By Lynn Venhaus

Still terrifying and unnerving, the third chapter of this durable horror science fiction franchise presents a smart origin story, “A Quiet Place: Day One.”

That’s no small feat, given the popularity of the first two films that were co-written, directed and starred John Krasinski. He contributed to the story here, is a producer, and will be back with a Part 3 to continue the Abbott family saga.

“A Quiet Place” in 2018 set up a chilling post-apocalyptic world, where the Abbotts are trying to survive – dad Lee (Krasinski), mom Evelyn (Emily Blunt) and children, deaf daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds), son Marcus (Noah Jupe) and toddler Beau. They live in a small, tight-knit community in Millbrook, New York, in the Hudson Valley, and action commences about 89 days after the June 18, 2020, attack.

The sequel in 2021 saw the remaining Abbotts expand their horizons beyond their farm. That’s when family friend Emmett (Cillian Murphy) and Henri (Djimon Hounsou), known as “Man on the Island,” are introduced, and it’s been about 474 days since the monsters wreaked havoc on Earth. Henri shows up in the prequel, adding a nifty thread.

They have discovered the creatures can’t swim, so escaping to water is a safe bet, and for the Abbotts, they find out another weakness, and use high-frequency audio feedback from Regan’s cochlear implant as a weapon.

“A Quiet Place: Part 2” gave us a glimpse of the aliens’ arrival, but this prequel takes place in the first four days of the chaos and moves the action to hustling and bustling noisy New York City.

A prickly cancer patient, Samira (Lupita Nyong’o) is on a group trip to New York City with fellow hospice residents and their nurse Reuben (Alex Wolff) when an alien invasion sends the world into silence.

That’s because the blind ‘Death Angel’ marauders have super-sensitive hearing and will brutally swoop in for the kill when hunting by sound. Sam gets separated, and on a quest for her childhood favorite pizza — she’s determined to get to Patsy’s in East Harlem, she encounters law student Eric (Joseph Quinn), and they help each other fight for survival.

There’s added dread, reminiscent of the shock of 9-11, as the panic-stricken populace struggles to escape grisly deaths. And to see the subways paralyzed, skyscrapers danger zones as those swift aliens crawl lightning-fast over every surface, and an anxious, shell-shocked humanity is unsettling.

Every car alarm, luggage wheel traveling over city streets, stepping delicately on crunchy debris, and general urban cacophony is magnified, and when people forget that silence is golden, calling out to loved ones or having an emotional meltdown, they’re goners.

Now one would think using this clever device of sound being death’s calling card would grow tiresome, but it doesn’t. I was still on the edge of my seat with every snap, crackle and pop after the three films, and eager for Part 3.

The best thing about this franchise is the thrilling communal movie-going experience it provides. I have fond memories of being in a very still crowd watching the first six years ago, where every soda slurp and popcorn munch was magnified, and the cathartic release that came when Evelyn had the baby, by herself, in the bathtub. The tension was practically unbearable– and Blunt vanquished those evil marauders in fine fierce form.

The sequel was the first movie I saw in a theater post-pandemic shut down, in May 2021, and it was such a celebratory event that even the jump scares were welcome.

Cut to a warm June night last week where I joined fellow fans collectively holding our breaths as the engaging new characters tried to outsmart the creatures. The jump scare is a doozy, and the crowd loved it. Sharing suspense is such a pleasurable big-screen experience!

Those critters are ugly! The CGI is remarkably seamless and the sound design, always the movie’s strongest suit, is at another state-of-the-art level.

While the first film was stingy in its reveal of the grotesque beasts, and the second time, lengthier in full view, this time we get various looks – a particularly terrifying one is when they scatter, like spiders, over all the tall buildings. Wisely, director Michael Sarnoski refrained from too much gore.

But the personal emotional connection of the characters has always been key to this franchise’s commercial success. Original co-screenwriters Scott Beck and Bryan Woods had helped create memorable characters that we cared about and Sarnoski does the same here.

Stand-offish Sam might be initially an unlikable lead character, but as you learn her backstory, sympathy builds, especially with her service cat Frodo. Lost soul Eric, a guy from England unfamiliar with America, is a stranger in a strange land angle that works, particularly his compassion.

How they cling to each other to make it through each hour keeps focus on the ferocious fight to stay alive, whether Sam is scribbling in a journal, or Eric makes a treacherous trek to get her thermal fentanyl patches for her Stage 4 cancer pain.

Lupita Nyong’o, Oscar winner for “12 Years a Slave,” has found a good niche in horror films, as her memorable turn in Jordan Peele’s “Us,” indicated. Like the best silent film actresses, she conveys so much with a glance.

Equally expressive is Joseph Quinn, mostly known as Eddie in “Stranger Things,” who will be in the upcoming “Gladiator 2.” He is convincing as an earnest guy dazed by the predicament but one who finds practical solutions to situations they find themselves in as they roam the city. He’s resourceful, and that comes in handy.

Their unlikely, but touching, bond is the reason this series remains compelling, but also handing this project off to Sarnoski was a bold and wise move. With fresh characters and a new location, he maintains the tension.

Sarnoski scored big with a small drama he directed and wrote, “Pig,” in 2021. He resuscitated Nicolas Cage’s reputation, giving him one of his best roles as a grieving former gourmet chef (St. Louis Film Critics Association’s Best Actor). It’s now streaming on Hulu, worth seeing. And Alex Wolff, a prominent brash character in “Pig,” is the kind hospice nurse Reuben in “Day One.” Wolff, who has made his mark in horror movies, including “Hereditary,” “Old,” and “My Friend Dahmer,” is a calming presence here.

Sarnoski’s different approach, while honoring the origin’s intentions, keeps its zing. The lurking destroyers remain very creepy, and the goal of a safe haven means all hope is not lost.

Each movie has offered its own well-crafted tone and tempo, and this runtime is 100 minutes, compared to the original’s 90 minutes, and Part 2’s 97 minutes.

“A Quiet Place: Day One” takes us on a familiar course in frightening fashion, touching on tender moments that make life worth living while dealing with a dystopian future no one saw coming. Challenge met.

“A Quiet Place: Day One” is a 2024 horror sci-fi drama directed by Michael Sarnoski and starring Lupita Nyong’o, Joseph Quinn, Alex Wolff and Djimon Hounsou. It is rated PG-13 for terror and violent content/bloody images and the run time is 1 hour, 40 minutes. It opened in theatres June 28. Lynn’s Grade: B+.

By Lynn Venhaus
Visually engaging and girl-power savvy, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is at its most heartfelt grieving for its king, and the larger-than-life actor whose absence is deeply felt.

After the untimely death of King T’Challa’s death, Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett), Shuri (Letitia Wright), M’Baku (Winston Duke), Okoye (Danai Gurira) and the Dora Milaje fight to protect their nation from intervening world powers and a hidden undersea nation. They work on forging a new path for the future of Wakanda.

There is so much goodwill for the cultural phenomenon that is Marvel’s first black superhero and the groundbreaking big, bold spectacle released in 2018 to universal acclaim, that it’s unfortunate the sequel suffers from sensory overload.

Technically, it’s dazzling, and the same elements that were so noteworthy in the first – seamless state-of-the-art visual effects, the cultural rhythms in Ludwig Goransson’s score, breathtaking production design by Hannah Beachler and costume designer Ruth E. Carter’s striking looks retain their grandeur.

New cinematographer Autumn Durald Arkapaw, an Emmy nominee for Marvel’s “Loki,” showcases fictional Wakanda’s natural beauty and makes the panoramic vistas shimmer.

At the 2019 Academy Awards, “Black Panther” won three Oscars – first ever for Marvel Studios — and also made history for Carter becoming the first African American woman to win in costume design, and Beachler, who was the first woman of color to not only win for production design but to be nominated. Goransson won for his score.

Lupita Nyong’o, Letitia Wright

With his keen eye for nature and scientific wonder, director Ryan Coogler is also mindful of presenting Wakanda’s customs and heritage as something very special.

Because the original was a game-changer, it was such a joyous experience along with other awed moviegoers. But now, after Chadwick Boseman’s tragic death from colon cancer in August 2020, the void is overwhelming and casts a large shadow over the film.

Coogler, who co-wrote the screenplay (and original) with Joe Robert Cole, offers a fitting tribute to Chadwick as T’Challa throughout the film, using footage of the actor in all his regal glory. That loss is inescapable – and the sadness is conveyed in the film’s characters, the actors playing the roles, and touching the audience.

It’s as if the film has the weight of the world on its shoulders and can’t transcend the reality that they were faced with in making the follow-up.

Then, there is the mammoth plot Coogler and Cole have crafted, turning the sequel into a very busy geopolitical thriller. To preserve their nation’s currency that is Vibranium, the royal family and warriors go to great lengths to protect their country. They must deal with shady U.S. operatives and a hidden under-the-sea nation not unlike the Aquaman lair.

As the enemies and conflicts become very complicated, it’s a chore to watch massive CGI battles with only perfunctory character interaction and only a smidgen of humor, especially for its 2 hours, 41 minutes runtime.

Tenoch Huerta

Nevertheless, the cast is strong top to bottom, with the spotlight on the extraordinary women. In fact, it might be the greatest advertisement for women to pursue STEM careers ever, showcasing their big brains using technology to solve problems and advance heroism.

In a much larger role, Angela Bassett is superb as smart and strong Queen Ramonda, with fearless Letitia Wright meeting her moment as brilliant scientist Shuri, a very different kind of princess.

Other forces to be reckoned with include fierce Danai Gurira as Okoye, resilient Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia and the new character, Dominique Thorne as Riri Williams, an MIT math whiz and innovative inventor.

Also impressive is Tenoch Huerta as Namor, the underwater kingdom ruler.

It goes without saying that you must stay for the additional scene after the first batch of credits, and yes, there are some surprising twists revealed throughout.

While the sequel seems to be more of everything, including its overstuffed plot that has three separate storylines colliding in messy fashion, it is still riveting.

Being an action-adventure based on a Marvel comic book has formula limitations, but “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” surmounted the challenges faced by Boseman’s death as best it could. It’s just facing the harsh reality of T’Challa’s demise that brings it crashing down to earth. 

“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is a 2022 fantasy action-sci-fi-adventure directed by Ryan Coogler and starring Angela Bassett, Letitia Wright, Tenoch Huerta, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Dominique Thorne and Winston Duke.  Rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence, action and some language, and 2 hours, 41 minutes’ long. It opens in theatres on Nov. 11. Lynn’s Grade: B

By Lynn Venhaus
In the international spy game, girls can take a licking and keep on ticking – that’s the calling card of “The 355,” a wildly uneven full-throttle action thriller.

Four women from different countries with spy agency experience join forces to save the world from cyber-catastrophe, the kind that would cause World War III. The action rockets from Columbia to Virginia to Paris to London to Shanghai on this deadly mission, as a mysterious woman tracks their moves.

The concept here is that women can be lethal weapons and front action movies, just like Tom Cruise and Jason Statham. Their task is to outsmart mercenaries up to no good. Cue the propulsive music score by Tom Kolkenborg, aka “Junkie XL,” as we watch chases, shootouts, stick-fighting, and explosions just like a “John Wick” or “Jack Reacher.”

A quartet of top-shelf actresses unite for this rogue mission: two-time Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain, in full “Zero Dark Thirty” mode, as fiery CIA agent Mason “Mace” Browne; two Oscar winners, Lupita Nyong’o as crackerjack cyber-sleuth Khadijah, formerly M16, and Penelope Cruz as compassionate Graciela, a psychologist who works with DNI agents in Colombia; and Diane Kruger as cunning German operative Marie Schmidt of the Bundesnachrichtendienst, or BND, the foreign intelligence service.

They slip into their roles with ease, and genuinely develop a bond working together in a frantic race against the clock. Their action scenes are quite impressive – as is the editing of Oscar-winner John Gilbert.

The bold and brave mavericks show off sharp skills as they try to prevent a top-secret weapon — a computer drive with a master key —  from falling into nefarious hands. They can do everything 007 and other secret agent boys can do while globe-trotting. The movie gets far more interesting when Bingbing Fan, as the mysterious Lin Mi Sheng, is added to their girl power grid. However, Sebastian Stan, as Mace’s CIA partner, is unconvincing.

Like Beyonce sang, girls can run the world – and co-writer-director Simon Kinberg seized upon the idea pitched by Chastain when he directed her in the worst “X-Men” movie sequel ever, “Dark Phoenix.” She wanted to see women get the rock-star action-goddess treatment and is one of the producers here.

“The 355” refers to the codename of an unidentified female spy in the American Revolution. (They tell us this fact far into the film).

Huzzah! Any time girls are shown on equal footing with the guys, it’s a good thing – even if it’s a pedestrian project. Last year’s “Gunpowder Milkshake” comes to mind, and the ruthless aspects of the superior “Widows” in 2018.

The plot is convoluted and often implausible, but the fight scenes are well-choreographed and are entertaining when they have the upper hand and slip out of harm’s way. The movie could have ended at least three different times, so it feels long at 2 hours and 4 minutes.

Comparisons to “Charlie’s Angels” for the 21st century are fair. The women are having such a good time kicking butt and getting names that it’s a shame that the formulaic plot devices slow it down.

Major characters shockingly get killed early, there are betrayals you see coming a mile away, and then of course we have the tough bosses and the clueless co-workers who are making bad assumptions (do these creaky tropes work anymore?).

And the main villain is a weak one — a generic billionaire fueled by greed and power. We don’t ever know much about him, and he is as bland as those stock photos companies put in their frames to entice purchasers. I couldn’t find his name in the credits, that’s the impression he makes.

Kinberg has many producing and writing credits, but as a director, hasn’t exhibited much to get excited about – yet.

Two screenwriters, Theresa Rebeck – Emmy-nominated for TV work, with a long resume including “Law and Order” and “NYPD Blue,” and Bek Smith, joined Kinberg on the script. They pile on the cliches about the women not necessarily enjoying being lone wolves and trust issues. When protecting everyone from danger, it’s tough to have what people regard as a conventional lifestyle. Their pity parties are short-lived, though, because they like being Girl Bosses.

They leave the film open-ended for a sequel, just in case they want to get the band back together. The dream team would need a better script, but seeing them triumph in this long-delayed film is an OK escape during the dreary part of frosty winter.

“The 355” is an action thriller directed by Simon Kinberg. It stars Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o, Diane Kruger, Penelope Cruz, Sebastian Stan, Edgar Ramirez and Bingbing Fan. Rated: PG-13 for sequences of strong violence, brief strong language, and suggestive material, it opens only in theatres on Jan. 7. Lynn’s Grade: C.