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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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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Incredibles 2

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After defeating Syndrome, the Parr family continues to balance their superhero lives with their civilian lives as Elastigirl is recruited to help legalize superheroes.

Since The Incredibles was released 14 years ago, it’s become one of Pixar’s greatest sensations and it’s no wonder everyone anticipated this sequel for so long. Having grown up with the first movie, I was one of the people waiting so long to see this one. I loved the action, heart, and approach to the superhero genre the first one offered, as well as the brilliant style we always see from Pixar. Thankfully, a lot of that returns in Brad Bird’s long-awaited follow-up that carries down all the heart the first film had. It’s not just a movie about superheroes fighting villains, but a movie about being a family while having superpowers. The terrific cast from the first movie is mostly back — Holly Hunter is wonderful as Elastigirl with plenty of fun to her character once again as she takes on new duties in the spotlight, and it’s also great to see Craig T. Nelson back as Mr. Incredible as he strengthens his bonds with his children after being away in the first movie, and learns to take care of the home life as a father. It’s also great to have Samuel L. Jackson back as the lovable and awesome hero Frozone, and director Brad Bird once again voices the hysterical suit designer Edna Mode. New additions to the cast are Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener who are both great as siblings who are advocating to legalize supers.

Another element worth noting is how the animation has stepped up since 2004 which really shows in every frame. The years worth of animating work pays off with the stunning detail in every picture. Another welcome return is the brilliant and exciting score by Michael Giacchino, who also composed the first movie, arguably his best film score. The jazz feel to the music makes it feel different than any superhero film or animated movie. The villain definitely isn’t as memorable as Syndrome from the first movie or even close, the rest of the script feels interesting and engaging enough despite a predictable villain reveal. Though the action isn’t as memorable as in the first, some are so great you could even expect to find them in a Marvel movie. Even though so many superhero franchises have started since the first movie was released, none of it feels affected by the fact that we get so many superhero films a year, and it still feels like the Pixar family adventure we got in 2004. Every character feels unique and heartfelt once again — Elastigirl is determined to make the world a better one for supers, Mr. Incredible is determined to take care of his children on his own, Violet has boy problems at school, Dash needs help with math homework and enjoys annoying his sister, and Jack-Jack — you’ll just have to see. These characters don’t just feel like action heroes working together — they feel like a real family. And that’s what this movie is, a family movie. It’s not just about fighting crime, but also getting along as a family and helping the ones closest to you. This also feels like something even adults could enjoy — one could see it as much of an action superhero movie as something like Guardians of the Galaxy or The Avengers. At no point does the movie feel compromised to impress children, all of it feels like it could be pleasing to the most mature of viewers but kids can also love it. Basically, this movie is for all ages, and definitely one to go watch with the whole family.

Incredibles 2 is another fun animated movie built for all ages, with great animation, action, cast, characters, and music. You can count on Pixar to make the 14 year wait worth it.

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A Wrinkle in Time

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Meg Murry is a young girl whose astrophysicist father disappeared four years ago. One day she learns from three magical travelers that she can find her father if she embarks on a journey of self-discovery across the universe, accompanied by her brother and her classmate.

A Wrinkle in Time had some big names in its cast, a popular source material, and lots of ambition which was evident from the intriguing trailers — so why did Disney go ahead and make a safe children’s movie with the same plot they always use instead of something that families can love too? Ava Duvernay is not a bad filmmaker, she did a fantastic job directing Selma so I had faith that I could really enjoy this film. However, the overuse of visuals, waste of great cast members, and 100% familiarity and predictability of the plot offer nothing new that will resonate. Storm Reid is great as the young Meg who is curious, rebellious, and learns to embrace who she is. However, the rest of the actors, while great, aren’t used to the movie’s advantage. With names like Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, and Mindy Kaling, we’d surely get some great leading faces, but not only are they not present for a good amount of the film, but the actors are just being the typical persona of how they usually portray their characters. Oprah is of course just there to inspire people, Witherspoon is funny but really just there to charm, and Kaling is extremely annoying as a character whose only dialogue is famous quotes from historical figures or celebrities. The cast’s (and the film’s) greatest strengths are Chris Pine and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who have been promising in nearly everything they’ve done. We’ve come to know Pine as Captain Kirk and more recently, Wonder Woman’s love interest, and Mbatha-Raw is a rising talent most notably in her role in Black Mirror. Here they play the most remarkable parts of the film; an ambitious scientist who loves nothing more than his family, and the wife and mother whose life is left with a void after her husband’s disappearance. They are both terrific to watch on-screen, yet so underused, and this part of the story could have been used more dominantly but in the middle of the film it’s ditched for the classic formula we see in nearly every film. Other familiar faces include Zach Galifiankis and Michael Pena, but they too are forgotten and we spend more time with the generic love interest played by Levi Miller and the irritating younger brother by the name of Charles Wallace.

A Wrinkle in Time had a lot going for it, and though lots of it feels like a missed opportunity, there are some things it gets right. We’re ultimately left with a theme about being your best and embracing your faults, because in the end, we can all do great things. Kids will love this message and be empowered by this theme, but to everyone who’s seen a movie before, it’s all the same. An ordinary kid who feels isolated from everyone else is pulled into a magical journey and learns to be a hero and a better version of themselves, and falls in love and the way. Sound familiar, right? It feels like this could’ve been something unique but instead used the same recycled formula for a new generation. Even Star Wars has a significantly similar plot to this one. The CGI and green-screen don’t feel real and intimate enough either, and at the end, it doesn’t seem like much of the story had a point either, just a bunch of names and concepts thrown at you that don’t have some sort of resonance and thrills to offer. Some may argue this movie celebrates female empowerment and diversity, but is that enough to make a good movie? That part should be the icing on the cake that can be added to something great.

Your kids may be enamored and entertained by the messages this film has to offer, but if you’re over 10 years old, A Wrinkle in Time will leave you thinking about nothing but the potential that was missed here. This should’ve been something families will talk to their kids about and recommend to friends, but in the end, we’re left with a familiar story accompanied with forgettable execution. Ava Duvernay and Disney should’ve learned, like their protagonist, to embrace their faults and improve upon what’s done before, and trust me, I’ve seen lots of great Disney movies, but this one just doesn’t add up to something I’d recommend to anyone going to the movies with friends or a date. On the bright side, there’s still Black Panther and Annihilation out there for whoever hasn’t seen those yet.

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Wonder

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Based on the best-selling book, Wonder follows a deformed boy named Auggie going to school for the first time, and with the help of his supportive family, he deals with bullies, makes new friends, and inspires many.

It’s no surprise that an acclaimed book like Wonder would get adapted into a film, and this could have been a cliche and skippable film considering the mainstream family genre hasn’t been at its best lately, but it ended up being a faithful adaptation that holds onto what made the book powerful and has great messages for both kids and adults. “If given the choice between being right and being kind, choose kind”, is a quote written on one of Auggie’s teacher’s walls, in a not-so-subtle way of conveying the theme of the film, which is kindness. Jacob Tremblay, who you may remember had his breakout as Brie Larson’s captive son in Room, is not only unrecognizable under all that makeup, but delivers all the emotion I hoped for out of the protagonist to reach out to the audience, and you can even get emotional by the end of the film. Julia Roberts delivers a very real and heartfelt performance as Auggie’s mother, and Owen Wilson is just as great as his father. What I like the movie did is showing the experiences of the film through every family member and not just Auggie. We see the difficulties of Auggie living with facial differences and how that affects how everyone treats him, but we also feel the unconditional love from his parents and the older sister who feels neglected because everything revolves around her younger brother. Wonder delivers its themes very well because it’s not only speaking out to kids about how you should be kind to everyone no matter how they look, but it also speaks out to teens and adults because it depicts the experiences they go through and demonstrates how your family will always love you no matter what. As someone who’s read the book, I noticed that this movie held onto its primary themes but doesn’t stay 100% true to the plot, which is nice because there’s something new to discover when watching the film. Whether or not you’ve read the source material, it’s easy to see where the film will go by the end, but the journey there is still sweet and touching. Although some editing choices are questionable, and the film does go on 10 minutes too long (I don’t think 113 minutes is too long for a film but 10 minutes before the ending, it finds a good place to finish but then goes on longer), I can guarantee you and your family will enjoy this fun and touching film. It’s by no means a must-watch, but Wonder has some meaningful themes to offer that’s delivered well by a good cast and script that kids and adults will enjoy watching together.

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Coco

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In Pixar’s latest film, Miguel, a young boy who loves music despite his family’s ban on it, accidentally arrives at the Land of the Dead and must seek the blessing a family member in order to return home. The plot is a lot more complicated but that’s the easiest way to describe it without getting into any spoilers. The cast includes well-known Latino actors such as Gael Garcia Bernal and Benjamin Bratt, who are both fantastic in their roles, but I was also very impressed by the voice work of newcomer Anthony Gonzalez, who plays the lead role of Miguel with lots of charm. Coco may seem to some like a rip-off The Book of Life, a great animated film released a few years ago which also focuses on a young man with a love for music despite his family’s ban on it, who ends up in the Land of the Dead on a  journey of self-discovery, but that is the only comparison the two movies share. Coco is much more beautifully animated, vivid with story and characters, and sure to make you shed a few tears by the end, a profession in which Pixar excels at.

When this movie first started, I was enjoying the nice animation and sweet heart its characters and writing had to offer, but I felt like I could tell where the plot was going to go and how everything would end up. However, the movie twists in a direction I did not expect, and becomes an even more complex family film with its themes about family, dreams, and legacy. The songs by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, the husband-wife duo who won Oscars for writing the songs for Frozen, are very good and entertaining as well. What I liked is that the songs don’t serve a huge part in the film but they are still there and blend well with the Mexican culture of the film. By the end of the film, many young ones will likely cry as they did in previous films of Pixar, because the poignant themes are both happy and sad in this film, and work effectively in both ways. Pixar’s movies always looks magnificent in terms of the animation, and often millions of people work hours to months to get even a single frame (and that’s one per 24 in a second) to look nice. As I was told when I visited their studio 7 years ago, each film of theirs takes 5 years to make, and the effort each member of the studio gives in always pays off, and not only are the visuals majestic, but the storylines are unexpected, sweet, funny, and tear-jerking as well. Pixar has been in the filmmaking business for over 20 years now, and they even started the computer-animation movie-making genre with Toy Story. I grew up watching many of their films over and over again, and lots of their films shaped they way I watch and appreciate movies today. Without them, my love of movies and reviewing them may have not been the same. Some may believe Pixar has lost some of their steam and that their golden age is behind them, but I think they are still on their feet and are making stories as wonderful, family-friendly, and touching as they were when I was first introduced to their films many years ago.

Coco isn’t just a gorgeously looking animated film and tribute to Mexican culture, but it’s also Pixar’s most original and moving film since Inside Out. It’ll make you laugh, it’ll make you cry, and best of all, people of all ages can enjoy it. Parents will definitely want watch it over and over again with their families, and kids will want to watch it again through their childhood and eventually show it to future generations of their family. In a world where animated movies is a genre that is dying out, it’s a miracle Pixar is there to save it, and have their movies inspire families and become classics for the family genre instantly. Bottomline — go watch Coco with your family and have a blast!

Now I’m going to talk about the one problem I had about the movie, and it’s not even about the movie itself, yet it’s the worst decision Pixar has ever made by far. Before the movie, an awful, and I mean awful short film titled Olaf’s Frozen Adventure screens, and although I like the actual Frozen movie, this short film (which is a long 20 minutes as opposed to the usual 7 minutes of Pixar short films) is unbearable to sit through, with an absolutely terrible storyline and soundtrack, and even the cast’s singing is off this time for some weird reason. Disney decided to cram 6 songs in 20 minutes and pay Pixar to screen such an awful waste of time in front of a fantastic movie, which is a shame. So if you’re late to the movie, don’t worry too much about it because you won’t miss anything amazing. Otherwise, Coco is still a wonderful experience to watch with your family and nonetheless a great film that I had a blast with, regardless of the terrible short film that comes before.

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