Friday, November 28, 2014

Fight Friday: Robocop VS The Terminator

In another classic 90's pop culture showdown, two 80's icons went head to head in comic book and video game form: Robocop and The Terminator.  The former, a violent and futuristic satire, graced movie screens in 1987, hot off the success of the latter's 1984 ground breaking piece of Tech-Noir B-Movie.  In 1992, Dark Horse Comics brought them together much like they had with the Alien and Predator franchises.  The 4 issue mini-series was written by Frank Miller and art by Walter Simonson with John Workman, Rachell Menashe and Randy Stradley on Lettering, Colors and Editing.  The story opens in the future where mankind is losing the battle with Skynet and the machines.  A lone warrior, a tough female with an odd bowl cut, taps into the system and learns a human mind merged with software then married to Skynet is the cause for the defense network becoming self aware and murdering much of the population through nuclear strikes.  That human mind?  A cop named Alex Murphy (aka Robocop aka Peter Weller!).  Determined to save the future by altering the past, the lone warrior quickly activates the time displacement equipment and is sent to a happier and quieter time, modern day Detroit.  There she cobbles together equipment to build a plasma rifle and sets off to find Officer Murphy, ready to punch his ticket.  Only problem is she's come back too late and Officer Murphy is dead, his brain transferred to the cyborg known as Robocop.

Our bowl cut sporting female warrior catches up to Robo and takes him out, thus changing the future but not before the Terminators send back more machines to stop events from taking place.  While the video game would use Arnold's likeness, the comic book Terminators are random and show up as men, women, children and even dogs.  Thus begins a violent cycle of Robocop becoming aware of the warrior's mission, the threat of the Terminators and his unknowing part in the future destruction of mankind.  Teaming up with the human resistance fighter, Robo destroys the first trio of Terminators before telling the woman to kill him and prevent the catastrophic future.  This is course creates a moral conundrum because only a human would be so noble as to offer up their own life to save others.  A second wave of Terminators arrive and destroy Robocop's body before starting on his mind.  Connected to the network where his replicated consciousness becomes the spark for Skynet's sentience and world destruction, his program moves from database to database until one day a security flaw allows his human memory program to hack a Terminator factory where he builds a super Robocop to battle the evil machines.

Jumping into the Future War, super Robocop assists the Resistance and meets the lone warrior, actual name Florence Langer as they turn the tide against the machines.  Skynet attempts to wipe out the humans with a leftover nuclear missile but Robo is able to change it's course.  Now an army of T-800's bears down on The Resistance so Robo and Flo come up with the idea of mass producing Robocop warriors to join the fight.  During the melee, Robocop enters the Skynet creator mainframe where he's offered god like power but the former Alex Murphy refuses and blows everything up.  Upon returning to the present, Robo destroys the early Skynet satellite networks in a bid to slow down their progress and in an alternate future, Flo lives peacefully in a utopian society. 

Wow.  This shit was crazy.  For some reason I thought it would just be Robcop VS an Arnold looking Terminator tearing shit up, fighting machine to machine and wrecking a city in the process.  But the notion that Murphy's mind blending with a machine giving birth to Skynet was a very clever way to bridge the franchises.  Then the whole quandary of time travel and Skynet sending more Terminators back to the past coupled with Robocop going to the future was just a nice touch.  With his human sentiment, Robocop is our hero here and we get to see bits that remind us of the films concerning his former family and cleaning up the streets with extreme prejudice.  Flo is our Kyle Reese, a human fighting a seemingly unbeatable threat who travels back in time to save the future.  But in a nice twist, she's like a Terminator, sent back to eliminate rather than protect.  Miller's (who coincidentally worked on the script/story for Robcop 2 & 3) story is very intriguing as it deals with the worlds of both franchises very easily along with the unstoppable drive of both humans, machines and the one stuck in between.  Simonson, known to Dammaged Goods for his impeccable art and storytelling in Thor, does a great job here with his big splash pages, collages and action scenes.  With their cold metal sensibility, Terminators and Robcop might be better suited to the big screen but it does work on the page.

With last installment Terminator: Salvation and recent Robocop remake being PG-13, it was nice to see the 1992 worlds of these franchises was still violent and bloody a la the original films.  You even get a nude Flo fighting in the middle of the street upon entry to modern Detroit, albeit done with clever shading.  Each issue contains awesome light cardboard cutouts of Robo, Flo, the Terminator and ED-209.  I'm not sure if this was paid for by Orion to hype up 1993's Robocop 3 but the narrative runs and guns uninterrupted with only a few Dark Horse ads at the end along with movie and video game announcements on the back covers.  Unlike Dark Horse's Alien VS Predator line, Robocop VS Terminator only received the one limited series.  A video game was released shortly after and next year, NECA toys is giving us a line of toys based on the game.

Fight Friday: Who Would Win?

Who would win in a fight, Batman or Darth Vader?  Chuck Norris.  "Who would win in a fight?" has long been a question sought to be answered by popular entertainment.  In the 90's nary an interview with Jean-Claude Van Damme would be missing the query, who would win in a fight between you and say Steven Seagal or Mike Tyson?  Hypothetical match ups like those are the excited small talk of school yard children and 40 year old businessmen alike.  The original UFC pitted fighters from various disciplines against one another to see which style reigned supreme.  Dark Horse Comics licensed sci-fi movie staples Aliens and Predator in the early 90's, producing several well received comic runs and eventually studio Fox released two films in the early 2000's.  A 1996 mini-series crossed the Marvel and DC universes where Captain America fell to Batman, Superman bested The Hulk, etc.  In 2003 Stan Winston studio veteran Sandy Collora forever changed the fan film when his Batman: Dead End featured the title character, nemesis The Joker then inexplicably an Alien and Predators locked in rain soaked, dark alley combat. 

Cut to 2014 where the fan film has gone professional thanks to advances in technology and distribution.  Collara himself was already a seasoned pro in the world of special effects and intended for Dead End to become a calling card for directing features.  Even with the fan approval of Dead End and it's follow up, World's Finest, which saw Batman take on Superman, Collara has yet to direct a mainstream film.  Collara did lay down the groundwork for others though.  Music video and feature director Kevin Tancharoen's $7,000 self funded Mortal Kombat: Legacy was picked up by Warner Brothers and given two seasons online.  Martial artist, stunt man and Street Fighter aficionado Joey Ansah co-wrote, directed, produced and starred in 2010's fan film Legacy which led to securing the rights from Capcom for a web series.  Said web series debuted and was reedited into a feature recently released on home video with a follow up is in the works.  Then there was the curious case of The Punisher: Dirty Laundry, an unsanctioned fan film featuring Thomas Jane in a vague sequel to the 2004 Marvel movie he starred in.  Accomplished  movie and music video director and former Steven Spielberg protege Phil Joanou helmed and again, an experienced crew was behind the scenes.  More of a way to say goodbye to the role after departing the lackluster sequel, Jane proved he was a true fan of the character while gaining some internet heat and rejuvenating Joanou's career.  The two recently teamed up on a feature for low budget genre maestro Jason Blum for a yet to be released thriller.

Today I just caught wind of a new kind of "who would win?" format that harnesses all the powers of comic conventions, fan films and YouTube: Super Power Beat Down.  The brainchild of father-son team Aaron and Sean Schoenke, SPBD asks audiences to pick who would win in a fight between two pop culture icons. Once the votes are tallied, the team goes to work writing and producing a short film where characters from various universes of movies, video games and comic books collide.  They've produced 14 episodes so far with the likes of Captain America VS Master Chief, Casey Jones VS Kick-Ass, Wolverine VS Predator and the latest, Batman VS Darth Vader.  It's an interesting package as we start in a comic shop where passionate fans discuss the match up followed by footage shot on location at various comic conventions where attendees and celebrities alike offer their opinions.  Then it's show time and we get handsomely produced but still very fan film feeling fight scenes.  Cap and Master Chief face off in a rocky and dusty canyon, Casey Jones gets dropped off by an awkwardly costumed Michelangelo in a funny bit before facing Kick-Ass under a bridge by the train tracks, Wolvie and the Predator throw down in the woods and in a creek then Batman attempts to rescue Superman but runs into Darth Vader on the Death Star.

The latest episode is by far the most polished of the half dozen I skimmed through today.  The ambition is immense as Batman jets to the Death Star, we get Storm Troopers, officials and of course a knockdown brawl utilizing The Force, Batman trinkets, explosions and frigging light sabers.  In this day and age of cosplay and replicas, the outfits for Bats and Vader were pretty impressive yet functional.  All of the episodes suffer slightly from stiff or forced acting from stunt men types but deliver pretty well choreographed scraps with each episode having a clear winner, usually by way of violent death.  It will be interesting to see where the Schoenke's go from here as their backgrounds are more in the fan film world versus professionals looking to branch out.  Until then, I'm putting my money on Ryu, Green Ranger is going down!

Workout of the Day: Gobble Gobble

It was Thanksgiving AND Bruce Lee's birthday?!  If eater's remorse wasn't enough to get you off your duff, paying homage to one of the great icons of martial arts, fitness and cinema should have been.  The Bruce had a pretty open minded approach to the arts and working out.  Feeling traditional, total adherence to one style was dumb, Lee openly sought out to learn from different disciplines like boxing, wrestling, grappling and the like.  When it came to fitness, The Bruce was known for lifting weights, isometrics, running, jump roping, hitting the heavy bag and sparring to keep light on his feet but able to deliver powerful punches and kicks.

So to stave off the Turkey Day drag, I got in the following workouts:

Deadlift/Goblet Squat/100 Jump Rope Skips x 8
Ab crunches/Trunk Twists/100 Skips x 4

This was a home routine done on an empty stomach, I've been waking up around 5:00AM all week so this simple, 3 exercise routine wouldn't challenge me too much mentally.  This was to work my lower back and keep it strong then the Goblet Squats (holding DB on one end in front of chest) let you get a deeper range of motion.  Keeping my reps in the 10-12 area, 8 sets was a bit much for my lower back but my quads felt good.  Adding 100 skips of the rope is an easy way to get in some cardio and takes under a minute.  According to Bruce, 1 minute of rope is equal to 3 of jogging and with all the treats coming up, the more cardio, the better.  I followed the weights up with some ab exercises, I don't know about you but my stomach always feels tighter when I do some reps every other day.  Just simple crunches of various kinds in the 30 rep range super setted with trunk twists followed by more rope.  Usually I'll do sets of 50 then change to a different foot fall pattern.

On Thanksgiving Day, I hit the empty streets and nearly barren gym for:

1) Standing Barbell Press/Preacher Curl/J-Press
- For mass and I could use one pre-set barbell for each exercise to save on time.
2) Rear DB Raises/Frank Zane Curl (leaning into an incline bench)/Hammer Extensions
- Changing to DB's works the muscles and limbs independently then gives a little more shape from the wrists not being locked in place.
3) Side Cable Raise/Rope Hammer Curl/Rope Extensions
- Going from barbells, to dumbbells to cable puts stress on the muscle differently.  In this case the constant tension is good for definition.
4) Front DB Raise/Concentration Curl/DB Extension
- While I did 3 sets of the previous giant sets, this fourth and final tri-set was more or less to burn out.

Followed by some calf raises, forearms, neck and 4 miles on the bike I was ready to go and try to eat my age in platefuls of food.  Just kidding, I only do that with slices of pie...

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Commentary of the Day: The A-Team

Based on the hit 1980's TV show, 20th Century Fox had been trying to launch a big screen adaptation of The A-Team for some time.  Boyz in the Hood and Four Brothers' John Singleton was attached as director in the 90's with Bruce Willis and Ice Cube rumored to star.  The story of a four man military unit wrongly imprisoned for a crime they didn't commit and travel the country helping the oppressed, The A-Team finally hit theaters in June of 2010, directed and co-written by Joe Carnahan starring Liam Neeson as man with a plan and cigar, Hannibal Smith, Bradley Cooper as the smooth talking Face, MMA fighter Rampage Jackson as van driving, afraid of flying hothead B.A. Baracus and Sharlto Copley as crazy pilot Murdock.  While The Social Network or The Fighter might have been the best movies of that year, The A-Team was definitely one of the most fun with it's big scale action, globe trotting story and likeable cast.  After Stretch gave me a taste for Carnahan, I sat down to to listen to the DVD commentary:

- Company credits, Carnahan never met anyone from Dune Entertainment
- Stole various tracking shots of the desert, city, etc
- Vancouver made to look like Mexico, Germany, Kuwait
- Carnahan has a sarcastic sense of humor, straight delivery about no corruption in Mexico
- A-Team is first movie Rampage is actually good in (I noticed he's shorter than everyone too)
- Lots of references to other movies, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Good, the Bad and The Ugly
- Wasn't trying to piss on anyone's childhood
- Previous film had over 200 F-bombs, got half of one here
- Carnahan, his sister, wife, son and dad are all in the movie
- Lots of unnoticed CGI work, like moth removal
- Wanted Rampage to play B.A., not Mister T.
- Critics bashed him saying a helicopter doing a barrel role is impossible, kind of the point, asks if you ever watched the show?
- Bradley Cooper put on at least 20 lbs of muscle for the role
- Murdock and B.A.'s uneasy relationship from the show carried over
- Patrick Wilson plays CIA "villain", loves him as an actor
- Jokes that Major Dad's Gerald McRaney plays General Dad in this, loved giving him hard time about being a conservative
- Bradley Cooper is from Pennsylvania but speaks fluent French after living with a family for 6 months
- Sharlto Copley didn't get references to Happy Days, baseball or Led Zepplin but knew the Freedom speech from Braveheart word for word
- The A-Team is not a documentary
- Carnahan and Liam Neeson are afraid of heights
- Encourages all young filmmakers to learn how to use modern technology for editing and f/x
- Cooper blew his hamstring during filming
- Carnahan told his dad to lose 40lbs and could be in the movie, dad did by using NutriSystem
- Prison scene with reference to Shawshank Redemption and friend Frank Darabont
- Cast got along really well, Liam Neeson was like the adopted father
- A movie in the movie plays, references Star Trek and John Sturges' The Great Escape
- New Zealand's WETA did a lot of work on the film, mostly scenes with planes
- An artist from Rhythm and Hues put his face on a mountain during the falling out of the plane in a tank scene, was chewed out, wouldn't identify self at a crew screening
- Tank steering it's descent by firing cannon, is The A-Team after all
- Some jokes are too quick or clever for audience, better to have a little person run in out of nowhere and punch someone in the nuts, will get a laugh every time
- Paul Newman is Carnahan's favorite actor, Wilson reminiscent
- 72-73 day shooting schedule, relatively short for type of film but fast pace works for him
- Huge respect for stunt men
- You can't melt Kevlar but you can in The A-Team movie
- Overkill is underrated, hence the finale with crashing shipping containers, gunfights, fist fights and explosions
- Nobody died on the show but they die here as kids demand it
- Violence nice is warm and cuddly, as American movies should be, don't like it just beat hell out of it
- Almost got an R rating for half a f*cker while The Dark Knight a guy has bomb stitched into chest
- Mentions sequel
- Jon Hamm cameo but no mention of him, involvement or opinion
- If you didn't like The A-Team, you don't like movies
- Carnahan plays music on set to help rally the crew, one day, played The Who's Baby O'Reily and people just went crazy
- Nook, Italian restaurant in Vancouver, B.C. is one of the best 3 eateries in the world
- This was a garage band A-Team, held together with wire, duct tape and the American spirit
- Easter Eggs after credits, show original cast members Dirk Benedict and Dwight Schultz, wanted them in the actual movie but just couldn't fit them in

Carnahan's a funny, real kind of guy and is easy listening in terms of consistently interesting/entertaining musings on technical filmmaking, the cast and editing etc.  The A-Team wasn't a huge hit, grossing $175 million worldwide off a $100 million dollar budget.  The overseas release coincided with The World Cup which might have been a miscalculation.  Rumors of a sequel swirled but in the end the film just didn't make enough money to warrant another outing.

Paneled Goods: Captain America '86

Working on a stack of Captain America comics acquired at Comikaze, several important story developments popped up over the course of a half dozen issues from 1986.  The creative team of Writer Mark Gruenwald, Rough Penciler Paul Neary, Finishes by Joe Sinnott and Dennis Janke, Inker Al Williamson, Letterer Diana Albers, Colorist Ken Feduniewicz, Editor Mike Carlin and Editor In Chief Jim Shooter presided.

In January's #313, Cap's newly established national Hotline needs a full time staff as alter ego Steve Rogers' girlfriend Bernadette Rosenthal just can't handle the volume.  An anomaly sends Cap off to Montclair, New Jersey where he meets young Hiram "Ram" Riddley, a *Hacker who uses a *Modem to extract and correlate relevant information from Cap's line while sifting through pranks and police matters.  According to this issue, a Hacker is computer enthusiast while a Modem is a Device that links the computer to a telephone.  See how far we've come?

Meanwhile, The Serpent Society has a contract on MODOK(!), the Mental/Mobile/Mechanized Organism Designed Only for Killing and find him living in the ocean in a downed Advanced Idea Mechanics vessel.  Who hires them we don't know.  Petty criminal and future Captain America girlfriend Diamondback makes an early appearance here and can't get over how Jean-Claude Van Damme foxy Captain America is.  While MODOK uses his mind blasts and flying chair to fend off the Serpents, they gather in full force with Cobra, Anaconda, The Asp, Cottonmouth, Black Mamba, The Rattler, Death Adder and Sidewinder tracking him down at a shopping mall to carry out their contract.  Cap reaches him too late and the mentally powered, physically disabled tragic villain is seemingly killed by some poison laced talons...But the Shield Slinger does set up Ram and his friends as his secret assistants to be his network, sending him updates and leads.  As a bonus, there's a sweet special offer inside from Dorman's Cheese for a Spider-Man backpack!  Valued at $9.95, this 100% nylon backpack with reflective tape for nighttime safety is only $2.95 with 6 UPC symbols!  Order now!

Skipping ahead to May's #317, West Coast Avengers Hawkeye and Mockingbird show up, having been called to testify against villain Crossfire.  Outside the courthouse, a group of circus themed baddies known as The Death Throws, armed with flaming bowling pins, throwing knives and flying grenades, grab Crossfire before he's taken to trial.  Over in Brooklyn, Steven's squeeze Bernie is packing up, moving away to go to law school.  The two met 6 years earlier during Roger Stern and John Bryne's seminal 9 issue run in #247-#255 along with neighbors Joshua, a school teacher and Mike, a firefighter who later joins a violent watchdog group Cap takes on.  At the going away party, Steve busts a move and ends up break dancing before going off with Hawkeye to take on The Death Throws where they trade shield for bow and arrows.  Wouldn't you know that Cap is a pretty good shot.  Steve returns but the party is over and Bernie has left a note, essentially dumping him without saying goodbye.  Oof...

June's # 318 brings The Serpent Society back in as member Death Adder's serpent saucer malfunctions and he's forced to take a cab, it turns out to be a deadly ride as the driver turns around and shoots him through the front seat!  Thus begins a multi-issue crossover arc where a vigilante known as The Scourge is taking out low level supervillains with extreme prejudice.  Usually getting close to them in a non-threatening disguise then serving them a lead salad.  Steve ends up moving into Avengers Mansion with the help of Hercules and Namor the Submariner before they depart for an evening of maidens and mead.  The Wasp aka Jan van Dyne checks in with Steve who plans to hit America and travel wherever the ol' gale needs him.  The Wakanda Design Group under T'Challa (The Black Panther) soup up Cap's Chevy van and he's ready to hit the road, working as freelance artist and seeing, touching, feeling America like the masses on a roadtrip versus flying.  At The Bar With No Name, minor villains are getting paranoid and call a meeting after criminal comrades like Miracle Man, The Melter and Titania have all been whacked.  Tough talking Blue Streak ain't one for joining as he's the meanest mother on 8 wheels equipped with rocket skates and laser beam shooting wrist gun things.  He mixes it up with Cap but then gets picked up by a trucker who you guessed it, tells him it's Glock, Glock o'clock.

July's # 319 brings Cap to my home state to Cleveland, Ohio where he takes out Blacklash, letting everyone know he's not exclusive to New York and that all America is his stomping grounds.  The Scourge continues to off supervillain fools and The Serpent Society is mighty pissed, putting the word out to find the killer.  A hot tip sends Cap to Indiana where he runs into the young and shapely, magenta haired Diamondback once again.  And again, she's got the hots for him, bad.  So bad that she thinks a good influence like Cap could make her go straight after a life of trouble making, petty crime and as a diamond throwing, costumed crusader/criminal invited to join the Society.  Diamondback comes on strong but Cap ain't no one night stand kind of guy and when DB threatens to crash the serpent saucer they're flying in, Cap grabs a parachute, ready to jump out, calling her bluff as even a passionate night with his macho studliness isn't worth dying for.  Back at The Bar, the supervillains meeting is called to order as 18 crooks of various standing including Birdman, Commander Kraken and Hell Razor discuss how to protect themselves and stop The Scourge.  It's a moot point though as Scourge is already there, disguised as the bartender and mows the lawn, so to speak, as he guns down the entire room.

August's # 320 opens with Cap fighting Water Wizard on Lake Erie!  WW tells Cap he's scared for his life and about the meeting at The Bar.  A Cap Trap is set and the star spangled Avenger nabs Scourge, unmasking him to reveal some random ass dude who thinks the law is too lenient and that all his victims were convicted criminals who had it coming.  With his brand of vigilante justice, known of these cons would be back on the street in 3 months due to some court room or legal technicality.  As Cap hauls Scourge to his feet, a shot rings out and the killer of supervillains falls to his knees, killed by another anonymous vigilante serving up their own justice!

In a nice and light fun run, these issues highlight the fact that Cap doesn't have the greatest of rogues gallery but does impart character defining points like Bernie, Diamondback and his traveling across America that will soon become more important when he gives up the costumed mantle.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Gotta Eat! Wurstkuche

Enjoying a nice lunch out last week, I met up with some friends at Wurstkuche on Lincoln in Venice.  You know, the purveyor of exotic grilled sausages?  I've been to this location before, it's pretty easy to get into, lots of street parking.  Total opposite of their downtown spot where the line is 40 minutes at 3:30PM on a Saturday, pfft, see ya!  So they don't serve hot dogs here, they serve sausages, you got your classics like Bratwurst and Bockwurst with pork and veal or Gourmet where they throw in fancy cheese, sun dried tomatoes and whatnot then you can go Exotic and eat yourself some buffalo, duck, rabbit and rattlesnake!  Then for a side you can get some thick cut, Belgian style fries with your choice of a dozen different dipping sauces.  If all that weren't enough, they have 20 some beers and wine available so you can get sausage turnt.  Their one cider is super sour though...It's a little pricey but a cool spot, nice staff and tasty eats.

That's the Power of #MovieBro

Movies bring people together.  I've been fortunate enough to meet some great folks who became firm friends over the years thanks to the power of cinema.  In the mid-2000's I made pals with a Jean-Claude Van Damme fan from the U.K. through the forum board of a fan site and we're still e-homies today.  Around the same time I e-met the administrator of the premiere Dolph Lundgren web site and now he works with the big Swede, has visited him on countless movie sets while writing and producing his own works.  A one time student in Los Angeles, we even met up when he was visiting a few years back.  Then there was the co-worker who noticed the Escape From New York button on my shoulder bag, we became instant #MovieBros and now he runs his own frigging film festival.  After attending one of the Van Damme Double Dips and Dolph night, an author recognized me at San Diego Comic-Con, we met for lunch where he was wearing an I Come In Peace tee shirt and we proceeded to discuss action movies known and obscure for a couple hours.  It just goes on and on and I'm only too happy to see them all succeeding.

Tom, the U.K. based Van Damme fan and I have traded movie ideas with for years, always joking that one day we'd meet up in Bulgaria to make a low budget action movie starring Michael Biehn or Rutger Hauer for Nu Image.  Now, Super Tom is one step closer as he's just wrote and produced a short film called Out.  The trailer just hit this past weekend, it looks great and I know he's got much more in the pipeline.  Watching the handsomely shot and edited trailer concerning a newly released convict helping his adopted brother get out of the world of crime has inspired me to keep moving towards Bulgaria, in a sense.  Running the blog, traveling to conventions and planning events has been fun and rewarding but it's good to keep pushing towards something bigger.

The author who introduced himself to me in San Diego was one David J. Moore, a prolific writer who has contributed to the likes of Black Belt Magazine, Fangoria and Filmfax while visiting movie sets around the globe.  He published World Gone Wild: A Survivor's Guide to Post-Apocalyptic Movies this past year and it is awesome.  It's hardcover with glossy pages and color text and photos, in other words, it's a real book.  The tome consists of bite size movie reviews for over 800 titles in the End of the World genre featuring dozens upon dozens of interviews with cast and crew.  After reading his review and interview with director Roger Christian, I actually want to see Battlefield Earth!  There's plenty of titles I'd never heard of but now want to check out.  Like me, David is celebrating these films and showing the filmmakers that someone out there enjoyed their work, no matter how obscure or how limited the release.  Sit downs with the likes of Albert Pyun, Michael Pare, Martin Campbell, Russell Mulcahy and Paul W.S. Anderson are highlights.  Mr. Moore's next book is The Good, The Tough and the Deadly: Action Stars and their Movies which pays homage to you guessed it, my favorite genre, the action movie!  David has lined up another winner with something like 60+ interviews with actors, martial artists, writers, directors, etc.  Yours truly contributed to one of them and has a couple reviews included.

(Not) Love Actually: Stretch

Writer and Director Joe Carnahan is one of my favorite dudes working today.  It's hard to believe that his breakthrough film, Narc, was released 12 years ago.  That 2002 flick, about two cops working the mean streets of Detroit to find a cop killer was a gritty and electrifying piece of work that signaled Carnahan had arrived in Hollywood.  A detour into writing and directing Mission Impossible III for Tom Cruise followed but after a year and a half, Carnahan quit the production when his raw, low budget version dealing with private military in Africa just wasn't cutting it with studio Paramount.  In 2006 we got Smokin' Aces, a frantic, hilarious, fucked up, star-studded affair about federal agents and hired assassins going after a mob informant.  2010's big budget, action and stunt filled adaptation of 80's television show The A-Team was just about the most fun I had watching a movie that year.  2011's follow up The Grey changed directions and was a harrowing, lyrical and successful mash up of art house and mainstream dramatic action thriller.

In 2012, rumors were swirling about a proposed Death Wish remake or a quick, micro budget project with genre powerhouse Jason Blum of Paranormal Activity and The Purge fame.  The Los Angeles set Death Wish was allegedly derailed when MGM wanted Bruce Willis for the title role while Carnahan was looking for a non-action icon and had earmarked the lead for up and coming actor Frank Grillo from Warrior and Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  Carnahan's project with Blum would become known as Stretch and tell the tale of an in debt limo driver chauffeuring an eccentric billionaire around town on one crazy night hoping to land a big tip.  Like Smokin' Aces, Stretch would line up a low-watt cast of familiar faces including Patrick Wilson, Jessica Alba, Ray Liotta, Brooklyn Decker, David Hasselhoff, Ed Helms and Chris Pine.  Not much was released from the production of the film and news on it's release was lacking.  Universal announced a March, 2013 release date but in January, dropped Stretch from their schedule.  Producer Blum was given the chance to shop the film to other studios but there were no takers.  Although the film only cost $5 million dollars, Universal did not feel it's potential earning power would justify the $20+ million it would take to advertise it.  Thus is the case with several Blum productions under his deal with Universal, this was just the most high profile example.  Carnahan defended the film, stating that it was a great flick and Patrick Wilson was terrific as the lead.  Stretch would find it's audience somehow and sometime, whether it be via a film festival or creative distribution.  Things went quiet again, the film didn't play festivals or receive any kind of theatrical release as far as I'm aware before hitting Netflix in October and a so far bare bones DVD only release is slated for this week. That's a marked difference to Carnahan's past films which all feature entertainingly candid commentaries and insightful making of's.

So what happened?  Is the film worthy of Carnahan's praise?  Was it his first cinematic misstep?  Was it too bad to release?  Yes and no.  Is it as memorable as his previous work?  No.  Is it entertaining?  Hell yes.  Did it deserve a wide release?  In my opinion, no, it did not.  Stretch is fast, fun and depraved in the vein of Smokin' Aces meeting Michael Mann's Collateral but is very, very Los Angeles story and probably wouldn't appeal to the vast stretches of AMERICA that live in between us and New York.  That being said, I still think it should have gotten some kind of release in major markets and be given a few supplements on home video but hey, I'm not in charge.

We meet Stretch (Patrick Wilson) as he's being t-boned at an intersection and goes flying out the window.  Miraculously, he's unharmed and begins dating the driver who hit him, a beautiful young woman named Candace (Brooklyn Decker).  Candace breaks up with Stretch a year later and our guy goes back to his drinking and gambling ways, incurring a harsh, $6,000 debt.  Originally moving to LA to be an actor, Stretch pays the bills by driving a limo but their service is in danger of being obliterated by new competition, Cossack.  After his bookie's agency is bought out by Chinese investors, Stretch's once payment plan debt is now due by the end of the night.  We roll with Stretch as he tries to figure out how to get the money and as he picks up various clients.  David Hasselhoff and Ray Liotta play amped up, funny versions of themselves as his first fares of the day.  Oh yeah, he's visited by the ghost of Karl, a former legend in the limo business who basically shows up to tell Stretch how stupid he is, played by an over the top, mustached Ed Helms.  With the help of his cute, kind and bespectacled dispatcher Charlie (Jessica Alba), Stretch lands a possibly lucrative fare in the shape of eccentric billionaire Roger Karos (Chris Pine looking like Howard Hughes smashed with Charles Manson).  From there, drug, bookie, hooker, police filled Los Angeles and Hollywood shenanigans ensue. 

Stretch is a lot of fun, if you liked his crazy, what the fuck-ness of Smokin' Aces, you'll probably like this.  It's also kind of sweet and you feel for our lead.  Like I said, it's a very Los Angeles movie as the once ambitious, go getting Stretch gets burned out while trying to make it and struggles to get through another day while pursuing his goal of becoming an actor.  Things play out like a screen writers descent into hell, combining all of the worst and weirdest stories broke creatives moonlighting as drivers, waiters, etc have encountered or heard.  Watching the film you can basically spot LA and Hollywood landmarks and many are used with their real names.  I was impressed that they were able to close down certain streets and parts of the freeway for such a small budgeted film.  Shot in 23 days, Stretch feels much bigger than your typical Direct to Video film of it's size, mostly due to Carnahan's experience with making movies large and small.  There's bits of action peppered throughout to keep things exciting and the cast is used very efficiently so nearly every scene has a familiar face, even if only for a few moments.  This film fell off my radar and by the time I was reminded of it and wanting to do some sort of screening, it was already coming out on VOD.  Carnahan has been keeping busy directing episodic television lately as film projects stall, hopefully that changes soon and we get his edgy, macho, funny and weirdcool sensibility back on the big screen where it belongs.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Ask Me a Question: Foxcatcher w/Bennett Miller

Released on 6 screens in New York and Los Angeles this weekend is true life Oscar contender hopeful Foxcatcher.  I knew nothing of the film besides the basic scenario of two brothers and champion wrestlers are sponsored by a millionaire then tragedy strikes.  It just reeked of award fodder with the based on a true story story, a somber tone, actors playing against type in heavy make up, etc.  It's the mid 80's and 1984 Gold Medal winner Mark Schultz is having a shitty go of life.  He makes $20 bucks to speak to disinterested elementary school kids, gets mistaken for his older brother Dave, eats fast food and ramen and lives in a not great apartment.  Big brother Dave, also a Gold Medal winner, is a natural coach and influence with a loving wife and kids and working on a deal with national brand, USA Wrestling.  One day out of the blue, Mark receives a phone call from the estate of one John E. du Pont, heir to the vast chemical and ammunition fortune of his Civil War ancestors.  du Pont requests Mark come visit him in Pennsylvania, traveling first class of course, to talk creating a training facility at the Foxcatcher Farm in order to win at the World Championships and then the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea in a bid to better America.  While du Pont is an extremely educated and accomplished man, he's a published author and noted ornithologist, he loves sports and wants the family to be known for something more than his mother's horse show and riding accolades.

Seemingly too good to be true, Mark packs up and heads to the du Pont estate where he's provided a fully stocked chalet to live in and top of the line training facility to build his team.  Brother Dave isn't interested in uprooting his family so Mark sees it as a chance to finally get out of the shadow of his big brother.  Things start off well enough with du Pont giving Schultz every opportunity to better himself, mingle with high society and the duo win at the World Championships.  Bad influence cocaine encroaches, Mark loses focus, cuts ties with his brother and begins to mentally check out.  That's when du Pont brings in Dave and things start to go wrong.  We're never sure exactly why Mark is so angry at du Pont besides building him up only to favor the big brother like everyone else does in the end.  I thought there would be some kind of homosexual relationship uncovered here with Mark feeling like an abused servant, giving up his morals and dreams for money but nothing is ever brought to light.  There are flashes of du Pont's erratic and repressed behavior; waking Mark up in the middle of the night for a training session, wrestling and winning against paid opponents, shocking the wrestlers by firing a gun into the ceiling, angling to be the coach and mentor Dave is for his mother's approval, etc.

Foxcatcher is anchored by the strong performances of it's three leads; Channing Tatum plays Mark with brooding, emotionally lost strength, Steve Carrell is nearly unrecognizable under a fake nose and prosthetic appliances as the odd and sad du Pont while Mark Ruffalo is solid and genial as the big brother coach everybody loves.  The script by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman is very sparse and gives the leads much to do but supporting players like Dave's wife played by Sienna Miller has nothing to do and is nearly silent in the role.  While the drama is built up well enough it doesn't quite keep you engaged through it's over two hour run time.  Director Bennett Miller, fresh off two other true story based motion pictures, Capote and Moneyball, provides a stark and somber affair with little music throughout so much of the film plays out in silence and you get self conscious about eating that big bag of popcorn.  There are some great scenes in the film, from Mark and Dave's increasingly aggressive wrestling workout to a helicopter ride where du Pont hammers Mark to expand his vocabulary while introducing him to cocaine to a hotel breakdown scene where Mark has just lost a qualifying match.  The end tragedy is shocking and violent but we don't see anyone's reaction to it in the aftermath so it's up to the viewer to do some research to get a more complete picture.

After the film, a writer for Variety introduced director Miller who honestly didn't seem like he wanted to be there and what ensued was one of the most awkward Q&A's I've ever attended.

- Asked about getting involved with the project, Miller said he was doing a DVD signing of a documentary 7-8 years ago and a total stranger gave him an envelope of news clippings about the story and thought he would be interested in it.  Miller seemed seriously annoyed at the simple question which lead to some very fake smile/laughing from the moderator and the director seemingly annoyed to be there.
- Miller seemed very uninterested in the moderator's questions and immediately wanted to hear from the audience instead.  Some not very good and long winded queries followed.
- Offered Tatum the role 7-8 years ago after seeing him in A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints and wanted a true unknown in the role.  Cut to today and Tatum is a superstar.
- Talked to the du Pont family lawyer who was neither overly forthcoming or obstructive.
- Mark Ruffalo was an accomplished wrestler in his youth and had a real bond with Dave's widow to give his performance honesty.  Many people who knew Dave did double takes when Ruffalo was in costume and character. 
- Steve Carrell was not on Miller's list, name submitted through agent.  The two met where Carrell explained that all characters he played had a mushy center and du Pont seemed to be the same but with the capacity for more.
- On the homosexual rumors and not openly addressing them in the film, Miller said many of the wrestlers who trained at Team Foxcatcher had heard about du Pont grabbing in the bathing suit area but none of them had actually ever experienced it.
- Miller felt his perception of the du Pont character was a man who made himself out to be something he could never live up to as a coach, mentor, athlete, etc and more or less a repressed individual that built up steam and resentment over the decades.
- Tatum's breakdown scene was done in one shot with the actor keeping to himself before shooting and being very lucky he didn't injure himself.
- Miller did a smart thing and thanked the audience for being there and was happy to see a packed house.

While Foxcatcher will probably catch some awards heat for acting, I can't see it being celebrated for it's narrative or story telling technique.  I'm putting Foxcatcher after fellow award hopefuls Birdman and Interstellar and way behind Miller's previous, fantastic work, Moneyball.  The unanswered questions and unsatisfying explanations did lead me to do some research on my own though where details left out or compressed for runtime elaborated the unfortunate and sad circumstances of the lives portrayed. 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

View In Peace: Glen A. Larson

Oh Damme, sad news for this Saturday morning as prolific television producer and creator Glen Albert Larson has passed away.  Former pop singer and Long Beach native Larson created, wrote and produced the likes of Battlestar Galactica, Magnum P.I., and The Six Million Dollar Man but I'll always know him as the guy that gave me Knight Rider as a kid and then Night Man as a teenager.  Knight Rider of course, gave the world David Hasselhoff in a modern retelling of The Lone Ranger as a former cop, thought killed on the job is rescued, given a new face, identity and purpose working for the Foundation of Law and Government as Michael Knight to take on criminals working above the law.  Oh yeah and instead of a horse he has a souped up, nearly invincible Trans Am that can drive through walls, turbo boost over danger and talk called the Knight Industries Two Thousand or K.I.T.T. for short, voiced by William Daniels.

Appearing on NBC in 1982, Knight Rider was part of then wonder-kid Brandon Tartikoff's rebranding of the low rated network that would go on to become a powerhouse with popular and influential shows like Knight, Miami Vice, The Cosby Show, Wings and The A-Team.  Just being born, I missed all the hoopla of Knight Rider's original four season run and picked it up as a youngster on USA Network reruns after school.  From the unforgettable theme song to the breathy voiceover, I loved the weekly adventures in a new town where usually clad in a tight polo, tight black leather jacket and tight jeans Michael would be dispatched by his boss Devon Miles (Edward Mulhare) to investigate shady dealings where common folk were being squeezed and threatened by thugs of all sorts from car thieves to circus gangsters to robbers to professional athletes.  And mack on chicks, of course.  K.I.T.T.'s high tech, "Darth Vader's bathroom" upgrades allowed him to see through walls, jam radio signals, analyze samples and even print from the dashboard.  Michael and K.I.T.T. had a nice rapport as the former would teach the latter about sports and women while conversely, K.I.T.T. acted as the voice of reason to Micheal's hot headed tendencies.  When Michael had to get out of the car, they stayed in touch with a radio wristwatch and Michael would call K.I.T.T. for help many a time.  Now we have self driving cars and smart watches so looks like reality is catching up to Hollywood.

While the car might have been the shiny object, Hasselhoff's easygoing charm and awkward, lanky, karate style antics were just as important.  But what a shiny object, the 1982 Trans Am sports model would become a pop culture symbol for the decade and beyond.  So much that manufacturer Pontiac asked that they not be mentioned as demand skyrocketed.  Given a sleek shiny black paint job, a pulsing red light in front along with a high pitched whistling while driving, K.I.T.T. was the future. Tricked out with gadgets like ejector seats, smoke spray, grappling hooks, even a flamethrower!  Then of course no episode was complete without some car stunts a la rubber track leaving 180's in the middle of the street, driving up on two wheels and Turbo Boosting over every thing like other cars, ponds and walls.  In one episode, K.I.T.T. drove on water!  To this day, a replica would be my dream car.

During Knight Rider's 4 year run, Larson had two additional programs on television, juggernaut Magnum P.I. and The Fall Guy.  After KR wrapped up in 1986, 1991's not very good television movie Knight Rider 2000 failed to relaunch the series and 1997's Team Knight Rider lasted one season.  In 2008, NBC was in the midst of another ratings plummet and began tombing past properties to relaunch.  Knight Rider became a two hour back door pilot and cruised 17 episodes before running out of gas.  Hasselhoff appeared as Michael Knight and his estranged son was the focus of the new series.  K.I.T.T. had been upgraded to a clumsy and not very cool looking Ford Mustang voiced by Val Kilmer.  A feature film adaptation has long been in the works but has yet to gain traction.  The Hoff of course would go on to have a very colorful career, appearing on world wide hit show Baywatch for 236 episodes, achieving some minor hits as a pop singer and even play Nick Fury years before Samuel L. Jackson would don the eye patch in a decent T.V. flick.  Larson would hit a little bit of a dry spell before an early 2000's resurgence with Battlestar Galactica.

In the 90's, Larson was only involved with one show that lasted more than a season, the syndicated comic book adaptation, Night Man.  Based on the Malibu Comics character, Night Man the show was like Batman meets a little bit of Daredevil as police academy level martial arts instructor turned saxophone player Johnny Domino is struck by lightning and gains the ability to tune into the frequency of evil.  You know, like sense someone is gonna shoot somebody, planting a bomb or trips a trap that unleashes a tarantula? Using his karate skills and some top secret, high tech combat gear like an anti-gravity belt, stealth cape, bullet-proof suit and a totally 90's mask with exposed hair, he takes to the skies and streets to battle crooks big time and small.  While cheaply produced, Night Man was a fun show I watched on WGN as a young teenager.  The Protector's Matt McColm plays Domino/Night Man with his likeable stunt guy demeanor and action figure handsome physicality, looking cool in San Francisco in tee shirts and vests while driving his purple Prowler.  Earl Holliman (Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Forbidden Planet, Sons of Katie Elder) shows up as Johnny's former cop dad while a tech sidekick and police detective were also regular supporting players.  Being the 90's, action was pretty practical with car chases, fisticuffs, explosions and broken windows while random green screen scenes show Night Man "flying" stiffly around town in his black and blue suit complete with a bright red, laser beam firing eye.  The Knight Rider himself David Hasselhoff appears in a brief cameo in part 2 of the pilot as a suave, evil arms dealer type who gets offed by Night Man who then drops a quip about "life being a hassle"!  (Stands up and starts the slow clap) Bravo, writer and executive producer Larson, bravo.

Thanks for the hours of fun and entertainment, Mr. Glen A. Larson.  View in Peace!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Western of the Day: Vera Cruz

Turner Classic Movies is a great channel.  I remember when AMC used to show classic movies but now they show the popcorn equivalent of USA and are more known for their original programming like Mad Men and The Walking Dead.  TCM has kept it old school though, celebrating stars and features from past eras with retrospectives and documentaries, unafraid to broadcast films in Black and White.  Most films are preceded and followed by on air segments discussing the film, providing tidbits on the production and reception.  Scanning through their listings I came across a flick I hadn't seen in a very long time, 1954's Vera Cruz.  Gary Cooper headlines while Burt Lancaster co-stars and produced with Robert Aldrich directing a script from Roland Kibbee, James R. Webb and Borden Chase.

Vera Cruz opens in Mexico where we learn that many a Civil War veteran travels down south to join the Franco-Mexican war as mercenaries where the locals fight against French emperor Maximilian.  Benjamin Trane (Cooper), a clean, suit clad, square tie wearing plantation owner from Louisiana runs into black clad, white toothed, over grinning Joe Erin (Lancaster).  A tense introduction and sale of a horse shows Trane's humanity and Erin's paranoia before the duo runs into the royal army and high tails it.  Trane gets himself into trouble with Erin's gang, which includes western staple Jack Elam and future stars Ernest Borgnine and Charles Buchinksy aka Bronson as dirty, rude, savage thugs.  The motley crew shuns an offer to work for the local resistance army and ends up selling themselves out to the Emperor who needs an escort for his wife, The Countess Duvarre and a wagon train to the port at Vera Cruz where she's supposedly headed back to France.  Turns out it's a set up as the wagon is loaded with $3 million bucks worth of gold intended to buy troops from Europe to keep ol' Maxy in power.  Everybody finds out about the gold of course and double and triple crosses, fending off the rebel army and uneasy alliances ensue.

I'm not sure when the first buddy picture was but Vera Cruz is firmly in the would be tradition of the genre.  One is a southern gentleman while the other is a wild west outlaw, etc.  It's a little edgier though as the two leads are friendly but more in the sense of waiting to be stabbed in the back rather than a brotherly bond.  High Noon's Gary Cooper as Benjamin Trane is standup and forthright, seemingly naive yet learned and experienced while Burt Lancaster channels his swaggering, over the top performances from The Crimson Pirate and Arrow and the Flame but with added menace as Joe Erin.  Lancaster overuses his trademark mega watt smile and physicality here and comes off a bit theatrical while Cooper relies on his quiet strength.  Erin's lack of manners cracked me up as he eats whole chickens with his hands and guzzles goblets of wine with little of the liquid actually going into his mouth. Suave guy himself Cesar Romero from Batman shows up as the Marquis Henri de Labordere, coincidentally, he would play a Marquis again in 1963's Donovan's Reef.  Jack Elam, whose career was defined by westerns starring the likes of John Wayne, Kirk Douglas and James Garner plays it mean here along with Borgnine and Buchinksy as would be child killers and rapists Donnegan and Pittsburgh.

This was one of Robert Aldrich's first feature films but his future as an action director with visual flair is firmly established as Vera Cruz contains some rough and tumble excitement; a convoy ambush, river crossing, harrowing escapes, horse jumps and lots and lots of shootouts featuring revolvers, repeating Winchester rifles and a Gatling gun.  One interesting technique that caught my eye was that actors tended to walk into frame and get close ups throughout which is said to have influenced spaghetti western director Sergio Leone.  Lancaster had already worked with Aldrich on the earlier Apache and the two would reteam twice more twenty years later on Ulzanna's Raid and Twilight's Last Gleaming.  On a viewing once upon a time, it was said that Lancaster amped up his performance to overcompensate Cooper's quiet delivery but upon seeing dailies immediately asked to reshoot scenes as he had gone way over the top.  With the studio system collapsing, Burt Lancaster was a forerunner of actors procuring their own projects and producing themselves.  Vera Cruz cost $1.7 million but made over $11 million at the box office.

Lancaster had already been nominated for an Academy Award for the superb 1953 World War II drama From Here To Eternity but still had a decade plus of leading man hits awaiting him in Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Sweet Smell of Success, Elmer Gantry, Seven Days In May and The Swimmer to solidify his spot as a Dammaged Goods favorite.  Cooper had been acting for thirty years by the time Vera Cruz was released and headlined major hits like Sergeant York and High Noon before passing away in 1961.  Aldrich would go on to become an unsung hero of sorts in the genre of macho and raw action flicks, directing Attack, The Dirty Dozen, Emperor of the North and The Longest Yard featuring leading men Jack Palance, Lee Marvin and Burt Reynolds.  Years after Vera Cruz was released, the Mexican government was so incensed over the portrayal of its people, it forced a censor/adviser on the Mexican set production of The Magnificent Seven to make sure Mexicans were not shown in a negative light.

Workout of the Day: Return of the Pump

Being busy with social engagements and whatnot, I had a week of half workouts.  Re-energized, I approached this week with a little more gusto.  Watching some Stallone clips on YouTube to get me motivated, I hit the complex gym for an upper body circuit on the ol' Paramount Machine and with my free weights.  While I'll never be able to train for months on end multiple times a day to get Stallone yoked, I felt nice and pumped after this little routine for my Shoulders, Biceps and Triceps:

1) Shoulder Press/Close Grip Pulldown/Bench Dip
2) Side Lateral Raise/Bent Over Curl/J-Press
3) Rear Delt Raises/Concentration Curls/Lying DB Extensions
4) Front Cable Raise/Cable Hammer Curls/Rope Pushdowns

Each Tri-Set was repeated 3 times which means I pumped out 36 sets when I usually do 27, I just felt like I needed to do a little extra for slacking off last week.  I received a fresh reminder to pay attention while training as I misjudged the arc of the cable curl section on my front raises and ended up slamming into the top and letting go of the handle which promptly smacked my shins and smashed my toe.  Gym vigilance and safety is paramount as is being in the moment in the movement.  Frank Zane recalls many a time when he wasn't paying attention during a workout and brought a pulldown bar straight onto his head or dropped a plate on his foot, etc.  It just takes that one moment of day dreaming to cost you time out of the gym due to carelessness.  So be safe and get swole!

Gotta Drank! Beer Belly

After seeing it on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives randomly before making plans to meet some friends in Koreatown, I suggested Beer Belly, a restaurant and craft beer joint none of us had been to on Western.  I figured it might be  a little crowded on a Thursday evening but we got there before the rush.  The place is pretty small with only a little bar but a couple of patios.  There's a valet parking lot outside but meters end at 4:00PM and we found one around the corner.  I'm not a beer drinker unless it's Ginger mixed with whiskey so I grabbed a cider I had never heard of, Julian's.  It was smooth without being too bubbly, sweet or sour, it was kind of like wine I suppose...Food wise Beer Belly is known for their Asian fused with American classics menu so we got Death By Duck (fries tossed in duck fat, topped with duck confit), Pork Belly Chips, Mac N Cheese and the Fried Chicken.  Everything just tasted very salty and the mac n cheese was uber tasty yet really dense so I'm not sure I'd come back just for the grub.  Although I would like to try their array of deep fried desserts like Oreo's, Twinkies and a Smores Pop Tart.  Service was nice though and there's tons of things next door like coffee and boba houses, Mexican and more Korean BBQ's than you could shake a pair of tongs at.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Pulp Cinema: The Shadow

Pulp Magazines, or "the pulps" were cheap fiction magazines that descended from dime store novels and were prevalent in the early 1900's through World War II.  Pulp refers to the inexpensive wood pulp paper used for printing versus the heavy and glossy stock reserved for magazines.  Genres like adventure, detective, horror and fantasy ruled while over the top heroes Doc Savage, The Shadow, Tarzan, Conan the Barbarian and John Carter of Mars graced dozens of novels.  Those same heroes would also transcend various medias like comic strips, comic books, radio programs, serials, television shows and of course, motion picture adaptations.

The 1990's were a terrific time for such heroes as period set, non-mainstream, DC and Marvel movie descendents and predecessors like Dick Tracy, The Rocketeer, The Shadow and The Phantom all got the big budget, big screen treatment.  Each of these films holds a special place in my heart and today we'll take a look at 1994's The Shadow.  Developed in 1930, the crime fighting vigilante with physic powers and a playboy secret identity, The Shadow became a fixture in pulps appearing in 325 printed adventures over 20 years with 282 of them written by Walter B. Gibson.  The Shadow also became a prominent radio drama, originally voiced by then 22 year old Orson Welles and was broadcast for nearly 20 years, ending in 1954.  Serials and low budget features were produced in the 30's and 40's then a line of comic books from DC in the 70's and 80's carried on the legacy.

"The sun is shining." But the ice, is slippery...

I recently sat down to watch the Shout! Factory Blu-Ray and found myself still enjoying the action/mystery/noir/fantasy after all these years.  Opening in post World War I Tibet, we meet ruthless local opium warlord Ying-Ko whose bubble of power is interrupted when he is kidnapped and brought to the Tulku, a powerful holy man who knows Ko's true identity as Lamont Cranston (Alec Baldwin), disillusioned veteran with dark thoughts and strange mental abilities.  Tulku teaches Cranston how to harness his powers to cloud minds and use his powers for good.  7 years later, Cranston returns to New York City where he is man about town by day and black hat, coat and scarlet scarf clad, twin .45 pistol toting anti-hero The Shadow by night.  Cranston meets the beautiful Margo Lane (Penelope Ann Miller), a woman his uncle/Police Chief warns him to stay away from as she hears voices.  Turns out she has the same telepathic powers as Cranston but didn't get the cool training in Tibet.  Things get crazy when Shiwan-Khan (John Lone), a fellow student of Tulku and last descendent of Genghis-Khan who uses his powers for evil, shows up looking to take over the city.

What I really noticed viewing it again was the grand visual scope of the film utilizing matte paintings, huge art deco sets, cars and wardrobe from the 1930's setting.  That and the fact that the flick has a sense of humor as Baldwin is very smooth, debonair and charming as Cranston and the supporting cast of cooky and memorable characters like taxi driver Moe (Peter Boyle), bomb making Dr. Reinhardt Lane (Ian McKellan), sleazy associate Farley Claymore (Tim Curry) and rescued scientist Dr. Tam (Sab Shimono) all add an extra layer of likeability.  The period setting mixed with The Shadow's ability to hide himself from enemies makes for some visually interesting wham bam action sequences in and around dark bridges, laboratories and ornately designed hotels.  Some of the goings on were kind of surprising as bodies are thrown off the tops of buildings, bouncing and crashing on top of cars, a shard of glass to the forehead, a dream where Cranston rips off his face, etc along with some sexual innuendos I missed as a kid.  Jerry Goldsmith's score is fantastic as well, huge and theatrical to match what we're seeing.

"The weed of crime bears bitter fruit."

Ably directed by Highlander's Russell Mulcahy, The Shadow was intended to become a franchise starter for Universal but was sadly not to be.  Budgeted at a healthy $40 million bucks, the film shot mostly on Universal's backlot where Production Designer Joe Nemec III and crew transformed the fake streets and six sound stages into 60+ sets.   Released on July 1st, 1994, The Shadow would open up # 2 with $11.7 million clams, behind Disney's massive hit The Lion King, on it's way to a middling $32 million gross.  This would continue the diminishing returns pattern after period adventure flicks Dick Tracy and The Rocketeer in 1990 and 1991.  1996's rousing pulpy adventure The Phanom would gross even less.  I can't remember if I saw this in a theater or not but distinctly recall having the VHS, a poster on my wall and a few of the action figures where you'd shove Cranston's head down and attached a hat and scarfed The Shadow top complete with cape.

Cinefantastique covered The Shadow in their August 1994 issue with a staggering 27 page look at the film covering the development of the film, origins of the character, director Mulcahy, the radio program, writer David Koepp, special make up, past film and serial versions, production design, computer effects, merchandise, matte painting and miniatures.  It's amazing to see how much work goes into a movie just from reading it, not even living it.  One of the major thrulines is the ambitious scale of the film and it's visual inspirations while working with a moderate budget and schedule of 64 days.  Producer Martin Bregman had the rights for 12 years and wanted to introduce the popular culture phenom to a whole new generation.  Writer David Koepp was familiar with the radio shows and was tasked with making The Shadow more movie friendly and not just an invisible man as depicted in the radio program.  Koepp eventually wrote 15 drafts of the film and always visualized Alec Baldwin in the role.  It was decided to keep the tone light and to have fun instead of going the dark and serious route of 1989's juggernaut Batman.  Baldwin was drawn to the dark past of the heroic title character, a once evil man now atoning for his sins.  Miller had worked with Bregman and Koepp on the Al Pacino crime thriller Carlito's Way and enjoyed not being a damsel in distress and the rapid, 30's style banter while John Lone went deep method in his role as Khan. The notion of a sequel was raised before release with Koepp ready and willing, thinking a showdown with the Voodoo Master would make for a great follow up.  Cut to today and movement on a new adaptation has all but died out.  Evil Dead and Spider-Man helmer Sam Raimi was eager to make the film but was denied the opportunity in the 90's.  It's said that his Darkman, a story of a disfigured scientist fighting a crime boss, was his version of The Shadow.  In recent years, Raimi acquired the rights but as of 2012 states he was unable to mount a satisfactory script and has essentially abandoned the project.

"The Shadow knows!"

On Shout!'s 20th anniversary release, we get comments from many of the major players including Mulcahy, Baldwin, Miller, Nemec and Cinematographer Stephen H. Burum.  Baldwin really wanted to work with Koepp and sings his praises but makes no mention of Mulcahy while Miller gives props to the writer and the leading man.  Mulcahy talks about the terrific cast and Lone's method style off set which led to funny interactions, especially during lunch. Everyone seems to think Miller has a very 1930's look and was perfect for the role.  Also discussed is The Shadow's place as a film caught in between eras of technology as old school methods like matte paintings were mixed with visual f/x to make a knife with a face fly around.

Until we pick up the Tommy Gun and ride with Dick Tracy, before we strap on the jetpack with The Rocketeer and until we slam some evil with The Phantom; check every corner, every empty room, as inevitable as your guilty conscience...The Shadow will be there!

The 80's Called: Go-Go

Looks like the 80's just ain't going nowhere, fast, as this week showed people still want their Starlog Magazine, 8-bit video games, VHS movie trailers and schlocktastic studio of the future, Cannon Films.  So cancel your Saturday night date, break out the 2-liter of Shasta and crank up the synth wave as we round up all things great eight...ies.

- Non-profit The Internet Archive out of San Francisco looks to provide historians, scholars and the general public permanent access to digital records.  Amongst their archives are over 200 issues of Starlog Magazine, the publication devoted to science fiction films, books and television series that had it's heyday in the 80's.  Started by Kerry O'Quinn and Norman Jacobs with a later assist from David Houston as a one off guide to Star Trek, Starlog expanded into regular printing and ran from 1976 to 2009 for 375 issues.  The company also published Comics Scene and Fangoria, focusing on comic book adaptations and horror films among other titles.

- The Internet Archive also unveiled over 900 8-bit coin-operated arcade game titles emulated for online play.  As mall arcades died out in the 90's, you can save your quarters and spend your free time playing classics like Bionic Commando, Street Fighter II, Galaga, Golden Axe, Q*Bert, Dig Dug and Burger Time online instead.

- Speaking of video games, remember River City Ransom?  The Double Dragon-esque NES beat'em up game where you went around punching dudes with brass knuckles and eating ramen?  An officially licensed sequel, Underground, is on the way via a successfully funded Kickstarter campaign that revisits and expands upon Alex and Ryan's army'ing into River City looking for a kidnapped girlfriend.

- YouTube masher upper extraordinaire Chiefbrodyrules dropped his latest creation, a VHS, 80's style trailer for Captain America: Winter Soldier.  Complete with Cannon Films logo, tracking lines and synth soundtrack, Brody culls footage from the Cap flicks, Avengers, Robocop, Scott Pilgrim VS The World, Machete and Nick of Time to create an awesome time capsule made way outside the actual era.

- And we can't reminisce about the 80's without talking about Cannon Films now can we?  It's been a busy year for the former Go-Go boys of Hollywood with two documentaries hitting screens heightening their profile and the passing of co-founder Menahem Golan cementing their legacy.  After several years in the making, Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films finished production and began rolling out at various film festivals.  Featuring interviews with studio staples and stars like Michael Dudikoff, Dolph Lundgren, Tobe Hooper and Sam Firstenberg; the love letter to pre-sold, hastily made, schlocky exploitation fare sure to include nudity, action and or horror has been a hit with viewers.

Founders Golan and Yoram Globus were scheduled to participate but then in true Cannon fashion, created their own documentary called The Go-Go Boys: Inside Cannon Films to beat Boogaloo to the punch.  At the Cannes Film Festival in May, the two former mini-moguls held court for a screening and attendees could check out both documentaries over the festivals run.  Sadly, in August, 85 year old Golan passed away.