Wildlife—When he’s not diligently doing his homework or riding the bench at football practice, fourteen-year-old Joe (Ed Oxenbould) watches his young parents with fretful eyes in this coming-of-age tale set in Montana in 1960. Hisdepressive dad Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal) loses his job as a golf pro, loafs on the couch for a while, then leaves the house to take a dollar-an-hour job fighting the nearby wildfires. His beautiful, bright and emotionally brittle mom Jeanette (Carey Mulligan) falls into a panic of abandonment and anger. Her perfect mid-century housewife persona frays, and, while Joe helplessly watches, an older local businessman (Bill Camp) makes his move.
Based on Richard Ford’s 1990 novel, this quiet, poignant film is the feature directorial debut of the talented actor Paul Dano, from a script he wrote with Zoe Kazan. It’s absorbing from start to finish, with spare, declarative, almost Pinteresque dialog and flourishes of real dramatic potency, like a close-up of Joe’s face as he gets his first look at the wildfire.
Oxenbould, who played Alexander in Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day and the rapping brother in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Visit, adds another impressive turn to his resume; our hearts go out to poor mature, terrified Joe. Gyllenhaal is touching as the wreck Jerry, but it’s Mulligan, with her joltingly tense line readings, that makes the movie original and memorable. She’s the wild card in Wildlife.
Opening this week at Harkins Camelview.
Halloween (1978)—For those of us who saw it in the theater when it came out, the fact that the original Halloween turns forty this year is almost as scary as the movie itself. Before checking out the new sequel bearing the same title, which disregards all the sequels and reboots in between—not much loss; 1998’s Halloween H20 was pretty good, but the rest were mostly squalid—you may want to revisit John Carpenter’s hugely influential original, playing this Sunday at 8 p.m. at FilmBar.
Carpenter’s shocker has a deliberately generic quality, right down to its boogeyman, an escaped maniac in a jowly, chalky-white mask and overalls with the humdrum name of Michael Myers and a supernatural reluctance to die. The Illinois town to which he returns, and the attractive “teens” he targets, are similarly conventional. But something about the atmosphere that Carpenter generates makes the movie’s stock elements feel archetypical rather than stereotypical, and infuses them with dread. Generations of teens have projected themselves into this film’s terrifying template.
Partly this durability may be due to the actors, notably Donald Pleasance, who brings a hint of wit into the proceedings as Dr. Sam Loomis, the frantic psychiatrist in pursuit of Michael. Even more soul is brought to the film by Jamie Leigh Curtis as the terrified but never defeated young heroine Laurie Strode. Curtis plays the same character as the star of the new film. She’s arguably the original “final girl,” and she’s still standing.
The Fog (1980)—Or, maybe you’d rather observe Halloween with another Carpenter classic, this 1980 tale about a beautiful seaside California town attacked by the ghosts of the leprous mariners that the townies cheated rather badly a century earlier. It isn’t, for me, nearly as scary as Halloween, but I’ve always preferred it anyway; it has a corny, old-school sense of spook-house melodrama and a terrific cast including Hal Holbrook as a guilty, tippling old priest, Adrienne Barbeau as a purring late-night disc jockey, Jamie Lee Curtis as a hitchiker, and as a harried town official, Curtis’s real-life mom (and shower scene veteran) Janet Leigh.
A 4K Restoration of The Fog plays at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Chandler Friday, October 26 at 7:30 p.m., and in Tempe Monday, October 29, at 7 p.m.