On DVD & Blu-Ray: May 19, 2020

Sonic the Hedgehog is the kind of straight-down-the-middle piece of live-action family entertainment that we just don’t get as often as kids fed on this particular genre in the nineties were once accustomed to. At a certain point in time, it seemed as if audiences on the verge of puberty, but not quite there, were delivered a sports-themed adventure or underdog story featuring kids their own age on an annual basis-whether it was The Sandlot, The Little Giants, The Mighty Ducks, The Big Green, A Kid in King Arthur’s Court or Angel’s in the Outfield-the point is there were plenty of options not only for the youngest of youngsters, but for tweens before people even knew what tweens were. Lately though (and when I say lately I mean the last twenty-five years or so lately) that demographic has been lumped in with the more sophisticated audiences required to digest the lofty animated expectations of studios such as Pixar. That said, having never been a fan or player of Sonic the Hedgehog there was no real emotional or nostalgic connection to the original Sega property or its many animated incarnations over the years. As a live-action adaptation of a popular nineties video game is the closest we get to any of those aforementioned titles these days though, director Jeff Fowler’s feature directorial debut then fills the nostalgic void left by the absence of such titles by default. Fowler and/or Paramount Pictures seems to have known this to be the case thus their main objective becoming to not only entertain the kiddos of today with an updated take on a character they might have seen an episode of or played a game with at one time or another, but also to hone in on the same fan base that threw a fit when the first, original trailer for the film was released and the design of the titular character garnered such backlash that the studio delayed the release of the film and re-designed its CGI star completely. That is to say, not only did Paramount realize there was a large fan base for this property, but a passionate one as well and one that was not only anxious to see a childhood favorite get the live-action treatment, but to re-capture the feelings this character inspired and to re-live this time in their lives that Sonic represents. To this extent, Paramount went the extra mile and hired Jim Carrey to play the role of the antagonist in the evil Dr. Robotnik. This isn’t the Jim Carrey of Mr. Popper's Penguins or even Yes Man though, no, this is the Jim Carrey of The Mask or Ace Ventura as the fifty-eight year-old pulls off his most physically comedic role in what feels like forever to what I can only imagine is the pure joy and delight of thirty to forty year-olds everywhere. It is this combination of Carrey playing the hits combined with the genre re-vamping that leads to Sonic the Hedgehog being as appealing as it ends up being. Despite not having any nostalgic connections to the character itself, these elements make up for this as Fowler’s film more or less accomplishes what it sets out to accomplish and will satisfy any resident of the 16-bit gaming era while still not mustering enough excitement to write home about it…and if I remember anything about The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog from my Saturday morning binges in 1993 that feels about par for the course. Video review here. C+

It's difficult to say what one would do if they were granted the chance to see a lost loved one again, but only for a limited amount of time. It would arguably be even more difficult if that lost loved one was a parent and not just a parent, but a parent you'd never met before; someone who has always been a creation of your own mind via the memories of others. Of course, while some might argue the possibility of such a meeting, the actual chances of this happening are slim to none and writer/director Dan Scanlon (Monsters University) obviously knows this and that is, I suspect, one of the reasons he penned Onward in the first place. It's not necessarily wish fulfillment per se, but it is a fantasy of sorts in that Scanlon has no doubt imagined many times throughout his life who his father might have been or what it might have been like to share in a conversation with his old man. I'm probably jumping ahead there, but if you don't know already, Onward is inspired by the fact Scanlon and his older brother lost their father when Scanlon was one and his brother, Bill, was three. In Onward, Scanlon has taken the idea of this fantasy about meeting his father and literally placed it into a world of fantasy where we meet elves Ian (voice of Tom Holland) and Barley (voice of Chris Pratt) who, on Ian's 16th birthday, are afforded the opportunity to spend the day with their father. Scanlon constructs a fantasy world that has long passed its expiration date on the "magic" and "fun" that one would inherently believe comes along in a world filled with fantastical things as pixies no longer fly, centaurs no longer run, and the once mighty Manticore (voice of Octavia Spencer) has been reduced to parodying herself in what is essentially a mythical-themed Applebee's. It is in this fantasy-less fantasy land that there seemingly resides some kind of metaphor about failing to see the magic all around you due to focusing on what's been lost, but Scanlon and co-writers Jason Headley and Keith Bunin don't so much hammer home the symbolic nature of Ian and Barley's world, but instead choose to let the natural emotions of Scanlon's cathartic exercise breathe via the character development and creativity channeled through the heartwarming story. Does Onward reach the emotional heights of Up or Inside Out? Maybe not. Does it surpass the creativity enlisted in Toy Story or Coco? Not necessarily. What Onward does do though is serve as this largely ambitious endeavor that's presented through the guise of this quaint, familiar package. It's a familiarity that, even in a film with genuinely heavy moments and poignant themes, resonates comfort and charm. Like any good product of the Pixar brand, it will have you beaming through the tears. Video review here. B
What’s striking about 
The Way Back is the expectations versus reality aspect of the film. When set-up for a sports drama where it’s almost a certainty that the sports will serve as a backdrop for the redemptive character piece there are a few things one expects from the screenplay; chief among them being the redemption of our hero. This isn’t to give anything away about The Way Back necessarily, but it is to caution the casual viewer that if you’re going into the latest Ben Affleck-led drama with certain, archetypal expectations you maybe shouldn’t expect all the warm feelings typically associated with said genre. This isn’t even to say that what those dramas deliver isn’t good or entertaining as I can appreciate more standard fare like The Accountant well enough, but I do so with more enthusiasm when I know Affleck is going to balance it with something like Gone Girl. This isn’t an evaluation of Affleck’s career choices and while the parallels between Affleck’s character in The Way Back and his real life are impossible to ignore it would seem these potential similarities in a state of mind if not necessarily lifestyle served not only to inform his acting choices, but function as something of a catharsis. In director Gavin O’Connor’s (Warrior) film Affleck plays Jack Cunningham, a man who is openly suffering if not in the most “woe is me” fashion, but certainly in the most trainwreck-like of ways that would give way to anyone recognizing the signs of depression, grief and an overwhelming amount of regret. And yes, Affleck is great in it. Sure, The Way Back gets points for being a compelling story about a guy who has essentially lost it all and finds some purpose in a ragtag bunch of basketball players at his alma mater while including an adequate number of sports sequences and additional character arcs in some of the key players both Jack and the audience become invested in, but this is Jack’s story. It is in Brad Ingelsby’s (Out of the FurnaceRun All Night) screenplay and O’Connor’s direction that we gauge Jack’s journey is not one of complete redemption nor is it one where he reaches a point where he gets to wipe the slate clean and start anew; he doesn’t really want to “start anew”. The Way Back doesn’t tie as nice a bow on this story as most might hope it would, but instead presents the unwelcome truth that we can’t recover from some things in life. We’re reminded again and again that we need to cherish the time we have rather than focus on how long something will or won’t last, but the presence of something life-changing, no matter how grateful we are for the time given, is something that-when lost-is the type of change that can’t simply be healed by time and variation. Some pain never goes away, some pain one simply has to learn to live with and so, The Way Back is Jack discovering how he’s going to live with this indelible pain and how he’s both going to and not going to cope with it. This allows for The Way Back to be a story of adaptation more than it is transition and one that is an equally insightful and impactful dissection of this moment in time exactly because it restrains itself from tying a nice bow on Affleck’s difficult, but admirable performance. B

The only thing pulling me into re-watching this domestic drama was the fact I wanted to see what Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus might do with the material (as this is a remake of the 2014 Swedish film Force Majeure) not to mention I could look away from the screen from time to time and not worry about missing anything, but directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash's (The Way Way Back) interpretation of the material is a mostly fruitless endeavor that sheds no new light on the complicated central dynamic, but more just reinforces that life is messy and weird and that all the things that would make a seemingly simple existence rather arduous are never to be underestimated. 

That scene with the protein bar and the missing glove was impressive though, I'll give them that; it's simultaneously infuriating and funny, completely recognizable through its specificity encapsulates so many different family scenarios. It's always something. If there'd been a handful of scenes more with the intuitive understanding Faxon and Rash capture in this instance then Downhill might have had a stronger case for its existence. D

Focus Features re-imagined Jane Austen's Emma this year, her beloved comedy about finding your equal and earning your happy ending, in this well-reviewed adaptation. Handsome, clever, and rich, Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy) is a restless queen bee without rivals in her sleepy little town. In this glittering satire of social class and the pain of growing up, Emma must adventure through misguided matches and romantic missteps to find the love that has been there all along. Bill Nighy, Rupert Graves and Miranda Hart also star.

In the sequel literally no one was asking for, Brahams: The Boy II, a new family moves into the Heelshire Mansion where their young son soon makes friends with a life-like doll called Brahms.

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