Today’s Picture of the Day comes from ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981), John Carpenter’s classic action thriller which made Kurt Russell an action movie hero.
I’ve chosen this picture mostly because, and I think this is true for most of John Carpenter’s films, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK has only gotten better with time. Like a lot of his other films in his early career, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK was not critically acclaimed. With the exception of HALLOWEEN (1978), critics gave Carpenter’s work a hard time. There was very little love for this movie upon its initial release in 1981.
It also didn’t wow the masses, as it was made on a smaller budget than most of big budget action films of the time, and it looks it, and back then with its cheaper look it struggled to connect strongly with audiences of the time. On a purely action movie level, it was not able to compete with the likes of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981), for example.
But over the years, it has aged well, in spite of its “futuristic” science fiction plot— the action takes place in the “future” of 1997. Wow, that came and went quickly.
It has aged well because what was considered a “cheap” look in 1981, now looks artistic and special. I love the way New York City looks in this movie. The set design is dark and bleak, perfect for this story.
ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK is probably most famous for being the movie which changed Kurt Russell’s career, turned him from a child star in Disney films to bonefied action hero. It actually did more than that, as Russell took on all sorts of movie roles and pretty much became a household name after this film. Russell doesn’t disappoint. He’s terrific in this movie.
He almost didn’t get the part, as the producers didn’t feel he had the tough guy status to pull it off. Carpenter wrote the part with Clint Eastwood in mind, and Russell admits he played it as an homage to Eastwood. His performance works perfectly.
Russell plays Snake Plissken, a convict who is tasked with sneaking into the Manhattan Island maximum security prison and rescuing the abducted President of the United States, and unless he can get in and out in twenty-four hours, the authorities will kill him. The world which Carpenter creates inside that Manhattan prison, and the bizarre characters residing there, are the stuff of nightmares. It’s fabulous movie making.
ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK also features a tremendous cast besides Russell. There’s Adrienne Barbeau, pictured above with Russell, Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, Donald Pleasence, Isaac Hayes, Harry Dean Stanton, Tom Atkins, Charles Cyphers, Season Hubley, and Jamie Lee Curtis provided both the voice of the computer and the opening voice-over narration.
Of course, my favorite part of this movie is the amazing score by John Carpenter. It’s one of his best. Then again, you can say that about nearly every film score he wrote.
About the only thing that still doesn’t work for me in this movie is the casting of Donald Pleasence as the President of the United States. I love Donald Pleasence, but he’s miscast here.
If you haven’t checked out ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK recently, do yourself a favor and give it a fresh viewing. It’s already considered a classic of the genre, a superb science fiction action movie from the glory days of John Carpenter’s early career, but it wasn’t always considered that way. It has stood the test of time, and what I am saying today is, that not only that, but it has gotten even better in recent years.
There’s an imagination and spirit in ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK that is present from start to finish, and it’s largely because of the talent of writer/director John Carpenter.
Welcome back to LEADING LADIES, that column where we look at lead actresses in the movies, especially horror movies.
Up today it’s Adrienne Barbeau, an actress whose long career continues through to this day as she is still actively making movies, but in her heyday, during the 1980s, she was on screen quite often in horror movies, especially those directed by John Carpenter. She and Carpenter were married from 1979 – 1984.
Here’s a partial look at her very impressive 152 screen credits:
MAUDE (1972- 1978) – Carol Trayner – The TV show on which Adrienne Barbeau became a household name, playing the adult daughter of main character Maude Findlay (Bea Arthur) in this Norman Lear spin-off from ALL IN THE FAMILY (1971-79). Maude is Edith Bunker’s cousin. Her liberal independent character was the complete opposite of bigot Archie Bunker. So, by the time Barbeau branched into movies, she was already well known to American audiences.
THE GREAT HOUDINI (1976) – Daisy White – Barbeau’s first movie screen credit was in this 1976 TV movie starring Paul Michael Glaser as Harry Houdini. I saw this one when it first aired, not just because I was a fan of STARSKY AND HUTCH (1975-79) the 70s cop show in which Glaser starred, but because in the cast I noticed was one Peter Cushing playing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle! It was Cushing’s first ever American TV movie, and he shot his scenes right after finishing work on STAR WARS (1977). THE GREAT HOUDINI is a really good movie, by the way, and features a very impressive cast. Besides Paul Michael Glaser, Adrienne Barbeau, and Peter Cushing, the film also starred Sally Struthers, Ruth Gordon, Vivian Vance, Bill Bixby, Nina Foch, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Geoffrey Lewis, Maureen O’Sullivan, and Clive Revill. Barbeau is excellent in a supporting role.
RED ALERT (1977) – Judy Wyche – TV movie thriller starring William Devane about a malfunction at a nuclear power plant. Pre-dates the more well-known THE CHINA SYNDROME (1979) by three years.
CRASH (1978) – Veronica Daniels – TV movie about the crash of Flight 401 into the Florida Everglades. Also starring William Shatner, Eddie Albert, Lorraine Gary, and Ron Glass, among others. Follows the formula of the AIRPORT movies, except this one is based on a true story.
SOMEONE’S WATCHING ME (1978) – Sophie – Another TV movie, this one written and directed by John Carpenter. In fact, it was on the set of this film that Carpenter and Barbeau first met. Long known as the “lost John Carpenter film,” as back in the day it never was released in the U.S. on VHS, and didn’t appear on DVD until 2007, this thriller centers on a woman played by Lauren Hutton being stalked and terrorized by an unknown male assailant. Barbeau plays the main character’s best friend.
THE DARKER SIDE OF TERROR (1979) – Margaret Corwin – Made for TV horror movie centering on clones. Also stars Robert Forster and Ray Milland.
THE FOG (1980) – Stevie Wayne – Barbeau’s first theatrical starring role is in this John Carpenter horror movie, which sadly, since it followed upon the heels of Carpenter’s breakthrough megahit HALLOWEEN (1978) was not well-received or treated kindly by critics at the time. I’ve always loved THE FOG, as it’s unique in that there aren’t too many other horror movies where fog and what arrives in it are the main menaces in the film. It’s an eerie ghost story, and the fog special effects are superior and when combined with Carpenter’s music, pretty much unforgettable. Curiously, one thing I’ve never liked about this movie, and it’s an unusual dislike for a John Carpenter film, is that in spite of a very impressive cast which includes Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh, Tom Atkins, Hal Holbrook, Nancy Loomis, Charles Cyphers, and John Houseman, there’s not a single character I like in this one. None of the characters come to life for me, nor are any of the performances memorable, with the possible exception of Charles Cyphers’ Dan the weatherman character, who also gets one of the the best scenes in the movie when he answers the door to his weather station in the fog. But it’s a small role. This is unusual, since in most John Carpenter films, you do have memorable characters and performances, whether it’s Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasence in HALLOWEEN, or Kurt Russell in ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981) and THE THING (1982) to name just a couple.
ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981) – Maggie -This is one of my favorite Adrienne Barbeau performances, in another genre film by John Carpenter. This futuristic science fiction actioner starring Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken, a hardened criminal sent into Manhattan which is now a maximum security prison in the “future” year of 1997 (!!!) by tough guy warden Hauk (Lee Van Cleef) to rescue the President (Donald Pleasence) from terrorists. Another John Carpenter classic. There’s a lot to love about this one even if believability is low throughout… Donald Pleasence as a U.S. President?… Great action scenes, another fantastic music score by Carpenter, and unlike in THE FOG, there are lots of memorable characters and fine performances, including Adrienne Barbeau as Maggie, the tough as nails unflappable girlfriend of super intelligent and resourceful Brain (Harry Dean Stanton), who both help Pliskin rescue the President from the villainous The Duke (Isaac Hayes).
SWAMP THING (1982) – Alice Cable – another theatrical horror/science fiction release, but this time not directed by John Carpenter, but by another classic horror movie director, Wes Craven. Not terribly well-received at the time, but I’ve always found this one mildly entertaining.
CREEPSHOW (1982) – Wilma Northrup “The Crate” – this is another of my favorite Adrienne Barbeau performances. In fact, this one just might be my favorite, pure and simple. In this superior horror anthology movie, directed by George Romero and written by Stephen King, Barbeau appears in one my favorite segments, “The Crate” which is about a hideous man-eating creature living inside a crate. She plays the relentlessly harsh and belittling wife to Hal Holbrook’s meek Henry Northrup, so when his visibly shaken friend Dexter (Fritz Weaver) shows up at his door one night with a horrifying tale of a man-eating monster back at the college campus where they teach, it gives Henry one wild idea to help solve a nagging problem before he decides to help Dexter take care of his monster dilemma.
THE THING (1982) – Computer voice (uncredited) – back with husband John Carpenter again, this time providing the voice of a computer. Arguably Carpenter’s best movie, this classic remake which was also initially panned by critics is today on so many horror movie fans’ lists as the best horror movie ever made. Period.
THE NEXT ONE (1984) – Andrea – Intriguing science fiction film about a stranger from the future played by Keir Dullea who meets the widowed wife of an astronaut played by Barbeau and her son.
TERROR AT LONDON BRIDGE (1985) – Lynn Chandler – TV movie starring David Hasselhoff about Jack the Ripper committing murders in 1985 by the newly restored London Bridge in Arizona. Written by William F. Nolan, who also wrote the screenplays for such genre films as THE NORLISS TAPES (1973) and BURNT OFFERINGS (1976). Nolan just passed away days ago, on July 15, 2021.
OPEN HOUSE (1987)- Lisa Grant – horror movie about a serial killer targeting real estate agents!
TWO EVIL EYES (1990) – Jessica Valdemar – Horror anthology movie based on Edgar Allan Poe tales directed by George A. Romero and Dario Argento.
DEMOLITION MAN (1993)- Computer voice, uncredited – Barbeau once again provides her voice for a computer in this science fiction actioner starring Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes, and Sandra Bullock.
JUDGE DREDD (1995) – Central voice – another Sylvester Stallone science fiction action film, another opportunity for Barbeau to lend only her voice to a film.
BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES (1992-1995) – Catwoman/Selina Kyle/Martha Wayne – Barbeau provides voicework for this animated Batman TV show. Her voice work as Catwoman is arguably what she is most remembered for today.
THE NEW BATMAN ADVENTURES (1997-1998) – Catwoman/Selina Kyle- more voiceover work as Catwoman.
THE CONVENT (2000) – Adult Christine – Horror movie about demonic possession and a cursed convent.
GOTHAM GIRLS (2000-2002) – Catwoman/Selina Kyle – provides her voice yet again as the Catwoman in this animated TV series about female superheroes and female supervillains in Gotham City.
UNHOLY (2007) – Martha – Horror movie involving conspiracies, witches, Nazis, the occult, and secret government experiments. Should have been called UNBELIEVABLE.
WAR WOLVES (2009) – Gail Cash – Made for TV horror movie about werewolves, soldiers, and werewolf soldiers! Also starring John Saxon.
UNEARTH (2020) – Kathryn Dolan – Barbeau’s most recent theatrical film credit is in this horror movie about fracking.
While I jumped from 2009 to 2020, Barbeau was actively working during this decade, appearing in movies and on television nonstop during these years. And she has several projects in pre-production at present.
For me, Adrienne Barbeau will best be remembered as a leading lady from the 1980s in which she appeared in some of the decades biggest horror movies and contributed greatly to these films with her noteworthy performances. So there you have it. A brief partial look at the career of Adrienne Barbeau.
Hope you enjoyed the column and join me again next time when we look at the career of another leading lady.
And with good reason. Russell starred in what many horror fans consider today to be their favorite horror movie of all time, John Carpenter’s remake of THE THING (1982). I don’t know if I would call THE THING my favorite horror movie of all time, but it is a favorite.
Russell also starred the year before in Carpenter’s ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981). Those back to back performances jettisoned Russell’s film career, and he never looked back with starring roles continuing all the way up to day. Of course, those of us of a certain age remember Russell as a young actor starring in some silly Disney comedies like THE BAREFOOT EXECUTIVE (1971) and THE STRONGEST MAN IN THE WORLD (1975).
Two years ago, Russell made for a surprisingly charming and very funny Santa Claus in the above average Netflix movie THE CHRISTMAS CHRONICLES (2018). It was one of my favorite movies that year, and Russell’s performance was the main reason for that.
Now comes the sequel, THE CHRISTMAS CHRONICLES 2, and I wish I could say it is a worthy successor to the first film, but it’s not. And not even Kurt Russell’s presence can save this one.
Whereas the first film was a touching and pretty darn funny tale which placed Santa in the here and now and had a very flippant Russell interacting with lots of present day disbelievers, THE CHRISTMAS CHRONICLES 2 largely takes place at the North Pole and for the most part is a Christmas fantasy, filled with CGI special effects giving life to hordes of elves, reindeer, and various other creatures. Its target audience is largely chiildren. There’s not a whole lot here for the adults in the room to enjoy.
Kate (Darby Camp) the young girl in the first movie is a teenager now, and she is upset that she has been forced to spend Christmas on a tropical island with her brother and mother, and her mother’s new boyfriend and his young son Jack (Jahzir Bruno). Kate decides to run away and catch a flight on her own back to Boston.
But she is intercepted by the evil manipulative former elf Belsnickel (Julian Dennison) who whisks her and Jack to the North Pole so Santa Claus (Kurt Russell) can save them and inadvertanly let Belsnickel into the magical city where he can wreak havoc in an effort to get back at Santa and his wife Mrs. Claus (Goldie Hawn.)
The rest of the movie follows Mrs. Claus’ and Jack’s efforts to save Christmas town, while Santa and Kate pursue Belsnickel to retrieve the magical star he has stolen. If this sounds like fun for you, you might enjoy this movie. It wasn’t fun for me. At all. Mostly because Kurt Russell’s Santa performance was devoid of all the biting humor it possessed in the first movie.
THE CHRISTMAS CHRONICLES 2 was directed by Chris Columbus who years ago directed HOME ALONE (1990) and MRS. DOUBTFIRE (1993). He also directed the first two HARRY POTTER movies. More recently he directed the dreadful Adam Sandler vehicle PIXELS (2015). While THE CHRISTMAS CHRONICLES 2 isn’t as awful as PIXELS, it’s one of Columbus’s weaker movies.
The screenplay by Matt Lieberman, who co-wrote the first movie, and Chris Columbus, offers nothing for adults and remains on a child’s level throughout. If you’ve got young kids, they will probably like this one.
While it’s fun to see Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn on screen togeher again, they don’t actually do a whole lot together and spend most of the film separate from each other. Russell’s performance simply lacks the fun edge fromt the first movie.
The kids, Darby Camp and Jahzir Bruno are fine, but again, their performances are strictly for kids.
Malcolm McDowell does lend some nice voice over work in a brief scene.
The special effects are decent, and the film is bright, colorful, and Christmasy. Again, the little ones won’t be disapponted.
There is a brief neat time travel bit, but even that doesn’t really take this one to any worthwhile place.
So, to wrap thing up, you’re sure to love this one…. if you’re under the age of ten.
A horror movie set during World War II, hours before the Allied invasion of Normandy.
Sound like a pretty good combination to me!
And OVERLORD (2018) is just that: an action/horror hybrid that isn’t half bad.
In the battle of Normandy, code name Overlord, it’s the mission of a select group of allied soldiers to land behind enemy lines and destroy a Nazi radio tower to give the allied planes protection as they provide cover for the invading ground forces. The battle zone is insanely chaotic, and the plane carrying these soldiers is shot out of the sky, with only a few soldiers successfully making it out of the plane via parachute. Fewer still survive once they hit the ground in Nazi territory.
Only a handful of soldiers remain. OVERLORD is their story. Ranking officer Corporal Ford (Wyatt Russell) leads this group to the radio tower which is located on top of a church. Among these soldiers is Private Boyce (Jovan Adepo), a black soldier who’s been called out for not being much of a soldier, mostly likely because of the color of his skin.
On the ground, they meet a young French woman Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier), and since Boyce is the only soldier there who speaks French, suddenly he’s a bit more valuable. Chloe provides shelter for the soldiers at her aunt’s farmhouse, which she shares with her sick aunt and kid brother. While Ford and company prepare for their mission, they have to lay low from the marauding Nazis, led by a particularly nasty officer named Wafner (Pilou Asbaek).
While at the farmhouse, the soldiers hear rumors of strange scientific experiments being conducted by the Nazis underneath the church, experiments that are killing many of the townspeople. While fleeing Nazi soldiers, Boyce accidentally finds his way inside the bizarre underground lab, and what he sees there horrifies him.
He reports back to Ford, who tells Boyce and his fellow soldiers that the stuff happening inside the lab is not part of their mission, but when events bring the horrors from the lab onto their doorstep, they suddenly find themselves with no choice but to confront the monstrosities head on.
The best part of OVERLORD is its combination of World War II adventure and horror tale is a good one and for the most part works. The World War II story is exciting on its own, which is a good thing because the horror elements don’t really come into play until the movie’s third act.
And that’s one thing I didn’t like about OVERLORD. It takes too long to get to its best part, the stuff with the Nazi experiments. As such, it really isn’t much of a horror movie. In fact, even when it’s revealed just what those experiments are, and things get a bit gruesome, the subject matter really isn’t all that horrific. OVERLORD plays more like a violent action science fiction adventure than a horror movie.
That being said, I had a lot of fun watching OVERLORD. I just wished its genre elements had been darker.
I fully enjoyed the cast. Jovan Adepo is excellent as Boyce, the character audiences will relate to the most. He’s both the voice of reason and caution, and his decisions throughout the film are spot on and in tune with what audiences expect from a movie hero. One problem here, however, is with historical accuracy. While the notion of having a black character here as the lead is a good one and one I really enjoyed, the U.S. military was still racially segregated during World War II. Oops!
Wyatt Russell is also very good as Ford. Now, Russell is the son of Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn, and there are times when his mannerisms and dialogue delivery really resemble his father, which is a good thing. Russell makes for a likeable action hero.
Likewise, Mathilde Ollivier is also thoroughly enjoyable as Chloe, the fiery French woman who assists the allied soldiers. She’s smart, tough, and terribly sexy.
And Pilou Asbaek makes for a sufficiently nasty villain as Nazi officer Wafner. Asbaek has starred on GAME OF THRONES (2016-17) and in the movies GHOST IN THE SHELL (2017) and THE GREAT WALL (2016), among others, but this is my favorite role I’ve seen him play so far. He was fun to hate.
OVERLORD was produced by J.J. Abrams, and early rumors were that this film was going to be part of the CLOVERFIELD universe. It’s not, although at times it certainly felt like it. The only thing missing was any reference to the word “cloverfield.”
OVERLORD was directed by Julius Avery with mixed results. The World War II stuff is exciting and nicely paced, though nothing audiences haven’t seen before. The horror elements which finally show up in the film’s third act, are violent and energetic, but hardly scary. This one is rated R for language and bloody violence and science fiction style mutilations, and it plays like OPERATION: FINALE (2018) meets A CURE FOR WELLNESS (2016).
The best scenes are the World War II fight scenes. While the blood and gore increase towards the film’s finale, the suspense doesn’t. I will say the special make-up effects were very good.
Billy Ray and Mark L. Smith wrote the adequate screenplay. It’s filled with serviceable dialogue and situations, but nothing that pushes the envelope all that much. In all honesty, I expected to be more horrified by the film’s revelations, but that wasn’t the case. The horrors revealed here do not rise above the comic book level.
At least the tone remains serious, and never deviates into campiness, and I liked this. No surprise here, really, since Ray wrote the screenplay for the Tom Hanks film CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (2013), while Smith wrote the screenplay to THE REVENANT (2015) the film in which Leonardo DiCaprio won the Academy Award for Best Actor, two very serious movies.
OVERLORD, incidentally, refers to the Normandy invasion code name, and not the popular Japanese novel series and anime.
I liked OVERLORD well enough, even though it didn’t fully deliver with its horror elements. The World War II scenes provide plenty of adventure and excitement, while the whispers of bizarre Nazi experiments generate interest throughout. It all leads to a bloody conclusion that is more action-oriented than frightening.
The end result is a movie that generally entertains even as it falls short in the horror department.
Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode in HALLOWEEN (1978)
Welcome back to LEADING LADIES, that column where we look at the careers of leading ladies in the movies, especially horror movies.
Up today it’s Jamie Lee Curtis.
Curtis of course burst onto the horror movie scene with her signature role of terrorized babysitter Laurie Strode in John Carpenter’s groundbreaking classic, HALLOWEEN (1978). And with some perfect symmetry, Curtis’ most recent role is once again Laurie Strode in the latest entry in the HALLOWEEN universe, once more titled, curiously enough, HALLOWEEN (2018). Curtis’ career has come full circle. Of course, she still has a whole lot more acting to do.
In HALLOWEEN (1978), Curtis was so memorable as Laurie Strode not because she screamed a lot. She did not scream her way to fame a la Fay Wray fifty-five years earlier in KING KONG (1933). No, Curtis’ performance was noteworthy because she created in Laurie a vulnerable yet resilient character who faced doubts about dating and boys but was more than up to the task of protecting the children she babysat from masked killer Michael Myers.
The original HALLOWEEN is famous because of John Carpenter’s outstanding direction, along with his now iconic music score. I was 14 when HALLOWEEN came out, and I still remember all the hype and excitement surrounding it. Sold out showings, and long lines of people waiting to see it, often spilling outside the theater into the parking lot. I also remember Siskel and Ebert’s initial review of the movie, a review in which they both praised Carpenter’s phenomenal direction. I don’t remember how at 14 my friends and I were able to buy tickets to this R rated feature, but somehow we did, as we saw this one at the theater.
I remember the theater erupting in screams during the movie. I also remember Jamie Lee Curtis. When the movie was done, and I had returned home, I couldn’t get Carpenter’s music out of my head, and I recalled all the scares, and the image of Michael Myers with his now iconic mask, and this actress named Jamie Lee Curtis. There was something about her that really resonated with me. The best way I can describe it is I felt as if Laurie Strode was someone I knew in real life. As I’ve watched and re-watched HALLOWEEN over the years, I’ve attributed this feeling I had back in 1978 to a very authentic performance by Curtis. I felt like I knew her because she acted like a real person.
Here’s a partial look at Curtis’ career, as we examine some of her 74 screen credits:
HALLOWEEN (1978) – Laurie Strode – Curtis’ signature film role was also her film debut. She had appeared in numerous TV shows before this, including COLUMBO (1977) and CHARLIE’S ANGELS (1978) but this was the first time she appeared on the big screen. And she has never looked back. Quite the film debut. In addition to the top-notch direction and music score by John Carpenter, and the presence of Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis is easily one of the best parts of HALLOWEEN (1978).
THE FOG (1980) – Elizabeth Solley – Curtis stars in John Carpenter’s next horror movie following HALLOWEEN. At the time, Carpenter was a victim of his own success. THE FOG was not well-received by critics in 1980. Siskel and Ebert expressed their disappointment, citing that the film lacked a definitive threat, a la Michael Meyers. However, the movie’s reputation has strengthened over the decades. It’s now considered one of Carpenter’s best films. Not only that, but it’s high on a lot of people’s lists for best horror movies period. I definitely like this one a lot. I still prefer HALLOWEEN though. Curtis, for her part, is fine here, but her role is not the lead, and she makes much less of an impact than she did in HALLOWEEN.
Jamie Lee Curtis in THE FOG (1980)
PROM NIGHT (1980) – Kim – John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN gave birth to the slasher movie, and suddenly everyone and their grandmother was making horror movies with masked knife-wielding killers terrorizing teenagers. This one’s not directed by Carpenter, but does star Jamie Lee Curtis. It did well on its initial release and has established a reputation as a decent slasher flick, but this one never did anything for me. For me, not even the presence of Jamie Lee Curtis could save this HALLOWEEN rip-off.
TERROR TRAIN (1980) – Alana – another crazed killer attacking teenagers, this time on a train.
ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981) – Narrator/Computer Voice (uncredited) – An uncredited Curtis provides the voice of the narrator and computer in this exciting futuristic crime thriller by John Carpenter, notable also for Kurt Russell’s memorable performance as Snake Plissken.
HALLOWEEN II (1981) – Laurie Strode – Inferior sequel to HALLOWEEN. Rick Rosenthal takes over the directing duties from John Carpenter, and his vision here is far less impressive. Curtis is okay, but sadly, spends most of the movie confined to a hospital bed and in and out of a medicated stupor. While this really is not a good movie, it is actually better than most of the later HALLOWEEN films, some of which are really, really bad.
With Donald Pleasence in HALLOWEEN II (1981)
HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1983) – Curfew Announcer/Telephone Operator (uncredited) – A disaster upon its initial release, this was part of John Carpenter’s vision to create a HALLOWEEN series featuring different horror stories each year and not necessarily be about Michael Myers, but film audiences wanted Myers and didn’t really accept this movie. That being said, this one has enjoyed a growing reputation over the decades, and there are some (not me) who consider this to be the best of all the HALLOWEEN movies.
TRADING PLACES (1983) – Ophelia – This funny comedy by director John Landis stars Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy. Murphy, who was insanely popular at the time due to his stint on Saturday Night Live, is the main reason to see this one, but Jamie Lee Curtis is also hilarious in her role as prostitute Ophelia. She makes the jump into a non-horror movie quite nicely.
GRANDVIEW U.S.A. (1984) – Michelle “Mike” Cody – Drama in which Curtis co-stars with C. Thomas Howell and Patrick Swayze that asks the question, can the young folks from Grandview U.S.A. pursue their dreams and shed their small town roots? Nothing special.
A FISH CALLED WANDA (1988) – Wanda Gershwitz – co-stars with John Cleese, Kevin Kline, and Michael Palin in this uproarious comedy written by Cleese. Kline won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.
Michael Palin, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Kevin Kline in A FISH CALLED WANDA (1988)
FOREVER YOUNG (1992) – Claire Cooper – co-stars with Mel Gibson who plays a 1939 pilot awoken from a cryogenic sleep in 1992. Written by J.J. Abrams.
TRUE LIES (1994) – Helen Tasker – plays the wife of a spy, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, in this entertaining action comedy by director James Cameron.
FIERCE CREATURES (1997) – Willa Weston – Reunited with her co-stars from A FISH CALLED WANDA, John Cleese, Kevin Kline, and Michael Palin, this time with lesser results.
HALLOWEEN H20 – TWENTY YEARS LATER (1998) -Laurie Strode- Curtis returns to the HALLOWEEN series after a three film hiatus, and the emphasis returns to Laurie Strode, still dealing with the trauma caused by Michael Myers twenty years earlier. The masked killer of course once more sets his sights on terrorizing Laurie. Some girls have all the fun. This film was well-received when it first came out, but it hasn’t aged all that well. That being said, I still like this one a lot.
Facing fear in HALLOWEEN H20 (1998)
HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION (2002)- Laurie Strode – Curtis returns as Laurie Strode for about two seconds before her character is abruptly killed by Michael Myers in the most undramatic and anticlimactic of ways. By far, the absolute worst of all the HALLOWEEN movies.
FREAKY FRIDAY (2003) – Tess Coleman – co-stars with Lindsay Lohan in this remake of the Disney classic.
SCREAM QUEENS (TV Series) (2015-2016) – Dean Cathy Munsch- TV horror/comedy series about a— you got it— a crazed serial killer terrorizing, among other places, a college campus.
HALLOWEEN (2018) – Laurie Strode – Curtis comes full circle, playing Laurie Strode once again, this time in a movie that ignores every other HALLOWEEN movie in the series except the original. Lots of hype and box office success, but ultimately this one was a letdown. Curtis’ scenes and storyline are the best parts, as she is once again still dealing with the trauma from Michael Myer’s original attack, now forty years earlier. Everything else in this film is pretty bad. A major disappointment.
Taking on Michael Myers yet again in HALLOWEEN (2018)
And that wraps things up for this edition of LEADING LADIES.
Join me again next time when we check out the career of another Leading Lady.
I loved the first GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014), and it instantly ranked as one of my favorite Marvel superhero movies. As such, I was really looking forward to VOL. 2, and I fully expected to like it.
I did not.
As GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 (2017) opens, old friends Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), and newly born Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) are busy saving the galaxy from bad guys, in particular taking on a giant monster in order to protect a civilization’s valuable commodity, batteries. They’re also busy arguing with each other, and their banter is certainly one of the more enjoyable parts of the movie.
When Rocket steals some of the batteries they were supposed to be protecting, Queen Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) sends an armada of ships in hot pursuit to get the batteries back. Our friendly neighborhood galaxy guardians are rescued by Ego (Kurt Russell) who claims to be Quill’s long-lost father. He’s also all-powerful and invites Quill and his friends to his own personal planet which he made himself to show his son what a wonderful life he had been missing.
Meanwhile, Yondu (Michael Rooker) has been shamed by his fellow traders because he had taken part in the buying and selling of children. Yondu decides it’s time he makes amends, and he seeks out Quill, one of those former children. And the Guardians will need his help because things are not what they seem with Quill’s dad, Ego.
The biggest problem I had with GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 is its story. The Guardians of the galaxy are a fun group of wise-cracking, in-fighting misfit superheroes, but in this movie their main adversary is Ego, and for most of the movie, they don’t even know he’s an adversary. Instead, they spend most of their time dealing with Ayesha, who really isn’t that interesting a character.
Another subplot has Gamora contending with her sister Nebula (Karen Gillan), another story that isn’t all that interesting. Then there’s the cutesiness of Baby Groot. Now, I had fun watching Baby Groot, but I thought the film went overboard with all the cute stuff.
In short, I love the main characters, the guardians, and I still had fun watching them. But they’re stuck in a story here that absolutely bored me. And once more, as if it’s a mandatory part of the Marvel movie formula, there isn’t an intriguing or worthwhile villain to be found anywhere in the galaxy.
Chris Pratt returns as Star-Lord, and he’s as handsomely charming as ever, but he’s in this flat story with his dad Ego, and the character suffers for it. Likewise, while I really enjoyed Zoe Saldana as Gamora once again, she too is hindered by her main story, the ongoing rift with her sister Nebula.
Dave Bautista probably fares the best in his return as Drax, as he has some of the funnier lines in the film. But in terms of action, Drax doesn’t do a whole lot. Bradley Cooper is enjoyable again voicing Rocket, and then there’s Baby Groot. I have no problems with Baby Groot, but if the main story of this one had been stronger, I wouldn’t have found the cutesiness here with Baby Groot so grating.
Probably my favorite performance in the whole movie belongs to Michael Rooker as Yondu, in the largest supporting role in the movie. Yondu was in the first film as well, and the character is further developed this time around, and Rooker is more than up to the task of fleshing out this bright blue character.
Karen Gillan gets more screen time as Nebula as well, and a new character Mantis (Pom Klementieff) gets to enjoy some fine moments, mostly when interacting with Drax.
But the villains fall completely flat here. I had been excited about Kurt Russell playing Ego in this movie, and there’s nothing wrong with Russell’s performance, but I found the character boring. Likewise, Elizabeth Debicki did nothing for me as Ayesha. The biggest knock on these villains is their agendas are dull. Ayesha is just chasing down stolen batteries and looking for payback, and Ego is all about what his name implies. All this evil power, and nothing to do with it. What’s a villain to do?
Sylvester Stallone shows up for about five seconds as Stakar Ogord, in a role that’s clearly a set-up for a future movie.
James Gunn, who wrote and directed the first GUARDIANS movie, is back doing both here in the sequel. He scores better behind the camera than at the keyboard. I thought the film looked great. I saw it in 2D, and it looked fine, although I wouldn’t have minded seeing it in 3D, but the times didn’t work out for me. The visuals are eye-poppingly colorful and cinematic.
The action scenes are so-so. While fun and lively, none of the action scenes here blew me away. Some went on too long and made me yawn.
Again, the biggest knock on this one is its screenplay, by director James Gunn. The story did nothing for me, and the villains were disappointing. Ego has all this power and ability and he seems to know nothing about what to do with it. Boring.
And the film’s theme, that they are more than friends, that they are family, has been done to death already and didn’t add anything fresh to this sequel.
As expected, the film does have another awesome mix as a soundtrack, so there are no complaints here.
Like other Marvel movies, there is an after credits scene. No, wait, that’s not quite accurate. There are several after credit scenes, so you if you want to see them all, you have to wait till the very end of the movie. That being said, to be honest, I didn’t like any of these after-credit scenes. It’s a case where more doesn’t mean better, which is a nice microcosm of the entire movie.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 brings our entertaining squabbling guardians back to the big screen, and they are certainly fun to watch, but they’re stuck in a dull storyline that doesn’t do them justice.
The awesome mix volume 2 simply isn’t quite as awesome the second time around.
Books by Michael Arruda:
TIME FRAME, science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.
Welcome to another edition of MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES, the column where we look at fun quotes from some pretty cool movies.
Up today a movie that makes the short list on almost every horror fan’s “Best of” lists. In fact, this gem— which was a flop upon its initial release— is often listed as the number 1 all-time favorite horror movie by horror fans. I’m talking about John Carpenter’s THE THING (1982).
A remake of the classic THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951) starring James Arness as one of the creepiest scariest alien monsters from outer space ever, this John Carpenter version was truer to the original source material, the short story “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell, Jr. Yet that didn’t seem to matter back in 1982. Critics slammed the film because of its excessive gore and outlandish special effects. The complaint was the film didn’t contain the same creative directing Carpenter displayed on his break-out hit, HALLOWEEN (1978).
But fans felt otherwise. The year 1982 was the dawn of the VHS/VCR age, and I remember when this movie was released on video, it suddenly started gaining momentum and word of mouth spread rapidly. And like I said, today John Carpenter’s THE THING is heralded as a horror movie classic, and rightly so.
The screenplay by Bill Lancaster contains lots of memorable lines. Let’s have a look:
Even though the film is loaded with gory special effects, it still generates a sense of mystery and creepiness early on, like here when Blair (Wilford Brimley) explains his findings after his autopsy on the slaughtered dogs:
BLAIR: You see, what we’re talking about here is an organism that imitates other life forms, and it imitates them perfectly. When this thing attacked our dogs it tried to digest them… absorb them, and in the process shape its own cells to imitate them. This for instance. That’s not dog. It’s imitation. We got to it before it had time to finish.
NORRIS: Finish what?
BLAIR: Finish imitating these dogs.
And again, later when Fuchs asks to speak with MacReady (Kurt Russell) privately to read him Blair’s notes and to tell him his fears about what’s really going on inside the camp. At this point in the movie, neither the characters nor the audience knows yet what the Thing is, and so these scenes of dialogue set the groundwork for introducing the horror which is yet to come.
FUCHS: There’s something wrong with Blair. He’s locked himself in his room and he won’t answer the door, so I took one of his notebooks from the lab.
FUCHS: Listen: (Reading from Blair’s notes) “It could have imitated a million life forms on a million planets. It could change into any one of them at any time. Now, it wants life forms on Earth.”
MACREADY: It’s getting cold in here, Fuchs, and I haven’t slept for two days.
FUCHS: Wait a minute, Mac, wait a minute. “It needs to be alone and in close proximity with the life form to be absorbed. The chameleon strikes in the dark.”
MACREADY: So is Blair cracking up or what?
FUCHS: Damn it, MacReady! “There is still cellular activity in these burned remains. They’re not dead yet!”
Kurt Russell’s MacReady gets a lot of the good lines in the movie, especially later on as his character emerges as the natural leader among the camp and the most promising opponent of the Thing. But first he has to deal with his own men, as they suspect him of being the Thing. In this scene, he holds off his men with some dynamite, something that Childs (Keith David) scoffs at:
CHILDS: You’re gonna have to sleep sometime, MacReady.
MACREADY: I’m a real light sleeper, Childs.
“I’m a real light sleeper, Childs.”
Later, Macready devises a test to reveal the identity of the Thing, in one of the movie’s best scenes. Let’s listen:
MACREADY: I know I’m human. And if you were all these things, then you’d just attack me right now, so some of you are still human. This thing doesn’t want to show itself, it wants to hide inside an imitation. It’ll fight if it has to, but it’s vulnerable out in the open. If it takes us over, then it has no more enemies, nobody left to kill it. And then it’s won.
We’re gonna draw a little bit of everybody’s blood… ’cause we’re gonna find out who’s The Thing. Watching Norris in there gave me the idea that… maybe every part of him was a whole, every little piece was an individual animal with a built-in desire to protect its own life. You see, when a man bleeds, it’s just tissue, but blood from one of you Things won’t obey when it’s attacked. It’ll try and survive… crawl away from a hot needle, say.
Later, when they try to restore power to their camp, Garry (Donald Moffat) makes a grim discovery and in this scene tells MacReady the bad news:
GARRY: The generator’s gone.
MACREADY: Any way we can we fix it?
GARRY: It’s gone, MacReady.
Meaning it is no longer physically there. Yikes!
Two of the best lines from THE THING come from two of the supporting characters. Donald Moffat’s Garry has one of them. In the scene where MacReady performs his test to learn the Thing’s identity, Garry is one of the men he trusts the least at the time, and so he had Garry tied to a couch along with two other men. One of the men turns out to be the Thing in one of the movie’s most exciting sequences. After it’s done, and both the characters and audience breathe a sigh of relief, Garry still finds himself tied to the couch. And after a moment’s pause, he says:
GARRY: I know you gentlemen have been through a lot, but when you find the time, I’d rather not spend the rest of this winter TIED TO THIS F—-ING COUCH!
Get me off this couch, please.
But hands down, the best line in the movie and certainly the most memorable line in the movie, belongs to Palmer (David Clennon). After an intense battle with the Thing, the severed head of one of its victims sprouts legs and crawls away like a giant spider. Palmer, wide-eyed and incredulous, sees this spectacle and says,
PALMER: You gotta be f—in’ kidding.
Well, I hope you enjoyed this look at memorable quotes from John Carpenter’s THE THING, screenplay by Bill Lancaster, a true masterpiece of horror movie cinema.
That’s it for now. Join me again next time when we look at more memorable quotes from another cool movie.
There’s a fine line between having a compelling story to tell, and telling a compelling story.
The recent movie SULLY (2016) is a perfect example of the latter. It had a compelling story to tell, and director Clint Eastwood knew how to tell it.
DEEPWATER HORIZON (2016), on the other hand, tells the story of the 2010 explosion on the offshore drilling rig Deepwater Horizon, an event that led to the worst oil spill in U.S. history. It’s a memorable story, but the movie struggles to tell it.
The film opens with Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) at home with his family, getting ready to say farewell to them for a few weeks while he returns to work on the Deepwater Horizon. He’s enjoying time with his wife Felicia (Kate Hudson) and their daughter, and if you’ve seen the film’s trailer, you’ve seen the cute conversation they all share over their breakfast table. It actually made for a very effective trailer, but here in the film it only adds to a rather slow beginning.
The purpose of these early family scenes is to personalize the story. Rather than follow the lives of many people on the rig, the film chooses to follow mostly Mike, and to juxtapose his scenes with those of the panicked Felicia back home. This really isn’t all that effective, and sadly reduces Kate Hudson to being in a series of reaction shots where she doesn’t do much more than look worried.
So Mike goes off to work and meets up with his boss Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell) and co-worker Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez). Once on the rig, Jimmy immediately butts heads with members of the company that owns Deepwater Horizon led by a man named Vidrine (John Malkovich) who has been cutting costs by skimping on routine safety checks because he believes the Deepwater Horizon will work fine without them. Jimmy, of course, is protective of his crew and refuses to proceed without the necessary precautionary tests.
Unfortunately, Jimmy’s tests are too little too late, as the company had let things slide so badly, that in the middle of one of the tests, the equipment is compromised and there is a gush of mud which overheats the engines and leads to a catastrophic explosion.
DEEPWATER HORIZON gets off to a sluggish start, and even though I was interested in this story, because I knew what it was about, the film didn’t grab my attention. The early scenes with Mike and his family were okay, and the ensuing arguments between Jimmy and the company were certainly interesting, but there’s a whole rig full of people, and we don’t really get to know many of the characters at all. Before the explosion, most of the exposition was simple and dull.
Once the explosion occurs, things pick up, but that being said, for a disaster movie, none of the scenes really wowed me. Most of the action occurs at a rapid fire pace, and the camera is in close, making it very difficult to see what’s going on. It also doesn’t help that the only character we’ve really gotten to know is Mike, so when the camera is on him, things are captivating, but whenever the action follows someone else, it’s like following a random red shirt on an episode of STAR TREK.
Director Peter Berg does an undistinguished job capturing the action. The film is begging for an establishing shot, seeing the scene unfold from a distance so we can have a sense of the scope of the tragedy. While there are some shots of Deepwater Horizon burning, for the bulk of the action, the camera is in way too close and it’s difficult to discern just what exactly is happening. There’s plenty of mud shooting around, plenty of men slipping and sliding, explosions, fire everywhere, people scrambling, but left out of the whole thing were my emotions. I didn’t know the people in this tragedy, and the movie suffered for it.
The film also does little with the actual Coast Guard rescue of these folks. We hardly see what happens at all. In SULLY, the rescue was one of the movie’s high points. Not so here.
The screenplay by Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand was meh. I didn’t really like the background story of Mike and his family, as it didn’t add anything here. Again, to compare to SULLY, in that film, Tom Hanks’ character converses with his worried wife over the phone on several occasions, but those conversations moved the plot forward, as they gave Hanks’ character opportunities to question his actions. The scenes here between Mike and his wife Felicia do not move the plot forward. They only stall the story.
The dialogue was flat and uninspiring, very generic, except for the one sequence where Mike gets in Andrea’s face and really lays it on her as to why they are going to survive. It’s also Wahlberg’s best moment in the movie. The best dialogue belongs to Kurt Russell’s Jimmy, but once the explosion hits, Jimmy takes a back seat to Mike in the story.
Matthew Michael Carnahan was also one of the screenwriters on WORLD WAR Z (2013), a film I liked a bit more than DEEPWATER HORIZON.
Mark Wahlberg is fine here as Mike. It’s the type of role Wahlberg can play in his sleep, at this point. His performance is good enough to carry this movie, except that he really doesn’t have a lot of potent scenes in this one. His best scene comes near the end when he pushes the panicked Andrea to survive.
Actually, my favorite performance in the movie belonged to Kurt Russell as Jimmy. He really brings Jimmy to life, and you feel from the get-go that Jimmy takes his job seriously and that he will not compromise the lives of his crew. We’ve been seeing more of Russell in the movies lately, and I hope this trend continues. The only drawback is that most of Russell’s screen time here occurs before the explosion.
Kate Hudson is largely wasted in a throwaway role as Mike’s wife Felicia. John Malkovich is okay as one of the cost-cutting meanies from the company, but he’s not really in this one a whole lot.
On the contrary, Gina Rodriguez is very good as Andrea Fleytas, the woman who helms the controls on Deepwater Horizon. The rest of the cast are little more than interchangeable cardboard cutouts.
The strongest thing DEEPWATER HORIZON has to offer is the true story on which it is based. This is reiterated during the movie’s end credits, when we see the names and photographs of the men killed during the explosion.
But source material alone isn’t enough to make a powerful movie. A film needs a strong storytelling component, generated by creative directing and a sharp script. DEEPWATER HORIZON has neither.
As such, in spite of its gripping story, it struggles to stay afloat.
BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1986) marked the fourth time director John Carpenter worked with actor Kurt Russell, following ELVIS (1979), ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981), and THE THING (1982).
Whereas time has been kind to both ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and THE THING—THE THING is often ranked #1 on horror fans’ “Favorite Horror Movie” lists— when they first came out, neither film was a hit. In fact, THE THING was a box office bomb.
Kurt Russell wasn’t faring much better in 1986. He had just come off a string of films that had performed very poorly at the box office, and the story goes that he was so worried about his box office slump that he told Carpenter to get someone else to star in BIG TROUBLE, but Carpenter told him not to worry, that he wanted him to star in the movie.
I wish I could say that BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA was a huge hit and rejuvenated the careers of both these artists, but that’s not what happened. Like their previous few films, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA also tanked at the box office.
But like ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and THE THING, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA has enjoyed a resurgence. Fans nowadays like this movie. I saw it when it first came out, and I did not like it. I liked it so little that I never bothered to watch it again.
And that’s because I’ve been hearing fans say good things about the movie, and I thought it was high time I gave it a second viewing.
BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA is a strange movie. It’s an action adventure that takes place in Chinatown, San Francisco and involves Chinese mysticism, which gives the film a supernatural element. It’s also a comedy, meaning that the entire thing is played for laughs.
Truck driver Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) and his friend Wang Chi (Dennis Dun) go to the airport to pick up Wang’s girlfriend, Miao Yin (Suzee Pai). While there, Jack flirts with a woman named Gracie Law (Kim Cattrall) which provides him with a few minutes of fun before a Chinese gang shows up and kidnaps Miao.
Jack and Wang give chase, but the gang eludes them and gets away with Miao. Wang vows to get her back, and Jack agrees to help him. I guess no one thought to call the police. Anyway, Gracie Law shows up at their doorstep and reveals that she’s a lawyer who knows all about the Chinese mystical underworld, and she wants to help Jack and Wang as well. They also receive help from Egg Shen (Victor Wong), a bus driver who’s also an expert on Chinese sorcery.
They need all this help because Miao has been kidnapped by David Lo Pan (James Hong), a two thousand year-old sorcerer who’s cursed to walk the earth without his physical body. To lift the curse, he has to marry a girl with green eyes, which is why he kidnapped Miao, because she has green eyes. It turns out that Gracie Law also has green eyes. Suddenly Lo Pan has more choices than he knows what to do with. Life is good. For a while, anyway, as soon Jack and Wang show up, and they’re all about taking down Lo Pan and his supernatural army. Good luck with that!
As I said, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA is played for laughs. There isn’t a serious bone in this one’s body.
At first, I was really enjoying this one, and during the movie’s first half, I thought my opinion of it would change. What wasn’t to like? It was full of 1980s nostalgia, it had Kurt Russell, lots of colorful martial art action scenes, monsters, supernatural goings on, and a neat music score by John Carpenter.
But midway through, the movie runs out of gas, and I remembered why I didn’t really like this one back in 1986. The martial arts action scenes start to get repetitive, and a major reason why is they’re simply not very good.
The script by Gary Goldman and David Z. Weinstein also fizzles. Early on, things are mysterious, and the dialogue is rapid fire funny, but later, once you know Lo Pan’s story, it’s pretty ridiculous, even it if is played for laughs. I’ve seen more believable plots on SCOOBY DOO. And the humor definitely loses its edge, mostly because after a while it’s simply Jack and Wang dealing with one unbelivable situation after another.
The film definitely gets goofier as it goes along, becoming flat our silly rather than focusing on the action and the adventure. Had this one had more of an edge to it, and kept the humor in the background, it would have worked better.
Kurt Russell based Jack Burton on John Wayne, and it’s apparent right from the get-go. Russell is fun to watch here because he really does capture the Duke’s onscreen persona. Similarly, Russell based Snake Plissken in ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK on Clint Eastwood, which is also clearly apparent.
Kurt Russell as Jack Burton in BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1986)
Things would change for Russell with his next movie, the hit comedy OVERBOARD (1987) in which he starred with Goldie Hawn. And a series of hits would follow Russell over the next five years.
While Russell is entetaining in BIG TROUBLE, Dennis Dun is just OK as Wang Chi. He lacks Russell’s charisma and larger than life qualities, which is too bad because one of the movie’s jokes is that Jack thinks he’s the hero, yet he’s constantly messing things up, and it’s Wang who’s the true hero in the movie, but at times, Dun doesn’t make this notion all that believable.
Kim Cattrall is the epitome of 1980s actresses, and she fits right in here. She’s got the 80s hairstyle, and she plays Gracie Law with a mixture of strength and ditziness. She could easily walk into the CHEERS bar for a drink.
Kim Cattrall as Gracie Law in BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1986).
Victor Wong is sufficiently knowledgable as Egg Shen, but James Hong is rather ineffective as main baddie David Lo Pan. He spends most of the time behind make-up and special effects.
The special effects are OK. They run hot and cold, and they’re really cheesy. I guess that’s part of the charm for some people.
So, after my second viewing, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA remains not one of my favorite John Carpenter movies. Sadly, Carpenter would follow this up with the even worse PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1987). It would be a little while before Carpenter would find his stride again, and that would be with IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS (1995).
BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA means well. It’s got tons of energy, and everyone looks like they’re having a grand old time. But as the action becomes flat out goofy, the story doesn’t hold up, and the script doesn’t match the film’s inanity, as the dialogue and situations are never that funny, it all becomes rather tedious long before the end credits roll.
The trouble in Little China just isn’t all that big.
Welcome back to THE HORROR JAR, that column where we look at lists about horror movies. Up today: John Carpenter/Kurt Russell movies. Yup, a look at the movies in which horror master John Carpenter directed former child star turned action hero Kurt Russell.
Directed: John Carpenter
Screenplay: Anthony Lawrence
Elvis Presley: Kurt Russell
Gladys Presley: Shelley Winters
Vernon Presley: Bing Russell
Priscilla Presley: Season Hubley
Music: Joe Renzetti
Running Time: 150 minutes
Yup, the first time Carpenter and Russell worked together was on the made-for-TV movie about the life of Elvis Presley. Pretty good bio pic, and Russell makes for a very good Elvis. Interestingly, Elvis’ father Vernon Presley is played by Russell’s real life dad Bing Russell, and Elvis’ wife Priscilla Presley was played by Russell’s real life wife at the time, Season Hubley. All in the family, I guess.
ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981)
Director: John Carpenter
Screenplay: John Carpenter and Nick Castle
Snake Plissken: Kurt Russell
Hauk: Lee Van Cleef
Cabbie: Ernest Borgnine
Maggie: Adrienne Barbeau
Brain: Harry Dean Stanton
The Duke: Isaac Hayes
President: Donald Pleasence
Music: John Carpenter and Alan Howarth
Running Time: 99 minutes
Carpenter’s next movie after his horror hits HALLOWEEN (1978) and THE FOG (1980). Not really well received upon its initial release, this dark action thriller has nonetheless aged well. Actually, looking back, Carpenter clearly was a victim of his own success. After his megahit and masterpiece HALLOWEEN, Carpenter made three straight quality films: THE FOG (1980), ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981) and THE THING (1982). All three were panned by critics at the time, yet today they are regarded as some of the finest genre films of the past 40 years. In fact, for some, his version of THE THING is the best horror movie ever.
ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK was a milestone film for Kurt Russell, pretty much the movie that broke him out of his previous persona as being a teen actor in Disney movies. Carpenter wrote the role of Snake Plissken for Clint Eastwood, and when Russell got the part, he played the role with Eastwood in mind.
Fun film, with yet another quality music score by director Carpenter. It’s nearly as good as his HALLOWEEN score.
THE THING (1982)
Director: John Carpenter
Screenplay: Bill Lancaster, based on the story “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell, Jr.
Macready: Kurt Russell
Blair: Wilford Brimley
Childs: Keith David
Nauls: T.K. Carter
Palmer: David Clennon
Dr. Copper: Richard Dysart
Garry: Donald Moffat
Music: Ennio Morricone
Running Time: 109 minutes
Critically panned when it first came out in 1982, Carpenter’s THE THING is now regarded as a horror/science fiction classic. For many horror film buffs it’s their favorite horror movie of all time. A flop at the box office, it left my local theater within a week and I was not able to see it. I caught it several months later when it appeared on something called a”VHS cassette.” Yes, it was 1983 and the VHS age was just beginning. I wasn’t the only one who saw it on home video. Suddenly everyone I knew was talking about THE THING, and it’s a film that since then has never looked back.
Kurt Russell is excellent as Macready, in effect reprising his Snake Plissken tough guy persona, this time going up against a deadly alien monster from outer space. Very scary flick, with gross-out special effects that were considered unspeakably over-the-top and tasteless back in 1982. Now they’re regarded as some of the best effects of their time.
Curious, Carpenter did not provide the music for this one, as that honor went to composer Ennio Morricone, who’s responsible for the chilling score for this shocker.
BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1986)
Director: John Carpenter
Screenplay: Gary Goldman and David Z. Weinstein
Jack Burton: Kurt Russell
Gracie Law: Kim Cattrall
Music: John Carpenter and Alan Howarth
Running Time: 99 minutes
Silly action adventure has its fans. I’m not one of them. Kurt Russell and Kim Cattrall run afoul of Chinese gangs, martial arts, and the supernatural. Mostly played for laughs.
ESCAPE FROM L.A. (1996)
Director: John Carpenter
Screenplay: John Carpenter, Debra Hill, and Kurt Russell
Snake Plissken: Kurt Russell
Map To The Stars Eddie: Steve Buscemi
Pipeline: Peter Fonda
President: Cliff Robertson
Cmmdr. Malloy: Stacy Keach
Music: John Carpenter and Shirley Walker
Running Time: 101 minutes
Forgettable sequel to ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK finds Snake Plissken this time getting into trouble in L.A. in an effort to once again help the U.S. government which once more seems to be the last thing Plissken really wants to be doing.
There you have it, the list of movies pairing director John Carpenter and actor Kurt Russell. My two favorites are clearly ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981) and THE THING (1982).