Another day, another superhero movie. An antihero, actually: VENOM (a CGI of slobbering black ooze) is a murderous alien symbiote fused with reporter Eddie Brock (the fine-looking Tom Hardy, whose twitchy performance is not at its finest). So Eddie has to rein him in while fighting for truth, justice, and the all-American girl (Michelle Williams, completely wasted in the role). In short, nothing new here, except for occasional amusement provided by the banter between Eddie and the thing he plays host to. This screen adaptation of the Marvel Comic, as part of the Spider-Man universe, by various Hollywood accords falls outside the main Marvel cinematic universe (Avengers et al.), for those keeping score, which may explain its competent mediocrity. Or maybe we’re just tired of it all. One postscript, and then a too-long excerpt from the upcoming Spider-Men animated feature at the very end. —YSM

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With MANDY, Nicolas Cage’s disintegration to the desolate ranks of B-movie punchline reaches its completion. He rages, he weeps, he rampages in pure camp fashion through a throwback-to-the-’70s slasher romp that consists primarily of endless slo-mo followed by poorly lit hyperkinetic action sequences, boosted by a booming techno soundtrack and a seemingly inexhaustible red filter on the lens. Add deliberately cheesy dialogue and make-up effects. Watch a career hit a new low. —YSM

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First Man

At its most riveting in the several scenes that put you in the cockpit, FIRST MAN (from director Damien Chazelle, in a big departure from his earlier LaLa Land) chronicles the years-long U.S. effort to put the first man on the moon, through the eyes of Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling). The film’s other aspects, grounded mostly by a grim through-line in the domestic life of Armstrong and his wife (a solid Claire Foy), suffer a bit from Gosling’s Gosling Face (Ryan Gosling, happy:   Ryan Gosling, sad:    Ryan Gosling, angry:    ). The effect isn’t quite deadening—the documentary-style camerawork and effective, restrained score lend some dynamism—but it constrains FIRST MAN to a lower orbit. Also of note: The primacy here of the white male; nonwhites are barely glimpsed, and women are only wives. It’s an inevitability of telling this story, from an era when only white men were deemed worthy of the best efforts and highest honors. But it’s interesting how things have changed in just a few decades, to render it striking how much this is about, first, man. —YSM

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Ocean’s 8

A great concept (an all-woman heist, just in time for this woman-empowering moment) and amazing cast (Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Sarah Paulson, Helena Bonham Carter, Rihanna) get hamstrung by a mediocre script. OCEAN’S 8 ambles along amiably enough, when its steps ought to pop with panache and skip with delightful twists. The Art of the Steal and Logan Lucky did it better, but for the pleasure of sheer girl power, this is still worth a look. –YSM

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Solo: A Star Wars Story

All the pieces of SOLO, the latest non-episodic film set a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, fit together for what should be seamless entertainment: solid cast (Woody Harrelson, Game of Thrones‘ “Mother of Dragons” Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, and Paul Bettany, led by a passable Alden Ehrenreich in the title role), capable director (Ron Howard), well-told origin story (from Jonathan Kasdan and The Empire Strikes Back‘s Lawrence Kasdan), a heist to execute, people to save…. It all works, if you can get past the Star Wars fatigue. Numerous plot points, nods, tropes, even musical motifs tie this prequel to the existing movies, but also, perhaps, show the limits of what can be done with this material. Another spunky droid. More villains in funky masks. Grotesque alien gangster boss, part deux. Evil overlord Skyping in. The Millennium Falcon weaving between space rocks, shooting lasers from gun turrets at TIE fighters, and escaping a space leviathan. If you feel like you’ve seen it all before, you can be forgiven; less forgivable is the incessant music to cue you to how you’re supposed to feel at any given moment, a telltale sign of weak emotional content onscreen. And while both SOLO and earlier non-mainline Star Wars flick Rogue One fill in the backstory, the former kept it fresh with an approach that broke new ground for the series. It’s not that SOLO isn’t entertaining; but divorced from the epic thrust of the main storyline and the charisma of a star like Harrison Ford, what’s left is a high-fashion knockoff. –YSM

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Deadpool 2

The bloom is off the the rosy butt cheeks of DEADPOOL 2 a bit compared to its refreshing, box-office-breaking predecessor, but there’s still enough fun in the further adventures of the “merc [as in mercenary] with a mouth” to put a smile on a Marvel Comics fan’s face. This time, guy-who-can’t-die Deadpool (ably played by Ryan Reynolds) faces off against tough-guy-from-the-future Cable (Josh Brolin), but actually, cracking wise and sending up the superhero genre remain the primary objectives. The constant quips and breaking of the fourth wall only occasionally feel forced, leaving plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. Demerits for two characters composed entirely of unconvincing CGI; extra points for nonchalant lesbian inclusion, and of course, stay through the credits—to the very end if you want to hear the song. —YSM

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Avengers: Infinity War

Big (pulling together over 22 superheroes drawn from 18 predecessor films) and sprawling (running time: 2 1/2 hours), AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR somehow manages not to feel overpopulated (mostly) nor to descend into a chaotic mess. In short, this is what the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been building towards since its first flick: The coming of Thanos (digitally altered Josh Brolin), a richly realized villain who, if he acquires the six Infinity Stones that grant mastery of the fundamental forces of the cosmos, will obliterate half of all living beings. Naturally, Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Vision (Paul Bettany), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), and the Guardians of the Galaxy (Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, the voices of Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper, et al.) try to stop him. Even more shocking than the film’s relative coherence and narrative drive, AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR departs from the Marvel formula in at least one unusual way, which…well, spoilers. This may be yet another superhero movie, but it’s a doozy. –YSM

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A Quiet Place

Don’t think about it too much—the particulars don’t bear scrutiny—but for a unique thrill ride that’s fraught with tension from the first frames, go to A QUIET PLACE. The Office‘s John Krasinski directs and stars (with Emily Blunt) as a dad trying to keep his family safe in a world suddenly ravaged by otherworldly creatures that hunt only by sound. Watching them careen from one everyday-activity-turned-certain-death crisis to the next may well leave you as speechless as they are. —YSM

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Love, Simon

Well-meaning and well-cast, LOVE, SIMON offers the high school coming-out tale the world needed a decade or two ago. Today it could settle comfortably into the safe space of movies made for TV (where its openly gay director, Greg Berlanti, shepherds the stable of DC superhero series); but on the big screen—a canvas crying out for more craft and complexity—it plays as a cute diversion. The too-present score of synthesizer sentiment doesn’t boost its credibility…but the likability of the cast (a winning bunch of youngsters, especially Nick Robinson in the title role, plus mom Jennifer Garner and smokin’ daddy Josh Duhamel) makes this rite of gay passage painless, even if its time has passed and we as an LGBTQ community, as even the film itself somewhat acknowledges, are kind of past this. —YSM

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Black Panther

What could a Marvel Comics character rolled out in the ’60s in so obvious a grab at racial relevance as the BLACK PANTHER (I mean, come on; the name alone!) possibly have to offer a post-Obama, Black Lives Matter world? Only what fiction has always made possible: a way to imagine what might have been. In this case, in the story of the hidden, technologically advanced African nation of Wakanda and its king, T’Challa a.k.a. the Black Panther (a regal Chadwick Boseman), we can envision what might have come of a continent if it hadn’t been stripped of its riches, both human and mineral. We see a tale where the brown-skinned are front and center, as heroes (Lupita Nyong’o, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, a kickass Danai Gurira, and winning Letitia Wright) and villain (the mouth-watering Michael B. Jordan), rather than relegated to background color or sidekick; a story that doesn’t shy away from its complicated issues of race. And yet, for all that, this is a typical Marvel superhero movie, full of action and fun, and completely accessible regardless of ethnicity. Afrofuturism lends BLACK PANTHER its distinctive swagger; but its vision of a people who are anything but anybody’s “shithole” makes for pure joy. Two modest postscripts. –YSM

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About Your Sacrificial Moviegoer

We love to sit in the dark with a big tub of popcorn amid a roomful of strangers. Reports on what we witness there come in two varieties: Bullet Reviews quickly and concisely convey our take on a film, always in spoiler-free fashion; Trailer Trash reveals Your Sacrificial Moviegoer's best prediction on whether an upcoming movie is worth seeing, based solely on the trailer (the short "previews" before the feature presentation).

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