Friday, October 13, 2017

Happy Death Day review

By Nico Beland
Movie Review: *** out of 4
Apparently, the day you die can also be the day you were born…oh well, Happy Death Day

            We’ve seen this concept done to death where a person lives the same day over and over again in an endless loop. From the classic Bill Murray comedy, Groundhog Day to a sci-fi action take with Edge of Tomorrow, and even former Disney Channel star, Christy Carlson Romano made her directorial debut with a Christmas special following the same formula with Christmas All Over Again, the idea is unoriginal but whenever they take a new spin on it, the idea feels fresh.
            That’s where Happy Death Day comes in, the latest horror film produced by Jason Blum (Paranormal Activity franchise, Split, Get Out) and directed by Christopher B. Landon (Burning Palms, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse). Up until this point I haven’t been the biggest fan of Christopher B. Landon when it came to directing scary films, he directed what I considered the worst Paranormal Activity movie in the series and his 2015 horror-comedy Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse I found obnoxious and lacking the humor its bizarre concept deserved…It must have been his birthday because Happy Death Day was surprisingly kind of fun.
            Is it legitimately scary and will keep me up at night? Probably not, it’s mostly self-aware of how over-the-top it’s being and it’s blended with a dark sense of humor. Would I consider it a new horror classic? No but I do consider it a decent scary film and there are some things about the story and takes on these old slasher movie clich├ęs and tropes that are actually pretty unique.
            The film follows a college girl named Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe-Mary + Jane, Wolves, La La Land) who isn’t exactly the nicest girl on campus, she’s often rude, snobby, and a lot of people don’t seem to like her…and it just happens to be her birthday. However, just as she’s about to go out for a surprise party her roommate put together, she is murdered by a killer wearing a baby-face mask only to wake up back in her bed on the same day again.
            Tree soon realizes that she’s trapped in an endless loop of the same day and the only way to stop it is to find out who her killer is. After death, after death, and after death Tree gets closer and closer to discovering the truth and maybe that person is not who you’d expect.
            The film also stars Israel Broussard (Sons of Anarchy, The Bling Ring, Fear the Walking Dead) as Carter Davis, Ruby Modine (Memoria) as Lori, and newcomers, Rachel Matthews and Charles Aitken as Danielle and Gregory.
            Overall, Happy Death Day is a very tongue-and-cheek take on the slasher movie genre and the film has fun with its concept and how over-the-top it is. This is not like your Halloween or Texas Chainsaw Massacre slasher films but more along the lines of horror-comedies or self-aware scary films like Gremlins, The Cabin in the Woods, or Krampus where they have a creepy tone but at the same time a humorous touch.
            The characters are all college/high school student stereotypes, in fact take out the horror element and this could have been Mean Girls Go to College. You got the mean girls, the tool, the nice guy, and the flawed protagonist, we’ve seen these characters before but here it feels intentional and adds more to the story, not to mention the actors look like they’re enjoying their roles, it’s like what Ice Cube said, “Embrace your Stereotypes!”.
            What I really have to give the movie props for is doing the one thing that a lot of modern scary films miss, have me give a crap about the main character(s). I don’t care if Tree’s a rude b*tch this movie makes you root for her and you want her to stop the killer, she’s not there just to die (though she does a lot of dying in this movie) but as she’s uncovering the mystery behind her killer she’s changing as a person along with it, and Jessica Rothe really knocks it out of the park with her performance, it’s like if Bill Murray’s character from Groundhog Day as a college girl (And nobody draw that, please, I beg of you!).
            The Groundhog Day references when discussing this movie are pretty much a given but at times it also reminds me a lot of Edge of Tomorrow. Specifically, because of a montage of Tree getting killed over and over set to a pop song, very reminiscent to when Tom Cruise was constantly killed during the alien war in Edge of Tomorrow.
            As a whole, I had fun with this movie but I did have a problem with the tone, this is a PG-13 rated slasher movie and we all know what that means, little to no gory deaths. I’m not against PG-13 rated scary movies in general but with a slasher movie that has a body count (Despite being the same person over and over again) they’re fun because they relish in the gory deaths and exploit every bloody moment of them, had this movie gone for an R-rated bloodbath this could have been a new Halloween classic, but as is it’s a decent horror-comedy with an interesting story that’s watered-down to appeal to the 13-year-old mindset.

            If you’re under 17 and not allowed to see It this Halloween then Happy Death Day is a fine alternative, it’s got your jump-scares, deaths, and a touch of humor as well as a unique plot. Otherwise It would probably be a better movie to watch during the month where everything is scary.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Blade Runner 2049 review

By Nico Beland
Movie Review: *** ½ out of 4
Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford in Blade Runner 2049

            From director, Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicario, Arrival) comes the long-awaited sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 cult sci-fi classic, Blade Runner…35 years later and follows in the footsteps of Mad Max: Fury Road and Star Wars: The Force Awakens as one of the best sequels to a movie released several years ago. However, unlike a franchise like Star Wars where it became a hit immediately when the first movie came out, the first Blade Runner movie was not a hit film when it came out in 1982, it was a box-office flop, people criticized the original ending, and it was overshadowed by Steven Spielberg’s E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, but later gained recognition when the Director’s and Final Cuts were released on home video and now it’s declared a classic.
            So, in 2017 we finally have a follow-up to the original film, Blade Runner 2049 with Ridley Scott (Alien, Gladiator, The Martian) returning as producer and Harrison Ford (Star Wars franchise, Indiana Jones franchise, Air Force One) reprising his role from the first movie as Deckard. For a sequel to a movie that’s 35-years-old it does everything a good follow-up does, expands on the story, establishes more characters, and explores more of the ideas introduced in the first movie.
            Set thirty years after the events of the first film, a new blade runner, LAPD Officer K (Ryan Gosling-Lars and the Real Girl, Drive, La La Land) uncovers a long-buried secret with the potential of plunging what remains of society into chaos. K’s discovery leads him on a journey to find former LAPD blade runner, Rick Deckard (Ford) who has been missing for 30 years, and the two of them must outrun an army of bioengineered humans known as replicants out to destroy them created by manufacturer, Niander Wallace (Jared Leto-Panic Room, Dallas Buyers Club, Suicide Squad) and his lean, mean killing machine named Luv (The Storm, The Girl and Death, Renegades) and uncover the truth.
            The film also stars Ana de Armas (El Internado, War Dogs, Overdrive) as Joi, Robin Wright (Forrest Gump, Unbreakable, Wonder Woman) as Lt. Joshi, Mackenzie Davis (Halt and Catch Fire, Freaks of Nature, The Martian) as Mariette, Carla Juri (Wetlands, Morris from America, Brimstone) as Dr. Ana Stelline, Lennie James (Snatch, Get on Up, Double Play) as Mister Cotton, Dave Bautista (House of the Rising Sun, Guardians of the Galaxy, Spectre) as Sapper Morton, David Dastmalchian (Prisoners, Ant-Man, Gotham) as Coco, Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips, Eye in the Sky, The Brothers Grimsby) as Doc Badger, Hiam Abbass (Exodus: Gods and Kings, The Sense of Wonder, The OA) as Freysa, Wood Harris (As Good as It Gets, Southland Tales, Creed) as Nandez, and Edward James Olmos (Battlestar Galactica, Stand & Deliver, 2 Guns) reprising his role from the first film as Galf.
            Overall, Blade Runner 2049 is a visually stunning, solidly acted, and consistently thrilling follow-up to an already great film. Though I don’t think it’s better than the first one it’s definitely as good and expands on the ideas the first movie introduced however your butt may hurt by the time it’s over.
            Really that’s my only gripe with this film but it doesn’t ruin the movie, it’s a near 3-hour movie, definitely longer than the first movie and there are a few scenes where I was like “Yeah you could have cut that” and some scenes do go on for a long time, but with that said it’s filled to the brim with eye candy and it’s impossible not to admire the impressive visuals.
            Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford make a good team-up even if Ford doesn’t show up until the second act. They’re both developed well, have decent chemistry, and the two of them kick plenty of ass.
            But who truly shines in this film is Jared Leto as the villain and I’m convinced he will forever be known for portraying psychopaths (I mean, this is the guy who played the Joker in Suicide Squad and mailed Viola Davis used…you know!). Every time he is on-screen Leto is just soaking it up and enjoying every deliciously evil moment of screen-time and he blurs the line between being naturally threatening and kind of silly.
            Hopefully this movie will appeal to more people theatrically than the original cut of Blade Runner from 1982 just so we don’t have to deal with Director’s Cuts or Final Cuts of Blade Runner 2049 when it comes out on DVD. Let the movie be great from the start and keep the sci-fi geeks and film enthusiasts coming back.

            If you’re a fan of Blade Runner and haven’t seen the movie yet then why are you even reading this? Go see Blade Runner 2049 it’s one of the best sci-fi sequels I’ve seen in a long time and manages to capture the 80s nostalgia of the first movie while still appealing to mainstream audiences.

Friday, September 29, 2017

American Made review

By Nico Beland
Movie Review: *** out of 4
Tom Cruise as drug smuggler, Barry Seal in American Made

            Tom Cruise (Mission: Impossible franchise, Minority Report, Edge of Tomorrow) and director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Edge of Tomorrow) collaborate once again in the biographical crime film, American Made based on the true story of former TWA pilot turned drug smuggler, Barry Seal. Ever seen Flight, The Wolf of Wall Street, Top Gun, and Jerry Maguire? Put all those movies in a blender and you pretty much get American Made which isn’t Doug Liman’s best work but it’s nonetheless a thrilling, dramatic, and surprisingly very humorous caper thanks to an energetic yet compelling performance by Cruise and one of the best roles he’s had in a while.
            Set in the 1970s and 1980s the film follows Barry Seal (Cruise), a pilot for the commercial airline, TWA who is contacted by CIA agent, Monty Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson-Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Parts 1 and 2, Ex-Machina, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) to fly clandestine reconnaissance missions over South America using a small plane with cameras installed. During a mission Seal encounters the Medellin Cartel and asks him to fly cocaine on his return flights to the United States.
            What starts off as a simple drug smuggle ends up putting Seal in one of the biggest covert CIA operations in the history of the United States that gave birth to the Medellin Cartel and almost brought down the Reagan White House with the Iran Contra scandal as he keeps digging deeper and deeper into trouble.
            The film also stars Sarah Wright (7th Heaven, Parks & Recreation, 21 & Over) as Lucy Seal, Jayma Mays (Red Eye, Flags of Our Fathers, Glee) as Dana Sibota, Jesse Plemons (Varsity Blues, The Master, Bridge of Spies) as Sheriff Downing, Lola Kirke (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Mozart in the Jungle, Gone Girl) as Judy Downing, Jed Rees (Galaxy Quest, Family Guy, Deadpool) as Louis Finkle, Caleb Landry Jones (Friday Night Lights, X-Men: First Class, Get Out) as JB, and Connor Trinneer (Star Trek: Enterprise, Stargate: Atlantis, American Odyssey) as George W. Bush.
            Overall, American Made is both an entertaining movie and one of those films where you sit there and you can’t believe that what’s being shown on the screen actually happened. Good thing they reminded us that it was “Based on a True Story” at the beginning of the movie and through the marketing because unless you have a lot of knowledge regarding the actual story you’d be watching it and saying “Dayum!” every time you see what Tom Cruise does throughout this film.  
            Not to mention the movie is also a great nostalgic throwback to the 70s and 80s with the production design and camera work. The way the movie is shot feels like a movie from that era literally right down to using the old Universal and Imagine Entertainment logos at the beginning of the movie.
            But what keeps the movie entertaining is the performance by Tom Cruise and it truly is the best I’ve seen him since Edge of Tomorrow and Tropic Thunder because it’s one of those rare instances where he’s not portraying the action hero though I wouldn’t classify him as an antagonist either. You grow attached to his character and despite that what he’s doing is completely wrong you end up rooting for him to avoid going to prison.
            I also appreciate that the movie throws in a comedic tone to accompany the biographical drama genre with this movie in a similar way as The Wolf of Wall Street. There’s pausing and rewinds of the movie followed by narrations by Tom Cruise which is very reminiscent of the editing and pacing in The Wolf of Wall Street.

            If you’re a fan of drug-themed crime films like Blow or The Wolf of Wall Street then you’ll probably enjoy American Made. It doesn’t follow in the footsteps of some of Liman’s other movies like The Bourne Identity or Edge of Tomorrow but it’s a solid film that manages to thrill, educate, hit your feels, and make you laugh, definitely a worthy flight.