Review: ‘Family Squares,’ starring Ann Dowd, Judy Greer, Billy Magnussen, Margo Martindale, June Squibb, Casey Wilson and Henry Winkler

April 7, 2022

by Carla Hay

“Family Squares” cast members. Pictured in top row, from left to right: Judy Greer, Margo Martindale and Henry Winkler. Pictured in bottom row, from left to right: Sam Richardson, Timothy Simons and Billy Magnussen (Photo courtesy of Screen Media Films)

“Family Squares”

Directed by Stephanie Laing

Culture Representation: Taking place 2020, in North Carolina, New York City, Connecticut and other parts of the world, the comedy/drama film “Family Squares” features a cast of predominantly white characters (with one Asian and one African American) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Before and after an American family’s matriarch dies, various members of the family meet on videoconference calls to talk about the clan’s frequently difficult relationships and some family secrets that cause conflicts. 

Culture Audience: “Family Squares” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s cast members and stories about bickering family members who still love each other despite their differences.

June Squibb in “Family Squares” (Photo courtesy of Screen Media Films)

Neither terrible nor great, “Family Squares” is a flawed comedy/drama that’s elevated by the talent of the movie’s cast members. It’s an uneven but well-acted movie about a family gathering on videoconference calls. Directed by Stephanie Laing, “Family Squares” has a title that refers to how the family members appear on screen in squares because of the videoconference format. It’s another movie about people being unable to interact in person because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Family Squares” (which Laing co-wrote with Brad Morris) won’t be considered a classic COVID-19 pandemic movie, but it might interest people who are curious to see a scripted story about how large families stayed in touch during the pre-vaccine lockdowns of the pandemic.

The movie, which takes place and was filmed in 2020, has the expected squabbles between these relatives, but there are enough tender moments and comedy to make the emotions well-rounded. Where the movie falters is in some of the dialogue, which can sometimes be too corny or too contrived. However, the cast members’ performances make the movie’s characters believable. You might see parts of yourself or people you know in some of these family members, even if what some these characters say occasionally sounds like an overly calculated movie script.

“Family Squares,” which centers on the fictional Worth family, could have done a better job of explaining in the beginning how each family member is related to each other. Unless you have an excellent memory or are taking notes, it might be very easy to get confused by the first 10 to 15 minutes of the movie, which is kind of a jumbled mess, where the characters show up on screen and then babble on about various things.

Here are the characters of the Worth family who participate in these videoconference calls:

  • Mabel (played by June Squibb) is the family’s feisty matriarch, who is in her 90s and dying in a hospice/nursing home somewhere in New York state. Mabel passes away during the first videoconference call that’s seen in the movie. Mabel divorced her husband (who is now deceased) many years ago and has been married to a much-younger woman for the past four years. Mabel’s two children from her marriage to her ex-husband are son Bobby and daughter Diane.
  • Judith Joyner (played by Ann Dowd), Mabel’s soft-spoken wife, lives in New York City, and has been unable to visit Mabel in person during Mabel’s final days because of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns.
  • Bobby (played by Henry Winkler), Mabel’s bachelor son, has a rebellious past and a tense relationship with his younger sister Diane, who were both raised on a farm in Spring Hope, North Carolina.
  • Diane (played by Margo Martindale), Mabel’s strong-willed younger child, doesn’t think highly of Bobby because she thinks he’s irresponsible and flaky. Diane, who lives in Connecticut, is a widow and a mother of five adult children: son Bret, daughter Dorsey, son Chad, son Robert and daughter Katie.
  • Bret (played by Timothy Simons) is a widower and a failed business entrepreneur who is raising his daughter Cassie (who’s about 15 or 16 years old) on his own.
  • Dorsey (played by Judy Greer) is a neurotic single mother who is currently on a road trip (in a recreational vehicle camper) with her reluctant 17-year-old son Max. Dorsey has a longtime love/hate relationship with her younger sister Katie. Max’s father, who is described as a deadbeat dad who abandoned Dorsey and Max, is not a part of Max’s life.
  • Chad (played by Scott MacArthur), a bachelor with no children, is a fairly successful self-help guru and author, who thinks that he’s the one who has a life that is the most enviable out of all of his siblings.
  • Robert (played by Billy Magnussen) is a ne’er-do-well bachelor with no children. Robert jumps from job to job and has a younger brother inferiority complex with Chad, who bullied Robert when they were children. Robert claims to be calling from Russia, where he says he is hiding out for top-secret reasons that have to do with Robert’s computer hacking.
  • Katie (played by Casey Wilson) is the youngest of Diane’s children and the only one of her siblings to still live in their North Carolina hometown of Spring Hope. Katie is very image-conscious and has a bad habit of being tardy. Katie and her husband Kevin have three underage kids together, but Katie is the only one in their household who participates in the videoconference calls.
  • Max (played by Maclaren Laing), Dorsey’s marijuana-smoking son, loves his mother, but he doesn’t want to spend a lot of time with her. Max was never close to his great-grandmother Mabel, so he is emotionally unaffected when Mabel dies.
  • Cassie (played by Elsie Fisher), Bret’s quiet and introverted teenage daughter, was emotionally attached to Mabel, so she is devastated when Mabel dies.

The movie’s unseen narrator is someone named Bill (voiced by Rob Reiner), whose identity is revealed toward the end of the movie. It might be easy to figure out who Bill is, based on his comments and observations. Some viewers might think the narration is unnecessary and annoying, while other viewers might think the narration is necessary and charming.

Someone who pops in occasionally during these videoconference calls is Kelly (played by Zoë Chao), the hospice nurse who was taking care of Mabel before Mabel passed away. Kelly is the one who sets up the videoconference call for Mabel, who is computer-illiterate and too sick to do it herself. After Mabel dies, Kelly plays video messages that Mabel left for her surviving family members.

Kelly has an awkward moment with Judith when, after Mabel dies, Judith wants to arrange to get Mabel’s personal items that were at the hospice, but Judith is not allowed to claim Mabel’s items. Kelly has to tell Judith that it’s because the hospice doesn’t have Judith listed as a family member, even though Judith and Mabel were legally married. This scene is a depiction of what LGBTQ people often have to go through when their spouses or partners die, and the spouses or partners who are left behind are impeded by homophobic policies and laws that deprive them of their rights. All of the members of the Worth family love and accept Judith, but the movie never bothers to explain why Mabel—who knew she was dying and was living openly as a queer married woman—never made the proper spousal arrangements for Judith at this hospice.

Another person who is part of these videoconference calls is a funeral director/attorney named Alex (played by Sam Richardson), who is put in an uncomfortable position when the Worth family members disagree over whether or not to have a virtual/online funeral for Mabel. Judith is a part of these funeral arrangements. And the decision about the funeral isn’t the only conflict in this family.

Mabel drops two bombshells in her farewell videos that are shown after her death: First, she announces that somewhere on the family farm property is something valuable. “We are really, filthy, stinking, fucking rich,” Mabel says in the video. Some of the family members immediately want to go to the property to hunt for what they think might be hidden treasure and possibly find it before the other family members. Bill can be heard in a voiceover saying, “Nothing like an inheritance to get the family greed boiling.”

Mabel’s other shocking revelation is that she says one of the family members who is a sibling is actually not a biological sibling. Mabel refuses to go into any further details and tells her family members that they have to figure out this secret on their own. This family secret actually makes “Family Squares” more interesting than it could have been, so it’s one of the main reasons why the movie can hold people’s attention.

There are other family secrets that are revealed during these calls, but they are somewhat mild in comparison to the one about who are the real biological parents of the person who’s “not a sibling.” There’s also the matter of who else in the family knew about this secret, which could threaten to destroy relationships in this family. Judith admits she knows the secret, but she tells everyone: “It’s not for me to say.”

In a movie with very talented cast members, it’s hard to go wrong with their performances. Greer and Martindale stand out the most because not only do their characters of Dorsey and Diane have outspoken personalities, but they also have the most emotional depth. All of the other cast members perform well in their character roles, which at times can get a little two-dimensional and can reduce them to stereotypes.

Laing gives mostly solid direction to “Family Squares,” which could have done without some of the slapstick shenanigans between Chad and Robert that cheapen the quality of the film. A few of the characters, such as Cassie and Bret, are a bit underdeveloped. Because there are so many family members and so many conflicts, at times “Family Squares” seems a little overstuffed. The first third of the movie tends to drag, the middle of the movie is a little scattered and unfocused, but the last third of the movie makes up for the story’s shortcomings.

Screen Media Films released “Family Squares” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on February 25, 2022. The movie was released on Blu-ray and DVD on April 5, 2022.

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 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.

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