Rocco’s Retreads

hell-and-goneHenry “Hank” Brown came to my attention because we both participate in the action-adventure forums over at mackbolan.com. I bought his book simply because he came on the forums, mentioned the novel and asked people to buy it. Marketing at its most basic. When I eventually got around to reading it, I shot him an email half-way through the book and he was kind enough to do a podcast interview with me. Hank is a former soldier who’s put that experience to good use in his stories.

“Hell and Gone” tells the story of Rocco Cavarra and a group of retired special operators assembled by the CIA for a dirty op. Islamic terrorists have possession of an atomic weapon, and it’s up to Rocco’s Retreads to get it back at all costs and without implicating the U.S. Mission creep sets in fairly early, and before they can even fire a shot, these old soldiers are in it up to their necks. As a military thriller catering to the same crowd that reads Tom Clancy and Mack Bolan, “Hell and Gone” delivers hard core action grounded in the kind of realism that comes from experience.

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Only War

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“In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war.”

Warhammer 40K brought the mythology of the wildly successful Warhammer Fantasy world into space, extending the mythos to embrace sci-fi tropes and aliens. The property started as a tabletop miniatures game, and has gone through many iterations through the years. When Fantasy Flight successfully licensed Warhammer 40K for a role playing game line in 2008, they sold out of their first print run in a matter of months. Along the way, the property has forayed into computer games, music, and fiction. Several attempts to animate a film have finally resulted in the video release of “Ultramarines”, the first official feature-length video project from Games Workshop.

The story follows Brother Proteus, newly armored soldier in the Ultramarines, one of the elite Space Marine warriors in service to the Emporer of Mankind. Answering a distress beacon from a brother Space Marine detachment, a squad of Ultramarines finds themselves in battle with the legions of Chaos. They march for Macragge, and they shall know no fear. Cue bolters and chainswords.

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Battleship Down

The trailers for Battleship give everything away, if anything can be said to be secret about a movie based on Hasbro’s popular board game. There are naval vessels. There are aliens. They fight. Without any related IP baggage of any kind, Battleship had the freedom to make a great naval warfare movie; I’m even willing to give them the aliens just because the sci-fi geek in me screams at the thought of World War II class 16 inch guns firing 2000 pound shells at E.T. I’ve seen Midway, Victory at Sea, and In Harm’s Way. I knew what to expect from a movie about naval warfare. I expected carnage. I expected explosions. I expected fleets of ships in classic naval maneuvers that pushed through deep water and came home bloody but unbroken. I hoped for David Weber’s Honor Harrington on the ocean. As it is, this film barely made it out of the harbor, let alone onto the roll of honored dead.

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Story (Pass/Fail) – Pass

What do we really expect from a film named “Battleship”? Two enemy forces engage each other on – well, near – the open ocean. There’s a ridiculous subplot about establishing a communications array, and more than a bit of cringe-worthy cinematic physics, but this is a fantasy action film after all and I’m prepared to suspend the laws of physics if it serves the cause of drama. Since every event serves to advance the action and promote the naval engagement, the story gets a passing grade – but only just barely.

Characters (Pass/Fail) – Pass

Taylor Kitsch carries the emotional weight of the film squarely on his shoulders, and he undergoes a solid journey from slacker to hero in the best short form character arc tradition. There is a token attempt to give a character arc to a disabled Army veteran, but it seems tacked on at best. The rest of the movie is populated a recognizable cast of characters, you know the ones: the pop star, the humorous guy, the nascent best friend, the authority figure, the love interest. All of these people are simply vehicles upon which Taylor Kitsch’s character carries the audience to the credits. For all the pressure of having the only developed character in the film, Kitsch fills the role with empathy and aplomb.

Production Value (Pass/Fail) – Fail

I’m so tired of second-unit film students being given a multimillion dollar budget and a hand held video camera. Whatever happened to the art of cinematography? This movie should have been filled with sweeping shots of entire carrier fleets engaged in mutually assured destruction. Instead, we get a camera shoved up the actors’ noses and being bounced all around the place. The result is almost unwatchable. All of that luscious tech design and expensive CGI is wasted because I couldn’t figure out what I was seeing on the screen.

Meaningful Content (Pass/Fail) – Fail

There is a passing reference to the Art of War that makes no sense at all and depends on a highly personal interpretation of the laws of physics in order to work at all. No attempt is made to touch on themes of steadfastness and sacrifice. The writer makes no effort to familiarize himself with the mindset of the military man in general or the naval officer in particular. I didn’t expect Shakespeare on the ocean, but I hoped for something resembling the values and ideals of the military. Instead, we get a pathetically obvious condemnation of early exploration of the Americas by them-thar evil Conquistadors and that dastardly Columbus fella.

Shelf Life (Pass/Fail) – Fail

I saw it on the silver screen. I wish I had waited for the small screen. I can’t image any reason to watch this movie again. The story and characters only barely scraped a passing grade. There is no action eye-candy to keep me entertained. The schizophrenic soundtrack is simultaneously in love with AC/DC and The Blue Danube.


I’m just not sure what to say in closing. This isn’t really a movie that stays with you after the credits roll. Speaking of which, there is a completely predictable tag after the credits which it won’t hurt anyone to skip. In fact, skip this film entirely and get the far more satisfying American Warships from The Asylum.

Spartan vs Ninja

Watching the Deadliest Warrior is like watching a train wreck. You know exactly what’s happening, and what to expect – you just can’t look away. I still can’t understand why these guys are surprised that a given weapon will inflict lethal damage on the human body….

Predictably, the kids walk in and trump both warriors with their own guile and craft!

Now taking bets … Spartan vs Ninja!

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Stony Man Teamwork

Since I can’t seem to gain access to the top secret installation of Stony Man Farm near Shenandoah National Park, I find it every bit as cool to spend a half-hour in the company of Phil Elmore. For the past several years, Elmore has ghost written Executioner novels for Gold Eagle publishing, including the Stony Man series, his second entry of which hits the shelves in February.

Elmore is a professional writer, offering a variety of services through his website, philelmore.com. He also publishes the Martialist, an online magazine concerned with self-defense as “the inalienable right of every human being”. Elmore writes a variety of columns on a variety of subjects for a variety of publishers, some of which are detailed on the front page of his website.

He was kind enough to take a break from his current novel and speak with me over the phone about writing the Executioner novels, characterization within series fiction, and some of his other work. Check his website for articles, links, and more – including a dramatic reading of his Western zombie short story Dead Man’s Hand.

Show links:

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Ghost Writer

As cool as it would be to interview the Spirit of Vengeance from behind the safety of a cell phone, I find it every bit as cool to spend a half-hour in the company of Phil Elmore.  For the past several years, Elmore has ghost written Executioner novels for Gold Eagle publishing; his latest novel Dangerous Tides prompted me to contact him and ask for the interview.

Elmore is a professional writer, offering a variety of services through his website, philelmore.com. He also publishes the Martialist, an online magazine concerned with self-defense as “the inalienable right of every human being”. Elmore writes a variety of columns on a variety of subjects for a variety of publishers, some of which are detailed on the front page of his website.

He was kind enough to take a break from his current novel and speak with me over the phone about writing the Executioner novels, characterization within series fiction, and some of his other work. Check his website for articles, links, and more – including a dramatic reading of his Western zombie short story Dead Man’s Hand.

Show links:

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The Rise of Cobra

snakePerspective: This ain’t your daddy’s G.I. Joe.  For that matter, this probably ain’t your G.I. Joe.  Come to think of it, I’m not sure whose G.I. Joe this is, exactly.  I am an avid G.I. Joe fan; I followed the comics and played with the toys all through the 80’s, never missed an episode of the cartoon, and jumped feet first into the nostalgic revival in 2001.

I’ve been waiting for this movie a long time.

Background: The Hasbro property enjoyed the bulk of its popularity in the 80’s, beginning as a highly successful and still wildly collectible toy line.  The Marvel comic book series soon followed, mostly under the pen of Larry Hama; a half-hour tv series little more than an extended toy advertisement eventually produced an animated film that only fueled the Joe-mania sweeping the country at that time.  After that particular version of the franchise petered out in the early 90’s, Hasbro attempted to revive the property several times with varying degrees of success.

In 2001, Hasbro anticipated a wave of nostalgia and licensed Devil’s Due to produce a new line of comics that would build from the existing Marvel continuity.  Issue #1 hit the stands the week before 9/11.

Although military fiction did not experience quite the revival it might have otherwise expected, the Hasbro property has been in more or less continuous circulation since then.  Devil’s Due lost the license in 2008 and IDW picked it up.  IDW then launched a complete reboot of the property, ignoring the Marvel/Devil’s Due continuity and beginning from the ground up.

The Rise of Cobra isn’t their movie either.

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