Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Oak and Biehn: Birthday Bros

"Come with me if you want to live."  "I didn't build the fucking thing!"  "Fuck you, asshole." 
"I'll be back."  "I came across time for you."  "Wrong."  "Nice night for a walk."

Sorry, was just thinking of some lines that Arnold Schwarzenegger and Michael Biehn have in The Terminator...  (clears throat) Today marks the 67th birthday of one Arnold Alois Schwarzenegger while his co-star and James Cameron cohort Michael Connell Biehn celebrates turning 57 tomorrow.  The perfect yet opposite duo of all things kick ass, 80's and 90's style, The Oak and The Biehn are both busier than ever 30 years after the release of the seminal film which will celebrate it's own "birthday" in October.  Of course, The Terminator helped Arnold transition from the bodybuilding meathead and stoic Conan to more modern and mainstream roles in hits like Predator, Twins, Total Recall and his greatest box office success, Terminator 2: Judgment Day.  If being the world's biggest movie star, a successful businessman and all around king of kings wasn't enough, Arnie went and got himself into politics starting in 1990.  Appointed Chairmen of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, Arnold crossed the country on his own dime lobbying all 50 governors to promote kids getting off their asses after school.  Then in 2003, The Schwarz won a Recall Election for the Governorship of California by a landslide, garnering 48% of the vote and serving until 2009. 

Arnold's return to Hollywood has yielded buzz worthy appearances in friend Sylvester Stallone's The Expendables trilogy while excellent headlining efforts The Last Stand and Sabotage were largely ignored by moviegoers.  But like the robotic Frankenstein style monster that is shot, beat and blown up yet keeps coming back that he played in the first film, The Terminator franchise refuses to die.  Since 1984 audiences have been given 3 live action sequels, a television show, comic books, video games, toys and much more.  In 2015, The Terminator will be back...again...with a big budget sequel/reboot/standalone flick helmed by Game of Thrones and Thor: The Dark World's Alan Taylor featuring Arnold as an aging T-800 along with original hero Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney), heroine Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) and their progeny John Connor (Jason Clarke).  Story details are under wraps but it looks like adult aged versions of Reese, Sarah and John will be hopping in and out of the Terminator timeline we saw from the first films. 

Equally important and arguably the real star of The Terminator, Michael Biehn has carved out a solid niche for himself as a versatile performer, low-watt leading man and the ultimate example of a physical yet vulnerable cinematic hero.  Starting with the first of four collaborations with James Cameron, The Terminator took former model and movie heavy/stalker Biehn into new territory as the mysterious hero and father of the future Kyle Reese, a hardened yet sensitive soldier sent on a suicide mission to save humanity.  Outspokenly as not the hero type, Biehn's convincing and inspiring performance as Reese has led to many a soldier/cop/secret agent type role and the only actor to ever play a Navy SEAL in 3 different films resulting in the Navy deeming him an honorary Frogman.  His quiet intensity and physical prowess have been put to excellent use in titles like Aliens, The Abyss, Navy Seals, Timebomb, K2, Tombstone, The Rock, The Magnificent Seven and Grindhouse: Planet Terror where his cool guy attitude and heroic good looks make you wish he was in a lot more movies.  Director Robert Rodriguez purposely gave Biehn's Sheriff Hague a hero shot introduction in Planet Terror, knowing that genre fans would eat it up and easily establish the badass-ness of the local law enforcement.  In 1987, video game giant Konami based the box art for Metal Gear's Solid Snake on Biehn while 2013's Far Cry 3 expansion pack Blood Dragon features the actor as uber 80's and 90's style hero Sergeant Rex "Power" Colt, a shit talking, wise cracking, girl getting, bad guy killing world savior that was released to widespread acclaim and over 1 million digital sales.

Lately, Biehn and wife Jennifer Blanc have seized control of their destinies and opened their own production company, churning out low budget genre flicks that give actors and directors a stake in the film to insure best efforts.  2011's The Victim sold to Anchor Bay and the Biehn's toured the globe for screenings and meeting the fans.  With 2 more films in the can and at least half a dozen more in various stages of production, Blancbiehn recently acquired office space to centralize their efforts and ensure much more Biehn screen for years to come.

Happy birthday, gents.  Now get back to work and give me more movies to watch!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

San Diego Comic-Con 2014: SaturDAZE Part I w/ Ernie Reyes, Jr

Saturday in San Diego started at 5:00AM as I was volunteering for the 3rd year in a row at 6:00AM.  My first year included packaging the welcome kits con goers receive upon entry, you know, those big WB branded bags and the commemorative book/event guides?  Last year I got put on the Hasbro line duty where I helped masses of toy buying fans queue up to pick up convention exclusives and met my first Brony.  This year I was hoping for the same thing and got Autograph Line where I'd either be waiting in line for someone physically unable or directing traffic.  Luckily I got to direct traffic and helped organize die hards who had lined up as early as the night before to get signatures from the casts and crews of The Hobbit, True Blood, The Vampire Diaries, The Flash, Arrow and Constantine among the 9 options.  A set number of pretty nifty hologram wristbands were doled out for each title with The Hobbit reaching capacity first followed by Arrow.  I experienced my first Con induced heartache of the day as I witnessed a young fan who had been in line for hours before 6:00AM have the wind taken out of her sails and walk off, totally not interested in the other 8 signings.  Overall it was a fun shift talking to the security crew, Con staff and attendees in line.  Being so early, it's not hot yet, people are too tired to be grumpy and I was standing right by the beautiful marina and water front.  From there I observed the huge Hall H line that wrapped around the marina's concrete sidewalk into the island park.  I couldn't help but think a breakfast cart/truck would do gangbusters as there were around 3,000 folks in line.

Walking back to this year's Comic-Con'do was a little tricky at 9:30AM as everyone is trying to get in.  The sidewalk was packed with attendees trying to get in along with those annoying Bible thumpers taking up valuable space.  I witnessed a young girl having a panic attack and being helped by a local police officer but I wonder if that was a ploy to get out of the crowd...come on, it's Comic-Con, massive hordes of people is just part of the deal.  The only panel I was really gunning for on Saturday was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 30th Anniversary a shellebration of 3 decades of comics, cartoons, toys, movies, video games, merchandise and heroes in a half shell.  Unfortunately I over napped and arrived at the line 30 minutes before the panel to find a huge crowd already waiting.  However, I spotted mother fucking Ernie Reyes, Jr., the martial artist/actor who played Donatello's fight double in TMNT then graduated to lead role Keno the pizza boy in Secret of the Ooze before headlining Surf Ninjas!  Some other guys in line and I went over and got in quick greetings and photos as Reyes, Jr. was uber cool and rocking the red and white pizza delivery jacket costume from the movie!  Oh and he looks younger than I do even though he's 10 years older.  Jerk.  It was a nice consolation prize as I did not get into the panel but hey, I've seen lot of Ninja Turtle stuff through the years and gotten to meet Kevin Eastman and now Keno himself.

With time to spare before my next panel, I popped into The Art of Fear where horror authors riffed on how they scare audiences and approach the craft of writing.  For what I thought would be a nice filler panel, it was actually quite informative and entertaining.  The panel talked about drawing inspiration from real life events such as the Salem witch trials, new strains of virus, trends in mental health and more.  While some of the self induced horror smacked of BS to me (it's dark, oh no!), it was fascinating to hear about how at one time or another, things we find totally fantastic and false (witches, vampires) were real fears to large segments of the population.  It will be interesting to see what people 100 years from now laugh at us for being afraid of.  The authors also discussed their writing methods and how they got their starts.  One uses Excel spreadsheets to keep track of her characters, sub-plots and twists while another explained how he self published to Amazon and after 10 days his title became a hit and big time publishers came looking with a 4 book deal.  All in a pleasant surprise and sadly more engrossing than the panel I was actually waiting for...

Which was Big Trouble in Little China: Shaking the Pillars of the Comics Industry, a look at BOOM! Studios new title based on the 1986 John Carpenter cult classic film starring Kurt Russell, Dennis Dun, James Hong and Victor Wong.  I picked up the first 2 issues of the series at the show earlier in the week and found # 1 funny and an interesting take on the movie that didn't quite make sense story wise but went along with it.  I don't know what it is but this is the 2nd panel on Big Trouble I've seen that didn't include anyone involved in the actual film that came off very lackluster.  Remember when I saw it with the creators of Robot Chicken and a film school guy who wears scarves with graphic tees and it sucked?  This wasn't quite as bad but wasn't one for the Con books either.  Writer Eric Powell didn't have much to say beyond he thought he could do a good Jack Burton and that John Carpenter is down to earth and not a typical Hollywood douche.  Editor Ian Brill chimed in talking about the genesis of the project and how much everyone loves Carpenter while moderator Chris Sims told us he made his new lady friend watch Big Trouble on one of their first dates.  I wondered if the creators went through any old drafts of the screenplay by W.D. Richter and Gary Goldman for inspiration but there were a lot of questions about nothing in particular asked.  I did however sit next to a nice guy dressed as Jack Burton himself and behind a woman who attended on behalf of her super fan husband who could not be there.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Gotta Drank! Top of the Hyatt

Taking a stroll over to the Hyatt to the fulfillment room, I stumbled across a Dammaged Goods jam, sky high drinking and dining!  Located on the 40th floor of the Hyatt next to the Marriott next to the Convention Center is the aptly named, Top of the Hyatt, where you can snack on small bites like chips with dip or duck filled spring rolls.  They had a Long Island Iced Tea style concoction named after Marvel's Thor as a special as well as pages on pages of spirits and wine.  It's a great view from the top of San Diego's sprawling downtown streets, parks, marina, waterfront and boats as well as a nice place to take a break and recharge my phone before I headed back to the exhibition floor and evening panels.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

San Diego Comic-Con 2014: Friday aka Panels on Panels on Panels!

After the awesome Paramount panel, it was time for a break and then Hero Complex's rooftop party at the Hotel Solomar where I not only saw two former co-workers and met some nice Con goers but Michael Rooker of Tombstone, Mallrats and the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy was in attendance!  IMAX was on hand with Hercules and Guardians swag along with an open bar and flip book photo booth.  Then it was off into the Gaslamp District for sustenance and more Jameson.

Friday morning I was beat and bummed around a while before heading over to the show.  Not feeling like navigating the exhibition floor I opted for an afternoon of panels where one turned into six!

First up was Secret Origins: How the Industry's Best and Brightest Began with Chip Mosher, David Steinberger, Mike Marts, Shannon Watters, Marc Bernardin and Frank J. Barbiere who collectively have worked for Marvel, Starlog, Entertainment Weekly and DC shared their sagas of breaking into the comics game.  From starting off as an intern who never left to selling 60 copies of a self financed book at conventions to a Singing Major who changed careers at 34 to e-mailing Jim Lee once a month for 13 months, it was a very cool and inspiring panel that reminded us, especially in this day and age that you just have to do what you love and there's no excuse for not setting goals big and small in this era of fans easily becoming creators thanks to the internet and advancements in technology.  As ComiXology was recently purchased by Amazon, the first 2 individuals who asked questions received a free Kindle Fire!

Next was Free Enterprise: 15th Anniversary Reunion which celebrated the 1999 release of low budget romantic comedy Free Enterprise starring Eric McCormack (Will & Grace) and William "Bill" Shatner.  Writer/producer Mark A. Altman shared hilarious stories of trying to land Shatner in the role of himself, written as a uber-sage to two pop culture loving nerds trying to make it in Los Angeles.  Shatner declined on the basis of not wanting to play a God like character but was open to the idea of giving him everyday problems like trying to meet women.  Altman also told a great story about Al Pacino seeing Star Trek: Generations and loving the fact that it took a mountain to crash on Shatner's Captain Kirk to kill him while the "Shakespeare guy" (Patrick Stewart) took a pebble to the shoulder and went down.  Altman and company are looking to resurrect FE as an online series and shared a pitch video from their ongoing Kickstarter.

After that it was time for Brands Gone Geek:  How Media and Marketers Are Harnessing the Might of the Superfan which looked at the way big business is targeting the Comic-Con and pop culture crowd with insights from a large panel of guests involved with BOOM! Studios, a former movie producer turned comic book store owner, the Bonfire Agency, online reporting, Hero Complex and many more.  Hosted by Sydney Pollack doppleganger Steve Rotterdam, it was an eye opening look at what I've been saying for years, we live in a time when you can sell people's childhoods back to them.  Comic books, collectibles and the like account for over $1 billion dollars in sales a year with the average con goer spending more on their cool swag and stuff than sports fans.  Basically, all the kids who were made fun of in school for liking comic books, cartoons, fantasy literature etc are now in control of popular culture from the plethora of comic book and fantasy movies topping the box office to Chase bank, Dunkin Donuts and Carl's Jr. among others vying for the Comic-Con crowd without insulting them through commercials and campaigns.

Then it was time for the annual Street Fighter! panel where Capcom's Francis Mao and company took us through all things SF like the new Street Fighter 4: Ultra, merchandise and the yearlong Capcom Cup/e-sports league where players from all over the world compete for a spot in the finals in December.  Qualifying rounds are happening over SDCC weekend with the finals taking place on Sunday at the Omni hotel with $3,000 bucks on the line. Attention was shifted to successful online series Assassin's Fist where actor/writer/director Joey Ansah and actors Mike Moh and Gaku Space talked about making the series, working on wires, translating fights to live action, staying faithful to the source material and future plans that includes a stacked Blu-Ray release with commentary, deleted scenes, featurettes and more as well as official word that sequel series World Warrior is in development.  Street Fighter producer Yoshinori Ono showed up dressed as Hugo after coming in as Chun-Li last year.  Audience members partook in some live SF play with was surprisingly fun and draining to watch.

Penultimate panel of the Friday was a real treat for movie buffs with The Superheroes of Legacy Effects with John Rosengrant, Shane Mahan, Lindsay MacGowan and Jason Lopes taking the audience through their company's wide ranging work that includes design, make up f/x, sculpting, 3D printing and animatronics for commercials, television and film.  I recognized Rosengrant and Mahan from watching copious amounts of The Terminator and Aliens featurettes as the former was their first big movie.  The duo started at Stan Winston's studio and have worked on the likes of the Jurassic Park and Terminator series including the upcoming 2015 releases.  Legacy now has a random niche market with suit making after 4 Iron Man adventures, Pacific Rim and 2014's Robocop.  With a staff of about 100, Legacy works on 200 commercials and 20 + movies a year.  Their shop includes half a dozen 3D printers straight from military and aerospace manufacturers.  Rosengrant and Mahan singled out director James Cameron as the pinnacle of a strong director with his talent and vision and I wanted to ask what they thought of Michael shirts on the way out too boot, a really cool panel overall.

Finally I caught a few minutes of An Inside Look at Shout! Factory where sub-brands Kids and Scream Factory crew talked about the process of getting hired, procuring and restoring titles then outfitting them with special features.  Shout does a great job of asking fans what they want and reaching out to anyone involved with the production.  Two fans actually sent in prints of an obscure title when the company couldn't find a suitable copy for restoration and release.  I didn't realize they put out so many titles as last year saw 300 some releases up for grabs.  So far 2 of them have starred Dolph Lundgren so keep'em coming please.

Workout(s) of the Day: Con-Man

Comic-Con is crazy but when you've been going to shows as often as I have, they all kind of start blending together.  San Diego differentiates itself due to the sheer volume of attendees, panels and outside events but if you've walked through one giant exhibit floor, you've walked them all.  Upon arrival I got in a couple workouts to keep me honest.  This year's condo has a hotel style gym with a Universal-esque weight machine and a cable station along with several treadmills and bikes.  Before Wednesday's Preview Night I got in a circuit to pump up:

Handstand Push Up/Chins/Bench Dips
- Since there wasn't an actual chin up bar, I just placed the lat pulldown bar in it's metal stirrup, made sure it was sturdy and chinned away.  Bench dip wise I had to settle for placing my hands on the side of a treadmill then trying to raise my hips to get more of a range of motion.

Side Raise/Cable Curl/Pushdown
- Side raises were done with hand in front then behind, so 2 sets equaled 1 to really pump up and define the delts.  Cable Curls on the Lat Pulldown give you a nice resistant pump all the way through without your shoulders coming into play.  Then Pushdown of course can be done on the same Lat Pulldown station.

Rear Raise/1-Arm Cable Curl/1-Arm Reverse Pushdown
- Again, 2 sets to make 1 this time for the posterior delts with finishing bicep and tricep moves done as 21's to burn out.

Abs, trunk twists and calf raises holding on to the weight cables for resitatance wrapped up my pre-breakfast pump.  10 minutes of intervals on the bike to make myself feel better for all the drinking and eating that were to come while watching Walker, Texas Ranger complete with young Tobey Maguire appearance.

The next morning I took advantage of the condo pool and warmed up with some running in the water, high knees, kicking back, jump lunges etc before doing laps of Freestyle and Breast Stroke, almost called it Frog Stroke and man was my heart blasting!

Then of course I'll be walking to, around and from the convention center for several days along with an irregular eating plan so I think my envelope can use a couple days off.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

San Diego Comic-Con 2014: Thursday w/ Turtles and Paramount

Hot Damme, Thursday, literally, it's hot out!  Welcome to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Thursday because it's TMNT all over the Con.  After walking the floor for a bit, I ducked into the Marriott's screening room to catch, you guessed it, 1990's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!  A classic comic book movie before there were comic book movies, TMNT still holds up with it's deft blend of action, laughs, brotherly love, production values and Henson assisted costumes and animatronic heads.  Back on the floor I scouted out Mondo's booth and picked up their selection of Batman: The Animated Series vinyls of Clayface, The Joker, Mr. Freeze and Harley Quinn.  NECA was sold out of exclusive Pacific Rim Jaegers but may have more tomorrow.  Remember yesterday when I told you I bet I could walk right into Hall H for Paramount's 3:00PM session?  Yeah, totally did.  Even stopped to get lunch and grabbed a decent seat near the first pillars.  After Hall H welcomed Benedict Cumberbatch for DreamWorks' latest animated romp then The Dude himself Jeff Bridges showed up to talk about The Giver.  Bridges' advice for young careers was to pull a Stallone and go out and make their Rocky since anybody with a cell phone is now a filmmaker. 

After a short intermission it was time for Paramount's panel.  The guide listed no information, just a look at their upcoming slate.  Ninja Turtles was up first as a quick clip showcasing the awesome franchise going from simple sketch to the comic book, cartoon, live action movie, toy and video game empire played before TMNT co-creator Kevin Eastman took the stage to somewhat surprisingly muted applause.  I'm guessing the crowd is still on the fence about the new Turtles movie as it looks like they've been "Transformer-ized" or "Bayhem-ed" with a super slick, destruction heavy trailer which I didn't mind but their borderline grotesque design and CGI appearance hasn't whet my appetite.  The producers claim to have been longtime fans and one even produced a signed photo of Kevin from 21 years ago.  Eastman says the flick is fantastic and that the producers were intent on making the best TMNT movie possible from the start 3 years ago.  A clip introducing reporter April O'Neil and the turtles rolled which was surprisingly enjoyable with a nice mix of big action and humor, mostly coming from Michelangelo's wise cracking.  Actors Megan Fox and Will Arnett were brought out with the former being a fan since childhood and the latter just being an extremely funny guy.  Another clip played showcasing another big action scene involving snow, big rigs, hummers, rocket launchers and bulletproof shells.  The voices of the Turtles was a little hard to get used to as it's Johnny Knoxville as Leonardo, Anthony Shalhoub (PAIN & GAIN!) as Splinter with Mikey sounding like a little kid and Raphael coming off as RZA. 

Some other movie about time travel was previewed before audio from Hercules filled the room and boom, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson walked onto the floor and greeted the fans before taking the stage and welcoming himself back, WWE style.  Funny, huge and seemingly happy to be there, The Rock let us know he bought out 3 theaters and would Tweet the details to attending a free screening.  Clarke Duke came out with two lovely ladies on his arms to show us a trailer for Hot Tub Time Machine 2 which looks pretty Damme funny as they're sent to the future this time around.  Then a new trailer for Christopher Nolan's Interstellar played, this one interspersing snippets from former astronauts in with the film.  Our moderator introduced a first time Comic-Con attendee, Matthew McConaughey!  The Reign of Fire star and Oscar winner looked very ruggedly handsome while explaining that he got a call from his agent to meet Chris Nolan, went to his house for a 3 hour meeting where they discussed everything except working on a film together.  A week later a script showed up and Denton Van Zan was in.  Guess we can really call it the McCONaissance now huh?  McConaughey wanted to hear Hall H's legendary hollering before describing Nolan as an original, the director might have been inspired by a Stanley Kubrick movie but his interpretation would be wholly new.  Another Comic-Con first, director of Inception and The Dark Knight Trilogy Christopher Nolan walked out looking as dapper as can be.  Without giving too much away, Nolan discussed his love for science-fiction and how in his youth, becoming an astronaut was the highest career someone could aim for.  Influenced by the likes of 2001, Star Wars and Blade Runner (his favorite film), Nolan talked about making things as real as possible for the actors in terms of sets and production and using IMAX to enhance the experience. 

Next on deck is a panel on the history of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the form of a new documentary as well as Hero Complex's Comic-Con soiree and maybe a movie trivia contest.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

San Diego Comic-Con 2014: Preview Night

Here we go boys and girls, it's officially time for Comic-Con!  Got down to San Diego early and walked around town seeing crews set up Vikings, Assassin's Creed, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and more exhibits outside the convention.  Lord of the Rings' Sean Bean's face was plastered on the side of the Marriott hotel to hype new show Legends and while Boromir is probably a cool guy, it would have been cooler to see Michael Biehn's face blown up to 50 feet...Checked in for volunteer duty and then picked up badges over at the Town & Country.  Preview Night was a bit crowded at the start but an hour in the herd started to thin.  Right away I saw Rob Liefeld walking the floor, his Image compatriot Jim Lee being interviewed at the DC booth then old school badasses like Walt Simonson and Jim Steranko meeting the fans.  Of course my phone decided to crap out just as I was walking in so photos will be at a minimum until tomorrow.  You always notice certain things at Cons and tonight it was an abundance of women dressed as Nintendo's Mario and Big Trouble In Little China!  Picked up a Lo-Pan Express themed shirt as well as some issues of the new comic series by BOOM!  The Goon artist Eric Powell was selling #1 at his booth and was super cool as I grabbed a quick signature.   Lionsgate was handing out posters for Divergent, Hunger Games and of course, EXPENDABLES 3!  Stars Dolph Lundgren, Wesley Snipes, Kellan Lutz and others will be signing tomorrow at 4:00PM.  Think I'm just gonna rock my custom Dolph shirt, get to the front of the line, get a fist bump and move on. 

People are already lining up for Hall H which makes no sense as tomorrow's offerings are pretty not once in a lifetime with DreamWorks animation, The Giver, Paramount, TV Showrunners and 1966's Batman TV show on deck.  I made a $10 bet that I would be able to walk in to Hall H at 2:00PM for Paramount's showcase of what I'm sure will be Ninja Turtles then maybe this weekend's Hercules starring The Rock and maybe Interstellar and/or The Terminator reboot?  Panel wise I'm looking at a day full of randomly awesome topics like music in film and tv, pitching, science fiction in media, Dark Horse's Predator and Aliens comics, everything 90's and movie trivia!

Now time to buy a Lamborghini and call it Michelangelo!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Summer Cinema: The Purge: Anarchy

Are you much of a horror film fan?  I'm not.  Everybody always seems so dumb and going places they shouldn't be or the horror is a big cop out because it's just people scaring themselves in the dark.  So I was aware of The Purge's existence, it's one of those low budget horror movies from factory Blum House that starred Ethan Hawke and Lena Headley in a home invasion horror story set in a future where all crime is legal for 12 hours to help keep society balanced.  The scenario sounded contrite to me and these $3 million cheapies with former low watt movie stars just seemed like filler that turned a profit without actually being entertaining.  I knew a sequel was being produced and was intrigued by the casting of the up and coming Frank Grillo, an actor that's caught my attention since his small role in Mel Gibson's Edge of Darkness then full on in Warrior and The Grey as an MMA coach and roughneck oil worker asshole.  Quick bits in End of Watch and Zero Dark Thirty seemed to signify he was getting seen by the right people then a role as a villain in this years smash Captain America: The Winter Soldier seemed to possibly foretell a future of playing henchmen.

With no interest in seeing The Purge: Anarchy, I caught a blurb review about someone likening it to a John Carpenter infused action movie from the 80's.  That immediately piqued my interest because if there's one thing Hollywood needs, it's more lost John Carpenter movies.  I'm not talking remakes of Halloween, The Fog or Assault On Precinct 13 (which wasn't bad), I'm talking about Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror which plays like a lost Carpenter flick with it's mix of action, horror, humor and gruesome f/x set to a killer synth score.  That said, The Purge: Anarchy is totally a riff on Assault On Precinct 13 and They Live mixed with Van Damme's Hard Target or basically a surprisingly satisfying action movie disguised as a horror flick in the marketing materials.  Incidentally, writer/director James DeMonaco wrote the 2005 remake of Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13.  Set in a future where new government has installed the annual Purge, a 12 hour window where all crime like murder, looting and rape are legal.  It's a little far fetched a concept to get around at first as our story centers on some peeps who get stuck outside after it starts.  If you knew this was coming, wouldn't you just take a day off and fortify your house?  But once you get past that, there's unrelated characters coming together, a rebellion questioning the underlying intentions of the Purge, rich VS poor societal lines and a possible military style government conspiracy at play, all themes very familiar to Carpenter fans.

We meet our core characters a couple hours before The Purge starts: there's hard working waitress and her daughter Eva and Cali (Carmen Ejogo and Zoe Soul) then struggling couple Shane and Liz (Zac Gilford from The Last Stand and Kiele Sanchez), then you have heavily armed and despondent looking Frank Grillo driving around in his souped up crime mobile.  I'm not even sure if they say his name in the flick but I think it's Sergeant Leo.  The 3 unrelated parties all run into each other and stick together to survive while uncovering much more at play than just thugs going on a spree.  While watching the film, I couldn't help but think that Grillo would make a pitch perfect The Punisher on the new Daredevil series on Netflix or anywhere.   He's spot on here as a man on the revenge trail, armed to the teeth, muscular yet lithe with dark features and a commanding presence that gives a sense of both safety and fright.  Make no mistake, Anarchy is an action flick with only a handful of scares, one of them that made me jump in my seat.  It's mostly gunplay with a few bursts of foot chases and fisticuffs.  I thought it was kind of a missed opportunity that we see Grillo's character driving around the city in his souped up, Mad Max style battle car but there's no chase scene that destroys it.  Guess they only had the one.  It's an interesting change of pace since part one was a home invasion flick, this one is action oriented so the next could be a disaster movie with an earthquake occurring during the ritual to change things up or take on the form of any genre.

After opening up #2 this weekend with nearly $30 million in box office receipts on a $9 million dollar budget, we can be sure to see more Purge flicks in the near future.  Especially after Universal and producer Jason Blum just signed a 10-year first look deal.  Now somebody make a flick as wild, zany, quotable and downright wonderful as Big Trouble In Little China or The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Charm In Peace: James Garner

I was saddened to see that James Garner passed away on Saturday night in his Brentwood home at the age of 86 by what can only be deemed natural causes.  I had just watched The Great Escape over 4th of July weekend and was again reminded of what a cool, charismatic, funny and macho presence Garner was.  Arguably his role as smooth talking scrounger Hendley in The Great Escape is richer than star Steve McQueen's Captain Hilts, who got to add some motor cycle chase scenes to give audiences something to remember him for.  Garner was one of the last guys Hollywood had left.  What I mean is that he is one of the last of that era's leading men who could do physical, funny and dramatic without breaking a sweat.  He was a star with presence and personality not just fleeting fame.  A product of a broken family and later a veteran of the Korean War and merchant marines, Garner had that real life experience that many young actors are missing today who simply got into the craft from an early age.  He even went after both Warner Brothers and Universal in court, and won!  Of his Great Escape colleagues, director John Sturges, producer Walter Mirisch, co-stars McQueen, James Coburn, Charles Bronson, James Donald and Donald Pleasance among others have all passed away while other dynamic personalities from the period like Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin, John Wayne and Robert Mitchum have also ascended to the Hollywood party in the sky.  I figure Kirk Douglas is the last of this strong willed, independent and status quo rejecting lot so I should probably write him to tell him how much I've enjoyed his work on and off screen.

I can't recall where I first saw Garner's work but I never really got into his TV stuff where he became a star on Maverick then cemented his legacy with The Rockford Files.

The Great Escape - Bob Hendley, the smooth talking, tool stealing, document procuring scrounger who looked so dashing in his white turtleneck while trying to escape a German camp.  Word is that a rough cut showcased Garner's character to the point that Steve McQueen walked out on the production causing director John Sturges to fire the actor and rewrite the script to blend his character with Garner's.  Of course The Cooler King stayed on and The Great Escape became one of his signature roles.  McQueen and Garner would become friends, neighbors and racing competitors with McQueen often throwing empty beer cans on Garner's beautifully manicured lawn.

The Americanization of Emily - Charles Madison, a smooth talking naval officer aide with an aversion to combat falls for Julie Andrews and gets sent to fight.  Great dialog from Paddy Chayefsky and wonderful chemistry with Andrews.  James Coburn pops up as his buddy nicknamed Bus, which is just an awesome nick name.

Support Your Local Sheriff - Jason McCullough, a big, burly dude in the west who uses his wits, charm and mouth to get out of most trouble in this western comedy.  Loved the bit where he stops a big fight so he can grab his lunch and eat in peace as well as the scene he sticks his finger into a threatening bandits gun and convinces him it will backfire.  Terrific supporting cast and the sequel, Support Your Local Gunfighter is amusing but not quite as good.  I believe he earned a career high salary for one of the flicks in the $750,000 range.

Tank - Sgt. Major Zak Carey, a loving father and Army legend serving his final tour of duty at a small base in Georgia who runs afoul of the corrupt, local law enforcement.  Uses his personal tank to break his son out of jail then goes on the run.  Funny and random flick from the 80's post Garner's 2nd successful TV run with The Rockford Files' 6 year, 122 episode run which saw the star sue Universal for compensation and profits and walking away with an alleged $14 million bucks.

Maverick - Marshall Zane Cooper, the elder straight arrow lawman to Mel Gibson's hot shot gambler who is afraid of guns Bret Maverick.  It looks like Garner, Gibson and Jodie Foster are having a ball in Richard Donner's update of the television show and that makes it more fun for the audience.  Watch out for cameos from Donner alum Corey Feldman and Danny Glover as well as a nod to Lethal Weapon even though the movie takes place in the 1800's.  James Coburn pops up again opposite Garner in a nice reunion. Apparently producers wanted Paul Newman but after he passed, they came to their senses and back to the man who originated the role.

Space Cowboys - Tank Sullivan, Clint Eastwood credits Garner with paving the way for TV stars transitioning to film after suing WB to get out of his Maverick contract.  Garner anchors a cast that includes Eastwood, Donald Sutherland, James Cromwell, William Devane and Tommy Lee Jones as a former test pilot turned reverend.  The young version of Tank is played by Body Armor's Matt McColm too boot.  The scene where Jones and Garner try to keep up with NASA's young astronauts lifting weights is a great one.

I just watched a documentary that interviewed Kurt Russell, an actor who always seemed like he was having a good time and went into semi-retirement to work on a vineyard.  It reminded me of Garner who was known to consider acting a means to an end, playing roles big and small, never chasing status, just working and happened to get lucky and made it on a bigger level.  The kind of guy who just comes off as a cool dude you'd like to kick back with and shoot the shit with.

Workout of the Day: Posterior Deltoid Fire

Unfortunately my Comic-Con schedule isn't going to allow me to get in a session with Mr. Olympia and bodybuilding legend Frank Zane this year so I'm not pushing as hard at the gym this week.  Still enjoying being back in the weight room as there's plenty of equipment and exercises to be done I couldn't perform at home.  It's been generally quiet and not very crowded but it is a bit of a steeper establishment than your usual LA Fitness or 24 Hour Fitness.  I figured that would keep out some of the clown shoe antics but I guess if you can afford to train there you're probably not all that into lifting.  So I get the usual non-stop chatty Cathy's who aren't actually saying much, the guy resting his towel on equipment he's not using, his buddy grunting and dropping 40's like they're heavy and their friend who sets weights on a bench that already has a tear forming from other dipshits resting loaded bars there instead of being strong enough to pick them up off the floor or rack.

Anyways, I've been hitting a 4 Day Split Routine where I'll do Chest/Biceps, Legs, Back/Triceps, rest a day or do cardio then do Shoulders and Arms before starting over again.  More importantly I've been doing much more cardiovascular work after my sessions in the forms of rowing, biking and Versa Climbing.  Since I'm lifting before or during the work day, I tend to aim for 3 miles of cardio to keep me focused.  1600 meters on a rowing machine only takes about 7 minutes if I push it then 2 miles on a bike can be accomplished in about 7.  Throw in a few hundred feet of Versa Climbing and I've gotten my cardio done in around 15 minutes after weights.

After short fusing all week, I got in a nice Back and Triceps session that help put me in a better mood.  As always I incorporated Super Sets so an exercise for Back followed immediately by Triceps.

1)  Deadlift/Bench Dips - Using pre-set barbells to cut down on time, I'm not looking to set a power lifting record, just work my lower back, forearms and legs.  While once upon a time I could Dead 415, these days I settle for high reps of 100 pounds and up.  Bench Dips I add resistance with weight plates on my lap.  Again, back in my prime with the help of partners I stacked 180 pounds on my lap but today I'm topping out at 45 for safety's sake.
2)  Chin/EZ Bar Extension - Wide and parallel grip then the last set I pulled to each hand.  For EZ's I did them Frank Zane style so instead of just lowering the bar to my forehead like a skull crusher, I went down and behind my head to give a nice stretch and extra pump.  It's also a little easier on the elbows because we all know that Tennis Elbow suuuuucks!
3)  1-Arm Cable Kickback/Close Grip Cable Row - To help define that horseshoe, I bend at the waist and grab a cable with a palms up grip, lock my elbow to the side of my body and kickback.  Then Close Grip Cable Rows really get my forearms, biceps, rear delts and back pumped up.

Followed by some Forearms, Calves, rowing, biking, Versa Climbing and stretching, it was time to call it a day.  Later that evening and the next day my rear delts were SCREAMING from all the chins, rowing and cardio rowing.  Remember, if you're sore the next day it's a good thing.  2nd day soreness? Not so much.

Have you checked out the lateral deltoid lately?

Friday, July 18, 2014

Fox (Anniversary) Friday: Aliens

To wrap up this Friday of Fox, it's time to celebrate the release of one of my favorite movies of all time, Aliens.  Hitting theaters on this day in 1986, James Cameron's war movie sequel to Ridley Scott's 1979 atmospheric slasher flick has been a constant in my life since that fateful Saturday night I saw it on cable as a child.  Just this year I've met Lance Henriksen and read his book, been on a plane with Michael Biehn, seen Bill Paxton at his first conventions, stood outside a restroom next to Ricco Ross, witnessed the cast reunite in another country, listened to stories from James Cameron and Sigourney Weaver and seen the movie twice on the big screen.  What's so fab about it?  I dunno, I've just always enjoyed the simmering pace that builds to exciting crescendos, the intricate yet large scale and lived in design, the cast of likeable and memorable characters, an amazing score, fantastic practical creature and model f/x, the terrific cast and just the feeling of being transported to a world not your own. 

It was also the film that introduced me to James Cameron, Michael Biehn, Bill Paxton and Lance Henriksen, who's work has always been among my favorite.  Cameron of course gave us classics The Terminator, The Abyss and True Lies before becoming the most successful director of all time with Titanic and then Avatar.  He's an inspirational fellow and reminds us to educate ourselves while seeking out new challenges to take on.  Starting with sensitive yet capable men of action roles in The Terminator as Kyle Reese and Corporal Hicks in Aliens, Michael Biehn has been one of my favorite actors for a long time.  His subsequent performances in Rampage, Navy Seals, Timebomb, K2, Tombstone, The Rock, Dead Men Can't Dance, The Art of War, Cherry Falls, Dragon Squad and Planet Terror show his abilities as an intense dramatic actor and under the radar action star whose inclusion always elevates a film's likeability factor.  Frequent co-star Bill Paxton nearly steals the show in Aliens as the squawking, high-strung yet hilarious Private Hudson and adds a goofy charm to just about anything he's in like Streets of Fire, Next of Kin, Predator 2, True Lies, Twister, Vertical Limit and the recent Edge of Tomorrow.  Gravelly voiced presence Lance Henriksen would also work with Cameron several times and class up joints like Stone Cold, Tales From the Crypt, Hard Target, No Escape, The Quick and the Dead, Alien VS Predator and Abominable later on while also just being a pretty cool dude.  After seeing their natural chemistry and skills at playing interesting, cool, fun and plain kick ass characters in 3-4 James Cameron films each, you just wish they'd keep on going appearing together in more films.  Maybe in Avatar 2 or 22...

Made for $18 million, James Cameron and producer Gale Ann Hurd set out to utilize the world that Scott's film had created but move in a different direction tonally to create a war film/roller coaster ride experience.  After battling a stubborn English crew seemingly more interested in tea time and group lottery pools, Cameron and company completed the film after 10 months.  Aliens opened up #1 on July 18th, 1986 with a $10 million dollar gross and retained the top position for 4 weeks on it's way to $85 million dollars, making it Fox's biggest hit of the year.  Since then, Cameron has only made one film outside the studio, 1991's biggest hit, Terminator 2: Judgment DayAliens' performance was good enough for 7th on the years top grossers list behind the likes of Top Gun, Crocodile Dundee, Platoon, The Karate Kid II, Star Trek IV and Back to School.  Other notable titles released in the same year includes Transformers: The Movie, Highlander, Big Trouble In Little China, Heartbreak Ridge and The Golden Child.  The legacy of Aliens has lived on through 3 so-so sequels, 2 films with the creatures facing off with fellow Fox franchise Predator along with comic books, novels, video games and toys galore.

Fox Friday: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes & The Fault In Our Stars

A very randomly special Friday here at Dammaged Goods as we look at 3 seemingly sci-fi films that have little to do with one another besides being released by Fox.  First we'll check out #1 flick in America, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the follow up to 2011's quiet yet surprisingly solid reboot Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  In that installment we met ape Caesar who after being injected with a test drug for Alzheimer's begins to gain super intelligence and leads an uprising.  Taking place 10 years after, Dawn finds us in the remote woods outside San Francisco where Caesar leads a community of intelligent apes in a peaceful existence.  Some humans wander into their territory looking for a dam that is their last hope to generate power and with it, their hopes at rebuilding society after the human created but Simian named epidemic has wiped out much of society.  From there, Caesar clashes with anti-human members of his tribe while assisting the survivors lead by Jason Clarke's Malcolm.  Of course common ground is found as tensions rise and before long it's another ape invasion resulting in Caesar and Malcom needing to work together to restore order.  While the film isn't boring or not enjoyable per se, it just wasn't very engrossing either.  The story beats are very basic and familiar and while the apes f/x looked amazing, I didn't give a crap if the humans lived or died.  While I appreciate films like Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Godzilla, X-Men: Days of Future Past and now Apes trying to give audiences a little more story and emotion with their spectacle, it hasn't been wholly successful.  The best example is Cap's very familiar story that basically takes Three Days of the Condor's paranoid and violent government controlling conspiracy themes and adds a whole lot of action and technology without actually addressing or dissecting those issues and questions from 1975.  The worst example is probably Godzilla which relegated the title star to a minor role while we ran around with some very uninteresting characters for 90 minutes.

Another hit for Fox this summer was June's The Fault In Our Stars which cost $12 million yet opened up ahead of Tom Cruise's huge, $178 million sci-fi tentpole Edge of Tomorrow and to date has grossed $25 million more in America.  Worldwide though the action and visuals of Edge have given it a nice $100 million in extra ticket receipts.  Not that they are the same kind of film vying for the same audience, they just both happen to sound like science fiction films when Fault totally isn't.  While Edge was based on a Japanese Manga, Fault's source material is the 6th novel from best-selling author John Green published in 2012.  The story of teenage cancer patients Hazel and Gus, Fault explains to us early on that cancer sucks and the story being told will not be sugar coated.  However the runtime does include plenty of stock moments like the "meet-cute", the playful yet semi-fake sounding banter and a trip to Europe.  The Descendants' Shailene Woodley plays Hazel with humor and quiet grace while Ansel Elgort's Gus is goofy and open since he's survived a bout of the sickness and won't be silenced.  What's interesting is that these two play lovers here but previously acted as brother and sister in Divergent.  There's plenty of heart on display without the drama becoming too leaden or syrupy.  There were many a sniffle in the audience but I managed to keep it together.  I can only imagine that opening weekend with young fans of the book was Niagara Falls all day and night.  While it didn't hit me the chest the way that 50/50 did, Fault was a cute film dealing with serious issues and handled nimbly by director Josh Boone and screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber.  Oh and Michael Biehn totally should have played someone's dad in the film.  Speaking of the Biehn, on this day in 1986, Fox released James Cameron's sequel to Ridley Scott's Alien, Aliens.  See how this all works?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Sneak Cinema: John Wick

Keanu Reeves.  The most unlikely movie star of the 90's?  I've always liked the guy and his performances in films like Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, Point Break, Bogus Journey, Speed, The Replacements and The Gift show he's an actor capable of drama, action and comedy.  1999's The Matrix and it's subsequent sequels established him as one of the globe's most recognizable stars but I never got past the first installment and wasn't much of a fan.  Since then he's popped up in productions big and small while directing a documentary about film versus digital then again on kung-fu flick Man of Tai Chi which was given a small theatrical release along with Video On Demand.  His big budget samurai flick 47 Ronin got lost in the holiday shuffle after a tumultuous production and little critical or fan support.  A bit of a recluse and loner, Reeves doesn't seem to be chasing Hollywood leading man status and has been known to give up part of his salary to pay for co-stars and crew.

Lately, Reeves has upped his professional output having replaced Daniel Craig in court room drama The Whole Truth but before then audiences can see him in action film John Wick.  Written by Derek Kolstad of Cuba Gooding, Jr., Steve Austin and Dolph Lundgren team ups The Package and One in the Chamber and directed by stunt men and 87Eleven founders Chad Stahelski and David Leitch.  Stahleski has doubled Reeves in the past and served as Stunt Coordinator and Second Unit Director on films like The Hunger Games, Killer Elite and The Expendables while Leitch has doubled for the likes of Brad Pitt and Jean-Claude Van Damme then served as Stunt and Second Unit maestro on flicks such as The Wolverine, Escape Plan and upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Jurassic Park reboots.  He also played Terry Bogard in video game adaptation of The King of Fighters, which is cool.  87Eleven is the brainchild of experienced stunt performers looking to design and create safe yet uniquely violent, physical, on screen action.  They have a gym by the LAX airport frequented by the likes of Jason Statham, Gerard Butler and Ryan Reynolds while fight film staples and martial artists turned coordinators Larnell Stovall (Ride Along, Undisputed 3) and J.J. "Loco" Perry (Vanishing Son, Warrior) are among the staff.

John Wick is the story of a legendary but retired hitman who is brought back to the violent trade when some Russian gangsters mess with him.  Contracts are put on his life and Wick must fend off former friends and foes while tracking down the son of a local mob boss who did him wrong in violent, modern day The Punisher and Taken style.  With an impressive supporting cast that includes Adrianne Palicki (G.I. Joe 2), Alfie Allen (Game of Thrones) and Willem Dafoe (To Live and Die in L.A.) with appearances by Bridget Moynahan (Tom Sellack's Blue Bloods), Ian McShane (Death Race), Kevin Nash (The Punisher), Daniel Bernhardt (Bloodsport 2), John Leguizamo (Executive Decision) and David Patrick Kelly (The Warriors), John Wick might not rewrite the book on action films but looks to provide a moody, stylized, tactical rough and tumble affair that should console any action fan disappointed by the fact that The Expendables III is PG-13.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Gotta (Not) Eat!: Doritos Loaded & Web Roundup

It started with seeing a random Facebook sponsored post announcing that Doritos Loaded would be available at a 7-11 in Hollywood for a 4 hour window one Saturday.  A week later, the 7-11 next door had posters plastered across the front windows proclaiming they were in stock.  Even the shelves were full of empty cases just waiting to be filled with hot, cheesy, Dorito shell goodness.  After all Taco Bell sold more than 1 BILLION Dorito Locos Tacos in 2012 alone and hired an additional 15,000 employees to keep up.  I found the Nacho Cheese version a little strong as you just felt like you were eating spices and chemicals.  The Cool Ranch variety introduced later was a little easier on the palate.  Would deep fried cheese surrounded by the same zesty, crunchy shell give 7-11 yet another staple on top of the Slurpee?  If my batch is any indication then the answer is a resounding NO.  Basically they're not crunchy and that same spice/salt/chemical overload from the Taco shell mixed with salty cheese just made this a very not exciting eating experience.  If you've ever had deep fried macaroni and cheese, Loaded Doritos has nothing on those little wedges of crispy, soft, cheesy goodness.

Speaking of Taco Bell, did you hear about F-18 Charlie Sheen being drunk in the drive through line and talking to people behind him?  Check out the great clip here.  Charlie Sheen is the best.  Some people talk shit about him but give the guy a break, you paid him millions to act like an exaggerated version of himself then acted shocked when he became that hilarious, truth speaking, over the top characterTwo and a Half Men was such a funny show when he was on board.  Now with Ashton Kutcher you realize how lame and potentially offensive it can come across without the proper delivery or truthfulness of the performance.  Between Red Dawn, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Platoon, Wall Street, Young Guns, Eight Men Out, Major League, NAVY SEALS, Men at Work, The Rookie and his turn as a machine gun toting, ass kicking president in Machete 2, Sheen will always be #winning here at Dammaged Goods.

And speaking of Not Eating, a list of foods Nutritionists won't eat caught my attention and included usual suspects like processed meat and cheese (preservatives), non-dairy creamer (nutritionally bankrupt), diet soda (increases sugar cravings), cereal and fat-free dairy (added sugar), bacon (high fat and salt content) and hot dogs (processed, high preservatives).  To that I kind of just say "fuck that", I ate a leftover Whopper from Burger King for breakfast the day after the doctor told me my physical and bloodwork stated I was in excellent health.  After years of fast food consumption I figured I would have high cholesterol, triglycerides or something something like the media is always screaming about.  Remember when Avocados were bad for you?  Now they're super food?  Or that time saturated fat and butter were the enemy but now people add a dollop of the rich stuff to coffee to make it "bulletproof"?  So what bad news did the doc hit me with?  None!  That's the power of eating relatively clean much of the time, training regularly and indulging a couple times a week.   Think about it, if you're working out and eating say 4-5 meals a day, that's 28-35 meals a week so if a few of them aren't so good for you, who cares?  As long as you're not eating fast food or take out at EVERY meal I think you'll be fine.  Most of the time I take buns off my sandwiches or add spinach to burgers to give it a little extra dose of nutrition and also to make myself feel better mentally.  Just as eating poorly is easy, eating healthy can be difficult but just takes some planning and getting used to.  I'd also love to see how many of these nutritionists are in any kind of shape because if there's one thing I hate is someone out of shape talking about being in shape.  That's called being a poseur.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Van Dammage: Padre Expendables

"What Mr. Stallone is trying to feeding every character.  He has to feed them like a big family.  They have lots of names here so you have to feed them on an equal way.  It's like the padre of a family of a table of movie stars.  He's got to feed them equally and they're all gonna shine somewhere."
     Jean-Claude Van Damme on the epic cast of The Expendables 2

We're just about a month away from the release of The Expendables 3, the latest reunion of cinematic tough guys from a bygone era yet somehow still punching and kicking, the 80's and 90's.  While both The Expendables and it's sequel suffered from uneven tone, near self referential overkill and not utilizing the huge casts to their full potential, they still managed to entertain and give us action movie lovers a big screen blast from the past starring many of our favorite heroes.  In EX you had Mr. Sylvester Stallone teaming up with younger turks Jason Statham and Jet Li while recruiting 80's staples Dolph Lundgren and Eric Roberts in supporting roles.  While then hot again Mickey Rourke was brought in for 2 days on a break from Iron Man 2 as a favor to Sly who cast him in Get Carter when decent parts were few and far between for the once promising young actor.  Former WWF/E superstar Steve Austin and Direct to Video martial arts master Gary Daniels added some villainous muscle as Robert's henchmen.  Then former pro athletes turned actors Randy Couture and Terry Crews filled out the rest of the Expendables team.  Stallone's longtime friends and business partners Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis turned up for a quick cameo that was filmed over a few early hours on a Saturday morning while The Oak was serving as California's governor.  Being sold as a cast of action legends was a bit of a stretch as out of the 9 actors plastered on the poster, only 3 had substantial roles and could headline a theatrical film at the time.  Originally, writer, producer and director Stallone envisioned the likes of Jean-Claude Van Damme, Ben Kingsley, Forest Whitaker and Kurt Russell to be involved only to be turned down by an in the trenches of a still unreleased film Van Damme and a semi-retired Russell who wasn't interested in ensemble casts.  No word if Kingsley and Whitaker were ever approached or just used to hype the film to foreign distributors.

Up against the Comic-Con crowds Scott Pilgrim VS the World and the mature, Oprah book club Julia Roberts starring Eat Pray Love, the ragtag Expendables somehow defied the odds and opened up # 1 in August of 2010, earning near $35 million on it's way to a $103 million domestic take and nearly $275 million worldwide.  That would be good enough to put it above studio men-on-a-mission fare like The A-Team and The Losers, give Stallone his third franchise and everyone involved a shot in the arm.  Having suffered a multitude of injuries on the first film including a hairline fracture broken neck, Stallone relinquished directing duties to Con Air helmer Simon West to focus on the script and characters.  Rumors of a sequel quickly swirled and names like Donnie Yen, Jean-Claude Van Damme again, Michaels Biehn and Pare, Ryan Seacrest, Vin Diesel, Steven Seagal and Sandra Bullock were sought, denied and plain never approached.  Looking to break into China's burgeoning box office and production benefits, producers approached legendary screen fighter Yen who turned a role down that was eventually rewritten for actress Nan Yu.  JCVD, thought by many to be an idiot for turning down the first, was shown to be his usual under the radar intelligent self as he was now in a position to take a major role as the villain instead of one of the backseat Expendables.  Plus, he got the odd yet awesome ALSO credit versus With or And.  Stallone mentioned Biehn and Pare as actors who had been through the mill and deserved another shot to which Biehn quickly stated he didn't need Stallone to save his career.  Seagal's tense relationship with producer Avi Lerner is the rumored culprit to why the 90's star wouldn't sign on but audiences did get to see him mix it up with Danny Trejo in Robert Rodriguez's ridiculous grindhouse flick Machete.  Sandra Bullock was a pipe dream stemming back to 1993's Demolition Man which I'm sure never made it further than Sly mentioning it in an interview.  And what about Ryan Seacrest?  Apparently he works out with the same trainer as Stallone and has an impressive physique for a TV host so rumors of him playing a shady federal agent ran rampant but never materialized.

With Jean-Claude Van Damme as the villain Vilain, high kicking DTV star Scott Adkins as his 2nd in command, new recruit young guy from The Hunger Games Liam Hemsworth, Arnold and Willis in expanded roles and karate champion turned movie star turned TV icon turned internet sensation Chuck Norris locked in for a small role, 2012's The Expendables 2 looked to capitalize on the popularity of the first while expanding it's reach for 80's and 90's action stars.  The results are a jokier affair with Chuck Norris reciting a Chuck Norris joke and Van Damme turning in a solid if smaller than expected performance culminating in a physical, mano a mano throwdown with Stallone that left many fans disappointed.  The hype train was running at full speed with premieres around the globe, a panel at Comic-Con and the cast on every interview show imaginable but the film opened lower than part I with $29 million on it's way to an $85 million U.S. gross.  Worldwide tickets made up the difference and the flick brought in $300 million to best the original.  With a mid-August release, I think part of The Expendables' firepower was dampened by action films Total Recall and The Bourne Legacy hitting theaters in the weeks prior.

With over $500 million in worldwide receipts from theaters alone, a third Expendables adventure was sure and quick to happen.  2 years after the 2nd installment comes The Expendables III, touted as the possible "last ride" of the franchise but I'm sure that's more of a marketing thing to signal the end of summer because if this baby hits, there will be a 4th!  I figured Gerard Butler would be a solid addition to the cast as the Scot has action flicks and hits like 300, Gamer and Olympus Has Fallen to his credit along with a working relationship with Expendables production company Millennium Films but his name never came up.  Instead we heard rumblings of Jackie Chan, Nicolas Cage, Milla Jovovich and Wesley Snipes being on the shortlist of additions.  Jackie Chan bowed out as he didn't want to be in such a large cast and thought it should be a buddy picture with Stallone.  Nic Cage was never formally offered a role according to the man himself and for whatever reason, Jovovich didn't sign up either.  She was probably gearing up to shoot another Resident Evil movie.  Fresh out of prison Wesley Snipes boarded the Demolition Man reunion quickly though and Stallone teased fans that Mel Gibson was being considered to direct.  While the Mad Titan passed on directing reins, he did sign on to play main villain Conrad Stonebanks.  From there, UFC women's champ Ronda Rousey and Millennium's Hercules Kellan Lutz were brought in as young blood while Stallone pals Antonio Banderas and Kelsey Grammer showed up as additional members of the team.  Like part II, I fear III will suffer from 12 heroes and 2 villains syndrome but we shall see.  The biggest casting shock was that Stallone friend and part I&II co-star Bruce Willis would not be returning following a pay dispute.  Basically, Willis was offered $3 million bucks for 4 days work but wanted $4 million for 4 days.  Sly and the producers balked and within 72 hours had secured fellow 90's leading man Harrison Ford to join the party.  By my estimation the only 90's guys we're missing now are Seagal, Kurt Russell and Kevin Costner.  Of those three, I see Costner being the most realistic casting addition for a proposed part IV.

Originally touted as a throwback to old school action films, The Expendables I&II were both rated R for violence and language however CGI bullet hits and blood lack the visceral impact of squibs and real fake blood dripping from wounds a la the 80's.  Language wise I can't think of any totally obscene conversations that would warrant the rating or rival any of the pussy jokes from 1987's Predator.  Now, with the franchise on the line and a studio looking to keep it alive, The Expendables III has been rated PG-13.  Stallone claims it's to give all fans a chance to see the film but that comes off as a cop out to many fans since it was sold on the backs of the hundreds of shot, stabbed, blown up and mutilated bodies of the cast's filmographies.  Plus, the kids seeing Marvel or Fast & Furious movies probably aren't the same ones who would go see this.  However, things change and what is a PG-13 now is not what it was in the 80's.  After seeing arterial spray, inside out bodies, faces being eaten and the like on basic cable's Hannibal on a weekly basis, me thinks some not very bloody gunshot wounds, explosions and conversations not involving the f-word or sex won't affect The Expendables III so much that it won't be a fun time at the movies.  The PG-13 gambit paid off for Live Free Or Die Hard which grossed $383 million worldwide after 3 hard R entries.  The R-rated follow up A Good Day To Die Hard would gross $80 million less, losing most of it's ground in the U.S. where it wasn't overly loved by viewers so word of mouth might have had more to do with its performance than rating.

Now to prep for The Expendables I think I'll start with the Rambo films and move into Arnold's Commando and Predator then maybe a Lethal Weapon or four seguing into some Air Force One followed by Demolition Man with a trip to Van Damme's "very interesting" Expendables II...

Monday, July 14, 2014

(Pre) Con-Man: San Diego Comic-Con

San Diego Comic-Con is just around the corner and event/panel announcements are dropping left and right.  I'll be arriving Wednesday for Preview Night where early screenings of the new Flash and Constantine shows will be debuted but they run during exhibition hall hours so forget that!  Offsite you can check out a screening of Warner Brothers' new age take on Bill Paxton's Twister, Into the Storm in the Gaslamp District as well as see displays and props from Godzilla to hype up the home video release.  In a strange bit of scheduling, Image Expo, the industry conference where the independent publishing powerhouse trots out special guests for announcements, will be held next door at the Hilton Bayfront.  Maybe not that strange since throngs of creators will already be in town and they can draft from the abundant media and crowd.

Panel wise there's over 1,000 to choose from over 4 days highlighting just about everything creative arts where you can work on your illustrating, painting, pitching, publishing, writing, self-promotion and legal skills.  Writers and artists from all eras will get their light as I noticed Bill Finger, Neal Adams, John Romita, Jr, Mark Waid, Len Wein, Jim Steranko and many, many more will be topics of discussion.  For the kid in us you'll get updates from video game giant Capcom, the annual Street Fighter panel and an hour celebrating the 90's.  Anniversary wise Batman keeps on celebrating his 75th while Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles rings in 30 years with several panels focused on the comic books, cartoons, toys and movies complete with Ernie Reyes, Jr. appearance!  Stan Sakai's Usagi Yojimbo also celebrates 30 awesome trips around the sun with an anniversary panel while Disney's Gargoyles cartoon turns 20 as well.

Randomly, Hollywood directors David Fincher and Quentin Tarantino will be hitting San Diego to discuss the legacy of Fight Club from novel to movie and the new Django Unchained comic book which has the hero meeting Zorro?!  Stop-motion animation innovator Phil Tippet will be on deck to discuss his career and future work as well.  Speaking of Hollywood, this year's Hall H line up is surprisingly sparse.  So far there are no confirmed sneaks at new Terminator, Stars Wars or Jurassic Park chapters but fans will get a look at The Hobbit, Marvel's upcoming slate and I'm sure new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles flick.  Sadly, Lionsgate is nowhere to be found which is surprisingly as the new Hunger Games flick hits in November but really I'm talking about no Expendables 3 panel!  Lionsgate has had a pretty heavy presence at Con for the last few years where in 2010 The Expendables took out Con king Scott Pilgrim at the box office.  Their floor booth is always crazy with tons of giveaway posters and pins.  But given recent misfires like Red 2, Escape Plan, Dredd and Ender's Game, maybe they're spending their money elsewhere.  IGN has bestowed an action icon award for the first two films and thrown a huge party but maybe since being bought the new owners don't want to spend the dough?  Who knows.

Could this lack of studio presence signal the start of Comic-Con's "downfall"?  By that I mean that the hype train could be over as heat from Comic-Con doesn't always equal real world success.  Just look at Superman Returns and The Green Lantern; 6,000 screaming fans equaled tepid box office.  Then you had Avatar which received a cool reception from Con goers in 2009 but became the biggest earner in history so who knows.  Personally, it would be nice to not have to deal with ALL the Hollywood BS of casual fans and parties taking up space and you'd probably have less people crying about not being able to get tickets.  Don't get me wrong, seeing Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson bring a fan to the stage and take photos with him for his birthday was amazing and a true Comic-Con moment but having to get in line at 5:00AM or camping out or sitting in the Hall all day to see one panel is just getting ridiculous as there's so much more to see outside.

See you in San Diego!