Thursday, November 16, 2017

It Came From The Cineplex: The Snowman

Once again I'm woefully behind on my movie reviews, so I'm doing my best to catch up.

At long, long last, it's FINALLY here! The most eagerly anticipated, best reviewed and highest grossing movie of the Fall season! Prepare yourself, comic book fans, for the most visually spectacular action comedy of the decade! It's...

... Oh. It's The Snowman.

(Cue falling slide whistle)

The Snowman was written by Peter Staughan, Hossein Amini and Soren Svelstrup. Yep, that's right— somehow it took a whopping three people to write a screenplay that feels like it was run through Google Translate a couple dozen times. It was directed by Tomas Alfredson.

Straughan previously wrote Sixty Six, Mrs. Ratcliffe's Revolution, How To Lose Friends & Alienate People, The Men Who Stare At Goats, The Debt, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Frank and Our Brand Is Crisis.

Amini previously wrote Jude, The Wings Of The Dove, The Four Feathers, Killshot, Shanghai, Drive, Snow White And The Hunstman, 47 Ronin, The Two Faces Of January and Our Kind Of Traitor

Svelstrup has written extensively for various TV series such as The Killing. He also wrote the theatrical film The Day Will Come.

Alfredson is a Swedish writer, actor and director. He previously directed Bert: The Last Virgin, Kontorstid, Four Shades Of Brown, Let The Right One In and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

As you can see, this isn't some collection of amateurs or hacks. They're quite a talented team, who've written and directed some decent films in the past. Hell, Martin Scorsese even produced the film. Martin Freakin' Scorsese! So what the f*ck happened here? 

The Snowman should have been a taut, compelling and disturbing police procedural along the lines of Seven or The Silence Of The Lambs. Instead it's a muddled and bewildering mess of a murder mystery. It's filled with forgettable characters, incomprehensible editing and an impenetrable plot. Worst of all, it's just plain deadly dull.

It's almost fascinating to see how a major motion picture can go so wrong in every measurable sense.

The film's based on the 2007 book of the same name by Norwegian author Jo Nesbo. Oddly enough, The Snowman is actually the seventh book in a series, which details the adventures of police detective Harry Hole, who operates out of Oslo.

Why the filmmakers chose to start with the seventh book instead of the first, I have absolutely no idea. Based on the box office results and the way this film turned out, I wouldn't count on seeing the further cinematic adventures of Harry Hole.

You don't have to be a film scholar to realize there's something very, very wrong with The Snowman. Characters appear and disappear from the film with no explanation. Subplots are introduced, and go absolutely nowhere as they have zero effect on the plot. The plot lurches from one setpiece to the next with no connecting scenes in between. There's no cat-and-mouse games between the killer and the police. Main character Harry Hole makes incredibly intuitive deductions seemingly without examining any clues. Worst of all, the killer's identity is a huge letdown, as it makes little sense and is revealed in the least interesting way possible. 

It's like entire swathes of the film are missing. This isn't just my imagination, either. In an interview with the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation, director Tomas Alfredson said the reason The Snowman seems so choppy is because ten to fifteen percent of the screenplay was never filmed! 

According to Alfredson, "Our shoot time in Norway was way too short, we didn’t get the whole story with us and when we started cutting we discovered that a lot was missing. It’s like when you’re making a big jigsaw puzzle and a few pieces are missing so you don’t see the whole picture."

Alfredson said this lack of scenes made it necessary to try and plug the story holes in editing. Sorry Tomas, but it didn't work. Your movie makes no goddamned sense and is a steaming pile of deadly dull crap.

Hell, even the actors seem bored with the film. They slowly shuffle through the film as if they've all been drugged, or there was possibly a gas leak on the set. Even Michael Fassbender seems disinterested in his own starring vehicle. He plays the part of jaded detective Harry Hole as if he's constantly on the verge of falling asleep. Apparently Fassbender mistook the phrase "world weary" for "comatose," and acted the part accordingly.

I honestly don't know if words can describe just how bored I was during this movie. Ordinarily I despise people who diddle with their phones in the theater. While watching The Snowman though, it was all I could do to stop myself from playing a game on my own phone, rules be damned. 

So far The Snowman is a huge box office flop, as it's only managed to gross a paltry $6.6 million here in the States, against its $35 million budget. Yikes! It's done a bit better overseas, where it's made $29 million, for a worldwide total of just $36 million. That pretty much guarantees this will be the one and only cinematic outing for Harry Hole.


The Plot:
Sigh... this isn't gonna be a very comprehensive plot summary, because this film's so muddled and convoluted that I'm honestly not sure what the hell happened in it.

We begin in a remote cabin somewhere in Norway, where a Mother lives with her teenage Son. The local Sheriff arrives, bringing the two much needed supplies. He stays for dinner, and gets into a fight with the Mother. The Mother angrily threatens to tell everyone that the Sheriff is secretly her Son's father. He says if she does, that's the end of all his free food and help. He leaves in a huff.

The Mother becomes despondent, and one day she and her Son go for drive. Suddenly she veers off the road and drives out onto a frozen lake. The Boy hears the ice start to crack, and jumps out of their SUV. He tries to get his Mother to exit as well, but she locks the doors and sits motionless in the in car. 

The ice cracks and the SUV sinks. The distraught Son runs home, and for some reason builds a misshapen snowman. We realize we've just witnessed the origin of the Norway's very first serial killer.

Cut to present day Oslo, Norway. A Mrs. Becker leaves work, and as she gets in her car, she has the uneasy feeling she's being watched. She's then unknowingly followed home by a strange car. She comes home and is greeted by her loving young daughter. Her husband enters the room and angrily asks why she's so late. They argue for a while and he walks out.

Later that night the woman hears a noise outside. She goes outside to investigate and is abducted by the person who followed her. The only clue is a misshapen snowman in the front yard.

We're then introduced to our main character, Harry Hole (hee hee!), a detective for Norway's "Crime Squad," which sounds like a fake police organization you'd see in a comedy film. As we join Hole (who's played by a very disinterested Michael Fassbender), he's busy sleeping off a bender inside a children's playhouse in a park. He staggers into work, where he's confronted by his Boss (everyone has difficult to remember Norwegian names, so I'm not even gonna try), who's upset that his drinking is causing him to miss work. He gives Hole the Becker case, hoping it'll distract him from drinking.

The Boss also saddles Hole with a new partner— a bright young rookie named Katrine Bratt. Hole's mortified, but drags her along on his investigation. They question Mr. Becker, who's a suspect in the disappearance of his wife, but his motive checks out. Hole also speaks with the Becker's daughter, who opens up to him, as the movie tries to convince us he's not a bad guy after all. 

Hole visits his ex-girlfriend Rakel Fauke, and confides in her. Rakel's dating a man named Gunnar Hagen (I think?), a prominent physician or psychiatrist or something. Gunnar seems suspicious of Hole, but Rakel assures him there's nothing going on between them. When Hole mentions he can't sleep, Gunnar prescribes him some pills to help (PLOT POINT!). 

Just then The Snowman strikes again. Hole and Katrine investigate, and find a woman's head perched atop a misshapen snowman. 

We're then introduced to a host of suspect, including Arve Stop, a wealthy businessman who's trying to bring the Olympic Games to Oslo, and a Creepy Doctor who... does something I can't remember. Hole and Katrine waste a lot of screen time investigating them, but determine neither is The Snowman.

There's a whole subplot involving Rakel's rebellious teen son Oleg, and Hole's attempts to bond with him. Basically Hole promises to accompany Oleg on a school trip, then gets blackout drunk and forgets. It doesn't affect the plot in any way, so don't worry about it. 

There's also a couple of bizarre and inexplicable sequences involving a detective named Gert Rafto, who's played by a ghastly looking Val Kilmer. Apparently these scenes are flashbacks? I'm honestly not quite sure. I think it's also revealed that Rafto is somehow Katrine's father, but again, I just don't know.

Hole and Katrine do some more boring investigating, eliminating suspects in the dullest, most routine way possible. Near the end of the film, Hole tries to contact Rakel for some reason. When he can't find her or Oleg anywhere, he becomes suspicious. He thinks back to a few days earlier when Rakel's boyfriend Gunnar prescribed medicine to him, and somehow comes to the conclusion that he's The Snowman.

Hole races to the remote cabin we saw at the beginning of the movie. He sneaks inside and sees Gunnar has Rakel and Oleg tied up, and is preparing to kill them. Yep, that's right— the Sheriff's Son from the prologue grew up to become Gunnar, who's really The Snowman. Um... that's shocking, I guess?

Apparently after his mother killed herself, Gunnar was forced into an orphanage, where he lost his mind. He became a doctor, and now targets young married women who have children from a previous relationship. What a bizarrely specific fetish! 

Hole tries to save Rakel from being dismembered, but Gunnar easily knocks him across the room. Hole struggles to his feet and the two grapple for several minutes. Eventually their fight takes them out onto the ice, where— you guessed it— Gunnar falls through and freezes to death. How... ironic, I suppose.

Afterward Hole tells Katrine she'll make a good detective someday or something. I'd long stopped paying attention by that point.

• I really don't have a lot of thoughts about this "film," so I'm not gonna spend a lot of time deconstructing it.

• Wow, who knew that everyone in Norway speaks English with a British accent?

This is an old, old Hollywood technique that's been used in thousands of films over the years. It's supposed to indicate to the audience that the characters are all speaking in their native tongue, without the need for subtitles. 

They did this a lot in old school Biblical epics like Ben Hur and The Greatest Story Ever Told. Instead of forcing all the actors to learn Aramaic or Hebrew, they just had 'em speak with British accents. That way the audience subliminally realizes the characters are speaking differently, and don't have to read two hours of subtitles. Problem solved!

• At the beginning of the movie, the Mother drives onto a frozen lake and sits in her SUV as it slowly sinks into the ice. Her Son frantically bangs on the window, trying to save her. Somehow the car crashes through the ice while he doesn't.

Nope! The kid was standing less than a foot away from the car when it sank! The only possible way this could have happened is if the car created a perfect SUV-shaped hole in the ice, like in a cartoon.

• Since The Snowman was first announced, I've been giggling at the name of main character "Harry Hole." Who the hell thought that was a good idea for their hero's name?

Actually it's not as bad as it sounds. In Norway (where the film's set) the name "Hole" is pronounced as "Hoo-leh." That's fine and all for Norwegian speakers, but doesn't much help the rest of the world. Maybe author Jo Nesbo should have picked a less... provocative name. 

• Because movies are a visual medium, they're supposed to show, not tell. Apparently none of the three screenwriters of The Snowman are familiar with this rule. 

We're told over and over that Harry Hole is the Crime Squad's greatest detective, and possesses a brilliant deductive mind. Unfortunately we never actually see any evidence of this, as he spends the movie in an alcoholic stupor, occasionally blundering into an obvious clue.

Same goes for his partner Katrine Bratt. Hole's boss pairs him with her, explaining that she's an up and coming young go-getter with a nose for crime-solving. Again, we never actually see any proof of this.

• The Snowman Killer sends a note to Harry Hole, which reads, "Mister Police. You could have saved her. I gave you all the clues." 

Naturally this made me think the murderer would operate similarly to Jack The Ripper or the Zodiac Killer, playing "catch me if you can" by sending taunting notes to the police. Nope! The killer sends exactly one note to Hole, and that's it! And even then, the one and only note didn't include any actual clues! Jesus, they couldn't even get that right!

• The movie's killer leaves his trademark at the scene of all his crimes— a small snowman. Apparently he never learned how to make a proper one as a child. Instead of the traditional three sphere physique (head, middle and bottom), he consistently makes snowmen with only two parts, that look not unlike BB-8.

• The film introduces a series of suspects, then matter-of-factly eliminates them from suspicion until there's literally only one left. There's no real mystery, and it doesn't take any deductive skills on the part of the audience to figure out who's the killer, as the film pretty much just says, "Yup, it's this guy."

• Usually when I'm bored with a film I can amuse myself by admiring the cinematography or staring at the scenery. Jesus, I couldn't even do that in this dismal film! The Snowman's set in the dreary, brutal and desolate landscape of Oslo, where, if this film's to be believed, no colors except black, white and grey exist. Somehow I doubt this movie's going to do much for Norway's vacation industry.

The Snowman is a dull, dismal and joyless murder mystery filled with unlikable characters, choppy editing and an incomprehensible plot. Worst of all, it's just plain dull. It was written and directed by a talented group of folks who've done good work in the past, which makes their failure here all the more puzzling. What should have been a tense psychological thriller like Seven ended up being a deadly dull snooze fest. Do yourself a favor and give it a miss. I hated it so much I'm giving it a well deserved D+.

The Walking Dead Season 8, Episode 4: Some Guy

This week's The Walking Dead was the best episode of the season so far, which I admit comes close to damning it with faint praise.

Some guy focused on King Ezekiel, the outlandish ruler, eloquent and overly confident ruler of the Kingdom and its people. I like the character quite a bit, 
but even I have to admit he's been begging to be taken down a notch or twelve the past few weeks. His endless "And Yet I Smile" speeches and his bold assurances that the Kingdom wouldn't lose a single soldier in the upcoming war, it was inevitable that the gods would eventually slap him down. And boy, did they!

Khary Payton did an incredible job as Ezekiel, 
playing a man who realizes his subjects bought into his ridiculous Ren Faire act so completely they were literally willing to die for him. And just as the guilt of that realization sinks in, he's confronted with the fact that his people are STILL following him, even in death! It wasn't exactly subtle, but it was a damned cool scene.

My favorite part of the episode were the scenes between Ezekiel and his loyal subject Jerry. After his epic humbling, Ezekiel tearfully admits he's a fraud to Jerry. Of course Jerry knows Ezekiel's not an actual king, but it's a lie he needs to believe, in order to go on. It's a nice little moment between the two men.

Hopefully this tearing down of Ezekiel and his Kingdom will make him emerge as an even stronger leader later on.

There was a bit of a B-plot this week, as Carol, Rick and Daryl desperately tried to keep a shipment of weapons (including a very deadly Gatling gun) from being returned to Negan. For some insane reason, this is the first time all season that the audience has been informed of Rick's plan. The first three episodes were filled with fragmented, poorly-filmed shootouts with no apparent goal in mind. Hell, we had no idea where Rick's various groups were even located until this episode! 

Think how much better the season would have played out so far if, in the premiere episode, Rick had spelled out the plan to his people, and by proxy the audience. Just think how much better it would have been if we'd known WHY the Alexandrians were attacking the Savior outpost, and why they were risking their lives to do so. 

Without any such context, these battles are confusing and meaningless, and lack any urgency or tension. 


The Plot:
Since this is The Walking Dead, we begin with a flashback sequence. We see Ezekiel getting ready in the morning, as he literally puts on his kingly persona. Subtle!

We then see a montage of Kingdom soldiers getting ready for the upcoming battle with the Saviors, as they say goodbye to their loved ones. Ezekiel gives them all his rousing "And Yet I Smile" speech, promising them they'll defeat the Saviors and win the day with no casualties. Uh-oh. The Kingdomites all cheer their beloved "king."

Smash cut to the aftermath of the battle at the Savior outpost we saw last week, in which a Savior sniper cut down the Kingdom army with a Gatling gun (or something very much like one). Ezekiel's people sacrificed themselves to save him by piling on top of their King. After a few minutes Ezekiel craws from underneath the pile of lifeless and dismembered bodies (luckily the sniper got bored and left). He's horrified as he sees the remains of his people strewn over the field.

Suddenly the Kingdom corpses start to stir as they reanimate. Ezekiel realizes he needs to get away fast, but he's been shot in the leg and can't stand. He's forced to crawl away (the ultimate indignity for a king) as his own people start shambling toward him. He grabs weapons from nearby corpses, but unfortunately they're all empty. Just as one of the walkers is about to attack Ezekiel, it's shot in the head. A lone surviving Kingdomite named Alvaro appears, and helps Ezekiel get away.

Inside the outpost, the Saviors pack up the Gatling gun and other weapons. Carol, who somehow survived the attack, sneaks around the outpost. She crawls into the ceiling and shoots down, killing several of the Saviors. Unfortunately two survive and begin firing back at her. She runs off, and the Saviors finish loading up the guns to take back to the Sanctuary.

Meanwhile, Alvaro and Ezekiel hobble to safety. Ezekiel asks where Shiva is, but Alvaro says he hasn't seen her. Suddenly Alvaro's shot through the chest and dies, as Ezekiel topples to the ground. A creepy Savior named Gunther appears and takes Ezekiel hostage.

Gunther tells Ezekiel he's taking him to the Sanctuary to present him to Negan. He takes Ezekiel's sword and mocks him, telling him he's nothing but a con man who bamboozled his people into thinking he's an actual king. He points to the pursuing walkers and notes that Ezekiel's people are still blindly following him, even in death. Harsh!

Outside the outpost, Carol sees the Saviors loading the guns into a truck. She fires at them, but for plot reasons can't seem to hit a single one of them. The Saviors fire back, and there's another lengthy gun battle, as thousands more rounds of ammo are spent.

Gunther and Ezekiel come to a fence with a locked gate. Gunther tries to unlock it as the walkers loom closer. Ezekiel asks for his sword back so he can fight off the walkers. Gunther refuses, and then makes a decision. He was under orders to bring Ezekiel to Negan intact, but he says his head will do just fine. Just as Gunther's about to decapitate Ezekiel, he's split clean in two (!) by Jerry, Ezekiel's right hand man. Just how such a large, hulking target managed to survive the Gatling gun attack and sneak up behind Gunther is left to our imaginations.

Carol's still pinned down, so she tries a new tactic. She yells to the Saviors that she's out of ammo, and offers to tell where her people are if they let her live. One of the Saviors approaches her, and she grabs him and holds a knife to his throat, threatening to kill him. The Saviors apparently don't care, as they fire THROUGH their man at her (!). Carol dives to the ground and activates an electric gate, letting hundreds of walkers into the outpost courtyard. The Saviors forget about her as they try (and fail) to fight off the walkers.

Jerry tries to open the gate with his axe, but it breaks. With their backs against the fence, he and Ezekiel have no choice but to fight the approaching walkers.

Carol sees there're only two Saviors left in the courtyard, and says she's not letting them take the guns. Just then she looks over and notices Ezekiel and Jerry fighting for their lives against the fence, as we realize everyone's in the same place. Carol makes a decision and heads toward the fence.

She opens fire on the walkers, cutting down most, but not all of them. She then unlocks the fence and rescues Ezekiel and Jerry. Just then the two Saviors drive off with all the guns. Ezekiel's crushed, as this means his people died for nothing, and the Sanctuary will get the guns back. Just then Carol hears a motorcycle and says, "Don't be too sure."

Cut to Daryl on his bike, and Rick in a jeep as they follow the Savior truck. Never mind where they've been or how they got here, I guess. The Saviors see Daryl and fire at him, causing him to swerve and run off the road. Rick floors it and catches up to the truck. Suddenly one of the Saviors jumps in the back and fires the Gatling gun at him. Rick swerves, revealing Daryl behind him. Apparently we're not supposed to wonder how he got back on his bike so quickly and caught up. Anyhow, Daryl shoots the Gatling Savior.

Rick then pulls up next to the truck and does his best Indiana Jones impression, jumping into the passenger seat. He stabs the driver and jumps out of the truck. It swerves and flies down a steep cliff. Yay, they got the guns!

Meanwhile, Carol, Ezekiel and Jerry are still on the run from the Kingdomite walker herd. Ezekiel does the old, "I'm slowing you down, leave me behind" shtick, but they refuse to listen. The come to a deep ravine, filled with leaking barrels of toxic waste. The ravine's full of really gross walkers whose skin's been partially dissolved by the caustic sludge. Carol and the others are forced to splash through the ravine. Carol clambers up the other side, and Jerry struggles to lift Ezekiel, as the acid walkers close in. Jerry says he's sorry he failed "his Majesty."

Ezekiel breaks down and yells, "I'm not your king! I'm not your Majesty! I ain't no king. I am nothing. I'm just some guy." Houston, we have a title! Jerry of course knows this, but also realizes that the Kingdom needs its ruler now more than ever. He refuses to give up, and continues trying to lift Ezekiel up to Carol.

Just then Shiva appears, and tears into the acid zombies, sacrificing her life for Ezekiel and giving him a chance to escape. Jerry and Ezekiel finally climb out of the gully to safety. Ezekiel's devastated by the loss of his pet.

Sometime later, Ezekiel, Carol and Jerry stumble back into the Kingdom. The Kingdomites rush to them, shocked and stunned to see only three of their soldiers survived. A beaten and broken Ezekiel silently shuffles off to his chambers. He's no longer smiling.

The Walking Dead continues to be the most subtle show on TV, as the episode begins with a shot of King Ezekiel going through his morning routine and dressing for his role as leader. See? He's literally putting on his kingly persona the way one puts on a costume! Get it?

• Some day I hope to watch an episode of The Walking Dead that unfolds in real time, without any flashbacks, flash forwards or scenes edited out of order. It's becoming increasing obvious that these constant time shifts are just a ploy to distract the audience from the fact that there's no actual story. At this point it's like a lame and overused magic trick.

• I think the scariest and most disturbing part of this week's episode was this.

That's right— an onscreen credit for Pollyanna McIntosh. She's the weirdo who plays Jadis, the leader of the Gargage Pail Kids who were introduced last season. If she's still gettin' a credit, then you know what that means— she and her ridiculous clan are gonna be back on the show at some point this season. Shudder.

• As his soldiers reanimate and shamble toward him, the hobbled Ezekiel can only crawl away. He grabs a couple of discarded guns, but unfortunately they're all empty. D'oh! 

Funny how in the past few weeks everyone on both sides has seemingly had infinite ammo, but then when someone REALLY needs a gun— suddenly they're all empty.

• Noooooo!!! Not, er, Red Headed Kingdom Soldier! Why, God, why? He had so much to live for! Say it ain't so!!!

I think maybe this Kingdomite's name was Daniel? Maybe? He's been popping up in the background for two seasons now, so we should definitely know his name at this point. This show's absolutely terrible when it comes to identifying characters for the audience. I shouldn't have to go to the Walking Dead wiki page to find out what the hell a character's name is.

• I dunno where they found the guy who played Gunther, but he was creepy as hell. He looked like the unholy offspring between David Koresh and Jeffery Dahmer. There was something... unwholesome and disturbing about him. He looks like someone who spends his spare time torturing small animals.

Gunther was played by actor Whitmer Thomas, who fortunately doesn't look anywhere near as unpleasant in real life.

• Gunther realizes there's no way he's going to be able to drag an intact Ezekiel all the way back to the Sanctuary, but soon realizes that's impossible. He says, "Negan was hoping to have your ass chained to the Sanctuary fence. You, the Widow, Rick. But your head on a pike will do just fine."

COMIC BOOK SPOILER AHEAD! Highlight to reveal: ——— This is likely an ominous bit of foreshadowing at King Ezekiel's fate in the comic. After the Negan storyline plays out, the three "good" colonies encounter the Whisperers, a group of bizarre weirdoes who wear walker skins so they can walk freely among zombies. The Whisperers launch a secret attack against the colonies, beheading various citizens and placing their heads on pikes as a warning to stay out of their territory. Sadly, Ezekiel's head is one of them that ends up on a spike.———

Whether this will eventually happen on the show or not remains to be seen.

• It was a truly awesome moment when Jerry appeared and cleaved Gunther in two with his mighty axe. But was it really necessary for Jerry to rage chop him a second time? Surely Gunther wasn't gonna reanimate after being bisected down the middle!

• I was very happy to see Jerry somehow survived the Gatling gun attack, as he's just a cool character. I was terrified though that they'd spared him just so they could turn around and kill him while we watched. Luckily that didn't happen. At least not this week.

• There're a lot of really obvious CGI bullet strikes when the Saviors shoot at the truck Carol hides behind.

By the way, I know next to nothing about guns, but even I've noticed that no matter what kind of weapon the characters fire, there never seems to be any recoil. Funny how that works out, eh?

• Oh, the perils of jumbling your series' timelines.

This week we see Ezekiel giving his troops his patented "And Yet I Smile" speech right before they go into battle. Fine. But then we get a flashback that takes place before this moment, in which Ezekiel and Carol are walking along, and he gives her the same exact speech. 

Then last week in Monsters, Ezekiel and Carol were walking along on their way to wipe out a Savior stronghold. She asks him why he's smiling, and he gives her the speech again! 

If you untangle all the scenes and put them in proper order, they go like this:

— Ezekiel and Carol are talking sometime before the Savior battle, and he gives her his "And Yet I Smile" speech.

— Ezekiel inspires his troops with the "And Yet I Smile" speech before they leave the Kingdom and go to battle.

— Ezekiel and Carol are walking to the Savior battle, and he gives her the "And Yet I Smile" speech, as if she's not heard it twice already.

The writers would have probably realized this screwup if they'd stop with the goddamned flashbacks and twisted timelines, and just show us what's happening in linear time.

• As Carol, Ezekiel and Jerry try to run from the pursuing walker herd, they struggle over a railroad track. I'd think after the events of Season 5, Carol would steer as far away from train tracks as possible!

• I guess in all the fear and confusion, no one ever thought to simply have the hulking Jerry carry Ezekiel on his back, rather than making the poor man limp along at one mile per hour.

• During the big car chase, the Saviors fire their Gatling gun at the pursuing Rick. Oddly enough, the gun does relatively little damage to his jeep— about all it does is poke a small hole in the radiator. This is surprising, since it literally tore the Savior soldiers limb from limb.

• Apparently Rick is now Indiana Jones, as he leaps from his jeep into a moving transport truck and stabs the driver. The only thing missing is the Ark Of The Covenant in the back of the truck!

• A couple weeks ago in The Damned, I pointed out that in the opening credits, the images that appear behind an actor's name usually (but not always) have something to do with their character. For example, a photo of Rick's trusty police revolver appears behind Andrew Lincoln's name, while Michonne's samurai sword appears behind Danai Gurira's.

I also noted that this season Seth Gilliam, aka Father Gabriel, had been promoted to the opening credits. For some reason, an image of a large sewer drain appears behind Gilliam's name. I said I couldn't figure out what, if anything, that had to do with the character.

Welp, I still don't know what the image has to do with him, but at least now we know where it comes from. It's the sewer drain that dumped toxic waste into the gulley and created the sludge walkers.

• Back in The Damned, the Kingdomites ran into a walker that looked like it'd been partially dissolved. Ezekiel saw it and wondered, "What befell this creature?" Well, now we know! There's a whole pocket of walkers in the gully that've been eaten away by caustic waste leaking from several barrels.

I couldn't find a really good image of them from this episode, as the camera was constantly moving across them. This is about the best I could do.

Here's a pretty good behind the scenes production photo of one of them, in all its disgusting glory. Remind you of anything?

According to Walking Dead producer/director/makeup artist Greg Nicotero, the Sludge Walkers were an homage to Emil Antonowski's gruesome fate from the original RobocopCool!

• R.I.P. Shiva. You will be missed.

I knew she this was gonna be Shiva's last episode a
s soon as Ezekiel started infodumping her backstory to Carol (which he already explained to her once last season). It's traditional on The Walkind Dead that any time a character suddenly starts telling their life story to someone, they'll end up dead before the episode's over. Shiva couldn't tell anyone her story herself, so Ezekiel did it for her.

I think this is supposed to give the character's demise some added emotion. Instead it's like a big 'ol warning buzzer, telling the audience a death's coming.

Her death didn't really come as much of a surprise. Shiva died in the comic around this time, so it was inevitable that it would happen on the show as well. 

Not to mention the fact that CGI is notoriously expensive, so I'm sure the producers were more than happy to be shed of her.

Regardless of why they offed her, it probably says something about the writing on this show when the saddest death so far this season was that of a CGI tiger.

• I dunno, I'd like to think a full-grown tiger could escape from a mob of wriggling, partially-dissolved dead bodies. Seems like she could have easily torn them all to shreds and leaped out of the gully to fight another day.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

It Came From The Cineplex: Happy Death Day

I'm woefully behind on my movie reviews lately, so I'm gonna do my best to catch up!

Happy Death Day was written by Scott Lobdell and directed by Christopher B. Landon.

Lobdell is primarily a comic book writer, who worked on many Marvel series such as X-Men, Generation X, Daredevil and Alpha Flight, along with Teen Titans for DC. He's 
written comics for various other companies as well. This appears to be his first theatrical writing credit.

Landon is a writer and director, as well as the son of TV legend Michael Landon. He previously wrote Another Day In Paradise, Blood & Chocolate, Disturbia, Paranormal Activity 2, 3 and 4 and Viral. He wrote and directed Burning Palms, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones and Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse.

I honestly wasn't expecting much from this film, but I ended up liking it quite a bit. Happy Death Day is a fun and tightly constructed film that's actually smart, which is a rarity these days at the box office. Best of all, It establishes a logical set of rules and then sticks to them. Eh, for the most part. Unfortunately the plot train flies off the track late in the third act, but if you can overlook that it's not a bad little movie.

Most critics are calling Happy Death Day a mix between Scream and Groundhog Day, and that's actually a pretty apt description. It takes the self-aware, deconstructionist attitude and murder mystery of Scream and combines it seamlessly with the time-looping shenanigans of Groundhog Day.

Director Christopher Landon even admitted in an interview that the film shamelessly copies Groundhog Day's concept and structure. Eh, I don't see that as a problem. Although Groundhog Day is undoubtedly the most popular and well known instance of the Time Loop Story, it didn't invent the concept by any means. As near as I can tell the idea's been around for decades, first appearing in the short story Doubled And Redoubled in the February, 1941 issue of Unknown magazine (it's possible there are even earlier instances of the concept). 

There's nothing wrong with using an existing plotline or concept as a starting off point, as long as you bring something new to the table. Fortunately Happy Death Day does this, by grafting the slasher movie angle onto the Loop, and giving main character Tree a deadline for solving her own murder.

Oddly enough, there's very little gore to be found in Happy Death Day. In fact, for a horror film it's strangely... polite, for lack of a better word. For example, Tree's supposedly a typical Mean Girl student, but not really, as she never seems anywhere near as bad as her snooty sorority sisters. This applies to most of the other characters as well— they're all designed to be college stereotypes, but none of them ever quite seem to fit into their predetermined roles.

The film's been in Development Hell for an entire decade, as it was first announced way back in 2007, when it was inexplicably titled Half To Death. At that time Michael Bay (!) was set to produce, with Megan Fox (of course) starring. Let's all thank the Movie Gods that that awful, explosion-filled version of the movie never got made!

Many years later, the script surfaced again, and was optioned by Blumhouse Productions in 2016. Blumhouse is on fire lately, as they've put out a series of low budget, high grossing little films that have absolutely cleaned up at the box office. They're responsible for the Paranormal Activity and The Purge franchises, as well as the recent Split and Get Out.

Universal Studios really needs to take a look at Blumhouse's business model and copy it wholesale. Instead of inexplicably trying to turn their Universal Monsters characters into Marvel superheroes (I'm lookin' at you, The Mummy), they could feature them in a series of small, atmospheric and genuinely scary movies. Then they could sit back and watch the money roll in!

So far the Happy Death Day's a box office hit, grossing $88 million worldwide against its tiny $5 million budget! Impressive! You know what that means— look for Happy Death Day II: The Deathening sometime next year!


The Plot:
It's Monday the 18th, which just happens to be Bayfield College student "Tree" Gelbman's (oy gevalt!) birthday. She wakes up from a drunken stupor in the dorm room of fellow student Carter Davis. Her phone rings, but when she sees it's her estranged father she ignores it. She asks for some aspirin, and as she heads out the door she runs into Carter's roommate Ryan, who asks if he slept with Tree. Awkward!

As Tree walks across the campus, she sees a series of events that'll become very important later on. She passes a Goth student who leers at her, a girl who tries to get her to sign a global warming petition, a smooching couple sitting on the grass who get soaked when the sprinklers come on, a car with a blaring alarm that no one pays any attention to and a frat pledge who passes out during his hazing. She also runs into Tim, a student she dated once, who's now obsessed with her (Suspect #1!).

She returns to her dorm room, where her roommate Lori Spengler, who's a nursing student, proudly presents her with a cupcake she baked from scratch. Tree blows out the candle and dumps the cupcake in the trash, dismissively stating "it's loaded with carbs." This visibly angers Lori, who folds her arms and glares at Tree as she leaves (Suspect #2!). 

Tree then meets with Professor Gregory Butler in his office. Tree's in one of his classes, and is secretly having an affair with him. Gregory's wife Stephanie unexpectedly shows up, and he nervously acts as if he and Tree were discussing classwork. Stephanie obviously doesn't buy it, and icily eyes Tree as she hurriedly leaves (Suspect #3!).

Tree then joins Danielle Bouseman and her fellow snotty sorority sisters for a meeting about the big Spring Dance. Carter walks by and accidentally spills his food on Tree. He apologizes and tries to return a bracelet she left in his dorm, but she hushes him up as she doesn't want her sisters knowing she spent the night with such a loser.

That night Tree walks alone through the dark, foreboding campus, on her way to a party. She passes a group of rowdy guys wearing "Bayfield Babies" merch. Yes, you read right, this school's mascot is a giant baby (!). As she walks under a bridge, she sees a music box sitting in the middle of the sidewalk, chiming away. She turns around to see a figure in a Bayfield Baby mask, staring ominously at her. Tree takes off running, and is chased by the Baby Killer. It catches her and stabs her to death (!). The End.

Tree then wakes up in Carter's room, thinking it was all a dream. She asks for aspirin and runs into Ryan again. Outside, she experiences the same events she saw the day before— Goth, global warming girl, soaked couple, car alarm, frat pledge. She's visibly confused by this, but passes it off as simple deja vu.

Tree enters her room, where Lori gives her another cupcake, but this time she sets it on a dresser instead of throwing it in the trash (this detail's important, as it shows us Tree can change the events of the day). She meets with her sisters at lunch and Carter dumps his food on her again.

That night Tree walks to the party once more, but this time avoids the bridge. She arrives and sees it's really a surprise party for her, organized by Danielle. Suddenly a figure in a Baby mask appears, and Tree's so flustered she punches him in the face. The figure turns out to be Nick, Danielle's boyfriend. Tree enjoys the party, and later gets a text from Danielle, accusing her of hooking up with Nick (Suspect #4). 

For some reason, Tree wanders up to Nick's room. He puts on the Baby mask and tries to scare her, which doesn't work. She's REALLY scared though when the Baby Killer appears and stabs Nick. He then grabs a bong, breaks it in half and stabs Tree with a shard of glass.

Tree wakes up in Carter's room again. She runs outside and sees the same five events, and finally realizes she's stuck in some sort of time loop and is reliving the same day over and over. Lori tells her to relax and get some sleep. Tree locks the room tight and even boards up the windows (!) so the Baby Killer can't get in. It doesn't work, as he crashes into the room and stabs her anyway.

Tree wakes up in Carter's room, and this time explains the situation to him. He doesn't believe her until they go outside and she perfectly predicts the five events. They go through a list of suspects, trying to figure out who keeps killing her. For some reason, Carter believes that if Tree figures out who the killer is, she'll be free of the time loop.

Tree then lives through her birthday several more times, investigating and eliminating various suspects. She rules out Tim after finding out he's secretly gay (not sure why that would prevent him from trying to kill her, but whatever). She tails Greg's wife Stephanie, but is drowned by the Baby Killer while doing so, ruling her out. She also accuses Danielle, but the two of them begin fighting and both are killed by a bus (!).

Tree wakes up in pain and goes to the hospital, where x-rays show her numerous deaths are somehow adding up, causing internal injuries and other traumas. The doctor says by all rights she should be dead, which means her investigation now has a countdown. While in the infirmary, she goes to Gregory's office (I guess he's a doctor as well as a professor?), suspecting him of being the Baby Killer. She roots through his office, finding a Baby mask in a drawer.

Gregory returns, but before she can accuse him, he's stabbed by the actual Baby Killer. She runs through the parking lot, steals a car and flies off. She thinks she's finally escaped the curse, until she's stopped by the police. She lies and says she's drunk so she'll be thrown in a cell, safe from the Killer.

The cop cuffs her and puts her in the back of his car. Suddenly he's mowed down as the Baby Killer crashes his car into the police cruiser, causing its gas tank to leak. The Baby Killer then drops a lit candle onto the stream of leaking gas (which is a big clue!) and Tree's blown up real good.

She wakes in Carter's room, and has to convince him all over again that she's reliving the same day. She notes that she's getting weaker each time through the loop, and worries she'll die for real before finding out who the Killer is and preventing her death. Just then Tree sees a news report on the capture of notorious serial killer Joseph Tombs, who targets young coeds. She's convinced Tombs must be the Baby Killer (which of course is way too obvious).

Tree and Carter enter the hospital, determined to stop Tombs, but see he's already escaped his restraints and killed the security guard posted outside his room. Tombs grabs Carter and snaps his neck, and Tree grabs a fire axe and runs. She hides in an empty room and when Tombs enters, she attacks him. She's about to deliver the killing blow, when she realizes if she eliminates Tombs, she's sentenced Carter to permanent death. She then climbs to the top of a bell tower, tells Tombs she'll see him soon and hangs herself (!).

She wakes up in Carter's room, and enjoys her last time through the loop. She signs the petition, warns the students before they're soaked and places a pillow under the fainting frat pledge. She tells Tim she knows his secret, and to be himself. She then breaks up with Gregory and drops his class. She even eats a tray full of junk food in front of her snotty sorority sisters, going so far as to pour chocolate milk over Danielle's head.

Tree then meets her dad for lunch and attempts to reconnect with him. She says it's been hard for her to see him since her mom died, but promises to try and be a better person.

That night Tree goes to the hospital, and instead of simply warning the guard that Tombs is about to escape, she pulls a knife on him, takes his gun, and tells him to go get backup. She then enters the room, sees Tombs asleep and pulls the trigger. Unfortunately it doesn't go off, as she's apparently never heard of a safety switch. Just then Tombs leaps out of bed and slams her against the wall. There's a momentary power outage (that happens at the same time every day), which takes Tombs off guard. Tree grabs the gun and shoots him dead.

With the danger seemingly passed, Tree returns to her dorm room. Really? 
So I guess the authorities has no questions for her after she threatened a guard and killed a prisoner in cold blood? Apparently not. She calls Carter and invites him to her room. Carter admits that the two of them have never had sex— she simply passed out in his room and he put her to bed. She decides to remedy that, and they sleep together. She sees the birthday cupcake Lori made for her and decides to eat it (MAJOR CLUE!).

Tree then wakes up again in Carter's room, and realizes she's still in the loop
. Even though she killed Tombs, somehow she still died again. She returns to her room and Lori offers her a homemade cupcake again. Suddenly Tree realizes that she never ate the cupcake in any of the other previous loops. The cupcake was poisoned, and Lori's the Baby Killer! 

When Tree accuses her, Lori immediately starts monologuing and admits she's the killer. She says that 
as a nursing student it was easy to free Tombs and make him look like a suspect in Tree's murder. The only thing Tree can't figure out is why. Lori says it's because she was in love with Gregory, but Tree stole him from her. Really, that's it? Even Tree thinks this is a stupid and lame motive, and says so. Lori attacks her, and the two begin fighting. Tree grabs the poisoned cupcake and shoves it into Lori's mouth, then pushes her out the window for good measure. Lori falls to her death, and thankfully doesn't get back up. 

Later Tree and Carter watch a news report on the incident. Carter says the whole thing reminds him of the movie Groundhog Day, but Tree says she's never heard of it. Oh, meta humor, you're hilarious!

The next day Tree wakes up in Carter's dorm room, and for a horrified second thinks she's still stuck in the loop. Carter finally tells her it's Tuesday the 19th, and they laugh and laugh.

• I don't have a lot to say about this film, so this'll be short.

• So... Tree's college team is called the "Bayfield Babies." Yep, that's right, the Babies. I can't find any images of it online yet, but their school mascot looks very much like that of the Big Boy restaurant chain. Wow, I bet a large, goofy-looking baby will really strike fear in the opposing team!

• Not a nitpick, just an observation: Even though its never stated onscreen, the movie takes place in New Orleans. About halfway through the film Tree's arrested by a police officer. If you look closely, he has a Louisiana-shaped patch on the arms of his jacket.

For some reason, everyone at Tree's birthday party is drinking out of blue plastic cups. I honestly don't think I've ever seen blue ones before, as they're almost always red.

This makes me wonder if there was some kind of product placement issue? Like the Solo company wanted too much money to use their red cups in the film? Or maybe they didn't want their product associated with a slasher movie, and the prop department had to scramble and find a different color?

• In Harold Ramis' classic film Groundhog Day, main character Phil Connors wakes up to find himself in a time loop, reliving the same day over and over and over again. When he discovers there's no way out of the loop, he goes through the Five Stages Of Grief.

Tree goes through a similar, if not quite as elaborate, scenario in Happy Death Day

At first Phil doesn't believe the same day's repeating itself, and he has to go through the loop several times before he finally realizes what's happening.

At first Tree Gelbman doesn't believe the same day's repeating itself, and she has to go through the loop several times before he finally realizes what's happening.

After a few times through the loop, Phil angrily smashes his alarm clock that plays the same song every morning.

After a few times through the loop, Tree angrily throws her cell phone across the room when it plays the same ringtone every morning. In addition, she's mighty pissed when she finds out she has to die every day until she can figure out who killed her.

Phil "bargains" when he visits a psychiatrist, who he believes can somehow fix him and get him out of the loop.

Tree sort of "bargains" when she confides in Carter and asks him for help. The two then try to figure out who the Baby Killer could be.

Phil eventually lapses into a deep depression, spending all day watching TV. He also tries killing himself multiple times in an effort to escape the loop (it doesn't work).

Tree sort of falls into a depression when she learns that each of her deaths is weakening her, and she has to find her killer before it's too late.

Phil eventually accepts his situation, and uses the time loop to better himself as a person. Once he becomes the best person he can be, he's released from the loop.

Tree eventually accepts her situation, and goes through one last "Perfect Day," righting various wrongs, helping those around her and ultimately becoming a better person. She finally finds her killer and kills them, which releases her from the loop.

• Here's a fun question to ponder in the shower: Just how does this Time Loop work? Is Tree stuck inside some sort of tiny bubble universe in which the same day plays over and over, and then once she prevents her death she returns to the our reality? Or is the entire world stuck in the Time Loop with her? Did you and I and everyone in the world have to relive the same day over and over again just so one snooty sorority girl could learn to be a better person?

Happy Death Day manages to add an interesting new wrinkle to the Time Loop Story. See, every time Tree's killed in a new way each time through the loop, she wakes up again the next morning with a corresponding injury. The injuries aren't life threatening at first— for example, she wakes up with a stiff neck after being choked— but they're cumulative. She realizes that each time she's killed brings her a little closer to permanent death.

This gives her investigation a time limit and a new urgency, and is a clever addition to the concept.

• Very late in the film, the movie introduces us to serial killer Joseph Tombs, who Tree believes is the one killing her. Really? A killer called Tombs? Who named this character, Charles Dickens?

• Will Tombs still manage to escape and kill the hospital guard one last time?

Lori admits she loosened Tombs' restraints so he could escape. Since he's a known serial killer, the police would automatically suspect him of killing Tree instead of Lori. But just when did Lori free Tombs? 

If Tree killed Lori before she had a chance to loosen Tombs's straps, then everything's OK. Tomb's won't break free, won't kill the guard and won't escape into the night. But if Tree killed Lori after she freed him, then Tombs' is gonna kill the guard and escape one last time.

• As I said earlier, the film goes off the rails in the third act with the surprise reveal that Tree's roommate Lori is the Baby Killer. I was with the film all the way up to that point, but this particular revelation was a bit hard to accept. 

Why's that? Because all through the movie we see the Baby Killer exhibiting what could only be described as superstrength. On several occasions she grabs Tree and literally tosses her across the room. Heck, she even does much the same to Danielle's boyfriend Nick as she lifts him off the ground and stabs him before tossing him away like an old shirt. 

Call me an out-of-touch old dinosaur if you want, but it's a simple fact of human existence that women have less upper body strength than men. Especially a woman as thin and willowy as Lori. There's no way in hell she could have throw another human being around as easily as she did.

The only way this could have worked is if Lori— who's a medical student— raided the hospital's medical locker for steroids.

Lori's motivation is pretty dodgy as well. Once she's revealed as the Baby Killer, Tree asks her why she wants to kill her. Lori replies that she was secretly in love with Gregory, and Tree stole him away from her. Really? That's it? She becomes a goddamned slasher movie villain over a man? Jesus Christ! Puncture Tree's tires, key her car or post nude photos of her on Facebook, but don't MURDER her over a guy!

• Tree ends up shoving Lori out their dorm room window, killing her. Since Tree's not in prison at the end of the movie, I guess the police must have believed her story that her roommate was an insane murderer, and that she killed her in self defense.

• At the very end of the movie, Carter says the whole Time Loop incident reminds him of the movie Groundhog Day. Tree replies that she's never heard of the movie before. 

This is called "lampshading" in the script writing biz. The idea here is that by deliberately calling attention to a plot hole or other implausibility in the script, the writer diffuses the problem, which robs his critics of their ammunition. Nice try.

Happy Death Day is a fun little slasher film that's much better than it has any right to be. It borrows elements liberally from Groundhog Day, but actually manages to put a new and interesting spin on them. It falls apart a bit late in the third act, but it's still worth a look. I give it a good solid B.

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