Monday, November 30, 2015

Gotta Eat! Thanksgiving

"Behold! Beta Ray Thor, harbinger of cosmic justice and butter!"

Ah Thanksgiving, the mightiest of holidays as there's no gifts or religion required, only those you care about and you're expected to gorge and be gay (as in merry, do better). All my years of Food Network watching has prepared me well for the day as the turkey came out quite well once again. Since I don't brine or baste, I go with herb butter under and on top of the skin, a little trick one Tyler Florence taught me. Taking fresh thyme, rosemary and sage, I mashed the aromatic greens bits into some softened butter. From there, just run your hand gently under the skin to separate it from the meat and plop in bits of your fancy butter then coat the skin with it along with salt and pepper.

This year I got a bird just under 13 pounds after realizing 16 was too Damme big for only a handful of people like last year. I used chunks of carrots, onion, celery and apples as a roasting tray to keep the bird off the bottom and having it steam. Of course rinsing and patting the turkey dry is key so your butter and seasonings don't simply slide off. For the cavity it was a poultry blend of herbs along with some onion and apple. Genius struck as I realized I had a pack of uncured bacon in the freezer and used it to protect the breast instead of a tin foil tent. In hindsight I should have latticed the strips to form a blanket as simply draping the strips across the top and front resulted in many slices slipping off. No matter, the skin was nice and crisp, the meat juicy and moist.

Side dish wise I never get too crazy, mashed cauliflower along with some instant stuffing and mashed potatoes does the job. I was quite disappointed that Food Network was not showing Thanksgiving themed shows and specials all day but Jean-Claude Van Damme's drunk dancing in Kickboxer followed by snake punching in Hard Target saved the day. Hope you had a great one and are enjoying the leftovers!

Fall Flicks: Creed

After the less than thrilling Spectre and Hunger Games, it was up to Creed to reverse the Fall Flicks slump. I'd been looking forward to the new Rocky flick for a while as the story seemed to be taking the character in a reasonable new direction while injecting some fresh blood. 2006's Rocky Balboa was a solid end to the saga, wrapping up the underdog story by showing the character as an aging, grieving but still hungry man meeting a new challenge. Bringing in former rival turned coach and friend Apollo Creed's son could have been a cheap cash in but franchise super fan turned writer/director Ryan Coogler along with co-scripter Aaron Covington along with stars Michael B. Jordan and Stallone craft an excellent chapter that harkens back to the original's dramatic set up while still delivering pugilistic excitement. Coogler is a tremendous filmmaker as the flick looks slick yet feels authentic and the use of music, slow motion, long takes, etc is superb. While the story treads familiar ground like daddy issues, living up to your name, a convenient yet believable romance; the film is rousing, inspiring, funny and exciting when it needs to be. While I almost shed some dude tears at the end and the film soared at parts, I wasn't engaged the entire runtime. Probably because Adonis and Bianca's (Tessa Thompson) characters and ensuing romance wasn't as endearing as Rocky and Adrian's. I thought it was funny that Adonis Creed's fake name was Donnie Johnson (like Don Johnson, get it? You don't get it...) while wondering why there was no mention of Tony Burton's Duke the Trainer since he raised Apollo then took Rocky under his wing.

Not having to write or direct, Stallone is free to simply act and from his first line of dialog, reminds audiences why they love Rocky in the first place. The $37 million dollar film has already brought in $43 million and there's talk of Stallone being in the mix as Best Supporting Actor come award time. I thought 2006's Balboa was much more convincing with more heart and drama than 2008's overrated yet multi-nominated The Wrestler so here's hoping Stallone gets his critical due this time. It will be interesting to see what direction Creed moves to for a sequel. I vote putting him in the ring with Ivan Drago's son followed up by Michael B. Jordan tackling a sequel/reboot to Carl Weathers' awesomely 80's flick, Action Jackson.

Con-Man: Cosplay Expo & Designer Con

I'm a week late on these bad boys but the year of Cons keeps on trucking! It was a double event weekend as we attended the inaugural Cosplay Expo in Van Nuys at the Japanese Garden last Saturday then trekked to Pasadena for Designer Con on Sunday. Friend and photographer extraordinaire Jeremy Rafanan was holding a workshop on photography for the Cosplay set and I moderated for him. I had no clue the Japanese Garden existed right off the 405 north of Los Angeles but it was beautiful. The organizers are to be commended for setting up such a well run show in such a memorable location. There was free parking, food trucks and shuttles at the bottom of the hill, a few vendors out front of the gates and episodes of anime playing inside the administration building. We caught a few minutes of Free! a random yet surprisingly interesting show about a high school swim club where chicks dig muscular forearms. We did a lap around the Garden with it's beautiful ponds filled with fish and graveled paths next to well manicured trees and shrubs. Jeremy's workshop was located in the tea house where he talked all things photography like how he got into snapping pics, equipment he uses, navigating shows big and small, the differences between say a convention and a movie premiere and working with cosplayers. It was a fantastic show and great to a friend sharing his knowledge and experience. Down at the food trucks I opted for a burger and loaded fries from a truck I can't recall the name of...good stuff but the fries could have been a little crispier since they were covered with so much.

On Sunday we made it to Pasadena in seemingly record time for Designer Con, a decent sized show I've never heard of that's been going strong for several years. Like an expanded Artist Alley, DCon was basically set up to showcase custom art, sculptures, toys and clothing. A lot of it was based on existing brands like Disney, Marvel, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or He-Man but there was an abundance of original characters and very unique offerings. In the lobby was a Back to the Future themed art show along with a stage for panels. There were 300+ exhibitors on site and I was amazed at the range of items on display and for sale from prints to custom action figures. One of my favorites was comic book covers recreated using Legos and another that was TMNT-centric from the film and original comic strip by Eastman and Laird. I rounded a corner and noticed a giant Captain Power display before realizing it was a booth from Gary Goddard's company! Of course I had just worked with Gary and Roger during the Masters of the Universe celebration so it was a terrific surprise to catch up with filmmaker Roger Lay, Jr. The Goddard Group is known for their theater and theme park attractions but they're now boosting their original content with new takes on Captain Power and Skeleton Warriors in the works.With two more shows, I think my tally is 21 for the year, phew!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Fall Flicks: The Hunger Games Mockingjay Part 2

You know how you just don't "get" stuff? Hunger Games is like that for me. I've seen each film in the theater to be a good partner but I honestly would have rather sat in the lobby reading a book then viewing the films. I've just never bought into the world, the stories or characters. Part 3 I surprisingly didn't mind but that was deemed the weakest of the films up to that point, so go figure. This gave me hope for the final installment but nope, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 put me to sleep. Literally. On three separate occasions. The first half is literally a bunch of white folks sitting or walking around doing nothing in particular. Oh there's a black character here and there but this future is real white. There's flourishes of excitement like an Aliens style sequence in a sewer with some I Am Legend style white skinned, ravenous, flesh eating creatures but for the most part, I just looked around or nodded off. Every time I see Josh Hutcherson, I feel like he should play Dolph Lundgren's runt of the litter son. The highlight was probably during the trailers when people started to slow clap after Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Still the Man: Charlie Sheen

Rumors started to circulate last week that an A-list actor was HIV positive. A friend said they heard it was Charlie Sheen. That somehow didn't surprise me, I was actually kind of surprised it wasn't announced he had some other life threatening disease already. I mean let's face it, Charlie Sheen has partied. Partied HARD since he was a teenager. After a string of excellent performances and working with top Hollywood talent in the likes of Red Dawn, Platoon, Wall Street, The Rookie, Major League and Navy Seals, Sheen found further fame and huge fortune on television. His salary on hit sitcom Two and a Half Men peaked in 2010 where he was the highest paid actor on television, earning $1.8 million an episode. Public meltdowns, messy divorces, sex with hookers and porn stars, a drinking habit along with drug use led to multiple stints in rehab and his ultimate firing from the show. Sheen went on an epic crusade to clear his name, participating in eternally entertaining and quotable interviews where he claimed to be a "Vatican Assassin", had "tiger blood and Adonis DNA", was a "bitching rock star from Mars" while using a drug called "Charlie Sheen". A nationwide tour failed to cement his status as a truth saying messiah for our times and before you knew it, Sheen was cleaned up, apologizing on TV and back with a new show, Anger Management. I absolutely LOVED Two and a Half Men and refused to watch it after Sheen was replaced by Ashton frigging Kutcher because it just wasn't funny anymore without the star.

Cut to today and Sheen announced on the Today show that he is HIV positive and has known for the last four years. He's been under watchful medical care and treatment to the point the disease isn't even detected in his blood. Sheen used the forum to explain that he's taken the illness very seriously, alerted those closest to him along with potential sexual partners. That has opened him up to betrayal and blackmail shakedowns that have cost him and his five kids nearly $10 million dollars. But his private physician was quick to point out that Sheen does not have AIDS, the auto-immune disease that was seen as a death sentence in the 80's and 90's before proper treatment became the norm. Sheen is now using the attention to fight the stigma and shame HIV still causes in some people's minds. Hopefully having a famous face will encourage others to seek help and not keep a dangerous secret to themselves that endangers others. During the interview, Sheen's wit, passion and personality shined through in a very difficult and private time. He is who he is and isn't hiding. Good for you, Mr. Sheen, still the man.

Damme Words: My Husband, My Friend

I can't recall whose book it was I was reading on the ol' Kindle when an offer for My Husband, My Friend: A Memoir by Neile Adams McQueen popped up. It's running for a "can't not buy" price of $2.51 and was well worth the money. I'd seen Neile Adams in plenty of interviews about her late husband Steve and knew she was instrumental to his career and there from the start. The book gives you equal shares of biographical accounts of her and her world famous husband. She was doing quite well for herself as a dancer based out of New York City, making 10x what Steve was and got her agents to give the unconventionally handsome actor a shot. It's interesting to see how their lives changed as McQueen became more and more famous thanks to TV show Wanted: Dead or Alive and hit movies The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape, The Thomas Crown Affair and Bullitt among many more. From a small, cramped apartment to multiple homes around California, the two shared a crazy 15 years together.

Neile really highlights the not so glamorous side of being married to a movie star, especially one from a broken home with insecurity issues and a drug habit that included weed, LSD and cocaine. McQueen fell into the trappings of fame, feeling the need to prove his manhood and show the world that he was as sexy as they thought he was. Infidelity plagued the relationship but the one tryst Neile indulged in with Maximilian Schell nearly unraveled her philandering, movie star husband. Neile paints McQueen as funny, caring and adventurous but at the same time extremely insecure and vain as evidenced by his obsession with working out, staring in the mirror and keeping up with all the latest trends in youth culture and fashion. As the years went by and drug use continued, McQueen began to grow extremely paranoid, unable to keep many friends or get excited over movie projects.

References are made to co-star and neighbor James Garner as they were good social friends whose social relationship crumbled after Garner accepted a role McQueen passed on. It would take two years for McQueen to forgive Garner for the inane grudge. Paul Newman served as an early inspiration and mental rival to McQueen but the two eventually became friends over racing and cars then co-starred in mega hit The Towering Inferno after a team up in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid faltered due to McQueen's ego. Dustin Hoffman gets an interesting shout out as McQueen and Neile enjoyed The Graduate but McQueen couldn't believe such a non-handsome guy would ever challenge the dreamy ruggedness of himself or Newman. There's also several amusing references and examples of Steve McQueen's hippy speak that included quotes like "see where this kid's head's at" or "getting clean" as in making amends and personal favorite, "I needs mah time to howl, woman!". As Neile was with McQueen for Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape, it would have been nice to hear more about those sets or co-stars like Charles Bronson and James Coburn. Besides that, a quick and informative read with a somewhat sad behind the scenes look at living in the spotlight.

Workout of the Day: Goodbye Universal

When we toured the apartment complex that would become our home, the manager showed us the small gym and "The Arnold", a chrome, multi-station gym popular in the 80's. It matched the decor of the building as it was built in I believe 1983 and hasn't changed much. The metallic contraption reminded me of high school when I worked out on a Universal machine in the weight room. It was pretty all encompassing with weighted stacks for Leg Press, Bench Press, Pull Downs, Shoulder Press, Cable Curls along with a Chin and Dip bar. Multiple participants could work out simultaneously and get in a good pump by simply moving around the stations. Universal Gym Equipment was founded by Harold Zinkin in 1957 after Zinkin spent decades lifting weights at Muscle Beach and was the first Mr. California bodybuilding champion in 1941. Wanting to expand the work out business and make strength training safe for novices, he developed weight machines where stacks of iron rode steel guideposts so you couldn't drop it on yourself. Instead of changing plates or dumbbells, you just popped a pin into the stack and kept pumping. The standard Universal Gym had 8 to 10 exercises attached to it's large frame. But rival Nautilus came a calling in the 80's (even though their one exercise machines were kinda lame) and by 1998, Zinkin was retired and Universal was acquired by Flexible Flyer and then Nautilus in 2006.

After working out on the Universal Machine in high school, I don't think I ever saw one in a gym again. One day driving I saw one in front of a garage and in workout videos featuring the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Sylvester Stallone and Bill Wallace. While the machine in our complex is actually an old and dusty Paramount, it still works just fine but is missing the Chin and Dip bars sadly. I like the fact that it's a bit of a relic because it alienates young Thundercats who don't have a f*cking clue how to use it and choose to plod along on the treadmill instead while still being fat and out of shape. Sadly, the times are a changing and the Paramount is going away. The property manager is redoing the gym with new equipment in their first phase of fixing up the joint so they can charge us more rent. I'll be sad to see the Paramount go away because it really is a great piece of equipment. I wonder how much and how long it will take to haul away because you're talking about thousands of pounds of weights and room filling metal frame to dismantle. It's time like these I wish I had a house and could put it in the driveway. Thanks for the muscle memories, Universal!

Here's kickboxing champion Bill "Superfoot" Wallace using a Universal. Personally I wouldn't do straight sets as you can see how much time is wasted just in resting. You could easily turn this into a circuit by simply moving from station to station, alternating muscle groups and exercises.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Watch This! Stallone & The Director's Chair

El Rey is an awesome channel. They show badass flicks like The Terminator, Big Trouble In Little China, Showdown In Little Tokyo, Red Sonja and many more in beautiful widescreen and digitally cleaned up. If you like horror movies, they've got you covered. Kung-fu flicks? Of course. And Miami Vice reruns are in regular rotation. One of their signature original programs is The Director's Chair where owner and host Robert Rodriguez sits down with other filmmakers to discuss their craft.

Cinematic icons and alumni include John Carpenter, Quentin Tarantino, Robert Zemeckis and George Miller. During their Labor Day marathon of Rocky flicks, clips of an upcoming episode featuring Sylvester Stallone were placed throughout and now you can watch it for free! It's an intimate setting with just the host and guest speaking about careers, inspirations, methods and influence. For Stallone, the program stuck mainly to the basics of Rocky, Rambo and The Expendables with no mention of hit sequel to Saturday Night Fever, Staying Alive. Since writing and starring in the Oscar winning and box office breaking Rocky, Stallone has never quite been given his due credit. One of the earliest franchises to grace cinema screens, it's easy to forget that Rocky truly was a million to one shot as Stallone wouldn't sell the script if he wasn't starring. When you think of film directors; a paunchy, nebbish, less than physical specimen wouldn't be a stereotype. But when you think that Stallone wrote and directed crowd pleasers with heart and action like Rocky III, IV, Rambo and The Expendables with a given scene requiring 9 cameras, complicated choreography and getting punched in the head while being in peak physical condition, it's a shame and a double standard that he isn't given more credit. Even after number one movies in five decades, the only actor with three franchises, boatloads of money and worldwide fame, the guy still manages to inspire. Check out the episode in its entirety below or over at El Rey and find out what all the fighting and fuss is about.

The Director's Chair: Sylvester Stallone - Full Episode
By order of Robert Rodriguez we're making the next episode of The Director's Chair, featuring Sylvester Stallone, available for FREE! Watch the entire episode right here, right now!
Posted by El Rey Network on Tuesday, November 10, 2015

This, I Demand! Close Range

While the era of big screen high kicking and martial arts ended in the 90’s with Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal going straight to video, director Isaac Florentine and athletic star Scott Adkins have been keeping the genre alive. After well received efforts like the Undisputed sequels and Ninja series, Florentine and Adkins are back with Close Range, a low budget action fest bound to please hardcore fans. A modern day spaghetti western, the Chad Law and Shane Dax Taylor scripted flick finds the bearded and mean mugging Adkins as Colton MacReady, an AWOL soldier who rescues his kidnapped niece from a powerful Mexican cartel. MacReady accidentally comes into possession of a flash drive containing sensitive material and becomes the target of a well-armed hit squad complete with freeze frame introductions for guys who will get real dead, real soon.

After an office set opening sequence that sees Adkins dispatch of multiple goons via kicks, knees, joint locks and multiple stab wounds; the action shifts to a secluded farm house. The setting highlights the low budget while showcasing bounds of fist, feet, blade and bullet infused mayhem. There’s plenty of impressive stunts like jumping on and over a moving car and running up a wall while a truck crashes into it. The fights have evolved from Undisputed’s overlong kickboxing style matches into Mixed Martial Arts infused scraps with chokes, throws and acrobatic grace. It’s all impressively choreographed but looks incredibly staged, hearkening back to Floretine’s overly hyper work on the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers franchise. But with so much Boom Boom Boom but not much heart, it's hard to stay overly invested. Adkins has displayed more physical chops if not the charisma of his idol Jean-Claude Van Damme but does well enough looking tough and grunting dialog in between fight scenes. In true 90’s throwback fashion there’s a nonsensical shirtless scene to show off Adkins’ time in the gym. Familiar faces Nick Chinlund (Con Air) and Jake La Botz (Rambo) lend credibility to the barely there story as we wait to be pummeled by the next action overload. Get punched in the face and stabbed in the nuts December 4th when Close Range hits theaters and VOD.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Cro Cop: Farewell

Woke up this morning to news that kickboxer and mixed martial artist Mirko Filipovic has pulled out of his co-headlining match against Anthony Hamilton at UFC Fight Night 79 in Seoul, South Korea. A shoulder injury on top of a career of them and ensuing operations seems to be the culprit. The former Croatian anti-terrorist commando and Parliament Member has long been one of my favorite fighters with his mix of stoicism, sense of humor, physique and a sprawl and brawl style that left many an opponent dazed on the canvas. Born in Vinkovci, Mirko found inspiration from the likes of Bruce Lee and Jean-Claude Van Damme and worked out in his family's barn doing chin ups, kicking walls and fashioning weights from scraps of metal and concrete. Joining the Army at 19, Mirko took up boxing and amassed an amateur record of 40-5.

Turning professional in 1996 at age 22, Filipovic joined Japan's K-1 kickboxing league where he defeated seasoned veteran Jerome Le Banner in his first fight. From there the Croatian sensation fought the sports biggest names like Ray Sefo, Bob Sapp, Ernesto Hoost, Peter Aerts, Remy Bonjasky, Mark Hunt, Mike Bernardo and Andy Hug. He would place Runner Up in the Grand Prix twice before transitioning to emerging MMA and joining Pride, Japan's premiere organization and rival to the growing UFC. There Cro Cop thrilled fans with his powerful punching combinations and destructive head kicks. Pride provided a theatrical experience with lavish opening ceremonies and blaring entrance music. Cro Cop became synonymous with walk out song Wild Boys by Duran Duran as well as his trademark spandex shorts adorned with a Croatian flag. Mirko faced the likes of Wanderlei Silva, Kazushi Sakuraba, Heath Herring, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Josh Barnett and Fedor Emelianenko but seemed to come up short in his most important bouts. In 2006, Filipovic won the Pride Open-Weight Grand Prix tournament while contemplating retirement. Instead, he took a big payday and headed to the UFC. Cro Cop would struggle in the octagon and suffer a shocking loss to Gabriel Gonzaga before heading back to Japan to join upstart promotion Dream. While Mirko suffered many disappointing losses in the UFC and never got the title shot many were expecting, he showed glimpses of what made so many people fans with an entertainingly gutsy performance against Pat Barry (axe kick!) and avenged his loss to Gonzaga this past April (elbow to the dome!). Many of Cro Cop's bouts were competitive so the issue seemed to be desire versus skill. Rarely leaving his back yard to train and be separated from his family, one wonders how Cro Cop would have benefited by not doing things his way and training at one of the prominent camps in the US or Europe.

It appeared that Cro Cop might be able to make another go at the UFC, his various stints of retirement and time off seemed to heal injuries while the fire to train and compete still burned. But at 41 years of age with 80 some fights in under 20 years, the damage has taken it's toll. After 9 operations on his knee, nose, elbow, etc, his latest shoulder injury seems to have reminded him that he's still got a long life to live outside the fight game. It's a shame we won't get to see Mirko compete one more time, especially in front of large contingent of Asian fans but he's already provided us with a career full of highlights and inspiration. After living such a varied and fascinating life already, I'm interested to see what Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic does next. Until then, keep kicking.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Western Weekend: The Salvation

Thanks to our free trial of Showtime, I've been able to watch some cool flicks like Last Vegas, Judge Dredd, Starring Adam West, The Death of Superman Lives and Prophet's Prey. Over the weekend, new western from Denmark The Salvation premiered and was a fitting end to my days of horses, dusters and guns that started with Dolph Lundgren's Missionary Man and continued with Amazon's new pilot Edge. The angular and weirdcool Mikkelsen  has been on my radar since 2004's underrated men on a mission flick, King Arthur. That opened me up to his excellent work in the likes of drug dealing drama Pusher, cannibal black comedy The Green Butchers, life affecting melodrama After the Wedding, WWII action drama Flame and Citron and supernatural thriller The Door among others. He made a splash stateside as the villain in 2006's Casino Royale before popping up in Clash of the Titans and cult show Hannibal while earning raves in the excellent drama The Hunt. In The Salvation, Kristian Levring directs from a script from himself and Anders Thomas Jensen. Set in the 1870's, Jon (Mikkelsen) and brother Peter (Mikael Persbrandt) are two brothers who fought a losing war in Denmark then came to America for a new start. It's been 7 years since Jon had to leave his wife and kid as the film opens with them arriving at the train station. But their coach ride back to town carries a couple of fresh out of prison brutes and after a tense standoff, Jon is tossed from the wagon. His wife and son are killed but he shoots those mofos dead in return. Immediately this wasn't going to be some quasi arthouse update of Death Wish where a regular guy is pushed to the brink and reacts. We get Mads pushed into a corner he can't get out of without risking harm to his wife and son even though he almost gets the drop on the two former convicts. If this were a Dolph flick, he would have shot those sumbitches without warning.

Only problem is, convict's big bad brother Henry Delarue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) runs the town Jon lives outside of and squeezes the locals into giving him up. After escaping Delarue's clutches, Jon uncovers a land grabbing scheme and must bring justice to the scared people who have seen their wives, husbands and relatives all mercilessly killed. Royale co-star Eva Green shows up as Madelaine, mute wife to the deceased Delarue who may or may not be an ally. Shot in South Africa, The Salvation is a beautiful film that takes full advantage of the dusty desert with vibrant cinematography and good use of the day and night visuals. Mikkelsen always excels at playing the upright and pure force versus the physical tough guy nature of Dolph or Max Martini. Here he plays a man capable of violence but it's not his chosen response until totally necessary. Morgan gets to play suave yet cruel while Green brings her usual mean-hot style to the table and gets to take care of business by the end. The violence is straight forward with people getting shot and beat in a non-sensationalist style but with plenty of blood and pain on display. An excellent flick and a fascinating take on the genre. At a quick 92 minutes, the film really kept things moving yet didn't feel rushed. There's so much detail and nuance in the characters, costumes and settings that a second viewing may be required on another sleepy Sunday afternoon.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Western Weekend: Edge

Stumbled across a random Facebook post showing off a violent clip from a new Amazon pilot, Edge. It caught my eye for many reasons; it was a western, it was really violent, it starred Max Martini (Pacific Rim & Sabotage) and directed by Shane Black. With those ingredients, how could you go wrong? Apparently it's Pilot season on Amazon where they produce a handful then viewers rate/vote/review to help them decide which series to move forward with. Based on a series of novels by George G. Gilman, Edge opens up with the murder of Jamie Hedges (Nate Warren), brother to thought dead Union solider Josiah Hedges aka Edge. Big Brother shows up to town, under the harsh rule of Big Bill (William Sadler). His son Little Bill served with Edge along with former comrade turned baddie Harknett (Ryan Kwanten). Edge gets hired on to help shepard the town, learning who's in control while meeting the locals like trophy wife Pilar (Alicja Bachleda) and Pinkerton detective masquerading as a working girl Beth (Yvonne Strahovski).

By the end of the 60 minute pilot, Edge has wasted plenty of fools with a straight razor, six shooter and a gattling gun. The violence is amped up and earns it's MA rating. Lots of blood, dismemberment, head shots, brutal beatings and a branch through the abdomen. The final shootout gets a bit over the top with Edge running across roofs and awnings, flying through the air and blasting every baddie in sight. Along with blood you also get Martini's muscular butt shot and some breasts so all bases are covered. Written by Black and former partner Fred Dekker, the show switches between hardcore violence and funny quips about dogs, sex and whatnot. Martini looks near unrecognizable with a mess of hair covering up his face and grumbles out his dialog but it's good to see the likable supporting player in the lead. Production value is high end with a great looking western town, huge natural vistas, dusty and crusty attire along with a couple of explosions. The episode's epilogue sets up the series as baddie Harknett is a sadist and a racist on the hunt for a fortune, ensuring his paths will cross with Edge once again. With no interest in any other Amazon show besides Ron Perlman's vigilante drama Hand of God, here's hoping we get more Edge.

Western Weekend: Missionary Man

It was a nice and relaxing weekend where I caught up on some cleaning, reading and of course, movies. After talking about Dolph Lundgren emulating Clint Eastwood earlier this week, it was time for some Dolph directing with his Pale Rider and High Plains Drifter quasi remake Missionary Man from 2007. After falling into directing with 2004's The Defender when Sidney Furie fell ill and the big Swede had to fill in, Dolph would go the Eastwood route for several more films with 2005's The Russian Specialist being a highlight. For Missionary Man, Lundgren stars, directs and co-wrote the script for the low budget, modern day western. Set in a small town in Texas, Ryder (Lundgren) shows up on an iron horse aka a motorcycle and heads to the bar where he downs tequila, straight up; no salt, no lime, like water then beats the shit out of a pack of thugs outside who are beating up a junkie native who owes some money. You see local big dog John Reno (Matthew Tompkins) has his eyes set on building a casino on nearby native tribal people's land and he's gonna get it whether they like it or not. But now the peaceful locals and shit swallowing Sheriffs have some back up with Dolph around and start standing up for themselves. Of course Reno wants Ryder on his side but the violent man of faith is already on Team Jesus. Reno calls in some back up muscle and biker boys lead by Jarfe (John Enos III) show up who may or may not know who Ryder is.

Shot with a rumored $2 million budget in Waxahachie, Texas for prolific actor turned producer Andrew Stevens, Missionary Man holds up as an excellent piece of DTV action for Lundgren. You get him playing a mysterious badass who visits to pay respects to a dead friend from the military and ends up saving the small town. There's fist fights, shootouts, explosions and shotgun blasts to the face galore all done in a slightly overwrought, nearly black and white style. Some of the editing is choppy as you don't really see some of the hand to hand moves and Dolph could have cooled with the slow motion. The film pays homage or cribs from Pale Rider, High Plains Drifter and Billy Jack among other flicks with story bits and dialog. Dolph is still a towering presence here as he breaks faces with fists and knees then wastes fools with a sawed off shotgun. You even get some fact based drama out of the local tribes people struggling with the asshole white folk/gangsters and as they adopt Dolph into the clan. At a brisk 93 minutes, it's hard to get bored and you get some decent sized set pieces like a night time shootout and an ending where Dolph takes out a dozen thugs one at a time in the streets and alleys with ropes, guns and fisticuffs. Friend and frequent co-star James Chalke shows up as the Sheriff and UFC fighter Brad Imes appears as a thug who has a change of heart after getting his nose busted by Dolph.

Missionary Man would continue an uptick in quality for Dolph after a string of low budget, barely cobbled together efforts like Jill Rips, Agent Red, Storm Catcher and Retrograde. Taking more control of his career creatively, higher profile fare like Universal Soldier: Regeneration, The Killing Machine and Command Performance followed before getting the call from buddy Stallone for big screen return hit, The Expendables.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Fall Flicks: Spectre

James Blah. Spect-meh. Bland, James Bland. This is what my mind was doing watching new James Bond outing Spectre last night, trying to think of semi-clever puns that would describe the movie. I didn't not like it but I did check my watch, my knees got tired from sitting and I was glad it was over. Of course I wasn't a fan of mega hit Skyfall either with it's dour mood and stripped down version of Bond that could have easily been billed as "English Spy Drama" instead of a James Bond picture. I'm no Bond expert but I've seen enough of them to form an expectation of a smooth yet rugged, macho hero, exotic locales, nefarious villains, cool gadgets and beautiful women. Daniel Craig's first outing as Bond in 2006's Casino Royale was a kinetic, fun and gritty outing that got a little too big between the airport scene and the falling houses finale but overall I enjoyed watching it, wanted to dress a little better, conduct myself with a little more panache and work out harder. Follow up Quantum of Solace was a short and frenetic chapter that could be deemed the Jason Bourne one with it's emphasis on unstoppable Terminator style action and hyper editing. But Skyfall with it's bad CGI, drawn out story that concluded with a Home Alone meets Batman Begins piece just lost me. It made a billion bucks but I didn't want to be Bond anymore, I wasn't inspired by this fictional cinematic hero any longer.

Spectre opens up in Mexico City where Bond is tracking a mysterious fellow, causes all kinds of destruction and the ultimate death of said fellow. Back at Mi6, new boss M (Ralph Fiennes) puts the kibosh on further unsanctioned missions and Bond has to go underground to do some revenging. We're introduced to a shadowy network of baddies and a brute of a hitman with metal thumb nails before meeting the lovely daughter of a former associate. Together they go on the run to uncover the roots of this shadowy, all seeing organization that is using personal data to basically watch over society and remove threats as they deem appropriate. John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth tackle Ian Fleming's creation with Sam Mendes back at the helm. Like Skyfall, the film takes it's time going nowhere in particular while providing the odd set piece involving chases with cars and planes in the city, on snow capped mountains and the high desert. There's a few hand to hand fight scenes with one on a train against hitman Hinx (Dave Bautista) being a highlight. But overall I just don't understand why Mendes and crew have something against making a fun or exciting film. The scale is huge, the stunts enormous and the settings spectacular yet it all unfolds in such a ho-hum fashion. I hope Chris Nolan got a thank you note now that Royale, Skyfall and Spectre have all cribbed from his Dark Knight Batman trilogy. *Minor Spoilers* In Spectre you get the overwatching network we already saw in The Dark Knight and later Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Avengers 2. As well as a scene where Bond has to decide on who to save before things go blowed up. Also reminiscent of Knight.*End Spoilers*

Like I said, I didn't not enjoy the film, you are invested in following Bond on the trail of who the new villain is and their connection. Now that all of the character's backstories are intertwined, I thought for a second it would go Oldboy and make young love interest Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux) his relative just to mess with him and us. But it didn't. I can't believe that Casino Royale was nearly 10 years ago and much was made about Craig's pumped up physique on display. Shirtless scenes followed in Quantum and he spends much of Skyfall sans top attire but in Spectre he stays covered up. Is that another sign that Craig has lost interest in the character and didn't train as hard for this one? You tell me. The star has always been a bit cranky when it comes to press but for Bond he really came off not giving a crap. You can't blame him though, the film took years to develop and shoot, cost an alleged $330 million bucks and he seriously injured his knee. Coming off such a gigantic project, it's safe to say he needs a break. Mendes has already commented that he's done with the franchise so hopefully they bring back Martin Campbell who breathed new life into the series with Goldeneye and Royale.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Birthday Bros: Charles Bronson & Dolph Lundgren

I've been a Charlie Bronson fan since first seeing The Magnificent Seven in college. I've been a Dolph supporter since seeing the Big Swede in Masters of the Universe as a five year old. How I never put it together that they share the same birthday is beyond me! Bronson passed away in 2003 after living a full life at the age of 81. His final credits were on television in the Family of Cops series after milking out millions from schlock masters Cannon Films in the 80's. Of course, Bronson is far from forgotten as The Magnificent Seven lives on; we just attended a convention based around it and the TV show it produced and a high profile remake is on the way. Bronson was a major topic in recently released Cannon documentary Electric Boogaloo where interview subjects mention that every script was considered for the two Chucks, Bronson and Norris, before anyone else. Later this month, The New Beverly will be playing The Dirty Dozen, where Bronson solidified his quiet, macho screen presence opposite Lee Marvin, Clint Walker, John Cassavetes and Jim Brown among many others. Theater owner Quentin Tarantino has long been a fan, going back to Reservoir Dogs when his character references Bronson in The Great Escape.

While Bronson was an iconic screen presence due to his granite face, chiseled physique and loner persona, Dolph was always a little more like 70's icon Clint Eastwood. Quiet, steel eyed, sparse and prone to gun violence. Following 2014's release of The Expendables III, Dolph Lundgren has kept extremely busy with passion project Skin Trade premiering around the world and in Hollywood along with flicks 4Got10, War Pigs and Shark Lake. He was scheduled to attend Masters of the Universe night but was sadly shooting another project. The internet went a little crazy when they found out Dolph was working on Kindergarten Cop 2, sequel to Arnold's 1991 comedy with kids classic. He'll also be popping up in Hail, Caesar! The new Hollywood backstory comedy starring George Clooney, Channing Tatum, Josh Brolin and a mess of other talented folk. If that weren't enough, he participated in the 3,000 mile Gumball 3000 rally in Europe and gave an emotional TedX Talk in Santa Monica. Lundgren was currently shooting Larceny, an action flick about a thief enlisted to break into a Mexican prison. The American Film Market is in full effect and Dolph's name is being used to raise finances on Don't Kill It, a supernatural thriller that would pit demon hunter Lundgren versus an ancient demon in remote Alaska. Happy birthday, bros, keep kicking ass.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Premiere! Live-Evil

Live-Evil is a little horror comedy flick written and produced by Ari Kirschenbaum. I came into contact with the project after meeting Vladimir Kulich at the Pound of Flesh premiere back in May. We had coffee to do an interview and since then I'm proud to call the big guy from Czechoslovakia a friend. He starred as Sheriff Pete in the indie flick which is now playing at film festivals and conventions, mainly on the east coast. After picking up awards at the North Carolina Film Festival and Scare-A-Con, I figured it was time to get Live-Evil some west coast love. Since it's set at Halloween, Comikaze Expo seemed as good as any place to hold an exclusive screening. It would also be my first convention panel after producing and hosting a half dozen other nights through my Dammaged Goods Presents banner. Kirschenbaum was joined by cast members Kulich, Charlene Amoia, Vincent M. Ward, J. Richey Nash, Carter, Ed Ricker, Frank Saverino and Adam Flores.

Set on Halloween night in a sleepy college town, we meet Deputy Hancock (Amoia) as she takes out a wounded piece of almost roadkill. Things get weird when she investigates a mysterious call from a house in town where she finds dead bodies and a seemingly possessed naked woman. Back at the station isn't any quieter as a random traffic stop has netted Sheriff Pete (Kulich) custody of two of America's most wanted, Mr. Eleven (Ricker) and Twelve (Carter) with a trunk full of money and guns. The naked chick is brought in and brings evil with her, infecting near everyone with their worst fears. Visions of dead fathers, serial killers and more invade the usually calm crew and they set out to figure out what is going on. The two fugitives were retrieving some artifacts for a buyer that has unleashed the supernatural forces on "f*cking Halloween". From there we get zombies, machine guns, bazookas, exorcism chants, shotguns, licking whiskey off a table, shooting locals and much more. Kirschenbaum's script is funny while he gives it a stamp of his own as the film unfolds partially in black and white with visual flourishes of blood, eyes and floating evil stuff. There's plenty of laughs throughout as Deputy Eric (Nash) gets to play scared/dumb, the fugitives bicker and instigate and the college Dean tries to make sense of the situation. The cast all gel quite well and bounce off one another with Kulich getting to play angry, crazy and distraught while Amoia is the calming force among all of the chaos. Tony Todd shows up late in the game as a smoking and drinking preacher while the synth tinged score keeps things going in a John Carpenter way.

After the film I brought up our huge panel to talk the film:

- Kirschenbaum wanted to make a throw back film to the 80's like Return of the Living Dead, Night of the Creeps and George Romero's work.
- Nearly everyone made comment on liking the script.
- Long haired in the film, Ricker and Carter showed up with short cuts and weren't recognized by their co-stars. Had originally gone up for other roles.
- Richey had worked with Kirschenbaum on another film.
- Another actress was cast as Hancock but wasn't providing the physicality the director wanted. Amoia got the call, showed she could throw punches, was on a plane by the weekend and shooting Monday.
- Amoia loved being the central female characters in a cast of tall guys as it was never dull.
- Film was shot in Raleigh, North Carolina over several cold weeks, mostly at night.
- Kulich and Richey spent a lot of time tasting the local bourbon and barbecue.
- We're used to seeing Kulich as a bearded viking, this time he's a bearded Sheriff with a shotgun, Kulich was excited to play an American and turned him into a bit of a good ol' boy.
- Lots of guns in the movie but using each one meant the armorer had to painstakingly inspect and test each one for safety reasons which took up a lot of time.
- This was the first film for Adam Flores who had a great time and is thinking of giving acting a go.
- Cast all loved Kirschenbaum's script and would love to see him given a proper budget.

Of course more was discussed but I don't want to give away too much of the film. We handed out several prizes like signed posters and tee shirts with many a viewer sticking around to meet the panel and ask more questions. While it was Halloween night, it had been a long day and with my mission accomplished, it was time to go home. With a stop at McDonald's first... Check out the official Live-Evil website for all the latest news and I'll keep you updated on further screenings and distribution. Keep itching!

Con-Man: Comikaze 2015

After the awards gala Friday night, we had no time to rest on Saturday as it was off to downtown Los Angeles for Comikaze and the west coast premiere of Live-Evil! I would have taken an Uber but we had a bunch of promo stuff to carry and ended up parking in some random, semi-sketchy lot a couple blocks from the convention center. While waiting for a light, we saw none other than JIM LEE strolling by with not a person stopping him. Inside, I'm sure people waited hours get his autograph or shake his hand. I've run into the dude a few times at shows and he comes off as a chill dude you're happy to support. The show was split up a little this year as another event was taking up much of the main exhibit hall. So instead of one giant floor you had one section with the Main Stage and celebs while the West Hall housed Artist Alley and most of your exhibitors hocking comics, swag and the like. I was hoping to grab some comics or old Cinefantastiques but sadly came up short. We ran into several con friends and quickly caught up with Mike from the Raw Studios booth. The Main Stage had awesome guests like Stan and Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld and Todd McFarlane. Walking around the "celeb" side Manu Bennett was not at his booth but Summer Glau had a nice line waiting.

Being Halloween there were tons of people in costume with a few Jack Frosts and John Snows, a handful of Daredevils and a surprising amount of Mad Max: Fury Road group players. It was a while before we saw our first Deadpool but once you see one, there's two more behind them. There was a nice mix of exhibitors selling comics, toys, Funko's and whatnot and I picked up the show exclusive U.S. Agent figure. One thing I noticed was how many frigging monthly subscription box things are out there now. You know like Loot Crate and Marvel Monthly Membership something something... With our panel looming I didn't get to walk the floor as much as I had liked but Comikaze always puts on a good show and happy to see Los Angeles' local show not slowing down.

Gotta Party! American Cinematheque Award

Who would have thought starting a blog and hosting a Van Damme double feature would someday lead to getting invited to a black tie awards gala? Not this guy, that's for sure. But invited we were and attend we did The American Cinematheque Award gala celebrating Reese Witherspoon and Sid Grauman Award winner Jeffrey Katzenberg. Described as a mid-career award, the Cinematheque honor basically tells recipients, we like you so keep it up. Held at the same swanky Century City Hyatt where work had a conference a few years ago, we chilled in the lobby with a whiskey ginger watching many a black tuxedo clad man and formal evening gown lady arrive. Downstairs we partook in the open bar and caught up with friends while catching the likes of Jennifer Garner and Kate Hudson milling about. I spotted Nu Image/Millennium head and The Expendables producer Avi Lerner grabbing a drink and went to make a quick introduction. I had seen the guy on the streets of San Diego in 2012 after the Expendables II panel and he told me part IV is happening!

Inside it was a lovely three course meal of salad, fish and dessert and each seat came with a gift bag filled with snacks, quinoa vodka and movies from Witherspoon's filmography. In the center of the ballroom I spotted Matthew McConaughey and Jennifer Aniston among others visiting Reese's table. McConaughey is a pretty intense dude with laser focus in his eyes. As the evening progressed we heard from many a Hollywood big wig as they celebrated films on the big screen through non-profit The American Cinematheque and how they're still just dreamers doing what they love. Throughout the evening speakers like Laura Dern, Jennifer's Anison and Garner, Kate Hudson, Sofia Vergara and Alexander Payne shared Witherspoon's journey to stardom along with their experiences working with her. It was all very sweet and funny of course as Witherspoon was described as a fierce, funny, loyal and terrific human being who is there for her kids, doesn't BS and wants to do the best job possible. While I don't own a tuxedo or black suit, it was fun to throw on the ol' wedding suit and the entire evening was very casual and not stuffy at all. Congratulations to Witherspoon and Katzenberg but they don't need my support. See ya at the next one!