They Live, and a few more movies

#180  [archive]

They Live

[Streaming free at Internet Archive]

Recently on these pages, your humbly obnoxious host was scolded for not giving John Carpenter the accolades merited by his work. I was hesitant, because some of his work I've not been wild about.

Well, this rewatch of Carpenter's They Live was already in my pipeline, and after watching it, there's no arguing against it. This is a frickin' masterpiece — it is smart, subversive, funny, thrilling. I got accolades coming out the blowhole.

It's the story of a construction worker named Nada, new to Los Angeles, who discovers that times are tough, work is hard to come by, friendship harder.

Then he discovers something else — that space aliens walk among us, disguised as humans but they're actually "formaldehyde faces," ruling the world through subliminal mind control.

The classic scene — you've seen it, whether you've seen the movie or not — has Nada shocked as he looks through a pair of special sunglasses that reveal the messages behind advertising — 'consume', 'procreate', 'don't ask questions', and most ominously, 'obey'.

They Live is not a subtle allegory, something to discuss over crumpets afterward, and wonder about the auteur's message. You can't not find the message — it's sledgehammered home repeatedly.

What a message, though, and what a movie, and what a surprise to see almost-literal wokeness in a mass-released horror movie. Sledgehammer me some more.

This is a nightmare well told, sort of Invasion of the Body Snatchers without the subtlety, without the pods, and with laughs to lighten the mood.

The funniest bit is a five-minute fistfight between Nada and his friend Frank, when all Nada wants is for Frank to look through the sunglasses to see 'the truth'. Frank refuses so adamantly they come to blows, and more blows, until the scene is is completely stupid. It stops the plot dead, but it's so damned hilarious I went back and watched the fight again. And Nada is played by big-time wrestler Rowdy Randy Piper, who knows how to sell a bodyslam on asphalt.

Pardon my crumpet conversation, but in addition to the laughs, the fight scene means something. Frank doesn't want to wear the glasses, maybe because they're dorky, or maybe because like so many people he actively doesn't want to see the truth. All the punches, kicks, and dirty tricks seriously bring to mind trying to talk to Republicans (something I no longer do).

It's a great movie with no boring parts, John Carpenter is brilliant, and "I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass, and I'm all out of bubblegum."

Verdict: BIG YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Simon and Garfunkel:
Songs of America

[Streaming free at Bitchute]

Directed by Charles Grodin, this is a one-hour special that aired on CBS television in America, on November 30, 1969.

Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel had already released four hit albums, so they had the clout to make the TV special they wanted, but the sponsor, Bell Telephone, was furious when they saw it.

Ma Bell's complaint was basically: We wanted folk music, and you gave us visuals of mourners after the assassinations of John and Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, and Cesar Chavez leading farm worker strikes, and protesters demanding peace, equality, food, and other crazy things.

I liked the non-musical montages, but there's not really that much politics here. Mostly it's an hour of music and somewhat cynical backstage conversations with young Paul & Art at the peak of their careers. It also includes the debut of their catchy new ditty called "Bridge over Troubled Water."

When the program eventually aired, it was sponsored by Alberto VO5® shampoo and conditioner, and oddly introduced by aging action-movie star Robert Ryan. It got lousy ratings, and to my knowledge, was never shown on TV again.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Inherent Vice (2014)

[Free on DVD from your local library]

It's the 1970s, and Doc (Jaoquin Phoenix with comically huge pork chop sideburns) is a scruffy pot-smoking coke-snorting private eye whose ex-girlfriend, Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston), is shacking up with Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts), a Jewish real estate tycoon who's secretly working with the Aryan Brotherhood to some nefarious purpose. Wolfmann has vanished, though, and a celebrity cop who calls himself 'Bigfoot' (Josh Brolin) wants Doc's help finding him. 

Others chipping in include Benicio del Toro, Jena Malone, Maya Rudolph, some delightful Martin Short, Timothy Simons, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon.

This is double feature fodder for The Big Lebowski — similar stoner protagonist, not as many laughs but still plenty, and the humor is often exquisitely subtle. It was half an hour before I was sure it's a comedy.

The plot can't be followed without multiple viewings, and maybe not even then — I've watched it three times and I'm still confused.

There's plenty to be confused about. My main WTF was that Doc is a private dick, but his office is in a medical clinic, and he likes to relax with his feet in the stirrups of a gynecological exam table, and again, everyone calls him Doc — so for a long while, I thought he was supposed to be a doctor and a private detective and a stoner. Now I'm pretty sure he's just the latter two, but that's just a guess.

What he is, definitely, is funny, but so dang low-key about it you could miss it if you look away.

Based on a novel by Thomas Pynchon that I haven't read; script and direction by Paul Thomas Anderson, who never disappoints. Every scene is at least slightly off-kilter, and you gotta suspect Anderson's instruction to everyone on staff was, "Do something weird here." Nothing is what you'd expect.

About the only thing not surprising is that the movie sold very few tickets — it's too smart and weird for ordinary Americans.

Verdict: BIG YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

• Coming attractions •

Delicatessen (1991)

District 9 (2009)

My Life in Monsters (2015)  

QI (2003)

Toni Erdmann (2016)

Upstream Color (2013)   

White Lotus (second season, 2022)

Within Our Gates (1920) 

(plus occasional schlock and surprises)

    • And then •

Battleship Potemkin (1925)

The Cook (1918)

The Dark Crystal (1982)

Good Night, Nurse (1918)

Last Tango in Paris (1972) 

Ménilmontant (1926)

The Scarecrow (1920)

Stalker (1979) 

Wisconsin Death Trip (1999) 

The YouTube Effect (2022) 

    • And then •

Asteroid City (2023)

China 9, Liberty 37 (1978)

Doctor Who (second season, 2006)

Dr Cook's Garden (1971) 

The Eiger Sanction (1975)

From Beyond (1986)

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)

Manchester by the Sea (2018)

The Six Million Dollar Man (1973)

Street Trash (1987)


There are so many good movies out there — old movies, odd or artsy, foreign or forgotten movies, or do-it-yourself movies made just for the joy of making them — that if you only watch whatever's on Netflix or playing at the twenty-plex, you're missing out.

To get beyond the ordinary, I recommend:

AlterCineverseCriterionCultCinema ClassicsDocsVilleDustFandorFilms for ActionHooplaIHaveNoTVIndieFlixInternet ArchiveKanopyKinoCultKino LorberKorean Classic FilmChristopher R MihmMosfilmMubiNational Film Board of CanadaNew Yorker Screening RoomDamon PackardMark PirroPizzaFlixPopcornFlixPublic Domain MoviesRareFilmmScarecrow VideoShudderThoughtMaybeTimeless Classic MoviesVoleFlixWatchDocumentaries • or your local library

Some people even access films through shady methods, though of course, that would be wrong.

— — —

 Illustration by Jeff Meyer. Reviews are spoiler-free, or at least spoiler-warned. Click any image to enlarge. Arguments & recommendations are welcome, but no talking once the lights dim, and only real butter on the popcorn, not that fake yellow stuff. 
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  1. Just when I think I've finally figured out how to get my Groucho picture next to my comment, somebody at Google World Headquarters depresses a big flushing mechanism and Groucho is gone. Groucho will never be gone, but he ain't on this page. Fuck the Googs.

    This is a request. That's why I'm so fastidious with the wording. Last night we watched Seven Days In May and it was terrific with screenplay by Rod Serling. SDiM was one of the first "adult" books I read at the advice of my radical uncle, and the book was a little better than the movie, but the movie needs reviewing.


    1. There's one I've seen and liked, and reviewed, if what I do can be called reviewing.

      I think of it more as movie-related filler.

    2. B&W is such a curious thing — man-made, unnatural, and both a reduction and sharpening of reality — but like drugs and alcohol, it's frequently an improvement.

      I have also watched B&W films later colorized, and done right, that can be an improvement, too. Seems to depend on the skill of the colorizers, and the intent of the original makers — if they wanted it to be B&W it won't be improved, but if they were technically or budgetarily limited to B&W it might be better.

      Coupla days ago I watched the very first episode of Doctor Who, colorized, and it's great. The original was one-shot kinescope black-and-white because that's all they had, so the colorized version is better. Still looks weird because of kinescope, but less weird.

      Whoops, got a little off-topic there, sorry...

    3. I must be an unlucky motherfucker. I've watched a few colorized movies and they've all looked like the 1928 short Steamboat Willie that someone's kids spilled paint on. Can you recommend a colorized film that doesn't look like a Warhol work gone bad?


    4. A colorized film I'd recommend? I am coming up blank. I think I've only seen one through to the end, and that was only because I couldn't find the black-and-white original.

      It's a tool, and like any tool can be used for good or evil. So far as I've seen, every colorized movie was colorized for profit and that's a shitty motivation for art.

      That debut episode of Doctor Who is the first and only time I've seriously appreciated colorization, but that's because the original is a degraded kinescope made 60 years ago on next-to-no budget. The color sorta lessens the flickering of the kinescope. Also, they went real easy on the color.

      More maybe when I review it. Or, ha, I'll just rehash all the above.:)

  2. So many resources, so little time! Your blog post was worthy, even sublime.

    1. The movie reviews? Really?

      Well, if you were here I'd give you a hug, and if I was there I'd let you buy me a burrito at El Castillito.



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