All the top 10 lists Nick has scripted for WatchMojo.com, the 7th largest YouTube channel in the world throughout 2014.
Nick's film review column at Filmfestivaltoday.com.
A comic strip sadly inspired by the real life of Nick Spake.
At the age of fifteen, I launched NickPicksFlicks.com, a website dedicated to the art of film. Since then, I have worked as a published film critic for Arizona State Press, Ahwatukee Foothills News, Nerd Repository, Film Festival Today, Arizona Filmmaker Magazine, and East Valley Tribune. Entertainment writing has also given me the opportunity to interview several big name celebrities, including Emma Stone, Chris Evans, J.J. Abrams, Emma Roberts, and various others. My life hit a roadblock in 2013 when I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma, but I refused to let having cancer prevent me from writing film reviews and finishing college with a 4.0 GPA. In May 2013, I graduated from Arizona State University, achieving a BA in Theatre and a minor in communications. Teaching me just how precious life is, my disease further influenced me to reach out to others through my writing. Today, I'm happy to say that I am currently cancer free. As of September 2014, I have worked as a freelancer writer for WatchMojo.com, which recently surpassed 16 million subscribers on YouTube. This video content site has acted as a creative outlet for me to write top ten lists about movies, television, video games, and pretty much everything else. Out of the hundred scripts I've contributed to them so far, I'm primarily proud of the Top 10 Sci-Fi Movies of All Time, Another Top 10 Super Bowl Commercials, and Top 10 Worst Movies of 2014. In 2015, I joined the Flickreel family as a critic and columnist. In 2016, I joined Story Monsters magazine as a film critic and can't wait to bring you all more movie reviews.
Feel free to contact Nick at Nickspake1@gmail.com
5 Stars= It's Simply the Best
4 Stars= Totally Rocks
3 Stars= Rad
2 Stars= Bad
1 Star= Terrible
Zero= Totally Sucks
A Spider-Verse of Possibilities ****
Back when Sam Raimi’s first “Spider-Man” movie hit theaters in 2002, we all thought it would go down as the definitive version of the web-slinger and nobody would ever replace Tobey Maguire. Since then, however, there have been multiple reboots with Andrew Garfield and Tom Holland inheriting the role. Although he’s finally part of the MCU, Sony has spun their own web of projects centered around Spidey, including the animated “Into the Spider-Verse.” At this point, anything “Spider-Man”-related should feel redundant, but there are several aspects that set “Into the Spider-Verse” apart. For starters, it’s well aware that Spider-Man has become overexposed and we’ve heard Peter Parker’s origin story one too many times. Thankfully, Peter Parker isn’t the protagonist of this film, although we still get a fresh take on the OG Spider-Man.
Ever since he made his debut in 2011, comic readers have been clinging to see fan favorite Miles Morales on the big screen. Shameik Moore takes center stage as Miles, a Brooklyn teen who’s brilliant but lazy. Aside from attending a charter school, Miles has an otherwise average life with loving parents (Brian Tyree Henry & Rio Morales), a fun uncle (Mahershala Ali), and a cool crush named Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld). His universe is turned upside down, however, when Miles is bitten by a radioactive spider and gains super abilities. While that might not sound like anything new, this is where matters get interesting. The villainous Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) has developed a super collider that allows multiple realities to cross paths. Miles thus runs into an alternative version of Peter Parker (Jake Johnson), who – similar to Luke Skywalker in “The Last Jedi” - has grown tired in his old age and is ready to call it quits as Spider-Man.
Peter isn’t the only Spider-person Miles encounters, as it turns out Gwen is from another universe where she protects New York as Spider-Woman. There’s also Nicolas Cage as the brooding Spider-Noir, Kimiko Glenn as the anime-esque Peni Parker, and John Mulaney as Spider-Ham, no relation to Spider-Pig from “The Simpsons Movie.” Each of these characters has their own distinctive style and movements, making for a lot of fast-paced interplay. One can’t help but wish there was more time dedicated to some of the supporting players, particularly Zoë Kravitz as Mary Jane Watson and Lily Tomlin as a badass Aunt May. Of course, they’re not the focus of the story. The heart of narrative lies in the dynamic between Miles and Peter, as one learns how to be his own Spider-Man and the other discovers that there’s still more good he can do.
“Spider-Man” movies are known for packing in too many villains and “Into the Spider-Verse” comes dangerously close to repeating this mistake. In addition to Kingpin, the film also features Kathryn Hahn as Doc Ock, Jorma Taccone as Green Goblin, Marvin "Krondon" Jones III asTombstone, and a few others. To the film’s credit, though, each villain plays a vital role in at least one inventive set piece that furthers the story. So, it’s not hollow fan service, as was the case with Venom in “Spider-Man 3” and Rhino in “Amazing Spider-Man 2.” On top of that, the film does a much better job at establishing the main villain’s motivation. Kingpin is a ruthless thug whose appearance alone is daunting, but we do understand why he’s willing to go to such extreme lengths to get what he wants.
Akin to “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Captain America: Civil War,” it’s beyond impressive that the filmmakers are able to juggle so many character as well as they do while still finding room to tell a compelling story. What’s more, every frame of “Into the Spider-Verse” is a visual marvel. Much like how “The Lego Movie” felt like a brickfilm on a multi-million-dollar budget, this film actually makes the audience feel as if they’ve been sucked inside a graphic novel. This isn’t surprising, as Phil Lord and Christopher Miller worked on both of these modern animated classics. The attention to detail is so great that viewers can even spot those little bumps one would find on a comic’s printed page.
In the same vein as “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm,” “Into the Spider-Verse” is an animated incarnation that succeeds in outshining some of its live-action counterparts. If I had to rank all of the Spider-Man movies, Sam Raimi's “Spider-Man 2” would still come out on top. “Into the Spider-Verse” would swing into second place, however, with its self-aware humor, dazzling animation, and unbound imagination. Going into the theater, you might share Kisten Dunst’s sentiment that Sony and Marvel have been “milking” the franchise. By the time the credits roll, though, you’ll find that the possibilities are truly endless.
Mad Max's Moving Castle **1/2
Watching “Mortal Engines,” you never doubt the filmmakers’ high aspirations. It’s clear that they want to make an epic adventure that really triggers the imagination like “Star Wars,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” or “The Lord of the Rings.” Speaking of which, the film was produced and co-written by Peter Jackson, who reunites with several major players from his Middle-earth trilogies, including director Christian Rivers. It’s possible for a movie to be too ambitious for its own good, however, and “Mortal Engines” sadly bites off more than it can chew. While you certainly feel the size of the picture, you rarely feel the gravitas the filmmakers are aiming for.
Based on Philip Reeve’s steampunk novel, the story sets itself in a post-apocalyptic future where the idea of a mobile home has been taken to another level. Entire cities are assembled on wheels, leaving behind tire tracks the size of canyons. On the moving city of London lives a young historian named Tom (Robert Sheehan), who crosses paths with a mysterious outsider who goes by Hester (Hera Hilmar). When Hester fails to assassinate a devious historian named Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving), Tom gets caught in the middle and is forced to go on the run with her. Trekking through the wastelands and flying through the skies, the race is on to stop Valentine from unleashing a superweapon that’ll turn entire cities into junk piles.
“Mortal Engines” opens with a thrilling chase that plays out like the monster truck edition of “Mad Max: Fury Road.” The production design and visual effects are down-right awe-inspired with rich detail packed into every corner. Like “Howl’s Moving Castle,” “Castle in the Sky,” and other Hayao Miyazaki films, the technology depicted here is so inventive and you want to know how every little thing works. Of course, Miyazaki’s movies also usually have strong characters and involving plots, which is where “Mortal Engines” falls short.
The performances are universally good and the characters aren’t bad per say, but they’re not particularly involving either. Tom and Hester are to this movie what Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley are to the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise. You tolerate them fine, but every time they’re onscreen you wish Jack Sparrow would come back and Johnny Depp is unfortunately nowhere to be found here. Weaving is always a charismatic screen presence, but his villain is fairly by the numbers. Jihae scores a few cool moments as a resistance leader who joins forces with Tom and Hester, but she comes off as underdeveloped nonetheless.
The only intriguing dynamic in the film is between Hester and a cyborg named Shrike (Stephen Lang), who takes her in after the murder of her mother. Looking like a Terminator crossed with Ghost Rider, Shrike is a ruthless machine, but still has essence of humanity in him. He can see that Hester is overwhelmed with pain, which he wishes to take away by turning her into a machine as well. Hester seems strangely okay with this, that is until she kind of flips on a dime. That basically sums up the problem with “Mortal Engines.” It has a lot of fascinating ideas, but doesn’t allow enough time for them to fully materialize.
While it runs circles around something like “Jupiter Ascending” or the “Warcraft” movie, the characters still back a backseat in “Mortal Engines.” There’s so much going on here that at times it’s hard to even remember what our heroes are fighting for. If this film was going to work, the plot needed to be simplified with more focus. Seeing how there are four novels, maybe a television series would’ve been the best direction to take, be it live-action or animated. As is, though, “Mortal Engines” is admirable for its marvelous craft and capable cast, but it's otherwise an epic you can easily skip.
Mary v Elizabeth ***1/2
Frances McDormand was basically unstoppable on her road to winning a second Best Actress Oscar. If there were two performers who could’ve topped her performance in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” though, it would’ve been Saoirse Ronan for “Lady Bird” and Margot Robbie for “I, Tonya.” These actresses have been on a roll as of late and both turn in equally mesmeric work in “Mary Queen of Scots.” They’re the main reasons to see this beautifully crafted period piece, which might’ve reached greater heights had the screenplay taken a few more chances. As is, however, it’s ultimately an admirable feat, especially for a first-time director.
Ronan stars as the titular Mary, Queen of Scots, who isn’t content with merely ruling over Scotland. She has aspirations to seize control from her cousin Elizabeth I, Queen of England, played by an unrecognizable Robbie. Whether or not you know your history, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that the Rising of the North inevitably goes south for Mary. Nevertheless, it still makes for an interesting true story with Ronan and Robbie never failing to liven up the screen. Weirdly enough, though, this is one historical drama that might’ve benefited from taking more liberties.
Throughout the film, all we want is to see these two Queens go head to head with each other in person. Similar to “Heat” or “American Gangster,” the filmmakers give us what we want in the climax. Historians are sure to call BS on this scene, as there’s no evidence indicating that Mary and Elizabeth ever met fact-to-face. At the same time, it’s by far the most riveting moment and the film on the whole could’ve used more scenes like this. Since our leads spend a majority of the film apart, however, the rivalry never feels as strong as it should. It doesn’t’ help that “Mary Queen of Scots” is coming out around the same time as “The Favourite,” another costumed political drama with a much more fascinating rivalry at its core.
Then again, perhaps it’s only fair to judge a movie for what it is rather than for what it isn’t. For what it is, every shot of “Mary Queen of Scots” is gorgeous to look at. The stunning makeup allows Ronan and Robbie to escape even deeper into their roles, transforming them into different people. Costume designer Alexandra Byrne previously won an Academy Award for “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” and it’s entirely possible that she’ll pick up another statue for her work here. From the production design to the cinematography, you can see so much passion both in front of and behind the camera. This is made all the more impressive when you consider that it marks Josie Rourke’s directorial debut after years of primarily working in the theatre.
As elegant and well-acted as “Mary Queen of Scots” is, you can’t help but wish the conflict between our leads felt stronger, even if it meant bending the truth a little more. Considering that the film was written by the showrunner of “House of Cards,” maybe a straight-up camp approach would’ve been the best way to tackle this material. At the very least, the film could’ve provided more a unique perspective of who Mary and Elizabeth really were. Those performances from Ronan and Robbie go a long way, though, amounting to a good film with glimpses of greatness that occasionally shine through.
An Oscar Favorite? ****1/2
Director Yorgos Lanthimos has made some of the strangest yet most absorbing films of the past few years. On paper, “The Lobster” might’ve sounded like something Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom would’ve green lit in “The Producers,” but it ended up being a creative and oddly deep study about human nature. In “The Favourite,” Lanthimos delivers another darkly humorous triumph elevated by the year's finest acting trio. At first glance, one might assume this a straight-forward period piece. If you’re at all familiar with the historical figures at the center of this story, though, you know that it’s going to be anything but conventional and that Lanthimos may be the only director twisted enough to bring such a tale to the screen.
Olivia Colman has already portrayed Carol Thatcher and Queen Elizabeth, so it was only a matter of time until she played Anne, Queen of Great Britain. In the midst of England’s war with France, Anne relies on her closest advisor Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, played by Rachel Weisz. Behind closed doors, however, Anne and Sarah are actually much more than friends. Although Sarah has Anne under her thumb, she often butts head with the pompous Earl of Oxford and Earl Mortimer (Nicholas Hoult). An even greater rival enters the equation when Sarah welcomes her cousin Abigail Hill to work at the manor.
Among the film’s trinity of talented actresses, my personal favorite performance comes from Emma Stone as the calculating Abigail. She goes through the most interesting transformation throughout the film, arriving at the castle after losing everything and reduced to performing menial labor. Slowly but surely, Abigail begins to worm her way into Anne’s inner circle through wits, charms, and sexuality. Stone brings her signature charisma to the role while the screenplay by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara gives her the layers of a Shakespearian villain. Of course, it’s not like any of the other characters are especially sympathetic.
Sarah is every bit as conniving as her cousin and will take extreme measures to secure her status, something she makes abundantly clear while shooting birds. Anne, meanwhile, can come off as a spoiled brat, but she’s far from naïve. She’s well aware that Sarah and Abigail are competing for her affection, egging them on every step of the way. When you think about it, Anne is both the most childish and the most manipulative of the three, making us wonder who's controlling who. In the hands of a lesser filmmaker, this approach to the characters could come off as too over-the-top. Lanthimos is tailor-made for this kind of material, however, balancing absurdity, black comedy, and history. Granted, it’s hard to say how much of the film is actually historically accurate, but it always makes for wickedly entertaining storytelling.
Visually, “The Favourite” is Lanthimos’ most ambitious work. Between this film and “Mary Poppins Returns,” the great Sandy Powell could be looking at a double Oscar nomination for Best Costume Design. The Hatfield House in the Great Park served as a shooting location for the film. To the untrained eye, the setting is a picturesque palace that everyone wants to be invited to. As we spend more time there, though, it starts to feel more like a prison that we can’t escape from. This is only emphasized through the cinematography, which makes the audience feel like fish in a bowl swimming around in circles. Yet, even at its most uncomfortable, you won’t be able to leave, which is a perfect metaphor for both Abigail and Sarah’s relationship with Anne.
Look Closer ****1/2
To review “Roma” is like reviewing life itself. Watching Alfonso Cuarón’s masterful film, it feels as if we’re peering into the daily routine of an actual middle-class family through a black and white lens. Few directors know how to make the audience part of an experience quite like Cuarón. In “Gravity,” he launched us into orbit alongside Sandra Bullock. In “Children of Men,” he sat us in a vehicle next to Clive Owen and Julianne Moore as all hell broke loose. In “Roma,” we step into a maid’s shoes as she copes with loss and uncertainty, finding fleeting moments of comfort in her surrogate family. It might not be the biggest film of Cuarón’s career, but it’s possibly the most profound.
Yalitza Aparicio makes an astonishingly authentic screen debut as Cleo, a housekeeper who works for a family in Mexico City against the backdrop of the early 70s. Although Cleo cooks, cleans, and takes care of the four children, she’s seen more as an employee than a family member, which doesn’t appear to bother her. Cloe’s role in the household becomes more significant, however, when patriarch Antonio (Fernando Grediag) leaves his wife Sofia (Marina de Tavira). Cleo is also dealing with abandonment, as she’s been impregnated by a martial artist who coldly refuses to take any responsibility. Over time, Sofia begins to see that she has more in common with Cleo than expected and that her maid may be the reason her family is barely keeping it together.
There are numerous movies where little seems to be happening on the surface, but a ton is happening underneath. To a certain extent, “Roma” falls into this category, getting so much across without relying heavily on dialog. At the same time, this is a movie where a great deal is always happening on the surface, as Cuarón somehow manages to make even the most mundane activities look strangely engrossing. Foreshadowing the climax, the film’s opening shot focuses on mop water rushing up and down a tile floor like a wave on the beach. That might not sound like anything particularly exhilarating, but the stunning simplicity of the shot immediately hooks you in. “Roma” is full of shots like this, calling the plastic bag scene from “American Beauty” to mind. As a matter of fact, this whole movie can be described in the immortal words of Ricky Fitts:
“Sometimes, there's so much beauty in the world - I feel like I can't take it, like my heart is just going to cave in.”
“Roma” is a slice of life in the purest scene, but that doesn’t mean it’s a laidback experience. While many scenes center on Cleo’s every day chores, this makes it all the more shocking when tragedy rears its head from around the corner. The most extravagant sequence in the film finds our characters navigating through the Corpus Christi massacre, which accumulates to a hospital visit where we actually feel like a fly on the wall. The fact that Cuarón acted as a cinematographer and editor in addition to writing and directing adds a personal touch that can’t be beat.
Walking out of the theater, I was at a complete loss for words when asked for my press reaction. I literally needed a moment to collect myself and catch my breath before speaking. This is a difficult film to sum up in just a few words and the same can be said about the world we live in. All I can say is that you’re unlikely to see a film in 2018 that packs in more raw humanity. “Roma” can be streamed via Netflix, but much like how a world wonder must be seen in person to be done justice, this a film meant for the silver screen.
I Must Break You ****
In the same vein as "Incredibles 2," "Ralph Breaks the Internet" takes the foundation its predecessor laid down and builds upon it in a marvelous way. What we’re left with is a cornucopia of imagination with brilliant attention to detail packed into every frame.
Read the full review at Story Monsters.