Saturday, February 16

The Breaker Upperers Review

By Emery Snyder @leeroy711
Director: Madeleine Sami & Jackie Van Beek
Starring: Madeleine Sami, Jackie Van Beek, James Rolleston & Ana Scotney
Netflix Original – February 15, 2019

Mel (Sami) and Jen (Van Beek) are best friends and business partners. They provide a service concocting elaborate schemes to break people up from their unhappy relationships. As is inclined to happen, feeling get caught, and emoticons get in the way of their professionalism. This is a comedy from New Zealand, executive produced by Kiwi comedy royalty, Taika Waititi. It is written and directed by its two stars, Sami and Van Beek, both of which have previously had small roles in other Waititi films.

Central to the plot is the two ladies’ profession. It’s a job that obviously could never exist in the real world and it tends to set off alarm bells in my head. It’s not that I need these types of elements to be rooted in anything remotely resembling reality. It’s just that it immediately reminds me of some of the worst and laziest romantic comedies of the past two decades. These are the films in which Mathew McConaughey would typically play the handsome man-child who goes toe-to-toe with the beautiful but cold interventionalist like Sarah Jessica Parker in FAILURE TO LAUNCH (’06) or Kate Hudson in HOW TO LOSE A GUY IN 10 DAYS (’03). Montages are used to pass the time, writing templates are strictly adhered to, the lies and cover-ups get more ridiculous and hilarity ensues. In these films, the central conflict typically falls apart if one of the main characters would just simply tell the truth… you know… like real people do. These films typically bug me quite a bit because I find the characters to be so unbelievably unrelatable.

Fortunately, this film avoids the worst of these landmines. It still follows the same plot beats
and a lot of the characters’ actions lean into the outlandish zone. But the relationship between the film’s two main characters feels organic and weighted. The ‘May-December Romance’ and the ‘Hung-up on the ex-boyfriend’ subplots are just that. They’re ancillary and tangential at best. What is key is the relationship between two long-time best friends. They feel like real people, just funnier. And their friendship is based on a history of mutual love, respect and support.

The film suffers a bit unfortunately from the needlessness of the ‘ex-boyfriend’ subplot. It was fine as part of the characters’ background. But it seems like filler when we have to actually meet him. Ultimately, the scene he is in ends up only detracting from the overall charm. And with a running time of only 82 minutes, there are others showcased that I would have much rather spent time with.

What shines here are the performances. Sami and Van Beek both have great comedic timing and I would love to see them as a recurring duo in future projects. James Rolleston’s “Jordan” is very funny as the lovable doofus and Celia Pacquola’s “Anna” is one of the most hilarious manic-depressives in film history. And then there’s Ana Scotney as “Sepa”, Jordan’s jaded ex… Please give her a TV show. I’m actually not sure if I want to watch anything that she is not in. Her on screen personality is as magnetic as her cornrows. And if there is any point in the film that you begin to worry about her absence from the other choreographed dance numbers, just be patient. I had to look up her previous work and so far, it’s pretty thin. Apparently, she plays a “she-wolf” in an episode of the Waititi created, Wellington Paranormal, a show that looks to be a cross between Reno 911 and The X-Files. So, I’ll be looking that up on Youtube in a few minutes.

What this film may lack in tightness and plot, it makes up for in promise. I love the already established Kiwi troupe centered around Waititi and Jermaine Clement and if this is how the new crop is ushered in, I’m all for it. I would love to see more from these ladies.

Emery’s Rating
3.75 out of 5 Stars

Friday, February 15

Alita: Battle Angel Review

Alita: Battle Angel

Dir: Robert Rodriguez

Starring: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley, Keean Johnson, and Jeff Fahey

Technology continues to influence the filmmaking process in rather awe-inspiring ways; fantastic worlds from other galaxies can be produced with computers and talented artists against the back drop of a simple green screen, gigantic monsters can destroy New York City over and over again, however, one of the most impressive feats is the melding of human actors and computer-generated effects that blur the line of where the human ends and the technology begins. 

“Alita: Battle Angel” brings together two trailblazers of the filmmaking process; producer James Cameron who pushed the limitations of technology and ultimately revolutionized the way special effects were created in the 1980’s and director Robert Rodriguez who lead the independent filmmaking charge into the digital realm in the early 1990’s. “Alita: Battle Angel” takes a little bit of the best from both of these iconic filmmakers, crafting a film that is visually stunning with characters that are so detailed and interesting to look at. It’s a shame that the same amount of meticulous detail levied on the technology wasn’t applied to the pen-to-paper process.

In a dystopian future where an elitist society floats high above a junkyard world, Dr. Ito (Christoph Waltz) searches for cybergenic technology amongst discarded garbage. It is here where the Dr. finds the discarded robotic carcass of a young girl named Alita (Rosa Salazar), who is a lethal creation of the past from a long-forgotten war. Alita is rebuilt but doesn’t remember where she came from, instead she is raised by Dr. Ito and learns about a future sport called Motorball. But Dr. Ito has some secrets and the powerful puppeteers of future begin to realize that Alita is something very powerful. It is up to Alita to change the future.

The design elements that compose “Alita: Battle Angel” are completely stunning, a marvel of computer-generated effects mixed with motion capture performances from actors. The combination of both of these processes takes a few minutes to get comfortable with, the “uncanny valley” effect is evident at first, however it dissipates and it’s easy to just enjoy the spectacle of everything happening before you. Mr. Rodriguez spends a good amount of time building the atmosphere of the world, displaying impoverished streets that are technological advanced with robots, vehicles, and half human / half cyborg people roaming throughout. It’s a marvel to see these visions come to life, it’s the strongest quality connected with this film, especially when Alita is unleashed and her martial arts skillset bounces, tumbles, and explodes across every border of the frame. 

All this advanced technology is in play and it really brings the characters to life, however the story is abundant with information and world building ideas, it becomes cumbersome trying to keep up with everything that is going on. You have a father/daughter connection in play with Dr. Ito and Alita, working alongside a broken marriage featuring a performance from Jennifer Connelly, also a killer stealing cybergenic parts from humans, a group of ingeniously designed bounty-hunters, a villain played in dark sunglasses by Mahershala Ali, and we haven’t even touched on the floating city and the mythology associated with Alita’s legend. It’s simply too much to fit into a story that will be satisfactory. 

“Alita: Battle Angel” should be lauded for its cinematic composition, it really is quite impressive to witness how far technology has come in the development of cinema. However, story and character development are critical components in connecting humanity and emotion across the screen and, unfortunately, “Alita: Battle Angel” struggles to find the balance between its technology and storytelling.

Monte’s Rating

2.50 out of 5.00

Wednesday, February 13

Happy Death Day 2U Review

Happy Death Day 2U

Dir: Christopher Landon

Starring: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Phi Vu, Suraj Shurma, Sarah Yarkin, Rachel Matthews, and Ruby Modine

Take a moment and think of every great movie sequel you have ever seen. Now that you are done listing all the subpar sequels, how many are left on the list that are excellent? The craft of constructing a sequel is a difficult undertaking, especially if the first film is something special. 

“Happy Death Day” was a surprise upon its release in 2017; a film that took the concept of the 1993 comedy “Groundhog Day” and turned it into a clever and unique horror film that delivered some really fun surprises. The turnaround for the sequel happened rather quickly, which is always a little concerning, but “Happy Death Day 2U” takes a route less travelled for movie sequels by twisting the narrative, including the genre, into something completely different. 

Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) lived the same day over and over, dying at the hands of a masked killer every day until she was able to solve her own murder. With the help of her boyfriend Carter (Israel Broussard), Tree thought she had escaped the time loop and could move on with her life. But things take a drastic reversal as a science experiment, conducted by Carter’s roommate Ryan (Phi Vu), creates another time jump that brings Tree back face-to-face with her baby-faced masked killer. But something has changed, things are different this time. 

Christopher Landon directed “Happy Death Day” with a clear understanding of tone for a horror film that offered a few frights, a creepy looking slasher, a charming hero, and some lighthearted humor. It felt like a PG-13 horror film from the 90’s mixed with the science fiction appeal of the 80’s. So, it’s not surprising that Mr. Landon brings the successful qualities back in different doses and combinations while making one interesting and tricky turn in the structure. 

The narrative, which leaned strongly in the horror genre with only a sprinkling of sci-fi for the first film, flips into a straight forward science fiction film with a spattering of horror here and there. It’s a bold move that is somehow surprisingly pulled off. Utilizing a science fiction storytelling theme that feels reminiscent of “The Outer Limits”, “Happy Death Day 2U” refreshingly twists and morphs into a different film. While it still struggles with some shoddy dialog and unusual side character performances, like a wacky college professor who bumbles into the excitement at the worst time, the film still merges its quality elements in an enjoyable way. 

A big part of why this film works so well is the exceptional screen appeal of Jessica Rothe who holds the film together with her tenacity and charisma. Ms. Rothe’s performance is convincing and entertaining throughout; whether she is wielding an axe or waking up with her hair frizzed from electricity, the actor entirely owns it. 

“Happy Death Day 2U” works really well up to a point that it becomes slightly unhinged with its time looping dilemma and wanting to push for expanding its universe beyond the primary character’s life, but it doesn’t derail the fun that this movie is clearly trying to produce. Rarely do sequels work as well as it does with “Happy Death Day 2U”. Blumhouse Productions continues to surprise with their brand of genre films. 

Monte’s Rating

 3.25 out of 5.00