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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Here Come da Judge. Dredd is the Law!

Don't let the previews fool you, as I did. I had no intention of seeing this flick after watching the trailer. I didn't even plan on renting it from Redbox when the DVD comes out.

Then fate intervened.

On date night with the missus, I took her to Olive Garden, then the 9:30 showing of some artsy suspense flick. Only we had our information wrong and the artsy suspense flick wasn't until midnight. She graciously offered to watch something else, since we were already at the theater anyway. What the heck, sez I, and we buy tickets for Dredd. If it's as bad, or worse, than that lackluster Stallone vehicle from the '90s, I could simply let that pasta from Olive Garden work on my eyelids and snooze the ten buck ticket price away.

I did no snoozing.

I've been hearing remarks that this flick is a knock-off of The Raid. I've never seen The Raid so I can't weigh in on that. What I can say is that Dredd is much more faithful to the comic book source material than I expected. Certainly more than the forgettable Sly action-comedy.

For those not familiar with Judge Dredd, he was the title character of a British comic book from the '80s, about law enforcement in a post-nuke America. (Well, maybe the comic is still being produced...all I know is I haven't seen the comics for quite a while.) In the recovery from a thermonuclear war, The entire eastern seaboard of the erstwhile USA has become one gigantic urban sprawl called Megacity One. You got that right--all the rural areas between cities and towns has been filled in with asphalt, concrete and glass, from the Big Apple to Miami. It is an autonomous city-state, with a streamlined justice system. Dredd is basically Dirty Harry in this post-apocalyptic world; officially empowered as judge, jury and executioner. And he rides the mac-daddy of all motorcycles.

There is also a Megacity Two on the west coast of North America, with a ruined wasteland ("the Cursed Earth") in between. (That's pretty much how New Yorkers and Los Angelites view things already, come to think of it.) In an issue of my collection, it is revealed there's an eastern Megacity also, with neo-Soviet judges maintaining order on their streets.

In this movie, Dredd is assigned a rookie whose test scores are just below passing, to assess her potential as a judge. We soon discover she's an empath, too, and her mind-reading skills make her a beast of an interrogator.

The bulk of the film takes place inside a fortress/tower/slum, where Judges Dredd and Anderson are locked in with an army of cutthroat gang-banging scum, hell-bent on killing them. The action is just about non-stop, and the bloody gore is simply Dreddful. (Sorry; couldn't resist.)

This wasn't the result of some beancounting suits commissioning another buddy-cop action comedy dressed up with props and costumes inspired by the comic. The film makers, this time, seemed to know and appreciate the source material.

So many visuals looked to me like they were lifted directly from the pages of the comic--especially the close-ups of Dredd himself. Megacity One didn't quite look like Megacity One in the comics, as I remember them, and the judges' bikes weren't quite as impressive, but they got so much else right, there was eye candy everywhere (no, I'm not talking about the blonde rookie, you pervs).

The most important aspect they got right this time was the Judge Dredd character himself. I applaud them for not going with a big star who would be taking his helmet off every 30 seconds to mug for the camera, and would insist on some stupid subplot or dialog revisions (ruinations) to show his soft, gooey inner teddy-bear soul. I applaud them for writing the dialog as they did. I applaud them for not soapboxing about the Occupy Movement, global warming or the need for taxpayer-funded prophylactics.

I applaud them for respecting the source material and still putting together a great popcorn-muncher that all action junkies should go and see.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Fight Card: Counterpunch--More Than Just a Punny Title

This book is more than just a pun-derful title. It's darn clever plotting, too.

Organized crime had its filthy mitts all over professional boxing in the 1950s and, appropriately, it plays a major part in this tightly written retro-pulp novella.

Characters will make or break a work of fiction, and author Wayne Dundee ("Jack Tunney") scored a decisive win with the Duke, here. He's tough, brave, streetwise and yet a good joe to his very core. To paint it in crude brush strokes, he is similar to a Louis L'Amour western hero, only in a gritty postwar urban setting.

I have great appreciation for the classic pulps, and admiration for the pulp writers. But frankly, those guys were meeting deadlines and worried about bills most of the time; so even some of their great works weren't as carefully polished as this novella. And yet Counterpunch maintains a vintage pulp fiction flavor from cover to cover.

All the Fight Card books are great reads, and this one is exemplary.

The second issue of Fight Fictioneers is hot off the press, too. There are interviews and articles about fight fiction, including some by us Fight Card authors. If you'd like a free copy, let me know.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

A Night at the Fights

I don't watch sports that much anymore. I blog about them even less. For the last two seasons the only football game I watched from start to finish was the Superbowl. Boxing and UFC? I just don't sacrifice the time like I used to. But yesterday I was invited to a fight card at the A La Carte Event Pavillion in Tampa...and it proved too good an offer to turn down.

I knew nothing about any of the fighters on the card--partly because I haven't followed boxing for so long; partly because none of them were "name" fighters. Most were fairly new to the sport, though there were a couple veterans who just never climbed very far up the rankings.

But the matches were real crowd-pleasers. Out of 11 bouts, only three went the distance. The 12-round main event was one of those three. As you can expect with so many stoppages inside scheduled four and six-round fights, the action was thrilling.

My biggest complaint was my seat--though closer than I've ever been as a spectator, I was facing the corner post, which blocked my view frequently. I missed no less than three knockdowns because of that stupid post. And though the bouts were being recorded for Telemundo (which means that most of the announcing was done in Spanish and I couldn't make out the fighters' records or weigh-in numbers), there were no big-screens present, hence no instant replays.

Because I knew his manager, I paid close attention to Charlie Serrano's featherweight match against Juan Cruz. And videorecorded the first round on my phone. Despite being one of the three that went the distance, this was a real donnybrook. Holy life-imitates-art, Batman! I find it hard to describe what I saw without sounding like I'm plagiarizing from my Fight Card novella, Tomato Can Comeback. I'll just say that Serrano was a superb fighter--great speed, power, footwork and aggression. If Cruz hadn't been so incredibly tough (probably too tough for his own good), he would have gone down for the count. And Cruz was a southpaw, which confounds most conventional-stance boxers--but Serrano had no problem with him (other than Cruz's head made of solid chromium steel, that is).

At least the judges seemed to be on the up-and-up, as every decision went to the pug who truly won.

Another pleasant surprise for me was heavyweight Jason Barnett, who scored a blood-splattered TKO. I was impressed by his poise. He demonstrated a solid defense, some adroit counterpunching and good power. His left hooks ripped his opponent's face into raw meat and the doctor had to stop the fight. What stank to me, though, was that three times in a row the doctor waited until after the bell rang for the round to start before he examined Terrance "Big Jim" Marba, and Barnett had to wait in a neutral corner while the seconds ticked by. Like somebody had made a deal with the doc to buy Marba some time--time for his head to clear and his legs to solidify; time stolen from Barnett, who could have used it to finish his man sooner. Maybe nothing crooked was going on, but I'd have been pissed if I was Barnett.

Then there was Rad Kalajdzic, a light-heavyweight from St. Pete. Again, I've never heard of him, but he's got quite a following around the Tampa/St. Pete area, evidently. Trust me when I say most of the people in attendance came to see him, and not the main event between flyweights Glen Donaire and Omar Soto.

Here's something I don't understand: tickets are not cheap, and the place was supposedly sold out. But probably a quarter of the seats were never occupied, and a third of them only sporadically. A good portion of the crowd missed some great action because they were getting in and out of their seats for drinks (conspiring with the cursed corner post in further obscuring my view), or standing around hobnobbing, or engaging in screaming matches with other spectators. Why did they even bother coming? They obviously weren't boxing fans.

Well, when Rad Kalajdzic stepped inside the ropes, people finally took their seats to watch, and roared to raise the roof. Lucky for them they paid such close attention.

Shannon Anderson, a Phillidelphia fighter, pounced on Kalajdzic at the opening bell and swarmed him with combinations from every angle. He either wanted to blitz him with a flash-knockdown, or firmly establish who was going to dominate this fight. For a few moments it looked like Rad might be in serious trouble. He wasn't hurt, yet, but he looked dumbstruck--not offering much of a defense and unable to mount any offense, either.

But Rad weathered the storm and overcame the shock of that furious attack, soon revealing why he was so popular. At 1:36 of the first round he scored the only true knockout (not a TKO) of the night. It happened too fast (plus there was the verdammt corner post in my way) for me to see what actually put Anderson down, but he absolutely crumpled, hitting the canvas face-first in a contorted twist, actually unconscious while counted out.

Not that I need inspiration for any more projects right now, but I got plenty last night. I was already playing with the idea for another Fight Card book. Hmm. We'll see what happens.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Who Rescued Who? A Brief Review of "Safe"

This movie reminds me of Mercury Rising--a decade-old suspense thriller staring another bald-headed action star. In it, the good guy has to protect an autistic boy who is a savant with patterns, puzzles and codes. The boy inadvertently figures out an encrypted message and the chase is on. I remember it being a good flick, with a really intense scene which takes place in a crowded elevator.

Replace the autistic boy with a girl genius. Replace Bruce Willis with Jason Statham. Add a 3-way power struggle between the Russian mob, the Chinese mob and a corrupt police force. Season with some extra thumping time for Statham, and there's Safe in a nutshell.

Mei has a photographic memory, and is better than a computer when it comes to crunching numbers, which is why the Chinese mob kidnaps her. Seems they need to figure out a safe combination in the Big Apple. As if the mob's manipulation of her and threats against her weren't enough to put you in her corner, she's also savvy, tough and streetwise--in addition to being an adorable little girl.

Statham was a tough, clean cop--ostracized because he wouldn't play ball with his crooked co-workers. He gets it from all sides. After his wife is murdered, he has little to live for and is contemplating suicide when fate brings Mei (trying to escape the bad guys) across his path.

A snap decision is made and he is now her protector. What ensues is a white-knuckle thrill ride that left me feeling good about the time invested to watch it.

By comparing it to Mercury Rising  I didn't intend to imply Safe was formulaic. I'm sure the limp-wristed fa-hiiiiiiilmmmm critics have deemed it to be. But it wasn't such a worn-out formula that it annoyed me. To the contrary: I would like to watch it again, with some popcorn.

'Til next time, 2-Fisted Blogees!