The first two chapters of the “John Wick” saga — in addition to somehow making top-shelf entertainment out of a suit-wearing, dog-loving dude gun-fu-ing his way through baddies like he’s in a live-action video game — do some of the best world-building of any original franchise this decade. At the end of “Chapter 2,” John Wick (Keanu Reeves) breaks a cardinal rule of this oddly formal crime underworld by killing someone on the grounds of New York’s Continental hotel. Thus in “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum,” every assassin who loves money (all of them, in other words) aims to kill Wick and collect the $14 million bounty. Continental boss Winston (Ian McShane) gives Wick 50-50 odds of surviving.
In the early days of the “Buffy” books, the series released just a handful of Season 1-2 novels before staking out Season 3 as its primary storytelling ground. With the book series still popular enough to stay afloat after the end of the TV series, and with rumblings of Joss Whedon continuing the narrative someday in comics, the publishers made the smart decision to set most of the new books in Season 2. The first of these is “Afterimage” (January 2006), in which author Pierce Askegren walks the fine line of crafting a yarn that fits in Season 2 but keeps it small enough that we understand why the events aren’t referenced elsewhere – like “Bad Eggs” (2.12) in scope, but better in quality.
In the third film where he handles directing duties along with writing the screenplay, David Mamet strips away all but the blackest of humor for one of his bleakest tales, “Homicide” (1991). I found this film admirable and engaging without actually ever liking it all that much. The main reason I couldn’t turn away was because I didn’t know where it was going. With its title, I assumed it would be a cop-and-courts drama, but it has no courtroom component, and even though Joe Mantegna’s Bobby Gold is a homicide detective, it’s not quite a police procedural.
Ithought “Spider-Man” (2002) was run-of-the-mill when I saw it in theaters, but I got into it more on this rewatch. It’s a down-the-middle origin story for sure, but the fact that writer David Koepp and director Sam Raimi get the tone of the comic-book right (for kids, but not dumbed down; fun, but with real stakes) is nothing to sneeze at. And the casting – my god, the casting. I can see the longing in Tobey Maguire’s eyes every time Peter Parker looks at Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), and Willem Dafoe is excellent in a tricky, tragic role where he isn’t always aware he is in fact the Green Goblin.
The same thing that excites a viewer about “The Karate Kid” (1984) – the fact that it’s directed by John G. Avildsen and filled with songs by Bill Conti – also brings it crashing down, because “The Karate Kid” is no “Rocky.” It’s no fault of those “Rocky” collaborators — Avildsen gives the film a nice look and gets strong performances out of young Ralph Macchio and veteran Pat Morita, and Conti is on his game, especially with Survivor’s “Moment of Truth” – but many parts of the movie are not fully fleshed out.
Here are my 10 favorite characters from the last 12 months of television, from networks to cable to streaming, counting down from 10 to 1:
In the early days of the “Buffy” novels, we got the points of view of supporting characters – as well as a chance to revisit episodes prior to syndication and home video – in series such as “The Angel Chronicles,” “The Xander Years” and “The Willow Files.” Diana G. Gallagher’s “Spark and Burn” (July 2005) brings back that format, and attempts to spice it up, as Spike wallows in the Sunnydale High basement in early Season 7. As he’s harassed by The First, he thinks back on the events of Season 2, when he enters Buffy’s sphere.
The Verdict” (1982) is most known for the engrossing turn by Paul Newman as a down-and-out lawyer who gets obsessed with one case, but it’s also the pinnacle of the courtroom drama form under the eye of legendary director Sidney Lumet (“12 Angry Men”) and an early example of David Mamet’s chug-along writing. While the film – rightly nominated for a Best Picture Oscar – is more than 2 hours long (a rare exception to Mamet’s 100-minute standard), it’s not boring for a second, and it’s worth that extra time as Lumet lets us soak up the details of Boston and the trappings of Frank Galvin’s dreary office and the grand courtroom.
Writer-director Jordan Peele’s latest horror offering, “Us” – which hits digital June 4 and disc June 18 — opens on a seemingly endless wall of caged rabbits, a promise of future symbolism. The slow and agonizing zooming out and the screeching music, driven by a chorus from hell, invokes an anxiety I haven’t felt in a long time. I felt this fear in snippets throughout the movie, although the pinnacle of the horror is the beginning. Despite this — and the surprising mixing of genre signals — I thoroughly enjoyed Peele’s followup to the 2017 classic “Get Out.”
Iremember “Daredevil” (2003) being a solid – and even serious — superhero movie when I saw it in the theater. But after “Batman Begins” (2005) set a new standard for serious genre films, and after Netflix’s recent “Daredevil” series did justice to the Man Without Fear, the 2003 movie stands in stark contrast as a mediocre adaptation of the Marvel comic.