David Gordon Green’s sequel to Halloween, the 1978 slasher classic that brought John Carpenter, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Michael Myers to the forefront of the horror genre, is simply called…Halloween. It’s been forty years since Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Dr. Loomis (the great Donald Pleasance) fended off a very persistent (not to mention murderous) Michael Myers in the original film. Now both are prisoners of a kind—Mr. Myers in an institution, and Laurie, shut off from friends and family in a self-imposed isolation, both dreading and looking forward to her inevitable confrontation with the “boogeyman.” Halloween proceeds as if all the other sequels never took place—although the mystique of Meyers has intensified in the intervening years (thanks in large part to those unmentioned sequels).
I’m happy to say this Halloween is worth the wait. A tense pre-credits sequence has the institutionalized Michael (sans mask) goaded by some visiting podcasters (with the blessing of Michael’s Doctor Sartain, as the character of Loomis has died in the passing years, as has Pleasance) in an attempt to get him to speak. They don’t succeed—except in getting him mad. Cue the famous John Carpenter theme which received resounding applause from the audience I was with. From this splendid opening, it’s only a matter of time before Michael, who is being transported to another facility, manages to escape, doing some unsightly damage to his captors en route to Laurie’s fortified house out in the woods.
Halloween contains the usual supporting characters who vie for screen time in advance of their eventual slaughter, and some of these characters are fairly likable. Though their fates are not unexpected, there are a couple of shocks, and a few well-done, grim twists. However, where the film excels is in the strained family dynamic among Curtis’s brittle, haunted, resourceful Laurie, her estranged daughter Karen (Judy Greer), and Karen’s daughter Allyson (Andi Matichak). Karen is fed up with Laurie and her survivalist hysteria, while Laurie, the victim of two broken marriages and her unresolved trauma, is convinced that she has to protect the family, in spite of themselves. Allyson is caught in the middle, since she loves both her mother and her well-meaning if seemingly unhinged grandma. The three actresses do fine work, but it’s Jamie Lee Curtis’s show, as she beautifully portrays the many facets of Laurie: loving, dismissive, melancholy, concerned, hysterical, and finally resourceful and heroic. Yes it’s been forty years, but time hasn’t withered her acting skills or her edge. The actions of Mr. Meyers do provoke the more visceral audience reactions, but it’s Curtis’s Laurie that makes this sequel so satisfying.
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
There is another brittle, morose, and resourceful female in the movie houses, and it’s Melissa McCarthy delivering a superb performance as the real-life writer, biographer—and literary forger Lee Israel in Can You Ever Forgive Me? Set in the early 1990s, director Marielle Heller, working from a script by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty (adapted from Israel’s memoir), recreates a New York City both gray and dreary, and littered with bookstores and bars. It tells the true story of Lee Israel, a former best-selling author who has alienated both her publisher and her agent through her anti-social behavior which maybe stems from her alcoholism—but maybe not. Her only companion is her faithful, aging cat, and her desire to pay the bills (housing, grocery and medical) leads Israel to initially “enhance” some literary, autographed letters—and then, based on her knowledge and research of the writers, create some of her own. Her new “literary” endeavor is a success, providing the means to pay her back rent and tend to her ailing cat. Along the way, she acquires a confidant: flamboyant, larcenous, and initially loyal Jack Hock (a terrific Richard Grant); he succeeds in getting the sullen Israel to loosen up, while he proves useful when the “feds” start to suspect her (rightly) of shady doings.
Can You Ever Forgive Me does its best to present Israel warts and all. She’s abrasive, filthy, content to burn bridges, using her cutting wit to alienate those who might help her. Yet the miracle of Melissa McCarthy’s compelling portrayal is that one grudgingly likes her—even to the point of rooting for her. It’s partly because the movie creates a plausible air of desperation for its protagonist, as she can’t squeeze out a half-decent advance, while authors like Tom Clancy command in the millions. McCarthy succeeds in providing Israel with all kinds of shadings, not only finding the right notes in her antagonistic, defensive temperament, but in the moments where she tries to fend off loneliness, not only with Jack, but with a sympathetic bookstore owner (Dolly Wells) who might just be interested in a relationship with Lee. These persuasive, delicately played scenes are the heart of this intelligent, amusing and ultimately poignant film. Can You Ever Forgive Me doesn’t make any apologies for Lee Israel—in fact, she is presented as being quite proud of her literary accomplishments. Heck, it might even lead to a book (which it did).