Film and drama

Screen Themes: The Dirt vs Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

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Something for the adults, something for the kids, as entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out rock biopic The Dirt and Oscar winning animation Into the Spider-Verse.

The Dirt

Directed by Jeff Tremaine (2019)

Much like Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones and The Who in their prime, there was a time when Motley Crue seemed genuinely dangerous. The big difference between the Crue and their predecessors? Everyone in Motley Crue survived their exploits, despite what seemed to be a dedicated effort to follow in the footsteps of John Bonham, Brian Jones and Keith Moon

Based on the book of the same name, The Dirt is told primarily by bass player Nikki Sixx (formerly known as Frank Carlton Serafino Feranna, Jr), in a voiceover that freely acknowledges that many of the stories are inaccurate or made up altogether — but that’s all part of the fun. Occasionally, one of the other band members (singer Vince Neil, guitarist Mick Mars and drummer Tommy Lee) will take over with their version of events, but much as Motley Crue is Nikki Sixx’s band, The Dirt is his story.

From the opening scene of Tommy Lee giving oral sex in the middle of a crowded party, The Dirt embraces the seedy side of rock ‘n roll. It’s a refreshing counterpoint to the sanitized Bohemian Rhapsody to see Nikki and the boys hoovering up insane amounts of cocaine, and the famous tale of Nikki’s overdose, death and revival (as told in Kickstart My Heart) is as grubby and as morbidly entertaining as you’d probably expect. It’s a little odd that the involvement of Gun’s ‘n Roses members Slash and Steven Adler in the overdose is almost totally ignored, but this is a movie that tells you the story it wants to tell, whether it’s the truth or not.

The standard of acting in The Dirt is mixed, with British actor Douglas Booth hitting a few bum notes as Nikki Six, particularly when he is meant to be high. Slightly better is Iwan Rheon (Ramsay Bolton from Game of Thrones) as the sardonic Mick Mars, while rapper Machine Gun Kelly does a workmanlike job at portraying the manic energy of Tommy Lee. Comedian Pete Davidson is wildly miscast as agent Tom Zutaut, but I guess you earn a few movie roles when you go out with Ariana Grande. Last, but not least, former Home & Away alumnus Daniel Webber is surprisingly good as Vince Neil, avoiding the Ben Mendelsohn/Russel Crowe habit of falling into his Australian accent when he gets excited.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey & Rodney Rothman (2018)

Fair warning: this is a movie made for kids and comic book nerds. If that sounds like your idea of hell, then you can probably skip the rest of this review and go and have a nice cup of tea. Everyone else, settle in, because Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse may well be the best Spider-Man movie ever made. I appreciate that I also made this claim about Spider-Man: Homecoming, but I stand by my comments — after making movies about Spidey for over 20 years, filmmakers are finally starting to get everything right.

Into the Spider-Verse tells the tale of Miles Morales, a 13 year old of mixed Puerto Rican and African American heritage, born and raised in a Brooklyn in which Peter Parker died fighting crime. After Miles is bitten by a radioactive spider, he discovers the existence of parallel universes, each of which produces a different spider-hero. Confronted by a threat to all of their realities, the spider-types team up to save the day, and maybe even learn something about being a hero along the way.

The alternate universe spider-people are a lot of fun, particularly Nicolas Cage as Spider-Man Noir and Hailee Steinfeld as Spider-Gwen, but special credit must go to John Mulaney for his third-wall breaking portrayal of Spider-Ham — truly a character that would bring the fun back to the increasingly dark Marvel Cinematic Universe. Joining the aforementioned stars is an exceptional supporting cast, including Mahershala Ali, Lily Tomlin, Chris Pine, and Liev Schreiber, all of whom add weight and support to the performance of Shameik Moore as Miles.

Visually, Into the Spider-Verse is a comic book brought to life, from the four colour, grainy print effects, to the almost rotoscoped movements of the characters against the backgrounds. This may put some viewers off at first, but if you can get past it, you’ll be rewarded with a really fun movie that looks at Spider-Man (and his amazing friends) like never before.

The Verdict

Unless you’re a big fan of Motley Crue, The Dirt is merely an interesting examination of a hedonistic band trying to find their place in the world. It’s far from a good movie, beset by narrative missteps and convenient storytelling (how does a biography of a band totally ignore the fact they had a different singer (John Corabi) for 4 whole years of their career?) As a musical biopic, it falls into many of the familiar tropes, but narrowly avoids being a heavy metal version of Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story through sheer attitude.

In an ideal world, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse would be the first in a series of animated movies that really embrace their comic book origins. It perfectly captures the childhood wonder of super-heroes, throwing in a couple of messages about self-acceptance and never giving up along the way. It remains to be seen if Spider-Man: Far From Home can continue the trend of being "the best Spider-Man movie so far", but the bar has certainly been set high.

The Dirt is now showing on Netflix, while Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is available on DVD.

The Dirt: 6/10

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse: 8/10

Books by John Turnbull are available on Amazon and Kindle, including supernatural thriller Damnation’s Flame; action/romance Reaper, black comedy City Boy and travel guidebook Bar Trek: EuropeDamnation's Flame by John Turnbull is also available in paperback in the IA store HERE (free postage).

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