I don’t know about Escape From L.A., man. It’s kinda like when someone tells you a really funny joke and just tells it perfectly, and then somewhere down the line you’re like “tell that awesome joke again” and they do, but they just don’t quite encapsulate or get it right a second time and the magic goes sour. Escape From NY is that first time and this sequel… well let’s just say the magic was lost on me this time around. I get that John Carpenter wanted to expand the lore, his first film was definitely popular enough to warrant a sequel and Kurt Russell’s Snake Plissken for sure deserves many more films, but this… was just not a great time at the movies. Snake once again finds himself in a near identical predicament as the first film: infiltrate futuristic Los Angeles, now also a cordoned off no fly zone for dissidents, find and neutralize a Che Guevara clone (kind of a weak villain, I might add) with plans on rebel terrorism who is in cahoots with the daughter of the US president (Cliff Robertson) who is about as corrupt, evil and unscrupulous as you can get. So a ponytailed Stacy Keach handles his mission and he ventures into LA where he meets a motley gaggle of freaks, criminals and outliers including a renegade surfer (Peter Fonda), a twitchy guide (Steve Buscemi), a Botox saturated mad doctor (Bruce Campbell, but you’d only know by the voice) and more. Poor Pam Grier shows up as a gang commander but they’ve dubbed her voice over with a different dude to make her sound like a man, which was a huge WTF, like is the character supposed to be transgender or just fuckin really husky? There’s fights, shootouts, hang gliders, betrayals, but none of it happens with the sheer Grindhouse joy of the first film, and it all feels very strained, try-hard and disingenuous. Even Russell as Snake falters here and there, his whispery tough guy shtick that was SO effective in Escape from NY feeling a tad silly here. The obligatory final ‘fuck you’ Snake gets here is fun and appropriately cathartic but it’s too little too late after an entire film of subpar antics that just don’t cut it. Not impressed.
It’s curious how little Dark Star is discussed in the canon of John Carpenter. It’s also puzzling given its rather large contribution to the sci-fi boom of the late 70’s that resulted in Star Wars in 1977 and Alien two years after that. Both franchises continue to dominate the market almost 40 years later and Carpenter has never been hotter as he’s successfully parlayed his iconic status into successful second careers in music and comic books.
In recalling the time between the heady and serious 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and the more fantastical and forgiving world of Star Wars, it’s hard to think of any other title that perfectly bridged the two. Even in 1970, George Lucas would sear the sci-fi genre by releasing a dark, grim vision of the future with THX 1138, cementing his preferred sensibilities in the more sobering and academic and less in the pulpy adventures of Buck Rogers, something he admiringly mocks in the opening moments of the film. As the promise of the 60’s deteriorated and a public wanting more escapist fare, Lucas regressively stumbled backwards, awash in the nostalgia bug he picked up when escaping the realities of 1973 with American Graffiti. What he landed in, though, was Star Wars, a far sunnier vision of sci-fi that was bronzed with the American Western and Japanese Samurai films that informed Lucas’s creative mind.
So 1977 got space via the grand adventure films of Akira Kurosawa and 1974 got, according to Carpenter, “Waiting For Godot in Space.” Not only is that an apt description of the movie, it also is a dead-on example for the type of mindset that the defeatist and exhausted American movie-going public was in in 1974.
At the time of Dark Star’s creation and eventual theatrical release, Stanley Kubrick was still at the top of his game. Though his most recent film, 1971’s A Clockwork Orange (yet another sterile, grim look at the future), had been met with an alarming amount of controversy and wasn’t exactly embraced by all (Roger Ebert wasn’t all that hot on it), Kubrick’s reputation was still riding high from 2001: A Space Odyssey, a game changing mind-blower that still rendered him exciting and mysterious. And even though the worst of the Cold War’s nuclear fears were behind them, America still held Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove in high regard but, at only 10 years old, as a slightly older, yet still contemporary film.
Co-written by Carpenter and fellow UCLA alum Dan O’Bannon, Dark Star utilized the vision and satirical sensibilities of Kubrick’s freshest and exciting works as the foundation for a yarn about the crushing boredom and claustrophobia that is shared among the crew of a star cruiser, charged with destroying unstable planets. And, honestly, it’s totally fair to treat Dark Star as a true collaboration between Carpenter and O’Bannon as the latter’s contributions turn Carpenter’s budgetary shortcuts into imaginative miracles. Co-writer O’Bannon, later co-writer of the screenplay for Alien and computer animator for Star Wars, leads a crew including Bill Taylor (The Thing, Blade Runner), Jim Danforth (Flesh Gordon, Twilight Zone: The Movie), Bill Cobb (Star Wars, Alien), Gregory Jein (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Star Trek: The Motion Picture), and John Walsh (2010). Perhaps only 1970’s Equinox, another backyard project that was stewarded to a theatrical release by Jack Harris, would prove to be as potent a mix for future sci-fi professionals, matching Danforth and future Star Wars alum, Dennis Muren.
And like Equinox before it and the surprisingly enduring Flesh Gordon, released the same year as Dark Star, the low-budget effects are more than worth the price of admission. Though it lacks the absolutely amazing stop-motion animation of those two films, Dark Star mixes models and animation with ingeniously crafted production design; muffin tins, beach balls, 8-track tapes, ice cube trays, styrofoam packing are all utilized to surprisingly brilliant effect.
But while the innards are dressed by O’Bannon’s gadgets and his clever gags, the visual flow and sound design are all Carpenter’s which makes his presence as equally towering as that of O’Bannon’s. The classical visual compositions and the gently fluid camera crawls all recall certain specific moments that would appear later in Halloween (1978) and The Thing (1982). And Carpenter’s score is, if not one of his best, one of his more underrated; a menacing, droning wave of bad, electronic vibes that seems to elevate the film when its on the soundtrack.
Dark Star is also an excuse for Carpenter to indulge his inner Howard Hawks for the first time as he serves up a story that, however comic, is populated by Men in Extreme Situations. The interaction between the characters is interestingly humorous in the same fashion that the blunt dullness found in the uncomfortable silences of Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger Than Paradise (1984) is what makes that whole endeavor so hilarious.
As a story, there’s not too much to Dark Star. It’s a barely cohesive string of set pieces that build the framework of something that looks like a movie. And like both Equinox and Flesh Gordon, there’s not too much in the filler that sticks these moments together. But Dark Star is like raw, uncut magic. From Carpenter’s direction to the impressive number of special effect pros that sprang from it, Dark Star is like watching a wonderfully entertaining visual resume. Funny, liberating, and fueled on sheer energetic talent, little wonder that the galaxy far, far away that was created from Dark Star’s potent elements was such a phenomenon in 1977.
I think that seeing Daniel Baldwin yank vampires out of a boarded up hideout into the sunlight with a steel cable pulley winch mounted to his truck to get torched to death is one of the most satisfying scenarios in John Carpenter’s Vampires, and maybe the vampire genre overall. This is an amazingly fun, super imaginative, down n’ dirty vampire western in the tradition of stuff like From Dusk Till Dawn where the vamps are fearsome beasts, those who hunt and kill them are profane, volatile outsiders and the overall tone is the opposite of what you’d call subtle, an aesthetic I love. James Woods is Jack Crow, a vampire slaying guru who works as freelance mercenary for the Vatican along with his second in command Montoya (Baldwin) and a host of other badasses who all hilariously get killed off in the opening scenes of the film as nasty vamp kingpin Valek (Thomas Ian Griffith) raids their motel party and leaves everyone dead save for Jack, Montoya and ill fated hooker Katrina (Sheryl Lee) who has been bit and shares a handy psychic link with Valek but is also a time bomb now that she’ll turn soon. It’s basically the big opening shootout and then a series of dusty, bloody extended chase sequences across the southwest with Jack and Montoya shouting at each other, Katrina looking progressively more sinister and Valek flying around like a literal bat out of hell trying to bite them, and I loved spending time with these characters. The Vatican’s cantankerous top dog (Maximillian Schell) dispatches a twitchy rookie priest (Tim Guinee) to assist Jack but he mostly gets in the way and serves as cannon fodder for his offbeat sense of humour and strikingly unchecked rage issues. Carpenter’s score is a departure from his synthy super sonic work and has this twangy, grinding western vibe that I really liked as well. The film is loud, gory and pretty hectic but it somehow also manages to feel laid back and easygoing, with Lee stealing the show, Woods doing his blustery asshole shtick to a tee and Baldwin being pretty badass for a Baldwin that isn’t, ya know, Alec. Good times.
We’re pleased to bring you our next installment of 3 for 3, this time discussing the works of John Carpenter. Carpenter is one of our favorite filmmakers who is responsible for many classics ranging from HALLOWEEN, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, to STARMAN. Please stay tuned for our next 3 for 3 regarding our favorite character actors, as well as a 3 for 3 – For Your Ears Only crossover where we pay tribute to Sean Connery, and talk about his diverse contribution to film beyond James Bond.
I don’t know what I can say about Ennio Morricone that the maestro hasn’t already said with his unique, extraordinary and altogether legendary career in music composition, direction and innovation. He’s likely in my top five film composers of all time and the tactile, eccentric, melodious, often experimental and unmistakably singular presence he brought to the industry will never be forgotten. Ennio has passed this month but his work will live on immortal, and here are my personal top ten musical scores he crafted:
10. Wolfgang Petersen’s In The Line Of Fire
Tension and suspense are what this terrific assassination thriller is all about, and Ennio rises to the occasion for a nerve jangling yet quite beautiful piece of work. Favourite track: ‘Taking the bullet’, a propulsive entry that highlights secret service Frank Horrigan (Clint Eastwood) and the penultimate beat of his character arc.
9. Phil Joanou’s State Of Grace
This gritty neo noir sees Irish mobsters clashing in 1990’s New York City and Morricone perfectly captures the moody, smoky street aesthetic while still heavily maintaining his melodic tendencies. Favourite track: Hell’s Kitchen, a mournful urban lullaby that highlights character and setting wonderfully.
8. Sergio Leone’s For A Few Dollars More
The holy trinity of spaghetti westerns sees Ennio pack this middle chapter with iconic passages of his gorgeously eccentric, trademark composition. Favourite track: the main title, which makes full use of boings and twangs while that trademark whistle carries on in harmony.
7. Sergio Leone’s A Fistful Of Dollars
The opener and introduction to Clint Eastwood’s legendary Man With No Name, with some of the Maestro’s most recognizable work. Favourite track: Finali, with fluttery flutes and whip cracks to prove once again that our man could sample any sound under the sun and integrate it seamlessly into his work.
6. Roland Joffé’s The Mission
A period piece sees Spanish priests protecting an indigenous village from Portuguese tyranny and Ennio composed an utterly holy piece of orchestral bliss that at times sounds like an angel’s choir and soars on high. Favourite track: ‘On Earth as it is in Heaven’, one of the most moving pieces he’s ever done.
5. Sergio Corbucci’s Navajo Joe
I’ll be honest I only watched this film once and it’s a decent if severely brutal and scrappy Burt Reynolds spaghetti vehicle. The main reason I’ve included it here is because Quentin Tarantino samples much of Ennio’s work on it for Kill Bill Volume 2, which to me is an iconic film. It’s epic, bold, bleeding heart melodrama put to music. Favourite track: The Confrontation, a war cry of a finale piece that plays during crucial scenes of both Joe and Bill.
4. Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad & The Ugly
The big daddy of the Man With No Name trilogy and some of Morricone’s most prolific, well recognized work. Favourite track: The Ecstasy Of Gold, a lilting, airy composition that accents landscape and character awesomely.
3. John Carpenter’s The Thing
He goes frozen, paranoid, lonely and sketched out for this low key yet deeply unnerving piece. It’s like No Frills Ennio in the best way possible, a somewhat counterintuitive undertaking based on what he was known for, but one of the most effective, chilling horror film scores ever crafted. Favourite track: Humanity Part 2, a driving, propulsive examination of the inevitably creeping horror making itself known in the story.
2. Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time In The West
This western epic has some of his most achingly beautiful work ever, from the melancholy main theme to the eerie Harmonica strains to the booming, impossibly epic final showdown. Favourite track: Farewell To Cheyanne, a resolute, hauntingly downbeat exodus piece for Jason Robards’s character that meanders along beautifully and always sticks in my memory when I revisit the film, which is oh so often.
1. Oliver Stone’s U Turn
I know, I know, what a choice for number one. This film means a lot to me though, it’s incredibly underrated as a breathtaking piece of avant-garde, cheerfully fatalistic noir nihilism. A sunny Arizona set neo-noir with heaps of both black comedy and deeply buried tragic pathos seems like a tall order for any composer, but Ennio could quite literally rise to any challenge. Portions of his work here are bonkers, playful, full of hyperactive zips, zooms, boings and twangs and later he brings a haunting, echoey resonance to the storied Arizona landscape and suggests layers beneath the initial set up that turn the film from surface level nihilism into something more deep, profound and thoughtful. It’s ironic that this is my favourite work he’s done because you can’t find this anywhere unless you watch the film, and I *literally* mean anywhere. YouTube, iTunes, Spotify, nada man, it’s like the ghost score that everyone forgot. Check the film out though because his work is beyond beautiful here and brings me to tears every time I view Stone’s unheralded masterpiece. Favourite track: ‘Grace’, an evocative, quietly unsettling yet gorgeous piece that echoes off the canyon walls and provides so much atmosphere you feel like you’re right there.
Controversy sells right; the more shocking, obscene, the more worthy of the front page? Yet, when it comes to movies, people, it seems, are well defined in relation to their tastes. There are those with high-brows, that believe a spoonful of Marvel ain’t gonna make the medicine go down – and nothing short of complete cinematic opulence will cut the mustard.
Rene Perez makes B-movies. He makes no bones about it. But, that doesn’t mean his stories lack the depth of a celebrated filmmaker’s voice that many cineastes would site with greater reverence. Yes, his politics does hog a large portion of the spotlight in The Insurrection(see my review here), but it always shares the stage with his love and inquisitive nature with regards to character and the human condition. He is a storyteller intrigued by the grandest conflict, which is the one inside us all.
The Insurrection is presently available all over the world via Vimeo, so there is no excuse not to see it. Unlike even the worst entries in his filmography, and as he has personally stated, The Insurrection has failed to find a distributor. One can almost hear the distant echo, carried on the thermals out of the heart of the now silent Dream Factory calling, “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you!” However, when you are such a self-sufficient artist, as is Mr. Perez, you are endowed with the ability to transcend barriers of the style and genre applied to the tale you are piecing together with pictures…and actually say something.
Here with writer/producer/director/editor/composer/cinematographer Rene Perez and his astonishingly talented, beautiful and charismatically magnetic leading lady, Wilma Elles, we look a little deeper at the film Hollywood might not want you to see…but you should.
THE INSURRECTION IS AVAILABLE NOW!!!
CLICK ON THE IMAGE BELOW…
IT’S ALSO AVAILABLE ON AMAZON FOR VIEWERS IN THE USA!!!
Ever wonder what happens after the perfectly ambiguous ending to John Carpenter’s The Thing? I mean that film is pretty much perfect and never did really need a sequel, however.. in 2002 there was a follow up game for PS2 set directly after the film and its actually way goddamned better than it has any right to be, and miles better than that stagnant 2011 CGI turd. This is an appropriately atmospheric shooter that takes place almost immediately after the film as a battle hardened group of soldiers descends on US Outpost 31 to investigate what happened to RJ Macready and everyone in his team. You play as Captain Blake (Per Solli), a stressed out military man trying to stay in control of the situation as the Thing creatures begin to wake up and prey on his men one by one, just like they did with Macready’s people, and the Norwegians before them. There’s all kinds of gooey nastiness here, scuttling arachnid inspired beasties, giant glistening behemoths and evening disfigured humanoid cretins who unnervingly chase you around. This is a shooter so primarily it’s running and firefights so not quite as much delicious terror and suspense as the film but one cool thing is the level of distrust and unease they’ve injected into the gameplay in several different ways. Your comrades can turn on you at the drop of a hat and get hostile or suspicious, and likewise any one of them at any given time can be revealed as one of the things and fiercely attack you, so in that sense the dread from the film carries over nicely. It’s good stuff, it retains the hard, cold edge we remember from the film too and is exciting in spades. John Carpenter himself has a cameo too as a doctor and has gone on record saying this game is canon to The Thing mythology, which is pretty cool. Listen for William B. Davis (The Smoking Man from X Files) too as a Colonel with no time for anyone’s bullshit. Solid game and interesting chapter in this story.
It is always a delight indeed to sit down with the director of one of my favorite movies. Steve Carver (Big Bad Mama, Lone Wolf McQuade), acclaimed filmmaker and photographic artist extraordinaire has given us all, not only great cinema, but now his first book, Western Portraits: The Unsung Heroes & Villains of the Silver Screen (Edition Olms, 2019). Rendered in evocative tones reminiscent of Edward Sheriff Curtis’s immortal images, the stylized photographs in Western Portraits capture the allure and mystique of the Old West, complete with authentic costuming, weaponry and settings. Among the subjects who posed for the book are the popular actors Karl Malden, David Carradine, R. G. Armstrong, Stefanie Powers, L. Q. Jones, Denver Pyle and 77 others.
From the epic feature film to the TV series and serial, this coffee table book puts the story of character actors and the significance of their memorable roles into an entertaining perspective. Appealing at once to lovers of classic cinema, Western history aficionados, writers, scholars and collectors of nostalgia and fine art photography, Western Portraits of Great Character Actors: The Unsung Heroes & Villains of the Silver Screen will awaken movie memories in people’s hearts while introducing others to the amazing work of these acting artists, serving as a record of the best of the Hollywood Western.
With collaborators C. Courtney Joyner – a writer whose first major output was a string of more than 25 movie screenplays beginning with The Offspring starring Vincent Price, and Prison directed by Renny Harlin. His novels include the new fantasy-adventure Nemo Rising and the Shotgun Western series, which have both been optioned for television – and Roger Corman – Legendary film director-producer – who contributed the foreword for Western Portraits alongside Joyner’s crafted series of insightful essays to accompany the photographs.
He learnt the art of story-boarding from the great Alfred Hitchcock, he learnt to make pasta with Sergio Leone, and has directed the man we remember as the American Ninja. Steve is so full of stories I hope his next book is definitely an autobiography, but in the meantime we have this glorious work to sit and marvel at. Some of the greatest character actors of all time (that have also been my guests, in the persons of Tim Thomerson and Fred Williamson) take center stage in a book the is the ultimate amalgamation of fine art and Hollywood yesteryear.
Brooklyn native Steve Carver studied photography at the University of Buffalo and Washington University in St. Louis. He pursued a formal education in film-making at the American Film Institute’s Center for Advanced Film Studies, also participating in the Directors Guild of America’s apprenticeship program. Prolific motion picture producer Roger Corman hired Carver to direct four movies, including Big Bad Mama. Carver also directed American action star Chuck Norris in An Eye for an Eye and Lone Wolf McQuade.
Eva Rojano is not your average RoboCop fan. I remember Mark Hamill’s narration of the TV special SPFX: The Empire Strikes Back, in which he states, and I’m paraphrasing here: “that Star Wars has excited a generation to such an extent that the children who have seen the film are motivated to become doers . . . as well as watchers.
Eva seems to be the modern day personification of this ideology. What began at the tender age of eight, has blossomed into more the obsession. It is now, unbridled creation. Of course with all artists, we find and fixate on books, movies, comics, fine art, music. These, while they may not have planted the seed, are certainly the fertilizer in which the formation and manifestation of dreams thrive.
Eva’s journey through the wilds of the universe which began with the brutal murder of officer Alex J. Murphy and his subsequent, phoenix-like resurrection as RoboCop, has seen her not only receive friendship and guidance for two of the franchises integral staples; in the form of Nancy Allen(eternally the dynamic and resourceful Officer Anne Lewis) and Edward Neumeier(one half of the creative genius writing team that gave rise to a franchise).
Under luminous glow and encouragement, Eva has ascended from her enthusiastic efforts in the production of electrifying art and fan-fiction, directly associated with the Robo-Universe, to a place where she now has the courage, just as all artists who have come before her, to step out from under the wing of the movie that has nurtured her dreams, and into the light that is birth of her own original concept and voice.
This current incarnation of Rojano’s prolific creative output manifests itself as a novel entitled: The Black Butterfly. And I was intrigued as ever to learn the story, the motivation . . . the journey behind what drove this fan among fans to dig below the surface of her own creative crust – unearthing something fresh, unique and touchingly profound.
What was once purely driven by that glorious cinema classic that is part man, part machine, all cop, now transforms into a bold new vision from a creator that has been fostered by the cinematic equivalent of lightning in a bottle – exploding on to the printed page near you…
The story of Al Leong is not an uncommon Hollywood story in this respect: he is a face you’ve seen, but probably have no knowledge of his name, his explosive talent, his devotion to his craft and the incredible legacy he has built through the movies we all cherish. So, if you fall into that category, then you probably don’t know the man behind the face of our favorite Henchman – you probably don’t know Al Leong…? Well ladies and boys…you’ve come to the movies at the most opportune time in cinema history, because, friendly neighborhood filmmaker and nice guy all-round, Vito Trabucco, has assembled for your inquisitive, movie-loving minds this beautifully human, lovingly detailed, star-studded valentine. That candy-chomping terrorist that decided taking on The Willis was a good idea; that screaming Wing Kong Hatchet Man in the service of the ancient evil of Lo Pan – and the man who very nearly conquered most of the known world of his day…and who loves Twinkies for the excellent sugar rush…!
Man I could write for days of the films, television and memories that have and still are the fabric formed of my love of storytelling…..of which Al Leong is an indelible part. Join us as Vito and I wax political, poetical and even romantically about the cinema that is part of the wonderful life . . . of our favorite Henchman…