Gone Tomorrow — a review

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Gone Tomorrow isn’t the latest Jack Reacher book, but it’s the most recent one that I’ve read. Listed as number thirteen in a series that’s now over twenty books, Gone Tomorrow finds dedicated drifter and ex-military police officer Jack Reacher in New York City, riding the subway after visiting a jazz club. He encounters a strange woman on board the subway, a woman who’s wearing a large winter coat in the middle of a hot and humid summer. Reacher is alarmed, because this woman is showing the warning signs of being a suicide bomber. And so he gets up and goes over to her, to try and talk her out of what she‘s about to do–and that’s when she blows her head off with a gun that she had concealed.

Normally Reacher would just give his account to the local cops and then just depart and that would be that. But this woman’s suicide winds up being the beginning of a twisted and tangled tale involving a candidate running for senator, and a group of mysterious federal agents who are hot on Reacher’s trail. Lee Child delivers another fun, fast-paced thriller that sees Reacher dodging and chasing (sometimes at the same time) villains all around the Big Apple. And his feel for the city is very well done. Child’s description of New York really makes you feel like you’re there. There’s a nice romantic subplot that’s not too overplayed, but when Reacher goes after the villain at the end, it turns into a 1980s action film.

That’s both a good and a bad thing; Gone Tomorrow suffers from the usual action film cliché of the hero never being hit with a bullet while engaged in a massive gunfight with the bad guys. But Child takes the edge off of the silliness by explaining in great detail how Reacher gets the drop on each and every one of the bad guys–all while still suffering a nasty plot twist. Gone Tomorrow is an enjoyable lark. –SF

The Darkness — a review

Hello, Mr. Ghost? We're coming upstairs, so please don't scare us, m'kay?

Hello, Mr. Ghost? We’re coming upstairs, so please don’t scare us, m’kay?

Kevin Bacon stars in The Darkness, a horror movie about a family being haunted by evil spirits that accompany their young son home from a trip to the Grand Canyon. Young Michael Taylor (well played by David Mazouz, from TV’s Gotham) is autistic. Coming across a group of stones that he finds in a cave (after accidentally falling in there through the ceiling) Michael brings the stones back home with him, keeping their presence a secret from his family, which consists of dad Peter (Bacon), mom Bronny (Radha Mitchell) and big sister Stephanie (Lucy Fry). Things turn weird when Bronny notices a bad smell, along with the water facets being left on all the time.

But the weirdness get creepier when Bronny feels a strange presence in the house in the form of a shadowy figure that flits out of view the moment she sees it. This leads her to wonder if the harmless imaginary friend that Michael has brought back with him from the Grand Canyon might not be so harmless after all. Directed by Greg McLean, who gave us the phenomenal serial killer movie Wolf Creek, the not so great Wolf Creek 2, and the superb killer alligator movie Rogue (which also starred Mitchell; she’s appearing in her second film directed by McLean) The Darkness lacks the sheer horrific intensity of his previous films just by the fact that it’s rated PG-13.

Eww...really? Seriously? We've got to have a ghost who doesn't wash his hands....

Eww…really? Seriously? We’ve got to have a ghost who doesn’t wash his hands….

So there’s no gory violence here; no unflinching shots of heads being blown off, or people being tortured to death, and that’s fine. I’m actually a big fan of the recent trend of “mild” horror movies like Insidious, and the Conjuring films. These movies focus more on being scary instead of grossing people out, which forces the filmmakers to be more innovative and creative. But the problem with The Darkness is that it might be a little too mild. It’s not the lack of gore that bothers me, but the ’by-the-numbers’ feeling of the story, which feels a lot like a warmed-over Poltergeist plot. If you’re a big horror movie fan, then this movie will feel very familiar to you because it uses every trope used in films like Poltergeist and its sequels (as well as the remake).

However, the combination of McLean, along with a solid cast, has lead to the creation of a very interesting and sympathetic group of characters. These aren’t your basic horror movie cardboard cut outs; no, instead McLean chose to populate his movie with a dysfunctional family, with each member struggling with an affliction of their own, in addition to fighting the supernatural force. This made the movie worth watching for me, because I was made to genuinely care for the characters. And even if horror movie fans might be bored with seeing the same basic plot being replayed here, for those of you casual horror fans looking for a good, non-gory horror film for the family to watch (in the same vein as Insidious or The Conjuring), you can’t go wrong with peering into The Darkness. –SF

Lost In Space: The Authorized Biography of a Classic Sci-Fi Series, Volume One — a review

The book's cover

The book’s cover

The 1960s is considered by many to be the pinnacle age for American culture, not the least of which was television. With color TVs making their way into homes across the country, TV shows seemingly exploded with vividly imaginative stories, and perhaps no better example of this was Lost In Space, the science fiction saga of a family marooned among the stars. Created by legendary producer Irwin Allen, LIS remains a thoroughly enjoyable excursion that fired up the imagination within young minds like no other show did, starting with its memorable theme, created by a young John (credited then as Johnny) Williams, who would go on to do the music for Star Wars, among many other films.

Jacobs Brown Press has released a fascinating new book that peeks behind the curtain at the creative process behind Lost In Space. Lost In Space: The Authorized Biography of a Classic Sci-Fi Series, Volume One, is an exhaustive look by author Marc Cushman at the creation of the series, as well as its entire first season (which was shot in black and white). Focusing on Irwin Allen, we follow his career while he’s making Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, which was when he initially got the idea for doing an adventure show that was set in space. Originally darker and more somber in tone, the network forced the LIS producers to lighten things up for its kid-friendly time-slot).

Cushman does an extraordinary job at covering not just the creation of the overall series of LIS, showing how the actors were cast, but he also dives into the back story on each and every single episode of the first season as well. Each episode has a synopsis of the story line, as well as a lengthy behind the scenes story of the making of that particular segment.

This attention to detail makes this book a great reference for the first season of Lost In Space (Volume Two will cover the latter two seasons). But even casual fans of Lost In Space will be captivated by the extensive information that’s on display in this hefty volume, which is also loaded with plenty of great rare photos from the series. Whether you’re a rabid Lost In Space fan or enjoy reading about classic TV productions in general, this volume is highly recommended. Bring on volume two. –SF

Ghostbusters (2016) — a review

Let those misogynistic bastards have it!

Let those misogynistic bastards have it!

I have to admit to never being a huge fan of the original Ghostbusters film. I didn’t hate it; when I saw it for the first time in theaters I actually had a nice time with it. The movie was a fun ride. But then I forgot about it. Unlike movies that I truly loved, like Blade Runner, or the Star Wars movies, I never had any real urge to own a copy of GB, and other than seeing it a second time with friends during a double feature with Fright Night a year later in 1985, I never saw Ghostbusters again until very recently on home video (it was only the third time I saw it in over thirty years, and the first time I watched it with closed captions; it was nice to finally pick up some missed lines).

So when they announced a new version of GB, with an all-female cast, I wasn’t one of those cry-babies who whined, because the original Ghostbusters was just another movie for me, nothing more (and even when they did remake stuff I loved, like Star Trek, I still didn’t whine anyway–because, at the end of the day, it’s still just a TV show, you know?). Seeing the new Ghostbusters, starring Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon, I had a really fun time. The movie was enjoyable, but in a superficial way.

The original GB got by on the charms of its superb cast, but it also had a solid script that grounded the story in everyday gritty reality. The humor in the first film came out of the situations, which were played deadpan straight. The remake eschews the realistic tone of the original and is just a flat out comedy, not bothering with characterization, such as with the villain, who is given the short end of the stick since he’s nothing but a cardboard cutout bad guy who is very one-note. The problem this creates is there no real menace, no real threat, for the Ghostbusters to fight. And without any threat, there’s no suspense, and the big ghost parade at the end, while pretty to look at, doesn’t really engage the viewer as it should.

Another problem is that despite being played by three great actresses, the Ghostbusters played by McCarthy, Wiig and Jones barely register, lacking any screen presence whatsoever–save for one, and this was strictly because of her performance. Kate McKinnon made her name on Saturday Night Live, where she shines very brightly as a character actress who is so good she disappears into whatever role she’s playing (her impression of Ellen DeGeneres is really very good). Here, she plays the wonderfully whacked-out Jillian Holtzmann, the “Scotty” of the GB crew, who keeps inventing and refining the wild tech that’s needed to fight the ghosts.

Jillian Holtzmann, scientific genius and all around goddess.

Jillian Holtzmann, scientific genius and all around goddess.

McKinnon has created a marvelously unique character in Holtzmann, who is so endearingly weird and offbeat that you can’t take your eyes off of her. McKinnon steals the movie from her co-stars, and rightly so. She’s the sole reason I’d like to get this film on video, because I figure everybody needs a little Jillian Holtzmann in their lives. As far as the overall film, I enjoyed it for its eye candy qualities (along with the presence of the mighty Miss H, long may she reign). I’m glad to hear there’s a sequel coming, and hope they do a better job with the screenplay next time. Perhaps armed with a better script, these female Ghostbusters will truly kick ghostly butt as they were meant to. –SF