Monday, February 29, 2016

GRIP & RIP WEEKEND: The Castaway Cowboy

On Saturday afternoon we moseyed over to Quentin Tarantino's New Beverly Cinema in West Hollywood for a kiddie matinee of James Garner starring Disney flick, The Castaway Cowboy from 1974. I've never seen the film or even heard of it so what better way to enjoy some Garner than on the big screen? The New Bev's kid friendly day shows are great because they're $6 and include popcorn. I kind of wondered how many youngins would really be here and figured you'd get more western enthusiasts and James Garner completists attending. I was right. Not a single child in the audience, fools! With our popcorn, ice cream sammich and Reese's Pieces in hand, we sat down for the pre-show of Disney cartoons and vintage trailers. The print for The Castaway Cowboy has seen better days but it's a fun flick that finds Garner's shanghaied Lincoln Costain washed up on the shores of an island in Hawaii. Found by young Booton MacAvoy (Eric Shea), who lives on a 10,000 acre potato farm with his widowed mom Henrietta (Vera Miles), the MacAvoy's are having trouble staying afloat as land owner and suitor Calvin Bryson (Robert Culp) waits to snatch up the land and the lady.

As Costain mends, he meets the lovable but simple minded farm staff who deal with wild cattle trampling and grazing the plot. Ol' Costain figures you'd get $20 a head stateside but no one has figured out how to get the animals off the island. Cue montage and Garner looking oh so brawny and manly in his hat and button up shirts riding a horse and swinging a lasso. The film incorporates Garner's macho yet easygoing charm as he constantly calls Booton the wrong name, compares marriage to smallpox, warns young Booton no one is going to pin a rose on his shirt for doing his job and in addition to being a cowboy from Texas is a crack poker player that brings back memories of his hit western show Maverick. The flick is a strange mish mash of fish out of water, cowboy action and island living but somehow works as a funny and enjoyable 91 minutes. There's a crazy segue into black magic complete with a fight inside a haunted cave then a nice barroom brawl style fight that results in a dude getting punched out a window. Directed by Disney lifer Vincent McEveety with a script from Don Tait, Richard M. Bluel and Hugh Benson, Castaway Cowboy would be Garner's second family western with Disney but his last film for 6 years.

By 1974, Garner had already achieved big and small screen success with memorable turns in Maverick, The Great Escape, Grand Prix, Support Your Local Sheriff and more. Never one to accept things as they were, Garner sued studios and opened his own production shingle. In the same year, The Rockford Files debuted on television and ran for 6 seasons. By the 80's, Garner returned to films and racked up his sole Academy Award nomination for 1986's Murphy's Romance opposite Sally Field. Before his death in 2014, Garner continued to work regularly in film and television, returning to The Rockford Files as TV movies and recurring on sitcoms along with playing the elder Maverick in the Mel Gibson/Richard Donner hit, teaming with pal Clint Eastwood for Space Cowboys and epic love flick The Notebook. Sitting in the dark theater I couldn't help but chuckle at Garner's old school cool and "telling it like it is" charm.


You can't Grip & Rip without forearm strength so of course I hit the gym on Friday and Saturday morning between movies, meals and multiple episodes of Fuller House. I've been feeling a little dumpy this week, think it's time to clean up my eating habits again and stay consistent as physical training will only take you so far. Friday at 5:00 AM was Chest and Biceps:

Incline Push Ups/Preacher Curls
Decline Flys/Spider Curls
Incline Dumbbell Press/Reverse Curl
DB Pullover/Zottman Curl

Each superset was repeated 3 times and I lightened my weights to go for higher reps, shooting for 15/12/10 before tackling forearms, neck and a mile on the Rowing Machine.

Saturday at 7:00 AM it was cardio centric:
5 3 minute rounds of Bas Rutten Thai Boxing
5 2 minute rounds of hitting the bag followed by 300 rope skips, 200 meters of rowing and 100 feet of Versa Climbing or Jacob's Ladder
Abs and trunk twists

GRIP & RIP WEEKEND: Room and Spotlight

Some weekends are for chilling, others are for GRIPPING IT AND RIPPING IT! Know what I mean? And by gripping it and ripping it, running and gunning, doing the Damme thing, on and on, I mean seeing 3 movies in 24 hours, working out, happy hours, checking out the new Fuller House on Netflix, going to a convention and watching a few minutes of the Oscars! The lady is into the awards stuff, so we upped our Best Picture viewings starting with Room over at the Cinemark Howard Hughes. Happy Hour at Dave & Busters came first where the kind of crappy service is ok because it's so cheap during HH. Followed by some racing and shooting games like Daytona and Aliens.

I knew nothing about Room going in besides Brie Larson from Scott Pilgrim VS The World was in it and it was about a mom and her kid, in you know, a room. Based on her novel, Emma Donoghue scripts and Frank's Lenny Abrahamson directs a sad but not depressing look at protecting your family and being reintroduced to the whole wide world when you've only known a small piece of it. Larson is fine as the mother but it's young Jacob Tremblay as her 5 year old son Jack who steals the show just by acting like a precious and precocious kid. I hadn't even watched the trailer for Room before we saw it so I had no clue what the outside world was going to be. Was it post-apocalyptic? Were they in another time? No, it totally wasn't but that was fine. I did find small issue with the fact that the "held against their will" film was shot in Canada yet set in Ohio. Why's it gotta be like that? Oh yeah, we used some Raincheck passes from the Expendables Marathon debacle to see the flick for free.

On Saturday it over to Culver City for drinks and grub at City Tavern, a chill, stylish joint with wood decor for cider, mac n' cheese, a burger and fries. Downtown Culver City has a nice feel, lots of impressive architecture, clean storefronts and you can feel the history. After City Tavern we stopped in for a quick drink at The Culver Hotel, who also does Saturday Happy Hour. James Dean starring East of Eden was being projected on the wall which I thought was Burt Lancaster classic Elmer Gantry at first. Damme. Then it was across the courtyard to The somewhat new Arclight Cinema for Spotlight. The true story of how Boston Globe reporters uncovered the city and worldwide scandal and cover up of Catholic priests abusing children. This is a total Oscars flick, true story, fighting the system, sad sexual overtones, etc. But it's solidly put together by director Tom McCarthy and co-writer Josh Singer along with a heavy hitting cast that includes Michael Keaton and standout (a lot coming from me) Mark Ruffalo who looks like Antonio Banderas here with his 2000's Julius Caesar haircut.

A few minutes in, I leaned over and asked the lady if the picture seemed dark and flickering to her, she agreed so I went to find a staff member. He told me straight up that Theater 8 is dark for some reason, something to do with the projector. But the flickering was new, he came in and watched a few minutes and agreed, making a call to someone but the issues remained. After the film I approached some crew to ask what the problem was, they apologized and we got some free tix. It's funny because I used some comp tickets to see it in the first place, mwa ha! Watching a bunch of people jot down notes and talk on phones in offices isn't exactly a visual feast so it was annoying but not worth any additional rage and retribution.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Disney Daze: The Happiest Hotel on Earth Tour

We've done just about all of the guided tours Disneyland and California Adventure offer while The Happiest Hotel on Earth Tour was complimentary for guests of the resort. There was a small group of us, most from the local Los Angeles area with one from New Orleans. Apparently their spouses were all at the medical convention going on so the tour was a nice activity for them. Starting in the lobby of the Disneyland Hotel, you're basically taken around the three towers. Next to Goofy's Kitchen and Steakhouse 55 you watch a video that gives you some interesting history on the hotel as it started off as 100 rooms and was partially funded by ABC who required a weekly program in return. The resort kept growing and growing with a golf course and a marina once part of the magic. One tower became three and 100 rooms has grown into just under 1,000.

Like the park, you notice that each themed tower or land changes in design and decoration. You have tropical plants and bamboo outside the Adventure Tower and the lobby has maquettes from The Jungle Cruise. Over by Frontier Tower you get pine trees and a waterfall with an awesome model of Big Thunder Ranch in the lobby. Our guide Ron joked that it wasn't true to life because not a single figure on the map had a churro in hand. Good one, Ron-Dawg. We got a glimpse of the dark and classy Steakhouse 55 along with a little bit of history as Walt Disney had a huge affinity for classic Hollywood of the 1920's and 30's. His wife was a big fan of tea time so 55 now offers one over the weekend. We were taken into Trader Sam's to check out their "storm" show where lights are dimmed and displays on the wall look like they're getting attacked by nature. Lots of historic tidbits adorns the walls and you hear more about the design of the park including The Lost Weekend where Disney an and artist holed up for 3 days creating a map of the proposed park to present to possible investors. All in it was a nice little bonus for staying in the hotel and I still can't imagine there used to be a functioning marina in the middle.

Con-Man: Long Beach Comic Expo

As the masses poured into the Disneyland resort on Saturday morning, we were heading out. My longtime accountant is a few miles away in Anaheim and it was time to get busy. Luckily I'm getting a few bucks back this year. After that it was off to Long Beach for their first show of 2016, the Comic Expo. We were on the clock as we'd signed up for a Disneyland Hotel tour later that day. With the last LBCC being such a shit show and so many other cons on the calendar, we wouldn't exactly be missing out if we couldn't spend the day there. Opting for a metered space versus $10 parking, the Expo is on the back side of the convention center, not the front. Check in was really easy compared to last time as the organizers upped registration booths after their previous debacle. The show seemed bigger than in the past with vendors and exhibits filling the entire space. You had Cosplay Corner, a corral of Power Rangers, celebrity signing area, space exploration exhibit, lazer tag and inflatable screens for video games. With Deadpool destroying the box office, we saw several peeps in cosplay and co-creator Fabian Nicieza had a sizable line. There were a few Mario's and multiple Rey's and Kylo Ren's from Star Wars along with a surprising abundance of women in Storm Trooper attire but no helmets. The floor was a nice mix of vendors selling comics, toys, video games, Funko's and the like with your usual quarter boxes along with organized and higher priced selections. I wish I had more time to skim boxes but let's be honest, I'll have my chance in the future. This Sunday in downtown, LA, actually.

My only buy of the day came in the form of old movie magazines where I grabbed an awesome stack of Starlog, Cinefantastique and Prevue from the 80's and 90's. It's grabs like these that make going to lots of shows worth it as you've gotta slog through the mud to get to the gold, know what I mean? Walking the floor I saw familiar faces like voice actor Michael Bell and RAW Studios' Mike Hess who was set up with actor Lance Henriksen and artist Tim Bradstreet in the booth. One vendor recognized us from another show but I totally thought he meant one of my events at The Egyptian. Alan Tudyk was the big celebrity guest of the day and was doing a panel on his new online show, Con-Man. Note that my blog predates their program! Anywho we didn't have time for panels or a mule across the street as we motored out after about 90 minutes. It was a solid show and I'm glad they got their shit together.

Workout of the Day: Disney (Dolph) Daze

On Saturday morning I woke up at 6:00 AM after a full night's sleep and hit the hotel's gym. It's a solid facility, better than the Grand Californians I'd say. Pretty standard hotel gym with dumbbells, a cable machine, yoga mats and balls along with plenty of cardiovascular machines. Apparently everybody else in the resort was on vacation mode as I had the place to myself. There's permanent music you can listen to or put something on the TV's. I opted for tunes and a Shoulders and Arms session:

Arnold Press/Face Pull/Incline Close Grip Push Up
Rear Delt Raise/Incline Zane Curls/Rope Pushdown
Side Raise/Concentration Curl/1-Arm Extension

9 exercises done as one giant circuit repeated 3 times. I threw in 4 sets of standing calf raises along with some front delt work and forearms before hitting the Elliptical for a mile and another on the stationary bike.

Later in the weekend I would come across a new Dolph Lundgren video where he shows you his superset based workout routine along with juice and protein centric diet. Dude is still doing the Damme thing in his 50's so you have no excuse not to get up. The big Swede talks dealing with an abusive father, therapy, Arnold waking him up at night and much more.

Disney Daze: The Hotel

It's Annual Passholder days down at Disneyland and with Long Beach Con a short drive away along with my accountant for taxes, it was time for a weekend on the road. We arrived at the Disneyland Hotel Friday night and checked into the spacious joint that has three towers of rooms along with a convention center onsite. The room was nice with Mickey stuff everywhere, on the carpet, in the bathroom and a pretty cool headboard across the wall that lit up. We had a nice view of the park's nightly fireworks from our window and set out to explore the grounds. 101 Dalmatians was playing in a field near the gym then we walked right into Trader Sam's and snagged a table. Like Kurt Russell, I'm charmed. We'd tried coming to the Tiki bar before but it was slammed. For 7:00 PM on a Friday night it wasn't too bad but got more and more packed as the night went on. We grabbed some whiskey based cocktails and opted for the souvenir mugs that look like barrels. Every time someone orders the namesake drank, a bell is rung, lights are dimmed and it's announced to the crowd. The ambiance is nice with island paraphernalia all over the walls even if there weren't any obvious nods to Kirk Douglas and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea where they come into contact with island cannibals.

Foodwise there's Polynesian tinged sammiches and flatbread with pulled pork along with burgers. There was a medical convention going on so lots of folks with name tags started rolling in vying for a table. We walked around a bit more and had a Disney first, seeing a cat! It's rumored that hundreds of feral felines roam the grounds to take care of rodents but I'd never seen one. This white and brown guy was just chilling on the sidewalk. Back in the room we poured our new favorite concoction, Merlot with Fireball! This is BJ's Brewhouses version of sangria and like a Jameson Mule, is basically black out juice. We watched the fireworks from our window and took in some Disney programming that fills up the first dozen channels. The park was open until midnight and we had every intention of making it there but I totally passed out.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Snow Screen: Deadpool

Since we were in Hollywood for Creed this past Thursday, it meant that a viewing of new flick Deadpool would have to wait until the weekend. Trekking back to Hwood to the Arclight, we dined and drank in the bar where they had pint glasses available to coincide with the movie. The early word on Deadpool had been positive and it would be a nice change of pace to see an R rated superhero flick with cursing, sex and violence. After Ryan Reynolds was introduced as Deadpool in the disastrous X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the road back to the big screen would take nearly 10 years and a leaked trailer to get there. As former special forces soldier turned low level criminal Wade Wilson, Reynolds brings his natural smarmy, almost douchebag charm to the big mouthed, smart ass'd role. Stricken with cancer, Wilson volunteers for a program run by the nefarious Francis aka Ajax (surprise Game of Thrones breakout Ed Skrein) where he'll be tortured and experimented on until his dormant mutation manifests. Wilson's powers turn out to be of the self healing kind and I don't think he feels much pain either.

Donning the red tights to cover up blood stains, Deadpool works his way up Ajax's cronie list on his way to a final confrontation with the guy who ruined his life. Oh all of this is for love, in a shoehorned relationship with working girl Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). X-Men Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) show up as does superpowered baddie Angel Dust (Gina Carano). The film starts off fantastically with a near Fox trademark opening of moving through trash or space in slow motion (seriously, Fight Club, X-Men and more, Fox loves their CGI breakdowns), funny credits and a shout out to co-creator Rob Liefeld. The Lie gets several acknowledgements including his name misspelled on a highway sign in the Tim Miller directed, Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick scripted film. Opening action sequence gets split up into several scenes as a clunky origin story is shoved in. But the shooting, slashing, flipping and kicking action is well done and Deadpool going up against the metal Colossus is creative, funny and cringe worthy. Budgeted at under $60 million, you kind of feel it in what seemed like a lack of action. Or that the action scenes are always interrupted so it just feels short? Deadpool and Ajax fight it out on what looks like a decrepit SHIELD helicarrier at the end which is just one of many references to Marvel and it's cinematic universe.

Deadpool takes full advantage of it's R rating with violence, sex, nudity and cursing. I've never read any of his headlining comics so no clue if it's a truthful representation to the source material. The film opened up phenomenally over President's Day weekend with an ad campaign that seemed to be everywhere and effective without wearing you down. Grossing $150 million over four days and another $100 million plus overseas, the movie that nearly didn't happen grossed $264 million worldwide in under a week. A sequel has already been greenlit and is referred to in the film itself. Time traveling, cybernetic soldier Cable is touted to appear and hopefully that leads to an X-Force film. Stephen Lang wants the role while Tom Hardy and Jon Hamm are on Liefeld's wish list. But once again, I'm voting for Michael Biehn. His age probably takes him out of the running already but having played a time traveling resistance fighter in The Terminator and armor clad space marine in Aliens makes a nice through line to Cable.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Ask Me a Question: Creed w/ Sylvester Stallone

After Monday's excellent outing for Mad Max: Fury Road, it was off to The American Cinematheque's Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood for a real treat, Rocky 7 aka Creed with a Q&A from Best Supporting Actor nominee Sylvester Stallone! A block of tickets came available and apparently a woman showed up at 11:00 AM looking to claim one when the box office opened at 6:00 PM. That's dedication! The shindig was sold out and Warner Brothers provided several displays for lobby and courtyard photos. I caught up with oh so many Dammaged Goods allies and talked the #ActionMovieBro hardships as I lined up Sheldon Lettich for Q&A at Laemmle's NoHo7 Bloodsport happening at the same time. DG even got an unsolicited shout out during the introduction since I lined up Dolph Lundgren then Carl Weathers to appear at the historic venue. Already a box office and critical hit, Creed is the story of Apollo's (Carl Weathers) child from an affair who grows up to be the angry and hungry Adonis (Michael B. Jordan). Young Doni seeks out unofficial uncle Rocky Balboa (Stallone, come on) and makes a run at creating his own legacy. The film was better the second time around, flowing much smoother and displaying director and co-writer Ryan Coogler's skills in front and behind the camera with great music, editing, tempo, inspiring training sequences and exciting fights. I was surprised at how much training and fighting were in the film as the first viewing came off as more of a drama like the original Rocky. But make no mistake, this is a boxing movie with drama.

After the film, the man himself, Mr. Sylvester Stallone, looking dapper and fit, came out for Q&A to a standing ovation:

- Thought doing a story of Rocky getting sick would be anti-climatic as audiences did not enjoy seeing the downside of success with part V.
- Pushed from all sides, dubbed a "coward" for being precious.
- Describes Michael B. Jordan as young, athletic and competitive. The two playfully sparred with Stallone delivering some cheap shots to the young leading man to remind him he still had teeth.
- Impressed with Jordan's physical transformation.
- Didn't think the one take fight scene would work and suggested a few cutaways just in case. They say it was the 11th take but Stallone felt it was 20 or something as he had nothing to do but yell.
- Approached the role with no vanity and avoided looking in a mirror during production.
- His friends were envious of the film's quality and success. Dolph Lundgren loved it. Carl Weathers did as well. Weathers' opinion was very important to Stallone as it's his character and performance that provided a film 40 years later.
- Describes Rocky I & II as one long, 4 hour movie, that's why they look and feel the same.
- Now a money making franchise, III & IV got away from the original intents to keep the story moving, as III became flashy and Rocky vain and protected, etc.
- Cher, Bette Midler and Carrie Snodgrass were in the running for Adrian before Talia Shire walked in and was instant fit, like Weathers.
- Wrote Rocky as "heroic" for the general audience, the people with potential who never got a shot.
- On Oscar night, was nervous after Burgess Meredith and Bill Conti lost and were going in behind Network and All The President's Men.
- Original Sound guy didn't care about the film, didn't run sound during a crucial scene and took his name off the picture. Irony was that film won for Best Sound and he wasn't credited. This is  interesting because I heard a story about Stallone on set lamenting, "I hate packing, unpacking and sound guys". So maybe that sheds a little light on why...
- What is most endearing to him is how much the film and character mean to people so many years later as the people who asked questions were hardcore fans.

With that, the place rushed the front and Sly coolly signed for a few minutes before being whisked off. It was a great night and inspiration to just keep punching.

Workout of the Day: Keep It Moving

What's up super stars, how we feeling? It's been a busy month already with movies, Q&A's, brunches and planning galore but I'm still finding time to keep it moving. I'm still sticking to two-a-day workouts a couple times a week as it's easy to carve out 30-40 minutes at the start and end of a day. I've been taking it easy in the mornings with morning cardio, biking 5-6 miles on the ol' recumbent or walking on an incline or intervals on an Elliptical. Think I'll throw in some jump roping and shadow boxing this week to up the intensity. I was also seeing Creed on the big screen with Sylvester Stallone attending so I had to do my part in practicing the ways of pumpology. Feeling lazy after a long day, I mustered the energy to do a quick but pumping leg workout at the complex gym:

Deadlift/Feet Close Squat/Hip Thrusters/Goblet Squats/Step Ups/Calf Raises x 4

Inspired by some Frank Zane, Vince Gironda and Larry Scott reading it was off to the gym at 5:30 AM for Chest and Biceps the next morning:

1) Incline Push Up/Barbell Drag Curl
2) DB Pullover/Barbell Spider Curl
3) Zottman Curl/Decline DB Fly
4) Reverse Curl/Incline DB Press

Each superset repeated three times, followed up by some neck and forearm exercises I was out in 35 minutes as I moved from one exercise to another with as little rest as possible. Usually a few breaths or 10 between supersets. Since I didn't have time for cardio after weights, that night I alternated pedaling a mile with an ab and twist superset while watching Colbert six times. Might not be burning a ton of calories but it's an easy way to break a sweat while keeping your stress and tension levels low.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Ask Me a Question: Mad Max Fury Road w/ George Miller

Another Monday, another night with The American Cinematheque! This time it was to the much closer Aero Theatre in Santa Monica for Mad Max: Fury Road as part of their Oscar series. Director George Miller was on hand for Q&A for the sold out screening. We stopped off at Santa Monica staple The Daily Grill, a solid spot for happy hour with drinks and three kinds of pot pie but spotty service this time. Outside the theater was a Mad Max-ified Bug complete with fake gatling gun and scores of folks in cosplay from The Road Warrior and Fury Road. Caught up with #ActionMovieBro David J. Moore whose latest opus, The Good, the Tough & the Deadly: Action Movies & Stars, will be hitting shelves in a couple months and features a few reviews and an interview by yours truly. This would be my fourth time seeing Fury Road on the big screen and the extended car/truck/motorcycle chase still delivers. Refreshing with its use of practical f/x and physics layered on top of one another to create a gonzo and kinetic 2 hours while still finding time to add in some character bits.

After the film, Miller, in cargo pants and a tuxedo top, partook in a brief Q&A:

- Hadn't seen The Road Warrior with a crowd in 30 years before a SXSW screening and had a ball.
- Fury Road began not as a script, but 3,000+ storyboards hung up on the walls of a "Mad Max" room that depicted every moment and look in the story.
- Tom Hardy was about the only guy Miller saw as Max as he had the same nervous energy, likability and hint of volcanic temper like Mel Gibson.
- Miller joked how Hardy was only 6 weeks old when he started on Mad Max in the 70's.
- Talked current F/X to layer and add in landscape, sky and carnage. Removed tire tracks in the sand and lamented how old films you could tell how many takes they did by the number of skid marks.
- Safety has improved greatly since The Road Warrior where Guy Norris went tumbling through the air after a motorcycle crash and onto a field of cardboard boxes.
- Hardy is afraid of heights but did the polecat sequence and many stunts while Charlize Theron's background as a dancer helped her tackle many sequences as well.
- A former doctor, Miller acted as the on-set medic for the earlier films.
- On giving his characters dramatic moments, Miller spoke about needing the arc for each to keep things interesting and not just non-stop action. Was hard to direct as sometimes he'd be under the floorboards of the truck, talking through a speaker, it was loud, etc.

It was a brief affair with no audience questions but Miller hung out for a while signing for fans. The Road Warrior queued up next but being a Monday and already after 10:00 PM, it was time to go home to kick back with an Aqua Cola, shiny and chrome.

Snow Screen: Ex Machina

While over 100 million folks watched the Super Bowl Sunday, we headed to West Hollywood for Happy Hour and a movie. The highways and streets were bare and WeHo was luckily busy but not that busy. It was warm out and I don't think I've ever seen so many tank tops in a few blocks per capita. Kitchen 24 on Cahuenga has long been one our Hollywood hangouts and this would be our first visit to their WeHo location. Bigger with patio seating, the place was empty as we sipped on HH Old Fashions while munching on fried chicken, wings then a turkey and brie sammich with fries. Everything was delectable and K24 has one of the best and longest running Happy Hours in town. Down the street is The Pacific Design Center; home to shops, offices, restaurants, a theater and art exhibit space. I'd never been inside the giant blue building but I'm pretty sure Demolition Man shot here.

There was a whole day of films celebrating Oscar nominee Alicia Vikander and the young actress appeared after a screening of The Danish Girl earlier. A Royal Affair, Testament of Youth and Ex Machina followed. While the PDC was closed, we strolled around the lobby and checked out a few random things on display and were surprised by the amount of stores inside. The Silver Screen Theater is beautifully modern and I wonder if they do regular programming like LACMA. Being in WeHo you had to have some odd balls around and tonight we got a lady who was chewing some stranger out about I don't even know what, then she fell asleep and started snoring during the movie. Since it was a free screening I have no clue if she'd been there all day instead of out on the street. Anyways, Ex Machina was released way back in April of 2015 and we'd caught it on Amazon Prime already. But it was a cool flick and nice to see on the big screen. 28 Days Later and Dredd's Alex Garland writes and directs the moody, sci-fi tinged drama about programmer Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) who is selected to join billionaire inventor Nathan (Oscar Isaac) for a week in a secluded compound to test Ava (Vikander), a humanoid creation with earth shattering artificial intelligence.

It's an intriguing, funny, weird and visual chess match that looks at what makes us human, whether you're born with it or created, programmed and learned. It was a weird continuation on the theme of wanting to be human after Blade Runner and Robocop viewings in recent weeks. Tears in the rain, I guess. All three leads are excellent in their roles with Gleeson playing naive and slightly lovelorn, Isaac eccentric, piercing and bullying and Vikander is innocent and searching. The end gets a little messed up and all I could think of RAT TRAP and Michael Biehn's crude but true thoughts on lengths men will go to for "just a little bit of p*ssy", even if it's robotic. The set design of the partially subterranean bunker in the middle of wilderness is awesome and resulted in me finding out it's a hotel in Norway. Although it cracked me up that Nathan works out every morning with a rudimentary weight set versus a full gym, I mean come on, Arnold used to have equipment shipped to every Hyatt hotel he stayed at. But maybe that's more difficult on a low budget indie. Gleeson and Isaac would coincidentally both go on to appear in the big budgeted Star Wars: The Force Awakens but swap sides as the redheaded actor portrayed evil General Hux while Isaac is the dashing and supportive big brother you never had/best pilot in the universe for the Rebellion. Who you gonna call?! Ghostbusters, man!

Monday, February 8, 2016

This, I Demand! Wild Card

Jason Statham's Wild Card is now streaming on Amazon Prime. Based on William Goldman's novel Heat, about a Las Vegas enforcer, the book was previously adapted in 1986 starring Burt Reynolds. The updated version was originally slated to be directed by The Untouchables' Brian DePalma before Simon West (Tomb Raider, Expendables II) stepped in. Set the dingy and high ends of Las Vegas, Statham's Nick Wild is a security expert working to make enough money to retire for five years and sail around the world. He's lucky but also doesn't know when to quit as he wins and loses fortunes at the blackjack table. One night, former lover turned working girl Holly (Dominik Garcia-Lorido) gets assaulted by the cocksure, low level gangster Danny DeMarco (Milo Ventimiglia) and his goons. After getting out of the Emergency Room, Holly wants her revenge and pulls Nick into it. Of course faces get smashed and egos destroyed so Wild becomes a target leading to much mayhem and bodily harm. A cast of slightly kooky characters fills the film as Nick encounters housekeepers in the know, bartenders, card dealers, trophy wives and admirers played by the likes of Michael Angarano, Hope Davis, Stanley Tucci, Jason Alexander, Sofia Vergara and Anne Heche in mostly short appearances.

Budgeted at an estimated $30 million, West crafts an entertaining character piece with style and panache to go with a few effective punch ups. Wild's reputation has him being such a bad ass that he doesn't use guns and could kill you with an ash tray five or fifteen feet away. Composer Dario Marianelli does an excellent job with the score and songs to keep the style going while the cast of familiar faces is a nice touch. This isn't an action fest by any means but the fight scenes are well done, one using slow motion and devastating infliction of damage to a mass melee through a bar and casino. The character beats, dramatic moments and lack of a shirtless scene for the lead indicate that Statham is continuing to push himself as a likable actor and action star. Less muscled than we've seen him in the last few years, it's said that Statham stayed lean through a diet of brown rice and spinach. I didn't get into Safe or Parker much, Homefront was a nice mix of action and drama but Wild Card is Statham's best movie in years. With his last starring vehicles not kicking up much business, Wild Card was released in a handful of theaters and VOD last year. Since then, Statham has re-energized his Hollywood stock with supporting roles in comedy Spy and over the top action franchise Furious 7. A sequel to 2011's The Mechanic is due for release this year and co-stars Tommy Lee Jones, Jessica Alba and Michelle Yeoh so we'll see if the British Bruce Willy can keep action films relevant in the Marvel age.

First Casetify Friday in Venice

A few years ago, GQ or one of them magazines dubbed Venice's Abbott Kinney the coolest street in America or something or other. Since then the place has continued to explode with hipster bars (lots only serving wine and beer, so not that cool), workout studios, art galleries and stores selling expensive stuff. While I have coffee in Venice frequently, I never hang out there and had been to Abbot Kinney's night scene maybe once years and years ago. This past Friday we waded into the crowds to support our friends at Casetify who were holding a pop up shop at clothing joint Cuyana. The problem with Venice is that it goes down to one lane and the first Friday of the month, it's lined with food trucks and lots of people. Great if you're there and walking, not so great trying to drive in. We meant to check out Primitivo for Happy Hour but it was closed, forever. But next door at a new Mexican joint I was randomly surprised by a poster of Venice local Vladimir Kulich on the wall.

A friend recommended Willie Jane's and he was right, they have Damme good biscuits. I don't know how our bill of drinks, deviled eggs and a sammich reached $100 bucks but hey, we were in a "scene" and the place provided good food, drinks and service. Walking over to Cuyana the wine was flowing, marble phone cases showing and tunes blasting from the DJ. Catching up with old friends, one of them pointed out that everyone in Venice tries to present themselves well, even if there's a lot of posing, duck faced selfies and half bum looking mofos around. Next door is new and happening doughnut shop Blue Star out of Portland but man if I was not impressed with their $5 selections. Trying to get out was a bit of a pain as roads were closed and Friday night traffic was in full effect. Later in the weekend I read about 37 year old bar Roosterfish was closing due to high rent as the former grody neighborhood for burnouts and performers keeps changing. It's like former local Arnold says, go where the crowds aren't.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Snow Screen: Hail, Caesar!

It was back to Hollywood Thursday night for a screening of new Coens brother flick Hail, Caesar! A premiere for new action flick, Vigilante Diaries, starring Michael Jai White, Jason Mewes and Michael Madsen was being set up and we munched on delicious nachos, fries and sammiches at the cafe. Star studded affair Caesar! centers on President of Physical Production and fixer Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin, who is crazy, hilarious, weird and slightly menacing in interviews) who balances big budget prestige pictures, out of line actors, job offers, a kidnapping plot with a secret society, trying to change an actor's image and legality of adopting your own child. George Clooney plays booze and lady hound actor Baird Whitlock who is drugged and snatched from the set and taken to a beautiful seaside palatial estate where he becomes chummy with his snatchers. The film employs stars galore in bit parts from a funny and well used Ralph Fiennes as a pretentious director, Alden Ehrenreich as a likable western star being dropped into a classy drama, Scarlett Johansson talks tough and smokes as a screen queen needing an image boost, Channing Tatum sings and dances while Tilda Swinton plays rival twin gossip writers. Genre fans' interest piqued when action icon Dolph Lundgren was lined up to play a Submarine Commander while Highlander stars Christopher Lambert and Clancy Brown were also among the cast. Sadly Lundgren's role was completely cut out but hopefully his two days on set working with the Coens, cinematographer Roger Deakins and young gun Channing Tatum was a positive experience and he had fun at the premiere.

Like their previous comedic efforts I've seen like The Big Lebowski or O Brother, Where Art Thou? Caesar! is amusing if not laugh out loud funny. Like their previous films, the subtle sense of humor requires multiple viewings and time to percolate and I'm sure will be quoted years down the road. The Arclight's Cinerama Dome has a fancy new laser projector and the picture was incredibly clear. As in, people be looking old, clear. IMDB says Deakins shot the movie on film but it looked very digital and a bit fake outside the studio scenes with everything looking I'm guessing intentionally staged and created versus on location with depth and a touch of grain or grit. I was surprised at how little advertised "stars" appeared in the film as most have a quick scene or two if they're lucky. This is really Brolin, then Clooney and Ehrenreich's movie. It was nice to see Lambert on the big screen and he did the patented "heh heh heh" Christopher Lambert laugh. Hopefully Dolph's scenes end up on the Blu-Ray. Until next time, throw in a mirthless chuckle.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Bloodsport with Sheldon Lettich

This month, Los Angeles viewers can catch martial arts classics on the big screen as the Laemmle Theaters proudly present a Kung Fu fueled February of Throwback Thursdays with The Legend of Drunken Master, Bloodsport, Kung Fu Hustle and Enter the Dragon! On Thursday, February 11th at the Laemmle NoHo7, Bloodsport co-writer Sheldon Lettich will attend for a post film Q&A. If you were in the audience during our Van Damme Triple Dip at The New Beverly in 2014, you know the man has great stories about Cannon Films, movie inspiration/tale teller Frank Dux and of course, star Jean-Claude Van Damme himself. One of the most popular titles in the martial arts genre, Bloodsport tells the then thought to be true tale of Frank Dux, American military operator, fighter and ninja. Trained as a teenager by the brutal Shidoshi Senzo Tanaka (Roy Chiao), JCVD's young Frank Dux travels to exotic and dangerous Hong Kong to participate in full combat at the Kumite with the world's greatest warriors. Befriending funny giant Ray Jackson (Donald Gibb) and bedding spunky journalist Janice Kent (Leah Ayres), Dux punches, kicks, splits and screams his way to the finals against reigning champion Chong Li (the massively pec'd Bolo Yeung).

Bloodsport was Van Damme's first starring role and launched him to worldwide fame and million dollar paydays. But it was nearly not to be after a rough cut was deemed unwatchable by Cannon producer Menahem Golan who did not believe JCVD was star material. Begging for a chance to recut the film, Van Damme and editor Carl Kress reworked the Newt Arnold directed, Christopher Cosby, Mel Friedman and Sheldon Lettich scripted flick into the influential hit it became. After opening at number one in France and Malaysia, Cannon released the film to American audiences in 1988 where it became one of their top grossers. Van Damme's star appeal is on full display between his eager earnestness and physical prowess displayed via shirtless scenes, jumping spin kicks and performing the splits 7 times. Multiple fighting styles like sumo, boxing, muy thai and karate are showcased, set to Paul Hertzog's terrific synth score and songs by Stan Bush and Michael Bishop. Bloodsport would go on to influence video game behemoths Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, professional fighting sport the UFC and superstar athletes like Georges St. Pierre and Mirko CroCop.

Of course Jean-Claude Van Damme would go on to box office hits, global notoriety and big salaries for Kickboxer, Universal Soldier, Timecop and Street Fighter. The young actor struck up a friendship with former Marine Lettich, who would co-write Rambo III for Sylvester Stallone and work with Jean-Claude on half a dozen films like Lionheart, Double Impact, Legionnaire and The Hard Corps. Most recently Mr. Lettich was seen in the Cannon Films documentary Electric Boogaloo and co-wrote summer success Max with friend Boaz Yakin.

I hope you're body's ready, your heart's on fire and you're ready to push it over the wire!

Tickets and info HERE. Online seller Goldstar has a few discount tickets HERE.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Ask Me a Question: The Veil w/ Phil Joanou

Last night The Egyptian Theatre hosted a members exclusive screening of new horror-thriller The Veil. Director Phil Joanou directs a script by Robert Ben Garant that finds Thomas Jane as Jim Jacobs, enigmatic leader of a cult based on removing the nails between your physical body and spiritual soul. After a mass suicide leaves survivor Sarah Hope (Lily Rabe) scarred for life, she agrees to accompany a documentary crew headed by Maggie Price (Jessica Alba) back to the camp. Price's father was an FBI agent on the scene and like Sarah, her family's lives have been forever affected by the cult. Boasting a strong performance by Jane as the death defying, violence prone yet miracle healer Jacobs anchors the film along with Rabe and Alba as motivated women trying to make sense of a tragedy. Joanou creates an atmospheric thriller versus a straight slasher film that has a few chills and shocks even if the narrative and supernatural elements get a little confusing. Lots of cast and crew were in the audience and I spotted the man himself Thomas Jane in the lobby looking dapper and chill. I had a great time hanging with RAW Studios and convention maestro Mike and our friend Vladimir Kulich made an appearance as he's a big fan of Jane's dating back to Stander where he thought the Maryland born actor was actually South African.

A very energetic Phil Joanou participated in a brief Q&A:

- Shot in 25 days over 5 weeks at a First Nations reservation. Shortest schedule he's ever had.
- Did a movie for $3.2 million that shot for 32 days in the states and several cities abroad to compare.
- Once Blumhouse decides to make your movie, just tell you to go.
- Script was originally found footage but completely overhauled as fad had passed.
- Learned how to use After Effects on YouTube and spent more man hours adding in blood and ghosts than did shooting the actual movie.
- Loves his cast, said he couldn't have done it in the time frame with a weak crew.
- Shot very wide to evoke likes of John Ford and Roman Polanski to highlight ensemble.
- 1 to 3 takes, accomplished 40 + shots on first day of production.
- Film screened once with an audience for first test, cut out 20 minutes and this was second public screening before going VOD and Netflix.
- Was a protege of Steven Spielberg's and discussed the highs and lows of Hollywood, how hard it is but the key is to do it because you love it, whether it's a big budget, small budget, 3,000 screen release or On Demand. The journey is the destination.
- Spent two years on The Veil and couldn't be prouder of the film and those who worked on it.

While it would have been nice to hear from The Jane, Joanou was a ball of funny and inspiring energy. It was a fun night but only Monday! Check out The Veil on Netflix, available now!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Hey Arnold: New and Old

Never far from headlines, The King of Kings, our Lord of Lords, Arnold Schwarzenegger is ringing in 2016 with plenty of news. Announced at November's American Film Market, The Oak headlines revenge thriller 478, which has been shooting in Columbus, Ohio. Schwarz has long been tied to Columbus, owning property and building the Arnold Classic into a giant sports expo that sees over 100,000 attendees, exhibitors and athletes descend on the city in every March. A statue of the former Mr. Olympia stands near the convention center. 478 is based on the true story of a Russian architect whose family dies when two planes collide in Germany but the air traffic controller is cleared of responsibility and retires. 478 days later, the architect showed up at the controller's door step and stabbed him to death. Produced by Darren Aronofsky among others, Elliot Lester directs from a script by Javier Gullon. Argo's Scoot McNairy and Taken's Maggie Grace co-star in the $10 million flick that looks to be a dark character piece the way zombie daughter flick Maggie was versus a big action flick a la recent The Last Stand and Sabotage.

Next up, Arnold is replacing Donald Trump as host of NBC's Celebrity Apprentice; bringing decades of business experience and success to the show which I'll be sure to tune in for. The likes of Warren Buffett, Tyra Banks and Jessica Alba will be acting as mentors throughout for a cast that includes Vince Neil, Boy George, Jon Lovitz, Chael Sonnen and Ricky Williams. The winner takes home $250,000 bucks for the charity of their choice. Los Angeles takes over for New York City and the show is rumored to shoot in the Silicon Beach area, which includes Playa Vista. That's where Howard Hughes had several hangars that became sound stages then office space and site of filming for 1999's End of Days. It's also where I live so here's hoping we see some Arnold governed competition!

While doing press for the show, Arnold let it be known that the long gestating Robert E. Howard barbarian sequel will now be titled Conan the Conqueror. The script is finished and a director is being sought. Fredrik Malmberg and Chris Morgan are producing. I hope they consider Paul Verhoeven, violent and visceral director of Flesh + Blood, Robocop, Total Recall and almost Crusade, a bloody medieval epic that was to star Arnold in the 90's for Carolco before being dropped due to budgetary concerns. Arnold has been hyping the film for some time but I do wonder if it will really happen. Sadly, The Oak's drawing power is nowhere near what it once was with leading man efforts tanking at the box office. His popular social media presence is a big change from the 80's where you'd only see stars on talk shows, not any time, all the time online. $150 million budgeted Terminator: Genisys grossed $440 million worldwide but couldn't break $100 mil in the states leading Paramount to remove the sequel from their calendar. If Conan does happen, I'm guessing it will be for an economical $50 million or so and make most of it's bank overseas where Arnold still draws a crowd. Then there's the proposed Twins sequel, Triplets, that would reunite Arnold with Danny DeVito and introduce Eddie Murphy as their long lost brother. A script and revision has been completed but it's been pretty quiet. Until then, keep pumping and crushing your enemies!

Paneled Goods: The Incredible WeirdCool

Let's get this month started with a double shot of WeirdCool panels, shall we? Coming at you from December of 1983, Incredible Hulk #290 from Bill Mantlo, Sal Buscema, Carlos Garzon, Bob Sharen and Michael Higgins opens with the Abomination bringing kidnapped S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Katherine Waynesboro to a secret A.I.M. base where the yellow domed science terrorists want to create a new Mechanical Organism Designed Only for Killing aka M.O.D.A.K., only one they can control. Throwing Waynesboro into the Alteration Chamber where "intensive hypnotic suggestion" will turn her into a super mind, the physical manifestation of pure intellect! Hulk shows up to rescue his friend and teams up with ol' Modie to take on A.I.M. but it's a huge multiple back stabbing, double, triple crossing deal as Bruce Banner's scorned former father in law General Ross lets the DAK use Abomination if he'll kill the Hulk, who kidnaps Waynesboro for A.I.M. in order to take out the uncontrollable Mod, phew! The real victim here is Abomination who is basically used for muscle and has the emotional stability of a child. Waynesboro morphs into flying head/mind weapon MS. MODAK and immediately bonds with her male counterpart as you can't overcome the yearning of a match of the mind! But the big headed couple doesn't last as Modak wants kill everybody while the Ms. believes all life has value. No signs of Hostess baked treats, instead we get ads for two different networks Saturday Morning cartoon line ups, where NBC's includes Hulk, Spider-Man, Smurfs and Mr. T!

Next up is January, 1984's #291 that boasts a suicide dripping cover and note that it's Assistant Editor's Month. More weirdcoolness entails as assistant editor Ann Nocenti is visited by one Robert Bruce Banner at the Marvel offices one rainy night. Typical meta Marvel, you know, like Steve Rogers drawing the Captain America comic book in his own comic? Nocenti informs us that the top brass are at a convention, in San-Diego! Even though Comic-Con isn't until July, come on! Anywho this issue deals with General Thaddeus Ross, father of Betty who of course is Banner's love and eventual wife. We learn that the Ross family has a long history of military service and valor with Thad earning the nickname Thunderbolt for his hard charging ways on the battle field. But after his wife dies, the solider doesn't know how to deal with his feelings and pushes Betty away. Things don't get any easier when Betty falls in love with gamma scientist turned jade giant Banner and Ross is tasked with bringing the down the beast.

Things get weirder when Betty ends up with military guy Glenn Talbot after Banner is unable to control the monster but the Hulk then goes into Talbot's mind to fight some aliens controlling his mind? Phew! Now Ross feels like a total failure because the target he's been sworn to slay, has now been giving a Presidential pardon! So ol' Thunderbolt debates taking a dirt nap or eating a lead salad as he feels he doesn't deserve to wear the uniform or medals. But at the end of the day suicide is easy, learning to live with disgrace will be the toughest war the old warhorse has to fight...that real life sh!t...Some solid one issue adventures issues with smart, talking Hulk, excellent art, lots of character cameos and nice backstory fill in. I was just reading how comic book sales are taking a small dive since everything is super heavy handed, talking heads and a year long event leading to a special edition graphic novel. That of course has been my qualm with comics since 2000's X-Men and 9/11 as I don't read comics to be reminded of the real world per se, I read comics to be taken away into a new one. Graphic Novels are great, allegedly Wal-Mart is discussing installing a dedicated section in their stores but you won't get any sweet of the era advertisements for movies, video games, sweets or cartoons!