Geek Guns

A second look at the faith in Desperado

Over the weekend I decided to re-watch Desperado as something of a time-waster.  I have to say this is one of my favorite movies - it's not profound or anything, but it is great at what it strives to be: a fun, witty, sexy, Mexican shoot-'em-up film with a superlative soundtrack.

Everything just clicks and it's the kind of movie where you can just drop in and enjoy what's coming next.

However, as is my wont, I noticed that there's also a subtext of faith in the story.  This was there from the beginning, but given Hollywood's implacable hatred of Christianity, and stands out much more now than it did in 1995.  I'm planning on doing a writeup on this for because it would also dovetail nicely with my Geek Guns column about it and my recent article on Robert Rodriguez's Spy Kids.


The Road Warrior: fun, but also stupid

The Mad Max series gave a big boost to the genre of "post-apocalyptic" fiction.  Foremost among them was The Road Warrior, which veered away from the Death Wish style social commentary of the first movie and dove straight into life after civilizational collapse.

I'll be honest: this is a pretty stupid movie.  It has plot holes the size of semi trucks and all sorts of hand-waving to push things forward, but it has had a huge impact on the public imagination. 

Which is funny, because the story makes no sense.  For example, there is no reason the protagonists and Lord Humongous can't simple do some sort of barter trade.  Even the most violent barbarian peoples - the Mongols, the Huns, the Vandals, the Goths - were wiling to trade when it was profitable.

Also: where are the firearms?  No, I don't expect craft weapons, but they clearly have the metallurgy to soup up engines - machining barrels and bolts to make crude firearms is no great stretch.  In fact, we know these things exist in places like the Khyber Pass - which is a pretty anarchic place.

All that aside, the movie's distinct look has become part of popular culture, which means that even though it's deeply silly, it can't be classified as anything other than a smashing success.

Truth be told, the whole point of the film is to do a bunch of violent car wrecks.  That's what we really want to see and that's what we get.

There is also a lesson insofar as the people who work to overthrow the existing order often have no clear notion of what comes next.  In that sense, the plague of ultraviolent punk rocker biker dudes serve as a cautionary tale for our present age.


Die Hard 2: Plot Holes the size of Dulles Airport

I think I'm done with the Die Hard franchise.  The first one was fun and original, but the second was just a bit much.

I'm not looking for gritty realism, just something remotely plausible.  The entire 'hostage drama' would have solved by using a pay phone and calling another airport.

A particular lowlight was Bruce Willis' character saying that the 'terrorists' have "Glock 7" pistols, made of ceramic and invisible on airport scanners.

Ah, yes, the plastic gun thing.  I'd forgotten about that.  Do I even need to point out that Glocks have polymer frames but the barrel and slide are metal?  Or that the ammunition is also metal?

Yes, I know action movie.  But it's a particularly stupid action movie, which is annoying.  Another bit: everyone carries M-16s like they're in a Vietnam film, waving them all over the place.  Neat.

There is the usual social commentary about the media being whores, and of course it takes place at Christmas (but like the original is not a Christmas movie).

I'm not even going to say it's a worthwhile time-waster because it's not.  Any one of the Death Wish movies would be a better way to go.

Die Hard is definitely not a Christmas movie

For the first time in many years, last night I re-watched the original Die Hard.

It was quite good, and like many iconic action films, part of what makes it so popular is its pointed social commentary.   Whereas Death Wish and Dirty Harry offered trenchant criticisms on the passive response of politicians to rising crime and societal breakdown, Die Hard not only offers a critique of career-obsessed married mothers but also the colossal ineptitude of both police leadership and the FBI.

That puts it in the first rank of action films and the four sequels prove that it found a repeat audience.

However, that doesn't mean it's a Christmas film.

I'm not sure where this started, but it's taken on a life of its own, likely because when it's taking a break from ruining peoples' lives, social media likes to indulge in heated debates about trivial topics.

Since I rarely use social media, I tuned this out and when the topic came up, I ignored the discussion because I hadn't seen it in so long.  However, with my recent viewing I think it's blindingly obvious that the only Christmas element in it is the time of year.

The terrorist/robbery caper was set to take advantage of an empty building and lax law enforcement presence,  and a Christmas party offered the perfect opportunity.

That's it.  There are perfunctory Christmas references but only because that's what people say at that time of year.

In that sense, it's a Christmas movie in the sense that every film about the Battle of the Bulge is a Christmas movie, because that's when the combat took place.

No one experiences a change of heart relating to the season, no one's faith is strengthened, no one undergoes a Scrooge-like transformation.  There is zero spiritual growth.  Yes, the McClane's reconcile, but that's a trope out of The Love Boat, not a Christmas message.

*Those of you who read my Geek Guns feature on John McClane's Beretta 92F will note that I do in fact make a passing reference to the film being a "timeless Christmas film," but I think it was pretty clear I was being ironic.



Those 70s movies: Charles Bronson in Breakout and The Stone Killer

I'm not the only one building up a DVD library based on discount-bin multi-packs.  A friend of mine recently acquired four Charles Bronson movies from the mid-70s .  So far, we've seen two:  The Stone Killer and Breakout.

The 70s were breakout years for Bronson, and he was machining out multiple films a year.  None of them became what we think of as blockbusters, but they were cheap, quick to film and brought in a steady income for the studios.

Most never reached the societal impact of the original Death Wish, which along with Dirty Harry, created a new genre of tough-guy vigilante/rogue cop films.

In The Stone Killer, Bronson plays a rogue detective and it is very similar to other films of the genre.

Breakout is a little off the beaten path.  In that film Bronson is a low-rent pilot/schemer who is hired to break a wealthy American out of a Mexican prison where he's been confined on the orders of his corrupt and evil grandfather.  The reason for this is never made clear, but of course complications ensue.

In The Stone Killer, we once again learn that it's super dangerous to be Bronson's movie girlfriend.

Breakout is fun because once again, Spain serves as a proxy for Mexico.  I particularly appreciated the Federales having Spanish Mauser rifles.

Neither of these are classics in any sense.  Still, as someone who grew up in the age of movie rentals, being able to buy 4 films for $10 is quite a deal.

Geek Guns ain't dead yet

While I don't normally do "link posts" to my work over at, some of my readers might be interested to know that I added a new installment to the Geek Guns series, this one centering on Dirty Harry's .44 Magnum (Smith and Wesson Model 29).

The feature ran for 23 straight weeks before I took a break, and while I don't have a follow-up series planned, I will continue to add new installments as the opportunities present themselves.

The primary challenge is of course access to iconic weapons.  For example, I'd love to do a feature on the Colonial Marine weapons from Aliens, but I don't know anyone with a Thompson submachinegun (which is what those were).  I guess I need to hang out with a wealthier crowd.


Clueless civilians talking about military firearms

A few months ago I vented my spleen over Youtubers who purport to know military history but - because they haven't even the slightest hint of military service - get things badly wrong.

As I wrote then, I'm no Audie Murphy.  I went years without so much as a weapons qualification, let alone experiencing a real firefight.

Still, even the most decorated operators will spend the bulk of their careers in garrison, dealing with paperwork and all the other myriad torments that make military life what it is.  It is something that truly has to be experienced - either as an active participant, or their family member - to be fully understood.

Today I ran into an example of a different kind of ignorance, and once again it comes down to those who actually went through Basic Training vs those who haven't.

I should note that I generally enjoy the videos at, but I also enjoy watching the proprietor get dragged in the comments.

Sling swivels are weird and stupid things - until the ground is covered in mud or snow and you'd like to put your rifle down for a moment.  Then they are pretty nifty.  It's not super-common, but sometimes there's a field feed and one can't just leave them lying around.

Similarly, when you are playing on the range, mishaps and misfeeds are annoying, maybe even a distraction, but overall you're having a good time.  If, however, you get the same repeat stoppages and there are actual stakes involved, it's an entirely different situation.  This is why weapons such as the Chauchat can't ever be rehabilitated.

I should clarify once again that military service does not by itself convey firearms expertise, merely that having it in addition to research and personal experience provides a clear analytical advantage.


For a Few Dollars More is an uncomfortable movie to watch

Over at my extended meditation on the perils of prequels is now live and I give pride of place to the Man with No Name "trilogy" of films:  A Fistful of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

Today I want to talk about the second film in the series, which clearly builds on the first.

One of the best parts of the film is the rivalry between Clint Eastwood's "Manco" and Lee Van Cleef's "Colonel Mortimer."  During the late 1950s and early 1960s, there were a lot of films that featured a pair of protagonists pulling dirty tricks on each other.  Charade is a great example of this.

As one would expect of the author of a column on movie firearms, For A Few Dollars More is a drool-fest of vintage Geek Guns. 

However, these pleasures are greatly offset by the extremely painful scenes where the villiain (Gian Maria Volonte's "El Indio) demonstrates his cruelty and depravity.  The way in which these sequences are extended goes beyond any storytelling necessity and is clearly a moment of satisfaction for the director.

One thing I've learned over the years is that while there are some happy coincidences in movies, most of the time the things that end up in them are meant to be there.  This is particularly true in extended sequences that create discomfort.  It's now come to light that many controversial scenes were imposed upon the actors and far from being high art, these sequences were really just the directors getting their jollies.

That cuts into the otherwise enjoyable spectacle of Eastwood and Van Cleef double-crossing each other while making improbable shots with beautifully-crafted prop guns.

Some "think pieces" at Bleeding Fool

So far, I haven't gotten much in the way of complaints about abandoning (temporarily?) the Geek Guns project.  I found having a weekly deadline really restricted me creatively, and since I wanted to start doing another book, I needed to clear some space for that.

At the same time, I also wanted to clear out some of the drafts I'd left lingering around the place, and so I've put a new (and somewhat long) piece at the other site about the role of fear in making brave characters.

Having written that article, I was inspired to do another, and I foresee at least one more musing on the elements of good writing and compelling storytelling.

Of course, I'm not exactly a smashing success myself (although I am technically a best-selling author, if only for a day), but most of my negative reviews deal with poor editing, not the actual content.  Alas, I fear that as grammar and spelling continue to be condemned by the educational establishment, things will only get worse in those respects.

I think a good story can overcome those defects - even if it takes multiple post-publication revisions.

To put it another way, the craptastic character development of Anakin Skywalker wasn't the result of a typo.



Geek Guns on hiatus

After 23 consecutive installments, I've decided to take a break from Geek Guns over at  The decision is based on a thinning of material to work with and also declining feedback.  People used to comment on the articles and now they're not.

I'm not writing this stuff for my health, so I figure I'll take a break, recharge, and maybe write more later.

There's also a sense that in trying to sustain a weekly column, I'm siphoning off creative energy that could be used for bigger projects.   When I was writing Long Live Death, I basically abandoned that site, and I started writing again only after the book was published.

So I'm going to take a break and see what happens.  I've got some ideas for a book and I know I'm being horribly indecisive, vacillating back and forth between projects.  My hope is that if I dam up the creative energy for a bit, it will cut a new channel and I can roll with the flood.