‘Halloween Ends’ – Expect The Unexpected

I got to listen to the film score for “Halloween Ends” in its entirety before I sat down to watch the concluding chapter of this particular Michael Myers trilogy. Composed and performed by John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies, it reminds me of what Carpenter himself said about this installment: it is meant to be “more intimate” than its predecessors, and the music helps to illustrate this. But more importantly, it reminded me to go into this sequel expecting the unexpected as the previous installment was undone by too many expectations.

While 2018’s “Halloween” may have delivered the goods thanks to the return of Jamie-Lee Curtis and John Carpenter to the long-running franchise, “Halloween Kills” was treated indifferently as everyone looked at director David Gordon Green, Danny McBride and their team of filmmakers as if to ask them, “Do you even know what you are doing?” But it occurred to me that, like Rob Zombie did with his “Halloween” films, Green is not out to give us the same old thing, Instead, he is determined to add something new to a franchise which has burned itself out from fatigue more than once.

Four years have passed since the night Michael came home again, and everything in Haddonfield has more or less gone back to normal. Still, the physical and emotional scars of the townspeople are on display as people look to blame Laurie Strode for all the chaos and death which has occurred over the years. Nevermind the fact none of this was Laurie’s fault; everyone needs a scapegoat when the killer is nowhere to be found, and people these days tend to believe in the wrong things because they never bother doing the research.

As for Laurie, she has since procured a house for herself and her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) to live in, and she is working on her memoirs as a way to deal with all the evil and death which seriously derailed her life. Allyson now has a job at Haddonfield Memorial Hospital and is expecting a promotion any day now, Deputy Frank Hawkins is still quite sweet on Laurie even as she begs him to eat more vegetables, and Lindsey Wallace (Kyle Richards) remains a good family friend and continues to serve drinks at the local Haddonfield bar.

Into all of this enters Corey Cunningham (Rohan Campbell), a young man who, like Laurie, once had a promising future which involved going to engineering school. But this is all laid waste to after a child he babysat ends up dying in a freak accident. As a result, he is seen as a freak of nature by the townspeople who hate him with little in the way of shame, and he is reduced to working in his Uncle Ronald’s junkyard fixing cars and stuff. But soon he gets the attention and sympathy of Laurie Strode and also Allyson as they see him as someone to help and relate to, but it doesn’t take too long for things to become very sinister to where many are reminded of a force of evil often referred to as “the shape.”

Right from the start, it should be clear how Green is looking to give us a new slant on things with “Halloween Ends.” I expected this one to start off with Michael Myers making his first kill, but it goes a whole other way which I did not see coming. Also, the classic font from the 1978 film is dropped in favor of the font used in the opening and closing credits of “Halloween III: Season of the Witch.” As for the pumpkin, it keeps changing faces as to indicate to us how nothing is what it seems on the surface. Yes, he is defying our expectations in a way I personally welcome.

Truth be told, we don’t even get to see Michael Myers until almost a half an hour into “Halloween Ends.” The way I see it, the filmmakers see this sequel as a way of meditating on our collective relationship with evil; how we deal with it, how we can possibly overcome it, and how it can consume us beyond all repair. Laurie and Allyson have had their brutal experiences in this realm, and Corey is only getting started. This is why I find this particular installment so fascinating as I wondered who would prove to be more fearful, Michael or those who survived his wrath as a person’s dark side can easily overcome all else.

The fact “Halloween Ends” is getting such polarized views is not surprising to me. Fans go into them expecting certain things, and this one doesn’t always deliver on them for a variety of reasons. While fans may be begging for the same old thing, I always admire a filmmaker who is willing to take things in a different direction as franchises like these need any form of freshness they can get. Sure, there are some solid scares here, but this sequel is more about getting into your head psychologically than anything else as the dark side in all of us can easily consume our common sense and purpose in life before we realize it.

Andi Matichak remains a wonderfully strong presence as her character of Allyson maneuvers through a life in which she has lost so much and strives for any kind of normalcy she can get her hands on. Will Patton is still one of our most dependable character actors, and it is fun to see him try to warm up to Laurie Strode in a way few others could. And then there is Rohan Campbell who gives us a character in Corey who succumbs to an evil nature partly because life has given him few other avenues to pursue. In the process, Campbell gives us someone we empathize with and fear all at the same time.

But in the end, all praise goes to Jamie Lee Curtis who never fails in giving a strong performance in any motion picture she appears in. “Halloween Ends” is no exception as she makes Laurie Strode’s struggle to stay one step ahead of the evil which has destroyed much of her life all the more involving. Like Ellen Ripley from the “Aliens” franchise, she has been fighting her personal antagonist for so long to where she cannot remember a time when Michael was not in her life. Curtis represents the strong character a franchise like this thrives on as she strives, and encourages those around her, to not fall victim to a way of feeling which is inevitably destructive.

Many have complained about how “Halloween Ends” takes too long to get to the penultimate event we have all been waiting for; Laurie doing battle with Michael Myers one last time. Some need to be reminded of how the original 1978 acted as a slow-burn horror movie as it, aside from the key murder at its start, left the violence on hold until its latter half. Carpenter was more interested in creating an atmosphere of horror and suspense than in perpetrating violent onscreen violence back then, and Green mostly follows suit here. Also, this movie is not called “Michael vs. Laurie” for a number of reasons (and thank God it wasn’t by the way). I mean come on; this sequel is not just about these two.

Sure, it does contain a number of disposable characters who are just asking to be sliced and diced here. There’s a nurse who gets the promotion Allyson was hoping for, but that’s because she’s having an affair with the doctor the two are working under. Then there’s Allyson’s ex-boyfriend, a police officer who just won’t let their relationship, and there’s no forgetting the African-American DJ who never knows when to keep his mouth shut. They are all just begging for an exceptionally brutal exit from life, and one murder in particular would make Tom Savini proud, seriously.

In the end, I admired “Halloween Ends” for trying something different in the slasher movie genre. While it might not be completely successful, its ambitions kept my eyes glued to the screen, and it helps to bring closure to Laurie Strode’s constant fear of “The Shape.” Perhaps this ending will not satisfy everyone, but I can accept it for what it is.

Of course, it is hard to believe this will be the last “Halloween” movie ever. We have seen promising titles such as “Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter,” “Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare,” “Saw 3D: The Final Chapter” and “Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday” throughout the decades, and they eventually became punchlines we still laugh at. For sure, this is definitely the last “Halloween” movie for Jamie-Lee Curtis, John Carpenter and Blumhouse among others as the rights to franchise will now revert back to the Akkad family.

What life has taught me and others is evil never dies. It simply changes shape, especially when money is concerned.

* * * out of * * * *

‘Hot Fuzz’ – A Ralph Report Video Vault Selection

HERE COME THE FUZZ!!!

Hot Fuzz” comes from the makers of “Shaun of The Dead,” one of the funniest comedies of the 2000’s. The great thing about that one is how it featured very well drawn our characters who we come to care about, and it makes the laughs all the heartier. Most spoofs and satires suck these days because they try too hard to make you laugh instead of playing it straight like the actors did in “Airplane!” Director Edgar Wright brings it back to this as it gives you characters to follow from start to finish while you laugh your ass off throughout.

“Hot Fuzz” proves to be every bit as hilarious as “Shaun of the Dead” as it mines genres for an infinite amount of glee while giving us characters to care about. This film’s main target is the Jerry Bruckheimer action movies of the 1990’s as well as others like “Point Break,” Silent Rage” and “Bad Boys II.” These films were also the target of the “South Park” creators when they made “Team America: World Police.” But while “Team America” held nothing back in its gleeful viciousness, this one is more well-intentioned and even funnier in the process.

“Hot Fuzz” stars Simon Pegg as Nicholas Angel, the best police officer in the London Metropolitan police force. Nicholas holds the record for the most arrests of any officer, but his superiors have decided to transfer him to the countryside. The problem is he is so good at his job that he has inadvertently made his fellow officers look bad in the process. This is bad for the department’s image, so they end up transferring him to Sanford, a town far off in the countryside where nothing much happens.

Sanford is a rather lax town where the police there easily look over such matters as underage drinking and shoplifting. Regardless of what they guilty have done, they don’t spend more than an hour in jail. Nicholas gets off to a quick start in a hilarious scene where he busts just about everyone in a bar because they are underage. But while he does the right thing, he also drives out the pub’s business. Whenever Nicholas does something right, being the stiff by-the-book officer he is, he ends up getting punished by doing the most menial duties an officer can do.

Along the way, he ends up getting partnered with an overweight and action film buff named Police Constable Danny Butterman. Played by Nick Frost, you could say he is playing the same character he portrayed “Shaun of The Dead,” but he is still hilarious here so, seriously, who cares? Danny romanticizes about living the life of action he sees in “Point Break” and “Bad Boys II.” When he meets Nicholas Angel, he believes Nicholas has come from a city where he has seen a similar kind of action. Nicholas, however, comes from a world where police work is nowhere as exciting and bombastic as it is in motion pictures. It’s serious work with very little action. That is, until several “accidents” end up occurring in Sanford which its residents are quick to easily dismiss. But Nicholas is too smart to pass these events off as accidents when it involves the value of the land and the fact that the evidence does not match up.

“Hot Fuzz” is an enjoyable movie throughout, and it never drags. Even the usher who introduced the movie to us when I saw it at Arclight Cinemas in Hollywood said it was the best thing playing there at that point. The usher was absolutely right as Wright and his cast and fellow filmmakers and actors prove to be more than up to giving us an endless barrage of laughs we can never get enough of.

What drives me nuts about movie comedies these days is you can see the jokes coming from a mile away, and this makes me constantly roll my eyes in severe frustration. Wright and company, on the other hand, give us unforgettably hilarious moments which sneak up on you when you least expect it. There are many movie references here which might have gone over the head of many in the audience. How well you can pick them out depends how big of a movie buff you are.

The most enjoyable part of “Hot Fuzz” for me was towards the end when everything turns into the bombastic and explosion filled action spectacular which is your typical Bruckheimer film. Everything blowing up around the characters, all the bad guys shooting guns and many bullets expended, but they somehow keep missing the good guys even when they have a scope on their rifles. Our heroes flying in the air while shooting their guns off like they somehow jumped into a John Woo movie. Seeing a lot of this was a huge kick and had me laughing endlessly. Completely over the top, and the movie does not take itself as seriously as Nicholas Angel takes himself as a police officer.

Of course, there are many other great performances here. Oscar winning actor Jim Broadbent plays Inspector Frank Butterman. He plays it with the kind of gleeful ease which has been on display in the many roles he has played before and after this one, let alone his scene-stealing turn in “Moulin Rouge” (“Like a Virgin” will never be the same).

One guy who is truly great here, and I was so glad to see him back in action after what feels like a long time, is Timothy Dalton. He of course is the short-lived successor to Roger Moore as James Bond, and one of the more underrated 007 actors if you ask me. He has one of the most comedically driest of roles here as Simon Skinner, whose guilt Nicholas can spot from miles and miles away while all the other police officers in town walk around with blinders over their eyes. The smirk on Dalton’s face is an image which stayed with me long after this film ended, and it makes me believe he would have given us a more well-rounded Bond in future installments had Pierce Brosnan not replaced him so soon.

As Nicholas Angel, Pegg plays a character who is very much the opposite of the one he played in “Shaun of The Dead.” He is a straight arrow here, one of the men who can’t help but have a huge stick up his rigid ass. For a while, it looked like he would be playing the same character over and over again after I saw him in “Mission Impossible III,” but he proved to us here that there is much more to him than what we had seen up to this point.

Steve Ashton of “The Ralph Report” was right, this film is full of a plethora of talented character actors. There’s Paddy Considine who does one of the best double takes here that I have ever seen any actor give. I first became consciously aware of Olivia Coleman when I watched her in “The Favourite,” but her appearance here as the sole female police officer in Sanford is probably the first thing I ever saw her in. and she is ever so delightful here. Then there is Martin Freeman who can play just about any character he wants to whether it is in this film or something like “Love Actually.” And as for Bill Nighy… Well, you can never go wrong with an actor like him.

Whether or not you think “Hot Fuzz” is better or worse than “Shaun of the Dead” or even “The World’s End” is irrelevant because it is a total blast from start to finish. The “Three Flavours Cornetto” trilogy has given us nothing but endless entertainment, and “Hot Fuzz” is merely one of several examples. Just remember this, when a character tells us “This shit just got real,” it has far more meaning here than it ever did in “Bad Boys II.”

* * * * out of * * * *

‘Public Enemies’ – Michael Mann and Johnny Depp Take on John Dillinger

“The reason you caught me, Will, is we’re just alike! You want the scent? Smell yourself!”

-Dr. Hannibal Lecktor (Brian Cox) speaking to Will Graham (William Peterson) from a scene in Michael Mann’s “Manhunter.”

After all these years, Michael Mann still has a strong fascination with criminal masterminds and those who spend their careers chasing them down. Film after film, he has spent his time delving into how the “good guys” and “bad guys” feed off of one another, and if they could not exist without one another. “Public Enemies” reminded me a lot of “Heat” in that respect, and it shares a lot of similarities as it looks at the famous John Dillinger, played here by Johnny Depp, and at the man sent to catch him, Melvin Purvis. It’s not as great a film as “Heat” was, but it is still a masterful piece of filmmaking and the kind we have come to expect from director Michael Mann.

“Public Enemies” starts with Dillinger and his friends breaking out of a maximum-security prison, something which seemed easy to do back in 1933. It turns out Dillinger is actually quite the celebrity and can find safe havens in one town or another. To many he is seen as a hero, and to others he is nothing more than a criminal. But as Dillinger continues to rob more banks, the FBI and J. Edgar Hoover (played by Billy Crudup) become increasingly persistent in bringing him to justice. In the process, Hoover turns to Melvin Purvis (played by Christian Bale) who subsequently leads a manhunt to take down Dillinger, and in the process changes from the person he thought he could be to the one he is chasing after.

One thing which has not changed about Mann’s movies is he still knows how to stage one hell of a gunfight. Back in 1995, he gave us one of the greatest in Downtown Los Angeles with “Heat,” and he has lived in the shadow of that brilliantly staged moment ever since. Sure, he has choreographed gun battles every bit as effectively brutal like in “Collateral” and his film version of “Miami Vice.” In his films, you don’t just watch guns go off, you feel them going off. When a bullet hits a body, characters don’t just fall down like in an old western. Their bodies are forever shattered, and the wounds they carry last long after the end credits have finished. There are a lot of strong action scenes like this throughout “Public Enemies,” and each one is equally hair raising. While “Heat” may remain his masterpiece, his other works do not pale in comparison necessarily.

Having Johnny Depp cast as Dillinger must have seemed like a no brainer. They appear to share some similar tastes minus the heavy gunfire, given Depp’s previous reputation as a “wild boy:”

“I like baseball, movies, good clothes, fast cars… and you. What else you need to know?”

-Johnny Depp as John Dillinger from “Public Enemies”

Depp remains one of the best actors of his generation, and he has constantly challenged himself to where this particular role is no exception. Dillinger was a criminal celebrity, perhaps one of the first, and Depp effortlessly shows you how Dillinger made this seem possible. With his eyes, Depp can still seduce the most knowledgeable and naïve of women without even having to try too hard. The actor also clearly brings out the joy Dillinger gets out of life, and he also gets at the depth of pain he experiences as those closest to him leave him, cut him loose, or get killed.

As Melvin Purvis, Christian Bale delves into many of the same situations which haunted Bruce Wayne/Batman in “The Dark Knight.” Melvin starts off as a man who is dedicated to the law and follows the rules and regulations to the letter. But after some serious setbacks, Melvin finds he has to use different methods in order to get his man. These methods include acts and people which and who work outside of the law. In the process, he comes to see what he has to become in order to capture Dillinger. But unlike Bruce, Melvin may not be able to live with himself when this is all through. Bale pulls off a really solid accent while playing Melvin, and he has a much more nuanced character to play here than he did in movies like “Terminator Salvation.”

But the one performance I enjoyed most in “Public Enemies” was Marion Cotillard’s who plays Dillinger’s girlfriend, Billie Frechette. Cotillard won the Best Actress Oscar for giving one of the greatest performances of all time in cinematic history in “La Vie En Rose.” She shares great chemistry with Depp throughout, and she is delightful to watch as Billie is ever so quickly drawn into Dillinger’s dangerous world. Billie does sense the trouble which lies ahead, but everything happening is too exciting for her to pass up. Showing both fear and excitement in a film scene without words is easier said than done, and she pulls it off like it’s no big deal.

If there’s anything which takes away from “Public Enemies,” it is that it doesn’t delve as deeply into the characters’ lives as I had hoped it would. If anything, this film would have benefited more from a back story, especially for Dillinger as to why and how he became a bank robber. It was also said that Dillinger was a hero because the banks he robbed ended up freeing things up for those who were economically challenged because of the Great Depression. I would have liked to have seen more of this because Mann may have thought this was clear from the way regular people treat Dillinger, but it doesn’t feel like they have a good enough reason to. Had there been a little more depth to these characters, this could have been as great a movie “Heat.”

Still, “Public Enemies” is fine filmmaking and continues Mann’s theme of looking at how the line between cops and criminals is often blurred and how both are actually one and the same. You could almost call this “Heat” as a period piece. Mann makes you wonder if a criminal can ever find and hang onto a love despite their law-breaking nature, and if the cop can ever lead a normal life outside their career of going after the crook. From William Petersen trying to think like the killer in “Manhunter” to James Caan trying to leave a life outside of crime in “Thief,” it’s a thin line indeed. Perhaps Mann keeps pursuing this theme in hopes that there will be a tomorrow for characters like these regardless of their opposing natures. Maybe he will find the answer in a future motion picture, and hopefully we will not have to wait too much longer for such a cinematic work.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

The First Trailer For ‘Halloween Ends’ is Here, But Are We Truly Prepared for It?

2022 has been a year where Hollywood keeps reaching back to the past to where we got “Top Gun: Maverick” or “Jurassic World: Dominion,” and this will continue in the fall with “Halloween Ends,” David Gordon Green’s third and final “Halloween” movie in which Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) looks to have her last epic battle with the force of nature known as Michael Myers who destroyed her life decades before. And now, the first trailer for “Halloween Ends” has been released for the whole world to see, and while it may make expectations raise very high, you may want to check how high they end up going.

The trailer opens up on another Halloween night in what looks like Haddonfield, but it might actually be somewhere else. Nevertheless, we are caught up in the point of view of someone entering a quiet little house while breathing rather heavily. Even before he steps slowly and quietly up the stairs, we know it is Michael Myers. But the real first shock of this trailer is not the sight of Michael, but of him pushing open a door to where we see Laurie is hiding right behind it, ready to blow his brains out. That’s right, Laurie is prepared for Michael now more than ever to where we hear her say, “Come and get me motherfucker!”

Of course, the more the good people at Blumhouse keep pushing the climactic battle between Laurie Strode and Michael Myers, the more I wonder if this trailer is truly preparing fans for “Halloween Ends.” Truth be told, the filmmakers and executive producer John Carpenter have described this “Halloween” movie as being quite different from the two which preceded it, and this trailer does not necessarily illustrate this.

What we know about this movie so far is that it takes place four years after the events of “Halloween Kills.” Laurie has been living with her granddaughter, Alyson (Andi Matichak), and she is on the verge of finishing her memoir. As for Michael, he has not been seen in years and no one has any idea where he has wandered off to. But when Alyson’s new boyfriend, Corey Cunningham (Rohan Campbell), is accused of killing a boy he was babysitting, violence erupts among the townspeople to where Laurie is made to confront the force of evil known as Michael Myers one last time.

 “Halloween Kills” was seen as something of a step down from Green’s phenomenally successful 2018 “Halloween” movie, but looking back, I wonder if that was the result of unrealistic expectations. Carpenter himself described the sequel as being the “ultimate slasher movie,” but many were not in agreement with his thoughts on it.

Also, we recently got word of a test screening for “Halloween Ends” which had several audience members having an indifferent reaction to it. From what they told us, this movie focuses more on Alyson than anyone else, and Laurie does not even show up until the last act. This is not made the least bit clear from this trailer which features the return of several other characters including Deputy Frank Hawkins (Will Patton), Lindsey Wallace (Kyle Richards) and Sheriff Barker (Omar Dorsey) as some many quick cuts are made to where we cannot make the faces of everyone out right off the bat.

Curtis has said this movie will be shocking and that it will make people angry, producer Malek Akkad has stated it will be more contained than the previous sequel, Carpenter has said it will be a departure from the previous entries, and Green has described it as being a coming-of-age film and a more intimate film like Carpenter’s “Christine.” I bring all this up because I am not sure this trailer makes any of this the least bit clear, but hopefully the next trailer will as expectations need to be tempered a bit.

Right now, I am convinced people will be disappointed in “Halloween Kills” for all the wrong reasons, and I want them to view it for what it is as opposed to how they picture it in their minds. From all the talk about it, Green and his fellow filmmakers aim to give us something a bit different from what we have previously seen, and that cannot be a bad thing, right?

Nevertheless, we can at the very least expect another terrific music score from Carpenter, Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies, and we can be assured this will be the last “Halloween” movie released under the Blumhouse banner. After this, the rights to the franchise will revert back to the Akkad family, and odds are they will keep this franchise going on in one way or another. Seriously, remember what Carpenter said:

“Let me explain the movie business to you: if you take a dollar sign and attach it to anything, there will be somebody who wants to do a sequel. It will live. If the dollar sign is not big enough, no matter what, it will not live.”

Remember, evil never dies.

“Halloween Ends” will arrive in theaters on October 14, 2022.

‘Ambulance’ – Michael Bay’s Best Film in an Eternity

Those of you who have read my review of “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” know just how much of a simmering hatred I have for filmmaker Michael Bay. I walked out of that sequel so furious and angry to where I could never let myself sit through any of his films all the way through for over a decade. But with his latest action-packed spectacle, “Ambulance,” I could not help but be intrigued. Seeing two bank robbers desperately try to escape the police quickly brings to mind all of the Los Angeles car chases we keep seeing on the news with helicopters flying over a speeding vehicle being followed by several LAPD vehicles while news anchors comment on what we are seeing. Deep down, part of me roots for the pursued to escape as I honestly wonder if escape is even remotely possible for those hoping to evade the police when they have so much technology at their disposable to keep you in their sights.

Does “Ambulance” provide audiences with an accurate view of such a police chase? Well, no, but it does prove to be the best action film Bay has made in ages. Sure, many of the director’s flourishes are here such as quick editing, shots which swoop all over the place and characters yelling at each other while in close proximity to one another, but I could bear all of these things this time around with little in the way of argument. Sure, not everything we see go on here makes logical sense, but even I knew to leave my brain turned off when I entered the theater.

The movie opens up on war veteran Will Sharp (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) as he tries to get his insurance to cover his wife Amy’s (Moses Ingram) much-needed surgery. But since this surgery is seen as “experimental,” the country he served to protect against all enemies foreign and domestic is not about to give him the $231,000 he needs for medical necessities. This should serve as a reminder of how politicians tend to stop saying “support the troops” when the war comes to an end. Lord knows our support for them should never stop there.

Desperate for help, Will turns to his adoptive brother, Danny Sharp (Jake Gyllenhaal), for a loan. The only thing is, Will is meeting up with Danny on the day he and his grungy cohorts are going to rob a bank of $32 million dollars, an amount Jeff Bezos would refer to as pocket change. Against his better judgment, Will goes along with Danny, perhaps out of a need to protect his brother among other things. But like all bank heists which are planned down to include every exact detail such as knowing when the police will arrive, acquiring the biggest and nastiest assault weapons, being aware of security cameras, observing the habits of the bank’s loyal employees and knowing where all the best escape routes are, it all goes horribly wrong. Then again, if everything went right, there would be no movie.

Will and Danny end up hijacking an ambulance, toss out its driver, and make their way out of downtown Los Angeles in the hopes of getting away with something God would not approve of in the slightest. However, they have a couple of guests in their midst which include emergency medical technician (EMT) Cam Thompson (Eiza González), and she is furiously trying to save the life of LAPD Officer Zach (Jackson White) who has just suffered a serious gunshot wound to his leg. Who shot him? Just watch the movie.

From there, “Ambulance” becomes one long chase as Will and Danny race through the streets of Los Angeles with sirens blaring as they seek to escape the cops and FBI agents who are right on their tail. As I watched Bay’s camera swoop all over the place, I wondered when rush hour traffic was going to start settling in. Certain characters like Captain Monroe (Garret Dillahunt) keep saying the city is about to hit rush hour, but it never does. Also, I kept waiting for the scene where Will and Danny realize their gas tank is almost empty, but it never came up. Do ambulances really get great gas mileage? Inquiring minds want to know.

But regardless of these questions, nothing could take away from my enjoyment of “Ambulance” which is the kind of action movie I feel I have not seen in some time: an exhausting action spectacle that piles one conflict on top of another and leaves you completely wrung out by the time the end credits start rolling. For Bay, this puts him right back in “The Rock” territory as the loud gunfights and explosions never overwhelm the actors and the characters they play, and it is their predicament that keeps us emotionally tuned into the action.

It’s a gas watching Gyllenhaal here as he looks to be channeling his inner Nicolas Cage. Seeing him go all bug-eyed while wearing a mask was almost worth the price of admission as I was laughing my ass off. Whether you find his performance among his best or worst ever, there’s no dying he’s as entertaining to watch here as Cage was in “The Rock,” and it is abundantly clear to me he gave at least 115% of his energy to this role.

Abdul-Manteen has proven to be a solid actor with his work in “Us,” “Aquaman” and “The Matrix Resurrections,” and he gives “Ambulance” the emotional center it needs. While his character of Will makes one questionable choice after another, the actor inhabits the role with passion and intense energy as he shows how Will is so in over his head here and trying to make things as right as he can.

As for Eiza González, she gives Cam a great introduction as she works to save a young girl who has been impaled by a metal object, and then makes it clear to her ever so naïve partner how important it is to keep an emotional distance from the patient in order to be an efficient EMT. Still, we know her work ethic will eventually be tested in an extreme way as she is forced to do the seemingly impossible to keep her patient, the wounded cop, alive. Watching her here reminds me of Jack Bauer’s last scene in season three of “24” as even he could not hold back the emotion which was overwhelming him.

And yes, Bay still has yet to meet a tripod he could truly fall in love with, but in spite of the cameras flying all over the place, I never got the slightest amount of motion sickness while watching “Ambulance.” Furthermore, I must add I had a full dinner of flank steak and a Roma tomato before driving out to the theater, and this is not the kind of motion picture you want to watch on a full stomach. But I did, and I am still in one piece.

Am I being a bot over effusive in my praise of “Ambulance?” Perhaps, but this is the first Michael Bay film I watched in years which I found myself applauding once the end credits began. The last one I did that for was “Armageddon,” and I don’t care what you say because it is part of the Criterion Collection for a reason. This film brings the filmmaker back to form after he got suckered into making one “Transformer” sequel too many (even he admits that), and I had no problem telling the good guys from the bad ones this time around. Here’s hoping his next films will be as good.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

Arnold Schwarzenegger on Portraying John Wharton in ‘Sabotage’

WRITER’S NOTE: The following article was written in 2014.

Arnold Schwarzenegger has had a hard time regaining his status as an action movie star as “The Last Stand” and “Escape Plan” both disappointed at the box office, but this looks to change with “Sabotage,” the latest film from writer/director David Ayer who is best known for his realistic action films “End of Watch” and “Harsh Times,” and for writing the screenplay to “Training Day.” While we have come to expect Schwarzenegger to play the hero, this film has him playing a different kind of role than any he has played previously.

In “Sabotage,” Schwarzenegger plays John “Breacher” Wharton, the commander of an elite squad of DEA operatives, and the movie starts with them infiltrating a drug cartel safe house to steal $10 million dollars for themselves. But when they try to recover this money, they discover someone has gotten to it before them and soon find themselves being killed off one by one. From there it’s a race to figure out who the assassin is before they all end up dead.

I was in attendance at the “Sabotage” press conference at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills where Schwarzenegger was the biggest star of the day, and he talked at length about how different his role of John “Breacher” Wharton is from the ones he is famous for. Wharton is a morally grey character as he fights crime, but he could easily be a criminal as he has been investigated by his superiors for illegal activities.

Arnold Schwarzenegger: I think that from an acting point of view it was the most challenging because I’ve never played a character like this. The characters I usually play are black and white. I’m the good guy that wipes out the bad guys, and then there’s a little bit of humor throughout the movie and that’s it. But this script and the character were written quite differently, and I think that’s what was appealing to me. And of course, I knew of David Ayer’s writing and his directing, and I thought it would really be great for me to be challenged like that.

For those familiar with Ayer’s “End of Watch,” you know he put Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena through some seriously rigorous training so they could get fully into the mindset of being LAPD officers. With “Sabotage,” he put Schwarzenegger and his co-stars through SWAT training which was very intense and designed to have them get into the mindset of their characters in a similar way. Schwarzenegger described the kind of training he endured before the cameras started rolling.

AS: When we got together, David had a whole list of things that he wanted me to do. I loved that he pushed me because sometimes directors get intimidated when they meet someone like me and they say that I’m looking forward to working with you and let’s just figure out how we are going to get ready for the movie and those kinds of things. But David came in and was very clear with the set of things that needed to be done like the weapons training and I said, “Why do I need weapons training? I’ve shot more guns than anyone in movie history and I’ve killed more people than anyone, so I mean why do we have to go through weapons training?” And then he said we have to go down to the SWAT team and we have to figure this out. But the thing was that all of this built the character and made me perform the way I did. It was the rehearsals that we did and the talking about the character, learning how they think because that was one of things David wanted me to do; to hang out with those guys, learn how they think, why they are the kind of guys that they are that are willing to risk their own lives to save others. What kind of a mentality does this take and the conflicts in the training and the dedication and all of those things? It’s a very complex world.

Schwarzenegger also compared the SWAT training to his early days of bodybuilding, some of which were featured in the documentary “Pumping Iron.”

AS: I come from a world of reps. The more reps you do, the better you get so I believed in what he (Ayer) said. The more you go down there and do this training with the SWAT team, the better you will be on the set and that’s exactly what happened. What we have learned was that they don’t hold the gun the same way as many in the military or when you just play an action hero, and the authenticity of this was really important. How did you hold the gun? How do you shoot? How do you aim? Do you have your head down or do you bring the gun up to your eye? They are all the time making adjustments. This is what made the movie look good because of those kinds of suggestions.

Of course, we all know Schwarzenegger took a number of years off from acting when he was elected the Governor of California. When he returned to making movies, he was not blind to how things have changed. This had us wondering how he dealt with those changes and how he sees filmmaking today.

AS: Today it’s not like in the ’80s and ’90s when a studio throws $100 million dollars to get a great action movie. That was the old days, now we have half of the money and you have to be very frugal and you have to really rehearse and be prepared, so to have all this stuff be second nature I think is very important. I think that the style of shooting is different, the kind of directors that are out there is much more the younger crowd that is being hired, and there are new visions and new ideas and all that. Movies are made a lot of times by committee and go through the studio route. There’s a bunch of young guys now making decisions whereas in the old days there was one guy sitting there making the decisions, so there’s a lot of changes like that. Budgets are half of what they used to be, the rest of the money is being used for the franchise movies and the big sequels and stuff like that, so it’s a different world that you have to adjust that.

In the past few years, the action genre has taken a bit of a hit as the superhero and comic book movies have dominated Hollywood. But for Schwarzenegger, he doesn’t see the genre disappearing anytime soon. From his point of view, action movies have always done very well, especially those with great stories.

AS: There are action movies that are multilayered and have really interesting characters, and they always will be popular. The key thing is to entertain people, and I think that people are fascinated about this world that we are dealing with in this movie. So, we hope that this movie is going to be successful and is going to be seen by a lot of people. But I think that what this movie has to offer, unlike most action movies, is realism. It is so realistic in the way it was researched and that is why we had so many experts on the set. We had a director that was insisting on being as real as possible and he was basically a fanatic about that. It all paid off and I think people will really, really enjoy this film.

Other action stars like Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis have seen their careers go up and down on a regular basis while Jean Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal seem to be forever trapped in straight to video hell. Schwarzenegger, however, still has a strong presence in movies even if his most recent efforts were not well received. Now that he has been in show business for a few decades, we wonder what direction he would like to see his acting career go from here.

AS: Well, I think I’d like to challenge myself. You think about would this movie be appealing in the United States and also all over the world because sometimes you read a script and you say, well, I think this will play really well in America, but it’s not going to play well overseas. I don’t think I have much interest in that. I like to entertain the world and that was my mission. That was what bodybuilding was all about for me and what acting was all about. So, it’s always about what is the most entertaining project and what is the most challenging project for me, or it could be doing a sequel to” Twins” called “Triplets” with Eddie Murphy. That’s the same type of story, but to me, it’s just a fun project. There is a comedic side just to me that I can play in that role really well. Or we could do a sequel to “Conan (The Barbarian),” “King Conan” or something like that. “Maggie” was the last movie I did which is a very little movie where I just play a farmer whose daughter has this zombie virus. It’s all about having a good time but challenging yourself and always stretching and entertaining the world.

Now it’s no secret Schwarzenegger is not the young action star he used to be. When movie stars reach the age of 40, everyone expects they will not have many of the same opportunities they once had. At one point, the emcee asked Schwarzenegger if it is great to be over 40. He responded he thinks it’s great to be over 60, and his outlook on aging proved to be quite healthy.

AS: I don’t think about when I go to the gym, oh I’m now older or something like that. I just think about how I want to get in shape, and it’s the same when I do a movie. I don’t think about what age I’m in. I just do the movie and I do it as well as I can and go all out. I’m very fortunate that I exercise every day so that I start out already in good shape so that when someone like David Ayer comes along and says, “I want you now to do the martial arts training and I’m going to send over some guys that are cage fighters and then this and then that,” I can also deal with that. To me, I never even think about what is my age.

Schwarzenegger’s performance in “Sabotage” is one of the best he has given so far. Many still see him as not much of an actor even after such memorable turns in “The Terminator” movies and “Total Recall” (the original, not the remake), but he’s always been a better film actor than we give him credit for. Here we get to see him play one of his most complex roles to date, showing just how much range he has. Now he looks more than ready to graduate to the next level of being a grizzled action hero.

PLEASE CHECK OUT THE EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW I DID FOR WE GOT THIS COVERED WITH ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER AND OTHERS ON “SABOTAGE” DOWN BELOW.

The Super Bowl LVI Movie Trailers in Review

The Super Bowl has come and gone again. While the home team, the Los Angeles Rams, got me interested in this monumental event more than usual, what always brings me back to the Super Bowl are the commercials and the trailers for upcoming films which look to bring in the largest audiences possible. Even if some are available to stream on streaming services on opening day, these blockbusters are clearly made for the silver screen. Whether or not COVID mandates are still in place when these films arrive, I look forward to seeing many of them in a theater.

Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness

Following the massive success of “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” Doctor Strange returns to battle the multiverse once again, and it looks badass to put it mildly. Sam Raimi returns to make his first movie based on a Marvel Comics character since “Spider-Man 3,” and it sure feels like a Sam Raimi film with all the crazy images which look like they came from “The Evil Dead.” The only thing I have to wonder now is this, will there be a Bruce Campbell cameo? Moreover, will his classic yellow 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88 make an appearance as well? If so, that would be groovy.

Granted, the trailer presented during the game was a teaser for the official trailer which is now available to view online. I am just going to leave you the official trailer down below. Just when I thought I was getting burned out by superhero/comic book movies, this “Doctor Strange” sequel has whetted my appetite.

By the way, was that Patrick Stewart’s Professor X voice we heard?

The Lost City

Look, I love Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum is fun, but this trailer for “The Lost City” makes the film seem like a wannabe “Romancing the Stone” which is too broadly comedic for its own good. Directed by Aaron and Adam Nee and based on a story by Seth Gordon, Bullock plays the brilliant but reclusive writer Loretta Sage who is known for penning romantic adventure novels which take place in exotic locations. While promoting her latest novel, she is kidnapped by an eccentric millionaire played by Daniel Radcliffe whom we see only briefly here, and it is up to Alan (Tatum), the model for Bullock’s book covers to save her. Oh yeah, there is a secret treasure involved. Sound familiar?

It pains when actors are clearly striving to be funny as this trailer. Still, it is worth watching for Brad Pitt who steals the show here just as he stole a certain scene in “Deadpool 2.”

Jurassic World Dominion

As disappointing as “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” was, its conclusion gave its follow-up an interesting scenario to work with, dinosaurs co-existing with human beings. Can such a thing be possible, or will one race dominate the other to where a certain species is rendered extinct?

The trailer presented during Super Bowl LVI is the same one that recently premiered online. The image of cowboys trying to herd some dinosaurs who could easily kill them just by stepping on them is a fascinating image, and the characters played by Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard now have a daughter because, let’s face it, these two were bound to get it on at some point, and the whole will they or won’t they scenario has long since been played out.

But the real joy of the “Jurassic World Dominion” trailer is seeing the return of the “Jurassic Park” trio, Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum. Neill is always terrific in whatever project he appears in, Dern looks like she hasn’t aged a day since “Jurassic Park III,” and Goldblum looks to get more of a role this time around as opposed to the glorified cameo he got in the previous installment.

The magic of first seeing the dinosaurs in Steven Spielberg’s 1993 film has never been quite the same, and this franchise has taken some embarrassing turns since then. But with “Jurassic World” director Colin Trevorrow behind the camera again, maybe everyone involved will give this trilogy the conclusion it deserves.

The Adam Project (Netflix)

On one hand, this trailer acts as a promotion for the original content Netflix is going to be dropping on us in the coming months. But this trailer’s main attraction is clearly the Shawn Levy film “The Adam Project” starring Ryan Reynolds, an actor no one can ever seem to get sick of. Originally titled “Our Name is Adam,” back when Tom Cruise was attached to star, Reynolds travels back in time to meet his younger self (played by Walker Scobell) in an effort to confront their late father. While the storyline seems like a rip-off of “Looper,” this looks like its own thing despite any similarities which I am hoping are coincidental.

Seriously, seeing Reynolds in this trailer made me as giddy as Will Ferrell was when he spotted him in the audience the last time he hosted “Saturday Night Live.”

Nope

This trailer for Jordan Peele’s latest cinematic opus reminds me of the greatness of the first “Cloverfield” trailer; it gives us a lot of fascinating and unforgettable visuals while leaving the movie’s plotline a mystery. The trailer for “Nope” looks like it takes place at a horse ranch in the middle of nowhere when all the electricity suddenly goes out, and either Armageddon is happening or a UFO is landing as characters flee as fast as they can or get sucked up into the air. Whether it is a political thriller dealing with racism like “Get Out” and “Us” or just a straightforward science-fiction horror thriller, this trailer has me deeply intrigued, and July 22nd cannot come soon enough.

Ambulance

Anybody who knows me well understands how much I despise Michael Bay. Ever since the cinematic atrocity that was “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” I have avoided his movies like the plague. However, I cannot help but be intrigued by his latest film, a remake of the 2005 Danish film of the same name, which is about a bank robbery gone wrong (is there any other kind in movies?) which leads two of the robbers to hijack an ambulance and use an EMT and a wounded police officer as hostages. Plus, with a cast that includes Jake Gyllenhaal and “The Matrix Resurrection’s” Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, this looks to be a film not made with 5-year-old moviegoers in mind. Whether it is made with the mindset of a 5-year-old, however, remains to be seen.

The trailer for “Ambulance” has been out for some time now, but its Super Bowl spot serves as a reminder of how I am honestly excited for it. While it looks to have those typical Bay flourishes like explosions and cameras moving around in circles, there is nary a Transformer to be found here.

Top Gun: Maverick

Delayed by the COVID pandemic more times than “No Time to Die” and hoping to score big at the foreign box office, “Top Gun: Maverick” is FINALLY arriving in theaters this May. For its Super Bowl spot, Paramount partnered with Porsche because when Tom Cruise says he “feels the need, the need for speed,” you either think of “Top Gun” or a Porsche, right? Well, I would certainly love to drive a Porsche with Jennifer Connelly as my passenger, that’s for sure.

With Cruise reteaming with his “Oblivion” director Joseph Kosinski, we can expect some truly intense visuals and real G-force experiences as shown on Maverick’s face. But as with those “Avatar” sequels which James Cameron keeps promising us, I have to say RELEASE THE DAMN MOVIE ALREADY!

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

Okay, this is not a movie trailer, but it is a trailer to one of the most anticipated television series ever. Now, this trailer proves this is not a remake of Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, but instead a prequel that takes place many, many, many, many, many years before Gollum found his precious. While it looks epic, those CGI effects look fairly obvious and kind of take me out of the spectacle on display. Still, we are in J.R.R. Tolkien territory, and it remains ripe with imagination after all these years.

DC Movies

Instead of a single comic book/superhero movie, DC movies will be giving us four of them in 2022: “The Batman,” “Black Adam,” “The Flash” and “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom.” Images from each one are featured in one Super Bowl ad, and these are my thoughts: I’m sick of hearing about “The Batman.” I just want Matt Reeves’ cinematic interpretation of Bruce Wayne and his alter ego to come out already. Seeing Dwayne Johnson as Teth-Adam/Black Adam proves to me how passionate he was about bringing this character to the silver screen. Hopefully, Ezra Miller will have more speed on his side than he did with “Justice League.” As for Jason Momoa, he has already proven to me he is the definitive Aquaman, and the upcoming sequel is yet another reminder of the fact I have still not watched the original. With these four movies, perhaps DC will finally give the Marvel Cinematic Universe a run for its money.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2

I have not seen the first “Sonic the Hedgehog,” and the Super Bowl spot for the sequel does not make me want to check either of them out. When it comes to Jim Carrey though, I have no problem defending him as an actor. While he looks to be doing his usual schtick here as Doctor Ivo “Eggman” Robotnik, he is far more than what he appears to be. His lack of an Oscar nomination for “The Truman Show” was tragic, and they should have just handed him the Oscar for his performance as Andy Kaufman in “Man on the Moon.” And when it comes to “Batman Forever,” I still think he was the best thing about it. Anyway, that is all.

‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall’ in Which Jason Segel Bares All

WRITER’S NOTE: This review was written in 2008.

How cool would it have been to be on one of those Judd Apatow television shows? Neither “Freaks & Geeks” nor “Undeclared” lasted for more than one season, but the cult audiences for these shows keeps growing. Moreover, so many actors and writers from them have gone on to bigger careers in television and film. Seth Rogan was one of the kings of last summer as both an actor and a writer for “Knocked Up” and “Superbad,” James Franco has been in several movies including the “Spider-Man” trilogy, Linda Cardellini went on to the “Scooby Doo” movies playing Velma and now she plays Nurse Samantha Taggart on “ER,” etc. The list goes on and on, and Apatow keeps bringing out his extended family members for all to see. It’s like being on one of the shows gives you the greatest stroke of luck you can ever hope for in show business.

This reminds me, I once did extra work for “Freaks & Geeks.” This was on the episode right after Sam Weir broke up with his cheerleader girlfriend, and you will probably see me wearing a plaid shirt from the 1970’s. Yes, I was a geek that day. But you know what this means? Maybe some of the Apatow touch could spread to me! Yes! I can lay claim to being a part (albeit a very small part) of one of the best television shows you never watched. This makes me want to write my own screenplay and act in it! But anyway, enough about me…

The latest Apatow star to burn his name and identity into our collective consciousness is Jason Segel, and he wrote the screenplay for the movie he also stars in, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” The movie follows Jason’s character of Peter Bretter who is so in love with the title character (played by Kristen Bell) who is actually the big star of a television show which is a cross between “CSI” and “Bones” (William Baldwin plays her constantly adlibbing partner). One day, Sarah confronts a fully naked Peter to tell him she is breaking up with him. She says she has found someone else, and she tries, and fails, to let Peter down gently. Quickly, Peter falls into a deep dark depression which just about everyone goes through when they are dumped, and not even his stepbrother Brian Bretter (Bill Hader) can lift him out of it.

So, Peter heads off to Hawaii for a vacation to get away from his heartbreak and take some time for himself. But since Hawaii is such a romantic, it only makes his heart ache even more, and he gets phone calls from the front desk saying that a lady is crying very loudly from where he is. When Peter tries to hide his tears and says it must be from a lady in the room above him, the desk clerk reminds him he is on the top floor. But then things get even worse; Sarah shows up at the same resort with her new beau, Aldous Snow (Russell Brand), a rock star who is as dense as he is sexy. The movie becomes a game of sorts between Peter and Sarah as each tries to get past the other and find ways to put their heartbreak behind them.

The plot of “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” is by no means original. We have seen this kind movie before, but not with this much male full-frontal nudity. The execution and writing keep it from being another formulaic journey which we have all grown so tired of. For the most part, none of the characters’ actions feel at all contrived. The journey they all take, and how they change in the end feels very believable, and I didn’t find myself questioning it at all. Like many of Apatow’s films, the characters are so refreshingly down to earth that we can see ourselves as them. I usually avoid romantic comedies like the plague because they usually come off as very trite and manipulative. It’s usually a case of “you’re sexy, I’m sexy, so let’s fuck and introduce ourselves to each other later.” This is not the case here. All the characters come across as very likable, even the ones you initially think you are not supposed to like.

Segel doesn’t make too much of a stretch as an actor here as Peter is not much different from his character of Nick Andopolis on “Freaks & Geeks.” But he is a very good actor all the same and makes his character very likable even though we would probably get sick of him very quickly in real life. Peter spends a lot of time telling other people how he split from Sarah when he should probably just shut up about it. But Segel does a great job of making his character transition from an irrepressible whiner to a more mature person moving past a very painful time in his life.

Sarah Marshall is a bit of a bitch, but Kristen Bell does make her somewhat sympathetic. She acknowledges how nervous she is about the jump from television to and worries she will have to show some bush on the silver screen in order to make the jump. Please keep in mind, this is in the same movie where Segel bares all and shows us his, as Robin Williams once described it, “throbbing python of love.” Her character also makes a transition from someone who appears to have it all together to someone who couldn’t be more insecure or jealous if she tried, and its hilarious to watch.

The other great presence to be found here is Mila Kunis who we all remember from “That 70’s Show.” She plays the hotel desk clerk Rachel Jansen who befriends Peter in his utterly pitiful state, and ends up developing a strong relationship with him. Kunis perfectly portrays this down to earth individual many of us hope to meet in our lifetime. Rachel too is going through growing pains and fears, and she is also having troubles putting the past behind her. Through Peter, she finds a kindred spirit with whom she can relate, and in which she can see part of herself. Together, they challenge each other to get past the hurts and disappointments which have stalled them in their lives.

I also loved Russell Brand’s performance as Aldous Snow, the dim-witted rocker who ends up stealing Sarah Marshall from Peter. Usually, this kind of character is portrayed as such a hateful son of a bitch, but in some ways, Aldous comes across as kind of a cool person. It never occurs to him that inviting Peter to dinner and Sarah would be so awkward, and he never wants Peter to feel uncomfortable around him. Some guys would boast about stealing someone else’s girlfriend, but not Aldous, the recovering alcohol and drug addict lead singer of a rock band. Even though his character is as dense as they come, he also makes a transition when he realizes something about Sarah which she should have realized about herself a long time ago.

The movie also features a number of Apatow regulars who never fail to disappoint. “Saturday Night Live’s” Bill Hader is hilarious as Peter’s brother-in-law Brian Bretter who keeps giving advice Peter never follows in time. “Superbad’s” Jonah Hill plays a waiter at a Hawaiian restaurant who is more helpful to all the guests and to a fault. “30 Rock’s” Jack McBrayer plays a newlywed who spends the movie trying to make love to his wife the right way. And then there’s the always dependable Paul Rudd who steals just about every movie he is in these days. Rudd plays Chuck, a surfing instructor who is never quite clear in his lessons, and watching him is comedy nirvana.

“Forgetting Sarah Marshall” is one of those hit and miss comedies, but the stuff which does hit is funnier than anything else I have seen so far this year. Segel is a fine actor and writer as this movie proves, and the comedy juggernaut that is Judd Apatow Productions continues making some of the best movie comedies of today.

And I tell you, being an extra of “Freaks & Geeks” does qualify me for some of Apatow’s Midas touch. Laugh if you must, but my background work has to count for something.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

Underseen Movie: ‘Cloak & Dagger’ – Only in the 1980’s …

I first watched “Cloak & Dagger” back when I was nine or 10 years old, having recorded it on VHS when it premiered on channel 13, which was then known as KCOP in Los Angeles. From there, it became one of the many movies like “Bullitt,” Airplane” and “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” which I would watch a least a hundred times and never get tired of. Henry Thomas, in one of his post-“E.T.” movies, stars as Davey Osborne, an 11-year-old boy who escapes from reality into the world of Cloak & Dagger, a role-playing video game which features the exploits of the spy Jack Flack. Bored with life and yearning for a real adventure, Davey and his next-door neighbor Kim (a precocious Christina Nigra) embark to downtown San Antonio where he inadvertently witnesses a murder and gets hold of a video game cartridge of the Cloak & Dagger which is later revealed to contain top secret information. Davey’s wish of a real adventure comes true, but it soon becomes a reminder of what Augustus Hill once said on the HBO drama series “Oz:”

“Be careful what you wish for brother. Be very, very careful…”

Naturally, most people don’t believe Davey when he tries to explain what happened, and this includes his father, Hal, who loves him dearly but worries about him excessively as his son’s overactive imagination seems to constantly be getting the best of him. Once again, we have a movie which continues the theme of parents not listening to their kids until it is much too late. Then again, if parents did listen to their kids, a movie like this would not exist.

We also discover Davey is still grieving the loss of his mother who had recently passed away which quickly explains his constant escapes into a fantasy world. These elements combine together to make Hal believably dubious of his son’s claims, making it all the easier for the bad guys to try and capture him, and they are not about to show him mercy just because he is not yet a teenager.

I still vividly remember the “Cloak & Dagger” television ads just as it was coming out. Back then, this movie looked a little too scary for someone of my tender age to sit through, and my brother had already scared me off from seeing “Gremlins” although this was for reasons I would not discover until years later. Once the film made its television debut where all the “good stuff” was edited out, it seemed easier to take in.

Plus, seeing Henry Thomas with a gun excited me to no end. For once, the children were going to defend themselves without the help of adults! Now please keep in mind, I was a little boy playing with water guns back when this film was released (much to chagrin of my parents), so my mindset was, shall we say, somewhat different.

For a PG-rated movie, “Cloak & Dagger” is actually pretty brutal! You have adults shooting at kids, Davey ends up shooting a bad guy to death, another character looks like they got shot in the eye, and a kid almost gets run over by a van. You would not see anything like that in a PG rated movie these days (PG-13 movies are a different story), and this includes a cold-blooded villain telling Davey just how much he is going to enjoy blowing his kneecaps off. Looking at a movie like this today, my response to it would be, “only in the 1980’s…”

But for what it’s worth, “Cloak & Dagger” doesn’t glamorize real life violence and succeeds in making a distinction between the world of make believe and the finality of death in real life in a way which can only be rendered in a PG-rated motion picture. The movie is really more of a coming-of-age story in which Davey comes to discover how these imaginary adventures he constantly engages in are nothing compared to the violence waged in real life as certain actions render a solution which is permanent in inescapably brutal ways. Davey also comes to realize this even before reaching the age of puberty, so you know his teenage years are going to more torturous than what the average adolescent is forced to endure.

Thomas’ performance as Davey Osbourne was proof his excellent performance in “E.T.” (one of the best ever given by a child actor) was no fluke. You never catch him acting, and everything he does comes from a believable and natural place. Even as the movie heads into the inescapable territory of illogic which is typically inescapable in 80’s action movies, Thomas remains the emotional center of the story and keeps us watching to the very end. It’s hard enough to ask a pre-teen to carry any feature length movie on their shoulders, but Thomas had long since proven to be a true professional in doing so.

The other big actor here is Dabney Coleman who, back in the 1980’s seemed to be in every other movie. He plays Davey’s Air Force father, Hal Osborne, as well as his imaginary hero Jack Flack whom Davey sees as a more appealing version of his dad. Coleman is great in both roles, and you really have to appreciate his performance as Hal because it could have been your typically clichéd one-note daddy character. Throughout, he rides a good balance between being the disciplinarian and the sympathetic father who remembers what his life was like as a kid. Like his son, Hal wanted to be a hero too.

However, Coleman is clearly having more fun playing superspy Jack Flack who may not be as smooth or as dashing as James Bond, but is still very clever in his own mustached way. All that’s missing is a patch over one of his eyes, but Kurt Russell already beat him to this in “Escape From New York.” Seeing the actor reacting to his performance as Hal is good for a few laughs as Flack never stops deriding the man’s lack of belief and faith in his son.

When it comes to the bad guys, they are the typical one-dimensional types you usually find in 1980’s movies, but that’s just fine here. Eloy Casados plays Alvarez as your mainly stone-faced henchman; the kind of guy who smirks more than he smiles, and not just because he’s in a foul mood. In fact, a guy like him is typically never really happy about anything. I also love how he shoots at Davey from only a few feet away and STILL COMPLETELY MISSES HIM. He would have made a great stormtrooper.

Then you have Haverman who is played by former professional football player Tim Rossovich. With his strong body and build, he’s like the Incredible Hulk as a bad guy, except he doesn’t turn green and rip off his clothes whenever he gets pissed (his jeans do look a little tight on him though). The door is locked? This guy just smashes right through it as if it were no big thing, and it got to where I was just waiting for him to say:

“HAVERMAN SMASH!!!”

But the main baddie here is Rice, and he is played by Michael Murphy in a truly chilling performance. Murphy, still a few years away from playing the spineless mayor of Gotham in “Batman Returns,” gives you the perfect kind of bad guy you love to despise with every fiber of your being as he makes you believe Rice would think nothing of killing a kid who stood in the way of his ultimate goal; delivering government secrets to spies. Man, I remember wanting to see him get his just desserts as soon as he appeared onscreen.

When it comes to scene stealers, Christina Nigra wins the prize as Davey’s non-imaginary friend, Kim. Her sassy attitude makes for some great moments, especially when she informs her mother that Davey’s father is not her type. She does get annoyed with Davey when he takes things a little too far, but even she comes to admit he is never ever boring. Nigra also holds her own in front of the airport police chief as he smokes a cigarette in very close proximity to her. You don’t even see her complaining about the smoke. Maybe the anti-smoking campaigns hadn’t reached her school yet.

There are a couple of other familiar faces to be found here including the late Robert DoQui whose subdued performance as Lt. Fleming is the polar opposite of the hard-nosed and law enforcement chief we saw him portray in the “Robocop.”. William Forsythe also shows up as Davey’s other friend Morris and, seriously, he doesn’t look like he has aged a day since 1984. Even Louie Anderson appears for less than a minute as a hygienically challenged taxi cab driver who offers to give Davey a ride to the airport but only if he gives him $15 dollars in advance.

“Cloak & Dagger” marked the second collaboration between director Richard Franklin and screenwriter Tom Holland. Their previous film together was the eagerly awaited sequel “Psycho II,” and while this film offers them a change of pace, it still proves to be pretty intense. That they managed to find a balance between the real and imaginary worlds Davey Osbourne inhabits is fairly remarkable as it could not have been the least bit simple.

So much has changed in the world since “Cloak & Dagger” first came out, and it now seems astonishing just how dark it was compared to the movies that come out today with a PG rating. It was made back when you didn’t need a plane ticket to get through security screening, and you could hang out with your loved ones at the gate before their plane took off. You could smoke on airplanes back then as well. What hasn’t changed or weakened through the passing of time are the performances of Thomas and Coleman. Both are a reason why this film managed to find such a large audience on video after it failed to do so in movie theaters.

Of course, these days I have to wonder what a “Cloak & Dagger” sequel might look like. While certain questions were easy to answer back in the 1980’s, everything these days feels far more complex. There’s no doubt Davey Osbourne would be severely traumatized by his experiences here, and perhaps he and Kevin McCallister from “Home Alone” can join forces as they both defeated their antagonists in very painful ways.

Once again, only in the 1980’s could a movie like this have been made.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

‘Halloween Kills’ is Brutal in More Ways Than One

It’s been a long time coming, but “Halloween Kills” has finally arrived in theaters everywhere. Personally, I think it is the result of Michael Myers keeping his mask on. Heck, he has been keeping it on for the most part since 1978. In this franchise, it is said that evil never dies and you can’t kill the boogeyman. Maybe this is because he is not an anti-vaxxer and has gotten his shots (whether it was Moderna or Johnson & Johnson, I have no idea). Besides, his victims this time around aren’t wearing masks. Doesn’t this tell you something?

Okay, let’s get something out of the way here, is “Halloween Kills” as effective as David Gordon Green’s previous “Halloween” from 2018? Not quite, and it does at times seem more concerned with upping the blood and gore this time around to where no one dies an easy death. Still, this follow-up has some very suspenseful moments as we know Michael, or The Shape as he is often called, is just around the corner. The question is, which corner?

Picking up at the moment where the previous installment ended, three generations of Strode women are being driven away from the fiery inferno which has engulfed Laurie’s home, but the fire department in Haddonfield is more reliable than they could have expected as they race over to her address even as she yells out, “let it burn!” And as the trailer shows us, Michael is quite handy with tools and hardware as he easily lays waste to trained professionals.

With 2018’s “Halloween,” Green retconned the franchise to excellent effect. In “Halloween Kills,” Green and screenwriters Scott Teems and Danny McBride retcon it even further as we see Michael getting captured by the police, and we learn of Deputy Frank Hawkins’ first run in with Michael when he was a fresh newbie on the police force. More importantly, it allows Will Patton to appear in yet another “Halloween” film as his seriously wounded character manages to survive. We also get to understand why Frank now has a renewed interest in killing Michael.

One of the things I really enjoyed about “Halloween Kills” is its attention to the characters. This is not your average slasher film filled with people you cannot wait to see get bludgeoned to death, and you never hear the audience breaking into a chant of “kill the bitch” as I witnessed at a screening of “Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood” years ago. They are all flesh and blood, some simply minding their own business while others still vividly remember what happened to their beloved hometown 40 years ago. Heck, even Lonnie Elam (Robert Longstreet) and Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall) get along here as Lonnie’s days of bullying Tommy have long since been put behind them. Deaths here are not ones to be celebrated, but are instead meant to be tragic.

Another fascinating thing is how this sequel touches on current events without ever exploiting them. When word gets out that Michael is back in Haddonfield doing his slicing and dicing act, Tommy is quick to get everyone he can together so they can form a mob to take down the Shape once and for all. The police encourage him and others not to go down this path, but considering how well they did the last time Michael came to town, and they refused to be swayed.

Granted, this franchise has dealt with angry mobs before, particularly in “Halloween 4,” but the mob in that one was incredibly tiny compared to one presented in “Halloween Kills.” Just about everyone in Haddonfield is seen shouting out “evil dies tonight” endlessly to where even its former sheriff, Leigh Brackett (Charles Cyphers, back for the first time since 1981’s “Halloween II”), wants to see justice done for his slain daughter. Of course, we all know angry mobs can lead to needless violence and death, and this makes the events which unfold here all the more tragic.

Of course, it is the Strode women who take center stage in this latest confrontation with the Shape. Surprisingly, Laurie Strode is largely left on the sidelines this time around as she recovers from a knife wound to the stomach. Still, this gives Jamie Lee Curtis a chance to shine in scenes opposite Patton as both talk about what could have been. Judy Greer proves to be more badass than ever as Karen, Laurie’s daughter who struggles to move past the death of her husband to keep her daughter safe. But as “Halloween Kills” reaches its bloody conclusion, even she realizes how evil must die.

Andi Matichak also returns as Laurie’s granddaughter, Allyson, who has since come to see that the boogeyman is real. Matichak makes Allyson into a tough character, but the actress is never hesitant to show the fear on her face as she gets closer and closer to Michael. As Allyson enters his childhood home armed with a shotgun, even Matichak knows it would be foolish for this character not to be the least bit scared.

There are some actors who are new to the franchise here, and they are very welcome additions. I figured Robert Longstreet would make Lonnie into an adult who still loves to bully kids like Tommy, but he instead makes this character into a wounded adult who looks out for his son and will never forget “the night he came home.” It is also great to see Anthony Michael Hall, long since removed from his Brat Pack days, here as Tommy Doyle. With Tommy’s introductory monologue, Hall puts the audience under a spell as he reminds us of Haddonfield’s tragedy while paying respect to the lives lost and how we should “never forget.” Hall is really good here. I also got a kick out of Scott MacArthur and Michael McDonald who play an eclectic couple that own the old Myers’ house. Furthermore, they know what happened there and have no buyer’s remorse (or will they?).

And yes, John Carpenter, along with son Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies, have provided “Halloween Kills” with a terrific film score. The themes are familiar ones, but they are given a mournful sound as we are reminded of ghosts which have yet to be laid to rest. There are also some nice propulsive themes as well to keep the adrenaline going. Those who are a fan of Carpenter’s music will not be disappointed.

In some ways, “Halloween Kills” is at a disadvantage as it is the middle chapter in a trilogy, and we still have “Halloween Ends” to look forward to. Whether or not evil can die, I think it’s safe to say it can take one hell of a beating and keep on ticking. I mean, it has to knowing a third chapter is one the way. Regardless, this sequel gave me much to admire about it as it deals with how the bullied often become the bully, how the past can haunt us to no end, that small suburban towns are more often know for tragedies than anything else, and that some people have no business holding a gun.

Just keep in mind one thing: While this looks like a John Carpenter “Halloween” movie, it is a David Gordon Green “Halloween” movie. It is important to note this as many horror fans may be expecting a certain kind of film here, and you really should remember who is behind the camera on this one as it may not be the one you think.

It will be interesting to see Laurie Strode have one last showdown with Michael Myers, and I believe David Gordon Green has long since been prepared to save the best for last. Michael is not just pure evil; he is like the Energizer bunny, except with a bloody knife instead of a drum. He just keeps stabbing and stabbing and stabbing…

* * * out of * * * *