Thursday, February 26, 2015

Con-Man: Spring Circuit

While it's cold and snowy across much of the country, Spring Time is nearly here and that means conventions! This weekend is The Long Beach Comic Expo, sister show to The Long Beach Comic Con. They're pulling out all the stops to make this their biggest Expo ever with lots of comic book and media guests as well as some back to back stacked programming.

Long Beach Comic Expo | Saturday & Sunday, February 28 - March 1 | Long Beach, California

Looking forward to the G.I. Joe animation panel as a nice primer to next week's Sunbow Celebration double feature. The Gargoyles panel is a nice touch as is the spotlight on legendary X-Men scribe Chris Claremont. Cool to see Magnet and Magnolia previewing new movies as well as the Eat. Geek. Play. Studio hanging out with Stan Sakai and Gerry Conway among others. Genre movie favorite Lance Henriksen is attending but I'm disappointed a panel wasn't scheduled. Lots of topics covered though with writing, diversity, cosplay, webcomics, marketing and more over the two days.

Emerald City Comicon | Thursday - Sunday, March 27-29 | Seattle, Washington

We're heading back to the great green north to check out Emerald City for a second time. This will be our only out of state show we're attending again as Calgary Expo and Salt Lake City were fun but just not as convenient or special enough to lure us back. Hoping to get out to Arizona or Nevada for a new show in 2015 though. ECCC is shaping up to be another great time with guests across the Artist, Writer, Cosplayer, Novelist and Celebrity spectrum. Comics guys like Kevin Eastman, Tim Sale, Humberto Ramos and Dan Jurgens will be on hand while celebs Hayley Atwell, Michael Bell, Levar Burton and John Wesley Shipp will be sure to provide some great spotlight panels. The Cinema Series is back with Karen Allen, Stan Lee and Brandon Routh attending screenings of Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Avengers and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Congratulations to Jennifer Blanc and Michael Biehn as they're expecting a child together meaning we won't be seeing them on the flight up again like last year. Biehn will be participating in an Aliens reunion panel at Monsterpalooza in Los Angeles the same weekend of ECCC.

WonderCon | Friday - Sunday, April 3 - 5 | Anaheim, Calilfornia

Coming back to Anaheim for it's 4th year is San Diego Comic-Con International's less crazy but nearly as awesome sister show WonderCon. First tip for attending, don't stay at the Clarion. Stay at the Hilton since it's connected or if you feel like walking a couple blocks, The Red Lion, cause they have mini-fridges in all their rooms. Anywho, WonderCon is great, it really is like Comic-Con junior. You've got the huge exhibition floor, tons of vendors, lots of guests and programming with literally half the madness. The show is still being put together but the likes of Darwyn Cooke, Jae Lee, Dustin Nguyen and Rick Remender caught my eye on the Special Guests list. Warner Brothers is bringing latest DC animated flick, Batman vs. Robin as it holds it's world premiere during WonderCon. Also announced is special event Superman: The Richard Donner Years Celebrity Super Reunion with producers, actors and writers.

Star Wars Celebration | Thursday - Sunday, April 16 - 19 | Anaheim, California

Two weeks after WonderCon it's back to Anaheim for the show I bought tickets for 20 months ahead of time, Star Wars Celebration! Originally scheduled to coincide with the release of the new films, Star Wars Celebration is now hitting early as the flicks won't be ready until the holidays. No matter, it's still looking like a fantastic show with Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Kathleen Kennedy, J.J. Abrams, Kenny Baker, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew and so many more guests scheduled to attend. On top of that, they're screening all 6 Star Wars movies! There's also an art show, cosplay contest, speed dating, podcasting and much much more lined up.

Workout of the Day: Gravity Guy

After a few days off upon returning from Oklahoma City and Austin, I'm back on the training trail and just hit my 20 workouts for the month goal. Changing it up a bit I went ahead and kept a few things from Vince Gironda's training methods I liked and mixed it with some Frank Zane while putting my own personal spin on it. When possible, I'll get in two sessions in a day, quick ones under 35 minutes working generally the same muscles and then taking the following day off. That way if I do this say 3 days a week, I've gotten in 6 workouts. And they say multiple sessions of faster, shorter and more intense work is better for the body than a marathon 90 minute visit. Try it yourself and see how you feel. You could take a nice empty stomach walk in the morning then do some weights at night or do some body weight exercises upon rising then weights at night or just hit the weights twice but you'll probably need to back off the poundage for the second workout as you'll be fatigued from the morning session.

Right now I'm focused on performing 3 exercises per body part doing 4 sets of 8 reps with slow negatives to fight gravity. The added resistance will challenge your muscles in a new way as most people don't think about the negative phase.

Shoulders and Arms:
Press Machine/Bent Over EZ Bar Curls/EZ Bar Pullover and Press
Dumbbell Side Laterals/Lying DB Curls/1-Arm Side Extensions
Straight Bar Cable Front Raise/Cable Curl Preacher, 21's/Rope Extension

As you can see, I designed this workout to start heavy with basic moves to get everything pumped up then moved into Dumbbells for form, range of motion and definition then finished with cables to keep constant tension on the muscles.

While following Gironda's training methods, I stopped doing cardio after weights and felt kind of blubbery so I'm back to 10 minutes or so of bike, jump rope or ab aerobics and feeling good.

For Legs I'm employing Squats, Front Squats, Sissy Squats, Hack Slides Froggy Style, Leg Curls and Calves seated, standing or on a leg press machine:

Squat/Leg Curl/Hack Slide/Calf Raises on Smith Machine

Same thing here doing 4 sets of 8 reps to build a nice foundation except calves, you gotta go 15-20 to make them respond. Legs are arguably the most overlooked body part so you have to try and keep them strong yet proportioned to your upper body. Once upon a time, having the same size biceps and calves was the ultimate goal. Doing legs releases more testosterone and growth hormone so theoretically your other muscles would actually get bigger if you trained your lower body more often.

It's convention and wedding season so keep it up!

Chief Goods: Chasing Yesterday

Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds' new album, Chasing Yesterday, drops next week. With festival appearances and a world tour in the wings, it's been a welcome rush of interviews and Gallagher related soundbites. I've been listening to Chasing Yesterday daily for the last two weeks so how does it stack up in the solo Gallagher legacy? Pretty good I must say. My first listens it was hit and miss. One song was a bit meandering (nowhere near the levels of Beady Eye's sophomore release) or 60's mod that made me think I was watching Ocean's 11. Then the next song would be uptempo, ethereal and easy to get stuck in the brain. Personal highlights:

In the Heat of the Moment, first song released months back, still great, still rocking. Catchy and easily repeatable. Talking about cracking whips, being at his side, not letting go and other pseudo lovey dovey jazz.

Lock All the Doors, off and running from the first second, it sounds like another song I can't quite put my finger on or maybe I've just listened to a lot of Noel demos and it's all blending together...Nice upbeat charger though, what I expect or enjoy most from Noel.

The Dying of the Light & The Right Stuff, middle album paunch, just deliberately paced talking about streets paved with gold, no time to get out, it'll be alright if you dance with me tonight, etc. Kinda dreamy and out there. Right Stuff same thing, slow starter with sexy saxophone out of nowhere and then some piano, horns, drums, guitars, etc. Kinda wonder where these songs are going.

You Know We Can't Go Back, arguably my favorite track off the album. Just a here we go, off and moving long song about stuff being all right and you know we can't go back, taking you to a one horse town, running away, sun's out, the wind's in your hair, grab your gal (or guy) and just go. Love this song.

Ballad of the Mighty I, another upbeat, just gets moving tune, kinda sounds like a break up song.

In typical fashion, Noel leaves perfectly excellent song, Do the Damage off the album. A great charging, moody track about dreams and people dragging you down but not stopping the power of love.

Overall a great listen with several songs that get stuck in my head. Will have to try and score concert tix on Craigslist closer to his Los Angeles date.

Friday, February 20, 2015

(Pre) Ask Me a Question: The Transformers & G.I. Joe The Movie

"Autobots! Transform and roll out!" To the Egyptian Theater on Saturday, March 7th at 7:30PM. Or, "Yo, Joe!" The Transformers and the G.I. Joe animated movies are playing at a Sunbow Celebration! And end my infomercial...

Dammaged Goods Presents is back, this time celebrating another glorious aspect of the 80's, cartoons! Try and tell me you didn't grow up on Masters of the Universe, G.I. Joe, Transformers, My Little Pony, Jem, Duck Tales and the like. One of the main contributors to the era of animated toy commercials that became so much more is Sunbow Entertainment, an animation studio that ran from 1980 to 1998 founded by Griffin-Bacal Advertising out of New York. Working with toy giant Hasbro and comic book mainstay Marvel, Sunbow gave the world G.I. Joe, Transformers, Jem, Inhumanoids, Visionaries, My Little Pony and Bucky O'Hare among other series. While the main goal was to sell toys, Sunbow managed to create worlds and mythologies that have lived on 30 years later.

From these daily animated series, four films emerged: The Transformers, My Little Pony, Inhumanoids and G.I. Joe. The first two titles would be released in theaters to weak box office thus relegating the remaining titles to go straight to video and sliced up for broadcast. I grew up on Transformers and G.I. Joe though and their movies have a special place in my heart. In a weird twist I watched more Joe episodes and followed the brand through comic books, toys and whatnot more so than Transformers. But when it comes to movies, I know the tale of Robots in Disguise just about front to back. From the opening scene where a planet is devoured by the mysterious Unicron to the awesomely 80's heavy metal soundtrack, Transformers: The Movie has just always been a treasured part of my life that opened up my imagination as a kid while also making realize that life is beautiful but life is also sad when Optimus Prime died. Although it's lived on through midnight and anniversary screenings, I've never seen it on the big screen. And in all my years I've never heard of G.I. Joe playing on the big screen. So here I am rectifying the situation and putting on a Sunbow Celebration to honor those who gave us so much wonderful entertainment as kids. While the shows were attacked for being glorified toy commercials, the worlds, characters and messages of good VS evil helped shape a generation of kids.

Taking place once again at The Egyptian in Hollywood, site of both Dolph Night and An Evening With Carl Weathers, we're doing our best to make this more than just a double feature. So far guests include:

Donald F. Glut - Writer and actor who scripted episodes of Joe, Transformers, Shazam!, Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, G.I. Joe, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Go-Bots, Transformers, Duck Tales and Robocop, phew! Glut also wrote the hit novelization of The Empire Strikes Back among his 65 published books as well as comic books.

Flint Dille - Writer and director whose resume includes Garbage Pail Kids, Mister T, G.I. Joe, InHumanoids, Transformers and Visionaries. Dille was credited as Story Consultant on Transformers: The Movie hashing out the story and pounding out a new script. Also worked on video games Diablo III, Ghostbusters, Transformers and Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu.

Buzz Dixon - Writer on Thundaar the Barbarian, Alvin & The Chipmunks, Transformers, Jem, Visionaries, Bionic Six, Story Editor of G.I. Joe and Story Consultant on the movie.

Larry Houston - Storyboard Artist and Director on EVERY FRIGGING CARTOON YOU'VE EVER SEEN AND LOVED! Seriously, The Incredible Hulk, Spidey and His Amazing Friends, Defenders of the Earth, G.I. Joe, Jem, The Real Ghost Busters, Denver the Last Dinosaur, Pryde of the X-Men, C.O.P.S., James Bond Jr., Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Captain Planet, that enough? He still has more.

Neil Ross - Voice of Shipwreck from Joe and Springer from the Transformers Movie, also worked on Voltron, Kung Fu Panda, Spider-Man, Garfield and Friends and many, many more.

Don Jurwich - Director, writer and producer. Veteran of Hanna-Barbera and Sunbow with Smurfs, SuperFriends, Jabberjaw, Hong Kong Phooey, The Flintstones and acted as Supervising Producer on the Joe series and directed the movie.

We'll have memorabilia on display and for sale in the lobby from personal collections, trivia and prizes! Tickets are only $11 or $7 for American Cinematheque members and are available here. Yo, Joe!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Oscar Overlooked: Jean-Claude Van Damme in JCVD

Welcome back to Oscar Overlooked, our peek at underrated performances. Today, it's Dammaged Goods inspiration Jean-Claude Van Damme in 2008's lauded but ultimately overlooked JCVD. After making a name for himself in action-karate movies in the 80's and 90's, Van Damme's career slid from number one movies at the box office to direct to video fare after years of marital and substance abuse woes. While Sylvester Stallone would wait out the changing landscape storm and return with Rocky Balboa, Steven Seagal went for the paychecks and cranked out 3 DTV flicks a year and Arnold went on to govern the state of California. Meanwhile, Jean-Claude Van Damme started making the conscious effort to act. Having always been the most sensitive of the swole up cinematic heroes, Van Damme attempted to challenge himself in films like Replicant where he plays a serial killer and a childlike clone, In Hell as a prisoner losing his humanity, Wake of Death as a vengeful gangster out for revenge and Until Death where he starts out as an addicted, horrible human being who's also a cop given a second chance at redemption after being shot in the head. It all culminated in 2008's mockumentary, JCVD.

In the film, Van Damme plays himself, or at least a version of himself. One that used to be famous and is now slumming in DTV fare made in Eastern Europe. He's broke, losing custody of his daughter, considered a joke, a loser losing roles to Steven Seagal who promises who cut his trademark ponytail. Going home to his native Belgium, the Muscles from Brussels gets caught up in a robbery and the local police think the former star has lost his mind and taken hostages. It's a funny, surreal and somber look at the life of a celebrity trying to find himself. Mabrouk El Merchri crafts a dream like dramedy that showcases a tired and weary Jean-Claude Van Damme who trashes his public image. Playing out mostly in French, it's a showcase for Van Damme to laugh, cry and fight, breaking down the 4th wall and inviting viewers to look at his life through non-judgmental eyes. The two notable scenes come at the beginning and towards the end in two long takes; one an action scene the other a monologue of JCVD talking to the audience about his life. While the film as a whole might not be award worthy, Van Damme's beyond honest performance is.

JCVD garnered positive reviews, mainly aimed at Van Damme's meta infused execution. Time Magazine declared the performance to be Oscar worthy while the Chlotrudis and Toronto Film Critics Association nominated him for Best Actor and Performance. Praise from Hollywood came from the likes of Academy Award winner Nicolas Cage to heart throb Robert Pattinson to future Guardians of the Galaxy writer/director James Gunn. The film was released in the U.S. to middling business as Jean-Claude was scheduled to promote the film at screenings, on talk shows and in interviews but canceled last minute to take care of a sick dog. At the same time, fellow 80's and 90's icon Mickey Rourke was back on the scene with The Wrestler, an overrated redemption piece about an aging entertainer trying to make it in life. Stallone had already done it better 2 years before in Rocky Balboa but former actor and not action star Rourke playing a loser clawing back to the top resonated with the Academy resulting in a Best Actor nomination in 2009 and  "welcomed back" to Hollywood after years of talking shit on the business. Rourke hit the award circuit, hard, showing up at events, roundtable interviews, in print, on TV, etc. talking about his painful childhood, not being prepared for Hollywood and all kinds of blah blah blah and crying for the public. Rourke would not win Best Actor that year but his career was rejuvenated, briefly, with roles in big budget fare Iron Man 2, The Expendables and the Immortals. By 2012, the party was over and Rourke was back to Direct to Video fare like The Courier and Java Heat. In 2014, he partook in a Russian boxing match and defeated an opponent paid to lose.

If Van Damme had done the same thing: promoted the film, granted interviews, introduced screenings and cried to reporters, I'm sure he could have given Rourke, Richard Jenkins, Frank Langella and Brad Pitt a run for their award money. Hollywood loves a comeback story but the Academy doesn't like to give credit to genre movies or anything that would make them seem less classy. So a guy known for kicking people in the face, doing the splits and showing his butt was probably never an option. Van Damme chimed in on the subject himself, stating that he would never get an Oscar due to his affiliation with the action film and being pre-categorized by critics. At first regretting not promoting the film, Van Damme claims he was repaid by God as the sick dog lived, he bagged the villain role in Expendables 2 and he's been a part of giant commercial campaigns for the likes of Volvo and Budweiser, managing to stay in the public eye much longer than Rourke without even trying. Or crying.

(Not) Love Actually: Red Sonja

Flipping through channels I came across Robert Rodriguez's ElRey Network showing Red Sonja. I hadn't seen the flick in a long time, like as a kid on TBS long so I tuned in. First off, ElRey is a pretty cool channel showing lots of kung-fu and exploitation movies along with original programs like The Director's Chair (more episodes please!) where Rodriguez sits down with Quentin Tarantino and John Carpenter among others to discuss their storied careers. This would be my first time watching a movie on ElRey and in a neat twist, they don't edit the movies as in there's a warning for graphic content to preserve the filmmakers original vision. So you get the uncut flick just with commercials.

Red Sonja takes place in the same fantasy universe as Arnold Schwarzenegger's Conan flicks as we meet Sonja (Brigette Nielsen) after her family has been killed and she's been raped for rejecting the sexual advances of Queen Gedren (Sandahl Bergman). After being bestowed with strength by a spirit/god/ghost thing Sonja goes and trains in sword fighting with some Asian dudes like in Conan then heads off on a quest of revenge. On her way she meets Lord Kalidor (Arnold), young Prince Tarn (Ernie Reyes, Jr.) and his servant Falkon (Paul L. Smith). Sword fighting, beheading, stabbing, mechanical underwater snake creature, eating, Tae Kwon Do, magical orb only Sonja can touch, beautiful landscapes, huge sets and Ennio Morricone score shenanigans ensues.

As you should know, Conan was the literary creation of Robert E. Howard who also gave us Kull and Solomon Kane. Sonja came from Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith based loosely on Red Sonya in Howard's short The Shadow of the Vulture. Dubbed the "She-Devil with a Sword", Red Sonja appeared in  Conan the Barbarian comic books in 1973 before headlining her own series. Conan the Barbarian film producer Dino De Laurentis had struck massive success with the 1982 film starring Arnold directed by John Milius. Less violent and sexual sequel Conan the Destroyer from Richard Fleischer was released in 1984. Both films grossed more than $100 million worldwide on budgets under $20 million.

Producer De Laurentis offered the title role to Conan the Barbarian co-star Sandahl Bergman who had played the viciously vivacious Valeria, Arnold's love interest and fellow sword fighting thief. Bergman turned down the role in favor of the evil Queen Gedren. With production nearing, De Laurentis saw 21 year old Danish model Brigitte Nielsen on the cover of a magazine and flew her to Italy to screen test. Standing in line with 25 other hopefuls, 6'1" Nielsen barely fit into her costume and immediately became returning Destroyer director Richard Fleischer's favorite. Schwarzenegger was under contract to De Laurentis and came on board for what he thought would be a glorified cameo as the sword swinging Lord Kalidor. Originally intended to be a reprisal of his Conan character, De Laurentis didn't pay Universal for name rights so Arnold is basically Conan but with fancier clothes (is that red vest and pants ensemble velvet?!). The $18 million dollar film with a script by George MacDonald Fraser and Clive Exton shot in Italy near Rome. A total newcomer to acting and movie making, Nielsen quickly fell for Arnold and the two embarked on an affair during shooting. Arnold shot his role in less than 4 weeks and was horrified to see his cameo had turned into a full on supporting role with his name listed first on the movie's poster and his image being larger than Red Sonja's.

Released on July 3rd of 1985, Red Sonja grossed an anemic $2.2 million dollars at # 9 behind Back to the Future, Pale Rider, Rambo II, The Goonies and Fletch among others on it's way to a $6.9 million total. A huge drop off from Barbarian's $38 million domestic take and Destroyer's $31 million total. Reviews were unsurprisingly harsh with Nielsen and Bergman each receiving Golden Raspberry Award nominations for worst acting. Arnold would soon fulfill and terminate his contract with De Laurentis while years later describing Sonja as his worst film, reserved for punishing his children if they misbehaved. The title would be brought up nearly 30 years later when Sabotage barely cracked $10 million at the box office, making it his worst showing since Sonja not adjusting for inflation. Star Nielsen would soon meet action icon Sylvester Stallone, a rumored "gift" from Arnold as the two men were still rivals at the time. Nielsen would marry Sly and appear in Rocky IV and then Cobra before landing a plum role in the 1987 hit Beverly Hills Cop II. The two divorced in 1987 and Nielsen's follow up film roles would never match her early output. In 2014 she appeared in Mercenaries, a low budget knock off of Stallone's The Expendables featuring female action figures like Zoe Bell, Kristanna Loken, Cynthia Rothrock and Vivica A Fox.

Young co-star Ernie Reyes, Jr. would go on to roles in film and television, notably in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II and Surf Ninjas while bodyguard Paul L. Smith had already been acting for 20 years and would continue to pop up in film and TV into the 90's before passing away in 2012. Dancer turned actress Sandahl Bergman would go on to appear in genre movies like Hell Comes to Frogtown and episodic TV into the 2000's. Red Sonja would be director Richard Fleischer's penultimate motion picture preceding another De Laurentis production, 1987's Million Dollar Mystery before retiring. Fleisher passed away in 2006. Talk of a Red Sonja remake percolated in the late 2000's with Robert Rodriguez looking to direct his then fiance Rose McGowan in a Nu Image/Millennium Films production but nerve damage in McGowan's right arm nixed the idea and she appeared in the flop 2011 Conan the Barbarian remake as a witch instead. Nu Image is still pushing forward with a film, allegedly with Con Air and Expendables 2's Simon West at the helm and Amber Heard at the top of the starring wish list.

While Red Sonja may have been a looked down upon disappointment upon release, all these years later the film still holds up as a prime entry in the sword, sorcery and fantasy genre that the wonderfully weird 80's gave us. Sure there's some bland and over the top delivery but production values are terrific from the ornate costumes, weaponry and huge castle and cave sets. Characters are all decently fleshed out and memorable with Sonja claiming she would never be with a man who could not best her in combat so cue to her fighting with Arnold to Falkon's penchant for food and Prince Tarn's precocious, bordering on annoying prince who can throw down . The fights are excellent with solid back and forth choreography, bettering the circle then slash approach of Conan the Destroyer. Ernie Reyes, Jr. gets to show off his impressive martial arts abilities, especially considering his age and the film moves quite quickly wasting no time at 90 minutes. It also lacks the jokey cheesiness of Destroyer with it's pretty straight ahead approach that somehow effortlessly mixes lesbianism, rape, revenge, romance, magic, swordplay and high adventure.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Action Elite Presents: Icons of Action

Last week, The Action Elite unveiled their top 70 list of the Best Action Heroes of All Time. Main man Eoin Friel enlisted the help of fellow writers, bloggers, screenwriters, directors and #MovieBros to chime in with write ups of their favorite heroes. I picked up two Jean-Claude Van Damme performances, first as Chance Boudreaux in John Woo's 1993 shooting, explosion and face kicking fest Hard Target at # 46 (ahead of Tom Cruise as Mission Impossible's Ethan Hunt and behind Chuck Norris as Lone Wolf McQuade):

“Hunting season is over.”
While Jean-Claude Van Damme was never known for machine gun mayhem a la Stallone in Rambo or Schwarzenegger in Commando; Hard Target’s Chance Boudreaux comes dangerously close to pure action movie territory.
As a decorated former member of Marine Force Recon turned down on his luck sailor, Boudreaux stumbles into a deadly game put on by rich hunters. Their prey? Military veterans. When beautiful and smart yet out of her neighborhood lawyer Natasha Binder (Yancy Butler) comes looking for her missing father, she uncovers the darker side of Dixie in the violent and seedy underworld of New Orleans.
Teaming with Chance, the pair take on the evil Fouchon (Lance Henriksen), his right hand man Pik van Cleef (Arnold Vosloo) and their small army of well-armed sportsmen (including Arnold’s buddy Sven-Ole Thorsen).
Recruiting Hong Kong action maestro John Woo for his first American film, Hard Target is full of violently slick, slow motion fight and shootout sequences that see Van Damme filling the bad guys with lead before finishing them off with a spinning hook kick to the face.
Like a greasy mullet’ed samurai in a denim shirt and tight jeans; J.C.V.D.’s Chance fights, chases and shoots it out with Fouchon’s crew using fists, pistols, shotguns, pigeons, gasoline, roundhouse kicks and one-liners. All of this while moto-surfing on a motorcycles standing up, outrunning a helicopter on horseback through Louisiana’s streets, back country and of course a warehouse to save the girl and take revenge for their dead comrades.
If that weren’t enough, Chance flexes his muscles, gets shot, doesn’t get burned by fire and drops a grenade down Fouchon’s pants during the explosion and bullet filled finale.

Followed by Frank Dux in the underground fighting epic Bloodsport at # 18 (ahead of Steven Seagal in Under Siege, suck it! And behind Robocop, respect.):

“You told me to use any technique that worked.  Never to limit myself to one style. To keep an open mind!”
The appeal of Bloodsport and Frank Dux is twofold.  The purported true story of a covert military operator who fights in secret no holds barred tournaments seemed tailor made for the big screen.  Especially an 80’s, Cannon Films produced flick starring a then unknown Jean-Claude Van Damme.
While many of Dux’s military and martial arts claims have been debunked, the tale of an underground competition to find the world’s supreme warrior and fighting champion has entertained and influenced a generation. From video game Street Fighter to Mixed Martial Arts giant the UFC, Bloodsport’s world warrior, style vs style inspiration lives on nearly 30 years later.
In J.C.V.D.’s breakthrough and signature role, the Muscles From Brussels combined his background in karate, weight training and ballet to create a powerful yet graceful onscreen presence that more than made up for his lack of acting experience.  As A.W.O.L. Air Force Captain Frank Dux, Van Damme puts his career and life on the line in order to fight in the Kumite, a full contact event held every five years.
With high kicks and the ability to do the splits at his disposal, Dux battles the best in karate, sumo and muy thai to try and be the best he can be while honoring his mentor and avenging fallen friends.
Whether enduring nearly inhuman physical training, doing the splits between two chairs, fighting blindly in the final match, running the streets of Hong Kong in a Mustard suit or telling another man “I love you my friend”; Jean-Claude Van Damme shows us how an action hero can be kick ass, yet sensitive.

It was a lot of fun and a pleasure to be included. The full list is fantastic and houses contributions from a spectrum of devoted action movie junkies. It skewed a little modern and of course male but John Wayne, Charles Bronson, Steve McQueen, Sigourney Weaver, Linda Hamilton and Uma Thurman made it in while we could have used some Lee Marvin or Kirk Douglas for The Dirty Dozen and Spartacus. And Michael Biehn as Kyle Reese aka the Father of the Future!

Oscar Overlooked: Arnold Schwarzenegger in Twins

Welcome to Oscar Overlooked, my spotlight on criminally underrated performances. It's no secret that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is notorious for not rewarding genre films and their makers. Comedy, action and science fiction score big with audiences but usually not with the voting board. Sure every now and again they'll rally behind a James Cameron that can mix spectacle and story but for the most part, big crowd pleasing films have to bask in their financial success and word of mouth rather than critics or awards. By 1988, former Mr. Olympia bodybuilding champion Arnold Schwarzenegger had been acting full time for nearly 10 years. Films like Conan the Barbarian and The Terminator cemented his arrival to Hollywood but he was still only seen as an overdeveloped freak show good at playing brutes and robots. 1987's Predator was a potent mix of action, horror and sci-fi while giving The Oak more dialog than usual. It would be his highest grossing film to date with a $60 million domestic haul but subsequent returns for futuristic sci-fi actioner The Running Man and buddy picture Red Heat wouldn't keep the momentum going.

Rather than repeat himself with another bloody affair, Arnold lined up Twins, a comedy about genetically modified brothers meeting each other for the first time as adults. Showing business savvy and belief in the project, Arnold, co-star Danny DeVito and director Ivan Reitman forfeited their upfront fees, feeling that studio Universal was taking all of the risk. Settling for 20% of the back end, the film's budget was a moderate $16 million. Why is Arnold's portrayal of the naive, seemingly perfect and educated Julius Benedict worthy of praise? Because Arnold convincingly portrays a naive virgin! If that's not acting, you tell me what is. Long known for his boisterous personality and love of women coupled with his tough, "one man army" screen persona; seeing Arnold play a childlike, literal nice guy who doesn't like to fight, never gotten pissed off, drank beer or had sex in his life was something audiences had never seen or expected. The film was a huge hit, grossing $111 million in the U.S. alone and another $104 million overseas making it the 5th highest grossing film of 1988. All in, Arnold's percentage deal netted him a reported $35 million bucks. Like Clint Eastwood before him who lampooned his own tough guy image in Paint Your Wagon and Every Which Way But Loose, action stars have trying to soften their image ever since from then rival Stallone in Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot to Vin Diesel in The Pacifier and The Rock in The Gameplan and The Tooth Fairy.

Reviews weren't overly good for Twins but Roger Ebert gave it 3/4 stars and the film netted a handful of music nominations and awards from the Golden Globes and People's Choice Awards. During Oscar season, usual suspects and subjects like an autistic Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, Gene Hackman as an FBI agent investigating racially charged murder in Mississippi Burning and Edward James Olmos as an inner city school teacher who won't give up on his class in Stand and Deliver were lauded for Best Actor. Surprisingly, Tom Hanks was also nominated for his portrayal of a kid turned into an adult for comedy-drama Big. Twins was now Arnold's highest grossing vehicle yet and follow up sci-fi action flick Total Recall made even more followed by another well received comedy, Kindergarten Cop before mammoth money maker and cinema changer Terminator 2: Judgement Day would be nominated for half a dozen technical Oscars.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Damme Words: Lee Marvin Point Blank

A few flights ago I purchased Charles Bronson: Menacing Face Worth Millions on my Amazon Kindle. They recommended I also look into Lee Marvin: Point Blank as it was on special for only a couple of bucks. Cut to my most recent flight to and from Oklahoma City and I finally cracked open Point Blank and polished it off in just a few sittings. Billed as the first full-length, authoritative and detailed account of the iconic actor's life, Point Blank is an incredibly entertaining and quick read on the great and gruff Lee Marvin. In short, Lee Marvin was a badass, an American man and a true individual. Dwayne Epstein goes way back in the Marvin family history to discuss ancestors with the same ornery, unique personality that Marvin would eventually inherit. Mainly in the form of a relative who embarked on a trek to the north pole and died in the cold. Marvin's father Lamont never did too well in life but served in both World War I and II.

Marvin's upbringing is highlighted by his troubles with authority and school. Today you could dub it Attention Deficit Disorder and Dyslexia but back then he was just a shit starter. Bouncing around a dozen schools on the east coast, Marvin dropped out and signed up for the Marines during World War II. After participating in 21 invasion missions in the Pacific, Marvin was injured and had had enough of war. Back in New York and having already dabbled in acting, Marvin set out to land in a Broadway play. Forces would take him to Los Angeles where he slowly built up his career working for directors like Don Siegel, Fritz Lang, Raoul Walsh, John Sturges and Richard Fleischer before latching onto tough guy helmers Robert Aldrich, John Ford and John Boorman playing opposite the likes of Marlon Brando, Charles Bronson, Jack Palance and John Wayne. Frustrated at playing villains and second banana, Marvin hit leading man status at age 40 with western comedy Cat Ballou and would go on to win the Oscar for Best Actor. The 60's were Marvin's go-go years with The Killers, The Professionals, The Dirty Dozen, Point Blank and Paint Your Wagon highlighting his most lucrative era. Known for starring in violent pictures, Marvin never tried to glamorize action or death, feeling that as filmmakers they could show how horrible violence could be to dissuade audience members from enjoying it. Never setting out to be an actor-producer or director a la Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster, Steve McQueen or James Garner, Marvin was at the whim of Hollywood's ebbs and flows. The 70's and 80's saw him working but never at the same level as his peak. Notable roles in Emperor of the North, Prime Cut, The Iceman Cometh, The Big Red One, Death Hunt and The Delta Force were largely ignored by audiences and only embraced years later.

On the personal side, Point Blank delves into Marvin's tumultuous lifestyle of drinking and rabble rousing. There's plenty of pages devoted to his wife Betty, mistress Michelle and later wife Pam. Marvin's excessive drinking is present through his adult life with the man himself claiming if you gave him a bottle of any booze, he'd drain it himself before the night was through. Surprisingly, his drinking never affected his work too much. Many a witness states that Marvin could drink all night but once he was on set and cleaned up, he'd always give his best. Today we'd call it Post Traumatic Stress but for Marvin, painful memories of the war would manifest themselves after many a drink leading to violence in the forms of fighting or waving guns around before accidentally discharging them in the house. Marvin's candor was always appreciated by the press and his likeable yet terrifying demeanor is highlighted by crude come on's to women, picking on fellow actors to make them look bad or in one case, seeing his competition on Oscar night crying after losing. Marvin's solution? Getting his attention, smiling wide and showing off his statue.

There's a good deal of information surrounding the development, production and release of Marvin's films but I could have used a more facts, figures or interview snippets as each film gets maybe a couple pages. Tidbits like Marvin developing The Wild Bunch, selling it to Sam Peckinpah but then passing on the film to make Paint Your Wagon are great. As are his examples of telling it like it is. One great case is describing co-star Charles Bronson's less than sunny demeanor and constant droning about working in coal mines as a kid. Marvin would mock Bronson for not being in a mine for 30 years and riding around in a Rolls Royce. In a bid to cut down on the craziness of Hollywood and Malibu, Marvin and wife Pam moved to Tuscon, Arizona. Marvin loved to fish and would act occasionally to get out of the house. His last role was in Cannon Films' Chuck Norris hostage rescue vehicle, The Delta Force. After making a million bucks for Paint Your Wagon, Marvin allegedly accepted $50,000 for Force after the producers described it to him on the phone for 15 minutes, made a deal with his agent in 20 then shortly after put him on a plane where he shot the flick in 8 weeks. No fuss, no muss.

I was surprised to read that Marvin was only 63 when he died as he looked much older. Prematurely gray at 40, Marvin looks frail and weak in Delta Force from his years of drinking and 5 packs of cigarettes a day. Fading fast, Marvin was hospitalized in 1987, suffered a heart attack and died on August 29th after living a very full life. For any fan of Marvin or macho, honest films from the 50's and 60's, Point Blank is definitely a must read. Format wise, there's photos peppered through but nothing too rare and the content is actually only 200 of the 300 page length with the remaining 100 devoted to notes and index.

Gotta Drank (& Play)! The One-Up

It was a Saturday in Sherman Oaks as we ventured north to catch 50 Shades of Grey at the Arclight then made our way down Ventura Blvd to the Von Eaton Animation Art Gallery that had a Disney exhibit going on. Right next door to that is The One-Up, a cozy barcade. With a chill vibe and great ambiance courtesy of 80's classics Back to the Future, The Goonies and Fast Times at Ridgemont High on repeat along with lots of English easy listening pop as I haven't heard Travis in ages. There's a small menu of pub favorites like burgers, mac n' cheese and delicious mini-corn dogs. There's a list of specialty cocktails or a full bar to choose from. My Moscow Mule wasn't amazing so I switched to the very tasty Monkey Brew, a mix of scotch, orange tea, lemon and mint. Unlike Eighty-Two or Blispy's, there are no quarters required for the games at One-Up as they're all free to patrons. There's maybe 10 emulator cabinets with 10 pages of games each in the vein of Mario Brothers, Pac-Man, Galaga and the like. I played some plane flying/shooting 1943 and Ghouls and Ghosts before the holy grail of the joint opened up: a sit down, two player console with 400 games on it. Mainly your fighting and side scrolling beat'em ups. I didn't even peruse the entire list to see what oddities and golden nuggets were inside but you had several Samurai Showdown's and Street Fighter's along with Final Fight and THE PUNISHER.

You see, Beat'em Ups or Brawlers are multi-player games where you take on lots of opponents through button mashing mayhem. You usually punch, kick, jump or do a special move and can pick up useful items like weapons and food along the way. Double Dragon got it going in the late 80's and soon you had Golden Axe, Final Fight, Alien Vs Predator, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Simpsons, X-Men and The Avengers gracing arcades in the form of scrolling beat'em ups. The Punisher hit arcades in 1993 towards the tail end of the Brawler glory days but remains an awesomely good time. As either Mr. P. or Nick Fury, you battle thugs and criminals on your way to a showdown with The Kingpin. Not only can you punch, kick, spin and jump kick, you can pick up pipes, bats, katanas, knives, pistols and M-16's! We battled our way through 4 stages before I began to worry about the remaining time on my meter and called it a night. It was a lot of fun, like playing Avengers in Salt Lake City as you just beat the hell out of guys named Chrys, Scully and Yan Lee in clubs, casinos, bars and subway trains. One-Up could definitely use a second console with these 400 games as shit like Dig Dug and Pac-Man just can't hold a candle to beating the crap out of thugs, 90's karate style!

Snow Screen: 50 Shades of Grey, Kingsman & American Sniper

Lotta movies out there right now, lotta movies. This past weekend saw an interesting one-two punch of literary adaptions hit theaters: erotic Twilight fan-fiction turned best seller 50 Shades of Grey and graphic novel adaptation Kingsman: The Secret Service. Grey made waves with it's bondage and blind fold motif while Kingsman was a throwback to big spectacle spy flicks from the 60's. Both performed admirably at the box office and surprisingly, both were rated R.

Grey is the story of meek English Literature major Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and her relationship with guarded young billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). Basically Grey is a messed up youth with a junkie mother that was abused as a child and the only way he can find sexual gratification is through being a dominant to a submissive using assorted handcuffs, blindfolds, whips and the like. Steele is intrigued and swept off her feet by Grey but has to pump the brakes when the seemingly weird and unfamiliar fetishes start coming out. There's plenty of romance and sex as I found the flick surprisingly watchable and telling a familiar story. It's literally a romantic comedy about a girl meeting a guy and the two meeting in the middle to make it work. Instead of zany, accident filled set pieces to show how much the duo cares for each other, you get sex scenes with hands being tied in ties, or bound with ropes. Sam Taylor-Johnson crafts a classy and sleek looking picture from Kelly Marcel's adaptation of E.L. James' hit novel. Steele is your typical awkward duckling waiting for her prince who just happens to be a dammaged goods billionaire. As I thought the film would simply depict her becoming Grey's sex slave in return for a jet set lifestyle, the flick does a good job of having Steele stand her ground as a consenting adult open to experimentation but not exploitation. Dornan's Grey is like a less serious version of Michael Fassbender in Shame, addicted and disturbed but it's not as feel bad/awesome as all that jazz. Pacific Rim's Herc Hansen Max Martini shows up as Grey's driver but doesn't do or say much. Would have been interesting to see Martini reunited with original Christian Grey and Pac Rim co-star Charlie Hunam in such a different film.

Kingsman is the latest from Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class director Matt Vaughn. This time around we get Colin Firth as secret agent Harry Hart, a member of a secret society that fights global threats. He takes young Eggsy (Taron Egerton) under his wing after the lad's dad is killed on a mission. Like James Bond, Jr., Eggsy trains to become a Kingsman who are fighting the Richard Branson/Russell Simmons with a lisp tech mogul baddie Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson). Utilizing cell phone waves, Valentine plans to brainwash the world into killing itself through violent urges. The flick runs a bit long but is more or less a ridiculous good time, bordering on irresponsible with loads of gratuitous violence and hanky panky talk. A fantastic supporting cast includes Mark Strong, Mark Hamill and Michael Caine. Colin Firth is the latest older leading man to go Liam Neesons in Tooken to kick some ass and looks pretty good doing it. Like Dolph Lundgren said, these days it just takes a few stuntmen, a good cameraman, editing and a solid choreographer to make anybody a decent action hero.

I've been wanting to see American Sniper for a while now and was not deterred by any talk of attacks on subject Chris Kyle's character or the fake baby. A pretty simple story about a guy wanting to serve his country and how that affects his life, wife and family for good and bad. Bradley Cooper is solid as the Navy's deadliest sniper and Navy Seal as he serves four tours in Iraq facing terrorists, human butchers and snipers. The film goes back and forth between the battlefield, his home life between tours and his relationship with wife Taya (Sienna Miller). As a film, I found it to be a well done, rousing, scary and a bit sad look at the deeds and sacrifices the men and women of the armed forces make to protect the freedom of the rest of us. Whether or not Kyle had emotional or mental issues or if a guy should really be celebrated for being a skilled killer I can't comment on. I didn't find the film to be jingoistic or war mongering in any way and it didn't attempt to portray Kyle as a squeaky clean superhero. Clint Eastwood delivers the goods on a reported $60 million dollar budget with shootouts, explosions, lots of time in Iraq and sand storms, etc. The Magnificent Seven and Now & Again star Eric Close shows up for a quick scene but I was surprised that most of the remaining cast was filled with unfamiliar faces. Randomly, Kyle's Marine buddy Marc Lee is played by Luke Grimes who was also in Grey as the billionaire's goofy brother.

With the Oscars this weekend and not much interest in trying to see all the Best Picture nominees, I figure if I can check out The Theory of Everything this week I'll be all caught up. Well besides Hot Tub Time Machine 2 because that looks hilarious. Here's hoping for a Michael Biehn as Kyle Reese cameo to go along with all the time jumping and references from the first flick.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Ask Me a Question: Only the Strong w/Sheldon Lettich

After a few minutes of walking around the surprisingly bustling 6th Street on a Sunday night, we wolfed down some hot dogs on the corner then headed back in for Only the Strong. A local Capoeira group had learned of the screening and came down to give a live demonstration. This was Sheldon's personal print he purchased from the lab so I'm not sure if it's ever even been run for an audience. Trailers for the amazing looking dance/street fighting Rooftops and coming of age drama Stand By Me preceded.

Only the Strong starts off in Brazil where we meet Green Beret Louis Stevens (Mark Dacascos) ending his assignment and mixing it up with the locals for some dance and gymnastics based Capoeira. Cut to Miami, Florida where Louis visits his old high school which is now covered in graffiti, plagued by gangs, drugs and has bars in the stairwells so kids don't throw their peers off. You see, Louis used to be a bit of a lost cause as well but gruff teacher Mr. Kerrigan (Geoffrey Lewis) inspired him to do more in life leading to a four year stint in the Army. But now even Mr. Kerrigan has all but given up on the kids and school that has a 14% graduation rate. Pissed off and saddened by Kerrigan's apathy, Louis ends up intervening when a local drug dealer publicly embarrasses his little brother for not selling enough product. Louis then whups his and several other gang members asses using his Capoeira skills and stylin' white high tops. The violent incident grabs the attention of the entire student body and gives Kerrigan the crazy idea of rehabilitating the school's 12 worst students...through fighting. Setting up in an old firehouse, Louis begins teaching the troubled youngsters Capoeira as a challenge to their manhood and futures. But having the kids in this alternative after school program means less time on the streets selling drugs and chopping cars which pisses off local warlord and Capoeria expert Silverio (Paco Christian Prieto). Of course the kids bond, grow and stick up for each other before supporting Louis in a final showdown with the menacing martial arts maestro Silverio.

For a film as simple yet ridiculous as Only the Strong, it still plays quite well. The action is the main attraction of course and fights are filled with impressive looking handstand kicks, flips, cart wheels and dance infused fisticuffs. While the concept would be cheesy and totally unbelievable in lesser hands, Lettich and co-writer Luis Esteban give the story a straight ahead earnestness that doesn't have you questioning the questionable actions of making a high school mash up of The Dirty Dozen, Stand and Deliver and a karate movie. Young Mark Dacascos infuses his role as Louis with nice guy honesty while being super yoked and able to jump, flip and kick the shit out of everything and everyone. Besides Silverio, he actually gets thrashed pretty bad in their first encounter to set up their end fight. Mark D's nimble athleticism is truly impressive and it's a shame he didn't go on to have a bigger career. Edward J. Pei's cinematography highlights sunny beaches and the shitty high school equally well to give the film a very slick feel. Watching it again, I was really impressed by the fight scene in a chop shop later in the film after one of Louis' students is killed. Putting on his Army fatigues, the teacher is out for revenge. It's brutal and kick ass with lots of heads and bodies smashing windshields and into cars.

Greg and Sheldon took the stage one more time for Q&A:

- Prolific France based distributor and producer Samuel Hadida had released Lionheart overseas and wanted another martial arts vehicle, this time based on the exotic Capoeira.
- Sheldon and company worked hard to highlight the art while putting it's flashy moves into more realistic street fights as it wasn't as obvious a transition as typical karate or boxing.
- Filmed in actual closed down high school that had bars in stairwells.
- Mark Dacascos worked with a Capoeira trainer for months and through the shoot.
- Dacascos is a talented martial artist and gymnast but Van Damme is the real deal and a real badass.
- Mark is great with weapons while JCVD is horrible.
- Being the early 90's, Sheldon suggested Mark beef up for the role to take his place among the Van Damme, Arnold and Stallone set.
- Feels Mark has had a nice career but Only the Strong should have been bigger. Fox picked up distribution rights, liked what they saw and offered Dacascos a 3-picture deal.
- Imperial Entertainment, same company that made Lionheart, hired Mark D. for the video game adaptation of Double Dragon with a director known for commercials and it wasn't going well.
- Fox originally planned to have Sheldon and Mark do a 12 city junket to hype the film but Double Dragon's delays meant they could only do one in Miami.
- Fox lost interest, only had a few million invested in Strong and knew it would make it's money on video so didn't give theatrical release much of a push.
- Loved working with cinematographer Edward J. Pei, two were neighbors at the time but stars haven't aligned since with Sheldon working in Canada and Europe where a local crew member has preference.
- Costume Designer Pat Field would go on to work on Sex and the City series and films.
- Known for action, Sheldon just loves making movies and wouldn't mind a comedy or drama.
- Dog of war tale Max is coming, Warner Brothers has it set for an August release.
- Not a tough guy himself even though he served in the Marines and Vietnam but gets along with tough guys really well. Stallone, Van Damme, Dacascos, Seagal and Lundgren, everybody.
- Mark is the nicest guy in the world so didn't buy him as villain in Cradle 2 the Grave versus Jet Li.
- Dolph Lundgren is a really nice guy that you don't want to tick off.

And there you have it. A great night all around. Greg and the Alamo do a kick ass job while Sheldon keeps living the dream traveling the country and next the globe with his movies. As Jean-Claude Van Damme would say: "I see you ladder!"

Gotta Drank! Pops

Driving up from Austin we passed several interesting billboards for roadside attractions. The first to catch my eye was for a Lazer Tag joint with 100 arcade games. With dreams of finding the G.I. Joe arcade game or some other rarity, I promptly pulled off at the designated exit to find no signs of the establishment. A quick Yelp search told me the place was actually 33 miles off the highway! Ain't nobody got time for that! Back on the road closer to OKC I caught a glimpse of another potentially awesome stop, an Action Figure Museum! But already being burned and trying to make time, we drove on by. Next time...

Easier to find was Pops, just off the highway in Edmond and located on the historic Route 66 past the beautiful Arcadia Lake. A giant, 66-foot tall soda bottle and straw beckons you to visit the sleek gas station/shop/restaurant. Apparently it lights up at night. Inside are over 600 kinds of bottled pops or sodas for you to choose from. We're talking several rows each for root beer, black cherry cola, ginger ale and the like. I even spotted old standbys Moxie and extra caffeinated Jolt! The restaurant serves up burgers, fries and shakes with a gorgeous patio outside to soak up the sun. Easy to get to, not overly crowded and totally serene, it was a nice reminder that it's the simple things that are best in life.

Gotta Eat! Steak and Catfish

Driving around Oklahoma City you can't help but notice the abundance of BBQ joints and steak houses. From the Rib Crib to Saltgrass Steak to Rudy's BBQ, middle America likes their meat. While staying just outside the capital in Edmond, I couldn't help but notice the restaurant next to a gas station with a simple black and white sign for Steak and Catfish. It was off the highway surrounded by nothing but a closed for the season western themed amusement park. My buddy took me there for lunch and the parking lot was packed. Apparently this place was on Man VS Food when they visited OKC along with Cattleman's Cafe (tried going there on another trip, place was jammed!) and Sid's Diner. The Steak and Catfish Barn was real, just a working establishment with no frills but lots of character and very friendly service. One corner was devoted to John Wayne and westerns, another to Elvis, etc. The tables were lacquered with ads for local businesses and you had a booklet of trivia to entertain you.

It was a pretty concise menu with steak, sandwiches, salads and of course, catfish. All You Can Eat only set you back $14.99 and the standing record is 30 pieces. I opted for a strip steak lunch special and ordered some catfish filets on the side. I expected them to be big ol' honking pieces of heavily deep fried goodness but they were surprisingly bite size and had that dusty corn meal coating versus the bloated beer battered shell you might find at a fair. Hush puppies and fries were my sides of choice that day to complete the fried-fecta. My steak was nice and tender, the fish light and not too salty, fries could have been just a touch crispier but the hush puppies were crunchy and not greasy. The only thing that could have made my meal better was a side of spinach so I wouldn't feel so guilty. Again, the service was great, attentive, fast and kind which really goes a long way for me.

While I didn't overdose on steak or biscuits and gravy like I usually do on these trips, I did get to Wendy's, twice! The Las Vegas airport is great, there's slot machines and gambling in the terminal then the food court has a Wendy's right next to a Popeye's! My friend suggested I get both and create the world's greatest chicken sammich but I showed restraint and just went with a Classic Double burger and let me tell you, it was magnificent. I had heard about Wendy's remodeling locations to feel a bit more modern and upscale but had yet to visit one. That all changed on our way back from Austin outside Waco, Texas near Baylor University. The fake fire place was the first thing to catch your eye walking in and it was a surprisingly nice touch. Then they had one of those new Coke machines were you can get 100's of variations of fake tasting bubbly sweetness. It was time for a big lunch so here came the Pretzel Bun Bacon Burger, fries, chicken nuggets, a drink and a vanilla Frosty. Well done Dave Thomas and Ohio, well done. Except the one in my hometown that messed up my order...

Workout(s) of the Day: Traveling Man

Heading out to Middle America after 6 weeks of steady workouts, I figured on relaxing for a few days. It's always good to get out of the gym to let your body and mind rest and recuperate. Instead, I ended up working out in two states three days straight! Ah well...

Starting things off Sunday in Oklahoma at a very nice fitness center attached to a medical facility was a quick Upper Body workout since we were going to be sitting in a car for roughly 6 hours on the way to Austin. It's better to work out hard and fast versus plodding and overlong. Keeping rest to a minimum between sets turns sessions into weight training and cardio. Anytime you doubt that philosophy, just think of how muscular a sprinter is compared to a marathoner.  It might be more work to run a mile but your body works harder per minute to run a 100 yard dash, got it?

Pre-Lionheart roadtrip: Dumbbell Swing/Chins/Neck Press (bench but lower the bar to your neck with elbows wide)/Spider Curl/Pullover and Press/3-Part Larry Scott Lateral Raises/Low Decline DB Fly/Dive Bomber V Bar Triceps Extensions/1-Arm Preacher Curl. 9 exercises, 3 sets each followed by some jump roping and forearm work.

It was a late night at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz as we didn't get back to our hotel until nearly 1:00AM. Throw in the road trip and half a dozen cocktails, we crashed hard then had to sweat it out the next morning at the Hilton's 24-Hour gym complete with separate rooms for cardio and weights. Luckily, seeing yoked and shredded Van Damme and Mark Dacascos helped motivate the morning session:

Goblet Squat/Leg Press/Leg Curl/Calf Raises/Front Squat on Smith Machine x 3

Legs pumped, I followed more jump roping with some abs and towel twists. When you don't have a pole to hold across your back, just grip a towel between your hands and pull apart. You'll work your shoulders and forearms along with trimming up your obliques. I tend to jump rope for 300 reps a set alternating footfalls every 50 skips. So feet together, running in place, high knees, alternating feet every 2-5 jumps, side to side, front to back, backwards, etc. When I want to kick it up, I just jump 50 reps as fast as I can then do 20 normal and repeat for that interval action.

We meant to stay in Austin an extra night to kick it but I'm not really one for sight seeing and we'd already slayed the beast (attended the films, hung out with Sheldon Lettich and company) so it was time to get the hell out of town. Returning to Oklahoma City, Tuesday morning's Shoulders and Arms consisted of:

DB Press/Preacher Curl/Lying DB Extension/Rear Delt Raise/Low Incline DB Curl/Standing 1-Arm Extension/Upright Row/Concentration Curl/Dive Bomber Rope Extensions x 3 followed by forearms, rowing machine and yet more jump rope!

Now that I'm home, I'm finally taking time off to focus on other things and let my mind and body get hungry for training again. See you Saturday!

Great use of the theme from Lionheart:

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Ask Me a Question: Lionheart w/ Sheldon Lettich

Driving in Texas is rough. Only a two lane highway, lots of construction, accidents and cars on the side of the road. After a quick jaunt through the University of Texas campus glimpsing the huge stadium and Lyndon B. Johnson library, we arrived at our hotel in downtown. Only steps away from the bustling 6th street scene and the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz, we imbibed a few dranks before grabbing snacks at the Iron Cactus next door with some special guests. It was beautiful outside, warm and sunny but not too hot. Not too many people out but hey, it was an early Sunday evening. Tough Guy Cinema was taking over one of the two screens at the Ritz with Lionheart and Only the Strong while new releases Foxcatcher and Inherent Vice played on the other side. I've never been to an Alamo so it was a cool experience with Only the Strong and Lionheart posters on the wall, arcade games in the lobby and artwork everywhere. The seats are all behind a long table/counter where you jot down your order and a server whisks by and then drops off. We opted for liquid dinners and their whiskey gingers were delicious.

Tough Guy Cinema mastermind Greg took the stage and told us how as a youth, he and his brother would scarf down pizza and watch Jean-Claude Van Damme movies on Friday nights. After I met him in Los Angeles and made the introduction to Sheldon Lettich, the duo made it happen and we were about to watch Lionheart on the big screen. While Universal doesn't have a print, the Academy Archives does. Sheldon took the stage for a quick introduction and said he hadn't seen the film on the big screen in decades. Home video releases were all in the wrong format and he's off to Germany next month for a special edition blu-ray release event with co-star Harrison Page. In a nice touch, trailers for Bloodsport and Hard Target played before the feature.

Lionheart tells the tale of Lyon (Jean-Claude Van Damme), a French Foreign Legionnaire stationed in Djibouti, North Africa who goes  A.W.O.L. when he finds out his little brother has been set on fire in a drug deal gone wrong in Los Angeles. Hopping a steamer, Lyon ends up in New York with no money or contacts. Chancing upon a street fight organized by the street savvy and hilarious Joshua (Page), Lyon wins a bout and ends up with a wad of cash to help him get to L.A. Needing a little more scratch, Joshua takes him to meet Cynthia aka The Lady (Deborah Rennard) a rich chick who puts on street fights in the parking garage of her swank office building for shits and giggles. Now dubbed Lionheart, Lyon puts Cynthia's designated hitter away with a punch to the nuts and grabs an extra $5 grand. Landing in Los Angeles, Lyon is too late as his brother has died and left a poor widow and child to fend for themselves. Not seeing any other way to help his family, Lyon reluctantly agrees to hit the fighting circuit where he battles kilt wearing Scots in a garage, a mountain of muscle in a racquetball court and a high kicking dude with long hair in a half empty pool. With Legionnaire investigators hot on his trail, Lyon gets set for a big fight against a killer named Attila who's already bagged 8 bodies. High waist white washed jeans, 80's rock, butt shots, roundhouse kicks and Kentucky Fried Chicken awesomeness ensues.

The print looked great and the film still holds up as one of JCVD's more solid efforts. It has Van Damme's trademark martial arts action and buff but not too developed body along with a surprising amount of heart and emotion, an early sign of the Muscles from Brussels being more than just a high kicking brute. Harrison Page steals nearly every scene as the broken down fighter turned promoter looking out for Lyon while you can really see the effort on young Van Damme's part.

After the film, Sheldon and Greg took the stage for Q&A:

- The butt shot was Van Damme's idea after doing several clothed takes. Greg's mom would forever take him to see JCVD movies because of it.
- Original story came from JCVD, he and Sheldon would meet up at a coffee shop on Sunset to discuss. After an altercation between Van Damme and the head waiter, a Sheriff showed up to tell them to leave.
- Sheldon's first feature so didn't attempt any crazy shots or tricks. Producers would have vetoed anything too extravagant to save money anyhow.
- Harrison Page is Sheldon's neighbor and long time friend. Most of the dialog was on the page but Harrison would take it and run with it, making it his own.
- Film picked up by Jim Jacks and Universal who didn't like Cynthia's scenes and trimmed them down. One was after Lyon asks to leave hotel to live like a fighter and she has a fit while another is her visiting Lyon at the hospital, knowing he's injured and setting up the final fight.
- Original title was Wrong Bet, Van Damme's idea. Sheldon didn't love it but had a hard time coming up with a better name. Released worldwide as A.W.O.L., Full Contact and Wrong Bet. Lyonheart became Lionheart at Universal.
- The film was a hit in America and abroad. Sheldon and co-star Michel Qissi were in France where Lion opened up against a Seagal picture. On the first night, Lion was in the small house while Seagal was in the big room. By the next evening, the films swapped as demand for Lionheart was much higher than Seagal's film and could have been the roots of Seagal's dislike for Van Damme.
- Mentions of the proposed Demolition Man pairing of Seagal as the cop and Van Damme as the villain. Neither would lose to the other so they both dropped out and were replaced by Sylvester Stallone and Wesley Snipes who didn't mind losing to Rocky.
- Producers wanted to use synthesizers for the score to save money but upon seeing the film, put more cash in and used the Salt Lake City orchestra to give composer John Scott's work gravitas.
- Really tried to make it different than Van Damme's previous films which explains the lack of splits and a tournament or revenge plot. Making it more dramatic helped differentiate the film and is why it stands the test of time today. But their next film, Double Impact, went balls out with all the cliches.
- Costume Designer Joseph Porro went crazy with Cynthia's wardrobe with big hats, rhinestone jackets, etc since everyone else would be in drab sweats, jeans and suits. Went on to work on classics Double Impact, Universal Soldier, Tombstone, Independence Day and many more.
- Film shot for 39 days, mainly in Los Angeles and Las Vegas for the desert scenes.
- Lots of friends in the film, Lawrence Bender, Scott Spiegel, Kamel Krifa...

It was a great start to the evening with Greg's passion for the film shining through but still affording solid moderating and great stories from Sheldon. The lobby was hopping with fans and friends before Only the Strong as we popped out to roam the streets for a quick minute...