Purple Rain

Purple Rain is all about seduction, how it spots you in the crowd, seeks you out and grabs you until you can’t resist despite some understandable reservations.  Look past the appealing surface and you will see uncomfortable darkness.  But it’s not so easy to let go.

It’s how The Kid attracts the immediate attention of Apollonia, even if he doesn’t always treat her with respect.  It’s how the womanizing Morris Day lures her with a career push even though she isn’t the slightest bit attracted to him.  It’s how he convinces the owner of the First Avenue club to consider dropping The Kid’s back-up band, The Revolution, as a regular act in favour of a girl group he’s putting together.

It’s how The Kid’s abusive father keeps his terrified mother from fleeing.  It’s why The Kid can’t help but imitate his misogynistic behaviour.  It’s how The Kid keeps The Revolution together despite grumblings about his tardiness, cold demeanour and not being open to band members’ song ideas.  And it’s how he captivates club audiences with his considerable charisma and untouchable musicianship, an indisputable fact that even Morris Day & The Time, Dez Dickerson and Apollonia 6 can’t deny.

It seems a bit of a stretch that Prince as The Kid would ever consider Day, as funny and as talented as he is in his own right, serious competition (are Jungle Love and The Bird, catchy dance members notwithstanding, even remotely in the same league as Let’s Go Crazy and When Doves Cry?) or that his audience would ever decrease but cinematic convention demands such a plot.  (His unwarranted jealousy of Day getting too close to Apollonia, however, is easily convincing.  He really doesn’t have anything to worry about.)  To the film’s credit, though, when The Kid’s club gig is on the line in the final act, it leads to the deeply moving title song where for once the audience’s tears feel genuine.  God knows it got to me, too.

Apollonia is a 19-year-old beauty who flees New Orleans, successfully avoids paying for a $37.75 cab ride, rents a room at the Huntington Hotel and manages to sneak her way into First Avenue where she becomes immediately transfixed by The Kid.  (She did not deserve a Razzie for her underappreciated performance.  Her facial reactions are spot-on.)  It helps that he’s in the middle of playing perhaps the greatest Prince song of all time, Let’s Go Crazy, which is a lot longer here than on the soundtrack.

After his set, when they lay eyes on each other for the first time on the floor of the club, the lust is palpable.  But so is The Kid’s eccentric playfulness.  As Morris Day & The Time take the stage, the odd one is right behind her one minute and then gone in an instant when she turns around.  He eventually convinces the naive goddess to ride with him on the back of his motorcycle where he drives her to a lake and in a very humourous moment, tricks her into stripping down to her panties in order to jump into the freezing cold water.  She’s mad but only briefly.  You got me, you sexy motherfucker.  Her shy smile gives her away.

His home life is much more turbulent.  The Kid has a terrible role model in his black father (a genuinely scary Clarence Williams III), a former musician and songwriter, who gets into terribly violent screaming matches with his petrified white mother (a mostly muted Olga Karlatos).  (The Kid gets whacked for attempting to intervene during an early fight.)  After one such incident, she threatens to leave.  But where would she go?  The Kid’s dad, often upset about her supposed inability to keep a clean house (what’s stopping him from doing it himself?), knows it’s a bluff.

The Kid knows this shouldn’t be happening but when Apollonia announces she’s joining Morris Day’s girl group, in a rage he smacks her with an open hand.  (She had just pawned a piece of jewelry so she could buy him a guitar he likes.)  Unlike his father, he’s instantly remorseful but a damaging pattern has been established.  A later confrontation sees him almost doing it again but he somehow manages to not follow through.  Like many abusive men, The Kid’s father attempts suicide after another unwarranted attack on his wife.  This leads to a violent temper tantrum, a surprise discovery, an exposed lie, and decidedly mixed feelings.

All of this built-up tension makes the performance of Purple Rain, the epic ballad he dedicates to his father, all that more powerful as The Kid, clearly realizing he fucked up, leaves it all out on the stage, but thinking afterwards, incredibly, that it just wasn’t enough either for the audience or Apollonia herself.  The film cuts between Prince’s gutwrenching vocals (you can feel his guilt in every note) and intense close-ups of the mesmerized clubgoers, some with tears in their eyes.  (I was emotional, too.)

My favourite reactions come from the club owner Billy (the effective Billy Sparks), particularly the second one where he nods in amazement.  Even he is impressed by what he’s seeing and hearing.  Having pushed The Kid to deliver the goods, he now knows he can’t fire him.  He’s too valuable to the club.

When The Kid returns for a more upbeat and triumphant two-song encore, even Morris Day is having a good time.  (Before even taking the stage, there’s a great moment where he cruelly (but hilariously) mocks The Kid’s family situation and then when no one is around, looks very worried about what’s to come.  It’s the only time he drops his phony playboy act, his metaphorical mask temporarily removed.)

Purple Rain is far from a perfect movie.  The camera is too tight on the famous Jungle Love dance.  (The leg movements are cut off.)  Even though there are no bad Prince songs (I even liked Sex Shooter, another undeserving Razzie “winner”) few are in the class of Let’s Go Crazy, When Doves Cry or the title cut.  We could be spared the scene where Day’s assistant Jerome disposes of an angry flame on his behalf (not all of The Time’s frontman’s antics are funny, in fact, he can be quite sexist).  The Kid’s mom is purely a victim and not enough of a fully fleshed character.  And you wonder if there should’ve been a darker ending.  Abusers are too easily forgiven in this movie.

That said, there’s no denying the deftness of this enterprise, the way the highly entertaining concert performances neatly tie in to the building off-stage drama, a point Gene Siskel first made back in 1984.

Prince was a unique talent in his time, a singer, a songwriter, a producer, a versatile musician who could shred as well as Jimi Hendrix and emote as powerfully as Smokey Robinson.  He could even out-James Brown James Brown.  (His on-stage athleticism had few peers like Michael Jackson.)  But he was also complex as evidenced by his thinly veiled cinematic alter-ego.  Note one weird scene where he pretends to be a puppet to dismiss Revolution bandmate Wendy’s early demo which he eventually turns into Purple Rain and another when he tries to kiss her cheek as a belated thank you during the live performance of that song.  Her awkward reaction is unmistakable.

Distant, indifferent and sometimes flat-out jerky, like Saturday Night Fever, Purple Rain’s protagonist isn’t a hero or a villain but a complicated human being struggling to stay sane and ruthlessly ambitious in the midst of so many bad influences.  Like the dance floor where Tony Manero shined in his famous white polyester suit, the First Avenue concert stage is The Kid’s most trusted shelter from his emotional firestorms.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, April 10, 2017
7:48 p.m.

CORRECTIONS:  The club is First Avenue, not 7th as I erroneously noted a number of times.  Also, it was Wendy, not Lisa, who Prince dismisses over a demo that forms the musical basis for the title song.  The text has been corrected.  My apologies for the mistakes.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, April 11, 2017
2:04 a.m.

CORRECTION:  Apollonia didn’t find a cheap apartment, she rented a room at the Huntington Hotel.  The text has been corrected.  I regret the error.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, April 11, 2017
3:37 a.m.

Published in: on April 10, 2017 at 7:48 pm  Leave a Comment  

Class Of 1984

In Class Of 1984, Perry King plays Mr. Norris, a music teacher not unlike architect Paul Kersey in Death Wish.  Both are idealistic in their non-violent principles to the point of heartbreaking blindness.  Both are men of peace unknowingly entering worlds of terror that severely test their personal philosophies.  Both are vulnerable to retribution because of the women they love.  And both reach their breaking points over the same thing.

The movie opens with Mr. Norris arriving at Abraham Lincoln High School on his first day.  Despite being the originator of Kurt Angle’s 3 I’s (“Industry, Intelligence, Integrity”), it is a troubled institution in serious decline.  The biology teacher (Roddy McDowell) carries a gun in his briefcase.  Students enter through a metal detector.  The place is littered with vulgar graffiti.  And no one seems to know what to do about Stegman (Timothy Van Patten) and his terrifying group of Nazi terrorists.  (Yes, the leader of a small group of unrepentant white supremacists is Jewish, a curious contradiction never ever addressed.)  Countless suspensions have only emboldened their criminal activities.

Stegman rules by fear and profits from depravity.  He is one of the most remorseless villains I’ve ever seen.  (Even the rapists in Wes Craven’s The Last House On The Left regretted murdering those girls.)  No one scares him and no one threatens him without consequence.  He is so arrogantly brazen that even after impressing Mr. Norris with his surprisingly good piano playing (Van Patten wrote and performed his own song), like the current President of the United States, he can’t accept being rejected for exhibiting such a snotty, rude attitude.  Mr. Norris, it turns out, is no pushover.  For the first time in his life, Stegman starts feeling insecure about his status.  He may no longer be untouchable.

Class Of 1984 doesn’t shy away from brutal violence as it repeatedly demonstrates just how menacing Stegman’s crew truly is.  Very briefly we meet a rival gang of black students who make the mistake of selling drugs at Lincoln High.  This means profits are down considerably for the white supremacists who also exploit teenage sex workers.  Stegman’s terrorists beat up one of their dealers in the school washroom and then later, they whollop the entire gang with weapons in an outdoor rumble near a bridge.  As a result, we never see these black kids again.

Give this movie credit.  It gets this point right.  Right wing fascism is the most dangerous phenomenon.

As Mr. Norris prepares his students for an important concert, Stegman oversees a bathroom drug deal that goes horribly wrong.  A bad batch of angel dust leads to a dramatic suicide.  Michael J. Fox (before he had to add the J to his name) plays the smart-ass yet sympathetic trumpet player who tries to warn his doomed friend about his misguided plan.  Even though Mr. Norris confronts the gang shortly after the deal goes down, he hopes Fox will still come forward since he saw everything.  Fox knows better.  Just to make sure, Stegman and company deliver a compelling reason for him to stay quiet.

When a paranoid Stegman wrongly thinks that Fox is exposing him to a cop (Al Waxman in a fine supporting performance), a new recruit is ordered to stab him.  The gang cleverly instigate a cafeteria brawl to avoid the possibility of eyewitnesses.  But Fox eventually gives up the name from his hospital bed to his increasingly concerned teacher.

Mr. Norris’ initially peaceful resistance to Stegman’s sense of entitlement begins a war that ultimately escalates exactly the way you expect it to.  First, stage blood is squirted into his face just steps from his house.  A childish warning.  Then, his car gets blown up.  A more ominous message.  In a scene that somewhat echoes a similar moment in Dirty Harry, after mocking his infuriated teacher’s normally zen nature, Stegman purposefully bashes his own head a number of times in the bathroom and wipes his blood on his enemy’s hand hoping the incoming school security guard will connect the dots.  (Norris does get charged with assault.)  Still stubbornly thinking you can reason with a teenage fascist enabled by a delusional, passive single mom, it’s only after being directly threatened by this monster that Norris starts to finally crack.  Stegman’s beautiful red convertible gets quite a thrashing in his apartment building parking lot.  This time, Norris is the untouchable one.

Norris’ friend, the shell-shocked biology teacher, who literally drinks on the job because he can’t cope with having unresponsive students, undergoes a similar breakdown much sooner than Norris.  When Stegman’s Nazis kill all his rabbits and rats, he finally has a reason to pull out that gun in class.  Later, he attempts to run them all over outside their club hangout where Teenage Head performs.

When we find out early on that Norris has a pregnant wife (executive producer Merrie Lynn Ross), it’s only a matter of time before she’s assaulted.  (Her refusal to go to her mother’s house immediately is predictable but tragic nonetheless.)  It is easily the most disturbing scene in the film.  But without its inclusion, the final act wouldn’t work.

After being lured into a violent trap just as he’s about to begin conducting his students during that important school concert, Norris finally realizes you can’t reason with a Nazi.  You have to kill them all.

Adolf Hitler famously said that if Germans had quashed his racist movement before it ever rose to power, he wouldn’t have succeeded in orchestrating one of the worst genocides in human history.  Class Of 1984 feels the same way about its own teenage Nazis.  It fully understands the insidious nature of their violent white supremacy.  They don’t respond well to hippie talk.  Despite suspension after suspension handed down by an otherwise hapless principal who looks like Mr. Roper and a police officer who can only do so much within the law (these juvenile delinquents can’t serve life sentences despite their long rap sheets), the only real deterrent is brutal force, especially since they refuse to end their relentless bullying.

Mr. Norris is left with no alternative but to singlehandedly defend himself, his wife and his unborn child as he lays deadly, spontaneous traps of his own for these despicable heels who deserve everything they get.  It’s a testament to how well crafted this film is that I loudly cheered for him every step of the way.  He’s fully justified in his actions.

Class Of 1984 is a gruesome B-movie with some surprising intelligence and skill despite its predictable plot and lousy theme song.  (Maybe Alice Cooper should’ve written his own cut instead of singing someone else’s weak number.)  Decades after its release, its seemingly overwrought warning about the rise of school violence in America has become sadly prescient.  Imagine how even scarier Stegman and his band of bullies would’ve been if they had access to guns like the Columbine killers.

The terrific Timothy Van Patten is so obnoxiously deceptive and manipulative, so disgustingly sexist and hateful, every time you see his smug expression you want to punch him.  You eagerly look forward to seeing his inevitably turbulent fall.  Thanks to his musical talent and unspoken Jewish heritage, Stegman ends up being a much more interesting villain than you expect.  His sharp performance reminded me a bit of the blond bully who torments Ralph Macchio in The Karate Kid, which sadly hasn’t aged as well as this film.  His fellow gang members are all well played by mostly unknown Canadian actors who wisely present themselves as cheerful sadists with no moral lines to cross because they don’t believe in restraint.  It’s clear as the movie progresses that, without fierce resistance, it’s only a matter of time before they become savage murderers.

Perry King is well cast as their arch nemesis, a decent man whose increasingly volatile situation demands increasingly hostile responses and therefore, the erosion of his core values.  That erosion, however, is necessary to his survival even if it blackens his once peaceful soul.  Roddy McDowell is also good as the crestfallen biology teacher who feels absolutely broken by his lack of scholastic progress.  (He could’ve been given funnier lines in his earlier scenes, though, which are far less heavy.)  Although he initially advises Norris to go along to get along to avoid crossing Stegman and company, once his lab animals are massacred he becomes unhinged.

We’re told over and over again that it’s next to impossible to implicate Stegman’s gang in any number of crimes they commit because of the lack of cooperative witnesses.  But even despite that, they’re able to avoid serious prison sentences because of the numerous legal loopholes for young offenders like them.

What about DNA?  It’s never mentioned.  Then again, proper forensic testing wasn’t widely available as it is today.  But never mind.

What matters is that this is a well-crafted thriller, terrifying in its message and oh so satisfying in its resolution.  Like Quentin Tarantino’s far superior Inglourious Basterds, Class Of 1984 knows full well that the only good Nazi is a dead one.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, April 8, 2017
2:44 p.m.

Published in: on April 8, 2017 at 2:44 pm  Leave a Comment  

Beverly Hills Cop

It’s been 25 years since I first watched Beverly Hills Cop with critical eyes.  The passage of time has not been kind to it.

Back in the summer of 1992, a rough first draft was written immediately after a Beta screening for a rightfully unpublished collection of poorly conceived reviews humbly titled The Movie Critic: Book One.  At the time, I felt the movie was average.  I praised Eddie Murphy’s performance but disliked the weak villain and the numerous cop movie cliches.  Curiously, I even panned Harold Faltermeyer’s memorable score.  I called it “unexciting” and that it didn’t “match what’s happening on the screen”.

That last observation (which honestly doesn’t sound all that sincere since the review was written fast without much forethought and left unrevised) was obviously, indisputably wrong.  The best thing about Beverly Hills Cop is, in fact, the music and not just Faltermeyer’s electronic contributions.  From Glenn Frey’s The Heat Is On during the opening titles to a reprise of Patti LaBelle’s Stir It Up during the closing ones, there isn’t a single bad music cue.  It all works.

But this isn’t a feature-length music video, as much as it seems like one at times.  No, it’s supposed to be a cop comedy.  But sadly, it’s not a very good one.  What I once felt was just so-so is now rather terrible.  It turns out the teenage me went too easy on this disappointing, unoriginal mess.

Murphy plays Axel Foley, a reckless Detroit detective who has a natural talent for pissing off authority.  After a foolish, unauthorized sting operation involving would-be cigarette smugglers goes completely haywire, he gets the first of many reprimands which grow tiresome over time.

After parking his decrepit Chevy Nova outside his apartment building that same day, he finds his old friend Mikey (James Russo) already inside eating his food.  Newly released from prison, they catch up over drinks and pool.  It must be said that their repartee feels very forced.  Like his friend, we learn that Foley was once on the other side of the law.  They used to steal cars together.  Mikey could’ve implicated his childhood friend over one such incident but never did.

Foley’s pal had a job working security for a Beverly Hills art dealer named Victor Maitland (Steven Berkoff), a typical foreign villain of the 80s who always looks suspicious because of his resting bitch face and European accent.  (He also has a very distracting bump on his forehead.  It looks like a zit that needs to be popped.)  Of course, the art business is a front for his real scheme, smuggling cocaine.  Mikey makes the mistake of stealing a bunch of German money from his boss which catches up to him once the old, now drunken friends arrive back at Foley’s apartment.

Confronted by a couple of Victor’s goons about the stolen Deutsche Marks, Foley’s pal gets beaten and popped.  Foley can’t do anything about it because moments before the hit, he gets knocked out from behind.  Considering how this movie ends, they should’ve shot him, too.

After another scolding from his superior (because he refuses to get checked out at the hospital and wants to investigate his friend’s homicide), Foley is granted a vacation to Beverly Hills where he hopes to get some answers without being constantly hassled.

Fat chance of that.  After his first confrontation with Victor who is not a very good liar (or much of a villain in his limited screen time), he gets thrown through a glass window (a baffling moment) and arrested by the local police.  Immediately and inevitably, he butts heads with his ill-equipped interrogators, Taggart (John Ashton) and Rosewood (Judge Reinhold) who are so straight they don’t even drink on the job.  (Also inevitable is how they will all eventually find themselves on common ground.)

After Taggart loses his temper and punches Foley in the stomach, their boss (the great Ronny Cox in a role that is very much beneath him) asks if their Detroit visitor will press charges.  In one of the few real moments of this very formulaic story, Foley admits, “Where I come from, cops don’t charge other cops.”  So true.  Just ask Black Lives Matter.

Taggart and Rosewood are ordered to tail Foley wherever he goes (Cox is concerned about his obsession with Victor), a simple task made difficult because they’re frequently and easily outsmarted.  (Even their replacements can’t do this without running into problems.)  Before we suffer through all of that unfunny nonsense (stuffing bananas in a tailpipe?), Foley reconnects with another old friend, Jenny (lovely Lisa Eilbacher), who runs a gallery owned by Victor, and informs her about the demise of their mutual childhood chum.  Stunned by the news, she ultimately helps him get into the warehouse Mikey worked at where the drugs are being hidden.  The lack of tight security there is rather alarming.  Our hero walks right in undetected.

Eventually spotted by a security guard, Foley absurdly pretends to be some kind of outraged customs inspector which allows him to get a closer look at the operation.  It seems highly unlikely he would get away with this in the real world.  Truthfully, you could say that about a lot of his scenes in this movie.  Whenever Foley assumes a different persona (fast-talking cigarette smuggler trying to implicate real ones, pissed off customs inspector surreptiously seeking evidence of drug smuggling, outraged Rolling Stone reporter trying to get a room in a fancy hotel, effeminate herpes sufferer trying to get into a private club lunch), you see right through the charade.  One wonders why none of the other characters do.

Because Beverly Hills Cop is much more interested in Eddie Murphy’s famously phony laugh (which I now find grating) and sometimes improvisational dialogue (which is often high energy but rarely humourous now), the double revenge plot is almost besides the point.  It’s clear where we’re headed (even though it takes too long to get there) and there’s no suspense about the outcome.

Victor Maitland could’ve easily been a Bond villain considering how inept he is at doing the obvious thing.  When Foley and Jenny get caught opening up a shipment crate finding those bags of cocaine hidden under some coffee grounds (a practice done to throw off sniffing guard dogs), instead of an immediate double execution, Victor has Jenny kidnapped to his gated mansion and leaves behind his punch happy goons to beat on Foley, one of whom admits to killing Mikey (guess what happens to him).  Despite taking his sweet-ass time to intervene, a hesitant Rosewood, now an ally who Foley orders to wait outside in a parked car, is still able to avert disaster in plenty of time.

That leads to the most proposterous sequence in the film, the big final shoot-out at Victor’s sprawling residence.  While Victor’s goons rain down machine gun fire without once connecting with their targets, they’re somehow easily picked off by one shot from a six-shooter or a pistol.

Beverly Hills Cop was a major turning point for Eddie Murphy.  Already a breakout star for years on Saturday Night Live, this film, his fourth, would convince him to leave the show for good and never look back.  A huge moneymaker at the time, it somehow also convinced critics it was worthy of significant praise.

It isn’t.  33 years after its initial theatrical release, beyond the music and the three times I laughed, there’s not much else to like about it.  (Yeah, it’s fun seeing a truck plow into shit but aren’t a lot of those cars owned by poor black folks who can’t afford to replace them?)  Murphy’s performance is all over the place and rarely convincing.  (Roger Ebert, a rare dissenter, correctly noted in 1984 that he isn’t an action hero.)  Ashton & Reinhold are never funny.  The villain is overly generic and remarkably vulnerable despite his wealth and social standing.  He has so much to lose upon exposure and yet his security detail is easily beatable.  It’s simply not believable that no one in Beverly Hills, not even the police force, would only see him as an outstanding citizen with nothing to hide.  He’s not exactly charming.

It’s weird that Axel Foley, a black man in a predominantly African American city, doesn’t appear to have any black friends.  Both Mikey and Jenny are white.  And it’s also odd that he doesn’t encounter any racism in the film.  (Most of the strange looks he gets from the Beverly Hills rich is for his broken down car making them more classist than anything else.)  In the scene set in that fancy Beverly Hills hotel (where a room for one costs you over 200 dollars a night), he’s refused not because of his dark pigmentation but because he hasn’t made a reservation.  It’s only because he causes an embarrassing scene that they manage to somehow find him something.

Ebert was right.  That scene in itself isn’t funny for a whole lot of reasons.  And yet overall, he gave this movie two and a half stars out of four.  If you ask me, he gave it one star too many.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, April 2, 2017
4:31 p.m.

Published in: on April 2, 2017 at 4:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

Alone In The Shade

I wanna get paid
But I can’t get hired
I wanna get laid
But I’m just not desired
I’m growing dismayed
Frustrated and tired
I’m not making the grade
And I’m feeling more wired

I’m fed up with being played
I’d rather be inspired
It’s so much easier to evade
Let this anxiety be retired
They just aren’t swayed
Even after I enquired
They want me to fade
Has my luck finally expired?

Alone in the shade
Shaken and perspired
Execution stayed
But too late to be rewired
How do I persuade
While hopelessly mired
I thought I had it made
Now I don’t know what’s required

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, March 10, 2017
4:04 a.m.

Published in: on March 10, 2017 at 4:04 am  Leave a Comment  

Warren Beatty’s Secret Post-Oscars Playlist

Poor Warren Beatty.  He had one job to do at the 89th annual Academy Awards and it proved too difficult a task.  No, it wasn’t La La Land that had won Best Picture but Moonlight.  (Somehow, he was holding a duplicate Best Actress envelope.)  Not helping matters was the fact that it took forever to make the necessary correction.  By that point, the La La Land team had already delivered most of their acceptance speeches.

Feeling embarrassed by the whole preventable debacle, Beatty has been privately nursing his wounds through music, relentlessly punishing himself for his unfortunate error.  I happened to have gotten a hold of the playlist:

It’s A Mistake (MEN AT WORK)

Screwed It Up (LIMBLIFTER)

I Was Wrong (SOCIAL DISTORTION)

Fuckin’ Up (NEIL YOUNG)

I Started A Joke (BEE GEES)

Dare To Be Stupid (WEIRD AL YANKOVIC)

Karma Police (RADIOHEAD)

Not Right (THE STOOGES)

How Bizarre (OMC)

Dazed & Confused (LED ZEPPELIN)

Out Of Touch (HALL & OATES)

Help! (THE BEATLES)

Foolish Games (JEWEL)

No, No, No (DESTINY’S CHILD)

I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (U2)

Wrong (DEPECHE MODE)

For Your Eyes Only (SHEENA EASTON)

Gotta Stop (Messin’ About) (PRINCE)

Do You Really Want To Hurt Me? (CULTURE CLUB)

Where’s The Love? (HANSON)

Something To Talk About (BONNIE RAITT)

Blurred Lines (ROBIN THICKE)

Causing A Commotion (MADONNA)

One Slip (PINK FLOYD)

Been Caught Stealin’ (JANE’S ADDICTION)

King Of Wishful Thinking (GO WEST)

I Missed The Bus (KRIS KROSS)

I Just Died In Your Arms Tonight (CUTTING CREW)

Thunderstruck (AC/DC)

Numb (U2)

Tragedy (BEE GEES)

My Favourite Mistake (SHERYL CROW)

Mr. Moonlight (THE BEATLES)

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, February 27, 2017
6:28 p.m.

Published in: on February 27, 2017 at 6:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

La La Land Wins Best Picture…Wait, No, It’s Moonlight…Bizarre Ending To Mostly Predictable, Political And Often Funny 2017 Oscars

What the fuck was that, Faye Dunaway?  What in the holy hell were you thinking, Warren Beatty?

The 89th Annual Academy Awards ended in a total embarrassment with the botched announcement for Best Picture.  After curiously stalling and staring and stalling and staring, a confused Beatty handed over the opened envelope to his oblivious Bonnie & Clyde co-star who claimed La La Land had won the final award of the evening.

After a number of acceptance speeches by the film’s thrilled producers, someone backstage came out to try to stop their presentation.  Why?  Because it turned out Moonlight had actually won.  Beatty & Dunaway apparently did not have the right envelope.

At one point, an incredulous Jimmy Kimmel, the host of the event, asked Beatty directly, “Warren, what did you do?”

A sheepish Beatty said that when he saw Emma Stone’s name, he got bewildered.  But instead of having the wherewithal to say, hey, wait a minute, I don’t think this is the right envelope, he put Dunaway in the awful position of reading the wrong name for Best Picture.  Good God, what a fiasco.  Considering how the show saved those clips of the nominees for the actual presentation, there was more than enough time to switch envelopes without anyone at home noticing.

Moonlight’s surprise win for Best Picture was its third award of the night.  New father Mahershala Ali, as expected, took home Best Supporting Actor.  He mentioned the birth of his baby daughter four days ago as he graciously acknowledged his wife’s patience through all the awards he’s been collecting for his well regarded performance.  He also thanked his teachers for all they taught him.  Moonlight also won Best Adapted Screenplay.

Despite the Best Picture screw-up, La La Land still managed to take home six golden gongs.  The aforementioned Emma Stone, who delivered a sweet, charming speech thanking friends, family and the people who worked on the film, took home Best Actress (Beatty had a duplicate envelope, apparently) and Damien Chazelle was named Best Director.  Neither victory was a surprise.  It also won for its original score, its production design, its cinematography and in a bit of an upset, for the song City Of Stars, over the number one smash hit Can’t Stop The Feeling!, the Trolls track that Justin Timberlake performed at the beginning of the broadcast.

Also unsurprising was sexual harasser Casey Affleck’s win for Best Actor for his work in Manchester By The Sea.  Is he planning a sequel to I’m Still Here?  For some reason, he was sporting Joaquin Phoenix’s bearded slob look.  Kenneth Lonergan, the director of the film, won for writing its original screenplay.

Best Supporting Actress Viola Davis (Fences) gave the most impassioned acceptance speech of the night as she spoke about the forgotten laying in their graves, their stories of love & loss and failure otherwise left untold were it not for artists who take up their cause.  She urged the business to “exhume” their experiences for the cinema.

Other predictable results included the excellent OJ: Made In America taking Best Documentary Feature and Zootopia winning Best Animated Feature.  Hacksaw Ridge, racist misogynist Mel Gibson’s comeback movie, managed to take two technical prizes of its own for its film editing and its sound mixing.  (The full list of winners is at the end of this piece.)

Next to Best Picture, the biggest surprise for me was Suicide Squad taking home Best Make-Up & Hairstyling over Star Trek Beyond.  That’s one more Oscar than Lion, Hidden Figures and Hell Or High Water received combined.  They were the only Best Picture nominees to get completely shut out of any golden eunuchs.

In the midst of the expected political speeches from some of the honorees (including one presenter who openly opposed President Stupid’s racist border wall) were some pretty funny moments courtesy of host Jimmy Kimmel who started strong with his monologue (he mocked Mel Gibson’s ghastly appearance quipping that Scientology was agreeing with him and sarcastically knocked the “overrated” Meryl Streep for “phoning it in” her entire career by listing a number of her acclaimed films), had a few off moments but then got funnier as the night progressed.  His response to the crowd’s cool reception to his OJ joke was better than the joke itself.

The constant ribbing of longtime good-natured punching bag Matt Damon continued as expected with the best gag happening during the Best Original Screenplay presentation.  Kimmel actually conducted the orchestra to play very loudly whenever Damon talked.  This followed him and fellow presenter Ben Affleck being announced as “Ben Affleck and guest”.  That followed Kimmel goofing on We Bought A Zoo during a spoof of stars honouring their favourite movies, a recurring segment throughout the show.  When Damon tried defending the performance on stage, Affleck humourously responded, “Really?”  If you want to see how self-deprecating these guys can really get about their movies, check out their very funny Good Will Hunting 2 spoof in the underappreciated Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back.

There was also a funny Oscars edition of celebrities reading Mean Tweets, a silly bit involving an unsuspecting tour group getting to meet some stars while passing through the Dolby Theatre’s sprawling auditorium and a failed attempt to get Donald Trump to tweet about the show.  Oh, and food fell from the sky a few times.  Plus, there was a cute tribute to The Lion King with the adorable kid from Lion.

All in all, Kimmel was a good host who didn’t have too many missteps.  But, by God, what the fuck happened with Best Picture?  Jesus, you had one job, guys.  One.  Come on!

THE FULL LIST OF WINNERS:

BEST PICTURE – MOONLIGHT

BEST DIRECTOR – Damien Chazelle (LA LA LAND)

BEST ACTRESS – Emma Stone (LA LA LAND)

BEST ACTOR – Casey Affleck (MANCHESTER BY THE SEA)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – Viola Davis (FENCES)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – Mahershala Ali (MOONLIGHT)

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE – OJ: MADE IN AMERICA

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM – THE SALESMAN

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE – ZOOTOPIA

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY – MANCHESTER BY THE SEA

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY – MOONLIGHT

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE – LA LA LAND

BEST ORIGINAL SONG – City Of Stars (LA LA LAND)

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS – THE JUNGLE BOOK

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY – LA LA LAND

BEST FILM EDITING – HACKSAW RIDGE

BEST COSTUME DESIGN – FANTASTIC BEASTS & WHERE TO FIND THEM

BEST MAKE-UP & HAIRSTYLING – SUICIDE SQUAD

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN – LA LA LAND

BEST ANIMATED SHORT – PIPER

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT – SING

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT – THE WHITE HELMETS

BEST SOUND EDITING – ARRIVAL

BEST SOUND MIXING – HACKSAW RIDGE

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, February 27, 2017
1:27 a.m.

CORRECTION:  The Oscars took place in the Dolby Theatre, not the Kodak Theatre as I erroneously stated. The text has been corrected.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, February 27, 2017
11:25 p.m.

Published in: on February 27, 2017 at 1:27 am  Leave a Comment  

2017 Academy Award Predictions

BEST PICTURE – LA LA LAND

No matter if there are 8, 9 or 10, since the expansion of the Best Picture category almost a decade ago, every annual race comes down to just three of the nominees.  That means in this year’s competition, if you produced Hell Or High Water, Fences, Arrival, Hacksaw Ridge, Lion or Manchester By The Sea, be satisfied with your nomination.  You ain’t gettin’ the gong.

In 2016, the real contest for the best movie of the year comes down to a little known story about Black mathematicians working for NASA, a love story/musical about beautiful white people struggling in Hollywood and a coming of age story about a Black kid in Miami.

Hidden Figures is the most commercially successful of this year’s crop of nominated films.  It’s also one of the best reviewed nominees.  And considering the racism of America’s current President and the #OscarsSoWhite campaign over last year’s Oscars, here’s a chance for the Academy to make a powerful statement.

But they won’t.  Moonlight, another universally loved drama, at least with critics, is in the same boat.

Remember, the Academy is mostly made up of really old honkies, who rarely reward films featuring people of colour.  Whitey usually votes for whitey.  So, despite having its detractors, the safe bet is on La La Land.  Besides, Hollywood loves itself too much to ignore movies that love it as well.

BEST DIRECTOR – Damien Chazelle (LA LA LAND)

Roger Ebert said it every year around this time but it bears repeating in his overwhelming absence.  Almost all winners of the Directors Guild Of America prize (about 90% of them) go right on to win the Best Director Oscar.  This year, the DGA went to La La Land’s Damien Chazelle.  The golden eunuch is his.

BEST ACTOR – Casey Affleck (MANCHESTER BY THE SEA)

If you’ve seen the TV ads for Manchester By The Sea, you’ve surely heard a quoted rave from longtime Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers.  In summary, he claims that Ben Affleck’s younger brother is a sure thing for Best Actor.  Indeed, for a while, this category seemed like a lock for him.

Then came the reminders of Affleck’s shitty behaviour during the making of the fake documentary, I’m Still Here.  (You know, the one where Joaquin Phoenix pretends to be a bearded rapper?)  During the making of the film, the younger Affleck and some of his crew members repeatedly sexually harassed two women who worked on the production.  The women later sued and both cases reached an undisclosed, confidential settlement.

Although he hasn’t faced a lot of hard questions about what happened (his few responses have not been all that candid, remorseful or reassuring), the stories resurfaced nonetheless which could potentially derail his long awaited Oscar triumph.  I’m reminded of what happened to Cyrano De Bergerac, the superb 1990 version with Gerard Depardieu in the title role.  While he had no chance at winning Best Actor (as expected, Jeremy Irons took the gold for being Claus Von Bulow in Reversal For Fortune), the film itself seemed a sure thing for Best Foreign Language Film.  But then, stories surfaced of Depardieu talking about being part of gang rapes when he was a teenager.  Journey Of Hope ultimately won the Oscar.

Further clouding the picture is Denzel Washington’s recent Best Actor win at the SAG Awards.  Every year since 2004, the Best Actor SAG winner and the Best Actor Oscar winner have been the same person.  Is that a spoiler omen?

There’s also the lovable dark horse candidate Ryan Gosling.  Like Affleck, he’s a previous nominee who’s never been invited to thank people on stage.  Because of feminist outrage over Affleck’s nomination, could he, not Washington, be the beneficiary?

Again, I’m reminded of Oscar history.  In 2003, it looked like either Martin Scorsese or Rob Marshall were going to win Best Director.  Instead, it went to cowardly child rapist Roman Polanski, a perennial no-show because of his legal situation.  The fact of the matter is this.  Talented white people rarely get punished for their personal misdeeds.  So, Casey Affleck has nothing to worry about.

BEST ACTRESS – Emma Stone (LA LA LAND)

At first, Natalie Portman, already a previous winner for Black Swan, seemed like the presumptive frontrunner for playing Jackie O.  But over time, things appear to have changed.  When you think about it, Portman really doesn’t need another Oscar, anyway.  Neither does perennial nominee and three-time winner Meryl Streep.

That leaves first-time nominees Isabelle Huppert & Ruth Negga plus two-time nominee Emma Stone.  Huppert is a legend in France having been nominated 16 times for the Cesar, the French Oscar.  It seems unlikely, however, that she’ll pull off an upset.  The African-born Negga was cast in 12 Years A Slave, a previous Best Picture winner, but all her scenes were dropped from the finished film.  Having gone mostly unrecognized in a number of previous shorts and occasional big features like World War Z, she could probably use a push here which would greatly raise her profile.

Stone was previously nominated for Birdman and stood no real chance of winning.  This year will be very different.  Barring an upset, I see her taking it.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – Viola Davis (FENCES)

Four years ago, Viola Davis lost the Best Actress Oscar to Meryl Streep.  This year, Streep is nominated in the lead category while Davis is up for Best Supporting Actress, so that’s one less obstacle to overcome.  Here are two more:  Octavia Spencer and Nicole Kidman already have golden gongs for previous roles.  Neither is in line for a second.  Michelle Williams is on her fourth nomination and has never won before.

But Davis, already an Emmy winner for being the star of the popular How To Get Away With Murder, is owed a make-good for losing to the mighty Streep in 2013.  Since she didn’t win for The Help, she’ll take it for Fences.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – Mahershala Ali (MOONLIGHT)

The #OscarsSoWhite campaign in 2016 seemed to have convinced the Motion Picture Academy to single out more stories about people of colour and the result this year has been numerous nominations for films like Lion, Moonlight, Fences and Hidden Figures.  In particular, seven POC have been recognized for their acting in 2017 and at least two will be going home with Academy Awards.

That means no second Oscar for Jeff Bridges and it means no big speeches from Michael Shannon and Lucas Hedges.

Dev Patel, the young star of Slumdog Millionaire, which won Best Picture and a bunch of other gongs almost a decade ago, could be a spoiler here.  But I’m sensing a win for Mahershala Ali.  The critically acclaimed Moonlight has to win something.  Plus, Ali is a Muslim who will surely have plenty to say about President Donald Trump.  Despite having already been handsomely rewarded for his performance in the film, he seems most likely to have his name called out Sunday night.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE – OJ: MADE IN AMERICA

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE – ZOOTOPIA

BEST FOREIGN FILM – TONI ERDMANN

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY – Damien Chazelle (LA LA LAND)

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY – Allison Schroeder & Theodore Melfi (HIDDEN FIGURES)

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT – JOE’S VIOLIN

BEST ORIGINAL SONG – Can’t Stop The Feeling! (TROLLS)

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE – LA LA LAND

BEST SOUND EDITING – ARRIVAL

BEST SOUND MIXING – ARRIVAL

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN – LA LA LAND

BEST FILM EDITING – LA LA LAND

BEST MAKE-UP & HAIRSTYLING – STAR TREK BEYOND

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT – SILENT NIGHTS

BEST ANIMATED SHORT – PIPER

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS – THE JUNGLE BOOK

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY – LA LA LAND

BEST COSTUME DESIGN – LA LA LAND

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, February 24, 2017
8:54 p.m.

Published in: on February 24, 2017 at 8:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

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