Review: ‘Halloween Kills,’ starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Will Patton, Thomas Mann and Anthony Michael Hall

October 16, 2021

by Carla Hay

Judy Greer, Jamie Lee Curtis and Andi Matichak in in “Halloween Kills” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

“Halloween Kills”

Directed by David Gordon Green

Culture Representation: Taking place in 2018, in the fictional Haddonfield, Illinois, the horror flick “Halloween Kills” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Serial killer Michael Myers is on the loose again and will murder anyone who gets in his way.

Culture Audience: “Halloween Kills” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching horror movies that care more about creating bloody murder scenes than creating any suspense or an interesting story.

Michael Myers (also known as The Shape, pictured at left) in “Halloween Kills” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

“Halloween Kills” is an apt description for what this boring slog of a horror movie does to further destroy the already damaged “Halloween” franchise. It also commits the unforgivable sin of confining “Halloween” icon Laurie Strode to a hospital for most of the movie. Horror movie aficionados will find nothing scary about this cynical cesspool of lazy filmmaking, because “Halloween Kills” is just a series of gory murders thrown into an incoherent and flimsy plot.

The 2018 “Halloween” movie indicated that Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode character (the most famous survivor of mask-wearing serial killer Michael Myers) would return to the franchise as an active hero doing battle against Michael Myers, who is also known as The Shape. The movie also introduced Laurie’s estranged daughter Karen (played by Judy Greer) and Karen’s daughter Allyson (played by Andi Matichak) into the mix, to make this hunt for Michael Myers a multi-generational family mission. At the end of the movie, Laurie and Karen had begun to mend their relationship, with Allyson being somewhat of a bridge between the two.

In “Halloween Kills,” which picks up right after the 2018 “Halloween” movie ended, any expectation that Laurie, Karen and Allyson would join forces is shattered. The three women spend most of the movie apart from each other. And when they are together, they often bicker with each other about who should or shouldn’t go after Michael Myers, who has returned to his hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois, to wreak more havoc on Halloween night. (“Halloween Kills” was actually filmed in North Carolina.) Meanwhile, men dominate in the planning of vigilante mob actions that play out in “Halloween Kills” in the most ludicrous ways.

David Gordon Green directed 2018’s “Halloween” and “Halloween Kills,” and he co-wrote both movies with Danny McBride. Jeff Fradley was the third co-writer of 2018’s “Halloween,” while Scott Teems was the third co-writer of “Halloween Kills.” It’s difficult to know if replacing Fradley with Teems is the reason why the quality of the “Halloween Kills” screenplay took a noticeable descent into moronic hell. The 2018 “Halloween” movie is by no means a classic horror flick, but it’s an exceedingly better film than the dreck of “Halloween Kills.” The director is chiefly responsible for how a movie turns out, so it’s disappointing that Green chose to coast off of the success of his “Halloween” movie and churn out such a formulaic and unimaginative dud with “Halloween Kills.”

Simply put: “Halloween Kills” wallows in the worst stereotypes of awful horror flicks. Characters go into a house alone to try and confront the extremely dangerous killer on the loose. When opportunities come to capture or kill the murderer once and for all, characters stand around talking to (or screaming at) the mute psycho killer Michael Myers, as if they think striking up a one-way conversation with him will suddenly turn him to a reasonable, law-abiding citizen. (In “Halloween Kills,” Michael Myers is portrayed by three actors: James Jude Courtney and Nick Castle in the 2018 scenes and Airon Armstrong in the 1978 scenes.)

And even though this serial killer is murdering people all over town, police officers and ambulances are mysteriously absent for most of the mayhem because almost all the imbecile characters in this movie usually don’t call 911. The nonsensical explanation in the movie is that the vigilante citizens think they can take Michael Myers on their own. Many of them think the Haddonfield police are incompetent. But that still doesn’t explain why the police aren’t showing up in force anyway.

And worst of all for a horror movie: There’s almost no suspense and nothing is truly terrifying. Gruesome? Yes. Scary? No. It’s very easy to predict who will die and who will survive in this movie. There’s also the predictable ending scene of someone who might or might not be dead. (It’s the most obvious way for a horror movie to set up a sequel.) The murders are done in such a monotonously routine way, it would be understandable for viewers to think that Michael Myers is sleepwalking. There is absolutely nothing creatively done in this movie when it comes to the plot, dialogue or action sequences.

“Halloween Kills” also squanders a compelling idea of reuniting many of the characters who survived the Michael Myers massacre that took place in the original 1978 “Halloween” movie. Several characters are introduced as having a meaningful connection to “Halloween” lore, but “Halloween Kills” won’t let viewers get to know these characters in a meaningful way. There are flashbacks in “Halloween Kills” that are ultimately a waste of time.

In one such flashback, which takes place in 1978 during Michael Myers’ first massacre in Haddonfield, viewers see a rookie cop in his 20s named Hawkins (played by Thomas Mann) and his older, more experienced partner Pete McCabe (played by Jim Cummings) on the scene. They are among the first cops to respond to this emergency. It’s enough to say that McCabe doesn’t make it out alive, but Hawkins does. In 2018, Hawkins (played by Will Patton) is still a Haddonfield cop, and he’s been wounded in this latest Michael Myers massacre.

Laurie is also wounded, because Michael stabbed her in the abdomen, as shown in 2018’s “Halloween.” She’s first seen in “Halloween Kills” bleeding profusely and in agony in the back of a truck with Karen and Allyson, as the truck speeds to the nearest hospital. It’s at this hospital that Laurie will stay for most of her screen time in “Halloween Kills.” She’s sidelined into being either being unconscious or, when she wakes up, being a cranky grandmother who thinks she knows best when it comes to who should go after Michael Myers.

And what a coincidence: A wounded Hawkins ends up being in the same hospital room as Laurie. There’s an almost laughable backstory put in “Halloween Kills” that Laurie and Hawkins had a flirtation with each other back in 1978. And so, in the midst of all the madness and mayhem with this latest Michael Myers killing spree, Laurie and Hawkins make goo-goo eyes at each other in their hospital beds, as they reminisce about their “could’ve been” near-miss romance. It’s an example of how off-the-rails this movie is in keeping Laurie mostly out of the action.

Besides Laurie and Hawkins, these are the other Haddonfield survivors from the original 1978 massacre who become targets of Michael Myers in the 2018 massacre:

  • Tommy Doyle (played by Anthony Michael Hall): In 1978, Laurie was babysitting Tommy and his sister on the Halloween night when Michael Myers went on his deadly rampage. Tommy’s sister became one of Michael Myers’ murder victims.
  • Lindsey Wallace (played by Kyle Richards): She was also a kid in 1978, and her babysitter was murdered by Michael Myers that night.
  • Marion Chambers (played by Nancy Stephens): She was the nurse of the late Dr. Loomis (played by Donald Pleasance), the psychiatrist who was treating Michael Myers when Michael escaped from the psychiatric institution on that fateful Halloween in 1978. (Stephens reprises her role that she had in 1978’s “Halloween” movie.)
  • Lonnie Elam (played by Robert Longstreet): When he was 9 or 10 years old, he had a near-miss encounter with Michael Myers on a sidewalk on Halloween night 1978. (Tristian Eggerling portrays Lonnie as a child in a flashback scene.)

“Halloween Kills” also has some other characters who encounter Michael Myers on Halloween night in 2018. Lonnie’s son Cameron Elam (played by Dylan Arnold) happens to be Allyson’s boyfriend. Cameron is also the person who finds a wounded Hawkins on the street. It’s one of the few times that someone in this movie has the common sense to call 911 for help. But that’s not what happens later in the movie when Lonnie, Cameron and Allyson foolishly decide to hunt down Michael Myers on their own.

Married couple Marcus (played by Michael Smallwood) and Vanessa (played by Carmela McNeal), who are dressed in Halloween costumes as a doctor and a nurse, meet Tommy at a local bar and quickly befriend him after he gets up on stage and talks about being a Michael Myers survivor. And there’s a gay couple named Big John (played by Scott MacArthur) and Little John (played by Michael McDonald), who work together in real estate. Big John and Little John happen to live in the house that Michael Myers used to live in before Michael was sent to a psychiatric institution in 1963 for killing his 17-year-old sister Judith when he was 6 years old. What are the odds that Michael will go back to his childhood home when Big John and Little John are there?

Michael Myers was supposed to be in his 20s in 1978, which means that he’s getting too old to have the type of superhuman strength that he has in these “Halloween” movies. He’s also been “killed” in several ways in various “Halloween” movies, but he still keeps coming back. All of that is explained in “Halloween Kills” when Laurie gives an absurdly bad monologue about how she’s come to the conclusion that Michael Myers is not human and he feeds off of people’s fear of him.

The “mob justice” aspect of “Halloween Kills” is idiotic and badly mishandled. Expect to see Tommy shout, “Evil dies tonight!” multiple times, as it becomes a rallying cry for the vigilante crowd. Just by coincidence, two psychiatric patients have escaped that night from a psychiatric institution that held Michael Myers. It’s a plot contrivance that’s set up for a silly “mistaken identity” subplot.

Even though the people of Haddonfield should know by now what Michael Myers’ height and general physical build should be (his body type hasn’t changed since 1978), the crazed vigilantes go after one of these escapees who’s considerably shorter and stockier than Michael Myers. Apparently, for this mob, any old psychiatric hospital escapee will do.

Karen is the only one with an iota of common sense to notice that this escapee doesn’t have Michael Myers’ physical characteristics. As the practical-minded Karen, Greer gives the best performance of this movie’s cast members. However, that’s not saying much because everyone’s acting in “Halloween Kills” is mediocre overall.

Oddly, there’s a lone elderly cop in uniform who gets swept up in the vigilante mob. His allegiances are never really clear. One minute, he seems to want to try to stop the mob madness. The next minute, he seems to be going along with the crowd. He doesn’t ask for backup from his fellow police officers. The only thing that’s clear is that he’s a terrible cop who should be fired and can kiss that pension goodbye.

There are many plot holes in “Halloween” that the filmmakers want to cover up with some cringeworthy dialogue and bloody action sequences. “Halloween Kills” has so much arguing and melodrama in a hospital, viewers will be wondering: “Is this a horror movie or a soap opera?” At one point, Laurie rips out her medical tubes and injects herself in the rear end with a painkiller. If you waited your whole life to see Laurie Strode give herself a butt injection, then “Halloween Kills” is the movie for you.

During one of her hospital rants, Laurie says to Karen about why Michael Myers is still on the loose and what Laurie wants to do about it: “The system failed … Let him come for me! Let him take my head as I take his! … You and Allyson shouldn’t have to keep running because of the darkness I created.”

But wait a minute, Laurie. “Halloween Kills” doesn’t want you to take all the credit for Michael Myers going on a rampage. Hawkins thinks Michael Myers is on this killing spree because of Hawkins. He makes a guilt-ridden confession that doesn’t make any sense at all for why Hawkins would be the reason for Michael Myers’ serial killings. There’s a badly written flashback scene involving a cover-up that wouldn’t be plausible in the real world because of autopsy reports and how bullet trajectories would be investigated.

It’s not as if viewers should expect a terrible horror movie like “Halloween Kills” to be realistic. But the movie just doesn’t offer a horrifying mystery, engaging new characters, or even twist-filled “hunt for the killer” chase scenes. It’s all so predictable, hollow and generic. “Halloween Kills” puts too much emphasis on a mindless and forgettable mob of people while sidelining Laurie Strode, the most memorable and iconic hero of the “Halloween” franchise. That’s the real injustice in “Halloween Kills.”

Universal Pictures released “Halloween Kills” in U.S. cinemas and on Peacock on October 15, 2021.

Review: ‘Valley Girl’ (2020), starring Jessica Rothe, Josh Whitehouse, Logan Paul, Mae Whitman, Jessie Ennis, Chloe Bennet and Alicia Silverstone

May 8, 2020

by Carla Hay

Jessica Rothe and Josh Whitehouse in “Valley Girl” (Photo courtesy of Orion Classics)

“Valley Girl” (2020)

Directed by Rachel Lee Goldenberg

Culture Representation: Taking place in the Los Angeles area, this musical remake of the 1983 romantic comedy “Valley Girl” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A sheltered San Fernando Valley “good girl,” who’s about to graduate from high school, has a romance with a “bad boy” musician from Hollywood, much to her friends’ disapproval.

Culture Audience: “Valley Girl” will appeal mostly to fans of the original “Valley Girl” movie or fans of 1980s pop music, but they will probably be disappointed in this musical remake, which is too slick for its own good.

Camila Morrone and Alicia Silverstone in “Valley Girl” (Photo courtesy of Orion Classics)

The 1983 romantic comedy “Valley Girl” (starring Nicolas Cage and Deborah Foreman) is the kind of movie that doesn’t need to be remade/re-imagined/rebooted for a modern audience, because it’s a movie about a particular youth subculture that’s meant to stay in the past and shouldn’t be resurrected. Although the 2020 musical remake of “Valley Girl” (directed by Rachel Lee Goldenberg) wisely chose to make the movie primarily as a flashback memory to the ’80s, almost everything about this musical smacks of an inauthentic, forced recreation of the effortless 1980s charm that made the original “Valley Girl” movie a cult classic.

In the beginning of the “Valley Girl” musical remake, a pouty, young woman named Ruby (played by Camila Morrone), who’s in her early 20s, stumbles out of a nightclub and asks her mother (whom she still lives with) to come pick her up from the club. Ruby is apparently too tipsy to drive and apparently doesn’t want to call a taxi or ride-sharing service. When they get home, Ruby tells her mother Julie (played by Alicia Silverstone) that she’s in a bad mood because she just broke up with her boyfriend.

The mother is supposed to be the Julie Richman character who was the teenage titular protagonist in the original “Valley Girl” movie. Julie is now a middle-aged fashion designer, who has fond and rosy memories of her teenage years in California’s San Fernando Valley, where she still lives.

As a San Fernando Valley teenager in the ’80s, Julie’s life was like a carefree bubble that revolved around school, going to shopping malls (like the famous Sherman Oaks Galleria), dating, hanging out at the beach, and going to parties with other teens, usually at someone’s house. (Frank Zappa’s 1982 song “Valley Girl,” featuring vocals by his then-teenage daughter Moon Unit Zappa, inspired the idea for the 1983 “Valley Girl” movie. The Zappas were not involved in the movie, and Frank Zappa lost a lawsuit that he filed to prevent the film from being made.)

When she was a senior in high school, Julie fell in love for the first time with a slightly older Hollywood rocker named Randy, who was played by Cage in the original “Valley Girl” movie. As for who Ruby’s father is, he’s mentioned but not seen in the “Valley Girl” remake, which reveals at the end of the film whether or not Randy and Julie ended up living happily ever after.

Julie is very sympathetic about her daughter’s boyfriend breakup, but Julie also starts to tell Ruby about the “good old days,” when her name was Julie Richman and she was a very sheltered teenager in the early-to-mid-80s. (Although the original “Valley Girl” was released in 1983, the ’80s music in the “Valley Girl” musical remake was released in or before 1984. Only true music trivia buffs would notice this change in the movie’s soundtrack.)

Julie’s daughter tries to pretend she doesn’t care about her mother’s nostalgic memories, by groaning to her about her boyfriend problems: “You wouldn’t understand!” And that’s when Julie launches into her “let me tell you about when I was young” story. The rest of the movie occasionally cuts back to the middle-aged Julie and her daughter for exposition purposes, but the majority of the film consists of the flashback memories of Julie, with the characters from the ’80s often singing their dialogues, since this is a musical.

Here we go. Get ready for the cheesiness. Although Jessica Rothe as the teenage Julie does a fairly good job as a singer, she is not convincing at all as a naïve, straight-laced high schooler, which is what Julie is supposed to be. Rothe looks like she’s graduated from high school years ago, instead of someone who’s supposed to still be in high school. Putting her in cutesy and frilly ’80s outfits doesn’t make her look like a teenager.

Deborah Foreman, who played the teenage Julie in the original “Valley Girl” had a mix of innocence and sexiness that made her irresistible to a lot of guys in her orbit. Rothe (who was in her early 30s when she made this “Valley Girl” remake) looks like she’s playing dress-up as a teenager. Because she looks way past the age of a student in high school, it looks ridiculous for her to play such a sheltered goody-two shoes teen. It’s not quite as bad of an age miscast as Olivia Newton-John in the movie “Grease,” but it’s pretty close. At least “Grease” was a great musical. This version of “Valley Girl” is most definitely not.

As for “bad boy” rocker Randy, the original “Valley Girl” had Cage playing him as a kind of a misfit weirdo who didn’t care about the social taboos of a sheltered high school girl from the San Fernando Valley dating a “freak” from Hollywood. In this musical version of “Valley Girl,” there’s nothing quirky, dangerous or even edgy about Randy, who’s played by Josh Whitehouse, in a very bland performance and with very limited singing talent.

In this remake, Randy looks more like he wants to be a heartthrob teen idol (like John Stamos was back in the early ’80s), instead of being a slightly scuzzy, down-on-his-luck rocker, which is what the Randy character is supposed to be. Even the tattoos that the Randy character has in this “Valley Girl” remake look fake, because they probably are. Randy in both “Valley Girl” movies is supposed to be slightly older than Julie, which is one of the reasons why their relationship is slightly taboo. While in the original movie, Cage looked the part, Whitehouse actually looks younger than Rothe, which he is in real life.

The nightclub scenes in this remake also don’t look real at all. You can tell it’s a movie set, compared to the original “Valley Girl” which filmed on location at a real nightclub. The nightclub where the original “Valley Girl” was filmed was called The Central back then, but it became more famous in the 1990s when it was renamed the Viper Room. In the original “Valley Girl,” there was a scene with The Plimsouls performing their song “A Million Miles Away” at the club. In the remake, the female rock duo Deap Vally performs the song.

In fact, almost everything about the “Valley Girl” remake  (written by Amy Talkington) feels overly sanitized. It scrubs out all the adult content from the original movie (in other words, some of the funniest scenes) and turns this film into a too-cutesy musical. The only nudity in the remake is when some male students briefly moon someone at the high school. There’s no drug use in the remake, and sex is hinted at but not shown.

The costumes in the “Valley Girl” remake also look very much like costumes (and some of it is intentional, since many of the movie’s scenes take place at a costume party), while the movie’s hair, makeup and production design for the San Fernando Valley scenes are overly exaggerated in pastels and neon. Perhaps this “movie set” look to the film serves a purpose, since it’s supposed to represent the glossy memories of someone nostalgic about their teenage years in the ’80s. But people who’ve seen the original “Valley Girl” (which was directed by Martha Coolidge) will be turned off by this remake’s glibness.

Although the remake removed the gritty and realistic aspects of the original “Valley Girl,” the plot of the original “Valley Girl” is mostly the same in this musical remake, with some notable differences. In both “Valley Girl” movies, Julie (who’s a popular girl at her school) breaks up with a guy that most people expect someone like her to date: a preppy jock who’s also popular at school. But he also happens to be very self-centered, cocky and possessive, which is why Julie breaks up with him. He swears that she’ll regret it, and he arrogantly predicts that she’ll beg him to take her back.

In both movies, Julie meets Randy shortly after the breakup. And it’s the kind of scene where they look at each other in a way that’s obvious that they’re attracted to each other and will eventually get together. In the original “Valley Girl,” Randy and Julie meet at a house party, where he’s shown up uninvited. In the remake, Randy and Julie meet briefly on the beach, and then have their first major flirtation later at a house party.

In the original “Valley Girl,” Julie’s obnoxious ex-boyfriend was named Tommy (played by Michael Bowen). In the “Valley Girl” remake, the ex-boyfriend is named Mickey Bowen (get it?), and he’s played by YouTube star Logan Paul, who’s famous for also being obnoxious in real life, so there doesn’t have to be a lot of acting from him. It’s unknown if the character was named Mickey before or after the filmmakers decided to put Toni Basil’s hit “Mickey” as a big musical number in the film. Yes, it’s as cringeworthy as it sounds.

The choreography by Mandy Moore (of “La La Land” and “So You Think You Can Dance” fame) is actually one of the better aspects of the “Valley Girl” remake. It’s just too bad that the watered-down story and corny dialogue make this movie much more inferior to the original. The remake is essentially a “jukebox musical” with a lot of ’80s hits stuffed into the plot.

There are a few modern updates to the “Valley Girl” remake. The cast is a little more diverse than the first “Valley Girl” film. In the original, all the girls in Julie’s close circle of friends are thin and white. In the remake, Julie’s clique includes an African American named Loryn (played by Ashleigh Murray), whose dream is to be a dancer in music videos, especially for her idol Janet Jackson; plus-sized Stacey (played by Jessie Ennis), who’s unfortunately the butt of jokes and not treated very well by some of her so-called “friends”; and petty-minded Karen (played by Chloe Bennet), who ends up dating Mickey after Julie breaks up with him.

In the original “Valley Girl,”  Julie’s friend Loryn (played  Elizabeth “E.G.” Dailey) is the one who fools around with Julie’s ex-boyfriend at a party, and they keep their short fling a secret. In the remake, Mickey and Karen openly date each other after Julie has dumped him. His rebound relationship with Karen essentially ends Karen’s friendship with Julie.

But in both movies, all of the San Fernando Valley girls in Julie’s clique still have the same stuck-up attitude about Hollywood, which they think is a place for freaks and weirdos. This social snobbery is why Julie’s friends pressure her to break up with Randy and get back together with her ex-boyfriend. If you know the formula of romantic comedies, you can guess how Julie handles this conflict and how it gets resolved in the end.

Both movies also have teen parties that are chaperoned by adults. Fun fact: Original “Valley Girls” co-stars Foreman and Dailey have cameos in the “Valley Girl” remake. Foreman plays someone who compliments Julie in a store that sells prom dresses (how very meta), while Dailey plays a drunk parent at one of the teen parties. However, the remake doesn’t have the original “Valley Girl” subplot of a “Mrs. Robinson”-type character trying to seduce the teenage guy whom her daughter wants for herself.

Julie’s parents are very different in each movie. In the original “Valley Girl,” Julie’s former hippie parents are much more lenient (her father also smokes marijuana in the movie) than Julie’s parents in the “Valley Girl” remake. For example, in the original “Valley Girl,” Julie’s parents Steve and Sarah (played by Frederic Forrest and Colleen Camp), who run a health-food restaurant, were okay with her staying out all night and dating Randy. In the remake, Julie’s parents Steve and Diana (played by Rob Huebel and Judy Greer) are much more conservative (Steve is a corporate business type), much more protective of Julie, and they don’t approve of her dating Randy.

Another big difference is that in the original “Valley Girl,” Randy’s family is not seen or mentioned at all. But the “Valley Girl” remake goes more into the backstory of Randy’s family, when he reveals that his father abandoned him, and his mother kicked Randy out of their home. And the original “Valley Girl” never showed the bachelor pad where Randy lived (which made him kind of mysterious), whereas the remake shows that Randy (who’s a wannabe rock star) lives in a dumpy apartment in Hollywood with his two band mates: a lesbian bass player named Jack (played by Mae Whitman) and a kooky drummer named Sticky (played by Mario Revolori). Jack is Randy’s best friend/sidekick, which was the role of Fred Bailey (played by Cameron Dye) in the original “Valley Girl” movie.

The “Valley Girl” remake also gives Julie career ambitions, which she did not have in the original movie. In the musical remake, Julie is an aspiring fashion designer who dreams of going to the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, but she’s pressured to conform and go to California State University at Northridge, a school that many of her peers from high school also plan to attend.

The other girls in Julie’s Valley Girl clique only have ambitions to go to college so that they can find a husband. As Loryn says to her friends while they’re sunning themselves at the beach, “If I’m not married by the time I’m 23, I’ll kill myself!” If that sounds like an outdated mindset, even for 1980s California, consider that a lot of teenage girls and young women still think this way in very conservative communities.

The “Valley Girl” remake’s hokey dialogue and mediocre acting might be forgivable, but the movie does something that’s pretty unforgivable for fans of the original “Valley Girl” movie. It changed the plot so that Modern English’s “I Melt With You” (the signature song from the original “Valley Girl” soundtrack) is supposed to be written by Randy for Julie. In other words, that means Randy and his band play “I Melt With You” in a serenading scene that’s as dumb as you think it is. Pure garbage.

Since the “Valley Girl” remake ruined “I Melt With You,” here’s a list of ’80s songs that the movie’s cast members remade for the musical scenes, in a less offensive but still fairly cheesy way: Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”; Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation”; a-ha’s “Take on Me”; The Cars’ “You Might Think”; A Flock of Seagulls’ “Space Age Love Song”; The Cure’s “Boys Don’t Cry”; Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure”; and a medley of Depeche Mode’s “Just Can’t Get Enough,” Madonna’s “Material Girl,” Hall & Oates’ “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do),” and Soft Cell’s cover version of “Tainted Love.”

There are also some songs in the movie that are the original artists’ studio recordings, such The Cars’ “Magic,” Duran Duran’s “Rio,” Men at Work’s “Be Good Johnny,” Run-DMC’s “It’s Like That” and Men Without Hats’ “Safety Dance.” It’s obvious that the filmmakers spent a great deal of the movie’s budget on licensing these hit songs, because there doesn’t appear to have been much of the budget invested in creating a quality film.

Orion Classics released “Valley Girl” in select U.S. drive-in theaters, on digital and on VOD on May 8, 2020.

2019 Tribeca Film Festival movie review: ‘Buffaloed’

May 1, 2019

by Carla Hay

Zoey Deutch in "Buffaloed"
Zoey Deutch in “Buffaloed” (Photo by Guy Godfree)

“Buffaloed”

Directed by Tanya Wexler

World premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on April 27, 2019.

What’s an ambitious girl to do when she needs money to go to an Ivy League university but she can’t afford it? Turn to a life of crime, of course. That’s pretty much the story of Peg Dahl (manically played by Zoey Deutch) in the over-the-top comedy “Buffaloed.” The movie gets its name from Peg’s hometown of Buffalo, New York, where she was raised by a working-class, single mother named Kathy (played by Judy Greer), who doesn’t think Peg needs an Ivy League education to be a success. From an early age, Peg has had an obsession about escaping from Buffalo by attending an Ivy League school and becoming a rich and successful businessperson.

Peg’s dream starts to come true when she’s accepted into an Ivy League school, but she panics after her mother is turned down for financial aid. (Her mother supposedly makes too much money to qualify.) Peg presumably doesn’t have outstanding-enough grades to qualify for an academic scholarship either. And, of course, there would be no “Buffaloed” movie if Peg did what most people do when they can’t afford college tuition—take out a loan. So with no way to afford the tuition and with the deadline approaching to pay the tuition, Peg uses desperate measures and begins selling counterfeit tickets at Buffalo Bills games. Most movies at this point would have had Peg get away with the crime, head off to school, and continue to cook up schemes to pay for her tuition. But this is not that film.

Instead, Peg gets busted early on in the film, and she gets sentenced to 40 months in prison. Goodbye, Ivy League. One of the scenes that shows that “Buffaloed” is taking the campy, not-to-be-taken-seriously route is the chaotic environment of Peg’s trial, where the judge is eating sauce-covered Buffalo wings on the bench. When Peg gets out of prison, she is bitter, disillusioned and in debt. Her legal bills total $50,000, and being a criminal convicted of fraud has greatly reduced her chances of getting a decent job.

So let’s get this straight: Before she went to prison, Peg supposedly wasn’t able to afford an expensive Ivy League education, but she didn’t want to take out a student loan. Now she’s got $50,000 in legal bills because apparently she didn’t want to use a public defender, which is what you’re supposed to do if you can’t afford an expensive attorney. Right. Let’s move on.

Enter a character who opens a window of opportunity for Peg: Sal Scarpetta (played by “Buffaloed” screenwriter Brian Sacca, one of the film’s producers), who works for the town’s top debt-collection agency, which is hounding Peg to pay her debts. Peg and Sal first communicate over the phone when he calls her about her debt. Since the collection agency already knows about her ex-con background, and Peg finds out how much money she could be making if she worked there, it’s not long before she shows up at the agency and asks for a job.

Sal’s boss is Josh “Wizz” Wisnewski (played by Jai Courtney, hamming it up in the villain role), who runs the sleazy agency. Wizz is a sexist bully who’s reluctant to hire Peg in his aggressive, male-dominated environment. But through persistence, Peg convinces Wizz to hire her, and she makes a deal with him to erase all of her debt if she can become the company’s top debt-collector in one month.

Peg soon finds out that Wizz’s operation engages in many illegal practices, including “double-dipping,” a term used to keep billing someone for debt that has already been paid. Peg is so determined to become the top employee that she drives to Ohio to visit an elderly woman with a 20-year-debt (and Peg even brings cupcakes as part of her manipulation), because she figures that the old lady is a prime target for Peg to pull a double-dipping scam on her.

The rest of the movie veers off into a number of twists and turns, including Peg going to war with Wizz for reasons that won’t be spoiled in this review. It’s enough to say that Wizz’s “mob boss” mentality and use of extreme intimidation tactics are examples of the caricature-like silliness in this movie. Somehow, Peg’s mother Kathy, Peg’s brother JJ (played by Noah Reid) and Wizz’s brother Mitch (played by Nicholas Carella) get pulled into these shenanigans. There’s also a subplot where Peg gets romantically involved with the assistant district attorney who prosecuted her: Graham Feany (played by Jermaine Fowler), who knows she’s involved in illegal money-making schemes, but he looks the other way as long as she doesn’t tell him all the details.

“Buffaloed” director Tanya Wexler keeps a madcap pace throughout the movie that works in some areas and doesn’t work in others. Deutch (who is one of the film’s producers) takes on the role of Peg with admirable gusto. However, since Peg can’t seem to get out of Buffalo (something that’s she’s been wanting to do her whole life), and she gets caught early on for a felony crime, Peg is not as smart as the movie wants you to think she is. Unfortunately, the third act is such a mess that only a major rewrite could save the film.

The tone of “Buffaloed” is very uneven: It starts off as a dark comedy, and then turns giddy and almost sentimental in the end. “Buffaloed” could have had much better social commentary on the stresses of paying for college tuition and the extreme lengths people might go to get money for it. Instead, it devolves into an inconsistent whirling mix of under-developed characters and ill-conceived plotlines, just like an electric blender that turns a hodgepodge of ingredients into mush.

 UPDATE: Magnolia Pictures will release “Buffaloed” in select U.S. theaters and VOD on February 14, 2020.

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