The M&M Report: Spring Movie Roundup

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It’s been an unusually active year for major motion pictures. Looking at the box office receipts might not tell the whole story — many of this year’s most interesting movies have drawn low grosses, thanks to some combination of weak-willed marketing and ill-considered scheduling.

Money doesn’t tell the whole story, though. Allow The M&M Report to fill in the rest. We’ll walk you through a non-comprehensive list of 2018’s highlights. But first, Devin, let me throw it to you — any theories on why we’ve been so excited to head to the multiplex so far this year?

Devin: Good movies are coming out! People realize that it’s possible for a film released early in the year to be commercially and critically successful. Get Out, which came out February of last year, probably did a lot to shift expectations, but the early months have been underserved relative to the rest of the year for awhile. Maybe there was an outdated perception that good movies didn’t come out during Oscar season? But to some extent this is just speculation.

In any event, I think it’s a positive development, even if all of movies covered here didn’t land in the way Black Panther did. Mark, what do you think is going on? And is there any credence to the idea that the plethora of good films this spring has anything to do with middling television?

Mark: I think it’s always tough to make blanket assertions about The State of Film or The State of TV. But I myself feel more engaged in what’s happening on the big screen right now. As summer movie season has become increasingly engulfed by massive spectacles designed to attract international audiences, the weirder, smaller movies that tend to draw me to the theater get pushed to spring and fall (or to Netflix, but that’s a separate conversation). The increasing fragmentation of the TV landscape means it’s now far easier to be “caught up” on movies worth seeing than it is to be “caught up” on new television that might be worth watching. And you don’t need a plethora of cable subscriptions or passwords from your friends and relatives to go see a movie — it’s hard to beat the simplicity of walking up to a counter and purchasing an immediately redeemable ticket.

I’m pleased about the number of intriguing films from respected or interesting directors that have come out recently, because it’s a reminder to check yourself whenever you’re tempted to utter the phrase, “Movies are bad now.” Rome wasn’t built in a day, and an entire medium doesn’t crumble in one either. Here are a few examples to prove the point.

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“The Martian”: Science, Fictionalized

The Martian is science-fiction in the most literal sense of the term. It’s essentially a big-budget ode to the scientific method, in which an enterprising astronaut marooned on Mars after a deadly sandstorm puts every ounce of his collegiate powers towards surviving and eventually returning home. Directed by Ridley Scott and written by Drew Goddard, the movie version of the popular Andy Weir novel meets the old-fashioned morality and classical simplicity of that story with awe-inspiring visualizations of a planet we may still one day get to know.

Rather than dwelling on the wonders of space, The Martian skips straight past the sense of discovery and plunges in as the characters treat the most foreign environments as a mundane workplace. In the opening scene, the five astronauts of the Hermes mission are deep into a harvesting session when they get word of an oncoming storm. They make their way towards shelter, but not soon enough. Four of them return to safety in time, but one, botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon), disappears, presumably asphyxiated to death.

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“House of Cards”: It’s Okay Not to Care

House of Cards

(Photo courtesy of manybits)

I’m missing out on a moment today.

When House of Card debuted to considerable fanfare last February, I did not have access to a Netflix account or the money necessary to acquire such access. I observed from the sidelines as the binge-watchers tore through each episode, finishing the series within one weekend. I observed as the show faded from the pop culture conversation as people moved on to other things (binge-watching Arrested Development). I observed as binge-watch skeptics (I would count myself among them, to an extent) finished the series at their own leisurely pace. I observed as the show became the first streaming-only, television-scale scripted series to merit serious consideration at the Emmys and the Golden Globes.

And then I was granted access to a Netflix account. But I didn’t start with House of Cards. I started with Orange is the New Black, by far the most warmly reviewed series of Netflix’s modern foray into “television.” Then I worked my way through the dense fourth season of Arrested Development, marveling at the massively complex puzzle structure while sometimes wondering why it had been seventeen minutes since I’d laughed.

And finally, I got to House of Cards.

I watched four episodes. I might have watched more, but the end of winter break and the beginning of my spring semester loomed. Tough decisions had to be made. And I decided I’d seen enough of House of Cards to know that I wasn’t clamoring to finish it.

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