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Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Spider-Man: No Way Home

            “Spider-Man: No Way Home” was the #1 movie this past weekend. Let me rephrase that – “Spider-Man: No Way Home” became the #1 movie of 2021 this past weekend, its opening weekend, when it made an estimated $253 million at the domestic box office. As if that weren’t enough, the film made for the most immersive theater experience I’ve had in years, with the audience cheering and screaming at every turn.

            When we last saw Peter Parker aka Spider-Man (Tom Holland), his secret identity had been revealed by no-good newscaster J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons). Thanks to a very good lawyer, no criminal charges can be pressed for presumed misdeeds from the last film, but there are still consequences. For example, Peter and his friends M.J. (Zendaya) and Ned (Jacob Batalon) are rejected from M.I.T. for their role in the controversy. But then Peter remembers that he has friends that can pull some strings with the entire upturning of his life.

            He goes to see Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), and asks him to perform a spell that can make people forget that he’s Spider-Man. Strange agrees, but Peter tries to make him change the spell midway through, which screws things up. Things go so sideways that a hole is torn in the universe, and Spider-Man adversaries are brought in from other dimensions. Thus, Peter has to contend with Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), Dr. Octopus (Alfred Molina), Sandman (Thomas Haden Church), Lizard (Rhys Ifans), and Electro (Jamie Foxx). Strange can send the villains back to their own dimensions, which will kill them, but Peter’s Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) tells Peter that he owes it to them to try to cure them of what makes them evil. After all, it was Great Power that brought them to this world…

            It’s a ball to see Peter interact with the five returning characters. Not all of them are crazy about the idea of being “cured,” but they go along with it as opposed to the immediate death that Strange would bring. Fortunately, most of their origins come from lab accidents that can be countered with science. Still, the situation spins out of control pretty quickly. Peter needs some help, and it’s a poorly-kept secret at this point that the multiverse provides. And that’s when the fun interactions really begin.

            The biggest strength of the film is its humor, especially with the banter among three dimensions’ worth of characters (though bits with Ned and Peter’s other classmates and teachers don’t add much). I’ve heard other critics complain that these scenes go on too long, but they never got old for me. I might even argue that the film could use more, as I couldn’t get enough of them.

            Negatives include some pretty standard MCU action (outside of a cool kaleidoscope-y Doctor Strange sequence), a failure to commit to a twist in the third act, and a need to see 20 years’ worth of Spider-Man movies for this film to make sense. I told my mom that I loved the movie, but then I was saddened when I realized that she’d be lost if she saw it for herself. Also, and this is a nitpick, but there’s too much suspense built around the characters opening college response letters when the envelopes are thin. Maybe it depends on the school, but my understanding is that acceptance letters traditionally come with a packet like mine did.

            Cracks emerge if you think about them, but as with much of the MCU, it is incredibly easy to ignore the cracks, as there is something heart-pounding around every corner. And if you see it early enough, it will be with such a huge crowd that your hearts will pound in unison. “Spider-Man: No Way Home” isn’t quite the best movie of the year, but it’s likely to be the best time you’ll have at the movies all year.


Grade: B
1:52 pm est          Comments

West Side Story

            I first saw 1961’s “West Side Story” in a middle school music class. My opinion at the time was mostly focused on how the street gangs looked none-too-tough with all that stagey dancing. As I got older, I gained more appreciation for the film and show, not just for its excellent singing and dancing, but also its exploration of issues like immigration, race relations, and the criminal justice system. When I heard Steven Spielberg was updating the property in his first-ever full-blown musical, I was worried that some of that thoughtfulness would be lost. But it turns out that Spielberg’s version just as thoughtful as ever. It may even outdo the original by throwing gentrification into the mix. And the singing, dancing, and most of the acting is also outstanding.

            The story follows star-crossed lovers Maria (Rachel Zegler) and Tony (Ansel Elgort). Maria is a somewhat naïve recent immigrant from Puerto Rico that lives with her brother Bernardo (David Alvarez) and his girlfriend Anita (Ariana DeBose). Bernardo is the leader of the Sharks street gang, who are in the midst of a war with the Caucasian Jets over a shrinking New York territory. Leading the Jets is Riff (Mike Faist), though he’s in constant contact with founder and longtime friend Tony. Tony is trying to get out of the gang life, having spent time in prison and currently living under the watchful eye of respected local shopkeeper Valentina (Rita Moreno). But Riff keeps trying to pull him back in, convincing him to go to a local dance where the Jets and Sharks will discuss the terms of an upcoming winner-take-all rumble. It is at this dance where Tony meets Maria, and the two fall instantly in love despite their conflicting affiliations. Can the two bring peace to the warring factions and live happily ever after? Since the story is based on the Shakespearian tragedy “Romeo and Juliet,” I’d say… don’t get your hopes up.

            The musical numbers are, of course, legendary. Songs like “Tonight,” “I Feel Pretty,” and “Somewhere” are so famous that many people probably know them even if they can’t match them to the show. I’m partial to the comedic-with-a-tinge-of-tragic “Gee, Officer Krupke” myself. And it’s all expertly choreographed. If I wasn’t already familiar with Spielberg’s filmography, I would have guessed that he’d been directing musicals his entire career. Though I’m not sure he always nails the pacing. Some of the songs, especially toward the end, seem to be “milked” when they should be briefer and more effortless.

            Most of the cast will be high in the running for Oscars come awards season, with the exception of Ansel Elgort. Most critics are rightfully pointing out that, despite the actor’s best efforts, he just doesn’t fit in here. I’ve been trying to pinpoint why, and I’ve narrowed it down to his look. His build is that of someone who has access to a personal trainer, not just to get ripped (which could be explained by the character’s time in prison), but to know exactly which areas to work on for maximum handsomeness. Compare that to costar Faist, who looks malnourished in consistency with the character’s rough upbringing.

            Speaking of the Oscars, “West Side Story” will no doubt be in contention for several, including Best Picture. But I’m particularly interested in the race for Best Supporting Actress. Rita Moreno won the award for playing Anita in the 1961 version. I could see her getting nominated for playing Valentina in this version, but I could also see Ariana DeBose getting nominated for playing Anita here. What if they’re both nominated? Moreno vs. Anita – not that there’s not plenty to be said for the Valentina character and DeBose’s performance. Does the Academy go with the distinguished veteran or oversee a passing of the torch? And how awesome is this movie if the debate is between “which” actress wins an Oscar?


Grade: B
1:51 pm est          Comments

House of Gucci

            Ridley Scott’s “House of Gucci” had an unimpressive 3rd place box office debut on what was frankly an unimpressive Thanksgiving weekend. A week has passed, I’ve already reviewed “Encanto” at #1 and “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” at #2, and no studio wants to open anything new in the notoriously-abysmal first weekend in December. So the still-#3 “House of Gucci” is up for review. Is it as unimpressive as its numbers? In a way, it is. The film is nearly three hours long and didn’t knock my socks off, so disappointment is bound to play a role in my opinion. But at the same time, I can’t say that it’s some sort of spectacular flop, or even a flop at all, really.

            Lady Gaga stars as Patrizia Reggiani, heiress to a pathetic Italian trucking empire who yearns for something more. She finds that “more” in the form of Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver), heir to the sprawling fashion empire. Aspiring lawyer Maurizio has no desire to go into the family business, and in fact he is happy to forfeit his inheritance after his father Rudolfo (Jeremy Irons) disapproves of Patrizia and makes him choose between love and money. The couple is poor-but-happy, with Maurizio going to work for Patrizia’s father and sneaking in romantic rendezvous in a trailer. One romantic scene could have cut away after some smooching, but it stays with the two… longer than necessary.

            Eventually, through either genuine affection or playing a long con, Patrizia and Maurizio make nice with Rudolfo and are accepted into the Gucci empire. At the top is Maurizio’s uncle Aldo, who welcomes Maurizio into the company with open arms, having found a way to keep the brand in the family without having to hand it over to his incompetent son Paolo (Jared Leto). But where Maurizio sees loving family members, Patrizia sees obstacles to taking over Gucci for herself. She’s destined for greatness, her psychic Pina (Salma Hayek) tells her so. It’s just a matter of removing Aldo from power, getting Paolo to sell his shares of the company, and taking care of Maurizio. The progression of the marriage will determine exactly what it means to “take care of” Maurizio.

            Given all the ambition and betrayal (not to mention crime), it’s hard not to see “House of Gucci” as a sort of “Godfather” movie. Veteran Pacino is like Michael Corleone in Part III – wizened and prominent, but also frail and losing his grip on power. Driver is like Michael in Part I – smart and wanting to follow his own path, but ultimately sucked into the family business. And Leto, in a comparison everyone is rightfully making, is Fredo – desperate to prove his worth, yet so disastrous that he can only dig himself deeper at every opportunity. Also, he’s balding. Granted, so was the real Paolo Gucci, but you can’t tell me there isn’t at least a little bit of John Cazale in that look.

            “House of Gucci” makes some questionable decisions, like the aforementioned sex scene, giving Gaga and Leto a lot of leeway with their Italian accents, and skipping over major chunks of the family’s chronology. But it’s a fairly investing story. I was reclining in my theater seat and never once did I feel the need to bang my head against the upright one next to me. And of course there are lavish costumes – even the eyesores that Paolo designs are clearly the result of painstaking effort. Between this, “Cruella,” “Spencer,” and next week’s “West Side Story,” this will be a good year for the Best Costume Design category at the Oscars. As for the movie as a whole, I’ll give it a mild recommendation.


Grade: B-

1:50 pm est          Comments


            Disney has done it again. The studio synonymous with animated movie musicals has given us another classic to add to the collection in “Encanto.” It’s a good one, with diligent animation, imagination on display in nearly every frame, and songs by current Broadway king Lin-Manuel Miranda. It’s such a well-polished movie that even though I know what I’m seeing is practically perfect, it’s hard not to dwell on a few minor imperfections.

            The movie centers around the magical Madrigal family, particularly teenager Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz). Abuela Alma (Maria Cecilia Botero) lost her husband years ago, but was granted a miracle in the form of an enchanted candle that brought her house to life and gave superhuman abilities to her descendants. Now Mirabel’s mother Julieta (Angie Cepeda) can heal any injury with her cooking, her aunt Pepa (Carolina Gaitan) can control the weather with her mood (usually in the form of rain, to avoid confusion with another Disney character with ice-based weather powers), her uncle Bruno (John Leguazamo) can see into the future (but he’s been exiled due to some upsetting prophecies), her cousin Dolores (Adassa) can hear everything – especially things she’s not supposed to, her cousin Camilo (Rhenzy Feliz) is a shape-shifter, her cousin Antonio (Ravi-Cabot Conyers) can communicate with animals, her sister Luisa (Jessica Darrow) is super-strong - both in physicality and resolve, and her other sister Isabela (Diane Guerrero) can grow plant life at will – though some say her real power is perfection. And again, the house itself is imbued with magic, with cupboards and floorboards that serve the family’s every need. One of those imperfections I mentioned is that it seems like overkill to have both the characters and the house be magical. As fun as the house is, I feel like it should be the star of its own movie, here it feels like a hat on a hat.

            Aside from her uncle Felix (Mauro Castillo) and father Agustin (Wilmer Valderrama), who were born to non-magical families, Mirabel is the only Madrigal without a special gift. She wants one – badly, and she was supposed to get one, but something went wrong (we never find out what, exactly) at her gift-granting ceremony, and now she feels like she’s less gifted than everyone else. Think there’ll be a lesson in here about how you don’t need magical powers to be truly gifted? Plus she still gets to interact with the house, which as far as I’m concerned is like having magic of her own.

The problem is that the magic of the house is on the fritz and in danger of disappearing. Maribel wants to save it to prove her worth, but how does she save something so intangible? The answer likely lies with her ostracized uncle Bruno, but the rest of the family is so creeped out by him that he’s practically considered a villain. If Mirabel wants to save the magic, she’ll have to do something with Bruno and the rest of her family that is way out of everybody’s comfort zone… communicate with them.

For all its eye and ear candy, “Encanto” is a movie where a lot of drama could have been spared with a few well-chosen words and previous hugs. It also plays a little to blatantly to certain Disney tropes, especially with that MacGuffin-y candle that the characters practically destroy themselves trying to protect. And the songs, while catchy, really only make sense in the context of the story and can’t stand on their own. But to focus on those complaints is to miss the bigger picture. Disney has delivered a cute, funny, creative, expertly-animated movie with songs by one of the all-time greats. You’ll do well to take the family to see it this holiday season.


Grade: B

1:49 pm est          Comments

Ghostbusters: Afterlife

            Director Jason Reitman is taking over the reigns of his father Ivan’s “Ghostbusters” franchise, and the results are a mixed bag. On one hand, the new film is truer to the spirit of the original “Ghostbusters” than the misguided 2016 reboot (stupid controversy over the casting aside). On the other, it’s not that funny or exciting.

            The film follows the family of Dr. Egon Spengler (the late Harold Ramis, depicted as alive at the beginning of the film). His daughter Callie (Carrie Coon) moves into his old farmhouse in middle-of-nowhere Oklahoma with her kids Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and Phoebe (Mckenna Grace). Trevor is a sarcastic gearhead, in other words a typical teenager, with an uninteresting subplot where he tries to woo a local waitress (Celeste O’Connor, even more devoid of personality).

More interesting is Phoebe, who goes to school strictly for fun. She takes up the hobby of trying to find out why the small town has so many earthquakes, aided by her friend Podcast (Logan Kim, whose personality is annoying, but at least he has one) and seismologist teacher Mr. Grooberson (Paul Rudd). Gradually she discovers that ghosts are responsible, and that her grandfather was trying to save the world from them, which is why he had a falling out with the other Ghostbusters and was estranged from his family.

I can’t say much for the humor in the movie. There’s a running gag of Phoebe telling terrible jokes, but they aren’t much worse than what the movie tries to pass off as legitimate jokes, especially when Podcast is involved. It’s so strange that Reitman, who brought us two of the funniest movies of the 2000’s in “Thank You for Smoking” and “Juno,” wouldn’t have more in the tank than the hacky “nothing ever happens in this town” bits that we get here.

Much has been written of the incessant fan service in the film, and yeah, it’s pretty painful. Almost every corner of the film has a reference to “Ghostbusters” or some 80’s movie that Reitman loves. I was particularly unimpressed with the return of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, or Men in this case, since it’s a bunch of little ones for some reason. They’re constantly distracted from their mission, and why would you choose them for a mission anyway? There was a reason to incorporate an enormous Marshmallow Man into the original film – Ray was trying to think of the most harmless harbinger of doom possible – but there’s no reason to use them here except that fans are supposed to cheer for them.

“Ghostbusters: Afterlife” isn’t good at humor, fan service, or straight action (I know I haven’t mentioned that yet, but it’s all CGI garbage). So what does it do right? In a word, heart. Grace, Coon, and Rudd (congratulations to Rudd on being named “Sexiest Man Alive,” by the way) are all effortlessly charming, and you want to chuckle warmly at them even though what they’re saying isn’t that funny. I was drawn into the Spengler family dynamic, as the various members struggle to understand and forgive Egon. And the movie has a tremendous amount of love for Harold Ramis. At first I hated that his likeness was being incorporated into the story, the same way I’ve detested the way the “Fast and Furious” movies insist on keeping Paul Walker’s character alive, but it made sense by the end. It’s not a fun journey, but the ending of the film, inevitable cameos and all, redeems a lot of what came before it.


Grade: C
1:48 pm est          Comments

Clifford the Big Red Dog

            As a child, I loved the colorful storybooks about Clifford the Big Red Dog. As a teenager, I… had nothing against the cartoon. As an adult working in Times Square, I despised having to spend several hours a day this past week standing across the street from a billboard depicting a dead-eyed CGI Clifford holding a manhole cover in his mouth like a Frisbee. Maybe if this new Clifford looked anything like the expressive character from my childhood, I might be willing to go easy on him, but the “dog” in this movie is not the character kids know and love.

            The movie sees moody Harlem 7th-grader Emily Elizabeth (Darby Camp) left in the care of her irresponsible uncle Casey (Jack Whitehall). The only bonding activity that interests the teen is visiting an animal adoption tent run by the mysterious Mr. Bridwell (John Cleese). She takes to a lost bright red puppy that Casey refuses to let her have for several good reasons, not the least of which is that their apartment’s super (David Alan Grier) enforces a strict “No Pets” policy in the building. But the dog follows her home, Casey can’t say no to those puppy dog eyes (more from his niece than the actual puppy dog) and he says it can stay just for the night. Emily Elizabeth foolishly gives the dog a name, which adults know will make it that much harder to separate the two later, and perhaps even more foolishly makes a wish that Clifford will get big. This being a kids’ movie with a magical John Cleese, she wakes up in the morning to find that Clifford is still a dog and still red, but now really, really big.

            The enormous Clifford causes immediate problems for Emily Elizabeth and Casey. He wrecks about every piece of furniture in the apartment, causes a scene in Central Park when he has to use the bathroom, and requires a visit with an unhelpful vet (Kenan Thompson). But he also saves the life of a friendly local lawyer (you better believe I made the joke about that being more far-fetched than a huge red dog), so Emily Elizabeth knows he has a good heart. Meanwhile, an engineering tycoon (Tony Hale) wants Clifford all to himself so he can study what makes him so big in an evil plan to cure world hunger. Wait, why is his plan so evil? Mark my words, this character has a future as an entry in those “Villains Who Were Right All Along” articles. The rest of the movie sees Emily Elizabeth and Casey racing to protect Clifford, which may mean sending him away to an animal sanctuary in Asia. Oh no, please don’t let Clifford get sent to a huge sanctuary where he’ll be able to frolic in peace. The teenager from the crowded urban neighborhood with no idea of how to take care of him wants him as a pet.

            The terrible advertising for “Clifford the Big Red Dog” actually played to the movie’s advantage, since my opinion had nowhere to go but up. But it does deserve a lot of the ill will that I had going in. The movie is filled with uninspired stock characters, sitcom-level dialogue, nonsensical motivations, and many, many painful jokes. And yet, I’ll throw out a few compliments. The CGI dog isn’t as off-putting in motion as he is staring ahead. Camp is surprisingly decent when it comes to getting me to care about the relationship between Emily Elizabeth and Clifford. And John Cleese so effortlessly charming that I’m willing to give this movie a C- rating by a hair. No, not a huge Clifford hair, more like whatever you can find on Tony Hale’s head.


Grade: C-

1:47 pm est          Comments


            “Eternals” is one of those Marvel Cinematic Universe movies that tries to introduce a whole team of new superheroes at once. Sometimes this works to great effect: “Guardians of the Galaxy” gave us five new characters that were instantly iconic. Other times the tactic falls flat, like with Thor’s forgettable entourage. The cast of “Eternals” falls between the two, though sadly the film pulls slightly toward the latter.

            The Eternals are extraterrestrial beings that have been on Earth for 7,000 years with the sole purpose of protecting humanity from monsters called Deviants. They are forbidden from interfering with human affairs unless Deviants are involved, which is why they couldn’t get involved with, say, the war with Thanos. In other words, the movie had to come up with a reason why these millennia-old superheroes haven’t been involved in the MCU until this point, and that reason is a poorly-followed taboo.

            The Eternals are the following:

            -Ajak (Salma Hayek), the leader who knows the dark secret of why the team is truly on Earth.

            -Sersi (Gemma Chan), the team’s new leader after Ajak is removed. She has settled into a comfortable life on Earth as a professor with her boyfriend Dane (Kit Harrington).

            -Ikarus (Richard Madden), the most powerful member of the team, though he doesn’t really apply himself unless fighting Deviants. He and Sersi are former lovers, having broken up a few centuries ago.

            -Sprite (Lia McHugh), a childlike sorceress with a crush on Ikarus.

            -Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani), who has made a life for himself as a multigenerational Bollywood superstar. His comic relief antics include making a documentary about the team along with his valet Karun (Harish Patel). He’s my favorite Eternal, for the record.

            -Thena (Angelina Jolie), who can create weapons out of nothingness, but suffers from a sort of PTSD that causes her to attack those closest to her.

            -Gilgamesh (Don Lee), the strongest Eternal, who takes on task of protecting the world (and the other Eternals) from Thena.

            -Druig (Barry Koeghan), a mind-manipulator who has decided not to adhere to the “don’t interfere with human affairs” rule, though he has exiled himself to the Amazon rainforest and seemingly only protects the immediate area.

            -Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry), an inventor who would like to see humans advance technologically, but learns the hard way that they will just use that tech for evil. He has made the conscious decision to retire from superhero work, opting instead for a domestic life with his partner Jack (Haaz Sleiman) and son Ben (Esai Daniel Cross). He is the first openly-gay superhero in the MCU.

            -Makkari (Lauren Ridloff), a super-fast collector of artifacts who lives on the team’s original spaceship in the desert. She is the first deaf superhero in the MCU.

            That’s ten new superheroes, not to mention periphery characters like Dane and Karun. You can feel the screenplay buckling under the pressure, and too often the movie feels rushed. Not rushed as in fast-paced, but more like the movie didn’t have time to include everything it wanted – and perhaps needed. For example, the Eternals are faced with a non-Deviant dilemma that affects the fate of the Earth. They don’t agree on how it should be handled, which leads to in-fighting and even murder. It’s good that the diverse cast has a diverse array of viewpoints, but the film is so overcrowded that certain characters only get a few seconds to explain their stance, and when the film requires them to change that stance, it has to happen just as quickly.

            It’s admirable that Oscar-winning director Chloe Zhao wanted to take on a project this ambitious, and visually the film is a treat, but it just can’t handle juggling all the characters. In an age where the MCU has the choice of debuting its new characters in a single movie or a spread-out TV series, I find it curious that a project this lofty didn’t go in the other direction.


Grade: C
1:45 pm est          Comments


            All movies hope to be successful, but hopes are high that “Dune” will be the start of something glorious. With its sci-fi roots and sweeping production, there are no doubt those who expect the property to be the next “Star Wars.” This film is the first in a franchise that is to include at least one sequel film and a prequel TV series. I’m sure we’ll get both. The film is already doing well enough in international markets that it will probably have already turned a profit by the time this article runs. The real question is, will audiences be excited for more “Dune” after this tepid first installment?

            Timothee Chalamet stars as Paul Atreites, son of Duke Leto Atreites (Oscar Isaac). House Atreites has been assigned by an unseen Emperor to take over stewardship of spice-producing planet Arrakis. This does not sit well with oppressive former steward Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgard) or his nephew Glossu (Dave Bautista). The Duke knows the assignment is dangerous, but he can count on protection from loyal soldiers like Gurney (Josh Brolin) and Duncan (Jason Momoa). He is determined to both continue Arrakis’s spice production and repair relations with the native Fremen, led by the untrusting Stilgar (Javier Bardem).

            Paul, meanwhile, is unsure of his role in all of this. Is he worthy of the leadership that is his birthright, or would he be more fit to be a soldier? His mother Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) sees him following a different path entirely. He’s been having murky visions of the future, all of which involve the Freman Chani (Zendaya), and slowly developing the powers of the Bene Gesserit, a powerful race to which his mother belongs. He may turn out to be something of an oracle, which would be even more important than being a duke, though the Bene Gesserit leader (Charlotte Rampling) thinks he either isn’t one or is a bad one. Again, Arraskis is a dangerous world, with threats from House Harkonnen, the Fremen, the unforgiving desert landscape, and an infestation of carnivorous sandworms. If Paul wants to protect his family and his people, he’ll have to use the political and military gifts of his father and the spiritual and supernatural gifts of his mother, as well as the usual leadership qualities like confidence, wisdom, etc. Simply put: there’s a lot of pressure on this kid.

            The good news is that the film is a visual treat. Impressively-designed vehicles and devices are present in nearly every shot, and the sandy scenery is used to its full potential. Don’t take this middling review as a sign that you should split the difference and watch the movie on TV; either watch this spectacle in a theater or don’t bother at all. The bad news is that the acting and storytelling leave a lot to be desired. Some actors are fun and intense, like Brolin and Momoa, but most are dull and monotonous, like the much-more-important Chalamet and Isaac. And the film throws so much worldbuilding out at once that it’s hard to keep up. I saw this movie yesterday and I had to look up at least 75% of the characters’ names for that plot description, and I don’t just mean for spelling.

            “Dune” never succeeded in getting me invested in its world, and 155 minutes is a long time to sit in a theater uninvested. I can’t say that I can see many people getting invested in this franchise, but I said the same thing about “Lord of the Rings” and I was way off on that one. Come for the promise of a huge new blockbuster franchise, and at least stay for the cool spaceships.


Grade: C

1:44 pm est          Comments

Halloween Kills

            To me, there is no scarier villain in all of horror cinema than Michael Myers. The killer from 1978’s “Halloween” is the epitome of soullessness, and his haunting visage gave me some sleepless nights at my grandparents’ isolated farmhouse when I was 11. That said, I also have a tremendous amount of respect for “Halloween” and its ability to have that effect on me. That’s why I detested new film “Halloween Kills” so much, because I know this series is capable of being so much scarier.

            The film picks up where 2018’s reboot of “Halloween” left off. Series protagonist Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is on her way to the hospital along with her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak). Michael is trapped in Laurie’s house, set ablaze from a trap that frankly I never found that convincing. Unkillable monster that he is, Michael is soon attacking firefighters with their own axes and chainsaws. He’s on a mission, most likely to continue his longstanding feud with Laurie. She’s being treated for a stab wound, but it’s her ego that takes the biggest bruising in this movie.

            Standing in Michael’s way is a mob of residents of Haddonfield, IL, many of whom have dealt with Michael before. Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall) was one of the children being babysat by Laurie back in 1978, as was Lindsay (Kyle Richards). Lonnie (Robert Longstreet) encountered Michael briefly, but even a glimpse of Michael is enough to scar anyone for life. Marion (Nancy Stephens) was a nurse from Michael’s psychiatric hospital, meaning that she’s possibly known him longer than anyone. Sheriff Brackett (Charles Cyphers) lost his daughter to Michael’s killing spree. Officer Hawkins (Will Patton) lost his partner, not so much to Michael. I’m not sure anyone cares about the non-Michael-and-Laurie characters from “Halloween” the way the filmmakers did, but they’re here for you if you want them.

            It’s hard to care about any of the characters, old or new, because so many of them are stupid. The film is filled with groups of characters blowing huge advantages over Michael. Have you ever seen the GEICO ad that pokes fun at the poor decisions characters make in horror movies? The villain in that ad has the best “this isn’t as sporting as I thought it would be” look on his face. Michael of course wears a mask, but I imagine he’s making the same face under it, especially when he tilts his head a certain way. The most embarrassing sequence is actually a non-Michael one, where the angry mob pursues a scared mental patient that they think is a maskless Michael. Because if there are two things Michael is known for, it’s masklessness and a tendency to flee. Come to think of it, the poor guy is one of the few characters in the movie smart enough to even try fleeing.

            “Halloween Kills” does offer some good gory horror violence, if you’re into that sort of thing. But the movie can’t be scary or compelling to save its life. Even Michael’s mask has lost its luster, probably having turned grimy from the fire. This film is the second in a planned trilogy, and it really plays like it was a chore that needed to be completed before the filmmakers could get to the grand finale that they really wanted to make. I will be looking forward to that movie considerably less after this lousy installment.


Grade: C-

1:43 pm est          Comments

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