Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) – Movie Review

into the spiderverse

The worlds of superhero movies and superhero comics are not as similar as they seem on the surface. Currently, film studios are all about the “extended universe”, seeing how many different titles and characters they can shove into one franchise (Avengers, X-Men, Justice League), making for an easy way to squeeze a few extra bucks out of their lesser known properties. Comics have this as well, of course. However, they also have something modern movies haven’t really tapped into yet: story one-offs, a chance for a storyteller to create a unique tale and not be constrained by the implications on or from the larger universe. Spider-Verse gets to do just that, while playfully taking on the fun (if convoluted) absurdity of extended superhero universes. Listen, I hear you. “How could we possibly need another Spider-Man movie?” Spider-Verse understands that question and has a take on it. Yes, Peter Parker is here. In fact, there are two Peter Parkers. There’s also a Spider-Woman, a Noir Spider-Man, an anime Spider-Girl/Robot, and a Spider-Pig. At the center though is Miles Morales, an Afro-Hispanic Brooklyn teen who must help these other Spider-People get back to their own planes of existence. He fights with his cop dad, he adores his shady uncle, hates being simply the smartest kid in the room, and just wants to do something that matters. Being Spider-Man wasn’t his idea, but hey, when a radioactive spider gives you powers, what choice do you have? Look, I don’t have any sort of hot take on this movie. It looks great, the humor pops with surprises, the voice casting is beyond perfect. It’s simply a stylishly exciting and refreshingly unique take on the superhero genre, and sometimes that’s more than enough.

 

4 out of 5 stars

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Joe (2013) – Movie Review

There’s a quote about midway through David Gordon Green’s Joe that I believe is crucial to understanding the film’s thematic core. Forgive me if I’m paraphrasing but it goes something like ‘These men have no more frontiers’. The line is in reference to the men Joe works with and in many ways applies to the titular character himself. Joe is a man that knows he is stuck; he has no where to go because his surroundings can’t let him. Even though he thinks five steps ahead of the average man it is only delaying the inevitable. The conflict of the story however is not whether or not Joe lives but if he can save the future of a promising child, named Gary.

Joe is the kind of film that proves that a small story can be much more meaningful than a larger one. This kind of unsentimental character piece needs a small tight focus so all of the nuances of said characters shines through. Thankfully David Gordon Green understands this; his approach to directing the film is subtle and organic, allowing the actors to shine first and foremost. There are some understated flourishes and several instances of visual poetry but for the most part Green keeps things taut and unsentimental. He wants the audience to be immersed in the volatile world Gary and Joe inhabit.

And what a convincing world it is. Green’s depiction of Southern lower class Americana is unsentimental, austere and straightforward. The film doesn’t feel the need to overemphasize aspects of these characters live. Nothing is glamorized, nothing romanticized; the film aims for a hard hitting depiction of the character’s world which only serves to further highlight the core conflict. Green understands that the audience needs to understand how close Gary and his sister are to harm and in doing so has crafted a thoroughly realized community teeming with details and nuances.

But the real centerpiece of the film is it’s acting; three performances in particular stick out. Cage’s Joe, Sheridan’s Gary and Gary Poulter’s Wade. Cage’s depiction of Joe is not quite the subdued performance many critics made it out to be. Instead it is a silent colossus of a performance. One of Cage’s biggest strengths as an actor is the ability to convey a character’s thought process without saying a word. He makes a perfect fit for Joe; a man who is always moving, thinking, never given to slowing down. He is a frank straightforward man and Cage does the character justice. Equally excellent is Sheridan’s Gary. Coming off his sterling performance in Mud, Sheridan proves himself one of the most promising actors of the younger generation. He brings balances both the character’s more mature and intelligent feelings and ambitions with a raw, primal rage that surfaces in a truly explosive manner. Finally we have Gary Poulter, the dark horse of this movie. A non-actor Poulter was hired due to his similarity to the character he was portraying. And boy does he nail it. Seething with a kind of disheveled rage, imbued with a selfish nostalgic anger for a time he had a future; Wade is a truly terrifying character only made more terrifying by Poulter’s raw, thoroughly convincing performance. If Joe is symbolizes a man in societal stagnation, Wade is that stagnation taken to it’s logical, horrific end.

Joe is a gritty, hard movie about gritty hard people but it’s also intelligent, heartfelt and riveting from the first frame to the last. It solidifies the comeback for David Gordon Green as a unique presence in American cinema and hopefully is a sign that Cage will do more of these kinds of austere, gripping character pieces more often in the future.

 

9 out of 10 stars

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Kick-Ass 2 – Movie Review

There is a movie audience that thinks a child cursing like Samuel L. Jackson is provocative, body parts getting lopped off is exciting, 10 cops getting slaughtered is darkly humorous and people projectile-vomiting into each other’s faces is hysterical. I am not that audience. If you are, though, I guess “Kick-Ass 2” delivers.

The film is the not-exactly-demanded sequel to a 2010 movie, based on the comic book about father-and-daughter crimefighters. Nicolas Cage, at his most entertainingly oddball, was the Batman-styled Big Daddy; Chloe Grace Moretz was his precocious sidekick, Hit Girl.

Cage definitely had fun channeling Adam West, and the first movie sometimes had a bright, comic-book look. But the tone was off even then. The gore was explicit enough to be disgusting, but not extreme enough to be satiric; the film outraged without being outrageous.

“Kick-Ass 2” is a step down.

Although there’s still something sweet deep-down in the concept – average Americans without any special powers dress up as superheroes to fight crime – it’s not developed with any particular wit or imagination. Cage is gone, and there’s nothing fresh in this sequel’s returning characters, or the supervillains they face.

And while director Jeff Wadlow handles the action capably, at least when it comes to Hit Girl’s hyper-callisthenic style, the rest of the film feels as slapdash as the first; there isn’t even an attempt to hide the Toronto area codes, store names and street signs visible everywhere in its “New York” locations.

Which would actually be a funny idea for a movie someday – having its characters pretend to be in Manhattan while standing in front of obvious Canadian landmarks.

I mean, heaven knows this movie could use some ideas. Any ideas. (The final “battle” – with dozens of costumed nerds attacking each other — looks like a cranky disagreement at Comic Con, and a high-school subplot is a steal from “Mean Girls,” of all things.)

Even the things the film depends on for shock value – foul language, explosive diarrhea and bloody sadism – aren’t even that shocking. They’re just gross.

In fact, one of the stars – Jim Carrey, who plays a military-style hero called Colonel Stars and Stripes – has already disavowed the film as being too violent. He’s outraged! Outraged, I tell you! (Although, tell me Jim, now that your check has cleared – how did you think that scene where you sic a dog on a bound man’s genitals was going to play?)

As it is, nothing plays very well. Although Aaron Taylor-Johnson is technically the lead – he plays the titular crimefighter – he makes absolutely no impression. A hard-working Christopher Mintz-Plasse ekes out a few laughs as a villain whose name can’t be printed here.

Carrey, meanwhile, under some rubbery prosthetics, plays the whole thing pretty straight – a relief, perhaps, to anyone who suffered through his Riddler in “Batman Forever,” but not exactly the jolt of life this movie desperately needs.

If it works at all, fitfully, it’s because of the precociously talented and in-control Moretz, who basically carries the entire film on her own small shoulders.

She snaps out her lines with verve and authority; she has a wonderful physicality in her no-joke fight scenes. And she does a lot with a little – in one quiet scene she conveys a depth of feeling simply by the way she walks away from the camera.

But she should have kept walking. And so should we.

 

5 out of 10