Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Spider Man ITSV

A new Spider-Man has arrived, and has brought more than enough thrills along…

If you were to show a graph of the quality of all the films about Marvel’s (arguably) most popular hero, there would be a lot of ups (Spider-Man 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming) and downs (Spider-Man 3, The Amazing Spider-Man 2). Still, just when you thought Tom Holland’s Spider-Man (a wonderful portrayal) was the best film we would get, in comes swinging Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which is quite possibly the best Spidey to ever web up the big screen.

If you have seen the trailer, you know there is a good amount of Spiders in this web. The main one is Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), a local teenager who goes to a private school he hates despite it being the wishes of his police chief dad (Brian Tyree Henry). The only person he does seem to have a positive rapport with is his Uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali). It is with him that, one night he is (spoiler, well not really) bitten by a radioactive spider and senses his new powers.

The other versions of Spider-Man appear after a rip is caused in the quantum realm by Wilson Fisk (Liev Schreiber), better known as Kingpin. The main one is a much older Spider-Man (Jake Johnson), who has left his beloved MJ and is not in the best of shape. We also meet Spider Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld), Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage), Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn), and Spider-Ham (John Mulaney). Trust me, you don’t want me to say any more about their characters. It is worth witnessing yourself.

Oh, how glad I am this movie was animated. Had the filmmakers tried to make this in the real world, it would not have succeeded. Animation is used to help explore more of the human imagination that live action cannot (I hope those at Disney who like remaking animated films into live action are reading this).

Yet the glorious animation still does not take away from the moving story. It has been some time since tears were in my eyes from both laughing out loud and at moments that truly got me a little choked up.

Parents, the movie can be a little dark, but it should be fine for kids elementary and up. No swearing (despite a few minor ones) or sexual content. Only the mildest of violence.

I close by saying that if there is a better ending post credit scene than the one here, I have not seen it. And I have seen all the movies in the MCU.

So yeah, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is amazing.

Overall: Five Stars *****

Teen Titans GO! To the Movies (2018)

Teen Titans Go to the movies

The Teen Titans won’t be the only ones surprised at their first movie…

There are a lot of fans of the original Teen Titans TV show that are adamant haters of the show Teen Titans GO. I mean true haters. The first show came on the air just a few years after I was done with cartoons, but managed to see a few shows thanks to my little brother. When Teen Titans Go came out, the legion of die-hard fans became die hard haters. The show did not give life lessons as before, but it did give lots of humor for adults as well as kids. Enter Teen Titans Go! To the Movie, one of the years most surprising (and hilarious) films.

Sick of not being noticed, the Titan’s leader Robin (voice of Scott Menville) is determined to have a movie made about him (with or without the titans). It is this conundrum that is the basis of the film, but the side adventures of Robin, Cyborg (Khary Payton), Starfire (Hynden Walch), Beast Boy (Greg Cipes), and Raven (Tara Strong) that bring the best parts out, very few of which I will mention (even poking fun at Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice). All that is to say is that kids may be confused why their parents are laughing harder than they are at times.

Others who lend their vocal talents include Will Arnett (also one of the producers) as the team’s nemesis Slade (“SLAAAADE!”), Kristen Bell as film director Jade Wilson, Nicholas Cage as Superman, and great minor comic roles for (minor spoiler) Michael Bolton and Stan Lee.

Parents, there are some movies that you drop your kids off at the theater and pick them up at later. Don’t do it here. See it with them. It will be worth it (and yes, all ages are okay).

There are times when the action (which does look good for the type of animation  being used) does go on a bit too long, and the last act does drag on a bit. Still, this is one of those comedies that will require multiple viewings in order to find all the jokes and “Easter eggs”.

Meaning I have at least ten or more viewings to attend, which I would gladly do.

Overall: Four Stars

****

Incredibles 2 (2018)

Incredibles 2

Fighting crime is hard enough without having a baby to watch over.

It should come as very little surprise that it took fourteen years to bring the Parr family back to the big screen in Incredibles 2. Director and writer Brad Bird knew he had characters that are rivaled by few in the Disney Universe (not just Pixar), so he took his time. The result is a sequel that, while it does not live up to the original, still is passable as family fun for all ages.

The movie picks up right where we left off in the first film. The Parr family is chasing after the Underminer (Pixar voice man John Ratzenberger). After his escape, the family is under legal trouble again, and must go back into hiding. That all changes when they are approached by super hero enthusiast Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) and his sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener). They tell of a plan of how Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) and Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) can wear hidden cameras to show the hero point of view, not the point of view from the politicians. The choice is eventually made that Elastigirl will be the best bet for the public since she destroys the least amount of property.

This leaves Bob alone with his kids as a stay at home dad (though Deavor has given them a new house with amazing features). This is the plot where the film adds the most laughs, as Bob is unaware at first of his kids’ individual problems. Dash (Huck Milner) needs help with homework (“Why would they change math?!”). Violet (Sarah Vowell) is upset because her crush from the first film Tony (Michael Bird, son of Brad Bird) had his memory erased of her and does not know who she is. Then of course, there is Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile) who is discovering his new powers along with his family. It is so desperate that Bob even has to go to Edna (Brad Bird) for help (while in his monster form, Jack-Jack is also voiced by Nicholas Bird, the other son of Brad Bird).

Meanwhile, Elastigirl is on the hunt for a new villain named Screenslaver, who does have secrets of his own (I did guess at who the identity of the Screenslaver was, but I will still not reveal it). His powers are able technical in that he can entrance people on the TV screen. Eventually, this tech is transmitted to goggles.

There are other minor characters that don’t get as much screen time, but are fun to have around anyway. These are the super heroes who have also been in hiding, such as Voyd (Sophia Bush), Helectrix (Phil LaMarr), and others with their own unique powers.

Parents, the film may be the first time I have heard some swearing in a Disney/Pixar film (very minor ones like Hell and Crap). Aside from that, it is safe to say that any kid would be fine with this film if they saw the original.

The movie is fun, but far from the (pardon the pun) incredible first film. It does lack the originality and uniqueness from the first film, and does not nearly have as good a villain (though few can compare to Syndrome). Still, that should not stop you from having a great time with your family.

Though I would advise you to tell your kids that fighting a racoon may not be the best idea.

 

Overall: Three and a Half Stars ***1/2

 

Isle of Dogs (2018)

Isle of Dogs

Young Atari (Koyu Rankin) travels to the Isle of Dogs in search of Spots.

There are very few filmmakers these days I can think of whose minds I would like to explore rather than Wes Anderson. Though I have yet to see all of his films, the ones I have seen are as fresh, insightful, original, joyful, and thought-provoking as any I have seen. Isle of Dogs is no exception.

Set in Japan, we see that Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura) has sent all dogs (domesticated or not) to a lone Isle in response to a dog flu epidemic. It is also due to the fact that he has an ancient hatred of canines. Not so his nephew Atari (Koyu Rankin), who is Kobayashi’s only heir (Atari’s parents had died in a train crash). He is assigned a dog that he is told not to fall in love with (not even pet). The dog is Spots (Liev Schreiber), who is the first dog sent to the Isle. Atari steals a plane and flies in search of his dog.

While there, he encounters a group of other dogs. There is King (Bob Balaban), Duke (Jeff Goldblum), Boss (Bill Murray, Anderson’s Muse), and Rex (Edward Norton). Though they like to have some form of democracy in the vote, the stand alone leader is Chief (Bryan Cranston), whose head is as hard as his heart.

As befitting a Wes Anderson flick, Isle of Dogs supports a strong cast of characters played by a big cast of talented people. It is dumb of me to list all of them; not just because of how many, but because it is fun to find out for yourselves. Still, I can at least name a few you may hear, such as Greta Gerwig, Harvey Keitel, Frances McDormand, Courtney B. Vance (This is Us), and even Yoko Ono.

Parents, I am still up in the air as to whether or not I agree with the PG-13 rating. There is no sexual content (other than talk of mating), and a few swear words that the local middle schooler has probably heard on a daily basis. The rating is mainly due to a few violent scenes (which I admit caught me off guard). If your kids have seen Anderson’s 2009 film Fantastic Mr. Fox (which I highly recommend), they are fine seeing this film.

Come to think of it, what I like the most about all of Anderson’s films is how caught off guard they leave me. That is an essential feeling for any great movie, and while Isle of Dogs is not perfect (it does seem to run on long at times), that was the feeling I had throughout.

 

Overall: Four Stars ****

Coco (2017)

Coco

Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) loves music, even when his family disapproves.

 

Up the stairs and to the left.

That is where my grandma keeps the photos of her past. One picture in particular came to my mind frequently while watching Disney/Pixar’s latest triumph, Coco. It is the photo of my great-grand father as a kid. My grandma always said I had his eyes, and the more I look at it, the more I agree.

Family and music are the two obvious elements of Coco. We learn that Coco is not the main character, but the main character’s great-grandmother. The main character’s name is Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez, giving a stunning breakout performance reminiscent of Moana’s Auli’i Cravalho). He is a young boy living with his family of shoemakers. The family is loving, but is strict on having no music whatsoever. Miguel’s great-great grandfather (Coco’s father) left the family to pursue a music career, and never returned. He was therefore rejected by the family, and his picture torn away.

Still,  the love of music is in Miguel’s bones (and he is no slouch either at the guitar). He idolizes his hero, the late Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), yearning to play exactly like him. Even so, his family (especially his grandma, Coco’s daughter) strongly hate the idea, even breaking Miguel’s guitar. When he tries to steal the real Cruz’s guitar, he makes an unexpected trip to the land of the dead, trying to find out why he can’t bring his love of music into his home. On his trip, he meets (not surprisingly) a vast number of characters, including a lovable dog named Dante, many dead relatives, and a mysterious wanderer named Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal).

The film has at least two plot twists, neither of which I will spoil, except that one of them was kind of a given and the other I was not expecting. What I can say of the movie is that it is, of course, visual eye candy. Before the film even began, there was a short two-minute intro by the makers of the film (which seemed odd to me), saying how thankful they were to the countless people who worked on the film. Just watching the film is proof enough that the film took a lot of time and care to make. The land of the dead never seemed so vibrant.

Parents, the movie is Disney/Pixar, so the kids will be fine. Yes, there are some thematic moments, but nothing too bad for a child.

Is Coco the best of Disney/Pixar? Probably not, but it is surely a great movie. It does have some plot points that seem easily covered up, and the villain is bad, but sub par. Still, the visuals are amazing, the music (by frequent Disney/Pixar composer Michael Giacchino) adds to the film’s love for music, and the ending emotional punch is one of the best the studio has ever offered (my eyes got a little wet).

Coco is a film that is not just one you will always remember, but one worth it as well.

Es Muy Excellente.

Overall: Four Stars ****

The Emoji Movie (2017)

 

Emoji

Alex (Jake T. Austin) trying to find the right Emoji.

It is important to remember that, while the tomato meter at rottentomatoes.com is very helpful, it is not always right.

That is not to say that The Emoji Movie is good, only that it is not as terrible as people are making it out to be. Afterall, it takes a lot to make a movie about the inside of a smart phone. The Emoji Movie is clearly reminiscent of movies such as Toy Story (1995), Wreck it Ralph (2012), and Inside Out (2015). The ultimate difference is that those movies had wit and humor that was not forced down our throats. I think I cracked only two smiles during The Emoji Movie (and maybe a hint of a chuckle).

Those movies also had characters we liked and cared about. They were original, had a pep in their step. When I walked out of Inside Out, I went a long time thinking of my voices in my head. As a kid, it was years before I stopped looking at my toys and waiting for them to come alive. The next time I send an emoji, I will not be thinking about what happens to it after I send it.

It is perhaps of the greatest irony that the best way to describe The Emoji Movie is the main emoji himself, which is a “meh” emoji. His name is Gene (T.J. Miller). He is out to impress his parents (played by Steven Wright and Jennifer Coolidge). It is his first day on the job, waiting to see if the owner of the phone, Alex (Jake T. Austin) will use him in text. Gene freaks out, and messes up everything. After being chased out of textopolis by Smiley (Maya Rudolph), he and Hi-Five (a well cast James Corden) set off to find the cloud, with the help of Jailbreak (Anna Faris), who is hiding her own secret. In the mean time, Alex is out to impress his crush Addie (Tati Gabrielle) if only his phone would stop acting up.

Parents, the movie is fine for kids, but I still should warn that you yourselves would probably be undoubtably not entertained. It is still the premise that we have seen in all other movies: if you are to be yourself, you will be happy and succeed.

Perhaps the thing that makes me the most upset about The Emoji Movie is that it truly had so much potential. From what I read, the idea of the movie came up around 2015, meaning the movie could have possibly been rushed to the screen. If only it hadn’t. The writers could have given us clever humor, not mundane. It is not the worst movie of the year, but The Emoji Movie is clearly one of the blandest of the year.

 

Overall: Two Stars **

The Lego Batman Movie (2017)

the-lego-batman-movie

Batman (Will Arnett) with Robin (Michael Cera), Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson), and Alfred (Ralph Fiennes).

Even before we saw the wonder (yet somehow no Oscar nomination for Best Animated feature) of The Lego Movie (2014), Lego has give us countless laughs with Lego video game versions of Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, Marvel, and The Lord of the Rings (to name a few). There second movie is now The Lego Batman Movie (who also had a good video game), and it is as fun and entertaining for kids as it will be for adults much like its predecessor.

Returning is Will Arnett as Batman, who ranks up there with some of the best to play the caped crusader. His voice is (literally) pitch perfect, and (as the comedian has shown us before) he has uncanny comedic timing. He basks in how great he really is. All that changes when commissioner Gordon plans to retire and have his daughter Barbara (Rosario Dawson) take over. During this time, Batman/Bruce Wayne unknowingly agrees to adopt a young orphan Richard Grayson/Robin (Michael Cera), who is as optimistic as they come.

Even those who like the character Superman (who does have a brief moment in the film), more will agree that no one has better villains in the comics than Batman does, and we get a glimpse of all of them (even the dreaded condiment man). Batman inadvertently hurts the feelings of the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) when he states the Joker is not his greatest enemy. This leads the clown prince of crime to try to unleash villians from everywhere. These in include 80s monsters (aka Gremlins), Lord Voldemort, Lord Sauron, and “british robots” (aka Daleks from Doctor Who).

Parents, for the most part, the film is ok for kids (there is one joke that is a bit edgy when Batman first meets Robin), but that aside, the movie is ok for kids (I would say 7-8 and up).

Like The Lego Movie, this film has a lot of jokes adults will get that the kids won’t (my favorite is when we see Batman’s ultimate secret movie library). I have not even words to describe the stellar animation (which will give Disney animators goosebumps). It is also full of easter eggs that will require a second or third viewing.

Which I would gladly pay for.

Overall: Four Stars ****

Moana (2016)

moana

To tell Moana no when she asks for help is not a good idea…

The main thing that makes Moana work is the title character. She is the evolved form of Disney princesses back from the days of Snow White and Cinderella. This princess gets the job done with or without a prince, and that is that. As the character Maui tells Moana, “If you have a dress and a sidekick, you are a princess.” (That chicken sidekick of hers is great because it actually acts like a chicken.)

Credit definitely should be given to the break out performance by first timer Auli’i Cravalho. Certainly, she is a new star for the cinema world to behold. Her Moana is the daughter of Chief Tui (Temuera Morrison), whose main rule is to never leave the island for any reason. No going past the reef”, he says, even when there is a shortage of fish nearby.

Eventually, Moana is moved to leave the island in search of the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson, who, as a nineties kid, will forever be “The Rock” to me.) He has stolen a stone that he wished to use and help the humans, but the idea back fired, and he lost his magic hook in the process which gave him the ability to morph into any animal he wishes (his main choice was that of a hawk.)

While Cravalho shows she is a star that is here to stay, it is Johnson’s performance of Maui that reminds us what makes him so gosh darn charming in the first place. Basically, he plays a Disney version of “The Rock” (no threats or swearing). Who else could brag about himself, and actually have conversations with his tattoos (there is even glimpse of him raising the eyebrow that made me smile, ear to ear).

Now we come to the music. Lin-Manuel Miranda is the main mind behind it all, and this was just before his stage musical “Hamilton” (of which I am a fan, and still hope to see someday on stage) became the monster hit it is today. I confess, I think Moana has good songs, but a few too many songs. Most are good, but I did not find the urge I had after seeing a movie like Frozen to go and download the songs from Itunes. There is one song with a crazy crab character that is gorgeous to look at, but drags on too long.

Let there be no doubt: stunning is a gross understatement to the visuals of this movie. While movies like The Little Mermaid and Finding Nemo (and its sequel) proved the wonders beneath the ocean, Moana proves things above the ocean can be visually appealing as well.

Parents, it is a Disney film, so basically anyone can sit through it (there are not too many heavy dark moments in the film).

At the moment, I don’t feel Moana will be in the pantheon of Disney masterpieces such as Fantasia, Pinocchio, The Lion King, Bambi, or Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Still, Moana is, in every sense of the cliché phrase, fun for the whole family.

Overall: Three and a Half Stars *** 1/2

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)

Batman MOTP

Moments before Bruce Wayne dones the mask…

I have come to the conclusion that one of the main reasons why I grew up a Batman fan as a 1990s kid more than Superman was that the caped crusader had more going for him during the decade (the last movie to star Superman, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, came out in 1987, and was beyond words…in a bad way. Also, don’t get me started on the video game disaster that was Superman 64).

Tim Burton’s first two Batflicks are still decent, Batman Forever (1995) is now forgettable, and the less said about Batman & Robin (1997), the better. The one film that is sadly overlooked, however, is Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993). While I have not seen any of the times the cape was worn by the legendary Adam West, I would argue that this animated film is the best Batman movie ever made by someone not named Christopher Nolan.

Based off of the highly successful (and still entertaining) animated show, the film focuses on a past relationship Bruce Wayne (Kevin Conroy) had with Andrea Beaumont (Dana Delany). Past events catch up, as a masked phantasm (though he is never called that) is killing certain mobsters, and Batman is getting the blame. Things also don’t help when the Joker (Mark Hamill, who, along with Conroy, would voice the same characters the Arkham Asylum games) is involved as well.

I know this film is over twenty years old, but I still don’t want to ruin one of the most underrated films I have seen. What I will say is that this gives the character Bruce Wayne the depth of character that was never seen till Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. Every time you see Wayne at the gravestone of his parents, you get chills. You can almost feel the rain.

The film also does something that not even Nolan did as well: it gives Bruce Wayne the most realistic romance he has had on film. There are moments where you feel he may be able to actually have a normal life.

Parents, the film is PG, which means there is fighting, and little blood. There is also some kissing. That is it. If your kids are fans of the Bat like I am, you should not let them miss out on this gem of a film.

It is refreshing that, over twenty years later, the film is still fresh, dark, scary, and has aged rather well.

Overall: Four Stars ****

Zootopia (2016)

zootopia

Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde at the DMV in “Zootopia”

The first few months of the year are normally not the best time for movies to be released, especially animated movies. Most of the time, they are bad. The one exception used to be The Lego Movie, but now it is joined by another: Zootopia.

Despite being a little long (the second longest Disney animated film after Fantasia) and having a story that is the basic one used for kids (you can be anything if you work at it), it is still a delight of a movie that will have adults laughing as much as the kids are (maybe even more).

Zootopia is the main destination set in the mind of Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), a bunny who longs to be a police officer, despite the “advice” of her parents (Bonnie Hunt and Dan Lake). As in every Disney film, there are a lot of characters to meet. Idris Elba is Chief Bogo, Tommy Chong (!) is Yax, and J.K. Simmons as Mayor Lioheart. The main character that Judy meets is a fox named Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), who is more than he seems.

Eventually, Judy is pulled into a cespool of crime, making the audience brought into worlds of imagination (it is meant to be plural). What is discovered I will leave to you, except to say there are a bundle of easter eggs and pop cultural references you may want to see it a second time.

Parents, the movie is ok for you kids, as well as the kid in you.

I have not even mentioned the DMV scene, but I will end by saying you may never find a better DMV scene in any other movie.

Overall: Four Stars ****