February 25, 2014


Tony Manero
Stays alive on the dance floor.
How deep is his love?

Dunbar goes native.
He learns the ways of the Sioux.
Goddamn subtitles!

A twist we all know...
Taylor's been home the whole time.
Those damn, dirty apes!

What? No underpants?
Good thing my remote control
Has a pause button.

Let's clone dinosaurs!
Bad idea? Perhaps, but...
T-Rex toilet kill!

February 21, 2014


Starring Simon Baker, Dennis Hopper, Asia Argento, Robert Joy, Eugene Clark, John Leguizamo. Directed by George A. Romero. (2005, 93 min).

In the late 70s and early 80s, KGON was arguably the most popular radio station in Portland among most teenagers, and the only one which played real rock, both new (Rush, Cheap Trick, Van Halen, AC/DC) and classic (Hendrix, Sabbath, Purple). It sometimes declared its hatred of disco by starting a Bee Gees tune, then smashing the record and replacing it with The Who’s “We Won't Get Fooled Again.” The station's anti-establishment, long-live-rock credentials were held in high-esteem by nearly every kid with an FM radio in their car or a boom-box on their shoulder. This was an era when one was often defined by his or her musical tastes, and walking my high school halls wearing a KGON T-shirt automatically upped your cool quotient.

KGON’s disc jockeys were almost as cool as our rock gods…Marty Party, Glynn Shannon, Iris Harrison sounded like they partied as hard each day as we did on weekends. Iris’ sultry voice was intoxicating to any impressionable teen boy, while Marty and Glynn had us convinced they played lengthy tracks like Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” to allow them time to fire up a fat one in the station’s storage closet.

Personal circumstances had me leaving Portland for almost twenty years. During that time, a lot changed…MTV took over, rap music reared its ugly head, and pop tarts & boy bands became all the rage. Sadly, a majority of the music artists we used to crank-up in the car while cruising 82nd Avenue either broke up, died or faded away, ending up performing at state fairs and casinos. Rock wasn’t quite dead, but the prognosis wasn’t promising. When I moved back, much of Portland had changed, too. With the exception of my folks, most of the people from my old neighborhood had moved, and many of my favorite haunts (the Galleria, Crystalship Records, my beloved Southgate theater) were long gone. Clackamas High, where I graduated, had since-become a middle school and the Foster Road Drive-In (where I had my first date) was now an industrial park.

I’m not necessarily opposed to change, but it is sort-of sad when formative parts of your childhood get crushed in the gears of time. As I get older, I’ve learned to appreciate the few things which manage to survive unchanged.

Shortly after I returned to Portland (with a family this time…talk about change!), on the way home from work one day, the CD player in my car decided it was tired of Metallica and stopped working, which pissed me off because I had developed a keen distaste for radio over the years. To me, it had become homogenized crap...pop, rap & country with the occasional ‘funny’ DJ trying in vain to be the next Howard Stern. On a whim, I threw the dial to 92.3, where KGON ruled the roost back in the day. I figured it was probably long gone, or changed its format to something more modern. Instead, Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys are Back in Town” roared from my speakers. Other songs from my youth followed…”Iron Man,” “Lunatic Fringe,” “Back in Black,” “Tom Sawyer,” “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

Not only was it KGON, it was the same old KGON, with the same Glynn Shannon, piping-in every third song or so. Upon other commutes around town, I discovered Iris was still there, too, though Marty Party apparently partied hard enough that he had to finally retire. To this day, I seriously doubt they’ve played a single song recorded after 1990. KGON found their niche in the 70s and stuck with it through thick and thin, inevitably becoming ‘classic rock radio.’ I’m pretty certain the only thing they’ve done to keep up with the times is make the switch from LPs to CDs.

I find comfort in that, the same comfort I felt after nestling into my theater seat in 2004 to watch Land of the Dead, the oft-rumored, long-awaited fourth film in George A. Romero’s apocalyptic zombie saga.

Romero is, of course, the godfather of the zombie genre. He didn’t invent it, but Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead are the genre's unholy trinity, because everything we currently know and love about the zombies can traced back to these three films. They were made decades apart, and while Romero directed numerous other films in between, no one really cared about them. Whether he likes it or not, when we hear Romero’s name, we immediately think of hordes of drooling, shambling corpses.

Ironically, Romero hasn’t really reaped the benefits of his creativity. Even though Night of the Living Dead is an all time classic, he and his production team neglected to copyright the film, which is why you see it in DVD budget bins bundled with other movies that became public domain. He didn’t make the same mistake with Dawn of the Dead (widely considered his crowning achievement), which was pretty successful. When he got around to making Day of the Dead, he was forced to compromise his original epic (and expensive) vision in order to retain complete creative control. It’s considered a classic today, but back then, Day of the Dead was a critically & commercially disappointing conclusion to what we assumed would remain a trilogy (by the way, his original script for Day is still floating around on the internet, and if you ever get the chance, check it out…it’s amazing).

Romero kinda disappeared for awhile, occasionally making forgettable flicks like Monkey Shines and The Dark Half to pay the bills. Meanwhile, the monster he created back in ‘68 began to bloom. Zombies exploded in popularity in both movies and video games. All of them (from the Resident Evil franchise to 28 Days Later to the remake of Dawn of the Dead) took Romero’s initial conventions and sped them up, resulting in once-shambling zombies able to run the 100-yard dash in nine seconds. Whether or not this trend was the result of a creative desire to add something new to zombie lore or appease the video game crowd is debatable. Admittedly, the remake of Dawn of the Dead is actually really good, even if old-school zombie fans found some of its 'upgrades' to be somewhat sacrilegious, prompting the question, “What does George think of all this?”

Dead Reckoning...the ultimate road rage vehicle.
After years of rumors and false starts, we actually got that answer when he unleashed Land of the Dead. As usual, he had a lot to say…about culture, about our government, and most definitely about how fast zombies are able to move. The imitators who followed in his wake may have upped the ante in special effects and bloodletting, but one thing they could never duplicate was Romero’s use of zombies as a platform to satirize societal ills. His movies were never simple gut-munchers…they were allegories on racism, politics, consumerism, economics or anything else culturally relevant to the decade in which they were released. Similarly, Land of the Dead, his first zombie movie in 19 years, had a lot to say about our post 9/11 country (it isn't complimentary).

More importantly, Romero went old school. Sure, he had major studio backing this time, a big budget (for a zombie flick, anyway) and a cast of known actors. And yeah, he was forced to reign things in a bit to earn an R rating, using some clumsy CGI for zombie headshots (which Tom Savini used to pull-off more convincingly with just a blood-filled condom). But other than that, he presents his zombie hordes as he always had - slow, lumbering creatures whose sheer numbers are far scarier than a single angry ghoul sprinting in your direction - and despite its R rating, Land of the Dead is still loaded with plenty of Romero’s trademark gore gags.

Sitting alone in a theater watching this in 2004, I felt the same way I did when discovering KGON was alive and well, exactly the same as when I last left it. These were the zombies I grew up with, and Land of the Dead was the same type of cynical, nasty, mean-spirited and uncompromising zombie movie which made me love Romero’s original trilogy to begin with.

Among all that gore, I found further comfort realizing some things never change.

February 20, 2014

THOR: THE DARK WORLD - Q&A with Natalie Portman

Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World continues the adventures of Thor, the Mighty Avenger, as he battles to save Earth and all the Nine Realms from a shadowy enemy that predates the universe itself. In the aftermath of Marvel’s The Avengers, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) fights to restore order across the cosmos… But an ancient race led by the vengeful Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) returns to plunge the universe back into darkness. Faced with an enemy that even Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and Asgard cannot withstand, Thor must embark on his most perilous and personal journey yet, one that will reunite him with Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and force him to sacrifice everything to save us all.

With the Blu-ray and DVD of Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World about to be released, we chat to actress Natalie Portman to find out more…

Kenneth Branagh famously directed the first Thor movie. What was the biggest different between working with him and Alan Taylor, who is the director of Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World?
Ken was phenomenal to work with, and he was so much fun. I think a big part of the reason that so many of us wanted to get involved with this franchise was because it was an unusual and cool idea to have someone like Kenneth Branagh make a movie like this. Alan Taylor is wonderful in a very different way. He has a PhD in Philosophy, so we would be talking about a scene and he would say something like, “This can’t happen; it’s not Hegelian.” My response would be, “I don’t know what you are talking about!” [Laughs] Alan came at the movie from such a different angle, and he has such expertise in creating these fantastic universes from having worked on things like Game Of Thrones. It was really interesting working with both of them. They are both wonderful directors. 

Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World producer Kevin Feige says that your character – Jane Foster – is a fish out of water in the movie. Would you agree?
Jane Foster doesn’t fit in. She’s a short brunette in a world of blonde Amazons; in a place where magic is reality and there’s all of this advanced technology that she’s never seen. The people speak like they are in a Shakespeare play, but she’s like a character from Bill And Ted, walking around saying, “Like, what’s going on dude?” It’s fun.

How would you describe Jane Foster’s relationship with Thor in the second movie?
Thor came to Earth to help The Avengers save New York, but he never called to say, “Hey, what’s up Jane?” So when they first reunite in the second movie, she is pretty angry with him. It’s a funny situation that many of us can relate to; when the guy that stole your heart reappears. They start out at quite a contentious place.

How much danger does Jane Foster face in Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World?
Jane is in quite a bad situation. There’s a very mysterious weapon that the enemy is using on her, so part of Thor’s quest to save Earth is also about saving Jane, which is something that Odin [played by Sir Anthony Hopkins] objects to. 

Can you talk about the relationship between Jane and Thor’s father, Odin?
Jane is clearly a thorn in Odin’s side, but it was such a great honor to get to work with Sir Anthony. He’s the loveliest, loveliest man. 

Was it fun to be yelled at by Sir Anthony Hopkins?
Oh yes! [Laughs] I will take anything from Sir Anthony. If he is nice enough to be in the same room as me, I will take it. 

Thor often rebels against his father in Marvel movies. What can you tell us about your rebellious side when you were growing up?
I wasn’t very rebellious at all. To be honest, I wish I had been a little more rebellious. It’s interesting figuring out who you are, and a lot of it has to do with your parents. You try to figure out how much you are like them and how much you are different from them; what you want to take and what you want to leave behind.

Why do wish you had been more rebellious? What do you feel you missed out on by not rebelling?
I feel like a lot of not rebelling was the desire to please, the desire to be good, and the desire to fit in. During those years, when you are at your most creative and imaginative, someone with a strong sense of self often rebels. The kids who were bad and rebellious were the real artists in our school. 

What do you enjoy the most about working as an actor?
The greatest thing about my work as an actor is to be exposed to incredible charity organizations that do really, really meaningful work. I have recently worked with Free The Children, which is a group that provides education in developing countries. They are different because they cushion it with water, sanitation, health care and alternative income for the mothers so that the kids really do go to the school. Once the school is built, the kids actually continue to attend.

What other charity work are you involved with?
The other group I have worked with for a while is Finca, which provides micro loans. These are small loans primarily to women in developing countries so they can start their own businesses, which is a wonderful idea. It’s been a complete privilege to get to meet many of these people, and to be inspired by their generosity and kindness. I couldn’t be happier to be involved with projects like these.

How much do you think Marvel movies empower women?
There are definitely many strong women in these movies, and I think that’s a testament to the people who run Marvel. They have a respect for women with the way they want to characterize them. I think it will be exciting to see a [Marvel] movie with a central female character, which I think is coming. At least, I have heard it’s coming. And, of course, a central nonwhite character would be exciting to see, too.

There were a lot of strong female characters in superhero franchises in the 1950s and 1960s…
That’s true, and some of them were really remarkable for their time.

What are your thoughts on the notion that superheroes and comic books are a male-centric interest?
I think many women are into it, too. You just have to go to conventions to see how many women love this world. It’s fun to play a woman who is a scientist in these movies. I think the more variation of what women do in the public eyes is good for young girls to see.

How much are you aware of the Marvel cinematic universe? Do you watch the Iron Man films and Marvel’s The Avengers
I watch all the films. I don’t watch them ten times; I go once at the theater. But I love them. I think they are really, really fun. 

What are your thoughts on the new Star Wars movies?
I am so excited about them. I think J.J. Abrams is such a talent and I can’t wait to see what he does. I am only sorry that my character died, which means I can’t be in them. I saw him somewhere and I said, “How did this happen? I can’t believe I’m not going to be in the new movie.”

Do you have any desires to work in the theater?
I would love to work in theater. However, it would have to be the right place and the right time. I love the theater and I love going to see plays, but I don’t know what’s next for me right now. I guess we’ll have to wait and see what’s around the corner.

February 12, 2014


Deadly Sin killer.
Oh my God, what's in the box?
Bet it's not cookies.

Great White on the prowl.
Gonna need a bigger boat
Or we'll be shark snacks.

Hey, Marion Crane...
Shower your troubles away!
Ignore that peep hole.

Dark jungle trip to
Kill a mumbling fat guy.
Sweet morning napalm.

Kidnap plan gone wrong.
A sleazy spouse; two dumb crooks:
Some wood-chipping fun.

February 9, 2014


Starring the voices of Sean Astin, Christopher Gorham, Justin Kirk, Michelle Monaghan, Shemar Moore, Jason O’Mara, Alan Tudyk. Directed by Jay Oliva. (2014, 79 min).
Warner Home Video

This latest DC movie is based on the comic, Justice League: Origins, part of an ongoing New 52 series, which chucks aside previous issues and relaunches the DC universe with new origins, costumes and backstories. If it sounds like I know what I’m talking about, think again.

I had to Google all that because I’m not a comic guy, I’m a movie guy. I couldn’t tell you squat about any of these characters other than what I’ve seen on TV and in movies. In my world, Wonder Woman is Linda Carter threatening to burst from her brassiere, Shazam is a crappy 1970’s kids’ show, Cyborg trades wisecracks with Beast Boy on Teen Titans and Green Lantern reminds me how much I hate Ryan Reynolds.

So for all I know, the whole DC relaunch pissed-off die hard fans worldwide. But maybe this latest direct-to-video DC epic is intended more for folks like me, who’s never purchased a comic book in his life, because I like this movie quite a bit. Aside from the limited-animation style similar to various DC series on Cartoon Network (a style I never cared for), Justice League: War is a fast moving, funny and interesting take on how these iconic heroes assemble for the first time in order to save the world from malevolent aliens.

"Hey...my fly ain't open! Not funny, Clark!"
The story is pretty perfunctory - I’ve yet-to-see a Justice League cartoon where the fate of the world wasn’t at stake - but what makes this movie work so well are how the characters interact. First of all, this is a DC universe where superheroes aren’t exactly embraced by the public (upset at the collateral damage their actions cause). Not only that, they don’t like each other too much either, and their snarky banter is pretty damned funny (especially between Green Lantern and Batman). Their overall competition with each other almost recalls the long-running gag in The Tick, which  features a city rife with too many superheroes.

Comic purists may disagree, but the movie also does a great job introducing Cyborg (the only character whose true origins are depicted). As a college athlete whose gridiron heroics are belittled by his estranged scientist father, the irony of how he becomes Cyborg provides a bit of unexpected drama. On the flipside of the coin, you haven’t lived until you witness Wonder Woman’s reaction when an angry citizen says she dresses like a whore.

Warner Brothers has long-threatened to make a big-budget, live-action Justice League film to answer Marvel’s success with The Avengers. Funny thing is, if they’d have used this story and script, they probably would have had that answer. This animated film may not be as ambitious, but it is a hell of a lot of fun, and probably the closest we’re gonna get to a full-blown Justice League movie in the foreseeable future.

DVD Copy
Digital Copy
Creating Heroes: The Life and Art of Jim Lee
Justice League: War Act D - From Animatic to Pencil Test
Deconstructing War with Jay Oliva & Jim Lee
4 DC Comics series episodes
Preview of the upcoming DC movie, Son of Batman.

(Out of 5)

February 6, 2014

Blu-Ray Review: SCORNED (2013)

Starring Billy Zane, AnnaLynne McCord, Viva Bianca. Directed by Mark Jones. (2013, 86 min).
Anchor Bay Entertainment

What happened to Billy Zane, anyway? He was so disturbing in Dead Calm, despicable in Titanic, wickedly funny in Demon Knight and the only good part of The Phantom. Sure, he’s stayed gainfully employed since then, but look at his films…Blood of Redemption, Scorpion King 3, The Employer, Mercenaries, Sniper Reloaded, Blue Seduction, Surviving Evil…just a few selected titles from a resume consisting almost entirely of direct-to-video junk. Zane may never be mentioned in the same breath as DeNiro, but he’s always been a good character actor (and great villain). Is this junk all he’s being offered, or does he simply have a hard time saying no?

Whatever the case, Scorned is yet-another direct-to-video, low budget thriller which may help pay Zane’s mortgage, but doesn’t stand out from any of the other anonymous flicks acquired by premium cable channels to fill-out their late night broadcast schedule. Similarly, Scorned offers nothing we haven’t seen before in the bigger & better movies it emulates. Zane plays Kevin, a philanderer whose girlfriend, Sadie (AnnaLynne McCord) discovers he’s been cheating on her with her best friend, Jennifer (Viva Bianca).

Billy Zane reflects on the good times...when he
was an A-list actor.
The problem is Sadie is also a murderous psycho, flipping-on the crazy switch faster than Jack Nicholson in The Shining. She then manages to trap them both in Kevin’s secluded vacation home and commences torturing them. While some of these scenes are violent and cringe worthy, like when she rips out one of Jennifer’s teeth and re-enacts the hobbling scene from Misery on one of Kevin’s ankles, there is no real suspense. What starts as a Fatal Attraction knock-off devolves into mild bout of torture porn that’ll still disappoint those looking for big-time bloodletting.

Then there’s McCord as Sadie, who chews up the scenery like a rabid dog. Right from the get-go, her performance is so over-the-top that she’s more of a cartoon than an actual character. But maybe that isn’t her fault, because it’s obvious Sadie is the only character director/co-writer Mark Jones (he of Leprechaun fame) put any thought into. Billy Zane may be the most recognizable name in the cast, but his role could’ve been played by anyone with the ability to limp and scream.

I actually find this a tad ironic…Zane first gained fame in Dead Calm as one of the more disturbing and evil psychos in modern movie history. Now he’s playing the helpless victim to a character he could have arguably influenced. While I doubt that connection occurred to anyone involved in the film, this bit of irony does add a bit to its entertainment value. For everyone else, Scorned is a forgettable and derivative composite of the erotic thriller and torture porn genres, one which won’t likely appease fans of either.

As for Billy Zane…maybe I’m being too harsh. Maybe he truly likes doing this stuff. Maybe he likes being a B movie icon with a steady paycheck (I know I would be). Maybe he’s so difficult to work with that movies like this are all he can get. Still, stuff like Scorned is a waste of his talent.

But wouldn't it be great if someone were to cast Zane as a Marvel super villain?

(Out of 5)

February 3, 2014


Starring Dolph Lundgren, Melanie Zanetti, Matt Doran, David Field, Jen Sung, Lydia Hook, Oda Maria. (2013, 89 min).

Welcome to the Kingdom of Low Expectations, where hopes are seldom high, the intellect is never challenged and most films end up on DVD shelves before anyone's even heard of them. In this world, we're content if our maladjusted kids manage to graduate with straight Cs, our tax refund allows us to fill the gas tank with enough left to score a case of Busch Light and we're delighted when our cable service offers a free Cinemax weekend (so we can catch some late night soft-core fun).

Living here is like being a loyal Cleveland Browns fan.

This land is ruled by King Stallone. Sitting at his Round Table are Sir Norris, Sir Seagall, Sir Snipes, Sir Lundgren and every WWE wannabe action star whose last name isn't Johnson (and if he doesn't pull his head out of his ass, Sir Willis is soon to join this regal group). These noble knights once served a greater king, but have since-been banished to the Kingdom of Low Expectations, a realm whose subjects scoff at the idea of paying full theater prices to see them battle, but are more-than-willing to take a chance to enjoy their skills on home video.

Rescued by King Stallone, who gave him a role in The Expendables, Sir Lundgren (Dolph, to you) has actually exceeded our expectations. While Lundgren will always be known as Drago in Rocky IV to most foreigners, in the Kingdom of Low Expectations, he's emerged as the land's greatest knight, appearing in such low-rent fun as Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning and Ambushed, films which most folks would be ashamed to admit were pretty entertaining. Add Battle of the Damned to that list, an unfortunately-titled zombie flick that sounds more like a pay-per-view wrestling match.

Dolph takes his performance in Dancing with the Stars
WAY too seriously.
A low budget mash-up of 28 Days Later and Escape from New York (with a bit of the video game, The Last of Us, thrown in), Battle of the Damned stars Lundgren as Max Gatling (how awesome is that name?), a mercenary who accepts a mission to rescue a young girl from a quarantined city that's teaming with a virus which has turned the population into vicious, flesh-eating zombies. He finds the girl (a defiant & feisty emo kid who can kick some serious ass herself), along with a half-dozen other survivors (the budget probably couldn't afford any more). They've managed to stay alive in this town thanks to Duke, an arrogant megalomaniac who questions Gatling's mission. Sounds like straight-forward enough action, doesn't it?

But wait! Aside from a few plot twists revealing who's who, I forgot to mention the killer robots who suddenly show up in the middle of the movie! They are sloppily rendered through CGI, but not only do they cause most of the gory mayhem, they provide a surprising amount of the movie's comic relief.

Speaking of which, Battle of the Damned is often intentionally funny, something folks in the Kingdom of Low Expectations aren't used to. Sure, the cast mostly plays it straight, but the movie has enough one liners and amusing dialogue that, while not as clever as anything in Zombieland, has us thinking its makers were just-as-aware of the absurdity of the story. Why else would you throw in killer robots?

For what's essentially a zombie movie, it's pretty light in the gore department (mostly rendered through CGI), but some of the action scenes are fairly imaginative, most notably the scene in which Sir Lundgren is forced to battle dozens of undead while chained to a lamppost.

Is Battle of the Damned a good movie? The answer is no. But is it a fun movie? As someone who often visits the Kingdom of Low Expectations, my answer is an unqualified yes. It is thoroughly enjoyable, delivering just what one would expect from a film with Sir Lundgren as its star. In fact, this direct-to-DVD flick is a lot more fun than King Stallone's own Bullet to the Head, which a few unfortunate souls paid to see in theaters.

BATTLING THE DAMNED – Basically a five minute montage of films clips and behind-the-scenes footage, with no interviews or insights on production. None are probably needed either.

FKMG RATING (with a totally straight face):
(Out of 5)