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Halloween (2018) – Review

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Halloween (2018)

Directed by David Gordon Green

In the 40 years since “Halloween” debuted, the one-time highest R rated and independent film champion has birthed an empire of murder, merchandise and made Michael Myers a household name know far and wide beyond the leaf soaked streets of Haddonfield. Envisioned as an Autumn anthology tradition, it instead made Compass Pictures International “The House That Michael Built” and one where he remained through the ups & downs of radically divergent sequels and a rabid fan base who are never fully satiated for their desire of the man from Smith’s Grove Sanitarium, “The Boogeyman” behind the notorious “Babysitter Murders.”

For its ruby (red) anniversary, we’ve come back to the beginning and the bloody basics. There is no sequels, no hospitals, no Cult of Thorn, no pagan conspiracies, no Jerry Springer Show-like surprise offspring; Haddonfield is the setting and a showdown is imminent between murderous madman Michael Myers and his unyielding nemesis, Laurie Strode (a powerful performance by the original Final Girl herself, Jamie Lee Curtis.) There is a plethora of new characters, challenges by the heart of darkness here remains with this conflict that a detailed plot description isn’t necessary – this is “Halloween.”

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While it is clearly stated that Michael and Laurie have no sibling bond in this Haddonfield, there is still a Lovecraft like ideal of a cursed bloodline. Through the course of its 105 minute running time, it is both painful and obvious that Laurie’s life has been destroyed by the trauma of that horrific All Hallow’s Eve, resulting in divorce, paranoia and estrangement from her beloved daughter Karen, played by Judy Greer who is still suffering herself. The family dynamics are sometimes so absurd, it is laugh out loud funny and at others, woefully tragic. Laurie has become a survivalist with a singular focus, a paradigm of the inevitable escape of Michael Myers turning her home into a training camp and artillery range that would make Sarah Connor gush with trigger happy glee. This mindset and the damage it’s done spills into the lives of Laurie, Karen and her own daughter, Allyson (played by newcomer Andi Matichak) who has the fresh faced but intelligent & independent nature of her grandmother but unfortunately not her pipes so Scream Queen status may yet be out of reach but it’s obvious her talent is immense and her half decade career to date is just the beginning.

Original actors Nick Castle and Tony Moran, once again don the mask and Carhartt’s (attained in classic fashion, no pun intended) though the latter has a fair amount of “naked” time where glimpses of his face appear in out of focus shots as though his true visage can never be fully viewed; slivers of gray and the strain of age have dulled neither his blade or determination, now assumed by newcomes James Jude Courtney. “The Shape” has truly returned for revenge; often imitated but never duplicated, Courtney has the strong, silent type down pat. Michael’s mask looks as though it has been aged four decades, a deeper, darker grey, withered and malformed, barely human, if at all. He stalks the night and broad daylight with equal menace, those none more black eyes unseen beneath the latex, clothes marooned brown with red blood and the effluvial grime that comes with the business of killing.
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The original “Halloween” has many hallmarks that made it so innovative and powerful but it could be easily argued that the score ranks at the top. Popular and well-worn lore is that early screenings for the studio inspired very few scares and plenty of yawn sans John Carpenter’s genre defining soundtrack. Once added, the bigwigs quickly changed their tune. While the impact could never be matched, the new take on classic cuts from the maestro, his son Cody and composer Daniel Davis are razor sharp and integral as ever. Familiar frightful chords and signature spooky rhythms abound give Michael his imposing due but also allow viewers/listeners an experience unique to this entry.

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Homages to the original and it’s unrelated second sequel dot the cinematic landscape (and probably more than a few missed that will require additional viewings) both blatant and intricate but all fun. Original cast members return, Silver Shamrock masks dot the night landscape and numerous nods will have fans straining to find them all, employing the pause button searching for secrets like the VHS days of yore that made “The Boogeyman” the legend he is today and allowing the franchise to come full circle in the spirit of the season.

In the heyday of the slasher films, they were often derided as “dead teenager movies” (so famously coined by Roger Ebert) but “Halloween” again establishes that Michael Myers is purely and simply evil, remorseless, relentless, rage defined. His initial on-screen kill is ample proof: shocking, memorable and most of all a clear warning to on screen citizens and audience alike: death has come to your little town.

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For those anticipating the largely bloodless nature of the original are in for a surprise here but gorehounds are sure to revel in the unbridled brutality with incredibly inventive kills, set pieces stained with crimson and guts galore. There were plenty of gasps in the crowd (as well as a fair amount of cheers) and there will undoubtedly be many gleefully, gory GIFs dominating social media shortly & for some time to come.

Cowriter Danny McBride whose resume includes such credits as “The Foot Fist Way” and “Your Highness” doesn’t inspire high hopes for his venture into horror but the flourishes here are funny and genuine; nothing ever felt forced or unnatural. “Halloween” is not a horror comedy or an example of where the vicious violence is meant to be offset by contrasting laughs – instead it permeates as an essential character, making the humanity of its victims more fragile and the fury of Michael Myers a chilling reality.

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Michael Simmonds is a masterful cinematographer; from the cold, sterile nature of the sanitarium teeming with electric energy of insanity to the warmth of the holiday filled with tricks n’ treats; yet his triumph here is incorporating Carpenter’s command of the elements.  One death comes to mind with a simple set up of motion sensor lights in a large backyard where the interplay of blinding light, stalking shadows and the frantic fear rising in the unknown. We know Michael is there, we know death is coming but the tension is nerve wracking.

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Director and screenwriter David Gordon Green also takes cues from JC but I found “Halloween” to be more reminiscent of Craven than Carpenter when it’s all said and done. While nowhere near as meta as “Scream,” there were instances that echoed the first & fourth installments of that franchise for the fortieth anniversary of this one. No fourth walls are broken but the crowd will easily feel a part of the onscreen activity – we know the rules but we also await the opportunity for lines to be crossed and expectations challenged while still getting exactly what Dr. Loomis ordered. Finally, it is likely that had Wes been with us for this one, he would have been head over heels for the sheer amount and scale of the booby traps here.

Last year, “IT” really reinvigorated the genre, mining source material for new beginnings in a long-established property that didn’t suffer from the sequel fatigue “Halloween” has become nearly terminal from but also proof positive of the box office strength of horror. Michael Myers is no Pennywise; they are polar opposites yet they share the distinction of being a familiar fear, one that evokes nightmares and nostalgia. “IT” left many, including myself feeling like they had returned home to Derry, amidst their place in The Loser’s Club while “Halloween” has fans finding their way back to Haddonfield, a simpler time, a better place yet fresh enough that the excitement and desire to explore overflows. Put simply, “Halloween” was worth waiting 40 years for.

2018 has already had a bevy of high quality horror (“Hereditary,” “The Ritual,” and handful of others) but “Halloween” is a bright jack-o-lantern beacon that there everyone is entitled to at least one more good scare.

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Mandy & The Rebirth of Nicholas Cage – Sisters Brothers, Predator – Cult Following #89


In this episode of Cult Following, the gang does a deep dive on Panos Cosmatos’ latest film Mandy and what does it mean for Nicholas Cage’s career as an actor? Is this a rebirth or a Wicker Man like derail? Plus reviews of A Simple Favor, The Sisters Borthers, Twinsanity aka Downward Twin, Predator, The House witha Clock in its Walls, Thriller 3D, and a look at Son of Monsterpalooza! All of this on Cult Following!

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2018 Fall Movie Preview + The Nun, Summer of 84 & Peppermint Review – Cult Following #88

In this episode of Cult Following, the crew looks at the Fall’s upcoming films and what we’re excited about — from Halloween to The Crimes of Grindewold, we chat about what we’re looking forward to. Plus, we review The Nun, Peppermint, Summer of ’84 and look at the new Fall TV season with The Purge, Mayans, and Kidding.

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REVIEW: ‘The Sisters Brothers’ is a Western Unlike Any You Have Ever Seen


The first English-language film from French director Jacques Audiard, ‘The Sisters Brothers’ is a unique deconstructionist western that satisfyingly defies category. While its varying tone may be jarring to some viewers, the compelling story, fleshed-out characters and attention to detail makes it a compelling entry into the genre.

‘The Sisters Brothers’ opens in the darkness of night which is quickly shattered by bright flashes as guns fire in the black. Gunpowder sparks as two unseen groups exchange fire. This is the first time I can remember seeing such a scene in a western and this striking image sets a perfect tone for the film to follow. Audiard is not interested in showing us a wild west we have seen before and together with cinematographer Benoit Debie, they show us the old west with new eyes.

The overarching theme of ‘The Sisters Brothers’ is one of an old world giving way to a new one, filth giving way to cleanliness, violence giving way to civility. This is displayed in tiny moments. A gunslinger learns to brush his teeth for the first time, a well-dressed gentleman carefully walks on a long piece of wood laid across a busy town street to avoid getting his nice boots covered in mud and horseshit. This struggle between the dual natures of man is perfectly embodied in the eponymous Sisters Brothers. Charlie Sisters (Joaquin Phoenix) is violent and erratic, in love with his own legend. He is drunken, dangerous and self-destructive. His older brother Eli (John C. Reilly) is unsure and bumbling, meek and gentle, always wanting to improve himself in a quiet way. Their dynamic is one of constant push and pull. Charlie starts fights, Eli backs him up. Eli gets injured, Charlie nurses him back to health while consistently berating him for how much it slows them down.

The Sisters Brothers are under the employ of The Commodore portrayed by Rutger Hauer in a dialogue-free role and is only seen from a distance. This is an intentional decision. He is talked about often and rarely on screen. He is the puppet master pulling the strings. Charlie and Eli are guns-for-hire who it seems owe some kind of a debt to The Commodore and have essentially become his personal enforcers. Their latest mission is to track down a man named Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed.) Charlie tells Eli that their best bet is to employ a ‘lead man’ who will reach Warm first and hold him there for the Sisters Brothers.

The Sisters Brothers

At this point in the story we meet John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal), a well-groomed and observant gentleman who is revealed to be the lead man. He writes in a journal which is delivered as voice-over. Morris creates a bond of friendship with Warm that begins as a ruse and becomes a genuine connection. Warm is headed to San Francisco as part of the gold rush and has created a scientific concoction for finding gold. When asked if he has had a chance to test it, he indicates that it worked better than he could have dreamed. Warm intends to use the fortune he makes from gold to found a new society based on intellect and respect. His talks of a utopian commune win over the refined John Morris who is fighting against the savagery of the west.

As the story goes back to the Sisters, we see them cut a path of violence through the countryside. Charlie insists on announcing their presence wherever they go while Eli tries to keep it secret. The Sisters Brothers are renowned for their skills as gunmen and their legend invites constant challenges, something Eli is trying to avoid.

One of my favorite scenes is one in which the brothers stop into a brothel called Mayfield’s in the town of Mayfield run by a Madame by the name of Mayfield (Charlie makes a remark about how they really need more creativity in naming things.) Eli retires to a room with a prostitute played in a short but memorable scene by the always tremendous Allison Tolman (‘FX’s Fargo,’ ‘Krampus.’) Eli awkwardly asks her to do some minor role play and requests that she act as if she is giving him a forget-me-not as he is going away. Even when paying for sex, Eli refuses to be rough and tumble like the killers surrounding him. He wants to see himself as a heroic character and treats her very gently. She begins to cry at his kindness, something she does not see much of and warns him to watch out for Mayfield. The Sisters fight off an ambush by Mayfield’s men and show themselves to once again wield awe-inspiring proficiency as gunmen. They intend to rob Mayfield’s safe and murder her when she refuses to help them. This again displays the refusal of this film to play by standard rules. As we observe Morris and Warm with their dreams of a utopia and the Sisters brothers killing a woman in cold blood, our notions of heroism and villainy are put into question.

Charlie and Eli exit the brothel as the townspeople are gathered outside from hearing the gunshots. They announce that Mayfield is dead. “But there’s good news” Charlie says “You can finally change the name of your town.” It’s a hilarious moment. This film is very, very funny although I would never call it a comedy. I can imagine that most people assumed this was a comedy, an inevitable side effect of having John C. Reilly who has starred in some of the most iconic comedic roles of this generation. This is however closer to the Reilly of ‘Magnolia.’ Flawed, fragile and sincere. Phoenix also shows his comedic chops subtly as he did in ‘Inherent Vice’ as the careless and murderous Eli. His disregard for human life leads to some pristine moments of dark comedy as shoots people to death with the same amount of effort as someone brushing dust off their shoulder.

The Sisters Brothers. Day 30.

The structure of ‘The Sisters Brothers’ is impeccably paced. Based on a book of the same name by Patrick DeWitt with a screenplay by Jacques Audiard and Thomas Bidegain, we know that these two forces moving against each other are destined to crash into each other. When they do however, the results are unexpected, touching and poignant.

This is a cast of incredible actors at the top of their game. I am especially happy to see Riz Ahmed once again paired with his ‘Nightcrawler’ co-star Gyllenhaal in extremely different roles. Gyllenhaal is a chameleon actor whose commitment to the idea that there are no small roles is always refreshing. Ahmed who after a star-making turn on HBO’s ‘The Night Of’ has been largely wasted in forgettable roles in films like ‘Rogue One’ and ‘Jason Bourne.’ Seeing them play off each other as determined and naïve dreamers is wonderful. The dynamic of Phoenix and Reilly’s brothers changes sharply as the film progresses as well. Eli is the older brother but has always been pushed into the background due to Charlie’s forceful personality. Eventually he has to learn to be a big brother and this helps him to move beyond many of his insecurities.

‘The Sisters Brothers’ will likely be a hard film to sell. But while its tone refuses easy categorization, I believe its witty and understated comedy, astutely realized details and stirring message will reward repeated viewings.




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Review: ASSASSINATION NATION (2018) Style over substance derails an interesting & timely premise.


Director Sam Levinson’s ASSASSINATION NATION is a muddled genre mishmash that works best when being a timely version of Heathers, but loses steam when trying to be a Purge-influenced parable for the modern age.

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