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Sharper than Ever

Halloween and The Sisters Brothers

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HALLOWEEN. John Carpenter remains one of the largely unsung heroes of 20th century American popular cinema, whose work is more influential than widely discussed and almost a genre unto itself. Starting with Dark Star (1976), Carpenter has been steadily building a catalog of hugely entertaining, weirdly stylish homages to/syntheses of classic monster movies, space adventures and horror, creating something new by nodding to his influences. Perhaps because he has so often worked within genres (people say it like it's a dirty word), he is not generally mentioned among the anointed Serious Filmmakers of his era. History may correct that error. But at least one subsequent generation of movie-heads, having grown up on his work, is now processing his influence with their own work.

Director David Gordon Green and his frequent collaborators/co-writers Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley are decidedly of that generation, the right age to have probably watched Carpenter's original Halloween (1978), revelled in the gritty charms of Escape from New York (1981) and the gorgeous, snow-bound gore of The Thing (1982), enjoyed the hilarious high adventure of Big Trouble in Little China (1986) and had their minds blown by the lively, bizarre, now-chillingly prescient vision of They Live (1988), all while head-nodding to the master's unfailingly hypnotic self-composed/performed/recorded synth scores.

That's all conjecture, of course, but their respect/reverence for the man's work is plain in their contribution (the eleventh!) to the Halloween franchise, from opening credits that mimic the original to their commissioning of Carpenter (along with his son Cody and Daniel A. Davies) to record an original score.

Michael Myers has been ... standing around in a psychiatric institution for 40 years, I guess, following the events of the original movie. Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer), a protege of the late Dr. Loomis (played, over the years, by Donald Pleasance and Malcolm McDowell), has developed a perhaps inappropriate devotion to Michael, working for decades with dozens of forensic psychiatrists to understand the mind of the predator.

Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), survivor of that fateful night, has been spending the last 40 years preparing herself for Michael's return but in self-imposed exile. Her trauma remains untreated, her psyche badly, maybe permanently wounded. Semi-estranged from her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak), she is approached by a pair of investigative journalists producing a podcast about the events of Halloween, 1978, on the eve of Michael's transfer to another facility, where he is expected to live out his final years. She chides them for their ignorance and sends them away. Shortly thereafter, Michael escapes on Halloween and mayhem ensues.

This version succeeds on so many subtle levels that it's impossible to list them all here but for a few: It stays true to the tone of the original, while escalating the carnage in scary, inventive ways; it examines the dynamic between Laurie and Michael, survivor and attacker, with more depth and nuance than in previous iterations; perhaps most engagingly, it introduces psychological realism and elements of 21st century feminism into a straight-up horror movie with subtlety and significance. To my eye, it's Green's best work in years: a deceptively intricate take on genre that transcends classification with style and intelligence. R. 106M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

THE SISTERS BROTHERS. Back when I became aware of John C. Reilly through his work with Paul Thomas Anderson — Hard Eight (1996), Boogie Nights (1997), Magnolia (1999) — it was hard to imagine him as a comic actor. Not that he didn't have the chops but in that period he was so frequently raw and open, so emotionally authentic that broad comedy seemed a million miles away. But then he hooked up with Will Ferrell and Adam McKay — Talladega Nights (2006), Step Brothers (2008) — and remade himself as a comedian to a huge swath of the viewership. His turn in Kong: Skull Island (2017) started to bridge the divide between comedy and drama but with the Sisters Brothers, he does maybe the best work of his formidable career, returning to the subtle, heartbreaking emotionality of his earlier work while bringing to bear his decades of experience and life lived since then. It's no small thing to consistently upstage Joaquin Phoenix, especially without out-acting him, but Reilly does it here, scene after scene after scene. In an artful, entertaining, frequently beautiful movie, he's the one to watch.

In Oregon, 1851, the titular brothers Eli (Reilly) and Charlie (Phoenix), guns in the employ of the mysterious Commodore (Rutger Hauer), are assigned to track and kill itinerant chemist Herman Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed), with the assistance of detective John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal). As they draw closer to their quarry, they learn he has developed a formula to expedite gold-mining in streams, which has brought him to the attention of the Commodore and others. The possibilities of this process are not lost on Morris, nor are Warm's charm and utopian vision for the world. Morris throws in with Warm, attempting to put the Sisters brothers off their trail. Eli, meanwhile, wrangles with his own sense of identity, as well as with his brother's problematic drinking, ego, bloodlust and unending love for him. Directed by Jacques Audiard, who adapted Patrick DeWitt's novel with Thomas Bidegain, The Sisters Brothers is a western in the classic tradition, perfectly costumed and production designed, a deeply immersive created world. But it is also an entirely modern study in character and psychological realism, acted by some of the best in the business. R. 121M. BROADWAY.

— John J. Bennett

 

See showtimes at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards› Goat Miniplex 630-5000.

 

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