Movie Review ~ Happy Death Day 2U


The Facts
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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.

Movie Review ~ Million Dollar Arm

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A sports agent stages an unconventional recruitment strategy to get talented Indian cricket players to play Major League Baseball.

Stars: Jon Hamm, Bill Paxton, Lake Bell, Suraj Sharma, Aasif Mandvi, Madhur Mittal, Pitobash, Alan Arkin

Director: Craig Gillespie

Rated: PG

Running Length: 124 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review: Much to my number-minded mom’s chagrin, I was never the math whiz she wanted me to be. With a flick as by the numbers as Million Dollar Arm is I can, however, spot a movie formula without the use of a graphing calculator. It’s a simple equation, really, made simpler by a hokey screenplay courtesy of Tom McCarthy and pedestrian direction from Craig Gillespie. You ready?

True story multiplied by 2 Indian youths divided by 1 Jon Hamm-y performance plus 1 extraneous subplot = Million Dollar Arm

Here’s the thing: I actually think there’s a respectable movie to be made out of the story of an arrogant sports agent (Hamm, ) scraping the bottom of the financial barrel who strikes a deal with the baseball league to sponsor a contest to find the first Indian baseball player.  The problem is that Walt Disney Studios, McCarthy, and Gillespie all made the movie from the wrong perspective. If you see the movie (as a rental, por favor) you’ll understand that it’s the two young men and their baseball loving translator that are the heart of the picture and anything/everything related to Hamm’s agent character drags the film to TV movie of the week levels.

Though he’s popped up in ok supporting roles over the past few years, Hamm sadly doesn’t have the chops that make the type of leading man this type of film needed. Better suited for a Dennis Quaid, Ben Affleck, or shoot, even Casey Affleck, Hamm struggles with Don Draper-izing his small screen handsome features and wardrobe. Taking a page from Jerry Maguire, he can’t even do what Tom Cruise accomplished in that film and make his character likable…even when he’s speaking lines that should do the trick.

It’s puzzling that the film so desperately tries to avoid telling the story at the center of it all with way too much of the way too long 124 minute running length devoted to Hamm’s gradual realization that the woman renting his guest house (Lake Bell, who knows she and Hamm are mismatched) is girlfriend material. Bell, Bill Paxton (Indian Summer), and Alan Arkin (The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, who literally sleeps his way the film) do their best to counterbalance the enormous anchor Hamm ties to the film but can’t keep it afloat.

As the fish out of water baseball hopefuls, Suraj Sharma (Life of Pi) and Madhur Mittal (Slumdog Millionaire) are winning presences and do much of their own impressive pitching. However, the one person that manages a home run if not an outright grand slam is Bollywood star Pitobash making his Hollywood debut. At first I wrote the tiny bundle of energy off as simply comic relief but as the film went on I wanted to see more of him. To say that he makes a great save in the final inning is to put it mildly as in one short speech he nearly makes up for all the hooey that came before. It’s in this moment that you might, like me, realize how much better a movie was waiting to be made had Disney recognized where the true focus should have been.

Reminding me a lot of Disney’s 90s offering Cool Runnings, Million Dollar Arm can’t complete in the big leagues of other sports related family entertainment (rated PG, parents should know this really skates the edge of PG-13 material) due to Hamm’s not ready for primetime performance and a lack of faith in the material. Instead, take a peek at The Rookie, Disney’s 2002 baseball-makes-grown-men-cry offering.

The Silver Bullet ~ Million Dollar Arm

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Synopsis: A sports agent stages an unconventional recruitment strategy to get talented Asian cricket players to play Major League Baseball.

Release Date:  May 16, 2014

Thoughts: Let me start out by saying that I’m going to see Million Dollar Arm when it’s released in 2014 because I like this particular type of film.  No one makes an underdog story with the right amount of schmaltz quite like Disney and it’s hard to find good PG material that doesn’t pander to tots and doesn’t induce eyerolls in adults.

I will say, however, that this film looks an awful lot like Cool Runnings, Disney’s 1993 film of another American Jo(h)n (Candy) that finds star athletes (a bobsled team) in a most unlikely location (Jamaica).  Jon Hamm (Friends with Kids) seems like the right gent for the job but he’s yet to truly prove he can carry a theatrical film all on his own.  There’s charisma to spare here but it’s not yet made the leap from TV to film…perhaps this sure-to-be feel good-er will seal the deal.

 

Movie Review ~ The Life of Pi

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A young man who survives a disaster at sea is hurtled into an epic journey of adventure and discovery. While cast away, he forms an unexpected connection with another survivor … a fearsome Bengal tiger.

Stars: Suraj Sharma, Irffan Khan, Gerard Depardieu, Adil Hussain, Rafe Spall

Director: Ang Lee

Rated: PG

Running Length: 127 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review:  When I first heard about the film I couldn’t get my head around how a movie would be fashioned around the scenario of a boy and a tiger stranded on the same lifeboat.  Could a movie that has large passages of time without dialogue and that is heavily dependent on visual effects really be a satisfying experience at the end of the day?  The answer, I was to learn, was an unqualified “yes”.

It’s been a few weeks now since I saw The Life of Pi yet it’s a film that has lingered long in my mind even after the credits ended.  What we have here is surely one of the most visually stunning films released in the last several years yet one that could have easily segued into monotony with its heavy, tricky plot devices.  Instead, director Lee has held the reins comfortably slack enough to allow the story to spring forth off the screen to create a dazzling display of technology, stirring imagery, and an overall moving experience.

In adapting the popular but divisive book by Yann Martel, Oscar-nominated screenwriter David Magee has done right by the characters Martel put to page and expounded on the impact the life-threatening situation that faces young Pi Patel as he and his family travel from India to the US.  After a frightening to watch sea disaster (think Titanic meets Flight), Pi is left to fend for himself as he battles the elements and a Bengal tiger that he shares his small lifeboat with. 

Over hundreds of days, we see an understanding develop between headstrong Pi and the tiger known as Richard Parker.  Through truly astonishing CGI work, the large cat is created from the ground up with very few shots actually containing a flesh and blood beast.  The tiger effect is outstanding and rarely gives off the vibe of computer assistance, don’t be surprised if you forget that newcomer Sharma was acting opposite thin air. 

Really a memory piece, the story is told from the perspective of the adult Pi (Khan in a deeply felt performance) as he relates his amazing adventure to a journalist (Spall from Prometheus – interesting to note that Spall took over the role from Tobey Maguire who was cast, filmed his scenes, but was replaced by Lee so to not distract from the action in the past).  This set-up gives you information on the outcome of the story so some of the suspense is lost…until the ending that could be as troublesome for viewers as it was for the readers.

Without giving any sort of spoilers away, the final ten/fifteen minutes of the film may change your opinion of the movie up until that point.  I, for one, found myself coming down off my high I had for the previous two hours and feeling a bit despondent on the direction I thought things were going.  Rest assured that the movie counters nicely and lets you make up your own mind about certain ideas and possibilities these late in the game questions raise.

If you’re one of the weary people that refuses to shell out the extra dough to see a movie in 3D, pay attention to what I’m going to say: this is the one movie you’ll be glad you paid extra for.  Like Avatar and Hugo, the 3D technology is not used to throw stuff out at the audience but to give a greater depth to the scenery, drawing you further into the story.  It’s one of the most immersive uses of 3D ever in film from the hypnotic sights of India to the gorgeous and lonely nighttime vistas Pi sees during his time at sea. 

One of the more interesting and non-genre specific directors working today, Lee has created another film that looks deep within itself to present an inner truth that speaks to all of us.  The movie is about faith – faith in a higher power, faith in one’s self, faith that destiny and survival are what you make of it.  I was greatly moved by the relationship between Pi and Richard Parker and appropriately rallied for them along the way.  Do yourself a favor and make this the next film you see in theaters, it’s not to be missed and not to be forgotten.