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Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

While Tom Holland’s live-action Spider-Man character remains in limbo due to that infamous Thanos finger snap (even though we know another Spider-Man film starring Holland is being released next year, which is a bit of a giveaway), Sony Pictures has upped the ante on the Spidey franchise with the eye-popping, all-around-ingenious Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, one of 2018’s greatest cinematic surprises.

While there have been awesome superhero movies, and terrific movies based on comic books, this might be the best “comic-book movie” ever made. No movie has ever captured the rush of reading a great comic book like this blast from directors Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman. They go for broke with a mixture of visual styles—hand-drawn and computer-animated—that magically splash across the scene. The story is pretty great, too.

Miles Morales (the voice of Shameik Moore) is trying to adjust to a new, upscale school after winning a scholarship. He’s away from his big-city friends and getting some guff from his well-meaning police-officer dad (Brian Tyree Henry), who wants him to appreciate the chance he’s been given. Miles’ uncle (the ever-busy Mahershala Ali) keeps him grounded, encouraging him to continue as a graffiti artist. On one of their painting excursions, Miles is bitten by a strange spider and then, well, you know.

He eventually crosses paths with the original Spider-Man, Peter Parker (Chris Pine). As the plot would have it, parallel-universe portals open and allow in a whole fleet of different Spider-Men, Spider-Women, Spider-Pigs and Spider-Robots. That group includes Peter B. Parker (the invaluable Jake Johnson), Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld), Spider-Ham (a mishmash of Spidey and Porky Pig voiced by John Mulaney), Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) and her robot—and, best of all, Nicolas Cage as the black-and-white Spider-Man Noir.

So Miles is one of many Spider entities on hand to go up against Wilson Fisk, aka Kingpin (Liev Schreiber), whose corporation is responsible for the time-hole rip. The reasons why are convoluted but discernible if you pay close attention. As with any good comic book, the movie is stacked with action, plot threads and many twists and turns.

I’m not a big comic-book collector, but I did go through a phase where I was reading graphic novels (often compilations of a comic series), and a few artists really grabbed me. I loved the artwork of Bill Sienkiewicz in an Elektra: Assassin series he did. Much of the art in Into the Spider-Verse reminds me of the work of Sienkiewicz and those like him; it’s comic art with a nice level of depth. Spider-Verse, to me, plays like every frame is a page out of those awesome graphic novels, edited together into a movie. There’s a slight jaggedness to the flow of the film; there’s almost a stop-motion feel to it at times. The film nothing anywhere close to a boring visual moment.

The movie is also very funny, poking fun at past Spider-Man movies and taking advantage of Johnson’s comic timing. Lily Tomlin voices a very different Aunt May, who is like Batman’s Alfred with a little more edge. Yes, there’s a Stan Lee cameo. When this is coupled with his animated cameo in this year’s Teen Titans Go! to the Movies, it’s clear Lee made some pretty great, unusual cameos in the year he left the planet.

While I enjoy Tom Holland as the live action Spider-Man, this sort of animated offering is more up my alley. I want more Spider-Verse. This is surely one of the best movies of the year, and the best Spider-Man movie to date. In fact, it’s one of the best animated films ever made. Yeah, it’s that good.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is now playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

I don’t hate The Mummy because it’s a terrible movie; it’s not. I hate it because it could have, and should have, been good.

Actually, hate is a strong word; I just don’t like it. Opportunities abound for some real fun here, and they are all squandered.

Tom Cruise is fully committed for a gonzo performance as Nick Morton, a soldier moonlighting as a tomb raider in Iraq. After stumbling upon the tomb of an ancient nasty named Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), he winds up on a plane with the mummy, some soldiers and a mysterious woman named Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis).

The plane crashes, and then the weirdness begins, with Nick surviving the crash—because he’s possessed by Ahmanet. Post-crash, Ahmanet starts sucking face with cops and dead guys, turning them into a zombie army as she marches on London. Along the way, Nick meets Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe) in a subplot so freaking unnecessary that it’s maddening.

Jekyll is here, because he’s part of Universal’s new “Dark Universe” scheme, an attempt to Marvel-size classic Universal monsters into some sort of connected, ongoing series. What a seriously stupid mistake this is: Nothing connects these monsters other than their original gothic origins, so trying to make them modern stand-ins for Iron Man and The Hulk is a joke. Take it from me: Dr. Henry Jekyll is no Nick Fury.

Cruise is stuck laboring in this convoluted yet sometimes-almost-entertaining mess. The film starts with a blast as Nick and his sidekick, Chris (Jake Johnson), uncover the tomb and then run into trouble on that plane. The subsequent plane crash is thrilling, scary stuff, and the attempt to turn Jake Johnson into something akin to Griffin Dunne in An American Werewolf in London has potential.

Alas, the movie cheeses out, and becomes more concerned with being the start of a franchise than being an achievement unto itself. Director Alex Kurtzman plays it safe with the scares—scares that have potential, but reek of PG-13 confinement. Had he gone for something more in the spirit of the Evil Dead series by increasing the scares, gore and raunchy laughs, this could’ve been a lot more fun. What we wind up with is a film that is afraid of itself—and so unfocused that you’ll check out in the second half.

Too bad. Ahmanet makes for a compelling monster; I prefer her Mummy to the one running around in those hackneyed Brendan Fraser efforts. Wallis is equally good as a woman with a few secrets, and Johnson is funny when he’s allowed to be.

Cruise is Cruise … and if you are a fan, that’s a good thing. He holds his own for most of the flick, but the script lets him down with a finale that is terrible. It’s as if Kurtzman and his screenwriters had something nice and bleak, and then they had to re-shoot to make something happier. The final moments feel tacked on.

Seriously … Universal wants this to be a universe like those created by Marvel and DC? Maybe the sympathetic vampires of Twilight have studio execs thinking audiences will accept Dracula as a hero? I doubt it. First off … Dracula will always be nasty, and many movie goers frown upon bloodsuckers, even the Twilight ones. Johnny Depp is supposed to play the Invisible Man, and Javier Bardem is signed on for Frankenstein’s Monster. What … are they going to join hands and solve crimes together? Universal needs to pull the plug on this plan now, and simply make good, standalone monster movies. Kurtzman has made a messy film, but he’s not totally to blame: This is a movie in service of a franchise idea, and it feels like it’s being forced down our throats.

Abandon the Dark Universe, and, please, no more of that Russell Crowe Jekyll-and-Hyde act. It’s nonsense.

The Mummy is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

A couple of 30-something buddies (Jake Johnson, Damon Wayans Jr.), bored with their humdrum lives, dress up as cops for a masquerade party—and discover that things are pretty cool when people think you are the law. Thus, they take the masquerade beyond the party—and start chasing criminals and busting perps in Let’s Be Cops.

Wayans Jr. is the spitting image of his dad in every way; it feels like this is a movie starring his dad after he time-traveled from the past into the present for the shoot. Meanwhile, Johnson, who has been making a name for himself in smart indie comedies (Safety Not Guaranteed, Drinking Buddies), tries to go big time with this vehicle—and fails miserably. The premise is insulting (not to mention a little dangerous), and it’s delivered with stale humor and bad performances all around.

Director and co-writer Luke Greenfield (The Girl Next Door) has a directed a movie more ugly than funny, and he has made Johnson and Wayans—two funny guys—look like amateurs.

Let’s Be Cops is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

In Drinking Buddies, Olivia Wilde plays Kate, a microbrewery employee in a relationship with an OK but perhaps mismatched guy (Ron Livingston). Luke (Jake Johnson) is her co-worker—and he’s the perfect guy for her, but he is in a relationship with a nice girl (Anna Kendrick) who also doesn’t seem to be a perfect match.

Writer-director Joe Swanberg takes this well-worn premise and does something altogether wonderful, funny and original with it. Wilde is a revelation in the main role. She’s had a lot of showy Hollywood roles (TRON: Legacy, In Time), and this is by far her best movie effort to date. She’s sweet, funny and just a little messed up.

Johnson, so good in Safety Not Guaranteed, is equally good here, making Luke a more complex character than he at first seems to be. Kendrick and Livingston are good in the less-showy but equally important supporting roles.

This film is one of the year’s more pleasant surprises. Swanberg has a funny cameo; you might recognize him if you are one of the 12 people who went to see You’re Next. Swanberg gets huge credit for taking a well-worn premise and making it so much more than some brainless romantic comedy.

This should be the movie to propel Wilde to superstardom—but it’s likely that most people won’t see this. That’s too bad, because it’s a real winner.

It’s now available for rent on Amazon.com, iTunes and on demand. It’s slated for release on Blu-ray and DVD in December.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

This gem of a movie stands out as one of the year's best.

When a newspaper investigates an advertisement seeking a time-travel partner, everyone figures the person who placed it will be a real kook. Such is the case when journalism-intern Darius (Aubrey Plaza) meets wannabe time-traveler Kenneth (Mark Duplass). He's an obsessive sort who wants to travel back in time to save an ex-girlfriend, and Darius can't help but find his scheme endearing.

There are wonderful side stories involving Darius' boss (Jake Johnson), who uses the investigative-journalism trip to hook up with an old flame. And there's co-worker Arnau (Karan Soni), a shy virgin who happens to look really good when he puts on sunglasses.

Johnson (funny as the principal in this year's 21 Jump Street) is a real standout, delivering hilarious and heartfelt work as an aging playboy who has a strange way of trying to help others. This guy has monster comic timing. Duplass is also great as the crazy love interest who thinks he's being followed—but he won't let that deter his training.

However, this is Plaza's movie. She is a genius of deadpan humor on TV's Parks and Recreation, and she puts that to work here. She also shows that she can handle dramatic and heartfelt moments with the best of them. She's got a good career in front of her.

This is, in many ways, a little movie with grand ideas, and those ideas are played out perfectly. No movie this year has left me smiling like this one did. It's one of those movies that come out of nowhere to charm you.

SPECIAL FEATURES: The Blu-ray is a bust when it comes to special features: You only get a short about the original ad on which the film is based, and a quick look behind the scenes. A Plaza and Johnson commentary should've been a must, but is nowhere to be found. Boo!

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing