Happy Death Day

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October — in my humble opinion — is the most wonderful time of the year. The days become cooler, pumpkin spice gets its 15 minutes of fame, those Pure Michigan commercials dominate the air waves, and the cinema gets a lot spookier.

During the 10th month on our annual ride around the sun, it seems like our buffer between the movies that didn’t make the Summer Blockbuster cut and the For Your Consideration Oscar Bait movies.

And it. is. glorious.

It’s horror movie season! For four years, Blumhouse gifted me a new Paranormal Activity right around my birthday — October 19th — which just happens to be Michael Myers’ birthday, too. Michael Myers, or, The Shape, terrorized babysitters in the horror staple, Halloween which also came out in October.

Yes, it’s a magical and horrifying time of year.

Anyway, Happy Death Day markets itself as a scary movie, and it is, but it takes a step outside of the typical October theater fare, which is refreshing.

When Tree (Jessica Rothe) wakes up on the morning of her birthday in a mystery man’s dorm after a night of what she can only assume was fun, she’s gotta piece the events of the evening together on her walk of shame back to her sorority house.

I was never in a sorority, but movies sure like to portray “sisters” as vile creatures with a propensity for making the rest of the campus feel plebeian at best. At a house meeting during lunchtime, the head sister, Danielle (Rachel Matthews) — not sure what her title is, queen jerk, maybe? — admonishes a fellow sister for eating. At lunch.

That night, a party is to be held for Tree’s birthday. On her way there, she’s followed by a figure in a mask of the school’s mascot — a baby with a single tooth — and regrettably won’t make it to her own soiree after the big baby stabs her to death.

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Fortunately, she’s playing some sort of real life video game and gets to restart the next day. Confused to wake up in the same dorm with the same guy whose same friend bursts in asking if his friend got that, “fine vagine,” Tree finds her way back to the sorority house and is met with the exact same interactions as the day before.

The day plays out the way the previous one had, verbatim. A tiff with Danielle, a homemade cupcake from her roommate Lori (Ruby Modine) that she carelessly throws away, the lunchtime dispute, only this time she makes it to her party… before she gets killed again.

Waking to the same birthday morning phone call from her dad and the same guy whose name she finally learns — Carter (Israel Broussard) — Tree feels as though she’s losing her mind. After revealing everything to Carter, he suggests that she has to find out who is killing her to stop the cycle.

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Running out of lives, Tree will need to do some serious detective work to find out who has it out for her. In the process, she might even learn a little something about herself.

I wish people would stop comparing this movie to Groundhog Day. I thought Happy Death Day had a fresh perspective. It’s reminiscent of your late 90s slasher flicks, interjects a healthy dose of comedy, and even does a little gentle heart-string tugging.

Jessica Rothe — who danced alongside Emma Stone in La La Land — is a pleasure to watch. She’s engaging and dynamic. I’m excited to see what’s next for her.

Anyhoo, get out to see this one. Fun and spooky, Happy Death Day is a the perfect October date night movie. Or, if you’re like me, a good one to go to alone, sneak wine into the theater, and get in touch with your inner “I am woman, hear me roar.”

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American Made

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The last time I saw Tom Cruise in a movie and enjoyed his presence more than resenting it was War of the Worlds. Because this is a film review and not a Tom Cruise think piece, I’ll spare you my personal thoughts and feelings about the guy.

In the 1970s, Barry Seal (Tom Cruise) was a pilot for commercial airline TWA. Making your average day trips here and there, it would come as quite a surprise when he would be approached by a CIA agent going by Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson). Shafer recruited Barry to run furtive patrol missions in a small plane with cameras installed, taking photos of operative camps while being shot at.

Unable to tell his wife, Lucy (Sarah Wright), about his new gig, Barry has to maintain the appearance that he’s still shuttling passengers to places like Bakersfield several times a day.

This would become far more difficult when Shafer tells Barry he’ll now be a courier, running guns to Panama. On one of these trips, the Medellin Cartel picks him up while he’s on the ground trying to fuel up. There, he’d team up with the most notorious Columbian Drug Lord of all time, Pablo Escobar (Mauricio Mejia), to fly cocaine into the United States.

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For every two kilos, Barry would be paid handsomely in the form of duffel bags full of what I assume were non-sequential bills. While the CIA would basically ignore Seal’s drug smuggling, the DEA would not. To avoid being found out, Barry picks up his family and moves to a small town called Mena, Arkansas.

Lucy, livid at the fact that she had to pick up and move in the middle of the night to escape a raid, learns of Barry’s new occupation and becomes less and less angry watching him throw rubber-banded stacks of cash around the kitchen where appliances should be. Missing refrigerator? Money. Need a washer? Money. Still mad at me? Money.

Bringing in cash, as he puts it, “faster than he could launder it,” Barry is given new tasks from Shafer. He’s asked to run guns to the Contras — US funded, rightist rebel groups — and even bring them into the United States for training.

Most of them ran as soon as they hit American soil, though.

Everything would soon come crashing down for Barry when he’s caught and arrested. The CIA would halt their ongoing projects with him and when it looked like he’d be going away for a very long time, he would unexpectedly be invited to the White House. He would strike up a deal with them to bring the cartel down. In return, they wouldn’t throw him in prison for the rest of his life.

I truly enjoy biographical films like this one. I’ll be honest and say that I wasn’t looking forward to watching Mr. Scientology — sorry, I know I said I wouldn’t — run around for two hours. I’m very pleased — and a little mad at myself — to say that I dug this movie quite a bit.

Cruise shows a side of himself in this movie that is aloof and uncharacteristically goofy and it works out massively in his favor. Sarah Wright was the perfect choice for his other half, as well. She’s no-nonsense and — while she doesn’t have much to work with other than the role of wife and mother — holds her own on-screen beside him.

All in all, I was impressed by how pleased I was leaving the theater. It’s a fascinating story and Doug Liman — who is no stranger to high-octane action flicks and is basically Jason Bourne’s dad — does an excellent job telling it. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but if you’re stuck for what to see this weekend, check out American Made. It’s actually really good, and you can quote me on that.

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The Mountain Between Us

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The closest I’ve been to a plane crash was on a flight back to Chicago from LA. We were coming in over Lake Michigan and the turbulence was no joke. While I was thinking about how much the airline would charge me for the fingernail damage I was inflicting on my armrests, I was carefully surveying the flight attendants.

I always assume that if they’re not panicking, I shouldn’t either.

I leaned over to my boyfriend at the time and whispered, “I’m just waiting for the oxygen masks to drop.”

His response, without looking up from his book, was, “The masks won’t drop, we’re too low. We’ll just crash into the water.”

I’m too aware of my own mortality to board a 4-person plane, but Kate Winslet didn’t get that memo.

The Mountain Between Us is the story of two strangers faced with travel dilemmas. Ben (Idris Elba) is a surgeon trying to make it to an important procedure for a young patient. Alex (Kate Winslet) is desperate to make it to her own wedding.

Regrettably, the weather never considers our plans. A looming storm has grounded their flights, but when Alex overhears Ben talking to the staff at the airport, she gets an idea. Fantastically enough, she just happens to know a guy with a plane who is crazy enough to take them where they need to go. Forget that silly old storm.

With his canine co-pilot at his side, Walter the Pilot (Beau Bridges) manages to keep them in the air for what seems like a very short time before going down in the mountains somewhere.

Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve never been in a plane crash, but I gotta say — this is a pretty tame crash.

Left with bumps and bruises, Ben, Alex, and — best of all — the dog, survive the plane essentially bumping into the mountain. After assessing the situation, tending to Alex’s wounds, building a fire, burying the pilot, and taking inventory of their rations, Ben concludes that they should stay with the wreckage until rescue crews come.

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Alex makes a good point in arguing that their bonehead pilot didn’t make a flight plan, she didn’t tell her fiance, and Ben didn’t call anyone before the flight either. Together, they’ve got to trek down the mountain to the treeline.

With waning assuredness of survival, the pair will have to avoid petty arguments prompted by their less than ideal circumstances and work together to survive the elements.

This movie is equal parts survival/love story. Winslet’s character often talks about her fiance, but her words seem to fall on deaf ears. She gently prods about Ben’s wife, but doesn’t get much out of him. Naturally, she resorts to the equivalent of going through his phone when he steps out of the room and is awkwardly caught.

Her explanation: she wants to get to know the man she might die with.

Sometimes, when I cross the big bridges in downtown Chicago at the same time as a bus, the ground under my feet gives just a bit with the weight of the 12-ton juggernaut beside me and I look around to see the faces of the other people I’m about to die with.

A bridge I’ve been walking hasn’t collapsed yet, but in that moment, I don’t want to know anything about those other faces. Perhaps a snowy mountain setting elicits a more… romantic state of mind. Falling through a bridge into the stinky Chicago River probably isn’t quite the same.

Enough about me. Ben and Alex clearly have some sort of bond, but to the viewer, it feels wholly synthetic. My primary concern throughout was for the dog, naturally. Alex is portrayed as a woman in need of saving. This film does a poor job of fleshing things out. When I say that, I mean that it happily glosses over things that it just doesn’t feel like explaining.

Ben saves Alex so many times that I started a tally sheet. I came up with seven. She comes to his rescue all of one time. Unless you mean that she rescued him in a larger sense. Then it’s two.

Over all, Mountain feels a bit scattered and misinformed. Ben and Alex have a relationship that feels overly saccharine and the story just tries too hard to do too much. At the end of the day, the dog survives. And that’s all I really cared about in the first place.

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