Nobody Dies For Free – An Interview

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Recently, I had a chance to throw a few tough questions at author, Aaron Smith, about his spy thriller, Nobody Dies For Free. From my hollowed out volcano, I grilled him on the story, the characters – and what’s coming up next.

P2K: Firstly, Aaron, welcome to Permission to Kill, and congratulations on the publication of your spy thriller, Nobody Dies For Free.

Before we talk about your book, as there are so many types of spy novels out in the marketplace, I thought we should begin with your influences. Who are the authors that inspired you to write a spy novel?

Aaron: First and foremost, there’s Ian Fleming. The spy genre wouldn’t be what it was without his James Bond novels. Like many people, I suspect, I discovered Bond through the movies first. I enjoy almost all the films, from the early more serious Connery episodes to the lighter Moore movies, and also have a great appreciation for the Lazenby and Dalton installments. In fact, I feel that Timothy Dalton’s portrayal of Bond is severely underrated. It was only after I’d seen the first 16 Bond movies that I read the books. Actually, I had the John Gardner Bond novels before the Fleming books, as those were new at the time but Fleming’s books were hard to find (this was before eBay and Amazon were around). When I finally did get to read the Fleming originals, I was blown away. While I like the movies and some of the later 007 authors, Fleming’s Bond is the real thing!

As far as other writers, Tom Clancy’s up there pretty high on my list and I was sad to hear of his death a few weeks ago. I like John LeCarre’s work a great deal. And Ludlum’s Jason Bourne is certainly an influence, both through the books and the film adaptations.

And I have to mention something I saw for the first time around the period when I was writing Nobody Dies For Free. There’s a great British TV series called Spooks (retitled as MI-5 when shown in the Unites States) that ran for about ten years and features the missions of a group of agents operating in and around the UK. It’s an excellent show and really ignited my imagination as I worked on a spy novel.

So James Bond started my interest in fictional spies, but many other books, movies, and TV series kept that particular fire burning. I suppose it was inevitable that I would eventually attempt to write my own spy stories.

P2K: Briefly, tell us about Nobody Dies For Free. Give the readers an overview of the story.

AS: Nobody Dies For Free is the story of Richard Monroe. He was a CIA operative, having retired early to marry the one true love of his life. He and his wife Genevieve are living in Paris, out one night, when she’s suddenly killed by a sniper. She bleeds to death in Monroe’s arms on the steps of the Paris Opera. The U.S. government’s investigation goes nowhere and Monroe goes a little off the deep end. He leaves Paris, wanders around Europe, and eventually tracks down the man who pulled the trigger and deals with him, permanently, but ends up in a Turkish prison. But that incarceration is just the beginning of a new chapter in Monroe’s life. He’s soon set free and summoned to the United States where he’s given an offer by a mysterious old master spy known only as Mr. Nine. Nine offers Monroe a way back into the clandestine world. Monroe will now work directly for Nine and be put on cases that are too secret or too sensitive for more official agencies like the CIA or FBI to know about. Monroe accepts the job, sets himself up in a new apartment in Boston, and waits for the call. On his first assignment, Monroe discovers some new information about who and what led to the murder of his wife, and business is suddenly personal again. This leads Monroe through several cities around the world on a quest for vengeance, or justice, or both, depending on your point of view.

P2K: Tell us about the main character, Richard Monroe. What kind of man is he? What drives him?

AS: Monroe has been a spy for a very long time. He started in the United States Navy’s intelligence branch and then went into the CIA. Espionage is his life, or it was until he fell in love with Genevieve and it is again after he loses her. He’s thirty-nine when we meet him and is forty for most of the book, so he’s at an age where he has experience, as well as emotional and intellectual maturity, but is still young enough to be in superb shape and meet the physical demands of his job.

He has all the skills you’d expect from a master spy: intelligence, the ability to evaluate a situation quickly and act accordingly, he’s good with guns, knows how to charm people and gain their trust, and can be either kind or ruthless, depending on the needs of a given situation.

He takes his work very seriously, only rarely letting personal feelings get in the way. He’s patriotic, but not overly political. In other words, he cares deeply about the good of his country and believes in what America stands for on its best days, but he’s more concerned about the safety of the nation that its particular current climate or controversies. Most of all, he’s the type of man who will do what it takes to succeed in his mission.

But he’s not just a blank slate of a man or an automaton that blindly follows orders. He’s also a man of deep feelings. Genevieve’s death has a great impact on him and it’s not something he shrugs off and gets over in the blink of an eye. Grieving takes time.

And he’s not all darkness and business either. Monroe enjoys good scotch, the company of beautiful women, and the loyalty of his few close friends. There’s a certain element of his spy work that he thrives on too; he might not admit it out loud, but he loves the adrenaline rush that comes with a dangerous situation.

P2K: In the story, there’s a femme fatale called Winter Willows – great name by the way! Her entrance is described as thus:

She was fashionably late, it seemed, and knew how to make an entrance. Spencer Archer had been right on all counts: she did have what the car thief had called a “killer body.” Athletic, lithe, expertly sculpted in all the right ways with no one particular area overshadowing the others. Her face was a sweet one but with the potential for severity and confidence, with a glittering diamond of a smile just below a naturally well-shaped nose which in turn sat beneath a pair of eyes that were the shade of roasted almonds, deep brown and warm. Her skin was pale but with a healthy red glow that required very little makeup. And, just as Archer had said, the hair was what made the picture so striking. It was pure white and looked oddly, ethereally enchanting as it flowed down the shoulders to frame a face that Monroe estimated to be somewhere in the range of twenty-seven to thirty-two with certainty that he could narrow that number down when he got close enough to take a better look. She was indeed startling in appearance.

It’s a great introduction. Where did Winter come from? What were your inspirations for the character?

AS: Of the three major female characters in the story, Winter is easily my favorite. In fact, she’s probably one of my favorite supporting characters that I’ve ever created, and she’s the most complicated of those three women. Of the other two, Angela MacIntyre is a damsel in need, a fragile young women who’s in way over her head; Genevieve, Monroe’s dead wife, is a sort of ghostly angel whose memory haunts Monroe and drives him forward. But Winter is a lot of things all at once. She might be Monroe’s ally or enemy, friend or lover, someone he needs or someone he’s tempted to kill. She has a sad back story and an interesting present. She’s a strong, smart woman and almost, if not completely, Monroe’s equal, despite the difference in which sides they seem to be on when they first meet. She’s a very important character to the story I wanted to tell.

Where did she come from? Well, in some ways she’s similar to the classic Bond girls, with her seductive ways, her physical beauty, and her appropriate and dramatic name. I think she was also partially inspired, though I may not have realized it at the time, by some of the female characters in the Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy and Will Eisner’s The Spirit. She fits that mold as a beautiful woman with one incongruous aspect to her appearance, the pure white hair framing a very young face.

P2K: Although Nobody Dies For Free is a contemporary novel, you almost push Monroe underground, and strip him of modern technology. There’s no satellite surveillance, or high-tech command centers. He is alone in the field. What was your reason for this?

AS: First of all, I wanted to tell a classic-style spy story, but I wanted it to be set in the modern day. So I had to find a way to limit the characters’ reliance on technology because I wanted it to be about Monroe the man and not about a bunch of people using satellites and the internet to get to the bottom of what was going on.

Back in the days when the early James Bond movies were being made, those wonderful gadgets that Q provided were the exception. Bond had them because of who he was. Technology was a privilege of his profession. But in today’s world, everyone has 24/7 internet access, GPS in their cars, and all sorts of instant information at their fingertips. So I reversed the equation, gave Monroe reasons to rely on wits instead of fancy tools. He’s an old-fashioned spy in a new-fangled world!

Those are the surface reasons why I needed to do that to tell this particular story, but maybe there are deeper reasons too. I tend to get slightly philosophical when it comes to modern technology.

Don’t get me wrong, because I love technology. Obviously, this interview wouldn’t be here if not for the internet, and my writing career wouldn’t be what it is without the tools of communication and commerce that the internet age has given us … but I do see many people relying too much on the ‘net! Maybe, for some, access to instant answers has made them lazy or causes them to miss out on certain things that, while harder, sometimes made life a little more interesting. I think of some of the skills that people are losing in today’s world and it makes me sad. Nobody reads maps anymore or has to figure out directions. Nobody writes letters or has to go to the library for research. Small talk is dying. People used to strike up conversations while on breaks at work or waiting in line in a busy bank or store. Now everyone has a smart phone in hand and texts and browses Facebook or Twitter. We have so many ways of constantly keeping track of every act or thought of those we already know, that I wonder how anybody meets anyone new anymore! I wonder how many people miss the chance to find what some call love at first sight because they never glance across a crowded room and lock eyes with a stranger!

So the changes to the world that have come about due to technology are something I think about often. With Nobody Dies For Free, I took that train of thought and applied it to the espionage world. When you live in a world where information flows quickly and constantly, it becomes harder and harder to keep secrets, especially when the general public has more access to information that ever before (a note, before somebody takes this the wrong way and starts an internet argument: I am not necessarily saying that any specific information should or should not be kept from the public. This is about a work of fiction, not my personal political views!). So it makes sense that there would be certain events in the world that would have to be kept quiet even among the men and women whose job it is to know what nobody else knows. I’m sure the intelligence communities aren’t immune to the over-reliance on technology that seems to plague the public in recent decades. So I decided that Monroe, as guided by Mr. Nine, would be the sort of agent who is made to avoid such issues by intentionally relying less on computers and such things and more on old-fashioned instinct, deduction, and hard-earned skill. Technology can give you more information, but it can’t make you more intelligent or more able to deal with tough choices or dangerous circumstances.

P2K: Nobody Dies For Free is not your only published work. Would you like to share a little bit about a few of your other projects?

Aaron: My work has been included in many of Airship 27’s pulp anthologies, featuring characters like Allan Quatermain and the Black Bat. I’m particularly happy to have been allowed to write some new Sherlock Holmes stories, since the Great Detective happens to be my all-time favorite fictional character. Besides Nobody Dies For Free, I’ve done other work for Pro Se Productions, including a series of short mysteries featuring Lt. Marcel Picard, a former professional hockey player who becomes a homicide cop. I’ve also written two vampire novels for Musa Publishing: 100,000 Midnights and Across the Midnight Sea.

And finally, what’s in the pipeline? Are there any future projects that you’re at liberty to discuss?

AS: Any day now, a publisher called Buzz Books will be releasing my zombie horror novel Chicago Fell First, so I’m pretty excited about that.

Those who have enjoyed Nobody Dies For Free will be happy to know that the series will continue in 2014 with the second Richard Monroe novel, which will be called Under the Radar. And just this week, I began work on the third one … and I’m not revealing the title yet! Even in this age of instant information, it’s fun to keep some things secret for a while.

Thank you for your time, Aaron, and I wish you continued success with your writing career.

Nobody Dies For Free is available via Pro Se’s store, at Amazon, and through Barnes and Noble in print for $15.00!

Aaron’s spy novel is also available as an ebook for only $2.99 for Kindle, on the Nook, and for most other digital formats at Smashwords!

For total transparency, please note, David Foster has work coming out from Pro Se Productions, the publishers of Nobody Dies For Free. The review copy of Nobody Dies For Free was also provided by Pro Se.
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Nobody Dies For Free – Book Review

Author: Aaron Smith
Publisher: Pro Se Productions
Published: June 2013

Nobody Dies For Free is a contemporary spy thriller written by Aaron Smith. Although it is set present day, the story goes to lengths to distance itself from modern surveillance technology. So there are no gadgets beyond normal cell phones and laptops. The story is essentially one man completing a mission on his own, without backup. Sure the hero, Richard Monroe meets allies on the way who assist him with his assignment. But unlike many contemporary thrillers, he is not wired into a situation room, with techs there to support and guide him. There are no satellites tailing his enemy, and / or checking for heat signatures in buildings. The espionage is the old fashioned kind. One man – one mission, and I love that.

As the story begins, Monroe is a CIA agent stationed in Paris. His life is turned upside down when a sniper’s bullet kills his wife, while they stand in line for admission to the Paris Opera. After her death, Monroe falls apart and resigns from the CIA. But a man with Monroe’s skill set doesn’t just disappear. He reinvents himself, so he can find and kill the man who stole his wife from him.

In a round about way (I am trying not to spoil the story), his quest leads him back to the United States. He ends up working for a spy-master known only as Mr. Nine, who works outside the regular intelligence agencies. Nine gives Monroe an assignment. He is sent to find an assassin nick-named Simon Scythe. Scythe is no ordinary contract-killer. You see, he assists people in committing suicide. People pay him to kill them – one shot; quick, and clean. He is Dr. Death with a gun, and hence the books title ‘Nobody Dies For Free’. Monroe, eventually finds Scythe but the information the killer reveals leads Monroe on a more dangerous and personal mission. One that takes him back to Paris, to London, and then returning to the United States.

Nobody Dies For Free is a rapid fire thriller written purely to entertain, like a spy novel from the 1960s. If you are after a story that shows the true world of espionage – detailing trade craft, and modern surveillance techniques, this will not be the book for you. However, if you want to check your brain in neutral and be zipped around the globe, and pushed from one plot point to the next, then Nobody Dies For Free could be the tale for you.

Nobody Dies For Free is available via Pro Se’s store, at Amazon, and through Barnes and Noble in print for $15.00!

Smith’s Spy Novel is also available as an ebook for only $2.99 for Kindle, on the Nook, and for most other digital formats at Smashwords!

For total transparency, please note, David Foster has work coming out from Pro Se Productions, the publishers of Nobody Dies For Free. The review copy of Nobody Dies For Free was also provided by Pro Se.
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The Killing Machine (1975)

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Country: Japan
Starring: Sonny Chiba, Yutaka Nakajima, Makoto Sato, Naoya Makoto, Sanae Kitabayashi, Akiko Mori, Hosei Komatsu, Tetsuro Tanba
Director: Norifumi Suzuki
Writer: Isao Matsumoto
Cinematographer: Yoshio Nakajima
Music: Shunsuke Kikuchi
Original Title: Shôrinji kenpô

Minor warning. This review contains adult themes.

As a teenager at school, out in the yard, talk would often drift to the ‘forbidden knowledge’ – essentially R-rated violence and pornography. Not that any of us were really exposed to it. One of the most revered topics under discussion was Caligula. Now I don’t know how many of my peers had actually seen Caligula; I am guessing that one or two may have, however it would not surprise me if none of them had. The story always retold was always the same one, so I get the impression that the story was almost a hand-me-down for those who wanted to project an image of being more extreme (and experienced) than their friends. I must admit I never saw Caligula until quite recently. I think I have told the story before — that when I watched it, I was suffering from a rather virulent dose of the flu and running a high fever. I had also promised to take my son to see the Revenge of the Sith on that weekend too. So I was hopped up on every medicine known to man fading in an out of coherency. To this day I am not too sure where Caligula ends and Sith begins. It lives in my mind as some violent porno mashup.

But back to the halcyon days of youth and the legend of Caligula. By legend, I of course mean the story that was told time and time again; and that story related to the sequence where Caligula cuts off the guys cock and then feeds it to the dogs. As you can imagine to a hormonal teenage boy — with optimistic dreams of many, many years of fine swordsmanship in front of him — the thought of having your cock cut off was just too abhorrent to contemplate. And furthermore, how dare the film-makers put such a sequence in a movie!

Of course, as bright-eyed and bushy tailed youngsters, we didn’t know who Sonny Chiba was, and therefore were certainly unaware of the existence of The Killing Machine, which was made in 1975 — or if you prefer 5 B.C. (Before Caligula). In The Killing Machine, Sonny Chiba plays Japanese Kenpo Karate master Doshin Soh, who, when he tangles with a local gangster who thinks with his little head, takes to cutting the man’s cock off and throwing it to the dogs.

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However, despite my long-winded intro and talk of penile severance; and despite the film’s title The Killing Machine; and despite that this is a Chiba film made at the height of his violent, rib-shattering fame, this film is actually quite a moving and emotionally charged drama — but with, y’know, Chiba hitting and kicking people.

The film is the slightly fictionalized story of real life kenpo master Doshin Soh, and spans the years from 1945, at the end of the second World War, until what I’d guess is 1950, but it is never really specified. The thing with Soh is that he was trained in Shaolin Kung-Fu in China and is presented as having far superior martial arts skills than his fellow Japanese who have only studied karate or judo.

The film starts in 1945. The war is still raging, and Soh is a Japanese spy who has infiltrated a Chinese garrison. A mission briefing reveals to Soh that the Chinese are planning a big attack on a Japanese force arriving from Manchuria. However, before Soh can make off with the information, he is discovered and a fight breaks out. Soh’s solution is a simple one, and that is to kill everybody in the room. Forget the AK47 — ‘when you absolutely, positively have to kill every motherf*cker in the room’ — the perfect weapon is Sonny Chiba. After the carnage, Soh reports back to his superiors only to be told that Japan has unconditionally surrendered. The war is over. At that point Soh declares that ‘Japan may have lost the war, but he’ll never be defeated. Never!’

It’s a tough time for the Japanese after the war. They are victimised by the Chinese, the Koreans, the Russians and American occupational forces. It is almost like they are beggars in their own country. But Soh isn’t one to give in — and he does everything in his power to see that other Japanese citizens are able to survive, with a modicum of dignity. That’s actually one of the core themes of the film — national pride and standing by each other. Of course, there are Yakuza gangs who don’t live by Soh’s code and are more concerned with making a profit out of the hardship that most people face. They do this by peddling black-market food and medicine.

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In Osaka, Soh becomes a surrogate father for many of the orphaned and homeless children in the area, passing on his wisdom as they struggle to survive. At the same time, he spends a large portion of his time getting into street brawls with the black marketeers who are exploiting the situation. After crippling two American G.I.s who almost killed a young Japanese boy, Soh is sent to prison, and it is looking likely that he will be executed. But the prison warden, a patriotic Japanese (a cameo by Tetsuro Tamba) turns a blind eye and allows Soh to escape, so long as Soh promises to leave the city.

The film skips forward to 1947, and Soh is in Tadotsu, on the island of Shikoku, and he has started a martial arts school, teaching those who are willing to learn the ways of Shaolin. His timing is fortuitous, because a gang of Yakuza are determined to not only control illegal activity, but generally do whatever they please — which happens to mean take and rape any girl that they want.

When the a group of Yakuza members gang-rape a young girl named Noriko and the police refuse to do anything about it, Soh steps in. And out come the scissors — and after my long-winded intro, you should know what comes next. The film rounds out its story with a final message which is that ‘Fighting without justice is just violence.’ Obviously that’s a great little message, but I guess if you were looking at the body of Sonny Chiba’s work at this time, I think it is fair to say that maybe, just maybe, he was miscast in this film.

If The Killing Machine was solely another violent exploitation flick in the same style as many other films that Chiba was making during this period, then it would leer and revel in the torridness it was depicting. Instead it treats its subject matter with sensitivity and honour. Sure the film has a few unpleasant moments, but they are not in the film to excite the audience. They are there as obstacles that the characters (and one assumes Doshin Soh in real life) had to overcome. Each obstacle makes them stronger people. All in all, this is a surprisingly enjoyable movie.

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Jerry Kokich: Behind the Mask

JerrySince its beginning, I have been a big supporter of the Superseven web series. Over the years, I have even contributed a little bit of production art, and cobbled together a DVD cover. But the true heart of the show, are the performers in the series – such as Jerry Kokich (as Superseven), Olivia Dunkley (as Sandra West), Anne Leighton (as Sparky) and Michelle Jubilee Gonzalez (as Thunderpussy) – and many other.

But now it appears that Jerry Kokich has gone out and proved that he is more than a man in a shiny red suit, who wears a mask. Recently released from Pro Se Productions is his novel Monuments of Doom.

The story sounds a blast, and I must admit a bit of me is insanely jealous of this incredibly talented man.

Here’s the press release:

MODFrom Pro Se Productions, the leader in New Pulp and Genre Fiction, and the creative mind of Author Jerry Kokich explodes the debut adventure of Michael Gordon, The Occultist! MONUMENTS OF DOOM brings the breathtaking action and nail biting adventure of classic Pulps and movie serials screaming into New Pulp today.

“It’s wonderful,” states Tommy Hancock, Partner in and Editor in Chief of Pro Se Productions, “to get a brand new story that both feels like it should have been published 80 years ago in a Pulp magazine, but also has the freshness of today all over it. Jerry’s MONUMENTS OF DOOM has everything that any fan of Pulp looks for. The plot moves like lightning, the characters spring off the page, and the premise…it’s just…Yeah, this is why we publish New Pulp.”

In the book, Michael Gordon once loved Aurelia Desantis, until she discovered ancient mystical rites of immense power in an archeological dig in Mexico. Gordon realized then just how dangerous she really was. Upon their return to the United States, he told their superiors, his actions leading to her expulsion from the University of Chicago. That day, Aurelia Desantis vowed her traitorous lover would pay.

Years later… New Year’s Eve, 1939. A statue suddenly comes to life and carves a bloody swath through unsuspecting revelers. A cryptic note arrives at police headquarters, and Michael Gordon, now an occult researcher and advisor to law enforcement, realizes the worst.

Aurelia has returned, bent on revenge.

Using her arcane powers to animate lifeless statues, she uses them to turn New York into a slaughterhouse, knowing only Michael Gordon has the knowledge to combat her monstrous creations.

But, will he use the same deadly rites and incantations, risking his very soul, to stop Aurelia? Can he go down the same dark path without succumbing to the temptations that drove his former lover to madness?

Michael Gordon has no choice as he prepares to face MONUMENTS OF DOOM!

“I’m so excited,” Author Kokich says, “about Tommy Hancock and Pro Se publishing “Monuments of Doom”! When I was first writing the short story the novel is based on, walking around New York late at night, taking notes on various statues and locations, I never thought it would wind up as a full-fledged book. I actually wrote a screenplay after the short story, and used some elements from that to flesh out the final novel. Maybe some Hollywood producer will run across this, and it will have yet another life on the big screen!”

Jerry Kokich was born in New York into a theatrical family. Both his parents were Broadway performers, so he grew up surrounded by actors, singers and dancers. Jerry was a hockey player in high school, but actually wound up dancing for The Joffrey Ballet for 8 years (that’s a story for another book). Moving to Los Angeles after retiring from dance, Jerry has appeared on a number of TV shows and in films, and has written and produced two successful web series. MONUMENTS OF DOOM is his first solo effort as a novelist. His favorite writer, and a big inspiration, is Clive Cussler.

MONUMENTS OF DOOM is available in print for $9.00 on Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/lvjm5qs or at Pro Se’s own store at http://tinyurl.com/lad97vt. The digest novel is also available as an Ebook for $2.99 for the Nook at http://tinyurl.com/ldpfd2v and for most digital formats at http://tinyurl.com/m3roqhy. Coming soon to the Kindle!

A stalwart hero, a seductive mad villainess, and murderous living statues. Everything an over the top two fisted Pulp tale needs. Fight alongside Gordon as he battles against MONUMENTS OF DOOM by Jerry Kokich. Featuring a stunning cover by Terry Pavlet. MONUMENTS OF DOOM from Pro Se Productions!

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Salute of the Jugger (1989)

salut01Country: United States / Australia
Starring: Rutger Hauer, Joan Chen, Vincent D’Onfrio, Delroy Lindo, Anna Katerina, Gandhi MacIntyre, Justin Monjo, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Max Fairchild
Screenplay: David Webb Peoples
Director: David Webb Peoples
Cinematography: David Eggby
Music: Todd Boekelheide
Producers: Brian Rosen, Charles Roven
Alternate Title: Blood of Heroes

If you’re around the same age as me, you’d have a soft spot for the films of Dutch actor Rutger Hauer. Granted, over his long career he has only made a handful of films that are very good — Blade Runner and The Hitcher remain cult classics in their own right. I have always had a strange affinity for Flesh + Blood, Paul Verhoeven’s soft-porn barbarian movie from Europe. However it’s not Hauer who draws me to the film. It was the pairing of Australian actors Jack Thompson and Tom Burlinson, in a film was set six hundred years before Australia was settled, that brings a smile to my face.

When Salute of the Jugger was being made I read and interview in the local press with Hauer, where he said that he didn’t have a home. He was a nomad and moved from one film upon completion to the next. He would set up a temporary base in whatever city his work would take him to. Then again, suggesting that he was a nomad, on the set of a film in which he plays a nomad, may have been just a timely bit of copy or a soundbite for the media. This may (or may not) explain some of the poor film and career choices he has made. Maybe if he had a home, he could take time off and sit back and ‘carefully’ read the scripts that were coming his way, and decide if these were really the roles for him. I say this as a film fan looking in from the outside at his body of work. In reality, Hauer maybe has one of the great ‘free’ lifestyles. He is doing something that he loves, and he gets to travel all over the world with no excess baggage to tie him down. The more I think about it, the more I envy the man.

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But back to his films. So, yeah he made a lot of crap, and maybe this is because he leaps from one project to the next. Even Hauer’s trash films generally have a bent – usually futuristic/always violent — that makes them worth at least one viewing. But Salute of the Jugger is different in that it was planned well in advance. The film had an incredibly long gestation period. The script written by David Webb Peoples was completed in 1977. In 1982, when Peoples was working on Blade Runner, he showed the script to Hauer who expressed interest in the project.

Other film commitments kept Peoples and Hauer apart for many years and after a few false starts, and the usual Hollywood wheeling and dealing, the film was given the green light. Peoples, making his directorial debut, was at the helm of the project. As the film had quite a modest budget, and because American dessert locations have been used so extensively – particularly in westerns – it was decided to make the film in another country. A country that had cheap labour, and had an environment that wasn’t as familiar to cinema goers. The two countries considered were Mexico and Australia. With Peoples making his directorial debut, wiser heads suggested that it may be important that Peoples spoke the same language as the technicians on the set, so the film ended up being made in Australia — with exteriors filmed in Cooper Pedy in outback South Australia, and at a quarry near Sydney.

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The film is set in the post apocalyptic future, and the world is split into two distinct groups — the rich and the poor. The rich live deep underground in dank, dark cities – of which only nine remain. These cities seem like images from a Hieronomous Bosch painting — snapshots of a dirty dystopian hell – are in fact luxurious compared to the run down, starving dog towns on the surface of the planet. This is where the poor people live. The one thing that unites the rich and the poor is a game — it doesn’t have a name – and it is played by warriors called Juggers.

As the film begins, a troupe of Juggers, headed by Sallow (Rutger Hauer) march into a dog town looking for a game. A young boy runs through the huts announcing their arrival. The locals are willing to oblige. On the outskirts of town, working in a field is a young girl named Kidda (Joan Chen). She has dreams of playing in the ‘League’, which is sort of like an A-grade, or First Division for Jugger players. Only the very best of the best make it to the ‘League’. Kidda wants to ditch her work and participate in the game, much to the chagrin of her parents.

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Once the terms are set, the game begins. The game is quite simple — much like soccer or basketball, there is a rectangular playing field. And each team has to defend a spike at each end of the field. There is no ball in this game. Instead they use a dog’s head — and the object of the game, is to get the dog’s head and run down to your spike and impale the head on it. The first team to do this wins. If only it were that simple, eh? It’s not. Each team has five players. First there is the ‘Kwik’, who as the name suggests is the speedy one who carries the dog’s head. To protect the Kwik there is a player who spins a chain net over his head like a helicopter blade. And then there are three blockers. The blockers are armed with large double ended sticks, with which they inflict as much pain and damage on the opposition players as possible. As you can imagine, it’s quite a brutal game.

The game begins without Kidda, and in the opening play, Sallow’s ‘Kwik’, named Dog Boy, has his leg sliced open by a chain wielded by the opposition. For a ‘Kwik’, a damaged leg is like a guitarist with snapped strings – pretty useless -but he is a fighter and is willing to continue. Meanwhile, Sallow beats seven shades of shit out of one of the opposition players as recompense. After the interval (the game is played in three sections), Kidda, who has run off from her work in the field, joins her home team, replacing the man the Sallow smacked up. Her effect on the game is immediate. She is fast, and quickly does some more work (damage) to Dog Boy’s leg. She is looking pretty good, and it is possible that the home team may even win. That is until she runs into a swinging chain wielded by Young Gar (Vincent D’Onofrio). Face bloodied and lacerated, she stands dazed in the centre of the playing field until Sallow puts her down for good.

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Then it is a cake walk for Sallow’s team. Dog Boy, who can’t walk, picks up the dog’s skull and drags himself to the spike, to score and win the game. Jugger, despite being a brutal and barbaric game, is played in a sportsman like manner. After the contest, despite however much pain and damge an opponent may have inflicted, each man salutes their opposite, acknowledging their gladiatorial spirit. Being a nomadic Jugger is only good if the team win — that is, if you enjoy being clobbered regularly in sport. To the victor go the spoils – primarily food and companionship for the night. Thankfully for Sallow and his team, they won, so their evening is a boozy shag-fest.

Despite the beating that Kidda has taken, she is still determined to become a Jugger and do battle in the ‘League’. With Dog Boy injured, she sees it as an opportunity to ingratiate herself with Sallow. On the next morning, as the Juggers leave town, heading out into the wasteland towards the next dog tow, she follows behind. When Dog Boy’s leg gets so bad, that he cannot stand, she joins the team. In time, as Kidda’s skill improve, Sallow’s team becomes more and more successful — to the point where they are almost at the standard of joining — or at least being noticed by the League. The thing is, that Sallow once played in the League, but was kicked out after an indiscretion with a woman of ruling class. He is persona non grata in Red City, and furthermore is not the type of character that the League would give a second chance to. However, Kidda and Young Gar, whose skills have also improved exponentially, are keen to attract the attention of the League and eventually they convince Sallow and the rest of the team to head back to Red City and give it one final shot.

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Over the ensuing years many, many stories have appeared about longer versions of the film, and missing sequences, and to that end, with possible the exception of Billy Wilder’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, and Lang’s Metropolis, Jugger has become a modern posterboy for back room butchery (Okay, I may be exaggerating a bit, but we Jugger fans have a powerful lobby group). It has been described as the opposite of a Roger Corman picture, wherein Corman pictures attempted to stretch their tiny budgets, putting their best on the screen, Jugger instead removed all signs of budget and production design and left in the dregs of the shoot. As I wasn’t on set, I can not say how much of this is true. There has been talk of large amounts of footage taken — with spectacular sets — in the Red City, and also subplots about a religious cult that appear to control the ruling class in the city. Looking at the finished film, it seems that there may be some truths in that. Hugh Keays-Byrne’s role seems incredibly truncated. Keays-Byrne plays one of the big-knobs in Red City. He’d be known to international audiences as the Toecutter in the original Mad Max. As it stands now, his role is little more than a cameo, almost a faceless enemy.

But having said that, if this footage exists, if included, it may have been to the detriment of the film. After all, Salute of the Jugger is an action film. Long stretches of exposition, and subplots about religion could only slow the film down. I think, if they exist, they could make great ‘special features’ on a DVD — I for one, would be curious to see them — but I don’t believe a reconstructed Jugger is required. Whatever the original vision may have been, good or bad, I guess it is lost to the sands of time now, and even if some of the footage survived, it is hard to imagine it being reinstated in a cohesive format. I’ll just add here, that the version I have reviewed here is actually a cut version — a few minutes have been lopped from the end — but that is not what I am talking about above. I mean quite substantial sequences in the Red City, and even other characters who have been completely removed from the final cut.

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I realise that Salute of the Jugger as released, is a very flawed film. It lacks plot and characterisation. Even as a post-apocalyptic tale of society reverting back to a primitive state it fails miserably. But as a sports film where the underdog takes on a vastly superior opponent and against all odds and achieves the impossible, Jugger pushes all the right buttons and succeeds admirably. The end game is as thrilling to watch as it would be devastating to participate in. Over the years there have been plenty of sports films – most of them are crap (boxing comes off the best with at least the original Rocky and Raging Bull credited against the sport). But I think Salute of the Jugger is one of the great sporting films — okay the ‘game’ wasn’t a real game (one invented for the film), but this film overcomes that hurdle, and not only teaches us the rules, but also taps in to latent sporting emotions hidden within. For me, this film conjures up memories (or the emotion I felt) when I watched the 4th cricket test between Australia and England, played in Melbourne during the 1982-83 season. No doubt, you’re reaction to the film will be completely different based on your life (and possibly sporting) experiences.

You may have noticed in the paragraph above, I said that ‘Jugger’ wasn’t a real game. Well it wasn’t when the film was made. It is now, however the rules have been modified, and it is not quite as brutal as the game depicted on the screen – it is more like ‘Touch Jugger’. The new modified game, it has been suggested, first appeared in Germany, which has an active Jugger league. The game is also has taken off in other countries such as the USA and Australia — the Melbourne team being formed in 2006. The fact that teams have formed around the world to play Jugger, is a strong testament to the sporting, emotional content in the film.

After all these years, I still consider myself a Rutger Hauer fan. Most films he makes these days are direct to DVD efforts. He seems to mix this with some supporting roles in bigger films (like Batman Begins). But regardless, I know I can go into a video/DVD library and pick up virtually any Hauer movie and still be entertained. The film may be utter shit, but I know that in there somewhere, there was some spark that drew Hauer to the project. And that spark, if I can find it, makes the viewing worth while.

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Dave White Presents… Fight Card

DWP

Created by past DWP guest Paul Bishop & Mel Odom, the “Fight Card” books are monthly 25000 word novelettes inspired by the noir fight pulps of the ’30s and ’40s. To date, nearly 25 authors have contributed volumes in what is a rather unique project in publishing history. Sort of The Untouchables meets Rocky.

Recently, Bishop returned to DWP to discuss the series along with one of the authors, Carol Malone. They discussed the content and flavor of the books along with how they’re marketing the books differently on Amazon and then as snazzy paperbacks. You too can join the “Fight Card” universe, and we’ll tell you how to jump in on a very rock ‘em, sock em “Dave White Presents”!

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Dave White Presents featuring Paul Bishop and Carol Malone is now available as a podcast, mp3 download, from itunes, through TEVO and Sticher.com, or you can listen to it here.

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Nowhere To Run (1993)

NTRDirector: Robert Harmon
Starring: Jean Claude Van-Damme, Rosanna Arquette, Joss Ackland, Ted levine, Kieran Culkin

Nowhere to Run is essentially a remake of Shane – and I have no problem with that. Shane has been remade many times; such as Pale Rider, with Clint Eastwood, or Malone, with Burt Reynolds. Those of you who have seen Malone – which I think is only six or seven people in the whole world – will possibly say, Malone is not a western. Well, neither is Nowhere to Run – but the premise is the same. That being, a family is being bullied to move off their land by some bigshots who will not take no for an answer. Then a stranger turns up and sides with the family – battling the bigshots. In Shane, the stranger was a gunfighter. In Malone, the stranger was an ex-CIA agent. In Nowhere to Run, the stranger is a felon on the run – but hey, that just gives him extra cred as a bad-ass.

As the film opens, a bus is transporting a group of convicts to another prison. One of the convicts is Sam (jean Claude Van-Damme). Not that it matters, one of the other convicts is played by Sven Ole Thorsen. As the bus winds around the highway, a Firebird races up behind, and then alongside the vehicle. It then moves around, and then cuts across in front of the bus. The driver brakes suddenly, and the bus slides out and begins to roll. Of course, the is all part of an elaborate escape plan. The guards are overpowered, and the convicts run free.

The gentleman behind the wheel of the Firebird is named Billy, who may or may not be Sam’s brother – it is never really spelled out. Anyway, Sam climbs into the Firebird and they race away. However, one of the guards grabs his rifle, aims, and fires. The bullet hits Billy. Billy dies, but Sam is free – and now on the run.

After stocking up with supplies, off the beaten path, Sam sets up camp in the wilderness, beside a lake. He pushes the car into the lake, so it won’t be spotted. However, his wilderness campsite happens to be on the property of a single mother, Clydie Anderson (Rosanna Arquette) – who is struggling to bring up tow small children, Bree and Mookie (Kieran Culkan).

It just so happens, that Clydie’s property is not just the hiding place for a wanted felon, but also sitting smack dab in the middle of a proposed housing development. The man behind the development, Hale (Joss Ackland) tries to reason with Clydie, but she just doesn’t want to sell. But Hale has to make her sell the land. If he doesn’t the deal cannot go through, and he will be out of business. But Hale employs a nasty piece of work, named Dunston (Ted Levine), who will make her leave.

Meanwhile, Sam is running low on supplies. So at night, he starts making nocturnal visits to Clydie’s home to steal a few items to help him out. But during one of his incursions, he is spotted by Mookie (who believes Sam is E.T.). The next day, Mookie tracks Sam back to his tent. Then Mookie’s younger sister, Bree, who was following her brother, also discovers Sam’s campsite. So now we have a bad-ass convict surrounded by kids, and he doesn’t know how to act. His first instinct is to cut and run. But there is still a police dragnet – searching for the escaped prisoners. So against his better judgment he stays.

Then Hale sends Dunston and some goons to scare Clydie off her property. They kill her cattle, and threaten her with baseball bats. But just as they are getting rough, who should appear? Sam. As Sam is played by Jean Claude Van-Damme, he gives the goons a right proper beating.

So you know where all this is going, right? Yeah, it’s predictable, but it is fun, and Van-Damme gives one of the best performances of his career – in a film that, despite its premise, is character driven, rather than action-packed. The ending is a smidge contrived, but by that time I was pretty much won over by this film. I think Nowhere To Run a bloody good flick, and the perfect way to kill ninety or so minutes.

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