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We’re all aware that sequels and franchises are the primary drivers of Hollywood’s economic engine. That’s the nature of the beast, so it’s something to which audiences have grown accustomed. But every so often, a sequel will come along that is surprising in that its very existence seems to be unnecessary, leaving you to wonder … how? Why?

“Sicario: Day of the Sodaldo” is one such head-scratcher, a sequel to 2015’s excellent “Sicario,” a taut, subversive thriller which starred Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro and wound up with a couple of Oscar nominations. “Sicario” was a really good movie – and a story that needn’t go on.

It seems that screenwriter Taylor Sheridan had more to tell, however, and so we get this weird and unexpected sequel; Stefan Sollima takes the reins from Denis Villeneuve. Blunt is gone, but Brolin and Del Toro are back. The result is a movie that isn’t nearly as thoughtful or challenging as its predecessor; the amorality of its primary figures is largely untempered. In essence, the first film’s misguided-but-present moral compass is replaced with gunfire and action-movie nihilism.

Published in Movies

Young adult fiction means different things to different people. The very label leaves loads of room for variance and interpretation. And while there are those who look down their nose at YA fiction, the reality is that there’s plenty of nuance and sophistication to the best work in the genre.

Maine author Gillian French’s work definitely demonstrates those qualities; her latest is “The Lies They Tell” (HarperTeen, $17.99), a thriller featuring a young woman trying to get to the bottom of a tragic mystery that haunts her small island town. Secrets and lies abound even as the dynamics between the town’s wealthy summer visitors and the year-round residents who serve them grow complicated.

Published in Style

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Stephen King is the preeminent American storyteller.

Apologies for my broken-recordness on the subject, but it always bears repeating – there is no one in American letters over the past half-century who has managed to be as prolific and as culturally relevant as Stephen King.

And there’s a reason the zeitgeist is awash with King-inspired and -adjacent properties. Not only have the majority of his iconic earlier works withstood the test of time, but his late-career renaissance puts on display a King who has evolved while still maintaining an unprecedented degree of narrative skillfulness.

Oh yeah – and his stuff is still REALLY scary.

King’s latest is “The Outsider” (Scribner, $30), a pulpy, propulsive tale reminiscent of some of his earlier highlights. Yet even as he elicits memories of his own creepy stylings from 30 years ago, he infuses that throwback thriller with pointed references to the present. The end result is a book that is somehow both Now and Then, where early King and late King combine with an eerie smoothness. It is dark and creepy and thought-provoking and engrossing – everything you hope for from Stephen King.

Published in Buzz
Tuesday, 15 May 2018 14:53

One bad mother – ‘Breaking In’

While it hasn’t reached the apex of home invasion movies, the subgenre of panic room thrillers has its place in the cinematic firmament. The notion of being (relatively) safe, yet still being trapped by the bad guys – usually with something to lose – is a resonant one and can make for some engaging, albeit fairly predictable, fare.

The new movie “Breaking In” attempts to subvert that basic structure. This time, the bad guys are the ones in the safe space and it’s up to our protagonist to find their way in and save the day. It’s not bad as ideas go – in the hands of really capable filmmakers, you could imagine this working quite well.

Alas, these filmmakers don’t appear to have that kind of capability. What we actually get is a poorly-paced ramble that never bothers to justify or explain the actions, events and decisions that play out on the screen. Gabrielle Union (“The Public”) does her level best in the lead – and gives a performance far better than this movie deserves – but that’s just not enough to overcome the jumbled blandness of literally everything else.

Published in Movies

One could make the argument that we’re currently in the midst of a horror movie renaissance. While the genre still offers up its share of misfires, horror has provided fertile ground for filmmakers looking to explore ideas big and small in sophisticated ways. It’s an arena where chances can still be taken. And when those risks pay off, you get some pretty great movies.

Movies like “A Quiet Place.”

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 27 March 2018 15:42

‘Unsane’ in the brain

Remember when Steven Soderbergh said he wasn’t going to make movies anymore?

Published in Movies

Bohjalian’s twist-laden mystery an energetic and exciting read

Published in Buzz
Wednesday, 25 October 2017 09:52

There’s nothing cool about ‘The Snowman’

Thriller utterly lacking in any redeeming qualities

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 04 October 2017 10:28

‘Flatliners’ dead on arrival

Hollywood’s current tendency toward remakes and reboots of preexisting properties isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes, the right filmmaking team can take an older idea and breathe new life into it, creating something that both honors the source material and brings something uniquely its own to the table. The end result can be a really enjoyable movie.

Other times, a filmmaking team can completely miss whatever it was that made a property engaging in the first place and create something that is utterly devoid of anything remotely resembling value – entertainment or otherwise. That end result can be a truly terrible movie.

A movie like “Flatliners.”

Published in Movies
Thursday, 28 September 2017 11:37

'Gerald's Game' well worth playing

We’re in the midst of a Stephen King moment.

If it seems like the master of horror has achieved a sort of pop culture ubiquity recently, well … that’s because he has. Big-screen cinematic projects (“IT,” “The Dark Tower”) and television series (“Mr. Mercedes,” “11/22/63,” “The Mist,” “Under the Dome”) have been abundant over the past couple of years, but the latest new offering lands somewhere in the middle.

Published in Movies
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