By Alex McPherson

Well, dear readers, the time has sadly come for the conclusion of director Leigh Janiak’s “Fear Street” series. Fortunately, “Part 3:1666” ends the trilogy in an emotionally fulfilling, adrenaline-fueled fashion.

Without going too far into spoiler territory, “1666” sees Deena (a wonderful-as-ever Kiana Madeira) being transported back in time in Sarah Fier’s body, originally played by Elizabeth Scopel, to witness the origins of the curse that’s haunted Shadysiders ever since. The film features a new cast of characters, but most of them are portrayed by the same actors from former installments, some of whom adopt similar dynamics. Most notably, this includes Olivia Scott Welch, who plays Sarah’s love interest in “1666,” as well as Sam, Deena’s lover, in 1994. Ashley Zukerman, who embodies Sheriff Goode in 1994, also makes a meaningful return as Sarah’s friend Solomon, who holds his own secrets.  

Although there are opportunities for hard-working Sarah to relax, her story is relentlessly grim — containing themes of superstition, intolerance, and hatred of the Other that have remained prevalent throughout human history. As Sarah finds herself embroiled in a web of deceit, misogyny, and fateful events that have long-lasting repercussions on Shadyside’s future, there’s little hope for escape. Once her tragic ordeal wraps up, Janiak sends viewers back to 1994 once again, as Deena, Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.), C. Berman (Gillian Jacobs), and janitor Martin (Darrell Britt-Gibson) attempt to rescue Sam from demonic possession and use their newfound knowledge to finally end the curse.

Tonal inconsistency notwithstanding, “1666” is a disturbing, intelligent, and rewarding finale that successfully ties up loose ends while enhancing what’s come before. Janiak delivers an experience with more layers than both “1994” and “1978,” capping off the overarching narrative with panache. 

“Fear Street” has progressively grown creepier with each entry, and “1666” is the eeriest of the bunch. Indeed, by bringing viewers back into such an antiquated period, the film is able to distill its horror into a more potent, disquieting brew. Most plot developments even feel scarily plausible on some level, drawing comparisons to the Salem Witch Trials. Along with convincing set design and a more immersive atmosphere than its predecessors, “1666” is able to conjure dread-inducing moments aplenty. Janiak’s serious-minded approach, at least for the first half, underscores the monstrousnesses of Sarah’s bigoted townsfolk just as much as the actual supernatural forces at play.

It’s initially jarring to be sent so far back in time and see actors we’ve grown attached to inhabiting different people, with questionable accents, but Janiak uses this dissonance for subversive effect. Throughout the films, for instance, the Shadyside curse inspires a sense of fatalism in many residents that they’re stuck in an endless cycle of death and alienation from the outside world. Seeing recognizable faces where it all began heightens viewers’ desire to see Deena and friends right the wrongs of the past in the present, attempting to break the pattern once and for all.

Additionally, forbidden love rests at the heart of Sarah’s flashback, and “1666” is able to use that connection to forge an attachment with her from the get-go, utilizing viewers’ investment in Deena and Sam’s relationship to heighten poignancy and encourage reflection on biases that carry over across timelines. Sarah remains an intriguing character on her own, and her plight is easy to become invested in as she gradually begins to doubt herself yet retains bravery in the face of humanity’s worst instincts.  

With an ever-mounting sense of hopelessness, Sarah’s tale isn’t easy viewing, replacing subtlety with visceral impact, but it leaves a chilling aftertaste. Then, however, “1666” takes a hard left turn back into the self-aware, occasionally cheesy tone of “1994” to wrap things up. The tonal shift is certainly jarring for a bit, but once viewers become acclimated, there’s pleasure to be had in watching the heroes make their triumphant last stand — not just for themselves, but for the future of Shadyside itself. 

Some elements, like the major plot twist, feel undercooked, and the second half resembles the largely scare-less final act of “1994,” yet it’s still oh-so-fun to see what happens to these courageous characters. For all the haunted-house-roller-coaster pacing, the revelation effectively adds a new layer to the previous films, encouraging viewers to rewatch them and examine how all the pieces fit together. 

Whether or not viewers can overlook the semi-fractured feel of “1666,” there’s little denying that Janiak and company have created an impressive whole, one that has matured over its duration to form an ambitious, albeit far-fetched, allegory targeting resonant societal truths. There’s definitely imperfections to be found in each film, but Janiak’s R. L. Stine-inspired project reaches its stride in “1666,” leaving the door open for future adventures in Shadyside.

“Fear Street Part 3: 1666” is the last film in a 2021 trilogy now streaming on Netflix, adapted from R.L. Stine’s book series. Directed by Leigh Janiak, it stars Kiana Madeira, Benjamin Flores Jr., Gillian Jacobs and Ashley Zukerman. Rated R for strong violence and gore, language, some sexuality and brief drug use, it runs 1 hour, 54 minutes. Alex’s Grade: A-.

By Lynn Venhaus
The pleasure of seeing actresses have a blast going gangster is one of the joys of the interestingly titled “Gunpowder Milkshake.”

However, that big plus can’t overcome the minuses. With a graphic novel-comic book-video game feel, the look is cool — but the characters are as thin as the by-the-numbers story.

As a professional assassin, Scarlet (Lena Headey), was forced to abandon her daughter Sam and go on the run. Cut to years later, and a grown-up Sam (Karen Gillan) is a cold-blooded hitwoman. Like mother, like daughter.

After a high-stake mission gone-wrong has unleashed a gang war, Sam has gone rogue, with an innocent 8-year-old Emily (Chloe Coleman) in tow. Sam reconnects with her mother and her former sidekicks, also lethal hitwomen with specific skill sets. An avenging war ensues.

This over-the-top action movie is heavy on fantasy. Seriously, how many females, dealing with numerous infirmities and adversity, can be relentless one-woman wrecking crews, even if they are professional assassins?

There is an excessive body count, featuring a plethora of bad guys’ heads rolling, squished, shot, stabbed and maimed in multiple bloodbaths. Some are in slow-motion, other fights are martial arts focused, and editor Nicolas De Toth makes sure blood spurts often.

Israeli director Navot Papushado, who also co-wrote the script with Ehud Lavski, must idolize kitschy maestro Quentin Tarantino, for he tries to emulate his blood-drenched films, in particular “Kill Bill, Vol. 1 and 2,” through a stylized – and farcical – approach.

Cinematographer Michael Seresin alternates between grit and an unreal quality to film the scenes, and David Scheunemann, the production designer, follows suit. The color palette is striking, using neon colors and artificial set pieces that resemble music videos, such as a diner, bowling alley, abandoned mall and an old-school library/museum.

But those diner milkshakes look fake, which is annoying.

Music is an incessant component in the movie, with Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart” effective to punctuate a brutal shoot-out. Composer Haim Frank Ilfman has propulsive music to escalate the combat and a keen ear for a hipster soundtrack.    

Lithe Karen Gillan, who made a name for herself as Amy Pond in “Doctor Who” and broke through as Nebula in “The Guardian of the Galaxy” films, demonstrates spunk and agility as she mows down the male goons.

An 8-year-old girl, who becomes Sam’s “apprentice,” is played with savvy and poise by veteran child actress Chloe Coleman, who was in last year’s “My Spy” and the HBO mini-series “Big Little Lies.”

The angle here is that three generations of women are empowered to fight for survival in this escalating gang war. But it is uneven in attention.

For instance, Sam’s mother, Scarlet, is played by “Game of Thrones” Lena Headey, but she is only seen in the beginning and then re-appears before two climactic showdowns. Yes, not one, but two.

Mom’s fierce sisterhood of Carla Gugino as Madeleine, Michelle Yeoh as Florence and Angela Bassett as Anna May are not used nearly enough, which is a shame, because they mow down guys with inventive implements of destruction once their ‘house’ is breached.

It is a lot, and wait, there’s more. Don’t try to make sense of it all because it is not going to add up.

The generic, formulaic script doesn’t help itself with the antagonists having such a bland name as The Firm ( the shady suits who direct the mayhem). Usually reliable Paul Giamatti, as their facilitator, doesn’t fare much better.

The director displays some panache, so it’s not all misguided. It needed a better, more substantive script to connect with the stylish format.

Nevertheless, fans of such genre films may not mind the lack of originality. At first glance, the film seemed to have potential as a female-heavy “Baby Driver,” but wound up a very lukewarm “John Wick” wannabe, a disappointment.

“Gunpowder Milkshake” is a 2021 action-thriller directed by Navot Papushado and stars Karen Gillan, Lena Headey, Carla Gugino, Paul Giamatti, Angela Bassett, Michelle Yeoh and Chloe Coleman. Rated R for strong bloody violence throughout and language, the runtime is 1 hour, 55 minutes. The film began streaming on Netflix July 14. Lynn’s Grade: C.

By Alex McPherson

Director Leigh Janiak’s “Fear Street Part 2: 1978,” based on R.L. Stine’s novels, lacks the spark of the first installment, but still delivers a moderately engaging slasher throwback with bucketloads of gore.

After the ridiculous events of “Fear Street Part 1: 1994,” Deena (Kiana Madeira) and Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.) meet up with C. Berman (Gillian Jacobs), a survivor of the 1978 Camp Nightwing massacre, hoping to learn how to end Sarah Fier’s witchy curse.

As the traumatized woman recounts her experiences, viewers are transported back to Camp Nightwing to witness what transpired. The protagonist is Cindy Berman (Emily Rudd), an uptight, goodie two-shoes camp counselor who becomes aggravated when other supervisors prioritize drugs and sex over doing their jobs. Her sister, the trouble-making Ziggy (Sadie Sink), holds a nihilistic view towards life — remaining an outcast among fellow campers, but a friend of counselor and future Shadyside sheriff Nick Goode (Ted Sutherland), as well as being a victim to nonstop bullying from mean girl Sheila (Chiara Aurelia), who insists that Ziggy’s an actual witch. 

Just in time for the camp’s annual “Color War,” a capture-the-flag-esque event in which the vicious rivalry between Shadysiders and their stuck-up Sunnyvale neighbors rears its head in full force, things start to get creepy. After Nurse Lane (Jordana Spiro) violently confronts Cindy’s innocent boyfriend, Tommy Slater (McCabe Slye), suspicions arise as to whether Fier’s curse has returned. Cindy, accompanied by a few others including her ex-best friend, an irritating mumbler named Alice (Ryan Simpkins), attempt to find out what’s going on themselves. You guessed it, dear readers, all hell breaks loose, and the body count grows scene by scene. Can Cindy, Ziggy, and company make it out alive, or are they doomed to perish in a seemingly never-ending murder spree by an axe-wielding attacker?

Lacking the craftsmanship of “1994” regarding character depth and creativity, “1978” ends up being a fairly straightforward genre film that’s above average, but represents a downgrade from the trilogy’s opener. The second entry loses much of the adventurous fun of “1994,” coming across as rather dour, bleak, and unforgiving in comparison — full of cliches, yet promising better things to come in “Part 3.”

It’s clear that Janiak is attempting to tackle a different tone than “1994,” more akin to “Friday the 13th” than “Stranger Things.” In keeping with the change, “1978” begins rather generically once Berman begins her story, setting up the atmosphere of Camp Nightwing in a way that mostly doesn’t break from formula.

“1978” is a definite slow-burn compared to its predecessor, taking time to get underway, but effectively conveying a sun-drenched retreat with a dark heart and sickening future. Combined with a soundtrack of 70s era songs, Janiak once again captures the time period with a fitting attention to detail. In terms of camerawork, though, “1978” doesn’t feel as precise, featuring impressive tracking shots and spooky set design — enhanced by a sinister original score — but containing some dimly lit sequences and shaky cam that break immersion.

The batch of characters are decidedly inconsistent, but a few are explored meaningfully. Among them are Cindy and Ziggy, whose tensions are grounded in reality and easy to sympathize with. Living with a single parent and barely able to keep their house, the rift between them — with Cindy trying to support their family and Ziggy being increasingly pessimistic — is huge, but just like in “1994,” Janiak shows how frayed bonds can strengthen under shared threats. Rudd and Sink both give poignant performances and have solid chemistry with one another. Their dialogue is largely convincing, but interactions overall are missing the playful dynamic present in “1994.” 

The “Shadyside Curse” rests at the heart of characters’ conflicts in “1978,” creating a sense of existential dread in their fates seeming out of their control — accentuated by Alice’s character, a young woman who uses drugs to compensate for her mental struggles. Nick Goode’s character is also cleared up a bit from “1994,” as he gradually falls for Ziggy and considers what the supernatural events entail for his career in Shadyside.

The remainder of the characters adopt boringly plain archetypes — the attention-seeking leader, promiscuous hippie, etc. — and viewers don’t spend much time with them before they’re graphically murdered (younger campers are often slain off-screen). They certainly have a lot of blood to spill, on the other hand. Indeed, “1978” almost goes overboard here, rendering many saps expendable fodder for the big baddie.

Speaking of, Janiak’s film feels limited by only having a single main threat for the characters to face, relegated to using a single weapon. “1994” was far more unpredictable in its kills, and while “1978” never ceases to shock, the violence starts to feel repetitive by the end credits. At least the sequences surrounding the destruction are more suspenseful this time around, feeling more frantic and distressing than before, as the leads scramble to save their friends and loved ones while trying to figure out what’s really going on. 

With nearly as many flaws as strengths, “1978” fails to reach the heights of the original, but still offers its own gruesome, albeit unimaginative, pleasures. If nothing else, the film successfully builds hype for “Part 3,” which takes place in 1666 and details the background of Fier’s execution. There’s plenty more questions to answer and scares to be had, and I’m ready for the trilogy to surprise me once again.

“Fear Street Part 2: 1978” is part of a movie trilogy on Netflix, the first set in 1994 and the next one in 1666. Directed by Leigh Janiak, it stars Emily Rudd, Sadie Sink and Gillian Jacobs. Rated R for bloody horror violence, sexual content, nudity, drug use, and language throughout, its run time is 1 hour, 49 minutes. The movie began streaming on Netflix July 9. Alex’s Grade: B-

By Lynn Venhaus

A poorly constructed storyline squanders a good cast in “Things Heard & Seen,” an unsatisfying adaptation of the bestselling novel “All Things Cease to Appear” by Elizabeth Brundage.

When George Claire (James Norton) accepts a teaching offer at a small liberal arts college in the Hudson Valley, he relocates his wife, Catherine (Amanda Seyfried), a Manhattan artist, and their 4-year-old daughter Franny (Ana Sophia Heger) to an old farmhouse. The home has a dark history and sinister things start happening.

Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini seem to be odd choices to write and direct this multi-generational story that abandons that idea. They were Oscar-nominated for the screenplay of “American Splendor,” which they directed.

However, they can’t make up their mind whether to concentrate on being a paranormal activity horror film or a thriller about a sociopathic husband. Pick a lane, people – and neither is convincing.

James Norton, a British actor last seen as Meg’s husband in Greta Gerwig’s 2019 “Little Women,” is an implausible cad with a wandering eye – picking up chicks at the local library with his daughter in tow. He is built up as a golden boy, a hotshot art historian whose students worship him, but then turns deceitful on a dime.

Of course, he doesn’t believe his wife about her supernatural suspicions. A feeble Amanda Seyfried, whose character is bulimic, seems lost in this stale role. A controlling George thinks she’s losing it – no surprise there. And she is thoroughly in the dark about his duplicitous double life. When she starts suspecting a crack in his façade, the ghosts turn into sympathetic pals.

The old house is another character, with signs of ghosts that are often used in unimaginative genre films. The set-up early on is where someone should scream “Get out of the house now!” Naturally, the rambling homestead is a remote place, and set in 1980, there is no modern technology that could be used for rescues.

The supporting cast includes Oscar winner F. Murray Abraham as the erudite art department chair, Rhea Seehorn as a sassy weaver on the faculty, Karen Allen as the town realtor, Michael O’Keefe as her husband, also the town sheriff, and Natalia Dyer as a cynical coed. You’d expect that they would have more to do, but nope – rather wasted instead of serving the plot.

With a few genuine moments of suspense, you see where it had potential, but several teases of substantive developments go nowhere, leading to one of the more ridiculous endings in recent memory.

As the third act rushes to conclusion – and people wind up injured or dead after confronting the horrible husband about his misdeeds – one figures out that this has been a huge waste of time.

The only way to enjoy any part of this movie is to revel in the bad dialogue. If you go in realizing that this film is trash, you might have fun with it.

Otherwise, the lack of cohesiveness will be frustrating.

Amanda Seyfried

“Things Heard & Seen” is a 2021 horror-thriller directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, starring Amanda Seyfried, James Norton, F. Murray Abraham, Rhea Seehorn, Natalia Dyer, Karen Allen, Michael O’Keefe. It runs 2 hours, 1 minute and is rated TV-MA. It is now streaming on Netflix. Lynn’s Grade: D-

By Lynn Venhaus
Zippy and clever, “The Mitchells vs. The Machines” is a cross between a fun family adventure with the Griswolds and a fast-paced sci-fi thriller in the mold of “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.”

With Phil Lord and Christopher Miller the producers, Oscar winners for the innovative “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” and creators of “The LEGO Movie,” you expect good humor, creative animation and funny people voicing the characters, and they raise the bar once again. Writer-director Mike Rianda delivers a work that is not only entertaining but surprisingly warm-hearted.

An ordinary family finds themselves challenged to save the world from a robot apocalypse. Creative daughter Katie (Abbi Jacobson) has been accepted into the film school of her dreams, so her nature-loving dad (Danny McBride) insists on a family road trip to get her there. Upbeat Mom (Maya Rudolph) and quirky younger brother Aaron (Mike Rianda) are along for the ride when the machine uprising begins – oh, and their squishy pug Monchi too. They connect with two simple-minded robots to save humanity, combating smart phones, roombas, evil Furbys and renegade appliances.

Families can recognize themselves in the characters, which Rianda and co-writer Jeff Rowe have lovingly crafted, while its cautionary tale about unchecked technology, over-reliance on social media and losing connections with those you love the most is a valid one.

The contrast between the Mitchells – throwbacks to ‘60s and ‘70s sitcoms, complete with beat-up station wagon and roly-poly dog – with the high-tech modern world is well-drawn and thought-provoking.

The colorful animation is, of course, next level, in its action sequences and visual effects. Its vibrancy and sight gags are worth a second viewing. An Easter egg for St. Louisans, the Arch is one of the landmark attractions seen across the U.S.

The voice actors ideally suit their characters, with the well-meaning but dorky dad voiced by Danny McBride an excellent foil for exasperated Katie, ready to try her wings at college, played by comic actress-writer Abbi Jacobson of “Broad City” fame and a veteran of Upright Citizens Brigade. SNL’s Beck Bennett, Fred Armisen and Conan O’Brien are funny as tech voices, with the biggest surprise Oscar winner Olivia Colman as the mad mastermind PAL. The actress, best known as Queen Elizabeth in “The Crown,” is a terrific villain.

The charming and delightful “The Mitchells vs. The Machines” is a welcome vehicle to gather the whole family to watch – and all too rare these days for such a broad shared experience.

THE MITCHELLS VS. THE MACHINES – Mike Rianda as “Aaron Mitchell”. Cr: ©2021 SPAI. All Rights Reserved.

“The Mitchells vs. The Machines” is an action comedy animated feature, directed by Mike Rianda. Voice actors are Abbi Jacobson, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Mike Rianda, Eric Andre, Olivia Colman, Fred Armisen, Beck Bennett, Chrissy Teigen, John Legend, Conan O’Brien and Charlie Yi.
The film is 1 hour, 53 minutes and is rated PG for action and some language. Streaming on Netflix beginning April 30.

Lynn’s Take: A

By Lynn Venhaus
A sentimental journey for anyone who spent any part of the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s renting movies at video stores, “The Last Blockbuster” will put a smile on your face, just like the talking heads who react over a clamshell case by breaking into big grins. It is like a muscle memory, sharing that pop culture experience — and it’s fun and sad at the same time.

This documentary, directed by Taylor Morden and written by Zeke Kamm, is focused on the last remaining Blockbuster Video, located in Bend, Oregon. But then it turns into a blast from the past.

The world has moved on, but this movie reminds us of everything we associated with the home entertainment boom after Video Cassette Recorders, aka VCRs, became a mainstay in American households around 1982. The ritual of selecting movies with your children or date or friends, and then returning them in the dropbox, is chronicled here.

The first Blockbuster Video opened in Dallas in 1985, and video rentals had largely been small mom-and-pop operations until then. Now, there is just one place in the whole world where you can go to recall the past — a functioning Blockbuster in Bend, Oregon. It is all there, in the blue and yellow corporate color scheme. People are coming from around the globe, all giddy, to walk down memory lane.

The genial manager, Sandi Harding, is known as the “Blockbuster Mom.” Her family works there, so do friends, and she is responsible for many a teenager in town’s first job. She provides quality customer service as she carries on the torch. Filmmakers capture “a day in the life” as she goes about her routine. She has received international fame by being the subject of global media coverage, and estimates she has done 500 interviews.

Famous folks talk about their part-time jobs when they were in school – including actors Adam Brody and Paul Scheer – while other comedians and actors share anecdotes, including Brian Posehn, Doug Benson, Ione Skye, Eric Close and Jamie Kennedy.

Director Kevin Smith, who broke through with his 1994 indie movie “Clerks”– about guys who worked in a video store, waxes nostalgic about the video phenomenon. He wonders if video stores may return as a niche market like record stores have.

In its heyday, Blockbuster had 9,000 stores and 60,000 employees, but technology moved on, and today, there is just one, after one nearby in Oregon shuttered, two in Alaska shut down in 2018 and a location in Perth, Australia, closed two years ago.

Bend is about 170 miles east of Portland. The store used to be Pacific Video, and the owners, Ken and Debbie Tisher, are interviewed. Because it is a franchise, and they have customers, they keep the doors open.

After a series of corporate missteps – did you know Blockbuster could have purchased Netflix when it was a mail-order DVD operation? – that are detailed by the business guys, and changes in habits and the evolving marketplace, its days were numbered.

Remember “No late fees”? What were they thinking? They lost a lot of money. Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy in 2010 and all the corporate-owned stores shut down in 2014.

Morden, who lives in Bend, began covering the store in 2017, wanting to preserve its history, as did writer Kamm.

Even in 86 minutes, the filmmakers are repetitive, and outside of people’s reminiscences and Harding’s story, there isn’t much substance.

But allow the wave of nostalgia to give you a warm glow, as the filmmakers have captured a bygone era that we now realize we miss.

Of course, Blockbuster isn’t the only corporate outfit that closed its video rental business – Family Video, the last bastion, is headed that way after the pandemic forced closing all its remaining stores (even in St. Louis, where Kevin Smith – yes, that Kevin Smith – donated money to help keep the Gravois Road one in south city afloat).

It’s certainly ironic that the company that is blamed for Blockbuster’s demise, the streaming service Netflix, added the 2020 documentary, which was on the festival circuit, to its roster March 15, and its popularity has exploded.

Recent news accounts report that the store is getting mail orders for T-shirts, stickers and face masks (all made by Bend businesses), and renewed interest.

It’s nice to see a well-intentioned film strike a chord about the community-building of neighborhood stores. And recalling how you’d discover a hidden gem because of the clerk’s recommendation – and us film critics alerting you to must-see movies.

Pop culture won’t forget our shared involvement, and like the store in Oregon, this movie conveys our collective memories, which is priceless.

Kevin Smith

“The Last Blockbuster” is a 2020 documentary directed by Taylor Morden. It stars Sandi Harding, her family, Kevin Smith, Eric Close, Doug Benson, Ione Skye, Adam Brody, Jamie Kennedy, Briah Posehn, and more. It is not rated and runs 1 hour, 26 minutes long. Lynn’s Grade: B+. It began streaming on Netflix March 15.

By Lynn Venhaus
The “Me Too” and “Time’s Up” movements gain allies at an Oregon high school, where the girl students discover their voices and power in unity in the sharply observed “Moxie.”

What is Moxie? It means “force of character, determination or nature,” according to the Oxford dictionary. This coming-of-age cause, based on a 2017 young adult novel by Jennifer Mathieu, grows in influence and energy.

An introverted 16-year-old girl discovers how the female student body is objectified and dismissed, and how pervasive the toxic masculinity is at her school. Fortified by her mother’s rebellious spirit during her youthful Riot Grrrl days, she anonymously publishes a zine, “Moxie!” that inspires the girls to band together and work towards changing the status quo.

Directed by Amy Poehler with a keen sense of Generation Z and its conflicts, this movie gets a lot right, particularly its target message.

The screenplay by Dylan Meyer and Tamara Chestna astutely points out that people aren’t perfect, it’s OK to mess up, be unsure and confused, but at least come away with purpose. The examples of casual sexism and double standards are spot-on as the sisterhood discovers the importance of feminism.

This engaging ensemble – subtly inclusive — portray refreshingly authentic characters.  The mother-and-daughter dynamic between Amy Poehler and Hadley Robinson is the key relationship.  As Vivian’s working single mom, Lisa guides her daughter in raging against the patriarchy but also as a steady strong parental presence.

Among the appealing cast of rising stars, Robinson shines as the shy Vivian, who summons a righteous anger to lead a revolution. Her dorky character’s growth is fun to watch as she develops new friendships and falls in love with once-geeky classmate Seth, who is kind and considerate. She will stumble and figure out how to be a force for good.

Newcomer Robinson, a Juilliard grad, was both the Laurey dancer in “I’m Thinking of Ending Things,” as well as one of the Tulsey Town girls, and Sallie Gardiner Moffat, one of Meg March’s friends, in Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women.”

The dream boyfriend is in the mold of Edward Cullen and other post-Twilight gallant guys, who are attentive to the girl’s needs and feelings. Nico Hiraga is a winning presence as the skateboarding dude who gained confidence after a summer growth spurt.

Each teen character has interesting layers, except for the clear villain, Mitchell Wilson, the popular but insufferable sexist quarterback who has gotten away with bullying because of his Big Man on Campus status. He is played with cocky assurance by Patrick Schwarzenegger, son of Arnold and Maria Shriver. It is a one-note character that’s too obvious.

But the rest of the fired-up girl squad engages with charm and personality. As transfer student Lucy, who stands up for herself and reports harassment, Alycia Pascual-Pena excels, as does Lauren Tsai as mild-mannered Claudia, who carves her own path.

Sydney Park and Anjelica Washington are noteworthy as female athletes whose winning soccer team is largely ignored and in the shadow of the losing football team.

There are a few wobbly parts, and a climactic revelation adds darker drama in a too-neatly wrapped up final act.

And while it is more amiable than laugh-out-loud funny, “Moxie” distinguishes itself as cut-above the usual teen comedy. It is not your mom’s call to action, nor is it a fist-pump for only one generation — — and it brings up worthy elements to add to the current conversation.

“Moxie” is a teen comedy and romance directed by Amy Poehler, who also stars, along with Hadley Robinson, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Alycia Pascual-Pena, Marcia Gay Harden, Nico Hiraga, Ike Barinholtz and Lauren Tsai. The movie is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, strong language and sexual material, and some teen drinking and run time is 1 hour, 51 minutes. Lynn’s Grade: B. Available to stream on Netflix.

The Critics Choice Association (CCA) announced the winners of the 26th annual Critics Choice Awards LIVE on The CW during an in-person/virtual hybrid ceremony hosted for the third time by acclaimed film, television, and stage star Taye Diggs on Sunday, March 4.  The full list of winners can be found below. 

“Nomadland” led the winners in the film categories, taking home four awards including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay for Chloé Zhao, and Best Cinematography for Joshua James Richards.  Zhao is the first Chinese woman to win as either director or writer. 

“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” followed closely behind, winning three categories including Best Actor for the late Chadwick Boseman, Best Costume Design, and Best Hair and Makeup.  Best Actress was awarded to Carey Mulligan for “Promising Young Woman,” which also earned a Best Original Screenplay win for Emerald Fennell.  Best Supporting Actor went to Daniel Kaluuya for “Judas and the Black Messiah,” and Best Supporting Actress to Maria Bakalova for “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.”   

In the series categories, “The Crown” took four categories, the most of the night, winning Best Drama Series, Best Actor in a Drama Series for Josh O’Connor, Best Actress in a Drama Series for Emma Corrin, and Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for Gillian Anderson.  In the comedy genre, “Ted Lasso” won all three categories for which it was nominated: Best Comedy Series, Best Actor in a Comedy Series for Jason Sudeikis, and Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for Hannah Waddingham.  “The Queen’s Gambit” took the prize for Best Limited Series, and its leading lady Anya Taylor-Joy won Best Actress in a Limited Series or Movie Made for Television. 

The race for “Best Comedy Special,” which was dominated entirely by Netflix nominees, resulted in a tie between “Jerry Seinfeld: 23 Hours to Kill” and “Michelle Buteau: Welcome to Buteaupia.” 

As was previously announced, John David Washington presented this year’s SeeHer Award to his “Malcolm & Marie” co-star, Zendaya.  The SeeHer Award recognizes a woman who embodies the values set forth by the SeeHer movement, to push boundaries, defy stereotypes and acknowledge the importance of authentic portrayals of women across the entertainment landscape. 

After leading the nominations, Netflix also won the most awards of any studio/network with a total of 14.  Amazon Studios and Searchlight Pictures each won four. 

Critics Choice Awards are bestowed annually to honor the finest in cinematic and television achievement.  Historically, they are the most accurate predictor of Academy Award nominations. 

The 26th annual Critics Choice Awards show was produced by Bob Bain Productions and Berlin Entertainment.  The CCA is represented by Dan Black of Greenberg Traurig. 

Follow the 26th annual Critics Choice Awards on Twitter and Instagram @CriticsChoice and on Facebook/CriticsChoiceAwards.  Join the conversation using #CriticsChoice and #CriticsChoiceAwards. 

FILM CATEGORIES 

BEST PICTURE 

Nomadland (Searchlight Pictures) 

BEST ACTOR 

Chadwick Boseman – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Netflix) 

BEST ACTRESS 

Carey Mulligan – Promising Young Woman (Focus Features) 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR 

Daniel Kaluuya – Judas and the Black Messiah (Warner Bros.) 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS 

Maria Bakalova – Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (Amazon Studios) 

BEST YOUNG ACTOR/ACTRESS 

Alan Kim – Minari (A24) 

BEST ACTING ENSEMBLE 

The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Netflix) 

BEST DIRECTOR 

Chloé Zhao – Nomadland (Searchlight Pictures) 

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY 

Emerald Fennell – Promising Young Woman (Focus Features) 

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY 

Chloé Zhao – Nomadland (Searchlight Pictures) 

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY 

Joshua James Richards – Nomadland (Searchlight Pictures) 

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN 

Donald Graham Burt, Jan Pascale – Mank (Netflix) 

BEST EDITING – TIE  

Alan Baumgarten – The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Netflix) 

Mikkel E. G. Nielsen – Sound of Metal (Amazon Studios) 

BEST COSTUME DESIGN 

Ann Roth – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Netflix) 

BEST HAIR AND MAKEUP 

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Netflix) 

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS 

Tenet (Warner Bros.) 

BEST COMEDY 

Palm Springs (Hulu and NEON) 

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM 

Minari (A24) 

BEST SONG  

Speak Now – One Night in Miami (Amazon Studios) 

BEST SCORE 

Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, and Jon Batiste – Soul (Disney) 

SERIES CATEGORIES 

BEST DRAMA SERIES 

The Crown (Netflix) 

BEST ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES 

Josh O’Connor – The Crown (Netflix) 

BEST ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES 

Emma Corrin – The Crown (Netflix) 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES 

Michael K. Williams – Lovecraft Country (HBO)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES 

Gillian Anderson – The Crown (Netflix) 

BEST COMEDY SERIES 

Ted Lasso (Apple TV+) 

BEST ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES 

Jason Sudeikis – Ted Lasso (Apple TV+) 

BEST ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES 

Catherine O’Hara – Schitt’s Creek (Pop) 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES  

Daniel Levy – Schitt’s Creek (Pop) 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES 

Hannah Waddingham – Ted Lasso (Apple TV+) 

BEST LIMITED SERIES 

The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix) 

BEST MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION 

Hamilton (Disney+) 

BEST ACTOR IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION 

John Boyega – Small Axe (Amazon Studios) 

BEST ACTRESS IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION 

Anya Taylor-Joy – The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix) 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION 

Donald Sutherland – The Undoing (HBO) 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION   

Uzo Aduba – Mrs. America (FX) 

BEST TALK SHOW 

Late Night with Seth Meyers (NBC) 

BEST COMEDY SPECIAL – TIE  

Jerry Seinfeld: 23 Hours to Kill (Netflix) 

Michelle Buteau: Welcome to Buteaupia (Netflix) 

BEST SHORT FORM SERIES 

Better Call Saul: Ethics Training with Kim Wexler (AMC/Youtube) 

About the Critics Choice Association (CCA)  

The Critics Choice Association is the largest critics organization in the United States and Canada, representing more than 400 television, radio and online critics and entertainment reporters. It was established in 2019 with the formal merger of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association, recognizing the blurring of the distinctions between film, television, and streaming content. For more information, visit: www.CriticsChoice.com.  

By Alex McPherson

Featuring an incredible lead performance from Rosamund Pike, “I Care A Lot” is a darkly comedic roller coaster ride from start to finish. 

Marla Grayson (Pike) bases her life around taking advantage of senior citizens through fraudulent guardianships. In an unforgiving world, she believes only the most cutthroat will succeed. Once she or her girlfriend, Fran (Eiza González), finds a well-off elder, Marla acquires court permission to install herself as their “legal guardian.” She then takes charge of their finances and imprisons them in a care facility where they’re cut off from the outside world — all the while draining the poor saps of their money and sense of self.   

Suffice it to say, Marla is a stone cold sociopath. She exerts a palpable influence on those around her and rarely loses control of any situation she’s in. When she targets Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest), Marla garners the attention of Jennifer’s donut-loving son, Roman Lunyov (Peter Dinklage), who also happens to be a sadistic drug smuggler. Marla and Fran must reckon with the deadly consequences. 

With shades of “Sorry to Bother You” and “Uncut Gems” sprinkled throughout, director J Blakeson’s film makes up for its lack of substance with memorable characters and an unpredictable plot.

Indeed, there aren’t many sympathetic folks in this story of greed, opportunism, and the American Dream. Viewers looking for people to root for won’t find any here. On the other hand, much of the fun of “I Care A Lot” comes from watching them destroy each other in a bloody battle of wits. As the stakes escalate for Marla and Fran, the film only grows more entertaining — not holding up to much scrutiny, but clever enough to leave a lasting impression.

Marla is a cunning, calculating, and compulsive individual. She’s able to shift personas on a whim to match different situations, always aware of her manipulative power and unflinching in the face of threats to her personal safety. These threats are usually toothless, until now. Pike absolutely dominates the screen, capturing her character’s heartlessness in a way that dares viewers to question her strength. Marla will snatch any opportunity to increase her wealth, always planning two steps ahead of her competition. It’s undeniably satisfying watching her pull strings for her personal gain — her razor-sharp dialogue simultaneously humorous and disheartening. 

 A troubled past is alluded to, but Blakeson doesn’t give Marla an involved backstory. Rather, she is an enigma who nevertheless cares deeply for her lover, Fran. This bond, though underdeveloped, gives Marla a shred of humanity despite her vile behavior.

The film’s clean, glossy shot compositions early on reflect Marla’s mastery of an amoral system disguised by artificial warmth. Later on, however, we’re able to see Marla stripped of her safety and command of the proceedings. The film’s style changes accordingly, evocative of a graphic novel and the volatile figure at the heart of it.

Marla’s a compelling antihero, earning some hard-earned respect by the film’s conclusion, but always remaining emotionally distanced. The other characters aren’t nearly as interesting, but there’s still a few standouts. Dinklage gives a scene-stealing performance as Roman, an unstable crime boss who, in a neat twist, actually has more sympathetic motivations than Marla does. Wiest is also wonderful, keeping viewers on edge regarding who Jennifer actually is.

Propelled by an eerie, synth-heavy score by Marc Canham, “I Care A Lot” moves along at a swift pace, but falters a bit by its heavy-handed finale. Plot holes abound, and Blakeson misses an opportunity to explore Marla’s psychology in more depth. Similarly, the film doesn’t add anything particularly unique in terms of social commentary — spotlighting a real-world issue of corrupt conservatorships, but adding little else to the conversation, launching itself into the firmly unbelievable.

Regardless of its missed potential, “I Care A Lot” is still a dastardly enjoyable film that fans of pitch black comedy should lap up.

“I Care a Lot” is a dark comedy thriller written and directed by J Blakeson, starring Rosamund Pike, Peter Dinklage, Dianne Wiest and Eiza Gonzalez. It is Rated R for language throughout and some violence, and the run time is 1 hour, 58 minutes. Alex’s Rating: B+. Available on Netflix as of Feb. 19. 

By Lynn Venhaus
Who knew watching people digging in the dirt would be so fascinating? That’s one of the surprising things about “The Dig,” which is based in fact and never dull.

Another revelation is how compelling the characters are – and that’s a credit to the fine performances, but also the script by Moira Buffini, who adapted John Preston’s 2007 book.

Seen through the eyes of the property owner and the modest working-class excavator, this thoroughly engaging film gives us an authentic account of how a 6th century ship is discovered underground and the battles it provokes.

In1938, Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan) hired local excavator Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) to dig into those mysterious mounds of earth on her Sutton Hoo property, near Suffolk. What he discovers is remarkable in its historical significance – an Anglo-Saxon ship, with a burial chamber, from the 6th century. It would become the largest archeological find in England. Museum officials start fighting over it, as do university archeologists. At this same time, the country is on the verge of going to war with Germany after Hitler invades Poland.

Mulligan is terrific as Pretty, the fiercely loyal wealthy widow who won’t allow Brown’s contributions to be minimized, even though the snobby museum professionals demean his lack of training.

Brown is a bit unorthodox. An expert digger, Fiennes convincingly conveys this humble man — his eccentricities, prowess and gratitude over Mrs. Pretty’s kindness.

This much-lauded duo delivers nuanced portraits of the real people who gave the story its heart, and their friendship is one of the story’s best elements. Child actor Archie Barnes is an important component as young Robert Pretty, Edith’s son who forms a strong bond with Brown.

The supporting cast is also strong. Lily James is a bright spot as a capable academic, Peggy Piggott, whose unhappiness with her inattentive husband (Ben Chaplin) grows.

Johnny Flynn, so good in “Emma” and “Beast,” shows his versatility as Rory Lomax, Edith’s relative who preserves the scene with his camera but joins the RAF during the big activity on the grounds. Monica Dolan plays sweet May Brown, Basil’s supportive wife.

Australian director Simon Stone respects both the history and the human nature in telling the story, and lets the atmosphere speak for itself.

The creative work is important in keeping us riveted. Maria Djurkovic’s earthy production design is one of awe and wonder, with cinematographer Michael Eley capturing the stunning landscapes. Costume designer Alice Babidge’s period work is impressive, and Stefan Gregory’s music score punctuates the action well.

In not-so-subtle ways, “The Dig” emphasizes life, death and time in a smart, richly textured and endearing work. Dig in!

THE DIG (L-R): CAREY MULLIGAN as EDITH PRETTY, RALPH FIENNES as BASIL BROWN. Cr. LARRY HORRICKS/NETFLIX © 2021 

“The Dig” is an historical drama directed by Simon Stone and starring Carey Mulligan, Ralph Fiennes, Lily James, Johnny Flynn, Ben Chaplin and Monica Dolan. Rated: PG-13 for brief sensuality and partial nudity, the film runs 1 hour, 52 minutes. Lynn’s Grade: A. In select theaters and on Netflix Jan. 29.