Review: Heart-wrenching Spidey movie, satirical ‘Don’t Look Up” boast different tones, but hit the right spots

Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Holland in Spider-Man: No Way Home / Columbia Pictures

In the comics, after his first appearance Spider-Man has always been a character of duty, honor, and responsibility no matter the cost to his personal life.

At the conclusion of “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” the same can now be said for the Sony/Marvel Cinematic Universe version of the character.

Peter Parker (Tom Holland) takes a hero’s journey to become a man of responsibility and honor after his bungling almost destroys the multiverse when his actions cause a powerful spell, cast by Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), to go awry.

The fallout from this unfortunate event is catastrophic.

As revealed in the trailer, the movie pulls villains from other iterations of Spider-Man movies into the Sony/MCU universe, causing all kinds of issues for Spidey, MJ (Zendaya), Ned (Jacob Batalon), and Strange.

That’s the gist of the setup for the film, revealing any more would delve into spoiler material, and this movie is too satisfying for Spidey fans of all generations for me to give anything away.

Whenever you became a Spider-Man fan — whether it was through movies, cartoons, or the comics — this film is a love letter to the character, created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in 1962, and its fans.

The scores of other writers and artists that added to the Wall-Crawler’s tapestry over the years deserve a tip of the hat too, because screen writers Chris McKenna and Erik Summers borrowed liberally from the comic-book character’s long back catalogue.

The better you know the comic-book character’s history, the more you will notice, which I found very satisfying and fulfilling. The fan service in no way took me out of the adventure.

Director Jon Watts does and excellent job of orchestrating this movie, keeping it clear, although not exactly concise with its 2-hour and 28-minute running time.

He prompted perhaps the best performance from Tom Holland as the character, who begins the movie as a boy but winds up a responsible man who is tasked with making some tough heart-wrenching decisions.

Obviously there have been reams of rumors about what would or wouldn’t be in the movie. To not have any surprises spoiled, I’d say see this movie as quickly as you can. Fans won’t be able to sit on this information long.

The movie is another winner for producers Kevin Feige of Marvel and Amy Pascal of Sony. It’s absolutely the best of the Marvel-branded material this year whether in theaters or on Disney Plus, and it’s really not close.

Perhaps the best thing about it is that the movie just feels like Spider-Man, and while the previous three Marvel-Sony collaborations on the character were good, this movie ranks alongside Marvel’s best and most character-driven movies.

(PG-13) 2 hr. 30 min.
Grade: A

Don’t Look Up

Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence in Don’t Look Up / Bluegrass Films

The Earth has a terminal prognosis and Oscar-winning writer/director Adam McKay offers the sobering diagnosis in his searing yet comical, star-filled satire “Don’t Look Up.”

McKay cut his teeth directing a series of Will Ferrel comedies like “Anchorman,” and “Talladega Nights,” but he truly found a voice on his own with 2015’s “The Big Short,” for which he was nominated for Best Director and won Best Adapted Screenplay with co-writer Charles Randolph.

His latest film plays like a modern-day “Dr. Strangelove,” that can be enjoyed on a number of levels.

The movie is a fine sci-fi/adventure with Earth on the edge of oblivion when two scientists Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) and Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) discover that a gigantic comet is on a collision course with Earth, and that when it impacts in six months, it will create an extinction-level event.

Boom! Kablooey! That’s all folks.

The film is also a bit of a family drama as Dr. Mindy is tempted into an adulterous relationship by gorgeous talk-show anchor Brie Evantree (Cate Blanchett) when he becomes a Dr. Fauci-type celebrity, used by the government to attempt to allay fears of the planet’s impending doom.

However, the movie is actually a searing commentary on the banality of modern politics, news reporting, celebrities, and the tech industry.

McKay spares no one from his skewering whether its a female cross between Bill Clinton and Donald Trump as President Janie Orlean (Meryl Streep) or a composite of Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs in Mark Rylance’s turn as tech entrepreneur Peter Isherwell, who attempts to monetize the situation and ultimately derails the one desperate chance to save the Earth.

When the comet gets close enough to the Earth to be seen by the naked eye President Orlean coins the phrase “Don’t Look Up” on the campaign trail, giving the film its title.

The ensemble cast is fantastic with Jonah Hill, Tyler Perry, Ariana Grande, and Ron Perlman shining in exaggerated performances that are hilarious and maybe a bit too close to home. There isn’t a bad performance in the film, but some might be offended.

Timothee Chalamet plays Yule a street kid with more on the inside than you would think. With the world ending, Lawrence’s Kate develops a relationship with Yule that she would have run away from if the end weren’t so very near.

As the movie draws to a close, Yule leads the generally non-religious Mindy family in a prayer that’s both thoughtful and touching.

The film is hysterical and thought-provoking, one of the best of the year.

DiCaprio’s Dr. Mindy reminded me a bit of Gary Cooper’s classic role in director Frank Capra’s “Meet John Doe.” The way the movie roasts the news/entertainment industry is also reminiscent of director Elia Kazan’s classic “A Face in the Crowd.”

Lawrence, while she plays a Phd. candidate, occupies the every-person role in the movie, expressing the frustrations that anyone could relate to when our world, our culture, and our nation just seems off-kilter.

Rob Morgan plays Dr. Teddy Oglethorpe, a scientist on the skirts of the governmental inside who aligns himself with Dr. Mindy and Dibiasky to his professional detriment.

The movie is pointed, strong, and unrelentingly funny. Considering the conditions we’ve faced with the coronavirus and its variants, the film might be too on-the-nose for some to enjoy, but right now I’d rank it among the top five new films I’ve seen this year.

The movie is in theaters now but will also be on Netflix Dec. 24. A pretty good Christmas present if you ask me.

(R) 2 hrs. 18 min.
Grade: A

  New in Local Theaters

Nightmare Alley (watch trailer) / (R) 2 hrs. 20 min. / AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Pinnacle, Skylight

Spider-Man: No Way Home (watch trailer) / (PG-13) 2 hr. 30 min / AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Pinnacle, Malco Towne, Skylight

National Champions (watch trailer) / (R) 1 hr. 56 min. / (PG-13) 1 hr. 37 min. / AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback

Classic Corner – Meet John Doe

Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck, and Dorothy Andre in Meet John Doe / Frank Capra Productions

I’m conflicted whether I consider director Frank Capra’s 1941 classic “Meet John Doe” a true “Christmas movie.”

Its climax does take place on Christmas eve/morning, and some of the ethos the film espouses is in keeping with the brotherhood of mankind, which we celebrate on and around Christmas.

However, the movie has a darkness to it that can’t be denied. It’s this looming shadow that lifts the film beyond the ordinary.

It’s a great film, and if you’ve never seen it, it plays at 11 a.m. CT Saturday on Turner Classic Movies as part of its Christmas-film marathon that runs Saturday and Sunday afternoons and then around the clock starting Monday through 7 p.m. Christmas Day. The movie plays again at 12:30 a.m. on Christmas morning, if you are up that late playing or waiting on Santa.

Sometimes the message is better than the man behind it. And sometimes belief in a message can transform the persons who believe in it, even if initially they aren’t altogether honest. That’s the message I get from this Capra dramedy.

Stars Gary Cooper as tramp John Willoughby/John Doe and Barbara Stanwyck as conniving newspaper columnist Ann Mitchell power the film, while Walter Brennan, Edward Arnold, James Gleason, and Gene Lockhart provide excellent support.

Laid off from her job during the heart of the Great Depression with one final article to write, Stanwyck’s character opts to spin a heart-wrenching yarn about a fictional unemployed man “John Doe,” who threatens to commit suicide on Christmas Eve to protest society’s ills.

Stanwyck’s letter creates a sensation, prompting her editor Henry Connell (Gleason) to grill her on just exactly who this John Doe actually is. Under pressure for more on John Doe, Connell rehires Mitchell to craft more tales.

When the public demands a personal appearance by John Doe, the paper hires Cooper’s Willoughby to play the role, which at first comes naturally to the down-on-his-luck former baseball pitcher.

Breenan, Willoughby’s traveling companion “The Colonel,” warns Cooper to not step into the trap, but the money and the opportunity to be around Stanwyck are just too great for Cooper to resist.

The John Doe campaign with its motto “Be a Better Neighbor” spirals into mass popularity after Cooper delivers a speech written by Stanwyck, but Cooper becomes conflicted when he learns the newspapers publisher (Arnold) seeks to ride Doe’s populist wave into a national political office.

While funny and charming, the film, much like Capra’s 1947 classic “It’s a Wonderful Life,” has dark undertones, examining how desperate times tempts good people into making poor even immoral decisions.

While the movie turned 80 years old this year, the questions it poses are as prescient today as the were when Capra posed them just as the U.S. was pulling out of the Great Depression and on the cusp of entering World War II.

TCM Christmas Movie Marathon

Saturday, Dec. 18
11 PM – Meet John Doe (1941)
1:15 PM – Susan Slept Here (1954)
3:15 PM – In the Good Old Summertime (1949)
5:15 PM – Holiday Affair (1949)

Sunday, Dec. 19
Noon – King of Kings (1961)
3 PM – Ben-Hur (1959)
7 PM – Going My Way (1944)
9:15 PM – The Holly and the Ivy (1952)
11 AM – Christmas Past (1925)
1:15 AM – Mon Oncle Antoine (1971)
3:15 AM – Fanny and Alexander (1982)

Monday, Dec. 20
6:30 AM – Kind Lady (1935)
8:00 AM – The Man Who Came to Dinner (1941)
10:00 AM – Cover-Up (1949)
11:30 AM – Crooks Anonymous (1952)
1:15 PM – Backfire (1950)
3:00 PM – Mr. Soft Touch (1948)
5:00 PM – Lady on a Train (1945)
7:00 PM – We’re No Angels (1955)
9:00 PM – Fitzwilly (1967)
11:00 PM – Lady in the Lake (1947)
1:00 AM – Larceny, Inc (1942)
3:00 AM – The Silent Partner (1978)

Tuesday, Dec. 21
5 AM – Hell’s Heroes (1930)
6:30 AM – Three Godfathers (1936)
8 AM – Bush Christmas (1947)
9:30 AM – A Christmas Carol (1938)
11 AM – Alias Boston Blackie (1942)
12:30 PM – Room For One More (1952)
2:30 PM – Period of Adjustment (1962)
4 PM – The Lion in Winter (1968)
7 PM – Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
9 PM – In the Good Old Summertime (1949)
11 PM – Shop Around the Corner (1940)
1 AM – Little Women (1949)
3:15 AM – Blossoms in the Dust (1941)

Wednesday, Dec. 22
5 AM – My Reputation (1946)
7 AM – Our Vines Have Tender Grapes (1945)
9 AM – On Moonlight Bay (1951)
10:45 AM – Penny Serenade (1941)
1 PM – All Mine to Give (1957)
3 PM – Never Say Goodbye (1946)
5 PM – Good Sam (1948)
7 PM – Christmas in Connecticut (1945)
9 PM – Holiday Affair (1949)
10:45 PM – Desk Set (1957)
12:45 AM – The Apartment (1960)
3 AM – Bachelor Mother (1939)
4:30 AM – Bundle of Joy (1956)

Thursday, Dec. 23
6:30 AM – Big Business (1929)
7 AM – The Daughter of Rosie O’Grady (1950)
9 AM – The World of Henry Orient (1964)
11 AM – Carol For Another Christmas (1964)
12:45 PM – Desk Set (1957)
3 PM – Susan Slept Here (1954)
5 PM – Bell, Book and Candle (1958)
7 PM – It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947)
9:15 PM – The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942)
11:15 PM – The Cheaters (1945)
1 AM – All That Heaven Allows (1955)
2:45 – AM Auntie Mame (1958)

Friday, Dec. 24
5:15 AM – The Great Rupert (1950)
6:45 AM – 3 Godfathers (1949)
8:45 AM – Pocketful of Miracles (1961)
11:15 PM – Holiday Affair (1949)
1 PM – The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
3 PM – Christmas in Connecticut (1945)
5 PM – Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
7 PM – The Bishop’s Wife (1947)
9 PM – A Christmas Carol (1938)
10:30 PM – Remember the Night (1940)
12:30 AM – Meet John Doe (1941)
2:45 AM – Christmas Eve (1947)
4:30 AM – Compliments of the Season (1930)

Saturday, Dec. 25
5 AM – Beyond Tomorrow (1940)
6:30 AM – Star in the Night (1945)
7 AM – Tenth Avenue Angel (1948)
8:30 AM – Little Women (1933)
10:30 AM – Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938)
12:30 PM – O Henry’s Full House (1952)
2:45 PM – It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1967)
5 PM – In the Good Old Summertime (1949)