Category Archives: Action

insurgent

Decoding the Divergent Series

Hollywood directors have been sneaking messages into movies for a long time. Two of the most talented ever were John Ford and Alfred Hitchcock. The former was obsessed with the taming of the wilderness and the establishment of civilization, framing his themes and character subtexts according to his Catholic worldview. The latter obsessed over guilt, whether caused by deed or thought.

Now why would Hitchcock have Bruno's feet so prominent in the frame?
Now why would Hitchcock have Bruno’s feet so prominent in the frame?

Both directors used visual semeiology to insert subplots and character arcs which contrasted, yet harmonized, with the main plot followed by the casual viewer. They were usually subtle enough that most people were never even aware of the additional narratives taking place in subtext.  And despite the typical socialistic leanings (Ford was a staunch New-Dealer), the subtexts in their films were rarely political in nature–especially compared to current entertainment.

Ethan Edwards, the permanent outcast and vanishing wild man.
Ethan Edwards, the permanent outcast and vanishing wild man.

Film makers today are not nearly as clever or capable, but they are predictably political–and so heavy-handed that most people have little trouble recognizing how Homowood is pushing The Narrative.

There are a couple themes slithering around beneath the surface in the first two films of the Divergent series. It is a little more subtle than the average Narrative Push…enough so that I feel compelled to point it out.

Deep State Apologetics:

(In the world of the Divergent Series, some vaguely-conceived war has caused humanity (at least in Chicago) to segregate according to personality type in order to avoid future conflicts. Yeah, I know. Anyway, the personalities are grouped as follows: Candor [the brutally honest]; Abnegation [the "selfless"]; Amity [the pacifistic flower children]; Erudite [the intellectual/high IQ set]; and Dauntless [the sheepdogs--soldiers and police]. )

divergentfactions

Specifics are in short supply, but the rubes and proles blame the government (controled by Abnegation) for some obscure failure to govern correctly. But Abnegation is a community of selfless, competent administrators who are actually doing a bang-up job and don’t deserve criticism.

Opportunistic manipulators among Erudite are plotting a coup, taking advantage of the proles’ discontent and assuming themselves to be better qualified to lead.

Get the idea? The de facto ruling class is competently herding us through a series of progressive steps toward Utopia, but the ungrateful rubes in Flyover Country are upset about confiscatory taxes; industry-crushing regulations; the invasion through our open borders; massive election fraud; treason from the highest offices; infringement of our inalienable rights, etc. Hence we wrongly resent our betters. Conniving intellectuals are fanning the flames, drawing attention to the habitual idiocy of the ruling class. Presumably these are figureheads in the alternative media, plus a few political rogues like Ron Paul and Neil Gorsuch.

The surprising aspect is that (covertly, anyway), the architects of this series acknowledge the intelligence of their enemies. After all, the most influential critics of the Deep State can figure out that in secure government emails, a “C” stands for “Classified,” and that Congress should read a bill to know what’s in it BEFORE passing it into law. Unfortunately for the likes of Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi, they’ve found themselves in a contest of wits…and are unarmed.

THE TRANSGENDER SUBTEXT:

The world of this series is stiffly organized into factions, according to the personality types listed above. However, certain rare individuals can’t be funneled into rigid categories according to such narrow-minded cisnorms. They are called “divergent”–get it?

butchtris

The soon-to-be amazon superninja and main character, Beatrice, starts out very feminine by today’s standards in the West. But she chooses to join the Dauntless (no doubt she, and the author of the fiction series, are Secret Warrior Queens deep inside their oppressed ids), and soon sheds her dress for Emo pants and vest (sometimes a black wife-beater/muscle shirt). She also changes her too-feminine name to the androgynous “Tris” moniker as she is gradually empowered by combat training. (Well, at least she, unlike the amazon superninja in the latest Star Wars abominations, had to actually train before becoming the Greatest Badass in the Galaxy.) Toward the beginning of the second movie, Insurgent, for no obvious reason, Tris cuts off her hair. The actress already had the masculine frame that is supposedly sexy for modern women, and the butch haircut is the final touch that visually transforms her into a boyish other.

This is not an exhaustive analysis–there is more evidence to examine for those who are interested. The third film (Allegiant) takes a turn into another thematic reinforcement of The Narrative.

But maybe I’m wrong. After all, messages like these are so antithetical to what the cultural svengalis want and believe.

lastkingdom

The Last Kingdom (Seasons 1, 2) – a Review

I almost didn’t even give this series a chance. Hollywood and television have me so gunshy, I doubted they could produce anything that won’t nauseate me. And the BBC, from what little I know, is brimming over with cultural Marxixts just like every other long-established media/entertainment organization. To trust them with anything even remotely historical? Forget it.

Then I found out it was based on Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Tales. I’ve read some of Cornwell’s fiction (Agincourt and a few of the Sharpe novels). He’s a competent storyteller and he doesn’t butcher historical flow or details enough for me to take exception. So, “Once more into the breach,” sez I.

I guess you could say I semi-binge-watched the first two seasons on Netflix–finishing them in about a week or so.

lastkingdom1

The Premise:

In the late 9th Century, a Saxon noble and his heir are slain by a band of Danes a’viking through Bebbanburg in Northumbria. The lone surviving son was baptized and named Uhtred before being captured by the Danes.

Earl Ragnar spares the boy’s life, respecting his courage and truculence, and raises him as a Dane along with a Saxon girl named Brita. After growing into a man, and losing his adopted family (via treachery from other Danes), he becomes a vassal of Alfred, king of Wessex…”the last kingdom.” (Vikings have run roughshod over all other kingdoms in the British isles.)

Relevance:

With all the current brouhaha by the “alt-right” about race, immigration/invasion and “Magic Dirt” vs. “Magic DNA,” this series couldn’t be more timely. Genetically, Uhtred is a Saxon; yet his attitude, disposition, customs, etc. are decidedly Danish. This duality makes him an outsider in both worlds (not because everyone on both sides reject him out-of-hand, but because his ambition to rule Beddanburg causes him to side against the invaders; while his Danish weltanshuang motivates a contemptuous disdain for the Saxons and their ways.) Though he wields completely different weapons for a completely different type of warfare, Uhtred during the viking expeditions is not unlike Thomas Sowell during the USA’s present Cold Civil War, in that they are both slogging through similar conundrums–their demographic profile contradicting their deeply-rooted belief system.

The Religious Aspect:

Although Islam and other religions get a pass, Christianity is universally hated by the string-pullers with the monopoly on resources in the entertainment industry. It would be foolish to assume Christianity would get a fair shake in this series–especially given the behavior of the Roman Catholic Church through history. And, the historical backdrop for Last Kingdom smacks of religious conflict. The peoples of present-day Great Britain were Catholic during the period depicted, while the Northmen were still unmitigated pagans. How could you tell a story in this setting that ignored the religious aspect?

So of course the series takes cheap shots at Christianity, through the nominally Christian characters. But it is usually understated enough to ignore.

Historical Accuracy:

Alfred of Wessex and some other characters are real historical figures, while Uhtred and many others are fictional. Historians know a lot about Alfred because his life is very well-documented for the time. But as for the rest…well, it was the Dark Ages, folks. We are familiar with some generalities of the period…that the Vikings were raising hell in western Europe, for instance (and allegedly are the culprits who made London Bridge fall down); that the Catholic Church was growing in power; that the traditions of Roman civilization had given way to the early stages of feudalism…but there are just too many big, gaping holes in the historical record to ascertain specifics about much of what went on.

It wasn’t a question of if, but when the creative team would unleash their arsenal of ludicrous Grrrl Power tropes in the series. Surprisingly, the obligatory butt-kicking Womyn Warriors didn’t rear their preposterous heads until late in the First Season. Even more surprising: this revisionist hogwash was dialed down quickly enough to prevent me from giving up on the series. I truly am curious what caused the correction, but relieved nonetheless.

The series creators brought a technique to the screen I consider ingenious: When revealing geographic locations via subtitles, the ancient name is displayed first, then it transforms into the name it is known by today. As someone fascinated by the evolution of language, I really appreciate this gimmick.

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Other Stuff:

I’m not an expert on Dark Ages melee techniques, but it seems to me when you have a shield and your enemy is swinging a sword or axe at you, you would use the shield to block or deflect the blow. Evidently, though, the shield is just an ornament, and you block a swinging sword with your own sword. Nevermind that banging two metal blades together repeatedly converts both of them to crude, dull saws–this is what BBC fight correographers have decided is the logical tactic.

It’s easy to identify the important characters on this show, because they don’t wear helmets, even in combat. I’ve remarked before about the wisdom of refusing to protect your head when weapons will be streaking toward it, so I won’t completely rehash it here.

Suffice it to say that Uhtred’s brain usually operates like somebody’s who has fought in many a melee without a helmet. Watching him navigate the ethno-political waters of 9th Century Britain is like watching the Johnson Administration navigate through the Vietnam conflict…in slow motion. For the entire first season, it’s a safe bet that in any given situation, Uhtred will choose the most  idiotic course of action possible, then follow-up with a rash decision to make matters even worse. In the second season he seems to have learned a little self-discipline, thankfully, and dramatic conflict is generated in other ways.

I almost titled this post Mascara Kingdom because, for a few episodes, several of the male actors were painted with black eye shadow. It stuck out like a mosh pit at a royal ball. Seems like one character in Game of Thrones was made up that way too, if I remember correctly. Don’t know what the purpose is, but I’m glad they seem to have given up on that effort–it looked pretty stupid.

I might watch a third season of Daredevil if it comes to Netflix, but no other TV show has proven worth my time in several years. This show I plan to watch more of–and might even read the books it was based on, if that tells you anything.

 

slaughtercity

Slaughter City: The Sergeant #6 – a Review

When we last left Master Sergeant Mahoney and Corporal Cranepool, Patton had tried to force Eisenhower’s hand to get the war blazing along the Moselle River, so he could drive on to Berlin. But Ike called his bluff and the 33rd “Hammerhead” Division was left caught between Perdition and the deep blue sea.

Well, a deep river, anyway, and more brown than blue. With no artillery support or air cover and little in the way of supplies, the Hammerheads were thrown back across the river even though the defenders are hardly Germany’s finest.

But now, Patton has scrounged up some support, and is driving his boot into the 4th points of his subordinates to make the attack work this time.

Here’s an excerpt from a scene where Patton comes to motivate the troops personally, down at company level:

 “Now listen here, men,” Patton growled, “I know what you went through last night. A lot of your buddies were killed, and all of you nearly got killed yourselves. Now we all know that it’s no fun to lose a battle because Americans aren’t losers. By nature, we are winners. Given half a chance, we will win any battle in which we are placed. That’s because we’re tough and strong and because we love to fight. Yes, by God, we love to fight.”

Patton made a fist and held it up in the air. “We love to beat the shit out of our enemies and step on his face afterwards. We love to rip open his belly and tear his guts out. We pray for the chance to kick him in the balls and split his head open. Is there any man out here who doesn’t feel that way?”
Nobody said a word, just as Patton knew they wouldn’t.
“Good,” Patton said. “I knew there weren’t any cowards or queers in this company. I knew because you’re all good, red-blooded Americans. I know you’re just itching to get across that river over there and lay your hands on those Germans. By God, I feel sorry for those Germans when I just think about it. I really do because I can imagine what you’re going to do to them.”

Patton pointed to the Moselle River. “You’re going to make that river over there run red with their blood for what they did to you last night. There’ll be so many dead Germans over there you won’t be able to put your foot down without stepping on one of their noses. I feel bad that I have to hold you back until midnight because I know you want to go over there right now. But you have to wait just a little while longer, and I want you to use that extra time to clean your weapons and cover them with a light film of oil so they won’t get rusty. If you have some extra time after that, you can sharpen your bayonets so they’ll cut deeper into those Hun bastards over there. You might want to make sure your canteens are filled with water because you’re gonna get thirsty while you’re killing all those bastards. And as we all know, tonight is going to be much different from last night because tonight you’ll have plenty of artillery preparation and support. By the time you get across that river, those g****mn kraut-eating bastards won’t know where the hell they are. Their eardrums will be bleeding, and their brains will be upside-down in their heads. The poor bastards will probably try to run away from you, but I want you to go right after them and kill them like the dogs that they are. And I don’t want you to shoot over their heads or at their legs. I want you to aim directly for the center of their backs and bring them down. We’re not going to play with them after what they did to us last night. And they probably know it. I’ll bet they’re shitting their pants over there right now because they know they’ve made us mad, and a mad American soldier is a fearsome thing.”

There’s a lot else happening in this book, including an SS death squad using a seductress to kill GIs; a panty-raid at a USO show; both Mahoney and once-innocent farmboy Cranepool wounded in action; shooting a locomotive with bazookas, and some down & dirty urban house-to-house combat.

After a relatively slow-paced departure in the last book, Len Levinson is back on the offensive in Slaughter City, and in fine blood-splattered form.

Doom River: The Sergeant #5 – a Review

Due mostly to my schedule, my blogged reviews of this blood’n’guts war series stopped at #4. But my negligence stops, now!

Master Sergeant Mahoney and Corporal Cranepool have just returned from their attachment to a French unit liberating Paris. It was supposed to be cushy duty, but only the end of it was cushy–in the arms of some French floozies in a fancy hotel.

doomriverpaperbackThe Sergeant and his sidekick are back just in time to meet Charlie Company’s new C.O. Captain Anderson is a young, inexperienced officer, but one of the good ones (a rare combo, in my day). They’re also just in time for one of Patton’s “recon in force” missions, to push across the Moselle and keep the pressure on the Germans.

Patton is out of gas for his tanks, and frightfully low on artillery, ammo and supplies. He assumes if he is able to stir up some action, Ike will be forced to send him what he needs, so Patton can push on to Berlin and finish the war before Christmas. But Ike isn’t having it–all the supplies will be diverted to Field Marshal Montgomery, who is tasked with taking Antwerp.

(Historical note: Yes, Patton’s 3rd Army could have reached Berlin and ended the war before Christmas of ’44 if their supplies hadn’t been cut off. Also true that all those resources were given to Monty–somewhat less than a daring or decisive general–for Operation Market Garden (of A Bridge Too Far fame), which had less chance of success and, even if successful, would have had a lesser impact on the grand strategic situation. Most likely, Patton’s onslaught was intentionally delayed in order to give the Red Army time to capture the half of Europe which had been promised to Stalin by FDR at the Yalta conferences.)

So the 33rd “Hammerhead” Division conducts a river crossing at great cost, since they didn’t have much in the way of artillery support, and their men and boats are chewed up pretty bad by the German defenders. Still, they now have a beachhead from which the Wermacht has to throw them. Mahoney’s regiment bears the brunt of this counterattack.doomriverebook

The Americans are in a bad position, but Patton doesn’t like surrendering ground once he’s taken it.

This installment in the series could launch a character study on the sort of men who populate the officer corps of an army. Whether a commander wants to make a name for himself, or simply doesn’t want a sub-par evaluation, it is their troops who are used like cannon  fodder to enhance or maintain their egos.

Mahoney himself has some moments in this book in which he demonstrates more humanity than is normal for him. (Also, in this one we are introduced to PFC Butsko. I can’t help but notice the similarities between him and the platoon sergeant of The RatBastards–also named Butsko.) Still, this is a transitional phase for Mahoney, and the real plot dynamics focus on other characters.

Life, liberty, and the hot pursuit of happiness.

Speed Week Plus: “Gearhead Porn”

One reviewer called Fast Cars and Rock & Roll “gearhead porn,” and I guess it is. Unfortunately, gearheads are an endangered species and an even smaller niche than I thought.*

But anyway… below is an excerpt from Chapter 37 from The Ultimate Gearhead Novel–as good a way as any to close out Speed Week Plus.

Pontiac Ventura II
Pontiac Ventura II

Deke Jones has been doing pretty well on the track, but a road course wreck damaged his Pontiac Ventura II to the point he is not allowed to finish the campaign in it. Not only that, he just discovered the truth about his scorching-hot girlfriend, and dumped her with gusto. Down but not out, our hero has teamed up with his fellow musclecar pilot, Gloomy, to finish the race campaign in Gloomy’s 340 Challenger.

1st generation Dodge Challenger
1st generation Dodge Challenger

 

I tuned the Challenger for the elevation while Gloomy checked tire pressure, brake condition and some other vitals. As we strapped on our helmets, Gloomy asked, “Where’s Lena?”
“Gone,” I replied. “She is no longer a member of the team. Or any team.”
His eyes looked confused through the helmet face shield.
“I’ll explain later,” I said. “Let’s get ready to wring this thing out.”
We rolled up onto the portable ramps by the scrutineer’s tent to undergo the quickest tech inspection ever.
Gloomy had quite the collection of his own compilation tapes, and popped one in the cassette deck while we waited. I hummed along with the Rolling Stones singing “It’s All Over Now.”
“It ain’t all over by a long shot,” Gloomy declared with a cocky grin. “We’re just gettin’ started.”
I wondered if my new teammate was schizophrenic or manic depressive. Well, as long as he wrenched hard, drove smart, and spoke the truth, I wouldn’t complain.
We passed tech and rolled up to the start line. The flag waved and Gloomy kicked it in the guts. He banged through the gears and we were flying in short order. But he began to back off the throttle too soon in top gear.
I checked my pace notes. “Keep the hammer down!” I yelled over the engine noise. “You’re coming up on a gradual sweeper with nice banking. No problem!”
Gloomy rolled back on the loud pedal and we continued to build speed through the sweeper. The lateral Gs were noticeable, but the wide-tracked Challenger stuck to the pavement with no trouble.
I called out the features before we came to them, including turn radius when appropriate.
The next song up was “Baby Please Don’t Go” by Willie and the Poor Boys and I couldn’t believe it. The two of us might very well be the only ones who’d ever heard it. Evidently he, too, considered it an outstanding song to motorvate to.
I couldn’t see the speedometer from where I sat, and it didn’t go high enough anyway, but I was confident we were making excellent time.
We were approaching a moderate-to-hard corner and I shouted the details out to Gloomy. He began easing off the gas. Judging by his last few curves it was evident he’d learned a lot on the road courses about how to use the brakes and transmission together, keeping his RPMs up in the sweet spot for track-out. Here he was going to stab his brakes turning in, downshift just before the apex, then roll on the throttle tracking out.
Just before the curve was an underpass, but there was something weird about it. The shadow from the crossing bridge extended too far. As we drew closer, I realized it wasn’t part of the shadow…but what it was I didn’t know. It was like a dark carpet covering the sun-bleached gray asphalt.
The first time Gloomy touched the brakes, we were atop that mysterious carpet. Even from the passenger seat, I felt the Challenger get loose.
Time slowed down. We were in the curve now, and the tires were hydroplaning. Applying more speed was out of the question because we came into the turn at the ragged edge of the envelope already. Same with maintaining speed, for that matter. Deceleration and braking was only pushing the rear end around. We were on the verge of utterly losing control, and there were some very large boulders on the roadside that appeared unforgiving.
I fought the sick feeling in my stomach as we slid, swerved and floated toward our doom, and yelled, “Road warrior!”
Gloomy’s reaction may have been just fast reflexes. Or maybe part of him, deep down, was still a soldier ready to use his training at the instant of a verbal command. He worked the brakes, clutch, shifter and accelerator like he was simply part of his machine. Within a fraction of a second, his rear tires were tearing backwards.
The Challenger was pulled straight and our speed plummeted like we had popped a drag chute.
I saw a piece of the dark carpet lift into the air before us. Then another. And another. The carpet disintegrated before us as first dozens, then hundreds, then thousands of its components lifted off from mother earth and scattered. One came through the window and whacked me in the arm. It looked like a beetle.
Some kind of Alfred Hitchcock/Steven Spielberg conspiracy of the insect kingdom had nearly sent us spinning into oblivion.
Nine out of ten people with a driver’s license probably would have come to a stop, smoked a cigarette, done some deep breathing exercises or uttered a prayer while their heart rate slowed to normal. I sure did want a cigarette right then.
But Gloomy didn’t fear the reaper. He slammed the clutch in, banged into third and, now with traction again, dug out right back for open road. He cranked the volume on the tape deck even higher. I honestly believe the worst part of the whole incident for him was that part of a good song was drowned out in the scream of rubber.
I grabbed the CB mike and broadcast a warning to anyone who had their ears on. Coug answered immediately. I told him to warn the officials about the Beetle Death Trap, giving him the nearest mile marker and the underpass as a landmark.
By this time Gloomy was topped out and the scenery was zinging by in a green-brown blur. The final straight was a steep downhill stretch and it felt like we may have hit 190 before the road flattened out again.
Gloomy didn’t let off the gas until we passed the flag man. As the Challenger slowed and backrapped, Gloomy let out his war cry–something between a dog barking and a rebel yell.

 

*A lot of people once subscribed to Hot Rod, Car Craft, etc. and I doubt if they’ve all died off in the last decade. And Moparts.com was a YUGE site not just for Mopar mavens, but all car guys. Did they die off, too?
At the very least, those guys evidently don’t read anymore, anyway. See, enthusiast magazines (and the website) didn’t just have photos–they were mostly text…suggesting that the subscribers knew how to READ, and bought the magazines in order to do so.
And read about cars, in particular.
I genuinely wonder what happened to all those guys/what they do now in place of reading.
MadMax

Speed Week Plus: Mad Max – a Review

Motorized Mayhem Down Under! Time to take Speed Week Plus south of the Equator, to a continent comprised entirely of one country–and into the future, where civilization is on the verge of complete breakdown.

Imagine an Australia populated with butch, entitled women; supplicating nancy-boy males considered “men;” oppressed by a draconian police state hell-bent on gobbling up more power until farting in the privacy of your own toilet is a crime punishable by death…

Oh, wait. No need to imagine–Australia is just about there already. Imagine instead an Australia saved from that dystopian present by a nuclear holocaust and utter economic devastation. Whew!

That merciful cataclysm seems to be underway at the beginning of the original, unfeminized Mad Max.

I actually saw the sequel, Road Warrior, before I saw Mad Max. And having seen it, I just had to watch the original.

I should clarify something up front: I won’t be including Beyond Thunderdome for Speed Week Plus, and probably never will review it or the more recent Mad Maxine.

So the “thin blue line” Down Under has become razor thin, fighting a losing battle to keep civilization from toppling. Amoral, perverse gangs rule the roads, stealing whatever they want, raping whoever they want (which is pretty much anyone), and more than willing to murder and destroy in order to do it.

On the side of good is the MFP: Main Force Patrol. Just as our police have come to be known as “cops,” originally “coppers” because of the badges worn by New York policemen, these Aussie lawmen’s badges were made from a different metal, hence they are slurred as “the bronze” by the villains in this film (as well as the hero in Fast Cars and Rock & Roll, which pays homage to many films, including this one).

A very young Mel Gibson plays Max, the MFP’s star patrolman, who’s considering quitting the force and taking his family away from the madness. To bribe him into staying, the MFP makes an unofficial gift to him of “the last of the V8 Interceptors.” It’s a black-on-black Australian Ford Falcon, supercharged, with “Phase IV heads” and “Nitro.” By the end of the movie Max deputizes the Falcon Interceptor to run down the gang that murdered his family and made a vegetable of his friend Goose.

Mad Max Poster

By the way, the clutched supercharger on the Falcon was a pure fabrication sold via the magic of film editing. But Hollywood has plagiarized it with their own clutch-driven blowers in movies like My Science Project.

Director George Miller was fascinated with medical apperattus and you’ll see some on display in Mad Max and its sequel. He must have been equally obsessed with Catholic symbolism.

But the appeal of this movie is the high-octane action, and it’s got a lot. A lot of the speed scenes were undercranked to exaggerate the velocity of moving vehicles, yet it was accomplished with a subtle touch so that it doesn’t make everything comical.

That’s not to say there aren’t some laughable moments (dig that Roman Candle in the exhaust pipe)–if you watch the version with overdubbed American voices, it’s downright groan-worthy. So I recommend getting the version with the original soundtrack.

“We remember the Night Rider! And we know who you are.”

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Speed Week Plus: The Road Warrior – a Review

 Mad Max cannonballs through the wasteland in a world devolving back to the Iron Age.

Mad Max cannonballs through the wasteland in a world devolving back to the Iron Age.

 

You think you’ve seen road rage before? Let’s cruise on over to post-apocalyptic Australia for a high octane killing spree!

Mad Max was such a cult action-adventure hit, the film makers came back with a bigger budget for the sequel. In addition to launching a young actor named Mel Gibson into superstardom, it also inspired too many doomsday visionaries to count…including another film maker who would produce a time travel thriller a couple years later about a killer cyborg sent back from a future similar to this one, to assassinate the mother of a resistance movement’s leader. You may have heard of that flick. It’s called The Terminator.

In the roar of an engine he lost everything…

 

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In the first movie, Australia was on the verge of societal collapse. As this story begins, that collapse is a done deal. Max, once a good cop and happy family man, is now a lone drifter with no ambition beyond surviving in the New Dark Ages.

What we have here is actually a sort of post-apocalyptic western. Max is the jaded gunfighter who is numb to death and has nothing to lose.

The vermin of the wasteland (I guess I’ll call them VOTL for short) have tried to bushwhack him before, but he’s a little too much for them to handle. The prize they’re really lusting after, though, is a strange outpost of civilization in the wilderness.

A small community which still clings to the mores and values of non-barbaric society occupies an oil refinery, defending it with flamethrowers and pneumatic dart guns from the perverse savages who rape and murder any who attempt to break through the siege and run for freedom.

After defeating (then taking captive) a snake-charming gyrocopter pilot, Max encounters this situation just as two would-be escapees meet their gruesome fate.

The alpha-dog ruling over the VOTL barbarians is a buff baddie called Humongous. Don’t ask me where he finds his vitamins, energy drinks and steroids out there in the post-apocalyptic desert. And though he probably has plenty of time on his hands, where he finds a gym to work out in is also a mystery.

Humongous’ go-to lieutenant is an acrobatic Sodomite who puts his crosshairs on our hero early when he gets wounded during road combat with Max. Later he comes totally unglued when his butt-boy is killed by a razor-edged boomerang that belongs to “the Feral Kid.”

The R rating is strictly for the violence…plus some brief non-titillating nudity. I don’t believe there’s any cussing at all. But the violence is on an epic scale for 1981–dished out with a mixture of Medieval weapons, improvised munitions and fast machines. There are only two firearms in the film–one owned by the hero; one by the villain. The ammo supply for both is extremely limited.

 

Those fast machines are what makes this movie required viewing for Speed Week Plus. Not only is Max’s Falcon Interceptor back (with the Hollywood clutched blower) but there are other Australian musclecars and some vehicles that look like hybrid dune buggies or sand rails.

The Lord Humongous…the Ayatolah of RocknRollah!

One of the suicide machines has two engines. One of them has a crude nitrous system (“noss” for those of you who acquired all your automotive knowledge from watching the Fast and Furious flicks). Add to all that horsepower the added boost of camera undercranking , and the result is insane speed for the chase sequences.

The Road Warrior has its flaws, which become more obvious over time and repeated viewing, but it’s still a great action adventure movie that requires no more suspension of disbelief than most of the CGI/green screen enhanced claptrap Hollywood’s been churning out in the new Millennium.

This is perhaps my favorite post-apocalyptic movie. What’s yours?

Speed Week Plus: Ronin – a Review

Welcome to Speed Week Plus! You’re in the middle of a series of blog posts dedicated to a specific selection of action adventure, featuring blazing horsepower, shattered speed limits and melting tire rubber.

Up this time is Ronin, an action flick that is part caper and part espionage, with plot twists and double-crosses in all the right places. Robert DeNiro is a superb actor who is brilliant in the villain role but no sloucher as a hero, either, as proven in this movie. In this one he’s a former spook who, like a samurai without a master, must rent out his skills to make a living. He is hired along with some other “specialists” to pull a job that grows increasingly complex as the twists pile up.

It’s a solid action yarn that is well worth spending an afternoon watching. But it was recommended to me specifically for the chase scene.

To be honest I found the car chase rather unremarkable. Its popularity probably has a lot to do with the body count in vehicular destruction, and the now obligatory driving-into-oncoming-traffic segment.

Anyway, the car chase is above for your viewing pleasure and you can decide for yourself how good it is.

I agree with Jean Reno, BTW: De Niro should have just shot her. But then there wouldn’t be an excuse to flog these European luxury sedans through traffic for eight minutes.

This is actually an idiosyncratic selection for me. Stay tuned to watch some American iron raising hell next time.

Speed Week Plus: Vanishing Point (1971) – a Review

In this low budget counter-culture extravaganza from the Vietnam era, a former race driver Kowalski, whose current job is delivering new cars, makes a bet Friday night that he can deliver the new white Dodge Challenger from Denver to San Francisco by 3pm the next day.

That’s it–no medical situation, family emergency or secret assignment from the Impossible Mission Force. But he’s destined to become a famous (or infamous, depending on the culture of the beholder) antihero just the same.

Kowalski is plagued by flashbacks, hopped up on speed and just wants to put the hammer down in a tire-melting musclecar for the heck of it–even though the delivery’s not due until Monday.

Needless to say, local police don’t endorse his spontaneous quest for a burst of freedom and a chase ensues which lasts for the entire movie.

I don’t know if it’s intentional, but Kowalski’s driving evolves as the film goes on. At first he flogs the Challenger around like…well, like he’s on drugs, and not used to the car. But he tightens up during the chase, and there is a lot of hard driving scenes and a few stunts that make this cult favorite worth watching.

Stunt Coordinator Carey Loftin chose the Challenger R/T because of the fantastic horsepower and the toughness and handling potential of the torsion bar suspension. Though the trailer (above) calls it supercharged, and a police character in the film says, “We have reason to suspect it is supercharged,” the cars used during filming were bone-stock 440 four-speed cars, except for one 383 automatic. The only modification made was to install beefier shock absorbers in the car used for a stunt jump. Actor Barry Newman (who played Kowalski) remembered the 440 engine to be insanely powerful. Max Balchowsky, who also prepared the cars for the famous chase scene in Bullitt, tuned the stock suspensions of the Mopars in Vanishing Point.

The soundtrack is possibly a sample of the worst records produced in 1970, with the exception of Mississippi Queen by Mountain, which rocks so appropriately for a car scene that the Dukes of Hazard feature also employed it. The distorted power chords during the climactic scene fit nicely, too. Otherwise, you might as well replace the entire soundtrack with the psychadelic jams from the period.

Vanishing Point was remade as a TV movie in 1997. Though the script was a pleasant surprise, the acting and direction leave much to be desired. And the “high speed” chase scenes appear to top out at about 25 MPH. Couple that with the needless (yet obligatory) destruction of two fine automobiles and Viggo Mortensen spending 90 minutes auditioning for a toothpaste commercial, and the remake won’t be getting a write-up from me for Speed Week Plus.

Below is a scene with loads of potential…if only they’d filmed it at speed! BTW, somebody called the other car a Porsche. It is actually a Jaguar E-Type roadster. And trying to fender-bang a musclecar off the side of the road in one of these would be suicide. But Hollywood film makers consistently prove their ignorance about cars to this day, and this aspect of the scene is an example. What they got right: the Jag gains ground in the corners, and holds its own on the straights…until Kowalski bangs the Challenger into fourth gear.(Apologies, but this is the best presentation of the scene I can find, anymore.)

Finally, here’s the Charger vs. Challenger scene from the remake with Faggo Mortensen, in case you like:

cobra2

Speed Week Plus: Cobra – a Review

The centerpiece of NASCAR’s Speed Week–the Daytona 500–just took place. We’re considering a Speed Week of our own right here. Or maybe a Speed Month, anyway.

I have been informed that Virtual Pulp is lacking a review of Cobra, and this simply will not do. So without further ado…here it is:

I would call this action movie a “guilty pleasure”…but I’m really not all that guilty about liking it. When it first hit theaters in 1986 I watched it for every weekend pass while it was still showing at the Cross Creek Mall in Fayetteville. As soon as it came to video I bought a copy, too.

Cobra has a lot in common with the prototype renegade cop flick Dirty Harry. Obviously they’re both about cops who teeter on the edge of vigilantism, ridding civilization of scum that the inept “justice” bureaucracy lets terrorize decent people. But it goes even further than that. Both Harry Callahan and Marion Cobretti have the same partner…at least he’s played by the same actor. Last name is Gonzales in one, Garcia in the other. Remember the villain from Dirty Harry? Same actor plays Cobretti’s nemesis inside the police force in Cobra.

And now for what, more than anything else, made me a fan of this classic action adventure cop movie: Cobra’s ride–a chopped and channeled ’50 Merc lead sled. This is my kind of cop.

“I know what you’re thinkin’: ‘Did he drop two gears or only one?’ Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kinda’ lost track myself. But seein’ as how this is an American V8, the most powerful engine in the world, and would blow your doors clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk?”

Okay, we can all pick this scene apart if we choose to. There are continuity errors throughout–bulletholes in the trunk that disappear in the next shot; cars doing over 110 MPH on the freeway in one shot, doing 15 on a back street in the next… Obliteration of the laws of physics: a burst from a submachinegun causes a pickup truck to flip bed-over-cab and explode… And in typical Hollywood fashion the best car in the movie is needlessly destroyed. But it’s still fun while it lasts. (Despite some continuity problems of its own, the best car chase ever filmed is probably in another cop flick called Bullitt.)

Another similarity to Dirty Harry is in the blatant attempt to generate memorable lines. Cobra has a few of them, but not all of them are as bad as its reputation suggests.

Now, I agree that “I don’t like lousy shots” isn’t terribly noteworthy (and there is some even worse dialog at the end). But “Go ahead–I don’t shop here,” is hilarious. Stallone even pulled off “You’re a disease, and I’m the cure.” It’s when the marketing people decided to put it on the posters that it became groan-worthy. “Crime is a disease. He’s the cure.” Ugh. Puke.

Did you catch that Sly said, “Drop it!” right before ventilating the ugly psycho at the grocery store? Me neither, the first time. Bang! Bang! Bang! “Stop, or I’ll shoot!”

Trivia note: When Sly Stallone began working on the treatment that was later developed into the Cobra script, the title was Beverly Hills Cop. The suits wanted a comedy though, and the ideas diverged from that point.