Category Archives: Reviews

Reviews of books, movies, music, and maybe even games.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Filmmakers, especially those working on the Marvel Cinematic Universe, have done a fine job of showing us what super-hero movies can be.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, shows us what a comic-book movie can be. Also, it demonstrates the difference. A super-hero movie might be based on stories told in comics, but a comic-book movie tells its story the way a comic-book tells it, using tools that movies don’t often use.

Marvelously, no, miraculously, it did that without being silly, or looking down its nose at the art form in the way the 1960’s Batman TV series seems to.

I could say more, and do so at great length, but to my mind this film expands the very syntax of cinematography, making it difficult for me to describe the experience to anyone who hasn’t experienced something like it.

As I can’t think of anything else like it for you to experience, I guess you’ll just have to go see it.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse clears my Threshold of Awesome, and additionally clears my “let’s spend enough money so all four kids can see it in the theater” threshold.

 

Aquaman

On the one hand, Jason Momoa is frighteningly formidable, so I would never tell him to his face that Aquaman was anything short of awesome. On the other hand, Mr. Momoa seems genuinely nice, very much not the sort of person to punch people for rude and uncalled-for comments. As it is vanishingly unlikely for me to meet Jason Momoa in a circumstance where I’d feel even remotely tempted to diss any of his work, none of this is relevant.

Besides, Momoa’s work was my favorite part of the movie. My only complaint is that Aquaman was far longer than it needed to be in order to tell the pair of stories it set out to tell. It is an origin story whose inciting incidents take place before the events of Justice League, and it is a hero’s journey story which takes place after the DC super-team-up. That may seem like a lot, but it didn’t need to take two hours and forty-three minutes.

That’s not to say that the film wastes any time. Everything happening on screen was interesting and/or beautiful and/or exciting. I was never bored. And really, how do you tell Nicole Kidman that she’s going to appear in a mere thirty-seconds of flashback? The woman deserves serious screen time, and she makes the most of it.

I suppose I could complain about the world building here, but DC comics has always pushed me out of the story with “Gotham,” “Metropolis,” and “Central City,” so I shouldn’t expect Atlantis to somehow make more sense.

It might be best, then, to compare Aquaman to the other DC Snyderverse films: it was far better Batman Vs. Superman, and Man of Steel. It wasn’t quite up to the level of Wonder Woman, but it did have five times as much Momoa as Justice League. I think it fares pretty well.

Aquaman doesn’t clear my Threshold of Awesome, but I’ll be picking up the Blu-Ray and watching it again when I can pause for trips to the restroom, and if you think it might be unfair for a relaxed bladder to be what puts a film over the top, well, you’re not wrong.

Mary Poppins Returns

As a kid I watched the original Mary Poppins a great many times. The film is indelibly etched in my brain. Did adult me have doubts that Mary Poppins Returns could be worth my time? Of course. But Sandra and I both plunked down our ticket moneys and saw the movie on Wednesday.

Before I talk about how much I liked it (hint: a lot) I’ll tell you about the previews. There was one for the upcoming CGI+live-action Dumbo, and one for the upcoming CGI+live-action Lion King.

SANDRA¹: “That’s… a lot of CGI remakes.”
ME: “Guys guys guyyys I found a room full of people paying to see a Mary Poppins sequel.”

The Mary Poppins sequel was, well, practically perfect in every way. I didn’t think anyone could hold a candle to Julie Andrews performance, but Emily Blunt has a much more robust skill set than I gave her credit for. Specifically, wow, the woman can sing. 

On the other side of that coin, there was no way anyone could step into the amazing dancing shoes of Dick Van Dyke, and as it happens, Lin-Manuel Miranda is very wise. He danced well enough, but he sold us with his singing, which (no surprise) he does an outstanding job with.

Blunt and Miranda had a very high bar to clear, they cleared it.

Everyone else did a fine job

, too. I recall a couple of moments in the original Mary Poppins when the child actors didn’t quite come up to the level of the other performers, places where I imagine the director saying (quietly, and to no-one in particular) “It’ll do. It’s probably the best take we’re going to get.” There were no such moments in Mary Poppins Returns. The kids sold it brilliantly.

Mary Poppins Returns clears my Threshold of Awesome.


¹ We’re not the sorts of people who talk during movies, but we’ll whisper and giggle quite a bit during previews.

Robin Hood

On a hunch, I decided to treat Robin Hood as a secondary world low-magic fantasy in which I’m allowed to forget everything I have learned about Earth’s Europe’s seventh century weapon technology, and pretend the whole thing is happening on a different dimension’s medieval Earth.

It was a good decision. If you’re going to get knocked out of the film by a repeating ballista weapon emplacement which can be operated by one person, or by English longbowmen conducting urban warfare as if their bows are tactical carbines, you’ll be throwing your drink at the screen before the end of the first act. As I own a refillable mug for the local megaplex, that would be a great loss for me. I asked “why don’t they have their swords out?” exactly one time, then took a couple of deep breaths and one deep sip of Coke Zero¹.

Letting the technology be whatever it wanted to be was certainly helpful, but ultimately this retelling of the Robin Hood myth made the mistake of straying from the mythos in order to be unpredictable, and managing to be predictable anyway.

That said, the action scenes were pretty beautiful. It was Robin Hood filmed with the sort of cinematic fight choreography we’ve grown accustomed to seeing in Marvel movies. Egerton’s Robin Hood felt like a nod to Tom Holland’s Spider-Man². The archery was quite cool, especially when Robin is schooled by Jamie Foxx’s Little John on using his shooting hand as a quiver. Queuing up four or five arrows at a time, and then firing them rapidly, without reaching for more arrows, made beautiful sense. Whether or not it’s practical, it worked far better than the old “fire two arrows at once” thing.

While I’m whether-or-notting(ham?), let me point out that whether or not you think this film is worth seeing in theaters, you probably don’t get to. That ship sails soon, which means renting³ Robin Hood (2018) when it’s available. Ultimately, the film did not disappoint me, but I’d set my expectations correctly for enjoying it. It comes nowhere near my Threshold of Awesome, but it was fun.


¹ Yes, yes, it’s Coke Zero Sugar, but you can’t expect me to say the word “sugar” when there isn’t any in my drink. Until waiters start getting my order wrong, those two syllables are superfluous.
² Just so we’re clear, Tom Holland’s gymnastics put him in a class by himself in every sense of that phrase. Egerton can nod at it, but I don’t see him doing back flips.
³ As an alternative to renting, I’ll often wait until a film hits the discount Blu-Ray bin, because it only costs a tiny bit more, but it gives me a permanent souvenir of my questionable life choices.