A new semester is in full swing after a winter packed full of new films. As much as I would like to talk about all of these films in depth, time keeps pressing forward, and there are many new films right around the corner.
The lack of major wide releases in theaters right now means it's the perfect time to catch up on the movies you may have missed, so here's a breakdown of some of the major films released over the winter break.
“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”- Dec. 14
It must feel good to be Spider-Man in 2018. After the extremely successful integration of the character into the incredibly popular Marvel Cinematic Universe, there has been a large scale revitalization of the brand.
There is, of course, his heartbreaking final scene in “Avengers: Infinity War,” but Sony has also been pushing out new Spider-Man content outside of their success achieved through collaboration with Disney and Marvel.
We got an excellent Spider-Man story in the smash hit PlayStation 4 game “Marvel’s Spider-Man.” Even “Venom,” a movie based on one of the wall-crawler’s iconic villains, was a box office smash despite not even once mentioning the famous hero it is so closely tied to (check out why some people hated the film while others loved it).
And then there's “Into the Spider-Verse.” What looked to be a neat, animated Spider-Man feature with a cool, comic-book aesthetic turned out to be one of the best movies of the year.
It follows New York teen Miles Morales as he deals with his new Spidey powers as a dimensional portal brings different incarnations of the character into his universe.
It is a bit out there, but the story is grounded in fantastic wit, style and substance that makes this the best animated movie of the year and, as far as I am concerned, one of the greatest stories to ever come out of a superhero film.
Rated PG for frenetic sequences of animated action violence, thematic elements and mild language
Runtime: 1h 57m
“Aquaman” - Dec. 21
Speaking of superhero films, the much anticipated DC film “Aquaman” is by far the biggest movie to come out over the holiday season.
Warner Bros. has been struggling to find their footing with their DC comic-book films. “Wonder Woman” was a hit, but “Justice League”—which introduced this new version of Aquaman played by Jason Momoa (“Game of Thrones”)—was not the launching point that this movie needed. Despite that, the film has taken off to become the highest grossing DCEU movie to date, even with mixed reviews.
The movie is a ridiculous and moronic display of visual wonder with a perfunctory adventure that treats its entirely overblown and completely unoriginal story as a sort of farcical retelling of a tale we’ve seen a thousand times before.
It is bloated, special effects laden bile, but director James Wan (“The Conjuring,” “Furious 7”) does so with a large wink and toothy grin that makes the film diverting enough to laugh both with and at it.
Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action and for some language.
Runtime: 2h 23m
“Bumblebee” - Dec. 21
The Transformers film franchise, which up to this point has been under the haphazard vision of director Michael Bay, has finally been handed off to director Travis Knight in the form of “Bumblebee,” the prequel/origin story for the voiceless, black and yellow robotic hero.
It is a pretty conventional “E.T.” / “Iron Giant” style story, hitting all of those beats for better or worse. Knight (“Kubo and the Two Strings”) has a solid handle on making the emotions come through and the action sequences are pretty rad, even if they do get a bit tiresome by the end.
The government goons’ side of the story is what it is, but the '80s nostalgia bait setting was done right and adds some good-natured fun.
Overall a solid, heartwarming time. Nothing revolutionary, but a huge step up from the other Transformers films, which largely feel like a regression, so I am pretty pleased with this film.
Also, yes, let’s keep giving Hailee Steinfeld good roles. I am a big fan.
Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action violence.
Runtime: 1h 54m
"Mary Poppins Returns" - Dec. 19
“Mary Poppins Returns” is the movie to see if you are just needing a little kindness. Musical veteran and Oscar nominee Rob Marshall (“Chicago”) directs leading actress Emily Blunt (“A Quiet Place”) taking over the titular role from Julie Andrews, who starred in the 1964 original.
“Returns” picks up with the Banks children, now all grown up, as they are going through a rough spot. It is certainly a bit of a retread, but in a package as good as this, it is easy to look the other way.
There are a plethora of fantastic musical numbers and incredibly creative set pieces that inspired and delighted me throughout the duration of the film.
Composer Lin Manuel Miranda (“Hamilton”) makes his presence known on the big screen as Jack, the kindly lamplighter who tags along on their adventures. And of course, Emily Blunt as Mary Poppins herself is a worthy successor to the iconic and Oscar-winning role.
The film is full of warmth that delights and inspires. It is whimsy and magic bundled up in a worthwhile musical experience, and we could all use a little more childlike wonder and simple kindness in this world.
Rated PG for some mild thematic elements and brief action.
Runtime: 1h 10m
“Roma” - Nov. 21
Alfonso Cuarón is one of the greatest filmmakers working today. He only comes out with a new film every 5 years or so—his last one being 2013’s “Gravity”—and it's always worth the wait.
All of his films, from “Children of Men” to “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” are stunning to look at and engrossingly paced. Spectacle and intimacy come hand in hand, and there is always a wicked sense of space and palpable tension in the way sound and movement are incorporated into his stories.
“Roma,” in its deeply personal and beautiful story, feels like the culmination of Cuarón’s career thus far.
“Roma” follows Cleo, a member of the cleaning staff to a middle class family in Mexico City in the 1970s. There is not much more to say about the story because the story is life as Cuarón remembers it—roughly 90 percent of the scenes in the film, he says, come from his own memory.
The themes of love and human connection, time and space and more are never directly referenced but come through powerfully. It also highlights many of the themes that are present in is previous works, such as motherhood, birth, the earth and social hierarchy, lending greater context and meaning that simultaneously enriches his past films and makes “Roma” perhaps his most definitive work.
Oh yeah, and did I mention he wrote, directed, produced, shot and edited the entire film? That is a great many hats for one person to wear, and Cuarón has managed to perform each role to the point of excellence.
“Roma” is definitely the best film I have seen in 2018 and perhaps the best film I have seen in a long time. And all it takes to watch it is a Netflix subscription. Just do yourself a favor and watch it in the highest possible quality available to you. It's worth it.
Rated R for graphic nudity, some disturbing images and language.
Runtime: 2h 15m