Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

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Miles Morales is juggling his life between being a high school student and being Spider-Man. However, when Wilson Fisk uses a collider to open a portal to new dimensions, Peter Parker, another Spider-Man from another dimension, accidentally winds up in Miles’ dimension, joining others from across the “Spider-Verse”.

This animated version of Spider-Man is brought to life with a less popular iteration of the character, Miles Morales, and is animated to look like a comic-book with many different editions of the Spider-Man character appearing, as well as many familiar villains. Though it starts about the same as any Spider-Man story, the second half presents some unexpected and mature character moments that are touching and make the final act of the movie exciting and rewarding. There are some humorous moments throughout, and a solid voice cast, including Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Bryan Tyree Henry, and Mahershala Ali. The animation is often vibrant and colorful, even though some scenes and details feel very vague and dull graphically. Even though it did make me laugh a few times, some moments do feel cringeworthy or only there for fan service. The soundtrack was also poorly chosen and the awful rap songs distract from the strong point some scenes were trying to make. Even though I enjoyed seeing villains like Doc Ock and Green Goblin appear, I don’t approve of them turning Fisk from a compelling and unpredictable human being into a heartless, soulless antagonist who doesn’t stop before making evil decisions and has no moral compass like the superior portrayal of the character in the Netflix series Daredevil. It’s clearly a kid’s film, so I don’t expect them to make him an R-rated character, but I was hoping for enough layer to stay true to what I love about the character but also fit for a PG-rated movie. I really loved Hailee Steinfeld as Gwen Stacy, who I had no idea was also Spider-Woman before seeing this movie (and I’d easily watch a spin-off of her own should Sony choose to make one), and Spider-Ham is also an unexpectedly fun character. There’s also a terrific Stan Lee cameo and a touching tribute to the late legend during the credits. Even though the movie does teach kids that they can all be Spider-Man, we don’t need the line “Anyone can wear the mask” constantly repeated to understand that.

Kids and families will definitely have a good time with this new family-friendly version of the friendly neighborhood hero from New York. However, I personally felt that it’s only in the second half of the film where it really finds its heart and makes up for a predictable first half with some heartwarming moments, adding to its solid cast and characters as well as its unique style.

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The 76th Golden Globe Awards

The 76th Golden Globes were tonight. Like always I was very excited to see some great movies getting honored and some of the best stars of the year presenting and receiving awards, as well as one of the funniest people in Hollywood, Andy Samberg, hosting. There were some funny, heartfelt, and shocking moments. Here are the winners in the film categories:

Best Picture – Drama: Bohemian Rhapsody

Best Picture – Musical or Comedy: Green Book

Best Director: Alfonso Cuaron – Roma

Best Actor – Drama: Rami Malek – Bohemian Rhapsody

Best Actress – Drama: Glenn Close – The Wife

Best Actor – Musical or Comedy: Christian Bale – Vice

Best Actress – Musical or Comedy: Olivia Colman – The Favourite

Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali – Green Book

Best Supporting Actress: Regina King – If Beale Street Could Talk

Best Screenplay: Green Book

Best Original Score: Justin Hurwitz – First Man

Best Original Song: “Shallow” from A Star is Born

Best Animated Feature: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Best Foreign Language Film: Roma (Mexico)

My thoughts on the ceremony this year were definitely… mixed. I definitely enjoyed some humorous moments from hosts Andy Samberg and Sandra Oh, like them mocking Lady Gaga’s mantra, but also some awkward moments in an overly attempt to make a statement about whitewashing and diversity, which is definitely important and there were some strong moments like Peter Farrelly’s wonderful Green Book speech. But overall some jokes felt forced or too scripted, like anyone could’ve done them when a man like Andy Samberg has such unique and memorable humor. Like I said, some moments to promote diversity/equality were touching but others felt a bit forced, and there was one awkward moment when Maya Rudolph “proposed” to Amy Poehler (who is another comedic genius of an actor in my eyes). One strong highlight was Jeff Bridges winning the Cecil B. DeMille award for lifetime achievement. Come on, who can disagree that the man is such a talented force on screen? I’m very thrilled that Justin Hurwitz has won his 2nd Original Score Golden Globe for First Man, an incredible film that should’ve been nominated for Best Drama over the winning one. I still have yet to see Vice and If Beale Street Could Talk, though I am a huge fan of Christian Bale. Olivia Colman also did so great as Queen Anne and I’m glad she won. I am also happy for the wins of Roma, a moving and deep passion project from the heart of Alfonso Cuaron, even though I would’ve preferred Bradley Cooper for Best Director. Speaking of which, despite winning Best Original Song, A Star is Born, the main film that got people talking this year, was completely shut out from the big categories. I was very disappointed that Lady Gaga did not win for her marvelous performance as Ally, and that Bradley Cooper lost both categories he was nominated in. Rami Malek did a terrific portrayal of a musical legend and brought Freddie to the screen so well, but Cooper and Gaga nearly brought tears to my eyes. After all the work Cooper put in front of and behind the screen, I want him to win at least one Oscar, and I hope Gaga has a chance too. After all, they’ve won at every awards ceremony except this one. I enjoyed Bohemian Rhapsody very much, especially being a Queen fan, and I loved the performances and musical scenes, and overall thought it was good. But with a sometimes cliche script and mixed reviews from critics, I’m so shocked it beat a fantastic film like A Star is Born. Even BlacKkKlansman, which sparked many important conversations and hit many right marks, deserved the award more. Mahershala Ali for Supporting Actor, and I’d be happy if he goes on to win his second Oscar in two years.

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The Favourite

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In early 18th century England, a frail Queen Anne occupies the throne and her close friend, Lady Sarah, governs the country in her stead. When a new servant, Abigail, arrives, her friendship with the Queen threatens Sarah’s place in court.
Yorgos Lanthimos has already made a name for himself as a filmmaker with a distinct style and a cult favorite, though his style definitely won’t appeal to all audiences. I, for one, am a huge fan of his dark humor that feels fresh and different from any other films, as well as the pessimism and dark character relationships and themes he presents. The Favourite brings the dark humor he’s known for and will make some laugh and other cringe and feel awkward. However, these moments make for some of the phenomenal scenes in The Favourite, ones that you won’t forget because they dare to break the standards of what one would expect in a period piece, though those familiar with Lanthimos know what they’re in for. The Favourite is a beautiful looking film with the best costumes and sets of the year and inventive cinematography that changes camera distance mid-scene or even mid-action and breaks known filming rules such as the 180 rule. Another standout is the performances from three exceptional women. Olivia Colman is a queen who often appears less as a leader but a woman “stalked by tragedy”, who is often rude and feels sorry for herself but also seeks to care for those closest to her, or her “favourite”. Rachel Weisz is also great as a deceitful woman who is unlikable but also just wants to maintain her relationship with the Queen. Emma Stone was the standout to me, and this is up there with her Birdman and La La Land roles as she nails an English accent and plays the only character you really want to root for, though by the end, the film makes us wonder if anyone was really a good person here. By powerfully showing a rivalry between these women begging for love and favour from the Queen, Yorgos conveys the themes that people want to reach high status and just want to satisfy their immediate feelings and passion, but do these prizes really solve everything? The Favourite is never really a fun film but you will be intrigued by this main storyline, even though the style is not for everyone. At times it does slow down whenever it focuses on the Queen’s leadership and the Parliament, but the main strength comes from the spirit these actresses bring to the screen. The Favourite is a movie that needs a lot of reflecting on, with a final shot that’s as meaningful as it is puzzling and odd but brings so much layer to the film.
The Favourite is top-notch filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos doing what he does best — bringing a unique style to the screen with spectacular prestige cinematography and strong, pessimistic themes anchored by three wonderful leading performances.
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The Mule

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Clint Eastwood directs this new crime film inspired by a true story, and plays a 90-year-old man who becomes a drug mule for the Mexican cartel.

As an actor and director, Clint Eastwood has been influencing generations of cinema for over half a decade, and he’s still staying strong in his career, having released 2 movies this year, and also starring in the leading role in this one. His performance is the standout of the film, as expected from him, and he carries the film with the force he always brings to the screen, making a complex character who isn’t always likable but you are interested to watch him throughout the events of the film anyway. Eastwood’s direction is also top-notch and reminds us why he’s one of the master filmmakers of our time. The overall plot is sometimes well written but also gets slow and repetitive at times, and at the end, a bit predictable. Like I said, Eastwood’s role really is great, but other known cast members such as Bradley Cooper, Laurence Fishburne, and Michael Peña should have been given more to do in the film. The movie tackles some relevant issues like the stereotypes of certain races, but it only does so briefly and not very subtly when it is addressed. It’s got some good themes by the end as well as some good tension that Eastwood crafts well, like two men on opposite sides of the law sitting next to each other in a restaurant, which is intriguing when both talk as they don’t know who the other is. However, it often falls into familiar crime drama tropes and under-uses some of its best aspects. The Mule can be enjoyed for what it is and Eastwood brings the energy he always does to the film, but it doesn’t quite go above what one would expect from an average true crime drama, even though Eastwood’s directing touch is there and those who have been following his career should definitely check it out. But in the end it isn’t as memorable as other films he’s starred and directed in recent years like Million Dollar Baby and Gran Torino.

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Aquaman

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Arthur Curry, known to the mortal world as the Aquaman, goes to Atlantis to claim his birthright of the throne and prevent his half-brother Orm from waging war against the surface.

Visually stunning with its immense use of CGI for its gorgeous setting of Atlantis, Aquaman stands out from the rest of the DC Extended Universe because of its engaging action and splendid visuals brought very well to the screen by James Wan. His action scenes feel inventive and the style feels very ambitious. The way he immerses you into this vast underwater kingdom looks great and the VFX are very appealing to the eye, with the exception of one desert scene which did not look authentic. James Wan experiments with long takes and creates very fun set pieces including a submarine battle, a fight on the streets of Sicily, and a giant underwater battle the size of the third act of a Star Wars movie. The sets and costumes blend in with the visuals to create a lively mood that feels huge in scale and does not hold back on feeling like an epic, crafting some of the best DC fights and settings yet. Unlike Batman v Superman and Justice League, this installment actually has a thoughtful emotional arc for its characters, including its lead, even thought not all the performances hit home. Nicole Kidman is always fantastic, so it’s no surprise that she’s the highlight of the cast as Arthur’s mother, and Willem Dafoe is also great as an Atlantean who trains Arthur as a young boy and allies with him throughout the movie. Other than that, none of the performances were noteworthy enough to remember their characters as unique comic-book characters. Despite Arthur and Orm’s strong motivations, Patrick Wilson’s acting isn’t strong enough to really hate his villain and even though Jason Momoa has some humor as well as heart, he doesn’t deliver a complex character that embrace the audience as human beings, like actors such as Chadwick Boseman and Chris Hemsworth have done in the past. As for Amber Heard, she isn’t boring to watch on screen but she really is just a female sidekick/badass that helps Arthur on his journey, and there’s an unnecessary romance between them thrown in at one point too. There’s also a character named Black Manta who feels like a justifiably fueled character but ends up being unneeded to the rest of the film and only there to throw punches in a great action scene set in Sicily.

Aquaman has a lot of great things going for it, but it ultimately feels like a bit much. There’s a lot of aspects about this film that could’ve worked but don’t get the focus they need — a mature tale of Aquaman learning what being a hero means, a duel between two brothers longing for their mother’s love and the worthiness of the throne, a Raiders of the Lost Ark-style adventure across the globe in search for an ancient artifact. So much is explored that had potential but it feels like the film only needed one or two of these elements to work as it did. James Wan experiences with different shots and editing techniques, and some hit home while others do not, and some of the dialogue needed improvement. The overall writing for these conflicts is solid but ultimately this family rivalry between Arthur and Orm doesn’t feel as potent as Black Panther and Killmonger’s relationship earlier this year. Aquaman at times wants to be more than it is, and it ultimately won’t spark any conversations like a few lines try to or hit that mark where you’ll embrace all these characters as family like you would in a Marvel movie, but Aquaman ultimately does its job, which is to entertain, and thankfully feels more coherent than DC’s past failures like Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad. Entertaining and stylish action let this feel like a standalone film and not just a studio exploitation, and it went above my expectations by making an immersive and exceptional world in Atlantis and building on the mythology of the DC universe. Ultimately, those with high hopes for Aquaman or average action moviegoers will find themselves cheering for the titular hero by the end.

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Green Book

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Based on a true friendship between Tony Lip, a working-class Italian-American bouncer, and Don Shirley, an African-American classical pianist. In the 1960’s, Lip becomes Shirley’s driver on a concert tour through the American South.

We have received a lot of movies in recent years that focus on race and segregation through true stories, and it’s nice to have one on a very small scale that only focuses on a friendship between two people but still carries its point across as effectively. Viggo Mortensen stands out as Tony Lip, a somewhat selfish character who has a heart but also acts however he ants and isn’t afraid to use violence on whoever he deems needs to learn a lesson. Mahershala Ali is also great, as he clearly spent lots of training to learn how to become such a great pianist like his character, but his role is also sophisticated and caring despite facing racism in such a time in the Deep South. The chemistry between the two makes the film so interesting; Mortensen’s character has a narrow view of those outside of his poor Italian neighborhood in New York but learns to become good friends with those he never though he’d meet and become a friendlier person. The contrast between the two is also excellent — not just between race but also between social class — Tony Lip has a more uncultured manner, also having grown up in a poor neighborhood, while Don Shirley is a very elegant and honest man, and this contrast makes scenes like the two sharing a bucket of fried chicken come off as very entertaining. Shirley is a character who seems like he’s in a higher class and given more opportunity to perform than other black artists at this time due to segregation, but even though he never sees himself as any lesser than the white audiences he performs to, he feels that he’s treated as “just another black man” to the moment he steps off stage, as he explains in a powerful monologue that’s definitely the best scene in the film. This breaking of stereotype, a wealthy black man teaching a poor white man life lessons like kindness (and he even helps him write poetic letters to his wife), but maintaining of realism makes the film even more thought-provoking, and the dynamic between the two main characters while delivering themes about interactions between race and social class in the ’60s makes the film a worthy watch, that I’m sure won’t be ignored in awards categories like Picture and Actor.

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Ralph Breaks the Internet

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When a Wi-Fi router is plugged into the arcade, Wreck-It Ralph and his best friend Vanellope embark on a journey into the Internet to save Vanellope’s game Sugar Rush.

Wreck-It Ralph was released in 2012 and remains one of Disney’s most impressive animated films in recent years, but do people still want to see Ralph on the big screen again six years later? Well, according to the box-office response of this newly-released sequel, adults are still taking their children and having a great time with characters like Ralph and the idea of a video game character going on a virtual journey. Thankfully, it wasn’t too late for a Wreck-It Ralph 2 and even though not everyone was sold with the product-placement-heavy idea of the Internet as a setting when it was first announced, it comes off as entertaining and expands the world of its setting and characters. With Ralph Breaks the Internet, Disney adds a fun, well-animated, and at times touching family flick to their roster, even though it doesn’t reach the bar the first one set for this franchise. John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman still fit very well in their main roles and even though Fix-It Felix and Sgt. Calhoun have roles demoted from the first film to very minor appearances, the new cast, especially Gal Gadot as a tough yet inspiring racer named Shank, is still impressive. The depiction of the Interent is creative and some of the references are fun, even though not all of them hit home and come off as trying too hard to feel relevant to the cringeworthy meme content of 2018. There’s a particular scene that’s been marketed in the trailers in which Vanellope goes to a Disney website where she meets Princesses, Stormtroopers, and other Marvel/Star Wars/Disney characters, and this could have easily been a simple declaration by Disney of how much they own. However, this scene turned out to be the highlight of the film, as it feels self-aware about cliches faced by the princesses and hits the mark with animation, humor, and eye-catching references. The humor will often make you laugh even though it does sometimes feel too childish, which is disappointing because usually Disney’s humor is more mature and can be enjoyed by both kids and adults, but that felt a tad less present here. The movie will touch some viewers with its profound themes of friendship — however, this arc for its lead characters only comes in around the final act, and before that it’s just a fun adventure with humor that doesn’t always achieve its goal. Lots of Disney’s films have a great message viewers of all ages can take away, and here it’s only present at the end and before that there isn’t a clear emotional arc to drive the characters. In the first film, Ralph embarked on a journey of self-discovery in which he made friends and learned that you don’t need a medal to be a villain. Here, despite the entertaining concept throughout, there isn’t that emotional core that drives the film the whole way like in the first movie. However, the animation, cast, and overall plot is pleasing enough for viewers and Disney fans to enjoy — just don’t expect it to be as meaningful and satisfying as the first one.

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