Marvel’s Superpower

Brie Larson in 'Captain Marvel'

The conventional wisdom says that Marvel can do no wrong while DC bungles just about everything.

Yet it’s difficult to really compare them. The Marvel Cinematic Universe got a running start with Iron Man way back in 2008, and the DC Extended Universe didn’t begin until 2013, with Man of Steel. Marvel’s first Avengers movie dropped in 2012, while DC didn’t get the gang together until Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in 2016. In time terms, DC trails Marvel by four to five years, and in volume it’s even further behind: There are now 21 movies in the MCU, while the DC Extended Universe has six.

But we finally have a good point of comparison for the two comic-book titans: Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel. They were released less than two years apart; they both represented the first solo vehicle for a female superhero in their respective universes; they were both directed or co-directed by a woman; and they’re both origin stories that largely stand apart from ongoing narratives.

In a narrow test of brand strength, they strongly support the idea that Marvel drinks DC’s milkshake.

Steal These Lines

'You can't cut the throat of every cocksucker whose character it would improve'

No television show loved language more than HBO’s Deadwood, but that statement comes with a caveat: It was not particularly quotable. The dialogue by David Milch and his writers was gorgeous, but it was purposefully verbose and had an often-challenging syntax.

Yet in that thick stew of words and convoluted sentences were tons of great lines, and — more to the point for this article — lots of quotes that can be adapted to your everyday life. My wife and I compiled this list last summer, looking for nuggets that one might use at home, with friends, or in the workplace (but only, it should be stressed, in carefully selected company). A few require a scene partner, but the vast majority are merely waiting for the perfect moment.

With the long-hoped-for Deadwood movie arriving this spring (exact date TBA), I figured that now would be a good time to share.

Failure in a Moment

A race against dementia

Sometimes the success or failure of a movie, book, or television show hinges on a short passage. If that small part works, so does the whole; if the crucial bit comes up short, the entire enterprise falls apart.

For me with the third season of creator/writer Nic Pizzolatto’s HBO series True Detective, the moment comes late in the finale when former cop Wayne Hays drives up to the house of a person he strongly suspects is Julie Purcell, who disappeared with her brother Will 35 years ago and has eluded him ever since.

Done well, this section would have salvaged a story plagued by missteps. But Pizzolatto botches it.

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The question of what actually happened with Nora hangs over the finale of The Leftovers, but it is finally unknowable in any conclusive sense. Yet as much as the finale’s approach invites speculation, questions, and theories, it also tells us how to process it. If Damon Lindelof ain’t telling or showing us what actually happened, we must infer that it’s not really important.

But it’s absolutely relevant whether Nora is telling the truth, which is an admittedly odd thing to say on the heels of the preceding sentence. The episode also gives us this answer, subtly but unmistakably: She’s lying.

The genius of “The Book of Nora” is that it lays this out for us with immense clarity and then welcomes us to set it aside.

Revisiting Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House helped clarify the fundamental dissonance of the show — that running counter to its hopeful, tidy conclusion is something far messier in both its ghost and family stories. Yet the early episodes carve out room for readings that substantially darken the whole, undermining without negating the tone of its final minutes.

'The Man from the Train'Bill James’ The Man from the Train is an ugly book, but for the most part you shouldn’t read that as a criticism. It’s ugly in three ways, and two of those were certainly unavoidable given the subject — the murders of more than 100 people in the early part of the 20th Century.

But the third way could have been mitigated to at least some degree. It would have been an admittedly difficult task, but the book — admirable though it is in several ways — is fundamentally unsatisfying.

Patricia Clarkson and Amy Adams in 'Sharp Objects'Adapted from Gillian Flynn’s debut novel, HBO’s Sharp Objects is a whole bunch of greatness that, finally, amounts to not much of anything. As an atmospheric mystery story, it’s elliptical right up to its closing moments and beyond, but it’s so pleased with how wholly it fooled the audience that it expects nobody will notice the obviousness of its cheats. As the portrait of a family, it crosses a line from awful parenting to horror, shifting in the process from heartbreaking to faintly ridiculous. And as a character study of Camille Preaker — the alcoholic, self-mutilating journalist played by Amy Adams with a compelling rawness — it ultimately just doesn’t care.

Sissy Spacek in 'Castle Rock'Hulu’s Castle Rock was inspired by the works of Stephen King, and the show takes pleasure in giving the author’s fans as many references as possible. Here’s Alan Pangborn. Here’s Alan Pangborn digging up a dead dog to make sure it’s still dead. Here’s a Torrance — Jackie Torrance, no less. Here’s Shawshank. Yes, they’re talking about Cujo. Yes, that’s same guy who played Pennywise in last year’s It, and of course that’s Carrie White, and she looks quite a bit like she did forty-odd years ago. Etc.

But the series has also been adamant about forging its own identity. Rather than stitching together existing narratives, its starting point is the idea that King’s fictional town of Castle Rock, Maine, has seen so much horror that there must be something seriously amiss. What other terrible things could happen there? So the show’s inaugural season has primarily concerned itself with the nature of The Kid — an ageless blank slate who was kept in a cage for decades in the bowels of Shawshank — and thrown a couple other paranormal curiosities in orbit around it. (The tone is one of dark mystery, but it’s barely creepy and absolutely not scary — none of which is a complaint.)

So when seventh episode “The Queen” immediately felt very familiar, I guess we shouldn’t have been too surprised that it drew not from King but from a famously excellent episode of another TV show whose DNA had been plainly evident in this one. And then from a great movie.

Divisive, indeedI won’t be coy. The genesis for this piece was the hypothesis that The Last Jedi was not “divisive,” despite that word being attachedseemingly by law — to nearly every mention of the movie in the eight months since its release.

I was wrong.

black-panther.jpgLike many people, I had an immediate negative reaction to the announcement last week of a new Achievement in Popular Film category for the Oscars. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences can’t seem to do much right with its signature awards, and now it’s taking a hammer to the related problems of decreasing relevance and dwindling television audiences.

But even initially, I was more amused than offended. And as I thought about it, I grew to like the change and see it as a worthy and noble effort.

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