“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” Review – Not Great

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” was a phenomenal animated film. A beautiful hero’s journey of Miles Morales, an instantly likable protagonist thrust into an adventure he’s completely unprepared for. He learns not only how to handle his powers, but the responsibility of being a Spider-person and that Spider-Man is more than the mask; anyone can emulate what he represents. It’s a story full of hope, optimism, heart, tragedy, excitement, humor, and all the things that make for a wonderful adventure film. The script is ingenious and nearly immaculate, full of wit and clear love for the source material. Its animation was more than groundbreaking; it shook the industry and ended the reign of the Pixar style. Overall, an incredible feat.

Now, 5 years later, comes its long-awaited sequel “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” and it breaks my heart to say that this was a massive disappointment. I genuinely don’t understand the rave critic reviews or that insane 95% Rotten Tomatoes score. This is a deeply, tragically flawed mess of a film that’s too ambitious for its own good. The level of overhyping and ridiculous praise is borderline shameful from some of these “critics.” Everyone is entitled to their opinion and I respect the vast majority of people who enjoy this film, but there are some who just go too far. Take Zach Pope, for example. One of the biggest movie shills on any platform:

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse Twitter

Seriously? Let’s be real for a second. If you’re a critic and you claim that this is not only one of the best Spider-Man/comic book/sequel films, but also one of the best films in general, you need to reevaluate yourself. It’s dangerous for movies to be overpraised like this. Just look at last year’s “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” That’s a film which is at least 30 minutes too long with hit-and-miss humor and a sappy, soap-opera climax. Yet because people on Twitter and Letterboxd claimed it’s the best movie ever made, it won 7 Oscars including Best Picture. We can’t keep doing this.


Anyway, let’s get back to Across the Spider-Verse (I want to apologize in advance because this is going to be a very, very long review). Do I think this is a terrible film? No, not at all. It’s generally entertaining and shares many of the great elements of the first film; it has the same youthful, vibrant energy and comic-booky sensibilities. The performances are stellar across the board. I also think the Spot is an incredibly entertaining and unique villain. He’s simultaneously hilarious and frightening, and the animation style used to illustrate his abilities is insane (in the best way possible). It’s basically the same technique used in the comic Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth.

There’s a perfect 30-40-minute chunk within the first half of the film which focuses on Miles and his family that I thoroughly enjoyed. Miles Morales is by far this film’s best character, and it needs him more than it wants to admit. His struggles balancing his personal life, family, and Spider-Man is just so entertaining and heartfelt. I’d rather see a non-multiverse movie that’s just focused on a regular Miles adventure.

Whenever the film sways away from that heart it free-falls. It starts out with a 15-minute Gwen-centric prologue which I couldn’t stand. For one thing, its story was abysmal. Peter Parker died because he made himself a Green Goblin serum to get big muscles or something. Then, Gwen encounters a giant wooden vulture that looks laughable. She meets a couple Spider-people, fights the wood, and flees her universe. The worst part of this cluttered opening is the introduction of Jessica Drew/Spider-Woman, who’s riding a motorcycle while pregnant, endangering her unborn child. What’s the point of having this in the film? This is far from empowering. It makes the character instantly unlikable and puts a sour taste in the viewer’s mouth.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse Miles Morales

Then the movie goes back to Miles and fresh air flows back in again, as mentioned previously. But as soon as he dives into the Spider-Verse, the film nosedives with him. Specifically, it’s when the plot holes start to appear. There are too many lapses in logic and plot-breaking ideas to list in this already overlong review, so I’ll just briefly cover the big ones:

  • Miguel/Spider-Man 2099: How does he have access to all this multiverse jumping technology? Living in the future is not an excuse; the film never explains how he got ahold of it or invented it, and considering how significant it is to the story, that’s a pretty big issue.
  • During the chase scene between Miles and the other Spider-people, why didn’t he just turn invisible? He said that he was trying to lure them together, implying that’s why he stayed visible, but that still doesn’t make any sense. Why go through all that trouble when you could just slip away unseen?
  • Mentioning the MCU was a colossal mistake. Now it’s established that all the multiverse shenanigans in the MCU are canon in this franchise, so why aren’t other Marvel characters around? Where’s Kang? How come Doctor Strange wasn’t glitching when he traveled to other universes in Multiverse of Madness?
  • Why would Miles be sent to the universe where his radioactive spider originated from? Miguel’s goofy machine scans the DNA of an individual (ANY individual, not just a Spider-person) and returns them to their corresponding universe. Miles is still almost entirely made up of DNA from his own universe; the spider DNA is only a minuscule portion of him. Wouldn’t he be sent back to his own universe, or at least have his atoms split between both universes?
  • Now for the biggest plot hole: why, WHY would Miguel tell Miles about the police captain cannon event? By telling Miles this, he fuels Miles to rebel and try to prevent it. If he never revealed this to him, Miles wouldn’t know or be prepared for his father to die. Therefore, if Miguel just kept his mouth shut, he wouldn’t have to worry about Miles inadvertently destroying that universe. The entire second half of the film rides on this moronic and forced decision.

Another problem here is the runtime. At 2 hours and 20 minutes, the movie feels at least 20 to 30 minutes too long, especially in the third act when every scene could’ve been the last.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse Chase

Yet the writing isn’t this film’s only issue; on a technical level, it’s far less sophisticated than its predecessor. While Across the Spider-Verse has a wider range of styles, it doesn’t hold up to the first film’s look. I commend the filmmakers for attempting something new, but it feels like the animators were spread too thin to give sufficient detail to each art style, so the main art style from the first film looks significantly weaker here. The polygons are visible and some of the movements are off; for some reason, characters’ shoulders particularly look wonky. The sound editing is also a downgrade. The first film had AMAZING music and sound cues, especially the Prowler’s theme. This movie shares the same great sound, except it’s mixed by Christopher Nolan. I couldn’t hear what the characters were saying in the film a third of the time. It got to the point where I stupidly leaned in toward the screen.

“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” is the newest film in the long line of overrated, forced cult movies that have been perpetuated by Film Twitter. I was left heartbroken by how much this movie disappointed me, and I hope people will eventually come around and see the film’s faults.


All “Succession” Seasons Ranked

“Succession” has recently ended, cementing itself as one of the greatest television series of all time. In celebration of the show’s run, it’s time to rank all four seasons from best to bestest… if that makes any grammatical sense.

4. Season 1

Succession Season 1

The first season of “Succession” does a great job at introducing us to this profanity-ridden corporate nightmare world and the deeply flawed characters who shape it. All the roles are perfectly cast and the audience is immediately able to connect to each actor. This is also the funniest season of the series. The hapless Tom and Greg have never been more lovably awkward and pathetic; they’ve always been the true love story of the show, both being total scene stealers as the comic relief. It’s Jeremy Strong’s performance as Kendall, however, that propelled this show to greatness right out of the gate. Strong is the most gifted thespian of this already stellar group of actors. He brings such an unstable intensity and misery to the role, making him the tragic Sisyphean figure we simultaneously love and loathe. In all four seasons of the series, Strong gave one of the finest performances in television history.

With all praise for the freshman season aside, it’s got plenty of issues. Firstly, its pacing is all over the place. Whenever we’re not focusing on Kendall, Tom, or Greg, the show loses momentum and can’t quite figure out how to keep the audience engaged. The season goes from fast-paced, intense sequences to slow lulls over and over again. Season 1 also has the weakest aspect of the series looming over it: Lawrence Yee. What a lame villain. At the end of the pilot, he’s projected to be some agent of chaos who sets out to burn Waystar to the ground, but he never does anything of serious dramatic note. He’s an annoying and utterly boring character who serves zero purpose other than to give Kendall something to worry about in the pilot.

3. Season 3

Succession Season 3

This is arguably the most subversive season of “Succession” due to the stark contrast between the marketing and the series itself. It wasn’t the Kendall vs. Logan battle we were promised, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Kendall continuing to lose and humiliate himself, while painful to watch, follows the realism and anxiety which forms the show. Watching Jeremy Strong morph from happy-go-lucky and enthusiastic to broken and borderline suicidal is incredibly powerful and exemplifies the strengths of the show, albeit tough to experience.

The standouts of this season are, once again, Tom and Greg. Over these nine episodes the pair crawl through the mud as they face pressures of incarceration, leading to their usual anxiety-fueled banter and shenanigans. This is really Tom’s season; the writers crafted a compelling contrast between him and Kendall, as we see Tom succeed through self-sacrifice while Kendall fails because of his narcissism.

Unfortunately, this season struggles to maintain a consistent pace and focused story, much like Season 1. It doesn’t quite reach the exhilarating heights of Season 2 but doesn’t make any grave mistakes either. Since it’s potentially Tom’s best season and Mr. Wambsgans is undoubtedly the best character of the show, I edge it out above Season 1.

2. Season 4

Succession Season 4

Season 4 landed the ship beautifully. The decision to kill off Logan so early on was not only pleasantly shocking, but also made sense in terms of story progression. The show is about who’s going to succeed him after all, and his death created the optimal drama and tension surrounding the power grabbing. Episode 3 “Connor’s Wedding” is possibly the greatest episode of the entire series, and arguably the most riveting episode of television since “Game of Thrones” 6×09 “Battle of the Bastards.” It’s a prime example of how to subvert expectations in a way that’s actually beneficial to the narrative, rather than what we’ve seen in films such as The Last Jedi.

Besides Episode 3, this season still has some of the best individual episodes in the series. Episode 4 “Honeymoon States” is a brilliant Kendall episode reminiscent of “The Godfather: Part II” and Episode 8 “America Decides” is the most pulse-pounding chapter of the series.

Likewise, the series finale was nearly perfect. Television finales are challenging to create and often unsatisfying, as writers are so frightened that they end up panicking and producing some messy conclusion which breaks the rules and arcs built over the previous seasons. Showrunner Jesse Armstrong thankfully knew the formula to a proper series finale, which is to write conclusions the audience doesn’t expect while not subverting expectations too drastically. What’s most important is to stay true to the characters and their arcs, and “Succession” did that. Plus, I actually leaped out of my seat and cheered when Tom became CEO, something I almost never do. He’s top ten, maybe even top five best television characters of all time for me.

While I found Season 4 to be a legendary sendoff, it still could’ve been a little bit better. Firstly, the Pierce plotline needed to be cut completely. The writers forgot about it as soon as Logan died and left it dangling, never to be spoken of again. Secondly, it was frustrating how all these major events happened in such quick succession, quite literally day-to-day. First, Logan dies on Connor’s wedding day. The next day is the wake, which makes sense, but then there’s the GoJo negotiations in Sweden followed immediately by the Living+ announcement followed immediately by the tailgate party followed immediately by election night followed by Logan’s funeral and, finally, the concluding board meeting. All this takes place over what’s implied to be a couple weeks, which is completely nonsensical. In the previous three seasons, we’d get one, maybe two, of such key events per season. What happened?

1. Season 2

Succession Season 2

This is peak “Succession.” Every episode is utter chaos and it’s impossible not to revel in it. The season moves at a breakneck pace with Logan at his most tyrannical and evil. Like Season 4, Season 2 has phenomenal individual episodes but they’re within an already impeccable season-long arc. The “Safe Room” episode is possibly the funniest out of the whole show as Tom has to interview a neo-Nazi newscaster, only to then be rushed alongside Greg into a dumpy safe room after a shooting scare.

Season 2’s penultimate episode “D.C.” is my favorite of the entire series; I know “Connor’s Wedding” is objectively a little better, but this episode encapsulates everything the show does so well. For one thing, it’s (somehow) darkly comedic to see Roman stuck in a hotel taken hostage by terrorists, but I also think this is Tom’s greatest episode (probably why I have a soft spot for it). It’s heartbreaking to see him humiliated and fed to the wolves of Congress, but one can’t help but tear up laughing as he attempts to explain the repugnant “Moe Lester” email threads.

I think what makes Season 2 the best season is just how focused it is. There’s no dangling plot threads or pacing issues which the other seasons sometimes suffered from. Season 2 is clean and straight to the point, with Logan challenging the other characters far beyond their breaking points to put out his fires. This is the season which cemented this show as one of the all-time greats, and it’s a flawless thrill ride.

“Fast X” Review – Surprisingly Good

Fast X

“Fast X” is the tenth film in the diarrhea stream that is the “Fast & Furious” franchise. Directed by Louis Leterrier, the flick follows Dom and his beloved family as they’re attacked by the psychotic Dante Reyes (played by Jason Momoa), a ruthless foe holding a grudge from the past.

Jason Momoa single-handedly saves this film. Dante is easily the best villain of the franchise and one of the best antagonists of the past few years. He brings such a charming and affable charisma to the role, as well as a terrifying underlying energy. Dante is a sadist who relishes chaos and harming others, but with a jovial outer shell. I’m as shocked as anyone that such a phenomenal and potentially iconic villain came out of a “Fast & Furious” movie, but here we are.

Fast X Jason Momoa Dante

“Fast X” also benefits from being the first film in the franchise to have actual stakes, not only because of Momoa’s incredible villain but also since it’s the first part in the conclusion to the saga. The writers are able to construct a legitimately suspenseful narrative by challenging the characters beyond their ability to simply drive a car. They lose their resources and reputations and spend most of the movie split apart from each other. Several people on the internet are comparing the film to “Avengers: Infinity War,” and while Infinity War is a hundred times the film “Fast X” is, they do share similarities in scale, plot design, and stakes.

Incredible villain and surprising stakes aside, “Fast X” doesn’t escape most of the flaws of the franchise. There’s still laughable melodrama, cartoonish action, “how are you alive?” moments, goofy family monologues, and Vin Diesel struggling to act. That being said, these are all things people know going in. No one is expecting something grounded or profound from these movies. I’d prefer the film to actually understand physics, but I can roll with most of the punches because it’s following a series of films which are just as, if not far more, over-the-top.

Fast X Vin Diesel

Your enjoyment of “Fast X” largely depends on your tolerance for this kind of film. It’s trashy, obnoxious, and self-indulgent, but the writing is shockingly decent and Jason Momoa’s Dante is a far better villain than this franchise deserves.


Click here to read my review of “F9”

The Super Mario Bros. Movie, Ghosted, & More – Quick Reviews

The Super Mario Bros. Movie | C+

The Super Mario Bros Movie

This is an excellent example of a “meh” movie. It’s just okay. It’s not going to wow anyone, but it’s not going to piss anyone off either. The film is pretty basic and entirely predictable from start to finish. All that stands out is the gorgeous animation and Jack Black’s hilarious performance as Bowser. That “Peach” song is unironically catchy and it’s impossible not to love the characterization/personality Black brings to Bowser. He easily does the best job out of all the voice actors, as he still sounds like the character from the games while adding his own flare. The rest of the cast (except for Seth Rogen who’s abysmal as Donkey Kong) are satisfactory, I guess. Unfortunately “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” is largely forgettable and, if it wasn’t an adaptation of the Super Mario games, would be a lot less enjoyable.

Ghosted | D

Ghosted Chris Evans Ana de Armas

To nobody’s surprise, “Ghosted” sucks. It’s 100 times more forgettable than “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” and feels 100 times longer too. It’s a generic, formulaic, and soulless slog of a film completely devoid of artistic merit and I wouldn’t be surprised if the screenplay was written by A.I. The action sequences are clunky and the film is barely directed at all. Ana de Armas has proven herself to be one of the most talented rising stars of the past few years, but she’s shockingly bad here. It’s as if she doesn’t quite know how to interact with humans. She’s a walking piece of plywood. In all fairness, her performance could be the result of the nauseating and parasitic dialogue. The only redeeming qualities “Ghosted” has are Adrien Brody and Chris Evans. Brody hams it up as the underwritten villain and Evans plays against type as the weakling sidekick without becoming annoying. I commend them for attempting to build upon what little they were given.

Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie | B+

Still Michael J. Fox

“Still” is a touching documentary about the life of superstar Michael J. Fox, who’s an incredible narrator. Fox has such an infectious and lovable nature, with a killer sense of self-deprecating humor. The film is intercut with clips from old interviews, cleverly placed excerpts from Fox’s films/shows, and scenes recreating moments in his life, all of which make for a cohesive and exciting watch. Although “Still” succeeds in many aspects, I don’t think the film went deep enough into Fox’s struggles with Parkinson’s Disease. It definitely details the development of it over time and how it impacted Fox’s mental health, but it doesn’t quite commit to the gut punches. The film could’ve gone for harder hits, with more detailed and unflinching descriptions of his struggles. It never quite reaches the devastating emotions the viewer should feel. That complaint aside, I still strongly recommend this documentary, as it’s one of the best films of 2023 so far.

“A Woman Under the Influence” – Classic Film Reviews #30

A Woman Under the Influence

“A Woman Under the Influence” is a 1974 drama written and directed by the acclaimed independent filmmaker John Cassavetes. It stars Peter Falk as Nick Longhetti, a construction foreman married to Mabel (Gena Rowlands), a mentally ill housewife whose increasingly destructive behavior creates conflict in their family.

The indisputably best part of this film is the acting. Peter Falk is excellent as this exhausted and deeply confused man scrambling to keep his family together, but Gena Rowlands is clearly the standout of the film. This is one of the greatest lead actress performances I’ve ever seen. Rowlands allows her character to engulf her. Her darting eyes and tense body make for an unpredictable performance. None of her lines feel rehearsed, but instead as if they’re being thought up in real time. The ticks and mannerisms she gives Mabel are legitimate aspects of certain mental disorders, and she doesn’t go over-the-top with some forced wackiness. It’s truly incredible and Rowlands was robbed of the Best Leading Actress Oscar.

A Woman Under the Influence Gena Rowlands

That being said, the material Rowlands has to work with isn’t even in the same stratosphere as her performance. I respect the themes, honesty, and compassion behind Cassavetes script, but unfortunately the characterizations don’t completely work and, unlike Rowlands, go over-the-top. Many of the actions the screenplay has Mabel do, such as when she dances on top of a couch, hums, and refuses to come down, borderline on cartoonish and make the film less grounded. The behaviors don’t feel well researched and instead seem like a compilation of symptoms Cassavetes wanted to focus on.

Speaking of characterization, Nick’s is entirely inconsistent. For much of the film he’s a warm family man, albeit rough on the edges, who staunchly defends his wife. Later on, however, he beats her, throws her to the ground, and screams at her. I would understand these changes if there was a character arc detailing some slow progression, but there isn’t.

I also feel that the first hour could be trimmed by 30-40 minutes, as this is nearly two-and-a-half hours long. In fact, the first act could be cut almost entirely. Everything up to the birthday party scene could be either trimmed or deleted.

Peter Falk Gena Rowlands A Woman Under the Influence

Watching this film, it’s evident that Cassavetes is a stronger director than writer. As a performer himself, he’s obviously a gifted actor’s director, but his skills go beyond that. He’s terrific at building anxiety using extreme close-ups and changes in field of view. His style reminds me of the Safdie brothers’ and I wouldn’t be surprised if he was a significant influence on them.

“A Woman Under the Influence” struggles to extract realism from an inconsistent script, but Gena Rowlands’ performance and Cassavetes’ direction are somewhat able to compensate for the material. The film has perpetually relevant themes and good intentions, but it fails to form a cohesive narrative.


“Heat” – Classic Film Reviews #29


“Heat” was written and directed by Michael Mann. Released in 1995, this heist thriller follows the cat-and-mouse game between Detective Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) and thief mastermind Neil McCauly (Robert De Niro), whose crew is preparing for their final bank robbery.

This film’s strengths and weaknesses both stem from its nearly three hour runtime. On one hand, the length allows for all the lead characters to be properly fleshed out, and also makes the film feel like a sprawling crime epic. The pacing is quick enough to keep the audience invested throughout the three hours while not rushing through the plot points. “Heat” almost never bores.

Heat Al Pacino Robert De Niro Diner

However, after now seeing the film twice, it’s become very clear to me just how much of “Heat” can be cut. Firstly, the choice to give each of our three leads (Pacino, De Niro, and Val Kilmer as Neil’s right-hand man Chris) their own love interests was a giant mistake. The relationship between Neil and Eady worked well, particularly the idea that despite Neil’s growing love for Eady, he would still choose to abandon her immediately if he “felt the heat.” The other two relationships were totally unnecessary. Hanna’s failing marriage was a generic plot point, made worse by the inclusion of the stepdaughter who appears in the first ten minutes and doesn’t reappear for at least another hour.

Yet by far the weakest element of this film is the Chris character and his relationship with his wife. Kilmer’s a highly talented actor, but he has nothing to work with in the film. Chris is just generic thief guy with little to no personality, made even more boring by his own failing marriage – by the way, why are there two marriage-falling-apart subplots in this movie? If those two characters were erased entirely, the film would be tighter, cleaner, and more efficient.

Another issue with the film is the music, which is embarrassingly subpar. It is utterly generic and uninspired, essentially an assortment of copy/paste cues from other ’90s films.

Heat Shootout

I know it sounds like I loathe this film based on these criticisms, but I actually think it’s a generally solid movie. Michael Mann is an extraordinary action filmmaker who injects a powerful, aggressive energy into this movie. The action sequences, particularly the bank shootout, are perfectly choreographed and edited. Truly some of the best edge-of-your-seat entertainment. “Heat” has such an enthralling flare, which is why the runtime – while certainly 30-50 minutes too long for this kind of flick – doesn’t hamper the film too much.

The performances here are equally incredible. Pacino is at his peak here, giving all the boisterous Pacino-isms we want. He has the ability to deliver lines that aren’t actually funny on the page in hilarious ways. De Niro is equally great in a more subdued and cold performance.

“Heat” is a very strong film but isn’t as great as it needs to be to earn its stellar reputation. The action, editing, lead performances, and direction are all some of the best of the entire heist genre, but the film has some legitimate flaws. When looking back on immensely applauded films like “Heat,” it’s important to push the legacy aside and form your own opinion. I know I’m somewhat of a contrarian here, but the beauty of film is the discourse and variety of opinions. I just happen to not see what many others see in “Heat.”


“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” Review – A Fitting Conclusion

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” was written and directed by James Gunn and is the final installment in his Guardians franchise. After an attack from a being called Adam Warlock, Rocket is critically injured and, in order to save his life, the Guardians embark on a mission leading them to Rocket’s malicious creator, the High Evolutionary. The film is intercut with flashbacks of Rocket’s soul-crushing origin story, which is the heart of the movie.

Getting the negatives out of the way, the plot for this film is a little clunky. Rocket apparently can’t be saved by normal means due to his creator leaving some sort of kill-switch in him, so the Guardians have to go on a video game quest for a McGuffin data chip which will erase the kill-switch or something. Also, the way Gamora rejoins the Guardians is pretty forced and rushed. However, I appreciate that the mission is deeply personal, character-focused, and, in comparison to most other MCU films, lower stakes, so I was somewhat willing to roll with the punches here.

Another issue is how Gunn addresses the Guardians’ powers. What I mean by this is a character — let’s take Nebula for example — will have a certain ability introduced (in her case, the power to shoot lasers from her robotic arm) and will only use it once, never again utilizing it for later situations when it would come in handy. It’s such a lazy and ignorant writing mechanic. Also, without getting into spoilers, there’s one scene toward the end of the film with Star-Lord that was wholly unnecessary and absurd. It desperately needed to be cut, and I have no idea why Gunn ever thought that scene was a good idea.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 Rocket

Complaints aside, I practically adored “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.” The MCU has been catastrophic since “Avengers: Infinity War,” with almost nothing good being released, and what was good being deeply flawed (Endgame and No Way Home). This dying behemoth of a franchise desperately needed a hit, and it got one. Vol. 3 is possibly their best film since Infinity War. It packs a poignant punch, warts and all.

Of course the most heartbreaking moments of the film are with Rocket’s brutal backstory. Gunn didn’t hold anything back, showing all the horrors of animal cruelty, torture, and psychological torment that made Rocket into the deeply broken character he is. The new animals introduced as his original friend group, despite having limited screentime, are instantly lovable. They’re so sweet despite their mutilated bodies and when tragedy strikes them later, the audience is nearly as distraught as Rocket.

I also appreciated how Gunn never cut dramatic beats in the film with a joke. While there is some humor in this film, it’s never present in the more grim scenes, which are always allowed to breathe. Chris Pratt in particular gives his greatest performance yet; all the cast-members are on their A-game for this film.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 Star-Lord Chris Pratt

I had many issues with “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” a bloated mess of a film with character inconsistencies, particularly with Drax. In the first film, he was a more serious character grieving the loss of his daughter, whereas in the sequel he was nothing but comic relief. In this final film, Drax finally has the best of both worlds. He’s never been funnier but is also given an arc where he’s able to become a father figure again. This is also aided by Dave Bautista’s performance; Bautista is probably the most talented thespian in the cast after Bradley Cooper.

The most impressive part of Gunn’s script was how he addressed the new version of Gamora. I thought that it was a giant mistake to bring her back in Endgame, and when I saw the trailers for this film I thought she was going to be nothing but an annoying presence which ruined the sacrifice in Infinity War. Yet she wasn’t. Instead, Gunn clearly establishes that this Gamora is far different from the original and he cleverly used this one as a metaphor for Star-Lord overcoming his grief. He thankfully doesn’t redo the romance. I still believe she never should’ve been brought back and that Gunn was, frankly, screwed over by Endgame, but he did the best with what he was given and I have to give the film props for that.

On a technical level, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” is easily the best of the trilogy. Gunn has evolved as an action director, particularly in the hallway fight scene at the end of the film. He’s also an impressive creative force, with each world, set, and alien race being entirely imaginative and weird in the best ways possible. Vol. 3 has the most stunning set, costume, and makeup design in the whole MCU. In fact, this film has broken the world record for most prosthetics in a movie, with over 22,500 pieces used.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” certainly has a sloppy plot (although it’s far better than every Marvel film’s narrative since Infinity War), it overcomes its faults thanks to the unflinching gut punches, amazing characters, excellent worldbuilding, and stellar cast. It’s an immensely satisfying conclusion and I pray Marvel doesn’t dredge Gunn’s characters back up to obliterate them.


“Paper Moon” – Classic Film Reviews #28

Paper Moon

“Paper Moon” was directed by Peter Bogdanovich and released in 1973. Set in the post-Great Depression 1930s, it starred Ryan O’Neal as conman Moses Pray, who must bring a young mischievous girl named Addie (played by O’Neal’s real-life daughter Tatum) to her aunt’s home after her mother’s death. The unlikely pair develop a close bond along their journey, bringing the best and worst out of each other.

If executed differently, “Paper Moon” could be another generic road trip movie, but Bogdanovich’s direction and world-building make this film the classic that it is. The film feels straight out of the time period it depicts, with gorgeous black-and-white photography, 1930s jazz, and old-timey characters. At the same time, Bogdanovich had the necessary restraint. He didn’t have all the characters sound like bootleg Humphrey Bogarts or use a 4:3 aspect ratio. There’s a perfect balance between all the world-building mechanics, creating an environment the audience is absolutely immersed in and excited to watch the characters experience.

Paper Moon Ryan O'Neal Tatum O'Neal

Speaking of which, the two leads are masterfully characterized and performed. Each gains something from the other. Addie gains a father figure and independence, while Moses learns to be a better conman from the inexperienced yet sly Addie. Watching the two of them scam widows and exchange snappy insults is a lot more endearing and heartwarming than one would expect.

Key to the pair’s warm yet unstable chemistry are the performances by the O’Neals (who get along far better in-character than they do in real life). Ryan O’Neal is excellent at making this sleazy and manipulative character not only sympathetic, but pitiful. He may not be the greatest thespian, but he understands subtlety and how to bring the best out of his limited talents. Tatum is even better in her feature film (and Oscar-winning) debut as Addie. Normally child actors demolish a film to atoms, but Tatum defies this heavily established law of cinema. She portrays Addie with plenty of attitude, wit, and gumption without getting quirky, irritating, or — God forbid — cutesy. She walks that fine line of still feeling like a real kid while being confident enough that the audience can buy her skills as a juvenile crook.

Paper Moon Ending

Although “Paper Moon” is an incredibly strong film, it does have a few semi-minor weaknesses. For one thing, the plot could’ve used a little more streamlining. I understand the narrative is supposed to follow the leads on a series of misadventures, but these segments are a little too independent from each other. Also — and this is probably a hot take — I don’t think the ending works as well as it should. On the page, it’s probably fine, but the execution was disappointing. The final scene is a little too cold and gives off the impression that Moses didn’t grow all that much from his bond with Addie. While the film never needed a sappy ending or a tearjerker finale, it should’ve ended with a louder bang.


“Beau Is Afraid” Review – A Grueling Nightmare

Beau Is Afraid

“Beau Is Afraid” was written and directed by Ari Aster and stars Joaquin Phoenix as Beau Wassermann, a middle-aged and anxious man petrified by pretty much everything and everyone in existence. Over the course of three exhausting hours, we follow his journey to his mom’s house.

The first 40 minutes of “Beau Is Afraid” are spectacular. They’re a surreal metaphor for anxiety, putting Beau in intense everyday situations with plenty of humor and absurdity. The events occurring around him are heavily implied to be in his head, and it was an absorbing experience that worked spectacularly. However, after a certain point, the film decided to stop doing this and then became a meaningless, meandering, random endurance exercise that ran on for way too long. There’s no discernible plot, momentum, or interesting themes propelling the movie for the remaining 2 hours and 20 minutes, so it’s just a self-indulgent and pretentious nightmare to get through.

Beau Is Afraid Ari Aster

Ari Aster proves himself to be a talented filmmaker from a visual standpoint. Each frame of “Beau Is Afraid” is absolutely gorgeous and unique with endless details. Yet as a writer, Aster is narcissistic, sloppy, incompetent, and completely apathetic to making an enjoyable experience for the viewer. Worst of all, he seems to have no idea as to what this film should even be about. He has a wimpy character and a semi-surreal atmosphere, but that’s it. Nothing is cohesive or satisfying. The pacing is all over the place and the runtime is borderline criminal. The film also forgets whether it’s supposed to be allegorical or literal, as it sometimes seems to all be in Beau’s mind but at other moments feels more like a supernatural journey meant to be taken seriously. The film is such a punishing mess, and because it’s so damn long the viewer just loses all investment at the one hour mark, so no matter how beautiful the film looks the audience just stops caring.

Instead of making this pseudo-intellectual nonsense exclusively targeted toward himself, Aster should’ve compressed the first 40 minutes into a 25-minute-long short film. It’s impossible to make a feature-length film with such a flimsy premise. Even 90 minutes is too long of a runtime. Yet Aster couldn’t resist making this filth longer than “The Godfather.”

Joaquin Phoenix is the greatest actor working today, and no role has proven his talent more than his work as Beau. This certainly isn’t his best performance, but it is his most impressive in that he triumphs over the repugnant material he has to work with. He tries his damndest to make this film even remotely watchable for the full three hours. Phoenix does everything possible to milk as wide a range of emotions out of this incredibly thin and underdeveloped character, and he somewhat succeeds. Beau is actually pretty likable and I feel that if played by a less gifted actor, he would be insufferable. It’s just a shame that Phoenix dedicated so much of his time to shooting this dumpster fire (which was originally FOUR hours by the way) instead of making a few short indie films.

Beau Is Afraid Joaquin Phoenix

“Beau Is Afraid” is one of the most pointless, self-indulgent, hollow, and disrespectful films I’ve seen in quite some time. It takes a legendary actor and shoves him into the mud just so Ari Aster can vent all his mommy issues to the bewildered audience. Since this film is competently made, has a terrific opening, and I simply feel bad for Joaquin Phoenix, I don’t think it’s an abomination the likes of this year’s “Paint,” but it’s still a miserable experience that I strongly recommend against seeing.


“12 Angry Men” – Classic Film Reviews #27

12 Angry Men 1957 Henry Fonda

“12 Angry Men” was directed by Sidney Lumet and written by Reginald Rose. Released in 1957, the film follows 12 jurors tasked with deciding the fate of a young man on trial for murder. If found guilty, he’ll be put to death. At first, it seems that it’s an open-and-shut case with abundant evidence pointing to his guilt, but one juror (Henry Fonda) sees some holes in the story and must convince the other 11 men of the defendant’s innocence.

I’ll get straight to the point: this screenplay is in the top five greatest of all time. Despite 98% of the film taking place in a cramped room, the film moves at lightning speed with some of the strongest pacing I’ve ever experienced. Every single detail and word matters, not only in revealing the events of the case to the audience (as we discover the facts through the jury room conversations) but also in constructing 12 impeccable characters. Each juror has different worldviews and mannerisms that influence their stances on the case. Juror 3 is biased by his rocky relationship with his son, Juror 4 is cold and only cares about the facts, Juror 5 is influenced by his experiences growing up in a rough neighborhood similar to that of the defendant, Juror 11 sees the case from the perspective of an immigrant, etc. No one character is the same, and every time I watch this film I have a different favorite juror.

12 Angry Men Lee J. Cobb

Each actor is at the top of his game here. Henry Fonda proves himself to be one of cinema’s greatest leading men with his commanding but subtle performance as Juror 8 and Lee J. Cobb delivers a heartbreaking, brutal performance as Juror 3. These two work brilliantly together as the ideological opposites driving the two factions inside the jury. E.G. Marshall is equally excellent as Juror 4, giving a performance similar to Louise Fletcher’s Nurse Ratched from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” While he isn’t necessarily a villainous character, he does feel intimidating due to his dead-eyed stare and emotional disconnect.

What glues the flawless screenplay and ensemble cast together is Sidney Lumet’s meticulous direction. His use of close-ups and snappy editing add a great intensity and, most importantly, claustrophobic atmosphere to the film. The story takes place on the hottest day of the year and you feel the heat, sweat, and humidity throughout the film. It’s incredibly immersive and involving, as the audience is conditioned to become a part of the jury as the story moves along. Lumet’s work is subtle and restrained, but it’s able to build a gripping and suffocating world unlike any other I’ve seen in cinema.

12 Angry Men

“Timeless” and “masterpiece” are words that get thrown around way too often, but both are completely appropriate for “12 Angry Men.” This is undoubtedly one of the greatest films ever made and I can’t recommend it enough.