The Novice Cinephile

Exploring the world of cinema one film at a time.

This is less of a review and more of my spoiler-filled thoughts and raw emotions. So, if you have not seen Spider-Man: No Way Home, please bookmark this tab and return after watching the movie.

I believe there’s a hero in all of us, that keeps us honest, gives us strength, makes us noble, and finally allows us to die with pride, even though sometimes we have to be steady, and give up the thing we want the most. Even our dreams.

May Parker – Spider-Man 2

I love Spider-Man. That’s not a surprising statement, especially for a guy who grew up in the late 90s and early 2000s. My first memories are of my parents taking me to Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2. I grew up playing Spider-Man 2 (the video game) on my Playstation 2, watching the 90s Spider-Man cartoon, reading Stan Lee‘s and Steve Ditko‘s original comic books (they were hidden inside of the Sunday paper), and moving on to shows like The Spectacular Spider-Man, and Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.

Spidey is in my DNA, but it’s never something I honestly thought about. I was always a fan, but my favorites were Superman, Batman, The Ninja Turtles, the Teen Titans, and even characters like The Flash and Aquaman. Still, I always had a love for the web-slinger deep down. Tobey Maguire‘s Spider-Man films are one of the reasons I love movies, and the grounded but lighthearted tone is why I tend to value these types of stories. Peter Parker is a character designed for children, and his stories, teach kids the basic but poignant lesson; with great power, there must also come great responsibility.

It’s a tired lesson at this point, but Stan and Steve wanted kids to develop a moral compass. If you can help others, you have to do so. In the comics, these words are a narration by Stan. The films and shows took creative liberty by having Uncle Ben, a casualty of Peter’s selfishness, utter these words before his death. A change that pushes the idea even further. Ben teaches Peter this lesson because he wants Peter to think of others, not just as Spider-Man (Ben doesn’t even know about that), but rather to grow into a caring and compassionate human being.

Steve Rogers, Clark Kent, Peter Parker, and Barry Allen are all cut from the same cloth. They are all good guys at their core. The twist for Spider-Man is that Peter can never win. He struggles, falls, and loses everything, but he never lets that stop him. Peter might even break, but he’ll always build himself back up. It’s what makes this character timeless. He’s someone every single person can see themselves in. That’s why he wears a full-faced mask. Anyone can be Spider-Man, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion. You, too, can be Spider-Man, and fight for what you believe in. It’s a story about loss and how we bounce back from it.

Every day I wake up knowing that no matter how many lives I protect, no matter how many people call me a hero, someone even more powerful could change everything.

Peter Parker – The Amazing Spider-Man 2

So, growing up, I loved the character, and the Raimi trilogy was coming to an end. The next big thing was coming, and we all felt it as soon as Iron Man hit theaters the following year. The MCU was another monumental moment in my life as I was barely a teenager when The Avengers hit theaters. Again, my parents took my sister and me to yet another comic book movie that blew my mind. The idea that these characters I loved got a chance to team up was unreal, and I haven’t felt a moment like that sense. The pure joy and excitement that this movie gave me are why I think stories are powerful. The Avengers is not a perfect movie. It might be the worst of the four, but like Superman: The Movie made the world believe a man could fly, The Avengers made me think that anything is possible.

What does any of this have to do with Spider-Man: No Way Home? Well, Spider-Man: No Way Home made me feel the way I did watching The Avengers, seeing Spider-Man all the back in 2002, and experiencing  Avengers: Endgame, which felt like a chapter of my life coming to an end. On the surface, Spider-Man: No Way Home is a cash grab. It’s nostalgia and fan service just for ticket sales. They didn’t have to create new villains with new actors because Sam Raimi (The Spider-Man trilogy) and Marc Webb (The Amazing Spider-Man films) did the heavy lifting. However, this movie is so much more.

No Way Home is the final chapter of a Peter Parker origin story. The MCU’s Spider-Man is vastly different from the ones that came before. He’s discovered by Tony Stark, taken in as an Avenger, groomed to become the next Iron Man, and given the keys to the kingdom. That’s not the relatable everyman Stan envisioned, but yet he still had every struggle and learned the lessons all others learn. Homecoming was Peter learning that being a hero is complex and he needs to take this life seriously. Far From Home was Peter getting betrayed. He’s too loose with his identity, he trusts Mysterio when he just met him, and Nick Fury wasn’t even who he claimed to be. Finally, No Way Home is about Peter suffering the consequences of his actions. A lesson that Stark had to learn as well.

In this film, Peter’s luck runs out, and he falls to the lowest point any Spider-Man has ever fallen, and we use everything we’ve learned from the Raimi, Webb, and MCU movies to reinforce this idea. The charm of the Raimi films, the grit of the first Webb film, the event style of storytelling in the MCU crafted one of the best Spider-Man stories of all time. See, like in Spider-Man’s comic origins, Peter’s selfishness leads to the events of this film, and he loses everything he’s ever cared about. His wanting to “be normal” leads to him giving into Mysterio, which creates this entire issue in the first place, but he didn’t learn from there. His wanting to fix his previous mistake leads to him breaking the multiverse. This Spider-Man is a child who has to burn himself before realizing the stove is dangerous.

Whatever life holds in store for me, I will never forget these words: “With great power comes great responsibility.” This is my gift, my curse…

Peter Parker – Spider-Man (2002)

So by having Aunt May give him the speech and having the other Spider-Men reinforcing her teachings, Peter finally realizes that this job comes with a price, and you have to be prepared to suffer the consequences. The very thesis of Spider-Man’s entire character is laid out in front of us in this movie. All three films told one complete arc, and I didn’t even realize. It’s the culmination of every single Spider-Man story before it.

So, back to 24-year old me. I’m in the theater, with my parents and sister, watching Spider-Man once again, and the emotions hit me like a truck. I didn’t realize how much this character, how much these moments, meant to me. Seeing Tobey face off against Goblin when I was five, being devastated watching Gwen’s death at 13, and Peter losing May at 24; this character has been in every phase of my life thus far. Sharing this film, the pinnacle of Spider-Man, with the people who shared these moments with me was unbelievable. Having the three Spider-Men represent every facet of the character (Tobey is the everyman, Andrew is the genius, Tom is the childlike whimsy) was everything I wanted and gave me chills, much like seeing Thor, Cap, and Iron Man for the first time.

Spider-Man: No Way Home isn’t a perfect film, nor is it the overall best Spider-Man film, but it’s everything Stan and Steve envisioned. A hero who kids can look to when things feel rough, someone to inspire you to push on, and teaching the lifelong lesson that with great powers comes great responsibility. This is why the ending is one of the best in the entire franchise. The Home trilogy took Peter and broke him down to his lowest low, but now we need to see him pick himself up. He chooses to leave Ned and MJ behind, but he’s happy knowing that they’re safe, and now he has to build a new life for himself. He has to go and become his Spider-Man. Not the next Iron Man, or a clone of Andrew and Tobey, but a brand new friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.

Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) vs. T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman)

The 18th film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe takes us to the fictional land of Wakanda. Here, we’re introduced to a whole new side of the Marvel universe and go on a thrilling adventure with T’Challa, king of Wakanda, the Black Panther. Chadwick Boseman brings one of my favorite superheroes to life in this instant classic!

So, given that Marvel is the biggest franchise on earth and everyone on the internet has already watched Black Panther, this review will be slightly different. Instead of talking about if the movie is worth watching, we’re going to take a moment to appreciate this film and the legacy it leaves behind.

The character of Black Panther was created by comic book legends Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. He made his debut in the Avengers and Fantastic Four series and went on to have his own comic book run. He was the first superhero of African descent and appeared years before heroes like The Falcon, Luke Cage, and John Stewart (Green Lantern). The relevance of this character has been a part of his origin since the beginning. T’Challa isn’t just a comic book character. He’s a symbol of the African-American dream. Continue reading

Love & Basketball is about two professional athletes who fall in love at first sight. Will the love of basketball drive them apart or be the force that binds them together?

We follow Monica Wright (Sanaa Lathan) from age 11 all the way to her late 20s. She dreams of being the first woman in the NBA and bonds with her neighbor Quincy McCall (Omar Epps), an NBA player’s son. Their shared love of basketball is the crutch of their relationship. It’s what brings them together, but also what drives them apart. Everything comes easy for Quincy. He dreams of playing the NBA (like his father), and scouts are constantly watching him. He’s a prodigy, so things come naturally for him. Monica is equally as talented as a player, but it’s harder for a woman to stand out in sports. She has to overcome challenges with her family’s disapproval of her being an athlete and the pressure of getting recruited for college.

This starts to drive a wedge between Monica and Quincy because as soon as Monica has a breakthrough, she has to make an impossible decision. Is the love of basketball more important than her love for Quincy? That’s the question Monica faces throughout the film. Continue reading

Boyz n the Hood is a coming of age story and follows Tre Styles (Cuba Gooding Jr.) as he grows up in South Central Los Angeles. We meet his friends Ricky Baker (Morris Chestnut) and Darren ‘Doughboy’ Baker (Ice Cube) and learn the harsh truths of living in the hood.

This film hurts. It pulls no punches and is all too real. Writer and director John Singleton crafts a beautiful story showcasing what many black communities suffer from daily. Tre, Ricky, and Doughboy are three young men who have just as much potential as anyone else, but their lives of poverty, drugs, and gangs set them up for failure. Do we overcome these struggles, or do we succumb to them? Some people never get the chance, and it’s deplorable. Continue reading

Do the Right Thing is director Spike Lee’s fourth film, and it packs an emotional punch. Lee tackles everyday racism, police brutality, and white privilege in this amazing story.

The film follows Mookie (played by Spike Lee) as he works for a pizzeria owner named Sal (Danny Aiello) and his two sons, Vito (Richard Edson) and Pino (John Turturro). We see Mookie interact with his girlfriend, his friends, and his family throughout the film.

When watching this movie, I wasn’t sure what its message was going to be. What’s the ending going to be for Mookie? What are his struggles, his goals, and who does he want to be? As time went on, I noticed the real ambiguity of the story that was being told. We’re in the real world, and things don’t always play out like they do in the movies. Mookie doesn’t become a Jedi, and we’re certainly not searching for the ark of the covenant. No, Do the Right Thing is about people. They can be lazy, funny, stubborn, racist, broke, and downright silly at times, but that’s apart of human nature. Continue reading

Sounder is a film based on the William H. Armstrong novel of the same name. We follow the Morgan family as they survive the depression. Nathan (Paul Windfield) gets arrested for stealing food, and it’s up to his eldest son, David Lee (Kevin Hooks), and his wife, Rebecca (Cicely Tyson), to take care of their family.

The film is very grounded and simple in its storytelling. All of the characters feel like real people with real relationships. That might sound simple, but oftentimes in stories, the characters are here to present an idea and often aren’t fully developed in other ways. A perfect example is Leonardo leads, and Donatello does machines. The Ninja Turtles are four parts of one personality. Here, Nathan isn’t made to be a criminal. He’s just trying to take care of his family. You understand his motives, and even if they’re wrong, the film still shows you all sides of the character. It’s why such a simple premise is so moving.

Kevin Hooks is solid as David Lee. The love he has for his father and family is something that shines through. He is essentially our main character and holds his own with someone like Cicely Tyson. The nuance in Tyson’s performance is incredible. You see how caring and strong she is with her family, and once she has to deal with the white men in power, her tone shifts into a more serious, almost cynical tone.

The movie’s lack of a music score makes things often feel too quiet, but I honestly feel that better serves this film. It makes it feel like you’re a fly on the wall observing their lives. It was slightly jarring at first, but I learned to really love that decision as the movie went on.

The film is about love, loss, and hope. That’s something that we all need, especially in trying times. Sounder is a story that takes a basic idea and elevates it to something so much more. The film shows a family’s struggles and how they can survive those struggles with one another’s help.

In the Heat of the Night is a mystery drama based on John Ball’s 1965 novel of the same name. We follow a Philadelphia detective named Virgil Tibbs, played by Sidney Poitier. After passing through a small town in Mississippi, Tibbs is taken into custody for a murder simply based on his skin color. After the local police run out of options, they turn to Tibbs to solve the crime and find the real killer.

Poitier and Rod Steiger (Chief Gillespie) are a fantastic duo. Seeing the friction morph into respect between Gillespie and Tibbs is truly captivating and had me glued to the screen. The town of Sparta, MS, is dark and eerie. The residents are often depicted as racist or, at best unwelcoming to strangers. Giving the entire town this cold feeling. Seeing Tibbs confront racism and fight against it is one of the most powerful moments I’ve ever seen on film.

A black man is needed in a racist town; Tibbs could have easily returned home and have been free of this nightmare. Instead, he revealed his true character and decided to show compassion. He helped out people who think he’s their enemy and did so without taking crap from anyone. That’s a powerful statement, and the fact that this was in 1967 makes it even more incredible.

The tension in this film is incredibly high. I’m not too invested in the murder of Mr. Colbert, but in how Tibbs balances the murder mystery and racial backlash simultaneously. That’s the hook of the movie, and it’s handled beautifully. All good stories are brought to life by their characters, and this film is no different.

In the Heat of the Night is a fantastic mystery and packs a powerful message. Director Norman Jewison delivers a film that is a very human story about racial prejudice. With terrific performances from Poitier and Steiger and a great soundtrack by the legend Quincy Jones. It’s a classic that anyone would enjoy.

(Left)Tony Curtis, (Right) Sidney Poitier

The Defiant Ones star Sidney Poitier as Noah Cullen and Tony Curtis as John “Joker” Jackson. Cullen and Joker are two escaped prisoners who are chained together and must learn to depend on one another. The film tackles the subject of racial prejudice and crafts a thrilling and heart-warming tale around these two characters and their adventure.

Poitier and Curtis both deliver fantastic performances. You feel the bond between Cullen and Joker grow over the course of the story, and it’s really touching. Director Stanley Kramer delivered an incredible adventure story, and this is easily one of his best films. Kramer often used films to deliver a message on social issues, and this film is no different. Here, he finds the perfect balance between social commentary and adventure. Both characters feel real and human, and that’s what makes this story work. The idea of having our main characters chained together might seem a bit forced, but Kramer makes it work, and it’s a masterpiece.

There are supporting characters like Theodore Bikel (Sheriff Muller) and
Charles McGraw (Captain Gibbons), and they are all good in their roles. However, this is clearly Poitier and Curtis’ movie. They take up the bulk of the screentime and give it everything they’ve got. Thankfully, the Academy gave them the much-deserved recognition at the Oscars, with both being nominated for Best Actor.

I highly recommend The Defiant Ones. It’s a film that I feel everyone would benefit from watching. It’s the type of movie I love. There’s a sense of adventure and tension, but it also has something to say (It won Best Original Screenplay). The film sticks with you long after you’ve watched it and leaves you with a sense of clarity. Humans aren’t perfect, but there’s a chance that we can change as long as we work together.

The Defiant Ones is currently streaming on Prime Video.

Cabin in the Sky was released in 1943 and stars Ethel Waters (Petunia Jackson), Eddie “Rochester” Anderson (Joe Jackson), Lena Horne (Georgia Brown), Rex Ingram (Lucifer Jr.), and Kenneth Spencer  (The General). The film is a musical comedy that is based on the 1940 Broadway musical of the same name. Fun fact: Waters and Ingram actually reprise their roles from the stage play.

The film follows Joe Jackson, a good-hearted but materialistic man whose repentance is cut short when he is killed for his gambling debts. Joe is given 60 days to change his ways and punch his ticket to heaven. Though, Lucifer Jr. and his minions will do everything they can to prevent that from happening. Petunia’s prayers gave Joe a second chance but will he be able to change his life for the better?

Cabin in the Sky a fun time with fantastic performances from the assembled cast! The music is excellent and features performances by Duke Ellington and his Orchestra. The film also features the Academy-Award Nominated song, ‘Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe’ and other standouts.

I enjoyed Waters’ role in particular. She delivers a touching performance, and her singing is outstanding. The film still suffers from a few racial stereotypes, but on the whole, it is pretty respectful to its cast and the audience.

Having an all-black cast was rare in the 1940s, and unfortunately, many theaters refused to play the picture for that very reason. The film was banned in Memphis, TN, and police shut down a showing 30 minutes into the film in Mount Pleasent, TN. However, that didn’t stop the movie from grossing nearly 26 million dollars at the domestic box office [numbers adjusted for inflation].

Cabin in the Sky is a charming film that broke new ground in the entertainment industry. It’s not without its flaws but shows that changes were starting to take place in Hollywood. Decades later, in the year 2020, the film was inducted into the National Film Registry, where it will be preserved forever.

Welcome to the first review in my Black History Month series. Here, we will be reviewing films starring black actors from the 1930s all the way to the 2010s. This is my way of celebrating black excellence and showcasing just how far we’ve come in the last 90 years. In this review, we’ll be taking a look at Imitation of Life (1934)!

Imitation of Life is based on a Fannie Hurst novel of the same name and focuses on two single mothers, Bea Pullman (Claudette Colbert) and Delilah Johnson (Louise Beavers). Both women go into business together to take care of their daughters. Bea’s late husband ran a maple syrup business, and Delilah has an incredible pancake recipe. The two launch a successful restaurant and raise their daughters Jesse Pullman (Rochelle Hudson) and Peola Johnson (Fredi Washington).

As time passes, Peola begins to learn that she and her mother are black. This is the 1930s, so obviously, this is a struggle for Peola. She is light enough to pass as a white girl and hates her mother for making her black [Peola’s father was white]. This is the emotional backbone of the story.

The film is a very progressive story for its time. Two working-class single mothers is not a story you often saw in the 1930s. It’s also the first film to deal with a mulatto child and what that means for a black family. Delilah still has her slave mentality, it’s a part of her character, and Peola can’t accept that side of her mother. It’s truly heartbreaking.

This film struggles to tell the story of Delilah and Peola, likely fearing the audience reception. The subject matter of light-skinned vs. dark-skinned still plagues black Americans to this very day. So, it’s never at the forefront of the film. Instead, we mostly see Bea and Delilah creating their business or a romance between Bea and Stephen Archer (Warren Williams). The film also still makes sure that Bea is shown to have more class than Delilah. Even though they’re business partners and share a home, Delilah still lives in the basement and never dresses quite as fancy as Bea.

Imitation of Life is a film ahead of its time but is still clearly a movie from the 1930s. Louise Beavers’ performance deserved an Oscar nomination but was snubbed for obvious (racist) reasons. The story was adapted again in 1959 and made Delilah and Peola the main plot of the movie. Completely erasing the pancake company. Unfortunately, Peola was not played by a black actress in that picture. Showing that even nearly 30 years later, Hollywood still couldn’t do this story justice.

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for the next review, which takes us to the 1940s!