Our staffers have some recommendations for what you can watch at the theater or in the comfort of your home this weekend.
K. Austin Collins: Thor: Ragnarok is the third movie in the Thor franchise, but it’s the first in the series to give off the “What, me worry?” vibes that make the Guardians of the Galaxy movies worth the price of the admission. Watching the original Thor, which is only six years old, you’re reminded of a time when Marvel movies looked and felt like Michael Bay rip-offs, with the same sense of heat and metal, similar camera swoops, and the same unnerving sensation that everything meant to seem human is in fact artificial. (The second movie, 2013’s Thor: The Dark World, was a little more of its own thing.) In a broader sense, Marvel has been trying to get more human—or at least more Hollywood. Movies like Spider-Man: Homecoming, Iron Man 3, and the Guardians films are as much about their charismatic stars as they are their overlapping mythic universes. Isn’t Ant-Man as much of a Paul Rudd movie as a Marvel Movie™? The Thor movies have increasingly followed suit—mostly for the better.
Collins: This is a Yorgos Lanthimos movie. Lanthimos, the increasingly popular Greek auteur, doesn’t tell stories so much as he imposes rigid conditions from the outset and calls them a premise—and a style. His movies are laboratories, wards of moral and behavioral chaos. They are controlled environments in which characters’ inner lives and desires unspool or devolve with an absurdist sense of humor and the tragic, but also darkly humorous, weight of inevitability.
Adam Nayman: Super Dark Times’ story of an accidental death and subsequent cover-up is imbued with a similar feeling of moral ambivalence. It begins with a dreamlike prologue in which a deer lies dying on the floor of a high school classroom—a wounded creature waiting to be put out of its misery. In the context of the film’s mid-’90s setting, this opening vignette, with its tracking shots through hallways lined with lockers and stained with blood, poetically and ruthlessly evokes collective cultural memories of school shootings in the years to come. The image is of a childhood sanctuary violated by random, inexplicable violence; it’s an ominous sign.
Alison Herman: As that Big Bad name indicates, if you subscribe to the notion that horror lives or dies on the strength of its heavy, Stranger Things might still be dead on arrival. Both seasons of the show are remarkably successful at what they set out to do, but subtext and allegory are each left off that agenda. For that, you could look to the likes of Get Out, Raw, It Comes at Night, or Netflix’s own Gerald’s Game, all part of the wave of popular horror titles that have thrived in the year-plus between Stranger Things seasons in a trend the show itself helped start. And while that wave clearly has room for razor-sharp, ultra-contemporary dissections of modern social problems, it’s tempting to attribute much of Stranger Things’ own success to its lack of specificity or even symbolism. In this world, evil is simply evil, and that’s scary enough.
Herman: Like the book it’s based on, much of the action in Alias Grace consists of repressed, polite people talking to each other in stately, tasteful rooms. Director Mary Harron enlivens these conversations with jarring cutaways to Grace’s traumatic memories, providing effective contrast with both Grace’s present environment and her friendly, ever-so-slightly combative demeanor. But Alias Grace sets out to be a more intellectual exploration of the motivations behind killings and the ways we treat those who commit them than the likes of Serial, The People v. O.J. Simpson, and My Favorite Murder.
Herman: In this way, The Deuce gets at an aspect of gentrification no joke about third-wave coffee shops and fixed-gear bicycles can ever capture. The process of “renewing” or “reviving” a given place—loaded terms that often go hand in hand with rising rents, displacement, and increased surveillance—is always more than the sum of individual choices. It’s the consequence of intentional, high-level decisions that create the incentives that guide those choices. A mayor decides he wants to be commander in chief, and a dozen steps down the food chain, a pimp loses his ability to make a living. The show is still decades off from the fully corporatized version of Times Square, but The Deuce shows an area made that much more palatable to big brands and multinational investors.