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

****

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 ****

Spirited Away (2001)

Spirited Away

Every frame of Spirited Away is a jewel, but this one of Chihiro is the most poetic…

Even though I have seen Hayao Miyazaki’s uncanny masterpiece Spirited Away countless times (there are only two or three other movies I think I have seen more), I only just recently finally saw it on the big screen, as well as in its original language. Still, it lost not one ounce of its magical effect: The experience only added to it.

As the first anime movie I ever saw, I can safely say that Spirited Away is the one anime movie for people who don’t think they like anime movies. Miyazaki has made countless classics, but this has to be his number one film (though My Neighbor Totoro is a close second).

The story of Spirited Away is like that of Alice in Wonderland. A ten year old girl named Chihiro (Daveigh Chase, who was also Lilo in Lilo & Stitch) is on her way to her new home when her parents stumble upon what looks to be an abandoned theme park. They see food that does not seem to be for anyone, so they eat it (well, chow down). Chihiro eventually realizes that the park is a place of unimaginable creatures and spirits. Her quest has her meet unforgettable characters including the tyrannical boss Yubaba (Suzanne Pleshette), the boiler man Kamachi (David Odgen Stiers), the blunt yet kind Lin (Susan Egan), and the helpful friend Haku (Jason Marsden).

I will leave it at that, because this a movie that is not to be seen or heard, but experienced. Any artist out there would benefit to pause every frame, and spend five minutes looking at it. Miyazaki (who also wrote the script) gives such pin point detail to each inch of our screens that we are stunned. Even the animators at Disney and Pixar will tell you how much of a master this man is.

Upon watching the movie again, I also realized how much of a hero Chihiro really is. It is not just that she puts herself in harm’s way (the scene where she runs on a pipe is beyond bold for any person), but it is why she does it. Despite her puny appearance (she looks like she weighs no more than 50-60 pounds), she has a heart of purity and soundness, and it is perfectly reflected in the film’s closing line (which is very underrated).

Parents, this is a movie for any child. There are some scares, but nothing too bad. More so, it is one which you can sit down and watch with them (and even enjoy).

 

Recently, I did a poll on Instagram about whether Disney should keep making live action remakes of their films (most were for the idea). I am personally growing tired of it: Some of them did work, but now they are just overshadowing the far better originals. Spirited Away is one movie that, no matter how much money Disney (or any studio) has will ever be done well in live action. Heck, bring in James Cameron, and a live action version would still be terrible. Some movies are meant to stay the way they are.

I could go on and on about my love for Spirited Away, but it is better to experience for yourself if you haven’t already done so. It is impossible not to be moved by this film.

 

Overall: Five 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 **

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

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013)

the-tale-of-the-princess-kaguya

Princess Kaguya (Chloe Grace Moretz) is as free a spirit as they come…

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is as pure a fairy tale as one ever put to film. I was up early in the morning when I was watching it, but it felt like I was a little boy, being told a simple, beautiful bed time story by the masters of Studio Ghibli (My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, and Spirited Away, just to name a few).

The story is of a bamboo cutter (James Caan) who, while cutting, discovers a young child he immediately calls “Princess”. Along with his wife (Mary Steenburgen, who also does a stellar job narrating the story), they see her grow up right before her eyes in a blink of the eye. The Husband (no names are given to the parents) is determined to make her a Princess, and while the wife is set to follow her husbands wishes, she just wants her daughter to be happy.

She meets friends (who call her “Little Bamboo”), most importantly Sutemaru (Darren Criss), who knows she is destined for great things. One day, her parents take her to the palace, where she is indeed made a Princess.

We also meet Lady Sagami (Lucy Liu), brought it to teach the Princess how to act like a Princess ought to act (which is easier said than done). What we get is not a tale of palaces and fame and fortune, but of sad isolation and loneliness.

Five Princes approach to offer proposals for marriage, in a scene that will have you struck in awe of how it is handled (with a good number of laughs as well). The Princess (now having been called “Kaguya” does not seek anything more than happiness, which she learns is not always easy to obtain (shades of Citizen Kane come to mind).

It seems like the saying “Less is more” may be the best to describe the animation here. Basically all hand drawn almost like a coloring book, the film avoids all obvious uses of computer animation we would expect in today’s modern animated films. If you ever pause the film, you can spend five minutes just looking at the animation itself. One imagines how many pains in the wrist occurred to the animators.

Parents, they is one or two scenes of nudity, though it is non sexual. Toward the beginning, the mother realizes she is able to produce milk, and is able to breastfeed for the Princess (I assume it is normal for kids in Japan to see this as ok, but I am not sure). Without this scene, I feel the film is perfect for all ages.

There is a scene where Lady Sagami is showing the Princess how to observe scrolls. Sagami says to scroll slowly, while the princess unrolls the whole parchment from one end of the room to the other. In observing animated masterpieces such as The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, it should be observed the way Lady Sagami mentioned: Slow, and with attention to every detail.

 

Although I would not blame you for wanting to see it all for its glory as the Princess would.

 

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

 

 

Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)

Kubo

Kubo and his new friends go on an adventure like none you have seen before…

Those who know me will know that it is rare for me to cry in a movie. Kubo and the Two Strings, the best animated film of 2016 (sorry Disney and Pixar) did something even rarer: it had me crying while I left the theater. I can’t remember the last time that happened. It is one of those movies that, once it is over, you know you want to see it again.

I will tread lightly, because the film is one of those that has surprises that I cannot reveal (I would find it hard to forgive myself). The story tells of Kubo (Art Parkinson), an child of about 11 or so who is under the protection of his mother. He is not allowed out at night, or his Grandfather and Aunts will catch him. His Grandfather took out Kubo’s left eye as a baby, but his father died protecting him so he could keep his other eye. Eventually, they find him, and, with the help of a monkey and a beetle, Kubo is on a quest to find the missing armor of his late father to protect himself from his Grandfather.

Other vocals in the movie are done by Oscar winners Charlize Theron and Matthew McConaughey, as well as Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, and George Takei. I will not say who plays who, as it does give away some plot points. What I will say is that this film is another great example of how voice acting can be done so well that (for the most part) we are not even thinking about who is playing the characters at all.

Now for the animation. Words cannot do it justice, but I will try. It is simply stellar. There are scenes where Kubo shows his magic of making paper do what he wants. Origami on film never looked so awesome.

Parents, the film is for any age, but warning: it can get a little scary (even I was saying “woah” at times). Still, if they are up for it, and as long as your kids can sit through a movie, they will be fine.

What I like the most about Kubo and the Two Strings is it’s courage. It’s courage to be risky with different animation. It’s courage to make a family film a little darker than most others. It’s courage to tell a story that is original. It’s courage to have an ending that is not what you may expect.

It’s courage to be sensational.

This is easily one of the year’s very best films.

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

Pokemon: The First Movie-Mewtwo Strikes Back (1998)

Pokemon The First Movie

There are many Pokemon you don’t mess with…Mewtwo tops that list.

It is hard for me to not be biased, for I grew up with the Pokemon TV show. I only lasted a few seasons before I got to middle school, but it was a true staple in my childhood (how I miss my gameboy).

The first film they made was the only one I ever saw (it was hard for me to get into Pokemon when they made more than the original 151), and it was not nearly as good as the show. Still, when you have a Pokemon as big as Mewtwo (and Mew, for that matter), one episode will not cut it.

For those who don’t know what Pokemon are (or have just started playing Pokemon Go on their phone), Mewtwo is considered the most powerful of all Pokemon, having been made from remains of Mew, the rarest of all Pokemon. He comes across Ash Ketchum and  his friends Brock and Misty and (of course) Pikachu (from the show), and challenges them. By now, the best thing to do is ask your kids who they are, because they will know.

Parents, this movie is ok for kids. Maybe you should just watch it with them, because they will explain it (as I am sure they would the other movies, which, as I have said, I have yet to see).

I have found myself going back to watching the shows, and realize it is possibly the main source of puns I picked up as a kid. Jokes from the movie include letting us know most Vikings exist now, in Minesota.

Still, the lessons kids can learn from Pokemon are as true today as they were when I was a kid. One scene which has stuck with me for years is from Meowth (the main Pokemon of Team Rocket, some of the best bad guys kids TV has ever made). While talking to his evil clone (again, ask your kids), he says the following:

“We do have a lot in common. The same earth, the same air, the same sky. Maybe if we started looking at what’s the same, instead of looking at what’s different…well, who knows.”

Am I the only one who thinks the world today needs a quote like that?
Overall: Three Stars ***