Thursday, February 27, 2014

Bottomshelf Beer Reviews: Stag Beer

St. Louis is famous for its giant arch, and not much else off the top of my head.  It’s a cool town though as long as you think industrial towns in the Midwest are cool.  I do.  I really don’t feel comfortable in places without shitty weather or the populace doesn't eat copious amounts of meat and drink a lot of beer.  To that end St. Louis has BBQ, Budweiser, and Stag Beer. 
The only beer endorsed by Mr. Magoo
Can't wait till "Lou" get naked
Stag is the second deer-themed beer it’s my privilege to review.  This time instead of concentrating on anthropomorphic deer on human felatio I thought I would move on to Stag films.  It may surprise those of you that grew up with full streaming bukkake videos on your phone, but time was, the only way for heterosexual men to watch porn was together at a “Stag Party.”  For my part I grew up in the VHS era, and free from the constraints of obtaining a film print, reel-to-reel projector, and movie screen a man could jack off by himself in the privacy of his own home; unless he were underage, which I certainly was.  When I was in Junior High the only way to watch porn movies was at someone’s house when his parents were out of town and his dad had some porno movies in the closet.  The movies were always a few years old, when the pubic aesthetics could best be described as “full monkey,” and were directed as though the single most erotic thing in the world was an extreme close-up of full penetration from like half-an-inch away.

It was like watching surgery

As to why Stag chose a name that may or may not call to mind the uncomfortable experience of getting all horned up in a room full of other dudes, the can offer some explanation, promising “golden quality since 1851,” which would mean that Stag Beer predates rudimentary motion pictures by about four decades, let alone movies where some chick and her horny roommate fuck the cable guy.  Further investigation reveals that that 1851 marks the foundation of Western Brewery, whom launched “Kaiser Beer” in the early 1890’s.  Kaiser Beer would go on to be Western’s flagship brand; however Americans began to grow weary of buying a beer named for a foreign despot so in 1907 they changed the name to “Stag Beer.”  Good thing too, because we fought two wars with the Savage Hun in the succeeding decades.  By the 1950’s Stag was available in 22 States and Western Brewery was the 11th largest in the country, but it was not to last.  Nowadays Stag is pretty much only available in Missouri, Arkansas, and the parts of Illinois that aren’t anywhere near Chicago.  The purple Monopoly if you will.
Those motherfuckers...
As to the quality of the beer, Stag is pretty good.  It’s kind of grainy with some citrusiness to it, pretty typical of American beer.  It’s not very sugary, which is good.  Sweetness in cheap beer is usually a sign that they cut the beer with something that isn’t supposed to go in beer to save money.  On first sip I described Stag as watery, and it is, but not any waterier than your typical American beer.  Actually it seems worse than it is because it has a very mild aftertaste, mild to the point that I didn’t even notice it.  As a bottomshelf beer connoisseur I wasn’t prepared for my sip of beer to be the sum of my beer drinking experience.  Most cheap beers linger with an after-flavor akin to drinking Tang while chewing Altoids or vurping (vomit-burping), but Stag went down smooth and immediately disappeared like that Nigerian Prince I gave all my money to.  It’s like drinking beer as a goldfish.
That Nigerian Prince asshole spent all my money on snakes (like a fucking jerk)

What was I talking about again?  Oh right.  Stag beer.  It’s pretty good.  If you’re ever in the greater St. Louis area I recommend checking it out.  I guess you could just as easily try it out if you’re ever in Arkansas, but if you’re in Arkansas your first goal and top priority should probably be leaving Arkansas.  Nothing good has ever happened there. 
Actually some landmark events in the Civil Rights movement happened there, but that's kind of like crediting Chile for the death of Augusto Pinochet because I guess he died there.
Would you like to know more? Check out the Stag Beer official website. It's actually pretty good.  Kinda endearing to see so many people impassioned by their local beer. Speaking of... 

Would you like to know more? Check out this website for this giant can of Stag.

I like that it lists the volume in gallons

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Jean-Claude Van Damme: No Retreat, No Surrender (1986)

This poster doesn't do the movie justice, because it's actually a pretty good poster

No Retreat, No Surrender is Jean-Claude Van Damme’s graduation to the world of credited roles with his name spelled correctly.  Van Damme plays Ivan the Russian in this Karate Kid/Rocky IV knockoff…er amalgamation.

No Retreat, No Surrender is about some evil 80’s businessmen (complete with slicked back hair) and their Russian goon (Mr. Van Damme) attacking the sensei at an LA dojo for not getting with the program.  As to what “the program” entails the movie offers absolutely no explanation.  The article on Wikipedia claims that the rich guys are scheming to take over every karate dojo in the country.  Based on the beaten-up station wagon the sensei drives (and his family’s seeming lack of furniture) karate dojo ownership might not be the lucrative field the evil rich guys think it is. 
Evil Van Damme
Anyway, it turns out the sensai that got beaten-up earlier was the father of Jason, the protagonist of the film.  After getting in one little fight Jason’s dad got scared and moved the family to Seattle (not Bel-Air.)  Jason quickly makes friends with a 1980’s Black Kid and they both immediately run afoul of the local bullies.  Things go poorly for Jason until he makes friends with the ghost of Bruce Lee, prompting a series of training scenes and montages that put Rocky IV to shame.  In fact, most of the film’s meager 85 minute runtime alternates between Bruce Lee’s ghost offering up some half-baked Eastern philosophy so Jason can punch better, and Jason working out.  For reasons which were unnecessarily complicated, not to mention illogical, the film climaxes with Jason fighting Ivan the Russian, not for revenge but to protect the Seattle dojo.(?) 
Even bullies enjoy eating an entire fucking birthday cake.

Overall the main fight scene was pretty well choreographed, and with the benefit of hindsight, showed an interesting role reversal.  Typically JCVD spends the first half of any fight getting the shit kicked out of him until he gets a second wind, somehow, and goes on the offensive delivering a quick series of blows followed by a knockout flying roundhouse kick to the face of his opponent.  This time the situation is reversed with Jason serving as Van Damme’s punching bag, that is of course until 80’s Black Kid shouts the titular line (for the second time)!
"Quit fucking standing there...ugh...No Reatreat, No Surrender!"

At which point Jason naturally gains the upper hand and beats the living shit out of Ivan, which betrays the single flaw of casting Van Damme as a bad guy: it wasn’t believable at all.  The idea of Van Damme losing a fight to anyone this side of Stallone or Schwarzenegger strains credulity to its breaking point.  I get the whole David and Goliath thing they were going for, but despite the 70% or so of the film’s runtime devoted to training sequences there was nothing established to suggest Jason had the tools to take on a bigger, stronger, Soviet-er, opponent.  Usually a hero defeats a larger adversary through cunning, speed, or at the very least sheer willpower.  David had a slingshot, Indiana Jones had a Nazi-shredding propeller, Rocky IV was made of iron, and the Karate Kid had the crane kick.  Jason had what, the ability to have his double kick someone in the face?  Jason’s signature move belies the other side of the problem; although it is now easy to realistically show the likes of Carrie-Anne Moss or Nic Cage somewhat implausibly flying through the air shooting guns and beating people up, not so much in 1986.  Whatever the narrative failed to set up the fight scene didn’t quite deliver on screen, and leaves the viewer with the impression that the evil business dudes and their Commie stooge should have triumphed over the forces of good.
See what I mean?  Nice hair dude.
I for one would have preferred that ending.  Instead of Jason’s dad awkwardly chanting “Ja-son!” (by himself), or about 15 people from the crowd unenthusiastically lifting Jason in the air we would have gotten to find out what the hell the bad guys were trying to do.  They win a karate match which means they get what, a trophy and a $25 Red Lobster gift card?  Even if it allows them to somehow take over the Seattle dojo, what purpose does it serve?  Wasn’t the Hair Club for Men a thing back then? Maybe they were going to turn it into one of those?  Even still, having a Soviet karate champ on retainer seems like would probably eat into your profits.   

No Retreat, No Surrender was followed by two sequels, neither of which star Van Damme so they are of no interest to this blogger.

Villain:  Jean-Claude Van Damme; an even match for Van Damme if there ever was one.  Unfortunately, he faced off against some skinny punk and not himself.  America has to wait another 5 years to see that amazing spectacle…for the first time.
This film also marks the first of many times Van Damme will do the splits in a major motion picture
Fashion:  It was also kind of an interesting choice to dress the Soviet fighter in white and the All-American protagonist in Red.  I’m sure it symbolized something.  There were also lots of dudes in sleeveless shirts.  Every time I try to wear a sleeveless shirt out of the house my wife asks if I’m going “cruising.”  Whatever.  What’s the point of doing all of those curls if I can’t wear a sleeveless shirt? Despite the cool sleeveless shirts I’m going to give the best dressed award to 80’s Black Kid’s Michael Jackson get-up.
Not pictured: 80's Black Kid rapping, break dancing, or boom box listening.  All of which happens in his few minutes of screent ime.
Trailers: I watched NR,NS on VHS and beforehand was treated to a trailer for the film Toy Soldiers.  “They do what the army won’t.”  It seemed to involve partying with bikini babes, which the army doesn’t do but probably would if you asked them.  Samuel L. Jackson doesn’t show up after the credits to NR,NS to recruit Van Damme to the Avengers.  Instead, we are treated to a trailer for the Michael Mann TV series Crime Story, which I’ve never seen and don’t intend to.
I think "The BREAST Rescue Team in History" is a better tagline but whatever.

Next time: Van Damme becomes an overnight sensation with the success of Bloodsport, his best film to date.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Jean-Claude Van Damme: Early and Uncredited Work (1984)

As is the case with most actors Jean-Claude spent the early years of his career in mostly uncredited bit parts, none of which I’ve seen in their entirety.  After watching some of his scenes on youtube I don’t really feel the need.

Barbarous Street (1984)

I found Waldo's stupid leaves tattoo!
Jean-Claude’s first feature film, in which he plays an extra in police arrival sequence.  I couldn’t even find a still image on google.  Although the entire film is available on youtube, it’s all in French with no subtitles.  I speak nary a word of French and the movie only has a 5.3 out of 10 on imdb.  Needless to say I didn’t feel the need to Where’s Waldo the crap out of this movie just to catch a glimpse of our hero.   Based on what I gleaned from the poster, the film takes place in an alleyway and it's about a guy in a dirty shirt with a shiny hand.  He seems to be standing in front of bed (with a sexy lady) that's glowing for some reason. Not featured on poster: Jean-Claude Van Damme; however Van-Damme did two more uncredited parts in 1984 before graduating to a credited speaking role, so I’m going to assume he did a bang up job and keep rolling.

Breakin’ (1984)
Contractions are rad

I’m kind of ashamed to admit I’ve never seen the penultimate break-dancin’ movie in its entirety.  Van-Damme is very easy to spot in his scene; right at the front of the background in a black tank top, slapping his hands very enthusiastically.  Some would say too enthusiastically, even distractingly.  Whatever. Haters.  I think it showed moxie, and a little flash of things to come.  Van Damme is not a background player content to kind of shuffle in time to the music.  He’s a star!  Also, I can sympathize: if you look very closely during the wake at the beginning of Road to Perdition you can see a high-school-aged Danny standing around in the background.  The only reason I say “barely see” and not “hamming it up, completely stealing the scene” is because I was asked very nicely not do so after ruining a take.   
The first but certainly not the last time we will see Jean-Claude Van Damme dancing

Missing in Action (1984)

The first and last time Van Damme and Chuck Norris would work together until The Expendables 2 nearly 20 years later.  In this film Van Damme plays “Car Driver (uncredited).”  It’s hard to say having not seen the film, but it hardly sounds like Van Damme’s martial skills were utilized to their fullest ability.  Talk about a missed opportunity.  I like The Expendables franchise as much as the next guy, probably more than the next guy, especially if that guy is Mahatma Gandhi (pacifist, also died before the films’ release); still I have to admit it would be better to see Chuck Norris and Van Damme squaring off in their prime than as middle aged, or in Chuck’s case, old aged men.

Monaco Forever (1984)

Wizard Hottie costume. Absolutely nothing to do with HarryPotter
 Van Damme’s first credited role (as Jean-Claude Vandam.)  Considering they didn’t spell his name right I’m not sure it really counts.  In Monaco Forever Jean-Claude plays “gay karate man,” which sounds more like an unlicensed Halloween costume than a role in a movie; however watching the scene on youtube it’s a pretty apt description.  Although I didn’t have the rest of the film to give the scene context it seemed pretty easy to figure out.  Jean-Claude picks up a well dressed hitchhiker (presumably the protagonist of the film) and proceeds to come onto him sexually.  Instead of explaining that he’s “not that kind of guy” the tuxedoed gentleman insists Van Damme pull over for a good ol’ fashioned gay bashing.  Van Damme apologizes and begs not to fight, but when pressed shows off some of his sick karate moves prompting the homophobe to run away fast-motion-Three-Stooges-style.  Presumably the protagonist continues his adventure slapping women around and oppressing minorities while “gay karate man” minces off into the sunset.  Hilarious right?  While that scene wasn’t exactly progressive, Van Damme’s outfit sure was: a karate gi, khaki pants, driving gloves, and no shoes.  It made Swayze’s getup in Roadhouse seem tasteful and understated.

Next time:  JCVD plays a Soviet fighter in No Retreat, No Surrender
Ooooo! Music by Frank Harris?  This just became a must see!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Jean-Claude Van Damme: A Career Retrospective

Sumthin' for the ladies

I have two major hobbies: drinking cheap beer and watching shitty movies; two things that go together like waffles and happiness.  I’ve discussed cheap beer at length, but barely scratched the testosterone fueled surface of the wide world of shitty action movies.  To that end I will now be adding Jean-Claude Van Damme movie reviews to this blog in addition to the usual bottomshelf beer nonsense.  Why Van  Damme you ask?

I know it's shopped, but still...
Well asshole, you got some fucking nerve questioning the motives of a sophisticated writer like myself.  For the record Jean-Claude isn’t my favorite actor, but he’s certainly an actor, at least in the sense that people pay him to “act” in movies.  I’ve seen him act in more movies that any other actor in the world, beginning with the Street Fighter movie, a film I remember seeing in the theater multiple times.  I also saw Double Team in the theater and enjoyed it.  Both of those facts should give you some idea of what my tastes were like in Junior High.  I was a little late to the party but just in time to catch the tail-end of “Van-Damme fever.”  In college I turned those early positive memories into really positive memories by re-examining the career of Van Damme around the same time I took up drinking and making fun of shitty movies as a full time hobby.

Kylie Minogue as Cammy in the Street Fighter movie
And holy cow Van Damme made a lot of shitty movies.  In point of fact, I’d be hard pressed to say he ever made a good movie (in the classical meaning of the word “good.”)  Still there was something that separated Van Damme from the Dolph Lundgrens, Michael Dudikoffs, and Steven Seagals of the world.  Part of it was certainly Jean-Claude’s endearing(?) pancake batter thick accent, not to mention his mullet, and the weird knot thing growing on his head.  Part of it was his success in spite of all that stuff and his aforementioned acting ability.  I mean, a guy that had few talents beyond doing the splits and kicking people in the face was at one time worthy of a somewhat-complimentary-Simpsons joke and a guest spot on the Super Bowl episode of Friends.  A scant two years later, “the Muscles from Brussles” was making direct-to-video turdfests.  Intriguing to say the least.

The good ol' days when movies looked like shit
To answer that riddle I think it’s important to start at the beginning and work our way forward.  I won’t always be going in strict chronological order lest I get bottled-necked trying to acquire some out of print piece of shit movie, but I’ll be mixing these reviews in with my regular blog posts.  I’ll still be drinking, hell I wouldn’t recommend watching the Van Damme career library without a few drinks, or a massive amount of cocaine (to take a page out of the Van Damme playbook.)

Every time I see some dude in a Scarface t-shirt I think, "that guy is really cool, I wonder if he is also sexually obsessed with his own sister?"