The Shards [Book Review]

I recently finished reading The Shards – a new novel by Bret Easton Ellis.
Before now, I’d only read his first novel, Less Than Zero, and his infamous American Psycho. Both of which I thoroughly enjoyed. I read both of these books several years ago, and since then I have always intended to read more of his work but never really got around to it until the American author released this new work of auto-fiction. It took me a while to read, not just because it’s rather long, but because I wanted to savour the atmosphere and feeling that Ellis sustains throughout the story.

In The Shards – Bret Ellis – now in his mid fifties- reflects on events that have haunted him since his senior year at Buckley High School.
The story is set in 1981; the young Bret Ellis and his friends are the sons and daughters of LA’s social elite. They live a lifestyle of wealth and excess. They wear designer clothes, drive expensive cars, frequently attend parties, and have easy access to drugs at all times.
The city of Los Angeles is being prayed upon by The Trawler, a sadistic serial killer who stalks his victims, breaking into their homes and stealing their pets before kidnapping and, of course, killing them. As well as a hippie cult that emerges from the mountains to embark on a campaign of harassment and vandalism.
At the start of the new school year, Robert Mallory transfers to Buckley High and quickly infiltrates Bret’s tightly knit social circle.
Bret quickly becomes suspicious of Robert – rightly believing that he’s not exactly who he seems to be – and begins to investigate his new class mate. 
Bret, however, is hiding secrets of his own. His girlfriend, The popular Debbi Schaffer, has no idea that he’s actually gay and having affairs with two male classmates.
These are secrets he can’t let anyone else know. He can’t disrupt the social norms of life at Buckley High – something that does eventually becomes disrupted as Bret slowly learns the truth about Robert. 

Ellis manages to paint a vivid picture of the era and the city of Los Angeles as he lists the familiar names of streets, bars, and restaurants. As I previously stated, he manages to maintain a certain atmosphere throughout the fairly long book—a wild cocktail of desire, detachment, paranoia, jealousy, and suspicion—which occasionally verges on psychedelic, like a bad trip with an 80s soundtrack.
The Shards is a coming of age story from hell.

The American Astronaut (2001): Film Review

The American Astronaut – as obscure as it is unique. This film has been largely forgotten about and mentioned only on rare occasions in the deepest darkest corners of cinephile forums. Unfortunately the film is not available on any streaming platforms and the DVD is long out of print – pushing it further into the depths of obscurity. The American Astronaut is a musical Space-Western with the aesthetic of a 1950s B-Movie only bleaker.
The story is set in an alternative timeline in which space travel was pioneered by independent roughneck types rather than sophisticated scientists and noble Astronauts.
Here we don’t have any nice Star-Trek style space ships with flashy lights and glowing control panels – we have clapped out amateur space craft that looked like they are held together with tape and made in some ones garage out of whatever junk he could find. It’s a strange aesthetic that belongs in a genre that never came to be. A revision of Retrofuturism similar to now Steam Punk revised Retrofuturism – only this is gritty rather than goofy.
The film was written and directed by Cory McAbee who also plays the lead character Samuel Curtis (and whose band The Billy Nayer Show performed the soundtrack). Curtis is an independent Astronaut drifting from place to place, making deliveries wherever he needs to in order to make some cash. After delivering a cat to a client in a dive bar based on an asteroid – Curtis bumps into his old friend – the renowned fresh fruit smuggler – The Blueberry Pirate (Joshua Taylor) who involves him in a number of shady deals on numerous planets leading to one big score. The only problem being that Curtis is being followed by his old enemy – the murderous Professor Hess.
Despite its absurd story and musical numbers the film is played completely straight – no over the top or comic acting – these parts are played more seriously than those of a Shakespeare play. This crossed with the aesthetic contributes to the films uniqueness and strange feel.
I really enjoyed this one. I think it’s a shame this ones so overlooked. It’s a shame it’s so deeply buried when it has the potential to be a cult classic. The American Astronaut is something I’ll go around recommending to people knowing they may very well never see it.

Modes of Sentience: Book Review

Six years after the publication of Noumenautics (2016) Dr. Peter Sjöstedt-Hughes brings us a new collection of essays, Modes of Sentience, in which he continues his exploration of Psychedelic experience, Metaphysics and Consciousness. Unlike this previous book there is no exploration of Meta-Ethics.

Many of the chapters are deeply complex such as “The Great God Pan is not Dead,” which explores Whiteheads Metaphysics in relation to Psychedelics perception and “Deeper then Depth,” which explores space and sentience. I don’t want to summarise these more complex essays here. Doing so would take up to much space for this to remain a simple review and I do not think a short summary would present such ideas adequately. Instead I will briefly discuss what could be seen as the more “approachable” essays.

“The Concrescence of Dissent” is a fantastic essay exploring the development of Alfred North Whitehead within the Religious and Philosophical context of his time  – showing that Whitehead stood as a heretic amongst his contemporaries. An interesting article for those both new to Whitehead and those already knowledgeable of his work.

The book also contains perhaps one of Sjöstedt-Hughes most significant essays: “The Psychedelic history of Philosophy.” Which gained almost instant popularity after its original publication in Mid-2016. This essay explores the hidden influence of Psychedelics have had on Western Philosophy exploring usage from Plato to Foucault. Here Sjöstedt-Hughes provides us an alternative view of Western Philosophy and discusses figures both well known and obscure.

One such obscure figure is Sir Humphry Davy, who is further discussed in the essay “The First Scientific Psychonaut.” Davy is best remembered for inventing the miners lamp and isolating several elements however he want on to experiment heavily with Nitrous Oxide – inspiring a poetic philosophy of Metaphysics of which Sjöstedt-Hughes explains in detail.

Modes of Sentience is a compelling and complex read. I wish not to discourage or criticise by mentioning its  complexity – I enjoy a challenging read. I don’t think ideas like these can be presented simply and in many ways I feel this book continues on from the writing he presented several years earlier – Modes of Sentience brings us deeper into Sjöstedts Psychonautic voyage. But we have further to travel yet as in the past Dr. Sjöstedt-Hughes has stated that he hopes to combine the metaphysics of Whitehead with the philosophy of Nietzsche.

Pig [2021]: Film Review

Realised mid 2021, Pig tells the story of Rob (Nicholas Cage), a truffle forager living in the Oregon wilderness with only his foraging pig for company. Until one night unidentified assailants break into Robs cabin – kidnapping his beloved pig and violently assaulting him in the process.
Rob then begins his search for the pig leading him back to Portland – where he confronts shady underground figures, high end restaurant suppliers and the haunting memories of his past.

Upon hearing the plot one may expect a sort of John Wick style revenge film – perhaps resembling Cages 2018 film Mandy – or some kind of absurd comedy. However Sarnoski provides us with quite the opposite. The film is at times deep, emotional, melancholic and even somewhat existential. Upon leaving the theatre I over heard other movie goers saying some scenes had them in tears.

Pig is the directorial debut of Michael Sarnoski. I’m unfamiliar with Sarnoskis other work on series such as Olympia or his various shorts but the fantastic directing of Pig shows real talent. I’m sure he’ll be producing my great films in the future.
One can’t mention this film without mentioning the performance of lead actor Nicholas Cage – who some dismiss as being a sort of “meme” actor due to some of his more eccentric past roles in films such as Vampires Kiss (1988) and Ghost Rider (2007). Pig proves that Cage can be a serious actor portraying serious emotion. It’s also worth mentioning that actors Alex Wolf and Adam Arkin also preformed excellently alongside the legendary Nicolas Cage.

I predict this film will makes its way into the Criterion Collection and I’ll conclude by saying that Pig is a truly heart-felt masterpiece.