Tag: jamie lee curtis

Halloween


Halloween (2018)
★★ / ★★★★

The first kill in director David Gordon Green’s “Halloween” left a strong impression on me. It isn’t because the kill cannot be seen from a mile away nor is it due to the brutality of it. It is because the type of murder victim is new. It shows that not even children are safe from Michael Myers (James Jude Courtney, Nick Castle), the boogeyman known as The Shape who went on a killing spree in Haddonfield, Illinois in 1978.

In the original, not one child is harmed physically. They could have been but we get the impression that it is the killer’s choice not to. And so perhaps it is a part of Michael’s behavioral profile given that he himself was only a child when he committed his first murder. The restraint gave depth to the character. Here, once the victim’s final breath is released, I caught myself feeling excited at the prospect of a back-to-basics slasher flick. Notice the kill is without blood. No weapon is used. It is over just as soon as it began. There is a ruthless efficiency to it. However, I regret to report it does not live up to its potential.

If anybody could have successfully put “Halloween” back to its original form, it ought to have been Green. With impressive movies like “George Washington,” “All the Real Girls,” “Undertow,” “Snow Angels,” and “Joe” under his belt, he has shown that he has the ability to strip his stories of plot complications and focus solely on the human drama. Now, that may sound strange given that a horror film is in question, but since the plot of this picture revolves around how Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) has dealt—or not dealt—with the trauma of her encounter with Michael forty years ago, the screenplay demands that it has a thorough understanding of human psychology, particularly how a traumatic event can not only alter but actually shape a person’s life. It is clear Curtis could have done more with the character had the screenplay given her more of a challenge.

While some effort is made, it is all so… ostentatious. We observe Laurie shoot a number of guns, wield hunting knives, and stroll across her panic room. The script makes a big deal of Laurie’s broken relationships with her daughter (Judy Greer) and granddaughter (Andi Matichak) because the former’s intense preparations—just in case Michael escapes the mental facility and returns to Haddonfield—have taken over her life. Nearly all of it comes across rather superficial, tacked on, unnecessary. Greer is not fit for the role while Matichak does not command a strong enough presence to be memorable. Subpar performances aside, these characters are so underwritten, I did not care whether they would or could survive the night. A part of me actually wanted them to get killed because they felt more like decorations rather than natural extensions of our iconic survivor.

In the middle of it, I wondered if it would have been the braver choice to make a horror film with a running time of only fifty minutes to an hour. Instead of plot or character contrivances, the focus is on the meeting of predator and prey—only we do not know which is which any longer since forty years have passed. After all, it is the filmmakers’ decision to ignore all sequels. It is only appropriate to just go for the jugular, so to speak.

Green’s interpretation of “Halloween” is surprisingly loud given that he excels in the quiet. I’m not simply referring to the school dance scenes or guns being used excessively. (Do not get me started on the generous use of score—especially during the most inappropriate times.) I also refer to the images. There is excessive display of gore and sharp weapons piercing through body parts. There is even a man whose head is split open and we see it front and center. There are moments when violence is implied, but these are few and far between.

There are those who are quick to say that this is pretty much a remake of the original. I think these individuals are not observant enough. While Carpenter’s 1978 classic is more interested in building suspense and breaking it at the perfect moment, Green’s attempt leans toward evoking thrills through homage. Carpenter employs light and shadows to imply violence while Green hoses us down with gore. And that makes a whole world of difference.

Trading Places


Trading Places (1983)
★★ / ★★★★

Randolph (Ralph Bellamy) and Mortimer Duke (Don Ameche), aging millionaires with too much money on their bank accounts, have a bet. Randolph believes that he can turn a conman, Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy), whose current scheme is to pretend to be a blind man and a cripple so passersby will feel sorry and give him money, into a respectable commodity broker and an uppity commodity broker, Louis Winthorpe III (Dan Aykroyd), who is very good at his job, into a contemptuous criminal. On the other hand, Mortimer believes that such a complete transformation is impossible because everyone is born to live a specific lifestyle.

“Trading Places,” directed by John Landis, is marginally funny when it doesn’t try so hard to impress and not at all amusing when it goes through great measures to elicit a laugh. The first and last thirty minutes are effective. The set-up is interesting because it plays upon the classic nature versus nurture debate with enough unexpected lines of dialogue that proves consistently witty—up to a point—which shows promise that the material can really take off as a comedy of manners as well as a social critique of the rich and the poor. We all have a certain perception of the very poor and the very rich. So when Billy Ray starts to steal expensive trinkets in front of people telling him that he does not need to because all of it belong to him anyway, it is absolutely hilarious.

Seeing Murphy and Aykroyd eventually playing against type makes a handful of scenes that do not work, for example Aykroyd’s character pulling out a gun at a Christmas party and threatening to shoot people with it, somewhat tolerable. Likewise, the payoff is engaging because Billy Ray and Winthorpe spend the majority of the time either apart or arguing. It is refreshing to see them interact on a different level and act as the puppeteers in the philosophical game.

The middle portion, however, is a boring wasteland of tired gags with an occasional funny line or two. Even then I was not sure if something genuinely funny was thrown onto my lap or if I just wanted to laugh to shatter the tedium. Furthermore, in order for us to feel sorry for a character, the screenplay relies on clichés.

Winthorpe is shown twice or thrice standing in the rain while looking like a wet, abandoned sheepdog. There is nothing funny about it nor is it an effective way for the audience to sympathize with him. Even though he is a bit spoiled, we already feel bad for him the moment he is framed, sent to prison, and all of his hard work is taken away.

And while I liked the idea of Ophelia (Jamie Lee Curtis), a prostitute hired to hasten Winthorpe’s downfall but the two actually end up liking each other, there is not enough dramatic pull between the couple. When they kiss, it is awkwardly charming but we are at a loss in terms of what exactly they like about one another. In other words, they are not written as real people. The premise can be contrived but it does not mean that the character must be that way, too.

The Fog


The Fog (1980)
★★ / ★★★★

When a strange fog appeared off the coast of San Antonio, a sleepy town about to celebrate its one hundredth year of existence, people started to die in gruesome ways. Ghosts with hooks and swords hid in the fog and murdered seemingly indiscriminately. With the help of the voice from a local radio (Adrienne Barbeau), a hitchhiker (Jamie Lee Curtis), the man who kindly gave her a ride (Tom Atkins), a councilwoman (Janet Leigh), and her assistant (Nancy Kyes) tried to make their way out of town. Written by John Carpenter and Debra Hill, it was difficult not to admire the film’s attempt to make the most of what little it had. A fog that glowed wasn’t very scary even if had murderous ghosts hidden inside. But the reason why the picture was bearable was because of the way Carpenter, the director, played with its mood. The first fifteen minutes were engaging. The man who told local children ghost stories around a campfire elevated the creepiness that complemented objects suddenly moving on their own, pay phones ringing simultaneously, and car alarms going off for no reason. Not only did it inspire me to ask questions about the setting’s history, I got the sense that the seaside town was really isolated. I wouldn’t want to live there. However, the execution of scary or shocking moments felt uninspired. Take the scene in which the hitchhiker, Elizabeth, and her new boyfriend, Nick, conversed inside an abandoned ship. Instead of allowing the cabinet to open up in the middle of their tiresome conversation and maximizing the element of surprise, Carpenter warned us of what was about to happen when he focused the camera on the cabinet too often and too long. When Elizabeth jumped, I didn’t. Instead, I snickered because of how silly it was. Stevie, the raspy voice on the radio, could have been a more complete leading character. She wasn’t given much to do other than to be stuck in a lighthouse and watch the fog draw near. She had a young son–an excellent reason to fight for her own survival so she could protect him. But she wasn’t even given the chance. Furthermore, the background story involving the ghosts was as vague as reading a small sign silhouetted in fog from a few feet away. Their motivations were shrouded for too long. When unveiled, it didn’t make much sense. What was more important to them: an eye for an eye or the gold hidden from plain sight? They could have been much scarier. They moved quite slow and it appeared easy to outrun them. “The Fog” is very light entertainment at best. It was plagued with clichés like a person actually choosing to answer a door when he or she already suspected that something might be seriously wrong. Don’t get me started with the wheels of a car being stuck in mud when characters desperately needed to get away. Despite the characters’ frustratingly unrealistic decisions, at least its mood kept my attention.

You Again


You Again (2010)
★ / ★★★★

In high school, Marni (Kristen Bell) was bullied by the head cheerleader (Odette Yustman) because she was a geek. She was labeled as a loser with glasses, ugly bangs, and pimples so she didn’t have any friends. Marni was traumatized and grew to hate the idea of high school over the years. About ten years later, we saw that Marni had a great career in public relations. In fact, she recently had gotten a promotion before she headed home to her brother’s (James Wolk) wedding. To Marni’s horror, Joanna, the woman her brother was intending to marry, turned out to be the very same person who made high school a place of fear and humiliation. “You Again,” written by Moe Jelline and directed by Andy Fickman, casted wonderful actors but none of them were given much to do. Marni’s mother (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Joanna’s aunt (Sigourney Weaver) had an entirely predictable subplot that was directly and eerily related to Marni and Joanna’s rivalry. Betty White, as adorable as she was, was stuck playing the grandmother who had the funny one-liners. Even Victor Garber’s character was painfully one-dimensional as the unaware father whose only notable feature was that he liked to eat with a blindfold because he was convinced that not seeing the amount he ate made him lose weight. I wouldn’t have minded the poorly established supporting characters but the four women should have been at the forefront. The filmmakers’ job was to paint a portrait of them with varying degrees of depth and complexity. They failed. Marni and Joanna’s games were understandable. They might have been adults but they were young. Ten years isn’t a long time to forget high school memories especially if one had been scrutinized and bullied. I understood why Marni was still angry. I even understood why she wanted some form of revenge. At the same time, I felt like Joanna was genuine about starting over, to change from being a person she didn’t like to a person that she and others can love. Most of us deserve a second chance. However, the mother and the aunt’s relationship should have been explored deeper because it was a key element in the four women finding resolution and closure. The relationship between the two former best friends should have been the mirror in which the younger women realized the error of their ways. Instead, we were given a series of slapstick humor but not enough exploration of the real pain behind bullying and broken friendships. I felt that the material was deathly afraid to look at its own heart. Great comedies have proven that a comedy picture fails to work without some level of emotional investment between the characters and the audiences. “You Again” was like watching a freshman sitcom that was cancelled after only three episodes.

Road Games


Road Games (1981)
★★★ / ★★★★

Stacy Keach plays a truck driver who likes to play games on the road with his dingo companion in order to eliminate some of the boredom of long drives across Australia. After hearing about a serial killer on the loose who cuts up and disposes bodies all over the place, Keach begins to suspect a man who drives a green vehicle. Since the two stopped in the same area for the night, Keach sees the mysterious potential killer watching the garbage being collected very early in the morning. (As his dog sniffs the garbage bag of interest in an attempt to get food.) Jamie Lee Curtis plays the hitchhiker who Keach picks up and who is eventually taken by the killer. I’ve read from other reviews that Richard Franklin, the director, was a very big fan of Alfred Hitchcock. Being a fan myself, watching this movie was that much more fun for me because I actively looked for certain shots and twists in the story that could reference to Hitchcock’s works. But even if one is not familiar with Hitchcock’s movies, one could still enjoy this psychological thriller because of the suspenseful false alarms and eventual real dangers that the characters had to face. I thought “Roadgames” was very different from other movies about killers on the road (especially American movies of the same set-up). Franklin took the time to establish Keach and Curtis’ characters before really getting into the scares. They talked and formed a genuine connection, so when the two were finally on the killer’s tracks, we couldn’t help but care and wonder whether they really were on the right track and whether or not they would eventually get caught. My favorite scene was when Keach investigated the number of meat in the back of his truck. That scene was done so well because at first I had no idea what he was thinking. But when I finally caught up on why he was so worried, I was so disturbed and I could remember saying out loud that he should get out of the truck as soon as possible. My heart raced so fast because the camera just lingered there as if something was about to go seriously wrong. The scene after that was also very impressive–very Hitchcockian–the way the character got into his own head and trying to persuade himself that everything was alright (which, of course, was not the case). “Roadgames” is now considered a cult classic cat-and-mouse movie and I believe it still holds up today. I wish more people would see this because it did many things that were so unexpected. Instead of simplifying things for the audience, it actually tried to outsmart us which I found to be very refreshing even though it was released back in 1981.

Halloween


Halloween (1978)
★★★★ / ★★★★

“I met him fifteen years ago. I was told there was nothing left. No reason, no conscience, no understanding; even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, good or evil, right or wrong. I met this six-year-old child, with this blank, pale, emotionless face and, the blackest eyes… the devil’s eyes. I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply… evil.”

John Carpenter’s 1978 independent “Halloween” masterpiece will forever be one of my favorite films. With such a microscale budget, Carpenter, the production team and the actors managed to accomplish so much. “Halloween” stars Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode who, among with her friends Lynda (P.J. Soles) and Annie (Nancy Loomis), was stalked by a masked killer named Michael Myers (Tony Moran). Michael killed his sister when he was six years old and was sent to a psychiatric hospital under the care of Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence). Michael’s madness became much worse over the years and he escaped the night before Halloween 1978 to return to his hometown in Haddonfield, Illinois.

This picture invented the slasher flick that plagued the 1980’s because of its craft. The first scene of this film was an absolute milestone because we saw Michael kill his sister through his eyes as he wore a clown mask. The way he grabbed the knife from the kitchen drawer, walked up the stairs, and went for the kill was terrifying because it was done by a child without any sort of reason (or emotion) behind his actions. After the murder, when his parents discovered him with the knife, it looked as if he had no idea what he had done, like he was possessed by the devil.

Fast-forward to 1978, we got to meet Laurie and two of her friends. Laurie, obviously different from the other two because she’s actually interested in books and not so much interested in boys (or maybe her shyness often got the best of her), was established as the protagonist. She cared about the children she babysat (unlike the other two) by letting them have fun on Halloween, such as carving pumpkins, making popcorn, and watching scary rated R movies on TV, as long as they remained safe and refrained from scaring each other. In broad daylight, we were able to see Michael following them around–appearing in an area one minute and disappearing the next–something that slasher movies of today rarely do. (Not all stalkers only come out at night after all.) There were also very amusing scenes between the three friends, which I thought was a good move from Carpenter because it made them very relatable. That was important because we all know that Michael would eventually go after them. Why was he obsessed with the three girls? We don’t exactly know. Maybe he saw qualities of sister in them or maybe not. To me, that’s why I thought the picture worked: it retained elements of mystery and it was up to us to draw our own conclusions.

The soundtrack was something I would never forget because it was downright creepy and it set the tone of certain scenes. A particular track was specific to an event that was about to transpire so we came to know what to expect (a stalking scene, a false alarm, or going for the kill). However, the brilliance of it was we don’t know when exactly the scare or “Boo!” moment would happen. When they finally do happen, they come with maximum effect due to excellent timing. Unlike most modern horror films, the soundtrack in this movie was used as little as possible. It also means that Carpenter knew when to use silence. Sometimes silence meant nothing but sometimes silence meant something really bad was about to happen.

My absolute favorite scene was the showdown between Laurie and Michael in the last twenty minutes. It still gives me the chills whenever I watch Laurie crossing the street to go into the house where two of her friends were murdered. Since the lights were all off yet she was getting phone calls from the house pretty much all night, at first she thought they were playing a joke on her. But when she finally reached the bedroom, she realized that none of it was a joke. While she was busy entertaining the kids across the street, Michael was busy with the body count. There was also that scene when she finally got out from the neighbor’s house (not an easy feat considering Michael blocked the exits) as she tried screaming for help but no one would open their doors to offer her refuge. She then had no choice but to go back to the house where she was babysitting… but she couldn’t find the keys in her pocket.

There’s a plethora of social commentaries that could be drawn from this film, which were immortalized as clichés in future slasher flicks like “Friday the 13th,” “Prom Night,” “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and the like. However, I’m not going to mention them all here because I think it’s best for you to try to see them yourself. But I do want to mention how impressed I was with how the concept of the “boogeyman” evolved from a simple folklore (when the kids tried to scare each other) to a personification of evil that one cannot kill (when Laurie tried to kill Michael time and time again but he always managed to “return from the dead”). The concept of the boogeyman finally culminated in the last minute of the film when Laure conceded, “It WAS the boogeyman” and the movie showed us familiar places with Michael breathing in the background–places that have been touched by evil and would never be the same again.

For those who have seen a plethora of movies, “Halloween” is almost always on their list of being one of the best horror films ever made. It’s not difficult to understand why considering how much it impacted the collective media unconscious. I consider it one of the best movies I’ve seen, not just in the horror genre, because of how it made me feel when I first watched it. There was a certain darkness to it that shook me to the core and I couldn’t stop thinking about it for days. And when I see it again from time to time on television as Halloween nears, I may smile during certain scenes and not look as scared as before. But the same thoughts regarding “What if I was in her shoes?” quickly flood my mind and I can’t help but feel affected. Though it may not scare you because you’re used to seeing blood delivered in gallons in modern horror movies (personally, I think blood is just gross and not at all scary), it would most likely earn your respect for being well ahead of its time in terms of craft and context.

Prom Night


Prom Night (1980)
★ / ★★★★

I decided to see this classic (but horrendous) slasher flick because I was curious about how different it was compared to the 2008 version. Although both are pretty bad, I can stand this one a bit more because I could sympathize with Jamie Lee Curtis’ character. Even though she’s not in it as much as I wanted her to (considering she’s the supposed star of the film), she made the best of her scenes, especially that dated dancing sequence during the prom. After six years of a little girl’s death, a masked serial killer decides to kill one by one those who are responsible. It’s a simple premise that could’ve been effective. Unfortunately, the stalker scenes lacked suspense, the kills weren’t creative and all of the characters are one-dimensional. That’s a common trap in the slasher film subgenre: the teenagers often are defined by their stereotypes: the nerdy one, the one who loses her virginity during prom, the nice girl, the jealous ex-girlfriend, the list goes on. Paul Lynch, the director, should’ve taken those stereotypes and turned them inside out. That way, it wouldn’t be as predictable. I also had a problem with its pacing. After its introduction, the camera merely follows the characters around prior to the prom. Nothing interesting happens: there’s no insightful dialogue, no genuinely funny or embarrassing moments, fashion disasters–things that do happen in real life. I also must point out the empty schoolgrounds and streets. When a particular character was walking around in the morning or in the middle of the afternoon, one would expect to see people walking their dogs, jogging, or even driving in their cars. In here, those things were noticeably absent so it got distracting. I do not recommend this picture to general audiences because it does get a bit slow. However, this is a must-see for horror film buffs because it does make references to better slasher movies like “Psycho” and “Halloween.”