Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021): Sony and Marvel’s Thrilling, Emotional Love Letter to Three Generations of the Webhead *SPOILER-FREE*

Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021) - IMDb

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” is directed by Jon Watts, who also directed the previous two MCU-set “Spider-Man” installments, which also have home in the title. I’m assuming if they make a fourth movie, it’s gonna be called “Grand Slam?” You know, instead of home run? Four?

Anybody?

Who cares?

Anyway, this film stars Tom Holland (Cherry, Onward), Zendaya (Space Jam: A New Legacy, Dune), Benedict Cumberbatch (Star Trek: Into Darkness, Sherlock), Jacob Batalon (Blood Fest, Let it Snow) Jon Favreau (Chef, Solo: A Star Wars Story), Jamie Foxx (Soul, Ray), Willem Dafoe (The Lighthouse, Aquaman), Alfred Molina (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time), Benedict Wong (Annihilation, Raya and the Last Dragon), Tony Revolori (Dope, The Grand Budapest Hotel), and Marisa Tomei (Parental Guidance, Anger Management). This film revolves around Peter Parker, AKA Spider-Man, who has to deal with the newfound dangers that lie ahead now that his identity has been revealed, in addition to being connected to the recent event of Mysterio’s drone swarm in London, which has been interpreted differently by the general public. When Peter seeks Dr. Strange’s help to make everyone forget he was Spider-Man, the spell to make such a thing happen goes wrong, villains from other universes arrive, and it is up to Peter to do the right thing before the dangers of one universe then become the dangers of another.

Alright guys, it is that time again. A big movie in December. Although this time around, it’s not in the “Star Wars” franchise. Still huge. That being said, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” is the biggest movie of the year. I should note the box office suggests that this film is enormous, but there are still people who have not seen the film. I know at least a couple. With that being said, I will note that this review is spoiler-free. I am going to talk about certain points in the film that stand out, but I’m not going to go into deeper plot points. If you have not seen this movie and plan to see it, I can tell you that this review is safe to read.

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” is a follow-up to “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and “Spider-Man: Far from Home.” I have to say that when it comes to the first film, it is slightly more enjoyable than I remember it being. But given Spider-Man’s excellent writing in “Captain America: Civil War,” the writing for that film felt like a step down. I really liked Vulture. Peter’s chemistry with Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) was charming. I even liked Liz in that film. I still think the film has logic issues when it comes to how Peter’s suit works and how Tony Stark would want it to work, but the film is still decent enough to pass the time. When it comes to “Spider-Man: Far from Home,” that film felt like a step up. Jake Gyllenhaal did a great job as Mysterio. I liked Ned a bit better this time around compared to the original. Plus it was nice to see Spider-Man somewhere other than New York for a change. Plus, the end of the film promised a fantastic setup for what would ultimately become “No Way Home.”

When it comes to “No Way Home,” is it a thumbs up or a thumbs down?

I think neither. I’d say TWO thumbs up.

Now, like almost everyone else, I should note that my anticipation and my excitement for “No Way Home” was high. Not as much as “Dune,” but still high. But I was also nervous. Because the film promised massive multiversal shenanigans, which sounds great. I should note… It SOUNDS great. During the fall as we built up to this film’s release, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” in my mind sounded like it could be one of two things. It’s either going to be the best movie ever, or the worst movie ever, and nowhere in between. In crossover-speak, is it going to be the next “Infinity War?” Or is it going to be the next “Space Jam: A New Legacy?” God that movie was awful. Thankfully, upon leaving the theater, I can confirm that I felt excited to go see the movie again in less than 24 hours, and my mind literally melted on the way home from how exciting this movie was to watch.

This film has a ton of villains ranging from Doc Ock to Electro, but it’s not like they’re just there for nostalgia purposes. Granted, at the end of the day, this film is sort of a tribute to the Spider-Man character and all the stories that came before this one. Anyone can put in a ton of cool characters and have them fight against Spider-Man. Heck, this movie could be Spider-Man vs. Godzilla vs. Agent Smith vs. Ron Burgundy, but it does not guarantee a good movie. It’s a basic case of concept vs. reality. The concept is great, but the reality could suck. But here’s the truth about all these villains…

Jamie Foxx’s Electro was written ten times better than he was written in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.” Now, I will admit, they did kind of highlight a specific aspect about him from that film, specifically how Max was a nobody, which I thought had some okay setup before he was affected by a bunch of eels. But as we see him enter this universe, I could really tell that he was confused, he was concerned, and had no idea what was going on. They’ve even given him a new costume, which may be for story purposes, sure, but of course, who doesn’t want to sell more toys? Why do you think they gave 3PO a red arm in “The Force Awakens?”

My favorite villain of Raimi’s “Spider-Man” films was always Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock. I feel like even though his character was truly at the end of the day, an evil mastermind, he also had a heart. He went through tragedy the same way Peter did in those movies when he lost Uncle Ben. Only in the case of Doc Ock, he used his tragedy for evil, partially for a reason beyond his control. Even though he terrorized New York City, I feel bad for him, looking back. Plus, his arms are among some of the best practical effects ever. As for how he’s handled in this movie, I like the way they went about exploring his character’s newfound questions. After all, when you enter another universe, everything feels completely strange. Although when they first introduced him, they had a potential plot hole that could have affected how I viewed the entire movie that was corrected about ten to twenty minutes later. Glad they touched up on that. In this film, instead of his arms being practical, they were CGI, and I honestly could barely tell the difference. They did a really good job at making Doc Ock fit into a universe like this, even though it’s really the same character as another one.

But if you’re going to ask me who I think gives the single greatest performance out of all the film’s villains, I think that would have to be Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin. Now I always sensed that Dafoe enjoyed playing the character of Norman Osborn and being a part of the “Spider-Man” franchise. Even after his character died in “Spider-Man” (2002) he came back for the sequels, and there’s also a bonus feature where Alfred Molina is pranked by Dafoe, wearing the Doc Ock tentacles, trying to motivate Molina to give the greatest performance possible. Part of this movie centers around Osborn struggling with his inner self, which is not new for him, and I feel like we get so many layers to his character. We see his bewilderment of the world around him. We see him conflict over power and normalcy, and I think his dark side is more evident than ever. Whenever he does something truly horrific in this film, not only is it well written, I think it may deliver the best performance I have seen out of a Spider-Man villain in a long. Long. Long. Long time. I really liked the Green Goblin in the 2002 “Spider-Man” movie. “Spider-Man: No Way Home” arguably made him even better.

Now I will say that there are a couple other villains in this film, including Sandman and Lizard. Of the film’s villains, those two were the weakest, but they were still better than a lot of the villains we get in the MCU nowadays. I say that because a lot of the films in the MCU sometimes fail to heighten the villain and instead we get a cliche bad guy who just stands in the hero’s way. These are two are better than Ronan in “Guardians of the Galaxy.” And they’re especially better than Malekith in “Thor: The Dark World.” These two have some occasional funny lines, and I like Lizard’s reference to his master plan which Electro ended up making fun of. It’s not like they did not need to be in the movie, the movie is definitely cool with them and they do not end up doing anything offensive. But of all the villains in the film, Sandman and Lizard are the weakest links because they have the least depth. We get more time with Doc Ock and Goblin, therefore we have more opportunities to see depth for them, but for Sandman and Lizard, not so much.

But of course, this film belongs to the heroes. Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, Ned, and MJ.

All of these actors who play the heroes are great and I think when it comes to Ned (center) in this movie, he’s kind of a bundle of joy. When I saw Ned for the first time in “Homecoming,” I thought he was annoying. I kind of grown to like him in that movie a little bit, because I kind of get the enthusiasm behind finding out your best friend is Spider-Man, but I think of these three movies, he had the worst writing because his questions can get excessive. To me, the writing in this film made the most sense of the three, although his storyline in “Far from Home” was hilarious. It’s one way to write teen love I guess. Although if I have one thing to say, it’s not a huge complaint, but it is something worth pointing out, something happens with Ned in this movie that is out of random chance. It was never something that was established that he could do, or something he learned. It just happened. I mean, if you watched the movie, they “teased” it a little, but kind of as a joke, nothing more. I guess foreshadowing is foreshadowing, even if it’s a throwaway joke.

Zendaya’s MJ is another character that to me evolved with time. In the first film, she felt overly snarky. In the second film, I got to know her a little better and I began to appreciate her as a character just a bit more. In this third film, we see her with Spider-Man from the start, and I think their chemistry has blossomed into something special. It is worth noting that all three live-action Spider-Men from Tobey Maguire to Andrew Garfield to Tom Holland all dated their character-based love interests at one point in real life. Maybe that’s why their chemistry all feels natural. There was a scene on a school rooftop, it’s in the trailer, that stood out to me as to why Holland and Zendaya work together. Although I was a bit surprised to see MJ reading a physical newspaper as opposed to some article on her phone. I dunno, just a stereotypical generational thing.

Doctor Strange is in this film as well, and judging by the trailers, his performance at first felt a little different from his previous outings in the MCU. Having seen the movie, and having remembered some of the other movies he’s been in, it actually feels somewhat consistent. Maybe it feels different because he’s communicating with teenagers, which may not be his forte. I may be making excuses, but I think if you’re an adult, you may have a way of communicating with teenagers in a slightly different tone than you would with your spouse or your boss. You know, unless your employer works at “LitDonald’s!” Keep it 100 with our Big Lit! Sauce me some of those yeet fries! Enjoy the LitRib for a limited time! Although when it comes to consistency, there is a one-liner out of Strange about birthday parties that feels wonderfully similar in tone to this exchange in “Infinity War.”

Dr. Stephen Strange: If we don’t do our jobs…

Tony Stark: What is your job, exactly, besides making balloon animals?

Dr. Stephen Strange: Protecting your reality, douchebag.

But of course, we need to talk about Tom Holland. Spider-Man stories have shown a balance between a hero struggling to maintain his friendships, his identity, while also trying to save the world. In the case of “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” this balance is handled brilliantly. The film starts off right where the last one ended, and right off the bat we already see Spider-Man protecting what he has left of his identity, his love interest, and the people he knows. We already start off the movie with one of the worst possible things that could have happened to Peter Parker, and that’s just the beginning. We see him deal with controversy in school. Parker’s trying to find a lawyer. The people he loves are being hurt for reasons beyond their control. As we go through Spider-Man’s journey, the tragedy only builds up. And this is what makes Spider-Man a hero. When he goes to Doctor Strange to make everyone forget he’s Spider-Man, he’s not just looking out for himself, he’s looking out for the people around him. His friends, family, colleagues. There’s a subplot in the film where the trio are trying to get into college and that is only made harder through their connections to the battle in London.

I expected this film to be exciting. I expected this film to be fun. But part of me was not ready for how much emotion this movie packs. Now I figured there would be at least one emotional moment because it is the third film of a trilogy and that’s where certain ends are tied up for good and that sort of thing. This film has multiple powerful scenes and happenings that bring a balance between the expected excitement and the emotional weight. Tom Holland in this film honestly delivers one of the best performances of his career because of this. I don’t think he’ll be nominated for an Oscar, but by the end of the film, there’s a particular arc that is perfectly assembled and you don’t even need words for it. Just the expressions on his face alone make the scene perfect. You may know what I’m talking about when it comes around.

Although I do want to talk about one thing when it comes to the emotion. This is a spoiler-free review, so I will not go into detail. But the ending of “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” despite its instant feeling of satisfaction, induction of a smile, and solid conclusiveness to certain characters, probably would have been made better if Peter did one thing to possibly prevent another thing from happening. If I did a spoiler review, I would expand on it. But again, I cannot. The point of me making this review is not to discuss every single plot point and detail. It is to convince my viewers as to whether they could make a formal decision on whether “Spider-Man: No Way Home” is worth seeing. I recommend you do, I think this is easily one of best “Spider-Man” films ever made. But I want my viewers to go into this film knowing as little as possible, but with enough details as to what I like, didn’t like, and maybe that will help them know whether or not this movie is for them. I would not instantly recommend this movie to my mom (although I would recommend Shang-Chi), but I do recommend a lot of you reading this should go check out “No Way Home” on the biggest screen you can.

I will also point out that this is Jon Watts’s third film in this trilogy, making him the first director to direct a complete trilogy in the MCU. Jon Favreau directed two installments for “Iron Man,” but Shane Black did the third. Joss Whedon did the first two “Avengers” films, but the next two ended up going to the Russo Brothers. When it comes to all three movies, they are solid. But the directing in these films do not really give him much of a chance to individualize himself. And as for this movie, I think Willem Dafoe’s face reveal, as exciting as it was, could have been handled slightly better. It was still exciting, but it was very quick. Although I think if you take into account the end of the film and the performances from just about everyone, this may be the best-directed film in the franchise. Everyone felt true to their characters and when came to Peter’s emotions, Watts likely knew exactly how to touch base with Tom Holland. I think after seeing this film, I am curious to see if there are any specific quirks Watts develops, but I nevertheless think he will do a good job with “Fantastic 4,” whenever that comes out.

One last thing before we move on, J.K. Simmons is back as J. Jonah Jameson. You saw the little snippet of him in the previous film, but now we have him here and the way they utilize him is perfect. For this modern era, his placement in the universe makes sense. He’s basically Alex Jones if he was trying to find a cure for his balding. After seeing this film, I am convinced that nobody else aside from J.K. Simmons can play J. Jonah Jameson. Debate over.

Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)

In the end, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” is the best film in the Jon Watts trilogy. It’s a triumph for Tom Holland. It’s at the end of the day, a love letter to the character. My favorite “Spider-Man” movie is “Spider-Man 2,” and right below that would have to be this one. It’s that good. The movie has its flaws, but no movie’s perfect. I think the best part about “Spider-Man: No Way Home” is that it doesn’t just use all these previous characters and actors just for the sake of marketing. Granted, it definitely helps. But each villain had at minimum, the slightest of reason to be there. Even Sandman and Lizard. The first two “Spider-Man” films in the MCU happen to be about teenage Spider-Man dealing with teenage situations from crushes to school dances. This film, in my imagination, is literally Spider-Man attempting to push back a giant boulder of inconveniences and tragedies. And by the end of the film, I felt enough of its weight to make me care for everyone. If you like “Spider-Man,” you will love this movie. I don’t know if you will like it more depending on whether you have seen the other villains before, but that’s another debate for another time. Please check this film out, take your friends, take your family, take everyone. It’s best experienced with an audience, and there are some are some epic potential applause break moments depending on when and where you see this film. I’m going to give “Spider-Man: No Way Home” a 9/10.

To me, this kind of reminds me of “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood…” because despite the glaring issues that such a movie has, I ended up giving it a 9/10. The reason for that is because those issues barely get in the way of all the other crazy sequences and crowd-pleasers of this film. The fan part of me wants to give a perfect score, but again, there’s some issues that keep that from happening. There’s the fan side of me and the critic side of me. Today, I have to be the critic. The film is an experience that I want erased from my memory in order to go back and witness again. For those reasons alone, I highly recommend you go watch this film in a theater. But reserve your tickets in advance, you’re gonna want the best seats.

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” is now playing in theaters everywhere. Tickets are available now.

Thanks for reading this review! I want to let you guys know that I have more reviews coming up including one for “King Richard.” Stay tuned for that! If you want to see more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Spider-Man: No Way Home?” What did you think about it? Or, which Jon Watts-directed “Spider-Man” movie is your favorite? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

Soul (2020): Pete Docter’s Latest Attempt at Making You Cry

“Soul” is directed by Pete Docter (Up, Inside Out) alongside first timer for feature-length directing, Kemp Powers. This film stars Jamie Foxx (Ray, The Amazing Spider-Man 2), Tina Fey (30 Rock, Saturday Night Live), Questlove (The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon), Phylicia Rashad (The Cosby Show, Creed), Daveed Digs (Snowpiercer, Black-ish), and Angela Bassett (What’s Love Got to Do with It, Black Panther). This film centers around a middle school jazz teacher who often tries to find music gigs. He gets transported out of his body and must find his way back with the assistance of an infant soul.

Like many movies this year including “Scoob!,” “Trolls: World Tour,” “Greenland,” and “Mulan,” “Soul” joins the list of films that were once slated to have a big theatrical debut, but due to COVID-19, that became an impossibility. Therefore, Disney decided to put the film on their own streaming service, much like the just recently mentioned “Mulan.” However, unlike “Mulan,” to watch “Soul,” you did not have to pay an extra fee. You had to be a subscriber, but the one time fee of $29.99 was nonexistent. Yay!

Regardless of “Soul’s” fate, this was on my list of films to anticipate. After all, Pete Docter has directed three Pixar features, all of which by the way have been really good. “Monsters Inc.” puts a clever spin on the way we think about creatures that invade our nightmares. “Up” is a fun adventure with arguably the greatest on-screen dog ever made. “Inside Out” is not only one of my favorite Pixar movies, but it is by far one of the best animated films I have ever watched, and really shows that the studio does not cater to kids, and respects its entire viewer base.

Speaking of Pixar, they’ve yet to have a bad day at the office. Even a movie like “Cars 2,” which many people suggest lacks luster compared to many of Pixar’s other offerings, I would consider fun and thrilling all the way through. To be fair though, I have not seen all of Pixar’s work. I skipped “The Good Dinosaur” in the theater and I have yet to watch it at home. So who knows? Maybe that movie will disappoint me. So, does “Soul” keep up the positive streak Pixar has been hammering home by now?

Ehh… Kinda.

Let me say one thing about “Soul,” where there are positives, they are obvious. This film, much like all of Pixar’s recent work like “Incredibles 2” and “Toy Story 4” is beautifully animated. Even though I watched “Soul” on the small screen, New York looked as stunning as a snowfall on Christmas morning. I really like that Pete Docter decided to do another project where the main characters are not necessarily just humans, but little figments of ourselves. “Inside Out” is one of my favorite films of the past five to six years, and part of why I love that movie so much is because it takes emotions and utilizes them to make you feel emotions. Sort of in the same way, I kind of expected that going into “Soul.” In some ways, my expectations to such a matter were met. In others, not so much. The thing about “Inside Out” is that the movie managed to take characters, who in actuality are just parts of one humanized character, and turned them into something bigger, something bolder. In “Soul,” it kind of puts humans and souls in the same perspective and somewhat equalizes them despite their differences. This movie tries to do something with that, and there are a series of pros that come with the concept’s execution, but as the movie goes on, it becomes less interesting, especially towards the final few minutes.

“Soul” is by no means the worst movie of the year, however it may have the worst ending. I will not spoil anything, but this film does not exactly follow the structure of your traditional animation, and I think in some ways, that’s great. I love when films become experimental. But experiments are about trial and error. I think we’ve hit “error” territory with this vision. In a way, each character’s arch was fulfilled. All the actions lead to inevitable reactions. But I left the film feeling empty. I did not feel happy. I did not feel sad. I left not knowing what exactly to think. The usual thing about films is that they try to build up to an epic and satisfying climax. “Soul” has a climax, thankfully. However, as I watched the film, it did not feel climactic. It felt like we were somewhere in act two a little too long. I do not know why. When I watched “Inside Out,” it kind of felt like sex for your brain. You built up all this information, it’s all clogged in your mind, and when the big moments of the end come, I felt shook, it is a feeling that left me with a series of emotions. “Soul” left me with one question.

“Wait, that’s the movie?”

I felt like we’ve left the story unfinished, when in reality it wasn’t. Nothing really felt big or grand, and while I do not expect all my movies to feel like that, it feels weird to be saying that about a Pixar movie. The studio typically does a good job with scale and reminding you of the importance of its characters. “Soul” does that, but it couldn’t stick the landing.

However, speaking of characters, I admire the chemistry between our two leads. You have the main character, Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), who has to deal with his new normal after death. And you also have 22 (Tina Fey), who had a particular normal for centuries, and this movie presents the latest iteration of that normal. One of my favorite scenes of the film are the flashbacks of the past examples of what 22 is going through in the not the great beyond, but the great before, where souls remain before they journey to earth to live out their lives. I thought the duo were cast decently, and they had a couple funny lines here and there. Yes, “Soul” is funny, but I will not say it is as funny as other Pixar flicks including “Toy Story 2,” “Up,” and the incessantly mentioned “Inside Out.”

If anything, “Soul” is a movie that is probably going to be looked over by students. This is partially because it is a family friendly movie revolving around music, so this may be good for music classes of all ages. Also, the way it handles the afterlife (or the bare exposition to the afterlife) provides an intriguing peek at what may happen when we go bye bye. It is stunningly animated, and kind of creative. I wonder how other people are going to view “Soul” as far as the human condition message goes.

This movie is marketed to provide a message to remind people to follow their path, chase their dreams, achieve what they believe is their destiny. And the movie sort of dives into that, but it comes with a little more. And while “Soul” comes with a solid moral of the story, it almost feels inconsistent. Then again, the way this movie structures itself feels nearly inconsistent. At times it works, but if I had to give a percentage, it would not be 100%. Many movies have the neverending question, “What is human?” It is a great theme to dive into and can make for a terrific movie. “Soul,” much like how many of its characters are partial figments of ourselves in a way, has many of the positives of other Pixar films, but its positives do not stand out as much as other examples. The best phrase I can give to describe “Soul” is “partially positive.” “Soul” is emotional, but not “Toy Story 3” emotional. “Soul” is funny, but not “The Incredibles” funny. “Soul” is fun, but not “Ratatouille” fun. “Soul” is deep, but not “Inside Out” deep. Maybe it’s deeper, who knows? But regardless, “Soul” does not handle depth like “Inside Out” handles depth. “Soul” tries to encapsulate all these positive qualities, and it does to a degree, but it cannot do so all the way through. And that is really sad, because this film got me to subscribe to Disney+, and now I may be regretting my purchase. First impressions matter!

In the end, “Soul” may not be soulless, but it is also a far cry from what I expect from Pixar. Maybe my disappointment has to do with too much hype, because it’s the typical cycle. In addition to “Soul” having overwhelmingly positive reviews, with quite a few people I’ve come across suggesting it is a masterpiece, I went into the movie expecting one of the best things ever, only to be let down somewhat. That’s not the first time that’s happened to me with Pixar, because that happened to me with “Coco.” I was expecting an emotional thrill, but I left the film going “Okay, that happened. Next.” Again, this film looks great, even on a small screen where it was not originally meant to be seen, but as we progress through the second half of the film, it becomes progressively less fascinating, even with the whole links to what it means to be human. There’s good morals here, I just wish they were in a better movie. For those of you who have never seen a Siskel & Ebert review, their rating system is simple, thumbs up or thumbs down. If I had to give my thoughts on the animation and tech for this film, it is a definite thumbs up. The story, it depends on what we are talking about, but it is going to get the slightest of a thumbs up as I was entertained and hypnotized for a majority of the film. I’m going to give “Soul” a 7/10.

“Soul” is a positive movie, but as far as Pixar goes, it is not up to par with other films. It might even be my least favorite from the studio. When it comes to Pixar films from this year, I need time to marinate, but I might rather want to watch “Onward.” Just bein’ honest. And I will be fair to Pixar. To have a studio’s possibly worst movie get a 7/10 speaks volumes of its history. Just to be clear, Pixar has released feature films since the mid-1990s, and since then, they would put one or two out almost every year. I hope Pixar steps up from here, but I think they’ve created many great films and developed tons of memorable characters over the years. Here’s hoping they can conceptualize more.

“Soul” is exclusively available on Disney+ for all subscribers. And unlike one of the service’s other exclusives (for a limited time), “Mulan,” “Soul” is available at no extra cost.

Thanks for reading this review! Next week I will be reviewing “Wonder Woman 1984,” which is now in theaters wherever they are open. If your theaters are closed or you don’t feel safe going to a cinema right now, the film is also available on HBO Max to all subscribers for 31 days. I personally have my IMAX tickets ready for Sunday, and I cannot wait to watch the film! Also, at the start of 2021, I will be listing my top 10 BEST movies of 2020 and my top 10 WORST movies of 2020! These countdowns have been a tradition of mine for years, and I am glad to keep it going! Be sure to follow Scene Before either with an email or WordPress account so you can stay tuned for more great content! Also, check out my Facebook page! …If you wanna keep your soul. I want to know, did you see “Soul?” What did you think about it? And what is your LEAST FAVORITE Pixar movie? Worst, not best! Just want to make sure we’re clear! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

Movies and COVID-19: Behind the Scenes – Part 4

Hey everyone, Jack Drees here! It is now time for part 4 of the all new Scene Before series “Movies and COVID-19: Behind the Scenes.” This series describes the recent happenings, or in some cases, a lack of happenings, in the film industry as the world deals with the COVID-19 outbreak.

As usual, we deal with real world matters first. Since Easter was this past weekend, gatherings at churches and homes within one’s collective connections of a family that was commonplace in years past managed to take a backseat this year.

California has recently extended its stay at home order from April 19th to May 15th. Speaking of California, the state recently joined forces with other nearby states including Oregon and Washington in what they call the Western States Pact. The three announced a plan to put health first and deliver a more scientific-based focus compared to a political focus to stopping the coronavirus. The states are still building specific plans for their area, but they are nevertheless working together to stop the spread.

Speaking of which, the northeast portion of the United States is engaging in something similar. Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania are joining forces in their own coalition. So, remember all those requests for Andrew Cuomo to run for President of the United States? That won’t be happening anytime soon, but when it comes to coronavirus matters, he is currently dealing with more than just New York. Speaking of Presidents of the United States…

President Donald J. Trump stated this Monday that he is the one that should have control on opening the country back up. He suggests, “When somebody is president of the United States, the authority is total.” Trump also stated he wants to open the United States back up by May 1st, which close medical expert Anthony Fauci declares is “a bit overly optimistic.”

Just today, Andrew Cuomo referred to Trump this morning on NBC’s “Today,” suggesting “We do not have a king, we have a president.” Cuomo is doing what he can to make sure that the state of New York opens back up at what he considers to be the right time for everyone’s health. While Trump is suggesting May 1st, Cuomo fears that this all-powerful decision made by Trump will lead to “a constitutional crisis like you haven’t seen in decades,” as he stated in MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” Speaking of Andrew Cuomo, and somewhat transitioning to movie news a bit early here, he suggested the possibility of making drive-in theaters an exception to non-essential businesses that remain closed. Keep in mind, drive-ins have still been in operation during the ongoing crisis, but it does not mean that there are some that are not in operation, plus there are others that are just closed because it’s not the proper season for a drive-in to be open. Cuomo suggested, “Where is the public safety issue? It’s a drive-in theater. You’re in the car with the same people.” He is not wrong. Drive-ins make for a fun night out while also promoting social distancing. I would not mind drive-ins opening up, but the problem is… What movies are they going to play? Are just going to play “Trolls: World Tour” over and over? Maybe they’ll bring back some classics since there’s nothing else to do.

Going outside the United States, specifically in Wuhan, China, where early cases of the virus originated, the city opened back up after a lively lightshow and countdown declaring the disappearance of COVID-19. Despite the reopening, restrictions still appear to be in place including the closure of schools, shops, and sadly, cinemas. But one thing that has opened is the region’s wet markets. Outsiders are suggesting immediate closure of said wet markets as it serves live animals, including bats, which sources suggest is the reason why COVID-19 spread in the first place.

But of course, we have some movie news to talk about like usual. More delays, more new releases on DVD, Blu-ray, and digital, and some big news involving acclaimed filmmaker Bong Joon Ho (don’t worry, that part is all good news). Also, there’s a big movie that tried something new this weekend, going straight to digital while also having a theatrical release. Before we dive into that, I do want to point out that despite there being a major pandemic, some movie theaters are still open. Keep in mind, many of these theaters are drive-ins. This is now old news, but according to Deadline, 14 movie theaters remained open on the first weekend of April. I also want to point out another article I saw from The Wrap, which suggests that “Trolls: World Tour” played in 21 drive-in theaters this weekend. Even in desperate times, theaters are still active. Speaking of optimistic news, here’s more!

JAMES GUNN SAYS GUARDIANS 3 AND THE SUICIDE SQUAD WON’T BE DELAYED

Usually when I dive into these main topics during the series, I have often emphasized the bad news at hand. A common example is when a major film gets delayed such as “F9,” “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” or “Top Gun: Maverick.” However, it’s about time we get some good news in here and talk about a couple of films that are not being affected by the outbreak, both of which are being directed by James Gunn. To specify, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” which is a big movie, especially since it’s the third consecutive entry to the franchise being helmed by Gunn himself, but also “The Suicide Squad,” which has finished filming in February and is set to release August 6th, 2021. Gunn spent time on Twitter recently taking questions from fans and he had some notable things to say regarding these two films.

Alright, this resembles some decent progress on the film, and it shows that even in a time like this, people like Gunn in the entertainment industry are still working. But let’s see the next tweet.

Keep in mind, “The Suicide Squad” is not set to come out for a bit under a year and half, so there is plenty of time to edit the film, develop a marketing campaign, and lay out all the elements needed for the film’s post-production process. So the film is coming, and should this pandemic fizzle, there is a solid chance that “The Suicide Squad” will be in theaters during 2021. Now what about that other big comic book James Gunn has up his sleeve?

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” is not currently listed in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s fourth phase, but there have been previously established plans to make the film. Unfortunately, the film was supposed to come out this year, but due to James Gunn’s controversial tweets leaking, his business relationship with Disney was no more and he was no longer attached to direct the third installment to the franchise. Judging by this tweet right here, Gunn still seems to be working on the film, but an official release date seems rather uncertain at this point. IMDb lists it to come out in 2021, but given how Marvel has many other projects going on, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” might have to wait. But “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” is nevertheless a film that I will see should I get the chance to witness it come out, so this information pleases me to say the least. I was not the biggest fan of “Vol. 2,” but I am curious to see what Gunn could deliver to this third installment.

MORE MOVIES GET DELAYED

But of course, with good news, comes bad news. In this case, the bad news is that yet another delay is happening. As if Pixar didn’t suffer enough already by having to put “Onward” on digital early, they just pushed back “Soul” to November. Nobody behind Pixar seems to be popping bottles at this point. “Soul” was originally supposed to come out June 19th, but now has been pushed back to November 20th. By the way, this is releasing the same day as “Godzilla vs. Kong.” I honestly have no idea how well that movie is going to do box-office wise, but given Pixar’s name recognition and since there already has been some anticipation towards this film, there could be a chance that “Soul” is the box office champ of the two when it comes to seeing how they play out on opening weekend. The film is directed by Pete Docter, who also directed 2015’s “Inside Out,” which this film honestly reminds me of. Kemp Powers will co-direct by the way. While conceptually different, “Soul” seems to present the vibe of “Inside Out,” not to mention a somewhat similar concept. The film follows a musician (Jamie Foxx) who loses his passion for music. After being transported out of his body, he interacts with an infant soul while trying to return to said body. The film definitely sounds like it could be emotional, which would not be much of a shocker for a film by Pixar. But now here’s a problem for not just this film, but a bunch of others coming out this year. I don’t know if it is just me, but it now feels like November is CRAMMED with popular titles. From “Soul” to “No Time to Die” to “Black Widow.” While I could look at this as a benefit because it likely means this November will be a pop culture haven, it’s also a negative because I imagine some films that could potentially be big will underperform because they are in such a congested schedule. Or to make matters more interesting, November is also a big month for award season, and now there is probably a bigger focus on pop culture titles that might not be awarded much of anything as opposed to what could be nominated for the Academy’s Best Picture in a couple months.

Also, remember how “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run” got delayed to late July? Paramount’s “Infinite,” an upcoming sci-fi flick starring Mark Wahlberg (Transformers: Age of Extinction, Ted), which was originally come out July 31st, has officially been pushed back to Memorial Day weekend in 2021. The film follows a man whose hallucinations are visions of his past lives. I would like to go into some of my past lives at this point just to get away from whatever the hell is going on right now. Think I was done talking about “SpongeBob?” Well I’m not! I say so because the film has been delayed again, but this time only by a week. As of now, “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run” is coming out August 7th.

TROLLS: WORLD TOUR DEBUTS DIGITALLY

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I’ve talked about this news already, but given how this does document a rare incident, I might as well talk about it. Certain movies like “The Irishman” have a limited run in theaters before being put on Netflix, but for “Trolls: World Tour,” the sequel to DreamWorks’ successful 2016 flick, that’s a different story. You won’t be able to find it on Netflix, but you will be able to find it through services including Prime Video, FandangoNOW, and Vudu. The reason, Universal wanted to put “Trolls: World Tour” out on digital the same day they put it out in theaters. This is kind of an unprecedented situation as movies typically start in theaters and there is a waiting period until the movie comes out on digital and DVD. But nope, Universal thought it would be better to just digitally release the film. I have not seen the film, in fact, I have no plans on seeing the film given how I have not watched the original, but others did manage to show up for this new installment. The movie managed to make more through its digital run than “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” did when it debuted digitally. “Trolls: World Tour” managed to make around $30 million according to reports. This is compared to “Fallen Kingdom,” which managed to rack up $2-3 million. Keep in mind, these reports are exclusive to the United States. Also, another thing to keep in mind, that even though many of the purchases were through digital platforms, theaters were open during the initial days of “Trolls: World Tour,” many of which are drive-ins, so it is not like everybody had to be stuck in their house to watch it. Also, while $30 million may be considered successful in this circumstance, the movie cost $90 million to make, so there could be a chance that Universal will lose money over this. Even though a $19.99 rental for 48 hours can cost more than a single movie ticket, the target demographic for “Trolls: World Tour” is families, especially kids. You can take a family of four to the theater and pay double that price to see the movie, maybe even more. It’s also short of what the first movie raked in on its opening weekend back in 2016, which was over $46 million. If this sequel was in theaters, it probably could have surpassed that due to factors such as name recognition. My biggest wonder for “Trolls: World Tour” is how well it will do over these next few days, not to mention next weekend. I say that because, sure, the movie can have excellent debut to rave about. But if we are treating this as the closest thing to a theatrical release we can get, we have to consider how much of a drop it could make this following weekend. Will it make $15 million? $12 million? $10 million? Could it possibly make more this weekend than it did last weekend? Only time will tell. This straight to digital rollout is an experiment if there ever was one, and its chances towards success have recently shown that maybe theaters COULD have been much better for “Trolls: World Tour,” but this is a new way of doing things, and if we are still in this crisis, things could change.

MY SPY GOES STRAIGHT TO PRIME VIDEO

For those of you who don’t know, “My Spy,” the film where Dave Bautista goes undercover and makes a connection with a nine-year old girl, is a movie that has been promoted from time to time by STX here in the states has already released theatrically in select regions including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, and the United Kingdom. But for the United States, it’s a different story. The film has already had free screenings before it was supposed to come out, one of which I went to in January by the way. But the film has had a rough history when it comes to getting a proper release. “My Spy” was supposed to release on August 23rd, 2019. The film had a trailer put out a year ago, so the promotion and marketing process was getting into gear. However, it was pulled from STX’s release schedule in July. The next release date that was announced for the film was March 13th, 2020. And of course, to get the ball rolling on word of mouth and that sort of thing, free screenings started popping up and I got to attend one of them. But, just in the snap of a finger, the release date changed from March 13th to April 17th. I would imagine that the COVID-19 crisis could be a contributing factor, but I also wonder if STX thought if it would be a better time for the film to release in terms of financial gain compared to competition. Nevertheless, it was just announced on April 8th that the film is now going to be distributed by Amazon Studios and instead of going to theaters, it is going directly to Prime Video. So if you are a Prime member, you are likely going to be able to watch “My Spy” for free on the service.

CBS SCHEDULES SUNDAY MOVIE NIGHTS

CBS is a leading name for television. Their standard channels air daytime staples like “The Price Is Right” and “The Young and the Restless” along with notable shows at night such as “Young Sheldon,” “MacGyver,” and “Mom.” Meanwhile, they have been building a name for themselves through streaming by providing material such as a couple of “Star Trek” original shows and a spinoff of “The Good Wife” known as “The Good Fight” through CBS All Access. But if you get access to the main CBS channel, which I’m sure a lot of you do, one thing you might want to keep an eye on is their schedule for May. Every Sunday, CBS is going to air movies under the Paramount label. This will begin with a movie that is very likely to garner attention, “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” In addition to that “Indiana Jones” film, the network is also airing “The Last Crusade.” Oddly enough, they are skipping over “Temple of Doom.” Other movies to be aired by CBS will include “Titanic,” “Forrest Gump,” and “Mission: Impossible.” This run will last for five Sundays from May 3rd to May 31st. By the way, all the movies are scheduled to begin at 8PM, except for “Titanic,” which will start at 7PM. Earlier on in the series, I discussed that ESPN was going to air movies on Friday nights, said movies are all Disney-owned and focus on sports. One thing that I think would help CBS in a case like this compared to ESPN just a little bit is its accessibility. CBS is a slightly more recognizable channel and unlike ESPN, you can get it on an antenna.

HULU ACHIEVES BEST PICTURE WINNER PARASITE

One of my favorite films of the past year is the Bong Joon Ho-directed masterpiece, “Parasite.” Lucky for me, I own the Blu-ray, therefore I have the ability to watch the film as much as I please through a physical disc. But if you have Hulu, you can consider yourself lucky because “Parasite” is now available on the service. For the record, the film is not the first of its kind to be on Hulu. To be clear, the film was distributed in the States by Neon, which also helped distribute titles including “I, Tonya,” “The Beach Bum,” and “Honeyland.” Films like these have also made it to Hulu. So if you wanted to watch “Parasite” without paying much, just make sure you have a Hulu subscription and you’re good to go. And remember, it won the Academy’s vote for Best Picture, so every film aficionado will tell you that it is bloody important. If you are a little skeptical on watching “Parasite” because it is in Korean, let me just remind you of this quote given by director Bong Joon Ho himself.

“Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”

Speaking of Bong Joon Ho, his 2013 work “Snowpiercer,” which is being adapted into a series set to air on TNT, is coming out for the first time in the United Kingdom on DVD and Blu-ray. The film is set to release on May 25th. It’s one heck of a time to be Bong Joon Ho.

NEW HOME VIDEO RELEASES

Stuck at home? Jack’s here to help! This week for digital has got a few new movies coming your way. For starters, we have “Underwater,” one of the last films to display the 20th Century Fox label. For the record, Disney did complete their acquisition of Fox’s assets during March 2019, but for a little under a year, they kept putting out films like “Ford v Ferrari” that had the studio label that has achieved fame. Although, with the recent release of “The Call of the Wild,” they are now using 20th Century Studios instead. Sticking with “Underwater,” the film stars Kristen Stewart alongside a crew of researchers as their underwater facility is hit with an earthquake. The film is a box office bomb, making $37.2 million on a $50 million budget. It has a 47% critic rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a 60% audience rating, so it’s hard to know what exactly you’ll think of it upon first glance. The film is also now available on DVD and Blu-ray if you prefer the physical copy.

“Fantasy Island,” which is based on a TV show of the same name, is now available for digital purchase. If you want to wait for a rental option, that is coming May 12th, the same day the film comes out on DVD and Blu-ray. Keep in mind, the film has a 4.6 on IMDb, which might not be the best of signs.

Also coming out, “The Rhythm Section.” This action flick stars Blake Lively and Jude Law, and is about a woman whose family dies in a plane crash. This woman joins the world of espionage as she seeks vengeance. The film is not out on DVD and Blu-ray until April 28th, but it is available for digital purchase today.

Thanks for reading the fourth part of the ongoing series “Movies and COVID-19: Behind the Scenes!” Even in the apocalypse, there is one thing I can promise, and that my friends, is content. Maybe not the content that I want to make, but content nevertheless. Last week I said that I’d probably get shoved into an abyss by STX executives if I talk about “My Spy” at this point. So with that in mind, now that it is owned by Amazon and has no official release date, I will probably be shoved into an abyss by Amazon executives, or maybe even Jeff Bezos himself, if I talk about “My Spy” at this point. So what is happening with the movie is clear, but when I will review it, is unclear. Only time will tell. Be sure to follow Scene Before either with an email or WordPress account so you can stay tuned for more great content! Also, check out my Facebook page! I want to know, is there any big news I missed regarding COVID-19 and entertainment over the past week? Also, since it is appropriate, what are your thoughts on “Parasite?” Personally, I think it is one of the most twisted movies I have seen in recent memory and it is a blast from start to finish. Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

Django Unchained (2012): Now You Have My Attention, Tarantino

Hey everyone, Jack Drees here! Before we begin this post, I want to announce that I officially purchased my opening night tickets for “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” which is the latest film from director Quentin Tarantino. I’m going to see the movie in 35mm and I will likely have my review up by the end of the opening weekend. But since that movie is not out yet, I am going to be tackling a couple more Tarantino films from the past including one of the latest additions to the director’s library, “Django Unchained.” I sat down last week, watched the film for the first time, and let me just say, any movie that has Robert Carradine (King of the Nerds, Revenge of the Nerds), chances are I will have some interest in checking out. Without further ado, let’s start the review!

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“Django Unchained” is directed by Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction) and stars Jamie Foxx (Ray, Collateral), Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds, The Green Hornet), Leonardo DiCaprio (Titanic, Inception), Kerry Washington (Scandal, Save the Last Dance), Samuel L. Jackson (The Avengers, Snakes on a Plane), Walton Goggins (Justified, The Shield), Dennis Christopher (Breaking Away, It), James Remar (2 Fast 2 Furious, Sex and the City), Michael Parks (Red State, Planet Terror), and Don Johnson (Miami Vice, Nash Bridges). This film involves a dynamic duo, specifically a freed slave and German bounty hunter. The freed slave’s main purpose throughout the film is trying to reunite with his wife. To do that, they have to travel to a plantation in Mississippi.

I was pretty excited to watch “Django Unchained” for a number of reasons. As of watching “Pulp Fiction” and reviewing it, I instantly had Tarantino fever. “Django Unchained” had a decent cast including Jamie Foxx and Leonardo DiCaprio. Plus, while he does not play a major role, Robert Carradine, one of the members of the legendary Carradine acting family, is in this movie. While I may not be invested in said family, Carradine is personally one of my idols simply for being host of “King of the Nerds,” one of the only good reality shows to ever exist. I was pretty much set for whatever Tarantino was going to deliver.

I just want to remind everyone that in the name “Django,” the “D” is silent. But as for my thoughts on the film, I almost feel that in a world where praise can make noise, my praise for “Django Unchained” would be pretty freaking audible. That is not to say that it is as good as “Pulp Fiction,” there are a couple issues I have with “Django Unchained,” including one or two that could be used in comparison to “Pulp Fiction.”

When I watched “Pulp Fiction,” I had my eyes glued to the screen for pretty much the entire picture. Part of me wants to say that for “Django Unchained,” but I’d be lying if I didn’t go without saying that the pacing for “Django Unchained” occasionally becomes a hindrance. The thing that kept me looking at the screen for “Pulp Fiction” was the execution of the dialogue between characters, not to mention actions in between. “Django Unchained,” much like “Pulp Fiction,” is a movie that is very cool to look at. It feels exactly how I would want a western-style film to be. But there are one or two points where I am thinking to myself certain scenes can be executed in a slightly different way for the sake of shortening the runtime or some other reason. Who knows? Maybe it’s one of those things that I will learn to appreciate over a second watch, but it’s hard to tell. It’s not like I became angry with the ways certain scenes went down, in fact, there is one scene in particular past the halfway point that goes on for a long time, and the execution there is brilliant. And that’s the thing about Tarantino that I have come to appreciate over the past couple of films I watched. There are a lot of movies out there that I would criticize for having extended scenes that go on forever, with boring dialogue. There are particular long scenes in this that may have dialogue that some directors and writers could probably leave behind. Tarantino however, seems to be the master when it comes to shoehorning in useless scenes. It’s mind-boggling that I as an audience member could be witnessing a moment of the film that is borderline unneeded, but because of what is being said, it feels like a cherry on top of a sundae!

As for the characters in “Django Unchained,” all of them are well written. In fact, there are some cases where I refuse to call them characters and instead call them “A+ dialogue generators.” I really felt for Jamie Foxx’s character of Django at certain points, and there are times where I managed to find him pretty kick-ass. And such kick-assery is established from the very first scene, which is carried through the entire film with ease. And as far as his chemistry with Christoph Waltz goes, it is taken to the point where I cannot even imagine anybody else playing either of their characters.

By the way, I love this scene.

Amerigo Vessepi: What’s your name?

Django: Django.

Amerigo Vessepi: Can you spell it?

Django: D-J-A-N-G-O. The D is silent.

Amerigo Vessepi: I know.

I dunno, there’s something about that which just randomly screams, “Hey! I kick ass and take names!” And not only do I have to give credit for Jamie Foxx for the way he delivered that line, but I think top credit has to go to Quentin Tarantino, because I imagine he wanted this line specifically in the way which it happens to be presented here. Granted, it is also an Easter egg because this movie was inspired by the 1966 movie “Django,” starring the guy opposite this movie’s “Django” in the conversation above. Specifically, Franco Nero.

Although, even though I said I cannot imagine somebody playing someone else’s character, there’s one exception, but the reasoning for it is kinda crazy. When I read the cast on the Blu-ray case for this movie, I almost thought KERRY Washington said DENZEL Washington, so I cannot currently get him out of my head!

Speaking of things I cannot get out of my head, part of me really wants to see this movie turned into a video game. Why? Because this movie at times is unnecessarily violent, but it is all the better for it. There’s one shootout towards the end in particular that was a giant bloodbath. Said shootout contains a number of satisfying kills, and I would probably would need to rewatch this film, or maybe that scene in particular, but it could end up being in my top 20 favorite action scenes. And it does not take away from any emotion that I had towards the characters, because Django would get himself into a less than satisfying situation that made me admire the other side for how they executed their actions (stylistically), but I was still able to latch onto Django as a character.

I also gotta give credit to the costume and makeup department, especially with the transformation of Samuel L. Jackson. Because in this movie, he does not completely look like Samuel L. Jackson and instead looks more like the stereotype for a retired badass NBA basketball player. Per usual, Jackson is charismatic, plays a well written character, and at this point I’m pretty much repeating myself, I do not see anybody else playing his character. It’s amazing what a little grey hair can do to make a role more convincing.

In the end, “Django Unchained” is a fun ride, and kinda bonkers. Depending on the next movie I watch from Tarantino, he could become my favorite screenwriter of all time, and while this was not as good as “Pulp Fiction,” this manages to have the same Tarantino flair that movie had which I appreciate. This is not to say that “Django Unchained” is a ripoff, but it is just another reason why I happen to admire Tarantino’s directorial choices. He’s edgy, creative, and badass. “Django Unchained” solidifies itself as one of the best films of its year and when it comes to other violent films out there, this makes every other film look like it was made for children. “Django Unchained” kicks ass! I’m going to give “Django Unchained” a 9/10!

Thanks for reading this review! For those of you who want to know my next installment in the Tarantino review series, it is going to be his latest film, specifically 2015’s “The Hateful Eight.” I wanted to see this movie in theaters, but I never got around to it because of competition. Let’s face it, I ended up seeing “The Force Awakens” four times in a matter of two months. Nevertheless, I am very excited, I enjoy a good mystery every once in a while, so hopefully this will be good! As for new releases, I’m still trying my best to get myself to go see “Spider-Man: Far From Home.” I’m wondering if it is gonna be this year’s “Deadpool 2.” It’s a movie that I want to see, one that I am trying extra hard to get myself to see, but for one reason or another, I almost failed to get around to it. We’ll see what happens! Be sure to follow Scene Before with an email or WordPress account so you can stay tuned for more great content! Also, check out my Facebook page! I want to know, did you ever watch “Django Unchained?” What did you think about it? Or, what is your favorite unnecessarily violent film or scene from a film? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!