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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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

Epic Rap Battles Of History: Season One (2010)

Epic Rap Battles Of History: Season One (2010)

Epic Rap Battles of History is a web series in which pop culture icons and celebrities and politicians are pitted against one another in a universe where everyone is fair game and everyone raps against one another – live or dead.

Season One (You can watch the entire season HERE) is the beginning effort of Nice Peter and Epic Lloyd, who portray most of the characters (including themselves in the season finale). The battles portrayed in Season One are as follows:

– John Lennon VS Bill O’Reilly
– Darth Vader VS Hitler
– Abe Lincoln VS Chuck Norris
– Sarah Palin VS Lady Gaga
– Hulk Hogan VS Kim Jong Il
– Justin Bieber VS Beethoven
– Einstein VS Stephen Hawking
– Genghis Khan VS The Easter Bunny
– Napoleon Dynamite VS Napoleon Bonaparte
– Billy Mays VS Ben Franklin
– Gandalf VS Dumbledore
– Dr Seuss VS Shakespeare
– Mr T VS Mr Rogers
– Christopher Columbus VS Captain Kirk
– Nice Peter VS EpicLLOYD

Most of the battles in Season One are sort of silly, without many guest stars. My favorite from the season was definitely Albert Einstein (MC Mr Napkins (aka Zach Sherwin) VS Stephen Hawking (Nice Peter) while some of them like Captain Kirk VS Christopher Columbus were good conceptually but didn’t hold water once performed.

Musically, the Epic Rap Battles have come a long way since this first batch, but there are some noteworthy beats and rhymes, for sure. Check it out. These guys and gals are sure to entertain.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

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: ★★★

Hell On Wheels: Season 1 (2011)

Hell On Wheels: Season 1 (2011)

Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount) is a former Confederate soldier in a country that’s healing after the American Civil War and the assassination of president Abraham Lincoln – and he’s searching for his wife’s killers, most of whom were Union soldiers during the war. Leaving a bunch of corpses in his wake, Cullen finds himself one of the individuals living in Hell On Wheels – the temporary, mobile town following the progress of the Transcontinental Railroad as it spreads west.

When I first saw the description of this show on Netflix, I thought it might be some sort of cheesy programming reserved for late nights at home. I was wrong on that count.

Hell On Wheels, at least the first season, was pretty enjoyable overall. The main character, Cullen, shrugs off traditional southern “Rebel” stereotypes and in a way flips it so that the Union has a few bad eggs in it, too. Cullen has his low points but overall seems to use his own code of honor.

One thing I have to say is that for a man searching for his wife’s killers, he seems to take a while to really get into the hunt. We have a few instances early on in the season where he really digs in but then it almost seems as if he forgets his mission while he’s moving on down the rails.

Since Deadwood hasn’t been on the air, I’ve been looking for similar programming and while this show isn’t as great as Deadwood, it has some of the same, dusty, late 1800’s flavoring that made Deadwood so cool. I’ll definitely be checking out the second season. Hell On Wheels, like many of its characters, is likable even if it has some flaws.

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 Man From Earth (2007)

The Man From Earth (2007)

Professor John Oldman (David Lee Smith) is moving away from everything he knows after ten years or so. He says that he just has the itch to leave and get out, to go somewhere new…but his friends are skeptical and after interrogating him, John reveals to them a secret that he’s been holding on to for 14,000 years: He’s a cro-magnon man who has never aged past 35.

A friend recommended this film to me and I watched it the other night on Netflix. It was pretty enjoyable for the most part.

The movie was probably better off as being a play, It was lots of sedentary characters sitting around talking and not doing much, so it’s kind of hard to watch it as a straight movie probably, for people who wouldn’t normally have the patience for stage plays.

However, the writing was very good so every conversation led to some new revelation that made me say “what’s next?” I didn’t get bored much at all. It was maybe a teensy bit too long. Other than that, the acting could have used a touch-up, too.

Overall, this is pretty entertaining. It has the feeling of one of those late-night conversations you have with your friends around a bonfire.

JOE Rating: ★★★★