Monthly Movie Rant: Groundhog days

I missed my Monthly Movie Rant for January. So, since February has two holidays that have a big influence on movies, the shortest month of the year gets two rants.

First: Groundhog Day was this week, which means all kinds of TV stations with nothing better to do played the movie Groundhog Day–probably on a loop, in some cases. To be honest, Groundhog Day isn’t one of my favourite movies. It’s definitely creative and well-made, but some of the humour is a little too cringe-y for my taste (actually a problem I have with most Bill Murray movies), and it’s a little on the long side. But I will always love and respect it for popularising one of the greatest recurring plot devices in all of cinema: the Groundhog Day loop.

Image result for groundhog day

It’s such a simple idea: one day (or hour, or weekend, whatever) repeats itself over and over until our protagonist changes the right thing. But so many movies and TV shows have found so many different creative, original things to do with it. Groundhog Day loops can be used for humour, horror, heartbreak, or all of the above. Here are a few of the loops I’d be most willing to watch over and over again.

3. Mystery Spot – from Supernatural

“Heeaaattt of the moment!”

Supernatural–the never-ending CW show about monsters and underwear models–is a huge guilty pleasure of mine. The acting is cheesy, the effects are usually lame, the story is stupid, and yet…it’s probably the only show that could pull off an episode like this.

A bit of background: the main characters in Supernatural are the Winchester brothers, who spend their days driving across the Midwest in a 1967 Chevy Impala, listening to classic rock and killing monsters and demons of every description. In season 3, where this episode takes place, Dean (the older and better brother) knows he has a year to live, because he sold his soul to a demon last season to bring Sam (the younger and taller brother) back to life after some dude stabbed him in the back. Sam obviously wants to find a way to get Dean out of his contract, but that plan has run into some difficulties.

Anyway, “Mystery Spot” opens with the two brothers investigating a mysterious disappearance in a town that is famous for a supposed “mystery spot” that breaks the laws of physics. While they’re snooping around the tourist attraction at night, its startled owner accidentally shoots and kills Dean. And then…Sam wakes up the previous morning. They investigate, Dean gets hit by a car, Sam wakes up, they investigate, Dean gets squashed by a piano…you get the idea. As the loop keeps repeating itself, Dean keeps dying in increasingly ridiculous ways, no matter what Sam does to prevent it. And it is hilarious. Sam’s escalating frustration, Dean’s total obliviousness (since he can’t perceive the time loop), and even the random townspeople who keep doing the same things over and over–it’s all a hoot.

Dean Winchester: slayer of demons, terror of Hell, killed by a piano.

Then, halfway through the episode, Sam figures out what’s causing the time loop, and things get angsty again. I won’t reveal the twist, but by the end, the time loop has driven Sam over the edge into psycho territory, and even though the loop eventually breaks for good, we end on a rather ominous note that seems to indicate the utter hopelessness of Sam’s quest to save Dean. Oh, and also an Asia song that will never leave your head.

In this case, the Groundhog Day loop gave Supernatural a chance to do what it does best–make something horrible happen to its main characters, make the audience laugh at it, and then make the audience feel horrible for laughing. Rinse and repeat. But this is one episode where both the dark humour and the drama are particularly effective. The funny parts are truly hilarious, the dark parts are truly disturbing, and neither one diminishes the other. It’s one of the few Supernatural episodes I wouldn’t be ashamed to be caught watching. (Even though I love them all.)

This gif…just…sums up the show.

2. Monday – from The X-Files

What, your average week doesn’t start out this way?

I’m pretty sure The X-Files used every single sci-fi plot device ever invented over the decade or so when it aired, so of course they were going to do a Groundhog Day loop sooner or later. But the way they went about it was very different from most other loops I’ve seen.

The episode begins with Mulder bleeding on the floor of a bank (which, to be fair, is a typical Monday for him) while Scully is trying to talk down the robber who shot him and is now threatening to blow up the entire building. She fails, it blows up, everyone dies. Then Mulder wakes up in his apartment, takes a trip to the bank, gets himself and Scully caught in a hostage situation, the bank blows up, everyone dies. As the loop keeps repeating, Mulder and Scully start to get de ja vu, especially when a strange girl starts showing up every day to warn them not to go into the bank.

What’s so interesting about this Groundhog Day loop is that we don’t see it from the perspective of the person caught in the loop. Mulder and Scully don’t realise that they’re living the same day over and over–at least not at first. The one person who is aware of the loop–the girl outside the bank–isn’t connected to them or the larger story arc in any way, and we never find out how long she’s been in the loop or how it started in the first place. It’s like watching Groundhog Day from the perspective of one of the random citizens of Punxsatawney.

“I’m not the main character of this story, am I?”

Another odd thing is that the day isn’t exactly the same every time. Even when the girl isn’t trying to influence things to go a different way, little things change with every loop. One Monday Mulder trips over his sneakers getting out of bed; the next, he avoids them. One Monday he goes to the bank before Scully; another Monday, she goes first. The only thing that never changes is the bomb going off in the end. Our favourite agents have some interesting discussions throughout the episode about whether our everyday choices affect our destinies, so you might say the whole story is a philosophical exercise in free will vs. predestination.

Or you could just look at it as the rare enjoyable X-Files episode in a season that was beginning to show the series’ age. Either way, I’m a fan.

Scully’s not, though.

1. Edge of Tomorrow 

Or “Live, Die, Repeat,” as it’s apparently known now.

I can’t stand Tom Cruise. Everything about him annoys me: his teeth, his hair, his running posture, his motorcycles, his Scientology, everything. I’m 50 percent less likely to see a movie if I find out he’s in it. So when I say I enjoyed a film that stars Tom Cruise, you know it’s gotta be a great one.

Edge of Tomorrow is one of those movies. Based on a Japanese light novel (not sure how that’s different from a manga, but the internet assures me it is), this movie takes place in the future, when the world is at war with an alien race called the Mimics. A cowardly PR guy for the U.S. military, William Cage, ends up on the front lines of a big invasion into alien territory after ticking off the wrong general. Predictably, he gets killed in his first battle, but less predictably, he then wakes up the morning before he shipped out. Turns out that he’s somehow managed to absorb an ability some of the aliens possess, that allows them to “re-set the day” every time they get killed in battle. With the help of a legendary war hero named Rita Vrataski, he starts figuring out how to use this ability to help the humans win the war.

“Emily, please teach me how to be less annoying.”

No highbrow philosophy here. This movie is just a ton of fun. Yes, the reasoning behind Cage’s ability to re-set time is a bit confusing, but who cares when we get to see a montage of Tom Cruise getting killed in hilarious ways? Seriously, though, Cruise does do a good job playing against type as a pathetic coward, and then gradually becoming more competent and awesome as the movie goes on. And Emily Blunt, who plays Rita, doesn’t know how to turn in a bad performance. The action scenes are great, the character development is heartwarming, the sci-fi concept is cool, and did I mention how funny all of Cage’s death scenes are? I think it’s also the closest we’ll ever get to seeing a good video game movie–even though it’s not based on a game.

It does have respawn points, though.

See how great of a device the Groundhog Day loop is? It can even make a Tom Cruise movie awesome! There are so many story possibilities for this trope that it’s no surprise movie and TV writers keep using it over…and over…and over…and over…

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