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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Throwback Thursday: ‘Ghostbusters II’ (1989) is a big step down from the original, but it’s still fun to spend time with these guys (Movie review)

“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.

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First episode impressions: ‘Big Little Lies’ Season 2 (TV review)

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f 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.

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‘Buffy’ flashback: ‘Blackout’ (2006) (Book review)

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eith 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.

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Mamet Monday: ‘We’re No Angels’ (1989) is a smart comedy that aimed for religious and non-religious viewers, but didn’t find either (Movie review)

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ollowing 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.

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Superhero Saturday: Lundgren’s ‘The Punisher’ (1989) isn’t as bad as you’d assume, but nor is it as fun as it should be (Movie review)

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ere 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.

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