Cultwatch! They Live

We’re back with more Cultwatch! as Jimmy and Tom discuss another weird movie with a small but devoted fanbase.

This time around, the guys are talkin’ the 1988 John Carpenter movie They Live, and they’re all out of bubblegum.

They Live


tomk:  From Alive Films apparently.

You know, this movie is only about 90 minutes long, and I’m pretty sure the alley fight is half of it.

That’s not a complaint, by the way.

jimmy:  Dwayne Johnson…Roddy Piper is not.

tomk:  Your point being?

That we should pity Dwayne Johnson?

jimmy:  That Piper should stick to Piper’s Pit.

tomk:  Ah.

Well, we can’t expect every wrestler-turned-actor to be the next Dwayne Johnson. Some may be lucky to be the next John Cena.

jimmy:  Heh. I remember an episode of Saturday Night Live a while back. I can’t remember who was hosting, maybe The Rock, though it seems like it should be older than that. Anyway, during the monologue a bunch of other wrestlers had cameos and they were all great and I thought, “of course, really, they’re all actors”. Very muscular actors, but actors nonetheless.

tomk:  At the least, they’re stunt men who can deliver a line well.

And that helps a movie like this when you have a guy like Piper who knows how to make a fight in an alley drag out and look as ridiculously fun as possible.

jimmy:  Man that alley fight went on a long time.

tomk:  I assume there was a movie around it.

jimmy:  I think my favorite part of the fight was afterward. They go to the motel and two of them look like hell. Faces all cut up and badly swollen. Few hours later, still some bruising but the swelling is all gone. By the next day…perfectly healed!

tomk:  Those sunglasses really were magic.

jimmy:  So…was Holly a mole that sold the resistance out?

tomk:  I thought she was.

jimmy:  It makes no sense otherwise. Seeing she turned from “crying, I’m so sorry” Holly to “shooting Spawn in the head” Holly in about 10 minutes.

tomk:  John McClane was right to be wary of Hollies.

jimmy:  Well, I think we can agree this is not a Christmas movie.

tomk:  True.

More like the Fourth of July.

jimmy:  Ya know, for an alien invasion action movie that was 90 minutes long…they sure did take their time getting to the action.

tomk:  Well, it may have been more of a political satire.

jimmy:  It definitely attempted…something. But it was no Robocop in that regard.

tomk:  Yeah, well, John Carpenter is really just an old hippie. So, he comments on consumerism and implies Ronald Reagan is an alien.

So, Piper played a character whose name translates to “nothing”.

jimmy:  How clever.

And are we sure Holly wasn’t some kinda super hybrid that the glasses didn’t work on? She sure had an easy time throwing a muscular 250lb man threw a glass window. (Not that the aliens were really shown to have any kind of freakish abilities besides subliminal messaging, portal watches…and some very fast interstellar travel that required no protective gear.)

tomk:  With the right leverage, size and weight doesn’t matter.

And you question that of all things in a movie like this?

jimmy:  Heh. I mean, c’mon! That can’t be easy to do!

tomk:  You’re questioning the magic sunglasses movie.

And Nada would never hit a human woman.

Shoot her, sure. But not hit her.

jimmy:  She had it coming. Did you see that twist coming at all when she killed Keith David?

tomk:  A little. She was a little too high in the society and at that one TV station that broadcast subliminals not to be completely ignorant.

jimmy:  She seemed so sincere at the meeting though…before she probably got them mostly all killed.

tomk:  That’s why random homeless guys and blind preachers make poor resistance armies.

jimmy:  What about random homeless blind preachers?

tomk:  They make terrible snipers.

jimmy:  lol

The resistance didn’t really put up much of a fight all things considered.

tomk:  They were still gathering their forces. They really needed a very muscular nobody to lead the way.

Huh. And John Carpenter’s most frequent collaborator plays Mr. Nobody in the Fast and the Furious movies.

jimmy:  Great segue…but it’s too early for that yet.

I know you hate box office numbers, but They Live was a commercial failure, making only $13 million dollars. However, it did open at #1, making $4.8 million, which seems exceptionally low for an opening weekend atop the box office.

tomk:  This is Cultwatch, Jimmy. We aren’t looking at big financial successes.

jimmy:  I was proving why it was one we picked!

tomk:  Oh.

jimmy:  He believed that. Perfect.

tomk:  Kurt Russell also played a guy named Mr Jimmy in Deepwater Horizon that knew a lot and no one listens to until it is too late.

jimmy:  No one listens to Jimmy.

tomk:  Yes, syrup is better than jelly.

jimmy:  Jimmy’s getting upset!

tomk:  Here, put on these glasses.

jimmy:  I COULD end this whole thing in 2 seconds by putting on your stupid glasses…instead, let’s bare knuckle brawl for 6+ minutes!

tomk:  Watson wants you to wear them. Go pop him one instead.

jimmy:  Have you ever read the short story this is based on. (Which I didn’t even know it was a short story prior to this viewing.)

tomk:  No I have not as I also did not know there was one.

jimmy:

tomk:  Well, that story explains a few things.

Had you read it before?

jimmy:  I had not. I think I might have liked it more than the movie. 🙂

tomk:  It has a more serious tone but keeps most of the politics.

jimmy:  The general idea is there. Well, except for the magic sunglasses.

tomk:  The world needs more magic sunglasses.

jimmy:  Well…it depends on what they show us. We probably need less alien overlords to be revealed.

tomk:  You’re happy having alien overlords?

jimmy:  As a trusted internet personality, I can be helpful in rounding up others to toil in their underground sugar caves.

tomk:  Is that what you are? A trusted Internet personality?

jimmy:  More trusted than Watson.

tomk:  That’s hardly a big hurdle to jump. The cat from the new Pet Semetery trailer is more trusted than Watson.

jimmy:  I haven’t seen it, but I do trust that cat more.

tomk:  Judge for yourself.

OK, so, I’ve mentioned the movie’s politics a couple times, but I think you can’t talk about the movie without saying something about it. You mentioned how it was something of a flop when it came out, and that makes sense. While it most likely didn’t do that well do to being, well, very silly, it is an indictment of 80s America, conspicuous consumption, and how capitalism treats the working class. It does imply very heavily that Ronald Reagan is one of the aliens when Nada sees a TV set playing in the supermarket and isn’t surprised at who the alien on the screen is. Of course, it also says that Siskel and Ebert were aliens, saying that the aliens wanted us pacified with half-assed entertainment on top of everything else, keeping us too distracted to keep them from doing the bad things they were doing to the people and the planet.

Of course, the whole “the world is an illusion” maybe just was a message that audiences weren’t ready for yet. That’s basically The Matrix too.

jimmy:  Excellent points.

You know…this whole subliminal messaging thing seems like it was A LOT of work. Every poster, every billboard, every magazine, many (?) TV broadcasts.

tomk:  They had help from human collaborators too.

jimmy:  True. But man. EVERYTHING???

tomk:  We don’t know how long they were running things or how they took over. These had teleportation. Methinks subliminal billboards aren’t a problem.

jimmy:  Fair enough. Ok, related question…what was the point of everything they were doing? I get the “hidden political message by Carpenter” version, but what were the aliens getting out of it? What was their long term plan?

tomk:  They just took all the resources and moved on. Like the aliens in Independence Day. The bigger question would be what the human collaborators got out of it.

jimmy:  Money by the looks of it. And if they’ve just come for the resources, their plan seems like a drawn out waste of time.

tomk:  It also fits Carpenter’s worldview that such people would be extremely shortsighted.

jimmy:  And they had interstellar travel…but not any weapons greater than conventional hand/machine guns?

tomk:  Why would they need ray guns when they have mind control?

jimmy:  Well, it obviously isn’t working!

tomk:  They lack Ray Bans technology.

jimmy:  Speaking of….how could the rebeliion even invent such technology…and stick it in a pair of sunglasses? (And very shortly after into contact lenses.)

tomk:  Man, you just have a lot of questions about an allegorical movie where the best remembered scene is an extended fight in an alley.

jimmy:  I knew you were going to say that. Ok, ok. How about that alley fight!!?!?

tomk:  I thought it was well done and played to Mr Roddy Piper’s professional strengths.

jimmy:  David held his own. But yeah, definitely a few wrestling moves thrown in there that would hurt/kill a real person.

tomk:  Yeah. Someone like you or me or maybe Ryan would be dead after that scuffle.

jimmy:  Did Piper make any other movies? I can’t think of any.

tomk:  His Wikipedia page says he made a lot of appearances as himself, but his next biggest role was a reoccurring part on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

And he played a wrestler then.

jimmy:  I’ve never seen it.

tomk:  Well, we’ve seen many things. Did you have any final thoughts for this one, Jimmy? Did we cover everything? Did you know Piper came up with the bubblegum line?

jimmy:  Lol. I did not, but I’m not surprised.

tomk:  Carpenter thought he might have a good line for an occasion like that due to his, shall we say, main profession as the world’s fittest hobo.

jimmy:  Going from town to town, stopping alien invasions in his spare time.

tomk:  It’s a good life when you can have it.

Just out of curiosity, Jimmy, are you now or have you ever been a wrestling fan?

jimmy:  Now? Not really. I have friends that are and we’ll watch old school stuff for a laugh out of nostalgia. Young Jimmy? Oh yes, he loved the wrestling. 🙂

tomk:  I never really got into it.

jimmy:  You don’t like sweaty, shirtless men grabbing each other by the undercarriage and flipping on top of them!?!?

tomk:  Oddly enough, no.

jimmy:  Heh.

I’m not sure when I got out of it, but it’s been a long time.

tomk:  Nothing pulling you back into the ring.

Certainly not a Flying Elbow or the Macarena or the dreaded Hungarian Bikini Wax.

jimmy:  Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it!

tomk:  I’ll knock all kinds of things!

Is there anything else about this movie you wish to knock?

jimmy:  I don’t think so. You?

tomk:  Nah. Ready to grade?

jimmy:  Go for it.

tomk:  9 out of 10 bedroom regrets.

jimmy:  9? Wow.

I give it 6 out of 10 Rowdy Roddy Peepers.

tomk:  6? Not a fan?

jimmy:  I thought it was ok, but completely average. Not enough to elevate it to another level like an Army Of Darkness or something. I wouldn’t go out of my way to see or recommend it to anyone.

And it never reaches “so bad it’s good” level either.

tomk:  And I think I appreciated the message and the overall memorable goofiness over the actual filmmaking involved.

jimmy:  That’s fair. Maybe I would like another John Carpenter/Keith David collaboration better.

tomk:  Do you have something in mind?

jimmy:  How about “The Thing From Uranus!”

Or just The Thing.

tomk:  Sure. Why not? We could all use more Kurt Russell.

NEXT TIME:  You heard the guys.  They’re getting them some Kurt Russell.  Everyone could use more Kurt Russell.  Be back soon for a chat about the 1982 movie The Thing.

tomk74

Defender of the faith, contributing writer, debonair man-about-town.

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