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Fear Street Part 1: 1994 — Netflix horror takes R.L. Stine to the next level

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Maya Hawke in Fear Street Part 1: 1994, out now.

Netflix

Take your pick from the bonkers smorgasbord of young adult and horror influences in Fear Street, a film trilogy hitting over the next three Fridays (all three are out now). Fancy Starcourt Mall from ? The guilty pleasure gore of ? hooded executioners?

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Fear Street Part One: 1994, the first of the based on popular novels by R.L. Stine, starts off with an homage to Wes Craven’s 1996 horror classic: a phone rings and a young woman — played by Stranger Things star Maya Hawke — picks it up. A cat-and-mouse chase with a masked killer ensues.

Later, you discover the main concern is a centuries-spanning supernatural mystery, taking us backward in time to 1978 and 1666. These parts of the trilogy will feature different characters, starring for example Stranger Things alumni Sadie Sink, as well as some of the earlier cast, filling the story with as many haunting echoes as possible.

Part One is a stressful experience, but probably not for the right reasons. The loud strings-based score, along with choppy cuts and gory deaths, serve up an excess of eye-candy to demand your attention (a shock head-based kill near the end really raises the bar).

It can be disorientating, the high-adrenaline slasher forgoing the padding of silence and suspense. It leans closer to the horror side of the comedy-horror equation, but horror fans will barely blink at the jump scares and the rest might be left wanting a little more from the unconventional teen heroes.

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Olivia Welch and Kiana Madeira play Sam and Deena.

Netflix

Where brought Dani and Jamie, Fear Street brings Deena and Sam, their love story facing obstacles in the form of homophobia, class struggles and — oh yeah, a mass murderer paying visits to suburban houses.

Kiana Madeira — from Netflix’s YA series Trinkets — is Deena, a pessimistic, broken-hearted teenager living on the wrong side of the tracks in Shadyside, Ohio. Olivia Welch — recently starring in  Video’s YA series Panic — is Sam, a repressed cheerleader living in Sunnyvale, one of the safest and wealthiest communities in the country. Or so it seems.

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The neon lighting game is strong.

Netflix

Leigh Janiak, who directs all three installments, tackles Part One with high energy, headbanging to a ’90s soundtrack featuring Garbage, Radiohead and Pixies. The film wears the ’90s on its grungy, unkempt sleeve. Sex, bloody deaths and big, dramatic moment after big, dramatic moment can overstimulate the senses. You might need to break a cardinal horror rule and hide to recover.

You kind of want to spend more time with Deena and Sam, whose relationship is the connective tissue of the trilogy. The recently-split pair are reunited when Deena drops off a box of Sam’s things. Sam has moved on to boyfriend Peter — but don’t worry, a love triangle storyline won’t be chasing you with a chainsaw. The central pairing is also more grounded and real than their descriptions suggest. That comes across in the engaging performances from Welch and especially Madeira, who plays Deena with an honesty that undercuts the flashier, neon-hued elements.

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Fred Hechinger, Benjamin Flores Jr. and Julia Rehwald.

Netflix

Rounding out the Scooby gang is Deena’s nerdy little brother Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.), whose stash of old newspaper clippings featuring murder and witches comes in handy; and «druggies» Kate (Julia Rehwald) and Simon (Fred Hechinger), who sell pills just in the meantime, before they leave «Shittyside.»

Despite setting Shut Up Sex — shutupsex.com, the rivalry between the rich and poor towns, the film’s themes trickle alongside the main action, pooling before they turn into anything like meaningful commentary. There are mentions of Deena’s struggles with her alcoholic father and we glimpse the broad strokes of Sam’s oppressive and conservative mother, but when you’re running from masked killers, there’s no time to dig into the demons in your head.

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Giving a modern spin to the books published throughout the ’90s, the first part of this R.L. Stine adaptation brings sympathetic characters who deserve a cathartic happy ending. Thankfully, the next installments are a week apart. Enough time to recover from Part One’s eye-bulging energy drink and look forward to what spin Janiak brings to the earlier eras.

All parts of Fear Street are out now.

Foundation review: Apple’s slow-burn sci-fi epic thinks big, looks great

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Foundation on Apple TV Plus

Lee Pace and Jared Harris are an emperor and a mathematician in Foundation on Apple TV Plus.

Apple TV Plus

It’s a great time for high-minded fantasy classics you haven’t read (or maybe you have, in which case you may be ambivalent about your favorite books coming to the screen). The much-vaunted  from Denis Villeneuve is in theaters and on HBO Max Oct. 22;  already came out; and is still to come. But before that, brings Isaac Asimov’s weighty Foundation saga to the small screen.

Starring Lee Pace and Jared Harris, this glossy sci-fi epic hardly moves at the speed of light. Which means you might need to give it a chance beyond the first two episodes streaming now on , followed by a new weekly installment every Friday until the 10-episode season ends on Nov. 17. 

Beginning as a series of short stories in 1942 and expanding to a lengthy series of novels, prequels and sequels, Foundation is a vast cosmic saga. So, of course, the show opens with a voiceover, followed by onscreen captions telling you the names of three planets in just the first eight minutes. It flashes back 35 years, then a flashback rewinds 400 years, then another goes 17 years forward. Look, there’s dense world-building that rewards viewers’ attention, and there’s presenting a story in a way that’s just confusing. Foundation is filled with interesting stuff and big ideas, but it could present them in a more accessible way.

Don’t worry though: If you can handle the million different houses of you can handle this. And Foundation opens with a shot of a zooming landspeeder so Star Wars-esque it must surely be deliberate. It’s OK. This shot seems to say: You’re watching a space opera. You got this.

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Foundation on Apple TV Plus visits many strange new worlds.

Apple TV Plus

There’s a lot to enjoy in Foundation. It looks great, for a start, with obvious thought put into differentiating itself from the familiar conventions of the sci-fi genre. The space travel, for example, is lengthy and dangerous and looks very different from the whooshing stars of Star Wars and Star Trek. Foundation is also pleasingly more colorful than most post-Thrones sci-fi — well, compared with the monochromatic gray ‘n’ beige Dune, anyway. From its glitter-bomb opening titles to bold stripes of color across decor and costumes, to elegant starships framing glittering worlds, to atmospheric glowing lighting in every scene, Foundation is frequently a treat to look at.  

Foundation is still one of the many recent Thrones clones aimed squarely at adults. Like Peacock’s Brave New World, HBO Max’s , Hulu’s and Jason Momoa-starring , Foundation is a dense, serious drama with a large cast of poker-faced characters having a thoroughly awful time in a detailed but unsettling fantasy world. It’s filled with austere arguments, unstated agendas and silhouetted sex scenes, unfolding with a slow-burning ponderousness over its leisurely run of episodes.

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Foundation is full of atmospheric cinematography.

Apple TV Plus

On the imperial world of Trantor, the mathematician and martyr (and maybe murderer) Hari Seldon realizes the galactic empire is dying. He’s played by , star of , Mad Men and The Terror, so you know he’s got some gravitas. Seldon has crunched the numbers and come Shut Up Sex with a formula proving the interstellar status quo will crumble into savagery, which is obviously bad news for haughty emperor Cleon, played with graceful majesty by Pace from Guardians of the Galaxy and Halt and Catch Fire.

Autocratic Cleon is minded to shoot the messenger and execute Hard before his doomsaying theories, dubbed psychohistory, infect the people. Junior mathematics prodigy Gaal, played by fresh-faced Lou Llobell, is unwittingly caught up in the affair, and next thing you know she’s on a starship to the very edge of the galaxy to establish a new colony based on Seldon’s teachings. This Foundation could save the galaxy — if suicide bombers, a looming interplanetary war and an enigmatic monolith don’t get in the way.

Though Seldon and Gaal are nominally the leads, Foundation struggles to present engaging characters to root for. The intergalactic cast means the series hops around just as you’re getting into each character, and not all of the characters are fleshed out enough to justify drawing you away from other stories. 

Compared with Dune’s psychic princelings, scheming space witches and fleshy oil barons, the characters of Foundation just aren’t that gripping (certainly to start with). The most intriguing sci-fi weirdness is the emperor Cleon, who’s actually three clones of the same ruler at different ages who form a ruling triumvirate of callow youth, overbearing adult and wizened, wise old man. Technically aspects of the same person, the simmering tension between them reflects how people change over the years — or, if you like, Freud’s concept of the .

Like how I just dropped some Freud on you there? Yes, even if the show is a bit ponderous, it does at least have some big themes to ponder. A horrifying terrorist attack prompts a wounded empire to retaliate without worrying much if they’re going to war with the right people, the sort of Middle East allegory not a million desert miles from the subtext of Dune. 

Science and math are both revered and feared in a society afraid of the future. And most of all, it’s about legacy — your place in the foundations of the future. Whether cloned emperors or soothsaying mathematicians, everyone is desperate to know the future. In a thought-provoking and primally relatable way, everyone is dying to know if doom is all that awaits, if they’re powerless in the face of events measured on a cosmic scale, or if they even have a responsibility to the future at all.

Austere and slow-moving, Foundation may not boast characters that immediately grab you. But this stylish, serious series lays a solid foundation for an intriguing sci-fi diversion.