Movies I Miss: Gangster films

infernalaffairsToday’s Hollywood is all about franchise films, comic book heroes, sequels and reboots. They’re fun to watch, but I miss the variety of films that I grew up watching. “Movies I Miss” will be blog series where I reminisce about the film genres that Hollywood has apparently forgotten.

Gangster films

As far back as I can remember I always wanted to watch gangster films.

The gangster world is so elusive to most people that it’s so easy to get fascinated whenever it’s romanticized in films. It’s a world where those who stress loyalty above all are the quickest to betray. It’s where low lifes live the high life and where the very ruthlessness that takes you to the top will ultimately be your downfall. It’s the flip side of the American dream.

So why doesn’t Hollywood make these movies anymore? You think people aren’t interested in them? Fuggedaboutit. It’s true that many mob movies share the same themes and perhaps the common thinking is that there are no more stories to tell. Maybe mob movies just can’t survive when going to the mattresses against blockbuster genres like comic book movies. But it’s all about how creative you can get in telling the stories. Unfortunately, studios appear to have given up trying with just a few gangster flicks such as “Gangster Squad” and “American Gangster” hitting the screens in recent years.

Some of the most memorable films in history are mob films, yet when it comes to creating more of these classics, Hollywood seems to be sleeping with the fishes. But I say there’s still an audience for these films, and I always tell the truth. Even when I lie.

Here are my Top 5 gangster films:

#5 – “Donnie Brasco” (1997)

Whenever I see Johnny Depp and Al Pacino hamming it up with yet another flamboyant, over-the-top performance, I always think about “Donnie Brasco,” a powerful look into the mob lifestyle through the eyes of an undercover FBI agent. Depp and Pacino both deliver subtle, yet powerful, performances that rank among the best in both of their careers.

#4 – “Infernal Affairs” (2002)

You think Oscar-winning “The Departed” is great? Go watch “Infernal Affairs,” the Hong Kong gangster flick it’s based on. With an all-star cast, including Andy Lau, Tony Leung and Anthony Wong, this film tops its American counterpart on all levels and that’s saying a lot.

#3 – “The Godfather” series (1972, 1974, 1990)

You could spend all day quoting these classic films. Director Francis Ford Coppola’s trilogy romanticizes the gangster life like no other, and no true film fan can ignore the immeasurable influence of these films. And who can forget the perfection of this scene from Part I?

#2 – “Scarface” (1983)

There’s so much love for this film because Tony Montana represents the American dream. Well, a really illegal version of it anyway. “Scarface” is the ultimate cautionary tale, yet I’m on board with the hip-hop community who made Tony Montana their idol for the last few decades. Never mind his grisly demise. We all remember Tony Montana for how he lived. Because the only thing in this world that gives orders… is balls. You got that?

#1 – “Goodfellas” (1990)

Director Martin Scorsese is the best when it comes to making gangster movies. He’s given audiences classic films such as “Casino,” “Mean Streets” and “The Departed,” but “Goodfellas” is his best film by far. Based on the true life of gangster Henry Hill, “Goodfellas” takes the audience on a tour of gangster life through Henry’s eyes and ears. The film is just flawless and demands repeat viewings just to appreciate the storytelling and craft. One of the best films ever.

My must-see TV this fall

The Fall TV season is (almost) in full swing, and there are many new shows hoping to draw your prime-time viewership. Here are reviews of the series and season premieres I’m planning to schedule some sit-on-my-butt-while-I-snack-and-drink time for.

Mondays

gotham“Gotham” FOX 7 p.m.

“Gotham” takes place in the Batman universe and is FOX’s best hope for a much-needed prime-time hit. The only problem is, there’s no Batman. Bruce Wayne is still a child in “Gotham.” Instead, the show focuses on a young Jim Gordon and a seedy underworld of characters who will later become part of Batman’s rogues’s gallery. In the pilot, the audience is introduced to a young Catwoman, Poison Ivy, Penguin and Riddler. However, FOX is so desperate to remind you that the show is tied to the Batman lore that the introductions were hammer-you-over-the-head obvious.

I think viewers would have had more fun with the episode had it taken a subtler approach. Just hint at who these characters are; don’t shout them out. Still, I like the noirish atmosphere and will keep watching for now. Just take it easy on all the Batman stuff.

“The Big Bang Theory” CBS 7 p.m.

I hate Penny’s new hair. That is all.

Tuesdays

flash“The Flash” The CW 7 p.m.

I actually waited to write this Fall TV preview so I could review “The Flash,” which premiered this week, and I’m glad I did. This was one of the most enjoyable premieres I’ve seen in a while. It has a light, humorous tone with some pretty cool special effects, and so far, all the actors are likable. I’m not that familiar with the Flash comic book universe, so I eagerly look forward to learning about the cast of characters and villains this season.

“Selfie” ABC 7 p.m.

It’s pretty rare to see an Asian-American lead on a TV show, so of course I had to check this one out. A modern-day remake of the classic tale “Pygmalion” and “My Fair Lady,” John Cho plays Henry Higgs, a marketing manager who takes on the task of rebranding Eliza (Karen Gillan), a woman so obsessed with social media and how many “likes” she can get that she fails at anyone liking her in real life. Sound familiar to anyone? There’s good chemistry between the two leads and even a little romantic touch. I’ll be tuning in.

Wednesdays

goldbergs“The Goldbergs” ABC 7:30 p.m.

Now in its second season, “The Goldbergs” remains one of my favorite TV shows. It’s set during the ’80s (the best decade EVER), but it’s more than about just making pop culture references from that time. It’s more of a family show filled with fully flushed out characters, the most memorable being the overbearing mother Beverly, played by Wendi McLendon-Covey. Only two episodes in, Season 2 has already centered around mix tapes, roller skating and Ron Hextall’s famous hockey goal. This is must-watch TV.

“Black-ish” ABC 8:30 p.m.

“Black-ish” centers on a middle class black family so acclimated to white suburbia that they’ve forgotten how to be black. I’m really not sure who this show is for. The jokes primarily come from black people trying to act more “black,” but I don’t feel black audiences will find it funny, and it appears to merely promote the stereotypes white people already have of black people. The irony is that there’s a scene in the pilot where a black man is promoted to join an all-white management team, only to find out he’s the new VP of the new “urban” department. I feel like that’s exactly what went down in the ABC executive suite when they greenlit this show. I’ll pass.

Thursdays

“The Biggest Loser” NBC 7 p.m.

Another season of fatties getting fit. Someday, I hope to become one myself. Until then, I’ll just root for them on TV as I munch on some chips.

atoz“A to Z” NBC 8:30 p.m.

This is the story of how (A)ndrew met (Z)elda and how they fell in love. Aw, isn’t that sweet? The fact is, “A to Z” is a very saccharine romantic comedy, but I like it. The two leads are charismatic and cute and have good chemistry. This show is perfect for all of those who believe in destiny, love and serendipity. Clutch on to your significant others (or the nearest throw pillow) and prepare to say things like “Aww…” for 30 minutes every week.

Fridays 

tar“The Amazing Race” CBS 7 p.m.

Now in its 25th season, “The Amazing Race” remains one of my favorite TV shows. Eleven teams of two race around the world for a $1 million prize. This season is especially interesting due to the high number of minority racers. I was rooting for Dennis and Isabelle (the Cambodian/Vietnamese couple), but they’ve already been eliminated, so now I’ll be cheering on the un-ambiguously gay duo of Tim and Te Jay.

Saturdays and Sundays

Spend time with your families and friends. Stay off the boob tube. Or just watch football all day. Either works.

HIFF 2014: The lineup

59797Fall is right around the corner, and for me, that means football, festivities and best of all, films. I always look forward to the Hawaii International Film Festival, and once again, HIFF, which runs from Oct. 30 to Nov. 9 on Oahu and Nov. 13-16 on Hawaii Island and Kauai, has a great lineup. Here are the movies on my list to catch. For the full HIFF lineup, visit HIFF.org

Check out the big nights

HIFF always saves the best films for the big nights, and I’m especially interested in this year’s opening night film, “The Vancouver Asahi” and the centerpiece film, “The Imitation Game,” both which take place during World War II. “The Vancouver Asahi” is a true story about a Japanese immigrant baseball team playing in Vancouver, who have to deal with the fallout from Pearl Harbor. “The Imitation Game” is also based on a true story, centering on World War II hero Alan Turing, who helped the Allies win the war with his code-breaking skills. This one could be a major player when it comes to award season.

“The Vancouver Asahi”
Thursday, Oct. 30 at 8 p.m., Consolidated Ward (Buy tickets)

“The Imitation Game”
Wednesday, Nov. 5 at 8 p.m., Dole Cannery (Buy tickets)
Sunday, Nov. 9 at 5 p.m., Dole Cannery (Buy tickets)

Look to the Land of the Rising Sun

Japan always fields a strong variety of films at HIFF, and this year’s selection appears especially intriguing. Along with “The Vancouver Asashi,” I’m eager to catch, “Little Forest: Summer & Autumn” and “Samurai Pirates.” “Little Forest: Summer & Autumn” looks like it will be another addition to a strong year for foodie films, while “Samurai Pirates” is about a group of kids who embark on a treasure quest to save their town. Sound familiar? Yup, it looks exactly like a Japanese version of “The Goonies.” That’s good enough for me.

“Little Forest: Summer & Autumn”
Saturday, Nov. 1 at 2 p.m., Dole Cannery (Buy tickets)
Sunday, Nov. 2 at 12:30 p.m., Dole Cannery (Buy tickets)

“Samurai Pirates”
Sunday, Nov. 9 at 12 p.m., Dole Cannery (Buy tickets)

Korean films = Kleenex

Korean films typically tug at heartstrings and make you reach for the tissues. Koreans are known for their passion, and it’s well on display in their films. “My Brilliant Life” delves into the life of two young parents of a boy with a rare disease that makes him age prematurely. Starring popular pretty people Kang Dong Won and Song Hye Gyo, make sure to get your tickets to this one early. I’m a huge fan of filmmaker Jang Jin, so I’m also looking forward to “We Are Brothers,” which looks like it features his typical quirky combination of humor and heart.

“My Brilliant Life”
Thursday, Oct. 30 at 8:30 p.m., Dole Cannery (Buy tickets)
Saturday, Nov. 1 at 12 p.m., Dole Cannery (Buy tickets)
Saturday, Nov. 8 at 8:30 p.m., Koko Marina (Buy tickets)

“We are Brothers”
Tuesday, Nov. 4 at 5:30 p.m., Dole Cannery (Buy tickets)
Sunday, Nov. 9 at 2 p.m., Dole Cannery (Buy tickets)

Get Real

I’m not the biggest fan of documentaries, but HIFF continually presents a strong documentary lineup that’s hard to resist. If you’re a fan of high school films like I am, then you’ll love, “Beyond Clueless,” which breaks down Hollywood’s history of coming-of-age films. Also, as a recreational volleyball player, I’m eager to watch the award-winning, “9-Man.”

“Beyond Clueless”
Wednesday, Nov. 5 at 5:45 p.m., Dole Cannery (Buy tickets)

“9-Man”
Saturday, Nov. 1 at 5:30 p.m., Dole Cannery (Buy tickets)
Wednesday, Nov. 5 at 5:45 p.m., Dole Cannery (Buy tickets)

 

Movies I Miss: Buddy cop films

Today’s Hollywood is all about franchise films, comic book heroes, sequels and reboots. They’re fun to watch, but I miss the variety of films that I grew up watching. “Movies I Miss” will be blog series where I reminisce about the film genres that Hollywood has apparently forgotten.

Buddy Cop Films

Buddy cop films have launched some very impressive careers, including those of Eddie Murphy, Mel Gibson and Will Smith. The formula is simple, yet effective. Take two guys with clashing personalities who have to work together to solve a case. It usually works better if one is an ethnic minority, even more awesome if they both are. Throw in some high adrenaline action along with some hilarious one-liners and you have yourself a great buddy cop film. So why has Hollywood stopped making them?

There have been a few attempts to revive the genre in recent years, but those films including the “21 Jump Street” series and “Hot Fuzz” are more satirical than reverent. I don’t want Hollywood to poke fun at movies that I grew up with and love. Instead, I want Hollywood to make more of them. But until they do, I will always go back to my favorites.

Here are my Top 5 buddy cop films:

#5 – “Showdown in Little Tokyo” (1991)

This one may be a surprise pick, but I fell in love with this film the first time I popped it in my VHS. I was a huge fan of Bruce Lee and that fandom then shifted to his son Brandon with this film. His smooth and charismatic performance was a great balance to the stiff and hulking Dolph Lundgren. Plus, it has one of the strangest lines of dialogue ever as shown in the video below. I guess Dolph’s wife is one lucky lady.

#4 – “The Last Boy Scout” (1991)

To say writer and director Shane Black knows a bit about buddy cop films would be a grand understatement. The creative force behind “Lethal Weapon” and “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” (which just missed getting on this list) also wrote my #4 film, “The Last Boy Scout,” the most smartly written buddy cop film ever. I remember watching this movie in the theater as a college freshman and I was wowed from the opening scene where Mr. Taebo Billy Blanks literally shot down the defense in a football game. I knew from that point that it was going to be one hell of a movie and it was.

#3 – “Lethal Weapon” series (1987, 1989, 1992 and 1998)

“I’m getting too old for this s—.” Danny Glover may be an aging detective in the “Lethal Weapon” series, but these films will never get old. We see the relationship between Murtaugh (Glover) and Riggs (Mel Gibson) evolve with each film, but it all feels natural due to their great chemistry. Plus, the series introduces great supporting characters played by Joe Pesci, Rene Russo and Chris Rock to keep each film fresh. My favorite of the four? “Lethal Weapon 2” because it had the best story and the hottest female lead. Plus, it ends with one of the greatest kill lines – “Diplomatic immunity….has just been revoked!”

#2 – “Rush Hour” series (1998, 2001, 2007)

Jackie Chan provided the fists and Chris Tucker gave us the funny, and it was magic. The chemistry between the two was genuine and it came alive on screen. Chan is known for his crazy stunts and martial artistry, but he’s a genius physical comedian as well. Combine that with Tucker’s high-pitched verbal barrage of jokes and you have the perfect combo of East meets West.

#1 – “Bad Boys” series (1995, 2003)

Will Smith. Martin Lawrence. Michael Bay. That’s your holy triumvirate of buddy cop films. Smith and Lawrence were known more for their comedy before “Bad Boys,” but Bay turned them into legit action stars. The film became a success and launched all three of their careers into stardom. So when they reunited for the sequel, their huge reputations came along with a huge budget and that turned into some of the most spectacular action sequences ever including the scene below. Please bring on “Bad Boys 3.” Pretty please.

So what are your favorite buddy cop films?

Vegas Vacation: The hotel and shows

I had not gone on vacation for two years and was itching for some fun, so where did I decide to go? Vegas, baby! I’ve been to Sin City about a dozen times, but Vegas is constantly evolving, so each time I go I strive to seek out new experiences, while also finding time to revisit favorite places. Here are some highlights from my recent trip.

The hotel

I typically stay at a different hotel every time I visit Vegas, but I think I’ve found my new home. My girlfriend and I had the most pleasant stay at the Aria Resort and Casino — so much so that I can’t wait to go back. The entire experience from check-in to check-out was amazing. The hotel is only about five years old, so it’s at the forefront when it comes to modern design. Each room comes with a touch pad that enables you to control the curtains, TV, lights, temperature and more, all from the comfort of the bed. And speaking of comfortable beds, sleeping there was like sleeping on a cloud. I was able to get some much needed rest and slept for about seven hours each night, something I never do in Vegas. The casino also has a really comfortable vibe with dealers who are friendly and approachable, unlike the robotic dealers you’ll find at other Strip hotels. The Aria is all about comfort and customer service.

SONY DSCOh, and I have to tell you about the spa. For just $30, you can purchase an all-day pass to their spa, and you don’t even have to be a guest in the hotel to take advantage of this great deal. You can take a relaxing dip in one of three hot tubs or spend some time in their sauna or eucalyptus steam room, both of which are about about as big as my apartment. Seriously. After experiencing the hot, you can cool off in their ice pool or in their therapy infinity pool. There’s also a shio salt room where the walls are made of salt bricks, or you can take a quick nap on a Japanese heated stone bed to revitalize you for another exciting evening out on the town. The entire spa experience is quite memorable and a great way to relax away a few hours. In a town full of great deals, this one is one of the best.

I also love that the Aria is a LEED Gold Certified property. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and the hotel’s LEED Gold Certification means that it’s designed to be a high-performance green building. The LEED design aspects may not be obvious, but elements such as lots of natural light, water conservation technology, innovative air conditioning systems and “smart” hotel rooms all contribute to its sustainability. In a town known for its excess, it’s comforting to know that hotels like Aria are doing what they can to minimize their impact on the environment.

Aria Hotel and Resort

Picture 1 of 11

The hotel is designed so that every room has a corner view.

 

The shows

Day 1 - 22a“Michael Jackson One” — I’ve now seen about a dozen shows in Vegas, and “Michael Jackson One” is easily my new favorite. “One” has all of the crazy acrobatics expected out of a Cirque du Soleil show, but when combined with all of the King of Pop’s hit songs, it makes for a show full of nonstop energy, creativity and fun. “One” will have you dancing in your seat while dropping your jaw in amazement, and you don’t even have to be a hard core fan of MJ to enjoy it.

“O” – Um…wasn’t this supposed to be one of the best shows in Vegas? This Cirque du Soleil show may have been amazing when it first premiered about 15 years ago, but it now feels pretty outdated. The stage is the most amazing feature of the show, but other than that engineering marvel, the rest of the show felt like a glorified synchronized swimming and diving performance. I don’t even watch those sports for free during the Olympics, so you can imagine my disappointment at paying $150 a ticket for this show. “O” lacks energy and is just boring. I enjoyed “Ka” and “Mystere” much more than “O.”

“Absinthe” – I enjoy this show so much I saw it for a second time during this trip. Those who know me know that I’m a fan of raunch, so “Absinthe” is right up my alley. Part variety act and part comedy show, “Absinthe” will entertain you with amazing acrobatics and strength acts one minute, then have you spitting your drink up with laughter the next. The variety acts themselves are breathtaking but pretty tame, just bordering on Rated R provocativeness. It’s the humor that will ruffle the feathers of those who like to be politically correct. Gays, Republicans, Asians — no one is safe from being poked fun at during the show. If that’s a little too hard core for you, may I suggest watching “Panda!” at the Palazzo. Me? I always appreciated a few F-bombs with my humor.

In my next post, I’ll blog about the food.