Monday, February 25, 2013

Movie Review: A Good Day to Die Hard (2013)

I felt genuinely bad not being able to see Bullet to the Head in the theater - it came and went so fast here in Boston I literally had no time to watch it - so I decided I wouldn't make that same mistake with the latest Die Hard movie. I saw it this Sunday at a matinee, and although the weather was kinda nasty out, I was still surprised that there were all told about six of us in a theater that could probably seat 300 people. Maybe it was a sign...

So, believe me when I say, if you've seen the trailer, you know most of the plot. McLane goes to Moscow to see his son Jack, who's being tried for shooting some Russian dude. The setup of the Russians is so clumsily handled that you don't really know what the deal is with their relationships, we just know that one Russian wants another Russian dead.

Anyhow, McLane takes a trip to Moscow and gets to the courthouse just as bad guys blow a hole in the side of the building and go in, ostensibly to kill Jack and some other Russian dude who's old and wears glasses. He knows about some "file" or something...I dunno. McLane of course just happens to be right there, and he gets into this running chase with his son, who is just pissed off and annoyed that his dad is there. This confuses McLane, who then steals some big-ass Russian truck and goes chasing after Jack and some other Russians in a bigger-ass Russian armored truck. They drive through Moscow destroying about half the city and two-thirds of the cars in Russia.

From here, McLane finds out his son works for the CIA, kills a bunch of bad guys, and proves that he's now become Wolverine, because he is essentially indestructible. In the original Die Hard, McLane is shown as being human, albeit tough as old boot leather, but he gets shot, his feet cut up, and by the end of the movie he's a bleeding, limping mess. In AGDTDH, there is literally nothing that can be done to him that elicits more than a grunt of pain, never mind that he gets into not one, but two incredibly violent car crashes while not even wearing a seat belt, he's constantly falling and breaking things with his body (wooden planks, plate glass widows, furniture, etc.) and it doesn't phase him in the slightest. A few cuts and scratches, nothing more. The friggin' Terminator would look worse for wear after everything McLane goes through. Willis is 57 years old - how on earth are we supposed to accept that he's taking this kind of punishment and still moving?

I think what really worked in Die Hard was the fact that McLane was just an everyday cop who wasn't going to quit, thrust into extraordinary circumstances and forced to keep going to save the day. He's now morphed into an extreme caricature of himself, a wise-cracking (The phrase "I'm on vacation!" got old the first time it was used, and it's inaccurate anyway - he's not on vacation really, he's there to see his son go on trial) murder machine that just keeps going no matter what you do to it.

Overall it was entertaining fun, but I think the story needed a far better plot - the original movie is still one of the best action-capers around - and a more reasonable depiction of McLane as a guy closing in on retirement age. Even Schwarzenegger in The Last Stand made it clear that he was "too old for this", and he WAS the Terminator, for cryin' out loud.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Movie Review: Navy SEALs (1990)

This is one of those movies I watched an absurd number of times as a teenager. Along with films like Commando and Delta Force, it's one of those movies that make being some kind of special forces soldier look so...incredibly badass.

The premise of the film is simple: Charlie Sheen is playing Tom Cruise as Maverick, only instead of F-14s they've got MP-5s and golf carts. There's a bunch of terrorists out there with Stinger missiles, and we need to totally kill those guys like, yesterday. But the only way we can do that is if Michael Biehn has sex with a terrorist sympathizer - I mean journalist. Once the boning is done, everyone takes a Mediterranean vacation and blows up some dudes, then there's a car chase and they go swimming. The end.

Okay, that's not really the plot. Well...actually that comes pretty close. Biehn and Sheen are the two lieutenants leading a SEAL team on a rescue mission to grab two Navy chopper pilots who were shot down and captured by bad guys. During this mission, Sheen discovers that the bad guys have a sizable cache of Stinger missiles. He tries to blow the cache but fails, and once they make it back to the states, discover that a man they thought to be another prisoner was, in fact, the head bad buy, tricking them into leaving him alone. From there, the SEALs go on a series of missions to hunt down this lead bad guy and find the Stinger missiles. During all of this, Lt. Curran (Biehn) decides to go and talk to Claire, a half-Lebanese journalist who is somewhat sympathetic to the terrorist's cause, or at least understanding of the reasons they are fighting. Claire refuses to reveal what she knows at first, but after the terrorists use one of the Stingers to shoot down a civilian jet, she relents and helps the SEALs track the weapons down. In the film's climax, the SEAL team goes into Beirut to find the missiles and take out the terrorist leader.

The Good: This movie has quite a bit of action, and they made a conscious effort to present how a SEAL team can use many different methods to reach their targets. There's a HALO jump, a submarine insertion with inflatable raft, and a water insertion via helicopter and inflatable raft. You're not sure how they insert on target in the first mission, but the movie makes it clear that the SEALs are trained to get to a target any way imaginable, and I actually think that's one of the cooler aspects of the film. I also like how some effort was made to change out their weapons and gear depending on the mission; for example, when the SEALs go into Beirut, they're wearing fatigues similar to the locals, and carrying AKs - and the two blond-haired members of the team are wearing head scarves to hide their obviously Caucasian hair color. A little detail like that shows to me someone put at least SOME thought into the film. The training sequence was a little goofy, but the bit in the "Kill Room" was actually pretty awesome.

Also, Bill Paxton as Dane, aka "God", the team sniper on the Barrett .50 cal - that was pretty sweet. I can't be sure, but I wonder if that was the first time a Barrett clearly makes an appearance in a movie? The "Cobra Assault Cannons" from Robocop were mocked up Barretts, but in this movie it is clear what the weapon is.

The Bad: Charlie Sheen's character is clearly the Maverick-style hotshot, who's got a great deal of skill and potential, but lets his "need for speed" and the rush of combat outweigh the consequences of his actions.  I'm sure guys similar to him exist in some form, but I have a feeling that his actions would have gotten him washed out of the team really fast, especially since he's an officer, and should know better and be setting a higher standard of professionalism. Beyond that, I found the whole need for Curran and Claire to somehow fall for each other and wind up in the sack together weakened the dynamic she built with them. Why does their relationship have to become sexual? It actually destroyed a lot of her character's credibility, and makes it seem like she gives up the information because of her growing relationship with Curran, not because she wants to stop terrorists from knocking jumbo jets out of the sky.

The Ugly: Having the SEALs play golf after a mission. Really? Killing off the only black guy in the team was also groan-inducing...and of course he's the only one of them who seems to have any kind of long-term romantic relationship. Also, like every other military funeral scene ever filmed, they bury the guy in the pouring rain. In addition, it seemed like the SEALs traveled REALLY light, basically a weapon, a pistol, a handful of magazines, and a grenade or two. I know it's the 90's, but I was hoping for at least a pair of night vision goggles - the closest we get is one guy using a hand-held thermal scope. I think there was more of a desire to make everyone's faces clearly recognizable throughout the film, ergo we don't put them in anything that hides who each person is.

All in all, a pretty fun military action movie. I do wonder if, like Top Gun, this was backed by the military in part as a promotion piece, intended to show just how awesome the SEALs were and up recruitment. One thing that's interesting to note is that the screenplay is co-authored by Chuck Pfarrer, an ex-Navy SEAL himself, who also wrote the screen play for Hard Target. Given the involvement of an actual SEAL, I wonder about the decisions made in terms of the tactics and the story overall; did Pfarrer make most of the decisions, or was he the "realist" who had his ideas shot down by Hollywood suit-types? I'd love to find out (Psssst, me, bro...).

Here's the theatrical trailer for the movie:

Thursday, February 14, 2013

FREE TODAY: The Pirates of Alnari by Dan Eldredge

Click Above to Visit the Book's Amazon Page
My good friend Dan Eldredge's debut novel is free today on Amazon. If you dig pirates, swordfighting, intrigue, sex and violence, this book is definitely worth your time. Allow me to copy the book's product description from Amazon:

 Martyn and Arycke are two young nobles forced into hiding after experiencing an act of unspeakable violence. They buy passage on the Isalian frigate Selene, but after a bloody battle against two pirate vessels, Martyn and Arycke find themselves shipwrecked castaways along with a beautiful young woman, her ever-watchful grandfather, and the rest of the Selene's crew.
Unfortunately for the survivors, they now find themselves stranded within reach of the pirate city of Alnari. In short order, Martyn and Arycke find themselves fighting for their lives, not only against marauding bands of savage pirates, but mutinous elements within the Selene's own crew.

The shipwrecked survivors are dragged into a maelstrom of vengeance and intrigue, as rival pirate lords maneuver against each other for dominance over Alnari. Martyn, Arycke, and the rest of the Selene's crew will need every ounce of courage, cunning, and strength they possess if they hope to escape alive...

The Pirates of Alnari is a gritty fantasy adventure story filled with bloody naval battles and vicious sword fights, combining the cutthroat political intrigue of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire with the dashing nautical adventures of Patrick O’Brian.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Finishing the Draft of Operation Bedlam

I've taken today off from work and rented a seat at a co-working space here in Boston in order to finish the first draft of COMMANDO: Operation Bedlam. It's taken me longer than I'd liked to write this second Commando novel, but there was a lot going on at the end of 2012, including the wrap-up of my graduate degree and taking on some new responsibilities at work. Still, this morning I'm in the home stretch, the last 6-8,000 words. If I don't actually finish it today, I'll wrap it up this weekend, and hope to begin the editing process next week.

In the beginning, I was unsure how to followup Arrowhead. I knew I wanted a darker, harder-edged story, while still maintaining the overall "cinematic" spirit of what I envision for the series. I also needed to find a way to shift the focus of the series a bit, as well as plant the seeds for many more spin-off stories, like The Train to Calais. For the most part, I think I succeeded, although as always, the final judge of success or failure will be my readers.

January was a banner month for my sales in general and Arrowhead in particular. I sold 135 ebook copies in the US and UK, and six paperbacks. Might not sound like much, but that's close to double my sales last month, and I lay a lot of that success at the feet of Ander Plana, my cover artist. I think the new cover is great, and really helps to define the book as, to paraphrase one reader, "a British Commando Comics story in prose form". I'm hoping to beat those numbers in February.

Also, for the first time, I exceeded 200 ebook sales overall, with 215 total sales and KOLL borrows. Again, might not sound like much to some, but that's a good 30% bump from last month. The Train to Calais sold over 50 copies, surprising since you can get it for free with the new revised edition of Arrowhead, but I imagine people are buying it who read either the earlier edition, or they just found the story interesting on its own. I even sold a handful of Nanok copies, again thanks to Ander's great covers. I hadn't sold a single copy in the last two months of 2012. Although I love the story, it is easily my worst-selling title, but with a little luck and the great new cover, I'm hoping that changes.

All right, enough blogging. Time to lock back the bolts on some machine pistols, pull the pins on some grenades, slap home some full magazines, and start killin' Nazis.