Based on the classic book of the same name written by Jack London in 1903, The Call of the Wild is an entertaining family-friendly adventure movie that does a good job of retelling the timeless story and making the excellent casting choice of Harrison Ford, but the emotional impact is lessened by the over-reliance on CGI for the animal characters. Taking place in the 1890s, the plot follows a kindly large dog named Buck who we first meet living a normal happy life as a pet in California until he is stolen and eventually sent to the Alaskan Yukon to be sold as a sled dog. Over the course of the film, Buck goes through several owners as he acclimates to the bitterly cold Alaskan wilderness and is first used by a friendly couple as a member of a dog sled team delivering mail to remote outposts. However, he does fall into the hands of a vicious owner who is definitely out of his element named Hal, played by Dan Stevens of Downton Abbey fame, and physically abuses the dog team and pushes them to do things that are extremely dangerous. The true emotional heart of the movie takes place in the second half when Buck finally becomes the companion of the troubled yet compassionate John Thornton, played by the terrific Harrison Ford, who moves to the Yukon to simply get away from humanity after a family tragedy. Like the breathtaking scenery of the Yukon, Buck and Thornton develop a very beautiful relationship in which they care for one another in their own different ways, and Buck truly becomes man’s best friend. Rather effectively, Thornton also is the common thread throughout the movie because he is the narrator of Buck’s adventures all the way from California to the isolation of the Alaskan wilderness. The presence of Harrison Ford’s voice and his empathetic acting performance give the audience a certain degree of calmness that everything will turn out alright for Buck and Thornton. The filmmakers did make the mistake of wholly creating Buck and the other dogs out of CGI and giving the animals overly expressive faces and behaviors that enter the realm of the uncanny valley in which they unrealistically mimic humans, thereby making it rather cheesy and distracting. Overall, I found it to be a nice and comforting adventure tale that displays the important bond between human and animal and is also a wonderful tribute to the universally acclaimed writer Jack London by creating a atmosphere that would fit right at home with the novel’s themes about nature and love.
Based on the video game series created by Sega and first released in 1991 as Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic the Hedgehog is a surprisingly amusing and creative video game adaptation that has fun and thrills for the whole family and is enhanced by the terrifically manic Jim Carrey. We first meet the blue extraterrestrial hedgehog named Sonic, voiced by Ben Schwartz, escaping his home planet and living for ten years in a cave outside of the small town of Green Hills, Montana. Watching the townspeople from afar for so long, Sonic increasingly feels lonely living by himself. He particularly becomes attached to the local sheriff Tom Wachowski, played by James Marsden, and his wife Maddie, played by Tika Sumpter, but he must stay hidden and not reveal his ability to travel at supersonic speeds. However, after growing upset one night, he inadvertently creates an electromagnetic pulse that wipes out power across the entire Pacific Northwest, alerting the federal government. Unable to discover what really happened, the United States government covertly enlists the mysterious genius Doctor Robotnik, played by the perfectly cast Jim Carrey, who has a truck full of highly advanced drones and gadgets. Following the unusual power outage, Tom is horrified to find the strange-looking Sonic who is obviously from another world. The villainous Robotnik also eventually discovers Sonic and becomes obsessed with capturing Sonic in order to use his body for scientific research and develop ultra-powerful technological devices. Sonic needs the still bewildered and hesitant Tom, who is considering transferring to the San Francisco Police Department, to take him to San Francisco to retrieve a very valuable item that would allow him to escape to safety. They embark on a silly and hilarious road trip in which Tom is obviously exasperated by Sonic who will not stop talking and desperately wants to be Tom’s best friend because he has been all alone for the past few years. Along the way, the over-the-top Doctor Robotnik chases Sonic and Tom across the country in a series of bizarre and cartoonishly funny moments extremely well-suited to Jim Carrey’s slapstick comedy style. Overall, I was rather shocked to find the movie to actually be an entertaining adventure that is somehow able to recreate the energy of the title character Sonic the Hedgehog and the beloved video game series.
The follow-up to 2016’s Suicide Squad and the eighth installment in the DC Extended Universe comic book movie franchise, Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is a visually dazzling and over-the-top violent anti-hero comic book film that is definitely one of the better recent DC adaptations as a result of the terrifically zany performance given by Margot Robbie and the new and creative approach to the story of Harley Quinn. Taking place sometime after the events of Suicide Squad, we first meet the nihilistic freewheeling Harley Quinn, played by Oscar nominee Margot Robbie, devastated by her recent breakup with the Joker and decides to become a vigilante heroine by herself. She causes mayhem throughout Gotham City and eventually finds herself pitted against the vicious criminal kingpin Roman Sionis also known as Black Mask, played by Ewan McGregor, who is searching for a missing diamond previously owned by a mob family that has secrets worth millions. As narrated by Harley in very colorful ways, the movie introduces us to other strong female anti-hero characters that will later band together and be known as the Birds of Prey. They include Dinah Lance also known as Black Canary, played by Jurnee Smollett-Bell, who is forced to be Sionis’ driver; Helena Bertinelli also known as Huntress, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who wants to avenge her mob family’s murders by killing those responsible; and Detective Renee Montoya, played by Rosie Perez, who is belittled in the Gotham City Police Department and is pursuing Sionis. The flamboyantly dressed and tattooed Harley finds herself protecting a young pickpocket named Cassandra Cain, played by Ella Jay Basco, from Sionis and his sadistic henchman Victor Zsasz, played by Chris Messina, because the orphan Cassandra is in possession of the extremely valuable diamond. The acclaimed filmmaker is able to craft a wholly unique cinematic experience full of brightly colored and frenetic action sequences that are not for the faint of heart and infuse the rather bizarro movie with gallows humor. Overall, I found it to be a very entertaining and eccentric comic book movie that excels by pushing the envelope led by Margot Robbie’s extremely charismatic and wacky performance as the ultimate anti-hero Harley Quinn.
Produced by Blue Sky Studios best known for the highly successful animated Ice Age franchise first released in 2002, Spies in Disguise is a delightfully entertaining family-friendly animated movie that is of the same quality as a Pixar movie as a result of a terrific voice cast and unique story. The plot follows super spy Lance Sterling, voiced by Will Smith, who is the top agent at a fictional secret American spy agency run by Joy Jenkins, voiced by Reba McEntire, but runs into trouble after the appearance of the super villain Killian, voiced by Ben Mendelsohn. Killian who has a powerful cybernetic arm is trying to steal a highly dangerous drone in order to kill Lance and all of his fellow agents. Eventually, the proudly self-sufficient Lance who loves to use lethal weapons must get help from a very unexpected source, a lonely and nerdy weapons lab technician named Walter Beckett, voiced by Tom Holland. Walter has always been an optimistic inventor who wants to make non-lethal weapons to make the world a safer place, and he discovers what he believes is a game-changing way to disguise anyone. To Lance’s great horror, he inadvertently uses Walter’s new weapon and is transformed into a talking pigeon. He eventually realizes in a series of funny moments that being a pigeon actually has its advantages, particularly as he is being chased by Killian and his own agency led by a security agent of the agency’s internal affairs Marcy Kappel, voiced by Rashida Jones. Over the course of the film, Walter and Lance begin to understand one another and become friends who are in it together to fight off Killian and reclaim their reputation that was tarnished by Killian. Overall, I found it to be a fun animated feature that can appeal to both kids and adults as a nice time to the cinema and brings a fresh story to the action-adventure animated genre.
The final installment in the nine-part Skywalker saga of the Star Wars movie franchise that has spanned over four decades beginning with Star Wars: A New Hope in 1977, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, although definitely not the best film in the series, is a suitably entertaining movie that will appeal to Star Wars fans for its attempt to wrap up all of the many different character narratives and also will attract casual viewers looking for a CGI space epic. The movie takes place in the midst of the Resistance against the First Order led by a mysterious leader that may be recognizable from the previous films, as well as the increasingly powerful Kylo Ren, played by Adam Driver. The characters that we have come to know over the previous two movies return as they are shown strategizing and bringing the fight to finally take down the even more malevolent First Order. General Leia Organa, played by the late great Carrie Fisher, is still the beloved leader of the Resistance along with the more symbolic leader Rey, played by Daisy Ridley, who finally masters the Jedi Force. Rey again teams up with the X-wing fighter pilot Poe, played by Oscar Isaac, and the former Stormtrooper Finn, played by John Boyega, to discover the whereabouts of the true evil overlord behind Kylo Ren who has one last major weapon that could destroy the Resistance and its supporters for good. Of course, a Star Wars movie would not be the same without the sidekicks Chewbacca, C-3PO, and R2-D2 who appear as members of this desperate mission. In order to please Star Wars fanatics, the film effectively uses the tropes of a Star Wars movie by including spectacular sci-fi action in space and on strange planets, showing the return of some of the more unique creatures, and finally answering such questions as who Rey’s parents are and who is really commanding the First Order. This final installment could have been one of the greatest if it was not for the feeling the filmmakers were rushing to find a way to conclude the long-running series that would give fans a satisfying conclusion to the Skywalker narrative arc. Yes, there are some emotional moments of the film, including the complex relationship between Rey and Kylo Ren in addition to a proper farewell to Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia. The filmmakers did an excellent job of bringing Princess Leia back by using unused footage from the previous films that were filmed before Carrie Fisher’s death in 2016; the reappearance of such a beloved character made her scenes the most meaningful and sentimental parts of the movie. Overall, I found it to be a good continuation of the global phenomenon that is Star Wars by trying to tie up the loose ends of such a large cinematic universe developed over several decades, but it still did not live up to the very high standards of the first Star Wars movies made in the 1970s and 1980s.
The sequel to 2017’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle that is a reboot of the 1995 movie Jumanji starring Robin Williams, Jumanji: The Next Level is a very entertaining and fun adventure movie that relies on recapturing the magic of the 2017 version of the Jumanji franchise, with its creative plot and funny characters. Like Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, the same group of now college-age students find themselves sucked into the video game Jumanji after realizing that the nerd in the group Spencer has possibly entered the game by himself. However, some of the characters become different avatars in the video game, as well as the addition of two new characters of Spencer’s grandfather Eddie, played by Danny DeVito, and Eddie’s old friend Milo, played by Danny Glover. Due to all of their hilarious surprise, the grumpy Eddie becomes the strong archaeologist and explorer Dr. Smolder Bravestone, played by Dwayne Johnson, the slow talking Milo becomes the scrawny and squeamish zoologist and weapons valet Franklin “Mouse” Finbar, played by the hyperactive comedian Kevin Hart, the popular jock “Fridge” becomes the obese middle-aged archaeologist and cartographer Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon, hilariously played by Jack Black, and the shy unpopular girl Martha remains the attractive commando and martial artist Ruby Roundhouse, played by Karen Gillan. While searching for Spencer in the Jumanji world, they are given a new mission that must be completed to return to the real world: retrieve the Falcon’s Heart jewel from the powerful villain Jurgen the Brutal, played by Rory McCann best known as The Hound in the HBO TV series Game of Thrones. Eventually, the very mismatched group reunite with the beautiful popular girl Bethany who was left behind but found her way back into the game as a horse named Cyclone with help from the pilot and adventurer Jefferson “Seaplane” McDonough, played by Nick Jonas. They also finally discover Spencer as a new and rather unexpected avatar and says he wanted to re-enter Jumanji because he feels out of place in the real world and estranged from his friends, especially Martha after they started a long-distance romantic relationship. Extremely similar to the previous installment, the film uses the effectively fun formula of creating eccentric characters who find themselves in rather hilarious situations dealing with their new bodies as they embark on a dangerous adventure. Overall, I found it to be a highly entertaining blockbuster movie that may have recycled the same premise as the previous movie but did so in a way that did not lessen the audience’s enjoyment and was helped by the addition of Danny DeVito and Danny Glover.
The third film in a franchise that began with the television series of the same name that first premiered in 1976, Charlie’s Angels is a fairly typical action Hollywood Blockbuster with some entertaining moments that is above average at best and did exceed my low expectations. Like the television series and the movies, the story revolves around a group of female spies working for the secret organization known as the Townsend Agency that is comprised of all female agents under the leadership of several individuals referred to as Bosleys. We first meet Angels Sabina, played by Kristen Stewart, and Jane, played by Ella Balinska, on a mission in Rio de Janeiro for the high-level operative John Bosley, played by Patrick Stewart, who is the original Bosley working for Townsend and is about to retire. A year later, they find themselves in London to investigate a new powerful technology developed by a large tech conglomerate owned by billionaire Alexander Brock, played by Sam Claflin, after it is brought to their attention by a brilliant programmer named Elena, played by Naomi Scott. The sometimes wild and terrifically smart Sabina and the beautiful former MI6 agent Jane are told to protect Elena who has knowledge that the technology she helped develop could be used as a deadly weapon if in the wrong hands. Eventually, the agents now working directly under Rebekah Bosley, played by Elizabeth Banks who also directed the film, are led to Istanbul to track down the devices that have been stolen by criminals and people working for Brock. Coming to be trusted by the Angels and Rebekah, Elena is recruited to become a Charlie’s Angel. The movie follows very much the formula of a light-hearted comedy action flick in that it is full of intense fight sequences, lots of plot twists, and fun and silly banter between the characters. Overall, I found it to be a mildly entertaining film that had its moments of thrills and laughter but with a feminist twist through the empowering portrayal of women secret agents taking down the bad guys. It was definitely not one of the best action comedies, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much better it was than what the promotional materials led the viewer to believe.
Directed by Tim Miller best known for 2016’s Deadpool and produced by James Cameron who directed the original The Terminator released in 1984, Terminator: Dark Fate is a surprisingly satisfying action film that is almost as good as the first three installments of the six movie franchise that works as a result of adhering to the framework of a traditional action flick with intense fight sequences and complex characters. Similar to some of the other Terminator movies, the movie’s plot takes a revised journey into the Terminator universe by presenting an alternate reality in which the humans and machines from the dystopian future travel back in time to protect or terminate a character integral to the future survival of humankind. The film begins with the appearance of the augmented human Grace, played by Mackenzie Davis, who is sent on a mission from a future timeline, as well as the villainous latest version of a Terminator sent by a powerful group of AI machines resembling the original Skynet. Grace’s mission is to protect a young woman from Mexico City named Dani, played by Natalia Reyes, whose survival is somehow vital to the future human resistance. After being cornered by the new Terminator, the heroine of the franchise Sarah Connor, played by Linda Hamilton, shows up guns a-blazing to also help protect Dani and destroy the advanced Terminator. In addition to the appearance of Sarah Connor, the film also brings back the T-800, played by the iconic Arnold Schwarzenegger, which helps add to the nostalgic elements of the movie taken from the influential first Terminator movies. Much of the film is an elongated action-packed chase sequence in which Grace, Dani, Sarah, and Arnold’s Terminator must do everything in their power to fight the practically indestructible new Terminator. It is a highly entertaining and thrilling sight to see one of the most beloved action stars Arnold Schwarzenegger relive his most iconic role without missing a pulse-pounding beat alongside Linda Hamilton and deadly shapeshifting liquid metal Terminator machines. Yes, the plot does seem to be recycled from the original installments, but there are slight alterations updated for the 21st century, such as the inclusion of more female heroes, that allow for it to feel fresh to contemporary fans of action movies that may or may not have seen the first few films. Overall, I found it to be a much more enticing action flick than what I was expecting, especially in light of the subpar recent installments, and is an especially rewarding cinematic experience due to its first-rate action sequences and nostalgia for the original Terminator movies.
Co-written and directed by James Gray best known for 2017’s The Lost City of Z, Ad Astra is a visually stunning sci-fi space adventure movie that is much more philosophical than your typical space film in that it explores the relationship between father and son as well as the existence of intelligent life beyond humanity on Earth. Set in the near distant future in which humans have colonized the Moon and Mars, the protagonist of the story Major Roy McBride, played by Brad Pitt in one of his best performances, as a member of the U.S. Space Command is sent on a secret and personal mission to stop mysterious cosmic power surges crippling human infrastructure and threatening all of humanity. Roy is chosen for this mission because it is believed that his father H. Clifford McBride, played by Tommy Lee Jones, is somehow involved despite disappearing sixteen years ago on a mission to Neptune. The emotionally stoic and dedicated Roy, who we discover through flashbacks has had a difficult personal life with his estranged wife and long-lost father, sets out on a interplanetary expedition to the SpaceCom base on Mars by way of the Moon where there is a war between countries and pirates over the control of minerals. He is accompanied by a longtime friend of his father who is played by Donald Sutherland to go to Mars in order to deliver a message to the Lima Project spacecraft, led by his father, that mysteriously disappeared years ago. Without spoiling too much of the plot, Roy goes on even further adventures across the solar system while he is internally grappling with what it means to be a human and trying to understand the intentions of his father who is praised as a hero of SpaceCom. Rather surprisingly, the movie is much more of a meditative experience that relies on magnificent cinematography exploring space and the dreamlike states of Roy as he spends days by himself in outer space. Since his father’s mission was to try and discover extraterrestrial life on solar systems far from our own, the film contemplates on the existence of life and what it means for humans to possibly be the only intelligent beings in the universe. Overall, I found it to be a very well-done space film that has brilliant elements of science fiction in its depiction of space travel in the future in addition to being a personal drama that takes an inward look into the human psyche and our relationships with others, particularly family.
Produced by comedian Seth Rogen and his producing partner Evan Goldberg, Good Boys is a well-done vulgar comedy that can be best described as a tween version of the 2007 comedy Superbad because it follows a group of adolescent boys going on ridiculous and cringe-worthy adventures involving very inappropriate subject matter, primarily of a sexual nature. The main characters are three sixth graders comprising of a relatively shy Max, played by Jacob Tremblay best known for his role in the critically acclaimed 2015 movie Room, wannabe singer and bad boy Thor, played by Brady Noon, and mama’s boy Lucas, played by Keith L. Williams. Their R-rated exploits begin with Max’s desire to attend a party hosted by the popular kids so that he can kiss his crush. Leading up to this anticipated party, the boys end up encountering high school girls looking for drugs and stealing alcohol while in pursuit of replacing a destroyed drone owned by Max’s father, played by Will Forte. Rather ironically, the actors who will obviously go on to promising acting careers would never be allowed to see the actual movie that they are stars in as a result of the risque material. Also, to my great surprise, there was actually a good message contained within the film: the special power of friendships and how such friendships evolve over the years as a result of the normal process of growing up. Even though close friends may grow apart, the bond they had at one time will always be a part of their lives and will help shape future good memories. Overall, it is definitely a movie that is not for everyone as a result of its ribald nature involving children, but it is a very entertaining and hilarious look at the things that a group of young boys experience as friends, albeit in an over-the-top fashion.