Vikram Gandhi’s phenomenal Barry, a fictionalized biopic of Barack Obama’s first year at Columbia now playing on Netflix, opens with the 20-year-old student chain-smoking on a plane as it descends into Manhattan, his new home. It’s 1981. Cigarettes won’t be banned on planes for a decade, around the time Barack will meet and marry Michelle. That man doesn’t yet exist. Barry hasn’t embraced his future — he hasn’t even embraced his own name. The flight lands. He gets on the subway. He gets lost in … read more

The Death Star blew up before I was born. Its pink-and-yellow cloud left a residue on the culture. We’ve inherited Luke Skywalker’s PTSD. Generations have witnessed that moment through rewinds and re-releases, and once mine grew old enough, we recreated it for ourselves with The Force Awakens’ supersize revamp and now Rogue One’s through-the-looking-glass reimagining of how it was done in the first place. Four decades after the damned thing first exploded, to see the killer ship’s blueprint onscreen … read more

We didn’t see this year coming, but we heard it from all sides. In Signal & Noise 2016, you’ll find the way we made sense out of all of that sound.
In 2016, the absurd and the almighty merged until you could no longer tell what was satire and what was deadly serious. We saw religion in a hot dog and beauty in a gassy corpse. The gasps of a ticklish man were terrifying, and a recycled commercial of O.J. Simpson, perhaps the first black athlete to become a corporate spokesman, sprinting to … read more

We didn’t see this year coming, but we heard it from all sides. In Signal & Noise 2016, you’ll find the way we made sense out of all of that sound.
On “Skillset,” every guest is an expert, and every week they teach you and me a new way to look at the movies. MTV chief film critic Amy Nicholson talks to behind-the-scenes specialists who make movie magic and actors about the obsessions that shaped them. In the first season, Amy spoke with Ethan Hawke about marathon running, Michael Shannon … read more

Every decade, Los Angeles changes identities like an actress renovates her face. In the ’60s, it bred hippie cults and killers; the ’70s belonged to smog alerts and porn. The ’80s were dominated by hair metal screeching down the Sunset Strip, and the ’90s placed O.J. Simpson and Rodney King at the center of the national conversation. At the turn of the 21st century, the city struggled to distance itself from the media sharks chumming Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, and Tara Reid’s Thong Squad. … read more

Pablo Larraín’s Jackie is an elegy to two slandered traits: self-consciousness and superficiality. We used them synonymously as meaning “weak” or “slick.” But to Jackie Kennedy, they were virtues — or weapons against the vulgar. For Jackie, self-consciousness meant she was aware that the world looked to her family to represent America. Superficiality satisfied their prying eyes. She could charm the planet with poise, present the royal Yankee family they wanted to adore. She weaponized her smile. … read more

Casey Affleck is a rare animal. For a decade, Hollywood’s ecosystem has favored actors buff enough to star in one action franchise per year. To compete, Affleck’s brother, Ben, and best bud, Matt Damon, have pumped up like gorillas to play Batman and Jason Bourne, respectively. These steroidal alphas still consider themselves serious actors, but the side effect is that they seem increasingly ridiculous in serious roles. It’s getting harder to look at Damon’s six-pack — or at Mark Wahlberg or Chris … read more

On a distant planet made of coal, a parallel universe Billy Bob Thornton stars in a film called Badly Traumatized Santa, where a suicidal man raised without love and kindness realizes he’s deeply, deeply fucked up. The script is exactly like the new Earth film Bad Santa 2. Only ours thinks it’s a comedy. Mark Waters’s sequel has a perverse problem: Billy Bob Thornton is an excellent actor. He’s so convincing that when his Willie Soke opens up about his abusive childhood — how his 13-year-old mom … read more

Divines, the year’s best and most brutal girl-power flick, opens with a fake-out. Director Houda Benyamina, who won the Golden Camera prize at Cannes, spies on a Muslim prayer service in the Parisian slums. Her lens slowly reveals the peeper: a teenager in a headscarf half-hidden behind a screen. Is this the new face of France? A devout girl who craves acceptance? Then Benyamina zooms in to reveal the truth. The headscarf is a hoodie and all Dounia (Oulaya Amamra, Benyamina’s astonishing younger … read more

When journalist Sebastian Junger returned to New York after surviving a rocket attack in Afghanistan, suddenly the world he knew felt strange. “I couldn’t quite explain what was wrong,” he wrote. He waited for the C train, just as he’d done hundreds of times before. But now, the subway was scary: “There were too many people on the platform, the trains were coming into the station too fast, the lights were too bright, the world was too loud.”
Junger thought he was going crazy. He learned … read more

Here’s how a high school heroine is supposed to behave: She’s shy and responsible, a Cinderella in sneakers. The world — and her parents — might be cruel, but she’s an angel. Her teachers love her. So will her crush, once he knows her name. Maybe she’s artistic or adorably poor. She’s definitely a virgin. Let her best friend be the loudmouth; our dearie is as sweet as a sugar cookie, left un-iced so you can decorate her to look like yourself. Skillset Podcast: Hailee Steinfeld of ‘The … read more

Muggles, we’re a long way from home. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter prequel, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, is set in 1920s New York, an ocean away from Dumbledore and the genteel Brits who, before betraying you, at least serve a spot of tea on a pink, kitten-painted saucer. In this America — a noir with wands instead of pistols — the trenchcoat-clad agents at the Magical Congress of the United States of America, a.k.a. the MACUSA, simply zap. Here, Muggles aren’t even called Muggles. … read more

The moments that change our lives can land with a hush. We panic and fret and cry about what might be, and then when the unthinkable finally happens, the air goes still, like you missed your own death and woke up in the tomb. Movies — especially sci-fi movies like Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival — tend to get this wrong. They think every big moment is big, that when the aliens land, our heads will pound with lasers and explosions and a crashing orchestra. But Villeneuve (Prisoners, Enemy, Sicario) … read more

Let’s talk about a powerful woman. Her name is Elaine and she dominates an entire town of rural white men. Elaine (a magical Samantha Robinson) is Tic Tac–poppingly beautiful: voluptuous body, good legs, hair down to her wherever. When she walks down the street, men stop and leer. When she drives, she never has to fear the cops; they are dumbstruck by her glossy pink lips. Once she locks eyes with a target, he’s under her spell before she drugs him with love potions. This bombshell in chiffon and … read more

It looks like Jaden Smith isn’t the only person who’s into the teachings of the Ancient One.
The good news is that Doctor Strange is doing really well for its first weekend in theaters. The better news is this may be one of the best opening weekends a Marvel movie has seen pretty much, uh, ever.
Doctor Strange is in the midst of earning some serious cash over the course of its first few days in theaters, and it’s projected to bring in upwards of $80 million to make it one of the highest-earning debuts … read more