CHARACTER AUTOPSY: THE 3 FACES OF KURT-THE CARPENTER COLLABORATIONS

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THE THREE FACES OF KURT: THE CARPENTER/RUSSELL BIG SCREEN COLLABORATIONS!

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Photo: Empire Magazine

THE START OF FILM HISTORY

If there’s one thing you can definitely say about legendary director John Carpenter, it’s that he creates some great and iconic characters to inhabit his great movies. And if there’s one actor that fits Carpenter’s characters like a glove, it’s Kurt Russell. The two would collaborate five times together, so far, starting with the TV movie Elvis in 1979, with Russell playing the King Of Rock And Roll, whom the actor had actually worked with on It Happened At The World’s Fair in 1963. Of course, Elvis was not a character created by Carpenter, but it would be the start of a five picture journey with Russell playing three of Carpenter’s most iconic creations and one true life legend. The King aside, lets take a look at three of John Carpenter’s most memorable characters as they were brought to life by Kurt Russell, already a veteran actor from the age of 10.

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Russell as The King…

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…and Russell with the King in 1963’s It Happened At The World’s Fair

SNAKE PLISSKEN: ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981)

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One of cinema’s most iconic and underused character’s is ex-soldier and anti-hero Snake Plissken, who first appeared in John Carpenter’s Escape From New York in 1981. Carpenter had to fight with Avco Embassy pictures over the casting of Russell as the studio preferred legendary film tough guy Charles Bronson, an established action star, as apposed to the former Disney child actor, Russell. But Carpenter stood his ground and Russell stepped into the role of the one-eyed, grizzled outlaw who get’s arrested on the eve of a terrorist attack on Air Force One, which leaves The President (Donald Pleasence) stranded inside NYC…which in this near future, is a walled maximum security prison. As portrayed by Kurt Russell, Snake Plissken is one part Clint Eastwood’s ‘man with no name’ and one part honey badger. Plissken doesn’t care about the rest of the world or The President, he sees his mission into the hellhole of NYC as a way out of spending the rest of his life there. Who cares if the world is on the brink of all out war, all he wants is that presidential pardon in his hands and he really doesn’t care about the rest…or does he? Despite his outward apathy, Plissken does show some remorse over those who lose their lives helping him rescue The President and even more important, the tape recording he has with him.  Although, let’s be honest, it was Snake’s little white lie about getting those who help him out of NYC, too that insured their cooperation in the first place, but when you have two microscopic explosive devices in your neck ready to explode when your 24 hours is up, you make some selfish choices. Russell’s Snake is cool as ice, but not quite cold which is why we like him so much. He’s anti-authority, he walks to the beat of his own drum and if need be, he’s got plenty of fighting and weapons skills to throw down if he has to, but he still seems to have a soft spot for the innocents caught in the way of the mechanizations of those in charge. He’s an outlaw, but one that only seems to like sticking it to ‘The Man’ every chance he gets. A fallen war hero with an Eastwood growl who’s turned his back on the government he fought for because of how expendable they see the rest of us.

We all wish we were as cool as Snake and flip the establishment the bird with our very existence like he does. And Escape ends with the ultimate FU as he destroys the very prize he was sent in for and walks away with a smoke and without a care as he may just have sent the world back to war. Sadly, Snake would appear only once more on screen in the disappointing Escape From L.A. which was, for some reason, more of a remake and played for laughs. Russell was still cool as Snake, but the film around him was one of Carpenter’s lesser efforts. Still, Snake is a classic movie icon and one of the greatest anti-heros of all time and despite remake talk, I can’t see anyone but Russell in the role.

R.J. MACREADY: THE THING (1982)

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Carpenter and Russell would work together again the very next year on Carpenter’s remake of The Thing From Another World simply titled The Thing. Carpenter’s version abandon’s Howard Hawks’ walking vegetable to return to the original source material of John W. Campbell’s Who Goes There? about a shapeshifting alien creature that invades an Antarctic research station and is capable of absorbing and imitating anyone and everyone it comes in contact with. Russell is cast as helicopter pilot R. J. MacReady, who reluctantly takes charge of the situation when suspicion and paranoia causes the chain of command to quickly collapse. Like most of the Outpost 31 members, MacReady seems to be a misfit and social outcast who, for reasons never fully explained, seems to prefer being at the far reaches of the planet and spending most of his day with a bottle of scotch when he is not in the air. But Mac seems more a wounded soul than angry like Plissken.  And once the alien threat becomes known, he realizes the importance of stopping it before it gets back to the world he himself seems to be trying to avoid. He also realizes that he is best fit to take control and does so, however reluctantly. Mac would rather be left alone, but rises to the occasion when thrust into this fantastic and unbelievable situation. Unlike Plissken, MacReady is willing to give up his own life to save those he seems to want to distance himself from. In a way he is just as cool as Snake, but for different reasons. Snake is an authority hating, self serving, outlaw. While Mac is an anti-social, yet ultimately selfless, outcast who is willing to do what’s needed to stop “The Thing” from ever leaving the cold wasteland it had the unfortunate luck of crashing it’s ship into. Certain items of clothing lead one to believe Mac, like Snake, might be ex-military, but that too is never touched upon. Mac is a bit more of an enigma than Snake, but no less heroic and for far more noble reasons. Russell is again top notch here as he perfectly creates a man who’s pain and reluctance are shadowed in his eyes, as he fights something imagined only in nightmares, in a suicidal effort to save the world. Where Snake is an anti-hero, Mac Ready is a true hero, and depending on how you view the film’s ambiguous ending, maybe one that has paid the ultimate price and gladly, if it means the rest of us are safe in our beds. Sadly The Thing was a box office and critical disappointment when it first opened, but fortunately,  it is now recognized as the great film classic that it is. Arguably John Carpenter’s best movie.

JACK BURTON: BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1985)

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Three years after The Thing Carpenter and Russell teamed up again for the deliriously fun Big Trouble In Little China, a movie that was criminally under-appreciated when it first came out, but like a lot of Carpenter’s other works, is now recognized and loved as a cult classic… and rightfully so! Russell, this time, plays truck driver and legend in his own mind, Jack Burton. Unlike Snake and Mac, Jack is a lovable jerk who fancies himself far more the hero than he actually is, due to his massive ego. He’s obnoxious and overbearing at times, but there is something about his unapologetic bravado that makes him incredibly endearing. And Russell’s deft comic performance is a large part of why. Jack is obviously played for laughs and Russell is very funny and his timing is perfect as this lovable lug dives into numerous situations way over his head just to get the money owed him in a bet, recapture his stolen truck and impress and then save a girl who he claims he doesn’t even like, Gracie Law (Kim Cattrall). Russell’s mullet wearing Jack faces, Chinese gang members, mystically powered martial artists and creatures right out of Chinese folklore all with the swagger of John Wayne and the over confidence of a high school jock trying to impress the hot cheerleader. And he is one of Carpenter’s most all-time quotable characters as he quips his way from one fantastic situation to the next, barely messing up his hair, but somehow managing to mess up our villain Lo Pan’s (James Hong) plans.

Big Trouble In Little China is a blast as Carpenter seems to pay tribute to some of the early Chinese fantasies like Tsui Hark’s Zu ,The Warriors of Magic Mountain. If America had caught on to the new wave Hong Kong cinema that started in the early 80s a few years sooner, the film probably would have been a big hit. Once again Carpenter was ahead of his time and Kurt Russell was along with him for the highly entertaining ride, delivering every line of dialog with scene-chewing relish. Personally, I think Jack Burton was another character that needed a film series or at least a sequel much like Plissken. It was great to see Kurt Russell able to have such a good time with this character after his last two characters played for the master Carpenter were a study in intensity, which Russell pulled off in his usual classic style. This is what happens when a great director and a great actor get together…movie magic!

As a huge fan of both Carpenter and Russell, my fanboy dream would be to see them work that magic together one more time before they retire. That would be awesome! But for now, we have some great movies to watch and some sidesplitting-ly wonderful commentary on the DVDs and Blu-Rays which illustrate just how well these two cinema legends get along and why their cinematic collaborations are such classics!

-MonsterZero NJ

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CHARACTER AUTOPSY: EXAMINING MICAH, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY’S OTHER MAIN CHARACTER

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EXAMINING MICAH: PARANORMAL ACTIVITY’S OTHER MAIN CHARACTER

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As a fan of the Paranormal Activity series that is now into multiple installments, I thought I ‘d take a look back at the original film and do a little exploring of the film’s other main character, the ill-fated Micah, who, for obvious reasons, has been left behind as the series moves forward…

The character of Katie is the one that usually gets all the attention from fans of the Paranormal Activity series as she is an important character both as a child and now as an adult and has played a part in each film. Also because Miss Featherston seems more then happy to be the spokeswoman for the series during their release. But, Micah is actually a major player in his own way. His character and actions allow events to unfold that not only, and obviously, effect the outcome of Paranormal Activity but, thusly allow for the events that follow to unfold now that the series has been continued and the mythos is expanding.

At the onset Micah doesn’t seem to be a bad guy. And At heart, I don’t think he is. He is a young, fairly handsome day trader who seems to have a genuine love for his girlfriend, Katie. He does have an obnoxious but funny sense of humor (so do I so, I can relate) and from what little we see of their life before the activity starts, he seems to be like most guys his age, into music and gadgets and making money. He seems like the college frat boy type and might actually be fun to hang out with at a party or a pub. Probably the guy who always tries to be the life of the party and center of attention. Maybe even the class clown as a kid. He’s cocky but, gives the impression that he can be very sweet especially when he doesn’t have an audience to play up to and he is alone with Katie. No more evidence then when her friend, Amber comes over and Micah suddenly becomes the demon crushing alpha male.

Initially he seems genuinely concerned and protective of his girlfriend despite being very skeptical of there being anything supernatural going on. Just the fact that he has bought the camera to record whatever is happening, despite his intense doubts, shows he cares enough about Katie to try to solve this little mystery for her, to put her mind at ease. The same can be said of his agreeing with her to invite the psychic into their home, despite his disbelief. But, it also shows the first signs of a personality trait that will ultimately be his undoing and set in motion events that will carry on for years as the current series timeline suggests. As he openly but, admittedly playfully , mocks Katie and the idea of the psychic, we start to see evidence that cockiness is giving way to a larger character trait that will become his biggest character flaw. A trait that will ultimately blind him to not only realizing there is something really dangerous going on but, will blind him to the fact that his courses of action are doing his girlfriend far more harm then good…
…Arrogance…
Micah is more then cocky, he is arrogant. He is determined to solve this mystery himself. Early on it comes across as typical male pride like not asking directions when lost but, as the situation worsens, his arrogance grows to the point of dangerous as he refuses to admit he has a problem requiring him to swallow that pride and call those who can deal with it. Arrogance to the point of ignoring that he is actually putting Katie in further danger. Arrogance that plays into their supernatural guest’s plans perfectly.

Micah’s arrogance makes him completely manipulatable by the demonic entity which has throughout the film shown an intelligence and an ability to do exactly that with both characters. This is an aspect of this film that detractors overlook, how cleverly this invisible character manipulates and breaks down our young couple using Micah’s pride and Katie’s fear against them. And as for Micah’s arrogance aiding this malevolent spirit, look no further then the sequence of events involving the ouija board. Katie forbids Micah to bring one into the house but, he arrogantly uses a loophole in the wording of his promise to bring one into the house anyway. He ‘borrows’ one instead of ‘buying’ one. This creates a major wedge between the characters that never really heals and this allows the demon to isolate Katie enough to wear her down. She no longer feels as close to Micah as he not only betrayed her trust but, even when he knows how upset Katie is, he refuses to let the subject drop widening the gap between them further. Regardless of how hurt and angry she is, he obviously still thinks he is right. Micah’s arrogant pride continues to allow him to believe he can somehow deal with this entity on his own, despite it being obvious, he is in over his head and his girlfriend is at risk. The more he challenges this being, the more negative energy he creates and the more he empowers it. The more it frightens Katie, the more arrogant Micah becomes about dealing with it on his own terms. It also weakens his girlfriend because, she already knows Micah can’t face this thing and she feels isolated, afraid and helpless as he refuses to get her proper help. There is also a touch of resentment and anger toward Micah as he accomplishes little and she continues to be victimized. Even worse, his inability to solve the problem triggers insecurities which even has him lashing out at Katie, alienating her further. The final act of arrogance is to destroy Katie’s cross which was the last thing she felt she could turn to for help once their relationship disintegrates. Their faith is never discussed but, at this point Katie was turning to God for help with the cross as a physical symbol to hold onto. Micah destroys it in anger, symbolically destroying Katie’s last foothold of strength and hope. Now alone and weakened to the breaking point, the demon finally possesses poor Katie which leads to Micah’s death at her hands and then the killing of her sister and family, the taking of her nephew and the death of a few others as the series continues. His arrogance lead to his own doom and the death of others and a possible worse fate for Katie depending on where this series takes her. The sad irony here is that right before this final horrifying moment, Micah concedes defeat and offers to take Katie away, his love finally overcoming his arrogant ego and agreeing to leave the home he was fighting for to save her. But, unfortunately too late as the evil has already taken hold and he actually meets his fate charging in to save a screaming Katie and right into the demon’s trap as his possessed girlfriend murders him. Personally, I feel this does redeem the character somewhat for his arrogance as he does die trying to save her.

Obviously if Micah was a different person and had properly gotten help there would have been no movie, much less a series but, it doesn’t remove the fact that within the mythos, Micah’s character allows for important and tragic things to happen and sets in motion events that are still expanded on as the series continues. And with all that being said, it wouldn’t be fair to not acknowledge actor Micah Sloat for his contribution to the character. A lot of Paranormal Activity was improvisation with Sloat and actress Katie Featherston improvising their dialogue with story direction from director Oren Peli. There was no script in the traditional sense and both actors deserve a lot of credit for creating their characters and giving them personality and emotional depth. The actors’ chemistry makes them very believable as a couple, no more evident then Micah’s scenes in Paranormal Activity 2 where, after a 3 year plus gap between the filming of PA1 and PA2, the two once again come across as a real couple and you get to glimpse a bit more of Micah’s warmer side. This re-enforces the notion that is not really a bad guy, just one whose pride overcomes his common sense. Sadly, to a tragic end. And so, we must give Sloat the props he is due for creating a very human and ultimately tragic character that both amused us and pissed us off all at the same time and obviously is integral to the success of the first film and thus the series.

You can take a look at Katie Featherston’s character and some of the other recent ladies of horror in ‘Why Do Good Scares Like Bad Girls?’

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