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John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars (10th anniversary re-review)

chapter 12

logo_summer2001One thing about JOHN CARPENTER’S GHOSTS OF MARS: it’s definitely John Carpenter’s GHOSTS OF MARS.

It has plenty of elements that could be perfect for one of his movies. It’s kind of a siege movie like ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, although the simplicity of that type of setup is mired in flashbacks and narration. It’s got a western motif – even though it’s in the future and on Mars there’s a train, and colonists possessed by angry Martian spirits take the place of the Natives defending their land. It’s got a ready-made anti-hero – Ice Cube as the bad-but-not-guilty-of-the-specific-crime-he’s-accused-of prisoner-in-transfer Desolation Williams. It has a pretty good soundtrack where Carpenter melds his style with a bunch of rock n roll dudes with electric guitars and drums, playing Martian tribal rock. It has Ice Cube, Jason Statham, Joanna Cassidy and Pam Grier in the cast! This shit should be great.
mp_ghostsofmarsIn the opening scene a train shows up in the human Martian settlement. It’s supposed to have a prisoner and a bunch of cops on it, instead it only has Lieutenant Ballard (Natasha Henstridge), who is high on space pills. They bring her in to explain what happened to a space magistrate or something, and the movie is her flashback (with flashbacks within it, and sometimes flashbacks within those flashbacks within flashbacks). As far as I can tell this is not making any kind of statement about storytelling or memory or nothin, it’s just… a bunch of flashbacks. Complete with slow, old-timey dissolves and wipes, like when somebody comes out of a dream on a soap opera.

I want to like Natasha Henstridge, and obviously she’s real easy on the eyes, but she’s pretty stiff in what really needed to be a tough, charismatic lead. So it’s not surprising to read that she was cast about a week before filming, recommended by her boyfriend who was already in the movie. She apparently was exhausted from doing too many movies in a row, and at one point collapsed on set. If you look at her IMDb page she’s credited with six movies in 2000 and another two besides this in 2001. Give that lady a vacation.

Originally the character was gonna be played by Courtney Love – I’m not sure how that would’ve gone. Officially she had to drop out because her ankle got run over by a car (you know how that is), but Drew McWeeny reported at the time that the studio forced her out after “the rehearsal and pre-production period [were] wrought with tension as it became clear the casting wasn’t going to work.” It’s anybody’s guess if that refers to unreliability due to drug problems or just being horribly miscast. She had done some good performances in a couple of Milos Forman movies, but it’s hard to picture her wearing leather and running around on Mars with Ice Cube. Or hopping around if it was true about her ankle. Shit, even if she would’ve been worse than Henstridge I kind of wish it happened.

card_pamAnyway, it’s too bad Henstridge didn’t get more time to prepare. She does some tough things, like punching a guy and putting him in an armbar when he says “I’ll cut your fuckin titties off.” But she doesn’t sell it like a real action hero. I don’t believe she’s the toughest one on this train. Pam Grier is on there.

John Carpenter in-joke: at one point Pam Grier asks “Who goes there?” Get it, ’cause that’s the title of the story that THE THING was based on. But also it’s just funny to hear somebody say “Who goes there?”

GHOSTS OF MARS is the story of some members of the Mars Police Force (the futuristic equivalent to our own Earth Police Force) who come to pick up a dangerous prisoner, but they find the town where the jail is located nearly deserted, and most of the people left behind have gone crazy, given themselves a bunch of piercings and are roaming around in a big army going CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST on a motherfucker, chopping off heads and putting them on stakes, roaring, etc. So they can tell that something is wrong.

“It was almost like she was… possessed,” Ballard explains in her testimony when describing a particular incident. “Like there was some kind of force inside her.”

No Ballard, it wasn’t almost like she was possessed. She was possessed, not just by “some kind of force inside her” but specifically by the ghost of a dead Martian, transferred via breathing the red dust of Mars. You know this for sure, because you personally breathed in the dust and became possessed, even saw Martian history flash through your brain. You should say “She was possessed by Martian ghosts, and here’s how I know this,” instead it’s this “It was almost like she was… possessed” shit.

She wants it to be an entertaining story I guess. That’s also why she includes parts where she gets high and where she almost gets laid. Most people would skip over that stuff in their sworn testimony.

card_desolationIce Cube’s prisoner character is called “Desolation” Williams, which in my opinion is in the lower percentile of good nicknames, although better than some rapper names including Flo Rida, Chamillionaire and Rappin 4-Tay. It would’ve been a routine prison transfer, except “there’s nothing routine about this prisoner.” He gets a decent introduction, with Cube sitting dramatically shadowed in his cell, refusing to talk. But like all the characters in the movie he doesn’t get anything non-cliche to do or say ever. I guess he gets to talk a little more like Ice Cube than Snake Plissken does. He says “Drop the weapon before I cut this dyke bitch head off!” (The Martians do it instead. Off screen.)

One weird aspect is Ballard’s pill addiction. It ends up saving her from getting her body taken over by Martians, so it’s one of the healthier addictions you could have. At one point Desolation says “Look at you. You look high right now,” and it’s funny because she doesn’t look high at all. I figure Carpenter must’ve wrote that in there because he assumed Courtney Love would look high the whole time. But it’s weird that he left it in.

Man, the dialogue that’s supposed to set up a John Woo type relationship between cop and criminal is so fuckin lazy:

BALLARD: See, that’s where you’re wrong. I’m a cop, not a crook.

DESOLATION WILLIAMS: There’s a thin line between a cop and a crook these days. You think it’s a big difference between you and me? You just got The Woman behind your bullshit.

Oh, by the way, he says “The Woman” ’cause the Martian colonists are a matriarchy. That’s one unique touch. They got assigned a rookie named Jericho, and even though it’s Jason Statham they’re disappointed, saying “I was hoping we’d get a good solid woman we could count on.” Kind of like how Dirty Harry would act when he finds out his new partner is a woman.

One scene that threw me in both 2001 and 2011 is the one where Jericho tells her he wants to show her something, brings her into a room and explains that there’s only one door and no windows, so they could “dance.” Even in a matriarchy dudes are always hitting on chicks, I guess. The two characters have been completely hostile toward each other so she justifiably gets pissed off, but then suddenly says “Okay” and starts to go for it.

It’s a completely what-the-fuck? moment, but after thinking about it some I decided it must’ve been intended as a play on this matriarchal society. Most male action heroes wouldn’t go for an out-of-the-blue blowjob offer from some ho, unless it was a scene where they get seduced as part of a trap and they fall for it. But if he did do it in a non-trap situation it probly wouldn’t seem as weird as it does here, it would show that he’s awesome because the ladies throw themselves at him. I guess James Bond or Shaft would go for it. Or Machete. Maybe if Henstridge’s character had that kind of charisma it would come across better. I thought this scene made her seem weak, but now I realize it’s supposed to make her a “pimp.”

But it took me a while to decode that because the gender roles and their reversal don’t seem to really have any meaning in here, it’s just kind of a novel idea that doesn’t get fleshed out. Women are in charge, but it doesn’t really mean anything. Desolation can still get Ballard’s attention by grunting “Hey lady!,” so I don’t think society has changed that drastically.

The colonization theme doesn’t amount to much either. Obviously there’s a parallel here to what my European ancestors did to the Natives. Now the Earthlings are building trains and shit on holy Martian lands, and they’re paying for it. But you don’t get any sense of “oh shit, we reap what we sow” or anything like that. I think the Martians were already wiped out before the humans got there. And if not they’re still hard to sympathize with because they’re cruel, self-mutilating, Pam-Grier-decapitating beasts. They seem like they deserve to be colonized. They deserve to be turned into ghosts of ghosts of Mars.

By the way, although the Martians are represented by humans with crazy piercings and face paint those are only their avatars. There’s one part where you see a flash of a corny big-eyed alien puppet guy so you know what they used to look like in pre-ghost form. I forgot about that.

Way too many aspects of this seem half-assed. Maybe if the performances were better it could sell the dialogue better. Maybe if the dialogue was better it could sell the world better – the uniforms they wear, the goggles that help them breathe the Mars atmosphere, the fucking Martian Police Force. Maybe if the world was better it would sell the phony looking soundstage Martian ghost town. But no, it didn’t happen.

This movie bums me out. In the summer of 2001, especially for a guy like me who liked VAMPIRES, John Carpenter was still a great, working director. Then he made this.

FLASH FORWARD TEN YEARS: It took Carpenter this long to make another movie, and it’s THE WARD, which came out on video last week. It’s about a girl who’s found burning down a house, doesn’t remember how she got there, and they put her in an asylum. She befriends some other girls there, they think some force is trying to kill them so they start hatching an escape plan. I guess nobody told them they could imagine they were in a brothel where they do sexy dances and imagine that they’re in WWI flying around in a robot blowing the shit out of steam-powered re-animated soldier corpses. Isn’t that the best way to deal with asylum life? Maybe next time.

I wanted to do a full-on review for THE WARD but to be honest the movie’s kind of left my head already so I don’t have much to say about it. So I’ll say that it’s a well made, completely solid movie, way more competent, slick and stylish than GHOSTS OF MARS. But like I said, forgettable. The thing is that after GHOSTS OF MARS and all this time it’s a relief that it doesn’t suck. It’s like if you had a cat that disappeared into the woods one night and you didn’t see it for months and figured it got killed by a raccoon or something. And then it shows up and holy shit, it’s still alive. If it’s just walking around normal you’ll be proud of it because you never thought you’d see it again. Okay, the cat seems a little off, not quite what it used to be, but generally healthy. That’s THE WARD. It can walk. Give it a treat.

I mean it’s actually decent, it’s pretty good. But if I saw it without any idea of what it was I would never guess it was made by John Carpenter. It doesn’t feel like something that comes from his brain. Maybe it’s partly because he decided he’s too old to do the scores anymore, so it doesn’t sound like one of his movies. A crucial element of the JC style is completely missing. They call it JOHN CARPENTER’S THE WARD because otherwise you wouldn’t know it was his.

So what’s better, a pure but shitty John Carpenter movie like GHOSTS OF MARS, or a solid but anonymous one like THE WARD? Flip a coin, I guess. Or pick THE WARD, I don’t care. Either way GHOSTS OF MARS is not a happy way to wind down the summer of ’01.

* * *

legacy: John Carpenter retired from the big screen for 10 years after this. Supporting player Jason Statham went on to become one of the biggest action stars of the current era.

datedness: the whole look and tone of the movie already seemed hokey in 2001.

would they make a movie like this today: of course not

* * *

I seem to remember back in 2001 being dumbfounded by a rave review in some overseas auteurist magazine like Cahiers du Cinema or something, but I couldn’t find it. The best I could do was this open-minded piece calling it “an interesting failure.”

Here’s my original review, written when I didn’t know who Jason Statham was, but I still suggested Natasha Henstridge’s character should’ve gone at him with a strap-on.


This entry was posted on Wednesday, August 24th, 2011 at 1:45 am and is filed under Reviews, Science Fiction and Space Shit. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

106 Responses to “John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars (10th anniversary re-review)”

  1. I miss the old style John Carpenter. I see no reason why he and Joe Dante can’t experience a resurgence in their careers the way Cronenberg has.

  2. Don’t joke about Raccoons. They are seriously badass motherfuckers! They even wear masks, for fucks sake! Nature gave them the possibility to hide their faces! And tiny hands! That says a lot about them,if you ask me!
    (Although I think they are still more reasonable than swans.)

  3. I’ve discussed this before, but some directors just run out of things to say after a while, many of them just say “fuck it” and resign themselves to directing nothing but tv episodes

    John Carpenter is one of those guys I think, every recent interview I’ve seen of him he always seems to have a “I’m too old for this shit” attitude

    I guess it’s an interesting debate as to whether filmmakers should keep going till they keel over, like Robert Altman or whether they should retire when they feel themselves getting stale

    I think it just depends on the director though, some directors like Spielberg keep evolving over the years to stay fresh and then there’s directors who completely change their style and subject matter to stay relevant ala David Cronenberg

    then there’s guys like John Landis and Joe Dante, who should have known when to call it quits

  4. also, is this the finale to your 2001 anniversary reviews Vern?

  5. Griff – one more review and then a wrap-up.

  6. You’re right, Vern, this should’ve worked better than it did. It’s almost like Carpenter is making a rip-off of his own work here.

    I think the film really dies a death the moment Pam Grier gets killed off. Any mojo the film had leaves the screen. I mean, who the fuck beheads Pam Grier? He really shouldn’t have done that.

    And thanks for mentioning Rappin 4-Tay! Wow, I forgot all about him. Man, I miss mid-90s East Coast Rap.

    To sum up: this film stinks and I wish Tupac was still around.

  7. I’m gonna assume you meant West Coast. Rappin 4-Tay very clearly identifies himself as the sort of individual who frequents the player’s club right there in the San Fransisco motherfuckin’ Bay.

    Sadly, I must now confess that in some of my crueler moments I have referred to him as Rappin 4-Food. I apologize.

    More champagne, Mr. 4-Tay?

  8. This movie could have been something really awesome and special. A Western set on Mars with Martian ghosts possessing people all directed by John Carpenter? Here’s my $10 and maybe even my $13 for 3D.

    Unfortunately it doesn’t work and is just a boring mess.

    I read an interview with John Carpenter on AICN or some other website recently and the guy comes off as totally uninterested in making movies. He talks about making movies the same way a trucker or someone would talk about their job after 30 years of work. It was pretty depressing.

  9. I love John Carpenter interviews. He just does not give a single solitary fuck. He’s always wearing the same ugly gray sweatshirt, and you can always see the little streamer of smoke rising up from his off-camera cigarette. There are like three buildings in America where you can still smoke inside, but John Carpenter gets a pass because (I’m not sure if you noticed this) he’s John Fucking Carpenter.

    I think he has a sense of humor about how downtrodden the movie biz has made him. Honestly, I don’t blame him if he’s not really feeling it anymore. He made his own damn movies on his own damn terms for damn near 30 years, and now he’s gonna work for these spreadsheet-reading assholes they got calling the shots nowadays? Can you imagine the offers he gets? “Hey John, can I call you John? How would you like to do a dark and gritty reboot of your own PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS? That was you, right?” If the man just wants to relax and not deal with this bullshit anymore, I say he’s more than earned it.

    Besides, do we really need John Carpenter making John Carpenter movies these days? Seems like everyone else is doing it for him. He gets the money, doesn’t have to do the work. Who’s the pimp now?

  10. When I saw this movie many years ago, I was kind of drunk, but if my memory serves me (and it might not), the very premise of the film carried the movie a long way. (Although, it is kind of strange how similar the premise is to that Final Fantasy movie. Who would have thought that two movies in the summer of 2001 would be about battling the ghosts of a slaughtered planet). I was also on an Ice Cube kick at the time, and I was happy to watch him play a badass.

    I would love to see Carpenter make a film with an older guy in the lead. I think that might be a way to draw a connection between himself and the material. If he could only channel all that old man grump into his films, then I think we can see a more invigorated Carpenter film.

  11. Mr Majestyk – Damn! Of course, he was West Coast. Happy days – Cali love and all of that.

    And yeah, you’re absolutely right, Carpenter has become the grumpy ol’ geezer of Hollywood and God love him for it.

  12. My cinematic glands pine for some ole fashioned John Carpenter because he was a genre director with a soul. We’re supposed to scorn on Zack Snyder this year (it’s what all the kewl kids do) but for all its many faults SUCKER PUNCH’s ingredient list includes heart.

    I’ll watch RED SONJA over the new CONAN, KRULL over the coming TITANS 2 and an Asian action movie over an American one for that reason alone. MIAMI VICE may look about a gazillion times more slick than a typical Korean actioner but it was made by someone who placed his heart in storage after THE INSIDER and subsequently threw away the key – whatever powers him in the morning came from a factory.

    James Cameron is still considered a good storyteller after TRUE LIES – the movie he used to tell us he had achieved his own transformation into a robot – and that is all I need to know about the state of Hollywood.

    I’m not angry or bitter or even sad about this. I waste some keystrokes because I wish American genre filmatists would locate their ballsacs already (can’t wait to see how short the new OLDBOY will be once they’ve gutted all the “objectionable” content out of it); I’m busy enough with Kobayashi, Leone, Peckinpah, Park, Melville and, yes, old John Carpenter to expound more than a shrug at all the movie ads when I flip the pages of my weekend paper.

  13. What do you guys think of The Thing prequel coming out? Good ideal or worst ideal ever?
    I was skeptical until seeing the trailer and now I’m definitely interested.

    They kept the franchise R, and that says a lot for me. They aren’t throwing away all the fun gorey creature effects to try and get a larger teen audience like the Total Recall remake or the Aliens V. Predator disasters. It says from the producers of Snyders Dawn of the Dead remake, which is honestly the best horror remake done as of yet, so maybe they know what they’re doing here. I got high hopes for the horror slated for the next two months. Between Red State(which looks so fucking amazing I can’t believe it’s Kevin Smith), Are You Afraid of the Dark, and The Thing it should be a good time for horror fans.

  14. My thing with THE THING is that it looks like the exact same movie, but with a cute chick instead of Kurt Russell and CGI instead of awesomeness. However, said cute chick being my future baby-mama Mary Elizabeth Winstead means I’ll rent it some day. That flamethrower looks damn good on her.

  15. I don’t have high hopes for THE THING 2011. From what I’ve heard, this seems to be too much of a wink-wink-nudge-nudge movie, full of references to Carpenter’s movie, with a nerd approved hot chick starring and other fanservice.
    I hope it will be good anyway, but I wait for the DVD and you should too and instead watch TUCKER & DALE VS EVIL, which is seriously awesome and despite being a homage/parody to a certain genre starring two nerd favourites, is very, very, very low on winking, nudging and postmodernism or shit like that.

  16. If anyone’s interested, here’s a well argued video essay decrying the modern state of incomprehensible action cinema:


    Of course, most of these issues have already been brought up on this very website, but it’s nice to know that this sort of critique is catching on.

  17. Jareth Cutestory

    August 24th, 2011 at 8:52 am

    dieselboy: I’d be willing to argue that there has been a steady stream of interesting horror being released for over a year now, just not in the mainstream. If you haven’t seen it yet, check out WE ARE WHAT WE ARE.

    I’m officially fed up with remakes. I doubt I’ll bother with THE THING 2011. I’ll just wait for the leaked Winstead/Majestyk sex tape.

  18. Thanks, RBatty024. Those videos were pretty interesting, especially when it places examples of classic action beside examples of ‘chaos cinema.’ The contrast is marked. I don’t agree with all his examples, though. I thought INCEPTION had perfectly comprehensible action and I thought CLOVERFIELD was one of the few examples of shaky found footage that actually works. For the most part, however, he nails most of his arguments.

  19. I guess the latest craze in Hollywood seems to be the “requel”. It’s a remake disguised as a sequel or prequel. Like Predators or this Thing “prequel”. They just steal some of the structure, ideas and action beats from the originals and then apply them to their updated version, which features more pretty young things and video game effects.

    Problem is these movies end up feeling more like a product than an actual, you know, movie.

    That’s why I liked Rise of the Planet of the Apes so much. It felt like an actual movie, with its own story. It contributed.

  20. Just watched the “Thing” trailer (thanks Dieselboy, I didn’t know that was out yet), and my stance on it is: fuck it. If it’s a half-decent whodunnit (or who-is-it?) that gets the paranoia-suspense bit right, I can ignore some ropey dialogue. Which it looks like I’m gonna have to. I mean, they put THIS:

    “We’re gonna cut it open.”
    “Do you really think that’s a good idea?”
    “Yes I do.”

    No discussion? No debate? What’s the point of this little conversation if it doesn’t actually go anywhere? Who would say something like this in real life? Why would they object to examining a find that, as far as anybody knows, is just a big dead body of some kind of unidentifiable creature? Is this just choppy trailer editing? And if so, why edit it that way? If it’s not, is this seriously the best dialogue they could come up with to advertise the movie?

    Meh, I will almost always watch a mystery flick over anything else because I love the game of it. I just hope they don’t completely fuck this one up. I can see one very obvious way that they might: as much as I love Mary Elizabeth Winstead, I don’t know what she’s doing in this one. Although it’s pretty much impossible for her to be anything close to as annoying as the sole female character from the original “The Thing from Another World” (She cooks! She cleans! She looks good! She has nothing to do with the main storyline! She doesn’t have a single interesting character arc! Only the hero shows any interest in her whatsoever despite this being a group of twenty-odd men who’ve had no sex for the past few months! etc…) Winstead’s character is apparently supposed to be some kind of expert, but she looks like the youngest person in the movie by far.

    As for Carpenter, well he’s an “image-focussed” director. But he’s not a great storyteller and he often ignores the details surrounding the stuff that he wants. He’s great on atmosphere and he’s created some classic soundtracks (although allowing Ennio Morricone to score “The Thing” was a brilliant decision IMO). “The Thing” is my favorite film of his by far, and one of my favorite films, period; but both Carpenter’s flaws and his strengths are on full display here. The forty minutes or so between Bennings’ death and the “test” is one of the single best sequences in horror movie history. The sequence AFTER the “test”, though, drives me mad every time I watch this movie (which I probably have fifteen or sixteen times) because none of those fifteen minutes makes any kind of sense.. Then you’ve got the ending, which is simply outstanding. It’s a great film, but there are so many moments that just don’t work, and I put it entirely down to Carpenter’s direction.

  21. Darryl – The guy tries to claim there are moments where chaos cinema works, like in the Hurt Locker, but I absolutely agree that his critique is a bit too broad at times. Instead of showing Inception, he really should have shown the terrible fight sequences in Batman Begins. It’s some of the worst moments in Nolan’s career. It’s also interesting to see how great films like Bullitt and Ronin are compared to Battle: Los Angeles and Bad Boys II. The former show a real confidence that the latter absolutely lack.

  22. One thing that surprised me about the trailer is the complete lack of creature effect shots. I hope they don’t go completely CGI and still do some practical effect stuff. Certainly, the producers and director know that’s one the most highly regarded practical effect movie’s ever made, and that fans love it because of that. They’ve kept all creature design stuff on super lockdown so far so hopefully that has more to do with them not wanting to show off their amazing creature designs and not being ashamed of their complete bastardisation of the originals charm.

  23. Zombie Paul – I would argue that Carpenter is a great storyteller precisely because he does ignore certain details and amplifies others. It’s knowing the wheat from the chaff in a given story that marks a great storyteller. Go back and watch HALLOWEEN again then tell me he’s not a great storyteller.

  24. Zombie Paul, you have to remember that these guys are Norwegian scientists. They don’t debate things, they act.

  25. Darryll – I don’t think I quite “get” what you mean by “storytelling” here. I suspect it isn’t quite the same thing as I was referring to specifically – it’s such a broad term – and I also think you chose a bad example if you were looking for a great Carpenter film. “Halloween” is firmly on my pile of “not as good as everyone who was alive when it came out says it is” alongside “Star Wars”. I do think it’s beautifully shot though, and “the shape” is done brilliantly. My problems with all of that film’s characters and dialogue are well-documented on this forum and I won’t repeat them here; suffice to say, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that by far the most memorable character in the film is the one who doesn’t speak!

    But here’s what I mean by his ignoring certain details:

    There’s one short scene in “The Thing”, just after Windows has found Bennings in a state of about-to-be-replaced-by-the-killer-alien-thing. (The discovery scene, by the way, is wonderful. The way that we follow Windows’ eyes as he looks incredulously from the tentacle to the blood to Bennings himself – that’s the kind of thing Carpenter does best. And you’ll notice that it’s conjuring up a very specific “image” in the viewer’s mind – this is why I say he’s an “image-based” filmmaker.)

    But immediately following this, Windows runs out to the chopper where MacReady and Fuchs are talking, and yells at them: “It’s Bennings!” Without another word, all three of them get up and race indoors. No more enquiry from Fuchs or MacReady, no questions, nothing, they just get up and run. And Windows SOUNDS urgent enough; but when you think about it, wouldn’t they (especially Fuchs, who’s been portrayed very much as a man of thought, not action) go “What? What’s Bennings? What is wrong?” or something of the kind? They wouldn’t just get up and run.

    It’s such a small thing, but it takes me out of the movie, because I don’t believe these characters would behave like that; it’s also typical of his directorial style as a whole. Much later on you get a giant alien with bits of the things it’s absorbed poking out (dogs heads, etc); but it really makes no sense whatsoever that the alien would just transform into this thing and make itself such a huge target. You also get the scene where Garry gets absorbed, which again is a striking visual image – mostly because of Wilford Brimley’s fantastic facial expression – but to get there, the characters have to split up. Again, given what we know of the alien by this point, it makes zero sense that they’d EVER let each other out of sight. Stuff like this. The little details (or sometimes much bigger details) get lost, along with plausibility, because Carpenter is trying to create a specific “image”.

    So no, I don’t believe he’s a great storyteller. I actually think he’s the exact opposite; I believe he’s a great painter of pictures in the cinematic language, using both visuals and sound / scoring masterfully. But framing those images within a wider context, and making sure the details of the framing shots are “real”, he’s not so good at.

  26. Pegsman – those damn Swedes, eh?

  27. Dieselboy: Among the annoying fanservice-ish things I talked about, was that the people involved in THE TH11NG stated whenever they could, that they were using as many practical effects as possible, to please the fanboys.
    Okay, I appreciate it when filmmakers try to do effects live on stage, because they can be done that way, but constantly repeating that they go for animatronic effects, does nothing for me. They have to proof that they are good first. I don’t mind if they are CGI or “real”. Both can suck, so stop talking about HOW you’ve done it, show me that you did it right!

    I mean, isn’t in Carpenter’s version a deleted scene with a full stop motion thing, that has been cut because the effect looked shitty? So much for “old school FX works is always better than CGI”.

  28. Zombie Paul – Sorry, ZP, but for me, your examples above actually illustrate why he’s a great storyteller. And by storyteller I mean a visual storyteller. Utilizing images to effectively and dynamically tell a story. In Carpenter’s case, I’ll employ a single word – Economy. His sense of visual economy is second to none. Wherever action and economy can replace dialogue to more effectively convey the story he is sure to employ it. Your example regarding the line, It’s Bennings!” illustrates this nicely. You wanted more dialogue and tiny character moments here but Carpenter knows what’s really required is swift reaction by the characters to keep the story moving. The audience, at that moment, has more information than Mac and Fuchs and we want them to catch up with us quickly by reaching the scene of the action so that we (the audience and the characters) can gather more info and resolve the scene together. So, you can see that the line, “it’s Bennings!” is actually an economical, action oriented way to convey the scene that favors the audience over tiny character moments. While that single line may not fulfill your need for character realism it certainly fulfills an audience’s need for swift, intuitive, economical storytelling.

  29. Speaking of fanboy lip service, does anyone remember when every single reboot was termed a “reimagining.” No matter how mundane and idiotic the original property, the director and studio would trot out this term as if they had some sort of grand vision. “I like to think that our version of Adventures in Babysitting is less of a remake than it is a reimagining. I want to further investigate how Chris first got to know the Anderson family and why was it, really, that the two young boys were always looking at that Playboy magazine. I mean, how did that particular issue come into their life?”

  30. Yeah, but the worst offender is still “dark and gritty”.

  31. There’s no way the prequel to The Thing will have anything near as interesting or as exciting happen in the Norwegian station than what was implied and took place in my head.

    I’m with Paul in that The Thing is one of my favorite movies. I don’t care to see a remake or anything. If they had to I would rather see a movie about what happens after The Thing.

    Also, as a tangent, am I total sucker for being interested in seeing that Apollo 18 movie opening night? It looks like it has the possibility of being really interesting and if it is I imagine it will be the kind of thing that will be better to see before I hear more about it or read any reviews.

  32. I give Apollo 18 the benefit of a doubt. While the found footage angle is too played out at this point, this could be good, just because of the claustrophobia angle.

  33. I feel like I’ve proven myself open-minded about remakes, but THE THING premaquel is not something I know how to get excited about. I just can’t imagine why anybody would want that to exist. Who is the chump that just hates not knowing the specific details of what happened to the Norwegians? Who thinks there is something about it that would be good to know other than what we already know? Who wants to find out that they all spoke English and had pretty much the same things happen to them scene by scene that happened to Macready, including coming up with the blood test? And once you know that why would you then want to sit and watch it?

    I mean please, prove me wrong, but it seems like any reasoning behind that movie existing is the filmatists lying to themselves so they don’t feel like assholes for taking the job. It’s just a bad idea.

    We’ll see about the effects. I believe that real knock-you-on–your-ass surprising effects are still possible, including with computers, but I don’t have alot of confidence that this’ll be the one to do it.

    But I’m glad to see I must not’ve been the only one that wondered who Joel Edgerton was after I saw him in ANIMAL KINGDOM. The other day I saw two Edgerton trailers in a row (this and WARRIOR) and then I came home and read that he’s in THE GREAT GATSBY and some Disney family movie. And hopefully an Uncle Owen prequel spin–off.

    I predict that the reaction to RISE OF THE THING (THE RISE OF IS SILENT) will be “that was pretty well made, but I’m not sure why they made it.” Like LET ME IN but probly less artful.

  34. Dude I really fucking loved Let Me In. The sequence at the gas station,shot entirely from the backseat, was one of the best sequences put to film in the last few years. As much as I enjoyed the original I really thought it surpassed it, especially the performances from the child actors. And I’m a sucker for anything with Christoper Meloni since I grew up anticipating every new episode of Oz. Still one of my all time favorite series, even if it got weird as fuck towards the end.

    But I dunno Vern, it seems like thus The Thing prequel is one of the few remakes/reboots/reimaginings that makes a lot of sense to me. I really have been curious to see how exactly shit went down in that station since first seeing the original(something I did based on your review as a matter of fact.) Maybe it just makes me lazy for not wanting to piece together the shit in my mind and wanting someone to show me, but if nothing else, it’s a reason to spend some more time with an extremely interesting alien antagonist. I’m not saying I see this thing becoming some masterpiece or even living up to Carpenters original(which, I mean honestly,is almost impossible it’s so good) but the kickass alien is still there with a new batch of victims and I want to see how it dispatches them. I’m just saying, I got my fingers crossed.

  35. Man, I know I’m in the minority on this one, but I do love me some Ghosts of Mars. It reminds me of like a jazz musician doing a cover album of all his own songs. Or maybe Andy Warhol doing one of those Andy Warhol color crazy paintings of himself. It’s pure Carpenter from start to finish.

    I really like the ending too, with all the screaming and hollering off screen when Cube breaks Natasha out. It was very restrained. Another thing I dug is Ice Cube’s look at the camera at the end. That shit was great.

  36. caruso_stalker217

    August 24th, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    Yeah, Ice Cube looking into the camera was pretty awesome, as was the dumb face Natasha Henstridge made when she cocked her gun because she didn’t realize she was still in frame. The Henstridge/Carpenter commentary made me appreciate that film so much more.

  37. Goddamnit, am I the only one getting sick to the core seeing every movie I love getting recycled over and over again until it’s all just one disgusting mess?

    And you just know they’re not gonna stop. Soon they’ll move on from genre movies and recycle EVERYTHING. They’re gonna remake The Godfather. They’re gonna remake On The Waterfront. They’re gonna remake Five Easy Pieces. They’re gonna make sequels to There Will Be Blood and The Thin Red Line. They’re gonna make A Clockwork Orange into a franchise.

    Jesus fuck, this shit is getting to me. Who the fuck put the retards in charge?

  38. caruso_stalker217

    August 24th, 2011 at 12:53 pm

    Wait, Knox, are you saying you *don’t* want to see THERE WILL BE BLOOD 2: MEXICAN BLOODLUST starring Jean-Claude Van Damme as H.W. Plainview?

  39. Knox – To somewhat answer your question, there was a revealing statement made by some Disney executive where he says, and I quote, “”People say ‘It’s all about the story.’ When you’re making tentpole films, bullshit.” I think that pretty much proves what everyone has thought for the past few decades. Executives do not care or understand the appeal of a quality film. For them, making a movie is the same as trading stocks. This helps explain why they burn through every trend as quickly as possible, not understanding that any sort of market trend in the entertainment industry will necessarily shift because culture also shifts. The executive in question, Andy Hendrickson, is here making an argument for film spectacles as the sole source of tentpole filmmaking. He might have a point that you’re not going to reap hundreds of millions without massive amounts of CGI, but you have to be pretty damn idiotic to think that CGI alone will guarantee a blockbuster. Anyway, here’s the original story:


  40. Come on Paul, what slasher movie isn’t totally dominated by the slasher? That’s just the way it is. Carpenter does tell great stories, what I love is he does it without the bullshit in every movie now…labored back stories, scenes of character detail that don’t mean anything. I mean in some movies you want that, but would they have made The Thing better?

    I can’t see any way that Red State will be good. It’s Kevin Smith, I think he’s too lazy to make a real movie work. Don’t care about The Thing, I may see it. Can’t wait for Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.

  41. Casey – Apollo 18 looks awesome to me, I’m really hoping it will be a sleeper hit

    the premise is fantastic, I’ve always found that moon landing shit creepy, I mean the astronauts said they saw some weird shit up there

  42. Can’t see anyway Red State will be good? I’m guessing you haven’t seen the red band trailer yet, which is mindblowingly good. Every review I’ve read indicates it is something people have never seen from Smith and didn’t even think he was capable of. If you haven’t seen this yet, you should def check it out.


  43. Red State comes out on blu ray in October right?

  44. Not sure about that, but I’ve read it will be available on VOD as early as September for “like 10” or so. I heard on his podcast he’s making sure to get it an Oscar run because Michael Parks gives the performance of a lifetime and should be getting an Oscar nod. Plus, John Goodman.

  45. It’s nice that Smith tries to get his actors an Oscar (and judging by the trailer alone, I believe him that Parks deserves one!), but after George Carlin got screwed in every hole for his performance in JERSEY GIRL, I doubt that Parks has any chance. (I mean after all JERSEY GIRL was exactly the kind of light hearted feel good movie, which the Academy often rewards with supporting actor nods or even wins! RED STATE is an outsider among outsiders in the Oscar race!)

  46. Red State is pretty much what you’d expect from Kevin Smith, just with some attempts at being scary. If you are a fan and like his sloppy-but-fun style then you’ll enjoy it. There are some funny lines.

    John Goodman also does the Jason Lee in MALLRATS job of making the whole thing seem much better then it is (Yes RED STATE is better then MALLRATS as a whole, much better actually).

  47. I totally respect Kevin Smith for having the balls to make a non-documentary movie that confronts Christian Fundamentalism at it’s ugliness

  48. Darryll – ok, I’ll give you “visual storyteller”, I can go with you that far. Don’t think we’re gonna agree on the scene I mentioned, to me it detracts from the movie. Yes, it’s economical, and yes, it gets the audience from point A to point B quickly. But that’s no good if it feels like cheating when we’re being taken there.

    Mr Doctor – I cut Halloween a lot of slack because, like Star Wars, it’s something of an original. It obviously had a huge influence, but it doesn’t hold up very well today. Donald Pleasance and the “teenagers” are just too damn irritating. It’d work as a silent film, as long as none of them opened their mouths.

    And all the great slasher movies are about the victims, not the killers. Yes, ALL of them – I can’t think of a single exception. You can have your endless Halloween, Friday 13th and Nightmare remakes. I’ll take the first third of “Psycho” (which was is one of Hitchcock’s best, but drops in quality the moment Janet Leigh gets killed), the original “Nightmare on Elm Street” (a film that’s overtly about the hormone-fuelled psychological growning pains of a group of teenagers), even the original “Scream” (which is at heart a coming-of-age story about a girl who has to re-examine all of the relationships in her life in order to grow into adulthood). Hell, there’s a whole sub-genre of “voyeur” movies where we are literally with the killer during the entire movie, yet it’s all about the person he’s spying on. The moment you start focussing on the killer and stop caring about his victims, you’ve missed the damn point. Wasn’t that pretty much the popular criticism of Rob Zombie’s first Halloween reboot – that it was all about Michael and the babysitters weren’t likeable enough? (TOTALLY different to the first film then. Ahem.)

    And let’s go genre-bending here. “Predator” – slasher movie in the jungle. The actual threat is literally invisible for the majority of the picture, and is a helluva lot scarier because of it. “Alien” – slasher movie in space. The xenomorph barely appears at all until the final reel. “The Terminator” – unstoppable killing machine stalks innocent young woman, yet it’s a freaking love story. Again, Arnie made such a huge impact in the film, it’s easy to forget how little he’s in it. Same with T2 – for the entire middle third of both films, the terminators barely appear at all, it’s all about the people they’re hunting. Even the original “Halloween” had Michael Myers as just a barely-seen presence for most of the film – he’s even referred to as “the shape” in the script!

    But going back to the movies I named originally – look at their sequels. Ghost-face becomes a celebrity, Freddy becomes a parody, and Norman Bates becomes a psychological case study. The results weren’t always terrible, but unless I’m missing some brilliant movie that I haven’t seen yet, they’ve all been pretty damn pointless. What the fuck do I care what happens to Norman Bates during his “rehabilitation”? Isn’t this like the whole “Darth Vader as a child” thing – who wants to see this story?

  49. Good review Vern, but what happened to the usual extra little categories at the end like “Datedness”, “Would they make a movie like this today”, etc?

  50. I’m just glad the Clea DuVall tag is getting more use.

  51. “What’s better, a pure but shitty John Carpenter movie like GHOSTS OF MARS, or a solid but anonymous one like THE WARD?”

    Hands down, a pure but shitty John Carpenter movie. I’m in the minority here but, despite all the flaws that you pointed out Vern, I still like Ghosts of Mars a lot for the simple reason that it feels like a John Carpenter movie (as you pointed out in your opening statement.) The Ward is boring, hokey, played-out cat scares with a stupid-looking monster and an unforgivable dumb twist ending. It doesn’t feel like anything Carpenter’s done, not even his so-so “Masters of Horror” entries. I would trade any moment of that movie for a cheesy line or a character named “Desolation.”

  52. Knox Harrington:

    “And you just know they’re not gonna stop. Soon they’ll move on from genre movies and recycle EVERYTHING. They’re gonna remake The Godfather. They’re gonna remake On The Waterfront. They’re gonna remake Five Easy Pieces. They’re gonna make sequels to There Will Be Blood and The Thin Red Line. They’re gonna make A Clockwork Orange into a franchise.

    Jesus fuck, this shit is getting to me. Who the fuck put the retards in charge?”

    HELL YES. You are not the only one, brother.

  53. Jareth Cutestory

    August 25th, 2011 at 8:26 am

    I wouldn’t mind the remakes so much if the people responsible showed some imagination. Remake every film naked, for example. Not porn, just naked: THE NAKED GODFATHER, A FEW GOOD NAKED MEN. Put that CGI to good use.

    Or remake films the way Danger Mouse mashes up albums. RINGU: SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE. It might add a little pathos to Hanks’ and Ryan’s capering if everyone around them was dying from a VHS curse.

    Or re-release a bunch of horror movies with “Yakety Sax” as the soundtrack.

  54. Great review. This in not Carpenter’s best work nor is it a good movie, but I have to admit I kind of like it. The first time I saw it I was disappointed, but over time I have come to appreciate it more and more. Maybe it is because they just don’t make genre pictures like this anymore.

  55. dieselboy, I don’t think Red State will be good because I think Smith is a fairly terrible director. It’s easy to cut a pretty great trailer for almost anything. I doubt he has the chops to pull it off…and so far the reviews I’ve been reading are mediocre to awful.

  56. I have a weird relationship with Ghosts of Mars. It’s really boring and indefensible and poorly-made on every level, and it’s not even “so bad it’s good”; it’s just bad. And this is coming from the guy who legitimately has a fun time watching Batman and Robin.

    So I can’t really explain why I’ve seen it so many times and why it’s a weird staple among me and my friends. I can bring up any scene and it’s like we’re talking about Predator or Terminator 2 or some shit, even though we all hate it. I agree with the guys above – the Ice Cube look directly into the camera and Henstridge’s dumb cocking of the gun at the very end is the best part and seems like a better, more fun movie.

    I think maybe my soft spot for this movie goes to the extra features on the DVD, mainly the stuff with Carpenter and all those guys in the studio making the ridiculous score. That was the first time I had seen (or even heard of) Buckethead – and i remember thinking IS THIS FOR REAL? Is this an Andy Kaufman-esque joke? I seriously thought maybe he was Big Daddy Mars or something and it was like an Easter Egg on the DVD.

  57. Jareth:

    “Or remake films the way Danger Mouse mashes up albums. RINGU: SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE. It might add a little pathos to Hanks’ and Ryan’s capering if everyone around them was dying from a VHS curse. ”


  58. I agree with you neal, the worst part about Ghosts of Mars to me is that it’s really just pretty boring.

  59. I feel GHOSTS OF MARS holds up as a more interesting film than VAMPIRES. It isn’t top (or even second) drawer Carpenter, but it’s a solid tribute to some of his older work made into a completely unabashed B-action movie about colonialism. I dug the music (Buckethead’s playing is also all over the DETENTION score composed by Brain and Melissa, but that may be getting off topic.) The ramshackle sets and effects are fun to look at on the big screen, and the cast is amazing. And I’m glad to see people commenting on Cube’s pre-end credits glance into the camera. It’s an awesome moment rarely mentioned.

  60. Okay, Mark, here we go. My favorite John Carpenter movie is… Memoirs of an Invisible Man.

    I think those invisibility effects are still beautiful today, actually showing things that matter with visual effects (what does eating look like? What does smoking look like? Chewing gum?). I TOTALLY relate to the metaphor of invisibility. It’s probably more relevant today when we’re even more anonymous and disconnected than the corporate yuppies who remained in 1992 when it was made. Love how we get to see Chevy Chase even after he’s invisible, because it’s a movie, it can allow us to see how he copes. It’s also just kick ass. They really use invisibility for every type of exciting action sequence.

    I can see how people didn’t want to buy Chevy Chase as a serious leading man. It was ambitious of him, maybe he wasn’t really ready for it. He never really tried it again. And I know Carpenter disowns it due to studio interference. But I guess if it were really John Carpenter’s Memoirs of an Invisible Man, it wouldn’t have been one of my favorite childhood movies. It’s Studio Interference’s Memoirs of an Invisible Man that made a lasting impression on me (and still within the last few years when I saw it on HBO HD.)

  61. I think the greatest scene in MEMOIRS OF AN INVISIBLE MAN is where that guy snatches the old ladies bag and we see the VISIBLE Chevy just snatching it back and handing it back to her, while everybody is looking in shock. This would have been a pretty cheap laugh, if they had used a “floating” bag, but now it’s hysterical.
    Also the vomiting still cracks me up. I agree with Fred, that the movie has too many creative uses of invisibility to be so overlooked.

  62. MEMOIRS is a fantastic film – so hugely underrated and neglected.

    Chevy + Carpenter = Gold. It could not be anything else.

  63. MEMOIRS is one of the few Carpenter movies I’ve never seen (the others being ELVIS and DARK STAR.) I was a kid when it opened, and had seen HALLOWEEN and BIG TROUBLE already, but didn’t have too much awareness of who John Carpenter was at that point. I suspect at that age I was put off by a Chevy Chase movie that didn’t look all that funny. I’ve been meaning to get to it.

  64. I’ve never understood why MEMOIRS always had a reputation as a total disaster when I thought it was pretty damn solid. Great special effects, interesting logistics, and enough of that Carpenter tone to set it apart. I always preferred Chevy in suave leading man mode as well. His work in MEMOIRS isn’t all that different from FOUL PLAY or FLETCH, which had car chases and shootouts and thriller stuff like that. I never understood why he decided to relegate himself to buffoonery. I like him on COMMUNITY but he had the potential to be in the latter-day Bill Murray stage of his career by now, if he’d just applied himself.

    Steely Dan was better off without him, though, in my opinion.

  65. I think Chevy Chase’s problem is that he’s a weird dude. I saw the panel they had at Comic Con for Community this year and it basically became an hour of talking about The Wire and Chevy Chase being really weird and crossing the line into sexually awkward comments.

  66. I’m always surprised by how many Carpenter films I’ve actually seen, given that he’s not a director I would actively seek out.

  67. …Ok, there was actually more to that post somewhere. What the…?

  68. Wow, guys, thank you. I honestly thought the die hard Carpenter fans would skewer me, but I should have known the Vern crowd was more evolved. CJ, you’re right, that scene was the perfect use of visible Chevy. I also like when he hears his friends badmouthing him and he pulls the douchebag’s pants down. Cheap joke except we see how hurt he is and he lashes out in an immature way.

    The hints of unethical issues like using an invisible assassin to kill Hitler are great too.

    I think it was considered a disaster because it cost a lot (for the time, I think it may have been $42 million or something. Probably more though looking at it.) and didn’t make much. Box office wise, people didn’t flock to see invisible Chevy or cool invisible action movie. By then I was used to my favorite movies bombing.

    Chevy was probably scared to do anything serious again, though he disappeared into kids movies for a while too. I’m glad to see him back on Community and I’d still take a new Vacation with grandpa Griswold.

  69. Since Fred mentioned Chevy’s kids movies and we are talking about pretty good movies, that are considered bad anyway, I know confess that I love SNOW DAY. I think it was originally written as a PETE & PETE movie and it really shows. Don’t know where all the hate comes from.

  70. CJ, would Snow Day compare with Heavyweights? I never saw that one but Man of the House wasn’t very good (Jonathan Taylor Thomas vehicle) and I thought Orange County was embarrassing, though he was only a cameo. Someone told me the DTV Funny Money was good. Maybe Chevy could have been the Steven Seagal of comedy, and Community is his Law Man.

  71. Oh, one more note about Ghosts of Mars. I got a set of those character cards when I went to the press screening. Isn’t it weird that Ice Cube’s picture is out of focus? Was that the only shot they had of Ice Cube?

  72. It’s been a while since I saw Heavyweights. Let’s just say that there is no delightfully over the top performance like Ben Stiller’s in that movie. (Although Sam Elliot comes close. But not too close.) It’s definitely better than MAN OF THE HOUSE, because it doesn’t try to be a charming, inoffensive family comedy. Like I said, it was originally written as PETE & PETE movie, so there are some pretty surreal gags going on. (Like an ice rink, whichs boss plays so boring music, that people start falling asleep while they are skating.)
    But you should know that this IS a kids movie and despite a pretty good adult cast (Chase, Jean Smart, Pam Grier, Chris Elliot, John Schneider, Iggy Pop), the kids get most screen time.
    (And I like ORANGE COUNTY, despite the jackhammer happy ending.)

    Okay, good kids movies…John Carpenter…made some great movies with Kurt Russell…Russell was in SKY HIGH! You should also watch this one. Bruce Campbell is in it too. Chevy Chase isn’t and Carpenter has nothing to do with it, but it’s my most watched DVD of the last 5 or 6 years.

  73. Snow Day is a pretty good kids movie. The main thing I remember about it is Chris Elliot as the crazy snow plow dude. Also, I could watch a 90 minute movie about Emmanuelle Chriqui just standing there looking pretty (which is how I got through that horrible Zohan movie).

    The downfall of Chevy is depressing to me. He was one of my absolute favorites when I was a kid in the 80’s and all of a sudden he just hit a wall and became unfunny. Cops and Robbersons was the last straw where I had to accept the fact the Chevy just didn’t have it anymore (haven’t seen Community).

  74. I miss comedians like Chevy who could be funny because they were smart and cool, not because they were big retards. I looked up to guys like Bill Murray and Eddie Murphy because they used wit and humor to get out of tough situations. For a dude of somewhat below average size like me, that was an inspiration, one that’s influenced me to this day. There’s no one like that nowadays. Now it’s all lumbering man-children.

  75. Adding to the Memoirs love, I think this is a really underappreciated movie. I think that by showing Chase visible in key scenes helps us to empathize with him. Little shit like him avoiding people on the street, trying to put on his invisible clothes, etc. is stuff you’d never think about worrying about while invisible; which is why I like it.

    Also does anyone remember the HBO Making Of special for Memoirs that had Mel Gibson driving Chevy Chase around the Warner Bros (I think) studio lot? Or did I dream that?

  76. Snow Day and Sky High are both very good.

    Also, You Don’t Mess with the Zohan is excellent. However, unless you have Israeli family members/know a lot of middle eastern cats, I don’t know that much of it will make sense. Way too niche for a 90 million dollar movie, but I laughed my ass off and I usually hate Sandler movies. Of course, I was far from sober at the time.

  77. Damn, Mr. S. Blowin’ up my spot and shit.

    I must stress that that review was written a few years before COMMUNITY came out. Maybe the devil gave Chevy back like 20% of his sense of humor because he’s fairly funny on that show.

  78. Jack: And I totally remember that behind the scenes special. Do you remember when Chevy guest-starred in Mel’s special for Lethal Weapon 2?

    “A quitter!”

  79. It’s kind of neat how Chase’s reputation and the goodwill he engendered rests on very little really exceptional material. Was he even on Saturday Night Live for a whole season? He’s been doing stuff like OH HEAVENLY DOG since the late ’70s yet we all remember the scant good stuff so well that we forgive an extraordinary amount of junk. Somehow I don’t think Seth Meyers will inspire the same kind of devotion.

    Also, before the lumbering man-children of comedy, there was a period of performers I simply cannot fathom: a bunch of shrill smarmy guys like Mike Myers, Jim Carrey, Dana Carvey, David Spade, Norm MacDonald and Dennis Miller. At least slacker-comedians like Janeane Garofalo wore clothes that I could relate to. Gary Shandling is probably the only comedian from that era that I really like, but even he comes across as a bit creepy. At least he had the good sense to exploit that creepiness on LARRY SANDERS.

  80. Fred – you asked about if some of the 2001 movies weren’t addressed. I intentionally skipped comedies like American Pie 2, just to limit the definition of “summer popcorn movie.”

    Some I guess I could’ve done: A Knight’s Tale, Moulin Rouge (I considered it but decided it didn’t fit in with the other ones I was doing), Swordfish, Kiss of the Dragon (did that recently), The Score, The Others, American Outlaws… that’s about it.

    I guess maybe if I had it to do all over again I would add Swordfish. Maybe.

  81. I really wish you would do The Others and Swordfish

  82. ZOHAN is a very good Sandler flick, and he played it very well. I like me some Sandler, and make no apologies for that, my brothers.

    It makes me happy to see Chase has gotten at least a little of his mojo back with the success of COMMUNITY.

    His career really has been as up and down as can be, with the down being evidenced with the truly horrific Comedy Central Roast of him a few years back.

    Anyone else see this notorious piece of sheer character assassination? Seriously, it’s fucking painful watching face after face rip Chase a new one. I swear, you can actually see him physically shrink as the show goes on.

  83. Yes, Knight’s Tale, The Others and Swordfish fill in the gaps. The fact that I didn’t remember them on my own speaks for itself, although I think The Others is generally well regarded independent of being a summer movie.

    Swordfish may be interesting as Jackman’s first non-Wolverine film, Travolta as another bad guy and Silver’s most blatant use of a Matrix bullet time shot. He also paid $500,000 for Berry’s topless shot. Then she got way more naked for nothing in Monster’s Ball so that was money well spent.

    Karlos, Zohan is wonderful, a return to the type of crazy character like Billy Madison or Happy Gilmore. I’m bored with Sandler’s “lovable everyman” characters. They’re actually not endearing at all.

  84. Happy Gilmore is comedy gold.

    “I eat pieces of shit like you for breakfast.”

    “You eat pieces of shit for breakfast?”

    “… no.”

  85. I love this site. Only here would I find others who truly appreciate Memoirs of an Invisible Man and Chase’s performance in it.

    I read the novel the screenplay is loosely based on. I probably shouldn’t have been reading it at the time, since the sex scenes are pretty graphic (describing Alice’s body parts as they had sex and her wonder at the situation). However, if the adaptation had been more directly related to the novel, I think the movie would have been even more of a John Carpenter vehicle than it ended up being. There was a lot more conspiracy tied to the government rather than just a villainous faction of the CIA or whatever agency they were from. (Haven’t seen this in years…must check Netflix, but they don’t have much on Canadian Netflix yet.)

  86. fun fact, Memoirs of an Invisible Man features I think the only onscreen performance of anime and video game voice actor Richard Epcar who played Batou in Ghost In The Shell who’s look was based on…..Steven Seagal!

    it’s like the Vern version of six degrees of separation

  87. Hate to be a dick if this is already brought up, but wasn’t Jason Statham originally supposed to play the Williams part before he was replaced (by Sony?) in favor of the Cubester?

  88. About THE WARD, i actually enjoyed it. The same cannot be said about that treaty in human stupidity that is Zack The Hack Snyder’s SUCKER PUNCH. Sucker Punch is like an atempt at a smart movie made by an idot for idiots. I didn’t knew if i wanted to laugh or vomit after i watched the piece of human retardness. THE WARD didn’t made me feel i wasted my time. THE WARD wins hands down.

  89. SPOILER – With all this Sucker Punch talk, I finally watched The Ward on Netflix Instant to make a double-feature. (Vern sort of reviews it in this post) So besides the surface “hot girls in a mental asylum” plot, they also take place one year apart(!) in the 60s, both have to do with alternate realities, and both feature lobotomies via spike under the eye. And weirdly The Ward is the one that actually shows a musical dance sequence even though Sucker Punch is the one whose plot revolves around musical dance sequences!

    But yeah, The Ward is not very good. Amber Heard actually has a very commanding screen presence and warm, strong voice (sort of reminds me of Kristin Kreuk in Chun Li) but some of the acting by the other girls (especially the “infantile” one) is horrendously bad. And I hate to say it, besides a few cool camera moves down hallways, the only “John Carpenter”y thing about this movie is when Heard starts punching and brawling with the ghost and it literally looks like a scene straight out of Ghosts of Mars. Oh yeah and there’s a twist that did catch me off guard, but like Scream 4, it was mostly because my attention was fading at that point.

    So I wondered if anyone would actually like The Ward better than Sucker Punch, and was actually kind of glad to see Asmiovlives’ comment above. I think it takes a special type of movie to rile people up that much.

  90. I kinda enjoyed THE WARD, if only underminded by a cliche twist (in any horror movie set in an asylum or involving a mental patient protagonist) which has become the new “It’s a Dream!” groaner you fear and hope doesn’t come, but it does. If this was made 30, maybe even 20 years ago he could’ve gotten away with it. But not now, not after recent years.

    But otherwise Neal, I will call bullshit on your two main complaints.

    (1) I thought the girls were nicely casted, for your usually colorful supporting group of survivors that Carpenter loves to utilize for his siege stories, you know the archetypes in the Bitch, the Artist, the Child, whatever.

    (2) It’s a Carpenter movie for me in establishing an engaging pace, a sense of atmosphere and mystery. Both THE FOG and PRINCE OF DARKNESS come to mind. Plus I liked some moments. My favorite is when the girl tries to slash her wrists to escape this crisis, then stops. Only for the monster to take that razor and cut her throat out.

    How can you not dig that shit?

    If Carpenter had thrown out that twist, or re-worked it (like how he reworked RIO BRAVO into ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13), then this would’ve been a truely good movie. Nah the Internet would still hate it. I mean look at their shitty taste in horror in recent years. (Or mainstream in general.) But yeah, at least its basically a honorable OK entry, unlike the boring, mindless, and probably sabotaged GHOSTS OF MARS which reminds one of Paul W.S. Anderson. (Which is sad.)

    But I’ll make a bold prediction that will blow some minds. As crazy as this might sound, I actually could see this eventually get rediscovered and find itself a cult, somewhat appreciative audience. Which seems to be the fate of most Carpenter movies. As much as we adore John Carpenter, even nerds at times rejected his efforts at the time before they came to embrace them, even when it’s something masterful like THE THING or BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA or whatever.

    I mean I remember when IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS came out, people hated that. But jesus that’s a good fucking movie that seems to get better and more interesting for me each time I see it.

    THEY LIVE? Dismissed at the time, I’m sure only because critics refused to accept a brilliant social commentary movie starring a pro wrestler.

  91. It’s true, even Carpenter’s clunkers age well. I just watched VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED, which people think so little of they don’t even remember it exists, let alone work up the heart to hate it, and I thought it was okay. You could sense Carpenter’s contempt for the material in the gruesome but offhanded death scenes, which I thought were hilarious in contrast to the somberness of the rest of the movie. Kirstie Alley is ridiculously miscast as a femme fatale scientist, but the rest of the cast is good. I mean, how many movies have Superman and Luke Skywalker sharing scenes? It’s as unnecessary a remake as any, but Carpenter’s too much of a pro not to deliver the goods in terms of atmosphere and stunts. I can’t see it gaining a cult, but I could see people catching it on cable and not regretting the time spent.

    One thing I noticed was that I believe it’s the only Carpenter movie (except ELVIS, I guess) that has to deal with the compression of time. All of his other movies happen over the course of a few days, but this one takes years. The funny thing is that the part where it skips ahead feels clunky and unconvincing, like it all took place later that day. It feels like he suddenly found something he wasn’t good at. For better or worse, he works in the siege and/or escape format, utilizing minute-to-minute suspense as the engine of his plots, and it’s just not in his bag of tricks to elide over events.

    Who the fuck didn’t like IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS though? That movie rocked from Day One.

  92. Its funny but I frequently roam another movie board that’s more oriented towards “serious” films like your arthouse and foreign and not so much our beloved junk like we do here. So I did a John Carpenter thread, going all Kamakaze in my defense of him, my argument for why I thought (and still think) he’s a master filmmaker worth exploring and respecting. I brought up his underrated, mostly successful genre proliferation and tackled action, sci-fi, thriller, comedy, romance, teen angst, whatever. I bring up how consistently good he was, like from DARK STAR up to THEY LIVE, every movie he made I would argue is at the least worth seeing, all good and some even great. (And this ignores his post-80s successes like MOUTH and ESCAPE FROM LA and VAMPIRES or whatever.) I bring up his talent for making very watchable, engaging narratives with good pacing, intriguing ideas and visuals, memorable endings, etc.

    And son of a bitch, those snobs actually agreed with me. That was goddamn gratifying. To be fair alot of those members are European, and Carpenter is much more appreciated, publicly accepted over there than he is back home I suppose.

    I think what helps Carpenter long term and let him age well like wine is that for the most part, he tries. Not only does he try, he isn’t mindless or audience-insulting. He has ideas, intriguing even heady ideas sometimes. He’s not a flashy filmmaker, he’s not pretentious, he’s rather honest.

    I think Carpenter’s shitty luck for how most of his movies were usually received, alot of it can tie back to HALLOWEEN. It’s phenomenal success really to a degree became a trap for him, he was “the next Hitchcock.” (A kiss of death.) And I think Carpenter rebelled against that expectation, and he got punished for it. I mean THE FOG, lets admit its no HALLOWEEN. But that was made when horror was more and more about the next cool decapitation shot and Carpenter tried to reverse that trend himself, be more about mood and mystery. (In some ways THE FOG at times really reminds me of an old school DOCTOR WHO serial. I think the same way of PRINCE OF DARKNESS.) Because it wasn’t as good as HALLOWEEN or not another HALLOWEEN, THE FOG got trashed.

    I read several then-reviews of BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, and so many of those critics didn’t see an inspired, viciously witty, and perversely entertaining neo-western/martial arts/comedy. Instead they were mocking Fox for sinking a fortune into another kung fu movie. Some were even calling it racist, even though how many other Hollywood movies have the actual hero be an Asian-American?

    Seriously why wasn’t THEY LIVE celebrated by the critics back then, especially the liberal critics who desperately craved for something to rally around in the Reagan Decade? Its the sort of movie very watchable on multiple levels, as satire or commentary (on culture, politics, and Hollywood) and of course as an action movie. I get the sense that liberal critics sometimes hate liberal-friendly movies if they’re not too SNL-blunt level of criticism against their enemies and targets. Or hate if such points are being made by “junk” and not Oscar bait dramas that are quickly forgotten, the sort you despise Mr. M.

    “Who the fuck didn’t like IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS though? That movie rocked from Day One.”

    Critics and let’s be honest, horror fans. (let me be snobbish: They don’t want mood and suspense and ideas, they want blood blood and boobs.) Not now obviously, but I remember at the time the general supposed reception. In short, both came and went out of theatres very quickly. Shit I still remember AICN (the real early days) when it was status quo opinion that Carpenter “hadn’t made a good movie since the 1980s.” Now that isn’t the case but at least that’s my memory of Geekdom back then regarding JC. (I do remember everybody at AICN hating ESCAPE FROM L.A., a live action 2000 AD Comic strip.)

  93. I just saw THE WARD a few days ago and yeah, Carpenter still knows how to build atmosphere and use the camera right. It was just the script that didn’t work. But I loved the moment at the end SPOILERSPOILERSPOILERSPOILER when she was fighting the ghost and “killed” it with an axe. That was such a great WTF moment. How can you kill a ghost with an axe and judging by the look of her face, she was supposed to think the same thing. Too bad they blew it with a lame explanation.

  94. CJ – Pretty much.

    You know I’ve got a dream that won’t happen obviously, but I could it actually working. Now bear with me before you roll your eyes and pity me.

    Looking at Marvel, what if they decided to expand into their horror, monster, the occult, the weird vault and make a movie like say DOCTOR STRANGE or ROM: SPACE KNIGHT or hell, even TOMB OF DRACULA which would potentially mean a rebooted Blade (or Wes back from prison, whatever)?

    Whatever one thought of their movies, I admire that they’ve been willing for the most part (save for INCREDIBLE HULK) hire unconventional choices to direct, regardless if they had previous experience in action or not, or their box-office record. Favreau before IRON MAN was the ELF guy. Edgar Wright lost Universal a ton of money with SCOTT PILGRIM. James Gunn that lovely lunatic was a Troma guy and his movies most folks aren’t even aware exists, much less seen them. Joss Whedon anybody? I mean jesus Kenneth Branagh the director was irrelevant, nobody wanted to touch him with a 10 foot pool, now after THOR he’s making a Paramount tentpole.

    What I’m saying is, if Marvel did take a stab at horror, why wouldn’t Carpenter be considered? Despite his age, despite the fact he has as much appetite to work on a big budget studio movie again as we all do for a Romney Presidency, I absolutely believe that with a good script (not a xeroxed one like THE WARD), he can still make a pretty good movie. For the most part, I’m sure they’ll let him just make the movie and not pester him over trivial shit.

    Call me naive, or a dreamer. Neither would be inaccurate.

    (ROM would work as a movie. Alien robot crashes to Earth, starts killing people discriminately like the Terminator. Basic monster movie opening, right? Except the twist is he is the hero, and those “people” he’s blasting are actually Skrull-type undercover aliens. And said hero was once a man from a faraway planet long ago who traded away his body, his feelings so he could become this badass bounty hunter.)

  95. MEMOIRS OF AN INVISIBLE MAN. Thoughts on that Carpenter entry folks?

    I’ll echo the consensus in that it really was schizephrenic: Is it a comedy? A spy thriller? an existential drama? Honestly if they had picked one general direction to use to tell that story, I’m pretty certain Carpenter could’ve pulled it off. But damn very few of those schitzoid on purpose movies (let’s have every good idea we liked and jam it into this narrative!) rarely seem to work.

    Still I liked that Chevy Chase dream where he found his genitals became invisible.

  96. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen it but I remember liking it. An interesting mash-up of genres (sci-fi/romantic comedy/adventure/thriller), and Chevy was always appealing in those kinds of roles where he came across as a mix of Cary Grant and Groucho Marx.

  97. Apparently Carpenter said somewhere that this movie was supposed to be Escape From Earth when he signed onto make it, but the studio changed their mind later and forced him to change Snake into Desolation Williams, which basically killed his enthusiasm for the project and was at the root of him leaving Hollywood for ten years. Insane to think there was a time when a director was really eager to resurrect a dormant ’80s franchise for modern audiences and the studio said, “No, we want to make a movie with original characters, so fuck you.”

    I’ve only seen this movie once and probably should give it another spin before saying anything definitive, but I think Village of the Damned is the least of Carpenter’s movies for me, possibly through that backwards thing where this isn’t really any better than Village, but I never got the impression that it could’ve been great like I did with that film, so I was ultimately less disappointed. I have a faint memory of wishing Statham was in it more, because he was more interesting to me than Henstridge or Cube.

    I keep forgetting I need to track down Memoirs of an Invisible Man.

  98. In the spirit of marking important anniversaries of shoulda-been-better John Carpenter films, today is exactly 47 years after the “date of admission” listed on Kristen(Amber Heard)’s mental patient paperwork in the beginning of JOHN CARPENTER’S THE WARD.

    (I’m watching THE WARD for the first time right now, and I found that serendipity too spooky not to make note of it for posterity here. Is the film trying to tell me something? Does that date mystically change for the perception of whomever it is who happens to be first watching THE WARD? This is almost as weird as when I discovered that the BLADE RUNNER Replicants each have birthdays that correspond to me & my relatives. Or that time I discerned Vanessa Hudgens’s face in a piece of toast.)

    (Weirder even than that, I’ve recently discovered no fewer than 3 reasonably intelligent, film-knowledgeable persons who all claim to love JOHN CARPENTER’S GHOSTS OF MARS, as an auteur’s work and as a good action film. Very strange; I didn’t try to dissuade them from their fandom, but I noted to myself to distrust their opinions on The Films of Cinema from now on.)

  99. So wait, Tumblr was in charge of the colonization of Mars?

  100. Please translate for us oldsters.

  101. You said Mars was run by a matriarchy, with Ice Cube even referring to “The Woman” as opposed to “The Man”, Tumblr is a website know for it’s huge feminist usergroup, gettit?

    I’m sorry.

  102. You kids and your dank memes.

  103. Huh. I thought it was just pictures of random shit.

  104. Was gonna comment on the out of focus Ice Cube trading card but I see I already did.

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