The Entity

The Entity asks us to believe that a single mom of three is not safe in her own home because an invisible rapist keeps assaulting her.  Supposedly based on a real-life story (that has never ever been independently verified), the woman is played by the beautiful and otherwise sympathetic Barbara Hershey.

A widow from a previous marriage when she was just a teen (which bore her a son), she has two daughters in a common-law situation that sees her spending most of the movie without a partner because Alex Rocco is always off on business trips.  (He pops in briefly in less than a handful of scenes.)

While brushing her hair and putting night cream on her leg one night, she is suddenly slapped, thrown on her bed and smothered by a blanket while being raped.  Just as quickly as it happens, her assailant bolts.  And her life is never the same.  On four more occasions, she will experience similar traumas:  while asleep, while on her couch, while in her bathroom and while completely disrobed on her bed.

Each time, I was repulsed (because Hershey’s acting is very good and rape scenes aren’t pleasant to sit through, let alone experience) but highly skeptical.  Why would a poltergeist target her, and her alone, for such violations?

The entity, as it comes to be known, doesn’t just rape, you see, it also causes destruction.  It shakes mirrors, yanks out dresser drawers, dislodges shelves, opens windows and slams doors.  And it doesn’t restrict its torture to Hershey’s family home.  While driving one day, it suddenly takes over the pedals, almost causing her to crash.  When she makes her second trip to her friend’s house (while they’re just about to leave for a wedding reception), the invisible beast causes havoc in the living room in a matter of seconds.

Hershey’s friend convinces her to see a psychiatrist and that’s when the much missed Ron Silver enters the picture.  He becomes her chief caregiver and right off the bat, his Freudian senses detect bullshit.  Unfortunately, the movie takes Hershey’s side, swallowing the preposterous idea that everything we see actually happened in real life.  (The film is based on a novel that had already taken liberties with the original story.)

He thinks everything she’s experiencing is the result of a delusional manifestation brought out by long repressed childhood sexual trauma.  We learn her father, a minister, did not respect her boundaries.  She ended up running away to New York when she was 16 when she got pregnant by her eventual husband who later died in a motorcycle crash.  Her son was born after he died.

While in a bookstore with her friend, Hershey overhears a couple of men talking about a case that sounds similar to hers.  She befriends them and convinces the two scientists to investigate her house.  While passing by a mirror in her living room, it shakes.  For the rest of the movie, they use their early 80s electronic equipment to try to figure out what the hell is going on.  At one point, the entity sends out bits of harmless green light towards them.  Is that supposed to be threatening?

All the while, Silver is not convinced she’s in any real danger.  He thinks it’s all in her head.  That was probably the situation in real life since the real woman at the heart of this story was an abusive alcoholic who lived in a shack with her four kids (Hershey has three in the film) that had been declared condemned.  Twice.  By comparison, occasional wine drinker Hershey and her family live in a typical California middle class residence.  There’s very little dysfunction and Hershey does not exhibit any mental illness whatsoever.

Silver’s Freudian tendencies get the better of him when he suggests that maybe Hershey has hidden sexual feelings for her teenage son (who has undisclosed disciplinary problems at school and looks after his sisters while she takes typing lessons at night school).  He’s clearly reaching, a sign of stubbornness.  (He’s not too happy about the scientists who’ve taken over her case.)  No wonder this discredited school of thought has long since been discarded by contemporary academics.

He’s probably right, though, that Hershey has never fully healed from her father’s violations but the movie makes no connection between that and the poltergeist assaults.  In fact, by the end of the film, we still don’t know why this is happening.  After a disastrous lab experiment (conducted in a gym) that results in a couple of unintentional laughs, the entity suddenly figures out how to talk.  I wish it stayed mute.

Despite not being a good film, The Entity is really better than it should be thanks to two strong performances from Hershey and Silver.  Their conversations have a nice, natural rhythm that adds undeserved authenticity to a story otherwise wreaking of nonsense.  (I also liked the opening title music which also plays during the end credits.)  The assault sequences are technically convincing when it’s just Hershey and the invisible demon (except for the last one which suffers from obvious special effects) but when family members try to rescue her, the little suspension of disbelief generated from these moments immediately dissipates.  You know none of this happened in real life.  It’s just not possible.

Because this is nothing more than unresolved paranormal propaganda, unlike Martin Scorsese (who named this one of his 11 favourite horror films of all time in The Daily Beast), I didn’t feel all that terrified.  More than anything, I was confused by why I should take any of this seriously.  Put simply, maybe The Entity would’ve worked a lot better if it was as skeptical as Silver.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, February 24, 2017
3:39 a.m.

Published in: on February 24, 2017 at 3:39 am  Leave a Comment  

The Exorcist III

A young boy has been brutally murdered at the start of The Exorcist III.  Hardened police lieutenant George C. Scott (in a typically gruff performance) knew the 12-year-old victim as a member of the Police Boys Club.  They were friendly.  At first, the killing appears to be the work of a disturbed racist possibly obsessed with religion.  But as the film progresses, it’s clear that racism isn’t really a factor at all.

A stark improvement over the muddled, sometimes silly Exorcist II: The Heretic, which is wrongly considered one of the worst films of all time (it’s bad, but not that bad), how unfortunate that despite being better it’s still not good enough to recommend.

Scott has never really gotten over the death of Father Karras (Jason Miller), the young exorcist who sacrificed his life at the end of the overrated original.  Every year on the anniversary of his fatal tumble down the stairs, Scott goes to the movies with another priest, an old friend named Father Dyer (Ed Flanders) to see It’s A Wonderful Life.  Both do it to cheer each other up.

Their conversations are overly jokey (when they’re not spiritually philosophical) which would’ve been fun if they produced a lot of laughs.  One example: Scott grumbles about his visiting mother-in-law’s eccentric method of cooking carp.  She buys it alive and has it swimming in his bathtub for three days before frying it.  He hasn’t bathed at all during that time.  Who gives a shit?

In the meantime, there are more unexplained murders: a priest in a confessional and, after being hospitalized for what he says are routine tests, Dyer, himself.  The killer has drained the entire blood supply from Dyer’s dead body into over a dozen small plastic jars.  Early forensic reports reveal that one person wasn’t responsible for all the killings which deeply puzzles and troubles Scott and his loyal team of investigators.

That leads him to the mysterious Patient X.  Locked up in chained cuffs in a secure wing of the hospital while connected to a device that monitors his brain activity, he was brought in 15 years ago after being found wandering around with no ID.  He has been catatonic during his entire stay.  When Scott gets a good look at his face (after hearing his name called out), he is startled.  Patient X looks uncannily like Father Karras. How can this be?  And how did no one else notice this before?

But then, while inside his dimly lit cell, X often transforms into Brad Dourif, who looks uncannily like The Gemini Killer, a depraved serial murderer executed by the state 15 years ago.  Dourif claims that he was given a second chance at life thanks to his unnamed “master” who somehow slipped him into Karras’ body without detection.  It has taken him years to become the new host.  He proudly takes responsibility for all the murders through long, admittedly entertaining diatribes. (Dourif doesn’t get nearly enough credit for his anti-hero charisma and conviction.)  Scott loses his cool at one point and breaks his nose.  Yep, this act goes unpunished.  He’s a cop, after all.

Eventually, we learn how The Gemini Killer, through Father Karras’ body, is able to continue his signature killings (decapitations, chopped off middle fingers, zodiac symbols carved into palms) without escaping his cell.  When you think about it, it’s rather clever.  Too bad it’s doesn’t produce a lot of decent, original, visual scares.  The walking on the ceiling routine we’ve seen before.

I’ll say this for The Exorcist III.  It is considerably restrained.  The most disturbing moments are often described, not shown.  That makes it more effective when it operates as a supernatural police procedural rather than the uneven horror film it ultimately turns out to be.  Its fatal flaw is that it refuses to divorce itself from conventionality.  Stripped down to the bone, it’s basically a so-so slasher movie with a twist.

The Gemini Killer threatens to escalate if Scott, a lifelong skeptic, continues to refuse to publicize his return to crime.  (Like Donald Trump, he craves press notoriety.)  At one point, even Scott’s teenage daughter is at risk.

This all leads to a rather disappointing finale that is heavy on the special effects and light on profound terror.  If that’s all it takes to win the day, then why didn’t it happen sooner?

By contrast, the original Exorcist is without a doubt incredibly frightening.  After seeing it in the theatre more than 40 years ago, my Dad, who is literally afraid of nothing, had to sleep with the lights on for an entire week.  It was only after going back to see it again that he eventually turned them off for good.

But when it isn’t scary, it isn’t interesting.  Regan, the possessed girl, is just another young damsel in distress with no real memorable character traits of her own.  (Only the devil makes her compelling.)  I don’t care about her mother’s acting career or divorce, nor Father Karras’ guilt about his mother’s death.  The only story that holds my interest is the ongoing battle between Max Von Sydow, the older exorcist, and Pazuzu, the demonic spirit that uses Regan’s physicality as a weapon.  When The Exorcist focuses on that part of the story, it’s terrifyingly brilliant.  When it doesn’t, the movie loses its edge, creating an infuriatingly uneven experience.

The Exorcist III is less frustrating to watch because it doesn’t aim for greatness.  (This is my second time seeing it having previously caught it at the theatre back in 1990.)  Its agenda is to make you forget all about Exorcist II and its baffling scenes of blinking lights, cascading sonic tones, James Earl Jones in a locust costume and Richard Burton’s blank stare.  On that level alone, it surely succeeds, which is a low standard to achieve.  Certainly, it’s less confused about its motives than the John Boorman fiasco.  Plus, it’s more intelligent despite going down familiar terrain.  It also contains this sharp zinger: “Jesus loves you.  Everybody else thinks you’re an asshole.”  And a welcome reference to Spaceballs.

But like the earlier sequel, it faces the impossible task of justifying its own existence, a common problem for horror franchises that refuse to die.  Based on writer/director William Peter Blatty’s novel Legion (incidentally, he died earlier this year), which dropped years after The Heretic, how could it possibly compare to the madness of William Friedkin’s disappointingly flawed original?

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, February 24, 2017
3:25 a.m.

Published in: on February 24, 2017 at 3:25 am  Leave a Comment  

Step Up Revolution

What happens when you expand upon an idea from Step Up 2: The Streets and combine it with a recycled love story from its predecessor?  You get Step Up Revolution, the dullest movie in the franchise thus far.

In Step Up 2, there’s a scene where a group of street dancers film themselves breaking out into an elaborate routine inside a subway train freaking out the unsuspecting passengers and alerting the local cops.  After fleeing without being arrested, they post the video online to get themselves a little buzz.

In Step Up Revolution, smug Sean (Ryan Guzman), a working class orphan like Channing Tatum in the first Step Up, leads another group of street dancers nicknamed The Mob (because they’re a flash mob, get it?) who orchestrate multiple public displays of dance, capture them on video and then upload them to the Internet.  Why?  To win a contest.

You see, if all their public dance videos can collectively generate 10 million hits, they win $100,000.  (We have no idea what they plan to do with the money.  Not that it really matters anyway.)  Curiously, they appear to be the only crew in the contest.  We never see any videos of their competition.

The best routine happens at the start of the film as the dancers file out of their parked cars and start dancing on the roofs.  But then things get a little over the top as low rider cars start acting like trained elephants at the circus, rising until they’re only on their back wheels.  As all of this is happening, a mostly mute graffiti artist (who you know will say something by the end of this movie), quickly puts together a multi-layered art display consisting of spray paint on several standing glass sheets.  It’s something of a calling card for everyone in Miami to see.  It’s not that great, really.

Somehow, this becomes the top story on the local news (which must mean this is a pretty boring place to live if this is the lead).  Reviews are mostly negative.  Two out of the three citizens interviewed for this report are more annoyed than impressed, which is how I ultimately felt about Step Up Revolution.

The Mob moves on to less memorable, mostly indulgent routines in an art museum (where they blend in with the paintings and sculptures) and a restaurant (where they wear masquerade masks).  Somehow, they’re always able to avoid being arrested for trespassing and being public nuisances.  Their stunts aren’t exactly tight, y’all.

After the parked car sequence, Sean meets rich girl Emily (a very stiff Kathryn McCormick who is no Jenna Dewan) at a daytime beach party and the quality of the movie dips considerably. They have zilcho chemistry.  She can’t get a drink at the bar (or recite a line with conviction) but can become a finalist in another contest to get accepted into a ritzy ballet studio.  (Dewan had a similar ambition.)  She’s one of five nominated students vying for a residency.  All she has to do is win over an impossible-to-please Mia Michaels, a judge from So You Think You Can Dance, the reality TV show that only seems to exist in order to cast these Step Up movies.

Sean works for her divorced father (Peter Gallagher), a cold-hearted real estate developer who makes the mistake of wanting to tear down Ricky’s, a favourite hangout of The Mob where they celebrate their successes (Sean never has to pay for drinks, for some reason), and other commercial & residential properties in that neighbourhood in favour of a gaudy tourist attraction.  (Sean is a waiter in Gallagher’s hotel restaurant.)

Traditional Emily is repeatedly told at the ritzy ballet studio that her technique is good but she lacks originality.  (How did she become a finalist, then?)  So Sean tries expanding her repertoire but he doesn’t really teach her anything new, to be frank.  He just holds her and lifts her and dips her.  She wants to join The Mob but Sean is worried she won’t be accepted because of the neighbourhood issue with her father.  Plus, Sean’s best friend, Eddy (Misha Gabriel) is immediately suspicious of her.  (Gallagher fired him from the hotel restaurant for being late to an employee meeting.  How villainous.)  So, predictably, they keep it a secret as Eddy rather quickly gives in.  They will both regret this decision.

Meanwhile, Gallagher is close to getting City Council approval for construction of his new tourist attraction which inspires The Mob to lead protest dances to save Ricky’s and all the other properties in their neighbourhood, much to the appreciation of the lazy residents there.  (How come these people don’t conduct their own traditional protests with signs and chants?  Like street dancing would be more effective?)  They stage a flash mob in the lobby of Gallagher’s office building (to a strange Radiohead remix) after pulling the fire alarm.  Then, without the approval of Sean, Eddy organizes a slightly more effective stunt during a gala for the project where The Mob neatly sabotages a video presentation (which unfortunately reminds us that Kathryn McCormick can’t act).  This is the only time they get caught and promptly arrested.

Freed from custody the next day (the movie is so disinterested in this part of the story there’s no follow through or resolution, it’s simply dropped altogether), Sean and Eddy come to blows and split up.  Before the foolhardy stunt at the gala (which disqualifies them from the online contest after being only a few hundred thousand hits away from victory), Eddy and The Mob discover the truth about Emily.  Afterwards, Sean fails to convince her he had no genuine role in the public debacle.  (A deleted scene on the DVD reveals he was against the idea from the start.)

With the situation looking bleak, can the neighbourhood still be saved?  Will Eddy and Sean make peace and reform The Mob?  Will Sean and Emily rekindle their boring romance?

Only a naïve child will be kept in suspense.  Step Up Revolution ends with one final dance protest that enlists the services of a number of cast members from previous Step Up movies including that guy that does a killer robot and Moose with his irritating exploding fist bump gimmick.  (We still don’t know the origin of his nickname.  I’m guessing it’s because he looks like one.)  It goes on forever although I did enjoy the breakdancing segment.

Call me crazy but I’m not sure the power of dance is so undeniable it could instantly melt the heart of a ruthless industrialist or that someone connected to a powerful ad firm would suddenly make an offer to a desperate dance crew once they finally stop protest dancing but the filmmakers are determined to have their obligatory, happy ending even if it completely lacks credibility.  If the anti-Dakota Access Pipeline water protectors started flash mobs, would that change Donald Trump’s mind about the project of which he has a personal, invested interest?  Wigga, please.

The Step Up movies have had a longstanding marriage with formula storytelling but you could always count on superb, sometimes innovative dance sequences to get you through the dull bits even if they weren’t nearly enough to overcome all this chronic predictability.  Up to this point, the movies have been slightly less than average.  Step Up Revolution, the fourth installment, is the first entry where you can’t even count on the dancing to alleviate your mental fatigue.  After the opening car dance sequence, the movie begins to drag considerably and despite a welcome moment here and there, you remain deeply disinterested in what you see overall.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, February 9, 2017
8:13 p.m.

Published in: on February 9, 2017 at 8:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

Step Up

Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan have such an obvious chemistry the moment they lock eyes for the first time in Step Up, it’s no wonder they ended up marrying in real life.  But because they’re trapped in a formula dance picture, the movie forces them to deny their feelings for a full hour.  And then it forces them to temporarily split up again just to make the final act more dramatic.

But that’s the problem.  Step Up isn’t dramatic nor romantic.  It’s routine business with otherwise entertaining dance sequences thrown in to fill out the overlong running time.

Tatum plays an adopted, street-dancin’ wigger with Black friends who steal cars for quick cash.  Dewan is a single-parented, classically trained ballerina in a bit of a crisis.  Her dance partner breaks his ankle and she needs someone to rehearse with before a big showcase that is crucial for her professional future.  Her partner is expected to recover in time for the performance.

Thanks to Tatum taking the fall for his friends after they all vandalize Dewan’s arts school upon leaving a house party (where Tatum gets into a fight with a jealous boyfriend over his Vanilla Ice-like dance moves with his girlfriend), his punishment is to perform 200 hours of community service there.  How convenient.

In the beginning, all he does is clean.  But after seeing Dewan, he wants to fill in for her injured partner.  (It sure beats vacuuming.)  She only agrees after some of her fellow students bomb their auditions with her.  (Really?  You guys can’t lift this tiny human being without falling?  Please.)

Inevitably, because they come from completely different worlds, it’s an awkward start.  She’s old school, he’s street.  She’s disciplined, he’s lackadaisical.  Tatum unsurprisingly quits right away before being shamed into coming back. (He has a reputation for giving up too easily.)  But eventually, over time, he commits, albeit up to a point (he tends to show up when he wants to, if he wants to, and not always promptly) and ultimately convinces her to do more of a hybrid routine for her showcase, something less stiff and traditional and with a group of dancers, one that the school’s director (the well-dressed Rachel Griffiths) openly considers risky.

Which, of course, is a good sign all will go well in the end.  But, of course, there are contrived complications leading up to that inevitable moment.  Dewan is dating a douchey pop singer, a fellow student, who uses their mutual DJ friend to get a record deal without bringing him on board.  The DJ friend, who is always suggesting music for her showcase routine, likes Dewan’s girlfriend but she too is dating a douchey pop singer albeit one a little older than her.

Both relationships are doomed to fail.  Dewan dumps the douchey pop singer for mistreating her DJ pal.  And her girlfriend spots her older boyfriend, the other douchey pop singer, making out with somebody backstage after they perform with the DJ friend at a club together.

When Dewan’s partner for the showcase performance recovers as expected, Tatum, knowing full well this arrangement was only temporary, takes the split personally.  He quietly mopes and refuses to take her calls.  Then, unsurprisingly, Dewan’s original partner gets hurt again, leaving her in the exact same position she was in at the start of the film.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what will happen next.

Step Up became something of a surprise success in 2006 as it would go on to spawn four sequels and put Tatum on the path to stardom.  How disappointing that the film itself is not surprising.  Consider the following:

Dewan’s mom is not supportive of her daughter’s dream, that is until we get close to the end when she suddenly remembers how important dancing is to her, a very familiar and not-so-sincere change of heart we’ve seen so many times before.  (Her dead father, a shipping executive who succumbed to cancer, was always on Dewan’s side.)  Her loud shout of “Bravo!” in the final act is a bit much and is classic overcompensation.

One of Tatum’s friends feels rejected when his wigger pal keeps bailing on pick-up games with him and his younger brother only to be sitting in the audience cheering him on during the showcase performance.  (Before then, he has a problem with rich white folks taking away his homey.)  Speaking of Skinny, the aforementioned younger brother, the second he steals a car from a notorious character in their neighbourhood, you pretty much know his fate is sealed.  By the way, that whole subplot feels completely unnecessary in a PG-film about aspiring teen dancers (it’s also not very well executed, if you’ll forgive the pun) but it’s one reason Tatum eventually makes peace with his hurt friend, yet another predictable moment.

And then, there’s Tatum’s hope to switch in his final year from his current public high school to this arts school that has changed his life.  But will he convince the always skeptical Griffiths he’s worth admitting?  Can the poor kid with nothing be accepted with all the rich kids who have everything?  It all depends on what his heart tells him to do in the final act.  Only those who have never seen a movie before will be shocked by his decision.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, February 7, 2017
9:07 p.m.

Published in: on February 7, 2017 at 9:07 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Marine

You know you can’t take much of The Marine seriously when even the villains are joking around.  Released in 2006, it was meant to kickstart John Cena’s acting career only a year and a half after he won his first WWE Championship.  What it actually did was set it back almost a full decade.

Overwrought and ridiculous from the opening frame, Cena plays the title character, an overzealous American soldier who gets honourably discharged for not waiting for back-up before singlehandedly rescuing captured POWs and blowing away their captors, one-dimensional members of Al Qaeda, during a mission in Iraq, an absurd scene that is both pure US propaganda and riddled with action movie clichés.  It’s thankfully the only anti-Arab scene.

Married to Nip/Tuck’s Kelly Carlson (here in a mostly thankless damsel-in-distress role), Cena’s the restless type, so he takes a crappy job as a security guard in a commercial building.  That leads to a confrontation with a misogynistic rich asshole who gets thrown through a glass window for provoking the hot-headed veteran after he “slut” shames his ex-girlfriend in her place of business.  Delightful.

Belatedly realizing he needs a vacation, Carlson convinces Cena to go away with her for a while.  When they stop at a highway gas station/variety store, they encounter Robert Patrick and his diverse group of dimwitted thieves.  Earlier in the film, they pull off a major diamond heist in the least ideal way possible.  They don’t protect their identities, the chatty Patrick ends up killing an inside guy for saying his last name out loud, plus a few cops get murdered before they get away.  In other words, they will be the subject of a police manhunt for the rest of the movie, something that could’ve been easily avoided.  Unsurprisingly, one of those officers is on the take.

When a nosy cop approaches Patrick as he’s putting gas in the gang’s stolen getaway car, one of his cronies overreacts and starts pulling the trigger, setting off a chain of destruction that can’t be undone.  The cop’s partner, sitting in a law enforcement vehicle, is also shot but is spared by his bulletproof vest.  Cena takes a fire extinguisher bump inside the store while the clerk gets popped by Patrick’s girlfriend accomplice.  Then Carlson gets kidnapped which might make sense if they’re hoping to collect a ransom.  But since this crew is exceedingly stupid, they just bring her along for no reason whatsoever, guaranteeing Cena’s inevitable pursuit.  Why he isn’t killed is puzzling.  He’s their biggest threat.

In one of The Marine’s most awkward moments (and there are a few), Patrick literally makes a play for Carlson while they’re hiding out in the woods.  His girlfriend is literally yards away when this happens.  Carlson wonders what the fuck he’s doing.  I’m wondering what the screenwriters were thinking.  In another scene, Patrick’s trigger-happy, cop-killing crony relates a painful childhood memory about sexual abuse at the hands of his male camp counselor that ties in with his hatred of rock candy.  It’s played for non-existent laughs but it’s so out of place, again, I question the wisdom of its inclusion by the screenwriters, especially when you consider the WWE’s long history of allegations of sexual abuse.  (Vince McMahon Jr. served as one of the executive producers.)

When the film is failing to make you laugh, it blows shit up.  As Patrick’s band of cronies speeds off, the gas station explodes into an inferno and somehow, Cena improbably survives.  It will not be the only time this happens to him.  In fact, it happens so much it will remind his many wrestling detractors of his SuperCena persona in the ring.  Cena gets beaten so much in this film, it’s a wonder he can still recite dialogue.

While chasing the diamond thieves in a commandeered cop car with no windshield, Cena manages to avoid getting hit a single time despite being bombarded by machine gun fire at close range.  How is this possible?

There’s a weird subplot where Cena gets captured by a couple of paranoid rednecks in the woods who wrongly mistake him for a cop.  (Guess they thought they were in 12 Rounds.)  We have no idea what they’re up to.  Despite tying him up, the ex-marine manages to get out of this strange situation rather easily.  His character must be a Van Damme fan.

Shortly thereafter, he gets back on track and finds the thieves & his wife who are hiding out in what looks like an abandoned cabin bar.  (Patrick and company have to wait for the cops to disburse before moving in.  They’re not the only dumb characters.)  As a couple of baddies go outside one at a time, Cena takes each of them out.  One even gets chokeslammed.  Carlson manages to temporarily free herself from her less than secure rope restraints and kick a little ass before being recaptured.  And yep, Cena manages to survive another explosion without suffering in the slightest.  More ridiculousness awaits in the typically overblown finale.

Vince McMahon Jr. got lucky with The Rock who remains one of the biggest movie stars in the world.  But he has long struggled to have other wrestlers on his roster achieve similar success.  Cena would follow The Marine, his worst movie, with so-so efforts 12 Rounds and Legendary, and his second-worst offering, The Reunion.  For a while it looked like he was the next Hulk Hogan, a massive wrestling star who couldn’t translate to movies.  But thanks to a funny cameo in the otherwise dreadful Daddy’s Home and acclaimed supporting roles in Trainwreck and Sisters, things are looking up for him.

Whatever stops him from making another Marine movie.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, February 7, 2017
8:48 p.m.

Published in: on February 7, 2017 at 8:48 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Purge: Election Year

Maybe we deserve a movie like this, one that dramatizes even in an exaggerated way how corrupt our politics have become.  Maybe we need to be reminded that when we allow governments, police departments and militaries to commit heinous acts of violence without consequences, this leaves the door wide open for future atrocities and inspires ordinary citizens to dehumanize at will.  And maybe we shouldn’t be surprised when this becomes general fodder for a pop culture supremely hostile to people who aren’t white and rich.  This is what happens when we don’t push hard enough for justice in the real world.  The wicked go unpunished and bad filmmaking gets rewarded.

If you’re keeping track, this is the third movie about an insane annual holiday implemented by far right religious fanatics who have hijacked the American federal government rebranding themselves The New Founding Fathers, which sounds like a heel tag team on Raw.

In the opening scene, a young girl is the sole survivor of a Purge massacre that eliminates every other member of her family.  (Why is she spared?  I have no idea.)  18 years later, she’s a US Senator running to become President.  Naturally, she’s opposed to The Purge but she’s running against an administration that has been in power for decades and has not suffered in the slightest for instituting a policy that disproportionately targets the poor and people of colour, although supposedly after all this time, it’s now suddenly a massive controversy.  A TV news anchor reports “dozens” of protests which seem a little small and late after all this time, quite frankly.  God knows these protests didn’t exist in the earlier films in this series, minus a few outspoken online rebels.

The NFF has long viewed The Purge as cathartic and cleansing, a way for Americans to purify and wring out their sin-soaked souls.  (How it survived non-existent court challenges, we’ll never know.)  But their grip on power is slipping which has them spooked.  For this year’s officially sanctioned 12-hour slaughterfest, it’s painfully obvious what needs to be done.  Only one murder needs to happen.

In the meantime, because of this supposed, belated backlash against The Purge, for the first time ever, no one is safe from danger.  If citizens want to off government officials, have at it.  (Maybe I’m daft but I don’t recall this earlier restriction in The Purge: Anarchy.)  Remember, all crimes committed between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. on March 21 (or 22, I don’t always remember the date correctly) are immune from prosecution.  This newly expanded policy is a desperate and doomed attempt to counter the growing evidence that most of the targeted victims are the poorest of the poor with little means to protect themselves and a sure sign of inevitable defeat for the NFF, one way or another.  No authoritarian government ever gives up power willingly or survives.

As always, we briefly meet a few, thinly sketched characters a couple days before the shit goes down.  Forrest Gump’s Mykelti Williamson is a variety store owner, J.J. Soria is his loyal employee, a formerly undocumented Mexican who became a citizen two years ago, Betty Gabriel is a loyal customer who tries to help the wounded on Purge night and Frank Grillo returns as the ex-cop who almost Purged over the death of his son in Anarchy.  This time, he’s the constantly paranoid chief of security for the Senator (Elizabeth Mitchell in her sexy specs), the aforementioned Presidential candidate, who decides to stay home during The Purge.

Grillo’s not happy about this and with good reason.  As it turns out, there are traitors on his security team.  As the NFF’s military goons, led by a white supremacist with bad facial tattoos, infiltrate the Senator’s pitifully protected residence, our two heroes barely sneak their way out but not before Grillo takes a bullet in the chest when they think they’re in the clear.  It’s only later he realizes why he was shot and not killed.

They eventually get tazed by a bunch of “murder tourists”, foreigners who have specifically travelled to the States to become willing participants in The Purge, but like many a villain in a James Bond film, they yak too much which gives Williamson and Soria plenty of time to wipe them out before they hand the election over to the NFF.  (They first spot them on the roof of their variety store which faces its own threats.  An obnoxious teen who gets caught trying to steal a candy bar (I’m not making this up) uses that as an excuse to lead an attack on Williamson’s business.)

As always, Purging incidents provide the ugly soundtrack and background visuals for most scenes as our main characters walk around and ride around looking for a safe place to hide until the 12 hours of brainless mayhem are up.  None of these moments are particularly scary.  How can they be when none of this is particularly different from the earlier chapters in this series.  As I noted in my review of Anarchy, it’s Assassination Porn and nothing more.

The Senator is determined to stop a secret rebel plot to assassinate the NFF’s leader, a super-religious conservative who enjoys making Purge sacrifices in church with his followers watching ever so intently, because she’s worried he’ll turn into a martyr.  (She also worries America is “losing its soul”.  That ship has sailed, Senator.)  The true legality of such a killing is never a concern.  And again, that’s been my biggest problem with this franchise.  It seems highly unlikely that such a murderous policy would ever be legal without a ruthless resistance in the first place.  When you consider the worldwide outrage over President Donald Trump’s Executive Order to temporarily end the influx of refugees from seven mostly-Muslim countries, which has thus far been curbed because of a court ruling, the idea of a Purge happening is very remote indeed.  That said, any politician who thinks the soul of a country can be saved after it allows such a terrible policy to flourish for a quarter century is kidding themselves.  You can’t revive what’s already dead.

The Purge: Election Year ends pretty much the way you expect it, although I am wondering why Election Day is in May and not November.  At any event, it seems pretty clear that we’re not yet finished with this thin, brain-dead concept.  Another resistance is brewing.  Too bad it’s not a real-life protest against this junky franchise.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, February 7, 2017
7:20 p.m.

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

Dirty Wars

I could never do Jeremy Scahill’s job.  Genuinely bored by the mundane nature of everyday civilian life in Brooklyn, New York, the muckraking journalist frequently throws himself into the most dangerous of environments – Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia – not just for the adrenalized thrill of working in war zones, but for a deeper purpose, a faint hope that his work will lead to the possibility of accountability and justice for otherwise silent victims.  He is obsessed with doing the right thing which drives his relentless reporting.  He is either courageous beyond words or foolish in the extreme considering all the risks involved and the non-existent rewards for such actions.  Then again, to be a war correspondent, you have to be both.  I am neither and sadly, I’m not alone.

In Dirty Wars, his extraordinarily harrowing documentary about America’s secret war on Muslims, he brilliantly exposes a racist, sexist foreign policy in the grips of absolute chaos and disorder.  Begun by President Bush shortly after 9/11 but expanded beyond reason by President Obama, the so-called Global War On Terror has forever changed the nature of armed conflict.  No longer restricted by Congressional approvals and country boundaries, the United States Government sees the entire world as a battlefield where secret mercenaries under their control and absolute support do most of the invading, torturing and murdering with zero oversight and little understanding for the inevitable blowback such depraved actions will inspire in the future.  No one can stop them, not even the feckless United Nations who go curiously unmentioned.  A list of people to be exterminated, including Americans, keeps growing and growing without any due process for them whatsoever.  As Scahill notes, “The War On Terror is a self-fulfilling prophecy.”  A terrifying, ongoing cycle of death and destruction.

Unconscionable war crimes are common.  Innocent families are ripped apart by night raids targeting the wrong houses.  Drone strikes obliterate the young and the old because of bad intelligence.  A Yemeni journalist is locked up for embarrassing Obama with damning truth and kept there at his insistence.  (He was eventually released years after this film’s 2013 release.)  Cover-ups for all this American misconduct are alarmingly routine.  And almost never punished.

Sounding and looking numb from all the unjustified horror he’s observed and reported on for over a decade, Scahill nimbly reveals through his dry narration and reporting the human toll American bombs, drones and machine gun bullets, not to mention physical violence, have taken on decimated Middle Eastern families.  All of this material is already covered superbly in his epic companion book.  But the movie does what the printed word cannot.  It allows Obama’s Muslim victims to personally voice their painful first-hand accounts directly to the audience.  As a result, Dirty Wars sears your soul and leaves you wrecked and lacerated.  It should haunt Obama for the rest of his life.

You’re struck by all the young children you see, many of them with blank, angry faces.  Too young to fully comprehend why their brothers, their sisters, their grandparents and their own parents have been murdered by America.  But heartbreakingly aware of their absences nonetheless.  You can’t help but wonder.  Are they next?  It’s not an irrational thought considering how one ex-military general openly justifies attacking pregnant women.  One grieving parent pointedly observes, “If they think children are al Qaeda, then we are all terrorists.”  When a dead child is picked up by a relative in one deeply disturbing scene, the face forever frozen after being murdered by an Obama drone, there is no humanity left.  It looks like he’s picking up a lifeless toy doll.

The 16-year-old son of radical preacher Anwar Al-Awlaki is murdered by an American drone just two weeks after his father’s assassination.  The Obama Administration claimed he was “collateral damage” and not the central target.  Scahill suggests, not unpersuasively, they didn’t want to take the risk that he would eventually become an outspoken radical like his distant father who he was trying in vain to reconnect with when he was needlessly assassinated.  Scahill aptly refers to this as “twisted logic”.

As he traverses throughout battlefields both declared and undeclared in the Middle East, talking to broken families with many legitimate grievances against the American military and a couple of scary Somalian warlords fully backed by the USG, Scahill becames a political detective, slowly putting together some uncomfortable puzzle pieces that get him closer to understanding “the unseen war” not reported on by embedded journalists safely ensconced in the Green Zone, a story he himself had missed for years.  He even has a bulletin board where he pins all the evidence he’s collected thus far.

It is a lonely, thankless task.  Politicians in Washington don’t care about his findings.  There’s a startling scene where he testifies in front of one Democratic Congressman and his staffers in an otherwise empty room during a televised committee hearing.  FOIA requests go nowhere.  Few government officials including military personnel are willing to go on the record to pass on damning revelations to him.  There are clips of him facing hostility on cable news shoutfests.  Even unfunny Jay Leno gives him a hard time.

Scahill ultimately realizes that the White House has its own secret military, JSOC, which it employs out of the prying eyes of journalists and everybody else to dozens of countries for activities of “questionable legality”, as one rare, anonymous, voice-altered whistleblower puts it.  It is immensely difficult to learn much about them because the Obama Administration at first refuses to even acknowledge their existence.  (Their history dates back to the botched mission to rescue the hostages in Iran during the Carter era.)  One Pentagon official during a press briefing plays dumb claiming with a straight face that suggesting such a thing is the work of an imaginative conspiracy theorist.

But then Osama Bin Laden is assassinated.  “So much for secrecy,” notes a surprised Scahill as JSOC are outed and suddenly seen as heroic figures by the media, agenda-minded politicians and the gullible, celebratory public.  Now they’re openly given free reign to invade other countries which they were already doing under quiet order by President Obama.  Hero worshipping murderers gives them undeserved immunity.

Dirty Wars manages to cover a lot of treacherous ground in less than 90 minutes.  It is an urgent call to reconsider the damage America is doing to the entire planet.  It rightly questions the usefulness of an endless war, one that can continue seamlessly from administration to administration regardless of party affiliation in perpetuity because war crimes lead to angry Muslims revolting who suddenly get placed, without any solid evidence, on a secret kill list.  And there is literally no legal mechanism to stop it.

This movie repeatedly socks you right in the gut and leaves you weary about the coming storm America’s actions will eventually invite.  Nominated for a Best Documentary Feature Oscar, it is essential viewing.  And now with Donald Trump about to acquire all of these authoritarian powers from Obama, how much worse is it going to get?

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, January 15, 2017
6:10 p.m.

Published in: on January 15, 2017 at 6:10 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Lows Of 2016

1. David Bowie died of cancer two days after releasing his final studio album.  First, there was collective denial, then absolute shock and sadness.  His unexpected death set the tone for a miserable year.

2. Donald Trump is the 45th President of the United States.  How much considerable, irreparable harm will he cause to the world?

3. Daniel Bryan retired from the WWE due to severe, unrecoverable injuries.  He was looking like the next John Cena.  Now he’s reduced to being a powerless “authority” figure on Smackdown, a supporting player on a reality show and a punching bag for The Miz.

4. Jian Ghomeshi isn’t in prison.  Rape culture is real.

5. The Fort McMurray fire in Alberta.  Such devastation.  It will takes years to rebuild.

6. Fifty Shades Of Black.  A horrifically unfunny “parody” of Fifty Shades Of Grey.  No more Marlon Wayans movies.  Please.

7. Gord Downie’s terminal brain cancer diagnosis.  May he live as long as he can and make as much good music as he is able.

8. The armed protest at the Oregon Wildlife Refuge.  What exactly did it accomplish other than mass ridicule?

9. The rise in racist hate crimes against Muslims, trans people, gays, Black people, Jews, Palestinians and Indigenous communities worldwide.  White supremacy needs to die already.

10. Mr. Fuji died.

11. Gitmo is still open.

12. CM Punk lost his first UFC fight in the first round.  Years ago, Brock Lesnar lost his first fight as well and went on to become World Champion.  So there’s still hope for The Straight Edge Superstar.  He’ll be back.

13. Krystal on Canada’s Worst Driver 12.  An unrepentant narcissist who is an absolute maniac on the road.  The sooner her license is permanently suspended, the better.  Host Andrew Younghusband deserves a Nobel Peace Prize for tolerating this phone-addicted brat as well and for as long as he did.

14. The phony “Bernie Bro” smear from Clintonistas desperate to keep the Vermont Senator from becoming the Democratic nominee for President.  Not only did this erase the millions of women who supported Bernie Sanders (especially Hillary Clinton’s numerous feminist critics and women of colour), it was dastardly and downright insulting.  In the end, Donald Trump is the next US President, so good job, you stupid idiots.

15. Gawker went bankrupt after losing a court case to balding, overtanned racist Hulk Hogan.  Fuck you, Peter Thiel.

16. The very funny Garry Shandling died.  He spearheaded two of the most influential sitcoms of all time:  It’s Garry Shandling’s Show and The Larry Sanders Show.  He was a great Emmys host, too, and a quiet mentor to so many other comics in need.

17. Prince died of a prescription drug overdose.  The incredible legacy he leaves behind which doesn’t even include the thousands of songs he never released.

18. Zack Ryder’s one and only InterContinental title reign lasted exactly one day.  Why do his pushes always seem like ribs?

19. Doris Roberts died.  Both Barones are gone now.

20. Brexit.  The United Kingdom isn’t so united anymore.  What other European nations will follow Ol’ Blimey’s risky lead?

21. George Michael died on Christmas Day.

22. The endless civil war in Syria.  So many villains who should be prosecuted for war crimes.

23. Palestine is still illegally occupied by Apartheid Israel.

24. Matt DeHart is still in prison.

25. The lack of justice for mostly Black and Indigenous victims of police brutality.  The racist status quo cannot and must not continue to protect murderers and torturers of the state.

26. James Ellsworth.  Enough.

27. Chelsea Manning attempted suicide twice (which she was punished for) as she continues to be persecuted and tortured with solitary confinement for exposing deplorable war crimes by the American government.  Release her immediately and let her transition already.  She’s suffered enough for her uncommon courage and conviction.

28. All the terrible films I saw this year:  Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, Pixels, Hot Pursuit, Bad Teacher, The Lazarus Effect, Get Hard, the Black Christmas remake, Johnny English, Johnny English Reborn, Damien: Omen II, Born In East LA, The Wedding Ringer, Identity Thief, The Heat, Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension, No One Lives, Night Of The Creeps, Bending The Rules, The Last American Virgin, Bloodsport, The Last Exorcism Part II, Killer Klowns From Outer Space, Basket Case, Krampus, Dolls, Jessabelle, Brain Damage, Wolfcop, The Haunting In Connecticut 2: Ghosts Of Georgia, Street Trash, Zombie High, We’re The Millers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990), Masters Of The Universe, Observe And Report, National Lampoon’s Van Wilder, Silent Night Deadly Night, Silent Night Deadly Night Part 2, Here Comes The Boom, Let’s Be Cops, Death Wish II, Death Wish 3, Death Wish 4: The Crackdown, Death Wish: The Face Of Death, Three Fugitives, Evilspeak, Ride Along, Ride Along 2, Knucklehead, Hatchet, Meatballs, Meatballs Part II, The Gallows, Daddy’s Home, The Out-Of-Towners remake, 22 Jump Street, Ted, Hotel Transylvania, Hotel Transylvania 2, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, The Funhouse, Critters, Critters 2, the Conan The Barbarian remake, Swing Parade, Africa Screams, At War With The Army, Check And Double Check, The Flying Deuces, Deathouse (AKA Silent Night, Bloody Night), The Smallest Show On Earth, My Favourite Brunette, The Perfect Score, Cheech & Chong’s Animated Movie!, And Now For Something Completely Different and The Great Rupert.

29. Only some Russian Olympians were banned from competition in the Summer Games in Brazil.  Why not all of them?  All their Paralympians were barred.  Why the double standard?

30. Cody Rhodes left the WWE.  Even he got sick of being Stardust.

31. MuchMoreMusic was yanked off the air.

32. New2You quietly closed its Lime Ridge location.  I bought so many cheap CDs there over the years.  I will miss it dearly.

33. Ryan Lochte.  What the hell was he thinking?  Oh right.  He wasn’t.

34. Russ Feingold wasn’t able to get elected back to the Senate.

35. “Iron” Mike Sharpe died.  Why isn’t he in the WWE Hall of Fame as a jobber?

36. Amber Heard’s damning testimony about her abusive ex-husband Johnny Depp.  She deserves better and he should be ashamed of himself.

37. The desperate campaign to outlaw the peaceful #BDS movement against Apartheid Israel.  Try as they may, AI and their Western governmental allies cannot stop the inevitable end of violent colonial Zionism.

38. Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds both died during the same week over the Christmas holidays.  Doubly sad.

39. Montreal lost in the MLS final to Seattle.  Boring game.  Penalty kicks are a terrible way to settle a scoreless draw.

40. The Chris Jericho/Dean Ambrose asylum match at Extreme Rules.  Too long and too slow.  No wonder the audience in attendance stayed quiet for most of it.  If it wasn’t for the thumbtacks, the ending would’ve been terrible, too.  Don’t expect this silly concept to be repeated.

41. The overcrowded announce table on Smackdown Live.  Does the WWE not realize that we don’t need three terrible colour commentators all at once?

42. 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers Of Benghazi.  Michael Bay reimagines the most politicized moment of the misbegotten Libyan invasion as a long-winded action epic.  No thanks.

43. The Undertaker vs. Shane McMahon at WrestleMania 32.  If McMahon hadn’t jumped off the top of Hell In A Cell, would anybody be even talking about this match?  And what was the point of the stipulation if it was never going to be honoured?

44. Radiohead finally released a studio version of True Love Waits and it’s dreary.  I prefer the more moving live version from the I Might Be Wrong EP.

45. My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2.  Exceedingly manipulative and annoyingly sexist.  I only laughed twice.

46. Ride Along 2.  Will Kevin Hart ever make a good comedy?  Just as bad as the original.

47. The constant, dangerous scaremongering about Vladimir Putin and Russia.  Democrats will blame anybody but themselves for their pathetic electoral performance this year.  Soul searching is not their strong suit.

48. Damien Sandow was fired from the WWE.  That’s not the way you treat The Intellectual Savior Of The Unwashed Masses.

49. The Forest.  The concept is far better than the execution, unfortunately.

50. Rodrigo Duterte, the psychotic leader of The Philippines, who openly admitted to murdering his citizens as part of his horrific War on Drugs.  No wonder he’s an ally of the American government.

51. The Liberals lied about the deal to sell weaponry to Saudi Arabia.  Now it’s up to a Canadian court to decide whether it should be honoured.  It shouldn’t.

52. The overblown incident in the House of Commons when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accidentally elbowed an MP from the NDP during a contentious vote.  Trudeau wasn’t the one who needed to apologize repeatedly.  When even feminists criticized the controversy, you know it was nothing.

53. Kellie Leitch.  Loathsome, dishonest, racist, elitist.  The perfect face for the modern Conservative Party of Canada.

54. Obama & Congress will give 40 billion dollars to Apartheid Israel to help it continue propping up its endless, illegal occupation of oppressed Palestinians over the next decade.  If Netanyahu’s truly upset about the Iran Deal and the USG’s refusal to veto the latest UN condemnation of illegal settlements, he’ll reject the money.  You know he won’t, though.  Because #BDS is hurting Apartheid Israel’s economy.  And Zionism needs welfare to survive.

55. The ongoing, heartless persecution of Palestinian activist and torture survivor Rasmeh Odeh.  End her ordeal and clear her name already.

56. No one has gone to prison for murdering Baltimore resident Freddie Gray.

57. One stubborn juror led to the mistrial of North Carolina police officer Michael Slager who murdered Walter Scott as captured on video.  It’s Rodney King all over again.  Even actual footage isn’t enough to get a conviction for a white cop killing a black man in America.

58. 49 people were murdered at a gay club in Florida by a man who may have been gay himself.  Awful, just awful.

59. The news media’s early, constant coverage of Donald Trump and his long-winded rallies without much scrutiny of his record during the Republican primaries.  Are you happy now, Les Moonves?

60. The ongoing suicide crisis in the Canadian Indigenous community.  We are failing these kids.  We must do better.  We must listen to their concerns and directly address them.

61. Kurt Eichenwald.  He supported the wrong Democrat.  He’s not to be trusted.  And he’s a whiny bitch, too.

62. For the first time in about half a decade, the WWE split its roster again by putting half on Raw and half on Smackdown.  Not only that, they’ve added more championships so now each show has its own World Champion, mid-card-Champion, Tag Team Champions and Womens Champion, plus show-centric pay-per-views.  So lame.  Why return to such a failed concept?  The Raw vs. Smackdown rivalry is phony.  You all work for the same goddamn company!  No wonder your TV ratings suck so bad.

63. The failed coup in Turkey.  It gave authoritarian Erdogan every excuse to crack down on whatever democracy was still left in his troubled country.  Why hasn’t he been kicked out of NATO?

64. There wasn’t a single person of colour nominated for an acting Oscar.  Because of the public outcry, I suspect 2017 will be very different.

65. Media Matters For America going all in for a loser.  Still with Hill, jackwads?

66. Alberto Del Rio left the WWE.  Again.

67. The moral cowardice of Aung San Suu Kyi.  She doesn’t give a damn about the ruthless persecution of Rohingya Muslims in her own country.  Despicable.

68. Nat Turner and Casey Affleck are in contention for Academy Awards next year but face serious accusations of sexual assault and sexual harassment, respectively.  Turner faced a lot of scrutiny and didn’t handle it particularly well, while Affleck, a likely Best Actor nominee, just hosted Saturday Night Live and has routinely been given a free pass.  After decades of protecting Bill Cosby, the entertainment press needs to address this with Affleck directly.  Innocent lives are at stake.  Turner’s victim committed suicide.

69. The Nightly Show was cancelled just as it was finding its satirical voice in the insane world of American politics.  Comedy Central should’ve had more faith in it.

70. Bowie’s Blackstar wasn’t nominated for the Album Of The Year Grammy.  A huge, insulting oversight.

71. Muhammad Ali died.  He was an asshole to Joe Frazier but I’ll always respect his opposition to Vietnam.

72. Corey Graves and Byron Saxton at the Raw commentary table.  Absolutely no chemistry whatsoever.

73. Alan Rickman died.  He may have been a villain on-screen but he was a mensch in real life.  His public support for Rachel Corrie, an activist murdered by Apartheid Israel, should always be remembered.

74. The Wars on Drugs, Black people, Indigenous communities, trans, gay, lesbian & bisexual folks, sexual assault survivors, journalists, whistleblowers, prisoners, women, Sikhs and Muslims continues unabated.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, December 31, 2016
1:38 a.m.

The Highs Of 2016

1. Hillary Clinton will never be President of the United States.  When you run an incompetent, uninspired, foolhardy campaign, screw over your Democratic opponent and his left-wing supporters thanks to your corrupt political and media allies and then blame everybody else for your own neoliberal stupidity, you get what you deserve:  utter and complete humiliation.

2. Game 7 of The World Series.  One of the most competitive, unpredictable and exciting championship games not only in baseball history, but in the entire history of sports.  It is a damn shame Harry Caray never lived long enough to see his beloved Chicago Cubs end their notoriously brutal 107-year slump.  Cleveland blew it.

3. David Bowie’s Blackstar.  Released 8 days into the new year, I never heard a better album.  Poignant, cathartic, masterful.  He couldn’t have ended his recording career on a higher note.

4. OJ: Made In America.  An epic, thoroughly revelatory documentary miniseries that puts the travesty of the OJ Simpson double murder case in illuminating and often uncomfortable historical context.  Infuriatingly fascinating.

5. Mauro Ranallo joined the WWE as a play-by-play commentator.  It’s so refreshing to hear the actual names of wrestling holds being called again.  Now if only the company would find him a decent colour man instead of saddling him with three unimaginative seat fillers.  Where’s his Bobby Heenan?

6. Jerry “The King” Lawler blocked me on Twitter and no longer does colour commentary for the WWE.  This misogynistic sleaze wasn’t worth following or listening to in the first place.  He did me a favour.

7. Persecuted journalist Barrett Brown was finally released from prison.  May he continue to sing like the proverbial canary.

8. Iggy Pop’s Post Pop Depression.  You can never go wrong writing songs with Josh Homme.  Too bad he’s going to lose the Best Alternative Rock Album Grammy to Bowie’s Blackstar next year.

9. Leah Remini’s Scientology & The Aftermath series on A&E.  A fittingly skeptical companion to the excellent, eye-opening Going Clear movie I finally screened this year.  David Miscavige’s cult is in serious shit.  Time to stop treating it like a religion.  Revoke its tax-exempt status and start making indictments.

10. Portugal won Euro.  Ronaldo’s redemption 12 years in the making.

11. Roger Ailes was forced out of Fox News after being sued for sexual harassment.  Is his most famous political operation going to survive?  Let’s hope not.

12. Despite hundreds of ill-fated attempts, the CIA could not kill Fidel Castro who died of natural causes as an old man.  Will Cuba continue to fight against the scourge of imperialist capitalism?

13. Rob Riggle’s set during The Rob Lowe Roast on Comedy Central.  Absolutely killer.  The wretched Ann Coulter got it the worst.

14. Batman: The Killing Joke.  A surprisingly dark animated version of the graphic novel that deserved a more traditional and longer theatrical release.  Far superior to the disappointing Mask Of The Phantasm, it features a much stronger performance from longtime Joker Mark Hamill.  We could be spared the mercifully brief musical number, though.

15.  The #NoDAPL protest at Standing Rock in North Dakota.  A noble cause that is literally life and death for an already marginalized and brutalized Indigenous community.  We must all rally around these heroic water protectors.

16. Mohamedou Slahi was finally released from Gitmo.  The best-selling author deserves reparations and an apology for his disgusting torture at the hands of the United States government.  Absolutely shameful.

17. The Getaway by The Red Hot Chili Peppers.  They take five years now to put out new albums but the wait is always worth it.  Still funky and instantly accessible, even in middle age.

18. Corrupt, decrepit racist Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio lost his latest bid for re-election and was indicted by the Department of Justice.  The end is near for this fascist monster.  Finally.

19. The Triple Threat number one contender’s match between Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar at Fastlane.  Fantastic action despite the expected outcome.

20. Green Day’s Revolution Radio.  I’m glad Billie Joe Armstrong got sober.

21. The List Of Jericho.  Sheldon Cooper called.  He wants his funny gimmick back.  Uh oh.  I just made the list.

22. The Lazarus soundtrack.  Three more David Bowie gems.  Plus, Dexter sings!  A genuine surprise.

23. Canada won 22 medals at the Summer Olympics, 16 of which were earned by women including the hardworking soccer and rugby squads, their best effort in 20 years.  Penny Oleksiak, Andre De Grasse, Rosie McLennan and Derek Drouin were among the standout individual athletes who excelled in Brazil.

24. AJ Styles’ debuted at the Royal Rumble, feuded with Chris Jericho, Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns and John Cena, and became WWE Champion.  Superstar of the year.  His Extreme Rules match with Reigns in particular was filled with entertaining spots.

25. The AIDS Crisis and Greed Is Good episodes of CNN’s The Eighties.  There remains no cure for both.

26. Weezer’s “White Album”.  Their record sales may have plummeted but Rivers Cuomo hasn’t forgotten how to craft a catchy alt-rock sing-a-long.

27. All the good films I screened this year:  The Omen (1976), Misery, The Visit, Anthony Shaffer’s The Wicker Man (first version), Ginger Snaps, Crimson Peak, Fantasia 2000, Rockshow, Elvis: That’s The Way It Is, Mission: Impossible III, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, The Maltese Falcon (1931), Satan Met A Lady, The Desert Trail, the original Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, the original D.O.A., the original Psycho, Monterey Pop and Shock.

28. The Miz’ passionate promo on Daniel Bryan during Talking Smack.  The most entertaining mic work he’s ever done.  The Yes Man could’ve easily shut down his argument.  He walked off the set instead.  What a mistake.  The segment may have single-handedly revived the fortunes of the InterContinental Champion.

29. Game two of the Montreal/Toronto MLS semifinal series.  The first time Canada has gotten legitimately excited about mens soccer in 30 years.  An atmospheric juggernaut with plenty of goals, rain, smoky flares and suspense.

30. The Tragically Hip’s final concert on CBC.  Bittersweet and engaging from start to finish.

31. The Tragically Hip’s Man Machine Poem.  Certainly not their best offering but if it’s their final musical statement, it will certainly suffice.  After 30 years, they’re not afraid to experiment with new sounds and ideas.

32. The term “Divas” was finally retired by the WWE.  All women who wrestle for the company are now superstars like the men.  It’s about goddamn time.

33. Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte Flair for the renamed Womens Championship at WrestleMania 32.  Incredible spots, high drama, tremendous workmanship.  It should’ve been the main event.  An honourable mention to the ladder match for the InterContinental strap.  A fine exhibition for the future of the company.

34. The hour-long debate between “Donald Trump” and “Bernie Sanders” on @Midnight.  Hilarious.

35. Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool.  More melodic elegance as Thom Yorke beautifully mourns the end of his relationship to Rachel Owen who sadly died of cancer this year.

36. Kevin Owens.  Bam Bam Bigelow without the tattoos and better promos.  His elevation to the main event in just two years is a testament to his considerable skill as a performer.  And he’s Canadian.

37. Braun Strowman.  Turns out he’s much more effective without Bray Wyatt.  And he might be the fastest big man in the business today.  A monster heel with great potential.  He looks like he belongs.

38. WikiLeaks.  The #DNCLeaks and the #PodestaEmails exposed The Democratic Party for what it actually is:  cynical, snobby, clueless and neoliberal.

39. Watching Blu-rays for the first time.  Man, oh man, what a world of wonder I’ve been missing.  Thanks Mom and Dad!

40. The guy from Edmonton who found an escaped cat under a train and took him home before reuniting him with his relieved owner from Saskatchewan.  A Festivus miracle.

41. Hot Hot Heat’s final album.  A hooky farewell from one of Vancouver’s finest.

42. Nancy Grace’s Headline News show was finally cancelled.  Even CNN can’t stand her anymore.

43. The Last Man Standing match between Kevin Owens & Dean Ambrose at the Royal Rumble for the InterContinental title.  It’s no wonder Owens is World Champion on Raw now.  Stellar.

44. Kings Of Leon’s Walls which stands for We Are Like Love Songs.  It should be doing brisker business.  Not a bad song in the mix.

45. Smackdown started broadcasting live.  No more spoilers leaking out days in advance.

46. Billy Talent’s Afraid Of Heights.  Punchy and political at times, rocking and rolling all of the time.

47. Tom Mulcair was given a no-confidence vote by the NDP.  He was never a true socialist.

48. Bernie Sanders’ historic campaign for President, the most successful Jewish candidate in American history.  If it wasn’t for the Clintonistas, he would be moving into the White House next month.  They screwed him like the ignorant assholes they are.

49. Brooke Henderson won a major LPGA tournament as a teenager.  More success coming in 2017?  Let’s hope so.

50. Milos Raonic made the Wimbledon finals, a first for a Canadian tennis player.  Too bad he didn’t win.

51. The Golden State Warriors record-setting regular season win-loss record.  Unfortunately, Cleveland came from behind to snag the NBA Championship from them in the finals.  LeBron James will not be denied.

52. Mark Rylance upset Sylvester Stallone for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar.  Score one for the anti-Zionists.

53. Dean Ambrose cut up Chris Jericho’s silly Lite Brite jacket.  The Scarf Era has begun.  Drink it in, man.

54. Every Womens Championship match on Raw between Sasha Banks and Charlotte Flair.  The best TV rivalry of the year.  I don’t understand why the WWE doesn’t allow The Boss a longer title run.  She deserves one.

55. Pearl Jam is going into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame next year.

56. The #CureForKenza campaign.  This adorable little girl has a second chance at life.  May she make the most of it and thoroughly enjoy her childhood.

57. San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s National Anthem protest.  It’s a shitty, racist song and we don’t need to hear it anymore.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, December 30, 2016
11:41 p.m.

Tron

There’s a whole cult of denial surrounding Tron.  It failed to attract much support during its original theatrical release in the summer of 1982 because, the conventional wisdom goes, it was way ahead of its time.  People weren’t willing to open their eyes and embrace these early technological advances, they argue.  They were too scared to see the possibilities.  Plus, the special effects are great, they claim with a straight face.

As someone who enjoyed the film as a young child (my family rented it for one of my birthday parties), it does not please me in any way to report that more than 30 years since I first excitedly watched it with my equally excited friends on full-screen Beta that it is not this timeless gem die-hard supporters just can’t get enough of.

No, it is not a good film at all, not even on Blu-ray.

It takes 20 minutes for the basic purpose of the film’s plot to even emerge.  Jeff Bridges is a disgruntled ex-programmer relegated to running an arcade after being pushed out by rival David Warner who has managed to get a major corporate promotion for taking credit for five video games he didn’t make.  The only way Bridges can get compensation for any of his shitty creations – Space Paranoids? Give me a break – is through whatever meagre percentage of profits he can squeeze out for housing the machines in his arcade.

When we first meet him he’s trying to hack into his former company’s system to try to retrieve some mysterious, elusive file which he claims is the only evidence that can prove he’s the sole author.  Some quick, obvious questions.  Before writing a single line of code, didn’t he draw the tanks and Recognizers on sheets of paper so he’d have some idea what he would be animating?  Didn’t he generate any paperwork whatsoever?  Is it really believable that he wouldn’t prepare beforehand for the possibility of being ripped off?  I mean, honestly, this guy’s a computer genius?  By the way, he’s been trying to get justice….for three years!  Good God, man, have you ever heard of legal representation?

As he types commands into an old-school PC (always fascinating to watch in real time), the computer version of himself (who sounds more robotic and has a very girlish scream) is shown in one of those tanks ultimately failing to fight off said Recognizers, the least intimidating video game vessels ever created.  (They’re no Tie Fighters, that’s for sure.)  No longer able to hack on his home turf, he has to be snuck into his former employer’s building by former girlfriend Cindy Morgan and her current boyfriend Bruce Boxleitner who wears painfully nerdy glasses.  Boxleitner himself has been shut out of Encom’s computers because Warner is well aware of Bridges’ unauthorized hacking and is apparently operating from the Nixon playbook, which strangely doesn’t arose any suspicion from the company whatsoever.

But instead of deleting the evidence that would prevent Bridges from fully making his case against him, the Master Control Program, which apparently is the real CEO of Encom and is an unapologetic information addict (shades of the modern-day NSA), decides to just hide the fucking thing so it can’t be retrieved.  Oh right.  He dangles the possibility of its exposure to Warner in order to keep him in line.  Still, with Bridges determined to continue hacking, is it really worth keeping it for blackmail?

During his second attempt to infiltrate the system, MCP actually warns Bridges that if he persists he will make another dumb decision.  He’ll suck him into the computer world and force him to participate in crappy sports not realizing that Bridges is the Michael Jordan of video games.  (In an early scene, he sets a new record for the ho-hum Space Paranoids which features those same Recognizers he’ll be encountering throughout the movie.)

It’s within this dull, not so inviting world that Bridges meets a couple of “programs”, one of whom is Tron (also played by Boxleitner without the ridiculous glasses), one of the key elements to defeating the dopey MCP who rules this world like a dumb Hitler.

And this of course leads to the famous game sequences that have not aged particularly well.  There’s just no suspense.  After Bridges survives his electronic scoopball challenge, he refuses to finish off his opponent.  So Sark (the computer version of David Warner in a ridiculous costume) does it for him.  And just when he’s about to do the right thing by eliminating the victorious Bridges as well, the fucking moronic MCP stops him!  He reminds his overeager underling that he wants to give the “user” more false hope before he gets killed in action.

That’s right.  If Sark had just pressed that goddamn button sending Bridges plummeting into nothingness below the electronically collapsible game grid never to be heard from again, MCP would have nothing to worry about for the rest of the movie.  But no.  He lets him live.  For fuck sakes!

After Bridges, Tron and another program named Ram escape during the lightcycle game (it’s just not that impressive anymore), they become fugitives on the run.  Eventually, they hook up with Yori (Cindy Morgan’s computer program) who is hot and heavy with Tron which is meant to mirror Morgan and Boxleitner’s offline romance but makes zero sense in the computer world.  (Programs have sexual feelings?)  When Tron needs to communicate with the real-life Boxleitner they meet with Dumont (Barnard Hughes) who lurks all alone in a tower, twirls around while sitting in what looks like a giant bowl and wearing a very silly pope hat.

Inevitably, there is yet another opportunity for MCP and Sark to be triumphant over our plucky neon heroes but they fuck up yet again and well, I don’t have to fill in the blanks here.  You know how this all ends.  And it’s terribly underwhelming.

The cult of Tron truly believes this movie was robbed of a popular run back in 1982, that it even deserved an Oscar nomination for Visual Effects.  (Ha!)  But 1982 had much better science fiction offerings with superior technical achievements which have held up a whole lot better.  Consider the second Star Trek movie and the immensely popular E.T. for starters.  Then move on to John Carpenter’s creepy, underrated remake of The Thing before ending with one of the greatest films of all time, Blade Runner.

I mean just compare the stunning visuals of Ridley Scott’s dystopian, futuristic film noir masterpiece alone with the very dated and limited appeal of Tron’s harsh, primitive, angular computer graphics.  It’s no contest.  While the Blu-ray does a superb job of bringing out the reds and blues of these scenes (they have never looked more vivid), they also expose a considerable lack of imagination.  And because it’s a Disney movie, there isn’t much intensity in the action and torture scenes.  There’s also not much doubt how it will all turn out, either.

Throughout the film, I could not understand the motivations of MCP.  What is its actual purpose?  Beyond collecting international data & computer programs and making David Warner’s life difficult, why does it exist?  More importantly, it never feels like much of a threat to the world at large.  At one point, it casually mentions wanting secret information from the Pentagon.  Why?  To launch an attack?  Why is it acquiring all this knowledge electronically without any clearly stated objectives?  And what’s with all these fights to the death?  If these programs are such a threat, why not just delete them permanently?  Why the video game charade?

As for Warner, how is he able to get away with stealing Bridges’ creations without producing any new games for Encom?  It’s difficult to accept that his blatant fraud would remain undetected for so long by so many within the company.  A whole lot of idiots must be looking the other way the entire time.

None of this matters to Tron fans who care more about the film’s overrated look than its story which has been recycled and parodied for decades.  Falsely seen as some kind of cinematic oracle for the future, it’s really a routine story about a copyright dispute with uneven, less than dazzling effects and weak-ass action scenes.  Even the naturally affable Jeff Bridges is not enough to justify its unwarranted cult reputation.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, September 29, 2018
4:01 a.m.

Published in: on September 29, 2016 at 4:01 am  Comments (1)