The bear is the star of “The Edge” (1997). In one of the last great adventure movies to feature live bear action (today, it would be entirely created in a computer), the stunt bear, named Bart, fills the frame with menace. The practical and CGI effects teams also do impeccable work, and it’s edited into seamless and tense bear attacks. I don’t mean to denigrate Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin in the main human roles, but rather to emphasize how good the bear stuff is, even two decades later.
The Punisher” (2004) is a prime example of a movie that’s less than the sum of its parts. Obviously, it fails in a one-to-one comparison with Netflix’s “Punisher,” and it’d be easy to tear it down that way, but even on its own merits, it feels lightweight for a revenge movie. Thomas Jane is a good actor, but his performance as Frank Castle leans toward stoic action-hero mode rather than tortured brooder, and Frank seems to enjoy doling out punishment – which might be a fascinating trait in a government agent except that the film doesn’t stop to reflect on it.
“Ghostbusters II” (1989), which feels even more Eighties than the 1984 original, is a prime example of one of those old-school blockbuster sequels that’s defined as much by the fact of its existence as it is by the continuation of the story. Today, everything is nostalgic, and we can find fans of all but the most obscure stuff online. Thirty years ago, an entertainment property was either “in” or “out,” and “Ghostbusters II” seems consciously aware that it’s “out” and weaves that reality into the fictional narrative.
If the first episode is any indication, “Big Little Lies’ ” second season (9 p.m. Eastern Sundays on HBO) lacks the zest of the first but has so much momentum in the wake of the death of Perry (Alexander Skarsgard) that there won’t be a shortage of reasons to tune in. David E. Kelley returns to teleplay duties, working from a story co-written with “BLL” novelist Liane Moriarty, but Jean-Marc Vallee has handed the directing reins to Andrea Arnold. The show’s mesmerizing quality ebbs during the memory-refreshing, regrouping episode “What Have They Done?,” even though the transporting theme song by Michael Kiwanuka is back, subtly remixed.
Keith R.A. DeCandido, who wrote the solid “Serenity” novelization, checks into the Buffyverse with the series’ most heavily researched novel in terms of real-world details. It’s clear “Blackout” (August 2006) is close to the heart of the author. He lived in New York City as a kid in July 1977, the same time as the real-world 25-hour blackout and looting, and the time of the fictional showdown between Nikki Wood the Vampire Slayer and Spike.
Following two escaped convicts who take cover as “priests” in a small American town along the Canadian border in the 1930s, “We’re No Angels” (1989) doesn’t have the biggest hook among David Mamet’s writing resume. But because the premise is so straightforward, it stands as a stark example of his sharp situational plotting skills. Over the course of 106 minutes, Neddy/“Father Riley” (Robert De Niro) and Jimmy/“Father Brown” (Sean Penn) nearly get caught several times, but always get out of their scrapes thanks to humorous random chance.
Mere months after Batman got his first faithful big-screen treatment and ushered in a new era of dark and serious superhero films, “The Punisher” (1989) followed suit as arguably the most notable Marvel movie up to that point (even though it has since faded into more of a trivia answer than a movie people watch or discuss). At first blush, it’s odd to bring Frank Castle to the big screen before Spider-Man or the X-Men or the Fantastic Four or the Avengers, but it makes sense in a way. The Punisher is a ready-made machine-gun-toting Eighties action hero. People already knew how to make this type of movie.
Thirty-five years later, “Ghostbusters” (1984) stands as a master class in how to smoothly mix genres. Bill Murray is consistently in a wry comedy while everyone else is his straight man, and the film delivers lots of laughs with this structure. The gothic schlock horror, taking full advantage of real New York City architecture, is mesmerizing. The composited special effects of Slimer, the animated gargoyles and of course the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man are so 1980s, but in a good way.
It’s probably too strong of a statement to say Robert Joseph Levy’s “Go Ask Malice: A Slayer’s Diary” (June 2006) is the best Faith story. There’s no question it stands on the shoulders of the work done by “Buffy” and “Angel” TV writers and actress Eliza Dushku. But the book allows us to go deeper than ever before into the psyche of Faith, quite a change from the early days of “Buffy” books when the character was totally off limits.
You won’t find “Ronin” (1998) if you type “David Mamet” into your streaming device’s search function, since he used the pseudonym Richard Weisz. But when you watch the film, you know it’s a Mamet screenplay. This movie reminds me of “Heist” (2001) in that it shows a lot of details about how a theft is planned and executed, yet it’s primarily concerned with the thieves as people – and those people spout witticisms about the meaning of life even within tense sequences.