Tag Archives: John Carpenter

The Multi-talented Man of Action: An Interview with Jino Kang by Kent Hill

Jino Kang, the gentle-spoken son of a Hapkido Grand Master, grew up in South Korea during the 60’s, a time when the influence of the Western world was just beginning to emerge. The Kang family immigrated to California in 70’s.

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Jino adapted quickly to a new language and culture, all the while following the traditions of his father. He opened his Martial Arts school in the 80’s (http://hapkidousa.com/http://hapkidousa.com/). Jino holds a seventh degree black belt in Hapkido and continues to teach in San Francisco.  He was inducted in to Master’s Hall of Fame in 2009.

Although Martial Arts is in Jino’s blood, he had another passion – filmmaking. He began by making movies with his friends in Junior High School, his early screen heroes were Kurosawa and his frequent leading man Toshiro Mifune. Studying at the College of Marin, Jino elevated his skills and appreciation for the craft of making movies.

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In 90’s, Jino starred in, directed and produced his first feature film, “Blade Warrior”, shot in glorious 16mm. Jino has since shot, produced, and acted in Fist 2 Fist aka Hand 2 Hand.  Fist 2 Fist won numerous awards and critically acclaimed as “belongs in the top end of the scale of Martial Arts films”. His new film, Fist 2 Fist 2: Weapon of Choice won “Action Film of the Year” at Action on Film International Film Festival in 2014. He is currently at work on new films including a short subject action series, Kid Fury, starring one of his pupils Timothy Mah.

His balletic style and approach to action cinema set him apart from the multitude of entries in the genre. I believe should he continue to embrace this as he grows in his ambition, we shall someday soon no doubt witness an action/martial arts spectacle the likes of which this world has never seen.

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Enter “The Dragon”: An Interview with Don Wilson by Kent Hill

When you used to decide to hit the video store (back in the day) and roam the aisles in search of hidden gems, you’d discover a great many things. Sometimes it was the films in total – other times it was a star you seemed to have an unending body of work.

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That was my first impression of Don “The Dragon” Wilson. There always seemed to be more and more movies that he had been in. So, being the completest I am, I sought out each, any and every film he was in.

Don “The Dragon” Wilson is a world champion kickboxer, a European Martial Arts Hall of Famer and an action film actor. He has been called “Perhaps the greatest kickboxer in American history.”

Some (and I stress the word SOME) movies to his credit include: Futurekick, Bloodfist 1-8, Ring of Fire 1, 2 & 3, Out for Blood, Operation Cobra, Blackbelt, Cyber Tracker 1 & 2, Terminal Rush, Redemption, Say Anything, Capitol Conspiracy and Batman Forever as the leader of the Neon Gang. You can judge the scale of a film’s budget by the quality of the craft services. In the case of is brief but memorable appearance in Batman Forever, there would be no mere fold-out table with ice mochas and Doritos. No, Don found  the whereabouts of a catering trailer in which stood a chef, ready to cook him whatever he desired.

But back to the movies – Don’s career has been motoring along for decades – and he shows no sign of slowing down. With films like The Martial Arts Kid and Paying Mr. McGetty along with several others waiting in the wings, Don “The Dragon” Wilson is still as vital and explosive as ever. I for one can’t wait to see where journey goes from here.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C7DTnJSX0WQ

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John Carpenter’s The Ward


John Carpenter’s The Ward isn’t a particularly remarkable film, and it’s certainly not a very scary one, but there are aspects that I really enjoyed, one of which being the excellent original score, which Carpenter actually didn’t compose himself, for once. The film gets off to a great eerie start with opening credits that are the most evocative sequence of the whole thing, leading into the tale of one seriously disturbed chick (Amber Heard) who finds herself in a whacko mental institution, plagued by the ghost of a restless former patient. A befuddled Doctor (Jared Harris) knows more than he let’s on, of course, and her fellow patients are similarly tormented by the phantom. Here’s the thing: it’s well plotted, acted and executed, save for one thing: it’s never scary. Not once do the hairs on the back of your neck stand to attention, and a horror film should have that. I loved the psychological sudoku of an ending, but even there there was no creep factor to be found. Her fellow patients all have parts to play, including Danielle Panabaker, Laura Leigh Claire, Mamie Gummer and a standout Mika Boorem who steals the show from Heard right in the final act. Works as a thriller, padded with atmosphere here and there, but could have done with a better dose of chills to sweeten the deal. 

-Nate Hill

John Carpenter’s Prince Of Darkness

Trust John Carpenter to constantly subvert expectations, aim for innovation and simply just please the crowds throughout his career. Prince Of Darkness is, at first glance, a creaky ol’ fright fest, and it is that, but there’s also a cheeky little irreverent streak to it as well, a borderline atheist flourish that you wouldn’t normally find in a flick about summoning up the devil. Carpenter lays the atmosphere on thick, especially with a reliably spooky electronic score and a pace that burns slow and steady. Deep in the crypt of a church there lies a large glass vial containing swirling green matter, a pseudo scientific/spiritual cocktail that contains the “anti god”, a denizen composed of backward atoms that wants to break out and raise a little hell. Grim faced priest Donald Pleasence will prevent this at any cost, and hires a team of underpaid undergrads led by a crusty professor (Victor Wong) to research it, camping out in the church for kicks. You can imagine how this goes, and there’s a refreshingly old school ‘Body Snatchers’ vibe as various characters fall victim to the creeping dark forces. There’s also mind-stimulating, sci-fi ideas at work too though, including an intriguing time travel prospect and a deft little jab at religion via the story’s trickier elements. Carpenter, although hailed as a master of horror, is no simpleton when it comes to ideas, and he flexes his cerebral muscles nicely here. Ambient, gooey, smart, provocative, a terrific little fright fest that leaves you wanting more. 

-Nate Hill

Kurt Russell Week: Top Ten Performances

Leading up to one of the year’s most anticipated films Marvel’s Guardian’s of the Galaxy Vol. 2, which by and large promises another great performance from Kurt Russell, let’s take a look back at the ten best performances from one of cinema’s last standing movie stars.
Author’s note: There are so many performances of his to choose from and after spending more time than I probably should have narrowed down the list, here’s what I came up with.

10. Breakdown

In Jonathan Mostow’s 1997 thriller, Russell finds himself in a familiar Hitchcockian trope, the everyman put in an extraordinary situation. He’s not a cowboy or a guy trained in special forces, he is simply a regular man who’s wife gets snatched by a truck driver and is completely on his own finding her.

9. Bone Tomahawk

The gruesome horror western hybrid was anchored by Russell in a seminal turn as a lawman of the old west. Sporting a tamer version of his glorious facial hair that was the hallmark to his character in The Hateful Eight, here Russell plays the very stoic and calculated Sheriff Franklin Hunt who embarks with a small posse on a suicide mission into the heart of darkness. Sure, we’ve seen a character like this on screen before but what makes this performance so unique is that the familiar genre character is pushed beyond his limits with facing the primal humanoid tribe that has kidnapped a townsman’s wife.

8. The Deadly Tower

In Russell’s first major post-Disney role he took on the true story of Charles Whitman, who after killing his wife and mother buys a bounty of rifles and goes to the top of the tower at the University of Texas in Austin and begins to shoot random people. The film, but more importantly Russell’s performance, tackles the issue of mental illness decades before there was any emphasis put on treating it by our society.

7. The Hateful Eight

In Russell’s second collaboration with Quentin Tarantino, he is featured as a dopey, under-educated hangman with outlandish facial hair and a larger than life personality. In the film, Russell purposefully does the best John Wayne impression that we have ever seen on screen, and gives us a character who we’re not quite sure if he is supposed to be likable or not. Regardless of the nobility of John ‘The Hangman’ Ruth, Russell is an absolute joy to watch as he hams his way through Tarantino’s colorful dialogue and twisty narrative.

6. Escape from New York

The collaboration between filmmaker John Carpenter and Kurt Russell is one of the best actor/director pairings in cinema history. It ranks up there with John Ford and John Wayne, Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro/Harvey Keitel, and any other pairing that you can think of. In 1981 the two of them made the greatest b movie ever with Escape from New York, a film that birthed one of our favorite antiheroes of all time, Snake Plissken. Kurt Russell smoothly navigates a post-apocalyptic New York City with his dry humor, gravely voice, and arctic camo pants. Truly a performance and character for the ages.

5. Tombstone

In the early 90s, there were two Wyatt Earp films in production. The smart money was on Lawrence Kasdan’s Wyatt Earp starring Kevin Costner, Gene Hackman, and Dennis Quaid in a life spanning epic that underperformed at the box office. Parallel to that film, Tombstone quietly finished production with Kurt Russell in an uncredited role taking directorial duties over for original director George P. Cosmatos. In this film, Russell gives one of his staple performances as the retired lawman forced to pick up his six-shooter and gold star to stop Powers Boothe and his evil gang of red-sashed cowboys.

4. Big Trouble in Little China

In 1986 Carpenter and Russell reunited for a film that was a critical and commercial bomb, but over time the picture has reached an unbelievable cult following that is constantly championed by its fans. Present day, the film is universally loved with an abundant amount of quotable dialogue. Here, Russell gives a charming yet intentionally clumsy performance as the “everyman” put in an unheard of situation. Donning an amazing mullet and driving his big rig, the Porkchop Express, Russell gives one of his most iconic performances in an already crowded filmography.

3. Dark Blue

In 2002 director Ron Shelton, writer James Elroy and screenwriter David Ayer brought to the screen Kurt Russell’s most undervalued performance as a corrupt and racist cop navigating through his professional and personal life as it self-destructs while the entire country is waiting for a verdict on the Rodney King beating. Russell’s turn as Detective Eldon Perry is hands-down one of his best performances as he embodies a character who is cool on the outside but is being torn apart on the inside over his morality and emotional pain. Russell has never been one to make a political statement in the press or through his films, but Dark Blue tackles an important aspect of our society well before it was brought to national attention.

2. The Thing

John Carpenter’s The Thing is one of the best science fiction films ever made. It’s isolation, iciness, and the impending doom of a score by Ennio Morricone lays an incredible foundation of terror. Russell is forced to deal with an extreme threat, a space monster that can shape-shift and remain unnoticed as it slowly picks off each member of the small research outpost in Antarctica. Russell adds a ton of dimension to the apathetic helicopter pilot who lives by himself up in his outpost drinking J&B and playing chess on his computer.

1. Death Proof

While Death Proof remains Quentin Tarantino’s “worst film” (and if this is your worst film, you’re doing pretty terrific as a filmmaker), there is still a lot to love and admire about it. Particularly Russell’s villainous turn as Stuntman Mike. In this film, Russell is as evil as it gets yet he plays on his career’s worth of cinematic charm and affability so we not only accept Stuntman Mike, but we can’t wait to see what he does next. This film marks Russell’s first pairing with Quentin Tarantino along with a career resurgence that reminded us that after all this time that Kurt Russell is a cinematic treasure.

THEY LIVE – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

“I’m disgusted by what we’ve become in America. I truly believe there is brain death in this country.” — John Carpenter

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Filmmaker John Carpenter has always considered himself as an outsider in Hollywood. Like Sam Fuller before him, Carpenter makes genre films that are usually regarded by critics as simple thrill rides. However, underneath the surface lurks a strong, often savage social commentary on what Carpenter believes to be the problems that plague the United States. This approach is readily apparent in They Live (1988), an angry film born out of his disgust with the greed and materialism of the Ronald Regan era during the 1980s. What’s interesting is how its scathing critique of homelessness, rampant unemployment and corporate greed has become relevant yet again. Sadly, these problems never really went away, they’ve just become more prevalent because of the current global economic reality.

Nada (Roddy Piper) is a drifter, an amiable blue collar guy looking for steady work in Los Angeles. He arrives in town like the lone gunman in a western, completely with an accompanying soundtrack that even features a lonely harmonica like something out of an Ennio Morricone spaghetti western score (perhaps a nod to Once Upon a Time in the West). Carpenter shows all kinds of homeless people populating the city. Nada is told that there are simply no jobs available by a clearly indifferent government social worker. He wanders by a blind African American preacher (Raymond St. Jacques) who rants about being oppressed, the corruption of the American spirit and tells everyone that it’s time to wake up just before two police officers arrive to deal with him. Nada passes by a store with televisions in the window that present all sorts of cliché images of Americana: Mount Rushmore, the bald eagle, an American Indian dancing, a cowboy riding a wild horse, and a group of guys playing sports together. These are images of propaganda designed to keep us sedated and complacent.

Nada eventually finds a job and befriends a fellow worker named Frank (Keith David), a man who is clearly tired of Capitalism as he says bitterly tells him, “The golden rule: he who has the gold, makes the rules. They close one more factory we should take a sledgehammer to one of their fuckin’ fancy foreign cars.” Nada tells him to be patient but Frank has clearly run out of that particular commodity. He proceeds to lay it all out in a nicely written speech that sums up the American dream in a nutshell: “The whole deal is like some kind of crazy game. They put you at the starting line and the name of the game is ‘make it through life.’ Only everyone’s out for themselves and lookin’ to do you in at the same time. Okay, man, here we are. Now you do what you can, but remember, I’m gonna do my best to blow your ass away.” These sentiments eerily anticipate the anti-materialistic message of Fight Club (1999) by several years. Nada is more optimistic. He believes in playing by the rules as he tells Frank, “I deliver a hard day’s work for my money, I just want the chance. It’ll come. I believe in America. I follow the rules.” But this faith in the system begins to change when the squatter’s camp the men are staying at is suddenly bulldozed by the police one night. At first, there seems to be no reason for this unprovoked attack but over the course of the film Carpenter does an excellent job of gradually revealing what is really going on.

One day, while rummaging through some garbage, Nada comes across a pair of sunglasses that allow him to see things as they really are: the world is seen in black and white. The color facade disappears and billboards reveal their true messages: “OBEY,” “MARRY AND REPRODUCE,” and “SLEEP,” money is merely pieces of paper with the words, “THIS IS YOUR GOD,” written on them. Most shockingly is that with the glasses on, certain people turn out to be aliens in disguise. The glasses are a clever play on the notion of subliminal advertising and capitalism as the root of all evil. Once Nada wakes up, Carpenter has fun with the character, like when he enters a bank armed to the teeth, spots some aliens and says the memorable line, “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick some ass. And I’m all out of bubblegum.” Or, when Nada confirms the truth of the alien’s existence to Frank when he tells him simply, “Life’s a bitch and she’s back in heat.” From this point, They Live’s pace rarely slackens as Nada and Frank form an uneasy alliance in an attempt to stop this secret alien invasion as if Marshall McLuhan suddenly took over scriptwriting duties and decided to rewrite Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) with a dash of Noam Chomsky for good measure.

The idea for They Live came from two sources: a futuristic story, involving an alien invasion, called “Nada” from a comic entitled Alien Encounters. This story was actually inspired from a short story called “Eight O’Clock in the Morning” by Ray Nelson that was originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in the 1960s. Carpenter describes it as “a D.O.A. type of story. A fellow is put in a trance by a stage hypnotist. When he awakens, he realizes that the entire human race has been hypnotized. Amongst us are alien creatures that are controlling our lives. He has only until eight o’clock in the morning to solve the problem.” Carpenter acquired the film rights to both the comic book and the short story and wrote the screenplay using Nelson’s story as a basis for the film’s structure.

The more political elements came from Carpenter’s growing distaste with the ever-increasing commercialization of popular culture and politics at the time. As he once remarked in an interview, “I began watching T.V. again. I quickly realized that everything we see is designed to sell us something…It’s all about wanting us to buy something. The only thing they want to do is take our money.” To this end, Carpenter thought of sunglasses as being the tool to seeing the truth, which “is seen in black and white. It’s as if the aliens have colorized us. That means, of course, that Ted Turner is really a monster from outer space.” In regards to the alien threat depicted in the film, the director said, “They want to own all our businesses. A Universal executive asked me, ‘Where’s the threat in that? We all sell out every day.’ I ended up using that line in the film.”

Since the screenplay was the product of so many sources: a short story, a comic book, and input from cast and crew, Carpenter decided to use the pseudonym, “Frank Armitage,” which was a subtle allusion to one of the filmmaker’s favorite writers, H.P. Lovecraft. Frank Armitage is in fact a character in Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror.” Carpenter has always felt a close kinship with Lovecraft’s worldview and his influence can be felt in other films — most notably, The Thing (1982) and In The Mouth of Madness (1995). According to Carpenter, “Lovecraft wrote about the hidden world, the world underneath. His stories were about gods who are repressed, who were once on Earth and are now coming back. The world underneath has a great deal to do with They Live.”

After a budget of around three million dollars was established, Carpenter began casting his film. For the crucial role of Nada, the filmmaker surprisingly cast wrestler “Rowdy” Roddy Piper whom he had met at Wrestlemania III. For Carpenter it was an easy choice: “Unlike most Hollywood actors, Roddy has life written all over him.” Carpenter’s gamble pays off as Piper does a fine job playing an everyman-type hero who, at first plays by the rules, but once he realizes that it’s all a sham, decides to fight back. Piper’s performance is not going to win any acting awards but he does a solid job and brings the physical presence necessary for the role while also conveying a blue collar vibe.

Carpenter was impressed with Keith David’s performance in The Thing and needed someone “who wouldn’t be a traditional sidekick, but could hold his own.” To this end, Carpenter wrote the role of Frank specifically for the underrated actor. David does a great job as the perfect foil for Piper. The two men have this intense relationship that oscillates between outright distrust and grudging respect. This rather volatile alliance reaches critical mass in a wild, fist fight between the two men over a pair of the special sunglasses that lasts for several minutes. The brawl starts off seriously but eventually transforms into an absurd free-for-all. Carpenter remembers that the fight took three weeks to rehearse. “It was an incredibly brutal and funny fight, along the lines of the slugfest between John Wayne and Victor McLaglen in The Quiet Man.”

One of the reasons why They Live works so well is the film’s pacing. It starts off like the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers with the threat of alien invasion being implicit at first. Everything seems normal enough but after a half hour into the film, the threat suddenly becomes shockingly explicit when Nada puts on the sunglasses. From there, the film’s pacing speeds up and They Live begins to incorporate action film sequences into its science fiction premise. And yet, throughout the film, there is always thought-provoking commentary. This is represented by the pirate television broadcasts which, initially, seem like some lone conspiracy nut but eventually his ravings are revealed to be right on the money. His presence is the first sign that something is amiss. The television is presented as an electronic sedative in They Live. It’s a drug to the masses. When the T.V. pirate appears, the mind-numbing routine is broken and people get headaches as a result.

large_they_live_blu-ray_8Carpenter sees the commercial failure of his film as a result of “people who go to the movies in vast numbers these days [who] don’t want to be enlightened.” It’s a shame because They Live is far from being an overtly preachy film. On the contrary, it is always exciting and entertaining first, and a scathingly social satire second. However, the director sees the real tragedy to be the lack of humanity in society. “The real threat is that we lose our humanity. We don’t care anymore about the homeless. We don’t care about anything, as long as we make money.” If They Live is about anything, it’s a strong indictment against the capitalist greed that was so fashionable in the 1980s. It’s sentiment that still exists. This makes Carpenter’s film just as relevant today as it was back in 1988.