Movie Review ~ Happy Death Day 2U


The Facts
:

Synopsis: Tree Gelbman discovers that dying over and over was surprisingly easier than the dangers that lie ahead.

Stars: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Phi Vu, Rachel Matthews, Ruby Modine, Suraj Sharma

Director: Christopher Landon

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 100 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: I think it shocked everyone when 2017’s Happy Death Day was such a sleeper hit. Sure, it was released on a Friday the 13th and made for a miniscule budget so the target audience was primed and the success factor was measured by a low bar but there was no denying the movie was very likely better than it ever should have been. A fun PG-13 horror spin on Groundhog Day that didn’t have the blood quotient to deter the gore averse or totally turn off the hardcore fans looking for the next great slasher film, the general consensus was that the film took it’s concept capably to the finish line and earned it’s place on the higher end of lighter horror fare.

A little over a year later, Happy Death Day 2U has arrived in theaters just in time for Valentine’s Day and both Blumhouse Productions and writer/director Christopher Landon (Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse) have another pleasantly pleasing winner on their hands. Though it’s less of an outright horror film this time around, the movie aims to keep things light when it has to and isn’t above pumping the brakes to take its time navigating through some surprisingly dramatic territory. In many ways, it feels like a superior film to its predecessor because everyone involved knows what they are getting into and doesn’t hold back.

If you haven’t seen the first film and don’t want key plot points spoiled (even though the trailer already spoiled them for you!) then you are free to stop reading now – thanks for visiting! Everyone else, read on for a spoiler-free look at what new directions the sequel takes the action.

Picking up where the first film left off, Tree (Jessica Rothe, La La Land) has discovered who was trying to kill her and broken the time loop that kept her waking up on the same day over and over again. No longer afraid of being killed and having to relive her death day in and day out, she’s settling in with Carter (Israel Broussard, The Bling Ring) when his roommate Ryan (Phi Vu, Pitch Perfect 2) comes into their shared dorm room with some strange news. He’s reliving the same day after being killed the day before…something Tree knows a thing or two (or 11) about.

How and why Ryan gets stuck in the same time loop as Tree is linked to Ryan’s science project that deals with time and space, and when it’s activated again by the Dean of the college trying to shut the study down it sends Tree back into her previous death day cycle. Now Tree is stuck in her old pattern but with new wrinkles as she finds herself in an alternate reality where the previous killer is now a victim, old enemies are friends, and a deceased loved one apparently never died. As she keeps dying in her quest to figure out an algorithm that will send her back to her previous reality, she needs to decide if this reality is better and what she’s willing to sacrifice to save those she loves.

As with most sequels, the stakes are higher and credit should be given to the producers for throwing some more money at this follow-up and to Landon for taking some time to think through the set-up of the next chapter. The logic is still fairly broad and wouldn’t hold up in a court of law but there’s a breezy effortlessness to everything here that makes it all go down without much fuss. The killer out to get Tree becomes a glorified subplot and only shows up again near the end when the action needs a little zap of energy.  Mostly, this is a film that owes more to Back to the Future II than Groundhog Day, with the consequences of changing things in alternate realities playing a part in most everything Tree is thinking about. The performances (particularly Rothe’s) are more assured here and even though production on this one started fairly soon after the release of the original it was nice to see the entire cast (and some extras!) reassembled for this follow-up. Like the first one, Rachel Matthews as Tree’s rival sorority sister gets some of the better moments, even if the outlandish comedy of her faking being a blind foreign exchange student feels like it’s out of a totally different campus frat movie.

At the theater I attended on Valentine’s Day, I was surprised how many of the audience at Happy Death Day 2U were females who apparently had a ball with it. The reactions to the scares were received well and the comedy landed exactly in the right places. It’s horror-lite to be sure but it was an entertaining mix of time-travel comedy and gore-less horror. Blumhouse and Landon obviously are hoping for a third chapter if the mid-credits stinger is to be believed, and I’d be interested to see where they think future time loops could take things.

31 Days to Scare ~ Happy Death Day

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31 Days to Scare ~ Happy Death Day
The Facts
:

Synopsis: A college student relives the day of her murder with both its unexceptional details and terrifying end until she discovers her killer’s identity.

Stars: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine, Rachel Matthews, Charles Aitken

Director: Christopher Landon

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 96 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review:  This movie stinks!

 

31 Days to Scare ~ Happy Death Day
The Facts
:

Synopsis: A college student relives the day of her murder with both its unexceptional details and terrifying end until she discovers her killer’s identity.

Stars: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine, Rachel Matthews, Charles Aitken

Director: Christopher Landon

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 96 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  This is a new classic!

 

31 Days to Scare ~ Happy Death Day
The Facts
:

Synopsis: A college student relives the day of her murder with both its unexceptional details and terrifying end until she discovers her killer’s identity.

Stars: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine, Rachel Matthews, Charles Aitken

Director: Christopher Landon

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 96 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  I’ll probably get put into some movie critic jail (with a suspended sentence) for giving a marginal thumbs up to Happy Death Day…but this is one of the far more harmless offerings in the increasingly profitable low-impact horror genre.  It’s aimed squarely at the sleepover crowd, teen-ish tweens that like their scares bloodless and more than a tad bitchy.  In that respect, the movie delivers in spades but hardcore horror fans looking for the rebirth of the masked-killer slasher film are bound to leave the theater ready to slice and dice the filmmakers.

With a premise so much stolen from Groundhog Day that a character actually references it late into proceedings, there’s a certain goodwill charm to Happy Death Day that kept me from rolling my eyes so hard I fell out of my seat.  Tree (Jessica Rothe, La La Land, who possesses a great scream but poor line readings) is a bratty college co-ed who wakes up from a night of partying in the dorm room of an underclassman (Israel Broussard, The Bling Ring) so clueless he boasts of folding her clothes and is disappointed she doesn’t remember his name.  As she takes the walk of shame back to her sorority house she wanders through the quad barely noticing car alarms going off, a lip-locked couple getting soaked by sprinklers, or a tired pledge fainting from a frat hazing.  She also bumps into a random admirer and runs into her queen bee sorority frenemy (a hilarious Rachel Matthews) before crash landing on her bed, much to the wonderment of her timid roomie (Ruby Modine) ready to present Tree with her birthday cupcake

As Tree’s day goes on, we come to see she’s having an affair with her married teacher and avoiding her dad who wants to take her out for her birthday.  None of that really matters, though, because later that evening when she’s on her way to another frat party she’s chased down and killed by someone wearing a mask depicting the school mascot.  And then she wakes up in the same dorm room to live it all over again and subsequently dies at the hands of the baby-faced killer.  And then she wakes up again…and again…and again…each time resulting in her death.  Pretty soon she’s making use of her multiple lives and crossing possible suspects off her list, a sequence set to music that gives the film an unusually welcome comic diversion. Every time she comes back, though, the effects of her ‘deaths’ start to show so it’s a race against seemingly endless time to find out who wants her dead and why.  The mystery isn’t quite as simple to solve as you may think; there are enough red herrings to feed a small village and the final solution (or is it solutions?) goes down easy.

Though it tries to join the ranks of college-set slasher films like Happy Birthday to Me and The House on Sorority Row, the problem I had with the movie is likely the exact reason it may do some decent business this upcoming Friday the 13th weekend, it’s just not scary enough is totally risk averse.  While competently made by director Christopher Landon (Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse) from a fitfully interesting script by Scott Lobdell (X-Men: Days of Future Past), I got the impression it was intended to be bloodier (there’s almost no blood at all in the film) but was toned down to cash in on a particular target audience.  Originally titled Half to Death (what?), I wouldn’t be shocked to see an uncut version of Happy Death Day pop up on BluRay but at the end of the day this feels like a watered down Long Island Ice Tea…there’s a faint taste of booze but not enough to have much effect.

 

The Silver Bullet ~ Happy Death Day

 

Synopsis: Teen must relive the same day over and over again until she figures out who is trying to kill her and why.

Release Date:  October 13, 2017

Thoughts: As the old saying goes: Into every theater, a little cheese must fall (or something like that).  Look, I have no aspirations that Happy Death Day is going to be a top-tier horror entry or even a mediocre curiosity either…but is it too wrong to hope this provides some silly diversion entertainment this fall?  Given a prime release date of Friday the 13th in October, this is another low-budget entry from Blumhouse Pictures (The Visit, The Purge, Split, Insidious) who has shown a knack for raking in some serious dough with their features.  Directed by Christopher Landon  (Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse & Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones) and with visions of Groundhog Day dancing in my head, this trailer for Happy Death Day gave me a good chuckle…but can it prove to be more original than it looks?

Movie Review ~ The Bling Ring

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Inspired by actual events, a group of fame-obsessed teenagers use the internet to track celebrities’ whereabouts in order to rob their homes.

Stars: Emma Watson, Leslie Mann, Taissa Farmiga, Claire Julien, Israel Broussard, Katie Chang, Georgia Rock, Gavin Rossdale

Director: Sofia Coppola

Rated: R

Running Length: 90 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review:  As the daughter of one of Hollywood’s most successful directors of the 70’s, Sofia Coppola began her directing career with a hat trick  of smart and stylish films that felt like they had a true voice.  The Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation (for which Coppola won an Oscar for her screenplay), and Marie Antoinette couldn’t have been more different in tone but it was evident they all came from the same creative force.  Stumbling with the troubled Somewhere, Coppola took her time in choosing her next project and what may have seemed like the right choice on paper winds up being a film that comes off as hollow and vacuous as the lives of the people it chronicles.

For a few days after seeing The Bling Ring I really thought about what Coppola was going after.  Maybe I was supposed to feel empty after watching the true life tale about privileged teens in Beverly Hills that are so bored and entitled they start to break into the homes of the rich and famous stars that line the Hollywood Hills.  Showing little remorse along the way, these thieves read up on the gossip blogs to see who will be out of town and then simply Google the address and get ready to line their pockets and backs with the luxurious clothing and jewelry they find within.

At a scant 90 minutes, the movie doesn’t exactly have a lot of ground to cover because the majority of the running length is just burglaries repeated over and over again.  To be fair, the movie starts with some nice Coppola touches of bright colors and interesting camera angles…but soon the material gets away from her and instead of positioning the arc of her film toward a certain intent she instead lets the movie run straight down the middle with very little creativity.

The lack of depth shown is frustrating but again…is that what the movie is all about?  The profound lack of worth and value started to upset my stomach after a while and had Coppola given the movie even the slightest bit of edge it could have nudged the experience into the wicked satire I think it could (and wants to ) be.

It’s hard to single out who the star of the film is.  I’d say it’s newcomer Katie Chang as the scheming ringleader of the group and while it becomes fuzzy at times whether Chang plays bland to perfection or if she’s just not in on the joke I was always interested to see what she’d do next.  Emma Watson (The Perks of Being a Wallflower, This Is The End) gets the best of the biting comedy bits but unfortunately still hasn’t mastered her American accent.  This makes most of her delivery funny but not the homerun Coppola probably intended.

No great cinematic fete/feast, The Bling Ring is the kind of meal that I’m sure many of the burgled starlets probably enjoy…light and forgettable with all the sauce and cheese on the side. 

 

The Silver Bullet ~ The Bling Ring

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Synopsis: Inspired by actual events, a group of fame-obsessed teenagers use the internet to track celebrities’ whereabouts in order to rob their homes.

Release Date:  June 14, 2013

Thoughts: Sofia Coppola had a nice hat trick of films in the last decade with The Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation (with a screenplay that won her an Oscar) and Marie Antoinette.  Then she stumbled a bit with the jumbled Somewhere so it’s anyone’s guess where The Bling Ring will wind up.  I must admit the inspired by a true story angle piques my curiosity, especially because Coppola seems so observant when examining relationships between the notable and not quite noticed.  Emma Watson made a great post Harry Potter choice with The Perks of Being a Wallflower, let’s see if she continues knowing how to pick good projects.