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.

Girl possibly murdered during Roman Invasion Found in England

I was looking around History.com. the website of the History Channel, and came upon this story:

http://www.history.com/news/2011/04/29/girl-possibly-murdered-during-roman-invasion-found-in-england/

Despite the fact that this murder occurred so very long ago, I felt a great deal of sadness reading about this unknown girl/woman (she was between 16 and 20 at the time of her death) and her fate.

Given the times this young woman was living in, around 50 A.D., and the events occurring in England, it chills me to think of the possible terrors she faced during her final days of life.  One imagines she could well have been a prisoner of the advancing Roman army and, as mentioned in the article, once she outlived her “usefulness” to the invaders, she was murdered and hastily buried.

A tragic -albeit small- piece of history that nonetheless gives us a window on ancient times.  Given what we know about modern warfare and its victims, stories like these makes one wonder how much we have truly advanced in all these years.

Dave Mustaine endorses….Rick Santorum?!

Say it ain’t so!

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/15/rick-santorum-megadeth_n_1279794.html

Back in the later 1980’s and for a several years afterwards, I really got into the heavy metal music of Anthrax, Stormtroopers of Death, and Megadeth.  Though I tried a few other bands at that time, including the ever-popular Metallica and heavy metal favorites Slayer, the ones I really liked was that original group of three…two if you count Stormtroopers of Death as what they were, half the members of Anthrax doing an offshoot project.

Megadeth, fronted by ex-Metallica member Dave Mustaine, were in my mind sensational.  While the fact that he was kicked out of Metallica resulted in plenty of “which band is better” comments among the fans, to me there was no question:  Megadeth was the better group…if not the better selling and more popular one.

Mr. Mustaine certainly had his demons, including alcohol and drug use and the group went through more personnel changes than any other band I had followed.  For the most part, however, it didn’t appear to hurt their music.  Each successive album was quite good, at least in those early years.  The band, in my opinion, released not one but two absolutely classic heavy metal albums:  1986’s Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying (their second album) and 1990’s Rust in Peace (their fourth album).  Their biggest chart topper would be the album that followed Rust in Peace, 1992’s also quite excellent Countdown to Extinction.

After that came Youthanasia, a decent effort but the band was clearly slowing down and not producing music that was quite as “heavy”.  Their next album, Cryptic Warnings, didn’t do all that much for me.  The album after that, Risk, did even less.

The band underwent more turmoil, but in 2001 and with the release of The World Needs a Hero, I heard faint distinct echoes of what made me like the band in the first place.  While the album as a whole wasn’t as good, IMHO, as some of the “classic” albums, for the first time in a while I was optimistic that maybe, just maybe, Mr. Mustaine and company (whoever he had in the band at that time) could make a comeback.  For the first time in a while, I had hope.

Unfortunately, this hope seemed to be dashed permanently when news came out that Dave Mustaine suffered nerve damage to his arm in 2002 and it looked like he might never be able to play the guitar again.  Mr. Mustaine went on to announce the end of the band and an era appeared over.

But, after extensive therapy, Mr. Mustaine recovered and was back to playing.  Finally, after so many years, could there be a rebirth?

Well, since that time the band has released three more albums.  And in the intervening years, Mr. Mustaine has changed.

A lot.

When it was announced he had become a born again Christian, I noted that his songs began to have a certain…rightward…bend.  Then I heard Mr. Mustaine refused to sing some of the songs off his earlier albums.  They simply didn’t fit his current mind set.  His politics, too, headed right, and therefore it isn’t terribly surprising to find his endorsement of Mr. Santorum, a man who I strongly suspect would be only too happy to ban all of Mr. Mustaine’s music.

It’s a funny world we live in.  I can’t help but wonder what a younger Dave Mustaine would think of the older version of himself.  The personality change is about as complete as one could imagine.

Regardless, I’ve always felt that people should do whatever makes them happy, provided they do no harm to others in the process.  Unfortunately, the subject matter and music in Mr. Mustaine’s latest albums just haven’t been my cup of tea.  At all.  I’ve given up on the hope that Megadeth might one day surprise me and release an album that stands toe to toe with their best.

Luckily, and when the mood hits me, I can still enjoy the works from the past.

How do we make the Oscars better?

How about a 10 year Oscar re-vote?  So opines author Lowen Liu at Slate Magazine:

http://hive.slate.com/hive/fix-the-oscars/article/the-10-year-oscar-re-vote

Of course, such an idea would never happen as its waaaay too embarrassing, controversial, and just plain nasty an idea.

However…

Ms. Liu points out something that is perplexing about the public’s views on art in general and something I’ve noticed on more than one occasion:  What might be popular -even wildly popular- today may be passe or worse tomorrow.

Actors Paul Newman and Al Pacino were famously nominated (and sometimes not nominated) for works they should have, in hindsight, won awards for.  In the end, Mr. Newman was nominated some nine times for an Academy Award but finally received one for his work in The Color of Money, the Martin Scorsese directed sequel to The Hustler.  While The Hustler was (and is!) considered by many, including myself, a cinematic classic, there are few who hold as high an opinion of the belated sequel.  In fact, to my mind the sequel is an incredibly mediocre film, perhaps one of Mr. Scorsese’s rare misfires.  Mr. Newman wasn’t terrible in it, but neither was he as scintillating as he was in so many other, better films.  The Award, it felt, was given in lieu of awards he should have received in the past.

As for Al Pacino, he was also nominated multiple times for his acting in very, very strong films.  Ultimately, he was given an Academy Award for his role in Scent of a Woman.  This award, too, felt like a gift for past transgressions.  While the film was a success upon its release, I suspect there are few today who would consider this film anywhere near the level of many of Mr. Pacino’s “great” films, films that he deserved to win an award far more than this one.

In the end, however, Oscars have to be viewed as what they are:  A snapshot of the times.  Sure, there are going to be films and actors who should have won but didn’t, yet ultimately great work, for the most part, is recognized over the course of time.  And works that were perhaps not as good as one thought, well, they slowly are forgotten.

Tintin and Alph-Art (2007) a (belated) review

Very late last year, the Steven Spielberg directed The Adventures of Tintin movie came to theaters.  While the box office within the United States, where the character of Tintin isn’t as well known, was mild, the film was a hit in other parts of the world.

Tintin was created by Georges Prosper Remi, better known as Herge, in 1929.  Mr. Herge wrote and illustrated the adventures of Tintin from that time until his death in 1983.  In total, he made 23 Tintin “graphic novels”, starting with Tintin in the Land of the Soviets and ending with 1976’s Tintin and the PicarosTintin in the Congo, the second released full adventure of the character, remains, to my knowledge, the only one unavailable in English, and perhaps for good reason as it features stereotypes which may have been acceptable back in 1931 when the book was released but are today difficult to bear.

At the time of Herge’s death, he was working on another Tintin adventure, Tintin and Alph-Art.  He would never finish the work, but so beloved is the character of Tintin that what work he did on the feature was collected into a graphic novel album and released after Herge’s death.

It remained the only Tintin graphic novel I hadn’t read…until now.

To begin, I was wary of purchasing the book because of the fact that it appeared so rough.  One has only to look at the cover art to see what you’re in for in the book itself:

Compare that sketch with the covers below, taken from two completed works:

So, as I said before, I was a bit wary of trying the book out.  Eventually, I knew, I would give in, and I did.

And I’m not unhappy to do so.  There are only three pages, the first three pages, of the work that one could consider close (but not quite) “finished pencils”.  No page has been inked, and whatever colors there are are via marker.  As for the story, Herge managed to plot out 42 pages of story.  Herge’s Tintin graphic novels tended to run around 60+ pages, so we’re missing what amounts to the story’s climax and resolution.  However, despite the fact that 40 of the 42 pages presented are pretty rough, artistically, there were great efforts made to post what Herge wrote of dialogue and, thus, it is possible to follow the story presented, even if it is presented as rough as it is.

Perhaps the single worst element is the fact that the story is incomplete, and Herge leaves our hero in a cliffhanger situation, never to be resolved.

If you’re a fan of Tintin and were hesitant about buying this book, there are pluses and minuses to doing so.  On the one hand, its fascinating to see a work in progress.  Despite the rough nature of this work, there are things to enjoy here…you can see the genius of Herge come through.  On the minus side, it is awfully rough, and one gets the feeling that much of the later pages Herge was “winging it” and would have probably revised and rewritten and smoothed out things happening later on.  And the one big minus, of course, is that ultimately the story is incomplete.  There is simply no end.

Given these elements, I would cautiously recommend the book to fans of Tintiin.  If you’re a newcomer to the Tintin universe, I would suggest you look in on the completed works before diving into this one.

The Politics of Creation

With advances in computer image technology, what was once only imagined can now be put on film.  Before these advances, I would argue that the most imaginative visual works were found in comic books and art in general.  After all, where else could you actually see worlds of wonder created on a budget limited only by an artist’s drawing skills?

It wasn’t all that long ago, after all, that the tagline for the original Superman film was “You’ll believe a man can fly”.  Back then, creating the sense of a man in flight without showing strings or using a very obvious blue screen effect was that big a deal.  Today, we see entire worlds of digital wonder, creations that in the past would have required intricate miniatures or matte paintings, at the very least.  Flying?  That’s absolutely no big deal in modern cinema.  There are almost no limits to what can be shown.

Because of this, it is little wonder that superhero film have became big business in recent times.  Films with big time, envelope pushing effects are often the subject of Hollywood’s summer “blockbuster” productions.  Not all are based on comic books, of course, but those that are doubtlessly make a lot of money, or else we wouldn’t be seeing quite as many of them appear each year.

In the wake of all this success, unfortunately, there are those left behind.  Usually, they’re the ones you figure stand to gain the most from the success of comic books characters translated to the screen.

I’m talking about the comic book creators themselves.

Back in the mid-1970’s, when interest in the then upcoming Superman film was becoming very hot, Superman’s creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster began a public relations offensive against DC Comics, the company that held the copyrights to their creation.  The duo had infamously sold their creation back in the 1930’s for $130 (the actual check was found and can be seen in this article) and were seeing Superman come to the big screen and potentially reap big rewards for everyone…but them.  In the end, DC Comics, the owners of the Superman character, agreed to restore credit to Mr. Siegel and Shuster for the creation of the character.  They also offered a monetary yearly bonus and health insurance.  Though both creators passed away in the 1990’s, their families continue the fight for the rights to their creations.

They’re not the only one.

Back in the early 1960’s, Marvel Comics was a company that seemed to be going nowhere.  That is, until editor/writer Stan Lee united with artists/co-writers Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko and, together, the trio created a plethora of well known comic book characters that have now made their way to big screen success: The Fantastic Four, Spider Man, The Hulk, Iron Man, etc. etc. etc.  The song, alas, remained the same.  Both Mr. Kirby and Ditko left Marvel in the mid and late 1960’s and, to this day, have not collected anywhere near the financial rewards one could argue should be due to them for their creations and co-creations.  While Mr. Ditko, co-creator of Spider Man has been given credit for the creation, it is my understanding that despite the success of the films, he hasn’t made anything off them.  Mr. Kirby’s heirs, on the other hand, have fought Marvel Comics for years to either gain control over some of the characters he created or be given some kind of recompense for his many years of work.

Most recently, some in the comic book community have expressed sympathy to the plight of Gary Friedrich.  I’ve never met the man myself, but his name popped up on some works during the 1970’s that I read and enjoyed, published by Marvel Comics (his first work at the company began in the 1960’s).  He was also the creator (although there is some dispute over some parts of this) of the Johnny Blaze incarnation of Ghost Rider.

Mr. Friedrich brought suit against Marvel Comics claiming the character’s rights were his and not Marvel’s.  He felt particularly slighted, I suspect, because in spite of the financial (if not critical) success of the Ghost Rider film and the upcoming sequel, he had not been given either credit or money for his creation.  In the end, he lost the lawsuit and was ordered to pay Marvel $17,000, something he is unable to do.

Comic book writer Mark Evanier offers some great insight into Mr. Friedrich’s situation here, and I couldn’t agree with his opinions more.  It would seem counter productive for a company such as Marvel or DC to hire lawyers and spend great quantities of money fighting off people who could probably accept less money than that to settle their claims of character ownership.

On the other hand, I can see the company’s perspective…to a degree.  The fact is that many of these creations were made at a time when one didn’t think the characters and stories would achieve the level of success they did.  Comic books have been considered disposable entertainment for years.  Original artwork which might be worth hundreds of thousands -perhaps even more!- dollars today, for example, were routinely thrown out.  Likewise, artists and writers didn’t know or realize their creations would endure as they did and find a second life in film, TV, reprints, etc.  Further, the company that made the investment on the artist and/or writer to produce their product was the one taking the monetary risk.  While they hoped their current publication would succeed, it is doubtful many of them had to foresight to guess that some of the work they commissioned back in the 1930’s to today would eventually become such a bonanza.  They took the financial risk, shouldn’t they reap the reward?

So what’s the solution?

I think Mr. Evanier’s article scratches at that.  While his involvement with the later Mr. Kirby and the estate preclude him from making too many comments regarding that particular situation, he does note that creators and the companies that own the creations should find some kind of common ground instead of becoming antagonists.

I suppose its human nature to fight what you consider yours, whether you are the creator of a concept or the one who owns its copyright.

The awareness of these fights, by the way, hasn’t gone unnoticed.  Ever since the late 1990’s, I’ve realized both DC Comics and Marvel have had very few “new” character creations appearing in their various books.  It appears few authors and/or artists want to suffer what Mr.’s Kirby, Ditko, Siegel, Shuster, etc. etc. have faced and are content to write stories featuring established characters and villains while not going out of their way in creating any new characters they might eventually “lose”.

I find it a shame but not a surprise.

I suppose they’re no real moral to this story, except that a creator should be careful with his or her creations.  Especially when those creations may become the property of someone else.

Dreamcatcher (2003) a (very belated) review

Another oldie but goody, from July 2011.

When I first heard about the movie Dreamcatcher, it was about to be released into theaters back in 2003.

First, though, an admission: I have never been a big fan of Stephen King’s novels.  I’ve read a few, though they were “OK” at best, but found more enjoyment out of some of his short stories.  As far as Dreamcatcher was concerned, I had no awareness at all about the book until the film was released.

Nonetheless, the commercials had me intrigued.  For, while I freely admit to not being a terribly big fan of Mr. King’s novels, I cannot dispute the fact that there had been some very good movies based on his works, including, but not limited to, The Shining (my favorite), Carrie, The Dead Zone, and Salem’s Lot. Sure, there have also been many pretty bad adaptations (including the awful Stephen King himself directed Maximum Overdrive), but I was curious to give the movie a try.

Unfortunately, I missed the film’s original theatrical run yet remained interested in seeing it despite some withering reviews.  Last night, I had the chance to do so, nearly a full decade after the original release.

Before I get to my reaction to Dreamcatcher, let me point out the film was written by Lawrence Kasdan and William Goldman.  It was directed by Mr. Kasdan. William Goldman, for those who are unaware, is a living legend in the movie business.  His screenplays include the wonderful Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Harper, All The President’s Men, The Stepford Wives, Marathon Man, etc. etc.  Mr. Kasdan, however, is hardly a slouch when it comes to movie history.  He wrote the screenplays to The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Body Heat, etc. etc. and directed such notable films such as the aforementioned Body Heat, The Big Chill, Silverado, and The Accidental Tourist.

So the idea that these three individuals, Mr. King, Mr. Goldman, and Mr. Kasdan were behind Dreamcatcher was, to say the least, a potentially fascinating mix. In front of the camera were some at the time strong up-and-coming actors such as Thomas Jane, Timothy Olyphant, Jason Lee, and, as the movie’s chief (human) antagonist, another screen legend, Morgan Freeman. With that much talent both in front of and behind the cameras, what could possibly go wrong?

Quite a bit.

Now, the movie’s direction is pretty good. The scenery/location is nice. The effects are quite good, even if some of the computer graphics show their age (this is hardly a knock as computer graphic technology has progressed considerably in the years since its introduction). The acting by all the principals is also for the most part good.

Which leaves the story.

man oh man that story…

For the third time: I’m no huge fan of Stephen King’s novels. I never read the book this movie was based on and therefore don’t know how faithful/unfaithful it is to Mr. King’s novel. But even assuming the movie was a very radical departure from the book, the bottom line is that the plot of Dreamcatcher, the movie, is a mish-mash of story ideas and concepts seen far too many times before in the works of Stephen King himself and other, far better sci-fi and horror films.

What you have with Dreamcatcher is a movie that features elements of Stand By Me in a shotgun marriage with Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Alien/Aliens. It is a mess of a film that moves from the present to the past and never really builds up enough steam to get us involved in almost everything that’s happening. We get the typical King flawed childhood characters grown up: In their youth, they were a “gang” of misfits who swear a lifelong pledge to be friends. They get into some scary mischief (in this case, they stop a trio of bullies from beating up a mentally disabled boy) and, as a result, find there’s more to their new-found friend than meets the eye. Despite his mental challenges, the beat up boy has a psychic gift, of sorts, which he shares with the other four boys who save him from the bullies (why he does this, given the movie’s final revelations, is a mystery that is never really resolved. Suffice to say, there is no real reason for this boy to be…a boy).

Fast forward twenty some years later and the four boys, now equally damaged grownups (one is suicidal, one is a drunk, one appears to have no real job, and the other is *gasp* a student counselor), head out to a hunting lodge for their annual “mischievous boys turned into damaged men annual hangout”. They miss their childhood and they miss their childhood friend (is he dead? We’re not certain…at least yet). They hang out and eat cooked ground beef and hunt (although they never are shown firing so much as a shot at any animal). Things are going hunky dory until the alien invaders show up.

Yup, alien invaders.

These invaders are both spores ingested through breathing or worm-like creatures with very, very sharp teeth. Soon, the military cordons off the forest and the entire surrounding area, and the man in charge, Colonel Kurtz (Morgan Freeman) reveals he’s been fighting alien invaders for over twenty years now and intends to wipe out every contaminated human and animal in the “zone”.  Given the character’s name, an obvious shout out to Heart Of Darkness, it should come as no surprise that the man is more than a little unhinged.

Now comes the really sick/stupid part: The people infected by the alien spores at the onset of their condition start to get really gassy.  Really gassy.

They burp and fart and their stomachs swell up grotesquely. When the alien spore within them finally emerges as a sharp-toothed worm, it does this by explosively emerging…from the victim’s ass.

You read that right: The worm explodes out of the victim’s ass.

There are times I fantasize walking into an agent or movie studio executive’s office and pitching a story concept and hoping against hope that the pitch will result in a green light. I’m a nobody to the movie industry…I have a few books out there which I think are pretty good and one of my stories, The Dark Fringe, has spent the past few years being shopped around the studios by the people behind Cowboys & Aliens and might, if I’m fortunate enough, get made into a film one day. At this point in time, however, I’m a nobody to the studios and for all intents and purposes my fantasy of movie glory remains just that.

So I’m thinking:  If Stephen King had never written a novel called Dreamcatcher and I was the one who came up with the concept of the story and pitched it to an agent or movie studio executive, what would the results have been?  I strongly suspect that by the time I got to the point of saying “…and the alien worms come out the victim’s asses…” they would call security and have me thrown out of their offices. Hell, if I were them, I’d certainly do so!

Further, I wonder what would happen if I had stepped into a time machine and approached Mr. Goldman circa 1968, when he’s hard at work on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and tell him that one day in the future he’ll be credited with writing a screenplay about alien creatures who explode out of people’s asses…and the film is meant to be a horror movie and not a comedy, I suspect he might well have called the cops on me too.

But because we’re talking about a movie based on a book by Stephen King and written by Lawrence Kasdan and William Goldman and directed by Mr. Kasdan, reputations, I strongly suspect, precede the work itself. Getting a movie like Dreamcatcher financed and off the ground probably involved studio executives looking at the names associated with the project rather than the project itself.

I just can’t believe anyone in their right mind would read the screenplay or hear a pitch to this movie and decide to go for it. Even as a lark.

And when one of the film’s biggest “suspense” sequences involves one of the characters sitting on a toilet and thus holding the lid down to keep one of those killer worms from escaping (Can you imagine Alfred Hitchcock working on something like this?!), and the character, knowing full well his life is in mortal danger, is nonetheless tempted to leave that lid for just one second because he has to get a toothpick from the ground to chew on.  Because, you know, it’s perfectly logical that when your life is in mortal danger you just have to do something that stupid…

At least in the Friday the 13th films, the cannon fodder teenagers risked their lives for something much more worthwhile…getting laid!

The only people I could recommend this film to is the MST3K crowd. You may be able to get more enjoyment out of laughing at -but not with– the film, if nothing else.

Kamandi Omnibus #1, the review

This post originally appeared in October of 2011.  A bit of news:  The second volume of the Jack Kirby Kamandi issues, collecting the rest of his run, is scheduled to be released later this year.

To some degree, reviewing the Kamandi Omnibus Vol #1, released last week, is almost pointless.  I have all of the Jack Kirby written/drawn issues of the series (indeed, even the 19 issues after he left with issue #40 plus the 2 issues never released but collected in the Cancelled Comics Cavalcade. Yes, I’m a BIG fan of Kamandi!) and I pretty much know the book backwards and forwards.

Yet seeing the first 20 issues all together in one volume, I recognized something that hadn’t really occurred to me until they were read all together: This was Jack Kirby doing comic book versions of movies. Many movies.

The primary movie source material is obvious: Kamandi, the first issue of which was released in 1972, borrowed quite a bit from the then very popular original Planet of the Apes movies. Indeed, there were many back in the day who dismissed this series out right because of the fact that it borrowed so heavily from those movies. The series, after all, featured a “boy” in a post-apocalyptic world where animals (including, of course, apes!) were sentient and humans were viewed as lower life forms. The cover to the first issue of the original series also had strong echoes to the ending of the original Planet of the Apes, at least with regard to that famous statue present at that movie’s end, you will also find references to, among others, the original King Kong, The Andromeda Strain, Ben Hur, Westworld, various Gladiator movies, etc. etc.  And if you look beyond that, you’ll also find references to then hot topics such as Watergate and the then very hot topic of pollution.  Unlike other series Jack Kirby was working on at the time, Kamandi appeared to be Mr. Kirby taking a fictional look at the things that currently interested him.

And it is so much fun.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  While Kamandi may not be the very last work of Mr. Kirby, it was certainly his last sustained successful comic book work. I know he made several books and series afterwards, but none, in my opinion, were as entertaining as this one. If you’re a fan of Jack Kirby, you’d be crazy to ignore this incredible series.

I’m not sure when Volume 2, collecting the last 20 issues Mr. Kirby did, will be released, but I’ll most certainly be picking it up. While the series lost steam toward the end of Mr. Kirby’s run and the very best stories, in my opinion, are in this first volume (of those, my absolute favorites are found in issues #9 and 10), the second volume will certainly be a must buy for me.  Sadly, Mr. Kirby faced many obstacles when he chose to leave Marvel in the late 1960’s.  Much of his work was derided by fans and it wasn’t until toward the end of his life that fans began to once again appreciate what it was he brought to the comic book field.  I’m pleased that DC Comics has decided to reprint all his 1970’s works, including the various New Gods issues, Omac, The Demon, and Jimmy Olsen.

And while I can understand that the Kamandi reprints will end with Mr. Kirby’s last issue, I’m such a fan of the series that I wish they’d offer a third volume that features all the rest of the stories in the series. Regardless, Kamandi Volume 1 is well worth your time.

Drive (2011) a (very mildly belated) review

Last year, the movie Drive appeared to do well in building up pre-release buzz. Actor Ryan Gosling, the film’s star, likewise was looking to have a serious breakout year, what with not one, not two, but three big film releases, each in a different genre (the other two being the political drama The Ides of March and the romantic comedy Crazy, Stupid, Love).

Shortly before the release of Drive, the studios fed the first five or so minutes of this to the internet.  The sequence presented, although incomplete, was nonetheless fascinating and had my full attention.

When the film was finally released, the critics were, for the most part, positive in their reactions (Rottentomatoes.com has the movie earning an extremely positive 93% among film critics and a somewhat less, yet still good, 79% among audiences).  In those early days, there was talk of Oscar nominations, in particular for Albert Brooks’ turn as Bernie Rose, the movie’s villain.

Despite all these positives, the film didn’t perform all that well in theaters, although given the movie’s small budget I’m sure it turned a profit.  Mr. Brooks wasn’t nominated for his role (his twitter response regarding the non-nomination was quite humorous). Worse, the film suffered the indignity of being sued by a movie goer who claimed false advertisement, thinking from the film’s trailers that this would be an action adventure thriller along the lines of Fast Five versus the slow burn noir thriller she got.

And for those interested in the film, Drive is just that, a slow burn thriller that, while successful in creating tension, nonetheless left me wanting more.

To begin with the good: the opening sequence, which I mentioned above, is indeed fantastic when seen all the way through.  It is a triumph of low key tension build up, an almost wordless sequence that had me gnashing my teeth despite the fact that we have no standard “Hollywood” type car chase presented.

Alas, then came the rest of the movie.

I don’t want to sound too harsh, but once again a potentially terrific piece of work is sabotaged by, you guessed it, an inadequate screenplay.  The acting, for the most part, is very good.  The direction is very strong.  The scenery and cinematography is great.  The use of locales is wonderful.  The level of tension is strong.  But we get to the story and, despite all these great elements, we find there isn’t much there there.

Briefly, Driver (Ryan Gosling) is a no name anti-hero in the mold of Clint Eastwood’s “Man With No Name”.  There is no back story, there are no flashbacks.  We learn he drives stunts for the movies while working in a garage and, on the side, working as a getaway driver.  He befriends and falls in love with his next door neighbor, a woman who has a very young child and a husband in jail.  When the husband is released, Driver finds the man owes a debt to some shady characters who have no problem menacing both the husband and the child.  Driver agrees to help out the husband and be the wheel man for a pawn shop robbery.  But, when it goes bad, Driver quickly realizes there was more to the job than meets the eye.

The above description, alas, is more intriguing than what the film eventually presented.  Side stories involving Driver’s boss (Bryan Cranston) were very predictable.  Worse, the way that his boss, his boss’ investor, and his boss’ investor’s right hand man intermingle with the job Driver eventually takes were more complicated than they needed to be.

As with both Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and Hanna, I get the feeling that the script was being altered as the movie was being filmed.  How else to explain that at one point Driver puts on an elaborate disguise before taking out one of the bad guys, yet ultimately there was absolutely no reason for him to do so?  To me it looked like maybe the script’s original story was that Driver was keeping his identity from everyone.  But as shown in the film, the bad guys knew who he was almost from the very beginning, thus there was no reason for him to disguise himself.

Having said all that, the film wasn’t terrible.  It was certainly far better than many works I’ve seen recently.  It’s just that when it was all over my immediate reaction was: I will never see this film again, and that’s hardly a ringing endorsement.  Two stars out of four.

Middle finger malfunction…

While thIs year’s Super Bowl was an entertaining affair, once again we have a “controversy” regarding the halftime performance.  Specifically, it appears singer M.I.A., facing a camera during a medley of songs with Madonna, not only gave viewers the “middle finger”, but also said “I don’t give a s***”.

 

Maybe the advancing years have made me a cynic, but it’s getting hard to count the number of times I’ve heard of/witnessed a musician doing some “shocking” spontaneous act on a stage (large or small) that a) lands them into hot water while b) helping raise people’s awareness of said artist which results in c) more sales of their product.

Worst Superhero Movies ever…

…at least according to Entertainment Weekly:

http://www.ew.com/ew/gallery/0,,20246950_20263257_20186843,00.html

I have to agree with many of the choices, from Ghost Rider to The Phantom (there are several people I know who think this film has been unfairly slighted over time.  I do not.  To me, this film is not unlike The Shadow and Judge Dredd and therefore share several commonalities:  Good actors, fairly big budget, a pretty good “look”, but a story that is so lethargic and uninvolving that you can’t help but shake your head at what a missed opportunity it is).

Swamp Thing, the original film, is also listed, but I would have replaced that movie and instead posted its far, far worst sequel, Return of Swamp Thing.  While the original film might not have been any great work, neither was it anywhere near as bad as the campy sequel.

And speaking of sequels: Supergirl and Superman IV.  My only question: What kept Superman III off this list?  All three of these later Superman films should be in the comic book movie hall of shame.  I recall when Superman IV came out I went to the theater the day after it was released, a Saturday, and finding the theater completely empty except for me. Clearly, everyone else in town had a better idea of how bad this would be…

Now, getting back to Judge Dredd.  EW.com places that movie at the top of the list of worst comic book films, and I don’t disagree that the film was a disappointment.

But…worst superhero movie ever?

No way.  It was a very mediocre film that made some very silly decisions regarding how to interpret the Judge Dredd comic strip…but it is nowhere near as bad as Superman IV.  The two hours or so I spent in that empty theater watching the crumbling remains of what was once the most promising superhero movie franchise go down in flames was one of the most excruciating movie experiences I have personally ever experienced.  The effects in Superman IV were amateurish (and that’s being kind), the acting was stilted (even Gene Hackman, who I thought was excellent -others may differ- as Lex Luthor in the first two Superman films, seemed embarrassed here), the main villain was laughable, and the plot alternatively very stupid and too earnest.

The movie was also very obviously cut down in length, and sequences were disjointed.  I bought the comic book adaptation of the movie a week or two before the movie’s release and there was plenty of stuff there that didn’t make it to the film.

Not that it would have helped!

Such a shame.

Originally posted June 2009