The Nice Guys” (2016) is an entertaining action thriller even if a viewer isn’t already a fan of director/co-writer Shane Black. Viewed through the lens of his oeuvre, though, it plays as the culmination of concepts he’d been fine-tuning going back to his first credit, 1987’s “Lethal Weapon.”
The Cosmic Puppets” (written in 1953, published in 1957) is a short but exceedingly weird battle between Good and Evil that plays out in the small town of Millgate, Virginia. There are plenty of subtexts a reader can bring to the table, but Philip K. Dick’s writing is unusually overblown here, none of his characters stick, and ultimately the book as a whole doesn’t stay in a reader’s mind despite the grand themes.
Writer Rob Williams delivers equal doses of spectacle and story in “Terminator/RoboCop: Kill Human” (2011), a four-issue series from Dynamite Comics that stands alone as a narrative even though it is the second comic-book meeting between these two icons of high-tech sci-fi. It’s primarily a character study of Murphy (a.k.a. RoboCop, as played by Peter Weller on screen) as he makes outward decisions amid his inner reflections on whether or not he’s still human. However, there’s plenty here for “Terminator” fans as well, since Murphy drops into the heart of the “T2” narrative.
Judge Dredd” (1995) lacks nuance as it presents a 22nd century police state where Street Judges (cops) serve as judge, jury and executioner. But should that really be a knock against director Danny Cannon’s film? After all, police states throughout history – other than perhaps using euphemistic language — aren’t exactly sneaky about how they do things.
Writer Shane Black, in one of the most assured directing debuts ever, delivers a great modern detective noir while also poking fun at the genre in “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” (2005). The film marks the last great Val Kilmer performance before his slump and the start of the superstar portion of Robert Downey Jr.’s career. It’s RDJ’s first team-up with Black; they’d join forces again for the underappreciated “Iron Man 3” (2013).
Aside from its wonderful locations and car designs that capture the 1960s, director James Mangold’s “Ford v Ferrari” (2019) is a sober re-creation of a niche slice of history. He trusts that 24-hour racing at Le Mans and Daytona will be exciting enough to capture and hold the layperson’s attention. He pushes it with the 2-hour, 32-minute run time, but ultimately he’s right. While non-racing-fan moviegoers aren’t likely to tune in to TV coverage of the next 24-race, this sport plays tremendously well in movie form.
Paul Williams’ afterword in the Vintage edition of “Lies, Inc.” (1984) is almost a better read than the novel itself. The literary executor of Philip K. Dick’s estate chronicles the many permutations of the novel – which began as the magazine-published “The Unteleported Man” in 1966 – into the definitive version. In over-simplified terms, the original “Unteleported Man” tells a straightforward (by PKD standards) adventure in chapters 1-8 and 15-17, and the expansion material is a drug trip that takes up chapters 9-14.
Writer Zack Whedon, showcasing a lot of the witty dialog his brother Joss is known for, crafts an alternate take on the “Terminator 1” time loop in “2029-1984” (2010, Dark Horse Comics). The six-issue series illustrated by Andy MacDonald features three issues on each side of the time jump, and it branches off from the movie’s storyline by asking “What if Kyle Reese barely survived in the factory showdown and was held in captivity for decades by the government agency that would become Skynet?”
The Phantom is a pivotal figure in comic superhero history. Unlike most other proto-superheroes (those who predate Superman), he originated not in pulp novels but rather in a syndicated comic strip. Created in 1936 by Lee Falk, the Africa-based Phantom wears a unitard costume and a mask that hides his true identity as everyday American Kit Walker (thus asking viewers to just go with the notion that other characters can’t recognize him, as with Superman and Batman).
After the first two parts showed a lot of potential and sometimes were quite fun, “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” Part 3 (January, Netflix) is more of a slog to get through, even though it’s eight episodes instead of the usual 10. Or maybe it’s because of the lower episode count but slightly longer episodes. The writers lean into the “Gilmore Girls” approach of telling as much story as they feel like in one sitting, but “Sabrina” should ideally use the “Buffy” approach with an act-based structure.