Film Review: The Thing (1982)

Also known as: John Carpenter’s The Thing (complete title)
Release Date: June 25th, 1982
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: Bill Lancaster
Based on: Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell Jr.
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, T.K. Carter, David Clennon, Keith David, Richard Dysart, Charles Hallahan, Peter Maloney, Richard Masur, Donald Moffat, Joe Polis, Thomas G. Waites, Adrienne Barbeau (voice, uncredited), John Carpenter (cameo, uncredited)

Turman-Foster Company, Universal Pictures, 109 Minutes, 127 Minutes (extended VHS cut)

Review:

“We’re gonna draw a little bit of everybody’s blood… ’cause we’re gonna find out who’s The Thing. Watchin’ 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. Ya 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.” – MacReady

Horror has been my thing since I was a young kid. I think a lot of that has to do with growing up in the ’80s, a great decade for horror movies because of the directors, the VHS market and the variance in horror styles from body horror, slashers and the supernatural. But I think, most importantly, credit has to be given to the style of the special effects, which were still practical and real, as CGI hadn’t taken over and turned everything into a digital world that doesn’t allow you to be as immersed in the horror on screen.

That being said, I didn’t actually see The Thing until I was a teenager in the mid-’90s when I worked at a video store. I was a John Carpenter fan but I didn’t know much about this film till later. I was inspired to watch it based off of some photos of the production and its monster in an old issue of Fangoria that I was flipping through. It looked like nothing I had seen before and I had to borrow it from the store and take it home for the night. That night ended up being a week.

What resulted from that was me becoming a die hard fan of this film and frankly, for me, it is the greatest horror movie ever made for several reasons, all of which I’ll get into.

To start, I’ve never been scared of horror. I actually find more terror in things that can harm me in a real world scenario. For instance, the Night Slasher and his cult-like gang from Sylvester Stallone’s Cobra was scarier to me than Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees. Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, which I see as a masterpiece, never scared me even though it was freaky as hell and fucked up. Well, the naked old lady with rotting skin kind of screwed me up for awhile but that’s also because I was maybe a few years older than Danny in the movie when I first saw it.

Anyway, The Thing terrified me, even as a teen. Sure, it doesn’t feel like something that is realistically plausible but it tapped into something primal, as it is about something you never fully understand that can come at you in incalculable ways without you realizing it until you’re ensnared by it. There is just something absolutely dreadful about that and John Carpenter with great help from the stupendous special effects team and the actors was able to crack through my pretty tough exterior and scare the shit out of me. And as a first time watcher of this film, it caught me by surprise and I immediately fell in love with the picture because it made me feel things that I typically don’t from movies.

This brings me to the special effects themselves, as well as the creature. This monster is one of the best, if not the best, ever created for the screen. The imagination that went into the execution of its various, altering physical forms still blows my mind all these years later. I’ve seen this movie a dozen times over and I’m still left breathless in a lot of the key monster scenes. I have also watched special effects films my entire life, especially those from this era, my favorite for this sort of thing, and I don’t know how some of the shots were achieved.

Adding to the horror of the bizarre creature is the horror of human paranoia. As the movie progresses, every character becomes an island unto themselves unable to trust the other men whom they’ve been holed up with at a science research facility in Antarctica for months. What was once a brotherly bond between these men becomes a fight for individual survival against those you considered your friends and colleagues. This is just as much a psychological horror film as it is a physical one. Maybe even more so.

Also, the setting of the film multiplies the dread, as it feels unfamiliar and isolated, which it is. But it immediately sets up a situation where you know that no one can come to help and for better or worse, these men have to figure out this problem on their own with limited resources, limited knowledge and while constantly having to look over their shoulders because anyone or anything could violently kill them at the drop of a hat.

There are so many layers to the horror in this picture that it feels overwhelming, which makes it damn effective. But it also makes for a film that is incredibly intense, especially in the final act, which starts with an insane attack by the creature and culminates in several men tied to chairs as their blood is tested in an effort to figure out who’s been replaced by this “thing”. And all of that comes to a head in a big showdown but even then, we’re left unsure as to what’s what.

The Thing ends brilliantly, as it doesn’t really give you any answers and the two that survive are left in a situation where one of them could still be the creature but it doesn’t even really matter because their time is limited regardless of what happens next.

It’s a perfect ending to a perfect movie though.

When other people talk about this film, they always go on about the monster and how visually fucked up the movie is. But I don’t think enough credit goes to the cast.

The Thing is stacked with talent from Kurt Russell, Keith David, Wilford Brimley and a half dozen other very capable actors. All of the key players have good chemistry and watching their camaraderie dissolve over the course of the movie is troubling and convincing.

Ennio Morricone’s score is also prefect here and what’s really strange about it is that it sounds like a Carpenter score, which is fitting. But it also makes me wonder why Carpenter used Morricone when he usually scores his own movies. While I absolutely love the atmospheric sounds of the score, it’s not typical of Morricone’s style and it just makes me wonder if Carpenter just wanted to collaborate with him because he’s a fucking legend.

John Carpenter’s The Thing is, in my opinion, one of the greatest motion pictures ever made. Horror doesn’t get any respect from the weirdos in Hollywood but I’d put this against most Academy Award winning films because the vast majority of them can’t get into your head like The Thing, despite what genre any of them are.

Those weirdos can keep The Shape of Water because I’d watch The Thing a hundred more times before ever going back for seconds on that pro-bestiality fish fuck movie.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: the other parts of what Carpenter calls his Apocalypse TrilogyPrince of Darkness and In the Mouth of Madness, as well as other body horror movies of the era like The Fly and David Cronenberg’s early films.

Film Review: Escape From New York (1981)

Also known as: John Carpenter’s Escape From New York (complete title), Escape From New York City (script title)
Release Date: April 1st, 1981 (USA Film Festival)
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: John Carpenter, Nick Castle
Music by: John Carpenter, Alan Howarth
Cast: Kurt Russell, Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, Donald Pleasence, Issac Hayes, Harry Dean Stanton, Adrienne Barbeau, Tom Atkins, Charles Cyphers, Frank Doubleday, Nancy Stephens, Buck Flower, Ox Baker, John Diehl, Carmen Filpi, Jamie Lee Curtis (voice)

Embassy Pictures, International Film Investors, Goldcrest Films International, 99 Minutes, 106 Minutes (extended version)

Review:

“It’s the survival of the human race, Plissken. Something you don’t give a shit about.” – Bob Hauk

When I was a really young kid, walking up and down the aisles of mom and pop video stores throughout Florida, I always used to come across the box art for Escape From New York and stare in awe. It’s one of the coolest and most iconic posters of all-time. Luckily for those who have seen the movie, it actually lives up to the incredible art that adorned the walls of movie theaters and video cassette boxes.

In fact, I’d call this the second most quintessential Kurt Russell movie just behind Big Trouble In Little China. The reason that other film gets the slight edge is because it shows the fun, comedic side of Russell more so than his gruffer more badass performance as Snake Plissken in this movie. Still, this is Kurt Russell at his absolute best and it’s not a surprise to me that he views this film as his favorite.

What’s great about this movie though, is that it doesn’t need to be carried by Russell. You’ve got a pretty solid ensemble cast of great character actors, all of whom bring their A-game and make this a much better picture than it would have been otherwise.

John Carpenter tapped the well of talent that he’s familiar with in Adrienne Barbeau, Charles Cyphers, Tom Atkins, Frank Doubleday, Donald Pleasence and Jamie Lee Curtis (doing a voice cameo) but he also brought in legends like Lee Van Cleef, Harry Dean Stanton, Ernest Borgnine and Issac Hayes. There are even bit parts for guys who are in a ton of flicks, most notably John Diehl, whose death I still haven’t gotten over in Miami Vice, and Carmen Filpi, who always played the old crazy guy in everything.

The film is about a post-apocalyptic New York City that is walled off from the rest of America and is now run by ruthless gangs. Snake is sent in to rescue the President, who is being held hostage by the baddest of all the gangs. If he fails, he will be killed by an implant that was injected into him. Honestly, that’s a little plot detail that was probably stolen for the Suicide Squad comics and movie. But then again, the whole concept of a walled off metropolis run by gangs was also stolen for the superb Batman story No Man’s Land.

That being said, this film created a lot of urban post-apocalyptic tropes that other films, television shows, books and comics would heavily borrow from.

John Carpenter really made magic with this film though. It was one of those perfect storm scenarios where everything seemed to go right, at least if you’re looking at the final product.

The film looks great, sounds great and has such a thick, brooding atmosphere that there really isn’t anything else like it. Sure, people have tried to emulate and recreate what this movie was but no one else has come close to it. Not even Carpenter, who gave us the sequel Escape From L.A., fifteen years later.

It’s hard to peg what makes this film so great but if I had to, I’d say that it’s everything. From the cast, the visual style, the story and the musical score, which was done by Carpenter, himself, and Alan Howarth, every thing just works and comes together like a perfect casserole.

Escape From New York is moody and cool. It’s a great example of Carpenter using all of his strengths and sort of misdirecting away from his weaknesses. While this isn’t his best film, it’s in his top two or three and definitely takes the cake out of his action flicks.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: it’s sequel, as well as other ’80s and ’90s John Carpenter movies.

Film Review: Stargate (1994)

Release Date: October 28th, 1994
Directed by: Roland Emmerich
Written by: Roland Emmerich, Dean Devlin
Music by: David Arnold
Cast: Kurt Russell, James Spader, Jaye Davidson, Viveca Lindfors, Erick Avari, John Diehl, French Stewart, Richard Kind, Djimon Hounsou

Centropolis Film Productions, Carolco Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 121 Minutes

Review:

“Give my regards to King Tut, asshole.” – Colonel Jonathan “Jack” O’Neil

This is the first time that I have watched Stargate since the movie theater in 1994. I was a sophomore in high school when it came out and while I wasn’t blown away by it, at the time, I still thought it was a fun blockbuster that probably should have been a summer movie.

I think that other people had a much stronger impression of it than I did, as it would go on to spawn three sequel television series: Stargate SG-1Stargate Atlantis and Stargate Universe, as well as two other movies related to the TV shows: Stargate: The Ark of Truth and Stargate: Continuum. Not to mention a web series, an animated series and lots of books and comics.

Because of how big this franchise has gotten and because I do enjoy Roland Emmerich’s work before 1998’s Godzilla, I figured I’d give this a watch again with the possibility of me finally giving the television shows a shot in the near future (assuming I can stream them for free somewhere).

Stargate was really enjoyable. While it does feel a bit dated, it’s a solid ’90s sci-fi action flick. It had a decent story that was interesting and really set the stage for something that needed to be much larger than this self-contained film. I guess it’s a good thing for the hardcore fans of this movie that it was expanded out into other forms of media.

Kurt Russell is a true man’s man and James Spader is always great to watch. Seeing them come together and having a big contrast in personalities here was a lot of fun. Spader didn’t play his typical role and was pretty much just a very brave scientist that often times jumped into the water without checking for sharks. Russell usually had to pull Spader’s ass out of trouble but it was a treat to watch.

I loved how this gives a sci-fi explanation for ancient Egyptian culture and the Egyptian styled aliens were just badass. The backstory was pretty simple but awesome and I really liked how this was just a simple tale with a lot of emphasis on action.

Emmerich did a great job of writing this alongside Dean Devlin. But his eye for style and his execution of action, while he sat behind the camera, was terrific. I really wish that Emmerich’s mojo didn’t get sucked out of him after Independence Day.

I also really enjoyed the film’s score. It was heavy handed but in the right way and frankly, I miss powerful scores like this in my blockbusters.

This is just a rollercoaster ride of a bunch of guys having fun in an alien desert, fighting stylish aliens with cool technology. What’s not to love? There’s even a bit of a love story but I was too captivated by the testosterone and the Egyptians with lasers to care about that.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Independence DayThe Mummy and the various Stargate TV shows and related films.

Documentary Review: The Battered Bastards of Baseball (2014)

Release Date: January 20th, 2014 (Sundance)
Directed by: Chapman Way, Maclain Way
Music by: Brocker Wa

Netflix, 73 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2014.

The Battered Bastards of Baseball is a Netflix exclusive that just dropped this past weekend. It is the story of the short-lived Portland Mavericks minor league baseball franchise that was started and ran by Bing Russell, actor and father of Kurt Russell.

The Mavericks were pretty big in the ’70s. In fact, they were getting more press coverage than a lot of the major league teams. They also set some minor league attendance records during their existence. They were scruffy, tough and not your typical clean cut all-American team. They brought a hardened edge to baseball and a level of competition that not only surprised the City of Portland but also surprised the team.

This was a thoroughly entertaining, informative and enjoyable documentary. As a baseball fan that was born in the late ’70s, I’ve heard the stories of the Portland Mavericks but I wasn’t alive to witness it. This gave a lot of the stories I’ve heard, more insight and depth. It also added in a bunch of stuff I would’ve never known otherwise.

It was great seeing Kurt Russell and his mother adding their two cents to the documentary, as well as the interviews with all the old Mavericks and key people. The movie was well edited, well put together and seemed to fly by with ease. The short 73 minute running time may have something to do with that.

This is one of the better baseball documentaries that I’ve seen come out in the last few years. If you’re a fan of the sport, check it out. If you’ve got Netflix streaming, it’s free.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: No No: A Dockumentary and Ken Burns’ Baseball.

Film Review: Bone Tomahawk (2015)

Release Date: October 1st, 2015 (Austin Fantastic Fest)
Directed by: S. Craig Zahler
Written by: S. Craig Zahler
Music by: Jeff Herriott, S. Craig Zahler
Cast: Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, Richard Jenkins, Lili Simmons, David Arquette, Sid Haig, Sean Young, Michael Pare, Zahn McClarnon

Caliber Media Company, Realmbuilders Productions, The Jokers Films, 132 Minutes

Review:

“Say goodbye to my wife. I’ll say hello to yours.” – Sheriff Franklin Hunt

*Written in 2016.

From the moment I saw the Bone Tomahawk trailer, I thought it looked really interesting and I was a bit hyped to see it. Plus, it starred Kurt Russell.

The film is a western with horror mixed in, which makes it a pretty unique package. A sheriff and a posse head off into the wilderness to find a woman who was taken by Indians. The catch is, these aren’t normal Indians, they are cannibalistic and bizarre. Think The Hills Have Eyes meets The Searchers.

Kurt Russell is fine enough in the role but it isn’t a great or special performance. He looks to be enjoying himself but he isn’t doing anything exceptional. He certainly doesn’t project the magic he had in Tombstone or the more recent The Hateful Eight. The film also stars Patrick Wilson and Matthew Fox with brief appearances from Sid Haig and David Arquette.

Overall, the film was underwhelming. There wasn’t a whole lot of terror and dread, even once the proverbial shit hit the proverbial fan. The action was mediocre, the acting was average and the plot wasn’t anything spectacular. In fact, it was fairly boring.

The uniqueness of the film’s plot was spoiled by the trailer and the movie itself didn’t do much to expand on it. It also played it safe. With the subject matter and the intensity of the trailer, the movie just didn’t have the balls I was expecting it to.

Now I don’t think the movie should have been a gore festival but it was pretty uneventful and the horror element wasn’t remotely scary. There was just a lot of cannibal Indians grunting and walking around making weird noises because they have whistles in their throats. And the whole whistle throat thing was probably employed to make them seem supernatural and scary but it was kind of goofy.

Bone Tomahawk is okay enough for a single viewing on a rainy day but it isn’t a classic by any means. It has its fans out there but it will most likely fade into obscurity fairly quickly.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Ravenous, Four of the Apocalypse and The Burrowers.

Film Review: Miracle (2004)

Release Date: February 6th, 2004
Directed by: Gavin O’Connor
Written by: Eric Guggenheim
Music by: Mark Isham
Cast: Kurt Russell, Patricia Clarkson, Noah Emmerich

Walt Disney, Buena Vista Pictures, 135 Minutes

Review:

“Great moments… are born from great opportunity. And that’s what you have here, tonight, boys. That’s what you’ve earned here tonight. One game. If we played ’em ten times, they might win nine. But not this game. Not tonight. Tonight, we skate with them. Tonight, we stay with them. And we shut them down because we can! Tonight, we are the greatest hockey team in the world. You were born to be hockey players. Every one of you. And you were meant to be here tonight. This is your time. Their time is done. It’s over. I’m sick and tired of hearing about what a great hockey team the Soviets have. Screw ’em. This is your time. Now go out there and take it.” – Herb Brooks

*written in 2014.

Miracle is considered by many, if not most, to be the best hockey film ever made.

I don’t agree with the popular opinion, although it is a good film. The problem though, is that there is a real under-abundance of hockey movies. I mean, compared to baseball, football and even basketball pictures, hockey is really underutilized as a subject for sports films. While I would put this in probably the top two or three hockey movies of all-time, it would be hard to put it in a top ten including other sports.

While the subject matter of this film, the 1980 Winter Olympics and the United States’ beating of the unstoppable Soviet team during the Cold War, is compelling, it falls flat when comparing it to the bigger picture.

There are scenes in the film that are great. In fact, the acting is stellar. The problem is that it is just missing the magic you find in films like The Natural, Field of Dreams, Rudy and Hoosiers. While it has a bit of a magical feel at times, it never really pulls you in as emotionally as those other classic sports motion pictures.

Additionally, the pacing of this film is strange, as at times it drags and other times it flies by. There are also so many characters to get to know, that you really can’t get to know any of them all that well. The film suffers from not investing more time in just a few people; instead it gives you bits and pieces of many people. It plays like a television pilot overstuffed with too many characters from the start.

Miracle is a good film, despite the criticisms I have. It just isn’t the great movie that people believe it to be. At least, that’s how I see it.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Mystery, Alaska

Film Review: Tango & Cash (1989)

Release Date: December 22nd, 1989
Directed by: Andrei Konchalovsky, Peter MacDonald (uncredited), Albert Magnoli (uncredited), Stuart Baird (uncredited)
Written by: Randy Feldman, Jeffrey Boam (rewrites)
Music by: Harold Faltermeyer
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Kurt Russell, Jack Palance, Teri Hatcher, Brion James, Geoffrey Lewis, Eddie Bunker, James Hong, Marc Alaimo, Michael J. Pollard, Robert Z’Dar, Lewis Arquette, Roy Brocksmith, Clint Howard

The Guber-Peters Company, Warner Bros., 101 Minutes

Review:

“Rambo? Rambo’s a pussy.” – Ray Tango

I used to really like Tango & Cash when I was in fifth and sixth grade. I hadn’t really seen it since then. Having seen it now, though, I can state that this movie did not age well. It probably wasn’t very good, even for 1989 standards, but it is incredibly cheesy and hokey but not in any way that is endearing.

Sure, I love Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell but the two of them deserved a better vehicle for a team-up movie. The plot was weak and a big chunk of the movie was spent in prison, where Stallone just escaped from in his previous film, also from 1989, Lock Up. However, Stallone was also entering a bad period for his career, as this film was followed up by Rocky V (most people hate it, I don’t), Oliver and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot.

At least we got to see these two in the same film again in 2017 with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, even though they didn’t share any scenes together. But I did find it strange that Russell was not in any Expendables picture.

The film also gives us the legendary Jack Palance, Brion James (a fantastic 80s villain player), James Hong (most beloved as Lo Pan from Big Trouble In Little China, another Kurt Russell film), Marc Alaimo (another great villain character actor and Gul Dukat from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), Robert Z’Dar (the Maniac Cop himself), as well as a young Teri Hatcher, the always weird Clint Howard and Michael J. Pollard, a guy I’ve always enjoyed in his small roles.

However, even with all the great people in this film, it is still a total dud. Maybe that has something to do with script rewrites. Maybe it is because this film went through four directors. Yes… four!

Whatever the reasons, Tango & Cash is a film that is much less than the some of its pretty great parts. It is really disappointing, actually. It could have worked, it should have worked but it was a total bust in every way.

Yes, there are some fun moments in the film but nowhere near enough to make this thing worth anyone’s time. It isn’t necessarily horrible but it shows how bad the “buddy cop” formula can be, if everything in the movie misses its mark.

Does it deserve to be run through the Cinespiria Shitometer? I’d say that it does but just barely. So what we have here is a Type 1 stool, which is defined as “Separate hard lumps, like nuts (hard to pass).”

Rating: 4.5/10