Saturday, August 30, 2014

Workout of the Day: Back to (Circuit) Basics

It's been just under 2 months since I rejoined a gym and I'm starting to see the results.  At first I was going my old school routine of 2 body parts a day, Super Set style with a split looking like Chest/Biceps, Legs, Back/Triceps and Shoulders/Arms, repeat.  But of course you start to get bored, life picks up, blah blah blah.  I incorporated some Vince Gironda style volume training last week but it was just a lot on my joints.  Needing to be reinvigorated, I found new-old inspiration from one Mirko Cro Cop.  The Croatian Sensation just won his latest MMA match via a doctor stoppage after an elbow from the bottom opened up Judo specialist and Olympic gold medalist Satoshi Ishii's hairline scalp like a faucet of blood.  His preparation videos show him doing a circuit of general compound moves like kettle bell swings, chin ups, push ups, dips and the like.  Of course circuit training has always been one of my favorite ways to train as you can pump up your entire body in quick succession and the fast pace helps burn extra calories.  Over the last 18 years of training and gleaning over the methods of various bodybuilders, athletes and actors, I always come back to the basic principles set forth by Jean-Claude Van Damme and Frank Zane then more recently Daniel Craig and Mirko Cro Cop.  Basically, it's a mix of fast paced, concentrated efforts with opposing muscle groups with a focus on form rather than weight utilizing basic exercises that activate multiple muscle groups versus isolation or too many cable movements.

For today's circuit, I was after an upper body pump:

1) Clean and Press, to get the whole body involved and the testosterone flowing
2) Incline Push Up, changing hand position with each set
3) Close Grip Chins, to work the forearms and biceps more than the lats
4) Low Incline Dumbbell Curl, to take the front delts out of the movement
5) Dumbbell Hammer Extensions, still on the low incline with elbows near my head to keep pressure off the joints
6) Gironda Cable Rows, with arms outstretched and head down starting position, pulling back and up to the chest to work a different angle
7) Dips, elbows in tight with a nice stretch for the pecs and triceps
8) Preacher Curls, elbows in tight on the bench, lowering all the way down and flexing at the top
9) Cable Pressdown, elbows in tight, standing close to the pulley to ensure it was only triceps

3 sets of that and it was time for some back extensions, neck and forearms followed by a few miles on the bike done in intervals to keep my heart rate up and also to keep my attention since cardio is frigging boring.  Then I wandered into a studio and hit the bag for a few minutes followed by stretching and breathing exercises to get my mind and body to slow down.  Feeling great after a busy week and only a couple of workouts, I'm looking forward to Legs tomorrow.

Getting that summer pump:

Gotta Drank (and Eat)! Hattie's Hat

On a quick 25 hour trip to Seattle, Washington for work, I managed to meet up with a former college colleague who took us to Ballard for dinner and dranks.  I've traveled to Seattle a half dozen times and always enjoy the mix of abundant nature, small town charm and big city activity.  You've got several neighborhoods outside of the busy downtown and Pike district (you know, where they throw fish at people), each with their own main strips and former downtowns.  Incorporated in 1890, Ballard still displays some great architecture and Hattie's on the Avenue is situated next to brick, low story hotels, an athletic club and plenty of character rich restaurants and bars.  On this Sunday, a Farmer's Market had streets closed off but we had no issue getting into Hattie's.  Like a dive bar restaurant in the sense you can tell it's been there for a while, Hattie's does comfort food like sandwiches, Chicken Fried Chicken (delicious) and ribs (tender with a bit of spice) as well as beers and cocktails.  Turns out the joint is a bit of a haven for live music as well as an artist was lined up for that evening.  I opted for the Bill Murray, a bourbon drank with Courvoisier, Amaretto and Orange Bitters.  It packed a bit of a punch and not in the fun way so not sure I'd select it again. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Summer Cinema: The Magnificent Seven

Living in Los Angeles for nearly 10 years I've been fortunate enough to see some of my favorite films on the big screen that I missed the first time around or wasn't born for yet.  Repertory screenings of The Terminator, Aliens, Big Trouble In Little China, Bloodsport and Masters of the Universe had my 80's awesomely quirky science fiction tinged action quotient covered while my next favorite era, the macho 50's/60's has been sated with fare like Spartacus, The Crimson Pirate and The Great Escape.  I was very, very sad to have missed a screening of 1957's Gunfight at the O.K. Corral complete with Kirk Douglas introduction as I was attending an out of town wedding.  Gunfight director John Sturges is one of my all time favorites and westerns one of my most watched genres.  Behind The Great Escape, Sturges' The Magnificent Seven has long been a flick dear to my heart but I'd never seen it or even heard of it being on the big screen around Los Angeles.  The Great Escape has played several times over the years and with the newly produced 4K digital print, I'm sure it will be playing with even more frequency.

I kind of figured after the passing of the late, great, Eli Wallach, that someone with any kind of knowhow would put The Magnificent Seven on a tribute to the legendary performer of stage and screen.  The American Cinematheque came through as The Magnificent Seven would show as a rare single feature at their Aero Theatre in Santa Monica.  It was an interesting crowd as there were older folks who probably grew up with the cast, people my age who I'm guessing discovered the flick on pre-commercial AMC or in film school then a surprising number of youngsters who I have no clue would discover the purported 2nd most played movie on television in history.  The print was a little rough in spots but overall the 54 year old film looked and sounded marvelous.  The Magnificent Seven starts with the amusing yet dangerous thief Calvera (Wallach) riding into a small Mexican town ahead of 40 bandits.  They take what they want and leave just enough for the villagers to survive and produce more for later taking.  Tired of suffering, three villagers set off to buy guns and fight back.  Arriving at a border town, the trio come across Chris (Yul Brynner) and Vin (Steve McQueen), gunfighters looking for work who reluctantly sign on to "shoo some flies" away from the village.  They're soon joined by the broad chested and smiling schemer Harry Luck (Brad Dexter), broke gun for hire Bernardo O'Reilly (Charles Bronson), quiet yet deadly Britt (James Coburn), debonair and mysterious Lee (Robert Vaughn) and overzealous wannabe mercenary Chico (Horst Buchholz).  Together they prepare the town for Calvera's return while pondering the lifestyle they've lead that has robbed them of the seemingly normal life of having a family or real friends.

Watching the film on the big screen, I noticed how multi-faceted the characters were in what seems to be a straight ahead action shoot'em up.  Wallach's Calvera is like a father trying to feed his family, sympathetic and systematic to a degree before his survivalist cutthroat nature emerges.  I also noticed how big the opening set is as it's a fully built town complete with a hill full of buildings, bar and cemetery.  With a simple story and 2 hour run time, after dozens of viewings I realized how character driven the film is and that everyone gets their time to shine.  Headed by Oscar winning Yul Brynner, his bombastic voice, odd accent, strong presence and walk make him a natural leader with panache and humanity dressed in all black.  It's also funnier than I remember as Steven McQueen gets to play weirdcool yet tough before there was weirdcool with his pink shirt, poor gambling skills, sensitive musings and random lines like "gently, boy, gently..." and jokes about people falling off buildings or jumping into cacti.  Brad Dexter gets some laughs as the cynical yet gregarious Harry Luck who has a twinkle in his eye looking for a payday.  He might be a scoundrel but he's not a good for nothing type.  Fresh faced Horst Buccholz gets a lot of attention and makes a good impression as the young gun but he's just not quite as cool as others in the cast who went on to have terrific leading men careers.  I applauded at the introduction of Charles Bronson's O'Reilly because he's just so macho and cool as the broke gunfighter with a soft spot for the kids.  His part arguably has the greatest arc and the most touching death.  Spoiler?  You've only had 54 years to see it!  Then there's James Coburn as Britt who is just the cool silent badass that throws knives faster than men can shoot and is really, really lanky.  Lastly, hot off an Academy Award nomination, Robert Vaughn shows up in some very nice haberdashery as the seemingly slick, hardcore killer desperately hiding his crumbling confidence and soul.

Surprisingly, there's only a handful of action scenes throughout, you're kind of tricked into thinking there's more as the film opens with a gunfight, there's some small bits of excitement to introduce the characters, a big party scene and of course a couple of confrontations between the 7 and Calvera's men.  Elmer Bernstein's score really elevates the whole thing, punctuating scenes both exciting and calm in nature as well as providing one of the most memorable movie scores of all time that people were whistling on their way out.  The emotional backbone of the film isn't heavy handed at all with the grizzled characters who have seen it all muse on what might have been if they weren't gunfighters.  Unlike The Expendables series where nobody dies, 4 of our 7 stars don't make it, adding weight to the whole thing.  Now to watch those 3 sequels...

Dolph Lundgren Friday: Podcast

For any of you beautiful people who attended Dolph night, many thanks.  For any of you who were unable to attend, the full post Universal Soldier Q&A is now up in podcast form via Nerdist and Humans From Earth.  Be sure to listen to the end or fast forward and hear my shout out, heh heh.  Before the film, I welcomed the audience to Dammaged Goods' 2nd full on live event, did trivia and prizes that included a 1992 promotional button, a signed VHS and custom tee shirts.  Then, Dolph and his manager/Unisol producer Craig Baumgarten joined me on stage for a few minutes to talk the origins of the project and working with Jean-Claude Van Damme. 

Check out the blurry video!

Hard at work on the next live event and it's shaping up nicely.  Fans of 80's and 90's action will not be disappointed as the potential films and star will be very familiar to any Van Damme, Arnold, Stallone and Dolph aficionado.  See you then!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Van Dammage: Black Black

(roughly translated by a co-worker) 
"Sleepy? Refreshed! Black Black!"
     Jean-Claude Van Damme

Strolling around a Japanese market in Los Angeles today, I came across the usual snacks like Koala Yummies or whatever they're called now, those fruit flavored gum balls that come in packs of 4 in little boxes and of course, the chocolate covered biscuit stick known as Pocky.  Something else familiar yet totally unknown to me caught my eye, a variety of Black Black products.  Originally a gum found in Japan since 1983, Black Black is caffeinated and contains gingko, chrysanthemum flower extract and B vitamins to give you a kick in the mouth and noggin.  Why the heck would I be aware of a product only sold and advertised for in Japan?  Why, like all other things in life, Jean-Claude Van Damme of course!  In the early 90's, JCVD, like many famous in America movie icons, starred in a slew of commercials for the Japanese market.  Contemporaries Arnold Schwarzenegger hocked lunch noodles, Bruce Willis sold Subaru's and Sylvester Stallone displayed the classy side of Ham.  The likes of Mel Gibson, Sean Connery, Brad Pitt and George Clooney have all collected millions while advertising scotch, jeans, watches and more.

Just a week ago, Van Damme's UK only campaign for Coors Light returned with a hilarious, 80's style workout montage complete with uplifting synth score that finds The Muscles From Brussels building an ice castle to try and recapture the ice cold refreshment of The Silver Bullet.  In recent years, Van Damme's garnered more attention for commercials than he has for film roles.  What's not to love?  I'm sure a few days work nets him a hefty paycheck without having to travel for months on a shoot, nobody is asking him to do a press circuit after and there's a guaranteed audience.  Going back to the 90's when Van Damme was at the peak of his box office prowess, overseas commercials saw him karate kicking for energy drinks, joking around for caffeinated gum, smoldering for Versace and charming on behalf of chocolate.  In the 2000's JCVD was kicking fruit for Virgin Mobile, discussing his fondness for Mages in World of Warcraft and doing the splits on top of foam mattresses.  In 2010, Van Damme was recruited by Australia's DVD Amnesty program that offered $5 cash back for unwanted DVD's in a bid to clean up the country's epidemic of stockpiled movies in a series of entertaining spots that showcased a fake serious Jean-Claude getting amped to rid the country of their old movie collections.  A 2011 Gillette spot captures a faux irritated Van Damme recorded without his permission which ends poorly for the cameraman while DASH detergent showed off his funny side and comedic timing while dealing with a touchy feely fan. 

It was only last year that Van Damme experienced a resurgence thanks to his Epic Split between two moving Volvo trucks set to Enya in a spot that has won awards and racked up 75 million views.  Shortly before that it was a series of weirdfunny ads for GoDaddy that featured an out of nowhere Van Damme helping small business owners via playing the bongos, slicing flowers with a samurai sword and spiking his eyebrows.  While Van Damme worked hard to build up his brand and persona, he unfortunately was never able to shed his 90's image of the muscle bound Frenchman showing his butt, kicking people in the face and performing the splits whenever deemed necessary; even if he has matured into the greatest actor from the action star era of the good ol' 80's and 90's.  Without a signature role or franchise a la Arnold's Terminator and Conan, Stallone's Rocky or Rambo or Willis' Die Hard, viewers remember the moves if not the movies when it comes to the world's most famous living Belgian. 

Now at nearly 54 years old, Van Damme's brand of muscular karate grace combined with a self deprecating sense of humor and knowledge of self, along with the ability to still do the splits, is again serving him well as the Volvo ads come off surprisingly thoughtful while GoDaddy is plain goofy and a bit odd.  Like the mid 90's when Van Damme tried to split his onscreen persona in two, giving fans martial arts fest The Quest while trying to move further into the mainstream with guns over kicks action thriller Sudden Death, Jean-Claude Van Damme continues to subtly remind the public why they knew who was in the first place while letting them know he's grown up.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Workout of the Day: Vince Gironda

One classic bodybuilder I always admired but never really knew much about is Vince Gironda, the Iron Guru and owner/operator of Vince's Gym in North Hollywood.  A fitness competitor and professional back in the 1950's, Gironda employed various unorthodox exercises such as bench press to the neck, the drag curl, V-Bar dip and a huge dislike for squats.  Gironda also preached the importance of nutrition, claiming that training was 85% eating and suggested consuming up to 3 dozen fertile hen eggs a day, raw cream or milk and liver tablets on a high protein, low carb diet.  Mr. Olympia Larry Scott was a disciple and fellow bodybuilding luminaries like Frank Zane, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno put in time at Vince's Gym.  Movie stars Clint Eastwood, Carl Weathers, James Garner and Denzel Washington all trained at his famed gym before its doors were closed in 1995.  Gironda would pass away 2 years later.

Gironda believed in high volume training but did exercises in straight sets and employed an 8x8 set and rep scheme with lighter weight and little rest time.  After reading up on Gironda's method, I employed some of them this past week in an upper body routine.  I couldn't quite get to 8 straight sets my first time out but hit 6 with many of the following:

1) Incline Dumbell Bench - This gave me a nice pump but also made my shoulder sore
2) Drag Curl - 6 sets with a 45 lb barbell had my arms screaming
3) Tricep Extension - On a machine and my horseshoe started to spasm
4) Cable Row - Done leaning far forward and head down to start then pulling back and up had my lats cramping up
5) Wide Dips - Elbows wide to work chest versus tight for triceps, again a little hard on my shoulders
6) Lateral Shoulder Raises - Bent forward a bit to take the trapezius out with pinkies up like pouring a pitcher of water
7) Reverse Preacher Curl - Elbows in tight with hands wide
8) Seated Calf - Gironda believed in higher reps for calves so I pumped out 15-20

It was an interesting experiment but I don't think my shoulders would be able to take all of the straight sets.  Super Sets that work opposing muscle groups let the delicate joints and hinges rest between exertion which just seems to suit me better.  But I'll definitely keep reading up on Gironda's method and will have to look up some liver tablets...

Paneled Goods: Big Trouble In Little China

By now I'm sure you're aware that John Carpenter and Kurt Russell's 4th cinematic collaboration Big Trouble In Little China from 1986 is one of my favorite movies.  Of all time.  A flop upon release, the film has built up an epic cult following and this year alone has seen multiple screenings around Los Angeles, a UK special edition Blu-Ray, tee shirts and comic books.  At San Diego Comic Con, I picked up the first 2 issues of BOOM!'s new series as well as a their SDCC exclusive which I thought was a 90's style issue # 0 but it was just the first issue with a different cover...

Picking up directly after the events of the film, Big Trouble In Little China is the continuing adventures of Jack Burton and the Pork Chop Express.  Written by The Goon's Eric Powell with an assist from director John Carpenter and pencils by Brian Churilla, BTILC is an amusing read but not quite enough to get me back into monthly reading.  # 1 starts right after the end of the movie which saw big mouthed, not very swashbuckling Jack Burton drive off into the dark, rainy night with a mysterious monstrous creature on the back of his truck after defeating the thousands year old wizard Lo Pan with help from Chinatown residents Wang Chi, an ass kicking, high flying, truck driving restaurant owner and Egg Shen, a tour bus driver and sorcerer.  In The Hell of the Midnight Road & The Ghosts of Storms has Jack becoming the creatures ipso facto guardian since he killed former master Lo Pan with a knife to the forehead.  Dubbing him Pete, Jack returns to Chinatown in time for Wang's wedding in a bid to try and get rid of the creature.  Unfortunately, the vengeful, high kicking Wing Kong burst in and then Qiang Wu , a warrior disciple of Lo Pan shows up.  Wang attempts to do what he does best, which is kick ass with flying kicks, but gets snatched in mid air by Qiang Wu.  Qiang is ready to kill Wang unless Jack travels the Black Road in the Hell of the Seven Faced Widow to retrieve the jars that contain the spirits of the three storms, Thunder, Rain and Lightening.

Of course, never afraid of a challenge and full of John Wayne style bravado, Jack accepts and hits the road along with Egg Shen.  With Six Demon Bag in hand, Egg leads Jack to the Midnight Lands via a door opened from a brick wall via chalk outline, adding to the mystical quality of the book.  Along the way, we learn more about Jack's past and run ins with unusual lovers and adversaries like a vampire ex-wife and a father in law who heads a cult to resurrect a Babylonian demi-god.  There's lots of banter throughout with plenty of Jack talking to himself and classic lines "Like I always say" or "When some wild eyed..." so the tone and spirit of the film is well at hand.  Adding some pretty funny and out there backstories also gives the comic a nice zaniness similar to the film that stopped to explained nothing.  Artist Churilla gives Burton a nice Kurt Russell-esque quality complete with strong chin, pseudo mullet and the tank top/jeans/tall leather boots outfit with pencils and gives Victor Wong's Egg Shen the appropriate goofy, wise and weird appearance.  Eric Powell seems to have a pretty solid grasp on the world and tone of the story but not a ton happens in the second issue.  While Carpenter is a big name, the original film script was written by W.D. Ricther then Gary Goldman so I wonder if they were consulted.

I thought it was a little weird that Jack wouldn't be at Wang's wedding but there's a line thrown in about Jack being on the run from the cops which harkens back to the opening of the film when an attorney asks if Egg knows his whereabouts.  Then at the wedding there's no sign of Gracie Law, Uncle Chu, Eddie, Margo or anything of the Cheng Sings.  Where's James Lew?!  While a fun read, colorful and a nice continuation of the movie, at $4 bucks a pop I don't foresee myself keeping up regularly.  Hopefully a couple of cons from now I can pick up a nice collected edition.

Until then, keep on shaking the pillars of Heaven.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Summer Cinema: The Expendables 3

After the false fire alarm, a 30 minute delay and the theater's inability to start the 3rd film, my friends and I motored over to The Arclight in Hollywood to catch The Expendables 3.  On the way, two motorists got into some kind of road rage beef and were racing/cutting each other off.  Right next to me.  At one point, I passed one of the cars as they got caught behind a dump truck and hoped they wouldn't try to cut me off because then it would be bad news for both of them as giving the finger and brake checking is for bitches and bitches get stitches, you know?! Cause if we're gonna get into it, let's get into it!  Know what I mean?  Anyway, the theater was about half full for the 8:30PM show and I'm glad we saw it with an audience as having a theater entirely to yourself is cool, but it's also cool to see something with enthusiastic fans.

The Expendables 3 starts off with a rescue mission involving a helicopter, machine guns, an armored train, Wesley Snipes with crazy eyes and like parts I and II, some bad CGI.  Turns out that Snipes' character Doc was an original Expendable along with the faceless Hammer and Woodsman, that the team started with 5 and grew to 22 before Doc was captured after attempting a political assassination.  Now, free and teamed up with Barney Ross, Lee Christmas, Gunnar Jensen, Toll Road and Hale Caeser (Played by franchise staples Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture and Terry Crews) they're off to stop an arms dealer from purchasing some big ass bombs.  Said arms dealer is revealed to be Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), also a former Expendable who went dark and thought killed by Ross.  After Stonebanks shoots one of the team to torment Ross, Barney thinks it's time for the team to go on with their lives before someone punches their ticket.  With the help of crusty mercenary recruiter Bonaparte (Kelsey Grammer), he then slaps together a new, young and hungry team for a suicide mission to capture Stonebanks for the C.I.A. but instead of Bruce Willis' Church from I & II we're introduced to Max Drummer (Harrison Ford).  Things go bad on the operation and of course, the old Expendables bail out their buddy Barney and take on Mad Mel's army.

From the opening minutes, Expendables 3 looks brighter and sleeker than the first two installments.  Unlike 2, the picture is crisp and shiny, giving it a modern feel and in general the costumes, visual design, sets, locations and shooting style make for a slick and mostly handsome production.  Of course there's some bad CGI as usual with helicopters, planes and explosions looking REAL fake on the big screen.  Director Patrick Hughes and writers Stallone, Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt (that's a very Hollywood sounding name, isn't it?) attempt to pull things in a darker direction with Barney burning internally to get back at Stonebanks, even at the cost of his own life.  There's lots of quiet close ups for pontificating and moving shots that highlight the vast locations like a Somali port, metropolitan high rises, a grand forest and the rubble filled remains of a European hotel.  Acting wise, new addition Mel Gibson is terrific as the conscienceless art buying, arms dealing Conrad Stonebanks and his van scene opposite Stallone is one of the greatest of any of the 3 films.  He makes it look so effortless and it really shows the difference between an action star and an actor.  Bruce Willis replacement Harrison Ford gets to drop some boring exposition as C.I.A. guy before getting funny towards the end while looking all of his 70 some years.  Antonio Banderas as fast talking Galgo is also a highlight, stealing every scene he is in with excited but not annoying chatter that covers up a bit of sorrow.  Wesley Snipes looks lean and mean but delivers some of his dialogue with hammy, Boogeyman relish.  New kids on the block Kellan Lutz, Rhonda Rousey, Glen Powell and Victor Ortiz don't get much to do but handle their roles just fine.

On the action front, the PG-13 rating does negate some of the brutal impact displayed in the first two flicks so it will be interesting to see the R rated cut with bullet hits, throat slashing and all that good stuff.  For the most part it's a guns and grenades affair with some fast, spin move filled fisticuffs from Stallone, Rousey, Statham and Mel Gibson's stunt double.  But the truck chases, boat crashing, night club brawls, shootouts, collapsing rooftop, tank barrage, motorcycle jumping and helicopter chases all add up to an exciting time.  I enjoyed the flick as it's not as serious as the first or as jokey as the second.  There's still plenty of "what the crap" moments like Arnold squeezing in several of his famous lines and the random use of certain characters (Jet Li, cough, Jet Li).  But in the end the 3rd installment feels very modern and stylish in it's execution.  While Brian Tyler score seems to be mostly recycled from the first two films, instead of using 70's rock tunes, the film is filled with modern tracks.

Unfortunately, The Expendables 3 hit theaters on a wave of critical drubbing, PG-13 backlash and  millions of illegal downloads.  It opened up with a not fantastic $16 million, limping into 4th place after parts I & II opened up # 1 with $34 and $28 million.  The flick did earn an A- Cinemascore which means audiences are enjoying the film.  Mine was great as we applauded each introduction, one liner, big explosion, etc.  After pumping up the international release with appearances in Cannes, United Kingdom, Spain and Germany, global takes are down 45% in some territories so this may indeed be The Expendables' last ride.  Chalk it up to a crowded market, franchise fatigue (3rd movie in 5 years) and not really bringing anything new to the table, The Expendables is a victim of it's own surprise success as they haven't messed much with the formula, keep cramming in more faces and haven't taken much risk.  It's kind of like watching episodes of G.I. Joe, the good guys fight the bad guys, the good guys never die and we get new characters along the way.  Only instead of selling toys, we're selling legacies. 

Gotta Drank (& Eat)!: Louie's of Mar Vista

Celebrating a birthday this past weekend took us to Louie's of Mar Vista, a west side restaurant with a full bar which was good enough for us.  Located across the street from a bowling alley, next to a Floyd's barbershop and a converted Tomato Market turned into an art gallery, Louie's looks pretty non-descript and tiny from the outside but it's quite cozy and has a patio in the back.  Our server and the entire staff was very friendly, explaining their specials and specialties.  Happy Hour has drink and food discounts galore including their signature Bee Sting, a cocktail made from brandy, honey harvested from their own rooftop hive and ginger beer.  The first sip hit me in the throat but quickly smoothed out upon further imbibing so the moniker was quite fitting.  Food wise you gotta try the Kalua Pig Monte Cristo Egg Rolls, a delectable mix of slow roasted pork shoulder, Swiss and cabbage deep fried in a crispy wrapper that was neither greasy nor heavy.  The bacon fries, Brussel sprouts, chicken nuggets and Swagwich were all delicious.

After a few cocktails and feeling no pain, I hit the potty where my opinion of the place really went up as they had flyers showcasing pop culture awesomeness in the forms of Zen Anarchist John Milius, Fight Club and American badass Lee Marvin, who served as a Marine in World War II and received a Purple Heart after being shot in the rear.  As I continue to find my way around the west side, spotting Jean-Claude Van Damme's family, hitting the beach and hanging out at Costco, looks like I've found a new Happy Hour joint.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Expendables Week: Marathon

After a long week it was finally time to lace up my boots and get a good pump for The Expendables Marathon!  3 flicks, 11 action icons, 2 DTV stars, a couple of former professional athletes turned actors, a former WWE superstar, 3 UFC champions, 2 theaters and at least 1,000 dead bodies equaled one heck of a fun night.  Things were supposed to go easy at the Cinemark 18 & XD in west Los Angeles as they were offering the 2010 and 2012 installments preceding the latest explosion and aging star filled chapter but didn't quite work out that way.  I was very interested to see what kind of crowd turned out for the 3 movie marathon as first, who wants to see the first two films again and second, who has the time to catch a during work hours movie?  Sadly or awesomely, it was my party of 3 and a single, additional viewer...who left after part I, so I'm guessing she was just hanging out before another movie.

Anyways, giant popcorn and a gallon of Coke Zero from one of those new age, 100 variety machines that basically just made it taste like fake, in hands, it was time for 2010's cinematic miracle:  The Expendables.  Written and directed by one Sylvester Stallone (with scripting duties originally coming from Dave Callaham), EX begins with our team of mercenaries delivering payment to a band of violent pirates in exchange for hostages.  The core team consists of leader Barney Ross (Stallone), 2nd in command wise ass and knife guy Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), butt of short jokes Yin Yang (Jet Li), substance abusing giant Gunnar Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), muscled and mouthy Hale Caeser (Terry Crews) and finally the strong yet sensitive Toll Road (Randy Couture).  After receiving a job lead from tattooed and internally tattered Tool (Mickey Rourke), Ross takes a job from shadowy C.I.A. puppet master Church (Bruce Willis) after wet work competition Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger) passes.  Ross and Christmas find themselves up against powerful 3rd world general Garza (David Zayas) and his "former federal agent turned drug runner business partner/enemy" James Monroe (Eric Roberts) and his violent cronies Paine (Steve Austin) and The Brit (Gary Daniels).  When Garza's rebellious daughter Sandra (Giselle Itie) refuses to leave her unsafe country, The Expendables go on a moral mission to help overthrow the half assed government.

Instead of trying to get into some overly specific review of the films, I'm sure if you're reading this you've seen the films or are at least a fan of the genre and stars herein.  So let's just hit this stream of conscience style shall we?

- Stallone's face looks puffy, mental note of his appearance in each film to see how it changes.
- The CGI blood and knife blades are obvious but gives a nice touch to enhance the brutal violence.
- Statham beats up girlfriend's ex-boyfriend after he beat her up, then tells her, "now you know what I do for a living".  What?  Disappear for a month at a time and beat up assholes?
- Randy Couture and Terry Crews' characters really have no point in the film.
- Did Jet Li always act his poorly?
- Dolph is great in this movie.  Still think it would have been more interesting if he died as intended but hey, betraying his team, trying to kill them, getting shot in the chest, surviving and being brought back on seemed to get his character off drugs and gave Stallone another famous face to hit any premieres he couldn't for sequels.
- Scene with Arnold and Bruce Willy is terrific, great sense of themselves, their iconic roles and throwing barbs at each other.
- Steve Austin is jacked and I just kept thinking of his new TV show, Broken Skull Ranch, where he tells eliminated contestants "I'll see you down the road".
- Eric Roberts excels at being charmingly scary and skeezy.
- Some really violent deaths in this flick, shotgun blasted in half, knife to the head, knife to the throat, broken limbs galore, the Jason Statham/Jet Li team up death on Gary Daniels is awesome.
- Brian Tyler's score gives the flick an extra layer of bombastic veneer.
- According to Expendables Wiki, 221 poor SOB's get wasted
- "What do you wear? Size 3?!  Bring it, happy feet!"

Oh yeah, a fire alarm went off just before the final showdown.  It was really coincidentally timed too as Caesar was pulling out his shiny razor blade, throwing a glint in our eye that was enhanced as a flashing white light started to go off in the theater.  Luckily it was a false alarm but we were set back a good 20 minutes.

The only other viewer in the audience left after the end of part I so we asked the theater staff to just start part II instead of giving us an intermission.  Of course I was super excited for the sequel because, hello, Jean-Claude Van Damme is in it!  Bro, Jean-Claude Van Damme.  This time around, Stallone takes writing duties along with Richard Wenk, Ken Kaufman and David Agosto while handing directing over to Con Air's Simon West.  In the follow up, The Expendables take on "cartel for hire" The Sangs led by Jean-Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and his snarling, high kicking apprentice Hector (Scott Adkins) with a little help from legendary lone wolf gunman Booker (Chuck Norris) and Arnold's Trench along with Bruce Willy's Church after Vilain kills new team member Billy the Kid (Liam Hemsworth).  Oh sorry, Spoiler Alert...

- The opening scene is pretty kick ass, 15 minutes of trucks, battering rams, bazookas, bad CGI helicopters and Jet Li face, zip lines, .50 caliber rifles, jet skis, bolt cutters and Santa Claus.
- Stallone's face looks a little droopier in this edition but not as puffy.
- Some awkward and forced interactions, Liam Hemsworth says "it's a long story" then tells the story.
- Female Expendable Maggie Chen is a nice touch, not totally necessary, but nice.
- Terry Crews is yoked.
- Why is this movie so fuzzy?  It seriously looks like a layer of dust is on top of the screen sometimes.  Noticed it in 2012 as well.  
- Lady friend laughed at the fact they made Dolph's character's history Dolph's actual real history as a chemical engineer who fell out of academia after meeting a singer.
- JCVD alert!  "The Go-ot" "Don't cha-llenge me" "It's very interesting".  So pronounce, much weird, very Van Damme, voila.
- Knife kick to the chest!  F you Gale, just like in Hunger Games!
- Another kind of awkward scene talking about last meals with a tinge of sexual tension.
- Chuck Norris just recited a Chuck Norris joke.  Meta on meta on meta.
- "I now pronounce you, man and knife." "Rest in pieces!" Stallone is a Got Dammed Genius.
- There's a lot of frigging jokes and nods to actor's history, maybe a few too many.
- Yup, Bruce Willy and Arnie rip the doors off a Smart Car and drive around the airport shooting at dudes while quoting each others lines from The Terminator and Die Hard.
- Van Damme's acting is so good in this movie.  He's aloof, strange, determined, ominous, funny.
- The end fight with Stallone could have used some more signature JCVD moves but overall it's a nice scrap with a good back and forth that was more enjoyable this time than the first.
- 489 nameless, faceless schmucks get deaded.
- "Respect is everything.  Without respect we're just people.  Common, shitty people."

The projectionist cut the credits off so we could move on to part III seeing that we were nearly 30 minutes behind schedule.  We're still the only 3 in the place, lights go down and Lionsgate logo comes up and...part II starts playing again...this would happen a couple more times as they tried to figure it out.  Allegedly the fire alarm messed up something something so after sitting the dark, seeing part II start and stop a few times we decided to just bail and head to another theater to see part III.  The theater compensated us 6 free passes which is nice because 2 of the 3 times I've been to this theater, they've had issues like this...Now follow me to The Arclight Hollywood! 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Expendables Week: Mel Gibson

Aw yeah baby, let's keep this Expendables train rolling.  While it's been the main selling point and punch line of the franchise, the gathering of action heroes and cinematic leading men of the 80's and 90's has garnered a cool $575 million bucks at the world wide box office alone.  Throw in rentals, sales, TV and other ancillary rights and The Expendables is most likely a billion dollar brand already.  I'm pretty sure Sylvester Stallone is the only actor to ever sustain 3 franchises and has now successfully headlined films for five consecutive decades.  If you'll recall, part I gave us fellow throwback leading men like Dolph Lundgren, Eric Roberts and Mickey Rourke along with cameos by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis.  The sequel recruited Jean-Claude Van Damme and Chuck Norris so the only 90's action star missing was Steven Seagal.  For the threequel, Seagal was still out so Stallone and the producers branched out to recruit 80's and 90's staples who dabbled effortlessly between dramatic and physical roles, landing Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, Antonio Banderas and Wesley Snipes.

Playing former Expendable turned adversary Conrad Stonebanks, Mel Gibson continues his Hollywood return following a rough few years.  I love the guy and his work so it will be interesting to see how the next several years play out in this town of hypocrites and judgers.  Now let's look back at some of the flicks that led Gibson to joining The Expendables franchise:

Mad Max, 1979 - The role that launched a career, Gibson played Australian policeman Max Rockatansky, out for revenge against a sadistic motorcycle gang in a dystopian future.  I didn't grow up with Mad Max and honestly haven't seen it more than once.  Same goes for the beloved sequel The Road Warrior and third installment, Beyond Thunderdome.  But it was Gibson's first hit, a franchise and arguably most identifiable role until...

Lethal Weapon, 1987 - Now we're talking.  As wild eyed, suicidal, action junkie policeman Martin Riggs, Gibson deftly combines equal parts crazy, heart and physical in a signature role that would lead to a decade of imitators and clich├ęs.  Partnered up with the family man, ready to retire but still a badass Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover), the duo took on mercenaries, South African diplomats, crooked cops and the Chinese mafia over 4 action packed and hilarious entries that grossed nearly $1 billion dollars at the global box office alone.  Director Richard Donner and Gibson would ultimately collaborate on 6 films: 4 Lethal Weapons, Conspiracy Theory and...

Maverick, 1994 - An update of the James Garner western television series, the film finds Gibson as a smooth talking yet confrontation averting gambler on his way to a big game worth $250,000 bucks in old timey money.  A nice mix of humor and six shooting, horse riding action, Gibson shines as the charming yet somewhat shady Bret Maverick and looks to be having a ball along with co-stars Jodie Foster, James Garner, Graham Greene and James Coburn.

Braveheart, 1995 - Would you believe I've never actually seen Gibson's 2nd directorial effort that netted 10 Academy Award nominations and won the man statues for Best Picture and Director?  Sure, I know all about the "Freeeeedom!" and whatnot but for whatever reason this flick just passed me by in 1995 and I've never revisited it even though I own it on DVD.  I feel a film of this historic, epic scale needs to be witnessed on the big screen so I'll have to wait for it to come back around.

Ransom, 1996 - Playing a businessman instead a cop or warrior, Gibson acquits himself nicely as a dedicated dad just trying to get his son back in this 90's thriller.  A handsomely produced picture with a stellar supporting cast including Lethal Weapon co-star Rene Russo, Delroy Lindo, Gary Sinise, Liv Schreiber, Lili Taylor and Donnie Wahlberg.  Ron Howard delivers a solid for adults flick with real life implications on the horror of what it must be like to have your child abducted and then delivers the movie goods when dad won't play victim and goes after the kidnappers.

Payback, 1998 - A modern version of Donald E. Westlake's novel, The Hunter, Payback is a moody, stylish noir action flick that finds Gibson as Porter, a thief double crossed by his partner and left for dead.  Once recovered, he threatens, punches, blackmails, shoots, crashes and kidnaps his way up the local crime chain in search of his stolen $70,000.  A troubled production that saw writer/director Brian Helgeland fired days after winning an Oscar, seamless reshoots still add up to an edgy, dark, funny and violent time with another great supporting cast that includes Gregg Henry, Maria Bello, David Paymer, Bill Duke, Deborah Kara Unger, John Glover, Lucy Liu, William Devane, Kris Kristofferson and James Coburn.

The Patriot, 2000 - A change of pace from masters of disaster Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin, The Patriot has Gibson as a former soldier living peaceably as a farmer and father in the days of The Revolutionary War.  When an evil Brit kills one of his sons and arrests another, it's time for Benjamin Martin to open up a chest of whup ass...and muzzle loading rifles...and tomahawks!  Seriously, the scene of Martin rescuing son Gabriel (Heath Ledger) is one of the best examples of movie fathering I've ever seen.  He places two of his younger sons on high ground and has them take out the troops from afar while dad goes in double fisting blades.  Of course there's more to the role and film than that as Gibson gives a serious and nurturing performance as a dad just trying to keep his family together.  But when you BLEEP with him, he'll BLEEP with you, hard!

Edge of Darkness, 2010 - Gibson's first starring role in 7 years following directing the mammoth hit The Passion of the Christ and experiencing the first of several public incidents, Edge has him in full on Liam Neesons mode for a dark, stark and shocking tale of revenge and corporate conspiracy.  When his daughter is murdered, Detective Craven uncovers her secret activist life and a local weapons manufacturers dirty dealings.  Action is sparse but well used to jolt the audience and Gibson again does a solid job of playing a stern yet sympathetic character just looking for the truth.

Of course shout outs go to Gibson's other fantastic work in flicks like Hamlet, Forever Young, Chicken Run, What Women Want, Signs and The Beaver among many more but you don't want to read my musings on all of those and they don't have much to do with an explosive, tough guy reunion a la The Expendables.  A mix of handsome, charming, funny, crazed, physical and slightly off balance, it was quite an arc for the New York born but discovered in Australia actor to go from Mad Max to Lethal Weapon to Hamlet before seguing into an award winning director and producer.  Adjusted for inflation, Gibson has fifteen $100 million grossing titles and two franchises to his name along with being one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood, banking $25 million per picture at his peak.

Workout of the Day: Expendables Week

Last night was the Los Angeles premiere of The Expendables III following international debuts in the United Kingdom, Spain and Germany last week.  Before it's official release this Friday, EX III has already faced a tumultuous journey to the big screen when weeks ago during Comic-Con, a DVD quality screener was stolen and uploaded to the internets.  Over 2 million downloads later, studio Lionsgate sued 6 different sites offering the film online.  Dammage done, we'll see how it effects box office this crowded weekend against comedy Let's Be Cops and latest YA style novel adaptation, The Giver.  Me?  I'll be seeing all 3 flicks in a marathon this Thursday.

So to keep the momentum going, I started Monday off with a leg and cardio circuit.  My new apartment has a small gym on site that includes an old school Universal Machine!  You know, those big honking contraptions from Harold Zinkin that let you train your entire body without risk of dropping weights on yourself?  We had one of these bad boys in our high school weight room and I always enjoyed the versatility as you can do Leg Press, Chins, Dips, Pulldowns, Shoulder Presses, Cable Curls, etc all in a 5'x5' space and add or subtract weight with the pull and push of a pin.  My apartment's isn't quite as all encompassing as it's missing the chin and dip bar of my high school's.  Still, it's in terrific shape with it's awesome padded golden leather upholstery and works smoothly.

Since I joined a gym, I donated my weight set to the apartment and it looks like people have been using the EZ bar and Dumbbells.  To pump up my legs I got in 5 sets of:

1) Machine Leg Press - It's a narrow position so it works more of the outer thigh.
2) Standing Leg Curls - There's a Leg Extension apparatus on the machine but I just stand in front of it and use it for leg curls instead to work the hamstrings.
3)  Dumbbell Squat - Gripping 40lbs in each hand
4)  Deadlift - Using the EZ bar for quick reps to keep my lower back strong

I hadn't gotten in much cardio over the last few days so I opted for some Ab-Aerobics, Frank Zane style where I'd do 2 minutes of a particular exercise followed by something for abs and twists:

1) Seated Bike 2) Stair Climber 3) Treadmill

For added sweat equity I had my cell phone in hand and timed intervals in the 20-30 second range followed by 15-30 seconds rest.  I completed 3 rounds of each and was dripping.  You know you're getting in a good workout when your shoulders and forearms sweat.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Saturday

After seeing the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles flick last week, it was time for a trek back through time to revisit some of their earlier incarnations.  I can't recall my first TMNT memories but I do remember watching the cartoons in grade school, seeing at least the 2nd and 3rd films in theaters in 1991 and 1993 and picking up some comics in the 90's.  Cut to today and snooping around my unpacked apartment I found a plethora of TMNT gear in the form of comics, DVD's and even local cable coming through with the movies playing.

TMNT, 2007 - The last cinematic turtle adventure before this weekend's release was an all CGI flick from Imagi, an animation studio out of Hong Kong that found mild success with TMNT but folded after the lackluster of follow up adaptation Astro Boy.  Written and directed by Kevin Munroe, TMNT plays like a sequel to the 3 live action films and starts off interestingly enough with the shell backed brothers a broken unit.  Leonardo is off in the jungles training to become a better leader, Raphael dons an armored suit and fights crime at night as a vigilante, Donatello works as an IT troubleshooter over the phone while Michelangelo puts on a big head and lends himself out to children's parties.  Meanwhile April O'Neil and former night stalker Casey Jones are an item with the former getting into trouble after she accidentally helps some rich business dude bring back an army of evil warriors.  All in, TMNT is a lot of fun that draws from the Eastman and Laird comics as well as the live action movies.  The animation isn't exactly top notch but it gets the job done with slick fights, moody city landscapes and lots of cool character design with the armored up warrior villains.  The humor is childish but funny especially Michelangelo's quips and making Splinter a soap opera fan. A fantastic voice cast includes Chris Evans, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Mako, Kevin Smith and Laurence Fishburne. 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Book II, 1987 - A bound collection of the original comic books but colorized.  And boy, these comics are crazy!  I'm always surprised at how dense yet fast and fun Eastman and Laird's original series was.  In these few issues, I think it's #4, 5 & 6, we see the robotic Mousers capture Splinter, the turtles infiltrating T.C.R.I., a techno-cosmic shell company hiding robotic employees with brains for stomachs, the Turtles sent to another dimension via a translocation device, going on the run with a fugitive robot with the mind of his creator and fighting humanoid triceratops!  In the comics each turtle dons a red bandanna so you can only really tell them apart by their straps and weapons.  Their personalities aren't as divided up as they would be in the cartoon but you still have Leonardo as the level headed leader, Raphael as the hot head who kicks first and talks later, Donatello as the gadget-y guy with all the plans and Michelangelo as the goofy one.  There's action galore with fist and feeticuffs, laser rifles, flying cars, arena matches to the death and much more.  There's awesome splash pages of action scenes and vistas including space stations and an alien filled all looks great in color as the massive amount of texture and detail gets a little lost in black and white.  There's even an order form for f.h.e.'s VHS release of the cartoon in the back.  3 episodes for $35 bucks!

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, 1987 - The cartoon series that would go on to run for nearly 10 years started as a 5 part mini-series in 1987 with Turtle Tracks and Enter: The Shredder where we meet the Turtles, Splinter, April O'Neil, Shredder, his alien boss Krang and the robotic Foot Clan soldiers.  For some reason I remembered the 5 part series being a little darker then what would follow in the full season pick up but Damme, this shit is corny!  Raphael is a walking one-liner factory, no one knows why Hamato Yoshi lives in a sewer, the bros eat pizza with cereal for breakfast, visit a Ninja pizzeria in the Ninja district, push over a concrete wall instead of fighting some robots then somehow break a water main that fills up the top stories of a skyscraper...basically, it's kids stuff.  Fun, but definitely for kids.  So anybody who claims the new movie is too kiddy compared to the cartoon series needs to go back and check out how not serious it is.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III, 1993 - And finally, caught a few minutes of TMNT III on cable to wrap up the weekend.  The only things I really remembered from this flick were the strange appearance of the Turtles due to not using Jim Henson's workshop so they all look very rubbery and are given an abundance of spots/freckles for some reason.  Casey Jones shows up but doesn't get to do much, the use of the song Tarzan Boy and the really bad CGI death of villain Stuart Wilson.  Something about a magic scepter that if people of the same weight are holding it, they get swapped in time so the Turtles and April end up in feudal Japan and some samurai warriors and a prince get to hang out in NYC.  The Turtles still look really weird with their rubber suits and freckled faces and the animatronic mouths don't match up with much of the dialog.  There's still plenty of jokes and a little bit of heart to go around as the Turtles help local villagers defend themselves against aggressive European troops armed with rifles.  One of these days I'll have to sit down and watch the whole thing.  Maybe on VHS to give it the full effect.
California roll!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Con-Man: San Diego VS Salt Lake!

Always looking to add another Con to my badge collection, this September marks my first trip to Salt Lake Comic Con in Salt Lake City, Utah.  It's one of those new age shows where celebrities past and present are advertised to bring in autograph seekers willing to shell out big bucks for a signed glossy or photo with the actor/celeb and usually provide a decent exhibition floor and Artist Alley.  This past San Diego Comic-Con, I noticed advertising for SLCC around town in the form of wrapped cars and billboard trucks.  I thought that was kinda weird but also kinda smart as there's 100's of thousands of people in town for the show and Salt Lake is only a quick flight away.  SDCC didn't think it was so cool though as they slapped SLCC with a Cease and Desist order from using the name, Comic Con.  SLCC played victim and couldn't understand why a big show like San Diego was coming after them when so many other shows are called Comic Con from Long Beach to New York.  SDCC claims that the similar names and the fact that Salt Lake advertised in San Diego, during San Diego Comic Con is confusing goers who assume the two conventions are run by the same organizations.  SLCC continued to play victim and soaked up the extra awareness but their show didn't really need it as it already welcomed 70,000 attendees in it's first year.  Sister show FanXperience netted 100,000 attendees.

Comic-Con International is a Non-Profit organization dedicated to the creative arts and puts on San Diego Comic Con, Wonder Con and APE (Alternative Press Expo).  They work year round with a staff of full time employees and volunteers to put on the best shows possible.  San Diego has been going strong since 1970 when 100 fans gathered for a one day event and has now blossomed into a near week long extravaganza of comics, literature, art, movies, television and so much more with over 1,000 panels, concerts, exhibits, premieres and the like.  In 2007, tickets for Saturday sold out for the first time and since then it's been a mad dash to get in.  The convention center already at max capacity, CCI opted not to move out of San Diego for bigger digs but instead capped attendance at 130,000 and took over local hotels and locations.  So they could have made the cash grab and just sold as many tickets as possible, but they didn't.

Meanwhile, Salt Lake has only been going on for a couple of years and like fellow new age shows Comikaze in Los Angeles and New York Comic Con, has experienced tremendous growth.  SLCC is put on by Dan Farr Productions, a For-Profit organization and if attending Seattle's Emerald City Comicon taught me anything, a show that grows too fast doesn't necessary equal a better time.  Being spread across multiple floors of the center with a staff of untrained employees and volunteers made it one of the most frustrating shows I've ever attended.  Some might say San Diego feels threatened by Salt Lake's quick growth and while SDCC can't be too precious of it's name, it certainly can be of it's achievements.  SDCC has been in the trenches for 40 some years and learned what makes a good show.  They were doing it when comics weren't mainstream, conventions were equated to socially awkward men with no lady friends and all of that other bullshit that comes with being a comics and pop culture fan.  Instead of playing victim maybe Salt Lake should just say thank you to San Diego for showing them how it's done and go on about putting on their version.

SDCC is huge.  As in, takes over most of the surrounding area huge.  Hotels, downtown, even the frigging baseball stadium.  Movie stars fly in just for the night huge.  It's crazy, it's crowded but it's Con.  It's awesome.  SLCC might pack in an extra 10,000 attendees this year but I doubt it's going to spill out much past the convention center.  Will studios rent out space to hock their latest at free offsite events?  Doubtful.  Was there ever any discussion to capping attendance to ensure a great, smooth running show in Salt Lake?  Probably not.  And for anyone who thinks attendance equates quality, you're sorely mistaken.  Remember when I said SDCC has over 1,000 panels?  SLCC is probably going to top out at 300.  Remember how I said Salt Lake is one of those shows built on celebrities signing for $30-50 bucks?  Those same stars go to San Diego and sign for free.  I personally think San Diego has nothing to worry about and more shows is always better than less so I'm glad they can co-exist.  But there's only one show that goes by Comic Con and it ain't in Utah.

The 80's Called...

But it wasn't long distance because they're still here!  Just checking in with your roundup of all things Dammaged Goods 80's appropriate... but today!  The "Me" decade of excess, cocaine, yuppies, viral diseases, teased hair, amphibious comic book heroes and cartoonish action heroes continues it's comeback.  From this week alone:

- The Expendables 3 is nearly here, the reunion of cinematic tough guys led by Sylvester Stallone and featuring no less than 80's icon Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mel Gibson, Dolph Lundgren, Robert Davi and Harrison Ford.  Early word is that it's the best of the series yet with a nice mix of bro-humor and lots and lots of explosions.  I'll be seeing all 3 of them in the theater this Thursday which means, yup, JEAN-CLAUDE VAN DAMME on the big screen!  Crowds turned up to premieres in the United Kingdom, Spain and Germany this past week where stars Stallone, Jason Statham, Kellan Lutz, Antonio Banderas and Wesley Snipes greeted fans and media on the red carpet.  This coming Monday, the boys are back in town stateside for the Hollywood premiere at the historical Chinese Theater.

- Speaking of The Real JC...VD, his seminal "born in Belgium but living in Los Angeles", revenge seeking, American dancing, Muy Thai fighting flick Kickboxer is about to be rebooted.  This week's casting news saw Guardians of the Galaxy's Dave Bautista, Ong Bak's Tony Jaa and The Expendables 2's Scott Adkins rumored to be joining MMA champion Georges St. Pierre and newcomer Alan Moussi in the 3D update.  No word yet on JCVD being lined up for a cameo...

- The weekend's number one movie?  Why it's the latest adaptation of 1984's comic book phenomenon, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!  Overcoming tepid reviews and misplaced keyboard warrior wrath due to it's connection to Michael Bay and Megan Fox, TMNT defied expectations and raked in a whopping $65 million shell-backs.  Making it the 4th biggest opening in August of all time behind Guardians of the Galaxy, The Bourne Ultimatum and Rush Hour 2.  A sequel has already been dated for June 3rd, 2016.  Bring on Casey Jones, Bebop, Rocksteady and the Triceratons!

- Know what else came out in 1984?  James Cameron's tech-noir, B-movie thriller masterpiece The Terminator!  Production wrapped this week on the 5th installment with Arnold Schwarzenegger breaking the title on Instagram.  What was once Terminator: Genesis has now become Terminator: Genisys...why?  I dunno...

Spandex, tank tops, shoes without socks, Transformers, what's next?!

Huey, Arnie and Donny...Johnson!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Van Dammage: Arnold Belt

"He makes sense when he talks.  He doesn't talk with complicated words, he's direct.  You look into his eyes, they are good.  He will never try to hurt you or take advantage of you.  He's too busy and too rich, he has his own focus, his own mission.  He's not looking at how your arms are so big and the way you dress.  He's above all that.  I like him a lot."

Jean-Claude Van Damme on Arnold Schwarzenegger

When Jean-Claude Van Damme's movie career first started picking up steam, he was immediately compared to the established Austrian Oak.  It was easy to see why of course as Arnold was king of the action film along with Sylvester Stallone.  But with a European heritage and background in bodybuilding, surface comparisons were easy to make between The Muscles From Brussels and The Schwarz.  I'm not sure if the two interacted much on the 1986 Mexico set of Predator when JCVD was playing the original creature before dropping out.  Jesse Ventura gives Van Damme a shout out in one of his books, saying he was impressed with the young martial artist and thought he had a promising career ahead.  After JC left Predator and the suit was redesigned, the two would meet again on the set of Red Heat where Van Damme was unknowingly sitting in star Schwarzenegger's chair.  Cut to the Hoover Dam location of Universal Soldier in 1991 where by now Van Damme was a million dollar leading man opposite Dolph Lundgren in his first big budget studio effort and Arnie showed up with former bodybuilding champion/best friend Franco Columbu to wish co-star Ralf Moeller a happy birthday.  Apple juice and cigars flowing, the duo continued to build their rapport and when producers of Arnold's big budget summer release The Last Action Hero were looking for stars to cameo, Jean-Claude Van Damme answered the call and received a quick, speaking part while Chevy Chase, Damon Wayons, Sharon Stone and Robert Patrick among others were silently seen.

While the two stars might share vague similarities in the sense they're both European white guys who lift weights and do action movies, the likenesses more or less stop there.  Van Damme was always flattered to receive the comparison but knew he was his own man with his own plan.  Besides, it's better to be compared to a king than a pauper, right?  Whereas Arnold broke into the mainstream with his mix of hyper masculine physique, looming presence and boisterous sense of humor, Van Damme always played it a bit quieter and a bit more sensitive.  Arnold's first signature roles showcased him as unstoppable barbarians and cybernetic killing machines in Conan and The Terminator while Van Damme burst into the scene playing a mentor honoring karate fighter and revenge seeking kickboxer in Bloodsport and well, Kickboxer.  As Arnold was usually meting out violence with a sword or sub-machine gun in hand, JCVD was busy kicking people in the face and doing the splits.  Whereas Arnold had a square, muscular jaw and a physique that was difficult to hide, Van Damme's smaller stature and baby face made him less menacing and more apt to aspire to be a romantic, dramatic and comedic leading man.  As Van Damme's profile grew, his films became more action oriented than martial arts driven and put him into the same cinematic turf as Arnold and Sly.  While we never saw Van Damme mow down a field of baddies with a machine gun or win a war, hybrid action/martial arts flicks like Timecop, Hard Target and the pure action, Die Hard style Sudden Death attempted to bring him into the full mainstream to unfortunate diminishing results.  As the era of the 80's and 90's action movie came to a close, Arnold was the last man standing who never went Direct to Video and after a few under performers, left the business on a high note with Terminator 3's $433 million dollar worldwide gross.

Today, Arnold's return to film has produced solid flicks like The Last Stand, The Tomb and Sabotage but he's only struck box office gold in small cameos in The Expendables franchise.  Since his last starring role wide release in 1999's Universal Soldier: The Return, Van Damme has kept his filmic output to a minimum compared to DTV factory Steven Seagal and for the most part has challenged himself as an actor in dark and serious efforts like In Hell, Wake of Death and Until Death before playing himself in 2008's meta-mockumentary breakthrough JCVD which earned the Belgian his highest praise to date.  Subsequent branching out included a voiceover role in Kung Fu Panda 2, a return to the big screen as the villain in The Expendables 2, playing dumb in ensemble comedy Welcome to the Jungle and finishing up his directorial effort Full Love/Soldiers/The Eagle Path.

I like Conan:

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Summer Cinema: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Arriving 7 years after their last theatrical outing and nearly 25 since their first onscreen adaptation, Paramount's reported $125 million dollar update of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles hits screens this weekend to challenge box office breaking Guardians of the Galaxy.  While it won't scale the financial heights of Marvel's sci-fi action flick, Turtles is looking to clean up $40 million bucks worth of ninjitsu fighting, pizza loving, heroes in a half shell nostalgia.  Since being announced, the new TMNT film has faced an uphill battle against naysaying fanboys who would boycott the project based on producer Michael Bay and leading lady Megan Fox's involvement alone.  I myself love Bay's work from Bad Boys to The Rock to Armageddon, parts of Bad Boys II and of course 2013's greatest film, Pain & Gain.  His Transformers films might be bloated examples but the dude knows how to make shit look good, casts familiar faces and delivers awe inspiring destruction and Bay-hem that's hard to top.  I'm pretty indifferent to Megan Fox, I don't think she's any better or worse an actress than whichever would be starlet Hollywood publicists try to push on the public. 

The production encountered an early online brouhaha with rumors of the turtles being aliens which is actually derived from the comic books (created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird) since it was revealed the mutagenic ooze came from beyond our planet.  The first images from the design stage had the turtles looking more realistic with angled features and nearly grotesque appearances, far from the cute and cuddly rounded faces of 1990's Jim Henson Creature Shop creations.  Casting wise, joining Fox as reporter April O'Neil would be funny guy Will Arnett as cameraman Vernon, Whoopi Goldberg (?!) as their boss and Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer regular William Fichtner as businessman and scientist Eric Sacks.  The turtles themselves would be played by actors utilizing performance capture and CGI.  In modern day New York City, paramilitary group The Foot Clan terrorizes the population via an unchallenged crime spree.  Wanna be reporter April O'Neil catches them in the act stealing stuff down at the docks but being stopped by a mysterious vigilante who leaves a Japanese symbol graffiti tag as a calling card that nobody notices except for her.  The Foot Clan then take hostages in a subway station to draw the vigilante out for a confrontation and are soundly thumped by what turns out to be 4 mysterious fighters.  Of course, those four are our Ninja Turtles.  This go around, April O'Neil's history is intertwined with the Turtles thus giving them a quick connection and convenient story beats.  After that it's action scene on top of action scene mixed with brotherly banter as the Turtles face off against the formidable new age Shredder whose oversized suit is like the scary offspring of Iron Man, Megatron and a Swiss Army knife.

Not expecting much, I was surprised at how at easily digestible and enjoyable Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was.  It's slick, fun and extremely fast paced with many laughs and lots and lots of action.  Director Jonathan Liebesman had previously given us the light and entertaining Wrath of the Titans, a flick that you enjoy watching and then don't think much about after.  With TMNT, once the movie gets going, it's set piece into set piece into final showdown so we're talking shadowy fisticuffs, lots of jump spinning multiple kicks, machine gun fire, hands behind your back karate, a downhill Hummer and big rig chase scene in the snow, magnetic knife launching, toppling buildings and a whole lot more set to a big, exciting score by Brian Tyler.  Oh yeah and there's pizza of course, courtesy of Pizza Hut in 2014 versus Domino's in 1990.  The Turtles look a little funny with their noses, nostrils and inhuman size but it works to give them each distinctive looks and personality.  You know you're watching a computer generated image but it's not like watching a cartoon.  The subjects of genetic experimentation by way of alien world ooze, the half shells grow up in the sewer watching television and absorbing popular culture.  The Turtles are quick witted, wise cracking and reference spewing along with their kind of lame explanation of acquiring ninja skills.  If you'll remember from the first film, Splinter watches his master Hamato Yoshi practice ninjitsu from his cage and hilariously mimics the movements.  In this version, there is no Hamato Yoshi and the crew is self taught.  Splinter is badass here though, a physical force who punishes the young Turtles with hours long physical and mental tests, has a nimble, whip like tail and knuckles up and throws down when the occasion arises. 

Moving so quickly, there isn't much time to dwell on rich character development but you get enough sense of the Turtles, April, Splinter and Sacks that you're not exactly clamoring for more.  Leo is still the calm/serious leader, Donatello the gadget guy, Raphael the insecure/macho one with Michelangelo bringing up goofball/stoner dude duties. They're all painted in broad strokes which suits the story just fine.  I was actually surprised at the economy of the script by Josh Applebaum, Andre Nemec and Evan Daugherty as everything is tied up pretty cleanly without being overly complicated or diluted.  Sure some of Fichtner's dialog is generic and delivered laughably while Megan Fox exclaiming "Shredder!" had the theater howling from it's awkward, shrieking delivery.  All in all, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles might not have the heart and charm of the original film but still delivers an enjoyable 100 minutes with enough laughs and flash for 13 and 30 year olds.  Plus, the end credits of splash pages and rap jam Shell Shocked bumping made you want to get up and do some Ninja Rap style dancing.

Interestingly enough, Paramount now holds the rights to 80's cartoon classics G.I. Joe, Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  I wonder if they'll do a Marvel/DC style universe team up...

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Summer Cinema: Guardians of the Galaxy in 4DX

Marvel's latest cinematic offering, Guardians of the Galaxy, hit theaters on a wave of positive responses and a record shattering August weekend take of $94 million.  That puts it $25 million movie going dollars ahead of August's former record holder, 2007's The Bourne Ultimatum which brought in $69 million in it's first 3 days.  The story of a ragtag band of space outlaws human and extra terrestrial fighting a power and revenge mad alien terrorist, Guardians isn't exactly a household name like fellow Marvel properties Iron Man, Captain America or Thor.  That might have been a tough sell on paper but for a flick, it was great news as there's no decades deep backlog of characters and story arcs to consider to give the iconic solo hero their due.  Instead, Guardians looked like a big, fun and crazy space adventure full of flying ships, laser blasts, explosions, wise cracks, crazy looking creatures and a talking raccoon.  And for 2 hours, that's exactly what you got.

While Marvel was my brand as a kid and Captain America my favorite comic, the 1969 introduced Guardians just passed me by.  Aliens in the Marvel universe to me were the Roman-esque military clean Kree, the shape shifting Krulls then the shiny metal outfitted and feathers for hair Shi'ar.  So going in I had no preconceived notions from comic book appearances to go on and more or less trusted the casting, director and trailers.  On Earth in the 1980's, young Peter Quill has just suffered a terrible tragedy but before he can grieve is abducted by a space ship.  Cut to 26 years later (now played by Chris Pratt) and the self proclaimed "Star Lord" is Han Solo and Indiana Jones'ing his way across the galaxy stealing random stuff and working with a group of thieves known as Ravangers, led by blue skinned and color changing Mohawk equipped Yondu (Michael Rooker).  When a mysterious orb brings all kinds of bad luck on Quill, he ends up fighting with then teaming up with the motley crew of living weapon and assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Rocket (a walking, talking raccoon voiced by Bradley Cooper), his tree creature buddy and muscle Groot (Vin Diesel) and the mountain of muscle Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista).  Kree warmonger Ronan (Lee Pace) and his bald and blue sidekick Nebula (Karen Gillan) track the thrown together outfit in search of the orb which of course is revealed to be a powerful weapon that the Guardians can't let be unleashed on innocents.  70's mix-tape soundtrack, blue/red/green skinned aliens, fist fights, space chases, Judge Dredd style helmets, surprisingly not boring exposition, I Come In Peace/Mortal Kombat style projectiles, Infinity Gauntlet (although I disagree with calling him Thaa-nos instead of Thay-nos) build up and adopted family shenanigans ensues.

Directed and Co-Written by Slither's James Gunn with a screenplay assist from 1st time produced writer Nicole Perlman, Guardians is a fun ride with enough heart and character development to make it one of Marvel's most enjoyable efforts.  It doesn't try to get too deep and is satisfied with providing an overall crowd pleasing experience with lots of laughs and action.  While Marvel will never give us a film on par with Chris Nolan's dark, detailed and dramatic The Dark Knight due to it's obligation to connect the cinematic universe and provide Disney with family friendly fodder, Guardians stands as a polished and exciting entry into the canon.  Newly minted movie star Chris Pratt comes off likeable and capable without aping Harrison Ford but instead reminded me of Kurt Russell, a leading man of action who wasn't afraid to laugh at himself and have a good time.  Zoe Saldana follows Avatar, Star Trek, The Losers and Colombiana with another fierce and physical performance as Gamora while WWE superstar turned actor Dave Baustita gets to mix his formidable physique with comic timing as the literal speaking yet kind of dim Drax.  In a role you probably wouldn't have guessed if the credits didn't tell you, The Hangover and The A-Team's Bradley Cooper voices Rocket as irritable, angry and hilarious all at the same time with near overdone delivery.  Tree dude Groot only speaks 3 words and harkening back to The Iron Giant, Vin Diesel makes the most of the dialog as the only non-mammal of the team displays the most heart.

I actually ended up seeing this twice over the weekend, first in 2D then in 4DX.  2D at the former Rave now Cinemark at Howard Hughes was oddly lackluster as the colors didn't seem to pop and the sound seemed to be coming in all at one level.  I'm not one for super loud movies (McG, looking at you with your high treble, ear bleeding mixes) but when explosions have the same impact as dialog, you know something is wrong.  Today, it was time for something new, 4DX.  What the heck is that?  Another gimmick on top of the mostly BS 3D we've had shoved down our throat?  Yes and no.  The Regal Cinema at L.A. Live in downtown is home to the first 4DX theater in the states from Korean powerhouse CJ.  I believe Transformers 4 was the first flick to utilize 4DX where you're immersed in the movie with motion control seats and rain/mist/smoke/scent/wind effects synced up to the film.  Basically I figured it would be like the Star Tours ride at Disneyland but only for 2 hours.  With a premium upcharge in the $25 range, 4DX was pretty cool and worth the money.  I can't say I'd do it for every movie (Dawn of the Apes was the last title converted which seems like a waste because jack and shit happens) but for a big summer spectacle that includes flying space ships, fights and shootouts, Guardians seemed like the perfect film to try out the experience.  First off the picture was beautiful and the sound top notch.  It's a smaller theater with less seats which for some reason felt narrower to me.  Before the movie started, a quick chase trailer/demo played giving the audience a taste of what was to come as our seats shifted around as cars screeched around corners, etc.

Overall, 4DX was a fun time.  Your seat moves with the action so you're leaning left and right, up and down as numerous vessels fly around you.  It rumbles when those same ships crashed then vibrated when you're being shot at.  Fog filled the room momentarily after explosions.  Laser blasts "graze" your head in the form of puffs of air on the back of your seat while water sprays you from the front or ceiling depending on rainy or falling into a lake conditions.  You could actually turn the water feature off with a simple click on a button on your seat.  During one whimsical scene, bubbles dropped down from the ceiling to laughs and applause.  I felt like I was sitting up pretty straight but towards the end of the flick my lower back and tailbone started to get a little sore from either slouching or the constant rumbling.  With the added physical elements, you really paid more attention to the movie and it made you more invested in what you were watching so Guardians was much more enjoyable the 2nd time around than the 1st and that's in part to the 4DX experience and the fact that it's fun flick.

“I didn't have time to work out the minutiae of the plan!”