Search This Blog

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Drive (Starring Ryan Gosling)


Welcome back to Redbox Theater, my Two-Fisted Blogees. It's not often a blurb from a recent book or movie grabs me, but I'm gonna cut-and-paste one that did:

A lone-wolf Hollywood stunt driver (Ryan Gosling) moonlights as a freelance getaway wheelman, and he finds his solitary existence taking on new meaning after befriending Irene (Carey Mulligan), the lonely wife of convicted felon Standard (Oscar Isaac), and her young son Benicio (Kaden Leos). When Standard gets released from prison and is strong-armed into committing a bold daytime robbery, the Driver offers his services in an effort to help the repentant ex-con cut his ties to the criminal underworld. Things get complicated, however, when the robbery goes unexpectedly awry, and the Driver just barely manages to escape alive. When the take from the job proves to be stratospherically higher than the Driver was led to believe, it quickly becomes apparent that they were set up. Later, thugs threaten to kill Irene and Benicio, and all evidence points to transplanted New York crime boss Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) and his hot-headed partner Nino (Ron Perlman) as the masterminds. As the Driver attempts to turn the tables on them, it becomes clear that the chain of command goes much higher than he could have ever anticipated. ~ Jason Buchanan, Rovi All Movie Guide

So in my wishful-thinking imagination, this sounded like a movie that had it all--juicy plot; likeable hero; high-yet-believable stakes...and some tire-melting, gear-jamming action.

My hopes continued to build during the first few scenes. Before accepting a gig as a getaway driver, our (anti)hero informs his passengers of his terms. (They've got him for 5 minutes only and after that they're on their own. He won't carry a gun or get involved in any shooting...etc.) And then he sticks to his plan. OK, it's only the beginning of the movie and he has another 90 minutes or so to metamorphasis into an idiot, but we're off to a good start.

When the getaway scene gets underway, it's quite suspenseful. The action is understated--no typical Hollywood car chase BS (even though I like watching some of that when it's done well). The driver has wisely chosen a plain-Jane nondescript sedan, but with plenty mo' under the hood, but only unleashes the beast once, really, and then briefly. More realistic than expected.

I also might add that the soundtrack during this scene was unusual and quite effective at boosting the suspense. From a young age I've been an avid observer of how cinematic scores can either enhance or spoil the action on screen. It always interests me when a director chooses to eschew music in favor of just drums. Kurosawa's Throne of Blood used a lone drum to memorable effect. The Longest Day really built up tension with its use of the military snare during the first act, I thought...not to mention the ominous toms beating out Beetoven's Fifth/the morse code "V" for victory at the beginning of the film.

In Drive's getaway scene the director opted for some sort of rhythmic throbbing sound that forces me to re-use some of the adjectives above: tense; ominous; some primordial way it was signalling me to ready myself for battle. To maintain an even strain right now, but be ready for some explosive action soon.

If that was the intended subliminal message, then the promise was broken by most of the film. It wasn't a bad movie, please understand. It was well-executed in most respects. What hinders it from greatness, I suspect, is that the film makers shot for a fusion of action flick and art film.

For all I know, the art house crowd may love it as much as they love, say, Taxi Driver. For me, though, I felt a bit cheated after reading the synopsis pasted above. Two other cult car flicks come to mind: Vanishing Point (the original) and Two-Lane Blacktop. Both were low-budget counterculture films that happened to have flashes of high-octane action in them (the former less disappointing than the latter). This was even less of a car flick, and the production values were higher than either of the other two, but it fits pretty well with Two-Lane Blacktop in that the style might be a turn-off to those attracted by the subject matter.

I do appreciate the disciplined adherence to realism, if that was the director's priority. And don't get me wrong--I'm sick of all the unexplained fiery explosions and needless, gratuitous destruction of fine machinery in 99% of Tinseltown car chases. I'm not suggesting they follow the cheesy formula at all. I'm just saying, by the way this film was marketed, I was expecting a bit more of a thrill ride.

Please excuse me while I chew on a toothpick for an extended period of moody silence.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

So This Guy Walks Into a Barsoom...

I don't go to the movies much, anymore. Two I really wanted to see so far this year were Act of Valor and the John Carter adaptation. Unfortunately, both came to theaters at roughly the same time. I saw the former, but don't know if I'll make it back in time to catch the latter.

Frankly, with the polarized opinions about the Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptation, I didn't know what to think. Well, it's good to have a network--Jim Morris came to my rescue. He watched it, and agreed to let me publish his report on the experience. Here it is:

My son Crews, named for my CO in Vietnam, called me last week. He said my six-year-old grandson Hayden had been totally psyched by the John Carter trailer that had been running on the OKC stations, and that he and my other son Ben were going to take Hayden to see it last Sunday.

All of that totally pumped me up as I had been a biiiiiiig fan of the John Carter on Mars books when I was maybe twelve. I flat loved those books, and was also psyched to see the flick. So the deal I made was that I would see them here in LA and Skype with Hayden afterward.

Called a couple of buds here to see if they wanted to go with me, and they did, but failed to figure on Spring Forward day and missed the gig. I'd be a bit snarky about that if I hadn't screwed up too. Went into the sixteen screen multiplex in Woodland Hills and strolled into the first theater I saw with John Carter on the sign. I was soon badly perplexed by the fact that I was in the middle of the movie and my 3D glasses didn't work. I watched it through to the end, gaining much eyestrain in the process, and then went and bitched to the ticket taker. 

She kindly did not call me an idiot and asked if I had gone into theater 10. Nope, theater 9. "Uh, your glasses don't work in theater 9."

Tell me about it. 

"Okay, you've only missed ten minutes in theater 10," so I zipped back upstairs and went in at the point that Carter was getting the hell kicked out of him in a Yankee jail. Gotta say I loved the flick. The art direction was fabulous, fully realizing Burroughs' vision. I doubt this was possible even five years ago.

The screenwriters dickered with the plot and characterizations a bit, but not enough to do any harm to the movie. One change that I liked was that the character of Dejah Thoris was more fully developed.

I don't think anyone has ever claimed that characterization was Burroughs' long suit. In the books her principle role is to get kidnapped and rescued by John Carter, a lot. In the movie she is no slouch with a longsword. I like a semi-naked woman swinging a sword. It just seems right somehow.

Another by-product of the movie is that I downloaded all five books on Kindle for $.99 and am now about halfway through book three.

Talked to Hayden last night. He was totally psyched by the film, loved it. I also bought him all five books in print from Amazon and he's read the first three chapters of A Princess of Mars. My grandson, six years old. How about that?

Purty dang cool, I say!

BTW, for those who don't know it (and missed my previous blog posts), Jim Morris is an accomplished and renown author of some doggone good fiction and non-fiction, available on Virtual Pulp Press, Antenna Books and any other bookstore worth its salt.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Serious Swords, Silly Sorcery

I couldn't resist the title, folks.

Some new old-fashioned hack-and-slash fantasy fiction is out there and it's CHEEEEEEEEEEEAP!!!!!!

All I mean by "serious swords, silly sorcery" is that some of it takes a straightforward approach, like the first two installments of Tales of the Honor Triad (The Bloodstained Defile and The Gryphon of Tirshal); and others poke fun at the genre in a respectful way (like Chris J. Randolph's Vengar and Jack Badelaire's NANOK).

Vengar the Barbarian is a not-so-subtle parody of another savage sword-wielding bronze giant from a forgotten age.

NANOK is, to quote the author:

"...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"

I don't know about you, but I sure could use some fist-pumping.

Hmm...I'm almost positive that last statement could be interpreted in some rather embarrassing ways.

Oh, well. Moving on...

Tales of the Honor Triad are heroic fantasy more than sword & sorcery. There's plenty of sword, but only a little sorcery in the two titles published so far.

The author says:

"Tolkien and his legion of imitators have not influenced me much. You can lay the blame squarely on the heads of Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Poul Anderson."

Ain't this a great tagline?

A great storm, an epic battle, and three dangerous warriors...all on a collision course for a narrow mountain pass that is already a bloodstained defile.

And here's a teaser about Gryphon, now with a snazzy new cover:

The Honor Triad have journeyed to Javo's native country shortly after its transition from a free republic to a monarchy. The first king of Cemar has hired the three mercenaries to rid the land of the legendary supernatural beast that lives high on Mount Tirshal, outside the city. Neither the bowlegged little horse-archer Turgar, nor the furry giant Krag the Wrecker feel comfortable with the mystical forces surrounding Tirshal, but their lust for gold outweighs their fear. Still, the horrifying truth awaiting they and Javo at the gryphon's perch is more chilling than the legion of reptilian predators they'll have to fight through to reach it.

Use your battleaxe to chop open a keg of mead, ale or Red Bull, throw a few logs on the fire and download some of this gratuitous violence onto your e-reader for some good, clean fun.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Time to Frogman Up: Go See Act of Valor

Last time I sacrificed a small fortune at the theater, it was to see Red Tails. I got burned on that one. But I march to the beat of a completely different drum than the lock-stepped mass media, so the hate spewing forth against this flick helped me decide to give it a chance on the big screen.

I'm glad I did.

Not that I've read all the knee-jerk criticisms of Act of Valor, but I'm sure the acting was panned. Okay, I'll admit that the performances were not Oscar caliber, but considering that the SEALs on-screen were portrayed by real life active duty SEALs, it wasn't that bad. Better, in fact, than in many films I've seen. Let's not forget this is an action movie, either.

Much of this movie was shot in something like cinema verite` (reminded me of how John Milius and George Lucas originally planned to shoot Apocalypse 16mm on location in Vietnam). In general, this worked pretty well, but did cause occasional confusion during the action sequences. Otherwise, they were fantastic.

It was nice that the Special Boat Squadrons got a little bit of cowboy time, and pretty cool to watch, too. As with all war/military flicks, I took issue with some of the tactics depicted. For instance: I've never been a SEAL, nor do I watch the reality shows about BUDS, but I should hope that on a mission requiring surprise, SEALs would know better than to silhouette themselves in front of a bright, low moon. But cinematicly, it makes for a pretty shot. Directors like to cram multiple characters into the frame, too, in tactical scenes--which causes combat formations to shrink to tactically unwise intervals. But I can nitpick pretty much any shoot-'em-up movie with those kind of observations.

The language was actually a shade tamer than in real life military units. The technical details seemed to be solid. The action was violent, but not gratuitously so; and was necessitated by the plot. In short, this was a humdinger of an action flick.

And as I suspected, Act of Valor did no political soapboxing. But the very fact that a conflict was portrayed in which there was a clear deliniation between right and wrong--and American fighting men happened to be in the right--has infuriated the Hollywood establishment. See, American GIs should be ignorant rapists, racists, murderers, exploiters of harmless Third World Paradise-Dwellers, dangerous immature loose cannons committing a Mai Lai Massacre every time the military industrial complex gives them live rounds and a plane ride over the pond. Act of Valor has committed Hollywood heresy.

It's a mystery how they avoid choking on their own hypocrisy when they call this movie "propaganda."

It's a good movie, and probably one of the least propagandistic you're going to see in theaters OR on TV this year.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The State of Action/Adventure Books (Guest Blog by Splitter)

Today we have a guest blogger: C. S. Splitter, who has a couple noir-esque ebooks out that are gaining significant traction on Amazon. I welcome yet another member of our growing fraternity and encourage all Two-Fisted Blogees to check out his books; as well as follow him on the remainder of the blog tour. Warning: Drooling excessively over the books' cover art may cause damage to your keyboard.

Please believe me when I say that this blog approaches “unique” status.

When you write a book these days, one thing you seemingly MUST do is a blogtour. A blogtour is nothing more than a promotion where the author does guest posts, interviews, and reviews, in a finite period of time on various sites. Yes, it is exhausting.

So, when my second book came out, my little team decided I needed to do such a tour. The first thing I did was research on Action/Adventure blogs because, nowadays, bloggers matter. Let me tell you, there are not many! I checked GoodReads for groups dedicated to Action/Adventure and found exactly one. One! The “Two Fisted” site was one of the stops that I simply had to make. I turned my marketing person loose to make it happen and am happy to be here today. I feel at home here and that is something I cannot say for many other blogs.

Action/Adventure movies draw large audiences but the books market is dominated by a few well known authors. The reason for that, I think, is simply audience size. I am not knocking other genres, but it is pretty clear that sparkly vampires and magical romances where no one actually has sex, have huge audiences.

Maybe a smart author would look at the statistics and decide to write to the largest audience they can find. No one had ever accused me of being terribly gifted in the brain department so I never looked at statistics or researched fiction reading habits until AFTER I wrote “The Reluctant” and began the “Crayder Chronicles.”

When the idea hit me for the series, I decided that I just wanted to write a good story with believable characters. I have this undying belief that “regular people” can be heroes too. Not that all of my characters are a matter of fact, they do some pretty questionable things. But, I longed for the “good ole days” when I, as a reader, could just lose myself in a book and that is what I blindly chose to attempt to write.

I am glad I went about it without foreknowledge of the market.

I have been exceedingly lucky. Amazon made The Reluctant free and it hit number two in Action/Adventure. The second time it climbed back to the same spot, I guess they took notice and put the minimum price back on it. Business is business to a corporation like that. I was using the first book as a sample, sort of like a drug dealer would do, to get people hooked on the series and buy the second book (“The Willing”) and subsequent releases. It is entirely possible that Amazon was smarter than me.

Then, a strange things happened: people started to care.

Once you put out a couple books, they start thinking you are smarter than you really might be. They ask your opinions on subjects like: What makes a good Action/Adventure book? It is awful when you have to confess that you do not really know. Authors are supposed to be smart, right?

There really is no single answer except that characters and stories still matter. A movie might get away with one action scene after another, but a good book cannot. People have to be able to identify with and care about the characters. They need plot twists and surprises. And, of course, Action/Adventure readers want some pulse pounding scenes (which are a BLAST to write, too).

The good news for those of us who write such books is that, while the audience for Action/Adventure might not be as large as that of paranormal, romance, or fantasy, the readers are dedicated and actually do some research to seek out good books in the genre.

There is an additional good piece of news for everyone: People are buying more books. Ebook sales are more than making up for the drop in print sales. That means that the audience for Action/Adventure is growing too.

The publishing world is in a huge state of flux. Traditional publishers are being replaced in some measure by independents and self published authors. That is great for readers, especially in genres like Action/Adventure that have had limited releases in the past. Now, there is choice even though you might have to dig a little bit to get to the good stuff.

The present state of Action/Adventure books might not be the brightest, but no one knows what the next trend might be. Today, it is vampires and paranormal romance, but tomorrow could see a return to the kick-butt, high adrenaline rush of a good action story.

Because...don't we all want a good escape every now and then?

Take heart. There are a bunch of new Action/Adventure authors out there and some of the books are as good as you will find anywhere. More choice has to be good.


Many thanks, Splitter, for taking the time to share your thoughts.

Below are the jacket blurbs for his two published books, plus a brief bio:

The Reluctant:

Action, adventure, suspense, and thriller in one story told with a liberal dose of humor.

Tom’s problems are not unique. His business is failing and his wife has to work too many hours to make ends meet. He is under some rather large financial pressures and wants more from his marriage and his life.

He finds his respite in the air as a private pilot. Unfortunately for Tom, he is behind on payments for his plane and is forced to take odd jobs from a local crime boss. Tom is no criminal, but the errands he is running are just slightly on the wrong side of the law and the money is almost good enough to allow him to make his plane payments.

Just as things begin to come under some semblance of control, he meets a woman who just might represent the adventure he seeks. He soon discovers that appearances, and beautiful women, can sometimes be deceiving.

“The Reluctant” is the first in the Crayder Chronicles series and yet is a stand alone story with a satisfying conclusion of its own.

The Willing:

Book Two in "The Crayder Chronicles"

How far would you go to protect your friends and family?

Tom Crayder is the All-American guy next door with a business, a wife, a son, a mortgage, and an expensive hobby. He is also a politically incorrect, wisecracking operative working for a shadowy organization dedicated to administering justice outside of a broken system. Not even his wife knows of his other life when she finds herself unwittingly involved in a drug war.

Strap in with Tom as he navigates his way through the strata of a drug cartel. Lock and load with Lorena, a hard-hearted assassin, as she lends her deadly skills to Tom’s fight for his family. Sit back to watch Tom and Lorena figure out how to work together without killing each other.

Join the rest of the cast from "The Reluctant (Crayder Chronicles)" as they pitch in to track down the hitmen that threaten their associate.

Some mysteries are solved. Some questions are answered. Some live. Some die.

C.S. Splitter is a business man, author, and stand-up philosopher living in rural Maryland with his beautiful wife, small dog, and astonishingly large cat. He is an avid shooter and loves being 5000 feet above the ground, upside down, in an open cockpit.

He will never again jump out of a perfectly good airplane and feels the need to color outside of the lines.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Act of Valor: An End-Run Around Hollywood Thought Police?

So how is it that a movie with so little Hollywood hype (that I never heard of it until after it opened) blast enough profit in the first three days to earn back its investment X2?

Judging by the industry's silence about the film, you gotta wonder if they were hoping it would flop. By all accounts, it is not the typical leftist portrayal of American fighting men as savage raping racist warmongers, which probably explains why Hollywood didn't invest nearly the marketing into it as they did for, say, Brokeback Mountain. Whatever the reason, I'm proud of moviegoers who thought for themselves this time and spent their voting dollars on something different.

And boy, does it sound different--active duty SEALs as actors, reenacting real missions? I didn't even know that was legal. This goes a step beyond those classic war flicks that show a credit to the US Armed Forces during the opening music. You know, back before schools and movie studios began conditioning citizens to be ashamed of being American and insisting on how unexceptional our country is.

I've read that the film itself really doesn't get political. By Hollywood standards I guess that makes it "conservative" or "right-wing."

Whatever. I look forward to watching it.