They Live, written by John Carpenter, based on the short story “Eight O’Clock in the Morning” by Ray Nelson; directed by John Carpenter; starring Roddy Piper (Nada), Keith David (Frank) and Meg Foster (Holly) (1988): John Carpenter’s snarly dystopic satire looks as fresh and relevant now as it did in 1988. Maybe moreso, given the increasing ascendancy of corporations Uber Alles in the interim, the Occupy movements, and all the other stuff that’s happened since then.
Wrestler Roddy Piper makes an engaging hero as Nada, an umemployed manual labourer who arrives in Los Angeles looking for work and instead discovers a conspiracy aimed at destroying the middle-class and working-class. Nada’s a man of action (he is played by a professional wrestler, after all), and soon he and his initially reluctant compadre Frank (the always marvelous Keith David) are going toe-to-toe with the Secret Rulers of the World.
Is this a perfect movie? No. Some of Piper’s witticisms fall pretty flat, though others (“I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I’m all out of bubblegum.”) have justifiably become classics. The cinematography looks amazingly crummy, which fits the film without necessarily being intentional (Carpenter’s films often look crummy, as if they were shot on videotape and then transferred to film).
Nonetheless, this is one of the two or three best science-fiction films in the sub-genre of Paranoid Conspiracy That’s Actually True. It may not look as good as The Matrix, another film in that sub-genre, but the eight-minute fight between Nada and Frank, as Nada tries to get Frank to on the sunglasses that allow a person to see what’s really going on in the world, beats almost any fight sequence I can think of for sheer stubbornness on the part of both the characters and the filmmakers. Highly recommended.
The Muppets, written by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller, based on characters created by Jim Henson; directed by James Bobin; starring Jason Segel (Gary), Amy Adams (Mary), Chris Cooper (Tex Richman), and the Muppets (2011): The Muppets return to the big screen after more than a decade away thanks to the slightly unlikely Muppet-love of Jason Segel. It’s great to see all of them again, and the gossamer-thin plot doesn’t get in the way of an assortment of great Muppet moments and the occasional song. Segel, Adams, and Cooper strike just the right note of earnestness mixed with gently self-mocking metafictionality. Recommended.
Waiting for Guffman, written by Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy; directed by Christopher Guest; starring Christopher Guest (Corky St. Clair), Fred Willard (Ron Albertson), Catherine O’Hara (Sheila Albertson), Parker Posey (Libby Mae Brown), Eugene Levy (Dr. Allan Pearl) and Bob Balaban (Lloyd Miller) (1996): It’s Blaine, Missouri’s 150th anniversary, and resident little-theatre guru Corky St. Clair will write and direct a musical tribute to the history of the small town. Oh, boy, will he ever.
Writers Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy hit pretty much all the right notes in this affectionate but clear-eyed tribute to the delusions that theatre can bring on in people who long to be something other than what they are, even if they dream of being something they’re not actually good at. It now looks like a satire of the American Idol generation, though of course it isn’t — in tone and execution, it hews closer to Stephen Leacock’s scathing, sympathetic Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town. Highly recommended.