Friday, October 13

Happy Death Day Review

Happy Death Day

Dir: Christopher Landon

Starring: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine, Rachel Matthews, Charles Aitken, and Jason Bayle

Remember that movie “Groundhog Day” starring Bill Murray? It’s the film where Murray relives the same day over and over again. It’s a simplistic, often goofy, premise that conveniently allowed the comedian the opportunity to do what he does best.

“Happy Death Day” is a new horror film that takes this idea, adds the element of a slasher wearing a creepy mask, and focuses the narrative on the self-referential aspect of other horror and time travel films. While this may not necessarily sound that promising, “Happy Death Day” is a surprisingly fun horror film that feels straight out of the 90’s. 

Tree (Jessica Rothe) wakes up in a stranger’s dorm room. Immediately realizing her bad decision she promptly leaves, pretentiously throwing verbal jabs at two college guys on her way out. It doesn’t stop there; Tree is a snob and, before she returns to her sorority house, she abuses numerous people along her path. It’s Tree’s birthday though she doesn’t seem too happy about it. As the day progresses Tree finds herself alone on a walk to a party. A masked assailant confronts her and, while trying to escape, Tree is killed but immediately wakes up to relive the day again. 

For a film that relies so heavily on a specific narrative device, a feature that becomes somewhat annoyingly implemented in the film “Groundhog Day”, “Happy Death Day” amusingly utilizes it well. Part of the reason it’s effective is because of the genre it is operated within. The horror genre allows the filmmakers opportunity to exploit one key element here, specifically that the main character must die in order for time to restart. Just like a slasher film, take for instance something like “Friday the 13th”, it’s the continuous gruesome methods of violence that drives these particular subgenre of films. While “Happy Death Day” operates within the boundaries of its PG-13 rating, much of the violence is cut before the visual payoff some horror fans will be looking for, the film composes a quality that is reminiscent of the teenager-in-peril motifs of the 90’s. 

And, just like those same 90’s genre films, the narrative is structured to compliment the trick it is trying to execute. This makes for some pretty cringe-worthy moments of dialog and more than a few sloppy plugs for the plot holes. However, it also confidently understands how to use humor in a horror film and keenly plays the genre characteristics against type. The film understands the lengths to which the premise can go, pushing the silly nature of the key idea to its limitations without ever going to far.

This wouldn’t all work so nicely without the convincing performance from Jessica Rothe who takes the character of Tree on a full journey of self-discovery, at the hands of the masked killer who kills her repeatedly into some kind of understanding. Ms. Rothe is believable on numerous levels throughout the film while also having a charismatic quality that works so well here.

“Happy Death Day” does a lot with very little. Even with some of the glaring flaws it’s easy to get caught up in the carefree, appealing quality of this horror film. Having fun in horror doesn’t happen too often these days, which is much of the reason why “Happy Death Day” works. 

Monte’s Rating

3.25 out of 5.00

Friday, October 6

Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down The White House Review

Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down The White House
Dir: Peter Landesman
Starring: Liam Neeson, Diane Lane, Marton Csokas, Maika Monroe, Josh Lucas, Michael C. Hall, Tony Goldwyn, and Bruce Greenwood

It’s been more than 40 years since the United States was at the center of one of the greatest political scandals of all time, Watergate. An informant, known then as “Deep Throat”, brought information to reporter Bob Woodward from the Washington Post detailing the involvement of President Richard Nixon’s administration in the Watergate Scandal. This information would eventually lead to the resignation of Nixon from the office of the Presidency.

In 2005 former Federal Bureau of Investigation Associate Director Mark Felt came forward as the whistleblower in 1972. While many people, including President Nixon, suspected Mr. Felt of being the informant back in the 1970’s, it remained a secret for 30 years until he was motivated by his family to reveal the secret. Regarded by some as courageous and by others as a threat, Mr. Felt’s story is captivating, the stuff that Hollywood loves to produce. It is also a far too pertinent reminder of the current political landscape in America.

Director and writer Peter Landesman, who began his career as an investigative journalist and war correspondent for a few National outlets, constructs the focus of the film strictly on Felt as the workingman trying to navigate within the system. The viewer witnesses Felt challenged along the investigative path, we see the secret whispers and meetings in shadowed hallways, there is also some perspective into the problems happening within the world during the 70’s. While Felt is documented extensively within his role as “Deep Throat”, we are never given much perspective into the man away from the scandal. Small pieces of information are offered to hint at a person who is struggling with numerous aspects of life, for instance within his family structure that details an alcoholic wife and a daughter that gets caught up in the changing tides of culture. As the film progresses, it almost feels like we are getting farther from the emotional perspective that would make his character have more substance. Without more depth for the character the film instead functions as a by-the-numbers historical drama, one the struggles to find pacing and rhythm throughout.

Without Liam Neeson this film would be harder to sit through. Mr. Neeson, with his gray hair and stoic stance, has a commanding presence in the film. You can feel the conviction of Felt’s belies on Mr. Neeson’s face. The rest of the cast is a group of recognizable stars that do the best they can with what little depth for characters that is displayed here.

“Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down The White House” may not offer anything new concerning the Watergate scandal. However, it establishes an intriguing aspect of tension once the film picks up the pace near the end, making it feel more like the thrilling political drama it was trying for. The story of Mark Felt has some intriguing character concepts; unfortunately the execution of the film never taps into the prospect of showing a how this event came to define the life of one man.

Monte’s Rating

2.50 out of 5.00

Blade Runner 2049 Review

Blade Runner 2049

Dir: Denis Villaneuve

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Robin Wright, Ana De Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Dave Bautista, and Jared Leto

In 1968 science fiction author, now legend, Phillip K. Dick released the novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep”. In 1982 Ridley Scott, just off the release of “Alien” in 1979, composed the adaptation of Phillip K. Dick’s seminal work with the science fiction opus “Blade Runner”. The film was critically panned upon its release, however over time film fans have come to the consider Mr. Scott’s film a “masterpiece”.

Taking place in post-apocalyptic San Francisco, the film and novel focus on the perspective of a gumshoe named Rick Deckard; yet another memorable character of the early 1980’s portrayed by Harrison Ford. Deckard is known as a Blade Runner, a law enforcement officer tasked with tracking down bioengineered beings and “retiring” them. Ridley Scott’s film is a complex, visually stunning film that is influenced by the noir style of the 1940’s and 1950’s. It’s a film that movie enthusiasts should put on their “must watch” list.

 Director Denis Villaneuve, who is compiling quite an exquisite catalog of films, takes the task of continuing the Ridley Scott sci-fi saga with “Blade Runner 2049”. Mr. Villaneuve’s striking visual style and skillful narrative design is a perfect companion to the original film, taking the memorable aspects that play proper tribute to the 1982 film and adding exceptional elements to move out of the considerable shadow it casts. What Mr. Villaneuve and team have created with “Blade Runner 2049” is simply an exceptional sequel.

It’s 2049 and a young blade runner named K (Ryan Gosling) is working for the LAPD to “retire” bioengineered beings still operating in Los Angeles. During an investigation K uncovers a secret, long hidden, that has the potential to throw what’s left of the crumbling world into anarchy. Along K’s investigation, he is led on a journey to find retired blade runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) who has been missing for 30 years. 

Director of Photography Roger Deakins has crafted a stunningly gorgeous film; it’s one of the best looking films of the entire year. The composition of this destroyed world, which looks like it’s approaching the final days, is a mix of green, blue, and red. The separation of colors offers a distinct marker for the different places within the narrative. But it also evokes the design of the original film and the way it might look 30 years later. Technology is still advancing, with interactive holograms and floating space cruisers all around, yet nature is a barren wasteland of dust and mud. Science fiction narratives have always utilized technology as a way of turning the mirror on humanity; Mr. Deakins’ camera does the same in regards to the connection of the advanced future and the problems that exist in the current environmental landscape today. 

Ryan Gosling’s character K is interesting, a calm and complex character that operates with subtlety even when the moment peaks with intensity. Harrison Ford’s return to the character of Deckard is also well implemented. Deckard always seemed the closest to the persona most fitting to the actor in reality. Watching Mr. Ford operate the character against Mr. Gosling’s creates some ingenious emotional and motivational dynamics.  However, to reveal much more about their relationship would be to do the film a disservice. Add other talented actors like Robin Wright playing K’s LAPD Commander, Jared Leto as a mannered and restrained tech visionary, and Sylvia Hoeks as the deceptive and dangerous “problem solver” allows the film to add more  layers to the narrative. 

Hampton Fancher and Michael Green wrote the screenplay, Denis Villaneuve organizes a puzzle and forms a slow unraveling mystery that works to emulate the pacing and mood of the original film. For much of “Blade Runner 2049” this aspect works surprisingly well. Though as the film begins to build towards its ultimate culmination, the commanding nature that the film constructs through the finely tuned elements begins to dissipate. While it still continues to render beautiful images, superb sound, and fascinating performances, the narrative puzzle tries to do too much in the end. 

At a running length of close to 3 hours the film never seems long, it instead attracts you into the realm through the beautiful composition. Director Denis Villaneuve is an innovative filmmaker, even when he is dealing with material that is over 30 years old. “Blade Runner 2049” is a polished film throughout that still proposes interesting ideas and questions concerning the nature of humanity and the course that history will pave into the future. At the core, that’s what these films have always been trying to do...make you question what you think you know.

Monte’s Rating

4.25 out of 5.00