PREVIEW: ComCo Presents: Chest Hairs Roasting On An Open Fire

When I saw the poster for this event and noted the strikingly distinct abdominal muscles of their Burt Reynolds drawing, I knew I had to go. Finals szn is truly upon us, and I for one am crawling out of my skin trying to pull my GPA out of the grave I’ve dug for its once-great body. We deserve a break to simply sizzle in nonsense for a while.

Join me in this holiday-scented adventure in improv comedy Friday, December 6th at 8pm in Angell Hall, Auditorium A. Admission is just $2 for a wild night of laughs. Bring your friends, your coworkers, your lovers, and (most importantly) your chest hair. If I can find some way to stick some of my split end trimmings on my chest, I promise to do it in the shape of a heart.

REVIEW: Zombieland: Doubletap.

Zombieland: Doubletap was written to be Zombieland’s sequel — it seems to exist more for the actors to have a nice time and for the fans of the first film to relive the Good Old Days™ than try to be a sensationally moving film. While the first movie was accidentally pioneering in its genre, Doubletap makes no promises. It is nothing visionary, but works its simple, nostalgic charm enough for it to be fun and fresh. It is the ultimate tribute to a classic film.

In 2009, Jesse Eisenberg hadn’t been in The Social Network yet, and La La Land was but a stray thought to Damien Chazelle who had only finished directing his first movie. In 10 years time, the actors have reached loftier calibers, each one becoming Academy Award nominees and winners. And although the script isn’t the most emotionally complex, they play their parts perfectly, regardless of how vast and complicated their recent roles they’ve grown to fill are. The characters of Zombieland still fit seamlessly from out of the time capsule, despite the decade of change and progress in between.

Horror elements improve the comedy; the underlying morbidity of the tragic demise of humanity helps the banality of some of the more cliché jokes become more palatable. New characters also add a kind of sparkling appeal and novelty to a plot that’s structurally a copy of the first film. Madison, played by the magnetic Zoey Deutch, is simply a trope with a singular note, and yet Deutch makes the note hit bright and spectacular. Although the other new characters contribute to the movie’s success, Madison, with her effervescent denseness, is so obviously the standout element amongst all else.

Much of the comedy in Zombieland: Doubletap stems from Zombieland itself, deriving jokes that often stroke the fourth wall with a kind of impish wit in reference to its predecessor. The movie can certainly be enjoyed as a stand-alone, but it’s main purpose, it’s true blood, can only be recognized in conjunction with the first film. It is full of details written in for the amusement of old fans, with a keen enough self-awareness about its intent that it does falter when it comes to the delivery either. While Doubletap may not be an inspiring, original film, it is an excellent commendation of Zombieland. Enough of the components are there, and given enough heart, Doubletap is fun to watch. It is enjoyable, uncomplicated, and the end credits are killer.

PREVIEW: NT Live: Fleabag

You may have heard of the BBC hit TV show “Fleabag”, which won big at the Emmys. Now’s your chance to see the inspiration for the show. NT Live: Fleabag is the original one-woman play written and performed by Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Showing at the Michigan Theater this Thursday, September 26 at 7:30 PM, you won’t regret these 67 minutes. Student tickets are $16 and can be purchased at https://www.michtheater.org/show/nt-live-fleabag/.

REVIEW: Happy Death Day 2U

I watched Happy Death Day and Happy Death Day 2U in somewhat close conjunction with one another, which made for a somewhat bizarre and disorienting (or weirdly orienting?) viewing experience. A large part of this is due to the eerie, albeit absolutely deliberate, similarities between the structures of the two movies. At their very heart, the central problem is almost the same: Theresa “Tree” Gelbman (Jessica Rothe, La La Land) is stuck reliving the same day.

Anyone who has seen Happy Death Day (2017) is familiar with this conceit and with the problems it spells for Tree, a college student. There are the typical Groundhog’s Day-style frustrations of retaining her memories of previous days — falling in love, for instance — while everyone around her forgets. And then there’s the somewhat more distressing problem of the killer in a baby mask, who stalks Tree and murders her every time on the night of her birthday.

The sequel, Happy Death Day 2U, directed by Christopher Landon and released recently through Blumhouse Productions, presents a new complication. Not only is Tree stuck reliving the same day—it’s now the wrong day. In the completely wrong universe.

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The film sets itself up in an interesting way, holding a close focus on Ryan Phan (Phi Vu), who had a marginal role in the first movie as the roommate of Tree’s love interest, Carter Davis (Israel Broussard, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before). It seems at the beginning like the focus of this movie is going to be on Ryan, but this remains the case just long enough to explain to the viewers that Ryan and his science friends are responsible for the strange time-looping that Tree has experienced. After a strange altercation involving multiple Ryan’s and the panicked pressing of Ryan’s student-made quantum reactor, Tree wakes up back at the beginning of the previous day. Only this time, she’s been thrown into another dimension, and things are a little different: The original Babyface culprit, Tree’s roommate Lori Spengler (Ruby Modine, Shameless), is no longer the killer, and Carter is now dating Tree’s sorority nemesis, Danielle Bouseman (Rachel Matthews). Perhaps most significantly, while Tree’s mother (Missy Yager) was dead in her original timeline, she is now alive and well.

Tree’s transplantation into this new world kicks off a wild journey, as she is confronted by the simultaneous problems of learning how to navigate the changes to her life in this new world and the implications of those changes, figuring out how to get back to her home dimension (and indeed, whether she even wants to), and solving the Babyface killer mystery all over again. Although interestingly, the latter of these winds up taking something of a backseat. While the original Happy Death Day was a black comedy slasher film, working largely within the sphere of horror, its sequel ditches the horror almost entirely in favor of comedy, emotional drama, and adventurous science fiction. The segues into hallway-creeping and killer-unmasking don’t feel out of place at all, but they also don’t feel particularly haunting or scary, especially not in comparison to some of the emotional scares that Tree must deal with instead.

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On the whole, Happy Death Day 2U is a success not because it delivers scares, but because it recognizes and builds on the elements that worked so well in its predecessor: comedy, irony, and a real sense of heart that carries emotional resonance. A great deal of this is concentrated in Tree’s character, actualized by Rothe’s wonderful acting; we spend almost the entire movie in Tree’s head, and we’re along for the ride as she finds herself forced to tackle conflict after conflict, eventually having to choose between a life that’s not hers that would mean reuniting with her mother (albeit under somewhat false pretenses) and the world she knows, where her real friends and loved ones are back waiting for her, but her mother is not. The implication that her choice is as simple as her mother versus her boyfriend is a bit of a red herring, and the film tries to stay attentive to this, stressing how the memories everyone else has of Tree in this new dimension don’t align at all with her own. Ultimately, Happy Death Day 2U is an adventurous and captivating success, demonstrating how the continuation of Tree’s story can again have more profound and intriguing implications — not only for her, but, in the end, for the people around her as well.

PREVIEW: Happy Death Day 2U

Directed by Christopher Landon, Happy Death Day 2U is a follow-up to 2017’s slasher hit, Happy Death DayHappy Death Day told the story of Theresa “Tree” Gelbman, a college girl who is murdered by a masked killer on the night of her birthday — and then wakes up and finds herself reliving the same day over and over. Happy Death Day 2U takes place immediately after (or, in a way, concurrently with?) its predecessor, as it follows Tree after she is transported to a different dimension, where she must again relive that same Monday while figuring out a way back to her home dimension.

Jessica Roth (La La Land) reprises her starring role as Tree, with Israel Broussard, Phi Vu, Rachel Matthews and Ruby Modine also returning. Happy Death Day 2U is currently showing at local theaters such as the Quality 16 and the Ann Arbor 20 IMAX.

REVIEW: The Favourite

I don’t know quite what I was expecting when I walked into a screening of The Favourite at The Michigan Theatre. I had heard it described as a dark comedy, while other people had told me definitively that it wasn’t a comedy. I knew it involved queer relationships, but people had also told me not to think of it as a gay love story. Emma Stone was the only actress with whom I was very familiar, and her own past filmography has been so varied that it was hard to predict what type of role she was going to play.

As a result, it’s saying something that even throughout the length of The Favourite, I still struggled to pinpoint exactly what type of a movie it was. This isn’t meant as a slight. The movie is of course a historical drama, set during the reign of Queen Anne in Britain during the early 18th century. The comedic elements, although dry and often subtle, were often at the forefront of the screen, from the petty arguments and witty bickering between Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz, The Lobster) and Robert Harley (Nicholas Hoult, Mad Max: Fury Road) to visual jokes, like Robert Harley pushing Abigail Masham (Stone) into a muddy ditch. The romance took a backseat to the drama, to be sure, and The Favourite could not quite be classified as a romance film. However, a major element of the emotional weight of the end of the film was the factor of Queen Anne’s (Olivia Colman) discarding of Sarah, which only landed in the way that it did due to these characters’ romantic history.

The Favourite is a difficult film to characterize, but this lack of definitiveness is done purposefully and well. At its core, The Favourite is about manipulation, which is why it feels fitting that even as the three central characters — primarily Sarah and Abigail — manipulate each other, the film is also manipulating its viewers. It is tempting to side with Abigail for much of the first half of the movie, as she is constantly undercut and underestimated by the other characters. Abigail seems kind and relatable, bringing Anne medicine for her pained legs and shrugging off the advances of Samuel Masham (Joe Alwyn, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk). She is also in competition with Sarah for Anne’s attention, and Sarah, while at times genuinely funny and surprisingly endearing, can also come across as intimidating (especially to a new servant like Abigail), vindictive, and callous.

In the end, though, the film makes a point about the tremendous bearing that wealth and stature can have upon the way that a person acts. When Abigail ultimately succeeds in becoming Anne’s “favourite” and edging Sarah out of the queen’s inner circle, it becomes clear that she was truly the vindictive one all along, motivated by material gain and greed rather than by any real attraction to or interest in Anne. When Sarah is distanced from the queen and then exiled, she comes across as emotionally closer and more attached to Anne than ever before. Anne herself, as the queen, is in a position to take her wealth and status more for granted than the other characters, and therefore exerts the bulk of her emotional energy on her own profound loneliness and despair.

The Favourite ends with an incredibly sad, grave, loneliness-oriented scene, far from the comedic and more lighthearted elements that punctuated the film earlier on. And yet, despite some of the seeming tonal shifts, it feels apparent that this gravity was what characterized the film from the very beginning. On the one end, this movie is about three women possessing varying degrees of power, each able and willing to do various things — some of them outrageous things — in order to gain and maintain this power. On the other hand, it simultaneously perfectly captures the notion of desperation, of seeking all of the material promises of a good life — wealth, power, beautiful objects, political sway — only to be crestfallen upon the realization that these gains have come at the cost of forsaking true and meaningful companionship. Each of the three characters embodies some angle of this concept by the end of the film, completing a trifecta of powerful acting and storytelling. The Favourite is currently playing at local theaters such as the Quality 16 and the Ann Arbor 20 IMAX.