RISEN (2016) Doesn’t Rise Up

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I have to admit, I was intrigued to see RISEN because it was poised to tell a story not often told in the movies.  Most movies about Jesus focus on his life and ministry.  Few tell the story about what happened immediately after he died.

RISEN tells this story from the point of view of a Roman soldier given the task of locating Jesus’ dead body to prove to his followers that he in fact did not rise from the dead.  This part of the movie works well and plays like a period piece drama/mystery, but then writer/director Kevin Reynolds takes the easy way out during the movie’s second half, telling a story of conversion that plays like a Sunday school sermon rather than the continuation of the impressive drama which came before it.

As such, RISEN plays like two separate movies:  a gritty detective story during its first half, and an everybody-sing-“Kumbaya” tale during its second.

Needless to say, I enjoyed the first half of this movie much more than the second half.

Clavius (Joseph Fiennes), the Roman Military Tribune, is ordered by Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth) to oversee the crucifixion of a man charged with being a Messiah.  Pilate fears him because he’s concerned about revolution, but he also intimates to Clavius that there was something different about this man—.

Clavius is present when this man, Yeshua (Cliff Curtis) dies on the cross. Later, when Pilate is pressed by the Jewish high priests to make sure no one sneaks into the tomb to steal Yeshua’s body and make it seem like he rose from the dead, he orders Clavius to post guards.  Unfortunately for them, the guards get drunk, and when they awaken, Yeshua’s body is gone.

Disgraced and under intense pressure by Pilate, Clavius makes it his personal mission to find Yeshua’s body in order to prove that the man has not risen from the grave.  Clavius decides that if he can locate Yeshua’s followers, then he can find the body, and thus the manhunt begins.

And it continues until Clavius finally locates the apostles, bursts in upon them, and finds Yeshua sitting there among them.  At this point, everything changes for Clavius.

Everything changes for the audience as well.

The first half of RISEN is interesting, fresh, and all rather compelling. Joseph Fiennes is excellent as Clavius.  He’s the perfect doubter, the perfect soldier for the job.  If anyone there can get to the bottom of the mystery and locate the missing body, it’s Clavius.  Nearly all of Fiennes’ scenes during the first half of the movie are enjoyable to watch.

And he receives fine support from Peter Firth as Pontius Pilate and Tom Felton as his understudy and protege Lucius.  I also enjoyed Maria Botto as Mary Magdalene.

There’s an authenticity to the first half of RISEN that is refreshing and sharp.

But once Clavius discovers Yeshua, the authenticity takes a back seat to Sunday school sermons, and that’s because writer/director Kevin Reynolds simply plows forward with the resurrection story and Clavius’ subsequent conversion without much effort in making either one of them all that believable.

Sure, I understand that for Christians the world over the story of Jesus’ resurrection is already believed, and for moviegoers who don’t believe the story of a man who claimed to be God’s son and rose from the dead is a pretty hard sell.  But this doesn’t matter because for any movie to work it must be believable.  Now, since the second half of this story is indeed a “hard sell” you’d expect an even greater effort to make it seem real, but little if any thought seems to have gone into telling this part of the story with the mindset that it best be believable.

When Clavius sees Yeshua alive, I want to see it questioned.  I want to see Clavius resist and refuse to believe at first, which would be consistent with his character.  I don’t want to see smiling apostles and lighthearted conversations and Clavius becoming a willing participant so easily he doesn’t even worry about his position as Roman Tribune.  I want blood and sweat and angst, not warm grins and pats on the back.  I don’t think that’s how it all went down.  It comes off as way too neat and tidy.

Likewise, in scenes where Yeshua sits with his apostles after rising from the dead, and then instantaneously disappears like a magician, I found this phony.  It’s just not the way the things work in this world of ours, and whenever any movie equates religion and spirituality with magic it raises a red flag for me.  It also calls to mind movie-making laziness.

I’m not questioning the events told in the movie.  I’m taking issue with the way they were presented.  Something tells me that when Yeshua was with his apostles, and then he wasn’t, that it didn’t happen in a way that he disappeared into thin air, and I expected the movie to make more of an effort to make me believe that this really happened.  Show me a real world way that a man is with you one moment and gone the next.  He could have at least stepped into another room or into the shadows.  But to be there one moment and then poof!  He’s gone!  That simply is not worthy of this story.

Also the apostles are depicted as being incredibly happy folks.  Now, sure, their leader, Yeshua, has actually risen from the dead, so I understand that of course they’re excited.  But these were dangerous times for the apostles- their lives were in danger, mortal danger, and I found their happy-go-lucky attitude way too syrupy sweet and fake for my liking. They should have been scared, in spite of Yeshua’s resurrection.

One of my favorite versions of the story of Jesus is Franco Zeffirelli’s JESUS OF NAZARETH (1977), and what I liked most about that version is it made the story believable.  Watch that movie and you get the feeling that yeah, this is how it all happened.  I believe this.

Such is not the case with RISEN.  Nothing in the movie made me believe that Yeshua had risen from the grave.  Yeshua was played by Cliff Curtis, who currently plays Travis on FEAR THE WALKING DEAD, and he’s not bad.  Again, his interpretation of the role is a lot like the second half of the movie- happy and upbeat.

I also didn’t completely buy Clavius’ conversion story.  He is such a strong character early on.  I expected his conversion to be more of an ordeal, more dramatic.  Instead, it just sort of happens.  There should have been more angst, more questioning, to make the conversion all the more satisfying.

Writer/director Kevin Reynolds directed the Kevin Costner films WATERWORLD (1995) and ROBIN HOOD:  PRINCE OF THIEVES (1991) way back when.  I remember when ROBIN HOOD:  PRINCE OF THIEVES first came out in theaters it was royally slammed by critics for not being historically accurate or authentic.

Hmm.  All these years later and Reynolds seems to have run into the same problem with RISEN.  So much for learning from one’s mistakes.  RISEN has a lot in common with ROBIN HOOD in terms of tone, although I would argue that the first half of RISEN is better than all of ROBIN HOOD.

Reynolds co-wrote the screenplay with Paul Aiello, who is also credited with the story.  Hmm.  I didn’t know Aiello wrote the Bible!

RISEN is a mixed bag.  After a promising start and a first half that is very good, the film falters and never quite rises to the occasion.

 

 

 

 

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DEADPOOL (2016) A Game-Changer for Ryan Reynolds

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You’re gonna to want to see this movie.

It only takes one hit movie to turn a career around, and DEADPOOL (2016) the R rated superhero movie by Marvel may have done just that for star Ryan Reynolds.

I’ve seen Reynolds in a bunch of movies, and unfortunately most of them have not been very good— remember GREEN LANTERN (2011)?  All that has changed with DEADPOOL.

DEADPOOL is a wildly insane, laugh-out-loud funny and nonstop entertaining movie that tells the story of a man in a superhero suit who wants no part of being a hero.  He’s not hero, he says.  He’s a self-proclaimed bad guy who hurts other bad guys who have hurt good people.

But before he dons his red suit and mask, he’s Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) a former Special Forces operative who now spends his day roughing up those bad guys who hurt good people.  As luck would have it, he meets and falls in love with a stripper named Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), who is every bit as zany and crazy as he is, and so they hit it off beautifully.

However,  Wade is diagnosed with cancer, and unable to face putting Vanessa through the pain of watching him die, he agrees to allow a secret organization experiment on his body.  This shadow group promises to cure him of his cancer while unlocking his secret mutant abilities in order to turn him into a superhero.

But this group isn’t what they seem.  They actually turn people into mutant slaves.  The experiment gives Wade unheard of healing powers- his wounds heal immediately-, but it also leaves him terribly disfigured. He escapes from the lab and then sets his sights on hunting down the man who did this to him, Ajax (Ed Skrein)  in the hope that the villain can restore his looks so he can face his girlfriend Vanessa again.

In terms of plot, DEADPOOL is nothing we haven’t seen before.  The story is not the reason to see this movie.  That honor belongs to Ryan Reynolds and his insane performance as Deadpool, as well as the incredibly hilarious script.

DEADPOOL is the movie and the role Ryan Reynolds has been waiting for.  He truly knocks it out of the park with his performance.  He plays the role so effortlessly, so naturally, and at the end of the day, DEADPOOL soars because of Ryan Reynolds.

Morena Baccarin is also very good as Vanessa.  She’s beautiful and sexy, and she and Reynolds share fine chemistry together.

T. J. Miller who was so memorable as Hud, the camera-toting friend in CLOVERFIELD (2008), in his film debut, adds fine support here as Wade’s best buddy Weasel.  He has some of the film’s best lines, especially in the scene where he reacts to seeing Deadpool’s face for the first time.

For some reason, the Marvel superhero movies, as good as they are, always seems to struggle with their villains, and unfortunately DEADPOOL is no exception.  Neither Ajax (Ed Skrein) nor Angel Dust (Gina Carano) did much for me, as neither one had any agenda other than to defend themselves against Deadpool.

Likewise, the fellow X-Men superheroes Colossus (a CGI creation voiced by Stefan Kapicic) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) didn’t do much for me either, other than to remind me of the parts of the X-MEN movies that I didn’t like.

Again, DEADPOOL is all about Ryan Reynolds, and as such he gets the bulk of the good lines in the movie, and there are tons of them as there are more jokes in this movie than many comedies.  Better yet, most of them work.  There are also plenty of “in-jokes,” my favorites being the ones about Wolverine, and also Deadpool’s line about which actor would be playing Professor Xavier in this movie, Patrick Stewart or James McAvoy? The film breaks the fourth wall frequently with very funny results.

It’s a hilarious script by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, the same two guys who wrote the humorous zombie flick ZOMBIELAND (2009), so their sharp writing here comes as no surprise.  Of course, the humor is very adult, and in spite of this being a superhero film, it earns its R rating and then some, mostly for language, but also for some violence as well.  It reminded me a lot of KICK-ASS (2010) or of an R-rated GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014).

Director Tim Miller makes his directorial debut with DEADPOOL, and it’s a good one.  In addition to imbuing the film with a manic style and quick pace, Miller also handles the action scenes with ease.  There are several enjoyable action sequences, even though none of them are overly memorable.

Where does DEADPOOL rank among Marvel’s best superhero movies?  Well, I would still put THE AVENGERS (2012), IRON MAN (2008) GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, and X-MEN:  FIRST CLASS (2011) ahead of it, but after that, who knows?  It might make it into my top 5 Marvel Movies list.  It’s definitely in the Top Ten.

Ever wonder what a superhero movie made strictly for adults would be like?  Wonder no more.  DEADPOOL provides the answer.

Who knew superheroes could be so much fun?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HAIL, CAESAR! (2016) Missing Spark

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It’s hit or miss for me with the Coen brothers.

For every Coen movie I like—TRUE GRIT (2010), NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007), and FARGO (1996), to name a few– there’s another I don’t like—BURN AFTER READING (2008) and INTOLERABLE CRUELTY (2003) to name a couple.

Their latest movie, HAIL, CAESAR!, a comedy about the the film industry in the 1950s, is one of their misses.

It’s got good ideas, some clever writing, decent acting performances, and an attention to detail that’s second to none, but at the end of the day it’s lacking something, a cohesive spark to both keep the entire film together and lead it to bigger and brighter things.  As it stands, it’s a comedy without much to laugh about and worse yet, not many laughs.

It’s the story of Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), a Hollywood fixer whose job it is to see that everything at Capitol Pictures functions properly.  He’s a problem solver who on any given day is dealing with one issue after another.  That’s Hollywood, for you!  And one thing is for sure, his job is not boring.

In HAIL, CAESAR! Eddie has multiple problems to deal with.  His biggest issue is studio star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) has gotten himself kidnapped from the set of the biblical epic they’re shooting, entitled HAIL, CAESAR! 

Meanwhile, his boss has inserted bad acting cowboy star Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) into a high profile drama directed by one of their top directors Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes).  And if that’s not enough, studio “innocent” DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson) has gotten herself pregnant, and an unmarried mother is not the image the studio wants for her, so Eddie sets his sights on getting her married.

HAIL, CAESAR! is a collection of little moments.  Some of them work, while others don’t.   For instance, the scene where Eddie assembles a group of religious leaders in a conference room to get their feedback on the studio’s depiction of Jesus in their movie HAIL, CAESAR! is hilarious- an instant classic.  Likewise, when George Clooney’s Baird Whitlock awakens from his drug-induced slumber and casually strolls into the living room and joins in on the conversation with his kidnappers, it makes for grin-inducing comedy.

Moreover, the film also includes scenes of genuine drama.  The scene near the end where Eddie literally slaps some sense into his star Baird Whitlock is poignant and painful, and sets the stage for Whitlock’s dramatic speech at the end of his Biblical movie, a speech that Clooney knocks out of the park, playing an actor acting over his head in a movie that’s nowhere near as good as his performance in the scene- until he forgets his last line.

The scene where director Laurence Larentz confronts Hobie Doyle and literally forces him to say the line “Would that it were so simple” repeatedly is pointedly painful.

But just as many scenes misfire.  Most of Channing Tatum’s scenes fall flat, and Scarlett Johansson, whose DeeAnna Moran is a really interesting character, is barely in the movie enough to make much of an impact. Her one scene with Jonah Hill is buzzing with energy, but it’s just one scene.

While Tilda Swinton, who was so icy cold in both the NARNIA movies and in SNOWPIERCER (2013), is very good in a dual role as sister reporters’ Thora and Thessaly Thacker, her scenes are neither comedic or all that dramatic.  They’re just sort of there.

Furthermore, George Clooney possesses tremendous comic timing, and yet it is barely on display here.  His kidnap tale has all the makings of a screwball comedy, yet that’s not the direction this movie decides to take.

And Josh Brolin, who I like a lot, is very good here as Eddie Mannix, but it’s a straight role.  He’s the straight man, and all the shenanigans of his actors, directors, and studio heads play off him.  While Brolin is excellent in the role, as he almost always is, the character Eddie Mannix as written isn’t really the strongest character to build a movie around.  Perhaps if he were more comedic- the type of persona which Peter Falk used to play- that might have worked better, but that’s not how the role is written. With his Catholic guilt, it reminded me of a role Spencer Tracy would have played.  The character just doesn’t seem to fit in with the oddball characters surrounding him.

You can’t really fault the actors.  They all do a very good job with what they have, and HAIL, CAESAR! certainly features a phenomenal cast:  Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Ralph Fiennes, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Channing Tatum, and Jonah Hill.

I also enjoyed Alden Ehrenreich as singing cowboy star Hobie Doyle.

By far, the biggest weakness of HAIL, CAESAR! is that it’s simply not that funny, and for a comedy, that is definitely not a good thing!

Brothers Joel and Ethan Coen have written a script that captures the flavor of 1950s Hollywood, and they have peppered it with interesting and quirky characters throughout, but what they didn’t do was give these characters in this setting a solid story in which to maneuver.  It’s simply a collection of little moments that never quite gel together in order to build something more.

And central character Eddie Mannix, in spite of a solid performance by Josh Brolin, just isn’t quirky enough to be that guy who holds a movie like this together.  I almost wish George Clooney’s Baird Whitlock had been the central character. Had that been the case, the comedy would have soared.  Clooney’s got that kind of timing.

The cinematography and costumes capture the period nicely, and HAIL, CAESAR! if nothing else is enjoyable to look at. But for a period piece comedy, aesthetics without laughter doesn’t really cut it.

HAIL, CAESAR! is an emphatic title.  Too bad its humor isn’t equally as assertive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939)

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Here’s my latest IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, available now in the February 2016 edition of THE OFFICIAL NEWSLETTER OF THE HORROR WRITERS ASSOCIATION, on the third Universal Frankenstein movie, SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939) starring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi.

It’s my 150th IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column.

Enjoy!

—Michael

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IN THE SPOOKLIGHT

By

Michael Arruda

Welcome to the 150th IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column!

To celebrate, let’s look at the Universal Monster classic, SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939).

SON OF FRANKENSTEIN is the third film in the Universal Frankenstein series.  It marked the third and final time that Boris Karloff would play the Monster, and while Karloff’s presence in this one is still key, really, the biggest reason to see this movie is to watch Bela Lugosi play Ygor, arguably his second best film role after Dracula.

SON OF FRANKENSTEIN takes place several decades after the events of THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935).  Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) has died, and his adult son Baron Wolf von Frankenstein (Basil Rathbone) returns home to his father’s estate along with his wife and young son, after being away for many years.

Wolf and his family are given the cold shoulder by the villagers, who remain scarred by memories of the Monster.  In fact, the local police inspector, Inspector Krogh (Lionel Atwill) even offers Frankenstein and his family protection from the villagers, an offer which the proud Wolf scoffs at.

While searching the ruins of his father’s laboratory, Wolf comes across old Ygor (Bela Lugosi), a man who had once been hung for the crime of stealing bodies but survived the hanging.  When Ygor learns that Wolf is a scientist like his father, he brings Wolf to an underground cave beneath the laboratory where he shows him the sleeping body of the Monster (Boris Karloff).

Intrigue, Wolf decides to bring his father’s creation back to full strength, which pleases Ygor, since he uses his “friend” the Monster to murder the members of the jury who had sent him to the gallows.

SON OF FRANKENSTEIN is the most elaborate of the Universal Frankenstein series and it’s also the lengthiest, clocking in at 99 minutes.  While it can be a bit talky, it does a terrific job developing its characters, as the three new characters in this film, Wolf Frankenstein, Inspector Krogh, and Ygor are among the series’ best.  It was originally going to be shot in color, but the decision was made to film it in black and white when initial screen tests of the Monster in color failed to impress.

While SON OF FRANKENSTEIN has a lot going for it, it’s nowhere near as good as the first two films in the series, FRANKENSTEIN (1931) and THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935).  That being said, it’s the one film in the series that is closest in style to the Hammer Frankenstein movies which were to follow twenty years later, as it spends more time on characterizations and less on the Monster, and it features opulent sets.

Even though director Rowland V. Lee does an admirable job at the helm, the film really misses the direction of James Whale, who directed the first two Frankenstein movies.  Those films were paced better and possessed a chaotic energy about them that really captured the persona of the Monster, and in both those films, Karloff’s performance as the Monster stole the show.

Here in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN, Karloff turns in his least effective performance as the Monster, mostly because he doesn’t have much to do. For reasons that are not explained, the Monster in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN no longer speaks.    One can infer that he may have suffered further brain damage in the explosion at the end of THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, which could have taken away his ability to speak.  Whatever the reason, without speech the Monster is a far less interesting character than when we last saw him in BRIDE.

Also, the Monster becomes a “patient” in this movie, spending lots of time lying on a lab table waiting to be energized by Doctor Frankenstein.  Unfortunately, this trend would continue as the series went on, with the Monster spending more and more time reclining on his back, rather than  moving around terrorizing people.  It’s also established for the first time in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN that the Monster cannot die, that Henry Frankenstein created him in such a way that he would live forever.  This would make it convenient for Universal to keep bringing the Monster back in subsequent movies.

Karloff’s best scene as the Monster in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN is when he meets Wolf Frankenstein for the first time.  As he gets right in Wolf’s face, easily terrifying the man, he seems to be thinking back to the man who created both of them, Wolf’s father, Henry Frankenstein.

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Ygor (Bela Lugosi) and the Monster (Boris Karloff) are up to no good in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939).

But again, the best part of this movie is Bela Lugosi’s performance as Ygor.  He steals nearly every scene he’s in.  My favorite bits include his coughing on a jury member in a courtroom scene, and his answer to Wolf when asked if he killed their butler Benson:  “I scare him to death.  I don’t need to kill him to death!”  And then he laughs.  Of course, he’s also lying since the Monster did murder Benson.

Basil Rathbone is adequate as Wolf Frankenstein, though he does tend to ham it up a bit.  I definitely miss Colin Clive as Henry Frankenstein.  Of course, the writers went with the “son” story-line rather than another Henry Frankenstein tale because Clive had sadly passed away shortly after making THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN.  

Lionel Atwill also has one of his best roles here as Inspector Krogh, the one-armed inspector spoofed so effectively by Kenneth Mars in Mel Brooks’ YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974).  Krogh is a memorable character, with a great back story:  he has one arm because the Monster ripped it from its socket when he was a child.  Yikes!

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Inspector Krogh (Lionel Atwill) prepares to tell Wolf Frankenstein (Basil Rathbone) the story of his childhood encounter with the Monster.

The screenplay by Willis Cooper is definitely talky, but it does tell a good story and does a terrific job developing its characters.  SON OF FRANKENSTEIN also features arguably the best music score of the series, by Frank Skinner.

SON OF FRANKENSTEIN  is a fine third film in the series, not as effective as the first two, but definitely better than the films which would follow it, and its cast, which features Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Basil Rathbone, and Lionel Atwill is second to none.

The biggest of the Universal Frankenstein movies, SON OF FRANKENSTEIN is a well-made and worthy installment in the Frankenstein canon.

THE HORROR JAR: JOHN CARPENTER/KURT RUSSELL MOVIES

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Welcome back to THE HORROR JAR, that column where we look at lists about horror movies.  Up today:  John Carpenter/Kurt Russell movies.  Yup, a look at the movies in which horror master John Carpenter directed former child star turned action hero Kurt Russell.

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ELVIS (1979)

Directed:  John Carpenter

Screenplay:  Anthony Lawrence

Elvis Presley:  Kurt Russell

Gladys Presley:  Shelley Winters

Vernon Presley:  Bing Russell

Priscilla Presley:  Season Hubley

Music:  Joe Renzetti

Running Time:  150 minutes

Yup, the first time Carpenter and Russell worked together was on the made-for-TV movie about the life of Elvis Presley.  Pretty good bio pic, and Russell makes for a very good Elvis.  Interestingly, Elvis’ father Vernon Presley is played by Russell’s real life dad Bing Russell, and Elvis’ wife Priscilla Presley was played by Russell’s real life wife at the time, Season Hubley.  All in the family, I guess.

 

ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981)

Director:  John Carpenter

Screenplay:  John Carpenter and Nick Castle

Snake Plissken: Kurt Russell

Hauk:  Lee Van Cleef

Cabbie:  Ernest Borgnine

Maggie:  Adrienne Barbeau

Brain:  Harry Dean Stanton

The Duke:  Isaac Hayes

President: Donald Pleasence

Music:  John Carpenter and Alan Howarth

Running Time:  99 minutes

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Carpenter’s next movie after his horror hits HALLOWEEN (1978) and THE FOG (1980).  Not really well received upon its initial release, this dark action thriller has nonetheless aged well.  Actually, looking back, Carpenter clearly was a victim of his own success.  After his megahit and masterpiece HALLOWEEN, Carpenter made three straight quality films:  THE FOG (1980), ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981) and THE THING (1982).  All three were panned by critics at the time, yet today they are regarded as some of the finest genre films of the past 40 years. In fact, for some, his version of THE THING is the best horror movie ever.

ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK was a milestone film for Kurt Russell, pretty much the movie that broke him out of his previous persona as being a teen actor in Disney movies.  Carpenter wrote the role of Snake Plissken for Clint Eastwood, and when Russell got the part, he played the role with Eastwood in mind.

Fun film, with yet another quality music score by director Carpenter.  It’s nearly as good as his HALLOWEEN score.

 

THE THING (1982)

Director:  John Carpenter

Screenplay:  Bill Lancaster, based on the story “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell, Jr.

Macready:  Kurt Russell

Blair:  Wilford Brimley

Childs:  Keith David

Nauls:  T.K. Carter

Palmer:  David Clennon

Dr. Copper:  Richard Dysart

Garry:  Donald Moffat

Music:  Ennio Morricone

Running Time:  109 minutes

Critically panned when it first came out in 1982, Carpenter’s THE THING is now regarded as a horror/science fiction classic.  For many horror film buffs it’s their favorite horror movie of all time.  A flop at the box office, it left my local theater within a week and I was not able to see it.  I caught it several months later when it appeared on something called a”VHS cassette.”  Yes, it was 1983 and the VHS age was just beginning.  I wasn’t the only one who saw it on home video.  Suddenly everyone I knew was talking about THE THING, and it’s a film that since then has never looked back.

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Kurt Russell is excellent as Macready, in effect reprising his Snake Plissken tough guy persona, this time going up against a deadly alien monster from outer space.  Very scary flick, with gross-out special effects that were considered unspeakably over-the-top and tasteless back in 1982.  Now they’re regarded as some of the best effects of their time.

Curious, Carpenter did not provide the music for this one, as that honor went to composer Ennio Morricone, who’s responsible for the chilling score for this shocker.

 

BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1986)

Director:  John Carpenter

Screenplay:  Gary Goldman and David Z. Weinstein

Jack Burton:  Kurt Russell

Gracie Law:  Kim Cattrall

Music:  John Carpenter and Alan Howarth

Running Time:  99 minutes

Silly action adventure has its fans.  I’m not one of them.  Kurt Russell and Kim Cattrall run afoul of Chinese gangs, martial arts, and the supernatural.  Mostly played for laughs.

 

ESCAPE FROM L.A. (1996)

Director:  John Carpenter

Screenplay:  John Carpenter, Debra Hill, and Kurt Russell

Snake Plissken:  Kurt Russell

Map To The Stars Eddie:  Steve Buscemi

Pipeline:  Peter Fonda

President:  Cliff Robertson

Cmmdr. Malloy:  Stacy Keach

Music:  John Carpenter and Shirley Walker

Running Time:  101 minutes

Forgettable sequel to ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK finds Snake Plissken this time getting into trouble in L.A. in an effort to once again help the U.S. government which once more seems to be the last thing Plissken really wants to be doing.

There you have it, the list of movies pairing director John Carpenter and actor Kurt Russell.  My two favorites are clearly ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981) and THE THING (1982).

Thanks for reading!

—Michael