Film Review(s): Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man Trilogy

“I believe there’s a hero in all of us.”

Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy successfully brought comic book pages, in all their glorious tone, goofy dialogue, and mustache twirling villains, to the screen. From beginning to end, none of these movies feel like they’re in service to anything other than telling an entertaining, comic book spider-story. Not a wider universe, not box office receipts, and not a need to retain rights or something. These are the clearest, untarnished, wide-eyed Spider-Man movies that I think we’re ever going to see.

Even Spider-Man 3, which I saw in 2007, in a sketchy boardwalk movie theater in Wildwood, New Jersey during a senior year band trip in high school, accurately captures the ways in which comics can falter when they become bloated. Still, a strong humanity shines through these movies even in their corniest and worst moments (I will defend emo Peter on my death bed). Raimi, Maguire, Dunst, Franco (yikes), and the top tier talent jumping in as villains, never let that humanity collapse under the weight of the effects and superheroics. Obviously the prime example of this is Spider-Man 2 and its handling of Dr. Octopus, but at every level of these movies the intention seems to be story and humanity. Some of the effects, dialogue, and MJ’s chronic status as the captured damsel haven’t aged well, but for early 2000s movies I think they acquit themselves pretty nicely.

Also, the subjectivity and insurmountable power of nostalgia is always at play when talking about these flicks. So, they’re just so dang wistful for that reason.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “I am jealous of future college students majoring in Classic Meme Studies because they will be assigned to watch this trilogy for homework, parse out the memes, and listen to Nickelback’s “Hero” for 30% of their grade.”

Film Review: “West Side Story” (2021)

“Siempre. Forever.”

It’s the same ol West Side Story, just more authentically realized on film and lavish than ever before. With Spielberg’s command of the camera, dynamic choreography, and a hefty budget to craft a 1950s NYC, the show is injected with a mix of vibrancy and a classic Hollywood mobility that keeps it thriving and alive.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “It’s been a while since I’ve seen a version of West Side Story, but the Jets are so totally the obvious villains by the end of the show and no amount of slick attitude or jazzy snaps can change that. A pox on both these street gangs? Nah, a pox on the Jets and the Jets alone.”

Film Review: “C’mon C’mon” (2021)

“Can I be an orphan?”

The introspective, empathetic version of Adam Sandler’s 1999 opus Big Daddy that we always deserved and needed. Black and white Joaquin Phoenix goes around with his nephew and records kids saying the most profound, hopeful shit that I’ve ever heard for an NPR show or something while learning how to interact with and manage his sister’s weird kid. I feel like I could be a father after watching this. Not just a father, even, a good father.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “The black and white makes everything look classy and important while enhancing already godlike visuals like the cities of Detroit, NYC, New Orleans, and Joaquin Phoenix’s incredible middle age man hair.”

Film Review: “House of Gucci” (2021)

“I want to see how this story goes.”

Like the brand to which these characters are inextricably tied, it’s all a bit much. It’s a buffoonish comedy of errors, a family drama, a sort of mystical journey, and even more movies rolled into one. The weirder it gets the better, but it never allows itself to veer too far into the bizarre so it’s often stuck in family drama mode. The performances are all top-notch and even charming, especially Lady Gaga’s as an individual with a dangerous combo of unfettered drive and pride.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “Jared Leto and Al Pacino put in amazing, sympathetic performances as Waluigi and Wario.”

Film Review: “Encanto” (2021)

“Sometimes the family weirdos get a bad rap.”

An energetic and beautifully animated 60th entry into the Disney animated canon that’s about family, acceptance, and toxicity. It shares a bunch of themes with Moana, as well as the unrestrained touch of Lin Manuel Miranda’s songwriting skills. The wide ensemble of genuinely developed characters (as developed as 90 minutes allows) helps set it apart from other animated fare. More importantly, though, the main character has glasses and that makes me feel seen as someone with glasses.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “Releasing The Eternals: Part II so close to the first one was risky, but it definitely pays off.”

Film Review: “Last Night in Soho” (2021)

“It’s London. Someone has died in every room.”

Nostalgia is a razor thin veneer over the seedy historical horror show of an era in Edgar Wright’s inventive and slick foray into the genre. The good often rises to the top of the collective memories of an era like the 60s, but it’s critical to remind ourselves that it was just as wonderful and terrible in equal measure as today. Last Night in Soho removes the rose-colored glasses from its central character with a savage, dreamy haunting from a bygone time and it’s groovy.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “You can always say ‘the music was good, though’ about any era, but, well, the music was good in the 60s so the music is also good in this movie.”

Film Review: “Mass” (2021)

“I can’t breathe in this room.”

A real-time examination of grief and forgiveness between four award-worthy actors. It is capital-D Dramatic like the ending scene of a Twilight Zone episode or just, you know, a serious Off-Broadway play, but it works so well. Watching masterful performances, each of them flitting through a suite of emotions (with melancholic as the base) over the short runtime left me bummed, a little bit dead inside, and hopeful. These are good things.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “Yes, you can watch this drama that’s played completely straight with Mike Flanagan’s Midnight Mass and make all kinds of connections if you want. Literally no one can stop you. You are unstoppable.”

Film Review: “Belfast” (2021)

“Everybody’s leaving home.”

One of my favorite movies of the year because I visited Belfast in 2017 for a couple weeks or so and I could point out places I’d been while watching the movie… But it’s also an effective and semi-autobiographical love letter to the spirit and community of the city and its people (despite the well documented violence over those long years) with a bunch of great performances.

The cinematography is some of the most indulgent I’ve seen since, well, last week in Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch, but every bit of the screen is filled with life and expertly crafted. It looks fantastic, sounds fantastic, correctly conveys a child’s perspective, and sometimes characters eat those wedge cut chips/fries which make me hungry.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “Did I mention I visited Belfast for a couple weeks or so in 2017? Aside from the opening and closing shots of modern Belfast (where I’ve been before (back in 2017)), the only color in the film is when the characters are watching movies on a screen or at a playhouse watching a production. It’s Branagh’s slightly heavy-handed way of showing the importance of these small escapes to him as a child, but — again — it’s wholly effective.”

Film Review: “Dune” (2021)

“Fear is the mind-killer.”

A sumptuous adaptation of half the influential novel that captures the weirdness, introspection, and pre-Star Wars design of 1960s sci-fi (and tries to address some of the dated elements). Plus, sandworms!

My VHS cover pull-quote: “It is weird that these sci-fi guys have names like Paul and Duncan. We should just replace the first letter of their names with X. Xaul. Xuncan. Lady Xessica. There we go.”

Film Review: “Dear Evan Hansen” (2021)

“You’re a literal disaster.”

Having limited experience with the Broadway show, this was pretty much my first real interaction with the story. One of the worst things I think I can say about it is that it doesn’t lean hard enough into being the dark comedy I wanted it to be. There are shades of World’s Greatest Dad and even The Killing of a Sacred Deer in this thing, and I think it could have had more ‘fun’ with that.

Other than that, though, while its general awareness of mental health feels very 2016 and there are genuine problems with the depiction, the overall message is an effective “Broadway positive” one and the journey of sadboy Evan, as flawed and downright yikes as it might be at times, resonated with the sadboy writing this VHS review (excuse me, sadboy novelist) at times.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “And yes, the Ben Platt being 27 playing a 17 year old thing. In middle and high school, I had a friend that I remember looking like he had two mortgages and a couple of kids in college. I loved him all the same, even though he looked like a 35 year old undercover cop. This may be my memory playing tricks on me a bit, but the point is that sometimes people–even high schoolers–just look old as fuck at 17. And that’s okay.

Ben Platt doesn’t even look that old in this, to be honest. Because if he looks old at 27, then I must look like a withered old crustyman at 32 and I can’t have that. I can still pass for 17. I will never age. I will never die.”