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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

Fighting with My Family review : heart-warming… goes beyond the sport

We review the comedy-drama on the WWE career of professional wrestler Paige

K.T Simpson

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“Paige, I myself have come from a wrestling family too. I know exactly what it means to you”, The Rock tells a young WWE candidate from early on the new film “Fighting with My Family”, adding “Don’t worry about being the next me. Be the first you.”

The small slab of dialogue is essentially the plot of director Stephen Merchant’s Saraya Knight biopic. No more, no less. And it mightn’t be wrong to say that, for all intents and purposes, “Fighting with My Family” encompasses another unsurprising account of another underdog finding themselves on the way to the top. But like Sylvester Stallone’s “Rocky” – not to mention most of John G. Avildsen’s back catalogue- and countless other movies, all using a similar template, the choctop coating for what otherwise have been a very vanilla cone comes in the combination of structure, performance and, very importantly, casting. Together, the trifecta sees “Fighting with My Family” not only standing well after the final bell has blown, but with very minimal damage. And like the title character, this one’s a real winner.

The backstory of WWE wrestler ‘Paige’, or Saraya Knight as she’s known back in her native Norwich, “Fighting with My Family” tells of a determined young athlete who transitions her way from working local matches with her wrestling-loving family to participating in and winning the WWE Diva’s championship in 2014 (and where The Rock comes into it is that he played somewhat of a mentor to Knight in real life; he’s also the godfather of the film, bringing the story to the attention of actor turned director Merchant).

Paige has grown up with her brother Zak (Jack Lowden), also a keen wrestler and WWE-dreamer, and when the day comes that she has to leave him behind to chase the dream, Paige struggles with the guilt of success, stage-fright and finding herself alongside a group of girls who have been hired seemingly on beauty-status alone. While in Florida, Paige has to find the balance between being herself, growing into the role she’s been given, and standing out amongst a sea of wannabe-WWE wrestlers. Under the guise of coach Hutch Morgan (Vince Vaughn), who strongly believes in tough-love, Paige learns to develop a thick skin to not only improve her sport, but deal with the heckling crowds that have no sympathy for hesitance in the spotlight.

If you know anything about the real Paige’s story, you know how it ends – but the journey is effectively portrayed by all actors, who all bear a striking resemblance to the actual people.

Merchant’s script, let alone direction, is to-the-point and effective, without being staggeringly crafty, but the material is elevated by a dynamite cast headlined by Florence Pugh, providing both vulnerability and durability to a future big time brawler. Pugh is the show stopper here, channeling her real-life counterpart with a chameleon-esque performance that’s equal parts tough and tender.

The supporting players – Frost, Headey, Vaughn et al – all come from deeper waters, so no surprise that they too take Merchant’s characters and give award-worthy turns. Vaughn, especially, playing a fictionalised version of several coaches Paige worked with along the way, gives one of his best performances to date — so much so, it’s a shame they couldn’t find a spot for him on the poster (after all, Dwayne Johnson’s role is a cameo at best, Vaughn is in most of the film – but guess ‘The Rock’ sells more tickets, right marketers?).

As with any good sports film, the beauty in “Fighting with My Family” lies beyond the sport, but in the message that supports it. It’s easy to write a film off if you’re not into wrestling, but my advice is to put that aside and enjoy the heart-warming narrative of a young girl with little confidence come to find her feet in the wider world that surrounds Norwich. The “Rocky” for our times, “Fighting with My Family” is a movie for everyone that’s ever had a dream… and bloody embarrassing parents.

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Film Reviews

Finding Steve McQueen review : Clever and Nostalgic

The film is both clever and, if you’re a fan of the 1970s, nostalgic

Mike Smith

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1980. In a small California town, Harry Barber (Fimmell) has something to confess to Holly (Taylor), his girlfriend of seven years. Holly thinks a break-up is coming but it’s more like a stick-up. You see, Harry is a bank robber.

Based on a true story, “Finding Steve McQueen” is one of the smaller films that often get overshadowed by the latest offerings from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Through flashbacks we find Harry back in 1972 (who Molly knows as John) working in his Uncle Enzo’s factory, along with his younger brother, Tommy (Jake Weary). The factory is a front for Enzo (played by the always fun to watch Fichtner), who is, for lack of a better word, the “boss” of Youngstown, Ohio. Enzo has learned from a friend that President Richard Nixon, who Enzo is definitely not a fan of, has squirreled away $30 million in campaign funds in a bank not far from San Clemente (the Western White House). Eager for a big score, and the chance to stick it to the President, Enzo and his team, including Harry and Tommy, journey west to pull off what Enzo believes will be the perfect crime. After all, if someone steals the President’s dirty money, who can he call?

The film is both clever and, if you’re a fan of the 1970s, nostalgic. The script, by Ken Hixon and Keith Sharon, moves sharply through the decade, taking time to introduce things like hot tubs and historic characters. When the F.B.I. bureau chief (Oscar winner Forest Whitaker) gets a visit from his boss, Mark Felt (John Finn), you can’t help but smile when Felt tells him to read an article in the Washington Post written by “a couple reporters named Woodward and Bernstein.” For those who don’t remember their history, Felt was the infamous “Deep Throat” who led Woodward and Bernstein to their Pulitzer Prize.

Director Johnson keeps the story moving and kudos as well to whoever picked the songs that accompany the on-screen action. They helped set a perfect tone for a film that doesn’t need someone in Spandex to make it entertaining.

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Film Reviews

Captain Marvel review : Female empowerment as Brie Larson shines

A cheerier pause from the usual more-serious superhero fare

K.T Simpson

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The first Marvel movie to star and be co-directed by a woman, “Captain Marvel” effectively and understandably makes sure to tick all the boxes when it comes to trumpeting female empowerment and equality but at its core is a feverishly fun ticket to a circus that spurs nothing smiles under its big top.

A prequel to all of the Marvel movies from the past decade, “Captain Marvel” has a plot that seemingly has two purposes : to tell the origin yarn of Carol Danvers, a pilot who ended up with powers, which she later brings to Earth to help save humanity, and also to connect some of the dots and answer some of the lingering questions over from the earlier Marvel films.

We meet Starforce member Vers (as she knows herself to be) in the 90s, backed by an appropriate soundtrack, and a mentor in Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) who trains her to control her abilities. During an mission in which the Skrulls are attacking Kree, Vers is kidnapped and probed for her memory. She escapes, lands on Earth through a Blockbuster Video (a familiar sight back in the ’90s… maybe not so much now), and meets S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Nick Fury and Phil Coulson.

To be my completely honest self here, it is here that I resembled Confused Nick:

My ability to follow the menagerie of storylines probably has got to do with my lack of thorough knowledge into the Marvel universe and comic books, so if you come in with a base understanding of these things then you’ll be ahead of the pack straight up.

Where I do suddenly become fixed on the screen is when the kitty cat Goose comes in, but moreso Jackson’s interaction with said kitty was just too cute for words.

Oscar winner Brie Larson (“Room”), in a welcome change of pace from the heavier fare she’s been courted for in recent years, provides an almost child-like mischievousness and smirkish spunk to a part that might otherwise had been played far more solemnly by someone whose funny bone hasn’t been lubed in a while. Sure, Larson’s skills as an actress provides a great anchor for the weightier more emotional moments, but this is her chance to shine as the kind of rib-tickling adventure hero Sly Stallone and Harrison Ford played in the ‘80s.

Samuel L. Jackson, reprising his Nick Fury character, but 25 years earlier (complete with stunning de-age tech) and with more naivety and less knowhow, is clearly relishing the chance to not only add some fun back into a character known for being pretty solemn but also poke a little fun at the man too.

As with all Marvel films, there’s a solid ensemble here – Annette Bening, Ben Mendelsohn, Jude Law and Clark Gregg, reprising his Agent Phil Coulson from the earlier films – but it’s an imaginative production designer and the punchy, fun action-adventure sequences that deserves just as high billing.

Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s “Captain Marvel” is unarguably Marvel’s most poppy, less solemn DCP in quite time. And with the majority of google news alerts in recent times producing frowns, it couldn’t come sooner.

Like James Gunn’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” films, the template is driven largely by oodles of era-appropriate music (in this case, everyone from No Doubt to Nirvana), lots of smart-alec (almost Schwarzenegger-style) quips, and a plethora of pop-culture references and visual throwbacks to the Clinton-days. Rather appropriately, it plays like a film from the mid ‘90s.

In much the same way “Galaxy” and “Thor Ragnarok” were a cheerier pause from the usual more-serious superhero fare, our dual director’s seems hellbent on simply giving audiences a smile. Sure, there’s an A to B plot to take care of (granted, it’s not much – and as I mentioned, a bit all over the place) but the thin libretto disappears into the background of a chorus of comedy, masking most noticeable holes or unevenness it might possess. From the scene-stealing cat ‘Goose’, a straight-shooting chameleon alien (Ben Mendelsohn, having a ball) and the welcome return to screen of a Blockbuster video store – used to great effect – it’s almost demanded that that you don’t sprout even one “Infinity War”-like forehead wrinkle while sitting through this swiftly paced, jovial throwback and fix on the amusements in front of you.

If it weren’t for all the space-set dog fights and hallway combatant, much of “Captain Marvel” might otherwise be considered a comedy. And if that was the intention, then it’s one of the highest caliber.

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