Thursday, February 13, 2020

‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ A Standard Kids Affair with a Ton of Personality


     If any film has been a major topic of discussion within the past few years, it’s hands down the film adaptation of Sonic the Hedgehog. What started out at seeming to be like the next worst thing since a live action Disney remake, the Sonic movie seemed like an initially horrible idea and possibly worse execution of it. But thanks to a rare delay in production changing the character design, the film has become one of the more supported video game adaptations for taking such a risk and seemingly pay off. However, does that make for a good movie? While not an end all be all film based around the blue blur, Sonic the Hedgehog serves as a fairly entertaining film adaptation that even despite some flaws as a film and adaptation is a nice serviceable rendition of the iconic SEGA character.
Geared More Towards Younger Than Older Fans
     The film of course centers on Sonic living as recluse on Earth and enjoying himself until the government finds out about his existence and he has to return to his original home. He teams up with a Police Officer named Tom to try to make it so he’s safe and away from the clutches of the evil Dr. Robotnik.  For a franchise with such an extensive history as Sonic, many would expect for his first appearance on the silver screen to be a grand explosion of awesomeness the blue blur is known for with in-jokes and references on the level of something like Spider-Verse. The downside is, the film isn’t really that and instead serves as a road trip movie with a very childlike tone and humor attached to it. It feels very similar to other live action hybrid kids’ films with not a whole lot of substance and very joke heavy. Some would not take issue with this however, because Sonic is essentially a kid’s video game franchise, so having the film geared more towards kids would not be an issue typically. However, something that should have been considered more often is the fact that Sonic has a massive fan base that have been around with him throughout his near 30 year history. With so many games, shows and comics really expanding on the lore and doing unique things, one would have hope that this could have been a huge celebration of the character introducing film audiences to the character in a faithful fan service movie with some edge to it. Unfortunately, that’s not the case because it feels fairly standard with a straightforward story and typically elements you’d see in a kids film. That’s not to say there isn’t any fan service or neat references here or there but not as much as one would hope for. That’s not to say the movie is bad however, because even for its more child friendly tone, it still relatively works. The film never goes ridiculously insulting with out of place try hard references or incredibly cringe worthy humor that is seen in films like the Aladdin remake. There are modern humor and references, but that is something that has usually been associated with Sonic’s hip attitude so it doesn’t feel too out of place here. For what it is worth, it does serve as a very cute and fun kids' movie that does have enough energy and character to it that younger fans of the series can enjoy. Think of it like Paddington except with more modern day internet humor that could appeal to kids, and in that way, it does work.

Nails the Blue Blur as a Character
     If there’s anything that should be right about a film like this, it’s the title character and how he is represented as part of a big franchise like this. Fortunately, Sonic the Hedgehog himself is fantastic being every bit the fast, smart talking mammal with attitude that so many fell in love with. Not only does the character look great with so much expression and personality based on the new redesign alone, but Ben Schwartz gives a very good performance that is true to his character. He is the best part of the movie as he should be, but it would not hurt to mention how fun Dr. Robotnik is in the film. The casting of Jim Carrey as the character seemed so bizarre that it had to work and it does as Carrey looks like he is having the time of his life playing the character. He’s an over the top mad scientist that adds to the movie’s energy just like how Eggman should be in the first place. The downside is, outside of the main two characters, there’s not a whole lot of this movie from a character standpoint. The human characters feel very standard for this movie with not a whole lot, such as Tom, who doesn’t have a whole lot to him as a character outside of having a decent chemistry with Sonic thanks to James Marsden’s performance. The film is at its weakest when it focuses on the human element that doesn’t really need to be there and feels very much like filler to a good extent. Thankfully, it’s not a huge distraction from the movie as the film still is very much more focused on Sonic and Robotnik for a good 75% of the film. It does feel like it goes through a bit of a halt when watching the scenes with the humans only, but fortunately it picks up big time thanks to Sonic’s high speed energy feeling very appropriate for the fast pace character.

CGI Characters with Personality and Passion Behind Them
     The Redesign of Sonic as mentioned earlier was one of the best decisions the filmmakers had for this movie. Not only because it looks so much better, but more so because it showed how the people behind this film were willing to make something good for the fans as opposed to being plagued by soulless studio executives. A lot of modern day films have this issue of trying to be more realistic when they’re based on animated properties to a fault where the characters just look unexpressive and grotesques looking. The Sonic movie escapes that trend because this was a film made by people who cared more about the property than anyone who greenlit something like a live action Disney remake would. Sonic doesn’t look like a realistic hedgehog because he’s not supposed to, he looks cartoony and expressive just the way fans initially loved the character for. Even outside of the design, it still is a relatively decent looking movie with some fun action sequences that really emphasized the sense of speed Sonic is known for even if it does feel similar to films like the recent X-men movies. Sonic does get some respect for making it an expressive CGI character that isn’t plagued by studio interference and should be more of a standard for future films based on animated properties.
A Solid Sonic Movie that Deserves a Chance
     Sonic the Hedgehog is not quite a game changer of a film nor is it the 100% perfect film for the character but as a first attempt into the film world, it is decent. It caters more towards the kids than older Sonic fans but it’s not too much of an issue due to how expressive and fun the movie can be, especially when representing Sonic.  If a sequel were to be made from the ground up with the new design in mind, it could be a vast improvement from what came prior being a full on Sonic movie. As it is however, Sonic the Hedgehog is a movie that is cute and faithful enough that it deserves a chance especially from longtime fans of the series. It’s not the ultimate mania of a Sonic experience but the fastest thing alive has experienced slower days for sure.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

'Birds of Prey’ and the Pretty Rad Redemption of One Harley Quinn

     When it comes to missed opportunities in terms of creating good films based on DC properties, one of the biggest is hands down Suicide Squad being the live action introduction of Harley Quinn. Not only was it a massive disappointment as a film but wasted a great opportunity of having the ideal casting of Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn and failed to utilize it to their full potential. Now with DC improving tremendously on their films within the past few years, could Harley Quinn be redeemed in the DCEU? The answer is yes, as Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is absolutely everything Suicide Squad should have been. It is a completely entertaining and balls to the wall action flick that adapts Harley Quinn properly into a very stylized and energetic film despite a few missteps here and there.
A Disjointed Story that Surprisingly Works
     The plot centers on Harley Quinn starting over a new solo life as she ends up in a crime scene lead by mobster Black Mask. Despite her solo outing, she ends up teaming up with a few other anti-heroes to take down Black Mask’s gang. Unlike Suicide Squad’s attempt to be a grand and epic blockbuster, Birds of Prey goes for a more grounded story that’s more or less a straight forward with it being a simple heist film. One issue that the film does have however is that narratively it can feel a bit disoriented as it tends to jumble around constantly in terms of what is being focused on. As the plot gets going there are moments where it tends to halt everything and goes on a tangent regarding character backstory which can feel a little much at points because it doesn’t feel like it is as focused as a typical movie like this should be. However, it ends up kind of working when you consider that the film is told through Harley’s perspective and because of her insane personality, the all over the place narrative does kind of work in its favor. It isn’t as distinct as other movies that jump around with its plot, but it fortunately isn’t too hard to follow and still manages to be fun. It has a very over the top tone in regards to humor and violence and while it’s not the funniest film in comic book history, it’s still incredibly fun with consistent chuckles and humor that does work very well.  It is not a complicated movie to understand even with its weird narrative moments and instead ends up being an enjoyable action romp featuring some a really good cast of characters.
A True Proper Introduction to Harley Quinzel
     A true testament to the entertainment Birds of Prey has are the characters, because it is a great cast and for the most part are used to their full potential. Characters like Black Canary and Renee Montoya serve as solid supporting characters being a part of some decent action sequences and even having a fun character moment here and there. Some might be critical on the portrayal of characters like Cassandra Cain and Black Mask in regards to changes from their original comic book counterpart; however both characters still serve the story decently. McGregor as Black Mask, while not completely like the original character, entertaining as hell by stealing so much screen time during every sequence he is in, making the character incredibly fun and campy to watch. Another strong highlight is easily Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Huntress, who may not have a whole lot of screen time, but all is forgiven due how incredibly bad-ass this character is. She has the most arch and even is pretty funny having some great chemistry with the rest of the cast. Though the real star of the show is by far Harleen Quinzel herself as unlike in Suicide Squad, Birds of Prey is truly the Harley Quinn movie we deserve. Not only is Harley fully realized as a character here with so much, but Margot Robbie portrays the Joker’s iconic girlfriend very faithfully being insane, funny and having a ton of charisma. The main downside to her character is that the film truly should have been titled Harley Quinn as opposed to Birds of Prey due to the fact the film is truly centered on her as opposed to the Birds of Prey themselves. It does lead to more of a Harley Quinn movie than a Birds of Prey one with the core center being around her journey.  However at the same time, it’s not too big of a deal due to the fact that the Birds of Prey while secondary are still fun to watch and it serves as a good Harley Quinn movie, creating for a faithful and exciting film that truly stays true to its main character.
A Stylistically Balls to the Wall Film
     If you’re going to make a movie about Harley Quinn, a good idea would be to create a film with a ton of style and energy to it, and fortunately Birds of Prey is exactly that. Cathy Yan’s direction on this film is fairly fast paced with numerous action sequences that are well shot and have neat concepts to them. Every single character has a bad-ass moment during some of the action sequences with a good amount of quality stunt work and kills. It also helps that the film is very well shot being incredibly bright and colorful to match the zany over the top nature the film has to offer. Plus, the film isn’t afraid to utilize other stylistic choices such as character introduction text much like in Suicide Squad but done better and even incorporating some 2-D Animation in some sequences. It makes for a very vibrant and engaging that is totally appropriate for a character as outrageous as Harley Quinn.
Another Great Female Centric Comic Book Film from DC
     Even despite its misplaced title and some odd narrative choices, Birds of Prey is an enjoyable comic book film that DC absolutely deserves. With its stylistic direction, great cast and fun take on Harley Quinn; Birds of Prey will most definitely satisfy those who are looking for another solid DC film to add. Considering that this film has come out just a few months after Joker, it’s wonderful to see not only Mr. J receive a good modern film with him but also his former partner in crime as well. This is the film Harley Quinn deserves and hopefully is just another peak into the bright future DC has ahead of them.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Pineda Phoenix’s Favorite Movies of 2019


     After looking at what a great decade this was for film, you simply can’t leave out how strong it ended with 2019. 2019 may had some rocky points here or there, but there is no denying how many great films have come out. This was the year where a lot of films have become better the more you reflect on them. They’re the ones I couldn’t stop thinking about and it would be great to honor some of the very best of them. Without further ado, here are Pineda Phoenix’s Top 20 Favorite Movies of 2019.

20. ‘1917’
     On the surface, a World War I drama that’s simple and typical with big action set pieces. In actuality, while still simple manages to excel even more with such good talent behind it and a relatively quieter movie that felt more intense. 1971 is a beautifully directed film that even with it now being as memorable from a story perspective, it’s direction by Sam Mendes elevates it to being a memorable experience all the way through. With so much craftsmanship here for a genre as tired as the War movie genre, 1917 is a refreshing change of pace.

19. ‘Booksmart’
One of this year’s funniest films, Booksmart is the High School coming of age comedy that really works. It’s leads are likable, it’s humor, extremely fast paced, and it’s energy, full on extreme. It’s everything you could ask for in a comedy and with some fairly poignant themes of living life, Booksmart is one not to miss out on.

18. ‘Frozen 2’
     The odd thing is, between all the live action Disney remakes out there and wanting for Disney to create incredible animated movies, Frozen 2 became my most anticipated film of the year. It seemed to be a film that was going to truly do something spectacular for Disney. The movie itself was not quite the next level Disney masterpiece I was quite expecting, but like a lot of films this year, it was one where I looked back on very strongly as time goes on. Even with its rushed story elements, Frozen 2 was an animated Disney movie that tried and cared about making something worthwhile. SO much effort and passion was clearly here with this sequel and while it may not be as good as the first, it certainly serves a good follow up to Frozen. If anything else, this may feature one of the best sequences I’ve seen in any film this year with Show Yourself. Frozen 2 might not have been perfect, but gets a strong A for effort.

17. I Lost My Body
     An experiment executed well, I Lost My Body seems like a premise that would work more so as a short film than a feature length one. However, due to a very well done French animated film did a little more. It provided us a fascinating adventure movie told visually and even ends up being a very emotional teen drama as well. I Lost My Body is clever concept that is brilliantly told through the art of animation that certainly should not go unnoticed.

16. Once Upon A Time in Hollywood
     On another film that has gotten better with age, Once Upon A Time in Hollywood is another great film by Tarantino. While it still can be a bit indulgent at points, how the film immerses you in the late 60s through Tarantino’s excellent direction and it’s entertaining story about a variety of different stars more than makes up for it. Once Upon A Time in Hollywood may not be the best film from iconic director Quentin Tarantino, but it is a good attempt of recapturing that magic that he provided with Pulp Fiction.

15. Little Women
     Greta Gerwig brought a ton of charm to what is ultimately another adaptation of a famous novel. Little Women is an incredibly humble film that still is a typical period piece at points, but it elevated by it being a very well-directed film from Gerwig. Add in some great performance by practically every actress in the film and a good commentary of having voices and stories be told, Little Women ends up being a very important and incredible sweet film that 2019 offered for us.


14. Missing Link
     Another film that has progressively gotten better for me as time went on. Missing Link was ultimately overlooked in terms of major films of 2019, but those who saw it witnessed a very charming but also really smart adventure film from Laika. It’s an animated film that isn’t primarily for kids and works very well due to some very likable leads and some incredible stop motion animation. While I felt it was a good film on the first watch, giving it a second chance, really made me realized how rather smart the film is in regards to both its message about realizing your place in the world while not being overly kiddie about it. Missing Link serves as another great stop motion work from one of the best animation studios working today.

13. Midsommar
     A truly unique horror film from 2019, Ari Aster did something very creative, by not simply attempting to recreate the same experience he did with Hereditary. Rather than making another typical horror film, Midsommar serves as a good art house horror piece not relying on horror movie clich├ęs and yet still manages to be incredibly disturbing. It’s look on cults is very unsettling even without the excessive jump scares or dark scenery. Add in some very well done directing and acting, Midsommar serves as one of the most unique experiences to come out of 2019 for sure.

12. Parasite
     Many are helming Parasite as one of the all-time best films from not just this year but also this decade. While I wouldn’t quite go as far and say Parasite is the very best of the year, it’s hard to deny how clever and well-crafted of a film Bong Joon Ho gave us. It’s intelligent message on classism and mixing of genres serves it as one of the year’s most original films. Being well shot, acted and edited as well, you can truly see why Ho has been getting so much praise for this film and Parasite ends up being a masterwork of filmmaking that nearly anyone can enjoy.

11. Uncut Gem
     Adam Sandler’s best performance in years, Uncut Gems is a fascinating look at one of the year’s most interesting characters. The Safdie Brothers delivered a film that isn’t as high octane as Good Times but still is an intense and engaging experience. All of it is elevated by a fantastic performance by Adam Sandler who is not delivering a performance out of his comfort zone but also just a well written and fascinating character that is nonstop extreme.  For lack of a better term, Uncut Gems is truly one gem of a film from 2019 that should not be overlooked.

10. Jojo Rabbit
     A surprisingly poignant film from Taika Waititi, Jojo Rabbit is an incredibly funny and strong comedy. On the surface, it is that but thanks to a powerful message about hate and how one can reflect and change their own worldview. During a time where many are feeling a ton of hatred, Jojo Rabbit gives a great perspective on how things could change for the better and can learn how to be more accepting. All done in Taika Watiti’s bizarre sense of humor, Jojo Rabbit is one of 2019’s best films for tackling these issues in a very refreshing way.

9. Toy Story 4
     This is one of the main films of this year that many were skeptical on, only to end up surpassing expectations. While it can be argued that Toy Story 4 is unnecessary and it still doesn’t hold a candle to 3, this fourth installment of the beloved series serves as a great epilogue. Even with a few moments of filler here and there, the film still makes it a good character piece about Woody to the point where I wished this was just labeled as a standalone Woody film instead of a Toy Story sequel. Never the less, Toy Story 4 is a great follow up filled with a ton of emotion and characters that it’s hard not to appreciate. Add in maybe the best looking computer animated film of the year, then Toy Story 4 serves as one fine animated picture from Pixar in 2019.

8. How to Train Your Dragon 3
     While Toy Story 4 was still a great sequel to an iconic animated franchise, How To Train Your Dragon 3 had more justification for existing and was an all-around better finale. This franchise has been consistent ever since it started in 2010 and the third and final movie was a proper send off. It dived into its characters very nicely and still felt as grand as the previous two Dragon films. Despite a few rushed story elements here and there, Hiccup and Toothless final adventure was an emotionally satisfying one that showcase the talent DreamWorks animation has to offer.

7. Knives Out
     By far the biggest surprise to come out in 2019 as I initially did not know what to expect from Knives Out, especially after Rian Johnson’s last work with Last Jedi. Fortunately not only is it a mass improvement from The Last Jedi, but it might as well be Rian Johnson’s best film so far. Knives Out is a gripping and exciting take on the who done it genre that is filled with so many unexpected twists and turns. It rewards the viewers by being refreshingly original while also giving audiences a neat insight on those who are easily screwed over. It serves as one of the most refreshing and entertaining films of 2019 and hopefully Johnson will have another fantastic film for us in the near future.

6. Marriage Story
     Genuine and emotional, Marriage Story is an excellent film showcasing one of the roughest moments that could occur in anyone’s life. It also works as a really good reflection on two characters and how completely relatable both sides of their relationship can be. It gives the audience a look at each side of their situation without fully committing to one person being completely in the right. It helps Marriage Story be a more realistic film in a sense. Elevated by two terrific performances by Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story is one of the  must watch films of 2019 for its honest portrayal of life.

5. Avengers Endgame
     By far the biggest film of 2019, Endgame surpassed my honest expectations due to how it practically did the impossible. While it is still a weaker film compared to Infinity War, Marvel made something that was years in the making and the wait paid off. It’s an entertaining blast of a film from beginning to end but it is truly the spectacular finale that makes this truly an event to behold. It wraps up the MCU so nicely that it’ll be quite some time until they top a film as grand as Endgame. You may have already seen it, but it is definitely proof to why it makes its way as one of the very best films of 2019.

4. Shazam
     While Endgame may arguably be a more epic film, Shazam might as well be the most fun I had watching a comic book movie all year. Shazam works so well as a solid throwback to 80s movies without being a revival of an old property. It has every bit of humor and character that other great comic book movies but elevated even further by having a surprising amount of heart. Shazam is filled with some of the funniest and most entertaining moments to appear in a film all year for me, and thanks to David F. Sandberg’s great direction and writing, it’ll be remembered for sure. It makes you feel like a kid again watching it, making it a guarantee fun time from 2019.

3. Klaus
     If this is the beginning of hand drawn animation returning, then this is a fantastic start. Klaus is not only an incredible animated film that completely reinvents hand drawn animation, but it also serves as an excellent Christmas movie that will go down as one of the very best Holiday films. It truly understands the notion of kindness being such a heavily influence in our lives while also being a creative and grounded retelling of the Santa Claus mythos. Hopefully SPA Animation will continue with even more ambitious and beautiful projects like Klaus in the future.

2. The Lighthouse
     A modern day horror classic, Robert Eggers delivered a truly fantastic work of art. The Lighthouse works so well as a horror film because it truly immerses yourself in it’s dark and grim atmosphere thanks to some incredible cinematography making it feel older than it truly is. Not only that, but it is a visually enticing film that subtly gives you some complex themes in the vein of an experience like 2001: A Space Odyssey. Add in some of the best acting from this entire year by both Robert Pattinson and Williem Dafoe, The Lighthouse is an unforgettable film experience that needs to be seen to be believed.

    1Joker
     Even with all the jokes made about this film, I haven’t loved a film this year as much as Joker. It serves as a truly spectacular retelling of one the all-time greatest villains by giving audiences a true villain origins story. Not to mention, it also serves as an interesting take on classic comic-book movie tropes, be a commentary on classism, and is a very well executed drama with an incredible leading performance with Joaquin Phoenix as the Joker. Add in some incredible cinematography and an amazing score, makes Joker without a doubt the most memorable film experience I have had all year. 2019 was spectacular and the fact that a Joker movie turned out as good as it was, is one of the many reasons why this was a fantastic year for movies. Here’s hoping for more great films in the future.


Honorable Mentions: Rocketman, Weathering with You, The LEGO Movie 2, Ford v. Ferrari,  and Spies in Disguise