Halloween (** ½) R

The big selling point of the latest installment in the seemingly never ending Halloween franchise was that this one would ignore all of the previous entries and chart a totally new course. Of course if logic had been applied all those years ago the series would have ended after the 1981 sequel, Halloween II. That film culminated with unstoppable killer Michael Myers having his eyes shot out and subsequently being set ablaze for good measure. Even if his clothing had been of the flame retardant variety I can’t imagine ole murdering Mike showing up for further entries with a seeing-eye dog.

I guess in order to go forward, erasing the past was the only way to go and so now we have director David Gordon Greene’s take on the subject, simply titled Halloween, and timed to coincide with the anniversary of the first film’s release. Greene isn’t the type of director one would normally expect to see directing a horror film. The NC School of the Arts alumnus is known primarily for heavy hitting dramas (All the Real Girls) and goofy stoner comedies (Pineapple Express). His dramatic films are the strongest things on his resume and he brings some of that skill to the table in the film’s opening section.

Janie Lee Curtis in the most recent Halloween (2018)

Unfortunately Greene, along with co-writers Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley, decide to take the cheap route, piling buckets of gore on the proceedings and, in the process, forgetting what made the original film such a masterpiece of the horror genre. In other words, an emphasis on atmosphere and suspense as opposed to the gross out approach that Greene and company give in to.

Jamie Lee Curtis is on hand, returning as the iconic character, Laurie Strode. She’s as good as you might expect in her portrayal of a woman whose life has been defined and scarred by the events depicted in the first film. Forty years on, she has two divorces behind her and strained relationships with both her daughter (Judy Greer) and granddaughter (Virginia Gardner). This human element is one of the best things in the film, but it unfortunately is tossed aside once Michael Myers is back on the scene.

Myers, of course, has been institutionalized since the events of the first film. Now, exactly forty years to the week that the previous murders transpired he’s being transferred to a new facility. I guess I don’t have to tell you how that turns out. This is only one of the many plot coincidences and conveniences that the writers cook up in order to make the events of their story fall in line.

There are things to like about this new Halloween. It’s effectively shot and there are many nods to the original film, including a brand new score by the original Halloween director John Carpenter and son, Cody. It doesn’t quite get to the finish line before losing steam but for those looking for a horror movie that manages to dole out a few jolts of the old school variety, you could do much worse.

The Hate U Give (*** ½) 

A movie for and about our current times, the powerful and emotionally resonating The Hate U Give is an impassioned plea for racial tolerance that reminds us why films attempting to tackle adult subject material are sorely needed.  At a time when the latest Marvel experiment Venom can top the box office two weeks in a row and counting, movies that force us to think about our place in the current climate in which we live are sadly in danger of being forgotten. I’m really hoping that The Hate U Give is not yet another casualty of the growing infantilism of adult movie going audiences. It would be a sad fate for a terrific film that deserves much better.

Amandla Stenberg, center, in The Hate U Give

Amandla Stenberg is superbly cast in the lead as Starr Carter, effortlessly articulating the inner conflict her character is forced to confront. Starr is doing a balancing act of sorts in her life. On the one hand there’s the world that she’s forced to live in where she faces the underprivileged in society in her poor neighborhood each and every day. And then there’s the world of the privileged and predominately white prep school that she attends which allows her a peek inside a whole other side of life that she has not experienced firsthand. The blurring of these two lines occurs when Starr witnesses the death of her best friend at the hands of a police officer. This forces Starr to face a moral dilemma that may have dire consequences for those involved.

George Tillman Jr. directs with a steady and sure hand, getting his points across without bludgeoning the viewer over the head. Some of the credit for the power of the film must rightfully be given to the late screenwriter, Audrey Wells (she died the day before the film opened, at age 58) who adapted this from the bestselling Young Adult novel by Angie Thomas. She’s careful not to preach to the audience but to let the events unfold in a way that gives the viewer an empathetic insight into Starr’s world and the tough choices she must make.

The Hate U Give has a lot on its mind and knows exactly how it should be said. It may be a rare bird but it’s the kind I’m more than happy to champion.

Halloween is playing at the AMC Theater in Hickory, and starting Friday, The Hate U Give is as well.

Questions or comments? Write Adam at [email protected].