4 Stars

Encanto (2021)

I am a sucker for many things in the movies, and one most definitely is when a film (animated or otherwise) has to do with a big family.

(Not to get too personal, but I have 6-8 siblings.)

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.


Rating: 3 out of 5.

3 1/2 Stars Movies

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019)

For one reason or another, I was very worried when I first heard that Tom Hanks would be playing “Mister” Fred Rogers, especially only a year after the superb documentary Won’t you be my Neighbor? (which I am surprised was not nominated for an Oscar). The great Fred Rogers was someone we all, to some extent, truly took for granted. A soul of pure kindness that everyone would have given anything to have called neighbor, and ended up being the host of one of the greatest children’s programs in TV history (probably second only to Sesame Street). Truly one of a kind, I did not even think someone like Tom Hanks could replicate the aura of Rogers.

Obviously, I was wrong. It is the best Hanks has been in years, even though he is not the true center piece of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. That falls on Lloyd Vogel (Emmy winner Matthew Rhys), a journalist known for writing profiles that seem to always bring the negative out in the subject. When asked to do a piece on heroes, no one wants him to do the profile. No one, that is, except Mr. Rogers. When he mentions it to his wife Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson from the TV show This is Us), she begs her husband, “Please don’t ruin my childhood”.

It does not take long for the viewer to realize Lloyd’s own troubles, as he has a rather rocky (to say the least) relationship with his father Jerry (Oscar winner and always reliable Chris Cooper), resulting in some punches thrown at the beginning of the film (he assures others who see his wounds that it was a softball incident). This part of the plot does teeter a bit towards the mundane, if only because experienced movie goers will know the expected outcome. Thankfully, that does not mean it is not effective at times. This mainly occurs when Lloyd finally begins to open up about his feelings, first with Rogers.

One of the more interesting things of the film is how director Marielle Heller (who was at the helm of 2018’s Can You Ever Forgive Me?) structures it like an actual episode of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. I found this both effecting and sometimes perplexing. It is how we are introduced to the Lloyd Vogel character (who is based on real life journalist Tom Junod), as Rogers asks us if we know what it means to “forgive” (something all ages need to remember these days). I was okay with the fourth wall breaks that occurred, but some segments seemed almost superfluous, such as Rogers spending a few minutes showing us how a magazine is made.

There is no way for me to continue with the review without talking about Tom Hanks. It must have been truly inevitable that, when the time came for Mr. Rogers to be portrayed on screen, only Hanks could have done so. When looking back, perhaps I was worried about the casting because Hanks does not show much of a physical resemblance to Fred (my expectations can be high at times). Thankfully, I soon realized that did not matter, because the attributes of Mr. Rogers’ character were the crucial part, and Hanks has those in spades. The kindness. The smile. The heart. The unrivaled sense of decency.

There are very few (if any) celebrities who have been labeled as being one of the nicest people ever than Hanks. Think about it: When was the last time you heard Tom Hanks in the headlines for a scandal, or seen in the tabloids? His quality of the “every man” has resonated with him for years, similar to acting icon (and also acclaimed nice guy) James Stewart. This is not to even mention his highly underrated sense of humor (he is one of the funnier guests I have seen on late night talk shows). In a nutshell, my little brother Connor put it best: “When Tom Hanks dies, the world will be sad.”

Parents, the film is a rather soft PG rating. Along with the one brief early fight scene, I counted only a couple of the most minor of swearing, and nothing else. This is the type of film families are perfectly fine with seeing.

The film did not hit me in the feels as much as the documentary Won’t you be my Neighbor? (though few films have done so like that in the last few years), but the lessons are still clear (Rogers clearly is breaking the fourth wall when he asks Lloyd to take one minute to think of all the people who have helped him in life, something the real Rogers did many times). The lesson of everyone needing to give a little kindness. The lesson of how to forgive. The lesson of how (as Rogers says in the film),

“Fame is a four-letter word. What matters is what we do with it.”


Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

4 1/2 Stars Movies

The Farewell (2019)

Whether it is the news of a loved one’s passing or the news that the passing is closing in faster than expected, we all process the information in different ways. Admittedly, I never thought of it being different for certain cultures, let alone different individuals. Whether it is a custom for Chinese people to not tell a family member they have terminal cancer, I am not sure, but that is surely the case for the family in The Farewell.

Raised almost entirely in the United States, Billi (Awkwafina, the highly affective comic relief sidekick in last year’s Crazy Rich Asians) is still at the stage of young adult life where she is being treated like she is ten years younger than she is. She has a rickety relationship with her mother Jian (Diana Lin), but does still love her as well as her less domineering dad Haiyan (Tzi Ma). Still, even though they live in New York, she still loves to chat with her Grandma Nai Nai (Shuzhen Zhao), who still lives in China.

Billi’s world is thrown a curve when her dad (Nai Nai’s son) informs her that the Grandmother has been diagnosed with stage four lung cancer, and is expected to live only three months at the most. The family decides to go, using her cousin Hao Hao’s (Han Chen) wedding to a Japanese woman (Aoi Mizuhara) as a valid reason to see her one last time, under the strict rule not to let Nai Nai know she will die soon. Despite her parents wanting her to stay, Billi arrives in China to attend.

Despite the obvious dramatic aspects of the film, The Farewell (which starts off by saying it is “based on an actual lie”) has more than enough moments of realism that make it rather comedic. Not laugh out loud comedic (though a moment or two may get you), but more in a subtle way. Consider the wonderful scenes where the family sits down to eat. Regardless of you ethnic background, every family has dynamic encounters (both positive and negative) when at the dinner table. There is laughing, squabbling, screeching, talking with your mouth full. Regardless, love is at the center of it all.

It is always wonderful when a comedic actor is able to show off their dramatic chops (and vice versa for dramatic actors). Here, there result for Awkwafina (who, last I heard, is going to be the seagull Scuttle in the Disney Live action remake of The Little Mermaid) is no different. There are truly times I had to remind myself I was watching the same person who was Peik Lin Goh in Crazy Rich Asians just a year ago. While I doubt it is going to be in the conversation for the award season, it is clearly proof that this is one actress with a wide range in the acting department.

Another standout is the director Lulu Wang (who based much of this off of her own experiences). While this is only her second full length feature since 2014’s Posthumous (unseen by me), the direction she uses here is powerful in how gentle and reserved it is. I was reminded of one of the cinema giants, Yasujiro Ozu, mainly from his masterful work Tokyo Story (1953). That film (which I would endorse highly) was also about parents in their twilight years seeing their children and grandchildren. Even though it was unique to its country of origin, it still spoke to us all on a universal scale. Though Wang is not as subdued as Ozu (who was known for hardly moving his camera, if at all), the technique she uses is rather imposing and proof of a filmmaker worth looking at in the coming years.

Parents, the film is PG, and has nothing here that should worry you as parents. There is little swearing, no sex (though some bare back nudity in one shot), but nothing else. It should be noted, however, that much of the film’s dialogue is in subtitles. If your kids are fine with that, then they can see this film.

One of the aspects of The Farewell that is also universal is how, regardless of the family life we have, we convince ourselves to lie to our loved ones when we think it is for their own good. Whether it be to cushion the blow, save them from details, or just because we don’t want to hurt feelings, we have all done it. When it comes to this film, I will do the opposite, and simply state it is easily one of this year’s best films.


Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

4 Stars

Wonder (2017)

There are many reasons why Wonder hit home for me, but the biggest has to be because I am such a supporter of anything that has to do with anti-bullying.

As a small, autistic child with a larger sized head (“Big head” was a huge nickname for me as a child), it is easy to see why I was picked on as a kid. If only Wonder had come out two decades earlier (Note: I did have friends as a child so don’t feel too sad for me or anything.)

4 Stars

Doctor Strange (2016)

Once again, Marvel gives us a solid, all around fun origin flick with their newest Superhero to hit the big screen, Dr. Strange (though obviously not to be confused with the 1964 masterpiece Dr. Strangelove: Or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb).