Archive for 2022

The Outfit

Posted in Crime, Drama, Mystery with tags on May 12, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I love a clever title with a double meaning. The Outfit is about an English tailor named Leonard Burling (Mark Rylance) who sews suits, but it also concerns the Chicago Outfit, an organized crime syndicate. The story details one fateful night in the tailor’s life. Okay, so he’s technically a “cutter” because Leonard used to work in London’s Savile Row. It’s 1956 and he runs a neighborhood shop in Chicago controlled by Roy Boyle (Simon Russell Beale), an Irish Mob boss. Roy’s son Ritchie (Dylan O’Brien) and chief enforcer Francis (Johnny Flynn) are Leonard’s best customers but they also use his business as a place to hide dirty money. Oh and his receptionist Mable (Zoey Deutch) also happens to be Ritchie’s girlfriend.

The drama has all the trapping of the stage. The story is set in a single location. A twisty sequence of developments unfolds as the tailor attempts to stay alive by manipulating people with his words. The low-key vibe of the account takes a while to get going. However, things do get more complicated and even bloody. Before the night is over, not everyone will still be alive. A series of discussions propel the plot. Although the climax ultimately relies on a sequence of several actions. The ending could use a little — pardon the pun — tailoring.

The Outfit is an entertaining tale from screenwriter Graham Moore who won an Oscar for The Imitation Game. The dialogue is crisp and witty. A sample exchange:

Richie: [My father was] always stating, “A well-tied tie is the first serious step in life kid”
Leonard: Wilde
Richie: F***ing crazy, right?
Leonard: No, that’s a quote: Oscar Wilde

Screenwriter Graham Moore is making his directorial debut. He expertly builds tension from a unique situation. There’s a rat somewhere in Roy Boyle’s organization and he’s aiming to find out who it is. The centerpiece is a stellar performance from Mark Rylance. He’s a cagey individual but his unassuming nature belies a shrewd personality. A notable alumnus of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, his talent here recalls the work of another graduate of the prestigious school, Anthony Hopkins. I can’t give an actor higher praise than that. Mark Rylance elevates this well-written theater piece into a captivating pressure cooker drama.

05-06-22

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Posted in Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Superhero with tags on May 9, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

“I’m not a monster. I’m a mother.”

Why not be both? Benedict Cumberbatch may get top billing, but the driving force of the narrative is Elizabeth Olsen. She is Wanda Maximoff a.k.a. The Scarlet Witch. The woman loves her sons Billy (Julian Hilliard) and Tommy (Jett Klyne) dearly. She simply wants them back with her safe and sound. Nothing wrong with that, right? The problem is, to accomplish this, she has to create a lot of chaos. What’s a mother to do? Enter America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), a teenager with the ability to travel to different worlds in the multiverse. Unfortunately, America cannot control her abilities. She is being chased by a demonic entity and requests the help of Dr. Stephen Strange and Wong (Benedict Wong). Strange realizes he needs further assistance and so he appeals to Wanda Maximoff for help.

The chronicle is surprisingly basic but made needlessly complicated. The title may be saddled with the sobriquet “In the Multiverse of Madness,” but this is a direct sequel to Doctor Strange. It’s not a movie for uninformed viewers. It demands knowledge of other Marvel properties before watching. Obviously, you must see part one. A familiarity with Spider-Man: No Way Home and the TV shows What If…? and Loki might also improve your experience. Essential viewing is the Disney+ TV show WandaVision. In that series, Wanda has two kids and the love for her sons is her motivation here in what could have been a straightforward saga. Complicating matters are cameos that distract from the drama at its heart.

This sequel is conspicuously hampered by a slavish devotion to being a piece in a much larger puzzle. Callbacks to other individuals within the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) pop up to check off boxes and remind the viewer this is merely a chapter in a media franchise. The saga is burdened by the introduction of people that reference other releases and suggest potential developments in future films. A tedious detour presents Stephen Strange attending the wedding of Christine Palmer where Dr. Nic West also happens to be a guest. The extended sequence hijacks the narrative only to justify that Rachel McAdams and Michael Stuhlbarg’s names be included on the movie poster. In another development, we meet Chiwetel Ejiofor as Karl Mordo. He is the Sorcerer Supreme of the Illuminati, a secret society made of superheroes that Doctor Strange originally formed. This includes alternate versions of well-known characters from previous MCU features that have been recast. It feels like a distraction shoehorned into the account. They have little to do with the central tale. Even screenwriter Michael Waldron seems to secretly loathe their presence. No detailed spoilers, but I wouldn’t get attached to all of them.

It’s nice when an auteur can bring their style to the Marvel machine. Let’s face it. In this context, directors are talent for hire that must adhere to a set of rules overseen by a committee with the final say. The caliber of notables tapped to oversee something within the MCU is a most impressive list. Some are more successful than others at injecting their stamp onto the material. Taika Waititi added camp to Thor: Ragnarok. Chloé Zhao brought thoughtful introspection to Eternals. Sam Raimi brings his eccentric spirit. He’s already familiar with the superhero genre. The Spider-Man trilogy he helmed starring Tobey Maguire beginning back in 2002 is iconic. But it’s the horror aesthetic of The Evil Dead and Drag Me to Hell that informs the DNA of this picture.

Doctor Strange 2 (yes I’m calling it that) is a weird and wild blockbuster. Director Sam Raimi’s signature is all over this film. When Stephen Strange and his ally America are falling through multiple universes, it is a surreal trip employing bizarre visuals and music. At one point they even briefly become cartoons. The snippet is one of the most inspired bits I’ve seen in a movie all year. Later Stephen Strange uses Dreamwalking (don’t ask) to take over the corpse of another variant of himself called Defender Strange. His walking and talking zombie is hideous. It can be entertaining — especially when Elizabeth Olsen is on screen as The Scarlet Witch doing her magic. When the story gets sidetracked by tributaries and detours it’s less captivating. It’s a mixed bag for me, although I lean toward a recommendation. It’s a fun summer flick with fantasy elements and special effects. I guess I’m a sucker for that sort of thing.

05-05-22

The Bad Guys

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Comedy with tags on May 5, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Overall ticket sales haven’t returned to robust pre-pandemic levels, but the box office is still full of success stories. The latest is this gem from DreamWorks Animation and distributed by Universal Pictures. Well-crafted family-friendly diversions have always been a safe bet. It may not equal the full auditory overload of Sing 2 (thank goodness), but this PG-rated treasure should dazzle the wee ones. At least until Pixar’s Toy Story spin-off Lightyear comes out on June 17.

The Bad Guys are a gang of anthropomorphic animals who walk and talk amongst humans. The coterie of creatures consists of a Mr. Wolf (Sam Rockwell), Mr. Snake (Marc Maron), Ms. Tarantula (Awkwafina), Mr. Shark (Craig Robinson), and Mr. Piranha (Anthony Ramos). The group of five are so named because they’re career criminals. During their latest caper, they attempt to steal a humanitarian award at a large gala. The trophy is to be conferred upon a pompous guinea pig named Professor Rupert Marmalade IV (Richard Ayoade). The recipient happens to be a philanthropist. The villains are caught in the act. Normally they would be taken to jail. However, Mr. Wolf — the leader of the group — persuades the guinea pig to reform them instead. Little does Rupert know that the scoundrels plan to swipe the award again.

The adventure isn’t ambitious, yet I quite liked this rather unassuming film. The artwork captivates the eye. It’s set in Los Angeles and the illustrators insert recognizable landmarks into the background. The style uses computer graphics but is subverted with the hand-drawn illustrated look of a 2D format. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse famously used this technique, but so did The Mitchells vs. The Machines. It’s very effective. The story is captivating as well. Elsewhere this tale of various critters attempting a heist has been encapsulated as “Zootopia meets Ocean’s Eleven.” That’s an apt description. Even the screenplay acknowledges the similarities. When Mr. Wolf tries to charm the governor, Diane Foxington (Zazie Beetz), Mr. Shark defines his conduct as “going full Clooney on her.”

The Bad Guys is a simplistic but pure joy. Granted the gags aren’t profound or innovative. My kingdom for modern children’s entertainment that doesn’t rely on fart jokes. As a missed payment affects a credit score, so does the stumble into toilet humor lower my rating. Nevertheless, the narrative is mostly clean and surprisingly coherent. The fact that the plot developments make sense impressed me. I’ve noticed as I get older, cartoons seem to grow more and more chaotic. Not sure whether I or the animation is the thing that’s changing. I suspect both, but this account is a bit more sensible. Humans and animals interacting together like people may be a silly idea, but the saga’s developments have a logical progression. The characters are clearly defined and elicit our sympathy. I enjoyed this and — more importantly — your kids should as well.

04-29-22

Valerie

Posted in Biography, Documentary, Shorts with tags on May 2, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

In the 1970s the definition of feminism was changing. The idea that a woman could reclaim her sexuality by exploiting it to her advantage was becoming a thing. Few women better embodied this ideal than Valerie Perrine. The actress was certainly comfortable in her skin. She was never afraid to flaunt raw, unbridled sensuality. This documentary short does not shy away from that reality.

Born in Texas, Perrine began her path to stardom as a Vegas showgirl. Early on, she was cleverly cast as stripper Honey Bruce in the 1974 biopic Lenny. It was a raw, credible performance. In fact, she was so memorable she earned an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. Later parts would also often rely on her physical assets. She was fully aware of this. However, she was much more than a voluptuous beauty. She gave authentically earthy performances in many movies and held her own alongside some of the biggest names of the decade. These include Dustin Hoffman (Lenny), Jeff Bridges (The Last American Hero), Robert Redford (The Electric Horseman), and Jack Nicholson (The Border). I was a child in the 1970s. She will always be Miss Teschmacher in Superman and Superman II to me. She made the character iconic.

Valerie is the celebration of the life of a star. She is currently 78. Perrine would continue to act well after her 1970s and early 80s heyday, but would ultimately fade from the limelight. In a heartbreaking development, Perrine was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2015. The chronicle opens with her voice narrating how she ended up in the hospital. We see a daily struggle with illness. The film then flashes back to the beginning of her Hollywood career. The contrast between the past and the present can be jarring. Yet she consistently remains a vibrant and compelling personality.

Valerie is a complimentary account — occasionally excessively so. In archival footage, photos, and memorabilia, we are presented with a flattering homage. Interviews with celebrities including Jeff Bridges, Angie Dickinson, George Hamilton, Stacy Keach, Richard Donner, Loni Anderson, and David Arquette attest to a life lived on her own terms. What comes through is the humanity of a talent who understood her charms and utilized them to the fullest. I now understand what made this woman tick a little better than before. Director Stacey Souther (an actor in his own right) presents this intimate portrait as a friend. This warm and loving memoir is like hanging out with Valerie for 36 minutes. It was time well spent.

Valerie is streaming Tuesday, May 3 on Amazon, iTunes, AppleTV, YouTube, and Google Play. Available for pre-order on DVD through Amazon.

04-19-22

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

Posted in Action, Comedy, Crime with tags on April 28, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

It’s the role he was literally born to play. Nicolas Cage is Nicolas Cage — or at least a heightened version of his frenzied persona. Sometimes a high concept is enough. When The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent fully acknowledges its meta pretense, the movie is a hoot. However, a pedestrian action-comedy ultimately emerges from that facade of creative self-awareness. It’s enjoyable too, but not as clever as the idea of the actor playing himself as a movie star.

The conceit has Nick currently mulling over his career. The performer hasn’t had a good part in a while now and he is running out of money. He has a tense relationship with both his ex-wife Olivia (Sharon Horgan) and their daughter Addy (Lily Sheen). Occasionally he argues with a younger even more boisterous interpretation of himself called Nicky. Sorry, but the efficacy of de-aging technology using CGI is still highly questionable. After being passed over for a coveted film role, he decides he will retire from acting. But first, he’s going to accept a mysterious offer of $1 million to attend the birthday party of a billionaire playboy named Javi Gutierrez (Pedro Pascal). Cage would be the guest of honor. The celebration is being held on the island of Mallorca, off the coast of mainland Spain.

UWOMT is a lot of things. When the script is focused on being a Hollywood satire, it’s a sly comment on the entertainer’s own acting choices and the current state of filmmaking. That wit is peppered throughout the film and I relished those moments. Cage has made a lot of movies. I expected Leaving Las Vegas and Face/Off references. The fact that even Guarding Tess and Captain Corelli’s Mandolin get a mention too was an amusing surprise. The screenplay co-written by director Tom Gormican with Kevin Etten is that thorough.

The heart beating underneath this spoof is a pleasant but formulaic action-comedy. Actor Pedro Pascal is indeed lovable as the wealthy super-fan. His admiration for Cage has a warmth that radiates sincerity. Javi Gutierrez also happens to be an international criminal. The true nature of his character is an ongoing concern for Nick. Javi may or may not have kidnapped the daughter of a presidential candidate. At one point, there’s a memorable reveal of a secret room in Javi’s compound that could’ve gone any number of ways. No spoilers here. I’ll only offer that the buddy aspects are superior to the criminal elements. The two bond over a certain beloved family movie. The pair have ample chemistry together to make this a winner. Now I think I’ll go rewatch Paddington 2.

04-26-22

The Northman

Posted in Action, Adventure, Drama with tags on April 26, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The Princess Bride was the last film I expected to think of while watching The Northman. It occurs when Prince Amleth makes his proclamation: “I will avenge you, Father. I will save you, Mother. I will kill you, Fjölnir.” Like the declaration of Inigo Montoya in the William Goldman novel and subsequent adaptation, the vindictive pledge is like a mantra. In all fairness, the mood of this Viking adventure is closer to darker revenge movies like Conan the Barbarian, Braveheart, and Gladiator.

The ancient Norse legends are the basis for Robert Eggers’ tale. They’re part of a rich tradition that also inspired Shakespeare to write Hamlet. The Northman is the director’s most commercial release. He’s working from a reported budget of somewhere between $70 and $90 million depending on whatever accounting reports you believe. Regardless, it’s easy to see where the money went. The chronicle is a beautifully photographed epic of visual grandeur. If you’re content to simply gorge on the scenery, you’ll be satiated.

The story is simplistic, but it’s accomplished by a talented ensemble. Young Prince Amleth (Oscar Novak) witnesses the murder of his father, King Aurvandil (Ethan Hawke), and the capture of his mother, Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman), by his uncle, Fjölnir (Claes Bang). Years later, Amleth (now played by Alexander Skarsgård) vows to assassinate Fjölnir. He also promises to liberate his mother — still played by Kidman (!) The actress is now only nine years older than the actor playing her son. Ah, Hollywood! Amleth embarks on a quest to find and execute Fjölnir. During his journey, he meets Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy), a sorceress/Slavic slave who becomes his ally and also love interest — not necessarily in that order.

There’s no denying that Alexander Skargaaard has the physicality of a Viking. His performance is a wild untamed muscular bundle of rage. The dude is so jacked, his workout routine suggests he’s doing a lot more than rowing a boat and occasionally wielding a sword. Intellectually he has one thing on his mind: to avenge his father’s death. So he enlists the help of a group of berserkers to help him accomplish his task. I wish I could say there was more to the plot but that’s it. The account portrays this undertaking.

The Northman is a surprisingly conventional tale from a director who heretofore has been anything but. It’s not surprising that the director is feeling a little playful. He’s working with a massive budget that now allows for a grander scale and scope. The Witch and The Lighthouse were contemplative pictures that traded action for meaning. The Northman feels like an about-face. The screenplay — co-written by Eggers and Icelandic novelist and poet Sjón — isn’t too interested in profound considerations. It’s a basic and bloody revenge scenario. Introspection be damned.

Where this visceral fable of retaliation excels is in the iconography that elevates the most historically accurate Viking movie ever made. At least that’s what the press materials brag. Maybe it is. I can’t dispute the boast because I don’t have a Ph.D. in Scandinavian Studies. The research and attention to detail must be acknowledged. The director is hell-bent on historical authenticity. The feature relies on a lot of window dressing that follows a narrative blueprint of retribution. I’m talking about spectacular production design by Craig Lathrop, beautiful cinematography by Jarin Blaschke, and meticulously created costumes by Linda Muir.

I’ll admit the spectacle is visually impressive. The landscapes are stunning. The violence is brutal. Yet I’d accept a little inaccuracy for some narrative depth. The saga is high on style but low on innovation. Nevertheless, it does manage to proffer a meditative consideration of masculinity and honor. Meanwhile, the action remains rooted in pulpy earthiness. It all culminates in a bloody skirmish between Amleth and Fjölnir who converge — naked — near an active volcano. If nothing else, it’s a moment that ensures this picture demands a mention on lists of memorable fights that include Women in Love and Eastern Promises. The Northman‘s place in cinematic history is ensured.

04-21-22

Petite Maman

Posted in Drama, Fantasy, Foreign with tags on April 21, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Céline Sciamma’s follow-up to Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a wistful ode to childhood. Petite Maman — which means “little mother ” — tells the story of an 8-year-old girl who has just lost her beloved grandmother (Margo Abascal). Nelly (Joséphine Sanz) joins her parents (Nina Meurisse and Stéphane Varupenne) in the painful endeavor of cleaning out her mother’s childhood home in the countryside. Mom is deeply disturbed by the process and leaves that night without saying goodbye. The next morning Nelly goes off to play in the forest and happens upon another girl her own age. The stranger’s name is Marion (Gabrielle Sanz) and she’s building a fort made of branches in the woods.

The less said about the narrative the better. Many reviews have spoiled the central conceit of the film. That’s a shame because the mystery is one of the film’s greatest charms. What exactly this meditative reflection is trying to say is ambiguous and open to interpretation. Nothing is explained. The bonds of family, specifically between mothers and daughters, is certainly a theme. Director Sciamma has cited Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki as an influence. A French movie told from the naive perspective of a child also recalls René Clément’s 1952 masterpiece Forbidden Games.

The story is slight and it unfolds at a languid pace. Whether Sciamma’s vague meditation approaches the depth of its influences is open for discussion. Your mileage may vary. Nevertheless, the bewitching yarn does manage to captivate in a mere 72 minutes. That’s saying something these days when films double this length routinely do not. It is in the quiet moments of solitude that the atmosphere can resonate as intensely as pages of dialogue. Sometimes the most profound ideas aren’t overtly expressed but rather felt with the heart. The otherworldly fantasy mines the evocative mood of a fairy tale. A tender devotion to the characters shines through, elevating the fable with warmth and poignancy.

Petite Maman opens in select US theaters on April 22 and goes wider on April 29.

01-22-22

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore

Posted in Adventure, Family, Fantasy, Science Fiction with tags on April 18, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

So if you’ve completely divested from the Wizarding World, you have my respect. Nevertheless, you’ll need a primer for this review. The Secrets of Dumbledore is part three of the Fantastic Beasts franchise, which is a spin-off/prequel to the Harry Potter movies. If you’ve seen the other two, it remains a convoluted saga that requires a lot of work to keep track of what’s going on. That’s a warning if you’re not a dedicated fan of this stuff. You must see the other entries first to understand this one. Or better yet, skip all three entirely and watch a satisfying fantasy. Anyway, the positive news is that this entry improves upon the last.

We’re three episodes into this joyless series and I still have no idea what this overarching drama is even trying to say or why. It appears to be a political allegory condemning fascist ideology. Fun! If I can boil this account down to its basic essence, it’s good vs. evil in the form of an honest wizard named Dumbledore (Jude Law) against the malevolent wizard Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen). The two made an unbreakable oath never to harm each other a long time ago. The upcoming reveal of the Supreme Mugwump is approaching. A fawn called a Qilin will bow to the leader that is most pure of heart. Grindelwald is manipulating the process and he must be stopped. Dumbledore assembles a team to curtail Grindelwald’s nefarious plans.

Side note: I would be remiss if I didn’t at least acknowledge that actor Mads Mikkelsen has taken over the role originally played by Johnny Depp. It’s like when Dick Sargent replaced Dick York in TV’s Bewitched in 1969 and no one acknowledged on screen that this was a different actor. The reasons for the decision are different though. Mikkelsen’s emotionless performance may be adequate but it isn’t an improvement. Bowing to the court of public opinion is so much more important than artistic merit.

What the feature has going for it is a nice-looking fantasy adventure with great production design and visual effects. There’s a section where Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) goes to rescue his brother Theseus (Callum Turne). He has to mimic the moves of these little scorpion critters. I was mildly amused by that. There are engaging moments here and there. Yet once again there are too many characters. An aggregation of returning individuals includes actors Eddie Redmayne, Jude Law, Ezra Miller, Katherine Waterston, Alison Sudol, Callum Turner, and Fiona Glascott. However, the MVP award goes to Dan Fogler as the non-magic Jacob Kowalski. It is a testament to his ability to turn a minor character into a fascinating personality. He seizes focus as the charismatic spice in a bland stew. Meanwhile the episodic nature of the plot sort of plods along without a strong story or compelling focus.

Nonetheless, The Secrets of Dumbledore is a vast upgrade over its predecessor. The Crimes of Grindelwald came out four years ago. I couldn’t even begin to recall what happened. It was such an ordeal, I probably blocked it out to be quite honest. So before I went to see this, I forced myself to do a significant amount of research on the internet to reacquaint myself with the lore. I even read the plot synopsis of the current release on Wikipedia. Going to see this felt more like a homework assignment than actual entertainment. However, doing that preparation did make my experience more enjoyable. I give this film a pass. If you have the base knowledge to enjoy this flick, then consider it worthy of your time. If you aren’t, steer clear.

04-15-22

Apollo 10 1⁄2: A Space Age Childhood

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Drama with tags on April 14, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood is Richard Linklater’s warm reflection on growing up in 1969. 10 1/2-year-old Stanley (voiced by Milo Coy) is a boy living in Houston, Texas right before the Apollo 11 Moon landing. He’s the youngest of six children — three boys and three girls. So that would be “Bobby” if you’re a Brady Bunch fan. The saga includes a fanciful tale of a fourth-grader who imagines himself to be the first person to land on the Moon because the engineers accidentally made a capsule too small.

Apollo 10 1/2 is Linklater’s most accomplished delve into rotoscope animation yet. He utilized the technique before in both Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly. The style is used to create animated sequences by tracing over live-action footage frame by frame. The nostalgic trip through the late 1960s relies heavily on voice-over from past collaborator Jack Black (School of Rock, Bernie) as the adult Stanley. As the events of his childhood play out, his reflective narration recalls The Wonder Years. The nostalgia is heavy and deep.

Few people recreate an era like Richard Linklater. I’m talking about masterful movies like Dazed and Confused, Boyhood, and Everybody Wants Some!! I have one brother. My household of four was a far less complicated structure than the family of eight depicted here. Additionally, Linklater’s birth predates my own by a decade. Nevertheless, his lovingly recreated memoir is realized with such authentic detail that I identified with his recollections in a uniquely personal way. From a father employed by NASA (My father worked for NASA Ames Research Center) to a mother who recycled paper bags from the grocery store as trash bags for the kitchen, I felt the parallels to my own suburban but frugal upbringing. Incidentally, our protagonist humorously notes that the last idea is a smart one so long as the garbage isn’t wet.

Apollo 10 1/2 depicts a simpler time. The minutia brought back a ton of memories, though the chronicle does tend to drift. It lacks the propulsive thrust of a strong narrative. The leisurely account should captivate adults more than kids. However, it emphasizes that a compelling depiction of our childhood need not incorporate the biggest news stories of the day. Sometimes it’s the vivid but inconsequential details that resonate. The best moments aren’t the events surrounding the moon landing itself, but when Linklater offers pop culture touchstones in this personal coming-of-age story. The mere listing of his favorite TV shows or the board games he enjoyed playing, will resound with anyone who lived back then. It was perhaps the last generation when parents let their offspring run wild and free throughout the neighborhood. No one thought twice if a group of kids should be traveling in the back flatbed of a pickup truck — sans seatbelts — or riding a bike without a helmet. It may not have been prudent, but we had a glorious time. Somehow we survived. I felt a connection to my own experience.

Streaming on Netflix since April 1.

04-10-22

Sonic the Hedgehog 2

Posted in Action, Adventure, Comedy, Family with tags on April 10, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Sonic the Hedgehog was a winning story in 2020 because it was overflowing with heart. At its core, it detailed a friendship forged between a little blue alien and a local sheriff named Tom (James Marsden). It was derivative of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and obviously nowhere near as good, but it did manage to extract some of the same warmth. The account felt sincere. I was pleasantly surprised. Add a goofily inspired performance from Jim Carey as the central villain and I was singing its praises. In contrast, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is a cash grab lacking the goodwill, sincerity, and heart of its predecessor.

The chronicle begins when Jim Carrey’s Dr. Robotnik escapes his exile from a mushroom world. This allows the actor to call the fungi planet from which he escapes a “piece of shiitake.” That mildly vulgar play on words was funnier when I heard it in Spy Kids. Regardless, Carey was enough of a villain to sustain the original story — a refreshingly simple fish out of water tale. Adding more characters rarely equals a better movie but filmmakers often rely on it when making sequels. Carey gets an evil ally in the form of a computer-generated short-beaked echidna called Knuckles. Voiced in a low register by Idris Elba, he’s looking for the all-powerful Master Emerald. This is the MacGuffin — the object that everybody wants.

Sonic has been attempting to fight crime on Earth as a superhero. He has been failing miserably. A two-tailed fox appropriately named Tails from yet another distant planet is a good guy. He is imbued with a high-pitched voice by Colleen O’Shaughnessey. Tails has been watching over Sonic and arrives on Earth to warn our hero about the malevolent foes out to get him. These fantastical beasts from outer space occupy the central focus. Why have just one fully CGI star when you can have three? The loneliness of Sonic’s unique existence was a compelling quality in the first film. Sadly that distinction is absent from this overcrowded sequel.

The chemistry between the human James Marsden and the cartoon Sonic is what made the original so delightful. That’s gone. Here the trio of animated personalities mostly interact with each other. Watching three computerized entities zip around the screen in frenetic pre-programmed action sequences in a crushing bore. Carrey attempts to give another larger-than-life performance. Unfortunately, he’s buried underneath a technology-laden tsunami of CGI characters. I’ve watched the skills of talented gamers up on a TV screen that offered more emotional context. Meanwhile the humans — Tom and his wife Maddie (Tika Sumpter) – are relegated to the background as they head off to Hawaii for the wedding of Maddie’s sister Rachel (Natasha Rothwell) to handsome Randall (Shemar Moore). The screenplay goes off on a convoluted tangent to explain the incredulity of their relationship.

If I can say anything nice, it’s that the picture wears its mediocrity on its sleeve. I’m not saying it was intentional, but it is obvious. Some productions often lull you into a sense of ease with a promising beginning. Then do an about-face and surprise you somewhere at the midway point with ineptitude. It’s immediately apparent that Sonic 2 is a slapdash effort right from the start. The chaotic events zip back and forth on a globetrotting affair to various locales without a reason or care. The opening 30-40 minutes could be excised entirely and not have any effect on the proper plot. To be honest you could eliminate developments from almost any part of the film and it wouldn’t matter. The story exists to feature beloved characters that audiences came to see in a random series of events.

Whenever the action subsides, the soundtrack kicks in. More often than not it’s some late 80s, early 90s hip hop jam. “It’s Tricky” (Run-DMC), “Here Comes the Hotstepper” (Ini Kamoze), “This Is How We Do It” (Montell Jordan), and “You Know How We Do It” (Ice Cube) overwhelm at various points. “Uptown Funk” featuring Bruno Mars isn’t from that era, but it caps off a scene that features Sonic and Tails in a remote Russian bar. The locals challenge them to a dance-off. As a fan of musicals, my hopes were somewhat piqued, but the number is such a pedestrian display of choreography and music my enthusiasm dissipated as quickly as a lost life. Computer technology will never replace Gene Kelly.

Longer! Faster! Louder! More! Anything but better. When critics talk of sequelitis, this soulless piece of product is what they’re talking about. My theater was filled with children that were more content to run about the auditorium than watch what was up on the screen. Were they distracted because the rudimentary requirements of entertainment were not being met? I suspect the patience-testing length of over two hours was the real culprit. 90 minutes is the sweet spot for family entertainment. I was pleasantly surprised by the first film. This however is the FX-laden eyesore I feared the original would be. Nevertheless, it had a successful opening weekend debut. The mood on social media asserts that Sonic 2 delivers the requisite enjoyment to devotees of the SEGA games. I don’t play the Sonic the Hedgehog video game so that doesn’t include me. However dear readers, I will offer if you have young kids that are begging you to see this, then by all means take them. Just be prepared that they will probably enjoy the movie a lot more than you do.

04-07-22