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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

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

It’s been a good year for gonzo Nicolas Cage. He got to go all psycho in Mom and Dad, and now, courtesy of director Panos Cosmatos, he gets his best role in a half-decade in psychedelic ’80s horror-throwback Mandy.

Cage plays Red Miller, a lumberjack living a good life in the Northwest with his wife, Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough). Their world is overturned by a Manson-like religious sect led by a crazed prophet, Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache). Jeremiah wants to recruit Mandy for his cult, but when she has an unfavorable reaction to the folk album he recorded, things get really bad.

Enter Cage, in loony/pissed-off mode, as the second half of the movie gets super-crazy and super-gory. This movie contains what will go down as one of the all-time-great Cage moments—a bathroom tantrum that involves a Leaving Las Vegas-like vodka chug and crazed weeping on the toilet. It’s one of those movies where Cage is allowed to do or say whatever pops into his head, and we get some great, weird lines out of him.

We also get one of Cage’s most fiercely honest performances. His craziness and oddness are fueled by pure emotional destruction, and as “out there” as the movie gets, Cage somehow remains grounded in a consistent, flawless performance. He’s not going to win any Oscars for this, but his cult-film cred just took a major uptick. Kudos go to Roache, who does evil cowardice well, and Riseborough, who makes quite the impression in her abbreviated screen time.

This contains the final score from the late Jóhann Jóhannsson, and it’s a doozy. It’s safe to say you have never really seen anything like Mandy, and you won’t again.

Mandy is available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Parents start killing their kids for no reason in Mom and Dad, an inconsistent horror-comedy from writer-director Brian Taylor.

Brent (Nicolas Cage) and Kendall (Selma Blair) are married with two kids, one of them rebellious-daughter Carly (Anne Winters). Brent and Kendall are having some difficulties dealing with middle age, and Kendall is struggling with a loss of friendship from Carly. When an unexplained wave of hysteria takes over and causes moms and dads to turn on their kids … Brent and Kendall join in.

If you are looking for a vehicle in which Cage gets to go off, gonzo-style, you might find yourself enjoying this one. He has a moment when he destroys a pool table with a sledgehammer that’s vintage nuttiness for him. Blair delivers a strong performance as a woman who is losing touch with herself and isn’t quite sure why she still goes to workout classes.

The film suffers from a sloppy soundtrack, which contributes to an erratic tone. It’s not as funny as it should be, and it comes up short in the horror department. However, it does have Cage going crazy in it, so that’s a plus.

Mom and Dad is available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Nicolas Cage dons a decent hairpiece as the title character in Joe, the latest drama from director David Gordon Green.

Cage’s Joe is a strange sort, showing a maximum amount of restraint and responsibility while on the job with his tree-killing company. He is not only an in-control boss; he’s a friendly, seemingly stable man.

Off the job, it’s a different story. He drinks heavily, frequents whorehouses, taunts the police and does overnighters in jail. In one of the film’s more-amusing sequences, he gets fed up with a hooker’s dog, and decides to allow her dog to meet his dog. Cage’s acting in this very scene is his best since going nuts in The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call—New Orleans.

Joe winds up hiring Gary (Tye Sheridan), a teenage boy, and his troublesome father, Wade (Gary Poulter). Gary is a good worker, and he and Joe strike up a friendship. As for Wade, he’s a nightmare—unproductive on the job and threatening toward his son. Wade’s not invited back, and when Joe finds out Wade is prone to beating and robbing his son, Joe goes on the protective prowl. Poulter was an actual homeless man, hired off the streets for the film, and he is a terrifying, tragic presence in this movie. (He died, still homeless, before the film finished production.)

Sheridan, so good in Mud and The Tree of Life, is excellent here. This is one of those films in which Cage reminds us that he can be more than just a paycheck actor.

The film is available on demand and via various online sources, including iTunes and Amazon.com.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

The Frozen Ground is based on the true story of Robert Hansen, an Alaskan serial killer currently spending life behind bars for murdering at least 17 women near Anchorage.

Cusack—continuing his recent streak of hideous characters—plays Hansen, the bakery owner who hunted young women and buried their bodies throughout the Alaskan wilderness, undetected by authorities for many years. Nicolas Cage is on hand in “serious” Cage mode as State Trooper Jack Halcombe, who is determined to catch Hansen after Cindy Paulson (Vanessa Hudgens), an exotic dancer, allegedly escapes his clutches.

The movie gets caught in an unfortunate loop regarding Paulson’s willingness to cooperate, and her decisions to avoid authorities. It feels like every other scene focuses on Hudgens sneaking away from Cage and retreating to some seedy area. It gets a little monotonous.

It’s a shame, because Cusack is great as Hansen, as he was in last year’s terrible The Paperboy, in which he played another murderer. Cusack delivers a chilling portrait of a man with no remorse; his performance deserved a better movie.

Hudgens is OK, even when the script lets her down. Cage does nothing special here, although that’s not entirely his fault. The screenplay basically calls for him to run around looking for Paulson the entire time. His few scenes with Cusack are the best ones in the movie.

The film is available to watch via sources including Amazon.com and iTunes; it will be released on Blu-ray and DVD on Oct. 1. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing