Thursday, May 31, 2012

Movie Review: Battleship (2012)

I was originally going to pass on this movie. I'd heard some generally negative reviews, and honestly I couldn't imagine it would be worth my time and money to go see a movie based off a decades-old board game. However, I found myself needing to entertain a couple of teenage relatives on short notice, and since one of the boys is going into the military and the other has very action-oriented movie tastes, I figured, why not?

Coming out of the experience, I have to say Battleship was more entertaining than it had any right to be. Don't get me wrong, it is still a cheesy, 'splosiony, totally implausible action movie. Basically, this is Independence Day but with the Navy as the protagonists. In fact, it is in many ways better than ID4 because it doesn't try to be anything terribly deep or meaningful. This is a summer movie in exactly the way summer movies were meant to be; cheap thrills, action, rock 'n roll soundtracks, and pure escapism.

Not that it's terribly complex, but to give a brief plot synopsis, the US Navy, along with warships from other countries in the Pacific theater, is performing a massive series of wargames off the coast of Hawaii.  During these wargames, a number of alien spacecraft splash down off the coast of Hawaii, but one of the ships crashes into Hong Kong (why things falling out of the sky always head for massive urban population centers or midwestern corn fields, I have no idea). The ships crashing into the ocean ignite a force field that cuts the wargaming fleet off from Hawaii, and the only forces within the field are three destroyers - two US Navy, one Japanese.  The crews of these three ships have to face off against the alien vessels and defeat them before the aliens put their McGuffin plot hook into effect and doom the world.

A few words about the cast. Taylor Kitsch was pretty entertaining as the main character - I thought he was far better here than he was in John Carter. Liam Neeson is his usual professional self, and although he doesn't get a lot of screen time, he's perfectly acceptable in his role. Alexander Skarsgård plays his relatively small part very well, and it was good to see him away from True Blood.

However, there are two cast members I want to give special notice to. The first is Rhianna. When I saw she was going to be in this movie, I just rolled my eyes and shook my head. I was expecting another example of Beyonce in Goldmember, where her heavy-handed acting and horrible dialogue made the scenes with her utterly unwatchable. Rhianna's character and her performance, on the other hand, was spot on. In the film, she is just another naval gunner's mate, doing her job and working with her other crew. There are no slow-motion shots of her ass in an unrealistically tight uniform, no flirty inter-character banter, no love interest, no sexually suggestive comments about "making big guns explode" or any of the million other ways you could have needlessly exploited her in this film. Instead, she was just another crew member, doing her assigned duties and trying to survive. There is not one moment where being a woman comes into play, and I think that is exactly how it should have been handled. So, if nothing else, major kudos to Rhianna and director Peter Berg.

The other cast member is Gregory D. Gadson, who plays Mick, a double-amputee veteran who's lost his "fighting spirit", but finds new purpose when he and Samantha (the Admiral's daughter and main character's love interest), who is his physical therapist, get stuck on the mountain where some deep space signalling equipment is located. The aliens take special interest in this installation, and Mick and Samantha and Zapata, the scientist who runs the installation, work to stop the aliens' plans. I was curious while watching the film if Gadson was an actual amputee or if he was the recipient of some very convincing special effects, but looking at his Wikipedia page, he is in fact a decorated Army veteran who lost both of his legs above the knee to a roadside bomb in 2007.  That he was brought into this movie and actually pulls off a decent performance is rather heartwarming, since they could have just picked some random character actor and CGI-ed his legs with fake prosthesis. The film student in me couldn't help but draw parallels between Gadson and Harold Russell, the Army veteran who lost both hands to an accidental explosion, and who was later cast in the movie The Best Years of Our Lives (1946).

So in conclusion, Battleship was a surprising amount of fun. We never get to see "warship" movies these days, and it was cool to see even a fictionalized depiction of the modern US Navy. Although the use of the USS Missouri was utterly impossible (the ship is essentially a floating husk these days, with no real functional systems), the fun awesomeness of having a bunch of retired veterans get the old gal into fighting shape while AD/DC's "Thunderstruck" blasts you through the montage more than made up for it. Actually, the soundtrack as a whole was quite good, with a lot of rock n' roll numbers alongside more generic action movie scoring. While this movie has received generally negative reviews (although this Washington Post review follows my reasoning), I think it superior to Battle: Los Angeles, the most recent alien invasion vs. the military movie I can think of, and its relatively unique place as a naval sci-fi action movie, if anything else, recommends it for a cheap matinee or Netflix rental sometime in the future.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Slow-Motion Improvised Shotgun Shells

I just stumbled across this over at The Firearm Blog. The video was made by a fellow who hand-loads all sorts of bizarre shotgun shells, from M&Ms to computer screws to wax slugs to spent .22 rimfire casings.

The video captures all the shooting in slow motion, and sets it to a very languid, almost haunting piece of classical music. Overall, the video is almost balletic in the way the shot impacts and the music come together.

The video is 7:32 long, but worth it for the artistry alone, if you ask me.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Book Review: Rat Bastards #1: Hit the Beach!

As I pointed out a couple of posts ago, Len Levinson (writing as John Mackie) has managed to publish his infamous Rat Bastards series of WW 2 Pacific Theater war novels as Kindle E-Books. Although the covers are identical and somewhat uninspiring, the books themselves are priced very competitively and the digital conversion is done well. I've had a hard copy of Hit the Beach! for about a year and never bothered to read it, but now that I've got access to these on the Kindle, I'm going to begin plowing through the series.

In Hit the Beach!, we're introduced to Corporal Bannon on his first day of combat, as a member of the ficticious Twenty-Third Infantry Regiment during the invasion of Guadalcanal. This landing is taking place a few weeks after the Marines landed, so the battle for the island has been taking place for some time. Bannon actually starts off as a Private First Class, but when he manages to keep his head about him during the landing, Bannon is promoted to Corporal and takes over command of his squad.

Unfortunately for Bannon and his other platoon-mates, the platoon loses its Lieutenant, and they are assigned the indomitable Sergeant Butsko, who has been recently knocked down to Buck Sergeant from Master Sergeant for killing a man in a barroom brawl while on R&R in Australia.  Butsko is some kind of massive, scarred, Ajax-like figure who keeps him men in line through a winning combination of extreme profanity bellowed at the top of his lungs, and the constant threat of physical violence. But as much as his men hate him, when the chips are down, Sgt. Butsko is the one guy you want on your side, especially when the fighting turns into close combat with bayonets and rifle butts.

The close combat is, of course, where Levinson's work really shines. While the shooting and exploding parts of the action are serviceable for the genre, when Butsko, Bannon, and the rest start stabbing and hacking and bashing the Japanese, things go from entertaining to jaw-droppingly gratuitous. At one point in the various close-combat battles, Butsko is running about the battlefield with some kind of pickaxe, slaying Japanese soldiers like he's Conan on a Red Bull-fueled rampage. Heads get hacked off, entrails get spilled, limbs are severed and fly through the air - it is a blood-splattering gorefest.  This was also a trademark of Levinson's other series, The Sergeant, but there it was somewhat out of place, as this sort of hand-to-hand wasn't as common in Europe. But in the Pacific Islands campaign, the dense jungle and Banzai tactics of the Japanese brought them toe-to-toe with the Americans on a much more frequent basis.

All that aside, Hit the Beach! covers just one day of combat - the first day of the 23rd's deployment - and by the end of it, Bannon and Butsko's platoon have distinguished themselves far above the call of duty. Theyve paid a heavy price for this achievement, but since they're all a bunch of tough "rat bastards", it's all just a day in the life of a soldier in the Pacific.  And, like all soldiers throughout history, performing your duty well just means you're going to get picked for the next dangerous and important mission that comes along...

Friday, May 18, 2012

Book Review: King City by Lee Goldberg

From his first published novels - the .357 Vigilante / Jury series - to his latest works, such as The Dead Man #1 and McGrave, Lee Goldberg has shown a great ability to write crime fiction with a wonderfully lurid pen. When I sit down to read one of his stories, I know I'll be in for a heady brew of violence and sex, sleazy criminals and righteous heroes, sexy heroines and a bizarre rogues gallery of side characters. The food is always fattening, the sights are always lit in flickering neon, and the world turns, to a large degree, through the horsepower of grift and graft.

King City is Goldberg's latest crime thriller, and it is an excellent example of his pen at work. Sergeant Tom Wade is the one good cop adrift in a sea of police corruption, a pariah of the worst sort after he sells the entire Major Crimes Unit down the river for a laundry list of illegal activities. His nobility and stalwart adherence to duty costs him his career, his marriage, and all his friends. However, the one thing it doesn't cost Wade is his job; as he has done nothing wrong (technically), Wade isn't fired. Instead, the Chief of Police assigns Wade to a beat in Darwin Gardens, the poorest, most violent, most decrepit part of town, a place so terrible and so embarrassing to the politicians who run King City, they've removed the original name for Darwin Gardens from the city's maps.

Tom Wade knows he's being sent to Darwin Gardens to die. Cops get shot at there all the time; a few years ago, two rookie cops were lured into an ambush, their car and their bodies riddled with dozens of bullets. The police chief is sending Wade on a hopeless, suicidal crusade, knowing Wade's inability to leave well enough alone will ensure his on the job demise at the hands of some low-life scumbag lurking in the shadows of an abandoned factory or tenement house. But Wade has decided that hopeless or not, he's a cop with a job to do, and he's going to make a difference in Darwin Gardens.

Or die trying.

King City is a fast, fun read. The depiction of Darwin Gardens is extremely well done; you can smell the odors of stale urine and dried vomit wafting out of alleyways, you can see feel the texture of worn brick and crumbling cement, and you can taste the air thick with desperation and despair. This is the sort of environment where Goldberg's prose thrives, the sort of world where Wade's new "police station" is a former porno store, where the crime boss of Darwin Gardens likes two thousand dollar track suits and apple pie, and the only restaurant worth a damn is a zany, 50's styled diner specializing in pancakes and smoking hot waitresses.

Goldberg has created an engaging story of one stalwart cop's belief in the righteousness of law, and how the seeds of goodness and decency, even planted in the diseased soil of a place like Darwin Gardens, can give rise to a small flower of hope that a community lost and forgotten for so long can find itself again. If you've found yourself growing tired of the same old police procedural thrillers, I highly recommend King City. Like Tom Wade, I think Goldberg has taken up residence in territory that has grown a bit stale, and he's bringing with him hope for something new and different. If we see more King City books in the future, you can be sure I'll have one in hand as soon as possible.

Friday, May 11, 2012

MIA Hunter Available as an Ebook!

Just the other day, veteran Men's Adventure writer Stephen Mertz e-mailed me to let me know his M.I.A. Hunter was available as an e-book from Crossroad Press.

Check it out here.

Great to see Stephen is working to get some of his older MA books out as ebooks. My only complaint is that the Crossroad Press site only accepts PayPal as a form of electronic payment. I've got a PayPal account, but it is so old that I can't actually remember the last time I used it. Nevertheless, I'll have to dust it off, feed it a few bucks, and pick up Stephen's ebook on general principle.

Stephen also has a number of other books out as ebooks on Amazon. Check them out if you get a chance.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Rat Bastards Series is Now on the Kindle!

Back about a year ago, I posted a blog entry about some paperbacks I'd ordered online, one of them being The Rat Bastards #1 Hit the Beach!

Well, I haven't read this paperback yet - my interests shifted a little from my WW2 fixation last summer and I never got around to it. But just yesterday, some helpful anonymous poster informed me that Len Levinson, the author who wrote The Rat Bastards as well as other men's adventure titles during the 80's, has put out many of his works as Kindle ebooks.

Not wasting a moment, I went and took a look, and there they are! Len is definitely a smart cookie, as he's pricing the books competitively, even selling the first book in the series cheaper than the rest to lure in potential customers. I picked up Hit the Beach! without a second thought, and once I'm done with my current novel (I'm reading Ian Fleming's Moonraker right now) I'll be diving into Levinson's WW2 madhouse.

It looks like Levinson was able to either acquire the rights to most of his old titles, or he was a wily fellow back in the day and managed a contract that gave him back his rights relatively easily. A good portion of his work seems to now be digitized, and everything looks well put-together (I'll only nitpick that the silhouette on the cover of the Rat Bastards books is holding an MP-5, which puts him a few decades out of date with the WW2 timeframe, but whatever...).

I've said it before many times, and I'll say it again. The ebook format is the perfect vehicle for the short, punchy, quick-to-write genres such as men's adventure fiction. Even Gold Eagle, something of a dinosaur in the field and the last great Men's Adventure publisher left standing, is finally selling their titles as ebooks. I can only see this genre growing by leaps and bounds as the ebook market grows in kind.

Len, thank you for doing this, and if you find this post, feel free to leave a comment and say hello.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Movie Review: The Avengers (2012)

I'll keep this short and sweet, since I caught a 12:05 AM showing and didn't hit the sack back home until about 3:30, and I was up before 7 AM this morning.

The Avengers was a lot of fun. while the story was your typical "Oh My God, we need to save the world!", hey, that's comics for you, and there's not much else that would warrant bringing together so many heroes together on one screen.

The inter-character chemistry was a lot of fun. One thing comic book fans love (at least, those I know), is the banter and battles that take place between the heroes when they aren't punching or blasting the bad guys. There's plenty of tension and some serious brawling that takes place between our heroes over the course of the movie, but when the chips are down, everyone "suits up" and gets into the fight that really matters.

Speaking of which - what a fight indeed. The climactic end battle reportedly comes in around 40 minutes, and turns most of mid-town Manhattan into blaster-scorched ruin. This is the sort of damage that a "super squad" should be doing to any major urban area when taking on a world-invading caliber of bad guys, and the movie doesn't disappoint. While each Avenger gets their time to shine, pulling off awesome fight moves and looking badass in their own ways, their ability to work together as a team is what comes across as most important. In big comic book battles, there are always team and partner combos that have an effect greater than the sum of their parts, and this movie handles that quite well.

Director Joss Whedon shows again that he understands what geeks want to see, and blends action, drama, and some light comedy together into a really solid franchise capstone. New Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America movies are reputedly being fast-tracked given the enormously positive response the studios have received about this film, and there's no doubt an Avengers 2 is in the works. While it is always possible we'll burn out on comic book movies at some point, last night's midnight turnout for The Avengers was solid evidence that time is a long ways away. I believe there were nine midnight screenings at the theater last night, and six of them had sold out by around 8 PM...

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Killer Instincts Cover Design Poll

I've been working on the cover design for my novel Killer Instincts. I've gone through a number of different designs, and settled on one that I think both represents the mood of the novel and looks visually striking as well. Below, I'm going to provide six different variations on the cover, and I'm looking for feedback from everyone as to what works and what doesn't.

This is the original, un-filtered cover. The major selling point is the realistic look, which keeps it in line with more traditional paperback thriller covers (think a David Morrell cover). I think it is a little bland, but for people who don't like "photoshopped" covers, they might appreciate the simplicity.
 "Posterized" Cover. This is my personal favorite. It's stylized and more edgy, a little more pulp-flavored. I'm a fan of the posterization filter in general although I think it needs a delicate touch. This gives the cover a cool retro feel in my mind, which I really dig.
 "Graphic Pen" Cover. I'm not a big fan of this cover, but I like the graphic pen filter for some effects, so I thought I'd give it a try.
 "Ink Stamp" Cover. I actually prefer this over the graphic pen; I think the stylization makes it more pulpy, and I think it'd work well on the Kindle.
"Watercolor" Cover. All this really does is add some darker contrast to the cover. I don't really care for it, but it does make the whole cover a little darker and more sinister.
"Cutouts" Cover. Similar to the posterized cover, but with a different effect. I don't like it as much as the posterized, but I do like the pulpy look it gives.

So, please feel free to comment on what cover works best, and if you have other suggestions, please feel free to leave them. This is probably the sixth cover design I've gone through in the last year and a half, and I'll probably stick with it for the initial release, but I'm open to variations.