Crazy Rich Asians
On the Basis of Sex
Boldly original with captivating storytelling
By: Peter Kosanovich
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018): Teen Miles Morales becomes Spider-Man of his reality, crossing his path with five counterparts from other dimensions to stop a threat for all realities.
Let me start right off the bat by saying that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is the best Spider-Man movie that has ever been made to this point. And it rightfully deserves all of the accolades and attention it is getting! Sony took a huge risk even greenlighting this movie. They had Sam Raimi’s trilogy with Tobey Maguire, which gave two strong films, and then a catastrophic dud. I will admit, I enjoy those first two movies more than most people. But regardless of your opinions on them, they are well made. Sony followed those up with Andrew Garfield’s The Amazing Spider-Man movies. I thought the first movie was fine, but very unoriginal and uninspired. They just tried to make Peter Parker too cool and "edgy." The second movie was a mess from start to finish, so I will not even address it any further.
Sony was able to negotiate a partnership with Marvel Studios to breathe some new life into the character with Spider-Man: Homecoming. Tom Holland is incredibly charming as Peter Parker, and the audience was not forced to suffer through yet another origin story. Not to mention, the MCU finally sawa good villain in Michael Keaton’s portrayal of the Vulture. All-in-all, it was a solid outing, and well worse the praise. But that still pales in comparison to Spider-Verse.
Sony worked on Spider-Verse in relative secret. While everyone else was focused on Homecoming and the Marvel partnership, Sony was working on this. And wow did it pay off. In December 2017, they released a teaser trailer to show off the new Spider-Man, Miles Morales, and the insane animation they were attempting. I will never forget watching that teaser the first time. I was flying home for a wedding and Christmas from Canada, and I was in a painfully long layover in the Detroit Airport. I opened Facebook minutes after the teaser dropped and promptly had my mind blown! The visuals were stunning; the music, “Home” by Vince Staples (Vince was also featured in the first teaser for Black Panther the previous year), was on point; and the decision to use Miles Morales as the lead character had me practically yelling in joy in the middle of the Detroit airport.
For those of you who do not know Miles Morales, let me give you a quick rundown. In the 2000s Marvel comics decided to spice up their comics by introducing the Ultimate Universe, an alternate universe of Marvel characters that existed outside of the traditional continuity. In this alternate universe they introduced Miles Morales, a 13-year-old Afro-Latino boy from Brooklyn, who, having also been bitten by a radioactive spider, takes up the mantel of Spider-Man after the death of Peter Parker. If you are worried about spoilers for the comics, you are about 10 years too late, but I will do my best to avoid them going forward.
So, now into the actual review portion: From the trailers and various promotional material you may have noticed multiple Spider-persons. This may be overwhelming, but trust me, this is Miles’ story through-and-through. And even though I bashed on origin stories earlier, this includes a fresh take on the origin story. So you will not feel lost if you are new, but you will get some goods laughs if you understand all the references to other Spider-Man movies and history. On that note, the movie is hilarious! There are laughs to be had at every turn. Jokes about Spider-Man, about New York City, about Marvel and the Avengers, about rival studio Warner Bros (Spider-Ham is very self-aware of his likeness to Porky Pig). They even manage to make puberty a running joke throughout the film, without being malicious toward an age group that clearly needs no one throwing punches at them. It is incredibly smart and clever. But, like the puberty joke, none of the humor is malicious or mean in any way. It is charming and endearing, sweet and wholesome, and easily relatable across demographics.
With that, the movie is highly relatable! Sure, it is about superheroes and super-powered Spider-people, but it genuinely has heart to it. Miles has loving parents who want the best for him, even if he does not always see it. His family is complex and messy: his dad is a cop, while his uncle Aaron is a career criminal. Yet both care deeply for Miles. He has friends and struggles to fit in at his new school, a place that is clearly designed to be a little classist. He is one of the very few non-white students there, along with his roommate, an Asian student who barely says a word at all. He struggles to talk with his crush, it is very sweet. As fantastical and complex as the movie is bringing multiple Spider-people from multiple universes together, you can still feel genuine heart and down-to-earth struggles that make this a highly relatable film.
Yes, it is very complex, but Spider-Verse takes care to make sure it does not feel overly complex. When it does get more complex, or you wonder “wait, ANOTHER Spider-person?” they make a joke to help guide the audience along. Each Spider-person gets an individual origin story, but they are mostly boiled down to a minute or less, just so you know, “Okay, it’s a Spider-person. They are similar to Peter Parker, but here is how they are different.”
There is of course Miles Morales, the lead protagonist. There is Peter Parker, dragged in from another universe. There is Gwen Stacy, aka Spider-Woman (Spider-Gwen to the fans). In mainstream comics Gwen Stacy was Peter Parker’s first love, and he was unable to save her from a tragic death. In her alternate universe, she was bitten by a spider, and was unable to save Peter Parker from a tragic death. There is Peni Parker (aka SP//dr), a futuristic, anime-inspired spider-person who co-pilots a biomechanical suit with a radioactive spider. There is Peter Porker (aka Spider-Ham), who was a spider bitten by a radioactive pig (very self-aware), and is designed to look like Looney Tunes cartoons. And finally there is Peter Parker (aka Spider-Man Noir), with the truly inspired voice-casting of Nicolas Cage, in a monochromatic, hard-boiled, noir-esque Spider-Man that wears a trench coat and fedora like old detective films.
What's remarkable is that, even though the standard animation throughout the film is incredible, each of these individual Spider-people have added unique visuals to help truly distinguish them, bringing added individuality and flare to them. Peni Parker is inspired by anime, so her character is Japanese-American and has large, slightly exaggerated features common to anime. For instance, her eyes are massive and tend to twinkle when she is happy or swell up when she is sad. Her movements are also slightly exaggerated to sell the over-the-top nature of some anime series. Peter Porker has a flatter style of animation. He looks almost hand-drawn, and his movements are very rounded and fluid. His arms and legs tend to move simply in motion blurs, much like Looney Tunes characters, especially Roadrunner, when he runs or moves about. His shape is also imperfect, and had odd proportions that help sell the Looney Tunes connection. And Spider-Man Noir is completely monochromatic, black-and-white, even when interacting with color objects.
The colors throughout this movie are astounding. They really use colors to compliment and highlight every aspect of the city. This is shown especially through Miles’ love to graffiti and street art. And Miles’ love of pop-culture is shown through his love of music, which is mirrored in the film’s soundtrack. Like Black Panther earlier in the year, Spider-Verse has a killer soundtrack. It is a love-letter to east coast rap/hip-hop, new and old. This bleeds into Miles’ character too, who uses music to relax and inspire him. The song “Sunflower” by Post Malone and Swae Lee is Miles’ go to relax and feel good song, and it is used a few times throughout the film. “What’s Up Danger” by Blackway and Black Caviar is a thumping, adrenaline-pumping track that builds hype and excitement every time it is used or sampled. And “Star a Riot” by Duckwrth and Shaboozey should be the most hard-hitting rager on the soundtrack, but is instead used for a hilarious joke.
Not only is the curated soundtrack excellent, the original score is also astounding. The orchestration feels both inspiring and reminiscent of traditional scores, but also infuses the feel of the curated soundtrack at points. It uses bits of “What’s Up Danger” throughout to build hype, while using “Sunflower” to relax and let us remember the kind of kid Miles is. The best track on the score though is “The Prowler,” the theme that plays for one of the primary villains of the film. Prowler is a truly intimidating villain, as you learn early on, and the theme that accompanies him is impressively unsettling. From my understanding the composer took an elephants calls, re-pitched it, then made it pulse. Honestly, words do not accurately describe it. Just listen to it.
But, behind all that, like I have mentioned a few times, this movie has so much heart to it. You feel the love for Spider-Man, whichever version you want. You feel Miles’ struggles and the love his family gives him. You feel the excitement in the music. And you can see the dedication the animators put into this, and how much fun they had. The story shines in every respect, and you just feel so good after watching it. This was easily one of, if not my favorite movie of the year. I have been struggling to keep up this year (grad school), but even if I were more caught up I think this might take the cake. It feels even throughout, well-paced, and the story never goes off the rails. The voice-acting is excellent. I have already gushed over the beautiful animation and the characters and the music. There really is nothing I do not like about this movie. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
My Number: 10/10
JOSEPH: There isn't a whole lot here that Peter hasn't already said. I wasn't QUITE as high on it as Peter, (the ending was rather stereotypical for how unique the rest of the film was) but the sheer originality and creative risk taken on such a high-profile franchise is very refreshing to see. Well done, Sony! It's certainly got my vote for Best Animated Feature of 2018! Also, Peter Porker FOR LIFE. What a performance from John Mulaney. That man can do no wrong!
Christian Bale's performance is not enough
Vice (2018): The story of Dick Cheney, an unassuming bureaucratic Washington insider, who quietly wielded immense power as Vice President to George W. Bush, reshaping the country and the globe in ways that we still feel today.
Let's get the obvious out of the way first: Christian Bale is really good as Dick Cheney. Bale's quantifiable performance (he added 40 pounds for the role, changed his accent again, the whole nine yards) will be justifiably discussed at great length this award's season. (It's already netted him a Golden Globe) But it overshadows an abysmal script from director/screenwriter Adam McKay. This movie is an incoherent mess, and not even the terrific performances from its core cast are enough to save it.
I'm guessing this is what happens when Adam McKay is given near complete control over a project. To me, the issues here begin with the fact that no one was willing/able to tell the director that some of his ideas are bad ones. This film is a tonal disaster. One second, we're supposed to be really sad about something, the next we're supposed to feel anger, the next we're supposed to feel joy. All in three quick (and sometimes incoherent) cuts. McKay's textbook style does not jive with this story at all. His asides to explain difficult subjects (akin to explaining what CDOs and sub-prime loans are in The Big Short) feel awkward and forced, and the narrator (similar to Ryan Gosling's character in The Big Short) isn't integrated into the actual story anywhere near as well. But the biggest offender here is the editing.
I'm not sure why there's a huge drop-off between this and McKay's previous endeavor. The same editor (Hank Corwin) did both films, so why does the editing from The Big Short work so well but here it feels like an unwelcome menace? Nothing against Hank Corwin - the man is a legendary editor and will continue to be as much. In 2015, Hank Corwin received a deserving Oscar nomination for his editing on The Big Short. But here I think it's rather safe to say he will not. The editing is incomprehensible at points, and the "cut to something completely different that subtly progresses the story" style that worked so well in The Big Short was so bad in Vice that I just wanted it to go away. It made the film discombobulating and even uncomfortable at times.
All of this dumbfounds me. The Big Short made my top 10 list in 2015 and has resonated with me far more than most films I have reviewed on this blog. And I have always been fascinated by the stealthy corruption of the Bush 43 administration. This project should've been a grand slam home run in my book! It's not all bad, though. One undeniably good thing is the acting. Beyond Bale's quantifiably good performance, you have stellar performances from the rest of the cast, too. (Pretty shocked this didn't get an ensemble nomination from the SAGs this year. Bohemian Rhapsody? C'mon....) Amy Adams is a tour de force, as always, only here her presence is felt even when she's not on screen. I was fascinated to learn of the power Lynne Cheney had over her husband. Easily the most interesting thing about this film, her power is felt right from the first scene, which also happens to be one of the best sequences of the entire film. Oh ya, and the administration is great: Sam freaking Rockwell does a great George W. impression, Steve Carell is great as Rumsfeld, LisaGay Hamilton does a great Condoleezza Rice, and Tyler Perry continues to surprise when he feels like acting with a great Colin Powell. The 9/11 sequence in particular allowed Carell, Hamilton, and Perry to all shine brightly in their respective roles on one of the darkest days in American history.
However, the fact that that initial scene between Lynee and Dick is one of the best is as frustrating as it is invigorating to watch two world-class actors go at it on screen in a tense exchange. It's frustrating because this film does way more to tell you about Dick Cheney the man versus Dick Cheney, the ruthless VP under Bush 43. Adam McKay spent way too much time explaining how Cheney and his team dealt with the legality of his overreach versus actually showing us the overreaches he made. (Outside of the situation room on 9/11.) This is akin to my complaints with Bohemian Rhapsody from a few months ago, and here they are equally damning. As much as I do enjoy watching great actors be great, it's simply not enough to save this film from the infuriating realm of mediocrity. At the end of the day, that's where this film will forever rest.
Also, the "controversy" surrounding the end credits scene is dumb. #analysis
The Critique: Adam McKay spectacularly collapses on his follow-up to The Big Short with a messy script and indecipherable editing, despite terrific performances from its ensemble.
The Recommendation: ........eh? There's probably enough here for Adam McKay fans to enjoy it, as well as those who tend to vote blue, but there are better things to watch in the theater right now. Wait for it to hit streaming services.
Rewatchability: Moderately Low
The Verdict: 5/10 Painfully Average.
(But, for real, Adam McKay knew that post-credits scene would be the scene conservatives would glue on to, ignoring the rest of the film in the process. So, while it is an easy way for conservatives to avoid addressing the issues raised by the rest of the film, it's equally puzzling why this scene is in the movie at all. It accomplishes the same thing as calling out racists does.... the second you stoop down to their level and acknowledge them, you merely enable them and allow them to play the "victim" card, thus doing little outside of confirming what the rest of us already know and furthering their cause with those that don't.)
Play me off, Johnny!
Quick Reviews, Winter 2018 Part 2: Green Book, Welcome to Marwen, Mary Poppins Returns, Holmes & Watson, First ReformedRead Now
Welcome to Marwen
Mary Poppins Returns
Holmes & Watson
A wonderfully nuanced tale on what defines a family
Shoplifters (2018): A family of small-time crooks take in a child they find outside in the cold.
Every so often, a film comes along that blows you away in every sense of the phrase. These occurrences are even more illusive when you combine them with the ability to broaden your horizons about a certain subject pertaining to societal norms. However, Shoplifters does exactly that. One of the most inquisitive films I've ever seen, Shoplifters is a story told by writer/director Hirokazu Kore-eda. The Japanese director crafts a marvelous piece of cinema that effortlessly grips you from the first frame to the end credits. It's easily the best made film I've seen all year, with an equally enlightening story.
The film centers around a Japanese family that makes its living around the film's namesake. Each member of the family is masterfully crafted and portrayed. Kore-eda style bodes well for the actors involved here. Many of the scenes most emotional moments are improvised, (including the film's incredible climax) which leads to some of the incredibly genuine and heartfelt moments. The entire film basks in its intimacy: there's only a handful of shots with more than 5 people in the frame throughout the 121 minute runtime. This intimacy allows you to easily connect with each and every member of this diverse family. The first half of this film is a loving character piece made by a master filmmaker, and you'll find yourself so absorbed by it when it takes a hard right you're completely blindsided.
The final 30 minutes of this film are heart-wrenching and will make you question what it means to be a family. It's one of the best "hard rights turns" I've ever seen in a film, and thanks to the engaging character development in the first 90 minutes, every second of that final act is an emotional roller coaster. It is impossible to leave the theater without this film resonating in the depths of your mind and soul for days, if not weeks, afterwards. It certainly has with me. Every aspect of filmmaking is at its best here at the hands of Hirokazu Kore-eda. The lighting and set design (equally intimate in scale) are equally masterful. The film demands a second (or even third) watch so you can catch all the nuances you missed in the first go. It's one of the best stories I've ever seen, crafted by a master filmmaker, and more than fitting of Cannes Palme d'Or. Do make an effort to see it.
My Number: 10/10 Perfect
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