Haywire (2011) a (mildly) belated review

Director Steven Soderbergh is some kind of speed demon.  Either that or he doesn’t sleep.  On his IMDB page, he’s listed as having 34 Directorial Credits since his 1985 debut in video documentary (Doing the math, that translates to roughly 1.26 releases per year as director).  And that doesn’t include the Production Credits (33), the Cinematography Credits (18), Editor Credits (12), etc. etc.  Some are duplicate credits, yet on a whole, this man has had his hand in an incredible volume of works.

As I look over Mr. Soderbergh’s myriad credits and story genres, it appears his 2011 directed movie Haywire represents the first full foray into action/adventure territory.  He’s worked in and around the genre before, perhaps most notably in the very successful caper/comedy Oceans 11, 12, etc. films, but, as I said before, this may well be the first time he’s fully hit at this particular genre.

When Haywire was originally released, I really wanted to see it, although for reasons that are unique to me.  You see, I released this novel called Mechanic back in 2009 that features a protagonist that, to my mind’s eye, wound up looking exactly like Haywire’s protagonist Mallory Kane, as played by actress and mixed martial arts fighter Gina Carano, someone who up until the film’s release I had no knowledge about.  She is the movie’s main draw and is present in almost every scene.  This is certainly quite a challenge for a first time actress, especially when you are tasked to not only perform your own stunts (which she handled quite well), but also act with such seasoned veterans as Michael Douglas, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Bill Paxton, and Antonio Banderas.

Looking at the film’s overall reviews on RottenTomatoes.com (you can read it here), the movie wound up scoring a very curious split.  A whopping 80% of critics gave the film a “thumbs up” compared to a far more anemic 41% approval from audiences.  Thus, it appears that Haywire was a critical darling but casual movie goers weren’t quite as impressed.

So what did I think?

To begin, Mr. Soderbergh and Ms. Carano provide a potent mix.  If you come into the film looking for some bone crunching fight scenes, I can’t see how you walk away from the movie disappointed.  But be aware that this film is most certainly an “old school” type action film.  There are no flashy special effects.  There are no epilepsy-inducing Michael Bay-like jump cuts.  There are no super-heroics.  The fights are presented for the most part in long, reasonably realistic takes.  There is exactly one car chase, but it too is presented reasonably naturally, with no cars performing incredible leaps or crashes.

Which may explain why audiences which by now are accustomed to big scale action films along the lines of a Fast Five or The Avengers might not react so positively to a movie on a much smaller scale like Haywire.  Frankly, I appreciate the effort, even though I think the film, in the end, was simply not as successful as I hoped it would be.

However, during its first hour or so, it most certainly was.  I was instantly drawn into the movie’s story and the plight of Ms. Carano’s tough as nails Mallory.  Ms. Carano’s performance, the lynchpin of the movie, was pretty damn good.  She more than held her own against the seasoned actors she was up against and made for a compelling hero.

But after that first hour, the film simply lost steam.  The plot, featuring undercover operative Mallory’s betrayal after a “job”, was pretty standard stuff, even though Mr. Soderbergh gave it as much pizzazz as he could.  The film’s greatest sin was its lack of a compelling climax.  An action film, in my mind, should build as it goes along.  The final act, in particular, should be smashing.  Not only did Haywire not have a “smashing” ending, it committed the even greater sin of concluding on a decidedly abrupt note that left me even more unsatisfied.

Ultimately, Haywire is about 2/3rd of a very, very good old school style action film.  I just wish Mr. Soderbergh and the screenwriters could have fashioned a more fulfilling and satisfying climax and given us a film that ended with a bang rather than a whimper.

Trust me on this…

Fascinating two articles that can be found on Salon.com from two different writers concerning albums/songs that they strongly recommend, and why:

http://www.salon.com/2012/05/29/trust_me_on_this_the_beatles_let_it_be/

First up is author Rick Moody talking about the song “Let It Be” by the Beatles.  Next up is singer Rhett Miller on David Bowie’s Hunky Dory.

Both are worth listening to (though I suspect more people have heard “Let It Be” than the entirety of David Bowie’s Hunky Dory…with the possible exception of the song “Changes”).

Which leads me to thinking:  What album would I recommend above all others to someone?  Now that’s a hard thing to choose.

You would think that, given how big a fan of David Bowie I am that, like Mr. Miller, I’d of course choose one of his albums.  Yet as I type these words right now, I don’t know if I would.  Yes, I absolutely love David Bowie.  And yes, many of his albums are certainly “up there” on my list of all time greats.  But would I choose one of those albums above the works of other musical artists I also adore?

Boy, that’s hard to do.  As much as I love Mr. Bowie, I also love several of the albums of The Beatles (Abbey Road, The White Album, Sgt. Pepper, etc.).  And I really think both the Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall by Pink Floyd are incredible, awe-inspiring works.  Then there’s the first and last albums released by the Jim Morrison version of The Doors (for those confused by that statement, the surviving members of the Doors released not one but two albums following Mr. Morrison’s death, Other Voices and Full Circle, before giving up).  And what about Jimi Hendrix…and The Clash…and Led Zeppelin…and The Smashing Pumpkins…and….and….

Jeeze, what a hard choice!

So here I sit, still stewing.  Still thinking hard.  If I had to choose just one -and only one- album above all others, which would it be…

Ah, hell…I’m going predictable here.  The album I would choose?

David Bowie’s 1973 album Aladdin Sane.

No, the album isn’t perfect (To this day I really, really don’t like his remake of The Rolling Stone’s “Let Spend the Night Together”, found on this album.  Likewise, I think the song “Time” is a little too long and morose for its own good).  But the good far, FAR outweighs the bad.

The album, which many have noted was “Ziggy Stardust goes to the U.S.”,  starts with the terrific “Watch That Man”, a great rocker.  Immediately afterwards, we get the equally terrific “Aladdin Sane”, a song that ends with a terrific, fractured piano solo that hints at the madness in the song’s pun title.  Following that we get “Drive-In Saturday”, a post-apocalyptic 1950’s sounding rocker (!) that is just incredible.

And then, after all that goodness, comes “Panic In Detroit.”  That song, quite frankly, is a complete knockout.  I absolutely LOVE that song, and consider it one of David Bowie’s all time best.

After that song comes another rocker, the sarcastic “Cracked Actor,” which is a decent enough song but not one of my favorites (its theme hints at a song Mr. Bowie would release soon after, “Fame”).  This is followed by the already mentioned “Time”.  After that comes the radio friendly “Prettiest Star” and the fast-forward-able cover of “Let’s Spend The Night Together”.

The album concludes with two absolute gems.  “The Jean Genie”, perhaps the most famous song of the album, is followed by the hauntingly macabre cabaret-like “Lady Grinning Soul”.

So, yes, despite not liking two of the songs on this album (and thinking a third is only “ok”), I would still go with Aladdin Sane as an album I would recommend highly to everyone.  It may not be “perfect” (so few things are, alas!), but its got so much great material nonetheless that it is a can’t miss.

Highly, highly recommended.

Post Memorial Day…

The day after Memorial Day, at least for the past decade or so, always feels like a time I can finally exhale.

These past few years I’ve been knee deep in whatever my latest novel is, tweaking this and re-writing that, and this year is no exception.  Other issues always crop up, of course, from school and helping the kids with their homework to other work related issues.

It all simmers and boils and reaches its apex on the Memorial Day weekend.  Then, just like that, most of the pressures fade.

My latest novel, the fourth book in the Corrosive Knights series, is just about done.  Today I should finish the fourth draft.  I’m estimating going over the book at least two more times before feeling comfortable enough to finally release it, but the worst seems to be over.  Like all my books, this one has its share of twists and turns.  To make those myriad twists and turns “work” within the context of the book, I have to make sure they follow a logical path, thus the need to go over the material several times.

I can’t wait to release the book.  I think it’ll provide plenty of enjoyment to those who have read the other three books in this series, Mechanic, The Last Flight of the Argus, and Chameleon.

On that topic, thanks for the kind reviews and emails sent from people who have read the books.  As a relatively “new” author, I often wonder if the work I put into these books is something that others can appreciate.  Based on the growing sales and those already mentioned comments, it appears the books have struck a chord with some.

Again, thank you very much.  I’ll try to get the next one out as soon as I can!

The Collector (2009), Chaos (2005), and The Lincoln Lawyer (2011)…a trio of (somewhat belated) reviews

Another post from the past, this one originally appearing on March 16, 2011.  It has been mildly edited for clarity…

Don’t exactly know how, but I managed to claw enough free time to see a trio of few films over the weekend.  Was the time well spent or a complete waste of time?

First up was the 2009 horror film The Collector.  When I first heard of this film, I was intrigued.  It seems there are precious few “new” ideas when it comes to modern horror films featuring your standard Bogeyman-type villain.  Pretty much everything was locked into place regarding this movie-screen killer in John Carpenter’s original Halloween and since then we’ve seen mild variations of this theme.  Sure, some movies have featured better effects, more elaborate “kills” (to the point of being ridiculous) while others have added humor into the otherwise bloody proceedings.  But the general blueprint remains roughly the same:  A group of people (often movie versions of teens) are targeted by the insane killer and are offed one at a time before the killer is apparently taken out by the hero/heroine.  But just before the credits roll, the audience wonders…is the fiend actually dead…or will we see him/her return in a sequel?

I’ve seen this story so many times, over and over again, that despite being a fan of horror films, I’m not really interested in re-visiting this particular sub-genre.  However, when I heard about the plot of The Collector;, I took notice because it presented, finally, a pretty interesting new wrinkle to the familiar bogeyman routine.

Yes, in this movie, our killer is a sadistic and almost supernatural being.  His “work” involves locking people in their homes and making their familiar surroundings a death trap while he goes after them one at a time.  Boring stuff, really.

But then comes that wrinkle: A theif by the name of Arkin (played by the very taciturn Josh Stewart), is a decent enough man who is forced to steal to pay off a debt for his wife/girlfriend before some loan sharks do her harm.  He targets a house in which he believes the residing family are gone for the weekend.  Instead, he quickly finds that not only are they around, but they are currently being victimized by a demented fiend who has made the house an elaborate death trap.  The wrinkle is that the thief’s presence is known neither to the family OR the killer and in short time, the thief/protagonist is forced to play a game of cat and mouse with the killer while trying to save the family from their doom.

As I put the film on, I truly wanted it to succeed.  And for a good while, it does, even if almost from the very beginning the film veers into the truly ridiculous.  You see, the number of traps our “Collector” has arranged in the victim family’s house are simply waaaay too much.  If our killer had a few months to set up all those elaborate traps, it would make sense, but our protagonist is seen casing the house in the morning and breaking into it that same evening.  There is simply no way killer manages to get all that work done in one day (How I wish real life contractors were that efficient!!)

Worse, the family members our protagonist eventually tries to save -at least two of them- die in virtually the same manner, running off screaming and getting the killer’s attention when by that point they should know much better.

But the film’s biggest failing is its downbeat (yet cliched) ending, wherein our bogey man does what all these other bogey men do:  Rise from the grave (so to speak) and “triumph”.  By that point, though, the film’s clever new wrinkle was long past being interesting, and the film lost me completely.

Having said that, I know that a sequel to this film is in the works, called The Collection.  Despite the fact that I feel The Collector was ultimately a let down, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t intrigued with the idea of a sequel.  Hope (or maybe stupidity on my part) springs eternal…

Next up is the 2005 straight to video release of the Jason Statham, Ryan Phillippe, and Wesley Snipes film Chaos.   When I first heard of this film and the fact that it was not released theatrically, I figured at best it was mediocre and at worse pretty terrible.  Particularly considering the three leads it had.  In the end, Chaos falls more into the “best case” scenario for a direct to video release, maintaining a good level of interest until it fizzled out at the end.

Mr. Statham is Quentin Connors a suspended cop.  After a bank robbery in the city goes bad and the people in the bank demand to speak to Connors, he is brought back in for the job.  From there, a cat and mouse game between Connors, his new partner (and newbie) Shane Dekker (Ryan Phillippe) ensues.  The bulk of the film is an attempt by Connors and Dekker to discover what exactly the thieves were after, and how their actions and interests tie in to Connors’ past.

There are some very clever twists and turns in the film, but ultimately, unfortunately, this is a movie that demanded at least one more turn at the very end…a turn that doesn’t come (without giving away too terribly much, I believe one of the characters should have gotten the upper hand in the end…and not the one that did).  Despite that reservation I think this is a film worthy of your time if you have nothing better to do one lazy Saturday afternoon.

The trailer can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=81eXAC96k8w

Finally, we have the 2011 Matthew McConaughey film The Lincoln Lawyer.  Now, I’ve stated before my love of author Michael Connelly’s novels (excluding his biggest misfire, IMHO, 9 Dragons).  While The Lincoln Lawyer was one of his most successful novels in terms of sales, I have to admit that, while it certainly wasn’t as outright terrible 9 Dragons, it nonetheless wasn’t, in my opinion, one of Mr. Connelly’s stronger novels (An aside:  One of my all time favorites books he wrote, Blood Work, was also made into a film and starred Clint Eastwood.  Unfortunately, the film would up being quite mediocre, mostly because of several unwarranted deviations in the film’s climax).

Because the novel was a success, Hollywood came calling and the movie was made.  Would it be on the level of the film version of Blood Work?  Thankfully, no.

Matthew McConaughey plays attorney Mick Haller, a rather slick, unscrupulous defense lawyer who, from all appearances, has been placed on this earth for the sole purpose of making as much personal gain as he can via his profession.  He is provided a “hot tip” on a very wealthy young man who may have assaulted a prostitute and, seeing the possibility of making some big cash, visits the client in jail.  The potential client, Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe, again!), swears his innocence, but Haller doesn’t seem to care.  The temptation of a very big payoff is too great to ignore.

He takes on the case and his investigation of the circumstances of this assault begin.  Very quickly, things turn out to not be quite what they seem.  Usually, a novel trumps a movie, but here I think the movie trumps the book.  Yes, the film follows all the main elements of the book while ditching a couple of aspects (Detective Harry Bosch, Mr. Connelly’s biggest literary creation, for example, is no where to be found in the movie, though he made an extended cameo appearance in the book).  Apart from that, the elements that were trimmed from the book actually, I felt, strengthened the movie.  And while Mr. McConaughey doesn’t seem to fit the description of the book’s version of Haller, who was described as somewhat overweight and not all that attractive, it proves irrelevant.  Mr. McConaughey’s work here is damn good, which proves very helpful considering he is present in virtually every scene in the film.  Thanks to his charisma and solid acting we are eventually able to root for a guy that, at first, we should be repulsed by.

Nonetheless, the film is not without some flaws.  Marisa Tomei is given far too little to do in the film as Haller’s ex-wife (in the book, he has two ex-wives, but the second one isn’t identified as such in the film).  Also, the pressure the police put on Haller when he comes under suspicion for some nefarious doings never becomes as pressing as it could have been.

Having said that, I would still recommend The Lincoln Lawyer to anyone looking for a decent -and twisty- diversion.

Adventureland (2009) a (mildly) belated review

Another post from the past, this one originally appeared on March 16, 2011.  It has been cleaned up a little for clarity.

Has there ever been a movie that you’ve simultaneously loved -and disliked- at the same time?  A film that hits so many good notes, yet stumbles so badly in other ways that in the end, despite so much good, you feel it is difficult to recommend it?

I recall when M. Night Shyamalan released Unbreakable, his follow up to the incredibly successful Sixth Sense, back in 2000.  The film was presented as something of a mystery: David Dunn (Bruce Willis) is a man who questions exactly who/what he is after a devastating train accident leaves him the sole survivor.  In the end, it turns out (SPOILERS!) that he has the powers of a superhero…and must eventually confront his very own super-villain.  While the film was, for the most part, enjoyable, there was a scene in it that just irritated the hell out of me to such an extent that, even today, I can’t help but think of it whenever I think of the film itself.

The sequence in question involved our protagonist and his son in their home’s garage.  Dunn has begun to realize he is different from other people, and he and his son are checking out just how different he really is by seeing how much weight he can bench press.  Dunn, who previously was a star on the high school football team, states that while he lifted weights back then, he never pushed himself to see just how much he could lift.  He does this now, and finds he can seemingly effortlessly lift a considerable, even supernatural amount.  This further provides evidence that he is indeed not a typical human being.

Unfortunately, this scene made absolutely no sense and, worse, revealed the director/writer’s ignorance of High School jocks.

You see, it was my experience while in High School and, afterwards, college, that people who actively engaged in sports -surprise surprise!- tended to be very invested in their physical training.  They kept track of how many situps, pull ups, or miles they ran each day.  And they most certainly knew (and took pride!) in how much they could lift in the weight room.  It was not unusual for me to overhear their conversations, wherein they noted how much they lifted that day, how often, and for how long.  They took pride in striving to incrementally do a little more, and then a little more than that, for it is in this progress they gauge their physical improvement.

For David Dunn, an alleged football star in High School, to profess in that movie scene that he never knew how much he could lift was simply ridiculous.  If he made any effort at all during his football playing years, then he damn well would have kept some track of his physical prowess.  This would be a source of pride, not something that he would shrug off. Further, in exploring just how strong he was while in High School, Dunn would/should have come to the realization that he was a super being much, much earlier in his life.  Just like that, the entire movie’s premise -that he was blissfully unaware of what he was after all these years-simply fell apart for me.

In Adventureland we have a sweet coming of age dramedy that struck a deep cord within me.  No, I never worked at a dodgy amusement park following High School/College to make some money, but the movie took place in a time and featured a cast of characters I could easily identify with.  The movie is set in the mid-1980’s and features a cast of characters who are roughly the same age as I was in that same period of time.  Like the protagonist, I too was finding my way in the world and, over the course of doing so, met and made friends with people very similar to the various characters, both male and female, presented in the movie.  I knew the womanizers, I knew the clueless adults and youths, I knew the potheads, I knew the parties.  And, yes, in my youth I also fell for that out of reach “edgy” girl.  In fact, I made a habit of it.  As someone who often loves reflecting on those sweet  feelings of my youth, the movie proved a pleasant nostalgic kick.

Jesse Eisenberg is James Brennan, our protagonist, a nerdy, intelligent guy who comes from a poor family and is looking to leave his roots and head to New York.  He’s just finished high school and is expecting his parents to help pay for a trip he intends to make with his best friend to Europe.  He’s planned out his post-Europe life:  He will go to New York to complete his studies and from there become the adult he wants to be.

All those youthful plans are dashed when he discovers his parents aren’t doing so well financially and thus cannot pay their share of the trip.  He is forced to abandon Europe and take a job at a somewhat sleazy carnival/park called Adventureland.  It is there he meets Em Lewin (Kristen Stewart, who absolutely nails her role).  When they first meet, she seems instantly interested in James.

Why?

There is no real reason.  She simply is.  As the movie progresses, we find she has a messy home and personal life.  She is involved with the park’s resident handsome lothario, Mike Connell (Ryan Reynolds in a relatively small role).  Mike is married, but he’s an alley cat who carries on with whatever female he can charm into his bed.  In any other film, he might be presented as the movie’s villain but here he is humanized and shown to be yet another person with faults.  Indeed, everyone in the film is presented this way…no one is a pristine heroes of a terrible villain.  The people in and around the park go about their young lives as best they can, stumbling at times, being let down at others, all while working their way through this summer.

As stated before, I found myself really into the story and even more so into the characters presented because I could sympathize with that epoch.  The film really had me, especially regarding the growing love James had for the (somewhat) troubled Em.  As the movie progressed, I was expecting it to go bold and give us an ending that was honest and true to life…in as much as a film can be.

Instead, the filmmakers decided to go into a direction that, unfortunately, wound up souring the experience.

SPOILERS FOLLOW!!!

Setting the film in the past already had me as a viewer on alert.  As with other films set in the past that wax nostalgic, like the equally sweet but overall better American Graffiti or the more bawdy Animal House, I figured we were headed into a bittersweet “where are they now” type ending.

Young love -at least in my experience- is often filled with hormone infused frustration.  Therefore, I was certain the relationship between James and Em was never destined to be.  Indeed, when James loses Em and hears she has moved to New York toward the end of the film, he says of his relationship with her: “I wish it hadn’t ended that way”, and I thought that would be it, and that the movie would then shift to the present, wherein we would find an older, wiser James standing before the now crumbling Adventureland park and remembering that one youthful love he had…and lost.

“Where is she now?” he would wonder in my imaginary ending.  His youthful looks are marred a bit by the passage of the years, his hair is a little gray.  He looks on at this place where the last moments of his childhood played out and walks away.  Despite the sadness of losing Em, there is a smile on his face, for he still has those pleasant memories.

Instead, the filmmakers decided to opt for a more standard “happy ending.”  Unfortunately, their idea of a happy ending is to have our protagonist travel to New York in search of Em.  Like a stalker, he eventually finds her, and, despite the implied passage of time (it is hinted many months have passed since they last saw each other), they instantly, indeed too quickly, rekindle their puppy love and decide that now they can go all the way.

Yes, the movie’s happy ending is that James finally gets to sleep with Em.

As with the problem I had with Unbreakable, Adventureland’s conclusion might not put off other viewers and may be something that bothered me and no one else.

Still, the ending rang hollow and ruined what until then was a beautiful slice of life feeling.  I suppose saying I “hated” the movie is too strong a word.  Yet despite all the good stuff, despite the fact that this film had me waxing nostalgic with memories both good and bad of my youth throughout its run, that ending proved a real turn off.  Too bad.

A few of my favorite things…

Been a very busy couple of weeks and I regret the lack of new posts of late.  I will hopefully make up for all that in the coming days, even as the Memorial Day weekend looms large (and busy) in the very near future.

Despite all the mind-numbing hectic nature of the past couple of weeks, I’ve thought of a few of my favorite things.  Your mileage, of course, may well vary.

I like quotes.  I like clever quotes.  Read ’em all the time.  Yet if you were to press me for a quote that sticks out in my mind above all the others, I’d have to go with the following, from Ralph Waldo Emerson:

The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons.

A close second?  Screenwriter William Goldman’s great quote in describing how it is to work in Hollywood:  Nobody knows anything.

Favorite comedy film?

Airplane!, easily.

Favorite Horror film?

Probably the original Alien, with honorable mention to Steven Spielberg’s Duel and Jaws.

Favorite Action film?

I’d go with Aliens, with honorable mention to The Killer and Dirty Harry.

Favorite Mystery film?

The Maltese Falcon, followed very closely by Bullitt and Point Blank.

Favorite Author?

This is a tough one as there are so many authors and so many genres.  My all time favorite novel may well be Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, the novel that was the basis, eventually, for the film Apocalypse Now.

However, I absolutely love the works of Edgar Allan Poe.  Two of my favorites of his are The Raven and Eldorado.  The later poem hits me every time I read it.  I suspect every human being has dreams and ambitions they pursue.  But there is a fine line between pursuing one’s dreams and wasting one’s life in folly, which the gallant knight of the story does.

Also love many of the works of H. P. Lovecraft.  One of my all time favorite opening lines -and one that give me goosebumps every time I read it- can be found in his short story The Doom That Came To Sarnath:

There is in the land of Mnar a vast still lake that is fed by no stream, and out of which no stream flows.  Ten thousand years ago there stood by its shore the mighty city of Sarnath, but Sarnath stands there no more.

These two lines, almost poetic in their cadence, lays out perfectly the story you are about to read.  A still, stagnant lake.  An old, mighty city that somehow perished.  As a reader, I can feel the uneasiness of this scene, and I want to read more.

Another favorite novel, mystery category:  Fredric Brown’s The Far Cry, which I enjoyed so much I even reviewed it on Amazon.com.

Then there’s author Raymond Chandler.  Of the authors I’ve mentioned, he may well be my favorite author to read.  His Phillip Marlowe mystery novels, of which there are only seven (plus Poodle Springs, which was initiated but never completed by him), are chock full of great witty commentary and dry, sarcastic humor.  As exemplary as Mr. Chandler’s writing is, the plots of his books tend to be a little…confusing.

In fact, one of the more (in)famous “glitches” in the first Phillip Marlowe novel and subsequent movie, The Big Sleep, is who killed the Sternwood chauffeur.  His murderer, indeed, is never revealed.  However, the book and the movie are so damn entertaining that, in the end, it doesn’t even matter!

Well, that’s it for now.  Be back soon!

Wrong is Right (1982) a (very) belated review

Back in the 1960’s and at the height of the Cold War, director Stanley Kubrick decided to make a movie that focused on the horror of a nuclear conflict.  I’ve read that as Mr. Kubrick worked on the script for that then upcoming film, he kept finding humor -black humor, but humor nonetheless- in the very real possibility of an accidental nuclear war, a decidedly odd focus given the horror the common citizen felt at the time regarding the proliferation of those weapons of mass destruction.  The end result, 1964’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb, proved an absolute masterpiece of jet black comedy and is easily one of Mr. Kubrick’s best films.

So, one wonders, might there be another director out there who, upon looking at the events surrounding 9/11 and the second Iraqi war, might not also look at the myriad tragedies involved, from the thousands upon thousands dead, the loss of national treasure, the inept leadership, the media manipulation, and the very questionable motivations for engaging in the conflict in the first place…and decide that this too might be good material in the creation of a black comedy?

Thing is, someone already did, and they did it a whopping 20 years before the events of 9/11 and the subsequent Iraqi War.

I’m talking about 1982’s Wrong Is Right.  As directed by Richard Brooks, the movie features Sean Connery in the role of Patrick Hale, an intrepid, world famous reporter who, in the process of criss-crossing the globe, comes to realize he’s landed himself smack dab in the middle of machinations involving the CIA, an Arabian leader whose land is filled with oil, a weapons dealer, a terrorist intent on getting his hands on two mysterious suitcases, and a U.S. presidential election.

The various parties involved actively try to manipulate the story Hale perceives and tells, and ultimately what may appear “true” becomes a matter of convenience.  To go into too much detail about the story’s plot would be a disservice.

Having said that, this now 30 year old film is incredibly prescient.  With some minor modifications, this could easily be a black comedy “take” on the buildup to the Iraqi War.  The most eerie element of the whole thing is that the movie’s climax takes place on the roof of the World Trade Center.

Yes, the World Trade Center.

As wild a coincidence -or prognostication- as all this is, Wrong is Right is simply not as good a film as one would have hoped.

Sean Connery, usually a very reliable actor, is strangely ineffective in his performance.  Likewise, most of the actors involved in the movie turn in either bland or forgettable performances.  Robert Conrad is given one of the better small roles as General Wombat, the President’s military advisor.  He’s presented as a wild-eyed yet clear speaking lunatic whose chief advice to the President is to push the button and end the nonsense once and for all.  Alas, we don’t see nearly enough of him -or characters like him- throughout the film and, ultimately, Wrong is Right winds up being a black comedy that simply isn’t as funny as one would hope.

Yet, despite its flaws, I can’t entirely dismiss it.

In the end, I would cautiously recommend Wrong is Right to viewers who are intrigued with the idea of seeing a film that manages to be as prescient as this one is.  Just don’t expect the movie to be anywhere near as good as Dr. Strangelove.

Lost British WWII Fighter Plane Found in Egypt…

Absolutely fascinating article about the above with some incredible photographs and from CNN:

http://www.cnn.com/2012/05/11/world/british-wwii-plane/index.html

What is so remarkable is the practically pristine shape the plane is in considering it crashed in the desert in 1942.  But the story is also chilling.  There is evidence that Sgt. Dennis Copping, the 24 year old pilot of the craft, survived the crash landing.  He no doubt perished some time later, a victim of the extreme desert heat.

The video presented below can be found on Huffington Post’s article regarding this same story (which itself can be found here):

As I said before, absolutely fascinating stuff!

Alcatraz R.I.P.

It didn’t come as too big a surprise to learn the Fox/J. J. Abrams’ produced sci-fi/suspense series Alcatraz was not renewed after its maiden season.

I’ve been a fan of Mr. Abrams’ work since stumbling into the delightful Alias a while ago. Lost followed soon after and since then I’ve kept my eyes open for his TV and movie works.  However, with the passage of time and the volume of new releases, disappointments were bound to come.

Alias, for example, reached an incredible peak, story wise, with the second season episode Phase One.  Unfortunately, the episode proved to be a double edged sword.  As good as it was, the episode effectively completed almost every one of the myriad story lines developed in the show.  What followed, for three more seasons, was, to me, a series without a focus, trying desperately to find some new ground to break but, for the most part, not succeeding.  The same may well be said of Lost, but at least that show held my interest to the very end, even if it admittedly didn’t come close to answering all the many intriguing mysteries it presented.

Getting back to Alcatraz, the show in some ways reminded me of Fringe, yet another J. J. Abrams produced show.  With both series I had the impression early on the show was begun hastily, with an initial concept but no clear direction to pursue it.  But while Fringe had good characters and, let’s face it, the framework of The X-Files to fall back on and sustain itself during that early rough going, Alcatraz had little to fall back on other than a “capturing the suspect of the week” concept of found in too many police procedurals.

That would have been fine if Alcatraz were a police procedural, but the show’s initial premise was grounded in science fiction.  The initial premise was actually quite good:  Just before the island prison Alcatraz was officially closed down in the early 1960’s, the staff and prisoners mysteriously disappeared.  Now, in the present, staff and prisoners are reappearing.  The prisoners return to the present as young.  They continue their criminal ways, but there seems to be a method to their madness.  Thus, the viewer is presented with some intriguing questions.  What happened to the prisoners and staff of Alcatraz?  What happened to them when they disappeared?  And now, as they are reappearing, why do they show no signs of aging?  Finally, and most intriguing:  What were they up to?

As good as all those questions were, they weren’t good enough, and the show started presenting us one criminal after the other for our heroine, Detective Rebecca Madsen (Sarah Jones) to hunt down.  Unfortunately, Sarah Jones’ role proved woefully underwritten and the actress, at least to me, had difficulty both projecting the charisma necessary to draw me in to her plight or the toughness to make me believe she was a tough cop worthy of taking on the hardened criminals of the past.

Even worse, unfortunately, was Jorge Garcia as Dr. Diego Soto, Alcatraz expert and her “unorthodox” partner.  As written, his character seemed nothing more than mild variant of his character Hurley from Lost.  But the biggest problem was that the only reason for his continued involvement in these stories was because he was an “expert” regarding all things Alcatraz.  In this day and age, however, with computers and instant access to just about every bit of information you could possibly need, keeping an overweight partner around on action forays was dubious, at best.

Luckily for the show’s protagonists, the missing Alcatraz crooks were polite enough to appear one at a time, allow their story to play out, and get themselves captured before the next missing crook made his appearance.  In between, we got hints of a bigger story, but it just wasn’t enough, at least for me.

After ignoring the series for a few weeks, I gave it one more try and caught the series’ final episode.  I was treated to an episode that showed little life, even in its almost scene for scene recreation of the famous Bullitt car chase.

So, goodbye Alcatraz.  You certainly had potential and could have been a good show.  I just wish that a little more thought, and time, we’re devoted to creating a more focused story line.

Fan of sports?

Then you’re probably not a fan of these, the teams with the 50 worst seasons in Sports history:

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1170925-the-50-worst-seasons-in-sports-history

Many of them are familiar to me, but there were some very amusing ones I wasn’t familiar with.

Particularly amusing were some of the baseball teams of old mentioned, like the 1935 Boston Braves, who went on to a pathetic 38-115 record.  This team featured a nearly retired Babe Ruth.  Or the 1899 (yes, that 1899) Cleveland Spiders who managed a pathetic 20-134 record and 101 road loses (something that will never be equaled with today’s schedule).

Interesting, and at times hilarious, stuff.

The Blog of E. R. Torre

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