Tuesday, January 26, 2016

(Pre)miere! The Veil

Our friends at The American Cinematheque's Egyptian Theatre are hosting a Private screening of new horror film The Veil next Monday, February 1st at 8:00 PM and you can go! Director Phil Joanou and cast members will be attending for Q&A. The spooky and violent looking thriller tells the tale of The Heaven's Veil, a cult that perished thirty years ago. Now, soul survivor Sarah Hope (Lily Rabe) returns to the scene with a documentary crew headed by Maggie Price (Jessica Alba). From there, bad memories, seances and seemingly gory deaths ensue. The King of WeirdCool himself, Thomas Jane, co-stars as cult leader Jim Jacobs. Writer Robert Ben Garant takes a detour from his previous comedic offerings of Reno 911! Night at the Museum and the upcoming Baywatch while former music video director turned filmmaker Joanou gave us the Sean Penn, Ed Harris and Gary Oldman starring crime flick State of Grace and Richard Gere and Kim Basinger led Final Analysis among others before teaming up with Jane for The Punisher: Dirty Laundry, 2012's well received fan film co-starring Ron Perlman which has over 7 million views on YouTube. Producer Jason Blum continues to offer up modest budget genre flicks with familiar faces while providing creative freedom to movie makers with a successful track record of Paranormal Activity, Insidious, The Purge, Stretch and The Visit.

Catch more exclusive screenings from The American Cinematheque by becoming a member and support films on the big screen the way they were meant to be seen.

For a chance to win tickets for this special evening, e-mail DammagedGoodsWin@gmail.com by Friday, January 29th. See you there!

Batman Prep: The Dark Knight Returns Animated

After much internet smack talk and fanboy outrage, Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice is nearly here. Hoping to rake in some of that connected universe moolah Marvel is sitting on, Justice introduces Ben Affleck as an older, semi-retired Batman who battles then teams up with Superman and Wonder Woman against alien bruiser Doomsday and Lex Luthor. While Affleck seems like a cool guy, my vote for a post Christian Bale Batman still goes to Josh Brolin. The film looks polished and serious and hopefully director Zach Snyder can tell a story as strong as the visuals. To prep, we randomly watched some Batman animated movies as DC continues to excel on the small screen. Starting off with 2012's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1, based on Frank Miller and Klaus Janson's seminal mini-series from 1986 that finds Gotham City Batman-less for a decade, being overrun by a vicious gang dubbed Mutants and sees a 55 year old Bruce Wayne coming out of retirement to mete out some bloody justice. In this alternate universe tale, a young woman named Carrie Kelley becomes the new Robin and you get Joker, Harvey Dent, Superman and Ronald Reagan in the mix.

The animated films follow the still yoked Bruce Wayne as he tries to help rehabilitate Two-Face Harvey Dent to no avail and becoming increasingly bothered by the state that Gotham is in. Commissioner Jim Gordon is on the verge of retirement and the Mutants are killing innocents left and right. Donning the cowl and cape, Wayne once again hits the streets in these action packed 70 some minute chapters. The action and fights are really well done with hand to hand combat scenes packing more punch, pain and cringe worthy moments than most live action stuff. It was reminiscent of the fantastic animated scrpas from Street Fighter: The Animated Movie but not quite as good. Robocop's Peter Weller voices Wayne and Batman with his usual gusto even if there's no differentiation between the two characters. After Batman defeats the Mutants' leader via well placed cuts above the eye and broken limbs, the gang disperses and become The Sons of Batman, using their violent tactics on criminals instead of innocents.

Batman's resumed war on crime results in the resurrection of his greatest foe, The Joker, who's been catatonic since the dark knight retired. Ending up on a talk show to try and make amends, Joker kills everyone with poison gas and slashes animated Conan O'Brien's throat with a shattered coffee mug. Brutal stuff you're just not used to seeing in a cartoon. All of this catches the attention of the president who enlists Superman to take care of the job. This leads up to a showdown between the two former friends where Bats uses a metal suit, smarts, technology and a synthetic krypotnite arrow shot by Oliver Queen to take the big boy scout down. Seemingly dying of a heart attack, Bruce Wayne's identity and exploits as Batman are revealed to the public, Wayne Manner burns down, trusted confidant and butler Alfred dies of a stroke and the family fortune disappears. But beneath the family abode, down in the caverns and Bat-Cave, a still alive Wayne has amassed an army that includes Robin, Queen and the former Mutants that he will train to fight and take back the city.

While current animation is computer driving and makes for some slick visuals, the animated films do a good job of distilling the look and feel of the comics with solid design and great action. Including making every male in good shape while all the women, like Lana Lang and Selina Kyle, into fat old hags. Maybe Miller doesn't like women? As a 90's kid you expect Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill to be present as Batman and the Joker but Peter Weller and Michael Emerson fill in just fine and bring their own pastiche to the roles. With reported budgets of $3.5 million each yet still delivering entertaining, enjoyable and violent adaptations, let's see what Snyder and company do with a couple hundred million bucks.

Workout of the Day: New Ratio Man

How's your physical and mental training in 2016 going? I've run into my fair share of would be New Years Resolution Doers at the gym lately, you can always spot newbies since the same people tend to work out at the same times so an influx of new, really intense but out of shape Don'ters is hard to miss. Last week it was a fat guy working out and grunting in a backwards cap doing curls, triceps extensions then crunches. Because crunches will work off your gut, chief. Oh wait..Then you had skinny guy lamenting about forgetting his headphones at home because they really helped him crank it up. Yeah ok buddy, crank up some shape to your noodle looking body. But hey, you want to better yourself, I'm all for it. Today it was tattoo guy with giant headphones doing curls really fast, turning his head to look in the mirror instead of just, you know, facing the mirror. I just know you won't be here in February because you had no plan or purpose to your visits and clogged it up for the rest of us. Two or ten months down the road, they'll be gone and still out of shape while I'm still doing the Damme thing simply because I like to. Working out is easy, making it a habit takes some time, just set realistic expectations like you'll work out 4 times a week, not lose 20 pounds in a month. Do some research, read some books and see what fits your body and schedule. Rome and Jean-Claude Van Damme weren't built in a day and neither will you be.

Anywho, to shake things up, I'm throwing DDP Yoga back into the mix as it's a good workout you can get done in the privacy of your own home in under 30 minutes. Plus, we all need to work on our flexibility as we age. To protect my elbows, I'm sticking to cardio or Yoga one day, weights on another. Knocking out the Diamond Dozen and workouts dubbed Energy, Fat Burner and Red Hot Core are a nice change of pace and pretty relaxing. Back in the weight room, I'm adding in an additional working set to really pump up my muscles and shock them a little bit. Size isn't my goal but I want to keep some mass. This past Sunday I hit the weights:

- Barbell back to front press/Preacher curls/EZ bar triceps extension
- Dumbbell rear delt raise/Zane incline curl/Dive triceps extensions with rope
- DB side swing/Hammer curls/1-Arm triceps extension

Each giant set was performed 4 times with reps starting at 12 and descending to 8. If you're counting, that means I knocked out 36 working sets then threw in a few extra of front delts, forearms, neck and calves just to keep things rounded. But after warming up, training, cooling off and stretching, I was still out of the joint in under an hour. Little to no rest creates the breathless state so it's taxing on your muscles and lungs.

Back at home I was discussing the Grecian ideal and how masters of muscle like Eugen Sandow, Steve Reeves, Vince Gironda, Frank Zane and Arnold Schwarzenegger referred to the body as a sculpture that should be symmetrical and aesthetically pleasing. To that end there are actual Grecian Ideal calculations based on your wrist measurement that suggest how big your chest, waist, biceps, thighs, calves and neck should be. In general, if your neck, arms and calves are the same size, you fit the ideal. In my case, each of these measured out to be 15" in a relaxed state. Now I just need to bring my waist down a few inches to really highlight the V-Taper and bring out my inner statue. Keep learning, keep laughing and keep lifting!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Masters of the Universe Lives!

Ah Masters of the Universe, the first flick I ever saw in a theater and one of my favorites of all time. I've now seen the Dolph Lundgren and Frank Langella starring film three times on the big screen, once in 1987 in small town Ohio, again at a midnight screening in 2009 in Los Angeles at the now defunct Fairfax Regent and this past September when I hosted a He-Man and She-Ra Celebration at The Egyptian Theatre where we welcomed cast and crew. Director Gary Goddard was on hand and mentioned that in the last few years, sentiment towards MOTU has gone from cheesy and negative to ahead of it's time and positive. No part thanks to the abundance of CGI heavy fantasy thrillers of late like Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit and Marvel's Thor films. Playing out as a mini-epic of LOTR and Star Wars laced action, fantasy, design and nostalgia with a production so harrowing you appreciate the end result even more. You can catch the entire film on YouTube under Paramount's Vault as well as on Netflix. Just last week, He-Man World hosted a screening at Toronto's Rainbow Cinema where He-Man maker Mattel donated 200 items for a charity toy drive. Then a fan made trailer using the template of Star Wars: The Force Awakens hit the data waves making the film look even more classy and epic. This week also heralded a Kickstarter campaign for in production documentary Power of Grayskull.

Power should pair nicely with completed and readying for release documentary Toy Masters: How He-Man & Mattel Conquered the Universe, an entertaining and informative look at the origins and impact of the boy toy giant. I was lucky enough to tour The Goddard Group's offices this week, birthplace of theme park attractions, live tours, stage productions and much more. Sitting in the corner is an original video store stand for Masters that was sent in by a fan who had an extra. I also flipped through several drafts of the script, one of which featured bookend appearances by The Princess of Power, She-Ra! Goddard's Group has regained rights to properties Skeleton Warriors along with Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future so be on the look out for new interpretations. Even though I've seen the film a million times, all of this week's cues and reminders might equal a weekend viewing with a bucket of fried chicken.

Gotta Eat! (& Drank): Odyssey & The One-Up

It was 405 time Sunday as we headed up to Granada Hills to meet a friend at Odyssey, a long established, would be swanky establishment on top of a hill overlooking the area for brunch. The offerings were varied and delicious with breakfast staples like eggs, bacon, fresh made waffles and lox along with Chinese food, a carving station with prime rib and turkey, shrimp, crab legs, turkey pot pie and much more. It was a little pricey at $40 bucks a person but the ambiance, service and food were all excellent. Dranks were only $3.50 as well as we opted for some red wine Sangria. After eating our fill it was down the 405 to Sherman Oaks for a little button mashing at The One-Up. The place is great when no one's there because there's only one multiplayer machine with 400 titles like Final Fight, Street Fighter, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and King of Fighters. The rest of the cabinets are kind of weak sauce, 10 pages of 8 bit titles like Pac-Man, Asteroids, Ghouls and Ghosts and the sort. Solid titles but not what I think of when I come to arcade. Scrolling through the massive list, that's missing Alien VS Predator, G.I. Joe and The Avengers sadly, there's still plenty of games to keep you busy.

We started with Bomberman, where you run around dropping explosives, blowing up creatures and walls, collecting power ups and decapitating yourself with fire. It took me back to the good ol' days of Super Nintendo and then Nintendo's Game Cube, their less than successful follow up to the N64. After that it was brawling time and we set out to defeat the really loud Cadillac's and Dinosaurs game by Capcom. Originally a comic book from 1986, the title was translated into video games, a cartoon, action figures and more. After pollution and natural disasters threaten mankind, humans go underground for 600 years. When they come out, extinct life forms like dinosaurs have taken over and those with basic mechanical skills hold the power. Motor head Jack Tenrec and busty scientist Hannah Dundee are featured in the 1993 arcade game along with quick footed Mustapha Cairo and bruiser Mess O'Bradovich. Like Final Fight, you punch, kick and spin move your way through sections of the city taking on thugs and here, dinosaur slavers and a few of the creatures themselves. With 8 areas to get through, game play gets a little repetitive but you get to shoot baddies with Uzi's and shotguns, blow them up with grenades, stab them with knives and run over them with a Caddy in one part. Surprisingly bloody by today's standards, you end up in the lab of Dr. Fessenden who transforms into a big dinosaur with an alien looking creature sticking out of his chest. I'll be back to defeat another brawler soon!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Catch Carl: The Big Year

Remember how I told you Carl Weathers is awesome? So it's good to see him popping up so much in recent days. In November, would be surprise award flick Creed garnered plenty of positive buzz, critical accolades and boffo box office. Not bad for the 7th movie of a franchise that started 40 years ago. The film utilized deceased Apollo to give us a new generation of screen lead with Michael B. Jordan's Adonis Johnson aka Creed. Weathers showed up at the premiere looking dapper and fit as usual, rubbing elbows and making fists with Stallone and Jordan. There's rumors that a sequel would employ Weathers in flashback scenes akin to The Godfather II. The same month, Weathers and fellow 80's icon Mickey Rourke co-starred in Nissan's The Delivery, an online short film showing off a new cargo van in a send up of action flicks and The Expendables that's garnered over a million views on YouTube alone. This past Thursday the 14th, Weathers turned 68 years young as we head into the premiere of Colony, Carlton Cuse's (Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., Nash Bridges, Lost) new show starring Josh Holloway about a future split up into factions of authorities and rebels. Weathers will guest star in multiple episodes as a cop of some type I believe. Happy birthday, Carl, keep it coming!

Sunset Cinema: Blade Runner

With the advent of digital projection, major theater chains have been showing more and more classic titles along side new releases. Whether it's a Blu-Ray or Digital Print scanned from the original, films can screen forever. Last week we checked out Blade Runner: The Final Cut as part of Cinemark's Classics Series. I own a VHS of Runner as well as a box set but have probably seen it maybe twice in my life. It's just one of those titles that people love but I never got into. The 3 hour documentary, Dangerous Days is fantastic though and maybe more compelling than the film, for me. Set in the crowded, neon lit, rain soaked future of 2019 in Los Angeles, Blade Runner sets up a world where robotic creatures, Replicants, are used for slave labor, to fight or for pleasure. When they go haywire, special police officers dubbed Blade Runners hunt them down and "retire" them. Combat model Roy Batty and several accomplices have come back to earth from outer space, looking to extend their built in four year life span. After many a death, former Runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is tasked with pulling the curtain on Batty and his crew. Things are complicated when Deck meets Rachael (Sean Young), a beautiful Replicant who doesn't know she is one.

Based on Phillip K. Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, adapted by Hampton Fancher and David Webb Peoples and directed by Ridley Scott, Blade Runner is one of the most influential movies of all time. It's easy to see why as Scott and company designed and built an entire world for the story to take place in that feels far off with flying cars and humanoid robots as well as old school with sex, violence, architecture and a noir vibe. Everything is textured and layered from Deck's crowded and stone walled apartment to run down hotels filled with rain, debris and robots to corporate building that look like electric pyramids. While the eye is constantly engaged, the mind starts to drag as the film is a bit slow, Deckard isn't great at his job and gets manhandled by every Replicant he meets and gives off a rapist vibe when he and Rachael get down. Being the final cut, you're more or less spoon fed that Deckard is a Replicant with his unicorn day dream, falling in love with Rachael after knowing her for a day, his eyes do that red robot thing in a scene and then the end where policeman Gaff (Edward James Olmos) lets the two run off together. I always thought he was supposed to be human and if Ford is going to be involved in the sequel, they need to write themselves out of a corner.

Rutger Hauer's performance as Batty is still terrific all these years later and his final "like tears in rain" speech is truly a memorable moment among all the glitz and lights of the film. Vangelis' synth score is effective after all this time and creates even more atmosphere. Of course Blade Runner was not a box office hit upon release in 1982 with Scott being taken off the film after going over budget, being brought back, no one being happy with the released version, on and on. A workprint was discovered in a vault in the 90's and screened at a Los Angeles 70mm film festival leading to a Director's Cut and finally a Final Cut supervised by Scott. While the film has great things going on, can lead to lively discussions and make you question what it is to be human, for some reason the flick just leaves me cold and not the kind you'd watch regularly. A follow up is currently in the works where hopefully the story matches the visuals. Until then, keep seeing things you people wouldn't believe.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Mad Mel: Nightcap

"You don't need to leave your drink here, I'll put you to sleep another way, son of a bitch."
- Mel Gibson to Ricky Gervais

When we got home from our day Downtown, the 73rd Golden Globes were well underway with returning host, Ricky Gervais. The smug and bearded comedian ruffled feathers in the past by basically calling the audience and Hollywood a bunch of marginally talented phonies. But organizing body the Hollywood Foreign Press Association keeps asking him to come back. While I'm not an awards guy, The GG's have always been scrutinized for their iffy nominations and general, we just want to throw a star studded party, vibe. That was evidenced by Ridley Scott's The Martian being nominated for Best Picture - Comedy and Matt Damon for Best Actor - Comedy. But hey, the film did contain a lot of smarmy Damon talking directly to camera about poop, science'ing the sh!t out of stuff and quipping "in your face, Neil Armstrong" so it's not exactly Love in the Time of Cholera either. Plus it won, so they shouldn't complain too much.

Mel Gibson made an appearance to introduce Best Picture nominee Mad Max: Fury Road but Gervais made it awkward by putting him in a class with Bill Cosby and not someone he wanted to hang with. Gibson took it in stride and even returned fire a few times, commenting that seeing Ricky was nice because it reminded him to get a colonoscopy. Gervais then returned to the stage to ask Gibson, who put his arm around the host, what "sugar tits" even meant, referring back to the star's much publicized 2006 drunk driving arrest, anti-Semitic remarks and seemingly black listing from Hollywood. Gibson's image has suffered greatly following his arrest and remarks made public by a money seeking future ex but the likes of Jodie Foster and Robert Downey, Jr. have stayed by his side. After appearing in Machete 2 and The Expendables III, Gibson has starring vehicle Blood Father as well as directing effort Hacksaw Ridge starring Andrew Garfield and Vince Vaughn coming up. A talent in front and behind the camera, Gibson built an empire on his rugged good looks and might be insane screen persona leading to $25 million paychecks and guiding force behind mega-hit The Passion of the Christ. While no one from that era is still on top (Harrison Ford looks like it though thanks to Star Wars), I hope Gibson continues to be a presence in a very forgiving yet hypocritical town. Heck, expand that to the country where the leading candidate for President condemned an entire nation yet still shows up on Saturday Night Live and every news program around the world. Mel might be mad but he does Damme good work and is much more interesting to watch than Gervais. Plus, name me another term or quote from 2006. That's right, you can't! See ya, sugar tits!

Gotta Eat! Road to Seoul & Mateo's

It had been a light day of eating so I was looking forward to dinner, Korean Barbecue at one of the best of it's kind, Road to Seoul on Western. The place was surprisingly crowded for 3:30 on a Sunday afternoon but once our party arrived (most of your party has to be there to be seated) we were led a table already set up with the necessary accouterments like salad, rice paper, hot sauce, bean sprouts and kim chee. Soju was ordered with a side of lemon but for the second time in a row at KBBQ, broken glass reared it's head. I didn't break a glass this time (I had just met JCVD that day, I was amped, the glasses were sticking together, sue me) but two of the shot glasses we received were cracked from rim to bottom. They say you're supposed to cook non-marinated meat first so the grill doesn't get too mucked up but we went for sauce dripping bulgogi, pork belly and brisket leading to baby octopus, beef tongue, sirloin, spicy chicken and much more. At one point the fat from a strip of pork belly (oversized bacon) hit the flames and flared up, my hand over the grill and all. Everyone pulled back, including the table next to us. I somehow managed to finish flipping the meat without suffering any burns or singed arm hair. The slow 90's jams kept coming and this is the same place that blared four versions of Sy's Gangham Style during a previous dinner.

Around the corner on Pico is a great spot for ice cream, Mateo's. This ain't Baskin Robbins as you have Mexican fruits and smoked milk on the menu along with a plethora of bars. We opted for a scoop of chocolate and one of leche. It was very flavorful without being too rich and sweet like say a Coldstone Creamery. Seemingly always busy, we loitered out front in the cold, eating our ice cream. After a fun convention, Star Wars in 4DX, KBBQ and ice cream, the day was one of those you just can't complain about.

Snow Screen: Star Wars in 4DX

Our day of Downtown adventure continued as we trekked over to the Convention and Staples Center area to check out Star Wars: The Force Awakens in 4DX. One of the only 4DX theaters in the state, the format boasts 3D along with 8 additional sensations like your seat moving, smoke, wind, water, smell and more. Of course I've seen SW twice already so any major qualms, critiques, expectations and whatnot are gone. The film is what the film is. It's big, beautifully made, exciting, funny and accomplished its mission of reintroducing the franchise, launching lots of sequels and of course, making billions through tickets and merchandise. This viewing I paid special attention to a few things, minor SPOILERS AHEAD:

- Poe Dameron is the big brother we and the universe never had. Don't make it weird.

- Much has been made about Kylo Ren being a badass or a bitch. Supporters point to the fact that he took a blast from Chewie's crossbow to the leg then still fought off Rey and Finn. While Chewie's blaster does knock people back several feet throughout the film, in the actual scene, Ren gets it then Chewbacca blasts 4-5 other Stormtroopers who simply fall down normally. As I thought before, this is just a visual cue and nothing to do with story or strength.

- Ren cannot and should not be saved. Anakin killed a bunch of little kids, Ren killed his dad. Don't let him come back. It would be a repeat of Vader and I think it would be interesting if Ren became a super villain who wipes out his competition, makes the Empire a formidable terror without always being foiled and starts killing everyone Luke cares about to force him out of hiding. Han is already gone, you could give Leia a great arc in the first half of Episode VIII and take her out, then kill off Chewie, because we know people care more about animals dying than humans, leading up to Luke being forced to deal with Ren. He could pull in some dark hadou, Street Fighter style then turn evil himself a bit in order to take out Ren. That could set up a showdown between Luke and Rey, who I think is his daughter and the cycle repeats, more sequels, etc.

- The 4DX was fun, right away a flash of light accompanied the Star Wars logo and brought you in immediately. Shifting around in your chair with fake wind in your face gave you the light sensation of flying while the air puffs around your head during blaster battles along with the chair bumping you in the back to highlight punches and stabs is a nice touch. We only got hit with water once and didn't have a lot of smoke going on. Or the bubbles from the ceiling, but there wasn't really a good opportunity for that sensation. In my mind the 4DX experience could be pushed even further if you blasted the audience with a puff of cold or hot air when onscreen action takes you to the desert or arctic. Then during the lightsaber battle, how cool would it be if blue or red light flashed every time the blades met? Might be a little intense or seizure inducing but you'd sure feel part of the show. Lastly I think the seats could move more and tilt forward like Star Tours but then again, little kids might slide out and you'd need a lap belt. All in, much better than the rumbling, glorified massage chairs of D-Box.

Con-Man: LA Comic Book & Science Fiction

As you know, we hit an astounding 22 comic book and popular culture themed shows last year. After a short reprieve, we're right back on the trail as the semi regular Los Angeles Comic Book & Science Fiction Convention kicked things off downtown. Held at The Reef, access is pretty easy, there's paid lots of street spots, food trucks and it's only $12.00 to get in. There were posters and swag for the likes of upcoming The 5th Wave as well as released flicks Hunger Games and The Night Before. The show isn't huge but enough to keep you busy for a couple of hours. Transformers artist and Sunbow Celebration friend Livio Ramondelli was a featured guest and it's always great to see him on the circuit. The LA show always has actors and artists signing and this week it was Lando Calrissian himself, Billy Dee Williams along with much of the cast from Aliens including Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen, Mark Rolston, Jeanette Goldstein, Carrie Henn and Ricco Ross. It would be cool if the show hosted a panel or Q&A with the guests instead of just having them out charging but it's their show.

Towards the end of last year I felt like all the cons were blending together, selling the same stuff and hocking the usual swag. But this time I quite enjoyed seeing what was on offer as new items and fads have arrived. Right away there was a guy selling DVD's for $2 so I grabbed Season 4 of Two and a Half Men along with the Mel Gibson-Richard Donner paranoid thriller Conspiracy Theory and the special edition of Witness. Once upon a time postcards were all the rage leading to buttons and now you've got booths full of branded metal lunchboxes. The Predator themed mini-mates hit the shelves so of course I picked up Dutch, Dillion and the creatures. I'll grab sweaty shirted Harrigan next month. A few years ago I grabbed some awesome laserdiscs from a guy at WonderCon as the oversized covers are like a vinyl piece of art. A gent had a crate full of Stallone titles but at $5 each my walls were fine without them. The dollar and fifty cent comic bins were calling my name but we didn't have time to flip through too much stock. I ended up with a short stack of the Jim Lee and Frank Miller All-Star Batman, isn't that the one where Bats says "are you retarded? are you dense? I'm the god damned Batman!"? I shall find out. A new line of Funko surprise Science-Fiction icons were around the floor and using the ol' box weight trick I figured I'd pulled either the Queen Alien or Godzilla. It was the fire breathing green machine.

The guests weren't scheduled to start signing until noon but 20 minutes before hand, lines were already formed and moving as Biehn, Rolston and Henriksen were rocking and rolling. I was hoping Mrs. Biehn, Jennifer Blanc, would be attending so I could ask about when their next films were coming out but looks like she didn't make it. The Biehn was rocking a knit cap to fight the winter chill which probably made for some interesting selfies. We had to get moving to LA Live to catch Star Wars in 4DX but walking out I was very happy with my haul and am looking forward to their next show in February along with Long Beach and then WonderCon in March. See ya at the show!

Friday, January 8, 2016

Dear John: The Shootist

To ring in New Year's Day I felt like watching something epic and/or classic. My copy of The Searchers is on loan so I ended up with another seminal if less classically remembered John Wayne western, his final film The Shootist from 1976. Based on Glendon Swarthout's novel with a script from Miles Hood Swarthout and Scott Hale, the Don Siegel directed tale of a dying gunfighter intrigued and entertained me so much that I watched it 3 times in the 48 hour Amazon Prime rental period. The Shootist opens up with a montage of John Wayne clips from earlier films, setting up his J.B. Books as a law and gun man who won't be wronged, won't be insulted and won't be laid a hand on. Into his twilight years and diagnosed with cancer, Books just wants to live out his final days with dignity in peace. Ending up in the picturesque Carson City, fabulously brought to life by the real city in Nevada and the Warner Brothers lot, we meet a plethora of Wayne's friends, film favorites and familiar faces. You had semi-retired James Stewart as the local doctor Books trusts, Lauren Bacall as a widowed boarding house owner, young Ron Howard as her son and would be rabble rouser, Scatman Crothers as the world's greatest haggler and livery owner then genre faces Richard Boone, Hugh O'Brian, Bill McKinney and Harry Morgan as local threats and lawmen.

The script crackles with memorable moments (want my wallet? BLAM!), terrific dialog ("The day they lay you away, what I'll do on your grave won't pass for flowers"), a sense of humor and scattered bits of violence that pack an impact. While a bit weathered, gray and stiff at 68, Wayne is solid as Books, drawing on his heroic baggage to give us a character that's still able and willing as well as reflective and philosophical as he doesn't have time to take the long way or make nice. Director Siegel keeps things moving and the film holds up quite well as it's entertaining, reflective, funny and near mythical. The production was difficult from the start as Wayne was not the first choice for Books but Italian financier and producer Dino De Laurentiis is said to have been set on the star. Writer Swarthout recalled the shoot being difficult with Wayne falling ill during filming and the crew unsure if he would return. Wayne had already lost his left lung and several ribs to cancer prevention surgery years before and faced stomach cancer shortly before shooting commenced. Release information online is muddled with a June or July release where the film grossed either $6, $8 or $13 million depending on who you believed.

After a prolific, iconic and profitable career that spanned five decades, John Wayne died in 1979 with an Oscar, nearly 200 acting credits and worldwide fame to his name. Don Siegel had already established himself as a force in film after successful collaborations with Clint Eastwood and mega hit Dirty Harry, which would mark a milestone in his career. Subsequent team ups with Charles Bronson, Burt Reynolds and Better Midler would not be quite as influential and Siegel retired before passing away in 1991. Eastwood would credit Siegel along with Sergio Leone as the two biggest influences in his own prolific directing career. The Shootist ended up on several Top 10 lists for the year and garnered award nominations from The Academy, Golden Globes and BAFTA.

Van Dammage: New Year

It feels a bit surreal that I met my unofficial official life coach Jean-Claude Van Damme a couple of weeks ago. On New Years Eve a friend texted to tell me that I was on his Instagram, the popular app where people share photos and stories owned by massive social network Facebook. I'm not active on the platform at all but there I was, chilling in black and white with the Muscles From Brussels himself. It was a nice surprise that softened the blow of dropping several several dollars on my car for repairs. Sitting back with a Jameson Mule I pulled out the Sheldon Lettich signed Double Impact promotional flyer to put alongside my personalized photo of JCVD for a nice social media moment to ring in 2016. While a television show with Ridley Scott is in the works and the proposed Antwerp heist flick seemingly on hold, Mr. Van Damme was last seen riding a hoverboard and cleaning up the house.

Happy New Year, let's keep keeping it #MEGAPOSITIVE.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Snow Screen: The Hateful Eight, The Big Short & The Revenant

What's some holiday weekends without some movies?! After the nearly botched press screening of Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight I attended, it was time for round two at The Arclight in Hollywood in the Cinerama Dome...oh wait, Disney put the kibosh on that as their reported terms were 4 weeks in the biggest house for any theater that wished to exhibit juggernaut Star Wars: The Force Awakens. While that really sucks because 8 was made for the Dome to be projected in 70mm, let's be honest, The Arclight and any other theater is going to make a lot more money from Star Wars and the following 20 sequels and spin offs than they would from Hateful. And Disney is all about making their billions. But we still got 70mm and some killer programs with centerfolds. I was hoping for Kurt Russell and his magnificent mustache but we all ended up with Tim Roth. Like a western take on John Carpenter's arctic set The Thing, Hateful follows a group of colorful and less than savory criminal, sheriff, bounty hunter, former soldier and cowboy types. A terrific cast includes Russell, Samuel L. Jackson, a scene stealing Walton Goggins, Roth, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Michael Madsen and quick appearances by Channing Tatum and Zoe Bell. If you like Tarantino, i.e. revenge, lots of cursing, derogatory terms for black people and women, violence, blood and humor, you'll like The Hateful Eight.

Next up it was The Big Short for pre-New Years Eve at the Cinemark in Playa Vista for a star studded telling of the housing meltdown and financial crisis of 2008. Filled with facts, weird hairdos, celebrity cameos and Wall Street lingo, Short is enjoyable and educational while also frustrating and sad as greedy bankers made it happen, weren't punished, got bailed out by your tax dollars and are back to business as usual. I wish Anonymous would target those guys and open things up a bit...Christian Bale dons his American accent as the genius loaner who saw the crash coming then we get Ryan Gosling and Steve Carrell as hedge fund managers who buck the trend and bet against the current to reap billions. Producer Brad Pitt shows up in a small role as a mentor to some young guns while continuing his transformation into Robert Reford. Usually funny guy Adam McKay blends the yuks with facts to break it down for us non-Wall Street types and does well for his first non-Will Ferrell starring directorial effort. Gosling gets a near Pain and Gain moment of greatness when he shouts "I'm jacked to the tits!". For action fans, American Dragons, Street Fighter and Arrow's Byron Mann shows up as a cocky gazillionaire who tells Carrell how it is.

On Saturday it was Alejandro Gonzaelez Inarritu's mountain man revenge tale The Revenant over at The Landmark in a weird theater with couches instead of stadium seating. It seemed like a nice change of pace and a relaxed atmosphere for the nearly 3 hour movie and trailers but by the mid point my neck was sore, I couldn't lay down and no arm rest in the middle meant passing our gallon sized Coke Zero back and forth. An incredibly beautiful as well as brutal film, The Revenant is to be commended for what the cast and crew went through to produce the film. Shooting took nearly a year in snow, ice and freezing rivers and I wondered if anyone got sick or injured. While vistas of nature and scenes of escape and violence were shiver inducing and blood curdling, the actual story of the film played out like a big mash up of Jeremiah Johnson, Gladiator, Dances With Wolves, Man VS Wild, The Punisher and Rambo that made me want to eat the meat of wolves, fish, horse, buffalo, elk, etc. While Leonardo DiCaprio no doubt went through living hell to make the film, I don't think that warrants "acting" merits or awards since you have no speeches or brooding to show off the verbal or physical transformation. Just lots of struggling and pain.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Weir Watch: Master and Commander The Far Side of the World

Happy 2016, my internet friend! The future is officially now! With Back to the Future Day behind us, we can still look forward to The Running Man's violent game show future in 2019 though. As for me, I kept it low key, seeing movies and friends, drinking eggnog, cider, ginger beer, Jameson, Fireball and the like. Consuming bagels, Chinese food, McDonald's and pizza. My Christmas weekend turned into a bit of a Peter Weir-a-thon as I watched Dead Poets Society while assembling a shelf then couched out with Witness and finished things off with an early morning viewing of Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. I remember seeing the nautical slice of life adventure in theaters back in the fall of 2003 but forgot how Damme good it is. Of course Weir is a master of dramatic character stories that never bore and always coaxes standout performances from his leads that include Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, Robin Williams, Jim Carrey and Commander's Russell Crowe. Set in the Napoleonic Wars, Master and Commander follows Captain Jack Aubrey, a strong and smart British sailor who navigates the HMS Surprise and is tasked with pursuing the lighter, faster but more fortified French vessel the Acheron. He's accompanied and consoled by surgeon Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany) as they tackle surprise attacks, weak shipmates, bad jokes, unexplored islands and violin/chello duets.

Based on the 20 novel series by Patrick O'Brian and adapted by Weir with John Collee, Master and Commander is big budget Hollywood filmmaking at it's best. The characters have depth and played by strong actors, the action is visceral, exciting and harrowing while the story keeps things moving, interesting and educational as we view day to day life on board the Surprise. Production values are immense from the ornate and dingy costumes to the reach out and touch it authenticity of the ship. Shot partially in open water, the film looks and feels very real with nary a fake looking CGI wave in sight. Crowe gets to play a brawny leader made of equal parts brains and ego with a blonde ponytail and is absolutely terrific in the role.  

Commander was supposed to be the start of a franchise for Twentieth Century Fox who poured in $150 million to produce the film plus marketing costs. Master and Commander would gross a decent if unspectacular $94 million in the US behind films like Daredevil, The Last Samurai, Seabiscuit, X-Men 2, Finding Nemo and The Lord of the Rings III on it's way to a $210 million gross worldwide. Video revenue for the U.S. alone is listed at $135 million. Reviews were strong and included 10 Academy Award nominations including Best Picture and Director. While a packed special edition DVD was released in 2004, the film seems to be a bit of a forgotten title and a sequel was never produced. Peter Weir figured the OK but not great financial performance was the culprit while in 2010, Crowe urged fans to e-mail Fox head Tom Rothman to get things going. Sadly, that Tweet only garnered 271 Retweets...

On the plus side, you can visit the screen used replica of the HMS Surprise at the Maritime Museum in San Diego. I just lined up a training session with local legend Frank Zane and will be sure to check out the recreated 24 gun British Frigate during Comic-Con!