“HAPPY DEATHDAY” THRILLS SECOND TIME; “FREE SOLO” ON TV
A Film and TV Review by Tim Riley
“HAPPY DEATHDAY 2 U” Rated PG-13 Something about a killer wearing a creepy baby mask is even more disturbing than a killer clown or a madman chasing his victims with a chainsaw, and that alone is the scariest thing about “Happy Death Day 2 U.”
Ostensibly, the genre for this sequel to “Happy Death Day” is classified as horror. Nevertheless, it plays well for its comedic tone, which is mainly a result of Jennifer Rothe’s college student Tree Gelbman gamely defying death in amusing ways. All that you need to know about the original film inspired by “Groundhog Day” is that Tree had to relive being killed over and over again on her birthday until identifying and overcoming the killer. The premise remains fairly much the same, albeit with the twist that Tree is now looped into an alternate universe infused with a science-fiction element due to an expanded role for nerdy Asian tech wizard Ryan (Phi Vu) drawn into the same vortex of demise.
Along with fellow science students, Ryan figures notably in the scheme of things by spending his college years building a machine designed to prove that time can be slowed down to the molecular level. The experiment could qualify for a Nobel Prize or, more likely, result in the university and everything within a 100-mile radius being blown to smithereens. No wonder the college dean is constantly throwing fits and threatening expulsion.
Though Tree again wakes up with a hangover and unharmed in the same room with nerdy Carter (Israel Broussard), things are different in that her mother is still alive, her sorority sister Danielle (Rachel Matthews) is dating her boyfriend, and her roommate is sane. What does remain, more or less, the same is that Tree is still blissfully yet amusingly self-centered, and has no trouble taunting the closeted male student who wants to know why she won’t return his texts or displaying general disrespect to some classmates.
While frustrated about tossed so rudely back into an endless spiral of death, Tree develops a greater sense of humanity. This could be attributed to the fact that the slasher threats are now also directed as well to other students in her circle. Seeking to put an end the cycle of death at the hands of a masked killer, Tree finds ways to hasten the denouement by suicidal means, from leaping from the clock tower to jumping head first into a wood chipper.
Anyone who enjoyed “Happy Death Day” should find that the “2 U” sequel is equally, if not more so, entertaining, particularly because the contagious humor smoothes the rough edges of the horror elements into a pleasant package. Also working to its advantage is that “Happy Death Day 2 U,” much like its predecessor, knows full well that it has turned the usual horror tropes into an agreeably humorous exercise of mindless fun.
“FREE SOLO” ON NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CHANNEL
The daring, death-defying exploits of free climber Alex Honnold in “Free Solo,” originally released in limited theatres, is now featured on the National Geographic Channel. Fittingly, “Free Solo” has now taken home the Oscar for best documentary feature and the timing of this award could not prove to be anything but a big boost to garner a wider audience for an event that looks humanly impossible.
To watch Alex Honnold climb the 3,000 feet of the sheer granite face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park is to witness a feat never accomplished before.
The act of free solo is when a rock climber scales the vertical wall of a mountain without the benefit of ropes and a safety system. In comparison, surfing the Banzai Pipeline on Hawaii’s North Shore seems much less hazardous. The documentary notes the unfortunate deaths of many free solo artists, but Honnold is not among them. Instead, we see a man undaunted by having climbed the untold number of mountains, but El Capitan initially gives him pause.
The film fleshes out some elements of his childhood and the fact that in his adult years (now in his early 30’s), Honnold has cut his own path, unencumbered by relationships until he meets his girlfriend Sanni McCandless (also featured in the film). The presence of Sanni adds an emotional connection to the business of figuring out a guy who lives in a van roaming the world for his next adventure. It’s noted that he always chooses the mountain over the girl.
What motivates Honnold to risk death? While the subject may not provide the answer, the brain scan discovery of his amygdala reveals that, unlike us mere mortals, he has no fear. Whatever the psychological makeup of Honnold may be, “Free Solo” is gripping drama as you watch his perilous ascent up El Capitan using only his hands and feet to climb sheer cliffs. During the winter press tour, Honnold claimed that he still wants “to improve as a climber.” One wonders what could be the next challenge for his nail-biting adventures.