They Live

Far from being outdated, They Live is now more relevant than ever.

While I probably would have cast someone other than this professional wrestler as the hero, John Carpenter must have thought he could entice action adventure fans into watching this science fiction satire with “Rowdy Roddy” in the lead role. That would also explain the obligatory (and marathon-length) fight scene that occurs after the scene above.

Hmm. Those are profit-driven decisions, John.

In the tradition of the cheesiest action movies of all time, here’s one of the most memorable lines from They Live:

The whole plight-of-a-blue-collar-working-class-Joe-trying-to-find-a-job schtick in the first act would be much more believable in 2013 than it was during the economic boom of the 1980s, but on the plus side it was accompanied by a nice bluesy soundtrack.

There are two kinds of people who like this movie: Those who see it as harmless exploitative schlock; and those who consider it a brilliant metaphor for the reality we live in, right up there with The Matrix. (The second group could be broken down, however, according to political affiliation.)

Whichever group you might belong to, if you haven’t seen it yet, you should.

The Condemned

I love watching good movies (and reading good books) and am usually motivated to tell others about them. (Most of my Amazon reviews are four or five stars because I’m more motivated to share my reactions when I enjoyed the experience than when I didn’t.) However, I kinda’ consider it my job here at VP to also warn you about the stuff I don’t think is so good. Here is one such review.

Somebody lent me the Condemned DVD and, with no internet connection in the crib at that time, I burned up a couple hours watching it.

It’s a scenario I’ve seen before: evil rich guy throws a bunch of desperate cutthroats into an elaborately controlled environment and has them fight to the death (Similar to The Running Man, in a way). The “twist” this time is that they’re all death row prisoners from around the world. Evil Rich Dude’s logic is, “They’re gonna die anyway, so why can’t I make a buck off it?”

OK–sounds logical, I guess. And there were some nice touches throughout the flick. But amidst all the splattering blood, the film makers kept going back to the theme of how inhuman the spectators can become in spectator sports. Sort of like the original Rollerball, only subtle.

As subtle as a 12-pound sledgehammer.

There were some real douche-bag characters in this flick, and the director employed all the usual tactics to make us want to see them suffer the same kind of torture and horrific deaths that they inflicted. And then we were supposed to feel guilty about it. “OMG! We’re just as bad as the 40 million people paying to see this snuff circus on the internet! Maybe we’re almost as bad as the eeveel capitalist scum that’s getting rich off the whole thing!”


OK, whatever. Let’s get to the fighting, since that’s really the appeal of this kind of film, ironic guilt messages notwithstanding.

Steve Austin…wasn’t he an astronaut who suffered a terrible accident, then wound up with bionic legs, arm and eye?

…A man barely alive.

“Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology.

We can make him better than he was. Better…




I like old western movies, alright?

But even so, I admit they had some of the most ridiculous fight scenes ever filmed: 20-minute bare-knuckle brawls. Punches telegraphed from two miles away. Men on the receiving end of those dramatic haymakers standing around waiting to get hit (when it was their turn). Heros flooring villains with said haymakers, then stooping down to pull the villain to his feet in order to hit him again.

Well, the fight coreography in this flick was that bad. Not just with fists, either. The sadistic, murderous ex-SAS dude was given a bow with arrows. Twice he had our hero dead to rights, but didn’t take a shot. One of those times, rather than launch an arrow into Austin’s considerable target area from his protected position on high ground, he jumps down to Austin’s level to menace him with the bow at melee range. (Evidently the director of a few Arrow episodes was inspired by this flick.)

I guess classic westerns have some stiff competition for Most Ridiculous Fight Scenes in “professional wrestling.” That’s where I think Austin came from and probably what influenced the stupid fighting.

Movies like this are hard to pull off, I guess. Especially when they take their hackneyed message too seriously.

Nevertheless, you can find it here if you refuse to heed my warning.

The Champ Has a Glass Jaw!

I’m doubling up the jab, here. My last blog entry was about boxing fiction; this one is about a boxing game. It may be an “old” game, but it’s still a fun action game to play. So nyah nyah.

Well, let me qualify that: Fight Night was fun to play.

Round Two was an improvement on the original. Round Three was arguably an improvement on Two. Then Round Four stunk so bad that EA Sports evidently gave up on it (until Fight Night Champion, which redeemed them to an extent I guess).

It seems that the design team used up the entire budget improving the graphics for Round Four, then had to outsource the game play programming to pro bono data entry clerks. Aside from adding long-overdue fighters like Mike Tyson to the pantheon…

…Round Four took every weakness of the earlier versions and concentrated on making them even worse.

  1. EVERY BOUT RESULTS IN A KNOCKOUT. This is a case of entertainment-over-realism (real fights often go the score cards even when two punchers are matched). Not so bad by itself but a related issue is:
  2. EVEN FEATHER-FISTED DANCERS ARE KNOCKOUT ARTISTS IN FIGHT NIGHT. Some attempt at capturing the style of the real fighters was made–the AI version of Ray Leonard has an incredible defense, for instance. But everyone’s a power-puncher.
  3. THE TRAINING GAMES ARE EVEN MORE DIFFICULT WITHOUT BEING INTERESTING. This was already the trend by Round Three. Four put the trend on steroids.
  4. YOU HAVE TO BE A COUNTER-PUNCHER TO WIN. According to this game, the only time one boxer can inflict serious damage to another is after blocking a punch. Whose idea was this?
  5. AN EFFECTIVE PARRY RENDERS THE BOXER WHO THREW THE PUNCH UTTERLY DEFENSELESS. C’mon, have you guys ever even watched real boxers in a fight?
  6. SUFFER ONE KNOCKDOWN AND YOU’LL PROBABLY NEVER GET UP. Your character might still have plenty of juice after a flash knockdown, but that won’t help you without the Magic Sequence of Controller Input. In the Fight Card Round Four Universe, Buster Douglass would lose in Tokyo; Jersey Joe Walcott retains the title after Marciano’s challenge; and Joe Louis loses half his fights.

But Round Four introduces some brand new sucky features, too.

  • There’s a delay between control input and screen action that makes spastic brainless button-mashers invincible against those who attempt to use skill and strategy.
  • The cut man is of little significance.
  • Human-controlled fighters plateau in abilities after about 10 fights, while AI characters keep improving.
  • Button configuration was designed for an epileptic octopus.

If you’re like me and enjoy fun games regardless of their vintage, I strongly recommend Fight Night Round Two or Round Three, or perhaps Champion, which adds a storyline, but duck Round Four like it’s Sugar Ray Robinson with something to prove.

Paul Bishop’s Felony Fists

After Paul Bishop read Mel Odom’s retro-boxing novel Smoker, he found Odom’s website and looked up his contact info.

“We hit it off immediately,” says Bish. “We had a ton in common including a shared love of the fight pulps.”

During their first phone conversation, the brainstorming began for a new sports fiction series. The series is called Fight Card. It is a throwback to the boxing pulps of yesteryear.

Felony Fists was the first Fight Card instalment by “Jack Tunney.” For you armchair fight historians out there, that nome de plume is exactly what you suspect it is–a fusion between Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney, though the series takes place in the ’50s, not the ’20s (when those two were heavyweight champs). Several different authors in the Fight Card stable are writing under that amalgamated name.

The Fight Card series consists of monthly 25,000 word novelettes, designed to be read in one or two sittings. The stories and stylings are inspired by the fight pulps of the ’30s and ’40s – such as Fight Stories Magazine – and Robert E. Howard’s two-fisted boxing tales featuring Sailor Steve Costigan. – Paul Bishop

Patrick “Felony” Flynn is an LA beat cop who is also possibly the world’s most seasoned amateur middleweight. He’s offered a spot on the detective squad if he’ll help knock gangster Mickey Cohen out of boxing. That means he has to move up in weight to light-heavy, turn pro, and arrest Cohen’s fighter Solomon King’s ascent toward a title shot against Archie Moore. A middleweight moving up to fight a badass light-heavyweight is a monumental chore all by itself, but in case the reader doesn’t appreciate that, the pressure is heaped upon Felony Flynn increasingly right up until the last chapter.

During all this time, Flynn becomes partners with another rookie detective, Tombstone. A black detective on an historically/notoriously bigoted force like the LAPD must be exceptional, and Tombstone is. This subplot, a counterfeiting subplot, and the fight plot all come together and are tied off nicely. The writer set out to tell a retro-style pulp boxing yarn and I’d say he did a good job.

For my taste, Cohen’s tactic to get Flynn to throw the fight was overkill. The stakes were plenty high already, as were the odds against Flynn in the fight. For Cohen to be so scared of an Irish brawler with one professional fight (against an over-rated has-been) presenting a threat to a contender who consumes talented pros for breakfast (and who Archie Moore is worried about) was just too much. In Flynn’s other fights, he never was 100% on. He was either distracted, or careless…something to put the outcome in doubt. I really would have liked to see Flynn go to war from Round One in the climactic fight, and let the tension come from the fact that he’s overmatched, and making it through 15 rounds with Solomon King requires a superhuman effort. Plenty of tension that way and far more realistic.

Speaking of realism, I just have to provide the following advisory about boxing technicalities:

In boxing, a right-handed fighter does not have a right jab or a right hook. He jabs and hooks with the left. He throws straight rights or a right cross. (Everything I’m saying is mirror-opposite for a southpaw, of course.) What some people call a right hook from a right-hander is actually either an angled right uppercut or a roundhouse right–an ill-advised punch 99% of the time, though I did see Lennox Lewis score a knockout with one.

I don’t know how many other readers would notice or care about getting these fundamental details right, but for me it was an annoyance in what otherwise was an enjoyable read. To be fair, a LOT of authors who write about boxing make these kind of mistakes. (One exception is this book from the Fight Card series.)

Paul Bishop retired from the LAPD, so he knows a thing or two about the crime angle. That and his hard-hitting, fast moving prose in Felony Fists makes this a great read, and one of many highly entertaining Fight Card books.

P.S: Check out this trailer for Fight Card: Front Page Palooka below!

The Piccadilly Cowboys Ride Again

iconThe novels of David Whitehead – aka: Ben Bridges – dominate Amazon’s western bestseller lists, but it’s not just his own novels keeping fans of fast action westerns on the edge of their seats. In the 1970s, numerous violent, pulpish, western series, concocted by a revered group of writers known collectively as the Piccadilly Cowboys, filled the paperback spinner racks of their day. These lost gems have now been given new covers, new formatting, and new life under the Piccadilly Publishing umbrella.

Piccadilly Publishing began as the brainchild of Dave’s saddle-pard, Mike Stotter (himself no slouch when it comes to writing successful westerns). Let loose to ride the publishing range again, Herne The Hunter, Crow, Caleb Thorn and many other rough, tough, six-shooting characters are thrilling fans around the world again.

Recently, Piccadilly Publishing has expanded their range to include two of the top western series of all time, Fargo and Sundance from John Benteen, as well as more contemporary pulp titles – such as the classic WWII series The Sergeant and spy series Butler from Len Levinson.

Taking time out from his busy schedule (which also includes installing the flooring in a new residential conservatory), David (“the good-looking half of the partnership”) answers some pointed questions about the current state of publishing …


I grew up at a time when western movies were still big box-office, and western TV shows were still very popular. In addition, my dad was a big western fan. He took me to see all those movies, and we never missed a single episode of any of those TV shows. He worked a lot of graveyard shifts as a security guard, and when I was very young he sometimes spent his days (while I was at school) making up and recording his own western stories into our reel-to-reel tape recorder. That way he could still tell me a bedtime story, even though he was at work! He used to wiggle his fingers in a bowl of water to denote outlaws fording a stream, and burst balloons to simulate gunfire.

I myself was always a natural writer—it’s all I ever wanted to be. So I guess I was steeped in the Old West right from the word go.

Next year, I celebrate thirty years as Ben Bridges. My first book, The Silver Trail, was bought in 1984, but not published until 1986. What I hope to do is write a new story in all my old series, just as a thank you to the good folks who are still reading them all.
Read the rest of the interview over at Bish’s Beat!

Ender’s Game – A Review

Originally posted November 2013 by Hank Brown.

Watching this film, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to other specific sci-fi on the big screen: Not too long ago the Star Trek reboot showed us Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Uhura together at Star Fleet Academy. And some 15 years ago was the abysmal adaptation of Starship Troopers. I liked Star Trek, despite my annoyance at some aspects of it, but still, Ender’s Game is, so far, my favorite space cadets-playing-war-games movie.

As far as Heinlein goes, this film captured the spirit of his military science fiction better than the movie that bore the title of his trail-blazing book. I’ve never read Orson Scott Card, but am tempted to at least add his books to my bucket list, now.

Card used an interesting premise for this storyline: Future armed forces will train children for war, since youngsters adapt quicker to new/changing technology. Hence the hero is a child, with the responsibility of Earth’s very existence resting on his bony pre-adolescent shoulders.

Or is he a hero? It wouldn’t surprise me if the critics hate this movie because of what survives to the big screen from Card’s book: the suggestion that ruthlessness is required to win wars. That is watered-down considerably by writing the character as a “bleeding heart” type with an emotional maturity more on par with an aged monk…who just happens to be a savant with military tactics and strategy.

The acting is fair, on average–nothing spectacular. The boy playing Ender is called upon to be misty-eyed in too many close-ups to remember, and he delivers. And Harrison Ford hams it up (this is a consistent phenomenon in his recent roles, seems to me) as Ender’s stage mom commander. Other actors are believable enough. (In Ford’s defense, the role did strike me as written with a lack of dimension.)

What made the experience enjoyable for me was the character interaction written into the academy scenes. Group dynamics can be fascinating from an anthropological perspective (or depressing and infuriating from a participatory one). Reduce the group members in age to when the passion and motives of human beings are easily observed, and the intensity amplifies accordingly. For this reason I should have loved Lord of the Flies, but they lost me at “fade in.”

I can nit-pick pretty much any movie to death (even those I like), and have. This one is no exception. But I’ll just mention one thing that bothered me: the mixing of naval and land force ranks in one branch of service. Having sergeants, colonels and admirals all in the same branch is just…wrong.

But anyway, I found that the good outweighed the bad and Ender’s Game is worth a watch.

What is a Kindle/E-Reader Device?

iconVirtual Pulp Press and the Two-Fisted Blog are all about old-school action adventure (yes, even some new stuff is old-school), so it makes sense a lot of folks who visit here prefer a paperback to reading a book on some newfangled electronic device.

If that is your preference, then this post is for you.

When I first heard about e-readers, my reaction was, “What the…?” Why in the world would you want to take something as simple as a book and replace it with something that requires electricity? That makes about as much sense as replacing mechanical steering linkage in an automobile with electronic controls. (That right there is the pinnacle of stupidity, IMO.) And my eyes get tired enough looking at computer displays every day. I experienced similar hostility when the military (then the world at large) started becoming dependent on the GPS, but that’s another rant story.

I eventually changed my tune and, in about 2011 I got an e-reader of my own.

What is a Kindle reading device (or other brand of e-reader)? It is a portable library that you yourself stocked, effortlessly.

First off, one thing an e-reader does that paper can’t is allow you to carry thousands of books around with you in a device that is thinner and lighter than the average paperback. An entire library you can take anywhere you go. Fiction, non-fiction, magazines…and if you’re like me and don’t like random strangers starting up conversations with you when they study the cover of what you’re reading (that right there may be worth an article in itself), an e-reader offers you a greater degree of privacy. All busybodies know is that you’re looking at some kind of device. Of course they can then pester you with questions like “what is that–a big cell phone?” or “whatcha readin?” but hey, baby steps. You can also upload audio books to the device, or music if you like listening to tunes while you read. (At least you could with my model of Kindle…more on that later.)

Ever been reading while you eat, or doing something else that requires at least one hand, when your hand cramps up from holding the book open to the page you’re on? Then you either have to put the food down and turn pages every minute with your other hand, or demonstrate impressive dexterity by turning the pages with two fingers while the other three continue to hold the book open. Well, e-readers are cramp-free.  And “pages” are turned easily with the press of the ambidextrious buttons. I’ve never heard anyone else mention this advantage, but it was an important one for me.

By-the-way, one surprisingly common objection to e-readers I’ve heard is that people like the smell of books. Hmm. Freud may be better-equipped to analyze that than I am. Though I certainly don’t mind pleasant aromas, I buy books to read them; not to smell them. Maybe I should develop some sort of perfume that smells like paper to spray on reading devices, and sell it for the difference in cost between a mass market paperback and an e-book.

Ooh, that’s another point. Buy a traditionally published paper book and you’re not just paying the author, agent, editor(s), corporate suits and their assistants, but also the truckdrivers and secretaries and beancounters in the distributing company, the clerks in the bookstore…and so on. With an e-book, the author gets a cut, and the publishing company gets a cut, and the book is delivered painlessly to your device from a wireless network. In other words: the same book for the fraction of the price!

Well, here is one caveat to the above paragraph: the New York Publishing Cartel (NYPC for short), for reasons of their own (involving some combination of greed, desperation, self-preservation, malice and fear) have been jacking up the price of the e-books they have rights to until they’re almost as expensive as the mass market paperbacks. But that doesn’t make e-reading as prohibitive as they’d like, because…

The NYPC no longer has the power to tell you what kind of books to read!

E-publishing has democratized the literary landscape, and you can now find good books that the suits in New York City would otherwise have decided you could not read. And those books usually cost much less. If you walk into a book store, and go to the fiction section, for instance, your choices are:

  • romance
  • chick-lit
  • young adult
  • paranormal
  • supernatural thrillers
  • political thrillers
  • techno thrillers
  • gay/lesbian

But what if you want to read something not in those genres? Tough luck, if you only read paper. With an e-reader, though, the selection is nearly unlimited.

There is a downside to the e-publishing revolution, however. It’s much easier to get work published now than it ever has been, and so a lot of garbage is flooding the market, peddled by people barely competent enough to write a tweet or Facebook status. They can’t spell, punctuate or put a coherent sentence together (much less suspend disbelief or present compelling conflict), but by Zeus they’re authors now, and nobody can tell them different. There are so many of them, pimping so much garbage for such cheap prices, that it can be difficult to glean out the good stuff amongst it (that’s one reason Virtual Pulp Press went into business).

But even before the e-publishing revolution there was more crap than good–it was just edited crap.

As long as your e-reader is with you, and you have a 4G, 3G or wireless connection, you can shop for a book whenever you want without driving anywhere, and it’s delivered in seconds, ready for you to dig in. Also, I believe every online store has some sort of forum for feedback, to tell others what you thought of the book if you’re so inclined.

Earlier I mentioned eye strain–a valid concern. Some of the readers (especially the newer ones competing with the iPad) are backlit, and so quite similar to computer or smartphone displays. But this is where the early Kindles stand head and shoulders above the competition. Their screens display pages that look like ink on paper. No backlighting. Reading a Kindle is no harder on your eyes than reading a paperback. You might be amazed when you take a look at one. When I first got mine the screen saver was on and I spent an embarrassing amount of time trying to peel off a protective sheet covering the screen…that wasn’t there. I assumed it was a protective cover with some information printed on it because I couldn’t imagine an electronic display ever looking like that.

While writing this post I’ve been interrupted 26 times, so this article may not be as comprehensive as I intended. What do you think–have I missed something?

P.S: Wow. While I was in the process of writing this very blog post, my Kindle bit the dust. It is out of warranty and the model I have isn’t even made anymore. Refer back to my initial reservations: Electronic devices will all eventually fail you. I was hoping this one would last longer. Never had a paperback do this to me. Sigh.

P.P.S: Actually, since I bought it at Target, I had paid extra for their additional coverage when the factory warranty expired. They tried to renege, and it got ugly for a while, but I was finally credited with the purchase cost. Unfortunately, the Kindle Keyboard is no longer made (free 3G + wireless; audio capabilities for recorded books or music, a physical keyboard, etc.), and Target quit carrying Kindles. I was ready to switch to Nook, but none of them could do all my Kindle did. In fact, I couldn’t even get the display Nooks to come off the screen saver. I wound up taking my Kindle to a gadget repair place (long story in itself) and using the store credit to buy an XBox.

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