Iron Man Clanks to a Cinematic Halt

Originally posted 2013

It’s a just about universally accepted rule of Hollywood that even the best movies have sequels that are full of suck. If you dodge the bullet on the second one, then the third is just about guaranteed to blow dog. And yet I kept an open mind when laying down a small fortune to treat my family to a theater viewing of the final chapter in the Iron Man trilogy.

Iron Man I and the Avengers, despite their faults, were thoroughly enjoyable and worth the small fortunes paid for those respective family nights.

Unfortunately, this flick followed the sequel rule. Don’t get me wrong—there’s plenty of explosions and other destruction; cool visuals and special effects; witty dialog, and even some character development on the part of Tony Stark. If that’s enough for most moviegoers (and it probably is), then it will go down a winner. Unfortunately, it’s also brimming over with a whole lot of stupid.

Tony Stark has created a whole lot of different Iron Man armor, including the new “Mark 42” prototype. Meanwhile, he is suffering panic attacks.

And a new slimy capitalist is on the scene, making overtures to Pepper Potts (who runs Stark International now, leaving Stark free to tinker). Turns out the slimy capitalist was a slimy visionary in 1999 whom Stark dissed, while enjoying a one-night stand with a chick who just happens to be a leading scientist making breakthroughs in the very same field being pioneered by the slimy visionary: cellular regeneration. (Wait a minute…didn’t Dr. Connors already pioneer the technology when he became the Lizard in both the comics and the Spiderman reboot movie?)

So after humiliating the seemingly innocuous weirdo (played by Guy Pierce), and forgetting about the one night stand, they’ve come back to haunt him. Kinda’ like how Jim Carey as Edward Nigma/the Riddler came back to haunt Bruce Wayne after a perceived slight in one of those awful Batman flicks.

Meanwhile, a terrorist is bombing and killing indiscriminately, punctuating his reign of terror with video clips. He is called the Mandarin (based loosely on the Marvel villain of that name) and he doesn’t just use bombs—he turns human bodies into bombs.

Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) is blasted into a coma by one of the Mandarin’s human bombs. Stark gets real mad. How mad? Try stupid mad. He threatens the Mandarin on national TV and gives out his home address, daring the terrorist to preempt his revenge. (Hey, joke’s on you, Stark: that’s not really Happy Hogan, but Daredevil/Matt Murdock’s buddy Foggy Nelson!)

Okay, there’s like this fetish with Hollywood film makers. I’m not talking about the sick sexual thrill they get from destroying fine automobiles for no reason. But this one’s pretty widespread, too. It has to do with revealing secret identities in superhero movies. Bruce Wayne was ready to tell Vicky Vale he was Batman after one flip in the sack. Now that must have been some hot sex! But he had cold feet about it, so Alfred game him a little nudge by just taking her down into the Batcave. I think at least one person per movie learned Gotham’s Dark Knight was Bruce Wayne up until R’as Al Ghul destroyed the Batcave the first time. Then in this latest Batfilm, Bane exposes Wayne’s secret underground Bat-labrinth for the entire population of Gotham City to find.

I lost count of how many times Spiderman lost or removed his mask on the big screen. Unmasking yourself in public is always a clever method for keeping your identity secret. So is confessing on camera, as Tony Stark did in the first Iron Man film.

So here he goes one better, broadcasting his home address as well. Of course said home is obliterated in a spectacular explosionfest during the chopper attack of the Mandarin’s invincible glowing human bomb henchmen. Ho-hum. I have no sympathy for an alleged genius capable of his unrepentant idiocy.

But did the supervillains of the world really need Tony Stark to tell them his home address on TV for them to figure it out? Why didn’t an attack like this take place right after the dumbass told them he was Iron Man in the first movie? Obviously his home defenses were inadequate to deal with a helicopter assault then or at any other time (not that a helicopter assault was needed to take his California cliff-dwelling, but it looks cool and is a good way to burn up millions of budget dollars renting choppers, shooting rockets, and blowing stuff to smithereens).

Big pretty fireballs everywhere, Pepper Potts almost dies, Stark barely escapes with his life, yada yada yada. Then through some contrived devices Stark winds up in Kentucky with his Mark 42 armor out of commission. But never fear: Stark breaks-and-enters a home to get out of the cold, and it just happens to house a boy genius and a suitable workshop in the basement.

Oh yeah: meanwhile, Rhodie’s moniker has been changed from War Machine to Iron Patriot and he loses his armor after stumbling into an ambush.

As we move toward the big climactic showdown, we find out that Stark’s Iron Man armor may have been destroyed in the attack on his house, but he had more armor stored away in a secret chamber underneath the secret chamber we knew about, and the suits can all act as flying robots when he’s not wearing them. That way the actor can show his purty face as he delivers wisecracks all during the epic fight scene.

I’ll leave the plot alone for now. It wasn’t monumentally stupid, relative to the genre. It was about par-for-the-formula for a superhero movie. Nothing impressive.

Be advised that I read Iron Man comic books well before any Marvel Comics character appeared on the big screen, and I have accepted, for the sake of entertainment, that a millionaire industrialist could build a flying suit of powered armor and, wearing it, fight bad guys and super-bad-guys. Unlikely, okay, but possible in theory. Some of what I’m about to point out, however, strains my suspension of disbelief beyond its tensile strength.

First off, Tony Stark built the Iron Man armor to fit his own body, and yet in this movie it comfortably fits anybody of any size and body shape. Rigid armor (such as the plate worn by the knights in the last days of chivalry) has to be custom made to the body of the person who will be wearing it, otherwise the pinching and scraping will become unbearable in no time, mobility will be severely limited and you might suffer serious injury. This might not threaten suspension of disbelief for most people, so I’ll move on.

Evidently, every piece of the new Mark 42 armor is equipped with rocket motors, invisible unlimited fuel supplies, and guidance systems which will home in on Tony Stark’s body no matter where he is, so that when he wants to become Iron Man, these items will fly through the air (sometimes from Kentucky) and clamp onto his appropriate body part. Oh, but be careful—they fly and clamp onto him really fast, sometimes smacking the hell out of anything that gets in their way.

Assuming such miracle technology were possible, once you cram each piece with the rocket motors, fuel, and electronics needed for this neat trick, where would you fit the circuitry, servos and other stuff you need to make the piece do what it’s supposed to do once it’s on Stark’s body?

Along the same lines is the use of these suits as robots. The internals of a robot would be built differently than the internals of a suit which amplifies the strength of the one wearing it (which Iron Man’s armor has always done). First of all, how would there be room for a man inside a man-sized robot? Secondly, if Stark can control these robots remotely, or put them on bad-guy-fighting-autopilot as he does in the climax, why did he ever put himself inside one to begin with?

Toward the end of this movie, Stark undergoes an operation to remove the shrapnel pressing in on his heart. There’s been no mention of a new breakthrough in medical science, so I guess he’s avoided it up to now simply because he liked the rush of existing millimeters from death. And he likes having a nuclear electromagnet in his chest. Girls dig it. It’s a…wait for it…chick magnet.

The aforementioned slimy capitalist has developed cellular regeneration technology. No, wait, that’s wrong. He’s a capitalist, after all, guilty of trying to make a profit and other evil motives. He didn’t build that—someone else made that happen. So anyway, the technology allows him to turn his henchmen into invincible superninjas. Not only do limbs and organs grow back when wounded, but these guys can do neat glowing tricks. Not only can they glow, but if they glow red enough they can become human soldering irons…or human bombs.

Stark really needs to work the bugs out of his armor, by-the-way, because evidently it can be crippled by the touch of a glowing finger. The glowing finger doesn’t knock out communications, life support, the onboard computer or the super-neato undressing/dressing back up functions. It doesn’t prevent the robotic (?) neck from turning the head. It only prevents Iron Man and War Machine from fighting back. Until, that is, the tension and suspense of the scene has reached a certain level. Then the arms, legs, repulsors and boot jets magically become operative. For a few seconds. Until the hero is rendered helpless again.

As in all the Marvel movies, the acting was good. There were plenty of jokes and humorous dialog, delivered by Robert Downey Jr. with his usual aplomb. The cinematography was equally high-caliber. The special effects were abundant and visually striking.

Style. Flash. Attitude. It’s got it. And that’s enough for a lot of people. If that’s enough for you, you’ll enjoy this movie.

Spec Ops Head to Head 2

But wait–there’s more! (Be sure to check out Part One.)

This time the original (not counting the OSS) specops warriors throw their ego into the ring to show they can trash talk too. That’s right–the SF “Green Berets.”

And in this corner…the new kids on the block…the USMC MARSOC!

Again, this will require the expert analysis of my elite piss contestants review panel. Let’s start with you, Rick.

RICK: Well Hank, not counting the limp-richard wannabes in this video, I just have to say the SF soldiers are totally un-sat. Their haircuts are UNACCEPTABLE! And the face armor? What a bunch of pogues! You gotta hand it to the Marines, though–they always look strac. High and tight, faces smooth as a baby’s fourth point, they’re just squared away.

THAD: I don’t necessarily believe this debate can be decided on the basis of grooming standards alone. That being said, both parties in this video are unshaven and disheveled.

DUANTE: Yo main, ya’ll white boys need to shave that mess, yo. Your hair be stickin’ all out of your faces at whacked angles…look like the Shaggy D.A. or somethin’. And my second point is, this is another racist video. Where the brothers at? This is like a good ol’ boy all white fraternity or somethin’.

SYLVIA: Yes, absolutely. Where are the people of color and where are the female soldiers? Where are the gay, lesbian and transgender soldiers?

RICK: As for the last three categories, I think they all transferred to the Bureau of Land Management. …Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

THAD: Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

DUANTE: Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

THAD: Now, going into this rap battle, the Special Forces have the obvious advantage of experience and reputation, and I think they sort of put MARSOC in their place.

RICK: UNACCEPTABLE! Look, I’ll knock some points off for the Marines’ gay-ass sleeve-rolling techniques, but they hit SF with two devastating shots in quick succession. First the line about force multipliers, then they burned ’em with the zinger about the National Guard. They drew blood, big-time.

THAD: But come on, now. I thought that was effectively countered with “hey diddle diddle; straight up the middle.”

RICK: What’s wrong with a frontal assault, candy ass? What are you, queer? …Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

DUANTE: Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

THAD: Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

SYLVIA: Hey, I didn’t get a “not that there’s anything wrong with that” out of Hank Brown!

HANK: Huh? Oh, sorry. Not that there’s anything wrong with that!

SYLVIA: You better watch your ass.

RICK: The point is, I’d PT that pogue into the ground.

THAD: Who’s that–the MARSOC guy?

RICK: Him too. I’d smoke both their asses in the PT pit.

DUANTE: Yo, hey now, let’s get back on point, y’all. 1) this is totally racist, and B) white folks can’t rap for shit! Damn pink toes couldn’t find the beat with a road map, main. And 3) who taught y’all white boys how to handle guns, anyway? Don’t you know you’re supposed to turn the gun sideways?

RICK: Only if you’re shooting with your protective mask on, numb nuts.

DUANTE: Y’all look like a bunch of punks.

SYLVIA: And once again, the only females represented in the video don’t wear uniforms, but bikinis.

DUANTE: That is a ho’s uniform.

THAD: That was a female? I wasn’t sure, with all the tattoos…

Spec Ops Head to Head 1

Okay, some of you clowns over at SOFREP and Kit Up (fans of Deadliest Warrior or some similar drivel, I’m sure), etc., have been in a pissing contest for years about who the baddest dudes are to wear a uniform…and who is truly an “operator.”  Finally, we’re about to settle the matter once and for all.

The pressing question of whether Rangers or SEALs stand atop the Great Zigarat can’t be settled by a wargame or other field evaluation. We are indebted to urban gangsta culture for providing the most empirical, objective venue for separating the hardcorps from the pogues: a video of both sides trash-talking to a beat.

Folks, this one’s too close to call. I’m gonna have to turn this over to my review panel for thorough analysis. Let’s start with you, Thad: What’s your initial impression of who the victor is?

THAD: Well Hank, first of all it’s important to remember that everyone is a winner in a contest like this, just by virtue of being here. Having said that, it just seems to me that the Navy SEAL had more bragging rights, and came in firing the bigger guns, if you will. The Ranger just never recovered after that first strike.

RICK: UNACCEPTABLE! This whole video is un-sat, and what the hell do you know Thad, you leg civilian bitch? The Ranger body-slammed that fuzzy-faced little seaman stain, even with one hand holding his coffee cup.

SYLVIA: The real loser in this video is all of womankind, as one of our own was stripped of her dignity, and her clothes, transformed into a sex object and paraded before the camera on the altar of male gratification.

THAD: While I agree with you in principle, Sylvia, I’m obligated to point out that a bikini is considered clothing. And it could be argued that the men in the video showed as much skin, or more, as the female.

DUANTE: Yo main, hold up. Hold up. This ain’t about weather some little flat-booty white chick showed too much skin or if a forest ranger can save the baby seals. This just another example of subliminal American bigotry. Not one brotha in the video, first of all. Not one. And did you catch that slur about the Oreo cookie?

RICK: You’re a no-go as usual, Duante. Pull your head out of your fourth-point and lock on. It’s not “baby seals” and “forest rangers,” first of all.

THAD: As much as I hate to agree with Rick, I’m afraid he’s right. The Oreo cookie comment was a pun referring to “black ops.”

DUANTE: Fool, we all know what they really mean when they say “Oreo.” And he even admitted, right in the video, that he wants to make it all vanilla! If that isn’t white supremacist, I don’t know what is.

THAD: Again, this was all a joke about the term “black ops,” referring to military missions of a clandestine nature. Like assassination, sabotage, or military kidnapping…all of which are within the scope of a unit like the SEALs, whereas the Rangers are simply a force of light infantry, designated for patrols…

RICK: UNACCEPTABLE! Did you pull all of that out of a book, Thad? “Whereas” you’re a dumbass civilian pogue who couldn’t hang with a girl scout troop on a three-klick march to the chow hall!

SYLVIA: What’s that supposed to mean, Rick?

RICK: Black Hawk Down, bitches. Just like he said in the video. You wanna talk military kidnapping?

DUANTE: Yo, and that’s another thing: why’s it gotta’ be “black” ops? Any time they be assassinatin’ or sabotagin’ or any kind of kidnapification, you gotta call it “black.” You don’t see that? You don’t see how the black community suffers guilt by association any time whitey gets to play with the language?

SYLVIA: You’re all missing the point, here. This video is just another instrument of oppression in the patriarchy’s toolbox. It sets us back 50 years. All over the world tomorrow, when womyn arrive in the marketplace, they’ll be subconsciously compared to this… this Stockholm Syndrome blonde sex object with the artfully displayed mammories.

THAD: Sylvia has a point: this actress has entirely too feminine a physique for 2014. The breasts are aesthetically appealing I admit, but would look better on the body of a high school football wide receiver. Or a horizontally challenged womyn.

RICK: Is that code for a fat chick?

DUANTE: Code? Oh, you wanna talk code? How about that reference to Osama Bin Laden? Here’s a dark-skinned man with a non-western philisophical worldview, killed by gun-happy rednecks in camouflage, and we supposed to laugh about it.

THAD: We need to get back on track. So Duante, who would you consider the winner?

DUANTE: Fool, please. Both these crackas got white man’s disease; couldn’t rhyme their way out of Sesame Street. It’s no wonder they didn’t even try to settle it with a break dance battle.

THAD: Granted, but what we’re here to determine…

DUANTE: I mean like “training” rhymes with “Peyton Manning?” Come on now, y’all. Ain’t nobody got time for that. But I guess, when it comes to bustin’ a rhyme, the forest ranger was worse. He either tried to put too many syllables into each verse, or not enough. Ain’t never got it right, main.

THAD: I was referring more to substantive content in…

RICK: UNACCEPTABLE! Too many syllables? Not enough? Wake up and move your ass out, Duante! You think Ice Cube is the man, then you turn around and complain about this guy’s rhyme scheme? And he’s not a forest ranger, asswipe.

DUANTE: Fool, what you know about Ice Cube?

SYLVIA: Not one of you neanderthals has even attempted to justify the ruthless exploitation of the womyn in this video! It so obviously panders to heterosexual males.

RICK: It panders to the Navy too. After all, you got a shot of a cross-dressing SEAL in there. …Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

THAD: Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

DUANTE: Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

THAD: I’m afraid we still haven’t come to a consensus on who won.

SYLVIA: You can try digging yourself out of this hole with all your bone-throwing to the gay/lesbian community. But what this video boils down to is nothing more than a thinly-veiled phallic comparison. I mean, really…brandishing big guns in every other shot, infantile references to your genitalia…

RICK: Those were weapons. This is my gun.

SYVIA: AAAAAAAAAAAAH! Put that away! That’s disgusting!

RICK: Just throwing you a bone, Sylvia.

DUANTE: That’s not a bone. That’s a splinter, white boy. This is a bone.


SYLVIA: AAAAAAAAAAAH! I’m being oppressed! This is the worst atrocity since Tailhook!

RICK: What is that, Duante? Looks like a penis, only smaller.

DUANTE: Fool, please. If Sylvia wasn’t a typical frumpy-ass white bitch, you’d see. In fact, back that video up to the bikini snap.

RICK: HOO-WAH! Rangers lead the way!

THAD: Um, I suppose we should wrap up this discussion…

RICK: “Get to the chopp-ah!”

Old West Meets New World Order

If you allow the mainstream media to educate you on current events, then what you know about the standoff at the Bundy Ranch in Nevada goes something like this: Right-wing fanatics, including environment-hating greedy ranchers, are trespassing on federal land, oppressing poor little desert turtles, owe a million bucks in unpaid fines, and tried to pick a fight with heroic federal agents determined to save the turtles. But because federal police are always so reluctant to butcher American citizens, they defused the situation before it got out of hand by pulling out.

It’s actually a wisely selected point of contention for the globalist henchmen to confront law abiding American citizens over: they’re not stealing private property outright, like they usually do. This dispute has to do with public land, and the cities full of boob tube zombies know nothing about history, much less grazing rights.


If you’re familiar at all with the western genre, then too many times to count you’ve read books…but even more frequently watched movies…with the New Deal range war plot: Greedy ranchers (capitalists) want to increase their own empires, so they hire mercenary gunfighters (union busters) to bully, abuse and murder freegrazers or homesteading farmers  (the proletariat) in order to cheat them out of their claims (welfare, unions, etc.). Usually justice wins out and order is restored when a US Marshal (the savior of federal government) arrives to set everything right,  against heroic odds facing the rancher’s gun-happy private army. Change the names,  actors and some minor plot points and right there you have the “open source” script for three out of five westerns ever filmed.

I can count on one hand…actually two fingers…the range war westerns that don’t follow this formula: The Curly Wolf and Showdown on the Hogback.

Marxist propaganda is nothing new. It helped condition the voters to elect FDR and his fellow travellers to four terms. That crew didn’t let a crisis go to waste, either. The fact that their socialist bedfellows created the crises in the first place was no big deal, considering that they would also write the history.

Fellow travelers have also scripted the narrative for the Bundy Ranch conflict. But in reality the Nevada ranching families started out as homesteaders themselves in the 1800s. About four dozen ranch families have been bullied off their grazing rights by the feds (whose job it is to protect the rights of states, and individuals), but the Bundys refused to sell theirs. So the feds rustled what Bundy cattle they could, stampeded the rest in 90 degree heat to separate calves from their mothers and overheat them. All the crocodile tears shed over the desert tortoise dry up when “land managers” kill off the calves en masse.

What the confrontation above was about was the Bundys and their supporters finding out that the dump truck protected by the paramilitary convoy was full of tools feds use to destroy the irrigation system built by private ranchers over the last 140 years. This is a siege strategy to dehydrate and starve (no water=no grass) the cows to death.

The endangered turtle plot device is a convenient excuse for just another federal land grab, which is just one front in their accelerating national power grab. The governor and local sheriff both have the legal authority to kick the feds out of where the federal government has no Constitutional jurisdiction (as in every state), but the sheriff is worse than useless and the governor is most likely just another tool owned by the same puppetmasters who own Congress and the White House.

The feds returned the stolen cattle after backing down from the confrontation. But the sympathizers who showed up to support Bundy will have to go back to work eventually, while the federal storm troopers can wait it out, massing forces and reviewing intelligence (all on the taxpayer’s dime) while the media obediently demonizes the victims for them, conditioning the populace to believe that whatever happens to these enemies of the state is deserved.

Here’s one of the things that’s been happening behind the various media smokescreens: Washington is ballooning our already unsustainable debt by borrowing billions from Red China. They then turn around and give those billions back to Red China in the form of foreign aid, which the Chinese then use to buy up our vital national resources (sea ports, highways, copper mines, coal mines, oil fields, etc). I’m simplifying the process here, but that’s the truth of it in a nutshell.

The Chinese want to build a solar energy farm on the free graze the Bundys use. Chances are it is none other than Harry Reid who wants to sell them the contested land at less than half its value (and the Chinese will buy it with money confiscated from your paycheck and mine). They probably intend to use fracking to get oil out of the ground as well. How much do you want to bet that we won’t hear a peep about the poor desert tortoise once the Chinese control the land?

By the way, all this is happening while beef prices are at an all-time high, and getting worse every week. Have you ever stopped for a second to consider whose interests the crew in Washington is looking out for?

The federal troops will be back, to be sure. Now they have a much better idea of enemy (American citizens) strength, arms/equipment, location and organization. They have wire tapped conversations, UAV spy footage, and intelligence gleaned from Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc. to fill in the picture for them. With a big protest rally in DC planned for May, some speculate that the feds will move back on the Bundys while that diversion is going on.

They will be back at some point–and probably not just for the Bundy’s cattle. You can bet that they’ll have a neatly-wrapped narrative prepared for mass consumption, and the lapdog media will regurgitate it faithfully. Whatever variation of the old New Deal range war narrative they adopt, you can bet the villains (“domestic terrorists”) will be gun owners (as usual), property rights advocates and pretty much everybody who esteems the Constitution (which, ironically but obviously, excludes those who are required to take an oath to uphold it as a condition of their employment) as the law of our land.

The Glass Key

Dashiell Hammett is credited with creating the hardboiled genre, along with Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane. Considering the time in which it was published, this novel is about as hardboiled as they come. Even compared to a film maker like Quentin Tarantino, who faces no limitations on how dark and crass a story he can tell (and is applauded when he finds a way to offend somebody in the audience), this story is hardcorps.

I developed an interest in Hammett because The Maltese Falcon is probably my favorite hardboiled detective movie, and definitely my favorite flick starring Humphrey Bogart. Of course Falcon is Hammett’s most famous work, compiled from Sam Spade adventures in the pulps. I also once saw a pseudo-biographical made-for-TV movie about Hammett which piqued my curiosity.

This review is not about the 1942 film, which altered the plot and combined characters.

The Glass Key is about Ned Beaumont, a “wise guy” in gangster lingo. Or, if feeling a bit less generous, you could call him a henchman. He works for a guy named Paul Madvig, who is sometimes referred to as a politician, but in reality is somebody who owns politicians. Keep in mind this was written during Prohibition, and it’s easy to imagine Madvig as a kinder, gentler Al Capone type.

A  murder takes place, and Beaumont is made a special investigator by the District Attorney (who is owned my Madvig). Like Phillip Marlowe and others who follow in hardboiled history, though, Ned Beaumont doesn’t really solve the mystery. He merely struggles to survive on the mean streets, busting heads and getting his own busted in return…and the killer just happens to get exposed before it’s all over.

Ironic, but while reading the book, this is the exact actor I pictured in the role of the sadistic enforcer. I guess the casting director in 1942 thought him perfect as well.

Beuamont is an interesting character–about as amoral as you could get away with publicly in the prewar era. Depending on your disposition, you might find him less likeable than Paul Madvig…or the villains. Hammett always refers to him by his full name. Only characters use his first name by itself.

Reading this vintage novel is a glimpse into history, if you lose track of that, you might not appreciate that when this yarn first came off the typewriter, a new trail was being blazed.


Captain America: The Winter Soldier

I was not prepared for what happened at the theater. Knowing full well the sequel factor, and having seen a poster for a movie about Cesar Chavez on the way inside (a bad omen if there ever was), I was expecting Hollywood business as usual.

(In fact, it’s kind of surprising Captain America wasn’t turned into “Captain Global Village” long ago, replacing his stars-and-stripes motif with rainbows and olive branches. Well, Marvel did turn him into “Nomad” for a while in the 1970s, but I guess the fans wouldn’t stand for it.)

I couldn’t have been more pleasantly surprised. Marvel Studios has stuck to the formula that has made most of their cinematic efforts so successful, including some great lines, a funny cameo by legendary Stan Lee, and an extravaganza of spectacular destruction surrounding a plot that ties in nicely to the rest of the Marvel Movie Canon.

Where’s the red and white, by the way?

Of course there were annoying themes, too, like the mask removal fetish. (Question for Marvel’s creative Czars: if secret identities are now public, why do your superheroes wear masks at any time whatsoever?)

Winter Soldier is an enjoyable flick for the whole family, but there’s some interesting themes under the surface, too.

Here are some tasty morsels for conspiracy theorists: SHIELD, a pseudo-secret government agency with an unlimited budget and power that Hitler’s Secret Police could only dream of, has itself been compromised–infiltrated to the very highest levels by Hydra (a super-secret international organization bent on enslaving the world). SHIELD has developed a preemptive crime stopping program which is ready to go online, and I almost choked on my popcorn when they mentioned Operation Paperclip. The predictive algorithm explained in dialog also sounds a lot like PROMIS. Through this new program, SHIELD can prevent crimes before they happen by identifying potential criminals.

In effect, SHIELD (with Hydra pulling the strings) is on its way to becoming the Thought Police that George Orwell warned us about. Keep in mind that in the constantly evolving Newspeak of the dominant ideology, “thought crime” is now called “hate crime.” And the method chosen to eradicate thought crime is nearly identical to how enemies of the state can now be dealt with. Replace unmanned drones with huge, high-tech airborne gun platforms and you have the same execution of US citizens without trial favored by the Obama Administration.

It’s pretty amazing these themes survived to the final cut. Chances are the script was written during the Bush II regime, when violations of civil liberties were double-plus ungood to the Hollywood Zeitgeist. And at one point you see that one of the millions of thought/hate criminals located is in the White House. Yeah, right. But still, it’s astounding that this plot element was retained with only a weak revision like that.

Take a knee, Cap, and prepare for debriefing.

However it happened, it appears the message of this film backfired on the Hollywood Elite in similar fashion to John Carpenter’s They Live.


A Battle of Sorcerers

Jim Morris, after returning from Vietnam, became an author of fiction and non-fiction. After playing catch-up on the sex, drugs and rock & roll he had missed out on during his three tours in the 1960s, he began exploring Toltec spiritualism in the mid-to-late 1970s. It is that background which informs this supernatural tale, much the way Star Wars was built upon George Lucas’ understanding of spiritual forces which began after suffering a car accident in his youth.

Morris is not just an author, but an experienced editor as well, and knows what makes a story sing. His humor has appealed to me since my first encounter with his work, and many of his experiences as a soldier resonate with me as well, even through fictionalized sequences in his novels. And as an adroit storyteller does, he built this yarn around a strong character: Dave Perry.

Parry (like Morris) is a Special Forces veteran, as well as a current DEA agent. His heredity is partly from the Cherokee Nation, which is why he’s given an undercover assignment in Talequah, Oklahoma to bust some alleged Peyote users as part of a local political struggle involving a quid pro quo arrangement between the FBI and the Tribal Chief. Of course, as the title indicates, Dave gets waist-deep in a whole lot more than he bargained for.

Dave Perry has a strong resemblance to the title character in Silvernail, which is to say heroic and likeable, without being a boy scout.


I’m not sure how Jim would feel about this, but I could probably argue that Battle of Sorcerers completes a trilogy of sorts, with John Silvernail representing the hero’s condition prior to spiritual awakening, Dave Perry begins the transformation, and Spurlock is the completed guru/shaman/witchdoctor with his physical and spiritual selves mutually aware.

It would be difficult to ignore the mystical undergirding of this book. Although presented with the Cherokee accent, the religion of the eponymous sorcerers is decidedly Eastern.  There is no good and evil, per se, but white and black magic/light and dark sides of the Force/Yin and Yang. Or “love and bullshit” as John Sky, the master shaman/Messiah figure of the novel (with the same chi as Quetzalcoatyl) frames it .

Here is one of the funniest parts in Sorcerers, after Dave decides to become the disciple of John Sky (who in this scene is working on a pickup truck):

“Here’s your first lesson in Indian Medicine,” he (John Sky) said. “Get over the idea that you are your body.”

He nodded toward a wrench on a wooden stand near Dave. “Then hand me that wrench.”

“With what?” (Dave asked.)

However you feel about the religious component to the story, Battle of Sorcerers is a fun, entertaining, and well-written novel. Jim says he has trouble categorizing the genre. I would call it a “feel-good supernatural thriller.”

Thor: The Dark World

Originally posted November 2013

Goldilocks is back…and he acts like a grown-up.

Iron Man 3 continued that franchise’s plummeting spiral into stupidity, despite a very strong start. At the theater for the Thor sequel I saw a preview for the next Captain America movie, and it’s hard to tell whether or not that one will follow in the cinematic footsteps of so many other sequels. It will be very difficult for anyone in Hollywood tasked with a superhero movie to top The Avengers, despite its flaws. I fully expect the next one to suck.

All that being said, The Dark World is, IMO, an improvement on Thor.

Granted, the Thunderer didn’t burst on the cinematic scene with quite the panache as Shell-Head. But that may be due to the difficulty of writing a character like Thor to appeal to a present-day audience. The Tony Stark of Marvel Comics received a makeover that would be heretical with a character like Marvel’s Thunder God–though he gets laughs every now and again [like with his ”he’s adopted” line in The Avengers] he’s always been not just a straight man, but quite the grandiose straight man. Iron Man’s ”Shakespeare in the Park” line about him was even more true of the comic book Thor than the movie Thor. There’s just no way you can turn him into a wisecracking party animal like the one Robert Downey Jr. portrays.

The appeal of clever humor was not lost on Dark World’s creators, though most of it comes from the supporting characters. But what they really banked on to ensure popularity was the Chick Appeal Factor. There are plenty of shots with actor Chris Hemsworth’s rippling triceps prominently displayed of course, but the film makers’ emotional super-move was in the romantic sub plot. Thor’s got an admirer in Asgaard–a kick-butt valkerie with a projected longevity commensurate with his [about a 5,000 year life span] but his love for earthbound mortal Natalie Portman is so strong that he gives up his extra-terrestrial friend with benefits…he even turns down the throne of Asgaard. You know how important monogamy was to the Vikings and all their gods.

Let us pause to hear the collective sigh and ”Aaawwwwwwww…” from ladies around the globe. If they’d only throw in a shot of Thor slicing cucumbers in the kitchen, this would get an Oscar nomination for Best Picture.

About that throne. In the first movie Thor wanted it but his father Odin decided he was too rash and immature to rule. Well now he’s all grown up–wise, mature, level-headed–and Pops wants to give him the throne…but Junior don’t want it no more.

In fact, it’s Odin who behaves rashly and a bit immature this time.

The plot involves a convergence of multiple worlds. By ”worlds” I mean parallel dimensions or something. And there’s a dark elf who wants to turn it all…well, dark. It gets a bit New Age with the wormholes opening at mystic power cores and such. I’m actually a bit surprised they only played with the one in the vicinity of Stonehenge and didn’t also take us on a tour of the pyramids in Egypt and the Americas. Anyhoo, it is also proven to us that beings from Asgaard can be killed.

And of course the film makers had fun with the Loki character. He has long teetered between villain and anti-hero and they’re still milking that to good effect. But for a hot minute in this movie they might even succeed in making him a sympathetic character for you.

Decent action with great visuals, plus some nice sprinklings of humor make up for whatever problems you might find with the plot and premise. Overall, a fun flick your girlfriend will probably enjoy more than you.

Amazon Reviews For Dummies

I just had to excerpt from Larry Correia’s rant over on his blog. He put voice to some of the frustration so many authors have to swallow. Looks like the straw that broke the camel’s back was some jerk who admittedly didn’t even read the book he posted a review for, but gave it two stars because he didn’t like the price.

(For the record, Mr. Correia has no control over price-setting, since he is traditionally published.)

Here’s part of the rant:

“I didn’t like the color of the box the book was shipped in. ONE STAR!” “I bought this book that is clearly not in the genre I like, so it gets ONE STAR for not being in the genre I wanted because I’m too fucking stupid to read the back cover blurb!” On and on. Holy shit, there should be an IQ test before people are allowed to use the internet, because you are really pissing off the rest of us who don’t sleep in helmets.

Authors simply love having our average ranking pulled down for bullshit that has absolutely nothing to do with the actual book. “I do/don’t like sci-fi. This book has/doesn’t have sci-fi in it. ONE STAR!” “I don’t like whales. Whales are stupid and fat and so is Herman Melville! Moby Dick gets ONE STAR!”

It would be difficult to capture the attitude of this type of reviewer more accurately than these two paragraphs do.

I’ve seen quite a bit of this kind of garbage on Amazon, but I don’t really have a solution for it. The fact that Amazon makes it so easy for their customers to leave reviews is a plus. 95% of people who read a book never leave a review; and it’s too bad that that percentage does not include all the idiots, petty vindictive harpies and PC thought police.

But alas, the 5% who do review has a strong representation from those demographics. Larry is spot on with his lampoon of the individuals who read outside their genre boundaries, then pan the book for not being in the genre they prefer.

I’ve got a hunch some of the drive-by reviews I’ve seen are written by authors (or wannabe authors) hoping to elevate their own reputation by slinging mud at the competition.

As semi-prolific Amazon reviewer myself, I often err on the side of being too generous with the star rating…especially for indie authors. I figure indies need all the help they can get, so I’ve given a lot of 5-star reviews on Amazon when I normally would have been a bit more critical. I usually don’t post a review at all when I think a book only deserves 1 or 2 stars.

And y’know what I’ve noticed? I get a lot of “not helpful” votes on the rare occasion that I do post a tough review. Right up to and including 4-star reviews! I take my time to convey what the book is about, careful not to give away the ending or too many spoilers, and point out what I liked about the book (all for no compensation and often not even reciprocation)…only to have the author and/or their fans vote my review down.

One change I do see as positive is the removal of tagging.

So far as I know it never helped either authors or readers anyway, it was abused as a marketing tool…and then there was my own experience.

I noticed somebody had tagged another author’s book “anti-Semitic” and a few other shocking accusations. I had read the book and knew this was total BS, so I blogged about it. Next thing you know, my own debut novel got tagged “anti-Semitic.”

Now, anyone who has read Hell & Gone knows that was BS, too. I mean, I wouldn’t be surprised if my name was only a couple spaces down from Salmon Rushdie’s on the Islamic Hit List for how Zionist a couple of my heroes are.  And I’m sure the Neo-Nazis would include me on a list of their own (assuming they could read or write).

This is how easy it is to malign the character of an author (or anyone) in the Information Age. An accusation is all that’s needed to wreck somebody’s reputation, because most people’s knees will obediently jerk without them ever checking (or thinking) for themselves to find out if there’s any truth to it.

This is one of the costs of freedom: one or two assholes can ruin a good thing for everybody.

Arrow Season 1

Originally posted October 2013

As a child, I would have killed to be able to watch all the superhero TV shows that are available right now. I would have found a series about Green Arrow to be especially cool–I read a reprint of one of his Silver Age stories in the back of a Brave and the Bold once and really liked it. Of course that occurred before Speedy left his partner to join the Teen Titans and Green Arrow became an activist in tights.

About a year ago Arrow spun off from Smallville, with a different actor in the lead role, but the creative thrust of the series is a faithful extension of what the Smallville writers began. Elements of the original Green Arrow mythos survive in this umpteenth reboot of the character: he develops his archery skills while marooned on a small island, for instance. Oliver Queen was also born wealthy and privileged. But unlike his counterpart over in Gotham, Bruce Wayne, Queen’s father was not an altruistic philanthropist, but a shady, ruthless elitist. Shortly before a murder/suicide which leaves Oliver the sole beneficiary of their meager resources after being shipwrecked, Dad urges his son to right the wrongs he’s done. While on the island Oliver finds a booklet which, conveniently, contains the names of all Dad’s co-conspirators in some nebulous plot to molest “Starling City.”

Dad was crooked, but his crimefighting son is straight as an…well, you know.

Once this castaway is rescued, and returns to civilization after five years have passed, his first mission is somewhat more intense than returning a lost FedEx package to its intended recipient. He sets out to bring his father’s co-conspirators to ruin, and takes them down financially, the old-fashioned superhero way (delivering them to the police), or by a much more realistic way that surprised me–simply shooting a projectile into their vital organs. This Green Arrow is not afraid to deal death…at least in the pilot and maybe another episode or two early on. Obviously the writers have been encouraged to tone the violence down, though. He still might occasionally break the neck of a henchman, but he’s now morally opposed to dealing out the same justice to their bosses.

If this sounds like an Occupy Wall Street fantasy pastiche of Robin Hood stealing from the rich and giving to the poor…it should. This is pretty much confirmed when the Evil Capitalist Cabal are referred to as “One-Percenters.”

Oliver Queen still has some stereotype One-Percenter attitudes, at least when it comes to wasting arrows.

Oliver Queen working out.
The series diligently shows the Arrow training to keep in peak condition for his crusade, which also offers up plenty of beefcake shots for the much-coveted female audience.

One aspect of the series “bible” I approve of is a commitment to showing Arrow working out–both in strength training and martial arts. For anyone whose job it is to be ready for combat at a moment’s notice, constant training is imperative. Not every writer understands or remembers this.

That said, after taking pains to show us Arrow’s fighting ability (by Hollywood standards), they have him do stuff like shoot arrows at a guy from three feet away for the sake of intimidation. Sheez, why not just smack him around a bit? You never see more than about six arrows in his quiver, yet he shoots about twice that many in quick succession during the first minute or so of any given confrontation with bad guys. And most of those are intentionally wasted shots. Queen also doesn’t believe in target tips, evidently. Even during target practice he uses razor-sharp hunting heads, routinely sinking them into concrete, steel, or other material that would utterly destroy an arrowhead anywhere but Hollywood.

For somebody with his spray-and-pray tactical discipline, he really should be armed with a select-fire rifle. But this is Hollywood, folks: firearms are eeeeeeeeee-veel. Puncturing a vital organ with an arrow is heroic. Puncturing the same vital organ with a bullet is dastardly.

The obligatory amazon superninjas are already coming out of the woodwork in Season One. See, in order to be an invincible fighting machine in pop culture, one of two prerequisites must be met. You either have to undergo years of intense training (in this case, an extreme survival-of-the-fittest regimen on a desert island where you must track, hunt, fight and perform impressive acrobatics for every scrap of food for five years), forging your mind and body into a weapon…

…Or you merely need to be female.

The Huntress
Arrow provides another character reboot during the first season–in this case an origin story for the Huntress.

Picking up where Smallville left off, this show is introducing more super characters from the DC pantheon. The Barry Allen Flash is rumored to be scheduled for a reboot in this series (I’m only eight episodes into the first season, so I don’t know if this has happened yet). But so far we’ve seen the Huntress; an ex-girlfriend of Queen’s who is strikingly similar to Black Canary (though her name is different from what I remember); supervillaness China White…and Oliver’s little sister Thea has been referred to by the nickname “Speedy”–so don’t be surprised if she turns out to be a superhuman master of archery and unarmed combat (all 81 pounds of her) and becomes a crimefighting partner in future episodes.

(This knee-jerk feminist fantasy is so universal that it is more obligatory than a sympathetic homosexual character in big-screen comedies. In comic books the two obsessions have merged seamlessly in characters like the Silver Age (Earth II) Batwoman, who the DC creative drones reinvented as a superdyke. So proud of themselves over stuff like that, they then scrambled to find more super-characters to sodomize. The Golden Age (Earth II) Green Lantern is now a posterboy for the Rainbow Revolution, too. Even Archie has jumped on the bandwagon–not with a crimefighting buttboy but a limp-wristed “war hero.”)

Even the acting and direction carry over from Smallville–and not just in the pilot episode. One of the methods that would not grate on me so much if it hadn’t already been so overused goes like this: Lex Luthor or somebody like him converses with the hero or some other character. They stand about three-to-five feet apart. Then when the time comes for the self-consciously memorable line in the exchange of dialog, the heavy steps toward the camera to deliver it with what I assume is supposed to be a menacing (yet understated) gleam in the eye and lowering of the voice.

Maybe this is an especially intimidating technique in real life. I doubt it, but my instincts keep me from trying it out. Stepping so close to deliver a threat or insulting one-liner would put me within easy range to get popped in the face.

The series has been amusing so far, but I can already see seeds of idiocy being planted in the first season storyline. For now it’s not a bad distraction while you’re on the exercise bike or the weight machine.

Red-Blooded American Men Examine Pop-Culture and the World