HALLOWEEN (1978)

By Marc S. Sanders

Finally, I saw it.  I had never seen any of the Halloween movies.  At last, considering the time of the year, I chose to watch the original John Carpenter classic slash fest from 1978.  Granted, I believe I have seen every scene of this picture by flipping channels or watching Netflix documentaries.  I have just never stopped to watch the film from beginning to end.  So, if the surprises didn’t grab me as much you, when you first watched, well my apologies for having an advantage.  Let’s just say I can see why the picture is still regaled so much, nearly fifty years later.  Nevertheless, I think Halloween is full of plot holes and short sightedness.

Understand reader, I know what to likely expect when I watch a slasher flick.  Man in a mask who walks at even pace while the girl victim sprints as far away as possible.  Still, the girl can’t get away, right?  Well, normally she would be able to.  This is a horror movie, though.  The suspense is heightened in any film if the storyteller elongates what you fear as much as possible.  So, yeah, it is much more effective to show the ominous killer as far away as possible while the camera cuts away to a helpless Jamie Lee Curtis fumbling with the lock on the door.  Even more effective is if you have a pulse pounding soundtrack to get you fidgeting in your chair while you bite down on your last fingernail.

I think Carpenter’s film stands as the granddaddy of the modern-day slasher film (though not besting Hitchcock’s Psycho) because of the methods he adopts with his camera work and editing.  The opening sequence is skillfully executed as we watch one Halloween night unfold in 1963 where a six-year-old Michael Myers, dressed in a clown costume, takes a kitchen knife to his naked older sister in her room upstairs.  Carpenter gives us the literal point of view from the killer kid.  We watch through his eyes from the outside of the Myers’ home, then as he enters, he picks up a kitchen knife, dons a mask and heads upstairs.  Now we are looking through eye slips in the mask. Then he moves down the stairs and out on to the sidewalk.  Carpenter then reveals we’ve been watching through the eyes of a child with murder on his mind while he holds a bloody knife by his side.  For me, one of the scariest things I can think of is a murderous child.  Children are made up of innocence, devoid of corruption.  When you poison the mind of a child, it seems like the most heinous act a writer can take with a character.  Look at The Exorcist and The Omen, as perfect examples in addition to Halloween.

Fifteen years go by to present day 1978, and Michael has escaped from a mental institution on the night before Halloween.  This is where I lose my suspension of disbelief.  He terrorizes his psychiatrist, Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence) and a nurse driving in middle of a dark and stormy night and steals their station wagon.  Michael is now driving back to Haddonfield, Illinois where he committed his first crime.  You know I would have dismissed this trope of Michael being able to drive had I never seen the car again.  However, Carpenter uses the car as a character itself, much like the rampaging truck in Duel.  For the first half of Halloween, this car drives up and down the Haddonfield neighborhood stalking three high school girls as they walk to and from school.  Where did Michael, who has been institutionalized since age 6, learn to drive a car?????  The movie even asks the question at one point and I don’t recall getting a satisfactory answer.  Every time I see this car, slowly keeping up with the girls walking the sidewalks or riding in their own car, I can’t help but ask how Michael so skillfully pilots this station wagon.  I’m teaching my 15-year-old daughter how to drive right now.  Maybe Michael should give me some pointers, because it isn’t going so smoothly.

The structure of the film centers on three teen girlfriends, two of which are babysitting on Halloween night across the street from one another (Jamie Lee Curtis, Nancy Kyes).  The third (PJ Soles) is out and about with her boyfriend, ready to get laid.  What’s appreciative of Carpenter’s craft is that the film is not occupied with buckets of blood spilling all over the place.  Instead, the audience is repeatedly teased in a dark neighborhood, where trick or treaters appear on occasion, and these girls are being looked at from different angles.  We all know Michael is there.  His heavy breathing under his mask tells us that he is hungry for death.  What messes with our senses is figuring out when he’s finally going to strike.  Will it be when one of the girls finds herself clumsily stuck in a window?  What about when a couple is having sex upstairs?  A quick trip to the kitchen, maybe?  New tricks are pulled with each attack and Carpenter wisely stretches these episodes of terror out. 

Michael Myers never speaks.  Other than at age 6, he is masked the entire length of the film.  We really never get a sense of his physicality either.  We don’t know why he has the urge to kill.  The best we can count on is Dr. Loomis.  Donald Pleasence does a good job of heightening the terror.  He is not forgiving with his patient as he simply describes him as the worst kind of evil imaginable.  He describes the black eyes that Michael has, and I couldn’t help but think of Captain Quint describing his experience with a man-eating shark in Jaws.  The worst kinds of monsters are the ones you can’t beg and plead with; the ones who have no comprehension of compromise.  If you are caught in their sight, you will be killed.  That’s it. 

Now, I’ve already discussed the deal with the car?  I’ll never get past that.  Never.  It’s ridiculous.  There’s also the fact that the parents/homeowners these girls are babysitting for seemingly never come home.  This is one long night.  Where the hell are mom and dad, already?  I have to give up my grudge with these oversights.  It’s not fair to the strengths of Halloween

A magnificent third act involves Curtis’ character taking it upon herself to seek out what she fears may have occurred.  She goes across the street to the dark house where her friends are supposed to be.  Carpenter takes his time with his protagonist walking deeper and deeper into darkness, calling out her friends’ names.  I’ve seen things like this before, but it works all the better, the longer the sequence plays out, sometimes in silence and sometimes with music cues from Carpenter’s synthesized soundtrack.  What she finally uncovers is more terrifying than the killer we know has always been there. 

When the chase picks up from that point, a horrifying moment with Curtis taking refuge in a closet is likely the scariest moment of the film.  Carpenter focuses on the interior of the closet with the fragile wooden folding doors violently rattling and getting torn apart by the killer.  When he’s able to reach inside fumbling with the light bulb, darkness is disturbed by intermittent light to toy with your senses.  It shakes up your nerves.  How does a helpless victim escape a narrow closet with a faceless killer standing in the way?  An absolutely unsettling scene.

Michael Myers is referred to as the “boogeyman” in the film.  We all have our cognition of what a boogeyman is.  He hides under our bed or in our closet or maybe behind a bush or shrub.  Carpenter’s film works like Spielberg’s Jaws where the environment is what is really terrifying.  The ocean water is the first unsettling element before we encounter the monster that occupies it.  In Halloween, a dark neighborhood with a haunted past keeps us at bay before it comes alive with a killer in its shadows.  We know there’s a shark somewhere.  We know there’s an evil, murderous presence somewhere too.  When is it going to come out, and attack us already??????  This is where Halloween succeeds.  Imitations that were made afterwards only set up the moments, one kill after another.  Carpenter wasn’t setting up kills so much as he was preparing mood and darkness.  There’s nothing to gain symbolically from Halloween.  It’s three girls, with one having a sneaking feeling that something doesn’t feel right, a killer, and a man who dreadfully knows what’s to expect.  John Carpenter assembles the elements together and we see what’s to come of it from there. 

I’ll likely not return to Halloween anytime soon.  Slasher fests are not my style.  Yet, if anyone asks for the best of the best, I’m going to highly endorse Psycho first, and then I will turn their attention to the original Halloween.  There have been gorier releases since.  There have more jump scares since.  All of that is nothing but cheap tactics lacking imagination. 

Halloween chills you with its menacing approach.

EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE

By Marc S. Sanders

Exploring the science fictional context of parallel universes can turn your thought process into a tailspin.  It can leave you up at night trying to find the center of a never-ending spiral.  Maybe that is why this gradually more common story line is reviving itself in current films like the next Doctor Strange installment from Marvel, or DC’s The Flash with multiple Batmans, and the unexpected surprise of Everything Everywhere All At Once.

My first experience with a multi-verse concept happened one Saturday morning in the early 1980’s.  At age 7 or 8, my favorite cartoon, Hanna Barbara’s Superfriends, explored a Universe of Evil.  Following a volcanic eruption, an evil Superman exchanged places with the noble Superman that we all know.  They each found themselves in opposite universes.  For the good Batman, there was an evil Batman, dressed in pink.  (Pink is evil????)  Evil Robin had a mustache itching to twirl.  Aquaman had an eyepatch.  Later, I hypothesized that this simple plot catered for kids was likely inspired by the famous Star Trek episode Mirror, Mirror.  (Evil Spock donned the evil goatee. Mwah ha ha ha ha!!!!!) These two storylines, which I highly recommend you seek out and watch, were very cut and dry in the concept of multiple universes.  There was a Yin and Yang structure of just black and white.  Everything Everywhere All At Once welcomes diverse complexity in its storytelling.  In this film, nothing is black and white.  Instead, everything consists of infinite shades of grey and gray.

The Wang family are Chinese immigrants buried in demanding and overwhelming tax obligations from the IRS while trying to manage a California laundromat.  Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) is the matriarch who is married to Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) and they have a daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu).  Upon visiting the IRS agent assigned to their case, Deidre (Jamie Lee Curtis, who finally found something else to do besides another Halloween retread), odd occurrences take place.  Evelyn is warned by Waymond with suddenly a strange and very different personality to act upon their current situation, like getting off an elevator and turning to the right, not the left.  Just trust me when I say that while you will likely be bewildered for a while as the exposition unravels itself, it will all pay off satisfyingly.  Somehow in another universe that is performing parallel to the one we first see in the film Joy is a villain bent on destroying Evelyn…and that’s not even half of what’s out of place.

I saw this film directed by the “Daniels” (Dan Kwan and Dan Scheinert) with my Cinephile colleagues, Miguel and Thomas.  After it was over, it was no surprise that they knew what I was talking about when I said this film is the reason why good editing is necessary in a film.  Because the Daniels introduce not one or two parallel universes, but SEVERAL, and there is so much happening…well…all at once.  I’d argue most shots in the film last no longer than an average 8-10 seconds because the multiple universe equivalents of Evelyn, Waymond, Joy and Deidre switch on a blink of your eye.  I warn you not to make a quick bathroom exit.  Quick flashes of scenes are relevant towards something else you may see in the next minute or an hour later.

Anyway, I’ll bet you never realized that there is a universe where the people have raw hot dog like fingers.  There’s also a universe where Evelyn is a street sign twirler, and a good thing there is an Evelyn like that to help another Evelyn fend off of a bunch of attackers in a different universe.  There’s also a world where humanity doesn’t exist.  Yet the equivalent of Evelyn and Joy are represented by two rocks.  That’s right.  Rocks with no limbs, no way of speaking vocally.  Yet, the film cleverly has the characters or products of its earth communicate with one another.  There’s even a different variation of the Pixar creation, Ratatouille.  Replace the rat with a racoon and see what transpires.

So, what does this all lead to?  Fortunately, there is a reason for these different worlds to collide and it leads to a valuable lesson in love and understanding within family.  Now that may sound hokey, but the film demonstrates that none of us are the same in what we are affectionate about, or what’s important to us.  How a daughter considers a girlfriend is not going to be easy for a mother to accept as any more than a friend.  The Daniels’ film carries much profoundness among its silliness depicted on the surface.

Having only seen Everything Everywhere All At Once one time so far, I could not help but laugh often and uncontrollably at what I was looking at, and the laughter becomes contagious when watching the film in a crowded theatre.  What made my movie going experience with this film quite fascinating though is that I responded in tune with the rest of the crowd.  Once you get past looking at Michelle Yeoh and Jamie Lee Curtis (two recognizable and accomplished actors) flap their hot dog fingered hands at each other, eventually you recognize the “normalcy” of that particular universe.  You are no longer laughing with them.  Now you are accepting the people and how they function in that specific environment.  Same goes for the rock universe.  The Daniels are brave enough in their direction to just show two inanimate rocks perched on a ledge and communicating with subtitles of very aware and well written dialogue.  It looks completely crazy at first.  Later, you yearn for the impending destiny of those rocks.

Much symbolism is tucked into the Daniels’ script as well.  The most telling is that it focuses on an Asian immigrant family obligated by law to honor American tax codes.  The Deidre character portrayed by Jamie Lee Curtis is not so empathetic to the Wangs’ comprehension of resolving tax violations.  Basically, two different cultures are butting heads with no progress because they have a different viewpoint on how things function.  Wisely, this serves as a springboard to demonstrate how multiple universes will lack perfect chemistry as well when they collide.  None of this is written off as communication barriers.

I imagine on a second viewing, I likely will look at Everything Everywhere All At Once through a different lens.  I won’t laugh as much because I’ve grown acclimated to what were once very odd and strange environments for these characters that dwell within.  Instead, I’ll be even more observant and appreciative of the film as it presents different behaviors and cultures encountering one another.  This is a very good picture that is worth multiple viewings for sure.

In fact, this film is such a pleasant surprise, that I am comfortable suggesting this early on that I will consider it one of the best films of 2022.  If at least Everything Everywhere All At Once does not receive an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay, then it would be a terrible disappointment.  The imagination of its endless devices is just so inventive.  Heck, I’ll throw my hat out there and strongly suggest nominations for Michelle Yeoh’s performance, along with Best Editing for Paul Rogers (this guy should win the award) and Best Picture of the year.

See Everything Everywhere All At Once in a movie theatre with a crowd and/or a large group of friends.  You may just have a cathartic experience of how human nature responds when getting acclimated to what at first appears to be so foreign.

EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE (2022)

by Miguel E. Rodriguez

Directors: Dan Kwan, Daniel Scheinert
Cast: Michelle Yeoh, Stephanie Hsu, Ke Huy Quan, James Hong, Jamie Lee Curtis
My Rating: 10/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 96% Certified Fresh

PLOT: A middle-aged Asian woman tries to do her family’s taxes with mind-bending results.


Every once in a while, a movie comes along that is so daring and original that any attempt to accurately describe it feels futile.  Scott Pilgrim vs. the World was one of them.  Being John Malkovich was another.  And now comes Everything Everywhere All at Once, a sci-fi action brainteaser that feels as if it were written by Terry Gilliam and Quentin Tarantino and directed by Stephen Chow (Kung Fu Hustle, Shaolin Soccer…two movies that also meet that “indescribable” criterion).  It feels like an episode of Black Mirror crossed with Jackie Chan and a dash of David Lynch and Terrence Malick.  If you can’t find anything to like in this movie, check your pulse.

Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) opens the film trying to do her family’s taxes.  She and her husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan – “Short Round” from Temple of Doom!!), carry stacks and stacks of receipts to their local IRS branch and try to explain to their case worker (a dowdy Jamie Lee Curtis) how a karaoke machine can be deducted as a business expense.  However, before that can happen, after a series of very strange events involving Waymond and a pair of Bluetooth headsets, Evelyn finds herself immersed in a trans-dimensional battle between the forces of good, led by an alternate-universe version of Waymond – the “Alpha Waymond,” if you will – and someone called Jobu Tupaki, a being or person who is hunting for Evelyn in every conceivable parallel universe.  All Evelyn has to do is use these weird headsets to access the infinite multiverse and harness the skills learned by the infinite Evelyns before Jobu Tupaki can track her down and kill her.

To access the multiverse in such a way, one must commit random acts of…randomness, which leads to bizarre scenes of individuals doing some very weird things to access special skills.  What kind of weird things, you ask?  Things involving…sticks of lip balm, putting your shoes on the wrong feet, saying “I love you” to a stranger, or wiping someone else’s nose for them and…well, use your imagination.

That’s seriously just scratching the surface.  I haven’t even mentioned Evelyn and Waymond’s daughter, Joy; their laundromat; Evelyn’s elderly grandfather, Gong Gong (veteran character actor James Hong – 450 film and TV credits and counting); or the divorce papers Waymond has on his person.

This movie is a trippy, joyous, tightrope-walking masterpiece.  There are moments where you can sense it tap-dancing on the line of self-parody, then jumping over it and daring the audience to go along with it.  If there are some people that say they were unable to follow where this movie leads, I can’t really say I’d blame them.  Not many movies would ask you to take it seriously, then include a scene involving two rocks having a conversation via, I guess, ESP.  Or where the two lead characters turn into piñatas.  Or where Jamie Lee Curtis staples a piece of paper to her own head.  Or where the fate of the world might hinge on who gets their hands (in a manner of speaking) on a trophy shaped like…a very specific kind of toy.

HOT DOG FINGERS, people.  HOT.  DOG.  FINGERS.

I’m frankly amazed this movie didn’t collapse on itself.  There are so many ways it could have gone wrong, and so much it wants to say, while trying to be simultaneously massively entertaining and heartbreakingly poignant.

From a technical standpoint, I think it’s the frontrunner for the Best Film Editing Oscar for 2022.  This movie jumps from one parallel universe to the next and the next and back again so frequently that I got whiplash, BUT it was never confusing or mystifying.  It was always crystal clear what I was watching and why I needed to see it.  I could list any number of films or TV shows that have attempted this kind of thing on a much more modest scale and failed.  This is like the Who Framed Roger Rabbit of film editing.  It has been done so well and on such a grand scale that it seems unlikely anyone will try to tell this kind of story in the same way again.

Some may quibble at the mildly melodramatic resolution of the conflict among Evelyn, the “Alpha” universe, and Jobu Tupaki.  I can understand that viewpoint, but honestly, I just rolled with it when it came around.  And so did the theater audience I was with the night I saw it.  We all laughed uproariously on cue, sometimes for something funny, sometimes in sheer disbelief at what we had just seen.  But when the wrap-up started to come together, we all hushed and waited to see what would happen.  Even when it involved a parallel universe with something called Raccacoonie.  (It’s a long story…)

I hope I’ve conveyed how crazy good this movie is while preserving some of its best surprises.  I haven’t felt this urgent about getting the word out about a great movie since I saw Roma.  To call this an entertaining night at the movies does a serious injustice to the words “entertaining” and “movies.”  It’s more than entertaining and, not to get too hyperbolic, this is more than a mere movie.  It’s a masterwork, a collision of grand ambition and even grander moviemaking.  I plan on seeing it at least once more in theaters, if only just to see what I may have missed the first time around.  (And maybe also to tune more carefully into audience reactions at key moments, like the performance trophies, or those two rocks.  Who knew two rocks could be funny?  Like REALLY funny?)

KNIVES OUT

By Marc S. Sanders

Rian Johnson’s new film Knives Out is an attempt to reinvent the Agatha Christie blueprint of The Who Done It? Murder Mystery. It primarily succeeds even if it is a little cookie cutter in its screenplay.

Famed best selling mystery writer Harlan Thrombley (Christopher Plummer) is discovered by his maid in his reading room to have slit his throat. All evidence points to suicide. Police follow through with simple procedural questioning of his next of kin, and yet a private detective (Daniel Craig) with an outstanding puzzle solving reputation is hired with a delivered envelope of cash from an unknown source. If it’s suicide, then why a detective, and who had reason to hire him?

Craig as Detective Benoit Blanc (great name) adopts a hilarious Kentucky southern drawl to rattle the cages of possible suspects, assuming that perhaps this wasn’t suicide. Could it have been…MURDER?

The suspects consist of family members and each is well exaggerated in their physical descriptions. Johnson wrote these connivers with possible motives to set them apart from one another-first by casting well known actors and then giving most of them a garish appearance or unusual trait. Jamie Lee Curtis as Linda with a short white as snow haircut and black circled glasses looks like no one else I can recall. Michael Shannon as Walt with a cane and exaggerated limp, not too bright but also quite discomforting. Don Johnson as Richard only with a goatee, Toni Collette as Joni putting on a bug eyed expression with ditzy delivery. Chris Evans as Ransom, with clean shaven good looks and a toothy smile in preppy, yet snobbish looking sweaters. Finally, Ana de Armas as Marta, Harlan’s nurse, who seems to be the only one devastated by what has transpired, and somehow inadvertently ends up being more involved than she ever expected. She can’t lie. If she does, she can’t help but vomit. A disadvantage perhaps but maybe a convenient advantage at times as well.

Early on, interviews are shown and it appears everyone has reason to maintain a grudge against Harlan. So if Harlan was in fact murdered, well then it’s fair to presume one of these people might have reason to commit the crime. A will is eventually read and then even more twists present themselves. Someone definitely wanted Harlan out.

Rian Johnson spells it out easily for the viewer. Each suspect has his/her own place in the film to toy around with. While I didn’t find it too challenging to predict a likely suspect that has orchestrated what’s occurred, it was more fun for me to watch how it was all pieced together. I kept asking myself what’s so important about the dogs or the baseball or the silent “Great Nana” (K Callan) who sits around the house but surely must have something to contribute.

Agatha Christie or Dashiell Hammet still hold as the much more clever writers. Still, Daniel Craig is having a blast in his role, conceived by Johnson. I’d like to see another mystery with this character. He’s funny at appearing unconcerned with new developments that could be occurring while he’s really just waiting for the inevitable fact that reveals the absolute truth.

Following leaving the scene of an arson a potential suspect makes an unexpected stop. Craig as Detective Blanc opts to wait in the car and put his ear buds on to sing show tunes. Who would do that? Yet, that’s what’s hilariously fun about this picture. A man has died but the shallowness of his surviving family and the disconnect of the detective are the entertainment factor.

Rian Johnson knows how to keep Knives Out amusingly interesting with a curiosity that does not stop.