“Death Wish” Turned Up To 11

The Death Wish movies have a lot to answer for. Brian Garfield, author of the original novel, was aghast at the extent to which the original 1974 movie seemed to endorse the sort of vigilantism his story was intended to criticise. Revisiting it later, it’s at best a movie in two minds as to whether the sort of campaign of premeditated killing on the part of Charles Bronson’s revenge-obsessed protagonist is justified.

The sequels, though… the sequels were made in the 1980s; a brighter era, an era of more simplistic moral messages, altogether a more Reagan-y era than 1974. They are vastly less ambiguous than the original; they embrace vigilantism as a 100% perfectly OK thing and are only too glad to depict Bronson slaying absurd numbers of criminals – and if those criminals happen to tend to be of particular ethnicities, all the better.

The series was much-imitated at the time, but in the long gap between 1974’s Death Wish and 1982’s Death Wish II you could see the cultural shift that made Death Wish II a viable commercial prospect happening in the public’s appetite for material like 1980’s The Exterminator, which is basically Death Wish with a flamethrower-touting Vietnam veteran protagonist for an extra dose of uncomfortable badassery.

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Taking a Note, Taking a Dive

The general public has a short memory. Many are under the impression that a substantial number of professional wrestling fans still believe the artform to represent genuine competition, rather than being an entertainment medium consisting of matches with predetermined outcomes. This isn’t the case – aside from small children who might believe in Roman Reigns the way they believe in Father Christmas, fans generally accept that the matches are worked, and derive a whole secondary level of enjoyment from analysing and debating the storytelling decisions behind match outcomes and the backstage gossip that might have fed into them.

Even among wrestling fans, there’s something of a myth that kayfabe – the pretence that it’s a real contest – was rigorously maintained until the early 1990s, when Vince McMahon famously said that WWF was in the “sport entertainment” business and promotions like ECW or WCW ran angles based largely on breaking the fourth wall and acknowledging kayfabe (usually as an attempt to persuade the viewer that things had gone “off-script” and were therefore real). In fact, major breaches of kayfabe and exposes of the business go way back, with one of the most famous such examples being Marcus Griffin’s 1937 book Fall Guys: The Barnums of Bounce.

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A Third Stupid Time Mining the Seagal Seam…

What a long, strange trip Steven Seagal has taken. As mainstream stardom has left him further and further behind, Seagal has crept deeper and deeper into the extremely dubious bosom of Vladimir Putin’s Russia. In between commissioning ghostwriters to write incoherent takedowns of Obama-era immigration policies in his name, Seagal has largely become infamous for bizarre Russian propaganda in which various Aikido students do energetic flips to trick people into thinking Seagal is tossing them about because they know if they don’t they’ll get a bullet in the back of the head. What Putin gets out of stroking the ego of this increasingly strange man with an increasingly dubious #MeToo record, I have no idea.

Similarly, I have no idea why I’m back reviewing more Seagal movies, save that there’s a certain horrible fascination in watching them these days. In my first and second articles on the man’s work, way back in Ferretbrain times, I more or less exhausted all his work which saw an actual cinematic release; this article is less systematic than those and is more of a grab-bag of some of his straight-to-DVD work. Watching these movies gently fail in front of you creates an experience which is deeply uncomfortable but also is difficult to look away from – like witnessing a slow-motion car crash, except most of these movies don’t have budgets that allow for really exciting car crashes.

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The Wild World of Matthew Reilly

One of the things I contracted during my stint writing for Ferretbrain was an appreciation for the work of Matthew Reilly. It was Sonia that put us on to the case, and I haven’t looked back since.

Reilly’s books are like candyfloss to me – a sticky, sweet treat which I know full well will have no nutritional value, and in many respects are kind of a huge mess, but which works anyway. They’re perfect Kindlegold because, though published as thick tomes (thanks to large fonts and margins), I’d argue that e-reader is the perfect format to read Reilly’s material in – slim, portable, discreet, and usually with enough power to last the whole plane ride these days.

It’s possible that, like Garth Marenghi, Matthew Reilly has written more books than he’s read.

If I had to compare Matthew Reilly to any other author, it would be to Philippe from Achewood‘s occasional attempts to write a novel, except specifically within the genre of action movies. On the Philippe side of the equation, you have this five-year-old hyperactivity, this kinetic determination to wow you with the next amazing plot twist; on the action movie side of the equation, you have more or less every action movie trope and cliche turned up to 11 and then made weird.

If Reilly wrote an an obscure and difficult-to-follow style, he’d be classified as an outsider artist, but as it stands for a “bad author” he writes remarkably well, at least in the sense that you can understand what is going on, the basic character points of any particular individual are quickly and clearly communicated (if only because you’ve seen versions of these characters in dozens of action movies before), and he often displays a distinctive visual imagination. A lot of the time he puts significant effort into helping you visualise the action, to the extent of putting actual diagrams in his books sometimes, and this is transparently because he’s desperate for someone to make an action movie of his work and he wants to illustrate with his writing just how cool the visuals would be.

Below the break, I’ll cover a quick rundown of the various Reilly offerings I’ve tried out…

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Clotheslining the 1%

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

John Nada (“Rowdy” Roddy Piper) is drifting from town to town across the States after losing his job in Denver, Colorado, in the midst of a massive economic downturn. (He drops a reference to 14 banks closing in a week.) Arriving in Los Angeles, he is eventually able to find work on a construction site, and finds something resembling a community in a favela of the sort that we aren’t supposed to believe exists in North America, occupied by members of the growing underclass John finds himself a part of, and a friend in the form of Frank Armitage (Keith David), who’s full of criticism of the capitalist system as it stands and is beginning to think that violent action may be the only solution – though John still just about believes in America and isn’t ready to go that far.

As it turns out, there’s a few people around who are out to make a difference. The community manager of the favela, a street preacher John sees hassled by cops earlier in the day, a strange professor whose pirate TV transmissions are trying to get the truth out – these form the leadership of the local cell of a resistance movement founded by a small group of scientists who, through a purely accidental scientific discovery, have discovered the terrible truth – that Earth has been colonised, occupied, and completely controlled by aliens who masquerade as human beings and hide their commands to us in plain sight, with mind control transmissions keeping is in a hypnotic state that keeps us unable to perceive this.

By chance, John happens to spot the connection between the pirate TV broadcasts and the church across the street from the settlement. Investigating, he discovers a strange laboratory in a back room of the church – but before he can take his investigations much further, a massive police raid on the shanty town takes place, a violent purge which sees the church taken out with it. After the carnage of the raid, John is able to retrieve from the ruined church a box of very special pairs of sunglasses – glasses fitted with “Hoffmann lenses”, developed by the resistance. These sunglasses are effectively an instant political awakening in plastic form: wearing them, not only do you look damn cool, but you also break through the aliens’ illusions and get to see the world as it really is. The sight is so shocking to John that he realises that his nonviolent, stick-to-the-rules ways can only play into the hands of the aliens. It’s time for John to chew bubblegum and kick ass – and he’s all out of bubblegum.

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Cornell, or the Unfunny Clown

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Michael Moorcock’s stories of Jerry Cornell should not be confused with the Jerry Cornelius saga. For starters, elite secret agent Jerry Cornell in no way resembles Jerry Cornelius – he’s not as clever, not as capable, and is certainly vastly less cool, though I’m sure he’d like to imagine he’s all three of those things. For another thing, Jerry Cornell isn’t actually Jerry Cornell – he’s Nick Allard.

A little history. Once upon a time there was a magical land called 1966, in which Moorcock was publishing a lot of work through cheap and cheerful Compact Books (an arrangement I detailed at the start of the Michael Kane review). Compact Books decided they wanted a James Bond-like espionage series to round out their line, and wannabe author Roger Harris stepped up to the plate with a novel entitled The LSD Dossier, starring the dashing new character Nick Allard. There was, however, a mild problem – the novel was shit, too shit for Compact to consider publishing – and Compact were willing to straight up pirate Dennis Wheatley novels to line their pockets.

Always up for a bit of extra pocket money, Moorcock agreed to take the manuscript and tighten it up. In reading it, he noticed two things. Firstly, it transpired that the writing was so incredibly shitty that he’d have to essentially toss most of the book and rewrite from scratch, following the vague plot structure previously established. Secondly, whilst super-spy Nick Allard was clearly intended to be a charismatic and awesome secret agent, he actually came across as a nasty, slimy piece of work. So, Moorcock rewrote the novel playing it for the lulz, doing a hatchet job on Allard’s personality, and sent it back to Compact. Who then turned around and published it in that form.

Harris, it seems, was upset and never wrote for Compact again. Compact, meanwhile, were pleased with what they got and convinced Moorcock to produce two more Allard stories under the pseudonym of “Bill Barclay” – Somewhere In the Night and Printer’s Devil. In both cases, Compact happened to have cover art lying around for cancelled books and essentially asked Moorcock to compose something fitting the art – the first one was a modern-day thriller involving the Tower of London somehow, the second was for a pirate edition of The Devil Rides Out which got shitcanned when Dennis Wheatley’s lawyers said “no”. In these sequels the laughs were emphasised and Allard’s essential uselessness and scumbaggery was turned up to 11.

The LSD Dossier would not see future reprints due to people being leery about the copyright situation, since it did include some of Roger Harris’s own writing. (That said, you can download it for free from Moorcock’s website – Moorcock’s stance being that nobody should pay more than £1 for the thing, never mind the ridiculous prices commanded for it at auction.) The other two, however, would eventually be republished as The Chinese Agent and The Russian Intelligence respectively – with revisions to change a bunch of names just to make sure there was no copyright nastiness. And as part of that process, Nick Allard became Jerry Cornell because whenever Moorcock is stuck for a name he goes for some variation on “Jerry Cornelius”.

So, it’s essentially a Moorcock series written purely for the lulz. But are these high-class lulz that have stood the test of time or are they tired-out sub-Austin Powers crap? Let’s see.

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Where Did the Hunt Go Wrong?

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

For such a popular film, Predator hasn’t been well-served by sequels. Unlike its cousin series, Alien, it hasn’t had nearly had a follow-up that’s as well-loved as the original. It took a couple of decades for the stink of Predator 2 to wash away and for Hollywood to have another stab at making a “pure” Predator film. (Let’s just put the Alien vs. Predator movies aside and pretend they don’t exist for now). Predators is that attempt to kindle new life into the franchise, but in reviewing it I also wanted to take a look back and work out where things started going wrong for the series, and whether the long quest to produce a decent follow-up is necessary, or even achievable.

Predator

Predator has one of those iconically simple premises that people were really good at cooking up in the 1980s – Arnold Schwarzenegger is Alan “Dutch” Schaefer, a Delta Force Major in charge of an elite search and rescue team, called in to rescue a Guatemalan cabinet minister and other hostages captured by Soviet-backed guerrillas. The hostages don’t make it, but the team is able to make it out with valuable intelligence and a prisoner in the form of Anna (Elpida Carrillo), sole survivor of the guerrilla camp the team annihilates, who they take along at the insistence of Agent George Dillon (Carl Weathers), a former teammate of Dutch turned CIA agent who seems to know more about the real reasons behind the mission than he’s letting on. But their trip to the extraction point turns deadly when they are stalked and killed one by one by an alien creature with heat vision, superior weaponry, and perfect camouflage, who’s come to Earth because there’s nothing more fun than stopping by a primitive planet during a hot year and killing the quaint little natives.

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