Monday, August 31, 2015

Gotta See! Jack Kirby's Comic Book Apocalypse

It was a hot one on Saturday and we ventured into the red zone, traveling up to Northride and then Santa Clarita where temperatures broke triple digits. California State University Northridge is hosting Comic Book Apocalypse: The Graphic World of Jack Kirby through October with a Panel Discussion happening on Saturday, September 26th at 1:00 PM. This past Saturday was a Public Reception with light refreshments and many a comic book creator in attendance to pay respects and check out the exhibit. There were a few ties and blazers but I opted for a badass shirt filled with Kirby art that several attendees appreciated. Kirby of course is one of the premiere names in comic books. Known for his exciting, action packed and cinematic visual style, the New York born and World War II serving artist would be hugely responsible for the success of of Captain America, the Fantastic Four, Hulk, Thor, the X-Men and many more. The exhibit was awesome with three rooms of art, sketches and photos from each era of Kirby's career. Giant banners showcased Darkseid and The Silver Surfer while original comic issues showed off cover art. With Stan Lee, Kirby co-created many of their flagship titles before jumping ship to DC Comics then moving on into television and film. I grew up on his macho and explosive work with Cap and other Marvel titles but seeing the exhibit made me realize I need to check out much more of his work, particularly New Gods. Good thing there's two decent sized comic shows coming up this fall. Until then, hail to the king, baby!

Van Dammage: The One After the Superbowl

 "You can't even go to the toilet because they shove a camera up your butt."
Jean-Claude Van Damme 
- On if playing himself would lead to a reality show

Friday night we randomly watched the Friends episode after the 1996 Superbowl featuring a bevy of guest stars including Brooke Shields, Chris Isaak, Julia Roberts and Jean-Claude Van Damme. Shields was having a career lull, Roberts was dating show co-star Matthew Perry and JCVD was still looking for his Hollywood breakthrough after almost doing so with flicks like Universal Soldier and Timecop. In the episode, Van Damme is the star of fictional film Outbreak 2 which features Ross' (David Schwimmer) former pet monkey. Monica (Courtney Cox) has a huge crush on The Muscles From Brussels while Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) has no clue who he is. After Wham Bam charms Rachel, it creates a friction with Monica and the two both end up going on dates with our man Van. Playing himself, Van Damme makes references to threesomes with Drew Barrymore, cracking walnuts with his butt and telling Rachel he thinks she's cute with nary a roundhouse kick or shirtless scene in sight.

The episode was a two-part event for NBC with ad rates going for an astronomical $600,000 per 30 second ad. Their gamble worked as the episode was watched by 52.9 million viewers, by far the most viewed chapter in the show's 10 year history. Shields would go on to headline her own sitcom, Suddenly Susan for 4 seasons, Roberts would rebound from big budget bust Mary Reilly with My Best Friend's Wedding but Van Damme's box office clout slowly diminished with quality efforts like The Quest and Maximum Risk producing middling returns. 8 years later he would play himself on another NBC show, Las Vegas, where he seemingly dies in a movie stunt gone wrong. 7 years after that he would end up letting cameras follow him around the world for reality series Jean-Claude Van Damme: Behind Closed Doors. Reflecting on his experience, Van Damme would state that "Friends was so big at that time and I had been doing low-budget film after low-budget film. Then they asked me to be on the show, but I didn't really know Friends that much. TV is very powerful, people still talk about it. It let me show a different side." Rumor has it that JCVD is considering a television series where he would play a spy posing as an actor.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Summer Cinema: No Escape

What a weird Thursday, planned on walking over to the Runway for happy hour and dinner but Jefferson was closed down. I couldn't figure out what was happening, Google had nothing then Twitter told me that there was a bomb threat at the Whole Foods! Mind you, I live in the heart of the Silicon Beach area where many a tech giant has planted stakes like IMAX, Konami, YouTube, Belkin, etc but in the last months there's been a shooting next door, human feces outside my building and now this. Apparently it was a mysterious black gym bag with an electric meter sitting in the parking structure. It was exploded with C4 but ended up not being a bomb, I'm guessing it was forgotten equipment from one of the construction crew...

With all showtimes canceled at the Cinemark Playa Vista, we headed to Culver City for some Happy Hour action at Rush Street before taking in No Escape at the Arclight. After a couple of blackberry and bourbon dranks, it was time to check out Owen Wilson in his first action-centric role since 2001's Behind Enemy Lines. The trailers accentuated one ridiculous scene where Wilson's on the run father throws his young daughters through the air from one roof to another in slow motion. Instead of being a derivative Taken knock off and trying to turn Wilson into an action hero, No Escape proved to be a solid thriller with some intense and harrowing moments along with a memorable performance from former James Bond Pierce Brosnan.

Shot in Thailand, No Escape finds out of work engineer Jack Dwyer (Wilson), wife Annie (Lake Bell) and their two daughters beginning anew in an I believe unnamed Asian country where Jack has been brought in to work on a local water project. In a new world where they don't speak the language, know the customs and unable to read the signs, they're befriended by the charming yet smarmy Hammond (Pierce Brosnan). All staying at the same posh hotel in town, things go bad real fast when a local coup sees a rebellion killing the local monarch and Americans are targeted for termination due to their intruding and political enslaving agenda. Jack and family go on the run, seeking safety and shelter; hiding at the American Embassy, in office buildings and on the streets. With lives on the line, Jack protects his family as best he can and resorts to brutal violence to do so. Hammond and his Kenny Rogers loving buddy (Sahajak Boonthanakit) turn out to be former military types lapping up women and booze and help Jack's family form a plan to reach Vietnam where they can be granted asylum.

With many kids back in school, the summer cinema season winds down as No Escape looks to gross a middling $12 million through the weekend while Zac Efron's EDM coming of age story We Are Your Friends got trounced in Thursday night previews by faith flick War Room. Written, produced and directed by brothers John and Drew Dowdle, No Escape is pretty raw and brutal while keeping tensions high throughout for the most part. Slow motion is a little overdone and the scene with the kid throwing elicited a laugh from me as it was ridiculous yet terrifying at the same time. It reminded me of John Wick in a sense as both had some hardcore R rated violence yet aimed to provide some heart via a dead spouses dog and in this case, a family trying to survive. No Escape isn't nearly as moody or stylish as Wick though. The locals aren't made out to be complete savages a la Rambo's Burmese soldiers and the ex-pats are firmly blamed for the current conditions. Wilson and Bell are excellent as the struggling parents who are forced to turn to violence with the film not trying to turn Wilson into a Jason Bourne style action star like From Paris With Love, The Gunman or Edge of Darkness tried to do in the Taken's wake. Brosnan is a highlight as the crude yet cool and mysterious, "something like that" English Intelligence guy who knows the score and how to shoot.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Con-Man: Los Angeles Comic Book and Science Fiction Convention

Sunday started off with a nice swim before heading downtown for the Los Angeles Comic Book and Science Fiction Convention, aka the LA Bi-Mon-Sci-Fi-Con if you're a Simpsons fan, a long time staple of the local show scene that used to be held near USC. This chapter moved to The Reef, a converted warehouse for shopping and creative space. There's two giant parking lots on either side of the street but I was able to find a meter. Along with dozens of vendors, celebrity guests are on hand for signings and photos. This week the big draw was Agent Carter's Hayley Atwell along with Batman & Robin voice actor Loren Lester. A couple of Power Rangers were on hand as well. At only $10.00 an entry, the show is quite solid for the price. There were half a dozen long rows of exhibitors hocking everything from comic books to novels to DVDs, action figures, pulp publications and skin mags. Since it's just an empty space filled with tables, the joint could use a little ambiance in the form of signage, art on the wall or music playing. There was also surprisingly no area for food beyond a small cafe in the lobby.

It was crowded but not so much you couldn't get in and look at booths. It was also hot and stuffy, like flipping through long boxes had me sweating stuffy. Maybe it's cheaper to rent if you don't use AC? A decent sized line for Atwell had already formed on the signing side of the floor while walking around I came across some wonderful treasures including the novelization for one of my favorite films, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension. With no price tag, I asked the vendor, expecting it to be $10 bucks or so but it was only $2! Victory! At another table I picked up a Grifter action figure from Wild C.A.T.S. figure for only $5 then dug through some boxes for .25 comics coming up with Spartan, The Shadow, The Rocketeer, Cadillac's & Dinosaurs and frigging Night Man! Ran into some other vendors we see at shows, I'll most likely pick up a NECA Ellen Ripley figure from one down at Long Beach Comic-Con in September. Another was hocking awesome old school stuff like Incredible Hulk and Flash Gordon board games, John Wayne comics and little collected editions of pulps. Talked movies and books at another table as we both agreed that Mad Max: Fury Road has been this summer's best movie. Also picked up some foam He-Man swords from another vendor I hope to have out for He-Man Celebration. It only took an hour or so to walk the floor since there were no panels but all in, an excellent trip and well worth the price.

Workout of the Day: Month Out

September is shaping up to be a busy month with theme park visits, outdoor movies, conventions and my very own He-Man & She-Ra Celebration so it's time to lift it up another notch. Standing in front of a crowd next to someone like Dolph Lundgren is pretty solid motivation so I'll be focusing on keeping up weight workouts as well as cardio because when you feel good, you look good then you do good, right?! Right. I've been keeping it pretty basic in August with weight sessions or early morning cardio but with the rising heat, it can be hard to get motivated to get even sweatier. To change things up I've already started implementing circuit training, swimming and shadow boxing to go along with a few weight workouts a week.

Circuits can get a good pump in minimal time with:
Kettlebell Swings - Chins - Push Ups - Battling Ropes - Dips - KB Curls
That's 6 exercises in quick succession to get the entire body running. You can always swap out exercises here with Clean and Press for Swings or add in more specific exercises to target your body like Squats or Step-Ups for legs, Curls and Pushdowns for Arms, Shoulder Raises, etc. Jean-Claude Van Damme once said he got into his best shape during the production of Kickboxer by training his entire body 3 times a week.

As far as straight weights go, today was Chest and Biceps:
Incline Dumbbell Press/Preacher Curls - Decline DB Flys/Incline DB Curl - DB Pullover/Hammer Curls - Forearms - Neck - Calves - Intervals on Elliptical
Doing supersets for Chest and Biceps is one of my training foundations, leaving alternate days for Back/Triceps, Legs and then Shoulders/Arms before starting over. Doing everything in superset style had me finishing weights in 30 minutes with 10 minutes of interval cardio to make me feel better about that big Burger King lunch yesterday.

Nutrition and exercise form a kingdom so remember to try and eat whole foods in smaller portions throughout the day rather than 3 large meals. Aim for 3 meals and 2 snacks and you can experiment with eating in a 10-12 hour window, not eating carbs after 2:00 PM or reducing calorie dense protein like red meat in favor of chicken and fish if available. There's plenty of information out there so keep educating yourself and experimenting to figure out how to make fitness a daily habit. Keep lifting!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

This, I Demand! Into the Grizzly Maze

After a night out for dinner, drinks and a movie Thursday, Friday's are usually calm affairs. Aren't they always after 30? I couldn't think of a good 80's movie to pop in to go with our pizza dinner then remembered we still hadn't watched the Thomas Jane, killer bear flick, Into the Grizzly Maze. With some Amazon credits burning a hole in my digital pocket, we ignited the nite with some Fireball and Strongbow cocktails and kicked back. Into the Grizzly Maze, formerly known as The Red Machine and Endangered is the tale of two brothers, Rowan (James Marsden) is the younger, troubled one fresh out of prison while responsible big bro Beckett (Thomas Jane) is second in command for the local law enforcement. After a 7 year stint inside, Rowan shows up one night in the beautiful backwoods of Alaska (played by Vancouver) itching to head into the "Grizzly Maze" a part of the woods known for it's dense forest teeming with grizzly bears. Bad news is that there's some angry, hungry and pissed off bears in those woods as loggers and changing climate has pushed out most of their food supply. Compounding matters is the fact that Beckett's deaf conversationalist wife Michelle (Piper Perabo) is alone out in the woods. Beckett's boss Sully (Scott Glenn) wants the killer bear X'd out but The Jane feels that should be the last resort so Sully hires legendary bear hunter and tracker Douglass (Billy Bob Thornton) to do the dirty work.

I'm a big fan of the The Jane and the prospect of a Jaws inspired, man vs nature flick intrigued me. It seemed like the film flew under the radar for a while, shooting in early 2012 with a surprisingly solid cast. Title changes, a few images, a poster and whatnot started to trickle out but no news on a release and it was quietly put out in a handful of theaters and On Demand this past June. It's a shame because the flick is quite enjoyable, heck, I feel like watching it again as I write this. The cast all do a good job, production values are solid and the majestic shots of nature are beautiful. There's some excellent thrills and shocks throughout, it's gory and the bear ain't messing around. There's some less than awesome CGI but come on, this was probably a sub-$10 million dollar flick. Billy Bob sports some gruesome prosthetic scars later in the film, limbs are torn off and victims are clawed and mangled by Bart the Bear. At a brisk 90 some minutes, the flick doesn't have the chance to put you to sleep as director David Hackl and writers Guy Moshe and J.R. Reher throw in plenty of action and frights. The lady and I laughed wondering if the sign language between Jane and Perabo was real because it seemed a little simple but hey, they're married so maybe they have a short hand. Now to check out TJ in  White Bird in a Blizzard on Netflix and Vice with Bruce Willy at some point.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Summer Cinema: The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

We've been over to the new Cinemark in Playa Vista several times for dranks and a show but had yet to taste the food. It was a quiet night in their upstairs bar and restaurant with more employees around than patrons. I guess that's a true sign that not much is coming out this weekend huh? We chowed down on their edamame (not great, not horrible), mac n' cheese (excellent) and burger (too much mustard but good fries) with a few whiskey & ginger beers. It feels like it's been a while since we saw a new movie so tonight it was Warner Brothers' update of 1960's spy show, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. starring Superman Henry Cavill and Lone Ranger Armie Hammer. Snatch and Sherlock Holmes helmer Guy Ritchie co-wrote the script along with Lionel Wigram, Jeff Kleeman and David C. Wilson based on Sam Rolfe's original work on the television series.

Set in the early 1960's, handsome and suave crook turned CIA operative Napoleon Solo (Cavill) is sent to find a missing rocket scientist turned bomb maker by recruiting his car mechanic daughter Gaby (Alicia Vikander, reminiscent of a young Carla Gugino). Only trouble is, Russian strongman agent with a temper Ilya (Hammer) has been given the same assignment. The U.S. and Russia deem a team up necessary and the odd coupled trio are sent off, facing underground Nazi villains. I never saw the show and had no expectations of what to expect. From the trailers I figured on a stylish, snazzy and exciting time shot on digital video. There's style and panache in droves here with clothes, cars and settings while Cavill and Hammer both do fine with one being a smooth talker while the other a volcano ready to erupt. There's a few funny bits in the film as we see what's going on behind our characters, usually including something exploding or being set on fire.

Ritchie, the man behind such great flicks as Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, Revolver and RocknRolla crafts an Ocean's 11 meets a Quentin Tarantino spy film with big music and huge block yellow subtitles that has some memorable parts but doesn't quite equal a whole. I knew the film was under 2 hours but checked my phone (discreetly and with brightness low, of course) a couple times to see where we were because the pace just kind of languished. While his early, low budget work sparked with energy, visual stimulus and terrific casts, his big budget fare just doesn't keep my interest as well. I found Sherlock Holmes to be a bit of a CGI snoozefest and the digital work in U.N.C.L.E. wasn't amazing either. Any scene involving fast movement, especially at night, looked terrible in digital. I know that Ritchie is a big martial arts fan and practitioner so it was disappointing not to see one complex or choreographed hand to hand fight scene. Much of the action is implied and takes place off screen while we're left with one bathroom knockaround, a montage invasion sequence and boats chasing each other, etc.

I never saw the original TV show but knew it starred John Sturges alumni Robert Vaughn (The Magnificent Seven) and David McCallum (The Great Escape). Sadly no appearance from either. Semi-retired Prime Minster of English Awesomeness Hugh Grant shows up in a small role looking very much his 54 years. About a Boy was great though, wasn't it? Costing an estimated $80 million bucks, U.N.C.L.E. opened to a disappointing $13 million this past weekend, getting crushed by N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton. The project had been in development at Warner Brothers for a decade, almost being made with George Clooney starring and Steven Soderbergh directing but health issues forced the star to decline while Soderbergh walked after story and budget issues. Looks like U.N.C.L.E. won't be following in the franchise footsteps of Mission: Impossible any time soon.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

(Pre)Ask Me a Question: He-Man & She-Ra Celebration

Dammaged Goods Presents is back! With our biggest and craziest line up yet, a He-Man and She-Ra Festival! That's right, we've teamed up with The American Cinematheque and He-Man World for  a night and a day of all things He-Man, She-Ra, Skeletor and The Masters of the Universe! Cannon Films' 1987 classic Masters of the Universe starring Dolph Lundgren and Frank Langella kicks things off Friday night, September 18th at The Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood; home to Dolph Night, An Evening With Carl Weathers, The Sunbow Animation Celebration and most recently, Conan the Cinematic Barbarian. A clip show of animation, commercials, oddities and rarities will precede the film. A stellar line up of guests join us for pre and post Q&A including director Gary Goddard, production designer William Stout, actors Chelsea Field, Anthony De Longis and Robert Towers as well as SFX lead Max Cervantes!

On Saturday, September 19th, the theatre lobby will be transformed into Eternia as a mini-convention with displays, guests and exhibitors including Mattel, Pretty In Plastic, Super7 and La-La Land Records along with voice actors Alan Oppenheimer (Skeletor) and Melendy Britt (She-Ra) continues the event. The nostalgic fun doesn't stop there as a full day of programming and panels follows beginning with a very special appearance by Erika Scheimer who will discuss all things Filmation, her iconic father Lou as well as voice acting and song writing on He-Man, She-Ra, Ghostbusters and BraveStarr. Then it's on to the origins of He-Man with co-creator Mark Taylor and prolific brand designer Errol McCarthy. Filmation Animation is highlighted next as we screen clips from the original 1983 after school phenomenon and hear from storyboard artist and director Tim Sito, writer Larry DiTillio, writer Marc Zicree along with voice actors Oppenheimer, Britt and Diane Pershing.

But wait, there's more! Much more! 1985's theatrical release and She-Ra introducing film The Secret of the Sword gets a rare repertory screening, on 35mm no less. Our day closes with the west coast premiere of documentary Toy Masters, Corey Landis and Roger Lay Jr's amusing look at the iconic toy and cartoon series. The duo will be on hand for a post film Q&A as well.

Tickets are on sale now, going for the astoundingly low price of $11.00 for Friday night and $15.00 for all day Saturday. You have the power! And Good Journey!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Cinemarked: Sam Elliott and Road House

After experiencing the random good times of The Ranch Restaurant in Anaheim, I couldn't help but think it was like a modern version of 1989 classic Road House. While I own the awesome flick on VHS, regular and special edition DVD, Netflix was there for me and has it streaming. The tale of one Dalton (Patrick Swayze), "the best damn cooler in the business", a philosophizing, karate fighting guy who cleans up ornery bars and makes a cool $500 a night with $5,000 up front. He's enlisted to clean up the Double Deuce in Jasper, Missouri where blood and eyeballs are swept up every night. Training the staff to handle any situation without losing their cool, Dalton soon runs into Brad Wesley (Ben Gazzara), the local top dog and man in charge complete with army of monster truck driving, knife boot wearing, store terrorizing, former convict thugs. Outgunned, Dalton's long haired, gravelly voiced, chopper riding mentor Wade Garrett shows up to lend a helping and punching hand, played by mutha fudging Sam Elliott.

While Rowdy Herrington's Road House was a Patrick Swayze starring vehicle following the massive success of Dirty Dancing, Elliott's Garrett is just too Damme cool. The lanky and usually mustached actor has come to represent an iconic image of the American West thanks to roles in Tombstone, The Big Lebowski and a slew of TNT westerns; Elliott himself has stated numerous times that he's most recognized for Road House. And why shouldn't he be? He's awesome! From his mangy hair and scruff to his limp reflecting a wild life while being the voice of reason without preaching, Garrett is one of action cinemas most interesting characters. Garrett fills in some of Dalton's back story, (he'd fallen in love with a married woman who didn't mention a husband, a husband who put a gun in Dalton's face then got his throat ripped out) and encourages Dalton to leave town because he doesn't want to see his little brother/son/friend get hurt or killed. Elliott gives David Lee Henry and Hilary Henkin's script a cool and easy going gravitas, making lines like "cut it the fuck loose" and "I ain't gonna show you my dick" into memorable exchanges 20 some years later while giving each confrontational scene a light hearted segue because he wants a beer.

Fight choreographer Benny "The Jet" Urquidez studied each actor's physical movements and fashioned their fighting styles after animals. Swayze was a cat, villain Jimmy (Marshall Teague) was a mongoose while Elliott's Garrett was a bear who lumbered, scraped and tore through his opponents. Swayze showcased his dancer's background and flexibility with kicks high, low and spinning galore while Elliott did more straight punching and kneeing. Surprisingly, Elliott did not enjoy the gratuitous violence and sexism of the modern day western where women were basically there to get naked or cry while fight scenes still pack a violent punch all these years later with stabbings, broken limbs, bodies flying through windows and more than a few grisly deaths. Super producer Joel Silver set out to make the greatest Drive-In Movie of all time and had originally approached Elliott for the villain role, which he turned down before signing on to play the mentor.

Budgeted at a healthy $15 million bucks, Road House earned nearly $6 million dollars opening weekend back in May of '89. A $30 million gross wasn't bad but was less than half of Dirty Dancing's. The film was not lauded for it's violence and depiction of women and is seen as a bit of a guilty pleasure or camp classic. Road House was a big hit on video then cable where programmers used the title to boost rating at any given moment. I must have seen it on TBS as a kid and have  always loved the film for being so macho, ridiculous and entertaining while keeping a straight face. There's already a ton of action in the piece but apparently the original cut ran nearly three and a half hours. Now there's a rough cut I'd love to see. While fans mention Road House when they meet Elliott, he never played a similar role to Wade Garrett again, mostly sticking to military or sheriff types in Tombstone, We Were Soldiers, Hulk and many TV movie westerns. A remake of Road House was announced a couple years ago with Fast and Furious director Rob Cohen slated to helm. Now if we could just get a Wade Garrett origins spin off...

Con-Man: D23 Expo '15 Sunday

Ah, Sunday. After a quick workout, we hit the hotel breakfast buffet instead of going to Carl's Jr. where we could have gotten the same amount of food for 1/3 of the price, ah well, I loaded up on buttered toast and sausages to make up the difference. Again there was a huge line out in front of the convention center, not waiting to find out for what, we entered the lobby and headed for the exhibit hall. Our main objective of the day was to check out the Disney Archives Exhibit, the line moved decently quickly while I traded cards with people and read few pages from Ready Player One while we waited. The lady received an update that a new card was being handed out with all signs pointing to Ducktales' funny but not a very good pilot, Launchpad McQuack. I headed upstairs and saw people running excitedly for the escalator. A huge line had already formed but there were plenty of cards to be handed out. We ended up grabbing 22 of the 31 available cards, not bad for a random convention time wasting activity.

The Archive Exhibit was pretty cool, lots of photos, plans and pieces of the park's past and present. One guy was taking photos of the first ticket handed out forever so I just sidled up next to him and took a look, I don't care if he didn't like it, nobody gives a shit about your photos, bro, so stop holding up the line. There was a wall of menus from eras past, one with Aunt Jemima! Since you know, back in the day, Walt had brands sponsor attractions and restaurants inside the park to finance it's construction. Also cool were all the set ups from Star Tours, Alice In Wonderland, Fantasmic, The Matterhorn, so on and so forth. While it was disappointing that Kirk Douglas was nowhere to be found over the weekend (I guess you get semi-erased from Disney history when you sue the big guy...) but D23 pulled through as both James Garner and protege Tom Selleck were included on the Guests of the park portion, showcasing celebrities and world leaders visiting Disneyland.

Taking one last loop around the floor we stopped at one of the multiple pin vendors. I heard that many of them are knock offs, that's why they only cost a few bucks. There was a cute one of Rowlf the piano playing, bartender dog from The Muppets but his frigging name was spelled ROLF! Thanks, Marcus Ray and Tommy Hendricks! We headed over to the Shanghai Disney display where many familiar rides were updated for the eastern audience. I don't know why Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blasters artwork looked so much cooler with that Asian style OOMF! artwork and coloring, but it did. I kind of wondered how the characters would translate across the world as they eat animals we don't and vice versa. There was a cool Disney version of the Zodiac calendar which upgraded The Rat to Remy from Ratatouille. For me as a Dog, I got Goofy, I think. My memory ain't what it used to be. It was a fun and relaxing morning to wind things down, I enjoyed my time at D23 and will check it out the next time it comes around. Until then, see ya at Star Wars 5 years.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Ask Me a Question: Chopping Mall Reunion

Sunday marked the closing night of The American Cinematheque's Night of the Living '80s: A New Wave of Horror with the ridiculous and fun Chopping Mall along with Night of the Comet. The Egyptian Theatre teamed up with La-La Land Records and Creature Features for what would be a reunion of epic proportions. The two had produced a fantastic Used Cars reunion screening a few years ago we attended at The Arclight in Hollywood. Editor and horror fanatic James Branscomb got the packed crowd amped up for the evening and ready to have a good time. He even gave us a shout out for next month's He-Man event (check your local listings this week). We'd never seen Chopping Mall but the simple premise of teenagers locked in the Sherman Oaks Galleria and being hunted by killer robot security guards was too much to pass up even after all the fun of D23 Expo.

The Sherman Oaks Galleria has just deployed three state of the art robot sentries but a freak lighting storm turns them into nearly unstoppable Killbots. That's bad news for our young leads as we meet the nerdy and responsible Ferdy (Tony O'Dell), "fuck the fuchsia, it's Friday!" Greg (Nick Segal) and obnoxious, gum chewing sex machine Mike (John Terlesky). While at the local pizza shop we run into the innocent Alison (Kelli Maroney) and her partying co-worker Suzie (Barbara Crampton). Clothing store vixen Leslie (Suzee Slater) and mechanic couple Rick (Russell Todd) and Linda (Karrie Emerson) complete our sextet who party in the mall after work. The Killbots take out security and janitorial staff before zeroing on our kids. Locked in for the night, the six fight for their lives with propane tanks, machine guns, shotguns, paint and gasoline cocktails, trying to stop the out of control machines. Tits, stiff acting, a surprising amount of indoor pyrotechnics, exploding heads and an awesome synth soundtrack ensues.

At barely 80 minutes, Chopping Mall is a lot of fun that doesn't wear out it's unapologetic, non-highfalutin sense of mischief while making great use of an under $1 million dollar budget provided by Roger and Julie Corman. Jim Wynorski directs from a script co-authored by Steve Mitchell and we get a ridiculous romp of 80's proportions with big hair, mullets, high waisted jeans, popped collars and cameos from Dick Miller (Gremlins), Gerrit Graham (Used Cars) and Mary Woronov (Night of the Comet). The crowd was great, enthusiastic and cheering throughout. After the film, Blumhouse's Ryan Turek moderated a huge reunion panel that included Wynorski, Mitchell, composer Chuck Cirino, robot designer Robert Short and actors Maroney, O'Dell, Todd, Emerson, Crampton, Segal and Terlesky.

- Wynorski and Mitchell were old friends, asked by Vestron for a slasher flick in a mall. Didn't want to do typical boogeyman style that was rampant in theaters.
- Pitched story to Corman and had a greenlight in a matter of days.
- All actors were cast quite quickly and all reflected on the experience very fondly. Maroney and Crampton are still great friends to this day.
- Terlesky debated between chewing a match or gum to make Mike as obnoxious as possible.
- Wynorski saw Russell Todd on poster for Where the Boys Are and wanted to meet him.
- Wynorski saw Emerson acting silently in a commercial and thought she was gorgeous.
- Three robots were created, one fully functional, others towed by cables. Had an emergency kill switch on the back if they ever took off randomly, which actors didn't know.
- Robots designed to shoot at Beverly Center, measured aisle ways and escalators then BC upped price last minute so production moved to Galleria.
- Mitchell was a big fan of Used Cars and got Graham to come in for one night, while sick, to shoot his cameo. Years later, Mitchell thanked Graham who couldn't quite remember the night.
- Film was originally called Killbots which did not create buzz. Lighting tech in test theater suggested changing name to Chopping Mall and off they went.
- A random question about Wynorski and Terlesky's Deathstalker 2 where cast and crew arrived, movie was pushed back a week so they just sat watching TV in Spanish, took all random cues from cartoons and professional wrestling and added it to the movie.
- One Killbot was blown up on screen, blowed up real good, one is on display in a private collector's house in New York City and the third was left to rot in Corman's back lot in Venice.
- Cirino had been doing commercials but friend Wynorski and Mitchell suggested he try film, has composed the music for nearly 70 movies since.

It was a very fun night, low key and easy unlike the last time we came to Hollywood...Would have loved to stay for Night of the Comet but it was still a Sunday after all. Just too old to wait in line at conventions or see a double feature on a school night. If you have a problem with that, I'll send you a Rambo-gram!

Gotta Eat! The Ranch Restaurant

After Saturday's show we headed out into Anaheim to do a little exploring. A friend had told us about the Packing District in downtown, where refurbished historic structures were now home to modern restaurants and live music along with a view of Disneyland's fireworks. After a day of walking the expo, the place was just too much of a scene reminiscent of a crowded mall food court and we had to bail. Up the street was the Promenade but again, had only some frou frou and fancy looking joints hocking organic junk food or oysters. We're simple folk, The Lazy Dog Cafe suits us fine so Yelp helped me find The Ranch Restaurant and off we went. I'm glad the Packing District didn't work out, otherwise we would have never had such a randomly good time at The Ranch. Pulling up to an office building, we were greeted by the sight of two different establishments, the Restaurant and the Saloon. Not looking to break the bank on a steak, we were there to check out the bar. Security was surprisingly heavy and asked if I was carrying any knives or weapons which caught me extremely off guard.

Inside the place was dark and constructed from wood. There was a $5 cover charge but we soon learned that a band was playing. Sidling up to the bar we watched as an instructor took patrons through basic line dancing and there were more than a few folks wearing Stetsons and cowboy boots. I didn't feel too out of place though as there were several Asians and Mexicans around. The staff was excellent; funny, attentive and cordial, cracking jokes at people who couldn't handle their beer and complimenting me on my awesome Captain America shirt. I still couldn't get over the locale as we were in Anaheim, former home of Orange groves, for a Disney convention, sitting in the bottom of a Class A office building that housed a Saloon where people were wearing cowboy gear and line dancing. The live band was solid and I couldn't help but think I'd stumbled into a modern version of Patrick Swayze and Sam Elliot classic, Road House. The film was shot in Anaheim back in the 80's even. I was hoping the band would play one song from the movie (Jeff Healy Band, Bob Seger, Cruzados) to cement our surreal evening but it was fun watching people dance, chatting with locals and hearing the band play.

The Ranch is famous for their 3lb Bone-In Rib Chop, that's the meat weight minus fat and bone so the whole thing is close to 5lbs! Photos of the meal are ridiculous and I was sad no one around us was taking the challenge. Our Prime Rib sammich and Chicken Tenders were really good though. As were our Jameson cockatils. Several of my Orange County friends commented that they loved the joint so I'm glad we randomly chose so well. See you down the road, mijo.

Con-Man: D23 Expo '15 Saturday

Saturday was a big day at D23 Expo as the live action panel was expected to unveil news on Star Wars, Captain America: Civil War, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Jungle Book and many other titles. People waited in line on concrete floors and in sweltering heat for 12 hours just to get a seat. I don't do that. Instead we headed over when the show floor was to open but there was a huge queue of people who didn't even know what they were waiting for outside the front sitting in the sun. I'm pretty good with crowds and lines and found us a door that lead us straight into the exhibit hall, no fuss, no muss. But seriously, why were so many people waiting outside to get in if doors were already open? Walking around some more we passed the TV stage where various casts were being introduced, we just happened to catch a glimpse of Ben Savage and players from Girl Meets World.

We braved a short line at the Disney Dreamstore with event exclusive shirts, toys, artwork and the like before checking out more of the floor. Mattel had a diorama of Cars Land set up while Ed Asner was back at it, signing autographs and meeting the fans. We were just in time for the Feast poster sale and signing with artist XYZ and grabbed one for a friend. The lady received an alert that some con going group had just dropped off a Big Hero 6 swag bag, even though we were on the other side of the hall, I managed to navigate us over to the Limited Edition Print zone where lo and behold, the bag was still there. Since we were nearby we jumped in the queue for Disney World's Pandora from Avatar attraction. A video featuring producer Jon Landau looking nearly unrecognizable welcomed you, promoting the wondrous vision of the future land that will include floating mountains and an entirely new eco-system to experience. Past the video was a diorama of the park along with some statues of Pandora's wildlife and finally a Na'vi bust for photo ops. I have no clue how floating mountains will work but I won't put it past James Cameron and Disney's Imagineers.

Cosplay was consistent throughout with Pixar's Inside Out being the clear fan favorite. There were a few Woody's from Toy Story, a Dick Tracy, lots of Princesses and outside we saw what was probably one of the most clever and memorable; a Buzz Lightyear from the Mrs. Nesbit tea sequence from the first movie, complete with missing arm. News started to trickle out that Star Wars Land had been officially announced, a Drew Struzan exclusive poster was handed out, Chris Evans and Anthony Mackie flew in from Germany for Cap, Stan Lee announced Soaring Over the World along with an Iron Man ride in China and Orlando Bloom is coming back for the fifth Pirates flick. While it would have been fun to see live, it was all online 5 minutes later complete with slews of press releases.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Sneak Cinema: Live-Evil

Between D23 Expo excitement, I was alerted to DailyDead premiering the trailer for Live-Evil, an indie horror flick starring Dammaged Goods favorite Vladimir Kulich. Written and directed by Ari Kirschenbaum, Live-Evil bills itself as Ghostbusters meets Dawn of the Dead as a small college town is besieged by evil spirits on Halloween night and it's up to Sheriff Pete and his deputies to stop them. Kulich (The 13th Warrior, Vikings) stars as Pete complete with beard and shotgun. Candyman's Tony Todd shows up as a priest along with The Walking Dead's Vincent Ward and How I Met Your Mother's Charlene Amoia. The trailer makes the flick out to be a creepy and fun time with some sweet 80's style synth, zombies wielding machine guns and bazookas with our ragtag band of heroes trying to save the day. The flick is currently hitting the festival scene, appearing at the North Carolina Film Awards, Horror In the Hills and Diabolique Film Festivals.

Workout of the Day: Disney Daze

Being a Con weekend, I knew my eating habits weren't going to be great with fast food, restaurants and Jameson Mules being the main sources of sustenance. But we'd be walking a good 5 miles a day and I opted to use the DoubleTree's small yet good enough hotel gym for a couple of early morning, empty stomach circuits. We wouldn't be headed to the show until 10:00 AM anyway so there was no reason not to get in a quick workout.

On Saturday I alternated between air squats (w/ medicine ball overhead) then lunges with 2-3 minutes of intervals on the Elliptical machine. 6 rounds later I felt ready to face the day of walking, crowds, heat, Carl's Jr., Outback Steakhouse and Saloon fare from The Ranch Restaurant.

Sunday I trained my neglected shoulders with a quick circuit consisting of Chins Ups, Push Ups, Handstand Push Ups and Cable Raises for the side and rear delts. Between each giant set I jump roped for 2-3 minutes. Feeling pumped, it was off to the hotel breakfast buffet, Taco Bell and Boardner's for Happy Hour. Time to air out a bit this week and eat some greens, keep lifting!

Con-Man: D23 Expo '15 Friday

Another jam packed weekend, complete with heat wave! It was another first as we traveled to Anaheim for the every other year Disney celebration that is D23 Expo. D23 is the official fan club of all things House of Mouse and the Expo is like their version of Comic-Con to showcase all of their latest and greatest in film, animation, television, video games, toys, theme parks and the like. We arrived Friday evening with just enough time to walk the floor for a bit. Sadly, unlike previous shows at The Anaheim Convention Center WonderCon and Star Wars Celebration, there were no bars on the floor. #ThanksLittleKids. Since we got there so late we also missed The Goofy Movie Anniversary panel, double sadly.

It was surprisingly not crowded walking in as food trucks had virtually no lines. Greeting us was the Buzz Lightyear balloon from the Macy's Day Parade. Buzz aka animated Tim Allen looked great as we entered the empty lobby to pick up lanyards, event guides and bags (that I ripped right away, Damme lats). Heading into the show floor I really had no clue what to expect. I hadn't done any research and just figured there'd be a lot of Disney things. What shocked me was how empty it was. The entire exhibit hall was set up with colorful carpet, displays, attractions, stores and more; basically a trade show to highlight upcoming products while displaying the history of the Disney brand. Right away you had sections devoted to Star Wars, Pixar, Marvel, ABC, the new Muppet Show, Red Cross, on and on.

There were three stores set up, each selling show exclusives like art, shirts and those little Tsum Tsum things. Unlike a typical comic and pop culture show, there were only a handful of non-Disney vendors, many of them selling pins and other collectibles like statues, paintings and park memorabilia. We walked into a sudden influx of attendees as I realized where the crowd was, in the D23 Hall watching a panel. Earlier in the day the likes of George Lucas, Danny Elfman and Johnny Depp greeted the crowd. One upping San Diego's 6,500 capacity Hall H, D23 passed on using the Convention Center arena and set up 7,500 chairs in Hall E. Even with the new wave of people, it wasn't that crowded. Ed Asner was set up selling autographs and there were tables for the likes of Dick Van Dyke, Sean Astin, Corey Feldman and several voice actors.

Walking around the memorabilia sections I was very disappointed in the lack of items from either The Rocketeer or classic 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea starring one Kirk Douglas. On the other side of the show floor there were Star Wars video game set ups along with Disney cartoons, more Marvel, more Pixar and a large booth selling fine art with several artists dropping by for signings and sketches. Every few aisles you'd run into a Trading Card post where you'd be handed one of thirty cards being given out during the show for trading. Little did I know that this would become one of my hobbies for the weekend. Afterwards we caught an Uber to Anaheim favorite spot The Lazy Dog Cafe that had crowds of people waiting outside but we walked right in and sat at the bar. It was a terrific start to a fun weekend. Saturday and Sunday coming right up!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Ask Me a Question: Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman's Fantastic Four

Fantastic Four week keeps rolling as we attended the West Coast premiere of documentary, Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman's Fantastic Four at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica. Written and directed by Marty Langford, Doomed! takes a look at 1994's low budget and never released adaptation of Marvel Comics' seminal book. Constantin Films' Bernd Eichinger had secured the rights to the comic book in the 80's and needed to have a film in production by the end of 1992. Approaching both Troma Films' Lloyd Kaufman and Roger Corman's New Horizons, Kaufman took his company out of the running as he was friends with Stan Lee and didn't wish to sour the relationship or earn the ire of movie goers with a slap dash film. Corman gave it to his team to chew on over a weekend and they thought they could do something with the material. Constantin and New Horizons each allegedly put up $750,000 bucks and the film was underway. Around four drafts were written and the film began casting quickly and shooting started.

Drawn from the pages of the original 1961 comic book by Lee and Jack Kirby, The Fantastic Four was directed by Corman alumni Oley Sassone with a cast that included Alex Hyde-White as Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic, Jay Underwood as Johnny Storm the Human Torch, Rebecca Staab as Susan Storm the Invisible Woman, Michael Bailey Smith as Ben Grim, Carl Ciarfalio as The Thing and Joseph Culp as Victor Von Doom. Shot in the condemned Corman studio in Venice, FF reused existing sets and features some less than stellar special f/x, although The Thing's suit and servo motored head is pretty impressive on the small scale. Marvel was still in the doldrums of their cinematic life as low budget versions of Captain America and The Punisher had already been released to little fanfare directly to video in the wake of Batman's gargantuan success. Stan Lee visited the set, even bringing doughnuts but publicly downplayed the film, stating that Marvel was soon going to take control of it's own destiny and no longer license out their characters. Costumes were true to the comics and after a quick and exhausting shoot, filming ended and post production began.

A trailer was cut for the film but progress and updates were lacking from Corman. Thousands of posters and stills were printed with a rumored 500 screen release in the works. When studio updates became less and less frequent, the cast decided to start their own awareness campaign, attending comic book conventions on their own dime with Michael Bailey Smith spending $12,000 dollars of his own money. Response at San Diego Comic-Con was terrific with the cast signing and the trailer playing on endless loop. Con goers bought nearly 10,000 copies of Film Threat magazine with a FF cover story. A premiere at The Mall of America was announced before being suddenly canceled. While no one really knows exactly what happened; the cast, crew and filmmakers tell various stories that point to Eichinger making a deal with Fox and burying the film. Roger Corman was paid off and that was it. Stunned, the heartbroken cast and crew began to see the film pop up on bootleg VHS at conventions, Sassone thinking it came from a dubbing studio he had copies made at for his personal collection since no one was ever going to see it. 20 years later, everyone involved would still like to see the film released and look back at the experience with equal parts fondness and disappointment.

All in Doomed! is a fabulous and informed look into a real oddity of comic book movie history. After years of starts and stops, Fox finally made a Fantastic Four film in 2005 to solid box office if lukewarm critical and audience reception. A sequel featuring the Silver Surfer fared worse and the property was put on hold until the recent, low-tech reboot debacle. After the documentary, a giant panel was introduced that included producer Mark Sikes, actors Hyde-White, Staab, Culp, Smith, Kat Green, Ciarfalio and director Sassone. Roger Corman was in the audience but bailed by the end.

- It was a tough shoot that was fun if not funny.
- Culp loves to talk and hold court, guy still wants to see the movie released and redo some of his mangled dialog. His son is a huge supporter and cosplays as Dr. Doom at conventions.
- Smith felt heartsick after the documentary as it could have been so much more. All of their blood, sweat and tears vanished in a cruel instant of Hollywood business as usual.
- White is a funny guy and very sincere, as a Santa Monica resident and Aero attendee, was so happy to be part of film and 20 years later be able to celebrate it with the audience.
- One of Sikes' friends had 16 copies of the bootleg, always looking for the best quality.
- Smith and Ciarfalio ended up working together several times, on one movie Smith tore his bicep on the first day but stunt coordinator Ciarfalio kept his mouth shut, knowing his friend could continue.
- Culp still has a Dr. Doom mask at home, the suit cut into his legs and he still has the scars.
- At the end of the day, they want the new films to succeed as it only draws attention to their work.
- The actors didn't know they were playing archetype roles that would be so important to the genre, that lack of pressure helped them enjoy the process and be free.
- A guy at a party recognized Green from a bootleg copy and she tracked one down herself.
- Culp said Sassone took care of them and told him to really go for it as Dr. Doom.

It was a fun night and I chatted with Michael Bailey Smith about his work on Van Damme's In Hell and with Phillip Rhee in Best of the Best 3. Hopefully you'll see a Tell Me A Question feature on him soon. Until then, check out Doomed!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

End of Watch(ing): True Detective Season 2

*MATURE LANGUAGE AHEAD* This past Sunday HBO's True Detective Season 2 ended with a 90 minute finale watched by 2.5 million people after the first episode drew in 3.2. While ratings and reception have not been as high as the Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson led first season, I enjoyed TD S2 all the way through. Sure you could get into the blah blah blah about the intricate yet sparse story about investigating a murder and some of the weird/bad but delivered well dialog. But at the end of the day, there's a certain watchability to the show where I never thought about turning it off mid-episode or not coming back the next week. I wouldn't watch Game of Thrones if the lady didn't love to, that shit gets boring and super drawn out with no conclusion. Or say Season 3 of Hannibal where I gave up after three episodes because it's all slow motion, way too dark to see anything, I don't even care what's going on motif. And I love Mads Mikkelsen! It's funny that people keep complaining about True Detective but watched it through to the end. Have some guts and go do something else with your time, yeesh.

What really made True Detective so good boils down to one man and two scenes. Colin Farrell plays disgraced detective Ray Velcoro, a man who traded his soul for revenge after killing the guy he thought raped his wife. Early on we watch as Velcoro visits the home of his estranged son's (who he called a "fat pussy" earlier in the day) school yard bully and proceeds to beat the living shit out of bully's dad while brandishing brass knuckles and making the kid immediately regret his decision. It's a truly awesome scene and is kind of the way I see the world. Talk shit, get hit right? And Velcoro does it for a reason, telling the bully his dad is taking responsibility for the kid's actions. Later in the season, while trying to be a stand up separated dad, Velcoro relapses when his wife threatens to revoke visitation rights resulting in another fantastic scene that basically plays out as a one man I Melt With You. You know, that awesome flick about best friends who get together once a year to do drugs and drink while contemplating their lives and reviewing a suicide pact they made in college? It's on Netflix, check it out. Thomas Jane, Rob Lowe, Christian McKay and Jeremy Piven knock it out of the park. Anyways, a pissed off Velcoro walks into his shitty apartment and proceeds to snort cocaine, down shots of tequila, smoke cigarettes then does a little shadow boxing and a few chins. Now that's great TV, baby, see ya.