Saturday, December 31, 2016


A special treat for New Year's Eve! My latest movie review!

TODAY ON FAST FORWARD THEATER: Steven Seagal in "Code of Honor." How could I not go for this after reading this overheated blurb on the the back of the (budget priced!) blu-ray box: "When his family is killed in a drive-by shooting, Robert Sikes (Steven Seagal, "Above The Law"), a former Special Ops operative, vows to rid his city of every last criminal." Every one?! Take my $6.99!

The movie opens with a lengthy sequence of a silent (and huge) Seagal perched on a water-tower, using a sniper rifle to slaughter a bunch of conveniently gathered mobsters/gang-bangers doing a drug deal. Slaughter over, in come the cops, who don't know if they should arrest the vigilante or "give him a medal." An FBI man (played by Craig Shaffer, a LONG way from "The Program") with ties to Sikes starts looking for him. Okay, time to FAST FORWARD.... Sikes goes to a strip club, smokes a cigar, then leaves and triggers a bomb that somehow kills a bunch of mobsters but only leaves cartoon-type soot on the strippers. FAST FORWARD... FBI Man Shaffer confronts Sikes, who in a weird Cajun-ish accent talks about being a hero. FAST FORWARD... Sikes shoots a bunch of drug dealers, including one who for some reason is playing next to a puddle with an electrical wire (!). He gets shot AND zapped! FAST FORWARD... Sikes lures a newsman and his cameraman into an alley by promising them a story. The cameraman looks nervous and Sikes says, "don't worry, I know you're just working for the man." Then Sikes pulls a knife and throws it into the cameraman's neck, killing him. The Newsman is upset, "you promised no weapons!" Ha ha, Sikes fooled him - he said no GUNS. He throws a second knife into the Newsman. No story tonight. FAST FORWARD... somehow everybody's wound up in a warehouse, where Sikes and FBI Guy Shaffer (who turns out NOT to be FBI, but a fake!) have the dullest knife fight in cinematic history... FAST FORWARD... Seagal has another bomb and blows everything up. Then for some story reason I missed in my fast forward frenzy, a hooker and her kid walk off into the sunset. THE END.

Code of Honor gets six FAST FORWARDS from me, which means I probably only actually watched about 25 minutes of it -- which is a better percentage than most of Seagal's recent pictures. If you crave a Punisher movie but hate character development, real action and have always wondered what a 400 lb. former Karate champ would look like in battle, this is for you!

Happy New Year!! 

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Tales Of McDonalds... Car-Wash Edition!

Like many young people (and, unfortunately these days, some not so young), my first job was working at a McDonalds franchise outlet, which for me meant a store in Beaverton Oregon. Other than picking strawberries in the summer, which I guess is considered illegal child labor now, I had no experience whatever, but that was not a problem.They needed cheap bodies (I started at $1.55 an hour) and being in high school, I needed a flexible schedule and a way to make a few extra bucks.

Note that I worked for McDonald's in prehistoric times, as in the halcyon pre-breakfast, pre-frozen fries (one of my jobs was slicing and "blanching" hundreds of pounds of potatoes daily) era. Just after the earth-shattering introduction of the ever popular Quarter Pounder. Ahh, for those simpler times.

It was all brand new to me. When I sat down for my job interview, the manager took notes on a specially prepared form, writing his name in the spot marked "manager": "Head." I thought he was joking or trying to make a point, like "get it, I'm the head manager", until I found out his name was actually Lee Head. I think he enjoyed my momentary confusion. Perhaps that very smart and smug young fellow is still working there. We can only hope.

I was also hired back when they still had the three color "hat system" that clarified your status within the McDonalds ranks. A white hat was a base trainee, unworthy of respect. A blue hat was for a trained employee, a status that mostly meant they took just a little less shit. A red hat was for managers.

Ahh, the managers. Now there was a bunch. When you're 16, 22 year olds in authority positions might as well be 60, but in fact, most of the management crew were indeed in their mid-twenties, maybe one or two in their late teens. Being it was my first job it was difficult for me to pass judgement at the time, but looking back? It's clear these people hated their positions with a red hot passion. There were also occasional visits from the owners (his name was "Ollie") and the district manager, a burly graduate of McDonalds University who liked to order trainees to get on their knees to scrub the floor so he could put his foot on their back. I am not kidding. 

Looking back, it's clear that some of their managerial methods would not pass muster in the modern work place. For instance, disciplining an employee by throwing a tray of hamburgers in their face. It happened to me one day when, after being accused of not fully cooking the burgers, I said "no, they're done." This particular manager clearly did not like being contradicted, which prompted the reaction, but that he did it in front of a crowd of customers seemed to a little over the top. Suffice to say, the gesture provoked one of the five times I quit the McDonalds empire (I can still remember stuffing my paper blue hat into the grill's grease trough), only to return months later to make some easy money...

But those are stories for another time. Today I'm going to talk about a car-wash. Specifically, the coin-operated hand-nozzle car wash that was located directly behind this particular McDonalds location.

Remember those hats I mentioned earlier? Well, at this particular McDonalds, the managers and long time employees had come up with a unique and rather sadistic way of celebrating someone's promotion from white-hat trainee to blue-hat regular employee. They would wait for the graduate's shift to end, then forcibly drag him to the car-wash, pump quarters into the coin-op and jam the nozzle spraying scalding hot water down the initiate's pants.

Remember what I said about managers making dubious decisions? I think this one qualifies.

So my graduation day finally came. I was about to dispense with my white hat and step up into the glorious world of blue. All during that shift, the managers and other blue hats were gleefully tormenting me about the hell to come. How there would be no escape. In fact, the manager asked me to point out my car so they could box it in, forcing me to stay on site until the deed was done.

I spent my shift wondering, is this was adult life is like? Waiting for a group of work-mates, most of whom I was friendly with, to turn into snarling animals so they could force the same humiliation on me that they themselves had suffered earlier? (The answer, of course, is yes, but I was still naive back then).

Anyway, the hour neared. Tension built. When quitting time finally arrived, I punched out at the time-clock and walked outside, where a small gang had assembled. "You're not going anywhere, Verheiden," the manager snarled. "Get him!" With a jolt of adrenaline (augmented I'm sure by the gallons of shitty Coca-Cola I'd been drinking all night), I bolted across the parking lot toward my car.

Which, by the way, was not the car they had blocked in. When asked to identify my car earlier that evening, I had, of course, pointed to someone else's weather-worn beater. That car wasn't goin' anywhere.

Me? I threw myself into my '66 Dodge Wagon, gunned the engine and burned rubber across the parking lot. As my headlights washed across the back of the store, I could see disappointment and anger welling on the faces of the mob. Because tonight they would be denied their victim! Enraged, the manager somehow grabbed a pan full of water-soaking dehydrated onions and threw it across my back window, a starry burst of white and wet, but it was too little, too late. I was in the wind...

I left those onions on the car, mostly out of sloth, but also as a badge of honor. I was still picking flecks off the bumper weeks later, and loving it, because this was a total victory. They only got one shot at the car-wash torture, that was also part of the graduation protocol. So I had beaten the bastards, and in the process learned an important life lesson. When someone asks you, "is that your car?", always lie.

I would enjoy another two years, of and on, of McDonalds glory... meaning, more stories to come!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Burger Continental R.I.P.

I had occasion to pass through my old stomping grounds of Pasadena, CA. recently and drove past the location of an old fave restaurant, Burger Continental. The elegant signage was still there, but the ominous "Farewell" poster over the door (which I only caught on the fly, driving past) suggested the B.C. was no more.

When I first moved to Los Angeles, I took up residence in an area called Highland Park (basically between downtown L.A. and Pasadena), where I lived in rather seedy apartment complex called "The Golden Palms." The G.P. (we used initials for everything back then!) had become a low-price hangout for students attending the nearby Art Center for Design. I came in toward the end of that era, and while I was not a student at Art Center, my reasons to be there were similar to the starving students, i.e., I had no money and the place was cheap.

Actually, it was even cheaper than it should have been. The building was under rent control, which meant rents could only be raised a set amount on current tenants. If a tenant moved out, the new tenant could be charged whatever the landlord liked. But somehow the residents remained remarkably stable during my time at the G.P., as in, my apartment was actually listed under another name. You would think that would raise an eyebrow from the owner, but turns out he was an absentee landlord named "Mr. Tung" (I'm not kidding) who didn't seem to care who handed him cash every month, as long as he got it. Mr. Tung used to walk the corridors of the building with a bag that literally had a dollar sign on it, like the Monopoly guy, collecting rents. Given this was a fairly gang ridden area, I was always surprised at his bravery, but as long as he didn't raise questions, que sara sara.

Anyway, groups of us would occasionally pile into a car and head over to the B.C. for Greek food (I know, "burger" continental, but what can I tell you) and beers. It was a friendly, open air place as I recall, and we spent many an evening arguing over art and love and God only knows what else after downing ten beers with our falafal.

But my fondest (sort of) memory of the B.C. came when I suffered a romantic set-back in my life and was really, really, REALLY down. My neighbors, who hadn't known me that long, nevertheless could see I was a mess. Maybe it was when they saw me staggering teary-eyed toward my apartment with a 12 pack of beer and a bottle of Jack Daniels. Anyway, out of the kindness of their hearts, they dragged me out to the B.C. so I wouldn't be alone. Those neighbors, as I recall (and things were a little foggy that night!) were James Gurney (yes, THAT James Gurney, the guy who later created Dinotopia) and Thomas Kinkade (yes, THAT Thomas Kinkade, later known as the "painter of light").

Much life has gone by since that evening, and Thomas himself passed away four years ago under unsettling circumstances, but that night was a moment of compassion that has stuck with me all these years. And it all happened at the Burger Continental...

By the way, when I got in front of the computer I decided to check see what exactly had happened to the restaurant. Well, hmm... turns out sanitary conditions had taken a turn for the worse, and after numerous warnings that evidently went unheeded, the place was shut down by the health department in 2015. An ignominious end, but so it goes... 

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Great Sequences #1

With the advent of DVRs and DVDs and streaming and soon, direct-to-brain interfaces, it's easier than ever to pull up your favorite film or TV show. And with this ease of viewing, I find myself strangely drawn toward certain sequences that strike a chord. Whether it's a great performance, an especially riveting piece of dialogue or just a sweet turn of events, I find myself watching certain scenes again and again, trying to understand what it is that's drawing me in, and how the writers, filmmakers and actors pulled it off.

Here's one, and by the way, MASSIVE SPOILERS are involved:

"John Grisham's The Rainmaker." Aside from kind of loving the fact that novelist Grisham has his name in the friggin' title of a Francis Ford Coppola directed picture, there is a lot to like about this legal thriller. Matt Damon plays an idealistic young lawyer who goes to work for a shady but honest legal firm, and immediately finds himself suing a big medical insurance firm for denying benefits to a cancer victim. The case of course ends up in court, where Damon, assisted by an excellent Danny Devito, tackles a smarmy corporate lawyer played by Jon Voight and, as the CEO of the crooked medical firm, an exquisitely creepy Roy Scheider.

My favorite sequence: after Judge Danny Glover slaps down Damon by refusing to admit some stolen documents, blowing Damon's case out of the water, Devito gets some legal advice from his mentor (and sleaze-ball) Mickey Roarke and gets the evidence reintroduced. After suffering through several smarmy put-downs from Voight's opposing counsel, Damon, with Scheider on the stand, systematically dismantles the entire crooked operation. Watching Scheider, at first supremely confident, squirm with irritation as he's forced to admit wrong-doing, is sweet. But the key moment comes when his testimony wraps. Scheider walks from the witness stand carrying an especially damning piece of evidence and with imperial disdain tosses it onto Voight's desk, summing up their relationship, his attitude toward the proceedings and Voight's total humiliation.

It is an exquisitely directed scene full of details that draw me back in time and again. Scheider wears a rather ridiculous blue sweater, clearly an attempt to humanize him with the jury. When Devito comes around the defense table to present some documents, he trips over his own briefcase but manages a perfect "I meant to do that" recovery.  Danny Glover's Judge, who refuses to allow his personal views to cloud his decisions from the bench, nevertheless takes some pleasure from Damon handing Voight's character his proverbial ass. And when the verdict finally comes down, there is an excruciatingly powerful moment when the father of the now-dead cancer victim approaches Scheider with a photo of his dead son, forcing him to look.

More classic scenes to come as the mood strikes...

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Eltingville Club!!

Maybe it's my general sourpuss nature, but it takes a lot to get me to laugh out loud these days... yet this book did the trick. A collection of (I think) every story that writer/artist Evan Dorkin concocted starring the Eltingville crew, if you have even a passing familiarity with comics fandom or simply obsessed individuals in general, this will strike a chord.

So who are these Eltingville fellows? Essentially a composite of every overblown fannish stereotype, taken to 11 and then some. These guys make Sheldon on Big Bang Theory look like the soul of normalcy. In the most insane (and funniest) story, one of the four members is put in charge of the Club's comic-shop haven while the grotesque owner is off scoring (stealing) toys from the back room of a local Toys-R-Us. Power goes to the lad's head, and soon the members are beating one another senseless with expensive custom toys ("Thorr's" Hammer with special misspelling versus what looks like a real pair of Hulk hands). It's the gas station scene from Mad Mad Mad Mad World (see that too!) taken to a comic shop extreme, though unlike the bloodless Mad World sequence, Dorkin lovingly depicts his fan archetypes literally getting their teeth knocked out.

Dorkin's decided to end this series one and for all, so this collection is "it" and well worth the $$.

For a better explanation of the genesis of the Club, here's a 2015 interview with writer/artist Evan Dorkin...

Monday, January 25, 2016

Sub-Mariner! The Underwater Guy!

1968 was such a great year for comics, and especially for a Marvel Comics fan. This was the year when something changed, distribution-wise, for Marvel, allowing them to launch a spate of new titles spinning out of their "two-fer" books. Tales of Suspense spit out Captain America and Iron Man titles, Strange Tales gave us Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD and Doctor Strange, and Tales to Astonish split into The Incredible Hulk and Sub-Mariner books.

I loved them all through thick and thin, through good stories and... LESS good stories. I was dazzled by Jack Kirby's Captain America run, Jim Steranko's revolutionary SHIELD, Herb Trimpe's Hulk and finally, later in the series, Bill Everett's last stand on Sub-Mariner.

Subby was created by Everett back in 1939, and his art and story made the character something special from the start. When superheroes took a rest in the late 40's, Subby was one of the few to make a short-lived come-back in the 50's, again with Everett at the helm. For the book's solo '60's-70's run there were many fabulous artists, from Gene Colan to John Buscema to Gil Kane, but when Everett himself came back with issue #50, things took a definite turn toward the really great.

Much of this run has just been reprinted in Marvel's long running "Marvel Masterworks" series, Volume 227 (!, and yes, I have them all!). It's hard to describe what makes these so special, but there's a lightness and wide-eyed enthusiasm to Everett's art that was different from the house Marvel style and yet perfect for Sub-Mariner. Roy Thomas's introduction tells the story of Everett's return, sadly cut short by Everett's health problems...

The BW image taken from the original art below is just a hint of Everett's style. It's really great that this material is back in print, in easy to find form. Check it out!  

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Bone Tomahawk! See It BEFORE Dinner!

Well, so, guess I took a few months off from the blog without realizing I was GOING to take a few months off. But so it goes...

Anyway, hey, back to it! BONE TOMAHAWK! If you see just one Kurt Russell western this year, may I humbly suggest you make it this one. Actually, feel free to see Hateful Eight too -- I'd like it to succeed so maybe the door opens to even more westerns, and it ain't bad -- but Bone Tomahawk is superior in every way.

The plot is simple. The wife of a local cowboy is kidnapped by marauding "troglodytes" (yep, that's what they call them) and Kurt and his intrepid associates head out to find her and bring her back. Suffice to say there are some encounters along with way with varied and sundry, and then things take a very surprising turn. The less said about the "turn" the better, though if you watch a preview it's pretty clear this is an uncompromising horror western and not a straight ahead oater. 

What makes this one stand out are the great performances by Russell, Richard Jenkins, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, Lili Simmons, Sid Haig (!) and David Arquette, who are speaking dazzlingly witty and gritty dialogue by writer/director S. Craig Zahler. This movie got my vote in the WGA awards for best screenplay -- it's really that good. Richard Jenkins especially stands out, taking what could have been a stereotypical "Chester" role (is that reference too old? Gunsmoke? Longest running Western in TV history? Anyone? Anyone?) and fleshing it out into a full blown, emotional character.

Then there's the ending. I didn't know anything about the movie going in except "Western", so the conclusion caught me off guard. It's strong stuff but works.

If you have a chance to see the blu-ray version, there is a deleted scene that I found delightful, though I can see why it was cut. I'll say no more. The "Making of" is also interesting, revealing (among other things) that the movie was shot in 21 speedy days on locations only 40 or so miles outside Los Angeles.

It's gets the full MV "Check it out!"