Monday, December 28, 2015

Gotta Eat! Mad Max Lobster Roll

Part of my Christmas weekend was spent cleaning up the house, organizing and putting together one of those giant IKEA shelves. The Swedish furniture store was down by a 99 Ranch Market, a great place for Asian fare and cheap seafood. Lobster was running $10.99 a pound so I picked a couple crustaceans up for a nice holiday meal. Remember that summer a couple years ago when Maine Lobster was cheaper than bologna due to colder water temperatures leading to an abundance of the claw and tailed tastees? While California never got $5.00 lobster, I did see it for $9.99 once. Of course you want a lively lobster because if it's already dead or cathartic, it won't taste as good and you can have bacteria forming in dead ones. The two medium guys I took home didn't move at all on the ride home but when I grabbed one and set him on the counter, he immediately started moving around and looking at me with his little beady eyes. This kind of freaked me out because you really never slaughter your own food in this day and age. And like Van Damme said, "animals have eyes, eyes they have a soul" and this one must have realized what was going to happen because he started thrashing a little bit and backing away from me. I named this guy Max Lobatansky a la Mad Max Rockatansky for some reason.

I read up on humane ways to kill lobsters although most chefs and experts agree that the hard shelled creatures are essentially giant bugs and you wouldn't feel bad for killing a mosquito, right? So using a big knife I punctured the top of the lobster's head and sliced down, supposedly destroying the nervous system. But the tail and extremities keep moving so it's a little unnerving. I've always been conscious of the fact that animals have been slaughtered for my consumption so I do my best not to waste food or take it for granted. To prep Max, I put a pot on to boil and added salt, butter, onion and some herbs. After killing Max, I snipped the rubber bands on his claws then submerged him into the pot for 15 minutes until bright red and ready to eat. Setting him on a chopping board on top of some cardboard ensured less of a mess as I broke, cut and cracked my way in with a side of melted butter with some garlic shavings mixed in. When eating, be mindful of removing the intestinal tract in the tail. While there is some potential danger of eating the tomalley or internal organs due to the fact that pollutants could accumulate. I went ahead and ate the green stuff and was fine. For the second lobster who went unnamed, I did the freezer trick where you let them chill in the ice box for 30 minutes so they're desensitized. Then use your knife and do the head splitting action. This worked quite well as nameless didn't struggle and hopefully did not suffer. I removed the meat from this one and realized just how little comes out. You basically have the tail and claws, a little in the knuckles, a little in the abdomen then with a rolling pin, a fraction in the legs. I think jumbo shrimp is the easier way to go, similar taste and texture with less shell and work.

Stay shiny and chrome, little Max Lobatansky, I witnessed your deliciousness...

Workout of the Day: For the Faint

People usually gain weight over the holidays because there's an abundance of rich food around, lots of socializing and little exercising. In my case I seemed to up by eggnog consumption along with Strong Balls aka Strongbow Cider and Fireball whiskey while eating randomly and sporadically. McDonalds' new mozzarella sticks hit the market so you can be Damme sure I tried those...twice. I have been keeping up the working out though, for example on this past Wednesday when I met Jean-Claude Van Damme I pulled a double.

In the morning it was fasted cardio where I alternated the treadmill and elliptical. To spice things up I incorporated walking backwards, side shuffling and lunge steps on the mill while over on the elliptical it was all about intervals while pedaling forwards then backwards. After meeting JCVD and before dinner out, I hit the apartment gym for a quick but spasm inducing Back and Triceps work out:

Chins/Bench Dip/EZ Bar Row/Lying DB Extensions/Chin Row on Treadmill/Cable Kickbacks and repeated for 4 rounds before throwing in some delt moves to pump up my shoulders.

You know I'm all about the empty stomach workouts in the AM. But fasted training is an experimental beast. Dolph Lundgren suggests going for a long walk upon rising since your blood sugar is low and the body will resort to fat for energy. It also gets you outside and clears your mind. JCVD has been known to pedal on the bike for 40 minutes after tea and before food while for Charles Bronson it was coffee then a 2 mile run. Arnold gets in a morning bike ride and slams weights in the evening. The Rock does 35 minutes of fasted cardio on the elliptical before breakfast and then hits the weights. For me it's better to just get up and go after a few glubs of water. Sitting around too long I'll start to get hungry and lose the zeal. But the gym didn't open until 7:00 AM on Saturday and I woke up at 5:30. So it might not have been my best idea to wait it out then get in an intense session.

Kettlebell Swing/Chin/Incline Push Up/Step Up/Handstand Push Up/Battling Ropes/Dips/Rope Climb Machine/Back Extensions/Rowing Machine

As you can see, that's 11 exercises and I was going for 3 rounds. I felt good and pumped but made the fatal flaw of taking a sip of water between my 1st and 2nd rounds. That plus my intense aspiration of perspiration lead to feeling like I was going to pass out or vomit by the end of my 3rd round. I can chalk it up to low blood sugar and maybe pushing a little too hard but after 5 minutes of lying on the floor in a cold sweat, I felt great and went on about my day.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Biehn Scene: Deep Red

From the Dammaged Goods VHS library comes 1994's Deep Red, a science fiction action noir flick starring Michael Biehn. Written by D. Brent Mote and directed by Craig R. Baxley, Red has the distinction of being then Sci-Fi Channel's first original movie. The film opens similar to Predator as an alien vessel soars across starry space and heads towards earth. But down here, the ship is actually tiny in scale and crashes into young Gracie (Lindsey Haun), effectively infecting her with Deep Red. The alien substance provides healing ability and possible immortality. Gracie is thrust into danger as mad scientists wish to exploit the power and come after her. Enter burnt out private detective Joe Keyes (Biehn) and his ex-wife Monica Quik (Joanna Pacula) as they set out to protect young Gracie. For a straight to TV genre flick, Deep Red contains an excellent cast, surprisingly large scale action and a tone that's noir meets The Terminator.

Biehn plays haunted former police officer Keyes who is thrown into the deep end protecting Gracie against seemingly super powered thugs. Moody lighting and lengthy shots accompany voice-over discussing good and evil as Biehn is a cashed out non-believer who eventually comes around. Perennially sweating with a cigarette dangling from his mouth and disheveled hair, Biehn digs back into his bread and butter as the wounded action hero lead. By the early 90's, stunt man, driver, choreographer and coordinator Craig R. Baxley had already worked with the likes of Warren Beatty, Joel Silver, Walter Hill and John McTiernan providing explosions and fights for The Warriors, Predator and TV's The A-Team. With feature directing credits under his belt including Action Jackson and I Come In Peace; Baxley carved out a niche as a guy who could deliver an exciting, action packed and familiar face filled flick on a budget.

Baxley chimed in for the writing of this article, lamenting that Deep Red "wow, was a couple years ago" and it was the "first in house movie made for the Sci-Fi channel". Baxley worked with then President of Universal Cable Division Barbara Fisher and signed on. When asked who he saw as the lead, Baxley suggested the sensitive yet physical hero of The Terminator and Aliens, Michael Biehn. Fisher didn't think they could get Biehn interested let alone afford him. Baxley recalls, "I took it upon myself to call him on on the set of Tombstone and after a brief conversation had his commitment".  Deep Red featured plenty of character faces like Tobin Bell (Saw), Joanna Pacula, John de Lancie (Star Trek: The Next Generation) and John Kapelos (The Breakfast Club). The film was shot around LA in 20 days with no second unit on a budget of just under $3 million. Baxley states "I tried to give it a film noir look as well as the feel of a Sci-fi action flick. We didn't have the budget to do the action but I think we actually pulled it off." Like many of Baxley's efforts, the action ranges from physical dust ups (Biehn gets tossed around an office), gun exchanges, pretty Damme big explosions and some chases. Under Siege and Double Team's Gary Chang provides the ambient and kinetic score.

Deep Red debuted on Saturday, March 12th of 1994 as a Sci-Fi Channel Planetary Premiere before hitting VHS in June. Biehn would go on to star in the massive NBC mini-series Asteroid in 1997 before headlining The Magnificent Seven for two short seasons while popping up on the big screen opposite Sean Connery and Nicolas Cage in The Rock. In 1996, Baxley directed Twilight Man, the first in house movie for Starz before adapting several Stephen King works as event mini-series. Writer D. Brent Mote would reteam with the rebranded SyFy Channel in 2009 for 5 seasons of quirky action on Warehouse 13. SyFy would make Saturday night original films a staple of their programming to various degrees of success and quality. Most were budgeted around $1 million and embracing the low budget, campy quality, the likes of Eric Roberts, Lance Henriksen, Dean Cain and Kevin Sorbo fought off zombies, dinosaurs, abominable snowmen, giant snakes and blobs of ooze. In recent years their Sharknado series struck social media gold while I can't say I've seen one.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Holiday Happiness: Street Fighter

Do you have a movie you or your family randomly watches around the Holidays? It could be a staple like Christmas Vacation, Love Actually or It's a Wonderful Life. Then you've got titles like Die Hard or Lethal Weapon as action movies set at Christmas in the mix. A friend told me on The O.C. the family watched Stallone's truck driving/father-son story Over the Top while non-action movie junkie colleagues tell me their family randomly watches Bloodsport or Under Siege 2 at festive gatherings. For me, it seems like 1994's Street Fighter has come full circle to become part of my Christmas tradition. My mom took me to see it on Christmas day over twenty years ago and it's been a regular part of my Jean-Claude Van Damme viewing ever since. As I've stated before, it's not a Street Fighter film, it's a G.I. Joe meets James Bond flick that is handsomely produced, includes lots of exciting action and fights while cracking wise and generally being pretty Damme entertaining.

Street Fighter came back this Christmas because my lady gifted me with some bitching trading cards from the 90's. Remember Upper Deck and Topps? When retailers were trying to create a collector's market out of cards, comic books and Beanie Babies? The over abundance of product meant most of this stuff is near worthless but it sure does bring back memories. Along with The Rocketeer, The Phantom, Batman Returns, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II, The Punisher and Judge Dredd, my gift included two packs of Street Fighter trading cards. I used to buy these at Wal-Mart and they were not cheap, I recall maybe $3 bucks a pack. That was a lot of dough for a not yet working pre-teen! The labels on these listed $1.47 so maybe I'm mistaken or they were cheaper on their way out. Either way, I had a lot of these cards back in the day where you had to collect them all to complete your set, buy the plastic pages to hold them and put them all in a big 3 ring binder to flip through. The Street Fighter cards are a nice mix of photos and drawings that take you through the movie's narrative, behind the scenes, actors involved (Van Damme is listed as being 5'11" and 190lbs) and the video game's history along with playing tips.

The cards were a great gift and a total excuse to introduce the film to my lady who knows I'm a big Street Fighter fan in general. At only 90 minutes, the time investment wouldn't be too much to ask and to sweeten the deal I suggested we watch the film as a drinking game. Sure enough we found one online where you sip anytime the name "Bison" is uttered, there's some cheesy/clever bantering going on ("You will choke on those words, Guile." 'Anytime, dickhead!'), a line from the video game is delivered ("Are you man enough to fight with me?" 'Anyone who opposes me will be destroyed') and you're supposed to take a shot when someone does a special move. That means the ending gets a bit messy since at least half of the 15 characters deliver a line from the game or perform a special move like the Flash Kick, Hadouken and Psycho Crusher...

The film plays very well and I still contend it was ahead of its time. Writer/director Steven E de Souza does a tremendous job of building the world, introducing and keeping track of so many characters, moving the story along all while setting up lots of fights and action. You have super hero outfits and a larger than life meets current events tone. There are characters of multiple cultures and actors of Asian, African and indigenous tribes descent receiving nearly as much screen time as leading man Van Damme. Quite a feat when compared to today where Emma Stone plays Asian, or Egyptians become white and filmmakers apologize for the white washing months before the film has even come out. Street Fighter was fun as a drinking game and my lady seemed to enjoy it, only questioning Van Damme's orange-ish blonde hair so I had to show her what Guile looked like in the game and how that would be impossible for a film. Dolph Lundgren from Rocky IV would have been a great Guile but Van Damme was just a much bigger star. She also asked if Van Damme was trying to do an American accent and wondered if a dialect couch was on the set. Since in his first scene he more or less grunt-talks but later slides back into his usual stop and go English with hundred sounding like "han-dread" or emphasizing certain letters and making out become "Ow-Teh". That set off an interesting conversation as the Swedish born Lundgren never had much of an accent in his films, Arnold's German inflections were never explained yet Van Damme was always getting a line about being from New Orleans, being born in Belgium but raised in Los Angeles or playing semi-pro hockey in Montreal...

Holiday Happiness: Hey Arnold

This past Wednesday was a near perfect day. I started off by getting in a 5:30 AM workout followed by polishing off the magnificent tome of an autobiography, Arnold Schwarzenegger's Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story. This was a personal record as I conquered the 624 pages of informative, inspiring, educational and hilarious anecdotes, onset accords and more in just two weeks. The book covers Arnold's entire life from growing up in war affected Austria, his strict but loving parents, getting into bodybuilding, moving to America, amassing personal wealth through construction and real estate to getting into movies, working with President's, meeting future wife Maria Shriver and her political family, running for governor, going public about his secret love child and coming back to the movies. As a lifelong fan I learned quite a bit, things like his Mr. America defeat to Frank Zane in 1968 would forever haunt him as an example of being overconfident and under prepared. Or that after making so much money in real estate, his next investment was a $140 million 747 that is leased out to airlines. Or how he still wasn't sure if he'd run for Governor of California until he went on Jay Leno the night he announced he would. Some of his life philosophies are shared through like staying hungry, being useful, setting goals and accomplishing them through research, education and reps, rep, reps.

Of course later on Wednesday I met an even bigger personal hero, one Jean-Claude Van Damme! It was nearly surreal chatting and joking with The Muscles From Brussels and even more life affirming when he said I was in shape and told me to take my sweater off so we could flex in our tee shirts for photos. Again, seeing Bruce Lee and Van Damme as a kid got me into martial arts and fitness, positive thinking and trying to be the best version of myself I can be. I will be forever grateful. If that weren't enough awesomeness for one day, I met up with some buddies for a Korean BBQ dinner, one of the great meals, if you eat meat. While my former spot has changed names, decor and slowed in service, it was still a terrific time conversing and joking while grilling up lots and lots of meat.

While some people Jingle some of the way, I was going to Jingle ALL the way. Yes, the day was capped off with a 35 mm screening of Arnold's holiday classic at The New Beverly Cinema, where he searches for the season's hottest toy Turboman and goes up against snooty employees, conman Santa Claus', an old school cop, skeezy Phil Hartman and an unstable mail man played by Sinbad. I remember seeing the film back in 1996, owning the VHS and then the Director's Cut on DVD. Experiencing it on the big screen, as usual, makes you see it in a different light. I'd forgotten how go go go the film is as once Arnold starts looking for the doll, it's more or less non-stop for 90 zany minutes. Future Anakin Skywalker Jake Lloyd shows off some acting chops here, especially for a kid while Hartman's eligible bachelor neighbor is surprisingly creepy for a family film. Kind of sad was the fact that in the film, characters trample, mace, fight and connive one another to get what they want but if you've seen any videos from Wal-Mart on Black Friday, you know that is now the world we live in. Brian Levant directs from a Randy Kornfield script and employs a terrific supporting cast of familiar faces like Sinbad, Hartman, Rita Wilson, The Wild Wild West's Robert Conrad, Richard Moll from Night Court, young Lloyd, James Belushi, Chris Parnell and Revenge of the Nerds' Curtis Armstrong. There was a solid turnout for the flick and the crowd was very enthusiastic, laughing, cheering and cringing at some of the cartoonish physical stunts.

At home I've been watching End of Days after learning that the tale of Y2K and the devil taking over the world came to The Oak after a dry spell following open heart surgery to fix a genetically defective valve. Apparently Hollywood had gotten so used to Arnold being a self made superman who took care of the job on and off screen, they couldn't believe he was human and needed surgery. The phone stopped ringing and execs wondered if he could handle the rigors of action filmmaking or secure insurance for shoots. Like 1996's Jingle, End of Days was released over Thanksgiving weekend of 1999 and grossed a similar $66 million in the states on it's way to $211 million globally. The Peter Hyams directed film is very 90's and not a fantastic title in Arnold's filmography but he plays a gruff yet likable character and there's some pretty big action going on along with plenty of memorable Arnold screams and grunts along with a few funny lines. Of course Jericho Cane's introduction scene is one of Arnold's best, where he's hungover and contemplating suicide before making a breakfast shake that includes beer, Pepto Bismo, Chinese food, coffee and a slice of pizza off the floor. Twas truly a great day, should have bought a lottery ticket...

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Van Dammage: Day of Days

Today started off quite well, I hit the gym then finished Arnold Schwarzenegger's amazing autobiography Total Recall before 7:00 AM. The office was unsurprisingly quiet before Christmas and then it happened, Jean-Claude Van Damme, his mother Eliana, longtime assistant Kathy and a big golden dog walked in. I was aware that our office handled The Man's Facebook and Instagram accounts where he has amassed a whopping 17 million fans, good enough to best the likes of Johnny Depp, Jennifer Lawrence, Arnold and Mark Wahlberg on the platform. I then had the opportunity to meet The Muscles From Brussels who looked trim and vascular in dark jeans, a skin tight black shirt and JCVD emblazoned cap. I had met Kathy at various events in the past like The American Film Market and on The Expendables II black carpet. Mr. Van Damme was great, full of energy, gracious and immediately commented that I was in shape (Jean-Claude Van Damme just told a former chubby kid who started working out after seeing his movies he was in shape, full circle, Rambo style). Of course I told him he was an inspiration which made him laugh. After a quick introduction to his visiting mother from Belgium, I learned father Eugene Van Varenberg is in town as well. I meant to ask if Van Damme's statue was close to their home but blanked.

I asked if it would be ok to take a photo and Van Damme said it would be his pleasure. Like the ball of energy we all know and love, we proceeded to do a thumbs up pose then he told me to take off my sweater so we could flex and pose "on guard" karate style. We sat down to have some fun and take more pics where I asked about his long gestating personal project, The Eagle Path. His eyes lit up and he said it was coming soon, joking how it was so good it hasn't come out for five years. The title will be Full Love. We finished off with some goofy action shots but I'm kicking myself for not asking to do a back to back, Double Impact homage!

By now we had drawn a crowd in the office and someone sheepishly asked for a photo which opened the gates for everyone else watching to get in line. Van Damme was only too happy to oblige and phones clicked away. I asked a co-worker if he'd taken his photo with Van Damme yet and he didn't believe me until I walked him over. You can see JCVD in a test video for Facebook's new Live Streaming feature where he's being shown the way. While I've been in close proximity to Van Damme at the premieres for Welcome to the Jungle and Pound of Flesh, the moment just didn't present itself to introduce myself and be anything more than a face in the screaming crowd. I always thought we would meet in a more intimate setting and I was right. The knot in my stomach didn't subside for an hour after he and his party left but I'm still smiling that after all these years and near misses, it finally happened.

Thank you, Mr. Van Damme for being such an inspiration. They say you're not supposed to meet your heroes and JCVD has been mine since grade school when he and Bruce Lee inspired me to take up martial arts and weight lifting, but he did not disappoint. He even left me a personalized signed photo. Merry Christmas everyone and stay #MEGAPOSITIVE!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Match Up Monday: Die Hard VS Lethal Weapon

Last night the Egyptian Theatre continued their awesome line up of holiday titles. So far you've run the gamut of classics new and old like It's a Wonderful Life, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, Scrooged and White Christmas. But Sunday was for action. Particularly, awesome 80's action with 1988's Die Hard and Lethal Weapon from 1987. I'd never seen either one on the big screen and was excited to soak in two Christmas set staples. Last week I saw some attention whore internet guy trying to act like he was strange or an early adopter/inspiration to consider Die Hard as a Christmas movie. Uh, it's set at Christmas. At a Christmas party. There's Christmas decorations. Christmas music. There's frigging Christmas themed tape used to hide a gun complete with jingling bell sound effects to remind you it's Christmas. What exactly doesn't make the film a Christmas one? Some people just can't get enough of themselves I guess...

Anyways, 20th Century Fox's Die Hard is a classic of film and the genre. John McTiernan directs a polished and creative blend of big action and high drama. Jeb Stuart and Steven E. de Souza's script loosely based on Roderick Thorp's novel is a textbook example of storytelling. You have set ups and payoffs, interesting characters, human drama, wise cracks and funny jokes along with inventive and exciting action sequences that all take place in only a few locations. Every character is memorable from limo driver Argyle (De'voreaux White) to coke snorting douchebag Ellis (Hart Bochner) and Al Leong's candy bar grubbing baddie. It was fun to see Fox Plaza and Century City from the 80's as The Ralph's and McDonald's are still around. No more .74 gas though...Bruce Willis' put upon John McClane has to overcome Alan Rickman's slick group of mostly long haired, European terrorists all while dealing with a pending divorce and running around with no shoes. The digital print looked great and besides a few hairstyles, the film plays pretty timelessly. The film had a tumultuous road to the big screen but proved to be a big hit, grossing $137 million bucks worldwide and leading to two solid sequels and two not so great ones over 25 years and $1.4 billion in global receipts. Oh and everybody says "pal" a lot.

A year before, Warner Brothers redefined the buddy flick with Lethal Weapon, Richard Donner's tale of mismatched cops. Danny Glover plays Roger Murtaugh, a 50 year old ready to retire while Mel Gibson is Martin Riggs, a suicidal cop on the ragged edge. While Rickman's Hans Gruber was after $600 million bucks, Riggs and Murtaugh come up against the remnants of a Vietnam War outfit selling heroin dubbed Shadow Company, lead by The General (Mitchell Ryan) and his out there to Pluto mercenary henchman Mr. Joshua (Gary Busey). Shane Black's explosively dark script along with Donner's workman expertise combines family, loss, intense action, stunts, jokes, drugs and near suicide in a cohesive and endlessly entertaining package. The final chase sequence takes place on Hollywood Boulevard right next to the theatre where we were watching. Musso and Frank's was the only marquee I recognized as still standing. Whereas Die Hard seemed timeless with it's gorgeous print, classical music and polished sheen, Lethal felt very much of it's time. From wild hair and outrageous fishnet outfits, you get homophobia, Apartheid and mismatched partner banter and a really bad 80's song over the credits on a beat up, 30 year old print. Gibson's angry-crazy acting and waking up with a cigarette and beer screams 80's but that's because the flick has been ripped off so much. Michael Kamen's scored both films with DH going atmospheric and heightening the shock value while his Eric Clapton assisted guitar and saxophone riffs in LW are nearly laughably awesome 3 decades later. Over here we get "son of a bitch" stated from nearly every cast member.

The films share much of the same DNA as Joel Silver co-produced both, Michael Kamen composed, both were shot in Los Angeles and familiar faces like Mary Ellen Trainor, Grand L. Bush and Al Leong appear. And you could smoke indoors back then. They both defined the action genre for contained settings with Die Hard launching a plethora of imitators (on a bus in Speed, by boat in Under Siege) while the buddy picture would never be the same after Lethal Weapon. Weapon would be a top 10 grosser for the year with a $120 million dollar take worldwide and kick starting three sequels over 11 years for a $955 million global haul. Die Hard keeps on ticking with new creatives (4 directors in 5 movies) involved and a proposed 6th installment in the works while Lethal Weapon lies dormant after a falling out between producer Silver and now retired series director Donner. Allegedly original writer Black wrote a 5th installment while Warner Brothers was keen to revive the franchise with younger actors but Gibson refused to participate before running into personal woes.

Winner: It's a tie! Die Hard is a masterful piece of filmmaking with a truly unique story while Lethal Weapon is an era time capsule that is arguably more entertaining. Die Hard is one of those movies you watch once in a while and marvel at its near prestige accomplishments but Lethal Weapon is the crowd pleaser you view regularly.

Yippie-ki-yay mother f*cker and go spit. Have a Merry Christmas while you're at it, pal.

Match Up Monday: D-Box VS 4DX

On Saturday I learned that D-Box and 4DX are not the same thing. We'd seen Guardians in the Galaxy and Gravity in 4DX at L.A. Live Downtown and enjoyed the immersive/roller coaster ride experience. Howard Hughes Cinemark was offering Star Wars in D-Box so I grabbed tix for our second viewing. While buying it looked like there were only two rows of seats but strangely angled away from the screen. Lo and behold we walked into a regular sized movie theater but with two rows of D-Box seats in the front. I felt I had been had and immediately wondered if any 4DX shows would be available downtown...

But let's back up. What is this 4D crap anyway? 3D is a scam we all know, you lose color palette immediately when donning the glasses and there's really not much noticeable depth on most titles. Filmmakers claim old school staples like hurling objects towards you are gimmicks so it's supposed to make you feel like you're in the film. What a load of crap. When I can see the person in front of me, the edges of the screen, there's no way this can be immersive. So adding some blades of grass in the foreground or enhanced drops of rain does f*ck all for the film. Maybe if I had on some VR goggles then I could say yes, this is totally immersive as everywhere I look, I'm in the film. But you don't need to go to a theater for that.

With D-Box, the seats move, rumble and shake with the action synchronized with what's happening onscreen. Imagine sitting on Disneyland's Star Tours for two hours basically but with less range of motion. You can adjust the level of rumble and a night time showing of Star Wars: The Force Awakens will set you back $23.00 at the Howard Hughes Cinemark. Meanwhile, downtown houses America's first 4DX theater where you have I believe eight extra sensations to put you a little more into the flick. The seats move, rumble and shake, then tilt forward and backward while you get effects like wind, bubbles, fog, scent and flashing lights to really put you into the action. A movie like Guardians was perfect for the platform as you got splashed with water when Star Lord danced across puddles, the seat vibrated by your head when shots were being fired, you dipped left and right during space ship chases and bubbles floated from the ceiling during Groot's bio-luminescent scene vault/fall scene. An 8:30 PM screening of Star Wars at Regal's L.A. Live theater will set you back $27.50. It's a hefty price tag but enhances the film that much more, truly an experience designed for all of these big budget action spectacles in this age of comic books and otherworldly adventures.

Winner: 4DX via more immersive effects and not just being a glorified massage chair gone haywire.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Workout of the Day: Holiday Special

Alright let's take a break from movie and Star Wars talk and focus on ourselves. The holidays mean potlucks, happy hours, eggnog, cookies, dinners and in my case, three days straight of caterer tastings at work. Our apartment gym was redone, removing the Universal Machine in favor of a cable station along with some dumbbells. It's like a hotel gym so can't complain too much although I'll miss the versatility of the Universal as I could do leg press, military, etc. I'm reading Arnold's awesome autobiography and while I have no desire to train twice a day for four hours, you can only be inspired to slam around more weight after reading.

A few workouts from the last couple of weeks:

On the road at Disneyland in the hotel gym I knocked out some Shoulders and Arms with:

Machine Press/Concentration Curls/Triceps Cable Extension
Side DB Laterals/Cable Curls/Lying DB Extensions
I was feeling lazy so only did 4 sets of each tri-set compounded with 15 miles of walking over the weekend at the park and on our tour.

In the new apartment gym with Charles Bronson and Jill Ireland's Love and Bullets playing:

DB Swing/Chin/Incline Push Up/Step Up/DB Curls/Dip/Side Raises x 4
When you don't have a full gym, get creative and do calf raises by standing on the edge of a bench or treadmill holding a dumbbell. Or use a nearly discarded metal walker as a dip bar.

Fasted cardio at 5:00 AM helps me get warmed up for these last cold days:

30 minutes of Treadmill/Elliptical/Jump Rope/Shadow Boxing
You could go Zane ab-aerobics style and do a minute at each or progress into some intervals like 30 seconds on and 30 seconds off or 20 work/10 rest, whatever you can do.

Whether you're on the road or enjoying some "me" time this holiday season; breaking a sweat, getting a pump and ridding yourself of stress always comes in handy so keep lifting!

Snow Screen: Star Wars The Force Awakens SPOILERS


I warned you! Now that we got the pleasantries out of the way, let's talk real reel. I liked Star Wars: the Force Awakens. It's like a Marvel movie, well made, well cast, exciting, funny with a bit of heart. But I had issues with the film. Big ones. Usually when you get done seeing an awesome movie, you can't wait to see it again. In recent years I felt that way about flicks like The Dark Knight, Inglorious Basterds, Drive, Pacific Rim, Pain and Gain, Mad Max: Fury Road, etc. At their best films inspire you to better yourself, learn more, take you to a new world, whatever. But when Star Wars ended, I didn't have a burning desire to see the film again, even though we already had tickets for a repeat viewing two days later.

The first section of Force is excellent, we're set up knowing that a new order has risen from the ashes of the Empire, Luke Skywalker has gone missing and his sister Leia is leading the Resistance, etc. But new character Finn, a reformed Storm Trooper, rubbed me the wrong way from the get go. With hyper fidgeting, heavy breathing and nervous energy, Finn realizes he doesn't want to be a Trooper and escapes with rebel pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac). But you hear several Empire folks talking about how all Troops are trained from birth, Finn passed his screenings, etc but on his first mission loses his shit. I just didn't buy it. Kylo Ren felt Finn's traitorous impulses on their first encounter, Captain Phasma catches him hyper ventilating but makes little of it, etc. When you tell me that this guy has passed every test you've given him as a Storm Trooper and been brain washed and trained for at least a decade, I don't believe it that he suddenly freaks out and nobody caught it before. But that's what the story requires.

Then we re-meet Harrison Ford's Han Solo, after having a kid with Leia who was strong with the Force, young Ben was sent to train with uncle and Jedi master Luke who is rebuilding the mythical knights. But Ben goes bad, kills the rest of the Jedi hopefuls and Luke walks away, disappearing for 30 years. While it's good to see Han and Chewie, you realize that The Force Awakens is becoming a retelling/update of A New Hope. Complete with an orphan setting out to find their destiny, a cool looking villain (Captain Phasma) who doesn't actually do anything a la Boba Fett, a cantina filled with creatures and criminals then a climax that involves a literally bigger Death Star where a small party has to infiltrate and knock out the shields so the rebel fleet can drop off some bombs. Meanwhile Leia and Solo's son Ben becomes the evil Kylo Ren, a light saber wielding, Force using baddie inspired by grandfather Darth Vader and trained by The Beyonder/The Watcher knock off Lord Snoke (he's giant, bald and has a high collar).

But doesn't Kylo realize that Vader ended his life turning on the dark side to save his son? So what plan or prophecy exactly did Darth Vader not complete besides ruling the galaxy with his son Luke? Ren is played by Adam Driver, a young, interesting looking actor who is mysteriously experiencing a sky high career. I don't get his appeal, he's not interesting to look at or watch and he comes across a bit flat or just, not interesting or with any presence or gravitas. I don't want to keep following Ren's character as he was a shitty villain and is irredeemable given his actions. So all he can really become is a silent killing machine like Darth Maul. This must be what Steve McQueen meant when he first saw Dustin Hoffman and was dumbfounded a guy like that would one day supersede cool and handsome superstars like himself and Paul Newman.

Like a Marvel film, Star Wars negates any tension or drama with cheeky dialog and humor. Why are modern films afraid to be silent for 3 seconds? Do we really need a wisecrack at every turn to make sure the audience doesn't take the film too seriously? Now let's be honest, none of the previous Star Wars films were meant to be anything more than matinee escapist fare so I'm not looking at Force Awakens to be deep drama. So maybe my issue is just modern films in general. Because at the end of the day, this new chapter is meant to launch a business plan for Disney that includes multiple films, theme park attractions and tens of billions of dollars worth of merchandising sales. Director and co-writer J.J. Abrams is a talented guy as shown in his previous efforts like Mission:Impossible III and Star Trek. But unlike say a Quentin Tarantino who gobbles up a million influences, grinds them up and produces a familiar yet fresh product with a voice, Abrams seems to be stuck chasing others. His Super 8 was like an E.T. meets The Goonies light while The Force Awakens hits all the right chords of Star Wars to please the fans and capture new ones. So here's hoping now that the film is going to be a huge hit with audiences and critics alike, they can move forward, tell some new and interesting stories, change genres, introduce new casts and take some chances.

I feel a little bit like old man Jason Statham now, remember when he lamented about not liking Marvel films because they were just big budget, CGI, stunt double filled spectacles while he preferred old school real physicality? As movies get bigger, risks have to get smaller so you can't really get an ending that's anything less than happy unless it's awards season. Then it's the sadder the better. Today everything has to be explained and onscreen death really doesn't mean anything. Then seeing these young Thundercats along with the plethora of cool and pretty Chris' show up in every film makes me long for the leading men I grew up on. Guys with character, presence and machismo who built their own empires and did it their way like Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster, John Wayne, Charles Bronson, McQueen, Clint Eastwood or Arnold Schwarzenegger. Ah well, let's see what happens with Luke in Episode VIII!

Snow Screen: Star Wars The Force Awakens - Spoiler Free

Star Wars week erupted this past Thursday as marathons and 7:00 PM screenings ushered in a new era for the franchise and cultural movement. While sites for the El Capitan, Arclight, Fandango and among others crashed, I quietly bought seats at the Cinemark in Playa Vista to check out the flick on their XD system. Happy Hour preceded the film as usual, this time at Hop Doddy, a burger and brews joint. We and nearly everyone else were decked out in Star Wars shirts with one guy in a Chewbacca onesie. Cinemark has some groovy special 3D glasses and we grabbed them with BB-8 and Captain Phasma designs. Taking our seats, I took a deep breath and prepared for the next two and a half hours that I hoped would be good. I didn't have high or really any expectations going in as I like Star Wars but am far from a fanatic or expert. But my heart was literally pounding as it got closer to showtime and after the final theater advertisement, I started the applause to get us going. The claps kept coming for the Lucasfilm card as well as the opening Star Wars title and opening theme.

Bottom line? Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a fun flick. It's big, exciting, visual, funny and uses 3D well. It feels very much like a Star Wars film, carrying on the look and tone of A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi with sandy locales, a used and beat up future, flying ships, light sabers, laser blasts, Storm Troopers, the Force, on and on. Leading lady Rey (Daisy Ridley) was excellent; smart and skilled, a pilot and a fighter. While new soccer ball with a head droid BB-8 nearly stole the show with it's beeps, reactions and gadgets. I had issues with John Boyega's Finn and Adam Driver's Kylo Ren being a bit weak as characters played by actors I have no interest in watching. Oscar Isaac shows up as the greatest pilot in the system Poe Dameron and brings a breezy, cool and supportive big brother vibe to his scenes with fidgety and nervous "little brother" Finn. Harrison Ford's returning Han Solo is used to a surprising degree while Carrie Fisher shows up late in the game as Princess turned General Morgana. I consider The Force Awakens a reboot/sequel as you're introducing the world and characters to a new generation but the story mirrors many points of 1978's A New Hope. With billions on the line, Force accomplishes it's job, bringing Star Wars back to the mainstream, breaking box office records and exciting audiences young and old.

If you want to get into the knitty gritty of how I really felt, read the next, spoiler filled post!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Snow Screen: The Night Before

Taking a break from the park on Saturday we headed east to Orange where the giant, 25 screen Century Theatre lives next to several restaurants like our standby The Lazy Dog. A pitcher of sangria, mac n' cheese, chicken Parmesan, turkey sammich and soup later, we took in a day show of Christmas flick The Night Before starring Joseph Gordan Levitt, Anthony Mackie and Seth Rogen. This time last year, team Rogen and co-writer/producer Evan Goldberg were out promoting The Interview which had been pulled from major chains and only screening at independent houses after the Sony hack and possible North Korean participation. With nary a controversial subject in sight, The Night Before is a funny and fun flick that made me laugh and almost cry. Kind of like previous JGL, Seth Rogen and director Jonathan Levin effort, the comedy with cancer, 50/50. Only I straight up cried during that, a little.

The tale of three friends who spend every Christmas together after one of their parents dies, the bros are pushing their mid-30's and decide to end the tradition. Orphan Ethan (Levitt) is struggling through life while lawyer Isaac (Seth Rogen) is about to become a father and Chris (Mackie) is a professional football player on the rise. Throughout the night they revisit old haunts like a karaoke bar and Chinese restaurant on their way to a kick ass, secret party. Home Alone, Die Hard, booze and drug tinged holiday hijinks ensue along with surprise and hilarious cameos. Michael Shannon shows up as a creepy yet funny drug dealer while The Interview alum Lizzy Caplan and Randall Park pop up along with familiar faces Jillian Bell (22 Jump Street) and Ilana Glazer (Broad City). And those aren't even the cameos. Like 50/50, there's a bit of real life heart mixed in with Ethan dealing or not dealing with the sudden death of his parents, Isaac freaking out about having a baby and Chris' questionable gain in athleticism. All in a fun flick that reminds you what's great about the holidays and having loved ones.

Gotta Eat! Disney Weekend

Since we'd be in the park over the weekend, I went ahead and made reservations at a couple of spots, one to try and one to remember. We'd been to Carthay Circle for drinks and I wasn't impressed, hopefully dinner would be more spectacular and it was. The upstairs restaurant is old school Hollywood with low lighting and lots of dark wood decor. Black and white photos of Walt Disney and the likes of Julie Andrews accepting awards adorned the walls. The place wasn't very big but had several attached private dining rooms all named after prolific streets like Buena Vista and Hyperion. There's special cocktails on the menu to commemorate Disney's 60th anniversary so we started with a couple of Manhattan's that came with diamond shaped ice. I'm not a huge fan of Manhattan's so after struggling through I went back to my staple of an Irish Mule. Food wise it was simple yet high end fare like you'd find at Napa Rose or Club 33. I went with the giant porkchop special and we also tried out the fried biscuits filled with cheese and jalapenos, delicious. Most shocking of all discovering Kurt Russell's Gogi line of wine on the menu going for a cool $110 smackers a bottle. Speaking of dranking, we did a mini Disney pub crawl around the resort after Trader Sam's was packed we opted for Steakhouse 55, walked around downtown Disney, Paradise Pier, more dranks at the Grand Californian and finally at a couple of hotels on our way back to basecamp.

Sunday was a big day as we started with the Holiday Time tour, a 3 hour excursion highlighting all of the great Christmas decorations and history. Highlights included learning that one of the 60 foot trees caught on fire and was replaced over night, there's a candle lit menorah in one of Main Street's windows, a little knowledge of candy canes as well as walk on access to Jingle Cruise, Haunted Mansion and It's a Small World. We ended by having front row seats for the parade complete with hot chocolate and gingerbread men and seeing special guest Dick Van Dyke riding dirty along with dancers from local schools and themed floats with Mickey, Santa Claus, Woody and the like. We had reservations over at Big Thunder Ranch for some all you can eat ribs and chicken as the joint is one of the many attractions closing down soon to make way for Star Wars land. It's a fun set up with live entertainment and country music, buckets of meat, baked beans, cornbread and cornslaw along with drinks served in Mason jars. That Damme hot chocolate and gingerbread cookie filled me up though so we only mowed down two buckets of barbecued chicken and ribs. Fare thee well, Big Thunder Ranch! BBQ in peace.

Disney Weekend: Star Wars Edition

To celebrate an early Christmas, we trekked down to Anaheim for a weekend of Disney and Star Wars shenanigans. The place was already pretty jammed on Friday night but I was excited to check out the Star Wars themed makeover "Season of the Force" in Tomorrowland. Space Mountain is now Hyperspace Mountain, Star Tours contains new footage inspired by The Force Awakens, part of Innoventions is now the Launch Bay with toys, costumes, models and more while you can get themed burgers from the Galactic Grill along with BB-8 and Chewbacca souvenir mugs. Captain EO recently ended its resurgent run and has been replaced with a SW clip show from the previous 6 films and ending with an Awakens trailer. They say Disney stands to make $5 billion bucks alone from The Force Awakens in merchandising and ticket sales so that $4 billion price tag is looking like a giant bargain already. Hyperspace Mountain was cool as you flew around in the dark of space while Imperial Stardestroyers, Tie Fighters and X-Wings duked it out around you. It was a little chilly this weekend so the fast moving attraction was freezing! Star Tours added a message from new character Fin (that annoying kid from Attack the Block, don't suck, kid!) and a new sequence where you're flying around wreckage in the desert and run into the Millennium Falcon. If you're on the hunt for a BB-8 sipper, don't waste your time at the drink cart, just go into Pizza Planet Port Place and grab one. Storm Troopers were walking around the park and Cast Members were using lightsabers to direct traffic, it's great to see such excitement and enthusiasm and Disney is making a killing.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Con-Man: Burbank G.I. Joe Show

This past Sunday we trekked up to Burbank near the Bob Hope airport to check out a small show that dealt exclusively with G.I. Joe's. I've heard about the small gathering ever since signing up with Hiss Tank after planning the Sunbow Celebration last year. Joe was always my favorite cartoon over Transformers and the toys were a part of my collection growing up. The show was held in a room at the airport Ramada that was a bit off the beaten path. But once we got there, we quickly made our way around the dozens of vendors selling G.I. Joes and action figures from the 60's through today. You had Joes of all kinds to choose from at all price levels as they were loose, packaged or out of the box. Lots of vehicles in great shape along with Funko's and figures from Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, etc. I'm kicking myself for not picking up a $3 Lando Calrissian figure where the former Millennium Falcon pilot was surprisingly buff. We did pick up a few Funko's and some mini-mates of Hicks and Ripley from Aliens! Apparently the Predator edition figures are out so be on the look out for those. I believe the organizers were also responsible for the Brewer Brothers Model Kit Expo we checked out in Huntington Beach. Looks like that show is expanding while the Joe show is going away. If you're into war/military themed model kits, toys or books, that's definitely a show for you. Now you know and knowing is half the battle. Yo, Joe!

Stallone Saturday: Holiday Edition

Ah December, time for Christmas decorations, Holiday movies and of course, eggnog. The origins of the thick, sweet, milk like drank are debated. Medieval English types used to drink posset, a beverage made with hot milk and the nog may have evolved from there. Popular with the aristocracy as it was only for those who could get milk, eggs and some booze like brandy it was also served as breakfast, sans alcohol. Back in the day the stuff was made with raw eggs but you can't do that no mo' cause of salmonella concerns. Apparently if you refrigerate alcoholic eggnog, the taste will mature over time. We picked up three kinds this past weekend to start the holiday party season off right along with Costco's delectable box of chocolate covered cookies. For the workout section of my brain, the heavy cream and egg based concoction evoked thoughts of Vince Gironda who advocated drinking raw cream mixed with free-range eggs to gain weight. But with a base of cream, sugar, eggs, spices and booze, eggnog, like the nutlog, is very heavy in calories and fat. So maybe limit yourself to a short glass a day to maintain the ol' figure.

Next week, on the night before Star Wars, we're checking out Heritage Auctions display of Sylvester Stallone memorabilia that includes the motorcycle ridden in Rocky III, boxing trunks, a Rambo machete, the electric chair from Lock Up, a Los Angeles Lakers NBA Championship ring gifted to Stallone by Shaquille O'Neal (?!) and much more. To prepare, the lady needed to be exposed to more Sly beyond The Expendables or Rocky sequels while sipping on some spiked eggnog. Our first view? 1982's iconic First Blood, based on the novel by David Morrell. Inspired by Morrell's interaction with returning from Vietnam veterans, First Blood tells the tale of John Rambo, a would be drifter pushed by a king-shit cop (Brian Dennehy) to shave and not display his affiliation with the Army. Just wanting something to eat, Rambo snaps and takes out a precinct full of cops before escaping to the wilderness and waging a one man war against the small town. It is revealed that Rambo is a decorated former Green Beret who has had difficulty adjusting to civilian life where people spit and protest those who put their lives on the line for their country. By the end scene break-down where Rambo recalls his friends dying and not being able to hold a job, the lady was shockingly surprised at the real/sad-ness of the film and that Stallone doesn't always come off as the dim witted but lovable palooka of Rocky. Acting! While First Blood's 90 minute, on the move runtime helped usher in a new era of action film; viewers tend to forget that only a handful of people die and they're not directly at the hands of the star.

While guys like Stallone and Arnold are remembered as over the top and cartoonish heroes due to their oversized muscles, egos, paychecks and personalities, it's easy to forget that they both got to the top the hard way. Stallone is a writer, director and painter who gave us dramatic efforts in the likes of Rocky, Nighthawks and F.I.S.T. but audiences only responded to his boxer from Philadelphia and Rambo roles. Schwarzenegger was perfectly cast as Conan the Barbarian and The Terminator but was smart enough to align himself with talented filmmakers like John Milius and James Cameron while amassing millions with a mail order business and real estate. With Stallone garnering award chatter for his role in Creed, it's nice to see him getting a little respect along with decades worth of worldwide fame and fortune.

In other Rambo news, it was recently announced that Fox was developing a new show to feature Stallone's John J. and his former-Navy Seal son. This seemed a bit strange as Fox was already working on an Expendables TV series. After four Rambo films and a long discussed fifth and final chapter, television seemed like an odd outlet but lots of movies are going to TV lately like Limitless, Rush Hour, Beverly Hills Cop, Minority Report, etc. With the original First Blood dealing with soldiers returning home to an unloving country, a new Rambo seemed like the perfect opportunity to shed light on the plight of current veterans returning home with emotional, mental and physical issues as they struggle with employment, injuries and homelessness. But word came out this week that while Stallone was in negotiations to participate as a producer and possible co-star, a deal was never made and the star has now stated he would have nothing to do with the project. Could he be holding out for a final feature film? So far we've heard rumors of a supernatural take based on James Byron Huggins' novel Hunter where Rambo would lead a crew of elite soldiers in an Antarctica set hunt of a hybrid man-prehistoric creature killer. Then there was word of Rambo returning home to Arizona and getting caught up with violent Mexican drug cartels. Neither iteration has come to fruition. We'll see what Sly does with the heat coming off of Creed, push out another leading man Expendables or find more thoughtful supporting roles in studio flicks. Until then, nothing is over! Nothing!

Monday, December 7, 2015

View In Peace: Robert Loggia

On Friday, news hit that veteran character actor Robert Loggia had passed away after a battle with Alzheimer's. With a career that started in the 1950's and included 230 plus acting credits, Loggia had a gravely voice and tough guy demeanor. Roles in Scarface and Big would be highlights but to me he'll always be the evil father in law to Stallone's truck driving, arm wrestling underdog in Cannon Films' shot at legitimacy Over the Top. As business magnate Jason Cutler, Loggia gave Lincoln Hawk (Stallone) a hard time over grandson Michael (David Mendenhall) as dying mother Christina (Susan Blakely) wanted the father and son to bond before she passed. Lincoln and Michael set out on a road trip and reconnect over truck stop menus, learning to drive, working out and taking it over the top as Hawk is competing in the national Arm Wrestling championships in Las Vegas. Cutler tries to kidnap Michael and pay off Lincoln but he just can't overcome the father-son relationship as Michael runs away to Vegas to watch his dad win the finals. It's an awesomely 80's, heartwarming flick that Stallone received an alleged $12 million bucks for but the film would go on to gross an anemic $16 million bones at the box office. In the 90's, Loggia would send up his tough guy image in a hilarious commercial for Minute Maid Orange Juice.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Damme Words: Bronson's Loose Again!

Over the Thanksgiving weekend I demolished Paul Talbot's Bronson's Loose Again! On the Set with Charles Bronson, a new companion volume to his original Chuck Bronson and Death Wish study released in 2006. Through in depth interviews old and exclusive with writers, actors, producers, directors and more, Talbot provides a fascinating look at the iconic movie star and 18 of his films from the mid-1970's to his final performance in 1999. A large chunk of the book looks at his infamous Cannon Films period where the stone faced onscreen tough guy churned out schlocky money makers for Go-Go producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus. I hadn't read Loose as Death Wish has never been my favorite Bronson flick and I've never even seen the sequels. But now I'll have to do both as Loose Again is a terrific, informative and interesting read on one of my favorite movie personalities.

Hard Times is far and away my favorite Bronson leading vehicle and there's some great stuff here on the making of the Great Depression set, New Orleans street fighting tale. Each chapter gives you insight on the development, production and release of each film along with personal encounters with the man himself. After already reading the excellent Menacing Face Worth Millions: A Life of Charles Bronson by Brian D'Ambrosio and seeing multiple interviews, I was well aware of Bronson's standoffish attitude and sometimes off-putting lack of social effort. Some of my favorites from Loose Again include Bronson putting his hands on the back and chest of a co-star to move him off a sidewalk to size him up and telling a fan he didn't take photos, sign autographs or shake hands. While it's funny and awesome to read, in real life if that happened to you, you'd think that guy was a total dick. But he was who he was so I can respect it. A little more light is shed into his workout regimen that built an impressive physique that includes having a cup of coffee upon rising and going on a two mile run. A second, evening two miles would be added to reach optimal condition. Climbing a rope only using his arms is repeated but a strict diet of small meals with a weekly or monthly indulgent steak dinner may explain why he was so grumpy, is revealed.

As he got older, Bronson seemed to mellow out as many co-stars from the 80's mention becoming friends with him and the star being nothing but warm and supporting. While Bronson was a star worldwide, he never quite got his due in America. With his career waning, Bronson would end up making several films with Cannon Films, collecting a hefty $1 million bucks per flick for the likes of Death Wish sequels, 10 to Midnight and Messenger of Death. Only needing his face on a poster to insure foreign pre-sales, Bronson was one of the biggest stars of the emerging mini-studio along with martial artist Chuck Norris. A teaming of the two was planned for The Delta Force but pre-sales didn't justify the salaries of both Chucks. Through it all, Bronson never tried to produce his own vehicles like Steve McQueen or Kirk Douglas but preferred to play what audiences expected him to, a quiet ass kicker ready to explode.

Loose Again also provides insight on wife and frequent co-star Jill Ireland who was the kind and outgoing energy to Bronson's grumbling, perennially pissed off side. Bronson's inner nice guy is exposed as we learn about his homeless drug addict brother and adopting a family friend after her parents died among other snippets. All in a great book for action movie junkies or film buffs alike. Until next time, no dice! And this ain't ova!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Sneak Cinema: The Hateful Eight

Last night, The Crest Theater in Westwood hosted a press screening of The Weinstein Company and Quentin Tarantino's latest opus, The Hateful Eight. In attendance were several movie critic types from internet, TV and OG Leonard Maltin himself. Much has been made about the production of Eight that was shot on 70mm film to harken back to the good ol' days in the 60's where going to the movies was an event. People dressed up, received programs and the films included beginning overtures as well as an intermission. If I remember correctly, the ultra wide scope was an effort to draw audiences to the theater instead of watching programs on their rinky dink televisions at home. The road show angle faded and 70mm became obsolete as the cinematic landscape changed as it always does. Last year, noted film fan Christopher Nolan unveiled his space epic Interstellar at less a dozen theaters still equipped with 70mm projection equipment. Tarantino and The Weinstein's are upping the ante by outfitting 100 plus theaters with 70mm projection. To make it more of a special event, shows in 70 include extra footage too boot.

From the opening credits last night, something was amiss. The bold font of OVERTURE was fine but underneath it, a silhouette of a horse and carriage kept throbbing in and out of focus. People murmured and complained to the PR staff who had no explanation. Generally a tech run happens during the day to make sure the picture and sound are up to par. Nolan personally checked out several theaters to make sure Interstellar was being presented the way he intended while Michael Mann did the same at The Egyptian for a repertory screening of The Last of the Mohicans, heck, Dolph Lundgren did a tech check when they hosted the Skin Trade premiere. Why this didn't happen on this night for this movie, who knows. Apparently some viewers were more upset than others and berated the PR staff leading to a swap to a Digital Print after the intermission. The result? The Hateful Eight looked a lot cleaner and more detailed. While the picture was crisper, I felt the sound lost a bit of impact though. After the film, the crowd exited still grumbling about the technical issues while I made an effort to thank the PR and theater staff because at the end of the day, shit happens, it's just a movie after all.

Now on the one hand, the evening could be seen as a disaster. After all this is a press screening meant to promote a throwback experiment turned event. This was the night meant to build an ally of armies to take back a piece of the business and show what film could do for future generations. Tarantino is a huge proponent of film and runs The New Beverly basically to preserve the medium. But if you can't even get it to work at a "special" event for a special event, what chance does the film have for general viewings multiple times a day? At a screening in New York recently, the projector broke down leading to a 60 minute impromptu Q&A with attending stars Kurt Russell, Walton Goggins and crew while a gear was replaced. Looks like dusting off a buried for 40 years technology for one film and one filmmaker needed more time to work out the kinks.

On the other hand, watching the film in a room full of critics made me realize something, I love movies but hate critics. I've always been vocal about critics being parasites who wouldn't exist without someone else's work. If there's no movie, they have nothing to talk/complain about, simple logic. They see everything early and for free yet they're ungrateful and demanding. It's not like they're creating something or putting themselves out there to be "judged". What was that quote from Theodore Roosevelt about the man in the arena? Something about giving him credit for striving to do the deeds while critics point out stumbles without knowing victory or defeat themselves? Or in this case they're jockeying for Facebook Likes and covering the same mainstream, Marvel movie news that a million other folks are. It's kind of like a barnacle that hitch hikes on a whale then complains there isn't enough plankton around. Go find your own plankton on your own steam then, pal.

There was no energy in the room, dead as dodos. I can only imagine how many times an opening night crowd of actual movie lovers would break out into applause during Hateful Eight's 3 hour run time. A person behind me even complained that the film had an intermission! Apparently they'd never seen a film that included one and basically missed the point of how Eight was being presented entirely. While it seemed like plenty of people were upset, even pissed off, I didn't notice anyone leaving. The moral? It's easier to blah blah blah than to do.