Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

I would have seriously sworn that at least one of those “Spider”s in the title was a “Spidey.” A (top-notch) element of this movie’s tone that we’ll get into.

Anyway: I went to go see the new animated Spider-Man movie with my dad when I was home last week, because my dad has loved Spider-Man since he was a kid, and I’d heard that this movie was actually incredibly good. People were praising the inventive animation, which always piques my interest (listen the Pixar movies look flawless, but they all look the same), and I had also just learned that it’s by the guys who got their start making Clone High, and eeeeverything else I was hearing about the tone fell into place. Would you like to watch a beautifully visualized Miles Morales Spider-Man movie by the creators of Clone High? You absolutely would, if you are me!

Into the Spider-Verse is bouncingly meta and self-referential without ever being less than completely in love with all this. It joshes on comic book (and specifically Spidey-verse) conceits because it just loves them so hard, an artistic approach I find very relatable. It’s funny and quippy and playing with tropes, but the story is always this really sincere depiction of a dorky Afro-Latino Brooklyn teen trying to find his place in the world. He sings along terribly to hip hop on his headphones and speaks Spanglish with his mom that’s not even translated, and it’s all just so wonderful and genuine. It’s a movie utterly oriented in this kid’s cultural context in the world, without being about that, which is a remarkable feat to pull off. Especially while it’s simultaneously a rollicking superhero action movie, a spry and clever genre comedy, and a flat-out gorgeous piece of visual art.

Here’s my blisteringly hot Marvel take of 2018: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a better comic book movie than Black Panther. Because Spidey-Verse is the best comic book movie I’ve ever seen. This one finally realizes the aesthetic and narrative potential of the American superhero film genre that began almost a dozen years ago, which is a movie that renders a classic hero story fresh and newly meaningful, while capturing that beloved punchy, graphic look and exhilarating movement unique to the medium of comics. It actually seems pretty silly in retrospect that it took them this long to realize that of course these things should be animated. Great animation like this, the kind whose style is thoughtfully and creatively designed to be in service to and conversation with the kind of story it’s telling, can deliver jaw-dropping moments in a way live action never will, because they’re just different forms—but in a way that’s not so different at all from great comic books.

And Spidey-Verse also features a sweatpants-wearing, existentially tired 38-year-old hot mess dad bod Peter Parker, which is truly what is making this a four-quadrant success because every worn-out adult is just like, “yeah.”


I haven’t gone to a movie in a theater this full in longer than I can remember, probably since living in New York. But the historic non-profit on the east side was the only cinema screening Roma in all of Portland, and probably, like me, people had seen just one week of showtimes on the webpage, and knew this could be their only window. The main auditorium seats nearly 400, in front of a huge screen where I’d seen Dunkirk last year in 70mm. The 6:30pm showing the day before had sold out, a Tuesday. And what I can’t figure out is if this artificial scarcity creating packed houses is all part of Netflix’s plan. It seemed as if pressure from the film community and Alfonso Cuarón himself led them to agree to a limited theatrical release of Roma, the first time they’ve ever done that for one of their movies, though maybe they’d actually counted on this all along. But what they want are awards, and they don’t need audiences for that, they just need Academy member votes, and half of them will watch everything on screeners anyway.

What I do know is that when Ted Sarandos released that absolutely hilarious statement in response to Netflix be being banned from Cannes (pop the artisanal popcorn and read Alissa Wilkinson’s primer here, if you haven’t been avidly following this drama all year), in which the head of Netflix literally said the words “we are 100% about the art of cinema,” they were indeed lying as badly as it seemed. Because anyone who truly cared about ‘the art of cinema’ would never have bound a movie like Roma to be primarily released on a streaming service. I hadn’t seen a movie in a theater that full in ages, nor have I recently seen something that more OUGHT to be seen in a theater. Not even the last one I saw on that same screen.

Every shot in Roma is like a photograph that makes you stop in the middle of the gallery. Every camera movement is like panning over a tapestry. Even if it weren’t for such a rich depth of field that my breath would catch in my throat watching it, the sound design alone asks to please be played in a theater, please let as many people as possible experience this intoxicatingly immersive 360 degree soundscape that had my friends and me thinking for a moment that there were birds up in the rafters, or that someone had opened the door behind us, to a street in Mexico City in 1970.

Roma is a deeply realist movie, that Cuarón made about his childhood maid and nanny, rendered with a near-surrealist visual language that makes it feel like a mythic saga, or a movement of music, or a dive into water. The movie follows Cleo, a young indigenous housekeeper, through a tumultuous year of her life that happens to coincide with a very troubled year in Mexico’s history, the two twining together during the most heart-clenching sequence in the movie, in which I just started crying, overwhelmed by the tidal swell and pull of it all.

It’s a beautiful movie, a gorgeous movie. It reminds me of Ida, not simply for also being shot in lyrical black and white, but because both are unhurried films that follow watchful, quiet female leads. The natural critique of Roma is that Cleo is too quiet, and that this speaks to a lack of imagination or empathy on Cuarón’s part, that he defaulted to the trope of the strong & silent help. But to me, nothing about this movie felt so thoughtless, feeling instead infused with such specificity and care and personal feeling. It’s rare that I’ve seen something so clearly made for someone, out of deep love, and sure, mystification, but in the universal experience of how the souls of those we love are always somehow a vaster sea than we’ll ever be able to fathom. The mysteries of the human heart, the beauty and trauma of a passed time, and the sounds of a child’s memories of Mexico.


This year’s Paddington 2 is so ridonkulously well-reviewed that I had to watch both it and the first installment of the Paddington franchise, also known as the British children’s movies where Ben Whishaw voices a 3 foot 6 digitally animated bear in a red hat. GUESS WHAT, THEY’RE CHARMING. Thought they couldn’t possibly be as charming as all that, but the people are right, they are! These movies are really awfully sweet, and just this side of doable on the kids’ film silliness axis. Whenever they start to lose me with too many slow motion pratfalls of computer generated animals sailing paws-over-teakettle, one of the incredibly winning actors swoops in being so gosh darn delightful that you feel like sunshine is gonna start pouring out of your screen. Sally Hawkins alone could probably stave off your seasonal depression.

That’s what sets these movies a notch or five above much contemporary children’s fare I think, the genuinely clever dialogue performed by actors who aren’t phoning it in, no, this cast brought their own phones, which they’d made themselves (tin cans bedazzled with rickrack and paper flowers and steampunk gears, and love). I mean there’s a reason the the LA Film Critics Association just named Hugh Grant their runner-up for Best Supporting Actor of 2018 for his marvelous work in Paddington frickin 2, and it’s not “for the lols.” I mean it is for the lols, but the lols he’s given us; a Lols Award granted in sincerity.

Hugh Grant—as washed-up cravat-wearing mad stage actor “Phoenix Buchanan”, yes indeedy—is not the only thing that makes Paddington 2 the X2 of its series. As mentioned these movies are not lacking in great performances, or fabulous villains for that matter—the first Paddington boasts a gleefully severe Nicole Kidman as a high-heeled evil taxidermist. But there are a couple things Paddington 2 does a little differently. One, they lean more overtly into their Wes Anderson For Tots sensibility, particularly in the prison section, and it pays off handsomely. Two, they raised the number of speaking roles played by non-white actors from zero to I-eventually-lost-count. In a year marked by cultural watersheds like Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians, I hope we don’t even have to state a case anymore for why this not only matters to audiences, but also intrinsically improves on the classic movie forms, creating something richer for the representation. And especially in a series like the Paddington films, with their clear immigrant narrative and steadfast ethos of acceptance and inclusion, this was the missing piece this franchise needed to become the very best version of itself. As Aunt Lucy says: if you’re kind and polite, the world will be right.

The Favourite

The Favourite is a sumptuous, mordant, slapstick lesbian love triangle meets Stuart royal court drama in which everyone is a morbid hilarious bitch. This is, mm probably my MOVIE OF THE YEAR. Maybe the movie of the year? I’ve a good few to go still, but this one is such a fucking diamond. It’s as if Yorgos Lanthimos, my adored weirdo Greek auteur of The Killing of a Sacred Deer and The Lobster, wondered what would happen if he stirred Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall into a pitcher of Armando Iannucci shows, strained out every pip of male POVs, then poured the whole lively cocktail over a block of dry ice carved in the shape of a duck named Horatio. God or maybe a rabbit. (The rabbits.)

What’s probably gonna anoint The Favourite as so many Lanthimos fans’…favorite.. is that it’ll be the easiest one to recommend to others, but doesn’t feel like he’s “gone mainstream.” It’s not that it’s a milder Yorgos, just looser, meanwhile the narrative structure has never been tighter—really successful adjustment of his sliders! It’s still deadpan and arch, but his dear Rachel Weisz can now explore a greater range on that scale freed from what had become the characteristic but essentially restrictive Lanthimos Monotone. It’s still abruptly violent, but now it’s the bloodless, physical comedy jolt of Nicholas Hoult just brusquely shoving Emma Stone into a ditch.

Incidentally, Nicholas Hoult should be nominated for an Oscar. The women are all already going to be and they deserve it, three terrific actors turning in the the kind of performances where you exclaim “she’s never been better!” Olivia Coleman, long one of our most stupendous performers, is the absolute heart of the movie, delivering both the greatest laughs (my audience was losing it) and the truest pathos (my audience was losing it!). Rachel Weisz feels like she’s just striding along at the top of her ever-stunning game, rendering a hilarious, powerful Machiavellian beauty into an end product I don’t think I’ve ever seen before, she’s almost like a glib duchess pirate? Incredible, and also *whew* [fans neck a little]. And Emma Stone is pitch perfect in a wickedly fun charm-to-cruelty ascent so suited for her talents, gradually transforming her always exemplary #relatable clarity of expression into the comedy villainy I think she’s somehow never played? (Glad Hollywood seems to have finally clicked in to this direction for her.)

Ahh but see this is the thing, The Favourite is so abounding in Great Performances that you get talking about how good all the ladies are and nearly forget to talk about Nicholas Hoult! Who kills here. He’s wearing a curled powdered wig as big as he is, a full face of makeup at all times, and this entire concoction would seem to physically bear him to the floor were he not held sniffily aloft by the BIGGEST attitude. A hapless ineffectual fop (every man, duke, and lad in this movie is this way) who insists on trying to wheel & deal anyway against a mad queen and two grade A geniuses, god Hoult is just….a delectable treat.

This movie is also a true delight to simply look at. It’s beautiful, with this in-camera high contrast I found so aesthetically soothing. Gorgeous, slightly off-key period costumes (those laser-cut chokers!) in so much deep navy-blacks and cream-whites, against a naturally chiaroscuro lighting theme drawn from large tall windows pouring in streams of bright grey natural light, and what I realized must be the period-appropriate contrast of inky dark interior palace hallways with no electricity to counter the lack of windows, just a scattering of amber candles. Truly one of the aesthetic flexes of the year is the DP shooting the Queen’s bedchamber hung in dense ornate tapestries with a fishbowl lens—the kind of odd, art anachronism I do love in my historical films, thank you.

Anyway, The Favourite: SUPPORT THE GIRLS. (Which I will also see soon I promise.)

The Sisters Brothers

This is one of those instances where I’m having a hard time telling if this is objectively a good movie or not, because it contained such a murderer’s row of specific things I personally enjoy. It means that when I look back it’s not really stored in my brain as a movie as much as a series of pleasing vignettes. Perhaps this is my personal Ballad of Buster Scruggs?

But if I’m gonna describe this generally, and that’s what I’ve set out to do here, I’m pretty sure The Sisters Brothers is a meandering (but in an existentially on-theme way), surprisingly sensitive and also just surprising Western slash maybe darkly comic fable in which everyone’s delivery style is basically the opposite of Jeff Bridges in True Grit. Like, Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly—the titular Sisters—are out here in eastern Oregon territory in 1851 clearly articulating all the letters in “Yes” in response to each other’s queries and brotherly arguing around the campfire about whether you should really use the word “victimized” to describe slights against some sort of shadowy Old West mob boss (theirs) only known as The Commodore, who inexplicably has this big emblem on the entrance to his large house composed of two noble mermen. Meanwhile the colors and camerawork are really very beautiful, and the score is by Alexandre Desplat and inspired by jazz combos, electric violin, and spare experimentalist John Cage of all things.

But if I’m going to try to explain the elements that to me make up the overwhelming portion of what this movie has to recommend itself, I’m gonna need to tell you about, *ahem*:

Jake Gyllenhaal and Riz Ahmed as the Slow West Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin

JAKE GYLLENHAAL, who has not forgotten how to be queer in a Western setting, appears a few scenes into this movie as Morris (eventually and tellingly, if you like to believe everyone is always ready for an E.M. Forster reference, Charlie Sisters will slide to calling him Maurice): a fancily mannered, constantly journaling, Gold Rush PI-for-hire with some form of British accent, who has been tasked with tracking down Hermann Kermit Warm (oh okay), for nefarious reasons he does not as of yet fully comprehend (but give the plot time)!

Warm is RIZ AHMED, oddball frontier chemist & twink, who is appalled by greed and cruelty and wants to get the Star Trek future started several centuries early by establishing the beginnings of a post-capitalist utopia based on Mutual Respect, Science, and Self-Improvement, and he’s so beautiful and quaint and sweet that anyone who talks to him for more than two minutes is like y’know what, yeah I’m gonna follow this 5’6” (a metric mentioned in dialogue) prospector Gene Roddenberry to Dallas (sure) to join his New Society.

So these two have a meet-cute in the Old West equivalent of a hipster coffee shop that runs through pretty much every beat of Aubrey and Maturin’s first lunch in Patrick O’Brien’s legendary Napoleonic seafaring adventure/rom-com Master & Commander, only with the added spice that Morris is deceiving Warm all while becoming steadily besotted. “Make haste!” his letter reads to the Sisters brothers after he has ~obtained~ Warm. “—before I fall in love with him!” I added in soto voce to my friend next to me. And then it just keeps going, being gold. Sometimes literally.

I mean don’t let me mislead you into thinking this is just a romp, as it’s definitely a Western where shit definitely turns very unfortunate and gruesome. But still, worth driving out to see at a second-run theater way off in the east side where the tickets cost about the same price as the big artisan donuts you brought in.