Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

By: Kevin Jordan

The best animated feature of the year?

I was not planning on going to see Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.  I assumed it was going to be a throw-away film aimed specifically at comic book nerds to make an easy buck.  Then, my wife asked if I was taking our six-year old son and, before I could answer, he said “it has Peter Porker in it.”  Well, that answered that question and I found myself sitting next to my son at the theater, waiting to watch a movie and I only had a passing interest in.  After sitting through it, I can say that either it was a really good film or I am secretly a comic book nerd.  Fun fact: I have never purchased a comic book in my life.

As usual, my opinion barely matters when it comes to animated films, so, as usual, here is what the intended audience, my son, thought of the film.

(Side note: This film was really, really good.  Far better than I was expecting.  Deep characters, extremely witty, and motivations both interesting and profound.)

How did you like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse?

Like, all the funny parts were really funny.  The only part that wasn’t funny was none of the movie.

What was the funniest part of the movie?

The funniest part about the movie was when Miles fell off the building.

Spider-Man wearing sweat pants is pretty funny too.

Who is Miles?

You know.  The kid.  Miles is the kid.

Is Miles the main character?

No.  Peter Parker is because he’s Spider-Man.

Okay.  So tell me more about Miles.

I liked both of his suits.  The normal one; the red one.  And the black one.

Was Miles also Spider-Man.

Yeah.  Yeah.  I like that term – multiple Spider-Mans and Spider-Womans.

Were there more than two Spider-Mans?

Yes.  The coolest Spider-Man was the black Spider-Man with the black hat.  The thief Spider-Man.  Because he looked like a thief.

You mean Spider-Man Noir.

Yeah.  He took the Rubik’s Cube.

What other Spider-Mans were there?

There was the little kid Spider-Woman with the big giant robot that was her best friend.

Okay.  Any other ones?

The white Spider-Woman.  She was really, really, really, really, really beautiful.

She was also kind of awesome in fights, huh?

Yeah!

Weren’t there two other Spider-Mans?

Yeah.  There was a cartoon pig who said “I washed my hands.  That’s why my hands are wet.”  And I like how at the end when he was laying down and the pig said “phbtbbtbtb – did that feel like a cartoon?”

Very diverse. And funny.

That was Spider-Ham?

Yes.  Spider-Ham.  And the last one was older Spider-Man with a bigger belly.  I also liked at the beginning when Miles accidentally fell into Peter Parker’s grave stone because I thought it was really funny.

Why did you think it was funny?

Because the camera was going right into the grave stone and I think maybe it cracked or broke apart.  Because you didn’t see what happened.  That’s all.

Okay.  What was the movie about?

Multiple Spider-Mans fighting.

Why were they fighting?  Or who were they fighting?

Liv.

Who is Liv?

That scientist that had the big claw-y, big tentacle arms.  Remember that part?  She chokes people by that?  (Waving his arms around)

I do remember.  She was also called Doc Oc, right?

Yeeessss.

What was Doc trying to do that the Spider-People were trying to stop her?

I don’t know.  I forgot.

It was hard enough remembering six different Spider-Persons.

Do you remember the big machine they were trying to turn off?

Yes.  It like blasted things together and made another dimension.

Why was she trying to make another dimension?  Was there someone else she was trying to help?

Kingpin was trying to get his family back.

Wow.  That sounds pretty serious.  Was it okay to have serious and funny?

Yeah.

Did you like it?

Yeah.  It was really, really funny.  Also, I liked when Miles did all the stuff and it was on the magazine.  I like the picture with all the words and they traced him on the wall in the sewer.

If another kid asked you if they should go see it, what is one thing you would tell them about the movie?

It’s a scary movie.  Because you said “It” and “It” was a scary movie.  (Rimshot)

That’s all folks!

Rating: It is greater than what you paid for it.

The 5th Wave

By: Kevin Jordan

Mars Attacks.

5th wave

I have a soft spot for Young Adult dystopian/science fiction/fantasy novels.  I’ve read most of those that have been adapted into movies, and I had every intention of reading The 5th Wave prior to its movie release.  Alas, I’m not a young adult and things like kids, jobs, and wives (not necessarily in that order) tend to get into the way of some recreational activities.  So, I went into the adaptation of The 5th Wave with no foreknowledge of what we were about to see.  In hindsight, I wish I had read the book first because, if it’s an anything close to what we saw in the film, then my expectations would have been much lower.

The 5th Wave is a story about what would happen if really dumb aliens invaded the Earth.  Don’t get me wrong – they still manage to kill a large portion of humanity, but their master plan leaves a lot to be desired.  Our main character is Cassie Sullivan (Chloe Grace Moretz), a high-school student who has the responsibility of narrating some of the plot to us.  When the aliens show up and start attacking the Earth, she describes the first three waves of attack because she doesn’t know we’re watching her in a movie and the screenwriters think we are blind moviegoers.

(This is the point where, if you are worried about SPOILERS, you should look away.)

The first wave is a global electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that ruins all electronics and stops all electricity on the planet.  That’s a great start to a war considering how reliant we are on gadgets and electrons.  +1 aliens.  The second wave is global earthquakes that also cause tsunamis and mass flooding.  Considering 70% of the world’s population lives on the coast, the aliens have got a massive head start and they haven’t even left their ship yet.  Again, +1 aliens.  The third wave is even more diabolical – they alter the bird flu to be wildly deadly and use the 300 billion birds on the planet to spread the disease.  As great an idea as this sounds, you might wonder why they didn’t use this one first since their goal is eventually stated as wanting the Earth, but doing as little damage as possible to it.  Using birds to spread the virus is also really inefficient because birds tend to stay away from humans, plus the second wave wiped out 70% of your potential carriers.  Hmmm….maybe we shouldn’t think too hard about that.  +1/2 aliens?

At this point in the story, most of humanity has been wiped out and the aliens just need to do some mopping up of the remaining pockets of people.  Any decent conquerors would send out squads or something to hunt down these humans, but these aliens have a better idea.  First, they activate sleeper agents, which apparently includes every human in the military.  By now, young Cassie, her father (Ron Livingstone), and her brother Sammy (Zackary Arthur) have joined up with other refugees at a camp in the woods.  This makes total sense because after fleeing population centers for fear of being a target, the next best idea is to regroup in large numbers in easily found places.  But I digress.

Eventually, the military shows up, led by Colonel Vosch (Liev Schreiber).  They tell the people that they are there to help and will be bussing the kids off to the local Air Force base, then returning to get the kids.  None of the parents thinks it’s weird that not even mothers are taken with the children, but we already know they have bad survival instincts.  During the evacuation, Cassie gets separated from her brother and misses the bus, then witnesses the aliens doing another dumb thing.  They gather all of the parents into a meeting hall, don’t disarm them, then tell them that the fourth wave is that the aliens can possess humans and that any of them could be an alien in disguise.  Predictably, the people panic and start shooting, yet somehow manage to kill just one alien.  Even more strange is that the aliens would knowingly cause a panic while still in the same room with the people wielding guns.  Whatever… -1 aliens.

We’re soon told that the fifth wave is the full on invasion by the aliens, but this is just a trick by the aliens to get kids to join the military.  The military tell the kids that they have figured out how to identify possessed humans – Google Glass.  No, seriously – they’ve attached a thing to a helmet that when looked through, makes a possessed human’s head glow green with a big red box around it.  Yes, it looks as hokey as it sounds and it’s also bullshit.  The thing doesn’t actually work and the kids don’t realize that they’re actually just shooting fellow humans.  This is the best plan that an advanced alien race can come up with??  You have the power to manipulate viruses, pop off planetary EMPs, and initiate earthquakes…but let’s trick kids into shooting people! (*eye roll*)  -10 aliens.

If all of this weren’t bad enough, there is a standard-issue romance subplot between Cassie and a possessed human named Evan (Alex Roe).  I’m not even going to get into how pathetically shallow this story was, but for all you teenage girls out there, Evan gets naked in a river (and you could shred cheese on his abs), bangs one out with Cassie in the back of an abandoned SUV, and professes that he has chosen his human side over his alien side for love.  That sounds you hear is me throwing up in my mouth a little bit.

In all fairness, if I were twelve, I probably would have liked the movie better.  It’s entertaining in a brainless kind of way and, when I was twelve, I wouldn’t have noticed how completely stupid the aliens were with waves four and five of their plan (plus, by all appearances, they only brought one ship to conquer an entire planet).  There is a really good chance that these aliens are just a group of drunk fraternity pledges winging this invasion as part of their initiation.  Of course, even as a twelve year old, I would have noticed how much the terrible graphics reminded me of Mars Attacks! and that Mars Attacks! was a much more entertaining and clever movie.  -25 aliens.

Rating: Ask for all of your money back, but your twelve-year old can do what she wants.

Pawn Sacrifice

By: Kevin Jordan

My move.

pawn_sacrifice

I’m currently in the middle of a book called Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, by James W. Loewen.  The subtitle tells you everything you need to know about its content and the book covers a wide range of topics, including a section on heroification.  Heroification is what you think it is – making a hero out of a person – and requires that anything bad about the person either be excused away or flat-out omitted.  It was this section of the book that I kept thinking of while watching Pawn Sacrifice.

If you know anything about chess besides how to play it, you know that American Bobby Fischer became the world chess champion in 1972 by beating a Russian guy and that Garry Kasparov lost to a computer named Deep Blue in 1997.  If you know any more than that, it’s because you are a much bigger dork than I am, and I own an American Civil War chess set.  Pawn Sacrifice is a biopic about that first man – Bobby Fischer – and focuses on the time from Bobby’s childhood to the penultimate match with Boris Spassky (that Russian guy), the reigning world champion.  Since this is obviously the first entry in Oscar-bait season, it’s not surprising that the film focuses much more heavily on the characters than on its own plot.

The obvious character to start with is Fischer (Tobey Maguire).  Fischer is portrayed as a brilliant chess player, but a wholly unlikable human.  Almost immediately into his chess career, he starts demanding things – more money, specific venues, absolute silence, among other things.  In addition, he becomes more and more paranoid as time goes on.  This time period being the height of the Cold War, Fischer becomes convinced that the government is spying on him; tapping every object in every house or hotel he stays in.  Eventually, he starts accusing his friends (we’ll get to them in a minute) of being complicit, as well as the Jews (which is ironic because he’s Jewish).  In addition, the stress of his three-year playing tour around the world (in order to be able to challenge Spassky for the world title) is exacerbating both his paranoia and demands.  Like I said, he’s a very unlikable human, and Maguire does a great job in making you root against Fischer in the final showdown with Spassky.

On the flip side, Spassky (Liev Schreiber) is the opposite of Fischer.  He’s cool and collected, tall and handsome, and, unlike Fischer, never comes off as cocky little asshole.  But, besides chess, he does have one other thing in common with Fischer – he is certain that his Russian handlers are spying on him.  He doesn’t go full-bore crazy searching for bugs like Fischer does (at one point Fischer is cutting the backs off picture frames), but he does start to exhibit little signs of paranoia, including a run-in with an office chair.  Like Maguire, Schreiber does an excellent job portraying his character, and you will sympathize with Spassky as he has to put up with Fischer’s dickishness.

Speaking of putting up with Fischer, he has two friends in the entire world – Father Bill Lombardy (Peter Sarsgaard) and Paul Marshall (Michael Stuhlbarg).  Marshall meets Fischer early in his career and offers to represent him as his agent.  He is the guy who has to take the most shit from Fischer – he’s the guy that has to deliver Fischer’s demands and help make them happen – while also being constantly prodded by the government to make sure Fischer keeps playing until he beats the Russians.  As Marshall puts it, “we lost China and we’re losing Vietnam.  We can’t lose this.”  If you don’t feel for Spassky by the end, you will feel for Marshall because it sure seems as if the victory for him is hollow after so many years of dealing with a Napoleonic narcissist.

Father Lombardy’s role is much fuzzier than Marshall’s.  His job appears to be both babysitter and counselor, with the goal of keeping Fischer’s head just right enough to show up for his matches (and he fails more often than once).  He also seems to have genuine concern for Fischer’s mental state and his only recourse is to play air chess with Fischer (they visualize the board and call out moves, but the first picture in your head was funny).  As good a job as Stuhlbarg does (and Maguire and Schreiber), Sarsgaard steals the movie.  There are parts of the movie that feel like he is the main character and his portrayal accomplishes the same level of sympathy as do the other actors, but with far more subtlety.  It also helps (for me at least) that his character might be the least-holy priest ever portrayed in a movie, while still coming off as legitimate holy man.

The last character worth mentioning is Fischer’s sister, Joan (Lily Rabe).  She has a small role, but it’s the one that introduces the flaw with this film – it feels like an unfinished game of chess itself.  Through most of the movie, Joan becomes increasingly concerned for Bobby’s mental health, even to the point of talking with Marshall about it.  She isn’t at all interested in the chess matches – until the last one.  When Bobby wins, she leaps in joy in her living room and all concern for Bobby’s well-being is gone, never to be mentioned again.  And, it’s the same with Lombardy.  He actually quits the tour at one point, reluctantly returning in concern for Bobby.  He even spells out the problem for Marshall – “Bobby isn’t afraid of what happens if he loses; he’s afraid of what happens if he wins.”  This should have been the central question of the entire movie, but it’s tossed out the window with Joan’s concern and barely addressed as bullet points at the end of the film.  Seriously, the film ends with title blocks listing a small handful of Fischer-related events, including the final score of the 24-game match with Spassky.

Do you see what I mean about heroification?  The film presents Fischer as a hero of the cold war and makes Fischer’s chess game much more important than the game being played between governments and characters.  They missed a chance to capitalize on the metaphor.  Case in point, several scenes depict Bobby being photographed, followed by typewriter noises and the spelling out of a location and date on the screen, like a dossier of a secret agency.  Yet, the film never answers the question as to whether Bobby’s paranoia was justified or if the camera was a figment of his imagination.  It also treats everything that happens after the penultimate match as barely worth mentioning because virtually everything Fischer did after that (tax evasion, vagrancy, defying American embargos, to name three) are considered extremely un-American.  Obviously, that book I’m reading is influencing the way I viewed this movie, but even if it wasn’t, I still would have noticed the unfinished storylines.  Your move.

Rating: Ask for two dollars back.  As incomplete as the storylines were, the performances were fantastic.