Friday, January 31, 2014

I'm Hot! I'm Big! I Watch a lot of Movies

"All of my heroes are self made:  Rocky, Scarface, all the guys from the Godfather, they all started out with nothing and built their way to perfection."

Pow!  What's up internets?  Everybody kicking ass in 2014?  Yeah you are, hopefully you've decided to better yourself through education and physical training in a bid to always be ready, Jack Burton style.  Remember to make yourself different sets of goals for the short term and long term.  Start with broad strokes then move into refined and specific goals to keep you focused.  Writing things down always helps as do some general timelines.  Be a doer!

Greatest day of my life:

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Gotta Drank! Barney's Beanery

Barney's in West Hollywood has been a joint I've frequented often ever since moving to Los Angeles.  It's been the site of many a happy hour, a total shit show birthday party where my intent to have 2 shots and a Strongbow turned into 8 shots and a seeing Neal McDonough (Band of Brothers, Walking Tall) playing pool with some friends in the middle of the day to a bachelor party before Point Break, Live!  and recently a large scale going away/reunion lunch.  The place is full of history and now I realize part of it is mine.  They've got a solid Happy Hour during the week with half off appetizers and cheap pints.  Their menu is huge and encompasses all facets of bar grub fried and filling.  They've also got an assortment of games in the back so you and your friends can play some shuffle board, foosball and Street Fighter with Marvel characters.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

View In Peace: James "Jim" Jacks and Hard Target

Earlier this week, the death of movie producer James "Jim" Jacks quietly hit the news and interwebs in the form of a few brief articles and a couple detailed write ups from friends and collaborators like Kevin Smith and Harry Knowles.  His name might not strike the household familiarity of say a Jerry Bruckheimer or to a lesser extent Joel Silver but Jacks amassed a list of timeless classics like Jean-Claude Van Damme as a greasy mulleted samurai in Hard Target, the action ensemble western classic Tombstone, Richard Linklater's seminal Dazed and Confused, Kevin Smith's maligned but awesome Mallrats, Benecio Del Toro and Tommy Lee Jones' Rambo update The Hunted and his most successful work, 1999's The MummyThe Mummy was followed by two hit sequels and a successful spin off, The Scorpion King; which has had now spawned 3 direct to video sequels (the latest featuring Michael Biehn!).

A former wall street analyst who turned to screenwriting before working acquisitions at Universal and segueing into producing, Jacks is said to have been a hardcore movie lover.  1993 was a banner year for him as Hard Target, Dazed and Confused and Tombstone all hit theaters across the country.  Each holds it's own place in my and cinema's lore as they have all transcended generations and still resonate 20 years on.  Even though each title is held in high regard, at least two of them never matched the original intent of Jacks and his partners in celluloid.

By the early 90's, Jean-Claude Van Damme was the still the hot, young guy coming up the action ladder following Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger while competing with fellow new to the scene martial artist, Steven Seagal.  After a string of successful, low budget karate movies, 1992's Universal Soldier was his first decent budget, more mainstream action affair that had a talented director and studio support.  The flick performed well around the world and JCVD tried his hand at further broadening his audience with Nowhere To Run, a modern day Shane where VD protects a mother and her kids from evil land owners.  With nary a roundhouse kick or full split to be seen, Nowhere To Run might have fulfilled the Belgian's desire to try something different but audiences did not turn out and grosses were less than his previous 3 films.

Hard Target was the beginning of Van Damme's real push into the big leagues (it was also my second R-rated movie in a theater).  Universal saw his potential and figured with the right support, he could break into the $50-60 million grosses and join Arnold and Sly at the top of the mountain.  Former Navy Seal Chuck Pfarrer's (Navy Seals!) script is the story of Chance Boudreaux, a Merchant Marine struggling to make a living who helps out a young lawyer searching for her missing father.  Turns out her dad was a Vietnam veteran who agreed to be the subject of a twisted game that finds rich hunters paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to track and kill their fellow man.  Lance Henriksen and Arnold Vosloo turn up as the dastardly duo behind the sick scheme and it's up to Van Damme, the chick from Drop Zone (Yancy Butler) and mother fucking Wilford Brimley to stop them.

I'm not sure whose idea it was to go after noted Hong Kong director John Woo but the mayhem maestro behind The Killer signed on for his first American feature after Jacks and Universal set their sights on him.  Van Damme gave his stamp of approval but unfortunately, the $18 million production would be awash with problems from Van Damme being given far reaching creative control to Woo's unfamiliarity with the English language and American filmmaking process.  See, in Hong Kong, movies shoot for a while, stop and assess then continue on.  You can't do that kind of thing in America as studios need product to fill their slate so Woo was stranded without his team, working in a language not his own and a nervous studio watching over his shoulder.  Universal enlisted Evil Dead and Darkman director Sam Raimi to the production, ready to take over if Woo fell behind.  Even though Raimi was in awe of Woo and didn't think he would be able to bring anything better to the project.

After re-shooting the final confrontation between Van Damme and Henriksen, editing the picture would find the Muscles From Brussels presenting his own version along with Woo's cut that had to be trimmed down to avoid an NC-17 rating.  Jacks supported Woo's version as they didn't want a typical "Van Damme movie".  Test screenings were horrendous but finally on August 20th of 1993, Hard Target hit theaters, opening to $10 million on it's way to a $32 million total.  The tally was higher than Nowhere to Run but less than Universal Soldier.  Critics would deem it Van Damme's best but Woo's worst.  As it stands, Hard Target is a well made and violent action picture that does it's best to mesh Woo's human drama mixed with balletic gun violence and Van Damme's high kicking super heroics.  You get way too much slow motion, lots of close ups, bad puns, shoot'em ups, kick'em ups, jack rabbits slapping bears, horses, snake smacking, Mardi Gras, Lance Henriksen being set on fire, mama's taking chances and Ted Raimi saying "I ain't got no change, man!".

Post mortem, Van Damme would dismiss Hard Target for having a bad script and too much "John Woo bullshit" but having some good action and making him look strong.  Woo would remain political and say they did the best they could with what they had and didn't close the door on working with Van Damme again.  It never happened.  Van Damme would go on to his biggest hit, Timecop, before turning down a huge deal with Universal and sliding into a career funk filled with drug problems and messy divorces.  Woo would go on to find success after success, working with John Travolta, Nicolas Cage and Tom Cruise on Broken Arrow, Face/Off and Mission Impossible II before returning to Chinese cinema following the poorly received Windtalkers and Paycheck.

Come back next time as we check out Jacks' work on a fellow, troubled production: Tombstone.  Until then, enjoy Van Damme beating up some thugs after having some tragic gumbo.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Train in Peace: Andy Hug

Woke up this morning with a hankering to do some shadow boxing and jump roping as cardio.  They say working out on an empty stomach first thing in the morning helps you burn fat as your blood sugar is constant and low from sleep so the body turns to fat stores for energy.  From Dolph Lundgren swimming or walking to Jean-Claude Van Damme cycling to The Rock Elliptical machine-ing it, empty stomach morning cardio has plenty of success stories.

To begin, I opted for shadow boxing via one Bas Rutten, a tough yet hilarious Kickboxer turned MMA champion from the Netherlands.  I'm not sure when he released his workout series but I've had mine since the mid 2000's.  It contains four separate workouts:  Boxing, Thai Boxing, All-Around Fighting and All-Around Workout.  I remember doing these years ago when I had a full workout space complete with punching bags and they were very hard but a great workout.  If you've never had your shirt completely soaked through with sweat, try these bad boys sometime.  If you do the full workout, it's only about 30 minutes but you will be wiped out.

Warming up with 50 jumping jacks and 50 mountain climbers, I jumped into 2-minute rounds of Boxing and completed 6 of the 10 as I wanted to save some energy for jump rope as well.  The tapes also provide 3 minute rounds when you're ready.  Then it was time to jump rope so I put on some Youtube clips of Andy Hug, the Swiss Kyokushin karate champion turned K-1 kickboxer Grand Prix winner who sadly died at 35 from leukemia.  Hug was always in great shape: muscular, proportioned and cut to pieces.  There were plenty of matches, workout montages and greatest hits (literally) on Youtube to keep me occupied and motivated while skipping rope in my living room.

Again, I went for 2 minute rounds jumping in sets of 50 until time was up.  You can jump rope a million different ways and they say it's 3 times the workout of running.  So if you jump rope for 10 minutes, it's like a 30 minute jog since you're always moving and using your calves, quads, core, arms and shoulders throughout.  To spice things up, I started some rounds with a set of jumping backwards and in another I threw in intervals at 20 seconds working and 10 of rest.  In between rounds I did some ab work with reverse crunches, twists and the good ol' ab wheel.  6 rounds of that and I was feeling light and tight, ready to face a day of lounging.

One of my favorite matches of Hug's was against Stan "The Man" Longinidis, a computer programmer turned Kickboxing champion from Australia.  I had heard of The Man because he broke the leg of American champion and Van Damme co-star in Kickboxer, Dennis Alexio.  Longinidis utilized a Muy Thai style that relied on vicious low kicks and the two came out fast and furious, winging high velocity kicks and punches at each other before almost falling out of the ring.  Hug would win by Knockout after softening Longinidis up with a cracking head kick followed up by a perfect left straight right down the middle that laid The Man flat out on the canvas.

Train in Peace, oss!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Chief Goods: Talking Back

In case you didn't know, Noel Gallagher aka The Chief is the fucking boss.  Every interview he does holds nuggets, nay, bars of gold.  Some might say he just talks shit about people he doesn't like but they'd be wrong, he talks shit about EVERYONE.  Noel's got an opinion on just about every topic or person imaginable and grudges that go back to the 80's.  For example, take this supercut of commentary he did for Oasis' Time Flies, a look at their tumultuous and epic career spanning 15 years, 8 albums and 27 singles.  The Chief lets loose on ill fitting clothes, the absurdity of music videos, Adidas, being uninspired, Robbie Williams, homosexuality, having six girlfriends and more.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Still the Man: Arnold Schwarzenegger

If I could invest in stuff I liked, I could probably be a rich man.  Someone once said Clint Eastwood wore western style shirts when they were cool and he wore them when they weren't cool.  That's me baby, fads come and go but style is forever.  So it's nice to see many of my interests have become relevant and "cool" like cooking and the Food Network, comic books, working out and of course, my unofficial life coaches Jean-Claude Van Damme and Arnold Schwarzenegger.  The real JC...VD of course starred in that Volvo commercial that racked up nearly 70 million views in a week and was hailed as the best ad of 2013.  Arnold hasn't had much luck at the movies since his Governorship as The Last Stand and Escape Plan's box office receipts were miniscule compared to his heyday.  Alas, he's still the chatter of the internet this week thanks to a surprise AMA on Reddit to promote his After School All Stars program that led to a hilarious video showing him undercover at Gold's Gym Venice and if that weren't enough, he's also starring in some Super Bowl ads for Bud Light. 

Arnold, our once and future King of Kings, our Lord of Lords.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

G.I. JOE Week: Death by Paneled Goods

G.I. JOE week began with some random cartoon viewing.  Then I checked my graphic novels and there were several bound collections of Marvel's comic book series at my disposal.  Running from 1982 to 1994 and serving up 155 issues, G.I. JOE is the story of the "Daring, Anti-terrorist strike team, each member hand-picked from the elite of our armed forces, they stand ever vigilant..."  Mainly written by Army veteran Larry Hama, the JOE comics took us all over the world and served up more realistic storylines than the kid friendly cartoon.

Of course all of the colorful costumes and characters were gleaned from the syndicated series but here they were fleshed out, given backstories, love interests and lots and lots of sorrow.  Take mainstay Snake-Eyes, a commando with a pet wolf in the cartoon, Snake's comic book background makes him a soldier in Vietnam who is wounded in action, saved, then has his face blown off in a helicopter crash, loses the ability to speak, comes home to find out his family died in a car accident on their way to pick him up, joins a ninja clan then spends decades fighting his adopted brother who goes from good to evil to good.  And that's just what I can remember off the top of my head!

Anyways, it was a fortuitous event that Quick Kick's introduction in the cartoon spurred my JOE week as my copy of G.I. JOE Classics, Volume 11, collecting issues #101-110 contains his and many other JOE deaths.  There's multiple storylines going on, the first being a team of JOE's led by Flint and Lady Jaye team up with their Russian counterparts, the Oktober Guard and fight it out with Cobra.  Then there's Mutt and Spirit fighting a brain washed small town while Stalker and Storm-Shadow are hunted down by vengeful government bigwigs.  Snake-Eyes is involved in a big chunk of the action as his lady love Scarlett has fallen into a coma after being shot by the Baroness.  Storm-Shadow blackmails The Jugglers, a cabal of Generals who control JOE operations, into sending Snake-Eyes into a war zone on a suicide mission to get his mind off his chica.  It's there that Storm-Shadow puts Snake into a ninja mindset that will help him let go of hubris and focus on the mission i.e. turns him into a killing machine!

Then it's time for the show as the JOE's are fighting a losing battle in the middle eastern country of Trucial-Abysmia in issue #109.  Evil twins Xamot and Tomax capture a squad of JOE's and in a fumble of miscommunication, the twins think they're to execute their prisoners but blanche at the notion.  A burly SAW Viper steps up to the plate and lays waste to several JOE's with a machine gun and extreme prejudice.  Doc, Heavy Metal and Thunder are down but the remaining JOE's are able to escape in a Cobra tank.  Taking heavy fire, the tank explodes, killing Quick Kick, Breaker and Crazylegs.  Duke, Lt. Falcon and Cross Country are the only survivors and are out for blood.

There's definitely a lot going on in these issues but it's a fast read as Hama is smart enough to give certain arcs enough spotlight before moving on so we don't get bored.  The art is a little uneven as MD Bright's pencils give most of the characters similar faces but provides lots of detail and action.  But Jon Statema's work looks plain rushed in the seminal #109.  Quick Kick gets his brief moment before dying by grabbing a machine gun to mow down some Cobra troops after his comrades are killed.  The art on those pages is thin lined and not overly dynamic.  Actually, the whole death sequence of the JOE's is kind of like that, just there with no real reason.  Quick Kick, Doc and company don't have much to do before they're slaughtered so their deaths are more of a surprise and "why'd they do that?" than an impact.

Now I have to get my hands on Volume 12 to see how the JOE's get out of the desert and get some pay back for their brothers...

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Crappy + Action Movie = Craption! Body Armor

Welcome to Craption!  My loving look at "crappy" action movies from the golden era of direct to video goodness, the 90's.  A magical time when stunt guys, Playboy models, professional wrestlers and martial artists could have their names above the movie's title.  Years ago I packed a VCR in my luggage to Los Angeles along with stacks of VHS tapes as many titles from this bygone era never made it to DVD or only received one printing from a long kaput distributer.  One of those tapes is our first case study:  1998's Body Armor.  Well it's Body Armor on the box but The Protector on the actual movie credits and on IMDB, so go figure...I picked up this bad boy for .50 at a closing Hollywood Video in Orange County in 2006 or so.  It's now on Netflix so I streamed it while working out last week.

The story of former Special Forces soldier turned legendary bodyguard and smooth operator Ken Conway, Body Armor follows our action figure handsome hero as he gets caught up in a missing persons case brought to him by his estranged former fiancĂ© who left him at the altar.  Conway comes up against nefarious yet brilliant Dr. Ramsey Krago, a scientist who specializes in deadly viruses and their vaccines.  Turns out Krago has created some new super virus and is going to unleash it on the general population then blackmail the government to provide a cure.  Or something like that.  Tombstone references, karate, protein shakes, awkward non-nude sex scenes, doctor impersonation, cleavage, station wagon chases, guy on fire fighting, 90's high waisted panties, stunt man acting, clumsy explosions, gratuitous titty shot within the first 8 minutes, craptastic electronic music, private island invasion and dark tunnel/catwalk mayhem ensues.

Directed by career stunt man, second unit director and stunt coordinator Jack Gill, Body Armor seems like a flick culled from favors and personal experience.  This must have been a labor of love as Gill never directed before or after and his credit is underlined!  The 95 minute runtime is an ode to his own demo reel as the action is nearly non stop and includes high falls, face first rappelling, fisticuffs, shoot outs, car chases and of course, tons of explosions.  You can tell this was not an expensive film so Gill's decades of experience and friends in the stunt community are well on display.  Seriously, if you're a student of action films, you'll notice lots of familiar faces, starting with Charles Picerni, who appears in the opening minutes as a bodyguard Conway takes out.  Picerni is an old pro who was the stunt coordinator on the Lethal Weapon and Die Hard franchises as well as no less than 3 Jean-Claude Van Damme movies.  There's a couple Epper's in here from the legendary stunt family that has seen at least 15 of it's members in films since the 1930's. 

Stunt performer turned leading man Matt McColm plays Conway with rogue charm while flexing his muscles and martial arts prowess.  Ruggedly handsome, McColm doesn't take things too seriously and is a likeable enough hero.  McColm had a fun run in the 90's, popping up as the lead in other enjoyable low budget action flicks Red Scorpion II and Subterfuge as well as Nightman on the 1997 syndicated television show.  2003 saw him as Agent Thompson in The Matrix Reloaded but since then he's mostly gone back to stunt work.  Along for the ride are Ron Perlman (of every other movie ever made including Alien: Resurrection, Drive and Pacific Rim), model turned actress Carol Alt, director Ron Howard's brother Clint and in one scene, John Rhys Davis (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Lord of the Rings) as Conway's douche bag employer.

In the end, we can all agree that Body Armor and movies of it's ilk are not "good" movies.  Heck, they're probably not even that highly regarded in the action film community.  But you know what?  I love it, maybe it's the overall generic feel from the use of hotels for rooms, hallways and ballrooms to the fancy house and cars to the final showdown in a dark laboratory full of catwalks, grated metal floors and pipes running along the walls to the really bland music score.  But Body Armor makes good use of it's resources, has some fun in the process and doesn't try to be something it's not.  While seemingly not a complicated movie on paper, the flick boasts FOUR writers.  One of them being Stuart Beattie who would go on to work on the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise and directing the upcoming I, Frankenstein with Aaron Eckhart.

Distributed by A-Pix, the folks who gave us sexy/exciting/scary movies starring the likes of Tane McClure, Shannon Tweed, Don "The Dragon" Wilson, "Rowdy" Roddy Piper and Michael Pare, Body Armor is enjoyable, quasi exploitative action fun that runs circles around current low budget action movies shot in 18 days for $1 million starring the likes of Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Steve Austin or anybody else who was in an Expendables movie.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Van Dammage: Body Image

"I was looking at those comic book heroes and I said to myself, they're strong, they're beautiful but when I look at my body in the mirror, I go, hmm, it's a big difference."
     Jean-Claude Van Damme

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Snow Screen: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Released on Christmas Day but caught up in the overcrowded schedule was Ben Stiller's big budget adaptation of James Thurber's short story The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.  Written for the screen by Steve Conrad, Mitty tells the tale of a put upon office drone who works at LIFE magazine prepping photo negatives for covers and features.  Mitty is susceptible to spells of zoning out where he day dreams about being a vibrant, funny and adventurous version of himself; the one that tells off the boss, saves dogs from exploding buildings and gets the girl.  In this case, his sights are set on new employee and single mom Cheryl played by Kristen Wig.  With LIFE the publication about to be replaced by an online version, corporate guy Ted, with a really fake looking beard and a face that screams "punch me", played by Adam Scott, shows up to start firing people. 

Having worked there for 16 years, Mitty has developed a deep pen pal relationship with old school, "in the shit" photographer Sean O'Connell, played by Sean Penn.  When O'Connell's latest and greatest photo, the one that will be the cover of the final LIFE magazine goes missing, Mitty stops dreaming and starts doing.  With only his briefcase and the clothes on his back, Mitty spontaneously boards a flight to Greenland to find the elusive photographer and missing picture.  What follows is a funny, sweet, inspiring and beautifully shot piece of cinema.  The editing techniques in the film are superbly inventive and as a whole the film is a visual smorgasbord.

In a time of award movies based on real events and huge budgeted, overblown tent pole spectacle; Walter Mitty somehow manages to blend real life drama with sheer escapism and wonder.  Each of his day dreaming episodes is like a movie in itself: a romantic comedy, a superhero movie, a disaster flick, an action movie and more.  It kind of reminded me of 1992's Sidekicks, you know, where nerdy, asthma stricken Jonathan Brandis day dreams about teaming up with Chuck Norris in his movies to take out the bad guys and woo the ladies with guns, karate, milk and mullets? 

Anyways, watching the dreamer become the doer rang truer to life for this viewer than movies about guys with A.I.D.S and crooks running scams in 70's New York.  This is a movie for the dreamers and the people who are just trying to get by but aspire to be more.  While the flick had a few pacing issues in the final act, I still found The Secret Life of Walter Mitty to be one of the better times I've had at the movies recently.  It's a deft combination of comedy, heart and excitement.  A tale of finding personal enlightenment in the midst of change and challenge.  A real shame it hasn't done better financially or been recognized by all this award chatter.

Great trailer too:

Saturday, January 18, 2014

G.I. JOE Week: Hello, Joseph & Quick Kick

Welcome to G.I. JOE week and Hello, Joseph (Yo, Joe!, get it?) Our look at an individual member of the Joe clan.  Things got hot while watching The Pyramid of Darkness, the third mini-series in the original G.I. Joe cartoon, as America's highly trained special missions force in a race to stop ruthless terrorist organization Cobra from activating a global electricity sapping device.  Somewhere in the arctic, Joes Alpine and Bazooka intercept Major Bludd placing the third of four cubes needed to activate the Pyramid.  Alpine and "Bazook" get separated from the main force and end up rafting the frigid waters on a small ice berg.  To make things worse, they're attacked by killer leopard seals while Cobra Crimson Vipers under the command of evil ninja Storm Shadow, fire red lasers at them from the shore.  It looks like it might be curtains for our guys until a pair of well thrown nunchucks knock the seals back into the water.  Alpine and Bazooka look up to see a buff Asian dude clad in only black karate pants, white head band and red sash carrying shuriken (throwing stars) despite the frozen tundra and blowing snow.  With that, America was introduced to "star of stage, screen and a regular on the gun show, Quick Kick, stunt man extraordinaire".

Quick Kick then takes out 6 Crimson Vipers in as many moves before mixing it up revered badass Storm Shadow.  In an impressive bout of animated fisticuffs, Quick Kick and Storm Shadow trade blows before launching into simultaneous jump flying side kicks right out of a ninja movie that leaves the Cobra ninja face first in the snow.  After a quick introduction, Quick, Alpine and Bazook hitch a ride on a Cobra Hiss Tank where we learn Quick was shooting a commercial for Frozen Fudgy Bars but his director left him in the cold, taking the money and equipment.

I think they could have also called him Quick Quip because homeboy's always cracking jokes, quoting the likes of John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart and Jackie Gleason and talking about movies he's done with the likes of Robert Redford.  Quick Kick adds to the fun and goofy ass nature of The Pyramid of Darkness mini-series which also introduces us to Fatal Fluffies: cute, pet size alien creatures that morph into angry giant sasquatch type things when a special whistle is blown.  There's subplots involving commando Snake-Eyes break dancing and cross dressing to evade capture and you get Alpine yodeling to cause an avalanche in the snow...yup, fantastic stuff.

In a later episode of Joe, we learn that Quick Kick, real name MacArthur Ito, is from Watts, California, where his parents run a general store.  A quick search shows that Kick only had speaking parts in 11 episodes of G.I. Joe over it's 95 chapters and to my surprise was voiced by an Asian actor named Francois Chau.  Chau has dozens of credits to his name, appearing on just about every television show since the 80's and more recently recurred on ABC's Lost.  Even more to my surprise was that Storm Shadow's almost stereotypical "ah-so" whisper was voiced by Asian actor Keone Young, the mother fucking Baba Ram from Surf Ninjas!  This was a huge shock to me as the only other prominent animated Asian characters I can think of, like Hamato Yoshi aka Splinter and The Shredder on long running Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were voiced by non-Asians.  Although Shredder was played by Phil Avery aka Uncle Phil from Fresh Prince of Bel-Air so it's not a total loss.  Then you had Samurai Jack, probably the only cartoon with an Asian main character, voiced by black actor Phil LaMarr of Futurama fame.  I've met him and he's a cool guy.  But you get what I'm saying, right?!

It's important to note that the show was only on for two years in 1985 and 1986.  This is where the Marvel comic book series kicks in because that shit ran for decades. In his toy bio, Quick is born to Japanese and Korean parents and is not accepted by either culture growing up.  He turns to martial arts and becomes a master in several disciplines before landing work as a stunt man.   In the comics, his background is expanded upon as his stunt work catches the eye of an on set military consultant who persuades him to enlist.  Soon after he's picked up by the Joe team and "awayyyy we go!".  In the comics lore, commando Snake-Eyes is one of the core characters and his background as a ninja is one of the most memorable arcs.  His rivalry with Storm Shadow is fierce and in the panels, Shadow puts a beating on Quick Kick.

The comic book version of Quick Kick would take part of several operations in multiple countries around the world over 5 years and nearly 20 issues.  By 1991's universe shattering issue 109, Quick Kick, along with Doc, Breaker, Heavy Metal, Crazylegs and several others were killed in a botched mission in Trucial Abysmia.

Get to knowing:

Friday, January 17, 2014

Cinemarked: Michael Biehn and Navy SEALs

Lone Survivor obliterated the box office competition last week with an astounding weekend haul of $37 million.  Days later, the story of stranded Navy SEALs picked up two Academy Award Nominations.  From the Death of Bin Laden to it's cinematized adaptation Zero Dark Thirty to best selling books, Navy SEALs have become firmly entrenched in the public consciousness over the last few years.  With roots tracing back to World War II, SEALs were officially formed in 1962 to fill a need for fighting unconventional warfare utilizing men trained in hand to hand combat, demolitions, parachuting and underwater deployment.  Their ability to operate at sea, air and land gave birth to the term SEAL.  The price of joining is astronomical as the physical and mental demands root out some 80% of hopefuls.

In recent years, their real life heroism has been celebrated, some would argue too much and too publicly while giving the United States something to be proud of: we know how to kick ass.  While Act of Valor, Survivor, Zero and Captain Phillips have shown us realistic portrayals lately, there was one actor who embodied the cinematic badassness of these mythical warriors before everything went docudrama:  Michael Biehn.

Biehn has played a Navy SEAL no less than 3 times, each in a very different way in very different situations.  The Biehn would put his good looks and athletic prowess to excellent use for his breakthrough role in 1984's The Terminator as a love struck, time traveling soldier.  The signature role would also forever typecast him as the sensitive action hero to many and in his own words always led to him being a current/former cop, soldier or secret agent.  Although he's played some great roles in non-action fare, it's those performances where he's running around with a gun in his hand and barking out orders that will always be my favorite. 

Let's look at Biehn's Navy SEALs filmography:

The Abyss, 1989, Lt. Hiram Coffey
The third of four collaborations with one James Cameron sees Biehn playing leader of a small detachment of SEALs sent down to assist an oil rig crew to investigate a crashed nuclear submarine.  Right away, Coffey begins experiencing deep pressure sickness syndrome and fights to control the motely roughneck crew while determining whether or not Russians are waiting around the corner to attack.  Things get even weirder when Non-Terrestrial-Intelligent creatures show up.  Sick and cut off from his chain of command with a nuclear warhead at his finger tips, Coffey decides to send the otherworldly invaders a surprise care package in the shape of a multi-megaton bomb.

Co-Stars:  Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio
Traits:  Mustache, jittery behavior, slices arm to stop it from shaking
Fate:  Dies in a submersible implosion after elbowing the tape deck playing shitty tunes
SEAL-ness:  Scary and ominous, as much fun as a tax audit

Navy Seals, 1990, Lt. James Curran
Biehn's follow up role as the crazed SEAL leader in The Abyss would be as another SEAL Lieutenant, this time named Curran, in Orion's action fest, Navy Seals, written by former SEAL Chuck Pfarrer.  Biehn was at the top of executive Mike Medavoy's list for leading men and found himself starring opposite Academy Award winning bad boy Charlie Sheen.  Director Lewis Teague was fresh off the success of The Jewel of the Nile, follow up to Romancing The Stone.  Here, Biehn is pure big hearted good guy, the cool, calm leader of the outfit dealing with stolen shoulder mounted Stinger missiles, middle eastern terrorists and hotshot Chuck Sheen.  With the help of a connected journalist,  Curran and his team trot the globe dispatching bad guys with silenced MP-5's and AK-47's while quipping wise and playing golf.
Co-Stars:  Sheen, Bill Paxton, Rick Rossovich, Dennis Haysbert and Joanne Whalley (Kilmer)
Traits:  Coiffed blonde hair, drunk clarity, firm yet vulnerable leadership
Fate:  Gets shot in the abdomen and thigh while blowing up a building full of missiles thus forcing wild card Sheen to Chuck up and take command
SEAL-ness:  Doesn't have time to dick around because he's too busy punching terrorist
tickets and partying at the beach, his boat house and golf course

The Rock, 1996, Commander Anderson
Biehn's final portrayal of a Navy SEAL (to date) was in Michael Bay's slam bang, summer action thrill ride The Rock, where he's been promoted to Commander.  After a decorated Marine Force Recon General goes rogue and takes over Alcatraz Island armed with missiles aimed at San Francisco, Biehn is called in to lead the responsive action.  Recruiting the only known convict who survived escape as well as a chemical weapons specialist, Biehn's SEALs infiltrate the prison fortress before coming face to face with the disgruntled Marines turned mercenaries.  A total curve ball for audiences, Biehn's heroic face and body of work is used to throw the audience for a loop 2/3 of the way through the movie.  All of Biehn's scenes are speeches:  in front of the authorities planning an attack, letting the convict and chemist know what their roles are and what they're up against, giving his troops for a pre-invasion pep talk and finally mano a mano with the pissed off Marine General.
Co-Stars:  Nicolas Cage, Sean Connery and Ed Harris
Traits:  Hard, cold, always in black
Fate:  Gets killed in a shower room massacre when the Marines ambush the SEALs from high ground
SEAL-ness:  Surrounded by real life Frogmen, Biehn is as taciturn as can be and his death ratchets up the stakes as our lab rat and senior citizen convict are left to deal with the Marines and missiles

Of course this is Hollywood we're talking about so creative license has to be taken and it's all overblown bullshit, right? Actually, a group of former SEALs from the original 1962 group enjoyed 1990's Navy Seals with it's tough guy attitudes and adrenaline pumping action. While Biehn's performance in The Rock helped land him the job of narrating a film that runs (or ran) at The National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum in Florida.  Along with the gig, Biehn was named an Honorary Frogman for Life by Rear Admiral E.T. Olsen.  While Michael Biehn might not be a true American hero like all of the Navy SEALs we hear about, he sure as hell looks good playing one in movies.

One of the great shouting matches of our time:

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Mr. Majestic: Steve McQueen

"He would say, you're twisting my melon, man, you're twisting my melon.  You're getting me all mixed up...he used to say to me.  He talked so hip I never knew what he was saying half the time."
     - The Thomas Crown Affair director Norman Jewison on Steve McQueen, the King of Cool

Workout of the Day: Catching Up

After a random day of eating and an evening involving a pint or two, I woke up feeling little flat and a lot lazy.  My energy was low from not eating much the day before but I wanted to kick some endorphins and get a good morning pump before a busy day.  I challenged myself to get in two sessions before and after work and accomplished them both.

At 6:00AM I got in the following at home:

Deadlift/Shoulder Press/Reeves Squat/Barbell Curl/Parallel Dip/1-Leg Squat/Barbell Row/Calf Raises/Side Raises/1-Arm Preacher Curls

10 exercises that worked my legs, back, calves, biceps, shoulders and triceps.  Nothing crazy but just enough to get me going.  I repeated the circuit twice then finished off with 5 quick bouts of 300 rope skips.  Sometimes it's easier to count and sometimes it's just easier to watch a clock countdown.  I recommend setting a timer for 2-3 minutes and either jumping for 30 seconds or blocks of 50 jumps until time runs out.  My heart was really racing after the first couple sets.

At 6:00PM I popped in some DDP Yoga and completed his Diamond Dozen list of 13 key moves before trying out the Fat Burner workout.  Hoo boy, for a 25 minute segment that includes warming up, working out and cooling down, I was dripping a sweat.  Counting to 3 was never so hard.  It's all about breathing, controlling your body and using dynamic tension.  Afterwards I felt very clear headed and relaxed.

That's two totally different workouts done in the privacy of my own home on my own time.  No driving to the gym, no waiting around for equipment or weights, no dealing with bozos.  At home, weights are a little more involved as you have to invest in some basic equipment and give yourself room while yoga only requires a mat along with a TV and DVD player.

Count it out!

Gotta Drank! SmithHouse

Located across from the Century City Mall and a stone's throw away from the Nakatomi Plaza aka Fox Studios is SmithHouse, a vast, wood trimmed bar and restaurant.  They even have their own valet service that charges a pretty reasonable $3 since street parking can be hard to come by or if you're not walking over from Fox in your office uniform of blue button up shirt tucked into dark slacks.  Their draft list is immense and includes Strongbow so I can partake in drinking from a pint glass.  Happy Hour is pretty solid with $1 off drafts, $5 well drinks and $5-6 appetizers.  It had been a while since I visited the joint and it was pretty empty on a Monday night.  Can't remember if they had barbeque on the menu then but they sure as shit have it now!  Scarfed down a brisket sandwich while wishing one of my two Californian hetero life mates off on a European Vacation. 

I hear cars in France run better on bread:

Sunday, January 12, 2014

My First Million: Jean-Claude Van Damme & Universal Soldier

Following the success of 1988's Bloodsport, Jean-Claude Van Damme was in high demand.  Tom Pollack, then head of Universal studios, called JCVD wanting to work with him.  Unfortunately, the young Muscles From Brussels had signed multiple contracts with smaller independent studios, using snippets from the unreleased Bloodsport as his calling card.  Now that he was hot, everybody came looking; starting with the man behind the melee, Cannon Film's Menahem Golan.  Golan had JC locked into a low paying contract that paid him $25,000 for Bloodsport, then $50,000 and $75,000 for two more pictures that ended up being 1989's Cyborg and 1990's Death Warrant.  Each of these low budget actioners would gross 10 times their production costs, thus making Van Damme a safe investment.

By the time Van Damme got out of his low paying contracts, it was time for a step up.  Along with Bloodsport co-writer and now trusted friend and director Sheldon Lettich, the two developed Double Impact, the tale of reunited twins who team up to exact revenge on the mobsters who killed their parents.  Produced in name only by Academy Award winner Michael Douglas (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) and long time associate Moshe Diamont, Double Impact would be a bigger and classier Van Damme affair that showed a different side of the karate guy.  The budget?  Roughly $15 million.  A far cry from the $1-3 million that Bloodsport, Kickboxer, Cyborg, Death Warrant and Lionheart each cost.  Released by Columbia Pictures in August of 1991, Double Impact would become Van Damme's highest grosser yet, raking in $30 million at the U.S. box office.  His fee?  $600,000.

Around the same time, Mario Kassar of Carolco had previously paid Sylvester Stallone $16 million for 1988's Rambo III and just handed over a slightly used private airplane worth $14 million to Arnold Schwarzenegger for 1991's Terminator 2:  Judgment Day.  Sly and Arnie were already the undisputed kings of action cinema which meant challengers to the crown were inevitable.  Kassar sent the script for Crystal Knights, an action romp about reanimated dead soldiers that had stalled out under Andrew Davis (Steven Seagal's Under Siege) to Van Damme with an offer worth a cool $1 million.  Kassar also recruited Hollywood and real life tough guy Dolph Lundgren to the play the villain.  Lundgren had made a splash opposite Stallone in 1985's mega hit Rocky IV but struggled after with enjoyable duds like 1987's Masters of the Universe, 1988's Red Scorpion, 1989's I Come In Peace and 1991's Showdown In Little Tokyo.

Fresh from Germany director Roland Emmerich was hired to take the reigns as he had just walked away from helming Stallone in the still yet to be made Isobar.  Kassar only gave Emmerich one caveat, make the "mini-Terminator" for $20 million.  Working with friend and co-writer Dean Devlin, the two rewrote the script, renamed it Universal Soldier and headed to Nevada and Arizona to shoot the film.  For Van Damme, it was a chance at the big time.  A studio picture with a talented director, ample resources and known co-stars could elevate him beyond the low budget, video market karate pictures he was known for. 

The story of two soldiers who kill each other in Vietnam and come back in the present day part of a government program as elite yet blank, zombie-esque killing machines; Universal Soldier stands as one of the great action flick examples of the 90's.  It's big, loud, violent, fast and funny.  Big machines, big guns, big guys, big action, big fights and big explosions, it's all there.  While it may play as a knock off of Robocop and Terminator to some, Emmerich and crew deliver a film with it's own vision, scope and attitude that highlighted Van Damme and Dolph's attributes while putting them in an actual "movie" where they're part of the attraction instead of the only thing on display.  Van Damme plays Luc Deveraux as simple, innocent and childlike while also utilizing his karate prowess to beat up a room full of thugs and slug it out in the rain against Dolph.  Lundgren goes for it as the psycho Sgt. Andrew Scott and plays a wonderfully sinister and dark humored antagonist complete with human ear necklace.  It's an 80's and 90's action fan's dream come true as familiar faces like Simon Rhee (Best of the Best), Tiny Lister (No Holds Barred) and Ralf Moeller (Cyborg, Best of the Best 2) pop up to blow shit up.

Released in July of 1992, Universal Soldier would mark Van Damme's first $10 million opening on it's way to a $36 million total and continuing his filmography trend of performing better than his last picture.  Overseas the flick excelled and Unisol also became VD's first $100 million grosser.  In an essence, it really was a "mini-Terminator" as Arnie and James Cameron had roughly 5 times the money to spend on T2 and earned roughly 5 times as much.  Van Damme's next picture netted him over $3 million on his way to a career high (and start of decline) of $7 million for 1994's Street Fighter.  But that, is another story...

You're discharged, sarge!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Van Dammage: Background

"The kick, the this, the that, the mother, the revenge, the brother, come back to the U.S.A. I win the fight, right?  No, but (points to self) well paid."
     Jean-Claude Van Damme

Friday, January 10, 2014

Snow Screen: The Legend of Hercules

Before 300:  Rise of an Empire, before Hercules:  The Thracian Wars, we get 2014's second wide release, The Legend of Hercules, from Summit Entertainment and Millennium Films.  Starring Kellan Lutz of the Twilight Saga, Scott Adkins of The Expendables II (and 4 time Jean-Claude Van Damme co-star) and Liam McIntyre from television's Spartacus:  Blood and Sand and directed by Renny Harlin of Deep Blue Sea and Die Hard II fame.  TV writer Daniel Giat gets his first big screen credit with the help of 2011's Conan the Barbarian scribe Sean Hood.

The short and simple story opens with Adkins' King Slayer

From the look of the trailers, I was expecting a schlocktastic good time from a capable but aging director hungry for a big movie comeback starring a young pretty face whose physique would fill in for acting.  Neither of those expectations were quite met as The Legend of Hercules isn't completely enjoyable but is totally watchable.  From the surprisingly solid 3D (flying arrows, rain, dander) that gave a sense of depth to the impressive set design to the straight forward but not self serious tone to frequent, kind of exciting action scenes (bogged down by random slow motion), Hercules is a lot more polished and sturdy than you'd expect.  Lutz's performance doesn't get too deep but he does fine with what's asked of him.  Adkins furrows his brow and sneers through his performance while McIntyre gets to play sympathetic and heroic as Herc's right hand man.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Still the Man: Michael Bay (aka How to Speak in Public)

You might have heard about CES, the Consumer Electronic Show, going on in Las Vegas this week.  All of your top technology brands and manufacturers trot out their latest gadgets, sometimes hocked by celebrities.  Samsung brought along multi-billion dollar director Michael Bay to discuss their new curved television.  While the outspoken helmer of Bad Boys, The Rock, Transformers and Pain & Gain has never been shy to voice his opinion, he experienced a bizarre, awkward and downright embarrassing moment on stage.

Apparently the teleprompter malfunctioned, leaving the noted control freak on his own.  After a brief attempt to "wing it", Bay excused himself and quickly walked off stage.  Later, in a blog post on his official site, Bay said he got overexcited, skipped the intro, then the prompter failed and he walked off citing live speaking wasn't his thing.

While it's quite surprising to see such an outspoken and seemingly confident man stammer over his own movies and technology, it was hardly the "meltdown" people are labeling it.  Who knows what the circumstances were, maybe he just flew in from working on Transformers 4, maybe he didn't have a chance to review everything on the TV he should have or maybe he just got stage fright.  They say Glossophobia aka the fear of public speaking is the number one fear among humans.  At least according to surveys circa 1977, 1993 and 2009 as well as Russell Crowe in American Gangster.

I'm sure this will add fuel to the fire to all those passionately negative fans in the world who blame Bay for anything that ever goes wrong in movies.  For some reason, making slick, cool, fun, star filled entertainment just doesn't garner him respect, even if he's raked in the billions for studios and never made an unwatchable flick (Transformers II got close though...).  To me, he's still the man.  Why?  Because he's a doer!

I've never had a problem speaking in public or in front of crowds and have been commended on it in the past.  What's the secret?  Confidence.  Not cockiness, not arrogance, but confidence.  You can see through "swag" in a heartbeat.  A poseur is a poseur is a poseur.  Like any conversation, if you don't have anything meaningful to say but just want to be involved so people know you're alive then nothing positive can really happen if you're put in front of a crowd.  What's the most important issue?  Knowing your subject.  Once you know your subject you have a sturdy base to design a presentation.  Having a point is also very important.  What are you trying to convey?  What do you want people to take away?  Being excited for the subject helps too, I once sat in on an Microsoft Excel training session which should have been dry and sleep inducing but the instructor loved Excel so much, you couldn't help but be a little happier about learning.  Positive energy meeting neutral energy is better than negative energy meeting it's neutral or negative counterpart.

Slow down.  Don't be in a rush.  Think about what you're doing, make yourself notes and give yourself moments to regroup.  You won't lose an audience in the time it takes to sip some water.  Lastly, think of someone you admire.  In college, I thought of Tyler Durden, you know, Brad Pitt in Fight Club?  He was just the coolest guy in the world, nothing got to him.  That's the sort of mindset one must enter when being faced with a crowd of strangers.  Lock eyes with them.  Engage them.  You must have done something right if you're the one standing up in front.  Remember, You are the prize.  But if you don't believe that, nobody else will.

How you can not like a guy like Michael Bay, who gave us this, is beyond me.  "Tell your mama!"

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Weird(cool) Panels: Bear Kick!

Don't know how or why but I'm currently reading a 1987 run of Marvel's Captain America comics simultaneously with Image Comics' 1994's solo series Backlash.  I'll dig into each later but basically starting in Captain America # 332, the government tries to impart stricter regulations on Steve Rogers aka Cap's activities and want to make him more of a political tool.  Steve refuses and gives up the moniker, costume and shield then disappears to find himself.  Months later in issue # 336, sporting a sweet beard, Steve comes across super powered eco-terrorist Brother Nature who sic's a bear after him.  How does ol' Stevie defend himself?  By karate kicking that Ursus humongous in the mouth! 

Oss!  Bear kick!
Meanwhile, in the good ol' 90's where everything is splash pages, hot dudes, hot chicks, action on every page, straps and pouches on every costume and everybody looks like they're flying even when they can't fly, is mother fudging Backlash.  There's a lot to go through with his background but just know he's got mean fists, a smart mouth and some nifty powers that include turning into mist and psychic energy whips that come out of his wrists.  Was randomly searching the internet and found this awesome image of him after witnessing Cap kick that bear earlier in the evening.

Kiai!  Jump bear kick!
Coincidence?  Maybe.  Destiny?  More likely. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

Master Cast: The Right Stuff

Every now and again, you watch a movie with an amazing ensemble cast filled with up and coming actors who are just a few years from stardom and recognition.  From 1960's The Magnificent Seven to 1983's The Outsiders to 90's flicks like Dazed and Confused and School Ties, you'd be hard pressed to try and wrangle the then mostly unknown casts five years after their seminal establishing work.

Today we're going to look at 1983's The Right Stuff, which I picked up for a buck from my latest adventure at a Blockbuster closeout sale.  Based on the true story of the group of college educated test pilots turned astronauts of the Mercury 7 program to put a man into space; Stuff was written and directed by Phillip Kaufman, who helped give us The Outlaw Josey Wales, Raiders of the Lost Ark and mother fudging Rising Sun with Sean Connery, Wesley Snipes, Mako, Harvey Keitel, Ray Wise, Tia Carrere, Steve Buscemei  and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa!  Guess he still has the touch...

Let's look at the cast of now familiar faces, Oscar winners, voice actors and TV dads:

Sam Shepard - Oscar nominee and playwright, appeared in Steel Magnolias, The Pelican Brief, Black Hawk Down, The Notebook and Safe House.  Seems to be cast opposite Brad Pitt, Val Kilmer and Denzel Washington frequently.

Scott Glenn - The Original Man on Fire, The Silence of the Lambs, Backdraft, Training Day and The Bourne Ultimatum.  Up next is Endangered, a thriller about a rampaging bear with a killer, low-watt cast featuring Thomas Jane, Billy Bob Thornton, James Marsden and Piper Perabo.

Ed Harris - Multiple Oscar and Saturn nominee, director and all around intense method guy.  The Abyss, Glengarry Glen Ross, The Rock, A History of Violence, Pain & Gain (!) and Gravity.

Dennis Quaid - Saturn, Golden Globe and Blockbuster award nominee seen in Enemy Mine, Wyatt Earp, DragonHeart, Any Given Sunday, The Rookie and G.I. Joe:  The Rise of Cobra.

Fred Ward - Earl from Tremors and Remo Williams in Remo Williams:  The Adventure Begins!

Lance Henriksen - While he didn't get much love in Stuff, he still managed to claw his way into genre fame with roles in Aliens, Hard Target, Disney's animated Tarzan and TV's Millennium.

Jeff Goldblum - Super young and playing the idiot but redeemed in The Fly, Jurassic Park, Independence Day and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.

Harry Shearer - The voice of Kent Brockman and dozens more on The Simpsons since 1989, The Shear has also popped up in human form in This Is Spinal Tap, Wayne's World 2 and Godzilla.

William Russ - Yup, the dad from Boy Meets World pops up as a greedy test pilot early on.

We could go on and on with some of the secondary characters but hey, keep it moving.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Snow Screen: Lone Survivor

Playing in limited release for Academy Award consideration this week is Peter Berg's Lone Survivor, the film adaptation of real life Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell's harrowing, near death encounter with the Taliban in Afghanistan.  Part of a four man team dropped off in the mountains on the hunt for a merciless terrorist leader, Luttrell's team makes a humanitarian decision when they come across a group of goat herders and let them go.  When their communication system fails, the four are trapped on the mountain with an army of Taliban soldiers on their tails.

The movie opens with real footage of SEALs in training before moving into the narrative where we meet our team of Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Ben Foster, Emile Hirsch and their commander played by Eric Bana.  Their status as the world's foremost highly trained badasses is counter balanced with bits of personality and non-military issue discussion like wedding gifts and interior design.  For these guys, tracking down a known murderer in hostile territory is just part of the job.

From the start, Survivor goes semi-docudrama as we're just along for the ride in their violent and tragic quest to evade capture and stay alive.  Berg, an actor turned director who gave us 2002's fun, new age action movie The Rundown and 2012's unfairly maligned good time Battleship, does an excellent job of making the SEALs appear to be ordinary guys with an extraordinary job.  The action is simple and realistic whereas a scene of falling down a hill in The Rundown is played to cringe worthy and comedic effect, the same type of scenario in Survivor comes off as bone crunching and ultra painful.  I thought the flick lost some steam after it's big middle sequence and found myself wishing there was a timer on the side of the screen to show me where we were in the 2 hour run time.

Performances are solid across the board with Kitsch's calm, by the book leader and Foster's usual intense, realist portrayals being particularly noticeable.  It was nice to see Bana back on the big screen even if his role isn't overly meaty.  Like Battleship, Entourage's Jerry Ferrara pops up as a communications guy.  The end credits show us the real SEAL team members the movie is based on which comes off more as a true to life love letter to our brave men and women of the armed services rather than your typical, amped up, Hollywood action flick.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

End of Watch(ing): Blockbuster Video

Growing up, Blockbuster was always the most expensive video store in town.  Independent stores might not have offered the same selection and quantity but they got the job done.  A neighboring Hollywood Video closed in 2005 and I still have many of the dirt cheap VHS' from their closeout sale.  When they started getting hammered by Netflix, BB unveiled their own mail in rental service with the added perk of being able to trade in mailers at a store for another flick.  There were many a walks to Blockbuster and Little Caesar's on Sundays when I lived in Glendale, California.  But now, I don't live in Glendale and thanks to streaming and Redbox, former titan Blockbuster is closing ALL of it's U.S. stores.

The first closing Blockbuster I ever visited was in Seattle, Washington in about 2009.  That day, I walked out of the store with 5 movies and 2 boxes of candy for $7.00.  This past weekend I walked out of my last Blockbuster closing sale and came out with 25 movies for $35.00.

View flicks in peace, everyone.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Van Dammage: Web Sites

"What the fuck do we care about Nu Image?!  I'm talking about the internet and the entire world, and you go back to this film. It is just a film."
       Jean-Claude Van Damme

Workout of the Day: DDP Yoga

2014's first workout came courtesy of former WCW superstar Diamond Dallas Page and a well constructed testimonial video/infomercial.  DDP Yoga, formerly known as Yoga For Regular Guys is billed as "not your mama's yoga!".  After seeing DDP help wrestlers former and current like Jake "The Snake" Roberts, Scott "Razor Ramon" Hall and Chris Jericho with substance abuse and back issues, I figured it would be a nice addition to my workout regimen and something new to keep me interested.  The system wasn't all that expensive, about what you'd pay for two months at a commercial gym.  You know, those overcrowded, messy, understaffed joints that are full of Don'ters kidding themselves with New Years Resolutions for the month of January.

There are several workouts for varying levels of exertion and we started out with two programs showing you the basics of DDP's Diamond Dozen, 13 moves designed to get your heart rate up, engage your muscles and increase flexibility.  All of the moves were pretty basic and have you focusing on firing muscle groups by using isometric tension.  The 25 minute Energy! workout moves quick and DDP is positive, supportive and funny as your instructor.  By the end I felt pretty invigorated and tight yet relaxed. 

Watch this and try not to cry:

Thursday, January 2, 2014

End of Watch(ing): 2013

Another year, another 80 movies in a theater.  First run, revival, special events, anniversaries, midnights and outdoor screenings add up in the city of lights and angels.  Looking back, I got to see some of my favorite movies of all time on the big screen like The Great Escape (2nd time), The Terminator (3rd time), Robocop (2nd time) and Escape From New York (3rd time) as well as see some of my favorite actors in person like Jean-Claude Van Damme, Kurt Russell and Peter Weller.

On the new movie front, three flicks hit cinemas that became instant favorites:

Pain & Gain
Hands down my favorite movie of the year.  Why?  Because it's a movie about DOING.  Not talking about it, being about it!  Just because it's about the dark side of the human condition doesn't take away from the fact that P&G was the most hilarious and fucked up good time I had in a theater.  Of course I'm partial to the flick as well due to it's 90's bodybuilding backdrop which I find hysterical.  Mark Wahlberg is great as the determined, positive, yoked out, manipulative and demented ring leader following a three finger plan to rid the world of a douche bag while getting rich in the process.  Dwayne Johnson's freakish physique and boyish charm are put to good use as the dim witted weak link of the group and Wings' Tony Shalhoub is fantastic as the self made, total asshole, non-salad eating mark.  Michael Bay brings his usual vibrant, over the top and kinetic style to a low budget classic that shows he knows what he's doing even if people try to give him crap about it.

Pacific Rim
The most fun I had at the movies this summer.  Maybe it was the low expectations, maybe it was the horrid trailers, maybe it was the new yet familiar concept of Transformers fighting Godzilla but I was not looking forward to it.  Imagine my surprise when I found myself grinning ear to ear from the very start.  The soundtrack is catchy and rocking while the giant robot destruction was near heart stopping and exciting.  Rim almost spoils you for other movies because it makes you feel and yearn for a higher purpose.  We all go to movies to be entertained and sometimes educated but Rim is truly cinematic magic as it makes reality seem oh so boring compared to the world created.  Guillermo Del Toro brings out your inner 12 year old while making your 31 year old self wish he had a higher calling as singular and important as defending the world from massive, angry alien invaders.

The Last Stand
Arnold's would be comeback vehicle might not have set the box office on fire but that doesn't take away from the fact that it's an age appropriate and rollicking fun time showing the King still has the goods.  A modern western realized by easterner Kim Jee-Woon, Stand is a violent and quirky thriller that pits Arnie's small town rag-tag Sheriff's Department against the merciless army of an escaped cartel leader.  For me, Stand ranks among The Oak's best flicks, especially trumping anything he's done since True Lies in 1994.

Other flicks I enjoyed or at least made me pay attention:

Star Trek Into Darkness
Ender's Game
World War Z
Thor:  The Dark World
Only God Forgives
Don Jon
2 Guns

I haven't gotten around to seeing most of the award fodder yet, that's what January is for.