Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Way We Weren't: Arnold Schwarzenegger as Sgt. Rock

When you go to as many conventions as I do, you start to look for certain things.  For me, there's nothing better than digging through a tub of old pins and buttons or finding a postcard with art or photos from one of your favorite movies.  In this case, it's San Diego Comic-Con 2012 and one bad ass booth gave me two pop culture nuggets.

The first was a white button with simple text in red, I Come In Peace from Vision International.  You know, I Come In Peace?  The late 1980's sci-fi-action thriller starring Dolph Lundgren as a cop who takes on a mullet haired alien who shoots up victims full of heroin then knife-spikes their brains to extract endorphins to sell on his planet?  Remember?  The alien says, "I come in peace" and Dolph retorts, "Go in pieces, asshole" then explodes the shit out of him?  ... Oh you might know it as Dark Angel instead.

Number two was from a movie that only exists in Hollywood offices and maybe a few peoples dreams; the Joel Silver produced, World War II action-adventure flick Sgt. Rock starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.  I had enjoyed Robert Kanigher and Joe Kubert's Sgt. Rock comics and grew up watching Arnold movies so to see a piece of promotional swag from an almost produced movie was "very interesting (throws up hand with Van Damme improv flourish)".  Put this on the shelf of "what ifs" along with the 80's Joel Silver/Terry Gilliam adaptation of Watchmen (with Arnold as Dr. Manhattan), the lesser realized Daredevil adaptation starring Jean-Claude Van Damme and the 90's James Cameron directed X-Men starring Michael Biehn as Cyclops, JCVD as Gambit, Dolph as Colossus and Ed Harris as Magneto (oh wait, that was my and Wizard magazine's version of a non-existent movie).

Apparently this Sgt. Rock bad boy almost happened.  As in, got canceled a few weeks before shooting, almost. In May of 1988, Warner Brothers and Arnold announced a September start.  A script was ready, promo buttons were handed out at conventions, Arnold had done costume fittings and director John McTiernan was in Europe scouting locations.  Sgt. Rock comics were seen on screen in the duo's 1987 classic Predator as the books were on the Mexican set for research.  But here we are twenty some years later with no Sgt. Rock VHS or Laserdisc or DVD or 25th anniversary Blu-Ray on our shelves.  Twenty-five years later, Joel Silver is still trying to bring Sgt. Rock to the big screen.

Who knows what happened, movies get made or not made for a variety of reasons.  Some understandable (budget, star power) and others not so explainable (hey, we gotta fill a release slate!).  We do know that Arnold would have been coming off soldier roles nearly back to back in Commando and Predator to much acclaim and box office muscle but action/buddy comedy Red Heat did not set the world on fire upon release in June of 1988.  It's reasonable to think that the studio got cold feet at the prospect of Arnold cooling with action fans.  Or maybe the King of Kings was tired of  running around shooting bad guys with a machine gun.  The Oak went a completely different direction and ended up making Twins, the flick that showed he was funny and a great actor (he played a virgin for crying out loud, if that's not Oscar worthy I don't know what is).

I got my eyes on a draft from that period (I'd love to read more versions) and remember not being overly enthused about it.  Rock's heritage had been changed to German-American to accommodate the Austrian star, effectively eliminating the character's American everyman quality.  I believe he's a steel worker from Pittsburgh in the comics.  Among the panels and dialog balloons, Rock is quiet and serious, taking care of soldiers so green they're "straight from the mint" and is allergic to medals.  His men are always in on the fight, no matter how dire the situation.

At that time, Arnold was larger than life, a superhero without the costume.  Would he be believable as the no-nonsense leader in an unglamorous world?  More than that, I recall the story being fairly tame and unexciting.  A lot of tumbling rocks and an injured Rock walking around Europe.  At one point he comes across an all black unit of soldiers and all I could think was that this was to be a Carl Weathers cameo to harken back to their great chemistry and manly handshake in Predator.

Maybe it's for the best to keep those rosy images in our dreams where they can't be tarnished.

EDIT:  Thanks to a terrific interview with screenwriter Steven E. de Souza, we can put this baby to rest.  Apparently, Arnold took a cue from Clint Eastwood and bought some property in Idaho, wishing to make a film nearby and utilize local crew.  It was said Sgt. Rock would film in and around The Oak's new digs.  While being fitted for his costume, someone mentioned Yugoslavia and a shocked Arnold called a meeting with the producer, director and executives.  As location scouts had already been dispatched to Europe, Arnold wanted it in his contract that he would not leave the continental United States to make the film.  After the meeting, Arnold and McTiernan left the project and since he wasn't sued, de Souza figures it was in his contract and Warner Brothers were going back on their word.  No dice, baby.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Iron Mouse!

Oh you didn't know?  Disney recently purchased Lucas Film and Marvel to the turn the deadbolt and put the chain on the teenage boy market.

So now we get a Stark Industries exhibit inside Innoventions at Disneyland!  Only I thought there were like twenty-five suits of armor on display but there's only five or six.  Still pretty cool to see and looking forward to some Marvel themed rides and attractions in the next decade.  Psst, Captain America everything!

Ask Me a Question: Welcome To The Jungle World Premiere

The Newport Beach Film Festival is in full swing in lovely Newport Beach this weekend.  Tonight's centerpiece screening was the world premiere of Welcome to the Jungle.  You know, that little indie flick about office workers on an island?  Lord of the Flies via Office Space?  The one with 80's and 90's action-karate stud Jean-Claude Van Damme as an insane survival instructor?

Anywho, the event was held at the quaint Lido Theater on the Balboa Peninsula.  A decent sized line had formed outside with one goer brandishing a promotional hockey jersey from Sudden Death with "Van Damme" across the back.  Being the world premiere, the audience was chock full of cast and crew.  Right away I spotted Dennis Haysbert (Major League, NAVY SEALS (Michael Biehn, Charlie Sheen and Bill Paxton alert!)) and Ernie Barbarash, director of two Van Damme DTV efforts.  The theater quickly filled up but no sign of our man Van.  I ran out to get a drink of water...AND.  THERE.  HE.  WAS. in the center of a small mob answering questions about who knows what.

Organizers of the fest ordered everyone get to their seats and did the usual yada, yada, yada (thanks to staff, volunteers, event takes thousands of man hours, come to the after party...).  Director Rob Meltzer provided a quick intro and let us know that more or less the ENTIRE cast was in the audience.

Lights went down and the movie started.  Welcome to the Jungle is the story of Chris (Adam Brody, The OC), a young designer at a marketing firm who is getting bitched on by uber sleaze Phil (Rob Huebel, basically playing same role he did in I Love You Man but taken further).  Being an office environment, we get all kinds of wacky supporting characters.  There's Brenda (Kristen Schaal), the bunny loving office something who is semi-dating IT stoner Jared (Eric Edelstein).  There's HR representative and love interest, Lisa (Megan Boone) and head of the department...hmm can't think of character's name and it's not on IMDB but it's Dennis Haysbert!

The D Hays brings in team building expert and military man Storm Rothchild (it's JCVD!) to talk to the company and alert them that they'll all be going on a two day wilderness seminar to learn all the basics of life and business.  On the island, things quickly devolve as Storm is attacked by a tiger and the pilot is found dead of being old.  Phil drugs most of the office workers with hallucinogenic leaves and creates a cesspool of eating, drinking and orgies (it's depicted worse than it sounds).  Meanwhile Chris, Jared, Brenda and Lisa set up their own camp and try to figure out how to get rescued.  By the end of the flick, Chris finally stops being a pushover and takes on the megalomaniac Phil using his skills as an Eagle Scout. 

All in all, Welcome to the Jungle isn't good or bad per se, it's very formulaic with few surprises but many laughs.  It's lowbrow all the way but nothing too offensive.  Joke topics include homo eroticism, dicks, farts, sex and vaginas.  There's even a throw away titty shot early on.

The cast does a solid job starting with Brody as the affable enough leading man who we wait for to get tough and get the girl as opposed to rooting for. Haysbert gets the yuks as the stern yet weirdo-perv boss and JCVD does a nice job of playing against type and poking fun at his own image as the hyper-macho/moronic unhinged military man.  Schaal, Edelstein, Huebel and Aaron Takahashi (as Phil's office lackey) all get their time and do their bits just fine.

After the movie, at least 25 members of the cast and crew came to the front to answer a few questions.

- The island scenes were shot in Puerto Rico over 19 days.
- Adam Brody received the script with the odd preface that Van Damme, Haysbert and Schaal were attached.
- Van Damme's role was written with neither an action star or comedic actor in mind.
- Everybody loves JC, from his dynamic personality to the way he says words in English.
- Haysbert enjoys roles like these because they don't come his way very often.
- Meltzer's first short film debuted at the Newport Beach Film Festival 8 years ago so he's come full circle (Rambo reference # 113).
Props to Meltzer and his team for getting a lot on screen for I'm sure not very much money.  It was a fun night and I will definitely recommend to friends when Welcome to the Jungle hits screens in August via Universal.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Track Star: JOJO

Myspace has something like 50 million songs on their site.  During a night of drunken Jenga, we decided to test it with a game called, Is that on Myspace?

My challenge?  Too Little, Too Late by JOJO.  Why?  It's a good fucking tune!  And yup, it's there.  This song is DEEP.  I wish I had feelings and insight like this at her age or mine now.

You say you dream of my face 
But you don't like me 
You just like the chase 
To be real, it doesn't matter anyway 
(You know it's just too little too late)

Ripped + Inspirational = Ripspirational

Today's Ripspiration comes from Jean-Claude Van Damme

For more information on getting ripped and inspirational, 
see your local gymnasium and do your best to save the world.

Ask Me a Question: Enter The Dragon

Enter the Dragon, 40th Anniversary.  Would you believe that?  Those badasses at the The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences put on a great event that was equal parts celebration, education and entertainment.

Film executive, producer, writer and movie poster collector Stephen Chin was on hand to introduce an original print from 1973 of ETD (something about a transfer where colors don't fade) and discuss the extraordinary life of one Bruce Lee.  Sometimes we forget how extraordinary.  Sometimes we forget that Bruce Lee and Kung-Fu/martial arts movies weren't always a part of the worldwide pop culture lexicon.

An exquisite line up of guests were on hand to speak about the Bruce and Enter The Dragon.  Producers Paul Heller and Fred Weintraub, cinematographer Gilbert Hubbs, Bruce Lee's daughter Shannon, bad guy and Karate stud Bob Wall, co-star John Saxon (of From Dusk Til Dawn!) and 6 time Oscar nominated composer Lalo Schifrin (Bullit, Cool Hand Luke, Dirty Harry)!

What's great about these events is that they are well moderated so each guest has ample time to speak, a variety of subjects are covered and the lack of audience Q&A means no awkward quemments (question/comment) or long winded, personal diatribes from frustrated viewers/wannabe filmmakers.

- Fred Weintraub knew Lee was something special and tried to find projects for him but Hollywood had no faith in an Asian leading man.
- One project turned into Kung Fu, the TV series starring David Carradine.  Another was a buddy picture with Woody Strode (Spartacus, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Professionals) that stalled out.
- FW encouraged Lee to put some action on film as a demo he could show naysayers.  Lee went to Hong Kong and made The Big Boss and Fists of Fury which became overseas hits.
- It was still a tough sell but Warner Brothers put up half the $400,000 budget to produce ETD.
- Hong Kong super producer Raymond Chow ended up being barred from the set.
- Lee and Bob Wall were training partners for years, probably because Wall could take real hits in sparring and in the movies.  Wall also trained with Chuck Norris for decades.
- Lee and the cast sustained multiple injuries during filming due to his commitment for realism in fight scenes.
- John Saxon almost backed out of the film at the last minute.  Bonded with Bruce over home gyms.
- Lee wanted to meet Lalo Schifrin, who was under great stress to score the film quickly.
- Lee and Schifrin both considered themselves artists who fused thousands of years of tradition in martial arts and music into new forms and styles.
- Lee trained to Schifrin's famous theme song from Mission:  Impossible.
- Thanks to ETD, in the early 70's, 20% of films shown in U.S. theaters were Kung-Fu movies.
- Lebanon was the first territory outside of Hong Kong to screen Bruce Lee movies.

Much, much, MUCH more was discussed but I guess you had to be there.  The film rolled and looked great.  You forget how ripped Bruce Lee was until you see it on the big screen.  Young Bolo Yeung's popping pecs look the same here as they did twenty years later in Bloodsport (JCVD alert!).  I had also forgotten how funny this movie is, due to it's 70's-ness and the quirky performances.

Stephen Chin's awesome collection of martial arts movie posters from around the world filled the lobby.  It was a great reminder of Bruce Lee's living philosophy; be determined, be dedicated, never be dismissed and always be ready to kick some ass.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Gotta Drank! The Well

If you're ever going to the Arclight Hollywood or The Palladium, stop by The Well for dinner and drinks. Happy hour from 5:00 - 9:00PM with $5.00 drinks! Nice and cozy inside, solid bar food menu and a jukebox!


Sunday, April 14, 2013

Biehn Scene: American Dragons aka Double Edge aka A Tale Of Two Michaels

A buddy alerted me that MGM has their own channel and yesterday programmed a doozy of a daytime double feature with American Dragons and American Ninja IV:  The Annihilation. AD stars Michael Biehn while AN has Michael Dudikoff.  You SHOULD know Biehn's work from The Terminator, Aliens, The Abyss, Navy Seals, Tombstone, The Rock, Grindhouse:  Planet Terror and many more but I'm here to talk about those lesser known titles, the VHS tapes I packed into my luggage when I moved out west.

American Dragons, titled Double Edge on my VHS copy, is a great direct to video action/crime thriller from the 90's.  Remember those?  Genre flicks of varied quality made on a budget in Los Angeles, Canada or Europe starring familiar (or familiar to genre fans) faces who had their moment but never quite broke through?  Sure you do.  Trimark, Live Entertainment, Imperial, Dimension, New World... No?  Starring the likes of Eric Roberts, Lorenzo Lamas, Lance Henriksen, Shannon Tweed and Joan Severance?  Still no?  Find yourself another online diary!

(Ahem, in gravelly narrator voice) A maniacal renegade enforcer and a shadowy, cold-blooded assassin have teamed up to start a gang war between the mafia and Yakuza in a bid to take control.  It's up to mismatched partners Detective Tony Luca (Biehn) and Seoul Police Department Inspector Kim (Joong-Hoon Park) to stop them!  East meets West in a furious flurry of bullets and blades, fists and fights, racism (all Asians are Bruce Lee, right?), stereotypes (greasy/douchy Italians alert!), bonding through booze and karaoke, pizza, ramen and slow-motion work out montages!  Get ready to feel the Double Edge!  Or, here comes the American Dragons!

Like I said, AD is a great piece of 90's DTV filmmaking.  TV director Ralph Hemecker acquits himself nicely in one of his few feature credits.  It's well made (in Canada) with great production values, exciting action (gun fights, fisticuffs), pulsing music and a solid cast.   Joining Biehn and Park are Don Stark (That 70's Show) as traitorous evil mob henchman Rocco, Byron Mann (Ryu in Van Damme's 1993 Street Fighter movie) as hyper efficient, knife and sword wielding assassin Shadow and Tsang Shung himself, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as a Yakuza boss.

The Biehn showcases a bit of his sensitive action hero side as well as being kind of a dick.  In a funny, "prove me wrong" kind of way.  Definitely one of my favorite performances from him in an utterly enjoyable and re-watchable flick.

Check out the horrible-great video trailer:

Letter B

Ever notice how many great things start with B? Biehn (Michael), barbeque, burger, bread, brownie, boobs, butts, brother, bro, brah, bromance, bitchin', Batman, bodybuilding, Bale (Christian), book, Bruce (Lee or Banner), Back to the Future, believe...

Friday, April 12, 2013

Sweet Christmas!

Michael Biehn as cyber commando Sergeant Rex Power Colt in Far Cry 3:  Blood Dragon.

Have no idea what the Far Cry video game franchise is about (wasn't it a Uwe Boll movie with Til Schwiger?) but this looks awesome. Totally awesome! As a child of the 80's and 90's, this trailer just makes me feel warm and tingly inside.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Track Star: Beady Eye

If I had to name my 10 favorite bands, # 1-9 would be OASIS and # 10 would be a big mess of everyone else.  Liam and Noel Gallagher not only put out some epic tunes but they're also equally witty and hilarious in totally different ways  You know, where one guffaws while the other just smiles with his eyes.  Right?

Here are some gems from a recent interview with everyone from OASIS except Noel, Beady Eye.

On Justin Bieber:

“Anyone who goes on two hours late is f*cking right in my book, man,” he raves, as the shoot is finishing up. “All these so-called rock bands that sit backstage going, ‘Hey, let’s wait 15 minutes.’ F*ck that, wait two hours and 15 minutes! He’s kicked the f*cking arse out of it – no one will beat that, ever. So get off his f*cking back, man: I am a Belieber!”

On naming their second album BE:

“My theory is that it’s gonna have Be on the cover, and then on the back I-E-B-E-R. [Stands up, shouts football chant-style] Biiiiieee-ber! I’ve got his f*cking back, man.”

On running into Noel during the Olympics:

“It was all right. I wasn’t that p*ssed actually, I’d only had like… four bottles of champagne.”

So much more good stuff can be found in the full interview.



Sunday, April 7, 2013

Ask Me a Question: The Crimson Pirate

 With February and March movie releases not exactly blowing any wind up my skirt, I started searching for screenings around LA.  Anyone not familiar, if you live in or around Los Angeles, California you are spoiled rotten when it comes to music or movie related events.  Anyway, I discovered UCLA was doing a Centennial Celebration on one of my favorite actors, Burt Lancaster!  Quickly perusing the schedule, I spotted the first of many programmed features I wished to view on the glorious big screen.

The Crimson Pirate (1952) with Trapeze (1956).  I had only seen The Crimson Pirate once but remembered it with fond memories.  It's a bit of a trip to think that a serious leading man of Hollywood like Lancaster had once been a real life trapeze artist.  You just don't find those kinds of multi-talented, lived in leading men these days.

Lancaster's daughter Joanna introduced the film to the crowd which included her sister and the family of Crimson Pirate screenwriter Roland Kibbee.  The idea for CP came from Lancaster's success in another swashbuckler, The Flame and the Arrow (People get you into things and things get you into trouble so stay away from people).  Lancaster and co-star Nick Cravat did their own stunts after their doubles quit the production, fearing some of the high wire gags involved.

The Crimson Pirate is just fun adventure.  From the first moment Lancaster speaks to camera and welcomes us to the movie with that gigawatt smile; we know we're in for a treat.  What follows is a swashbuckling good time full of laughs, action and impressive athleticism that takes place on pirate ships, in village streets, castle keeps, under water and even a hot air balloon in the sky.


See you there for Gunfight at the O.K. Corral but where is The Swimmer?!

From South Africa?

1 of the 100 new memberships and 10 of the 2,000 tickets sold for the inaugural Entertainment Weekly Cape Town Film Festival at the American Cinematheque.

Why?  Because screenings of The Thing with John Carpenter Q&A, Escape From New York with semi recluse Kurt Russell, Return of the Jedi with Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher, The Goonies with Richard Donner and Star Trek with Leonard Nimoy is worth waiting in line for.


Nights of Wonder...Con! Jim Steranko

WonderCon 2013, Day 2, Spotlight on Steranko - "You know it?"

Inspiration.  It's different for everyone.  But when you see it, you know it.  Such was the case for Jim Steranko.  Already a fan of his work on Marvel's Nick Fury:  Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., seeing him live was a shock of the lightning.  Here's a guy that worked as a magician and escape artist before becoming one of the most influential comic book artists of all time.  And he only did 29 issues.  Later he worked for directors like Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola.  At 70 something years old, he's busier than ever by his own estimation.

- Loves movies and would spend days and nights at the theater, brought that visual flair to comics
- Was on a hot streak one day in NY having sold his work to a small time publisher, then Paramount TV before deciding on a whim to visit Marvel and attempt to meet Stan Lee
- Chose Nick Fury because it was a title no one cared about and could go nowhere but up
- In those days, comic artist wages were shit.  Like below shit
- Fought with Stan Lee constantly who pleaded, "can't you just do it like Kirby or Romita?"
- Where Kirby worked in the moment of explosion, Steranko works in the tense moment before
- Left Marvel after one of his usual spats with Stan Lee.  Months later, Lee called and the two made up without an apology made by either side
- Stan Lee considers Steranko the son he never had
- Introduced over 100 never before seen artistic techniques to comics

The man was just brimming with enthusiasm, passion, knowledge, confidence and humor.  It's always refreshing and reminding to see a person who says what they feel and does what they say.  Everything isn't for everybody and that's just fine.

Van Dammage: Respect

Jean-Claude Van Damme on Howard Stern circa 1995 promoting Sudden Death.  You're gonna love it.  Sex, marriage, levels of love, schtuping, karate, spanking, small hands, Antonio Banderas...

Gotta Drank! Chaya

One of the "problems" with working in a busy social media and technology company is missing happy hour.  Traditionally specials run from 4:00-7:00PM Monday - Friday.  But Chaya on Alden and Robertson keeps the specials going all night with cocktails, beer, wine and small bites.


Ask Me a Question: Jurassic Park

Earlier this week, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (you know, the Oscar peoples) held a free screening of Steven Spielberg's 1993 summer box office terror, Jurassic Park.  RSVPs were scooped up in two minutes flat and a sizable Stand By crowd showed up hoping to get in.

The Samuel Goldwyn Theater on Wilshire was buzzing as guests, staff and security mingled about.  Inside, the lobby acts as a museum exhibition space with rotating galleries.  Currently, Stanley Kubrick materials adorned the walls in the form of posters, photos, storyboards, call sheets and more (Kirk Douglas as Spartacus alert!).

A great panel of guests was lined up to speak before the movie: Production Designer Rick Carter, ILM designer Dennis Muren, Dinosaur Supervisor and ED-209 creator Phil Tippett, 3D Conversion maestro William Sherak and Blood Sucking Lawyer actor Martin Ferrero (from Miami Vice!).  It was a short and sweet affair moderated by the capable David S. Cohen of Variety.

- The T-Rex attack was the hardest scene to convert because of the multiple elements:  rain, truck, actors, T-Rex, trees, leaves, fence wires, etc
- Stan Winston's board room is a silent contract negotiator, a potential client walks in, sees life size makes of Terminator endo-skeleton, Predator, Alien and signs up knowing they're getting the best.
- A hurricane struck on location, stranding cast and crew in a hotel ballroom.  Spielberg wanted to go out and film mother nature at work and put it in the movie.
- Kathleen Kennedy bribed the local military to fly cast and crew to safety, forever endearing her to the panel or at least Phil Tippett.
- Tyrannosaurus Rex is a lot of people's favorite dinosaur (Stegosaurus for life baby!) and was inserted into the end as a last minute idea to make the Raptors more villainous.

Of course more was discussed but you don't have time for that.  The movie holds up well as an exciting mix of science tinged adventure, thrills, practical and computerized effects with a great cast, sweeping music and that weird yet hilarious beefcake moment with Jeff Goldblum.  3D didn't add much for me but then again it never does (except Titanic because they went double the depth of frames than other movies).

A great night at and put on by The Academy.  Looking forward to seeing Enter the Dragon there soon.


Did you call me scumbag?

Gather round lads and lasses it's time to get started!

Settle back, turn up the volume, close your eyes and immerse yourself in Beady Eye's latest track, Flick of the Finger.