Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)

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The zippy rodent from the Sega world, races onto cinema screens and somehow amidst all the usual so-so or lame video game adaptations, this family flick is a triumph. A switch off your brain triumph but one nonetheless.

After his powers ensure he has to leave his home-world, Sonic (Ben Schwartz) lands in Green Hills, Montana and strikes up an unexpected bond with sheriff Tom (James Marsden). However, his electrical extra-terrestrial side has caught the attention of evil genius Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey) who will stop at nothing to track down the hedgehog and hopefully carry tests on him.

Intended to be released back in winter of last year but postponed due to much publicised disapproval of Sonic’s design, 2020 sees the revamped blue dude looking more the part even if it cost more to do it, he’s much less terrifying to witness than the leggy creation beforehand. There’s something in his furry look that is cutesy and though he can tread the line of being overly talkative and close to annoying, the animation and Schwartz’s vocals are a manic ride to sit back and get a kick out of.

Sonic is a zany streak of blue fuzziness and there’s an electric charge which pulsates through a safe and unoriginal family-friendly film to loopier heights and you somehow, without realising get swept up by the dashy pace of it all. ‘X-Men’s’ Quicksilver can take a load off and marvel at this space-hog who has his own slowed down sequences for showcasing super speed; this skill is entertainingly put into practice at a rodeo bar where his hijinks help to vanquish brawling men and women.

There’s a constant push of being fast and fun and with satisfying pop cultural references to line the path, this debut feature from Jeff Fowler is a giddy one that will no doubt hype up kids and entertain most adults too. It so easily could have been a movie that was a visual mess, a childish dumb show but somehow something clicks with it and even if you can predict every moment and the showboating voice-over element is done to death in family flicks, you cannot help but have fun watching this navy-quilled critter run riot.

Even if Sonic is the titled star of the movie, it goes without saying that the show truly belongs to Jim Carrey who laps up every minute of his screen time and looks to be revelling in his turn as the brainy, panto bad guy. Dr. Robotnik is dialled up to Carrey levels of battiness and a flashing light sequence of villain boogieing is all you need to use as an example of his odd yet dazzling turn as the adversary.

Lace up and sprint alongside this pacy family-friendly action film because if you don’t you’ll be left trailing in it’s zippy wake. ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ didn’t have any right to be this good but it is. Really.

7/10

Emma (2020)

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Adapted from Jane Austen’s novel about adolescent romance, which is over 200 years old, is this period drama/comedy which feels as timely as ever because the characters are so richly alluring.

Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy) resides with her father and is a wealthy young woman who enjoys interfering in the romances of others around her. The expensive life she’s used to might not be enough to shield her from the very real fact, that even if she never desired getting married, a blossoming unexpected love could be on the cards.

Usually costumed dramas aren’t exactly my cup of tea but ‘Emma’ is made in such a way that seems to delight in sending up the frivolities of Woodhouse’s existence and providing tickles of humour at inflated egos. Like a Shakespearean comedy of errors, the mistakes in Emma setting up matches of her own design create strained scenarios but even if you laugh at her flaws, the movie never sets out to scold her and there’s enough redemption in her blue-blooded veins to like her.

This adaptation of the 1815 novel, features like a hotbed of gossip with lashings of sweetness and spice; the language of the script piercing through with enjoyable sass which elevates the usual slower measure of period dramas, however gorgeous a lot of them might be to gaze upon. Speaking of which, on top of the wicked words there is the fact that this film looks like an extravagant gallery; nearly every shot appears like a regal painting.

Taylor-Joy brings tremendous wit and bite to her turn as the lead character and no more is this evident than within a hilltop picnic scene which is a delicious yet harsh moment in her view of self and others. Emma might be arrogant at times and a figure who delights in matchmaking but thanks to the effortless charm of the ‘Split’ actor, you cannot help but adore her ups and downs. Josh O’Connor is a hoot as a pompous priest, his slimy grins and puffy costume sell the part as a foolish buffoon. Mia Goth is a beaming, happy-go-lucky presence and her soul shines through the story, and to round things off nicely there’s the British stalwart of these films in Bill Nighy who brings amusement just in his keenness for draught excluding screen dividers.

‘Emma’ might have a lullaby pace; a usual slow build to expected ends but through the lilting affairs there a sharp jabs, elegance and a joviality to make this a worthwhile watch and Anya Taylor-Joy is a dreamy vision as the classic literary handsome, clever, rich heroine.

6.5/10

 

Underwater (2020)

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“No-one should be down here.” Never has a truer sentence been spoken as the secrets of our planet’s waters; a mostly unexplored area, hold many possible dis-formed lives we may never see. This could be a supremely effective environment to set a horror within but ‘Underwater’ is not that film.

A massive industry has set up a drill site miles down in the Mariana Trench but after a supposed quake hits; engineer Norah (Kristen Stewart) rallies together with the last few survivors in a desperate chance of suiting up and travelling a mile, to a station with functioning escape pods but something could be out there and it’s not on the friendly side.

20th Century Fox is now underwater itself, this feature is the last to come out of the studio before Disney’s re-branded 20th Century Studios whirrs into action and it’s not exactly a bold and brilliant movie to end on. Most of this is thanks to it being a script with very pedestrian horror ideas and the age-old boredom of predictable jump scares springing from the waves.

How the characters rooted in this story are equipped to dead with ocean-walking in suits some have never worn before is just one stupid aspect but that is not the only laughable facet of a plot which descends into a watery Pacific-sized mess as far removed from ‘Aliens’ of the deep as possible. The annoying feeling is that this film could have been a compelling or at least competent ride but the fear of something as frightening as the Mariana Trench is lost like Atlantis.

Instead, what you get are rare bubbles of claustrophobic tension and a committed performance from Stewart amongst murky shots and editing which doesn’t help you keep engaged. The Demogorgons of the Deep aren’t much of a scary creation to look upon and the film is generally a bland inky product to look at, any hope of stunning shots in oceanic settings are choked out as you watch a journey from base to drilling site slowly test the patience.

Sharing the good graces of Stewart is a watchable Vincent Cassel and a firmly likeable Jessica Henwick but sadly they’re drowned out by sharing screen time with the ever-irritating T. J. Miller; a creature in himself who has gross lines and is the lazy comic relief, which doesn’t say much when the attempts at humour aren’t funny. Truthfully, you’ll be begging for his oxygen supply to be cut off.

It’s not the worst or most boring film going but this sci-fi horror shoots for a submerged ‘Alien’-esque movie and instead runs out of nearly every life jacket it had going for it, as it throws logic and engagement hugely overboard.

4.5/10

Parasite (2020)

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Just gilded with Best Picture and Director trophies at the 92nd Academy Awards, and making history as the first ever foreign language movie to take home the biggest Oscar prize; is this superb South Korean thriller teeming with dark comedy. The director Bong Joon-ho has made something I can’t fully describe but I definitely love.

Here lies the briefest of plot summaries as it’s difficult to divulge much of what happens with spoiling any of the enjoyment of what happens. However; a family of four residing in a semi-basement try to make money by any means necessary and when a friend of the son shares information that a wealthy household are looking for tutors it’s their lucky day as they see how the other half lives.

‘Parasite’ is an expertly and neatly packed pizza box of workmanship and every turn within the glossy upper-class home packs a punch; whether comedic, subtle or startlingly bloody. It is not often that a film can be wholly unpredictable secure you on tenterhooks throughout but this devilishly playful story by Joon-ho is one of those rarities and you’ll be invested for every glorious millisecond.

His and Han Jin-won’s script is finely tuned with little hints to past secrets or upcoming truths and calamities, lining the Park house like the most perfect feng-shui furniture. As a spectator you’ll sit in what seems like easy comfort before feeling like the rug has been pulled out from under you. It’s one of those beautiful stories that is ripe for repeated watches thanks to those clues and utterances to what’s really going on underneath it all.

The first stages of this film are extraordinarily set up because they complete the task of piquing your interest; you totally buy into the life and madness of both families and in this there’s a wealth of enjoyment to be had in the humour of an increasingly madcap plan. Come the latter section of ‘Parasite’ there’s the briefest of scares that it’s going to be a damp squib of a finish like lazy Hollywood endings but just a simple, slow pan reveals the real end and again that well-placed rug is whipped out from your feet.

It’s a gorgeous film to look at and with sumptuous and sometimes chilling slow-moving camerawork to witness, you’re lulled into mixtures of a false sense of security and gripping the edge of your seat. A lawn-set party becomes a sun-lit sequence of horror almost matching ‘Midsommar’ for summer drenched shock and with a clear theme of class difference and idealism Bong Joon-ho has calculated the most absorbing movie about families.

It’s not solely a shocking and humourous feature, there’s a surprising development of tenderness and humanity to the film as it goes on, as you remember where these characters have come from. So even though the amazingly choreographed hijinks are special to watch, there is heart and that cannot be washed out even by a heavy rain-made flood.

I haven’t been so enthralled and taken by a film for a long time. You’ll laugh, gasp and eat up every morsel of ‘Parasite’.

9/10

Dolittle (2020)

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Quacking hell! The notion of conversing with all creatures great and small has never looked so dull. This new spin on the Dolittle name, first witnessed back in the 60’s, then again during the 90’s played by Eddie Murphy might feature an impressive roll call of talent but it is scraping at the bottom of the barrel in terms of story and humour.

Similarly to Wonka and Elsa, after time notorious doctor John Dolittle (Robert Downey Jr.), who it happens can speak to animals, shuts up the gates to his large and impressive home until Tommy (Harry Collett) wanders in hoping to save a dying squirrel. After word that the Queen (Jessie Buckley – criminally wasted) is dying, Dolittle finally steps out of his funk and hopes to retrieve a rare item to save her Majesty.

The first thing to stagger in disbelief at is the movement of Downey Jr. from the heights of Iron Man to this shockingly careless drivel. I guess he still is a mentor of sorts to Spider-Man, as he is the master to a bespectacled pooch voiced by Tom Holland. Honestly, the biggest problem with this CGI mess of fur and feathers is how it scrambles at different ideas in trying to conjure a voyaging story, when all it really is a simple and boring search for a MacGuffin narrative.

Why the cure is so hard to find is hilarious considering the deadly villainy used was so easily ready, on top of the fact that there’s the maddening dumbness of a baddie retaining said villainy for days if not weeks after the crime! This isn’t the only stupid piece of writing, there are crass jokes, lazy farts, odd movie references such as a ‘Godfather’ ant plus a general sense that it doesn’t feel the writers have injected any spirit into their work.

The truth is, even if there was no call for this film from anyone, in the vein of the new ‘Jumanji’ flicks, there could have been some energetic reinvention to make this a spectacle and fun treat but I doubt any adult will enjoy a second and children will probably be enthralled for moments and that’s all. You’d do better in watching the manic exploits of fellow critter chatterer Eliza in ‘The Wild Thornberrys’.

Emma Thompson’s voice is instantly recognisable and for that she’s probably squawking at herself. John Cena tries to place some bro-humour as he slowly buddies up with Kumail Nanjiani, but this polar bear/ostrich combo freezes over as does the French accented fox of Marion Cotillard. The entire product is a scrappy mess of things which mirrors the jarring choice of Robert Downey Jr’s supposedly Welsh accent.

This movie is a lame, dishevelled one that will do-little to excite most audiences. If you could talk to the animals, you’d tell a fly on the wall to visit another film instead of watching this colourful, yet unadventurous adventure.

4/10

Birds of Prey (2020)

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The DCEU (DC Extended Universe) are batting hits out the park…finally. This movie sees a so-solid squad of killer chicks form up and blaze a trail of insanely good, bubblegum pop and Gotham grunge. ‘Birds of Prey’ is directed, written and produced by women and they have created an empowering treat for every sense you have and ones you didn’t know existed.

Post Joker break-up we find one Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), now with a tempting bounty on her head from all the city folk she has wronged or riled up. After news that a diamond is in the possession of a girl called Cassandra (Ella Jay Basco), a swarm of criminals led by the sadistic ways of Roman Sionis aka Black Mask (Ewan McGregor) seek their chance to retrieve the expensive item and the life of Daddy’s Little Monster.

One of the slight redeeming factors with the tonally terrible ‘Suicide Squad’ was Margot Robbie as the baseball bat wielding villain you love to hate but love, so this spin-off and sequel to the 2016 film was a perfect chance for revelry and there’s plenty of that and more to spare. Everything about this screams “look at me” but in the most gleeful manner. It’d be a surprise if you don’t get whiplash from the break-neck speed of this barmy and weirdly beautiful concoction of profanity, glitter and egg sandwiches.

The movie stops off at locations like a wasteland amusement park and evidence room and these backdrops sparkle with fighting power and frequent but not annoying slow motion combat. As the plucky birds unite you cannot help but take pleasure by basking in the glow of their strength and unlike some on on the nose films centred on strong women, this DC movie knows how to tread the line and make this an empowering delight for all.

Robbie is wickedly great; just from her maniacal grin alone the audience are in the palm of her hands, smiling along at her devilish ways. You can tell she’s loving playing the part and for that you enjoy the hell out of it. From fun guns, cheeky narration and an inexplicable costume change to roller-skates this is a movie not to take seriously, but it’s seriously entertaining and the dynamic women upfront pack a gutsy punch in a man’s man’s world, further highlighting the insanity that Hollywood take so long making films starring powerful gals.

Admittedly, McGregor as the super-vain baddie is amusing enough but why he hates women is odd and even with his sinister asides to a brilliant Chris Messina as Victor Zsasz, he becomes less than a formidable foe and will be forgotten. Also there are plot contrivances and some cheap moments, as if carried over from the ‘Suicide Squad’ set but overall this strides out on its own fashionable, fantabulous heels.

‘Birds of Prey’ is a fun house movie with plenty of narrative jumping thrills and gleeful crime-ridden spills. Sit back and rejoice on this roller-coaster ride with a joyous and showboating performance from one Margot Robbie.

8/10

The Rhythm Section (2020)

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Adapted from a novel, ‘The Rhythm Section’ is named as such due to the lead character’s eventual training of breath control and as an audience member; the drum of your heart will only spike with engagement in a couple of places whilst the bass of your breathing could be called close to snoring.

3 years after a family tragedy, Stephanie Patrick (Blake Lively) is selling herself for money and not until a journalist comes calling does she have any hope that justice can be served for her loss. Stephanie learns some truths and makes her way to Scotland where she is brutally put through a regime by “B” (Jude Law), in the faint chance she can find closure.

This movie is Reed Morano’s third feature and with other work on TV hits like ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ she is definitely someone who has an eye for making a product look the part but the thrill of the story in ‘The Rhythm Section’ is but a faint beat. As we follow the plot there aren’t many chances to get embroiled in a riveting execution or even anything new and bold to the down-and-dirty espionage genre.

The close of the film won’t have you buzzing with energy, in fact it’s almost the opposite as you sit slumped wondering how such a safe and less than explosive revelation was worth the watch. It just comes across that this movie is somehow in the wrong gear, stalling to find its footing for a gritty action flick led by a women’s voice. The vengeance and strength are there but they do little to excite.

It’s a shame because Lively is a committed force of toughness in her turn as the chameleon-esque wig-changing woman bursting from squalor and addiction into a desperate change and a resolute and scrappy assassin. She embodies the rise well and even if you do root for her, the movie isn’t convicted enough in the engagement department to make up for it.

An in-car camera positioned during a chase in Tangier is a rickety and rough moment of class and does well in immersing you, as if we’re sat in the passenger seat and along the way there are a few rare peaks of tension bubbling away, most of the time from seeing Stephanie elevating in her combat know-how on the field but aside from two or three goosebump occurrences, this is a forgettable feature.

5/10