Geek Guns

Bad Gandalf: Ian McKellen's Richard III

Going through my various writings and reviews, it may seem to some that I'm implacably opposed to remakes.  That's not quite true - what I dislike are bad, deconstructionist remakes.  If someone has a different take on the subject, or wants to consider the story from a different perspective, I'm open to it.

The works of William Shakespeare are a great example of things that can be remade over and over again and still be decent entertainment.  They are so compelling, so full of emotion and thought that they have altered the course of the English language.

That's why I decided to get a copy of Ian McKellen's production of Richard III.  I was intrigued to see what he would do with such a gloriously outrageous role.  Indeed, Richard is so notorious that Monty Python did a sketch featuring a psych ward of patients who lost themselves in the role.

It's not only expansive, but villainous, and any actor will tell you that villains are always more fun to play than heroes.

So in addition to watching Sir Ian chew on scenery, I was also intrigued by the setting, which was the 1930s.  I'm fascinated by that period, and the combination of political instability as well as the Abdication Crisis in England makes it a great choice.

Overall, I enjoyed the film.  It fully met my aesthetic and dramatic expectations.  I particularly liked the fact that Richard's weapon of choice was a Mauser C96 "Broomhandle."  Yes, it's a very sinister looking weapon, perfect for a villain, but it was also famously the weapon of choice for Winston Churchill.  There are lots of nice touches like that.

In addition to the classic hunchback, McKellen's Richard also has a withered left arm, akin to Wilhelm II, which remains (mostly) tucked into a pocket.  What this does is force all sorts of gyrations to smoke a cigarette, sign papers, etc.  This in turn allows him more opportunities to express his character's traits.  It's great fun to watch.

The soundtrack is great as well, and the choice of using Americans to play the Woodvilles was a nice touch.

No, the biggest problem was the sound itself, which was all over the place.  The transition from stage to film means that one can whisper, sigh and mutter while remaining audible.  Well, sometimes.  Whoever did the sound mix on this should never work again, because I had to constantly dial it up and then race it back down again.  Admittedly, my hearing is not what it was, but I can usually find a satisfactory volume and leave it for the duration of the film.  Not here.

And that's a big deal because it's SHAKESPEARE.  The lines are super-important.  I'll probably watch it again at some point, and try to find a happy midpoint, because it is an enjoyable film, and some movies improve with the watching.  I think this is one of them.

Which one of my books would fans of Patrick Swayze's Road House enjoy?

I've noticed a bunch of people are coming here via searches or links pertaining to Patrick Swayze's superlative Road House.

If you liked that film, you'll probably enjoy The Vampires of Michigan.  No, this isn't the usual 90s vintage tale of teen angst or social squabbling.  This is a driving, fast-paced tale that uses vampires to frame the action.  It's partly a meditation on what immortality would actually mean, and an extended chase where the each side in turn becomes the hunter and the hunted.

It was really fun to write, and when it came out, one of my friends (who is a fan) said it was the best writing I had yet done. 

One of the aspects I enjoyed was finally putting my firearms knowledge to narrative use.  Matching characters with weapons and showing them in action was fun.   (Only the bad guys use Glocks.)

The whole thing is written in a cinematic style, emphasizing showing rather than telling, and avoiding internal monologues.

Basically it's sexy, fun, high body-count action novel.   Check it out!

The blingiest guns ever: Romeo + Juliet

The other night I re-watched Baz Luhrmann's take on the Romeo and Juliet story, a mish-mash of the original dialogue put in a modern, spastic setting.

Like many of his offerings, the frenetic intro eventually fades into a deeper, more contemplative story, but Romeo + Juliet never really overcomes the jumpy pacing and need to make everything larger than life.

By that I mean that one can substitute guns for swords and still have the dueling angle work, but Luhrmann actually adds cartoon sound effects at various point, undermining the seriousness of the situation.  The "gas station" fight should have set a tone for how disruptive the two families are, but it becomes a total farce.

Thus, when we get to the love story, it's hard to sell it, even though it involves two of the prettiest of pretty people (the eerily young-looking Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio)

What the film does have in abundance are tricked-out, custom prop guns.  These things are sensational, from the engravings on the slide so that they match the text (when a character told to put up his sword, the camera zooms on the weapon, which has "Sword" written on it) to fobs hanging of the lanyard rings and magazine floor plates bearing the names of the clashing houses.

Lots of stainless or nickel finishes, and all of it is a gangster's dream brought to life.  I could do a heck of a Geek Guns article on it, but first I'd have to track down one of the Para Ordinance numbers or Taurus Beretta 92 clones.

Obviously, I think Shakespeare in modern dress can work, I just feel it needs to be more consistent in presentation.  Luhrmann has a whimsical side which can be very funny, but here I think it got away from him.

The guns are great, though.

Army of Darkness revisted - a yeoman effort with staying power

There were certain films in my youth that I watched more times than I can count.  Army of Darkness is one of them.  It was released when I was very active in medieval re-enactments and Dungeons & Dragons and everyone in my social set memorized the film.  In those days we did gaming get-togethers or hung out and inevitably a tape would go into the VCR to provide background noise.  Army of Darkness was the default choice because it has so many great, corny lines and requires so little effort to follow along.

It was the product of a different era, when Hollywood directors generally worked their way into the industry.  Start with short films, move onto TV or low-budget films (later including direct to video), and finally mid-grade films with a decent budget.

One of the reasons Hollywood is collapsing is that it has abandoned the system, instead plucking unqualified cast and crew based on diversity quota or political sentiment.  This is partly because the current generation takes its prosperity for granted, and so is careless with the wealth it inherited.

But in the 1980s, the old system was in place, and so you could get a guy like Sam Raimi, who cut his teeth on Super 8 cameras and slowly worked his way into the industry, all the while building a loyal production team, and honing his craft.  When Raimi was tapped for Spider-Man, it was the culmination of his work, and the resulting success of that film series shows it.

Raimi also has an interest in the subject matter of his films, and this also is readily apparent.  Like many writer/director/producers, he is a creature of various genres, and understands the conventions that the audience expects to be observed.  Again, this stands in stark contrast with the current "Fans will hate what we are doing with their favorite characters!" mentality.

I suspect part of that fidelity is the natural response of someone who has created characters of their own.  While Raimi's not hugely original, the Evil Dead franchise and Darkman films are legitimately his.  Thus, he knows what it is to have creative skin in the game.

As for the film, it's far more lavish than his other work, yet clearly filmed on a shoestring budget, and that's part of its charm.  It's not a serious work, but an exercise in fun, and the larger-than-life Ash - who combined hypermasculinity with working as a store clerk - is just fun to watch.

I should mention that Ash's shotgun was featured in my Geek Guns series.



The weird world of collectibles/antiques

Classical economics teaches us that the price of an item is based on the conjunction of supply and demand.  Of course, in the real world other factors come into play, such as the cost of production, which is in turn influenced by scarcity of materials and effort/skill needed to make the thing.

Thus: the reason why aged wines are so expensive is in part because it takes so much time and effort to produce them.

That being said, the demand for the given item is usually the decisive element in price discovery.

One thing I've learns in collecting antiques (including firearms) is that in a lot of cases, supply is irrelevant in determining price; demand is what matters.

Perhaps the most obvious example of this can be found in the prices for M1 Garand rifles and M1911 pistols.  These things were made by the millions, yet demand for them remains strong enough to make them far more expensive than much more rare (and therefore collectible) firearms.  I can think of a couple of firearms whose production total was a full digit less than either of these, some maybe two digits less (that is tens of thousands vs millions), but since no one knows, no one cares. 

It's like vintage cars.  More than a decade ago I saw an AMC Pacer in perfect condition driving to a summer auto show.  It was the first one I'd seen since the 1970s, and I bet that if it were possible to do an actual tally, Corvettes or Firebirds form the same period would absolutely outnumber the surviving Pacers.

The thing is, who wants a Pacer?  Demand matters more than supply.

The same is certainly true of sports card, books and anything else one wants to collect.  The comic book bubble is a great example of what happens when demand suddenly collapses.

The lesson to the discerning collector is to buy based on what you want, not on what you think someone else will want later.

The gage is thrown down on Underworld

A new author at has thrown shade at Underworld, which is one of my favorite films. 

Naturally, I shall respond forcefully.  Strong column to follow.

This was the bit that really set me off:

Selene’s inexplicable, unearned combat prowess reveals her as a Mary Sue: a character whose flawless abilities leave so few genuine challenges as to make everyone else irrelevant.

What utter nonsense.  Selene is an interesting character precisely because of her vulnerabilities.  She's handy with a pistol, but while she does well in the initial encounter, she has to flee for her life, leaving her partner behind.  That's hardly "flawless."

Similarly, her attempt to secure Michael doesn't succeed because she thumps all the werewolves effortlessly, she barely manages to drag him into her car and even then Lucien gives her a vicious wound that causes her to lose consciousness and wreck her car.  Michael, who she treated like baggage, ends up saving her life.

Selene wins, but she takes damage and is clearly not invincible.

There is also the emotional aspect of her character.  She has grown up with a set of assumptions that she slowly realizes simply are not true.  She must therefore struggle to make sense of the lies she has been fed, and make her own way.  This includes recognizing the humanity in werewolves and even teaming up with Michael against her mentor.

A Mary Sue character, by contrast, has no real struggle other than to fully appreciate her own awesomeness. 

Naturally, I will have to link on my Geek Guns article on the film as well.

The larger point is that this fellow is striving for a hot take without apparently understanding the lingo or the genre.  Underworld is not a taught psychodrama, it is an action film set in the vampire genre, and it is very good at what it is trying to do.  The mood, the look, the music, it's all superb.

It's one thing to say "I don't like vampire films," or that the aesthetic didn't work.  But it is another to claim a certain flaw - in this case Mary Sue - where there is none.


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.