Author-turned-screenwriter David Remnick’s young adult book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, and its Martin Scorsese-filmed adaptation Hugo reveled in the simple sight of an inquisitive child taking in the world around him. With Wonderstruck, Remnick and director Todd Haynes exchanges a Parisian train station and Georges Melies for New York City museums. Like Hugo, Wonderstruck is an utterly earnest film made by someone who doesn’t deal in that realm. Neither Scorsese nor Haynes typically feature characters who wear their hearts on their sleeves, with the former more comfortable in macho self-delusion and the latter in sexual repression. Maybe it takes a director who’s got a gift for liars and obfuscators to make Remnick’s brand of independent young protagonists pop off the screen. Wonderstruck might be out of Haynes’ wheelhouse, but it’s a welcomed change when the product is as endearing and beautiful as this.
With Thor: Ragnarok, the last of three 2017 Marvel films, the dominant superhero studio fully commits to idiosyncratic directors instead of the workmen guns-for-hire they started their extended universe with. No more Alan Taylors or Louis Letteriers churning out empty eye candy. Instead, Marvel has turned the keys over to weirdos like James Gunn and the refined vision of Ryan Coogler, and their films are all the better for it. Taika Waititi, the director of Ragnarok, splits the difference between the two, borrowing the wacky space opera flare from the former and the stealth critique of great powers from the latter. Waititi also happens to be the strongest comedic director Marvel’s worked with, and it’s no surprise that he would make a raucous action flick on par with something like Midnight Run or Hot Fuzz. That Ragnarok can be so much fun while also being about something beyond capes and magic powers marks it as one Marvel’s best outings.
Mad Greek genius Yorgos Lanthimos opens his latest film with an apt metaphor for his consistently stellar work. The Killing of a Sacred Deer is about a surgeon, and the film begins with his POV at work, staring into an open chest cavity as the heart inside pulses away. It’s just tissue and viscera, sparked by ion gradients. However, what appears to be mechanical contains mystery and incalculable value, much like Lanthimos’ penchant for having his actors deliver flat expository dialogue that still communicates depth and humor and meaning. His latest is another jolt of idiosyncratic black comedy pumped into the cinematic bloodstream, as vital as any element or amino acid.
The idiot plot, defined by Roger Ebert where the plot of a movie could be settled if everyone wasn’t an idiot, could be called a stubborn plot in Marc Webb’s Gifted. A simple and obvious compromise is the necessary remedy in this story of what to do with a young math prodigy, and Webb postpones the easy solution to his film’s problem for as long as he can. He fills in sympathetic characters on all sides of the central conflict, puts talented actors in those roles, and doesn’t treat the viewer any stupider in smaller scenes than the premise is already treating them. Disguise the solution staring the characters in their faces and Gifted becomes a very-good to great film, an indie heartstring-tugger that’s more perceptive and tangled than implied by initial appearances.
A different kind of superhero origin story, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women looks at the unique creative beginnings of the DC superhero. Whereas a character like Spider-Man was born out of an economic need to reach teen audiences, psychologist William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans) is pitching radical feminism and sadomasochism directly at comic book consumers in thinly veiled metaphors. Director Angela Robinson’s film takes great care to find plenty of instances in Marston’s comics to back up what the professor clearly stated was his purpose, and it’s amazing that Wonder Woman was allowed to be published in the first place under censors’ noses.
Random projects from the MMC Universe.