Sometimes I think of my blog as a means of chronicling my failures, and this week’s post is no different. The fact that I refer to it as “This week’s post” rather than being more specific says it all as to my output lately. It seems I’ve lost my review-writing mojo recently. Whenever I sit down at the keyboard my mind dries up like a sponge in a kiln. I’ve had half a review of Carrie written for French Toast Sunday for weeks, and I’m about a month late for a review of John Wick for Blueprint: Review, not to mention the 12 other films I’ve watched and not reviewed yet.
It doesn’t help how busy I’ve been recently, and how little has gone to plan weekend and evening-wise. Take this past weekend, for example. Yesterday’s scheduled Lambcast was a John Carpenter Director Retrospective. The intention was for myself and my guests to discuss nine of Carpenter’s bigger films, all of which were ones I’d either never seen, wasn’t very familiar with or really wanted to re-watch, so I’d planned to watch them all, which is what most of the rest of this post will cover. Tuesday to Thursday saw me watching one a night, subjecting Aisha to a bunch of films she had negative interest in seeing. On Friday she was supposed to go out for a work meal, meaning I’d have a full evening into which I could cram three of the films she’d want to watch the least (I’d anticipated The Fog, Prince of Darkness and They Live), leaving me three to watch, one Saturday morning, one Saturday evening and a final film on Sunday morning. Alas, whilst Aisha was walking Murphy before I got home from work (she’s blessed with an early finish on Fridays) Murphy ran off, following a runner who refused to stop despite this unfamiliar dog jumping up at him. Coming across a road on the runner’s presumed route Aisha was understandably distraught at the notion that our little fluff-ball might have come a cropper with a car, but fortunately another kind dog-owner had wrangled Murphy onto her lead, called Aisha’s number on his tag and waited for her to arrive. Bless this woman and all she ever does. The whole experience rather put Aisha off an evening out, so we stayed in and watched Big Trouble in Little China instead.
This little kerfuffle obviously put a dash into my Carpenter-viewing schedule, so I attempted to make up for it on Saturday, knocking off two films early in the morning. Problems arose when real life crept in. We were due to have our guest bedroom re-plastered this week. It was supposed to be done late in the week, so Saturday afternoon we prepped the room, removing the furniture, wall-fixings and stripping the wallpaper from the walls and ceiling. Why is there wallpaper on the ceiling? Because the previous inhabitants were lunatics, clearly. Moving the furniture was fine – though the house is now so cluttered that navigating our bedroom now feels like I’m playing a game of minesweeper with my feet – but when I came to detach the radiator the valve nut was painted shut so much that the nut didn’t turn, the downpipe bent and began leaking water. The emergency plumber stopped the leak but didn’t fix the pipe and later it started leaking again with no signs of stopping. a few buckets of water later and it subsided, after we ran out of dry towels, and the next morning we fixed it after a trip to Wickes (all praise Wickes, the church of DIY), but after that ordeal we didn’t get a lot of films watched on Saturday night. Sunday proved just as fruitless, with me just about cramming In the Mouth of Madness in a couple of instalments between radiator fixing and wallpaper stripping before the podcast recording at 5pm. The plasterer got in touch, moving the proposed date I just about finished stripping the ceiling in time, hastily pieced an intro together and logged onto Skype, only for two of the guests not to show up (with valid reasons, so I won’t name and shame). The only present guest, Aaron from The Code is Zeek, and I decided the best course of action would be to reschedule, so all the rushing was for nought, but at least it gives me a chance to watch the two Carpenter films I hadn’t re-watched yet (They Live and Halloween). It also meant Aisha didn’t have to finish the wallpaper stripping alone, I could help out with dinner and take Murphy for a walk and have more of a relaxing evening after the weekend of stress, so there’s a silver lining to the cloud. Also, I got to phone my Dad (whom I’d called to help out with the leaky radiator, as he is something of a DIY guru, but who was in Wales watching a football match at the time) and say that I’d fixed a problem without his assistance, and that made me really rather happy.
Oh, while I’m at it, I’m going to go ahead and call the time of death for HitchcOctober 2015. Apologies, but it’s not happening this year. I’m too far behind on other things as it is, but next year. There’s always next year. Here’s what I watched this week:
Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)
I’ve never seen the remake, nor do I plan to, for I can’t see how modernising the story can make it any better. Yes it’s rough around the edges and gritty as only 1970s films can be, but the harshness leaves a fitting taste in the mouth from this story of a police station under siege from a gang, with only a few survivors inside struggling to last out the night. There’s a forced romance that doesn’t quite gel and an attempt at a running gag with one character perpetually asking for a cigarette, but everything else works really well. I love that the assumed reason for the siege isn’t spelled out, and the audacity of the treatment of the little girl near the start is almost unbelievable. Well worth your time.
Choose Film 8/10
Escape From New York (1981)
So many great character actors! Borgnine, Stanton, Pleasence, Van Cleef, Hayes, plus Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken makes this one of the most fun Carpenter films. This was one I was really looking forward to catching back up with, and if anything it was better than I remembered. Plissken is a celebrated war hero who has been arrested and sentenced to prison on the island of Manhattan, which has been fenced off and turned into a giant free-for-all jail, but when the President (Pleasence) crashes down, Plissken is the only man who can go in and save him. A lot of it is utterly ridiculous – not just Adrienne Barbeau’s cleavage – but I gain a lot of entertainment from it all. I’m working on a piece for French Toast Sunday on it.
Choose Film 8/10
The Thing (1982)
My favourite John Carpenter film, no contest. It’s mainly the effects, I think, with some truly astounding practical effects (the one shown above, when the legs slide out of the head, may be one of my favourite three seconds of any film, ever), but also the cast all at the top of their game, a script that keeps you guessing even if you think you can remember the film, and an ending that can lead to long post-film discussions, this is close to a perfect film. Expect a piece over at FTS on this one too by the end of the month.
Lists: None (Already crossed off: , 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, Empire’s 5-Star 500, Empire’s Top 500, Empire’s Top 301, Total Film’s Top 100)
Choose Film 10/10
Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
Re-watching Big Trouble In Little China is one of the main reasons I’m desperate to record the John Carpenter Lambcast, because I want to have re-watched this pile of shite for a reason, dammit. I listed this amongst my honourable mentions as one of the worst films ever made on a Lambcast show earlier this year, and I stand by that assessment. It’s garbage. Utter tripe. The plot and most of the dialogue seems to have been written by a small child that’s half fallen asleep. Only one character has anything close to any screen presence or charisma (Russell’s Jack Burton), but he’s one of the most annoying and intolerable characters to ever lead a film. Kim Cattrall is awful. I get that it’s supposed to be novel having the film’s lead think he’s the hero but actually being the bumbling, useless, comedy relief sidekick in his own story, but it plays out as such a struggle to get through. I genuinely cannot understand why anyone even likes this film, let alone the cult love it receives, so I’m looking forward to finding out why others might like it on the show.
Lists: None (Already crossed off: Empire’s Top 500)
Choose Life 2/10
The Fog (1980)
Surprisingly good, I’d written this off as a lesser Carpenter purely based on how little I could remember or had heard about it. One of the slowest burns amongst Carpenter’s films – which is saying something for a man who made a living out of ramping up tension – this is a horror film with a surprisingly low body count, which just goes to show how today’s blood-heavy kill-fests have dulled the senses of young whipper-snappers like myself. Interesting characters, tense situations and a plot that makes sense but isn’t too easy to map out. A solid, decent horror.
Choose Film 7/10
Prince of Darkness (1987)
Almost as solid is Prince of Darkness, which drifts a little by being more unfocussed and having more characters than it really knows what to do with. I appreciated the approach – a group of science and theology students arrive with their professors to look into what appears to be the emergence of Satan through a giant green vial in an old church – but the plot falls apart a little towards the end when it becomes a more generic trapped-in-confined-spaces-by-things-trying-to-kill-us slasher. Loved the final post-climax scene though, perfectly cut ending.
Choose Film 6/10
I preferred Tracks. Similar story, less explanation required. This seems to be more about why Reese Witherspoon’s Cheryl Strayed is undertaking her long hiking mission than the hike itself, and whilst we were shown a great deal of her ordeals, I felt too much time was spent hinting at her motives. It’s a road movie, so let’s focus on the road, huh? That being said Witherspoon is good, though I’m not surprised she didn’t win the Oscar when she was up against Julianne Moore. I am somewhat surprised with Laura Dern’s nomination. Dern plays Strayed’s mother via flashbacks and, whilst she is good, she’d not all that present in the film, certainly not enough to garner a nom. As much as I like Dern (anyone with a Jurassic Park connection gets a pass from me) there must have been stronger supporting performances last year than this. How about anyone from Gone Girl?
Lists: 2015 Movies
Choose Life 6/10
In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
Speaking of Jurassic Park connections, here’s Sam Neill going crazy. He plays an insurance investigator with the best nose for a con in the business, who is tasked with looking into the disappearance of acclaimed horror novelist Sutter Cane, only to find his search may have led him into Cane’s own novels. It’s like a horror version of Pleasantville, but it goes way beyond that. I knew almost nothing about this going in other than Neill’s involvement, and I loved where it went. There are some elements in the third act that were just wonderful. Neill in the cinema? Awesome.
Choose Film 8/10
Posts you may have missed:
Lambcast #291 The People Under the Stairs: I was joined by Kristen Lopez, Nicole Ayers, Zoe Rose Smith and Bubbawheat to discuss Wes Craven’s film that I’d never even heard of before, but which confirms my suspicions that in the 90s Ving Rhames refused to do any films unless they featured a gimp.
The Mad, Bad and Downright Strange Showcase: Elwood Jones of From the Depths of DVD Hell invited me onto his show to discuss a film he really likes – Faster Pussycat Kill Kill – and a film I really like – The Breakfast Club. Given how different those two films are (the only similarity is they both use cleavage at least once) it’s not all that surprising to find out Elwood and I didn’t necessarily agree on a lot. The great thing about Elwood’s show is the sheer volume of tangents we go on, so it’s worth a listen just for that.
Aim: Watch all 61 saved TiVo films
To go: 17
Should be on: 49
On Track: No!
Aim: Watch 59 movies released in the UK in 2015
To go: 14
Should be on: 41
On Track: Yes!
Aim: Review Kate Winslet’s remaining films
To go: 0
Should be on: 2
On Track: COMPLETED!
Aim: Watch 12 “bad” films from the 1001 List
To go: 4
Should be on: 10
On Track: No!
Aim: Watch 1 nominated film a week from the 1001 List
To go: 18
Should be on: 42
On Track: No!
Aim: Cross off 75 films from the 1001 List
To go: 13
Should be on: 61
On Track: Yes!
Aim: Finish French Toast Sunday Road Trip series
To go: 8
Should be on: 10
On Track: No!