I could not help but snicker, seated at a screening of the new Netflix film Outlaw King, as one of the studio logos appeared on screen. The studio name is Anonymous Content; in and of itself, it’s not a funny name, but over the last few years, if there’s anything truly consistent about Netflix Original Movies, it’s that they feel like…well, anonymous content. It’s hard for a week to go by without Netflix just dropping a new movie on its service, seemingly at random: here’s a new romantic comedy! Here’s a new David Wain film! How about a dystopian sci-fi pet project from Duncan Jones? And hey, we’re going to just release the new Cloverfield movie on Super Bowl Sunday, too, just to keep you on your toes.

Netflix’s choice to disrupt how movies are released and made is all well and good, but for a long time, their only pattern was randomly throwing tons of things at the wall (rather, the cloud) and hoping something stuck. But things may be changing. Somewhat.

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ralph breaks the internet clip

Over the last few years, the Walt Disney Company has become marked by its willingness to, essentially, cannibalize itself. The animated films that serve as the building blocks for the massive conglomerate we know today are now fodder for live-action or computer-animated remakes. Couple that with the company’s predilection in the late 1990s and early 2000s to churn out direct-to-video sequels, and it’s almost surprising to consider that, in 81 years, Walt Disney Animation Studios has only created three in-canon sequels. In 1990, there was The Rescuers Down Under. In 2000, they went IMAX-level big with Fantasia 2000. And now, we have Ralph Breaks the Internet, a perfectly decent animated film that, to its credit, critiques its title character, despite being unable to transcend a profound sense that we’ve seen this all before.

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The Girl in the Spider's Web Review

The great surprise of The Girl in the Spider’s Web: A New Dragon Tattoo Story (aside from that mouthful of a title) is that director Fede Alvarez wasn’t hired to direct the new James Bond movie. Though Spider’s Web couldn’t be confused with the high-quality entertainment largely evinced by the Daniel Craig era of 007 films, it’s mounted in extremely stylish fashion and lead character Lisbeth Salander is presented as a hybrid of 21st-century Bond and the villains he combats. Spider’s Web is essentially high-toned trash, a slick piece of cinema that’s the filmic equivalent of the novel you read on a cross-country flight and forget about the day after.

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At some point in early October, I stopped by Facebook and the top post in my feed was from ScreenCrush’s Matt Singer, wherein he asked what the reader’s biggest cinematic blind spot was. My initial answer has been my go-to for a long time: Gone with the Wind. (I own a copy of the Blu-ray, and I still haven’t seen it. I have no excuses.) But as I thought more, remembering what time of year it was, I realized that I had two other answers: Halloween and Suspiria.

A local colleague of mine had the same reaction as my wife regarding John Carpenter’s seminal 1978 horror film: “How have you never seen Halloween?” (No one in my immediate circle gave me guff for Suspiria.) The film that introduced everyone to Michael Myers is one I thought I knew very well, primarily through cultural osmosis. Having seen Wes Craven’s Scream, I understood the basics of the story, and I’d even seen a couple of brief clips from the film. (As I soon learned, those clips are from literally the last 5 minutes.) And having read the work of critics like Roger Ebert, I knew enough about Carpenter’s many nods to a prototype of the slasher genre, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.

I didn’t actively avoid watching either of these films. I’m not a huge horror fan, in part because I don’t enjoy the buckets-of-blood mentality evinced in many pinnacles of the genre. I can admire some horror films, but rarely consider them among my favorites. But something about the concept of slasher films is too gruesome to me to really enjoy. Even the 1960 one-two punch of Psycho and Michael Powell’s unnerving British thriller Peeping Tom are films I admire and appreciate, without being films I want to revisit.

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first man early buzz

What feels like the distilled version of who Ryan Gosling is, or who Ryan Gosling presents himself as, can be found if you look at the photos of him on the stage at the Oscars as La La Land and its producers realized that they hadn’t won Best Picture after all. You probably know the photo: it’s him, standing somewhat removed from the phalanx of people representing both the exuberant modern musical and Moonlight, the actual winner, with a slight, bemused smile.

That distinctive look, the sense that he’s sharing a private thought (sometimes funny, sometimes not) with himself alone, is one that you can find when you watch most of his work throughout the 2010s, all the way through his latest film, First Man.

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venom unrated

The experience of watching Venom is similar to the failed experimentation on human test subjects depicted in the new film’s long slog of a first hour. In the same way that those humans’ bodies so roundly reject the introduction of a gooey alien life form, Venom represents a battle between two opposing forces. There is the deliberately goofy and genuinely weird lead performance from Tom Hardy, and then there is the antiquated and lazy film surrounding Hardy. As much as he fights to be the dominant one, his performance is essentially rejected by Venom, in favor of storytelling choices that felt dated 15 years ago.

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Family-friendly films rarely feel edgy, as you’d expect from the very concept of the genre. How can something intended for everyone be risky? That’s what makes the few exceptions to the rule stand out all the more. In the 1970s, the go-to exception was The Bad News Bears, an underdog sports story that was all about kids dabbling in very bad behavior. That led to a series of far less successful sequels, plus a forgettable remake.

In the new century, the go-to example of something remotely edgy for the whole family is School of Rock, celebrating its 15th anniversary today. That film has had a far more major impact on culture, and specifically on its star, Jack Black.

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A Simple Favor Review

Over the last decade, Paul Feig has established himself as a director who loves to work with talented women. From Bridesmaids to Ghostbusters to The Heat, he’s often excelled at capturing the uniquely spiky relationships modern women have with each other and themselves. At first glance, his choice to direct the suspense thriller A Simple Favor may seem inexplicable, since Feig’s other films are all straight-up comedies. But A Simple Favor, surprisingly to its detriment, is a movie as interested in being funny and self-aware as it is in being twisty and tense.

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The world of ballet has served as a flashpoint for a handful of filmmakers over the 21st century, decades after the art form was more dominant in popular culture. In the last couple decades, ballet has served as the foundation for some of the great independent filmmakers, from Robert Altman with his 2003 drama The Company to Darren Aronofsky with his horror-tinged Black Swan in 2010 and Luca Guadagnino with the upcoming remake of Dario Argento’s iconic ’70s tale of terror, Suspiria.

But the best of the ballet films transcends its specific craft, and has become massively influential not only to these newer auteurs, but throughout all cinema in its depiction of the single-minded, almost murderous passion to create art in spite of everything else. It’s a film that turns 70 today and remains timeless: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s The Red Shoes.

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Happytime Murders lawsuit

If you’re in the mood for a great cinematic blend of edgy comedy and detective thriller, combining the seamy underbelly of the big city with seemingly childish characters who have surprisingly adult predilections, good news: Who Framed Roger Rabbit is streaming on Hulu. It’s a classic!

If, on the other hand, you’re in the mood for a movie that apes the style of the 1988 masterpiece, as well as a handful of other not-terribly-recent films, then the dull and laugh-free The Happytime Murders is your only option. But there’s not much of a good reason to sit through the film outside of sheer, baffled curiosity.

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