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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Sin City (2005)

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Original Theatrical Release Date: April 1, 2005
Director: Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino

Basin City, AKA “Sin” City, is a vile place of corruption, sex, and murder. Marv (Mickey Rourke), Dwight (Clive Owen) and Hartigan (Bruce Willis) are just three hard-boiled characters with intersecting paths who are rays of light standing against the dark. Part comic book, part noir and all thrill – this adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel is very faithful to the source material.

Since the sequel to this film just came out, Sin City: A Dame To Kill For, I felt like I needed to bone up on this film franchise once more before seeing the new one.

The narrative layout of the film is interesting. Vignettes showing each “main” character and their interactions with the film’s secondary characters including villains and allies, makes the world of Sin City seem large and real. Most of the shots in the film are lifted right from Frank Miller’s pages of artwork and the casting was all done very wonderfully, particularly with Mickey Rourke as Marv. (Seriously, look at the guy). You also get to see Brittany Murphy in one of her last good roles before she died….and the same with Michael Clarke Duncan as Manute.

The special effects are all very stylized, very slick, but a couple of times they look wonky. Most of that was due to the artwork not translating well to film, because of how stylized Frank Miller’s artwork is. The black and white look of the film kept everything very visually appealing. The dialogue was great noir fare, if you’re into noir – but if you’re not into noir at all it may seem hokey and even terrible in spots.

If Robert Rodriguez and/or Quentin Tarantino were to direct a comic book film, Sin City was the perfect choice for them and you can tell that they had fun directing it, which means if you’re like me – you’ll have fun watching it.

If you’re looking for strong women characters, then this typical noir setting probably isn’t for you. The women of Old Town run their prostitution rings with cold efficiency, keeping the mob and corrupt police officers on the level, but that’s about it. Most of the other women in the film gasp and toss their hands against their foreheads while the men do the real work.

The one drawback to the film is that the three main characters – Marv, Dwight and Hartigan – are all fairly similar, making the story arcs seem pretty repetitive. Clive Owen was underwhelming as Dwight. Mickey Rourke nailed Marv (as I said before) and Bruce Willis was great as Hartigan. Rosario Dawson was kinetic as Gail, and Jessica Alba was decent as Nancy Callahan. Also, Elijah Wood was surprisingly creepy in his role as Kevin and Benicio Del Toro as Jackie Boy. They weren’t in the film for very long but they definitely added very interesting bits to the story.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Movie Trailer For Sin City

12 O’Clock Boys (2013)

12 O'Clock Boys (2013)

Original Theatrical Release: January 31, 2014
Director: Lofty Nathan

Pug, a young man from a dangerous block in Baltimore, Maryland is enthralled by a band of people who partake in illegal street riding calling themselves the 12 O’Clock Boys. When his older brother, Tibba, dies – Pug looks to the Boys for guidance, much to the worry of his mother, Coco, and others in Pug’s family. Pug must weigh his obsession with bikes and this group against a rising police response to the riding and his inner desires to become a veterinarian.

To be clear – I kind of accidentally stumbled into this documentary. I went with my girlfriend to a place called the Space Gallery in Portland, Maine – and we were supposed to be going to a women’s writer group Q&A seminar. As we sat down and waited, we wondered why the audience was overwhelmingly male. We had our answer in a few minutes as the documentary started. We had come on the wrong day, and we already paid so we stayed – and I’m glad we did.

First off, the style was fresh and kinetic. Lofty Nathan, the director, filled the frame with choice morsels that assisted the narrative in telling the deep and complicated story that is Pug’s life and upbringing. Not once did he delve into stereotypical urban characters – but let each person identify themselves through their own ways. Some were gangsters, some were struggling parents, some were police officers, some were just kids.

Rather than glamorize the dangerous lifestyle led by the 12 O’Clock Boys, Nathan portrayed them as human beings in a tough situation relying on what they feel is their only release other than gang activity, drugs or other less-positive things. Through Pug and his own tough life, we understand that belonging to a group and being good at something (even if it’s just being able to wheelie really well) is what we all strive for. We all secretly want to be a 12 O’Clock Boy.

A good documentarian holds a mirror up to the rest of us and says “Look. This is you – this is your reality” and makes us reflect on it, think about it. I felt that way when watching this film. I do love documentaries but this is one of the better ones I’ve seen in a while. Lofty Nathan does not insert himself directly into the narrative as is sometimes the case with other documentarians, but we see through his eyes the disarray that this suburb, inner-city culture has become and all the problems that stem from it.

In Pug we have someone who is truly likable and easy to care about. We see his struggles and we want him to get on that bike. We see him training and we root for him as he gets better and better at riding and doing wheelies. We see the danger and we wish someone would stop him before he gets in over his head. It’s a really complicated emotional response evoked, at least in my case. Pug starts out somewhat innocent but then slowly evolves (or de-volves, possibly) once his world view perspective is changed over and over again.

On the other side of things, just visually it’s entertaining to watch. There are many dynamic shots and kinetic images on display for the visually-oriented folks out there like me. There are lots of slow-motion shots of the riding as well as fast-paced chase scenes and tension-ridden conflicts between police and the Boys.

12 O’Clock Boys is the total package. Go watch it.

JOE Rating: ★★★★★

Movie Trailer For 12 O’Clock Boys

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

 

Saints Row: The Third (2011 – X-Box 360)

Saints Row: The Third (2011)

Release Date: November 15, 2011
Developer: Volition, Inc.
Publisher: THQ

I couldn’t resist trying this game.

The story takes place in the fictional city of Steelport and you are in control of a gang called the Third Street Saints, eventually rising to the very top. The style of game play is open-ended (and similar to Grand Theft Auto), with a major story arc but lots of things you can do on your own as you battle for control against other gangs in the city and eventually, a militaristic gang-suppression squad called STAG.

I am not a huge fan of the entire series (due to ignorance, not any other reason), having never really played the first two games. Seeing the trailers for Saints Row: The Third, though, inspired me to buy it the same day it came out (though I didn’t make it in time to pre-order, so I didn’t get the cool Professor Genki stuff). I was not disappointed.

I am a spastic gamer, and when I first bought it, it ended up sitting on my shelf collecting dust for a year because, hey, I’m a busy man. I’d created a couple characters (really nice system for that, by the way) and it was fun but I hadn’t really gotten into the game until recently, with THQ being sold off.

It didn’t take me too long to beat the main story arc. It was probably only something like 30 hours, if that. (I take my time)

The graphics were all really nice, the animation was pretty awesome, and the story line was fun (Lots of sex and drugs and violence, though, so don’t let your kiddos play). I didn’t have any expectations of it other than it would be fun, similar to how I think when I go see an action flick.

It’s definitely one of the better titles I’ve played and I will be playing through again at least once or twice more now that I’ve beaten it to unlock everything and get the achievements.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Gameplay Trailer for Saints Row: The Third