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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Munchkin

Munchkin

Game Publisher: Steve Jackson Games
Game Type: Card Game/RPG
Players: 3-5
Age Range: 10+
Play Time: 1-2 Hours

In the game of Munchkin, players create a character in the same vein as Dungeons & Dragons….but a bit more silly. Using cards drawn from a main deck, players will construct their characters using cards that grant Race, Class and Equipment and then delve through a dungeon – kicking open doors and fighting monsters to go up in level and to get treasure. The goal is to be the first player to reach level 10. Leveling up can be accomplished by defeating monsters, with random Level Up cards or by selling $1,000 worth of Gold Pieces. To achieve all this, players will undertake in some underhanded tactics like backstabbing, forging alliances and stealing from other players.

I was introduced to this Dedicated Deck-Building Game while at residency during my time with Stonecoast. I’d never played it before, and had sort of been out of the board game loop for a while, but I had a lot of fun with it. For best results, I strongly suggest playing the game with as many people as possible as it creates the most tension and the most unexpected alliances and a constant theme of change within the game, keeping it fresh and exciting. However, the game can be played with as few people as possible (and honestly, my girlfriend and I play it with just the two of us and it’s just as fun).

There are a TON of expansions to this game – including expansions featuring Conan The Barbarian (yes, and it is licensed), and smaller ones that feature characters from Penny Arcade, The Guild, Skullkickers and even Axe Cop. I haven’t delved much outside the fantasy realm with this game series, but there are also other themed sets such as Zombies, Superheroes, Space, Old West and others. You can combine all the cards you want to create the ultimate Munchkin experience, but I tend to only blend the fantasy ones together (though I’d love to combine the Space version and the Cowboy one for a Steampunk-themed deck).

This game is consistently fun, fairly cheap and there are just so many options to choose from that I can’t give it any less of a score. The possibilities are virtually endless. Give it a try, honestly.

JOE Rating: ★★★★★

Instructional Video On How To Play Munchkin

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

Rat Queens #1 (September 2013)

Rat Queens #1 (September 2013)

Rat Queens is a monthly comic book published by Image Comics, with writing by Kurtis J. Wiebe (PANZERFAUST) and art by Roc Upchurch.

Hannah (the “rockabilly” Elven Mage), Dee (the “atheist” Human Cleric), Violet (the “hipster” Dwarven Fighter) and Betty (the “hippie” Halfling Thief) – AKA The Rat Queens – have earned the ire of the Town Council of Palisade. As a result, they are assigned to clear out a “nest” of goblins as punishment. When they are attacked by an ultra-skilled assassin during their goblin cleansing, however, they find themselves embroiled in an adventure both more exciting and more life-endangering than before.

I love fantasy books so when I saw this at my local comic book store, I had to at least pick up a couple of issues. I was not disappointed.

If you’re expecting something Tolkien in scope and feel – don’t tread here. Rat Queens is a more League of Legends/World of Warcraft take on medieval fantasy…where fantasy tropes meet real-world sensibilities. However, that’s not to say that the book is all flash and no content. Kurtis J. Wiebe’s writing had me laughing out loud in spots, especially when the assignments were being given to various other themed adventuring groups like the Rat Queens (A sort of emo-styled group of Elves had to go clean toilets).

The art was great, but the real draw of the book for some people will no doubt be the character designs, which are diverse and varied and represent many body types and skin colors – a change from some comic books where you notice the cookie-cutter, ultra-athletic bodies you can only tell apart by the costumes. Roc Upchurch definitely has my respect and attention here because of this.

People looking for a good laugh will get a kick out of the style of humor, while action and fantasy lovers will still get their fair share of fantasy battles and magic. The book was thoroughly enjoyable and I will definitely be following it to see where it goes. It’s off to a promising start, for sure.

JOE Rating: ★★★★★

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

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Faced with cleaning up Asgard after Loki’s (Tom Hiddleston) treachery in the first Thor film and in The Avengers, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has a huge task ahead before he can be with Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) on Earth. Between Thor and his flame on Midgard (Earth) stands Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) and the remnants of the Dark Elves, who want to return the universe to darkness. With Odin (Anthony Hopkins) wanting to step down from the throne and his brother Loki imprisoned, Thor must find the strength to stop the Dark Elf threat and return order to Asgard once and for all.

The tricky thing about making a Thor film is to not make it like a Superman film. Unfortunately, while this wasn’t the worst film I’ve seen….it’s just not unique enough to truly set it apart from other superhero films in the genre and it’s definitely not different enough from Man of Steel to set it apart from DC Comics’ much more popular, titular character.

The comic book version of Thor really is interesting. He’s noble and follows a code of honor but can also be a real misogynistic asshole. I mean, he’s a viking. He’s a demigod. He’s a womanizing tough guy with a heart of gold, somehow. So what we have in the movie version is a lame, good-looking, soft, warrior-archetype Superman clone with a hammer and an accent.

While I love Natalie Portman, her character in this film (and in the first) is mostly superfluous and unnecessary. It’s a way to tie him to Midgard, but the chemistry and connection between Thor and Jane doesn’t really exist on-screen and so when Thor wants to return to Earth to be with her, it’s just not believable. They should have focused more on his relationship with Sif (who is much more interesting than Jane, and a much stronger woman character). Whatever time Sif and Thor share onscreen is more dramatic and poignant than time spent between Jane and Thor. (I also want to note that people think Jane’s character is a sexist trope, but Thor is a demigod. She’s meant to be smitten by him. Guys would be equally as smitten by Sif if she showed up, as long as she didn’t disembowel them.)

Thor: The Dark World had the promise of being a more rich and intensive film experience than the first film, but really….it sort of fell short. Loki was the one saving grace of the film, not only because Hiddleston is a fantastic actor but because Loki’s character is allowed to roam free in the realm of human morality. Thor has that ability, too. He’s not just a jock with a hammer. He’s not just an alien demigod with a penchant for eating mutton and bedding babes. He’s Thor. He’s badass. Too bad he really wasn’t in this film.

It’s worth seeing at least once to complete the Avengers tie-ins (and it IS Thor), and there’s kind of a weird/creepy/unexpected cameo bit after the credits with someone you wouldn’t expect to see in a Marvel film. It just should’ve been better.

JOE Rating: ★★★

The Sixth Gun – Book One: Cold Dead Fingers (2011)

The Sixth Gun - Book One: Cold Dead Fingers (2011)

 

The Sixth Gun – Book One is a trade paperback which collects issues of the Oni Press comic book written by Cullen Bunn with art by Brian Hurtt.

Six guns with individual arcane powers were found during the American Civil War by General Oleander Hume and distributed among his most trusted (and wicked) associates. Over time, however, one of them – with the ability to grant its wielder visions of the future – disappeared. Then, in a time of need, the gun makes its way into the hands of a young girl – Rebecca Moncrief – who is later joined by a mysterious gunfighter and treasure hunter, Drake Sinclair. The two of them must unlock the secrets of the gun and its origins and figure out a way to lose their pursuers who are none other than a long-dead-but-returned-to-life General Oleander Hume and his posse.

If you know me at all, you know I love comic books and that I also love anything having to do with the American Civil War, so this book was a natural choice for me to check out. I had seen it once or twice and then one of the local comic book guys I know reminded me to try the first volume and I picked it up.

The artwork by Brian Hurtt is really nice and perfect (in my opinion) for the type of story The Sixth Gun is. The writing was pretty decent, too. The story moved along at a nice pace and I never really wanted to take a break. I flew through the first volume and it has a real cinematic feel to it. I’m betting this will be a mini-series or a movie in the future. I liked the characters, too. They never really felt forced and some of them were kind of complex (while others were throw-aways).

If you’re looking for straight-up Civil War action, this book doesn’t have a ton. The Civil War aspect is more just for “flavor” than anything else and provides a bit of context for the story and the world this book is set in. I’m sure if you like magic or fantasy or westerns or steampunk, then you’ll enjoy this.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

The Sword of Shannara (1977)

The Sword of Shannara (1977)

The Sword of Shannara is the flagship novel of author Terry Brooks’ Shannara series. (First King of Shannara actually takes place before The Sword of Shannara, but he didn’t publish that until later on).

Shea and Flick Ohmsford live in Shady Vale, a quiet community of hard-working folk living in peace. When evil from the North comes looking for the last living descendant of Jerle Shannara, aka Shea Ohmsford, a mysterious Druid by the name of Allanon arrives to help the two escape and embark on an epic quest to find the fabled Sword of Shannara, which has the power to destroy the evil Warlock Lord.

Many critics (and a few of my friends) have universally panned this novel because some say that it’s a blatant rip-off of Tolkien. Admittedly, there are heavy imprints of Tolkien’s influence at work here, but it’s only at the beginning. Towards the end, you begin to truly get a sense of what Brooks is trying to do with his characters, and especially in later novels when he expands to areas that Tolkien never touched and you get to see other elements besides Tolkien’s writing which he drew on, like mythology and history.

I would liken this series to the lovechild of Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, actually.

If you look past the initial similarities (and assuming you like Brooks’ writing style) what you’ll find is an enjoyable romp through the Four Lands and the beginnings of an epic fantasy adventure that seems to be more and more rare these days.

The characters are memorable, the settings are great, the monsters are scary. What more can you ask for?

JOE Rating: ★★★★