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.
The “Riverdale” empire expands further with its second spinoff, “Kate Keene” (Thursdays, CW), about three gals and a gay dude trying to make it big in New York City in their various careers that just happen to be perfect for dramatic TV portrayals. In the pilot episode, Michael Grassi’s series – based on a title character who debuted in Archie Comics in 1945 – does some good things and some bad things. Your verdict will come down to whether or not “Katy” is your thing.
When it came out, I underrated “High Fidelity” (2000) because it’s not as good as the 1995 novel by Nick Hornby. But like its fellow 2000 love-letter-to-music “Almost Famous,” it now stands as an unassailable classic – if you can accept the intense internal focus of Rob Gordon (John Cusack, also one of the four screenwriters). I can see how Gordon’s obsessive self-analysis could be off-putting to some viewers, especially since Cusack (and presumably Rob) is in his mid-30s — unlike, say, Dawson Leery. If you accept the fourth-wall breaking of a man who refuses to grow up, though, “High Fidelity” is an all-time great movie about romantic love as filtered through the male mind.
Briarpatch” (Thursdays, USA) is the latest prestige murder-mystery series to clog up modern TV screens, and whether you stick with it after the first two episodes – available for free on the USA app – will depend on your appetite for depressive lead investigators and small-town weirdness. Rosario Dawson, not once cracking a smile, plays Allegra “Pick” Dill, a federal agent on leave who is investigating the car-bomb murder of her younger sister in her hometown of San Bonifacio, Texas.