Showing posts sorted by relevance for query big trouble in little china. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query big trouble in little china. Sort by date Show all posts

August 9, 2013

Filmwhys Podcast: Big Trouble in Little China/Kick-Ass

John Carpenter's Big Trouble in Little China

All film lovers have blind spots that never seem to find their way onto the screen. They keep moving them down their Netflix queues every time they near the top. I’ve knocked out a lot since I started the blog, but there’s an endless supply remaining out there. More “must-see” movies keep arriving every year. How can we keep up? This quest is at the heart of the Filmwhys podcast, where host Bubbawheat tackles a new landmark film each time. His site Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights focuses on super hero movies, so his guests take a shot at a new pick from that genre. It’s a great concept, particularly since he has missed some big-time selections. Prime examples from his first 10 episodes include Jaws, Rocky, and 12 Angry Men. I joined him this week to cover John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China. This wonderful 1986 film has its share of fans but deserves even more attention.

Carpenter finds the right tone for this combination of genres that never takes itself too seriously. A main reason for the success is Kurt Russell, who keeps Jack Burton likable despite his cluelessness. He talks like John Wayne yet bumbles his way through every situation. His buddy Wang Chi (Dennis Dun) constantly saves the day while Burton comes out unscathed. They inadvertently embark on a quest to save the girls from the evil David Lo Pan (James Hong) and his minions. Kim Cattrall and Victor Wong come along for the ride, and it’s lots of fun. I had a great time introducing Bubba to this very entertaining cult film.

Chloe Grace Moretz in Kick-Ass

Our second film was Kick-Ass, a subversive take on the genre that generated plenty of controversy. I wasn’t offended and had fun with it. Chloe Grace Moretz and Nicolas Cage steal the show as Hit Girl and Big Daddy. They find the right tone for the tricky, ultraviolent material. It’s a mixed bag overall, and the high school romance for the title character (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) isn’t so thrilling. Director and Co-writer Matthew Vaughn takes clever jabs at super-hero movies, though it shifts into more standard action fare by the final act. I’m glad to finally check out this movie that’s a favorite of many film lovers. I can understand their excitement and am curious to check out the sequel, which arrives later this month.

You can check out this episode of the Filmwhys podcast through this link. I had a lot of fun talking about both movies and participating in this cool show. The other episodes have intelligent guests, and the conversations are definitely worth hearing. Closing blind spots is one of my favorite pastimes as a movie fan. Even when the choice isn’t thrilling, it gives perspective on new movies and expands our knowledge. That’s rarely a bad thing.

June 29, 2012

Top 5 Films of 1986

Big Trouble in Little China, directed by John Carpenter

Deciding on my favorite movies from any year is tricky, but it's even tougher when it goes back to my childhood. I was 10 years old in 1986, and it's impossible to separate the films I love from what engaged me at that time. There are some new additions that I caught recently, but the top picks hearken back to the late '80s. Even so, I'll stand by this list (no pun intended) as representing a strong group from a solid year. Other options were Ferris Bueller's Day Off, The Fly, The Color of Money, Manhunter, and The Karate Kid Part II. I could argue with any of these making a Top 5 List, except maybe the last one. The sweet sounds of Peter Cetera do make it a contender, however. I haven't seen Children of a Lesser God, Down by Law, The Name of the Rose, and River's Edge, so those might also be worthy contenders. Let's check out the list and see what made the cut!

Stand by Me, directed by Rob Reiner

Honorable Mention: Stand By Me
I didn't see this charming Rob Reiner movie until this past January, and it's sad that it took me this long. The coming-of-age story doesn't feel dated and chronicles that time right before reaching young adulthood. There's a definite nostalgia to this film, especially due to its framing story with Richard Dreyfuss looking back on his adventures in the late '50s. The talented young cast includes River Phoenix, Kiefer Sutherland,  Jerry O'Connell, Wil Wheaton, and John Cusack, among others. Adapted from the Stephen King short story "The Body", Stand By Me will continue to be discovered by new generations for years to come.

Star Trek IV, directed by Nicolas Meyer

5. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
My friends and I were big fans of both the Star Trek TV series and movies growing up, and one of the main reasons was this highly entertaining time travel movie. The "fish out of water" story combines wonderfully with the sci-fi elements to deliver a surprisingly funny story. It's clear that William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and the entire gang knew each other so well that they're able to have more fun this time around. The Earth may be at risk from a mysterious probe, but the stakes never feel too serious. Even the oddball solution of using humpback whales to save the day works because we're engaged with the main characters. This enjoyable movie has showed up on several previous lists for me, and I doubt this is the last time it will make an appearance.

Platoon, directed by Oliver Stone

4. Platoon
Oliver Stone's recent output like World Trade Center and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps may have diminished his standing as a top-notch director, but it's hard to deny his talent. One of his best films is Platoon, a personal project for him based on his time in Vietnam. Back when he was more than a bad punchline, Charlie Sheen brings the right level of innocence to Chris, who struggles to figure out the right way to deal with the chaos. Sergeant Barnes (Tom Berenger) and Sergeant Elias (Willem Defoe) offer different points of view about the emotional state needed to survive. As their conflict builds, Stone conveys the grand mess that just keeps getting crazier as the story progresses.

Hannah and Her Sisters, directed by Woody Allen

3. Hannah and Her Sisters
Woody Allen has directed so many great movies, and there's a pretty large group that you could place near the top of the list. One of my favorites is definitely Hannah and Her Sisters, which combines drama and humor in a realistic fashion. Allen's character shifts more to the background, and the three female leads (Mia Farrow, Dianne Wiest, and Barbara Hershey) take the center stage. The entire cast is excellent, including Michael Caine in a tricky role of lusting after his wife's sister. Sometimes forgotten amid the raves for Annie Hall and Manhattan, this movie stands right with them and deserves the same level of attention.

Aliens, directed by James Cameron

2. Aliens
What more can be said about this movie? Given all the attention on the franchise after Prometheus, there's little more that I can write about this excellent sequel. James Cameron incorporates his own style into the series and transforms Ridley Scott's vision into a military conflict. This time it's war. While a few flaws show up after repeated viewings, Aliens remains a powerful action movie that packs a mighty punch. The editing from Ray Lovejoy (The Shining) is pitch-perfect and sells the epic scale. When many people think of the series and Sigourney Weaver's iconic Ripley, it's this movie they remember the most. I slightly prefer the original, but that takes nothing away from this remarkable success.

Big Trouble in Little China, directed by John Carpenter

1. Big Trouble in Little China
John Carpenter's offbeat adventure is an underrated gem that deserves a lot more attention. Kurt Russell spoofs the blustering action hero while his buddy Wang Chi (Dennis Dun) saves the day. While it's easy to dismiss the over-the-top story, that wouldn't give enough credit to Carpenter and his star. The tongue-in-cheek approach works much better than expected and offers consistent entertainment. I can't say enough good things about this clever genre mishmash. Kim Cattrall, James Hong, and Victor Wong join the fun, but this is Russell's showcase. He seizes the opportunity and shines within Carpenter's excellent framework.

I'd love to hear your thoughts about this list. Should The Golden Child or Crocodile Dundee make it? You should also check out the archive of past Top 5 Lists if you've missed them.

April 6, 2012

Top 5 Films Set in San Francisco

Considering the nearly infinite locations available for movies, it's amazing how many are set in New York or Los Angeles. Chicago has a solid collection of releases, but there aren't too many other U.S. cities that stand out for delivering memorable films. One of the exceptions is San Francisco, a city that has been used effectively in a variety of genres. The steep rolling hills are perfect for a chase, and the beautiful bay is an ideal location for romance. The signature icon of the Golden Gate Bridge offers an excellent backdrop and directly identifies the location as this fine city. It also can support a big action scene like the finale of A View to A Kill. The fight between a fifty-something Roger Moore and Christopher Walken is silly, but it's enhanced by the majestic location. Sadly, that unfortunate Bond film did not make this list. Let's take a look at the picks and see if I made the right choices!

Honorable Mention: Vertigo (1958), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
I'm not a huge fan of Vertigo because of its glacial pace, but it still contains some of Hitchcock's best filmmaking. A major benefit is the location, which looks especially majestic in the famous shot of Jimmy Stewart rescuing Kim Novak from San Francisco Bay. It has some flaws but is definitely worth seeing because of the highlights like that scene. I just watched Philip Kaufman's remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers this week, and San Francisco feels like the right place to watch humanity fall apart. Visually stunning moments like the shot above heighten the tension and make the struggle a grander affair.

5. Zodiac (2007)
David Fincher's depiction of the Zodiac killer investigation succeeds because it presents the negative side effects on the guys who become obsessed with the case. Although it had limited box-office appeal, it's the type of movie that should continue to draw new fans on DVD and Blu-ray. Fincher seamlessly presents San Francisco in the 1970s with digital effects that don't stand out. The environment feels realistic with a style that connects to the great police thrillers of that decade. Locations like the police station and the San Francisco Chronicle offices never strike a false note and allow us to focus on the characters. This story feels a lot like Fincher's impressive The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and does an even better job of getting us intrigued by the investigation.

4. Bullitt (1968)
This cop thriller from Peter Yates is known for its famous chase, and that sequence remains thrilling more than 40 years later. One of the main reasons for its success is the use of the San Francisco streets, which provide an excellent backdrop for the high-flying pursuit. Beyond the chase, the story provides an engaging investigation into the botched protection of a key witness. McQueen brings his cool presence to the lead role, and Robert Vaughn plays the nasty politician who seems intent on taking down the detective. There are many familiar elements of the genre in this film, but it still provides great entertainment.

3. Point Blank (1967)
John Boorman's stunning revenge thriller doesn't take place entirely in San Francisco, but it includes key scenes at Alcatraz at the start and end of the movie. This deserted prison is the location of the original double-cross that sets Lee Marvin's Walker on his vengeful quest. The cool style and energetic direction from Boorman combine well with the attractive locations to create a kinetic experience. Marvin's determined performance brings just the right menace to make him believable yet keep us in his corner. Fans of Steven Soderbergh's The Limey should find plenty of similarities with this wonderfully edited gem.

2. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)
Unlike the previous choice, nearly all of Star Trek IV was shot on location in the San Francisco area. This movie was a major departure from the first three films in the franchise and injected a lot more humor into the mix. The Enterprise crew travels back to 1986 to locate humpback whales to save their Earth. It's a hokey concept but works a lot better than expected. The main reason is the laid-back script, which incorporates fun one-liners into the "fish out of water" story. It stands just behind The Wrath of Khan in my favorite Star Trek films and was one of the most successful offerings. San Francisco provides an excellent setting for the entertaining adventure and is a memorable part of the action.

1. Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
This may be a controversial pick, but I stand behind this silly John Carpenter film for its pure entertainment value. Kurt Russell is perfectly cast as Jack Burton, a goofball who thinks he's the hero of the adventure. Instead, he's a lunkhead who's constantly getting saved by his buddy Wang Chi (Dennis Dun), the true lead of the story. Carpenter consistently subverts our expectations, and it's one of his most entertaining movies. Although it's set in San Francisco, many of the scenes take place on sets created specifically for the film. Either way, Big Trouble in Little China is a classic that deserves a lot more attention.

I'd love to hear your thoughts about this list in the comments section. You should also check out the archive of past Top 5 Lists if you've missed them.

Don't forget to submit your recommendations for my upcoming Readers' Choice Marathon! I'd love to hear about the hidden gems that you enjoy and would like me to see for the blog.

July 22, 2011

Top 5 Post-Apocalyptic Films

Compiling this list of my favorite post-apocalyptic films was trickier than I expected. I’ve seen most of the signature movies in this genre, but some like The Omega Man and Logan’s Run qualify more as cheesy fun than top five quality. Also, some movies might incorporate a doomsday scenario but don’t primarily take place in this environment. For that reason, the first three Terminator films aren’t eligible for this list. The most recent installment in that franchise (Terminator: Salvation) fits the mold but won’t be anywhere near this list. Sorry, McG. I’ve also eliminated television mini-series like The Stand and the Battlestar Galactica reboot, which are both excellent examples. I’m confident that the five (actually six) choices rank among the most unique visions in this intriguing genre.

Honorable Mention: The Road (2009), The Quiet Earth (1985)
This was the toughest part of this selection since a large group of movies seemed about equal in overall quality. I picked these movies because they represented original takes on a sometimes predictable genre. Based on the Cormac McCarthy novel, The Road offers a bleak look at life following a disaster that wiped out nearly everyone. It’s a rough viewing, but Director John Hillcoat and Writer Joe Penhall effectively present this awful existence. In the lead role, Viggo Mortensen brings humanity to the man who’s nearly lost his soul while protecting his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee). I watched The Quiet Earth for the first time during this marathon, and its mind-bending sequences and stunning ending really stick with you. Bruno Lawrence is strong as a guy who may be the last man on earth.

5. 28 Days Later (2002)
Although the impact of Danny Boyle’s thriller has been diluted because of numerous imitators, this intense film remains a standout of the genre. Cilian Murphy has rarely been better as a confused guy waking up in London to a world of vicious, fast-moving zombies. The story’s third act switches gears dramatically and places Christopher Eccleston and his military marauders as the main villains. This group’s actions are far more chilling than even the nastiest victims of the rage virus.

4. Escape from New York (1981)
During a 10-year period beginning in 1976, John Carpenter delivered an awesome run of genre films including Assault on Precinct 13, Halloween, The Thing, and Big Trouble in Little China. One of his best and most entertaining movies from that period is Escape From New York, which sends Kurt Russell’s Snake Plissken into a devastated New York City. Now a maximum security prison containing some of the nastiest denizens in existence, this city is no picnic. While trying to rescue the President (Donald Pleasance), Plissken faces off with all types of villains, including Isaac Hayes as The Duke. This is a must-see for anyone who enjoys B movies, Russell, or Carpenter.

3. Children of Men (2006)
Alfonso Cuaron’s striking look at a future world where people can’t have babies anymore leaves a powerful impression. Although it earned acclaim in its original release, this movie’s reputation has justifiably grown during the past five years. Cauron delivers two stunning long takes that lift the material even further above its interesting screenplay. One car chase in particular is remarkable and ranks among the great “how’d they do that?” sequences in recent history. Clive Owen brings humanity to the lead role of Theo Faron, who tries desperately to save a miracle — a woman who’s actually pregnant. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Caine, and Julianne Moore also perform well in supporting roles.

2. La Jetee (1962)/Twelve Monkeys (1995)
I know it’s cheating to pick two movies, but these films are connected enough for it to make sense. Terry Gilliam took the premise of Chris Marker’s wonderful short film La Jetee and crafted a big-budget sci-fi mind-bender. The original is composed almost entirely of still photographs but still tells a riveting time-travel story. Both films take place in a dead, post-apocalyptic world but send the hero back to the time before the destruction. In Twelve Monkeys, Bruce Willis’ James Cole tries desperately to prevent the disaster while leaping back and forth between the 1990s and his present (our future). Incorporating Gilliam’s unique style and plenty of surprises, it does justice to Chris Marker’s vision while expanding the story for a feature-length film.

1. The Road Warrior (1981)
Although it’s basically just a white-knuckle chase movie, George Miller’s sequel to Mad Max almost perfectly depicts the hopelessness and desperation of the post-apocalyptic world. As the title character, Mel Gibson says little but gives a believable performance as the loner who hardly cares whether he survives. Taking on the risky job of transporting gasoline for people over matched by an unstoppable horde, Max becomes their only hope for survival. The chase sequence in the final act ranks among the best ever filmed and includes some genuinely remarkable stunt work. While it’s the not the deepest film thematically, The Road Warrior provides a truly visceral experience.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this list and suggestions for other great choices.

May 8, 2012

Readers' Choice Marathon: Gregory's Girl (1981)

Dee Hepburn in Gregory's Girl

When I chose this marathon, I hoped to receive suggestions for movies that were completely unknown to me. The suggestion of the 1981 Scottish comedy Gregory's Girl came from Dan Hughes of the Midnight Movie Club podcast. Dan and his co-host Lee discuss their latest geeky pursuits and classic films from the '80s and '90s. Recent podcasts have covered the Batman films, Star Trek movies, and the classic Big Trouble in Little China. I actually appeared with Dan on my first LAMBcast, where we discussed some fun Top 5 lists. During that show, he briefly mentioned Gregory's Girl as a signature British movie. I knew little about it going into this viewing, beyond a few threats of physical harm from Dan if I trashed it. Should I worry about my well being?

What's this story about?
Gregory (John Gordon Sinclair) is a goofy Scottish teenager who doesn't seem to mind his athletic shortcomings as a soccer player. His life's thrown upside down by the arrival of Dorothy (Dee Hepburn), a confident girl who has no problems with schooling all the boys on the soccer field. He's immediately smitten with her, even though she's way out of his league. He's awkward with girls but remains convinced they're meant to be together. To the amazement of everyone, Gregory asks out Dorothy and gets a date. They don't seem like the right match, but the unpredictable night is full of surprises for the unsuspecting lad.

John Gordon Sinclair in Gregory's Girl

What are the major themes, and how do they connect to the key issues of that time?
Shot on a minimal budget, Gregory's Girl remains highly influential, particularly to filmmakers like Wes Anderson. Although this story's tone lacks the rough edges of Rushmore, there are plenty of connections with that movie. The look of the costumes and the overall feeling of the schools are very similar. Gregory doesn't share Max Fisher's love of extracurricular activities, but they both are striving to attract a girl who's way out of their range. A recent companion film is Richard Ayoade's Submarine, which has a female lead (Yasmin Page) who looks strikingly close to one of the pivotal girls in this story. It also takes a less idealistic perspective on romance, but the style owes a lot to this movie. It came out of nowhere in 1981 and became a big hit in Great Britain. Writer/Director Bill Forsyth won the BAFTA award for Best Screenplay, and it's considered one of the classics from that country to this day.

Allison Forster in Gregory's Girl, released in 1981

Are the characters believable and fully drawn?
One of the main reasons for this film's success is its down-to-earth portrayal of teenagers. Unlike the quote machines who dominate this genre today, these guys are believably awkward. They begin the movie peeping at a woman undressing through an open window. It's a scene that could easily go wrong, but it works because it's presented in a direct fashion. Gregory's a likable guy, and his laid-back attitude makes him easy to follow. He's pushed to goalie out of his former spot by Dorothy, and many films would use this shift to create unnecessary conflict. This change means nothing to Gregory, who lacks the competitive drive to win. While this baffles his coach, it makes him a lot more likable as a character. He's just a romantic kid taking a risk despite the low odds of success. Another fun character is his 10-year-old sister Madeleine (Allison Forster), who's eons ahead of her brother in understanding romance. While this type of witty youngster is common in this genre, she does a lot better than most examples.

Clare Grogan in Gregory's Girl

What are some of the most memorable scenes?
The final act of Gregory's Girl is what pushes it beyond the typical teen romance. His utter confusion when multiple girls keep showing up instead of Dorothy is priceless. Once Susan (Clare Grogan) finally arrives as his actual date, their scenes are easily the best in the movie. Looking back, it's clear that Forsyth has set up her interest in him with a few brief moments. They're a much better pair that Gregory and Dorothy, who seems too mature for almost any teenager. She's focused on soccer and lacks the sense of fun that's needed to match up with him. With her striking black hair cut and laid-back attitude, Susan is the perfect companion for Gregory. It also helps that she likes him, and watching them interact is charming. Regardless of what happens in the future, they've shared a great moment and have a positive outlook as a couple. I have to mention his buddies Andy (Robert Buchanan) and the nearly silent Charlie (Graham Thompson), who keep seeing him with a different girl and getting confused. They're hoping to go to Caracas because of an excellent woman-to-man ratio. These efforts fall flat, but the hapless guys provide great comic relief. Charlie seems right out of a Wes Anderson film and brings a lot of silliness with limited dialogue.

Gregory's Girl feels like a Wes Anderson film, and these buddies would fit right in there.

How’s the direction? Is there an original vision?
This was my first experience seeing a Bill Forsyth film, who went on to direct the highly regarded Local Hero and Housekeeping. He also created a sequel to this movie called Gregory's Two Girls in 1999, but it didn't find much success. Forsyth's known for directing positive films, and that upbeat tone permeates this entire picture. Even when Gregory is struggling to get Dorothy's attention, we always have the feeling that he'll end up okay. There are no evil jocks in this story, which is a relief compared to most teen comedies. I kept expecting Dorothy to reject Gregory, but she sidesteps him in the best way possible. Although the direction lacks any visual flourishes, that doesn't appear to be Forsyth's intention. He's trying to show us a sweet little story about teens, and there's no denying that he fulfills that goal.

Clare Grogan in Gregory's Girl

Would I recommend this film to another friend?
I might hesitate to recommend Gregory's Girl to cynics who can't suspend their disbelief and accept the charm. That doesn't take away from this film, however. The clothes and hair styles might be different, but the atmosphere remains modern and doesn't take us out of the story. We've all known guys like Gregory (and might have even been them), so it's nearly impossible not to enjoy the ride. I had fun from the start, but I wasn't completely hooked until the last act. It's a heart-warming conclusion that increased my enjoyment of the entire movie. While it might seem thin to some viewers, Gregory's Girl worked for me and provided a refreshing break from my own cynicism.