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Tag Archives: 1980s

John Carpenters’ “They Live” (1988). Sort of a Sci-Fi Film but Definitely a Cult Classic.

Well JPFmovie fans here is a blast from the past that’s been under the radar for most of the population: John Carpenters’ They Live (1988).  Despite its age, this film was recently in the news because neo-Nazis and anti-semites took to claiming on various white power websites that Carpenter’s paranoid sci-fi action flick was an allegory for “Jewish control of the world.” When we here at JPFmovies read this nonsense, we had the same reaction as director Carpenter who said in a tweet ““THEY LIVE is about yuppies and unrestrained capitalism.  It has nothing to do with Jewish control of the world, which is slander and a lie.” The morons who believe the film was created for some white power fools are possibly the stupidest people alive.

That said, They Live reached cult classic status more than a decade ago because that is exactly what it is—a cult classic.  The film stars the recently deceased Roddy Piper (1954-2015) (the former WWF professional wrestler) as a no-name wonderer who is down on his luck living on the street while looking for any kind of work.  As the wanderer arrives in Los Angeles (arriving from Colorado) he is initially rebuffed by an employment agency but his luck changes a little when he stumbles onto a construction site and after a little groveling is given a job.  After a hard day’s work, the wanderer is approached by another laborer who directs Piper to a shanty town located in some vacant lot.  During his stay in the shanty town, the T.V. shows are hacked by some bizarre person talking about the masses staying asleep and the population is being breed as “livestock.”

 

The wanderer realizes that the man on television is in a local church where he discovers that the church it is actually the headquarters of an underground organization.  The shanty town is subject to a violent police shakedown and Piper starts to believe that something is rotten in the state of Denmark so to speak.  To learn more, he re-enters the church and finds a box full of sunglasses that allows his to see the world as it is. Though sunglasses found by Piper appear to be worthless, they actually provide him with the greatest gift of all: The Truth and the truth is shocking.  After discovering the truth, Piper gets really pissed off and grabs a shotgun and starts shooting aliens.

After the aliens realize that the wanderer can see through their disguise, they immediately alert the authorities saying “I’ve got one that can see.” Being able to “see” is obviously frowned upon by the aliens – they do not like to be exposed.  Piper says the profound and timeless words: “I don’t like this ooooooooone bit.”

 

Upon learning the shocking truth about the world, the wanderer needs to get others to see the truth as well and shares this vital information with his friend Frank Armitage.  However some people do not want to hear about it.  When Piper asks Frank to put on his sunglasses so he can see what he sees, Frank firmly refuses and calls him a “crazy motha…”  But Piper replies with another classic line “Either you put these sunglasses on or start eating that trash can.” What comes next is arguably the longest one-on-one fight scene consisting of eight minutes of punching and kicking, which is dragged out for so long that it becomes comical.

 

After convincing his friend that the world is not what it seems to be, a shooting spree ensues.  While at a bank, Piper says the famous line “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass… and I’m all out of bubblegum” and then starts shooting every alien he sees.  During his shooting spree, he meets Holly Thomspon, a Cable 54 network executive that always somehow brings trouble.  During a resistance meeting she poses as a sympathizer and claiming that where she works–Cable 54–“was clean” and not the source of aliens’ signal, which was false and misleading.  The wanderer and his friend Frank however attack Cable 54 anyways where Holly appears again, claiming that she wants to help him. However, she is simply trying to kill him before the mission is accomplished.  She is simply another human that sold out to the aliens being used to disrupt non-corrupted humans attempting to liberate themselves and others.  Despite the odds against him Piper manages to take down the aliens’ transmitter and saves humanity.  His heroics get him killed, however, as a policeman inside a helicopter shoots him dead, but while dying, the wanderer gives the alien/cops the proverbial finger!

What a film!  Aliens, statements about America’s consumer culture, shotguns classic one-liners and flipping the police the bird before dying—frankly it doesn’t get much better than this.  This is a JPFmovies must see film that will hopefully make you part of its “cult.”

 
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Posted by on May 2, 2017 in Movie Reviews

 

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Big Trouble in Little China (1986) starring Kurt Russell and created by John Carpenter. Give it a chance you won’t regret it.

I was scrolling though the Netflix on demand movies wondering what would be family appropriate and was happy to see the Big Trouble in Little China was available for the watching.  I remember this film from the 80’s and have always liked it.  Given that the movie is now considered a “cult classic” I feel vindicated that my perception of the film has some wider-spread acceptance than the Box Office numbers the movie failed to generate.

 

Few works of ’80s commercial cinema still seem as fresh as John Carpenter’s ninth feature, a rowdy, rocking hunk of fun that both fulfils and subverts many ideals of action filmmaking. Big Trouble has been described as ahead of its time, in that it anticipated, and still outclasses, the great wave of Asian-Hollywood fusion flicks that took over action cinema from the mid ’90s on, represented by The Matrix, Kill Bill, the American starring vehicles of Jackie Chan, Chow Yun-Fat and Jet Li, and sundry others martial-arts-infused movies. But in other, fundamental ways, it’s still unique. It was, in its own moment, a painful flop that effectively ended Carpenter’s rise up the rungs of Hollywood, in spite of it being his most stylistically confident and technically accomplished film; his next work, Prince of Darkness (1987), was a virtual bargain-basement affair. The reasons for Big Trouble’s failure are now practically lost in the mist of time, but its cult status today is undeniable and entirely deserved.

Big Trouble’s cheeky take on the genre template commences with the fact that Jack Burton, the hero Kurt Russell plays, isn’t really the hero at all. He’s a tough-talking truck driver, fond of broadcasting his personal mythology over the CB radio and coming on like John Wayne’s bastard son, but he’s not too far from the kinds of character Bob Hope and Don Adams played, a posturing clot with occasional moments of competence—a poke in the eye for what was then the cult of greased-up machismo represented by Stallone and Schwarzenegger. Jack is friend and veritable sidekick to Wang Chi (Dennis Dun), whose physical prowess as a brilliant martial artist and motivation to snatch back his true love from the forces of evil clearly mark him as the real protagonist.

 

Carpenter and Russell had previously worked together on the telemovie Elvis (1979), Escape from New York (1981)(also reviewed here), and The Thing, but Big Trouble was the true high point of that collaboration, at least in terms of the director’s intent and the actor’s capacities meshing. Few other young male movie stars have ever betrayed such a willingness to send themselves up as Russell did here. For example, Burton answers the question “Are you ready?” when venturing into any enemy lair with a swaggering “I was born ready!” Once there, however, he drops weapons, can’t work out how to let go of an opponent he’s holding prone, and looks momentarily shocked when he shoots someone, giving away his essential lack of experience as a tough guy.

Another thing that marked Carpenter out as a filmmaker, but which made him seem increasingly out of place in modern Hollywood, is his care in evoking a sense of milieu and situating his heroes as a part of an ordinary world. Often, they’re blue collar dudes and ladies, included by accident in greater machinations. Big Trouble commences with an opening that gives a fine sense of Burton as both a bit of a blowhard, ranting on the radio before cramming a giant hoagie in his mouth, but also as a cool guy. After delivering a load of produce to a market in San Francisco, he sits down to gamble with the mostly Asian porters and buyers, including his old friend Wang Chi, a self-made restaurateur. Carpenter doesn’t need a word of dialogue to show us who Burton, Wang, and the rest are: normal people doing real things and relaxing in a normal way, the sort of things nobody does in modern action blockbusters except in the most laboriously signposted fashions. The only remarkable moment is a challenge between Wang and Jack. Wang, who’s just lost all the money he’d saved up for a lavish welcome back from China for his fiancée, bets Jack double or nothing he can split a beer bottle in half with a meat cleaver. He fails, and Jack catches the bottle, which shoots across the table at him, proving he has brilliant reflexes. That’s a classic piece of establishing a hero’s gifts, but it’s a promise the film deliberately, hilariously delays fulfilling.

Jack recompenses Wang by taking him to pick up said fiancée, Miao Yin (Suzee Pai), from the airport, where Jack eyes Gracie Law (Kim Cattrall), a civil rights lawyer. She’s trying to shepherd immigrant Tara (Min Luong) safely past a waiting coterie of thugs from a Chinatown street gang on the lookout for girls to kidnap and force into prostitution. When the goons snatch Tara, Jack confronts them, only to be quickly toppled; the thugs take Miao Yin instead. Jack and Wang chase them to Chinatown, where they’re caught in the middle of a battle between the evil Wing Kong triad, and the good-guy Chang Sing gang, who are having the funeral procession for a leader and are ambushed by their enemies. The Chang Sing’s retaliation proves effective until the intervention of the Three Storms—Thunder (Carter Wong), Lightning (James Pax), and Rain (Peter Kwong)—bizarre beings that seem to have supernatural powers. The Storms slaughter the Chang Sings where they stand. When Jack tries to escape this melee by driving his truck through it, he seems to run down a tall, regally dressed man whom Wang thinks might be David Lo Pan (James Hong), the legendary head of the Wing Kong. Lo Pan seems unhurt by Jack’s truck, and rays of blinding light shoot from his eyes and mouth.

 

Jack soon learns that he and Wang have stumbled into the middle of a metaphysical battle of good and evil. Working with Gracie, whose knowledge of Chinatown’s criminal dealings is great, Jack infiltrates the White Tiger, a brothel where sex slaves are bought and sold, to find Miao Yin. Unfortunately, she’s snatched away by the Three Storms and taken to the underground lair of Lo Pan. He proves to be a 2,000-year-old soldier and magician, cursed by the gods for his offences, who is really a fleshless spirit desperately in search of a girl with green eyes he can marry to end his curse. Miao Yin fits the bill. Jack and Wang’s efforts to find her in Lo Pan’s headquarters prove a comic disaster until they manage to escape and free a number of captive women. But Gracie is left in the hands of Lo Pan and when he proves that both she and Miao Yin can survive the rituals for testing his brides, he plans to marry both, sacrificing one and keeping the other to be his companion as he conquers the universe. Wang and Jack are aided in their quest by Gracie’s journalist friend Margo Lane (Kate Burton), Wang’s debonair maitre d’ Eddie (Donald Li), the Chang Sings, and general-purpose sorcerer and tour guide Egg Shen (Victor Wong).

 

The quality of Big Trouble that sets it apart from many similar ’80s films and makes it tantalizingly hard to describe is the fluent ease with which it shifts between genres and tones: a giddy succession of swerves from slapstick to melodrama; Howard Hawksian verbal byplay; Tsui Hark wire-fu shenanigans; comic book hoot; resonant, sexually and mystically mysterious epic. Carpenter’s shift into action-oriented fare after mostly making horror movies, in which control of mood, atmosphere, and story progression are key assets, saw him assay Big Trouble with a contiguous grace that eludes most physically dynamic movies where a motion rush becomes paramount. Big Trouble’s atmosphere is tangible, as the heroes perform the gleeful boyish fantasy of taking a turn down just the right side street and being plunged into an adventure.

 

Under the surface effervescence, another strength of Big Trouble is that unlike most subsequent fantasy and East-West fusions, Carpenter captures, and even builds upon, the mystical weirdness that infuses much wuxia filmmaking. This is clear in images like Lo Pan transforming from his flaccid old guise into young ghost and passing through walls, and when Jack and the Chang Sing warriors follow Egg Shen down a fire pole into a subterranean shadow world where monsters lurk and the “black blood of the Earth” flows. The references to Chinese mythology alternate wryness with wistful seriousness, and Carpenter’s music score communicates a spacey, almost haunting underpinning to the adventure – the fact that many Hong Kong films of the same period sported synthesizer-dominated scores like Carpenter’s increases the likeness.

James Hong as Lo Pan is an evergreen surprise. Generally known for playing gaunt, cagey ciphers, a la his role as the guardian of dark secrets in Chinatown, Hong presents Lo Pan as alternately the dirtiest of old men when he’s in his corporeal shell of withered leathery flesh, swearing and teasing Gracie with insidious delight, and a weirdly beautiful supernatural master in his classical garb and make-up, appealing to the unconscious Miao Yin with poetic cadence and quivering with frustrated desire. Such flourishes makes Lo Pan a far deeper kind of villain than the usual run, and Hong’s intuitively perfect performance struck such a deep chord with the actor that he directed a film, The Vineyard (1989), that reiterates aspects of this film’s plot. Lo Pan gets his comeuppance, eventually, but that’s really the throwaway end to a grandiose fight. Carpenter even makes fun of the usually epic deaths of supernatural villains by having Lo Pan succumb to the simplest of implements, with his great collection of plaster buddhas spontaneously collapsing like dominos, as if the gods are marking the passing of a great if evil force. Carpenter’s filming of the preceding fight is a source of constant delight to me, with a comic-book-like clarity of action displayed in the way Carpenter offers frames that are cut in half by swords or crisscrossed by battling opponents swooping from one edge to the other. Such stylistic rigor, light years away from the happenstance gibberish seen in so many recent action films, gives a sense of the physical space, combined with the rapidity of the editing and the dynamism of the stuntmen, in what is still a master class for this sort of thing. Whatever Big Trouble’s failures as a revenue earner, it was a big triumph as entertainment, and I still love it.

 
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Posted by on July 23, 2014 in Movie Reviews

 

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Let’s Take a Trip Back to the 1980s: Fast Times At Ridgemont High.

Where do you start with a movie like this?  Let’s go with the fact that Fast Times served as an incubator for many of today’s great actors and actresses: Sean Penn (one of my personal favorites), Anthony Edwards, Eric Stoltz, Phoebe Cates, Jennifer Jason Leigh, a young Nicolas Cage performing under his real name “Copolla,” Judge Rienhold,  James Russo and Forrest Whitaker each appeared in this film early in their careers.  The cast was not solely composed of soon to be stars; Fast Times also had some more seasoned actors in it like Ray Walston (My Favorite Martian) who played Mr. Hand, the history teacher and the dearly departed Vincent Schiavelli who played the biology teacher, Mr. Vargas.  Fast Times was a launching pad for many of these major movie and T.V. stars.

Next is the movie’s great soundtrack.  Songs like “Speeding” by The Go Go’s, “Somebody’s Baby” by Jackson Browne—on a side note, this song reached #7 on the Hot 100 and became Browne’s highest charting single, interestingly “Somebody’s Baby” was not included in a Jackson Browne album until 15 years later when his first “best of” collection was released.  Other great songs include  “Love Rules” by Don Henley, “Fast Times At Ridgemont High” by Sammy Hagar, “I Don’t Know” by Jimmy Buffett, “Goodbye, Goodbye” by Oingo Boingo, “Fast Times (The Best Years Of Our Lives)” by Billy Squier, and “Raised On The Radio” by The Ravyns.  The Fast Times soundtrack reads like a Who’s Who of 1980s top bands and music for the decade.
Now the story of Fast Times: the movie portrays teenage life but is virtually plotless, it simply chronicles a group of teenagers as they stumble their way through high school.  Typical of so many 1980s teen movies, much of it (rightfully so) takes place at the local mall giving the viewer the opportunity to reminisce about all those timeless 80s arcade games.   Though virtually plotless, the basic storyline involves Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn), the ideal slang-talking emptyheaded surfer sporting Hawaiian shirts.  Spicoli has a hard time with the formality of school, especially as it is personified by his history teacher, Mr. Hand (Ray Walston).  The two begin to have a battle of wills which surprisingly evens out in the end.  Brad Hamilton (Judge Reinhold) is a senior who hops from one fast-food job to the next but has no idea what he is supposed to do in life even though everyone, including his guidance counselor, expects a lot from him.  Stacy Hamilton is a guy-crazy chick who is sensitive, but always wants sex and attention, leading her first into the arms of an older man, and eventually into those of Mike Damone, a cocky hustler, when the only guy who genuinely cares for her is nerdy Mark Ratner. Damone is a shady character, a charming sweet-talker who scalps tickets with his piano scarf and does what he can to make a quick buck.  He tries to help Ratner score with Stacy, then steals the girl right out from under him.  Ratner is an insecure nerd-type who has a good heart and just wants his shot with Stacy.  He finds himself brokenhearted when he uncovers Damone’s betrayal.  Linda Barrett is Stacy’s best friend and confidante, a very sexy, confident girl who is constantly moving from one guy to the next and sort of becomes a quasi role model for Stacy. That’s essentially the basic foundation for what goes on.

In conclusion, this is the best 80s teen movie. Fast Times separates itself from “Brat Pack” films (the group of young actors and actresses who frequently appeared together typically in John Hughes’ films like The Breakfast Club) due in part to a much stronger cast.  Think of where the actors and actresses from Fast Times are now versus members of the Brat Pack.  Fast Times is required viewing for teens, adults and anyone with a fondness for 80s culture.

 
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Posted by on July 3, 2010 in Movie Reviews

 

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