31 Days to Scare ~ Halloween Kills

The Facts:

Synopsis: The nightmare isn’t over as unstoppable killer Michael Myers escapes from Laurie Strode’s trap to continue his ritual bloodbath. Injured and taken to the hospital, Laurie fights through the pain as she inspires residents of Haddonfield, Ill., to rise up against Myers.

Stars: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Will Patton, Thomas Mann, Anthony Michael Hall, Kyle Richards, Nancy Stephens, Charles Cyphers, Nick Castle, James Jude Courtney, Robert Longstreet

Director: David Gordon Green

Rated: R

Running Length: 106 minutes

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review:  The release of a new Halloween film in 2018 that reset the timeline for the rocky franchise was a refreshing inhale of breath for both cast, creatives, and audiences alike.  Trapped for years with characters that were connected by blood (more like lazy screenwriting) and a once-human killer that grew more supernaturally inhuman with each passing chapter, the series was in terminal status when director David Gordon Green (Our Brand is Crisis) and actor Danny McBride teamed up with Blumhouse Productions and convinced original star Jamie Lee Curtis to return to the role she created.  Also snagging John Carpenter to come along and give his blessing helped get the longtime fans on board as well.  The well-received and ambitiously thoughtful effort was a revitalized movie that didn’t completely reinvent the concept of the reboot, but it laid groundwork that continuations to an original story were possible, especially with the involvement of those that were there when it all began. 

Perhaps you can believe the story now that Green and McBride originally pitched their first round of Halloween as a two-parter but later thought it best to see how a standalone installment would work instead, but there was a sweet finality in the ending of the 2018 film that didn’t feel like a wide enough door was kept open for what has led to the far less impressive goop that is Halloween Kills.  The first of two movies shot back-to-back in 2019 and originally intended to be released in 2020, this middle chapter of trilogy of films from Green and McBride picks up almost precisely where the previous film left off, on a Halloween night 40 years after Michael Myers (Nick Castle in some scenes, James Jude Courtney in the more physical ones) went on a killing spree in Haddonfield, IL. 

With Michael apparently trapped in survivor Laurie Strode’s (Curtis, Knives Out) compound which she set on fire with the help of her daughter Karen (Judy Greer, Lady of the Manor) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak, Son), the three Strode women head to the hospital to tend to their wounds.  Never count out the Haddonfield Fire Department, though, who have raced to the scene and find Myers very much alive and blazing mad.  As Myers begins to slash his way through Haddonfield, reports of the murders that took place earlier in the evening have gotten back to Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall, Live by Night), Lindsay Wallace (Kyle Richards, The Watcher in the Woods), and Marian Chambers (Nancy Stephens, Halloween H20: 20 Years Later) who are holding their yearly survivor’s celebration at a local bar.  Like Laurie, they’ve chosen to deal with their own trauma of that night in their own way but unlike Laurie have found comfort in sharing that experience with others.  With news of Myers return, the three instinctively jump into action and rally a group of townspeople along with them.  Now it’s just a matter of finding Myers and stopping him again.  But where is he going and who might he be looking for?

That’s the tidiest description of messy plot slapped together by Green, McBride, and Scott Teems and I was a little taken aback by how much the three had abandoned the subtleties introduced in their first outing.  Whereas the reintroduction of the Laurie character felt like an interesting way to look at a lifetime of living with PTSD, survivor’s guilt, and paranoia, the people we meet in the sequel are enigmas with only names that sound vaguely familiar to us.  Sure, we know who Tommy Doyle is but other that that…who is he?  As played by Hall, he’s someone harboring a lot of shame over lack of action even though he was a child when he was attacked while Laurie was babysitting him.  Same goes for Lindsey, though Richards doesn’t crank up the angst meter as far as Hall does.  We don’t have the luxury of being reacquainted with these faces from the past before they’re called on to take center stage…and they definitely are because the stars of the last film are curiously absent for quite a lot of Halloween Kills.

Of all the callbacks, I doubt anyone wanted to be thinking of Curtis being stuck in a hospital bed for much of 1981’s Halloween II but that’s where she’s confined to for lots of Halloween Kills.  When she does amble about, she’s not at full Laurie strength so whatever vengeance Curtis came back with in Halloween is a bit hollow here.  That’s at least better than what poor Greer gets, though.  Relegated to the role of “he’s coming for her!” paranoid protector, Greer is adrift and robbed of the modicum of found strength afforded to her at the end of the last movie.  The only Strode that continues to show potential is Matichak and while Allyson has a number of insanely unwise choices, she roars to life just as the movie is on life support in the final act.

As for the main attraction?  Well, what can I say?  I mean, Michael Myers has returned to his gruesome killing methods that reached a Grand Guignol peak in the two Rob Zombie barf-y films.  Murder is here for the sake of murder, and I have to wonder what kind of pleasure is to be derived from a filmmaker including a scene where a mortally wounded victim watches helplessly as their dying (or even already deceased) significant other is slowly stabbed by a multitude of knives by Myers.  Why?  The two characters have no bearing on the plot, the scene comes right after an insanely bloody murder scene, and it’s followed by more murder.  Myers kills a huge number of people in vicious, heinous (pointless) ways and even as an ardent fan of horror movies I wanted to tap out…this was no fun, no fun at all. (Side note, the amount of couples that die at the hands of Myers in this one is almost laughable…I guess the screenwriters didn’t want to leave anyone partner-less and in mourning.)

I’m not entirely sure why Green, McBride, and Teems decided to go in this direction.  The first film focused on Laurie and examined her trauma – this was interesting material to explore in a mainstream horror movie and a franchise not known for its sensitivity to such matters.  In Halloween Kills, they’ve shifted from Laure’s grief to a larger view of how the town has suffered.  This is another nook with great potential, but it’s wasted on appalling displays of grunting vigilante justice and toxic mob mentality as the ruling authority.  In that way, the movie becomes more obnoxious than disappointing.

I mentioned this script is very bad, right? At times, I wondered if the actors were just improvising dialogue because the number of times the phrase “Evil Dies Tonight!” is used is mind-boggling.  Eventually turning into a greeting of sorts from one character to another, I started silently saying under my breath “…next year.” knowing the true finale of the night he came back home wasn’t going to finish up until October 2022 with Halloween Ends.  After a head-shakingly crazy finale, I can’t even imagine how Green and company are going to keep this one going until the break of dawn.  Hasn’t Haddonfield suffered enough? After Halloween Kills, haven’t we?

Movie Review ~ The Forever Purge

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The Facts:

Synopsis: All the rules are broken as a sect of lawless marauders decides that the annual Purge does not stop at daybreak and instead should never end.

Stars: Josh Lucas, Ana de la Reguera, Tenoch Huerta, Will Patton, Leven Rambin, Cassidy Freeman, Susie Abromeit, Will Brittain

Director: Everado Gout

Rated: R

Running Length: 103 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  At first, I was going to take a pass on The Forever Purge, having skipped The First Purge back in 2018.  Back then, I felt like the franchise had run its course and going back to the beginning (origin-exploring being popular at the time) felt like an easy trip to the bank for the filmmakers and the studio.  Released to a surprising amount of success in 2013, The Purge made back its budget and a heck of a lot more, quickly spawning The Purge: Anarchy a year later.  2016’s The Purge: Election Year wasn’t the worst election related bit of theatrics we saw that year but despite the presence of stars Frank Grillo and Elizabeth Mitchell it signaled creative energy waning.  All easy reasons why the fourth film was such an easy skip. 

So, why pick up with #5, another half-hearted titled affair originally intended for release in the summer of 2020 and arriving a year later?  I think it was honest curiosity after seeing the spooky poster and some suggestion it would be abandoning its long-standing urban setting for a playing field that’s more of a western vibe.  Could a change of scenery be the thing The Purge saga needed to stay relevant or re-energized?  Or would it just be another retelling of the same story, just with characters sporting cowboy boots and ten-gallon hats?

Well, it’s a little bit of both.  While The Forever Purge isn’t any big revelation as far as horror action films go, it makes a decent attempt to get something extra from its near the border location and (gruesomely) hammer home not just a message about how the U.S. treats immigrants and minorities but what it would be like if the tables were turned.  It can’t quite meet its goal on an issues-based level thanks to its primary mission of for-the-masses entertainment and it grandstands heartily, but in the end, it swings back to familiar territory so no Purge fan will leave a viewing wholly unfulfilled.

Illegally crossing the border to escape their troubled past, Mexican couple Adela (Ana de la Reguera, Army of the Dead) and Juan (Tenoch Huerta, Tigers Are Not Afraid) soon find work in a small Texas town.  She works in a local processing plant and he’s a ranch hand on the Tucker farm where they both live.  While Juan is friendly with most of the Tucker family, head of the clan Dylan (Josh Lucas, The Secret: Dare to Dream) doesn’t warm to him and it isn’t hard to guess why thanks to screenwriter and Purge-creator James DeMonaco’s blunt dialogue.  There isn’t much time to decode the differences between the two men because the annual Purge has been reinstated after being dormant for a number of years and tonight everyone is going their own separate ways to stay safe.  The Tucker family, including Dylan’s pregnant wife, his father, and sister are staying in their ranch fortress while Adela and Juan travel with their fellow immigrants to a safe space where they can avoid any trouble from marauders seeking to “cleanse” the town of their “illegals”.

After the night of government-sanctioned bloodshed, everyone emerges and begins to pick up the pieces from the grisly night…only to find that a rogue group of underground Purge-ers have decided one night isn’t enough.  Now, the Ever After Purge is on and no one is safe in the day or night.  As you can guess in the boiled down simplicity of this fifth entry, the two families will have to put aside their differences if they are to survive as Adela and Juan lead the Tuckers back over the border into Mexico where they would be safe.

The concept of Americans being desperate to cross over borders into Canada and Mexico and become basically illegal immigrants is novel, I’ll give DeMonaco that, but it feels like a “what if” scenario that’s years too late to be revelatory.  Yes, we can look at the irony of it and chuckle at how strange it would be for all these Republican longhorns that were formerly desperate to keep illegal Mexican people out of their town now pleading with their cooks and maids to help them cross over, but is it honestly all that funny?  The night before these same people were likely out hunting these people down.  That’s the problem with these films in the first place:  The Purge was designed to address lawlessness by allowing an anything goes one night a year free for all but all it does is make all that rage grow stronger during the year, so it doesn’t address the inherent rot in society that’s the real crime.

Director Everardo Gout seems to have been handed a guidebook to creating a Purge film and occasionally drops in something familiar to fans of the franchise.  Thankfully, there seems to be more of an emphasis on finding and developing some interesting characters in this one and that what sets it in some small way apart from the others.  I sparked to de la Reguera much like I did in Army of the Dead earlier this year.  She brings a strength to the role that is unexpected but believable when she is called on to take action.  Partnered well with the equally valued Huerta, they outshine Lucas who is completely on autopilot as the twang-y ranch owner thrust into the thick of it and learning about his own personal failings along the way.  The other thing I don’t care for in these movies is that there is never one sole villain, just a series of human roadblocks that have to be dealt with.  There’s no one that is memorable here serving in this space, so I won’t even bother mentioning them.

It’s rumored this was to be the final Purge film, but I wouldn’t count out that DeMonaco has one or two more of these left in him and I’d be interested to see how he could work himself out of the corner the finale painted him into.   The Forever Purge has good moments and probably would play nicely if doing a binge-watch of the entire series…but I’d want one more film to truly cap things off.

Movie Review ~ The November Man

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november_man

The Facts:

Synopsis: An ex-CIA operative is brought back in on a very personal mission and finds himself pitted against his former pupil in a deadly game involving high level CIA officials and the Russian president-elect.

Stars: Pierce Brosnan, Luke Bracey, Olga Kurylenko, Eliza Taylor, Caterina Scorsone, Bill Smitrovich, Will Patton

Director: Roger Donaldson

Rated: R

Running Length: 108 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review:  It was only a few short weeks ago that my review for the trailer of The November Man appeared on this website, indicating my cautious optimism that this late summer action flick might be former 007 Pierce Brosnan’s welcome return to his James Bond/Thomas Crown roots.  Sadly, it serves only as a reminder that Brosnan’s cooly effortless action hero is a relic of the past, replaced by the aging and overly earnest titular character projected for audiences around the globe to (hopefully) not see.

I wasn’t aware of this until after the fact, but The November Man is based on the seventh book in a series of spy novels by the late author Bill Granger.  A pet project for Brosnan that finally moved into production after almost a decade of delay, it’s puzzling that the actor would opt to play a character so similar to Bond yet bring to the role none of the efficiency he lent the legendary spy in four films.

Instead, Brosnan makes the actors fatal mistake of attacking a deeply flawed character without really giving us a reason to understand why he’s all rough edges and fisticuffs.  Surely the script by Michael Finch and Karl Gajdusek (Oblivion) doesn’t seem to mind that it has more plotholes than open road as it bounces from one bland location to another detailing a plot concerning Russian government officials and a possible US cover-up of war crimes.  It all feels like, well, a bargain paperback knockoff of a James Bond plot.

Now I’m not saying the movie doesn’t have some modicum of potential because as an audience member I’ve been craving a tidy action film with political intrigue and near-miss car chases through international locations for some time.  Yet The November Man’s execution is so unruly and unpleasant that it feels like a chore to sit through before you’ve had a chance to get to the bottom of your popcorn.

As sexist as the James Bond franchise has been criticized for being, it pales in comparison to the icky abject misogyny on display here.  Women are treated as mere objects and I think at one point every woman with a speaking line is dragged by her arm around a locale by a gruff man that calls her a word unprintable in full but begins with t and ends with wat.  As brutal as the violence is in the film (and with gunshots to the head and knife wounds galore the film is bloodier than necessary) it’s no match for the distasteful chauvinism on display.

If I’m being honest, I’ve never found Brosnan to be that impressive of an actor.  Though he filled the James Bond suit nicely (in GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World is Not Enough, Die Another Day), Brosnan’s Bond wears thin on repeat viewings and the actor hasn’t found much success in his non-Bond endeavors.  I can see why tackling a character slightly to the left of Bond would be appealing but Brosnan’s teeth gnashing solemnity comes across as more him spoofing his spy thriller past than cutting new ground.

With his Sean Bean looks and Keanu Reeves acting chops, Luke Bracey makes for a lackluster adversary with the young actor unable to make even the simplest of dialogue seem convincing.  He looks too young to be a junior colleague of Brosnan’s well-worn spy and wearing an alarming amount of eyeliner he comes across as an indie-rocker more than the CIA killer he’s supposed to be playing.  An unfortunate subplot involving Brosnan and Bracey locking horns over items in their personal life adds fifteen minutes, one cat, and two extraneous characters to the proceedings.

I’m going to assume supporting players Bill Smitrovich and Will Patton got together and decided to pull one over on the hair team by asking that they switch hairstyles.  Smitrovich’s curly pate is swapped for Patton’s bald chrome dome…and that’s the only good idea either actor brings as both grow fatter as the film drones on from chewing the scenery.  Smitrovich in particular should be absolutely ashamed of himself…as should director Roger Donaldson for casting him.

If there’s one bright spot to the movie, it’s certainly Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace) as a woman in need of saving by Brosnan’s off the grid spy.  Though the role is painfully lacking any sort of feminist assuredness, Kurylenko at least makes the wounded bird she’s playing somewhat sympathetic.  Chased by a female assassin (who looks like she was plucked from playing the lead role in a Moscow production of Funny Girl), Kurylenko gets the one true pleasing moment of the film as she brings one character to a nice dénouement.

Still, the film simply cannot overcome its wet noodle leads and a series of plot contrivances so ludicrous that I briefly considered breaking my spoiler-free rule and analyzing them further here.  Yet that would give the film more time than it’s worth because The November Man will be in the discount bin at WalMart before November 2014 is over.

The Silver Bullet ~ The November Man

november_man

Synopsis: An ex-CIA operative is brought back in on a very personal mission and finds himself pitted against his former pupil in a deadly game involving high level CIA officials and the Russian president-elect.

Release Date: August 27, 2014

Thoughts: Though he’s now three films removed from the James Bond series and a sequel to the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair is stalled in development hell, Pierce Brosnan is back on the big screen in full action hero mode with The November Man.  Looking like a nice mix between his 007 days and a Mr. Crown adventure, I’m disappointed that the slick but lengthy trailer seems so full of spoilers but am willing to reserve judgment on the overall experience based on Brosnan’s track record.  Reteaming with his Dante’s Peak director Roger Donaldson (Cocktail), and joined by former Bond babe Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace) and newcomer Luke Bracey, we won’t have to wait until November to see if Brosnan’s still got what it takes.