May 24, 2024
Movie reviews: ‘Spider-Man’ a wild pop culture pastiche of visual styles

Movie reviews: ‘Spider-Man’ a wild pop culture pastiche of visual styles

SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE: 4 STARS

After sitting through all two-and-a-quarter hours of “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” the latest animated adventure of the universe jumping superhero, your spidey senses won’t be the only thing left tingling.

A wild pop culture pastiche of visual styles that jumps off the screen in ways that will give your eyeballs a Charles Atlas-style workout, it is a full-body experience on the big screen.

Gwen Stacy (voice of Hailee Steinfeld) and Miles Morales (voice of Shameik Moore) return from 2018’s “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” Both are the offspring of police officers, and both have secret identities as Spider-Woman and Spider-Man, respectively.

When Gwen becomes estranged from her father, she disappears into the Spider-Verse, a series of connected but independent universes, each with its own brand of Spider-People. As The Spot (voice of Jason Schwartzman), a villain covered in portals that allow him to transport from place to place, threatens to shred the very fabric of the Multi-Verse, Gwen and Miles go interdimensional to fight the new threat.

There they find Spider-HQ, sort of a Quantico for all various and sundry Spider-Folks, including Spider-Woman (voice of Issa Rae), Spider-Punk (voice of Daniel Kaluuya) and alpha arachnid Miguel O’Hara (voice of Oscar Isaac). When Miles inadvertently disrupts the Spider-Verse, he learns an important lesson about the sacrifice required to be a Spider-Man.

“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” is a spider web of Marvel mythology, relationship drama, action and some very funny moments, combined with extraordinary, state-of-the-art visuals. In the action scenes, co-directors Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers and Justin K. Thompson pull out all the stops to create a singular experience that has more to do with the anarchic spirit of the original comic books than the recent spate of superhero movies.

Stylish and frenetic, the action scenes are so colourful they often look like an artist’s paint palette exploded on the screen.

When the film isn’t in motion, it takes the time to explore the relationships between parents and kids, with the added twist of superheroes trying to figure out their place in the world (or should that be “worlds?”), while trying to navigate their teens. It adds themes of loneliness, responsibility vs. obligation and having autonomy over one’s own life. Through Gwen and Miles, and a heaping helping of action, the importance of writing one’s own life story is the focus.

Ultimately, the success of “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” isn’t simply about the eye-popping nature of the visuals or the humour or the emotional aspect of the story. All are great, but what makes it special is that it feels fresh. It’s a superhero movie, with all the world-saving tropes you expect, but it feels more like a comic book come to life than most, if any, other superhero flick.

 

THE BOOGEYMAN: 3 ½ STARS

 

The Boogeyman may be the most prevalent and terrifying creature to haunt the night. With no specific appearance, the Boogeyman can be anyone or anything that hides in the dark recesses of your mind, or under your bed.

In the new horror film “The Boogeyman,” based on Stephen King’s short story of the same name from the 1978 anthology “Night Shift,” and now playing in theatres, the titular character is a murderous, malevolent force who feeds off grief.

The movie focuses on 16-year-old Sadie (“Yellowjackets” star Sophie Thatcher) and younger sister Sawyer Harper (Vivien Lyra Blair), both still smarting from the tragic death of their mother. Their father, therapist Will (Chris Messina), is so consumed by his own grief he is unable to provide the support his daughters need.

When Lester (David Dastmalchian), a disturbed man who claims that someone or something killed his children, shows up at their home, desperate for help, he unwittingly brings with him a dangerous entity that feasts on their anguish.

At first, Sadie and Sawyer’s fear of this mysterious presence is brushed off as a “manifestation” of their imaginations.

“When there are scary things we don’t understand,” says Dr. Weller (LisaGay Hamilton), “our minds try and fill in the blanks.”

As the terror continues, however, Will begins to take the danger seriously, as Sadie seeks ways to neutralize the threat.

“The Boogeyman” is another entry in the low-light horror movie sweepstakes. Director Rob Savage keeps the aperture turned down, shooting most scenes in the near dark, which is a perfect incubator for horror, but begs the question, “If the boogeyman only comes in the dark, why not turn on the lights?”

That quibble aside, “The Boogeyman” is an effective slow-burn tale of terror. It takes its time with the scares, introducing jump scares and slamming doors early on, building anxiety and tension, before getting face-to-face with the face of evil.

The monster itself is nothing much special, but the idea of it is the stuff of nightmares. A creature that feeds off you at your lowest point, that “likes to play with its food” to “scare them until they’re done,” is something that can burrow its way deep into your subconscious. It is at the center of the film, but Savage opts for jump scares over the psychological, blunting some of the story’s true emotional horror.

Having said that, the relationship between the two sisters ups the ante as Sadie risks it all to protect her younger sibling.

“The Boogeyman” is more anxiety-inducing than actually scary, but it is an interesting take on grief, and how sometimes you have to put the past behind you to move forward.

 

BONES OF CROWS: 4 STARS

“Bones of Crows,” a new period drama now playing in theatres, covers decades of history, but is tied to recent, horrifying events.

Jumping through time from the 1800s to the 2020s, the story of the intergenerational trauma caused by the Canadian residential school system focuses on the family of Aline Spears (Grace Dove), a Cree woman born to a large, happy family in 1930s Manitoba. Everything changes when Aline and her siblings are forcibly taken from their parents, who are told they will be thrown in prison if they don’t sign over their children to the residential school system.

As the children are abused, physically and emotionally — “I could kill you and bury you out back and nobody would care,” a priest snarls at the headstrong Aline — the priests and nuns systematically attempt to strip the siblings of their Indigenous heritage, religion and identity, forcing them to assimilate them into the dominant Canadian culture. It is, as one character says, “a lesson in unrelenting cruelty.”

During the Second World War, Aline escapes the horrors of the school by enlisting in the army.

“The only way we can make sure they don’t send you back to that school is to send you to war.” During her training to become part of an elite squad of code talkers who used the Cree language to disguise military intelligence, she meets and marries Adam (Phillip Lewitski).

Returning home from war to raise their family, Adam suffers PTSD, while Aline is haunted by the abuse she suffered at the hands of her sadistic teachers.

As the movie skips through time, we learn more about the residential school, Aline’s life after the war, her sister’s legal woes and the next generation, the children that carry the trauma in their DNA.

The process of healing is ever present, however, as Aline remembers the words her mother said to her as she enlisted in the army: “You be everything you are meant to be. Don’t let the darkness win. Don’t let them win.”

Métis-Dene writer and director Marie Clements covers a great deal of ground, much of it hard going. The cruelty and attempts to dehumanize Indigenous youth are brought to horrific life, and the depictions of residential schools; child abuse, sexual and psychological abuse and racism may be very unsettling for many viewers.

But even though the film chronicles a century of generational trauma, it is also a celebration of Cree resilience and tradition. There are eye-opening depictions of atrocities, necessary to tell the story, but as Aline confronts the past, there is also a sense of justice.

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