The 300 Week 50: Spidies of the Spider-Verse, Unite!


Hey there, friendly neighborhood readers, and welcome back to The 300, my amazing and spectacular attempt to see more than 300 movies in theaters in 2018. I’ll be watching new releases, classics, hidden gems, and festival films to experience the wide world of cinema in all its forms. With so much moviegoing variety, there’s probably something you’d be interested in as well. Excelsior.

As always, there are three rules for The 300:

  • The movie must be at least 40 minutes long, meeting the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ definition of a feature film.
  • I must watch the movie at a movie theater, screening room, or outdoor screening venue.
  • While I can watch movies I’ve seen before 2018, I cannot count repeated viewings of the same film in 2018 multiple times.

Another light week as the holidays are approaching and I was traveling. I’m glad I knocked out 300 movies ahead of time because I don’t anticipate a binge coming up any time soon. These final two weeks will likely be filled with blockbusters and, hopefully, some holiday classics.

I noticed that the Nitehawk Cinema by Prospect Park is now open. When I get back to New York, I’ll be sure to see a movie there before the year’s end. I remember when that theater used to be The Pavilion, a terrible movie theater I have fond and not-so-fond memories of. I can’t believe the year is almost over. Where has the time gone?

And so, onward.

312 of 300: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Director: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman
Starring: Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali
Country: USA
Seen at AMC Saratoga 14 (San Jose, CA)
Monday, December 17th

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is one of the best superhero movies of the last few years, and one of the best animated movies put out in 2018. The film is comic book as f**k, rife with Ben-Day dots, Kirby Krackle, dynamic on-screen panel layouts, and the textured lines of drawing board. It’s also a Spider-Man movie about Spider-Man, specifically what it means to be Spider-Man as a heroic archetype: loss of a loved one, day-to-day hardships, heroic reserves of courage, perseverance despite the odds. The story of Peter Parker (Jake Johnson) is part of the public consciousness, and he covers it quickly like bullet points. Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) shares a similar origin, but one that is entirely his own. We also see a similar format for the alternate-dimension Spidies that pop up in the film.

By repeating the form of the character trope, Spider-Verse offers colorful variations on the theme. Yet the movie also reaches out to the audience, reminding them that Spider-Man can be anyone, and that you can be Spider-Man too. You have probably felt like Spider-Man at some point in your life. Who is Spider-Man but a person who overcomes hardships continually, without giving up? Whenever Spider-Man lifts a heavy object or persists despite his self-doubt, he functions as a modern day spin on Sisyphus. He will have to do this again and again, suffer and overcome, suffer and overcome; and he will, because he is Spider-Man. It speaks to the relatable heroism of many Marvel heroes, and why we can find connection and solace in those stories.

Apart from the coming-of-age aspects (perhaps many superhero origins are a variation on the Bildungsroman) and its meta-commentary on superheroism, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is ultimately about the power of stories. Miles is in the process of building his own narrative, finding his values, and realizing what he loves and what is worth fighting for. The other Spidies have already done this while Miles has to figure things out quickly and on his own. No wonder he seems so out of his depth and afraid at first. Becoming an adult is terrifying. But he will do it, no matter how difficult, because Miles Morales is Spider-Man.

Spider-Verse is playful but it takes play seriously, which is what a lot of writing, drawing, and creative work is all about. It also repeats the secret mantra fundamental to so many works of art: You are not alone. Whatever you’re going through, someone else has been there or is going through it too, and there’s a comfort in knowing that somewhere in the world or in history or the multiverse, there are others just like you. When Uncle Ben tells Peter that with great power comes great responsibility, that becomes his ethos. Watch closely and listen for Miles Morales’ moral lesson in the film and take it to heart.

313 of 300: Mortal Engines (2018)

Director: Christian Rivers
Starring: Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, Hugo Weaving, Jihae
Country: New Zealand/USA
Seen at AMC Saratoga 14 (San Jose, CA)
Tuesday, December 18th

Roughly 18 minutes of Mortal Engines is a thrilling post-apocalyptic steampunk adventure reminiscent of a JRPG. We watch a swashbuckling band of international airship pilots protecting a walled city from an over-the-top metaphor for British imperialism. (One thousand years in the future, London is a roving mega-city that devours smaller vehicular nations for their resources. Message!) The leader of these aerial corsairs is Anna Fang (Jihae), an enemy of the state who lives in a floating city populated by a colorful collection of airborne rebels. Together, these multiracial/multiethnic fighter aces battle the Machiavellian Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving) and his cartoon villainy.

Too bad the other 110 minutes of Mortal Engines is a terrible YA movie comprised of every tired cliche.

Rather than focusing on Anna Fang, we follow Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar), a young woman who’s survived the wastelands and is now set on revenge. Following Hester wouldn’t be so bad, but unfortunately she’s anchored down by Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan), one of the worst audience-surrogate characters in recent memory. He’s bland dead weight in the clunky script. I haven’t read the novel the film is based on, but I have to wonder why anyone would want to include such a mediocre white guy as a co-protagonist. Hester is basically a street urchin ninja by way of Mad Max, and Anna Fang is basically the hard-hitting badass character in a Final Fantasy game but also Han Solo. Tom? Tom is lukewarm meatloaf that’s 80% bread crumbs.

I feel bad for director Christian Rivers, who has worked with Peter Jackson since the early 1990s as a storyboarder and visual effects artist. Mortal Engines is his feature film debut, and while many of the effects are solid, the rest of the movie feels half-formed. The performances, the scene blocking, and the shot selection make the movie seem confined rather than expansive. I was often reminded of the enclosed, sound stagey feel of the Star Wars prequels. And that is fitting. As a story, Mortal Engines is more machine than man, a checklist of tropes rather than an involving yarn. It’s also the biggest boondoggle of the year.

The 300: By the Numbers Breakdown

As we wind down the year of moviegoing, let’s take a look at the numbers so far. You can compare the progress made to the breakdowns from The 300 Week 40The 300 Week 30, The 300 Week 20, and The 300 Week 10.

Movies by Decade

2010s – 181
2000s – 16
1990s – 16
1980s – 29
1970s – 29
1960s – 18
1950s – 7
1940s – 6
1930s – 6
1920s – 5

Movies by Country

USA – 159
US co-productions – 4
Argentina – 2
Argentine co-productions – 4
Australia – 3
Australian co-productions – 1
Belarus – 1
Belgian co-productions – 3
Canada – 1
Chile – 1
Chilean co-productions – 1
China – 5
Chinese co-productions – 3
Czechoslovakia – 1
Denmark – 2
France – 12
French co-productions – 5
Georgian co-productions – 1
Germany – 3
German co-productions – 2
Hong Kong – 8
Hungary – 1
Indonesia – 1
Iran – 3
Iranian co-productions – 1
Israeli co-productions – 1
Italy – 1
Italian co-productions – 5
Jamaica – 1
Japan – 21
Japanese co-productions – 1
Mali – 1
Mexican co-productions – 1
Netherlands – 2
New Zealand co-productions – 1
Philippines – 2
Polish co-productions – 2
Russia – 2
South Korea – 5
Spain – 1
Sweden – 1
Taiwan – 1
Taiwanese co-productions – 1
Thailand – 1
UK – 10
UK co-productions – 18
Yugoslavian co-productions – 1

Multiple Films by the Same Director(s)

Susana Aiken and Carlos Aparicio (The Salt Mines; The Transformation)
Chantal Akerman (Dis-Moi; Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles; Les Rendez-vous d’Anna)
Robert Altman (Nashville; Brewster McCloud; McCabe & Mrs. Miller)
Wes Anderson (Fantastic Mr. Fox; Isle of Dogs)
Chang Cheh (Five Deadly Venoms; Shaolin Temple)
Dorothy Davenport (The Red Kimona; Linda)
Claire Denis (Let the Sunshine In; White Material; High Life; Trouble Every Day)
Terence Fisher (The Revenge of Frankenstein; The Devil Rides Out)
Todd Haynes (Velvet Goldmine; Safe)
Hirokazu Kore-eda (Shoplifters; After Life; Still Walking)
Sebastián Lelio (A Fantastic Woman; Disobedience)
Lucrecia Martel (The Holy Girl; The Headless Woman; La CienagaZama)
Hayao Miyazaki (PonyoNausicaä of the Valley of the Wind)
F.W. Murnau (Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans; Faust)
Morgan Neville (Won’t You Be My Neighbor?; They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead)
Jafar Panahi (The White Balloon; 3 Faces)
Lynne Ramsay (We Need to Talk About Kevin; Ratcatcher; Morvern Callar; You Were Never Really Here)
Alice Rohrwacher (The Wonders; Happy as Lazzaro)
Hong Sang-soo (Hotel by the River; Grass)
Paul Schrader (First Reformed; Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters)
Steven Spielberg (The Post; Ready Player One; E.T.: The Extraterrestrial)
Hiroshi Teshigahara (Woman in the Dunes; Pitfall)
Jean Vigo (L’Atalante; Zero for Conduct)
Masaaki Yuasa (Lu Over the Wall; Mind Game; The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl)

I still hope to see at least one more Altman movie on the big screen before the year is up.

Films by Women Directors

So in addition to The 300, I’m also doing 52 Films By Women, in which I try to see 52 feature films in theaters that were directed or co-directed by women.

Currently I have seen 70 films by women this year.

Daughters of the Dust (1991), dir. Julie Dash
Loving Vincent (2017), dir. Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman
Soft Fiction (1979), dir. Chick Strand
Dis-moi (1980), dir. Chantal Akerman
The Ties That Bind (1985), dir. Su Friedrich
The Salt Mines (1990), dir. Susana Aiken and Carlos Aparicio
The Transformation (1995), dir. Susana Aiken and Carlos Aparicio
Strange Days (1995), dir. Kathryn Bigelow
The Party (2017), dir. Sally Potter
Oh Lucy! (2017), dir. Atsuko Hirayanagi
Scary Mother (2017), dir. Ana Urushadze
Ava (2017), dir. Sadaf Foroughi
We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011), dir. Lynne Ramsay
Ratcatcher (1999), dir. Lynne Ramsay
Morvern Callar (2002), dir. Lynne Ramsay
You Were Never Really Here (2017), dir. Lynne Ramsay
The Holy Girl (2004), dir. Lucrecia Martel
The Headless Woman (2008), dir. Lucrecia Martel
La Cienaga (2001), dir. Lucrecia Martel
Zama (2017), dir. Lucrecia Martel
Love, Gilda (2018), dir. Lisa D’Apolito
Nico, 1988 (2017), dir. Susanna Nicchiarelli
Island of the Hungry Ghosts (2018), dir. Gabrielle Brady
Cargo (2017), dir. Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke
O.G. (2018), dir. Madeleine Sackler
State Like Sleep (2018), dir. Meredith Danluck
All About Nina (2018), dir. Eva Vives
General Magic (2018), dir. Matt Maude and Sarah Kerruish
The Miseducation of Cameron Post (2018), dir. Desiree Akhavan
Roll Red Roll (2018), dir. Nancy Schwartzman
Time for Ilhan (2018), dir. Norah Shapiro
The Feeling of Being Watched (2018), dir. Assia Boundaoui
Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland (2018), dir. Kate Davis and David Heilbroner
Blockers (2018), dir. Kay Cannon
Angels Wear White (2017), dir. Vivian Qu
Let the Sunshine In (2017), dir. Claire Denis
Sleepless Nights (1978), dir. Becky Johnston
RBG (2018), dir. Betsy West and Julie Cohen
One Sings, the Other Doesn’t (1977), dir. Agnès Varda
Summer 1993 (2017), dir. Carla Simón
Werckmeister Harmonies (2000), dir. Béla Tarr and Ágnes Hranitzky
Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts (2017), dir. Mouly Surya
Leave No Trace (2018), dir. Debra Granik
Smithereens (1982), dir. Susan Seidelman
On Happiness Road (2017), dir. Sung Hsin-Yin
White Material (2009), dir. Claire Denis
The Red Kimona (1925), dir. Walter Lang and Dorothy Davenport
Linda (1929), dir. Dorothy Davenport
Wanda (1970), dir. Barbara Loden
Tremble All You Want (2017), dir. Akiko Ohku
Cameraperson (2016), dir. Kirsten Johnson
Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975), dir. Chantal Akerman
The Wonders (2014), dir. Alice Rohrwacher
Madeline’s Madeline (2018), dir. Josephine Decker
Skate Kitchen (2018), dir. Crystal Moselle
The Hows of Us (2018), dir. Cathy Garcia-Molina
I Am Not a Witch (2017), dir. Rungano Nyoni
Kusama: Infinity (2018), dir. Heather Lenz
Too Late to Die Young (2018), dir. Dominga Sotomayor Castillo
Variety (1983), dir. Bette Gordon
Happy as Lazzaro (2018), dir. Alice Rohrwacher
Private Life (2018), dir. Tamara Jenkins
High Life (2018), dir. Claire Denis
Trouble Every Day (2001), dir. Claire Denis
Shirkers (2018), dir. Sandi Tan
Les Rendez-vous d’Anna (1978), dir. Chantal Akerman
The Long Dumb Road (2018), dir. Hannah Fidell
Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018), dir. Marielle Heller
Good Manners (2017), dir. Juliana Rojas and Marco Dutra
Destroyer (2018), dir. Karyn Kusama

Top 10 Theaters for The 300

Metrograph – 51
The Film Society of Lincoln Center – 45
BAM Rose Cinemas – 32
Cinépolis Chelsea – 27
Quad Cinema – 25
IFC Center – 14
Roxy Cinema Tribeca – 11
Angelika Film Center – 9
AMC Empire 25 – 8
Cobble Hill Cinemas / Film Forum – 6 each

Current runtime of The 300: 32,935 minutes (22 days, 20 hours, 55 minutes)

Hubert Vigilla
Brooklyn-based fiction writer, film critic, and long-time editor and contributor for Flixist. A booster of all things passionate and idiosyncratic.