Friday, October 19

Halloween Review


Dir: David Gordon Green

Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Will Patton, Haluk Bilginer, Rhian Rees, Jefferson Hall, Virginia Gardner, and Andi Matichak

In 1978 a low budget horror film featuring a group of teenage girls and a stalking killer in a pale white mask changed the landscape of genre film forever and introduced the cinematic world to a young director, eventual master of horror, named John Carpenter. “Halloween”, as simplistic of a premise as it may have, is undeniably an iconic film responsible for the explosion of horror films in the 1980’s and ultimately influencing generations of filmmakers still trying to evoke the fear of the boogeyman.

“Halloween” is also responsible for the introduction of Jamie Lee Curtis in her first film role as the lone survivor, Laurie Strode, of Michael Myers’ Halloween night carnage. Director David Gordon Green, who has done everything from arthouse films like the exceptional “George Washington” to goofball comedies like “Pineapple Express”, returns 40 years later to Haddonfield, Illinois and back into the life of Laurie Strode. Mr. Green builds an homage to the brilliant classic in the designs and story, however, the highlight here belongs solely to Jamie Lee Curtis.

Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) survived the horrific events of Halloween night in 1978 and has dedicated her entire life to preparing for an eventual second encounter with Michael Myers. However, in doing this, Laurie has been divorced two times and has estranged herself from her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak). During this time Michael Myers has been silently waiting in a mental institute, being studied by his psychiatrist (Haluk Bilginer) and interviewed by a couple of podcasters (Rhian Rees and Jefferson Hall) researching the extent of Michael’s actions, they go as far as bringing him his mask. 

David Gordon Green demonstrates a keen understanding of all the moving parts that have come before in this long-running series. Green, who co-wrote the script with Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley, provides enough knowing nods to different aspects of the Myers mythology that fans will have fun seeing it all come to life. Green uses these aspects to toy with expectations as well, showing the recognizable closet slates or a lingering clothesline to evoke tension associated with the imagery. Accompanying all this is a new score by John Carpenter, building on the original themes in unique ways while also adding a few new elements that ratchet up the unease. And there is more but the fun won’t be spoiled further.

Jamie Lee Curtis is exceptional throughout the film; Laurie’s flowing gray hair and piercing expressions display a victim who is determined to never be unprepared again. Mrs. Curtis captures the essence of this character nicely, displaying the tough-as-nails heroine, the slightly unhinged doomsday prepper, and a traumatized woman who barely escaped death. Judy Greer is good although slightly underutilized playing Laurie’s daughter Karen. Newcomer Andy Matichak has a natural presence on screen, doing her best version of the type of young characters found in Carpenter’s original film.

The narrative, amidst the amusing elements that call back to the past, builds towards an eventual showdown between good and evil. Mr. Green does a nice job keeping the tension palpable, and the horrors horrific, as Michael stalks from house to house seemingly choosing victims simply because they were home on Halloween night. It’s menacing to watch the brute force that Michael possesses, even though the film makes no mystery that Michael is a well-aged man, the kills are vicious and gruesome. Still, the eventual encounter between Laurie and Michael, which is what the film is always aiming towards, doesn’t hold the gravity that it should. This is partly because the film turns into a standard slasher film with tropes so familiar that you can feel the beats developing well before they happen. Where Carpenter’s original film took its time building angst and composing the frights, Green’s film seems content to rush through the scares which take away from the foreboding nature that the encounter should have composed.

But these are minimal qualms for a film that is ultimately a highlight amongst the franchise. Mr. Green does a fine job keeping the focus on Laurie Strode, and Jamie Lee Curtis is so good playing the character. John Carpenter’s “Halloween” will never be bested, but for those that have grown up with The Shape as a constant icon of terror during the month of October, this 2018 return will be a welcomed arrival.

Monte’s Rating

3.75 out of 5.00

Friday, October 12

First Man Review

First Man
Dir:Damien Chazelle
Starring:Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Corey Stoll, Lukas Haas, Jason Clarke, Christopher Abbott, Ethan Embry, Patrick Fugit, Shea Whigham, and Kyle Chandler

“Where were you?” History, tragic and triumphant, can have a profound effect on how the future will look back on certain moments of change, so impactful that it becomes a date, time, or place that you will remember for your entire life. Where were you on September 11th? Where were you when Barack Obama was elected President? These are two recent moments that have that effect. However, before these recent memories, perhaps the greatest “where were you” moment was when astronaut Neil Armstrong stepped foot on the surface of the moon. 

Director Damien Chazelle, who won the Academy Award for directing the musical “La La Land” in 2016, crafts a grandiose and intimate film focused on Neil Armstrong and the American space program leading up to the momentous Apollo 11 undertaking. “First Man” is an unglamorous yet beautifully depicted look at the struggles, obstacles, and catastrophes experienced in the space race in the 1960’s. 

Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) is an ordinary man working in an extraordinary job. The calm demeanor and literal analysis of situations around him make him an unusual person working amidst engineers and pilots at NASA. But underneath this straight-forward demeanor is a man diligently striving to create an ordinary life for his kids and his loving, long-suffering, wife Janet (Claire Foy). But his occupation propels him into the national spotlight as America tries to beat Russia into expeditions beyond earth. 

As director Damien Chazelle continues to expand the size of his films, the focus remains on a singular character chasing their ambitious dreams. “Whiplash” and “La La Land” both showcase a young person struggling to establish themselves in an unknown world in pursuit of their passion. Neil Armstrong, played with intriguing softness by Ryan Gosling, is also pursuing a dream that will take him into an unknown world. Mr. Chazelle does a nice job of exploring the character, never offering much of a history lesson but rather looking into the personal afflictions, specifically the loss his daughter Karen, that would define the motivation of a man who was consistently looking towards the heavens. It’s never glamorously constructed but instead restrained in its depiction of the world around him.

This controlled perspective may not provide the splendor and awe seen in other space travel movies, where space shuttles float amidst starry filled backgrounds, but the purpose of maintaining minimal views helps in creating tension and making this well-known adventure to the moon have some kind of uncertainty associated with it. It’s a method that works early in the film, but as the historical familiarity settles in during the third act it, unfortunately, doesn’t connect the emotion as it feels like it intended and instead feels underwhelming. Still, Mr. Chazelle understands how to evoke that old-fashioned Hollywood nostalgia in moments, sometimes it’s big and boisterous and other times it’s small and composed. 

Neil Armstrong is portrayed as a mild-mannered family man who fits in nicely at the neighborhood barbeque; Mr. Gosling provides a quiet, analytical perspective for the character. Claire Foy provides the standout performance here however as Janet Armstrong. Ms. Foy is tasked with being the emotional core of the film and she succeeds on numerous levels. 

Mr. Chazelle takes a few moments to look into the American perspective of the time, with protests about the space programs exorbitant funding and one Gil Scott-Heron song that clearly identifies the race relation situation, but he never examines these aspects for long. “First Man” remains clear of its purpose of displaying the space race from the eyes of the man who would become the hero America was looking for at the time. 

Monte’s Rating
3.50 out of 5.00

Friday, October 5

Venom Review

Dir:Ruben Fleischer
Starring:Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Jenny Slate, and Reid Scott

Joseph Campbell, author of the seminal “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”, details a plotting device called “the hero’s journey”. Look at any number of films, past and present, and you can find this character structure utilized in some form especially in the cinematic world of the superhero. It’s a technique that has been done to death but when implemented properly, or when twisted in a new direction, can have satisfying effects. 

This “hero’s journey” may apply to heroic characters like Captain America or Superman, however often times the qualities associated with the “hero’s journey” shackles the characters to a moral code. When these characters start breaking away from the heroic descriptive terms that define them, they often fall into a characterization of being an “antihero”; characters like Deadpool, Mad Max, or The Man with No Name are examples. 

Director Ruben Fleischer explores the complicated nature of the antihero with the origin story of the beloved Marvel character Venom. Providing an unusual, weird, yet satisfyingly kinetic performance is Tom Hardy as the merged human/alien being. 

Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) is a news reporter in San Francisco, providing a hard-hitting investigative reporting show. Brock’s local reputation provides him an exclusive interview with Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), a science mogul who has discovered a slimy alien substance, “symbiote”, and is conducting human trials in an attempt to combine the alien substance with humans. Brock’s compulsive style leads to him losing his job and his relationship with his girlfriend Anne (Michelle Williams). In an attempt to get his job and girlfriend back, Brock breaks into Carlton Drake’s laboratory but encounters the alien symbiote. 

“Venom” is an unusual film. Like its primary character who is struggling to find balance and control of the monster inside him, the film struggles to find the same control between the indulgence to push the limits, establish an overall tone, and exist within the familiar realm found in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film feels in moments influenced by the horror found in demon possession films, then transitions into a buddy comedy film that feels like a modified mainstream version of Frank Henenlotter’s “Brain Damage”, then moves into complete Marvel movie territory with a finale that is filled with all the familiar boom and bang. It’s all over the place, which makes the experience feel over long and tedious.

However, what keeps “Venom” engaging and consistently amusing is the committed performance from Tom Hardy who gives Eddie Brock a cowardly demeanor that is layered with ambitions to do the right thing and, when Venom takes over, the impulse to take over the world and feed on humanity. It’s unfortunate that the other characters surrounding Brock aren’t provided the same kind of energy. Michelle Williams is underutilized as Brock’s love interest and Riz Ahmed is given an antagonist that never feels threatening.  

“Venom”, at 120 minutes, attempts to be a different kind of superhero film. While it never successfully accomplishes the feat of crafting the super antihero that audiences can get behind, it does have Tom Hardy working overtime to make the character an oddly amusing creature. 

Monte’s Rating
2.50 out of 5.00