(Review) Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

I never thought we’d see something like this. Let’s get right into it.

The gist.

Miles Morales (Shameik Moore, Dope) is a normal kid living a semi-normal life, his mother (Luna Lauren Velez) a nurse and his father (Brian Tyree Henry) a police officer. He’s hanging out with his uncle (Mahershala Ali) when he’s bitten by a radioactive spider and given powers. He discovers Spider-Man in the midst of a battle and a giant atom collider opens up a rift in between realities, bringing a slew of Spider-People from other dimensions into ours. They must stop the Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) from activating the collider again and potentially destroying all their worlds.

From other dimensions, we have an older Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson), Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld), Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage), Spider-Ham (John Mulaney), and anime-style Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn).

What works?

As a fan, this movie is a love letter to Spider-Man mythology. We’re seeing characters that had incredibly small roles in the comics. There are easter eggs and moments and echoes to what has happened in the comics, it all builds together to give us one of the truest representations of Spider-Man that we’ve ever seen. Or I guess I should say, Spider-People. Each of the dimension-hopping Spider-characters get moments to shine and all come beautifully to life.

A lot of this movie’s success will rest on its visuals, which are absolutely mind-blowing. There were moments that I couldn’t even wrap my head around what was happening on-screen. It blends animation styles and techniques to give us simultaneously a story true to the comic books yet also something pushing the boundaries of what animated movies can do. It’s fresh and unique and unlike any animated movie we’ve seen before. The colors are vibrant and pop off the screen, so definitely consider seeing this in a premium format if it’s available to you.

In terms of voice acting, it’s all done perfectly. Our lead Miles is perfectly (and surprisingly) played by Shameik Moore (known as the lead in Dope and a reoccurring role The Get Down). He somehow manages to play a convincing middle-schooler, it all works. I also am surprised to say that Jake Johnson is now one of my favorite Peter Parker renditions, albeit a very different and darker take on Parker. The other standout was Nicolas Cage, who delivered a vast amount of comedic relief as the brooding Spider-Man Noir, a detective from a black and white alternate past.

I also have to bring up the music, as this movie features some incredible stuff. It features my new favorite guilty pleasure song Sunflower by Post Malone (clip here) and a ton of other catchy songs that perfectly bring this movie to life. With this, the sound design in general is perfect. I was especially struck, for some reason, by the sounds that accompanied the villain The Prowler, which still kind of haunt me in the best of ways.

Now, all of this wouldn’t matter much if the story fell flat. Luckily, we get something really special here. It manages to make a complicated topic (parallel dimensions) easy enough to understand in a PG-rated movie. It’s got action, it’s got heart, and it takes some risks with how it plays out. It doesn’t dumb anything down, delivering a high-quality product that even children should have a blast with.

What doesn’t work?

Absolutely nothing. Next.

Overall…

I didn’t want to jinx it because I wanted this movie to do well. It’s risky though, taking the spotlight off of Peter Parker. What we get here far surpasses what I hoped. We get an incredible story focusing on Miles Morales, a story full of heart and action. The effects are literally unlike anything I’ve ever seen, sending you rocketing through a world that is beautiful and breathtaking. Our voice actors all do incredible work and each character has moments to truly shine. For both comic book fans and mainstream audiences, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a slam dunk and a monumental achievement.

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Review: Boy Erased

Boy Erased.

Sometimes, smaller films like this come and go without anyone really seeing them in theaters. They might even get award nominations but a majority of mainstream audiences won’t even know what this is, so let’s dive into my experience with Boy Erased and let’s see if you need to make a detour to catch this one before it leaves theaters.

The gist.

We follow college student Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea) as he is sent to a conversion therapy center, a place where supposedly young gay men can be converted through Biblical lessons, extensive therapy, and sometimes even physical violence. Jared’s father Marshall (Russell Crowe) is a Baptist preacher, while his mother Nancy (Nicole Kidman) turns a blind eye to what’s happening at this therapy. This intense curriculum is led by the intense Victor Sykes (Joel Edgerton, who also wrote and directed this film).

What works?

This movie is packed with some incredible performances. I don’t doubt we’ll see some nominations for major awards. Lucas Hedges was a small part of what made Manchester by the Sea work but he holds this entire movie up, delivering a nuanced and intense performance. He’s one of the best young talents out there and he shows no sign of slowing down. He’s complemented by an incredible performance from Nicole Kidman, who should receive a Supporting Actress nomination, if all is right in the world. This movie feels authentic and that’s terrifying, due to these incredible performances. Russell Crowe and Joel Edgerton are good but they don’t get the sort of big moments that Kidman and Hedges get, so when the credits roll, Crowe and Edgerton just don’t stick out to you as much as the others.

This story is intense, based on a true story. It can be hard to watch but this is an important movie, tackling how LGBT issues and religion intersect, and how conversion therapy is killing our youth. No matter where you stand on the spectrum, this movie should provide some interesting insight and bring up questions and perspectives you may not have considered.

I also appreciate the structure of the film, using Jared’s therapy activities as a way to initiate flashbacks, showing us little by little what he’s gone through to get to this point. The movie keeps you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end.

What doesn’t work?

While yes, this will be up for major awards, it’s not perfect.

My biggest problems come with the film’s conclusion, as it doesn’t really nail the landing. Maybe this is because it’s based on a true story and true stories don’t have Hollywood endings? Regardless, the ending feels a little lackluster compared to some of the big payoffs leading into the climax. Some major characters get no resolution, except one-line of text that read like “This person then did this with their life” just before the credits. Moments that I wanted to see, moments that I wanted to punch me in the gut… These moments just didn’t happen, meaning the film ends with a whimper rather than a bang.

Overall…

Boy Erased is a great film, highlighted by some exceptional performances. Lucas Hedges and Nicole Kidman are the ones to talk about here and will be a major point of discussion leading up to award season. This is an important movie, but it might be a difficult watch for some of you, especially if you are already struggling internally with the cohesion of LGBT rights and religion. It brings up big questions that you’re left to answer on your own, but it does so beautifully.

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Review: Green Book

Green Book.

Well, December is upon us, which means we’re going to get a truckload of films aiming for the big awards and Green Book was one of my most-anticipated.

The gist.

Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) is a bouncer at a night club, struggling to make ends meet for his family. A mysterious new benefactor named Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) arrives and offers Tony a job, driving him through the deep south and protecting him while on a concert tour. This movie is set in the 1960s and Dr. Shirley, an African-American musical virtuoso, must confront racism in all sorts of forms, while Tony also confronts his own biases.

We also have Linda Cardellini as Tony’s wife Dolores.

What works?

Green Book is one of the most pleasant movie experiences I’ve had this year, in a flood of generic 3-star films. It is refreshing and unique and manages to find an incredible balance of fun and humor, right alongside some intense moments and uncomfortable conversations.

The crux of this film and why it works is the two incredible talents of Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali, proving here that they’re both powerhouses in this industry and some of the best working actors in the business. I’ve seen a fair share of films starring both men and what they offer up here is unlike anything I’ve seen from them before. Viggo is the character that folks will talk about, as he’s the comedic backbone but only because how accurate his character feels. His Tony Lip is crude and loud and doesn’t understand some of the finer things that Dr. Shirley introduces him to. He is the character that’s been dialed up to 11 and is sometimes quite ridiculous, though completely authentic. He is the actor that people will talk about first.

But Viggo’s performance alone couldn’t hold this movie. It would feel like an outlandish comedy. He succeeds because of the success of Mahershala Ali’s performance, which is muted and quiet and subdued, though still just as authentic. His Dr. Shirley is torn, disassociated from his black roots but unwelcome in white culture, where he performs for the richest of the rich but still can’t sit and eat in the same room as them. His performance is heartbreaking as he feels like a stranger everywhere he goes.

Together, these two come together to form a duo that will be remembered in cinematic history, two heavy hitters delivering some of their best performances, only successful because their partner is also giving it their all.

Now, a great performance (or two) doesn’t always equate to a great movie. Luckily, director Peter Farrelly creates an incredible film here. He’s known for slapstick comedies like Dumb and Dumber and There’s Something About Mary, so it’s a bit of a shock that he delivers this sort of heart. He perfectly tackles the darkest parts of this movie but also allows both Viggo and Mahershala to be funny, to give us comedy gold, and maybe his experience with comedy is what makes this movie so unique.

You’ll laugh a lot in this film. I laughed more than I did while watching most of 2018’s biggest comedies. Yet you’ll also tear up, at least I did. It’s a perfect pairing of tones that is incredibly difficult to balance yet they pull it off here. This is the peanut butter and jelly of cinema.

What didn’t work?

I had an absolute blast here and it did everything that I wanted it to, and more. No complaints, no concerns.

Overall…

Both Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali should be, and probably will be, nominated for major awards. This movie, if all is right in the world, will be nominated for Best Picture. For a movie about racism in the deep south during the 1960s, this is a comedy, yet the heart and soul of this movie is strong, giving us a combination that should please all audiences and shouldn’t be missed.

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Review: The Front Runner

The Front Runner.

You’ve probably never heard of this movie. No one seems to know what this is. So here’s the deets.

The gist.

This “based on a true story” film follows Colorado Senator Gary Hart (Hugh Jackman) who finds himself the front runner in the 1988 Presidential race. Somehow, he loses this lead and (spoiler alert) doesn’t become President. So what happened?

I went into this movie not knowing anything and I think that’s probably the best way to experience this, if you don’t already know the story.

Also featured in this film are J.K. Simmons as one of Hart’s campaign managers, Vera Farmiga as Hart’s wife, Alfred Molina as a journalist, and Molly Ephraim (Last Man Standing) as a female staffer in Hart’s campaign.

What works?

Hugh Jackman is the glue that holds this movie together and delivers a performance likely to earn some acclaim. He plays a liberal candidate with big dreams and ideas, yet he also shows his fair share of anger here. He gets a huge range to explore and has the daunting task of portraying a character that the audience might turn on, if played poorly.

This movie is also really meant for people interested in politics, as this is a fascinating case study of what could derail a campaign. It asks some big questions about the media and their role in covering politics, as some fairly personal issues are brought to light. Is it a journalist’s job (or responsibility) to share parts of a politician’s private life? In the 80s, this wasn’t so clear. Now, we assume that yes, there is no privacy, but this debate is the crux of this film. Does one’s private life have any relevance to their ability to lead?

If this sounds interesting, you may enjoy this movie, but I admit it’s for a fairly niche audience.

What doesn’t work?

Since I knew very little, I wasn’t sure what to expect and the movie begins with an opening similar to how a film like The Big Short might open. Quirky jokes, fast dialogue… I felt like I was in for a funny tale of how this guy bumbled his way into losing his chance. That would’ve made for a better movie.

What happened instead is a drastic change in tone. For maybe the first hour, we get lots of Sorkin-like dialogue and quick cuts. Then, things shift, this becomes a dramatic story about relationships and betrayal and politics versus the press. It’s a jarring shift and a fairly unenjoyable movie. Films like The Big Short can entertain you even if you don’t know anything about mortgages. This movie however really will only appeal to those interested in politics, campaigning, or the free press. It’s not a fun movie, it’s a case study. I wouldn’t mind this, if not for the shift in tone that told me to expect one thing, and instead delivered another.

I also was disappointed in the closure of this film. It’s hard when movies are based on a true story, sometimes the ending isn’t cinematic. This movie ends with a whimper and it cuts to black and you’re just left thinking… “That’s it?”

Overall…

The Front Runner features a great performance from Hugh Jackman but it’s really a movie for a very niche audience, which is probably why the marketing is slim to none. If you enjoy politics and want to see how a campaign can go up in flames, this might be for you. And don’t be thrown off by its initial aloofness and comedy, this is a bummer of a movie, though if it appeals to your interests, you’ll likely at least appreciate the big questions that this film brings up.

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Review: Creed II

Creed II.

Three years ago, the first Creed hit theaters, revitalizing the Rocky franchise. Director Ryan Coogler teamed up with Michael B. Jordan, after both working on the film Fruitvale Station, and delivered an incredible film. This sequel needs to do something unique and fresh to keep this new era alive.

The gist.

Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) is on a massive roll, competing for the World Heavyweight title in the first few minutes of this film. In his corner, former champion Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) and his girlfriend Bianca (Tessa Thompson). As the movie progresses, a challenger appears from the Ukraine. Viktor (Florian Munteanu) is the son of Russian boxer Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), who notoriously killed Apollo Creed in a boxing match. Adonis must decide if he’ll face Drago and tempt fate, to see if history repeats itself.

We also have Phylicia Rashad reprising her role as Adonis’ mother and Russell Hornsby (Grimm, The Hate U Give) as a boxing promoter.

What works?

Why most of you will see this movie is for the boxing, the big moments in the ring. While this movie doesn’t feature any elaborate single-take choreographed fights like the first film, it does feature some incredibly visceral and heart-pounding action. There are a few big fights scattered throughout the movie and each one delivers something different and unexpected.

If you want a movie that will get you to clap and cheer, this will do it. You’ll feel like you’re ringside at these huge events and the movie makes you root for Adonis, even when he makes questionable decisions.

On the flipside to all this action, we have plenty of quiet moments revolving around Adonis and Bianca. These moments all work due to the tremendous performances by Jordan and Thompson. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the movie spends substantial time on a few subplots that really tug at the heartstrings.

What doesn’t work?

This movie is a risk because it’s marketed as a huge boxing movie with great action. And yes, this movie totally has those scenes, but it also has nearly two hours of non-boxing, of quiet conversations and emotional moments. This movie screeches to a complete halt and some of you might feel incredibly bored, especially after the midway point of the movie. I can see people getting frustrated as the movie climbs to its eventual climax.

And let’s talk about Viktor and Ivan Drago. This movie tries to give them a subplot that makes you almost empathize with the beast Viktor. However, this falls a bit flat. He’s intimidating in the ring, yes, and you believe that he could destroy Adonis. As a character though, it rings hollow. This guy is not an actor, so his moments outside the ring are a little iffy.

Overall…

Creed II is a solid film, though be prepared for some slow climbing towards these big fight sequences. This isn’t an action-packed nonstop thrillride, it veers much more towards the dramatic. These fight scenes, when they arrive, are great and satisfying though. The performances of Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson elevate the quieter moments, resulting in a solid recommendation.

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Review: Ralph Breaks the Internet

Ralph Breaks the Internet (Wreck-It Ralph 2)

The first Wreck-It Ralph was a surprising movie, a perfect example of an animated film that rises above its genre, that both children and adults will appreciate. It had moments that brought me to tears and was full of cleverness. We’re six years later and the sequel has arrived, with giant shoes to fill. Does this sequel succeed?

The gist.

Ralph (John C. Reilly) and his pal Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) are living a nice calm life. Every day they each play their parts in the arcade video games in which they live and then at night, they travel throughout different games and have adventures. Ralph is fine with this life but Vanellope wants something more, so she’s quite excited when the arcade is connected to WiFi and the entire internet is now at their disposal.

The timing is perfect, as Vanellope’s game is broken down and all of her other race buddies are now homeless. The only way to fix this is to find a new steering wheel for the game on a mysterious website called eBay, so Ralph and Vanellope travel into the internet to find and bring back this steering wheel.

They’re assisted along the way by a master of the YouTube algorithm named Yesss (Taraji P. Henson) and a dangerous car thief named Shank (Gal Gadot). Friends from the arcade Felix (Jack McBrayer) and Calhoun (Jane Lynch) are also featured. Vanellope also crosses paths with the entirety of Disney’s Princess lineup, all voiced by their original voice actresses.

What works?

This sequel manages to take a few things that worked from the original and capitalizes on them here. In the first film, there were plenty of “Wait, pause, go back” moments where you would discover little easter eggs throughout the film. Here, they double down on that. Every scene feels like a “Where’s Waldo?” moment crammed full of references. The first film was just video game focused, where here it’s the entire world of pop culture. Every Disney (and Marvel and Star Wars and Pixar) property is on full display here, meaning you can rewatch a scene over and over and discover something new.

The Disney Princesses are one of the best utilized cameos, getting a decent-sized sequence and delivering plenty of laughs. And the fact that they’re voiced by the original actresses is just icing on the cake.

As the lead characters, John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman once again deliver great performances. Silverman seems to be trying a little too hard to sound like a little girl, so the voice is a little grating, but Reilly’s Ralph is just as lovable as the first time around.

What doesn’t work?

While the jokes and references are everywhere, it seems like Disney went for a quantity over quality attitude. These cameos and jokes are all one-off and meant for a quick laugh and then we move on. The original film had a heart to it that this movie lacks. There is a message that the movie tried to convey about growing up and moving on and finding out about yourself but it felt a little too heavy-handed to really work. Nothing here holds a candle to the moment when Ralph breaks Vanellope’s racecar in the first film, a punch to the stomach kind of moment. Here, it’s all fairly superficial.

I wouldn’t necessarily mind the jokes, if they landed. Instead, most of the jokes feel off or mishandled. I hardly laughed, though I might’ve nodded and thought to myself, “Hmm, that’s clever.” It definitely veered to a younger audience and felt more like The Emoji Movie than I would’ve preferred.

Yet the movie also felt way above children’s heads. Do you think children understand the algorithm for how videos are monetized on YouTube? I hardly understand it. So the movie tries to crack a thousand jokes a minute about something that kids probably have no interest in. It’s a strange duality.

Overall…

Ralph Breaks the Internet is a fun time but lacks the heart of its predecessor. The jokes land sometimes in a constant onslaught of clever wordplay or references to the world of technology. Children might love this movie but have no idea what’s happening in it, so this movie falls in a weird middle range for me. The original film was a masterpiece, this one feels more like a DVD you might buy the kids and they watch it once.

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(Review) Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Gindelwald

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

The Harry Potter franchise is a little tough to get into at this point, so if you’re not already onboard, this is definitely not the place to hop on. With eight entries in the original Harry Potter series and then a prequel to this film, Crimes of Grindelwald is both a prequel and a sequel and carries a lot of baggage with it.

The gist.

In the last film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, we were introduced to Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), an introverted wizard who finds comfort with exotic beasts moreso than other people. He befriended a human named Jacob (Dan Fogler) and two sisters Tina and Queenie (Katherine Waterston and Alison Sudol). There was also a mysterious yet powerful wizard named Credence (Ezra Miller) who is trying to figure out who he really is. At the end of the first film, we discover that evil wizard Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) is really behind some of these nefarious schemes.

In this new movie, we’re introduced to a young Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) who has a past with Grindelwald. Dumbledore recruits Scamander to try to stop Grindelwald’s plans.

We also have Zoe Kravitz, Callum Turner, and Claudia Kim.

What works?

This is a film with a very focused demographic and it relies on your extensive knowledge of the Harry Potterverse. If you’re a fan, this should be everything you want. It’s got plenty of fantastic creatures and explores some new corners of the wizarding world. The monsters are all varied and vibrant and interesting, resulting in some spectacular action sequences.

In terms of casting, it’s a little hit or miss, but the new addition of Jude Law is fantastic. He’s not in the film as much as you might expect, but he breathes new life into this franchise whenever he’s on-screen.

What doesn’t work?

This is going to be a divisive film, as some people will absolutely love the flair and color and the excitement of it all. However, after each of these “wow” moments I found myself saying “Wait, what?” a few more times than I would’ve liked. The story is all over the place. I kind of wish that the Fantastic Beasts series had veered off from the original films, instead of charging right into them, which is what’s happening. Because we’re leading right up to the events of the Harry Potter films, these movies have a unique problem of trying to be true to continuity and somehow also be mysterious and suspenseful. This means the story takes some sharp twists and turns that might shock you, but maybe leave a bad taste in your mouth later.

There’s also a problem of having a bloated cast. We were introduced to a whole new cast in the prior movie, and here we’re introduced to a whole bunch more. Almost none of these characters get any sort of development as they’re hurriedly rushed from plot point to plot point. Our lead Newt gets the shortest end of the stick, serving really just to move the plot. Eddie Redmayne is an incredible actor and he’s not utilized at all here.

The other problem is Ezra Miller, who was the weakest link in the first film as well. I’m not quite sure what he’s trying to do in this role and his character is both intentionally and unintentionally confusing. I don’t know if I was missing some pieces of information but his whole character makes zero sense to me.

Johnny Depp as Grindelwald also seems uninspired. Other than “Wizards must rule!”, we get no insight into why he’s evil or what he’s trying to do. You never feel threatened by him. He’s just around.

Overall…

I was bummed out by Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. I’m a fan, I’ve read every book and seen every movie, yet I still was thrown off by the twists and turns here. They’re trying too hard to surprise fans that the plot becomes incomprehensible at times. The casting choices are hit or miss, combined with a lack of development for almost any character. It is a fun time, though, and it’s full of action and interesting monsters, and if you’re able to wrap your head around the plot, you might have a good time here.

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