Tag Archives: Suspense

Fear Street: Part 3 – 1666

[3 stars]

It’s all comes down to this: the origin. And what a nice payoff it is. As you’d expect, given the previous two parts, the cast reprises from the previous 1994 and 1978 time frames to inhabit the 1666 characters. Kiana Madeira and Olivia Scott Welch are back at the center along with Ashley Zukerman (The Code), Gillian Jacobs (Life Partners), and, now with a bit more range, Benjamin Flores Jr. (Rim of the World).

Having the setup of the previous two parts, this third flies in a swift 2 hours of suspense, action, and frustration. But the best part is that everything you’ve learned comes back into play right up through the end. And there is where it stumbles just the tiniest bit.

The main action resolves perfectly fine and acceptably. But there is a moment, and you can’t miss it, where there is an obvious and boneheaded oversight. I know it’s a trope of the genre, but it could have been less ham-handed. In fact, if it weren’t for that, I’d have rated the whole movie higher. That gaff cost it because after all the clever, subversive, and frankly well thought out planning, it was cheap and insulting to the audience.

But that frustration aside, which is small in comparison to the journey, this is a great trilogy of dark fun executed with a clever eye and solid talent. Leigh Janiak pulled the sequence off with aplomb and will have me watching for her next project for sure; as well as some of the cast.

Fear Street: 1666 Poster

A Quiet Place: Part II

[3.5 stars]

While this sequel can’t compete with the unrelenting tension of the first installment, it is an adventure all its own, building out the world and the story. It’s also a hand-off of sorts, shifting focus from Emily Blunt (Animal Crackers) to her children, Noah Jupe (The Titan) and Millicent Simmonds (A Quiet Place). Though I must admit, I don’t recall Jupe’s character being so bloody foolish in the first movie.

Director John Krasinski (Animal Crackers) also nicely shifted the adult focus to Cillian Murphy (Anna), providing a different view of the invasion and its impact. And he continued to show his writing ability with a tightly constructed story that uses everything he threw into it.

But this story has quite a bit more soundtrack in it than the first. To be fair, Krasinski sort of tapped that trick in the first part and repeating it would have been boring. But the film definitely had a bit less suspense for the talking. And the impact of Djimon Honsou (Serenity) was less than I’d have hoped for, though I appreciate Krasinski’s strong choices again for the story and structure.

If you liked the first part of this tale, you do have to see the second. Watching the characters grow (literally and emotionally) isn’t something you get often enough anymore. Natural sequels are hard to come by, but this found a way.

A Quiet Place Part II Poster

How I Became a Superhero (Comment je suis devenu super-héros)

[3.5 stars]

Every time you think this genre has been tapped out, someone comes up with a fresh or entertaining entry. This French police procedural/superhero tale creates a rich world full of humor and complex characters, but with some solid bite and depth to make it interesting. All the more impressive it’s coming from a first time director, Douglas Attal.

In the focus of the story, Pio Marmaï draws us in with an unexpected charm and a character who slowly peels back layers with every scene. He is initially easy to pigeon hole and dismiss, as even his partner, Vimala Pons, is tempted to do. But she, like us, realize there is something more there worth digging into. And, with the help of Leïla Bekhti and Benoît Poelvoorde (The Brand New Testament), society is protected from Swann Arlaud (Romantics Anonymous). But the story is not quite as straight forward as that. Nor would you want it to be.

Definitely queue this up if you at all like the genre. It’s clever, funny, and with a nice French edge to it all that keeps it from becoming too much anything else.

How I Became a Superhero Poster

Bosch (series finale)

[4 stars]

There is nothing more wonderful for a show than to go out on a high, and Bosch most definitely did. In many ways, this was their best season yet, though it stood and relied on all the underpinnings of the previous 6.

Titus Welliver (Escape Plan 2: Hades) embodied Connelly’s detective. He created a tough, thoughtful man, driven by justice more than rules, but very specific about when he’s willing to color outside the lines.

Supported by Jamie Hector as his slightly messed up partner and Amy Aquino (The Lazarus Effect) as his strong but besieged Captain, he’s navigated multiple crimes and corruption, joy and tragedy. Lance Reddick (Sylvie’s Love) as the Chief of Police certainly contributed to both sides of that equation over time. And, as comic relief (often with more than a little edge) Troy Evans and Gregory Scott Cummins as the OG detective partners in the room make the best old married couple on TV.

Madison Lintz grew with the show as Bosch’s daughter. We got to watch her find her feet as an actor and a character. By the end, she has found her footing, with the surprising help of Mimi Rogers, and has blended the best of Bosch and her mother.

There is little doubt where the series had to end, given some of the changes that were made when it was adapted. Both readers and watchers will feel a sense of completion with the arc, regardless of how they came to it. Despite a number of parallel threads running through the season, all are tied up nicely (and one perhaps a bit too conveniently, but was necessary for dramatic effect). And there is still room for it to go forward if they execute on the rumors that are circulating. Suffice to say, if you enjoy police procedural, this is one of the best done in a long time. It is, in some ways, the male counterpart to Prime Suspect, but with a very different perspective and a very different set of flaws.

Bosch Poster

Fear Street: Part 2-1978

[3 stars]

When last we left our story in 1994, we thought we had an idea of what was going on…only to be disabused of that at the very end. So here we are in 1978 to learn more. Leigh Janiak returns to continue guiding the story, and this time it’s decidedly darker.

Gone is the wry humor, though there is a certain amount of sarcasm. Gone is the light fun. This one is deadly serious and angsty; much more a typical slasher in the woods film than the previous. Janiak captures the era in color pallet and sensibility nicely, but I did miss the fun of the first part. A change in her co-writer to the up-and-coming Zak Olkewicz probably helped inform that shift.

That said, the cast and her direction continues to impress: Embracing the genre and running with it while still managing to keep it female forward. The additions of Sadie Sink (Stranger Things), Emily Rudd, and Ted Sutherland to the sprawling tale also worked nicely. The three drive the majority of the action and expand what we know of the characters and the mystery from the ’94 frame.

Fear Street is turning out to be a wonderfully crafted, long story. As a series of movie releases over months or years, it would have been a frustrating wait and lose momentum. As a three week sequence it is building nicely and keeping me engaged. I’m curious to see how it continues to evolve into the 1666 origin time-frame and if it can pay off. But, even if it falls flat, the first two are credible horror flicks, full of fun, mayhem, surprises, and nice twists to the genre.

Fear Street Part Two: 1978 Poster

Lupin (parts 1 & 2)

[4 stars]

In an entertainment landscape where we’ve been trained to want and expect chases, explosion, and gunfights, it’s so nice to have a high-concept mystery show again that is about tension and cleverness. I know there are others out there, but this feels new and different, even if it’s based on 100 year old books.

I will admit, the main core of the fight that Omar Sy (Inferno) wages against the truly repellant Hervé Pierre got a little tiresome at points during the sequence. But I also admit that by the end of the second part, it all paid-off wonderfully.

Where the first part focuses on the crime and revenge, the second focuses more on the people around Lupin and the bonds that hold them. Getting to see some of the backstory and expansion of characters like Antoine Gouy and Clotilde Hesme (The Returned) was great fun. And the continued development of Soufiane Guerrab’s (Moloch) put-upon detective becomes a wonderful evolution in the tale.

Much like the original books, the story feels very “managed,” for lack of a better word. It is relatively easy to get ahead of it all well before the end. The clues are there in both the script and structure. But, honestly, it didn’t matter. Lupin is about the pay-off and the fun; it has both. And a third part on the way that I am hoping will help it break free of the current main story and move on to a new mystery. Honestly, this one has played out and continuing it would devolve into bad telenovella territory, regardless of how interesting the characters are. In the meantime, if you haven’t discovered or tried Lupin yet, queue it up.

Lupin Poster

Daniel Isn’t Real

[3 stars]

Imaginary friends in psychological horror films are far from new. But this entry into the mix by Adam Egypt Mortimer (Archenemy) is actually rather well done. It manages to skirt all the questions such on-screen situations raise without committing to any one answer till it decides it wants to or needs to.

Miles Robbins (Halloween) is the main focus of this story, along with his “friend,” given creepy life by  Patrick Schwarzenegger (Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse). The two have a fun dynamic that progresses by degrees as you’d expect it to. Adding fuel to the fire are romantic and artistic interest Sasha Lane (Utopia) and, as his mother, Mary Stuart Masterson (Blindspot).

Robbins spends the film balancing what he thinks he wants and knows, with what he fears is really happening. Chukwudi Iwuji (John Wick: Chapter 2) provides a voice of reason… mostly. By the time the wheels all come off, everyone’s choices become suspect, though Lane’s approach remains credible and strong.

Figuring out what this movie is going to be is half the fun. It isn’t easy to pick apart and doesn’t quite follow the paths you expect. In the end you get the story Mortimer intends, but whether that is one you’ll agree with or even like is going to be a matter of taste. He could have done more with it, but he also needed to keep the tale moving because his audience was going to constantly be trying to leap ahead. The pacing never really allows that to happen in a way that spoils the story. On purely craft grounds, I think this one is worth it if you like the horror genre. And it’s way more satisfying than the similar attempt (in craft) in the also recent Flashback.

Daniel Isn't Real Poster

Moloch

[3.5 stars]

Part of the fun of this series is that you’re never quite sure what it is nor how it will play out. Police procedural, investigative journalism, psychological drama, or supernatural horror?

The story spins around two main characters. Psychologist Olivier Gourmet and newbie journalist, Marine Vacth. Both have complex and dark backstories and a challenging present. And both deliver layered performances. Not always sympathetic but ultimately believable, though that isn’t always clear at the time.

Three minor characters also come into play. Alice Verset, Marc Zinga, and Soufiane Guerrab (Lupin). We learn less about each of these individuals than I’d have liked, but it’s all sufficient to purpose. Only Zinga’s character grated; the script forces him onto a path that is more than a little questionable.

But overall this is a dark, fun ride. And the series is self-contained, leaving it feeling fully resolved. Which isn’t to say it’s all tied up with a nice little bow, simply that all the important elements have natural conclusions and the open questions are fun to contemplate.

The Ice Road

[3 stars]

A couple things you should know as preamble. One, I hate cold. I’ve lived in some of the coldest parts of the US and finally gave it up for the Pacific Northwest and its more temperate weather… in theory anyway. Which leads us to number two, the day I watched this film it was a record setting 107 degrees. Which made the ice I typically hate a sort of mental balm to the several day inferno we were experiencing. I figured context is only fair.

With that in mind, suffice to say that Liam Neeson (Honest Thief) is at it again. This time he’s a big-rig trucker with an injured, veteran brother trying to save miners from disaster and, potentially, nefarious goings on. But, amusingly, despite Neeson and Laurence Fishburne (Where’d You Go Bernadette?) being the clear names on this marquee, it’s Amber Midthunder (Legion) who walks away with the best lines and more memorable role.

Jonathan Hensleigh directed and wrote a serviceable action/thriller, but only just barely. The script is often cringeworthy, but some of the rig gigs are impressive; think early Fast and Furious but with really big vehicles.

Even when the bones of the movie got weak, it certainly helped keep me in a cool state of mind. But the story is utterly transparent and the fight scenes are often just not as exciting as you’d like them to be. However, it was a diverting couple hours and not unwatchable. And it definitely treads somewhat new ground for the genre.

The Ice Road Poster

Shadow in the Cloud

[4 stars]

Talk about an unexpected thrill-ride from beginning to end. Roseanne Liang directed and co-wrote this, with Max Landis (Bright), as her Sophomore offering. And it is damned impressive.

Chloë Grace Moretz (Tom and Jerry) dominates this film. From the opening credits she embodies her strongest female role since her Kick-Ass days. The story is tightly focused on Moretz, her actions and her reactions. As her character is slowly revealed, we are constantly re- evaluating what we think we know. There are several male characters, but who cares? They exist solely as fodder to Moretz’s tale.

In the center of it all, acting as engine to the machine, is one of the biggest McGuffins I’ve seen in a while…simply because it is so iconic. The movie opens with a war-time cartoon that sets up this horror piece of the story. If you’ve ever seen Nightmare at 20000 Feet you have a sense of what’s coming (or think you do anyway).

The rest is an unbelievably tense ride. Like Pitch Black, once this one starts downhill, it goes at breakneck speed and never relents. And it ends on a hugely satisfying tableau.

Make time for this one. It is ostensibly a horror film, but it is so much more than that as well, even managing to pay homage to the WACs and WASPs of WWII. I can’t wait to see what Liang offers up next if this was any indication of her ability and eye.

Shadow in the Cloud Poster