Something you don’t see every day…

One of the more recognizable, at least to me, helicopters out there is the military’s Apache attack helicopter.  This video, presented on CNN, shows one of those fearsome helicopters having an equally fearsome crash in Afghanistan.  As the reporters note, no one was injured in the incident (incredibly!).

This is the full “uncensored” video.

Amazing that everyone survived.

Photo might help find Amelia Earhart?

Fascinating video and article from CNN concerning a possible clue to the fate of Amelia Earhart’s aircraft found in a 1937 photograph.  The video of the story is first:

The full article:

http://news.blogs.cnn.com/2012/03/20/reports-new-search-planned-for-amelia-earhart/

Consider me one of those people who are fascinated with the the multitude of “unsolved mysteries”-type stories one can run into.  Perhaps chief among them is the perennial mystery of what happened to Amelia Earhart back in 1937 while attempting to become the first female to circumnavigate the globe by aircraft.  Discovering the fate of Ms. Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan would be a terrific story and close the book on the enduring mystery and I hope the investigators in this article and video are on the right track.

Having said that, the photograph they say may show the landing gear of the Lockheed Electra protruding from a reef is intriguing but I find it hard to completely swallow.  Why did whoever took that photograph a few months after Earhart’s disappearance not notice a metal protrusion coming out of the water by the island?  Granted, the image takes up a very small part of the photograph, but still, wouldn’t they have noticed something metallic shimmering close to the edge of shore?  Further, and while I freely admit to being absolutely NO expert at the Lockheed aircraft, the amplified image itself looks like something of a Rorschach blotch.  Is it possible the investigators are seeing what they want to see there?

I certainly don’t know, but I sincerley hope their theories turn out to be true and one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of the 20th Century is finally solved.

The Adventures of Tintin (2011) a (mildly) belated review

If you need any further proof of the directorial genius of Steven Spielberg, just look at some of the incredible set pieces/adventure sequences to be found in his first computer graphic movie The Adventures of Tintin.

That’s not, however, to say to that the film as a whole is a complete success.  But let me backtrack just a little.

When I was very young, I was absolutely charmed by the works of Georges Remi, aka Herge, in the twenty three Tintin graphic novels he produced over his lifetime.  I know there were previous animated and live action features based on the graphic novels, but Steven Spielberg’s film is the first time I would see Tintin and his world in something other than the original graphic novels.

When the film was originally released, I was curious how audiences in the United States would react.  While Tintin is a beloved fictional character in Europe, Canada, and other parts of the world, Herge’s work never seemed to rise above cult status in the United States.  Would audiences here give this film a look despite the lack of familiarity with the character and books?

As it turned out, the movie proved a mild success in the United States and a big hit oversees.  The film was generally viewed positively by audiences here (Rottentomatoes.com has the film scoring a very good 74% among critics and 78% among audiences).  I was eager to see the film in theaters, but the crunch of time proved too much and I simply couldn’t.  Instead, I waited for the eventual video release and quickly got the movie into my BluRay player.

As I mentioned at the start, there are some scenes in The Adventures of Tintin that are simply astonishing.  These scenes follow one after the other at roughly the middle of the movie to close to the end.  First up is the escape from a freighter and subsequent airplane flight to the desert.  These scenes are both hilarious and suspenseful.  Soon after that, there is an incredible flashback sequence involving the Unicorn, a ship from the 1700’s whose fate is central to the story we’re presented.  This flashback features some of the very best pirate action you’re likely to ever see in any film, live action or animated.  Then there’s the sequence -all presented in one “take”- featuring a mad dash between the protagonists and the villains to gain control of three pieces of paper.

Each of these sequences are great and guaranteed to make your eyes pop.

…But…

Sometimes, too much of a good thing can be…too much.  To me, some of the greatest works of fiction know how to balance out “quiet” scenes with “action” scenes.  A few years back, while watching (of all things) Hellboy II: The Golden Army, I came to realize that when every sequence in the movie is presented as if it is a big set piece (action or otherwise) with all the bells and whistles (swelling music, frantic editing, solemn dialogue, etc. etc.), then after a while the “importance” of the sequence you’re watching becomes…less so.  I had been so assaulted by one supposed big earth-shaking scene after the other that by the time Hellboy II reached its actual climax, it felt like just another sequence instead of what should have been a rousing conclusion.

So too, unfortunately, it is with that second half of The Adventures of Tintin.  While the first half of the film -dare I say it- allows the story time to “breath”, when we’re finished with those wonderful sequences I noted above, we are unfortunately not quite at the film’s climax.  We’re close, mind you, but because those sequences I pointed out are so damn good, when we actually do reach the movie’s climax and the villain and hero face off that one last time, it proved to be rather…dull.  By that point I was mentally exhausted with the all that good stuff that came one after the other just before.  Granted, Mr. Spielberg and company tried to fashion something great with that last confrontation between villain and hero, but it just didn’t live up to what came right before.  Even worse, the sequence involving the chase for the three pieces of paper could easily have served as the movie’s climax…and it would have worked very well there.  Had Mr. Spielberg done so, the film’s dénouement could have just as easily followed.

Regardless, I still admire what Mr. Spielberg and company did with The Adventures of Tintin.  While I can’t say that the film was a complete success, particularly during that exhausting later half, I nonetheless was very impressed with what they did get right, from the incredible computer animation (some of the best I’ve ever seen) to those very successful action and humor sequences.  Overall, I’d give this film a very solid three stars out of four.  Recommended.

The Thing (2011) a (mildly) belated review

When I first heard about the 2011 film The Thing, the studios were out front and open about the fact that the film would be a prequel to the 1982 John Carpenter directed The Thing.  That movie, by the way, was a remake of the 1951 film The Thing From Another World and all three films were based on the 1938 John W. Campbell Jr. short story Who Goes There?

Hearing that the 2011 film would be a “prequel” to the John Carpenter film, I (along with pretty much everyone else familiar with the film) instantly knew what it was about:  A look at what happened to the Norwegian station.  In the opening scenes of the John Carpenter film, a helicopter carrying a pair of Norwegian men chases and shoots at a fleeing dog.  The dog reaches the American’s Antarctic base and the Norwegian hunters, whom the Americans cannot understand and fear are dangerous, are killed while the dog is “rescued”.  Afterwards, crew members of the American station go to the Norwegian station and find it in shambles.  They come to realize that something very wrong happened here.

Familiarity with those brief scenes in the John Carpenter film effectively cut any surprise one might experience while watching The Thing prequel.  After all, from the Carpenter film we know what’s going to happen to the Norwegian station:  Everyone within it dies, it burns almost to the ground, and some strange dead creatures are found lying about.

What else is there to know?

That, in the end, proves to be the undoing of this prequel film.  While it has been many years since the original John Carpenter release and perhaps the film’s makers felt this material would mostly be “new” to most young theater goers, for someone who was exposed to (and is a fan of) the John Carpenter film, watching this prequel felt like an exercise in filling in information that didn’t need to be filled in.

Having said that, the film isn’t terrible.

It was reasonably well made and the effects were, for the most part, pretty good, when they weren’t too obviously CGI.  The acting was generally good even thought the writers failed to give many of the ancillary characters much of a character beyond victim-hood.  The movie’s protagonist was played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead and, given the macho-centric John Carpenter original film, her choice as the lead was decidedly different.

There were a few other interesting things to be found, such as the way this group came up with their test for who might be a creature without resorting to what was used in the Carpenter film and the way they replicated the time (the film is set in 1982) and equipment we would see in the Carpenter film.

Overall, the film left me feeling that it was nothing more than a decent time killer.  Not terribly bad, but neither was it something that was worth revisiting.

And about that whole prequel thing…I couldn’t help but think it would it have been much more clever on the part of the studios to feed the public misinformation about the film rather than admitting from the beginning this was a prequel.

Think about it: The studios could have insinuated this film was a “remake” or “re-imagining” of the Carpenter classic.  Fans would have howled…how dare they remake a classic!  How could they?

When the movie is released, it could have hidden, to some degree, the fact that the action took place on a Norwegian station and instead had a couple of Norwegian characters involved in the story.  Then, when we reach the end and come full circle with the beginning of the Carpenter film, instead of giving audiences familiar with that movie something they knew would come, they are instead pleasantly surprised to realize they were watching a prequel rather than a remake.  At least that might have offered something new and original to this ultimately all too familiar mix.

Ah well.  As they say, hindsight is always 20-20.

40th Anniversary of The Godfather…

…and 40 things presented by Time magazine you may not have known about the film:

http://entertainment.time.com/2012/03/15/the-anniversary-you-cant-refuse-40-things-you-didnt-know-about-the-godfather/#the-cat

Interesting list of items (some I knew, some I didn’t) regarding the very popular (still!) film The Godfather.

Haven’t seen the film recently…may have to give it a look again sometime soon.

The Hunger Games…and its predecessors

Found this interesting article by Andrew O’Hehir for Salon.com concerning the various “influences”, both literary and in movies, to the very popular young adult novel (and soon to be movie) The Hunger Games:

http://www.salon.com/2012/03/14/what_came_before_the_hunger_games/singleton/

When I first heard about The Hunger Games from my youngest daughter (she’s a big fan), my immediate reaction was similar to the one stated early in Mr. O’Hehir’s article:  Boy, this story sure sounds a lot like Battle Royale.  I realized, perhaps like Mr. O’Hehir, that there were plenty of other influences, from The Most Dangerous Game to (yes) The Running Man (both the film and the Stephen King writing as Richard Bachman novel).

So while The Hunger Games may not be one of the more original literary concepts, its success is unquestionable.  As I write this, the upcoming release of the movie appears to be a sure fire hit, perhaps on the level of other young adult lit films such as the Harry Potter and Twilight movies.

But, I also wonder, why has The Hunger Games succeeded as well as it has?  Why, for example, does Battle Royale remain a “cult” film/book while this work looks to be the next big thing?

Once again one realizes just how astute legendary writer/screenwriter William Goldman was when he said this about movie making: Nobody knows anything.

John Carter, a big budgeted adventure film audiences seem to enjoy (Rottentomatoes.com has the film scoring a pretty high 72% among audiences with a more mediocre 50% among critics), looks to be a bust.  In other times, the ingredients present in this film looked to make it a sure fire hit:  Big budget, big effects, action, suspense…And, based on the audience reaction, it appeared the film delivered.

And yet…for whatever reason, it didn’t connect as well as it might have.  Why?  Was the film a victim of its release date?  Are audiences, perhaps, exhausted by the “big budget special effects” extravaganzas?  Is it possible Disney’s marketing department failed to “sell” the film to audiences?  Or was the audience reaction cooler than what Rottentomatoes.com has us believe, and those who saw the film may well have “liked” it, but they didn’t really “love” it, at least enough to recommend it to friends?

And returning to The Hunger Games, in a market saturated with young adult adventure books, why has this book, derivative or not, scored so big when so many others fade away?  For that matter, why did Harry Potter and Twilight become such big hits before it?

I suppose the lesson is this:  You work hard, you create your works, then you hope that they succeed.  However, there are no guarantees.  You could create the next Hunger Games.  You could create the next John Carter.

Nobody knows anything.

Coming soon…

First, sorry for not posting in the past few days.  Things have been busy and will likely remain so, at least for the next few weeks.  Among other things taking up my time is this:

This is my first full attempt at the cover to my latest novel, Nox.  I suspect I’ll tinker with it a little here and there, but at least at this point I’m delighted with the end result.

Nox is the fourth part of the Corrosive Knights series, the first three parts of which were Mechanic, The Last Flight of the Argus, and Chameleon.

As I’ve mentioned before, Corrosive Knights is a series that, at least with regards to those first three books, can be read in any order at all.

With Nox, however, things start to come together.  The cover to Nox was purposely made in the style of Mechanic, as the lead character in that book, Nox, is the lead character in this novel as well.  Nox, for those who haven’t read Mechanic, is an industrial “gun for hire” with a conscience, a woman who is haunted by plenty of demons from her past…and present.

Nox explores her character in further depth as she deals with an incredibly dangerous new/old enemy.  This novel features action, suspense, and plenty of surprises.  Though its not fully polished, I’m very proud of the work, and think anyone who has read the series to this point and enjoyed it will not be disappointed.

For now, I’m just about finished with the second major revision of Nox.  I’ve worked out all the plot kinks and polished much of the writing.  I anticipate more polishing and. if there are no major snags, the novel should be fully completed in another two months.

In the meantime, enjoy the cover design.

The World’s Oldest Profession…?

Absolutely fascinating -and reasonably brief- article by Forrest Wickman presented on Slate Magazine concerning, yes, the “world’s oldest profession”:

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/explainer/2012/03/is_prostitution_really_the_world_s_oldest_profession_.html

What truly blew me away, apart from the interesting information regarding prostitution throughout the various eras (and who it was that coined the phrase “the most ancient profession”, which over time became the more familiar “world’s oldest profession”), was the information regarding the exchange of sexual favors for items in the animal kingdom, specifically in monkeys and penguins (!).

Amazing bit of information that once again suggests that we as human beings are not as far removed from our animal “cousins” as we may think.

Again, fascinating, fascinating piece.

Grosse Point Blank (1997) a (belated) review

I’m not a big fan of romantic comedies, mainly because they tend to operate under a story “formula” that, to my eyes, has become all too predictable.

To begin, we have our main two characters (male and female). They meet, they fall in love with each other, sometimes right away, sometimes over a few minutes of screen time.  Sometimes, they hate each other on the outset, but that’s only delaying the inevitable.  They will fall in love with each other.

But there are complications. One of them, for example, may be engaged.  Perhaps to the other’s best friend.  Or maybe their meeting and love is some kind of con. Perhaps one of them was looking for a rich score, or trying to prove they could seduce anyone.  In the end, they (say it all together now) truly fall in love. In the movie’s later acts, the truth of this deception comes out and it looks like the young lovers are destined to go their separate ways. Then, in the film’s final act, one or the other or both realize their love is true and they make up and live happily ever after.

The End.

Which, in a roundabout way, brings us to the 1997 film Grosse Point Blank.  As I mentioned before, I’m not a big fan of romantic comedies.  But like many things in life, there are exceptions.  If there’s one romantic comedy that I can sit through multiple times, it is this film.

I’ve seen it several times, most recently over the weekend, and still get a chuckle out of it.  Yes, the film follows the typical romantic comedy plot, but it is the unusual elements brought into the more standard ones that makes this film work so well.

To begin with, we’re not dealing with your typical protagonists.  John Cusack is Martin Blank, hired killer, who is currently on a losing skid.  We first meet him on one job where he’s hired to protect someone from a killer.  He succeeds in his assignment…temporarily.  His next job, a killing in Miami meant to look like a heart attack, is instead  botched.  He is forced to kill his target by far bloodier means.  We further find that Blank is burned out with the job.  He sees a (justifiably terrified) psychologist (Alan Arkin in what amounts to a cameo role, yet he is quite hilarious in his sparse scenes) and is being pressured by a psychotic fellow killer (Dan Aykroyd, also very funny in a someone bigger cameo role) to join his union…all while watching out that he doesn’t shoot him in the back.

Added to this mess is the fact that because of his botched jobs, Blank is being pressured to take on a “make up” job in Detroit, where he happens to have his 10th year High School Reunion coming up.  Did I mention that Blank is obsessed with Debi Newberry (Minnie Driver, quite excellent as the grounded Yin to Blank’s highly eccentric Yang), a woman he abandoned on the night of their prom ten years before?

So the elements are all there for a truly oddball (and bloody!) romantic comedy.  Old flames return to each other while Blank has to hide (in plain sight!) his job while avoiding assassins and CIA agents tasked to take him out, all while trying to set things right with the one time love of his life.

Grosse Point Blank isn’t Casablanca or Citizen Kane, but then again, very few films are.  What this movie is is a funny and ultimately very satisfying variation on the romantic comedy formula.  Sure, the elements outlined above are still there.  But it is the outrageous outliers (the hired killers) that make this film strand out from so many in the pack.  Recommended.

 

The New Fortress of Solitude…

Fascinating article by T. R. Witcher for Salon.com regarding more recent examples of a cinematic hero’s “home”, and what it means in the context of the movie:

http://www.salon.com/2012/03/02/the_heros_new_fortress_of_solitude/singleton/

I find articles like this incredibly fascinating.  Shining a light on elements within a movie and what they mean in the context of the story being told, especially when those elements may be visible enough to register yet subtle enough for the average moviegoer to (perhaps) not quite realize…this is the sort of stuff that makes for fascinating movie discourse.

In this case, the idea of how a hero or villain’s “home” is presented in a movie, especially now, may be a reflection on our own times.

Again, fascinating, fascinating stuff.

The Blog of E. R. Torre

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