This Is a Movie Review: ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ Weaves 50-Plus Years of Superhero History Into One Neat Little Package

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CREDIT: Sony Pictures Entertainment

This review was originally published on News Cult in November 2018.

Starring: Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, Liev Schreiber, Bryan Tyree Henry, Luna Lauren Velez, Lily Tomlin, Nicolas Cage, Kimiko Glenn, John Mulaney, Kathryn Hahn, Chris Pine, Zoë Kravitz

Directors: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman

Running Time: 117 Minutes

Rating: PG for Superhero Bumps and Bruises and Dimension-Altering Explosions

Release Date: December 14, 2018

Even if you prefer Tom Holland or Andrew Garfield’s versions of Peter Parker, it is fundamentally outrageous that the cinematic Spider-Man has been rebooted multiple times so soon after the massively successful Tobey Maguire chapters. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse avoids this pitfall by forgoing the same old Peter Parker origin story, or even the same old Peter Parker himself. Instead, the focus this time is on Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), a Puerto Rican and African-American teenager who inherits the Spider-Man mantle after he too is bitten by a radioactive arachnid. Additionally, while Miles is the primary protagonist, room is also made for just about every parallel universe version of Spider-Man that has ever existed in the comics (including noir, manga, and porcine iterations). I would love it if the live-action Marvel action movies were similarly diverse, but there is more space to be bold within animation (at least according to how the blockbuster industry currently operates).

A running gag throughout Spider-Verse is each version of Spider-Man giving us the rundown on his (or her) origin story. The film assumes that the audience is significantly familiar with the web-crawler’s mythos, and thus we get shout-outs to iconic moments from both the panel and the screen, like the murdered uncle and the upside-down kiss in the rain. These moments could play as cheap nostalgia, but instead they are far from it because there is so much visual information to digest. The effect is more one of self-awareness and reinterpretation.

Spider-Verse follows in a line of recent animated franchise films like The Lego Movie and Teen Titans Go! To the Movies that benefit from their deep wealth of knowledge about their own histories. They all comment on their own pasts, avoiding snark in the name of favoring celebration while also managing to craft new adventures that stand on their own. Spider-Verse takes its unique place as one of the most visually vibrant entries in the history of CG-animated cinema, with a cornucopia of expressive and energetic styles. Add to that a sterling voice cast, and this is one of the witties (vocally and visually), and just plain most satisfying, experiences you’ll have in all of 2018.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is Recommended If You Like: Every Spider-Man Comic Ever, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies, The Lego Movie

Grade: 4 out of 5 Alternate Dimensions

 

‘New Girl’ Season 7 Review: The Most Epilogue-y Season of TV Ever, From the Show Perfectly Suited for It

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CREDIT: Ray Mickshaw/FOX

This review  was originally posted on News Cult in May 2018.

Network: FOX

Showrunners: Brett Baer, Dave Finkel, Liz Meriwether

Main Cast: Zooey Deschanel, Jake Johnson, Max Greenfield, Lamorne Morris, Hannah Simone, Nasim Pedrad, Danielle Rockoff, Rhiannon Rockoff

Notable Guest Stars: Damon Wayans, Jr., Brian Huskey, Rob Reiner, Dermot Mulroney, Gillian Vigman, JB Smoove, Sarah Baker, Jamie Lee Curtis, Ralph Ahn, Robert Smigel

Episode Running Time: 22 Minutes

This review contains spoilers, but this isn’t really a spoil-able type of show.

New Girl Season 7 is one of the most inessential seasons in television history. That is not a criticism, but rather, a description of an unnecessary, but very satisfying batch of episodes. All television, and all storytelling more generally, is inessential, insofar as we could survive without it. Life would be much less enriching without entertainment, certainly, but it would be possible. But once a story begins to be told, there is a sense of necessity that it must be concluded. And it could easily be argued that by the end of Season 6, New Girl had reached that conclusion, with all of its main characters having achieved major milestones in personal and professional fulfillment. But this show, at its best, has been about so much more (or so much less, but in a good way) than checking off the major storytelling checkpoints.

Nick and Jess are one of my favorite TV couples of all time, and if the last we saw of them was their kiss in the elevator at the end of “Five Stars for Beezus,” I would have rested easy in the belief that they had a long and happy union together. But I am usually hungry to see what happens when the tension of a potential couple turns into the comfort of an actual couple, and New Girl has shown itself to be the type of show uniquely suited for making that pivot interesting. With a three-year time jump to kick off the season, it seemed like we would be heading into a new status quo, but then we discover … Jess and Nick still aren’t married yet? There’s no need to panic; they are still together and happy, they have just been busy with other things, like Nick’s book tour for The Pepperwood Chronicles. But still, you would think they could find some time to put a ring on it. It turns out that much of the delay is attributable to Nick ensuring that his proposal is absolutely perfect. That obsession could have caused major strife in the past, but it is a mark of maturity for both the characters and the show that it is ultimately no big deal.

While Jess and Nick remain the last two residents of the loft, and perhaps a little bit stuck in neutral, the rest of the main crew has decidedly moved ahead to the next stages of their lives. Schmidt and Cece’s toddler Ruth Bader (Danielle and Rhiannon Rockoff) is genuinely adorable but also filled with the sort of moxie and traces of anxiety you would expect in a child whose parents are a mix of blunt and high-strung. Winston and Aly are expecting their first child; his strange propensities, and her incredible ability to accept them, are still intact, just transferred to the minutiae of pending parenthood. For the most part, the unique ways that this whole group communicates with each other remains just as intact. They are sometimes applied in fascinating new ways, as when Schmidt and Jess hash out who has the best approach for Ruth auditioning to a prestigious pre-school. But that sameness also results in hijinks that probably should not be happening anymore, as when Cece and then Nick get locked out of Ruth’s school and get mistaken for creepy lurkers, and it is like: okay, guys, we’re getting a little too old for these shenanigans.

Season 7 is not completely allergic to big final season moments, but it presents them in the uniquely askew New Girl manner. There is a one-year anniversary memorial service for a close friend who died during the time jump, and that close friend is … Furguson, of course. Winston insists that everything be performed in the Jewish manner, because he always saw his cat as Jewish, and while that does sound ridiculous, it also sounds perfectly logical when Lamorne Morris explains it with such certainty. We also, rest assured, do get that last anticipated bit of matrimony, but it all goes delightfully sideways, with a scratched cornea, an impromptu service in a hospital, and Tran’s first ever spoken line of dialogue.

Naturally unnaturally enough, there is still one more episode left to go. “Engram Pattersky” does at first appear to fit into a classic series finale box, i.e., the pack-up-and-move conclusion. It really is time for for Nick and Jess to get out of that rickety old loft and start a new chapter in their lives, even it takes an eviction notice to get them to that realization. The final reveal that the eviction angle is actually Winston’s greatest prank ever is perfectly in line with the show’s ethos, but also a little stunning. Winston never suggests that he was just trying to give his friends the motivation they needed to move forward. And that really is the New Girl way. If you want to find meaning in this young adult life, then you have to do so amidst all the chaos and indirect communication, as you scream and hopefully laugh along the way.

Best Episodes: “The Curse of the Pirate Bride,” “Engram Pattersky”

How Does It Compare to Previous Seasons? This is definitely an epilogue season, but for this show, that means it has never been more sure of its identity than at any other time during its run. It does not reach its most classic heights, but that is perfectly okay.

New Girl is Recommended If You Like: Happy Endings, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, How I Met Your Mother, Parks and Recreation, Friends

Where to Watch: Season 7 is currently available on Hulu, while Seasons 1-6 are on Netflix.

Grade: 3.8 out of 5 Messarounds

This Is a Movie Review: ‘The Mummy’ Reboot is Lifeless Except for the Rare Moments When It Embraces Its Goofy Side

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This review was originally posted on News Cult in June 2017.

Starring: Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis, Jake Johnson, Russell Crowe

Director: Alex Kurtzman

Running Time: 110 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Getting Ur Freak On with Death

Release Date: June 9, 2017

I laughed derisively when the Universal globe logo spun around and gave way to the “Dark Universe” logo, but the joke was on me, as the best parts of this new interlocking cinematic franchise are the ones setting up its upcoming entries. More fundamentally, the reason the joke was on me was because I held out hope throughout The Mummy that something unique or especially thrilling might happen.

As far as reboots go, once again resurrecting the Egyptian tomb-dwellers is far from an outrage. This undead crew is part of the cinematic and larger cultural collective unconscious, so there is plenty of room for new generations of storytellers to add their spin. But this particular version of The Mummy is maddening because it never establishes a convincing reason for why it should exist in the first place.

There is a fairly clean setup in which the Ancient Egyptian Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) makes a deal with Set, the god of Death, but then is defeated and laid to rest thousands of years to become the title villain. Then Tom Cruise swoops in as low-rent Indiana Jones Nick Morton and slips open her tomb, thus unleashing the Pandora’s box of the Dark Universe. So far, so reasonable. But then the story gets bogged down in mythical mumbo-jumbo about daggers and prophecies and whatever. Universal so obviously wants to copy the success of Marvel, but it is not going to do that by following its worst habit of focusing way too much on the MacGuffins. Are there mythological nerds out there who actually care about this minutiae?

All this plot-centric gobbledygook can be forgiven if The Mummy can provide the genre thrills, but the results in that department are mostly meh. Cruise is as game as always, but the action, while competently shot and coherently edited, is not especially memorable. The one mildly saving grace comes from the stabs at horror. Boutuella’s snake-like body and shadowy face provide a canvas for some decently scary images, as her pupils split into two pairs and her corpse decomposes into a dusty pile of bones (reminiscent of the effects of drinking from the wrong grail in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade).

Alas, that is all inconsequential, because the real purpose of The Mummy is prologue to a series of tales in which Dr. Jekyll is the de facto Nick Fury. Russell Crowe plays the good doctor with a motivation apparently split between defeating monsters or assembling them. That dichotomy is potentially interesting and fits the character, but it is a distraction from the actual movie it is in.

At the beginning of this review, I said that I was somehow excited for the rest of the Dark Universe, but mulling everything over, I should probably temper my anticipation, though I still hold out a smidgen hope. The Mummy’s conclusion indicates that the next entries might actually kick back and have more fun by giving extra screen time to characters like Morton’s partner Chris Vail, brought to screeching, howling life by Jake Johnson (New Girl fans will be confused every time he calls Cruise “Nick”). For its lead character, The Mummy could have really used with more off-kilter energy. Cruise can be edgy, but he is too straightforward to match the hysterical, almost Abbott and Costello-esque vibe that Johnson employs to intermittently resuscitate this DOA franchise to life.

The Mummy is Recommended If You Like: Tom Cruise-related schadenfreude, Jake Johnson (though you must be able to endure long stretches without him)

Grade: 2 out of 5 Decompositions