‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’ or How My Mind Was Mostly Blown-Verse

I’ll be honest sometimes as a critic I walk out of a movie screening thinking ‘how the heck am I going to review that film?’ And this is not necessarily a negative reaction. A movie can have so much going on and have so much to offer it can be intimidating to know how to talk about. Even the title for this review I went back and forth trying to encapsulate how Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse made me feel. The experience, even with some flaws, was unforgettable.

The first aspect we need to talk about is obvious but it is the animation. The first film, Into the Spider-Verse completely dazzled me with its jaw-dropping animation, but they’ve taken it to another level here. For 140 minutes I sat there awe-struck at what I was watching. Every frame is unbelievable and deserves to be framed in a museum. I could easily do one of those every minute podcasts on Across the Spider-Verse and have plenty to say about literally every moment of this film. It’s that astonishing.

What is especially outstanding is the attention to detail. How every inch of the screen has something visually interesting happening whether it is becoming a comic book frame with dot style imagery or the backgrounds turning into a watercolor with the details dripping down the frame. This is a movie with a lot of characters and yet every single one has its own visual flair and style and it’s all maintained within a scene that has its own brand for that style. I don’t even know if that explanation makes sense but it’s true!

Now let’s talk about the story. Like the art there is a lot going on in this plot and it’s a little hard to judge its effectiveness because this is only part 1 and we will get the rest of it in Beyond the Spider-Verse next year. Without spoilers, we rejoin Miles as he he tries to take down the villain Spot who can go through black holes to cause chaos. Miles and Gwen Stacy then end up going through the multi-verse to save all the Spider-People from Spot and things get messy.

For the most part this plot works but there is a section in the middle that gets very exposition heavy and Easter eggs and pithy jokes can only engage me so far. However, they bring everything around to a pulse-pounding 3rd act that really works and left me dying for part 2. I do wonder if kids will enjoy this movie? It’s kind of surprising it got a PG rating with the intense moments and themes. It also might be over-stimulating for kids sensitive to that kind of experience. You know your kid and can gage accordingly.

There are some saying Across the Spider-Verse is better than its predecessor but I would disagree. The screenplay was a lot simpler and tighter with that film, so I do prefer it. However, they have created a visual achievement that must be seen in the theater to be fully appreciated. I was blown away by what these incredible artists have done, and especially in a world of bland, boring superhero movies this is something to be treasured. Even if they let the story get a little out of control, I’ll take that exchange any day!

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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Current Mini Reviews (Wildflower, The Boogeyman, About My Father, Being Mary Tyler Moore)

Hey everyone! Got another of my mini-review posts to update you on all the movies I have been watching. We have quite a variety and fortunately mostly positive today! Yay!

Here goes:


First up we have a small indie film that premiered at TIFF last year called Wildflower that I really enjoyed and it certainly has one of the best casts of 2023 including the likes of Charlie Plummer, Jean Smart, Alexandra Daddario, Brad Garrett and more.

It’s based on a true story and stars Kiernan Shipka as the daughter of 2 intellectually disabled parents. While this premise can be terrible in movies like I am Sam, in Wildflower the disabled characters aren’t pandered to. They are treated like any other characters and they prove they can parent their daughter and be productive citizens in their own unique ways.

Like I said the cast is outstanding and the script is cute and endearing. I think if you liked CODA for its warm-hearted story you’ll enjoy this.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Being Mary Tyler Moore

Readers might not know but I am a big fan of The Mary Tyler Moore Show so I was excited to see a new documentary about her life: Being Mary Tyler Moore. This is airing on HBO and Max (such a stupid name for a streaming service!)

In some ways this is a standard celebrity bio-doc but they don’t shy away from the lows of Mary’s life such as when she got treated for alcoholism and when her only child died in a gun accident. The most frustrating part was repeat clips with her being interviewed by David Susskind. He was so rude to her and condescending. Made me want to smack him in the face!

If you are a fan of Moore’s Being Mary Tyler Moore is a must watch. What an interesting and dynamic person she was.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

About My Father

Next we have a comedy called About My Father which feels like a throwback to the sitcom-ish comedies of the late 90s. I do think there is an audience for this kind of comedy but it probably belongs more on streaming than the big bucks of the theater tickets. It was too cringy and annoying for my taste but it wasn’t as bad as the trailers made it appear and I can see certain tastes enjoying it.

If you like Adam Sandler movies and his antics I think you’ll enjoy About My Father. It’s star comic Sebastian Maniscalco seemed to be channeling Sandler for much of the movie. I unfortunately am not a big fan of that kind of comedy so all the antics got old fast. Robert De Niro feels like he is channeling his role in Meet the Parents again but a little more mean-spirited than that character. I particularly didn’t appreciate when he literally serves the family their pet peacock for dinner. That’s gross and unkind.

If it sounds like your kind of thing maybe give About My Father a shot but it wasn’t for me.

4.5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

The Boogeyman

All my readers know I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to horror; however, I am trying to grow and expand my palate each year and last year was a bit step forward for me with films like Black Phone, Barbarian, The Menu and X/Pearl. Now we have The Boogeyman and it’s pg13 haunted house thriller/horror film.

Based on a Stephen King short story this film is directed with style and a horror panache by director Rob Savage. Actors Chris Messina, Sophie Thatcher and Vivien Lyra Blair feel believable as a family and the tension builds well as they fight off the mysterious creature hiding in their house.

The Boogeyman takes on themes of death and loss in compelling ways and creates situations where we are rooting for all the characters. They could have spent more time building up the lore of this creature and that could have built more tension but as it is I was entertained. This is a good gateway horror film for people who want to dip their toe in the genre but don’t want anything too scary.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

So there you have it. Have you seen any of these films? Let me know what you think

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Blind Spot 89: National Lampoon’s Vacation

I always try and have a variety in this blind spot series. Last month I had an aggressively artsy movie with Jeanne Dielmanthis month I have a classic comedy with National Lampoon’s Vacation and next month a foreign film Tokyo Story. This variety keeps the series interesting for me and hopefully for you the reader as well. As a Christmas movie fanatic I had of course seen the National Lampoons Christmas Vacation many times and enjoyed that but had never seen the original Vacation film. Now that I have seen it, I’d say it isn’t bad but it is aggressively average. Perhaps it was more cutting edge in 1983 when it was released but honestly these days I’d recommend watching A Goofy Movie over this. It has all the same tropes but funnier and more endearing.

In National Lampoon’s Vacation we follow the Griswold family as they travel across the country to try and visit Walley World (an obvious Disneyland copycat.) If family shenanigans are your jam then you will probably love this. There are all kinds of gags involving crazy hotel rooms, weird relatives and of course lots of problems with their poor beleaguered station-wagon.

I guess the one difference with this film in 1983 and now is it would almost certainly been rated pg13 these days instead of R. There are definitely some raunchy jokes, sexual situations and uncouth behavior as well as one family member flat out dying on the way to Wally World. We also have Chevy Chase holding John Candy up by a gun so they can go to the park. I don’t think you’d see that in our Dad character today.

Pretty much the whole cast is good in this with the likes of Beverly D’Angelo, Imogene Coca, a young Anthony Michael Hall and more. We also get loads of cameos from Eugene Levy, James Keach and more.

Where National Lampoon’s Vacation loses me is 2 very outdated scenes. The first is when the Griswold’s get lost on the ‘wrong side of town’ and they get harassed by the Black citizens, given bad directions and have all their hubcaps removed. This is in poor taste even in 1983. Also a scene where Keach pulls the Griswold’s over and proceeds to harass them as a police officer despite admitting they did nothing wrong. It’s inappropriate and frankly not funny.

Other than that, like I said, this movie is completely average. If you are dying for a dysfunctional family comedy it’s ok but nothing special. I think A Goofy Movie is much better and that you can watch on Disney Plus.

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‘The Little Mermaid (2023)’ or Why Disney is the Worst but the Movie is Pretty Good…

Gather round folks! Let’s talk about my tumultuous relationship with current Disney and their latest live action remake- The Little Mermaid

Anyone who has read my reviews knows how important The Little Mermaid was for me as an emerging movie and music lover. It came out when I was 8 and was the first of either movie or music I connected with. I remember singing the songs late into the night and having competitions with my sister about who sounded the most like Ariel. I connected with Ariel’s need to belong somewhere and how her father didn’t understand her (even though my parents were awesome doesn’t everyone feel that way when they are young?)

Even to this day I still love the movie and consider it one of the highpoints of Walt Disney Animation Studios.

As you also know I have not been a big fan of most of these Disney live action remakes. For the most part, they have felt meaningless and frustrating but what has really irritated me is the way Disney diminishes the original films in order to puff up their new films. Too often they use these remakes as an opportunity to ‘correct’ or ‘upgrade’ minor nitpicks with the animated films or invent problems that nobody had to begin with.

What’s especially frustrating is when we are told they are presenting these stories as they were “meant to be seen” or they are finally “coming to life.” It’s insulting to the hard working animators and while yes the originals still exist they have successfully created a world where live action is seen by many as an upgrade over 2D animation and that 2D animation is for children only- it makes me so mad.

The marketing campaign on this new The Little Mermaid seemed targeted to tick me off and it did. Disney focusing on how the original lyrics and plot-points needed to be improved and modernized felt like they were feeding into this idea of Ariel and her story being anti-feminist or backward, which is garbage. Plus, all the clips and imagery they showed were terrible. I honestly don’t know what they were thinking showing night scenes out of context so you could barely see what is happening and little of Halle Bailey and Jonah Hauer-King who are the strength of the film.  The designs of Flounder and Sebastian are also awful and should not have been promoted so heavily. For a company the size of Disney they sure could use some help in the marketing of their films (I’m available…)

In retrospect, I should have had more faith in the film because of its director Rob Marshall who had previously directed one of my favorite recent Disney films Mary Poppins Returns. While that film is better than this as an original story with original songs, this The Little Mermaid does work as a romantic drama with 2 wonderful performances at the helm.

It’s funny because most of the problems I feared are still there in this film. The underwater sequences don’t look great, they stripped almost all of the humor from the original, and the less said about “The Skuttlebutt” the better. I also didn’t love Melissa McCarthy as Ursula. Again, they took away all her humor, which is a strange choice when you have a comedic actress like her in the role. Also the ending action looks atrocious and the staging of “Under the Sea” is a bit baffling.

In the end, I loved Bailey so much as Ariel and her singing voice is so beautiful it allowed me to forgive much of the movies flaws. She really is that good. I also thought she and Hauer-King had amazing chemistry, and I appreciated the arc they gave Eric. He’s also not too shabby of a singer and actor(his song is relatively bland but I still enjoyed it.)

Basically in spite of themselves Disney made an entertaining film with The Little Mermaid. I give all the credit to Bailey, Hauer-King and Marshall. I hope people go out and see it, enjoy it and then go home and watch the original and pay tribute to the incredible animators and the great Howard Ashman who made it possible.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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‘Fast X’ or How Jason Momoa Mesmerized Me

If you’ve been following my reviews you know the Fast and the Furious series lost me as a fan 3 movies ago. The Fate of the Furious I found strangely bland in its supposed over-the-topness, Hobbs & Shaw was forgettable and wastes Idris Elba, and the last one, F9, was stupid but not in an entertaining way. I particularly dislike Charlize Theron’s character who spends most of these movies staring at screens, which I hate in action movies.

So now we have Fast X which is supposedly the start to a final trilogy of these films. While I don’t know if that is needed I must admit to being pleasantly surprised by this film. It is over-the-top and ridiculous but there is more gritty action and racing than in the last films mixed in with the absurd spectacle, so that was very entertaining.

The biggest difference between Fast X and the recent entries, however, is the addition of Jason Momoa as the lead villain Dante Ryes. He is the son of Herman Reyes from Fast Five (which is generally thought of as the best of this series.) Now he’s out for revenge and is completely unhinged but in an entertaining way. Honestly he’s one of the most compelling villains I’ve seen in a franchise film in a long time- not just this franchise but any franchise. He reminds me of Heath Ledger’s Joker in the way he is funny yet terrifying at the same time.

Obviously if you are a stickler for realism or plot this film has tons of problems. It is way over-stuffed and most of the humor falls flat but I didn’t mind because Momoa was that good (and I’ve never been a particular fan of his. Haven’t loved his Aquaman portrayal.) Also this film is a strong PG-13 with disturbing imagery, a child in peril and some grittier hand-to-hand combat than we’ve seen in other entries. I personally wouldn’t take children but that’s just me. 

It might sound like hyperbole, but I sincerely think Fast X is the best of this series since Fast Five. It was certainly the most entertaining for this critic. Your mileage may vary.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy


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‘BOOK CLUB: THE NEXT CHAPTER’ and LOVE AGAIN’ or Just OK Rom-coms are Great to See Again in Theaters

Most people know I’m in the business of loving and talking about romantic comedies for my living. I love the genre and for many years Hollywood has been underserving the market making very few feature film rom-coms and forcing the audience to turn to TV movie providers like Hallmark (Check out Hallmarkies Podcast here) and streamers like Netflix. Fortunately over the last year and a half we’ve seen a bit of a rom-com renaissance and I’m here for it even when the results are imperfect but engaging films (even when they are outright bad I want more rom-coms please!!)

Our latest entries come in the form of a sequel Book Club: The Next Chapter and a remake of a German film (SMS für Dich) called Love Again. Neither of these films are masterpieces but I had enough fun to recommend both of them particularly for fans of the genre.

Love Again

Let’s start with Love Again– a new rom-com starring Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Sam Heughan with an extended cameo from Celine Dion. Jonas plays a woman who loses her boyfriend in a bizarrely staged accident at the beginning of the film. To deal with her grief she starts texting her boyfriend’s old number and Heughan plays a journalist who just happens to get this number as his new work phone. He becomes fascinated with the woman writing the messages and they meet and you can fill in the blanks.

This is the same plot we got in a Hallmark movie called The Christmas Promise, which was much better, and I highly recommend.

Nevertheless, I thought Jonas and Heughan had a spark when they were together and even though this is totally a rom-com that could be a horror movie it still overall charmed me and I thought everything with Celine Dion was cute. I love the idea of people falling in love over their words. Maybe it’s because I have a fantasy of someone falling in love with me and my words (ridiculous I know) but movies are about fantasy and I have fun seeing it played out (I think it would have been better if Heughan’s character had texted her back so they were both involved with the communication not just her.)

I wish Love Again was made better. The editing is weird, the comedy and tonal shifts are clunky. It was shot in London but they make it pretend to be New York, which makes scenes like an opera house that’s not the Met odd. I honestly think the Hallmark movie I mentioned above is more well made than Love Again but I had enough fun with it to overcome its flaws. I think fans of the genre will see what they are going for with the movie and have a good time with it.

I also have a soft spot in my heart for Celine Dion after attending her concert got me through a tough time in 2006.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Book Club: The Next Chapter

Next up we have the sequel to 2018’s Book Club, which I enjoyed back then and I felt the same way about this new installment. Honestly I feel like a review for this movie is pretty simple. If you see the poster and trailer and it looks appealing you will enjoy this movie. It delivers exactly what it promises and isn’t that what we ask of our movies?

Book Club: The Next Chapter promises a  senior gal-pal adventure throughout Italy with lots of shenanigans and friendship and that’s what it gives us. I do think it is a little too long and would be better at the TV movie 90 minute length but this group of women are charming and I enjoyed being with them once again.

Jane Fonda’s character Vivian is the focus of this entry with her bachelorette party taking the women to Italy- first Tuscany, than Rome and Venice. Italy has been a favorite location for rom-coms lately with Hallmark going there multiple times last year (we joke on the podcast that the only place you are allowed to fall in love is Ireland and Italy these days and this movie continues that trend.) However, there certainly is a reason these movies go to Italy so often- it’s a beautiful and romantic country both in its nature, art, food and architecture.

Candice Bergen gets the most broad comedy of the bunch with Mary Steenburgen and Diane Keaton having more weighty serious stories but they are all sweet and endearing. The men of the film all do a fine job as mostly arm candy for our leading ladies (Andy Garcia is got to be the most handsome man over 60 I’ve ever seen.) I do think Giancarlo Giannini is under-used as the local Italian police officer. I love him so much in A Walk in the Clouds (so underrated!) and would have loved to have seen him get more to do here.

All that said if you are in the mood for a light comedy with some dynamic actresses who feel like genuine friends than Book Club: The Next Chapter is a great choice. It is brilliant they released it over Mother’s Day weekend because it’s an ideal movie to watch with your mother and grandmother if they are still with you and have a laugh together. I wish my grandma was still here. She would have loved that.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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[REVIEW] ‘Burt Reynolds: The Last Interview’

Over the last few years I have heard many people bemoan the loss of the true movie star. For a while I thought Dwayne Johnson was the last actor who could open a film based just on his charisma but Black Adam (as well as other films like Baywatch) proved that theory wrong. Tom Cruise may be one but it’s hard to say because Top Gun Maverick and Mission Impossible films both have franchise appeal more than Cruise solely getting people in seats.

It’s interesting to think about because there was a day when the movie stars were enough to bring moviegoers into the theater and one of those stars was Burt Reynolds. In a new documentary Burt Reynolds: The Last Interview director Rick Pampllin sat down with the star before his death in 2018 and talks about the current state of movie-making and his long career.

The documentary also includes friends of Reynolds, associates who worked with him at his theatre in Juniper, Florida and director Quentin Tarantino who was going to work with Reynolds in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood before his untimely death (Bruce Dern replaced him.)

Evidently Reynolds was hesitant to do interviews so this long detailed sit-down is a bit of an anomaly and as someone who knew little abut his life and career I enjoyed watching it. It’s insightful and has a lot to say particularly about the state of franchise mainstream films today.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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‘Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story’ or Being a Royal is Grim…

Expectations are a tricky aspect of watching films and television. As a critic, I try to keep them at bay because they can unfairly influence my take on the project I’m watching; however, I am only human and can’t always help myself from catching hype for a film or series. In the case of Netflix’s new spin-off series Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story I don’t think I will be alone in finding the show to be disappointing and not in keeping with the established tone and genre of the series. It’s not necessarily bad just not what I want when I sit down to watch Bridgerton.

Part of the problem is this is loosely based on a true story where the Bridgerton series is based on the novels by Julia Quinn. There is some conflict in the boddice-ripping books but the main appeal is a campy, bit over-the-top love story with a little bit of mystery involving the town gossip Lady Whistleton thrown in. In contrast, with Queen Charlotte we get a relentlessly grim period piece light on the romance and heavy on a marriage in crisis and King George getting tortured for his mental health problems.

All of the performances are good particularly from India Amarteifio as young Charlotte who makes for a convincing younger version of Golda Rosheuvel as the adult Charlotte who we have come to know in the previous Bridgerton series. We do see the older Queen, and get a very dry subplot of her trying to convince her 13 children to produce legitimate heirs but it’s nothing to fun or exciting.

We also have a young Lady Danbury (Arsema Thomas) who struggles in a loveless marriage. She plays a double agent of sorts both befriending Charlotte and sharing information she learns with Princess Augusta (Michelle Fairley.) I thought more drama would come from this betrayal but it really didn’t. Adult Lady Danbury’s story with Violet Bridgerton is also underwhelming.

I don’t want to spoil the series but suffice it to say I found it dry, dour, and frankly no fun. Literally the only light scene of the series is the meet-cute between Charlotte and George they show in the trailer. If people are going into it expecting a grim, dark, sad period piece than they may enjoy it more than I did, but especially with how precious my series watching time is, I can’t recommend this experience. We all know about the madness of King George but that doesn’t mean I want to spend 6 episodes wallowing in it.

Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story does have some steamy scenes, but they are mostly a part of royal duties to create an heir so not that romantic or exciting.  I am sure some people will appreciate the realism here but it isn’t for me and was a big disappointment.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

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