“Rambo” – Not Just a Mindless Action Flick

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Just saw the latest Rambo movie with my wife. We were expecting an entertaining action film that did justice to the earlier ones. I was also hoping it wasn’t so violent and mindless that it would put off my wife. The story picks up where we might expect John Rambo to be – still keeping a low profile in a small village in Thailand making a meager living all the while still making donations to the local monks (see Rambo II). Nearby, neighboring Burma, a very real military regime is committing unspeakable atrocities on the local people, and a missionary and relief group from some church in Colorado seek Rambo’s help in getting them into Burma. Rambo reluctantly accepts and drops the group in Burma. After not turning up for a while, Rambo and a group of mercenaries are sent in to extract them out. Of course, this is what the audience comes to see – Rambo kicking some major ass.

I’ve heard about how violent this movie is, but I was not prepared to see how graphic it all was. I was also not expecting any Rambo movie to be some sort of documentary of a real plight or to try to raise awareness of a people facing genocide. Not only did we sit through the whole movie, but we also watched the behind the scenes featurettes. Stallone mentions that he did not want the movie censored for the violence because it was real. Not only that but that what was really happening was even too brutal to show.

This is full scale genocide. I want an ‘R’ and I want the violence in there because it is reality. It would be a whitewashing not to show what’s over there.

I would urge people to watch the movie for the piece of entertainment that it is, but also to watch the behind the scenes features where Burmese people give their accounts of what is happening there. It absolutely breaks your heart. There was a shot of a man who just lost his leg to a land mine. He didn’t even look like he was in much pain, but when you saw what was left of his leg which was basically just bone, you cannot help but feel that the situation in Burma is unacceptable.

What’s sad is that for much of the American audience who left the theater watching this movie, most probably won’t give Burma a second thought – writing it off as a good plot device for Rambo to lay some major smack down on some bad guys. One reviewer on Amazon even comments that the audience among him didn’t even know if Burma was real. At various points the violence portrayed in the movie was so horrifying that it bordered on the absurd. It would be easy to write off that violence as Rambo trying to top the violence of previous films. I think most critics and reviewers wrote it off as such and totally missed the point. It’s a sad commentary on today’s society that the message just went way over their head.

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“The Forbidden Kingdom” Movie Review

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The Forbidden Kingdom is the new Disney movie that pairs Jackie Chan and Jet Li in the same movie for the first time ever. The story is loosely based on one of the most famous Chinese literary classics, Journey to the West. There’s been many adaptations over the years of the classic including one that will be familiar to all anime fans – Dragonball. Having spent a large part of my childhood in Asia, I was familiar with the tale. I’m also a huge fan of both Jet Li and Jackie Chan. As an added bonus, Colin Chou (Seraph from the Matrix series), is also in this movie. I think he’s a great martial arts star who just hasn’t yet made it in the US market.

The movie centers around a teenage boy from Boston. He’s a big kung fu fan who hangs around Chinatown. He gets into trouble and comes into possession of an ancient wooden staff. This magical staff transports him to an ancient fairy tale China where he learns that this particular staff is magical and belongs to the Monkey King. The Monkey King however has been caste into stone by the evil Jade Warlord, and it is prophesied that a traveler from afar would restore the Monkey King and defeat the Jade Warlord.

Along his journey, the boy meets a drunk vagabond (Jackie), a monk (Jet), and an orphan girl. All of them join him on his quest to fulfill his prophecy so he can get home. The Wizard of Oz anyone? Jackie and Jet take turns training the boy complete with maxims and words of ancient Chinese wisdom. Many of them will resonate with martial artists in particular. Here’s an example: Eating bitter (before tasting the sweet) is a well known saying referring to putting in the hard work before reaping the rewards. The humor is pretty good. One scene in particular, when Jackie tells Jet that the boy is the chosen one, and Jet says he’s not even Chinese, was particularly hilarious. Why is it that America thinks they need a white male lead to star in movie about the greatest Chinese literary classic that already has the two most famous Asian actors?

Although Jet and Jackie share about equal screen time, and they both play 2 characters, Jackie gets the lion’s share of the dialog. This is not surprising since Jet’s always been more the quiet one. However, we all know the reason we want to see these two together for the fight scenes. Let me tell you they don’t disappoint in this department. I recall 4 major fight scenes, one of them involving Jet and Jackie fighting each other. The movie builds up to a great fight between the forces of good and the evil Jade Warlord and his army. The movie ties it’s loose ends together well.

I thought overall, the movie was entertaining. The movie pays homage to old kung fu movies like Drunken Master and Bride with White Hair. The setting and sets were absolutely gorgeous. Costumes were very ornate, and the special effects were well done. Nothing felt too cheesy and the wire-fu wasn’t overbearing. It’s a typical feel good Disney movie. I highly recommend it for the whole family. In fact, I ran into a student who brought his whole family to watch.

Parents who are concerned about whether they can take their kids to watch it should know that there’s a lot of fighting in the movie – duh. There’s also a few scenes that show blood and killing, but it’s done in a nonviolent sort of way that doesn’t draw attention to itself. If you take your children to watch Pirates of the Caribbean, then this isn’t any worse in terms of violence.

I give this 4.5/5.

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’21′ Movie Review

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I caught a sneak screening of the movie ’21′ when I was at SXSW in Austin Texas. The movie is about a group of MIT card counters known as the MIT Black Jack Team, who take Las Vegas by storm. During the week, they’re regular nerds in Boston. On weekends, they fly to Vegas, take on new identities and clean out the casinos all the while living the high roller life. The team are lead by a charismatic but shady professor and ex card counter known as Micky Rosa who is played by Kevin Spacey. The movie is based on a best seller called ‘Bringing Down the House’ by Ben Mezrich.

The movie was very fun. It had interesting characters, an interesting plot. The fact that it was based on a real story made it even better. The movie had exciting moments, funny moments, and the end was satisfying.

One thing that did irk me was the fact that the main character, who was really Asian is portrayed by a white guy. In fact, the MIT Black Jack Team in the book was composed of mostly mixed Asians. In the movie, they added a blond card counter to play opposite the protagonist as his love interest. Have we not progressed at all that we can’t have an Asian male lead?

What was great about this experience was that there was a Q&A after the show. The director, the author, the lead character, and the person whose story the movie was based on were all there to talk about their experiences and answer questions. I liked the movie so much, I took my wife to see it in the theaters when it finally came out.

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