History Repeating (Happy Death Day, 2017)

Happy_Death_Day_PosterTree is apparently the child of hippies, cause who else would name their kid Tree?

But seriously… Tree is a popular and all around unpleasant sorority girl. On her birthday, she wakes up in the room of some random guy.  She storms out and has a generally annoying day that culminates in her murder by a masked killer (the mask is the school mascot… which is a pretty creepy choice for a school to make).

She wakes up to the same day, confused as events repeat themselves…including the masked killer murdering her. She then wakes up and realizes it is the same day. As she pieces it together, she tries to figure out why, but decides she has to solve her murder.

Of course, the problem is, Tree is just a jerk, she has a lot of suspects to work her way through.

To be blunt…and the film admits this outright…it is basically Groundhog’s Day, but with a serial killer. And it really…well, works.

The film starts adding progressive stakes, forcing Tree to face the fact that she may, in fact, not survive the experience. And this causes her to look inward and not like the person she sees. While Bill Murray’s Phil decides to use his time loop to woo Rita, Tree looks at the bigger picture.  And I think this is something the film does pretty well.  Jessica Rothe does a convincing job of showing tangible change in Tree’s personality. The gimmick feels pretty fresh, even though it is clearly lifted from a very specific film.

Happy Death Day is a fun horror film that I think even folks who don’t care for slashers might enjoy.


Rinse and Repeat (Groundhog Day, 1993)

groundhog_day_poster.jpgPhil is a jaded weather man who really hates his job. When he is paired up with producer Rita and forced to go produce a segment on the famous Groundhog Punxsutawney Phil to see if he sees his shadow…well, Phil ain’t happy.  He is annoyed by Rita’s bubbly personality. He is annoyed by the townspeople. He is annoyed by his lodging conditions.  Phil is bitter and cynical.

But things take an unexpected turn for Phil when he finds himself having to live the same day over and over.

At first he fights it, then he gives up…and then he decides to embrace it. A lot of the humor comes from his first two stages as he randomly kills himself and finds ways to amuse himself.

Rita and their camera man Larry are constantly questioning his sanity for good reason. Of course, when Phil fully embraces things, the film becomes more sentimental as Phil uses his days to learn to play piano, become artistic and more…troubling…learn about Rita so he can win her heart.  The Pop Culture Detective has an excellent video that talks about the problems here…and the notion of Rita falling totally in love with Phil in one day seems odd if you really think about it. Only Phil is aware of the time loop…only he is directly experiencing it.

That said, I still do enjoy this film.  Ramis and Murray have a synergy that goes back years, and it is on display here. There is plenty of absurd fun, and this is certainly one of those characters Murray excelled at playing over the years. Even though I think there are story problems, Groundhog Day is still quite a bit of silly fun.


Apex Predators (Crawl, 2019)

Crawl_PosterHaley is somewhat estranged from her parents, but when her father is unresponsive to calls from her and her sister in the face of an impending hurricane, she drives into the storm to find him. When she finds him wounded in a crawlspace beneath the home, she discovers they are trapped by alligators. As water fills the crawl space they struggle to find a way out.

Director Alexandre Aja delivers a very tight thriller.  It is exciting and dramatic, rarely slowing down.  The performances from Kaya Scodelario and Barry Pepper are quite effective.  Their relationship feels real as a father and daughter whose relationship is strained by unspoken issues-but they still love each other.

Really, Crawl is a great B-Movie in the man vs nature vein. It has some good scares and keeps a brisk pace. I definitely recommend this for folks wanting a good thriller.



Forced Friendship (Stuber, 2019)

Stuber_PosterKumail Nanjiani is the titular Stu.  Stu is a…uh… studious guy.  He works to thankless job, and is helping a woman he is in love with start her own business. Meanwhile, Dave Bautista is the reckless and angry cop Vic.  Vic is dedicated to catching the cop killing drug dealer Oka Tedjo.  But on the day he gets eye surgery, he finds out that he only has hours to find Oka.

This leads to Vic Reluctantly ordered an Uber ride and forcing the driver, Stu, to take him around town tracking the villain down holding the promise of a badly needed Five Star Rating over his head.

The main things to like in the film is that Nanjiani and Bautista.  They work well together, Bautista working his “tough guy muscles” and Nanjiani flexing his “nice but downtrodden guy muscles”. That part works really well.

Unfortunately, they are surrounded by a largely predictable and cliched story.  They try and lampshade this, making light of the cliches, but the film never feels like it is truly having fun with the action premise as much as it appears they wanted to.  I saw every major plot twist coming.  And that is too bad…this film has a good cast (the leads are supported by Natalie Morales as the daughter of Vic and Mira Sorvino as Vic’s boss).

I am not saying you should avoid the film…it has it’s moments. It looks good and again, the cast is great.  I enjoyed their interactions and performances.  The movie is okay as a diversion for an hour and half of your time. I just feel like it could have been…more.

Fading Glories (Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood, 2019)

Once_Upon_A_Time_In_Hollywood_PosterAnd so here we are at Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film (Apparently Death Proof does not count?).  A pretty loving homage to the Hollywood of the 60’s, Tarantino weaves a tale of fading actor Rick Dalton and his best friend Cliff Booth and their place in it all.  Cliff is less bothered, content to help out his friend and then spend the evening sitting in front the TV with his dog. But after a meeting with producer Marvin Schwarz, Rick is realizing he is becoming…well obsolete…and it scares him.

I suspect Dalton’s crisis is not uncommon in Hollywood…but does it make for a great story?

Yeah.  It turns out that here? It sure does.

Now, of course, this is in part, due to the performances of both DiCaprio and Pitt as Dalton and Booth respectively. DeCaprio’s portrayal is both hilarious and endearing. Pitt gives Booth a real sense of casual cool.

Once_Upon_A_Time_In_Hollywood_Alt_PosterThe writing is both the cleverness we expect from Tarantino matched with compelling characters (there is a bit of a question if Cliff is maybe a darker guy, but the film leaves the door open on just how dark). I would say the weakest link in the main characters is Robbie’s Sharon Tate. Not because Robbie is a bad actress. She is charming and kind as Tate.  There is a sequence where we see Robbie express insecurity turning to joy as she watches a movie she is in with an audience. Robbie sells this moment. But she feels so incidental to the story for much of the time.

The cast is just full of great talent… Kurt Russell, Timothy Olyphant and a pretty endless group bringing their A-game.

Visually, the film feels it is of another time, truly like a creature of the 60’s. And the soundtrack is darn near perfect.

My only real criticism is a somewhat lazy time jump that glosses over six months. But, admittedly, had they shown all of it, the film would be, like five hours long. And I do like listening to the Kurt Russell narration.

I found Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood great fun.  Bear in mind, this is a Tarantino film…if you hate his previous work, I don’t think this will change your mind. But fans will appreciate this one for sure.

Tangled Webs (Spider-Man: Far From Home, 2019)

Spider-Man_Far_From_Home_PosterAfter the massive epic that was Avengers Endgame, a smaller story to actually close stuff off may seem like an odd choice. And yet?  Well, it may have been what was needed.

Bringing back director Jon Watts and the cast of Homecoming, we get a personal story in which Peter Parker really just wants to go on his school trip abroad and confess his love to MJ. But things are complicated.  It turns out that pretty much every major character from Homecoming was caught up in the snap.  And now they have to deal with the fact that all their classmates are now five years older.  The film explores some rather interesting aspects…like all the returned people who were displaced.  Peter and May found themselves homeless, which was one of those things you just do not thing about in the grand schemes.

It turns out that Nick Fury is trying to reach Spider-Man, but Peter refuses to take his calls. But once on vacation in Italy, the class comes under attack by a water monster, which is defeated by Mysterio. A mysterious man who Nick Fury informs Peter is from an alternate earth where he fought the threat of elemental men that are now plaguing Peter’s world.

Far From Home bumps up certain characters too much bigger roles, and it is to the benefit of the film. Holland and Zendaya have real chemistry and their storyline is both adorable and a lot of fun.

The Mysterio storyline is really well done.  There is a scene where his illusion powers is straight up the stuff of the comics. The visuals in the film are terrific and Gyllenhaal gives a solid performance.

Unlike Homecoming, Happy seems more invested in Peter and Spider-Man. This makes sense on a few levels, but I really did enjoy their interactions in the film.

I really enjoyed this latest outing, even more than Homecoming.  It is funny, has heartfelt moments, good performances and great visual effects.  Oh, and stay for the Mid and Post Credit scenes.  They are game changing moments.

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