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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Red Tails Report Card

Hollywood titans have always enjoyed varying degrees of success or failure vis a vis the amount of creative control they have over their films. Charlie Chaplin's success skyrocketed when he began directing his own comedies. Contemporary silent clown Harold Lloyd crashed and burned when he was given directorial control. Or so I've read. George Lucas's ascension from California film school nerd into the Hollywood pantheon happened because of two films: American Graffiti and Star Wars (Episode IV: A New Hope).

Despite his debut, the box-office flop THX1138, he was given a chance at another feature. American Graffiti did so well, having such a great return on the investment, that the studios let him shoot his fairy-tale space opera despite a consensus that it would be a colossal failure. In fact, he funded much of the production with his profits from American Graffiti (creating Industrial Light and Magic in the process). Well, he proved everyone wrong with the phenomenal success of Star Wars, obviously.

I want to point out that Lucas's screenplays for these great films were tuned up by other writers. The first two Star Wars sequels were box office smashes, too (despite the annoying Ewoks and growing obsession with grotesque aliens), written and directed by someone other than Lucas. As evident in More American Graffiti, when left with sole creative control of a film, Lucas's cinematic efforts were forgettable.

A generation later, his Star Wars prequel trilogy was a special effects bonanza (soon to be re-released in 3D), but the storytelling had lost a whole lot of zing. Surprise surprise: his creative control over the projects was as unquestionable as the Pope's decrees are to Catholicism. Detect a pattern yet?

So, as I blogged before, I was invited to see Red Tails with some friends, and jumped at the chance since it's about the Tuskeegee Airmen in WWII. We just went last night.

Lucas is credited as the producer, not the director, but his fingerprints are all over this flick. Deep, deep fingerprints, as in "dictatorial control" fingerprints. Unfortunately, it conforms to the pattern of the Lucas canon. I've decided to review this flick via letter grade, based on a few different aspects.


Hey, they seem to have gotten the superficial aircraft details right. Also, they did have a broad-brush grasp of the air campaign in Europe.

But the bulk of the research to fill in the military details seems to have been done, not by consulting technical advisors with military experience or studying military history, but by watching old war movies. Writers should know something about what the military is like. Actors should be taught how to wear the uniform, how to throw a friggin' salute, when to have their headgear on and when not, etc.

I've never been a fighter pilot, but it seems to me the air combat sequences were comic-book fanciful. No biggie--it was fun to watch...with one irritating caveat: No P-40 or P-51 pilot in the film dropped a single bomb, yet their guns seemed to have the same effect that bombs would have. Whatever they strafed exploded as if the Germans had coated all the equipment in their entire war machine with C-4 rigged with gunfire-triggered detonators. I mean, if a pilot's machineguns scored a hit on a sheet of plywood, it would have caused a half-kiloton explosion.


"90% of directing is casting." So goes the old sage's axiom in Tinseltown. All the actors in this film are either talented or at least competent, though I grudgingly agree with other critics that the characters they were given to play were little more than types (stereotypes, archetypes--call them what you will).


The dogfight scenes are terrific. About as good as CGI is presently capable of.


This didn't become a big hairy political diatribe, and I'm grateful for that. But the dialog, while not horrible, was pretty hackneyed--something you'd expect from a WWII film shot in 1942. There were some transitions that gave nice understatement to the thematic stream. But significant plot points struck me as contrived. And the romantic subplot seemed tacked on merely to make one character's fate more poignant. It was underdeveloped, overplayed, not very honest considering the geo-historic backdrop, and ultimately pointless.


I don't normally include criticism of the musical score, and never before have criticized credits. When those elements are bad enough to draw attention to themselves, let alone merit mention in a review, they're pretty bad. Lucas financed this film all with his own money, and these are two aspects in which it shows. The credits looked like what you'd see in a low budget TV show--like they were added by a vintage video toaster at an access cable station. The score wasn't as bad; but it was unremarkable. I did like the inclusion of America the Beautiful, but I can't help thinking it was added due to its public domain status, not because the musicians had any passion for the music. There were points in the film where the maker(s) were trying to pull my heartstrings, or at least generate some kind of emotional response. A good composer can help them do that, even when the writing and acting don't carry their fair share of the load. Whoever this composer was did not. This was most disappointing, since other Lucas films were so spot-on in this regard (think of John Williams' Star Wars theme--it was absolutely perfect).

My overall assessment of Red Tails is a "C." Wait for Red Box, then watch it with your 13-or-older kids on a family day with lots of popcorn. Loud, crunchy popcorn.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Recently Discovered Mack Bolan Trailer

Somehow I never imagined the Executioner with toy cars on his dresser...

Was I such a dork when I was a kid? Yeah, probably. 

No, make that definitely.

Nice to see the youth of America prying themselves away from the PS3 long enough to do something creative.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Planning to go see Red Tails

2011 struck me as a more-abysmal-than-usual year for Hollywood. The two bright spots, for me, were Captain America: The First Avenger and Rise of the Planet of the Apes. But George Lucas' new WWII flick is one I'll probably see in a theater instead of via Redbox.

Reason enough is that some friends I haven't spent time with for quite a while suggested we go see it together. But there's a lot of other factors motivating me to spend a small fortune at the box office. The most obvious to Two-Fisted Blogees is that I like history, and am a WWII buff. That's still the most fascinating time period for me, out of many. (As I've admitted before, it was from learning about D-Day and the 101st's defense of Bastogne during the Bulge that made me want to go Airborne...)

In addition, I studied both the Tuskegee Airmen and the Buffalo Soldiers (and began writing about them) years before movies were made (by someone else, doggone it) to bring the subject matter into the popular consciousness.

While I vainly(?) hope I'm not going to be cinematically lectured for two hours on what a racist nation we are, the fact is there was a lot of institutionalized racism back then, which is infuriating to think about. History has been revised to deceive the masses about what side of the aisle it came from, and that's infuriating, too.

In the film titled Tuskegee Airmen (also staring Cuba Gooding, Jr.), the filmmaker focused not exclusively on race-based oppression, but how a group of determined Americans overcame it and beat all the odds stacked against them. If Red Tails takes the same approach, I'll probably like it.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Politically Incorrect Sci-Fi?

2FB: I am pleased to present this interview with science fiction author Walter Knight, who has 14 books (so far) in his America's Galactic Foreign Legion series published. I had put some of his books up on Virtual Pulp Press before realizing this was the same Walter who occasionally commented on the Two-Fisted Blog. Welcome, Walter! Tell us about the AGFL series.

WALTER: Thank you Hank for inviting me to the 'Two-Fisted Blogger'.

America's Galactic Foreign Legion is a 14 book science fiction series using humor to depict a strong America taking humanity and American culture across the galaxy to fight aliens on a distant planet colony. AGFL started out as serious “Starship Troopers” type military science fiction, but soon evolved into something else, something special.

I explore the Americanization of space. What does that mean? In the universe I create, after several wars, America is forced to share a distant planet colony with the Arthropodan Empire. They're spiders. In fact, humanity is alone in a galaxy full of various bug civilizations.

America's Galactic Foreign Legion maintains a fragile truce with the spiders across a DMZ, but our real secret weapon is our culture. The aliens succumb to American culture when we bring in the heavy artillery: satellite TV, fast food, McDonald's, Walmart, the Mafia, drugs, alcohol, casino gambling, sports betting, football, baseball, Nike sports products, skateboards, the Teamsters Union, the internet, gold rushes, immigration, Starbucks coffee, cigarettes, MREs, terrorist insurgency, lawyers, democracy, freedom, American music, and sex. The aliens belatedly try to legislate against the Americanization of their culture, but resistance is futile.

I draw a parallel with the Americanization of third world countries in our real world. For example, you have Kentucky Fried Chicken in Baghdad, and McDonald's hamburgers in Pakistan. Rioters in Egypt complaining about American influence carry iPods, and wear American T-shirts and Nike shoes. Iran and China tried to legislate against American influence by restricting internet use and banning satellite dishes, but it's too late. America has already won. It's just a matter of time before the whole world becomes American.

America's Galactic Foreign Legion has been described as politically incorrect, and I will admit some of my legionnaires have issues, and are a bit shady and unethical. Some will steal anything not nailed down, and the lead character is a compulsive gambler. However, unlike other military humor (M.A.S.H. and Catch-22, for instance), my books have a positive American military spin. If humanity ever crosses the galaxy, it will be on American starships. No one else can do it. Is portraying a strong future America politically incorrect? I don't think so. Some people just can't handle a strong America. Too bad, so sad, for them.

2FB: Pontificate a bit on the state of science fiction, where it came from, how it got to the point it's at now, and where you see it going. Also how your books fit into it, and/or into the military sci-fi niche.

WALTER: Science fiction represents about six percent of book sales. It truly has become a niche market. Many publishers will not even consider Sci/Fi submissions, considering the genre unprofitable. Divide science fiction into speculative fiction and fantasy. I do not consider tales of magic and vampires to be science fiction, and it irritates me to see real science fiction forced to share shelf space with such books.

Science fiction is sub-categorized even further into end-of-the-world stories, zombies, space exploration, and military science fiction. I have created even more of a niche market by leaving the Star Trek type starships behind, and writing about infantry soldiers. The humor aspect leaves America's Galactic Foreign Legion all alone among new science fiction.
I am not happy with the current state of science fiction in books and film. Science fiction has been abandoned to liberals, with their sorry tales about failed ecology, Apocalypse America, U.N.-type galactic governments, evil corporations, politically correct female warriors, and anti-military rhetoric. Someone needs to bring back John Wayne. I suspect that Hollywood and the Big Six New York publishing establishment is biased, and suppresses conservative science fiction. At the very least there is a void that I will gladly fill.

2FB: Oh you suspect that, do you? Personally, I suspect the Al Capone mob sometimes engaged in behavior that could be construed as possibly illegal. How long did you try to get somebody in New York's attention before you got published?

WALTER: My story started out similar to many other writers. I sent my manuscript out to every publisher and agent I could find online, getting back many form rejection letters. To my dismay I found that large publishers did not want unsolicited manuscripts from new authors, and required I submit through an agent. These days you almost need an agent to get an agent. Finally an agent in his rejection letter gave me some sage advice. He advised that I write a sequel. He stated that no matter how well I write, one-hit wonders are unprofitable, and no agent will touch them.

Read the complete interview on VPP, where you can also find links to all 14 books in the series.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A New Men's Adventure Smorgasbord

Years ago when snail-mailing traditional publishers in the fruitless attempt to get one of them to answer my query letters, I sometimes wondered if the market for men's adventure, military fiction in particular, had disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle, the Phantom Zone, or whatever nether-region was now home to John Doe # 2, the Lost Ark of the Covenant, and rugged individualism.

Since joining the e-publishing revolution I've discovered that, not only does the market still exist, but I've got competition, too!

First I met Jack Murphy. Anyone who has followed the 2-Fisted Blog is probably familiar with his books. But recently, Jack introduced me to a couple more authors writing the sort of fiction I miss from back in the day. You know--before the tradpub (traditional publishing) fiefdom became all about vampires, chick-lit and political thrillers.

Frankly, I welcome the competition. Hey, I like to read, too, and I've worn out some of my favorite old paperbacks. Know what else? Evidently, the new breed is writing action-adventure with a much more substantial grounding in reality than most of the escapist fare we cut our literary teeth on.

One of my new comrades is Jack Silkstone. If you haven't heard of his Primal series, I don't know where you've been hiding. Maybe the YA paranormal section at Barnes & Noble. Wait a minute...Barnes & Noble IS the YA paranormal section. Anyway, quit pining for your imaginary shapeshifting teenage soulmate, shed those Gothic clothes and the emo makeup and ride along with a private army of well-funded international vigilantes dedicated to putting down the scumbags that western governments are unable or unwilling to kick where it hurts.

Another up-and-coming author is D.R. Tharp, who has conceived Task Force Intrepid, an ethical mercenary unit following in the footsteps of Executive Outcomes--fighting battles that SpecOps won't and conventional armies can't.

Is it just me, or did the collective cinematic output of Hollywood in 2011 suck even worse than normal? No doubt the Tinseltown suits are rifling through old TV series, action figures and board games right now to find the next fresh, original, CGI blockbuster.

Now you can rediscover your literacy without drowning in a sea of estrogen. Unless you want to.

Enjoy the kind of stories somebody in Hollywood should be telling, with pyrotechnics detonated directly in your mind; and characters who are true badasses--not pampered wimpy movie stars pretending to be the real deal.

This is just the beginning of the dude-lit renaissance. Pencil-necked lawyers and bisexual werewolves are no match for us.