Halloween Kills review

For F*** Magazine

Director: David Gordon Green
Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, James Jude Courtney, Nick Castle, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Will Patton, Anthony Michael Hall, Kyle Richards, Nancy Stephens, Charles Cyphers
Genre: Horror
Run Time: 105 min
Opens: 28 October
Rating: M18

True horror icons never die. You can stab them in the heart, shoot them in the head or even give one of their movies the subtitle “the final chapter,” but you know somehow, some way, they’ll be back. Michael Myers, the masked, knife-wielding villain of the Halloween franchise, is one such horror icon. Just when it looked like it was over, the terror of Haddonfield returns to his old stomping grounds.

At the end of the previous movie, it seemed like Michael Myers (James Jude Courtney, Nick Castle), had finally been defeated. Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) trapped Michael in the basement, setting him on fire. He manages to escape, and has his sights set on other survivors of that fateful Halloween night in 1978. These include Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall), whose babysitter was one of Michael’s victims, Tommy’s friend Lindsey Wallace (Kyle Richards) and Marion Chambers (Nancy Stephens), the former assistant of Sam Loomis, Michael’s original psychiatrist. As the nigh-unstoppable killer continues his rampage through Haddonfield, generations of the town’s residents must rise in the face of evil.

The 2018 Halloween film received generally positive reviews. Director David Gordon Green returns, bringing much of the reverence of the original movie along to this one. There is a sequence set in 1978 in which Green attempts to meticulously replicate the style of original director John Carpenter, who is also involved in this film as co-composer with his son Cody and Daniel Davies. For fans of the franchise, there are many specific call-backs that will appeal to them. If the 2018 film focused on the long-lasting effects that the events of the first film had on Laurie Strode, then this is a film about collective trauma. Laurie survived the night of Halloween 1978, and so did Haddonfield itself. The movie’s depiction of a community uniting against a spectre that they’ve never been able to shake is sometimes hokey, but also sometimes genuinely moving.

This trilogy of Halloween movies is set to comprise three movies – 2018’s Halloween, this movie and next year’s Halloween Ends. This movie suffers from a lot of the problems that plague many middle instalments, and often feels like it’s spinning its wheels until we get to the big confrontation in the final film. While Jamie Lee Curtis is top-billed, and her return to the series was the 2018 movie’s great coup, Laurie Strode is barely in Halloween Kills, spending most of the movie’s runtime laid up in hospital. The filmmakers are intentionally withholding the big confrontation, but because of that, it can feel like the events of this film are almost entirely inconsequential. Yes, there are plenty of kills – this might in fact be the Halloween movie with the highest body count – but because Laurie is so removed from much of the action, it’s hard to feel the emotional impact of the kills, even when the movie really wants audiences to. Yes, her daughter and granddaughter are still a big part of the movie, but even then, in trying to be about the residents of Haddonfield at large, Halloween Kills is often unfocused. Michael’s unkillable nature is meant to make him otherworldly and intimidating, but this reviewer couldn’t help but think of Will Ferrell in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery going “I’m still alive, only I’m very badly burned”.

The Halloween franchise is a storied one, and like any horror series that’s been around long enough, has had its ups and downs. To put things in perspective, there exist two separate sequels to the original Halloween that ignore the intervening films: Halloween H20 ignores all but the first two, then Halloween (2018) ignores all but the very first movie. Halloween Kills is about legacy in that it centres on characters who were also there. Tommy Doyle and Marion Stephens have appeared in other Halloween films, but this is the first Halloween sequel that brings back Lindsey Wallace, with Kyle Richards (now better known as a Real Housewives star) reprising the role she played as a child. While Anthony Michael Hall gives a spirited performance as Tommy, the effect of things coming full circle is somewhat undercut by the role being recast – Brian Andrews played Tommy in the original film. While hardcore fans might appreciate the specific references to the original Halloween movie, and the way the film catches up with certain characters, there’s not a lot here for general audiences.

Summary: Halloween Kills is wholly unsatisfying in the way many middle instalments are. There is plenty of blood and gore, but it never really feels in service of anything. It is especially disappointing given how this movie’s immediate predecessor breathed new life into the franchise and brought Jamie Lee Curtis, the series’ heart and soul, back. However, there are intense, thrilling set-pieces, and several characters whom fans will recognise from the first movie return in interesting ways. The intent was to make a movie about collective trauma and about the town of Haddonfield reckoning with the long shadow cast by Michael Myers, but Halloween Kills is mostly killing time until we get to Halloween Ends.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Halloween (2018) review

HALLOWEEN

Director : David Gordon Green
Cast : Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Will Patton, Virginia Gardner, Nick Castle, James Jude Courtney, Jefferson Hall, Rhian Rees, Toby Huss, Haluk Bilginer
Genre : Horror
Run Time : 106 mins
Opens : 25 October 2018
Rating : M18

Halloween-posterOctober 31, 2018: the night he came home again. It has been 40 years since the events of the original Halloween film, and masked serial killer Michael Myers (Nick Castle, James Jude Courtney) has been safely locked away under the watchful eye of prison psychiatrist Dr Ranbir Sartain (Haluk Bilginer). True crime podcasters Aaron Korey (Jefferson Hall) and Dana Haines (Rhian Rees) plan on interviewing both Michael and the survivor of his murderous rampage, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis).

Laurie has spent the last four decades in constant fear and paranoia of Michael’s return. This has put a strain on her relationship with her daughter Karen (Judy Greer), who is married to Ray (Toby Huss) and has a daughter of her own, Allyson (Andi Matichak). When Michael escapes and returns to his old stomping grounds of Haddonfield on Halloween night, Laurie’s worst fears are realised. Even though Laurie has prepared to face Michael again, there’s no telling what terrors will unfold with Michael back on the loose.

Halloween-Jamie-Lee-Curtis-hand-through-door

The Halloween franchise has a storied, messy past. John Carpenter’s 1978 original is considered one of the finest horror films ever made, and kickstarted a wave of slasher movies in the 80s. Through multiple instalments, the Halloween films tended to lose sight of what made the first one so good. This movie ignores all the sequels, functioning as if it were only the second film in the series. This has been done before: Halloween H20: 20 Years Later ignored the films after Halloween II.

Any franchise that’s been around as long as Halloween has, especially a horror franchise, will eventually find itself wading into silliness. What once was terrifying devolves into self-parody, and eventually martial arts fights with Busta Rhymes ensue. Director/co-writer David Gordon Green and co-writers Jeff Fradley and Danny McBride strip Halloween back to basics in a satisfying, terrifying entry that stays true to the spirit of the original while having a propulsive energy of its own.

Halloween-Jamie-Lee-Curtis-behind-Michael-Myers

Green nails the sense of foreboding, the fear of what might be lurking around every corner, in every doorway and corridor, that is a key factor in establishing the nail-biting tension a good Halloween movie must possess. John Carpenter returns to the score the film alongside son Cody and Daniel Davies; the iconic Halloween theme remaining one of the best pieces of film music ever written. Cinematographer Michael Simmonds employs light and shadow to dramatic effect, while Tim Alverson’s editing ratchets up the tension that much more. This looks and feels like Halloween, but there’s an urgency to this movie and it doesn’t come off as an artefact or a hollow exercise in nostalgia.

Halloween-Jamie-Lee-Curtis-cleaning-gun

In revisiting the Laurie Strode role in Halloween H20, Curtis wanted to explore the effects that the trauma of Laurie’s run-in with Michael would have. She gets to dig even deeper here, and Laurie in this movie is essentially Sarah Connor, a woman who has dedicated her entire existence to preparing for Michael’s return, at the expense of her interpersonal relationships. The film’s depiction of post-traumatic stress disorder is compelling and heart-rending, and Curtis doesn’t phone this in at all. It’s a Halloween sequel worthy of the character, and a lot of the film is about Laurie’s arduous personal quest to reclaim what Michael stole from her. There’s also the implication that in fighting a monster, Laurie has become something of a monster herself, with some shots mirroring ones from the original film, but with Laurie and Michael swapping places.

Halloween-Judy-Greer-Jamie-Lee-Curtis-1

While many Halloween fans might bemoan Danielle Harris’ absence from the film, and how Laurie’s daughter from Halloween 4 has been overwritten by a different character, Greer puts in a great performance. She’s disarming and naturally funny, but Karen is hurt and, in her own way, traumatised by what her mother has put her through – Greer conveys this ably.

Halloween-Andi-Matichak

Matichak might well be a breakout star after this film. Allyson is a believable teenager but never annoying, and it’s interesting to see what traits she might have inherited from her grandmother. The film is at its best when grandmother, daughter and granddaughter play off each other. This is a film about legacy and an entry in a franchise with a legacy all its own, so the device of Michael tormenting multiple generations is a potent one.

Halloween-Michael-Myers-through-car-door

Castle returns as Michael, sharing the role with stunt performer James Jude Courtney. This is Michael as horror fans remember him, and just like in the original Halloween, some of the most terrifying moments are Michael just lurking in the corner, standing still. There are several exceedingly brutal kills, but the gore never takes precedence over the sense of dread.

Bilginer’s performance is a little broader than some of the others, but it works, since he’s playing a man whose obsession with serial killers has perhaps spilled over from being purely professional.

Halloween-Michael-Myers-in-closet

2018 is the year in which Jim from The Office directed and starred in one of the finest suspense horror movies in recent memory, A Quiet Place. Now, 2018 can also lay claim to being the year in which the team behind Pineapple Express, Your Highness and Eastbound & Down brought the Halloween franchise back to life in a big way. Now just don’t muck it up with further sequels.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Stronger

For inSing

STRONGER 

Director : David Gordon Green
Cast : Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Maslany, Miranda Richardson, Richard Lane Jr., Clancy Brown, Frankie Shaw, Patty O’Neil, Carlos Sanz
Genre : Drama/Biography
Run Time : 1h 59m
Opens : 21 September 2017
Rating : M18

From the ashes of every tragedy rise stories of courage and eventual triumph. This biopic endeavours to tell one such true story. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Jeff Bauman, a Bostonian who works at the deli counter at Costco. Jeff’s on-again, off-again girlfriend Erin (Tatiana Maslany) is running the 2013 Boston Marathon to raise funds for the hospital where she works as an administrator. Jeff turns up to wait for Erin at the finish line, when two explosions go off and all hell breaks loose. Jeff is badly maimed in the explosion, and both his legs are amputated above the knee. With the support of his mother Patty (Miranda Richardson), his father Jeff Sr. (Clancy Brown), Erin, his boss Kevin (Danny McCarthy) and other friends and family, Jeff embarks on the arduous road to recovery. Becoming a national symbol for the city’s resilience in the wake of the terrorist attack, Jeff must also cope with the attention and scrutiny brought about by his unexpected status as a public figure.

Stronger is based on Bauman’s memoirs of the same name, which he co-wrote with Bret Witter. As an inspirational awards-season film based on a true story, the more cynical among us might approach Stronger with somewhat justified wariness. Director David Gordon Green, working from a screenplay by John Pollono, attempts to steer the film away from outright emotional manipulation. For the most part, Green does a serviceable job of depicting the struggles faced by Bauman in the aftermath of the bombing, while keeping the film from being overly solemn or dreary. However, much of the conflict in the film feels slightly contrived and overblown, with the feeling that this has been Hollywood-ised, if only a little.

While Bauman’s story is inspiring, even those who have not read the book or are unfamiliar with the events will already have a rough idea of the trajectory of the story. Stronger offers a detailed depiction of Bauman’s road to recovery, but doesn’t feel particularly insightful. Green does effectively convey how disorienting and overwhelming this sudden celebrity is for Bauman, and depicts the toll that Bauman’s injuries take on those who care for him. There’s a lot of shallow focus in cinematographer Sean Bobbitt’s shots, and while the film is sometimes beautiful to look at, there’s a thin sheen of artificiality over it. The visual effects used to make it look like Gyllenhaal’s legs have been amputated is seamless.

Being a performer who often plays characters who have undergone great mental or physical torment, Gyllenhaal delivers a strong performance. As portrayed by Gyllenhaal, Bauman is a bit of a man-child, but is endearing in his own way. He convincingly essays the pain that Bauman experiences, and there are times when the film does get raw. The film’s best scene is the meeting between Bauman and his rescuer, Carlos Arredondo (Carlos Sanz). There are no histrionics, it’s a simple conversation, but it’s the most moving moment in the film.

We’re used to seeing the female lead in films of this type relegated to the role of ‘designated girlfriend’, but Erin is portrayed as more than that. Her relationship with Bauman hasn’t gone especially smoothly even before the accident, and we see how the effects that Bauman’s recovery process and newfound recognition have on them. It puts a strain on their relationship, but in weathering the journey together, it also brings the couple closer together. The Orphan Black star puts in a restrained, un-showy performance, balancing out the more over-the-top performance of Richardson as Bauman’s fretful mother.

Stronger might contain many tropes one would associate with awards bait dramas, but it doesn’t sugar-coat things. Thanks to a compelling central performance from Gyllenhaal, glimmers of authenticity shine through. However, more jaded viewers might not be especially moved by the story it tells, especially when the melodrama is ratcheted up.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Our Brand is Crisis

For F*** Magazine

OUR BRAND IS CRISIS

Director : David Gordon Green
Cast : Sandra Bullock, Scoot McNairy, Billy Bob Thornton, Anthony Mackie, Ann Dowd, Joaquim de Almeida, Zoe Kazan, Reynaldo Pacheco
Genre : Drama/Comedy
Run Time : 108 mins
Opens : 14 January 2016
Rating : NC-16 (Some Coarse Language)

On the electoral battlefield, only best-prepared campaign can emerge victorious. Political consultant Jane Bodine (Bullock) knows that the right campaign can turn even the unlikeliest candidate into a winner. Bodine is pulled out of retirement to manage the campaign of Pedro Castillo (de Almeida), an unpopular candidate running for the presidency of Bolivia. Together with her team Rich (McNairy), Ben (Mackie), Nell (Dowd) and LeBlanc (Kazan), Bodine has to yank Castillo’s polling numbers out of the abyss. Rivera (Louis Arcella), the candidate who is leading in the polls, has hired Pat Candy (Thornton) as his campaign manager. Candy and Bodine have a long, contentious professional rivalry and the desire to beat Candy spurs Bodine on as she rallies to get the Bolivian public on Castillo’s side. In the meantime, she befriends Eduardo (Pacheco), an idealistic young volunteer for Castillo’s campaign, endeavouring to better understand the situation on the ground.

            Our Brand is Crisis is an adaptation of the 2005 documentary of the same name. Directed by Rachel Boynton, the documentary recounted the role the Greenberg Carville Shrum political consultancy firm played in the 2002 Bolivian presidential elections. In the hands of director David Gordon Green and screenwriter Peter Straughan, the fictionalised account is a satirical comedy-drama.


This is an expectedly cynical work, built on the reality that political campaigns are basically branding exercises and that focus groups and demographic testing far outweigh the actual needs and concerns of the voting public. The humour is a way to make this more palatable, but it is hit and miss, resulting in a degree of tonal inconsistency. The out-and-out comedic set pieces, including stubborn llamas, a politician giving a speech from the back of a train and a bus chase that recalls Bullock’s Speed days, feel at odds with the bleakness of the entire political landscape. This approach sacrifices some depth, and Our Brand is Crisis is also guilty of deriving comedy from elements that are foreign to American audiences, which can be seen as insensitive. On top of all this, there’s a liberal sprinkling of pithy maxims, with Jane quoting from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.

It’s a good thing then that star Bullock is there to hold it all together. The Jane Bodine character plays to all of Bullocks’ strength as a performer, with her dogged determination, suffer-no-fools attitude and the aspect of being a fish out of water. The character is an astute, aggressive go-getter and there are a number of shades for Bullock to play. The role was originally intended for a man, and then rewritten with Bullock in mind. The most intriguing parts of the film showcase the push and pull dynamic between strategist and candidate. De Almeida has mostly played villainous roles in American projects, and Castillo’s inherent unlikeability hammers home the point that Bodine is there to get a job done and not to ensure the “good guys” save the day.

The “bitter rivals” component with the comic one-upmanship that results from it feels like a largely superfluous attempt to make the story more engaging, with Thornton’s Candy coming off as little more than a moustache-twirling villain. McNairy, Mackie, Nell and LeBlanc do give the film some grounding as fairly believable members of the campaign team, conveying the idea that while “Calamity” Jane is their leader, she’s also a loose cannon who sometimes needs reining in. Pachecho delivers a vulnerable, sensitive performance as Eduardo and he is the representative of the common Bolivian citizen, though the character’s function in the narrative does sometimes lean on the manipulative side.



While not particularly insightful, there’s no denying that the subject matter of Our Brand is Crisis is fascinating. The film flopped at the U.S. box office, perhaps in part because it was sold as being “from the producers of Argo”. It’s a touch ironic that Our Brand Is Crisishad some issues with its own branding. The opportunity to explore grim, shady geopolitical realities in an impactful manner is eschewed in favour of petty revenge shenanigans and comedy that’s broader than it should be, but Bullock’s performance is just enough to string it all together.

Summary:While suffering from tonal issues and a lack of biting revelation into the seedy underbelly of the political campaign business, Our Brand is Crisis manages to entertain and smartly utilises the talents of its leading lady.

RATING: 3out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong