NOBODY

Well, this was fun. Written by John Wick’s creator and you can tell. No slack in its jam-packed running time. I love Hutch’s wrist tattoo: unsuited 2 and 7 playing cards. When you see that in Texas hold ’em, you fold immediately. It’s never explained, but in one scene, a threatening tough guy spots it, says “Thank you for your service,” and gets the hell outa there. Nuff said. FF=0

GUNPOWDER MILKSHAKE

(Amazon) – While “Jolt” owes a lot to Luc Besson, this owes a huge debt to “John Wick” re: the diner standing in for The Continental Hotel and the action choreography. The humor bordered on stupid and I found the neon palette of the cinematography off-putting. But I confess to being engaged. FF=2

BLOOD RED SKY

(Netflix) – this is unabashedly Draculas (by Crouch, Konrath, Strand, and myself) on a plane, right down to the fiery finale. The 2-hour running time stretches the story a bit much, and a little humor would have been welcome amid the tons of action and gore. FF=2

ICE ROAD

(Netflix) Not bad but utterly predictable. As soon as the trucks and drivers set out on their rescue mission, you know exactly who’s gonna live and who ain’t. Also predictable (considering it’s about trucks) is that it will devolve into a series of chase scenes (which I FF’d through). FF=3

THE TOMORROW WAR

(Prime Video) Lots of echoes here: “Alien,” “The Thing from Another World,” etc., but that’s fine. The aliens are suitably horrific. We know Chris Pratt has action chops, but he was surprisingly effective as a loving father too. Some nice twists and I especially liked the Arctic finale. FF=1

JOLT

(Prime Video) I can’t see how this film would exist without Luc Besson (I’m thinking of “Lucy” and “Anna” to which this owes a huge debt). I didn’t recognize Kate Beckinsale but did recognize Stanley Tucci and Bobby Cannavale. Lots of action (I’ve no regrets watching it) but it lacks Besson’s patented touch of insanity.  FF=1

THE FIRM

I caught a piece of this while surfing and decided to rent the DVD (again) because the snippet I saw looked pretty good. Glad I did. This is a well-done thriller. I’d forgotten how well done. (Well, it’s been almost 30 years.) The pacing is excellent, pulling you painlessly through the 2-1/2-hour running time. Tom Cruise, Gene Hackman, and Ed Harris, Wilford Brimley, Holly Hunter — even Gary Busey — are perfect for their roles.

THE MANDALORIAN

(lotsa spoilers)

Back in the day, when I was a new member of SFWA, we issued the SFWA Handbook, and in it we advised all SF writers to avoid the “space western.” It might be popular on TV (Star Trek was called “Wagon Train in space”) but the genre’s print editors weren’t interested.

It’s still popular on TV as evidenced by the acclaim for The Mandalorian on Disney+.  John Favreau, the writer and showrunner, has dipped into both the western bounty-hunter genre and the Japanese ronin films for inspiration.  The title character is a masked bounty hunter who does a good imitation of Clint Eastwood’s voice and wears a cape instead of a serape.

In the first three of the eight episodes we’re treated to a saloon shootout, some alien bronco busting, a desert town shootout, and the successful capture of the objective: a fifty year-old alien child you have no recourse but to call “Baby Yoda” (he’s not) who is terminally cute.  By the end of chapter 3 the Mandalorian has decided to take the child under his wing, which lands a price on his head and sets all the other bounty hunters after him.  (John Wick, anyone?)  I watched him stride along with the floating basinet beside him and said, “Lone Wolf and Cub.”  My daughter and grandson were watching with me but had no idea what I was talking about.

Episode 4 is a cut-down version of The Magnificent 7 (or Seven Samurai).  I say “cut down” because there are only two gunslingers (The Magnificent Duo?) – the Mandalorian and the hot but very scary Gina Carano.  I could go on but I won’t.  I must, however, mention the arrival of Gus Fring in the guise of Mof Gideon, and the very cool salute to the finale of The Wild Bunch in episode 8.

I’m not complaining about the homages (?) because I had fun identifying them, but going forward I hope for more original plotting.  I do see a problem with the Mandalorian religion forbidding him to show his face to another human being.  It’s a big drawback in that it’s so distancing.  This character is carrying the series but the helmet makes it very difficult to engage with him.  Even old Mount Rushmore Eastwood gave us something as the Man with No Name (he could do a lot with a squint).

 

 

 

 

THE ENDLESS

This is a lesson on how to convey cosmic horror, which needs to be experienced rather than explained. Most attempts at cosmic horror fail because of the human need for an explanation. You can’t explain the unknowable. Once you concretize and categorize a thing, it loses its ability to spark awe and wonder. No Cthulhus and Yog Sothoths wandering through here. The Endless stumbles toward the end when we learn the destiny of the cult, but it’s a small stumble that doesn’t mitigate the the pervasive, growing unease that permeates most of the film. This is the kind of film that frustrates hidebound imaginations because it doesn’t lay everything out for you tied up in a pretty ribbon. The viewer’s need to infer helps create the horror and is what makes it work. (As opposed to works that never really knew where they were going in the first place.) I’m hardly an elitist. I like jump scares and gross-outs as much as the next guy, but if you need those to define a horror film, skip this. It’s not for you.

CADILLAC RECORDS

I watched this blues docudrama for the 2nd time and loved it all over again. It’s the story of Chess Records, founded by the Chess brothers, two Polish immigrants who introduced Delta Blues and the original rock n’ roll to the airwaves, and thereby to the Rolling Stones who brought it to the masses. (Ever hear the instrumental “2120 South Michigan Avenue”? That’s the Chicago address of Chess Records.) The film mainly concerns only one of the Chess brothers: Leonard. Phil is barely there. (I don’t know why.) Jeffrey Wright is good as Muddy Waters but doesn’t look much like him. Mos Def and Eamonn Walker nail Chuck Berry and Howlin’ Wolf. And Beyonce owns Etta James. It’s narrated by Cedric the Entertainer as the great Willie Dixon. If you’ve ever liked a Delta blues or Chicago blues song (and who hasn’t?), you owe it to yourself to see this film.