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

 

This Is a Movie Review: Zoey Deutch Shines in the Sweet and Sour ‘Flower’

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CREDIT: The Orchard

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

Starring: Zoey Deutch, Adam Scott, Joey Morgan, Kathryn Hahn, Tim Heidecker, Dylan Gelula, Maya Eshet, Eric Edelstein

Director: Max Winkler

Running Time: 93 Minutes

Rating: R for Matter-of-Fact Crude Teen Dialogue, Implications and Discussions of Statutory Relationships, and an Artistically Impressive Penis Drawing

Release Date: March 16, 2018 (Limited)

When Tim Heidecker is playing the relatively normal person, you know that everyone else is stepping a bit outside their comfort zones and/or we have now realized that everybody is at least a little bit crazy. Along with his frequent partner Eric Wareheim, Heidecker has set the demented tone for much of 21st century comedy. But when he acts for other writers and directors, he works effectively as the most grounded presence. In the case of Flower, in which teenagers attempt to expose pedophiles through unsavory means, he comes across as the voice of reason, or at least the one most conscientiously attempting to do the right thing. Meanwhile, folks like Zoey Deutch and Adam Scott, who normally play sweet and wholesome, are afforded plenty of opportunities to tap into their darker impulses.

Heidecker plays Bob, the stepfather-to-be of Deutch’s Erica, who runs a small-time extortion scam with her friends Kala (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s Dylan Gelula) and Claudine (Maya Eshet), in which they lure adults into sex acts and then demand money once they reveal that they are underage. They sniff out a major opportunity when her future stepbrother Luke (Joey Morgan), stricken by panic attacks and suicidal tendencies, reveals that he was molested by Will (Scott), a former teacher of his who Erica recognizes as the hot older dude from the local bowling alley. She pronounces that shaking down a child molester is their “moral obligation,” but their sense of right and wrong is not exactly ideal, as they partly justify their actions by noting that they don’t want anyone to get fat after suffering abuse. Erica does seem to be motivated more by justice than cash, but her morals are too distorted to stop her from making things spiral out of control.

Flower is far from a Time’s Up rallying cry against abusers. It is much too complicated to be that. There are holes in Luke’s story, and Will seems too decent to be guilty of what he’s been accused of (and not in the way that abusers are often manipulatively charming), though it is certainly concerning that he allows the teenage Erica to insinuate herself into his life. And Erica and her friends are hardly appropriate symbols for victims reclaiming their dignity, as they are too quick to justify their own criminality as a means to the right end. Director/co-writer Max Winkler does not shy away from this messiness, getting a brazen but enticing performance out of Deutch in the process. But the ending ties everything up a little too neatly, opting for a romantic outlaw angle that ignores much of the film’s moral debris. The whole affair is a tonal ping-pong, for better and worse.

Flower is Recommended If You Like: The Edge of Seventeen, Donnie Darko, The Crush

Grade: 3 out of 5 Shakedowns