Film Review: Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

Also known as: John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China (complete title)
Release Date: July 2nd, 1986
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: Gary Goldman, David Z. Weinstein, W. D. Richter
Music by: John Carpenter, Alan Howarth
Cast: Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, Dennis Dun, James Hong, Victor Wong, Kate Burton, Donald Li, Carter Wong, Peter Kwong, James Pax, Suzee Pai, Chao-Li Chi, Jeff Imada, Al Leong, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, James Lew

TAFT Entertainment Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox, 99 Minutes

Review:

“Sooner or later I rub everybody the wrong way.” – Jack Burton

There are very few films I watched more than Big Trouble In Little China once it was out on VHS and I rented it to dub a copy. New release VHS tapes were like $99 back then and I was still way too young to get a real job.

Anyway, I fucking loved this movie when I was a kid and it was really my introduction to John Carpenter. His films before this one were all hard Rs and things like The Thing and Prince of Darkness would’ve given me nightmares for months. Yeah, I loved horror by this point but Carpenter’s hardest films were still way too hard for my 8 year-old brain.

I really loved this because of Kurt Russell. I can’t say that this was my introduction to him but this is probably the first film that made me know who he was.

Beyond Russell, I just loved the giant martial arts battle in the alley and found myself completely in love with this movie as soon as the three elemental dudes showed up along with the evil wizard Lo Pan. That whole sequence and its special effects blew my mind.

By this point, I’ve seen this movie dozens of times. However, it’s been at least five-to-ten years. I’ve felt the itch to revisit it for awhile now and I had to wedge it into my schedule.

I still love this movie. It’s action packed, has a great adventure, cool fantasy and horror shit, a very charismatic lead and it’s a hell of a lot more fun than anything Hollywood puts out today.

I actually enjoy Kurt Russell’s Jack Burton even more now. I think that’s because he’s heroic as hell but he really is this bumbling idiot that fucks up more than he actually does badass things. As a kid it was all just for a laugh but as an adult, I see that he wants to be that heroic guy but he gets in his own way. However, when it really comes to pulling off the big win, the dude succeeds and wins the day… and the girl. Well, until he gets in his own way again.

All the core characters in this movie are great from the heroes-to-the villains and even those with small one-scene roles are pretty memorable.

Back in the day, I loved all the monsters in this movie and seeing them all these years later, they’ve held up well. While Carpenter was working with a fairly decent budget on this movie, there were still limitations. In spite of that, the practical effects still look superb and the not-so-practical ones still pass the test.

Big Trouble In Little China is a movie that has a little bit of all the things I was into when it came out. While my tastes have evolved, these are still things I enjoy.

There are very few movies that are as fun as this one.

Rating: 8.25/10

Film Review: The Golden Child (1986)

Release Date: December 12th, 1986
Directed by: Michael Ritchie
Written by: Dennis Feldman
Music by: Michel Colombier, John Barry
Cast: Eddie Murphy, Charlotte Lewis, Charles Dance, J. L. Reate, Victor Wong, James Hong, Randall “Tex” Cobb, Tiger Chung Lee, Pons Maar, Frank Welker (voice)

Eddie Murphy Productions, Industrial Light & Magic, Paramount Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

“Only a man whose heart is pure can wield the knife, and only a man whose ass is narrow can get down these steps. And if mine’s is such an ass, then I shall have it.” – Chandler Jarrell

Well, this didn’t age well.

The Golden Child is one of those movies you used to love when you were a kid but seeing it decades later leads to disappointment, as it doesn’t live up to your memories.

Now that’s not to say that this is a crappy movie, it’s just an overly hokey one that feels immensely outdated where the jokes don’t land in the same way they once did and for the most part, you’re just kind of waiting for it to wrap up.

Sure, Eddie Murphy is enjoyable in the film and I also always dig Charles Dance playing a villain but the story and its pacing were really sloppy.

This was a movie that did a lot of weird shit just to do weird shit. Frankly, I’m not sure why the villain’s henchmen were so goofy. I mean you have a guy that looks like a monkey for no real reason. Just save on some money and cut those facial prosthetic effects out of the film unless they serve some sort of narrative purpose other than creating a quick, bizarre gag that fizzled out almost immediately but then had to be stretched over the duration of the film. I’m also not sure why Randall “Tex” Cobb had to wear weird forehead prosthetics either.

Additionally, even though the effects work was handled by Industrial Light & Magic, the company born out of Star Wars, they aren’t very good, even for the time. I remember, even as a kid, I wasn’t all that impressed with the demon fight at the end. The flaws are also made more apparent by how the effects shots are all obscured by the immense glare of the sun or fake fog that exists in effects shots but then it’s absent when a shot cuts quickly to Eddie Murphy. But I can excuse it, as ILM was really experimenting with a lot of different special effects tech in an effort to get where they did by the time Jurassic Park rolled around seven years later.

In the end, this is a film that only really works because of Eddie Murphy’s charm. It’s strange and somewhat of a mess but if you have the nostalgia bug for this flick, it’ll probably still play okay. For those who have no memories or feelings about this movie, you might want to skip it.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other Eddie Murphy comedies from the ’80s and early ’90s.

Film Review: Tremors (1990)

Also known as: Land Sharks, Beneath Perfection, Dead Silence (working titles)
Release Date: January 19th, 1990
Directed by: Ron Underwood
Written by: Brent Maddock, S. S. Wilson, Ron Underwood
Music by: Ernest Troost, Robert Folk (uncredited)
Cast: Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward, Finn Carter, Michael Gross, Reba McEntire, Victor Wong, Bibi Besch, Ariana Richards

Stampede Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Broke into the wrong goddamn rec room, didn’t ya you bastard!” – Burt Gummer

I know that Tremors somehow spawned a franchise that a lot of people seem to like. However, I’ve never been a big fan of it. In fact, I’ve only seen this film, the original, in its entirety. I’ve seen bits and pieces of others but never cared enough to watch them all the way through, even if Michael Gross’ Burt Gummer is damn entertaining.

So I’d say that this one is the best but I don’t really know. But I’d assume so, as it’s the only one to get a proper theatrical release and wasn’t just made for video, DVD or the SyFy Channel.

Also, this one has the best cast with Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward, Victor Wong, Reba McEntire and Bibi Besch all alongside Gross. Plus, Gross wasn’t the star of the series yet. He wouldn’t really become the centerpiece till the third film after Fred Ward dropped out following part two.

This movie is enjoyable. I mean, I love giant killer animal movies and even if these maneating sandworms aren’t the size of kaiju or the Shai Hulud from Dune, they’re cool creatures that, at the time, offered up a pretty cool and original threat for horror audiences.

There is just something terribly frightening about being swallowed alive through the ground you’re walking on. The victims in this film get sucked under in a way that isn’t too dissimilar to how the killer shark from Jaws pulled his victims underwater, chomp by chomp.

Overall, this is a well cast movie that allows its stars to ham it up. I was kind of sad to see Victor Wong go so early though, as I was hoping he’d have a bigger presence and get to kick some ass. But we get some solid Fred Ward material, which is always a plus for me as he’s been underutilized and underappreciated his entire career. Sure, that’s my opinion but it’s probably fact too.

For a 1990 film, the special effects are good, practical ones that exist in the real world. This isn’t chock full of CGI, which seemed to become the norm as the series rolled on into the future. This one was lucky enough to come out a few years before Jurassic Park changed the game with digital monster effects. But everything onscreen looks great. I also loved the first person point-of-view of the sandworms chasing their victims, even if it didn’t make sense because they hunted underground and blindly chomped at vibrations.

Tremors is a dumb but fun movie. It may have gotten flushed down the memory hole if it weren’t for all the sequels but it’s definitely mindless and entertaining enough to provide 96 minutes of amusing and lively escapism.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: all the other films in the franchise, as well as any other killer animal movies.

Film Review: Prince of Darkness (1987)

Release Date: October 23rd, 1987
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: John Carpenter
Music by: John Carpenter, Alan Howarth
Cast: Donald Pleasence, Lisa Blount, Victor Wong, Jameson Parker, Alice Cooper, Peter Jason, Jessie Lawrence Ferguson

Alive Films, Carolco Pictures, Larry Franco Productions, Universal Pictures, 101 Minutes

prince_of_darknessReview:

This film came out in the middle of John Carpenter’s heyday. It was also the middle part of the loose trilogy he refers to as the Apocalypse Trilogy, which includes The Thing, this film and In The Mouth of Madness. All films are separate films but they follow a similar tone and a very stark “end of the world” vibe.

Prince of Darkness is an unsettling film and visually, one of the most striking in Carpenter’s pretty illustrious catalog. Other than The Thing, I find this film to be the most terrifying in his portfolio.

You never really know what is going on in this film but in a nutshell, the devil is coming back to Earth and the students trying to work on a strange science project, are being used as the vessel’s to bring forth his return. There is a mysterious cylinder of churning green liquid that works as the catalyst to propel the evil forward, there are zombie like hobos who have trapped the students inside the evil church with the green liquid, there are demon bugs, possessed characters and some pretty disturbing visuals. This film has made me fearful of someone spitting water in my face.

This is some of John Carpenter’s best work and one of my favorite horror films from the 80s. One can’t watch this movie for the first time and not feel uncomfortable. Even to this day, as many times as I have watched it, there are certain things in this film that still hit certain triggers that I had when seeing it for the first time when I was eleven or twelve.

I love this movie for what it is and how well it was executed. It has one of Carpenter’s best film scores and is one of the most original and intriguing movies he has made. The only thing really to fear though, is knowing that some schmuck will remake this someday.

Rating: 8/10