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Groundhogs, Supremes, Chans and Wonder Women at the Box Office

Hope Madden Hope Madden Groundhogs, Supremes, Chans and Wonder Women at the Box OfficePhoto still of Happy Death Day, via IMDb.
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What to do, now that baseball season’s over? Besides weep, I mean? Well, there are about 100 new movies out this weekend — you can try that. A couple of intriguing historical biopics, one Jackie-Chan-as-Liam-Neeson flick, plus this year’s fourth Groundhog Day ripoff.

Happy Death Day

Happy Death Day, or Groundhog Day meets Scream, does what it can to make up for its lacking originality with a tight pace and compelling lead performance.

Tree (Jessica Rothe) wakes up on her birthday in some rando’s dorm room with no memory of the night before, a raging hangover and an attitude. She’s murdered that night by a knife-wielding marauder in a plastic baby mask, only to wake up back in that same dorm room under that same They Live poster.

Repeat ad nauseam.

It doesn’t take too many déjà vu mornings before Tree decides there is a mystery to solve here and just like that, we’re off in Phil Connors territory: reliving the same day again and again gives you the chance to become a better person, right?

Rothe boasts strong comic timing and a gift for physical comedy, a skill that transitions nicely to the demands of being repeatedly victimized by a slasher.

The mystery absolutely does not hold up, red herrings are silly and fairly pointless, and whatever charm the filmmakers infuse into this recycled premise wears off just a tad before the credits roll. Still, there are funny bits and clever moments peppered throughout what is easily this year’s fourth and best Groundhog Day ripoff.

Grade: B-

Marshall

Thurgood Marshall is among the most fascinating figures in contemporary American history. Too bad his biopic isn’t about him.

Marshall, director Reginald Hudlin’s glimpse at the first black Supreme Court justice’s earlier career as a tireless NAACP lawyer (Chadwick Boseman), offers an image of the man by way of one of his court cases.

Like a hardboiled detective story turned historical courtroom drama, the film follows the 1941 case of Connecticut vs. Joseph Spell, in which a white New England socialite (Kate Hudson) accused her African American chauffeur (Sterling K. Brown) of rape and attempted murder.

As you might expect given his string of impressive performances, Boseman has brooding, wise-beyond-his-years charisma to spare. Josh Gad plays Marshall’s unlikely partner-in-justice Sam Friedman, a Connecticut tax attorney who wants nothing to do with this case.

The presiding judge (James Crowell) forbade the out-of-state attorney to speak in court. An amazing piece of racially motivated injustice right there, making it another fascinating detail. It also means that we don’t get to see Thurgood Marshall command this court case.

It’s Gad’s Friedman who handles the courtroom drama—which he does quite well—but it leaves us with only some outside the courtroom mentoring and challenges from Marshall, and not enough else.

It’s not enough to sink a film built on solid performances and engaging material, but it’s enough to keep it from making the kind of lasting impression it should have.

Grade: B-

The Foreigner

Martial arts legend Jackie Chan jumps back into the action genre feet first with The Foreigner, a film with more depth than you might expect.

Chan plays Quan, a restaurant owner in London who loses his daughter when a rogue faction of the IRA bombs a bank. Quan believes Irish Defense Minister Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan), who rose to power after a violent IRA past, knows the identity of the bombers. After his polite requests for information are rebuffed, Quan resurrects his own bloody roots to get those names by force and have his revenge.

Director Martin Campbell (Casino Royale) knows you’re ready for the latest take on Taken, but mixes some satisfying fight choreography with long stretches of political intrigue that might disappoint those looking for nothing but bad guy beatdowns. There’s nothing overly original here, but Chan provides just enough layers to be mysteriously sympathetic, Brosnan brings the seasoned gravitas, and The Foreigner keeps its head above some gaps in logic to remain interesting.

Grade: B-

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women

My my, turns out Wonder Woman’s lasso was designed for a little bit more than just truth-telling.

Writer/director Angela Robinson’s The Professor and the Wonder Women is the fascinating story of the birth of an iconic superhero, told with a mix of earnest emotion and sly subversion that is both captivating and entertaining.

Anchored in 1945, when Wonder Woman creator William Marston (Luke Evans) is defending his comic against charges of indecency, the film flashes back often to the 1920s, when Marston and his wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall) were psychologists at Radcliffe college. After taking on a young teaching assistant (Bella Heathcote), the three develop a relationship that launches both scandal and inspiration.

A mix of Saving Mr. Banks and A Dangerous Method, TPATWW boasts excellent performances and a refreshing, if a bit idealized worldview.

Call it Super More Than Friends.

Grade: B


Also opening in Columbus:

American Satan (R)
Brawl in Cell Block 99 (R)
M.F.A. (NR)
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (R)

Reviews with help from George Wolf.

Read more from Hope at MADDWOLF, and listen to her podcasts FRIGHT CLUB and THE SCREENING ROOM.

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