Arts + Scene » Screens

Fun-size Assortment

A little junk, a little sweet and a surprise



I 'd say I'm fairly neutral, as far as Halloween goes. I don't particularly like or dislike costumery. The proliferation of candy is fine, if eventually problematic — I'm thinking of gasping adults devouring "fun size" chocolate bars like they're emergency rations. And the aesthetics and iconography, while fun, conjuring sense memories of times of easier enjoyment, could just as well be confined to the day itself. I have friends, though, who stretch the day into a season and would probably elect to live in a haunted/highly spooky house, were it not so widely frowned upon/seen as evidence of psychological instability.

But I enjoy horror and monster movies (I was genuinely excited when I saw the Criterion Channel's carefully curated slate of '70s horror for the month of October). And so, in deference to my Halloween heads and my own taste, I would feel remiss, with the day so fast approaching, in not including at least a couple of themed selections here.

The order in which these reviews appear is in no way representative of their cultural or cinematic merits. The 40 Year Old Version is a work of more substance and significance than Hubie Halloween, which is clearly pop trash. But the reviews follow the order in which I watched the movies; I've always done it this way and I suppose I'm mildly obsessive-compulsive.

HUBIE HALLOWEEN. As noted above, this is trash. Sure, but I also enjoyed it. This is likely due as much to the rapid softening of my brain as to a crushing outside reality that begs constant mitigation and remediation; so be it. And more often than not I'll show up for Adam Sandler. His movie nerd career stats aren't great, I'll admit, but with Uncut Gems (2019) and Punch-Drunk Love (2002), he gave us two of the most fascinating, shockingly underappreciated performances of the 21st century. Perhaps even more central to my twisted perspective, he was a titanic figure in the Hollywood comedy boom of the early-mid 1990s. I saw Billy Madison (1995) in a double-feature with Dumb and Dumber. Then I saw Happy Gilmore (1996) and I had never laughed so hard in my life. And so, even though Sandler has phoned in a lot of the mid-career stuff, even though his Hubie sounds remarkably like any number of other characters he's played in the past and undoubtedly will again in the future, even though I should "know better," I had fun with this. Not that it matters, but Hubie is a sweet simpleton who has to save his hometown of Salem, Massachusetts, from unseen Halloween marauders; tropes abound! Probably only for Sandler fans and the sugar-high. PG13. 102M. NETFLIX.

VAMPIRES VS. THE BRONX. Directed by TV veteran Oz Rodriguez, who also gets a story credit, Vampires vs. the Bronx could live in the same section as Hubie Halloween but moves up at least a couple of shelves in terms of intention and nuance. Concerned about the aggressive gentrification of his neighborhood (spearheaded by the sinister Murnau Enterprises), Miguel (Jaden Michael) tries to bring the Bronx together at a block party fundraiser to save his favorite bodega. In the run-up to his event, though, he'll have to contend with not only the horrors of regular adolescence, but with the primary stakeholders (pun intended) in Murnau and their ghoulish plans for the borough. Vampires ties in classic-modern references aplenty, leaning especially into Blade (1998) which, of course, I love. But it also speaks truth to coming of age, has jokes for days and, with deceptive simplicity, incorporates commentary on disenfranchisement and social inequity in contemporary America. PG13. 85M. NETFLIX.

THE FORTY-YEAR-OLD VERSION has nothing to do with Halloween. It is also, as mentioned above, a more substantial and, I'll say it, important work than its position in this column would seem to indicate. But there is something so exciting in the discovery of it, having come to it knowing nothing, that makes me want to leave it to others to enjoy it the same way. Maybe that's a cop out, maybe I think it merits a more academic exploration than I'm capable of, that's for someone else to judge. But it is a tongue-in-cheek, semi-autobiographical feature debut from writer and performer Radha Blank (who wrote, directed, produced and stars) that engages with notions of sex, race, age, potential, perception and the meaning of success. It's a hip-hop comedy with dramatic chops shot in languid black and white; it's unlike anything else and it's great. R. 129M. NETFLIX.

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