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Fun animated film not only spotlights new Spider-Man, Miles Morales, who took over from Peter Parker in the comics in 2011, but it’s alternate universe plot cleverly gives us five other versions of the classic character, too.

The story finds the villainous Kingpin (voiced by Liev Schreiber) building a particle accelerator with Dr. Olivia Octavius, a female Doctor Octopus (Kathryn Hahn), to go to a parallel universe to retrieve his dead wife and son…deaths he blames Spider-Man for. This not only brings a radioactive spider into this universe to bite Brooklyn teen Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), but Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld), an older Peter Parker (Jake Johnson), Spider-Ham (John Mulaney), Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) with her robot “SP//dr” and Spider-Man Noir (a perfectly cast Nicolas Cage), who only appears in black and white. The newly empowered Miles must now, somehow, learn to be a hero, stop the Kingpin before he destroys NYC and return the five spider-variations to their appropriate dimensions.

The plot synopsis above sounds complicated but flows very easily thanks to a clever script by Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman. The film is also very well directed by the trio of Rothman, Peter Ramsey and Bob Persichetti, who bring an energetic and colorful style to the proceedings. They capture the old-fashioned heroics, but with a very contemporary and eye-catching visual presentation. It uses both traditional and innovative animation, mixing styles and techniques while providing an involving story. With Marvel now making Spider-Man movies with Tom Holland as Parker, it would be interesting to see a Sony led series with Miles as Spidey, animated or not. There is also a nice mix of music to go along with the almost non-stop action and the film doesn’t forget to slow down, here and there, to gives us some emotional resonance between characters. The stuff between Miles and his dad (Brian Tyree Henry) really works and we can see how Miles gets his sense of right and wrong from his policeman father. It gives the film a nice emotional core, which adds weight to the drama and action. With six films…and a seventh on the way…and two roles in other movies, that’s eight appearances of the Spider-Man character in the new millennium alone. Spider-Verse finds a way to make the character fresh, again…and that’s quite an accomplishment.

The vocal cast are all superb with Moore doing a wonderful job as Miles and Jake Johnson ditto as the older, grumpier Peter Parker. Hailee Steinfeld again proves a star in the making as the spunky Gwen Stacy/Spider-Gwen, while Cage is perfectly fitting here as the gloomy Spider-Man Noir, a cross between Philip Marlowe and Spidey. We also get an array of Spider-Man villains along with Kingpin and Doc Ock, such as Green Goblin (Jorma Taccone), Tombstone (Marvin Jones III), The Scorpion (Joaquín Cosio) and The Prowler (a surprise reveal). An eclectic, but very solid voice cast. Interesting how they made such a large cast of characters work when the big budget live-action films just seemed bloated and overcrowded.

Overall, this flick was a lot of fun and didn’t skimp on substance and emotional depth for its story. That story flows very well, thanks to skilled direction and a sharp script and the mix of animation styles is exceptionally well done. A solid effort all around that’s a real treat for Spider-Man fans and better than some of the recent live-action flicks. Watch till the end of the credits for a hilarious extra scene.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) webs.





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SCREAM (1996)

“Some stupid killer stalking some big-breasted girl who can’t act, who is always running up the stairs when she should be running out the front door. It’s insulting.”- Sidney Prescott

Halloween Favorites is back and this horror classic is certainly a worthy return for this holiday centric column!

Wes Craven’s A Nightmare On Elm Street is one of the great classics of the slasher era and so who better to re-invent the sub-genre, when it burned itself out in the late 80s with endless sequels and knock-offs. Armed with a very clever script by Kevin Williamson, Craven reignited the sagging horror genre with a film that works both as homage to the traditions of slasher flicks…while playfully poking fun at them…and as an effective slasher on it’s own.

Scream takes place in the fictional town of Woodsboro where we open with pretty blonde Casey (Drew Barrymore) about to settle in for the night with popcorn and a horror movie. But Casey begins to get phone calls from a strange person who, at first seems to be playful, but then gets more and more aggressive and threatening as it continues. Soon it is revealed that she and her bound on the back porch boyfriend’s lives are in mortal danger and all she has to do is answer some horror movie trivia questions to save their lives…but there is a horrible price if she is wrong. Needless to say , she and her beau are ruthlessly slaughtered by a killer wearing a ghost face mask and the high school is all a-buzz about it the next day. Enter Sydney Prescott (Neve Campbell), whose mother was murdered a year earlier and the suspected killer (Liev Schreiber) is now in jail… or is he? But Sydney has become a target of this masked serial killer and everyone around her may be a suspect…or a fatality. Who is this mysterious butcher and why has he targeted Sydney and her friends as his/her next victims?

Scream, first off starts with that great sequence with Drew Barrymore that really sets the tone for the film. It is scary and violent and establishes that this is a horror film that openly acknowledges it’s predecessors. It then openly references a lot of the classic horrors of the previous decades as it’s pop culture savvy teens are well aware of these films and use them as a guide to deal with their current situation…just as our killer is using them as a template for their own heinous deeds. All this self-awareness makes this flick a lot of fun and Craven is one of the best horror directors out there in using pop culture reference to fuel his tales. The script by Kevin Williamson not only references these horrors, but is the first flick to outright state the slasher horror ‘rules’ as per film geek Randy (Jaime Kennedy) that determine who lives and who dies…Don’t have sex, never say “I’ll be right back!”. The best part is that this flick also works as a slasher in itself. Craven and Williamson set up a situation that is a classic slasher with a victim with a painful past being stalked by a killer with a possible grudge and everyone is a suspect. There are some very suspenseful and scary scenes along with some very brutal kills as Ghost Face works his/her way through Sydney’s friends and various other characters. The film’s hip movie savvy humor never gets in the way of the scares or carnage, either. Craven and Williamson even get to make a statement about the desensitizing of violence in the current generation and the media’s insensitive and sensationalistic coverage of horrific events in the person of Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox), a selfish, pit bull of a reporter who is determined to prove Sydney sent the wrong man to prison with her testimony and that the real killer is the one stalking Woodsboro. Is she right?… has one of these kids seen one too many horror flicks? Craven and Williamson have a blast letting us in on the answer and so does the audience as the big reveal is both surprising and a perfect example of how cleverly this film openly acknowledges that it is a horror film inspired by other horror films, just like it’s characters. If the film has any faults it’s that there are a few slow spots and one make-up effect involving a garage door and a character’s head is far too rubbery to work and ruins one of the more inventive kills. Other than that, this is a horror classic and one of Craven’s best films in a classic studded career.

As for the cast. It’s ensemble gives us a generous amount of suspects and victims. Campbell’s Sydney is one of modern horror’s most memorable final girls. She’s sweet but strong and has her own inner pain to fuel her survival instincts. Courtney Cox is perfect as the mega-bitch reporter who is using the killings in Woodsboro to further her career, but she also surprises us in the last act. As Sydney’s friend’s…Skeet Ulrich as boyfriend Billy has a nice air of danger about him and as a suspect, it works perfectly. Matthew Lillard as his bud Stu, is fun as a bit of an oblivious goofball …or is he? Rose McGowan as her best friend Tatum, turns the buxom blonde cliché on it’s ear with a young woman who is smart and sarcastic to go along with her Playboy model looks. Jaime Kennedy as Randy is the film’s movie geek and does well in creating that film obsessed nerd who provides the characters and audience with the exposition needed by way of horror film references. David Arquette as Tatum’s deputy brother Dewey, gives us a sweet natured do-gooder who is a little too anxious to please and not as smart as he thinks. Add in a fun cameo by Henry “The Fonz” Winkler as an eccentric school principal and you have a great cast who all do a good job selling Williamson’s clever characters from his script. They are an endearing bunch and all give their characters the proper tone for the material and sound like the media savvy teens that they are…though none look young enough to be teens, but that is also a horror movie tradition.

So, except for a few slow spots and one botched make-up effect, Scream is a horror classic that not only works as a horror, but as a homage to all the slashers that came before it. It’s teens grew up on the 80s horror flicks and openly reference them and compare them to the real-life situation that they are in. While it’s not the first horror film to include a horror movie fan character, it is the first to present it’s characters as a generation weened on the horror films that populated the previous decades and are part of their culture…and the film has a blast doing it while genuinely scaring and thrilling us. A true horror classic from a legendary horror filmmaker.

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) ghost faces!

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last days on mars



To call this Sci-Fi /Horror 28 Days Later in space is simplifying things a bit but, that is the basic idea and, as such, thats not a bad thing. The Last Days On Mars tells the ill-fated tale of a six month, 8 person expedition on Mars that is in it’s final day before a replacement crew comes and the current group of astronauts may return home. And what an eventful last day it is. With less then 20 hours till pick-up, it is discovered that the red planet harbors a bacterial life form, one that thrives on what little liquid is left on Mars. But, an unfortunate accident claims the life of one of the crew and soon, to the survivors’ horror, it’s discovered that the bacteria can use living… or dead… things as a host to seek more moisture and human contact with the virus-like life form turns those infected into vicious and violent zombie-like creatures who will kill to get at the blood inside the remaining living. Now with their numbers decreasing and the relentless re-animated dead increasing, the remaining crew must somehow figure out a way to stay alive and keep from being infected during what becomes a night of terror millions of miles from home and hours from possible rescue. Despite some very familiar story elements, Mars is well directed by Ruairí Robinson from a screenplay by Clive Dawson based on Sydney J. Bounds’ short story “The Animators”. Robinson knows how to create tension and suspense and gives us some scary moments mixed in with some intense action and it’s entertaining enough to make us overlook that we have seen it all before and, with zombies being very popular right now, quite a lot. The Mars base setting adds a little novelty to the proceedings as the isolation of being on the red planet and the lack of oxygen outside also give the filmmakers some new elements to play with within the familiar formula when putting the characters in tense situations. And as for the characters, we have a good cast representing the international crew including Liev Schreiber as our heroic lead, astronaut Campbell, Romola Garai as the pretty and level headed Rebecca Lane, Elias Koteas as the mission commander Brunel and Olivia Williams as hot headed Kim Aldrich. The actors all perform well and give their characters some welcome personality in the brief time we have to get to know them. Sure they’re a bit cliche’ but, the actors still give them some humanity. The SPFX are really good in both visual effects and the make-up effects representing our transformed astronauts and their carnage and the sets and props all look solid for what is a modestly budgeted film. There is plenty of bloodshed but, very little gore, as this is not the flesh eating variety of zombie though extracting blood from a victim’s body is messy enough. All in all, this is not an original film and we have certainly been down this zombified road before but, Irish director Robinson does a very good job keeping his familiar material effective and has a good cast and an efficient production crew that turn what could have been a routine flick into an entertaining Sci-Fi /Horror that won’t win any awards and won’t really stay with you, when all is said and done, but, should keep one pleasantly amused and appropriately spooked during its 1 hr and 40 min runtime and sometimes that is all one needs. A good, fun Horror flick for an evening on the couch. Also stars Goran Kostić, Johnny Harris, Tom Cullen and Yusra Warsama rounding out the Tantalus Base crew.

3 angry red planets!

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