Remembering Corey Hall, who always let you know how he was feeling
The former Metro Times film critic and stand-up comedian died suddenly last weekend at age 43
I remember it as clear as day.
It was at the end of a mid-afternoon critic's screening of "Only God Forgives," star Ryan Gosling and director Nicolas Winding Refn's 2013 follow-up to their ultra-stylish, retro-cool collaboration "Drive." There were only a handful of us writers inside the theater at the Birmingham Palladium, and as a devoted fan of "Drive," I was heavily dialed in to the movie's methodical pacing and dark tone.
Usually at the end of screenings, I try to keep to myself and duck out of the theater as quickly as possible, avoiding conversation and other opinions so I can sit with the movie in my head and think through it on my own on my drive home. On this day, however, that wasn't an option.
The second the movie ended, a loud and dismissive "PFFFT!" emerged from a few rows behind me. I had heard that sound before and I didn't have to turn around to know who it was coming from. It was, unmistakably, Corey Hall.
Those who knew Corey know that sound well. And those who knew Corey now miss that sound and Corey's loud, boisterous personality, as the former Metro Times film critic and stand-up comedian around town died suddenly on Sunday after suffering a brain aneurysm. He was just 43.
Corey wasn't the kind of guy who went unnoticed. He had a big laugh and bigger opinions, and he wasn't afraid to voice either of them. He didn't shy away from confrontation; it seemed, in fact, he rather enjoyed it. He was unavoidable.
He didn't mind calling someone out. If he made you uncomfortable, it was partially by design; he enjoyed rattling people's cages and provoking a reaction. But he had a way about him, and was sweet even when he was sour. In his Instagram bio he described himself as a "cuddly jerk," which pretty much nails it. That was Corey, and he had the self-awareness to know it.
He was also whip smart and had a sharp, lacerating wit. He was a great writer and I looked up to him as a critic. I would often skip reading his reviews because they were really good and made me wish I had come up with this or that comparison or turn of phrase that he seemed to toss off with ease. He was damn good at his job.
And he was well-known around town. In addition to his years spent as one of the Metro Times' two chief film critics — Jeff Meyers was the Gene Siskel to Corey's Roger Ebert — he was a fixture in local comedy circles, and was a frequent stand-up performer at Metro Detroit comedy clubs. He was a contributor to WDET-FM (101.9) and led local film discussion groups. Corey got around.
Corey grew up in Huntington Woods and became attached to film early, staying up too late to watch sci-fi and horror movies he was too young to watch. He found himself acting in plays in high school and was voted both Most Dramatic and Most Sarcastic in his 1994 high school class at Berkley High School. He began writing for local and national publications in 1999 and became a regular contributor to the Metro Times in 2005.
After some personnel shifts at the Metro Times in recent years he was no longer the alt-weekly's full-time critic but he continued to contribute to the paper; his last review, a takedown of the scattered political satire "The Hunt," ran in March.
"Perhaps (screenwriter Damon) Lindelof and company were attempting to be evenhanded in spreading the blame around for our currently toxic politics," Corey wrote, "but good satire needs to pick sides and, excuse the pun, stick to its guns."
For Corey, sticking to his guns was never an issue. Opinions were like weapons to him, and his were military-grade. Pop culture wasn't frivolous, it mattered. He loved what he loved and hated what he hated, and there was never a question where he stood. You didn't have to worry about Corey being wishy-washy.
Corey was married to his wife Amy in 2012 and they lived together in Troy. No plans for a memorial service have been announced, but tributes to him have been pouring in over the last week on social media from those who knew him and won't soon forget him. He's being remembered as hilarious and cantankerous, prickly and passionate. He'd agree with all of those descriptions.
And as for "Only God Forgives," Corey was right. It was trash, I just wasn't quite willing to accept it yet. But Corey knew immediately, and he let everyone know.
That was Corey.