Entertainment News and Views
Judge Michael Rubino's Blog
• Location: Monaca, PA
The Zombiefest in Pittsburgh
The first annual "Zombiefest" was held in Pittsburgh this weekend at the Monroeville Expo Mart. Holding such an event in Pittsburgh just seems fitting; after all, the city is the background for every George Romero zombie movie (even when he chooses to film in Toronto... I'm looking at you, Land of the Dead). The event is connected with the world's largest "zombie walk," which is becoming a yearly ritual in the 'Burgh. While I wasn't there to do the walk, I did check out the exhibit hall, sit in on some panel discussions, and meet some of the actors from the Romero films.
The Expo Mart is just across the parking lot from the famed Monroeville Mall, the true star of Romero's 1978 Dawn of the Dead. The giant hall had a smattering of booths selling all sorts of zombie-wares, from old movie posters to crafts themed after the undead. The majority of folks in attendance were decked out in zombie make-up and costumes: there were zombie soldiers, clowns, sailors, pimps, and bikers. Making things more interesting was the fact that most people staying in "zombie character" while they shuffled about buying things and getting autographs. That's the kind of dedication I can get behind.
Aside from wanting to bask in the glory of all this zombie stuff, we also wanted to come to the convention to see horror author Michael A. Arnzen (who was also a professor of mine in college). Arnzen is a Bram Stoker-winning horror writer who was there as part of the Raw Dog Screaming Press booth. There were plenty of other authors in attendance, all of which participated on panels throughout the day. Each of the panels featuring writers reading excerpts from their published works, and then fielding questions from the audience. Most of the questions were actually pretty good and addressed serious topics like referencing popular culture and censorship in horror fiction. The panels were very interesting, when they weren't being interrupted by a gruff zombie voice making announcements over the P.A. system.
The main attraction of the entire event was Max Brooks, author of the instant bestseller World War Z. While I wasn't able to see the man, he did give a presentation on zombies and signed autographs for the hoards of zombie walkers Sunday afternoon. His novel, which is an oral chronicle of a future zombie outbreak, was optioned to be a movie before it was even published.
I did get to see a question and answer panel with various cast members from the first three Romero zombie films. Included on the panel were members from in the original Night of the Living Dead: Bill Hinzman (aka "Zombie #1"), George Kosana (the sheriff), Russell Streiner (Johnny), Judith O'Dea (Barbara), and Kyra Schon (that weird little girl in the basement); Dawn of the Dead: Scott H. Reiniger (Roger), David Emge (Flyboy), and Leonard Lies (machete zombie); and Day of the Dead: Jarlath Conroy (William) and Joe Pilato (Capt. Rhodes). Oh yeah, and Conrad Brooks was there, who was in The Beast of Yucca Flats and Plan 9 From Outer Space. I'm not sure why he was here.
Overall, it was a cool convention, even if it was sort of small. Hopefully in years to come, this annual event will grow to include more than just the original canon of Romero films, and hopefully attract the attention of bigger names in the zombie world (really, how can you have a "zombie convention" in Pittsburgh without George Romero himself?).
Be on the look-out for Romero's new "Dead" film, Diary of the Dead which debuted in Toronto and seems to be getting some pretty strong online buzz.
The Ways "Over the Top" Disappoints
I was looking forward to Sylvester Stallone's "Over the Top" for a long time. The prospect of a movie all about arm wrestling, glorified to the heights of the World Wrestling Federation, was something I simply couldn't pass up. My friends and I had these day dreams of watching that movie paired with other Stallone classics like "Cobra" or "Locked Up." It would be a double feature to rival that time I watched "Escape from New York" and "Big Trouble in Little China"...
Thankfully, I never got the chance to combine it with anything. "Over the Top" was an extreme disappointment. When I told this to my mother, she asked, "What kind of expectations could you have possibly had for that movie?"
Perhaps I built the movie up too much beforehand--I do have a tendency to get really excited about certain types of movies. But I certainly wasn't expecting this movie to focus so much on the Stallone's relationship with his abandoned, precocious, military school son. The movie is 90-some minutes long, and Stallone spends maybe 15-20 of those minutes actually locking hands and pinning wrists. That was the first, and of course, my largest problem with the movie. If you are going to have a film that's supposedly all about going "over the top," then do it! Go over the top! The only thing over the top was Stallone's ability to become a good father in 48 hours.
Then there is the issue of Terry Funk's appearance in the movie. For those of you who don't know, Funk is an old-school professional wrestler who's been in the business for some time. He made his reputation by going to Japan, shoving staples into his opponents' heads, and then coming back and fighting Mick Foley. He is absolutely an extreme individual, and usually when he's in movies (like "Road House") he kicks ass. But not in "Over the Top." Here, he is a merely a goon that never actually does any gooning. It's like the classic move of setting a gun on the mantle at the beginning of a play and never using it. Why was he in this movie if he wasn't going to arm wrestle?
Why was anyone in this movie if they weren't going to arm wrestle? I mean, at least the little kid arm wrestled, therefore legitimizing his role in the film. Why didn't the kid's grandpa (the bad guy in the movie) arm wrestle Stallone? The least he could have done was rig the match somehow.
But really, who am I trying to kid? The movie is rated PG, so I really shouldn't have been hoping for all this. People weren't going to have their arms ripped off in the middle of a bout. And while it was cool that the last match involved that weird arm-wrestling-strap, I think that if they would have included it more, the movie would have received a PG-13 or R rating (too many leather straps=too risky for young viewers, no matter how they're used).
I write this as a warning to all you young Stallone enthusiasts out there. Avoid the temptation of getting psyched about this movie. Trust me, I know it's easy to... the movie essentially promises to blow you away with "over the top" arm-wrestling action. It can't even compare to Stallone's more impressive work ("Cobra," "First Blood," "Judge Dredd"). If you're looking for some sweet arm wrestling, just scan ESPN 2 on the weekends.
They Live for Sunglasses
John Carpenter's movie They Live is about a wandering construction worker, played by "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, who discovers that America is actually be manipulated by evil alien business men disguised as corporate elitists. The only way for him to figure this out is by wearing a pair of sunglasses. The whole thing's a big black-comedy satire whining about people making money in the 1980's. It's low-budget, but it's also a lot of fun. What was amazing, though, was everyone's refusal to simply put on a damn pair of sunglasses.
Initially, Piper stumbles upon this underground movement of people trying to unmask the aliens while living in a shantytown outside of Los Angeles. There's this weird blind preacher fellow who, of course, is the only one that initially sees the truth. Those blind prophets sure do come in handy, don't they? The preacher, alongside a guy who sort of looks like a thinner Meatloaf, are broadcasting their subversive message out of a nearby church. When Piper wanders in to the church, he's immediately ambushed by the preacher, who tries to get him to put on a pair of sunglasses. Since the preacher is blind, it's easy for Piper to escape the torture of wearing some stylish shades.
Later on the in the movie, once Piper actually tries them on and sees that all of the rich people are actually gross mutants, and that all of the advertisements in the city say things like "CONSUME" and "OBEY," he goes on a quest to get other people to put on the glasses. The only problem is that he makes a big show of it, and the aliens (along with the police force they run) try to break his glasses. He escapes, and meets a woman who brings him back to her apartment. Instead of making any small talk or watching some TV, he tries to get her to put on the pair of glasses... she throws him out a window.
Now, that scene is a little shocking--mainly because it happens so suddenly--but I have to wonder if maybe that woman was overreacting just a little. Couldn't she have something like "No thanks," or "Sorry, I have to go wash my hair"? Nope, the first thing that came to her mind was "This bastard is going out the window!"
But okay, maybe just that one person overreacted a tad... the next guy Piper talks to would gladly try on a pair of cool sunglasses, right? Fat chance!
Piper approaches his co-worker/homeless friend Frank with the proposition of trying on the glasses in a deserted alley. Frank kindly declines, which causes Piper to haul off and clock him! Then, the two muscly construction workers duke it out in the alley for over five minutes. At least throwing Piper out a window was quick. Here, Frank and Piper slowly punch, tackle, kick each other for five whole minutes-- and I don't remember there being any weird Mortal Kombat music playing while they happened either. After about a minute of this fight, you realize that these guys are adamant about stances on wearing sunglasses. Sure the whole thing is a conceit for people's need for ignorance... but who cares, these guys are fighting! And every time you think "Okay, Frank's had enough, he's gonna put on the glasses now," he doesn't. They just keep fighting. Sometimes they pick up a plank, or a broken bottle, and try to use that; occasionally, Piper tries to use one of his wrestling moves on Frank. It's grueling.
Finally, after five minutes and twenty seconds, the fight is over and Frank finally puts on the glasses. Of course, when he does, he realizes that he should have put them on after the first punch. After all that, Frank actually loves the glasses! He and Piper even wear them at night (because they're bad asses).
In the end, that movie didn't make me feel any different about corporate America or wealth... but it did make me realize that when someone offers me a pair of sunglasses to try, I should just do it, lest I want to spend the afternoon brawling.
10 Reasons Why I Love Robocop
10. Distopian-Future Detroit looks like today's Detroit!
9. Robocop is able to dodge Cobra Assault Cannon fire while strafing slower than most tortoises.
8. Miguel Ferrer doing what he does best: playing a complete bastard.
7. There are enough bloody squibs in the extended cut to keep Trojan in business for years.
6. Robocop eats baby food... and loves it!
5. Future-Detroit has all of the awesome technology of 1987 Detroit!
4. The panes of glass in the Delta City skyscrapers are broken merely by touching them, and they instantly cause whoever broke them to fly out of the building screaming to his death.
3. The villain drives an S.U.X. 6000, which gets 8.2 miles to the gallon.
2. Peter Weller gets his hand shot off... and then his arm... and then his face! By five shotguns, no less!
1. The ED-209 "chicken robot" slips and falls down the stairs. Hilarious.
It Died Hard
Any fear I had about the resurrection of the "Die Hard" franchise quickly faded last night as I watched "Live Free or Die Hard." I can't decide what the defining moment was, but perhaps it was when John McClane made a guy explode through a window after shooting a fire extinguisher. That was probably it... or maybe it was when he took down a helicopter with a car. Either way, by the 30 minute mark, every fear I had vanished and I found myself giggling with delight at how badass this movie was.
Little did I know, I judged Die Hard 4 too soon. It was so B.A. that the projector in the theater couldn't handle the pressure. With fifteen minutes left in the movie, right about the time Bruce Willis finishes tearing up Baltimore in a big rig, the film melted! A dull roar ripped through the theater as the image on the screen deteriorated like that scene in "Fight Club." Back in the projector room, five hairy men wearing nothing but overalls, hardhats, and grime were toiling away, trying to get things under control. "It's too powerful! It can't take no more!" they yell as they hopefully pull levers and turn valves. "The movie is living up to the franchise! We're going down!"
Meanwhile, in the audience, we all gasped at the disturbing site of celluloid going to pot. But, once the shock wore off, everyone began clapping and cheering. There were no qualms about what we had just witnessed: this film, in all it's sheer awesomeness, destroyed itself. It was heroicly tragic. After the cheering stopped, we all realized that our movie was broken. Not cool.
The manager came in to calm everyone down. She said that there was another showing down the hall that was 30 minutes behind ours. The forty-plus people in the theater got up and made the jog down the hall, busting into the theater like a S.W.A.T. team. Who cares about the folks that were in the theater first, they didn't know the horror that we had witnessed... and if anyone complained, I was more than happy to tell them about the events that occur in the next twenty minutes of the movie.
We were able to see the movie the rest of the way through. They kept us all waiting with baited breath for what has been called "The greatest one-liner in movie history." It ended, we survived, and I lived (free) to tell about it. The movie passed the B.A. Test right away, and only assured me of that fact by going down in a blaze of glory. It died hard.
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