Movie reviews: 'Halloween' reboot a bloody love letter to John Carpenter
Film critic and pop culture historian Richard Crouse shares his take on six movies opening in cinemas across Canada this weekend: the follow-up to John Carpenter's 1978 slasher classic "Halloween" starring Jamie Lee Curtis, "The Old Man and the Gun" with Oscar winners Sissy Spacek and Robert Redford, the unrelenting addiction story "Beautiful Boy," the long-awaited film from the late Rob Stewart: "Sharkwater Extinction," timely satire "The Oath," and modern rom com "The New Romantic."
HALLOWEEN: 4 STARS
Did you love "Halloween III: Season of the Witch"? Wipe it from your memory. What about "Halloween H20: 20 Years Later"? Fuhgeddaboudit. How about "Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers" or any of the other masked-killer films that came after John Carpenter's 1978 slasher classic? They don't exist. When you lay down money for a ticket to the new "Halloween" you are erasing four decades of slashing and dashing and seeing a direct follow-up to the original film.
Jamie Lee Curtis returns as Laurie Strode, the resourceful babysitter who, forty years ago, bravely stood up to masked killer Michael Myers (Nick Castle). The intervening years have seen her raise her now estranged daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and live in a home fortified with booby-traps in case Myers should reappear.
"He's waited for this night," she says. "I've waited for him."
At the beginning of the film, Myers — known as ‘The Shape' in the first movie — is still paying the price for killing his teenage sister Judith and the subsequent slaughter of four others. Tucked away in Smith's Grove Sanatorium he is silent, a man who hasn't spoken since committing his first murder at the age of six.
When two British true crime podcasters, Aaron Korey (Jefferson Hall) and Dana Haines (Rhian Rees), try to pry an interview out of Myers they arrive just before the Bogeyman escapes, puts on the famous mask and reboots his killing career with an eye toward the one victim who got away all those years ago.
The 1978 and 2018 movies share more than a title and a leading lady. They share structural DNA and frights galore. The 2018 film feels fresh, timely and like a throwback to the moody low-fi scares of the original slasher flicks.
Castle is as eerie as always but it is Curtis who steals the show. Strode is grown up, suffers from PTSD and by her own words is "a basket case." What she is not is broken. "I prayed every night for him to escape," she says, "so I could kill him." The trauma of 40 years ago has hardened her but she's a warrior and a survivor who uses the great personal price Myers extracted from her as fuel to keep going. It's tremendous stuff and in the #MeToo era the kind of heroine reclaiming her power that should make audiences cheer.
"Halloween" is both a reboot and a bloody love letter to the director who started it all, John Carpenter.
THE OLD MAN AND THE GUN: 3 ½ STARS
Low key and amiable, "The Old Man and the Gun" is a crime drama about the nicest bank robber ever. Robert Redford, age 82, plays a stick-up man whose victims gush about how polite and well-mannered he was as he relieved them of their cash.
Forest Tucker (Redford), career criminal and all round nice guy, is part of a gang the press would later name the Over-The-Hill-Gang. All north of seventy, the thieves (Danny Glover and Tom Waits) rob rural banks, usually making off with hundreds, not thousands of dollars. Calm and collected, they get in and out quickly. "Don't do anything stupid," Tucker says to the tellers. "I wouldn't want to have to hurt you 'cuz I like you. Don't break my heart." For Tucker it's not about the cash, it's about the rush.
Driving the getaway car after one bank job, Tucker stops to assist a stranded motorist. As the police whiz by he gives Jewel (Sissy Spacek) a line of chat that charms her enough to agree to go for a cup of coffee. The pair hit it off and begin a friendship that borders on the romantic.
Meanwhile Tucker and crew are robbing banks, sometimes more than one a day, a streak that draws the attention of detective John Hunt (Casey Affleck) and the FBI.
The mostly true story of Tucker and his life of crime and passion is a low-key affair anchored by the easy charms of Redford and Spacek.
Redford made a career playing rascally anti-heroes like the leads in "The Sting" and "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." Here there is a wistfulness in the character that comes with age and the realization that the end of the road is just around the bend.
Spacek plays Jewel as a woman of strength; a person who has seen it all, but is still open to finding something new. Together the pair bring life experiences that create a lived-in chemistry that is never less than watchable.
Add to that a scene-stealing performance from Tom Waits — every line of his dialogue sounds like a line from one of his songs — and you have a new take on an American staple, the charismatic scoundrel.
BEAUTIFUL BOY: 3 STARS
"Beautiful Boy" is a story about the unrelenting grip of addiction. Based on the memoirs "Beautiful Boy" and "Tweak" by David and Nic Sheff, the film stars Steve Carell as a father desperate to save his son, played by Timothée Chalamet, from a life with a needle stuck in his arm.
The non-linear story begins with David admitting he no longer knows his son. "There are moments when I look at him, this kid I raised, that I thought I knew inside and out, and I don't recognize him. He's on drugs. Crystal meth."
Then a mix of contemporary and flashback scenes tells the story of a young man who says crystal math "takes the edge off reality. When I tried it I felt better than I ever had," he continues, "so I just kept doing it."
The film follows David's attempt to rescue his son, paying for stints in a rehab and spending time searching for Nic on a rainy streets and in back alleys.
It's a study on how one person's addiction can have a ripple effect through many people's lives. Nic's drug use affects himself and David and his mother (Amy Ryan), stepmother Karen (Maura Tierney) and two younger siblings (Christian Convery and Oakley Bull).
There are many touching moments in "Beautiful Boy." The look of devastation on Carell‘s face as he drops Nic off at a long-term care facility is subtle but effective. Imagine sending your brilliant 18-year-old — he was accepted to six universities — to rehab, knowing his fate is out of your hands.
Carell also nicely plays the frustration of not understanding why his "beautiful boy" just can't say no to drugs. That "relapse is part of the program." That the son he thought he knew has a secret, dangerous and unhappy life. It's strong work coupled by Chalamet's performance as a charismatic but troubled young man who idolizes Charles Bukowski take on the dark side of life.
"I'm attracted to craziness," Nic says to his dad, "and you don't like who I am now."
Much of "Beautiful Boy" works but — and there is a big but — I never felt overly moved by the story. It should be heartbreaking to watch Nic throw his life away, but we never learn enough about him to feel deeply for his plight. We know he was a cute kid, tight with his father, that he loves his siblings and is very smart, but those are broad strokes that don't paint a detailed enough picture.
"Beautiful Boy" is a little too structured, a little too clean to hit the gut as a story of Nic's descent into depravity.
SHARKWATER EXTINCTION: 3 STARS
"Sharkwater Extinction" begins with the story - told in voiceover by documentarian, photographer, and conservationist Rob Stewart - about getting lost during a dive.
"I can't give up. If I do I die."
It's a metaphor for Stewart's work protecting sharks but it's also a poignant reminder that, while he died during the production of the film, his work hasn't stopped.
The film is a companion piece to "Sharkwater," the 2006 investigative documentary that first gave voice to Stewart's message of shark preservation. That movie exposed the cruel practice of "finning": catching sharks, removing their fins and dumping them back into the sea to die a slow, painful death.
The new film aims to continue the story. In locations ranging from Costa Rica and Florida to the Bahamian Cat Island and Panama, Stewart and his team update the details from the first film adding colour in the form of locals — one fisherman tells the story of a fin trader who makes millions but declines to name names for his own safety; facts and figures — we're told 80,000,000 sharks are killed every year illegally; beautiful underwater photography, and heartfelt commentary from Stewart.
"I want people to fall in love with sharks," he says, "to see their intelligence, their soft eye and maybe a bit of ourselves in them."
Because Stewart died while making the film in January of 2017, "Sharkwater Extinction" is part call to action and part tribute to the man and his work. The film itself doesn't feel entirely finished — there are many loose ends — but Stewart's essential warning that we may lose a vital species to our way of life if corruption and the pirate shark industry continue rings through loud and clear. His work, the film makes clear, isn't done. In fact, it has only just begun.
THE OATH: 2 ½ STARS
The actor Ike Barinholtz is best known for playing the dim-witted Morgan Tookers on "the Mindy Project." What's less known is that, in real life, Barinholtz is a news junkie who was inspired to write his new film, "The Oath," during the first Thanksgiving Dinner following Donald Trump's 2016 electoral victory.
This Thanksgiving is set against a backdrop of sweeping new legislation that will affect every American. Called the Patriot's Oath, it's a document the government expects every red-blooded American to sign as a declaration of their loyalty.
One couple, the hot-headed ideologue Chris (Barinholtz) and his unflappable wife Kai (Tiffany Haddish), refuse to sign. As their extended family, including Chris's sister Alice (Carrie Brownstein), conservative brother Pat (Jon Barinholtz) and his Tomi-Lahren-Lite girlfriend Abbie (Meredith Hagner), convene just days before the Loyalty Pledge signing deadline, the situation spirals out of control. Two officers from the Citizen's Protection Unit (John Cho and Billy Magnussen) show up at Chris and Kai's front door, armed with questions, toxic masculinity and a disregard for the law.
"The Oath" is part political satire, part home invasion movie. Pitched just a hair under hysterical, it's a timely dark comedy that seeks to shine a light on the political chasm that divides the left and right wings. Under some well-crafted jokes bubbles a righteous rage worthy of Alex Jones if he leaned left rather than alt-right. Barinholtz uses a sledgehammer to explore the basis of belief, the very thing that can either bring us together or, more often than not, tear us apart. Subtle it is not.
"The Oath" doesn't dig much deeper than that, however. It skims the surface of how divisive politics drives wedges between friends and family but tends to lean toward broad comedy rather than insight to make its point.
THE NEW ROMANTIC: 3 ½ STARS
"The New Romantic," a winning new rom com of sorts from director Carly Stone, exists on the Venn Diagram where "Pretty Woman," "Sleepless in Seattle" and Tinder intersect.
College student Blake's (Jessica Barden) relationship column for her school newspaper has gotten tired. Chivalry is a thing of the past and the Nora Ephron-esque ideal of romance doesn't exist, for Blake, at least.
"The grandest it gets these days is swiping left instead of right," she writes. With nothing to write about her column is at risk of being cancelled until Blake meets Morgan, a young woman who dates wealthy men in return for presents. She's not a prostitute, she's a self-declared "sugar baby."
Intrigued by Morgan's situation and sensing a way to spice up her column Blake spends time with Ian, an older college professor (Timm Sharp), in return for presents like mopeds and bracelets. She is using him for material; he's using her for sex. The question remains, Can Blake's self esteem and college career survive her "relationship" with Ian?
"The New Romantic" has charm to spare thanks to an engaging performance by Barden. She is a naïve romantic, vulnerable and yet curious. In short, she's a real person, not some confection direct from her favourite writer Ephron's imagination. Barden, best known for her startling work on Netflix's "The End of the F*****g World," embraces he contradictions in her character, creating someone who makes mistakes but is nonetheless in control of herself. She is the solid core that anchors the film.
It's a promising feature debut from Stone who, as director and co-writer, both embraces and rejects the typical romantic comedy formula.
Read more of Richard Crouse's recent movie reviews:
- 'A Star is Born' hits all the right notes
- Knightley in top form for sparkling biopic 'Colette'
- 'The House With A Clock In Its Walls' is good, silly gothic-themed fun for kids
- 'A Simple Favor' is a maze of good and bad intentions
- 'The Nun' is all soulless hype
- 'Juliet, Naked' a rom com for adults'
- 'The Happytime Murders' least funny comedy this year
- 'Crazy Rich Asians' an escapist fantasy that entertains
Richard Crouse shares a toast with celebrity guests and pundits on the talk show Pop Life on CTV NewsChannel and CTV. Catch up on all the entertainment news, reviews and interviews at the Pop Life website.