Tension. Fear. Exhilaration. Atmospheric synthesizers. You’re in John Carpenter territory.
One of the most iconic directors of American cinema John Carpenter has astonished audiences the world over with his tightly crafted horror, thriller and science-fiction films. Not just a director, Carpenter’s talents also extend to writing the screenplays and soundtracks to many of his films.
From the existential comedy classic Dark Star through to the terrifying smash hit Halloween, the taut siege of Assault on Precinct 13 to the visceral Vampires there’s action and tension all around. But it’s not all ghosts from The Fog or horrific mutations in The Thing, there’s time for romance in the science-fiction road movie Starman and even for The King himself in the superior bio-pic Elvis – The Movie. John Carpenter’s films are always memorable, distinctive and unashamed of their genre roots.
The John Carpenter Kamera Book explores his films and his work as a director, composer, writer and producer. It examines Carpenter’s influences and style and the films that have, in turn, been influenced by him. An indispensable guide to the ultimate cult auteur.
‘Informative and easy to understand…A recommended read’
– Becky Bartlett, FrightFest eMagazine
‘the authors are passionate fans’
– Jamie Russell, Total Film
This is where we have lots of old reviews and articles going back nearly a quarter of a century. A lot of these are therefore a bit ropy but here for the sense of time and stupidity. for example there is:
Vector Films of the Year: for many years we did a review of the science fiction films of the year for the BSFA’s Vector magazine:
- 2009 – Yet Another Year in Decline
- The Films of 2008
- Threes and 2007’s – SF Films of the Year
- The Science Fiction Films of 2006
- Films of the Year 2004
Bookmunch was a sadly now gone website that reviewed books and we wrote the predominantly film related books for knockoff rolex yacht master mens rolex calibre 2813 116695 rose gold tone 12mm them. Including
- Film Books You Can’t Live Without
- Antonioni and Film Noir
- Motion Picture Purgatory – Rick Trembles
- Behind the Mask of the Horror Actor – Doug Bradley
- The Art of Destruction: The Films of the Vienna Action Group – Stephen Barber
- The Hollywood Dodo – Geoff Nicholson
- Spooky Encounters: A Gwailos Guide to Hong Kong Horror – Daniel O’Brien
- Sunshine on Putty: The Golden Age of British Comedy from Big Night Out to The Office – Ben Thompson
- Taschen Complete Films Series – Various
- John Wayne: The Man Behind the Myth – Michael Munn
- Screened Out: Playing Gay in Hollywood from Edison to Stonewall – Richard Barrios
- I’m a Born Liar: A Fellini Lexicon – Damian Pettigrew
- The Cinema of Terrence Malick: Poetic Visions of America – Hannah Patterson (Editor)
- Untorn Tickets – Paul Burke
And there’s a lot more including old shop reviews from our old Joomla site:
- Adaptation (2002)
- American Pie 2
- Angel Eyes (2001)
- A.I. (Artificial Intelligence) (2001)
- Black Dahlia (2006)
- Cats & Dogs (2001)
- Charlies Angels (2000)
- Dr Doolittle 2 (2001)
- Evolution (2001)
- The Fast and the Furious (2001)
- Jackass: The Movie (2002)
- Josie and the Pussycats (2001)
- Jurassic Park III (2001)
- A Knight’s Tale
- Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)
- The Little Vampire (2000)
- Maid In Manhatten (2003)
- Moulin Rouge (2001)
- The Parole Officer (2001)
Consider the situation: you are parents incapable of having further children and your solitary offspring has got himself banged up in hospital with slim chances of recovery. What do you do? Wrong! You get a prototype robo-kid, activate his “genuine love” module to let him pour out feelings and then dump him like a piece of trash when real boy recovers, leaving the distraught robo-boy to wander around creepy forests, get tied up in the seedy underworld of android prostitution and develop an obsessive Pinocchio complex to compensate for maternal rejection. Parents: one. Robo-brat: nil. Armed only with a walking teddy-bear the love-filled simulacrum sets about on his quest to become a real boy without ever realising (big sniffy Kleenex time) that he is more human than humanity itself.
Roll up! Roll up! Once again the “last great hope” for Hollywood cinema spectacularly pulls off another class A irritant of a film. Before the vitriol and disbelief flies it should be made clear that AI is by far the best film Spielberg has directed since Empire of the Sun. The opening act is designed in line with 1970’s sf films and photographed to match with particularly impressive use of focussing. After the dubious exposition at the beginning, things really settle down into family drama mould – the “when shall we switch him on” dilemmas, the adjustments to family living and finally the reintroduction of their “real” son. The last event triggers one of the film’s most memorable images as the misunderstood android stares wide-eyed from the bottom of his parents’ swimming pool. Rejected by the mother, he is befriended by bot-on-the-run Gigolo Joe, complete with his Jiminy Cricket heel clicking and queasy listening in-built stereo. The two descend into a world half Wizard of Oz and half Hell. This middle section is a visual delight running from the neon excesses of Total Recall’s Mars to post-Apocalyptic Mad Max arenas. In this later segment we are treated to one pointless bit of air-punching as a crowd of violence seekers are convinced not to axe a child robot but it’s a minor point – there’s a teddy-bear robot that (wait for it!) is not a saccharine companion, magical quests, demolished cities and a fabulous end that is both sad and strangely uplifting as only the best fairy tales can be. The acting is superb (especially from Jude Law), the music is spot on and the whole piece is filmed with an air of assured maturity that has been lacking in sf cinema for far too long. A triumph for Spielberg up to the very last frame?
Ah, but there’s a rub. The “fabulous end that is both sad and strangely uplifting as only the best fairy tales can be” unfortunately does not come at the end of the film. Oh no. And if you were one of the many people incensed at the lacklustre conclusion of this year’s Planet of the Apes, this one will have you enraged. Close on two hours of quality film-making are thrown away on an ill-advised, over-long, feel-good piece of extra-terrestrial nonsense that seems to exist only to provide a happy conclusion of monumental crassness and to showcase some whizzy special effects for no good purpose. Up until this point the effects had been dictated by the story and relatively underplayed despite their complexity but suddenly we have Close Encounters of the Third Kind tacked on and the whole thing gets flushed down the pan.
Gary Wilkinson’s list of the ten best Science Fiction Films did what all good best of lists do – provoke a response. Whilst there is no denying the place of any of the films on Gary’s list (with the possible exception of Mad Max 2) in a top ten such a limited number inevitably leaves omissions, more-so in a list that has two Ridley Scott films and two Stanley Kubrick’s but no John Carpenter’s. So rather than say yay or nay to each entry here is an alternative top ten, just as valid and presumably just as wrong to everyone else’s!
Forbidden Planet (1956)
Great effects. Great script. Laugh at Leslie Nielson. Shiver at the genuinely terrifying monsters from the id (still one of Disney’s finest hours). Gawk at Alta’s costumes. Wish you had a whiskey manufacturing cool robot. Marvel at the finest matte and model work of all time. Theramins. Triangular doors. Shakespeare. Big, bright, wide, classic.
They Live (1988)
What Carpenter could you choose? The hilarious Dark Star? The awesome The Thing? The exhilarating Escape From New York? The classics keep rolling but They Lives combination of left field idealism, ugly aliens, shades, cheesy dialogue and wrestling superstar Rowdy Roddy Piper go a long way to choosing this as the unfairly overlooked film of his impressive oeuvre. And he’s all out of gum.
Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1992)
Not to be confused with the equally excellent The Iron Giant (1999 – take your kids, pack some hankies, it’s a tear jerker alright) Shinya Tsukamoto’s gattling gun paced black and white underground cult film is an often unfathomable fusion of manga, Svankmayer-style animation, metal fetishism, sex and violence set to one of the most pounding scores imaginable. Shocking, audacious, breathtaking.
Flash Gordon (1980)
Forget Get Carter, this is Hodges masterpiece. A gloriously camp Day-Glo comicbook of a film splashed across a wide canvas. Fabulous script, impeccable design perfectly mirroring Raymond’s drawings, top-notch casting. It’s a deconstruction of American male. It’s an S&M classic. It’s got Peter Duncan getting bitten by a tree beast. Sex, drugs, whippings, chainings, flying creatures, bore worms, floating cities, Max Von Sydow in his finest role since The Seventh Seal, Brian Blessed chewing the scenery. Add that over-the-top Queen score and it’s as near as damn-it a musical as well (compare with the dreadfully inappropriate score for Highlander). Unbeatable.
Fantastic Planet (Rene Laloux 1973)
Every frame screams European science fiction comics. Bizarre settings, strange creatures, truly alien in its outlook. Nothing like this could have come out of Hollywood and certainly not out of Disney. At times moving, at times surreal, at times mystifying and proof that Japan aren’t the only country that can make decent animated sf.
Things To Come (William Cameron Menz 1936)
Producer Alexander Korda proving that Britain could, at one time, more than compete in scale with other countries productions. Huge sets that still impress, great ideas, props etc. Science fiction with a brain but also great for the eye, a sort of British Metropolis.
The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951)
Robert Wise proves he is the Jack-of-all-genres this elegantly designed pacifist film. Proof that aliens don’t always mean bad things, that Mars doesn’t need women and that quality special effects can be used as an intrinsic part of the story rather than as the be all and end all of a film.
Mars Attacks! (1996)
The anti-thesis of such patriotic drivel as Independence Day, Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks! is so gleefully tasteless, dangerously bright and merciless in it’s rejection of Hollywood blockbuster rules (other than its unashamed delight in spectacle) you can’t help but like it. Brimming with ideas but virtually plotless and quite possibly the most enjoyable way to throw $85,000,000 of Warner Brothers money on a huge pyre and watch the glazed expressions of studio exec’s and audiences who just didn’t get it. Ack-ack ack!
Often billed as the Russian 2001 (i.e. it’s science fiction, it’s bum numbingly long and most people found it dull and/or overly intellectual) Tarkovsky takes the metaphysical approach to life in space. Long shots of empty rooms (pre-dating Alien). Multi-minute takes around Russian motorways. Rain indoors. Pontification about life and humanity. Long, long periods of almost total silence (do not bring in any popcorn!). Lots of different length cuts to compare and contrast. Two hundred minutes of head nodding worthiness that is essential viewing for anyone – even if you do hate it.
Laputa: The Flying Island (198*)
Anything by Miyazaki is cause for celebration but this is a beautiful combination of cell animation and picture perfect characterisation. Half futuristic, half Victoriana this is far more profound then anything from the Mouse-house, more inventive and more satisfying. Suitable for children and adults alike but be warned, some scenes are really scary!
Le Derniere Combat (198*)
Before Luc Besson crippled the wallets of French studios with epic fare such as The Fifth Element or Joan of Arc he made this ultra-low budget black and white post-apocalyptic film with Jean Reno. The conceit of everyone unable to speak makes for a film that is universal in market and economic in its lack of synch-sound requirements. When a word (no clues!) is finally muttered it is mercifully unsubtitled. A triumph of imagination over budget.
Some films that would have been in this list had they been more obviously science fiction: Nowhere (Gregg Araki 199), City of Lost Children (Jeunet and Caro 199), Edward Scissorhands (Tim Burton 1991), Fight Club (David Fincher 1999).
So at last it’s here. After years of pre-production nightmares and a string of potential directors hired and fired, Spiderman finally reaches the big screen for the first time in a nearly a quarter of a century. At the helm none other than Sam Raimi, the genius behind The Evil Dead, American Gothic, A Simple Plan and, er, Cleopatra 2525. But amidst the hype and the tidal wave of box office returns from the States (at the time of writing it’s already the sixth biggest film in US history) the question remains: is it any good? After all, box office returns have never been a good indication of quality and Spiderman has had more than its fair share of set-backs. All bodes ill but miraculously Raimi has managed to pull it off, despite the inevitable (and deeply tedious) nit-picking of on-line Spider-fans disgruntled at the film’s alteration of the web-slinger’s origins. Like anyone cares and as if 40 odd years of a comic book can be successfully distilled into 2 hours of running time – short of taking a page a frame and leaving everyone with a migraine.
Poor old geeky Peter Parker. He’s been in love with his neighbour and schoolmate Mary Jane for longer than he’d care to mention but she’s dating the local bully. To make matters worse, he gets bitten by a genetically enhanced super spider on a school trip. When he awakes the next day, he seems to have developed some altogether peculiar powers – he can run fast, punch hard, climb walls, oh, and shoot out extra-strong webbing from his wrists. After his uncle is killed by a criminal, he vows to use these skills to fight crime. Meanwhile his best mate’s dad, a research scientist, has done a very silly thing and inhaled ridiculous quantities of nerve gas, which has resulted in him developing another personality, manifesting itself as the Green Goblin. Suddenly Peter has an arch-enemy to deal with, much crime to fight, a job with the local paper and, horror of horrors, his best mate has started dating his beloved MJ.
Raimi’s approach is to tackle the underlying themes of Stan Lee’s comic book hero and is about as accurate a conversion as you could reasonably expect. In the emergent sub-culture of “geek-chic” Tobey Maguire suits the role perfectly – part pubescent nerd, (eventually) part empowered ubermensch, all family boy. Perhaps the drastic budget cuts have actually worked in its favour, for the proceedings are certainly more engaging when they involve the relationships between the characters and Peter Parker’s awakening powers. Stan Lee’s hero reflected the anxieties of adolescence and sexual awakening in an allegorical manner (see him in Mallrats – convincing Brodie that he would have given up the fame, fortune and comicbooks for one more day with the girl of his dreams, this despite Brodie’s obsession with superheroes’ genitalia) and Raimi mercifully retains this thread in his film. At times it also seeks to be a teenage version of Cronenberg’s The Fly (itself, of course, concerned with the fusion of man and bug, of uncontrollable sexual urges and self-doubt). Parker has to balance life with his aunt and uncle, his desire for a girlfriend and the onslaught of teenage angst. Oh, and save the world from the heinous attentions of the Green Goblin.
Raimi tackles his human subjects with a touch that shows his recent work on The Gift and A Simple Plan was not in vain, despite their relatively poor performance at the box office. Kirsten Dunst and Maguire certainly share their on-screen moments with a certain amount of crackle and the domestic sitcom situations involving his aunt provide much needed comedy relief in the post-Buffy mould. Were this purely “mature” Raimi, many punters would feel disgruntled at parting with their six quid. Fortunately though Raimi’s hyper-kinetic camera style and visual inventiveness comes out when the action hots up. Spider-man’s swings through the city streets are truly exhilarating in their execution and mercifully play a greater part than mere eye candy. If the Green Goblin looks a touch ropy every once in while, blame the money men, but there’s enough action to keep the undiscerning from walking. Unfortunately the confrontation with the nemesis feels a bit like an afterthought. It’s a common problem with comic book films (that don’t have the luxury of years of build ups, part-works, back stories and ever expanded “origins”) – by the time you’ve established how a superhero is born you need to show how his/her nemesis evolved leaving little additional exposition time to generate anything other than a cursory (normally blatant) reason for conflict. In many ways it’s inevitable (the X-Men, Batman etc all suffer the same problem), leaves the film open for a lucrative franchise but normally rids any potential sequels of the headline villains (Batman ditched The Joker but X-Men cleverly retained its nemesis). In the case of Batman this opened the sequel up to a far more interesting set of ideas, one can hope for the same here.
Raimi is of course no stranger to the world of comic book cinema. His earlier films The Evil Dead and Crimewave derive from EC Comics and The Three Stooges (themselves little more than live action comics) come to life. However it is to Darkman that Raimi’s skill as a comic book director in the superhero mould really came to the fore. Spiderman lacks Darkman’s sadean streak and some of the more outré camera work. The inner conflict of the protagonist here is not of one on the brink of insanity and pain, but of identifiable “normal” feelings of growing up. In this sense Darkman is a far more operatic film to Spiderman’s soap opera(tic), a matter born out in the former’s effects work that seeks to be intense and expressionist (pixillation, animation, colour palette cycles) rather than internally realistic. Indeed it is Spiderman’s normality that makes it endearing and Darkman’s abnormality that makes it a far more confrontational film.
Film adaptations of comic books invariably upset the loyal core but then film adaptations of literature do that too. In recent years we’ve had to sit through a variety of comic book adaptations of varying quality from the simply excellent (Ghost World, Josie and the Pussycats, Batman Returns) and the highly commendable (X-Men, Mystery Men) to the downright abysmal (Batman). Spiderman at least makes it to highly commendable. It’s not art but it is good solid Hollywood film-making. Now, hands up who can’t wait for Ang Lee’s The Incredible Hulk?