(ca) wrote: King Kong probably should have stayed dead. I find that title hilariously ironic, seeing as this actually all but killed King Kong, or at least his franchise. How many times can pop out these underwhelming one-liners before you guys figure out that I can't think of a good opening joke? I don't know, but what I do know is that it's rather hard to blame me, considering that the joke is already on the screen. Man, if you thought that the first film from '76 was bad... I can see that, but forget you, I still liked it. This film, on the other hand, is to '76 "King Kong" what "I'll Be There For You" was to Bon Jovi: Everything bad about it, and none of the good. Well, actually, I wouldn't say that, because as bad as this film is, it's kept from being an insufferable train wreck by some undeniable strengths. It's easy to poke at the special effects in '76 "King Kong", because they were so dated, and here, that's no different. Still, even though this film is ten years younger than that version of "Kong", relative to its time, the effects were still pretty awesome, and to this day, they still have essence and effectiveness in them. The Kong effects do their job as both fun, stylistic dazzlers and supplements to the substance - such as it is -, leaving the film, if nothing else, as technically impressive as its predecessor. Outside of that... um... I kind of like the score, I guess. No, but seriously though, I must admit that I was, not simply enjoying, but all-out digging on the electric charm of Brian Kerwin, who brings consistent charisma when he's not inexplicably layered. Don't get me wrong, it's not like the Hank Mitchell character is a mysterious, deeply case of much depth and no predictability, but you pick up things along the way as Kerwin unravels his character in a very human, very charming fashion that, well, I must say does not fit the film's lack of effort. Actually, come to think of it, the worst thing about this film is the things that it does, in fact, "try" on, because what damaged the predecessor was pretense, and here, that pretense is back and more relentless than ever, with the film having such pride in itself for its excellent concepts that go so sadly unrealized, and not just because of the film's being overly self-righteous to the point of being mean-spirited at point, but because, unlike '76's "Kong", this film does not have the quality to back up those pretenses. As I said earlier, this film boasts everything that was wrong with its predecessor, yet what I neglected to mention is that all of those flaws are more intense and unrelenting this time around, such as the borderline-propaganda level of unsubtle message conveying. There were spots in the original where the message took over, and here, the spot where the message took over is the whole film, which wears its overbearing, yet still rather underexplored message on its sleeve. Of course, that's not the only convention that the film falls into, because this film is so consistently generic and painfully predictable in its writing, and as if that wasn't miserable enough, the icing on top of the bad-writing-cake is plenty of cheese, with many lines that are sappy, melodramatic or just plain humiliating, and it adds further insult to the injury of genericism and unsubtlety. Linda Hamilton makes matters worse by being absolutely awful, and I know that's a flaw that's certainly damaging to the film, though not likely terribly so, yet Hamilton goes through this film as "lead", infecting the atmosphere with even more pretense and cheese that slows down the film so much, eating at it, exacerbating it and making it even more ugly and hollow. Now, I've been rambling on, going not much more than just "listing off" the flaws, rather than discussing them, so, for all extents and purposes, these missteps couldn't possibly be intense enough to destroy the film. Well, ladies and gentlemen, at the end of the day, it is, in fact, the simplicity in the film's missteps that make it so frustrating, as that's almost all it has, because this is such a bone dry, unengaging bore of a film with very limited bright spots and countless spots of dirt that amalgamate into one, filthy pile of incompetence so bombarded with relentless missteps that rather than taking one, discomforting blow that leaves most films of this type mediocre - due to them not even having the guts to be bad -, you're so overwhelmed by the countless errors that this film falls into so easily to the point of finding yourself frustrated with the film's incompetence. There's no charm in its simplicity; only self-righteousness that it does not deserve, as it is pumped with even more of the amateur mistakes made in the predecessor and almost none of what was competent about it, resulting in an ugly offense to not simply the 1976 incarnation of "King Kong", but the entire franchise, as a whole. When it's all said and done, there's no denying the reasonably effective and enjoyable technical value, nor the powerful charm of co-lead Brian Kerwin, yet neither of those two aspects come even close to being great enough to pull this film out of the mess it was shoved into by conventional writing, a poor performance from co-lead Linda Hamilton, as well as unsubtle, overbearing messages and, worst of all, self-righteousness that sprinkles salt in the wounds opened by the dry emptiness that ultimately makes "King Kong Lives" a deeply dissatisfying, thoroughly incompetent mess of an ugly stain on the legendary franchise. 1.5/5 - Bad
(es) wrote: Declared to be one of John Carpenter's most underrated cult classics, They Live sounded like an awesomely fun experience.Coming off the critical and box office failure of Big Trouble in Little China (1986), They Live presents John Carpenter with his second foray into independently-controlled low-budget filmmaking following Prince of Darkness (1987). The lack of studio control over They Live and John Carpenter's quest to get the story of the film out through independent means seems rather allegorical to the subject matter of the story. It takes a very precise talent to craft a film about an alien invasion with such a low budget, but horror legend John Carpenter finds a way. His method is to style it like a contemporary spaghetti western: a low budget feature about a protagonist who drifts from town to town and finds himself caught up in a war between conglomerate dominance of the upper class and the struggles of the working class. These two classes symbolize rival gangs, and their path to resolution is led by pure violence. Though the protagonist does in fact have a name, it is John Nada. Nada quite literally means nothing, and we don't discover his name until the credits roll. With this concept in mind and an effective use of violent shootouts, the Sergio Leone influence over They Live is clear. They Live is a brilliant combination of genres, serving as another testament to John Carpenter's love of the western genre with the brilliant support of social commentary, science fiction and 80's action heroism. The other method to getting away with such a story on a low budget is to engage viewers with a very thought provoking screenplay. They Live is one of the film films to depict an invasion with a tenacious focus on understanding the motives and tactics of the aliens. Rather than simply attacking planet earth with sheer force, the aliens in They Live do it through manipulation of human vanity. Materialism, commercialism and bourgeois bribery are their methods and the way this is presented at viewers really makes them think. The script in They Live is perhaps the most thought-provoking one John Carpenter has ever worked with, and it keeps the setting of the story engaging throughout its slower moments and periods of heavy dialogue. After a steady start, They Live progressively turns into an incredibly engaging thriller with a deeply intelligent screenplay that frequently manages to catch the viewer in an intense trance of unpredictable mystery. John Carpenter's remarkable ability to keep viewers guessing is a distinct trait of his auteur status, and it's hard not to keep enticed by the rich mood of the endless mystery. The mood is consatantly influenced by another brilliant musical score from John Carpenter in which he collaborates with Alan Howarth to give the film a feeling of subtle intensity and mystery during the story building and even some notorious moments that feel distinctively western. Music is never a problem in a John Carpenter film, and They Live is no exception.When you stop and consider how much actually happens in They Live or how few settings the film actually occurs in, you'll realize that John Carpenter has repeated the magnificent trick he pulled on everyone with Escape from New York (1981). The man has characterized a large society built upon a corrupt social regime then told his story through a small-scaled focus. The rest of the world is left to the implications of the screenplay, and John Carpenter ensures that it is all very believable. The importance of They Live rests in the contemporary nature of its society, so by contrast to the futuristic setting of Escape from New York viewers are hardly likely to find any frustration with the limitations on visual exploration of the film's setting. It finds visual brilliance in not the design of its world, but the actual social structure of the world itself. Few films have as much endlessly relevant lasting commentary as They Live, but the subject matter that the film tackles remains as accurate to contemporary society now as it did in 1988. The film's depiction of class segregation, media dominance and police brutality are all problems that remain in the modern day. I've hardly ever seen a film which has made these themes as thought provoking as They Live presents them to be, so this 80's tale of a man waging a war on aliens is certifiably one of the most intelligent films I have ever seen. It's brilliantly written, thoroughly intelligent and has a staple of 80's charm to it which ensures that it finds the balance of an intelligent thriller and a guilty pleasure at the same time.Visually, They Live is a stellar experience. Shot on a low budget, They Live makes use of the natural scenery around them with a lot of damaged buildings and dirty alleys as the backdrop for a society being drained of its valuable resources. The cinematography manages to capture this all nicely and remains faithful to the film's western elements by capturing the protagonist from a perspective where the dead nature of the world around him is easy to see. The way the film depicts the real world in black and white with set design and props that uncover subliminal messages alongside the makeup effects of the aliens provides an interesting collection of imagery. Of course, the finest visual asset to the film is the brilliance of the action scenes. In a throwback to his brilliant work on Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), John Carpenter reminds viewers of his visual mastery with a vast quantity of merciless shootouts spread out throughout the narrative. There are few camera angles that the film takes so it is always easy to comprehend, and the editing paces itself very well. There's also a strong amount of blood which doesn't get excessive, so all in all They Live carries a powerful status as an action thriller as well. And in another remarkable feat achieved by They Live, the question of if wrestlers are capable of properly acting is spearheaded by the performance of "Rowdy" Roddy Piper. Given that the man is an accomplished wrestler he is clearly a perfect fit to be playing an action hero since he is no stranger to stunt choreography, and this comes in handy particularly within the iconic five-and-a-half-minute alley fight scene. In an unforgettable fight scene with Keith David, Roddy Piper and him deliver a series of remorseless blows to each other as a testament to John Carpenter's love of professional wrestling. The entire scene is raw; realistic with its choreography, intense with its masculine-fuelled violence and even hilarious. Roddy Piper is given a chance to show off his wrestling skills in They Live which ensures that he is perfect casting, and the image of him wielding a shotgun behind a pair of sunglasses makes him the distinctive image of a badass. But his performance goes beyond surface level as John Carpenter guides the man to deliver a perfectly befitting performance. Much of what Roddy Piper brings to his performance doesn't demand speaking as the elusive character is one without much to say. He is a mere drifter whose importance rests on what he can do more than who he is. Nevertheless, Roddy Piper's performance is far from shallow. Roddy Piper begins as a silent and subtle everyman who progressively gets more intense and paranoid as the story goes on and he plunges deeper into the secretive world of alien totalitarianism. He grows increasing erratic and angry, getting fuelled by intense masculinity that drives him into the state of a definitive 80's action hero. This is empowered more by his line delivery and the humourous undertones of many of his lines. The strength of his performance reaches his endeavour when he stands in a bank with a shotgun and delivers perhaps the greatest one-liners of the 1980's: "I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I'm all out of bubblegum". Roddy Piper is a perfect lead in They Live for his heroic gimmicks and genuine acting skill, and he makes a truly memorable hero.Keith David brings strong support to They Live. With the same sort of merciless masculinity as Roddy Piper, Keith David begins as a standard tough-guy but progressively develops into a similarly paranoid and aggressive hero. His chemistry with Roddy Piper is great because there is a vibe between them of competition to be the more dominating badass as well as a sense of brotherhood that comes from their paired heroism. Keith David says every word with a firm dramatic edge which makes him a dominating presence, and his confident handling of his weaponry and punches makes him a powerful action hero.With brilliant social commentary, an unpredictable story and proudly violent action scenes at the helm, They Live is an incredibly intelligent blend of science fiction, horror and spaghetti western filmmaking filmmaking that testifies to John Carpenter's undying legacy as a filmmaker and Roddy Piper's talents as a leading man.