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.

A Simple Favor (2018) a (mildly) belated review

When A Simple Favor was released last year, I knew absolutely nothing about it. It was one of those films that, quite simply, weren’t on my radar. But I recall reading plenty of good reviews and became intrigued.

I wanted to see the film with my wife but a couple of weeks passed and the film, by that time, left theaters and, therefore, we had to wait until it was available on home video to see it. A couple of days ago, we did just that.

A Simple Favor, directed by Paul Fieg (The Heat, Spy, Bridesmaids), stars Anna Kendrick as Stephanie Smothers, a geeky single mom whose entire life seems to revolve around her son and her video blogs. She meets Emily Nelson (Blake Lively in an absolutely terrific turn) one day and things change for her in all kinds of bizarre ways.

Here’s the movie’s trailer:

As I mentioned above and need to repeat, Blake Lively is incredible in this movie as the enigmatic Emily, a woman married to a one-time best-selling author who works for a high flying talent agency. She is as beautiful as she is enigmatic, a classic noir blonde that you just know is all kinds of trouble.

Anna Kendrick’s Stephanie, on the other hand, is the meek and impressionable type, though she too has her secrets and skills, and when she’s asked to do a “simple favor”, pick up Emily’s son from school, and Emily subsequently disappears, an eerie mystery develops and the police become involved. What follows is a serpentine story that throws plenty of curves at you… along with a healthy dose of laughs.

Yes, laughs.

For Paul Fieg, known mostly for comedy, isn’t about to let the film become too dark and gloomy. The tone is generally light and, if I have any particular criticism, its that perhaps there should have been a point where it did get a little darker, especially during the film’s final act.

But I won’t get into details. To say much more would be a crime!

A Simple Favor is a very easy recommendation, a film that uses certain well worn tropes to create a noir-like mystery film but which is also a pretty damn funny and, therefore, quite creative.

And Blake Lively… jeeze. I never had strong feelings for her as an actress one way or another, but she’s so damn good in this role.

If nothing else, see the film for her!

Tesla’s Self-Driving…

Given that Tesla’s main claim to fame is that their vehicles are electric -no gasoline use at all- one can be forgiven for forgetting another very big element in their arsenal: Their self-driving feature.

I must admit, when I did the test drive of the Model 3, the Tesla employee showed me how to use the self-driving feature and for a very, very short time I clicked it on before clicking it right back off.

It’s an unnerving thing to try this technology!

The Tesla employee assured me the self-driving feature was quite good, that he uses it to make long treks, but I was rather skeptical.

Welp, I’m not so skeptical anymore.

I will say this: The autopilot currently available in my car -and all Teslas which have that function- is far from something one should completely trust, especially when driving in the city. It doesn’t recognize traffic lights or stop signs and essentially “follows” street lines as well as the cars in and around your vehicle.

In other words, it senses the lines on the road around you and, if there are cars to your side, behind you, and especially in front of you, it will allow distance between you and them while maintaining safe speed limits. You are able, by the way, to manually increase the speed beyond the speed limit.

I find the best use of the auto-pilot is when you’re on the highway. No traffic lights to deal with and only the other traffic for your car to deal with. Further, no pedestrians!

Having said that, I’ve used it within the city as well but here you must be far more cautious. Again, the current software doesn’t “see” traffic lights or stop signs. If you’re behind a few cars and they come to a stop before a red light, the autopilot will stop -safely!- well behind them. However, if you’re traveling with no car before you and you see the upcoming light turn yellow, prepare to hit the breaks because the car will continue through the intersection, at least at this point and with the software I have in my vehicle.

Also, be careful about pedestrians. The other day I was on autopilot and a couple were making their way across the street. The Tesla “saw” them but when they stopped -waiting to see if I’d let them cross- the car would have gone on and, given the pedestrians and I made eye contact, they assumed I was going to stop and let them through, so they were inching forward. I hit the brakes and motioned for them to cross but the autopilot would have gone on.

So if you’re using the autopilot feature, please please please note that while its quite good in many ways, this is still a more rudimentary version of the autopilot and requires the driver keep their hands on the wheel and are alert to anything that happens around you.

I’ve seen video of people sleeping in their seat while allowing their Tesla to move on the highway and this is alarming as hell.

I suspect in a couple more years the self-driving software will become better refined and far more “sensitive” to things like traffic lights and stop signs as well as pedestrians.

But it isn’t quite there yet.

Will it ever end…?!

POLITICS!

BEWARE!!!

Today, the Mueller Report will be sorta/kinda released.

From the look of things, William Barr, the recently installed Attorney General, is trying to put his thumb on the scales, first releasing a very positive summary of the Mueller Report, which he subsequently said wasn’t a summary, to today releasing a redacted version of the same but not before coming before the cameras (in approximately 30 minutes) and, many suspect, trying to put a positive spin on the findings before, hours later, actually releasing the same.

Huh?

Here’s the thing: I’m getting vibes of the whole “drip… drip… drip” of the release of information that will stretch out way beyond today.

In other words: If you’re releasing only some of the stuff, do you really expect people to be happy with that? Do you expect all questions to stop at that point?

This much I’m certain: It won’t end today.

Holy cow…

It’s been two full weeks and finally –finally!– I’m feeling like my old self.

How debilitating this illness was!

A flu? Strep throat (as I thought originally)? A severe cold?

I was prescribed anti-biotics but they didn’t seem to do much of anything so it was up to the ol’ body to take on this illness with the help of Advil and some cold medicine I had.

The symptoms were plenty of phlegm, bronchial/sinus issues, and, at times, fever.

The first week of the illness was easily the worst, including two days where I literally felt I couldn’t do anything and mostly stayed in bed feeling miserable.

The second week, the recovery week, I felt better but still had coughing fits/phlegm to deal with.

When I started to feel better and took my new car out for a spin, I suddenly realized I had gotten the car and almost immediately got so ill I couldn’t use it. So I got to use it more and more and enjoy it for truly the first time this past week.

Now that I’m feeling much better, its back to the grind.

Time to work on that next novel!

Larry Cohen (1936-2019)

Not familiar with the name?

He created many fascinating works, both as director and writer. Some of his bigger/most famous works include It’s Alive (1974)…

The movie proved popular enough to merit two sequels! He also directed Q: The Winged Serpent (1982)…

But Mr. Cohen wasn’t just a director, he also wrote plenty of material. He is listed as the creator of the paranoid alien invasion TV series The Invaders (1967-68)…

He was the screenwriter for the pretty bonkers Armand Assanti starring Mike Hammer film I, The Jury

Mr. Cohen passes away at 82 late last month. Looking over his IMDB listings, I’m impressed with the amount of material he had his hands on/in. True, some of the works have lost the edge they once had, but still, what a fascinating career!

Sometimes what you fear…

…comes true.

At least so it seems.

This weekend we have the release of the “reboot” of Hellboy. Gone are director Guillermo Del Toro and star Ron Perlman and in their places we have director Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers, The Descent, Doomsday, among others), David Harbour (Stranger Things) in the titular role, and Milla Jovovich (Resident Evil) as the evil Blood Queen.

Unlike many out there, I was no HUGE fan of the original two Del Toro Hellboy movies. To me, the first one seemed like it was heavily studio mandated and, frankly, was kinda bland. The second, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, felt to me like a case of having waaaaaay too much going on. While clearly a superior film to the first in almost all ways, it featured too many “big” set-pieces/climaxes. By the time we got to the movie’s actual climax, I was exhausted.

And yet, I’m a fan of Hellboy. I feel Mike Mignola’s comic books featuring the character are among the most brilliant modern comics out there.

So when I heard that the new Hellboy movie was in the works, and that Mr. Mignola was involved in the screenplay, I was intrigued. Perhaps, I felt, this time around they could fine tune the formula and make a movie that really “works” around the quirky character.

Unfortunately, as the trailers for the film appeared, my hopes quickly faded and, when the “red band” trailer appeared, they were all but dashed…

This… this just didn’t look at all like what I was hoping. Cheap CGI effects, cheap makeup effects (sorry, but Mr. Harbour’s Hellboy makeup looks like a major step down from what was used on Ron Perlman in the original two films), and jokey Ash vs The Evil Dead type humor/gore.

Now, mind you, I really enjoyed Ash vs The Evil Dead, but that was very much its own thing and it’s depressing to see the makers of this movie seem to have wanted to crib a little (who knows just how much) of that into their own version of Hellboy. That isn’t what the character was ever about.

Seeing the trailers, I realized this new film was most certainly not looking like something I was going to invest my time in, at least not until it reached the home video market. I still hoped it would be a decent film, if Hellboy only in name.

Welp, it appears that critics who have seen the film aren’t impressed with what they’ve witnessed, either. If you go over to its listing on rottentomatoes.com (you can click here) the film is currently tracking along a truly bad 12% positive among 58 professional reviews (the number of reviews isn’t sufficient, yet, to get a consensus for rottentomatoes, though I suspect when such a consensus is drawn it won’t be all that much -if at all!- better).

A real shame and something that gives me no pleasure at all in seeing.

Maybe we’ll eventually get a third, better incarnation (ouch) of the character at some point in the future?

Overlord (2018) a (mildly) belated review

As I’ve made it plain many times before, it is difficult for me to find the free time nowadays to sit down and watch a film, much less go to theaters and catch the latest big or not-quite-so big release.

Instead, I make a note of what’s come out and, if I have the time, sneak films in whenever I possibly can.

One of last year’s releases, the World War 2/Horror hybrid Overlord, caught my attention but it wasn’t until now, weeks after its digital video release, that I’ve had a chance to sit down and watch it. Here’s the movie’s trailer:

The film sure looks like a live action version of the video game Wolfenstein, complete with similar font used in its title…

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(A quick aside: I have very fond memories of the game that served as inspiration to this one, Castle Wolfenstein, originally released back in the early 1980’s. A friend at our High School had an Apple II computer and this game and we spent many a fun hour playing it, along with Ultima II! Here’s what that game looked like:

Image result for Castle Wolfenstein
Image result for Castle Wolfenstein
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Yeah, we’ve come a very long way, graphic’s wise!)

Getting back to Overlord, the film begins promisingly enough. We are quite literally plopped right in the thick of things, with a group of paratroopers, among them our heroes, about to deploy behind enemy lines shortly –very shortly- before D-Day.

Things, as they are wont to do, go frightfully sideways as Nazi air flak rips through the plane. Our heroes jump into the fire, quite literally, and we follow Boyce (Jovan Adepo), a Haitian/African American paratrooper (yeah, the film plays more than a little fast and loose with Army integration circa 1944) as he barely makes it out of the plane and onto the ground.

Boyce and a group of three other survivors of the doomed flight get together and make their way to their target: A very small French village which has a church up the road from it in which the Nazis have taken over. The Nazis have a communications station in the church and it is this groups’ primary mission to wipe it out before daybreak and D-Day, when the communications array could harm the incoming troops.

So there we have it, the tense mission and tight deadline.

But wait, there’s more!

When the soldiers are within the village planning their moves, an added complication: There’s something else going on in that Nazi-held church, something that looks like a science experiment gone extremely wrong…

Overlord, as already mentioned, starts well enough and had me interested in where it was going despite some of the politically correct elements thrust upon the story in an effort to give us a more “diverse” cast of characters.

Unfortunately, as the movie progressed and our heroes were in the village, it felt like the movie’s creator’s had used up their deck of creative cards. Frankly, as the movie progressed it settled into a neither terribly bad nor terribly good “groove” and never got out of it.

Worse, the film’s actions became predictable. When the big bad Nazi showed up, you knew the heroes would do something about him. But when he got away, you just knew he’d become… well… I don’t want to get too spoilery but, suffice it to say, along with a general deflation, the film’s story beats became only too obvious.

In the end, Overlord was an “ok” film in my eyes. Visually, they nailed the look nicely and some of the gore effects were very well done.

But having said that, the film couldn’t build upon its opening act and, instead, coasted to an all too obvious -and never as exciting as it should have been- ending.

A shame.

The Lost Week… so far…

It’s been a hell of a long time since I caught something like what I’m currently battling. A flu… a virus… some kind of bacteria… who knows.

Last weekend, I started to feel a scratchy/painful throat. It felt unusually painfully, moreso than when I usually catch a cold. For me, colds work like this: I get a scratchy throat followed by general low energy, then possibly fevers, then it moves to my sinus and there’s plenty of yummy phlegm to deal with but the throat problem, simultaneously, leaves as it moves to the sinus.

I’ll feel bad for a few days but by the time I’m dealing with a runny nose and coughing up mucus, I’m on the way to recovery.

Which is why by Sunday of last week I knew something else was brewing. The pains in my throat simply weren’t getting better and I feared, as I mentioned in the previous post, that I might have contacted Strep Throat.

One week to this day, last Monday, I headed to an Urgent Care Unit nearby and was seen there. They examined me, noted there was an infection in my throat and sinus but the Strep exam came back negative. The Doctor told me this was not terribly unusual if the infection is in its early stages and gave me a prescription for anti-biotics and sent me on my way.

With anti-biotics, it usually takes a couple of days for them to start working, so while I was miserable Monday, Tuesday, and into Wednesday, my hope was that good times were right around the corner.

Not so.

Thursday I was at my absolute low. I felt horrible and seriously considered taking myself to the ER. My throat continued to be in incredible pain and I was coughing like crazy without moving any phlegm from my system. My sides and stomach ached from the coughing and there was little I could do.

The next day, Friday, I felt a little better. My wife had an appointment with our regular Doctor and I considered going with her so he could see me as well. Ultimately I decided not to. As bad as Thursday was, and it was mighty bad, Friday I felt better.

Perhaps the anti-biotics were finally kicking in?

Saturday morning comes and I feel even better. So much so I’m optimistic I’ve finally turned the corner.

Not so.

By the afternoon, I’m feeling whatever has me in its grips is staging a comeback. I’m coughing like crazy, this time more productively (ie, with plenty of phlegm) but, frankly, I’m feeling pretty down and out… even if not quite as bad as I felt on Thursday.

Sunday, the bad -but still not quite as bad as Thursday’s- feeling continue. I’m coughing and spitting up all kinds of garbage, though the phlegm is becoming clearer and the infection, I was hoping was now dying out.

Still, the weekend was no picnic.

So here we are, Monday morning, one full week since I went to Urgent Care to get checked up and was given the anti-biotics. I’m still feeling low but, unquestionably, this virus -or whatever it is!- is on its way out. Slowly, but certainly.

I hope so.

It feels like I’ve lost so much time not being able to do what I need to do!

More on the Tesla…

First, though, its been a tough few days. Caught some kind of bug and its laid me pretty low. Suspect its strep throat -I had it twice many years ago while in High School- and its feeling about the same. Went to a nearby urgent care and am now on anti-biotics (the strep test came in negative but the doctor said that’s not unusual in the early stages of the disease. He also noted there was definitely something going on in my throat and sinus).

Alas, I only started the anti-biotics yesterday so until maybe tomorrow I’m still feeling pretty grim. Last night I woke up to my teeth chattering so badly I was afraid I’d cut my tongue in two.

Hope that’s the worst of it!

But returning to the topic on hand (and which I labeled this post): My Tesla 3.

Today marks a week since I got the vehicle and it continues to impress the hell out of me. Driving in a car without the sound of a combustion engine is incredibly tranquil and the music played through your radio is incredibly clear. Humorously, there have been times when I was stopped by a light and the sound of the engines of other cars around me were so damn noisy compared to what you experience driving an electric car.

Yesterday the electrician finally installed a 240 volt plug near where I park my car. Until yesterday, I was using a regular 120 volt plug and the difference is mindboggling.

My Tesla has a range, if 100% fully charged, of approximately 320 miles. However, it is recommended one charge the battery to around 80-90% unless you’re about to take a long trip, upon which you should fully charge your vehicle.

It may sound complicated but Tesla’s app lays all this information out very easily when you’re charging the car. Thing is, using a 120 volt plug gave me a mere 5 miles for every hour charging it. Thus, if I had a full charge and brought the car’s range down to, say, 200 miles, it meant there was roughly 80 miles worth of charging to do. Which meant that when I was using the 120 volt plug, I had to keep the card plugged for 16 hours to get the car to that 80% charge.

Naturally, I didn’t bring the car’s charge down too far. If I had, for example, used up some 179 miles, leaving roughly 100 miles, that would have required me to charge the damn thing at 120 volts for a mind-boggling 35 plus hours before getting the thing up to where it needed to be.

But by having a 240 volt plug, I’m not getting some 30 miles of distance per hour of charge, ie six times the amount of the old 120 volt plug.

So now, if I drain the battery as described above and need to “fill up” some 179 miles, it will take the 240 volt plug about 6 hours to reach that point versus the absolutely crazy 35.

The point is this: If you’re considering an electric car, research the charge times. The fact of the matter is that regular 120 plugs, while good for slow overnight charging, may require too much time if you’re driving more than, say, 40 miles each day. Unless, of course, you don’t mind charging the car each night.

If you’re able to, absolutely get yourself a 240 plug (these are the types used by electric ovens and driers).

Of course, you can always use one of Tesla’s superchargers. They are found in many places and the onboard navigation system will point them out to you, if you need a very, very quick charge. There’s also the PlugShare app which offers community exchanges of information regarding all chargers, Tesla included, available in your area.

Next thing: For the first time on Saturday I tried the Tesla “autopilot” feature.

It was nerve wracking, to say the least!

I was on a stretch of highway that didn’t have too many vehicles on it and turned it on and… I’ll be damned if it didn’t work perfectly fine!

Yeah, I had a severe case of the nerves each time we reached some curved section of the highway, but the car sensed and took these turns well. If I wanted to switch lanes, I simple hit the indicator and the car did this on its own.

Truly, we are living in the future!

A week driving and I’m more convinced than before that I made the right choice. I know there are those who are cynical of Tesla and, especially, Elon Musk.

To you guys I would again say: Forget about all that ancillary crap and go to a Tesla dealership and take a test drive.

I can’t help but think you will be impressed.

Not to brag…

For the past few years and if you know me personally, the subject of electric vehicles has come up.

Around these parts I’ve made my feeling known about the so-called “ICE” vehicles -those which have “internal combustion engines”- and my feelings they are a technology society should have done away with many years ago.

ICE vehicles pollute the air and are incredibly inefficient. There are those that argue electric vehicles and the batteries they use are also “dirty”, but few argue they are dirtier than the use of gasoline. Regardless, to my mind still using ICE vehicles is akin to buying a computer and settling for some 1980’s/90’s tech instead of the latest tech.

Over the past few years I’ve been reading up with great curiosity about the rise of Elon Musk’s Tesla. The reviews of their vehicles, in general, have been incredibly positive and, its fair to say, this has gotten the attention of the big car companies. Today and as I write this, almost all of major car manufacturers are now working on or have released their versions of an electric vehicle.

As fascinated as I was about electric vehicles, as much as I salivated for the opportunity to drive one, it wasn’t until just shy of two weeks ago I finally did.

That’s when things really changed.

Intrigued as I was about EV vehicles and Tesla in particular, I was unsure when/if I’d get it. That test drive, along with the fact that Tesla was having a sorta/kinda end of the quarter sale, sealed the proverbial deal.

Now I know there are those who are suspicious/weary of Tesla and, especially, CEO Elon Musk. He’s gone off the wall at times with some oddball tweets. And yeah it is scary to spend a bunch of money on a car that uses a whole new technology versus the tried and true gasoline.

But I’ll tell you this: If the driving population of not only the United States but the world itself goes to a Tesla dealership and asks to test drive the car, I suspect a good 80+ percent of them that give it a fair shot will come away sold on the idea that the Tesla vehicles are very much worthy of all the attention they’ve gotten.

So impressed was I with the test drive -along with the previous research I did on the vehicle- that I took the plunge. I paid the $2500 deposit and ordered my Tesla 3. Yesterday, I got her…


Driving home was my first extended trip in the Model 3 and it was as delightful as the test drive. When we got there, my wife had her first drive and she was every bit as impressed with it as I was.

Again, I do not intend to brag. I am extremely fortunate to have the means to pick up this vehicle, though in all fairness the version I bought was hardly the most expensive model I could have gotten (I wouldn’t have been able to afford the very top end options, anyway!). Having said that, I strongly urge everyone out there to give the Tesla a try.

Perhaps you won’t come away from the experience as impressed as I. Perhaps you won’t feel it is truly the next generation vehicle I believe it is.

But if you do give it a shot, it might clear much of the haze surrounding Musk and Tesla and the fanboy mentality of many out there while allowing you to focus on the vehicle itself.

A vehicle which deserves, IMHO, many of its kudos.