Mike at the Movies

The Sisters Brothers (R)

Two brothers, Eli (John C. Reilly) and Charlie (Joaquin Phoenix) Sisters, are on the trail of another tough guy, John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal) in 1851. All three are under the command of a mysterious “Commodore” who has sicced the pair and Morris on each other.

Morris is later joined by Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed), a strange little man who claims to have a formula that will turn stones into gold when poured into a likely stream. It soon becomes apparent that Charlie is a real assassin, almost pathological, while Eli is more or less along to keep Charlie sober or to get him on his horse even when he’s not—which is frequently! The film’s leisurely progress allows time for enjoyment of the most spectacular scenery seen on film in some time.

Eli finally discusses plans to leave the Commodore and the business, but he reluctantly stays with Charlie, who really gets into trouble when greed overcomes good sense and he dumps excess formula into a stream. He burns Morris and himself so badly that Charlie loses most of his right arm as well as the fish in the stream. The brothers start back toward home, intending to kill the Commodore and go their separate ways. At one point, Eli sighs and says, “Do you notice how long it’s been since somebody tried to kill us?”

The film is violent, rough and about as evocative of the Old West as any recent film in memory. It almost smells of sweat, urine and blood. Great stuff and brilliantly filmed. And it’s a Western!

The Hate U Give (PG-13)

This is a film that should and most certainly will encourage families of all races to talk about the way we regard each other. Seldom has a recent film combined such a strong story line with such deep and revealing insights into the core of a black family.

The Carters are led by Mav, the father (Russell Hornsby), who is a former drug dealer and convict. He is resolved: “I’m going to break the cycle for my kids.” The lead in the film is the radiant Amandla Stenberg as Starr Carter, a high school student on the right side of the tracks— the preppy, white side. At least that’s the way it seems to her mother, Lisa (Regina Hall). The enemy is a gang leader called King who makes it his aim in life to wipe out the Carter family once Starr decides to go to the grand jury investigating the murder of Starr’s longtime friend, Khalil (Algee Smith). Khalil made the mistake of getting a hairbrush out of his car after a rousting stop by a young cop. He shoots and kills Khalil, and Starr has the struggle of deciding whether or not to relate what she saw—everything—to the grand jury. Her prep school friends treat her with distance and curiosity, but only one of them, Maya (Megan Lawless), seems to understand how conflicted she is.

Starr’s life is always in conflict. One of her Heights friends, hearing her use an “academic word,” observes, “That school done messed you up.” That may be true and, after gaining confidence and joining the protests around Khalil’s treatment (the cop goes free, of course), Starr confronts her former best white friend, Hailey, in a memorable scene in which she teaches Hailey what life as a black person in LA is really like.

What disturbs Starr most is her preppy friends join a demonstration for Khalil just to get out of class for an afternoon. The film is jammed with injustice after injustice and none of it rings false. This is a very moving, violent, disturbing film. See it with
the family.

Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween (PG)

Simply for kids in every way: little imagination, ruled by special effects, plot details identical to the 2015 “Goosebumps,” a hammy performance by Jack Black as author R.L. Stine, a blonde who looks like every other young blonde in Hollywood (Madison Iseman), a mother who looks the same age as her daughter (Wendi McLendon-Covey), buddies Sonny (Jeremy Ray Taylor) and Sam (Caleel Harris) and a totally over-the-top performance by Ken Jeong as Mr. Chu who has the most elaborate Halloween decoration for his house imaginable. Take the kids and a book. Leave them in the theater while you get some popcorn and read something good.

Venom (PG-13)

The first hint that this might be a little different than the usual monster flick is the presence of a real talent, Michelle Williams, in a lead role as Anne Weying. Tom Hardy (Eddie/Venom) is OK, and he certainly saves on the wardrobe budget—sweatshirt and pants is his only costume—but he may have balanced that out with the special effects that transform him into Venom.

Venom looks like and occasionally acts like a villain but, coming to Earth to harvest humans by eating them, he tires of that and admits: “I like it here.” He then proposes a partnership with Eddie, the investigative journalist, and voila!! A franchise movie series is born to fight only Bad Guys!

The first sign of trouble to come occurs after a spaceship crash. One of the techs says, “One of the organisms is out of constraint! We don’t know which one.” Yikes! A loose organism is never good. This one is the child of villain Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) who later becomes an “organism.” Riot. Drake is, of course, set on taking over the world with hybrid Venoms. By accident, Eddie gets infected, thus alienating girlfriend Annie and endangering technician Dr. Dora Skirth (Jenny Slate).

Infected he may be, but Eddie retains his sense of humor, such as it is, and notices he has super powers and a new voice in his head. The voice eventually admits: “On my planet I’m a nerd—kind of like you.” The two get along so well that we know we’ll see them again. Stupid chase scenes ensue, Stan Lee has his cameo, and all is well in Marvel’s universe. Thanks to the fact that this doesn’t take itself too seriously, it nears enjoyability.

Halloween (R)

They first did this film, with surviving members of the cast including Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), Karen (Judy Greer), and Michael Meyers (James Jude Courtney aka “The Shape”) in 1978. Meyers is in the nuthouse, silent as the grave he wants to put people into. He is released but the bus carrying him back crashes, of course, and he is free to commit his mindless, random violence.

This is a Blumhouse production so there is a maximum of noise, a minimum of acting, an absolutely ridiculous plot in which people we don’t have time to get to care for get stabbed, pilloried, broken necks and run over. Any way to commit mayhem is fine with this waste of film. Jamie Lee? She looks very old, snarls a lot and wastes a lot of ammunition. And there is the possibility that Meyers still survives. Sure.

I have come to the conclusion that the cheap horror film (and this is one) consists of stupid people who run toward violence rather than away from it and are then shocked when they get into trouble. I have run out of patience with them and so should you.