Movie Review ~ The Rental (2020)


The Facts
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Synopsis: Two couples on an oceanside getaway grow suspicious that the host of their seemingly perfect rental house may be spying on them. Before long, what should have been a celebratory weekend trip turns into something far more sinister.

Stars: Alison Brie, Dan Stevens, Jeremy Allen White, Sheila Vand, Toby Huss

Director: Dave Franco

Rated: R

Running Length: 89 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review:  I love to travel but I’m kinda weird about it.  Here’s the thing, when I go on vacation I want to feel like I’m away from home and want the place I stay to feel special and not like…well, my home.  That’s why I’ve always found the Airbnb craze to be a little whack-a-doo because who would want to stay in a person’s house (or even a place someone else decorated or, shudder, put their bare feet on the pillows?) when you could get pampered at a hotel for sometimes half the cost?  I know that for large parties it may work out better but there’s just something a little creepy to me about the entire set-up.  After watching The Rental, I’m even more convinced I’m right to be worried.

The first feature film directed by Dave Franco (The Disaster Artist), The Rental could have easily gone in another direction that was more cliché and expected and that would have been a gigantic and exasperating disappointment.  Thankfully, Dave seems to have learned from the strange misfires his older brother James made as both a director and star and kept his debut tight.  He also wisely hasn’t made it more difficult on himself by starring in the film as well but instead remains behind the camera as director and co-writer with indie favorite Joe Swanberg (You’re Next) who knows his way around these types of slow-dread genre films.  The result should have audiences ready to check-in and hunker down for a corker of a chiller.

Excited for a weekend away from their busy city lives, Charlie (Dan Stevens, Lucy in the Sky), his wife Michelle (Alison Brie, The Five-Year Engagement), his brother Josh (Jeremy Allen White, Viena and the Fantomes) and Josh’s girlfriend/Charlie’s business partner Mina (Sheila Vand, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot) book a beach house in the woods that’s just secluded enough to help them unwind  and party without disruption.  Things get off to a jittery start when Mina, who is Middle Eastern, requests to book the house and is denied but Charlie, who is white, is accepted immediately.  Arriving to find the owner (Toby Huss, Halloween) affable at first but vague when questioned about the perceived racism in the booking snafu, the foursome shake off any lingering bad feelings and try to enjoy their first night at the spacious house.

The calm doesn’t last long though as a night of partying leads to the first of a number of secrets that are eventually exposed, along with a danger that none of them could have ever predicted.  Situations go from bad to worse when a split-second decision changes the course of their weekend plans from a fun retreat with family/friends to a downward spiral of mayhem.  As miscommunication, distrust, fear, and anger start to take hold of the group, what starts as a weekend to relax quickly devolves into a surprisingly effective fight for survival stemming from a mystery they are racing to unravel.  To reveal more would not be playing fair and Franco/Swanberg largely stick to realistic developments that rely on spur of the moment choices and their devastatingly quick consequences.

I was genuinely impressed with the acumen Franco shows for maneuvering his small troupe of actors around and the way he works with Swanberg to keep us on our toes throughout.  The twists and turns presented in The Rental are often unpredictable and you’ll lose valuable time the more you try to figure out what’s happening or where the action will go next.  Leaving little room for extra fat to weigh things down, the 80 or so minutes are free from the normal pitfalls of first time filmmaking, suggesting again that Franco has been paying attention when he’s been on sets these past years as an actor.

Frustrating though they all may be at times and not without blame for much of what happens during this weekend from hell, the characters are all appealing in some fashion.  I’m usually not a fan of Brie (Franco’s real life wife) but she’s quite fun here and despite a slow start where her character is a bit more passive than we’re used to seeing from Brie she revs up and gets a few good zingers in during the second half.  Every time Stevens pops up in a movie my partner notes that ever since he left Downton Abbey the actor seems totally averse to speaking in his native UK accent and here again he’s not wholly successful in showing off his elocution.  Stevens hasn’t quite found his footing, post-Downton and while he’s been well-reviewed in a number of films he continues to come up lacking for me…but in The Rental that cool from a distance feel actually works for his often compromised pseudo-nice guy.  As Charlie’s screw-up brother, White is fine in a role that gradually gets aggravating but it’s Vand’s commanding presence that is the real find here.  Taking the role as serious as it needs to be, Vand handles some character developments and choices that could be poison with an unusual amount of grace, keeping us oddly on her side.

Franco has said the idea for The Rental came from his caution about staying in an Airbnb property and his trepidation shows with an end product that’s drenched in paranoia.  Building to a sharp sting around the halfway mark before rising to a spine-tingling crescendo that’s sustained through the credits, The Rental is a four-star winner for the weary traveler wary of where they lay their head at night.

31 Days to Scare ~ Halloween (2018)

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Laurie Strode comes to her final confrontation with Michael Myers, the masked figure who has haunted her since she narrowly escaped his killing spree on Halloween night four decades ago.

Stars: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Haluk Bilginer, Nick Castle, James Jude Courtney, Virginia Gardner, Miles Robbins, Toby Huss, Rhian Rees, Jefferson Hall, Dylan Arnold, Drew Scheid

Director: David Gordon Green

Rated: R

Running Length: 106 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: Not only has masked killer Michael Myers lasted longer than a curious cat living next to a busy train track but he’s been revived just as often. Over the past 40 years the Halloween hellraiser from Haddonfield has been a brother to our heroine (Halloween II), an unwelcome uncle (Halloween 4 and Halloween 5), been used as a deadly tool by a cult (Halloween 6), and even missed out completely on one movie (Halloween III). He’s been resurrected (Halloween 8) and rebooted (Rob Zombie’s bizarre remakes) but the one thing that hasn’t truly happened to the Halloween franchise is the chance to revisit with any kind of integrity the characters that made such an impact on audiences four decades ago.

It’s not often a character gets to come back in two different timelines but Jamie Lee Curtis (Prom Night) has the unique distinction of rewriting her own character’s history for a second time. Though Curtis famously returned to the franchise in Halloween: Twenty Years Later (H20 for short…and giggles) the overall impact wasn’t what she hoped and the cleverness fully depleted in the follow-up to that movie. Now, at the urging of none other than Jake Gyllenhaal, Curtis has teamed up with director David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express) and comedian Danny McBride (This Is the End) for a new film which ignores every sequel to John Carpenter’s landmark 1978 film and serves as a fine horror film as well as a glimpse into the lasting effects of trauma.  With Carpenter’s blessing and also his updated score, the three unlikely collaborators set out to continue Laurie’s story with a few unexpected turns along the way.

As the 40th anniversary of The Babysitter Murders in Haddonfield draws near, there is renewed interest in the silent killer Michael Myers and Laurie Strode, the girl that got away. A pair of podcasters (Jefferson Hall and Rhian Rees) have come to Smith’s Grove Hospital to try to get Michael Myers to speak to them. His watchful doctor (Haluk Bilginer, Rosewater) has taken over for the late Dr. Loomis as Michael’s caretaker and doesn’t bat an eye when one of the interviewers hauls out that famous white mask and tries to use it to elict a reaction out of the aged murderer.  How the UK podcaster managed to get the mask out of the courthouse (sure, he says it was given to him but still) and not even in a plastic bag to preserve it is a detail no one seems to bat an eye at. Failing to get anything out of him, the two track down Strode (Curtis) in her protected compound on the outskirts of town.

Living in the woods like a survivalist with no apparent war to fight, Strode is damaged goods after two failed marriages and having her daughter taken away at a young age. Living with the trauma of what she endured has left her broken and bruised, unable to move on from a singular event in her life that still feels unresolved. Estranged from her daughter (Judy Greer, Jurassic World) but attempting to form a bond with her granddaughter (Andi Matichak), Strode is doing the best she can while self-medicating with booze and staying alert in case Myers breaks out and returns to finish the job. Of course, that’s what happens when the bus transporting Myers to a maximum security prison crashes and he escapes. Making a beeline to his hometown and leaving numerous bodies in his wake, Myers slices and dices his way through the town on October 31 while tracking down his main target. Unlucky for him, then, that Laurie has been preparing for this moment for 40 years and is not only ready for his return but willing to stick her neck out to be the one to take him down.

It isn’t a perfect film, there’s far too many extraneous characters that are introduced only to die without much care and there are narrative gaps and implausible leaps that feel outside of the grounded reality the filmmakers are going for. There’s one rather huge twist about ¾ of the way through that is so misguided I thought it was going to derail the entire film – thankfully (mercifully) the film gets back on track fairly quickly. It’s never explained how Myers was captured after the first film or why Strode didn’t just move overseas if she was that traumatized. Also…I still can’t get fathom why this was called simply Halloween and not given its own distinctive title. While it is a direct continuation to the original, it’s not a remake and should have had something to set it apart.  Also, I hate to be the one to break it to you but if you’ve seen the trailers for the film much of the surprises and scares have been spoiled for you.  It’s disappointing to see just how much of the movie has been shown already, way too many of the moments that could have held high suspense have been cheapened or outright ruined by advertisements that held nothing back.

Quibbles aside, Green and McBride (with fellow screenwriter Jeff Fradley) have crafted a supremely satisfying film, pleasing the fans of the original while injecting enough humor, scares, and gore for audiences of today who aren’t content with the slow burn terror Carpenter created in his original masterpiece. Nothing could ever match that and their Halloween doesn’t truly try to outdo its big brother, it just wants to get on the same playing field and it gets the job done. Curtis is wonderful in the role, unlike the character she returned to in H20, I very much believed this Laurie Strode is the same one we first met 40 years ago and she seems to be having a ball giving her most famous role a proper ending. I liked that the majority of the movie focused on the relationship between three generations of Strode women — Greer fits in nicely as Strode’s daughter harboring resentment at the seeming loss of her childhood and I quite liked Matichak who felt like a Laurie for a new generation. There’s already sequel talk and as much as I’d love to see what Green and McBride would cook up next (they originally wanted to film this movie and its sequel back to back) I almost hope they leave well enough alone and let these characters rest in peace.

The Silver Bullet ~ Destroyer (2018)

Synopsis: A police detective reconnects with people from an undercover assignment in her distant past in order to make peace.

Release Date: December 25, 2018

Thoughts: Wow, Nicole Kidman continues to just be on a roll. It’s so interesting to see this actress continue to grow and flourish with each year, constantly surprising audiences with her choices and performances.  Her bets may not always pan out but her films are never not worth noting.  Coming out of its debut at several fall film fests, the buzz for Destroyer is that it’s another strong performance from Kidman (The Killing of a Sacred Deer) in an otherwise troubled film but this first look has got me hooked to know more.  Directed by Karyn Kusama (check out her spooky The Invitation on Netflix pronto!) and co-starring Sebastian Stan (I, Tonya) and Toby Kebbell (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), it’s another transformative role for Kidman and one I’m quite intrigued to see.

The Silver Bullet ~ 42

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Synopsis: The life story of Jackie Robinson and his history-making signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers under the guidance of team executive Branch Rickey.

Release Date: April 12, 2013 

Thoughts: Now that football season has drawn to a close it’s time to look forward to the summer and America’s Greatest Pastime: baseball.  Though the sport has historically provided the setting for many a great film, there seems to be a renewed interest in one of the greatest players to have ever swung a bat.  That would be Jackie Robinson and 42 looks like it could be a home run as a biopic of the player that battled racism and personal struggles to become a legend.  I think that gruff Harrison Ford will make a winning Branch Rickey thanks to writer/director Brian Helgeland’s slick style and solid ear for dialogue.  Though baseball season is still several months away, this April release could be a well-timed hit for those eager to be taken out to the ballgame…cinematically at least.