Reviews of Halloween (2018), The Hate U Give, Mid 90s, Beautiful Boy, 22 July and My Dinner with Herve

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Halloween (2018)

Genre: Horror

Director: David Gordon Green (Joe, Stronger, George Washington, Pineapple Express, Prince Avalanche)

Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Will Patton, and Haluk Bilginer

With: Toby Huss, Jefferson Hall, Rhian Rees, Dylan Arnold, and Drew Scheid

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 79%

My Score

Halloween (2018) is not the first attempt at this series to ret-con and re-shape the story arc throughout multiple movies. After John Carpenter was frustrated by the rushed result of Halloween II back in 1981, the series cut Michael Myers out briefly in the odd (and mostly forgotten) Halloween III: Season of the Witch, only to bring him back without Carpenters involvement for movies 4-6. Then, they got Jamie Lee Curtis back once before in Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, which was supposed to ignore movies 3 through 6 and complete the trilogy of the first two and that reboot. But, when H20 made decent money, they made a sequel, Halloween: Resurrection, which spent its first act undoing the events of the previous movie so that Michael could come back again and kill people. After negative reception, Rob Zombie would eventually reboot and remake the original in 2007, with a sequel in 2009, but ignored everything from the previous few timelines. Now, indie director David Gordon Green, along with friend Danny McBride, have rebooted Halloween again, making a movie 40 years after the original that is designed to be a direct sequel, ignoring everything else. It is the best of the sequels, and does work to recapture much of the spirit of the original. However, it’s also still a slasher sequel, and is deeply flawed in its own right.

Two podcasters and Michael’s current doctor meet to allow the podcasters to try to explain the untold story of Michael after his apprehension in the original film. Now 40 years after the murders, there’re questions swirling about what Michael’s mindset is, or why he decided to do what he did, almost like re-litigating the issue which we’ve seen in Making a Murderer or the podcast Serial. He’s being transferred to a new facility, so there’s some renewed interest in his case. Laurie Strode has lived on her ranch, quietly preparing for his escape so that she would finally be able to kill him and put her demons to rest. The neurotic attitude has led to a large separation between Laurie and her daughter (Judy Greer), who now has a family of her own. When Michael inevitably escapes, this time Laurie goes to hunt Michael, rather than vice-versa, as Laurie’s daughter and grand-daughter are stuck in the town where Michael has now started killing again.

This movie has a ton of disparate pieces which really don’t work. The podcasters and the doctor Laurie dubs as “the new Loomis” bring about unnecessary twists and a second-rate introduction that means very little. This starts the film, and while we focus so much on Michael escaping, getting the mask back, and getting to Haddonfield, the much more interesting part of the movie (basketcase Laurie and the relationship with her daughter and granddaughter) is left behind and ends up underdeveloped. It’s possible that adding a little bit of the run time would’ve helped, because there’s also much of the movie spent on Andi Matichak’s Allyson, the granddaughter, and her Halloween-night party at the highschool. She has a boyfriend and is an honor student. She has a babysitter friend. We learn all of these things just as Michael breaks out, and the movie couldn’t decide between being entirely about the Strode family and also the impulse to include teens in the slashing. It also creates characters that exist only to further the plot along. The doctor exists for a specific twist, the podcasters exist to locate the mask, etc.

Once Michael gets free, there are long, uninterrupted shots of him going from home to home and killing the inhabitants, and this technical aspect of the movie is really excellent. Even as Laurie starts her hunt for Michael, there are some really good sequences with a beautifully tense score and excellent cinematography. The spirit of the original is present with some modern film-making trends that make the movie seem like it can fit in the modern movie canon. I liked that Michael really operates as a robot who pursues random killings almost as an instinct. We never actually know whether he cares enough to look for Laurie, or if it’s her own paranoia that gives us that impression. He may not care, just acting as a drone going from house to house, while it’s Laurie’s unhinged gunslinging which ends up doing as much harm as good.

As I said previously, subplots of this movie seem designed entirely to either further the plot or pay homage to the classic slasher film in a way that cheapens the better movie which is contained herein. The movie about Laurie’s inability to live a normal life because of her trauma, and how that impacted her family is really interesting. Mix that with an eventual escape of Michael, and the predator-prey dynamic getting reversed putting Michael on his heels is also really captivating. The way all of these scenes are shot, scored, and executed is really well-done. But, a majority of the run time isn’t that lean and mean. Instead, we get high school drama and a dance where there’s teen breakups and drinking. There’s a crazy-ass doctor who brings about the movie’s main twist. There’re countless conversations between characters that are only supposed to be mildly funny to give them a few lines of backstory before they die or where they make come kind of qualification about the movie, “no they weren’t related, that’s something someone made up.” I’d like to turn the actual Haddonfield scenes into a short film and cut the rest out.

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The Hate U Give

Genre: Drama

Director: George Tillman Jr. (The Longest Ride, Notorious, Soul Food)

Starring: Amandla Stenberg, Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby, KJ Apa, and Algee Smith

With: Lamar Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Common, Megan Lawless, and Dominique Fishback

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%

My Score: 

To say that this is based on a young adult novel is to undermine this movie’s importance. We’ve now seen police violence take away the lives of many African Americans due to a mixture of poor training and subconscious racism. It would easy enough for a movie to have a point of showing us this violence in a way that makes us care about the characters and see them as people, ie Fruitvale Station, but this movie doesn’t stop there. It takes the violence, and expands it out into a large-picture view of the community and the media. Melodrama has a purpose in the right context, and this is that context.

Amandla Stenberg is Starr, an African American teenager who lives in her community’s urban, impoverished neighborhood, but she attends private school with mostly white kids. Her farther (Russell Hornsby) and mother (Regina King) have understood the importance of challenging their kids to have proper education, and Starr has gotten used to being one version of herself while with her home friends and family, and one version of herself when in school. She is at a party with some old friends when a friend from her past, Khalil (Algee Smith) approaches her. They have quite a shared history, and perhaps a slight romantic link. Once the party gets raided, Khalil offers to take Starr home. Khalil is pulled over the police, and in a moment of trying to seem cool by pulling out his hairbrush during the stop, Khalil is shot by the police officer, with Starr as the only witness.

The fallout of these events could just hit Starr emotionally, and that would be enough. But, the subject matter gets deeper entrenched in the consequences or fallout of the event, rather than using it as a climax. On one hand, she feels somewhat obligated to speak out and try to get the officer indicted for his actions, but on the other hand, she doesn’t want to expose herself as the witness, allowing her new school to find out about what her life is really like when she goes home. She ends up being right to try to hide some of this, because the private school kids stage walk-outs in Khalil’s name for peaceful protests, some with their hearts in the right place, some just admitting to Starr openly that they care more about skipping class than the actual social message. The neighborhood is divided as well. Khalil’s family was going through a rough time, so he was helping to sling drugs on the side. The publicity of the case leads the local Kingpin (Anthony Mackie) to threaten Starr and her family if she speaks out and criminally implicates him. Speaking out poses a risk to her socially, but also exposes her entire family to potential violence. But, she’s the witness. If she doesn’t speak out, no one will.

My proudest compliment to give this movie is that it made me extremely emotional throughout the first two acts (90 minutes or so). The picture the movie paints is a terrible cycle, where the lack of opportunities inner-city, impoverished African Americans drives them to get involved in organized crime at a young age. This means many of them spend time behind bars soon into adulthood and compile criminal records that makes it harder and harder for them to escape poverty. Then, police officers all derive stereotypes about them all being criminals, and act irrationally, and racially, when conducting something as simple as a routine traffic stop. The violence we see every week, it seems, is a mixture of lack of training, racism, institutional poverty, and other social factors which this movie explores. When Starr’s (white) boyfriend attempts to tell her that he is interested in her because “he doesn’t see color,” he misses the point about how important it is for Starr to a) recognize and propagate her own culture, and b) speak out about institutional injustice.

There’s a sense in the third act that the message gets slightly diluted, due to an oddly placed scene with Starr talking to her cop uncle (played by Common), but also in a rally that occurs toward the end of the film. There’s also an attempted arson that feels out of place. I was feeling five stars for this until it became a little campy and over-inspirational at the end and had to readjust how I felt, at least slightly. What started as such an emotionally impactful and smart story started to drag a bit toward the end.

That slight negativity aside, all of the performances here are really good, especially Amandla Stenberg as Starr and Algee Smith as Khalil. It’s the type of melodrama people of all ages should watch and become aware of the issues therein. It’s one of the best movies of the year so far.

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Mid 90s

Genre: Drama

Director: Jonah Hill (debut)

Starring: Sunny Suljic, Lucas Hedges, Na-kel Smith, Olan Prennatt, and Katherine Waterston

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 76%

My Score: 

Jonah Hill makes his first attempt at directing with the lo-fi and realism inspired Mid 90s, a movie told over the space of a few months where 13-year old Stevie (Sunny Suljic) finds his place amongst a group of kids from a different side of town who are into skateboarding. What starts as his following them around because of his being in awe of their abilities turns into a real friendship, which starts involving high school parties and bad decisions. Stevie also begins growing out from under his abusive and bully older brother Ian (Lucas Hedges).

The film uses a throwback soundtrack, a lot of handheld camera, and a design meant to make this feel like an accounting shot by one of the friends themselves. One of their friends tails around with a video camera, and this movie feels like that accounting, where there isn’t a ton of conflict, but we see a little bit of a character arc in multiple characters, from Stevie, to his brother, to some of the friends as well.

It’s obvious that Hill is inspired by lo-fi directors like Harmony Korine (who makes an appearance here) and also was part of this scene, adequately placing the right music and right magazines of interest to these kids. It also shows how out of touch some of these outsider kids can be, when they are taking a 13 year old into some really bad partying decisions. In a way, it’s a coming of age, an homage to that culture, and also a warning that good friendships don’t necessarily need all of the stupid decisions performed by these characters. If some of it feels a little out of focus, both literally and figuratively, that was Hill’s intent. And he ends up taking this movie and making it into something enjoyable and fresh, with a real surprise at the end which left me awed walking out of the theater.  I really liked this movie.

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Beautiful Boy

Genre: Drama

Director: Felix Van Groeningan

Starring: Steve Carell, Timothe Chalamet, Maura Tierney, Amy Ryan, and Kaitlyn Dever

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 69%

My Score: 

Steve Carell has been making a recent push toward becoming a reputable dramatic actor which peaked in the film Foxcatcher a few years ago. Here, he plays concerned Dad David Sheff, who has watched his young son become riddled with drug addiction which has fractured their relationship. He acts opposite the excellent Timothe Chalamet, a young actor with a breakout, Oscar nominated performance last year in Call Me By Your Name. This movie is totally designed to be the sort of melodrama awards voters lock into, but there’s just too many flaws in this film for me to say it’s worth that kind of attention.

The film involves a broken marriage between Steve Carell’s David and Amy Ryan’s Vicki, where their son Nic (Timothe Chalamet) now lives with David and his second wife Karen (Maura Tierney). Their family of five, now that Karen and David have children together, is happy until Nic starts experimenting with drugs. What starts as occasional nights where he doesn’t come home evolves into failed college semesters, in-patient rehab stays, stolen money and valuables from the home, and other horrific things that force David to really consider how long he can keep his son in his life. How much support and financial advocacy can be expended before it becomes no longer worth it?

Chalamet again proves himself as an actor poised for a multi-Oscar breakout. He’s just incredible in everything, and he does such a good job here as the complicated Nic. He’s intellectually sound, but what starts as just liking certain drugs turns into addiction, and that addiction turns into scenes of him doing anything to fund and support his habit. He involves another unwitting female companion, which is heartbreaking, and there are the kind of scenes where he is slumped on a dirty bathroom floor because of what he’s done. He acts the hell out of this role. Carell is fine as his father and rock-hard support system, but the issue with the film is in the pacing.

The movie takes place over several years, and the time transitions are not done smoothly. This is the type of film that goes for a more epic pace than is necessary, and so, moments of extreme drama happen and are never brought up again, and we never really get the kind of intimate sadness the movie is really going for. It’s also told in a non-linear way, so not only is the pacing odd, but then you’re constantly changing timelines as well. I normally try not to complain in how a movie is presented and appreciate all types of narrative, but this movie just really struggles with presenting a product that it is more than a couple good performances.

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22 July (Streaming on Netflix)

Genre: Drama

Director: Paul Greengrass (Captain Phillips, The Bourne Ultimatum, The Bourne Supremacy, United 93, Bloody Sunday)

Starring: Anders Danielsen Lie, Jon Oigarden, Jonas Strand Gravli, Thorbjorn Harr, and Ola Furuseth

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 79%

My Score: 

I think we can all agree that there’s a reason Paul Greengrass decided to tell this story on the screen. Domestic terrorism seems to be as prevalent as ever, with much of Western society dealing with these political movements of right-wing xenophobia and intensely born nationalism. This movie concerns an awful sequence of events done by a paranoid alt-right terrorist named Anders Breivik, where he worked to effectuate a bombing in Oslo, Norway and then work his way to an island retreat with a bunch of Labour Party youth to perform a shooting, labeling the progressive students as traitors.

The film tells the attacks and shows them in almost real time, with the remainder being about Anders’ consultation with his attorney, trial strategy, and the effected families dealing with the PTSD and physical after-effects of their ordeal. There’s a through-line, especially noticeable at the end, which specifically concerns the will of one character in overcoming his injuries and showing the terrorist that he doesn’t subscribe to the white nationalist beliefs and refuses to be bullied or intimidated. The last act of this movie isn’t as good as the first, relying on largely unknown actors to carry the dramatic part of the story, while the opening is much more intense, disturbing, and carries the director’s vision.

Greengrass tells this story really well, and it’s an intensely sad and horrible experience to sit through. But, it’s a good movie, and one of the best I’ve seen as part of the Netflix original canon.

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My Dinner with Herve (Streaming on HBO)

Genre: Drama

Director: Sacha Gervasi (Anvil, Hitchcock, November Criminals)

Starring: Jamie Dornan, Peter Dinklage, Andy Garcia, Oona Chaplin, and Mireille Enos

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 79%

My Score: 

Although I haven’t been completely familiar with his work, director Sacha Gervasi has had success in creating these uber-realistic, but still comedic, takes on true stories. Then, we learn that the interviews done in this film were actually done by Gervasi, as he holds a landmine of information from Herve Villechaize before his death. This is his attempt to tell the story in a respectful and entertaining manner.

The way the film chooses to tell the story is to create a journalist character, Dornan’s Danny Tate, and make him desperate/down-on-his luck. He’s a recovering addict, he’s missed appointments for major assignments, he’s lost his fiancée (Chaplin), and he decides to follow Villechaize around in the hope that a good story develops. These expectations lead to occasional conflict between the characters, where Danny Tate wants the story and Villechaize wants an honest portrait of him given out to the people.

Dinklage’s portrayal of Herve is really special, from the accent to the overall mannerisms. His indifference about those less than him as Herve’s ego grows is also really well-played, but there’s a subtle sensitivity to his performance as well. Dinklage has become such a cultural icon due to Game of Thrones that it was really nice seeming him committed and totally immersed in this role. I really believed his portrayal, and thought he was excellent. His eccentricity is really complemented well by Dornan’s Danny Tate, who Dornan plays with a nice energy. There’s equal parts spontaneity and dramatic focus to his performance, and he’s on a nice run of giving decent performances outside of his role in the Fifty Shades franchise. I’ll go to bat for him, and also for Dakota Johnson, who stars in Suspiria later this month.

The actual plotting and the way the film is directed leaves plenty to be desired, however. It has a bunch of flashback moments told incrementally to fill us in both on Herve’s career and Danny’s personal struggles. They work fine but the movie never really build to any sort of crescendo, and there’s some nasty back and forth between the characters that feels a little unearned, almost like the director was really seeking to build narrative tension when there was none. That’s why this works better on the smaller screen, because it’s the kind of movie you can stop and come back to, or have on in the background. It’s well-acted, but it’s not particularly immersive.