Tuesday, December 27, 2022

An Enemy of the People (1978): A Review (Review #1681)



Steve McQueen earned the nickname "The King of Cool". As such, it might be startling to see such a ruggedly handsome, action-oriented star as a meek scientist. An Enemy of the People was a wild breakaway from the McQueen persona, which is why it might have been quietly shunted off and forgotten by Warner Brothers and probably not known to McQueen fans. That is a terrible shame, for An Enemy of the People shows McQueen was a more adept and talented actor than he was ever given credit for. 

Meek and humble Dr. Thomas Stockmann (McQueen) is like everyone in his small Norwegian village eager for the new therapeutic springs to open. As the scientific advisor for the spa, he checks the waters and they have appeared safe. The latest results, however, show that there is high contamination due to pollution from the nearby tannery which is infecting the spa waters.

He begins advising to delay the opening to allow cleanup and repairs, but that could take years. His brother, Mayor Pete (Charles Durning) urges Tom to say nothing. Dr. Stockmann is aware of the impact a delay will cost, but he is convinced that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. He goes to his friends at the local paper, where he offers his exposé. They at first agree to publish, even to share in any blowback, but the specter of increased taxes (and getting blamed for them) pushes them into silence. Finding himself more and more isolated, Dr. Stockmann is both shocked and angered at how quickly the town has turned against him.

He is declared a literal "enemy of the people", endangering not just his reputation and life but those of his wife Catherine (Bibi Andersson) and their two sons. His daughter Petra (Robin Pearson Rose) also remains steadfastly loyal, even rejecting her beau, newspaper writer Hovstad (Michael Chrisofer). Tom contemplates, then rejects going to America. He will fight it out, but it will be hard when townspeople continue hurling rocks at the house of "an enemy of the people".

I can only guess as to why An Enemy of the People ended up frightening the studio into giving it an almost token release.  My sense is that the image of Steve McQueen as this meek, humble scientist motivated by moral outrage was not what audiences might have expected. Maybe Warner Brothers thought it was not what audiences wanted. That is a real shame, because An Enemy of the People shows McQueen was quite capable of playing characters versus just action leads. 

His Dr. Stockmann was quite, contemplative, using words rather than fists to fight. McQueen gives Tom almost an innocence, a naivete that makes his shock at how the town turns against him sad and infuriating. McQueen has a wonderful bit of monologue at the end when he condemns the town for insisting that the majority is always right.

Listing off how majorities have never been right until it is too late, McQueen gives Tom a moral anger and courage but still speaks elegantly. It is not a monologue where he rants, shouts or rages. Instead, it is one where he is righteous but controlled. "The majority is never right until it does right," he tells them, and McQueen's delivery is excellent.

An Enemy of the People showcases a different side of his range, one rarely if ever explored. He is quite effective in the role, and it is highly plausible to imagine him being successful on a stage had An Enemy of the People been performed as the Ibsen play instead of a film adaptation.

An Enemy of the People is quite well-acted overall. Durning's Mayor Pete could at times veer quite close to being a mustache short of twirling, but he also has quieter moments where he sees Tom not as an enemy but as a brother. Christofer's Hovstad evolves from a courageous liberal to a cowardly toady. Tom remarks that people like him and Richard Dysart's newspaper publisher Aslaksen (also quite good) are "radical and liberal...when it is safe". Andersson was underused as the loyal Catherine, as was Rose as Petra. George Schaeffer ably directed his actors into mostly strong performances.

Earlier, I remarked that Steve McQueen would have been successful in a stage production of An Enemy of the People. Perhaps that is what keeps the film from being better. There is something stage-bound about the film, as though we were watching a more elaborate theater production than feature film. It is not a major flaw, but you never get the sense you are in Norway. Whether it is in the house, the Messenger office or at the town meeting, An Enemy of the People feels and looks like a stage production.

I am reminded of those PBS or BBC stage adaptations such as I, Claudius, where it is obvious the actors are on a set. With I, Claudius the acting and camerawork is so brilliant that you either forgive or forget that the sets are sets. With An Enemy of the People, you do not.

Still, I think An Enemy of the People is a nice, little-known film that hopefully will find a greater audience. This is a film that I would show someone just being introduced to Steve McQueen. I would show it between say a Bullitt and The Great Escape. Freed from the overall persona, An Enemy of the People shows Steve McQueen, actor. It might not be a great film, but he shows he was better than perhaps even he gave himself credit for.


Monday, December 26, 2022

Spoiler Alert: A Review (Review #1680)



I genuinely do not understand the current series of "based on true story" films which have come down in the past few years. Spoiler Alert, based on the memoir Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies, fails to translate between book and film, resulting in sometimes quite horrifying moments.  

TV Guide writer Michael Ausiello (Jim Parsons) does not get around much. Over his better judgment, he goes to a gay bar where he meets Kit Cowan (Ben Aldridge). The two form an instant sexual attraction. Michael struggles with intimacy, due to body issues stemming from his youth as a fat kid. Despite that and a Smurf obsession that would have probably frightened anyone else away, Kit not only stays with Michael but commits full time to their relationship.

A health scare and Michael's curious status in their son's life pushes Kit out of the closet to his parents Marilyn (Sally Field) and Bob (Bill Irwin), who take the news surprisingly well. Now free to be open, Kit and Michael begin their lives together. It's not all rainbows and lollipops, however, as after 13 years they have essentially split up. They now live apart but are still not formally separated. 

That is, until Kit is eventually diagnosed with a very rare cancer. This brings Kit and Michael together, and with Kit's impending death coming, they decide to get married. It, however, will end in the hero's death, leaving Michael and Kit's parents set to move on.

Granted, I have not read Michael Ausiello's memoir. I have never heard of Michael Ausiello's book. I have never even heard of Michael Ausiello. Perhaps that is a problem with Spoiler Alert: it suggests we should have an interest in the life of this TV Guide writer who eventually created an online entertainment news network. Spoiler Alert does not make the case that Ausiello or his story is worth knowing.

It is severely undercut when Spoiler Alert segways into deliberately fake sitcom modes. More than once does David Marshall Grant and Dan Savage's adaptation shift to Ausiello's fantasies of his early life as a sitcom. You have the deliberate artifice emphasized, but that undercuts the drama Spoiler Alert wants to give us.

These shifts probably read better in the book, but in the movie, they stop the action cold. They come out of nowhere and treating Ausiello's mother's cancer as a running gag is cringe. It may be true to the book, but somehow the fact that it is deliberately fake makes it look like it is a joke. The flights of fancy take the lowest turn when Kit is dying.

The audience is already wrapped up in what is meant to be a very sad moment. We have been told Kit has literally hours to live. He is on his hospital bed, his mournful parents in agony over seeing their only child passing away in front of them. Michael crawls into bed with him and says gentle goodbyes to the love of his life.

Suddenly, via Parsons' voiceover, Ausiello starts speculating about what if this were just another scene from his imagined biopic. All at once we hear "CUT!" and everyone gets up and showing that it is all fake. Aldridge as "Kit" is fine, even getting some coffee, with Parsons as "Michael" attempting a quick interview. Rushed interview done before having to go back to scene, we then see "Kit" dying.

At that point, I became angry. Michael Showalter, who somehow managed to direct Jessica Chastain to an Oscar for a parody of a parody in The Eyes of Tammy Faye, managed to make an even worse film. As bad as that film was, even he could have seen that deliberately shifting things into "reality" and "fantasy" undercut the drama. Was it Spoiler Alert's aim to play Kit's death almost for laughs? To somehow make fun of it? To suggest that it somehow "wasn't real"? 

That is the end result, and it is a terrible one. Spoiler Alert seemed determined to make as many deliberately bad decisions as it could. Certain moments are acted as though it was a television sitcom, with deliberately bad acting. Of particular note is when Kit finally comes out. The pauses, the exaggerated mannerisms from Irwin, Field, Aldridge and Parsons. The actors look as if they are aware that they are acting versus being the characters. It is sad to watch.

The acting en masse is poor, sluggish and almost openly insincere. Part of it does come from Showalter's directing and the screenplay to be fair to the actors. It is, despite the actors' best efforts, no way to make Ausiello's Smurf obsession (something that just came out of nowhere) look anything else other than psychotic. Still, the actor is there to convince you that Kit would continue a relationship with Michael despite trying to have sex with Papa Smurf looking on. They cannot. 

Is it wrong to think that Ben Aldridge is too hot for Jim Parsons? That may be a strange criticism, but somehow it shows that they share no chemistry as these star-crossed lovers. To be fair, there are moments that show what Spoiler Alert could have been if things had played out straighter, so to speak. As Kit and Michael contemplate the former's diagnosis, both show a vulnerability and desperation that does come across. 

Those moments are few and far between. What were Showalter, Grant & Savage and Parsons thinking when they deliberately ape a pivotal scene from Terms of Endearment? Maybe that really did happen to Ausiello & Cowan exactly as shown in Spoiler Alert. However, by this point, you think it is all fake, a terrible disservice to the story you are trying to tell. 

Spoiler Alert might be a good memoir. It might even balance humor with heart, which probably attracted everyone involved to a film adaptation. It cannot balance both. Spoiler Alert, perhaps, might not be a terrible film. It is, however, a terribly made, terribly acted one. 


Sunday, December 25, 2022

Santa Claus (1959): A Review



Welcome to Rick's Texan Reviews annual Christmas movie review, where we look at a Christmas-centered film. This year, we go down Mexico way, to perhaps the oddest take on jolly old Saint Nicholas ever committed to film.

Santa Claus is an American creation, though like many an American creation, with foreign roots. Santa Claus the film, however, is to my mind, a rare time when an American creation is appropriated by a foreign market.  In turns weirdly charming and just weird, Santa Claus is more infamous than famous, but not without a strange, albeit looney, charm.

Narrated by Keith Hetherington, Santa Claus takes us to jolly old St. Nicholas' literal castle on a cloud. Here, children from all over the world help Santa (Jose Elias Moreno) make toys. Santa is not able to go to Earth until Christmas Eve, leaving much room for Lucifer to wreak havoc on mankind. 

His generally inept minion Pitch (Jose Luis Aguirre "Trotsky") is tasked to turn children to evil. While he is successful with a trio of bad boys, his efforts at corrupting sweet but poor Lupita (Lupita Quezadas) fails. Santa can only watch at Pitch keeps making his pitch to turn kids to the dark side. Pitch fails with both Lupita and Billy (Antonio Diaz Conde hijo*). Billy is as rich as Lupita is as poor, but a literal "poor little rich boy". He has everything a child could want, but his parents attention. They do not ignore him per se, but they are going out to swanky nightclubs on Christmas versus spending time with Billy.

At last, it is Christmas Eve. With some help from his good friend Merlin (Armando Arriola), Santa carries a powder that will put people to sleep and a rose to make him invisible. Will Pitch, however, be successful in thwarting Santa's sojourn down Mexico way? Will Lupita get her doll? 

Santa Claus is, well, bonkers. I think the film is sometimes called Santa Claus vs. The Devil (though I think Santa vs. Satan would have been better); that title is just slightly more rational than the perhaps more well-known and more infamous Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. It is somewhat difficult to judge Santa Claus given that the original Spanish-language version is not as available as the English-dubbed film mocked on Mystery Science Theater 3000. I can't, however, imagine that the original is any better.

There are some absolutely cringe moments in Santa Claus that, if one is extremely generous, come across as wildly misguided. When we see Santa's children workshop in Toyland (already the notion of de facto child labor being odd), seeing the "African" children in loincloths and bones in their hair is ghastly. Not that noting the "Orient" children due an Indian dance makes things any less culturally clueless.

Other moments look like they came from a very cheap LSD trip. Of particular note is when Fetch gives Lupita a dream about the doll she wants. From out of wardrobes pop up rather frightening-looking dolls that are more terrifying than endearing. Quezadas' puzzled expression match the viewers who watch this very bizarre Ballet of the Blue Dolls. 

Hetherington's narration, meant to explain things, only ended up coming across as, if not patronizing, more elementary school type. Hearing a kind of sing-song voice say things like "OH NO, LUPITA! DON'T TAKE THAT DOLL!" adds an extra level of silliness to an already whacked-out premise.

I do not think that there are any performances. On a certain level, director Rene Cardona keeps a childlike manner to how he has his actors play the roles. A lot of Santa Claus is at a child's level, so we can be a bit generous. Nevertheless, Moreno's Santa Claus can come across as a bit loony to creepy, particularly when he laughs. Trotsky as the Devil aims for whimsical, but even for something as lighthearted as Santa Claus, it can be too exaggerated.

Also, the thought of "Trotsky as the Devil" seems to work.

Despite the poor acting, weird sets, very irrational elements (somehow, the idea of parents going out on the town while their son is asleep on Christmas Eve is both strange and rational), there is something oddly charming about Santa Claus. It is like seeing a child's family drawing. It looks like a bunch of lines, out-of-alignment facial features, and nothing like what anyone looks like. Still, you find yourself delighted by the effort, wildly misguided and all. 

* Hijo in Spanish can be "son" or "boy". Here, I suspect it is closer to "Junior". 


2021 Christmas Film: It Happened on Fifth Avenue

2020 Christmas Film: Roots: The Gift

2019 Christmas Film: Last Christmas

2018: Christmas with the Kranks

2017: The Man Who Invented Christmas

2016: Batman Returns

2015: A Madea Christmas

2014: Prancer

2013: A Christmas Carol (1951)

2012: Arthur Christmas

Monday, December 12, 2022

Devotion (2022): A Review



"Inspired by a true story" is a poor way to sell a story like Devotion. What could have been and should have been an exciting, insightful true-life tale ended up bloated, lethargic and blank. 

In 1950, Naval Ensign Jesse Brown (Jonathan Majors) is the only African-American in his squadron. This, in a surprising and positive turn, is of no importance to the other pilots, including newly-arrived pilot Tom Hudner (Glen Powell).

Brown very reluctantly works with Hudner, whom he does not dislike but is wary of. For his part, Hudner is more than willing to work with, even be friends with Brown. A tentative working relationship begins between them, one encouraged by Brown's devoted wife Daisy (Christina Jackson).

It is not long before Brown and Hudner's squadron are ordered to the Mediterranean. Here, Brown encounters actress Elizabeth Taylor (Serinda Swan) while on shore leave at Cannes. She invites him and his fellow officers to a night at the casino, and this is the rare non-work adventure they share.

As 1950 draws to a close, the long-feared war in Korea finally breaks out. The squad takes the fight to the North Korean-Chinese border, but Brown does not survive. Hudner is determined to try and save Brown, but cannot. He, however, has kept his pledge to Daisy: not to save him, but to stay with him.

We are told in a post-script that the search for Ensign Brown's remains continues.

I think many who praised Devotion wondered why and how the film failed. Among the elements is the generic title. Granted, the film is based on the nonfiction book Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship and Sacrifice by Adam Makos. However, the longer book title at least gives one an idea of what the story is about. "Devotion" as a film title is more opaque. Devotion to what? Country? Family? Fellow Navy fighters? Elizabeth Taylor? 

Devotion is a very bland title, though perhaps in retrospect it is fitting for a surprisingly bland film. This is a rich subject tackling war, race, the comradeship of fighters, and yet things moved so slowly and haphazardly. Nothing really sticks, making the two-hour-nineteen-minute running time feel longer. I did ask myself at one point, "When is this going to end?", a terrible thing to wonder for any film, let alone one as sincere as Devotion.

Elements are constantly hit on that never go anywhere. We see Ensign Brown talk to himself using racist language (ostensibly to shield himself for when he came across it), but Devotion rarely showed any elements of racism thrown at him. The worse I can remember is when the snooty French doormen initially refused him entry to the Cannes casino. 

To be fair, I was slipping in and out of consciousness during the film, so I might have missed something. However, apart from this and having an unpleasant neighbor who called the police on the Browns for having loud music, I cannot recall any major incidents where race played a role.

I should be happy that Devotion opted out of the easy, safe and predictable route of having his fellow Navy pilots be unhappy or uncomfortable with a "colored" aviator. Brown's fellow pilots got on rather well with him, though found him deliberately standoffish. It is, however, strange that Devotion both included and excluded the race element. At one point, the other black crewmen seemed interested in seeing a fellow African-American fly, but as far as I remember there is little to no mention of their involvement towards or with Brown. 

It is also surprising to see how France was seeing as more openly racist given how often France has been seen as more welcoming to African-Americans like Josephine Baker and James Baldwin. 

I think it is because Jake Crane and Jonathan Stewart's adaption simply did not know what it wanted to say. Was it an "overcoming racism" film? Was it a "war film"? Was it a "band of brothers" film? Was it an "inspirational true story" film"? It was none of these, though I suspect it was because it was trying to be all.

J.D. Dillard's directing did not help. It was not as if the actors did not try, but sometimes one is aghast at how bland they all were. In what was meant to be a moving moment, one of the flyers is facing death when he cannot correct his landing. The flyer, Mohring (Nick Hargrove), ultimately fails and crashes.

This scene should be studied by future filmmakers and actors to show what not to do. As acted by Majors and Powell, there is not a drop of emotion, of urgency, of concern over their fellow flyer potentially being killed right in front of them. For all we know, they could have been talking about Mohring ordering everyone sandwiches. 

Once his plane does crash, Dillard has the characters stay put, not out of shock but out of a bizarre disconnect bordering on disinterest. No one seems horrified. No one seems upset. No one moves for seconds. Even as they stare at the wreckage, there does not seem to be much concern. This is supposed to be a death among the band of brothers, but despite the film's desperate efforts to make one care, one doesn't.

It also does not help that I would not have been able to tell you who Mohring was or what his role in Devotion was. That goes for anyone not named Jonathan Majors or Glen Powell. 

A takeaway from Devotion was my confusion over how I thought Joe Jonas had already been in a World War II film. In reality, I was confusing Joe Jonas with Nick Jonas from Midway. Is it to the point that the Jonas Brothers are that interchangeable that I literally could not tell the difference between Joe and Nick? 

Again, the actors in Devotion tried hard to make things worth the time. Jackson's Daisy is the best of the lot. In her all-too-brief scenes, she did the best she could with the material to make Daisy a loving but concerned wife. 

The other actors too did the best they could with what they had. It is interesting that Powell played Lieutenant Hudner. This is the third time Powell has played a Navy pilot after Hidden Figures and Top Gun: Maverick. It's gotten to the point where a friend of mine literally asked me if Powell had served in the military before becoming an actor (he hadn't). I'm sure Powell has done other films where he isn't flying combat missions, but "Glen Powell as a military character" is coming close to parody. Here, he is shockingly bland and distant, almost like a nice guy who just wandered onto the set and decided to say lines.

Majors too did what he could as Ensign Brown. His best moments were with Jackson, where he could show a nice connection to Mrs. Brown. He did his best too when he is facing death or showing some irritation about the flight report that detailed him disobeying orders (even if the results were beneficial). However, try as he might, the efforts at "stoic" ended up as "bored". 

Again and again, Devotion's greatest flaw is the screenplay. At a battle, we hear from two soldiers. "You want a prayer? Dear God, send us some angels," one of them says, and at that moment the Navy fighters come in. I found that a bit too on-the-nose and predictable. 

Devotion somehow, despite its best efforts and intentions, ended up making a case that a documentary about Ensign Jesse Brown would have been better than the biopic we got. He deserves a lot better than Devotion.



Saturday, December 10, 2022

America America: A Review



If there is one thing that one should know about America America before seeing it, it is that it is very, very long. Running close to three hours, America America can tire a viewer to where I would recommend creating an intermission. Elia Kazan's ode to his uncle's journey to the New World is a love letter to his past with a dynamic central performance.

With narration at the beginning and end of the film by Kazan himself, America America recounts the early life of Stavros Topouzoglou (Stathis Giallelis). Ethnically Greek, he and his family live in Ottoman Turk-controlled Anatolia (modern-day Turkey). Seeing his Armenian friend killed and realizing life for Greeks is not all that much better under the Ottomans, it is reluctantly decided that as the oldest male, Stavros must go to Constantinople (present-day Istanbul) to set up the family there via an uncle who has a carpet shop there.

Stavros, however, has other ideas. While he goes to Constantinople, suffering many misfortunes, he dreams of going somewhere else: America. He falls out with his Uncle Isaac (Harry Davis) quickly after it is suggested he use his handsome face and charming smile to wed a plain daughter to any wealthy man desperate for an heir. His hard work fails to get him the money for the steerage, and in desperation returns to Uncle Isaac.

Isaac takes him in and Stavros appears to agree to the plan of a financially beneficial marriage. However, it is all a scam to get the dowry as payment for the voyage. Stavros, by chance, also reencounters Hohannes (Gregory Rozakis), an Armenian he had helped when he began his long journey. Hohannes did not have to prostitute himself to get passage. He is being sponsored along with other men for labor. 

At last at sea, an onboard affair threatens to derail Stavros' plans. Hohannes, however, comes through and pays his debt to Stavros, who now at last emerges on Ellis Island as "Joe Arness". He is now able to slowly bring his family to America, America. 

America America (the name deriving from the nickname Stavros got from his fellow dockworkers' mocking his constant proclamations of "America, America") has a very important issue: length. It is close to three hours, with surprisingly few montages (I can remember only one, when Stavros was on the docks and starving). I think that can exhaust the viewer.

This might be from Kazan loving the project too much and wanting to include everything his uncle wen through. However, America America should be a moving film, not a documentary. The very lengthy segment where Stavros is essentially hoodwinked into losing everything on this way to Constantinople seemed endless. We get foreshadowing when the fellow traveler tells him, "Everything I have is yours and what is yours is mine". I instantly thought that this would not end well.

Stavros' affair with the older woman who helps him when they sail to America too seemed to add to the length. If one watches America America, I recommend having an informal intermission when Stavros reaches Constantinople. It seems a good place to stop given that America America feels like two films put together.

The length of America America: the long setup, the longer journey from the village to Constantinople, the reluctant romancing of the wealthy but plain Thomna (Linda Marsh) and the sea voyage all conspire to make America America a long viewing. However, there are some fine elements in the film.

At the top of the list is Stathis Giallelis as Stavros. He has a handsome but dangerous face, someone who can be charming but also intensely menacing. There's an intensity to Giallelis' performance: one that suggests that seething anger at the world and ferocity to break into his own.

It seems that even when he appears happy, Stavros has some lurking anger underneath. Giallelis holds your attention with that mix of charm and anger, naivete and arrogance. It is an exceptional performance. 

The film also shows Kazan with a strong hand in creating subtle character comments. Early on, he is told to "kiss his father's hand" as a sign of respect for having associated with Armenians and causing the family to worry. Later on, when his father had to essentially crawl to the Ottoman city officials to get Stavros back, Stavros sees his father having to do the same to the official. Stavros had been arrested with the few surviving Armenians after the Ottoman Turks burned them in their church, with only him being Greek saving him. 

Another moment is when he, somewhat reluctantly, lets go of the fez he's had since leaving his village. Later on, the maid of his older lover hurriedly gives Stavros the one thing he wanted to wear in the New World: a straw hat, the symbol to him of his new life as a successful American.

My biggest difficulty with America America is that punishing length. However, I think in particular immigrants will relate to this story of one man determined to get to a new world that offers a new beginning. The further one is separate from his or her roots might make one less inclined to view America America. I think though, the film is not to be enjoyed or endured. It is to be seen for what it is: a thank you from an American to that distant ancestor who took that first step to get him where he is now.  


Thursday, December 8, 2022

Halloween II: A Review (Review #1676)



Nothing succeeds like success. After the low-budget Halloween became a surprise hit, a sequel was all but inevitable. Halloween II made some wise choices, keeping things simple and direct.

After surviving her attack by Michael Myers, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is rushed to the hospital. Over her objections, she is sedated, where she dreams of her past, including her adoption. Meanwhile, Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance) and Sheriff Brackett (Charles Cyphers) are in a mad pursuit of Michael, who is not only stubbornly alive but killing his way around town. Once he hears where Laurie is, it's off to the hospital to kill Laurie once and for all.

EMT Jimmy (Lance Guest) has taken a shine to Laurie, but Head Nurse Ms. Alves (Gloria Gifford) will have no hanky-panky in her ward. If only Ms. Alves knew what was going on at Haddonfield General. Smarmy EMT Budd (Leo Rossi) and Nurse Karen (Pamela Susan Shoop) have been in a love/hate torrid affair. Despite the danger, Budd and Karen have a tryst in the therapy pool, where Michael finds them.

Michael is on a full-on killing spree to get to Laurie, but why is he so fixated on her? As Loomis is forcibly escorted out of Haddonfield by Governor's orders, he learns a shocking secret: Laurie is Michael's long-lost sister. Realizing Michael will not stop until he kills her, Loomis forces the Deputy to bring them back to the hospital. The body count is already high, but will Laurie and Loomis both survive Michael Myers' fatal wrath?

Halloween II works because it kept to the formula of the original Halloween. Cowriters John Carpenter and Debra Hill opted to start right from where Halloween ended, which kept the story flowing. While we had Loomis and Laurie separated for most of the film, their stories did not seem to interrupt the other.

I would argue that this is because we spend most of the time at the hospital. Fortunately, when we were not with Laurie, the Loomis story worked well. It also gave viewers some of Halloween II's more shocking moments. Of particular note is when the semi-crazed Loomis chases someone he thinks is Myers. The resulting fiery crash is jolting in its "just-graphic-enough" manner. That one suspects it might not be Myers (and I think most Halloween II viewers would have thought it was not) makes it more shocking. Audiences have knowledge the characters don't, so they realize the real horror of this particular incident.

Halloween II has more kills than Halloween. At nine (by my count), it is almost double that of the first. Surprisingly, despite the eventual franchise's reputation for being gory, I don't think Halloween or Halloween II were excessively graphic. Some deaths were even off-screen. Some also did not involve knives.

Budd and Karen's end were quite clever and well-crafted, a credit to director Rick Rosenthal (Carpenter not directing the sequel). Again, the audience is put ahead of the characters, which builds up the tension. Karen's death is not unexpected but not as graphic as it could have been. 

Her and Budd's demise does, however, give new meaning to "turning up the heat". 

The performances are also quite effective. Curtis is not as active here as she was before, but in her blend of vulnerability and strength she develops the Laurie Strode character. Pleasance veers close to crazed as Loomis, forever convinced that Michael Myers is some kind of almost superhuman evil. 

The smaller roles are also well-acted. Guest's Tommy has a sweetness to him, balanced by Rossi's pervy Budd. Gifford does not go full Nurse Ratchet as Ms. Alves, but she makes clear that she is not to be trifled with. Shoop makes Karen not into a bimbo but a basically decent person who is also a bit randy.

Some elements in Halloween II might not quite work together. I don't think we learned if Tommy lived or died. I also think the connection between Michael Myers and the Celtic mythic figure Samhain: The Lord of the Dead quite worked how I think the film intended. Other deaths seem to be almost irrelevant to the overall story. 

Those ultimately are minor points. Halloween II is a strong and more importantly logical sequel to the original. It also manages to work on its own, though I figure people would not see Halloween II cold. On the whole, Halloween II is a competent and well-shaped film and sequel.