Sorry everyone for the lack of reviews the past couple weeks. I was busy two weeks ago and last week the only film I saw in theaters already had a review. I mentioned in my review for If Beale Street Could Talk that there were a number of reviews that I had missed while taking some time away from writing them. I thought about doing a separate thread collecting them, but I decided that I didn’t want the attention for it, and this was as good a place as any (plus I needed a theme for this week). These won’t be as long as my normal ones in part due to time passed and if any of you want to publish a full review on the site (not that you have), go ahead, but I feel a compulsion to add them for completeness sake. I was going to include them all this week, but my rough draft was 4000 words.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
It’s been a busy year for Marvel at the movie theaters as a new one has come out on average every alternate month, but only half of those have been a part of the official Marvel Cinematic Universe. Aside from Deadpool 2, the other non-MCU film was Sony’s contribution, the messy Venom. While that and their latest, if largely disconnected Spider-Man title are meant to launch their own universe, today’s film is set to launch yet another universe. The difference between this one and all five previous Marvel films this year is that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is an animated title and the first theatrically released since 2014’s Big Hero 6.
Perhaps calling it another universe is misleading in multiple respects however for not only does the film reuse an existing one, but the film spans multiple universes. Marvel Comics has a considerable history of alternate universes, sometimes to enable high concept stories (it’s Spider-Man… but in the future!!!), and sometimes to allow for more significant continuity changes while still preserving the main universe. It was in one of those alternate universes (the Marvel Ultimate universe) that Miles Morales originally debuted in the comics.
I very much do not want to get into the plot of the film because I feel like there’s a lot of joy to be had in going in blind and seeing how the film handles the mythos and because it isn’t all that special. I also won’t exactly be talking up the comedy as it mostly fell flat for me aside from Nicolas Cage and John Mulaney doing his best Don Knotts impression. You don’t need me to tell you that Cage is an absolute delight and Mulaney’s performance is the right combination of weird and amusing in its own right.
Instead, it is the impressive blend of animation styles and action that make the film great. Besides mixing in the various art styles of the various universes, a tricky task on its own, the film mixes in comic elements including though bubbles and onomatopoeias naturally without it feeling like a gimmick. The styles intrude on and bleed into each other and it’s the kind of bold choices you don’t see outside of more experimental works. It’s the main art style that’s sadly the least appealing though and I only wish they had gone a different direction there. Still, the film made my Top 25 for a reason and you aren’t going to find an animated film visually like it.
Anna and the Apocalypse
I don’t much care for musicals but horror-musicals? Sign me right the hell up. In fact, this film was one of my most anticipated up in that Top 25 for it because it looked to be the kind of fun genre-bending film I love, in this case a British romantic-comedy-drama-Christmas-zombie-musical. If some of those adjectives standout as belonging together and looking familiar, it may be because you recognize notable British rom-com-zom Shaun of the Dead (or its American equivalent Zombieland). I think we can all agree it’s a fantastic movie. Unrelatedly, I too am quite a fan of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer musical episode “Once More With Feeling”. It’s just a shame that the makers of this film had to be such a big fan of both works, copying each without taking what makes either of them special.
From Shaun of the Dead it adapts many of the plot beats, jokes (including the fake out with a real world sound and the not noticing the zombies have taken over while going about the morning), and the tone. From “Once More With Feeling” it adopts many of the same style of choreography for its musical numbers as well as the same pop heavy (if somehow even more so) soundtrack. Of course, your mileage will vary on the soundtrack, but I found most of the music to be rubbish. It didn’t sound good, it didn’t seem to fit with what the people would be listening to for the most part, it didn’t have nearly enough variety, and most dammingly, for a comedy the music just wasn’t funny. I will give a single gold star however to one song, “It’s That Time of Year“, for its ability to sound on point as a parody and be amusing on its own.
There’s modest gore but certainly not enough to act as a selling point. Very few of the characters are worth caring about and the lead Anna certainly isn’t one of them. When you’re mixing a lot of genres together you have the chance of creating some unique, but you also run the risk of winding up with something uncertain or bland in tone as those elements compete for time and that’s what we’re left with here.
This film was out of theaters by the time I would have gotten a review out about it anyway but if you are interested in the short it was based on, Zombie Musical from the late Ryan McHenry, I’ve included it below.
They Shall Not Grow Old
I can’t tell you the last time I saw a 3D film in the theater before checking into Peter Jackson’s latest. The cost is a major factor to be sure as even before Moviepass where 3D films weren’t included as part of the plan, it was hard to justify spending the extra three bucks or whatever on a film when I was already paying a premium to see it in the theater. Not only that, but 3D so rarely seemed to add anything. Sure, it made certain films like Avatar and especially Gravity which were filmed with them into visual experiences that in the case of the former salvaged the film and the case of the latter helped make it into something truly special, but other than that it was something I could take or leave at best (fine, Piranha 3D was enhanced by the 3D, but let’s not pretend that was enhanced in any artistic way).
I treated myself to the 3D however for They Shall Not Grow Old since such a big deal was made of it and its contributions were mixed to say the least. The film is a clearly very personal project for Jackson, taking WWI footage and stills, colorizing much of it, making it 3D, adding voice acting and sound effects, and layering in archival narration from those who served in the first World War. I’ll admit that the project gave me much pause at first. While I know that the world wasn’t actually in black and white and I get why there’s the urge to add color to get a more accurate depiction of what it would have actually looked like (similar to how photos in space are developed), I’m still wary of it and projects like WWII in Color for the same reasons we fought back against Ted Turner and his colorization attempts decades ago. Then again, this is documentary footage and not a dramatic film specifically lit for black and white.
The moment it does switch to color though, it takes you aback and really does look fantastic. The 3D gives some added life and depth to the people, but it takes away just as much with the added blur around the edges of them, especially when they are called to move and after a while, your eyes start to adjust and see how fake the effect looks. It’s the color and added sound (which I had to keep reminding myself was ADR since it was so well done) where you’ll get the real value added.
It’s a distinctly British affair so those hoping for a broader view of the war (the French and other Europeans on the Western Front are scarcely mentioned, and I don’t think the Americans or Russians are mentioned once), but at the same time it does benefit from the intensely personal focus on the men and their stories. It’s also distinctly early Jackson in terms of the brutality and I appreciate the film for not holding back on showing those awful sights of decaying bodies (human and animal), awful wounds, etc. that . It’s surprisingly lacking in cynicism though with as bad as everyone (frequently teens who were often peer pressured to join) was treated during and after the war, the implication that the war was pointless, and those graphic wounds, there’s still a huge amount of nationalistic pride and sense that they were glad they went to war which certainly left a bad taste in my mouth. Still, it’s an impressively realized and personal project that sadly isn’t eligible for the top documentary honors this year. Otherwise, it would be a worthy contender.
For this week’s theme, what (if anything) have you been catching up on from last year and what are your thoughts on the three titles above?
Doc Pick of the Week
Once again it was a tossup, but there were less contenders this week. Sadly, neither one is available on any streaming service you likely own (being exclusive currently to ESPN+). Both entries are 100 minute long and imperfect if better than many of the others that preceded them in the back of Season 1 of 30 for 30. If I have to choose one though, I’ll give it to The Best That Never Was if only because unlike Pony Excess, you don’t have to look at Skip Bayless or Craig James’s smug faces throughout.
It’s a bit bloated in length, but Marcus Dupree’s story of rising up from unstoppable, can’t miss prospect to washout is a compelling one. In fact, both stories are an effective look at the college recruiting process and the unreasonable expectations put upon these young athletes.
All Times EST
Week 2 of this section as we head into the 31 Days of Oscar on TCM. It’s always a neat idea and it’s hard to deny the density of quality titles, but I find they tend to replay the same films year after year (there’s so many foreign and nonfiction films that I’d love to see mixed in) and it means a month away from many of their most interesting films. Once again, I’ll be using this section to highlight my favorite titles, the interesting showings, and maybe a title or two I don’t like but are notable anyway.
Carnival of Souls – 1/30 9:00 AM – It’s an unusual and unique horror film which is just a great experience to watch.
Spider Baby or, the Maddest Story Ever Told – 1/30 10:30 AM – This is the good shit
Children of the Damned – 1/30 12:00 PM – For once it is not being aired with Village of the Damned, this thematic sequel may be slightly inferior, but it still holds up on its own.
Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte – 1/30 3:00 PM – Probably the best of the Baby Jane imitators, it’s a very entertaining film on its own merits.
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? – 1/30 5:30 PM – For all of you who hasn’t seen it the twenty times TCM has played this in the past year, here it is again, the classic camp psychological horror title that launched a subgenre and resurrected Bette Davis’ career.
A Star is Born (1937) – 1/31 9:45 PM – The OG and only non-musical version was my only exposure to the story until the most recent attempt and for my mind the better pick.
Singin’ in the Rain – 1/31 11:45 PM – I am not a musical fan by any means (see above), but there’s a reason this title is so beloved, and it’s earned its status as one of the greatest ever (and probably my favorite classic musical).
The Player – 2/1 3:15 AM – Robert Altman films certainly have a distinctive, meandering style and while I never quite got the love he receives, The Player is pretty good, one of his better ones even.
The French Connection – 2/2 12:00 AM – Like Bullitt last week, there’s also a movie around the car chase. I know a number of people now have strong reactions against this film and it’s brute of a lead, it’s still a classic in my book even beyond the chase.
Taxi Driver – 2/2 2:00 AM – I’m not a huge Scorsese fan, but Taxi Driver is one of the only ones for me that mostly lives up to its hype, largely thanks to its gritty NYC setting and De Niro’s performance at his peak.
The Third Man – 2/2 8:15 AM – One of the all-time greats (both of film noirs and overall), it’s a fantastic and distinctive looking (few filmmakers have been able to figure out why the Dutch angle works there and not in their own film) and scored film.
Panic in the Streets – 2/2 10:00 AM – A great paranoia filled noir benefiting from its unique storyline looking at the response to a possible pandemic.
Suspicion – 2/2 11:45 AM – First of three Hitchcock titles today is also the weakest but it’s quality work from the director while he’s at his stride.
Strangers on a Train – 2/2 – 1:30 PM – One of his best titles is also one of his most effective at generating suspense.
North by Northwest – 2/2 3:30 PM – The third and final Hitchcock film is one of his most famous and a classic (if a bit unwieldy) and featuring his final collaboration with Cary Grant (also of Suspicion).
Wait Until Dark – 2/2 6:00 PM – Just highlighted this last week, but it’s on again
Days of Wine and Roses – 2/3 12:45 AM – The depictions of alcoholism haven’t aged perfectly, but the acting and writing make it one of those quality, distinctive ’60s actorly films.
The Lost Weekend – 2/3 3:00 AM – No, the depictions of alcoholism haven’t aged perfectly, but it’s still a fantastic issue film.
Marty – 2/3 10:30 AM – One of the greatest romantic movies of all time and one that avoids many of the conventions of the period.
The Lion in Winter– 2/3 8:00 PM – It’s a fun historical movie in no small part from watching Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn trying to out act each other.
All the King’s Men – 2/4 1:15 AM – The original political noir adaptation (let’s not talk about the 2006 version) is a quality work in each genre.
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington – 2/4 3:15 AM – In a way it takes much the same stance as All the King’s Men (man gets into office with populist stance, is put in a position where they may be forced to compromise their values), with only its famous conclusion acting as a brief glimmer for populism against the other more fatalistic work.
The 400 Blows – 2/4 9:30 AM – François Truffaut’s first and best film helped set off the French New Wave, focusing on a rebellious teen Antoine Doinel who would go on to appear in four more decent works.
Blackboard Jungle – 2/4 6:00 PM – Another film prominently featuring disaffected youths and setting the stage and formula for countless (lesser) teacher goes into inner city school films.
Battleground – 2/4 8:00 PM – One of the best and most frequently overlooked war movies ever made is a snowy look at the Battle of the Bulge.
Bicycle Thieves – 2/5 4:30 AM – The original film chosen as the greatest film of all time by Sight and Sound and #10 on the most recent poll. It’s a great neorealist film but I still say Umberto D. is Vittorio De Sica’s masterpiece.
Rashômon – 2/5 8:30 AM – Akira Kurosawa’s classic on how we remember, and present events has become most famous for its structure, but its visual and emotional strength are just as important to its success.
ALL TCM FEATURES ON HIATUS DURING THE MONTH
Sights and Sounds from the Critics Top 250
Playtime (1961) dir. Alain Resnais – (Critics Poll – 46, Directors Poll – 41): Once again (after Last Year in Marienbad), I pick a film that seems to require multiple viewings to fully absorb for this feature and even more so this time I’m just left feeling cold to it. I’ve seen a Monsieur Hulot film before (1958’s Mon Oncle) and was hardly won over by the style of comedy employed by Jacques Tati there. It’s a style very influenced by silent cinema and in both films is aimed directly at modern life and an obsession with consumerism. The visual style, featuring a hugely expensive modernist set shot in 70 mm color made to look like black and white is… fine? With Last Year in Marienbad, the story didn’t quite connect but the visuals were still quite the standout and I expected something similar here given the film’s reputation. Yet, I just didn’t find the admittedly expansive and busy frames to be all that stunning, distinctive as they may be. Maybe a rewatch would draw out the humor in the many gags piled up in the film, but I’m skeptical for me personally.
The Week in Movie Reviews
– WTF ASIA 40: Memories of Matsuko (2006)
– Millennial Malaise 03: Hackers
– Movie Review: Stan & Ollie (2018)
– Netflix Garage: I’m in Love with a Church Girl Recap/Review
– Spoil Sports/Movie Review: Serenity (2019)
– Building Entertainment: The Animated Films of the Walt Disney Studio. The Reluctant Dragon
What have you been watching and what did you think of it?