Monday, March 26, 2012

Quick Review of The Hunger Games

So I saw the movie on Sunday. There was a scheduled showing every 10 minutes from 2:50 to 3:40 when I arrived, and everything was sold out by 3:00 except the 3:20, which was almost full by the time I sat down. I don't think in the last 10 years, I've gone to the movies on a Sunday afternoon and seen that place so completely mobbed. No wonder THG hit one of the highest weekend grosses of all time.

I've not read the books, but I wasn't the least bit confused by the background and plot of the film. If you've watched a number of other "Most Dangerous Game" styled movies, you can push the fiddly bits aside and watch teenagers hunt and kill each other for sport. About that - I didn't have any problem with what I saw, and I would have been willing to take a kid (if I had one) to see this movie if they were old enough to read and fully comprehend the book. I've seen people who claim they wouldn't even let 15-year olds see the movie. What reality are these parents living in? I've no idea. I was reading Vietnam memoirs in grade school, so maybe it's just me.

Overall, I thought this was a very solid film. I was certainly more emotionally invested in the story and the characters than I was watching John Carter. The issues that these sorts of "gladiatorial" movies bring up, such as The Running Man, Spartacus, Gladiator, Gamer, Death Race 2000 (and to a lesser extent the remake) and so forth are all relatively similar. The clincher is of course making the combatants teenagers, and also teenagers of a wildly varying age range. Pitting a 12 year old girl against an 18 year old boy is, by and large, going to be an unfair fight. I'm not going to post any spoilers here, but let's just say the fighting isn't always fair, and comments early on in the film about how the most dangerous opponent in the Games is the arena itself are certainly true.

Overall acting and screenplay I thought were solid. Child actors, especially those having to play very emotional roles, can be really good or incredibly awful. I definitely feel that the cast for this film was well-chosen, and although there were a few chuckle moments for me, that's mostly because I'm a bastard and often find myself laughing when others weep. So sue me.

I did say this would be a quick review, so I'll leave it at that. For a story that comes from a Young Adult novel, I think this was a very good movie and well worth the money I paid. I only wish I took the money I spent on John Carter and used it for this ticket instead.  It's actually kind of sad that a story that's almost a hundred years old gets handled so poorly while a book that's only been out a couple of years does so well. I wouldn't want to see their fortunes reversed, but it is interesting to see the differences in how the two franchises have been handled.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Book Review: The Gryphon of Tirshal by Henry Brown

I read this book immediately after I read Henry's first story in this series, The Bloodstained Defile. There, three warriors - the Black Lancer Sir Javo, the horse-archer Turgar, and the enormous Krag the Wrecker - formed an alliance of arms after, well, almost killing each other.  In The Gryphon of Tirshal, the three agree to hunt down and kill the Gryphon of Tirshal, a powerful, near-mythical beast which once guarded the city of Tirshal from danger, but now seems to be stealing children and treasure from the city's homes.

TGoT is a pretty interesting story. Beyond the action and adventure, Henry delves into the world of politics and the warrior culture, something familiar to him as a former U.S. Army serviceman. The Gryphon was once a guardian of Tirshal, but now it appears to have turned against the city - or has it? The concept of who turns against who, the protector or the protected, is explored in some detail, but it doesn't mire the story in burdensome philosophical exploration. There's plenty of head-cleaving, limb-hewing action, and after this second story, I found myself really wanting more adventures featuring Javo, Turgar, and Krag.

So if you get a chance, read both The Bloodstained Defile and The Gryphon of Tirshal. Two quick, entertaining reads that fans of the Sword & Sorcery genre will really enjoy.

Some General Updates and Announcements

As of this week, I have tentative commitments from all the contributors I'll need for Hatchet Force Journal #2. I hope to e-mail all the contributors this weekend and get the ball rolling on submissions that I haven't already received.

My Twitter feed has gained a lot of steam this month, and I'm almost at 300 followers. If you've got a Twitter account, please feel free to add me (@jbadelaire). I don't automatically re-follow everyone who adds me, but if it's clear you're not a 'bot or just looking to generate a huge following for no clear purpose, I'll follow back.

I've been falling behind on my reviews, so I hope to put together a bunch and have them auto-post over the next couple of weeks. Lots of indie material as well as other titles.

Sales of NANOK and the Tower of Sorrows have been slow, but I've still been able to peddle a few copies beyond friends and family. If you enjoy some tongue-in-cheek, violent as hell Sword & Sorcery adventure, give it a try. Perfect for sitting out on your deck with a couple of beers one of these gorgeous spring days.

I'm going to go see The Hunger Games this Sunday. I've never read the books, but I will try to get a short review up here after the film. Stay tuned.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Book Review: Blood and Tacos #1

I'm actually having a hard time writing this review because I'm somewhat overwhelmed by the amount of awesome packed into this short compilation. The idea is simple; short stories written as excerpts from longer works of men's adventure fiction that never existed, but goddammit, should have been written.

A brief overview:
  • The Silencer Strikes: The Silencer is one bad mother-shut your mouth! A Vietnam vet who has a penchant for silenced weapons and a hatred for organized crime. Also likes banging his dead best friend's sister, natch.
  • Longhair Death Farm: One of the many adventures of the Albino Wino and his albino alleycat, Chalky. Take David Carradine in Kung Fu and replace him with a drunken, trouble-finding albino bum, and then throw in cannibalism, hippies, AK-47's, and oral sex. No, I'm not even joking.
  • Battleground U.S.S.A.: Texasgrad: The Ruskies have invaded, the Mexicans have become their patsies, and gosh darn it, but home-town beauty Sunny Summerfield has been taken captive by some nefarious Red! Time to deliver a little justice, Texas-style! Oh, and don't forget to sharpen your tomahawks, spirit-brothers!
  • Bonds of Blood: When Tiger Team Bravo takes on an assignment, they see it through to the end, no matter how many eighteen wheelers they have to board by jumping from a low-flying Cessna whilst in the middle of a highway tunnel. Okay, so there's only one, but still, there's also 'splosions. And gold bullets. And a guy named Colonel Professor.
  • Blood and Tacos: Introducing Chingon, the World's Deadliest Mexican. Just picture Danny Trejo wielding a bullwhip and some hand grenades and you won't be too far off the mark. I'd already seen Machete like, four times in the theater and I had to fire it up at home again after reading this story.
There's also three book reviews: one of a Penetrator novel, one of a series called Raker that I'd never heard of, and another about a terrorist killing man-machine called Ben Slayton, T-Man.  All three are great reviews with lots of humorous insight into the world of post-modern pulp fiction, especially how these books were, all too often, incredibly racist, sexist, piles of trash that, let's face it, we devour like a fat man crashing a wedding banquet.

Men's Adventure fiction from the 60's through the 80's was already derivative, cheesy, often inappropriate fun. That a group of talented writers got together and produced something derivative, cheesy, and often inappropriate that's not only fun, but friggin' hilarious, is an achievement worthy of high praise. Each of the shorts in this compilation does yeoman's work of replicating the literary DNA of their respective Men's Adventure sub-genres, and I definitely want to see more from each of these respective "forgotten series".

So do yourself a favor and go buy Blood & Tacos #1 today. If you don't, Chingon is going to make you explode with a hand grenade. And the explosion will kill you.

Monday, March 12, 2012

John Carter Sucked, or Why Hollywood Thinks too Hard

Warning, there are some spoilers ahead. Of course, if you actually care about this, you probably want to know what they are, so you can avoid this film and watch it on Netflix a year from now.

I saw John Carter on Sunday. I had high-ish hopes. I knew the plot was changed from the original Princess of Mars, but I also have an understanding of the differences between print and film and why certain changes have to be made. Unfortunately, many changes were made for No Reason At All. And this is what annoys me, folks. Hollywood buys up these classic stories, stories that have stood the test of time for generations and spawn whole genres, and then Hollywood screws with them because they fear the original idea "won't test well" or some nonsense.

This is the same major issue I had with this summer's Conan the Barbarian remake/reboot/whatever. REH wrote plenty of great material on Conan, and you could have even adapted some Kull material, or a blend of material from some of his other stories.  But no.  Despite eighty years of success and generations of loyal fans, we throw any vestige of a Howardian story out the window in favor of something completely fabricated by a committee of people only vaguely aware of Howard's works.  What you're left with is something that has little to do with Howard's Conan and more to do with, I dunno, a Hercules & Xena remake. This isn't to say Milius' Conan stuck any closer to a Howardian plot, but hey, how about that Orchestral score by Basil Poledouris? Badass.

While John Carter in theory keeps a little closer to ERB's original story, the changes that are made make it, if anything, even more frustrating to watch. Rather than just throw out the entire plot and come up with something completely different, the moviemakers decided to shuffle a deck of plot points and, seemingly at random, throw them out in favor of new or altered ideas.  Here is where the spoilers come along, folks.  You've been warned.

First, the need for a magical techno-amulet gizmo to send Carter to Mars was stupid. In the book, its a creepy cave, with a strange property that sends him to Mars. Why? Who knows? Who cares? That it is some sort of mystical place, shunned by the Indians, is good enough for me. But no, we have to create some kind of McGuffin in the form of this teleportation amulet, which becomes this laborious plot point throughout the movie.  Who has it? How does it work? How do we get ahold of it again? Precious minutes wasted.

Which, if I can digress, is my major problem with all these changes. If you want to change something and have a good reason, fine. But to A) change something for no good reason and B) have the change take up precious minutes of film that could be filled with more awesomeness, I get angry. There are a lot of cool adventuresome moments in A Princess of Mars that could have been put in / left in the film, but aren't, and instead, we have long, boring explanations as to how the "telegraph machine" works, or the Thern's aeons-long plan / habit of destroying world after world. Long, boring explanations that just add needless plot hooks that need to get sealed up later on in the film, wasting even more precious time.

Guess what folks! There's only one plot hook you need. John Carter, Chivalrous Southern Gentleman and Celebrated Fighting Cavalry Officer, meets Beautiful, Defiant, Spirited, Intelligent Dejah Thoris and falls in love with her, and she reciprocates that love.  Carter then battles anyone and anything that gets between him and Dejah because, you know, that whole LOVE thing. This is a formula that has worked time and time again in classic Hollywood films for generations, and yet, for some reason, we throw it out. The only thing that motivates Carter is a need to get back home, and his relationship with Dejah Thoris is, through 90% of the film, more one of annoyed quips and banter than actual fondness. Perhaps Hollywood didn't think the actors or the script could pull off a believable love story? Guess what - GET NEW TALENT. Superman fell in love with Lois Lane, right? Spider-man loves Mary Jane, so on and so forth.

Instead, we have to introduce, out of the blue, some plot element about Carter's long-dead wife and child, which prevents him from loving Dejah, or admitting he's got feelings for her. Instead he fights for her and with her in order to find out the secret of going back home, and yet, at the end of the film, he THROWS THAT AWAY because he decides Barsoom is home to him. This all cycles back around to the techno-widget at the beginning of the film which showed him the mechanism by which he traveled to Barsoom in the first place. If we had just left it as a mystical cave with strange powers, the plot would have been streamlined considerably.

Which brings me to my next major beef - the Therns. Yes, they exist in the second book, and yes, you could have had them as an element in the movie without ruining things. But instead of the leaders of a religion that hides the lie of Issus' godhood and the secret of the River Iss, they become a needlessly hyperbolic race of galactic dicks who travel through the cosmos screwing over one planet at a time, and GUESS WHAT? When they are done with Mars, EARTH IS NEXT! BUM BUM BUMMM!

Why? Why was this necessary? Why does John Carter have to get involved in all these complicated plots and sub plots and twists and turns? The original story has more than enough adventure and derring do and enough political sophistication between the Tharks and the Zodangans and the Heliumites. There doesn't need to be Yet Another Player In The Game to confuse the issue, but not only do we introduce one, we have to waste more Precious Screentime in long, drawn-out explanations of the Thern's master scheme.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

A Princess of Mars has been around for almost a hundred years, and it's probably been in print every year since it was published, and probably will continue to be until the written word dies out. The John Carter stories inspired a whole subgenre of science fiction and fantasy, the "Sword & Planet" genre, and if they aren't he best example of that genre (which I think they are), they are pretty damn close, and certainly the most epic of the Sword and Planet stories.  Like Howard's Conan, if such stories can remain popular and stand the test of time for generation after generation and spawn whole genres of fiction, why Hollywood needs to go in there and screw with things is beyond me.  Yes, sometimes changes need to be made.  Making the Green Men only a foot or two taller than Carter, rather than 12-15 feet tall, made sense for the purpose of making a film. Trimming down or finding another way to handle a lot of the explanation scenes that take place in the first third or so of A Princess of Mars was probably necessary, although you could debate the way they did it.

But there was nothing at all wrong with the basic plot of the novel, and not only was it changed for no good reason that I could see, the changes that were made not only made the story more complex and confusing, the changes wasted time because they needed to be explained. Without the amulet, there was no need for them to travel down the River Iss, there was no need to waste all that screentime with the magical map of the solar system, there was no need to involve the Therns, there was no need for the pretty stupid "bait" ending to the film. You probably could have harvested back a good 40+ minutes of the movie (oh, yes, the beginning of the film with the Cavalry and the Indians, also needlessly complicated), which could have been used to show more ass-kicking adventure. Instead, everything felt so rushed, so briefly touched upon, that even the more kick-ass moments were rushed past because there was another plot element we had to get through.

So at the end of the day, we're left with a movie that does a half-assed job of not really adapting one of the founding works of interplanetary adventure science fiction. The movie will fail at the box office, and no one will touch the idea again for who knows how long, since Disney will have taken such a stinking dump on the whole idea.

Way to go, Disney. Way to go.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Promoting the Fight Card Series

If you look at this blog and you don't drop by BISH's BEAT now and then, you're a fool.  And if you don't take advantage of this two-for-one deal, you're an even bigger fool. Like action?  Like crime?  Like guys kicking the crap out of each other?  Then buy some Fight Card, for cryin' out loud!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Book Review: The Bloodstained Defile by Henry Brown

Although he's best known as the author of the pulpy action adventure novel Hell and Gone, Henry Brown has written some great short fiction, including several tales of Sword & Sorcery adventure.  I recently bought and read several of these, and they are highly recommended.

The first of his "Tales of the Honor Triad" is The Bloodstained Defile.  I'll save time by quoting from the story's Amazon page:

Sir Javo left his native Cemar to join the Order of the Black Lancers, and has built a reputation as a champion in single combat. But the general he rides for now has tasked him to serve as a diplomat as well, to negotiate with gigantic cutthroat barbarians known for their rapine and savagery.

Krag the Wrecker has been promised treasure, a horse, and a king's concubine if he and his score of fellow giants can delay the advancing legions of Dijol's invading army. It's a suicide mission, but not an unwelcome one for warriors who worship Death.

Turgar the Lightning-Thrower was once a troop chief in the nomadic armies of the great Chieftain Supreme, until betrayed by a warrior-brother and framed for a capital crime. With a price on his head in the expanding empire of Gabom, he has ventured afar, hiring out his bow to the highest bidder. Now beyond the fury of battle, his feline eyes perceive the telltale signs of sorcery in the making. And sorcery is the one force that can cause him to loose his arrows on those who are paying him.
The fighting is well done, the characters are interesting and believable, and the politics are handled with a deft touch.  For fans of Sword & Sorcery fiction there's lots of adventure with a touch of evil magic, just the thing to add the thrill of a the mysterious without turning it into a fireball-throwing cheese-fest. 

I have read and will review the next story in the series, The Gryphon of Tirshal, within the next couple of days.  For now, if you have a hankering for some bloody good adventure fiction, this is a short story that'll fit the bill nicely.

Monday, March 5, 2012

On Sale Now: NANOK and the Tower of Sorrows

The short story is now Live and available for purchase or Kindle Lending Library borrowing.

I uploaded the story to Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing site around 9:30 last night, and it went live sometime in the early hours of the morning; I received the e-mail notification from Amazon around 4 AM. When I logged in to confirm the book was "live" it appears some kind soul from the UK needed a bit of badass barbarian face-hacking adventure on their Monday morning commute. So, first sale goes to the UK, mere hours after the story went Live and before I even knew it was available. Let's hope this is a good omen!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Coming Soon: NANOK and the Tower of Sorrows

Nanok, wandering swordsman of the Iron Wastes, makes a deal with the Wizard King Midar to steal the mighty Sunsword from the Tower of Sorrows, lair of the dreaded sorcerer, Draaa'kon the Bleak.

Pursued by Draaa'kon and his horde of cauldron-born mutant henchmen, Nanok discovers stealing the enchanted sword is just the beginning.  Though victorious against Draaa'kon's bloodthirsty minions, Nanok is blasted senseless by sorcery and sent tumbling from a high ocean cliff.

Washed ashore in a distant cove, Nanok is aided by a mysterious wilderness warrior who has his own reasons for seeing Draaa'kon defeated.  Swearing vengeance against his enemy, Nanok returns once more to the Tower of Sorrows, determined to lay waste to everyone and everything within.

Battling fearsome troll-kin, brutal guardsmen, and a monstrous horror conjured through the darkest of magics, Nanok must learn the powerful secret of the Sunsword if he is going to have any hope of emerging victorious from the Tower of Sorrows...

NANOK And the Tower of Sorrows is a pastiche fantasy adventure short story written as a humorous, light-hearted homage to many of the Sword & Sorcery creations from the 60's and 70's: The Kyrik and Kothar novels of Gardner F. Fox, the Thongor stories of Lin Carter, John Jake's Brak the Barbarian, Karl Edward Wagner's Kane adventures, and much more.

Blend in a healthy mix of cheesy barbarian movies from the 80's, Dungeons & Dragons-esque fantasy tropes, inspiration from heavy metal album covers, Frank Frazetta paintings, comic books, wargames, gratuitously violent adult cartoons, and a pigpile of other influences.  What you get is a story that'll have you laughing out loud one minute and fist-pumping the air in victory the next.

NANOK should be available early next week on Amazon as a Kindle eBook.  Stay tuned, and I'll post an announcement once the story is available for purchase.