In theaters: I'm not sure that Evil Dead Rise can decide whether it wants to be elevated horror or just a proper Evil Dead movie, and it feels to me like the franchise was shoehorned into a stray script (or vice-versa). It certainly doesn't help that the director evokes (that's a polite way to say rips off) other horror films like The Shining, Carrie and even the very recent Halloween Dies (in addition to sign-posted Evil Dead iconography), nor that the heroines look like they've been cast because they recall other actresses (Not-Natalie Portman in the frame tale, Not-Rebecca Romjin in the main story). I don't like to rewrite movies in these reviews, but how fun would it have been if they'd gone full elevated horror only to have Ash show up at the midpoint to take on the Deadites? As is, it's all a bit out of focus. Too serious for its gore gags, too silly for the audience to get properly invested in its riff on motherhood. There are good things here, don't get me wrong - the kids are more interesting than the adults, the promising pregnancy plot/metaphor, the trademark Deadite humor - but it sits well behind every other Evil Dead movie (and TV series) in my estimation.
At home: In terms of animation, Puss in Boots - The Last Wish seems to have learned some lessons from Into the Spider-Verse without necessarily looking like that film. There's definitely a sense that different kinds of animation can co-exist, with "drawn-on" effects layered over the three-dimensional CG models and the big action beats having a crazy loony-tunes quality about them. But where the movie shines is in its well-told story about Puss losing his mojo after wasting 8 of his 9 lives and experiencing fear and anxiety for the first time. He, his allies and frienemies will all learn the value of support systems, while the hilarious villain (Jack Horner) will most distinctly not. The frienemies, by the way, are Goldilocks and the Three Bears, played as a Cockney crime gang, and they're pretty funny. The Last Wish is a full spread - it has a lot of laughs, a lot of action, a few songs, and touching drama too, as well as clever fantasy elements and a strong use of the fairy tale land postulated in Shrek. It doesn't shy away from showing a bit of blood and suggest people do die in this universe, so it's (pleasantly) not as sugary as what Disney is doing. Two claws up!
The first season of Star Wars Visions was all anime, but the second hands assignments to studios from all over the world and I think is generally better for it. There's just more variety in approach and style, though I do wonder if the animators are given themes to work from, or just form by coincidence. This season's most-exploited tropes are young Force users, living under the Empire, the Sith, and (somehow) Kyber crystals. My absolute favorite is The Spy Dancer, a French production that has an interesting location, an emotional story and action you're very much unlikely to see in live action. Also strong for are Sith, the tale of a Force-sensitive artist with odd-looking animation suited to the subject matter; the cool stop-motion work of In the Stars; and Aau's Song, which has adorable character designs and a charming tale to tell. Also quite good is the spooky Screecher's Reach which reveals the Force probably gave rise to various ghost stories. A few stories failed to completely connect with me: I Am Your Mother is a cute pod racing comedy in the style of Wallace & Grummett, but it's sentiments are corny; Journey to the Dark Head features intriguing metaphysics, but doesn't have the time to explain the underlying lore; and The Bandits of Golak's animation is a mixed bag even if I like its Indian overlay. Only The Pit is a misfire, too thin a story, and honestly, a rather naive one. Overall, Visions vol.2 fulfills its promise by increasing the scope of what can be told in that Galaxy Far, Far Away.
An iconic work in the 90s thriller genre, Single White Female (revisited, by which I mean I've watched it back, not that I've watched the sequel, which DOES exist but doesn't carry any characters forward) is much more about mental illness than I remembered. Sure, the climax is violent almost wannabe-Giallo, but Jennifer Jason Leigh's character transcends the usual "crazy B" of this type of film and manages real pathos as a former twin looking for a connection with potential lookalike Bridget Fonda. Before things get pair-shaped, their relationship is actually a believable pressure-cooker codependency, and the cinematography is particularly beautiful. So would this have worked better as a straight drama? I think it just might. There are thriller elements from early on, but things get extreme on a pretty steep curve, like the film suddenly realizing what it's supposed to be and rushing to the end.
Body Heat is Kathleen Turner's first feature film? Are you kidding me?! She's an immediate star in Lawrence Kasdan's early 80s Noir, as a sultry femme fatale who wants to pull something of a Double Indemnity on her husband by manipulating a small town lawyer who thinks with his dick, played by William Hurt. There's a heat wave on, which translates into almost animalistic passion and comes to justify murder. You, the audience, are just waiting for the other shoe to drop and wow, does it ever. Body Heat features a terrific script with rhythms that sound "written" until your ear gets tuned to it, but that just evokes the Noirs of old, as does John "Bond" Barry's brassy score. And while Turner is definitely the discovery of the year, Kasdan also makes use of early-career Ted Danson and Mickey Rourke. Hell, even Hurt was only on his fourth feature. Kasdan was a real star-maker, wasn't he?
Set during in Tehran during the Iran-Iraq War, Under the Shadow is a tight little ghost story that, frankly, worked well even just as a drama about that time and place. But the supernatural - a djinn that haunts a woman's little daughter and then herself - works as commentary ON the setting. The winds of war bring evil, of course, but the shadow of the Cultural Revolution that set Iran back to religious orthodoxy is the shadow that looms over the woman who, we learn, had her professional ambitions aborted by the regime. So this is a world that's gone back in time, and therefore myths can return to terrorize the living. From drama, to mystery, and finally to horror, the film manages images we (at least the Western audience) are unfamiliar with, and provides chills to the very last shot. Under the Shadow tells an efficient story about an anxiety some of us will hopefully never know, but mixed with anxieties (parental, professional) we might, will or have. Neat discovery.
Sometimes when a documentary takes aim at a gonzo niche topic, the result is amusing but rather surface-level. The Pez Outlaw - which explores the world of Pez collecting and the war between one secondary market seller and the company itself - achieves something more by making its subject, Steve Glew, reenact some of them moments he tells the film makers about as if they were happening in an action-thriller, made up to look like his younger self. These POV moments are fun, but they also subtly draw you in so that in the last half-hour, when talking heads start to contradict each other, you're fully invested in finding out the truth. It's the Pez world, so it's ridiculous, but it's somehow still paranoid. And then there's Kathy Glew, the Outlaw's supportive spouse, who is so touching and charming in how she interacts with the subject, and I think ultimately, she makes the story more human and worth discovering. Now, how much are my two Pez dispensers worth?
Books: In the opening chapters on Trevor Baxendale's Eighth Doctor Adventure, The Janus Conjunction, I was a little worried. Oh, two factions in conflict and our heroes get split up, yadda yadda yadda. Not only have the Doctor and Sam already done this sort of thing, I used to cringe when it happened with much regularity in Star Trek TNG tie-in books. But... no! Janus turned out to be a great read! First of all, Baxendale has a real handle on the Doctor, with nice flights of whimsy and a mix of seriousness and humor. The plot raises the stakes consistently until it gets epic, and there's a natural progression from one threat to the next as we peer more and more deeply into the mystery of twin planets connected through a space anomaly. The back half of the book is a freight train of "how are they gonna get out of this one?" proportions. The writing is clear, the guest characters are well drawn and differentiated, and among all the action beats, Baxendale finds room for small comic moments that evoke Robert Holmes' double acts on the show, but also Douglas Adams' asides. What could have been a generic sci-fi plot becomes much more entertaining as a result.