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We’re long past the point where we can talk about individual films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe without also exploring the way they fit into the vast MCU machine, both narratively and commercially. These movies have ceased to exist as autonomous offerings; rather, they are parts of a larger whole even as they try to operate as singular works.

In those terms, I’m not sure how successful “Eternals” is.

However, if we’re talking about the execution of an individual film, one whose ambitions span a dozen new characters and thousands of years, all while simultaneously telling a story of relationships AND a story of potential world-shattering cataclysm, well … I thought it was a pretty damned good effort on the part of Chloe Zhao and company.

“Eternals” is the newest of the slew of MCU movies from the back half of 2021; we’ve already had “Black Widow” and “Shang-Chi,” while “Spider-Man: No Way Home” is coming next month. It’s also one of the deepest cuts we’ve seen yet from the MCU, with many viewing it as a sort of reckoning. These are not characters with a great deal of pop cultural cachet, deemed relatively minor Jack Kirby creations even by those devoted to the late artist’s oeuvre, so would this be the film where Kevin Feige and the rest of the Marvel powers that be finally got too far out over their skis?

Yes and no, as it turns out.

Published in Movies
Monday, 22 February 2021 14:17

Hit the road with ‘Nomadland’

It’s always intriguing to watch a movie that blurs the lines between fiction and truth. Now, I’m not talking about “based on” or “inspired by” films – though one could argue that they partake in their own line blurring – but rather films that fold together the real and the fictional. Films that evoke that cinema verité vibe without being true documentaries.

That sort of vague and vaguely-explained categorization – it’s tough to articulate, but you know it when you see it – precisely and perfectly encapsulates Chloe Zhao’s “Nomadland.” The film – written, directed, edited and produced by Zhao – is adapted from Jessica Bruder’s 2017 nonfiction book “Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century.”

It’s a story about the road-roaming lifestyle adopted by an increasing number of people – older, middle-class folks – who have been forced out of their homes and into a nomadic lifestyle by the unfortunate realities of late-stage capitalism. The companies for whom they spent years working are gone, their homes and savings destroyed by the mortgage and banking crises. To survive, they move into vans and RVs and follow seasonal work – Amazon distribution centers and campgrounds and national parks and the like – gradually becoming part of the ever-growing subculture.

It also – aside from a pair of incredible actors (Frances McDormand and David Strathairn) at its center – is populated almost wholly by people playing lightly fictionalized versions of themselves, actual livers of the nomadic lifestyle.

That bringing together of the fictional and the factual is what pushes Zhao’s film into the realm of greatness, an intimate epic of the American west as experienced by those who have been left behind by one or more of this country’s 21st century economic collapses and rebirths. It is quiet and expansive all at once, a film enamored of the broad openness of the landscape while gently acknowledging how easy it is for individual lives to get lost in the vastness that is America.

Published in Adventure

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