Monday Morning Movie Review: The Fog (1980)

Regular readers will know I am a big fan of John Carpenter.  He is, perhaps, my favorite director, and one of my favorite film composers and musicians as well.  Big Trouble in Little China (1986) was my #2 pick for the best flick ever, and would have likely been #1 if I weren’t had I not been trying to troll Ponty.  My #3 pick was 1982’s The Thing, which is actually better than Big Trouble objectively, although that’s the definition of comparing whiskey to wantons.

Naturally, readers would be correct in thinking that my assessment of his 1980 release The Fog would be similarly rosy (and rose-tinted, perhaps).  While I don’t think it’s a masterpiece like the other two films—not the lightning-in-a-bottle amalgam of genres that make Big Trouble more than the sum of its parts, nor the nihilistic and terrifying, claustrophobic experience of The Thing—it is quite good.  It’s not particularly scary for a horror film, but it is quintessential Carpenter.

Read More »


Lazy Sunday CXC: Portly’s Best Films, Part III

Our lists of the best films are nearly done!  It’s a project months in the making, and Ponty and I both have honorable mention posts to get through before revealing our #1 picks, but we’re tantalizing close!  Indeed, Ponty has promised (or threatened, depending on one’s perspective) two or even three honorable mention posts, so we could be at this list-making business for another month or so.  Gulp!

Regardless, I’ve finished my list through my #2 pick, so here are my higher-ups, filling in slots 4, 3, and 2:

#1 picks are coming soon… ish.  Stay tuned!

Happy Sunday!


Other Lazy Sunday Installments:

Monday Morning Movie Review: Portly’s Top Ten Best Films: #2: Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

My Number 2 pick is going to come as a surprise to Ponty, at the very least; it’s certainly a bit of a surprise to me.  It’s not because I don’t love this film—indeed, it may be my favorite film of all time—but because it’s not firmly at Number 1.

My original intent was to place John Carpenter‘s lightning-in-a-bottle classic Big Trouble in Little China (1996) in the top spot, but I realized there is a film that is objectively better (probably many such films exist, but the one I have in mind is, perhaps, the greatest film ever made, and not just because a chubby Internet personality says so).

I’m also thankful that we’ll be both be posting “Hono[u]rable Mention” (HM) pieces before we reveal our Number 1s.  I am realizing that I missed quite a few classics—Ghostbusters (1984) and Blade Runner (1982), for example—and I am increasingly regretting placing Krull (1983) on the list, even at Number 7.  I think it’s a great movie, but in hindsight, it should have been an HM pick.

But enough whinging.  There’ll be plenty of time for that on the HM post.  What about the second greatest film of all time?

Well, as that gigantic balloon reminded us, “China is here, Mr. Burton.”

Read More »

Monday Morning Movie Review: Portly’s Top Ten Best Films: #3: The Thing (1982)

As we get into the final three of our picks, I find myself thankful that Ponty and I are doing an “Hono[u]rable Mentions” post, because this point is where it gets hard.  How do you pick the best three films?  Ten is hard enough, but there’s some margin for error.

That said, I know my #2 and #1 picks.  But #3 was giving me a time, until Ponty mentioned this film in one of his comments.

John Carpenter is my favorite director, up there with Stanley Kubrick, Wes Anderson, and similar directors.  These are the guys that have a distinct style, even when making films in vastly different genres.  That uniqueness of directorial tone seems to be fading in Hollywood, in favor of homogenized, corporatized sameness.  That’s not an entirely fair assessment, but I have a sense that the phenomenon of the “director-as-artist” is fading.

What sets Carpenter apart for me is not just his uniqueness; his movies are fun.  They’re not dumb fun, either (for the most part)—his shots are deliberate, and make sense for whatever scene he is shooting.  He is a strong visual storyteller, in addition to being a great composer and musician.  There’s a reason his films will appear twice in my top three.

This picture is arguably his best, but for personal and sentimental reasons I’m putting another of his films higher.  That said, Carpenter’s 1982 remake of The Thing is a masterpiece of tension, horror, and suspense.

Read More »

Monday Morning Movie Review: Ponty’s Top Ten Best Films: #8: Halloween (1978)

Just in time for the Halloween season, Ponty pulls out one of the all-time classics from perhaps my favorite director.  You can’t have Halloween without Halloween (1978).

I particularly love how Ponty opens his review discussing the impact of music in film.  Horror soundtracks now seem to be riddled with clichés, like sustained dissonant chords and screechy violin glissandos.  But John Carpenter and others were composing actual music that sounded creepy without resorting to silly gimmicks.  What kid doesn’t sit down at the piano this time of year and try to pick out that theme?

Well, I won’t give much more away; it’s an excellent, lovingly-crafted review.

With that, here is Ponty’s review of 1978’s Halloween:

Read More »

SubscribeStar Saturday: John Carpenter

Today’s post is a SubscribeStar Saturday exclusive.  To read the full post, subscribe to my SubscribeStar page for $1 a month or more.

The good folks at Shudder made the very wise decision to upload a bunch of John Carpenter films within the past couple of weeks, including Escape from New York (1981), The Thing (1982), Prince of Darkness (1987), and They Live (1988), the last of which I reviewed way back in the day, before I was writing movie reviews regularly.  Naturally, that’s meant a John Carpenter film festival at the Casa de Portly.

I’m not sure I have a favorite director—like most people, I just know what movies I like, regardless of who directs them—but if I had to pick, it would probably be John Carpenter.  I haven’t come close to seeing all of his films, but I know I like the ones I’ve seen—a lot.  The Thing might just be the best horror film ever made.  Big Trouble in Little China (1986) might be my favorite movie ever.

As such, I’d like to take this edition of SubscribeStar Saturday to celebrate the music and films and John Carpenter.

To read the rest of this post, subscribe to my SubscribeStar page for $1 a month or more.

They Live: Analysis and Review

Last night I watched John Carpenter’s 1988 cult smash They Live, which explains (along with a couple of hours of Civilization VI) why today’s post is late.  I’ve been eager to catch this flick for awhile, and a fortuitous chain-combo of RedBox coupons and special promotions had me streaming it digitally.  What a glorious age for instant gratification.

The basic plot of the film is as follows:  out-of-work drifter Nada (played by wrestler “Rowdy” Roddy Piper; the character is named only in the film’s credits) arrives in Los Angeles looking for work.  After landing a job on a construction site (the site manager says it’s a “union job,” but Nada lands the gig after asking if the Spanish-speaking crew is in the union, too), Nada meets Frank Armitage (Carpenter veteran Keith David), a black construction worker from Detroit, trying to earn a living for his wife and children back home.  Frank takes Nada under his wing, and they head to a soup kitchen shanty town.

While at the town, Nada notices suspicious activity in a nearby church; upon further investigation, he stumbles upon a box of sunglasses that allow him to see the world for how it really is:  a black-and-white world filled with subliminal messages like “OBEY” and “MARRY AND REPRODUCE,” as well as constant messages to “BUY” and “CONSUME.”  Money reads simply “THIS IS YOUR GOD.”

More shockingly, some humans appear to be fleshless, bulging-eyed aliens, akin to zombies.  Piper figures out quickly that the horrifying creatures are not friendly, and he embarks on a shooting spree—which, of course, appears like a random shooting to everyone else.

It unfolds from there:  Nada convinces Frank—after a nearly-six-minute alleyway brawl—to try the glasses on for himself.  Seeing the world for what it is, the two join up with the small resistance, which is quickly smashed by the fleshless invaders and their human collaborators (which enjoy support from the media and law enforcement).  The film ends with the disruption of the device that keeps everyone “asleep” regarding reality, with terrifying (and humorous) consequences.

Much has been written about this film, as its not-so-subtle message of anti-commercialism is low-hanging fruit.  No less a scholar than Slovene philosopher Slavoj Žižek cites They Live as an influence on his understanding of ideology.  The film inspired street artist Shepard Fairey‘s famous “OBEY” stickers (another fascinating bit of pop culture detritus).

As such, there’s not much I can add, but I have some general reflections.  In the age of attempted Deep State coups and a political and media establishment at odds with the common man, They Live contains a certain relevance to culture in 2019 (if there really are subliminal messages in advertising, I wish there were some encouraging people to “MARRY AND REPRODUCE”; the message today is exactly the opposite).

The alien invaders manage to take control because they cut a deal with America’s elites:  give us access to your resources and cheap labor, and we’ll make you fabulously wealthy.  At a swanky dinner near the end of the film, aliens and humans toast their 39% return-on-investment.  Frank Armitage, disgusted, tells one human collaborator that he “sold out his own kind”; the collaborator says, “What’s the threat? It’s just business.”

That scene seems particularly relevant to 2016:  globalist elites were eager to serve up a deeply corrupt Hillary Clinton to continue to advance their goals of cheap labor and monochromatic global conformity.

Piper’s character, on the other hand, states his optimism early in the film:  “I believe in America.”  Even as a homeless drifter, Piper believes he can succeed if he just keeps working hard.  But he’s a man of principle—once he realizes the rigged game that’s afoot, he decides to beat them rather than join them.

Consider:  the latter option would be so much easier.  Betray your own people—humans, or, in the context of the 2016 election, Americans—for a distant, indifferent, self-aggrandizing elite, and reap the rewards.  But Piper—a loud-mouthed wrestler—fights back.  He wants a fair shake for himself and his countrymen, not a rigged system at the expense of his fellow humans.

His methods are comedic and clumsy (a hallmark of another Carpenter classic, Big Trouble in Little China), but he manages—against all odds—to make it to the top of the alien-collaborator hierarchy, ultimately bringing the whole thing down.  One can be forgiven for seeing in Nada President Trump’s historic, unlikely rise to the presidency in 2016.

That said, I shouldn’t take that metaphor too far.  Carpenter had no inkling in 1988 that Donald Trump would become president amid the crushing dominance of a politically-correct, Davos Man elite (although Trump discussed the possibility of a run at the time).  Carpenter’s message is a more heavy-handed cautionary tale about excessive consumerism and materialism.

There, however, some compelling fruits that have come from ignoring those warnings.  While globalization and capitalism have reaped huge financial rewards, they’ve come at the expense of Americans.  Frank’s line about betraying “your own kind” resonated heavily with me:  just as the human collaborators sold out their people to the aliens, our elites have sold out their countrymen and culture for cheap labor and cheap plastic crap from China.

We will always engage with art and culture in terms of our own experiences, though I would caution against excessive “current year” interpretations.  The film is a product of the 1980s.  That its message still seems so fresh is, perhaps, an indication of our culture’s stagnation since that glorious decade.

Nevertheless, They Live presents a timeless warning against sacrificing our patrimony for wealth.  Judas betrayed Christ for thirty pieces of silver; was that “just business”?


So, is They Live worth watching?  Absolutely.  I had a blast even before Nada discovered the glasses (which is nearly half-an-hour into the film, or so it felt—it spends a lot of time showing his struggles to find a job).  The film contains the iconic line, “I came here to chew bubblegum and kick ass—and I’ll all out of bubblegum.”

Roddy Piper acts the way wrestlers in 1980s films act, which is badly, but it’s perfect for his character, a man who is principled but driven by his id (and libido, with lethal consequences).  Keith David’s performance as Frank Armitage steals the show—he just wants to make money to support his family without any hassle, but is drawn into a fight he never wanted.

You’ll see some of the plot twists coming from a mile away, but the film is fun and thought-provoking.  I highly recommend you check it out.  Of course, I’m a big fan of John Carpenter (Big Trouble in Little China is one of my favorite movies), so your mileage may very.  For $2.99, though, it’s worth the rental.