Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Froemming picked “They Live.”
The Movie: “They Live”
Starring: Roddy Piper, Keith David, Meg Foster
Director: John Carpenter
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) A drifter discovers a pair of sunglasses that allow him to wake up to the fact that aliens have taken over the Earth.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 86 percent
Froemming: Folks, we are still reeling from the shocks of Adam Sandler Month, an experience that nearly broke us, gave me night terrors and almost killed the JOE-DOWN.
After a weeklong break, not due to coronavirus but because we are busy people, we are back and still trying to get back into the groove of things.
And I think I found a way.
John (REDACTED) Carpenter.
We’re back in the groove, baby!
I went with “They Live,” a movie we have been talking about doing since the very first JOE-DOWN. It has everything for us. A WWF/E superstar, John Carpenter, aliens, an obscenely long fight, Keith David, awesome music, modern critique of laissez faire capitalism disguised as a science fiction movie, violence and sunglasses.
Also, when we first met, Brown and I bonded over our love of the classic alley brawl between Roddy Piper and David that was immortalized by “South Park.”
Now Brown, you better give us your first thoughts or start eating that trash can.
Brown: Not this year.
I think like many in my generation, I didn’t know anything about this movie until “South Park” and it’s… ahem, cripple fight.
It’s probably been a good decade but I have seen this movie in the past. I never got how a homeless man in Roddy Piper had so many muscles and perfectly-quaffed hair and those mysteries have not unveiled themselves in my 30s.
Other than that, it’s a John Carpenter movie. And I don’t think we’ve ever said no to a John Carpenter movie.
So, Froemming, I’ve come here to chew bubble gum and review “They Live.” And I’m all out of bubble gum. So get us started.
Froemming: It is LA in the late 1980s. The country is suffering from an economic disaster, people are barely getting by, homeless camps are the only salvation for many — so, you know, back when America was great in the eyes of Donald Trump.
We meet a drifter, who doesn’t really have a name but is credited as Nada — but Brown and I know this is Da Maniac.
Brown: I’d go as far as to say this is the origin story of Da Maniac. After a life of being chased around by aliens, he’s resorted to hoarding chestnuts and calling white dudes the N-word.
Froemming: I would also argue that the events in this movie caused Elroy Patashnik to go from being a skeptic of white people’s crazy ideas into becoming a full-blown addict of encouraging them.
Now Nada walks through a desolate Los Angeles with the backing of white-guy blues music, which Elroy may have also encouraged Carpenter to do. And he lands at a construction site, where he lies about being a union member so he can get some work. We learn he came from Colorado, where maybe being a bum in such temps is not the best idea.
Brown: Well, when a woman in a social services office asks Da Maniac his last place of employment, he just starts going on about being in Denver. I don’t think she asked the physical address of where you worked, more what you were doing for work.
Froemming: Maybe he is embarrassed he got roped into that reverse funnel system from Invigaron?
Brown: I’d like to think that Da Maniac worked as a laborer at Tegrity Farms.
So anyways, Da Maniac starts working a construction site and I’ll say it again: He’s way too buff to be a homeless drifter. That requires a lot of protein and I don’t think one keeps up that physique when (presumably) dumpster diving or from a soup kitchen.
Another homeless man by the name of Frank (David) is working on the job site, which really makes me question if it was really a union job.
Then Frank gets all weird with Da Maniac (which by seeing Da Maniac’s future I get). Frank goes from “I know a place with hot food and showers” to getting all mad by Da Maniac for following him.
Froemming: Well, he said it was near where he was going, and Da Maniac shrugged it off. Next thing you know, this big homeless guy is following you around after work. I’d be worried too.
Brown: To be fair, being a John Carpenter movie, the dialogue is… off. And I don’t know if I could call any acting performance in this movie good. Like, it’s good for the kind of movie it is, but there’s no objectively good acting here.
Froemming: Given this was Piper’s acting experience before “The Live,” I think he did an OK job.
Brown: Frank is a guy who’s just trying to walk a fine line but knows the golden rule: He who has the gold, makes the rules.
I thought the golden rule, according to Lonely Island, was, well, this:
Froemming: Well, these two head to a homeless camp, where Brown’s Golden Rule may or may not occur after hours. There is food, people, tents, work to be done and a TV on the fritz that seems to play the ramblings of a paranoid man reading Noam Chompsky’s “Manufacturing Consent” on the air. In short, everything is on-par for the LA experience for Nada.
But something is a little off. Nada sees strange people going in and out of a church nearby. There is singing coming out of it, at all hours, which is odd. So, being a white guy in America, he starts sticking his nose into things where it does not belong.
Brown: In this church, there’s a bunch of chemicals and sunglasses. And in another room, it turns out the people who are running the homeless camp are also the ones behind the TV signals getting hacked. I wonder if they were also responsible for the time someone dressed like Max Headroom hacked WGN in Chicago.
After eavesdropping, Da Maniac is scared off by the blind preacher at the camp.
In the evening, Reagan’s America shows its fascist self when police in riot gear and bulldozers go and destroy the homeless camp. Meanwhile, down the road I’m sure some rich WASPs were getting coked out listening to Animotion’s “Obsession” — the most ‘80s song ever.
Froemming: Yeah, this scene was pretty much this Dead Kennedys song:
After all this, Nada returns to the church and finds a box of sunglasses that were stored away in a secret spot.
Brown: I don’t know if I’d call it a secret. You could clearly tell it was a part of the wall you could open. It was as obvious as the parts in Warner Bros. cartoons where something is clearly animated instead of background.
But then again, L.A.’s finest didn’t find it, so…
And he takes these glasses and runs. And he hides them — in a trash can.
But when he puts a pair on, something funny happens. Sure, he looks ridiculous with them on his face, what with that mullet and all. But he sees the world in black and white, and there are some strange things. Ads simply say “obey,” “buy” and all sorts of other phrases we know ads are telling us, but now it is just point-blank obvious.
And while flipping through a magazine that just throws big words in block letters to consume at him, he sees a guy at the newspaper stand that looks all jacked up. He looks like an alien, or a monster, with perfectly coifed ‘80s hair.
Brown: And when these alien things start putting it together that Da Maniac can see through their ruse, they start talking into their fancy watches to let their superiors know there’s a turd in the punch bowl.
Da Maniac ends up going into a grocery store and starts mocking people he sees as aliens. And his insults are as, well, insulting as Ham Porter in “The Sandlot.”
Because rich white people are being harassed, the cops are called on Da Maniac. And what’s a call to the LAPD without some unnecessary force being put on Da Maniac?
Only, well, he’s a maniac, and the cops are killed. So now Da Maniac can see aliens and he has pistols and a shotgun. It’s the ‘80s and there’s only one thing to do: Kill and spout out one-liners!
Froemming: This movie and “Pulp Fiction” have shown me people can just up and shoot and kill people in LA without fear of consequence. And, Brown, I am starting to suspect there might be some political messages in this movie.
Brown: Can I also bring up something from the “chew bubblegum and kick ass” clip? It’s hilarious to me that after years of being “Rowdy” Roddy Piper — wearing a Scottish kilt and coming to the ring with bagpipes — that Piper is SOOOOO clearly Canadian. His accent is straight out of a bar that ran out of Molson’s and poutine.
Froemming: So, at the bank, Nada starts blasting away, which really doesn’t help his whole “hide from the authorities” plan, what with the gunning people down in cold blood and all. But, he ends up in a parking garage, where he forces a woman at gunpoint to get him out of what is basically a hot zone from “Grand Theft Auto.” And he makes her drive him to her house, which is in the safe part of the radar on “GTA.”
She is somehow pretty chill with all of this. She has those creepy eyes that tell me “do not trust this person.”
And at her home, Nada discovers my intuition on fictional people is 100 percent correct, because Holly Thompson smashes him in the head with a champagne bottle and throws him out a window, where he seems to fall from quite a height and rolls further down a hill like Chris Farley in “Black Sheep.”
Brown: I don’t know why this (REDACTED) up Piper so much. He’s broken a bottle over his own head for cryin’ out loud!
And yeah, I thought Stockholm Syndrome had been set in record time with Holly, when Da Maniac all off-putting asks if she’s single.
Police are on the hunt for Da Maniac, who’s level of being messed up is, what, a slight limp? He fell maybe 20 feet out of a window and rolled down a steep hill. It’s a miracle he can stand.
Going for his stash of sunglasses, Da Maniac is stunned when, *GASP* the garbage has been collected by the garbage man!
Brown: Speaking of “The Simpsons,” is the place Da Maniac kept the sunglasses outside of the box factory? All that’s in that garbage truck that Da Maniac digs through is busted-up cardboard and some tinsel.
Froemming: Maybe? I just know the boxes themselves are assembled in Flint, Mich.
So, Da Maniac roots through a garbage truck to get these sunglasses, and the truck takes off dumping ALL THE TRASH ON THE STREET. How do they not notice that?
Brown: I imagine it’s a union job. They get paid either way.
Speaking of getting paid, Frank comes over and throws a wad of cash for Da Maniac to use while in hiding. But that’s not good enough for Da Maniac, who wants to prove he’s not crazy.
And that, my dear reader, leads to arguably the best fight scene in any movie. Here it is in all of its glory.
Froemming: Look, you crazy mother, I agree. It starts, and just — keeps going. For like a full five minutes. It becomes comical after a while. These two just beat the bejesus out of one another, all over the putting on of sunglasses.
I fear this was when poor Elroy Patashnik’s addiction to encouraging white people took root. Because after this, he is all about Nada’s crackpot schemes.
Brown: I like that it includes a couple suplexes because, you know, wrestler in a lead role.
Also, while I’m thinking about it, I feel kind of dirty that I love watching this scene so much. Ultimately, it is two homeless men fighting each other. It’s like John Carpenter was replaced as director by Krieger from “Archer.”
Froemming: I bet you were a fan of them Bum Fight videos from the early 2000s too.
Anywho, Frank puts on the glasses and sees the world for what it is: Crass capitalism to keep the masses down, the rich up and the aliens hidden in plain sight. So, to get their bearings, Nada and Frank get a room at a seedy hotel to plan their next move. I mean, the world is run by secret aliens who control the media, not a lot these two can do.
And yes, Brown and I hide hidden messages in newspapers. That’s how we get them Soros checks! How else can we afford our mansions and Lamborghinis and robots for our friend Paulie?
Brown: Those George Soros and Michael Bloomberg checks are how I was able to build a throne of TP during this COVID-19 pandemic.
Eventually, Da Maniac and Frank are met by Gilbert, who was one of the people running the homeless camp from earlier. Seeing that the two have the special sunglasses that let you see Capitalism and Classism for Babies, Gilbert invites them to a meeting of underground freedom fighters?
Dude, did we watch “Demolition Man” again? Where’s Denis Leary, famed asshole, telling us about how he wants to eat greasy hamburgers and wipe his mouth with the American flag?
Froemming: This is the other side of the coin. “Demolition Man” was right-wing porn, this was left-wing porn. I’ll let Vanilla Ice explain:
So at the gathering of dissenters or whatever, we see Holly there and right away I knew there was trouble. I have a keen sense in rooting out villains in fictional media.
Frank and Nada are given contact lenses now, so they are not assholes wearing sunglasses inside. But then again, I get my social etiquette cues from Larry David.
The lenses also reduce the headaches they get from the glasses. We also learn the glasses make them high and they come down hard. This is a weird side effect for sunglasses.
Brown: I’m also confused about how the contacts work. Do they see in color? Do they see in black and white? When the movie is showing the aliens, it’s always in black and white but the rest of the movie is shot in color. That moviemaking makes sense when you have sunglasses on, not when you shouldn’t have a choice in the manner. At this point, the movie should be shot in black and white like that fight scene in “Kill Bill” against the Crazy 88.
Anyways, the same thing as before happens here where the cops come break up the party and Da Maniac and Frank have to shoot themselves out of trouble.
At this point, it dawned on me: Piper never uses the sights on the gun in this movie. Though looking back at the bank scene, he does for one kill. The rest of the time? Shooting from the hip!
Dude should have worse accuracy than a Stormtrooper.
Starting to get outnumbered, Frank tinkers with one of the alien’s watches and opens up a portal to their lair. And like Mario to a pipe, the two travel down.
Froemming: Pretty convenient way to escape a bad situation.
So they are now in what I can only call outer space/TV station/underground facility. The movie does not really explain this, because we see all three of these things. And Frank and Nada stumble upon a reception banquet where the aliens and their human lackeys are celebrating something. I think it is the potential success of Trump Casino in Atlantic City or something.
Brown: Well, the movie mentions earlier that global warming is a ploy to make the Earth the temperature of the aliens’ home planet. And having a president who is a climate change denier helps in that cause.
Yes, I’m suggesting Trump is an alien lackey. Forget Russia, we’re getting interstellar in this bitch!
So, they are greeted by one of the other homeless guys from the camp, now all looking like an attendee of CPAC, who you know…
And he takes them on a magical mystery tour of exposition, because the movie is winding down and thus far, not many questions have been answered. He literally takes them to where the aliens teleport in and out of Earth, which is in the same place as the TV studio that is broadcasting the beam that is making everyone unaware that aliens have infiltrated the highest reaches of power. And all I was thinking about this character was…
Brown: Because Da Maniac and Frank aren’t SELLOUTS, they start gunning down people in this TV studio so they can reach the roof and destroy the alien signal on the roof.
When Da Maniac makes it to the top, he’s kills some armed guards and is greeted by a armed helicopter and an armed Holly, who killed a wounded Frank en route to holding up Da Maniac.
Like any good maniac, he shoots Holly and puts a couple bullets into the transmitter to put an end to the aliens’ ruse. In the process, Da Maniac is gunned down by the helicopter.
I kept thinking this was going to be the last line in the movie.
Instead, Da Maniac flips off the aliens as he’s dying. That works, too, I guess.
And everywhere, the aliens are being exposed and the world will know They Live.
Brown: Meanwhile, the lizard people remain at large. And if we learned anything from “Hell Comes to Frogtown,” the planet is doomed because the aliens gunned down one of the few virile men left in existence.
So look, Froemming, you crazy mother! You ready to go to recommendations?
Froemming: Let’s do this.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Froemming: Oh yeah, this movie is awesome. Kind of a slow burn at first, the action doesn’t really start until a half hour in, but it is great!
Brown: It’s John Carpenter. Of course I’m recommending it.
Here is what’s coming up for the next Joe-Down: