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 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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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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The Grinch

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Christmas is arriving in Whoville, and everyone can’t wait — except for The Grinch, who despises the holiday. Together with his trusty dog Max, he sets out to steal everyone’s Christmas gifts and end the beloved holiday once and for all.

The Grinch is an adaptation of a classic Dr. Seuss story many grew up reading and knowing, which was previously adapted by Ron Howard in 2000 — so was there really a point in this movie being made? We all know how the story goes and this movie offers nothing knew that the story benefits from with another adaptation. The plot is very by-the-books and the humor is aimed for children and children only. This film is marketed as a “reimagining” but no imagination is put into the script or themes that will make audiences discover something new. Kids will have a blast with the ridiculous humor, but as one who has seen tons of animated movies, every joke was predictable and felt recycled to me. Some scenes made only to extend a short children’s story to a 90-minute feature film are so laughable it’s hard to imagine film executives sitting in a pitch room planning those scenes out for a movie. The computer animation is dull and not very exciting compared to Disney’s animated films which bring so much energy into their animation. The ultimate theme of kindness will likely appeal to young ones and teach them a lesson — one that adults have seen many times already and don’t need repeated to them. Benedict Cumberbatch was a solid choice to play the Grinch, but it feels like a missed opportunity that they chose to use his American accent instead of letting him use his natural English accent that has worked as menacing and villanous in many films before. There’s also one other entertaining voice role, played by SNL cast member Kenan Thompson, but lots of the film also focuses on a young girl named Cindy Lou, and this subplot feels like the most bloated and tough-to-sit-through part of the film until the message of it only makes sense at the very end. The book this movie is based on is called How the Grinch Stole Christmas, but the actual stealing of Christmas which is the objective of the whole film is mostly skimmed past in a montage. There are also some very weird soundtrack choices like an awful rap version of the classic hit “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” from the original adaptation, and other oddly placed music like a song from The Sound of Music. I enjoyed the first two Despicable Me movies, but after that it looks like Illumination has lost their originality when it comes to animated films with films like Minions, Despicable Me 3 and Sing which all felt like wastes of time and effort, retreading the same ground and offering less of a family invitation and more of a “kids drag their parents to it” kind of films to make money. It seems like Disney and Pixar are the only animation studios that still deliver new and unique family films in my eyes, and the rest have given up.

The Grinch offers no originality or justification to be watched or even made, compromising itself to please young children more than families, and covers the same kind of humor and themes that too many animated films have already taken on. You may want to your kids if they’re interested when it comes out next week, and you may even enjoy it like my sneak preview audience mostly did, but don’t expect anything insightful or fresh. We may just have to wait until Ralph Breaks the Internet for the deserving family film of the season.

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Crazy Rich Asians

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Rachel agrees to go with her boyfriend to meet his family in Singapore, not knowing the rich lifestyle and reputation they have there.

An all Asian cast is a great move for diversity in film when we need it, to help make everyone feel represented on screen. There’s some solid casting with an especially great turn from Michelle Yeoh, and the leads played by Constance Wu and Henry Golding are impressive as well. By having both Asian-American and Singaporean characters, the script has some interesting ideas about how different Asian cultures see each other and how their lives differ. Unfortunately, it’s not until the last act that the film realizes this, and the road there is a poorly directed and edited series of extended party scenes, unnecessary subplots, and an overabundance of pathetic supporting characters, especially an annoying role played by Awkwafina. Not much of the film focuses on the chemistry between these leads which is unfortuante because everything else is either repetitive (a 20-minute party scene dedicates most of its runtime simply to Rachel’s boyfriend introducing her to side characters that are useless and quickly forgotten about). Sometimes the dramatic moments feel unauthentic or too over-the-top to fit the rest of the film. The editing is all over the place and doesn’t know how to stay focused, and whenever the dialogue thinks it’s being funny, it’s actually insufferable. The movie compromises itself too much to please a wider audience simply looking for cool party aesthetics and happy moments instead of going for a profound journey for its main character. Just when the ending seems figured out, the ending feels like a cop out because the film is too afraid to take any risks. With the ideas this film had, it’s a pity the director made poor choices to focus less on the meaningful substance I’m sure they were aiming for. This is a step up for diversity in movies but not for mainstream comedy filmmaking. Keep in mind that the majority of audiences seemed to have loved this film, but I personally was not impressed by what I saw. If you want a film about what’s really important in the world today, I’d strongly recommend BlacKkKlansman.

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Sorry to Bother You

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In an alternate present-day version of Oakland, telemarketer Cassius Green discovers a magical key to professional success, propelling him into a universe of greed.

Sorry to Bother You marks the directorial debut of Boots Riley, who offers his unique voice to a world crowded with single-genre pictures meant to please a wider audience. Riley knows how to make a film his own and dive into many genres, like dark comedy and character-driven drama. He offers dialogue that doesn’t hold back on being extremely dark and bizarre yet humorous and entertaining. The movie gets so weird that eventually everyone will just have to sit back and enjoy whatever new ideas the director throws at you. This is a film that knows when it’s okay to move outside the lines of regular filmmaking and screenwriting, and try something new. Lakeith Stanfield was able to yell the titular phrase in the movie Get Out is now in the spotlight as the lead role of Cassius. He’s skilled, talented, and keeps the viewer into the film with his wide range that he brings into Cassius. Tessa Thompson once again proves herself as Cassius’ fiance Detroit and Armie Hammer has a phenomenal supporting role that’s hilarious and full of energy. The music is vivid and adds another layer to the film, and the writing is always unexpected and engaging. The movie knows when to be impactful, haunting, and thrilling but at the same time doesn’t take itself too seriously and still completely works on both aspects. While this movie is very unique, some may not like this movie or find the insane aspects to be laughable. It’s not a film for everyone, but thankfully my audience loved it so maybe you will too. Sometimes the ideas in different acts of the story don’t really act together to present a common goal or clearly feel interconnected, but I still enjoyed Sorry to Bother You from start to finish. It’s odd and nonsensical but presents itself as a deep story about people living in the modern world, and about the love, hate, hard work, and statements these people express every day.

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Ant-Man and the Wasp

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Scott Lang, now under house arrest after helping Captain America protect Bucky Barnes from the law in Captain America: Civil War, he is approached once again by Hope van Dyne and Dr. Hank Pym, who present an urgent new mission that finds the Ant-Man fighting alongside The Wasp to uncover secrets from their past.

Ant-Man and the Wasp is a sequel that has the great laughs and entertainment that has always made the MCU great, but doesn’t learn from some of its predecessor’s mistakes and fails to stand out from the rest of the Marvel universe. However, the bright tone delivers a fun 2 hours that will please fans of comic-book movies and action films. Paul Rudd delivers a charismatic performance as Scott, who’s not only a great hero but a loving father, and Evangeline Lilly finally suits up and does a much better job than she did in the last film. Michael Douglas is also a welcome return as Hank Pym, and you can count on Michael Pena to make you crack up in every scene he’s in. The humor is memorable and well-written (which isn’t a surprise when it comes to Marvel films as they always nail their comedy wonderfully) and the action isn’t unforgettable but is able to be fun and engaging enough to entertain.

Ant-Man was a fun and lighthearted action flick from Marvel but I feel it lacked anything to make it deep or unique — and this sequel unfortunately has that same problem. We don’t get enough new depth to Scott and the only thing that felt emotional is the plot involving someone from Hank and Hope’s past. I don’t feel like this movie or its predecessor added anything new or outstanding to the MCU, which I feel every Marvel movie has been able to do in the last 4 years except these two. These films feel like great surface-level action comedies, but lack the humanity, creativity, and ambition I’ve seen in every film in this universe since The Winter Soldier — I’m used to seeing each Marvel movie have fleshed out characters and rare directing and writing that feel different from other franchises — and usually we see the main hero learning a life lesson or having an emotional arc that you can only find in these movies. However, Peyton Reed doesn’t really dig under the surface for Scott and make the story feel meaningful or resonant like Black Panther and Infinity War. It feels fun and holds its ground but doesn’t have as many important themes that have made me love the other MCU movies. The villain has a good backstory and motive but this character’s conflict with the heroes didn’t feel as enticing as it could’ve been and the well-realized plot takes a few detours with unnecessary side characters or events. We dive deep into the Quantum Realm and the science behind it, as well as the history of the Pym family, but not very much into these character’s souls and emotions like many Marvel movies have done to make us think and look back for so long.

Ant-Man and the Wasp is another fun and appealing Marvel action movie, but doesn’t reach the standards many Marvel Studios films have set so high, and doesn’t feel as blod and delightful as other installments. It’s got nice action and memorable laughs but the script doesn’t feel as well-realized and profound as it could have been and this cinematic universe has seen much brighter stars. However, all Marvel fans like me will have a good enough time to be worth the ticket, and also stay for a great post-credits scene as always.

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