September 13, 2013

The Best Sports Video Game Ever - Back Again

Let me take you back to a time when things were easier. When The Simpsons were still funny and a Tea Party still was just a thing young girls did with their stuffed animals. Let me take you back to 1993, and the release of the groundbreaking NHL 94

NHL 94 set the bar not only for future sports video games to match, but for video games in general. It brought a degree of control and realism to console games that had yet to be seen. And it was fun...oh my god, was it ever fun.

October of 1993 was one month into my senior year at UConn. I worked for the college newspaper, and my friends and I were sports junkies. We had a Sega Genesis in our library on the second floor of the newspaper building. And that October we brought NHL 94 into our lives. And promptly almost failed out of college.

Okay, that isn't quite true. But it did make studying a lot harder.

It was amazing. The one-timers, the hard checks, and "the move" - a hellacious spin near the net that the goaltender could almost never stop.

There was also broken glass, checking after the whistle...just an amazing game.

And the best part is you can play it again!! For the 20th anniversary, they are tacking on an NHL 94 mode to NHL 14. So while Don Beaupre is long-gone from the Capitals, you can still check Sidney Crosby into oblivion the old-school way. Oh, and you CAN dominate with Roenick as they made him a special addition to NHL 14 along with Gretsky and Lemieux. But as in Swingers, you can't make Gretsky bleed.

You can fight him, though. Unlike the original, EA tacked on the NHL 14 fighting engine to this awesome throwback.

You can't get any younger and you can't go back to the good old days. But with the NHL 94 mode, I can at least relive the memories.

September 11, 2013

Movie Review: The Machine Girl (2008)

How to explain a movie like The Machine Girl? You start here: a Japanese revenge flick with some martial arts and as much gore as you would find in any splatter film. Maybe more.

But that doesn't do it justice. A young schoolgirl named Ami Hyƫga is seeking revenge against the son of a Yakuza boss because the boy killed her brother. She loses her left arm to the Yakuza boss after she invades his compound. She is sheltered by the family of her brother's friend, who was also killed by the son of the Yakuza boss. Ami has her arm replaced with a Gatling gun. And then she and the mother seek revenge.

And did I mention the gore?

The Machine Girl is a pulp film in all the right ways. Lots of action and over-the-top violence. Then you add in the ridiculous carnage and you get a really good cult film.

How ridiculous is the carnage? There is one scene where the Yakuza track Ami to the family that is sheltering her. They send three ninjas after them. After an extensive fight, Ami uses the gun to blow a hole through a ninja's chest. Then she shoves the gun through the hole to blow away the other ninja. And that is one of the tamer scenes in the film.

Minase Yashiro, who plays Ami, does a good job in what appears to be her first role on film. Ami comes off as a nice girl forced to be hard as nails, which makes it easy to be sympathetic to her even as she hammers 20 nails into someone's face. And I enjoyed Kentaro Shimazu as the insane head of the yakuza family. At his core he is a father defending his son, even if he is homicidal in how he goes about it.

Even with all these compliments, it should be understood that they are made within the context of what is a pulp film. The actual dialogue is often ridiculous and a lot of the acting could be generously described as "wooden." Part of the reason for that could be the background of most of the people involved. Director Noboru Iguchi seems to have got his start in both softcore and hardcore films. Many of the actresses in this film have an adult background in film or photography. You're not exactly getting the elite in acting from that arena.

But at it's core, this is a fun little revenge flick with the gore dial cranked up to "11" the whole time. If I did number scores, I'd call it between a six and seven. For what it is, it's pretty good. It was a direct-to-video release originally in 2008. Amazon is selling it anywhere between $13-$18 right now, which is a decent price if you like these kind of films.

September 10, 2013

My Five Favorite Films From...1986

Honorable Mention – Big Trouble in Little China: Goofy action/comedy/horror hybrid from John Carpenter that shouldn’t work but does. Remember, it’s all in the reflexes.

5. (Tie) Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and Blue Velvet: On the one hand, you have people getting thrown back in time to recover a humpback whale to save the future. On other, you have a severed ear in a field to go along with a nitrous-huffing freak. It’s like they’re the same film! Two films that appeal to me on two totally different levels.

4. Platoon: One of the best war movies ever made, and one that highlights the absurdity and senselessness of war. Still a powerful film more that 20 years after it was first released.

3. Manhunter: This was the first film to introduce us to Hannibal Lecter. It kicks ass, but died at the box-office before getting “rediscovered” after Silence of the Lambs came out. It is way better than Brett Ratner’s tepid 2002 remake titled Red Dragon, the actual name of the source novel by Thomas Harris.

2. Ferris Bueller's Day Off: A classic. The kind of day we all wish we could’ve had in high-school. I did skip a few days to go to the beach or catch films, but never was I involved in a parade.

1. Aliens: The shining example of an action/sci-fi movie. It’s a top-flight film from start to finish. I love it.

Films I Like But Didn't Make The List: Betty Blue, The Mission, Top Gun, Back to School, Labyrinth, Crocodile Dundee, The Color of Money, Highlander, The Fly, ¡Three Amigos!

Under-appreciated – F/X: People seem to have forgotten about this little gem, a thriller/action romp about a special-effects guy hired by the Department of Justice to stage the murder of a mob informant, and who is then double-crossed by the DoJ. It’s a lot of fun to watch. The sequel (F/X 2)…not so much.

Guilty Pleasure – The Delta Force: C’mon, how can you not like a movie that combines the 80s awesomeness of Chuck Norris with the 70s kick-assitude of Lee Marvin? It’s horribly dated (anyone born after 1986 can’t relate to the whole Beirut/hi-jacking/payback for Iran debacle angle) but I still get a kick out of it.

Insane Film That Must Be Mentioned – The Hitcher: If you saw that lame remake a few years ago, it didn’t have 1/100th of the punch the original contained. Simply because no one can out-crazy Rutger Hauer when he decides to go that route. Between killing a family in a station-wagon, ripping Jennifer Jason-Leigh in half with a truck and shooting down about 30 cops, it didn’t get much more insane in 1986 than The Hitcher.

September 9, 2013

Movie Review: Bang Rajan (2000)

Those of us left know it's a fight to the death. - Nai Thong-men (Bin Bunluerit)

Director: Tanit Jitnukul

Writers: Tanit Jitnukul, Kongkiat Khomsiri, Patikarn Phejmunee and Buinthin Thuaykaew

Producers: Adirek Wattaleela, Nonzee Nimibutr

Studio: Film Bangkok, Magnolia Pictures (US distribution)

Major Stars: Jaran Ngamdee, Winai Kraibutr, Theerayut Pratyabamrung, Bin Bunluerit, Bongkoj Khongmalai, Chumphorn Thepphithak, Suntharee Maila-or, Phisate Sangsuwan, Theeranit Damrongwinijchai

In 1767, the Kingdom of Burma invaded the Kingdom of Siam (now known as Thailand). The Burmese forces moved to capture the Siamese capital of Ayutthaya. North of the capital was the strategically placed village of Bang Rajan. For five months, the Burmese Army was held back by the villagers of Bang Rajan. It was the only notable resistance in Siam against the Burmese. The film Bang Rajan covers that period of resistance in a story that begins weakly with some scattershot plotting, but ends strong with an emotional and visceral final battle.

It’s understandable why the plotting is so weak early on. Tanit Jitnukul is not only trying to tell us the story of Bang Rajan but is also trying to supply backstory on all the main villagers. So we get a battle and then a flashback. We see a new character, then a flashback and then a battle. Three villagers are sent to the capital to ask for cannons to defend the village and we get a 10 minute backstory flashback. It kills the flow of the film.

Bang Rajan also suffers from some weak dialogue early on. But that may just be a function of the subtitles not getting the full meaning of the Thai dialogue. In more than one film I have seen, the subtitles do not accurately reflect the spoken dialogue. So I am willing to entertain that as a possibility.

But the last third of the film is great. The dialogue tightens up as the stakes in the film are raised. The plotting falls into line and doesn’t deviate. And there is an emotional impact as the inevitable occurs and the village falls to the Burmese forces.

That is thanks, in part, to some good characters. The couple of Nai In (Kraibutr) and E Sa (Khongmalai) are the emotional core of the film and well-acted. The drunken warrior Thong-men (Bunluerit) is a ball of drunken rage, willing to kill any Burmese he finds with a pair of handaxes. And then there is Nai Chan (Ngamdee), who is recruited to lead the village after their original leader is wounded in battle. Chan is a coldly efficient killer, driven by the memory of his dead wife and Ngamdee plays is just right. Mention should also be made of Krit Suwannapaph, who plays Commander Suki. Suki is the ruthless Burmese general who finally brings down Bang Rajan. And he is ruthless; women and children are not sacrosanct to him. There is nothing likable about Suki. Those aren't easy roles for some actors to play, so kudos to Suwannapaph for a good job


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