It’s a rather quiet week at the movies but there’s much worth streaming at home. To that end, we’ll take a look at the eagerly anticipated “The Last of Us” as well as an adaptation of another Anne Rice series.
“The Last of Us”: HBO/HBO Max’s big-budgeted dystopian spectacle succeeds where most action-driven series fail — making us care about a post-apocalyptic world where everyone’s fate is unpredictable. With impressive special effects and some sharp storytelling instincts, “Last of Us” ups the playing field for not only streaming services but movie blockbusters.
Based on the massively popular 2013 video game of the same name, it’s a doomsday road picture that’s perfect for anyone who loved Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road,” Stephen King’s “The Stand,” Robert Kirkman’s “The Walking Dead” and Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later.” The comparisons might sound like someone just went in and ransacked the cinematic fridge of leftovers. Not so. The nine-episode series (creators Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann are said to be awaiting to commit to a second based on how the first fares) creates a unique, harrowing survivors’ narrative set in 2033 and then gives us King-like characterizations, conflicts and confrontations.
A viral epidemic consumes the world, and fungus is to blame, turning the afflicted into killer Mushroom People (called Clickers). What could have been a laughable premise turns into something quite terrifying with Pedro Pascal — in one of his best performances — playing the hardened but resourceful Joel, who traverses through devastated U.S. cities (the special effects are jaw dropping) with the super-smart and foul-mouthed Ellie (Bella Ramsey, an incredible performance). I gobbled down five episodes — the first one dropping Sunday is nearly an hour and a half — and I can’t wait to watch more. Details: 3½ stars out of 4; debuts Jan. 15, with each episode dropping on consecutive Sundays; HBO.
“Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches”: After a bold and sexy reworking of Anne Rice’s “Interview With the Vampire,” AMC lets down numerous fans with a weakly executed and watered-down version of her “Mayfair Witches” saga. Scattered in its worldbuilding and ineffective in creating an atmospheric spell, this eight part series (only five parts were made available for review) is erratic in tone, lacking in conviction and generally devoid of purpose. Alexandra Daddario is miscast as a San Francisco neurosurgeon who discovers she’s inexorably linked to a legacy of witches in New Orleans and a mysterious presence named Lasher. While there are surprising turns, and the series does improve as it progresses, “Witches” never grabs you with the power that “Interview” did. Stick to the books instead. Details: 2 stars; available on AMC and AMC+.
“Plane”: Director Jean-François Richet and a willing cast — Gerard Butler, Mike Colter, Oakland native Daniella Pineda and Yoson An — help dust off the kind reliable but ridiculous action-disaster flicks that thrived in the ‘90s. They’ve done a commando job of cranking out a retro guilty pleasure, one that’s as predictable and as lovably dumb as the films it cribs from. The titular plane here, piloted by Brodie (Butler) and co-piloted by Dele (An), gets forced into a white-knuckle landing because of idiotic commands from higher ups that the crew fly into a lightning storm. The bad luck only persists when they plunk down on a Philippines island where a violent militia rules. Will anyone get out alive? C’mon. “Plane” makes for an enjoyable R-rated throwback and gets particularly spirited whenever Mike Colter — as a fugitive on the plane — teams up with Butler to take down the baddies. Details: 2½ stars; in theaters Jan. 13.
“The Devil Conspiracy”: Few films dare to even approach the go-for-broke quackery of Nathan Frankowski’s cult classic in the making. It doesn’t matter that screenwriter/producer Ed Alan’s script jumps off its rails from the opening line, “Conspiracy” jovially catapults audiences into the pits of hell and back then back to Earth. A chained-up Lucifer down below summons his legions to rip off the Shroud of Turin from the Vatican City so he can futz around with Christ’s DNA for hell-bent purposes. Meanwhile a hunky priest (Joe Doyle, in on the joke and having a blast) reveals his true alter ego while a mad scientist/entrepreneur tinkers with DNA to make baby Michelangelos and other legends so he can then sell them off to the highest bidders. Incredibly, things get weirder than that! With tongue in cheek and a devotion to be as preposterous and over the top as imaginable, Frankowski’s frenzied horrorpalooza never lets up. Is it a good movie? Not by any means. But is it fun? A hell to that yes. Details: 2½ stars; in theaters Jan. 13.
“Copenhagen Cowboy”: Nicolas Winding Refn’s neon-lit surreal curiosities are often stranger and more depraved than even David Lynch’s films. His Netflix series is one for his diehards fans, those inclined to wade into a predatory swamp and swim with imprisoned sex workers, criminals, grudge-holders, rutting pigs, a creepy family of bloodsuckers and a blue-tracksuit-wearing waif protagonist from another planet. If that sounds good, this six-parts series will itch that weird scratch. While I appreciated many elements — particularly the look and surreal vibe — “Cowboy” moseys a little too slow for my tastes. That said, Winding Refn is a true original. Details: 2½ stars; on Netflix now.
“Mars One”: Director/screenwriter Gabriel Martins turns to the resiliency of a Black Brazilian family living on the fringes in this buoyant but intense drama that’s filled with many memorable and original characters — a daughter falling for a rich young woman, a son interested in science more than soccer and parents coping with their own internal struggles. “Mars One” (the original title was “Marte Um”) is a delightful, joyous celebration of the unbreakable bonds that keep us tethered through the most challenging of times. Details: 3½ stars; now on Netflix.
“Corsage”: In her very fictionalized look into the claustrophobic, intensely scrutinized and criticized life of the unconventional Empress Elisabeth of Austria, writer/director Marie Kreutzer capitalizes on the ace up her sleeve, lead Vicky Krieps. The German actor is stupendous, never overstating her character’s moroseness in a society that stifles women and puts them in their place. The period details are sensational, the cinematography stunning. “Corsage” fashions a film bio that’s very different from the events in Elisabeth’s life, and while some factual details could have actually helped the film, “Corsage” is still a fascinating commentary about celebrity that echoes loudly in an era when Prince Harry’s tell-all has the world talking. Details: 3 stars; in theaters now.
Contact Randy Myers at email@example.com.