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Is it possible that I just saw the very best Spider-Man movie ever?  I think I did!  I have huge love for Sam Raimi’s first two Spider-Man films, and the recent Spider-Man: Homecoming was also terrific.  But, my friends, I think we may have a new champion!

The animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse tells the story of Miles Morales.  Miles is a young man from Brooklyn, son of an African American father and a Puerto Rican mother.  His life is turned upside down after witnessing the death of Spider-Man, revealed to the world as Peter Parker.  With Spider-Man out of the way, it seems there is no one who can stop the Kingpin’s evil schemes.  So Miles steps to the plate, assisted by an unlikely team of Spider-allies from across the multiverse…

I am blown away by how amazing Into the Spider-Verse is.  Don’t dismiss it because it’s animated!  This is an extraordinary piece of work.  It is hilarious and joyous, while also frequently attaining an emotional richness far beyond what is found in most blockbuster films.  The animation is gorgeous, approaching genius-level in creativity.  This film works in every possible way.  I truly couldn’t have asked for anything more.

Miles Morales, the African American/Puerto Rican Spider-Man, was created by Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli.  For a long while, this character appeared in Marvel’s “Ultimate” universe, an offshoot of the main Marvel universe that allowed creators to rethink many of Marvel’s most popular characters.  (However, following the events of 2015’s Secret Wars crossover, Miles was brought over to the main Marvel universe.)  I’ve been a huge fan of the Miles character ever since issue one.  (Which was, technically, Ultimate Fallout #4.  Don’t question my nerd credentials!)  I am beyond thrilled to finally see Miles brought to life on-screen!  I never quite thought I’d see this day.

Not only is Miles finally appearing in a movie, but his story has been adapted in such a faithful manner!  I am blown away!  The Miles in Into the Spider-Verse is 100% the comic-book version created by Mr. Bendis and Ms. Pichelli.  They got the character absolutely perfect here.  I can’t believe how many great Miles storylines from the comics, many of which unfolded over the course of years, were incorporated into the film!  For instance, I was delighted that Miles’ complicated relationships with his father and his uncle Aaron was such an important part of the film.  And they even found a way to use the story of Miles’ friendship with the Spider-Gwen character!  Wow!

I was so excited when this film was announced, but then, when I learned of the Spider-Verse title, I was worried that Miles would wind up getting … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Ender’s Game

I read Orscon Scott Card’s novel Ender’s Game when I was in college, and I loved it.  I was intrigued by the character of Ender, and captured by the tough, brutal world Mr. Card had created. I of course kept reading and, though I know I am in the minority on this one, I loved Mr. Card’s exceedingly weird, lengthy follow-up novel, Speaker For the Dead.  That books feels like it is a part of a whole different series than Ender’s Game.  It’s got to be one of the most bizarre sequels I have ever encountered, in that it takes the story in an entirely different direction.  While Speaker For the Dead is something of a letdown for people looking for a follow-up to the events of Ender’s Game, I think it’s a pretty great sci-fi novel when taken on its own.  I read Mr. Card’s next two Ender’s books, Xenocide and Children of the Mind, but by the end of that fourth book I had lost interest.  When Mr. Card returned to the timeframe and setting of Ender’s Game with a new series of novels, I was intrigued, but while Ender’s Shadow has been sitting on my bookshelf for about a decade, I have never gotten around to reading it.

I have been rooting for Ender’s Game to be made into a film since I first read it, almost twenty years ago.  But paradoxically, as the film adaptation finally became a reality over the last year or two, my enthusiasm dimmed.  I am not a fan of director Gavin Hood (although the world seems to disagree with me, I did not like his film Tsotsi, and X-Men Origins: Wolverine is a catastrophe of epic proportions), and the involvement of Bob Orci and Alex Kurtzman (whose scripts for J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek films have been poor, and their work on the Transformers films and Cowboys and Aliens has also been unfortunate in the extreme) worried me.  So I did not enter the film adaptation of Ender’s Game with a lot of hope.

In some ways, then, I was pleasantly surprised that the bulk of the film is actually pretty good.  There is a lot of the middle of the film that I quite enjoyed.  However, the problem is that the first ten minutes and the last ten minutes are incredibly ham-handed and amateurish, and as a result leave the film crippled, just a mildly diverting adventure as opposed to the powerful sci-fi tale that this story should be.

Let’s start with the opening, which is just a mess of heavy-handed exposition and choppy scenes.  Rather than focusing on letting us get to know this smart, intense, weird boy Ender, … [continued]

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Catching Up on 2010: Josh Reviews True Grit

This week’s issue of Entertainment Weekly features a brief interveiw with the Coen Brothers, in which the writer congratulates Joel & Ethan Coen on True Grit, a “four-quadrant” movie (meaning a flick that appeals to men and women, young and old), and the biggest box-office success of their careers.

It’s delightful to see the public embracing True Grit to the degree that it has, because while this film might be more easily categorizable than the last several Coen Brothers films (A Serious Man, Burn After Reading, No Country for Old Men), it’s still a Western that has been filtered through their unique and sometimes bizarre sensibilities.  And I love it all the more for that!

Hailee Steinfeld plays fourteen-year-old Mattie Ross.  Her father has recently been murdered by an outlaw named Tom Chaney, but despite her efforts, it doesn’t seem like any lawman seems much interested in pursuing him.  So Mattie hires herself a bounty hunter: the aging, cranky, one-eyed Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges).  She also encounters a Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf, who has been pursuing Chaney, under a different name, for another murder that he committed.  At first she takes a strong disliking to the pompous Ranger, but as the chase commences and she & Cogburn continue encountering LaBoeuf, Mattie begins to wonder if she hasn’t hitched her wagon to the wrong horse.

I found True Grit to be great fun from start to finish.  There’s a strong emotional throughline — Mattie’s increasingly desperate efforts to find someone who will help her achieve vengeance for her father’s death — and the film is very well-paced.  I thought it was intriguing and engaging throughout.  As always, the Coens know how to stage an action scene, and there are several sequences that are true nail-biters (including the shoot-out outside of the cabin about half-way through the film, and of course the climactic encounter with Tom Chaney and Lucky Ned Pepper’s gang).  The film is intense and violent at times, but it’s never gory.  True Grit is rated PG-13 (in that EW interview, Joel Coen comments: “It seemed obvious to us that because it’s a movie where the main character is a 13-year-old girl, 13- and 14-year-old girls should be able to see the movie”), but it never feels dumbed down or softened the way I often feel PG-13 movies are.

But the real joys of True Grit are the tremendous performances.  Jeff Bridges proves once again that he is unbeatable when directed by the Coen Brothers.  His protrayal of Rooster Cogburn is one of those iconic performances that I suspect we’ll be seeing clips from in highlight reels for years to come.  Rooster is tough and cunning, but … [continued]