Twitter Celebs

There are a lot of celebrities on Twitter. Sometimes half the news is who said what. I follow a few celebrities, and I often send them replies, as a joke, mostly. A few times I’ve gotten replies, most often from Jennifer Ehle (of “Pride & Prejudice” fame) Adam Richman from Man vs. Food, and a few others.

I’d say the “biggest” name who’s gotten back to me is Carl Weathers, the actor from the Rocky films, Predator, Action Jackson, and of course, his unforgettable comic turn on “Arrested Development.”

A while back, I wrote a post about my “uncle” Tony Maffatone, who had performed executive security for some celebrities, such as Sylvester Stallone and Dolly Parton. Once Stallone got on Twitter to promote The Expendables, I noticed that he responded to some of his fans, so I tried to tell him that his former bodyguard, who had done stunts and knife training for some of his films, and had a small role in Rocky IV, had died in 1999. I knew they had had a falling out of some kind. My father only knew it second hand and said that Stallone was trying to run his own security detail, but I have no confirmation of whether that is true. Tony has passed on, and I don’t know how to contact his partner, known as “big Tony,” and I doubt he’d want to bring up yesterday’s news. Does it matter?

Well, Sly never responded to me. Not surprising. It’s not something I could expect a big name star to want to talk about. I stopped following him when he started making conspiracy-minded tweets that rubbed me the wrong way. He’s been MIA on Twitter now that the Expendables DVD release is over.

However, I do follow someone else on Twitter who was in a movie with my uncle Tony. Carl Weathers was in Rocky IV, too. And he’d replied to me months ago, when I made a joke about his “predator handshake” with Arnold Schwarzenegger being the manliest form of greeting ever devised. So I talked to him about Tony.

And to my surprise, he asked if I meant “big Tony” or “little Tony,” as they were known, because my uncle was a diver and marathon runner, making him the skinny one. He remembered. And he said all that needed to be said, that Tony was a stand-up guy, and may he rest in peace. Carl is a nice guy, and while he’s done tough guy roles almost exclusively, he does it in a way that commands respect. Apollo Creed wasn’t just a champ, he was a businessman; Dillon wasn’t just muscle, he was a shrewd operator. And you get that sharp intellect just from one look.

His reply took seconds, but it meant a lot to me.

I want to thank my blogger buddy Darius Whiteplume from Adventures in Nerdliness for posting his own twitter conversation with Carl, which inspired me to do this one.

© 2010 Tommy Salami

Les Expendables

It took 33 years, but Sylvester Stallone once again has a sense of humor about himself. And that’s what makes The Expendables, the balls to the wall ’80s style action flick that we’ve been anticipating for over a year now, so awesome. I’ll admit it, when I saw his low rider pickup truck that hearkens back to his ’50 chopped Merc in Cobra, I was a little bit concerned that the kickassitude of Rambo went to his head. But no, he is definitely the star of this one, yet plays well with others. He gives plenty of screen time to all the big names he got together to make this throwback extravaganza, and we can’t ask for anything more. Well, except maybe for Kurt Russell and Jean-Claude Van Damme to show up in the sequel.

Testosterone Level Causes Impregnation Within 50 Yards

I’m not going to bore you with the plot except for this single line: a group of bad-ass mercenaries take a suicide mission to assassinate a South American dictator. We first meet them as they rescue a cargo ship held hostage by Somali pirates, scaling it like Navy SEALs and blasting them to pieces with laser sighted machine guns and shotguns loaded with shells that will blow a man in half. But they’re reasonable people; Sly isn’t playing Rambo here, he’s more of a tired old guy who wants you to surrender, but will blast six holes in you with his revolver the second he realizes you won’t. He has a buddy rivalry with Jason Statham, the knife master of the group, over who can take someone out quicker. As in many of Sly’s previous films, he equips his men with custom knives, from a Gil Hibben Bowie blade with a brass parry strip, ring-pommelled throwing daggers, switchblades and huge, fast draw folding knives.

If I wasn’t getting married, I’d buy this $1850 Gil Hibben Bowie…

Sly and Statham are the biggest roles, but Jet Li gets some good fights in, and gets to show some comic chops as he complains he should have a bigger share, because everything is harder for him because he’s the short one. He has to take more steps when they run someplace. Randy Couture “used to wrestle in high school” and that explains his cauliflower ears, which he is very sensitive about. Terry Crews gets to have some fun with a Sledgehammer shotgun, but this is a long way from his hilarious role as President Camacho in Idiocracy.Pity, he can be really funny. Dolph Lundgren gets the thankless job of being the guy who’s a little too psycho for a band of psychos, and Mickey Rourke has retired from mercenaryin’ to be a tattoo artist. He gets to give the “I’ll cry when I’m done killin'” speech.

The movie showcases the strengths of our favorite bad boys but peppers humor in between, a wise choice that has worked since classics of the genre like Commando. I was a little disappointed that the fictional country they invade isn’t named Val Verde, but that should be saved for an Arnie movie, I suppose. Speaking of which, Arnie and Bruce Willis’s cameos are hilarious. Sure, they only get five minutes, but Arnie lets himself be the butt of the jokes, with Sly poking fun at the weight he put on as Governor, and that he “wants to be President.” He’s a rival merc leader, and doesn’t ham it up. Maybe after he’s done governating, Sly will give him a big role in the sequel. I sure hope so.

If he dies… he dies

The bad guys are played by a psycho Eric Roberts and David Zayas, best known as Angel from “Dexter.” The girl is Giselle Itié, a beauty from Mexican television, who will likely appear in Hollywood again. She has good chops, though Sly isn’t the best at getting realistic performances out of women (see Julie Benz in Rambo, who we know can act like a champ). But that’s not what we’re looking for in an action funfest like The Expendables. It was great seeing so many of them together. I enjoyed the hell out of it, but I don’t think it’s as good as Rambo– which is damn hard to top. The best I can say about it is: IT DELIVERS. And I damn well hope they make a sequel, and keep it rated R. And I will agree with Milky, my movie buddy, that they better bring back that shotgun, too. It should get its name in the credits.

4 out of 5 exploding human heads

© 2010 Tommy Salami

The Expendables – Semper Fight and sausage being made

I try not to get too hyped up about upcoming movies, because sometimes nothing can really live up to it. Rambo was one exception. I sort of gave up on Sly after Cliffhanger. So the fourth Rambo movie knocked me for a loop, even though I’d been impressed with Rocky Balboa. So when I heard that Stallone’s next would include Jason Statham, Jet Li, and Dolph Lundgren as mercenaries sent to depose a brutal dictactor I knew I’d be there opening day.
They are filming it now, and you can follow some of the day-to-day happenings on twitter. I’m not sure if I want to. It’s kind of cool, but I tend to think of movies like a sausage factory, in the Upton Sinclair sense. It’s best not to see how they are made and what goes into them. That’s a photo from shooting, above. And this here’s Dolph and Sly shooting the shit and not trying to break each other.
For example, if you follow the hype machine and read all the movie blogs, so far Danny Trejo, Steven Seagal, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Forrest Whitaker, 50-Cent, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sandra Bullock have been signed on and then signed off being in the movie. Right now Arnie is iffy- they want him to play himself as the Governor- which would be awesome. Terry Crews may be on board. I think I’m excited enough at this ’70s style commando raid flick and I’m going to stop reading about it.
Supposedly almost all the crew Sly used for Rambo are returning for The Expendables, so that makes me confident enough. I know this may be blasphemy in the movie blog world, but maybe it’s best not to know every little detail. Sure, hearing that Sly rolled through a rough stunt scene, said “That’s how you teach the kids,” and was directing while medics plucked stones and road rash from his skin makes you admire the 63-year old action star who’s pulling an Eastwood and reaching the top of his game when most folks are retiring. But this is the kind of movie that sells itself. So I’m gonna try to lay off any further hype on this one. Even though I submitted some Q’s for Sly on ethelmae’s blog.

A Tribute to Tony Maffatone

“Uncle” Tony Maffatone

I recently watched Son of Rambow, a cute kid’s film set in ’80s Britain, about two young kids who make their own sequel to First Blood with a video camera. The film is riddled with the best scenes from that ur-action film, which I saw in the theater at the tender age of 11, with my father. Why? Because my “Uncle” Tony Maffatone was involved in it. Tony was my father’s best friend- if men from that era had BFFs. Men born in the ’40s were more like predatory animals than humans, and would sometimes tolerate each other on their own territory; my Dad and Tony were both hard-asses, and had a deep mutual respect. Both had served as police officers; my father moved to construction, and Uncle Tony became an executive bodyguard, eventually for Sylvester Stallone, which led to small roles, such as a mugger in Nighthawks and one of the two KGB officers spying on Rocky in IV; he’s the one who slips on the ice, which was scripted. He didn’t want to do it, but he did it for Stallone. If you watch the “making of” documentaries for Rambo: First Blood Part II, you can see Tony showing Sly how to fight with a knife. My scary knife collection got its start when Uncle Tony showed me his numbered Jimmy Lile Rambo knives, and a Moran ST-24– one of the Holy Grails for knife collectors.

Skip to 2:42, where Tony chases him from the car; his partner drives

When he was in Thailand and the Middle East working as a weapons consultant for Rambo III, he brought me back a pair of Thai dha swords, a Khyber knife, a kindjal and some Nepalese kukris; thus began a lifelong obsession with dangerous pointy things. My father had made a habit of giving me pocket knives, and a razor-sharp Western M-49 Bowie that hung on my wall, terrifying my grandmother, who had nightmares that it would fall down and behead me. When I got older, I would of course graduate to firearms- especially after getting to handle Tony’s MAC-10, one of the signature weapons of the ’80s. He also showed me the scars where he’d been shot on the job, tempering the respect I had for guns, which were never shown as toys.


Jimmy Lile’s knife from First Blood

Uncle Tony had a small role in some of the most memorable action movies of the ’80s. First Blood is still the best of the Rambo series if you ask me. I love the latest one, but it follows the same formula as the other sequels, while the first story was about how shabbily Vietnam veterans were treated both by the government and the people upon their return. It doesn’t have any hippies spitting on him; it shows the callous disregard of a small town police chief, played by Brian Dennehy, for the burned-out vagrant John Rambo, who only wants to pass through town as he looks up one of his war buddies. That buddy has died of cancer, from Agent Orange, and his family is living in a dilapidated shack.

Don’t push it…

The original gets a bad rap because things would turn 180 with the first sequel, which created the “one arm tied behind our back” and “POWs are still in camps 20 years later, for no reason” memes that fueled the ’80s. It was one of James Cameron’s first films, and has that rollercoaster of relentless action that he would perfect later with Aliens and Terminator 2. Rambo III would try the same formula in Afghanistan, to tepid results; the fight culminates with another duel against a Russian attack chopper, this time with Rambo in a tank, ramming it head-on in a rather unlikely scenario that probably sounded better on paper. The film starts with a great muay thai style stick fight between Rambo and a guy who looks like Al Jorgenson from Ministry, before settling in to a familiar story, where he has to rescue Colonel Trautman with the help of the mujaheddin and a cute Afghan kid, sort of a freedom fighter Short Round. The movie has been sneered at as “Rambo helps the Taliban,” but these guys would be more like Northern Alliance.

It gets a lot of flack as being utterly ridiculous, but it’s not really over the top- hell, it’s not even Over the Top! It’s just mediocre, except for a frighteningly expensive final battle involving tanks, helicopters, mujaheddin on horseback, and truck-mounted heavy machine-guns. There are a lot of explosions, but there’s no real urgency; the director would go on to stuff like The Neverending Story III and would never be allowed near an action movie again. It was the most expensive movie made at the time, but it doesn’t feel like it.


Moran’s ST-24 fighter

The fourth movie brings Rambo back to his bloody guerrilla roots and gives us a believable scene with Rambo manning a .50-cal and mowing down troops- at least he has a shield in the new one. Uncle Tony would be proud. Rambo forges his own knife similar to the Kachin rebel’s head-hunting dha chopper, and goes to town with it. Rambo III, the last movie Tony worked with Stallone on, is probably the last good Sly flick until Cop Land reminded people that he can act when forced. He’s never gone back to the crying emotional rage at the end of First Blood again, but that scene’s always worked for me. This third entry is also the last movie before Stallone started eating steroids by the handful- he looks trim and cut here, before ballooning in size for stuff like The Specialist, where his veiny swollen pecs in shower scene are so horrifying that are distracted from a naked Sharon Stone.

Roid boy

My father said that Tony had stopped working for Sly after this, because Stallone wanted to be part of his own security detail. The action movies had gone to his head; he thought he really was Rambo. Uncle Tony would go on to work for less showy clients, where Hollywood egos and extravagance wouldn’t interfere with the job. He concentrated on his hobby of diving, where he even developed his own equipment. A few years later he tragically died in a diving accident, around the wreck of the USS San Diego, in 2000. One of his close diving friends wrote a fitting epitaph for him here.
His ashes were cast into the sea, and I only learned years later while trying to get back in touch. The last time I saw him was at my own father’s funeral, and he was still in great shape into his late 50’s- regularly running marathons. The next time I dip my toes in the waters of the Jersey shore I’ll think of him. Unfortunately Google also brought up a hit on VeriSEAL, because his obituary article in the NY Daily News had a Hollywood producer named Marty Richards, one of Tony’s clients, claim that he was a “decorated Navy SEAL,” and “Rambo was based on him.” Uncle Tony never made any such claims to me. He was a police officer in Passaic, who trained in security measures and martial arts, and a hero to his friends, family and those clients he protected; there is no need to claim he was a SEAL to boost him up. And “Rambo” was based on the book First Blood by David Morrell; maybe basing the sequel on a “Back to ‘Nam” story was Tony’s idea, but I never heard about it. It’s sad that the boasting of a Hollywood asshole has to tarnish the memory of a good man who can’t defend himself.

update:

I had the honor of meeting David Morrell several times at Thrillerfest and Bouchercon. Rambo’s Daddy is a gracious and talented writer, and he was kind enough to give me a business card where he sits with Stallone, and my “Uncle” Tony Maffatone stands in the background, on the set of Rambo III:

DTwQ0ksVQAIdfgS

Rest in Peace, Uncle Tony. I’ll remember reading The Old Man and the Sea when our families vacationed together on Long Beach Island, and we sat on the porch watching the stormy waves hammer the shoreline; I’ll remember lifting weights on the bench in your back yard with you, and sharing dinner with your family. And whenever I see Stallone hold that survival knife to Brian Dennehy’s throat, warning him “Don’t push it- I’ll give you a war you won’t believe,” I’ll remember that you were on set giving the iconic action star cues on how to handle himself with a weapon.

R.I.P.

Death Race vs. Death Race 2000

I remember hunting down Death Race 2000 on VHS in high school with friend Pita-San. We were nerds who played “Car Wars” and this was on the required viewing list for players of that old game; we were not prepared for its dark satire, or the crazy camp. It amazed us. We did not think such movies were made. We loved it. So I was sort of excited about a remake, which could be a lot of fun- cars exploding, over the top villains, and a dark satirical future. I was sorely disappointed.

Frankenstein’s monster car

Let’s begin with the original. In a post-apocalyptic future, America is led by a brown-shirt President who blames all our problems on the French (some things never change). The populace is kept distracted by a violent cross-country road race in which drivers gain points by running down pedestrians in their suped-up, blade-festooned vehicles. Frankenstein (David Carradine) is the favorite driver- so called because he’s been in so many wrecks that most of him has been replaced. He drives a Godzilla-inspired Corvette with razor spines from nose to tail. His biggest rival is Machine Gun Joe (Sylvester Stallone), a gangster Guido with sadly inoperable tommy-guns and a huge Bowie knife mounted on his car; others include the Nazis Mathilda the Hun and Herman the German in their V-2 rocket-propelled Buzzbomb (complete with Prussian spike nosecone), Calamity Jane (Mary Woronov, Rock ‘n Roll High School) a cowgirl with longhorns on her hood, and Nero the pretty-boy, who thankfully gets killed first.

I hate Illinois Nazis.

It’s an utter campfest, as they plow through construction crews, guys playing chicken with them, and Rebels trying to sabotage the race. Frankenstein is saddled with a new navigator that he thinks is a government spy; he wants to win this last race so he can meet the President, and give him a handshake… with a “hand grenade!” Yeah, his metallic hand has a grenade built into it. There’s fake red blood galore, but it’s all well directed- the cars are sped up a little on camera, but they seem to be going pretty fast, and the stunts are decent. Whenever they aren’t racing and things get a little slow, director Paul Bartel wisely makes the girls (even his wife Mary W.!) show off their boobies. So all in all, it’s a slice of ’70s delight.


Carradine was fresh out of “Kung Fu” on TV and needed to break away from his Kwai Chang Cane character; Sly was probably raising money for Rocky, and they both chew into the roles with relish. The newscasters who follow the race are a mockery of TV talking heads, with a Howard Cosell talk-alike and others who drip with insincerity as government stooges. The budget is all spent on the goofy cars, but everyone involved goes at it with gusto. The Arnie movie The Running Man has more in common with this than the Stephen King story it’s based on, and while it’s pacing is slow for modern audiences, there’s nothing else quite like Death Race 2000. Name another movie where the doctors would roll out the elderly patients for “Euthanasia Day” only to be run over themselves. Paul Bartel knew how to make good trash, but this and Eating Raoul are his best. If you must see the “re-imagining” in theaters now, find a way to see the original.

Machine Gun Joe’s murdermobile

Death Race is a another video game movie from that master of mediocrity, who should be banned from having a name similar to Paul Thomas Anderson’s and Wes Anderson’s. Like a dog wiping his ass across the white carpet of cinema, he’s left a brown streak across the movie rack that cannot be ignored. I’ve seen Alien vs. Predator (the most boring of all the Alien films), Resident Evil (the worst of the trilogy), Event Horizon (probably the most overrated nerd-beloved film of all time, Hellraiser in space) and now Death Race, which mixes NASCAR, machine guns, and pinball in a prison movie. I’m told Soldier is saved somewhat by Kurt Russell, so I’ll rent that the next time I’ve watched too many enjoyable movies and need a letdown.

Driving my career into the toilet

There’s nothing surprising about Death Race. Ian McShane (“Deadwood,” Sitting Target) and his gravelly voice manage to uplift his scenes, but Jason Statham coasts by, having cast off any emoting ability sometime after Cellular. I loved him in Guy Ritchie’s movies, and as The Transporter, but he’s really become Vin Diesel’s grittier brother. Joan Allen (Manhunter, the Bourne Trilogy) must owe someone a favor; she’s horrible as the steely warden Hennessy, who runs the private prison with a cool and ruthless demeanor. The problem is she only has one note. Angie Dickinson in Payback: Straight Up was believable; Hennessy is not. Hearing her say nonsensical vulgarities like “Okay you, cocksucker. Fuck with me, and we’ll see who shits on the sidewalk!” is hilarious; you’d think McShane of the legendary Al Swearingen would have coached her on how to cuss!

Mad tite whip, yo

Crowd favorite Frankenstein died in his last race, so Hennessy frames ex-NASCAR driver Jensen Ames (Statham) for murder to get him to replace the masked marauder. Carradine voices Frankenstein in the opener, which was a nice touch (there are a few forgettable nods to the first movie). The rest of the drivers are all tokens- Machine Gun Joe is now a twofer, a gay black musclehead played by Tyrese Gibson (Four Brothers); 14k is the Asian nod to the ricer Fast and the Furious crowd, there’s Pachenko the Russian, a nondescript Latino dude whose job is to yell vulgarities in Spanish, and an Aryan Brotherhood guy who’ll be the bad guy among bad guys. I was hoping there’d be an obnoxious Guido driver so I could point up at the screen and say, “hurr! he’s like me! I can now relate to this story!” They also bus in women prisoners so the gals have someone to cheer, but they are only allowed to serve as navigators- McCain must be president in 2012. The lithe ladies all have boomboxes in their cooches, which play riffs if they sway their hips in slow motion while they walk on screen. I must get Firecracker one of those. Natalie Martinez plays Frankenstein’s navigator Case, so maybe it’s just something hot Latinas are born with.

We need more uniforms like this in women’s prison

This movie is all about the action, but it’s mostly boring. Armored cars with machine-guns, flamethrowers and rocket launchers hammer at each other as they lap the track, which has Power Ups (they’re actually called this) scattered around it, like Mario Kart meets Twisted Metal. The guns barely seem to hurt the cars’ armor, and most kills are of the crash & explode variety. PWSA tries to up the gore factor now and then, but it’s bad CG the few times we see a pedestrian get plowed. We actually see a guy explode as soon as a car touches him, for example; I’d rather have fake red blood on an actual stunt man, thanks. During the final lap, Hennessy releases “the Dreadnought,” a tricked out semi with a tank gun, and its wheels have those spinning blades we’ve seen a dozen times- the token Asian’s navigator gets chewed up by it, which involves her jiggling in her seat with her tongue hanging out. The driver doesn’t even get blood on him. It would have been funnier if we just heard her scream and see him get splattered with her innards, but you can’t expect clever from this Anderson.

The infamous hand grenade!

The ending seems like an afterthought and I think PWSA (pronounced Pwissa) wrote it on toilet paper in between grunts. It’s as if they ran out of time, needed a prison break, and then forgot that they didn’t kill the evil warden. When they do escape in their death cars, try not to roll your eyes when the guards chase them in regular old police cars, as if escape never crossed their minds; the cars are all rigged with kill switches on the weapons, but Hennessy never imagined they could be bypassed. They chase them with helicopters across the only bridge off the prison island, which is protected by … a chain link fence. Even prisons that don’t hold death races have better security than this. But we ran out of time, so they need to escape easily. So much for finales.

How the remake feels!

Jason Statham, what’s gotten into you? It’s an easy paycheck, I know. I really liked The Transporter. If you can’t tell what made that more fun than the latest string of movies you’ve made, fire your agent before you lose any remaining cred. We’ll always have Turkish.

And as a bonus here are two photos from Death Race 2000 that look like they’re from an S&M movie, or a Batman porno.