Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Top 10 Most Anticipated Films of 2015

1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I never thought I would see the day that there would be a sequel to Return of the Jedi. Granted, Star Wars is too big a property to NOT make further films. But I had always predicted they would be new stories unrelated to the original trilogy. But the fact that Episode VII is including Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher in significant roles (Harrison Ford, at least) is incredible, in my eyes. Much like any child, I grew up obsessing over Star Wars. In fact, Empire Strikes Back is my all-time favorite movie. Granted, up until a couple years ago, A New Hope was on top of the list. We were all burned by the prequels (sans Episode III [I still have fun with that one]), but I am cautiously optimistic about this one. When Episode I came out, I was still a kid and enjoyed it. Obviously, the older you get, the more you see decay in the prequels. Episode III may be my favorite of the prequels, but Episode I LOOKED the most like a Star Wars films. First off, it was the only Episode to be shot on film. So that's a world of difference right there. Secondly, it appeared to have a fuck-ton more sets than the latter entries. Therein lies the one attribute to Episode VII that I KNOW will soar: The sets. Abrams knows that sets are what made the previous Star Wars' believable. Hell, they built the Millennium Falcon full-scale AND functioning (sans the flight-ability, I guess).

Does having practical sets mean the film is going to be good? No. The film could turn out to be utter shit. But at least we'll have some practicality. And that is half of what the Star Wars legacy is about. As shallow as that may sound, it's true. Aside from the great characters and arcs delivered in the original trilogy, the sets and practical FX are what immersed you into that world a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

After the second trailer for The Force Awakens arrives with Avengers: Age of Ultron, I'm probably going to commit internet-suicide. Because the rumor-mill is already in full-rotation. If this was an indirect sequel with all-new characters, I would steer away from spoilers, but considering the fact that the Skywalker/Solo trio are in this, it's so fucking hard to avoid any spoilers I can get my hands on.

It'll also be interesting to see a Star Wars film with a sequence shot in IMAX. The 3D will look good, I'm sure. But I'm really curious about the IMAX sequence. From what I gathered, it's the sequence in the first trailer with the Tie Fighters and the Millennium Falcon. I just know that my initial viewing is going to be in good ole regular 2D. Reason being, I want to see it first the way I've seen the previous 6. The way I look at it, if it kicks ass, each viewing will only get better due to IMAX 3D.

Another plus, no George Lucas. Unlike most people, I don't have a distain towards the man. He almost literally crafted my childhood. And what he did with the Special Editions and prequels, I don't think he was malicious about it. I just think he's lazy and senile. Almost like an uncle you gotta' put into a home. He seems like a great guy. He appears to be very charitable and kind. But along the way, he lost his touch and creativity. It just so happens to be that his legacy needed an adult diaper because he shit all over it.

2. Blood Father

Chances are, you probably haven't heard about this film. Why? Because it's Mel Gibson's new movie. Unfortunately, the guy can't catch a break. The Beaver only got released to 500 theatres in 2011, Get The Gringo was straight to DirecTV in 2012, Machete Kills never really had a shot at being a hit due to being a sequel to a fake trailer, and The Expendables 3 leaked online, so that was the knife to that film's throat. This is apparently being released by Lionsgate this year. And my fingers are crossed that it'll be a theatrical one.

The film is essentially a Taken-esque story. Mel plays an ex-Hell's Angel, his daughter gets kidnapped by a drug cartel, and well, Mel does what he does best. Seeks revenge on the those who endanger his family. Is the story wholly original? Not at all. But what you need to remember is that before Taken, Gibson kinda' owned the revenge tale. Look at Mad Max, Lethal Weapon 2, Braveheart, Ransom, Payback, The Patriot, Edge of Darkness. So if you took Liam Neeson and his recent run-of-the-mill revenge actioners out of the equation, this is right up Gibson's alley.

What seems to set this apart from Mel's more recent previous films is his appearance. In this he appears to be tatted up, bulked up and sports a beard for a chunk of the movie. Okay, fucking rad. Dude deserves a fucking hit. Or at least a moderate one. Say it flops, at least give it a chance to flops. No limited release, no STV, no DirecTV-exclusive.

3. Mad Max: Fury Road

The best possible news about this film came out this week. It's rated R. Rejoice. I would have bet $9 and a flat soda that this was going to be released theatrically as PG-13. But maybe the studio came to their senses knowing that A) Most teens aren't going to flock out to this. B) It's not the most recognizable franchise, so might as well appeal to the die-hard fans. C) It's called Mad Max, not Moderately Mad Max.

Tom Hardy is one of maybe... 5 actors working today that you truly believe is a badass. So to take over the reigns from Mel Gibson, I'm okay with that. It also doesn't hurt that he looks the fucking part. If you put Max from Road Warrior and Max from Fury Road side by side and said they were brothers, it would be totally believable.

The film itself looks damn cool. Though, it may be a tad too "stylish" for my liking, it looks like a lot of fun. Sans the fire tornado, the majority of the stunts and sequences look practical. We've had about 3 trailers already, and I still can't decipher a story. But then again, the only Mad Max film with an actual STORY is the first. Road Warrior (being my favorite) is pretty bare-bones, in terms of story. But at the same rate, Max's arc started and finished in the first film. In Road Warrior, he was essentially a mute drifter who you merely observed for half the film. That's the charm of the film. It's unconventional. And I'd rather not discuss Beyond Thunderdome. Going back to Fury Road, it just looks like an adrenaline-ride. And I'm okay with that. Give me blood, fire and fuel and I'll be alright.

4. Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation

In all honesty, this and Mad Max: Fury Road are neck-and-neck. I LOVED Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol. Before M:I-GP, I wasn't even that big a fan of the Mission: Impossible series. They were fun action films, but Ghost Protocol really fucking upped the ante. Then Mission: Impossible 5 got announced. It's going to take a lot to top Ghost Protocol, but the film still looks stellar nonetheless.

Unfortunately, it's not being directed by Brad Bird, who directed Ghost Protocol. Christopher McQuarrie is directing this installment. And I'll take that as "good news/bad news". Though, Bird isn't spearheading the film, McQuarrie did a great job directing Jack Reacher with Tom Cruise. And judging from the trailer, McQuarrie did a great job with handling the action. In Ghost Protocol, THEE sequence was Tom Cruise actually climbing the Burj Khalifa tower in Dubai, India. THEE sequence in Rogue Nation? Tom Cruise hanging onto a Military aircraft. From take-off to flight. I'm not sure what the sequence entails, I just know it's 100% real (hell, just watch the raw footage or them filming: HERE). No CGI trickery (aside from removing the wires). You gotta' admire Cruise and his dedication to believability when it comes to film.

It also doesn't hurt that they expand Simon Pegg's role, bring Ving Rhames back into the fold and the addition of Alex Baldwin is pretty killer. And if there is one way to see it first, it's IMAX. The Burj Khalifa sequence in Ghost Protocol made me lose my stomach at times, so Im sure they're going for the same nausea-inducing effect with the Military aircraft sequence this time around.

5. Creed

I was so conflicted about this film for the longest time. Rocky Balboa ended on the PERFECT note. I don't know a single person who doesn't love or at least like that film. It just feels... Wrong to have a spin-off for a Rocky film. The interesting thing about it is that the director of the film came to Stallone with the idea.

If you're reading this right now, you more than likely know that I met Stallone recently, and due to that, I have warmed up to the notion of this film. It's because of this film that I got to meet my hero. I met him a few weeks before he started filming, but it's because of this film that I met him. So I feel that I owe it a shot. That isn't to say that I wouldn't look forward to it or watch it. It's fucking Stallone. Of course I'm going to. I just feel an openness towards the project now. Since then, plot points and set photos have appeared online and I gotta' say, it's sounding and looking more promising. Though, I am a bit nervous about one thing. In the film, Rocky has cancer. Don't worry, I'm almost certain it's not a spoiler. It was hinted at in the synopsis and in set photos, he looks very unhealthy (chemo-related physical side-effects). There are a few other very sad events that take place in the film (unrelated to Rock's health). But those would be deemed "spoilers", so I won't touch upon them.

This will no doubt be the saddest Rocky film. I just hope it's not the worst.

6. The Hateful Eight

Tarantino is one of those film makers that I don't always like to admit that I like to just anyone. Not because I'm embarrassed to say I like his work. Because I'm not. I love his films. It's just that in recent years, the more successful his films get, the more you hear about how "innovative" he is from people who know not a god damn thing about film. Wait! You have a mustache, a PBR in hand AND a corduroy jacket with patches?! Fuck, you definitely know good cinema! Wait... You love Tarantino, too?! I bet your DGA card is next to your Urban Outfitters gift card, too. I'm I getting somewhere with this, right?

Oh yeah, Tarantino. I have always felt that Tarantino has been a damn good rip-off. He takes other artist's work and does indeed make it his own. But it's still... Other people's work. He did it with Reservoir Dogs, he did it with Inglorious Basterds and he did it with Django Unchained. That is why Jackie Brown is still my favorite film by him (though, he traded "Foxy" for "Jackie", but whatever). It is still his most mature film to date.

So... I was going somewhere with this, right? I put this movie on this list for a reason. Of course! Kurt Russell. And Kurt Russell's mustache from Tombstone on steroids.

7. Jurassic World

I mean, dinosaurs, right? Jurassic Park. Awesome. The Lost World: Jurassic Park. Eh, alright. Jurassic Park III. A glorified Sci-Fi (SyFy now) original film. Jurassic World looks to step it up a notch from the previous two installments, but it still looks to be... Off. Is it likely to touch the original? Not by a long shot. But at least the Park, or rather, World, has been realized. From that, there is probably a lot of fun to be had.

8. Terminator: Genisys

Much like the Jurassic World, this is a franchise that has been driven into the ground, and even further than that. Terminator: Salvation makes T3 look like Casablanca. Obviously, the benefit that Genisys has is that Schwarzenegger is... Here it comes... The line you're waiting to here... Returning to the franchise that made him an international sensation. But seriously, having him back will make a fraction of the film enjoyable. Who knows, it may be good. Considering they've created an alternate timeline, it could work. In my opinion, by doing that, you avoid the risk of tarnishing what came before, and set yourself on your own path of failure.

9. Maggie

The zombie craze was out of hand years ago, now with The Walking Dead's generic and overly-repetitive premise pouring onto TV's screens week in and week out, it should be considered a crisis in of itself. This film seems to set itself apart from the typical zombie-fare that we're used to endure. Obviously, it's a departure from Schwarzenegger's typical roles, so there's something fresh right there. Judging from the trailer, it's going to play out in a more dramatic sense than the shoot-em-up/slice-em-and-dice-em zombie film. He also appears to give a more serious performance than we're used to.

10. Straight Outta Compton

This film seems to be out of left field for me, but truth be told, it looks damn fun. I'm not a rap fan at all, but I can appreciate the more old school artists. The diarrhea being pumped onto the air waves today is absolute garbage. At least with NWA I hear a message. The film looks like a hybrid between Boyz N The Hood and The Wolf of Wall Street. It also doesn't hurt to have Paul Giamotti essentially playing Pig Vomit from Private Parts again!

Here's to hoping that the year of 2015 is full of expectations being met and pleasant surprises! Will half the films on the list fall flat on their faces whilst drowning in their own puke? Probably. Only time will tell...

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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Night That I Met Sylvester Stallone

There are very few actors that inspire as much as Sylvester Stallone has. Yes, everyone has their personal heroes. And for those who know me, Sly is at top of the list. Yes, Mel Gibson is as well (but for "other" reasons). Rocky is universal to most people. You're told that you can't achieve what you're setting out to achieve. Told that you can't go the distance. All in all, you're told you just... Cannot. Rocky is the "fuck you" to those people. THAT is what makes Rocky universal to everyone. The whole message of Rocky is not ACHEIVING, it's going the distance. You can die saying, "I tried". Sylvester Stallone IS Rocky. And everyone has a Rocky Balboa in them.

Before I delve into how the night unfolded, I'll be honest, I wasn't all too happy about the announcement of the Rocky spin-off "Creed". I absolutely loved Rocky Balboa (2006) (you can read my review HERE). In fact, it's my favorite Rocky film. I felt it concluded the series so fucking perfectly. So the idea of a spin-off was a little disconcerting. But then the realization of them having to film in Philly set in. And that's when I realized that the dream of meeting my hero could possibly become a reality. I immediately warmed up to the notion of "Creed".

I remember being at a bar with my friends JD, Jen and Mike. And I thought, "Why not do a Philly Rocky Tour?". Were chances of meeting Sly slim? Of course. But I figured I owed it to myself to tour the spots in which catapulted his career and made history. We all agreed on the idea, considering Philly is only an hour away from us. We chose a date, January 28th. It just so happened to mesh with everyone's schedules. A week before the said tour, a few people couldn't do it. So we kinda' nixed the plan. I found out that Stallone was staying at the Four Seasons in Philly, and said, "Fuck it." and booked a room. If this was my chance to meet my idol, then that's what I'm going to do. As I got to the room, I got a call from my buddy JD saying, "Hey, Jen and I are in town, so if you wanna' get dinner somewhere, I'm game". He booked a reservation at Victor Café (IE: Adrian's Restaurant in Rocky Balboa). Even though, we didn't do a tour of the rest of locations, at least we got to go there, enjoy a meal, drink, maybe drink some more, and well... Drink a little more. And on top of that, that was actually on the top of my list in terms of locations to visit.

Now, bare with me with the little details that seem to be unimportant at first. They most definitely matter when all is said and done. JD and Jen said they were picking me up at 5:30, so I put on my black dress shirt (under my Rambo shirt, of course), and headed down to the lobby. Lo and behold, they arrived right on time. I told JD that I would leave my metal vest in the car since it's a classy restaurant. For those of you who don't know, Victor Café is an old school Italian restaurant in South Philly where the staff (waiters, bar tenders, etc.) sing opera every half hour or so. It's fancy, yet very homey. So we arrive on the street in which the restaurant is located, find a parking spot and head to the restaurant. The only issue... I forgot to leave my metal vest in the car. Whatever, it's too late, we're already headed over. Once I get to the exterior of the building, I'm just in awe. I've seen Rocky Balboa AT LEAST 30 times. To be at Adrian's Restaurant was just incredible. You walk a few feet to left of the building, and that's the alley in which Rocky gives his son the speech "It ain't about how hard you hit, it's about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward! How much you can take! And keep moving forward!". We walk in, I see the bar to the left that Paulie insults everyone. To the right is where Spider Rico was sitting. I peek down the steps, there's the kitchen Spider Rico was doing dishes. Everywhere I looked, I had the film playing over and over and over again in my head. The hostess seats us, and the water girl comes over. My buddy JD asks, "Is Stallone coming tonight?" as a joke. She pours our water and says, "You never know..." In an almost nervous fashion. Once she left, I turn over to JD and ask him, "Didn't that seem odd?". He didn't know what I was talking about. I elaborated saying that the way she said it was just odd.

As we're looking over our menus, our waiter Carl comes over. He asks how our evening is going, etc. And JD jokes again, "Is Stallone coming in tonight? He's in town". He responds, "He's got a reservation". I drop my menu and stare directly at him and say, "Are you fucking serious?!". He said that he should be in soon. JD then explains to our waiter what an enormous Stallone fan I am. I don't think I had the words, breath or composure to do so. I then showed him my Rambo shirt, the Rambo pins, Rocky IV and Expendables patches on my vest. Immediately after our waiter had left the table, I took both Jen and JD's hands and put them on my chest. My heart felt as if it was going a million miles a minute.

Fast-forward about 20 minutes, I see Jen and JD look over to the front of the restaurant, I felt like the girl in Jurassic Park holding the spoon of Jell-O knowing there's a Velociraptor behind her. I was afraid to look. Because I knew who was there. I then look to my right, and there he is... Rocky Balboa, John Rambo... Sylvester Stallone. You would have to ask my friends what the fuck I did. Because I felt as if I was going to black out. I can't remember my initial response. All that I remember was when he was walking towards me to sit down at his table about 20 feet away, mopping the floor with my jaw as I gave him one single wave... Then he waved back with the look of, "Yo, how you doin'?". I was ready to burst into tears.

Our waiter had come back to the table and I had asked him if I could cancel my dinner because I was ready to throw up, cry, and kill myself. I felt like a girl on prom night. The only appetite I had was for wine, wine and more wine. I still could not believe that the trip that we had all planned was nixed and last minute we decided to go to the restaurant anyway. It's unfathomable as to how well the timing was.

So it was our waiter's turn to sing, coincidentally right between our table and Sly's. Through out the duration of his performance, Sly is DIRECTLY in my eye-line. Did I want to stare at him? OF FUCKING COURSE. Did I? No. Even though, inside I was losing my shit, I didn't want to portray that. Through out his performance, I made eye contact with Sly once, and all I that I knew to do was... Give him a thumbs up. What the fuck? Luckily enough, he gave a wave back. By the time our waiter's song was over, it had gotten around to the staff that I was the biggest Stallone fan in the room. One of the staff members had given me words of encouragement to walk up to the table and meet him. Stallone may be my hero, and I may be an enormous fan, but I didn't want to burn myself by interrupting him eating his meal. But as pointed out by the staff, he was almost done. So I went upstairs to the bathroom, took a piss, washed my hands until the skin almost fell off and looked into the mirror building up my confidence to walk up to him. I said, "FUCK IT! DO IT!".

I walked down the stairs and walked up to his table. On the one side was the actor Frank Pesce and what I believe was his daughter, and Stallone on the other side, with his arm on an empty chair. I said, "Mr. Stallone, I hope Im not interrupting your meal, but I am an enormous fan of yours, and would love to have a picture with you". Then I proceeded to show him my Rambo shirt to make him aware that I wasn't just someone who knew who he was and wanted a picture. I wanted him to know that I was a legitimate fan. I'll never forget the words, "Sure, sit down". HOLY. FUCKING. SHIT. I sat down next to Sly, and by that time JD and Jen had already walked over to take pictures with Jen's camera. Here is where the metal vest comes into play. As I sat down, Stallone grabbed my vest and said, "What is all this shit?". I then proceeded to tell him, "It's your shit. I've got a Rocky patch, an Expendables patch, Rambo pins". Then he said, "Isn't this heavy?". To be quite honest, I don't remember a god damn word I said in response to that. Jen took the pictures, then I asked if I could take a selfie. He agreed. I then called it a "Slyfie" and he laughed. After, I showed him pictures of my guest room which is comprised of Expendables banners, Escape Plan banners, Rambo standees, and a knife case of all of the Rambo and Expendables knives. I remember him saying, "Wow, you've got all the knives". I then thanked him for his time, shook his hand then went back to my table and consumed as much wine and beer as I could without throwing up due to sheer excitement.

We milked the rest of our time until we felt he was about to leave. I just wanted to shake his hand and thank him once more to really show my appreciation... Or just to interact with my hero once more. Whichever one. We went outside, he left, I said, "Thank you again, Sly", he took pictures with Jen and JD, he said goodnight, and then he left.

I already have the pictures printed and framed in my apartment, and I still cannot believe that it happened. Ever since, I've felt like the happiest man in the world. Though, a long-winded transcript of my experience it may have been, there are so many details that I have left out. I would just like to thank Carl and the rest of the staff of Victor Café, and most importantly JD and Jen for sharing the experience with me. I love you guys.

"This is the greatest night in the history of my life"
Rocky Balboa, Rocky II

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