Friday, February 2, 2018

Worth Mentioning - There's No Tomorrow

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Time loops, transition, and a monster.


No one can play lovable jerk quite like Bill Murray can, and he has played such characters on multiple occasions, including more than one movie that's entirely about the universe trying to get his jerky character to change his ways. The most popular of these is the 1993 Harold Ramis film Groundhog Day, which online trivia claims has gained appreciation as time has gone by, but I remember things differently - Groundhog Day was a big hit in '93, and from my perception it seemed like it was instantly accepted as a comedy classic.

Murray plays pompous weatherman Phil Connors, who has travelled to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to cover the Groundhog Day festivities - an odd tradition where a groundhog is used to predict whether or not there are going to be six weeks of winter weather after February 2nd. Phil thinks the whole thing is ridiculous and looks down on everyone around him. He gets through the day, tapes a report with producer Rita Hanson (Andie MacDowell) and cameraman Larry (Chris Elliott), and seeks to get out of Punxsutawney as quickly as possible... But then the blizzard he thought would miss the town hits it instead. Phil is stuck in Punxsutawney.

Not only that, but he's also stuck on Groundhog Day. When Phil wakes up the next morning, it's February 2nd all over again... And this keeps happening, over and over. Phil is trapped in a time loop, and thankfully Ramis and co-writer Danny Rubin chose not to give us a specific explanation for how and why this is possible. It just happens, and Phil gradually comes to realize how he can escape from the time loop: he has to become a better person.

On the way to becoming a better person, Phil plays around with his predicament, knowing that there are no consequences for any of his actions beyond having to wake up on Groundhog Day again. He commits crimes, he commits suicide, and he just wakes up on the same day, the version of the day he had just lived through wiped out of existence.

This film has a really fun concept that has been used by other movies and TV shows since, but Ramis brings this version of the story to the screen brilliantly and Murray turns in one of his all-time greatest performances. While Phil's behavior is often off-putting, we're still rooting for this guy to get things right and move on with his life, this time going down a better path than he was on when he arrived in Punxsutawney.

While spending several years in this time loop (Ramis has said it lasts around 10 years, and a fan calculated a total of 8 years, 8 months, and 16 days), Phil also starts to romance Rita, a sweet character wonderfully played by MacDowell. Somehow, despite Phil's past attitude, we want to see things work out for these two.

I don't watch Groundhog Day as often as some fans do, it is not an annual tradition for me, but it is a great comedy that I have enjoyed ever since it was first released.


Coogan's Bluff was quite a milestone in the career of its star Clint Eastwood - it was the first time he worked with director Don Siegel, beginning a working relationship that continued through six more films (Siegel directed Eastwood in five of those, and Eastwood put Siegel in his directorial debut Play Misty for Me), and it was the first time he played the lead in a film that wasn't a western. He didn't leave his western roots behind completely, though. He's still playing a cowboy, but one who just happens to live in 1968.

Eastwood's Walt Coogan is an uncouth, womanizing deputy sheriff from Arizona who is sent by his superior on an assignment in New York City as punishment for his unprofessional behavior, which includes stopping by a lady friend's place to have sex while a detained suspect waits outside in his car. Once in NYC, Coogan is a fish out of water, his no-nonsense cowboy mentality clashing with the softer sensibilities of these city folk.

Coogan's unprofessional behavior continues while he's on this assignment, and an attempt to get around the minutiae of the system backfires. He's supposed to escort a criminal named James Ringerman (Don Stroud) back to Arizona, he starts the process sooner than he's supposed to, and Ringerman ends up escaping on the way to the airport, taking Coogan's gun with him. Now Coogan has to track Ringerman through this strange territory and the hippie underground to take him back into custody.

There's not a lot of action in this film, and Coogan finds a distracting love interest in probation officer Julie Roth (Susan Clark) for a pseudo-romantic subplot that briefly seems like it's going to bog the story down as much as the shoehorned romance did in Hang 'Em High. Thankfully it doesn't, and there is some pay-off in a climactic bar brawl and motorcycle chase.

The primary charm of this movie comes in seeing the out-of-place Coogan make his way through these big city surroundings, and in seeing Eastwood interact with his co-stars, which also includes Lee J. Cobb as the superior in NYC and Tisha Sterling as Ringerman's mentally off-balance girlfriend. I see this as an important transitional film in Eastwood's career, the movie that proved his tough guy act could work just as well in modern day as in westerns. He could chase someone on a motorcycle just as well as he could on a horse.

There's not a lot to Coogan's Bluff, but it's a fun one. Herman Miller came up with story and got credit on the screenplay with Howard Rodman and Dean Riesner. Miller would later repurpose the idea for the television series McCloud, which starred Dennis Weaver as a cop from New Mexico who takes an assignment in New York City - and found a way to stay in the city for 46 episodes.

IT WAITS (2005)

Soon after playing a memorable role in Eli Roth's Cabin Fever, actress Cerina Vincent landed the lead role in the creature feature It Waits from director Steven R. Monroe... and really, the fact that Vincent stars in it (alongside a very likeable bird) is the most notable thing about this film.

Vincent's character here is forest ranger Danny St. Claire, who spends her time hiding away in her ranger tower with her pet bird, drinking heavily and being haunted by memories of a fatal car accident she was in after a night of heavy drinking. As you can imagine, having a main character who spends a good amount of the running time getting drunk, crying, and feeling guilty has an impact on the level of enjoyment a viewer can get out of this film. The fact that Danny caused the death of her best friend while driving drunk isn't the only horrific event she has to deal with, though - soon she realizes that an ancient monster is stalking her woods.

It Waits has that title because this beast has been waiting to be set loose into the woods for a long time, and has only just been able to get back out into the open after a group of archaeologists blasted open the cave it's been stuck in for centuries. This thing likes to kill any human being it crosses paths with, but it also demonstrates a major distaste for modern technology, going around smashing satellites and radios and flipping cars.

The design of this creature isn't very inspired, but one cool thing about it is the fact that it likes to set up scenes for its intended victims, much like a slasher. It will string up bodies so they can come swinging down at people, and dig up corpses to sit them at a table, with a severed head as the centerpiece.

Scripted by Richard Christian Matheson, Thomas Szollosi, and Stephen J. Cannell (Matheson and Szollosi also wrote the '80s classic Three O'Clock High together), It Waits is a monster movie that makes some odd choices (that drunk driving accident subplot sure isn't ordinary) and it's not as interesting or exciting as I would have liked, but it's decent enough to be worth a viewing.


Way back in 2007, Rogue Pictures announced that they were teaming up with Michael Bay's production company Platinum Dunes for a horror project called Half to Death, with Finnish director Antti Jokinen attached to direct and Megan Fox, who starred in Bay's first Transformers film that year, signed on to star. That project never made it into production, but ten years later Half to Death did make it to the big screen with a different title, a different star, and a different creative team behind it.

It was Platinum Dunes' The Purge franchise partner Blumhouse Productions that saved Half to Death from development hell and shepherded it through production with Jessica Rothe in the lead and Christopher Landon directing from a screenplay he wrote with popular comic book writer Scott Lobdell. By the time Universal Pictures released it into theatres, Half to Death was given the title Happy Death Day - which I would say fits it better.

The story is quite familiar, and has been described as being like "Groundhog Day meets Scream". Rothe plays sorority girl Teresa "Tree" Gelbman, who is a walking calamity when we first meet her - she's a crappy person, she's sleeping with a married professor, she attempts to hook up with guys her friends like, and she gets drunk and wakes up in random dorm rooms. In this case, she finds herself waking up, on her birthday, in a room belonging to nice guy Carter Davis (Israel Broussard). As the film follows Tree through this day, you probably won't find much to like about her. That night, a slasher wearing a babyface mask murders Tree, and that makes sense. She's definitely the type of person you expect to see get killed in a slasher movie.

But that's not the end of Tree's story. The instant she dies, she wakes up again in Carter's dorm room. It's the same day all over again. It's her birthday. Tree makes her way through the day a second time... and again she gets killed by that masked murderer... and again she wakes up in Carter's room, at the start of the same day.

And so Tree realizes that she's trapped in a time loop, destined to be murdered again and again. To escape the loop, she's going to have to figure out who the killer is and stop them so she can actually survive the day for once. As in Groundhog Day, there is no explanation for why this is happening to Tree, you just have to roll with it. I was perfectly happy to just roll with it.

While trying to solve the mystery, Tree also takes this opportunity to improve her life, to become a better person and deal with the issues that turned her into such a disaster in the first place. Sort of like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day.

I know there were some slasher fans who were turned away from Happy Death Day due to the fact that it's rated PG-13, and while I would generally agree that a slasher movie should be rated R I don't think this one needed to be. This isn't your average body count picture; while other people do sometimes get killed over the course of Tree's relived days, the deaths in the film are primarily hers, and I don't think it really would have added much to the film if her many deaths were any nastier than they are. This is a lighthearted lark of a film, not one that needs much in the way of blood and guts.

What Happy Death Day is more than anything is a showcase for Rothe's abilities. I wasn't familiar with her before this and was impressed with her range. The different approaches she takes to the days allows the actress to serious dramatic scenes, scared out of her mind scenes, tough and determined scenes, and comedic scenes. Rothe handled every emotion and each tone quite well.

It may not be fresh and original, but it sure was fun to watch.

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