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: ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald’ Knows What It Wants to Say, But It’s Still a Messy Slog

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CREDIT: Warner Bros.

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

Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Johnny Depp, Ezra Miller, Zoë Kravitz, Callum Turner, Claudia Kim, Jude Law

Director: David Yates

Running Time: 134 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Fiery and Occasionally Hate-Filled Magic

Release Date: November 16, 2018

Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) is the wizarding world’s worst nightmare, at least for those witches and warlocks who care more about morality than power. His evil is more complicated and confounding than that of Lord Voldemort, as he has a knack for convincing people to act against their best interests. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald knows what devastating points it wants to make with Grindelwald, but they are stuck within a bunch of dithering around. The film climaxes with the dark wizard holding a rally, bringing to mind charismatic politicians who have sowed hatred throughout history. Even though Grindelwald has made it clear that he wants pure-blooded wizards to rule over all magical and non-magical folks, he uses suspect but alluring promises to convince some people who very much do not agree with his agenda to join him. This is irrational, but it’s a type of irrational behavior that has caused real devastation. However, instead of coming of as a frightening warning, these unreasonable decisions all just feel nonsensical.

Take for example Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol), who is in love with non-magical Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) but lives in a society in which their marriage would be illegal. There is no way she could reasonably be seduced by Grindelwald, who would not support their union except for how it might offer him a chance for manipulation. There could be a powerfully relevant story about Queenie being swayed to the dark side, but instead her shift is too sudden and too jarring, and thus ineffective. Her subplot is a microcosm of The Crimes of Grindelwald‘s problems.

Elsewhere, there is plenty of other business going on. Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is in Paris looking for some sort of MacGuffin or another. Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller) is becoming ever more dangerous for whatever reason. There are farcical misunderstandings about who is engaged to whom. Various magical creatures act in ways that are kind of cute and/or frightening, but not particularly memorable. In conclusion, Jude Law is a fine young Dumbledore (and perhaps a fine young everything), and any future Fantastic Beasts installments should not be afraid to use him more often.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is Recommended If You Like: Every nook and cranny of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter but without getting too worked up about the details, The Young Pope

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Salamander Eyes

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Gemini’ is a Satisfying Light-and-Dark Neo-Noir

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CREDIT: NEON

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

Starring: Lola Kirke, Zoë Kravitz, John Cho

Director: Aaron Katz

Running Time: 92 Minutes

Rating: R for Easygoing, Friendly Profanity and a Bloody Crime Scene

Release Date: March 30, 2018 (Limited)

What if you suddenly discovered that your life has turned into a movie? That’s essentially the same question as: what if you found yourself in the most extreme and unusual of circumstances? As one character in the neo-noir murder mystery Gemini puts it, the most likely culprit is the one with the motive, the opportunity, and the capacity. And there just so happens to be a perfectly creepy guy who fits all the criteria. But if this is a movie, then it might be the craziest, least obvious suspect who turns out to be the culprit. Occam’s razor may give you the right answer nine times out of ten, but that other 10% is where lies the basis for exciting, unpredictable films. Gemini is kind of enjoyably self-aware about that, but only as much as it can be when its leads are a couple of way-out-of-their-depth young adults.

Heather (Zoë Kravitz) is a young actress who is burnt out by the business in her twenties. The presentation of her world is vague to the point that we never get a full sense of just how famous she is, but we do know that she is enough of a star to have a sizable Instagram following and overaggressive fans approaching her in diners. Gemini could have just been a hangout movie depicting the carefree days of Heather and her assistant Jill (Lola Kirke), who are referred to as “freaky, fucked-up best friends,” the kind who “kill each other all the time.” But really, their friendship is genuine and supportive, and while they may keep secrets from each other, that is to be expected when living in a mostly empty mansion in a populous but often lonely city and working in a frequently soul-sucking industry. So when Jill finds Heather dead by gunshot wound, what should be a personal tragedy instead plays out as a hazy detour into purgatory.

If this were a film about millennial self-actualization, Jill would probably be a total boss, and Heather would be right by her side for the majority of the runtime. But instead, Jill does her best to adapt to her new noir status quo. She does some fine investigative work of her own and her psyche holds up well against the withering glare of the lead detective (John Cho, giving an intense performance marked by enigmatic motivation) who clearly suspects that she might be the killer. But she also has moments of silliness, like adopting a disguise that really doesn’t help her out in any capacity, and she gets called out for that pointlessness. Overall, writer/director Aaron Katz pulls off a remarkable tonal balance, utilizing Keegan DeWitt’s jazzy trip-hop score and Andrew Reed’s oppressive cinematography to firmly establish the devastation inherent in the premise while also maintaining a comedic lightness drawn from basic truths of characterization and performance. There is a lot of self-confidence on display here, and that goes a long way.

Gemini is Recommended If You Like: Mulholland Drive, Nerve, References to ’90s pop culture touchstones

Grade: 3.75 out of 5 Blond Wigs