It’s accurate to call “Happy Death Day 2U” a dumb movie, and accurate to call it a smart movie. It seems as if Blumhouse studio asked writer-director Christopher Landon (who also directed the 2017 original, from Scott Lobdell’s screenplay) to go hog-wild building on the premise from the first entry, and Landon does just that. This sequel isn’t nearly as much of a straight rehash as the horrible trailers suggest.
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.
Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child give Agent Pendergast a fresh start of sorts in his 18th novel, “Verses for the Dead” (December, hardcover). Series like the Constance trilogy and the Helen trilogy are conclusions to long-simmering threads, and the standalone before this one, “City of Endless Night,” is a nostalgic team-up for Pendergast and D’Agosta. But in “Verses for the Dead,” Pendergast gets a new FBI partner, Coldmoon, and he deals with office politics regarding his future with the bureau. Although the authors occasionally reference Pendergast’s death-like pallor, it’s clear he’s not interested in retirement. And his exploits in the action-packed final chapters show he hasn’t lost much vigor.
Glengarry Glen Ross” (1992) has an absurdly stacked roster of talent – all men, because only men work at this particular real-estate office, which I suppose was common at the time – and all in service of a searing yet hilarious portrayal of the games these salesmen play to get ahead. Written by David Mamet (from his play) and directed by James Foley, the film features a Jack Lemmon portrayal so iconic that an entire “Simpsons” character, Gil Gunderson, is based on him.
The Black Dahlia” (2006) starts comedically, with cops Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart) and Bucky Bleichert (Josh Hartnett) in a boxing match to raise public support for LAPD raises. It ends in the fashion of old Hollywood drama, as Bucky and Kay (Scarlett Johansson) stand on a doorstep at twilight. Everything in between in director Brian De Palma’s film is tonally confused, and it makes for a schizophrenic viewing experience. Some actors go way over the top, and some play it like they’re in a normal 1940s-set noir mystery.
In the tradition of great Asian cinema, “Burning” (2018) is intensely strange and immensely engrossing. Fittingly, lead actor Ah-in Yoo, as Lee Jong-su, seems to barely be giving a performance, but we’re right there with him as his life gets weirder and weirder.
There’s something suspicious about the way people are acting around Joe Ross (Campbell Scott) in “The Spanish Prisoner” (1997). As the creator of The Process, a mathematical formula that will allow the corporation he works for to make loads of money, he’s paranoid – and us along with him – but he’s right to be cautious. Still, it seems like he’s being set up for something, by someone.
The ABC Murders,” a three-part miniseries that aired last year on BBC and is now on Amazon Prime, is a case study in the creativity and/or annoyances that come from reinventing source material in an adaptation. I’m not much of an Agatha Christie historian, but writer Sarah Phelps’ previous adaptation of the mystery author’s work, 2015’s “And Then There Were None,” rates an 8.0 on IMDB compared to a 6.6 for this one. My mom is a big fan of David Suchet’s work in “Agatha Christie’s Poirot” (1989-2013, ITV), and she found the reinventions here to be strange, making John Malkovich’s turn essentially PINO – Poirot in Name Only.
Clue” (1985) is famous for being based on a board game yet somehow not being awful, and also for having alternate endings. Long before alternate endings were juicy bonus features on DVDs, and even longer before everyone stopped caring about bonus features – or DVDs for that matter – “Clue” featured three endings. If you saw it in the theater, you saw one of three revelations of distinct killer(s). Then for the VHS release (and any screening you watch now, such as Vudu’s current free-with-ads offering), the three endings are stitched together.
TNT found a nice way to ride the success of a series without forcing it beyond the natural end of its storyline. “The Alienist” – my No. 4 show of 2018 — became a critical and popular success a year ago, but it told a complete serial-murder mystery. That series is over, but TNT is continuing its Suspense Collection with “I Am the Night” (9 p.m. Eastern Mondays).