Film Review of the Week


Halloween Kills (18)

Review: Civil unrest in the tragedy-scarred Illinois town of Haddonfield sparks violent scenes reminiscent of the January 2021 insurrection in Washington DC, in the second chapter of director David Gordon Green’s trilogy reboot of the Halloween franchise. An angry mob chants “Evil dies tonight!” and defies pleas for calm from local law enforcement to hunt down Michael Myers, the hulking bogeyman who has stalked residents’ dreams for 40 years.

“It’s Halloween, everyone’s entitled to one good scare,” growls Leigh Brackett (Charles Cyphers), former sheriff of Haddonfield and now a security officer at Memorial Hospital, who lost his daughter Annie to the serial killer in 1978. Alas, that promise of blood-curdling thrills doesn’t apply to us because Halloween Kills neither shocks nor surprises as Gordon Green reduces the population of Haddonfield (“a simple town where nothing exciting happens”) by close to 30 residents in 105 minutes.

Almost all principal characters from the 2018 iteration of Halloween end this gleefully gory middle instalment at the same point in their narrative journey as they begin the film. No meaningful personal growth, just repeated proclamations that Myers must die. In Haddonfield, of all places, it is laughable that informed townsfolk, including survivors of the 1978 slasher (largely portrayed by the same actors), believe that a handgun, knife or wooden bat is sufficient protection from a masked menace who has survived 10 big-screen bloodbaths until this point. Moreover, their habit of lingering by glass-panelled doors and windows with a superhuman psychopath on the loose elicits no sympathy when Myers invariably strikes.

Continuing directly after the first film, three generations of Strode women – Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis), daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) – flee Laurie’s burning house with Michael trapped in the basement. They head to Memorial Hospital for emergency surgery on a stab wound to Laurie’s abdomen. Meanwhile, brave firemen inadvertently free Michael from the inferno and the monster continues his relentless pursuit of the Strodes.

Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall), one of the kids that Laurie babysat in 1978, whips up residents into a frenzied mob flanked by good friend Lindsey Wallace (Kyle Richards) and Dr Loomis’ retired former assistant, Marion Chambers (Nancy Stephens). “Michael Myers has haunted this town for 40 years,” barks Laurie’s granddaughter Allyson, brandishing a shotgun. “Tonight, we hunt him down!”

Halloween Kills should be retitled Halloween Flatlines. The body count is ridiculously high as scriptwriters Green, Scott Teems and Danny McBride half-heartedly pass the scream queen baton between Laurie, Karen and Allyson. Regrettably, it’s all smoke and mirrors to tread blood until the trilogy’s concluding chapter. Let us pray that Halloween Ends, released in October 2022, is a declaration of solemn, irreversible intent.

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The Last Duel (18)

Review: Based on true events documented in Eric Jager’s 2004 book, Ridley Scott’s historical drama unfolds in bloated chapters from the perspectives of three main characters a la Akira Kurosawa’s influential 1950 psychological thriller Rashomon. Each lengthy testimony is penned by a different writer, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Nicole Holofcener, who offer conflicting evidence about events leading to the sexual assault of a wife while her husband is away at war.

The final chapter penned by Holofcener gives a voice to the abused heroine, played with gusto by Jodie Comer, culminating in a brilliantly staged showdown on horseback and foot that will decide her fate. If God guides her husband’s sword to victory in front of a baying crowd, she will be vindicated. If her spouse falls, her version of events will be declared untrue and she will be put to death too.

Co-stars Matt Damon and Adam Driver subtly alter their portrayals of feuding noblemen when they are the heroic narrator or supposed villain of a particular chapter. Repetition is a blessing and curse, sustaining interest as we scrutinise inconsistencies in each version of events but also testing our resolve as the running time trots, unnecessarily, over two and a half hours.

In the wintry final days of 1386, knight Jean de Carrouges (Damon) and squire Jacques Le Gris (Driver) fight side-by-side under the banner of King Charles VI (Alex Lawther) but it is the latter who curries favour with Count Pierre d’Alencon (Ben Affleck) and secures a captaincy destined for Jean. To rub salt into fresh wounds, Jacques’ promotion includes land belonging to Sir Robert de Thibouville (Nathaniel Parker), which had been promised to Jean as part of the wedding dowry of his daughter Marguerite (Comer). Jean bears the scars of losing a wife and child to the plague and he is under pressure from his waspish mother (Harriet Walter) to produce a male heir.

“I did not have this problem with my first wife,” Jean cruelly snaps at Marguerite after his efforts between the sheets fail to produce the desired results. He canters off to war and returns to tearful Marguerite, who claims Jacques forced his way into their home and sexually assaulted her. According to medieval law, rape “is not a crime against a woman. It is a property crime against her man”. Thus, Jean seeks a judicial duel to the death with Jacques.

The Last Duel cries out (unheard) for editor Claire Simpson to hack and slash the ungainly running time closer to two hours so our patience isn’t waning before Marguerite begins her story. Comer outshines Damon and Driver, who meet the gruelling physical demands of mud-spattered battle sequences, directed with typical brio by Scott in a throwback to the limb-hacking fury of Gladiator.

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Ron's Gone Wrong (PG)

Review: A malfunctioning robot encourages an alienated boy to come out of his shell in a life-affirming computer-animated adventure, which combines lines of creative code from Big Hero 6, Short Circuit and Wall-E. Directed by Sarah Smith, Jean-Philippe Vine and Octavio E Rodriguez, Ron’s Gone Wrong is the debut release from British studio Locksmith Animation and perfectly sums up its own madcap intentions when one character quips, “It’s Mad Max meets Sesame Street!” There is a smattering of amusing gags in Peter Baynham and Smith’s script like when robot Ron notices a dropping on his clueless owner’s cheek and announces, “A bird has commented on your face.” Equally delightful is the deadpan delivery of a Bulgarian immigrant matriarch, who coolly asserts that “once, I mend my own hernia with bread knife and vodka”.

In filmmaking, timing is crucial and Ron’s Gone Wrong suffers the misfortune of arriving shortly after computer-animated caper The Mitchells Vs The Machines stormed Netflix with familial dysfunction, a malfunctioning AI and a virtually identical finale at a tech giant’s heavily protected headquarters. Smith, Vine and Rodriguez’s picture is sluggish and slight by comparison, though undeniably charming, and the visuals are impressive, especially during action-packed set-pieces.

Every child in America begs their parents to buy them a B*Bot. The pricy hi-tech companion manufactured by Bubble company uses an algorithm designed by wunderkind Marc (voiced by Justice Smith) to compare the young owner’s hobbies and facilitate local connections with like-minded tykes. B*Bots take the awkwardness out of social interaction but the automatons also drive apart friends, now deemed “incompatible” by the algorithm. Painfully shy pre-teen Barney Pudowski (Jack Dylan Grazer) is the only kid in school without a B*Bot because his novelty toy salesman father, Graham (Ed Helms), can’t afford the device’s price tag.

When Barney’s birthday beckons, Graham deliberates what to buy. “Get him something really useful, like a snow shovel,” suggests the boy’s grandmother, Donka (Olivia Colman). Concerned by his boy’s lack of friends, Graham pays cash-in-hand for a B*Bot that – literally – fell off the back of a truck. The malfunctioning device called Ron (Zach Galifianakis) wreaks havoc and fails to endear Barney to popular classmates Savannah (Kylie Cantrall) and Rich (Ricardo Hurtado). Instead, Bubble company CEO Andrew Morris (Rob Delaney) issues an order to recall and destroy Ron, forcing Barney and his misfiring mechanised mate to go on the run.

Ron’s Gone Wrong gets quite a few things right and the eponymous robot is a merchandising dream: a rotund, glowing white capsule of child-like curiosity, emboldened by Galifianakis’ ebullient vocals. Outside of the Barney and Ron bubble, supporting characters lack development. The script’s call to arms to make friends offline feels timely, even though some of the narrative devices are resolutely old-fashioned.

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Venom: Let There Be Carnage (15)

Review: There is unquestionably eye-popping carnage in Andy Serkis’s rowdy Marvel Comics sequel, not to mention sabotage, outrage and psychological and collateral damage. However, a barrage of dizzying digital effects coupled with a shortage of originality in action sequences condemns Venom: Let There Be Carnage to the realms of the distinctly average. Serkis’s picture is a marginal improvement on the 2018 origin story of one of Spider-Man’s most fearsome adversaries, earning decent laughs from the odd couple dynamic of a carnivorous extra-terrestrial symbiote sharing the body of a down-on-his-luck investigative journalist.

One throwaway sequence of man and monster enjoying breakfast with their house chickens Sonny and Cher in a cosy San Francisco apartment perfectly demonstrates this sweet disharmony. Tom Hardy’s guttural growl as the titular antihero has lightened since the first film and he relishes pithy one-liners in Kelly Marcel’s script, which we hear reverberating in the journalist’s head like a demented internal monologue. Once the predictable plot kicks in, unveiling a deadly new symbiote, there is a slow, inexorable build to one of those cacophonous final showdowns that have become a tiresome trademark of films stabled in the Marvel Comics cinematic universe.

Investigative journalist Eddie Brock (Hardy) struggles to keep a tight rein on Venom’s violent impulses. “You live in my body, you live by my rules,” he reminds the predatory symbiote. They work together to solve the mystery of where serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrison) has buried victims’ remains, finally bringing peace to grieving families and stealing the thunder of San Francisco police detective Patrick Mulligan (Stephen Graham). Eddie visits Cletus in San Quentin prison for an exclusive interview, shortly before a planned execution by lethal injection, and the inmate bites Eddie’s hand.

A fragment of Venom transfers into the psychopath’s body, giving birth to rival Carnage. Cletus colludes with his otherworldly parasite to break out of confinement and discover the fate of childhood sweetheart Frances Barrison (Naomie Harris), who he met at St Estes Reform School 25 years ago. Meanwhile, Eddie suffers the continuing heartbreak of losing old flame Anne Weying (Michelle Williams) to dependable nice guy Dan Lewis (Reid Scott).

Venom: Let There Be Carnage is most satisfying when director Serkis savours the internal tug-of-war between Eddie and Venom. Hardy clearly has fun in these scenes, fighting with himself on screen, until the eponymous symbiote breaks free and explores Halloween-time San Francisco with a defiant roar: “I’m coming out of the Eddie closet!”

Frenetic editing reduces chases and bombastic fight sequences to an incomprehensible blur of digital trickery and wanton destruction even with Carnage’s body and tentacles coloured red to distinguish them from Venom’s charcoal skin when the two creatures go head-to-head. The obligatory end credits sequence teases the web-slinging wonder of Spider-Man: No Way Home in December.

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