‘Black Mirror’ Season 5 is easily the weakest yet (TV review)

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ith the failed experiment of the “choose your own adventure” movie “Bandersnatch” in the rear view, I was happy to hear “Black Mirror” Season 5 (Netflix) was finally on the horizon. I was very disappointed, however, to learn it’s only three episodes. With only a little over three hours of new material, my expectations were high for some quality episodes. Unfortunately, that’s not what we get. This is by far the weakest season yet.

(Spoilers follow.)

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‘Buffy’ flashback: ‘Bad Bargain’ (2006) (Book review)

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iana G. Gallagher’s works rank in the middle of the pack among “Buffy” authors, but they are often interesting for how she puts new spins on the continuity without contradicting what’s established. “Bad Bargain” (December 2006), the short but flat YA-style novel that’s the last of her five “Buffy” books, fits the mold. Like most of the 2005-08 novels, it’s set in mid-Season 2 before the rise of Angelus, but Gallagher weaves in elements the TV show’s writers couldn’t at the time, in an attempt to strengthen the overall continuity.

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Mamet Monday: ‘Vanya on 42nd Street’ (1994) is a clever, money-saving film that only pretends to be a play (Movie review)

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anya on 42nd Street” (1994) is structured unlike anything I’ve seen before. It starts with the actors walking along the packed sidewalks of the Big Apple to a decrepit abandoned theater where they are rehearsing “Uncle Vanya,” David Mamet’s translation of the 1898 Russian play by Anton Chekhov. But then we – along with a few friends of the play’s director, Andre Gregory – are soon watching the play itself, in its entirety.

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‘Always Be My Maybe’ is exactly what you think it is – but not entirely to its detriment (Movie review)

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ou know what kind of movie “Always Be My Maybe” (Netflix) is, and the people who made it know what kind of movie it is, but that shared knowledge works in its favor. In this tale of two childhood besties who are soul mates but don’t realize it, Ali Wong and especially Randall Park give the types of performances where they know they’re in a movie but they let it all flow over them, from the clichés to the plentiful moments of at least mild inspiration.

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Superhero Saturday: ‘Punisher’ gets reimagined yet again – this time as a gore flick in ‘War Zone’ (2008) (Movie review)

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rank Castle, a.k.a. the Punisher, finally got his full story told in the recent Netflix series, but before that, cinema took the tactic of reimagining him in one-off movies with different styles and creative teams. First was Dolph Lundgren’s “Punisher” (1989), which is oddly flat and emotionless; then came Thomas Jane’s “Punisher” (2004), a slightly better quippy actioner; and finally there’s Ray Stevenson’s “Punisher: War Zone” (2008). The four years between versions of a character must be a record for shortest gap.

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A second opinion: ‘Us’ is a boring piece of beautiful arthouse horror (Movie review)

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riter-director Jordan Peele’s “Us” reminds me of Alex Garland’s “Annihilation” (2018). Both are followups to a breakthrough piece of chilling sci-fi/horror that I and everybody else loved – “Get Out” (2017) in Peele’s case and “Ex Machina” (2015) in Garland’s. And in both cases, in my opinion, these followup efforts fall flat. Why? Well, it’s impossible to get into a filmmaker’s head. I’m tempted to say the filmmaker is aware of the expectation that he craft high art, and he tries too hard. That’s probably a case of me conflating my expectations with Peele’s – who is simply telling the stories he wants to tell — but I can’t deny that I found “Us” to be unengaging, overlong and even boring.

(For Summer’s positive and spoiler-light review of “Us,” click here.)

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Throwback Thursday: ‘Ghostbusters: Answer the Call’ (2016) successfully leans into the comedy, but sacrifices suspense (Movie review)

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hostbusters: Answer the Call” (2016) was labeled as ill-conceived before it came out, with people asking “Why remake a classic?” The good thing is that it’s not a straight remake of the beloved 1984 original (which is slated to get its second sequel next year). Although it has the same general threat of a portal linking New York City to a ghost dimension, and the team is pestered by government agents, it’s more of a re-imagining than a remake.

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‘Buffy’ flashback: ‘Portal Through Time’ (2006) (Book review)

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ith all the possibilities for Buffy to meet past Slayers introduced in “Tales of the Slayer” and the TV series itself, the time-travel adventure “Portal Through Time” (October 2006) should be a lot better than it is. But Alice Henderson, in her only Buffyverse work in the main novel line (she also wrote “Night Terrors” in the “Stake Your Destiny” series), writes in a basic YA style wherein the author’s plotting needs override the Scoobies’ decision-making, thematic statements and even storytelling logic.

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Mamet Monday: ‘The Edge’ (1997) is highlighted by intense bear action, but driven by an almost out-of-place human rivalry (Movie review)

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he 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.

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Superhero Saturday: Thomas Jane stars in a competent but comparatively lightweight version of ‘The Punisher’ (2004) (Movie review)

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he 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.

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