Friday, November 29, 2013

Gotta Eat! Gobble Gobble Day

Behold, Beta Ray Bill, wielder of Storm Breaker and bringer of turkey!

I hadn't cooked a turkey in quite some time but decided to this year.  I learned that Target sells everything for Thanksgiving...besides turkey.  Bought a nice 14 pounder that advertised being free range, organic something something.  Later while watching Good Eats, Alton Brown said a bird that size would feed 8-10.  I had a party of 3...leftovers!  Growing up, mom and dad used the brine method but that seemed a little too involved for me so I ended up going for an herb rub with salt, pepper, garlic, thyme, rosemary, oregano and basil mashed together with olive oil.  From there you just stick your hand around under the skin of the breast and thigh to separate the skin and meat then spoon in the slurry.  A quick coating and massage outside and I was ready to cook.  The gizzards and innards got thrown into a frying pan and I enjoyed the enzyme rich organs as a post workout snack.

Another trick I picked up from Mr. Brown was hitting the bird for 30 minutes at 500 degrees to give the skin a nice color and crispy texture.  Then, affix a triangle of tin foil over the breast and continue cooking at 350 until the internal temperature was in the 165 range.  What started as an attempt at mashed cauliflower became simply a cauliflower mash that was pretty tasty and easy to make.  Simply break up the florets into manageable pieces, microwave for 10 minutes then mash with butter, salt, pepper, garlic and a sprinkle of cheese.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Fall (Flicks) Brawl: Oldboy & Homefront

Two movies, two nights, lots of fights.  Thanksgiving weekend started off with Oldboy, Spike Lee's remake of the 2003 Korean flick starring Josh Brolin, Sharlto Copley, Elizabeth Olsen and the world's best curser, Samuel L. Jackson.  The story of a man imprisoned for 20 years, suddenly set free and given a finite amount of time to figure out why his life was taken away from him.  If you've seen the Korean version, this American joint might seem a bit unnecessary.  On it's own, Lee's version of Oldboy is a little cheesy, extremely brutal, generally well crafted and visually attention grabbing.  Brolin is perfect as the asshole turned prisoner turned crazy ass kicking detective.  The twist is a little more complex than the original's but just as disturbing.

The hallway hammer fight along with a run in with some not quite deserving jock douchebags show off an over the top, bone crunching, cringe inducing style of cinematic carnage.  An interrogation scene literally had me curling up in my seat, not wanting to watch.  Well done, Spike.

Post Thanksgiving Day gorging, it was off to see Homefront, the Jason Statham VS James Franco movie written by Sylvester Stallone and directed by Don't Say A Word's Gary Fleder.  Or basically:  Statham fucks up honkey rednecks and Kate Bosworth plays a drug addict a little too well.  Statham versus Franco seems about one of the most lop sided bouts in movie history but seeing that Frank Grillo was involved, I knew you'd have a henchman confrontation before boss man Franco got his. 

Like Oldboy, the action in Homefront is fast, intense and brutal, there's just lots more of it.  No need for elaborate choreography here; it's all a wam, bam, you got beat down by Handsome Rob affair here.  Grillo caught my eye in Warrior and continued to impress in The Grey.  I believe he's a former boxer so I was hoping for a bit of a show against Statham.  The two mix it up with some MMA moves, complete with the "cool when Rampage did it in Pride but not so much now" sequence where Grillo has Statham locked in a triangle choke but gets lifted from the ground and slammed.  Yeah, they did the same thing in that MMA movie with Kevin James, Here Comes the Boom.  Oddly, both flicks show the hero stomping on an opponents ankle and crushing it into the wrong angle.

Word is that Sly had wanted to make the flick for some time but realized he was too old for the part and offered it to his The Expendables co-star Statham.  It would have been nice to see him pop up for a cameo but no such luck.  It would have been interesting to see Stallone in the role since there's a dramatic, father/daughter angle mixed in with the mayhem.  He's also got the greatest movie punches ever and usually doesn't get too fancy or flashy.  I'm trying to think of similar movies where the hero returns home and gets mixed up with the local riff raff.  Walking Tall and Best of the Best 3 come to mind but not much else.  EDIT:  Upon rising I realized the familiarity of the concept comes from your basic western and the samurai flick, Yojimbo.  From that you get Bad Day At Black Rock, Last Man Standing, (mother fucking) Roadhouse and Van Damme's Desert Heat!

Makes me want to eat three hamburgers then hit the gym:

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Workout of the Day: Gobble Gobble

Thanksgiving is nearly here so for many of us in the states, that means running around prepping for eating too much, shopping and watching movies.  Or maybe that's just me.  You may not feel like you have time to train but I'm gonna hit you with some knowledge: you do. 

Here's a quick workout I did at home with minimal equipment:

You'll need a clock or watch with seconds on it or use your smart phone's stop watch feature.

Basically, the concept is to do each exercise for 20 seconds then rest for 10.  When you finish one circuit, up the work period to 30 seconds but still only rest for 10.  Then you can bump up to 40 and so on.

Ready?  "Go!"  "Ha, you lose American asshole!"  But seriously, you can do it.

1)  Jumping Jacks
2)  Mountain Climbers
3)  Front or roundhouse kicks, alternating legs with each kick
4)  Shadow Boxing
5)  Pedaling on exercise bike (I have one in my living room, was $150 and pretty easy set up)
6)  Running up and down staircase 3 times
7)  Jump Rope

If you stick to the time line, that entire circuit will take you roughly 2 minutes and 30 seconds.  Not much right?  Rest for a minute then go again.  I did this the other day a few times and was dripping.

If you don't have an exercise bike or stairs or a jump rope, you can substitute simple things like running in place with high knees, burpees or walking around on all fours.

Here's fellow Ohioan Rich Franklin doing some circuit training totally not covered in this post:

Friday, November 22, 2013

Van Dammage - Drive

"It was not easy, nothing happened for a long time.  I learned the hard way.  But you have two ways to go to Rome: you can take the freeway, or you can take the road."
     Jean-Claude Van Damme

Con Man: Long Beach Comic & Horror Con '09

The Long Beach Comic & Horror Con celebrates it's fifth year this weekend at the Long Beach Convention Center at the Long Beach Pike... in Long Beach.  It's a great show made better by the fact I've attended every year.  I couldn't believe it had been five years until I consulted some photos, not realizing 2009 was their kick off year.  It's not the biggest show in the world and that's part of the charm.  There are plenty of vendors, guests and panels to keep you busy but it's not so packed that you feel like a sardine and get irritated.  LB was the first show I can recall that had replica vehicles on display outside.  The Ninja Turtle van, Knight Industries 2000, the time traveling Delorean from Back to the Future and more are lined up for photo ops and charity drives.

What's even nicer is the surrounding area, you're right next to an outdoor mall complete with movie theater, bars and eateries.  Hopefully the $1 bookstore is still open.  Nearby you can walk to the water for a serene time out where more shops and restaurants await, as does a view of the Queen Mary.

Year One was a lot of fun as Thomas Jane more or less took over, hosting a movie night Friday and Saturday.  His directorial effort, The Dark Country, screened in 3D on night one while a preview of his not yet released flick, Give'em Hell, Malone was supposed to follow on Saturday.  Some legal issues put the kibosh on that so the audience was treated to The Mist in Black and White.  The Jane was cool enough to take a break from setting up to take a photo and chit chat before joining the rest of us in watching the flick.  Mr. Jane and his creative partner, artist Tim Bradstreet, have been at every Long Beach Con since, talking about their latest projects, their careers and basically being the weirdcoolest guys around.  Seriously, half of last year's panel was done in the dark.

For whatever reason, you get some real honesty and heartfelt answers from guests at Long Beach.  In 2011, Shane Black made an appearance as he was prepping to direct Iron Man Three and shared great insights like "Marvel invented copper wire by stretching a penny" and "You know Mel Gibson isn't a bad guy right?  He's just a drunk".  Artist extraordinaire William Stout told some great stories of his time in Antarctica, working on Masters of the Universe, not being credited with designing the Universal Citywalk and what it's like being a portrait artist at Disneyland.  Maybe it's the lack of huge lines and crowds or San Diego Comic Con like hustle and bustle but Long Beach Con is just about the best kind of show you can ask for.  Not too big, not too small.   Not too busy, not too slow.  Parking and food are aplenty and one year they hosted a record breaking zombie parade.

Oh yeah and the Auld Dubliner across the street is one of two bars I've ever been to that has Magner's on tap.  Magner's is cider, like Strongbow but is Irish.  I want to say it was a touch drier than the Bow but it's been a long time, guess I'll have to reacquaint myself tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Workout of the Day: Dolph Essentials

In case you didn't know, lifting weights is good for you.  Slamming some iron raises your metabolism and strengthens bones while improving stability and mental focus among dozens of other reasons.  Many people don't lift weights because they're afraid they'll turn into Arnold Schwarzenegger overnight.  I have news for you, you won't.  Whenever people ask me for workout tips I always ask them what their current regimen consists of.  Their responses are usually filled with curl machines, ab crunches and extended sessions of steady state cardio.  None of these are conducive to losing weight or gaining muscle to create a physique.  What you need are old school, compound moves that bring in multiple body parts to get the heart and testosterone pumping.

For Dolph Lundgren, his five favorite basic moves for overall strength, mass and symmetry are:

1)  Squat - for quads, hamstrings and lower back
2)  Deadlift - for forearms, biceps, lower back and quads
3)  Military Press - for triceps and deltoids
4)  Bent Over Barbell Row - for biceps, rear deltoids and lats
5)  Bench Press - for pecs, front deltoids and triceps

With this kind of no frills routine, just about every major muscle group is worked.  It will also give your body a balanced look as we've all seen guys with the huge arms but no chest, back or legs.  Arnold calls "Chicken Legs" an epidemic and you see a lot of it here in Los Angeles.  I recently saw a guy whose arms were literally wider than his upper body and his legs...and he was proud of it judging by the tight shirt and pants he had on to show the world what a walking pair of arms looks like.

Whether you like your workouts in nature, dubbed or in the gym, keep pumping:

I'm Hot! I'm Big! Getting Radical

"When it started, America was just a handful of scrawny colonies.  Now, it's the most buff, pumped up country on the planet.  That's pretty rad."

Sup all my internet lawn dogs, hope you're all staying swole and badass as the holidays start showing up with turkey, pie, stuffing and people complaining about other people working on Black Friday.  If you didn't shop on Black Friday then they wouldn't be open on Black Friday.  That's called capitalism.  Just like all them mo's who complain about traffic when they are traffic because they're doing 35 and looking around instead of trying to get somewhere.

Anyways, I was kinda right but more wrong, 2013's best movie is coming to Special Edition Blu-Ray only it ain't coinciding with Transformers IV, it'll be here just after gobble gobble day to get you motivated after gorging yourself and falling asleep on the couch watching HighlanderPain & Gain comes loaded with several featurettes but no commentary, a bit of a surprise since the Michael Bay dog has never been shy to lay down a track about his flicks.

Keep on rocking:

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Damme Saturday: Comics and Moonshine

Saturday:  The seventh day, Nordic for bath day due to the Viking practice of bathing on Saturdays.

Thor:  Norse god associated with thunder and protecting mankind; a Marvel comic book hero created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby.

Moonshine:  High proof distilled spirit, usually produced illicitly.  Also known as White Lightening.

I don't know how the stars aligned to give me such a pitch perfect early Saturday but after seeing Thor: The Dark World, I reached for a copy of Marvel Visionaries: Walter Simonson's The Mighty Thor, Volume 3 and started reading.  The collection starts as Thor leads an army into Hel to free the captured souls from Midgard (earth) being kept by Hela, Goddess of Death.  After facing down Hela in a one on one showdown and having his face scarred in the process, Thor emerges victorious and heads to earth to clear his mind.  There he gets mixed up with Beta Ray Bill, the Power Pack AND a jerry curled Beyonder to battle the evil Kurse, the super powered lackey of Malekith.

Simonson's art is crisp, detailed and exciting.  Being on a different world, the costumes and colors pop, creating a kick ass blend of medieval fantasy action.  I cracked up when some of Thor's warriors brought back crates of M-16's from Midgard and used them in Hel.  His writing is also commendable as it takes you to a different world of magic mixed with myth.  This is especially cool since most of Marvel's characters are grounded in reality, limitations and problems people could actually have.

The moonshine just seemed appropriate because each issue got crazier than the last.  I remember a story about Rob Liefeld being handed a stack of early Fantastic Four issues to read along with every Beatles album to listen to in the background.  The Beatles went to India and partook in some herbal enlightenment to open up their creative channels.  I can't listen to music while reading and don't do drugs so this 70 proof Apple Pie will just have to do.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Comeback 2008: Mickey Rourke VS JCVD

In 2008, two films featuring down on their luck movie stars from the 1980's and 90's hit screens to widespread acclaim.  One film mirrored the hard times of its star while the other was a meta style mockumentary featuring the actor as himself.  While one would hit the television, interview and award circuit to grovel and cry about his past, the other canceled all promotion for the film and squandered the goodwill the film generated.  Now, one of them is again stuck in DTV land while the other just starred in an ad campaign that has gone viral and racked up 10 million views in two days.  The first film was The Wrestler, starring Mickey Rourke.  The second is JCVD, starring Jean-Claude Van Damme.

First, a bit of history.  Mickey Rourke was a talented actor from the 1980's who made an impression in movies like Body Heat, Rumble Fish, Diner, Year of the Dragon and 9 1/2 Weeks.  Although aligned with strong directors and idolized by his peers, Rourke never top lined a successful film or was nominated for any award during his heyday.  He would later embark on a bizarre boxing career while acting in forgettable films and living up the bad boy lifestyle of motorcycles, women and booze.  Having burned so many bridges and never being able to carry a movie, Rourke fell into obscurity, got too much plastic surgery then had a bit of a mini-comeback in the 2000's thanks to directors like Tony Scott and Robert Rodriguez.  2008's The Wrestler would be the piece de resistance in his climb back up the hill.  Critics loved the film, Rourke was nominated for several awards and was back in the limelight.  But most of his interviews were marred with weepy, woe is me fluff like being abused as a child (disputed by his immediate family), being blacklisted in Hollywood (openly badmouthed his own films and people involved) and whining that nobody taught him you shouldn't act like an asshole if you're not famous and make people money.

Meanwhile, Jean-Claude Van Damme shot to the near top of the action movie hero mountain with low budget karate flicks like Bloodsport and Kickboxer before transitioning into polished studio fare like Universal Soldier and Timecop.  A worldwide star with appeal to men, women and children, JCVD never broke through to the top tier and saw his career crumble in an avalanche of egomaniacal behavior, substance abuse and domestic disputes.  He turned down a 3-picture deal worth $36 million with Universal who told him to "have a nice life" before hanging up on him.  Direct to Video fare would follow but JCVD always pushed for something different with serious, inspired performances in Wake of Death, In Hell and Until Death.  After a villainous role in Expendables II, JCVD has appeared in weirdly personal yet funny ads for Coors Light, GoDaddy and now Volvo which has brought him more attention than any film in the last 20 years.

During the 90's, JCVD was one of those who revered Mickey Rourke as an actor, believing Rourke was on the same level as DeNiro.  Even though Rourke had lost a step, JCVD believed his talent would win through and a comeback was possible.  The two were friends and neighbors in Santa Monica and while Rourke was having trouble securing roles, he ended up playing the villain against Van Damme in Sony's theatrical release, Double Team, in 1997.  There's a great video of the two during production on a night out, both wearing vests to show off their pumped up bodies, kissing each other on the mouth and Rourke proclaiming Van Damme to be an underestimated actor but with skills on par with DeNiro.  Cut to 2008 and Rourke is calling Van Damme a "has been" in interviews.  That's gratitude for you.

With an Oscar nomination followed by villain roles in Iron Man II and Immortals and a cameo in The Expendables, Rourke seems to have won the 2008 Comeback Award.  But heat only lasts so long and his last four films have all gone direct to video with no theatrical prospects looming.  Jean-Claude Van Damme seemed like an idiot for cancelling his appearances to promote JCVD to take care of a sick dog but life repaid him as the dog lived, Sylvester Stallone came calling for Expendables II and his series of commercials have been viewed by millions as clever, insightful and totally unexpected.  Looks like JCVD wins the Life Award.

Kirk Douglas Week: Ladies Man

Kirk Douglas week started with 1965's The Heroes of Telemark, a World War II set flick about Norwegian Resistance fighters destroying a Nazi factory producing "heavy water", a vital component of atomic bombs.  How do we meet Kirk in that one?  In a darkroom making out with a college student.  While on the mission he runs into his ex-wife and of course wins her over with his heroic smoothness.  According to Ragman's Son, Kirk signed on without seeing a script as he owed a movie to director Anthony Mann who had been fired from Spartacus.

Next was 1958's The Vikings, Richard Fleisher's tale of sailing the high seas, kidnapping Queens, storming castles and fulfilling unknown destiny.  How do we meet Kirk in that one?  He's necking with someone's wife in bed.  He then clears her name by throwing axes at her bound by the neck and wrists body at a party.  Later, there's a great action sequence where Vikings throw axes at a raised drawbridge until there's enough for Douglas to jump the gap and climb up, using the embedded axes as rungs. Douglas produced the flick and was dismayed when the European crew went on strike for more money the day after he threw them a lavish thank you party.  The Koik took the production back to Los Angeles and left the greedy fools in the dust.

Then came 1966's Cast a Giant Shadow, the star filled tale of Israel fighting for independence.  Kirk leaves his pregnant wife to join the fight and quickly meets a beautiful resistance fighter who is of course married whose husband of course dies and you can probably figure out what happens next.  The K-Doug is joined by John Wayne, Frank Sinatra and Yul Brynner in vital supporting roles as they whip the unorganized, untrained and unarmed masses into an army.

Lastly was a trip back to 1957's Gunfight at O.K. Corral where we meet Douglas as Doc Holliday in a hotel room with his on again/off again working girl woman Kate.  Their relationship is quite volatile but they always end up coming back to one another.  Burt Lancaster's Wyatt Earp urges Doc to treat her right or let her go.  By the end of the flick, Doc leaves Kate to help Wyatt, the only friend he ever had.  Kate takes up with outlaw Johnny Ringo who Doc snubs out later with extreme prejudice.

So what was the underlying connection between all of these films?  What did we learn from all of this?  Kirk Douglas loves the ladies and tends to have some pretty intense dealings with them.  Self described as always unhappy until something makes him happy, Douglas was quick to play a role of someone unlikeable as it gave him more to work with as an actor.  Adding in tumultuous relations with men and women alike (the love story between himself and Lancaster in Corral is more interesting than the lady dealings) just made him that much more dynamic to watch.

Van Dammage: Conference

"I like women, okay.  But you can never have the same honesty and the same direct line.  You don't have to go on a conference call with guys.  Male is more serious...if you print that, they'll hate me."
     Jean-Claude Van Damme

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Ask Me A Question: Galaxy Quest

After a pretty rough last week which saw me missing out on the Thor/Avengers/Thor II triple feature, I rebounded last night by attending part of the 50th Anniversary of the Cinerama Dome at the Arclight with a totally inspired selection, Galaxy Quest, with star Tim Allen and director Dean Parisot.  I hadn't seen the flick from 1999 for quite some time but remembered it fondly and have a buddy who is a big fan.  Of course, I'm a lifelong Tim Allen fan because he tells it like it is and doesn't worry about all that Nancy Boy, PC shit the rest of you seem to occupy yourselves with.  They screened a 35 mm print which was great but with it's faded colors and scratches, kind of made you pine for a cleaned up, digital copy. 

Galaxy Quest is basically a meta-fantasy version of Star Trek; the cast of a cult sci-fi show that's long been off the air makes their living doing appearances at conventions and soaking up fandom.  Aliens fighting a ruthless mutant marauder view the show as historical documents and enlist the has been crew to live out the show's adventures for real.  What makes the film hold up, besides Stan Winston's awesome make up and effects, is the cast.  Wow.  Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman and Daryl Mitchell are superb while Tony Shalhoub, Sam Rockwell and fresh faced Justin Long steal just about every scene they're in.  It's also a pretty layered movie about fame, family, fans and the fantasy of a higher calling.

Tim Allen and director Dean Parisot were great and basically ran the Q&A without any prodding.

- Big movie from DreamWorks, Steven Spielberg was involved who loved the film.
- In the beginning, there was a different director and direction, more like Spaceballs.
- Jeffrey Katzenberg wanted Allen to star and took him to an awkward breakfast with production staff where he was introduced as the lead to much resistance.  Those who did not agree were not working on the movie the next day.
- Katzenberg is a man who says what he means and means what he says.
- Allen is friends with Bill Shatner now because of the movie.  Didn't try to impersonate Shatner but did channel Yul Brynner from The Ten Commandments when sitting in the Command chair.
- Allen gave Alan Rickman a hard time since he was a trained actor and Allen was a comedian.  Whereas Rickman would do actor warm ups, Allen would do dick and fart jokes for 20 minutes.  After a month Rickman realized it was the same result just a different process.
- Parisot and Allen loved Winston's effects except for the pig alien.
- Allen was impressed Weaver signed on so soon after Alien 3.
- Weaver loved wearing the blonde wig and would leave set with it to go to parties. 
- Originally a 150 page script, whittled down to focus on the family of actors.
- Tony Shalhoub carried a bag of snacks around with him on set, Allen compares it to Brad Pitt and Robert DeNiro who are always eating in films as it gets the actor out of their mindset.
- Shalhoub based his performance on David Carradine in Kung-Fu.
- DreamWorks mishandled the marketing, aiming it only at kids which was a mistake they later admitted.  Caused the removal of Weaver's biggest laugh when "Fuck this!" became "Screw this!".
- Allen doesn't like the name Twitter or Tweet.
- Is included on a list of top ten of most successful Star Trek movies.
- Allen had sausage on the brain; used it to reference breakfast and as a metaphor for the movie business and something else...
- Original trailer was voice over, showed off the serious, sci-fi aspect then Allen as a loser hero but canned in favor of selling Justin Long to kid audience.
- Sequel written but for whatever reason, legal, etc never moved forward.

It was a fun night and made me want to watch some Star Trek but let's be honest, I'm not gonna sit down for that long...

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Fall Flicks: Thor: The Dark World

I like to go into movies cold.  If the trailer looks good or it has a cast of actors I like, I'm basically in.  I don't read reviews and don't go for spoilers.  Even as a huge Marvel fan, I want to watch the movie and talk about it after, not read about it then go see it.  I looked up Thor to check the running time and for the first time actually read a synopsis of what I was about to see.  What followed was arguably Marvel's most polished production to date with a great sense of scale and scope levied by some harrowing action spectacle along with excellent performances from a talented cast.

Basically, watching Thor: The Dark World was nuts.  It was like the cinematic child of Lord of the Rings and Star Wars.  Comic book inspired science fiction mixed with myth blended with medieval action extravaganza.  It also goes to show you how ahead of their time cult movies like Highlander and Masters of the Universe were which tried to mix the same elements 30 years ago with less success.  It's cool to see how big and out there the Marvel movie universe has gone and it's gonna get real weird with Guardians of the Galaxy.  Bring on Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet, please.  My hope is that the climatic showdown has something to do with Thor's hammer Mjolnir where Thor is racing to deliver the final blow, gets knocked out mid-flight, loses Mjolnir only to have it picked up by the only man in the Marvel universe worthy, Captain America, who then destroys some space villain ass with it.

All 3D screenings come with a 5-minute preview of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  Watching trailers on your laptop doesn't compare to seeing one on the big screen with big sound.  The scene is a nasty bit of business inside an elevator in SHIELD HQ where agents pile in at every stop and try to capture Cap to no avail.  Then some scenes from the trailer played along with some new footage which got me giddy as a school boy.  Hopefully they do a double feature of The First Avenger and The Winter Soldier in April.

Fall Flicks: Ender's Game

To start, I knew nothing about Ender's Game as a book or a movie.  Never had to read it in high school, never saw a trailer because I don't watch TV and it didn't play in front of any other flicks I've seen lately.  I remember the poster from Comic-Con as Lionsgate and Summit had one of the busiest booths on the floor.  Post Twilight and Harry Potter, studios are still searching for that next preteen franchise to pad their schedules for the next 4-5 years.  Many would be entries have come and gone; City of Bones, Beautiful Creatures, The Host and Eragorn all failed to kick off a new wave of hysteria.  I of course, am strongly against seeing little kids try to be tough but Ender's Game caught me totally by surprise.  I really enjoyed it.  The veterans, Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley, ground it for us while newcomers Asa Butterfield and Hailee Steinfeld take us on an adventure through space and intergalactic war.

Basically, humans won a war against invading aliens that caused the death of millions.  To end all future threats, the military plans a preemptive strike on their home planet using young teens whose minds are more equipped to utilize computerized equipment for war.  Using a mix of war games and simulations along with tactics and history lessons, a young boy emerges as the potential leader.  I was quite taken with the simple concept of adults seeing the potential in kids.  Even though they're pushed to moral limits, the adults know these kids are the future and will do everything in their power to see them succeed.

It reminded me of a chubby teen who started lifting weights to try and change himself.  A physically fit and all around bad ass teacher/coach noticed and encouraged him to continue, telling him change was coming if he kept at it.  Yup, that chubby kid was me and now I pec pop whenever someone needs a laugh or to make other men feel uncomfortable.

Ender's Game, based on the novel by Orson Scott Card, was written and directed by Gavin Hood, who totally redeems himself from that shit show debacle known as X-Men Origins:  Wolverine.  The flick looks great with big space ship battles, star filled vistas and space station sets.  I'm surprised and pleased it wasn't in 3D but this is one flick that actually deserved it.  But with so much going on and flying around, it might have been too much.  Unfortunately, Game isn't lighting up the box office so a sequel is in doubt.  Apparently, the sequel novel is vastly different from the first installment so maybe a one and done isn't a bad thing.  Movies are here to entertain us but when we're lucky they educate and inspire us as well.  In this case, the movie made me want to pick up a book so they've done something right.

Kirk Douglas Week: The Ragman's Son

I've been a fan of Kirk Douglas since seeing Gunfight at the O.K. Corral on AMC during college.  I had just discovered The Magnificent Seven and was now going through director John Sturges' credits.  Since I loved Tombstone, westerns and the entire Wyatt Earp-Doc Holliday mythos, Gunfight just seemed right up my alley.  Of course, Gunfight is a great flick and I've been watching Douglas and Burt Lancaster ever since.  In recent years I've become a huge admirer of Douglas as an actor and human being.  He always just comes off as a cool guy; larger than life with strong opinions and work ethic.  His guest starring role on The Simpsons remains one of my favorite episodes.  You know, where he plays a bum, wins a lawsuit then buys a rocket car?

Walking in a bookstore in Burbank a couple years ago, I came across Douglas' autobiography, The Ragman's Son.  It's quite a tome but he's lived quite a life.  A quick search on Amazon showed it for much cheaper online but I wanted it now and made the purchase.  The few extra bucks I paid were worth it, I supported a brick and mortar establishment and delved in that night.

It's a great read of non-fiction that reads like your favorite novel.  Douglas is funny, self deprecating and candid as he looks back at his humble beginnings as the only son of illiterate Russian Jewish immigrants, growing up in New York with several sisters, a father who collected junk and rags and a mother who always believed in him.  Douglas became a man with a passion for women; his encounters triumphant as well as disastrous are well documented as well as his quest and ultimate failure to become a star on Broadway.  Even after a career spanning decades as a movie star, Academy Award nominee, producer and humanitarian along with the millions of dollars earned and as many fans entertained; Douglas is still that little boy looking for a pat on the back from his father.

As his days as a leading man winded down after the writing of Ragman, Douglas suffered a stroke, contemplated suicide but finally bounced back, writing several more books.  His latest chronicled the making of Spartacus and the breaking of the Black List, where the government went after those in the entertainment business with Communist ties and essentially exiled them from Hollywood.  To celebrate the release, the Chinese Theatre screened Spartacus and honored Douglas with a new set of hand and feet prints in the famous courtyard.  I was buying a copy of the book when the man himself walked over, in all his post stroke, 90 year old splendor and told me to make sure I was paying full price.  A sense of humor goes a long way.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Ask Me a Question: Escape From New York (part III)

Welcome back to Ask Me a Question (pokes finger into your chest), my look at special screenings for anniversaries, Q&A's and the like.  Tonight's feature is John Carpenter's 1981 futuristic action classic, Escape From New York (applause), presented by The Arclight Cinema's How It's Made series.  Other titles in the series include 1984's A Nightmare on Elm Street and 1999's Fight Club.  On this Monday night, Director of Photography Dean Cundey (Back to the Future) and Larry Franco (Batman Begins) were scheduled to participate in a session following showings of Escape and 1982's The Thing.  Unfortunately, Mr. Cundey didn't make it due to a scheduling conflict.

If you've never seen Escape From New York but are still here, again, I applaud you.  This would actually be my third time seeing it on the big screen in as many years.  Los Angeles continues to spoil me as the first time was a double feature with it's awesomely bad sequel, 1996's Escape From L.A. with John Carpenter speaking in between.  The second was just this past summer as part of the Cape Town festival where Kurt Russell made a rare public appearance, confirming his spot as one of the coolest guys on the planet.

What has always made the movie great, still resonates; the story, atmosphere, cast, music and pace all create the perfect B-Movie masterpiece.  Kurt Russell's portrayal of former war hero turned bank robber turned President rescuer Snake Plissken is a cinematic landmark.  He's tough but not macho, quick on the draw and with the verbal barbs.  In a world where young, good looking Thundercats with no presence play superheroes, it's nice to see the classics still hold up yet sad to know we'll never have another crop of convincing big screen heroes a la Russell, Arnold, Van Damme, Bronson or Stallone.

After the movie, first assistant director and producer on Escape, Larry Franco, was introduced by a really nervous young man who delivered some of the worst moderating I have ever seen.  And I've been to a lot of these things.  This is where fandom backfires, just because you like something doesn't mean you should be the mouthpiece for it.  In this case, the moderator had no real plan of attack and there was no synergy or flow to the conversation, just a lot of Um's and awkward pauses.

But Franco is a pro, having worked in the film business since the 1970's as an assistant director, "working his ass off" to the point people trusted him to get a movie made and hired as a producer.  Since his first Producing credit on Escape, Franco has worked with Carpenter 7 times on classics like Big Trouble In Little China and They Live, with Joe Johnston on The Rocketeer, Jumanji and Jurassic Park III then Tim Burton on Batman Returns, Mars Attacks and Sleepy Hollow and now with Roland Emmerich on 2012 and White House Down among dozens more.  Even with the less than stellar moderating, he was funny and informative through the 30 minute session.

- Was a young assistant director who had just come off Apocalypse Now when then brother in law Russell told him about a TV movie he was doing called Elvis.  Franco shrugged off the tip, stating he didn't work in TV.  Russell's father came on to the movie and Kurt was insistent on making it a family affair and that's how Franco met John Carpenter.
- Making a movie is like going to camp, with crazy, like minded people who will always go beyond the call of duty.  They're all that one person who would fight back if a bank was being robbed.
- AVCO really wanted Tommy Lee Jones for the role but Carpenter went to the mat for Russell.
- St. Louis had never had a big movie film there so the locals bent over backwards to accommodate them.  Were given free reign on 4-5 blocks of fire damaged buildings and used trash from the dump to dress it.  The bridge in the final chase was an abandoned one outside the city.
- Played each of the 12 parts in The Thing for pick up shots as a hand, a foot, a shoulder, etc.
- Loved making The Thing as everything was real and employed crazy techniques like building upside down sets, running film through camera in reverse, etc.
- Can't remember reception of Escape but remembers The Thing was a huge disappointment.  Cost in the neighborhood of $24 million or maybe $15.  Escape's budget was $7.1 million.
- In those days, prepped a movie for 10 weeks, shot for 10 and had 20 weeks of post production for a total of 60 weeks then would take a few months off. 
- On Batman Begins, was in England for 19 months.
- Used real helicopters in Escape but today would be digital, build one, have built one thousand.
- Dean Cundey was a one man band, had a truck and lights and could do everything himself.  Had a
great working relationship with Carpenter and knew what he was trying to accomplish.

Looking back on it after a night of sleep, it was an enjoyable session but really a missed opportunity.  Mr. Franco has worked on some of the greatest genre films in history and has a career spanning 30 some years, working with some of cinema's most successful directors.  Hopefully he does something like this again and really gets a chance to open up.

Making Of:

Monday, November 4, 2013

Elbow Rocket! Theodore Roosevelt, Jr

We throw around the term, The Man, a lot but it really applies to one Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.  A sickly kid growing up, The Roose would live a robust life that saw him become a nature expert, soldier, author, politician, President, reformer and Nobel Prize Winner among much more.  Oh and one time, he got shot before going on stage to deliver a speech but persevered through.  So whenever you're feeling down on yourself or things aren't going the way you want, take a few minutes and read up on this guy and remember, it's all out there, you just have to take it.  Over the top.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Dammaged View: Anti-Auteur'ity

For some reason the French like to gussy up stuff and for film they gave us the bogus notions of Auteurs and Avant Garde, both of which I like to say are French for Bullshit.  Auteur Theory is the idea that a film's director's ideas, trademarks and creative vision basically stamps the end product as undeniably theirs.  To me, this is some real horseshit.  A lot of people work on movies, hundreds, in fact.  Sure there are plenty of directors out there with visions but none of them make a film on their own so it can't exactly be their sole expression can it?

It's also one of those highfalutin ideals that people wearing berets, glasses and scarves would only reserve for recognized and reputable types, to them, filmmakers who make "important" work, whatever that means.  But distinctive filmmaking goes both ways, high brow and "people who like to make movies for people who like movies" brow a la Michael Bay.  You can tell when you're watching one of his movies through the visuals, cast, music, action and humor.  Bay is one of those directors, like Brett Ratner, who has made some excellent films and advanced film in terms of technology and editing while making boat loads of money yet is still looked down upon by critics.  Jealously I suppose, a case of "if they can do it, I can do it but I actually can't".  But if critics were good at filmmaking, they'd be making them instead of talking about them.

And if certain, repeated elements make a film relative to an individual, then Jean-Claude Van Damme is an auteur because he does the splits and shows his butt in at least half of the films in his career.

Arnold calls people "forehead", I call them Jill, Phil and Gil:

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Con-Man: Comikaze

Back for it's third year, Comikaze has grown exponentially since bursting on to the strangely empty Los Angeles Comic Book/Popular Culture Convention circuit.  Allying themselves with genre icons Stan Lee and Elvira (allegedly to the tune of half of all ticket sales), the family run show learned much from 2012's growth spurt and is now running on all cylinders.  Their Facebook account is extremely active with huge user engagement.  A reality show on SyFy chronicles the ins, outs and I'm sure logistical and scheduling nightmares of an endeavor this large.

Year One had a nice exhibition floor, a bit small for the cavernous space of the Los Angeles Convention Center and not much in terms of programming.  Year Two saw a marked increase in floor usage with the inclusion of a zombie themed obstacle course and Quidditch matches (which is pretty dumb considering nobody is flying) as well as several media guests like Kevin Smith, Adam West, Todd McFarlane and the reunited cast of Salute Your Shorts.  But getting in was a nightmare as tickets had been sold via every online discount of the day site which made for huge lines that stretched outside in to the surprisingly hot fall weather.  This year, Comikaze took control of their own destiny and only sold tickets through their website and had an organized, Comic-Con like badge pick up system.

Inside, the show seemed a little less busy than last year as events like the Zombie course and Quidditch were missing, leaving some vast gray concrete ocean between the exhibitors and the end of the hall.  The floor was a great mix of exhibiters, artists, promoters and celebrity guests (Dean Cain alert!).  It's interesting to see the rise in talented fans making a living off their childhood inspired wares; printing custom tee shirts, artwork, buttons and Unicorn Horns...yup!  FIRST realization of the day: Those little Funko toys are EVERYWHERE.  I'd like to see a hardcore fan's collections of those cute and random little figures.  There was also a great set up of old arcade games and home consoles, a museum of video games if you will, complete with 4-Player The Simpsons!  Talk about a trip down memory lane...

Something Comikaze does interestingly different is having a main stage in the exhibition hall where they trot out their big guests for the most popular panels.  Stan Lee gave the crowd a warm welcome, Mattel discussed their future releases, the dudes from Pete & Pete reunited, on and on.  It's a cool concept but also a little uncomfortable to stand for 20-30 minutes.

The only thing I was hunting for at the show were some Pacific Rim action figures for the lady.  Neca's version of Gipsy Danger is going for $80 on Amazon but luckily we found one for about half that much on the floor.  Looks like Pacific Rim will live on in the hearts and shelves of fans for years to come.  SECOND realization of the day: This show was the first time I ever noticed vendors raising their prices.  By the time we returned to a booth to compare Gipsy Danger price tags, they had raised it by $5.  Kind of lame but I guess that's capitalism.  I have to refrain myself from digging through comic boxes at shows anymore because I always get sucked in to half off graphic novel deal and end up buying a stack to add to my already tall To Read pile at home.  Luckily, I only grabbed one, a collection of The Shadow comics from 1989 written by Dennis O'Neil (runs on Batman, Superman, Spider-Man).

A nice encounter for the day was with artist Tomas Overbai where some custom movie inspired artwork caught my eye.  Drawing inspiration from Star Wars, Blade Runner, They Live, Conan the Barbarian and The Seven Samurai, Overbai was able to quit his not so fun day job and sell his own wares full time.  It's inspiring to hear and you feel good for buying local.  And he was a nice guy so I was happy to hand him my money.

Conventions like Comikaze are always twofold, exhibitors and programing.  The variety of vendors was solid, I mean an old lady was selling handmade wooden replicas of Halo swords.  The concept of a convention for fans by fans is admirable but a lot of the programming relies on speakers who don't have much experience in the subject besides enjoying it then researching it.  I guess I'm old fashioned when I'd rather hear from someone who is part of it, gets paid for it and lives it.  And in the middle of a city like this, I'd think a show this size would be able to rustle up some additional talented people.  Until then, Comikaze has put on another great show and I'm looking forward to next year to see what they have in store.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Van Dammage: Belief

"I believe the belief.  You have to believe the belief.  Believe in something it's great but it's only a belief.  When you believe what you believe, you become that belief.  It's that simple."
     Jean-Claude Van Damme

Workout of the Day: Jamais

I recently joined a gym after nearly a year of working out at home and in the park next door.  While the L.A. Fitness on La Cienega is well equipped and sort of clean it's also a firm reminder of why gyms in Los Angeles are fucking clown shoes, especially chains.  As in life, it's not the place that matters but the people.  And the people at this place, boy howdy.  You know why benches get ripped up and need replaced?  Because you leave weights on them.  If you can't handle 45 pound dumbbells without dropping them, go lighter.  Hey dude, you know why you're still fucking fat?  Cause you're loud and press weights I did back in 1993.  Ah well, it's good to see the annoying things in life so you're reminded of how you never (Jamais in French) want to be.  If I'm ever as sloppy as some of these people, you have my permission to slap me in the face.

Got to the gym at 5:00AM and did the following for Chest/Biceps/Shoulders:

Incline Dumbbell Bench/DB Preacher Curl/Flat DB Fly/Low Incline DB Curl/DB Pullover/Preacher Bench x 3 for 18 sets

Followed by a quick Delt routine:

Side Raises/Rear Raises/Alternating Front Raises done in drop set fashion aka completing reps with one weight then immediately going lighter for more reps.

Some seated calf raises, back extensions and forearms completed the weight portion of my morning workout and I finished up with 800 meters of rowing and 10 minutes on the ol' Elliptical.  The juice bar wasn't open as I was leaving so I hit up 7-11 for a Met-Rx shake.

P.S. Bro, do you even lift?  The internet is the best.

Push it to the limit: