Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (PG) **
Amid recent Oscar madness, the surprise Best Picture win for CODA just registered. It was a surprise mostly because this well-meaning, benevolent drama about a child of deaf adults negotiating the trials of adolescence is a fairly routine affair compared to recent winners Moonlight, Nomadland, and Parasite.
An emotionally manipulative remake of the 2015 French comedy La Famille Belier, the new version is set against the backdrop of a struggling fishing community and revolves around 17-year-old Ruby (Emilia Jones) as she begins to feel the burden of always having to be a go-between for her deaf parents and older brother as they try to earn enough fishing to stay afloat financially (her parents are played by Marlee Martin and new Oscar winner Troy Kotsur; her older brother by Daniel Durant).
Ruby also enjoys singing, a source of potential conflict that the film amplifies when she joins the school choir and her inspiring teacher encourages her to apply to a prestigious music school. What follows is pretty much Billy Elliot with some powerful ballads as Ruby’s love for something her family can’t enjoy threatens to drive a wedge between them. To the film’s credit, writer/director Sian Heder retains some of the original’s saucy humor by making Ruby’s horny parents as mortifying as possible. Alas, she also casts her net into some pretty shallow dramatic water, dragging us into a predictably rousing finale that has all the emotional depth of a televised singing competition. Licorice pizza was robbed.
Like an animated riff on Ocean’s Eleven, The villains was designed as a family heist movie that cleverly uses all of the crook tropes to deliver a fun message about not judging books by their covers. Its simple yet fun premise is to make its titular crew of criminals the kind of anthropomorphized characters forever stigmatized as the villains in children’s picture books.
Led by a big bad wolf simply named Mr. Wolf (with the charming voice of Sam Rockwell), they are a bickering band of misfits united by their status as social outcasts. Thus, we have the temperamental and cute security snake (comedian Marc Maron); the tech-savvy tarantula (Awkafina); the ever-disguised shark (Craig Robinson) and the loose-barreled Piranha (Anthony Ramos). The plot takes shape around their efforts to do the ultimate job, but it’s smart enough to play around with this idea, deconstructing it in a way that will make sense to parents and children as it offers a fast-moving, nothing-does-it-seems plot about finding a way to be good in the world.
It’s definitely a better bet than sonic the hedgehog 2. This sequel to the hybrid live-action/animation adaptation of the Sega video game character picks up where the previous film left off, with the speedy blue hedgehog (voiced again by Ben Schwartz) causing mayhem as he realizes his superhero fantasies while his adoptive father (James Marsden) teaches him what true heroism is. Jim Carey also returns as the evil interdimensional villain Dr. Robotnik, a literal mustachioed twirler bent on revenge who comes to earth in search of a magical green emerald that will grant its owner the power to physically manifest n any thought. Frenzied action duly follows; boredom too.
As part of an all-female competitive collegiate rowing program, The newbie features a beautiful turn from rising actress Isabelle Fuhrman as Alex, a freshman with a single-minded determination to prove that hard work alone can trump simple talent. Joining the rowing team on a whim, she becomes obsessed with beating the other girls, a physical challenge that begins to exacerbate some deep-rooted mental health issues. The end result is a little Black Swan, a little Whiplash, and while first-time writer/director Lauren Hadaway finds elegant ways to immerse us in Alex’s subjective point of view, she loses track of the drama a bit in the exaggerated finish.
CODA is streaming on AppleTV+; The Bad Guys, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and The Novice are on general release.
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