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By Vernor Rodgers
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"HALLOWEEN"

The highly anticipated rematch between Laurie Strode and Michael Myers has commenced. But there have been new provisions attached. We are told to forget what transpired in "Halloween 2," "Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers," "Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers," Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers," "Halloween: H20" and "Halloween: Resurrection." Not to mention Rob Zombie's two "Halloween" interpretations.

This was a bold move, coming at a time when "Halloween," generally regarded as the film that ushered in the slasher era of horror films, is celebrating its 40th anniversary. And with John Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis as part of the producing staff, this new "Halloween" has strong endorsements from two key people involved in the original 1978 movie.

The directing reigns have been given to David Gordon Green ("Pineapple Express"), who was shuffling around as a 3-year-old toddler when "Halloween" first hit the screens, and who serves as co-writer along with Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley. And to much joy, Carpenter's now iconic theme music has also been brought into the new project.

The kicker here is that "Halloween" 2018 is a sequel to the1978 "Halloween," the closest a film and its follow-up have come to sharing the same title since "Alien" and "Aliens."

OK, so here's what is going on:

All those things that happened in the subsequent "Halloween" movies beyond the original, didn't happen. This is a bit of a shame for me, since I thought Michael Myers hit his stride in "Halloween 2," shaking off being shot multiple times by Dr. Loomis (the late Donald Pleasance), killing a couple of more residents of Haddonfield, then trudging to the Haddonfield hospital, where in his pursuit of the now injured Laurie, literally slashes the payroll of the medical facility, claiming four nurses, a doctor, a paramedic  and a security guard.

"Halloween" circa 2018 takes place in present day. Michael has been locked up in the facility in Smith's Grove for four decades, still mute, thus creating frustration for Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer), the shrink that served under the now departed Dr. Loomis. A couple of British podcast journalists pay Michael a visit, and put themselves on the endangered list by dangling Michael's infamous white mask near him in an effort to get some kind of reaction from the serial killer (we see Michael sans mask but only from the rear in which it can confirmed he is eligible for senior early-bird discounts at any cafeteria).

In a typical horror movie staple dumb move, a decision is made to move Michael and some of his fellow looneys to another facility -- on October 30.

Meanwhile, Laurie Strode (Curtis) is still a resident of Haddonfield, more or less. She lives in a secluded house that she has turned into a fortress, fenced in with huge security lights beaming from the roof. Multiple locks on the doors, and a basement with a hidden entranceway that leads to an arsenal that proves Laurie has graduated from knitting needles and wire hangers to more persuasive weaponry.

Divorced, and struggling with a strained relationship with her grown daughter Karen (Judy Greer), Laurie is seen as paranoid and obsessed. She drinks too much and is dismissed when she holds a firm belief Michael will return to Haddonfield someday to continue his mission of tracking her down. In fact she is praying for this to transpire, so she can kill HIM.

Luckily, Laurie does have a good relationship with granddaughter Allyson (Andy Matichak), the only real tie to Karen.

Laurie is the only person not surprised when Michael manages to force the bus transporting him to the new facility to crash and he escapes. He soon reclaims his killer mask, and Laurie knows where he is headed and the battle is on.

The body count grows, but Michael has few opportunities to send naughty teens to that great party in the sky. There is only one babysitter on hand who exploits her job position to have the boyfriend come over for some extracurricular activities once the child is put to bed. In fact, this "Halloween" does not focus on young people (there is one side plot involving Allyson and her boyfriend who turns out to be a jerk), as this is about Michael and Laurie. Those who do bite it are just collateral damage as Michael makes his way to Laurie's for the main event.

There is one distraction, that of Dr. Sartain. His role really is not needed, as the story has evolved beyond the need for the psychology expert to butt heads with local authorities trying to convince them of what Michael is planning. Michael has already telegraphed that. So an absurd little plot twist is inserted regarding Dr. Sartain that has us saying aside to the script writers: Really,  guys?

Speaking of authorities, Haddonfield's finest, despite being an  armed police force, are no match for Michael even if he IS old enough to collect Social Security.

Of course, Laurie has had four decades to pull together a plan to vanquish Michael once and for all.

Curtis presents a Laurie that has her difficulties, a person was refuses to let go and move on. But she is unapologetic. The price she paid in her life she deems worth it. When she faces Michael she absorbs some damage, but is confident she can finally defeat the Boogey Man.

Will there be a sequel to this "Halloween"? Nobody is saying anything definite, but the ending does leave that possibility.

"Halloween" is a smashing success, exceeding $100 million in only its second week in theaters. It is sparking many discussions among "Halloween" aficionados. Consensus I get from social media in my circle of horror fans is that this "Halloween" is a worthy effort.

"HALLOWEEN" Official Trailer:  https://youtu.be/ek1ePFp-nBI

 

"THE SISTERS BROTHERS"

This is a gem of a film that unfortunately is not getting the attention it deserves. Based on the book by Patrick Dewitt, "The Sisters Brothers" is a western in the mode of Clint Eastwood's "Unforgiven"  and the Kevin Costner / Robert Duvall starrer "Open Range," films that turn out to be more of character studies rather than adventure movies.

Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly star as the Sisters Brothers, Charlie and Eli, respectively. The SIsters boys are in the employ of The Commodore (Rutger Hauer, who has no lines in the movie), some sort of big time boss in Oregon. He dispatches the Sisters to kill people who have done him wrong.

While Charlie has found his niche in this line of work, Eli has a bit of a conscience and would like to ease out of the killing business. Unfortunately, there are the blood ties, and as the older brother, Eli is obligated to go along with Charlie.

The movie starts with a bang as Charlie and Eli attempt to capture, and presumably kill, some guy who is holed up in  a house with several other men. The negotiations to have the wanted man surrender literally explode into gunfire, resulting on everybody in the house being fatally shot.

"We fucked that up," Eli observes as they trudge away from the site of the fatal gunplay.

The movie mostly focuses on the next assignment given to the Sisters. The Commodore wants them to track down a man named Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed), ostensibly for taking money. But there is more to it than that.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays John Morris, sort of a lead man who has tracked down Warm and is sending dispatches to the Sisters on Warm's whereabouts. But Morris ends up befriending Warm, who convinces Morris that the real reason The Commodore wants him is that he is a chemist who has concocted a formula that can be poured into streams and chemically reacts to illuminate gold deposits in the water. Commodore wants the Sisters to torture Warm and get the formula before they kill him.

But Warm now has an ally in Morris, and they set off south to the California gold rush.

The Sisters encounter their share of troubles while pursuing Morris and Warm. Charlie has a drinking problem that Eli barely tolerates. Eli has a gross encounter with a spider.  They stop in a town called Mayfield where they end up having to level their own methods of justice. Along the way, the brothers have intense moments. Eli is ready to bail out of this risky business, while Charlie admits this is the life for him.

Distracted by this, the brothers find themselves at a disadvantage when they close in on Morris and Warm. But circumstances force the four men to set aside differences and bond together.

Reilly, who also serves as a co-producer, provides the emotional core of this movie. This is a man torn by the realities of his life. He tries to believe he can break away from working with Charlie while still maintaining their sibling relationship. Eli also has a mysterious tie to a red bandana that he carries always.

Charlie, meanwhile, not only wants to continue in his profession but also has sights set on moving up within The Commodore's organization.

All four of the main cast get opportunities to let their characters shine. Morris is a man who comes to the realization of why he has chosen a professional that leads  to death and has the urge to change his route. Warm is a gentle soul whose genius in chemistry pins a bulls-eye on his back. Yet he is driven by the prospect of scoring big with gold mining so he can migrate to what he believes is a sect that offers a perfect, loving society, based in Dallas.

Directed by Jacques Audiard, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Thomas Bidegain, "The Sisters Brothers" is stunningly photographed with the untamed, beautiful and perilous wild west as the backdrop.

Also very effective is the musical score by Alexandre Desplat ("The Shape of Water"), who eschewed a full orchestra and instead created a hauntingly gorgeous soundtrack featuring piano, timpani drums, cimbalons for bass and an electric violin. Lakeshore Productions has set up a link at http://smarturl.it/SistersBros for those who want to download or listen to this splendid soundtrack.

"THE SISTERS BROTHERS" Official Trailer:  https://youtu.be/3OwvqKwTKmE

 

"BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE"

Here is another movie that despite a pretty good advertising push is not drawing well. It only totaled $13 million in its first two weeks and the box office numbers are sure to drop.

The brain child of a proven writer, Drew Goddard ("Cloverfield," "The Martian," "The Cabin in the Woods"), who also directed, "Bad Times at the El Royale" is a blast, a movie that keeps you guessing right up to the end.

The El Royale is a unique hotel in that it is bisected by the California / Nevada state line. Thus guests have the option of staying on the California side or the Nevada side -- but note things are more expensive on the Golden State side.

"El Royale" takes place during a rainy day or two at the hotel, which despite its novelty and history of being a place where many celebrities stayed, is not doing a ripping business. In fact it seems to have a staff of only one person,  Miles Miller (Lewis Pullman, son of Bill Pullman).

On this fateful day, a handful of people check in: Father Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges),  Laramie Seymour Sullivan (Jon Hamm), Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo) and Emily Summerspring (Dakota Johnson).

But these people are not who they pretend to be. The movie is not linear, adapting the flashback mode a la "Pulp Fiction" to reveal the true story.

It is best not to reveal any more than this, as the pure joy of "El Royale" is not being able to predict what will happen. I'll just put this here: An added attraction is the incredibly stunning singing by Erivo, an incredible talent.

Oh, and Chris Hemsworth has a ball in this, portraying a Charles Manson-like character.

"BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE" Official Trailer:  https://youtu.be/y7wzBVARwaU

 

"FIRST MAN"

This movie ran into some controversy when it came out that there would be no scene of Neil Armstrong planting the United States flag on the moon during his historic 1969 space mission. This is too bad, because it is worth viewing, if nothing else, because of the incredible depictions of the experience of launch and being in outer space.

Also, there is a distant shot of the flag perched next to the lunar module on the surface of the moon.

My beef is with Ryan Gosling's portrayal of Neil Armstrong. It is such a somber performance that goes against all that has been written and seen on screen about these brave, fun-loving and, sure, arrogant men who were test pilots and then astronauts. The final scene is such a downer, you walk out of the theater feeling blah rather than exhilarated.

But kudos to Claire Foy, soon to be seen as Lisbeth Salander in "The Girl in the Spider's Web," as Janet Armstrong, dealing with the extraordinary circumstances of being a mother as well as being the wife of the first man ever to walk on the moon.

"FIRST MAN" Official Trailer:  https://youtu.be/w4GtJB5WAlQ

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