After heaping backhanded praise on three John Carpenter films, never totally lauding nor completely decrying them, there is nothing ambiguous about my critique of They Live, Carpenter’s paranoid vision from 1988 of rampant consumerism and Reaganomics. It stinks. Continue reading “Shitty Movie Sundays: They Live”
The White House has sent a $700 billion bailout package to Congress for approval. Add that to the approximately $815 billion of the current costs of the various bailouts and emergency loans, and the housing collapse is now costing the American taxpayers over one and a half trillion dollars. That’s trillion, with a “t”. Or, this: $1,500,000,000,000.00. That is a staggering amount of money. Combine that with what the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are costing, and the budget deficit, and the next president has just had all the discretionary spending of the next term wiped out. Continue reading “We Are Being Fucked”
As I was watching John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China recently, I was struck by the familiarity of the material. I felt I had seen it before, but in some other context. Confined, mazelike, and windowless environments; various tricks and traps the heroes must overcome; goons, monsters, and the bosses that control them, etc. And there it is. Big Trouble in Little China plays like a videogame. Considering it was released in 1986, before videogames became complex enough to compare, does that mean John Carpenter was breaking new ground, that Big Trouble in Little China is ahead of its time? No. It just reaffirms that the pacing and storytelling of today’s videogames are derivative of cinema. There are plenty of other films from around the same time that are akin to videogames (Aliens, Commando, and Total Recall all come immediately to mind, among many others). Continue reading “The Empty Balcony: Big Trouble in Little China”
Blame the undecideds. Blame the dunderheads who, after the longest presidential election in history is nearing its close, still can’t figure out who they want to vote for. They are the reason we continue to suffer through such a disheartening election. All the nastiness, spin, and lies polluting American politics before November 4th is directed towards these people, in an effort to sway their loyalties one way or the other. The closer we get to the election, the greater the distortions. In effect, those of us who decided who to vote for long ago are at the mercy of those who are basing their choice on the desperate words and deeds of frantic candidates. Unbelievable. Continue reading “Oval Office Thunderdome: Had Enough Yet?”
Back before the great wave of gentrification began to hit American cities in the mid-1990s, there was the 1980s, an era when the distressed environment of the cities bottomed out. Long decades of neglect, strained local budgets, and rising crime left our cities veritable war zones. The inner cities were voids of hopelessness, abject poverty, and filth. Even affluent neighborhoods were just dangerous enough to breed well-heeled residents with canny street smarts, always looking over their shoulders for the dark figure hiding behind a tree or in an alley. This kind of palpable fear of urban environments is contagious, and it entered into our lore. We could envision no bright future for the American city because we had seen decay extend its grip for so long. Today’s cities have not fully recovered, and they remain always on the brink, ready to slide back as soon as people’s cares turn elsewhere, but it’s hard to picture just how bad things got unless one were a witness.
There are a few films here and there where our urban legacy is on full display. Wolfen had major scenes, some visually stunning, filmed among the devastation of the South Bronx. The classic film The French Connection was a study in browns — rust and dirt every bit as important a character as Popeye Doyle. Fort Apache, The Bronx was a caricature of the inner city, sometimes offensive, but it came from somewhere real. The Warriors has attained mythical status as New York’s ultimate cult film of the night, playing on our fears of a city gone out of control, at the mercy of costumed thugs. At times laughable, the film still wallowed in very real grit, a symptom of the disease that had befallen the city. Continue reading “The Empty Balcony: Escape from New York”
Last week saw a unique event in film. Four John Carpenter films landed in Brooklyn as part of a mini-retrospective at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). The featured films were Big Trouble in Little China, The Thing, They Live, and Escape from New York. All unique films from a unique filmmaker. B-movie schlock artist or perennially misunderstood genius, depending upon who’s doing the watching, Carpenter is a knowledgeable director who draws on his education, talents, and the best aspects of low-grade cinema to craft films that are unmistakably his. As soon as the opening credits roll, one enters Carpenter’s world. Viewer hears music (usually) from Carpenter’s own synthesizer, and the credits themselves are all the same white serif font on a black background, no matter which of his films is playing. Anamorphic lens effects and dark lighting cross among his works. Finally there is the thematic distrust of authority as a conceptual continuity throughout. All of this makes Carpenter’s films easily recognizable to anyone with even a cursory knowledge of his oeuvre. Continue reading “October Horrorshow, Retroactive: The Thing”