Sunday, September 19, 2010

Dan Aykroyd & the Crystal Skull

Dan Aykroyd is touring Canada. As a Canadian senior citizen who has recently left Hollywood you might picture Aykroyd driving across Canada in a shiny Winnebago. Instead, Aykroyd is touring Canadian liquor stores to promote his line of alcohol, namely Crystal Skull Vodka.

(Dan Aykryod holding a bottle
of his Crystal Skull vodka)
This is not the first time Aykroyd has been associated with alcohol. Prior to him becoming an international comedic star, Aykroyd worked at a speakeasy in Toronto where he illegally sold alcohol to cops, cabbies, and other walks of life (a). Following his successful movie and TV career Aykroyd became part owner of The House of Blues. From there he began to realize that there was something missing in the alcohol market in his native land of Canada -tequila. Aykroyd partnered with Patron and began distributing their tequila in liquor stores throughout Canada (a,b). Following that, Aykroyd began promoting his own wine and vodka. With vodka, he again realized that there was something missing. This something missing was how most vodka was made by adding the alcohol before the preservatives. Aykroyd's vodka instead adds the alcohol after the preservatives, allowing the taste of the vodka to be showcased -though I myself have yet to try it.

An aspect of Aykroyd's career in hollywood is that he has been fascinated by unexplained phenomena. Most people know Aykroyd for his role in Ghostbusters, but he has also been involved in other sci-fi related shows like "PSI Factor: Chronicles of the Paranormal". This interest in the unexplained has continued with the packaging of his vodka inside glass skulls, which are based on the Inca's 'mystical' crystal skulls. The vodka bottles look great, and because of this the Ontario liquor board (LCBO) has band them: “The image of the human skull is the thing that’s really problematic for us,” LCBO spokesman Chris Layton told the Globe. “That’s an image that’s commonly associated with death. It’s especially problematic at a time when there are concerns around binge drinking by younger adults, which in some cases, unfortunately, has resulted in alcohol poisoning.” (from link 'c' below). However, there are a number of other alcohol bottles with other shapes that are just as attractive, such as a tequila bottle from a rival company shaped like a tommy gun (above right)!

Upon discovering that Aykroyd was appearing at local Canadian liquor stores, Michelle, Andrew, and myself all drove to the downtown Calgary Coop liquor store on a Saturday morning. We entered the close-to-full parking lot that had zero signage of the event. I quickly wondered whether we had the correct location, but the moment we entered the store we saw a line that began at the door. The line was not exceptionally long as the store was quite small but it still took almost an hour to get through it. Everyone in line was excited to meet him and everyone had at least one bottle of his alcohol in their arms. A store clerk walked around the narrow isles with a tray of Patron chocolate tequila in hand. Small plastic cups with 1/2 an ounce of this wonderful liquor treat was consumed by all and I highly recommend it; in retrospect you would think the LCBO would ban something like this tequila instead of the vodka bottle.

Personally, I wore a Ghostbusters shirt. Plenty of people brought with them their favorite Aykroyd DVD's for him to autograph and one person even dressed up like a Ghostbuster! Aykroyd was a true gentlemen and pleasure to meet, although to my chagrin he didn't seem to notice my shirt. Nonetheless, he did not rush people out the door but instead took time to shake everyone's hand and speak to them. He was genuinely interested in being there as he posed for photographs, talked in the voice of the Coneheads, and left the table at one point to shake hands and take a photo with the local law enforcement (above left). Aykroyd might have been so genuine because he is entering a new career and one that he has considerable freedom and control in. He has recently said that he has partially left Hollywood because he is more interested in creating film concepts but is repeatedly turned away by studio execs because he is labeled 'too old' (b).

Our little group's encounter with the celebrity was enhanced because of our witnessing of how he treated everyone before us. It made the entire experience that more memorable. The autographed wine bottles and skull vodka will definitely find a special spot on the shelves and act as a conversation piece, but the chance to meet Aykroyd was even more special. If you too have a chance to meet Aykroyd at a Canadian liquor store, do so! It is as the photo of us says, 'Simply Perfect'!

For more information:
and for the truth behind the crystal skulls, check out this decent article by Archaeology Magazine:

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Voltron Movie

While surfing the wacky world of the web tonight I came across pre-production images for the upcoming Voltron movie! Yes, that's right, VOLTRON!!!!

What kid from the 1980's did not love the Voltron cartoon? The toys were awesome (albeit slightly out of my parent's income tax bracket) as they seemed related to the transformers and yet different. Althought wildly popular, the original cartoon only lasted between 1984 and 1985, and returned in the 1990's to much less enthusiasm as a badly imaged CGI cartoon. Despite the short original run there were 124 episodes made between '84 and '85, explaining why the show was able to continue airing for so long after '85. The show is based on two Japanese cartoons: Beast King GoLion and Armored Fleet Dairugger XV; the American version retained a similar Japanese Manga animation style. The story is about five young pilots who each command their own robotic lion that is the size of a small office building. The pilots use the robotic lions to protect the planet Arus from an invading king Zarkon, his son Lotor and the witch Haggar. These dastardly evil doers also commanded their own robotic armies of giant creatures but as it always is in stories such as these, their robots were always inferior in some way to the hero's. The story sounds a bit cheesy but it was a lot of fun. It utilized some of the more important elements of a good children's story in that it brings ordinary people into extraordinary situations. It also allows for these ordinary people to achieve their ends by being themselves while also growing into the role of a noble 'hero'. The addition of robotic lions acts as the mythical element and simultaneously ties the old (the pilots lived in a castle and fought a witch) with the modern (giant frick'n robots!).

Looking to recent movie adaptations of 80's cartoon classics, I view the news of a Voltron movie with some reasonable trepidation. I am pretty easy to please in watching movies but I can still recognize a bad movie when I see one, especially when it involves missed opportunities. G.I.Joe was released in 2009 and is a great example of this. The movie had some fun elements that reminded me of why I loved the cartoon so much as a child. However, it missed the mark on the story and characters while focusing too much on destroying /blowing up iconic monuments. The Transformers' movies are another example. The first of the trilogy was decent but I hated how they completely changed the types of cars the Autobots and Deceptecons transformed into (they were not all Dodge vehicles). Further, the transformers looked atrocious after changing, like an original transformer after being pushed down a garburator. These two drawbacks are but nothing compared to the storyline in the second installment, which I will not get into as it just makes me too mad. All I can hope for is that the Voltron movie writers look to the original show and ask what made it popular in the first place and then modernize it from there, all the while remembering that no matter what the movie is about, it is the story that comes first!

All of this being said, here are the first three pre-production images from the upcoming Voltron movie by Sony Pictures (no release date). The images can be found at:

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Town

Recently I was able to view an advanced screening of the new movie, The Town. It is written, directed, and stars Ben Affleck. Affleck plays a bank robber who falls in love with the girl he kidnaps. The story is one of the better of its genre but not exactly the best. The movie is being praised by film critics and to an extent I would have to agree with this. In particular what it does deserve praise for is Blake Lively's performance. Ben Affleck was also very good, however he does have a peculiar trait of jutting out his lower jaw when trying to talk with a Boston accent. Another high note is that the heist sequences are expertly depicted. As 'crime' and 'heist' genres have been portrayed numerous times in film it can be very difficult to produce something truly original. The heist scenes may not be the most original of its genre but they are nonetheless done well.

One of the major flaws in The Town is that the character development is weak. Ben Affleck's character Doug MacRay, is not exactly dynamic nor does he stand up against other memorable movie characters like Nick Moran's character Eddy from Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. Despite this, Affleck's character still engages the viewer. He is somewhat likable and is fleshed out to a degree but is done so slowly throughout the movie and with too small of portions. There are numerous other characters in the movie but they are overshadowed by Affleck's character. MacRay's best friend in the movie, James Coughlin (played by Jeremy Renner) is a character who receives a fair amount of screen time. Renner is a decent actor but nothing too remarkable and plays the character of Coughlin flatly and adds nothing noteworthy. Further, the character Coughlin acts solely as a prop to MacRay.

One actor who does add to the movie is Blake Lively, who plays Krista Coughlin (pictured right in a scene from The Town with Ben Affleck). To use the over-used phrase, Lively steals every scene she is in. Each moment she graced us with her appearance I instantly thought of how she will win an Oscar for her performance; mark my words, Lively will win or at least be nominated this year for best supporting actress.

The storyline for The Town is enjoyable. You will not be disappointed watching this movie, but do not expect the best. The movie starts out very strong with MacRay standing apart from his crooked brethren as a kind of smart Boston poet with a penchant for bank robberies and a taste for the ultra-violence. However, somewhere during the movie the story looses this feel. I don't wish to spoil anything about this movie but there are aspects to the story that occur in the beginning of the movie that become lost, forgotten, or wasted later in the movie. Another drawback to the story was that the first half of the movie felt choppy. The scenes felt spliced together and seemed to lack flow. Somewhere during the middle of the movie, however, the storyline began to gel. Perhaps the problem is that the storyline was not willing to focus on just a few characters and elements of the story. Instead, Affleck attempted to include too much in the story while not providing each segment enough of an opportunity to grow. Another factor is that few if any of the characters were allowed to develop and so I the viewer felt disengaged from being invested in what the story meant for the characters.

Visceral action is needed in a movie such as The Town, but it was not provided. In some of the best movies of the 'crime' genre such as Reservoir Dogs, there are characters that act absolutely reprehensible (characters Mr.White and Mr.Orange from Reservoir Dogs pictured at right). I did not see this anywhere in the movie. You need to have a truly bad guy, or the main character who you want to root for perform a deed that makes you cringe at the fact that you do like them; again I think of another movie that did this well, History of Violence. This negative strike also goes for the heist scenes as a whole, which was briefly mentioned at the start of this post. While they are definitely engaging and boasts one of the better car chase scenes I've watched in a while, it was still not enough. They needed to be about 5-10 minutes longer and to have had more drama added to them. I wished that they had added more suspense to the scenes to make you wonder who would make it out.

With all of this being said, The Town still stands as a very enjoyable heist /crime movie that has some incredible acting from Lively. The heist scenes were also well constructed and the car chase was great fun, although these scenes could have been longer. Go see this movie. You will enjoy it, but just don't expect it to be as good as movies such as Reservoir Dogs or Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Expendables

As a child of the 80's, my bread and butter were action movies. I also loved all other genres of film from an early age, but there was something truly fascinating about the movies that starred Arnold Schwarzenegger and Stallone. Movies such as Rambo, Predator, Commando, Cobra, Rocky, and Conan (to name but a few) were some of my favorite movies as a child and continue to be so today. In particular Rambo was an interesting phenomena for it spawned a cartoon and series of toys. The movie was further attractive to me for it told the story of a hardened Vietnam vet, who I saw akin to my own father. These movies (I believe) were also attractive to other children of the 80's for they espoused true heroism. They featured heroes that never faltered and always won when they pursued the right and honorable course of action; such actions commonly centered around defending one's country and woman. The story's protagonists and antagonists were all black and white. There was no questioning the motivations. Such stories are rarely told today, and some of the classics from the 80's are considered today as chauvinistic, weak in plot, redundant, ultra-violent, and etc. Nonetheless, it is for the reasons I outlined above that I am still fond of this genre of movie and why I felt so incredibly drawn to the recently released movie, The Expendables.

(The Expendables panel at the San Diego Comic Con 2010)
The movie, The Expendables, is about a rag tag group of mercenaries. They go into difficult places to perform difficult deeds and get paid quite well for it. The story in the movie is about this group of mercs who get a job to kill the dictator /overthrow the government of a small island. Predictably however, the job is not as straightforward as it seems, but then again the storyline itself is pretty straightforward. The plot is not as interesting as some of the 80's classic action movies and the comedic lines are nowhere near as funny either. Nonetheless, the storyline hearkens back to those classics and it is that nastolgia for this genre that pulls you in. You know it's over the top and corny as all hell but it is still enjoyable because you rarely see this type of movie anymore. Another big factor is the BIG cast the movie has. You absolutely cannot go wrong with a cast that includes: Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, Mickey Rourke, Jet Li, Jason Statham, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Gary Daniels, and Steve Austin. As if that was not enough, Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger have cameo roles. Sure there are plenty of actors that could have been added (most notably Jean Claude Van Damme), but you can't have everything; as a side note, at the San Diego Comic Con 2010 The Expendables panel, Stallone mentioned how there were plenty of actors that had commitment conflicts or who had personality conflicts!

One of the notable aspects of this cast is that each actor was featured in their own style of action. Jet Li was filmed as Jet Li with his trademark martial arts style, Jason Statham was filmed in his own style with the fast action sequences, and I noticed that Randy Couture used combat moves he is familiar with in the UFC octagons. This was great as it really took advantage of all the actors they had on the screen. However, what the movie did not allow for was giving the audience a chance to know any of the characters or care for them. This is where the plot was obviously thin and that the focal point of the movie was really only to showcase how many friends Stallone has.

One small downside to this movie is the special effects. There is not too much CGI in this movie (thankfully), but when it does appear it does so with no justice to the scene. In one instance the plane that the mercs use is flying at night over the ocean. For some reason it was shown via the usage of CGI and it looks incredibly fake and pulled me out of the movie for a few seconds. The usage of CGI in these few scenes was even more noticeable because it is hardly used. Like the action flicks of the 80's, the majority of the scenes were filmed with real actors kicking but and using real guns that caused real explosions; it was nice.

Overall, if you are reading this and are a fan of those 80's action flicks that I too was of, then you will enjoy this movie on many levels. However, if you are not (like the annoying lady behind me in the theatre), then DO NOT GO. This is also not the greatest movie of its genre but it also offers something that has not been done before, bring together this large cast and do it well. Hopefully they will make a sequel that bring back even more of these 80's action heroes and this time add in a better story.

SGU & Todd & the Book of Pure Evil

Two shows on the Space Channel are definitely worth watching this year. One show is returning for its second season, and the other is airing its series premier. The first is Stargate Universe, or SGU for short.
 It is returning for its second season following a dramatic cliff-hanger ending. The story is of a mixed group of scientists and military personal who have become stranded on an ancient space ship that is trillions of miles away from Earth. The ship is launching itself ever farther from Earth and the stranded group have been trying to return to Earth via a transporter that is found on the ship. The transporter works, but it has only a limited range except for particular portal stations that are close to Earth but are exceedingly rare and cannot be (as yet) connected with the ship's transporter; connecting is called 'dialing' on the show. This probably sounds complicated, but it is explained very well on the show. The first season is available on DVD in two separate sets: season 1.0 and 1.5. This is an absolute money grab by the Syfy Network that produces the show, but it is nonetheless worth watching.

SGU is just as good as some of the best sci-fi shows that have been produced over the past 10 years. To me, the last decade has been a high-water mark for this genre. Shows such as Battlestar Galactica, Firefly, Dr. Who, Reaper, and the Sarah Connor Chronicles are some of my favorites, and SGU proudly stands shoulder to shoulder with them. SGU is also similar to the writing style of Battlestar Galactica, and has a familiar gritty feel to who the show is shot. The atmosphere is always foreboding, but characters such as Eli (played by David Blue) add an element of humanness that keep me coming back. In addition, while at the 2010 San Diego Comic Con I caught the SGU panel and it reminded me of just how great this show is. They didn't drop too many hints as to how the show's story would play out in the upcoming season, but to see and hear how the actors relate to one-another was priceless. Also, Robert Carlyle, who plays Dr. Rush, revealed that he directs one of the episodes. Carlyle is a truly great Scottish actor who to me will forever be remembered for his role as Begbie in the movie Trainspotting and his funny-yet-scary character in Ravenous.

SGU returns in Canada to the Space Channel on October 1st, 10 E/P

Todd & the Book of Pure Evil appears to be another great show. It is not like SGU in subject matter or style of filming /story, but is similar in that it seems to be another great science fiction show that will be truly memorable and yearned for week after week. All that I know of this show comes from a hand full of TV trailers and a short blip I saw on a recap show of this summer's Toronto Fan Expo. The show is about a group of high school students who come across a 'Book of Pure Evil'. Monsters and demons appear to pursue the students because they have this book, and of course, hilarity ensues as these students are shown to be nothing but a group of well meaning bumbling fools. The series is based on a Canadian short film that was made and aired at festivals back in 2003. I have never seen the short film, but the tv show thus far appears similar to Reaper, which is always aces in my book. Also aces, is that this is a wholly Canadian show. It is shot in Canada, with a Canadian cast, and produced by the Canadian Space Channel! I feel like I should eat a poutine doused in maple syrup while watching the first episode. However, one element that is not Canadian is that of Jason Mewes. Most people know him as Jay, from the Jay and Silent Bob fame. He can be incredibly funny, and more importantly if he believed this show was worthy enough for him to appear in, then it has to be at least half decent.

Todd & the Book of Pure Evil premiers in Canada on the Space Channel, September 29th, 9 E/P
A special in-depth preview of the show airs on the Space Channel's excellent program, InnerSPACE, on September 22, 9 E/P

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Swallow Me Whole

I love comic books, and I love even more an original comic that is well constructed for both its art and story components. The book Swallow Me Whole is such a comic. This book is written by Nate Powell and published by Top Shelf Productions. The price tag was $20 US, which may have been cheaper than elsewhere since I picked it up while at the San Diego Comic Con 2010 convention.
One of the things I love about comic book conventions is that you are able to meet many different comic book creators, some of which you likely never heard of before. These people sit at various booths selling their books for reduced prices and gladly autograph the books for you. Unfortunately Nate Powell had already left the convention by the time I came across his booth, but a sales representative of Top Shelf Productions was there. I picked this book up and noticed the absolutely beautiful cover art and decided I must have it (yes, I judge a book by its cover).

Swallow Me Whole is the story of two siblings during their high-school years. They both have mental issues, where the brother's is not clearly defined and the sister is stated as having schizophrenia. They live with their parents, who are noticeably older than they should perhaps be, and their Memaw who is quite old and sick. As the years click by, the mental problems of the two siblings continue to worsen and it all comes to a dramatic boil at the end. Each page of this black and white book is beautifully illustrated with thick strokes of india ink that provide it a real haunting feel (below is an example page from the book). You know from the first page that this book will not end happily or the way you initially expect. All that can be expected is that you will be rapidly drawn into the world of this book and its feelings will haunt you for days to come.

As a fan of comic books and a fan of well structured and illustrated stories like Ghost World, Strangers in Paradise, and Stray Bullets, this is a great book that left me more than satisfied. I also feel that I must buy more of Nate Powell's books! I wholly encourage you to find this book! Furthermore, buy this for a high-school student and have them read it. It is absolutely amazing. As a side note, I could easily see this becoming a movie, preferably directed by Del Toro.