Sunday, March 27, 2016

Ask Me a Question: Silent Rage

On Saturday night it was off to Hollywood for a Dammaged Goods co-presentation of 1982's Silent Rage, the Chuck Norris anomaly that pits the karate kicking tough guy against a Frankenstein-esque turned 80's slasher villain. Stopping off at favorite spot Boardner's, it was surprisingly packed for 5:30 PM on a Saturday. Turns out George, a former actor who was a bartender there, passed away and it was a memorial service for him. He was in Smokey and the Bandit which played on the bar TV's. After some snacks and whiskey gingers, it was over to The Egyptian to set up for Silent Rage where David J Moore had a plethora of lobby cards and posters featuring Norris, Stallone, Schwarzenegger and more. When Cinematic Void programmer Jim reached out to me to co-present, I contacted writer Joseph Fraley who agreed to participate. From there, producer Anthony B. Unger caught wind of the evening and attended with his family and someone passed along contact info for director Michael Miller. While Miller was unable to attend, I had a terrific chat with the amiable filmmaker who started in Chicago with Harold Ramis and Brian Doyle-Murray before moving to Los Angeles and catching the eye of Roger Corman. 1976's Jackson County Jail starred a young a Tommy Lee Jones and was a bit of a breakthrough for Miller.

Following service in the Air Force and countless wins in karate tournaments, Chuck Norris appeared opposite Bruce Lee in The Way of the Dragon in 1972 before starring in hits like Breaker! Breaker!, Good Guys Wear Black and The Octagon. Silent Rage was said to be his first studio film for Columbia and shot around Dallas. Producer Unger recalls the studio stating they wanted an action picture for Easter and Silent Rage was it. So it was a great coincidence that we were screening the film on Easter weekend 30 some years later. Writer Joseph Fraley had studied Shotokan karate in the 60's when martial arts hadn't made a big splash in the states before serving in Vietnam. He met Norris and hit it off, with the future cinematic tough guy frequently making peanut butter and jelly sammiches with the crusts cut off for Fraley's young son. Fraley wrote Good Guys Wear Black and years later was telling Norris about some studies of reptiles who regrow limbs and how that would be interesting for a villain in a film. That simple idea lead to Silent Rage in the era of supernatural villains in Halloween, Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street.

We gave out a signed VHS of Good Guys Wear Black to kick things off. Jim programmed a great pre-show featuring Chuck Norris and the Karate Kommando's clips, PSA's and trailers for Fraley's Good Guys, Unger's Don't Look Now and Norris' awesome flick Sidekicks (View in Peace Mako and Jonathan Brandis). I hadn't seen Silent Rage in it's entirety ever so the screening would more or less be new to me. We meet Brian Libby as John Kirby, a disturbed young man under treatment of Dr. Tom Halman (Ron Silver) and Dr. Spires (Steven Keats) in a long shot through a house. Kirby cracks and kills a young mother before tussling with Sheriff Dan Stevens (Norris) and getting shot down. But Spires injects Kirby with an untested serum that heals wounds nearly immediately but renders Kirby a mute killer who goes after Halman and his sister Alison (Toni), who happens to be an ex of Stevens. Stephen Furst shows up as Stevens' portly police co-hort and provides comic relief. Norris' films always have a nice sense of humor and Rage continues the trend with Chuck being pretty easy going and a smooth talker with the lady, complete with a hilarious detour to a sex scene and relationship building sequence. There's also a giant bar room fight scene where Norris dispatches a dozen goons with karate kicks, spinning backfists and a broken window.

It was during the big fight sequence that reels had to be changed in the Spielberg so programmer and co-host Grant put on a ridiculous one man fight scene where he punched, threw and flipped himself all over the place culminating in Jim show slugging him with a piece of wood. It definitely made the night even more memorable as the crowd was enthusiastic and having fun. After the film, I shared some quick bites from Miller who remembers the film fondly and is proud of the uncut opening sequence that was his nod to Francis Ford Coppola and Akira Kurosawa. Unger and Fraley joined Jim for Q&A where they discussed how the film came together. While Fraley was close friends with Norris, both Unger and Miller found him charming and professional along with being a heck of a martial artist. The film shot in Dallas with the help of production manager Paul Lewis who kept things on track. Unger joked that Walker, Texas Ranger would borrow several elements from Rage and Fraley recalled that the film was number one at the box office two weeks in a row. A sequel was discussed but never materialized. Unger recalled the film wasn't expensive or cheap and they did not skimp on crew. Most of Furst's dialog was improvised and Unger and Miller would both work with the funnyman on other projects.

Unger and Fraley talked about how important karate was to Chuck's image and Columbia's original marketing materials emphasized action and showed him in a black gi even though he never dons one in the movie. Miller had mentioned he surrounded Norris with strong New York actors with Unger and Fraley both paying tribute to the deceased Ron Silver. Silver was great in the film, intense yet sympathetic with a bit of an Al Pacino thing going on. It was a fun night with great guests and a fantastic audience. After the film I got to hear about Christmas parties at Charlie Bronson's house. I can't even imagine.

WonderCon! Saturday & Sunday

This was a very chill con for us as once you've been to 22 shows in a year and start putting on your own events, seeing the same vendors and panels just doesn't carry the same can't miss cache. It's more about seeing con-rades, soaking up the energy and having an excuse to hang out somewhere you usually don't. The weekend was more of an in town vacation, a stay-cation if you will or in our case, a con-cation. WonderCon was just a gateway to live the Happy Hour and Hotel life as we didn't focus on the show but it was just a part of the long weekend. Starting with dranks, pizza and Batman V Superman in 4DX to the show, to video games at 82, more show and over to Hollywood for Silent Rage then our final day at the Con before heading home. Walking around sold out Saturday, WonderCon only felt crowded at certain intersections and in one case when a bunch of Star Wars cosplayers stopped traffic to parade through. I wanted to crash straight into their little ego trip but the lady requested I didn't. Another attendee next to me said something along the lines of "they're cosplayers, not f*cking royalty", exactly my friends, exactly!

Looking at the map I thought we only covered about half the floor Friday but I was wrong and we had taken in about 2/3 already. So we checked out Artist Alley, Small Press and more vendors. Capcom had Street Fighter V tournaments going on and I talked to a guy working the floor who should have been in Ken costume as he had semi-long blonde hair and was in shape. We flipped through more graphic novel boxes that were 60% off cover price and picked up some Ka-Zar and more Captain America. Cosplay wise there was an excellent Hellboy walking around with plenty more Reys, a couple of them men, along with Deadpools and Disney princesses galore. Like Friday we had oh so many panels lined up like Spotlight on John Romita, Jr., Star Wars VFX and more but like Friday, didn't attend a single one. Timing just didn't line up for us and we didn't feel like sitting around the convention center waiting. So it was back to the hotel for some relaxing and Captain America: The First Avenger on FX. I cracked up that with BatsSupes in theaters, cable had Man of Steel, Batman Begins, Spider-Man and more in rotation for the weekend.

It was another late night as we ventured to Hollywood for Cinematic Void presenting Chuck Norris flick Silent Rage and Dammaged Goods co-presented. Coming back to L.A. Live I was feeling ravenous but Yard House was jammed and most of the other joints had closed the kitchen at 10:00 PM. We ended up at the overpriced Mexican spot but it hit the spot before crashing out at 1:00 AM. Looking out the hotel window we soaked up the neon soaked view where you could see a Jesus Saves sign as well as the Eastern Building, you know, from Predator 2?! I woke up at 7:00 AM Sunday and contemplated taking a swim to get loosened up as I was creaky and sore from working out, walking and not getting a ton of sleep but opted to stay in bed and watch YouTube videos instead. Including an episode of the not good 90's USA Network Street Fighter cartoon set in Final Fight's Metro City. After an all star breakfast that included coffee, bites of a croissant and protein bar, it was back to the convention center for Sunday, which sold out as well.

It was still pretty easy to navigate without much of a crowd so I played some Street Fighter V, redeeming my horrid performance at 82. V has vibrant design and color along with pretty smooth gameplay, lots of new moves and specials that I had no clue how to execute. But my days spent at the arcade in the 90's served me well as I won two matches and stepped down to do some more walking around. Right next door was the Capcom booth who had a deal too good to turn down, two soft tees for $15! We saw a guy get turned into the purple faced, big chinned Thanos at a cinema make up school booth and did a little people watching out in the main lobby. Outside, an Easter Egg hunt was supposed to start but the little plastic shells were already out so we picked up a few that had candy and Halloween style trinkets inside. The J.W. held on to our bags after check out and we watched security shoo away some little punk kids trying to sell candy. I say punks because they were warned that they couldn't sell on the premises, started cursing then walked up to us acting like angels. A suit clad official walked them off and told them it wasn't worth it when you could tell they wanted to try and be punks. Our last Uber ride for the weekend took us home and back to reality as con-cation aka our new age version of summer vacation for pop culture loving adults came to a close.

WonderCon! Eats & Transport

One nice thing about WonderCon being in Downtown, Los Angeles this year was the abundance of eating and dranking spots near the convention center. N00bs were content with the surprisingly not crowded center eateries serving up sammiches and fried goodies or waiting out in the sun at the dozens of food trucks. But just a couple blocks away you could take in a multitude of easy to sit joints like the Yard House, Tom's Urban and Lawry's Prime Rib. On Friday night we took a short Uber ride to Little Tokyo for some video game action at 82 where I got destroyed in Street Fighter II then we almost beat Golden Axe: Revenge of Death Adder before getting worn out. Next door is a Japanese mall filled with shops, snacks, karaoke and food where we ended up getting a big plate of chicken teriyaki and dumplings from Tofu House.

Saturday morning we stopped by the empty Tom's Urban where you can get breakfast on weekends along with an all day lunch and dinner menu. Unlimited mimosas set you back $16 bones but were a little light on the champagne the lady says. The best of both worlds, we chowed down on a breakfast platter of eggs, grits and sausage along with a bacon and avocado burger. We opted for a kale side salad instead of fries because it had been a very light on roughage con-cation already. After walking the floor for a bit, we wandered over to Lawry's Carvery in L.A. Live for what might have been the best tasting meal of the weekend, a prime rib sammich along with their King of Clubs. Both meats were extremely tender and flavorful with the bread soft and tasty. They have entrees as well if you just wanted a slab of prime rib.

In the lobby of the J.W. Marriott is Ford's Filling Station, the classic upscale chain run by one of Harrison Ford's sons. We had breakfast there one day, shelling out $22 for an omelet and another $12 for a Belgium Waffle, I always thought they were called Belgian Waffles...It was good but nothing screamed excellent about the pricey meal, it was just convenient. Speaking of the J.W., we opted to Uber to and from because valet was $45 a night with no self parking option as I'm guessing your car is parked in or held offsite due to space. Adding up all of our trips that weekend, from Playa Vista to downtown, to The Falls, back to L.A. Live, to 82, over to Hollywood and back then home cost around $80, not even two nights parking let alone the three we had. And there's no tips involved with Uber so it was definitely the way to go.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

WonderCon! Workout

Even though I'm technically on a convention vacation or con-cation? Con-a-cation? And would be walking miles upon miles a day, you still have to keep up with the working out to fight off deliciously poor choices like Jameson and Ginger Beer at noon, a croissant and Belgian Waffle for breakfast, nachos, chicken strips, a club sammich and clam chowda for lunch, on and on. The J.W. Marriott Downtown at L.A. Live has you covered though with a spacious pool and fitness center. On Friday morning I went for a nice 7:00 AM swam doing laps back and forth alternating with high knees, backwards running and a little water karate for resistance. It's extremely peaceful in the morning as the sun rose and the later for pool party scene played tranquil techno tunes.

Today I hit the shared with the Ritz Carlton Fitness Center where there's ample weights, machines and cardio equipment to get the ol' morning pump on. And after seeing Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck in Batman V Superman, you had to keep up the superhero requirement of slamming weights. Tackling the whole body I completed:

1) Dumbbell Swing 2) Chins 3) Dips 4) Leg Press 5) Incline Push Up 6) Incline DB Curl 7) DB Lying Triceps Extension 8) Seated Leg Curl 9) DB Lateral Raise

9 exercises for 3 rounds had me pumped and I finished off with 30 reps of Rope Pushdowns then Rope Hammer Curls, Forearms, 5 sets of Calf Raises on the Leg Press Machine and neck. After that it was a mile on the Elliptical done in intervals and some stretching. I've always been a chins advocate and not saying I started a trend but 3 dudes who were already lifting and not doing any chins started to after I was into my circuit. Just saying... I briefly chatted with another con-goer about my Big Trouble In Little China tee and his Wolverine tattoo, gotta love con folk. Feeling good, now it's time to find a Downtown joint for breakfast before heading to the show and Hollywood for Silent Rage!

Friday, March 25, 2016

WonderCon! Friday

Badge check in was quick and painless but then a line built up by the doors. Why? Because the exhibit hall wasn't open yet! I don't know how the 12:00 PM opening time slipped by me after I had just read through the Quick Guide but here we were with an hour to chill so we just walked back to the hotel for some relaxing. After a noon cocktail we headed back to the show. This is the first year they're testing out RFIT, a crowd tracking dealy where you swipe your badge going in and out. Horrific visions of broke down technology and bottlenecks filled my mind but it was fine. We'll see how Saturday goes though as that's when the crowds really show up. I believe the exhibition space for WonderCon is smaller than last year and it definitely felt spread out as you had registration in one hall, a few program rooms in a random hallway, the exhibit hall, more panel rooms upstairs, big media presentations at the Microsoft Theater across the street, etc.

We crisscrossed aisles checking out toys, comics, pins, action figures and the like. Nothing too new to the convention scene but half off trade bins weren't crawling with people so we flipped through several booths. I don't go to these shows with goals for items to purchase anymore but I did have my eye out for Captain America: Man & Wolf, a 90's multi-part collection where Cap turns into a werewolf. I have single issues in my collection but those are halfway across the country. While most booths have graphic novels in long boxes you have to flip through, one had them displayed horizontally so you could just skim the spines and voila, the lady picked it out for me. Nintendo had a booth set up touting a new version of StarFox! The polygon filled flying game with animal pilots I played on the N64 in the 90's. You also had a booth for the new Ninja Turtles flick (Knock knock, you're about to get shell shocked!), IDW, Nerdist, DC, Sideshow Collectables and many more. After a couple of hours on the floor, we were famished and headed to the Yard House for Happy Hour. Sure beats waiting in line for a food truck out in the sun!

Panel wise we had a list as fall back options but our first one, a reading of James Cameron's unmade Spider-Man movie treatment, ended up being changed to some 1950's sci-fi flick so we bounced. Spotlight on Jim Lee would be good but we've seen the guy multiple times and run into him randomly around shows. I wouldn't mind seeing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows presentation but this comfy hotel bed has me in it's clutches. Rey from Star Wars was hands down the most popular cosplay of the day, transcending all ages and even genders. I actually had to look to find a Dead Pool. A fun start to the weekend/con-cation. Maybe we'll hit Eighty-Two for some video games as seeing a statue of super yoked Ryu has me hankering for some Street Fighter...

WonderCon! Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice

To really kick off the Comic-Con spirit of the weekend, we took in DC Comics cinematic slugfest BatmanVSuperman: Dawn of Justice at L.A. Live's 4DX theater. If you'll recall, 4DX is a 3D projection with seats that move, vibrate, punch you in the back, spit air at you with wind and water effects to give you a more immersive experience. BatSupes has been fighting bad press since it was announced as it just seemed like a less thought out cash grab of Marvel's connected cinematic universe. Warner Brothers is guilty of only seeing films as franchises and products but hey, you're getting a $250 million adaptation with two of the most popular superheroes in the world with A-list stars and resources. So let's just remember we've come a long way. Affleck's casting as Batman was a surprise, I like the guy but saw someone like Josh Brolin in the role since he's physical and a little crazy in real life, like Christian Bale and Michael Keaton which the character needs. Early fan reaction was positive while reviews have been eviscerating. I went in with low expectations, anticipating a wall to wall action fest with bad CGI and lofty self serious drama.

I enjoyed the film, it wasn't an overwhelming action or video game looking spectacle. The action was actually surprising subdued and the CGI looks a lot better on the big screen than in the commercials. Ben Affleck is solid as Bruce Wayne and Batman, disconnected, calculating and brooding while poor Henry Cavill's Superman/Clark Kent isn't given nearly as much to do and does most of his acting through his furrowed eyebrow. Going in, I was on #TeamAlfred as you just knew Jeremy Irons would bring some class to the proceedings which he delivered on. Gal Gadot was excellent as Wonder Woman and a highlight of the film. Amy Adams is her usual spunky self while Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor got a little Joker for me. Both leading men get to show off all that time in the gym as well. Being a 3D film, director Zach Snyder really missed some opportunities to take advantage of the format. With so much driving, flying, sliding and crashing, a few POV shots would have been awesome. The final battles are excellent as Batman takes on Superman then they team up with Wonder Woman to fight the giant Doomsday. I found it funny they made a point to announce the city streets were mostly empty after many a complaint have been leveled at tentpoles like Man of Steel and The Avengers for their wanton destruction of populated cities. I appreciated the more intimate fight scene with just a few figures instead of having them battle an endless army of faceless Storm Troopers.

I'm not chomping at the bit to see the film again but I dug it and would experience it on the big screen again before it goes out of theaters. 4DX wise the wind machine element was way overused and you felt a little beat up during fight scenes with the jostling and back pokes. But it does put you into the movie more and as soon as you think it's going slowly, boom! Bats fly out and your seat jerks you back to attention. But poor Superman, he's never really been done well in a film as his character is just too bland and a supporting character in his own sequel. He's supposed to be invulnerable yet he's brought to his knees by both Lex and Batman. While Bats' suit is practically indestructible as he's thrown through walls, shot in the head and stabbed but keeps on kicking. Ah well, bring on more Batfleck, we all knew he was the more interesting character.

WonderCon! The Falls

It's another Grip & Rip Weekend as we venture back to Downtown, Los Angeles for WonderCon! San Diego Comic-Con International's sister show was held up north for many of it's 30 years but moved to Anaheim when the Moscone Center underwent construction. After several years near Disneyland, WC has moved to Los Angeles for 2016 as Anaheim is going through a makeover. Many patrons express their ill will for Downtown, LA being one of the future homes of SDCC if it leaves San Diego as there's half the hotel rooms available as Anaheim or SD. It's already been announced that WonderCon will move back to Anaheim next year which is fine by me, it's a nice little staycation and there's lots of eating and entertainment options around the area. Plus hotels feel a bit closer to the convention center than in Downtown.

Anywho, we Uber'd over Thursday night, fighting pre-weekend traffic and had a terrific conversation with our driver who was an actor between gigs. Here's hoping his indie film does well. The J.W. Marriott by L.A. Live is beautiful and glistening and shares space with the Ritz Carlton. We somehow ended up on the 19th floor with a great, Blade Runner style neon view. We ventured over to The Falls for happy hour which ended up being next door to Beelman's Pub, another joint we discovered downtown. A cool joint with a wood and nature motif, The Falls has happy hour til 9 that includes cocktails and light grub like flatbreads and hummus platters. The bourbon based Hunter was a bit sour for my taste to the next rounds were old standbys Jameson and Ginger Beer. Evan Williams is the well label but we opted to treat ourselves and taste buds. Nice service and staff, chill vibe and they were warming up a projector to screen a flick. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

What the Chuck?! Silent Rage

This Saturday, March 26th, our friends at Cinematic Void are putting on a 35mm presentation of Chuck Norris VS the boogeyman in action slasher flick Silent Rage! Void is The Egyptian Theatre's cult classic film club celebrating B-movie goodness held in The Spielberg Screening Room. Dammaged Goods is co-presenting and we're putting on quite the show! #ActionMovieBro David J. Moore will be on hand with copies of his book World Gone Wild along with tons of genre movie posters on display and for sale. Moore will be donating a couple of lobby cards as prizes for the evening while I'm kicking in VHS copies of Rage and Good Guys Wear Black. Why Black, Chuck Norris' first starring vehicle you ask? Because they were both written by one Joseph Fraley who will be in attendance! Fraley was chummy with Norris in the 80's and the last time they saw each other was at Charlie Bronson's Christmas party! Will have to hear more about that on Saturday. We're also excited to have producer Anthony B. Unger (Julius Caesar, Don't Look Now, Force 10 from Navarone) lined up for post film Q&A!

Directed by Michael Miller, Silent Rage finds real life Air Force veteran and karate champion turned cinematic tough guy Chuck Norris as Sheriff Dan Stevens who goes up against a mute maniacal murderer who has been subjected to years of medical experimentation and has the ability to self heal. So essentially you have Chuck Norris fighting Halloween's Michael Myers as Quentin Tarantino put it. Ron Silver (Timecop) and Frank Darabont favorite Brian Libby co-star in this 1982 flick that promises chills and lots of roundhouse kicks. Seating is limited and tickets and info HERE. So after you see the hopefully glorious but CGI filled Batman V Superman on digital print, come check out some real reel action on 35mm film!

Van Dammage: JCVD & Behind Closed Doors

"It's hard for me to judge people and it's hard for them not to judge me. Easier to blame me."
     Jean-Claude Van Damme in JCVD

In addition to showing my friend around town, he had the hankering for watching JCVD after seeing a flyer hanging on the wall of my den. You don't have to ask me twice so in went the DVD. The 2008 pseudo-documentary tells the tale of JCVD (Jean-Claude Van Damme), an alternate version of the high kicking international movie star who is struggling to make movies, losing a child custody battle and nearly broke. Heading home to Belgium to relax, he's caught up in a Post Office/Bank robbery and is thought to be one of the perpetrators. It's like Al Pacino's Dog Day Afternoon but with less drama and a few more kicks. The Mabrouk El Merchri directed and co-written with Frederic Benudis, Frederic Taddei, Vincent Ravalec and Christophe Turpin film feature several highlight scenes like a one take opening action sequence, Van Damme tiredly kicking a cigarette out of a hostages mouth, a six minute personal monologue to the camera and a dream sequence that includes a roundhouse kick to the face, low fives and flexing. With moody lighting and a rich, dark palette, JCVD is visually striking as it is emotionally. Van Damme speaks mostly French here and showcases his natural charm and sadness throughout. Even though he's covered up for the most of the film, you can tell he hit the gym quite a bit as it's the last time he would be so thick. The film kicked up several excellent reviews from Variety, Time Magazine and fellow actors Robert Pattinson and Nicolas Cage. Scheduled to promote the independent film in America, Van Damme pulled out last minute to take care of a dying dog. Meanwhile, Mickey Rourke gave a less impacting performance in the less memorable The Wrestler but hit the talk and award show circuit crying about his life and got a Best Actor nomination. I truly believe if Van Damme had played the game, he would have been lauded in the same way but for a better and more honest performance. Such is life.

Of course opening the Van Damme bag lead to a few episodes of his 2011 reality show Behind Closed Doors where we follow the globe trotting action star to movie sets and events in Russia, Dubai, Canada, Hong Kong, Romania, Belgium and the United States. Looking a bit skinny here, Van Damme had his heart event during the shooting, the Muscles From Brussels shows us his bi-polar personality as one day he's happy and light on his feet while others he's crying about the state of the world and all skies are gray. But it's still a fun watch as his natural sense of humor and interesting outlook on life is on full display. You also see his love for dogs as he rescues one in Romania and we see his canine sanctuary in Belgium. The show was taped pre-Expendables II so you get on-set accounts of flicks like Weapon aka Assassination Games, Dragon Eyes, Napoleon 3D and a Gilette commercial. Van Damme regulars like Scott Adkins, Ernie Barbarash and Sheldon Lettich make appearances as well. Long suffering, twice married wife Gladys is featured throughout, anchoring the show as she recounts their courtship, divorce, his addiction problems and trying to raise their kids outside the craziness of Hollywood.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Downtown! Fogo De Chao & BonaVista Lounge

After Hollywood Thursday and Malibu Friday, Saturday was for Downtown. Coming from Playa Vista, trekking out can be a bit of a pain with traffic and parking so we opted for an Uber. You know Uber and Lyft right? When they first came out, Lyft's brand was your friends driving you while Uber was your own personal driver. Lyft cars are supposed to be 2004 and newer with Uber being 2006 and on. You rate and tip on Lyft while you only rate on Uber. Apparently one of them can rate you too but I've never had an issue. Now I rarely give out five out of five stars and I'll tell you why Saturday's ride downtown only got a four. Our driver was nice enough but kind of smelled, was playing semi-loud music and was new to LA so he kept slamming on the brakes every time traffic would open up then immediately slow down. He also turned up the music while I was talking to my friend and it was a little hot in the car. If this is supposed to be my private driver, shouldn't he be asking if I'm comfortable and what kind of music I want to listen to? Getting upset at traffic didn't help either. Little things that added up and only made for an OK experience. I've had worse, I've had better.

Our first stop was Brazilian steakhouse Fogo De Chao, a joint with a small salad bar and a dozen grilled meats served table side. We were a few minutes early and walked over to the shopping center and grabbed a drank at City Tavern, who like their Culver City location, has Happy Hour everyday. Back to Fogo for meat and the service was near impeccable with the staff being warm, kind and checking in on us frequently. But the place lost major points as our table or the restaurant had a gnat problem. As in little things flying around our food and we killed 6 of them. Not exactly the most memorable experience during an expensive dinner. The meats were pretty good and the variety nice but the crispy polenta strangely being the most standout. From there we walked around taking in the tall buildings and architecture before arriving at The Westin. I didn't realize there were floors of shopping there but even more awesomely surprising was the fact that True Lies shot there! A plaque near the Red Towers tells you that the James Cameron/Arnold classic utilized two elevators and if you've seen the movie, it's when Arnold is riding a horse after a bad guy and goes up to the roof.

We took the elevator up to the 35th floor where a revolving restaurant and lounge reside. At first you're not sure if you're moving but look down at the floor and you can see that you are. With a panoramic view of the concrete jungle, we snapped a few shots as we nursed our oncoming meat comas. We were in the financial district and walked a few more blocks checking out the scene, seeing lots of construction, the library and a wedding in progress. While I'd never want to live downtown, it's nice to visit and take off from. Our Uber driver home was great; personable, funny and relaxed. The car was chilled and he drove just right, not the speed limit or racing through traffic. He was a cool guy, easy to talk to and deserving of the five stars.

Malibu! Wine Safari

30 minutes up the road from The Getty Villa is another hidden gem, Malibu Wine Safaris were you ride a truck, hang out with animals and drink wine. I had heard about the family run business somewhere, I believe a friend went and Clint Eastwood was there. But most people on our tour, including a large female birthday party, heard about it from a reality show featuring a famous family. ABC News was doing a segment and we waved to the camera. It wasn't hot but the sun was out so I'm glad I plied sunscreen.

At 90-120 minutes a tour, you don't really make that many stops but you end up spending time at each. There are multiple opportunities to interact with animals, you can feed and pet horses, water buffalo, llamas and more while zebras and camels aren't as friendly. There are several areas to the estate surrounding Saddle Rock where you can hold a wedding ($6-$12 grand) and even land a helicopter (LeBron James and Kobe Bryant have). There are plenty of photo opportunities as you're up high and can see for miles. At the first wine stop near the vineyards, you sample three types of white wine. While towards the end you're in a former camping ground with Airstream trailers and the van from Little Miss Sunshine along with red wine and crackers. Near the main house you get to hang out with the local giraffe and see camels, turtles, peacocks and ostriches. While the giraffe looks cute, it totally face smashed my friend and head butted me. And it hurt!

Malibu! The Getty

On Friday morning it was up the 405 and Pacific Coast Highway for a little culture at The Getty Villa. Paid for by oil and a passion for the arts, The Getty is free but requires reservations. Luckily they had some extra tickets for us and we got in with a $15 parking fee. It's beautifully built and meant to evoke an Italian villa from ancient times. The cafe was surprisingly excellent with a killer breakfast burrito. Walking around the tranquil gardens and exhibits, you can't help but think of Spartacus or Julius Caesar.

There's several exhibits based around mythological heroes like Hercules complete with a statue of the demi-god missing his junk. One peculiar touch was that there were busts of men and women all over the grounds depicting possible inhabitants of the era, not actual people. And they had eyes which just made them look creepy. There are guided tours along with a 12 minute video that gives you the history of the former residence turned art and architecture paradise just minutes outside of Los Angeles.

Hollywood! Road House

Had a childhood friend in town for the weekend so of course we had to Grip & Rip it up. Starting in Hollywood on St. Patrick's Day, I took him to the home of Dammaged Goods Presents, the historic Egyptian Theatre where we caught the second film of an awesomely 80's double feature of Dirty Dancing and Road House. Both star former dancer turned leading man Patrick Swayze, get it, St. Patrick's Day? The Saint of Cinema sadly passed away in 2009 but made his mark in films like The Outsiders, Red Dawn, these two flicks, Point Break and Ghost as a suave yet macho leading man.  I've always loved this film since seeing it as a kid. I mean come on it's basically a modern day western with boobs, booze and bust ups galore. Throw in a rocking soundtrack and plenty of what the crap moments like a blind singer, monster truck destroying a car dealer, sweaty tai chi, rough sex, bad guy wearing a razor on his boot, mullets on top of mullets, ripping a guy's throat out and Sam Elliott's pubes.

Directed by Rowdy Herrington and written by R. Lance Hill and Hilary Henkin, Road House was produced by the legendary Joel Silver who set out to the make the greatest Drive-In/B-Movie in history. And guess what, he succeeded! Behind the camera you have staples like composer Michael Kamen (Die Hard, Lethal Weapon), cinematographer Dean Cundey (Back to the Future) and a terrific cast wrangled by Jackie Burch (Predator). Swayze is legendary bouncer/cooler Dalton, a fighting philosopher with a degree from NYU who somehow manages to clean up dive bars making $500 a night but never winning a fight, in a spiritual sense. He's called in to tame The Double Deuce in Jasper, Missouri where he runs into local businessman and leader Brad Wesley (Ben Gazzara) along with his band of thugs that includes Marshall R. Teague (The Rock), Terry Funk (Over the Top) and Anthony De Longis (Masters of the Universe). He also meets and knocks boots with local Doc (Kelly Lynch), the blondest, tannest ER doctor you've ever seen. At just under two hours, I forgot how much action was in this film. There's something like 9 fights here choreographed by kickboxing icon Benny Urquidez along with plenty of explosions and gunplay. And that Swayze is shirtless and smoking a cigarette for nearly the entire runtime.

About an hour in, Sam Elliot shows up as Wade Garrett, aging but still the best bouncer in the game. With his gravely voice, lean physique and mangy yet spectacular hair, Elliot's Garrett is a Got Damme cinematic role model who punches a guy in the dick to get Dalton out of trouble before trying to get his adopted little brother to leave town before things go too far with Wesley. Anyone who doesn't like top knots needs to watch this flick and check out Elliott pulling his hair back before mixing it up. After years of supporting roles in successful films, Road House was meant to be Swayze's star vehicle to the big time. Budgeted at around $17 million, the film would gross a respectable $30 million in 1989 and offer up a more female friendly action hero compared to emerging every-man Bruce Willis, insane Mel Gibson and the superhero one man armies of Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Jean-Claude Van Damme was still starring in low budget hits like Kickboxer and Cyborg while the CAA and Warner Brothers backed Steven Seagal was about to break out with Hard to Kill. Constant airings on cable would catapult Road House into a cult classic that ensured high ratings and a milestone title in the vast filmographies of all involved.

To introduce the film and hype Saturday's co-presentation of Silent Rage with Cinematic Void, we gave out a copy of the hit soundtrack featuring the Jeff Healy band and two songs sung by Swayze. The question? What film did Swayze drop out of co-starring opposite Sylvester Stallone to headline Road House? Tango & Cash!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Gerard Butler Double: London Has Fallen

After checking out Gods of Egypt on Saturday, Tuesday night we ventured over to the Cinemark Playa Vista for Happy Hour at Hop Doddy's and Gerard Butler action flick London Has Fallen. Sequel to 2013's surprise 90's style action hit Olympus Has Fallen, London picks up three years later as President Asher (Aaron Eckhart) and top Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Butler) head across the pond for the Prime Minister's funeral but it's actually a trap set by vengeful terrorists from Pakistan. With access to the city cut off and multiple leaders assassinated, Banning and Asher hit the streets evading well armed baddies who want to execute the President live on the internet. Babak Najafi takes directing reins from premiere action helmer Antoine Fuqua and acquits himself nicely in the fast paced and highly violent flick. Original writers Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt are joined by Christian Gudegast and Chad St. John on the $60 million budgeted affair. Olympus Has Fallen cast members Radha Mitchell, Morgan Freeman, Robert Forster, Angela Bassett and Melissa Leo return with new additions like Colin Salmon and Jackie Earle Haley who stand around in suits in war rooms.

While casual viewers could call Olympus and London Die Hard knock offs with the one, isolated man taking on an army motif, I think they more resemble Under Siege, the Die Hard on a boat film starring Steven Seagal which managed to be a solidly crafted and entertaining thriller in it's own right. With hard R violence, cursing, explosions and blood, London Has Fallen is an unabashed action flick that has little time for class but lots of space for mayhem. Like Olympus, some of the CGI is stodgy thanks to modern Cannon Films studio Nu Image/Millennium making an epic on a budget but there's close quarter combat, gunfights, car chases, one liners and dead bodies aplenty in the 99 minute runtime. There was something strangely patriotic about watching Scottsman Butler play an American tearing through the streets, homes, subways and embassies of London straight deading fools. It was a cinematic reminder that America kicks ass, so let them kick ass. It reminded me of Jesse Ventura's thoughts on having a smaller but better trained and equipped military who could take on threats versus part time Reservists simply to fill numbers. Like an 80's and 90's throwback, London Has Fallen takes a highly skilled individual with the drive to survive and conquer the enemy, cutting through red tape, taking care of the job and not being afraid of doing the Damme thing.

London opened with $21 million last weekend, down from Olympus' $29 million but also received an A- Cinemascore which should equate solid word of mouth. London has the action scene to itself for a few weeks before Batman VS Superman at the end of the month. Star and producer Butler has been promoting the film heavily on social media, TV and making appearances at military bases. We'll see if London has legs and what falls next aka gets blown up and stabbed to death.

Gerard Butler Double: Gods of Egypt

This past weekend we took in a screening of 2016's first big budget bomb, Gods of Egypt. The film already had bad buzz going in as a mainly white cast was displayed in the trailer of a story set in a country that links Africa to the Middle East. Front and center you had Australian, Danish and Scottish faces along with a very divisive preview showcasing outlandish special f/x and computer generated action. You had separate apologies from the studio and director before the film even opened. The reported $140 million would be franchise starting flick opened with a not great $14 million and has generated just $72 million worldwide in two weeks. But I'm a sucker for fantasy set action films, especially of the sand, sandal and sword variety. Clash and Wrath of the Titans were fun adventure tales while 300 was more workout inspiring than solid film and Immortals being straight difficult to watch. Was Gods of Egypt as bad as the hype? Would it unfairly be classified as unwatchable as Legend of Hercules or Conan the Barbarian reboot? It's a strange film but has some very interesting things going on. Director Alex Proyas has shown talent behind the camera with The Crow, Dark City, I, Robot and Knowing but GoE is hamstrung by it's ambition and lack of resources to execute.

Written by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless, Egypt starts by explaining to the audience how the Gods lived on Earth because they had great powers and liked being worshiped. They're also taller than mortals which set off an alarm immediately. Then we meet young thief Bek (Brenton Thwaites) trying to make a better life for his love Zaya (Mad Max: Fury Road's Courtney Eaton) on their way to a ceremony for Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) who's about to become king. But big bad uncle Set (Gerard Butler) shows up, kills the king, puts a whupping on Horus and assumes the throne. From there it's a journey of sacrifice and redemption as Bek enlists the sulking Horus on a mission to get them both back something they've lost. The ambition and scope of the film is immense but not quite carried out to a T, you have some really bad CGI going on, from animated creatures fighting to horrendous green screen walking. The taller gods to humans ratio is also strange to watch. But there's plenty of fighting and the design is quite impressive. From the armor to kingdoms to humanoid animal troops and mythical creatures to a floating barge up in space, Gods of Egypt contains moments of excellence along with a sense of humor, lots of muscular bodies and plenty of cleavage. Below the main white faces you do get a solid supporting cast of non-WASP looking faces like Eaton, Elodie Yung, Rufus Sewell and Chadwick Boseman. Although the lady and I laughed that everyone more or less sounded English but Gerard Butler kept his thick Scottish brogue.

I'm not sure if the film would have done that much better without the white washing controversy as the trailers seemed to put many casual viewers off with it's over the top shine and video game like quality. It goes on a bit too long at over 2 hours but you definitely get your money's worth of visuals and action on the big screen. Game of Thrones' Coster-Waldau is the latest star of the hit show to not crossover to film, following Jason Mamoa's unsuccessful turn as Conan, Kit Harrington lead flop Pompeii, Emilia Clarke as a lackluster Sarah Conner in the under performing Terminator: Genisys, Gwendoline Christie not doing much in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, on and on. 3 episode guest star Ed Skrein did take over from Jason Statham for The Transporter reboot and is currently the villain in high grossing hit Deadpool so you never know who's going to go where from TV. Star Butler did little promotion for the film, electing to focus on starring/producing effort London Has Fallen which opened just one week later.