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.

The Thing (1982) A (Very) Belated Review

I’m a big fan of director/writer John Carpenter. One of my all time favorite films is the original Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), and feel Escape From New York (1981) is one of the most fascinating, original story concepts to make it to the screen.

The Thing, released in 1982, is considered by many John Carpenter fans to be his all time best film. Sadly, like too many of Mr. Carpenter’s films, it didn’t do well at the box office. In fact, it flopped, pretty hard, and audiences and critics weren’t all that impressed by it… at the time.

1982 was a wonderful year for movie releases (don’t believe me? Check it out here).

There are a wealth of great features released that year, but the biggest smash hit was Steve Spielberg’s E. T. The Extraterrestrial. There was also the release of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, perhaps the best of all the Star Trek films.

These two sci-fi classics were generally feel good films (even with the sad events at the end of STII). They were audience pleasers, through and through, and they did extremely well with audiences.

Which may explain why two other prominent science fiction films, Blade Runner and The Thing, didn’t do quite so well.

Both Blade Runner and The Thing presented more morose, not so crowd pleasant stories. In the case of Blade Runner, there was little action and plenty of self-introspection along with sticky questions regarding humanity. Sure, it presented a visually spectacular futuristic L.A., but one where people were down and out and audiences had little to actually cheer about.

With The Thing, we had a out-and-out horror story with some very gruesome effects and an ending which (MILD SPOILERS) is far from upbeat.

Yet if you’ve clicked on the list I presented of 1982 films, you’ll find both The Thing and Blade Runner at the top of the list, critically, and some of the bigger box-office successes lower.

Time has been kind to both movies.

Anyway, I have The Thing in multiple formats and recently upped the digital copy quality to UHD and decided to give the movie another look. It had been years since I’d seen it start to end, and I was curious how I’d feel about it.

Because unlike many, I feel the film has some pretty serious flaws.

Don’t get me wrong: I think its overall a pretty damn good film and the special effects, even for today, are jaw dropping. But I felt the film wasn’t as suspenseful as Assault on Precinct 13 or as clever as Escape From New York.

Seeing the film again, I wondered: Would my opinion change?

Alas, it didn’t.

Again: I think the film is quite good and deserves all the lavish praise its gotten.

However, by leaning so heavily into the at times superb grotesque effects and presenting characters who, IMHO, were pretty one note, the film to me failed to create a more suspenseful mood.

For example, the very first time we see the Thing in action, he’s with the other dogs in the kennel. The scene is a wonder of practical effects, but I wonder if it might have been more effective, a la Jaws, to hint at what grotesque things are happening through the dogs barking and moving about and us hearing these strange ripping sounds. We could have had everything there with a more shadowy presentation, leaving the first “big” showcase of the Thing being the “heart attack” scene.

But that’s just me and I know there are those who love all the effects work.

As for the characters, the “hero” of the piece, Kurt Russell’s MacReady, is the hero by virtue of the fact that he’s Kurt freaking Russell and I didn’t feel there was a sense that he was necessarily more competent than the others. True he’s in the middle of all the major set-pieces (as he should be!), but that just further showed how the others were mostly window dressing and/or victims to be. Keith David’s Childs, for example, the secondary protagonist of the piece, in the end does very little in the film but because he’s one of the “survivors” (maybe!) at the end, he’s raised in importance in retrospect.

I know it sounds like I’m sour on the film, but I’m truly trying to present the reasons why I feel that the film is quite good, it doesn’t -for me- rise to the level of some of Carpenter’s greater works (all IMHO!)

In the end, my opinion of The Thing remained roughly the same upon watching it again after several years. If I were to put the film on a star system, it would easily merit 3 stars out of 4.

At least for me, The Thing doesn’t quite hit the suspenseful highs of some other Carpenter films.

And that, of course, is just me.

Malignant (2021) A (Almost Right On Time) Review

Continuing my adventures with HBO Max, yesterday I looked around and found the movie Malignant available to stream.

Directed and from a story co-written by James Wan (Saw, Aquaman, The Conjuring), it focuses on Madison Mitchell (Annabelle Wallis) who -after a brief intro to events at some strange psychiatric facility that occurred in the past, 1993- arrives home late one night tired and, from appearances, experiencing considerable pain because of her pregnancy. She heads to her bedroom where her deadbeat husband is watching TV and they eventually get into an argument.

She’s been pregnant, it seems, multiple times and each has resulted in some problem and no child. The husband, a nasty piece of work, shows little sympathy for her and they get into an argument. He slams her against the wall and she hits the back of her head. Blood flows and, in horror, the husband rushes downstairs to the kitchen to get her something to stop the bleeding.

Madison locks him out of her room and he is unable to get back in. She eventually goes to sleep on the bed while he sleeps on the couch downstairs.

However, he is awoken by strange sounds and attacked… and killed in a very vicious manner.

Who did him in? And who is the crazed killer who seems to have been unleashed that night?

And what does that have to do with the brief intro of events from a psychiatric hospital in 1993?

The answers come, eventually, and they are wild.

However…

Malignant is one of those films that I suspect people will either like or hate. It presents its scares in a straightforward manner but the story itself is beyond silly when all is said and done, a film that might have benefitted from more humor a la Evil Dead 2.

On the other hand, I found the plot to be somewhat reminiscent of early David Cronenberg, specifically his 1979 film The Brood. Mind you, I’m not saying the films have similar plots, more like similar thematic ideas and body horror.

Once I finished up Malignant, I couldn’t help but wonder what a more serious -and stronger- horror film it could have been had it toned down some of the silliness (there’s a scene toward the movie’s climax involving a prison cell then the entire police department which is… yeah… silly) and focused more on making this body horror film.

Still, for what it is, Malignant is not terrible by any means and is often entertaining enough despite some of the sillier elements.

I recommend this film to people who are fans of James Wan but, again, expect a more silly horror feature rather than a more serious one.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021) a (Mildly) Belated Review

By now, most people with a passing interest in this film know the story. Zack Snyder makes Man of Steel (2013) it does good business -despite some controversy regarding the film’s ending- follows it up with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice which gets, for the most part, annihilated by critics but which proves to be a far better film than the theatrical cut (imposed by the studio, no doubt) would have you believe when the extended version is released to home video…

Warner Brothers, worried about the critical reaction of BvS and Suicide Squad (the first one), get really nervous. Meanwhile, Snyder is directing -and finishes all principle photography- of Justice League, the third film in his DC arc, but the death by suicide of his adopted daughter causes him to abandon the project. Joss Whedon steps in, reworks the film, and when Justice League is released to theaters, it does weak business while creating a backlash for many who viewed that film as a very inferior work compared to what Snyder was bringing to his DC films previously.

Petitions were made and Warner Brothers was harassed with a “release the Snyder cut” of Justice League campaign. Some scoffed at the notion that there existed such a cut while others, such as myself, felt the film was completed, at least with regard to the main cast’s work, but that to finish the film off properly likely required considerable CGI work and that involved considerable money to be invested.

Would Warner Brothers be willing to spend such cold hard cash?

Truthfully, I wondered. Estimates ranged from the movie needing 50 to a whopping 100 million dollars to be completed, and that seemed like a really tall order for a studio to invest in, given the original film didn’t do all that well to begin with.

But then… opportunity appeared in the form of HBO Max.

Last year studios began their move toward creating their own streaming services and Warners did so with their HBO Max service. The trick with any new service, though, is to get people interested in using/paying for it. Someone at Warners realized they had a very unique opportunity here: They could complete the Zack Snyder cut of Justice League and use that film’s premiere as an HBO Max “exclusive” to get people interested in the service.

Thus, Zack Snyder was able to finish off his version of Justice League and, to boot, was even able to add a couple of minutes of extra new footage at the movie’s end.

The movie was released and, somewhat incredibly considering how negative the critics were to BvS, Zack Snyder’s Justice League was very well received. Audiences too seemed to have far warmer feelings toward this film, though there remained those who felt the movie was long and dull.

As I mentioned in my last post, I switched/updated my TV/cable service and was given HBO Max free for a year. Finally and several months after its original release, I was able to see Zack Snyder’s Justice League.

And I must say… it was quite good.

At four hours long, this is the DC pantheon of heroes by way of King Arthur (those who noticed such things probably saw what was playing in the theater at the beginning of BvSExcalibur!), grand and immersive and allowing viewers a taste of each and every character while building up the threat to Earth, via Steppenwolf and, in the background, his master, the New Gods’ uber-villain Darkseid.

ZSJL is a film that gives viewers a wonderful, in my opinion, view of this world and builds a great amount of suspense while doing so.

Having said that, its not without its flaws. The movie’s climax, in particular, made the (MINOR SPOILS!) returning Superman seems way too powerful when he confronted Steppenwolf and essentially kicked his ass without too much difficulty.

Further, I’ve noted some people say this film, and Joss Whedon’s theatrical cut, feature the same basic plot and that’s all… ho hum.

To this, though, I would say that while the two films feature the same essential plot, its all in the way its told that makes Snyders’ version all that much better. Thus Whedon’s cut was never going to be a complete reworking of Snyder’s Justice League. Instead, what he offered was a simplification of the story with some added humorous bits, some of which worked (Aquaman accidentally sitting on Wonder Woman’s magic lasso) and some of which absolutely did not (Flash falling on Wonder Woman, his hands on her breasts… a grotesque bit of “humor” that should have been dumped well before it was made).

In the end, the only new bit I felt Whedon added to the movie which I miss is the one at the very end of his version of the film, where Superman and the Flash race to see who is quicker. That bit, I felt, was really good.

Otherwise, though, my advice regarding Joss Whedon’s version of Justice League is the same advice I gave regarding the theatrical cut of BvS: Throw it away and forget it ever existed.

Highly recommended.

Reminiscence (2021) A (Right On Time!) Review

Given the COVID era, “new” movies are being released in odd ways. Tenet, for example, was released to theaters before quickly being streamed. I suppose there was money to be made doing the streaming thing because several films have been released “simultaneously” to steaming and the theaters.

I haven’t seen many -actually none– of the streamed features because until yesterday, I didn’t have any of the various streaming services dedicated to movie releases.

So yesterday I updated my current TV/cable service and, in the process, was given a free year of HBO Max. Suddenly, I was able to dip my toe into the new movie scene and discovered that Reminiscence was available for a few days more (the simultaneous streaming ain’t forever, folks!) and so I gave it a shot.

For those unfamiliar with the movie, here’s the trailer:

Reminiscence features Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Ferguson, and Thadiwe Newton and was written and directed by Lisa Joy. Mrs. Joy is married to Jonathan Nolan, the brother of famed director Christopher Nolan, and, like her spouse, is a well established screenwriter who was involved in, among others, the HBO series Westworld.

With such well regarded talent involved, I figured the film had to be at the very least intriguing. There was, however, one other element that made me curious to see the film: It was filmed in and around Miami and Miami Beach and I knew about it when, just around the time COVID was becoming a thing, staff from the movie came around our business on Miami Beach to have us sign a waiver for some scenes they were going to film on a nearby building’s roof.

(The scene, if you’re curious, involves Hugh Jackman romancing Rebecca Ferguson while on said rooftop).

Anyway, Reminiscence is set in a near future where global warming has caused the sea levels to rise and Miami and Miami Beach are inundated. Hugh Jackman and Thandiwe Newton play “memory” detectives, people who delve into other people’s memories. At times they do this for the police when they’re trying to get information from someone who may not be willing or able to give it.

On the side, they offer their memory services to people who want to …uh… reminisce about something that occurred in their lives, be it for the sake of nostalgia or anything else.

Both our protagonists are presented as generally good souls, allowing some people to use their services for free while eeking out their existence.

And then, one day, appears Mae (Rebecca Ferguson) with a very dubious request: She says she lost her keys and would like our protagonists to do a memory search to find where she left them.

Now, let me stop right there: She arrives into this business which delves into people’s memories to just find some… missing keys??!?

I have to say, this bit really kills me. What a seriously weird misstep in an otherwise reasonably well thought out/written story. It just seems so damn ordinary –trivial– to get a story going but that’s what we’re given.

Nick Bannister (Jackman) is of course instantly attracted to Mae and they romance for a few months and then… she vanishes.

No explanation, no words.

What follows is Bannister using his memory machine as he increasingly desperately attempts to figure out what has became of her.

I won’t get into too many more details but suffice to say there is plenty of stuff revealed in the course of the movie, including sorting out Mae’s ultimate moral compass.

There is plenty of neat stuff to be found and some truly poetic lines but sadly the film ultimately left me dissatisfied.

To begin, as good as the actors are, I found it hard to see beyond who they were. I’ll try not to get into too many spoilers, but I never felt the characters -possibly because of the actors involved- would surprise me. By the end of the film, lo and behold, they did not. They were what I thought they were and there was no hidden layers to them.

Further, the mystery, which could have been intriguing as hell, winds up being not quite as gripping and emotionally involving as it should be. In this it felt like the fault lies in the way the film was presented, which ultimately falls on Lisa Joy’s direction. There is a lack of urgency and gritty darkness to grip us as viewers… and that’s a real shame because the elements were there.

In the end, I came away from Reminiscence feeling it was an average film with some good ideas but which lacked the emotional punch needed to pull me as a viewer along.

Its a shame. What could and should have been a movie right up my alley winds up being one I can’t recommend.

Borderline (1980) a (Ridiculously) Belated Review

I’m a big fan of the late actor Charles Bronson. He may not have had the greatest range, but he was a hard working actor who seemed determined to keep working through his entire life.

A while back, and just for the heck of it, I looked up all the films he was in in through the decade of the 1970’s (ie, 1970 through 1979) and was stunned to find he was in an astonishing 24 films during those nine years, most of which he starred in!

Not all of them were great, but a surprising number are, IMHO, watchable, and I even listed some I really enjoyed (you can read that original post here).

But, IMHO, things changed once we reached 1980. By that point, Bronson was approaching his 60th year and, frankly, wasn’t looking quite as spry as he was before. Worse for him, the quality of the movies he was in started to lag, sometimes -especially with the grindhouse-like Cannon Films- into seemingly countless repeats of his Death Wish role and roles similar to that.

In looking over his filmography, its interesting to see that the shift from decent/quality films to lesser works does seem to fall in the year 1980, when Charles Bronson starred in a “mere” two films, the Casablanca (!) like Cabo Blanco and Borderline, the film I’m reviewing here.

At this moment, the film is available in its entirety on YouTube, and I’ve provided a link to it here:

I saw Borderline many years before and, frankly, I had very few memories of it, if any. I recalled Bronson was playing a Border patrol cop and dealing with a problem that seems to be a constant: The flow of illegal immigrants into the U.S. from Mexico.

What was somewhat surprising about seeing the film is that it truly seems to try to show sympathy for those who are illegally crossing, pointing out that they do so because jobs -menial though they may be- are offered and that there are rich folks in the U.S. who willingly take them on… even while they wash their hands about what they’re doing.

Borderline specifically focuses on Bronson and his overwhelmed group and how they have to deal with one particular human smuggling operation and one particularly nasty smuggler, played by Ed Harris in what as his first theatrical movie role (he had appeared in TV shows prior to this film and had a extremely small cameo/extra role in Coma). Here, he’s the one Bronson is after, though their confrontation winds up being one of the very few “action” sequences in the film.

Indeed, the film plays itself out mostly in a tame way. Bronson and his boys are dealing -as nicely as possible- with the illegal immigrants while Harris’s character treats them like cattle and, when nearly caught by one of Bronson’s deputies (played in a very small role by Wilford Brimley), blood is shed, Bronson decides to focus on finding and apprehending this particular human smuggling organization.

What follows is Bronson going deep undercover and seeing the smuggling operation first hand -as an illegal immigrant!- but truthfully its all presented in such a laid back manner that one never gets terribly worked up or feels any particular suspense.

The big showdown at the end of the film between Bronson’s Deputy and Harris’ smuggler seems out of place in this film, as if a decision was made to give us an action climax, but it simply isn’t all that exciting, either.

Perhaps in its time, the film played out far better, but when viewed some forty plus years later, it feels like a sedate TV movie.

While not awful, its difficult to recommend Borderline to anyone but fellow Bronson fans like me.

The New 2021 Novel Update #7

Two days ago, on Thursday the 2nd of September, I finished the read-through and red-ink revision of Draft #3 of my 2021 Novel (no spoilers yet regarding its title) and begun typing those changes/revisions into the computer.

I’m very happy with the book but, given the events that have happened to me, there’s a great melancholy to reading through the book. There are things that occur in it which… I dunno. It’s almost like when I started this book and finished up the first draft and as I worked through the second draft I had -unknowingly- a premonition of the things that would happen to me.

Mind you, I don’t believe in psychics, I don’t believe in most of that supernatural stuff, but I have read studies I don’t entirely comprehend regarding the nature of time and there are some who feel it isn’t quite the linear process we tend to feel it is.

Do we sometimes get a hint of things to come? Can the future affect our present?

Again, based on some of the stuff I wrote I wonder.

Regardless, I’ll soldier on. I truly hope to finish up this book and release it by later this year or, at worst, early next.

It’s another good one, if I do say so myself.

The 10 Worst Songs By Great Artists…

…at least according to faroutmagazine.com:

The 10 Worst Songs By Great Artists

As with many such lists, one has to take it with a grain of salt… after all, opinions about artistic works, whether they be music, movies, TV shows, books, etc. are just that: Opinions.

I have to admit, I’m strongly familiar with only two of the songs listed while I have heard, but haven’t felt much one way or the other, about a few of the others.

As a HUGE The Beatles and David Bowie fan, of course I’m quite aware of The Beatles’ Revolution 9 and Bowie’s The Laughing Gnome.

The former was presented on The Beatles’ White Album, another of the spectacular later day albums The Beatles released before ultimately breaking up, and truthfully I can’t argue with this as being perhaps the worst song The Beatles released.

Revolution 9 is artistic noise, a collage of sound that for me, anyway, means little. Having said that, I’ve listened to it a few times and while it isn’t my cup of tea, I can’t say its completely without merit. It just doesn’t work for me and, if push comes to shove, as I said above, I’d agree this is probably the worst “official” The Beatles release.

As for David Bowie’s The Laughing Gnome

The fact of the matter is that David Bowie’s career followed a slow trajectory up. He produced quite a bit of stuff before finally getting his act together. The Laughing Gnome IMHO is an inoffensive, silly little song that means nothing one way or the other and was a product of a young artist who still didn’t have his course set.

How can one view that as his “worst” work?

Indeed, I’d be far harsher with any “bad” songs released post Space Oddity, when David Bowie was clearly a lot more confident of his musical skills and might have released here and there a song which doesn’t measure up to his usual levels of brilliance.

For example, and while I don’t necessarily view it as his worst, the song Too Dizzy released on what David Bowie himself considered his worst album, 1987’s Never Let Me Down, was stricken from future re-releases of the album on Bowie’s insistence. He apparently hated the song that much!

So, perhaps, we can look upon this instead of The Laughing Gnome as Bowie’s worst… at least when it comes to the artist’s own opinion!

Marc Bernier…

The above name is unfamiliar to you?

Mr Bernier has the dubious distinction of being the third conservative anti-vaccination radio host to die from COVID-19.

You can read about him -and the other two hosts- who passed away in this article by Daniel Politi and presented on Slate.com:

Marc Bernier becomes the third Anti-Vax radio host to die from COVID 19

His death follows the deaths of Phil Valentine of Nashville and Dick Farrel of Florida, both of whom when they were hospitalized with COVID-19 decided that maybe the virus was indeed serious and urged their friends to vaccinate. For both of them, alas, it was too late and the virus took their lives.

However, for Mr. Bernier, it appears his final tweets suggested he remained an Anti-Vaxer even to his death.

I really don’t get it.

You hear about people being so anti-vaccine and anti-mask yet they fall for bullshit “treatments” like hydroxychloroquine and, more recently, ivermectin, a horse de-wormer (!!!!), instead of, you know, getting the free vaccine that has been proven to help against COVID-19.

It’s almost like they know, deep in their souls, that COVID-19 is serious but have so convinced themselves that the liberal media, Fauci, and the CDC, are somehow trying to bamboozle them with the approved vaccines and therefore IF they try anything, damned if they’ll do whatever Fauci or the CDC of FDA recommend… and therefore they go to dubious bullshit artists and stock up on their bullshit drugs and recommendations.

whew

Truly makes me wonder when a chunk of society collectively lost their damn minds and are so intensely sure their negative feelings toward such figures is justified they will go the extra mile to somehow “prove” their ideas/notions are right.

Even when it might mean they do so at the risk of their very own lives.

Hurricane Ida…

Really hard to look at the news and the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, which slammed into the Louisiana coast yesterday.

CNN has a block of news devoted to updates regarding the storm:

Hurricane Ida Live Updates

Each year that passes and I remain living in a hurricane prone area, I scratch my head and wonder why I do so.

To those who don’t live in such areas, you just don’t know the “joy” of living the summer months watching updates on the tropics and possible systems that develop there.

August in particular is one of the worst months, though September isn’t all that far behind, where one watches and worries about what might happen.

I’ve lived through too many near misses and at least a handful of “direct” hits, including Katrina which passed over our area as a Category 1 Hurricane before exiting into the Gulf of Mexico where it rapidly gained strength and eventually -and devastatingly- hit roughly the same area Ida has now hit.

To say the least, I feel for the people there and extend my sympathy and fervent hope for better days to come.

Coronavirus Diaries 39 & Other Things…

So I just checked my blog entries and was shocked to find its been two weeks since I last posted.

Where the hell has the time gone?

First though: Sorry for the dearth of posts. Given the situation regarding the passing of my parents at Champlain Towers, I’ve spent so much time dealing with the family business while going to lawyers and banks to deal with what my parents left behind.

Truthfully it feels like I’ve not had a chance to properly grieve yet, given how each day is filled to the brim, it seems with things we need to take care of… and what’s to still come.

On top of all this, I’ve tried to find time to keep writing, and hopefully I’ll soon make it through the 2nd draft read through of my new novel.

Concerning COVID, I’ve noticed that more people are taking the virus, and the need to vaccinate, seriously. I suppose the news of the Delta variant has finally made at least some of those who foolishly felt the vaccine was unnecessary or that the virus’ potency was overblown into finally realizing that, yes, you can die from it, regardless of your obnoxiously strongly held political beliefs.

Over the weekend we had another somewhat prominent conservative, this one a radio host, by the name of Phil Valentine, died at the age of 61 and after a month of dealing with COVID. Once he realized how serious the situation was, he reportedly changed his views on the vaccine.

Too late for him, it turned out.

But if you think everyone who has a close brush with death suddenly turns, you’d be wrong.

Newsweek had the story of Maine GOP Representative Chris Johansen attending an anti-vaccination rally days after his wife died from COVID.

Un-freaking-believable.

Even worse, it appears he had COVID -though he seems to now deny it- and may well have given the virus to his late wife.

Anyway, the good news is that vaccination numbers are up, so at least there’s that. We have reached the point where we want as many people as possible vaccinated so that we can head off any new variant of COVID which could potentially render the vaccines irrelevant.

If that should happen, we would quite literally be back to square one.

Needless to say, this would be the absolute worst possible scenario.

Get vaccinated, people. Let’s move forward instead of back.