The story of Al Leong is not an uncommon Hollywood story in this respect: he is a face you’ve seen, but probably have no knowledge of his name, his explosive talent, his devotion to his craft and the incredible legacy he has built through the movies we all cherish. So, if you fall into that category, then you probably don’t know the man behind the face of our favorite Henchman – you probably don’t know Al Leong…? Well ladies and boys…you’ve come to the movies at the most opportune time in cinema history, because, friendly neighborhood filmmaker and nice guy all-round, Vito Trabucco, has assembled for your inquisitive, movie-loving minds this beautifully human, lovingly detailed, star-studded valentine. That candy-chomping terrorist that decided taking on The Willis was a good idea; that screaming Wing Kong Hatchet Man in the service of the ancient evil of Lo Pan – and the man who very nearly conquered most of the known world of his day…and who loves Twinkies for the excellent sugar rush…!
Man I could write for days of the films, television and memories that have and still are the fabric formed of my love of storytelling…..of which Al Leong is an indelible part. Join us as Vito and I wax political, poetical and even romantically about the cinema that is part of the wonderful life . . . of our favorite Henchman…
Alexander Nevsky – мой друг суперзвезда. What can I tell you? He is a dynamic performer with a physically commanding presence. He is a champion bodybuilder. He is a writer, director and producer whose films I find not only entertaining, but also made in a fashion which speaks to my love of the great action movies from the 80’s.
[To listen to my previous chats with Alex on his films, click on these posters below]
I could go on or simply type you out a list of this man’s accomplishments, but I’m not going to. Because you see, the work and work ethic of Alex Nevsky speaks for itself. He is an extraordinary gentlemen who by diligence, persistence and focus has not only emerged as a national treasure in his Russian homeland, but also as an international superstar with a rise to prominence that can only by compared to another superstar, and Alex’s mentor and friend, the Austrian Oak himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
And now the two, along with the legends of the Bodybuilder’s Olympian halls of honor, are featured together in the newest edition of:
3 More Reps: The Golden Age of Bodybuilding
Courtesy of Amazon:
Like pumping iron, it gives you an inside into the world of Joe Weider’s top bodybuilders and their training routines for the Mr. Olympia stage and their lives as bodybuilders in the golden age of bodybuilding. Enjoy first-hand interviews with Arnold Schwarzenegger and learn more about your other favorite golden age bodybuilders like Frank Zane, Franco Columbu or Mike Mentzer, Tom Platz to name just a few. Read about the humble beginnings of Joe and Ben Weider the godfathers of the Bodybuilding industry and the Mr. Olympia contests. The author George Snyder’s name is practically synonymous with the health and weight training industry. He has been an integral force in the world of bodybuilding. He is the creator of the training camp concept and is also an innovative and highly successful promoter, having conceived and created both the highly publicized and popular Miss Olympia Contest and the Galaxy Competitions the first two milestones for women in the fitness world. In 1990, Snyder impacted the industry with the publication of his Freestyle books.
These books outlined the tenants of a program Snyder has created and perfected for over 40 years. Snyder has published freestyle Methods in some of his earlier books and magazines as well as in his recent magazines over the past 30 years. Snyder has been an active force in the world of strength training and physical culture for most of his life. He opened his first health club in 1965 and was the first progressive gym owner to allow women to train at his club. He organized and held the first bodybuilding training camps in the early 1970s and today contains a series of fitness training camps geared for women and men. Over the years he has authored several books on physical fitness and a veritable library of popular magazines. Today he is involved in several books and magazine publishing ventures, contest promotions, plus new product and program development as it pertains to Freestyle. Snyder has republished 3 More Reps!
This book is a must-own for collectors, enthusiasts and certainly aficionados of this sport which sees the transformation of ordinary men into Earthly Gods. It is an arena that has forged many an international icon, of which, my buddy Alex is certainly now finding himself among such lofty company.
3 More Reps is another pinnacle that Alex as secured in his ascendancy as he continues to walk with the titans, both on and off the big screen. From being a very skinny kid before changing his life completely, becoming Mr. Universe and starting career in Hollywood, it remains important for Alex to promote natural drug free bodybuilding and continue to inspire others. Which he never fails to do.
There’s always those films whose reputation is more widely known than themselves, where the stormy production or behind the scenes drama caused such a ruckus and eclipsed the final product, creating negative buzz whether or not the film is good. John McTiernan’s The 13th Warrior is one of those, I haven’t read up exactly on what went wrong but I’ve always felt the film that was born out of whatever trouble there was is an excellent one.
Antonio Banderas stars as an unconventional version of the badass hero we’re used to, one who starts off as anything but that and has to earn his way to glory. He plays a Persian poet sometime around 900AD, a man who is sent away for macking on the sultan’s wife and captured by a roving band of Vikings. They are amassing an army of elite specialist warriors to bring back home in the north in order to defeat a near indestructible menace that is moving in on their land. Banderas finds himself caught up in the war, alone with the tribe and forced grab a sword, find his courage and take a few swings at this fearsome enemy. The plot is fairly simple stuff but it’s atmosphere and character development that win the day here, as well as epic production design. Banderas starts off as basically a pampered court jester who the Norsemen mock and ridicule, until he learns their ways and a bond of brotherhood forms, an arc from both parties that is handled with dignity and heart. The enemy they fight are an unseen horror who burn, kill and eat everything in their path, there’s a sense of genuine fear and threat when they show up and the battles are staged with smoke, mist and fire for ultimate atmospheric effect. A highlight is when they raid underground caverns used to hide out in via ships and you really get a sense of setting as well as budget on display. Banderas is supported by various people including Vladimir Kulich as the heroic Buliwyf, Diane Venora, Tony Curran, Richard Bremmer, Sven Wollter and a very brief Omar Sharif.
People can talk shit about this one all they want but I really feel like they’re thinking of the troubled production instead of the film itself and need to get their heads out of the sand, and refocus their gaze. This may be a fairly scrappy flick but it’s simply not a bad film. Banderas is a solid lead, there’s a tactile sense of wonder to the settings, both southern and northern and McTiernan mounts the sieges, battles, massacres and poetic revelry assuredly. Great film.
Action doesn’t get more rough, badass or straight up entertaining than John McTiernan’s Predator. The popcorn summer movie mantle was designed for stuff like this and throughout the 80’s and 90’s each one made its own influences and shaped the way the blockbuster has evolved. This is arguably Arnold Schwarzenegger’s best, just behind or right along side the Terminator films. Packed to the gills with the kind of gruesome, blood soaked action intrigue we don’t see much anymore or at least without glossy CGI. Here the violence is tactical, doused in gallons of blood and amped up for maximum impact, like when Arnie’s Dutch and his team of rough n’ ready mercs stumble upon bodies that have been skinned alive. Called in for a routine black ops mission in the jungles of Central America, they discover there’s something far worse out there than rebels, and that something happens to be an eight foot tall trophy hunter from another galaxy, with whiplash dreadlocks and a face that would give Freddy Krueger nightmares. He’s essentially an extraterrestrial big game hunter who picks off humanity’s toughest customers in the ultimate intergalactic safari, and Arnie happens to be right in his path. His team is made up of the most colourful badasses the 80’s has to offer including wiseass Jesse Ventura, jumpy Carl Weathers, spooked out Bill Duke and stoic tracker Sonny Landham, who’s my favourite by far (“there’s somethin in that jungle, and it ain’t no man”). Also on their team is Shane Black, of all people, which I didn’t realize until my most recent rewatch but it makes sense since he’s the mastermind behind this fall’s The Predator, which I’m very excited for. The highest praise doesn’t even do this film justice; it’s simply one of those ones that isn’t even up for debate in terms of quality, it practically spawned its own genre. Arnie & Co. light up the jungle with enough heavy artillery to launch a coup, the Predator uses cunning tactics and brutal tricks of its own to hunt them one by one, and the whole region erupts with the sound, fury, carnage and commotion of their fight for survival. This has gone on to produce a sequel (which is just as brilliant, fight me), a Robert Rodriguez helmed update (also great), a couple crossovers with the Alien franchise (which were just plain awful) and the aforementioned Shane Black rendition. This started it though, from Arnie chomping up cigar after cigar to Ventura levelling the trees with a giant mini gun to Landham feverishly taking on the Predator with just his 13 inch hunting knife, it’s an action palooza that’s very of it’s time and therefore refreshingly un-PC (I trust in black to keep that spirit alive for his version), and has stood the time as a gold standard of action sci-fi genre heaven. Don’t forget to get to that chopper.
John McTiernan’s Basic is a film that commits the cardinal sin of cheating its audience with an obnoxious, horrendous twist ending that it neither earns nor properly makes sense of. It’s a real crying shame too, because the film up until then is a hell of a lot of fun and has a rambunctious John Travolta performance that could shake the cobwebs loose from a barn. When a near mythic drill instructor (a volcanic Samuel L. Jackson) with some terrifying over-the-line tactics disappears along with some of his cadets on a routine training exercise deep in the jungles of Panama, Travolta’s rowdy DEA Agent is called in to investigate. Why a DEA agent, you ask? Well, it being Panama one might assume that any controversy anywhere could be drug related, but the film states that it’s because no one is as skilled at interrogation than him. That proves to be true, as he slowly, cleverly speaks with the remaining trainees and starts to piece together a cluttered version of events from each one. They are played by the reliable likes of Dash Mihok, Taye Diggs, Giovanni Ribisi, Brian Van Holt and Harry Connick Jr., and as such many of the scenes are quite engaging. It doesn’t hurt that Connie Nielsen is good too as Travolta’s anal retentive, by the book partner. The film oscillates through various scenarios, teasing us with which mystery might be real, and when it comes time to whisk the curtains back and land the pirouette of a reasonable final act… it just… shits itself and completely ruins not only everything that came before, but the entire film, which is really too bad. At first I thought I was just too stoned to get what happened the first time years ago, but I’ve since rewatched it a few more times and… nope. It’s illogical, unwarranted horse shit that doesn’t work any way you spin it. I would have honestly preferred the central mystery to never even get solved over the half assed resolution they cooked up. Roger Ebert pointed out that this film deserves to be in a genre he calls the ‘Jerk Around Movie,’ and I agree. It shamefully wastes the viewer’s time with an ending that’s both insulting to the efforts of the actors who really worked hard here, betrays it’s own narrative to the grave. Bleh.
It was an absolute thrill to sit and chat with Cheryl Wheeler, legendary stunt woman, stunt double, and stunt driver of the movie industry. She has been the stunt double for Rene Russo, Kathleen Turner, and Goldie Hawn.
Cheryl began studying Yoshukai Karate at 15 – coming from a family of mostly boys; she was forced to learn to hold her own. She started kickboxing when her instructor commenced training an amateur team. She has also studied Judo, Aikido, and grappling and trained for a while with kickboxer and actor Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson, and is a three-time WKA World Kickboxing Champion
Beginning work in the film industry in 1987, Cheryl’s extensive filmography of stunt work in such films asBack to the Future Part II, Bird on a Wire, Die Hard 2, Lethal Weapon III & IV, Demolition Man, The Thomas Crown Affair and Charlie’s Angels. She was inducted into Black Belt Magazine’s Hall of Fame as 1996 Woman of the Year. She appeared on the cover and in a feature article in Black Belt Magazine in July 1997, and also received a Stunt Award for “Best Stunt Sequence” in the 2000 film of Charlie’s Angels.
I could honestly have spoken to Cheryl for hours – slowly traversing and delighting in the stories from all of the films she has participated in. We also chat about her involvement in The Martial Arts Kid 2 which she comes to as a producer with her long-time friends Don Wilson and Cynthia Rothrock.
It was a true pleasure, and I trust you will enjoy this fascinating interview with an awesome Hollywood veteran. Ladies and Gentlemen . . . Cheryl Wheeler.
This film might not seem like a big deal to you. It could merely appear as another throwaway action flick on your regular streaming service – one that you glance at out of curiosity, and then move on. But I really loved SHOWDOWN IN MANILA, and here’s the reason why . . .
Once, a long time ago, in the age of wonder, they were these glorious palaces that we called, Video Stores. They were a veritable treasure trove for cineastes of all ages to come and get their movie-fix. They housed the cinema of the ages and best of all, there would be movies you could find there, that hadn’t played at a cinema near you.
These were the titles that were made specifically for this new medium of VHS. Like the drive-in before it, these stores needed product. Thus a new genre was born, and it was called Straight-to-Video. What arose were glorious movies, some of which, sadly, died along with their era. Awesome were the sci-fi, the horror, and specifically speaking now, the action movies that would appear on the shelves. And such action. Real, intense, dynamic and always in frequent supply. It was good versus evil in all its glory – the villains wore dark shades and the heroes carried big guns. So, it was while watching SHOWDOWN that I was hit by this wave of nostalgia, engulfed by memories of the golden age of home entertainment.
The plot of the film is simple. But isn’t that true of the best action flicks? The package is a beautiful cocktail of old and new, peppered with filmmakers wishing to deliver a splendid throwback, mixed with the stars that climbed to the dizzying heights of VHS stardom.
For those who know what I’m talking about, and even those that don’t, I say, go check out this little gem that is cut from the past, and at the same time, is polishing by the future. So, here now, I present a trio of interviews with the film’s stars Alexander Nevsky(The man on the rise), Matthias Hues(The action legend), and the man responsible for that important seed from which all great cinema grows, the script, Craig Hamman(the veteran screenwriter).
Alexander Nevsky is a Russian bodybuilder, actor, writer, producer. His life changed when he saw Arnold Schwarzenegger in Pumping Iron and that spark would light the fire which continues to burn bright. In 1994 Nevsky graduated from State Academy of Management (Moscow). In 1999 he moved to California. He studied English at UCLA and acting at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute. He has risen from a bit-part-player to an international action star the cannot be ignored. With his imposing intensity, versatility and personal drive, Alex, I believe, is poised to enter the arena of formidable action superstars – its only a matter of when.
Matthias Hues is a German-born actor and martial artist as well as being an action movie icon. He came to L.A. not knowing how to act or even speak English. The fateful moment would come when he joined Gold’s Gym and the establishment’s manager received a call from a producer who had just lost Jean-Claude Van Damme for his movie and needed a replacement. Matthias tested for the role, and he managed to convince the producers to give him the part despite having no prior acting experience. The movie, No Retreat, No Surrender 2, was a moderate success, but it opened the door. He is, of course, most recognized for Dark Angel, but has also played everything from a gladiator turned private investigator in Age of Treason to an aging hit-man in Finding Interest to a bumbling idiot trying to kidnap a rich kid in Alone in the Woods to a dancing lion tamer in Big Top Pee-wee. He’s even played a Klingon general in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
Craig Hamann came up alongside another young aspiring filmmaker whose work would go on to define a generation. When he and Quentin Tarantino embarked upon the journey to make their own movie, My Best Friend’s Birthday, there was no telling then, where the road would lead. Well we all know where Quentin ended up, but Craig too has enjoyed a long and prosperous career that has been anything but ordinary. He’s a writer, former actor, that has watched the industry ebb and flow. He’s directed Boogie Boys, had encounters with Demonic Toys and of course, of late, he’s been a part of an action-thriller in Manila. Craig has other projects in the works, and with the company he keeps, these efforts are, I’m sure, set to explode and entertain. Yet he remains a humble gentleman with a passion for his work and a dedication that has seen him endure as a great veteran of the movie business.