Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Con-Man: October Wind Down

There's only two shows on my convention radar this October, the Twin Galaxies Entertainment Festival starting this Friday, 10.2 through Sunday 10.4 and Comikaze Expo 10.30 - 11.1. Twin Galaxies takes place out in Banning, towards Riverside at the Museum of Pinball, a private gaming facility only open to the public a few times a year. Over 800 retro and modern arcade and pinball machines will be set to free play along with live music, guests, exhibitors, food trucks, tournaments and more! We'll be attending on Friday where freeplay goes from 2:00 PM to Midnight then you've got the Intellivision Decathlon, Pac-Man Tournament, An Hour with designer and programmer Warren Davis, musical performances by Digital Lizards of Doom and DJ Ken and a panel with World Record Holders. A stone's throw from the Morongo Casino and Resort along with a couple of outlet malls should make for a fun weekend of gaming, prime rib, buffets, shopping and The Martian!

On Halloween weekend it's off to Downtown for the 5th annual Comikaze Expo, basically LA's biggest comic book flavored show. Guests of Honor include Stan Lee, Grant Morrison, Elvira, Sam J. Jones, William Shatner, Marc Silvestri and Mike Mignola alongside the likes of Casper van Dien, Walter Koenig, a bunch of Power Rangers and comic book staples such as Norm Rapmund, Arthur Adams, Livio Ramondelli and Tim Bradstreet. Attendance had steadily risen from a solid 35,000 attendees in 2011 to an estimated 65,000 in 2014. The exhibition floor and Artist Alley are always quite large here then you've got a couple dozen food trucks outside. You're also only a few steps from LA Live if you need to catch a flick or some Yard House to rest up.

Here's hoping Twin Galaxies has Alien VS Predator or G.I. Joe and I can find some collected Judge Dredd at Comikaze, see you at the shows!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Tell Me a Question: Sheldon Lettich & The Summer of Max Cannon

Dammaged Goods recently caught up with Sheldon Lettich, the writer, director and military veteran who has contributed to such cinematic classics Bloodsport, Lionheart, Rambo III and Double Impact. It was a busy summer for our friend and first event guest with Warner Brothers' dog of war flick MAX hitting theaters in June while Cannon Films documentary Electric Boogaloo premiered across the country and is now available on DVD. In October, Mr. Lettich heads to San Diego for the G.I. Film Festival for a special screening of MAX being held at the Midway Museum.

MAX did solid box office, beating out titles with more hype and higher watt casts like Entourage, Aloha, Hot Pursuit and Paper Towns. Any expectations going into opening weekend?

We were getting industry projections that it would make between $8-10 million for the opening weekend.  Instead we made $12.2 million.  The folks at MGM said they would be happy if the film grossed $40 million in the US.  To date we've grossed nearly $43 million.  So overall we're all pretty happy with the results.  Had our PG-rated movie not been book-ended by two PG-rated behemoths -- Inside Out and Minions -- I think we might have done even better.  Even so, MGM is in the process of developing a sequel with Boaz Yakin and myself, a sure sign that they're happy with the results.

There's real heart in the film with the family and military dynamics. When was the first time you saw it with an audience?

We had a test screening in November of 2014.  The movie scored 100% in the Very Good to Excellent categories, which is an extremely rare occurrence for test screenings.  It was a great experience for me to sit there with that audience (the first time I had actually seen the entire movie without interruptions) and to see and hear them reacting to the movie exactly as we had hoped they would, laughing at the gags and the funny lines, wiping away tears during the funeral scene.  There was applause a number of times during the screening, and especially big applause at the end.

You're getting ready to attend the G.I. Film Festival in San Diego with a screening at the Midway Museum no less, what did you take away from the U.S. Marine Corps that helped you in life and in your career?

I took away a lot of stories and experiences which I have recycled back into numerous screenplays -- most of which have never been produced.  I wrote a Vietnam screenplay many years ago titled Firebase, which I got a lot of mileage out of as a writing sample.  That's the screenplay that got me introduced to Sylvester Stallone and resulted in an overall deal with his company.  It got me the co-writing gig on Rambo III.

Aside from story ideas and familiarity with military terminology, hardware, structure, mindset, slang, tactics, etc., as an NCO (non-commissioned officer) I learned some valuable lessons about leadership which came in very handy when I began directing movies.

You also popped up in Electric Boogaloo: The Wild Untold Story of Cannon Films and attended the star and crew studded Los Angeles premiere. Do you recall how you got involved with Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus?

As I recall, I was first introduced to them by Leon Isaac Kennedy, who was involved with them on Penitentiary 2 and Body & Soul.  I had written a screenplay with Leon which was originally intended to be a sequel to Lone Wolf McQuade, the Chuck Norris film Leon had co-starred in. When he failed to get Chuck interested, Leon and I changed the title to Stryker's Force, and then tried to get the movie made at Cannon with Leon and Jean-Claude Van Damme co-starring.  Menahem liked the script and approved me as the director, but he did not want Van Damme to be the co-star.  This was before Bloodsport had been released, and at the time Menahem had little faith in the film doing well and even less faith in Van Damme ever making it as a movie star.  He wanted to make the movie, but with Michael Dudikoff starring instead (with Leon playing the co-lead).  I met with Michael, who had read the script but wasn't crazy about it.  The project sort of fell by the wayside after that. 

Then, after Bloodsport opened and did spectacularly well, Menahem did a complete 180 regarding his opinion about Van Damme.  Now he felt that Leon wasn't a big enough star to be the co-lead alongside Van Damme! 

I talked a lot about Menahem and Van Damme and Bloodsport when Mark Hartley interviewed me on-camera for the documentary.  In fact, I told that same story about Menahem and Leon and Van Damme.  Mark told me he had put together an entire segment about Bloodsport for the documentary, but at the last minute there was some kind of a legal snafu involving the rights to Bloodsport, and the lawyers at Warner Brothers told Mark he had to yank the entire segment.  Really a shame.  Bloodsport was one of Cannon's biggest surprise hits, but there's nothing at all about it in the documentary, except one very quick shot of Van Damme throwing a kick at Bolo Yeung.  Who knows, maybe Mark will manage to sneak it in as a special feature on some future Blu-ray?

You co-wrote Bloodsport and met Jean-Claude Van Damme, beginning a long and successful collaboration. What was it like in those early days? Did you feel like the film would be something special? 

Jean-Claude and myself and many of the people who were involved with the film felt we had something very special on our hands, but unfortunately the folks at Cannon Films did not feel the same.  Despite their misgivings, the film did spectacularly well when it was released.  I had actually tried to bet Menahem that the movie would do better than his pet project at the time, Braddock: Missing In Action 3.  His response to me was "You're dreaming, my friend!"  Well, history had proven that my prediction -- my "dream" -- was correct.  MIA3 grossed $6.2 million at the US box office, while Bloodsport grossed $12 million, almost double.  Since then it has never stopped making money.  I'm still getting residuals to this very day.

Many thanks to Mr. Lettich for taking the time to chat, he's a great storyteller and be on the look out for more Dammaged Goods presents events soon. Until then, Sheldon will be appearing at the USS Midway Museum for MAX on Friday, 10.16 at 7:00 PM. The G.I. Film Festival runs Tuesday, 10.13 through Sunday, 10.18 and showcases documentaries, narrative features and films from local artists.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Josh Brolin Double: Everest and Sicario

After seeing Snowpiercer the night before, it was time for another cold looking flick, the mountain climbing turned deadly expedition true story Everest. The third movie of our weekend took place at Cinemark's new theater in Playa Vista at The Runway. We frequent this spot frequently and the hostess called us regulars. It's generally slow and empty but on a Saturday night the bar and restaurant were pretty happening. Sadly it really slogged down service and our server could not keep up. It wasn't a bad experience per se but definitely not great, such a shame. In the 90's, climbing mount Everest had turned into a business where guides would take the rich and adventurous up to the summit, weather permitting. But at the cruising altitude of a 747, the body is literally dying so extreme caution and preparation are exercised. Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) heads up Adventure Consultants, he's kind, funny, level-headed and expecting a baby daughter. Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal) is more care free and a bit of a hippie but with so many climbers creating log jams at dangerous passes, they team up to get their clients up the mountain. Unfortunately Mother Nature has other plans as a surprise storm strands several climbers and tragedy strikes as multiple mountaineers meet their demise.

Directed by Baltasar Kormakur (TWO GUNS!) based on a script from William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy, Everest plays out pretty straightforwardly; briefly introducing the characters along with the danger and majesty of the mountain. They go up, shit goes bad and sadly people don't make it home. Clarke plays Hall likable and intelligent while a deep cast of familiar faces includes Martin Henderson, John Hawkes, Josh Brolin as a likeable yet somewhat pushy Texan, Emily Watson, Sam Worthington, Keira Knightley and Gyllenhaal. Sure some of the mountain scenes look a bit like a set but there's also some stunning shots of the range, snow and avalanches. A scene involving a helicopter shot from the cockpit as it plummets is particularly intense. Two friends complained that the film had too many half baked characters you couldn't differentiate, even by their different colored jackets. It made me want to watch K2, the 90's rock and mountain climbing mini-epic featuring Michael Biehn and Matt Craven as best friends who join a billionaires crew heading up the second highest mountain in the world. That film benefited from focusing on two characters and their opposite attitudes but then again wasn't touted as a true story. It also made me wonder about the amount of bodies left on the mountain along with used oxygen tanks and trash.

On Sunday it was off to Century City's AMC for Sicario, the currently limited release thriller from Prisoners director Denis Villeneuve that tells the story of a female FBI agent recruited into a government task force out to shake things up with Mexican cartels. Blunt is Kate Macer and she's enlisted by the odd, funny and straight shooting Matt Graver (Josh Brolin again!) and the mysterious badass Alejandro (Benecio Del Toro) to cause a ruckus that will cause a prominent cartel leader to be called back to Mexico and hopefully unnerve the violent drug ring to the point they make a mistake. Like Everest it's a straightforward film but does a great job of revealing layers of story and character so you're always wondering where the film will go next. Like Prisoners, Villeneuve shows his skill at the slow burn thriller built on strong characters and shocking bursts of violence.

Actor turned writer Taylor Sheridan crafts a factually inspired look into the workings of vicious drug gangs and how the U.S. has to act a bit nasty to keep up and make an impact. While I enjoyed the film, I couldn't help but think Sicario was like a classier version of Sabotage, the fantastic David Ayer-Arnold Schwarzenegger flop that explored revenge, money and the Mexican cartels. Both films have a mythical drug war lead who's good in a fight, a female character who gets caught up in the intricate web of deceit and revenge while showcasing the brutal reality of today's war on drugs. While Sabotage reveled in the grimy world special operators lived in with entertaining macho-ridiculous relish, Sicario keeps things high brow, looking to shock the viewer with the facts Sabotage just accepted as part of the world. It's nice to see Del Toro regaining some of his career steam after coming down from his Oscar win with underrated under performers The Hunted and The Wolfman. As for the second dose of Brolin, he exudes a tough charm that just borders on darkness. Or basically he's taken his role as the young Tommy Lee Jones in Men In Black 3 too far and morphing into the reliable yet grumpy cinematic standby. If you can't make it out to the theater, both K2 and Sabotage are on Netflix, enjoy!

Ask Me a Question: Snowpiercer

On Friday night we ventured out to Beverly Hills for The Korean Film Council's free VIP screening series celebrating four filmmakers being invited to join The Academy. I used to work and live in the area and never realized there's three theaters on Wilshire not far from one another. The Laemmle Music Hall has a great marquee, calming ambiance and shows art house flicks during the week. They had already screened Nameless Gangster: Rules of the Time earlier and now it was time for Bong Joon-ho's gonzo, post-apocalyptic, class war on a train flick Snowpiercer. The film made headlines as co-producer and financier Harvey Weinstein wanted to cut 20 minutes of character scenes to make the film more palatable to audiences in Iowa and Oklahoma. After online backlash, Weinstein agreed to release the 2 hour director's cut but only on a limited scale. After beating out the likes of 3's Iron Man and Transformers in Joon-ho's native South Korea, the $40 million budgeted Snowpiercer would garner $82 million outside the states while only drawing $4 million in American theaters on a few hundred screens. On Demand it grossed an additional $6 million in it's first few months. I caught it on Netflix one early Sunday morning and dug the flick, thinking it got screwed over at award time along with Nightcrawler and Interstellar while that piece of shit Whiplash collected the accolades.

Anyway, if you haven't seen it, in the future, it gets real cold outside and a rich and a brilliant designer has created an Ark of sorts, a train that circles the frozen tundra of Earth, the inhabitants being the last survivors. As they boarded the train, stowaways, coach and first class are treated as such in this new order. Those in the tail are overcrowded, dirty, starving and near their breaking point. Young Curtis (Chris Evans) has formulated his rebellion and leads his army through the train, car by car, discovering how the other half lives. It's a violent, funny, ridiculous, disgusting and engrossing 2 hours based on a French comic book with a Korean sensibility. The entire film was shot in Prague on beautifully crafted sets and the stellar supporting cast includes Kang-ho Song, Ed Harris, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell and Octavia Spencer. Chris Evans really anchors the film as the quiet and sensitive yet strong and calculating Curtis, reminding us that he's more than just Captain America. Seeing it on the big screen really highlighted the impressive set design of the different cars along with the griminess of the tail and the bloody incidents between the rebellion and security forces.

Local screenwriter (not on the film) and professor Shane Danielsen introduced and closed the film with some light trivia and strong personal opinion on the state of cinema. Some highlights included Bong Joon-ho pitching The Host as the Loch Ness Monster in Seoul, which became a massive hit. Snow was a huge international production that took a French comic, western writer, a Korean director and shot in the English language in a bid for international success that never quite came due to it's Korean (somber) ending and lack of belief from the Weinstein's. It's fair to say the film isn't as family friendly as Avengers but if you've seen it, you know it wasn't supposed to be. Thanks to The Korean Film Council for putting on the event and for the cookies, even though we all know babies taste best.

Support This! PEACE Fund Celebrity Poker Tournament

Ever since starting this ol' blog/online journal experiment, I've gotten to meet some of my cinematic heroes, attend conventions as press, set up a premiere, got invited to a premiere and now I can add cover a Celebrity Poker Tournament to the list. This past Saturday, The PEACE Fund hosted their 2nd Annual Celebrity Poker Tournament at Microsoft's swanky Playa Vista office where the likes of Adrian Paul, Carl Weathers and Lou Diamond Phillips stacked chips for charity. The PEACE Fund "focuses on small, under-funded and hard-working charities who are determined to make a positive difference to the lives of children living in extraordinary difficult circumstances". Last year the group teamed up with Wells Bring Hope and raised enough money to pay for two wells in West Africa where clean water is limited.

We arrived after the red carpet event but the tournament was in full swing and the playing room packed. I spotted host and founder Adrian Paul from Highlander nearly right away who was alternating hands of poker and speaking to guests, caught up briefly with The Carl Weathers, he's a great guy and I'm excited to see him pop up on new show The Colony. Glancing around the player's room I was looking for Patrick Kilpatrick from Best of the Best II, Death Warrant and Minority Report but didn't see him. Lou Diamond Philips was looking very into his game while Mekhi Phifer was just chilling outside taking a call. Sometimes I wonder how I end up munching on Doritos, sipping a cider (Rekorderlig from Sweden, delicious!), surrounded by all these people but hey, it was a fun time for a good cause. Find out more or donate HERE. Until next time, flop the river on the turn something something!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Con-Man: Mastering the Universe Part I

After Friday night's successful screening and panel of Masters of the Universe, it was time for Saturday's big event, an entire day of mini-convention, screenings, Q&A's and the west coast premiere of Toy Masters! Our vendors like La-La Land Records, Scrooze Toys, Animation, Inc., collector Steve York, artist Dave Woodman and Super7 were joined by Skeletor and She-Ra voice actors Alan Oppenheimer and Melendy Britt. I was happy to see a line was forming before we opened doors and thanked everyone for showing up and for their patience as we prepared. Energy was great, the He-Man fans were very enthusiastic and checked out all of the glorious toys and displays Mattel and Pretty In Pink provided. Programmer Grant had somehow unearthed two episodes from the second season of Masters of the Universe on 16mm to add to our pre-show lobby con and had them screening in the theater.

Erika Scheimer helped kick things off with her boundless energy and enthusiasm as we discussed her involvement with Filmation. Run by her father, animation pioneer Lou, who kept work in America and also created a new market for cartoons as He-Man went straight into syndication with a 65 episode order, effectively leading the way for She-Ra, G.I. Joe and Transformers. Erika got involved in the family business after graduating from Stanford but finding herself without a job. Working for dad as a voice actor, she gave the audience a taste of her characters Imp and Loo-kee and explained how she'd picked up a guitar at age 12 so writing and performing "I Have the Power" for The Secret of the Sword was a real treat. The worldwide popularity of He-Man shocked the family as they traveled to conferences in Europe. A fan in the audience said he met his partner through their love for He-Man and Erika expounded on the impact the show had on viewers which touches her heart to this day. It was an honor and a pleasure to have Erika and her partner Amy there as well as a great way to start off the day. Heritage Auction House will be putting some of Lou's private collection up for bid to get items into the hands of the loving fans.

Artist and He-Man co-creator Mark Taylor was our next guest and He-Man World creator John Atkins took the mic for an informative, educational and hilarious panel. Did you know that the price of toys covers the cost of legal action in case someone is hurt or killed by them?! I didn't...Mark is a terrific talker, knowledgeable and engaging as he discussed the psyche of He-Man and Skeletor, the importance of Joseph Campbell and telling a story through any piece of work whether it's a piece of art or a painting. Originally working freelance, Mattel invited him to work in house on Barbie and Shogun Warriors. His uncles had served in the war and Taylor wanted to create a hero who was strong and brave, tinged by Tarzan, Prince Valiant and Greek literature. A hero didn't need a lot of armor or sit in a tank to him, the guy who just goes out there and does it, prevailing against all odds. Nobody wanted to work on He-Man back then as Barbie was the successful brand that could launch a career. Battlecat came from the Tarzan line Mattel had already done but his back was too broad for He-Man figures so the saddle was created. Kids responded so well to the toys, test groups tried to steal them. Mark ended up working on Hot Wheels as well as in Japanese animation. A truly fascinating individual and his wife Rebecca is a sweetheart as well.

Two classic episodes screened before the Filmation panel of artist/director Tom Sito, writers Larry DiTillio, Marc Zicree and Brooks Wachtel along with voice actors Alan Oppenheimer and Melendy Britt took the stage. Unfortunately I had to miss most of this panel as I was running things in the lobby but caught snippets about how He-Man was actually a pretty bad hero since he's totally reactive to Skeletor's scheming versus being proactive. Oppenheimer had no idea the cartoon would live on as long as it has and make such an impact. Oh yeah, when we met, he totally went into Skeletor and Mer-Man voices without even trying, it was awesome. Part II coming up!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Gotta See! Korean Film in Focus Series

As any movie lover can tell you, some really interesting fare has been coming out of Korea for the last decade. Oldboy got remade by Spike Lee, A Bittersweet Life's Jee-woon Kim was enlisted to helm Arnold's awesome comeback flick The Last Stand and star Byung-hun Lee has kept busy in G.I. Joe, Red 2, Terminator Genisys and is featured in the upcoming The Magnificent Seven remake. The films I've seen coming from Korea are well crafted with hints of melancholy, weirdness and humor with a very visual and technical panache. One of my favorite movies to come out of the region is Seung-wan Ryoo's high school reunion meets murder mystery mashed with martial arts mayhem good time The City of Violence. South Korea is also one of the fastest growing markets in global cinema with many a studio looking to break in the local market which is loyal to homegrown titles.

This week, The Korean Film Council his hosting two nights of double features showcasing some of Korea's most exciting artists turned recent Academy Members. Starting tonight in Beverly Hills you can catch Im Kwon-taek's drama Revivre (Cremation) and Han Jae-rim's award winning, mega hit period piece The Face Reader. Then on Friday it's Yoon Jong-bin's 80's and 90's mob film Nameless Gangster: Rules of the Time and Bong Joon-ho's awesomely crazy post-apocalyptic thriller Snowpiercer which stars Chris Evans, Kang-ho Song and Ed Harris. All of the screenings are free with introductions and Q&A's being teased.  Pick up tickets on Eventbrite. I'll see you at Snowpiercer because babies taste best!

Grudgement Day: Paul Bettany VS Jason Statham

It's been a love-not love summer for Jason Statham and Marvel as rumors swirled that he was up for the role of Bullseye in Netflix's second season of Daredevil. It seems like it was an unfounded piece of gossip as The Punisher and Elektra have been announced thus far with no mention of the crazy and accurate assassin. In June while promoting comedy Spy, Statham expressed his disdain for Marvel films and tentpoles that rely on green screen, stunt doubles and $200 million dollar budgets as he's inspired by old school action heroes and in this day and age, you could put his grandma in a cape and put her into the action. Incredible Hulk Mark Ruffalo laughed it off with a faux throw of the gauntlet while actual caped Marvel hero The Vision aka Paul Bettany appeared on Conan O'Brien and admitted he was an actor and would let stunt men do their job while suggesting Statham get an acting double. It was all in jest with Jennifer Connelly's husband claiming he wouldn't want to run into the Stath but of course, the ol' internet saw it as a "slam" or "bitch slap". Going back to their original comments, you can clearly see it's just a usual case of getting worked up for nothing. Statham's comments are not untrue as you literally could take anyone and using CGI, stunt doubles, editing, green screen and a good choreographer, put them into the middle of an action scene. But not everyone can do a fight, flips or spills in a single, large shot. But it does shine an interesting light on our current view of what makes a leading man.

To me, it hearkened back to Sylvester Stallone claiming that Michael Keaton strapping on fake muscles for Batman effectively changed cinemas perspective of being heroic. While guys like Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and Clint Eastwood oozed machismo and were physical, they weren't the bodybuilding action heroes of the 80's that Sly, Arnold and Jean-Claude Van Damme ushered in. Along with icons of the era like Chuck Norris, Carl Weathers, Steven Seagal and Dolph Lundgren, each of these cinematic tough guys had a background anchored in sports and physicality. Beefy muscles became cliche and more athletic everyman heroes like Keanu Reeves, Nicolas Cage and Matt Damon took center stage. Yet now everyone is in shape again and taking their shirts off on camera. Chris Pratt became a leading man because he dropped 60 pounds. Brad Pitt still looked great for a scene in Fury. Chris Hemsworth and Evans always have a moment in their Marvel films to show off the goods and even serious actor Robert Downey Jr. has to hit the gym for Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes. Hugh Jackman's hulking transformations into Wolverine have defined his career. The only difference is, none of these guys could kick you in the face or break blocks of ice with their bare hands.

On the flip side, is Jason Statham a bad actor or simply typecast as a growling smart ass? As with anyone on the above list, stars become stars because viewers like them in a specific type of role. From Stallone gaining weight and going back to drama for Copland or Jim Carrey ditching laughs for The Truman Show to Hemsworth playing funny in Vacation, no actor wants to constantly repeat himself. It would be nice to see Statham in a light ensemble piece like Snatch or The Italian Job again but those lower budget action fests probably pay him a lot better. He did show some smarts by playing opposite Melissa McCarthy in Spy and took on The Rock for Furious 7 this summer. Paul Bettany has worked with everyone from Peter Weir to Ron Howard opposite Johnny Depp and Tom Hanks but has he ever had his name above a title? A quick search on Facebook shows Statham has 52 million fans while Bettany tops out at...62 THOUSAND. Perhaps Statham can go back to his character actor roots as he gets older while Bettany continues to be a respected character actor that will never be a star. In the end, they're both doing just fine.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Ask Me a Question: Masters of the Universe

My two part experiment to mash a convention with repertory screenings kicked off Friday night at the historic and beautiful Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood with 1987's Masters of the Universe. Mattel had really come through, providing display cases full of figures from the 1980's through today, Castle Grayskull, Snake Mountain, 6 foot character displays and a 15 foot tall He-Man statue that barely fit inside the lobby! Pretty In Plastic kicked in with an awesome mounted bust of Battlecat, one of less than a dozen in existence and valued at a cool 8 grand. We had a solid turnout for the evening and one by one our guests arrived. Myself, programmer and voice actor extraordinaire Grant along with editor at large Jim Branscombe spliced together a pre-movie clip show of beautiful randomness that included the credits to Dolph Lundgren's awe-inspiring workout video Maximum Potential, He-Man toy commercials and a fan edited version of 4 Non Blondes What's Up featuring Prince Adam and Cringer.

Mattel had provided a dozen rare figures from their Matty Collector line to give out as prizes and we got right into the film. The 35mm print looked solid for being nearly 30 years old and the audience was enthusiastic, cheering, clapping and laughing at all the appropriate moments. Starting on war-torn Eternia, the evil warlord/wizard Skeletor (Frank Langella) has taken Castle Grayskull, where mystical forces are housed and give the power to become the Master of the Universe. With keeper of the house The Sorceress (Christina Pickles) captured, it's up to a small band of Eternian heroes to save her including the ultra heroic He-Man (Dolph Lundgren), troop commander Man-At-Arms (Jon Cypher), his daughter Teela (Chelsea Field) and locksmith/inventor Gwildor (Billy Barty). You see, Gwildor has invented a music based Cosmic Key that can open a doorway to anywhere, which Skeletor used to infiltrate Castle Grayskull and take over. During a botched rescue attempt, Gwildor frantically opens a doorway our heroes escape into, landing on...Earth! There, with the help of two local teens (Courtney Cox and Robert Duncan McNeil), He-Man and his crew battle Skeletor's pursuing mercenaries (including Robert Towers as Karg and Anthony De Longis' Blade) while dealing with earthly customs like eating fried chicken and ribs and trying to get back home, free The Sorceress and save Eternia.

This was the first film I ever saw in a movie theater and I've loved it ever since. The last time I saw it was in 2009 or so at the now defunct Regency Fairfax down the street from the New Beverly which played the film a couple of years ago, both times screening at midnight. It's become my staple to not only spread the gospel of the 80's and 90's but also take midnight back to prime time. For me, much of MOTU still works. The Castle Grayskull set is huge, impressive and immaculate, the costumes ornate and unique, the action crackles with a kinetic swashbuckling energy while the cast is terrific and most of the matte painting, laser blast, pyrotechnics and space door special f/x look great. Bill Conti's epic score gives the flick a Star Wars meets Superman scope, Dolph is picture perfect as a living action hero while Frank gets to dig his teeth deep into the fiery yet sorrowful Skeletor. Plus the message of there being only one of you in the universe is still a great message.

After the film, I called down our panelists of director Gary Goddard, production designer William Stout, Teela Chelsea Field, Karg Robert Towers, Blade Anthony De Longis and armor suit makers Robert Short and Max Cervantes:

- Goddard has a background in large scale theme park attractions as well as theater. Always wanted to be a filmmaker, made films in high school, never gave up and his mother always encouraged him.
 - Chelsea Field was a dancer before auditioning seemingly twenty-five times for MOTU and it was her first acting role. Auditions had no scenes per se, acting out action, fighting with swords and laser guns. Had met Goddard to discuss Conan stage show previously and he remembered her.
- William Stout originally hired as storyboard artist but hit it off with Goddard, both loved Jack Kirby while hired production designer didn't see eye to eye with director or have faith in film.
- Anthony De Longis worked on Conan the Barbarian stage show, worked with William Stout on a Roger Corman flick after Masters. Played Blade and doubled Frank Langella for final battle where Skeletor is in a huge helmet the size of the New York skyline.
- Robert Towers knew Goddard from Conan as well. Went through lots of auditions as Goddard was adamant performance had to come through prosthetics. Had a great time with Billy Barty who always brought great energy and told dirty stories. Went through 3.5 hours of make up and could barely eat.
- Robert Short's shop produced 300 some suits of armor in 30 days.
- Grayskull was biggest set Hollywood had seen in 40 years, two stages with wall knocked down.
- Goddard described the difficulties of the film that included costumes, contact lenses that almost made wearers blind, make up, pyrotechnics, fights, stunts...everything but rain. Cannon Films also going out of business, was told three times that there was no money. Would tell cast and crew that they were already there, go ahead and shoot day and figure it out. Producer went to Mattel for money.
- Field hasn't seen film since opening, only 2nd time, lots of 30ish guys walk up and freak out about Masters. Best summer of her life, most fun she ever had on a shoot. Night shoots felt like they went on forever, was only 6 weeks, only getting about 4 hours a night on Whittier streets. Fond memories of working with James Tolkan, Jon Cypher, Cox, McNeil, etc.
- Frank Langella was in town and wanted to come but had to head back to New York early, drat!
- Great to work with, 2-3 hours of make up and anchors the film. Goddard spread story to more characters versus giving all to He-Man and somewhat telling story through villain's eyes.
- Big film for Cannon but still a skeleton crew, department assistant Josh Olson would go on to write Oscar nominated A History of Violence.
- Strapped Dolph to a truck for the Air Centurion sequence, had him 30-50 feet up a ladder.
- Towers kept some costume pieces and wig, Goddard has Skeletor's sword, Field kept memories, Stout has 200 paintings, Max has some armored suits and revamped for Alien Halloween costume, Short has a garage full of molds and suits, De Longis has a sword, donated one to charity.
- It was William Stout's birthday, we wished him a hearty "Good journey!" and I passed out cupcakes after.
- Field warned her son that it would be very cheesy but was surprised how well it held up. Everyone gave massive props to Goddard for making for such a great experience, keeping things rolling even though Cannon was falling apart behind the scenes.

 It was a beautiful night paying tribute to one of my favorite films and a warm up for the next day which would include 12 hours of setting up, hosting and running a mini-convention, 4 screenings and 4 panels, phew! Until then, don't say goodbye, say "Good journey!".

Friday, September 18, 2015

Ask Me a Question: Electric Boogaloo

It's going to be a crazy weekend with the two part He-Man event and things kicked off in appropriate fashion with a screening of Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films over at the Landmark Theatre. On the way in, I introduced myself to the American Ninja himself, Michael Dudikoff! Joe Armstrong was looking sharp, still in shape and very gracious. Cannon trailers for Death Wish sequels, Invasion U.S.A. and more warmed up the audience where you could spot familiar faces at every glance. Written and directed by Mark Hartley and produced by Veronica Fury and Brett Ratner, Boogaloo tells the story of two movie loving Israeli immigrants Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus who changed Hollywood with their Go-Go approach to movie making with a focus on product and hype versus story and taste. Over 100 former executives, script readers, actors, directors and producers were interviewed for the flick that is a breezy, funny and informative 100 minutes that serves as both an inspirational and cautionary tale. Schlock is always a term used to describe Cannon's output of titles that usually involved sex, nudity, horror and action. Films like The Last American Virgin, Breakin', Death Wish 2-5, Missing In Action, Lifeforce, Over the Top, Runaway Train, Bloodsport and Masters of the Universe would define their eclectic output of big and small titles, always looking to break out.

Interviewees look back with a sense of fondness and hilarity at the ridiculousness of the era where junk bonds financed Cannon's slate and the two cousins were known as charming, overly passionate film fans and expert salesmen. So much that the Cannes film festival was nicknamed the Cannon film festival during their heyday as they promoted so many films and closed so many deals. Stars like Charles Bronson and Chuck Norris anchored their stable of stars that would also include Dudikoff, Lucinda Dickey, Catherine Mary Stewart, Robert Forster, Franco Nero, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Sylvester Stallone and many more. While filmmakers like Sam Firstenberg, Tobe Hooper, Michael Winner, John Frankenheimer and Cassavetes and Franco Zeffirelli spent their cash. While in those days studios were putting out 8-12 films a year, Cannon cranked out dozens, many of the low budget and near exploitation variety. Even when they had a good movie like Runaway Train or Otello, people wouldn't give them credit. But the lack of quality control and never stopping to assess the situation seemed to spell their doom. After expanding too quickly, buying up cinema chains and financing films that flopped, Cannon eventually could not keep up with their debts and Golan and Globus parted ways in a less than amicable split. The film does a great job of setting up who the two mini-moguls were, their personalities, vision, success and eventual failure. More than one participant had to put their foot down to get paid from time to time but the money was never going into the pockets of the producers, rather back into the film. Boogaloo is a terrific look back at a long bygone era that produced some truly memorable movies. The flick hits DVD on Tuesday, 9.29 and comes with 30 minutes of Cannon trailers along with 20 some minutes of deleted scenes. Can't wait!

After the film, producer and financier Brett Ratner took the microphone and introduced an awesome panel that included director Hartley, editor Mark Helfrich, director Sam Firstenberg, actress Dickey and Michael Dudikoff. A shoutout to audience members and Cannon alumni like Sheldon Lettich, James Bruner and Diane Franklin among many more. Ratner has always seemed like a chill guy but his asking the panel to tell a story not in the film was not the greatest way to moderate:

- Ratner loved Diane Franklin in The Last American Virgin so much, he ended up dating lookalike Rebecca Gayheart for 13 years and nearly marrying her.
- Mark Helfrich was an assistant editor who would go in and fix things at night the actual editors messed up. Lead to a career long association with likes of Ratner and Craig Baxley.
- Firstenberg worked with Golan and Globus at their company prior to Cannon as a messenger and worked his way up to directing Revenge of the Ninja, Ninja III, Breakin' 2, American Ninja 1 & 2.
- It always sounded like Golan and Globus were arguing in Hebrew when they were usually just talking about what to eat for lunch.
- Lucinda Dickey was a gymnast and classical dancer turned green actress who signed a deal with Cannon but retired after the Breakin' series and Ninja III to raise a family. Apparently did not get along overly well with Sho Kosugi or her Breakin' co-stars at the time.
- Michael Dudikoff had been a contract player at Paramount doing comedy, got called in to Cannon's offices, which were quite dingy and sloppy, became one of their poster boys and would be "James Dean" of the company. Had to play hardball to get paid for a few projects but overall felt like he was part of the family and treated well.
- Cannon always wanted to be first when it came to similar movies and would push projects into production at the drop of a hat. If you landed a meeting, there was a 90% chance you'd leave with a deal. One filmmaker threatened to cut his fingers off if his film wasn't made.
- Boaz Davidson, John Thompson and Avi Lerner would go on to build a modern Cannon Films, Nu Image. Lerner offered Ratner $10 million bucks to direct a Hercules movie but wouldn't specify how much would be left to make the movie. Ratner declined and set up his own Hercules project with The Rock. Lerner asked him to shoot it at their studio in Bulgaria, when Ratner declined, Lerner said he was going to "fuck him" by making his own Hercules movie and releasing it first.
- The Cannon renaissance is upon us as Firstenberg has provided a half dozen commentaries and the cult fan base is still alive and well.

Much more was talked about and several audience members who worked at the studio shared quick stories. One saying it was a truly harrowing yet educational experience that taught him more than any school ever could. It was a great night that put the spotlight on many unsung heroes of my cinematic upbringing. Now bring on Masters of the Universe!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Busted! Manu Bennett

On Sunday night, word started to spread that Spartacus, The Hobbit and Arrow actor Manu Bennett was arrested in San Antonio, Texas and charged with misdemeanor assault. In town for the Alamo City Comic Con, Bennett was apparently arrested at 6:00 AM after punching an unknown 29 year old male in the face at 4:30 AM. Details have been sparse but Bennett was released later in the day. We've seen the formerly New Zealand based actor at a couple of shows and he always seems gracious, honest and genuinely cool. He's also a very physical actor, playing action oriented roles his whole career in The Marine, The Condemned and especially Spartacus where his top gladiator turned slave leader Crixus was a fan favorite. Candid in a way that is lacking by most of Hollywood, Bennett has never minced words at the politics of white leading men or had any reservations of calling out other actors like Jean-Claude Van Damme, who dropped out of a flick last minute that Bennett was co-starring in and spent months preparing. I can only imagine this was the result of a night and early morning of alcohol infused shenanigans and just goes to show you that not much good can happen if you're out til 4:30 AM. Allegedly, Bennett was asked to leave a hotel party after drinking too much then punched the unknown man in the face on his way out. Here's hoping the incident serves as a wake up call and we see more of the guy soon.

Monday, September 14, 2015

(Almost)Ask Me a Question: Masters of the Universe

It's finally He-Man week! The blonde barbarian celebrated his birthday on September 5th and this Friday the 18th, we kick off a two day celebration of the pop culture powerhouse. Join us at The Egyptian Theatre for a 35mm presentation of the 1987 mini-classic Masters of the Universe, a film that blends Star Wars, Conan the Barbarian and Steven Spielberg style 80's Americana. A bevy of guests are slated to join us:

Director Gary Goddard, former Disney Imagineer who struck out on his own and created large scale attractions like Terminator 2 3D, Jurassic Park: The Ride and Conan: A Sword and Sorcery Spectacular. Goddard has also worked extensively in theater on and off Broadway and recently helmed the first ever 3D play. Masters of the Universe would be Goddard's only foray into film but audiences will also remember his work on shows Captain Power and Skeleton Warriors.

Production Designer William Stout joins us once again to tell tales from his varied and awesome career. Known for his work in comic books, fantasy and paleontological art, Stout also drew album covers for the likes of The Rolling Stones and The Who. His film and TV career includes stints as Production Designer, artist and illustrator on the likes of Conan the Barbarian, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Return of the Living Dead and MOTU. He's also a photographer and explorer, being one of the few selected to travel to Antarctica to dive, hike and detail the landscapes and wildlife. Like Goddard, Stout spent time at Walt Disney Imagineering working on projects for Disneyland and World before designing for Lucasfilm, Universal Studios and GameWorks.

Actress Chelsea Field began her Hollywood career as a dancer on hit show Solid Gold before popping up in Arnold Schwarzenegger's Commando and landing the role of warrior Teela in MOTU. Her 80's and 90's credentials would be solidified with appearances in genre classics Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man and The Last Boy Scout. Field has also keep busy on television with roles on Time Trax, Tales from the Crypt, Cold Case, Without a Trace and NCIS.

Actor and weapons master Anthony De Longis has been swinging swords, cracking whips and kicking ass since the 70's. A Jack of all Trades when it comes to stunt work and acting, De Longis has appeared in the likes of Circle of Iron, MOTU and Road House while training Harrison Ford, Tom Cruise, Michelle Pfeiffer and many more. He's recently appeared opposite Jason Patric in western short The Weight of Blood and Bones. On MOTU, De Longis trained Dolph Lundgren to use a sword while appearing as the dual blade wielding, eye patched and spiky shoulder pad wearing...Blade.

Robert Towers played Skeletor's mercenary leader, Karg, the pimp, alien looking guy with white hair and a short white cape. Towers has been seen and heard for decades in Doctor Dolittle,Star Trek: The Next Generation, Angel, Frasier, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and played Albert Einstein on an episode of Hanna Montana!

We also have SFX lead Max Cervantes joining us to introduce the film. Max worked on the armored suits Skeletor's crack troops wore and still has his crew jacket! We're working on more guests but get ready for an amazing evening that could only be brought to you by the magical 1980's!

Con-Man: Long Beach Comic Con

After a late Friday night at Disneyland, Saturday morning we headed up to Long Beach for their Con. I've been attending LBCC since 2009 and watched it expand, contract and expand again. They've done Halloween themed shows, one day smaller cons, had lots of guests and panels, not many guests and panels, food trucks and Star Cars outside or nothing at all. This particular show seemed to be shaping up to be their biggest ever with the inclusion of several more celebrity guests available to charge for autographs, beefier programming and a reported 450 vendors. Their last show in March utilized the back side of the Long Beach Convention Center near the aquarium but the September edition would be holding court out front along Pike Street once again. Things seemed amiss near immediately when the two parking structures next door were closed off and drivers didn't know where else to go. Following the signs I realized that Lobster Fest was also going on nearby and they were herding everyone to park on the other side of Shoreline Drive. A huge queue was waiting to get in so they could pay $10 bucks then trek the half mile back to the convention center. That was not a very nice welcome, especially as LBCC has always been one of the easiest shows to attend.

Not accepting the grassy option, I found street parking five minutes away but would have to feed the meter every 2 hours. It's not that big a show so a couple of trips and 4 hours should be plenty, right? Well, the line to get into the convention center took up 3 huge queues and ended up taking 45 minutes! I asked some of the crew what the hold up was and they simply stated that the staff didn't expect such a large turnout. Wait, you're telling me in this day and age you can't tell how many tickets you've sold online to staff accordingly?! There's no excuse for poor crowd control in my opinion. People are paying to attend an event, not wait in line twice before getting to said event. The problem was that inside, there were only 4 booths open to scan tickets and distribute wrist bands. Horrible flashbacks to the shit show of Salt Lake City Con came back to me where they only had 5 people admitting those who actually paid extra to wait less but ended up waiting 2 hours. Like SLCC, it would have been faster to just buy a ticket onsite and go into the show. It seemed pretty crowded in the lobby but the actual show didn't seem any bigger than it's ever been so waiting so long was a doubly insulting.

It was great to catch up with William Stout and Mike over at the RAW Studios booth, Stout will be a guest at He-Man night this weekend while Mike is headed to New York. I introduced myself to future guest Alan Oppenheimer and chit chatted with a few vendors we see regularly on the con circuit. There were various new spaces on the floor highlighting NASA, Power Rangers, Cosplay and Star Signings along with your usual Artist Alley and Laser Tag.  There weren't a ton of big names at the show with John Barrowman, some actress from Agents of Shield, some guys from Daredevil and Sam Witwer holding down the paid meet and greet area. It's not the exhibitors fault that the organizers did such a poor job of getting people through the doors and I wanted to spend some dough on the floor but sadly came up short and bought...nothing. No comics caught my attention, the NECA Ripley still carries a stiff price tag and no random item looked like it should be on my shelf. Adam Kubert was making his LBCC debut and we saw awesome artists like Art Adams and Whilce Portacio on the floor. Mark Silvestri popped up at the Top Cow! booth while I never found Bryan Edward Hill to ask him about Dolph's The Russian Specialist. A group of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle cosplayers had a booth complete with an April O'Neil but later I saw them hanging out with their prop helmets off, didn't you see Old School?! Put your head back on! We ran into G.I. Joe expert and Duke historian Diana Davis in line and caught the tail end of the Joe panel where cast members reminisced about their time working for Sunbow and the incredible legacy the cartoons and toys have created like they did back in March.

Outside your usual line up of cinematic and television famous vehicles were waiting to be checked out including the Back to the Future Deloreon, Jurassic Park jeeps, Bumblebee from Transformers, not one but two KITT's from Knight Rider and a new addition, the Firebird James Garner tooled around in for hit show The Rockford Files. Like the awesome discount book store before it, Geeky Mama's (moved to Anaheim) had also closed and we didn't hit the Auld Dubliner for any Dublin Donkeys since we were on the clock. It's interesting looking back on some LBCC posts as it's usually been one of my favorites to attend due to it's easy access, solid exhibitor floor and terrific surrounding area. Not long ago I thought they might be losing ground to Comikaze in terms of size, scope and social awareness but his weekend proved that LBCC's ready to grow. It was also a reminder that bigger isn't always better and quality still trumps quantity. Very disappointing.

Gotta See! Disneyland & California Adventure Park

Another weekend, another theme park. This time it was back to our usual stomping grounds of Disneyland and California Adventure Park in my former residence of Anaheim. It's been real frigging hot in Los Angeles lately and Friday night was not shaping up to be any less sticky and sweaty even though temperatures were allegedly on their way down. We already secured a room for Saturday night after Long Beach Con and to hit the park and see visiting friends Sunday. Doing a quick search, a room would be even cheaper for Friday so we decided to chug some SURGE and hit the road. The Red Lion is usually our home base for Disney or shows as it's close to the park and Convention Center, is reasonably priced plus you get a fridge and microwave in the room. Disneyland was open until midnight so after a quick Seagram's and Ginger Beers, we hoofed over to the park just in time to see the nightly fireworks. The joint was pretty packed around Main Street and apparently there was a near stampede/trampling episode by The Haunted Mansion. Come on people, it's the same ride that's been there for decades with some Halloween decorations. Is that really worth bodily injury? What is this, Wal-Mart?! Do better. We managed to do Single Rider line for Indiana Jones where you waited completely in beautiful air conditioned cave and The Matterhorn before taking in the crazy electric parade and then hitting up Star Tours and Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blasters. The parade was pretty intense with lots of lights and dancing from the casts of Frozen, The Little Mermaid, Toy Story and more. Can't wait to see some Marvel peeps included at some point.

On Sunday we headed back and it was hot hot hot! But when everybody else is also sweating buckets, you don't feel so self conscious about being a hot man, like Sean Connery. Hitting California Adventure Park first, we grabbed a Fast Pass for Soaring Over California because the queue would be inside in the cold. It's always good to get on some kind of small ride right away to keep yourself mentally sane rather than waiting in some huge line and getting demoralized. So it was off to The Little Mermaid ride, those flying Zepplin things, Silly Symphony Swings and Goofy's Flying School all in a couple of hours. It was recently announced that the Aladdin Stage Show Musical Spectacular is going to be replaced by a Frozen themed dealy so we checked it out one last time. I hadn't seen the show since the mid-2000's but it holds up great with terrific production value, flying carpet and the scene stealing Genie. Back in 2005 it was very Queer Eye for the Straight Guy as that was popular on TV while in 2015 you got Arnold Schwarzenegger, Deflate-gate, Ben Affleck, Batman and other current topics as the butt of jokes. We hadn't eaten all day and figured on getting some All-You-Can-Eat BBQ at Big Thunder Ranch before it goes bye-bye to make room for Star Wars Land but it was a little too stuffy out for such a heavy meal. Instead we sat in some more AC over at The Plaza Inn for some fried chicken and Cobb Salad goodness. Taking a break at the Golden Horseshoe for ice cream, we randomly got to view their fun old west style theater act with singing cowboys, piano player and audience participation. Makes you wonder how a 50 something year old man who can sing, dance and act ends up working at Disneyland. Is there a casting agency for that?

See you in October for the Halloween Tour! Oh and did you know that Oswald is a rabbit? I didn't.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Sunset Cinema: Back to the Future Rooftop Film Club

After seeing some light Back to the Future goodness at Universal Studios Saturday morning, that evening we headed to Hollywood for a screening of the classic 1985 flick. We've seen Future a half dozen times over the years in settings as varied as The Egyptian Theatre for a marathon (twice), a theater converted into a Church in Hollywood (where they stopped the movie midway for a cosplay contest), outside at the awesome but now defunct Oscars Outdoors and downtown at the renovated Ace Theatre. This 7th or 8th time out would be part of the new Rooftop Film Club series out of London and New York. Repertory titles play near every night on the roof of The Montalban Theatre on Vine, named after actor Ricardo of Star Trek II fame. Just around the corner from The Acrlight, Pantages and happy hour spot The Well, I had no clue the place existed.

Unlike your usual outdoor venues where you lug in blankets, chairs, snacks and booze, Rooftop provides rows of deck chairs and headphones with blankets, dranks and snacks available. It was a terrific setting and the ambiance was quite nice but the viewing experience itself leaves much to be desired. To start, the deck chairs are not very comfortable. The wooden frame cuts into the back of your legs and apparently being 5'8" with a weight lifting background made me too wide for the chair as the wood dug into my back and shoulders. By 7:30 PM it was getting dark and a host said we'd start in a few minutes...which turned out to be 30...Back to the Future is of course a classic flick and this time out I noticed how nuanced the performances of Christopher Lloyd as Doc Brown and Crispen Glover as George McFly were in terms of physical tics and body language. Pretty sure Michael Richards' performance as Cosmo Kramer from Seinfeld owes Lloyd a debt. Being given wireless headphones was a new development but I'm sure there's noise ordinances in the area plus there's lots of honking and yelling from the busy Sunset Blvd nearby. But using the headphones really destroyed the communal aspect of watching the film for me. All in, an interesting night but not something I'd do again.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Sneak Cinema: Crimson Peak w/ Guillermo del Toro

YouTube Space LA hosted a pretty awesome event last night, an early screening of Guillermo del Toro's Crimson Peak followed by a chat with the man himself. Taking place next door at the Cinemark Playa Vista and at their space in the campus, del Toro welcomed the audience and reiterated that the film is not a horror flick but a Gothic romance. I honestly didn't know too much about the movie going in but was a big fan of his work on Hellboy and Pacific Rim. The story of Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), a bright young woman with aspirations to be a writer who falls for the dapper yet dark Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston). Moving to their decaying manor in rural Europe, Edith tries to play nice with Thomas' foreboding sister Lady Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain) while getting used to the cold and scary Crimson Peak. Named after the red clay that seeps up from underground. Mystery, ghosts, deception, intrigue and blood follows in a very handsomely produced film that's at times beautiful as well as terrifying. Without giving too much away, Peak is hardly your typical Halloween slasher flick but instead more of a character piece that utilizes a bygone era, atmosphere and customs to keep things interesting leading up to a pretty exciting and scary conclusion.

After the film, del Toro sat down to discuss his philosophy of life and filmmaking, spoiler free:

- Believes in two forces, fear and love.
- Passion project that took 7 years to produce. Going for R rating meant a budget reduction of 30-40% but sees budget only as a mindset, not a hindrance.
- Views filmmaking as a table with four legs encompassing costumes, production design, cinematography and directing.
- Wanted costumes built and the set dressed. Every thing you see is planned, designed and created.
- Feels people who like his movies are creative types who appreciate the effort.
- Was originally set up with Emma Stone and Benedict Cumberbatch but losing them was best thing for the project as it was a great experience.
- Movie sets are like any social setting, there's always going to be an asshole.
- Hates conformity or people telling you what you can and can't do. The only reason giant elephants don't pull the stake from the ground is because they weren't strong enough to do so when they were small and still have same mindset.
- Wanted to make a film with strong female characters which shouldn't be an exception given the amount of strong women walking the planet every day.
-  Chances of a Hellboy III are highly improbable.
- Trying to be a good person is one of the biggest contributions people can make to the world.
- Always wanted to be a bank robber like Robert DeNiro in Heat. Finds himself casing the joint any time he's cashing a check.
- Directors never have total control, if they did, results wouldn't be any good. Need collaboration.

Much more was discussed, particularly concerning the film but I'm not gonna ruin it for ya. del Toro has always been a funny and warm speaker and seeing him live was fantastic. The guy is extremely intelligent and experienced, citing examples from Jung, the Dao, Stanley Kubrick and oh so many more in a non-elitist way. I'd love to hear him in a conversation with Jean-Claude Van Damme as his roundabout, somewhat spacey views on life always seem to make total sense. Because divorce is a word but love is a feeling...

Summer Cinema: A Walk In the Woods

This past weekend marked the end of the Summer Movie Season as Labor Day is generally pretty quiet at the box office. Newcomers The Transporter Refueled and A Walk in the Woods were no match for faith based holdover War Room. Woods stars Robert Redford and Nick Nolte as old writing buddies and hell raisers as Redford's aging, semi-retired author Bill Bryson decides to hike the Appalachian Trail to see America after living abroad for a couple of decades. The trailers made the film out to be a coming of old age, heart warming, odd couple style adventure comedy and it didn't disappoint. It's not great and there's no career defining performance from either actor but it's a fun flick that makes you want to hit the road, see some nature, meet strangers and eat some deliciously heavy food.

Bill Bryson (Redford) is living a nice life in suburbia with his loving wife Catherine (Emma Thompson, who I thought was his daughter at first, whoops). Having only written forewords and overseen re-released past works for years, Bryson is getting a little bored and one day sees a sign for the Appalachian Trail while on a walk. Feeling like he needs to see more of his own country, Bryson decides to devote six months to becoming one with nature but Catherine is afraid he'll be eaten by a bear or get lost and die out in the woods. Wanting him to find a hiking buddy, Bryson reaches out to old friends who think he's crazy until one night, a grizzled voice from his past calls up, wanting to join. Said grizzled voice belongs to Stephen Katz (Nick Nolte), a woman chasing, booze swilling son of a gun that Bryson knew in his younger days. The two haven't spoken in decades and Katz still owes him $600 bucks. Katz shows up looking like he's on his last leg, for real, Nolte is perennially red faced and seemingly struggling for breath, overweight, limping and has some wild hair. Either this is some real good acting or art simply imitating life. The duo hit the trail and encounter a slew of fellow hikers and small town folk played by a litany of familiar faces including Nick Offerman, Kristen Schaal and Mary Steenburgen.

Of course the two discuss life and love, missed opportunities, who they were, who they are and the like while enduring heat, rain and snow while surviving treacherous trails, falls and maybe a bear or two. I wasn't quite sure where the film was going because they weren't going to reach the end of the trail at the pace the flick was moving and I wasn't sure if it was gonna get real by killing off one of them. There's justifiably long sequences of beautiful landscapes set to soothing music and by the end, there's a touch of being at peace with oneself not being justified by accomplishments or titles. There's a quick photo of both leading men in their primes and hot Damme, was Redford a handsome devil. Still dignified if a little frail, Woods was easier to watch than the overrated All Is Lost while Nolte couldn't top his excellent performance from Warrior. Director Ken Kwapis directs from a script by Rick Kerb, Bill Holderman and Bill Bryson that was originally meant to be a third vehicle for Reford and Paul Newman after mega-hits Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting. Sadly, the project languished since being optioned in 1998, Newman's health declined and the actor, race car driver and philanthropist died in 2008. Only a few years younger than Redford, Nick Nolte was then lined up to co-star. To date, A Walk in the Woods has grossed a not shabby $13 million bucks in it's first week. Not bad for a surprisingly tame R rated (Nolte's potty mouth) flick starring two 70 something year olds. Zach Efron would kill for those numbers.