Monday, February 25, 2013

John Carpenter: Elvis

If you’re a fan of Elvis and like to think of him only as the hip-swayin’, Cadillac buyin’, white jumpsuit wearin’ showman, then John Carpenter’s Elvis is the Elvis biopic. There’s nothing in this movie that even hints at the darker side of Elvis’ life. Similar to the rags-to-riches story arc that is found in other Rock and Roll biopics like The Buddy Holly Story, Carpenter’s film is a hagiographic retelling of the life of one of music’s greatest performers. It’s not an overarching biopic seeing how it ends in Vegas prior to Elvis taking the stage for his big comeback (a few years prior to his downfall), and it doesn’t even come close to covering all of the aspects of Elvis’ life, but it’s satisfying and entertaining and contains a great lead performance that was the beginning of one of 1980’s most underrated actor/director collaborations.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Side Effects

On the off-chance that I actually do get to a movie theater and see a movie, I usually have high expectations for what gets my time and money. I maybe see two or three movies in the theater a year, so when I go, I want I want it to be worth my while. In other words, it takes a special movie made by a special filmmaker to get me out to the theater. I can think of no better dangling carrot to get me out to the theater than Side Effects, for it is being marketed as “Steven Soderbergh’s final film.” On the whole, I felt extremely satisfied by Side Effects and its slippery-slope of a narrative (brilliantly aided by Thomas Newman’s score, which reminded me of something out of one of Argento’s ‘70s films), but when I consider the film as Soderbergh’s last (and I certainly can’t be alone here), I cannot help but feel that even though a an appropriate encapsulation of the man’s career the last 10 years, it’s a tad underwhelming knowing that one of the great modern filmmakers consciously chose this as his swan song.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

John Carpenter: Halloween

I'm always amazed with Halloween. Here's a film that I could easily write about from memory, yet I was glad to give it another viewing for this retrospective. I found myself pulled into it yet again. I wrote about Halloween a couple years ago for the great blog Wonders in the Dark as a part of their Horror countdown. My dilemma then revolved around two assignments I had: write about Alien and write about Halloween (the two are natural companions, actually, despite the former taking in place in space). What does one write about such films? How does one approach a film that has been written about ad nauseam? I feared that anything I wrote would sound silly since so many better than me have covered those great films. What was there left to say? Well, the truth is nothing. There’s nothing left to say about a lot of films, but that doesn’t mean we are less thrilled by them and that we cease talking about them. So, let’s talk about John Carpenter’s magnum opus Halloween.

Monday, February 18, 2013

John Carpenter: Someone's Watching Me!

Even though John Carpenter had himself a cult hit with the wacky sci-fi spoof Dark Star, and found success in Europe with the critically loved but little seen Assault on Precinct 13 (he also wrote the script for The Eyes of Laura Mars), he still wouldn’t be a hot commodity until he made Halloween. In between Assault and Halloween Carpenter took a job on television, making a thriller for NBC. Someone’s Watching Me! (yes, there is an exclamation point in the title, and it makes me laugh every time I look at it) isn’t anything special — the film was made before Halloween but released on television a few months after Carpenter’s seminal horror films was released in theaters —as there’s no hidden gem to discover here. Sure, the film is pretty sleek in some scenes, more than serviceable as a nice homage to Hitchcock, and an early example of what the stalk-and-slash film looked like prior to Halloween’s release, but there’s nothing wholly memorable about it.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

John Carpenter: Assault on Precinct 13

Throughout Carpenter’s career, he has stated that many of his films are just westerns disguised as something else, specifically westerns modeled after his idol Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo. Whether Carpenter uses aliens, gangsters, or characters in a Mars prison, the director has made no bones about the fact that Hawks’ film pervades much of his work. Perhaps the most overt of these versions of Rio Bravo is Carpenter’s second film, Assault on Precinct 13. The best of Carpenter’s “siege” films (or neo-westerns), Assault on Precinct 13 is a brusquely made B-movie; it doesn’t waste a single frame. Seeing it again recently made me realize how grossly underrated the film was in my memory. Boasting the best of the Carpenter-scored soundtracks and some really expertly edited action scenes, Assault on Precinct 13 is easily one of my favorites of the American auteur.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

John Carpenter: Dark Star

Dark Star is the very definition of a seminal film. It predates things audiences would later associate with more popular, bigger budget science-fiction films like Alien and Blade Runner, yes, but one can also see the seeds of the themes prominent throughout the rest of Carpenter’s work. There’s really no need for a Paul Harvey-esque “and now you know the rest of the story” introduction here; the names John Carpenter and Dan O’Bannon need no context for fans of the horror/sci-fi genre. So, I’ll keep this short: we know that Carpenter went to USC film school, won an Academy Award in 1970 for his short film (the western The Resurrection of Broncho Billy), and then hooked up with fellow-student O’Bannon to create Dark Star as an experimental student film. Based on what producers had seen, they wanted Carpenter and O'Bannon to expand the film to the length of a feature, upping the budget to $60,000, but also significantly upping the stress levels for Carpenter and O'Bannon, for now they had to stretch their original idea to feature length. We also know that O’Bannon would later use his experiences writing Dark Star as a test for what would later be his biggest hit, and one of the biggest science-fiction films ever made, Alien