Tag Archives: surprise cameos

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

What’s better than Spider-Man? TWO Spider-Mans (or is it Spider-Men?)!  Either way, take that thinking to its conclusion, like Lego Movie co-writer Phil Lord did, and you end up with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, a cinematic universe to end all cinematic universes.

MV5BMjA0MTgwNTM5MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTgyODI4NjM_._V1_SX1777_CR0_0_1777_744_AL_.0Spider-Man (Jake Johnson) has hit a bit of a rough patch in middle age, as has teenager Miles Morales, who just got bitten by a radioactive spider and is going through some changes as a result on top of struggling with fitting in a his new school. Right after being bitten by that pesky spider, Miles stumbles into a science lab where another Spider-Man (Chris Pine) is trying to stop the Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) from opening a dimensional portal.  During the battle, Kingpin kills that Spidey but not before the first Spider-Man, the middle-aged one, is sucked through the portal that the Kingpin’s machine created.

Confused? You should be, but the most amazing thing about Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is that this jumble of Spider-Mans (Men?) makes perfect sense on-screen. And that’s a compliment in two ways. First, because there is so much happening in this movie that it has no right to make sense, and second, because there are a whole lot of other amazing things about this movie.

Spider-Verse’s animation, particularly the art style, is stunning. A number of other superhero films have taken inspiration from the comics, whether in using captions,  multiple panels, or bright colours.  Spider-Verse takes that to a whole other glorious level, owning its comic book roots and jumping off the screen even in classic 2D.

Spider-Verse is also remarkably accessible. This is not a solo superhero film with only two or three familiar  characters to track. Spider-Verse is chock full of obscure one-offs, alternate takes that faded away, including an entire “Ultimate” comic book line that was canned by Marvel in 2015 due to lack of interest. All of that can sit comfortably in the background but no prior knowledge of anything is necessary, even of Spider-Man, to understand and enjoy this film.

 

 

 

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The Christmas Chronicles

Kate Pierce is reviewing videos from Christmases past. Her father’s in all of them but he won’t be there this year, and the family’s taking it hard. Her older brother Teddy’s been acting out in dangerous ways and her mom is overworked and stressed out. When Kate’s mom (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) gets called in to work on Christmas Eve, she leaves the kids in a house that feels emptier than it should, but with a video that contains more than it has any right to. Just before a video cuts out, someone’s arm is seen placing a gift beneath their tree. Kate is ecstatic: proof of Santa, caught on tape! But the video is vague and an arm is not really enough, so she begs her brother to pull an all-nighter to collect more evidence.

MV5BMTYyNDE4MjI4Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTc4NDY2NjM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1499,1000_AL_Long story short, Kate (Darby Camp) and Teddy (Judah Lewis) end up as stowaways on Santa’s sleigh, which causes a derailment (I don’t know the technical term for throwing a sleigh off its course while flying through the air), and a crash, and the loss of Santa’s magic sack of toys, and the temporary misplacement of the reindeer. Catastrophe! Santa (Kurt Russell, in absolute bearded glory) isn’t too happy on a whole lot of fronts, but he recognizes in Kate a true believer, so together they concoct a plan to save Christmas.

The Christmas Chronicles involves police chases, gang activity, Elvish, jingle bells, literal jail house rock, and an archive system to die for. And like any good Netflix original, it has a scene of someone watching some other Netflix original. But mostly it has Kurt Russell, who brings everything to the role. Like me, you may be a little bit squeamish about our dear Kurt Russell playing Santa. Is it really the time in his career for this? Worry not. This is not the rosy-cheeked, elderly Santa that Coca Cola is pimping (in fact, this Russell’s Santa is particularly peeved by that depiction). Russell’s Santa is a little cooler, a little leaner, but he’s still 100% magic, and that’s what counts.

Here in Ottawa, we’ve already had frostbite warning and record snowfall, and it isn’t even winter. What we need on cold nights such is these are great holiday movies to warm and soothe our souls. And while this one isn’t an instant classic, it’s a pretty decent entry into the catalogue.

Ralph Breaks the Internet

For the life of me I cannot get the title of this movie right.  I’m so used to Wreck-It Ralph wrecking stuff, not breaking it.  So I’m trying to adjust to this relatively small change, but it’s been tough, and that must mean I’m getting old.

In related news, my knee started hurting this week for no reason at all.  Granted, it worked out just fine because I used my knee pain as a convenient excuse to storalph-breaks-the-internet5p cleaning the kitchen and start playing Red Dead Redemption 2, but still.  Making me feel even older is that I just learned it has been six full years since Wreck-It Ralph was released and I never would have guessed it had been so long.

Just like in the real world, six years have passed for Ralph (John C. Reilly), Princess Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) and the rest of the gaming gang, who have all settled into comfortable routines inside Litwak’s Family Fun Center & Arcade.  Sure, the routine may be a little boring, but Ralph is happy with his predictable days and nights, wrecking (sorry, breaking) Fix-It Felix’s building by day, and hanging out with Vanellope at night.  Vanellope, on the other hand, feels trapped by her routine, having mastered the three available race tracks in her game.  When Ralph tries to alleviate Vanellope’s boredom by building a new track, things get both wrecked and broken, and Ralph and Vanellope are forced to explore the arcade’s newly-installed internet in search of a new steering wheel for Vanellope’s game.

Of all the things in the world besides my knee (which is feeling much better, thanks for asking, though if Jay asks tell her I need a few more days off to fully recover), there is probably nothing that makes me feel older than not knowing any of the memes that have come out in the last decade, except for the select few that Jay has taught me about after realizing I had no idea that (insert hilarious meme) was a thing.  And, as you may have guessed, there are a lot of memes referenced in Ralph Breaks the Internet.  The nice thing is, I felt like Ralph (with some minor help from the creative team) went out of his way to ensure I didn’t feel old for not knowing that (bee puns) were a thing.  Ralph simply made me laugh at his bee pun, and at all of his aprincesses4ttempts to help Vanellope get her new steering wheel.

Ralph’s antics would have made for a decent sequel just on their own, but Ralph wasn’t alone.  Every one of the supporting players in Ralph Breaks the Internet make their own contribution to the comedy.   I was particularly impressed at how the Disney princesses were incorporated, not (just) as a shameless product placement but as a way to teach Vanellope about her hidden princess talents.

The only criticism I might make is that the movie probably included a few too many characters and references, and ends up a bit long as a result.   But don’t ask me what I would have cut out, because everything that’s here is consistently good and often great.  Ralph Breaks the Internet is a very clever and accessible comedy that will provide plenty of laughs for everyone, regardless of age and regardless of whether you’ve ever heard of a screaming goat.  What a wonderfully comforting thing that is (the accessible comedy, not the goat’s screams).  It made me feel young again, a feeling that should last until my next random ache.  Meaning I may need to see this one again very soon.

 

Thor: Ragnarok

post_master-thor-960x540The Marvel Cinematic Universe is so bloated by this point that it’s a full-time job to keep up with what’s going on.  Thankfully, Thor: Ragnarok doesn’t get bogged down in what’s come before.  Instead, the third installment in the Thor franchise tells a self-contained story and shifts Thor’s segment of the universe from dreary fantasy mode to action-comedy mode.  From a cameo by Matt Damon that I totally missed, to a Taika-Waititi-voiced blue rock monster, to Hulk and Thor arguing over everything and anything, Ragnarok is the funniest apocalypse movie you will likely ever see (sorry, Zombieland!).

My only complaint, really, is that the plot got in the way of the fun.  Every time the scene shifted to the problems Cate Blanchett’s Hela was creating in Asgard, all I wanted was to get back to the wacky trash world where Thor and Hulk had crash-landed.  I guess this movie had to justify its existence by advancing the plot and having big stakes but I would have gladly spent the whole run time hanging out with my new favourite Avengers (who I am happy to report have now started their own spin-off team).

Anyone who has enjoyed Taika Waititi’s past work will not be disappointed by Thor: Ragnarok.  If you haven’t enjoyed Waititi’s work, you’re probably on the wrong site, and if you haven’t seen his other stuff, then do!!!  Start with Thor: Ragnarok and go from there.

As he always does, Waititi will introduce you to madcap supporting characters whose main purpose is to make you laugh, and even better, he will show us that Thor and Hulk have actual personalities.  Purists may take issue as those two characters are notoriously dull, but I thought it was a fantastic improvement that should be carried forward into the next 40 or 50 Marvel movies that apparently are still to come.  Comic book movies should be bright, colourful and fun, and Thor: Ragnarok is all of those things from start to finish.  Go see it!

 

Mindhorn

mindhorn_finalCanadians are consistently the funniest people in the world as far as I’m concerned, which is hard to reconcile with the stereotype that we’re boring and forgettable.  So I don’t try, I just think of us as funny and the stereotype as another example of how Americans are just not as good as we are.  Above all else, Canadians specialize in satire.  I have to think that is inherited from our former colonizers, as the British may love satire more than we do.

But just as Canada is not Britain (because in 1867 we asked politely if we could be our own country from then on, and the Brits were like, didn’t you already leave when the Americans did?), British satire is a whole other thing from ours.  I have always been fascinated by how there really is no middle ground in North America – either you devour British satire or you think it’s unbearable.  Personally, I find Steve Coogan a good test for one’s tolerance for British satire.   If he cracks you up then you are going to enjoy Mindhorn, whereas if you’re thinking, “Who the hell is Steve Coogan?” then you should probably give Mindhorn a pass.

I think Coogan is hilarious so of course Mindhorn made me laugh.  As a bonus, Coogan is not just a random reference I decided to use.  He’s also a bit player in Mindhorn along with a ton of familiar Brits (including a great cameo by a guy nicknamed “Kenny B.”).   But Mindhorn is co-writer Julian Barratt’s vehicle, and he is terrific as Richard Thorncroft/Mindhorn, a washed-up actor/TV detective.  Mindhorn’s gimmick is his bionic eye that is a lie detector, allowing him to literally see the truth.  Mindhorn made Thorncroft a huge star in the 70s and early 80s but he hasn’t exactly been tearing it up since then.  In fact, he’s just lost his last endorsement contract (for orthopedic socks).  So when a call comes in from the police department requesting Thorncroft’s help (as Mindhorn) in solving a murder case, he jumps right in, seeing it as a great way to kickstart his career.

In the finest British tradition, we quickly learn that Thorncroft is a grade-A idiot (maybe even grade-AAA if you use the meat grading system).  Still, as tends to happen, Thorncroft manages to bumble his way to (moderate) success despite not having a clue at any time.  And while Mindhorn’s way forward isn’t particularly innovative or clever, Barratt is clearly having great fun bringing Mindhorn to life and that fun is infectious.  The satire is spot on, as Mindhorn takes every opportunity to poke fun at the real TV shows from Mindhorn’s day, like Knight Rider and the Six Million Dollar Man, and there are some good shots at the cheesiness of those shows as well as the spin off products from them (such as Mindhorn’s best-selling rock album).

You’ve seen this all before but it’s good fun and I don’t think satirizing David Hasselhoff will ever get old.  So if you have 90 minutes to spare and think Coogan is a funny guy then you should check out Mindhorn on Netflix.

Central Intelligence

Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson meet up at their 20th high school reunion. Hart, voted most likely to succeed, once the prom king and a popular athlete, is now a mild-mannered accountant living in a nice comfortable rut. Dwayne Johnson is ecstatic to reconnect. A high school loser, he’s gone through life without many friends despite the fact that he’s central1reformed himself and leads a life of intrigue. Unfortunately for Hart, that intrigue’s about to hit a little close to home.

The movie opens with a fat joke. A 7 minute, visual fat joke. I didn’t laugh. I’m uncomfortable laughing at any joke where the punch line is somebody’s body. Dwayne Johnson IS the fat joke, seen dancing in a CGI fat suit, butt-naked, in a high school locker room. You’ve seen the previews, haven’t you? It’s brutal. That pivotal high school prank has haunted him his whole life, even now that he’s big and buff and rippling with impressive muscle (we’re supposed to feel like getting fit has made him a more worthy person, even though to lose the weight he’s quite clear that he had to be obsessive and unhealthy about it…not exactly a cause for celebration). So Central Intelligence and I got off on the wrong foot. But you know what? I’m glad I stuck with it.

This movie is essentially a piece of fluff. It won’t be remembered in the annals of history, or even among the annals of comedy, or possibly even the annals of The Rock’s filmography. But for an evening at the cinema, it’s definitely worth the price of admission.

Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart are a comedic duo that had to happen (their 13-inch height difference is often played for laughs – a bit of a barb in my side, reminding me how ridiculous I look standing beside Sean, who is 15 inches taller than myself). Their Screen-Shot-2016-03-17-at-1.30.47-AM-750x375-c.pngcharacters are one-note but a pleasure to spend an hour and a half with. The movie is action-comedy, which means there is never quite enough comedy, and the action itself becomes part of the farce and thus has no real consequence. But if you can put that aside, Kevin Hart is as good as we’ve seen him at the movies to date, even if he’s basically relegated to being The Rock’s straight man. Say what??? Yes – you read that correctly. The Rock is bringing the giggles. Together have crackling chemistry and they bro down in some pretty unexpected ways.

Sean said he could have used “a little less story” and it’s true it gets a little bogged down with the constant action, but man this movie does move along like Sean’s Mustang through a yellow light. Like Jay on an out of control, brakeless bike down a tree-lined hill. Like The Rock’s chest muscles after he’s been tazed.

There are even some well-chosen cameos; one was such a little nugget of happiness that it garnered spontaneous applause in the theatre. Don’t look it up. Just go and be surprised. Life is hard. The winter was tough. The news is sad. You deserve a little treat, a few hearty chuckles, and maybe even an ice cream sundae afterward. Yeah, I said it. Go ahead. You deserve it.

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

Popstar isn’t an easy movie to review.

First of all, here’s what we’re dealing with…

I dare you not to hum that on the bus later.

While some of the songs may get stuck in your head though, the movie may not. It didn’t for me. I watched it less than twelve hours ago and the memory is already fading fast.

Being forgettable is Popstar’s biggest and only real problem. This is partly because it packs so many jokes and cameos into less than 90 minutes that it never slows down long enough for you to really process much of it. Luckily, the jokes land with impressive efficiency even if they don’t stick.

As if it matters, Popstar is to The Lonely Island (Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone) what This is Spinal Tap was to Spinal Tap. If you’re not familiar with The Lonely Island, the video I posted will give you a pretty good idea. Made semi-famous by their SNL Digital Shorts, they’ve been spoofing pop and R&B for nearly a decade with songs like Dick in a Box, I’m on a Boat, and I just Had Sex. This film mockuments their rise, fall, breakup, and reunion.

Taking aim at easy targets, Popstar’s satire may not be necessary but it sure is welcome. Rarely does a joke miss its mark and it’s the rare R-rated comedy that never gets stuck in an ill-advised gross or bizarre gag that it can’t seem to find its way out of. As for whether or not this will become a modern quotable classic like Anchorman or Superbad remains to be seen and the fact that I started to forget the movie almost as soon as I left the theater may not be a great sign. I have no idea how well it will hold up to a second viewing but Popstar’s first viewing will not disappoint and it DEFINITELY will not bore you.