Saturday, July 22, 2017

Movie Musings: Escape from L.A.

I saw Escape From L.A. in the theater back when it came out and loved it. There's always a risk in revisiting a movie or a book after many years because our preferences change and, especially when it comes to movies, the special effects can feel dated, taking away from the enjoyment.

And then, of course there is the plot: originally written as a near-future dystopia, for me as a current viewer the story is set in the past. As someone who has written a near-future dystopian novel, I know full well how some predictions work out better than others.  (Chasing Freedom is set more than two decades from now, so I suppose there's still a chance for Canada to become the Land of the Free, but I would not bet good money on it.) On the other hand, John Ringo is known for complaining that his near and not-so-near future predictions come true too soon, making some of his work seem less "out there" futuristic.

In that latter respect, Escape From L.A. is very much a mixed bag. With an obligatory disclaimer that I will not wish mass death on my fellow citizens and human beings, I have to say the idea of an earthquake breaking off L.A. from the rest of the country and having it subsequently turn into a place to house those who don’t fit into the “polite society” made me chuckle more than a little. For those unaware, California secession movement is in fact a thing, and while those of the Right might gleefully egg them on, the brain trust behind the idea is very much on the Left.

L.A. in this film, however, is not a Marxist paradise, but a place of anarchy. Gangs roam the streets, shooting random pedestrians. Debauchery abounds. A Beverly Hills "clinic" provides organ transplants to those who've had too many plastic surgeries and need new organs to survive. A charismatic leader, who looks like a reincarnated Che, provides bloody spectacles for the masses in gladiator-style arenas. Then again, the surf is great and you can still wear a fur coat, so, YAY?

The "good" part of the U.S. is not exactly paradise, right wing or otherwise. Some of the points are laughable now (a woman exiled for "being a Muslim in South Dakota" was particularly funny, all things considered). It's important to remember, though, that the movie was made at the height of a bi-partisan drive to censor songs and video games and conservative Christians, being the most vocal, got stuck with the image of hating fun. The President is clearly supposed to represent a deranged TV Evangelist who has been allowed free hand in imposing his views on the rest of the country after the Constitution has been flushed down the toilet.

In a way, Escape From L.A. is a journey to the more innocent past when religious Christians were the worst of the boogeymen. In modern times, while there are still religious groups protesting metal concerts, the fun-hating mantle has been firmly taken over by the Left. 

The Left, and not the Christians, are the ones wishing to ban red meat, fur coats, and wrong-thinking art. 

The Left, and not the Christians, speak of earthquakes as punishment to humanity for wanting a better lifestyle that includes cars and air-conditioning. 

The Left, and not the Christians, openly speaks of overturning parts of the Constitution they find inconvenient. 

The Left, and not the Christians, wish miserable death on those with whom they disagree.

I can go on...

In the end, the movie gets a pass for getting the future (now in our past) so very wrong in so many ways, for two reasons.

One, the repeating theme of "The more things change, the more they stay the same." The rebels inside the L.A. walls want to take over the country and institute their version of Paradise, with a different set of horrors from those found in the mainland U.S. Neither flavor of authoritarianism portrayed in the movie can claim high moral ground. The current threats to freedom in real life come from the Left, but there is no telling where the pendulum will swing decades from now. Although human beings do have an yearning for freedom, the free society is a fragile, easily destroyed, and in need of constant vigilance to protect it.

Two, in spite of being ridiculously over the top in its portrayal of the two-sided dystopian society, the movie is still a lot of fun, with special effects that hold up well after all these years, and has one of my favorite endings of all time. It might be technically classified as message fiction, and I don't 100% care for all the details of the message, but unlike a lot of the current Hollywood offerings that purport to have "social relevance" this one never, not for one moment, forgets its primary mission: to entertain the audience. For that alone, I recommend it to anyone who prefers their action movies a bit on the thought-provoking side. It's also a suitable movie to watch and discuss with your teens with minimal eye-rolling in response. Enjoy! 


Thursday, July 13, 2017

Book Review: Rules for Revenge by Ian Graham

Having enjoyed Ian Graham's thriller Veil of Civility, I was happy to accept a copy of the sequel to give an honest review. Rules of Revenge picks up where the previous book left off, allowing the reader to jump back on the roller coaster and keep moving. 

As might be expected of a thriller series, Declan McIver did not in fact ride into the sunset after derailing a major terrorist plot by the end of Veil of Civility. In fact, he does not even get much by the way of thanks. On the contrary, now that his identity as a former IRA member is known, his days of idyllic average-Joe life are over, and his once solid marriage is barely holding together. And that's before he and some of his close friends become entangled in  ruthless power struggle that involves the upper echelons of the U.K. government. 

Declan, however, refuses to be a pawn in someone else's game, nor is he as lacking in allies and resources as it appears. His quest to clear his name and get back the life he had worked so hard to build is equal parts thriller and mystery as he is pursued across Europe by a gang of brutal thugs, evades law enforcement and tries to figure out who is responsible for his predicament. Agent Harper, his somewhat accidental partner, is an interesting character in her own right, caught in the conflict between her professional obligations and the need to serve the cause of justice once it appears the two might not necessarily coincide. 

The secondary characters are well developed, and the author conveys well the feeling of despair and betrayal a few of them feel when they find out the darker side to the system they dedicated their lives to serve. While their loss of innocence is heartbreaking to read, it's also a refreshing change of pace to not have every single character follow the "trust no one" rule 24/7.

There are several villains in this novel, some more despicable than others. In a bold choice, the author lets us know early on who the main baddies are, so rather than waiting for the Big Reveal at the end, the reader experiences a sense of dread as at several points in the story the evil seems unstoppable, with no one the wiser. I liked that the author knows the difference between an explanation and an excuse when it comes to his villains. Most people have reasons, sometimes good reasons, when committing despicable acts. However, that doesn't change the objective right and wrong, nor is a measure of sympathy become a get-out-of-consequences-free card.

As was the case with Veil of Civility, the settings themselves become part of the story. The author's ability to create a sense of place, to put the reader right into that remote village, or on the mountainside, or in a creepy abandoned building is worthy of the old-fashioned literary fare. I'm always glad to see proof that high-quality descriptive prose is not confined to the novels that torment generations of high school and college students, but can be used to entertain fans of genre fiction like yours truly.

Last but certainly not least, I appreciated that the novel provides serious, at times brutal, action without going graphic and an undertone of sexual attraction without the semi-obligatory casual hookup. While I don't demand my fiction to be clean, I do admire the care and skill that go into crafting an engaging tale without using gore and sex as crutches.

Whether you're a dedicated thriller fan or just want a palate cleanser in between epic fantasy door stoppers, this novel will not disappoint. Highly recommended.

Purchase Rules for Revenge on Amazon