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3 Stars

Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021)

Being born in the late 80s, the only real chance I had at watching a Ghostbusters film was the female remake back in 2016. Since I missed out on that one, Ghostbusters: Afterlife ended up being the first of the franchise that I’ve seen on the big screen.

Another reality set in as I was watching the franchise’s latest entry: we may be in a world now where audiences care more for fan service than plot. That is not to say the story of this film is not intriguing or confusing, but that telling a story is taking a back seat to fan service.

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3 Stars Movies

Cry Macho (2021)

This truly seems like uncharted territory. I mean, when was the last time you saw a movie where a nonagenarian directs themselves in the lead role?

While I admit to not seeing all of his films (both in front of and behind the camera), I have seen more than enough to know that Clint Eastwood has long since made his mark not only as cinematic legend, but an American relic. Regardless of what age he is in the movies, he still plays the no-nonsense, hard lined tough guy as good as anyone ever has. No one else ever looked more terrifying when holding a gun.

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3 Stars

Respect (2021)

Toward the end of 2010, Rolling Stone released a list of the top 100 vocalists of all time. I remember at the time being a bit shocked that Elvis was not at the top of the list (he was 3). When I saw that #1 was Aretha Franklin, I thought to myself “Oh, well, okay. That makes sense.”

People who think Aretha was not a good singer are people who most likely do not exist, or at least people I have not met or heard of. Right from the beginning of Respect, we know she is being told at a young age that her voice is a gift from God. The movie is clear in telling us this, but not entirely in giving us much more.

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3 Stars Movies

Black Widow (2021)

Even with the COVID pandemic pushing back the release date of Black Widow (and a host of other films), the newest Marvel film indeed seems to be arriving rather late.

Perhaps those who have never seen a film from the MCU won’t feel that way, but for the rest of us, it is inevitable (pardon my Thanos plug there) to feel this film should have come out before the events of Avengers: Endgame (2019), where Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johanson) dies. That fact still hovers over the second female lead film of the MCU (after 2019’s Captain Marvel), leading us to feel like those behind the scenes may have screwed up.

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3 Stars Movies

Mortal Kombat (2021)

My love for cinema truly became apparent to me in my early teen years, but my love of the Mortal Kombat video games started at the age of five.

I remember with perfect accuracy my parents’ hesitancy to get the game for my older brother Adam and I, but they eventually gave in to our wishes (provided we got along). The following years resulted in many hours playing MK 1-4 with friends (most notably my best friend Greg) on button mashing, face punching, gut kicking, head decapitating, limb ripping, organ exploding bliss. That is not to mention the 1995 original film (with a theme song that never grows old) that still delights today, despite a sequel that proved to be one of the worst films mankind has ever known.

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3 Stars Movies

The New Mutants (2020)

A lot of slack should be given to The New Mutants.

While a film’s release date getting pushed back would most likely be due to the film being overall bad, this film has its released date pushed back for a number reasons.

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3 Stars Movies

Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)

All of my interactions I had with Sonic as a 90s kid were from my friends.

After my older brother and I got the Super Nintendo (a landmark day in my life at the age of 4 or so), we would have to depend on friends to play on the Sega console and race with Sonic, Tails (being the little brother, I was always second player, so this was my character), and Knuckles. While the Nintendo library is undoubtedly more popular than that of Sega, it is clear the that Sega’s mascot would always be the blue furry Sonic going forward (even if some of his games, like the one in 2006, would come to a crashing halt). Sonic’s roller-coaster career in the gaming world is surpassed by the even more uneven history of movies based off video games, so mixing them together to make Sonic the Hedgehog definitely had me wary, to say the least.

Still, Sonic has a steady loyal fan club. When the first trailer of Sonic the Hedgehog came out, there was online protest that was heard by nearly all those on the internet: Sonic did not look right at all. This forced director Jeff Fowler and the rest of the needed crew to go back and change Sonic’s appearance to be more accurate to the games. As someone who only played one or two of the games, I cannot say how accurate Sonic’s “backstory” is. In the film, the baby hedgehog is born with incredible speedy legs, soon to only be matched by his speedy mouth. When his powers are discovered, he is told by his guardian Owl Longclaw (don’t ask) to use his magic rings to travel through the universe to Earth. He is ordered strictly not to be seen by anyone.

Flash forward ten years. Sonic is living in the outskirts of a small town in Montana called Green Hills. The town is looked after by the local sheriff (or “Donut Lord”, as Sonic calls him), Tom (James Marsden). He and his wife Maddie (Tika Sumpter) are in the process of moving to San Francisco. In the mean time, Sonic has caused an accidental black out of the whole town (if not more of the west coast), leading the government to (somewhat unwillingly) call in Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey). Tom and Sonic team up and are on their way to San Francisco where Sonic has lost his bag of rings he needs to get to his next safe haven: a mushroom planet (“I hate mushrooms” is perhaps Sega’s commentary towards a certain plumber in the Nintendo canon).

No doubt the plot of the film is rather fast paced, yet full of questions. Here is the main one: If Sonic (who is voiced well by Ben Schwartz) is able to run as fast as he can, you would think he could just run to San Francisco and get the rings (though to be fair, the rings have ended up on top of a building). The movie does have one moment where Sonic does in fact run to the West Coast, only to go straight into the Pacific. The movie does its best to show that Sonic is in desperate need of a GPS. Of course, if he could just run there and get the rings himself, not only would there not be a friendship between him and Tom, but there would be no movie.

While I was not the biggest fan of Sonic growing up, I was a very big fan of Jim Carrey. From Ace Ventura to The Mask to (mainly) Dumb and Dumber to Liar Liar, he was the first real movie star I knew by name. His work as Dr. Robotnik is far from his best work (comedic or dramatic), but I would be lying if I said it did not bring back some vibes I had long forgotten about these past two decades.

Though the film does not get as deep as other family films (like those in the Disney library), young kids can still learn a good lesson or two. Sure, the idea of not being cruel to animals is there (Tom’s wife is a veterinarian), but most kids won’t look at Sonic as some kind of pet. He is indeed as human as most CGI characters (the CGI is actually very well done). The real lesson for kids is how to help those in need, regardless of if you know them or not (Luke 6:31). There is also a secondary lesson on life decisions (as shown in whether Tom should take his new offer in San Francisco or not.)

Parents, the film is fine for kids. There is may one minor swear word or two, and light kissing. The action has virtually zero violence in it. Add in some lightly peppered humor the adults might get, and the film ends up being fine for anyone in the family.

Even with the flimsy plot, Sonic the Hedgehog worked on me mainly due to the fact that I am, as stated before, a child of the 90s. The film is like a boxing match of two different bits of 90s nostalgia. In one corner, you have video games (Sonic), and the other corner has Jim Carrey. It is a match of nearly equal amounts of quirky, bizarre energy (both Sonic and Dr. Robotnik seem to clearly have some amount of ADD). While most movies based on video games are genuinely bad, Sonic the Hedgehog has set a nice pace for those to follow.

Here is hoping they catch up.

Overall:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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3 Stars Movies

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)

Going as far back as the 1927 German film Metropolis (by renown filmmaker Fritz Lang), we as humans have been exposed to the idea of robots (or cyborgs: I know there is probably a difference of some kind). Ever since, we have gotten examples ranging from the Cybermen of Doctor Who (of which I am a huge fan), 2001’s HAL 9000, and the Blade Runner replicants to the lovable animated robots of Big Hero 6 ‘s BayMax and the titular hero of WALL:E. Which leads us, of course, to the Terminator franchise.

The newest film, Terminator: Dark Fate, takes place after 1991’s T2: Judgement Day (which I would rank in the top five or so greatest sequels in the history of cinema), meaning it disregards the previous films, only one of which I have seen, 2015’s Terminator” Genisys (which was a disappointment to say the very least). After the success of preventing Judgement Day, we learn that Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) and her son John made it past that day in August of 1997, but that did not mean they were completely safe. The film opens with John’s murder from a terminator, leaving Sarah on her own. She lives live now gettting mysterious texts from a source letting her know when other terminators will enter her time line.

One such event occurs as she helps protect a young Mexican woman named Dani (Natalie Reyes) from a newly evolved terminator called a Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna), which is somewhat of a cross between the normal t-800 and t-1000 (except its liquid state is much darker and muddier). Sent back in time to protect Dani is Grace (Mackenzie Davis), who is somewhat of a machine but more on the human side. Before her arrival, Grace had a tattoo applied, showing her cooridinates that match those of the mysterious texter (though it is really easy to predict who it is).

Of course, being a terminator film, you have to have Schwarzeneggar, being this is the role that made him a household name (and, as a kid, made me believe robots/cyborgs were real). As always, he is perfectly convincing, even when he is saying lines that are hard for me to comprehend the silliness. Just as convincing is Hamilton, playing a character that has become synonymous with the idea of a woman you don’t mess with (the only one more intense would be Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley from the Alien franchise). She also has to face the idea of forgiveness towards a certain character, which is something not in her blood. Davis does a decent job of being a protector who becomes more friendly as the film progresses, and there is a fine character arc for Reyes as her Dani quickly goes from “What is happening?!?” to “Enough is enough”. Luna also does an okay job as the villain, though he lacks the amount of cold menace from the 1991 film given by the great Robert Patrick.

The time travel formula is basically the same as the original two (which is where I learned the effects of time travel): protect the past to save the future (in this film, the company that has made new forms of technology is called Legion, as Skynet is now just a word only known to Connor and the T-800). Unlike Terminator: Genisys, this film thankfully is easier to follow the time travel aspect (Genisys was, to borrow a line from Doctor Who, was too “wibbly wobbly” and “timey wimey”).

The action sequences are just basic, but sometimes impressive. There are other nice touches from the original films, such as car chases in actual vehicles, not just sports cars. It also takes place, for the most part, in just two days or so.

One of the more interesting aspects of the film is how the Arnie character has been living as a human (he goes by the name Carl, and works selling draperies. He has fallen in love (so to speak) with a single mother (Alicia Borrachero) and taken care of her son Mateo (Manuel Pacific). He has almost learned to have a soul, so to speak, though his relationship with his wife is not physical (“Does she know you weight 400 pounds?”, quips Connor). It is not entirely clear if Carl has developed a full imbodied soul, but he does truly know how to keep a family safe.

Parents, as is the case in the other films, there is some nudity (though it is not sexual here). There is still a good amount of violence and much swearing that makes this R rating what it is.

There is an intriguing line by Grace, after Sarah has mentioned what she had originally done in the previous films, which changed the future.

“You may have changed the future, but you didn’t change our fate.”

As humans, we are now more reliant (and, especially with cellphones, rather addicted) on technology than ever. Whether it will bring us to near extinction is up for debate. We as human beings are indeed supremely intelligent, but can we make intelligent beings that can think and feel for themselves? Comment below with your thoughts.

I am reminded of a joke from a minister. When scientists come to the conclusion that God is no longer needed, God asks if they are even able to make people from the dust of the earth, they say yes. Intrigued, God knows this is something he has got to see. When the scientists grab the dust of the ground, God quickly says, “No, make your own dirt.”

One thing that can be said is that, if we are in a future similar to that of the one we get in these films, what technology won’t be able to overpower is that of the human spirit, ensuring us that we will, in the end, be back.

Overall:

Rating: 3 out of 5.
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3 Stars Movies

Judy (2019)

It is more than likely true that other Hollywood stars had problems behind the scenes before the arrival of Judy Garland, but few would become as well known. As a young teen, Francis Gumm became Judy Garland, and the ruby red-slippered star of The Wizard of Oz had a tumultuous and wild start, to say the least. At MGM (where she stayed until 1950), she was looked over by the tyrannical Louis B. Mayer (who referred to the 4 ft 11 Garland as his “little hunchback”).

After the death of her father, the family was run with an iron fist by Judy’s domineering mother. The pills that Garland had to take at a young age started her down the path of drug addiction, and her cries for help to her mother fell on deaf ears, making it a surprise to no one that she would later refer to her mother as the “real wicked witch of the west.” Future husbands (she would marry five times) only added to a crushed soul in desperate need of care and understanding.

But hot dog, could she carry a tune.

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3 Stars Movies

Dora and the Lost City of Gold (2019)

It has reached the point where I am feeling sorry for Dora the Explorer. In modern society, she has been the punching bag of little kid shows (I grew up when the punching bag was good ole’ Barney and Friends). Admittedly, I too thought it was a joke when I heard that there was going to be a live action film of the titular young heroine and was just as shocked as anyone to learn it was the truth. Still, when IMDB users (roughly 200 of them) all go on the film’s page and decide to post in the Parent’s Guide that the PG rated movie should be ranked “severe” in all categories…well, the joke has gone too far (thankfully, it was corrected).

In short, Dora and the Lost City of Gold is still a nice family flick (though much more for the kids, although I admit I found myself smiling once or twice). The film starts off where the TV show takes place, with young Dora and her cousin Diego going off on adventures in the rain forest with her faithful monkey Boots and the mischievous fox Swiper. Diego and his parents move to the city, leaving Dora and her parents (Michael Pena and Eva Longoria) in the rain forest.

Flash forward ten years, and teenage Dora (Isabela Moner) is still her upbeat self, eager to explore and help her parents find the Lost City of Gold. Of course, her parents don’t think she is ready to help, so she is sent to live with her cousin Diego (Jeff Wahlberg, nephew of Mark) and his family, as she explores her greatest challenge yet: High School. Soon, Dora finds herself back in the jungle with Diego and two new friends, the somewhat reserved Randy (Nicholas Coombe) and the rather high strung brainiac Sammy (Madeleine Madden), as they search for her parents who have gone missing. They still have to encounter Swiper the Fox (Benecio Del Toro), but still have the guided help of Boots (whose one scene of speaking is done by none other than Danny Trejo).

The screenplay tool of “fish out of water” has been used countless times, yet it works here, mainly because of the sheer dedication of Isabela Moner. Even the most savage of haters will admit it takes a lot to carry a movie, especially if the source material is of a former six-year-old explorer who talks to the camera (which the movie does playfully nod at). Moner never loses her appeal, even when she is singing about situations you would never think anyone would sing about in any genre of film. Even when other obscure things happen on screen, she is still herself, and it is rather impressive. In short, it is a performance worthy of respect.

As stated before, parents should not look at the user contents on IMDB. It is rated PG, with some minor action and peril, but no swearing or nudity. There is one scene that does contain flowers making certain characters hallucinate in a rather comical and bizarre way. Nonetheless, any age is fine seeing this film.

One of the key aspects of Dora’s philosophy (as taught by her parents) is that she is an explorer, “not a treasure hunter.” For kids, this could be a valuable lesson when it comes to Christianity. The exploring of God’s word (i.e. reading the bible) is its own treasure, wisdom that surpasses all (see Proverbs 3:13 and 8:11).

I was about the age of eight when the original Jumanji (the Robin Williams one) came out. It had its scares but was still fun at the time. Like that film, Dora and the Lost City of Gold is intended for kids over adults (though there are still some things adults would like). The special effects are not anything great (like Jumanji, which has CGI that is borderline laughable), but it is not entirely the movie’s fault (not every movie has the money that a Marvel film would have). It gives lessons to kids (along with the aforementioned one on treasures) that other movies have done in the past, like believing in yourself and the value of teamwork.

The spirit of Dora and the Lost City of Gold is still rather contagious and makes me even willing to say that the film is more enjoyable than any of the recent Disney Live Action Remakes.

Overall:

Rating: 3 out of 5.