All posts by ERTorre

E. R. Torre is a writer/artist whose first major work, the mystery graphic novel The Dark Fringe, was optioned for motion picture production by Platinum Studios (Men In Black, Cowboys vs. Aliens). At DC Comics, his work appeared in role-playing game books and the 9-11 Tribute book. This later piece was eventually displayed, along with others from the 9-11 tribute books, at The Library of Congress. More recently he released Shadows at Dawn (a collection of short stories), Haze (a murder mystery novel with supernatural elements), and Cold Hemispheres (a mystery novel set in the world of The Dark Fringe). He is currently hard at work on his latest science fiction/suspense series, Corrosive Knights, which features the novels Mechanic, The Last Flight of the Argus, and Chameleon.

David Bowie: I Can’t Read

Starting with David Bowie’s birthday on January 8th and continuing each week will be the release of one new song from an upcoming David Bowie album entitled Is It Any Wonder?

The song recordings were made in rehearsal for David Bowie’s 50th Birthday party, which was a star studded event and last week the first song from that rehearsal, The Man Who Sold The World, was released (if you’re curious to hear it, here you go!).

Three days ago (yeah, I’m running late here!) the second song was released, a stripped down version of I Can’t Read, a song that originally appeared on the first Tin Machine album, David Bowie’s band side project that lasted two original albums and at least one live album before folding.

Here’s the new, 1997 recorded stripped down version of the song:

I have to say… I’m not all that into it.

Then again, I didn’t think the original version was all that great either. Having said that, I prefer the original to this version. Here is the original version:

I suppose David Bowie thought he might eventually release that new version of the song and video but subsequently decided not to. It is pretty elaborate for something that was locked away in the vaults until now!

Having said that, there’s something incredibly sad about watching this video.

I know David Bowie eventually passed away because of liver cancer, but seeing him sucking on the cigarette in that video… ugh.

My understanding is that David Bowie was a pretty heavy smoker and based on videos like this one he clearly felt it looked cool to smoke in front of the cameras. He wasn’t alone: You can’t find many films from the 1930’s through the 1970’s (and some past that point) which don’t feature the leads smoking. It was a glamorous thing to do on screen but now we know better, right?

Sorry if I’m sounding all high and mighty/moralistic, but I have a very strong allergy to cigarette smoke. There’s something in the chemicals in cigarettes -as opposed to cigars or tobacco used in pipes- that sets my sinus off and can often result in me having such bad headaches I wind up needing to lie down and/or throw up.

It’s that bad and can happen if I so much as sniff one second of cigarette smoke!

But getting back to Mr. Bowie, while liver cancer eventually took him away, he also had a heart attack and, based on some things I’ve read about his last days, also suffered from considerable shortness of breath. Did the cigarettes play a role in these problems?

I don’t know.

Given how much I love his work, though, it makes me so sad to read about what must have been very painful days leading to his eventual passing.

Don’t smoke, kids.

It may look cool, but all you’re doing is roasting your throat and lungs.

In the long run, there’s a damn good chance you’ll pay.

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019) a (Mildly) belated review

When I was flying back home a few weeks ago there were two films that I wanted to see in flight. One of them was Ad Astra, which in the end I managed to see (you can read the review here) and the other was John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (let’s refer to it as JW3 from here on, OK?).

The reason I chose Ad Astra over JW3 was because I was down on the whole John Wick franchise. While I mostly enjoyed the first film (read my review of it here) I didn’t care for John Wick 2 at all (here’s the review for that film).

In fact, despite the near constant action and fighting and gunplay, I found John Wick 2 a complete bore, a film with precious little plot spread out into far too many repetitious action sequences.

However, the fact of the matter was that audiences and critics really seemed to like the film. Based on the aggregate reviews over on rottentomatoes.com, the film scored in the high 80% range for both, a very good score, and the film was a success.

Inevitably, JW3 was on its way and released.

With great trepidation, I watched the film this evening (imagine that, seeing not one but two films in one afternoon!) and, despite my worry that I’d not like the film, I found JW3 a BIG improvement over the second film.

Don’t get me wrong: JW3 is guilty of some of the same problems found in JW2. There is perhaps too little actual plot spread out over the film’s 2 plus hour runtime. This is again made up for with plenty of action sequences which, thankfully, are a little more interesting this time around versus in the second film.

JW3 opens seconds after the end of JW2. In that film, (MILD SPOILERS!) Wick find himself hunted by all the assassins for a very high price, and he schemes to get out of New York and see someone high enough on the assassin board (so to speak) food chain to offer remorse and hopefully forgiveness for the transgressions that got him in trouble in the first place.

Meanwhile, the people who helped him out in JW2 are in hot water themselves for helping him out.

So we effectively have parallel plots going on here, the doings in New York and afterwards with Wick and the trouble his allies get into and the blood payment they are forced to make to set things right.

Wick eventually seeks the help of Sofia (Halle Berry) and I thought bringing in a tough as nails female killer was another good step but I have to admit, her role turned out to be pretty small and ended rather abruptly. Of course, she will likely return in the next one, so at least there’s that.

I also liked the way the film ended. It managed to conclude the main story line yet also offer audiences something of a cliffhanger.

What I didn’t like was that in each film John Wick is becoming more and more of a Superman, and the very ending of JW3, unless I’m missing something, shows him surviving something no human being could.

Still, I repeat what I said: I liked JW3 more than JW2. Hell, I think its almost on the level with the original film, which is still the best of the lot, and that’s saying quite a bit.

Recommended!

Dragnet (1987) a Very (Just the Fact, Ma’am) Belated Review

Wow. 1987, eh?

That’s when the Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks starring parody remake of Dragnet, the famous no-nonsense police procedural which started as a radio show before becoming very famous as a TV show was released.

Thirty three years ago?!?

Yikes!

That, my friends, was the first, and only, time I ever saw the film. It was a date, you see, well before I met my future wife, and it went no-where. The date, that is.

But at least I remembered having fun with the film!

I hadn’t seen it since then and, frankly, hadn’t given it all that much thought.

Today, the movie was on one of the various cable channels and I caught it from almost the very beginning (I might have missed the first two or three minutes, nothing terribly big) and without the pressure of a date (which, I repeat, went absolutely nowhere), I was able to sit back and enjoy the film for what it was.

And it was a freaking hoot.

Here’s the trailer:

Dragnet was one of, if not THE first “parody” remake of a TV show. In more recent years we’ve seen parody remakes of Starsky and Hutch, Charlie’s Angels (the version with Barrymore/Diaz/Lui was pretty much parody… don’t know about the more recent one), and, for a while, there was talk about a Jim Carrey comedic version of The Six Million Dollar Man (obviously, it never came to be).

Dragnet originally featured the deadpan acting and narration of Jack Webb. Here’s a sampling of that…

Yeah, it could be a little… much.

But considering Dragnet first appeared in the 1950’s and continued through to the early 1970’s, I suppose one can excuse its super starched collar presentation.

By the time the film version was being made, it was ripe for parody and getting Dan Aykroyd to mimic Jack Webb’s ultra-seriousness (he also co-wrote the movie’s script) as “Joe Friday”, the grandson (or was it son?) of the original Joe Friday was a stroke of genius.

So too was getting Tom Hanks to play his much more loosey goosey new partner, Pep Streebeck. For almost the entire film we witness their interaction and, I have to say, it was almost always very funny.

Back in 1987 Tom Hanks was known primarily for his comedic talents, and he plunged headlong into the role along with Aykroyd to deliver a wonderful send-up on the whole bickering partners cliche.

The plot is delightfully silly, involving Pagan worshipers, a mayoral race, a porn publisher (Dabney Coleman in a humorous send up of Hugh Hefner), and a religious moral majority type (Christopher Plummer, positively oozing serpentine cool).

These various characters have plenty of story between them, double dealings and betrayals, while Friday and Streebeck try to bring the various wrong-doers in.

The movie at times reminded me of the Peter Sellers Pink Panther films and, while not quite as good as the best of them, Dragnet nonetheless managed to keep my attention and make me laugh many times throughout.

It’s always curious how some films are well remembered while others fade from the public consciousness. I suppose Dragnet isn’t one of the best remembered Dan Aykroyd or Tom Hanks films. One could even say it is mostly forgotten today. It’s quite a shame because the film is delightfully daffy and well worth checking out.

And remember kids: Thank God it’s Friday!

Recommended.

Workaholics and Charles Bronson…

Does the term “workaholic” apply to you?

Sometimes I think it applies to me. Other times, I feel I don’t do enough work and waste too much time.

Perhaps I’m too hard on myself.

The other day, over on Reddit, the topic of Charles Bronson’s 1974 film Mr. Majestyk came up. Adapted from an Elmore Leonard novel (many of his novels were adapted to the screen, including Hombre, 52 Pick Up, Jackie Brown, etc. etc.), the movie’s story is intriguing: Bronson is Vince Majestyk, a melon farmer (!) who runs up against the mob and a fierce hitman, all while trying to keep his crop going.

It’s an oddball yet very fun film, and the topic of 1970’s era Bronson films perked my interest. He’s one of those actors that was around a very, very long time but didn’t achieve true leading man stardom until he was at least a decade after beginning his career.

His very first role was in a 1949 TV show and he bounced between TV and movies for a while, mostly in relatively smaller roles. In 1960 he joined the all-star cast of The Magnificent Seven and that may well have been his first breakout role. He would go on to star with another all-star cast in The Great Escape in 1963. Between that time he was in plenty more TV roles.

It wasn’t until the very late 1960’s that Charles Bronson became a legitimate leading man in theatrical movies and left co-starring TV show roles behind (he would appear in a few TV movies, though), and from that point and through the 1970’s he was on a tear, appearing in an incredible amount of movies.

Anyway, for the hell of it, I wrote the following (I have made some minor edits/additions) in response to the Mr. Majestyk recommendation:

******

While going down the Charles Bronson 1970’s movie era rabbit hole, I recommend you check out these films as well. I’m not giving you all the films Bronson was in in the 70’s, and arguably the most famous is Death Wish, but I chose not to include it as I wanted to recommend films that might not be so well known:

Red Sun (1971) Bronson stars with Ursula Andress, Alain Delon, Capuccine, and (reads notes) Toshiro Mifune?! in an oddball western involving a samurai sword.

Chato’s Land (1972) Bronson stars as Chato, a half-Indian who in the movie’s opening minutes is goaded by a racist Sheriff into drawing and killing the man, which sets off a long manhunt to capture him. Bronson barely speaks in what is mostly a symbolic role, but the film wonderfully presents the whole “a few rotten apples” concept regarding the posse sent after him and, despite the film’s age, can be viewed as interesting symbolism with today’s politics. (I recently reviewed the film here)

The Mechanic (1972) Most may remember the remake and sequel with Jason Statham. Terrible films, IMHO, compared to the original which features Bronson as a experienced hitman who takes on a hotshot newcomer, played by Jan Michael Vincent, and plenty of games are soon afoot. Features a spectacular (IMHO!) ending. (I wrote about that film here, in the entry regarding the passing of Jan Michael Vincent)

Hard Times (1975) Bronson and James Coburn are illegal boxer and his “promoter”. Wonderful early script/direction by the great Walter Hill (The Warriors48 Hours, etc.).

Breakheart Pass (1975) a favorite of mine and based on a novel by Alistair Maclean. Bronson gets involved in a train ride with various shady characters and murder. In some respects, it plays out sorta/kinda like Murder on the Orient Express in the Wild West!

The White Buffalo (1977) Perhaps the most bizarre film on this list features Bronson as Wild Bill Hickok who meets up with Crazy Horse and they go hunting for the mythical beast. Part Jaws in the Wild West (!!!) part head trip, I nonetheless find the film a fascinating and unique work. (I reviewed that film here)

Telefon (1977) I conclude this list with this Don (Dirty Harry, the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers) Siegel directed film. Bronson plays a Russian agent tasked to stop a rogue Russian scientist who intends to awaken sleeper agents within our country. The sleeper agents, once awoken, will carry out murders and cause considerable destruction. A great thriller, IMHO!

*******

Charles Bronson starred in an incredible 24 films between 1970 and 1979. If you do the math, it meant each year you could expect to see a whopping 2.4 new Charles Bronson films!

Think about that!

Compare that to some of the bigger stars today. Regardless of what you think of him, Tom Cruise is an incredibly prolific actor and regularly appears/stars in films (very rarely -such as his appearance in Tropic Thunder– is he in a more minor role in any film).

Here’s his stats:

From 1981 (his first role) to 1989 Tom Cruise was in 12 movies. The early ones were co-starring/more minor roles.

From 1990 to 1999 Tom Cruise was in 10 movies, one a year.

From 2000 to 2009, he was in 11 movies.

From 2010 to the present, add another 11 movies.

Currently, he has 5 projects in various stages of production.

Regardless, one of the more prolific modern actors has managed less than half the number of films Mr. Bronson did in the 1970’s.

I know an argument can be made that many of Mr. Bronson’s films of that time were relatively low budget affairs that didn’t require the huge effects of modern films. They were likely made and released very quickly.

And yet…

You have to give it to Mr. Bronson. I grant you the last decade or so of his work following the 1970’s involved many, many cheesy and/or poorly written material.

But the man worked.

And how.

I suppose in conclusion, one could say that compared to Charles Bronson during the 1970’s, we’re all slackers!

Corrosive Knights, a 1/16/2010 Update

It’s been a hard couple of weeks, let me tell you.

As the expression goes, sometimes you need a vacation from/after your vacation to recover.

Our holiday vacation was great but boy did we move around. A lot. When it was over and we got back we did some more moving around before finally returning home. The next day it was back to work and its been crushing the amount of it to deal with.

On the writing front, it was only this week that I’ve finally been able to get back into Book #8 of the Corrosive Knights saga.

When I left it toward the end of 2019, I had the first draft done. Understand, the first draft of any work of mine doesn’t necessarily mean all the details are in place and all I have to do is tidy up some sentences here and there and release the book.

In this case, what I had was a very rough map of the book but an incomplete one. There were parts I wrote which I knew I would go back and change and/or eliminate. There were other parts that would require compression or expansion. I left the book in 2019 also knowing that there were more scenes I needed to come up with to add to the overall story.

As incomplete as that first draft of the book was, however, I had my road map and I now knew where/how the book began, played out, and ended. It may sound obvious but when I began this book I had no clear idea of any of those elements.

Truly, I entered the book blind, which can be kinda scary but also incredibly liberating.

As I worked on that first draft, I had a couple of introductory sequences written which I will likely eliminate entirely. It’s the price one pays for figuring out a book on the spot: Your first ideas may wind up being useless.

What they do is get your mind in gear, moving and thinking about possibilities and with that, ideas which might work out.

Slowly, at times very painfully, I’d realize certain things simply weren’t working despite my best efforts. Yet in that failure I often -though not always- found alternatives, ideas that did work and which were expanded upon. It seemed for every idea that failed, there would be another that didn’t, and slowly, ever so slowly, that first draft started to take shape over the course of roughly a year, until just before the vacation I had that one breakthrough that wrapped it all up and made me realize I had a book.

This week, as I stated, I started working on it again after my vacation. Beginning this second draft entails First reading Through my first draft and eliminating all that stuff I said didn’t work, tightening up the stuff that does, and expanding where the book needs it. Plenty of red marker notes, scratched sentences/paragraphs/pages, and much use of sticky notes. Once that’s done I get to the computer and put all those notes into the book while eliminating what needs to go.

In many, perhaps even most ways, the second draft of this book will very much be a part of the formal writing process and, when all is done, I expect the book to contain most, if not all, the elements I need in it.

Thus Draft #2 is like an extension of Draft #1. Perhaps to other writers it may well be that, and they view any draft which involves creative writing versus proofreading as part of the first draft process.

Regardless, for me this is crunch time and while there are moments of elation in going over this draft, there are certain to be plenty of moments of hard, hard, hard work.

Despite what it may seem like, writing ain’t easy. It takes -at least for me- total concentration and no distractions and easily chews up your time.

Yet the most beautiful thing in the world is holding your latest novel in your hand and thinking: I did that.

I can’t wait to feel that again…!

Oscar Nominations…

I’ll just come right out and say it: It’s incredible that Joker received the amount of nominations -11!- that it did.

In fact, everything about the film has been a shock and/or surprise, from first hearing it would get made, to the casting of Joaquin Phoenix, to the rumors Martin Scorsese would produce it (he didn’t, in the end), to the early release and positive words, to the formal release and the blockbuster take, and now the film is the most nominated feature of this year’s Oscars!

Who would believe Todd Phillips, the director of Hangover II and III, the two Hangover films I saw and absolutely hated (never caught the first, which my wife swears was hilarious), could turn around and be behind what is arguably the most talked about film released… and this in a year where other fantasy type films included Avengers: Endgame and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker…!

I have yet to see Joker, though my eldest daughter has and says it was good. Others haven’t liked it quite as much and I suspect I’ll eventually get to it.

Still, an amazing thing!

The one film I figured would get some Oscar love was The Lighthouse. Alas, it seems the only nomination it got was for cinematography, which nonetheless is very much deserved.

A more complete rundown of the Oscar nominations can be found here, in this article found on io9.com and written by Beth Elderkin:

Joker sweeps Oscar nods

New David Bowie releases…

The news is a couple of days old but I should have been expecting it.

David Bowie had a thing for celebrating his birthday, January 8th, with the release of new material. Indeed, his very last album, Blackstar, was released on January 8th of 2016 and, sadly, Mr. Bowie himself passed away two days later on January 10th at the age of 69.

This past January 8th would have been Mr. Bowie’s 73rd birthday and it was announced that two “new” albums would be released featuring live material he made while rehearsing for his famous 50th birthday bash, where he had a concert filled to the brim with guest star artists (Lou Reed, Billy Corgan, David Grohl, Robert Smith, etc.) singing along to many of his biggest hits.

Frankly, I’d love to have that album but, for now, what we get -eventually- is an intriguing release featuring rehearsals for that very show. The songs will be released one each week and two albums will contain the music and be released a little later this year. Over at pitchfork.com you can read up on the details:

Rare and unreleased David Bowie songs collected on new Album and EP

Count me in!

For now, the first release is what I consider one of his all time best songs ever. In fact, I’d probably rank it as my own personal favorite David Bowie song (though there are plenty of strong contenders!).

Here then, is the first release from that upcoming album, the rehearsal of The Man Who Sold The World

Perhaps I said it before but I’ll say it again: For me, the David Bowie gateway opened with the release of the album Let’s Dance back in 1983. I went absolutely wild for that album and played it over and over again back in high school and whenever I drove around (much to the eventual annoyance of the people who accompanied me on those drives).

Back then there wasn’t an internet and you couldn’t google “David Bowie” and have at your fingertips all his albums to listen to. Being curious about his previous releases, I headed out to record stores (yeah, they used to exist back then!) and slowly began to acquaint myself with his previous albums/songs.

I was surprised to find I was familiar with many of them, including Changes, Space Oddity, and Lady Stardust (to this day I don’t know why that particular song stood out to me, but when I heard it after buying the Ziggy Stardust album, it was the song I knew I had heard before and was familiar with while the rest of the songs were “new” to me).

One day I found a cassette of The Man Who Sold The World (I’ll refer to it as TMWSTW from here on), Bowie’s 1970 album which, to my mind, is the first “real” David Bowie album. Note he did release a number of singles, including his groundbreaking Space Oddity (single and album) before that album, but with TMWSTW, it seemed David Bowie truly found himself as an artist and following that album came Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust and the legend only grew from that moment on.

Returning to TMWSTW, I loved that album to death and, in particular, the song the album was named after. So much so that I even named a character I co-created with a friend after my mishearing of a line in the song (the character has never been used formally and may never be, so I’ll keep that little tidbit to myself!).

Regardless, when Nirvana famously covered the song years later and it suddenly blew up and became famous, I was nodding my head and smiling.

Not to sound like a smart ass or anything, but the world had finally caught up to how great that song was…!

And here it is in its original album version:

And, what the heck, here’s Nirvana’s version, which really brought it to audiences!

What a way to begin a year…

As I’ve said before, I try to be an optimistic guy. Realistic, but optimistic.

2019 was, to put it mildly, a very unpleasant year, though it was more of a function of world events. It seemed the nations of the world were engaged in some kind of major dumbing down.

Stepping away from the trees and looking at the forest, it occurs to me this may be in large part a result of what is coming rather quickly: A major generational shift.

The “boomers”, those born after World War II and up to roughly 1965, are getting older. They represent a very large group and they benefited from a unique set of circumstances, both good and bad, which allowed them to for the most part flourish.

However, they are getting older now and those born from 1966 on are beginning to assert their power. Some of the very younger generations, including the so-called millenials, have vastly different ideas as to what governments could and should do. They are concerned with wages and fairness, with climate change and pollution, while it seems the boomers could care less about any of those things.

Generational shifts are a historical trend, though and there is no stopping the passage of time.

Today’s elderly politicians have only so much more time left to their days in office and power before the new waves come in and inevitably make their marks on the halls of power and the general direction of humanity, even if it may be limited to their own locality.

I suppose what I’m saying is that I remain an optimist.

I don’t like much of what’s going on in Washington nowadays but it feels to me -and I freely admit I could be proven very wrong- that the outrageous actions we’re seeing today are the result of a generation’s death rattle.

It ain’t pretty and, frankly, its more than a little exasperating, but in time it will be over and others will step up to the proverbial plate.

Will the pendulum shift and things important to the younger generations finally come to the fore and be addressed?

I certainly hope so.

Let’s work toward that end, why don’t we?

Ad Astra (2019) a (mildly) belated review

Having finally reached our destination and spent nearly a week with family, it was time to fly back home. The flight to our destination was marked with a five hour delay in what amounted to a 2 and 1/2 hour flight and afforded me the opportunity to catch up on a couple of films (Starcrash and The Lighthouse).

As we usually do when flying, we arrived at the airport early and made it through security relatively quickly and got to our gate. Soon enough, the airplane was there, visible in its position awaiting our boarding. We still had a little time and had a light meal before returning to the terminal and wait for boarding.

…and wait…

and wait

The hour of departure was coming very close and while we saw the luggage placed within the aircraft, it didn’t seem like there was any movement toward letting passengers in.

Then we received the message: The Captain wanted to check something out with the engines and passengers weren’t allowed on the craft during the wait and yadda yadda. The ground crew moved away from the aircraft, the plane was left alone on the tarmac, and then the Captain revved up the engines a few times before shutting them down.

Then all was quiet.

…and we waited some more…

Finally, the bad news came, some hour after we were supposed to already be in the air: There was some mechanical problem so we were going to be using another aircraft that was en route to our location and we wouldn’t be boarding for another couple of hours until then.

We were, to say the least, livid.

We had so much free time that we decided to have an early supper (as I stated before, the previous food we had was more of a light snack).

We got back to the boarding area to see our airplane look like this…

Yeah, the airport fun this time around, eh?

Another few hours pass and then we get the news that they fixed whatever was wrong with the engine and we’d be boarding soon.

Yeah, another five hour delay on a 2 and 1/2 hour flight.

The fun never stops, right?

Anyway, once on board the flight, we found that unlike the flight over, this one had a robust entertainment system and after checking out the various films available to be seen, I decided to see Ad Astra (you knew I’d get here eventually, no?).

Here’s the movie’s trailer:

Featuring Brad Pitt in the role of Roy McBride, an astronaut who is the son of a very famous astronaut (played by Tommy Lee Jones) who went missing following an important mission some twenty years before.

McBride, we find, is a very unemotional man. This makes him a good astronaut as even in the most extreme emergencies he keeps his head and follows through on the mission. However, this unemotional facade hides deep cracks. His marriage is on the rocks and he doesn’t know how to deal with its break up. Part of his emotional vacuum is related to the loss of his father coupled with the complicated feelings he has for the man. He views him as a hero, yet the loss stings even to his adult age.

Odd electrical arcs descend upon Earth, causing considerable destruction and McBride is brought in for a top secret meeting. Turns out the electrical arcs are coming from further out in the Solar System, and the government fears their source is the scientific mission McBride’s father was on when he disappeared.

Then, the shocker: They think McBride’s father is still alive and, worse yet, is responsible for these electric attacks.

The news that his father might still be alive is a terrific blow to the stoic McBride. He is asked to fly to Mars and send a message to his father in the attempt to get some kind of response.

The reality is that Mission Control on Earth wants to get a location where the elderly McBride is so that they can take him, and the ship he’s in which is sending out the deadly electrical bursts, out.

When Ad Astra was making its way to theaters, there was talk this movie was a sci-fi version of the Joseph Conrad novel Heart of Darkness, which itself was the basis for the movie Apocalypse Now.

The idea of a person going out to check on someone who has gone rogue/native is the heart (pardon the pun) of Ad Astra and Apocalypse Now so the similarity is not unmerited.

When the film was finally released, critics seemed to love it, giving the film a robust 84% positive on rottentomatoes.com. However, if you check out the reviews from audiences, they had a far more dim view of the film, giving it a pretty weak 40% positive score.

In fact, many of the commentary boards I frequent had people ripping the film, saying its terrifically boring or silly, that the whole “father issue” is played out too thickly and that the film simply was terrible.

Still, I was interested in seeing it and decided to do so during the very delayed flight.

Unfortunately, the viewed wasn’t optimal. The screen would freeze now and again for a few seconds which the movie played and there were interruptions from the Captain when we hit some turbulence (yeah, flight from hell, eh?) and later when multiple announcements were made that we were going to land.

Ad Astra is a long film, just over 2 hours in length, and as we were coming in for a landing I feared I’d miss the very ending. As it turned out, I just got to the credits when the wheels touched ground.

Lucky me!

Given all the irritants dealt with between the delay in the flight to the interruptions to the at times marred film presentation, what did I think of Ad Astra?

I liked it. Quite a bit, in fact!

Was the film perfect? No. At times they did lay the emotions -and lack thereof- on rather thick. There were several action sequences in the film which, while exciting on their own, were obviously put in place to keep the film’s forward momentum going. If you step back and think about it, several of those sequences could have been cut from the film itself without taking away from the central and main plot of the film.

Further, the whole electrical attacks on Earth (and later, Mars) were never explained to my satisfaction. How exactly does a scientific vessel create these electric waves and shoots them out at Earth?

For that matter, why would the elderly McBride do this exactly? I mean, like Kurtz in Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now, he’s lost his mind and engaged in some very horrific actions. However, the scientific vessel he was commanding didn’t seem to be engaged in experimenting with electrical waves… so how come he’s using them now? Why is he firing them off toward Earth and Mars?

Those are the film’s negatives.

If you can look past them, however, you have a hypnotic film that puts you in the younger McBride’s shoes. You long for the lost contact with McBride’s father. You feel the frustration of his inability to express his emotions and the (paradoxical) fear of what he will find when he eventually goes in search of his father.

Ad Astra isn’t a shallow space opera with laser beams and fighting ships. It isn’t Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers and it most certainly isn’t Star Wars and I think that was in part why so many reacted negatively to the film.

What Ad Astra is is a more cerebral, introspective film with a few action sequences which carry things along. It wants the audience to sit back and admire the wonder of space and the hurt of isolation and loss.

In that, it succeeds, and for that reason I recommend it.

The Lighthouse (2019) a (mildly) belated review

Continuing on with the films I saw while flying (part 1, Starcrash, is here), after a 4-5 hour delay in getting into our airplane for a 2 and 1/2 hour trip, once we settled in I pulled out my trusty iPad and considered the next film to see. I decided on The Lighthouse, the critically loved 2019 film directed by Robert Eggers and co-written with his brother Max. Here’s the movie’s trailer:

This is Robert Eggers’ second film following the also critically loved 2015 film The Witch, which (no pun intended) I haven’t seen yet.

How did I like The Lighthouse? So much so that I immediately purchased a digital copy of The Witch and, as time allows, I fully intend to watch it as well. It isn’t often I’m so blown away by a film that I wind up seeking out the director’s previous work to check it out as well!

The Lighthouse is a relatively “small” film. There are two actors/characters who take central stage: Robert Pattinson’s Thomas Howard and Willem Dafoe’s Thomas Wake. A third actor, Valeriia Karaman, also appears in the film but I won’t spoil her role for those who haven’t seen the film.

The plot is simplicity itself: Howard and Wake arrive at a wind-strewn island to take over the lighthouse on it for a few weeks. Thomas Wake is a crusty man whose life is the lighthouse while Thomas Howard is a novice. This is his first shift at the lighthouse and, over time he, as well as the more experienced Wake, appear to lose their grip on reality.

Or do they?

I truly don’t want to get into too many SPOILERS because the film is incredibly surprising as it plays out. While on the surface it appears to be a “horror” film, it really is not. There are some uncomfortable scenes and eerie happenings, but the film’s primary goal isn’t to scare you.

Indeed, if anything there are more laugh out loud scenes in the film than those that will make you squirm in your seat as the two Thomases face off against each other. At times their relationship gives off homoerotic vibes, but they’re not overt. At other times they are fierce rivals, the young one who wants to supplant the older one, the older one who envies the young one’s energy. At times, there are hints of Lovecraftian horror, of weird things happening just outside our view and deep within the shadows.

As their time together extends, the two Thomases share -perhaps overshare- who exactly they are and what they’re up to. Wake is possessive of the lighthouse itself and will not allow Howard inside, while Howard longs to see what exactly lies up there… and whether he can take over.

Did I mention the film has several laugh out loud scenes?

Truly this is what amazes me even now about the film: It is incredibly funny at times. I read someone mention the film was like a homosexual rom-com and while I don’t think that’s totally true, the humor in the film is there and it is quite robust.

I’ve already noted that I loved the film so much I picked up the director’s first work and very much intend to watch it as soon as possible, so its obvious I highly recommend this film.

But going into it, I would urge anyone who does to check up on the mythology of both Proteus and Prometheus. The later’s myth, in particular, makes The Lighthouse’s ending make complete sense.

What are you waiting for? Go see The Lighthouse!