Wondering what to watch with more multiversal movie action after Sam Raimi’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness? Look no further than the film that set the bar for the concept: Sony Pictures Animation’s Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse launching on Prime the very same day as the Sorcerer Supreme’s new feature.
This aside, Prime Video also seems to have taken an “if it ain’t broke” approach to its original programming, as for the second month in a row the streamer's movie slate is lead by another unremarkable thriller starring Chris Pine, The Contractor.
Read more: The best Doctor Strange 2 cameos
Those looking for some gentle counter-programming to the MCU box office juggernaut may find themselves pleasantly surprised by Rysuke Hamaguchi’s Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy, his second film of this year alongside Drive My Car (2021), the film which landed the Japanese director an Academy Award.
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Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) - Prime Video (pick of the week)
Arguably the most influential new American animated feature this past decade, inspiring waves of copycats and shifts in animation production priorities, that would never have been anticipated prior to the release of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
You can see its influence in last year’s The Mitchells Vs. the Machines (also produced by Spider-Verse's Lord and Miller) and smash hit animated series Arcane, you can see it in upcoming American releases like Dreamworks’ Puss in Boots: The Last Wish. Even Pixar's Turning Red embraced a more cartoonish look.
Read more: Everything new on Prime Video in May
Directed by Peter Ramsay and Rodney Rothman, and co-written and produced by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, known for their making cinematic lemonade out of conceptual lemons, it was a film that was first assumed a dumping ground for the character of Miles Morales by fans of the likes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
Watch a Stan Lee clip from Into The Spider-Verse
But Spider-Verse proved the superior Spider-Man film from either studio slate, going back to the essence of the character as created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, and opening up that ethos to once again find the character’s initial appeal: his everyman nature, his strive to make up for his mistakes, the idea that you could just as easily be Spider-Man.
In redefining that idea of Spider-Man, Spider-Verse utilises some exceptional animated visual storytelling, one that harnesses multiple cinematic languages through innovative 3D computer animation, using 2D textures as well as traditional animation techniques usually reserved for hand-drawn films. That playfulness is so apparent it even got animation laymen to learn what being “animated on 2s” means, the stuttering movement of its characters emulating both rougher, hand-drawn animation as well as the feeling of flipping through pages.
Ramsay and co also, delightfully, have a blast with the visual language of comic books to an equal extent, using the famous 'crackle' that characterised the art of Jack Kirby, the print dots of classic four-colour print comics, narration boxes, speech bubbles and panels written sound effects (one incredible gag using “bagel!” in the same sense as “pow!” or “bam!”).
It’s a feast for the eyes as well as a boon for the heart, a genuine modern classic from an unexpected place.
Also new on Prime: The Contractor (2022)
Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (2021) - MUBI
Thanks to the Academy Award win of Drive My Car, Rysuke Hamaguchi’s Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy is somewhat doomed to become known as “his other 2021 movie”, but it’s every bit as thoughtful, slyly funny and poignant as his Murakami adaptation.
It’s a trio of short stories, only loosely connected by their perspectives of three women all going through peculiar dramatic arcs of coincidence and missed opportunity.The first story is that of an unexpected love triangle, the second sees an older student attempt a seduction trap on her professor that fails on multiple levels, and the last sees a surprisingly profound encounter that stems from an amusing misunderstanding.
Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy genuinely feels so literary in its tricky use of language and two-faced dialogues between characters, as well as the construction of its minimalist but often melodramatic short stories that you could be forgiven for thinking it also an adaptation, with an alluring sense of ambiguity to its very loosely connected triptych of regret and lost love and other human failings and fallacies. One of the year’s finest, which is a completely miraculous feat considering that the director’s other best movie of the year came out just a few months ago.
Also on MUBI: Prayers for the Stolen (2021)
Me, Earl and the Dying Girl (2015) - Disney+
For many already cautious of the twee, patented Sundance-style drama, the first 20 minutes of Me, Earl and the Dying Girl will mostly prove such suspicions correct. But it becomes surprisingly convincing after a while.
It follows Greg (Thomas Mann), who is intentionally remaining under the radar through senior year of high school like the plague while secretly making weird films with his sole friend Earl (RJ Cyler). Things of course change when Greg’s mother forces him to befriend Rachel, a classmate with leukemia.
Read more: Everything new on Disney+ in May
It’s disarmingly funny in places, even if it was the tertiary characters that are truly charismatic rather than the lead himself — Nick Offerman and Jon Bernthal in particular. As Earl, RJ Cyler puts on a charming performance (one to note ahead of his appearance in upcoming Amazon film Emergency), Mann less so.
Frequent Park Chan-wook cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon is an absolute steal for this film, and his work — along with a score from Brian Eno — does a lot of heavy lifting to differentiate this from the next ‘quirky’ Sundance movie.
Once it moves away from the sarcastic meta narration — a concept that should generally be considered for cinematic jail — and became a bit more earnest in telling its story of the main character’s move away from teenage self-loathing.
Also on Disney+: Babylon A.D. (2008), Where the Heart Is (2000)