good one.  Yes, there are a few laughs here and there (who knew R liked US Weekly?) and at least one good scare, but not nearly enough of both to sustain your full interest.  Zombieland is better.

R’s life changes forever when he meets Julie (Teresa Palmer), a pretty blonde trained as a soldier by her stern, emotionally detached father (John Malkovich) ordered to go on a mission to retrieve pharmaceuticals in a dangerous part of town with a team that includes her indifferent boyfriend (Dave Franco).  R & his very hungry band of corpses (zombies who still look and sort of sound human) unexpectedly barge in the lab as they’re gathering materials.  Unbeknownst to R, his actions put Julie back on the market.

Corpses don’t sleep and have no memories, but if they eat the brains of their victims, they can visualize their memories.  It’s because of this R gets some sneaky insight into Julie’s previous relationship and ultimately feels tremendous guilt.

Suddenly very protective of her, he basically kidnaps her and tells her to stay put in his airplane because it’s not safe out there.  She doesn’t listen and tries to flee.  His methods of courting are seriously flawed and awkward but he wasn’t lying about the dangers.  This isn’t the only time she attempts a foolhardy escape.

If it isn’t clear right away, it will over time that R is short for Romeo and Julie is his forbidden love with a disapproving father who wants to kill him.  For God’s sake, there’s even a goddamn balcony scene!  Her last name isn’t Capulet (it’s actually Grigio) but it might as well be.

As R draws closer to Julie, who becomes more comfortable once she realizes she’s in no real danger (even though she eventually succeeds in leaving him), he starts to feel and gradually become more human.  His fellow corpses collectively share a similar experience when they look at an airport photo of a couple holding hands.  Now if he can only convince his unlikely love interest and her stubborn father that while “boneys” (skeletal zombies) can’t be “exhumed” (they’re the cheetahs of the zombie world), there is hope for corpses.

Warm Bodies is the first zombie film I’ve seen where love, not an antidote in a needle, is seen as a cure, a potential reversal of population decline.  That’s a compelling idea, a rare bit of positivity in a genre that thrives so much on despair and doubt.  But the execution is lacking.  Hoult and Palmer simply aren’t believable as a couple (the irony of her having a closer relationship with a corpse compared to a living human being is a bit too obvious to be clever), especially once she learns why she’s suddenly single.  Shouldn’t she be, oh I don’t know, a lot more upset than she says she is?

The attempts at humour are mostly weak, although I have to admit Rob Corddry (who plays fellow corpse Marcus) gets off a funny line while trying to cheer up his best pal R.  Some of the musical choices achieve a similar result.  But the action sequences where the remorseless boneys square off against anybody in their way lack wit, not to mention urgency and excitement.  They’re not scary, either.

Because of the couple’s names, there’s little doubt how all this will resolve itself.  And because their relationship is forced, odd and not at all sweet, there’s no emotional pay-off in the end.  For all its admirable ambition, Warm Bodies is nonetheless too committed to its various ripped-off formulas to be truly, compellingly original.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, February 18, 2018
6:49 p.m.

Published in: on February 18, 2018 at 6:49 pm  Leave a Comment  

Just Cause (1995)

In Just Cause, Sean Connery plays an elderly law professor who hasn’t tried a case in 25 years.  A fierce opponent of the death penalty, he’s much happier in the classroom than the courtroom.

After he smokes colleague George Plimpton in a brief, entertaining debate on the subject during a college event in Boston he’s approached by a desperate Ruby Dee.  Her grandson, Blair Underwood, is on death row for the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl down in Florida.  She gives him a letter he wrote.  He says he’ll read it later.  She insists he look at it now.

She’s convinced he’s been railroaded because of racism and police brutality.  Predictably, he turns her down.  If he changes his mind, she’ll be at the bus station in a few hours waiting to go see another respected law professor in New Jersey.

Inevitably, Connery will indeed stop her before she leaves Boston.  That’s because his much younger wife Kate Capshaw, a former lawyer herself now trying to help juvenile delinquents, insists on looking into the case.  We find out why much later on.

Eight years ago, Underwood was taken in custody by a redneck cop who then proceeded to beat him during an interrogation.  His superior, Laurence Fishburne, then forced a confession out of him by improbably employing a technique famously used in The Deer Hunter.  It takes quite a while before we realize why.  This whole sequence feels more cartoonish than brutal.

Upon visiting him in prison, Connery is immediately suspicious.  After Underwood pretends to act ignorant before revealing his highly educated self, the professor asks him point blank, “What’s your game?”

Unfortunately, Connery’s justifiable scepticism fades rather quickly as Underwood recounts his 22-hour ordeal in police custody, already covered in his letter.  No nourishment, no liquid refreshment, no lawyer, no permission to use the bathroom.  Connery is shocked that the cop that forced him to cop is Black himself.

When Connery meets Fishburne, his redneck partner, and later Ned Beatty, the shoddy lawyer who gave Underwood a pitiful defense, and the coroner, his doubts about Underwood’s guilt grow.  There’s no evidence of rape, no murder weapon, no DNA, no physical evidence whatsoever.  Beyond the forced confession, all the police have on Underwood is that his car was spotted outside the school where the young girl was snatched.

Then, Connery encounters Ed Harris, a genuinely scary death row inmate who Underwood claims is the real killer.  Harris is basically another Hannibal Lecter, whip-smart and depraved, a master of manipulation who hooks the foolish Connery right from the start, but with one notable exception.  Whereas the most famous character from The Silence Of The Lambs was always calmly in control, the super religious, compulsively artistic Harris has sudden, loud outbursts of rage.

Harris gives Connery an important clue which eventually leads to the discovery of the murder weapon, a knife.  The fact that the police and dozens of volunteers could not find it in 1986 when it wasn’t exactly cleverly hidden is embarrassing and puzzling.  They just weren’t thorough enough which feels highly unlikely.

Harris likes to write the families of the victims he tortured describing his long list of crimes and sure enough, Connery conveniently spots a letter to the parents of the 11-year-old murder victim.  When it’s read out loud in court in front of them during an appellate hearing, it does what it’s supposed to do.

But the movie has only been running for an hour which can only mean one thing.

I missed Just Cause during its modest theatrical run in early 1995 and never found time to catch it on video later that year.  Now that I’ve finally seen it more than 20 years later, I have a lot of problems with it.

Let’s start with Fishburne’s character, the shady cop who profiled Underwood based on next-to-no evidence and a pure hatred of his leading man looks.  His consistent hostility towards Connery makes him highly suspicious for a while which turns out to be an annoying red herring.

When Connery visits him at his house, he discovers that the murder victim was friends with his now adult daughter who wants to become a lawyer herself.  (Fishburne later admits the white girl was like a daughter to him.)  He spots a framed picture of them as kids in the living room.  That’s a pretty big ol’ conflict there.  How was Fishburne allowed to lead the investigation without raising any red flags?  Why no demands for recusal?

Also, without coming right out and saying it, once all is eventually and predictably revealed, it’s as though the film is trying to belatedly justify Fishburne’s unlawful treatment of Underwood which isn’t exactly discredited.  Fishburne may downplay the violence but he doesn’t outright deny it, either.  By the end of the movie, this is all magically disappeared.  How can he say he can sleep well at night with a straight face?

Then, there’s Kate Capshaw’s involvement in Underwood’s history.  It turns out he’s been arrested before.  Capshaw was able to get him locked up for an extra day so she could quickly attempt to strengthen her case.  But she couldn’t so he was freed.  That’s a pretty big secret to keep from your dopey husband who couldn’t bother to investigate this himself.  I mean how do you not think to do a criminal history search?

Besides the huge age gap, the Capshaw/Connery pairing is awkward.  (A young Scarlett Johanssen plays their daughter.)  When we first meet her, we find out a troubled teen she’s been trying to help punched her in the face.  Connery asks her how she explained this to the judge since she’s trying to get the kid into some rehab program and she claims she said her husband beat her.  Is this supposed to be a terrible inside reference to Connery’s infamous Playboy interview where he seemed to justify domestic violence?  Horrible.

And what about the moment where it looks like he headbutts her as they embrace?  That’s just weird.

Blair Underwood’s a fine actor but the absolute wrong guy to play the central figure in this story.  From the beginning, his character is not very warm or trustworthy and once we know exactly what’s going on, it’s just not believable.  The inevitable heel turn doesn’t pay off.

Despite Harris’ effective performance as the malicious child minister, his motivations are questionable, as well.  I mean what does he care about Underwood’s dilemma?  He’s gonna die anyway.  Is he looking for some kind of twisted redemption or something?  It makes no sense.  Also, what’s the story with his parents?

And what the hell happened to Ruby Dee?  After Connery meets with her at the bus station following their impromptu meeting in the college auditorium, we never see her again.  Why?

Just Cause never hooks us with its convoluted, overly twisty story because we’ve seen it many times before and it lacks absolute conviction.  Connery’s character is remarkably naïve for an experienced law professor.  His bullshit detector malfunctions constantly.

There’s a strange scene where his car gets vandalized and as he’s looking inside the front seat he gets mysteriously whacked in the head with a baseball bat.  Is that supposed to explain his stupidity?

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, January 31, 2018
5:17 p.m.

Published in: on January 31, 2018 at 5:17 pm  Leave a Comment  

Volcano (1997)

In Volcano, Los Angeles is a city of contradictions.  Beneath its warm and sunny exterior lies an ongoing class divide and stubborn racial segregation.  While working people of colour complain about an old church being turned into a mini-mall and protest those who oppose the extension of a subway system into their neighbourhoods, rich white folks can test drive fancy vehicles, build tall apartment buildings and have their pick of plastic surgery options.

Meanwhile, quietly bubbling under the La Trea Tar Pits is a disaster in the making, one that the city is seemingly ill-prepared to contain.

Tommy Lee Jones, the director of the Office of Emergency Management in LA, is supposed to be on vacation.  He’s recently separated and babysitting his needy 13-year-old daughter (Gaby Hoffmann).  But his “Midwestern work ethic” can’t keep him away from work.

Soon thereafter, an earthquake hits.  A construction crew working on the subway extension take bets on its epicenter.  In the middle of looking after a recently admitted gunshot victim, an ER surgeon (Jacqueline Kim) has to keep an important piece of equipment plugged in.  And several maintenance workers have died mysteriously of severe burns while working in an underground sewer.

Even though charismatic geologist Anne Heche correctly deduces that all this is happening because there’s a previously undetected underground volcano on the verge of multiple eruptions, her lack of absolute certainty fails to convince a skeptical Jones to take preventive measures beyond clearing out a local park.

Very early the next morning, she takes along a doomed colleague to go into that underground sewer to collect samples.  But something goes horribly wrong confirming her suspicions.  (She could’ve just asked Jones about his own experience down below since he was there first.)  It isn’t until “lava bombs” start flying through the sky hours later that Jones himself finally gets the message.  But by that point, the damage is done.  Power is out throughout the entire city.  Traffic jams are everywhere.  Buildings are towering infernos while a slow-moving pool of glowing lava is making its way through Wilshire Boulevard.  When the disaster ends, 100 people will have died and thousands more will be injured.

Heckuva job, Jonesy.

Belatedly using his authority to coordinate as many law enforcement, emergency and military teams as necessary, he first has to figure out a way to stop the lava flow from going any further.  Then, when Heche tells him a second, much speedier eruption is heading towards a hospital that has so many patients many have to be treated outside, he has to determine how to redirect its mighty hot contents safely towards the ocean.

I have to admit it’s fun seeing balls of fire flying around causing serious damage to empty buildings.  However, it’s far less exciting following this hokey story.  Part of the problem is that it’s overplotted.  So much information comes at you in the first 10 minutes or so laying the groundwork for payoffs that never arrive.

Consider John Corbett’s character, a racist land developer improbably married to Jacqueline Kim, the compassionate Asian-American ER doctor.  He’s deliberately built his new apartment building directly across from a different hospital he wants his wife to work in.  He would rather she treat “tennis elbows” than gunshot victims.  Not only is it hard to accept their relationship (which is thankfully minimized to just two scenes), it’s also not convincing that she would encourage his 100 million dollar venture knowing full well that money would be better served improving her current workplace, an issue that’s never discussed.

Corbett is front and center at the subway protest complaining about the planned extension.  His rationale for opposing this sounds an awful lot like Donald Trump’s infamous campaign speech when he decried Mexicans.  But after this scene’s conclusion, it’s never addressed again.  And when his brand new skyscraper becomes part of the spontaneous plan to redirect the second round of lava to the ocean, he’s nowhere in sight.

There’s an awkward subplot where a Black man gets arrested by a much smaller white cop right in the middle of the developing disaster.  The man simply wants his neighbourhood looked after during the worsening crisis.  But the much wealthier white areas of the city, including a museum, get prioritized.  It isn’t until his considerable strength is called upon that he’s uncuffed and, thanks to his spontaneous service, suddenly allowed to ride a fire truck back home.  He’s never seen again and we never do find out how bad the damage is in his area.

Even more awkward is the scene where a small child notices that everyone looks the same when their faces are covered in volcanic ash.  I guess that’s supposed to pass for a kumbaya moment but it feels very forced, much like the moment where Heche admits she likes Jones which, thankfully, never develops into anything.

Because the movie is all over the place with its narrative, graphics are frequently used to tell us the time and place of almost every scene.  Did I say frequently used?  I meant excessively used.  (I think we can clearly see the Hard Rock Café sign, guys.)  Also excessive are the number of reporter characters who offer unnecessary play-by-play of what’s happening.  Instead of letting the clearly defined images tell the story we get Michael Cole wannabes (future TMZ jerk Harvey Levin and Fox News anchor Shepard Smith among them) stating the obvious over and over again.  (Only those with sight issues will appreciate the descriptions even though they’re not that colourful.)

Back in 1997, Volcano had the misfortune of arriving in theatres two months after Dante’s Peak, another bad disaster movie with a similar story that ultimately made more money.  Despite the strong cast which also includes a sometimes funny Don Cheadle as Jones’ second-in-command at the OEM, the film lacks genuine tension and palpable fear.  Plus, we’re simply not given enough good scenes with the characters in order to care about them and their dilemma.

Not nearly as bad as some critics like Roger Ebert believed (I don’t agree that the special effects are cheesy) but not nearly as good as the guilty pleasure Airport ’77, Volcano is disappointingly ordinary.  And yet there are moments that suggest a better result.

After Heche climbs out of the underground sewer, a bunch of poor folks start looting closed businesses.  (Remember, much of the movie takes place during early morning hours.)  At one point, she removes some of her scientific equipment and leaves it on the hood of a car.  As she tries to process the tragedy that happened just moments before, a looter runs by scooping up her shit.  She’s too sad to notice.

It’s the biggest laugh in a movie that should’ve been funnier.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, January 26, 2018
2:48 a.m.

Published in: on January 26, 2018 at 2:48 am  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)  

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)