By Lynn Venhaus

With nods to “Back to the Future,” “The Terminator” and “Field of Dreams,” not to mention a 1949 hit song “Enjoy Yourself (It’s Later Than You Think)” by Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadiens, “The Adam Project” has a familiar but fun retro vibe that relies on its gifted cast to save the day.

This personality-driven science-fiction drama is a combo plate of movie themes set in a sci-fi time-travel world. The action is more video game than epic but has a sincere emotional center, working in a grieving family’s healing.

Pre-teen Adam Reed is small for his age but is quick with quips, and trying to cope with the death of his science professor dad Louis (Mark Ruffalo), who may have accidentally created time travel, as is his exasperated mom Ellie (Jennifer Garner). While home alone, a spacecraft lands in his backyard, piloted by his now-40-year-old buff self (Ryan Reynolds). “Big Adam” has come back from 2050 to find his endangered wife Laura (Zoe Saldana) but was aiming for 2018. They must work together to save the world, each other and strengthen their family ties.

Reuniting cheeky monkey Ryan Reynolds with his “Free Guy” director Shawn Levy, who has a knack for crowd pleasers (“A Night at the Museum,” “Stranger Things” TV series), this film capitalizes on the star’s strengths.

Reynolds, who looks like the Homecoming King but acts like the class clown who’s on the honor roll, rapidly delivers sarcasm and wisecracks in a jaunty way. He easily slips into renegade roles. Both Reynolds and Levy are producers here, and they demonstrate a collaborative spark (just announced that they will work on “Deadpool 3” together).

As Adam Reed, once a scrawny, nerdy kid with nimble verbal skills who grows up to be a buff fighter pilot, Reynolds quips and cajoles with the skills he’s shown in “Deadpool,” “Red Notice” and last summer’s surprise hit “Free Guy.”

He meets his match when he comes face-to-face with smart young Adam, his 12-year-old self in 2022 — Walker Scobell making his film debut, who is truly Reynolds’ mini-me. Together, they are very entertaining and use their powers for good.

It gets a little head-trippy when they go back to 2018, “Big” Adam’s intended target, and their dad is still alive. They have reason to believe his tech project financier Maya Sorian (Catherine Keener) is an unethical megalomaniac with only dollar signs in mind. Despite a brief appearance, Mark Ruffalo’s scruffy workaholic professor lends both gravitas and heart to the story.

Relatable Jennifer Garner plays Ellie Reed, Adam’s overwhelmed widowed mom, while Zoe Saldana, who knows a thing or two about sci-fi, having been in “Avatar” and the “Guardians of the Galaxy” series, effortlessly appears as Adam’s fierce warrior wife Laura, who has been missing and presumed dead.

That’s the thing about time travel – logic goes out the window, and the more you think about connecting the dots, the more your head hurts. Your brain needn’t work that hard about wormholes, quantum leaps, electro-magnetic particles, and time streams.

Four screenwriters are credited, starting with Jonathan Tropper, who adapted his novel for the 2014 film “This Is Where I Leave You,” starring Jason Bateman, Adam Driver, Corey Stoll and Tina Fey as siblings sitting shiva after their father’s death, which was directed by Levy.

T.S. Nowlin, who wrote “The Maze Runner” series, and Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin, who were Emmy-nominated for the “Big Mouth” animated series, were brought on board.

The dialogue is zippy and the action has genuine peril, although Sorian’s henchmen look more like Daft Punk than Stormtroopers.

As is the digital-age custom – and following James Gunn’s lead in the “Guardians” movies, all action scenes are accompanied by radio-friendly classic rock hits. There’s Boston’s “Long Time,” Led Zeppelin’s “Good Times Bad Times” and Spencer Davis Group’s “Gimme Some Lovin’” – sense a time theme? That clever touch carries over to a scene when you can discern Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” as the instrumental music heard in the drug store.

The past meets the future – or is it the future meets the past? — in this amiable film, but the sci-fi takes a back seat to the family story that matters more, illustrated by a dad playing catch with his sons. As “Field of Dreams” still shows to this day, when grown men blubber about a baseball field surrounded by cornfields, something so elemental from childhood can be so profound.

“Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think
Enjoy yourself, while you’re still in the pink
The years go by, as quickly as a wink”

“The Adam Project” is a 2022 sci-fi action-adventure comedy directed by Shawn Levy and starring Ryan Reynolds, Walker Scobell, Jennifer Garner, Zoe Saldana, Mark Ruffalo and Catherine Keener. It is rated PG-13 for violence/action, language and suggestive references and it runs 1 hour, 46 minutes. Streaming on Netflix beginning March 11. Lynn’s Grade: B.

By Lynn Venhaus

In the loving hands of director Lin-Manuel Miranda, the world will know Jonathan Larson’s name as more than the creator of “Rent,” one of the big-bang bursts in musical theater history, because of this enthralling origin story “tick, tick…Boom!”

Brimming with vitality, this brilliant gem shines spotlighting the creative process and the importance of pursuing your dreams. It is the best musical adapted from the stage since 2012’s “Les Miserables.”

Collaborating with many gifted artists, Miranda, in his feature film directorial debut, broadens this early work to appeal to the dreamer in all of us. We can relate to Larson as a visionary full of doubt, anxiety, and drive, who had a unique voice that was meant to be heard. Filled with passion, he pushed on, despite many obstacles in his way.

The young composer revolutionized theater with “Rent,”, but tragically, did not live to see the first Off-Broadway preview performance, because he died that day, Jan. 25, 1996, suffering an aortic dissection. He was 35. Five years earlier, he was writing a musical called “Superbia,” loosely based on George Orwell’s “1984” and full of angst about turning 30. He turned that experience in a rock monologue, “30/90,” which was later renamed “Boho Days” and finally “tick, tick…Boom.”

In this adaptation of that autobiographical musical, Jon (Andrew Garfield) is waiting tables at a New York City diner in 1990, and feeling pressure from his dancer-girlfriend Susan (Alexandra Shipp), his best friend Michael (Robin de Jesus), who traded in an artistic life for one of financial security, and people helping him put on a showcase of his work.

Meanwhile, a community is being ravaged by the AIDS epidemic. With the clock ticking, Jon is at a crossroads. He wonders what he is meant to do with the time he has.

In his most revelatory screen performance to date, Tony winner and Oscar nominee Garfield displays Larson’s virtuosity and bravado. He embraces the music numbers with abundant zest and connects with Alexandra Shipp as his exasperated girlfriend and Robin de Jesus as his frustrated friend.

The sharp script was written by Steven Levenson, who won a Tony for “Dear Evan Hanson.” The adage “write what you know” is a running theme – and one can see Larson’s style evolving, and his various influences throughout.

“30/90” deals with his feelings about growing older without much to show for his songwriting efforts. Envious of his friend’s luxurious life, he and Robin de Jesus have fun with “No More.”

In one of the musical’s stand-out pieces, “Sunday,” as conducted by Jon, is both an homage to revered composer Stephen Sondheim and a salute to artistic vision. The legendary Sondheim, who was a tremendous influence on Larson, is deftly underplayed by Bradley Whitford.

Several members of the original cast of “Rent,” as well as performers from Miranda’s masterpiece “Hamilton,” many Broadway legends and Tony winners have a shared moment in a Sunday brunch scene. It’s a “Where’s Waldo?” panoply of talent that you’ll want to stop and rewind over and over.

The film’s ensemble is tight, and several singers have stand-out moments – with Vanessa Hudgens singing her heart out as Karessa in “Come to Your Senses,” the show-stopping song that Larson finally pens after excruciating writer’s block episodes.

Another heart-tugging number is “Why,” when Jon plays an old rehearsal piano at the closed Delacorte Theater in Central Park.

If you are unfamiliar with “Rent,” now being celebrated in a national 25th anniversary farewell tour, this musical about Bohemians struggling with life, love, and AIDS in the East Village, won Larson the Pulitzer Prize and three Tony Awards posthumously. It ran on Broadway until 2008, and is the 11th longest running musical of all-time.

But early versions of “tick, tick…Boom!” came before  — and after. Playwright David Auburn revised it after Larson’s death as a piece for three actors (Jon, Susan, and Michael). It premiered off-Broadway in 2001, with Raul Esparza winning an Obie Award in the leading role. It has been performed in London’s West End, with Neil Patrick Harris, and at many other theaters since it was revamped. An Encores! Off-Center production in 2014 featured Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr. and Karen Olivo.

Miranda, who said seeing “Rent” on his 17th birthday changed his life, was born to direct this. He gets it – kids with dreams, brimming with ideas. He was one of those kids — and went on to win Tony Awards for “In the Heights” and the cultural phenomenon “Hamilton.” (You can spot him, too, at the diner. And his Disney animated musical “Encanto” is out in theaters Nov. 24).

As sad as Larson’s untimely death was, this film is full of joy – a tribute tp one of the great talents of the 20th century. Because his death is believed to have been caused by an undiagnosed Marfan syndrome, more attention has been given to this condition. (And the struggles of low-income folks lacking health care).

Today, the Jonathan Larson Performing Arts Foundation, established by family and friends, provides monetary grants to artists, with a particular emphasis on musical theatre composers and writers.

This support for creative work is now administered by the American Theatre Wing because of an endowment funded by his family and the foundation. Who knows how many fellow starving artists Larson inspired to write the next great American musical?

His memory and his impact lives on – and his “Rent” lyrics eerily resonate: “No Day but Today.”

“tick, tick…Boom!” is a bittersweet rumination on art and inspiration, and Miranda has made it both personal and universal.

“tick, tick…Boom!” is a 2021 Musical Biopic directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda and starring Andrew Garfield, Alexandra Shipp, Robin de Jesus, Joshua Henry, Bradley Whitford, and Judith Light. It is rated PG-13 for some strong language, some suggestive material and drug references and runs 1 hour, 55 minutes. It opened in select theaters on Nov. 12 and started streaming on Netflix Nov. 19. Lynn’s Grade: A.

By Lynn Venhaus
An American remake that is as tense and gripping as the 2018 Danish original, “The Guilty” will surprise with its carefully crafted twists in a story you think you have figured out – but assumptions are a dangerous tool.

“The Guilty” takes place over the course of a single morning in a 911 dispatch call center. Call operator Joe Baylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) tries to save an emergency caller in grave danger, but he soon discovers that nothing is as it seems, and facing the truth is the only way out.

Gyllenhaal bought the rights to the acclaimed foreign language film, which won the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival in 2018 and was Denmark’s entry for the Oscars (not nominated; “Roma” won) three years ago. (The original is currently streaming on Hulu.)

As a producer, he cast himself as the lead, a demoted police officer working as a 911 dispatcher, and assembled a crackerjack team.

The creative crew – including screenwriter Nic Pizzolatto, of HBO’s “True Detective,” has not changed much, but moved the location from Copenhagen to Los Angeles, where the public safety personnel are involved in quelling wildfires. The call center displays horrific scenes of fire ravaging the landscape on its multi-screens.

Original screenwriters Gustav Moeller, who also directed the 2018 film, and Emile Nygaard Albertsen, had written such a compelling script that it really didn’t need much embellishment. It’s a brilliant example of building tension in a contained area in a race against time.

Above all, the source material illustrated that a rush to judgment is often counterproductive. The takeaway is that one should not jump to conclusions before all the details are available.

One change is the temperament of Baylor. Whereas in the original, Swedish actor Jakob Cedergren played the conflicted police officer with a more stoic demeanor, they both are frustrated by the petty calls clogging up the system and show little patience.

Gyllenhaal is a more intense actor, so he plays Joe with pent-up rage. While he answers routine calls, he seems a little more on edge, his inhaler present. Turns out he has a trial set for the next day, but the charges are not revealed right away. Through his conversations with others, we piece it together.

Emily, a mother of two who is in the process of getting a divorce, calls 911, whispers for help, and Joe soon gets involved in a complicated case. She is frantically voiced by Riley Keough.

Gyllenhaal’s ferocity will sometimes get in the way of cool, calm decision making under pressure. He will say and do things that further heighten a dangerous scenario.

Clearly, his conscience is wrestling with some other issues. As a beat cop, he’s trying to be a hero – is this a means of redemption?

Director Antoine Fuqua knows a thing or two about shooting action films – his collaborations with Denzel Washington include the Equalizer reboot and its sequel, the “Magnificent Seven” remake and Washington’s Oscar winner “Training Day.” He directed Gyllenhaal in “Southpaw.”

Fuqua makes a fairly stagnant situation bristle with adrenaline and anxiety. What kind of peril is Emily in? As the film unfolds, we will be able to see the bigger picture.

The voice work is stellar, as one would expect from the supporting players. Besides Keough being the distraught victim on the other end of the phone, Peter Sarsgaard (Gyllenhaal’s brother-in-law in real life) plays her husband Henry, who is living separately from their family.

Ethan Hawke, an Oscar nominee for “Training Day,” is a police sergeant whose work banter with Joe indicates familiarity. Paul Dano, who directed Gyllenhaal in the underrated “Wildlife,” plays a VIP who is mugged while visiting the City of Angels.

The editing by Jason Ballantine is impressive, and the music score by Brazilian composer Marcelo Zarvos conveys an urgency that increases the helpless feelings coming through the phones.

At a 90-minute runtime, Fuqua keeps it taut, and Gyllenhaal displays the effects of compromised morality that’s a necessary ingredient. While this may not be better than the original – they did this tale first after all, so there is a lack of surprise if you have seen it – but for American audiences experiencing it as new material, this puts the thrill in thriller.

“The Guilty” is a thriller directed by Antoine Fuqua and stars Jake Gyllenhaal. Voice work is by Riley Keough, Peter Sarsgaard, Ethan Hawke and Paul Dano. It is Rated R for language throughout and is 90 minutes. In theatres Sept. 24 and streaming on Netflix Oct. 1.
Lynn’s Grade: B+

By Lynn Venhaus
A vibrant mix of bright colors and snappy Latin beats, the animated musical adventure “Vivo” pops with personality.

Set in Havana, Miami and the Everglades, this computer-generated effort from Sony Pictures Animation features multi-level humor and a cadre of lively characters to amuse. Most delightful is how it will tug on your heartstrings, and does so genuinely, not in a manipulative way.

Vivo, a Cuban kinkajou — a tropical rainforest mammal in the same family as a raccoon, known as a ‘honey bear,” spends his days playing music to the Plaza Vieja crowds in Havana with his beloved owner Andres. 

The elderly Andres, once part of a musical duo with Marta Sandoval, receives a letter from the now-famous singer inviting him to her farewell concert in Miami. She wants to reconnect, and she is his ‘the one that got away.’ Vivo’s mission is  to deliver a love letter to Marta, reluctantly teaming up with Gabi, an energetic tween who bounces to the beat of her own offbeat drum.

At its heart is the incomparable Lin-Manuel Miranda, voicing Vivo with customary charm. He wrote the tuneful score, a captivating swirl of salsa beats, peppy percussion, rap lyrics and emotion-filled ballads.

The much-honored Miranda, whose first animated musical was Disney’s “Moana,” brings his trademark energy and unmistakable writing style to this work, with such memorable songs as “Keep the Beat” and “My Own Drum” playing on a loop in your head post-viewing.

Vivo’s look, with a jaunty little hat and scarf, adds to the character’s appeal, and the other characters he meets along his journey are just as vivid. Because of circumstances, the rapping, flute-playing, music-loving creature reluctantly teams up with Gabi, a spirited maverick tween, with purple hair and a quirky wardrobe, who soon wins over all the outsiders of the world.

Newcomer Ynairaly Simo shines as Gabi, and the voice cast is well-suited for their roles. Gloria Estefan is diva Marta Sandoval, dazzling in shimmering aqua; Zoe Saldana is Rosa, Gabi’s exasperated mother; and Latin musician Juan de Marcos González is Vivo’s kind owner Andres.

In Key West, amid the blazing hot pinks and cool aqua tones, we​ ​find the goofy spoonbill Dancarino, voiced by Brian Tyree Henry, and in the dark and foreboding Everglades, Michael Rooker is effectively creepy as the villainous python Lutador.

Co-directors Kirk DeMicco, creator of “The Croods,” and Brandon Jeffords, known for his work on “The Mitchells vs. The Machines,” “Hotel Transylvania 2” and “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2,” put the characters through vigorous paces and propel the action logically through a zippy 99 minutes.

While this might not be as ground-breaking as Sony’s Oscar-winning “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” or this year’s outstanding “The Mitchells vs. The Machines,” “Vivo” has plenty of pizzazz to entertain. 

It’s visually attractive, capturing the tropical feel – and notable is a funny sequence with pink flamingos. Legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins was a visual consultant.

The screenplay, by DeMicco and “In the Heights” co-writer Quiara Alegría Hudes, with story by Peter Barsocchini, of “High School Musical” fame, has smartly created emotional bonds between the characters and injected humor in a natural way.

In animation, next up for golden-boy Miranda is Disney’s “Encanto,” out Nov. 24, featuring his music and lyrics. Indeed, his future is bright.

But as for the present, his winning combination of voicing Vivo and writing the uplifting music and lyrics is one of the summer’s sweetest smiles.

“Vivo” is a 2021 animated musical from Sony Pictures Animation co-directed by Kirk DeMicco and Brandon Jeffords. Voice work is by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ynairaly Simo, Zoe Saldana and Gloria Estefan. It’s rated PG for some thematic elements and mild action and has a run time of 1 hour, 39 minutes. It is streaming on Netflix beginning Aug. 6. Lynn’s Grade: B+



Gloria Estefan as Marta Sandoval

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.