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Happy Death Day 2U review : teeny horror with a slight dash of confusion

How does it compare to the first film, and Back to the Future?

K.T Simpson

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Director:

Christopher Landon

Cast:

Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Phi Vu, Suraj Sharma

Run time:

100 minutes

Rating:

Some sequels you do not ask for, but you get regardless. This is one of them – but all I ask for from a movie in this genre is a bit of entertainment, and perhaps a few little scares. You know the type of frights when a balloon pops unexpectedly? That type of scare.

Sadly, “Happy Death Day 2U” doesn’t deliver much. If you cast your mind back to the first film, it wasn’t more than a teeny-horror that developed some form of interest in the realm of “how will she die this time?”.

The sequel takes on the same premise, but this time adds alternate timelines (side note – “The Flash” did it better) and a few new characters to perhaps gauge new interest. It barely achieves that, however, as the newbies are about as interesting as watching my soup heat in the microwave at lunchtime.

The film begins with Ryan (Phi Vu) experience the same phenomena that Tree (Jessica Rothe) did in the first – experiencing a “Groundhog Day” effect in which he relives the same day, ultimately resetting upon being murdered. After explaining his problem to Tree and boyfriend Carter (Israel Broussard), Tree vows to help Ryan, as she too has been stuck in this vortex. Ryan leads the duo to his lab, where his crazy science project is set up, and eventually does some fancy schmancy explosions.

As a result, Tree is sucked back into the time loop and is back and re-living the same nightmare, finding her birthday begins to repeat – over and over as it did in the first film. This time, however, a few things have changed, which Ryan explains as being a result of her entering another timeline.

Are you confused yet? Well, that’s because I’m explaining it terribly. And also, because “Happy Death Day 2U” adds so many extra “Inception”-esque levels to it, most of which are unnecessary. Nevertheless, they are there and it all morphs into a comedic-horror which the teens will probably love.

If you’re expecting a full-blown horror/thriller movie, watch something else, because “Happy Death Day 2U” has more of a “Back to the Future” vibe, especially when you take note of how similar the scores are for each film. Where it differs from the first flick is the addition of some physics, which leaves you expecting that Sheldon Cooper will emerge to correct the formulas on the whiteboard at some point. What happens instead, is Tree becomes the physicist, memorizing crazy equations that probably took Einstein a lot longer to come up with.

Look, the acting in “Happy Death Day 2U” is great, and Rothe is the stand-out as the was in the first film. She’s a badass chick, and I want to be her. Director Christopher Landon has achieved his goal of explaining why Tree entered the time loop, and creating more of a genre film than a full-blown horror you’d expect from Blumhouse Productions. Unfortunately it’s just a little messy, and it results in a chaotic comedy that lacks a lot of the horror elements audiences itch to see.

Film Reviews

Hobbs & Shaw review : Big, dumb, action porn

setting your brain to cruise control is the optimum way of enjoying “Hobbs and Shaw.”

Jeremy Werner

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At this point, all that’s missing from the “Fast and the Furious” franchise is a TV show, Saturday morning cartoon, McDonald’s Happy Meal toys and breakfast cereal. The unexpected Universal Pictures franchise has its first spin-off, giving the two men who helped rejuvenate the series their own side adventure. Luke Hobbs’ (Johnson) affable character pairs naturally with the rough around the edges Deckard Shaw (Statham). The two have spent the last two movies at each other’s throats in a jokingly, sometimes serious, manner. So it’s a little disappointing to see them relatively toothless and hollowed out in “Hobbs & Shaw”.

Their characters remain the same, but we spend a little too much time with them, making these godlike characters a bit more human. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but having them play into the long steady “family” trope of this franchise feels disingenuous. The two feel more like ancillary characters that were created to offset the eye-rolling “we’re all family” dynamic that Vin Diesel’s character has yammered on about for years. Seeing Hobbs and Shaw degraded to that level may play to the franchise’s hardcore fanbase, but not for the casual fan like me who enjoys these movies as mindless eye candy. Also, there’s only so many times we can hear Hobbs and Shaw verbally get out the measuring sticks for their manhood.

As for the story, it’s somewhat interesting, building off of “The Fate of the Furious.” The bad guy of this film, Brixton Lore (Elba), works for a secret dark web syndicate known as Etheon. Lore is part man, part android, to the point where I’m glad Hobbs name drops “The Terminator.” Lore is on the hunt for a virus that could be weaponized to eliminate the “weak” parts of the human population, i.e. mass extinction for the betterment of humanity. But before Lore can get his superhuman mitts on it, an MI6 agent injects herself with it so that Etheon can’t obtain it. Of course, who that MI6 agent is, is a twist. I won’t spoil it, but you should be able to figure out who it is before it’s revealed, if you’re operating your brain at a primitive level.

Putting aside my opening salvo, I think this movie is still enjoyable because of how absurd it is, like when Hobbs tackles assailants scaling down the side of skyscraper and landing without a scratch on top of an SUV several stories below. My qualm is that the action pieces never really reach the highs that we’ve seen before in this franchise, specifically when Justin Lin and James Wan were behind the camera. Director David Leitch gives the duo plenty of fun settings to blow-up and chase sequences for audiences to ogle at, but none of them quite have that spectacular oomph that we’ve come to know and love. Even some of the lesser movies of this franchise have that memorable moment of Herculean feats or car acrobatics, but this one didn’t quite land one. Luckily the film stops short of dragging to the two and a half hour mark, so you don’t begin to get sore in your seat from its CGI fireworks.

“Hobbs & Shaw” delivers enough mindless fun, ludicrous fight and action sequences, and wink-at-the-camera cameos to put a smile on even the curmudgeonliest of viewers. While it sometimes lacks in those aforementioned categories, it never feels unnecessary, especially since it’s a franchise stuffed with preposterous reasoning and farcical realism; Common sense be damned. Just like the rest of the franchise, “Hobbs & Shaw” doesn’t benefit from the viewer attempting to apply any kind of logic. Once you flip that switch on, you can’t unflip it. So setting your brain to cruise control is the optimum way of enjoying “Hobbs and Shaw.” Enjoy it for what it is, big, dumb action porn.

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Film Reviews

Once Upon a Time….in Hollywood review : an instant classic; gorgeous love-letter

Tarantino kicks another goal in this nostalgic and intelligent flick

K.T Simpson

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Every time Quentin Tarantino releases a new film, it comes complete with a fanfare of clever marketing, city-dominating billboards, and hype from fans and the industry alike. It’s almost unbelievable that the man only has 8 other films under his belt, and that each one is an instant classic. “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood” fits firmly into this category.

In the vein of “Inglorious Basterds”, Tarantino has re-written history in a film that poses the question “what if?”. The result is a gripping story that actually has you enjoying every second of the 2hr 40min runtime – a standard in QT films – as well as giving you a little bit of encouragement to seek out the true story behind what happened 50 years ago.

The narrative surrounds fictitious characters: actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double (turned assistant) Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) – both of whom have made a living within the Western films. The two previously worked together on a TV program called “Bounty Law”, which to be honest I totally wish was real, and they have seen a decline in both the industry and consequently their careers since the show wrapped up. Dalton lives next door to up-and-coming actress Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and her husband Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha), and while Dalton has never met the duo, he dreams of the day he can attend a garden party to acquaint himself with Polanski and open up a new world of opportunities for him and Booth. Booth’s life is a lot more modest, and is a direct comment on where his career is going – living in a trailer behind a drive-in theatre with his dog, and eating whatever canned food he can find in the cupboard.

While the story “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood” is disguised as the Manson Family murders with a twist, is also a tale of (as the title would suggest) Hollywood and the struggles of ‘making it big’ in a world of glitz and glamour. Those in the industry will particularly enjoy this side of the story, as even though it is set in the 60s, the elements still remain relevant. It’s a really interesting comment on the world of film, and Hollywood in general. The flick also is heavy on nostalgia, with both the ugly and beautiful sides of the decade shining through gorgeously.

The film is littered with big names, but it’s Pitt as Cliff Booth that is the true standout here. During the time when Booth visits the commune housing the Manson ‘family’, it’s a who’s who of the industry, but it’s Pitt’s performance that really helps the scene hit a home run. Of course he’s a veteran of Hollywood so none of it comes as a surprise, but Pitt shows us exactly why he’s cast in roles like these. The chemistry between him and DiCaprio is palpable, and their friendship is believable to be cemented well beyond the bounds of just work-based.

Tarantino’s unique filmmaking techniques are prominent in “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood”, so fans of the director’s work won’t be disappointed in the typically noir tone of the flick. It’s an instant classic, and completely gripping from beginning to end, never hitting a dull note. His vision of the ‘60s is inspired, and the resulting story created from that time is the same. All this results in a poignant love-letter to the decade, but also to Sharon Tate – and up-and-coming talent who’s life ended much too soon.

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Film Reviews

Midsommar review : Unsettling, brilliant nightmare

Jeremy Werner on the new horror film starring Florence Pugh

Jeremy Werner

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I don’t use superlatives a lot in my reviews, but I think it’s fitting this time because “Midsommar” has one of the most unsettling and gripping openings to a horror film I’ve ever seen. The movie begins on a snowy night in the states with Dani (Pugh), frantically trying to get a hold of her parents after a trouble set of texts from her bipolar sister stating that the darkness is too much, along with remarks about their parents. Compounding the issue is Dani’s boyfriend, Christian (Reynor), who seems disinterested in her concern about her sister, and why her parents aren’t picking up their phone. In fact, we find out, he’s at the bar getting drunk with friends, mulling over a potential break-up with Dani, instead of showing a single shred of worry. Christian is about to pull the trigger on their nearly four year long relationship when he gets a phone call from Dani. As soon as he answers, we hear the most horrifying cries of agony. Dani learns that her sister has taken her own life, and the lives of their parents, via carbon monoxide poisoning.

Cutting ahead to the summer, their relationship is still strained, Christian is still distant, and Dani is still dealing with grief. Escapism, for both, comes in the form of Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), one of Christian’s Swedish friends. Pelle is inviting Christian and their mutual friends, Josh (Harper) and Mark (William Poulter) to Pelle’s small village of Halsingland. They’ll be privy to a true once in a lifetime event, a festival that’s only held once every 90 years. Despite this village’s knowledge of the outside world and how advanced we’ve become, the people of Halsingland hold on to some incredibly archaic, brutal and terrifying beliefs that’ll slowly unfold over the course of a few days.

Unlike Director Ari Aster’s last film, “Hereditary,” nearly all of “Midsommar” is in the bright light of day, as the rural village sits nearly at the top of Scandinavia, so the sun, if ever this of year, doesn’t ever set below the horizon for the time that our characters are there. So much of the film’s horror doesn’t even happen in the cloak of darkness. The terror of the unknown, the secrets that this village holds, what their plans are, and what’s behind every closed door, happens in the optimistic shine of daylight. If anything, the moments in the dark are a part of a dream-like sequence or in the midst of a heavy dusk when the characters are lurking about the village, when they shouldn’t be.

The Americans in this movie should know better since the village is one constant red flag after another, but the slow boil of the plot plays into Aster’s hands as he’s given enough time to establish why each character remains there despite the overwhelming amount of evidence that says, “Run.” Josh is an anthropology student, looking to do his dissertation on the little researched village of Halsingland, shrugging off morbid rituals as cultural differences. Mark is a stereotypical horndog, thinking a lot more with his second, believing that a European excursion will get him high and laid. He’s half right. Dani seems aimless and lost in the world after the death of her entire family at the beginning, still pondering how she could ever move forward. Meanwhile, her boyfriend, Christian, whose seemingly non-commital to everything, is genuinely indifferent to danger. In fact, having any sense of self-preservation in these kinds of movies gets you killed first. Two ancillary characters, who were also invited to the village by Swedish friend from England, are the first to sound the alarm, but they soon disappear.

Maybe it’s because I watched “Hereditary” and knew that Aster loved sprinkling his movie with copious amounts of breadcrumbs, but I didn’t find myself completely shocked about the things that eventually transpired, nor was I shocked by the various, gruesome revelations that stacked on top of one another. That being said, I’m sure there are dozens of breadcrumbs that I missed because Aster is meticulous. Nothing seen in this film is incidental or by accident, it all serves a purpose towards the film’s numerous themes and subject matter. As to what this movie is about, that’s a lot to unpack. I’m certain that a movie as thematically open-ended as this is sure to leave a different, long lasting impact on viewers. That might mean that there is inherently no wrong way to interpret this, but only Aster is privy to how to correctly take it all in.

Since Aster had made this film deeply personal, “Midsommar” is most certainly a contemplation of death, literally and figuratively. One could muse that Dani seems unable to let her relationship with Christian die. Even though she mentions to a friend at the beginning of the movie that she suspects Christian is ready to dump her. She seems indecisive about confronting him, while sub-consciously knowing that it should come to an end. Even as they both walk like zombies through their relationship, Dani shows another layer to this toxicity, a fear. Despite taking a leap by going to a strange country, strange village and take part in their strange customs, she holds on to this belief that letting go of what’s she become accustomed to is the end, when it’s not. It’s odd finding that nugget of commonality in humanity amongst the gore and paganism. As for Christian, the movie does a fantastic job making the audience care less and less about what happens to him, showing over and over again that he’s emotionally detached from his friends and the world because he’s inherently selfish. Dani pines for a sense of unity, while Christian views people as a means to an end. In that regard, their individual fates are fitting.

It’s hard not to compare “Midsommar” and “Hereditary,” even though they’re drastically different in several categories. For example, “Hereditary” was a horror grounded in Satanism and the paranormal, whereas “Midsommar” is horror grounded in heathen ideology and violent ceremonies, without the use of supernatural forces. However both require a great deal of effort by its cast to read and act out these bizarro scenes with the utmost, straightest of faces. It’s hard to spot a flaw in any of the performances, with Pugh being the standout here as her character deals with so much emotional turmoil. One standout bit of acting by her is the opening scene where she mourns. In my line of work, I’ve had to edit clips of mothers at the scene of a homicide, sobbing loudly through the most tragic of griefs as they find out that their child is dead. Pugh captures that bone chilling wail flawlessly and it should cut into anyone.

“Midsommar” is an unsettling nightmare, showing unflinching carnage, all while smiling back at you. Aster’s sophomore effort will certainly be criticized by the mainstream audiences for being heartlessly malicious, crass, and boring, as evidenced by the handful of people that walked out of my screening at the first sign of violence in the film. I, like others, will be endlessly picking it apart in my mind, discussing it with others who’ve watched it and reading the insurmountable online articles by cinephiles attempting to do the same. I have yet to say a negative thing about this movie, which would usually necessitate a higher rating than the one I’m giving it, but this is an instance, much like “Climax” from earlier this year, where a second viewing would help me solidify my opinion on this film, and whether or not I’d rank it higher. My only hesitancy with “Midsommar” is its rewatchability, mainly because I didn’t find “Hereditary” as enjoyable the second time, nor would I ever want to watch it again. Like some high-concept films, enough time has to pass for a viewer to rewatch, analyze and appreciate during a second time, as opposed to a Hollywood blockbuster. I’m also fully aware that’s a critical cop out my end. However, “Midsommar” may be that, once every few years, trip to the museum, where you need a healthy amount of time to mull over and appreciate the art for what it is.

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