Even in a decade that has seen many elite examples of the short-form detective series – from “Fargo” to “Sharp Objects,” from “The Killing” to “I Am the Night” – “True Detective” Season 1 (2014, HBO) takes the cake. And eats it, too. After all, as Detective Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) would say, “What else are you gonna do with cake except eat it?”
Writer-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.)
If 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.
As “Harper’s Island,” “Dead of Summer,” “Scream” and other slasher TV series have found, this medium can’t escape the law of diminishing returns the way a brisk movie can. As the story goes forward, the cast of characters gets dwindled until the mystery has evaporated: The killer is whoever is left. Also, we might get to really liking a character only to see them killed off, thus lessening our interest from that point forward.
David Mamet’s screenplays are among the most accessible in cinema because he writes – and his actors speak – in a heightened, rhythmic way that’s a pleasure to listen to even as it still feels natural. His dialog in “Chicago” (2018), his fourth novel but first of this millennium, is challenging because his characters talk in a 1920s Windy City fashion that has no rhythm and initially presents a stumbling block. I stuck with the book, though, and I’m glad I did because this is ultimately a horrifying and fascinating portrayal of the ins and outs of merchant-city corruption that sticks with a reader.
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.