Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Movie Review: The Wild Bunch (1969)

There's really nothing new that can be said about The Wild Bunch. Many consider it not only director Sam Peckinpah's seminal film, but one of the greatest westerns ever made. I think, more than any of the "Spaghetti Westerns", The Wild Bunch defines the post modern western, the "anti-western". Some folks think Eastwood's Unforgiven is the true anti-western, but I'd argue that anything Unforgiven did or tried to do, The Wild Bunch accomplished just as well, if not better. I don't say that as a snub to Eastwood and his work, but I think it takes a troubled spirit to bring to life such troubled spirits as Pike, Dutch, and the rest of the gang. At one point in the film, at Pike and Don Jose are talking, Don Jose points out that he can clearly tell that Pike and his gang are outlaws. Pike laughs, of course, and throws a kind of "takes one to know one" right back at the Don, who laughs and nods in turn. I think that understanding of the kindred spirit is what let Peckinpah create such a masterpiece.

I have seen this film at least six times. I say "at least" because it is probably more, although some viewings were partial, just popping in a DVD and watching a few choice scenes. In film school I know I saw the movie twice for different classes, and I've seen it on the big screen twice, both times at the Coolidge Corner Theater, in my opinion Boston's best independent / art house theater. I watched the Director's Cut of the Wild Bunch last night at the Coolidge with my old film school comrade in arms, John Mayhem. John is something of a Peckinpah scholar (he wrote the essay on Peckinpah's Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia for Hatchet Force Journal #1), and we both waxed nostalgic before, during, and after the film. it was great to sit and watch such a classic on the big screen, a cold beer in hand (yes, the Coolidge sells beer and wine to patrons, something I heartily approve of). As an aside, if you ever get a chance to see a great classic film on the big screen for the first time, don't pass it up. Even the best 60" flatscreens with home surround sound pale in comparison to seeing a classic like this in the venue for which it was created.

If you haven't seen The Wild Bunch, do yourself a favor and indulge your inner outlaw for a couple of hours (even if it is on a "small" screen...). I dare say that it is a thinking man's western, a film that works on multiple levels. Not only are the heroes of the film firmly in their twilight years, but the film is set in 1913, as horses and sixguns are being replaced by automobiles and belt-fed machine guns. As this is a "post modern pulp" blog, I'll point out that I feel The Wild Bunch fits firmly in the post modern mindset. I think it is no coincidence that the movie was made at the height of the Vietnam War, when most people were beginning to realize that hey, we're probably not going to win this one. The world had become a much different place, and films like The Wild Bunch were as much an expression of that change as Don Pendleton's Mack Bolan novels. As the final line of the film states, uttered by the oldest of the 'bunch', "It ain't like it used to be, but it'll do."

Monday, August 20, 2012

Movie Review: The Expendables 2 (2012)

Roughly ten years ago, when I started using the term "Post Modern Pulp", it was in reference to the new wave of action-adventure fiction exploding (pun intended) onto the scene in the wake of the Vietnam War. The popularity of this material - tough guys with guns killing other tough guys with guns while stuff exploded in the background - led to Hollywood ramping up the gratuitous nature of violence and machismo in their films, and with the "blockbuster" mentality of modern film marketing, the action superstars of the 80's were born. Men like Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Norris, Lundgren, Willis, Van Damme, and many others. These guys were iconic beings, and we went to the movies to watch them, not their characters or their movies.

As time went on, the nature of the movie market changed, and while these sorts of movies haven't gone away, they have become less common and - more importantly - less financially successful. However, those of us who always stop whatever it is we're doing and turn up the volume when we see Commando or Invasion U.S.A. on TV remember the halcyon days of the macho action movie, and we want to see those days return. Sadly, I feel the demands of a smarter, savvier, more jaded 21st century movie-going audience mean these sorts of movies aren't likely to return to their old popularity any time soon.

When the first Expendables came out, I loved it. Was it a great movie? Yes and no. It isn't any better than any of the original 80's action movies it emulated, but the concept was what drew me to the film. The desire to relive, even in an imperfect form, those old action movie days was, in my mind, what made The Expendables so great. It was the filmic equivalent of meeting a bunch of old friends, hanging out in a corner bar, having beers, playing darts, grab-assing and shooting the shit for a few hours, and saying to each other, "man, it's good to see you guys again."

Well, if that was the feeling I got from the first Expendables, the best analogy for The Expendables 2 is a full-blown high-velocity keg party that ends with the backyard on fire, the cops showing up, and not an intact window in sight. This movie takes the idea of an old home days for action movie heroes and turns it into a half-homage, half-parody, full-auto spectacle. Many of the one-liners in this movie are references to each other's movies and careers, and while in other circumstances that breach of the fourth wall might be annoying, I found it worked just as it should have here. The Expendables II isn't an action movie, it is a self-referential dedication to a slumbering genre, a simpler time when every movie had one-liners you'd be quoting for years - maybe decades - afterward.

While the first film brought together some of the old-timers of action moviedom with some of the newer faces, this film really focused on the veteran stars. Statham, Couture, and Crews take a bit of a step back in this film, and the older actors definitely take the front stage. Watching them play off against each other, everyone chewing the scenery for all they are worth, it struck me that most of these guys never found themselves in movies together back in the day. When you saw a Stallone movie or a Norris movie, they were the stars, and everyone else was at best a B+ level sidekick or villain. In the world of comic books, it is very common for you to have titles that pull characters together as a team, such as the X-Men or the Justice League, but with the most prominent members of those teams still having their own solo titles. In the world of action movies that was pretty rare, especially during the 80's and 90's, in part because the price tags for many of these stars was so weighty that you'd be spending the majority of your budget just on the salaries of the headlining actors alone.

Now, especially with The Expendables 2, we can see everyone in action together, fighting with each other or against, and the chemistry is a ton of fun. As Chuck Norris' character "Lone Wolf" Booker says at one point, "Sometimes it's fun to run with a pack."

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

COMMANDO: Operation Arrowhead Available in Paperback

Although it's taken about a week, my World War 2 commando action novel is now available as a trade paperback from Amazon. The book has been getting some good sales over the last two weeks, and I'm anticipating that over the long run it might actually outsell KILLER INSTINCTS, my first novel.

So if you're a fan of classic 60's and 70's era war movies like The Dirty Dozen or Where Eagles Dare, or books like Len Levinson's The Sergeant, I think you'll enjoy my latest book. There's tough British Commandos, stalwart French partisans, diabolical Nazi bad guys, and a whole lot of action.

Monday, August 13, 2012

My New Publishing Imprint: PMP BOOKS

Okay, so it's not terribly original, but I felt that maintaining a consistency with the blog was important. From this point forward, all my e-titles will be listed on Amazon as "Published by Post Modern Pulp Books", and the PMP BOOKS logo appears on all the print copies. Notice is also given on the page with the copyright and so on in both the print and digital versions of everything.

These days, with the power that various DIY resources and social networking provides you, anyone can become their own small press, and I feel it helps to reaffirm that those of us who are not going down the traditional publishing routes can still create and distribute legitimate products without the stigma of it being handled through a "vanity press" or similar venue.

Below you can see the four trade paperback titles I currently have as part of the "PMP BOOKS" line:

Please Excuse My Terrible Cell Phone Camera Photo
And here are the backs of the three titles currently bearing the logo:

The Killer Instincts cover will get the logo in September when I begin to roll out other e-formats after the KDP Select license agreement runs out.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Thomas Jane Returns as the Punisher in DIRTY LAUNDRY

I recently posted a fan short from Youtube, Punisher '82. It appears that those filmmakers aren't the only ones who want to give us more of Frank Castle's high-velocity form of vigilante justice.

Thomas Jane, who carried the titular role in 2004's THE PUNISHER, returns to the (computer) screen in this brutal, hard-hitting short film. There's also an appearance by Ron Perlman, always a favorite of mine. If you want to see what the Punisher does on his days off, check it out:

Friday, August 10, 2012

Book Review: THE SHADOWERS by Donald Hamilton

I've had a pair of Matt Helm thrillers on my pulp paperback bookshelf for several years now, but I never too the time to give them a read. For one, both of the books are fairly well worn, and I always get nervous reading paperbacks that are too brittle or stiff for fear of damaging them. Of course, if that's the case, they're just taking up space, right? Sooner or later you have to take the chance and give it a delicately-handled read.

After James Reasoner, in his blog review of my novel Killer Instincts, compared my main character in some ways to the earlier Helm adventures, my curiosity was definitely stirred. So, having some free time recently, I grabbed the earlier of the two books, THE SHADOWERS, and gave it a read over the course of two evenings.

Boy, am I glad I did.

THE SHADOWERS is the seventh of the Matt Helm stories written by Donald Hamilton. The main character is a "counter-agent" for an unnamed, shadowy branch of the US government, tasked with finding and eliminating or neutralizing enemy spies. In this book, Helm returns to work after a tragic accident ends the life of his current occasional love interest. He's assigned the task of guarding a female scientist from a possible assassin, and in order to do so, Helm will have to "fall in love" with her and get married, since it is unknown how long this bodyguard duty will last. The nonchalant manner in which Helm agrees to this romantic charade - even when he is informed that they will legally become wedded to each other - speaks volumes to the character's total commitment to his profession. I won't give away any spoilers, but let us just say that the insights this book gives us into the mind of Matt Helm, secret agent, are very revealing.

Overall, I found THE SHADOWERS to be an excellent read. Hamilton's use of the first-person perspective works perfectly because the book is so character-centric. We are subsumed into Helm's consciousness, dunked headfirst into the cold, hard, brutal world of Cold War-era espionage. Helm is a man of ruthless violence, who will do anything and commit to it wholeheartedly if it will see the job done. He is cruel, he is calculating, and he is without scruples. That he is ultimately human, with a human being's feelings and regrets, is something that we are shown because we have the unique perspective of living in Helm's head with him during his assignment, but to the outside world, he is little more than a clockwork machine controlled by the toymakers in Washington.

Although out of print for a long while now, it appears that most of the Helm books can be found online for a reasonable price through Amazon or other booksellers. I've also seen a report that they'll be reprinted starting sometime next year. If you can get your hands on them, I definitely recommend doing so. I've just ordered the first novel in the series, DEATH OF A CITIZEN, and hope to pick up more as time goes on.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Movie Review: Hard Target (1993)

I'm a really big fan of the "men hunting men" sub-genre. The Most Dangerous Game is one of my favorite short stories, and I've even got the DVD of the 1932 film adaptation. It's a plot that's appeared in one form or another in countless works of written fiction, television, and film.

One of the most well-known of these works is John Woo's action spectacular, Hard Target. Although by the time the movie came out in the early 90's Jean-Claude Van Damme was already a well-known action movie star, this is one of my favorite JCVD films. I find his ridiculous hair, his long black trenchcoat (in New Orleans, no less), and the Cajunification of his natural accent a welcome change from his usual clean-cut, each-chararacter-a-clone-of-the-next appearance. To add even more awesome to the mix, we've got Lance Henricksen, Arnold Vosloo (who I swear is a mummy, because he doesn't appear to have aged a day in 20 years), Yancy Butler, Wilford Brimley, and Sven Ole Thorson (a personal favorite of mine). Brimley as a friendly backwoods Cajun moonshiner with a penchant for explosives and archery steals more than a few scenes in this film.

The plot, if you live under an action-movie rock and have no clue, is simple: Fouchon and van Cleef (Henriksen and Vosloo, respectively) facilitate illegal "man-hunting" expeditions for wealthy men who want to know what it is like to hunt and kill other men. The two travel from city to city around the world with their good squad, finding "volunteers" to serve as rabbits for the chase. These volunteers are typically combat veterans from one war or another; destitute, desperate men who'll risk their lives for a money belt containing $10,000, theirs to keep if they manage to escape their hunters.

Of course, we figure out pretty quickly that no one ever escapes with that money. And when Natascha Binder (Butler) comes to New Orleans to find her father Douglas, who has stopped responding to her letters, she discovers that he was recently laid off from work and has become one of the city's many homeless. Doug Binder was a Vietnam veteran, a Force Recon Marine, and was offered money by Fouchon to risk his life in the hunt. He's killed of course, but his murder was concealed by a warehouse fire. Miss Binder hires Chance Boudreaux (van Damme), a down-on-his-luck former Force Recon marine himself to help her find her father, after Boudreaux saves her from a pack of violent thieves.

From there, we have a pretty standard but solid action flick. Fouchon and van Cleef go chasing after Binder and Boudreaux through New Orleans and the nearby bayou swamps, with running gun battles, rattlesnake booby traps, lots of stuff exploding everywhere, and multiple spin-kicks to the face. This movie wouldn't rate nearly as high on the awesome-meter if it wasn't for John Woo's ability to make such boilerplate violence into a cinematic ballet of bodies, bullets, spent casings, and flying debris. Everything that makes me groan with disgust when Michael Bay tries it, I cheer and applaud when it is done by Woo.

One interesting fact about this film is that the screenplay was written by fellow Bostonian Chuck Pfarrer (who also plays Doug Binder), a former US Navy SEAL turned screenwriter. Beyond the usual action-movie conventions, there is a strong thread of honest concern in the film for the plight of the homeless veteran. Fouchon manages to convince his "volunteers" to risk themselves for the money because, he tells them, with it they will be able to get back on their feet again - get a place to live, buy new clothes, find a job - in other words, be a man again. This lure dangled in front of the starving pride of these men is tempting bait indeed.  Pfarrer makes a point to show the homeless veterans as honest, soulful men who just want a chance to show they still have something to give to the world.

If you haven't seen Hard Target, you need to "take a chance" and check it out. As I said earlier, I think it is one of the more entertaining examples of its sub-genre, although above all you need to read and watch The Most Dangerous Game first so you have a firm grounding in the source material.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Movie Review: Total Recall (2012)

I thought a long time about whether or not I wanted to see this film. I'm a huge fan of the original, as it features both Arnold as well as Michael Ironsides, who I always love to see in movies. It was also directed by Paul Verhoeven, one of my favorite directors. I remember seeing something out there that listed the film as "the most violent movie of all time", based on number of violent acts per minute or some such calculation. Even now, 22 years later, my friends and I crack each other up with "Get your ass to Mars!"

This new film...not so much. There is no Mars here. Nor any mutants. For some reason, within the next hundred years or so the only two habitable areas left on the planet are portions of Britain and Australia. In order to move back and forth between the two, this great big elevator called "the Fall" has been installed that goes through the center of the Earth. Not only that, it does this in seventeen minutes. I don't know if Len Wiseman and Co. just never went to junior high school or whatever, but hey guys, the earth is REALLY BIG. Did anyone do a little math on this? I just did.

The Earth is 12,756.2 kilometers in diameter. Assuming a 17 minute travel time, that's about 750 kilometers a minute...which is 45,000 kilometers an hour. Consider that the Space Shuttle accelerates to about 28,000 km/hr during liftoff. This is an elevator the size of a jumbo jet that moves almost twice that fast, without several million pounds of fuel being burned by rocket engines the size of traincars.

At one point, our heroes are actually climbing out of the side of this thing as it's racing through the Earth and scaling it with an external ladder. I would imagine the wind speed alone (assuming you could actually accelerate an elevator the size of a skyscraper to such ridiculous speeds) would be enough to either A) suck you right out the hatch as soon as its open, or B) slice through your flesh like a knife as soon as you stuck your arm out. Never mind that even when you're not racing through a molten core that's multiple thousands of degrees, the inner temperature of the Earth is still hot enough to probably kill you in a matter of seconds. What, is this magical tunnel also air conditioned?

Oh, and did I mention that they go through the center of the Earth? Yes, literally the center. As in, that big molten core of iron that is turned into a liquid state because of all that intense head and pressure? And of course, when you near the center of the Earth, gravity suddenly disappears like you've flipped a switch, only to have it reappear just as quickly.

Why do I care so much about this stupidity, you ask? Because the whole plot of the movie is balanced on the idea that people ride this ginormous, planet-spanning commuter train to work and back every day. Board the Fall in the morning in Australia, and seventeen minutes later, you're in England, going to work in some factory building robots. End of your shift, back on the 7:30 departure, you're having drinks with your buddies down under by 8PM.

What galls me is that I'm sure, during the discussion of what to leave in the new plot from the original film and what to leave out, some studio executive probably said, "Having the workers be on Mars? That's ridiculous! We need to keep this on Earth. How about we make it something like, I dunno, Australia? That's far enough away, right?"

Heads nod all around the table...

Idiotic. I could almost sanction this assassination of a movie if it wasn't so plain they were desperate to somehow draw fans of the original in by making coy, come-hither gestures in the form of throwaway moments like the prostitute with three breasts, a quip about someone having a Rekall dream as "the King of Mars", an arm being severed by an elevator, or an overweight woman vacationing for "two weeks". Rather than making me think "Yay, see, they love the original!" it just felt like a cheap bit of theater to somehow keep me from walking out.

And, to give the movie one last slap in the face, I'm getting tired of Really Skinny Chicks somehow beating the snot out of guys who look like Olympic Athletes. Both Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel need to eat a damn sandwich or three, because I think my twenty-pound tomcat could probably kick the crap out of both of them. I had this problem with Columbiana and Zoe Saldana, who was otherwise all right in the film but appeared so thin I couldn't imagine her winning a fight with an eighth grade bully. If you want to see what a tough, strong woman looks like, take a look at the Olympic Women's Crew Team. Those girls look like they could put their fists through a brick wall. But Hollywood, in all its infinite wisdom and destructive body image marketing, doesn't want women with actual strength, they want women who fit into size 0 jeans. Geez, where's Xena when you need her?

At the end of the day, if you're thinking of seeing the new Total Recall, save your money for Expendables II.

Monday, August 6, 2012

COMMANDO: Operation Arrowhead now Available on Amazon!

I'm happy to announce that my World War Two Commando novel is now available for the Kindle via Amazon. Within the next couple of days, I'll be setting up a Gumroad.com page where folks who prefer PDF or EPUB file formats can buy the book directly in a multi-format bundle. In the next week or two, I will have C:OA available in trade paperback via Amazon's Createspace publishing service.

To quote the product description from Amazon's website:
"Corporal Thomas Lynch won fame at the Battle of Arras, and felt the shame of defeat at Dunkirk. A year later, as a member of Britain's elite No. 3 Commando, Lynch wants nothing more than to go back over the Channel and kick open Hitler's Fortress Europe, guns blazing.

Introduced by his commanding officer to the enigmatic Lord Pembroke, Lynch is offered a chance to be part of a special team of hand-picked Commandos. Their assignment: sneak into occupied France and ally with the French partisans to fight back against the Nazis.

Lynch readily accepts the challenge, but when the mission goes awry from the very beginning, and the motives of the partisan leader become suspect, the Commandos begin to wonder about their role in the mission: trusted allies with the partisans, or worms dangling as bait for a hungry fish?

COMMANDO: Operation Arrowhead is a military action - adventure novel written in the spirit of classic war movies such as The Guns of Navarone, The Dirty Dozen, and Where Eagles Dare, mixed with military adventure fiction such as Len Levinson’s The Sergeant and The Rat Bastards series."

Friday, August 3, 2012

Book Review: PRIMAL Origin by Jack Silkstone

Just wanted to post this quick review today before the weekend rolls around. PRIMAL: Origin is a short story written by Jack Silkstone, an intelligence and covert operations expert with real time in the field. He's created an interesting premise with Origin; a trio of intelligence and couner-terror experts who go off the reservation, funded by a Middle Eastern business magnate who abhors terrorism and what it does around the world, who wants to lend some of his finances and resources towards creating a private, covert organization that can fight a global war on terror, writing their own rules and going after the guys that the governments can't (or won't) touch.

Origin is the story that leads up to this premise, and although I might be leaking a few spoilers, Silkstone considers this short story a prequel to his PRIMAL series, so what happens at the end of the story isn't that much of a surprise. I think it's great to see a series like this, something that hearkens back to the Pinnacle and Gold Eagle days of men's adventure fiction, as well as to television series like The A-Team or Knight Rider, stories about men and women operating above the law in order to uphold the law: maybe not to the letter, but the spirit.

My to-be-read pile is filled to overflowing and I'm working my best to get COMMANDO: Operation Arrowhead out the door in the next week or two. But rest assured, I'll be reading the next story in Silkstone's series, PRIMAL: Unleashed shortly.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Author Brian Drake Reviews KILLER INSTINCTS

Author and blogger Brian Drake has written a really insightful review of Killer Instincts. One of Brian's main points in the review is that in KI, the story isn't about the showdown between William and the Paggiano family, the story is about William's transformation from aimless college kid to cold-hearted killer. In short, the journey is the destination here.

Of course, I think Brian says it a lot better than I can. Check out the review on his blog, Brian Drake at Large.