Category Archives: Book and Film Reviews

Saturday Matinee 2017 05: Sniper: Special Ops (2016)

For some reason, this film was overlooked by the Oscars and Golden Globes. The reason is a mystery. Is it because the nominal star is Steven Seagal, even though he’s in a secondary role? Is it because it was done on a keg-of-beer budget and dumped direct to DVD?

Or might it simply be the quality of the show? We leave the decision to the reader, but we commend the movie to Seagal completists, assuming there is such a thing.

 

Our intention was to review another bad (but not this bad) sniper movie, the Belarusian WWII-story production Sniper: Weapon of Retaliation. But the DVD went tango uniform and we didn’t make it to the end, so we reluctantly unwrapped Sniper: Special Ops and slipped it in to our DVD player.

Oh, the humanity!

Acting and Production

Steven Seagal is not at his best in this show; he’s old now, and out of shape (we can relate), and he never takes his sunglasses off… was he hung over on the couple of days that they shot all his scenes?

Although he’s in the film at the beginning and end, he’s not really the leading actor. That’s a guy named Tim Abell, of whom we can’t recall hearing a word, but who isn’t really bad. Abell plays Victor Mosby, a Special Forces or SOF NCO whose team has the mission of clearing an abandoned village. His performance (both acting and physical) is definitely the strongest in the film. Seagal’s character, Chandler, and a young guy are the sniper team providing overwatch for Mosby’s doorkickers.

Tim Abell in character

Chandler does not do any of Seagal’s signature fighting moves; rather than kicking ass, he seems to be maxed out and out of breath climbing — or descending — stairs, which is about as physical as he gets in this show. The DVD box, read at a glance, credits Seagal and Van Damme but if you read it, it’s actually Van Dam — Rob Van Dam, who has a tertiary role.

 

Dale Dye makes an appearance in his usual role, the ever-older World’ Oldest Lieutenant Colonel. (He’s got to be in his mid-seventies by now, and it’s great to see him working; here’s hoping the check cleared).

 

The movie has the overall gestalt of a 1950 B-movie Western, exacerbated by using the usual Western movie ranch with a little quasi-Afghan set dressing, with hooded “Afghan” extras in the role of sacrificial hadji mooks, complete with the interpreter as Kit Carson scout, the “plucky journalist” (Charlene Amoia, who does the best she can with leaden lines) as the obligatory woman-on-the-frontier, the supply wagon stranded in Indian territory, and the mysterious Indian princess who’s key to the whole thing.

Accuracy and Weapons

A half-assed job was done on the sets, uniforms and equipment. Here’s a close-up showing that Tim Abell’s rifle — the only one that appears to fire on automatic — is a converted Colt Sporter SP1. (Receiver profile is the give away). Abell’s weapons-handling is skilled and natural; he’s an Army NCO veteran, and both a scroll (2nd Battalion, before Regiment existed) and tab Ranger.

Note the truck in the background is a 1960s vintage M35. Yeah, they got that wrong.

Someone did train the actors on firearms, because they do seem comfortable with them. (Dye again, probably).

It seems that some of the firearms were airsoft or dummies, and the muzzle blasts were CGI’d in. It wasn’t terrible, unlike the explosions (yep, fireballs).

Note the actor on the right (Rob Van Dam, we think), who just heard his mom bought the DVD).

Neither the CQB nor the sniping is remotely realistic. And the “Taliban” or ISIL enemies? They seem to be the same guys from martial arts movies, whose brain housing groups are so deficient that they attack one at a time.

Despite being elite supreme ninja super pipe hitters, neither the good guys or bad guys can hit much of anything, so most firefight are a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, hitting nothing. The exception is the reporter chick, who picks up an M9 and proceeds to waste bad guys at 50 yards range, while the good and bad guys are blazing away ineffectually at each other with M4s and AKs respectively.

Also, the reporterette says at one time to Abell’s, remember, she is supposed to be addressing a special ops guy whose life includes lots and lots of trigger time on the range, “I’m qualified as an expert. Are you?” That shuts him up. (We’re guessing Ranger Abell was thinking of the paycheck, and biting his tongue).

The tactics sometimes approach laughable, but from the other side. For instance, a guy is sent to run across an open area to the next available cover, one of the ancient Vietnam vet deuce-and-a-halfs. “Start running, then we’ll cover you.” And he starts, and then they do. We won’t tell you the spoiler of what happens next, but you can probably guess.

At one climactic point, there’s a plot twist that’s so implausible we laughed aloud. Even the dog.

 

The bottom line

At 2 DVDs for $5, we figured, how can we lose with Sniper: Special Ops? Well, we watched it and there went an hour and a half or so of our finite and dwindling lifespan. That’s how.

For more information

These sites relate to this particular film.

  • Amazon.com DVD page:

https://www.amazon.com/Sniper-Special-Ops-DVD-Digital/dp/B01CDT60CC/

It’s also available as a digital rental/sale product:

https://www.amazon.com/Sniper-Special-Ops-Steven-Seagal/dp/B01EZFJ6QO/

  • IMDB page:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5344794/

  • IMFDB page:

http://www.imfdb.org/wiki/Sniper:_Special_Ops

  • Rotten Tomatoes review page (85%):

https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/sniper_special_ops/

  • Infogalactic  page: (none)
  • History vs. Hollywood Page. (n/a).

Saturday Matinee 2017 04: John Wick

john-wick-posterIf you’re looking for a realistic movie, keep looking. If you’re looking for an entertaining rollick, have a look at this. It’s on the movie channels at present.

Keanu Reeves is the title character, John Wick, and he’s the guy with whom you simply do not want to get crosswise. He has retired from a career in murder and mayhem and lives quietly and introspectively by himself with his adorable dog, his Boss 429 (the first choice of cars for low-profile, off-the-grid operators, naturally!) and the memories of his deceased wife, Helen (played in flashback by Bridget Moynihan).

The beagle puppy wasn’t just any irresistable pooch, but a posthumously-delivered gift from his sainted wife.

This contemplative isolation is interrupted when the spoiled, worthless kid of a Russian organized crime figure (it’s Hollywood, the bad guy has to be someone without an Association for Advancement or Anti-Defamation League or Council Of…) takes a shine to his classic Mustang. In the end, Wick ends up with a beating, and Little Ivan ends up with his car.

And oh, yeah, they murder his dog. Just in case you had any doubts about who the bad guys were. The rest of the movie is gold-plated, ultra-violent revenge fantasy.

Acting and Production

Keanu Reeves makes Wick about as believable as anyone can make such a unidimensional cutout. His athletic ability is taxed more than his ability to emote in close up as he throws, shoots, stabs, slings, skewers, slices and dices armies of doomed criminal mooks, often applying several types of brutality to the same target at once.

 

Most of the other actors exist either to support him or to be killed in grisly, spectacular, choreographic fashion. Willem Dafoe plays the sort of creepy character that occurs when directors specify that the writers write a part for Willem Dafoe!

Reeves has come a long way and has taken some interesting action roles. At least here, he’s not trying to act Japanese, as he did in 47 Ronin, a movie about a Japanese historical event that had highly consequential cultural impact. (47 Ronin is another movie that we thought we had reviewed in this space, but hadn’t). He pulls together the dichotomy of the title character’s and his opponents’ refined, beautiful surroundings and their tendency to violent action.

The directors were first-time-out major-pic guys who had worked as 2nd Unit directors and, perhaps most importantly in this stunt and effects extravaganza, in the stunt world. They delivered a hell of a movie against a $20 million budget.

Because of the puppy’s grisly end in the movie, the dog actor had to show up at the Oscars for proof of life. Here it is:

You’d have your tail between your legs around that crowd, too. Where do Hollywood types turn when they run out of jailbait?

The film has that currently popular dark cinematography — it’s not something you watch happily on a small screen wth the lights on; put it on the largest screen you’ve got, in a darkened room.

As you might have guessed from the picture above, Wick learns the lesson of trying to be low profile with a classic Mustang Boss 429, and spends the rest of the movie with a similarly classic Chevelle SS.

Watch this one with your best dog curled up by you and a beer in your hand, or a gun in your hand to laser-cartridge the bad guys (combining the gun and the beer in the hand can lead to bad consequences, like spilled beer for example. Not recommended — pick one or t’other).

Accuracy and Weapons

Do not look for accuracy here; it’s no less fantasy than the Harry Potter series, at least inasmuch as firearms, knives, and hand-to-hand personal combat are depicted. Choreography, not combat. But it’s fun.

 

Reeves worked very hard to master the martial arts moves and tactical shooting skills he displays in this cult hit. There are videos around of him prepping for this role, and for the sequel, about to hit the big screen, he sought out a bunch of live fire instruction and developed into a skilled practical/combat two-gun shooter.

The bottom line

John Wick was never positioned as Oscar bait, but it put asses in theater seats, and so it got the ultimate seal of approval from The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences: a sequel. We doubt the sequel can bear up under the expectations fans of the first bring to it, because the first was a really entertaining film. Don’t take it seriously, just enjoy the movie. It begins with a man who has retired from a career in murder and mayhem and lives quietly and introspectively by himself with his dog, his car, and his memories. What could go wrong?

And what can you do to get ready for the sequel? Watch the first John Wick!

For more information

These sites relate to this particular film.

  • Amazon.com DVD page:

https://www.amazon.com/John-Wick-Digital-Keanu-Reeves/dp/B00OV3VG96/

It’s also available as a digital rental/sale product:

https://www.amazon.com/John-Wick-Keanu-Reeves/dp/B00T484DKC/

  • IMDB page:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2911666/

  • IMFDB page:

http://www.imfdb.org/wiki/John_Wick

  • Rotten Tomatoes review page (85%):

https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/john_wick

  • Infogalactic  page:

https://infogalactic.com/info/John_Wick

  • History vs. Hollywood Page. (n/a).

Thump with TRUMP (No, this is NOT political)

Not the least bit political… this is an entirely different TRUMP. The guy getting sworn in Friday is Trump. TRUMP, all caps, means Training Re-Usable Mortar Projectile, and here you see a demonstration of unboxing a live M2 60mm Mortar, setting it up, and setting up TRUMP rounds and firing them.

The propellant and the on-target pyro charge are 20 gauge shotgun shells loaded with black powder. Strict limits on powder weights must be observed, lest your TRUMP rounds cross the threshold where they’d become unregistered Destructive Devices, a felony violation of the National Firearms Act. This limits the range of the mortar and the spectacle of the rounds’ detonation, but it can’t be helped. The mortar itself is a registered Destructive Device, and in the USA that is handled under the NFA like a machine gun or silencer would be, requiring ATF registration prior to possession, and a $200 transfer or manufacturing tax.

“Yeah, but,” we can hear you thinking out loud, “Where are you going to get a mortar?”

They’re around, but if your local gun store is fresh out, try the guys who made the video, Ordnance.Com. They have a website and a YouTube channel, but they also have M2 mortars just like this one and TRUMP rounds for sale on Gun Broker.

They also have 81mm TRUMP rounds, and older-style 60mm inert, reusable rounds. You can use the 60mm rounds in any 60mm mortar, and the 81mm rounds in any 81 or 82mm mortar.

TRUMP. Make Artillery Great Again.

What Shall We Review in 2017?

Hmmm… It’s time to think about the coming year’s movie reviews. Yep, we plan to keep doing them.

Well, we’re going to watch movies anyway, and going to write anyway, so why not write about the movies we watch?

We’ve broken down the list into three parts, 2016 movies we still haven’t seen, 2016 movies we’ve seen but haven’t reviewed, and expected movies for 2017 that may be of interest to us and to the readers.

Some of you are better connected to the entertainment industry, and might have better visibility on other films, including great foreign films, that we might have missed, so we’re depending on you to vetor  us to those targets.

Still not seen from 2016

  • Patriots Day
  • Silence
  • Hacksaw Ridge
  • Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
  • Miss Sloane

What are we missing, from that list? Most of these we haven’t seen because, frankly, we don’t expect much of them.

Seen and review not published yet

  • Star Wars: Rogue One
  • The Last King (just saw it, so possibly this weekend)
  • John Wick (yeah, it’s older, but we did watch it in ’16, finally)

Coming in 2017

(early ones are definite releases, the further down the list the less certain at this point)

  • Railroad Tigers – 6 Jan, Chinese (Jackie Chan)
  • John Wick Chapter 2 — 10 Feb  His dog lives this time.
  • The Great Wall — 17 February
  • Kong: Skull Island 10 Mar 2017 set in 70s, lots of Hueys.
  • World War Z 2 – -9 July
  • War for the Planet of the Apes — opening 14 July — war between humans and enhanced primates.
  • Ghost Army — date not set — on WWII deception, Bradley Cooper stars and co-produces.
  • Dunkirk — opening 21 July, it looks like a war pic in the tradition of Battle of Britain or The Longest Day.
  • The Dark Tower – 28 July Elba and McConaghey
  • It — 8 September. 1991 King horror series gets the Girlbusters treatment
  • Blade Runner 2049 — 6th October — it has big shoes to fill
  • Kingsman: The Golden Circle — 6 October —
  • Thor: Ragnarok — 3 November — Borderline likely to see this. The Blogbrother loves him some comic book movies, but they basically leave Your Humble Blogger cold.
  • Star Wars Episode VIII — 15 December — well, that gives is a drop-dead deadline to get the Rogue One review done, doesn’t it?
  • Pegasus Bridge — no date — We have long said this WWII D-Day operation deserves a feature film.
  • Ghost Army — no date — on WWII deception, Bradley Cooper stars and co-produces. Success, or a botch like The Monument Men? 
  • The Ottoman Lieutenant  — no details available.
  • Darkest Hour — no date, no details except Gary Oldman is Winston Churchill
  • Redeployment — no date — word is that this is a 2005-style “troops as monsters/victims” screed, just in time for the return of a Republican administration.
  • The Fate of the Furious — Fast and the Furious with even more crime and impossible driving, which will cause even more criminals to splat in stolen cars.

Fortunately, there’s a century of old classics to fall back on.

Please use the comments to suggest any good review targets.

Saturday Matinee 2017 01: Ambush (Finnish, 2002)

Don’t take the DVD cover seriously — there’s a love-and-despair subplot but it’s not a chick flick.

Some of you may have seen this, but it’s pretty far off the beaten track. If you can live with subtitles (or if you understand Finnish, but what are the odds of that?) you may find this one worth pursuing. It’s a Finnish movie based on a novel by the same guy that wrote Talvisota (The Winter War), previously reviewed in this space. Its Finnish name translates to something like The Road to Rukajarvi, a Finnish town that was seized by the Soviets at the end of the Winter War and, in true Soviet style, ethnically cleansed.

The action takes place in the Continuation War, in which the Finns attacked the USSR, with the Soviet empire on the ropes due to the German attack. In the end, the Finns, who were seeking to redress the wrongs of the Winter War settlement, wound up defeated, in part because of the defeat of their German ally, but also because the Red Army of 1942-44 was not the same bag of incompetence that it was in 1940.

These grand-scale doings are told at the lowest level, as we follow the men of a bicycle-mounted reconnaissance platoon as they search the vast wilderness for the enemy axes of attack, and report back to their command. It is a low-budget war, at least on the Finns’ side, a Ruritanian-scale defense against a powerful empire. At this level, individuals, and how they work together, are vitally important. At this level a victory can be more fully shared; a defeat, or a casualty, are more fully taken to heart. You find yourself engaged with these young Finns and their risky mission.

Acting and Production

Unless you are Finnish, you are unlikely to know the actors in this drama. That doesn’t harm audience appreciation of the actors; it may, even, help, because the actors are as new to us foreigners as their characters are. Peter Franzén is especially strong as young lieutenant Eero Perkola, aged by the burden of command.

The Finnish scenery is at once breathtaking and very wild; it is one of the few places in Western Europe that retains significant wilderness. A great deal of cost and effort went into location photography, and it really pays off in the finished movie.

Finnish scenery. two kinds.

The action scenes move along smartly and build tension well. The “inaction scenes” and various flash-forwards and -backs tend to move very, very slowly. This is a long movie that does not need to be so long. Sometimes, the director seems too in love with the beauty of his images and dwells on them, to the detriment of pacing.

Accuracy and Weapons

As far as we could tell, the weapons were exactly what Finns and Soviets would be carrying in the Continuation War: Mosin rifles on both sides, although different in trim; Suomi and PPsh submachine guns; some Russians have Tokarev semi-autos. Supporting weapons like the Finnish Lahti M/26 light machine gun and Russian DP and Maxim MGs abound. Finns use some liberated Russian weapons; Franzén’s character Perkola uses a PPSh.

The weapons are, generally, used appropriately. They don’t produce flaming fireballs and Russian artillery doesn’t fire fireball shells. The vehicles seem period correct, and one has the impression that the crew worked very hard on detail accuracy. The most amazing thing is that this level of accuracy was achieved on the movie’s budget, reportedly $13 million.

The gasoline fire in this scene is simple to explain — this is the eponymous ambush and a truck has been set alight.

The telling of the historical events of the war seem to be accurate, but bear in mind that this film focuses on the platoon — every higher echelon is supposed to be out of focus.

The bottom line

Ambush is a Finnish movie so you have to expect it to comport with the moody, even glum, national character. Moreover, it’s a tale of a decisive war told from the viewpoint of the guys who started the war, and lost. (Yes, they had a grievance, but they did start the war). It lacks the tank attacks and some of the other action of The Winter War, but it is an enjoyable and informative film about a part of Europe that’s off the beaten tourist track, and a phase of World War II that’s off the Anglosphere historical track, as well.

For more information

These sites relate to this particular film.

  • Amazon.com DVD page. Note that it is an on-demand DVD and we’ve found these somewhat wobbly, quality-wise:

https://www.amazon.com/AMBUSH/dp/B001BXTQB4/

There is also a higher quality import CD for a lot more money. This is the one we watched!:

https://www.amazon.com/Ambush-Peter-Franz-n/dp/B00005Y717/

  • IMDB page:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0162625/

  • IMFDB page:

http://www.imfdb.org/wiki/Ambush_%28Rukaj%C3%A4rven_tie%29

  • Rotten Tomatoes review page (no rating):

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/ambush/

  • Infogalactic  page:

https://infogalactic.com/info/Ambush_(1999_film)

  • History vs. Hollywood Page. (none).

Notes

none

Free Novel by Nick Cole

Nick Cole is an actor and writer, who lost his publisher over the excellent novel CTRL, ALT, Revolt! last year. (We reviewed it here in one of our capsule-review roundups).

At the time (21 October, it says here –>), we also bought another Nick Cole novel, The Red King. It’s a strange apocalyptic tale that merges the we-got-nuked category of apocalypse with the omigawd-zombies category. While we suppose that’s not entirely original (weren’t Godzilla and The Great Behemoth products of nuclear bombs raising scary creatures?), Nick’s play on the book is original.

We forget what we paid for it, probably $2.99, but it was well spent, and now we want to share with you the fact that Nick has made it free for some time (I dunno how long, it’s Nick’s call) on Amazon.com. Nick explains it:

I just wanted to start out 2017 with a Free Book for anyone who wants to get lost in an adventure and take a break from all this end of the world doom and gloom.  It’s a book about the end of the World!!!!  Except fun!  Think Lost meets The Walking Dead.

Of course, Nick has a couple of sequels out now, in what he’s calling the Wyrd series, and surely he hopes people like Your Humble Blogger who read and enjoyed The Red King, buy his other books and enjoy them, too.

And he wants you to get hooked on this kind of apocapopcorn crack, too. So go for it!

We do say that we found his characters… interesting. The protagonist, Holiday, is not especially likable, but you wind up rooting for him anyway. (Joe Finder has done this, too, given readers an unpleasant protagonist who still wins your sympathy and support, even if you are glad all your friends and family members are better people).

Most people who read The Red King will probably like the action scenes best, but Nick has a good ear for dialogue. Maybe that comes from his acting chops, maybe not. Here’s an example, in which Holiday is given some harsh if oblique criticism by Frank, a Vietnam vet:

“Fun guys are for Saturday night,” began Frank anew. “But you see, all this end of the world jazz… this ain’t Saturday night anymore. This is survival now. End of the world type stuff. Back in ‘Nam we didn’t have room for fun. That was for the college kids burning their draft cards and smoking marijuana. Calling us baby-killers so they could make their professors proud of ‘em. In ‘Nam it was serious. Every day for thirteen months and sixteen days. I knew guys that got it early and guys that got it at the end. Taking it seriously made a difference. At least sometimes.”

A bat flapped overhead in the dark, its leathery wings beating at the stillness and heat of the night.

“Other times,” continued Frank after drawing on his cigar. “Someone else got it because another guy didn’t do his part. Usually because he was too busy goofing off. All because he just wanted to have some fun. And that’s where we are now, kid.”

Cole, Nick (2015-12-23). The Red King (Kindle Locations 3135-3142). Nick Cole. Kindle Edition.

Nick provides this shortened link:

http://amzn.to/1YAPVKA

Which enlongenates to:

https://www.amazon.com/Red-King-Wyrd-Book-ebook/dp/B019S9WEHA/ref=sr_1_5?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1450988560&sr=1-5&keywords=the+red+king

Amazon has it listed under Science Fiction, but there’s no droids or phasers here, just a post-nuclear, zombie-filled LA. Kind of like Rodney King Riots that never end.

We hope you enjoy The Red King as much as we did.

Saturday Matinee 2016 052: Fargo (1996)

Fargo is exciting, imaginative, original, and compelling; it makes everybody’s best-of lists, and despite that, the famously imitative Hollywood establishment hasn’t knocked it off. It’s sui generis; it defies imitation, because all of its unique features lock together so well.

It’s the production/directing/writing skills of the Coen brothers (Joel and Ethan), plus the acting talent of an ensemble cast, plus the absolutely unique but eerily authentic setting in wintry Minnesota that glue the audience’s eyeballs open for the entire runtime of the movie.

It also defies genre. It’s dark and thrilling, in places, for a comedy; it’s too funny, in others, for a drama. It’s not a police procedural, even though an unlikely but able cop effectively pursues a bizarre criminal conspiracy; it’s not a caper flick, even though an unlikely, impulsive and incompetent gang of criminals pursue a big score from end to end.

Guns don’t play that big a role in the production, despite the movie containing more murders of well-off white people than a typical year in Minnesota. Sure, there’s shootings, fatal and not, but there’s also an epic non-fatal beatdown, an ax murder, a chair murder (offscreen), and a firewood assault.

You also see Minnesota’s arguably greatest celebrity, the late Prince, in a bit role where he doesn’t show his face, and gets shot (he’s credited, as “Victim in Field,” by the unpronounceable symbol he once affected as a name).

Acting and Production

The acting is a strength of the production, or is it the script? Where does one leave off and the other begin? Frances McDormand won the Best Actress Oscar for her performance as Brainerd, MN, Police Chief Marge Gunderson, and seldom has a statuette been more deserved. McDormand could do 100 classic films, and this still will be the one for which she’ll be remembered. William H. Macy’s dangerous weasel of a car salesman, Jerry Lundergaard, is also a perfectly cast role. The two gangsters, Steve Buscemi as an impulsive, boastful sleazeball and Peter Stormare as a brooding, sociopathic menace, are the sort of criminals whose real-world existence the papers daily attest. You never think, “he’s acting a good criminal,” you think, “egad, what a criminal.” The second line supporting cast, mostly little-known but hard-working actors, make their roles come alive.

The production moves rapidly, and makes the cold, flat, barren landscape of the upper midwest into a character of its own, one that makes the viewer see the plausibility in car dealers’ get-rich-quick schemes and in the sordid interactions of professional, if small-time, criminals. The screenplay also won an Oscar, and like McDormand’s, it was well-deserved.

Accuracy and Weapons

For a movie with lots of cops on screen for lots of time, and depicting lots and lots of murders, guns are not as big a player in the movie as you might expect. The guns are plausible for the era and location. The cops still carry revolvers, Chief Gunderson, naturally, a Chief’s Special.

The bad guys seem to use one or more SIG 22xs, usually at “I seldom miss at this range” range.

There’s no rifles, shotguns, tanks, Bearcats, or gigantic fireball explosions, but that’s par for the course for the 1980s and 90s.

One inaccuracy of the on-screen gunplay is, well, excessive accuracy: every shot fired hits, even though they’re all fired by the worlds two least skilled classes of marksmen: criminals and cops.

Guns aren’t the only weapons used here. There are also many other personal and improvised weapons used in the various on-screen crimes and atonements therefor, including the legendary woodchipper.

There is an ax murder, that is not shown in graphic detail, but that takes place only after a ton of foreshadowing. Chekov’s Gun has nothing on Paul Bunyan’s Axe, and that’s all we’re going to say about that.

The bottom line

Fargo is a delightfully entertaining movie, with deep characters that deserve audience boos and hisses, and that earn that reaction by their actions on screen, not by moviemakers actuating tired old tropes. The Coens are famous for their refusal to ever make the same movie twice, and perhaps that is part of why they never make a movie that is dull or clichéd, but instead make entertainment that is not only worth watching, but almost impossible to stop watching. Fargo was 20 years old last year, and it’s time for it to find a new audience.

For more information

These sites relate to this particular film.

  • Amazon.com DVD page:
  • IMDB page:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0116282/

  • IMFDB page:

http://www.imfdb.org/wiki/Fargo_(1996)

  • Rotten Tomatoes review page (96%):

https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/fargo/

  • Infogalactic  page:

https://infogalactic.com/info/Fargo_(film)

Saturday Matinee 2016 51: Die Hard (1988)

What’s your Christmas movie? Are you a Miracle on 34th Street kind of guy, or maybe an It’s a Wonderful Life gal? Pffft. Here at WeaponsMan.com, our Christmas Movie is Die Hard. 

By now, the plot of this perennial is probably as familiar as 34th Street’s or Wonderful Life’s, so expect this review to abandon any pretense of protecting you from spoilers.

(Are there really any spoilers any more? The good guys come from behind to kick bad guy ass, the bad guys get their asses kicked, and all the usual tropes).

We’re not kidding about tropes, either. We have the cultured villain who must explain himself, the hero crawling through air vents (and walking over broken glass), the Eurotrash terrorists, who are destined to go down in history as the terrorists with the best hair ever, the black computer hacker, the overbearing but incompetent FBI guys, the police chief or deputy chief who’s become a political weevil, the TV reporter who was Ron Burgundy before Ron Burgundy, etc., etc.., etc., with the most unbelievable thing probably being the ex who secretly wants her estranged husband back. Really. 

And yet… it all works. It’s just great fun.

Acting and Production

Two powerful performances anchor Die Hard: Bruce Willis as Detective John McClane, the first action role for a man who was, up until then, and never thereafter, known as a comedic actor… …and Alan Rickman’s perfect villain, Hans Gruber. “I am not a common thief,” Gruber seethes, when accused of just that. “I am an exceptional thief!” He is an urbane terrorist, or criminal; he has an eye for Savile Row tailoring, and his personal theme in the soundtrack is the chorale motif from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. The Hans Gruber role could easily have turned into an over-the-top example of scenery-chewing, in the hands of a lesser actor.

Other actors who keep the audience entertained are Richard VelJohnson as a solid LAPD cop, stuck on desk-sergeant duty because he could never fire at a human again after being cleared in a mistaken shooting of a teenager whose “gun” was a toy ray gun… …and William Atherton’s repulsively narcissistic TV reporter. 

The incomplete, under-construction Nakatomi Tower was actually 20th Century Fox’s Fox Tower which was at the time incomplete and under construction. While the 30th Floor set was constructed for the production, the under-construction floors were used more or less “as is.”

Accuracy and Weapons

Guns are front and center in the film. Early on, a traveler is alarmed to see that John McClane is armed. “I’m a cop,” McClane explains, cluing in both the traveler and the audience — well-done exposition. His sidearm is a Beretta 92, then riding high in public esteem. The “terrorist” gang are armed with suitably Teutonic MP5s, the iconic movie gun of the period, an AUG, and German pistols. Hans Gruber himself wields an elegant HK P7M13, which he uses to terrify people, to kill people who displease him, and is still gripping as he plummets from the Nakatomi Tower.

When McClane kills his first terrorist, he takes his MP5 and delivers the body to Gruber, with a mocking note: “Now I have a machine gun. Ho-ho-ho!”

The weapons generally aren’t used very realistically. There’s a great deal of MP5 spray-and-pray, although the film does stop just short of “dual-wielding whilst flying through the air.” There’s even some M60 machine gun spray-and-pray from helicopters, something that you’d think the real FBI would never sign off on, but then, Waco was right around the corner, so maybe the scriptwriter had a man on the inside.

One of the best, and most accurately acted, scenes was the fall of Hans Gruber.  He was on a green-screen set and dropped on a rope with some 45-50 feet of slack, reaching a full stretch of about 70 feet. But Rickman was misled about when the drop would come, with the result that he was dropped before he was expecting it. Rickman wasn’t just acting terrified!

Of course, the director couldn’t resist milking that scene with slow motion. For all the realism in that scene, the show is full of fireball explosions and other Hollywood special effects. Although they do use flash-to-white and hold for a couple seconds to very accurately simulate the effect of a flashbang, and deserve credit for that.

There are several examples of Hollywood Leap and Fall Physics®,  which are no more accurate here then they are when Wile E. Coyote skedaddles off the cliff-edge of a mesa.  one of the worst is when Willis’s character misses the point he leapt to and catches a window further down. Kids, don’t try this at home: acceleration is not your friend in this situation.

Kids, don’t try this at home!

The bottom line

We (Your Humble Blogger and the Blogbrother) saw this in one of Big City’s multiscreens as one of their “old movie classic” screenings. It was a great way to see a great film.

Die Hard is not just a great action movie, it’s the best Christmas movie ever.

For more information

These sites relate to this particular film.

  • Amazon.com DVD page:

https://www.amazon.com/Die-Hard-Bruce-Willis/dp/B000O77SRC

  • IMDB page:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0095016/

  • IMFDB page:

http://www.imfdb.org/wiki/Die_Hard

  • Rotten Tomatoes review page (92%):

https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/die_hard/

  • Infogalactic page (replaces Wikipedia):

https://infogalactic.com/info/Die_Hard

Weaponsman Expert Book Reviews Nº. 5

weaponsman_eibExpert! That’s us. Certified by the Weaponsman Board of Experts.

We put books into five categories:

  1. Read It Even if you Gotta Buy It;
  2. Get it at the Library;
  3. Read it if You’re a Specialist;
  4. Don’t Waste Your Time Reading It. And, last but not least:
  5. We read it, but we’re still not sure.

We also try to sneak in an online bonus reading suggestion or two, sometimes.

We link the titles to the book on Amazon; as a rule of thumb we link to the most economical option. We’re not yet an Amazon affiliate, though.

Read It Even if you Gotta Buy It

Monster Hunter Memoirs: Grunge by John Ringo and Larry Correia.  This is the latest in the Monster Hunter series, but it’s also the first of a new series, a collaboration between the productive John Ringo and series originaror Larry Correia. It introduces new characters and a new period, the 1980s in Seattle. It’s very different in tone from Larry’s novels, but it’s an absolute blast, and the more of the 80s you remember, the more you’ll like it.

Of course, maybe stories of humans blowing away (And if you like Grunge, you’ll like its sequel, Monster Hunter Memoirs: Sinners, too; it’s set in New Orleans). Note that links are to the Kindle editions; we read them in the more expensive hardcover, and the paperbacks won’t be out till midsummer 2017.

Get it at the Library

Voyage by Stephen Baxter.  Before there was Andy Weir and The Martian, there already was a serious story about  journey to Mars, Stephen Baxter’s The Voyage. It’s an “alternate history” in which Nixon decided to cut Apollo moon flights a lot and build towards an Apollo-based mission to Mars in the 1980s, instead of cut Apollo a little and build the Space Shuttle. (The latter is what happened in the real-world timeline). We’ve linked to the Kindle version, but we read a library-surplus hardcover that we bought for $1 from a library thrift store. If there is a better entertainment value than used books, we surely can’t think of what it is.

No, it’s got nothing about weapons (although it breaks from our timeline by twisting the Kennedy assassination), but it’s got all kinds of cool retro tech. Like Weir’s The Martian, Voyage is an aspie’s delight of deep immersion in the problems of interplanetary travel and some of their solutions. Unbeknownst to us, this book was the first of a trilogy. We’re looking forward to reading the others.

Mr Mercedes by Steven King.  Yes, King is a lefty who hates us gun-owners all. He’s also a novelist of staggering talent and considerable work ethic who has produced interesting works, mostly in the horror genre, for a lifetime. You don’t have to agree with the artist to appreciate the art, do you?

Mr Mercedes is a King entry in a genre not usually associated with him, the police procedural. He takes stock characters: the crazed killer; the retired, over-the-hill cop with one last job in him; and infuses them with three-dimensional reality. He even makes a stock character of current fiction — the black computer genius — believable, even to guys who have worked in tech.

He’s so good at getting inside the head of weirdos who kill people, that we worry about the guy, sometimes. But he’s also good at getting inside the head of weirdos who do good, and one of the most interesting characters in Mr Mercedes is a mentally fragile, medicated woman.

The book is the first in a trilogy; each begins with the same horrifying mass murder from the viewpoint of a different set of victims or responders. In keeping with modern publishing, they’re very overpriced, but used copies can be had for much less (buying them from Amazon usually incurs a $4 postage charge, though, even if the book only sells for a penny).

Read it if You’re a Specialist

Johnson Rifles and Machine Guns by Bruce N. Canfield.  Anything of Canfield’s that we have read is enjoyable reading for the gun geek, and packed with carefully curated information. This book, which is at once a commercial and technical history of one of the most-discussed (and least-used) US weapons systems of World War II, is valuable to the Johnson collector or fan. It has a great deal of information about Melvin Johnson’s invention, industrial efforts, and his long and quixotic battle to get his rifle and machine gun adopted or even tested by the United States military.

Johnson’s efforts at winning Government approval fell short, but thanks to the care the US Marine Corps took with their ex-Dutch Johnson M1941 rifles, the majority of these arms survived to be prized by today’s collectors.

Civil War Firearms: Their Historical Background and Tactical Use by Joseph G. Bilby.  Bilby is a unique combination of shooter, collector and historian, so if you are any of those things, or generally interested in the arms of the American Civil War, this book is very worthwhile for you. The weapons used by Union and Confederate forces were varied in type, operating system, combat utility and nation of origin, and Bilby is the perfect guy to explain them to readers with an interest and any level of prior knowledge, from zero to expert.

Note that while we linked to the current paperback edition for those that want a new book, we got a perfect-condition used hardcover for less money, including shipping.

Don’t Waste Your Time Reading It

Black Friday by William W. Johnstone with J.A. Johnstone. We were disappointed by the novel Black Friday, which is credited to prolific Western writer William Johnstone, who was born in 1938 and has been dead since 2005, and his niece J.A. Johnstone, who has a publication schedule (about a novel a month) that makes one suspect a small army of ghostwriters is at work.

The story is the classic hadji-terrorist-in-a-shopping-mall yarn, and it’s been better done before, notably in Stephen Hunter’s 2011 Soft Target. 

The Kindle edition is overpriced, which is the publisher’s fault, not the authors’.

Charlie Mike: A True Story Of Heroes Who Brought Their Mission Home by Joe Klein. This book seems to have been one of several attempts by the Acela Corridor Media establishment to launch the political career of a former SEAL officer named Eric Greitens, who actually never served as an operational SEAL; in a temporary assignment as a SWCC commander he turned in some sailors and an officer who were using and selling drugs, and this act of conscience, which ensured his unit’s integrity, got the Blue Falcon label applied to Greitens, fairly or not. Even by SEAL standards, Greitens is monumentally ambitious and spotlight-seeking. Joe Klein tells the story of Greitens’s and others’ forays into the world of public service, but you are always left with the slightly uncomfortable feeling that everything, to Greitens, is solely valued based on its utility to his career. In the end, an attempted hagiography wound up putting this reader off. What we don’t need is more camera-chasing professional veterans pimping a “vets are damaged goods” narrative.

Greitens is the Governor-Elect of Missouri, after a 2015 party change to Republican (one wonders what Klein, who was so eager to promote him when he was a Democrat, thinks of that), and we’re told that news reports there have said he favors waiting periods for firearms.

We Read It, But We’re Still Not Sure

Nothing in this category this time out. We had put Klein’s Charlie Mike in there, but we reconsidered it and demoted it to the don’t-bother bin. The  price of both Kindle and paperback being an unreasonable $12-13 was the deciding factor. Overpriced for its quality by an order of magnitude.

To the Readers:

Our objective had been to do two of these in an average month. But we got off schedule; this one is overdue by ages. Our last, Weaponsman Expert Book Reviews Nº 4, ran months ago. We not only think this is a better thing to post than a When Guns are Outlawed on Christmas Eve, we also really want to live up to that, going forward, or at least do one a month. We’ll see, eh?

In the New Year, we plan to become an Amazon affiliate so that if you buy a book from one of our links, it throws us a few cents.

For previous capsule reviews:

  1. 19 February 16. Weaponsman Expert Book Reviews Nº 1. Link.
  2. 08 March 16. Weaponsman Expert Book Reviews Nº 2. Link.
  3. 24 March 16. Weaponsman Expert Book Reviews Nº 3. Link.
  4. 19 April 16. Weaponsman Expert Book Reviews Nº 4. Link.

Saturday Matinee 2016 48: The Wild Geese (British, 1978)

the-wild-geeseThe Wild Geese is a 1978 mercenary movie largely written and filmed in the tradition and with the sensibility of classic all-star war movies like The Guns of Navarone, or even action westerns like The Magnificent Seven (the real one). You have a small group of sharply-formed characters presented with a mission against astronomical odds, which keep getting more astronomical as the mission plays out through the planning and execution stages, until finally, they prevail through adversity and sacrifice. Or not.

Rewatching it recently, the harsh opinion we had of it as young troopers in 10th Special Forces Group had somewhat mellowed by time, and by the sheer formulaic repetition of 21st Century action movies. It was a thoroughly enjoyable “combat procedural,” even though the procedures at times were Hollywood enough to put your teeth on edge.

It begins when an old mercenary colonel, Alan Faulkner (Richard Burton), is contracted by the amoral businessman Sir Edward Matheson (Stewart Granger) to rescue deposed African politician Julius Limbani (Winston Ntshona). Limbani is beloved of his countrymen, partucularly his own tribe, but Matheson could care less; he has just reached an impasse in copper concession negotiations with the successor that deposed Limbani, General Ndofa. Ndofa and his elite Simba troops run a typical African state of the period (or nearly any period): a brutal, kleptocratic dystopia. As Matheson explains it, the mission is simple: liberate Limbani before Ndofa can execute him, and then Limbani will rally the nation to overthrow Ndofa.

Securing financing from Matheson and the services of three officers, two of whom he demanded based on past service, a sergeant major, and some colorful NCOs, Faulkner recruits a small company and trains it in Swaziland. The training is interesting (if fanciful), but before you know it, the mission timetable is pushed up and through a splendidly performed (if fanciful) HALO jump, and they’re in the target nation and game is on. At this point, you might not have noticed it, but a whole hour of the movie has elapsed. 

Lower flag, seen for only a second, is the Wild Geese flag. Watch for it!

Lower flag, seen for only a second, is the Wild Geese flag. Watch for it!

In combat, nothing goes according to Rafer Janders’s (Richard Harris) brilliant plan. Can he plan as well on his feet as he could back in London? The game is afoot, and bullets are flying.

Acting and Production

There are few movies with such an all-star cast: Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Roger Moore, and Hardy Kruger play the four officers of the fifty-man mercenary outfit. Each plays a very distinct character: Burton plays Faulkner, a hopeless drunk when he wasn’t working. (Burton, who could be a hopeless drunk, was on the wagon when he was shooting The Wild Geese); he’s in it because it’s the only thing he knows how to do. Harris plays Janders, who’s happily retired and trading art, but whose planning skills Faulkner wants, but whose idealism Faulkner could do without; he’s in it because he believes in the unifying message of the threatened African politician, Limbani. Roger Moore plays a wisecracking, impulsive guy, Shawn Fynn, not too dissimilar from Moore’s then-current version of Bond; he’s in it for the laughs, although he won’t say no to money. And Kruger turns in an excellent performance (with one jarring note) as Pieter Coetzee, an apolitical South African whose contempt for idealists of all colors and genres has always served him well. He wants his paycheck to buy a farm. (Kruger has been quite hard on his performance and on director Andrew McLaglen in interviews).

Each character’s identity is deftly drawn in a few short scenes, Fynn’s including considerable action, that at one point is looking like a set-piece battle between mercenaries and mafia.

The secondary actors, to an even greater extent, make the film. Winston Ntshona is insistent and proud as Limbani, whose interplay with Kruger’s Coetzee is perfect, apart from the one jarring note. Kruger has completely sold the audience on the idea of a hard-core Afrikaner who sees the refined Limbani as just another “kaffir,” but has come around to respect him, and then he takes the familiarity one step too far, calling Limbani, “bloke.” Had the script understated that as “man,” it wouldn’t have been jarring and unbelievable.

A standout performance is Frank Findlay as Irish missionary, Father Geohegan, whose default form of address for the mercenaries is, “You murtherin’ baahstahds.” An actor with an interesting backstory is Ian Yule, who plays Tosh Donaldson. He was an actual mercenary, in the 60s in the Congo with Mike Hoare.

The movie was shot largely on location in Africa, and so avoids the menace of trying to sell California or London as some exotic location.

Accuracy and Weapons

The cool thing about a movie about a fictional mercenary band is that you can use almost any guns you want — and they do.  Most of the guns are what you’d expect to find in Africa in the 1970s, including lots of FALs (several different kinds) and Uzis. The sergeant major carries a Sterling. They look like a rum bunch in this inside-the-Hercules shot:

wild_geese_hercules

Yes some of it’s very Hollywood, like the thermonuclear flame grenades.

wild_geese_nuclear_hand_grenade

And there’s the use of cyanide crossbow bolts, which makes up for being tactically loopy by being a very well-shot practical effect. Ready, aim…

wild_geese_crossbow_kruger

Fire!

wild_geese_crossbow_victim

Cyanide also makes an appearance as a way to make a barracks of sleeping guards nod off permanently. In addition, look at the weapon held by the guy on the left: a dreadful Madsen submachine gun.

wild_geese_gas_madsen

Crew-served weapons include Bren guns, Blindicides (called “bazookas,” and in one case, loaded with a mortar bomb), FN-MAGS, and a Vickers. Surely we’re missing some. The movie’s a gun-spotter’s delight.

Inaccuracies include the breathtaking parachute jump, which is unfortunately shot day-for-night. (If they were going to fake so much of the rest of it, why not have a day jump?) No, you don’t depressurize at 30,000 feet without oxygen.

wild_geese_jump_scene

The parachute “training” was unrealistic, too, with a 15-foot or so high PLF platform.

The bottom line

The Wild Geese is a must-see. As a mission-planning and -training guide, it’s just about worthless, but it’s great fun, and produced quite a number of long-lasting SF Tropes. Two especially lasting ones were: “Men, we’ve been double-crossed,” universally delivered in one’s best Burton at the point where an exfiltration has been cancelled, postponed or delayed, and “The Aullld Dakota,” because for decades everywhere we went there was an old DC-3/C-47 — flying or derelict.

Don’t double-cross yourself. Set aside two hours to enjoy this old show!

For more information

These sites relate to this particular film.

  • Amazon.com DVD page:

https://www.amazon.com/Wild-Geese-30th-Anniversary/dp/B0009UVCQW/

  • IMDB page:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0078492/

  • IMFDB page:

http://www.imfdb.org/wiki/The_Wild_Geese

  • Rotten Tomatoes review page (60% fresh):

https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/wild_geese

  • Infogalactic (replaces Wikipedia) page:

https://infogalactic.com/info/The_Wild_Geese