Red State (2011)

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Original Theatrical Release Date: September 01, 2011
Director: Kevin Smith

In middle-America, all is not as sleepy and peaceful as it would seem. A fundamentalist church called The Five Points Church, led by pastor Abin Cooper (Michael Parks), preaches anti-gay and almost anti-everything hate gospel. Unfortunately, their bite is worse than their bark and when three teenage boys; Travis (Michael Angarano), Billy-Ray (Nicholas Braun), and Jarod (Kyle Gallner) – find an older woman soliciting sex on an internet site similar to Craigslist – they agree to meeting up with her for a foursome, which lands them squarely in the hungry religious jaws of the Cooper clan.

This movie blew me away. If you’re a Kevin Smith/View Askew fan like myself, you’ve come to expect a certain quality and tone of movie from the man and the studio behind him which produced films such as Clerks, Dogma and Chasing Amy. Red State is NOTHING like those other films. This is intense, this is gritty. As Smith himself points out – the Jay and Silent Bob films are like a smooth milkshake while Red State is like drinking straight whiskey. This is a film that none other than Quentin Tarantino strongly endorses, if that gives you any sort of idea as to what the tone is.

First of all, the film is especially poignant and is almost like a satire of the Westboro Baptist Church. We see it in the news every day, but in reality – the crazy religious zeal of some of these people is one incident away from an actual, real-life horror film. Red State is part horror film, part thriller and absolutely riveting.

With Michael Parks as Abin Cooper – the charismatic and terrifying patriarch of the Five Points Church – Smith hit gold. Everyone cast in this film not only does their jobs, but does them well. This movie is often overlooked because it goes beyond the fandoms of the Jay And Silent Bob/View Askew universe, which is understandable in some ways because Red State is so different from those others that it’s almost like another director is at the helm – though Smith can definitely be felt within the context of the film by the acerbic dialogue.

This film is amazing. Absolutely amazing. Do yourself a favor and go watch it. You’ll be uneasy for a long while and it’s perfect for a Halloween horror movie night.

JOE Rating:  ★★★★★

Movie Trailer For Red State

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Ghostbusters (1984)

Ghostbusters (1984)

When three parapsychology professors – Dr. Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Dr. Raymond Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) and Dr. Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) – lose their government grant, they go into business on their own as paranormal exterminators, eventually hiring on Winston Zeddmore (Ernie Hudson) as the fourth Ghostbuster once their business takes off and they can’t handle the volume. However, an ancient Babylonian demon appears in Dana Barrett’s (Sigourney Weaver) refrigerator and summons an army of ghosts which invade New York City, leaving it up to the Ghostbusters to save the day.

I don’t know why I haven’t reviewed this movie yet – it’s pretty much the perfect film.

In any case, those who weren’t born in the 80’s may not appreciate this film franchise. I’ve found that to be the case no matter how good a film is. However, I still think Ghostbusters holds its own against most of today’s comedies, and I think I can say that without being a snob.

The comedic genius of Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd and Rick Moranis is just unbeatable. Sigourney Weaver was the Megan Fox of her time (but with much better acting talent) and Harold Ramis plays the perfect counterpoint to Murray. Some of the effects are dated, but not too badly. I’ve seen worse production quality on films nowadays, to be honest.

This movie has it all: Action, comedy, horror, sex appeal and proton packs. What more could you ask for? Go see it, if you haven’t. It’s on Netflix!

JOE Rating: ★★★★★

PS – I met Ernie Hudson recently while I was at Super Megafest in Massachusetts. In case you didn’t catch me posing with him, here are a couple pictures of Zeddmore and I together. I was dressed up as Obi-Wan Kenobi from Star Wars: Episode One, and I got him to use my lightsaber. Initially, he didn’t seem to want to, but once I turned it on he started waving it around for the camera and making karate noises. It was the best day of my life. How can you beat a Ghostbuster swinging around a lightsaber? Here are some pics:

Me, teaching Ernie Hudson (Winston from Ghostbusters) some new tricks!

Me, teaching Ernie Hudson (Winston from Ghostbusters) some new tricks!

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Winston Zeddmore

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Machine Gun Preacher (2011)

Machine Gun Preacher (2011)

Sam Childers (Gerard Butler) is a real-life hero formed from the virtual ashes of a hardened criminal who found God and became a construction worker. While on the job, Childers meets a priest from Africa and is inspired to visit, ending up in Sudan and Northern Uganda, where he helps to build an orphanage and ultimately moves on to becoming a liberation fighter trying to save Africa’s children from the clutches of an evil warmonger who uses them as children soldiers in his army.

Machine Gun Preacher is based on the true story events of the real Sam Childers, who endorses the film. The movie is more drama than the trailer and cover art depict, and less action, but there is not enough action OR real-life documentary-style filming to make this as interesting as it could have been. Gerard Butler is passable in the role but looks nothing like the real Childers (not to mention his accent slipping through more than once) and the filmmakers could have dealt more with the more interesting side of Childers’ story which saw him pitting his Christian faith against acts of violence. If they had explored that side of the equation, then the movie could have been great….but as it stands, the movie is just sort of ho-hum with no real staying power. It doesn’t really distinguish itself from other generic action films and there are much better dramas out there to boot.

Still, I think it’s at least worth watching once, if only for your introduction to Sam Childers himself, so you can know a bit about his back story if you’re so inclined. Michelle Monaghan is nice to look at and it was cool to see Michael Shannon as well.

JOE Rating: ★★★

Super (2010)

Super (2010)

Frank Darbo (Rainn Wilson) is the world’s most average husband. When his recovering-addict wife, Sarah (Liv Tyler) is seduced back to the dark side and leaves him for the sleazy, drug-dealing Jacques (Kevin Bacon) he loses control of himself, until he has a vision from God telling him that he has to become a superhero and bring Jacques to justice as a new, costumed vigilante calling himself The Crimson Bolt.

I had seen Kick-Ass, which I love, before this…so I thought this would be really similar. In some ways it is, but in a lot of ways it isn’t. This is a good thing, because some of the ways in which it’s different makes it a better film.

Rainn Wilson breathes a lot of life into his character, and even though he’s a bit insane and neurotic, you begin to feel for him. Ellen Page co-stars as his kinetic and sometimes too-energetic sidekick, Boltie. Kevin Bacon is amazing as the sleazy drug dealer and arch-nemesis of The Crimson Bolt, too.

The reason this is mostly a better film than Kick-Ass is because of how dark it gets. You think, at first, that it will be a campy, funny action-comedy. It does that, but it also goes deep into our psyches and makes us confront the worst parts of ourselves. In the end, you’ll find yourself foaming at the mouth as the violence, and body count, ramps up. The film’s mood split also serves as a reminder that being a hero doesn’t go unpunished.

You need to see this film, especially if you liked Kick-Ass. Both of them are very different movies, though.

JOE Review: ★★★★★

The Sandman Volume 1: Preludes & Nocturnes (1991)

The Sandman Volume 1: Preludes & Nocturnes (1988)

Publisher: DC/Vertigo
Creative Team: Neil Gaiman, Sam Keith, Mike Dringenberg, Malcolm Jones III

Set in the DC Universe, The Sandman Volume 1 collects issues 1-8 of the comic book series written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Sam Keith, Mike Dringenberg and Malcolm Jones III.

A wizard who wants to live forever attempts to summon and trap Death, but inadvertantly traps her younger brother, Dream (aka Morpheus). Fearing retaliation, the wizard and his cohorts keep Morpheus imprisoned in a magical cell for a couple of lifetimes. When his captors make a mistake and Morpheus breaks free, he is weak from his time in imprisonment and also finds that his captors have stolen and have sold three of his possessions which help give him power. His helm, his bag of dust and his ruby pendant. With these items he will be close to full strength again, so he sets out to find them…but they are spread wide and though he is a god, Morpheus finds that some of them are guarded more closely than he would think. Teaming with well-known DC Comics characters like John Constantine and Martian Manhunter, Morpheus must go to Hell and back to find his things. Literally.

While this is not the strongest entry in the Sandman series, issues 1-8 are a great introduction to the world Morpheus inhabits and is a good set up to the wonderment that follows in later volumes. The artwork is great, but the colors in the collection versus the originals are a little bit off, a little bit darker. This might be problematic for some purists, but I think for the tone of the piece, the colors suit it well. Then again, the original colors were more dreamlike. It’s a coin toss on which you’ll like better.

This beginning collection is a story about starting over. Morpheus was content with where he was and with his station, overconfident that he had everything nailed down. When this was proven false by his imprisonment by a bunch of mortals, it shook him up a little. Weakened and forced to find alternate ways to deal with things, Morpheus becomes a compelling character. Though a god, he is still fallible.

The characters are all really interesting. We get to meet the perky character of Death, we get to see a new and frightening/sad interpretation of Cain and Abel. There are dangerous and fantastical dream creatures and lots of magic thrown in.

If other DC characters weren’t tossed into the mix, you wouldn’t even think of it as a comic book story that exists in the world of superheroes, but Neil Gaiman has seamlessly integrated Morpheus and his mythos into the existing DC canon.

Give this a read, and especially the later collections.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Check Out This Sample Page From Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes!
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Frailty (2001)

Frailty (2001)

Original Theatrical Release: April 12, 2002
Director: Bill Paxton

A mysterious man named Fenton Meiks (Matthew McConaughey) confesses to FBI Agent Wesley Doyle (Powers Boothe) that his father (Bill Paxton) used religious fanaticism in order to get him and his brother to murder people he said were “demons”. Agent Doyle bites and listens as Meiks unravels a tale of religion and evil and murder.

First off, I need to say that this movie is severely underrated. Almost all of my friends, some of them even movie buffs, haven’t seen this film (until I force them to watch it). It was Bill Paxton’s directorial debut and he did a fantastic job with it, and also as the (maybe) fanatical father.

The talent in this movie really shines, especially from Powers Boothe (who is always great, in my opinion…the man can act, let’s be honest) but even McConaughey (who I think is so-so usually) did a great job. The child actors, Matt O’Leary (Young Fenton) and Jeremy Sumpter (Young Adam) turned in stellar performances as well and gave it a sort of Stand By Me feel.

We all know Bill Paxton. It’s hard to be scared of the man (amirite?!), but his quiet, matter-of-fact delivery in his role as Dad Meiks was a shining moment for him, I believe. I was truly terrified for the kids because of this character.

The movie has a lot of surprises in store for you and it’ll keep you guessing until the end with the way everything unfolds. WATCH THIS, or I will come to your house and make you watch it. Maybe. Probably not.

But I’ll be sad if you don’t. 😦

JOE Rating: ★★★★★

Movie Trailer For Frailty

Van Helsing (2004)

Van Helsing (2004)

Original Theatrical Release: May 7, 2004
Director: Stephen Sommers

Van Helsing stars Hugh Jackman as the movie’s title character. Gabriel Van Helsing is sort of a superhero/vigilante who travels the world hunting monsters that prey on the innocent. Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale) hears about his monster-hunting prowess and she summons him to Transylvania to help battle Count Dracula (Richard Roxburgh), who her family has been fighting for centuries.

This is one of those movies that COULD have been really cool. I liked the idea of Van Helsing as a Blade/Punisher mashup set in the past with all sorts of steampunk-style sci-fi weapons. Unfortunately, writer/director Stephen Sommers kind of wasted his chance to really shine.

For one thing, there were WAY too many monsters. We open with Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde as well as Frankenstein and his monster. Then we move on to Dracula and other vampires, werewolves and other creatures. How does anyone even survive in this world, let alone not know that Van Helsing is there to save them and is NOT murdering folks (as he’s been framed for doing). Focus on one, or maybe two….but as a viewer I was overwhelmed.

Some of the action is cool, but most of it is too cartoonish to have any real weight. The battles are sometimes too laden with chaos to follow very closely and a disconnect happens. I never really believed Van Helsing was in danger during the battles due to its campy nature.

If the story had been amped up to make it more believable as to why all these creatures came together or exist (yes, I know, monsters aren’t believable anyway but they need to be believable in the context of the film) and maybe if there had been a darker tone instead of trying to make Helsing seem like Errol Flynn playing Robin Hood (lots of rope swinging in this film, by the way), it could have easily been a great movie.

As it is, it’s still entertaining to watch if you just want a mindless action flick. Kate Beckinsale is drop-dead gorgeous (I’m sure many people think the same thing about Hugh Jackman, too) so it’s fun to watch these attractive people fight ugly monsters. Overall, I think the film relied entirely too much on CGI/special effects.

Richard Roxburgh had no bite as Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster was just weird. The werewolves were so-so. The most interesting villain in the movie, to me, was Jekyll/Hyde…but then again, it’s hard to mess him up.

JOE Rating: ★★★

Movie Trailer For Van Helsing