We see the version of America that we’ll probably teach as accurate in 30 years.
It’s hard to do a movie that’s really based around one main joke, as I recently pointed out with the film Cooties. This film’s main joke is that everything in it is not only inaccurate, but ridiculously so. The thing is, the film is doing this to point out that Americans so over-inflate our history that this movie’s not much less accurate than most of our portrayals of our founding. I mean, if you’re going to deify all of the Founders, then why not also give them superpowers and chainsaw blades?
The plot of the movie is that Benedict Arnold (Andy Samberg) successfully kills off the Second Continental Congress and steals the Declaration of Independence. He then assassinates Abraham Lincoln (Will Forte), the best friend of George Washington (Channing Tatum), who inherits Lincoln’s dream of founding a new nation called America. Washington joins forces with noted beer inventor Sam Adams (Jason Mantzoukas), Chinese immigrant inventor Thomas Edison (Olivia Munn), man raised by horses Paul Revere (Bobby Moynihan), Native American renegade and tracker Geronimo (Raoul Trujillo), and notable blacksmith John Henry (Killer Mike) in order to stop Arnold and the plans of King James (Simon Pegg).
Originally I was told that this movie’s historical inaccuracy was actually based on final exam answers given by US high school seniors. Unfortunately, I’ve found nothing to back that up, so maybe American students aren’t that dumb. That said, some of the gags in this movie based on historical confusion are absolutely hilarious. Probably my favorite is when George Washington introduces himself to his future wife Martha (Judy Greer) and she asks him if he’s the inventor of peanut butter, which he confirms. The joke here isn’t just that she’s confusing him for George Washington Carver, it’s also that George Washington Carver didn’t invent peanut butter. A ton of the humor in this movie is that the thing that they make a joke about is itself based on a common misconception. I found that hilarious, but it did mean that some of the punchlines took more thought than you’d expect.
The rest of the movie is just a parody of every giant action movie trope, including the final climactic fight scene that involves every character and a ton of fast-cut visuals like the end of Avengers: Endgame. Much of the violence is over-the-top, but in a way that successfully cuts down the impact. My favorite is the running gag of a character’s throat getting ripped out and calling them “roadhoused.”
Overall, I’m not going to say this is a great movie, but I thought it was entertaining.
Paul Bettany brings some heavy emotions, but the film can’t hold up.
In 1973, Beth Bledsoe (Sophia Lillis) moves from her traditional Southern family in South Carolina to go to college in New York where her uncle, Frank (Paul Bettany), teaches. Beth attends a party and finds out that Frank is gay and has been living with his boyfriend Wally (Peter Macdissi) for a decade. Beth agrees to keep Frank’s secret, but this is quickly put to the test when Frank’s dad, Frank Sr. (Stephen Root), dies. Frank has to go visit his mother (Famous Celebrity Character Actress Margo Martindale), brother Mike (Steve Zahn) and his wife Kitty (Judy Greer), and the rest of his family, which is complicated when Wally tries to secretly follow along.
I constantly go back and forth about how much a good performance can salvage a mediocre or even bad film, but this movie is proof that a bunch of good performances can at least keep a mediocre outing interesting. What’s really sad is that, with relatively few changes, it feels like this movie could have been amazing, because Bettany and Lillis really seem to nail their characters far beyond what was on the page.
The problem with this movie is the same problem that many films about a queer character coming out to a conservative family has: It wants to have it both ways. It wants the main character to go through the dread of interacting with a family that might reject him (despite the fact that he’s used a beard for a while) and also to have the family not really be monstrous towards him so that it seems reasonable that he still wants to be with them. To its credit, the film does a better job than many movies, like Happiest Season for example, because not everyone in the film goes immediately from “gays are defective” to “rainbow pride,” but it still makes a lot of the characters come off as less real than they need to be for this kind of drama.
The other problem with this movie is that they actually waste a ton of the talent in the cast by not giving them more to work with. While I may have thought Judy Greer ended up being a little underused in Halloween, this is exactly the kind of film where she could have shone if given something good to say. The same is true of Margo Martindale, who, as BoJack Horseman repeatedly informed us, makes everything she’s in better, as well as Steve Zahn, who, honestly, has a few decent scenes as Beth’s cantankerous and somewhat off-putting father.
Overall, the movie isn’t bad. It’s actually pretty good. It just needed a little polish to be great and I think it’s sad that it didn’t reach that mark.
A woman adopts an adorable puppy who helps with her anxieties… by removing them.
Maggie (Judy Greer) is a journalist who is approaching 40 and still trying to find Mr. Right. After discovering that her paper is going digital and that her job has been downgraded to independent contractor by her boss (Steve Guttenberg), she decides to get an emotional support dog. She finds a small dog named Reuben (Chico the Dog) and adopts him. Despite Reuben being temperamental, she still starts to bond with the dog, eventually becoming one of those dog moms that you know you’ve seen before. However, it turns out that Reuben is more than what he seems. Whenever something starts to cause Maggie stress, Reuben attacks it, including all of the people. Also, the movie has Ellen Wong, Elise Neal, and Maria Conchita Alonso.
Honestly, I liked this movie pretty well, despite the fact that it’s not much of a horror film. There’s almost no terror at any point in the movie, because a lot of the kills and attacks lack any atmospheric buildup. There are a few strange mind-bending scenes, but they don’t seem to have much of an impact on Maggie, so they don’t leave much of an impact on the viewer. There’s not a ton of traditional “horror” either, since the movie doesn’t really focus on the repulsive nature of the deaths. Without atmosphere or gore, you’re missing the two things that usually make a horror movie work. However, what you do have is an interesting blend of a romantic comedy, drama, and horror that mostly manages to stay upright because they cast Judy Greer, an incredibly talented comic actress, as the lead.
The film is mostly about how Maggie is trying to deal with being a woman whose life just didn’t work out the way she wanted. Despite being smart, good looking, and, apparently, a talented writer, Maggie can’t seem to find someone who wants a family and she doesn’t make enough money to do it on her own. While she does start to meet a nice guy (McKinley Freeman) during the film, she still finds herself having severe issues trusting his intentions. That’s why she becomes so attached to Reuben, because he’s a dog and therefore isn’t going to betray her. In the hands of any other performer, this kind of thing would clash with the horror elements, but somehow Judy Greer keeps it balanced.
I thought it was a bold move on the part of the series to use June’s holiday (every Into The Dark is based on a holiday) on Pet Appreciation Week as opposed to Father’s Day (although they did that last year, they have used Mother’s Day twice). The movie does actually do a pretty good job of showing why people can become so attached to their pets, particularly in the modern world where a lot of human connections suffer due to distance or societal pressures. I also like the fact that nobody in the movie really questions the merit of having an emotional support dog.
Overall, though, the movie just stays a bit too tame for horror and has too many horror tropes to work as a black comedy. I still enjoyed it, but a lot of that is that the cast was really solid for an Into the Dark film.
ENDING EXPLAINED (SPOILERS)
Okay, so the movie is actually pretty sparse on details of exactly what Reuben is. We know that he’s clearly not just a normal dog or even a really smart dog, because we see that he is strong enough to tear a cage apart despite his size. Then, towards the end of the movie, we even see him grow in size to the point that he’s roughly the size of a bullmastiff. However, the film does give us a few flashes in the film that we can piece together a little bit of what he is.
Here are the things the movie makes explicit: Reuben makes other dogs very anxious. His bloodwork is abnormal, to the point that the veterinarian says that it’s “all over the place.” This just seems to confirm what we already knew, that Reuben isn’t really a dog. We see a jump scare that shows one of Reuben’s victims, Maggie’s landlady, as an ethereal specter. We also see that the more Maggie loves Reuben, the stronger he seems to get and the more aggressive that he gets. We also get a hint that this film is just one of many times that Reuben does this exact same thing, as his previous owner was in jail for murder, just like Maggie is at the end of the film. So, what is Reuben?
Reuben appears to be a variant on an incubus, an evil demon that typically feeds on sexual energy. Like most demons, it’s repulsive to animals and can change shape. However, rather than trying to devour Maggie’s sexual energy, Reuben apparently feeds on her affection, and in return kills all of the things that make her anxious. His victims end up being seen as shades, due to their unnatural deaths. At the end of the film, when given a choice between Reuben and Nate, Maggie actually realizes that she has more affection for Reuben, which is what ends up allowing the “dog” to kill Nate, but seals Maggie’s fate.
So, a ton of people have been lauding this film. Maybe that was the problem. Maybe my expectations were too high. I was hoping to really see a solid follow-up to the original Halloween, a film that remains one of the scariest things I have ever watched. That’s not what I got. Look, I sat through the three “return of Michael Myers” Halloween films and Halloween H20. I watched Busta Rhymes kung-fu kick one of the greatest horror villains in film in Halloween Resurrection. I watched the good and the bad of the Rob Zombie remakes. I have paid my damn dues, I deserve another well-made Halloween film.
I don’t want to hold back on this one, so *SPOILERS* on this review, because I’ve got some venting to do.
PLOT AND STUFF
This movie takes place 40 years to the day after the main events of the first Halloween movie. All of the sequels are ignored, including Halloween II, which means that Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is not, in fact, the sister of Michael Myers (Nick Castle and James Jude Courtney), something that I definitely consider a good call.
A pair of journalists (Rhian Rees and Jefferson Hall) who have a podcast go to interview Michael Myers at the asylum that he has occupied since 1978. They bring his mask as an offer to get him to speak, but Michael doesn’t acknowledge their presence. Shortly after, while being transferred, Michael’s bus crashes, freeing him. His doctor, Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer), survives the crash, but is shot by a boy who comes upon the scene. Michael coincidentally finds the podcasters, kills a mechanic for his signature jumpsuit, then murders them both to reclaim his mask. He then drives back to Haddonfield, Illinois.
Over the last 40 years Laurie Strode has pretty much been suffering constant PTSD about the night that she was attacked. She has a daughter, Karen (Judy “Wait, Judy Greer?” Greer), who thinks she’s insane after raising her to be able to fight Michael, and a granddaughter, Allyson (Andi “No, wait, go back, Judy Greer is the daughter?” Matichak), who Laurie secretly speaks to. However, when she finds that he has escaped, she’s almost excited at the prospect of being able to kill him.
Michael goes on a killing spree that alternates between awesome and almost comically cliché before Dr. Sartain, who has gone insane with his desire to see his prized subject reunited with Laurie. They reach Laurie’s house before Michael kills Sartain, resulting in Michael approaching the house to kill Laurie, Karen, Allyson, and Karen’s husband Ray (Toby “Judy Greer was a weird casting choice” Huss). Ultimately, Karen, Laurie, and Allyson manage to trap Michael in the basement and set the entire house ablaze. However, the last shot of the basement shows it to be empty, implying that Michael escaped.
END PLOT AND STUFF
The original Halloween wasn’t the first of the slasher genre or even the holiday-themed slasher genre (Black Christmas and Silent Night, Bloody Night were earlier), but Halloween took everything that had previously been done in the genre and tweaked it a bit. Michael Myers didn’t wait for people to show up to his hunting grounds like Norman Bates or Leatherface, he came to them. He didn’t have a disturbing backstory or a love of taunting young women like the killers in the Christmas-themed slasher films, he just simply was evil. He wasn’t punishing the wicked or impure (although people have said he was, both of his creators have denied this), he just liked killing. He wasn’t supernaturally enhanced like Jason Vorhees or Freddy Krueger, he was just a normal human (in the first movie, he is briefly unmasked and is just an average person).
AND THAT’S WHY HE’S SO FRIGHTENING.
He’s literally just a crazy guy who comes into your house and murders you. He doesn’t have anything against you, there’s nothing you did to cause it, and it’s a completely random death. This movie tried to maintain that aspect and, in fairness, it mostly succeeded on that front. They make a point to comment on the fact that, in the original movie, Michael Myers only killed five people, something that we now see happen in real life on a regular basis by a crazy asshole with a gun. In other words, we’ve now allowed almost any random crazy person to be Michael Myers. However, in response to pointing that out, they make sure to drive home that Michael is, in fact, his own special brand of evil, because he’s not going to stop. Mass shooters almost inevitably die in the process; Michael won’t.
However, while they do a good job with that, the actual horror environment of the film is, for lack of a better word, crap. Part of that is that much of the movie is a tribute to the original film, including a lot of scenes that are either straight replications of older scenes (so we know how they’re going to go) or they’re subversions of the older scenes (so we know how they’re going to be subverted). Normally, alternating between these would work to keep the audience on their toes, but this movie makes a mistake that, honestly, they should have avoided just by watching the original Halloween: They take too long on scenes.
Michael Myers is at his best when the set-up is long, but it’s in the background. Some of the best parts of the 1978 version are seeing Michael lurking, unfocused, in the background of shots, something that Rob Zombie did wonderfully when he released his remake. This movie made him too focal, which, unfortunately, doesn’t make him scarier unless it’s done perfectly. Many of the set-ups were so elaborate that they felt more like a joke and a punchline than a murder. I genuinely was laughing at some of the kills.
That’s another problem: This movie has too many examples of the modern horror post-Scream semi-satirical scenes, without really adapting Michael to it. Scream was a reaction to the decline of the slasher genre, where people were bored of characters who were genre-blind or fit neatly into weird archetypes, so Wes Craven infused humor and self-awareness into horror. Now, even people who knew the rules of slasher films were going to be victims, making the audience feel vulnerable again. But, over time, directors upped the comedy, so it’s now commonplace to have humorous interludes in horror films. This film was partially written by comedian Danny McBride, so the funny scenes are really funny, to the point that it undercuts all the tension that is usually inherent with Michael Myers’ presence.
There are still a few saving graces for the film. First, Jamie Lee Curtis nails playing a crazed, obsessed Laurie Strode. She’s like Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2, except that she’s been waiting 30 years longer and time has started to really take its toll. Her dedication to training for this movie is admirable, although she does kind of embody Mike Tyson’s line “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Second, the kills are pretty great throughout the movie, some of them being among my favorite in the franchise. Third, while I don’t exactly like Judy Greer in most of the film (the character, not her), she also possibly has the best scene in the movie and one of the most “F*CK YES” moments in the Halloween franchise.
Actually, there is something in the movie that I think isn’t really called out, but that I think make it slightly more interesting: Everyone assumes Laurie Strode is important to Michael. Sure, he stalks her, among other people, in the original, but in this one everyone assumes that he is breaking out to hunt her down. However, if you watch the movie, he really doesn’t give any indication that he cares about her at all this time. He doesn’t look for her, doesn’t go back to the house from the original films, and doesn’t stalk her family until her granddaughter hears one of Michael’s victims screaming, apparently by random chance. Even after seeing Laurie (and getting shot by her), Michael doesn’t make any attempt to follow her. In short:
SHE’S NOT IMPORTANT.
Unlike what’s implied in all the sequels prior to now, this means that she was just a random victim in the original. So, she’s spent her entire life training for the day he would hunt her down, but, really, the only reason they meet is A) she actually hunts HIM down and B) other characters bring them together. It’s kind of devastating, therefore, to think that Laurie Strode has spent her whole life recalling one terrible night and never being able to get over it due to the trauma, while the guy who did it apparently doesn’t think about her at all. I’m sure there is never any comparable situation to this.
Overall, this movie didn’t scare me much. Other people might be scared by it, but I thought that they removed a lot of the dread that makes the genre work. However, the thing is that I did enjoy this as kind of a study of Laurie Strode and Michael Myers. Michael represents evil, trauma, destruction, mass murder, what have you. You don’t necessarily deserve him, but he shows up anyway and your life is either ended or wrecked. Laurie is someone who has dealt with that kind of trauma and evil, has been scarred by it horribly to the point of being a force of violence herself, and has tried to impute some meaning into the meaningless. She even does some shot-for-shot sequences where she copies Michael’s mannerisms and movements. She’s a great representation of the Nietzsche quote:
Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.
Like I said, I may not have been scared by it, which makes it kind of crap as a horror film, but as a character study, it does a great job. I recommend seeing it, but maybe wait until video.