Saturday, May 30, 2015

This, I Demand! Results

Catch that Serpentor reference there? If not, go watch some G.I. Joe and get back to me. You've heard of VOD right? Video On Demand? Or see it on iTunes? These days plenty a movie will get a small release in markets like Los Angeles and New York, some press and then hit Demand services where you can watch brand new movies in the comfort of your home. Generally for less the cost of an evening movie ticket. Dolph Lundgren and Tony Jaa's Skin Trade hit VOD weeks before the theatrical release and Arnold Schwarzenegger's Maggie just landed in a handful of theaters to hype up the digital release. It's an interesting and cost effective way to unleash a flick. Instead of spending tens of millions of dollars on promotions, tie-ins and premieres, cast and crew hit a few talk shows, do some online videos and attend a small premiere. Then we get to come home from a long week, kick back on the couch with a bag full of fast food, a glass of whiskey and hit BUY on our remote control. In this case it was via Amazon Prime where I had some promo bucks, I think from using non-rush shipping. Thanks Amazon!

I had seen plenty of advertising for Magnolia's latest release, the romantic dramedy Results, on Facebook, about the lives of personal trainers something or other. Guy Pearce and Cobie Smulders (How I Met Your Mother, Avengers) headlined a pretty decent cast that included Kevin Corrigan (The Departed), Giovanni Ribisi (Avatar), Anthony Michael Hall (Weird Science) and Brooklyn Decker (Battleship). Written and produced by busy indie guy Andrew Buljaski (Computer Chess), Results finds Pearce's buffed up Trevor running a successful gym/lifestyle joint called Fitness 4 Life or 4 Points Fitness something or other. He's looking to expand to bigger and greater things to spread the gospel of taking care of yourself to achieve physical, spiritual and mental shape. His top trainer is the direct and kind of pissed off Kat (Smulders) who stops clients in the street to shame them for eating cupcakes and being late on their dues. Along comes Danny (Corrigan) a shambolic and weird yet well off guy whose just been dumped. Looking to get in shape, he enlists Trevor's help and Kat is dispatched to his bougie yet empty house to start getting ripped. Lines are crossed, people get ticked, hearts get kind of broken, weights are lifted and many an online work out video is watched.

Results is a weird movie. It has it's funny and odd moments but you're just not sure where it's going or what it's doing. By the end it's revealed to be a sweet and simple romantic comedy about two individuals stripping away their baggage and accepting one another. But on the way you get lots of claustrophobic shots in bland offices and the empty house along with lingering scenes where people just kind of hang out. Austin and parts of Texas are mentioned as the locale but nearly everything is shot in nondescript homes and empty streets so there's no character provided. A detour to see a kettlebell guru (Hall) and his wife (Decker) provides a few laughs and enlightenment that the leads realize they might love each other. Everything seems to go on for a while and there's even a couple of montages pre and post a mention of Rocky showing life going great for Trevor and Danny working out. There are some nice visuals as Trevor envisions and walks his dream gym and juice bar but the overall pedestrian use of locations makes Results feel like a bit of a home movie with famous people in it. If you like any of the actors and have your laptop or tablet nearby, Results isn't the worst way to spend $6 bucks or 100 minutes and did inspire me to go work off that fast food.

Workout of the Day: Guy Pearce

Guy Pearce is no stranger to having his shirt off for a flick but he's usually looking pretty skinny. I remember thinking he had a pretty solid but slim build in 2000's Memento and wasn't surprised when I learned he had done some bodybuilding as a teenager. His mom would take him to the gym and while she took a swim, Guy was pumping weights and doing circuit training. That lead to winning a local contest at age 16 but nothing much more came of it. Cut to 2012 and after years of headlining some really random movies and embodying eclectic roles like L.A. Confidential, Ravenous, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Dessert and Bedtime Stories, Pearce went full action hero mode for Lockout.

More or less a sci-fi mash up of Escape From New York and Die Hard, Lockout didn't light the box office on fire but remains a visually interesting and entertaining action flick. Having just played a vain playboy in The King's Speech, Pearce's Snow is a vast change of pace being a smart ass anti-hero type, a guy who has a quip for every question and walks around with some yoked out pipes. There's fist fights, space fights, shootouts and one liners galore. Nearly every piece of press on the film focused on Pearce's transformation. In an age when getting in shape lands you lead roles (hello, Chris Pratt), I was surprised Pearce didn't land on the cover of Men's Health, Fitness, Journal, Diary whatever talking about bulking up. Maybe he did but I didn't see it on the ol' internets.

While definitive workout plans remain elusive, Pearce constantly referred to his youth in the gym and muscle memory coming into play. The only real details gleaned are that he spent a month prior to shooting hitting the weights after directors and writers James Mather and Stephen St. Leger dubbed him a bit skinny. While on location in Serbia for the 3 month shoot, Pearce says he worked out 5 days a week in the gym and consumed lots of protein powder and local meat. Like fellow actors Ryan Reynolds and Daniel Craig, Pearce has some great genetics and a build that easily accommodated an extra 20 pounds of beef. Pearce did many of his own stunts, hanging from wires, getting burnt by a ricochet shell casing and roughing around with stunt guys who all compared him (unfavorably) to Gerard Butler who had just left town. Apparently Pearce didn't lift as much weight or drink as much booze or party as late as Butler.

Pearce is in shape again for the just released Results, a weird, pseudo romantic comedy about personal trainers. He looks great in the flick, muscular and cut with the extra weight in his face taking away some of that menacing angular-ness. Again, working out was a key topic for promotion but Pearce again chalked it up his past in the fitness realm but worked on upping his cardio for the running scenes. Having buffed up for the under performing Lockout and already appearing in a comic book movie as a villain in Iron Man 3, we'll see what next role will find the 47 year old Australian hitting the weights next for.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Macho Moments: From Here to Eternity

Welcome to Macho Moments, a look at some of my favorite random scenes in movies that just make you go, "oh shit!" or "somebody's gonna get it!". Our first installment takes us back to 1953's From Here to Eternity. Based on the best selling novel by James Jones, the 800 page tome was thought to be unfilmable. Director Fred Zinnemann and writer Daniel Taradash proved that wrong as the film was a huge hit of the decade and won 8 Oscars (we saw one of them at the Sony Lot this week, nice timing eh?). Playing on Turner Classic Movies this past Memorial Day weekend, I sat down for the flick and somehow enjoyed it even more than in the past. Chronicling the daily military base drama of Pearl Harbor before the 1941 attacks, Eternity boasts a stellar cast that includes Burt Lancaster as a Sergeant falling for his Captain's wife, Deborah Kerr as the suffering trophy wife, Montgomery Clift as a bugler and boxer who won't fight anymore, Frank Sinatra as a wise-cracking trouble maker and Ernest Borgnine as a mean and violent military prison boss.

While the film is known for it's iconic beach scene of Lancaster and Kerr smooching in the surf, the scene I remember most is the bar fight. Sinatra's Angelo Maggio and Borgnine's "Fatso" Judson have already butted heads over choice of music and racist taunts. Enjoying the bar scene during a weekend pass, Judson makes a crude remark about Maggio's sister which leads the whipper snapper to smacking the larger man in the back of the head with a bar stool! Judson whips out a knife and it looks like someone is going to the hospital until badass and oh so cool guy Sgt. Milton Warden aka Burt Lancaster steps in. Apparently Warden is one of the best soldiers around having already fought in Asia. When Judson fails to back down, Warden kicks it into badass mode and breaks a bottle, ready to get the killing started. Phew! Great scene by all involved as you're just waiting for the shit to go down. Especially Lancaster, who was headlining his first big studio feature and would go on to box office and award glory in roles like Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Sweet Smell of Success and Elmer Gantry in the ensuing years.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

(Not) Love Actually: The 13th Warrior

Three of my closest friends growing up introduced me to The 13th Warrior, an action-horror mini-epic loosely based on the old story of Beowulf and Grendel. One was into the mystical and supernatural aspects, one into the viking warrior characters and one just liked to quote it out of nowhere. "Lo there do I see my father..." Only years later would I discover that the film was considered a bomb but has amassed a cult following around the world. Based on the novel by Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park) and directed by John McTiernan (Predator, Die Hard) with a script by Terminator 2 co-writer William Wisher and Black Rain's Warren Lewis, you'd think The 13th Warrior would be better remembered. In an age before the internet tore things apart prior to their release, The 13th Warrior suffered a similar fate of bad press, increasing budget woes, creative disputes and ultimate withdrawal of studio support.

We meet Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan (Antonio Banderas), an outcast academic and poet type turned ambassador as he and his mentor/translator Melchisidek (Omar Sharif) run into some Northmen at a shipping village. Word comes in that a nearby village has been besieged by a murderous, supernatural force and the Vikings enlist themselves to help. An old blind lady with a bag of bones claims that 13 warriors must go but one of them is not to be a Northman. Ibn is thrown into the crusade as they travel to the kingdom and meet the monsters of the mist and their "mother". Nordic shenanigans, Antonio Banderas being the little guy, wine made from honey aka mead, communal face washing/mouth rinsing/nose blowing bowls, feeble words like an old woman's, a mullet, boiled cow urine, sword and ax fighting, lots of beheading and bear worshiping baddies awesomeness ensues. Besides some crappy 90's CGI, 13th Warrior makes terrific use of it's British Columbia settings near rivers, in the woods and rain soaked villages. There's also an elaborate cave sequence complete with waterfall and diving escape. 

The men on a mission feel is old news to director McTiernan who gave us one of the best examples post The Magnificent Seven or The Dirty Dozen with 1987's Predator. While the 13 members aren't given a ton of development, you do get to know stoic and strong leader Buliwyf (sounds like Bull-vie) played by Vladimir Kulich and small funny guy Herger (Dennis Sorhoi) who is basically like Ibn's keeper and calls him "little brother". What's great about this movie is the warrior camaraderie mixed with a "fish out of water" story and action blended with light horror. You get cannibals in bear outfits, severed limbs, huge battles on ground and horseback, a descent into a creepy cave and a showdown with a poison fang handling witch along with sword, shield and spear action. It's not often you see a swords and sails flick and all of our guys are armored up in not too extravagant gear with an archer, ax-man, hatchet guy and of course the leader brandishes a big ass broadsword.

So what happened? How did such a promising flick fail to live up to the hype? Antonio Banderas was riding high from The Mask of Zorro, McTiernan had rebounded from the disappointing performance of Last Action Hero with Die Hard: With a Vengeance. Michael Crichton has wrote, produced and directed films like Westworld and Twister while his novels have turned into hits like Jurassic Park. Apparently from the onset, McTiernan and Crichton clashed which wasn't good for McTiernan as Crichton had final cut approval. Initially titled Eaters of the Dead like the book, a 1998 teaser trailer showcases the horror as well as the action. But test screenings were all over the map with positive reviews digging the visuals and adventure while negative ones focused on the leisurely pace and missed opportunities in the battle scenes. Having already spent over 6 months filming, the cast and crew were called back to the studio lot the following year for reshoots. On one end was McTiernan crafting a new ending and on the other was Crichton doing the same. Actor Vladimir Kulich would shoot scenes for each on any given day. While both men told the actor not to discuss what he was doing on each set, Crichton chimed in that it didn't matter what McTiernan was doing as he still had final cut.

Losing about 20 minutes of footage and gaining a new ending that included a final one on one battle for Bulwyf and the recasting of the evil mother; Disney lost interest in the film, McTiernan departed before final editing was completed and the title became The 13th Warrior. Estimated to have cost around $85 million bucks, rumors swirled that the budget had doubled. Graeme Revell's original score was scrapped in favor of a new one by Jerry Goldsmith. The film was not given a premiere and after sitting on the shelf, Disney made a last ditch promotional effort and released the flick on August 27th in 1999. So much time had passed that McTiernan's The Thomas Crown Affair was released four weeks prior. The 13th Warrior would gross $10.2 million on it's way to a tepid $32 million domestic and make about the same overseas. While Omar Sharif would publicly state his dissatisfaction with the film, 13th would find it's audience on DVD in the ensuing years with Zorro and future Casino Royale director Martin Campbell telling Banderas that it was an underrated film that had become a cult. Various websites were devoted to uncovering the lost McTiernan cut but even the original director couldn't promise a mythical masterpiece lying in wait. A 2011 French special edition DVD includes comments from the likes of Banderas, McTiernan, Kulich and co-writer Lewis in a nearly one hour documentary that has yet to make its way to the states.

After Desperado, Evita and The Mask of Zorro made Banderas a household name, subsequent misfires like 13th Warrior, Play It to the Bone, Original Sin and flop Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever would keep him working steadily until voicing Puss In Boots in the hugely successful Shrek series. Director McTiernan would fumble with big budget remake Rollerball and Basic before going to prison for allegedly lying to authorities. Now free, here's hoping he still has some flicks left in the tank. Crichton's film output would cool as adaptation Timeline would flop and he passed away in 2008 (Write In Peace). While it wasn't the big break Vladimir Kulich was hoping for, The 13th Warrior did lead him to a small role in Joe Carnahan's Smokin' Aces and Buliwyf-esque roles in Ironclad and TV's The Vikings. Until the special edition Blu-Ray hits the U.S., keep the mead coming.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Summer Cinema: Tomorrowland

Ah Memorial Day, where we pay our respects to those who serve this great country and many of us get to kick back an extra day. It wasn't one for the cinema history books though as Disney's latest epic based on an attraction, Tomorrowland, opened with a 4-Day gross of just over $40 million. That puts it at # 22 on the all time list of Memorial Day openings. Reviews and word of mouth have been mixed so the less than stellar opening makes it perfect fodder for unnecessary and unreasonable negativity. I for one enjoyed the flick for the most part, it has some terrific ideas, solid production values and an excellent cast. The themes of hope, positive thinking and learning aren't exactly a bad thing either. It does drag in a few spots and reminded me of movies like The Rocketeer, The Terminator and Conspiracy Theory at parts. Brad Bird, director of The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Rataouille and Mission: Impossible 4 helms a script by genre whipping boy Damon Lindelof (Lost, Prometheus), Jeffrey Chernov and himself.

Tomorrowland is basically the story of smart and spunky Casey (Britt Robertson) as she's recruited by the wide eyed and robotic mini T-1000 Athena (Raffey Cassidy) to help save the world. Athena works out of Tomorrowland, an alternate dimension type place where the best and brightest work to change the world. Years ago, a young smart kid named Frank Walker discovered that the world was at risk and subsequently exiled. He grows up to be George Clooney, playing a grouch. Athena believes Casey can build upon Walker's theories and possibly save the planet. Tomorrowland ruler Nix (Hugh Laurie) doesn't really want to hear about it though as he's given up on humanity and is safe in his little bubble. Alternate worlds, new technology, smiling robots, vaporizing ray guns, gadgets, jet packs, Eiffel Tower, rocket ships, Star Wars and Iron Giant product placement ensues.

While I try not to listen or read into pre-release hype, the word on Tomorrowland wasn't good. But like the much maligned Prometheus before it, while watching it, I kept wondering when it was going to get bad. Overall I enjoyed the film, there's some nice philosophy and ideas of exploration and a positive theme. Kind of like a less technical, more fantastic Interstellar.  The humor works and there's a surprising amount of violence in the film with robots getting their heads ripped off, hit by trucks and whatnot. Humans get vaporized and there's a cartoony quality to all of the mayhem which seemed borderline inappropriate given it's PG rating. Performances were fine all around with Clooney's early scenes smacking of wise-ass Robert Downey, Jr. Some of the set pieces and imagery reminded me of other movies and a segment of Athena rescuing Casey is like a Kyle Reese/T-1000 from The Terminator update. I was surprised she didn't say, "Come with me if you want to live"! Plus that creepy kid from Looper (Pierce Gagon), Tim McGraw (I feel like he's getting roles Billy Bob Thorton should be) and Keegan-Michael Key (just saw him in Pitch Perfect 2, wonder if Peele is getting jelly) show up as well.

It does drag a bit and you wonder when Clooney is going to show up after the first act. But Bird is a an excellent director and stages action, drama, laughs and shocks with ease. There's some great dialog at the end with Nix discussing mankind being given all the facts that the world is dying but doing nothing to stop it and only being interested in money. There's also a hilarious question about how the world can be suffering from starvation and obesity epidemics at the same time. The world is strange, brah.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Live Goods: Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds at The Orpheum Theatre

Time flies huh? Literally, we saw Noel Gallagher and his High Flying Birds in Downtown, Los Angeles last night nearly four years after seeing him on his inaugural solo tour in 2011. That show was over at UCLA's Royce Hall. Noel's second solo offering Chasing Yesterday has been doing quite well for itself on the sales chart and Mr. Gallagher is in the midst of a world tour. Heading downtown on a Wednesday night was not an exciting prospect but we met up with some friends at The Golden Gopher right off of Broadway and near the newly reopened Ace Hotel and Theatre along with The Orpheum. There were another couple theatres on the same street, The Rialto is now an Urban Outfitters while the others are closed up. I wonder what it was like back in the days when the stages were a bustling. You've heard me talk about Downtown before, while it's nice to see a renaissance happening, the place still looks like it's living in The Terminator's 1984, grungy, dirty, vagrant filled world.

After several dranks and some slices of pizza, we sauntered over to the theatre which was surprisingly not that busy outside. I grabbed a shirt from the merch stand and we quickly found our seats in the solid and ornate yet very intimate venue. Not sure if there was an opening act as some tunes were blasting from speakers and technicians were on stage gearing and tuning up. Before long, the band made their way to the stage and got right into Do the Damage, a fantastic track relegated to B-side status from Chasing Yesterday. A giant screen behind the band had visuals and close ups of the band with lyrics and whatnot in a nice touch. The seats were very close to the kind of small stage making it feel even more intimate for the 2,000 person crowd. It must have been three or four songs in before Noel greeted the crowd and he was chattier and more friendly than I've ever seen him.

Apparently the last time he was inside The Orpheum was for a Marilyn Manson concert with the eccentric rocker face to face with little brother, trouble maker and rock star Liam being quite the meeting of the minds. Tunes flowed fast and furious with tracks from debut album Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds and Yesterday keeping things rolling. Noel attacked each song with surprising vigor and he looked much more relaxed than on his first tour when I just kept thinking he needed to let it go, open up and go for it. Lock All the Doors was fantastic live as was the self described "fucking brilliant" song You Know We Can't Go Back. The Riverman and The Death of You and Me brought things down a little, maybe swap them out for Some Might Say. Because it's awesome. Noel chatted with the audience from time to time, picking out goers who have attended many of his shows or asking "who's Ian?" when someone yelled out something about Liam.

Oasis favorite (not mine, I prefer their upbeat stuff) Champagne Supernova was a surprise and you could feel the energy in the room lifted by nostalgia. Digsy's Diner, a goofy yet fun song about lasagna from Definitely Maybe coupled with my favorite song from his first album, If I Had a Gun, closed things out beautifully.  After a quick break, The Chief, his second lead guitar, bass, drum, keyboard and brass players came back and launched into Oasis B-side The Masterplan, terrific Noel tune What A Life! and finally, the crowd crooning Don't Look Back In Anger. I wasn't excited, at all, two hours before the show but instantly came back to life as soon as Noel walked on stage and left the Orpheum temporarily deaf but foreseeably happy. Thanks, Chief, see you on the next one.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Tell Me A Question: Todd Senofonte and Pound of Flesh

Jean-Claude Van Damme's latest action-thriller Pound of Flesh hit select theaters and VOD this past Friday. After speaking with director Ernie Barbarash and producer Kirk Shaw, I attended the Los Angeles premiere where I met a plethora of JCVD's known associates, including long time stunt double Todd Senofonte. An actor, martial artist and military veteran, Senofonte was easy going yet full of energy and looked in great shape. Senofonte has worked with Van Damme on the likes of Sudden Death, The Quest, Maximum Risk, Double Team, Knock Off, Legionnaire, Universal Soldier: The Return, Until Death and PoF. He's also appeared in Kung Phooey!, Super Shark, A Reason To Live and Power Rangers. We caught up over e-mail following the premiere.

Dammaged Goods: You've had a very physical career and are still in fighting shape. What is your background in athletics and martial arts?

"I come from a very athletic family, been playing sports since the age of  5. My dad was my first coach and he is my idol and role model. He is the epitome of what a dad should be. My mom's dad was a professional boxer in the 40's, so I pretty much got the best of both worlds born with that innate ability. I studied the art of Tang Soo Do and was in the military for 6 years. I achieved one of my goals in the military, getting the Physical Fitness patch doing 124 pushups in 2min, 85 situps in 2min and running 2 miles in 12:36. Nowadays I work out on my own using free weights and the Smith Machine."

DG: How did you end up working with Jean-Claude Van Damme on Sudden Death?

"The night before I graduated from basic training from Fort Benning, the drill sergeants brought in a TV and a VCR and played the movie Bloodsport and everyone in the room kept looking at me. Later, I had done some modeling in Scranton, PA. On a certain shoot, the photographer looked at me and said, 'Do you know who you look like?'.....I said jokingly, Eddie Murphy. He said, no you look just like Van Damme. The photographer happened to have Jack Gilardi's (Jean-Claude's agent at the time, what are the odds?) card. He said 'here see what you can do with it'. A couple months went by and one day I was eating my Cocoa Puffs and thought 'what the heck?'. I had my cousin take pics of my doing kicks and splits and FedEx'd them to California. I get a call from Gilardi's office the next day, they received the packet and thought I looked great. Jean-Claude was out of the country but they would make sure he sees it. I thanked them and hung up the phone, thinking Holy $%^$. I called all my buddies and told them what happened. It was pretty cool for them to call me let alone opening an unsolicited envelope."

"I waited a couple weeks, sent more pics. Waited another week and then finally called the office and they said, 'glad you called, Jean-Claude is doing a film in Pittsburgh why don't you show up on set and see what happens'. I drove 5 hours from Dunmore to Pittsburgh. Didn't know where I was going to stay...I didn't care. I will never forget when I walked into the production office and the girl at the desk looked up and said, 'Oh Mr. Van Damme you're here', I look behind me and say 'no my name is Todd and I'm here for the Stand In job'. So I went in for an interview and was asked if I can come back next week...ABSOLUTELY!!!! I came back the next week and was told they could definitely use me in the film. Jean-Claude already had a stunt double but for standing in and photo doubling I could help out. And that is how I got my foot in the door."

DG: You worked on two of Van Damme's craziest films, Double Team and Knock Off. Any close calls, injuries or memories of working with the Hong Kong crew and director Tsui Hark?

"I would say of all the films I worked on, Double Team and Knock Off was where I've had a couple of close calls. The tiger chase in DT was the scariest for me, but it looks so good on screen. On KO driving the speed boat I was supposed to jump up on the seat then jump and grab the towing line. As I was ready to jump, the boat stalled and the ship crashed into the boat. It was a scary time, but the finished product looks great."

"Tsui Hark is one of my favorite directors. He is non-stop and very aware of his surrounding. That's what makes him a great director and a great guy. The Chinese crew are the hardest working in the business, love those guys and girls."

DG: Any memorable co-stars or opponents while working with JCVD?

"Working with Michael Jai White was awesome in Universal Soldier:The Return. He is one of the best martial artists out there and it was an honor just meeting him let alone working with him."

DG:You've traveled around the world making movies, any favorite spots?

"My favorite location has to be Phuket, Thailand. The most beautiful beaches I've ever seen."

DG: You've done a bit of acting as well, how do you prepare for less action oriented roles?

"I do consider myself an actor and probably one of the few stuntmen out there that does not mind reading lines off camera to other actors for Jean-Claude. My first role was in Fist Of Legends 2: Iron Bodyguards. It was my first on screen performance and my first fight scenes as an actor. Kung Phooey! was a comedy I acted in also. A Reason To Live was a dramatic short that I'm very proud of.  I have a few projects in the works, but if I'm needed to double I won't hesitate. Even though acting and stunt work are different, they are the same where you have to be on your A game."

DG: Pound of Flesh has received a warm response, what was the fight/stunt preparation like?  How was shooting in mainland China? 

"Pound Of Flesh is Jean-Claude's toughest film to date...physically and mentally. The shooting schedule was brutal and it took its toll on everyone. The stunt crew on this film was awesome. All the doubles and the stunties really gave it their heart and soul, and it shows."

DG: Thoughts on director Ernie Barbarash?

"Working with Ernie was a privilege. He has so much energy yet he is very calm and soft spoken, but that works for him and I enjoyed being on set and watching and learning from the mastermind."

DG: Any parting thoughts?

"I do have to thank Jean-Claude, because of him he gave me a name in this business. He knows all he has to do is call if he needs me. Not just for work, but to talk about everything and nothing."

Many thanks to Mr. Todd Senofonte for taking the time to chat with Dammaged Goods. Keep up with him on Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Sunset Cinema: The Great Escape

This summer has already yielded seeing five new releases so it was time for our first repertory screening. It would be our third movie in as many days and my favorite of all time, The Great Escape! I've seen the World War II tale of POW's on the big screen twice from a Digital Print but this viewing was coming at you courtesy of The New Beverly Cinema owner Quentin Tarantino's personal 35mm print! A Steve McQueen trailer reel was also touted and the classic men on a mission flick played for a surprising four nights. In an awesome touch there were Japanese programs being handed out along with a giant French poster in the lobby. I was happy to see such a full house for the film that included a former co-worker and an actor I did an interview with the day previously (more on that later).

Why is this my favorite movie? I dunno, it's one of those perfect storm kind of movies. Director John Sturges is my favorite of all time, his The Magnificent Seven comes pretty close behind The Great Escape on my list. Then you have the marvelous cast that includes Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, James Donald, Donald Pleasence, David McCallum, Gordon Jackson, John Leyton and Angus Lennie among many more. The World War II setting is one of my faves and the simple tale of men doing something because they can and because it's their duty in the face of danger and death always spoke to me. It's also a pretty great thing when a movie makes you read a book. While I've actually never read the real life account the film is based on (no clue why not actually) by Paul Brickhill, I've devoured hundreds of pages by the likes of Sturges, co-producer Robert Relyea, producer Walter Mirisch and co-star Garner.

The print was Damme near gorgeous with the colors popping on the over 50 year old flick. A little scratchy in parts but nothing too distracting. Even though Steve McQueen had top billing, I feel this is more or less James Garner's movie. He's so suave and cool as Hendley the scrounger in his white turtleneck while McQueen is a little rougher and goofier as loner Hilts. Behind the scenes it was revealed that McQueen wanted to be the hero but not do anything heroic. Leading to being a bit of an outsider with many scenes focused on him instead of part of the committee. Attenborough has a great part and does a fantastic job as X, leader of the whole escape effort. The camaraderie among the prisoners and cleverness in the diversions and digging methods never gets old. In fact, I enjoy the film's first two hours in the camp more than the last hour when they're all on the run. Something I noticed this viewing I hadn't before was several characters have verbal cues to differentiate them among the physical. McQueen bounces his baseball, Bronson is revealed to be claustrophobic sure but this time out I realized that Pleasence says "splendid" a lot, Garner responds, "of course" in a funny-sarcastic way, Jackson has "brilliant" and Coburn says "bloody" more than a couple times.

After the film and a short break, trailers in various shape for flicks like Love With the Proper Stranger, Bullitt, The Reivers, Junior Bonner, The Getaway, The Towering Inferno and Papillion played back to back. My dad always had a copy of prison escape epic Papillion nearby and apparently it's one of Jean-Claude Van Damme's favorite books. Guess I'll have to add that to the list too.

Paneled Goods: Sgt. Fury and Basic Training

For today's first hit of World War II heart and machismo, let's take it back to January of 1969 for Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos # 62 by Gary Friedrich, Dick Ayers and company. While we're used to Fury being a hard assed, cigar chomping leader, here we get him as a loud mouthed Army recruit starting basic training in 1941 before America actually entered the conflict. Sgt. Bass is in charge here and has only nine weeks to whip these bums into shape. Straight out of Hell's Kitchen, the only reason Fury signed up was because he lost his job and was flat broke. Hoping to wait it out a couple years, Fury figures on breezing through basic and challenges Bass to a fight nearly right away. The result? Big mouthed Fury gets socked in the gut and has to be helped to his feet by fellow recruit Jim Schaeffer who tells Fury to get that chip off his shoulder.

Fury becomes the necessary scapegoat of the unit and is dubbed "Foul-Up" by Bass. The seemingly rough sergeant knows there's a great soldier inside of Fury, it just needs to be brought out. Bass gets a little bit of backstory and heart as we learn that his son Danny wouldn't enlist due to being a pacifist. The brash Fury doesn't see it that way and can't stand the needling. Wanting to quit, the other troops won't let him, nor will the top brass. During their final training mission, things get real with Nazi saboteurs take over the training grounds and firing live shells at the soldiers, killing two. Fury is thrown into command and takes out the gunners with a pineapple (grenade). But not before taking part of a blast and losing half of his shirt as per Fury usual.

It was interesting to see Fury's origins being such a jackass but could have used a little more fleshing out as to why Bass and the brass saw so much potential in him. Most of the issue Fury is complaining and ready to quit, not exactly showing off glimpses of greatness. Sadly no awesome Hostess ads here, we just get notes about bulking up, learning karate and finishing high school. Jim Schaeffer doesn't ring a bell but someone so integral to Fury's beginnings has to come back at some point as an ally or villain, right?! Guess I'll just have to keep reading.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Summer Cinema: Mad Max Fury Road

It's a full weekend of movies as last night was Mad Max: Fury Road, tonight is Pitch Perfect 2 and Saturday is Quentin Tarantino's print of The Great Escape along with a program of Steve McQueen trailers. The summer kicked off okay with Avengers: Age of Ultron but Mad Max did not disappoint. I do my best not to consume any interviews or pay any attention to critical or viewer opinion before a movie I want to see but it was all good things preceding Max on the ol' internets. We checked out the new Cinemark in Playa Vista for the second time and had a drink at their Reserve Bar upstairs. Drinks were surprisingly affordable and tasty while their food menu runs the gastronomic gauntlet of sliders, burgers, flatbreads, edamame and more along with vegan options to go with the popcorn. It's not very crowded yet as the rest of the mall isn't open so take advantage now while parking is still free and the hordes from Whole Foods won't be in your way.

Mad Max: Fury Road takes us to a world of sand, fire and blood. Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy taking over for Mel Gibson) and his Interceptor are on the run from the scarred and albino (?) Immortan Joe's (Hugh Keays-Bryne) scavengers. Out in the desert, Joe and his deformed family (inbreeding and nuclear fallout?) own the local population by controlling water and food supplies. He's got a bunch of pristine wives locked in a vault who are hijacked by Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) as they head for the "Green Place" across the sea of sand to keep their children from becoming warlords. Max escapes his Warboy captor Nux (Nicholas Hoult) and teams up with Furiosa as they evade Joe and his army of souped up vehicles, drummers and guitar player.

Basically, Mad Max: Fury Road is f@cking crazy. It's in your face and full of "what the hell" and "whoa-ly sh!t" moments. It's rabid and frantic. It's essentially a two hour chase filled with explosions, demolition derby, speeding cars, trucks, big rigs and motorcycles along with lots of bizarre characters. Much of the mayhem and destruction looks real and not like a video game a la every other summer action blockbuster for the most part. Half of the dialog was indecipherable due to masks, accents and whatnot but it's not like you miss much. I'll be surprised to see if people complain the way they did for Interstellar when Michael Caine's dying mumbling wasn't put on full blast even though he wasn't saying anything story important. Big fan of Tom Hardy from Bronson to This Means War to Warrior and Inception. He does a lot of acting with his face and expressions in the film going stoic, angry and funny all with a look. His voice is surprising reminiscent of what he did for Bane in The Dark Knight Rises though and I honestly didn't catch much of an Australian accent, except when he said "tank-a" as tanker. Charlize Theron gets almost equal billing as the near gender neutral Furiosa with a shaved head and grease war paint. The story involves the two of them working, saving and supporting each other in a very well done way. There's even a Predator shake between them at one crucial point.

Some might say the movie isn't about Max but he was always getting saved and playing semi-nice with others in Mad Max, Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome. Here it's a nice balance between the two characters but in the end, it's still Max's story and we'll be following his lonesome trek into the wasteland in future installments I'm sure. He wasn't cameo'ing in his own film like Godzilla was last year in any way. For all the noise, thrills, chills and action, director George Miller and his co-writers Brendan McCarthy and Nick Lathouris do an amazing job of not bludgeoning the audience with whiz-bang or forcing quiet moments in as it all just flows naturally. Music by Junkie XL is pulsing and pounding in that new Hans Zimmer, no theme, ambient kind of way and works very well. If anything I could have used some more Interceptor as it's such a part of the world yet it's never really shown off. Fury Road is a fun and ridiculous time at the movies that would be best experienced on a big screen. Here's hoping Mel Gibson shows up in the sequel somehow.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Tell Me A Question: Ernie Barbarash and Pound of Flesh

The day after speaking with Pound of Flesh producer Kirk Shaw, I had the chance to chat with director Ernie Barbarash. I had known Barbarash from his previous collaborations with Jean-Claude Van Damme; Assassination Games and 6 Bullets along with genre flicks They Wait and Hardwired with Jamie King, Michael Biehn, Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Val Kilmer. Mr. Barbarash was great to talk to; easygoing, educated and experienced. Easing into the conversation, I asked about where he grew up:"I was born in Odessa, Ukraine when it was still part of the Soviet Union and lived there for the first 9 years of my life, then right before my 9th birthday, we moved to Montreal, Canada, where I lived until I was 18 and left for college in the US..." I asked how he got into film and was surprised to find out he never intended to work in movies but was focusing on theatre instead. While living in New York, Barbarash got a job on a play that was then delayed and he ended up working for a random Canadian film company that needed some help, Lionsgate. Spending several years reading scripts and producing in house, Ernie was put into a trial by fire to write and direct 2004's Cube Zero.

Having directed his first play at 14, Barbarash feels it's easy to learn technology but working with people is much more instinctual. When asked further about the transition from theatre to film, Ernie responded: "As a theatre director, I came to film not only with the experience of working with actors, but also an education in storytelling for an audience through an immediate experience. The theatre teaches us how to take the audience on a journey. It teaches us that we’re not making art for ourselves – that it’s really all about how it affects the audience. One of the reasons I love talking to fans of the genre in which I’m working, be it action, thrillers, sci fi, horror, etc. is because I really miss that immediate response from the audience in the theatre. It’s also why I love going to see movies on the first night they open as often as I can…"

After speaking with Shaw and hearing about some of the bottom line economics and logistical challenges of working in the modest budget action world; Barbarash made it even clearer as he discussed not being able to stop in a sense as one movie wouldn't pay the bills for a year. He's got kids, a wife and a life to take care of so it was interesting to hear about the people who work for a living when thoughts of Hollywood are always dreamed about with glamor and riches. While Barbarash has worked mainly in the science fiction and action genres, he's also wrote Hallmark TV movies, dramas and been able to delve into different worlds. As a kid he loved action movies so his collaborations with Jean-Claude Van Damme is a bit of coming full circle. Producer Brad Krevoy asked if Barabarash would be interested in directing a Van Damme movie resulting in the Lionheart and Timecop fan's immediate agreement. Their first project, Weapon, eventually became Assassination Games, co-starring the high kicking Scott Adkins about a pair of trained assassin/mercenary types who team up to take down a common foe with crossbows, guns, kicks and a beheading by samurai sword. 

When it comes to directing a feature in the face of limited time and resources yet managing to keep a positive attitude, Barbarash answered: "people hire me because I put the work in, not because I'm pretty" and that making a movie is in a sense like going to war as you're on the clock, the director is the leader and his actions will reflect on the whole crew. So to keep people pushing for those 17 hour days, it's better to show off a positive attitude and keep things going rather than fall apart in negativity. For Pound of Flesh, his third go-round with JCVD, Barbarash believes it's their best project yet. Now that the level of trust is there, it's easier to give up on certain ideas while fighting for others to tap into what matters and what will bring the best ideas to life. Like Shaw, Barbarash thought that Joshua James' script was excellent with a great story and action that was tweaked for JCVD and the location. While the shoot came in at 36 days, Barbarash explained that it wasn't really 36 days as things moved slowly due to the language barrier and not being familiar with the area. But the crews put in hard work, going 17 hours a day 7 days a week. Barbarash enjoyed the challenges of shooting in China and is eager to return. He'd also love to shoot in Thailand as it's a beautiful place filled with nice people. That's one of the joys of his job, traveling and exploring, even if he can't always celebrate as there's shot lists and homework to do. 

On working with Jean-Claude Van Damme again, Ernie is proud that JCVD gets to display a wide range of acting in Pound of Flesh. It was emotional work and they went to tough places with the character versus simply brooding. The story is character driven with a hint of Van Damme's personal philosophy thrown in. Barbarash was determined to balance the drama with the action as if people only wanted action, they should watch a video on YouTube, not a movie. Van Damme wanted to do something new fighting wise, so choreographer and real life combat expert John Salvitti worked to build on the audience expectations of karate and high kicks and go further. Barbarash had mentioned staying ahead of the audience as they get more and more savvy everyday as he shared his own personal philosophy: "I keep striving to learn more every day. I think when you stop learning you stop growing and that you should keep learning no matter how old you are or how much experience you have… One of the things I love about what I do is that I learn something new with every project I do." 

It was a great talk and I enjoyed our conversation as Mr. Barbarash was honest about the business, quick thinking yet thoughtful and insightful. We ended the call with a mutual film fan moment when I asked how Michael Biehn ended up in They Wait in a supporting role. Barbarash, like Dammaged Goods, is a huge Biehn fan going back to The Terminator. Once they had Jaimie King in the lead, the producers were looking for another name to bolster the credits and Biehn was suggested and accepted the role. While Biehn only worked a few days on the film, Barbarash described him as a fun guy and good actor. Here's hoping Ernie Barbarash's future includes a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie co-starring Michael Biehn. Until then, thanks to Mr. Barbarash for taking the time and to Popular Press Media Group for making the introduction.

Pound of Flesh opens in select theaters and VOD on Friday, May 15th.

Chief Goods: Ask Me An Interview

"Because I went to a fucking donut shop once in Montreal, and all the staff spoke French!
And last time I looked - France was on the other side of the fucking world.
So I say to the people of Montreal - au revoir. Hahahaha!"

- Noel Gallagher on why the High Flying Birds aren't stopping in Montreal

A friend texted me from Atlanta where she was watching Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds perform at a festival. It only took her 20 years but she finally realized how Damme good The Chief really is. Noel's on tour for his well received album Chasing Yesterday and will be playing in Los Angeles next week. Tickets are aplenty on StubHub, part of the bullshit that is TicketMaster. We'll see how I feel on show night but I would like to see him again since we saw him on the inaugural tour. Always known for his passionate and knowledgeable diatribes against humanity and the current state of music, Rolling Stone awarded him a makeshift award for Best Rock Interview.

While in New York, Noel took part in a Redditt Ask Me Anything where the above classic quote came from and performed on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Van Dammage: Pain Sweat

"But I put myself into a mode of sweating profusely and it was cool. 
It was a good experience. It was painful." 
Jean-Claude Van Damme

The Van Damme media train keeps on chugging along with Red Carpet interviews, e-mail chats and an appearance on Conan O'Brien's late night talk show. Here are some highlights from the week:

- "If you play comedy, it’s the best because it’s no ego, you know.  Like, for example, in an action movie….Expandable, they all want to look better than the other because it’s about action, testosterone  and all that shit. So comedy, more goofy and stupid you are , more you’re winning the case.  And then the crew they have fun.  The lunch is about fun." 

- Our friends over at The Action Elite got to chat with the man in person after the PoF premiere.

- "If you don't I will beat you down...and guess what...he wasn't lying" - Charlie Sheen on at first refusing then accepting a pair of perhaps solid gold sunglasses from JCVD after working together on Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike vs Ummet Ozcan's The Hum music video. Apparently the two had run into one another back in the 90's at several Planet Hollywood openings but never bonded until having a great time on the recent set. Since then the two have become pals.

- On nutrition:
"Training is very important because…Sometimes I smoke a stogie. I don’t drink anymore because there’s nothing to gain in drinking. It’s pure sugar and it makes you think differently.
Everybody can go to the gym. Everybody can lose weight. You have to eat 6-7 times a day. You’re only going to retain only 30 percent of fat and the body will eliminate about 70 percent of fat. If you eat 2-3 meals a day, you eat a lot and the body knows that you will not eat the next hour, so the body will retain 70 percent of fat and will let go 30 percent of fat. I just want to tell the audience that everything is possible with knowledge."

- On Monday night, Van Damme trended on Facebook and the internet after recreating his hilarious drunk dancing and fighting from Kickboxer on Conan. Van Damme had some fun appearances on Conan's show in the 90's and this time out, the silly factor was cranked to 11. Van Damme helped Conan stretch out, talked PoF, the new Kickboxer film and then beat up some stunt guys while showing off his swole-ness, dance moves and a roundhouse kick.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Sunday Cinema: The Road Warrior & Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome

There's a lotta movies coming out this summer but I've been itching to see Mad Max: Fury Road since those first crazy trailers started hitting. Clips at WonderCon only whetted the appetite and last week the huge premiere welcomed stars Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, writer/director George Miller and the original Max himself, Mel Gibson! Apparently a sequel, featuring Gibson, nearly happened in 2001 but after 9/11 the U.S. Dollar dropped and a couple of years later Mr. Gibson moved into his "complicated" stage of arrests, being illegally recorded, gold dug and saying some not so nice things. The story needed Max to be closer to his prime and over a decade later, it was not to be an "old warrior" tale a la Unforgiven or the proposed Conan the Barbarian sequel. Cut to word that Hardy and Theron were shooting in the African desert in Nambia during the summer of 2012 but it was basically silence on Fury Road until a single image dropped and little by little, we've finally made it. To prep for Thursday's release, I sat down for 1981's Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior and 1985's Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.

Mad Max did not blow me away. It was released several years before I was born, I didn't grow up with it and hey, times change, filmmakers ape stuff and source material just doesn't pop the way it could if you saw it firsthand. The flick heralded Mel Gibson's spectacular awaiting career and put Australian filmmaking on the map. The Road Warrior though, I enjoyed the snot out of. The opening minutes catch the audience up and introduce the world as Mad Max was an influential if not box office smash. Living in the wasteland looking for "juice" aka gasoline, Max encounters some hardcore marauders along with a gyro plane captain who claims to know where an oil refinery is. Doing some recon, Max, his dog Dog and Captain scope out the outpost that's under siege by Lord Humongous and his goons as they kill anyone trying to escape. Apparently the refugees believe there's a paradise outside the wasteland some 2,000 miles away and are prepping to make a run for it. Max ends up cutting a deal with them to lead the convoy and vehicular mayhem, shotgun blasting, hero shots, dog food, feral kid, crazy Vernon Wells, buff/masked villain and football shoulder pads ensues to make for a memorable 96 minutes.

Gibson is silent yet iconic as Max and his scene giving the feral kid a music toy shows him at his most randomly icy cool with inquisitive yet harsh and kind of dead eyes. A great bit of car chase starts out the flick but I was a little disappointed his souped up Interceptor didn't get more to do as it's totaled later after a short pursuit. It's a desolate and dirty affair with the marauders raping, torturing and murdering the refiners while also gonzo with the practical f/x, world, costumes and characters. The end sequence with a tanker truck with several cars and motorcycles in pursuit is fantastic as vehicles are really crashed and crushed and real people flung through the air. Made for a meager $2 million bucks, The Road Warrior opened up # 4 on May 21st in 1982 behind defending champ Conan the Barbarian, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid and Porky's with a $2.5 million dollar gross on it's way to $23.6 million total.

Gibson and Miller along with co-director George Ogilvie and co-writer Terry Hayes returned to the franchise for 1985's Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. We find a long haired Max stumbling into Bartertown, a shanty built from the ruins of World War III where vendors hock radioactive water, methane gas from pig sh!t fuels the city and things are ruled by the strong yet not quite tyrannical Aunty Entity (Tina Turner). Max is recruited to take out Master and Blaster, the little person and slow witted giant who really run Bartertown with their pigs and crap. Max ends up booted from the city and found by a bunch of wild children whose plane crashed years ago in a Lord of the Flies meets Peter Pan set up. Together, they head back to Bartertown to free The Master. A fight on bungie cords with huge hammers and chainsaws anchors the first act while things turn into a swashbuckling adventure with soaring music when the kids get involved. They live in a lush and wet rainforest which is a nice change of pace from the sand and fire of usual Mad Max motifs. Just when I wondered when Max was going to drive a car, we get a huge chase sequence at the end involving a truck on a train and lots of post-apocalyptic vehicles in pursuit.

Beyond Thunderdome is an interesting movie, it's slicker and shinier than the previous films but also really weird but somehow all works to make a visually interesting and entertaining time. Miller and Oglivie go overboard on the panning and zooming but it definitely gives the piece part of it's over the top personality.  Reportedly budgeted at $12 million, Warner Brothers released Thunderdome on my birthday a few years after I showed up. Opening at # 2 with $7.2 million, Mad Max 3 would gross $36 million at the box office going up against the likes of Back to the Future, Cocoon, Rambo II and Pale Rider. Gibson's next movie at Warner Brothers, Lethal Weapon, would mark the beginning of his career as a top grossing and earning actor before becoming an Oscar winning director with Braveheart. While I do wish Gibson could have had a part in Fury Road as he brought the character to life, it's comforting to know George Miller is still at the helm and is looking to carry on the series like a James Bond and passing the mantle.

Workout of the Day: Less is More

What a crazy week. Got back from the Dominican Republic (going through customs sucks!) then hit premieres on back to back nights. While in the DR, kept up my workouts by swimming in the ocean (calm one day, choppy and seaweedy the next, always salty) and hitting the weights at the spa/fitness center. I opted for more or less giant sets to work several body parts so Chins, Goblet Squats, Deadlifts, Lunges and Push Ups anchored the sessions while a few bicep curls, triceps extensions and shoulder raises helped round it out.  After pushing it in March and April, it was time for a break. Guys like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Vince Gironda used to advocate training hard for three weeks then backing off for one. That would give muscles and injuries time to recover as well as provide a mental break. Thinking about working out and eating can get tedious so focusing on other aspects of your life is always a good idea. After five days of relaxing and eating anything I wanted to, I'm back on the hunt, this time with a progression plan and everything.

Taking a page out of Vince, Cro Cop and Daniel Craig's circuit book, I just started a new program that starts and ends the week with full body workouts with upper and lower body sessions in between.

Day One: Clean & Press/Knee Up/Step Up/Chins/Incline Push Up/Dip
Six exercises completed in rapid succession for three circuits. With no extraneous forearm, neck, calf or cardio, it only took me 25 minutes or so to complete. I will implement a second workout on days where time affords to clean up with some cardio like shadowboxing, ab-aerobics, jump roping and swimming.

Day Two: Incline Dumbbell Press/Chins/Incline Push Up/Barbell Row/Incline DB Fly
I generally don't advocate working upper body two days in a row due to the stress it can put on your shoulders and elbows. My shoulders and back are a little sore already from working them in similar ways two days straight but the decrease in volume and shortness of workouts should prevail. Remember, if it hurts, stop. Here I'm only doing 15 total sets whereas my last program had me doing at least 12 per body part for 24 to 36 a session. Now I can cut that down significantly and see how I feel.

Day Three: Squat/Leg Curl/Deadlift/Lunge/Calf Raise
Pretty straightforward leg day to get them quates, glutes, lower back and calves in shape.

Day Four: Incline DB Curl/Bench Dip/Preacher Curl/Triceps Extension/Shoulder Raises
With chins, push ups, presses and dips part of the program foundation; your biceps, triceps and shoulders are already getting some solid attention. Throwing in curls, extensions and raises will help target them specifically for shape, size and definition.

Day Five: Total Body Circuit a la Day One.

Technically this leaves you the weekend to kick back but I'll be throwing in some swimming and cardio to work on the ol' summer shred. My plan is to use this program for six weeks, progressing every two weeks by adding another set. So two weeks at three circuits/sets then two at four and two at five to take me into Comic-Con. Food wise I'm working on eating three solid meals and two snacks a day. So say eggs and oatmeal for breakfast, meat and veggies at lunch, maybe a little brown rice then meat and salad for dinner. Snack wise looking at a protein shake and something like almonds or cheese with fruit for a fat and protein hit.

We'll see what happens! Until then, keep pushing!