The 90s Canadian Sanda Oh starrer, Last Night, was about the last night on earth, as an apocalyptic scenario (unexplained), descended on the world and played out in our hometown (Toronto). That one put a time limit on a question that has bugged everyone from the Stoics to Nietzsche and beyond, “how is life best lived?,” — especially when it’s about to come to an abrupt end. In D.O.A., the question is a simple one — it’s becoming your own detective as your last breath draws closer and closer.

Frank Bigelow, an accountant, is on a business trip to San Francisco. While on the coast, he hits a bebop club, The Fisherman, featuring the most frenetic jazz band ever depicted in celluloid. There, his drink is swapped for another one, and gradually, Frank finds himself becoming increasingly ill.

Docs point out that he’s been poisoned, like he’s a Ukrainian politician. Lab tests reveal he’s ingested a substance for which there’s no antidote. Who would’ve/could’ve done such a thing?

Frank has dwindling time to effectively solve his own murder, and it’s in the film’s stunning tracking shot opener that he saunters into a police precinct to make such a proclamation.

From there, twists and turns aplenty, as Frank finds out there is a distant associate, Eugene, who’d been desperate to contact him before he died, apparently from a suicide. The trail then leads to Eugene’s window, and a mysterious bill of sale that Frank had notarized for the deceased, involving a suspicious substance.

What keeps D.O.A. in motion is essentially an inversion of Kant’s categorical imperative: Frank has to treat people as a means to an end he can’t behave otherwise as the clock is ticking away. As a result, what we get is a character removed from the conventions of how someone might ordinarily act. It’s unsettling, and realistic.

D.O.A. fell into the public domain, but do yourself a favor and track down a high quality print. After all, it’s film noir, and you need the blacks as black as they can be (thanks, guys in Spinal Tap).

Director Rudolph Maté cut his teeth working for Hitch (Foreign Correspondent) among others, and the Master’s influence is pretty apparent in the pupil.

***1/2 (out of 5)

[Check out our podcast of DOA here!]


Halloween 2018

Faulkner wrote, “Memory believes before knowing remembers,” and many of us believed when we first saw Halloween. And even if it was before our time, its shadows continue to flicker.

We know that Carpenter’s Halloween is one of the all-time great horror films. It’s a starter on any classic horror roster, and whether it laces up with Martyrs, Maniac, Suspiria, Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Night of the Living Dead is up for debate, its inclusion on the team NEVER is.

Our pal Jonathan at Daily Dead says in his Halloween review that studio releases often cater to those who “haven’t built up their horror IQ,” and while that may sound dismissive, it’s true.  We’re beating metaphors with a lead pipe here, but Halloween is to Joseph Conrad, what The Purge is to E.L. James. It’s Beethoven to Annabelle’s Cardi B.

So yeah, it goes without saying that Michael Myers’ work boots are tough to fill.

Enter Blumhouse and director David Gordon Green.

Halloween 2018 wipes the sequel slate clean and gives us Laurie Strode in PTSD survivalist mode. In the interceding four decades that MM’s been confined to an insane asylum, it seems like the hulking killer has gotten more intensive therapy than his victims.

Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) is now a wigged out granny (here, referred to oddly and formally as “Grandmother,” …but not all of us were lucky enough to nave a nona or an oma).

She’s a reclusive drunk who’s hunkered down in a home that doubles as a fortress and bomb shelter, with a sliding escape hatch buried under a kitchen counter (daughter Karen ruefully quips, “welcome to my childhood”).

It’s rare (and ballsy) to explore Laurie’s psyche (and the impact its had on her immediate family), to this great an extent. She’s estranged from the rest of the Strodes, save for granddaughter Allyson (the sweetly compelling and headstrong Andi Matichak).

Michael is confined to a state facility, and shown from behind, looks like a grizzled Brett Favre. The inmates are given yard time on a square grid that looks like Myers will move from Knight to F3. A true crime podcast duo a la Serial, has received security clearance to get a visit with the mute psychopath. Like a rough Tinder date, they don’t get much in the way out banter out of The Shape even after goading him with a replica mask. They move on to see if Laurie Strode will give them good radio.

Cue the inevitable prison facility transfer. We know from watching hundreds of action films, that it’s virtually impossible for officials to handle these. They really need a police escort. When will these folks EVER learn? Soon, The Shape is on the loose and when two unlucky Illinois locals happen upon the upturned bus, that’s when things really come alive and we get to see one of the film’s many (too many?) callback kills. It’s chilling and brutal, catering to a modern audience while keeping with MM’s MO.

To the extent the rest of Halloween 2018 maintains the momentum is up for debate. The audience for this screening didn’t do the gasp + laugh combo, the surefire sign that things are going swimmingly. And while that shouldn’t factor in, theater audiences enhance rather than detract from the proceedings. Not sure what to make of this, and Halloween 2018 will require a repeat viewing at home for the definitive statement.

A lot of good came from this production though: Toby Huss brings the dad jokes as Allyson’s pop; Laurie’s son-in-law, Jibrail Nantambu is terrifically funny as one of the local kids; and Drew Scheid makes for a perfectly pathetic incel.  And of course, Jamie Lee Curtis sprays a big can of foaming whoop-ass in the lead.

Tentatively, *** (out of 5) until further notice…

[Check out our discussion of Halloween 2018 on the Really Awful Movies Podcast!]