Sonic the Hedgehog

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Sonic the Hedgehog fails to evoke the propulsive rush of its source material. There’s so much possibility in translating this character and the mythology he brings with him to the big screen. Unfortunately, this film gets bogged down in familiar family film antics. 

 

An adaptation of the popular game franchise of the same name, Sonic the Hedgehog follows Sonic (Ben Schwartz), a care-free, lightning-quick blue hedgehog who hides out, in fear of what those with villainous intent would do with his super-speed. Trouble comes calling in the form of a genius named Dr. Ivo Robotnik (Jim Carrey), who is brought in to deal with the growing threat of a rogue, ultra-powerful hedgehog. Sonic convinces a small-town police officer (James Marsden), who dreams of working in the big city to help him retrieve a few of his golden rings to help him flee this world and move on to a new one.

 

For a game franchise where the only real goal was to collect rings and defeat whatever boss lies in your path, the Sonic games have evolved to become something else entirely. We’re talking about various cartoons, video games,  board games, etc. Over time, Sonic has amassed quite an arsenal of supporting characters: Tails, Knuckles, Shadow, Amy. They have all become almost as synonymous with the franchise as Sonic himself and Sonic has become an icon of video gaming.

 

I don’t understand the screenwriter’s choice to coop Sonic up in a car for much of the film’s runtime. A character that is known for his speed finally arrives on the big screen and they chose to confine him to a car with James Marsden. When Sonic and his pal finally arrive at their destination, they reach a visually exciting climax, but no payoff can make up for the bland route that was taken to get there.

 

Jim Carrey delivers a next-level performance as Dr. Ivo Robotnik and he’s easily the film’s most valuable asset. Robotnik is another entry in the pantheon of zany, almost manic characters Carrey plays so beautifully. Carrey hasn’t been this in control of his comedic strengths in a long while and its great to see him back in his element. His performance is on an entirely different wavelength than the rest of the film and yet, it feels he knows exactly what this movie should be. Kooky, frenetic and even more cartoonish than the film’s CGI lead, Jim Carrey gives Sonic the Hedgehog a boost of energy it desperately needs. Ben Schwartz does a fine job as the blue speedster at the center of the film. There’s an innocence and playfulness to Sonic that Schwartz radiates well in his vocal performance. James Marsden is decent. He’s played this kind of role in other family films before like 2011’s Hop and is a good choice as a straight man to Sonic’s madcap energy.

 

Sonic the Hedgehog succeeds in finding a sort-of pathos within a rather surface-level protagonist. The games this film is based on are not known for their complicated and interesting characters, but this incarnation adds layers to his character. Sonic’s been taught to run away from the unknown and not to look back, but all he wants is to belong and to connect with the people around him. His gift becomes his curse and the film is about Sonic bonding with this police officer on their journey and finally gaining the family he’s wanted for so long. 

 

These games are not the most modern and this adaptation does its best to rectify that with countless references to current trends and popular culture to middling results. Even so, Sonic the Hedgehog struggles to keep its finger on the pulse of the culture. There are some shameless promotions of companies like Zillow, Olive Garden and Amazon throughout the film. They are delivered without an ounce of irony, making Sonic’s feature debut feel more like corporate propaganda than sly commentary. It feels so out of place in context with the rest of the film.

 

Sonic the Hedgehog is not the disaster many expected, nor the surprise sensation nobody saw coming, it’s just fine and I was hoping for more than that from this film. Fans of this character will relish getting to see him on the big screen, but I’m not sure I can confidently recommend this to those who are not die-hard Sonic fans.

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The Two Popes

Just as pensive as it is humorous, The Two Popes is a splendid buddy comedy meets character study that sees 2 people looking back on the choice they’ve made in their lives.

The film is set in 2012 during a shift in leadership in the Catholic Church. Word of the inner workings of the Catholic Church is leaked by an associate of Pope Benedict (Anthony Hopkins). There are swift pushback and controversy from the press and the public. Benedict is prepared to abdicate his position and has Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina (Jonathan Pryce), who we now know as Pope Francis come to visit him. The pair first butt heads but soon find themselves having a deep conversation about their relationship with God and belief as a major change in both of their lives draws near.

For a film about ruminating on life in old age, The Two Popes is surprisingly relatable. The screenplay from Anthony McCarten taps into universal themes of love, loss, and regret in a way that I think nearly anybody of any age can identify with on an emotional level. The film is at points relaxed and casual, and at others philosophical and all-encompassing as it explores the very notion of faith and the rhetoric and practices of the catholic church. The film tackles these complex issues about religion in an honest, genuine way, where many films would stumble and turn it into a heavy-handed, pretentious mess. The Two Popes may be a relatively easy watch, but it’s still thought-provoking.

Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins both give top-notch performances worthy of acclaim. These are two experienced, classically trained actors, who are super entertaining to watch on screen. They have an almost magnetic quality to them and I was impressed by how much they bring these characters down to earth. Once we see them interact, it remove this sense of otherworldliness and we go from watching characters to watching people. A pair of fine actors doing really good work.

The Two Popes is about 2 polar opposites, in how they interpret their beliefs, finding friendship in their shared experiences. When it gets down to it, we’re not that different from one another. We’re all human and all it takes is a conversation to realize what we have in common. There are some stylistic choices made here that I loved. The loving recreation of the Vatican imbues the film with an authenticity from the very first scene. I thought the manipulation of aspect ratio and color correction not just served as a nice transition between flashbacks and the present, but gives the film some visual flair.

I give The Two Popes 4 out of 5 stars.  The Two Popes is a witty, thoughtful exploration of the lives of 2 religious figures. Add 2 compelling lead performances and a great screenplay from Anthony McCarten and trust me when I say you’re in for a treat. This film is out in limited release now and arrives on Netflix on December 20th, just in time for the holidays.

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Dark Waters

 

Dark Waters is a compelling look at one man’s fight against the corrupt practices of a multi-billion dollar company. 

Based on a true story, Dark Waters follows Rob Bilott (Mark Ruffalo), a corporate lawyer who gets a call from a family friend named Wilbur (Bill Camp) about a disturbance on his farm in West Virginia. Over 100 of Wilbur’s cows have died and he suspects it has something to do with the creek running through his property. Wilbur’s hunch becomes a frightening truth as Rob investigates decades’ worth of wrong-doing by the DuPont chemical company.

Mark Ruffalo does a fine job here as Rob Bilott. He’s playing the legal scenes with conviction, but he feels more like a vessel to receive information than a fully- formed character. We see plenty of Bilott’s moral standards, but we rarely get a sense of what drives him to do the work he does or who he is emotionally. It makes it harder to fully connect with and invest in his character. A performance worth noting with much less screen time is Bill Pullman as lawyer Harry Dietzler. Pullman gives Dark Waters a boost of energy. He’s not comedic relief, but he’s certainly a breath of fresh air. 

Todd Haynes’s direction is both impressive and overbearing. Haynes has a flair for stylistic flourishes in his other films and here the moody, muted lighting that clouds much of the film creates a feeling of anxiety that makes every step of Rob’s journey and what he discovers uncomfortable in a very effective way. By the same token, the color scheme is dark and dreary throughout and the film ends up with a dull sheen and a tone that feels at times heavy-handed. 

An aspect of the filmmaking I love is the use of tracking shots to show not only the lives that DuPont destroyed but the communities too. Dark Waters is unflinching when it comes to depicting the consequences of DuPont’s malpractice. It tells and more specifically, shows it like it in a way that rightfully stirs up an audience reaction of anger and injustice.

I give Dark Waters 3 out of 5 stars. If you’re looking for a good or feel-good time at the cinema for the holidays, this isn’t it, but Dark Waters is an informative and important film. Dark Waters opens in theaters on November 27th.

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Just Mercy

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Just Mercy stays fairly true to its source material save for a few notable changes that shift the path the film ends up taking. Just Mercy is a film that fails to resonate past a powerful, thought-provoking message that will stay with you long after the credits roll. The story of Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx)  is an uplifting one about justice triumphing over bigotry and evil, but this adaptation felt somewhat contrived to me. 

Two clients of Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan), Herbert Richardson (Rob Morgan) and Anthony Ray Hinton (O’Shea Jackson Jr.)  become Walter’s cellmates. Where the book went Other than these two characters, the stories of Bryan’s clients besides Walter are nowhere to be found and barely even mentioned. I thought these separate stories were masterfully woven into the novel, but the absence of them crystallizes this film’s priorities. Just Mercy is way more interested in adapting Walter’s story than the full novel. That’s not a bad thing, I just sorely missed what I consider some of the most affecting moments from the book.

Michael B. Jordan is magnetic and has a presence that makes the courtroom drama enthralling. I’m impressed with Jordan’s performance in almost everything he’s in and Just Mercy is no different. Jordan plays Bryan Stevenson with gravitas and conviction. Jamie Foxx gives his best performance since his Oscar-winning portrayal of Ray Charles in 2004’s Ray. He finds humanity and deep vulnerability in McMillian. His performance is incredibly moving. Tim Blake Nelson as Ralph Myers has a strange charm to his performance. He takes this unlikeable character and zeroes in on the qualities that make him sympathetic. Eva Ansley gets a larger role here and it was a nice surprise to see her portrayed by Brie Larson. Rob Morgan is heartbreaking as Herbert Richardson. This is a man whose experiences at war broke him emotionally and Morgan conveys that well. His performance is quiet, but extremely memorable.

Destin Daniel Cretton’s direction is perfectly competent. It’s nothing to write home about but doesn’t detract from the quality of the overall film. This is a film that will hit home with lots of people, especially those not acquainted with Stevenson and his work. It’s hard not to get swept in Walter’s tale. Just Mercy is a call to action against the death penalty and for a fair, unbiased justice system is a film that I think everybody needs to see.

 

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Last Christmas

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Last Christmas is a Christmas tale with an out-of-place musical hook that works better than it should.

Kate (Emilia Clarke) finds her life at a standstill-mostly homeless and frequently drunk with a loss of ambition or drive. She is about to get fired from her job as an elf at a Christmas-themed store when she meets the jovial, yet mysterious Tom (Henry Golding), who helps her usher in a new era of her life. Kate begins to help the ones she has done wrong and view the world in a more positive light as the Christmas holiday draws near.

Emilia Clarke gives a surprisingly layered performance as Kate. Her character is written fairly blandly, but Clark gives her depth where the screenplay doesn’t. Henry Golding plays Tom with exuberance and energy. His thoughtful approach to life makes him a nice foil to Kate’s blatant cynicism. Emma Thompson puts on a Slavic accent in a scene-stealing comedic performance as Kate’s painfully honest and worrisome mother. There are some moments in this film that are painfully reminiscent of other films in the romcom lexicon, but there’s a consistent charm here throughout, more earnest than it is contrived. This charm is amplified by the likability of its two lead stars, Clarke and Golding. 

The film is soundtracked by the music catalog of singer George Michael. It serves as a smooth transition between tunes and you could certainly pick songs much worse than these to back up your film, but it sometimes feels tacked-on and gimmicky. It doesn’t fit in with the rest of the film. Last Christmas has a third act that turns the movie on its head and while the shift isn’t necessarily shockingly surprising, it’s well-executed and recontextualizes much of what has come before. For a film that hinges much of its story on a single Christmas song, I found myself being unexpectedly moved by it. There is a touching story here about doing the good for others that we’re all capable of and not letting hardship keep you from your full potential.

In the end, we go to the movies to be entertained and in that respect, Last Christmas certainly gets the job done.

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Ford V. Ferrari

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Ford V Ferrari is an absolutely thrilling film that fires on all cylinders that had me enthralled for its entire runtime. Ford V Ferrari is a pure adrenaline rush from start to finish.

Ferrari dominates the 24 Hours of Le Mans for much of the 1960s. Ford decides to throw their hat in the ring, in hopes that a victory at Le Mans will raise their struggling sales. The former racer turned car salesman Carol Shelby(Played by Matt Damon) and his difficult, but extremely skilled and passionate racer pal Ken Mile(Played By Christian Bale) are both brought on to help Ford craft a car to get them to the finish line.

Christian Bale and Matt Damon are 2 of our most talented working actors today and are a large part of what makes this film work so well. They haven’t worked together on-screen and yet, they interact with the ease of old friends. The performances complement each other, it doesn’t feel as if they’re trying to outdo one another. It’s an on-screen duo with charisma to spare that you get invested in. Beneath the technical polish and gloss, the friendship between Shelby and Miles is the heart of the film. 

We all love a good underdog and this film is a classic underdog story. Shelby, Miles and their team working to take on Ferrari. Ford V Ferrari about much more than the race at Le Mans, but the human struggles encountered to get there. Not just the pride and jealousy that constricted Miles and Shelby at times, but the rigid corporate system of Ford Motor Company they had to overcome just to get on the track. It’s an expansive, mesmerizing real-life story that feels perfect for the cinematic medium.  

Ford V Ferrari puts you in the driver’s seat with the racers, but not in the way I was expecting. I was more transported by the sound than I was the images. The stellar sound design and mixing are some of the best I’ve ever heard. They give the racing sequences not just an immersive quality, but a transcendent one that I can’t quite describe. James Mangold’s direction is excellent. He gives you absorbing racing sequences that will put you on the edge of your seat. More so, Mangold has a strong grasp on pacing. The film knows when to slow down and emphasize character and emotion and when to fill its engine and hightail it to the next scene. In a film this long, it’s remarkable it feels as breezy as it does. Even if you know this story start to finish, the ease, technically and narratively, in which it’s told makes this ride one worth taking.

Even if you’re not a race car fanatic, there’s a good chance you’ll love this film.  This is easily one of my favorites of the year.  

 

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Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil explores the world of its iconic big-bad title character—the witch from the iconic fairy tale Sleeping Beauty—but fans who met her in the 2014 live action film will be disappointed with the overstuffed plot and uneven tone.

Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) protects the Moors, a place inhabited by a vast array of magical creatures from fairies to humanoid trees. Her daughter, Aurora accepts a marriage proposal from Prince Phillip, prompting talks of peace and unity between the Moors and Phillip’s kingdom. Maleficent wearily meets her daughter’s in-laws, King John and Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer). The already tense evening escalates when King John becomes cursed and Maleficent is believed to be at fault. She flees, but Aurora refuses to go with her. Maleficent goes on a journey of self-discovery and must restore order between humankind and hers.

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is so steadfast in the gritty approach it takes to its fairy tale world, it often undermines the magic that makes these stories so enduringly popular. When it comes to fairy tales, realism and gloom is not what has kept them in the public consciousness for centuries.

Maleficent does have some high points. The costume and production design are phenomenal, further suspending you in this world. There are some pretty awe-inspiring shots from Maleficent’s point of view as she soars through the sky. There are also some interesting ideas about family and parenting here and far more interesting than the exploits of the tribe of fellow fairies Maleficent meets. If any of the individual ideas presented were given room to breathe and develop, the film would be much better for it. Instead, there’s a lack of focus that clouds much of the runtime and it’s clear the film doesn’t quite know what it wants to accomplish. They pack too many characters and subplots into one film.

One of the costs is screentime for Maleficent. The film doesn’t give Angelina Jolie much to do this time around and I was surprised by the scarce amount of dialogue she is given. When she’s training herself to smile or going verbally head-to-head with Queen Ingrith, Jolie shines. Jolie is magnetic onscreen and the film should’ve utilized her powerful presence more. One consolation though is Michelle Pfeiffer delving into the role of a villain. Her passive-aggressive manner mixes well with a jaded, nihilistic worldview and she’s a lot of fun to watch.

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Paddington

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Paddington takes a bath…and the bathtub on a ride down the staircase.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paddington is an?awesome, hilarious and just fun movie that will make you feel like a kid again. (Even though I’m still a kid.) It all centers around Paddington. a marmalade-loving bear from Peru, who travels to London to start a new life. At Paddington Station, a family called the Browns agree to take him into their home. There is a taxidermist who wants to stuff Paddington. My favorite part is when Paddington first encounters a bathroom. All the crazy chaos that ensues made me laugh and hopefully you’ll laugh too. My favorite character is Paddington the Bear, so happy and bright and gets out of the stickiest situations in the funniest ways. One of the reasons Paddington is wonderful?is that the film brings together?a great cast including Sally Hawkins and Hugh Bonneville. The writer has spun a great screenplay that gives each character enough development.

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Big Hero 6

 

 

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The Big Hero 6 team storm the streets of San Fransokyo.

Big Hero 6?is an amazing, hilarious, action-packed, beautiful Disney film. Big Hero 6 is about Hiro, a robotics prodigy who instead of going to college goes underground “bot” fighting in the back alleys of San Fransokyo, a bright colorful noisy metropolis. Hiro’s brother, Tadashi, shows him his school, the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology, what his friends are creating and Baymax, a huggable medic robot that can care for patients. Immediately Hiro wants to go there. He wins a contest to go to the college by inventing microbots, an army of tiny simple robots that their creator can control and can form any structure. After the contest tragedy strikes. Tadashi dies and the microbots are stolen. Hiro is depressed until Baymax comforts him. Together they go to try to stop the man who stole the microbots. I’m a sucker for superhero movies so this was one my most anticipated movies of the year. You should definitely go see it because it has a captivating story, beautiful animation, great 3D effects, and all around a fantastic film.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Maleficent

Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) causing mayhem with her feathered sidekick.

Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) causing mayhem with her feathered sidekick.

I loved Maleficent, or as I call it Magnificent. I went to see it in 2D (sorry, no IMAX or 3D review) and was pleasantly surprised by this film because I did not expect the movie I got. It was an origin story for Maleficent, the villain from Sleeping Beauty. It shows what drove Maleficent to do the things she did in?Sleeping Beauty. The previews promoted it as a really dark movie but it has some?surprisingly light scenes and you start to root for Maleficent, even though she did some very bad things. Angelina Jolie does a fantastic job of portraying a hard character. She is not 100 percent evil but she is not 100 percent good either. You feel her pain. Sam Riley plays Devon, a man who can turn into any animal and Sharlto Copley is the evil King Stefan. The fairies bring most of the laughs. I recommend this movie to kids ages 6 though 10 because there are some scary images and scary battle sequences and even I got a little scared.

 

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