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Movie Reviews: New Releases for Oct. 15

The Last Duel, Halloween Kills, The Rescue, Bergman Island and more

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Halloween Kills
  • Halloween Kills
Bergman Island ***
Writer/director Mia Hansen-Løve has some interesting things to say about storytelling and relationships, and I only wish that in this case, it didn’t require quite so much toe-tapping on the part of the viewer before we get there. The framing story finds two partnered filmmakers, Chris (Vicky Krieps) and Tony (Tim Roth), taking a joint working holiday away from their young daughter, hoping to be inspired in their respective projects by staying on Fårö, the Swedish island that became the home to Ingmar Bergman. Much low-key deconstruction of the Bergman oeuvre ensues, clearly linked to the way Chris and Tony seem to be out of sync in their relationship. It’s a bit of a slog through the first half, until the narrative abruptly shifts to Chris’ work-in-progress, a drama involving a married mother (Mia Wasikowska) possibly looking to rekindle an affair with an old lover (Anders Danielsen Lie). Wasikowska’s performance gives the story a jolt of energy, and helps carry through to notions of how what we look for in stories can shape what we look for in our relationships. Some likely autobiographical elements complicate things a bit, while it still feels clear that Hansen-Løve believes that the kind of “happy ending” Chris bemoans the lack of in Bergman’s work might just be arbitrary decisions about where to end a tale. Available Oct. 15 in theaters. (R)

Halloween Kills **1/2
David Gordon Green certainly hasn’t wanted for thematic ambition in his approach to the Michael Myers mythology: In 2018’s retcon-happy Halloween, he turned Jamie Lee Curtis’s Laurie Strode into a traumatized survivalist alienated from her family, á la Terminator 2’s Sarah Connor; for this follow-up, he’s diving into fear-driven mob rage. The narrative mostly continues directly from the previous film, taking place on the same Halloween night as Laurie recovers from injuries, Michael escapes from the burning basement safe-room in Laurie’s house, and Laurie’s daughter (Judy Greer) and granddaughter (Andi Matichak) join the vigilante gang trying to find the relentless killer. That set-up sidelines Laurie for most of the film, focusing instead on Anthony Michael Hall as a long-ago survivor of Michael’s rampage leading the search, and that’s kind of a bummer despite trying to fit him into a bigger role from some of the original film’s other survivors. Green’s set pieces, meanwhile, provide the right mix of suspense and gory deaths, which might have been enough on their own. But Green and co-screenwriters Scott Teems & Danny McBride seem to be taking their subtext a bit too seriously when they have Laurie solemnly intone, “Every time someone’s afraid, the Boogeyman wins.” Monsters always represent something primal; it feels like a stretch to make Halloween Kills a tale of “actually, the real monster was inside all of us the whole time.” Available Oct. 15 in theaters and streaming via Peacock. (R)

The Last Duel ***
See feature review. Available Oct. 15 in theaters. (R)

The Rescue ***1/2
Some real-life stories are so innately compelling that you’d have to work at it to make them at least baseline interesting; directors Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi (Free Solo) have the chops to make things breathtaking even if you already know how the story turned out. Their subject here is the June/July 2018 operation to rescue 13 people—12 adolescent members of a soccer team and one of their coaches—who were trapped in a Thai cave system by monsoon floodwaters. The interviews focus on the team of European and Australian veteran cave divers who became key parts of the rescue effort—notably Rick Stanton and John Volanthen—and the filmmakers set the stage effectively for how their unique, more-competent-than-Navy-SEALS skill set tends to be accompanied by a “doesn’t necessarily play well with others” mentality. But the character study components are ultimately far less significant here than the nuts and bolts of the crisis at hand, which Vasarhelyi and Chin capture through a dynamic mix of in-the-moment footage, narration from the participants, dramatic re-creations and even the 3D models that show just how ridiculously complicated this operation was. The ticking-clock intensity, and the sense of responsibility conveyed by the divers, adds up to something that feels more urgent and emotional than the inevitable fictionalized version could possibly be. Available Oct. 15 in theaters. (PG)

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The Velvet Underground ***
For his first feature documentary, Todd Haynes attempts a visual style meant to convey everything that was fascinating and genre-defying about the short-lived but wildly influential band—and for a whole lot of the time, he succeeds. In part it’s a fairly linear chronicle, starting with biographical background of founding members Lou Reed and John Cale, then moving on to the New York art scene of the mid-1960s that shaped the Velvet Underground through the intersection of visual art, film and experimental music. In that sense, at least the first half of The Velvet Underground is less a chronicle of the band specifically, and more a history of the entire Andy Warhol / Factory milieu, including plenty of terrific archival footage. Haynes complements that content with great formal choices that make for more than a mere collection of talking heads and old pictures; his split-screen compositions often include stuff like Reed’s face on one side of the screen, looking like he’s silently listening and judging as his sister talks about their childhood. The film runs out of steam a bit once we reach the era of the band after Cale’s departure—which would actually be an appropriate artistic choice if deliberate—and Reed remains a bit too enigmatic in terms of how he absorbed the many influences around him. But it’s a thrill for a while to see Haynes understand that conventional documentary aesthetics would be a huge mistake considering his subject. Available Oct. 15 via AppleTV+. (R)