Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Paneled Goods: Sunday w/ Thor, Howling Commandos and Captain America

Sunday morning started off with a short stack of comics procured from Long Beach Comic Con.  Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos issue 98 from May of 1972 caught my eye as the cover touted a comic book version of "men on a mission" flick The Dirty Dozen.  Costing a cool .20 cents 40 years ago, I paid a not bad $1.00 for the well read copy.  Co-creator of Ghost Rider Gary Friedrich handled writing duties while 10 year series regular Dick Ayers lays down his fantastic pencils.  After a previous mission lands Sgt. Nick Fury in the hospital, second in command Timothy Aloysius "Dum Dum" Dugan is put in charge of whipping a group of military rejects and prisoners into shape for a top secret commando mission.  With the help of regular Howling Commandos Dino Manelli, the handsome Hollywood actor and London's ascot and beret wearing Percival Pinkerton, the trio have two weeks to whip their motley crew into some semblance of soldiers.  With names like Hoss Cosgrove, Ace Hamilton, Hillbilly Wagner, Bullseye Miller, Snakeye Simpson and Howard Shigeta, all ethnicities are covered with backgrounds in professional wrestling, martial arts, country-western singing, sharp shooting and charges like manslaughter, drug running, intoxication, stealing and assaulting an officer among them.

Since it's a one issue adventure, we get a flashback to the operation where Fury is injured, Dugan's lack of confidence taking command, his Commando's psyching him up, training the rotten eggs and the final mission of capturing a German detachment for interrogation in just 21 pages.  Pick up any modern comic and see if half that much happens...a quick and entertaining read, I'm surprised they were able to pack so many characters and action into so little space.  But that's the beauty of old school comics, it's just go go go.  Contained in this puppy were several ads about working out, one featuring Mr. Olympia himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger!  Back in the 70's The Oak was making a living selling mail order workout materials before transitioning to films.

Captain America # 259 hails from July of 1981 with pencils by one of my favorite artists of all time, Mike Zeck and written by David Michelinie.  Costing .50 cents 30 years ago, again, I picked up this issue for a buck.  The cover of Cap fighting Doc Ock was just too good to pass up.  My collection from this era is pretty complete but I don't recall reading this issue.  Looking super yoked, Steve Rogers can't sleep one night and decides to get in some breakfast eggs before heading out to deliver some drawings as a commercial artist and a work out at Avengers Mansion.  Feeling like he's being tailed, Cap changes into a sweet black turtleneck and blue leisure-ish suit.  After rapping with Jarvis at Avengers HQ, getting swole and showering, Cap is given a letter from a soldier he met in World War II, Ray Coulson, a motorcycle riding courier.  Now an older man, Coulson needs Caps help as his son John has flown the coop and joined a motorcycle gang.  Turns out things weren't so good at home after Mrs. Coulson passed away.  Cap tracks son John down not to take him back but simply deliver an apology on behalf of his father who was trying his best.  Too bad The Huns are a bunch of punks with a Nazi flag hanging in their hideout and look to test Cap to a show of strength before letting him speak to John.  It's all interrupted when Spider-Man villain Doc Ock shows up, wanting to nab Cap's shield to study it's composition and strengthen his mechanical arms.  Of course nobody messes with Cap's shield so he goes about a whuppin' Doc's ass and winning the respeck of the violent biker gang.  John decides to come home to patch things up with pop and as a thank you, gives Cap a custom made motorcycle as a thank you.  This leads to many an adventure on the road in later issues where Cap travels the badlands in a souped up van that can launch out his bike.  In this issue we get an awesome advertisement for Hostess Chocolate Cupcakes where Spider-Man uses the sweet treats to trap a robber because nobody can resist Hostess Cupcakes and milk! 

The mother lode would be contained in the first volume of Walter Simonson's run as writer/artist on Thor.  Starting with #337 from 1983, these newly collected and cleaned up issues are phenomenal.  The cover touting a showdown between Thor and alien Beta Ray Bill brings you in right away.  Basically, Thor is living on earth to learn humility and protect the realm.  When he's not the hulking blonde god of Thunder, he's walking around as alter ego Donald Blake.  With the tap of his walking stick, Blake can transform into Thor.  Head of S.H.I.E.L.D. Nick Fury shows up in his flying car to ask Thor to check out something other worldly and we're off and running.  Thor inspects a seemingly empty space vessel and awakens Beta Ray Bill, a monstrous, horse faced, orange skinned alien.  The two duke it out, ending with Bill being able to heft Thor's magical hammer Mjolnir, which can only be done by a handful of peeps like dad Odin or pure of heart Captain America.  Ruler of Valhalla Odin calls Bill and Thor back to the astral kingdom then pits them against each other in a duel to the death inside a volcano to determine who shall be worthy of carrying on the mantle of the royal Asgardian warrior. 

Man, this was just too good.  Simonson's art is crisp, detailed and exciting.  The colorization is vibrant and looks brand new.  We get sorrow, strength and determination from Beta Ray Bill's sad origins of being the last of his planet's kind, selected through trial and combat to be their savior and being subjected to numerous physical and psychological experiments.  Odin is truly the O.G. here as his power and reach seem limitless, decreeing this and that, making deals for his son and Bill.  We get Thor's supporting cast of mischievous brother Loki playing tricks on Thor's lusting partner in combat, Sif, who gets to kick all kinds of ass to prove her mettle and keep boredom at bay.  Beta Ray Bill looks like some kind of monster but ends up being an honorable creature saddened by the loss of everyone he knew.  Proving again that sometimes, the beast can be the beauty...or Beta Ray Thor!

Monday, September 29, 2014

(Pre) Ask Me a Question: CARL WEATHERS in Person! Predator and Action Jackson!

My quest to share the gospel of 80's and 90's action movies keeps on kicking as I'm proud to announce the next Dammaged Goods live event, An Evening With Carl Weathers featuring Predator and Action Jackson!  If you're keeping track, it was Terminator 2: Judgment Day with Robert Patrick in April, Double Impact and Bloodsport with Sheldon Lettich in May then Universal Soldier and Rocky IV with Dolph Lundgren in June.  Each of those events were held around Los Angeles at The Arclight Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino's New Beverly Cinema and The American Cinematheque's Egyptian Theatre.  The Egyptian is going to be our new home and I'm pumped to have my banner flying at the house of Beyond Fest and Humans From Earth among other niche programs.  As before we'll have trivia, prizes, custom tee shirts and a Q&A following the first feature.  It all goes down on Friday, 10.24 at 7:30 PM in Hollywood.  Tickets are available now, check out The American Cinematheque's website for more details.  If you're a regular reader, drop me a line and I'll try to save you a tee shirt because if you got one from the other nights, you know it will be awesome.

Carl Weathers of course is known to the masses for his work in Rocky I - IV, Predator, Action Jackson, Happy Gilmore and Arrested Development among dozens of other credits.  A former professional football player, Weathers caught the acting bug early and balanced athletics with theater while in college.  Hitting Los Angeles in the 70's, one of Weathers' first roles was as Apollo Creed in the Oscar winner that nobody believed in, Rocky.  Displaying a statuesque physique along with confidence and humanity to spare, Weathers was a bombastic and gregarious counterpart to Stallone's quiet underdog.  Weathers returned in 3 more Rocky films, his character going from rival to mentor to best friend.  Along the way, his growing physical and action oriented roles would be displayed in films for James Bond helmers Guy Hamilton and Peter S. Hunt appearing opposite the likes of Robert Shaw, Harrison Ford, Franco Nero, Lee Marvin and Charles Bronson.  Weathers would go on to direct episodic television as well as keep busy as a voice actor.

In 1987's Predator, Weathers helped elevate arguably the most macho and muscular cast ever assembled on film, supporting burgeoning action icon Arnold Schwarzenegger and a stand out cast including Jesse Ventura, Shane Black, Bill Duke and Sonny Landham in the sci-fi action flick that finds an elite unit of special ops soldiers being hunted by an alien creature.  Produced by Joel Silver, their relationship would extend to 1988's starring vehicle Action Jackson which sees Weathers as a legendary Detroit cop cleaning up the streets, taking on thugs and a maniacal car dealer with one liners, car crashes, blow torches and being able to leap over an oncoming taxi.  Another great supporting cast includes Craig T. Nelson, Sharon Stone, Vanity, Thomas F. Wilson, Bill Duke, Robert Davi and Ed O'Ross.

The early 90's saw Weathers headline TV shows like Street Justice and In the Heat of the Night before popping up in 1996's Happy Gilmore with Adam Sandler as club pro Chubbs Peterson, a talented golfer who met his professional demise after losing a hand to an alligator.  Weathers would later appear in Sandler's Little Nicky and 8 Crazy Nights.  Continuing his comedy trek, Weathers appears as a frugal, stew making version of himself on 4 episodes of cult favorite, Arrested Development as well as losing his right hand again as Combat Carl in TV special, Toy Story of Terror

So start pumping up now for endless Predator handshakes, mark your calendar and get to the choppa, I mean theater to hear a legend discuss his incredible career and watch a couple of kick ass flicks from a bygone era when muscles, machine guns and one liners ruled the box office.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Con-Man: Long Beach Comic Con 2014

It's been a busy week getting back to regular life with a late night screening of The Equalizer on Thursday, Nightcrawler at Beyond Fest Friday then Long Beach Comic Con Saturday.  Doing the Damme thing since 2009, LBCC has expanded into two shows annually, a smaller show in May and a bigger one in September/October.  While Long Beach was one of my favorite shows behind San Diego Comic Con, recent events seem to have peaked in terms of exhibition floor, guests and panels.  While Southern California doesn't have too many competing comic book focused conventions per se, the rise of Wonder Con Anaheim, Comikaze downtown and the like make me wonder if Long Beach isn't at risk of being passed by.

The good is still the good.  Long Beach is a quick jaunt down the 405 from Los Angeles, parking is ample and the surrounding Pike contains a glut of outside attractions in the forms of restaurants, bars, a $1 book store, movie theater and the Queen Mary village.  The convention center is beautiful and spacious but in past years where movie replica cars and food trucks lined up outside, nary an outdoor attraction was present this year.  Inside, there was a decent sized crowd of attendees and cosplayers and the floor in Exhibit Hall C was filled if not packed.  Vendor wise I ended up grabbing some random issues of Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos and Captain America, trades of collected The Phantom newspaper strips and some Walt Simonson Thor.  Funko figures were everywhere and there was a decent amount of vendors selling comics new and old.  I even spotted a first, Miami Vice action figures!  So great to see Crockett and Tubbs in plastic form. 

Long Beach Comic Con staple RAW Studios had a sizable booth set up with artists Tim Bradstreet and William Stout as well as X-Files spinoff Lone Gunmen star Dean Haglund.  Bradstreet had some wicked The Shadow prints for sale and we chatted for a few minutes with Mr. Stout who had just returned from Austin's inaugural MondoCon.  As always, he's a cool guy but I wish he had some artwork from the Masters of the Universe film with him.  Last year we met Lance Henriksen at the booth who was awesome and in years past co-owner Thomas Jane would be hanging out.  Without either of their mainstream name and face recognition present, it was pretty quiet around the table.  Elsewhere on the floor you had comic dynamos like Mark Silvestri, Jimmy Palmiotti, Len Wein and James O'Barr meeting the fans but overall, guest wattage was a little low this year.

Panel wise there was plenty to choose from ranging from cosplay to drawing lessons to character and artist/writer spotlights but nothing really jumped out at us, sadly.  Instead we took to the Pike and hit up the $1 bookstore where I continued my The Phantom theme and grabbed the movie tie-in novelization for the 1996 swashbuckler starring Billy Zane and the WWII set The Monuments Men.  Next door at the Auld Dubliner a friend met up with us for a few Dublin Donkeys, Jameson and Ginger Beer with lime in a copper cup.  Sound familiar?  I just had a weekend theme of Moscow Mule's last week which just had vodka instead.  Two of those bad boys and I was feeling good.  The bacon and cheddar topped tator tots and Shepherd's Pie were delicious as well.  Saying our goodbyes to my former co-worker, we headed back to the show and did a final lap, flipping through some more comic boxes, checking out action figures and more of artist alley. 

On my way out I couldn't help but feel a little nostalgic for Long Beach Comic Cons past where RAW Studios held film screenings and Thomas Jane sat in front of my friends and I for The Mist.  Or the spectacle of the Zombie March that I believe set some kind of record with a few thousand participants.  Panels with William Stout, Iron Man 3's Shane Black and Seth Green for Robot Chicken were sorely missed for their insight, inspiration and laughs.  I know LBCC has been competing with Comikaze in the last couple of years for dates and then new kid on the block were in Long Beach advertising, now that they've established themselves as a force on the con circuit, I hope they haven't tied up all the guests and exhibiters because we need more cons, not less.  But I can appreciate Long Beach keeping the focus on comics, artists and writers instead of just hocking paid opportunities to interact with celebrities.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Ask Me a Question: Nightcrawler @ Beyond Fest

Beyond Fest, the for fans by visionary fans genre film festival kicked off Thursday night with the L.A. premiere of the new Daniel Radcliffe flick, Horns.  Friday night saw The Egyptian Theatre screening no less than three films in one evening, two in the big house and one in the redubbed El Rey Theatre, usually known as The Spielberg.  Giant lines had formed in the courtyard for the L.A. premiere of Nightcrawler, the Jake Gyllenhaal starrer and directorial debut of writer Dan Gilroy (Freejack, The Bourne Legacy).  The Egyptian was decked out in an array of impressive event banners and posters along with a stand for Death Waltz Records selling limited edition vinyl soundtracks and concerts.  After catching up with Beyond Fest founder and Dammaged Goods ally/mentor Christian Parkes, we took our seats as the place filled up to capacity.  Sat in front of us was one Edgar Wright which made me wonder who else might be in the crowd tonight.

American Cinematheque programmer and Humans From Earth producer Grant took to the mic along with Mr. Parkes and the two rattled off welcomes and thanks for their crazy 2 year old baby known as Beyond Fest.  Screening something like 30 films in under 2 weeks, 9 months of preparation was finally leading to fruition and at last glance, more than a few nights have sold out.  Robert Rodriguez's El Rey Network sponsored the event so half a dozen screenings were free.  Apparently you can submit your artwork and short films to the channel for possible broadcast and compensation!  Tonight's happening was co-produced by Jeff Goldsmith and his screening/interview series/podcast Backstory.  After a few trivia questions, it was time to roll the flick which I've only heard good things about.  Luckily, all of the pre-hype was spot on as Nightcrawler is one funny, fucked up and creepy movie.

Right away we meet Lou Bloom (Gyllenhaal), a seemingly nice yet odd young man with a propensity for violence.  Lou sells himself to every person he comes into contact with using a mix of straight forward moxie and internet facts yet learns a little something from each encounter or job rejection dealing with a real person.  A life of petty thievery is going nowhere and one night he happens upon a car accident on the highway.  Pulling over just in time to watch two cops pull a woman from a burning car, another vehicle pulls up and out hops Joe Loder (BILL PAXTON), a stringer/nightcrawler who video tapes the incident to sell to the local news station.  Inspired, Lou gets himself a cheap camera and police scanner and gets footage of a shooting.  He then sells the footage to local News Director Nina (Rene Russo) and the once murky future becomes suddenly clear.  Lou picks up a seemingly slow witted employee named Rick (Riz Ahmed) and the duo chase down gory incidents involving the affluent population that suburban viewers will eat up nightly.  Hungry for success, power and notoriety, Lou begins to leverage his position with the network while making several morally questionable moves to get footage.

With the movie still a month from release, I won't get too deep into the flick other than to say it's pretty Damme good.  I've never been much of a Gyllenhaal fan but after Prisoners and now Nightcrawlers, there's no denying his talent as an actor.  Losing 30 pounds to play the gaunt Lou Bloom, his wide eyed stare becomes incredibly creepy.  We don't get much backstory on Lou but know he spends a lot of time on the internet and is a loner.  That leads to his awkward social behavior which kind of reminded me of Quentin Tarantino and how he spent several years out of school just watching television and that shaped him into the movie loving yet odd personality that he is today.  In a sense it also reminds you of Jim Carrey in The Cable Guy where the television was his only friend so he yearns for something real and that desire becomes darkly twisted.  Gyllenhaal's performance is somehow a seamless blend of boy next door/door to door salesman/creepy stalker.  Writer/director Dan Gilroy does a phenomenal job in his directorial debut as the flick looks fantastic thanks to D.P. Robert Elswit (Boogie Nights, The Town) and is remarkably efficient, laugh out loud funny, visceral, intense and educational while reflecting on but not condemning a society that rewards amorality in favor of capitalism.  Music by James Newton Howard (Batman Begins, Macrotus anyone?) is ambient yet powerful and fits the movie perfectly. 

After the film, Gilroy and Goldsmith engaged in at least an hour's worth of discussion.  Goldsmith is a very smart guy who is well prepared and covered aspects of the business, writing and production.  It was getting late so here's a few snippets that stuck out in my mind that won't spoil the film:

- Father is a Pulitzer Prize winning author, wrote in his pajamas all day which inspired Dan and his brother Tony (The Bourne Identity series).  Biggest fan and harshest critic.
- Writes 7-10 hours a day, thinks about an idea for a while, outlines, researches then sits down to write.  Doesn't get writers block because by the time he's sat down, he's very passionate.
- After thinking about Nightcrawler for a couple of years, banged out a script in a few weeks.
- Went out with real nightcrawler with Jake to prep, racing around Los Angeles, visiting an accident site, at first repulsed but then admired professionalism of it.
- Movie made for $8.5 million, 28 day schedule, 23 of them nights
- Upset how State of California has let film production, one of the most lucrative, exciting and exportable products in the world, go out of state and country.
- Nightcrawler was one of 32 films selected by lottery out of 400 that applied for California Tax Incentive program.
- Gives massive credit to Gyllenhaal for making Lou such a rich character on screen.  Role is hero/villain/anti-hero,etc.  Met on Atlanta set of Prisoners where Gilroy pitched movie to the actor over a 4 hour dinner.
- Created a viral video to post on Craigslist, people thought it was real and was offered two jobs.
- On being a new director, controlled content which was star appealing and low budget so never any discussions of giving to a more established name.
- Brother John edited the movie, let him know what inserts to get, Dan and guerilla crew went back at least 5 times to get necessary insert shots.
- Wrote the first draft of Real Steel which was then altered heavily through development process.  Had to go to arbitration even though he'd never even seen the Richard Matheson material it was allegedly based on.

It was a late but fun night.  The movie, crowd and panel were great.  Really impressed with the scope and presence of Beyond Fest and excited for those directly involved that their efforts have been met with so much success.  See you Wednesday for Halloween with John Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Gotta Eat! Across Ohio

Taco Bell.  Doughnuts.  Biscuits and Gravy.  Burgers.  BBQ.  Pizza.  Shredded Chicken Sandwiches.  More Doughnuts.  That was about my week while traveling to Iowa and then Ohio with stops in Denver and Detroit.  One of my usual stops on my trips back to the heartland is Bob Evans, the down on the farm restaurant chain that stops in Texas serving up "farm fresh" dishes like eggs, skillets, pancakes and of course, biscuits and a bowl of sausage gravy.  I'm prone to steak and eggs, a biscuit and gravy and a side of broccoli for roughage. Taco Bells out there also still offer Chili Cheese Burritos, not sure where those stop but there ain't no chili at the Bell in California.  Santa Monica just opened a Dunkin' Donuts, the Massachusetts coffeehouse founded in 1950.  Lines have been in the 2 hour range which shows just how dumb and bored Californians are to stand and wait for some frigging doughnuts.  I didn't grab any Dunkin's in Des Moines this time but loaded up in Columbus, Ohio.  Also hit up Tim Horton's for their delicious Honey Crueller, the Canadian café and bake shop chain that was bought by Columbus' own Wendy's Hamburger Restaurant in the 90's then spun back off onto it's own.  This summer, Burger King acquired Timmy's for a sweet $11 billion with rumors of BK HQ moving to Canada for tax purposes amid much criticism.  With 550 locations in the U.S., you can get your Timbo fix in all 50 states.

I'm always up for a new spot versus a huge chain so a friend took me to Melt Bar & Grilled, a gourmet grilled cheese joint that serves beer and booze.  Menus were on the flipsides of old vinyl's and you there's a plethora of sammiches with plain cheese or stacked with meat between.  The Texas style toast was a bit much but my BBQ topped sando was pretty good.  The Gun Slinger, their take on a Whiskey Ginger, was excellent.  Smooth and refreshing.  For you bottomless pit types, there's an eating challenge with a triple decker sandwich containing 13 varieties of cheese along with fries and coleslaw for a final tally of 5 gooey pounds...

You know what I learned while preparing for my trip?  That central Ohio has it's own regionally exclusive grub in the form of style of pizza, shredded chicken sandwiches and Trail Bologna.  The pizza is square cut with crust that isn't too thin or thick, with toppings piled high.  If you let it cool a minute it congeals into a warm brick of dense cheesy goodness.  I never knew Trail Bologna was specific to my hometown area because it's so delicious I can't understand why the rest of the state, country and world wouldn't want it.  You ever had summer sausage?  That super hard, greasy and salty stuff to eat with cheese and crackers?  Yeah it's way better than that.  The Troyer family has been cranking out meaty links since 1912 of the U.S. raised and processed beef with no fillers.  It's savory, tender, not too salty and oh so tasty.  You could say Trail Bologna helped change my life.  When I started getting educated about training and nutrition in college, many a meal freshman year consisted of trail bologna, Swiss cheese and a couple of crackers.  I did learn how to eat better from there...

Fall Flicks: The Equalizer

Poised to dominate this weekend's box office is the latest "one man versus the world" action/drama/revenge flick, The Equalizer.  13 years after Training Day, director Antoine Fuqua and star Denzel Washington reteam for what should be a profitable and franchise starting thriller.  Based on the 1984 television show that starred Edward Woodward as Robert McCall, a retired intelligence agent turned private detective who helps clients equalize the playing field, the film adaptation takes place in modern day Boston and finds McCall up against the Russian Mob.  Based on Richard Lindheim and Michael Sloan's 4 season hit, 16 Blocks and The Expendables 2 scribe Richard Wenk and director Fuqua craft a slow burning, stylized, entertaining and brutal thriller for adults. 

We meet Washington as McCall one early morning where he's out of bed before his alarm goes off, meticulously preparing for the day cleaning his shoes, making a healthy shake, etc.  We watch him go about his day and help his co-workers at the local hardware super store where colleagues try to guess what he did in his former professional life.  Unable to sleep at night, McCall frequents a 24 hour diner and befriends street walker Teri (Kick-Ass' Chloe Grace Moretz).  After a vicious beating from her pimp sends her to the hospital, McCall makes the fateful decision to try and buy Teri's freedom which leads to a bloody confrontation.  The Russian syndicate dispatches intelligent and dangerous fixer Teddy (effectively played by Marton Csokas, who reminds me of Kevin Spacey mashed with Russell Crowe) to find out what happened.  With a confrontation looming, we witness McCall display a particular set of skills picked up as a former operative of the CIA or some other shadowy government agency.

While we all expect these kinds of movies to become Tooken which in turn was a simpler, faster take on Washington's own revenge tale Man on Fire, The Equalizer takes it time to get to the action but it's not an all out explosion fest although there are some explosions and walking away from said explosions in slow motion.  The character building doesn't feel forced or boring and when shit starts to go down, you're in.  The film doesn't take an hour to build up to some crazy, non-stop climax or feel the need to flip a switch and go from drama to action movie to reward the audience for putting up with dialog scenes.  Denzel is his usual solid self, delivering quiet strength, intelligent support and "kill your ass dead" physicality when called upon.  I was slightly disappointed he didn't utter "My man" or "I'll guarantee ya that" but whatever.  The fight scenes are realistic, brief and impactful with mostly small scale stuff involving fists, knives, a few guns and power tools.  No overly choreographed fight scenes here which was kind of a bummer at the end as I was hoping McCall and Teddy would duke it out a little bit as we're shown how physically proficient they both are through the movie.  Denzel was looking a little paunchy here, I figured a character with his background would be a little leaner but hey, the dude's pushing 60.  Melissa Leo shows up for a hot minute as an ally and for an even briefer minute we get Bill Pullman from Independence Day and Lake Placid as her husband in some randomly awesome casting.

Fuqua again demonstrates that he is one of the best action directors working today.  Starting with 1998's The Replacement Killers into Training Day, Tears of the Sun, King Arthur, Shooter, Brooklyn's Finest and recent hit Olympus Has Fallen, Fuqua knows how to make a picture look good, fill it with a great cast and provide some shocking action and violence without going into overly cartoon territory.  It will be interesting to see what he and Washington come up with for The Magnificent Seven reboot.   The Equalizer is a pretty simple and straight forward flick but never feels too serious or ponderous and I'm all for a sequel.  It's an interesting progression and continuation of the one man army motif that we've seen played in various ways from Charles Bronson taking it to the criminals of New York in Death Wish, Stallone winning the Vietnam War with a machine gun in Rambo or Liam Neesons tearing through France looking for his daughter to Matt Damon's Jason Bourne racing and fighting his way to the truth.  The Equalizer is more enjoyable than last week's adult thriller with Neesons, A Walk Among the Tombstones and it's moody yet vibrant attitude strikes a better balance than the upcoming near over stylized and brooding Keanu Reeves "hitman on the rampage" flick John Wick (that one has a lot more action though).  Washington has one of the best track records in Hollywood with 14 films opening above $20 million in the last 14 years.  Some might take cracks at his choice of fare and similarity of characters but upon closer inspection you see that's he's challenged himself and entertained us with roles as a desperate father, football coach, crime lord, alcoholic pilot, law enforcement officer and many more over the last couple of decades.  He's just good at playing confident without needing to swagger.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Bronson of the Day: Cold Sweat

The last time I took a trip to the Middle East of America I watched Battle of the Bulge on my Kindle.  That pretty decent World War II flick stars Henry Fonda, Robert Shaw and Charles Bronson.  Coincidentally on this trip I viewed another flick starring Bronson only this time he wasn't part of an ensemble but was into his leading man years.  Cold Sweat is a French/Italian co-production released in 1970, directed by James Bond helmer Terence Young and based on a novel by I Am Legend's Richard Matheson.  The film opens calmly enough with the super vascular Joe (Bronson) teaching a guy how to navigate his charter boat.  After a night of gambling with the boys he comes home to his wife Fabienne (Liv Ullmann) and they argue about him always being out and his drinking habits.  The petty squabble is soon interrupted by mysterious phone calls and a home invasion.  It's not a random burglary though as the perpetrator knows Joe and whacks him with the butt of a pistol.  Turns out ol' Joe was in the military, struck an officer, got thrown into the brig and escaped with a crew.  When one of them kills a street cop, getaway driver Joe bolts and the team is captured.  All these years later, it's time to get even.  Using his new wife and step-daughter as collateral, Joe is forced to assist his former comrades in meeting some drug dealers to buy heroin.

Of course, things don't go so smoothly with Bronson playing Joe and he takes out the crew one at a time.  Under the command of Captain Ross (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea's James Mason, Kirk Douglas alert!), the whittled down team ends up fighting each other in a remote cabin while Joe is out with hippie/money carrying Moira (Bronson's spouse Jill Ireland).  At only 93 minutes, Cold Sweat started off intriguingly enough but loses a bit of steam as it goes on.  Mustached Bronson looks lean and mean here in his tight black tee shirt and veiny yet not overly pumped up arms.  His performance isn't particularly iconic but it's not perfunctory either, he's just a guy trying to save his wife and kid.  He's no victim and takes action often, always working another angle.  I was impressed by the cleverness of some of the action bits like Joe kicking out a table leg from under an armed guard or using a car door to disarm someone later.  Towards the end there's a pretty solid car chase as Joe races through town and the mountains with a doctor to tend to a wounded man.  Cars cut each other off with inches to spare and there's plenty of screeching around corners on mountain roads with precarious drop offs only feet away.  James Mason's gravitas and terrific voice are put to good use as the former commander even if he looks a bit goofy in his 70's attire.  I couldn't help but think of actor Richard Jordon from Timebomb (Michael Biehn alert!) and The Yakuza watching Mason and wondered if they ever played father and son in anything...

Car Sequence Stunt Coordinator Remy Julienne would go on to work on multiple Roger Moore era James Bond films as well as a couple of Jean-Claude Van Damme pictures.  Post Dr. No, Thunderball and From Russia With Love director Young would collaborate with Bronson on two subsequent flicks, the highly enjoyable "western action comedy with samurais" Red Sun and the American hit about the mob, The Valachi Papers.  After years of building up a reputation as a solid supporting player in The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape, The Dirty Dozen and Battle of the Bulge where he was paid in the $50,000 range, Cold Sweat finds Bronson in his European star years where audiences appreciated his unconventionally handsome yet unforgettable face and stoic silent strength.  His salary would double and triple on it's way to a massive $5 million in the 80's.  It would still be another five years before American audiences appreciated Bronson and gave him his first all out stateside hit, Death Wish.

If you're looking for that Bronson fix while sitting on a plane, in an airport or in bed, you could do worse than Cold Sweat.

Workout of the Day: Traveling Man

Hopping on 5 flights across several states in as many days is kind of cool but also a little bit exhausting.  Throw in not being able to exactly eat overly clean and you're looking at dump city.  I managed to hold off jet lag and feeling too lazy by working out across America.

At a hotel gym in Des Moines with only cardio equipment available I took a page from Dolph Lundgren's Maximum Potential and new fitness book to accomplish a body weight leg routine with some cardio and abs.  Body Squat/Lunges/Sissy Squat/Standing Calf Raises all done in straight sets x 4.  Between each exercise I'd hop on the bike/treadmill/elliptical or jump rope for several minutes then use a towel for trunk twists super setted with an ab exercise like reverse crunches, hanging crunches holding myself up on the treadmill bars and toe touches.

In the 2nd leg of my trip a friend had some basic weights so I got in a quick upper body session doing Push Ups, EZ Bar Rows, Triceps Extensions and Curls before moving into Dumbbell work with Flys, Hammer Curls and Kickbacks followed up by some shadow boxing and jump roping.

Said friend is a coach at a local high school so we used the empty weight room for Legs for Front Squats, 1-Legged Leg Curl, 1-Legged Leg Press, Back Extensions, Standing Calf Raises and NECK MACHINE! Oh man I got super giddy when I saw that bad boy. In my lifetime, my high school gym and local dungeon facility had a neck machine as well as the former Koloseum in Fullerton, CA but I haven't seen one in the last 10 years at a 24 Hour or LA Fitness, Gold's or Spectrum.  2 sets of each direction and my neck was sore the next morning but will help give me that nice and strong neck/chin seen in Chew Magazine and Jawline Monthly.

My last day on the road I hit up a local health care facility for a full on Arms and Shoulders day with Chins/Cable Pushdowns/Preacher Curl/Bench Dips/Low Incline Curl and Lying DB Extensions before hammering out some Arnold Presses and raises for the 3 heads.  Followed by come interval cardio on the bike and elliptical, abs and twists.

Even though I was on vacation, that was no reason to ease back the training, especially since I was eating nothing but Taco Bell, biscuits and gravy, BBQ and the like so you gotta keep the balance.

Iowa? Hell Yes! aka Gotta Drank! and Eat! and Sightsee!

Just rolling back into town after a trip across America to see some friends in Iowa and Ohio.  No, those aren't the same states.  It's a bit of a joke to any of us transplanted Californians that people don't know much about geography east of the 605.  No, Chicago is not in Iowa.  No, Ohio is not the mid-west, look at a frigging map.  St. Louis, Missouri is no longer the Gateway to the West because the country goes on for a while longer these days, mmmmk?  Any who, my near week of traveling and reunions started in capital city Des Moines, Iowa, home of the initial Presidential caucuses, lots of insurance companies, printing houses, a zombie themed burger restaurant and a great barcade.  First visiting the city 3 years ago for a wedding, my childhood friends and I were surprised at the size and goings on of the city.  I've been back 3 more times and always enjoy getting more familiar with the place.

I was quite surprised at all the happenings taking place over the seemingly quiet weekend.  My first clue should have been that the last hotel I stayed at, mountain man/western themed spot The Stoney Creek Inn was sold out.  Friday night kicked off with some Moscow Mules, you know, the famous from the 40's and 50's cocktail of vodka, ginger beer and lime served in a copper mug?  I normally abhor beer but the ginger variety mixed with vodka is excellent.  I'm not sure why more drinks aren't served in copper mugs as they keep the temperature of the drank down from your grubby, near 100 degree heat emitting hands.  I didn't know it at the time but Moscow Mules would soon become a theme for the weekend...

Saturday was the big day as downtown was hosting no less than a farmer's market, a world food fair nearby and a couple of concerts.  We hit up the Historical Museum as they were hosting an exhibit on film as well as others about the Civil War, cycling and a Wooly Mammoth..  Film?  In Iowa?  More or less conjures up images of cornfields and Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams but the exhibit was a nice mix of highlighting films lensed there like Field and The Bridges of Madison County as well as actors from the state like John Wayne, Ron Livingston, Brandon Routh and Ashton Kutcher.  It's free so there's no excuse not to pop in and learn some stuff.  Post Iowa culture it was time for some pop culture in the form of RAYGUN, Des Moines' local version of an American Apparel complete with dozens of Iowa themed shirts, can coozies, magnets and the like.  It gets a little kitschy with the mid-western motif but all in all it's good fun and makes for some funny and proud Iowans.  Next door is Zombie Burger, a full on burger joint with, you guessed it, a zombie décor.  Artwork adorns the restaurant and the menu is of course, zombie themed with specialized names for burgers, shots and shakes.  It was time for another Moscow Mule and I experimented with drinking from a straw (too much lime taste) and from the copper cup (better, smooth taste).  Food wise it was on to Jethro's, a GQ magazine and Food Network recognized bbq joint also known for their ridiculous eating challenge seen on Man VS Food where contestants confront 4 pounds of meat and 1 of fries and only have 15 minutes to take it down.  Only one person had defeated the challenge at this location, a woman who killed it in 5 minutes!  I opted for a dinner plate of brisket, sausage and pulled pork with a side of mac n' cheese and fries clocking in at just about a pound.  Woof!

Night time festivities included a return trip to Up-Down, the badass barcade downtown located underground.  A few new games popped up and we got in on some giant Jenga, X-Men, Lucky & Wild, NBA Jam and Tetris among others.  It got a little crowded but not to the point you were waiting to play something.  There's tons of other cool spots around the area like The Hessen House where you can get a giant glass boot stein of your favorite brew and dive bar The Miller High Life Lounge.  We wound the weekend down Sunday by hitting a corn maze a few minutes outside the city.  It was surprisingly fun as the place had half a dozen attractions before the maze like yard games, a giant slide, pedal go-carts and a pumpkin patch.  The maze was cool as you were given a map and had to find up to 20 checkpoints throughout.  We kicked it's ass.

See ya next time when the John Wayne birthplace museum is finished and for the Field of Dreams field!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Dolph Lundgren: Train Like An Action Star - Be Fit Forever

Dolph Lundgren has always been a motivation in my work out methods.  While I'm not nearly as tall as the guy, he's always been an impressive mix of size, definition and flexibility in flicks like Rocky IV, Masters of the Universe, Red Scorpion and especially Showdown In Little Tokyo.  His 1986 workout tape Maximum Potential has found it's way into my routine more than a few times and it's still frigging hard to keep up with.  Coupled with consuming copious amounts of interviews, making-of's, documentaries and the like over the last at least 20 years, his new book was still a breath of fresh air.

In a way, it's kind of like Maximum Potential, just expanded.  That one hour video went over warming up, stretching, body sculpting, meditation and nutrition.  Fit Forever was a very quick read as I devoured it in just a couple of sessions.  Not strictly a workout manual, the book gives you some brief yet in depth essays from the man himself where he talks surprisingly candidly about his abusive father, his struggles as a sickly youth, getting into trouble, growing stronger and finding solace in fitness and sports.  Not solely a meathead, Lundgren achieved his Masters Degree in Chemical Engineering and studied abroad in places like Australia and the States, all while continuing his hardcore, old school karate training and becoming a champion. 

His workouts are split up into various sections that range from quick, no equipment, no excuses routines to full on split workouts for the gym.  It's comprehensive yet not too dense so it shouldn't scare anyone away.  Lundgren also gives reader a look at some of his movie workouts utilized for Rocky IV and The Expendables and his reasoning to why it would help build his character.  This is a big improvement on pal Stallone's book, Sly Moves, which was a total disappointment with nary a movie preparation routine and we get Stallone telling us to do incline presses.  Bro, you did not get in Rambo shape by doing solely incline presses...

The book itself is gorgeous, hardcover with thick pages and lots of photos.  Lundgren gives shout outs to sports and fitness legends like Muhammad Ali, Stallone, Steve Reeves, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Terry Crews.  No mention of frequent co-star Jean-Claude Van Damme though.  That's one thing about the book, I wish it were longer and given Dolph's quick memories on some of his awesome movies like Universal Soldier, I Come In Peace, The Punisher, etc and how his he trained for those iconic roles.  There's also several sections on self defense where you can learn to take people out with palms to the face and knees to the balls if necessary.

The big man is actually holding a signing this weekend in beautiful Huntington Beach in Orange County at Barnes & Noble.  If you're local, get there!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Charles Bronson Thursday

Last week I received a belated birthday present from a dear friend I've known since the 4th grade.  His dad is a big John Wayne fan and that translated to him being able to keep up with my interest in the masculine, loner, doer types of the 60's.  One of his nicknames is Hilts a la The Cooler King aka Steve McQueen while I'm Danny, The Tunnel King aka Charles Bronson from the all-male cast, stick it to The Man, World War II prison camp classic The Great Escape.  The painting by Seattle's Jim Blanchard will be a nice addition to my wall of stuff in the new apartment's Den/Dammage Pit West.  The gift coincided with me reading James Garner's (Charm In Peace) memoirs, The Garner Files where he briefly describes his encounters with the granite faced action star.  This comes on the heels of rereading the musings of other luminaries of the time like director John Sturges, assistant director Robert Relyea and producer Walter Mirisch over the summer.

From the written words of James Garner and Jon Winokur's The Garner Files, 2011:

Garner describes his Great Escape co-star as a pain in the ass with a chip on his shoulder.  The two nearly came to blows over a poker game but years later had a surprisingly pleasant dinner together along with their wives.  Garner wasn't sure if Bronson held a grudge but he sure did.

Assistant Director turned producer turned production executive Robert Relyea wrote of Bronson often in his 2008 book, Not So Quiet on the Set: My Life In Movies During Hollywood's Macho Era, as Relyea worked with Sturges who in turn cast Bronson in Never So Few, The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape.  Relyea was also on the set of Kid Galahad, an Elvis Presley starring vehicle featuring Bronson as his boxing trainer:

Describes Bronson as a physical specimen seemingly burdened by a permanent chip on his shoulder and prone to sulk and suspicion.  Not mean spirited naturally but at some point put up his guard around people and never let it down.  Relyea mentions Bronson never backing down from a challenge, especially when he's the only one who believes he's been challenged.  During Kid, Bronson warned a co-star "I'll punch your fucking lights out if you don't get out of my face" and contested Elvis' karate skills leading Bronson to break his hand trying to split a board after an impromptu karate demonstration by Presley.  The two partied together often in Mexico on Magnificent Seven and Relyea let Bronson use his German hotel room during Escape not knowing it was to meet with the married Jill Ireland who would eventually become Bronson's wife.

Executive producer of Kid Galahad, The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape along with titles like West Side Story, In the Heat of the Night and The Pink Panther, Walter Mirisch writes briefly of Bronson in his 2008 memoir I Thought We Were Making Movies, Not History:

Noticed Bronson in 1953's House of Wax and made sure to keep and eye on him, claims it was his idea to bring him on to The Magnificent Seven years later.  Mirisch's company also produced the Bronson starring vehicle Mr. Majestyk in 1974 after being unable to secure Steve McQueen.  By that time Bronson had graduated from supporting roles and was a bonafide star in Europe and Asia.  Budgeted at $2 million with $400,000 and 10% of the gross going to its star.  No mentions of Bronson being a pain in the ass or having a chip on his shoulder here though Mirisch does make a fleeting comment about friction between the star and director Richard Fleischer.

A man who can be given much credit for Bronson's rise in Hollywood is Dammaged Goods Hall of Famer John Sturges, director of Bad Day at Black Rock, Escape From Fort Bravo, Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape and Ice Station Zebra.  Sturges worked with Bronson multiple times when Charlie was up and coming and once when the former coal miner had hit the big time.  From Glenn Lovell's 2008 study Escape Artist: The Life and Films of John Sturges:

Bronson's 2nd on screen performance was a 2-day bit part in Sturges' The People Against O'Hara in 1951. For 1960's Seven, Bronson seemed pitch perfect for the habitually mad at the world Bernardo O'Reilly but Sturges wasn't interested in him playing type.  Instead, the character gets the biggest emotional arc as a hired gun adopted by the village children with a tender soul and need for family.  On set, Bronson hung out with co-star Steve McQueen as they went both kept busy looking for chicks.  For 1963's The Great Escape, a co-star describes Bronson as perpetually pissed off, chewing tobacco and shirtless to show off his muscular physique and impress any would be conquests.  His frequent tales of a poor upbringing eating weed soup were cut off by Sturges who told him those days were over and that he was on his way to becoming a star.  That proved true but by 1973's Chino, Sturges' career was on the decline while Bronson had just been deemed the Number-One Star in the world by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.  Armed with director and script approval, Bronson would frequently take two and half hour lunches with wine flowing on location.  In full prima donna mode, Bronson would emerge from his RV when he felt like it and hold up production regularly.

What is it about these seemingly insecure, opinionated and cantankerous alpha males like Bronson, McQueen, Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas that cemented them into silver screen legends?  While they might have come off as assholes to some, they weren't fucking assholes judging by the fact that Bronson was married to Jill Ireland for decades and brought his 7 children to every movie location to keep the family close.  Once McQueen trusted you, he was your friend and you were not his lackey while Douglas' hard headed attitude and disdain for the status quo helped break the Black List in the 50's.  That charismatic, seemingly selfish yet determined mindset backed by the thought that any of them could deck you if necessary gave us a litany of macho, "get the job done" types that went dormant in the 70's but was resurrected in the 80's with driven descendants Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jean-Claude Van Damme who capitalized on their accents, hyper developed bodies and self belief to create their own sub-genre of film.  Like Frank Sinatra, they did it their way.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Fall Flicks: A Walk Among the Tombstones

Following the lucrative Summer movie season, by Labor Day, the party is over.  September, like January, used to be a dumping grounds for fare studios don't believe in.  Now, later in the month marks the beginning of the Fall movie season where mid-budget, star driven vehicles fight for audiences before the big Holiday and Award Season releases in November.  This weekend pits Fox's Young Adult action adventure The Maze Runner VS Warner Brother's star studded funeral comedy This Is Where I Leave You VS Universal's Liam Neeson starring adult drama/murder mystery A Walk Among the Tombstones.  Kevin Smith's horror-comedy Tusk also receives a limited release amongst half a dozen other titles in single digit theater releases.

The trailer for Tombstones showcase the world's most unlikely yet likely senior citizen action star, Liam Neeson, as a former cop working as an unlicensed private investigator involved in a murder case of a kidnapped woman who is killed after the ransom is paid.  After years of supporting roles as the badass mentor in flicks like Star Wars, Kingdom of Heaven and Batman Begins culminated in the surprise hit Taken, Neeson has had a slew of hit, adult skewing thrillers like Unknown, The Grey and Non-StopTombstones isn't as generic as the first, as esoteric genre as the second or surprisingly enjoyable as the third.  Whereas you might be inclined to think this is another, "Liam Neesons takes on everybody to find someone a la Tooken", Tombstones is actually a very deliberate, old school procedural/whodunit/murder mystery that is at times gripping, intense and creepy.  In the end though the flick is good if not great, solid if not spectacular due to it's low key story and less than fascinating antagonists.

Without getting into spoiler territory, Neeson's Matt Scudder is working to find the missing then murdered wife of Kenny Kristo (Dan Stevens) a seemingly sharp and calm businessman who doesn't make an honest living.  Digging deeper into the mystery, Scudder uncovers a series of killings with a common connection.  With the help of young street urchin TJ (Brian "Astro" Bradley) and recovering junkie veteran/Kenny's brother Peter (Boyd Holbrook), Scudder uses his former NYPD street savvy to find the truth.  Sorry it's so vague but there's no major twists or turns at play here, it's a small story with few characters.  Based on the novel by Lawrence Block then adapted and directed by Out of Sight scribe Scott Frank, Tombstones is effective as a mystery thriller and keeps you involved, guessing what's going to happen next, tightening up and cringing at all the appropriate moments.  Shot in New York City, the grand scale and historic yet rundown industrial and residential neighborhoods on display add a layer of production value authenticity as well as overcast, moody sadness.  Neeson looks ruggedly handsome and stoic as ever with a hint of a New York accent spilling out every now and again.  Instead of being able to beat everybody up like his Taken or The Grey character, Neesons uses his wits and knowhow to get out of most would be altercations.  He does get to threaten the villain over the phone though in a great scene made better by the R rating.  As stated earlier, the antagonist of the piece left much to be desired.  They just weren't very interesting and their motivation wasn't exactly genre breaking.  Like each of the other characters besides Neeson, they're just thinly sketched and there for a particular purpose, no more, no less.

The rest of the cast do fine jobs but I honestly didn't recognize a single name during the opening credits.  Apparently Stevens was on Downton Abbey and glowers really well while Holbrook rang a bell because I think he was in the running for Kyle Reese in the new Terminator film.  You ain't no Michael Biehn, bro!  But honestly he probably could have pulled it off with more dimension than Jai Courtney's I'm sure to be hardass thug portrayal.  The Secret Life of Walter Mitty's Olafur Darri Olafsson shows up as a sad yet menacing cemetery grounds keeper integral to the investigation who I recognized just by his voice.  The inclusion of a spunky young sidekick could have veered into cheese territory but Astro and Neesons keep it real talking about literary private detectives, not feeling sorry for themselves and how to use firearms to off oneself.

Hitting theaters on the same weekend as last year's extremely satisfying kidnapping thriller Prisoners, A Walk Among the Tombstones is a nice throwback to a simpler style of film complete with a 1999 setting and Y2K mentions but doesn't hit the emotional marks of for adult slow burners like the Hugh Jackman starrer or say Kurt Russell's cross country kidnapping jaunt Breakdown and doesn't contain the excitement of something like Jack Reacher.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Gotta Drank (& Eat)! Skillet Diner and Elephant & Castle

Having a few days in Seattle this time compared to the 25 hour trip of a few weeks ago, I got to try out a few more local and touristy spots.  A chum from college took us to the Capitol Hill district, a bustling, crowded area that apparently attracts many displaced New Yorkers as it reminds them of home.  Our first stop was a dive bar but it was holding a singles event so we checked out Skillet Diner across the street.  Nice place, clean décor and that pseudo hipster/upscale take on American classics.  The special for the night was Chicken Fried Steak which had sadly sold out by the time we cozied up to the counter.  The Chicken Fried Chicken was quite delicious though and their fries were so crispy and addictive I had to have them taken away. 

After a 13 hour day at the office Friday, it was time for dinner.  The lady scouted out some joints near the hotel so instead of settling for franchise staple Rock Bottom Brewery, we ended up at Elephant & Castle, a large English pub located beneath a downtown hotel.  It was surprisingly empty for a Friday night but our server was great and my Pimm's Cup wasn't bad either, just a little sour.  They had all kinds of Poutine, ya know the Canadian dish that consists of French fries covered in brown gravy and cheese curds?  I just like saying Poutine (Poo-teen) because it reminds me of Jean-Claude Van Damme's pronunciation of bear-wrestling, military charging Russian President Vladimir Putin.  While most American's would say Poot-in, Van Damme calls him Mr. Poo-teen and has been the guest of the sports loving leader at MMA events but sadly lost his number.  While the Poutine was delectable and topped with bacon, I think I'd rather have my fries doused in chili and cheese.  America style.  No offense Canada, if I were to live in another country connected to the United States, it would be you.

(Still) Cinema Swole: Arnold Schwarzenegger

Remember that time I said Arnold was looking surprisingly swole at Cannes in May riding a tank to promote The Expendables 3?  Well the King of Kings has kept up his training regimen because he's looking more and more jacked.  Recent snaps show him traveling the world and hitting the weights at Muscle Beach in Venice, California as well as staving off jet lag in India by getting a pump.  At a car show of some sort, a beefy and vascular Arnie checked out sports cars with son Patrick and Taylor Lautner (?!), I'm guessing they're buddies from Grown Ups 2...With a short haircut and blondish locks, Arnold looked like Dutch 2.0, his character from 1987's Predator.  Although I feel like that character should probably be a bit of a crumpled, shell of his former self in the developing Shane Black driven sequel, after losing his entire unit and brothers in arms (literally and figuratively, Jesse Ventura, Sonny Landham and Carl Weathers all sport some strong pipes in arguably the most macho film of all time).

While Arnold's recent cinematic conquests Sabotage and EX3 have been met with disappointing and plain embarrassing results, the flicks were enjoyable and the former Governor is still busier than ever.  Whether it's finishing up shooting on the latest Terminator installment, traveling to Sacramento to catch up with Governor Jerry Brown and be on hand for his portrait unveiling, to his Symposium for State and Global Policy holding a Climate Change Summit to visiting Bakersfield to check out a fuel additive that reduces emissions, The Oak, like his trademark T-800 persona, just won't stop.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Fall Flicks: Frank

"Ginger crouton!" "I have a certificate!" "Big, non-threatening grin!"

Magnolia Pictures is one of the most interesting distributors working today, putting out awesome foreign films like samurai action tale 13 Assassins, small scale genre flick Monsters, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren franchise chapter Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning, Thomas Jane's adult drama I Melt With You and their latest, the seemingly oddball comedy Frank.  Magnolia usually launches films on Video On Demand before securing a few theatrical playdates in random cities then producing special feature heavy DVDs and Blu-Rays.  Not having seen a trailer for Frank, the only thing I knew of the film was that it starred Michael Fassbender wearing a giant paper mache head.  The official synopsis speaks of a young would-be musician who joins a band led by the eccentric and enigmatic Frank.  What actually follows can't be classified as a good or bad film per se but a weird, funny and sad journey/experience. 

Domhnall Gleeson (About Time) plays Jon, a young man struggling to write music while working a boring office job.  With 14 Twitter followers to his name, Jon comes across Soronprfbs, an indie band managed by Don (Scoot McNairy) that includes members Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal), Baraque (Francois Civil) and Nana (Carla Azar).  When their keyboard player can no longer continue, Don invites Jon to join them that night at a show where we're introduced to Soronprf's unique if not crowd pleasing sound and their front man; the big, fake head wearing and wetsuit clad Frank.  The show goes south quickly but Soronprfs is about to record an album and Jon is invited to join.  Staying at a remote cabin in Ireland, the band goes through bizarre rituals to try and capture the perfect sound.  We learn that Don met Frank in a mental institute, observe Clara's love for Frank and disdain for Jon while the newest band member documents the band's weird and random activities on YouTube and begins to gain a following.

It's hard to discuss the film without getting more into the story which would be a bit spoiler heavy.  So let's just say that the film takes a look at some real issues that effect the lives of millions without actually commenting on them or offering solutions.  Sometimes you just have to let things be the way they are.  As Jon gets deeper into the band, mesmerized by Frank's strange yet apparent talent and his own dreams of success, a simple yet familiar story of the grass maybe not being so green on the other side comes into play.  What was interesting about Frank was that director Kenny Abrahamson with writers Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan made sure you didn't know which way things were going to go but the end result is more or less satisfying as the journey has taken you from point A to Y back to D etc in short order without cheating the audience.  While the film is about a band and there's lot of cues, there isn't an actual soundtrack at play here waiting for you to buy afterwards.  Listening to the one full length track, "I Love You All" outside the confines of the film loses much of it's effectiveness but the film stayed with me for a couple of days.

"Here it is, my most likeable song, ever."

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Captain America Two-sday

Get it?  Cause Captain America: The Winter Soldier hits home video today?  You don't get it...Amazon sent me a note about the release, looks like they patched things up with Disney as the two companies had been fighting about something so Cap wasn't available for pre-order.  I used to be a real stickler for bonus features and it seems like every outlet has some exclusive special feature.  I remember Best Buy including an extra disk of interviews for Inglorious Basterds while Target always has exclusive content as well.  For Cap, Target is offering an additional making of with their 3D/2D Blu-Ray and Digital Copy while Amazon has the standard edition for $5 more.  Looks like I'll be taking a trip to Target during lunch...Remember when Star Trek: Into Darkness had exclusive content spread across Best Buy, Target and iTunes releases?  Yeah, pretty bullshit if you ask me.

Anyways, Winter Soldier ended it's theatrical run with a spectacular $260 million take in the U.S. and over $700 million worldwide.  Marvel announced they would release part III on May 6th, 2016 which put it head to head with DC's Batman VS Superman/Justice League movie primer.  DC finally relented and moved giving Cap the lucrative first weekend of summer to himself.  After Winter Soldier's well executed if not wholly groundbreaking story of a political thriller with comic book heroes, rumors are swirling that the third installment will continue in the same vein with returning directors Joe and Anthony Russo.  The guys at Marvel are the smartest dudes in the room right now so I hope they'll remember how Iron Man II turned out when they just gave audiences more of what they liked in the original, i.e. their worst film to date that.  I always refer to it as Iron Man 1.5 since nothing new in terms of scope, storytelling or tone was really introduced.  At the time Marvel was still chasing DC's unexpected success of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.  While BB was like a ninja movie meets detective story, it's sequel was more or less a serious, character driven take on Heat, the classic 90's Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro flick about professional cops and thieves.  The sequel was bigger, darker, more detailed and dramatic.  Meanwhile, Iron Man II gave us nothing new stylistically and again pitted Shellhead against a variation of himself, this time with sparkly whips and some drones to destroy, yawn...

With SHIELD more or less destroyed in part II, here's hoping that Cap III doesn't get stuck being the vessel for the further adventures of a bunch of random ass characters and TV show.  Sure Nick Fury, Black Widow and The Falcon all fit in quite nicely but you don't see Thor or Iron Man having to share their movies with so many other characters.

Shot on the streets in my home state of Ohio's Cleveland, I got kind of giddy in the theater when I thought Fury's car was actually going to take off like it does in the comics...