GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, VOL. 2 (2017) – Less of an Awesome Mix

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I loved the first GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014), and it instantly ranked as one of my favorite Marvel superhero movies.  As such, I was really looking forward to VOL. 2, and I fully expected to like it.

I did not.

As GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 (2017) opens, old friends Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), and newly born Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) are busy saving the galaxy from bad guys, in particular taking on a giant monster in order to protect a civilization’s valuable commodity, batteries.  They’re also busy arguing with each other, and their banter is certainly one of the more enjoyable parts of the movie.

When Rocket steals some of the batteries they were supposed to be protecting, Queen Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) sends an armada of ships in hot pursuit to get the batteries back.  Our friendly neighborhood galaxy guardians are rescued by Ego (Kurt Russell) who claims to be Quill’s long-lost father.  He’s also all-powerful and invites Quill and his friends to his own personal planet which he made himself to show his son what a wonderful life he had been missing.

Meanwhile, Yondu (Michael Rooker) has been shamed by his fellow traders because he had taken part in the buying and selling of children.  Yondu decides it’s time he makes amends, and he seeks out Quill, one of those former children.  And the Guardians will need his help because things are not what they seem with Quill’s dad, Ego.

The biggest problem I had with GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 is its story.  The Guardians of the galaxy are a fun group of wise-cracking, in-fighting misfit superheroes, but in this movie their main adversary is Ego, and for most of the movie, they don’t even know he’s an adversary.  Instead, they spend most of their time dealing with Ayesha, who really isn’t that interesting a character.

Another subplot has Gamora contending with her sister Nebula (Karen Gillan), another story that isn’t all that interesting.  Then there’s the cutesiness of Baby Groot.  Now, I had fun watching Baby Groot, but I thought the film went overboard with all the cute stuff.

In short, I love the main characters, the guardians, and I still had fun watching them.  But they’re stuck in a story here that absolutely bored me.  And once more, as if it’s a mandatory part of the Marvel movie formula, there isn’t an intriguing or worthwhile villain to be found anywhere in the galaxy.

Chris Pratt returns as Star-Lord, and he’s as handsomely charming as ever, but he’s in this flat story with his dad Ego, and the character suffers for it.   Likewise, while I really enjoyed  Zoe Saldana as Gamora once again, she too is hindered by her main story, the ongoing rift with her sister Nebula.

Dave Bautista probably fares the best in his return as Drax, as he has some of the funnier lines in the film.  But in terms of action, Drax doesn’t do a whole lot.  Bradley Cooper is enjoyable again voicing Rocket, and then there’s Baby Groot.  I have no problems with Baby Groot, but if the main story of this one had been stronger, I wouldn’t have found the cutesiness here with Baby Groot so grating.

Probably my favorite performance in the whole movie belongs to Michael Rooker as Yondu, in the largest supporting role in the movie.  Yondu was in the first film as well, and the character is further developed this time around, and Rooker is more than up to the task of fleshing out this bright blue character.

Karen Gillan gets more screen time as Nebula as well, and a new character Mantis (Pom Klementieff) gets to enjoy some fine moments, mostly when interacting with Drax.

But the villains fall completely flat here.  I had been excited about Kurt Russell playing Ego in this movie, and there’s nothing wrong with Russell’s performance, but I found the character boring.  Likewise, Elizabeth Debicki did nothing for me as Ayesha.  The biggest knock on these villains is their agendas are dull.  Ayesha is just chasing down stolen batteries and looking for payback, and Ego is all about what his name implies.  All this evil power, and nothing to do with it.  What’s a villain to do?

Sylvester Stallone shows up for about five seconds as Stakar Ogord, in a role that’s clearly a set-up for a future movie.

James Gunn, who wrote and directed the first GUARDIANS movie, is back doing both here in the sequel.  He scores better behind the camera than at the keyboard.  I thought the film looked great.  I saw it in 2D, and it looked fine, although I wouldn’t have minded seeing it in 3D, but the times didn’t work out for me.  The visuals are eye-poppingly colorful and cinematic.

The action scenes are so-so.  While fun and lively, none of the action scenes here blew me away.  Some went on too long and made me yawn.

Again, the biggest knock on this one is its screenplay, by director James Gunn.  The story did nothing for me, and the villains were disappointing.  Ego has all this power and ability and he seems to know nothing about what to do with it.  Boring.

And the film’s theme, that they are more than friends, that they are family, has been done to death already and didn’t add anything fresh to this sequel.

As expected, the film does have another awesome mix as a soundtrack, so there are no complaints here.

Like other Marvel movies, there is an after credits scene. No, wait, that’s not quite accurate.  There are several after credit scenes, so you if you want to see them all, you have to wait till the very end of the movie.  That being said, to be honest, I didn’t like any of these after-credit scenes.  It’s a case where more doesn’t mean better, which is a nice microcosm of the entire movie.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 brings our entertaining squabbling guardians back to the big screen, and they are certainly fun to watch, but they’re stuck in a dull storyline that doesn’t do them justice.

The awesome mix volume 2 simply isn’t quite as awesome the second time around.

–END—

 

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For The Love Of Horror cover

Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

 

 

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Memorable Movie Quotes: THE THING (1982)

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Welcome to another edition of MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES, the column where we look at fun quotes from some pretty cool movies.

Up today a movie that makes the short list on almost every horror fan’s “Best of” lists.  In fact, this gem— which was  a flop upon its initial release— is often listed as the number 1 all-time favorite horror movie by horror fans.  I’m talking about John Carpenter’s THE THING (1982).

A remake of the classic THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951) starring James Arness as one of the creepiest scariest alien monsters from outer space ever, this John Carpenter version was truer to the original source material, the short story “Who Goes There?” by  John W. Campbell, Jr.  Yet that didn’t seem to matter back in 1982.  Critics slammed the film because of its excessive gore and outlandish special effects.  The complaint was the film didn’t contain the same creative directing Carpenter displayed on his break-out hit, HALLOWEEN (1978).

But fans felt otherwise.  The year 1982 was the dawn of the VHS/VCR age, and I remember when this movie was released on video, it suddenly started gaining momentum and word of mouth spread rapidly.  And like I said, today John Carpenter’s THE THING is heralded as a horror movie classic, and rightly so.

The screenplay by Bill Lancaster contains lots of memorable lines.  Let’s have a look:

Even though the film is loaded with gory special effects, it still generates a sense of mystery and creepiness early on, like here when Blair (Wilford Brimley) explains his findings after his autopsy on the slaughtered dogs:

BLAIR:  You see, what we’re talking about here is an organism that imitates other life forms, and it imitates them perfectly. When this thing attacked our dogs it tried to digest them… absorb them, and in the process shape its own cells to imitate them. This for instance. That’s not dog. It’s imitation. We got to it before it had time to finish.

NORRIS:  Finish what?

BLAIR:  Finish imitating these dogs.

 

And again, later when Fuchs asks to speak with MacReady (Kurt Russell) privately to read him Blair’s notes and to tell him his fears about what’s really going on inside the camp.  At this point in the movie, neither the characters nor the audience knows yet what the Thing is, and so these scenes of dialogue set the groundwork for introducing the horror which is yet to come.

FUCHS:  There’s something wrong with Blair. He’s locked himself in his room and he won’t answer the door, so I took one of his notebooks from the lab.

MACREADY:   Yeah?

FUCHS: Listen: (Reading from Blair’s notes)  “It could have imitated a million life forms on a million planets. It could change into any one of them at any time. Now, it wants life forms on Earth.”

MACREADY:  It’s getting cold in here, Fuchs, and I haven’t slept for two days.

FUCHS:  Wait a minute, Mac, wait a minute.  “It needs to be alone and in close proximity with the life form to be absorbed. The chameleon strikes in the dark.”

MACREADY:  So is Blair cracking up or what?

FUCHS:  Damn it, MacReady!  “There is still cellular activity in these burned remains. They’re not dead yet!

 

Kurt Russell’s MacReady gets a lot of the good lines in the movie, especially later on as his character emerges as the natural leader among the camp and the most promising opponent of the Thing.  But first he has to deal with his own men, as they suspect him of being the Thing.  In this scene, he holds off his men with some dynamite, something that Childs (Keith David) scoffs at:

CHILDS:   You’re gonna have to sleep sometime, MacReady.

MACREADY:  I’m a real light sleeper, Childs.

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“I’m a real light sleeper, Childs.”

Later, Macready devises a test to reveal the identity of the Thing, in one of the movie’s best scenes.  Let’s listen:

MACREADY:  I know I’m human. And if you were all these things, then you’d just attack me right now, so some of you are still human. This thing doesn’t want to show itself, it wants to hide inside an imitation. It’ll fight if it has to, but it’s vulnerable out in the open. If it takes us over, then it has no more enemies, nobody left to kill it. And then it’s won.

We’re gonna draw a little bit of everybody’s blood… ’cause we’re gonna find out who’s The Thing. Watching Norris in there gave me the idea that… maybe every part of him was a whole, every little piece was an individual animal with a built-in desire to protect its own life. You see, when a man bleeds, it’s just tissue, but blood from one of you Things won’t obey when it’s attacked. It’ll try and survive… crawl away from a hot needle, say.

 

Later, when they try to restore power to their camp, Garry (Donald Moffat)  makes a grim discovery and in this scene tells MacReady the bad news:

GARRY: The generator’s gone.

MACREADY:  Any way we can we fix it?

GARRY:  It’s gone, MacReady.

Meaning it is no longer physically there.  Yikes!

 

Two of the best lines from THE THING come from two of the supporting characters.  Donald Moffat’s Garry has one of them.  In the scene where MacReady performs his test to learn the Thing’s identity, Garry is one of the men he trusts the least at the time, and so he had Garry tied to a couch along with two other men.  One of the men turns out to be the Thing in one of the movie’s most exciting sequences.  After it’s done, and both the characters and audience breathe a sigh of relief, Garry still finds himself tied to the couch.  And after a moment’s pause, he says:

GARRY:  I know you gentlemen have been through a lot, but when you find the time, I’d rather not spend the rest of this winter TIED TO THIS F—-ING COUCH!

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Get me off this couch, please.

But hands down, the best line in the movie and certainly the most memorable line in the movie, belongs to Palmer (David Clennon).  After an intense battle with the Thing, the severed head of one of its victims sprouts legs and crawls away like a giant spider.  Palmer, wide-eyed and incredulous, sees this spectacle and says,

PALMER:  You gotta be f—in’ kidding.

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Well, I hope  you enjoyed this look at memorable quotes from John Carpenter’s THE THING, screenplay by Bill Lancaster, a true masterpiece of horror movie cinema.

That’s it for now.  Join me again next time when we look at more memorable quotes from another cool movie.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

DEEPWATER HORIZON (2016) Struggles to Stay Afloat

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There’s a fine line between having a compelling story to tell, and telling a compelling story.

The recent movie SULLY (2016) is a perfect example of the latter.  It had a compelling story to tell, and director Clint Eastwood knew how to tell it.

DEEPWATER HORIZON (2016), on the other hand, tells the story of the 2010 explosion on the offshore drilling rig Deepwater Horizon, an event that led to the worst oil spill in U.S. history.  It’s a memorable story, but the movie struggles to tell it.

The film opens with Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) at home with his family, getting ready to say farewell to them for a few weeks while he returns to work on the Deepwater Horizon.  He’s enjoying time with his wife Felicia (Kate Hudson) and their daughter, and if you’ve seen the film’s trailer, you’ve seen the cute conversation they all share over their breakfast table.  It actually made for a very effective trailer, but here in the film it only adds to a rather slow beginning.

The purpose of these early family scenes is to personalize the story.  Rather than follow the lives of many people on the rig, the film chooses to follow mostly Mike, and to juxtapose his scenes with those of the panicked Felicia back home.  This really isn’t all that effective, and sadly reduces Kate Hudson to being in a series of reaction shots where she doesn’t do much more than look worried.

So Mike goes off to work and meets up with his boss Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell) and co-worker Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez).  Once on the rig, Jimmy immediately butts heads with members of the company that owns Deepwater Horizon led by a man named Vidrine (John Malkovich) who has been cutting costs by skimping on routine safety checks because he believes the Deepwater Horizon will work fine without them.  Jimmy, of course, is protective of his crew and refuses to proceed without the necessary precautionary tests.

Unfortunately, Jimmy’s tests are too little too late, as the company had let things slide so badly, that in the middle of one of the tests, the equipment is compromised and there is a gush of mud which overheats the engines and leads to a catastrophic explosion.

DEEPWATER HORIZON gets off to a sluggish start, and even though I was interested in this story, because I knew what it was about, the film didn’t grab my attention.  The early scenes with Mike and his family were okay, and the ensuing arguments between Jimmy and the company were certainly interesting, but there’s a whole rig full of people, and we don’t really get to know many of the characters at all.  Before the explosion, most of the exposition was simple and dull.

Once the explosion occurs, things pick up, but that being said, for a disaster movie, none of the scenes really wowed me.  Most of the action occurs at a rapid fire pace, and the camera is in close, making it very difficult to see what’s going on.  It also doesn’t help that the only character we’ve really gotten to know is Mike, so when the camera is on him, things are captivating, but whenever the action follows someone else, it’s like following a random red shirt on an episode of STAR TREK.

Director Peter Berg does an undistinguished job capturing the action.  The film is begging for an establishing shot, seeing the scene unfold from a distance so we can have a sense of the scope of the tragedy.  While there are some shots of Deepwater Horizon burning, for the bulk of the action, the camera is in way too close and it’s difficult to discern just what exactly is happening.  There’s plenty of mud shooting around, plenty of men slipping and sliding, explosions, fire everywhere, people scrambling, but left out of the whole thing were my emotions.  I didn’t know the people in this tragedy, and the movie suffered for it.

The film also does little with the actual Coast Guard rescue of these folks.  We hardly see what happens at all.  In SULLY, the rescue was one of the movie’s high points.  Not so here.

The screenplay by Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand was meh.  I didn’t really like the background story of Mike and his family, as it didn’t add anything here.  Again, to compare to SULLY, in that film, Tom Hanks’ character converses with his worried wife over the phone on several occasions, but those conversations moved the plot forward, as they gave Hanks’ character opportunities to question his actions.  The scenes here between Mike and his wife Felicia do not move the plot forward.  They only stall the story.

The dialogue was flat and uninspiring, very generic, except for the one sequence where Mike gets in Andrea’s face and really lays it on her as to why they are going to survive.  It’s also Wahlberg’s best moment in the movie.  The best dialogue belongs to Kurt Russell’s Jimmy, but once the explosion hits, Jimmy takes a back seat to Mike in the story.

Matthew Michael Carnahan was also one of the screenwriters on WORLD WAR Z (2013), a film I liked a bit more than DEEPWATER HORIZON.

Mark Wahlberg is fine here as Mike.  It’s the type of role Wahlberg can play in his sleep, at this point.  His performance is good enough to carry this movie, except that he really doesn’t have a lot of potent scenes in this one.  His best scene comes near the end when he pushes the panicked Andrea to survive.

Actually, my favorite performance in the movie belonged to Kurt Russell as Jimmy.  He really brings Jimmy to life, and you feel from the get-go that Jimmy takes his job seriously and that he will not compromise the lives of his crew.  We’ve been seeing more of Russell in the movies lately, and I hope this trend continues.  The only drawback is that most of Russell’s screen time here occurs before the explosion.

Kate Hudson is largely wasted in a throwaway role as Mike’s wife Felicia.  John Malkovich is okay as one of the cost-cutting meanies from the company, but he’s not really in this one a whole lot.

On the contrary, Gina Rodriguez is very good as Andrea Fleytas, the woman who helms the controls on Deepwater Horizon.  The rest of the cast are little more than interchangeable cardboard cutouts.

The strongest thing DEEPWATER HORIZON has to offer is the true story on which it is based.  This is reiterated during the movie’s end credits, when we see the names and photographs of the men killed during the explosion.

But source material alone isn’t enough to make a powerful movie.  A film needs a strong storytelling component, generated by creative directing and a sharp script. DEEPWATER HORIZON has neither.

As such, in spite of its gripping story, it struggles to stay afloat.

—END—

 

 

 

 

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1986)

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BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1986) marked the fourth time director John Carpenter worked with actor Kurt Russell,  following  ELVIS (1979), ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981), and THE THING (1982).

Whereas time has been kind to both ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and THE THING—THE THING is often ranked #1 on horror fans’ “Favorite Horror Movie” lists— when they first came out, neither film was a hit.  In fact, THE THING was a box office bomb.

Kurt Russell wasn’t faring much better in 1986.  He had just come off a string of films that had performed very poorly at the box office, and the story goes that he was so worried about his box office slump that he told Carpenter to get someone else to star in BIG TROUBLE, but Carpenter told him not to worry, that he wanted him to star in the movie.

I wish I could say that BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA was a huge hit and rejuvenated the careers of both these artists, but that’s not what happened.  Like their previous few films, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA also tanked at the box office.

But like ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and THE THING, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA has enjoyed a resurgence.  Fans nowadays like this movie.   I saw it when it first came out, and I did not like it.  I liked it so little that I never bothered to watch it again.

Until now.

And that’s because I’ve been hearing fans say good things about the movie, and I thought it was high time I gave it a second viewing.

BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA is a strange movie.  It’s an action adventure that takes place in Chinatown, San Francisco and involves Chinese mysticism, which gives the film a supernatural element.  It’s also a comedy, meaning that the entire thing is played for laughs.

Truck driver Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) and his friend Wang Chi (Dennis Dun) go to the airport to pick up Wang’s girlfriend, Miao Yin (Suzee Pai).  While there, Jack flirts with a woman named Gracie Law (Kim Cattrall) which provides him with a few minutes of fun before a Chinese gang shows up and kidnaps Miao.

Jack and Wang give chase, but the gang eludes them and gets away with Miao.  Wang vows to get her back, and Jack agrees to help him.  I guess no one thought to call the police. Anyway, Gracie Law shows up at their doorstep and reveals that she’s a lawyer who knows all about the Chinese mystical underworld, and she wants to help Jack and Wang as well.  They also receive help from Egg Shen (Victor Wong), a bus driver who’s also an expert on Chinese sorcery.

They need all this help because Miao has been kidnapped by David Lo Pan (James Hong), a two thousand year-old sorcerer who’s cursed to walk the earth without his physical body.  To lift the curse, he has to marry a girl with green eyes, which is why he kidnapped Miao, because she has green eyes.  It turns out that Gracie Law also has green eyes.  Suddenly Lo Pan has more choices than he knows what to do with.  Life is good.  For a while, anyway, as soon Jack and Wang show up, and they’re all about taking down Lo Pan and his supernatural army.  Good luck with that!

As I said, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA is played for laughs.  There isn’t a serious bone in this one’s body.

At first, I was really enjoying this one, and during the movie’s first half, I thought my opinion of it would change.  What wasn’t to like?  It was full of 1980s nostalgia, it had Kurt Russell, lots of colorful martial art action scenes, monsters, supernatural goings on, and a neat music score by John Carpenter.

But midway through, the movie runs out of gas, and I remembered why I didn’t really like this one back in 1986.  The martial arts action scenes start to get repetitive, and a major reason why is they’re simply not very good.

The script by Gary Goldman and David Z. Weinstein also fizzles.  Early on, things are mysterious, and the dialogue is rapid fire funny, but later, once you know Lo Pan’s story, it’s pretty ridiculous, even it if is played for laughs.  I’ve seen more believable plots on SCOOBY DOO.  And the humor definitely loses its edge, mostly because after a while it’s simply Jack and Wang dealing with one unbelivable situation after another.

The film definitely gets goofier as it goes along, becoming flat our silly rather than focusing on the action and the adventure.  Had this one had more of an edge to it, and kept the humor in the background, it would have worked better.

Kurt Russell based Jack Burton on John Wayne, and it’s apparent right from the get-go. Russell is fun to watch here because he really does capture the Duke’s onscreen persona. Similarly, Russell based Snake Plissken in ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK on Clint Eastwood, which is also clearly apparent.

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Kurt Russell as Jack Burton in BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1986)

Things would change for Russell with his next movie, the hit comedy OVERBOARD (1987) in which he starred with Goldie Hawn.  And a series of hits would follow Russell over the next five years.

While Russell is entetaining in BIG TROUBLE, Dennis Dun is just OK as Wang Chi.  He lacks Russell’s charisma and larger than life qualities, which is too bad because one of the movie’s jokes is that Jack thinks he’s the hero, yet he’s constantly messing things up, and it’s Wang who’s the true hero in the movie, but at times, Dun doesn’t make this notion all that believable.

Kim Cattrall is the epitome of 1980s actresses, and she fits right in here.  She’s got the 80s hairstyle, and she plays Gracie Law with a mixture of strength and ditziness.  She could easily walk into the CHEERS bar for a drink.

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Kim Cattrall as Gracie Law in BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1986).

Victor Wong is sufficiently knowledgable as Egg Shen, but James Hong is rather ineffective as main baddie David Lo Pan.  He spends most of the time behind make-up and special effects.

The special effects are OK.  They run hot and cold, and they’re really cheesy.  I guess that’s part of the charm for some people.

So, after my second viewing, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA remains not one of my favorite John Carpenter movies. Sadly, Carpenter would follow this up with the even worse PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1987).  It would be a little while before Carpenter would find his stride again, and that would be with IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS (1995).

BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA means well.  It’s got tons of energy, and everyone looks like they’re having a grand old time.  But as the action becomes flat out goofy, the story doesn’t hold up, and the script doesn’t match the film’s inanity, as the dialogue and situations are never that funny, it all becomes rather tedious long before the end credits roll.

The trouble in Little China just isn’t all that big.

—END—

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.

Kurt_Russell_and_1982_The_Thing

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981)

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Here’s my latest IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, published in the April 2015 edition of the HWA Newsletter, on John Carpenter’s science fiction action thriller ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK.

Enjoy!escape-from-new-york poster

—Michael

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT

BY

MICHAEL ARRUDA

John Carpenter’s movies, especially his early ones, are defined by a distinctive directorial style that makes his films more creative than most, and ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981), his futuristic science fiction thriller, just might be his most imaginative film of all.

The epitome of John Carpenter’s work of course is his masterpiece, HALLOWEEN (1978), but his early films were all very good.  You can’t go wrong with DARK STAR (1974), ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976), HALLOWEEN (1978), THE FOG (1980), ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981), or THE THING (1982).  Carpenter would continue to make decent quality movies, some better than others, but it was these early films which defined Carpenter’s work for me.

ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981) is classic John Carpenter.  Chock full of style, its story of the island of Manhattan serving as a maximum security prison is about as far-fetched at you can get, which comes as no surprise since believable plots have never been a John Carpenter strong point.  But Carpenter’s signature touches are all over this one, and as such, it’s one of my favorite John Carpenter movies.

The story takes place in the “future” in the year 1997— gee, that went by fast!— and Manhattan is a maximum security prison with one simple rule:  once you go in, you never come out.  The President of the United States (Donald Pleasence) is on his way to an important summit to meet with the leaders of China and the Soviet Union (which of course would cease to exist before 1997, but to be fair to Carpenter, who in 1981 saw that coming?) when his Air Force One jet is hijacked and forced down into the streets of Manhattan.

Police Commissioner Hauk (Lee Van Cleef) decides to send in notorious convict Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) to rescue the president since he can move about unnoticed— unlike the police— although I’ve always wondered what happened to their undercover officers?— and he can get the job done.  Hauk promises Snake a full pardon if he rescues the president.  To cement the deal, Hauk implants poison capsules into Snake’s neck.  If he makes it back in time with the president, he’ll be given an antidote.  If not, it’s sayonara Snake!

Snake pilots a glider into New York and lands on top of the World Trade Center.  As he searches for the president, he learns from Cabbie (Ernest Borgnine) that the man holding the president is The Duke (Isaac Hayes), the most powerful man in the Manhattan prison.  In order to save his own life, Snake will have to rescue the president from the Duke, and together, they’ll have to escape from New York.

ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK is one of John Carpenter’s most stylish films.  I absolutely love the look of this movie, as Carpenter nails the futuristic vision of New York City.  There’s something exceedingly animated about the look of this film, the vibrant colors, the brooding camerawork, and the artistic photography.  It reminds me a lot of what Tim Burton would do with Gotham City in BATMAN (1989).  There’s a lot of Carpenter’s ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK in that film.

Carpenter embraces a lot of horror elements in ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, including the “Crazies,” people who live underground and come out at night to wreak havoc.  One of the more memorable scenes in the film is when Snake meets a woman (Season Hubley) in a Chock Full of Nuts store, and the Crazies break in from underneath the floor and drag the screaming woman down with them.

The fight between Snake and the muscular giant (Ox Baker) is also notable, and the race across the mined bridge at the end of the film is one of the more suspenseful sequences.

ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK also enjoys one of the deeper casts in a John Carpenter movie.  Snake Plisskin became the role which would define the second half of Kurt Russell’s career, as he made the jump from teen star in Walt Disney movies in the 1960s and 70s to full-fledged mainstream actor.  This role combined with Russell’s work in Carpenter’s next movie THE THING also cemented Russell’s place in the horror/science fiction genre.

Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken.

Kurt Russell as Snake Plisskin.

Kurt Russell almost didn’t get the part, because the producers were concerned he wasn’t right for the role because of his Disney background.  Russell based his interpretation of Snake Plisskin on Clint Eastwood, and Eastwood was one of the actors John Carpenter originally wanted for the role, but he turned it down.  Tommy Lee Jones, Nick Nolte, Jeff Bridges, and even Charles Bronson were all considered for the role before it went to Russell.

Had Eastwood taken the role, it would have been an interesting bit of casting as it would have reunited Eastwood with Lee Van Cleef, his co-star in FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (1965) and THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY (1966).  In ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, Van Cleef is excellent as Hauk and makes a perfect foil for Russell’s Snake Plisskin.  Van Cleef was 56 when he made ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and he still looked like he could kick the stuffing out of everyone in the movie.

Lee Van Cleef gives Kurt Russell all he can handle in ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK.

Lee Van Cleef gives Kurt Russell all he can handle in ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK.

Donald Pleasence with his British accent is strangely cast as the President of the United States.  As much as I like Pleasence, he’s not very convincing in this role.  Harry Dean Stanton stands out as Brain, the brilliant right hand man to The Duke, who always seems to know that one bit of information that makes his life valuable.  The cast also includes Adrienne Barbeau, Ernest Borgnine, Tom Atkins, Charles Cyphers, and Isaac Hayes as The Duke.

The screenplay by John Carpenter and Nick Castle isn’t going to win any awards for the most realistic tale ever told, but the film as a whole works well.  It also features some memorable dialogue.

ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK also has one of John Carpenter’s best music scores.  Better even than his HALLOWEEN score?  I don’t know about that, but other than his music for HALLOWEEN, his score for ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK is my favorite.

John Carpenter is famous for his horror movies, specifically HALLOWEEN and THE THING, but his futuristic action tale ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK is one of his finest films.  With his inspired direction, a strong cast led by Kurt Russell in a career-changing role, and a superior music score, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK is dark escapism at its best.

—END—