Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Happy Alien/LV-426 Day!

Here's some coincidental timing for ya, 2 years ago this week we were in Calgary for the Expo where we saw Aliens Exposed. Basically, the entire main cast of the 1986 classic reminisced about the film including Sigorney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Bill Paxton, Lance Henriksen and Paul Reiser. This year, following in the steps of Back to the Future Day on October 21st or annual Star Wars on May the 4th, The Alamo Drafthouse and Fox teamed up to put on Alien/LV-426 Day to celebrate the classic franchise that has now spanned 5 decades and 7 films with more on the way. Screenings of Ridley Scott's Alien and James Cameron's Aliens dotted the country with special edition tee shirts and swag available as well as giveaways online. The fun wasn't without a little irking though as Reebok released 426 pairs of Alien Stompers, the kicks that Ripley sports in part 2, but only produced men's sizes due to supposed retail interest/demand.

The Ace Theatre Downtown was alive and kicking though as the lobby felt more like a pre-show concert than a repertory movie screening. We walked by at 6:00 PM and a line was already down the block for the 7:45 PM start. Mondo had tee shirts and patches on sale that caused a huge queue, upstairs was a full on photo opportunity with industrial metal set and xenomorph statue. Statues and maquette's were on display along with themed dranks and snacks. There were multiple attendees in cosplay and more Aliens, Predator and Star Wars shirts than you could count. Post film, Vasquez, Newt and Ricco aka Jenette Goldstein, Carrie Henn and Ricco Ross participated in Q&A. I wonder what film will get the day treatment next. Until then, stay frosty.

Cop Out: Doctor Strange and The Ancient One

Captain America: Civil War opens next week and is on track to rake in $170-$190 bucks over the weekend. The Marvel Cinematic Universe keeps on trucking with newly announced Spider-Man: Homecoming with Sony and November's Doctor Strange starring Benedict Cumberbatch debuted it's trailer recently. Strange looks great, a visual mix of The Shadow and Inception to my eyes concerning cocky surgeon Stephen Strange who after a near death car accident, finds himself in Tibet learning the "mystic arts" to become the Sorcerer Supreme. Things took a turn for the weird when excellent actress Tilda Swinton showed up as his mentor aka The Ancient One from comics lore. In the pages though, One is an old Tibetan man not a bald white Tilda Swinton in robes. Then you had Baron Mordo, a white, Transylvanian nobleman in the comics being played by excellent actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, a black guy. Since then, along with Scarlett Johanson taking the lead role of Japanese manga Ghost In The Shell, online cries of white washing have given both films a bit of unwanted attention.

First off, we all know that Hollywood is a business that sees green over any other color, race, ethnicity, religion, what have you. So ScarJo taking the lead in a big budget flick based on a Japanese media isn't a shock, she's got a successful track record, a face that's put on magazines and is a movie star. But if she's playing Motoko Kusangagi instead of say, Margaret Kursan, it seems problematic. Take a cue from Edge of Tomorrow where a Japanese manga was turned into a Tom Cruise vehicle, not a direct and faithful adaptation of All You Need Is Kill. The film was inspired by the previous work, the creators got paid for the rights and the film told it's story in another medium. If anything, loosely basing a Tom Cruise film on a manga gave the book more attention than it probably would have gotten without it. No fuss, no muss.

On the Marvel front, Swinton herself has chimed in that she was not hired to play an Asian man, co-writer C. Robert Cargill more or less said it boiled down to 1) Old Asian man is a stereotype and 2) You can't mention Tibet if you want to get China money. Marvel responded they have a history of diversity in casting it's films and this version of The Ancient One is Celtic. To me, they could have just said, "we wanted to cast Tilda Swinton" and left it at that. But instead, this all just seems like a giant cop out. If old Asian Man is a stereotype, Tibet acknowledgement and Chinese box office are the main concerns, then don't call it Tibet, make up a fictional country in Asia. Marvel already has the faux nations of Wakanda, Latveria and Sokovia among others in Africa and Europe. Don't want to portray a stereotype? Then create a character that is well rounded and kick ass to teach Doctor Strange. Better yet, cast an actor that has box office clout in China. Now you have a positive Asian character and your Chinese movie chedda. But if you just wanted to get a respected, elder actor into the Marvel formula a la Tommy Lee Jones, Robert Redford or Michael Douglas then just say and do so. Don't offer up half ass excuses instead.

What about Ejiofor taking over as Mordo, isn't that reverse white washing? Back in 2004 there was a little chatter about Michael Clarke Duncan taking the role of Kingpin in the Ben Affleck version of Daredevil after the director was only finding bland bodybuilder or fat wrestlers. There was another low rumbling when Idris Elba took the mantle of supporting character Heimdall in Thor. Then there was quite a bit of expressed venom concerning Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm/The Human Torch in reboot dud The Fantastic Four. So it seems like a sliding scale of concern depending on how major a character it is. But it's not like producers contemplated having Will Smith play Superman or Captain America right? Actually, apparently they did but the actor didn't want to mess with white people heroes. No one is going to argue that Ejiofor is a solid actor but including him in the film feeds into Marvel's growing habit of giving their white heroes black/minotiry sidekicks. After Ejiofor you've got Anthony Mackie backing up Chris Evans, Don Cheadle there for Robert Downey Jr., while Paul Rudd got Michael Pena. That's diversity to a degree but it's not like this or any Hollywood film will lack in white actors on the poster or trailer. Meanwhile Benedict Wong was nowhere to be seen in the preview. We'll see how Marvel navigates these new choppy waters. But I'm sure the film will be excellent and rake in a couple bucks.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

What the Flick?! 3000 Miles to Graceland

As Kurt Russell month rolls on, I unearthed a forgotten yet extremely interesting if not instant classic in his filmography, 2001's 3000 Miles to Graceland. While I grew up on Big Trouble in Little China, Escape From New York then L.A., Tango & Cash, Executive Decision, Breakdown, Soldier and especially Tombstone, 3000 just went unnoticed on my radar for some reason. I recall it playing on the college channel of free movies but I only caught the random opening titles where CGI scorpions fight each other and bits of forced dialog to pieces of tough talking Kevin Costner before random, hyper stylized and overlong shoot outs. Cut to last night and we popped in the ol' DVD fresh from Amazon to soak up some Kurt Russell and Kevin Costner as Elvis impersonators who rob a casino during a convention dedicated to the King of Rock and Roll.

When the credits ended, all I could exclaim was "wow, what a weird frigging movie". 3000 Miles to Graceland was directed and co-written by Demian Lichtenstein, a former music video helmer for the likes of Sting, Eric Clapton and Queen Latifah with a script assist from Richard Recco. We meet just out of prison Michael Zane (Kurt Russell) at a little crap hole hotel outside Las Vegas, he immediately falls in with hot single mom Cybil (Courteney Cox) and her pickpocket young son Jesse (David Kaye). Boots are knocked and wallet stolen as Zane waits for partner Murphy (Kevin Costner), a mean looking hombre with crazy side burns. Murphy has rounded up an eclectic posse of shady characters played by Christian Slater, Bokeem Woodbine and David Arquette to knock off a casino during a big Elvis convention. While Murph and his cronies go in strong with guns blazing and grab millions in cash, Michael hot wires an elevator so they can meet helicopter pilot Jack (Howie Long) on the roof. Of course things go wrong, there's no honor among thieves and Murph leaves his crew for dead but ol' Michael survives and is soon on the run with Cybil and Jesse as they try to find the cash and elude Murphy's psychotic bad guy tendencies. Thomas Haden Church and Kevin Pollak show up as the FBI agent types on their tail and after a detour into the pacific northwest, Murph and Michael have their final showdown at a shipping yard.

Part action flick, part heist movie, pieces of a fractured romantic comedy and straight slapstick, 3000 is one strange hybrid of a flick. First off, it's very of it's time in the post Pulp Fiction era of big music, editing, violence and slickness. While Tarantino's taste made his choices part of a personality infused film, Lichtenstein just throws it all in with no real purpose it seems. Music blares but is extremely generic and just loud. Action scenes showcase lots of gun fire, oh so much slow motion, things breaking and exploding but no real story, rhyme or reason. Russell is fine as the likeable and non-violent ex-con while Costner is solid as the vicious yet interesting villain. The rest of the cast doesn't have a whole lot to do but the familiar faces run deep as in addition to the already listed, you get Jon Lovitz and Ice-T popping up later in the film. I was surprised at the amount of objectifying of women; Michael gazing at Cybil's butt, Murph picking up a young lady at a gas station, waitresses bending over, etc. but no actual nudity in the rated R film. Being the early 2000's, the action is noteworthy as it's mostly done practically with glass breaking, squibs going off, choppers flying in, cars crashing and a giant, over done explosion shown from half a dozen angles. In the end, not a good movie but strangely memorable, probably due to it's cast, skewed sense of hunor and Russell's excellent take on Elvis in a couple scenes drawing on his history with The King. First appearing opposite of him in 1963's It Happened at the World's Fair, playing him in 1979's Elvis TV movie and providing a quick voice cover in 1993's Forrest Gump.

3000 Miles to Graceland came at a curious point in both Russell and Costner's careers. After years building up his film roles and becoming a dependable box office draw, Russell would make $3, $7, $10 then $15 million bucks for a movie, culminating with 1998's big budget action flop Soldier. 3000 seemed like an easy rebound for Russell as he shared the leading man duties with Costner who became a star off of hits The Untouchables, Bull Durham and Field of Dreams before taking control of his own destiny to produce and direct Oscar winning mega hit Dances with Wolves. Critical and commercial successes Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, JFK and The Bodyguard followed before high profile disappointments A Perfect World, Wyatt Earp and $80 million directing flop follow up The Postman3000's trailer made it seem like a fun and kitschy action flick starring two of the biggest names of the 1990's. During the credits we get Kurt Russell shucking, jiving and lipsyncing to Elvis while other cast members look silly dancing and waving prop guns. The now defunct official website made history by hosting three featurettes of flash animation to act as a prequel to the film, voiced by Costner and cast. But reviews were not kind and the $40 to $60 million film opened #3, grossing an anemic $7 million bucks on it's way to just $15.7 million total in the United States. It is rumored that both stars cut a version of the film, Russell's being more comedic and focusing on Michael's relationship with Cibyll while Costner's was reported to be more action focused. Lichtenstein attended Costner's appearance on Inside the Actor's Studio that year while Costner, Cox, Arquette and Stallone hit the red carpet premiere. But just last week, Russell stated he had nothing nice to say about Costner so who knows what happened.

The film was a product of Elie Samaha's independent movie house Franchise Pictures which also produced cult classic The Boondock Saints, several direct to video Dolph Lundgren titles, Bruce Willy's The Whole Nine Yards, notorious flop Battlefield Earth and several under performing Stallone pictures before shuttering under allegations then a judgement that they were padding budgets and overcharged partner Intertainment $100 million plus. While Costner and Russell bounced back and are still going strong today, Lichtenstein would never work with an as ample budget or cast again. Producer Samaha's film output slowed but he's still a force in the real estate world, co-owning the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood that recently underwent an overhaul to make it the largest capacity venue IMAX but not actually being a true IMAX screen.

Hey Arnold: I Don't Have Time For You Today

"I tell you there's more nutrients in beer than in milk."
     - Arnold Schwarzenegger

Oh Arnold, your film career may be at a crossroads but Damme if you're still not the King of Kings. This week saw The Oak hanging out at Gold's Gym, once to train political journalist Loise Mensch before talking John Kasich and his Institute of Public Policy at USC. At nearly 69, Arnold looks in great shape with big, defined arms and broad chest. Later in the week Arnold did a 30 minute Facebook Live from the mecca of bodybuilding as he works chest and back on behalf of where a "Come With Me If You Want To Lift" shirt will be available to benefit After School All-Stars. The video is hilarious with appearances from Frank Stallone, a little person, some rocker from the 70's and supersets of presses, pulldowns and rows. Arnold shouts out lines from Conan and Predator, then gives people in the gym shit as he walks by, exclaiming "I don't have time for you today!" and "that's bullshit!" randomly. The Governator explains that he typically does 30 sets a session in 30-45 minutes and a perfect way to start the day is to ride his bike to the gym, get in a workout then enjoy a nice breakfast. Speaking of Gold's, last weekend Arnold trained his son with the nanny in Venice that morning then headed to Coachella to hang with his kids with Maria Shriver, talk about dad of the week effort.

On the movie front, Terminator Genisys Sarah Connor Emilia Clarke is on the promotional circuit and claimed she will not be partaking in any future chapters as if it were her choice and was now above it. While TG made $440 million worldwide, it disappointed in America and nearly put me to sleep. I went in thinking Jai Courtney as Kyle Reese would be the weak link but Clarke was the one woefully miscast as she has none of the spunk, drive, gravitas or physicality that Linda Hamilton displayed in her two takes. Like her Game of Thrones co-stars, she shall not have a movie career. Arnold's Predator co-star and The Last Action Hero co-writer Shane Black is looking to direct The Predator, a large scale, event sized take on the alien hunter series and Schwarzenegger is looking to discuss the project with Black in the near future. Lastly, during a Ask Me/Us Anything session to promote their action comedy Keanu, Key and Peele were asked about Arnold to which they responded "Oh you talking about Schwartsie? You talking about Arnold Schwarztenburgers? Arnold Schwartzenburgers is my shit. He's my shiznits." Indeed.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Remade! The Magnificent Seven

As you know, The Magnificent Seven is one of my favorite films. I saw it randomly in college on AMC then bought the VHS, later the special edition DVD, read the script over at the Margaret Herrick Library, picked up the blu-ray and saw it on the big screen a year or so ago. Director John Sturges' remake of Akira Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai is a mix of action, drama, humor and redemption made classic by the cast of Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, James Coburn, Brad Dexter, Horst Buchholz and Eli Wallach set to Elmer Bernstein's epic score. When I heard a remake was on the horizon, I wasn't totally surprised since everything gets remade these days but was thrown by the fact that producers were trying to line up Tom Cruise to headline. That didn't end up happening and in 2014, Training Day helmer Antoine Fuqua and his frequent leading man Denzel Washington were rumored to be stepping in.

After Fuqua and Washington's The Equalizer was a hit, Mag 7 picked up steam as current leading man of the week Chris Pratt signed up along with the likes of Ethan Hawke, Byung-hun Lee, Jason Momoa, Vincent D'Onofrio and Peter Sarasgaard. Momoa would end up dropping out but the film moved forward with a script from John Lee Hancock, Richard Wenk and Nic Pizzolatto. I figured with Fuqua's track record of gritty action flicks like Training Day, Tears of the Sun, Shooter, The Equalizer and Olympus Has Fallen, this version of The Magnificent Seven would be updated to modern times with mercenaries battling a drug cartel along the border somewhere. There was little coverage of the film during production, composer James Horner provided music based off the script before he died, an article with Pratt casually mentions a holster and gun used for training but no photos or reports from the set. That changed pretty quickly this week as stills from the film hit the net early in the week, the dreaded, "teaser of a teaser" followed then the full trailer dropped on Wednesday.

Set to House of the Rising Sun by The Animals, Fuqua's version showcases a full on western of long shots, natural vistas, sideburns, hats, gun, knives and explosions. It looks like Peter Sarasgaard's dapper villain and gang of thugs is making things hard for the local folk and a young woman seeks retribution but will settle for revenge. Side burned Denzel rounds up his motley crew, starting with Chris Pratt's liquor swilling, wants to blow something up second in command then quick glimpses of Hawke, Lee and D'Onofrio as part of the team. Fuqua is one of my favorite action directors working today and along with the cast, concept and look, I'm excited for the film. Some might complain about yet another remake but hey, 1960's The Magnificent Seven itself had 3 sequels, a 1998 TV show and dozens of knock offs to it's name. And if anything brings attention to one of my favorite movies from my second favorite era of film; the 1950's and 60's where dudes were macho and physical, I'm all for it. The western has seen a steady stream of low and high budget efforts for the last few decades with Unforgiven, Tombstone and Maverick hitting big in the 90's, revisionist and hybrid versions like Shanghai Noon, Open Range, The Proposition and 3:10 to Yuma in the 2000's, to True Grit, Django Unchained, The Lone Ranger and The Salvation among others in the last five years. Here's hoping the new Magnificent Seven keeps them coming.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

A Conversation with Kurt Russell

Disney California Adventure's Food and Wine Festival is in full swing. Celebrity chefs, winemakers, brew masters and distillers appear every weekend for seminars. I was originally scheduled to be working on an office project but it got pushed. The first thing that came to mind was that I could now attend A Conversation with Kurt Russell, a 90 minute get-together where the fan favorite actor would discuss his career in movies along with being an apprentice winemaker with line Go Gi. Stage 17 in the Hollywood Back Lot was set up with tables and chairs, linens and silverware. Before long, the Disney Legend took the stage and sat down for a fun, funny and informative 90 minutes. Russell of course, got his start as a child actor and knew Walt Disney. After a stint as a professional baseball player didn't pan out, Russell focused on acting.

Making a name for himself and becoming a $10 million man with the likes of Escape From New York, The Thing, Big Trouble In Little China, Tango & Cash, Backdraft, Tombstone, Stargate and Soldier, Russell seemingly took a hiatus from filmmaking in the late 2000's. Taking bike and wine tours with long time partner Goldie Hawn in France, Russell began to appreciate wine and in 2007 while shooting Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof, became interested in making it. Cut to today where Go Gi is a specialty label producing Goldie Chardonnay and Tiger Pinot Noir. We were given a sample of a wine not for sale, that Russell produced one barrel or 20 some cases of, just for his mom. But his mom isn't a lush and ends up giving a lot away. For today's tasting for a couple hundred, his mom parted with 2 cases so our sample was noticeably smaller then the others. While Russell contemplated where to jump in to making wine, a movie poster artist friend challenged him to stop talking about it and just do it. Drafting his sister to run the show, the Russell's are now producing organic and sustainable wine that was served up at The Wine Saloon for 2 years before closing this past week due to a change in building ownership.

It was a pretty enlightening chat that really showed Russell knows what he's doing when it comes to wine, talking about how temperature, wind, dirt and dew affects grapes and how you want a mix of big ones, shriveled ones, etc. As there are 100's of kinds of apples, there are apparently over 50 kinds of pinot noir grapes and Russell found the one he liked to produce Tiger. Originally Russell wanted to name the brand after a line Val Kilmer's Doc Holliday has in Tombstone, "In Vino Veritas", but it was taken. As was Russell Cellar and a host of others. Wanting to name each vintage after a friend or family member, Russell settled on Go Gi as in Go Gee, because he couldn't pronounce his middle name Vogel as a child. As Russell spoke, we tried wine, ate cheese and fruit then dessert. It was a very laid back environment but well run by the staff. Russell kept things light with his patented sense of humor, down to earth attitude, charmed personality and Kurt Russell laugh as he talked about celebrity couples headed towards splits-ville, the simple pleasure of drinking wine over an afternoon and learning about art when he didn't think he liked it. But when he saw Rembrandt and then the "f*cking Mona Lisa", he got it.

90 minutes breezed by and the moderator tried to close up shop but like at Escape From New York, Russell said shoot him questions fast and he'd answer. He talked about working with then 27 year old Elvis as a 10 year old and recalling 2,000 women chasing after the crooner's car. Also that Elvis was a nice guy who approached Russell's actor father Bing, stating he was a fan and asked if he could wear his hat the way Bing did. Russell played catch with Elvis and usually does with his make-up guy on set. But one guy he didn't play catch with was fellow baseball player turned actor Kevin Costner who Russell refrained from commenting on as he had nothing nice to say. But we all knew Costner was a bit of a jerk, didn't we? I asked what first memories came to mind about Tombstone and after a long pause, Russell stated something along the lines of, "you can keep the 20 years after the film, it was that hard to make but I'm very proud of it. And come on, dude, it's a classic."

Russell closed things out explaining that he had just come from the Atlanta set of Guardians of the Galaxy 2 where he was having a great time, speaking highly of Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, the cast and was very impressed with writer/director James Gunn who knows what he's doing. He also confirmed that he's playing Peter Quill's dad. When it was all over, Russell stayed and took photos with every attendee, shaking hands and chit chatting. I told him I bought a bottle of Tiger for a dinner party and he smiled and said he drinks it all the time then did the Kurt Russell laugh. It was an awesome day and fantastic experience as it's always cool to see a guy you grew up watching turn out to be a cool f*cking dude.

Workout of the Day: Sunday Style

Down to Disneyland for the weekend, I hit the hotel gym to get in a nice Sunday morning session. We'd already walked 15,000 steps the day before but I felt like hitting upper and lower body since I generally take Monday's off. I've been pushing hard and regularly for a few months now so may take a few days off soon as I wasn't getting a great pump and felt a little listless. But seeing Spartacus clips with Be Here Now along with guest Jai Courtney's rolled up sleeves and muscle popping posture plus the 3 course meal I had the night before provided motivation.

Goblet Squat/Leg Curl/Leg Extension x 4
Shoulder Press/Hammer Curl/Triceps Pushdown x 4
Sissy Squat/Larry Scott Side Raises/Concentration Curl/Lying DB Extension x 4
Calf Raises, Forearms
2.5 Kilometers on Elliptical Machine with 4 minutes of intervals

After stretching I took 8 flights of stairs just cause. If you've been training hard for weeks or months on end, it's never a bad idea to take a break, let the body and mind rest then figure out your next priorities. Guys like Arnold and Vince Gironda used to change up routines every 3 weeks with Gironda suggesting taking a full 7 days off to recuperate physically and mentally as planning, executing and tracking your workouts relieves stress but also is a form of it.

Ask Me a Question: Be Here Now

On Friday night we ventured to the crowded Promenade area of Santa Monica. It's a happening spot but a little too much going on for me. Sugar Fish had a longer wait then we could afford to have so we checked out The Craftsman Bar, a chill dive joint with a excellent happy hour prices but $13 Jameson, yeesh! Up the street is art house chain Laemmle's Monica Film Center where we saw Morgan Spurlock a while back with his Comic-Con documentary. Tonight it was the roll out premiere of Be Here Now, the story of Spartacus leading man Andy Whitfield and his battle with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a form of cancer that affects cells called lymphocytes, part of your immune system. Whitfield broke onto the scene with Starz's violent and sexual 2010 series about the slave turned gladiator turned rebellion leader. By the end of season 1, Whitfield was experiencing extreme back pain and was diagnosed. Doctors told him it was the type of cancer you wanted to get as 80% of patients recover after chemotherapy. Whitfield received treatment, the cancer went into remission and he prepared for season 2 of Spartacus. A routine insurance physical showed that masses had formed and Whitfield focused on fighting the disease.

Directed by Lilibet Foster, Be Here Now chronicles Whitfield's surprising life, a structural engineer who was discovered in a coffee shop, became a well known model and commercial actor before making an impact with feature film Gabriel in 2007. Securing the role of Spartacus, Whitfield trained for the regular shirtless and fight scenes then shot in New Zealand for 9 months, essentially breaking into Hollywood "overnight" with representation, the lead role of a series and a multi-year deal. Life had a different journey in mind as we watch Whitfield along with supporting and spunky wife Vashti  endure hardship after hardship as Andy fights the disease. Not wanting to jump back into chemotherapy right away, Whitfield explores holistic treatment in Australia and India like acupuncture, cleansing and seeing an astrologist. Months pass and Whitfield goes back to chemotherapy and then radiology to mixed results. We watch the husband and wife, parents of two young children, in intimate close up as Andy has good days and bad days through months and then a year of harsh treatment. On September 11th of 2011, Whitfield passed away peacefully in a hospice.

Producer Sam Maydew, Whitfield's former manager, was on hand to discuss the film along with Spartacus co-star and Whitfield's off screen buddy Jai Courtney. It was an interesting night of emotions as audience tears were shed during the film and you could see how close Whitfield and the documentary were to Maydew, who lost a family member during it's production. Maydew shared that he tried to stop Whitfield from documenting the experience, thinking it to be too personal. Thanks to Kickstarter, the film was completed and has hit festivals like the Los Angeles Film Festival where it picked up the Audience Award. Courtney had a more, celebrate his life approach, fondly remembering his friend and first professional idol as Whitfield had just landed the leading role, was happily married with kids and really taking off. Whereas Courtney was tending bar when he landed Spartacus and has now gone on to appear in Die Hard 5, Jack Reacher, Terminator Genisys and Divergent. He's also the godfather to Whitfield's kids and got heavily involved in producing the documentary.

Be Here Now is playing all week at the Monica Film Center with guests from the film, the Lymphoma Research Foundation, various medical associations and The Matrix's Carrie-Anne Moss? If you're not in New York or Los Angeles, demand a screening in your town via tugg.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

What the Chuck?! Sidekicks

Chuck Norris' cinematic prime came a bit before my youth. For me it was Bruce Lee and Jean-Claude Van Damme movies while Norris I recognized from Missing in Action and The Delta Force reruns on TBS and his hit show Walker, Texas Ranger on CBS. But as a martial arts training youth reading Black Belt magazine, Norris was never far from my eyes. I recall seeing 1992's Sidekicks at the local discount theater and enjoying it. The gold boxed VHS is part of my collection and once when my brother asked for my iPhone upgrade, I said he could have it if he brought Sidekicks to California from our Ohio home. He did. Jim from Cinematic Void screened a trailer for the flick with Silent Rage which of course gave me a hankering to watch the film again. We meet lovable, asthmatic dreamer Barry (Jonathan Brandis, View in Peace) at school, day dreaming during class that he's Chuck Norris' high kicking sidekick in recreations of Missing In Action, a ninja flick, a western, movies I don't think Norris actually ever starred in, The Hitman and more. Barry's computer programmer from Pittsburgh dad Jerry (Beau Bridges) is struggling to stay close to his son after the death of his wife. Local teacher and supporter Noreen (Julia Nickson) thinks she can help, enlisting newly arrived uncle Mr. Lee (Mako) to teach Barry martial arts.

Mako isn't quite as hard a task master as say Bloodsport's Shidoshi Tanaka or sadistic as The Karate Kid's Kreese and puts Barry through paces like running, chins, nunchaku drills and breaking bricks. Soon Barry doesn't even need his inhaler, catches the eye of dreamy classmate Lauren (Danica McKellar) and stands up to karate trained bully Randy (John Buchanan). By the end of the film at a giant karate tournament, Barry meets his hero Chuck Norris in real life as they compete on the same team in an inspiring if wholly unbelievable scenario. But that's the point of Sidekicks, dreams do come true if you believe in them enough and never give up. Directed by Chuck's brother Aaron with a script from Lou Illar and Galen Thompson, Sidekicks is a fun and more or less harmless piece of martial arts action comedy. Known for his R rated fare, Sidekicks opens up Norris' audience to kids and employs some very juvenile yuks as bad guys get blown up with bubble gum and there's lots of kicks, flips, gunfire and throwing stars but no blood or death. There's also a really fake looking yet educational rope climbing scene where Barry seemingly talks to himself in front of the entire class as imaginary Chuck shows him how to use his legs and tells us he hates the word "can't".

Produced via Mark Damon's Vision PDG, Sidekicks like fellow studio project Dark Angel/I Come In Peace before it was shot in and around Houston with Lamar High School standing in for itself along with the convention center and several nice looking parks, one with a waterfall. The film still holds up with solid production values that cover half a dozen day dream sequences, entertaining action and hands down Norris' best supporting cast ever that includes Beau Bridges, Jonathan Brandis, Mako, Julia Nickson, Joe Piscopo (buff and sporting a mullet), McKellar, Richard Moll and Gerrit Graham. Alan Silvestri provides a memorably playful guitar and drum heavy score. Norris carries the story but not directly, mainly popping up in action sequences then dropping a few bits of knowledge and encouragement on Brandis' Barry. For the most part it's an adopted family affair meets coming of age with light romance and a few training scenes with Brandis, Mako, Bridges, Nickson and McKellar.

By the early 90's, Norris had burst into the cinematic scene with low budget karate hits like Breaker! Breaker!, Good Guys Wear Black and A Force of One. Cannon Films backed the bearded badass with healthy budgets and paydays for Missing in Action, Invasion U.S.A. and Hero and the Terror to diminishing box office returns. Sidekicks was partially funded by local Houston mattress icon Jim McIngvale who invested $9 million for production and a further $7 million for advertising. Sidekicks would open in limited release on April 9th with a grassroots wide release following on April 30th. Taking a page from future President Bill Clinton, the producers booked Norris on a trail of personal appearances at theaters and on local news, meeting fans and signing autographs. The gambit paid off as Sidekicks grossed a respectable $17 million at the U.S. box office, his highest take since 1986's The Delta Force. Norris' theatrical days were numbered as 1994's Hellbound and '96's Top Dog would close out his starring vehicle days. On the small screen however, Norris would appear on 196 episodes of Walker between 1993 and 2001.

Director Aaron Norris would stick close to brother Chuck, mainly working on Walker and popping up as a stuntman in last year's Ant-Man. Sidekicks is co-writer Illar's only credit while Thompson would work with Norris on several projects before his death in 2011. Familiar face Mako starred opposite the likes of Steve McQueen, Arnold and Sean Connery in his 160 acting credits before passing in 2006. Working as an actor since he was 5, Jonathan Brandis became a teen magazine cover staple after appearances in It, Lady Bugs, The Never Ending Story II and Starquest: DSV. But transitioning from an androgynous teen heart throb to leading man proved more difficult. As work dried up, Brandis was said to have become depressed and at only 27, committed suicide in his Hollywood apartment building. Nunchuk in Peace, Brandis, I always enjoyed your work.

Van Dammage: LAX

"Excuse me, excuse me! I'm more famous! I'm Jean-Claude Van Damme!"
     -JCVD at LAX

Jean-Claude Van Damme is back! In Los Angeles that is. Paparazzi caught the bulging Belgian at the Los Angeles International Airport last weekend as the Muscles From Brussels returns from a few weeks of traveling abroad to the likes of Romania, Israel and London. While out on the planet, Van Damme shot a new series of commercials for Coors Light, checked out a soccer match and did some soul searching after the horrific terrorist attacks hit his home country. Back in LA, Van Damme is scheduled to start shooting his new Amazon show from Ridley Scott where plays a heightened version of himself that travels the world as a hit man moonlighting as a movie star. Seemingly in good spirits, Van Damme joked with the paps, threw a kick and comically knocked a cigarette out of his assistant's hand while trying to get out of the airport. On Sunday night, Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World's Chris Pratt won an award for Action Performance, giving props to Arnold, Sly and JCVD among many others.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Straight Netflix'ing: The Ranch

As you all know, Sam Elliott is the man. The gravelly voiced dude with sweet hair and mustache from Shakedown, Road House, Tombstone, The Big Lebowski, We Were Soldiers, Hulk and many more is the epitome of cinematic cool and seems pretty chill in real life. Elliott is currently co-starring in the just released Netflix sitcom The Ranch with Ashton Kutcher, Danny Masterson and Debra Winger. I had seen a few blurbs stating that he and Winger were highlights of the comedy/drama series and several friends on Facebook seemed to be enjoying the show so we popped it on during a lazy Saturday. We were supposed to go see a few movies but after three weekends of gripping and ripping along with rainy weather, it seemed like the perfect day to kick back, eat a lot of food, drink a bit of whiskey and tear through a new series.

Created by TWO AND A HALF MEN's Jim Patterson and Don Reo, The Ranch starts at a modest (and very TV set looking) ranch in Colorado where high school sensation turned professional washout Colt Bennett (Kutcher) returns and starts helping out dad Beau (Elliott) and brother Rooster (Masterson). Son and father have lots of issues as Colt smoked, drank and screwed away every opportunity while Beau has been struggling making ends meet on the ranch for decades. Immediately the show is a strange mix of sitcom yuks and actual family/life drama with a bit of cursing thrown in that threw me off. You get bar owning mother Maggie (Winger) who is still married to and sleeping with Beau but lives on her own, to give the elder actors their own subplots. Then there's former along with current flames Abby (Elisha Cuthbert) and Heather (Kelli Goss) for Colt. The series basically hinges on Beau's old school macho man who won't accept help or consider other people's opinions and Colt's easy going and charming washout loser dynamic. Everyone in the cast does well for themselves but it's Elliott who drew me in as I would not be setting aside large chunks of time to watch Kutcher. As the cantankerous Beau, Elliott uses his gnarly voice and bitching mustache to full effect as he makes fun of modern convenience, fashion and food (Almond Milk is referred to as nut juice, Uggs are for women, etc.) and gets to say the F word a lot.

It's impossible to keep up with Netflix's original output so a semi low brow show with heart aimed at middle America starring multiple familiar faces really caught me by surprise. The show is set up like any sitcom whether it's Two and a Half Men or The Big Bang Theory with a few regular locations and the odd actual outdoor scene shot along a random side of a road. Randomly you get one episode appearances from the likes of Rex Linn (Cliffhanger), Thomas F. Wilson (Back to the Future) and Kutcher's former co-star Jon Cryer (sporting a clean bald head). All in The Ranch is an enjoyable 10 episodes where humor is usually hanging around sex jokes and guys getting hit in the nuts mixed with an unexpected amount of dialog focused on family dynamics, parenting, love and regret. Set on a ranch in Colorado, there's no jokes aimed at rural America but gives a fair glance at small town living, farming, animals, drinking and guns. You even have dinner at Cracker Barrel instead of some generic show hang out. There was actually a lot of clear but not oppressive product placement for Budweiser, Jameson, Muscle Milk, Ajax, Chips Ahoy and more which makes me wonder how much of the shows costs were covered by manufacturers. Apparently Netflix picked up the series for 20 episodes and will release the next 10 at a later date. From there we'll see if it's picked up for a second season and give the world more of what it needs, Sam Elliott being a and the man.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Wine Guys: Adrian Paul & Kurt Russell

I don't know how it happened but I've been wine tasting twice in the last few weeks. First it was in Malibu at the Wine Safari where you hang out with animals like horses, llamas and a giraffe then at Disney California Adventure Park during their Food and Wine Festival. April continues to be the time to get wine'd up as this Sunday, 4.10 at the Lorimar Winery in Temecula you can learn how to use a sword AND taste wines at Adrian Paul's The Sword Experience. Paul of course was the star of the hit syndicated show Highlander and starred in two feature films as Duncan MacCleod, cousin to Christopher Lambert's Connor. Living through the centuries as an immortal who battles others like him with decapitation as the only way to kill them. With the removal of the head comes the absorption of knowledge set to lightning and rain with a blaring rock soundtrack. For $350 bones, you can train with Paul for 4.5 hours while enjoying breakfast and lunch, a photo with the star and teacher, complimentary wine tasting and a free club membership. If that weren't enough, there's live music afterwards. Paul is taking The Sword Experience on the road, hitting Chicago, Houston, London, Stuttgart and Minneapolis to meet the fans and support his charity, The Peace Fund, which aims to Protect, Educate and Aid Children Everywhere.

Next Saturday, 4.16 at California Adventure Park you can meet movie legend Kurt Russell and hear him discuss his awesome career and passion for wine making. Apparently the star of Escape From New York, Big Trouble In Little China, Tombstone and Tango & Cash fell in love with the fermented drink while shooting Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof in wine country. Since then, the apprentice winemaker has created small batch boutique label Gogi that offers Goldie Chardonnay and Tiger Pinot Noir. I picked up a bottle of Tiger last weekend and can't wait to crack it open with friends on Friday night. For $199 you can kick back with Russell in the advertised informal 90 minute get-together. Through May you can attend demonstrations and meet the likes of Robert Irvine and Guy Fieri.

Cinematic Roundup: Dolemite, Robocop, The Terminator, The Rock, Raiders & More!

There are a lot of great frigging movies playing in Los Angeles this week. And I'm not talking about new releases The Boss, Hardcore Henry or Demolition. I'm talking repertory screenings across town, retrospectives and one killer triple feature. Starting last week, UCLA has been honoring prolific producer Jerry Bruckheimer with a month-long film festival, The Heat Is On, with screenings of Top Gun, Enemy of the State and Pirates of the Caribbean. This Saturday you can catch testosterone fueled 90's classics from Bruckheimer and director Michael Bay with The Rock and Armageddon. The Rock was one of my favorite movies growing up but I've never seen it on the big screen. Sean Connery, Nic Cage, Ed Harris and Michael Biehn all shine in the violent roller coaster ride that was a hit in '96. A supposed sequel featuring Cage's bio-chemist turned man of action was announced but never produced.

Over in West Hollywood, you can catch cinematic O.G. Harrison Ford in his prime at The New Beverly for Raiders of the Lost Ark, playing Friday and Saturday night along with a Saturday matinee. Matinees at The New Bev are fun, they're only $6.00 and you get a free popcorn! Dick Tracy is playing later in April as well so I'll be sure to check that out. In Hollywood proper, our friends at The American Cinematheque's Egyptian Theatre and Cinematic Void are premiering a new 2K restoration of grindhouse classic Dolemite! Packed with 70's kung-fu, open collars, music and rhymes, stay tuned after the film as cast and crew are scheduled for Q&A. Saturday night at The Egyptian, prepare for a killer 80's triple feature of tech-noir classics Robocop, The Terminator and R.O.T.O.R.?! Robo and Term are two of my favorite flicks of all time, making me life long fans of Peter Weller, Paul Verhoeven, James Cameron and Michael Biehn among others in two fell swoops.

I've seen Robocop twice on the big screen, both with Weller attending now that I think of it...and Terminator at least 6 times with the likes of Cameron and producer Gale Ann Hurd on hand but sadly never with the real stars, Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn. And yes, you're reading this right. You can see The Rock and The Terminator on the big screen this Saturday which means Michael Biehn on the big screen twice in one day! Throw in Aliens at the Ace Hotel later this month for LV-426/Alien Day and that equals a triple dose of The Biehn in 30 days! If only someone would screen Predator to give Los Angeles a near comprehensive 80's sci-fi/action buffet...

Monday, April 4, 2016

Weird(cool) Panels: Captain America Man & Wolf

This installment of Weird(cool) panels is brought to you by the most action packed decade in comic books, the 1990's! By 1992, I had been reading Captain America comics for about 3 years, starting with the absolutely legendary 1980 9 issue arc by Roger Stern and John Bryne, collected as War & Remembrance. From there I started reading Cap monthly, growing up on Ron Lim's bulky and action oriented style along with Mark Gruenwald's writing which pitted Cap against The Serpent Society, drug dealers and the Red Skull's Skeleton Crew. By 1992, Lim moved on and Rik Levins took over. His art wasn't as crisp or impressive as Lim's but had an energy about it along with giving each character a long and lithe look compared to Lim's blocky and compact style. Issues 402 through 408 belong in Cap's Weird(cool) Hall of Fame because the Star Spangled Avenger becomes a werewolf! I've had the hankering to revisit the saga after seeing a new Cap action figure come with a replaceable wolf head. I don't need another Cap action figure but my lady was sweet enough to buy me the head by itself on eBay. With the majority of my comics collection is in storage in another state, WonderCon came through as my lady spotted the trade in a 60% off bin and I nabbed it.

In the crazy 6 part run, Steve Rogers aka Captain America is looking for his pilot, one John Jameson, son of Spider-Man's newspaper publishing nemesis J. Jonah Jameson. John was a decorated NASA pilot and astronaut who came into contact with a gem on the surface of the moon which turned him into a manwolf. He's now gone missing at the same time as a rash of rumored werewolf killings are happening in quaint northern Massachusetts. Going to investigate, Cap seeks out some supernatural support but Dr. Strange unavailable, so Doctor Druid is enlisted to help him on his quest. The pony tailed master of the occult agrees and the two Sky Cycle up to Starkesboro, population 932 where they're immediately attacked by a werewolf and a silver masked and haired baddie on a flying motorcycle, Moonhunter. Turns out the town has some natural lycanthropes, you know people who turn into werewolves while others are being turned into them by Dr. Nightshade and her caped, bad guy wizard boss Dredmund. X-Men scrapper Wolverine is also investigating the murders and fights it out with a horde of werewolves before being captured and injected with werewolf serum but his healing ability rejects it. Instead Wolvie gets mind controlled like the rest of the town and becomes a more feral and violent version of himself.

Meanwhile back in New York we get an appearance from Steve Rogers' former love, Bernie Rosenthal, whom he met in War & Remembrance coincidentally. Bernie is back in town trying to get back together but Steve had been seeing former criminal and thief Diamondback unofficially. In the meantime, Bernie screws up as she's taking a walk with Avenger butler Jarvis and Steve's old friend, Dennis Dunphry, a former pro-wrestler turned superhero sidekick D-Man. D-Man was recently found in suspended animation up in the arctic and has been a mute near zombie ever since. But he does hit the gym with Cap, bench pressing 8500 pounds! Anyways, Jarvis has to bolt then Bernie loses sight of Dennis who wanders off in Central Park. Back in Stakesboro, Cap is captured and injected with the wolf serum, turning him into Cap-Wolf! From there he has to try and maintain his humanity, organize his fellow wolf captives and lead a revolt. Wolfsbane from X-Force makes an appearance, as does her leader Cable, the giant shoulder padded and gun toting soldier from the future. Adding to the WeirdCool-ness, Dr. Druid has some interesting mind powers like being able to levitate Cap out of trouble and heal his slit throat by sheer force of will. It's like that yoga Dhalsim does that lets you spit fire.

CapWolf leads the prison escape, faces off with Dredmund and grabs the Moongem. In a kind of random showdown, Cable and CapWolf get stymied by a giant rug wrapping them up which Wolverine then slashes through to set them free. Turns out the alpha wolf in captivity is John Jameson, who has been trying to find a way to be as super heroic as Cap and the Avengers after being an astronaut was no longer enough in the modern age. Man & Wolf is a fast and fun read which a familiar but enjoyable set up of a small town taken over by an evil baddie, experimenting on the locales. Throw in a found on the moon gem that turns you into a wolf, Cap spending half the issues as one, cameos from Wolvie and Cable and you've got yourself a quirky yet well executed change of pace. You even get some Infinity Gauntlet/War spillover as Captain America's evil darkside manifests into reality and tries to kill him. I don't know how Cap was selling back then but the issues were running twice a month which I'm pretty sure is a good thing.

Supporting Mark Gruenwald and Rik Levins you had Danny Buldanadi, Steve Alexandrove, Don Hudson and Ray Kryssing on Inks, Joe Rosen and Bob Sharpe doing Lettering, Gina Going and Arianne Lenshoer Coloring then Pat Garrahy, Barry Dutter, Ralph Macchio and Mike Rockwitz Editing. While it's been 15 years since I first read these issues, they were still pretty fresh in my mind. It was funny going back and realizing that Cap was picking bullet slugs off his armor, not the slimy bugs and as a 10 year old wondering why those things you see on the sidewalk would hurt. Reading up on the issues, I found out that artist Rik Levins went into video games after spending 3 years on Cap then started teaching at Full Sail University. Levins sadly passed away in 2010 from complications of cancer. Thanks to Levin and team for providing me with childhood adventure that has made for positive lifelong memories.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Gotta Drank! Disney California Adventure Food & Wine Festival

It's been a busy few weeks where we started with wine tasting and petting zoo in Malibu, hanging in Hollywood for Road House, Downtown for meat and sky high dranks. Then back again for WonderCon and three days of happy hour, Batman V Superman, Silent Rage at The Egyptian and the pop culture show. This weekend we headed down to Anaheim and Disneyland for the month long Food & Wine Festival at California Adventure Park. You see, the lone spot you can drank in Disneyland is the members only Club 33. But at CA Adventure you can grab beer, wine and margaritas almost anywhere. Every weekend of April finds Food Network chefs like Robert Irvine and Guy Fieri, winemakers, beer brewers and whiskey whipper uppers sharing their knowledge and leading workshops. OH and this just in, on Saturday April 15th, you can hang out with actor turned winemaker KURT RUSSELL and hear about his line, Gogi. I'm tied up that weekend otherwise I'd be there kicking it with The Charmed One himself.

Anyhow, there were multiple food and booze stands lining the paths near Cars Land and that Napa Valley inspired area. Cocktail tables were set up and it was pretty busy while being a simple way to make some extra bucks amidst rumors that Disneyland Shanghai is behind schedule and way over budget. For $15 you could sit down and hear from Silverado Vineyards winemaker Jonathan Emmerich. Located in Napa Valley, Silverado is the partial brainchild of Walt Disney's daughter Diane Miller. Starting in 1980, Miller and company started making wine and are now a name amongst names in the business. Emmerich kept things pretty loose as we tasted one white and two reds. Each table was set up with three glasses, a bottle of water and a blank paper mat along with a Disneyland Hotel pen. Several tables were unoccupied and Emmerich told us to grab the extra glasses so the wine wouldn't go to waste. Don't have to tell me twice, yoinks!

Now I'm no wine connoisseur so it all tasted like fruit and whatnot, and was all kind of back of the throat and not very smooth or easy to drink. But I'm not sure how wine is really supposed to taste anyway. Emmerich did share some interesting facts about how watering grapes has changed over the years as once upon a time you'd see the guy next door watering and remember to do the same. Now with the drought and technology, they irrigate using well water per grape vine. He also mentioned that the best time to visit Napa is when the harvest is but it's also like Spring Break where everybody is in town, prices go up and it's hard to get a nice dinner reservation. Instead, come up in February or March when it's empty and relaxing, it's a little cool and you won't get gouged for a room or a meal.

Workout of the Day: Body Guy

This past week I spent my time in the gym by training my entire body in each session. I've always been a firm believer of circuits and throwing in total body and leg exercises gets the heart and testosterone pumping. It's also an easy way to keep symmetry in mind as like Arnold, Frank Zane, Vince Gironda and Jean-Claude Van Damme, I view weight training as building a sculpture to a degree. We all have body parts that grow fast easily and others that lag so it's up to you to keep the balance. Compound moves like Clean & Press, Chins, Push Ups and Dips work multiple body muscle groups in no time and get you out of the gym in under an hour.

5:00 AM at the gym: Clean & Press/Chin/Incline Push Up/Hack Squat/Preacher Curls/Lying EZ Bar Extensions/DB Side Raise/Leg Curl for 3 circuits followed by calves, neck and forearms

With weights covered, the next day it was cardio: 3x3 minute rounds shadow boxing/4x3 minute rounds heavy bag/5 rounds jump rope/1200 meters rowing

This actually wore me out quite a bit as each exercise is a little more intense than walking on a treadmill or riding a stationary bike.

Feeling a little sore Friday I went with: Shoulder Machine Press/Machine Rows/Decline DB Flys/1-Arm DB Spider Curl/Lying DB Extension/DB Raises

At the hotel gym before Disneyland: DB Deadlift/Goblet Squat/Step Up/DB Press/Incline DB Curl/Lying DB Side Extension x 4 followed by calves and 1.5 miles on the ol' Elliptical.

Con-Man: Hotel Life

This Tuesday is the Comic-Con International hotel room request lottery. Starting at 6:00 AM, Pacific Standard Time, hopeful hotel guests will be put into a waiting room where they'll try to lock up a room during San Diego Comic-Con from their top 6 choices. While we get a condo, I know plenty of people who rely on the hotel lottery. So here's a guest post from my Con-rade over at High Phalanges, Annemarie:

"I get more anxious about the hotel sale than I do about the badge sales. It’s so bad that I have nightmares about the sale. It’s one thing not to get a badge to SDCC, but to get a badge and NOT have a place to stay would be THE WORST. Also, everyone and their freaking mothers wants that golden egg of a hotel room: the prestigious Omni, the peaceful ocean views of the Hilton San Diego Bayfront, the trendy Hard Rock Hotel, and so on."

"Every year over a hundred thousand people compete for a limited number of rooms sold in the SDCC Hotel Sale, and every year there is excitement, disappointment, bargaining with higher powers, and, if you’re like me, lots of coffee and alcohol. It’s a messy process that starts with staring at a clock, clicking the link when it’s time, and filling out a tedious form...and this is all done in record time (because you have been preparing for this moment all year and the first people always get the best hotel choices). And then the waiting begins. This is a three day window in which one waits to find out if they got one of their six hotel choices and if not, then they hope they got a decent hotel in hotel circle."

Check out the rest of her thoughts at High Phalanges and good luck!

Friday, April 1, 2016

Con-Man: Anaheim VS Los Angeles

Last weekend, Comic-Con International's WonderCon took over the Los Angeles Convention Center. If you're keeping track, WonderCon spent many years in San Francisco at the Moscone Center before construction and schedules pushed WC to Anaheim for 4 years. Anaheim was under the knife this year so WC moved up to Los Angeles. The neighboring J.W. Marriott was the Con hotel and the nearby L.A. Live housed Microsoft Theater was the Hall H or Anaheim Con Center Arena for 2016. While proximity to Hollywood was closer, WonderCon was actually a smaller show than years previous in Anaheim with even less movie and TV panels and guests. Having the show downtown was fun as you have the L.A. Live complex next door with a movie theater and restaurants and lots of cool spots just an Uber ride away. BUT the Staples Center was still in full swing with a basketball or hockey game every night of WonderCon with two on Sunday. That lead to an extra influx of thousands of folks fighting for the same restaurants and surface streets leading to night time hordes and terrible traffic.

There have been rumblings that Comic-Con will leave San Diego in the next few years as they've outgrown the convention center space and hotels are trying to rip off attendees by pre-setting steep prices and some kind of tax deal. SDCC overtakes the 11,000 hotel rooms in the area, accounts for over 60,000 stay nights and brought in a whopping $177 million to the local economy in 2014 alone. Ever the non-profit just putting on the best celebration of the creative arts, CCI has been courted by the likes of Anaheim, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. After WonderCon in Downtown, I can firmly say I vote Anaheim. The great thing about San Diego Comic-Con is that it takes over the ENTIRE downtown area. The baseball stadium, library, local parking lots, the marina, on and on there's things to see and do, many for free without a ticket. But Downtown, Los Angeles is just spread out a little too much so having those pop-ups would be difficult. Parking is already a b*tch, there's half as many hotel rooms then throw in extra sporting events just leads to a less special feeling. Las Vegas in July? Woof. No thanks. Again, things would have to be spread out and mainly held in hotels.

Even though Anaheim is in our backyard and feels less like a vacation, is simply set up to handle crowds. Highways lead directly to Disneyland and the Convention Center with few spots for bottle necking. Even when a big show like WonderCon or Star Wars Celebration is in town, you don't feel the Disneyland crush really at all. There's the Gardenwalk full of restaurants and many more just a short ride away in Orange or Fullerton. There's 13,000 hotel rooms in the area, many just a few blocks from the convention center (that's 200,000 square feet bigger than San Diego) and it's placed at the end of a street so traffic moves in and out pretty easily. WonderCon has already announced it will return to Anaheim in 2017 and for the first time in a while not be held on Easter weekend. Comic-Con has signed a deal to stay in San Diego for 2017 and 2018 so we'll see what happens after.