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As “Avengers: Infinity War” continues to dominate cinemas, it’s worth taking a moment to look back at the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Just as the story of “Infinity War” positions itself as a culmination of the 18 films that have come before, its commercial success, as the fastest film to reach $1 billion at the global box office, reflects how the franchise has morphed into a cultural juggernaut in a mere ten years.
What is “Avengers: Infinity War,” exactly? Technically, it is both the 19th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as well as the third film in the Avengers film series. More 19th, it is the first film in a two-part, back-to-back epic conclusion to the Avengers series, which means it is inherently setting up the audience for “Avengers Four.” Most of all, though, “Infinity War” is meant to make good on the 10-year-old promise that we would one day get to see all the heroes in the MCU battle its greatest villain, Thanos, an iron-willed titan with visions of deathly grandeur. Thanos is in pursuit of six Infinity Stones, which when combined with his magical Infinity Gauntlet will give him the power to eradicate half of all life in the universe (Thanos reasons that resources are limited, so his solution for overpopulation is indiscriminate genocide). Now it’s up to the combined forces of the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy to stop him.
The year is 2020 and sightless creatures roam the Earth, using their impeccable sense of hearing to feed on remaining human survivors. This is the premise of the new horror film “A Quiet Place,” and it’s a magnificent example of the sort of story pitch that manages to be provocative and exciting in a single sentence. As Hollywood studios attempt to monopolize comic book adaptations, sequels and shared cinematic universes, this species of engaging, original pitch has become increasingly rare.
The Baudelaire Orphans are back for a second season in Netflix’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” and fortunately for us the show hasn’t lost its gothic charm, idiosyncratic humor or heartfelt sincerity. Once again, producer and director Barry Sonnenfeld and his team of writers adapt the books from the beloved book series by Lemony Snicket (nom de plume for Daniel Handler) into two-part episodes. In doing so, they allow each book the chance to shine, breathe and grow in what is essentially a 90-plus minute mini-movie. This season tackles books five through nine: “The Austere Academy,” “The Ersatz Elevator,” “The Vile Village,” “The Hostile Hospital” and “The Carnivorous Carnival.” As the titles suggest, the show remains as erudite and obsessed with literary allusions as before.
For better or worse, “Ready Player One” is the natural culmination of the narrative trends Hollywood and moviegoers have favored over the last five years — namely, an intense revival of interest in media from the 1970s, 80s and 90s. Don’t believe me? Well, enjoy that new “Star Wars” movie, the new “Jurassic Park” movie and the new “Predator” movie all coming out later this year. So it should come as no surprise that someone had the bright idea to adapt Ernest Cline’s popular novel “Ready Player One,” a smorgasbord of nostalgia, to the big screen. The fact that it has been brought to life by Steven Spielberg, the man behind so many of the stories that Cline appears to love, is just the cherry on the sundae.
There is a scene in the middle of Duncan Jones’ newest film “Mute” that is so ugly, so needlessly perverse and repugnant, that I couldn’t help but wonder if it was some sort of endurance test for the audience. I wouldn’t have been shocked if the film’s end credits had been replaced by a video-game-like graphic reading, “Congratulations! You managed to watch this dumpster fire without puking! You win a prize!”
According to Rotten Tomatoes, 2018’s “Tomb Raider” is the best reviewed video game film adaptation … ever. Given that it has a modest 50 percent critical approval rating, I’d argue that says more about the infamously abysmal quality of such adaptations than it does about anything else. Video game films are notorious for their ability to trip and fall over the exceedingly low bar set by so many generic Hollywood blockbusters.
Dear Paul Thomas Anderson,
It’s hard not to ask what the best film of 2017 was, given that the 90th Academy Awards are less than a week away. But if you’re like me, it’s also surprisingly difficult to settle on a definitive answer. About a year ago, I reviewed “Moonlight” and called it the rare, transcendent cinematic experience that I’m lucky to have even once a year. “Moonlight,” to be clear, was precisely that film for 2016. Yet I had no such similar experience in 2017.
There is an old truism that posits that the best superhero films are those that first and foremost aim to be different. For instance, it is often argued that a film like “The Dark Knight” is a cut above other Batman movies because it is constructed as a gritty crime drama, not a superhero adventure flick. While statements like this occasionally rankle die-hard comic book fans, I think it really just speaks to the utterly arbitrary nature of the superhero genre label. Consider that both “The Punisher” and “The Incredibles” are both typically classified as superhero films even though they have next to nothing in common.
As the 90th Academy Awards ceremony draws closer, it’s hard not to compare the various nominees, particularly those in the Best Picture category. After all, cinema does not exist in a vacuum. When one considers “Call Me By Your Name” from that perspective, it does have at least one noteworthy quality that, for better or for worse, distinguishes it from the pack: The film has the ability to haunt the viewer. One leaves the theater enveloped by the film’s narrative and everything it entails, both the good and the bad. “Call Me By Your Name” didn’t move me as much as “Lady Bird”did, nor did it elicit the same visceral bodily reactions as “Dunkirk.” It didn’t make me think as much as “Get Out,” and it wasn’t as beautiful or profoundly simple in its execution compared to Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water.” But “Call Me By Your Name” stayed with me. In fact, it is still with me — even as I try to write this review, I occasionally find myself not being able to decide how to address my overall experience. For a film that tries so hard to be like a window into reality, it has a surprisingly hallucinatory power.
Last year, Ridley Scott’s “Alien: Covenant” premiered, but does anyone even remember the film? Neither do I, which is kind of astonishing given its recent release date. I mention this, not because this is a review of “Alien: Covenant,” but because the release of both “Alien: Covenant” and “All the Money in the World” in the same year illustrates the most fascinating and contradictory qualities associated with Scott’s skills and limitations as a filmmaker. “Alien: Covenant” was awful, easily one of the worst films in recent memory. In fact, it was so dreadful that I kyboshed my plans to review the film and instead implored my editors to let me do a retrospective on the revival of my favorite TV series, “Twin Peaks.” This was made all the worse because Scott had recently launched a successful career comeback with 2015’s crowd-pleasing “The Martian.” This all speaks to a long-standing truism about Scott — he is only as good as the script he’s working from. At this point in his career, no one would deny that he is a master of his craft; each of his films is, without fail, gorgeous and technically impeccable. Indeed, when he has a great script, like “Blade Runner,” he does a wonderful job at visually highlighting and complementing the complex themes and ideas that are often interwoven so beautifully into the story. The problem is that Scott seems utterly incapable of discerning between a great script and a terrible script. No director should be able to list “Thelma & Louise” and “Exodus: Gods and Kings” on the same résumé.
“Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep were a bit shoddy in ‘The Post,''' said no one ever.
This was not part of the plan.
For some writers, dialogue is lyrical. For others, it is realistic, capturing the rambling cadence of everyday speech. And for still others, it is purely utilitarian: Characters must speak, so they do. But for Aaron Sorkin, dialogue is the beating heart and soul of the enterprise of writing.
A few weeks ago, my editors acquiesced to my request to drop the numerical ratings system in my reviews. I felt the ratings were becoming increasingly arbitrary. Not just arbitrary in the sense that one number is a rather weightless way of expressing an opinion, but also in the sense that the distinction between “good” and “bad” cinema was becoming more and more blurry to me. Thanks to some of my film studies courses, I began to appreciate how limiting these categories were. Of course, I wouldn’t write film criticism week after week if I didn’t feel that discussing the quality of films had some value. I’ve come to realize that the way I define “quality” is somewhat complicated.
On Saturday night, I trekked down to the labyrinthine nether-realm that is the Nugget Theater to see “Marshall.” Ten minutes before, I had left the Hopkins Center for the Arts’ screening of Taylor Sheridan’s problematic, complicated yet engaging “Wind River,” which played to a mostly packed theater. In contrast, I watched “Marshall” with a grand total of two other people. To everyone who could have filled those extra seats but didn’t: Y’all missed out.
In last week’s review of “The Snowman,” I encouraged readers to skip that dreadfully dull film and instead watch “Battle of the Sexes.” As it happens, I saw the two films over a week ago, and the contrast could not have been greater. When I walked out of “The Snowman,” my head was reeling with confusion. When I walked out of “Battle of the Sexes,” I felt buoyed, eager to return home and research the real-life story that had inspired the film. This is one of the year’s best films and the more I think about it, the fonder I grow — which is significant considering I was already fond of it when I walked out of the Nugget Theater.