Horror Film Review: Happy Death Day (dir by Christopher B. Landon)


So, imagine this.

You’re a college student.  You’re a member of a sorority.  You start your day by waking up in a stranger’s bed, with a hangover.  When you walk across campus, you blow off the girl trying to get you to sign her anti-climate change petition.  When you get back to your sorority house, you’re rude to her roommate and refuse to eat the birthday cupcake that she made for you.  You body shame a girl at lunch.  You’re sleeping with one of your professors.  You’re rude to your father.  You’re going to a party.

Oh!  And did I mention that you’re in a slasher film and that there’s a really creepy figure wearing a baby mask who is following you around?

Seriously, you are so dead.

That’s the situation that Theresa “Tree” Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) finds herself in 2017’s Happy Death Day.  It’s her birthday and, unfortunately, she’s murdered at the end of it.  Of course, if you’ve ever seen in a slasher film, it’s not a shock when Tree dies.  She’s the quintessential self-centered girl who always gets killed in these type of movies.

(For the record, I would probably die within the first ten minutes of any slasher film.)

However, in Tree’s case, she gets another chance.  And then another one after that.  And then, another one after that… every night, Tree dies.  Every morning, Tree wakes up in the dorm room of Carter Davis (Israel Broussard) and she has to relive the last day of her life all over again.

To the film’s credit, it doesn’t take long for Tree to realize that she’s in a time loop.  (Also, to the film’s credit, Carter specifically points out that Tree’s story sounds exactly like the plot of Groundhog Day.  “What’s that?” Tree asks.  Carter explains that it’s a film with Bill Murray.  “Who’s Bill Murray?” Tree replies.)  Once Tree figures out that she’s going to have to keep living the same day over and over again, she sets out trying not to die.  She doesn’t go to the party but that just means that the killer comes to her.  She tries to spend a day barricaded in her dorm room, just to find that the killer is hiding in a corner.  She follows the various suspects around as they go about their day.  It seems like no matter what she does, she can’t keep the killer from catching her.

On the plus side, as a result of having to deal with the same crap over and over again, she does become a better person.  She’s less rude and condescending.  She grows more confident in herself and stops worrying so much about what everyone else is going to think about her.  Of course, becoming a better person isn’t going to do her much good if she keeps dying every night….

Happy Death Day is a clever combination of horror and comedy.  It’s a movie that’s smart enough not take itself too seriously.  Even when Tree becomes a nicer person, both the character and the film retain their sarcastic edge.  Even when she learns to face the world with positivity and happiness, the film seems to be gently mocking the ease by which film characters can go from being self-centered to thoroughly altruistic.  Meanwhile, the killer may be frightening but again, the film mines plenty of dark humor from the character’s pure determination.  No matter Tree does, that killer eventually shows up.

It’s a precarious balancing act, trying to be scary and funny at the same time.  Fortunately, Happy Death Day benefits from a clever script and a good lead performance from Jessica Rothe.  Rothe gives an intelligent and empathetic performance as Tree.  It’s impossible not to sympathize with her frustration as she wakes up to discover that she has to go through the exact same day yet again.  It’s a sign of the strength of Rothe’s performance that you sympathize with Tree even before she becomes a nicer person.

Happy Death Day is a clever film and one that I’m surprised to say I missed when it was originally released.  If you also missed it, now’s a great time to catch it!

Film Review: Forever My Girl (dir by Bethany Ashton Wolf)


Forever My Girl is a film about a country music star who doesn’t understand how voicemail works.

It’s been nearly a decade since Liam Pace (Alex Roe) fled his Louisiana hometown.  On the plus side, fleeing his town gave Liam the chance to become a country music star.  He plays to sell-out crowds.  His manager keeps him endlessly supplied with groupies and vodka.  Apparently, he once got so strung out that, afterward, he didn’t even remember telling his father, the Reverend (John Benjamin Hickey), that he never wanted to talk to him again.  The Reverend Pace did have some important news to give to Liam but … oh well.

On the negative side, when Liam fled his hometown, he also left behind his fiancée, Josie (Jessica Rohe).  In fact, they were supposed to be married on the day that Liam left town.  Eight years ago, Josie left him one message.  Every day since then, Liam has listened to that voicemail.  When a groupie accidentally steps on his ancient flip phone, Liam freaks and ends up running barefoot to the closest phone store.  He’s chased by a group of adoring fans.  Video of barefoot Liam goes viral!  Liam doesn’t care.  He’s just desperate to get the phone repaired because, again, Liam doesn’t understand how voicemail works.

(As we learn later in the film, Liam also doesn’t understand how to order stuff online.  He doesn’t even carry his own credit cards.  He’s a celebrity.  People do stuff for him.)

Anyway, when an old friend of Liam’s dies, Liam returns to his hometown for the funeral.  He doesn’t actually attend the funeral, of course.  He just sits outside the church and listens to his Dad give the eulogy.  Josie, when she spots him, proceeds to punch him in the stomach and then introduce him to her daughter, Billie (Abby Ryder Fortson).  Billie is cute and adorable and 7 years old…

OH MY GOD!

LIAM HAS A DAUGHTER!

(Personally, I think it would have been funny if Josie had replied, “No, she’s your best friend’s daughter and she was conceived right after I called you and left that message…”)

Nobody in town thinks that Liam will ever be responsible enough to be a good father.  They’re probably all looking at him and thinking, “How is he going to be a father when he’s still using a flip phone from 2008?”  But Liam is determined to prove that he can be a good father and also to win back Josie.  Fortunately, it doesn’t turn out to be too hard to win back Josie.  Apparently, she hasn’t had a date in 8 years.  But being a good father, that’s another challenge all together…

Forever My Girl, which is based on a novel by Heidi McLaughlin, is being advertised as a film for people “who love Nicholas Sparks movies.”  Superficially, Forever My Girl may look similar to a Nicholas Sparks adaptation but actually, it’s never comes close to equaling the over the top melodrama of a good Nicholas Sparks film.  If anything, Forever My Girl is such a mild and innocuous film that it feels more like something you’d expect to find on the Hallmark Channel rather than playing in theaters.  You could easily imagine the film being turned into a television series where, every week, Liam would learn another lesson that would lead to him better appreciating small town life.

Forever My Girl is a sweet-natured movie and Alex Roe and Jessica Rothe are appealing in the lead roles.  It’s a film that doesn’t feature people shooting guns or blowing stuff up and, for some people, that’s going to provide a nice diversion from the usual January releases.  But, ultimately, the film is too thin and insubstantial to make much of a lasting impression.

Blade Runner 2049 wins in New Mexico!


Yesterday, the New Mexico Film Critics Association named their picks for the best of 2017!  They also became the first group to pick Blade Runner 2049 as the best film of 2017.

Here are their winners:

Best Picture
Winner: “Blade Runner 2049”
Runner Up: “Lady Bird:

Best Director
Winner: Greta Gerwig, “Lady Bird”
Runner Up: Denis Villeneuve, “Blade Runner 2049”

Glenn Strange Honorary Awards

  • Glenn Close
  • Olivia De Haviland
  • John Carpenter
  • David Lynch

Best Actor
Winner: Sam Elliot, “The Hero”
Runner Up: James Franco, “The Disaster Artist”

Best Actress
Winner: Jennifer Lawrence, “mother!”
Runner Up: Jessica Rothe, “Happy Death Day”

Best Supporting Actress
Winner: Catherine Kenner, “Get Out”
Runner Up: Maryana Spivak, “Loveless”

Best Supporting Actor
Winner: Harrison Ford, “Blade Runner 2049”
Runner Up: Ewen Bremner, “Trainspotting II”

Best Ensemble
Winner: “Raw”
Runner Up: “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”

Best Original Screenplay
Winner: “November”
Runner Up: “Lady Bird”

Best Adapted Screenplay
Winner: “The Disaster Artist”
Runner Up: “Call Me By Your Name”

Best Animated Film
Winner: “Loving Vincent”
Runner Up: “The Breadwinner”

Best Foreign Language Film
Winner: “November” (Estonia)
Runner Up: “BPM” (France)

Best Editing
Winner: “November”
Runner Up: “Blade Runner 2049”

Best Cinematography
Winner: “Blade Runner 2049”
Runner Up: “Song of Granite”

Best Music/Score
Winner: “The Shape of Water”
Runner Up: “mother!”

Best Production Design
Winner: “Blade Runner 2049”
Runner Up: “The Shape of Water”

Best Documentary
Winner: “City of Ghosts”
Runner Up: “Faces Places”

Best Young Actor/Actress
Winner: Garance Mirillier, “Raw”
Runner Up: Sophia Lillis, “It”

Best Original Song
Winner: “The Misery of Love” from “Call Me By Your Name”
Runner Up: “Prayers for this World” from “Cries from Syria”

Quick Review – La La Land (Dir. by Damien Chazelle)


la-la-land-full-poster-image-691x1024Hype is a dangerous thing.

Too little of it will leave a movie’s showing with tons of empty seats. Too much, and you raise skepticism in the masses. The movie never lives up to the growing expectations and tanks before you know it.  Tonight (as of this writing), preview audiences are going to be packed with fans waiting to catch the latest Star Wars film. While I hope it works out for them, there’s another film moving into a wider release this weekend that deserves just as much love. Right now, La La Land is heavily hyped, and hopefully will be part of every major awards run. I still want to try to catch some of the other soon to be nominated films for the Awards season, but I’m good for right now. I’m that kid in the corner, totally content with that one little Transformer he always wanted while other presents still need to be opened. Unless I run into another film that captures my eye (and ears) like this one, La La Land is easily my go to pick for everything this year. It’s a fun little love story wrapped up in musical dance numbers, my feel good movie.

lalalandtickets

I really, truly loved La La Land. 

For me, that’s saying a lot. Outside of the usual Disney film, I don’t see too many musicals. I can count on one hand a few favorites – Frank Oz’s movie version of Little Shop of Horrors, Baz Luhrman’s Moulin Rouge, both Muppet films and of course West Side Story. However, I’ve never watched Singing in the Rain, or any of the Astaire/Rogers numbers. The opening dance sequence in Ted 2 might be the closest I’ve come to all that, or maybe the French Mistake in Blazing Saddles. However, I walked out of La La Land with a huge smile on my face, one that prompted me to run right back in for the next showing. This isn’t meant to convince you to see the film or not. If you do, cool. If you don’t, that’s fine. I just know that I’ll be scooping this up come the Blu-Ray release. This review is me, geeking out.

La La Land is a very simple story. In Los Angeles, Mia (Emma Stone) is an aspiring actress who meets Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a lover of Jazz who’s fighting to keep it alive. Both individuals are fighting to fulfill their dreams, and it’s hard not to root for them. This leads to a friendship that grows, surrounded by great music. For the story, that’s all you really need to know, and to go into more detail risks going into spoiler territory. It’s a classic Boy Meets Girl in the Big City situation.

Having worked together in Gangster Land and Crazy Stupid Love, Stone and Gosling already have some great chemistry. The dialogue pops between them and is very reminiscent of some of the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan films. With the conversation style, coupled with Damien Chazelle’s writing, it all feels very natural. Both of their characters come across as passionate individuals when it comes to the talent of their choice. The cast also includes singer John Legend, Callie Hernandez (Blair Witch), Jessica Rothe (Better Off Single), and Sonoya Mizuno (Ex Machina). If I have one problem with La La Land, it would just be that I wanted to see more of the co-stars, but the film truly belongs to the leads. At least in a film like Grease, you were at least aware of the supporting cast and their stories. It’s a tiny nitpick, but it doesn’t get in the way of the story’s progression.

Visually, La La Land is full of rich colors and deep shadows. When there’s a change in lighting or a focus made, it’s a beautiful thing to behold. Linus Sandgren (American Hustle, Joy) does a great job here and I’m adding him to my list of Cinematographers to keep an eye on. The movie feels like a classic film from start to finish. The editing deserves some kudos as well. Every scene feels like it grew naturally from the one before it, and there’s rarely a moment where you ask yourself if one scene needed to be there if there were any holes to be found. If there was an editing mistake in La La Land, I couldn’t find it.

As with Guy and Madeline On a Park Bench & Whiplash, it wouldn’t be a Chazelle film without music. Justin Hurwitz is on music duty here and La La Land’s music is in some places snappy. I picked up the soundtrack after the movie, and there’s a good chance that some of that music is going to get stuck in your head. Emma Stone may get some recognition come awards season with one song in particular, but overall it’s difficult not to listen to some of these and not want to nod your head with the crowd. On my exit after the second showing, there were people humming and/or whistling the tunes.

Overall, La La Land is a wonderful film that reminds one of the beauty of the Cinema Experience, with a pair of characters that make you want to cheer them on. Really, if you have a chance to see this in the theatre, do so. Who knows, maybe you’ll find yourself with a spring in your step too on the way out.

Film Review: The Preppie Connection (dir by Joseph Castelo)


The_Preppie_Connection_Poster

The Preppie Connection, which is currently playing On Demand and in limited release, has got a 0% rating at Rotten Tomatoes.  That seems a little bit harsh to me.  I mean, The Preppie Connection isn’t exactly a good movie but it’s still not a disaster.  It’s main sin is that it’s generic and forgettable and squanders a potentially interesting story.  That’s definitely not a good thing but still, The Preppie Connection is still better than some of the other films that currently have a zero score on Rotten Tomatoes.  The Preppie Connection may not be great but it’s still better than Bucky Larson: Born To Be A Star and A Thousand Words.

0%?

Not hardly.

More like 25%.

Anyway, The Preppie Connection is apparently based on a true story.  Tobias Hammel (Thomas Mann) is a poor kid who wins a scholarship to an exclusive private school.  At first, Tobias struggles to fit in.  He doesn’t know how to relate to his wealthy classmates and he’s embarrassed when his friends from the old neighborhood show up on campus.  When he is instructed to sign a 200 year-old book, he accidentally knocks the book to the floor.  As a result, the other students beat him up.

Fortunately, for Tobias, everyone assumes that — since he’s poor — he’ll be able to get them drugs.  At first, everyone is satisfied with weed but, since this movie is taking place in the 80s, everyone soon starts to pressure Tobias to get them cocaine.  Fortunately (and conveniently), Tobias has befriended the son of the Colombian ambassador.  Soon, Tobias is making regular trips to Colombia and returning with bags of cocaine hidden away in his travel bag.

Usually, I love films about wealthy drug addicts.  There’s usually a few good scenes of drug-fueled decadence and, since they’re rich, everyone’s usually dressed nicely.  But no… sorry.  The Preppie Connection just doesn’t work.  Visually, the film is flat and, even worse, it appears that the budget was too low to be able to afford the rights to any period music.  I was hoping to hear at least a few classic 80s songs but instead, the film only offered some generic synthesizer-fueled music.

Speaking of generic, Thomas Mann narrates nearly the entire film and it’s some of the most vapid narration that I’ve ever heard.  I mean, I understand that everyone loves Goodfellas and Casino but that doesn’t mean that every period gangster film has to feature nonstop narration.

Ultimately, The Preppie Connection is such an incredibly forgettable film that I really can’t even come up with more than 400 words to type about it.  That said, Logan Huffman and Lucy Fry both give good performances as two of Tobias’s customers and they’re good enough to bump the film up to at least a score of 25 out of 100.

Take that, Rotten Tomatoes.