The King of Staten Island” is the most prominent of the few brave films that switched from theatrical release to video-on-demand amid the pandemic, and it’s also a good one. It had been long enough since I’d seen a good Judd Apatow movie – 2012’s “This Is 40,” the last film he both wrote and directed – that it’s a revelation to rediscover his sharp dialog and knack for showing that deeply flawed people are still worth rooting for.
Back to the Future” (1985) is one of the all-time great films, utterly fun and free-wheeling, yet it rewards film nerds’ deeper explorations with its flawless storytelling structure and genre balance. It’s adorable despite being about a teenage girl crushing on her future son, it’s smart despite being about something that’s impossible, and it accurately captures two out of three eras. Its 1955 and 1985 are pitch-perfect; the flying-cars version of 2015 not so much. But it does promise more time-hopping fun, teasing the possibilities of further adventures with that classic ending where Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) views his own actions from earlier in the film.
Gather Yourselves Together” (written about 1950, published in 1994) is a 373-page novel with no plot, and whether that’s a feature or a bug depends on the reader’s taste. But it’s certainly a fascinating entry in Philip K. Dick’s catalog from a historical perspective. Most PKD scholars believe it’s the first novel he wrote, and it definitely feels that way. It’s all about middle-aged Verne, mid-20s Barbara and slightly younger Carl dancing around each other at a shuttered American metal works operation in China in 1950. They are guarding the property in the week before the now-in-power Communists arrive to take possession.
The Broken Bubble” (written in 1956, published in 1988) isn’t a science fiction novel, but it is a predictive novel from Philip K. Dick. Jim and Patricia, ex-spouses around age 30 who still like each other, and newlywed teenagers Art and Rachael, are drawn to each other as couples and as individuals. PKD’s later, safer story of an older couple wanting to befriend a younger couple, “Confessions of a Crap Artist,” would be the only one of his realist novels published in his lifetime.
Mary and the Giant” (written in 1954, published in 1987) is a nice gender-swapped companion piece to “Voices from the Street” (1952, 2007), this time with Mary Anne Reynolds as the troubled young person. To use movies from 50 years after Philip K. Dick’s writing of the novels as points of comparison, “Mary” is the “Ghost World” to “Voices’ ” “The Good Girl.”
In the early going, “High Fidelity” (February, Hulu) so precisely re-creates several iconic scenes from the 2000 movie that it’s like watching a painful amateur stage production of a classic play. We might as well be rewatching the film or reading Nick Hornby’s 1995 book. But as the 10-episode Season 1 moves forward, it starts to repurpose the familiar scenes in new ways, and it ultimately justifies its existence.
Voices from the Street” (written in 1952, published in 2007) was Philip K. Dick’s last published novel — finally hitting shelves a quarter-century after his death. One might therefore assume it’s a middling curiosity, but it’s actually an outstanding achievement, all the more amazing because Dick wrote it when he was 24, about the same age as his protagonist and stand-in Stuart Hadley. The sprawling character piece is like a more muscular answer to J.D. Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye” (1951) — raising the question of why publishers considered it to have no audience at the time — and it also calls to mind modern movies such as “Office Space” (1999) and “The Good Girl” (2002).
With an unusually long gap between new Marvel Cinematic Universe releases, I decided to finally check out “Marvel’s Runaways” Season 1 (2017-18, Hulu). Now through three seasons, it’s part of the young-adult wing of the MCU, and I appreciate that it’s more colorful, sunnier (it’s set in Los Angeles, the opposite side of the continent from most MCU goings-on) and more fathomable than the other YA series, Freeform’s recently canceled “Cloak & Dagger.” It also has an amazing cast, but Season 1 has one big problem at its core.
Roswell, New Mexico” (Mondays, CW) returns with an excellent Season 2 premiere that smoothly reminds us of the threads from the long-ago Season 1 while also moving things forward. “Stay (I Missed You)” is written by showrunner Carina Adly MacKenzie, who continues to tap into the spirit of the original “Roswell” – the small-town haunts, the star-crossed romances, the alien mysteries, the ’90s tunes — while making a show that is often slicker and even better than its forbearer. Even though I love the original series more, I admire the way “RNM” is walking that fine line.
All the Bright Places” (February, Netflix) walks a fine line. For some young viewers, it’ll be the best movie they’ve ever seen; for cynical older viewers, it’ll be a cliché-ridden bore fest. For me, it’s pretty much the best Gen-Z teen romance I’ve seen (Elle Fanning and Justice Smith are late-era millennials, but they play younger than their ages). There’s always the fear that modern teens will be off-puttingly self-centered and all-knowing, but I liked Fanning’s Violet and Smith’s Finch, and they are quite cute when going through the cliches.