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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.
This Saturday, the Hopkins Center for the Arts will host “An Evening with Barry Jenkins,” an event that brings the renowned filmmaker to campus for two hours of film clips and discussions.
“Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep were a bit shoddy in ‘The Post,''' said no one ever.
Hanover’s Howe Library will begin celebrating the 21st year of Ciné Salon, a program that celebrates seldom seen films, on Monday. Seven segments will be presented through April 16. With a variety of genres, Ciné Salon will feature psychedelic LSD films and avant-garde masterpieces.
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.
On Sunday, Oct. 29, Upper Valley television channel CATV’s sixth annual Halloween-o-thon took place on Dartmouth’s campus from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the Loew Auditorium located in the Black Family Visual Arts Center, partnering with the Hopkins Center for the Arts. Halloween-o-thon showcased films made by students spanning in age from middle school to college from all across the Upper Valley who registered to commit three weeks of their time to writing, directing and casting their very own short horror films. On Sunday, their work was displayed on the big screen to celebrate the creative endeavors of local youth and embrace the Halloween spirit.
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.
I watched “Detroit” over a week ago, and I’m still not quite sure what to say. It is, without a doubt, the hardest film I’ve ever had to review. In retrospect, this is not a shock — director Kathryn Bigelow has shown a steadfast willingness to tackle controversial topics in her previous two films, “The Hurt Locker” and “Zero Dark Thirty.” Similarly, “Detroit” is based on the Algiers Motel Incident, although the film acknowledges that Mark Boal’s tense screenplay takes certain factual liberties due to conflicting or incomplete testimonies about what actually occurred in the 1967 incident of police brutality against three black teenagers. Thus, the plot details described in this review will be based purely on the events as the film describes them; if you want to know more about the real-life incident, I highly recommend looking it up.
In my review of “Arrival,” I wished director Denis Villeneuve luck for his next endeavor, a sequel to my favorite film of all time: Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner.” To be clear from the outset, the original “Blade Runner” is far from perfect. It is a flawed masterpiece, as influential as it is imperfect. And that’s probably why I love it. It is a slow, poetic and evocative film that never asked for or needed a sequel. But here we are 35 years later and “Blade Runner 2049” actually exists. Is it as good as the first film? Of course not, but I didn’t really expect it to be. Is it, at least, a worthy successor? By and large, I think so.
In many ways, “Dunkirk” is the film Christopher Nolan was meant to make. This is not to say that it’s his best film, though it is certainly among the best. While watching the film, one senses that it is the payoff for all his efforts to simultaneously become commercially successful and critically beloved over the last 20 years. After watching “Inception,” which is undoubtedly the most Nolan-esque of all the Nolan films, I feared that the director had reached his pinnacle. His unique and thrilling combination of labyrinthine narratives, philosophical themes and nuanced characters seemed to have been pushed to its limit. After reaching the top of Mt. Everest, there simply was no other peak to summit. His next two features reflected this fact; “The Dark Knight Rises” and “Interstellar” are both decent films that fall short of greatness because they are so overstuffed. Nolan’s ambition, previously his greatest asset, was slowly becoming his primary weakness. Until “Dunkirk.”
Darren Aronofsky and I have a complicated relationship. Well, to be more accurate, his films and I have a charged, complex and often fraught relationship. The common thread among his previous six films is the ability of each to elicit a distinct emotional response from me. “Requiem for a Dream” and “Black Swan” are masterpieces of modern tragedy, while “The Wrestler” is a solid, if unremarkable, film. On the other end of the spectrum, I found “Pi” to be a touch underwhelming and I absolutely loathe both “The Fountain” and “Noah.” Based on those precedents, I really had no idea what to expect from “mother!” other than the fact that it would inevitably provoke a strong reaction. And it most certainly did.
Each year, Telluride at Dartmouth brings hand-selected films from the famous Colorado’s Telluride Film Festival to Hanover. This year’s Telluride at Dartmouth kicked off on Sept. 15 with a screening of “The Shape of Water” and ends tonight with acclaimed drama “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool.”
Going into “Downsizing,” all I knew was the major overarching concept. People were shrinking in order to get more bang for their buck, in a strangely practical use of science fiction technology. An odd premise; one that makes you both eager to get to the ramifications and impatient with opening scenes establishing the given circumstances.
If you were to hold a gun to my head and demand that I produce a list of my all-time favorite films, “Pan’s Labyrinth” would make it into the top five one way or another. I mention this because when early reviews for Guillermo Del Toro’s newest film, “The Shape of Water,” declared it the director’s best work since “Pan’s Labyrinth,” I was both optimistic and skeptical. To be clear, I make the comparison to “Pan’s Labyrinth” not because I wish to put “The Shape of Water” at an unreasonable disadvantage, but because the two films have so much in common.
A jam-packed movie theater at an evening showing of a horror movie on its opening weekend is not an atypical sight in a suburban Pennsylvania town. Total silence in that theater, however, is an atypical sound. This incongruity illustrated the success of the latest film adaptation of Stephen King’s “It.”