How Film’s Fathers Raised Me

As much as I would like to say I remember that day like the back of my palm, time has soured it into little more than a blur. I was in the spare room, more than likely waist-deep in yet another six-hour Fallout 4 binge; my mother walked in and closed the door behind her. I hadn’t considered the severity of that action, nor had I noticed her tears until she sat down. She asked me to pause the game, to which I obeyed – that’s when I saw the tears. She then broke the news: my aunt had called minutes before, telling her that my father had passed away.

After that, I couldn’t tell you what happened, much less manage to do so in a chronological manner. There was an airplane with its radar set on Texas, a frustrating three-hour layover, reunions galore and many, many tears – very few of which were shed by me. My father was absent for the majority of my life; while he would’ve loved to be a part of every milestone he missed, mutual marital issues and a nasty back injury forced him back to his home state. When I was much younger, we kept in touch through telephone calls, greeting cards and birthday presents (my love for gaming sprouted from the first gift he ever sent me – a PlayStation 2). Everyone I’d met had so many great stories to tell me about my father, many of which I still remember and treasure to this day. I just wish I knew the man everyone else had been telling me about.

This December will make three years since his passing. In his absence, I’ve turned to a myriad of entertainment outlets in search of surrogate fathers, examples of what I felt I had been robbed of. The music industry yielded the likes of Frank Ocean, Kendrick Lamar, and Justin Vernon; while not yet fathers themselves, they’ve shown me the importance of emotional transparency, especially in how it relates to one’s masculine security (spoiler alert – honesty certainly helps). Yet, even as the aforementioned men have taught me so much, my experiences with the silver screen have yielded a greater, more universal shipment of lessons. One needn’t look further back than 2016 to unearth celluloid’s brightest father figures; modern cinema becomes more progressive with each passing tick of the Tissot, and the likes of Moonlight, Coco and Call Me By Your Name have gone a long way in materializing the all-encompassing blueprint to masculinity as the world currently requires – or perhaps, more accurately put, what the world has needed all along.

Moonlight (2016) – source: IMDb

Juan and Relational Acceptance

“What’s a faggot?” asks Chiron; his dejected gaze implies recent abuse. That hideous word never fails to slice through the air and sear the ears. It’s a question that renders all involved motionless, horrified of the exposition behind it, and the possible repercussions of an inadequate reply. Barry Jenkins understands the power that conversational simplicity wields, and it’s in Moonlight’s iconic dinner table scene that he flexes his screenwriting prowess through the words of Juan. Immaculately actualized by Mahershala Ali, his advice supplies the youngster with the first sliver of acceptance and honesty he’s ever received; until that point, no adult had respected Little enough to do so. That sentiment lies at the crux of Juan’s effectiveness as a surrogate father and role model for Chiron, explaining that regardless of what he chooses to do in life and who he chooses to love, he should do so confidently and unapologetically.

Call Me By Your Name (2017) – source: IMDb

Mr. Perlman and Embracing Pain

Heartbreak can be a bitch. While mothers are generally perceived as the resident givers of emotional counsel, Call Me By Your Name subverts this notion by allowing Mr. Perlman the opportunity to console his aching son. With perhaps one of the finest monologues ever put to screen, Perlman (played beautifully by the criminally underutilized Michael Stuhlbarg) encourages the importance of reveling in pain, and allowing yourself the room to grow from it. Love is a finicky phenomenon – it jellies the legs, distorts the mind, and converts the surroundings to an indelible crimson. Yet inevitably, the crimson fades, jolting the senses back to the grim reality of life before you met that special person; only now, you’re forced to cope with their absence, an undertaking we’re often un-equipped to manage. If only we all had a father like Mr. Perlman to confide in, perhaps it’d all be a little easier to process.

Coco (2017) – source: IMDb

Hector and Transcending Death

Coco’s ethereal fruitions of death as a concept, and the lengths Pixar extends themselves to honor our descendants certainly prove to be unparalleled tissue fodder (I cried on eleven separate occasions when I first saw it in theaters), but beyond that, its central father in Hector serves as perhaps cinema’s finest paternal offering. On the brink of being forgotten by his daughter and undergoing the narrative’s redoubtable “Final Death,” Hector embarks on quite the Odyssean journey, with the ultimate prize of reuniting with Coco serving as the metaphysical MacGuffin. However, it’s not until the film’s waning minutes that Miguel carries out this desire on his behalf; in a scene of which is considered among the upper echelon of Pixar’s most potent tear-jerkers, Miguel and Mama Coco complete a rendition of Remember Me, the film’s Oscar-nabbing bop-turned-ballad. Before Miguel strums his guitar, Mama Coco appears lifeless, wholly accepting of her time to cross over. Yet, her father’s prose jolts her back to life, each word undoubtedly bringing an abundance of warm memories along with it. Through unwavering devotion (and a talent for songwriting), a father’s love can transcend even death, reigniting our sense of purpose when reminded of their affection.

In his time on Earth and in the years since his departure, I certainly haven’t been kind to the memory of my father. He definitely had his flaws, and I was far too young to address them in healthy ways, often resorting to rejecting his pleas for connection altogether – only in hindsight have I seen the error of my ways. When I cross over, I hope we get the chance to catch up.

The POWER of Isabelle Huppert and GRETA

SHORT AND SWEET THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT ISABELLE HUPPERT AND HER CAREER

Just imagine: you’re sitting on your nice, comfy couch looking out the window on a rainy day and there she is – 66-year-old Isabelle Huppert in all her glory, with an umbrella, waiting for you to come outside and hang out with her. To many, especially us film fans, we’d LOVE to hang out with 66-year old French actress Isabelle Huppert. Well, not Chloë Grace Moretz’ character ‘Frances’ in Greta.

Isabelle Huppert is known for very raw, emotional, crazy, all of the above roles. I have this belief that she could even play a superhero one day. She’s played everything from a successful CEO hunting down the man who raped her in Elle (2016) to years back when she plays a mercurial postmistress in A Judgement in Stone in 1985.

Now, in her most recent role, Greta, she plays a lonely woman who lost her daughter who looks for random girls around the city to take care of, nourish, feed, teach, and tuck in at night. If you don’t play her little game, you’re in a lot of trouble.

MV5BNWJjZjc4MDctNGZjMy00MmJlLWJhNWUtYjkzZjQ5MzU0OTJkXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1499,1000_AL_Isabelle Huppert in Greta (2018) – source: IMDb

THE RAWNESS OF HER PERFORMANCE IN GRETA

Listen, I’m a believer that Isabelle Huppert is not herself when she is playing these roles, it’s her artistic spirit. She has mastered it and nourishes it and we all can see that. While watching Greta with my friends, (first movie I have watched of hers), I was in full belief that the older woman I was seeing on screen was a complete psychopath. She was intense, she was screaming, running around, dancing, spitting GUM in poor Chloë’s hair, throwing wine glasses in the middle of a fancy, luxury restaurants. Shall I go on? This must’ve been an amazing time for Isabelle Huppert, to show off her inner demon and really show us her dark side, because gosh, Isabelle Huppert seems like the sweetest woman you will ever meet.

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Chloë Grace Moretz and Isabelle Huppert in Greta (2018) – source: IMDB

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH GRETA 

If everything I’ve written about the performance and the movie so far has not yet convinced you that you’re missing out on some of the most intense, funniest, bat-shit crazy moments in a movie ever, then I shall continue. All the love for Chloë Grace Moretz and Maika Monroe as well (It Follows fans, let me hear you scream!). These two beautiful, insanely talented actresses play their parts and they play them so well. You are classically living through their worry, their fear, their questions.

The classic thriller/horror silly character moments where you find yourself screaming at the screen, its the full package, it’s definitely a ride. While some moments are slow, the intense and nail-biting moments are to cherish forever.

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A Love Letter to LADY BIRD and My Mom

When I saw Lady Bird last year, I knew it would make me cry. Partly because it was written and directed by a woman: Greta Gerwig. Partly because I cry at most movies, but mostly because it’s a story about a mother and a daughter.

Lady Bird is a coming-of-age story, with the titular character (Saoirse Ronan) butting heads with her mother, Marion, about college, her name, what she wears, etc. Lady Bird has carefully crafted a persona around herself as a confident and self-assured young woman who knows what she wants. Even her name, given to her by her, represents a desire for independence and defiance against convention.

Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird (2017) – source: iMDb

She wants to rebel, yet desperately longs for her mother to like her. She gives off an aura of not caring if people like her, but craves the approval of the rich and popular girl at their Catholic high school. She tries too hard to get a part in her school’s musical, but shrugs the whole thing off as silly when her best friend gets the lead instead. For all of Lady Bird’s dreams and desires, her vulnerabilities shine through in a way that is heart-wrenchingly relatable – that need to be validated, that ache for affirmation.

Girlhood is messy and often unkind, and Lady Bird’s story represents a piece of my own adolescence and young adulthood that I didn’t even know existed: my ever-present desire for an audience and to hear approval of what I write, say, or do. Lady Bird and I both hide our vulnerabilities by displaying them in plain sight – by incorporating them into a carefully curated façade of nonchalance – when we really feel like our inner chaos is ready to spill out of every part of us.

Her mother, in an exquisite performance by Laurie Metcalf, is caught between wanting to be right and wanting to be kind. When Lady Bird goes behind her back and applies to East Coast colleges, far away from her hometown of Sacramento and not within the range of the family’s bank account, Marion doesn’t know how to react – so she shuts down. She ignores Lady Bird from the celebratory high school graduation dinner all the way to the moment that her daughter gets ready to step on the plane to New York. In a last ditch attempt for reconciliation, she asks her mother if she’ll come into the airport to say goodbye.

When Marion says no, my heart – which was already cracked – broke. I’m really lucky; lucky to have a relationship with my own mother that surpasses all expectations. We like each other. I would do anything for her. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer a year and a half ago and our worlds shattered, we did what we do best: we talked about it. How was it going to change things? How were we going to deal with it? We were the fortunate ones; a few months of radiation was enough to put our worries aside for a while. But Lady Bird and Marion had a relationship that I wanted to stitch back together.

The love Marion has for Lady Bird is an incredible enigma. Between the hurt written on Marion’s face as Lady Bird makes comments about living on the “wrong side of the tracks” to the way she holds her daughter while she cries after losing her virginity, it is clear that the relationship presented onscreen goes far deeper than a mother and her daughter butting heads. When Marion drives back to the airport (an act that the viewers see, but Lady Bird herself doesn’t) and rushes inside only to see that Lady Bird has already gotten on the plane, it solidifies what we already know: Marion loves her daughter so deeply that she doesn’t even know how to articulate it. Motherhood is pushed so forcefully on so many women, and we often incorrectly assume that it’s easy. But what about when there’s so much love there that it feels impossible to express it in a way that adequately captures its depth?

Saoirse Ronan (left) and Laurie Metcalf (right) in Lady Bird -source: IMDb

More than that, though, coming-of-age is slapdash and messy. It’s hard to be a girl and navigate all the intricacies of girlhood and understanding who you are and what you’re going to become. Seeing my own yearning displayed onscreen helped me grasp that my own mom was learning how to understand my high school coming-of-age, too. We were fumbling for answers just like Lady Bird and Marion, only we managed to do so in a slightly less cinematic way. But even though we’re friends, we’re not so different from the relationship we watched onscreen.

Relationships between mothers and daughters are complex. I don’t pretend to know anything about them, except for mine. There aren’t words for how grateful I am for what I have with my mom. We share our looks, a love for creme brûlée, and a desire to dare greatly. She has taught me when to use “fewer than” and when to use “less than” when editing for grammar, how to drive a car on the highway, how to take chances, and most importantly, what unconditional love looks like. I think she and Marion have the same unconditional love; perhaps Marion is just still learning how to display it.

The film ends with Lady Bird calling her parents and referring to herself as Christine, her given name. Over the answering machine, she tells her dad that the message is mostly for her mother. She tells her that she loves her and thanks her.

So, thanks, Greta. Thanks for the story.

And thank you, Mom. For everything.

THE IMAGE BOOK: Wandering the Post Apocalyptic Landscape of the Image in Jean Luc-Godard’s Latest Freak-out

I await the end of cinema with optimism“, said director Jean-Luc Godard in 1963, on what surely must have been a rainy French morning. Not that he ever became famous for his optimism, but there is a reason why this quote is still striking over fifty-six years later; it comes from a director who irrevocably changed the very art form I’m writing about. He’s quoted as saying this as cinema had not even reached the one hundred year mark, not even the ninetieth. This is the quote of a man who saw an apocalypse coming. A personal one. The new film by Godard – which is always an exciting prospect to think about – bursts onto the screen which finally reveals to us what exactly this ‘end’ entails. He wasn’t predicting the ‘end of cinema’, he instead brings to us the end of the ‘image’.

Much, much like his outing Goodbye to Language on how language itself and how we communicate with one another needs to be reevaluated if we ever hope to evolve and thrive divided audiences in 2014, it seems 2019 is the year Godard returns to interrogate audiences on our attachment to cinema, and how our fascination with moving images and what those images portray comes at a cost. It almost feels silly to recommend to go into this movie without having read anything about it beforehand; doing so implies that there is a plot or central arc to spoil at all. If you know what Godard has been up to in the recent decades, he has become fascinated (really though, always fascinated) with digging deep into the intricacies of the most basic facets of the human experience. Violence, language, images, sounds, dogs staring at things on beaches. But The Image Book is where it truly comes to a head.

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The Image Book (2019) – courtesy: Kino Lorber

Recall the last dream you had. Really, really think about it. In your current conscious and self aware state, none of which you were when you’re asleep, what does that dream feel like to you as the images are running across your mind? Does it have a physicality to it? Is it listless, half-remembered and barely there? Was it so impacting you could almost poke it? All of those feelings and more could be applied to The Image Book, which feels like the dreams of Godard have left his body and found a home in a film projector.

Films that have been compared to dreams before like Eyes Wide Shut, Donnie Darko, and anything that David Lynch has made are perfectly suitable for the comparison. But The Image Book has perfectly captured the fractured form, the vague feeling of being under threat, and the off-kilter trappings of control being gone. A dream given form on celluloid, dancing and laughing before us. From the very beginning, the tone of The Image Book is decidedly more accusatory than any recent film I’ve seen by Godard. Many-a-film have confronted violence in film as a theme, but the artistic choice to do it in essay form packs a considerably more weighty sucker punch to it.

This confrontation is only complimented by the films brief flashes of light, deep contrasts, and changes in aspect ratio and sound that are so idiosyncratic and unexpected that it almost feels like a 4D motion-ride. It only makes sense that a film this critical of violence in media would almost be made of violence. The editing is sharp enough to cut yourself on. It feels pedantic to even call it editing. It’s that endless expanse and rule-defying world of dreams that keeps calling back to itself, and the image itself is taken to its artistic and logical limits. Stretched and pulled and fried into obliteration, Godard makes sure this clash between the fantastical and realistic, image and sound, is achieved to maximum effect.

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The Image Book (2019) – courtesy: Kino Lorber

      

Godard is famous for filmic essays, to the point where even his most conventional films in terms of plot and character have an air of wanting to break free from their restraints. He’s a filmmaker and a man obsessed with the idea of cinemas role in revolutionary and political strife, and much of the drama and emotion from films like The Image Book comes from the inability to reconcile cinemas portrayal and stance in some of humankind’s worst hours. The Palestinian conflict gets an extended sequence in the film, and scenes of violence and systematic oppression are only made more unsettling by the films surreal presentation. Brief frames of a scratched Adolf Hitler randomly violate one sequence. When The Image Book gets into the heart of humans as it moves away into the heart of film, things get appropriately more dire.

When the lights went up and the movie was over, my mom told me “that was the worst thing I’ve ever seen. That was worse than when I took you to see Click.” I don’t know why she felt like ruining my buzz by reminding me of a film starring Adam Sandler having godlike powers, but I can’t help but wonder if Godard would have found a reaction like my mothers amusing instead of insulting. A film that we need more than we deserve, The Image Book is a crown jewel in a filmmakers near sixty year long career. It may be 86 minutes, but will fry itself into your head like film burning into a projector. It is you, and you are it.

Why on Earth do I Actually Like the Marvel Cinematic Universe?

For some time now, the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe have generally been visually unpleasant, over-reliant on rubbery computer-generated figures, predictable in their overall goals, and afraid to enforce genuine change and conflict in their characters. What’s more, they’re released on a basis so frequent it’s worth wondering whether or not they’ve become tiring.

Captain America: Civil War (2016) – source: Marvel Studios

So, it begs the question: Why do I like them so much? 

In answering this, I hope to suggest a new way that we should engage with these films, because right now, it’s very confusing.

Once Upon a Time…

Iron Man (2008) – source: Marvel Studios

There were five films. Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger. They were mutually contained within themselves, confident in their small-scale practicality, had striking cinematography with deep contrasts, challenged their characters in subversive ways, etc., etc. – there are likely 100 other articles online you can read that expand on these ideas, so I won’t waste your time.

Most important to me is that, at the time of release, these still felt like movies. Movies developed and constructed no differently than, I don’t know, Home Alone (for whatever reason that’s the first generic representation of “movie” that popped into my head). Those first five were interconnected between each other, but even having only seen one, you could still be drawn into Tony Stark’s journey from egocentric war-enabling billionaire to advocate for world peace, or Steve Rogers’ cathartic payoff for his commendably good-willed characteristics.

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) – source: Marvel Studios

Back then, the occasional visual references and name-drops were no different from when The Goonies explicitly mentioned the events of Gremlins, or when a Xenomorph skull from Alien was visible on the Predator ship in Predator 2, or when Ray Stantz from Ghostbusters appeared in Casper.

Casper (1995) – source: Universal Pictures

The Avengers changed this, though. Suddenly, the Captain America shield prototype appeared in Iron Man 2, the Hawkeye cameo in Thor, the Tony Stark cameo in The Incredible Hulk, and the allusions to the Asgardians in Captain America: The First Avenger essentially became their own title – analogous to if there had once been a Goonies/Gremlins movie or a Ghostbusters/Casper movie before it. It was, simply put, insane. Somehow, Joss Whedon constructed an arc for each individual hero that built off of those established in the movies that came before it. On top of that, it was exciting, joyful, seriously packed with spectacle – truly a blockbuster event like nothing before it.

But The Avengers also marked a turning point from which there was no return.

The Multi-Billion-Dollar TV Series

The Avengers (2012) – source: Marvel Studios

The way I see it, the success of The Avengers sent Marvel the message that fans of this series enjoyed being rewarded for encyclopedic-ally understanding the greater connections that string these films together. Accordingly, nothing occurring in any of the films that followed could happen without being in reference to others. Small cues that once simply cracked smiles became cause for essential viewing in order to fully understand continuity and weight. That sounds a whole lot like how a television series works.

This is not to say I don’t enjoy anything about these movies after The Avengers. In fact, many of them are among my favorites in the series. I love that Iron Man 3 follows Tony Stark’s struggle to overcome PTSD following the battle of New York. And how Avengers: Age of Ultron paints the titular team as an intentionally unsettling bubble about to burst, and the titular villain as a hilarious manifestation of Stark’s evolved ego. And how Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok are both about heroes realizing their idolized parental role models were once involved in some not great things that place a burden on them presently (while also acting as criticisms of colonialism?). And how Infinity War fascinatingly somehow works on momentum alone.

Iron Man 3 (2013) – source: Marvel Studios

There’s a glaring flaw in everything I just mentioned though: the weight and background of those motifs cannot fully resonate without an understanding of what happened in other movies. Tony’s PTSD might not completely make sense unless you’ve seen The Avengers. The inciting incident for T’Challa’s growth – his father’s death – wouldn’t be understood unless you’ve seen Captain America: Civil War. Watching Thor: Ragnarok, you’d be scratching your head over why the Hulk is in space unless you’ve seen Age of Ultron. And I challenge anyone to make the argument that you can understand that defining momentum of Infinity War without having seen the 18 other movies.

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) – source: Marvel Studios

Interestingly, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is an outlier. In short, it consistently spreads its theme of parenthood across its vast ensemble through purely human emotional conflicts and interesting character dynamics. Plus, it is the most visually creative by far. These aspects that make it work don’t stem from anything other than the fact that we met those characters in the first Guardians of the Galaxy. Being first and foremost a sequel, it massively stands out.

It’s clear that, over time, my enjoyment of these films has become a tug-of-war between my investment in the long-form storytelling and still greatly appreciating when they separate themselves from the bigger picture. That’s what’s so confusing.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018) – source: Marvel Studios

I think the transition to becoming a “TV show” is the source of many of the issues I mentioned in this article’s opening paragraph. Knowing that their devoted followers (including myself) will continue to show up at the box office as long as they are consistently rewarded for their understanding of every piece of continuity, Marvel has that liberty to use cheaper cinematography, coat their well-designed practical suits with dodgy CGI during action sequences, avoid inflicting significant personal challenges upon their characters, and yes, crank out three movies per year.

If these are no longer singular “movies”, should we then engage with them differently from other movies? I say maybe.

I’m Loving It

Right alongside the aura of a TV show is that of something made heavily with commercial value in mind. If Marvel knows what they have to continue doing to keep getting that money from audience pockets, and always follows through, is it only a product?

Ryan Coogler and Chadwick Boseman on set of Black Pather (2018) – source: Marvel Studios

The “only a product” argument could definitely be made, however, it’s undeniable that there is significant talent behind all of these. Marvel puts great care into choosing the actors, directors, and writers who get to portray their characters, and not only is that admirable, but it shows the high quality of those departments.

When I saw Captain Marvel last month, I thoroughly enjoyed it overall, liking certain aspects of it and disliking others – in line with what I’d expected based on everything I’ve mentioned above. Probably no different from how I felt watching Ant-Man, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Doctor Strange. With this, I came to a realization. Viewing these as pieces of art doesn’t work anymore. Rather, a more apt comparison seems to be…food?

Captain Marvel (2019) – source: Marvel Studios

Allow me to explain. If your typical movies are analogous to careful home-cooked meals or sit-down restaurants, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is akin to something like McDonald’s (or any fast-food restaurant, if you will). McDonald’s is objectively not better than those home-cooked meals, but every once in a while, (perhaps, three times a year!) it feels oddly good to indulge in something that is algorithmic-ally designed to taste good and seems to understand exactly what its target audience wants, regardless of it lacking quality in a lot of areas.

With that, I finally understand why I still like these things. The problems they have now will always unconsciously bother me, but that’s okay. The things they are good at, they are always good at. And having followed it like the enormous conglomerate TV show it is since the beginning, the consistent respect to continuity still tastes good. The Marvel Cinematic Universe hasn’t tried to be about singular outings of “art” since 2012, and maybe we should move on from trying to engage with it in a way that dictates it should be.

The Internet is Terrible

Something that certainly adds nothing good to how these movies stand is the online discourse that surrounds them. If you generally dislike them, you’re apparently elitist and above them intellectually. If you generally like them, you’re apparently bias and can’t be taken seriously. And if you try to rank these movies…oh man, you are in for a treat. “Mass hysteria!” 

There are 21 of these things. You think out of the 5.1×1019 ways there are to order them, and how much they differ in their characters and messages, your order is going to be exactly the same as someone else’s? Sit down. If there’s one special thing left about the existence of this franchise, it’s that different people connect with different films on different levels, and everyone will differ in which ones they hold personally. In a way, there’s something almost beautiful about that.

What was this all for?

When you go to the cinema on April 26th to watch Avengers: Endgame with the rest of the world’s population, keep this in mind: if you don’t like it, that’s okay, but it’s also okay that someone else will consider it their favorite.

Someday, Marvel might finally make changes to address the issues they’ve been trapped by. Or they might not. For now, just let everyone experience them as they please. These movies are nothing more than harmless commercial items as delicious as they are glutinous, and with that, provide audiences something to consistently unconditionally look forward to. They aren’t worth any negative energy.

In Defense of Green Book

By the end of the 91st Academy Awards ceremony less than a month ago, it was clear that the Academy was more inclined to choose crowd pleasing movies than high quality movies. Two notes were evident of this surprise. One of them was giving Bohemian Rhapsody, a movie that was pretty small for a larger than life figure, the most wins with four total. The other clue was giving Green Book, an easy to digest movie about racism, the top prize of Best Picture over better films like BlacKkKlansmanThe Favourite and Roma.

So how exactly did we get here? And does it deserve to even be here? I’ll explain the first part shortly, but know that when all is said and done, I’m still going to consider Green Book to be one of the best films of 2018.

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Green Book (2018) – source: Universal Pictures

The Pros

The best thing that Green Book has going for it is its two leads. Viggo Mortensen plays Tony Vallelonga, an Italian New Yorker working at the Copacabana. We’re introduced to him as he is throwing someone out of the nightclub for causing a disturbance and breaking the guy’s nose in the process. Tony is very street smart, earning the nickname ‘Tony Lip’ for being an amazing bullshitter (his words, not mine). His character, I will admit, is a bit of an Italian stereotype and makes him sound like he had a small part in a Martin Scorsese movie.

The nightclub closes for renovations, leaving Tony to find a way to make money. He gets a couple offers, and makes small money through a hot dog eating contest. When he gets back, he receives a call about driving a doctor around in the south. Tony then finds out he’s actually an African-American pianist by the name of Don Shirley, embarking on a concert tour in the deep south during a time when racism was still going strong. It’s also where we learn that the titular green book is a motorist’s guide to hotels and restaurants a black person was allowed to go to.

Mahershala Ali is simply stellar as Don Shirley. He can come off as a stick in the mud for both comedic and dramatic purposes, making both of them work successfully. One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when he is confronted by Tony about performing for rich white people who praise his music but still treat him like any other black person. In anger, Shirley replies “So if I’m not black enough, and I’m not white enough, then tell me, Tony, what am I?” This quote is the perfect lead in for what many are criticizing the film for; its white savior narrative.

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Green Book (2018) – source: Universal Pictures

The White Savior

For those who are unfamiliar with what I’m referring to, the white savior narrative is a trope commonly used in films in which a white person intervenes a situation to get a non-white character out of said situation. They usually come in the form of an inspirational teacher or a man of principle such as Atticus Finch. The majority of its usage comes with the tagline “Based on a True Story”, and Green Book is as guilty of using it as any other film.

There are several instances within the movie where Tony has to use his gift as a bullshitter to get Shirley out of situations. One scene that stood out to me is when Shirley goes to a bar to get a drink and gets harassed by two or three white men. Tony intervenes by claiming he has a gun on him. In addition to that, the bartender pulls out a shotgun and lets Shirley and Tony out of the bar with only a bruise on the former’s face.

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Green Book (2018) – source: Universal Pictures

Final Thoughts

Green Book may only go down as one of the worst Best Picture winners in history on the basis of its competition, the same way Crash beat out Brokeback Mountain over a decade ago. On its own, Green Book is still a good movie elevated by the back-and-forth between its two lead actors. I have reason to believe that time will be kinder to this movie, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see its conversation go the other way. As it stands now, I’ll recommend it to friends and family as a feel good movie, something people desperately seek in these divisive times.

The Beauty and Comfort of a Favorite Movie

In the summer of 2016, I sat in my bedroom in the dark and I put on Xavier Dolan’s film, Mommy, for the first time. I had recently seen J’ai tué ma mère after a recommendation from a friend a few months before, and because of sheer curiosity, and being so proud to see such a successful young Canadian, I decided to give his other films a shot.

I know it sounds over dramatic to say Mommy changed my life, but it truly did. For the first time, I saw and appreciated the beauty and emotion that film is capable of portraying. Xavier Dolan was able to show me everything movies could be and more. I would definitely attribute this movie for being the kick-starter to my current love of film, and for that, I am forever grateful to Xavier Dolan.

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Anne Dorval and Xavier Dolan in J’ai tue ma mere (2009) – source: IMDb

Having a favorite movie, TV show, book etc. is one of the most comforting feelings in the world to me. I know these things are accessible to me whenever I need to experience them again. When I am stressed or anxious I know I can put Brooklyn Nine-Nine on my TV, pick up my favorite book, or put on Mommy to remind myself why I love movies and lose myself in the world of this film.

A few months after this first viewing of Mommy, I was incredibly lucky to be able to see it in a theater for the first time in February of 2017 at TIFF during the ‘Canada’s Top Ten Film Festival’. This experience was something I will never forget. There are a handful of movie-going experiences I have had that stick out in my mind, and whether or not I still love those movies as much as I did then, the feelings and memories that came out of those experiences will never go away. Seeing Mommy was one of those experiences.

I remember sitting in the tiny theater as it ended and feeling like nothing else existed except for the black screen with the credits rolling and the Lana Del Rey song Born to Die was playing. I was completely in the moment, in awe of what I had just experienced, and it wasn’t even the first time I had seen the film. There was something so powerful to me about seeing that movie on the big screen, that even though I was still homesick, I was able to experience a little piece of home in that theater in those 2 1/2 hours.

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Anne Dorval in Mommy (2014) – IMDb

Speaking of experience, it would feel weird not to mention one of my favorite aspects of this film, Ludovico Einaudi’s song ‘Experience‘. This track plays during one of, if not THE, most emotional moment of the film, and is the scene that I often go back to and re-watch over and over. This song hits me hard every single time I hear it, it is such a perfect memory of this movie, and hearing it live at one of Einaudi’s shows was a highlight of my life. Dolan was able to weave this piece of musical artistry into such a striking, heart-wrenching scene in the most impressive way possible. The fact that I can have such an intense reaction to just one song no matter where or when I hear it shows true talent on Dolan’s part.

Simply put, Mommy changed the way I perceived film. I realized how powerful film was, and how I could never live my life without it. Whether it’s watching a horrible horror movie just for the laughs with a group of friends, or seeing yourself represented on the screen, there are so many amazing ways to love and appreciate film. The best part is we all get to decide for ourselves how we want to enjoy it. For me, I will continue to watch my guilty pleasure movies and shows, including a few episodes of iCarly here and there, but I will always go back to Mommy, whether it be to relieve some of my favorite movie-watching experiences or to watch it with a fresh perspective after some life changes. There is no limit on the number of ways I can appreciate this film and how it can affect me.

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Antoine Olivier Pilon in Mommy (2014) – IMDb

I would hope that everyone has something, whether it’s a show, movie, book or something else, that makes them feel the same way Mommy does for me, and I can’t wait until the day I relive this feeling again with a different movie.

I could only dream of someday meeting or speaking to Xavier Dolan to any extent, but I just want to put out into the world a big thank you to him for the work he did on this film, and his other films. I will continue to fall in love with his gorgeous shots, stories, and characters until the day I die. So thank you to Xavier Dolan and all the amazing people who made this film what it is.

The Versatility of Ryan Gosling

Ryan Gosling: the man of my dreams, the snubbed Academy Award nominee, the man of all talents, the outfit repeater and the guy who tap dances all the way into my heart.

I could go on for hours, really, but the main reason I wanted to write this piece for the people out there who don’t give much of their attention to Ryan (I am mad at you, but I understand and I am here to change that). I was once watching some film critics on a TV show discussing La La Land, when one very brave woman stated that “Ryan Gosling isn’t a very versatile actor”, in which I switched the TV off, proceeded to scream and wanted to find her address so I could educate her. I hope she’s reading this now. This is mainly for her.

Let’s start with:

He Builds Houses

The Notebook (2004) – source: Plantation Shutters

When Allie (Rachel McAdams) and Noah (Ryan Gosling) spend a romantic whirlwind of a summer in an abandoned, run down house in the film The Notebook, Noah tells Allie how he plans on doing the house up. This is the moment where Allie explains the interior she would pick and how she would like it all to look, including the whole house being painted white with blue shutters and a room where she can paint. There’s so much more plot in the middle but cut to the point where he spends chunks of his days building her dream house for her because he loves her, where do I find a man like that?

In all seriousness though, his role was super cheesy and slushy but you have to expect that from a romantic book to movie adaptation, so I’m not complaining. It’s hard re-watching Ryan in this particular role because in his more recent work he is far from an emotional heartthrob who dedicates his whole life to a woman, but that’s why I love him so much as an actor.

He Teaches

Half Nelson (2006) – source: IMDb

Half Nelson, the film that showcases Ryan’s true talent in acting, where he plays a tired, lonesome, drug addicted teacher named Dan. Raw and hard hitting, this plays out to be quite the emotional film.

He plays the most laid-back history teacher, situated in Brooklyn, where the population of the school is mainly Black and Hispanic students. Dan uses the same lingo and has identical characteristics as the children he teaches, but he makes a special friendship with one girl in particular. They form a strong bond, in which she encourages him to overcome his addiction and he tries to stop her from following in her brothers’ footsteps in dealing drugs.

He doesn’t play your typical heartthrob, simply because he treats women badly in this particular role. The only thing he seems to be good at is having control of his classroom, where he looks and feels his happiest, apart from the fact that he goes and snorts a line in the men’s bathroom on his breaks. I view this as a hidden gem in Ryan’s filmography because you get to see a complex but real character who others might relate to or know somebody similar, and that’s where it hits home for viewers.

He Finds Comfort In Strange Ways

Lars and the Real Girl (2007) – source: IMDb

When I find myself revisiting the film Lars and the Real Girl, it makes me already tear up before I start to hit play. There’s something rare in this indie film that I wish we had in more films at the moment instead of more Fast and Furious spin offs, for example.

Lars, an extremely shy individual, lives right next to his brother and sister-in-law Karen (Emily Mortimer). She constantly attempts to invite him over to try and make him more confident and social, but very rarely does he take up the offer. We then see in a few scenes later that Lars has quite the large package arrive to his house and he’s already so giddy. He proceeds to explain to Karen and his brother that he has met a woman via the internet and her name is Bianca. Obviously, they are over the moon for Lars because he’s showing a side of his personality they have never seen before. However, that all seems to change once they realize Bianca is, in fact, a life-sized Doll.

I’m not going to ramble on and spoil it for you, but the main focus in this film is mental health. It’s clear, but not shouted about in your face. There’s moments that you simply can’t watch due to embarrassment, where I’m scrunching my face feeling so sorry for Lars, who has built an entire romantic relationship with a doll who he goes to a busy party with and introduces her to everyone. You can imagine the reactions he got.

I also find myself crying towards the end, it’s really what makes this film special. Lars has some difficulties with Bianca, thinking that she is becoming ill and the word starts to spread around town. At this point, the whole community comes to terms with Lars illness and are there for him with support and a loving atmosphere. Having gone through so much trouble with Bianca throughout the months, Lars finally accepts that he has to take these adult responsibilities in the real world. He asks Karen if she would like to take a walk, and that’s where the film ends. It actually ends with me ugly crying.

I adored this side of Ryan’s acting and if I ever met him (one day), I would applaud him, bow in his honor and praise him repeatedly for this role. His tiny facial expressions, his nervous characteristics, the way he shows he’s hurting inside but so softly done, effortless.

He Can Master The Dirty Dancing Life

Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011) – source: IMDb

Crazy, Stupid, Love. An absolute comedy classic. I think this is where a lot of people declared their love for Gosling, as they should! He’s naturally this witty so I don’t imagine this role was hard for him, but his smooth talking persona had us all weak.

It just goes to show, this man can really do any genre of film you throw at him – he will accept and so will I. Comedy is his strong point, which leads me to another film of his I re-watch too much, The Nice Guys (2016).

The Nice Guys (2016) – source: IMDb

The messy detective Ryan plays is one of his best roles yet, even though this isn’t talked about as much as I want it to be. Set in late 1970’s in Los Angeles (hence the mustache), Holland March (Ryan Gosling) teams up with Jackson Healy (Russel Crowe) to help find a missing girl. Ryan kills me with his one liners and high pitched screams, it truly is peak cinema. I’m making myself want to stop writing this and re-watch it immediately.

He Drives

Drive (2011) – source: IMDb

In 2011, Ryan Gosling became a getaway driver in the thrilling, neon-lit, Nicolas Winding Refn hit Drive. On the side of being a stuntman and a mechanic, he gives criminals a five minute window. Anything that happens in that five minutes and he’s yours, anything that happens a minute out of that and you’re on your own. Oh, one more thing, you won’t be able to reach him on his phone again, sorry couldn’t resist, simply too iconic. I live for good thrillers and this one doesn’t disappoint. Ryan uses his dead facial expressions to create a cold persona when he’s around criminals, but all that suddenly changes when he’s with his neighbor. It’s like he melts and turns awkward, which is so far from his what his job expects from him.

This is the film that made me see how versatile he is and you can tell he digests the whole character he plays. I don’t think he’s as far as a method actor, but I don’t know how he does it all so effortlessly.

He Likes Jazz

Here is where he truly shows off his talents, and so he should after dedicating months of his life learning the piano and tap dancing. Fun fact: after watching La La Land, me and my mum bought some tap shoes off Amazon (other shops available) and went to our first tap lesson, but we ended up leaving it after just the one lesson.

La La Land (2016) – source: IMDb

Seeing this in the cinema four times proved to me that I am a La La Land warrior first and a human second. I live and breathe this film, the soundtrack, the insanely put together dance routines, Mia Dolan’s apartment and all the primary colored outfits. Pure cinematic magic. There’s not a day that goes by where I remember Ryan Gosling lost his Oscar to Casey Affleck, even though I was a huge fan of Manchester By The Sea, it hurt tremendously to see him not rightfully take the Academy Award.

Fight me, I’m right.

For me this has been too easy to write about because he is my ultimate favorite actor and is the coolest human. He has many more incredible roles/films that I could have mentioned such as The Place Beyond The Pines, Blue Valentine, The Big Short and Blade Runner 2049. I hope this makes you want to watch some of Ryan’s more unknown films and you find a new one that you love.

Adolescence and Suburbia in PALO ALTO

Adolescence in film is a broad subject. You have children in crucial stages of their lives, going into high school like Kayla in Eighth Grade. You have older teenagers in crucial stages of their lives too, including the last two years of high school and going off to college like Christine in Lady Bird, and Randall, David and Slater in Dazed and Confused.

Then you have the ‘inbetweeners’, who are in the middle of high school and not quite ready to leave for college yet. They’re sort of floating, not knowing who they are or what to do; namely Teddy, April, Fred and Emily of Palo Alto. Their ages are never disclosed in the film but we can guess they’re around 14-16.

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Palo Alto (2013) – source: IMDb

How Cinematography Affects Moods

The dreamy, directorial debut of third-generation filmmaker Gia Coppola takes place in none other than Palo Alto, California, although filmed in Los Angeles. Some might argue there’s no ‘end’ or a main plot to the film, but this is what makes it so realistic. It’s vague and empty, and Gia has borrowed aunt Sofia’s pastel color palette for the backdrop of the film, which adds a loving female gaze around April and her life.

The topic and feeling of boredom is prominent and is the main focus in Palo Alto, as is lust, feeling lost, and teenage angst. Despite the fact that the film is not quite cohesive, it showcases the young teenage rebellion in middle class American suburbia with thoughts, feelings and memories that everyone can relate to in some way.

It’s about teenage drift, the sunken torpor of late summer afternoons, the sun casting almost horizontal shadows across largely empty parking lots that seem to cry out for something to happen. It’s about the blank spaces in teenage heads and lives, and what they do to fill them.

– The Guardian

Mirroring The Virgin Suicides (1999)

Palo Alto is almost a mirrored image of Gia’s aunt Sofia’s 1999 directorial debut The Virgin Suicides. The female gaze is evident in both Coppola films and, although ensemble films, both zoom in on main and possibly destructive relationships (Lux and Trip in The Virgin Suicides and Mr. B and April, mirroring the innocent relationship between her and Teddy in Palo Alto).

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Palo Alto (2013) – source: IMDb

Realism & Boredom

The art of boredom and suburbia are interesting genres to be explored in Palo Alto. The scenes are filled with mundane drunken parties, homework and babysitting, college counselling and hook-ups with soccer coaches and teenage boys. Those jumbled scenes include empty bedrooms, streets and houses to show different sides to the main characters, teetering on trying to act like adults but still maintaining their youth.

The parties are the only real thing that exhibits their teenage angst and is the sole fun recreational thing they do. “You wanna do a shot or something?” April is seen talking to an acquaintance at one of the parties; trying to find something else to do. The scene outside during the party with April and Teddy sitting on chairs in silence is a complete turnaround from the gathering that was just shown before, and a couple of scenes after where the party is at its biggest. They watch Fred on the floor hitting nails, when there’s a party right behind him. They want something better.

Scenes of Peak Adolescence

Most of the scenes in the first half of the movie are showing off the characters adolescence and innocence: the quiet scenes of April doing her homework, waiting after soccer practice for someone to pick her up, walking to class and bumping into Teddy. The last scene with him truly shows their awkwardness around each other when not at a party. April is also shown to be eating inside her school locker; no friends around, no one apart from Mr. B (James Franco), who tells her he’s good with homework, which he ends up helping her with when she babysits his son after school. This is the peak of adolescence for April in the movie; she tries to act grown up by trying to be smart about history and kissing Mr. B back, but her childish ways are see-through.

April has a college counselling session near the middle of the movie. She ends up leaving and crying in the bathroom; we don’t know if it’s about her future, or everything else that has gone on in her life, but it’s evident that things are getting to be too much. Her two friends come into the bathroom, talking about shopping and periods. They’re carefree teens; it’s almost a polar opposite to April’s life, who’s crying on the floor. It’s like she wants to be an adult so badly, but it’s too much for her to keep up the act.

How Teen Angst Affects Relationships

Near the end, Fred starts acting crazy in the car with Teddy. He’s confused and he doesn’t know why Fred is acting like this; it’s almost as if Teddy’s grown up and moved away from everything that’s gone on in the movie, and Fred’s still stuck at the beginning; childish and full of pent-up teenage angst. The end scene is mundane and open-ended, Fred and Teddy on the opposite ends of the spectrum; Fred is the epitome of angst, bored of his suburban life and driving recklessly down the wrong side of the road. Teddy’s on the sidewalk, texting what seems to be April – it’s like they’re both finally happy with their lives and their future.

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Palo Alto (2013) – source: IMDb

How Suburbia Impacts Characters’ Actions

The “filler” scenes of vast emptiness show that the teenagers are trying to grip onto anything to do in their seemingly quiet suburb, and the pressure they have to grow up when they’re still children. These can be taken from three main scenes: the opening scene with Teddy and Fred in the car, drinking unnamed alcohol and conversing about history, when Fred hits the accelerator and crashes into the wall. This scene is such a good example of teenage angst and boredom; Fred gets a rush of adrenaline as he hits the gas and Teddy’s sat there shocked, nursing his own bloody temple from the impact. They’re bored, they’re in a parking lot, and they’re finding the most mundane things exciting and rebellious.

Another scene that reflects Teddy and Fred’s moods is another one near the beginning,  where they’re in a parking lot and they’re smoking. Fred’s high, drumming his fingers on his knees. Teddy’s trying to etch something onto a barred window on a building. It’s dead in the parking lot and they’re hungry for something, anything to do.

Trying to Grow Up

The third scene is with April and Mr. B; April is sad when Mr. B doesn’t talk to her anymore at school after saying he likes her. He ends up telling her he loves her and she’s physically upset and confused: she knows it’s wrong, she doesn’t know what to do. “I should be hanging out with guys my own age,” April says, “Why do you want to hang out with a bunch of little boys?” Mr. B replies. In another scene together, she’s jealous over Mr. B talking to another girl. She tries to insult the girl, but it’s really all about Mr. B.

Later on, she’s disappointed from losing the soccer game. They end up sleeping together and April tries to assert herself, explore who she is, impress the teacher and act grown up, when in reality she’s still a child. She’s even wearing days of the week underwear. A follow-up scene is the two conversing on the phone. April pretends she doesn’t know who she’s talking to, she’s aggravated and won’t let him talk. She’s upset over him choosing another babysitter for his son.  This is when the adolescent side is very apparent in the latter half of the movie.

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Palo Alto (2013) – source: IMDb

Shallow Ideals and Representation

There’s not much representation on the streets and in the houses of the characters of Palo Alto. All of the main characters are white and middle class in one of the most expensive cities in California. I think this is where most of the hate comes from next to the ‘wishy-washy’ plot. Some people might also think there isn’t enough representation in other areas, as on the surface, the movie seems like an American Apparel ad.

It seems too dreamy and too shallow to have any representation, but thankfully it deals with a lot of different ideals, maybe not in the best way but definitely realistic. It shows different ways teenagers deal with mental illnesses, April especially with depression and suicidal thoughts. She drinks, smokes and hides all her emotions to put on more of a care-free attitude, but this breaks down during a conversation with Teddy.

His story revolves around his community service sentence from drunk driving and substance abuse which coincides with Fred. In Fred’s story there is possible mental illness and maybe hinting at sexual assault – Fred’s dad came onto Teddy which means he may have been doing the same to his son. April’s story also revolves around her inappropriate relationship with her coach, but never shows the true impact it had on her later in the movie. Emily’s story focuses on her promiscuity and her relationship with Fred, which could coincide with her self-confidence issues that show up in certain scenes, mainly with Fred – almost like she wants to impress him.

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Palo Alto (2013) – source: IMDb

Real Life for Teenagers

Palo Alto gets a lot of criticism and hate and I’m not sure why. I think it’s a perfect representation of teenagers who are lost and trying to find who they are, whether that’s doing things that aren’t exactly the best for them or acting out of character, I think it’s truly realistic to a lot of teenagers of any age and they can relate. They can project themselves onto characters and into scenes, as each character is complex in their own way but able to leave room to be relatable, same goes with scenes. I think a lot of people who call the movie shallow and boring haven’t given it a fair chance. I think it’s beautiful and dreamy, and a clear example of how to do coming of age in a movie right.

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Palo Alto (2013) – source: IMDb

How SPIDER-MAN: Into the Spider-Verse Expands Whatever a Spider Can Do

Spoilers for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse ahead.

There’s a ringing sound—high pitched, like a whistle.

Spider-Man and Miles flinch in pain. There are glossy dots in the background, giving the screen an old comic-book feel as it shifts into neon color. The ringing signifies the iconic ‘spidey-sense’ which tells us that danger is nearby.

You’re like me,” Peter Parker says in awe to the panicked Miles, kicking off the theme of the film.

A Quick Recap for Those Who Need It

It’s been a whirlwind few years for Marvel’s most iconic superhero. After Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man franchise in the early 2000s, the series got a full-on reboot by Sony starring Andrew Garfield. It aired simultaneously with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with some hopes for a crossover. Those hopes were dashed after no apparent third film was being released in the Amazing Spider-Man series.

People wanted to see Spider-Man in the MCU, which was pretty revolutionary for Marvel’s B, C, and even A-list characters. In a way, the absence of the X-Men and Spider-Man allowed the others to breathe and headline in their universe. But again, people wanted to see Spider-Man in the expanding and relatively well-received world. He is, after all, not only Marvel’s most popular superhero but the genre’s most popular superhero.

:/

So, after Marvel and Sony brokered a deal to share the rights of Spider-Man, Peter Parker flipped into the MCU for the first time in the Captain America: Civil War trailer.

Since 2017, Spider-Man got this full franchise reboot, an acclaimed video game, and a striking performance in the one of the most watched crossover events ever. Now, a gorgeous, otherworldly animated movie.

This essay is not necessarily about Spider-Man: Homecoming or Tom Holland’s Spider-Man (but full disclosure, I love it and him). This is how 2018’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse explores the complex character of Peter Parker, his legacy, and how it all makes you fall in love with Miles Morales.

What makes Spider-Verse different is that Spider-Man isn’t Peter Parker—the nerdy and lovable brunette from Queens whose backstory is so ingrained into our pop culture awareness that it’s almost a joke (*insert Toby Maguire crying meme here*). It’s Miles Morales, a sweet and anxious, kid from Brooklyn.

Miles is voiced adorably by Shameik Moore who perfectly captures the eagerness and nerves of a young teenager. He is Afro-Latino and one of the few heroes of color given a production as large as this one. Miles also made an appearance in Disney XD’s animated series and the video game, but this is his first time as the lead in a media setting.

And what a perfect, perfect debut.

Great Expectations

Spider-Verse opens with Miles going to a new, high-achieving school, put under pressure by the expectations of everyone around him. Miles is pulled apart by his own insecurity, underestimating his worth as a student, as a son, and later, as a superhero. After getting bitten by a radioactive spider, he stumbles into a battle between mobster Kingpin and renowned hero, Spider-Man (voiced by Chris Pine). Spider-Man takes note of Miles and his new powers, promising Miles that he will show him how to handle his new hopped-up genetic abilities.

My thoughts on Peter B. Parker

But Spider-Man is murdered—and a horrified Miles is struck with guilt and fear on what to do with his new powers. He runs into Spider-Man again—but it’s an older, sadder, deadbeat Peter B. Parker, voiced perfectly by Jake Johnson.

With Kingpin’s new machine converging alternate universes together, Miles and Peter need to find a way to pull the seams of reality together so Peter can go back home.

The movie also features other alternative universe Spider-People who fall into Miles’s world, including:

  • Gwen Stacy: one of the most infamously frigid girlfriends of the genre. However, with some acclaim from Emma Stone’s performance in The Amazing Spider-Man, Gwen’s legacy got a lot of reshaping and even her own series where Peter Parker dies and she is Spider-Woman. She is a surly loner who lost a best friend, choosing to keep others out of her life (Miles also has an adorable crush on her.). Played by Hailee Steinfeld.
  • Peni Parker: who is rendered in an Anime-styled mecha series (a very neat animation feature). The radioactive spider is in her robot and is psychically linked to it. Played by Kimiko Glenn.
  • Spider-Man Noir: a smooth 1950s Nazi-puncher. Played by Nicolas Cage.
  • Spider-Pig: The Simpsons did this to us. Played by John Mulaney, a human Warner Brothers cartoon.

The film has a wild, expansive comic-book plot that embraces its roots and goes all the way out there. The animation matches the details of an old school comic, from the 3-D art to the tiny speaking marks when a character exclaims or laughs loudly. The way the characters swing, the way the colors mash together and the way the film portrays the breaking of time itself is some of the most remarkable I have ever seen. The way it pushes the medium of animation into something crazier and different with a blend of the language within comic books and visual signals is so creative.

As someone who was a fan of Infinity War, Spider-Verse was the film event that truly encompasses the concept of comic-book events. They are big story-lines that can get convoluted, but Spider-Verse tackles an origin story extremely well. It’s about Miles, but also gives Peter, Gwen, and others their due. It’s about the characters but also about what the superhero genre means.

Alright, Let’s Do This One Last Time

Spider-Man is my favorite superhero. He’s my favorite character, period. I couldn’t delve into how much this franchise means to me and how much I see myself in this awkward teen boy. How I grew up watching Neil Patrick Harris’ Spider-Man series on MTV, how my family set up the projector to watch Toby Maguire’s Peter Parker against the living room wall. How I love comic books, even with how infuriating they can be most of the time.

The arching quote, “You’re like me,” rings so true in the film. It’s the message to say that you aren’t alone, that if you let people in your life, you can grow from your insecurities and anger. From Peter B. Parker’s bitterness at the state of his life, to Gwen Stacy’s insecurity of losing a best friend, they all learned something about taking a leap of faith and trying to better themselves instead of conforming to what feels comfortable. Miles’s intense insecurity of feeling like an inadequate Spider-Man is his own barrier to overcome.

In a meta sense, the film touches upon the legacy of Spider-Man and who Peter is. Many of the Spider-Man properties deal with Peter Parker as a high-school or college student, approaching his new status with a baby deer-like shakiness. An underdog going through the ropes, experiencing his first heartbreak and his first failure, yet these films rarely engage with him later in his career. This is often the way we approach superheroes—not always, but often. Reboot, restart, new tone.

The world of comic books are their own kind of special arrested development. It is often said that there is a fear of change and embracing new character arcs embedded in the comic book industry. It makes a bit of sense—sadly—since they run on serial story-lines. If there is no end in sight for a character, why push them through the motions of change so quickly. None of the above aspects truly mean that there is an end for a character if its in the hands of a good writer, but that’s an argument for another day.

Change is Good

In Peter’s case, there is something so exciting about seeing him dissected as an older character. Run-down, yes, but experienced. To have him react to his long career with resentment, as it caused damage to his personal life and his esteem. It is clear that he still has a lot of learning and growing to do—that the way he was running for so many years was not self-sustaining. He has a chance to change his course in order to become a balanced husband, hero, and person. I like that no matter where you are in life, you can change and grow. There isn’t an end or a deadline.

He’s in your Sunday cartoons, on your cereal box, your little sister’s book bag, maybe even your first celebrity crush. You grew up with him. This is kind of the first time where the legacy of Spider-Man is dissected. What does he mean as an icon?

He’s everyone. He’s not a billionaire, he didn’t land on Earth in spaceship. Spider-Verse emphasizes that the powers are not what makes the hero. It’s that these are very normal people with normal and scary problems but still find themselves striving to do good in the world. That means everyone can be Spider-Man.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – source: Sony Pictures

Reminding us of the scene from Spider-Man 2, where Peter is lifted by a crowd in a broken train and shielded by civilians from a blood-thirsty Doc Ock. Or the little kid from The Amazing Spider-Man who chorales Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man to keep on fighting. Because that’s what Peter says: “…no matter how many hits I take, I always find a way to come back”.

Spider-Verse forces the character to recognize their potential as well as their limitations, and their connection with others while still being good people. It’s a unifying, hopeful message— a sentimental embrace of love instead of masking that anger and hurt with cynicism and suppression of emotions. The Spider-Man franchise has always leaned towards optimism, even when the plot, villains and feelings get dark.  

Miles Morales is an icon for Black, Latino and Afro-Latino children, and an icon for children of color who are starving to see themselves in their favorite characters. This is a perfectly developed theme and message of unity. Go to Twitter’s hashtag Spidersona and see thousands of artists and fans develop their own Spider-Characters, using their own cultures and background to create a mirror of the familiar hero that evokes warmth and childhood memories.

It’s almost head spinning how good this movie is. It almost feels like it shouldn’t be possible. I feel like I should personally send a thank you card to each person who worked on this project. (It also makes sense this movie shared people from The Lego Batman Movie— another fantastic animated film that broke down the icon and history of Batman and how he is bad at feelings and should deal with them with family.)

It fits perfectly,

Vulture had a lovely article featuring screenwriters Rodney Rothman and Phil Lord that explained how they got you to fall in love with Miles under a minute. Moore does a wonderful job of capturing this scratchy and sweet essence of Miles’s youth and how much natural spirit he has.

Marvel Comics

What struck me about Miles was his intense insecurity— a trait that he shares with all teenagers, including a younger Peter Parker (and myself, but I’m 22). Miles, near the beginning of the movie, spray paints ‘NO EXPECTATIONS’ for his graffiti-art, encompassing his isolated feelings and uncertain future in his new school. As we roll into the battle, he constantly feels inadequate to the other Spider-People, who all seem to gently agree with him. Miles spends much of the beginning needing Peter to teach him when it was his own self-doubt blocking his ability to grow—he couldn’t mimic another Spider-Man. The film also doesn’t prescribe to the notion that tragedy makes us stronger, it makes us more tired and worn out.

It is Miles’s father, who opens himself up along with the lines of communication with his son. It is a moment of bare feelings, especially from a figure in superhero movies that is often regulated to a shadowy beacon of masculinity than pure familial love. “I see this…this spark in you. It’s amazing, it’s why I push you. But it’s yours and whatever you choose to do with it, you’ll be great.

This is what spurs Miles into action. It is love and connections that makes a person stronger.

During the climatic moment, Miles takes a leap of faith, jumping from skyscraper to test his web-slingers. It’s his moment of truth and the jump he needed to take—that came from his love of his parents, his new Spider-family and his background. Miles couldn’t rely on approval from the other Spider-People, not even Peter (If anything, he serves as a figure for Peter to take his own steps towards building a family with Mary Jane.) Miles needed his own boost and path and suit.

It’s remarkable and so, so meaningful to not only open 2018 with Black Panther but to end it with Miles’s swinging across New York, finally able to declare himself as his world’s Spider-Man with confidence.


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