Tag Archives: keith david

Michael Bay’s Armageddon

As Michael Bay’s Armageddon opens, a stern, well spoken Charlton Heston informs us that once upon a time a great big asteroid slammed into our planet and killed all the dinosaurs. He also makes mention that it’s only a matter of time before it happens again. Well, Michael Bay takes that and runs with it for nearly three furious hours of jump cuts, character actors, explosions, music montages and delirious extended Americana fanfare, and I love the resulting film to bits with no apologies or hesitation. Bay haters (Bay-ters to us cool kids) can whine and rip on the guy all he wants but fuck em, Armageddon is one kick ass film and an all time favourite for me. I feel like people just latch onto the glossy, runaway excess of the Transformers films and are blind to the fact that the guy has several classics under his belt, this being chief among them.

Never mind that the plot defies logical scrutiny or science, it’s an excuse to see Bruce Willis and his merry band of oil drillers train for NASA’s space program, climb aboard the space shuttle that might as well be a party bus, blast around the moon and hang out on the surface of a freaky looking meteor that Steve Buscemi’s loopy Rockhound literally refers to as ‘Dr. Seuss’s worst nightmare.’ If there’s one thing you can count on in a Bay film it’s no expense spared on spectacle and set pieces, even the ones that aren’t necessarily central to the plot. Before Willis and his team are even briefed on the situation there’s a mini-asteroid demolition derby that shreds NYC and a busted valve on his oil rig that sends equipment flying everywhere and goes on for a good ten minutes as he’s somehow chasing Ben Affleck around with a shotgun as an aside to the main event. Willis and Affleck spar with each other over his daughter (Liv Tyler) and call me an old school sap but I’ve always fallen hook line and sinker for their romance, put to the test by the potential end of the world and accented by the now infamous Aerosmith song belted out by her dad in the background. The cast is stacked too, as per Bay. Scenery chewing occurs thanks to Michael Clarke Duncan, Owen Wilson, Keith David, Jason Isaacs, Udo Kier, Eddie Griffin, Grace Zabriskie, Keri Russell, Chris Ellis, John Mahon, Shawnee Smith and Peter Stormare in probably the craziest Eastern European characterization he’s ever pulled off as the caretaker of the Russian space station who has more than a few screws loose.

As wild and crazy as much of the film gets, there’s a few characters who provide dramatic depth and weight that I’ve never seen mentioned in reviews, as most of them seem to be just focused on bashing Bay and his tactics instead. Billy Bob Thornton Is uncharacteristically grounded and dignified as the head of NASA, ditching his usual cocky prick attitude for a much more down to earth turn. Will Patton always makes me tear up as Chick, compulsive gambler who just wants to do right by his wife and kid, as well as make it home to see them. William Fichtner gives powerful work as an Air Force hotshot who also fears for his family’s lives and gets the most affecting scene of the film in a tense, emotional confrontation with Willis. Sure there’s the inherent silliness of the ‘Leavin On. A Jet Plane’ scene (it’s actually kind of sweet) and the overall maniacal attitude plus the constant stream of deafening pyrotechnics and special effects. But there’s also key dramatic moments and a host of excellent performances, and it would do many well to remember that. It’s an all timer for me, and a childhood classic that I fondly remember watching on VHS with my dad countless times. Oh, and fun fact; the guy who plays the US President here is Stanley Anderson, who also got the role in Bay’s The Rock, which pretty much suggests they exist in the same universe. I like the thought of a Bay multiverse, heh.

-Nate Hill

The Farrelly’s There’s Something About Mary

There’s Something About Mary, and there’s also just something about The Farrelly Brothers, something about the way they make bad taste seem passable and almost classy, something about how they make incredibly silly shit come across as utterly hilarious. This is a film that would never get made these days, it would get hounded out of the office halfway through the pitch, which is deliciously ironic when you consider that one of these two screwball directors nabbed an Oscar this past year for a film that couldn’t be a farther cry from stuff like this. There’s so much to laugh at here you barely get breaks in between, and while any hope of actual pathos crumbles in the face of relentless comic rumpus time, it never lags or slows down either. Ben Stiller is Ted, hapless sap who tracks down his old high school sweetheart Mary (Cameron Diaz) because he just can’t let her go. Only problem is, half the rest of the state falls for her too including ultra sleazy private eye Healy (Matt Dillon is a force of nature here) and others that I dare not spoil here. The plot is essentially really creepy and peppered with all kinds of questionable shit, but the visual gags, situational humour and just plain slapstick madness somehow work so well. Not to mention the cameos, including Jeffrey Tambor as Healy’s cokehead pal, Richard Jenkins as a therapist who’s bored out of his mind, Keith David as Mary’s gregarious stepfather and standup comic Harland Williams as the man with the seven minute abs idea. You couldn’t make this shit up, but the Farrellys somehow did and it’s one of the funniest fucking things I’ve ever seen. Stiller is an inherently pesky actor you’re never sure if you should like or just be mad at simply for existing, but it works for the role here. Dillon uses that pithy, laconic drawl to maximum effect and I don’t think you could dream up a sleazier character if you tried. Diaz is a ray of pure sunshine in anything and she reaches the closest thing you could call to actual ‘acting’ that anyone gets to here, bringing a good natured sweetness that goes a long way. Scrotums caught in zippers, a dog on fire, a horde of disabled folks played for laughs, semen used as hair gel, a hacked up corpse in a gym bag, these are the down n’ dirty things the Farrellys peddle in, and when it comes to them, it’s only the finest from this duo. Between this, Dumb & Dumber and Me, Myself & Irene you kind of get a holy trinity of there distilled comedic aesthetic, one that remains hilarious to this day.

-Nate Hill

Off Limits aka Saigon

What do you think of when the Viet Nam war comes up in conversation? Platoon? Apocalypse Now? Born On The 4th Of July? All great films, but one I like to call attention to is Off Limits, a sweaty, disturbing murder mystery set in the heat of Saigon during the height of the war. Someone is brutally murdering prostitutes in the brothels, raising enough of a stir that Army cops Willem Dafoe and Gregory Hines are called in to investigate all fronts. Because this is war and anything close to an organized procedural is hopeless, there’s a creepy, lawless feel to their work as they probe American GI’s, shady local characters and even US military honchos. This is an unpleasant, royally fucked up film that isn’t easy to sit through or warm up to, but it’s brilliantly made and the sheer level of feverish intensity kept up by everyone involved has to be commended. Dafoe is reserved but lethal when necessary while Hines brings the humour as a guy who creates a flippant smokescreen to hide just how sharp he really is. Fred Ward plays their commanding officer of sorts terrifically but it’s Scott Glenn who lays down one absolute WTF of a performance as a psychopathic American colonel with some disgusting extracurricular habits, one hell of a nasty attitude and probably the single funniest and most unnerving death scene I’ve ever seen. Keep a lookout for Richard Brooks, David Alan Grier and Keith David in solid turns as GI’s who are immediately suspects because in a climate this volatile, everyone is. A fantastic film that fires on all cylinders, is exceptionally well made and very overlooked but be warned: you’ll want to take five or six showers after those credits roll.

-Nate Hill

At play in the Fields of Cullen: A Look at the Director’s Cut of London Fields by Kent Hill

I must confess I am in the same boat as my learned colleague Mr. (Paul) Rowlands of money-into-light.com, when it comes to an interest in films marked by some form controversy. Well, not solely controversy, but the types of films that have been long-suffering passion projects finally seeing the light of day, or long overdue restorations of genuinely overlooked masterpieces that may or may not have suffered the same fate as the picture that I shall, in these words following, discuss. It is the wretched crime of the industry at large to present grand achievements in aborted states – the director’s vision left on the cutting room floor, or in the parlance of our times, designated to a file on some mass storage device.mathewThe embattled figure in this saga is filmmaker Mathew Cullen and his stunning debut, London Fields. A slick and stylish noir, bombarded by flashing images of humanity’s chaos, swirling around  and serving as the world beyond that which we shall traverse with the movies’ delightful assortment of strange and sympathetic characters. Into the urban sprawl, at the center of this film’s universe, comes the melancholically-serene presence of Samson Young (Billy Bob Thornton), who we learn has traded his own stateside shithole for the shabby chic and eccentrically opulent abode of Mark Asprey – a disembodied Jason Isaacs.static1.squarespace.comBut this is not where our story begins. Our story begins with a murder.

A death that was seen coming by its victim, along with the hook being that the killer remains faceless until the movies’ final moments when we discover exactly who our Keyser Söze is.x1080-38ESo we have Thornton/Young, a man that has to live his stories. Being a natural voyeur, he soon becomes intrigued and infatuated if you will, by the astonishingly sexy and magnetic presence of Nicola Six (Amber Heard), whom I have enjoyed since she appeared in John Carpenter’s last effort, The Ward and again in the truly awesome guilty pleasure that is Drive Angry with the quintessential renaissance man himself, Nicholas Cage.London-Fields-Featured-ImageShe has power both in character and in substance. She is a woman who has flirted with the perilous, courting intrigue, danger, the playful and the despicable. And this it would seem is her last hurrah . Bringing into the final web she will spin the polished bravado of Guy Clinch (Theo James), and the personification of grotty goodness, Keith TalentJim Sturgess taking his Cloud Atlas Scottish football hooligan character to its apex.

 

These crotch-led power-mongers think they have our girl Six clocked and at their mercy. The key portion of that sentence being, ‘think’. Because this is all ruse, all part of Nicola’s game, indeed part of how Nicola (we take from the shards of back story given) has lived out her existence until its brutal, bloody climax. Young/Thornton watches and listens along as Six leads the boys into her little traps, playing each against the other in the midst of their own debauched  and dysfunctional existences – Clinch’s disintegrating family life and Talent’s quest to become an all conquering champion of darts.MV5BZmYyNjAwMjQtNDBiYy00YWI0LWI5OTQtOTJhZDYyNTJlOTI2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjUwNzk3NDc@._V1_If it all sounds a bit nutty (wait till you meet Chick Purchase), I say now, don’t be afraid. The juxtaposition of comedy, tragedy, sex, violence, a musical number and the bizarre nature of Nicola’s game is an easy pill to swallow. For the casual multiplex visitor, yeah, maybe not – but this is a picture that had me from start to finish and brought to mind fond memories of the time when it was my privilege to witness another spectacular director’s cut in the form of Wim Wenders’ Until the End of the World – an equally luscious and absurdly-infectious cocktail of cinema.b0be7af53fa5c87a98786b212a5a1f17I have followed the press surrounding London Fields and waited for such an opportunity as I have thus been presented with, which is to experience the film as the director always intended it to be seen.5917e9efb12a157c32b854dbd16ed744912a0557 This being the case, I have in the interim sought out and devoured Martin Amis’ gorgeous darkly comedic, mysterious murder source material and also the theatrical version. So, if these words I write carry any weight at all with you, please believe my sincerity when I urge you, nay, implore you – seek out this, the director’s cut of London Fields. It is a heartbreaking urban-dystopian twisted noir love poem that, thank God, exists for us all to watch, to ponder, to cinematically wolf-down. Bon appétit, dear viewer.London-Fields

FUCK YOU ALL: The UWE BOLL Story Interviews by Kent Hill

I love the cinema of Uwe Boll. How you ask? Haven’t you read the reviews – don’t you know the stories? My answer: Yes.

I have read the press, I know all the stories. I watched as mindless degenerates hiding in their mother’s basements hurled shit across the web, and into the face of one of cinema’s most prolific, most passionate, fiercely independent figures. A man who needed, not a studio, but his own incredible knowledge and production savvy to make movies . . .

. . . all Uwe Boll ever wanted to do.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s set the ‘way-back machine’ for the late 90’s, and I’m tending the counter at the local video store – back when it was really its namesake – and they bring in a new coin-op to keep the punters in the store and spending money. That video game was called House of the Dead.

Supposedly so graphic and horrifying – as well as being literally rated R – HOTD was a shoot ’em up in the best, most fun sense of the genre. Behind the black curtain that was there to frivolously attempt to shield the eyes of the innocent from the mayhem, the masochistic, bullet-shredding magnificence, was a really cool world where the aim of the game was to blast your way through hordes of the undead with merciless glee.

So being a fan, and sneaking off to play while I should have been at the desk – when a friend of mine said, “I hear they’re going to make a movie based of this” – I was like, “take all my money man – this is gonna rock!” (And that was prior to The Rock  giving video game adaptations a shot)

UWE-BOLL-POSTER_24x36_FULLTITLE-WEBRES

I remember going to the cinema to see it, and soon being one of only a handful of people still watching after a good number of folks had walked out. So – why did I stay I can hear you ask? Well there are two reasons. One is simple – I enjoyed the movie on many levels. Yes it wasn’t the game, nor could it have been. I think people operate under the fallacy  that just because a video game has a backstory or mythology on which it is based, then it must be simple to adapt into a movie. I believe precisely the opposite to be true. I think truly solid adaptations rely more on the wit and invention of the filmmaker. To combine a good narrative with recognizable elements from the game to appease the faithful.

And, love him or despise him, that is exactly what Uwe Boll could do – and do well. For if he couldn’t dear reader, then those multitudes of investors that he went back to time after time, movie after movie would not have entertained him. If he were not commercially successful, the career of Uwe Boll would not exist, nor could it be captured in the brilliant, candid and touching portrait of a film about a filmmaker, a man, who refused to remain silent whether he was being applauded or damned.

Unlike Dan Lee West’s RAGING BOLL, which deals more with the sensationalist side of Boll’s career, S.P. Shaul’s picture meanders down the quite roads and sheds light on the personal figure behind the media circus, the private man, the family man, the man who in spite of those basement dweller’s vitriol – followed his dreams and fought many a battle to bring them into the cold light of reality.

FUCK YOU ALL, is not a gratuitous middle finger in the face from the man dubbed the worst filmmaker of all time. No dear PTS listener – it is about the pursuit of what inspires, the burden of making visions come alive as well as the reminiscences of a man who worked with and alongside the cream of the Hollywood crop while smiling at the absurdity of it all.

When and wherever you can see this, The Uwe Boll Story, I urge and hasten you. It is filled with insults and hatred but that is always counterbalanced by the friends and collaborators of Dr. Boll, speaking words of praise, constructive criticism, and overall of a man with whom it was always fun to go to work with – and as it is said best, by Brendan Fletcher (a long-time Boll collaborator), and I’m paraphrasing here: but he speaks to the haters of Boll and says . . . “when have they ever risked anything?”

It is a great film about a fascinating artist and I am most excited to present my chats now, not only with the filmmaker responsible for the documentary, but with the filmmaker who inspired him to make the journey . . .

. . . enjoy

UWE BOLL

uwe7_1.328.1

As a child, Uwe produced a number of short films on Super 8 and video before beginning his studies as a film director in Munich and Vienna. He also studied literature and economics in Cologne and Siegen. Uwe graduated from university in 1995 with a doctorate in literature. Uwe has since directed, written and produced over 30 movies with such stars as Ben Kingsley, Jason Statham, Ray Liotta and Ron Perlman. Uwe also runs and owns the BAUHAUS Restaurant in Vancouver alongside Michelin Star chef Stefan Hartmann.

(Courtesy of:http://uwebollraw.com/)

SEAN PATRICK SHAUL

Uwe and Sean

Sean is a Canadian Documentary Filmmaker who became aware of Uwe Boll whilst working on the production, Assault on Wall StreetHis first encounter the wild, unchecked hullabaloo of an Uwe Boll movie. Sean would then go back and watch a number of the master’s films before lightning struck – Uwe would be the subject of his next documentary. Boll never one to have a problem with being candid – Shaul received and all access pass to the life behind the great director – enough to construct this, his definite portrait of the man, the myth, the mouth . . . the man named, BOLL!

PLEASE VISIT: http://prairiecoastfilms.com/

 

 

B Movie Glory: The Grave

Dust off the cobwebs in a corner the forgotten ruins of VHS land and you’ll find charmers like The Grave, a enjoyable, forgettable little haunt that stars 90’s indie beauty queen Gabrielle Anwar, her kooky real life husband Craig Sheffer, Breakfast Club alumni Anthony Michael Hall and B movie sultan Eric Roberts, if you’re quick enough to spot his cameo. It’s one among an infinity of B movies from back in the day that starred earnest character actors involved in lurid criminal escapades and sensual deception, each plot only slightly altered from the last. This one see a troupe of escaped convicts (Sheffer, Hall, Donal Logue and others) running around out west in search of a treasure chest full of loot that’s supposedly buried next to it’s millionaire owner. This setup leads way to betrayals, double crosses, Coen-esque hayseed black comedy and all sorts of shenanigans. Anwar plays the scheming ex girlfriend of one of them who gets in the way of all involved like any self respecting femme fatale should. Curiously, Eric Roberts has absolutely nothing to do with the main plot and only shows up for like a minute long cameo as a country bumpkin who gives hitchhiking Anwar a ride when her rig breaks down, talks her ear off for a spill and then heads off never to be seen again. Huh. Must have owed the director a favour from the last B flick he headlined. Anyways it’s a fun one on low key, inconsequential terms.

-Nate Hill

The STUNTWOMAN: An Interview with Cheryl Wheeler by Kent Hill

20101204__20101206_c01_fe06ftstuntp1.jpg

It was an absolute thrill to sit and chat with Cheryl Wheeler, legendary stunt woman, stunt double, and stunt driver of the movie industry. She has been the stunt double for Rene Russo, Kathleen Turner, and Goldie Hawn.

Cheryl began studying Yoshukai Karate at 15 – coming from a family of mostly boys; she was forced to learn to hold her own. She started kickboxing when her instructor commenced training an amateur team. She has also studied Judo, Aikido, and grappling and trained for a while with kickboxer and actor Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson, and is a three-time WKA World Kickboxing Champion

Beginning work in the film industry in 1987, Cheryl’s extensive filmography of stunt work in such films as Back to the Future Part II, Bird on a Wire, Die Hard 2, Lethal Weapon III & IV, Demolition Man, The Thomas Crown Affair and Charlie’s Angels. She was inducted into Black Belt Magazine’s Hall of Fame as 1996 Woman of the Year. She appeared on the cover and in a feature article in Black Belt Magazine in July 1997, and also received a Stunt Award for “Best Stunt Sequence” in the 2000 film of Charlie’s Angels.

I could honestly have spoken to Cheryl for hours – slowly traversing and delighting in the stories from all of the films she has participated in. We also chat about her involvement in The Martial Arts Kid 2 which she comes to as a producer with her long-time friends Don Wilson and Cynthia Rothrock.

It was a true pleasure, and I trust you will enjoy this fascinating interview with an awesome Hollywood veteran. Ladies and Gentlemen . . . Cheryl Wheeler.

33167892_2153426741339742_2642319715074048000_n

Knights be Damned: An Interview with Silvio Simac by Kent Hill

SilvioInterviewFeature-520x245

Knights of the Damned is a film of a type you don’t see much of any more. When I was a kid there were fantasy films by the country mile – with titles including Wizards of the Lost Kingdom, Sword of the Valiant, Hawk the Slayer, The Archer, Zu Warriors, Knight of the Dragon.

But then, like the Western before them, they dried up and have henceforth become sporadic and fleeting. Knights of the Damned marks a return which sees the fantasy genre clash with the zombie phenomena in a film which sees a band of returning nights having to fight their way back to the castle of their sovereign lord through dragons, sirens and dark alchemy which has caused the dead to rise and stalk the living.

It is an exciting throwback to those fantasy films I know and love, as well as being something fresh and a little bit different. So, thrilled I was to speak with the star of show, Silvio Simac. And, thrilled was I to learn that KOTD is the first installment in an epic trilogy. Silvio is no doubt a future action movie notable and comes to the Damned with a CV of great roles in a vast array of high-concept cinema.

KOTD2SS-600x733

So, for all you fantasy lovers out there that secretly yearn for a return to the heady days of high adventure – I won’t spoil it for you – check out Knights of the Damned now, and press play to listen to a fun interview with one of the knights most bold from days of old, whose mighty sword slashes the heads of those undead . . .

Silvio Simac 91

(Courtesy of Kung-Fu Kingdom.com)

Silvio Simac is a Croatian-born British martial artist and actor who has enjoyed a long and varied three decade career with some outstanding achievements. These include being (multi-time) British, European and World Taekwondo champion. Aside from TKD, Silvio holds black belts in Choi Kwang Do, kickboxing, karate and combat self-defence. Having starred in numerous movies with such action superstars as Jet Li, Scott Adkins, Kane Kosugi and Jason Statham he also regularly attends martial arts and health-oriented seminars and conferences alongside such friends as Benny The Jet, Cynthia Rothrock, Michael Jai White, Don Wilson, Shannon Lee and many more! Silvio is widely respected by his peers for being a fount of martial arts knowledge and experience on training techniques, nutrition and philosophy; he remains a hardcore student of life, happily sharing and communicating what he’s learned with ease, covering those details that can be so easily overlooked by other teachers in this day and age.

The Nice Guys: A Review by Nate Hill 

The Nice Guys is a torrential downpour of laughs, prat falls and lovable idiocracy, a formula which director Shane Black perfected with his super underrated Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. This one is no doubt it’s sister film, and while it has comedy in spades, top tier performances all round and luscious 1970’s production design, it’s just a we bit under-plotted. Having said that, that’s my one and only complaint about it. It’s the funniest film of the year by far, thanks to the rough and tumble pairing of Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling. Crowe is Jackson Healy, a mopey hired thug who will put the hurt on anyone if the dollar is right. This occupation has him cross the path of Holland March (Gosling) an ex cop PI who, according to his daughter (Angourie Rice), is the world’s worst detective. He’s certainly a buffoon, a trait which forms one half of their comedic shtick, the other being Healy’s laid back exasperation everytime March gets them into trouble, which is pretty much throughout the entire film. The two of them unwittingly stumble into a dangerous turn events involving the justice department, murder, the apparant suicide of a porn star (Margaret Qualley), a very scary assassi  (Matt Bomer) and one angry goon played by an afro’d out Keith David. It’s tough to make heads or tails of what’s really going on, but like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang it’s not about the plot or the outcome, it’s more about watching the characters trip over each other in style as they get there. Crowe is terrific, a bear of a dude who’s in way over both his head, IQ and pay grade, aghast at Gosling’s antics at every turn. Gosling’s character belongs to that special class of stupid that is so clumsy that he circumnavigates his own ineptitude and ends up falling right into clues, without a clue how he got there. After a string of recent stoic introvert roles, he’s the most animated character of the film and is clearly having a ball. None of what the duo do would be possible without March’s precocious 13 year old daughter, played with uncanny ability by Rice, whose star is going to be solidly on the rise, I’d wager. A reunion of sorts occurs with the arrival of Kim Basinger as the head of the justice department, joining Crowe again after their work in L.A. Confidential. Basinger isn’t given much to do ultimately, but her presence is a welcome addition to the vibe. Black deserves kudos for his gorgeous recreation of L.A. in the 70’s, right down to the sickening lampshades pastel suits and souped up cars it’s a treat to see. The energy from Crowe and Gosling is where it’s at with this one, and they both eagerly tuck in to the dialogue, making this one groovy, delirious riot of a flick.  

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

they_live_23

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.