Big Trouble In Little China (1985)

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Original Theatrical Release Date: July 2, 1986
Director: John Carpenter

Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) is an all-American truck driver with a penchant for gambling. When his friend in Chinatown, Wang Chi (Dennis Dun), loses a bet to Jack – he has to pay up. But first, he needs to pick up his girlfriend from the airport. However, all does not go as planned and instead ol’ Jack finds himself in the middle of a mystical battle between an evil Chinese sorcerer named Lo Pan (James Hong) and the forces of good, led by the cantankerous old Egg Shen (Victor Wong).

This film is a classic now, though it flopped when it was first released. If you haven’t seen it yet, I envy you because that means you can see it for the first time. Granted, some of the special effects in the movie are a bit dated (it was 1986, after all) but overall – the film has held up over time. Kurt Russell gives a great performance as Jack Burton – a sort of bumbling badass who manages to “accidentally” achieve his goals, though most of the time he just talks tough and likes to spout one-liners that don’t quite hit the mark. Kim Cattrall is great as the sexy-yet-annoying love interest, Gracie Law, and Dennis Dun is decent as the ass-kicking “sidekick” to Burton.

John Carpenter, for me, either is right on the money or far off base with his films. (John Carpenter’s Vampires was terrible, for instance) With Big Trouble In Little China – he did right by everyone. It’s got the right mix of adventure, style, horror and camp to make it an enduring franchise. Also – there is currently a comic book adaptation being published that relays events which take place after the film ends. You can check that out HERE. If you loved Army Of Darkness, then you’ll love this movie too.

JOE Rating: ★★★★★

Movie Trailer For Big Trouble In Little China

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Legend (1985)

Legend (1985)

Original Theatrical Release: April 18, 1986
Director: Ridley Scott

Jack (Tom Cruise) is a boy at one with the forest, embraced by the Elves and other faerie creatures. He is pure of heart and has fallen in love with a girl, Lili (Mia Sara), and has decided to let her see a Unicorn up close and personal. Lili, overcome by wonder, touches one of the horned creatures of myth and unwittingly lures it into a trap set by the forces of Darkness (Tim Curry). One unicorn is felled and its horn chopped off, plunging the world into an ice age from which it may never recover and Lili is abducted by Darkness and his minions, leaving Jack to save the world, the woman he loves and the remaining unicorn from a terrible fate.

This is one of those films that sort of just slipped through the cracks. Against films such as Willow, Dark Crystal, Labyrinth and others, this movie was swallowed up and lost in the shuffle. Because of its sometimes-meandering story, it doesn’t hold up against those other films all the time. However, the visuals and the mood captured by Ridley Scott still hold up after all these years. I recently re-watched this film, since I hadn’t seen it in more than a decade, and I was extremely impressed with how almost none of it looks cheesy – even by 1980’s standards.

The acting style used by all of the actors is very Shakespearian and fits the tone of the piece well. Everyone is very dramatic and classical. Evil creatures wave their hands and belly-laugh as they take delight in that evil. Darkness, played by the very-talented Tim Curry, looks like something that stepped out of Hell. Jack, played by a very young Tom Cruise, crouches in his forest rags and does somersaults and climbs on trees. The landscape is surreal and fantastical and embodies everything fantasy – which makes sense because Ridley Scott reviewed many classical fairy tales in order to get the right feel for the film. He definitely succeeded on that front.

If anything, give this film a shot just to look at it. The story is a bit more complex than people think, so take your time to analyze all that Legend has to offer before dismissing it. Is it the most perfect fantasy film? No, not by any means – but its voice is one that should be heard.

JOE Rating: ★★★

Movie Trailer For Legend

Forrest Gump (1994)

Forrest Gump (1994)

Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) lives a charmed life, despite being born with a lower I.Q. than most – as well as a physical deformity of the spine which forces him to wear corrective leg braces. Gump’s mother (Sally Field) pushes and encourages him enough that he eventually sets out on his own and ends up witnessing lots of events in recent history that have shaped the world. On his journey of self, he chases love – in the form of Jenny Curran (Robin Wright), his childhood friend and crush – and also experiences war, happiness, loss and the gamut of the human experience, proving that despite his setbacks, Gump is wiser than most of us can say we are.

I remember seeing this back around the time it first came out, and I remember being blown away. So, I figured I’d revisit it, since it’s on Netflix, and to tell you the truth – Forrest Gump holds up pretty well over time.

Forrest Gump, the character, is one of Tom Hanks’ better roles. I’m no Hanks hater by any means, but he has a particular style that doesn’t lend to camouflaging his own personality. When I see him in films, I have a hard time separating film Hanks from real-life Hanks that I’ve seen. In Forrest Gump, this isn’t a problem.

Much like Billy Bob Thornton’s role in Slingblade, this is one of those times where you wonder if they’d have been able to make a film like this nowadays. There are some questionable messages in the film that critics would pounce on in present times, but for the time it was made it was a nice reflection on the Baby Boomer generation.

The movie is based, of course, on the novel of the same name by Winston Groom from 1986, although in the book, Forrest Gump is a pretty different character. Also, there are a few different events in the book that never made it to the movie version – like when Forrest went to space (would’ve been strange to see Hanks in space in Forrest Gump as well as in Apollo 13, amirite?!)

The only thing that didn’t really hold up too well was when it showed footage of Forrest in the old newsreels and footage from things and events that Forrest was privy to witnessing as history in the film progressed. You could really notice it. Other than that, though, the cinematography was great and the pacing of the film was really well done.

If you haven’t seen this one yet – do. It’s a classic.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Swordfish (2001)

Swordfish (2001)

Original Theatrical Release: June 8, 2001
Director: Dominic Sena

Stanley Jobson (Hugh Jackman) just wants a normal life with his daughter, but being a convicted computer hacker is putting a damper on those desires and he can’t afford the legal fees to battle for her custody. In comes Gabriel Shear (John Travolta), a cold-as-ice leader of a counter-terrorist unit called Black Cell, who wants to hire Jobson for his hacking skills in order to break into the government mainframes to get a $9.5 billion payoff with old DEA money that’s been in an encrypted account for years. Jobson has to choose to stay clean or break the rules one more time for a final payoff that might just get his daughter back.

First off, we need to get one thing straight: Watching people type on screen is not extremely entertaining to watch, even if there is some dramatic music playing in the background. Unfortunately, typing/hacking sequences are what the movie is mostly comprised of. If the director and writers had included many more scenes with typing only, the film would be much worse off.

There are a lot of logic problems in the film, too,  and I almost hate watching computer-hacker movies because inevitably, they are written by people who seem to know nothing about the internet or computers, at all. Not that I’m an expert, either – but if even I can tell that what they’re doing is ridiculous, then that’s a huge disconnect.

The biggest draw to this film is pretty much the star power, besides the sleaze-factor. We have Don Cheadle, Halle Berry, Vinnie Jones, Hugh Jackman and John Travolta who make an otherwise run-of-the-mill film sparkle a bit more than it would have, otherwise.  Most of the characters are pretty intriguing, too – so kudos to the writers and actors for that.

The pacing of this film is actually pretty good (despite my reservations about the typing scenes) and there are lots of cool explosions and some legit-tense moments. Overall, it’s your pretty standard action-thriller without a ton of actual action.

Let me know what you think.

JOE Rating: ★★★

Movie Trailer For Swordfish

Labyrinth (1986)

Labyrinth (1986)

Original Theatrical Release: June 27, 1986
Director: Jim Henson

Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) is a fifteen-year old girl who lives her life in a fantasy world after her mother dies. She is unhappy with her current stepmother (like in any good fairytale) and resents being left home to watch her baby brother Toby while her father wines and dines the would-be-replacement mother. In a fit of rage, she wishes for the Goblin King, Jareth (David Bowie) to take him away. When he does, she realizes the mistake she’s made and must traverse Jareth’s labyrinth and make her way to his castle in only thirteen hours or Toby will be gone forever.

When this movie first came out, I was five years old. Back then, Jim Henson was a god (and still is, I guess), at the height of his popularity. Sesame Street and The Muppets were king…along with Fraggle Rock and all those other Jim Henson vehicles.

This was a movie we watched every year, and I still do. Jennifer Connelly was as beautiful and talented as ever back then and David Bowie’s role in this movie is untouchable, even though at one point they were considering having Michael Jackson as Jareth. (That would be so weird!)

Some of the special effects, by today’s CGI standards, are outdated but still hold a certain charm not available to CGI characters. The sets are beautiful and Jim Henson’s creations really shine and come to life.

The characters are all amazing and even though the story is simple and sort of familiar, drawing on many fairy tale and fantasy tropes, everything else combined makes it stand out from a lot of other films and media with the same types of themes.

The music is where it’s really at, though. The mood. The relationship between Jareth and Sarah. It’s all very well-conceived and I think even if you didn’t grow up with the film you could still watch it today with your kids and let them enjoy it before they are indoctrinated with all the CGI effect-laden films and cartoons we have today.

This is one of my favorite films of all time. Can you tell? This is me, cosplaying as Jareth himself.

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JOE Rating: ★★★★★

Movie Trailer For Labyrinth

Stand By Me (1986)

Stand By Me (1986)

Original Theatrical Release: August 8, 1986
Director: Rob Reiner

Stand By Me, based on the novella “The Body” by Stephen King, is the story of four childhood friends who go looking for the body of a missing local boy. Once they find his remains, the boys discover that they aren’t the only ones and must confront the local knife-wielding gang leader, Acce Merrill (Kiefer Sutherland) and his crew.

This movie has so much going for it.

The best part is that the boys and their journey evoke lots of images from a simpler time in all of our lives. As we travel with these four kids from a small town in Oregon, we recall long, drawn out Summer days with lots of exploring through woods and through streets not our own, childhood friendships both fleeting and lasting, and the times where responsibility meant just coming in once it got dark outside.

Rob Reiner made excellent casting choices with the sensitive and intelligent storyteller, Gordie (Wil Wheaton) the tough-guy with a heart of gold, Chris (River Pheonix) the sometimes-crazy Teddy (Corey Feldman) and the boy afraid of everything, Vern ( Jerry O’Connell). ESPECIALLY the psychotic, leader of the local hoods, Ace (Kiefer Sutherland). Richard Dreyfuss made an excellent narrator (Gordie when he’s older) and even John Cusack made a brief appearance as Gordie’s older brother.

The movie is hilarious, sad, whimsical, nostalgic and fun. I challenge anyone who watches it not to be charmed by its sense of adventure and childhood innocence. ( I also challenge anyone to go into a lake without thinking of the leeches and then having second thoughts)

JOE Rating: ★★★★★

Movie Trailer For Stand By Me