When John Carpenter’s 1978 classic was unleashed to the masses, it revealed an underlying paranoia that evil lives and persists and can erupt at any moment, in any neighborhood. This evil is slow and calculating – more so, patient.
Halloween also succeeded in putting an expressionless face onto the boogeyman, which unfortunately also belongs to William Shatner. One aspect that we don’t often attribute to the original is this was the beginning of a horror staple: virgins live, sluts die.
Henceforth throughout horror history, the promiscuity of barely-legal women has been predictably met with horrific ends, but of course, not until at least a top is off. This sexist exploitation has plagued the horror genre for decades – but finally, the times they are a-changin’.
Forty years after the incident, we find Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) alone and well-armed: a paranoid agoraphobe who has been waiting for the day Michael Myers escapes his prison. The overt theme of this sequel is victimhood: A victim can live in fear or survive and conquer. What Halloween manages to do is make the story as much about Michael as it is about Laurie; so often do we focus on the monster, we forget to think about those who survive. Every survivor has a story.
This may be bold of me, but Halloween is the kind of sequel we need right now. We already know the monster, so this is the perfect opportunity to build on some broken characters.
We establish that Laurie’s behavior has wrecked her relationship with her daughter Karen (Judy Greer), but now she has time to bond with her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak), who seems to be a mirror image of Laurie at her age. Laurie herself has become more or less a menace – even referential scenes swap Laurie in the place of Michael.
By retconning the series, the film has given wiggle-room for the viewer’s suspension of disbelief. For example, in removing the notion of familicide, Michael Myers is a much more realistically terrifying presence, stalking his old hunting grounds with wild abandon (well, as wild as a murderous, slow-moving giant can be). Again, not only are his victims not screaming down the street with their boobies a-floppin’, but we also get a better grasp of who they are, or rather, were. And surprisingly, the majority of the victims were men, one of whom (arguably) asked for it.
Though not necessary, I would recommend re-watching the first Halloween before seeing this one, just for the sake of appreciation. John Carpenter gave Halloween (2018) his blessing, and with good reason.
I’ll admit, I knew little to nothing about Whitey Bulger before seeing this film. Sadly, by the end of it, I really feel like I still don’t know much about him.
Brief synopsis: Black Mass is based on the true story of a criminal-turned-informant-turned-crimelord; what began as a joint effort to take down the Boston Italian mob lead to the creation of a power-mad monster – a man who couldn’t be stopped simply because blood is thicker than water.
I want to believe that this film is a portrait of a man who was simply looking out for himself and his community, but I can’t help but think that the heart of the piece is lost in the grit, as is motivation. Maybe that was the idea? Perhaps Scott Cooper wanted to portray a first-person look the rise and violent fall of an empire? Nah, I’m probably just looking too far into it.
Though origin tales are overdone, I really would have appreciated a small look into the turn to crime – just a small taste of what made this man so methodically vicious.
On the upside, the performances were great. Like really, really great – even Rolling Stone thinks that Johnny Depp’s take on Bulger might be the cusp of an oncoming Deppessaince. And as advertised, this puppy has a hell of an ensemble – though, it was weird seeing Benedict Cumberbatch pull off a Boston accent.
Despite my gripes about the storytelling, I honestly feel that Black Mass is a welcomed addition to American crime drama. The pacing and tone are perfectly matched by well-crafted cinematography (thank you, Masanobu Takayangi), and the score just adds to this dreary, tense agglomeration (dreary and tense in the best possible way, of course). Personally, I think if there was just a bit more, well, personality, or more definition, this might be one of the better dramas of the year. But that’s just me.
Final Grade: B
From my first glance at the trailer, I was skeptical.
Here we have an aggressive government entity, a gentle scientist, and a wacky gentile robot who is threatening national security – because robots can’t LEARN, they can’t be SENTIENT, what is this MADNESS!? IT’S TOO DIFFERENT – KILL IT, KILL IT DEAD. And then we learn everything we’ve heard before about nature vs. nurture and BOOM you’ve got yourself a remake of Short Circuit starring my favorite zef hoodlums, Die Antwoord, as well as Dev Patel trying to shake off The Last Airbender, and Hugh Jackman’s rage-inducing mullet.
Well gee, it’s a good thing that I don’t religiously follow trailers, or else I’d be incredibly disappointed pretty much all the time. And it turns out, I wasn’t totally right. Let’s first straighten out that synopsis:
Due to a correlating rise of crime and police mortality rate in Johannesburg, the South African government has decided to invest in a weapons corporation called Tetravaal, fronted by CEO Michelle Bradley (yay Sigourney Weaver!).
Tetravaal’s key contribution to the police force are semi-AI “scouts,” developed by Deon Wilson (Patel). Wilson has aspirations of greater uses for technology, in his spare time developing an AI that can learn and create – you know, no big deal.
After some gangland shenanigans, Chappie (impressively played by Sharlto Copely) is born. Chappie must be taught as a child would, and thanks to his gangster parents, Yolandi and Ninja, he learns quickly the good and evils of the world, while establishing his own consciousness and existence.
Meanwhile, Wilson’s über-machismo co-worker Vincent Moore (Jackman) is becoming increasingly obsessed with getting his war machine off the ground, vexed by Wilson’s success.
As mentioned, I was concerned that this was going to be another one of Blomkamp’s “big mean government” deals – and I wasn’t entirely wrong, but it didn’t rub me the wrong way like Elysium did – and even Neill Blomkamp admits he messed up with that one. Chappie is really more akin to District 9: It begins with a documentary style, it’s set in Johannesburg, has Sharlto Copley as a vulnerable creature, and even ends in a slum. It’s like if you took District 9, Short Circuit, and Die Antwoord and tossed everything into a blender.
Speaking of our duo, I think they did alright – I mean, it’s not the first time they’ve acted. And really, they were kind of what I expected, considering that Blomkamp made a point to use their personas as a springboard. Though I would have rather seen Yolandi a bit more of a badass: after Chappie arrives, she just seemed to either coddle or lay around, smoking and waiting. Huh. Maybe I should call my mom.
On the note of characterizations, I’m amazed that Moore wasn’t written as an American (or maybe he originally was?). Here we have a man who brandishes a handgun in an office while telling coworkers to join him at church, and builds a robot that is just dripping with excess – do you really need a claw that can tear a human body in half? Okay, maybe that doubles as a jaws of life – but the cluster bombs?
Maybe making him an American would seem too obvious – like if a Hispanic man would have been cast as the lead in Elysium. Okay, I’ll quit ragging on Elysium. On the other hand, I’m not that familiar with other countries’ conservative stereotypes, so maybe keeping Moore an Australian makes sense?
Even though Chappie felt a bit like a re-hashed District 9 at times, I think Sharlto Copley’s performance really brings some much-needed heart into this story. Granted, he was designed with curious eyes and ears to better recognize as some sort of relatable creature (Red Letter Media talks about this sort of thing in Plinkett’s fantastic Avatar review), but the physical and vocal performance really shines through.
UH OH SPOILERS
Though technobabble was kept to a minimum (though now I know anything can be accomplished with a suped-up Roomba and enough Redbull), I still find myself wanting to know more about the construct of consciousness as data. I mean, does it get saved like a save state in that moment, like all the memories? Like in Yolandi’s case, that was a while until she was booted up again. …How would her robot walk out of the Tetravaal plant anyway? Also, wasn’t that the plot to Transcendence? (I still haven’t seen it.)
And was it established as to whether or not Chappie feels pain? I figured he didn’t (because that would have to be learned somehow), but the sniveling theatre-goers aside me seemed to believe otherwise. And if consciousness is stored, is it like you’re dreaming? Can it get infected with malware? What happens if it gets deleted? How much memory does a person take up? Maybe that would make the better movie. Or maybe I should just watch Transcendence to make sure this wasn’t already answered, but I doubt it.
YOU CAN COME BACK NOW
On the whole, I really dug this movie. It was heavy when it needed to be, but still kept things playful. In retrospect, I think that Neill Blomkamp is better at writing characters (and general scenarios) than actual stories, because it did feel more pieced together and predictable than it should have, especially given the amount of material one could work with. A tad misguided, yes, but I think Copley’s gentle take on an overused trope is worth the watch.
Final Grade: B