THE CONJURING IS A TRUE HORROR THAT WILL GIVE YOU GENUINE CHILLS

Director:  James Wan

Starring:  Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor

Studio:  New Line Cinema

Length:  1 Hr 52 Min

Rated:  14A

If thee’s one thing I’ve learned from years of watching horror movies and reading Stephen King novels, it’s that if the family dog doesn’t want to enter the rickety old country house in the woods you, it’s probably a bad sign.  A very, VERY bad sign.  If people in horror movies listened to their pets more, well, there probably wouldn’t be horror movies.  But even though The Conjuring recycles some well-worn horror clichés, its easily one of the best scarefests to come out of Hollywood in years, owing it’s success to genuine thrills and tension instead of a hundred million dollars worth of CGI or absurd amounts of shock value violence.  This movie is all about old school fear.  And it’s old school good.

Based on allegedly true events, The Conjuring tells the tale of real life paranormal investigators Loraine (Vera Farmiga) and Ed (Patrick Wilson) Warren as they are confronted by the most terrifying case of their careers, one they (and the family involved) kept secret for over forty years.  In 1971, Roger and Carolyn Perron (Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor) and their five daughters moved into a farmhouse in the woods of Harrisville, Rhode Island.  Unfortunately for the new owners, the house (and surrounding land) had seen over a century of cursed bloodshed and suffering, and was already home to a number of restless spirits, including a dark and malevolent demonic presence that scares even the other ghosts and only finds joy in causing unimaginable pain to the living.  An uber-ghost if you will, and one with a severely bad disposition.  It isn’t long until the Perrons become victims of violent hauntings and seek out the Warrens for help.  Lorraine, the psychic half of the investigative couple, is still recovering from an exorcism performed several months previous, prompting her demonologist partner and husband Ed to occasionally question their presence.  But the Warrens are soon left with little choice as the battle against the darkness in Harrisburg becomes personal and the stakes are raised beyond just the Perrons and even the salvation of the house’s previous victims.

The Conjuring isn’t merely the best horror film you’re likely to see this year, but the most efficient.  Produced on a shoestring budget (in Hollywood terms anyway), it relies on solid storytelling and inventive directing to inspire scares and doesn’t depend on a smorgasbord of special effects.  Director James  Wan has left torture porn in the past with the (hopefully) defunct Saw franchise, and having cut his teeth on other low-budget horror efforts like Insidious, he now appears to be tinsel town’s director of choice for telling authentically scary stories.  The Conjuring has it’s fair share of violence but none of it is gratuitous, all of it serving to tell the story, build a tense atmosphere and further the plot.  Wan uses only a fraction of the blood you’d see in a slasher flick, but The Conjuring is easily ten times scarier and far more entertaining.  I openly admit that I jumped at least once myself, and watching others in the theatre scream and jump out of their seats like their pants had just caught fire was worth the price of admission alone.  I’m convinced the woman behind me needed to change her unmentionables when the end credits started rolling and the guy in front of me probably won’t be sleeping without a night-light for at least a month.

There are bound to be some more than a bit disturbed by the “based on true events” portion of the movie’s promotion, but I’d recommend taking that with a healthy dose of salt.  Not to throw water on how effective and good the movie was, or on the Warrens or their careers, but you’d have to be a bit skeptical on why this story collected dust for three decades, the Perron family deciding not to cash in on it while the “survivors” of other such “real life” stories were cashing in on Hollywood’s (and the movie going public’s) fascination with haunted houses and scary stories.  And the Warrens were two of several paranormal investigators who confirmed the haunting of a house in Amityville, Long Island shortly after the supposed events in Harrisburg (there’s even a reference to Amityville Horror at the very end of The Conjuring) and the credibility over that particular story has been unravelling the past few years.  The movie takes some generous liberties with the original story (the Perrons actually lived in the house for ten years, subject to supernatural phenomena the whole time and the Warrens attempts to exorcise or cleanse the house were unsuccessful).  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying there’s no such thing as the supernatural or haunted houses, but I’d recommend holding off using The Conjuring (or similar movies) as reason to hang crucifixes in every room of the house and start showering in Holy Water.  That being said, if you’re looking for a legitimate scare ride, The Conjuring is more than worth the ticket.

Shayne Kempton

 

SURPRISING SCARE RIDE

Advertisements

R.I.P.D. IS SUPPOSED TO BE A SUMMER BLOCKBUSTER ABOUT UNDEAD POLICE.  AFTER WATCHING IT YOU’LL WANT TO DRIVE A STAKE THROUGH ITS HEART.

Director:  Robert Schwentke

Starring:  Ryan Reynolds, Jeff Bridges, Mary-Louise Parker and Kevin Bacon

Studio:  Universal Pictures

Length:  1 Hr and 36 Min

Rated:  PG

Comic books have arguably become the most fertile source material for summer blockbusters in recent years. Whether it’s more traditional super heroes like Batman and the Avengers, or more fantasy fare like Hellboy, contemporary comic books have provided Hollywood with plenty of fuel for its creative furnace.  Even Tom Hanks’ period drama Road to Perdition was adapted from a graphic novel, proving that comic books offer a rich diversity far beyond the simple spandex crowd.  So it’s no surprise that Universal Pictures adapted it’s new sci-fi/fantasy comedy R.I.P.D. after the Dark Horse comic of the same name.  Unfortunately for Universal, the movie’s about as flat as the paper the comics are printed on.

It starts off as a normal day in the life of Boston Police Detective Nick Walker (Ryan Reynolds) and his partner Hayes (Kevin Bacon).  But soon after they punch the clock they find themselves leading a raid on a drug lab, complete with body armour and SWAT team.  Over the course of the raid, Nick gets himself shot and killed, but that’s just the beginning of his adventures.  Nick’s got a few karmic blemishes in his cosmic file, so before he can face his Final Judgement, he’s yanked off the follow-the-light-express and recruited in the Rest in Peace Department, a collection of former law men and women working to redeem themselves by capturing renegade souls still haunting the world of the living.  Nick is partnered up with Roy (Jeff Bridges), a nineteenth century U.S. Marshal who loves his hat and women’s bare ankles but hates authority, regulations and rookies and shoots off his as mouth more than his guns.  While Roy’s reluctantly showing Nick the ropes, the two stumble upon a plot by some renegade wayward souls to bring about the Apocalypse, a plot that has ties to Nick’s previous life.  The two partners are soon racing against time to single-handedly save the world.

R.I.P.D. is an interesting idea, though not entirely fresh.  And the plot device where R.I.P.D officers appear completely different when returned to Earth injects a little extra humour into the movie.  Roy appears to the everyday person on the street as a blonde, statuesque supermodel in a skin-tight dress.  Nick on the other hand is a Chinese geriatric in baggy clothes and the resulting sight gags are worth a couple of decent chuckles.  Reynolds occasionally shows off his wit and Bridges verbal meandering wanders into humorous territory once in a while but the best performance is easily Mary-Louise Parker, who chews up her limited screen time as the Proctor who runs the Rest in Peace Department.  Beyond that though, R.I.P.D is pretty disappointing.  In fact, it’s already topping many critic’s list as the worst summer movie of 2013.

R.I.P.D is a bit schizophrenic; it can’t decide if it’s trying to be a supernatural version of Men in Black, with a veteran in a super secret law enforcement division training a wide-eyed newbie how to protect the world from monsters, or a 21st century incarnation of Ghostbusters, a couple of guys protecting the living by capturing the dead.  Bridges and Reynolds share almost no chemistry in the film’s lead roles and R.I.P.D offers nothing new in the special effects department (some scenes look eerily familiar in nature to other effects driven films but are much smaller in scope).  In fact, some of the effects look like they could have been cut and pasted from a mid-quality PS3 game.  The script rushes through rudimentary explanations of story points, the plot is predictable and can’t really withstand even the most basic questions and a lot of R.I.P.D’s humour feels forced.  And as far as movie villains go, R.I.P.D’s big bad is pretty underwhelming.  Director Robert Schwentke and company tailored the story to allow for a sequel, but combine R.I.P.D’s shortcomings with the fact that it’s competing with the also newly released Red 2, the highly anticipated horror movie The Conjuring as well as other recently released titles (Despicable Me 2, and Pacific Rim to name a few) and its tough to see this launching a franchise.  R.I.P.D could have been really fun, and there was plenty of source material for the movie makers to explore for genuine laughs, but it turned out to be little more than 96 minutes of uninspired, disappointing boredom.  Too often it seemed the movie was merely going through the motions with about as much enthusiasm as an actual funeral.  And watching it will make you feel like someone (or their career) had just died.

Shayne Kempton

HEADED FOR THE GRAVE

BRUCE WILLIS AND GANG ARE BACK IN RED 2, A PERFECT RECIPE OF ACTION, COMEDY AND CHEMISTRY BETWEEN AN OUTSTANDING ENSEMBLE CAST 

Director:  Dean Parisot

Starring:  Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Helen Mirren, Byung-hun Lee, Neal McDonough and Anthony Hopkins

Studio:  Summit Entertainment

Length:  1 Hr and 56 Min

Rated:  PG

Sometimes the performance of a single actor can make a good movie a great one (see Daniel Day Lewis’ Oscar winning performance in last year’s Lincoln).  Other times, a single performance may be the only reason to see a movie (see half of Morgan Freeman and Samuel L. Jackson’s respective resumes) and sometimes you get a group of actors who share such excellent chemistry, their collective screen time makes the movie (see Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy in this summer’s crudely hilarious The Heat).  The strength of the cast was one of the secrets behind the original Red’s success and Red 2 reunites most of the players from the original.  The result is another top-notch action comedy where the work of the ensemble cast alone is worth the price of admission.

Elite CIA operative Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) has settled back into retirement and has been re-designated R.E.D., Retired Extremely Dangerous.  Frank is trying to achieve domestic bliss with girlfriend Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), who looks like she’s getting ready to keel over from boredom.  But the action hungry  Sarah shouldn’t worry because before things can become too stale for the happy couple, Marvin (John Malkovich) pops back into their lives, bearing ominous warnings.  It isn’t too long before the three of them find themselves on the run from the entire espionage community and a handful of deadly assassins, collecting clues as to why they’re being hunted and blowing a lot of things up and shooting a lot of guns along the way.  As it turns out, the only way to clear their names and shake the hit men on their trails is to essentially save the world, which means joining forces with Frank’s old flame Katja (Catherine Zeta-Jones), teaming back up with the elegantly lethal Victoria (Helen Mirren), matching wits with ruthless CIA agent Jack Horton  (Neal McDonough) and chasing down the brilliant Dr. Bailey (Anthony Hopkins), who after spending over three decades in a British insane asylum, makes Marvin look stable.

Director Dean Parisot is smart enough to sit back and let his outstanding cast take the lead on Red 2.  It isn’t so much the quality of the stars assembled for the sequel, but that each actor is a brilliant match for their character.   Willis gets to abandon the purse lipped, rock jawed lone wolf he usually portrays in any kind of action movie, instead getting to play a genuinely nice guy but one who can kill you with his eyebrows.  Malkovich is perfect as the unhinged Martin and his facial expressions deliver more punch lines than his dialogue.  Zeta-Jones smoulders as the sultry Russian General Katja, a super sexy ghost from Frank’s past that haunts the adventure seeking, slightly neurotic yet mostly sweet Sarah, nicely played by Mary-Louise Parker.  Helen Mirren is more than convincing as the dignified yet unrelenting killing machine Victoria and Byung-hun Lee looks like he could well be Hollywood’s next action sensation.  Even Sir Anthony Hopkins gets to stretch his quirky muscles as the more than vaguely insane Dr. Bailey, who has all the secrets our band of merry mercenaries need locked away in the insane labyrinth that is his mind.

The cast are given a strong script to work with, with a few healthy twists and turns and plenty of snappy, witty dialogue.  There’s also a generous dose of slap stick as well, and Frank, Sarah and Marvin come across as a covert three amigos, bouncing barbs off one another while dodging bullets and bad guys.  The leads all carry their weight with efficient ease in Red 2, but the final product is more than the sum of its acting parts and the cast share an excellent chemistry that Parisot takes advantage of with great results.  Whether it’s Frank doting protectively on Sarah or Sarah and Katja bickering over Frank or Marvin just being Marvin, it’s obvious the cast had a great time making Red 2.  If you’re looking fo pure entertainment, odds are you’ll have a great time watching it too.

Shayne Kempton

RED ALERT

ANGER OVER ROLLING STONE’S COVER FEATURING A GLAMOURIZED DZHOKHAR TSARNAEV IS JUSTIFIED.  IT’S ALSO PLAYING RIGHT INTO THE MAGAZINE’S CORPORATE HANDS

      Years ago, while working in a convenience store, my co-worker and I decided to pull the tabloids off our news racks one dreary Saturday.  That was the day the world was laying Princess Diana to rest and tabloids like the National Enquirer were jumping for joy at the fodder her tragic death provided, each magazine trying to one up the other to see who could publish the most gratuitous or bloody pictures on their cover.  For that one day, much of the world was united in grief as mourners for the former princess stretched across oceans and continents, from Europe’s privileged upper classes to starving masses in Africa and Asia to the average working man and woman the world over.  Canada, given its close historical relationship with the House of Windsor, was hit especially hard, so selling the publications that stalked her during her life and were now profiting off her death seemed tasteless and wrong.  So for that rainy Saturday (and Sunday, if memory serves), we stashed the tabloid trash in the back, safe from grieving eyes.

When Rolling Stone revealed the cover for its August 3rd issue, featuring an innocent looking, baby-faced, arguably glamourized picture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the outcry was both immediate and thermonuclear.  The story apparently details how Tsarnaev, the surviving Boston bomber, was seduced and then radicalized by violent and extreme influences, and how he and his brother Tamerian descended down a dark and bloody path that ended in the decision to commit mass murder and domestic terrorism in the name of Islam.  But the magazine’s cover depicts the nineteen-year old terrorist as though he was the newest boy band sensation, the next fad destined to annoy parents of pre-pubescent girls during their early teen years.  On the cover of the Rolling Stone magazine scheduled to arrive on news stands this Friday, Tsarnaev, whose calculated actions lead to the deaths three people, the injuries and nightmares of over 260 more and lead to an entire city being held hostage for four traumatic days, looks like he belongs on the cover of Teen Beat.  And the ensuing outrage is exactly what Rolling Stone hoped for.

Rolling Stone is no stranger to controversy, learning long ago that it earned them free publicity and resulted in higher magazine sales.  Given that print media currently finds itself on the ropes, unable to compete against the more agile, current and free digital media, Rolling Stone (and others) are always hungry for whatever will capture the righteous imagination of consumers, and drive them to the newsstand, eagerly forking over the cover price if for no other reason than to hate-read the offensive content.  News channels and newspapers do the exact same thing on a daily basis.  And it works.

Social media has been bombarded by the furious feedback over Rolling Stone’s (deliberately) offensive decision.  On Wednesday afternoon, David Draiman, lead singer of heavy metal bands Disturbed and Device, took to Facebook and tore into the magazine with the frenzied white rage usually reserved for one of his metallic ballads.  His comments drew tens of thousands of online likes and approvals within hours.  I’m not judging the rage over Rolling Stone’s cover; it’s horrifically insensitive and the insult to Tsarnaev’s victims, their families and the entire city of Boston (and to an extent, the entire U S of A) is so massive it’s gravitational pull dwarfs that of the sun.  But, alas, it is working.

Boycotts are already under way, a number of Boston related retailers have refused to carry it, but the sad, morbid fact is that most of the people boycotting it never would have bought August’s issue of Rolling Stone anyway, and the number of people who will buy it out of controversy inspired curiosity outnumber regular buyers deciding not to for the exact same reason.  If Rolling Stone doesn’t sell a single issue in Boston next month, or even in the entire state of Massachusetts, there is still a very good chance it could still see a significant sales bump. It’s a risky business move and they need to pray the outrage fades from public memory quickly and that concerted efforts against them at the cash register lose steam once the hot summer months pass.  And granted, while this will cost them some regular readers, Rolling Stone is gambling they’ll rope in twice that number in new ones, that most regular buyers who took a pass in August return in September, that the increased sales of the controversial issue in question more than compensate for any residual losses and long term damage to their brand is minimal and non-lasting.  Simply put, people who have either never heard of Rolling Stone or forgot it was still around are hearing about it in a big way.  And you can bet many are tempted to pick up a copy just to satisfy their curiosity.  It’s the literary equivalent of rubber neckers slowing down in traffic to gawk at an accident, desperate to catch a glimpse of blood or maybe even a corpse.

I remember that weekend all those years ago, when an entire world seemed transfixed to a princess’ funeral at Buckingham palace.  I remember most customers understood and agreed with our decision to yank the rags, but we also got more than a few complaints by people (regulars among them) who wanted to buy a copy of each and every one for their “commemorative value.”  Controversy sells, no matter how tasteless or offensive.

Shayne Kempton

 

ROLLING STONE GATHERS ANGRY MOSS

TURBO HAS ITS MILDLY HUMOROUS MOMENTS BUT UNLIKE PIXAR OR PREVIOUS DREAMWORKS EFFORTS, IT WILL PRESENT LITTLE APPEAL TO ANYONE OVER THE AGE OF FIVE

Director:  David Soren

Starring:  Ryan Reynolds, Paul Giamatti, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Pena, Bill Hader, Louis Guzman, Richard Jenkins, Michelle Rodriguez Ken Jeong and Snoop Dog

Studio:  Dreamworks Animation

Length:  1 Hr and 36 Min

Rated:  Family

Pixar is considered Hollywood’s reigning heavyweight when it comes to computer animated features; and with good reason.  But Dreamworks Studios is a more than solid second, responsible for the enormously successful Shrek and Madagascar franchises, the brilliant How To Train Your Dragon and this years The Croods, a movie that not only debuted strong, but whose persistent success (it was still attracting movie goers four months after it opened in March) convinced Dreamworks to schedule a sequel for a 2017 release.  So suffice to say that they know a thing or two about cranking out successful animated features, ones that make the grown-ups laugh right along with the kids (though usually for different reasons).  Which makes Turbo just a little more disappointing.  While this tale about a supersonic snail has its cute moments, it falls flat with anyone whose daily curriculum no longer includes nap time.

Theo (Ryan Reynolds, a busy boy who stars in the science fiction-comedy R.I.P.D also released this weekend-and who voiced the forward thinking homo-sapien Guy in the aforementioned The Croods) is a speedster who dreams to be a race car driver.  He rushes home from work to watch it every night on a banged up old TV in the garage, he collects VHS tapes on racing and idolizes the sport’s current franchise celebrity, French Canadian driving sensation Guy Gagne (Bill Hader).  The problem is Theo is a snail, and work is the local garden where he and his fellow slugs eat the overripe, unwanted tomatoes that fall of the vine.  Chet (Paul Giamatti) is Theo’s older brother as well as the safety manager in their garden.  Despite being Theo’s exact opposite, living a life of complacent caution and acceptance, Chet has been looking out for his wide-eyed little brother their whole lives.  Theo is the object of ridicule among his fellow snails until a freak accident grants him super speed.  Unfortunately, before he can adequately get a handle on his new powers (which also include headlights in his eyeballs and a luminous stereo system in his shell), an accident gets him and his brother fired.  The two then get caught up in a snail racing ring, run by a group of business owners who haven’t seen a paying customer since George Bush was President (George Bush Sr. that is).  The desperate merchants are headed by Tito (Michael Pena), who runs a Taco restaurant with his brother Angelo (Louis Guzman), who like Chet, disapproves of is younger brother’s endless dreaming.  But once Tito discovers Turbo’s amazing speed, he hatches a plan (with Turbo’s subtle prodding) to enter the super powered snail in the Indianapolis 500.  Accompanied by racing snail Whiplash (Samuel L. Jackson) and his posse of misfits and the reluctant Chet, Turbo soon finds himself headlining the biggest race car event in the world.

Turbo offers younger viewers a nice lesson in following their dreams despite the scorn of others as well as on sibling love and acceptance.  It’ll tickle the funny bone of most toddlers and has a handful of nice little sight gags.  And while Jackson’s turn as the borderline crazy Whiplash offers more than his share of laughs (then again, when have you known Jackson not to deliver, even when it’s only his voice?) Turbo just doesn’t seem to share the same heart, the same magic, as many of Dreamworks other family fare.  The majority of the laughs are aimed at the half pint crowd, and while that’s fine, it’s less than what people have come to expect from Dreamworks given their impressive resume in the animated genre.  And in a summer where it finds itself competing against proven properties like Pixar’s Monsters University and Universal Studios’ current box office juggernaut Despicable Me 2, Turbo will likely get lost in the animated shuffle.

Shayne Kempton

ENGINES STALLED

Ezra Levant - Levant, Mohamed, and the Case fo...

Ezra Levant – Levant, Mohamed, and the Case for Freedom of Speech with Ezra Levant – read more at http://www.urbanmixer.com (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

SUN MEDIA’S EZRA LEVANTE PROVES TO BE JUST AS HYPOCRITICAL AS THE PEOPLE HE RAILS AGAINST, EXPLOITING THE ENORMOUS TRAGEDY IN LAC-MEGANTIC FOR HIS OWN SELFISH PURPOSES

 In the June 9th edition of the Ottawa Sun, Sun Media columnist Ezra Levant called out NDP and Opposition leader Thomas Mulclair for exploiting the horrific disaster in Lac-Megantic as an excuse to attack Prime Minister Stephen Harper and score political points against the Conservative Government.  Mulclair, Levant claims, was apparently pointing a finger of blame at the PM while firefighters were still battling the oil-fed flames in the small Quebec village.  Levant did what real journalists do and used facts to debunk this idea, pointing out that there are actually more railway inspectors now then there were before Stephen Harper took office.  But Levant soon remembered who he was and who signed his pay cheques, promptly dismissing the ideals of journalism and returning to being the front man in a smear campaign against any and all things Liberal or Progressive, hypocritically using the disaster to score his own political points in the process.

On June 7th, Lac-Megantic was thrust into the news when a train carrying fuel rolled away from the local train yards and exploded in it’s small downtown area, unleashing a maelstrom of destruction that literally flattened buildings.  Authorities have been forced to use DNA testing to identify some remains because they were burned beyond all possible recognition.  The death toll currently stands at twenty-four with another twenty-six missing and unaccounted for.  Over two thousand people were initially evacuated from their homes, forced huddle in shelters until it was deemed safe enough for them to return.  Over 100,000 litres of oil have poisoned the nearby Chaudiere river and the dollar value attached to this disaster will be stratospheric. Once the ash settles, Lac-Megantic could very well be one the deadliest catastrophes in the history of Canada.

         Accusations are already flying, along with threats of lawsuits and legal action.  Representatives from Montreal Maine and Atlantic, the owners of the train, and its parent company Rail World Inc. have been in Lac-Megantic from day one of this grisly business, though it took several days of pressure on Rail World Inc.’s president Ed Burkhardt before he left his office in Chicago to view the devastation.  MMA and Rail World have already accused the Lac-Megantic fire department of incompetence (claiming the fire fighters should have gotten the train’s conductor immediately), the fire department answering those claims it fought the fire using the exact protocols the railway dictates.  And not to appear lazy in the face of disaster, MMA has also laid responsibility at said conductor’s feet, labeling the disaster the result of human error.  Regardless, police have been treating the entire site as a crime scene as early reports rumoured that the trains braking system may have been tampered with, setting the lethal chain of events in motion.  And here’s where Levant’s unabashed hypocrisy rears its pathetic head.

         Once he had correctly refuted Mulclair’s attempts to lay the blame for this disaster at Stephen Harper’s door, Levant was quick to nominate a new suspect; eco-terrorists.  That’s right, Lac-Megantic could have been the work of domestic terrorists who hate Big Oil and will do anything to hurt it. He even repeated his theory on his Sun Media television show, where it was claimed he was “investigating” the link between the tragedy and eco-terrorists.  Levant’s evidence?  Well, he didn’t have any; one hundred percent of his conjecture was based on guilt of association (apparently, Sun Media considers making things up investigation).  He tossed around names and dates of other incidents but could offer no more logical conclusion for his theory than Thomas Mulclair could offer for his.  But to Levant and Sun Media, as long as his theory fixes environmentalists, opponents of big business and corporate Canada in its cross hairs it’s perfectly acceptable.

         This hardly ranks as a speed bump in Levant’s constant propaganda tirade.  He has often been a fixture of controversy, finding himself on the wrong end of numerous complaints and investigations.  In March of this year, he reluctantly apologized for racist remarks he made against Romanian-Canadians on his Sun Media TV show, The Source, likely under pressure from Sun Media’s corporate upper echelon.  That apology came just days before he cowered away from making another apology for slanderous remarks he made against the Vancouver Observer, allowing a graphic to do it on a night he took off.  Levant thrives off the attention (and given Sun Media’s anemic ratings, it’s likely the only attention he gets) and the tag line for The Source is “Because Someone Has to Debunk the Mainstream Media!”  Levant sums up everything Sun Media is; loud, hypocritical and desperate to be Canada’s version of Fox News (Levant and his failing Sun Media cohorts inability to understand that there’s a significant difference between Canadian Conservatives and Fox News audience demonstrates why Sun Media TV is failing and will forever remain consigned to the proverbial lunatic fringe unless they smarten up).  In the end, Levant is the perfect tool for the ultra conservative propaganda organ that Sun Media is (emphasis on the word tool).

         Could the disaster in Lac-Megantic have been prevented by more government oversight?  Possibly.  Could it be the result of reckless cutbacks as Mulclair claims?  Or is the leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition full of hot air?  Both are equally possible.  Could it have been eco-terrorists as Levant imagines?  That’s looking unlikely given Rail World’s musical blame game lately, but it is still quite possible.  But we won’t know if any of these theories are correct until we have the evidence to support any of them.  If it was the work of anarchists bent on punishing Big Oil, unwitting or not, then they should wind up rotting at the bottom of a very deep pit for a very long time.  If it is a matter of corporate neglect (MMA and Lac-Megantic’s residents had an uneasy relationship, many of the townspeople reportedly unhappy with the presence of the railroad carrying oil through their village), then Rail World’s CEO should be dragged off in chains in front of a dozen television cameras and the company fined through their ying-yang until they can’t afford paper clips at the dollar store.  If Mulclair was indeed speaking out of his posterior, he deserves a grade A smack down during the next session of Question Period.  But none of this can or will happen until plenty of questions are satisfied by actual fact.  Levant correctly calls out Mulclair then proceeds to try to score points of his own against an opponent of his choosing using the exact same behaviour he condemns.

But rest assured, if the carnage at Lac-Megantic is the work of the fabled eco-terrorist, Ezra Levant and Sun Media will be the first ones in line to crucify them.  But if the fingers start turning towards the corporate head offices of Rail World Inc. or the PMO, Levant and Sun Media will be the first ones in line defending them.  And that’s genuine hypocrisy.

Shayne Kempton

SUNDOWN

TRAYVON MARTIN AND MARISSA ALEXANDER ARE OPPOSITE SIDES OF THE BLOODY COIN AND PROVE THAT IF YOU’RE BLACK IN THE UNITED STATES, YOU SHOULD HAVE LOWER EXPECTATIONS OF JUSTICE

     By now, every one has heard that George Zimmerman has been found not guilty of second degree murder (or manslaughter) for the death of Trayvon Martin.  The verdict, which came down Saturday evening, sent a tsunami of conflicted emotional responses and outcry across social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter.  Protests took place in a number of American cities, including San Diego, Atlanta and the town of Sanford, Florida, where Zimmerman shot and killed the seventeen year old Martin.  While many protests were peaceful, there were numerous reports of vandalism and the protest in Oakland (a city that is no stranger to violent clashes between police and protesters of any sort-ask members of the Occupy Wall Street movement) turned mildly violent (so far there are no reports of arrests or injuries).  But even before Saturday’s polarizing verdict hit headlines across the world, the Zimmerman case had exposed the deep racial divides that still exist in the United States.  Many felt this verdict was a foregone conclusion, that the fact Martin was black determined that Zimmerman, half latino and half white, would indeed go free.  On the other side of the coin, there were many who believed that Zimmerman had been convicted in the court of public opinion because the victim was a young black man, feeling that if Martin had been white few would have cared (during their closing arguments, Zimmerman’s defence claimed that if their client had been black he never would have been on trial).  There are valid points to be made by both sides of that argument, and the truth is this case alone doesn’t reflect the reality that in many places in the United States it isn’t the evidence or legal arguments that dictates justice as opposed to the colour of someone’s skin.  But what does illustrate that ugly reality is the broader context that the Zimmerman case falls into, because while a mostly white jury acquitted George Zimmerman for fatally shooting Trayvon Martin as an act of self-defence, a year earlier the same district attorney (Angela Corey) convicted Marissa Alexander of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon when she fired a warning shot to ward off her abusive husband.  She invoked Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, a move supported by at least two Floridian lawmakers who helped create the controversial law in 2005, but in the end she was sentenced to a minimum of twenty years in prison.  If you haven’t guessed yet, Marissa Alexander was black as well.  If anything, the painful similarities of these cases and their opposite outcomes proves that if your black, you can expect different, somewhat lower standards of justice.

     No one knows exactly what happened the night of February 26 except this; neighbourhood watch member George Zimmerman called 911 to report a suspicious person walking the streets of the gated community of Sanford, a suburb of Orlando, Florida.  Zimmerman, carrying a licensed firearm, then got of his car to follow to follow the “suspect” against the instructions of the 911 operator and moments later, an unarmed Trayvon Martin lay dead on the ground and a bloodied George Zimmerman was taken away by police for questioning.  The 28-year-old Zimmerman claimed that he was assaulted and in fear for his life by the seventeen year old Martin, and after five hours of questioning he was released without charges under Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law.  Zimmerman wasn’t formally arrested until 45 days later when a warrant was issued for him and he turned himself in.  While Zimmerman’s defence never used the Stand Your Ground law, they successfully argued shooting Trayvon Martin was self-defence and there will be no legal consequences or accountability for his death.  Zimmerman never took the stand in his defence.

     In 2010, Marissa Alexander invoked Florida’s Stand Your Ground law after she fired a warning shot at her abusive husband who had threatened to kill her.  Alexander’s husband, whose violence had landed her in the hospital at least once prior, supported her story of self-defence before changing it at the trial.  Alexander had no criminal record, had never been arrested before and no one was injured during the incident.  The prosecution, lead by the same district attorney who would lead the failed attempt to prosecute George Zimmerman a year later, convinced the jury that Alexander didn’t make enough of an effort to flee her house (even thought the Supreme Court had earlier ruled a person isn’t obligated to flee their homes) and because there were children in the room at the time, Stand Your Ground didn’t apply.  After sixteen minutes of deliberation, the jury sentenced Alexander to 20 years in prison.

      If you’re asking yourself how one person got away with murder employing claims of self-defence that can’t be substantiated while another person will be spending the next two decades in prison in a case of undeniable self-defence where not a single drop of blood was shed, you’re not alone.  If you’re asking how the same District Attorney who convinced a group of people that a woman who was without a doubt defending herself against a man whose abuse was documented needed to be put in a cage for twenty years but couldn’t get another group of people in the same state to convict a man who killed an unarmed teenager to spend a day behind bars, you’re not alone.

     And don’t think for a second race doesn’t play into this.  The simple fact of the matter is, if Trayvon Martin had been a white kid walking home with his skittles and iced tea, George Zimmerman never would have followed him that evening in February.  He never would have cared who Martin was.  And could you possibly imagine the police letting a black man who had just shot and killed someone go after five hours of questioning?  Without laying charges? No, me neither.  The mainstream media has been accused of race baiting to drive up an appetite for this already controversial case, but conservative media outlets like Fox News and Rush Limbaugh launched campaigns to assassinate Martin’s character once the story snared the world’s attention.  Geraldo Rivera lead the charge, stating that he thought that Martin’s “urban” (re: black) fashion choices (re: hoodie) lead him to an early grave.  He doesn’t make those statement (let alone get away with them) if Martin is white.  And while Rush Limbaugh complained ad naseum about the media showing positive pictures of Martin, Fox News went crazy sowing the most unflattering pictures they could get their hands on.  The only reason an arrest warrant was ever issued for George Zimmerman and an investigation started was because of public pressure.  If Trayvon Martin is white , George Zimmerman is arrested five seconds before anything happens.

     And just imagine for a second that if Marissa Alexander had been a pretty young white soccer mom who had fired a warning shot at her abusive husband after he’d just threatened to kill her.  Can you imagine a jury sending her to prison until she was in her fifties?  Challenges the limits of your imagination doesn’t it?  Recently in Montana, a man returned home to find a burglar, shot him the chest and the burglar later died while fleeing.  The man is still free under that state’s Stand Your Ground law.  How are his actions any worse than Alexander’s?  For that matter, how were Alexander’s actions any worse Zimmerman’s, who actually cost someone their life?  To sum up, if Zimmerman is innocent in the eyes of Florida’s law, so too should Alexander.

     The unfortunate part is, this doesn’t surprise much of America’s black community.  And there are actual statistic to back it up.  A recent survey published relating race and homicide has demonstrated a dramatic rise in so-called “justified killings” of blacks in states that embrace the Stand Your Ground laws (laws that have drawn criticism from civil rights workers and senior law enforcement officials like Miami’s former police chief John Timoney) and American prisons house a disproportionate number of blacks as opposed to whites for the same crimes (it is estimated that drug use among blacks and whites in the United States is nearly identical at 14% each, yet blacks constitute 37% of arrests for drug use while whites remain half that).  The fact is Marissa Alexander is looking at losing the next twenty years of her life because she didn’t hurt anyone defending her life while George Zimmerman is completely free after killing a 17-year-old boy.  In both cases blacks were hoping for justice and so far, both have been denied any.

Shayne Kempton

JUSTICE FOR FEW