It’s pretty common for horror movie sequels to go awry by amplifying what made the original so good and sticking to the rinse-and-repeat method. However, while Happy Death Day 2U does that, it injects more class.

Once again, we follow college student Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe, who should be a megastar by now) as she is forced to relive a day in her life over and over again, each time concluding with her cruel death by a slasher wearing a baby-faced mask. Only this time, we understand why it’s all happening, for better or worse.

The main difference between the sequel and its 2017 original is the horror aspect takes a back seat. Some moments aim to get your blood pumping, but they are mainly cheap sequences where there’s a crescendo as a character slowly walks down a hallway before the killer ultimately pops out. We’ve seen it a hundred times. That said, I don’t believe filmmaker Christopher Landon, who also directed the first Happy Death Day, was trying to fashion a skin-crawling horror film. If anything, he wanted his series to evolve and bend genres — and, for the most part, it successfully takes the shape of a sci-fi comedy with some horror elements thrown in.

My biggest knock at the movie is how much it leans into its silliness. The first one has its cheese, but this one sometimes seems better for the Disney Channel. That said, the actors sell it so well. They’re so confident and committed to their roles.

Happy Death Day 2U may not defeat its predecessor’s originality, but there’s enough here for it to have its cake and eat it, too.

Extras: The Blu-ray combo release includes a gag reel, a deleted scene and three special featurettes.

Blaze (★★★★) This film may be based on the life of late Texas blues and folk singer-songwriter Blaze Foley (played in the film by newcomer Ben Dickey), but you never get the sense that the film’s purpose is for Ethan Hawke (who co-wrote and directed Blaze) to make a cookie-cutter movie about a historical person. Instead, Hawke uses the titular musician as a launch point to tell a more profound story about inner turmoil, complex relationships, love, music and the sacrifices we make to carve out a name for ourselves.

Similar to Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull, Blaze is a film that hums its own tune and breaks away from traditional storytelling techniques. Its structure draws many comparisons to Richard Linklater, whom Hawke has worked with frequently, in films such as the Before trilogy and Boyhood. Many of Linklater’s films work as studies of time, and you can feel Hawke’s film cutting from the same fabric.

Hawke pieces together an impressive and thought-provoking tribute with a Texas-sized heart and the kind of performances that awards are made for. Even when you know what’s coming, Blaze haunts you like a classic country song. It’s a spellbinder.

Rated R, 129 minutes.

Extras: Available today through shoutfactory.com/shop, the Shout Factory release includes a deeply philosophical audio commentary with Hawke. Anytime Hawke does an audio commentary, expect for him to teach you a lot. Additionally, there’s a behind-the-scenes featurette and a trailer.

Anaconda (★★★) Before Mill Creek Entertainment decided to re-release 1997’s Anaconda on Blu-ray, it had been a while since I had revisited it. After all these years, I’m happy to report that it’s just as terrible and fun as you may remember.

Starring Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube and Owen Wilson, Anaconda follows a documentary crew traveling through the Amazon jungle. They pick up a mysterious man (a gloriously awful Jon Voight) who inadvertently becomes their tour guide, but he intends to capture one of the Amazon’s deadliest inhabitants: the Anaconda (played by super dated CGI).

Anaconda is mind-numbingly stupid. None of the characters react or behave like real human beings, especially Voight, who seemingly thinks he’s on another planet. So, don’t expect any depth or nuance; it’s a no-brains-required giant snake movie.

Rated PG-13, 99 minutes.

Extras: Available through millcreekent.com, the Blu-ray release doesn’t include any special features. And, sadly, the film’s picture quality is incredibly grainy. So, if you’re all about the technical side of owning a movie on Blu-ray, it may not be for you. But if you’re just in it for the movie itself, the good news it’s cheap ($10).

Ghost of Mars (★½) As with Anaconda, I used to think John Carpenter’s 2001 sci-fi horror film Ghost of Mars was awesome. But unlike Anaconda, there are little to no redeeming qualities for it in 2019. It may have Ice Cube, Jason Statham and Species‘ Natasha Henstridge in it, and the legendary Carpenter at the helm, but it’s a dumpster fire that hasn’t aged well at all.

Set 150 years in the future, Ghost of Mars sees the Earth suffering from overpopulation. (Where’s Thanos when you need him?) So, like many movies set in a grim future, humanity has looked elsewhere to colonize. Many people (about 700,000) have moved to mine the natural resources. But it’s not a happily-ever-after scenario: One of the mining operations discovers a deadly Martian civilization.

Most of Carpenter’s films play better with age, but that is not the case here. The underlying themes aren’t as rich, and most of everything feels like Carpenter ripping off better films, including his own. Aside from a few creative death scenes, it’s not a Carpenter film worth familiarizing yourself with.

Rated R, 109 minutes.

Extras: Available through millcreekent.com, the Blu-ray releases includes an audio commentary with Carpenter and Henstridge, a video diary, a featurette on Carpenter’s score with Anthrax and a deconstruction of the special effects.

Eyes of Laura Mars (★★★) Speaking of Carpenter, Eyes of Laura Mars is one of his earliest projects. He wrote the original draft of the 1978 film and has since disowned it because of creative differences with the studio. So, it’s hardly his, but there are some inklings of early Carpenter genius, especially its concept of a photographer (Faye Dunaway) having visions of a serial killer’s perspective. (Think Harry Potter when he has visions of Voldemort.)

I know critics have taken issue with some of its story elements, most notably its predictability and ending; however, I found how things wrap up to be a moving turn of events. I also think the story’s analysis of violence in media is fascinating. And don’t forget a young Tommy Lee Jones delivering a killer performance.

Rated R, 104 minutes.

Extras: Available through millcreekent.com, the Blu-ray includes an insightful audio commentary with director Irvin Kershner (Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back).

Also available this week: Backdraft 2; The Chosen (1977, a Shout Factory release); Cold Pursuit; Field of Dreams (1989) on 4K; Fighting With My Family; Funny Games (1997, a Criterion Collection release); Godzilla (1998) on 4K; House of Games (1987, a Criterion Collection release); Never Grow Old; Never Look Away; The Prisoner of Second Avenue (1974, a Warner Archive Collection release); A Star is Born (1954, a Warner Archive Collection release); A Star is Born (1976, a Warner Archive Collection release) and Valentine: The Dark Avenger.

PRESTON BARTA is a member of the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association. Read his work here, on Fresh Fiction.tv and on RottenTomatoes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @PrestonBarta.

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