Total Recall (2012) a (mildly) belated review

First, a confession:  I am not a big fan of the original 1990 Paul Verhoeven directed/Arnold Schwarzenegger starring Total Recall.  While I was a HUGE fan of Mr. Verhoeven’s first American sci-fi film, Robocop, Total Recall, in the end, felt to me like a missed opportunity.  The film, which involved a worker drone named Quaid (Schwarzenegger) who longs to live a fantasy adventure and finds this possibility via Rekall Inc., an early version of a “virtual reality” vacation, perhaps is one of the first films to deal with the technology that confuses reality and fantasy, not unlike the more successful (in my opinion) The Matrix.  The more astute views of the original Total Recall were left wondering at the end of the film whether we witnessed something that was “real” or whether Quaid was permanently locked in a fantasy world, never to emerge again.

The 2012 remake of Total Recall lifts the story with only some minor cosmetic differences.  The primary change regards the movie’s setting as there is no trip to Mars.  One can’t help but be impressed with the future world as presented.  The movie’s dual settings (Great Britain and Australia) are a visual feast.  I would even go so far as to say this may be the best full scale futuristic setting I’ve ever seen committed to film.  If there is a critique to be made here, it is that this futuristic world looks heavily inspired by Blade Runner, another movie based on a story created by the late Phillip K. Dick.

The second big change is that the new version of the film has Kate Beckinsale’s villainous Lori Quiad pursue her “husband” throughout the film.  In the original, Sharon Stone’s character was disposed of early on.  This particular change turns out to be a positive for the remake as Kate Beckinsale is certainly the showiest of the characters.

Where the remake most diverges from the original is in tone.  While Mr. Verhoeven’s original featured plenty of over the top action material and in your face humor, the remake is far more somber and “serious”.  Alas, this ultimately hurts rather than helps the remake.

Now, I already confessed to not being a big fan of the original Total Recall.  Yet I have to give Mr. Verhoeven credit for delivering something that moves.  Yes, the original film is at times goofy and silly and cheesy and doesn’t give you anything approaching a resolution as to whether we witnessed imagination or reality…but audiences can forgive quite a bit when you have Verhoeven’s “in your face” direction and Arnold Schwarzenegger as the lead.

In the remake, apart from Kate Beckinsale, we have far too subdued work from Colin Farrell (as Quaid), Jessica Biel (as Melina), and Bryan Cranston (as the ultimate villain of the piece, Cohaagan).  All the actors mentioned above have done good work, in my opinion, but in this film they are all so very, very…flat.  There were no sparks (romantic or otherwise) between Quaid and Melina.  Bryan Cranston’s Cohaagan, similarly, never reached the sneering, way-over-the-top villainy of Ronny Cox’s Cohaagan.  The action scenes, while at the start quite good (the first big action sequence at Rekall, in particular, is a highlight), eventually became repetitious.  When we finally reached the movie’s climax, I was more than ready for things to wind down and end, never a good feeling.

There is a “surprise” ending after this ending, a final confrontation between Quaid and his villainous “wife”, but even that felt obvious.  I couldn’t help but wish the movie’s writers had surprised us with a different conclusion, perhaps one where our villainess does something truly surprising…like have Quaid completely at her mercy…yet she chooses to let him live.  The circumstances being what they are, it was pointless for her to still try to kill him.  Perhaps at that point, as she’s walking away, she makes Quaid truly wonder whether he is experiencing reality or illusion.

Having said all that, Total Recall 2012 is not a “terrible” film by any means.  If you haven’t seen the original, it might even prove a pleasant diversion.  At its worst, it is a distressingly mediocre film dressed in a great film’s clothing.  Given all the money, truly amazing effects, and big name cast, one wishes it could have been a little more than it ultimately was.

Happy Holidays!

As a gift for these holidays, Kindle ebook copies of Chameleon will be available for free starting today, December 25, and continuing through the next few days for anyone interested.


Chameleon is the third book in the Corrosive Knights series.  The other available books currently available in this series are Mechanic, The Last Flight of the Argus, and Nox.

Covers to Mechanic, The Last Flight of the Argus, and Nox by E. R. Torre

Chronologically, Chameleon takes place before the events of all the other books yet is nonetheless the third book in this series.  Why?  While planning out the Corrosive Knights series, I realized it would involve an ever expanding cast in stories that take place, quite literally, hundreds and then thousands of years apart.  However, I didn’t want readers to be intimidated by this.  I wanted the first three books of the series, in particular, to be “stand alone” stories that any casual reader could pick up and read without having the burden of going through the other books first.

Thus, one can read Mechanic, The Last Flight of the Argus, and Chameleon in any order at all without being “lost” in the continuity.  My hope was that casual readers who encountered any of the first three books in the series would then be intrigued enough with what was offered to give the other books a try.

Anyway, if you are interested in getting a free taste of this series via Chameleon, please click on this link.  You don’t need an actual Kindle reader to read the book, only a computer or any sort of tablet/laptop device.

For those already familiar with the Corrosive Knights series, a quick update:  I’m hard at work on the fifth book in the series and am roughly three quarters of the way through the first full draft.  This story presented is easily the most ambitious of the Corrosive Knights series thus far and concludes the first major story line.  I have to admit I’ve considered breaking the book into two separate volumes because it is running longer than most of the other books in the series.  However, unless this last part of the book explodes into something far larger than I’m currently estimating, it will remain one book.

I already have a title in mind…

More to come.


The Ghost Writer (2010) a (mildly) belated review

There are times I bemoan the lack of quiet, intelligent thrillers and the seeming surplus of the often more vacuous and noisy “action” thrillers.

But that’s not to say there aren’t quiet, intelligent thrillers out there.

Director Roman Polanski (no stranger to controversy) has released some intelligent thrillers in his time, and The Ghost Writer is certainly a good -though ultimately, and unfortunately, not great– example of the same.

The story involves “the Ghost” (Ewan McGregor), a mild mannered writer who is hired to polish and finish a manuscript/autobiography “written” by former UK Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan in what amounts to an extended cameo playing a character suspiciously similar to Tony Blair).  The ghost writer who did all the work until now, we find in the movie’s opening scenes, drowned.

So Ewan McGregor’s “Ghost” takes the well paying -but very tight deadline- job and, after flying to the United States and entering the bunker used by Lang and his entourage, barely gets to work before finding himself in the middle of an international maelstrom.  Adam Lang, you see, has been called out by his one-time ally as having engaged in complicity to use torture to pursue terrorists.  Soon there is the very real possibility that Lang may be dragged before the World Court for his actions while serving as Prime Minister.  And, to make matters worse, the “Ghost” begins to suspect the manuscript’s original writer’s death by drowning was no accident.

Will this “Ghost Writer” wind up like his predecessor?

Though it is a thriller, the first half or so of the film slowly builds tension while offering plenty of black comedy.  The “Ghost” finds the world of Adam Lang is a maze and its hard to tell the motivations of those around him…not to mention what exactly goes on in the mind of Lang himself.  In time, the “Ghost” begins to see his way through the secrets while tension builds.

Unfortunately, as good as the first half to two thirds of the film is, the movie unfortunately began to lose steam.  It’s hard to pinpoint where this happened, but as we headed toward the climax and conclusion, the carefully built tension dissipated.  By the time we reached the movie’s climax and ultimate conclusion, the movie fell again, presenting some rather large plot holes that rendered much of what we experienced up until this point confusing and, worse, pointless.

Again, without giving away too much, the audience is expected to accept the fact that a large conspiracy initiated by very powerful political figures is behind some of the mystery in the film…and yet these incredibly powerful political figures aren’t powerful enough to get a ghost writer who is a puppet to their cause to fix Lang’s manuscript rather than bringing in an innocent who may just expose this conspiracy?

Indeed, the ending had me scratching my head so much, especially considering the cleverness of the story up until that point, that I wondered if maybe there were some cut scenes or explanation in the script that was not filmed that accounted for these plot holes.  Suffice to say there is a point in the film where it seems the “Ghost” and Lang are about to have a heart to heart talk and we might finally get some idea of what’s going on…and how much Lang actually knows.  Ultimately, that talk never happens.

And yet, in spite of these complaints, I can’t entirely dismiss The Ghost Writer.  For long stretches of time the movie is quite entertaining even if, in the end, it does stumble.

Canadian Historian Cracks WWII Carrier Pigeon Code…

A little while back came the interesting news that a Brit cleaning out his chimney discovered the remains of a pigeon within.  The pigeon carcass proved extraordinary because on the remains of the pigeon’s leg was found a message holder and, within, a coded message.

The code and pigeon, it was established, were from WWII.  Experts analyzed the code but found it too difficult to crack.  They opined that without the proper code books, many of which changed daily during the war and were subsequently lost to time, there would be no way at all to decode the message.  Ever.

That is, until Gord Young, a Canadian historian, saw the code and in a whopping 17 minutes (according to the article!) cracked it.  What did he find?  Well, the article below tell you it “details the position of German troops based in Normandy”, but does not offer the actual deciphered message.  I suspect the message itself is a little too technical, but still, the article and the story are incredibly fascinating.  The full article can be found here:

5 Most Horrifying Post Divorce Dates…

…at least those experienced by author and therapist Christine Gallagher:

Humorous and horrifying stuff.  I think #4 is perhaps the most bizarre…though not so much for what happened afterwards but rather related to the conversation the man on the date related regarding his mother.

Very, very strange.

Supernova (2000) a (very) belated review

La vittoria trova cento padrie nessuno vuole riconoscere l’insuccesso. (Victory has a hundred fathers, and no one acknowledges a failure.)  1942 G. Ciano Diary 9 Sept. (1946).

After a truly great run of movies from 1975 to roughly 1984, director Walter Hill reached the proverbial bump in the road.  While it was a pretty damn good film, 1984’s Streets of Fire didn’t light up (ouch) the box office.  Nor did many of the films he directed that followed, including the truly bad sequel to his biggest box office success, Another 48 Hrs.  Mr. Hill was hardly hurting.  He was, after all, the producer of the original Alien and Aliens, and would go on to produce all “Alien” related movies, up to and including last year’s controversial Prometheus.

But before the Alien universe truly blew up with sequels and Predator related spin offs, Mr. Hill made his thus far one and only directorial foray into sci-fi with Supernova.  Yes, Streets of Fire had a quasi-sci fi/alternate 1950’s type reality, but Supernova was a full on sci-fi spectacle complete with starships, alien worlds, and…horror.

I caught the film many years ago on DVD and found it an intriguing mess.  Mr. Hill’s original cut of the film was deemed unsatisfactory by the movie studios and they called in others, including Francis Ford Coppola, to re-edit it into something they were more comfortable with.  Ultimately, Supernova’s director credit was listed as “Thomas Lee”, a pseudonym not unlike the infamous Alan Smithee.  (That, folks, is the reason the quote is listed above)

The DVD I saw featured the “uncut” version of the film.  The other day, while watching oddball cable channels, the theatrical version of Supernova aired and, like a moth to light, I sat through it.  The theatrical cut differs from the “uncut” version in that we see a little less nudity from Robin Runney and, if memory serves, a slightly less gory death of (SPOILERS!!!!!) Lou Diamond Phillip’s character.  Otherwise, it was mostly what I remembered watching years ago.

And a fascinating watch it is.

The difference this time around, however, is the release of Prometheus.  When I first saw Supernova, Prometheus, of course, did not yet exist.  Now, however, watching Supernova proved something of a curious revelation.  For in Supernova I couldn’t help but notice that some of the movie’s elements wound up appearing in Prometheus.  That’s not to say that Supernova is something of a “rough draft” of Prometheus, just that you can see some of the elements coalesce.

To begin, Supernova involves a group of “space medics” who receive a distress signal from some far away planet (this is not unlike Alien, too!).  They head to the planet and find one person, Karl Larson (Peter Facinelli) who had a previous relationship with Dr. Evers (Angela Bassett), one of the members of the medical crew.  She finds Larson, however, very different from what she recalls.  Their relationship had grow very sour before he left her, but now, as she finds him, he looks very different…younger, stronger.  If you’ve seen Prometheus, this particular element of Supernova bears at least a little echo in the relationship of Shaw and Holloway.

Larson, we find, has discovered a strange object on that mining planet, a thing left behind by some alien culture.  In the course of the film we find that the object was made by an alien race to effectively eliminate other races they don’t want to have continue -and compete- with them.  In Prometheus, the alien engineers were upset with humanity and wanted to eradicate it with their oddball biological weaponry.  In the case of Supernova, the alien race (which in this movie remains unseen) has created a device that will entice its discoverer to take it to the heart of humanity, where it will detonate and destroy the offending race -and pretty much all the universe!- and then creating a “new” context for alien life.

What follows in Supernova is the cast and crew being killed off one by one by the infected Larson.  The way the villain is dispatched by the movie’s end is particularly groan inducing.  It involves “Flyboy”, one of the more bizarre (and extremely silly) concepts in Supernova, a robot that for no reason at all looks like a World War I flier enticing Larson into a hold before blowing him up.

Other than curiosity, it’s hard to come right out and recommend Supernova.  This is a genuinely flawed film (not that Prometheus wasn’t, as well!) that features some really good special effects but an obviously toyed with presentation.  Nonetheless I am curious about Mr. Hill’s original version of the film.  Given the fact that Supernova was a big flop, I doubt we’ll ever see a “special edition” of the film featuring Mr. Hill’s original cut.

But if one is ever released, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t curious to see it. Now, “enjoy” this truly awful trailer for the film.  The musical choices, none of which were in the film itself, really do no services for this already flawed film:

Interestingly, as I looked around YouTube, I found this, the alternate ending for the film.  I vaguely recall finding this on the DVD release mentioned earlier, and it features a far darker ending than the recut theatrical release:

Finally, this is another interesting cut sequence from the film.  Again, I’m getting vibes of Prometheus here, when the cast first meets up with the alien engineer creature. Perhaps its just me:

Men In Black III (2012) a (mildly) belated review

I love reading reviews of movies, books, and music, the three forms of entertainment that most occupy my increasingly minimal free time.  With reviews one can, at best, glean an interesting insight into the creative work, be it what elements make it a success or, conversely, where the creative minds behind the work may have lost their way.  At worst, reading a review involves wasting only a few minutes of your time but almost always gives you an insight into someone else’s thought process. After many years, I’ve no doubt read many thousands of reviews.  Interestingly enough, there are parts of only two reviews that I can quote almost verbatim, small sentence length thoughts that to my mind perfectly captured the flaws of two particular movies.

The first such review came from a local TV personality who was reviewing the 1989 James Cameron directed film The Abyss.  While he loved most of the film, he had this to say:  “Watching The Abyss is like seeing a runner have the race of his life, well ahead of all competitors, but stumbles and falls only a few feet away from the finish line.”  To me, that was The Abyss in a nutshell, a potentially great film hobbled by a muddled ending.  An ending made no better by the extended version offered in the home video release.

The other such film was the original 1997 Men In Black.  Upon seeing it, a now forgotten (by me) critic stated this film felt like watching “an extended preview of a great film.”  The original Men In Black, to me, felt exactly like that.  The movie had some astonishing special effects, a truly bizarre, almost Looney Tune level craziness, but the film felt…undernourished.  It was like going into a restaurant expecting a heavy buffet but being served a chocolate bar.  There should have been more there there.

The movie’s sequel, released in 2002, was considered by many less of the same: Another wild and crazy special effects extravaganza…but with less of a story than the original film.  It seemed like the whole Men In Black franchise was done…until this year.

There were some scary rumors concerning the creation of Men In Black III.  Most frightful was that there was word filming began without a complete script.  The budget of the film was also very extravagant, rumored to be well over 200 million dollars.  Add to the fact that the last film in the series came out some ten years before and you couldn’t help but wonder if the film was a fiasco in the making.

In the end, the film did well, grossing some $600 million worldwide and earning a very healthy 70% positive rating among critics and a similar 72% positive rating among audiences at Rotten Tomatoes.

Having finally seen the film, I would tend to go positive.  Strangely enough this film, even though filming was supposedly started without a full script, feels the most complete of the three Men In Black films, story wise.  Yes, you still get those wacky aliens and even wackier special effects, but the story feels far more complete and features Agent J (Will Smith) going back in time to the late 1960’s to save his partner Agent K (played in the present by Tommy Lee Jones and in the past by Josh Brolin) from being killed and wiped out of time.

No, the story isn’t some kind of blazingly original concept…in fact, it seems most filmed time travel stories nowadays involve the old “going back in time to kill someone so they don’t exist in the future” saw.  In fact, we saw this similar plotline in Looper, also released this year.

Still, I have to give Men In Black III credit:  It is a generally fun and breezy film, the type where you put your mind in neutral and let things happen and, if you don’t think about it too much, you should have a good time.  On the other hand, I kind of hope this is the last of the Men In Black films.  As enjoyable as this film was, I couldn’t help but feel the premise is a little used up.  Worse, Tommy Lee Jones looked really old and uninterested in the whole thing this time around.  Given how truncated his role was in favor of Josh Brolin, one can’t help but wonder if he did this film more as a favor/paycheck than anything else.

The bottom line is this: Men in Black III turns out to be a surprisingly good popcorn film despite the by now familiarity audiences may have to this particular subject matter and whatever intrigue happened behind the camera.  If you’ve got an hour and a half to kill, you could do far, far worse than spend some time with the Men In Black.

(The trailer below, by the way, features a sequence involving a grafitti artist.  This scene was not in the home video cut of the film I saw)

No more Yuuuuup!

According to TMZ, David Hester, one of the main bidders involved in the hit “reality” show Storage Wars, is out…and he’s filed a lawsuit against the company making the show claiming that it’s rigged:

I happen to like Storage Wars, though there wasn’t always a sense that things we saw on the show were always on the “up and up”.  For example, if you watched some of the earlier first season episodes, you found that the protagonists weren’t always prone to having hardball rivalries between themselves.  Indeed, I recall one episode where one of the bidders, Darrell I believe, actually tried to help out Jarrod with a locker’s value.  But as the episodes/seasons drew on, the participants became more characters than people.  They were more and more presented as trying to either outbid or screw their rivals and there was a feeling -at least to me- there was a real attempt to mold their behaviors for the purpose of being more entertaining. Backstabbing, after all, can be hugely entertaining!

With that in mind, it doesn’t surprise me too much to hear that there was, at least according to Mr. Hester in his lawsuit, “planting” of items in the storage lockers being bid on.  Again, if the show’s makers are happy to create personalities rather than people, why stop there?  Why not also show “incredible” discoveries in the lockers…discoveries that may well have been planted?

In the end, viewers must always beware.  It should be no big revelation to say that “reality” shows are often as “real” as all the other fictional shows presented on TV.

Bored of the Rings…and Creative Self-Control

The first part of the above headline happens to be one of the more obvious take downs one can expect an unimpressed critic might use for the review of the new Peter Jackson directed The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first of his three part (!) cinematic adaptation of the J. R. R. Tolkien “prologue” to his famous Lord of the Rings trilogy series of a few years past.  Certainly its the headline used by Dana Stevens of Slate Magazine for the review of this film (check it out here), but its hardly an original insult, seeing as how this was the title of a parody book published way back in 1969.

I haven’t seen the first part of this new trilogy, but given some of the early writings regarding the movie, I suspect I’ll pass.  Not that I dislike the whole Lord of the Rings thing, be it novel or cartoon or movie.  On the contrary I was very impressed with the first two Lord of the Rings movie adaptations.  They were incredibly ambitious in scope and scale and presented some great cinematic fun.  The only complaints I heard were from Lord of the Rings purists who felt the movies at times did not follow the spirit of the books as well as they should have.  Regardless, I really liked those first two Lord of the Rings films.

Unfortunately, the last of that original film trilogy, The Return of the King, really, really tried my patience.  Indeed, even many of those who liked and/or loved this trilogy were bothered by the way this concluding film had something like twenty climaxes/conclusions before finally…FINALLY!…reaching its actual end.  It was at that moment, when I realized I loved The Fellowship of the Rings and The Two Towers but didn’t like The Return of the King, that I feared director Peter Jackson may have become a little too enamored of his work.  So enamored that he might have developed a hard time “stepping back” and shifting what should remain in the final cut of his film and what didn’t need to be there.  Or, to put it another way, he lost the ability to edit down his movies.

Mr. Jackson followed the original Rings trilogy with a remake of King Kong, and my fears were further confirmed:  King Kong clocked in at an eye-popping 3 hours and 7 minutes in length versus the original, which ran a little over an hour and a half.  When I heard he was taking over the direction of The Hobbit, I was curious but worried.  Would this film be more like the first two Ring films rather than the third?

When I heard it would be two films, then three, I feared Mr. Jackson was once again going to deliver a bloated, too long production.

Given the words of some critics, this may well be the case.  And we’re only into the first of three Hobbit films!

But before it feels like this blog entry is nothing more than a slam piece directed against Mr. Jackson, let it be noted that he would be far from the first -and certainly far from the last- creative person who may have fallen under this spell.  Criterion, the gold standard in home video releases, just put out Michael Cimino’s notorious studio-killer Heaven’s Gate, a film that many feel is the very definition of creative hubris.  Despite the fact that it was a mega-flop when it was released, the movie does have its admirers, but there is no doubt that this two and a half hour film tried many people’s patience.  In the realm of books, I’ve also seen writers -too numerous to name- who have disappointed with either undernourished or overly bloated works.  And in music, I’m sure just about anyone can name a few albums featuring normally very creative individuals who created a bloated train wreck of a work, at least in your opinion.

If there’s any sort of conclusion to made regarding this topic it is this:  Creative folks are as fallible as the next person.  They’re as capable of making mistakes as everyone else and they’re certainly as capable of getting too fond of their work, to their own detriment, as anyone else.

Somewhere along the line when I first started writing I too realized that there was a danger of falling into this trap.  One of my earliest novels took an inordinately long time to create, then it sat in the disk drive for a few years.  When I came back to it, I realized the first third of the book was waaaay too long and I chopped it down to a minimal size.  Originally I was incapable of seeing the bloat, but the passage of time allowed me to move away from the work, to become less tied into it and to see it from a fresh perspective.

Hopefully, I learned my lesson and my subsequent works have been crisp and to the point…something I feel any good novel should be.  But let there be no doubt:  The most difficult thing in the world to do with your creative works is to examine them with a cold and clinical eye and not be afraid of taking a chain saw to your “babies” and cutting down whatever should be cut down and expanding where it may be needed.

In the end, it is work well worth doing.