They Live


Viewed – 05 November 2016  Blu-ray

Director John Carpenter has certainly flirted with making a B-movie, the type that was all the rage in the fifties and sixties, like the infamous Plan 9 From Outer Space etc.  Yet his skill behind the camera, his usually great casting choices and more often than not solid story-telling gave his movie’s somewhat higher standing amongst his imitators and predecessors.  However in 1987, he finally did it … for better or worse.

They Live

This stars ex-wrestler ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper as a drifter who wonders into town in search of an honest days work for an honest days pay.  However it’s not long before he discovers something strange going on with the people and city around him … and the discovery of a pair of sunglasses opens his eyes to what appears to have been a secret alien take over of mankind.  Does he just stand by and accept it, or does he do something about it?  What do you think?

Roddy PiperThe concept here is a good one and it’s commentary on consumerism and media obsession and government corruption is clever, but the surrounding movie is anything but.  First off it stumbles with Roddy Piper – who I might add spends the first half of the movie wondering around and staring at things, expressionless.  This translates into an equally vacant performance even when the shit hits the fan and he has to get all Rambo.  He may look the part, what with his mullet and beefcake build, but he can’t deliver lines for toffee … even the now iconic ‘I came here to kick-ass and chew bubble-gum’ is delivered totally flat like he doesn’t even care if anyone is listening.  Add to this co-stars who are equally a mixed bag.  Genre stalwart Keith David is ok, but Meg Foster is utterly wooden to the point I was wondering if she was being like that intentionally.  Of course none of this would matter all that much if Carpenter was on form, but here his direction lacks atmosphere or tension and just doesn’t bring much to the show apart from the occasionally well filmed punch up or shoot-out.  I liked the quirky nature of this though despite it’s myriad of shortcomings and loved the idea, and well it certainly had a nutty charm.  Just not enough going for it to be one I’ll be rushing back to any time soon.

The Blu-ray thankfully is a lot more worthwhile, from a Carpenter and film-fanatic stand point than the movie itself.  We get the always entertaining Carpenter doing commentary duties alongside Piper, as well as new interviews with the director and cast.  There’s also archive TV spots and an old documentary exploring the making-of.  The movie itself is in great shape with a decent image quality that whilst generally a bit soft has some acceptable detail and strong colours.  The soundtrack is available in stereo DTS HD Master Audio but dialogue is crisp and Carpenter’s usual synth theme is well utilised if somewhat forgettable.  Overall rather undeserving treatment for such an average movie, but as a fan of the director I’ll be exploring this stuff regardless.

Verdict:

(the movie)  2.5 /5

(the Blu-ray)  3.5 /5

Christine


For me director John Carpenter has been one of the greatest genre film makers probably since Roger Corman, and through the late seventies to late eighties had a streak of classic movie after classic movie.  Who can argue with his pedigree when he’s made such entries as Halloween, The Thing and Big Trouble In Little China?  The fact he also composes all the music for his movies as well just shows a dedication to his craft.

Christine

This 1983 effort may not get the same kind of love as the aforementioned titles but still has a status as once again another decent, if rather low-rent adaptation of a Stephen King novel.  The quirky tale of a high school nerd, Arnie (Keith Gordon) who stumbles upon a 1957 Plymouth Fury in an old man’s back yard and decides to buy it and restore it to it’s former glory.  Said shiny red car named Christine, of course soon changes Arnie’s persona from the nerdy victim to a somewhat cooler kid about town, attracting not only the hot girl in school but also the attention of a group of bullies.  The only thing is, Christine has a bit of a mind of her own and quickly get’s protective of Arnie and jealous of anyone who tries to take him away.

Alexandra PaulOf course it’s a bit dated and the acting is passable at best, and well, everyone (especially the bullies) looks way too old to be in high school.  That being said as a master of the genre, Carpenter still fills the movie with assured direction, solid atmosphere and some effective moments (the attack on the gas station, the final showdown). The mixture of Carpenter’s own synth soundtrack and 50’s rock ‘n’ roll songs also works a treat.  I’d have liked it to have got a bit more violent as the kills are tame as hell … even for the time this was made.  The plot also jumps from one thing to another with this viewer not really getting that invested in Arnie’s descent into madness, and well Harry Dean Stanton’s detective just seems to wonder into the movie like he’s walked onto the wrong set.  But for an old-school horror, this was fun, inoffensive stuff and I’m glad I’ve finally seen it.

The Blu-ray from Indicator comes with a detailed booklet that covers not only the movie but also the director’s influences throughout his career.  What looks to be a new documentary is also on the disk, split over several parts with interviews with John Carpenter as well as several cast members, as is an audio commentary from Carpenter and lead actor Keith Gordon.  Add to this a handful of deleted scenes, a photo gallery and an isolated score.  The image quality whilst not amazing pops with Christine’s bright red paint work and overall is very pleasing.  We also get the soundtrack in a choice of the original 2.0 or a more than welcome 5.1 even if surrounds aren’t really used.  Top notch treatment then for a worthwhile, but not exactly essential entry in both Stephen King movie adaptations and Carpenter’s filmography.

Verdict:

(the movie)  3 /5

(the Blu-ray)  4 /5

10 directors who have shaped my movie viewing tastes


Inspired by a recent post over at abbiobiston.com, I thought I’d sit down and list ten movie directors I either seek out without hesitation, or have made some of the most affecting and inspiring movies I’ve ever seen, shaping what kind of movie viewer I am today and creating experiences that have transcended basic entertainment to actually mean something to me as a person.

Quentin Tarantino

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As a reviewer, occasional-writer and movie fan, Quentin Tarantino ignited a spark inside me that has yet to go out.  When first seeing Pulp Fiction, I knew this was the sort of material I wanted to write about, and this continued with his script for Natural Born Killers and also his debut, Reservoir Dogs.  He was a rebel, he challenged people’s ideas of what violence was all about on screen, not there for just shock value but to make you feel something.  He managed to back this up with amazing dialogue writing skills and a keen eye for pop-culture and cinema history that has continued to this day.

David Cronenberg

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Horror for me was never just about hiding behind my cushion and trembling – horror for me was about the strange and surreal, the gruesome but in a way that made you ponder what it meant.  Croneberg has always been a master of this, of using body-horror to make you feel something you’ve never felt before, backed up by intelligent direction that more often than not has a lot of social commentary of the times we live in i.e. sexually transmitted infections with Shivers.  He has continued to shape his often controversial style into the modem gangster and crime genres to brilliant effect in movies like Eastern Promises.

Stephen Spielberg

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Probably the most famous director of all time who seems to barely put a foot wrong and can turn his hand to a wealth of different genres and subjects, from the industry defining Jaws and Jurassic Park to powerful masterpieces like Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List.  Assured, confident and always entertaining and thought-provoking, this maverick director continues to be a name to bet on even after almost 40 years in the business.  As long as we don’t mention the most recent Indiana Jones movie, Spielberg remains one of those names every movie fan will know and surely appreciate to some degree.

John Carpenter

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Fallen from grace he may be, but during the seventies and eighties, this guy made some of the coolest and most sort after movies I’d ever seen.  Who can argue the merits of Halloween, The Thing and Big Trouble In Little China?  Although I can’t say I totally appreciate Escape From New York as much as others, I have a soft spot for lesser known efforts like Prince Of Darkness and In The Mouth Of Madness.  This guy knew how to create perfectly entertaining genre movies and although he hasn’t made much of note for years, that’s a hell of a back catalogue of classics.

David Fincher

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Although I think he’s become a bit relaxed in recent years, churning out fairly ‘safe’ movies, for the most part Fincher has still created some of the most stylish and intricately directed movies I’ve seen, namely the multi layered classics Fight Club, Seven and even Zodiac.  His directing style is crisp and beautiful even when it’s dealing with very dark subject matter, and his camera work and imagery have stayed with me long after the credits have rolled.  He’s a technical directing fan’s dream director, as for me I can appreciate every aspect of the setting, the camera work to the music and lighting.  Helps he can also pull out great performances from the likes of Brad Pitt and Jake Gyllenhaal to name but a few.

Stanley Kubrick

stanley kubrick

With a fairly small catalogue of movies, this director like no other has made some of the masterpieces of my lifetime.  The Shining is still the best horror movie I’ve ever seen and probably the most perfectly directed, on a technical level movie I’ve seen also.  His strong visual skill at making every shot and every camera movement look so well executed has made movies even of lesser impact like Eyes Wide Shut a work of art.  He proved again and again that careful eye for detail, iconic performances can turn even a well worn subject like the Vietnam war into amazing cinema.  I haven’t seen everything he’s done, but of the movies I have, he keeps on amazing me, and is possibly the best director on this list.

Dario Argento

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Perhaps at his best during the seventies and eighties, but this often controversial director has gained a strong cult following over the years and remains one of the most stylish and genre-defining film-makers around.  At his best he can make gruesome murder look beautiful, and his frequent collaborations with the band Goblin and musician Claudio Simonetti has helped create a brand of effective Italian cinema that still stands the test of time.  Try watching Suspiria or Tenebrae without marvelling at the camera work, atmosphere or use of lighting and music.  Argento will always be the maestro when it comes to horror, even if his light has considerably faded over the years.

Martin Scorsese

scorsese

The Don.  How does this guy keep doing it?  To this day Scorsese still manages to amaze and impress.  He has crafted true classics such as Taxi Driver and Goodfellas and still manages to churn out quality movies like Shutter Island and The Wolf Of Wall Street.  It’s always exciting when I hear he’s making another movie and even diversions like Hugo retain that Scorsese eye for style and cinematic creativity I’ve grown to love about him.  He has a tendency to work with the same actors but also manages to bring out wildly different performances from them, that give each movie their own voice.  One of the best film makers of all time in my opinion.

Joel & Ethan Coen

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In recent years their brand of southern comedy and thrillers has felt a tad hit and miss, but when these sibling directors are on form, they can make some of the best movies you’ll ever see.  Comedies like The Big Lebowski and Raising Arizona offer up laughs as well as style and assured direction along with iconic performances, and thrillers like Fargo and No Country For Old Men prove they can deliver tight, well executed stories that pack a punch.  They continue to be favourites at Oscar season and amongst a huge cult audience, and with a strong visual style and often award winning performances, their movies are hard to dismiss.

Park chan-Wook

chan-wook

Another director who can explore very dark themes but make them beautiful with imaginative camera work, scene setting and particularly artistic shots.  His American debut Stoker is a perfect example of strong story, strong performances and beautiful, almost poetic direction.  His vengeance trilogy that incudes the cult classic Old Boy is powerful, gut-wrenching but extremely moving and artistic, blending classical music with striking story-telling and stunning cinematography.  Park chan-Wook’s the real deal if you can appreciate quality direction with a signature touch.

Big Trouble In Little China


Viewed – 04 April 2015  Blu-ray

I remember this being one of my favourite movies when growing up.  I watched it on VHS and subsequently on TV and picked it up on DVD, so naturally I was going to get the Blu-ray when it came out.  Telling the story of wise-cracking truck driver Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) who during a stop off at San Francisco China Town re-acquaints himself with old friend Wang (Dennis Dun).  Wang informs Jack that he’s meeting his new girlfriend at the airport.  However on going to collect her the duo witness a kidnapping and soon, along with the help of plucky reporter Gracie Law (Kim Cattrall – Mannequin, Sex & The City) head into the Chinese underworld on a rescue mission.

big-trouble-little-china3

This is an immediately fun, fast paced, albeit very 80’s experience.  Kurt Russell is on fine form; a little more bumbling than some of his other roles but it works a charm as the fish out of water in a whole heap of trouble.  Dunn, the actor who really should have become a bigger name than he did pretty much steals it though and Catrall is particularly beautiful, spunky and proves great support.  Directed by John Carpenter (Halloween, The Thing) this genre entry overflows with ideas, is a love letter to Hong Kong action movies with heavy influence from Shaw Brothers Kung Fu and more mystical fair like Tsui Hark’s Zu: Warriors Of The Magic Mountain, and it’s clear everyone involved must have had a ball making it.  Add to this Carpenter’s excellent guitar-synth score and well, this is a movie that just bleeds fun.

It’s all very cheesy, the dialogue and some of the jokes are as corny as it gets and some of the action in my opinion could have been shot better – and well, the pace is exhausting, where I was wishing the breaks were applied occasionally.  Yet with a great villain (genre favourite James Hong – Blade Runner, Wayne’s World 2) and some still great looking effects work … I got a kick out of watching this again.

The Blu-ray from Arrow Video is once again an above average treatment for a classic movie.  Detail on a whole is high even if the slightly smudgy look of the era is retained.  Faces and sets all display a depth with decent shadow detail and good clarity.  The re-mastered DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack may not make much use of the surrounds but the bass-heavy score is effectively delivered and dialogue is crisp throughout.  Extras-wise we get a pretty exhaustive selection with several interviews from cast and crew as well as a vintage featurette, music video, galleries, an extended ending and a feature-length commentary.  Add to this Arrow’s inclusion of a detailed booklet written by John Kenneth Muir, and this rounds off an impressive treatment for a still very enjoyable movie.

Verdict:

(the movie) 3.5 /5

(the Blu-ray) 5 /5

Good Movie Remakes


Generally movie remakes have a bad name despite Hollywood’s insistence on making them.  However in my experience there are a few that while not always improving on the original, at least do a good enough job to be worth seeing, without insulting the memory of a classic.  Find below a few I personally have enjoyed.

Little Shop Of Horrors

littleshopofhorrors

Although not familiar with the Roger Corman original, this Steve Martin, Rick Moranis, John Candy starring musical is a riot … very memorable tunes and great practical effects.  I really need to watch this again… soon!

Evil Dead

evildead

Was really expecting this to just not get what made the original so good – but it ramped up the gore and violence to epic proportions, had a great cast and was scary … maybe not as tongue-in-cheek as the series is famous for, but still felt like an Evil Dead movie.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

texaschainsawmassacre

Am I alone in thinking this version rocks?  Tons of gore (which the original lacked, even though I know that wasn’t the entire point) a perfectly mad performance by R. Lee Ermey and a twenty something bunch of ‘victims’ you don’t immediately hate.

Miracle On 34th Street

miracle

Charming with a great performance by Richard Attenborough.  A star making turn by the where is she now Mara Wilson (see also Mathilda).  Haven’t seen original but this was a perfect Christmas treat.

Heat

heat

Am I cheating by including this?  A deserved genre classic with a (possible) career best from both Pacino and DeNiro, and yes it’s a remake of TV movie L.A. Takedown.

The Assassin (aka Point of No Return)

theassassin

Perhaps sacrilege to remake Luc Besson’s La Femme Nikita, and another I think I’m alone in loving.  I had a major crush on Bridget Fonda in this… but its a competent thriller with several decent performances, including a cameo by Harvey Keitel that’s worth seeing!

Piranha 3D

piranha3d

Breasts and naked skinny-dipping porn stars aside, this has gore by the bucket and a fast energetic pace that makes for one of the most fun horror movies in a long while.  Director Alexandre Aja cements his reputation as the go to guy for horror remakes!  (see also: The Hills Have Eyes).

Scarface

Scarface

Easy one this.  Not seen the original but with a powerhouse performance by Al Pacino and that line ‘say hello to my little fiend’ this took a basic blue print and seriously went to town with it!

The Thing

thething

This shouldn’t have worked, but with a strong lead by the mouth-watering Mary Elizabeth Winstead  and half decent and freaky CGI, as well as all the atmosphere the original had (ok this is technically a prequel…but it still counts…I think), this really surprised me.

I am starting to think that although they get the worst press, horror remakes have got it right a fair few times going by the list above.  That’s just my opinion though and you may differ.  So what would your choices be?