Monday, November 21, 2016

Gotta Go! Austin

Earlier this summer I headed to Austin for work, it's no secret that the Weird capital of Texas has become a bit of a scene in the last years. With 100 + folks moving there a day in addition to a giant college nearby, being the live music capital of the world and huge festivals celebrating movies and tunes like South By SouthWest and Fantastic Fest, it's the premiere middle stop between Los Angeles and New York. I'd been there once before, literally for a day, last year for screenings of Lionheart and Only the Strong with Sheldon Lettich. The Alamo Drafthouse on Sixth seemed a little college grody to me but I learned that's what the area, dubbed Dirty Sixth, is all about. Bachelor-ette parties, bums and university kids line the closed off streets on weekend nights while there's a little bit older and calmer demographic on Rainey Street and a mix of both over on West Sixth.

Staying downtown at the half hotel, half office complex the Omni, I had a nice view of the city from their rooftop pool, construction and homeless shelter alike. I got to see a bit of the city with my co-workers and sample some tasty grub ranging from burgers to seafood to pizza. On my own I ventured over to Pinballz, a local establishment with arcade games and pinball machines that was BYOB! Walking around the selection was pretty varied with old school 80's games like Donkey Kong and Mario as well as a nice selection of driving ones like Batman or shooting with personal favorite Time Crisis. Lots of pinball with new to me Twister and Demolition Man being highlights. There was a small row of fighting games and after going on a tear in Time Crisis, my joystick jiu-jitsu continued as I won six matches straight on X-Men VS Street Fighter on one credit. In the end I took on Magneto and beat the game as Ken with a cute ending of him hanging out with his kid.

It was a fun trip and I'm glad I got to see more of Austin's eclectic mix of new modern sleekness, vintage architecture and random, slapped together looking houses and business surrounded by grass and gravel. I can't say I'd like to move there but it's a great place to visit with some nice folks. Plus I saw an old co-worker who had moved to Austin from LA, taking my copy of Hard Target with him and finally returning it.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Damme Words: All Those Moments

Speaking of books, over the summer I picked up a copy of Rutger Hauer's autobiography All Those Moments from an awesome garage sale for a buck. The hosts must have worked at nearby Sony as they had tons of memorabilia in forms of posters, shirts, books and promotional items. I also grabbed a bitching Escape Plan shirt that's super soft and excellent for wearing to the gym. Anyways, All Those Moments is a brief overview of iconic genre actor Rutger Hauer's career. Most know him from Blade Runner but he was also great in the likes of Ladyhawke, Blind Fury and Nighthawks, worked with Robocop's Paul Verhoeven, a fellow Dutchman, several times and showed up in varied fare like The Hitcher, Batman Begins, Sin City, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and so many more.

The book is a breezy read, never getting too detailed and skipping over a lot of his filmography. We get a picture of Hauer's poor upbringing to poor acting parents and how he was on the first Dutch television show, directed by Verhoeven. They'd work together multiple times with Hauer always having to ask and never being invited as Verhoeven was always looking for someone new. Hauer describes traveling to America and loving being here while working with Stallone on Nighthawks was a little more challenging as the Rocky star was clearly in control leading to a butting of heads. A funny side of Hauer is revealed as the actor drove a giant truck/RV deal around to sets in Europe leading Dick Donner to yell at him in disbelief when he showed up on the set of Ladyhawke. I could have used an entire book on the making of Blind Fury but it does get a chapter so I'll take what I can get.

Con-Man: Good, Tough & Deadly @ SDCC '16

In the last couple of years I've attended conventions near and far, domestic and international, set up my own, been on a panel and organized a movie premiere during, this past San Diego Comic-Con was another first, participating in a book signing on the show floor. david j. moore's The Good, the Tough and The Deadly was Amazon's #1 New Release in film books this past summer and the author graciously asked if I'd join him at La-La Land Records' booth while he sold and signed books for an hour. There was lots of traffic going by as the booth was near Warner Brothers. We hustled folks walking by as friends stopped by to support as well as subject Eric Jacobus, stuntman and filmmaker, with some of his stunt industry friends from 8711 gym, the team behind The Matrix, John Wick and many more. David was able to sell some books, I signed and chatted with #ActionMoviePeeps and saw how hard it is to get people's attention even when there's thousands around. Until next time, keep kicking like you're on Broadway.

Don't let the title fool you, it's just two dudes who can appreciate other, helping each other out!

Animated Goods: Pryde of the X-Men

As a kid I had a VHS of Pryde of the X-Men, a lone episode featuring Marvel's most popular fighting team. It even came with a live-action PSA about voting starring Spider-Man, no wonder I'm such a good person! I didn't know why it was only one episode as it was action packed, featured a litany of familiar heroes and villains, had terrific animation and of course a killer theme song. After the Pure Fandom launch party at Coin-Op in San Diego and playing the similarly styled and themed 1992 arcade game, I watched Pryde in bed the next day before heading to the show. In 22 minutes we're introduced to the X-Men (Cyclops, Dazzler, Colossus, Storm, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Professor X and new recruit Kitty Pryde) as they train in the Danger Room, hang out at the mansion then take on their old foes (Magneto, Pyro, The Blob, Juggernaut, The White Queen, Toad), end up in space on Asteroid M, it's awesomely ridiculous. Toei does an immaculate job with the animation, each character gets their bit and fans forever would wonder why the Canadian Wolverine was suddenly Australian (apparently because it was the fad at the time, Crocodile Dundee, Melly Ass Gibson, you know).

In a bit of full circle, the show was one of Marvel Productions' last projects and much of the team who did G.I. Joe and Transformers for Sunbow worked on Pryde. Which means the likes of voice director Wally Burr, producer/storyboard director Larry Houston, Cyclops voice actor Michael Bell and Nightcrawler Neil Ross, some of my fantastic guests at the Sunbow Celebration, were people I could ask about it! Duke himself and all around funny guy Michael Bell couldn't remember how it came to pass but recalled having a lot of fun recording it. Shipwreck and Rambo Neil Ross elaborated a bit, stating that Wally Burr put out the call, at the audition Burr wanted Nightcrawler to be Bavarian and the recording session was the longest he could remember at 12 hours. The cast was told it was a pilot for a series but everything ground to a halt due to Marvel's financial issues leaving only Muppet Babies in production. Of course a few years later, Fox found success with their fun if not as well done or good looking X-Men cartoon that ran from 1992 - 1997.

Sadly, former World War II tank commander turned veteran voice actor and director Wally Burr suffered a stroke earlier this summer. Burr has worked on the likes of Inspector Gadget, G.I. Joe, Transformers, Jem, My Little Pony, Exosquad, Bucky O'Hare and countless other titles. Outpouring from fans and colleagues has been strong and you can send a note to to wish him a hearty Yo Joe and get well soon!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Gotta Drank! San Diego Comic-Con 2016

Arnold Schwarzenegger once said something to the effect of going places where the crowds weren't. That's always been my approach as I love happy hour but abhor going out at night, or have no problem finding a quiet spot a couple blocks from con to enjoy some libations and grub. People tend to pool where others go equaling huge lines and crowds in the Gaslamp directly across from the convention center. Go a few blocks east or north and you'll find plenty of places ready to serve you while taking your cash. Last year the Top of the Hyatt was under renovations and reopened this year as a swanky lounge with still beautiful views and famous quotes on the windows.

Near the small Chinatown establishments you had Whiskey House, a solid joint with nighttime ambiance, a wall of booze and lots of food options. Up a few blocks was Taste & Thirst, a very bar-y bar that was home to Diamond's Alien Lounge with props, posters and a backdrop. The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund party once again took place at the lovely Westgate Hotel with themed dranks and swag bags. Speaking of swag bags, we Uber'd north near the university to Coin-Op, a barcade hosting new app Pure Fandom's launch party with 80's movie posters on the walls, tator tots on the menu and plenty of cabinets lining the walls of standard fare like X-Men and Street Fighter. Swag included a new album from Vince DiCola, the incomparable electronic composer of Transformers: The Movie and Rocky IV. All the celebrating and imbibing caused me to take a 4 week break on drinking after but it was fun while it lasted.

Oh yeah, and don't ever take a pedicab in downtown San Diego, it's a total rip off.

Workout of the Day: Train with Zane

We all have measures of success, one of mine has long been attending San Diego Comic-Con for a week and attending a Train with Zane Experience. 20 minutes outside Downtown, tucked away in La Mesa is Zane's private residence and gym. A fixture of bodybuilding and fitness, Zane won the sports most prestigious title, Mr. Olympia, three years straight in 1977-1979 and was part of the "Golden Age" of body builders who trained and helped each other like Arnold, Franco Columbu, Dave Draper and many other California based luminaries. Zane has long been an inspiration as first, he was closer to my size at 5'9" and under 200 pounds, his symmetrical and defined physique coupled with a quiet yet confident and educated attitude was just easier to relate to on a personal level.

Zane welcomed me to his densely packed gym that's adorned with photos of his dogs, himself and magazine covers he and wife Christine have graced over the decades. His three Eugene Sandow Mr. Olympia trophies sat unpretentiously on a small shelf. I wasn't quite sure what to expect from my 3-hour Quick Zane Experience besides a rundown of nutrition and exercise advice mixed with Zane's philosophical approach. At first we sat and just talked, about my background, the path to La Mesa for the Zane's, the good old days, current competitive bodybuilding, on and on. In his 70's, Zane was a man more or less at peace with himself, never the show or sales man that Arnold was in their youth, he sure wasn't trying to be now. He's just a man who's gained experience and education through the years and is now passing it on to others if they can use it. It was a bit of a shock after getting to spend time with another idol, the younger and much more erratically energetic Jean-Claude Van Damme just a couple weeks prior. While JCVD was everything you'd hoped to be and more, up, down, over here, over there, hilarious and inspiring, Zane was more level and without even realizing, dropped heavy doses of knowledge that will stick with me for years to come.

When we stepped into the gym, Zane assessed my current physique, asking my routines and eating plans. Shockingly, drinking whiskey and eating happy hour food is not conducive to getting in optimum shape. When asked about my goals and motivations, I honestly came up blank with only short term items like shirts fitting too tight or just feeling a little dumpy. Zane shared that he peaked every September for 23 years and from there just tried to stay injury free and feel energized. I've long been a user of opposing muscle group supersets like Chest to Biceps or Back to Triceps but Zane had me try doing movements for one body part in a row like Incline DB Press to Decline Flys to Dumbbell Pullovers. That way you were keeping blood in the same general area without overly taxing your shoulders and joints. I must say that I felt the difference immediately. Zane had me slow down and really focus on the movement versus just trying to lift the weight. My arms started cramping up after just one tri-set of biceps, guess I should have warmed up...

With the afternoon winding down and needing to get back to town for Preview Night, Zane and I said our goodbyes with me purchasing a Train with Zane DVD to take home. While it was an educational if not all out 90's style adrenaline pumping workout video experience, I walked away with some heady issues to confront that influenced my Comic-Con week for better or worse. Using Zane's training techniques in the weeks and months after, I've noticed solid changes to troublesome body parts and feel slimmer as well. I'd definitely go back next time I'm in San Diego and would surely appreciate it more now that I know what to expect.

Con-Man: San Diego 2016

Ah San Diego Comic-Con, the mecca for all things creative arts. This was a landmark year as I spent nearly a week in San Diego and even took a few hours to train with bodybuilding legend Frank Zane in nearby La Mesa. Arriving on Tuesday, downtown SD in the Gaslamp Quarter was hopping as usual and local businesses and bars were ready for Con with comic book art and signs luring in passerby. Doctor Strange banners adorned streets, BB-8 and Pokemon imagery filled windows. Things were made a little easier this year as badges were sent out instead of needing to be picked up at the not that close Town and Country.

Walking around early Wednesday morning at 6:00 AM and soaking in the peaceful calm before the storm, I saw pop ups for Amazon, South Park, NBC and Conan O'Brien's Funko face plastered on buildings and trains. Our Comic-Condo was right in the Gaslamp again but unfortunately faced a busy street and it was far from soundproofed. My sleep would get worse as the week went on. A few pre-Preview Night Jameson's got me surprisingly feeling no pain as I checked out the Exhibit Hall where DC had costumes from Wonder Woman and Suicide Squad on display, a bronze Captain America statue made a stop on it's way to Brooklyn, Star Wars costumes and the like all warranted a quick photo. The show felt a little samesie as I kept running into the same stuff but that's going to happen when you've been to as many shows as I have. I meant to make my way over to a parking lot screening of Super 7's new original He-Man and the Masters of the Universe animated short but them Jamesons had me wanting to hit the sack...

Panels through the week included the increasingly con attending Edgar Rice Burrough's where we learned that Carson of Venus is being adapted into a film series, Jim Davis of Garfield fame made his first Comic-Con appearance and picked up an Inkpot in the process. King of WeirdCool Thomas Jane and the cast of The Expanse were on hand for the season 2 announcement and Hall H, while ever so crowded, seemed a little light on programming this year. It's been my observation that since 2010, the Hollywood Bubble has slowly burst so at some point casual fans will stop trying to get in. There's always Seattle, Salt Lake and New York.