Sunday, June 19, 2016

Good, Tough & Deadly Week: Read It!

Two San Diego Comic-Con's ago, a guy stopped me and asked, "you're that Van Damme guy, right?", referring to the Los Angeles screenings of Bloodsport, Double Impact and Universal Soldier I had set up with the likes of Sheldon Lettich, Brian Thompson, Harrison Page, Joey Ansah, Craig Baumgarten, Darren Shahlavi and Dolph Lundgren in attendance. Answering in the affirmative, David J. Moore introduced himself and from there we have enjoyed a terrific #ActionMovieBro dynamic that has traversed meals, conventions, screenings and premieres. A prolific writer for magazines of all genres, Moore had just released his first book, World Gone Wild: A Survivor's Guide to Post-Apocalyptic Movies that encapsulated nearly 1,000 reviews and dozens of cast and crew interviews. Now deep into a one of a kind look at action movies and films, Moore recruited me to provide a few last minute reviews as well as my Q&A turned print interview with Carl Weathers.

On Tuesday I received a copy of The Good, the Tough & the Deadly: Action Movies & Stars 1960- Present, from Schiffer Publishing. Published author could now be checked off my imaginary list of life accomplishments and/or goals. What struck me immediately was the size and heft of the tome that includes around 1,500 reviews and 80 some interviews. The hardcover art is gorgeous and inside are glossy pages and color photos galore. Moore's introduction sets up the parameters of the book, this being a guide of action stars who came from an athletic or professional background. So Arnold from bodybuilding, Jean-Claude Van Damme from karate, Carl Weathers, Jim Brown and Fred Williamson from football and Steven Seagal from Aikido, etc. Or actors generally identified by the action genre a la Charles Bronson and Sylvester Stallone. That means titles from the likes of big screen favorites Bruce Willis, Kurt Russell and Mel Gibson are not included. Moreover, I saw it as a study of the new type of action hero that emerged from the 1980's where Arnold and Sly were kings with JCVD and Seagal their eager successors. The type of larger than life hero who cut through red tape, took on an army of bad guys and got the job done. Usually while branding a machine gun, tossing a one liner or using their hands and feet to dispatch all enemies in bone breaking or face mashing fashion. While acting talent and charisma would be fairly overlooked in favor of muscular and hyper developed physicality.

In the 80's and 90's, Cannon Films and Carolco helped usher in the age of international box office while capitalizing on burgeoning home video revenue. While the four kings of action ruled theaters, less expensive alternatives, many from the worlds of kickboxing, bodybuilding and martial arts like Don "The Dragon" Wilson, Michael Dudikoff, Roddy Piper, David Bradley and Oliver Gruner could have their names above titles and faces brandished across posters and VHS boxes around the world. Good, Tough and Deadly is a study of these films; the muscles, machine guns and VHS era. Along for the ride with Moore are half a dozen contributors who produced nearly 1,500 reviews and conducted 80 interviews. Subjects range from golden age stars like Weathers, Lundgren and Wesley Snipes to writer/directors including Sheldon Lettich (Double Impact, Rambo III) and Craig Baxley (Action Jackson, Stone Cold) to PM Entertainment's once prolific Joseph Merhi. Modern age filmmakers like John Hyams, Jesse Johnson and Isaac Florentine along with stars Scott Adkins, Tony Jaa and Michael Jai White also get their light.

As a total 80's and 90's kid, I can certainly recall seeing VHS covers with Billy Blanks, Jeff Wincott, Gruner and more but never taking the plunge since I was catching up on JCVD or Seagal titles I couldn't see in a theater. And let's be honest, there's a reason why talent rises, they've got the IT factor Hollywood can't produce but loves to exploit. Don Wilson might be a more accomplished kickboxer than Van Damme but he's sure not as interesting to watch. So reading reviews and the thoughts of so many B-level stars without much knowledge of their work was interesting. No Retreat, No Surrender 2's Loren Avedon comes off as a bit egotistical, even when talking about being broke by 2000, eating crow and going from headlining low budget martial arts flicks to doing stunts anywhere he could. Or Gruner, a French Special Forces soldier and champion kickboxer turned low rent movie-star in the likes of Angel Town and Nemesis, thinking he should have been in The Expendables along with half a dozen stars who actually had theatrical careers.

Moore's style of interview gets subjects to open up about the triumphs of becoming a working actor and action star, the harsh realities of the business and what happens when your shelf life expires. Creative control and lack thereof is a constant cause of retiring, along with the fact that the video market simply dried up so there was no use in denying it. Bruce Lee is a frequent inspiration and for the younger guys, it's Jean-Claude Van Damme. Experiences with, observations of and basic example being elevates JCVD to enigma status and rightfully so, he's a force of nature. Reviews are generally two paragraphs, one to set up the story and cast and the other to state opinion. Some of my contributions were for Bruce Lee's The Chinese Connection and Van Damme's Timecop. After an off and on marathon of skimming reviews and reading interviews, I finished The Good, the Tough and the Deadly, cover to cover, late into last night. I'm extremely happy and proud to have been invited to the party and contribute. Thank you, David. I'm also excited that it was the #1 New Release on Amazon for Film/TV books! Keep laughing and lifting, or alternatively, keep punching and pumping.

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