Peter Pan has long been shaping how people tell stories about childhood and growing up. It's been adapted multiple times and retold even more. The latest creator to take on this task is the Academy Award-nominated Benh Zeitlin who was last seen and heard of in 2012 with his critically acclaimed debut Beasts of the Southern Wild. Since then he's been working on Wendy, his contemporary reimagining of Peter Pan that despite the change in name, time period, and location feels very much the same as what we've seen before. Just like Beasts of the Southern Wild, Wendy begins in a Southern landscape seemingly cut off from the rest of society. The titular heroine lives with her family at their trainside diner. Her three brothers aren't excited about the prospect of spending their lives stuck in the grimy but friendly food establishment and we watch as Wendy wanders around in her diaper charming the patrons. This opening not only sets up the visual tone for the film -- "grounded and real" -- to the point of blandness but also introduces us to the more magical elements of the film. We watch out of the window with Wendy as her eldest brother absconds on a passing train after being encouraged by a figure shrouded in red. [ignvideo width=610 height=374 url=https://www.ign.com/videos/2019/11/07/wendy-official-trailer-1] Years later we find Wendy (Devin France), her mother (Shay Walker), and two remaining brothers (Gage and Gavin Naquin) still living in the diner where the youngest daughter dreams of the "ghost train" that took her brother away and her twin siblings embrace their muddy life in New Orleans. It's a slow-burn beginning that highlights the watchability of the young cast as the trio do nothing more than listlessly wander around the diner and their house above it. The ever-present lights and noise of the trains play as an ominous hint of what's to come as Wendy waits for the return of the train and the figure who spirited her brother away. That strange figure is, of course, Peter, played here by Yashua Mack who is inarguably the star of the film. The fact that Peter is the best thing about a film called Wendy is just the beginning of where this adaptation's problems begin. Although Mack is brilliant, the script -- by Zeitlan and his sister Eliza -- and characterization of Peter muddies the waters with a choice to focus on the more Machiavellian and malicious aspects of the character, making his anti-heroic and sometimes villainous take on the character far more interesting than the allegedly "good" leads, Wendy in particular. Mack's Peter is a firebrand who is brilliant, charming, and dangerous, young, old, and ageless all at the same time. When he shows up on the roof of the train passing the bedroom window of the Darling children you never question whether or not they'll follow him, which is after all the power of Peter Pan. [widget path="global/article/imagegallery" parameters="albumSlug=every-upcoming-disney-live-action-remake&captions=true"] Ironically, as Peter is the best thing about it, the film loses its way once he and the children hit Neverland. Despite the fact that their arrival begins by hinting at an intriguing representation of magical realism and what it can be on the big screen, Zeitlin seems to get lost in his own vision, with plenty of pretty B-roll and stunning locations but not much narrative and not enough strength of conviction to work without one. There maybe exists a version of Wendy that was truly committed to the atmospheric fairytale that it wanted to be, and potentially that hypothetical film was better. But once the siblings and the children that they meet are left to roam free on the isle of lost dreams, Wendy really begins to drag. There are moments of magic as the young cast wander around Neverland and most are connected to the magic that seemingly keeps them young. There's beautiful creature work which leads to a few truly stunning sequences, but Zeitlin is more interested in "the real" which means the magic of the film is often pushed aside in favor of something more grim and bland. Wendy is a movie that shouldn't feel like it needs an explanation but the interior logic of the island never works, which is inherently tied to the fact that the Zeitlan's message is unclear. Is it terrible to grow up? Or is it a great adventure? Are the children the future and the elderly a hazard to it? Or are the young trapped in their own nostalgia when they should want to grow up? These questions don't feel like a purposeful ambiguity but more like unfinished thoughts that lead the audience to nowhere but confusion and potentially nausea for those who don't have a taste for the saccharine and heavy-handed analogs the Zeitlins try to force into the final act.
My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising opens in theaters across North America on February 26. [poilib element="accentDivider"] Movies for hit anime series like My Hero Academia have a difficult balancing act to pull off: they must be mostly understandable for a completely new viewer, still offer something relevant and interesting to fans of the show, and be exciting but find a way to not have any significant lasting impact on the show. My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising is animation studio Bones’ second attempt at achieving all three, and it does an excellent job. Heroes Rising is just one awesome explosion of action after another. It doesn’t quite nail the landing on its biggest moment and the villain is a bit boring, but that doesn’t take too much away from the excitement of seeing the entirety of Class 1-A push themselves to their limits. Heroes Rising takes place sometime during Season 4, although the chronology is never established. Heroes like Rock Lock appear, the League of Villains are still up to no good, and a certain pivotal item from Season 4 makes an appearance. That being said, Heroes Rising is a prime example of effortlessly utilizing information from the show's past to contextualize the events of the movie. Flashbacks are mostly used at unobtrusive moments and important information is naturally written into conversations. If you’re not caught up with at least the beginning of Season 4, you do run the risk of some mild thematic spoilers, but a majority of the movie smartly distances itself from current events in the anime series. Much like the first My Hero Academia movie, Two Heroes, the students of U.A. High School’s Class 1-A find themselves busy on a faraway island in Heroes Rising. The resident hero has retired, and in an effort to give some of U.A.’s top students’ additional training, they’ve been sent to fill in for the recent retiree without the supervision of any pro heroes. That last part is a bit questionable, given they’re only high school students tasked with running a hero business without supervision, but the setup works wonderfully and gives them space to shine when villains eventually attack. [widget path="global/article/imagegallery" parameters="albumSlug=the-best-anime-of-the-decade-2010-2019&captions=true"] As the series has progressed, we’ve understandably seen less of Class 1-A and Heroes Rising excitingly amends that. Everyone, even characters like Koda and Shoji, gets a chance to shine. While the nature of their work on the island is mundane, it’s still exciting to watch because of Class 1-A’s fun personalities and the creative ways we get to see them use their quirks. From helping an old woman who threw out her back to organizing an intense assault on a foe while evacuating townspeople, Heroes Rising is a great showcase of their current abilities. New supporting characters Mahoro and Katsuma are two cute kids who stir up the long-running theme of questioning what it means to be a hero in a world where that revered title is just another profession. Heroes Rising doesn’t dig too deep into it, but that theme serves as a good frame for when Deku and Bakugo get their time in the spotlight together. Heroes Rising is ultimately about their relationship and their own valid but different brands of heroism, but again, it does a fantastic job of balancing their screen time with the other 1-A students. Part of that comes about because they’re still students, and standing up against the four new adult villains in Heroes Rising isn’t a simple feat. My Hero Academia's practicality with the students’ general disadvantage against experienced villains has always been one of its strengths, and it's good to see that mostly carry through in Heroes Rising. [ignvideo width=610 height=374 url=https://www.ign.com/videos/2020/02/18/my-hero-academia-heroes-rising-official-movie-trailer-english-dub] The villains Class 1-A go up against in this action-packed movie have bland motivations, but their run-of-the-mill brand of evil largely works here. Fights aren’t bogged down with monologues and are instead peppered with effective villainous quips. The villains' quirks aren’t exactly counters to the students’ but their raw power and flashiness go a long way. And, since the students are on this island without support from professionals, we really get to see their tactics and teamwork shine. The animation in the fights is generally excellent, save for some awkward CG clouds that roll in every now and then. For all the power and fun Heroes Rising brings, it’s a shame it fumbles the presentation of its biggest moment. The insane, well-animated final fight edges close to fever dream territory and is presented with odd, sentimental music that doesn’t fit the intensity of what’s happening on-screen. Certain moments of the battle -- which is one hell of a fight to watch -- also have serious implications for My Hero Academia canon, and the way Heroes Rising goes about brushing them aside isn’t quite satisfactory.
Note: this is a spoiler-free advance review of Superman: Red Son, which will be released on Digital HD on February 25 and on Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray on March 17. [poilib element="accentDivider"] DC has an entire brand known as Elseworlds, one that explores the many ways in which tiny changes to history can have huge effects on the stories of iconic heroes like Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. Several of these Elseworlds stories like Superman: True Brit and Superman: Speeding Bullets ask the same basic question - what would happen if Kal-El's space pod crash-landed somewhere other than Smallville? What happens when the Last Son of Krypton is raised by another set of parents under a different culture? That's a question 2003's Superman: Red Son set out to answer, and now Red Son is a competent, albeit somewhat flawed, addition to DC's animated movie library. In the alternate DC Universe of Red Son, Kal-El's pod landed not in Kansas, but on a Ukrainian collective farm in 1938. Instead of embodying Truth, Justice and the American Way, Superman becomes the most powerful symbol of the Soviet Union, one that completely alters the course of 20th Century history. In this world, Lex Luthor is the US government's last, best hope of stopping the spread of communism, Wonder Woman is a Themysciran ambassador enamored with the Man of Steel's vision of a better world and Batman is a terrorist hellbent on tearing down everything Superman has built. [widget path="global/article/imagegallery" parameters="albumSlug=superman-red-son-movie-images&captions=true"] The original comic by writer Mark Millar and artist Dave Johnson is an inspired choice of source material. For one thing, the comic is just the right scope and length for the rigid 70-ish minute format of these movies. Poor pacing is one of the most common problems with these projects, with many either stretching limited material past the breaking point (as with Batman: The Killing Joke and Batman: Gotham by Gaslight) or trying to distill too much plot into one film (as in The Death of Superman and its sequel Reign of the Supermen). Red Son is able to offer a tightly paced story that manages to lend a fair amount of depth to most major characters in between the major action sequences. The concept is certainly fascinating, shining a light on just what aspects of Superman's character are immutable versus those that are shaped by his upbringing. Like most DC animated movies, Red Son skews in a darker direction, even to the point of depicting Superman and Batman as killers. It's a risky storytelling choice that winds up working in this particular context. Where something like Injustice: Gods Among Us never fully succeeds in justifying a murder-happy Superman, Red Son uses that plot point to its advantage. Superman's entire arc in the film is built around the question of whether the ends justify the means. Confronted with the grim reality behind the ideals of Soviet collectivization, Superman becomes obsessed with making his vision of utopia a reality. How much killing is justified in the name of utopia? Is a better world with no free will or room for dissent truly a better world at all? Part of the novelty of Red Son is that it's a superhero movie where the conflict doesn't involve clearly defined factions of good and evil. Superman may be the main protagonist, but he's not necessarily the hero of the story. Similarly, it would be reductive to label Lex Luthor as the villain. While Lex shows all of his usual arrogance and casual disregard for those he deems his lessers, he's also painted as a man trying to save his country from an existential threat. This is one of the more enjoyable takes on Lex in a DC movie in quite some time. The movie mostly avoids falling into the usual East vs. West pop culture tropes and even has quite a bit to say about the dangers of xenophobia on all sides. Wonder Woman is the only truly heroic figure in this story, as she embraces Superman's ideals but becomes disillusioned with the barbarous world of men. [ignvideo url="https://www.ign.com/videos/2020/02/24/superman-red-son-now-or-later-exclusive-clip"] Even though Red Son is paced better than most DC animated movies, there are certain characters who feel a bit under-served by the story. It would have been nice to see more attention paid to the relationship between Superman and Lois Lane, with the two only really sharing one important scene together. Batman could also have benefited from additional character development leading up to his climactic confrontation with Superman. But to be fair, there's only so much ground the movie can cover in the course of 70 minutes, and the comic itself is guilty of those same problems. Red Son is largely a very faithful retelling of the original story, following a very similar structure and merely streamlining certain elements here and there. Occasionally it even manages to improve upon the comic, especially when it comes to Wonder Woman's characterization. Unfortunately, Red Son's most significant deviation is also its greatest misstep. The ending falls completely flat. It's abrupt and simplistic to a fault, losing sight of the nuanced themes driving the conflict up to that point. It's all the more frustrating given that the comic shines best at the very end, as Millar and Johnson celebrate the enduring power of Superman. But whether or not you've actually read the comic, the movie's ending is a disappointingly safe way to end an otherwise daring take on the Superman mythos. Visually, Red Son sticks to the same house style as the vast majority of these animated movies. It gets the job done, but Red Son hardly stands out in that regard, much less replicates the bold style of Johnson's artwork. Given the period setting, it's a shame the movie couldn't have opted for a look more inspired by the classic Fleischer Studios animated serials. As it is, in most scenes Red Son barely even looks like a movie set in the past. [widget path="global/article/imagegallery" parameters="albumSlug=the-10-best-dc-comics-elseworlds-stories&captions=true"] The voice cast is rock solid, however. Red Son wisely doesn't attempt to reinvent the wheel with most of these characters, instead relying mostly on a cast of DC animation veterans like Jason Isaacs (Superman), Diedrich Bader (Lex Luthor), Vanessa Marshall (Wonder Woman) and Roger Craig Smith (Batman). Isaacs actually has a fair amount of experience playing Russian characters thanks to films like Hotel Mumbai and The Death of Stalin, experience which serves him well here. He's able to convey the humanity and self-doubt in this version of Superman even with the thickly accented dialogue. For whatever its faults, Red Son places a priority on ensuring viewers understand and empathize with this very flawed version of Superman.
With Upgrade, Leigh Whannell demanded attention as an inventive writer/director with some serious action chops and an eye for the unusual and unexamined. In Universal's newest take on the iconic Invisible Man, Whannell turns that eye to the terror of domestic abuse, making an impressive and delightfully dark return to the horror genre in which he made his name as a co-creator of the Saw franchise. Though the character's tenure as a Universal Monster made the Invisible Man a classic horror icon, the H.G. Wells story which inspired it is very much a science-fiction parable about the hubris of man and the danger of an unchecked ego. Without spoiling too much, Whannell is clearly invested in exploring those thematic threads with his electrifying reimagining which plays into the classic novel's ideas of madness, murder, and mayhem with a very contemporary twist. Set in modern-day San Francisco, The Invisible Man strays from other adaptations by following Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) as she absconds from her violent and cruel ex-boyfriend Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), a Mark Zuckerberg-esque tech billionaire who made his fortune in "optics." From the opening moments of the film where we see Cecilia sneaking out of the compound-like home she shared with Adrian, Whannell throws the audience into a nerve-wracking and chillingly realized ride through the absolute worst-case scenario of leaving an abusive partner. [widget path="global/article/imagegallery" parameters="albumSlug=the-25-best-horror-movies&captions=true"] Moss is the beating heart of the movie here as the distressed and desperate Cecilia, who spends most of the movie struggling against the waves of trauma that her relationship with Adrian has left her drowning in. This is another no-holds-barred performance from The Handmaid's Tale actress who offers up an almost uncomfortably raw turn as a woman wronged so badly that she almost has no concept of how to treat the people who are left in her life. Though he is barely on screen, Jackson-Cohen is a solid choice as the handsome and sociopathic billionaire who can't bear to let go of the one thing that he can no longer control. The small supporting cast is equally as engaging with Aldis Hodge as Cecilia's old friend James who takes her in after she makes her escape. His sweet and thoughtful daughter Sydney is played by the ever-watchable Storm Reid, who gets some seriously dark material and handles it brilliantly. If anything, their roles could have been expanded as both are characters that you want to know more about, but this is Cecilia's story and so ultimately their paths (and screen time) are guided by her journey. There is an effective coldness and chill to The Invisible Man which is tangible, from the grey skies of San Francisco to the concrete walls of Adrian's looming home. There's a gritty grimness to it all that can't quite be escaped, and that's entirely the point. Nothing about The Invisible Man is meant to be comfortable; Whannell and cinematographer Stefan Duscio fill every moment with dread and anxiety that is entirely fitting for a horror film that takes one of the darkest aspects of human nature and wrings every ounce of terror out of it that it can. Another highlight that needs recognition is the production design by Alex Holmes, which plays into the inescapable nature of Adrian. This is especially noticeable in his open-plan home, with its glass-walled structure that makes you feel like you can do nothing without being watched. [ignvideo width=610 height=374 url=https://www.ign.com/videos/2020/02/10/the-invisible-man-official-trailer-2] Of course, in any monster movie you want to know about the titular monster. Well, not wanting to give too much away, what I can say is that Whannell makes a decision that is both creatively daring and almost monstrously simple. Think of the thrill of watching Paranormal Activity for the first time and trying to spot all of the spiritual shenanigans and you're halfway to what makes this iteration of The Invisible Man so utterly terrifying. Alongside the atmospheric visual landscape that the creative team built, composer Benjamin Wallfisch crafts entertainingly engaging dueling scores for both Adrian and Cecilia. The former is an appropriately pulsating electronic landscape closer to drone music than a classical film score, whereas our heroine is scored by a more expected orchestral arrangement that often soars as we follow her on a most unexpected and grim iteration of the hero's journey. The coherence and narrative of the score and film together give The Invisible Man an immersive quality that delights and unsettles in equal measure. At just over two hours, The Invisible Man never drags, instead successfully building tension to a breaking point. But depending on your patience for a slow burn start leading to some breakneck twists and turns, you might get a little cinematic whiplash when it comes to the film's brutal and action-packed latter half. That final act is where Whannell really shows his power, though, with some truly gasp-inducing moments and more of the stunningly imagined and choreographed action that made Upgrade such a cult hit amongst genre fans. [widget path="global/article/imagegallery" parameters="albumSlug=insidious-leigh-whannells-favorite-haunted-house-movies&captions=true"] The biggest issue that The Invisible Man faces is actually tied to how slick it is. There's a rawness to Elisabeth Moss' performance that hints at a deeper character study we don't get, and whilst the clinical dissection of an abusive relationship and the horrors it has wrought are grimly effective, there is arguably a lack of depth to the conversation the film is trying to have. As a simple revenge story, The Invisible Man ends up delivering something truly satisfying. But the first two acts of the movie don't always feel like they're setting that up, and at times hint at an exploration of abuse that's more nuanced and profound, yet it never materializes. Ironically, it's the fact that Whannell is confident and experimental enough to try and utilize the nature of abuse as a structure for horror rather than a messaging opportunity that may lead some to ask: what is The Invisible Man really trying to say? Whannell's exploration of horror and abuse may not be for everyone. Not only is it deeply distressing in parts but it's often brutal in its depiction of trauma -- although something that feels radical is that we rarely see the violence that caused such trauma depicted on screen -- and the fear of losing control. Seeing Cecilia seemingly lose her grip on reality and drive everyone around her away is tough, even though Whannell and company offer up an equally dark redemption. It's that rawness and interest in shining a light on the most unappealing moments of being a survivor that makes The Invisible Man stand out, but it's also miles away from the warmth and nostalgia that many viewers might be expecting when they walk into what is still a Universal Monsters movie.
Through tales of toys, cars, monsters, robots, and rats, Pixar has created a reputation for jaw-dropping cinema that speaks to the tenderest parts of the human experience. Their latest offering, Onward, centers on an average teen boy, who has totally common concerns. He frets over making friends. He fears learning to drive, and he worries over what path to take to become a good man, like his late father. The only thing that sets this plucky hero apart from the boy next door is that Ian Lightfoot is an elf. Directed by Dan Scanlon, Onward is set in a world of elves, centaurs, Cyclopes, satyrs, and pixies, a world that was once full of magic, wonder, and adventure. However, once technological advances lead to a slew of modern conveniences like indoor lighting, gas stoves, and cell phones, these mythical creatures gave up on their wild side, turned their backs on the relics of old, and lost touch with magic. Nowadays, they live in a cozy town where houses are shaped like toadstools, skyscrapers have castle-like towers, and instead of raccoons rummaging through garbage cans, they've got mangy, hissing unicorns. Amid all this, is Ian (Tom Holland with an American accent), a bashful birthday boy who has just turned 16. According to his brash brother, Barley (Chris Pratt), who is obsessed with role-playing games and magical history, this milestone means Ian must go on a quest to prove his manhood. Ian's not interested until his mother (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) unveils a special gift from the father he has never met. It's a staff, a gem, and an incantation that can bring the boys' dad back for one day. [widget path="global/article/imagegallery" parameters="albumSlug=every-upcoming-disney-and-pixar-animated-movie&captions=true"] But magic isn't easy. One wrong move and poof: their dad is only half back. The bottom half, loafers to purple socks to pleated khakis, then just nothing but a bit of blue mist above his belt. Now, Ian and Barley must team up on a quest for an ancient artifact that will give them a second crack at this reunion. And they must do it before the clock runs out! It's a charming story that will tug at your heartstrings from the very start with its tale of father-son yearning and brotherly love. Then the waist-high Dad twist gives a jaunty weirdness that allows for a slew of silly visual gags, some of which seem snatched from Weekend at Bernie's. Much like the Monsters Inc. movies, Onward makes the most out of its fantastical setting by dropping in all kinds of curious creatures in thoughtful ways. Instead of a giddy puppy scampering underfoot, the Lightfoot family has a little pet dragon. Instead of a mounted police officer, this neighborhood is looked after by centaur cop named Officer Colt Bronco (a bouncy Mel Rodriquez). And rather than your biker gang of big, burly dudes, there's a gang of mostly female pixies, who are small yet just as burly and raring to tear down the road and fly into the fray. [ignvideo url="https://www.ign.com/videos/2020/02/21/pixars-onward-review"] An impeccable voice cast brings these legendary creatures to vibrant life. As he has for the MCU's Spider-Man, Holland delivers an aw-shucks sweetness as Ian, playing flustered and fascinated with equal gusto. Pratt brings his signature blend of goofiness, giddiness, and a bro-y bravado to Barley, creating a D&D nerd who breaks the stereotype's confining mold. Louis-Dreyfus gives Big Mom Energy with plenty of warmth, edged with never-say-die moxie. Together, the three of them paint a tonal tapestry that glistens with intimacy, which makes the family's moments of tribulations and triumphs gloriously resonant. However, the scene-stealer of Onward is Octavia Spencer as the Manticore, claws down. A storied actress who has gamely dived into prestige drama (Hidden Figures), twisted sci-fi (Snowpiercer), irreverent comedy (Drunk History) and even psycho-biddy horror (Ma), Spencer brings her diva grandness to this mighty beast, who has the claws and brawn of a lion, the stinging tail of a scorpion, and massive bat-like wings. When we first meet the Manticore, she's lost touch with her savage side and has turned her once rowdy tavern into a family-friendly theme restaurant where tater tots are handed out far more often than quests. However, Ian and Barley aren't the only parties who set out for adventure in Onward. A B-plot involving the Manticore not only allows for some more grown-up-aimed gags (like jokes about seedy pawn shops and cramped cars) but also gives Spencer room to spread her wings and get wild. And her excitement is absolutely contagious.
Why are canines considered man’s best friend? Why is the influx of dog movies much steadier than that of cats, bunnies, giraffes, or elephants? It’s simple: there’s something understood on a human level in a dog’s expressions, from the mopey look after it has gotten into the trash can to the excitement when we come in from a long day at work. It’s physical, tangible, and real. So, when a film like The Call of the Wild comes along with a CG dog, achieved via motion-capture, at the side of very real human characters, an integral part of that relationship gets lost. Whether it’s capturing the emotions our canine friends seem to express or capturing the joy of an actor working with a real trained animal on set, this adaptation of Jack London’s 1903 novel is a failure in nearly every regard. The film follows Buck, a huge St. Bernard/Scotch Collie after he gets captured from his owner and traded between masters during the Klondike Gold Rush of the 1890s. He goes from being a sled dog for mailman Perrault (Omar Sy) to one for sadistic Yukon gold digger Hal (Dan Stevens) to a companion and friend to grieving heavy drinker John Thornton (Harrison Ford), all the while having visions of a silent, sleek black wolf that represents − get this − his instinctual call to the wild. Notably, director Chris Sanders’ first live-action effort (he’s known best for helming Lilo & Stitch and the first How to Train Your Dragon), The Call of the Wild still feels largely animated. Motion-capture artist Terry Notary (a Planet of the Apes and MCU veteran) performed Buck’s movements on set, but the CGI covering him and decorating his surrounding environments are a few grades below what made The Lion King such a technical marvel last year. The close-ups of Buck’s face look okay, but shots of his body from far away lack texture and definition, and his action sequences or quick movements don’t look much better than a well-rendered video game cutscene. Worse yet, the motions with which human characters pet the dog come with virtually no affection, as Notary doesn’t capture the unpredictable spirit and love that comes from a live animal. There’s no room for a charmer like Ford to lose himself in his role if the filmmakers won’t throw him the bone of being next to a real, tail-wagging, joyfully dopey mutt. [widget path="global/article/imagegallery" parameters="albumSlug=the-18-best-cgi-characters-in-live-action-movies&captions=true"] It doesn’t help that Michael Green’s script misses the more feral, complex qualities of London’s original text. Instead, it tells a basic story about what makes dogs such great human companions and then misses that point to right the ship and shoehorn in London’s thesis at the last possible minute. That thesis is damaged when the animators and Notary give the lead dog such obvious human qualities that a real canine would never exhibit. You can feel Buck weighing options and having existential yearnings at multiple points throughout, and that’s a problem when the only thing endearing us to this character is that he’s a good boy who occasionally makes bad messes and eats the human food. His supposed call to the wild doesn’t feel earned since Buck keeps choosing human missions, like getting inspired by the wonders of mail delivery and curing John’s alcoholism. At one point, Buck hands Perrault a letter that arrived a little too late to make the daily delivery rounds. It would maybe be cute were it a real dog on set, but having this mo-cap mutation do it manufactures the moment in a way that renders it just totally lifeless. It makes a cheesy script even less bearable, especially with Ford narrating the whole thing and forced to essentially take up David Attenborough’s Planet Earth gig during scenes starring only the CG animals in CG environments. For a film centered so much around the natural world, so little of it actually feels natural. You would think part of the appeal of adapting London in the first place would be staying true to the locations his prose so beautifully describes or having a production brave the elements for those key on-location shots. But alas, it’s easy to tell when these vast outdoor landscapes are actually much smaller, perhaps on a sound stage, than they appear. [ignvideo width=610 height=374 url=https://www.ign.com/videos/2019/11/20/the-call-of-the-wild-official-trailer] As for the performances, Ford does what he can to find the film’s center. The veteran superstar can charm his way through just about any scene unscathed. All of the film’s best moments belong to his signature gruff exterior, soft interior demeanor, even if the special effects hamper his ability to play a physically affectionate dog lover, for fear of ruining the film’s thin illusion. Stevens, on the other hand, hams it up as a cartoonish, two-dimensional villain who opposes Buck and John in such an off-putting, go-for-broke way that any conflict involving him turns into an eye roll. Across the board, playing things too big is The Call of the Wild’s greatest downfall aside from its crappy special effects. From on overstated musical score to the overly sentimental narration or story beats in general, this is an adaptation aimed right at the heartstrings of dog owners everywhere. Cynical as that may be from a moneymaking standpoint, the ultimate irony in the filmmakers’ failure here is the money they spent creating this disaster. Buck can outrun a pixelated avalanche or dramatically face an alpha sled dog with blue eyes that practically glow, but making him so emotive and superheroic ensures that he’s nothing like the furry friends that audience members will go home to when the lights come up.
In “The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching,” Thich Nhat Hanh’s novel explaining the four Noble Truths of Buddhism (suffering, its origin, its ending, and the path to achieve that ending), the poet and peacemaker compares life to waves in the ocean. Our lives, like waves, rise, then fall, crash into the shore, and then return to the sea. Masaaki Yuasa, the creator of The Tatami Galaxy, The Night is Short, Walk on Girl, and Devilman Crybaby, views life in a similar manner. As beautiful and inspiring as the waves of life can be, they can also be brutal, harsh, and at times just plain unfair. However, no matter how many times the waves knock us down, in order to grow, we have to keep riding. That’s the simple but still engaging message Yuasa lays out for us in his latest feature, Ride Your Wave, a supernatural love story, that like many of his previous works, is a story of self-growth. Ride Your Wave is Yuasa’s latest attempt to appeal to a mainstream audience by playing down the more weird and eccentric aspects of his style. Even with these changes, he has once again delivered a delightful animated feature to add to his already esteemed body of work. Working off a script written by Reiko Yoshida (Liz and the Blue Bird) and accompanied by a mostly gentle, breezy soundtrack by Michiru Oshima, Ride Your Wave follows Hinako, a loopy college student who has just moved to an oceanside town. Hinako is easy to like; she’s chipper, energetic and doesn’t take herself too seriously. While she comes off as a mostly positive person, she doesn’t have much confidence in herself and is unsure of what direction she wants to take her life in; which is a complete contrast to Minato, a firefighter in training who saves Hinako (and her surfboard) when her building catches fire. Minato is smart, charming, dependable, and can whip up an omelette over rice with masterful ease. He seems so perfect, that until we learn why he dedicated his life to helping others, he gets dangerously close to having as much personality as an egg sandwich. However, there is one thing Minato doesn’t know how to do and that’s surf - which is both Hinako’s hobby and passion. After their heroic meet-cute, Hinako teaches Minato how to surf and before you know it, they begin to date, their blossoming relationship shown in a montage that checks all the boxes of your typical rom-com (days spent running on the beach, nights looking up at fireworks). The two are inseparable; they own matching phone cases, they hold hands while eating dinner, and they even have a special song -- “Brand New Story,” a 2012 single from GENERATIONS from EXILE TRIBE (Ryota Katayose, the lead vocalist, voices Minato, in his voice acting debut). The two “lovey-dovey idiots,” seem destined to spend the rest of their lives together, and that’s sadly true for Minato, who after surfing on his own one afternoon, drowns while attempting to rescue someone. Blaming herself for her boyfriend’s death, Hinako retreats from her passion, going so far as to move to an apartment away from the ocean, as the water only reminds her of what she has lost. It seems that nothing can alleviate her from her grief, until one afternoon in a cafe, Hinako sings the first bars of “Brand New Story'' and begins to see Minato’s reflection form in a glass of water. After that she starts seeing him everywhere: smiling at her in a bathroom faucet, in puddles, and even sending her messages in raindrops. Hinako’s friends -- as well as Minato’s fellow firefighting trainee Wasabi and his younger sister Yoko -- begin to feel that grief is making Hinako lose her sense of reality, however, what’s happening is real. Hinako has the power to conjure the spirit of her dead boyfriend every time she sings their song, which you will hear, a capella, acoustic, and with music, throughout the film. I almost wanted to believe it was a running gag with how much it’s played. I could happily go the rest of my life without hearing the song - acapella, acoustic or with music - ever again. Much like his 2017 feature Lu Over the Wall, Ride Your Wave is more charming and tame than the psychedelic and radical anime series and movies Yuasa is mainly known for creating. While this is, by far, the simplest story Yuasa has ever directed, that simplicity does not translate to the visuals, which are the high point of Ride Your Wave. Yuasa’s eccentric animation style really comes forth when he gets to animate fire and water, the latter thankfully being seen often in the film’s latter half. The background art, something I actually don’t usually contemplate when it comes to Yuasa, is very detailed, and his use of tracking shots, pans and zooms also give the film a verve the screenplay and the characters can’t deliver. At 96 minutes, Ride Your Wave is the ideal length to keep the story from pruning, however, I do wish that some more time was given to establishing the film’s side characters. Minako’s friends, Jun and Ai -- who Hinako refers to as “the cobra” and “the scorpion” because of their straight-forward way of speaking -- appear sporadically to give Hinako support during her grieving period, but we don’t get any sense of their personality. Then, they just vanish from the story once the main elements of the plot come into focus. Wasabi and Yoko fare better, as they both have an actual arc, but I would’ve liked to see more of them, especially Yoko, whose viciously blunt tongue serves as a good counter to the film’s sometimes overly sweet tone.
Blumhouse’s dark reimagining of the 1977-84 TV series Fantasy Island is not scary enough to succeed as a horror film and not funny enough to click as a comedy, both of which it attempts to be at various moments. It works marginally better as a mystery in the film’s latter half but it comes at the expense of over-explaining and completely demystifying the very premise of the titular island and its enigmatic overseer, which the original series wisely never did (to my best recollection). The Fantasy Island movie hews closely to how episodes of the admittedly cheesy ABC series were structured. A group of guests arrives via seaplane to a remote tropical island where -- somehow magically -- their respective fantasies are realized... for a literal and figurative price. The resort’s mysterious host, Mr. Roarke (portrayed here by Michael Pena), explains the rules, the biggest being that once their fantasy begins it must be seen through to its ultimate conclusion whether they like the results or not. Like many episodes of the original show, there’s a morality play element at work here as several Life Lessons will be learned by the guests. In this particular iteration of Fantasy Island, events turn deadly as the guests -- played by Maggie Q, Lucy Hale, Jimmy O. Yang, Ryan Hansen, and Austin Stowell -- see their fantasies progress and a deeper mystery (that may connect them) unfold. This intrigue in the latter half of the film may not be overly clever but it at least brings the story into sharper focus and lends this relatively plodding and predictable film a pulse when it needs it most. Until that point, the film meanders through the melodrama of Maggie Q’s relationship fantasy, the strained comedy of Yang and Hansen’s painfully unfunny bro characters, and the more visceral respective horror and action hero fantasies of Hale and Stowell’s characters. Of this group, Maggie Q gives the best performance, even if her arc is arguably the most predictable; she at least helps ground the movie in something real and relatable. [widget path="global/article/imagegallery" parameters="albumSlug=the-25-best-horror-movies&captions=true"] A disheveled and underutilized Michael Rooker pops up as a desperate man out to expose the ugly truth about Fantasy Island and Mr. Roarke, who is a decidedly darker incarnation of the character than the iconic original version played by Ricardo Montalban. Unfortunately, Michael Pena is miscast as Mr. Roarke, a role that requires an actor with more gravitas to help sell the character’s innate mystery - at least until the film decides to reveal not only how Fantasy Island creates its fantasies but also provides a backstory for Roarke, robbing the film of any semblance of subtlety. The film, directed in workman-like fashion by Kick-Ass 2’s Jeff Wadlow, makes Roarke complicit in the horrors and evils committed on the island, yet it still wants viewers to believe he’s redeemable and sympathetic. It’s a confounding choice that just might have worked with a stronger script and a more nuanced actor in the role. The film’s decision to show how the fantasies are created and what creates them and to also reveal Roarke’s backstory is not unlike finding out the Force is actually tied to midi-chlorian counts. Sometimes magic doesn’t need to be explained or justified, and not all mysteries need to be solved. [ignvideo width=610 height=374 url=https://www.ign.com/videos/2019/11/11/fantasy-island-official-trailer] For a movie set in such a beautiful place, Fantasy Island often looks quite ugly. There’s a general shoddiness to the whole endeavor, as if it were a bland and cheap straight-to-video release from back in the day rather than a major studio film in 2020. The horror elements are low-fi, with crude makeup and lame visual effects inadvertently reminding viewers what a small budget the film must have been made on. Fans of the old show — and let’s be honest, how many can there still be nowadays? — should catch the film’s references and Easter eggs (“The plane! The plane!” “Smiles, everyone, smiles.”) and they will almost certainly understand and have an opinion on how the film decides to address the origin of one of the show’s mainstay characters … but we’ll leave it at that to avoid spoilers. Suffice to say, it will likely prove a divisive choice to reveal how this particular character came to be.
Rife with callbacks to the classic Sega video game series, the family-friendly Sonic the Hedgehog movie is designed to please Sonic fans of all ages. However, if you’ve never really cared for the Blue Blur, you’ll probably want to avoid this flick like one of Dr. Robotnik’s badniks. The premise that finds this freakishly fast character on Earth rightfully doesn't take itself too seriously. Forced to flee his homeworld as a child to escape the grasp of the villains who want to use his super-speed abilities for evil, teenage Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz) has lived in hiding in the town of Green Hills, Montana, for a decade. While not exactly the Green Hill Zone fans may remember from the original 1991 game, it is a nice homage to the sprawling paradise found in both acts of the first level in the Sega Genesis classic. Isolated in our world, Sonic has no one to talk to but himself (and us, as he occasionally breaks the fourth wall, Deadpool-style), so Schwartz’s portrayal is unique in that sense than other depictions of the character in games and cartoons. But like the voice actors who came before him, Schwartz is able to invoke that thrill-seeking spirit Sonic is known for. Schwartz’s vocal performance is definitely up there with Sonic OGs like Roger Craig Smith and Ryan Drummond, giving him a similarly energetic and quick-witted personality. There are times where Sonic’s constant banter with himself grows maddening and a bit too cartoonish (perhaps not surprising in a PG-rated film aimed at children and families), but the character evolves once he is forced out of isolation in order to escape the clutches of Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey) and befriends Tom Wachowski (James Marsden). [widget path="global/article/imagegallery" parameters="albumSlug=every-video-game-movie-in-development-almost&captions=true"] From that point on the plot of Sonic the Hedgehog is as straightforward as the 1991 Genesis game: gotta go fast, make a mad dash to collect the rings, defeat the villainous Dr. Robotnik, then on to the next act. But there’s an additional element to round out the overarching story – it’s a movie about friendship. Tom is a character who’s looking for a little more purpose and meaning in his life, while Sonic is looking for a connection. They both find what they’re looking for in each other while on the run from Robotnik. Given the dire circumstances Tom finds himself in while on the run with Sonic, it’s charming to see him take a break from the chaotic commotion and foster a relationship with the little blue guy. But as the film progresses, you begin to question why Tom would go to such great lengths for a creature he’s known for less than 24 hours. He’s a bored sheriff in a small town where not much happens, so I guess why not team-up with an anthropomorphic furry speed demon on the run from the government and an evil super-genius? This simple premise may advance the plot, but there just isn’t much more to it than that. Playing the live-action human companion to an animated protagonist could very easily be a thankless role for an actor, but Marsden manages to mine the heartwarming moments with Sonic (as well as with Tom’s wife Maddie, played by Tika Sumpter) even if it’s ultimately not a standout turn in his career. [ignvideo width=610 height=374 url=https://www.ign.com/videos/2020/02/10/ben-schwartzs-favourite-sonic-games] While it may be hard to believe anyone could compete with a CGI-rendered Blue Blur, the most animated character throughout the film is Jim Carrey’s Doctor Robotnik. Carrey’s physicality and comedic timing evoke memories of his Ace Ventura and Liar Liar heyday, proving the gifted comedian hasn’t lost his touch. Carrey’s comedic delivery and interactions with other characters are a winning combination within moments of his first appearance. Robotnik is typically the smartest man in the room, and he makes sure everyone is well aware of it and just what he’s capable of doing to their underdeveloped intellect. The film does suffer from employing too many visual effects we’ve seen used countless times before, often with more creativity. For example, many will remember the scene from X-Men: Days of Future Past where time is rendered in super slow-motion as Quicksilver cleverly shifts things around while running. Sonic does the same exact thing here, but it’s far less inventive or witty; if anything, it is specifically a callback to what you’ve seen before, except, you know, with Sonic. Although it’s hard not to want to love the little guy throughout, Sonic’s personality just isn’t enough to overcome such worn-out ideas. [ignvideo width=610 height=374 url=https://www.ign.com/videos/2020/02/12/jim-carrey-on-the-evolution-of-dr-robotnik-and-a-sonic-sequel] Sonic the Hedgehog is more successful when it comes to nailing references to the source material. Director Jeff Fowler does an exceptional job stuffing in as many Easter eggs from the Sonic games as possible, to the point where hardcore Sonic fans may have to watch more than once just to catch them all. The nods to the gameplay mechanics – such as how Sonic loses his rings upon being hit by an enemy or the way he curls up into a ball and dashes to defeat them – land well and with believability here. If you’re a Sonic fan worried whether this movie can truly encompass the nearly-three decade history of Sonic the Hedgehog, don’t be. While it’s lacking in some of the deeper cuts in Sonic lore, such as trapped animals in aggressive robots, and mystical emeralds, the essentials are all here. And the highly publicized and game-accurate redesign of the title character should keep fans more locked into the story of the fastest thing alive than had they been distracted by his off-putting original look.
Pulling off slow-burn storytelling is no easy feat, but it’s especially tricky in horror. The genre has a lot of options for filmmakers looking to keep audiences engaged and on edge, but when the focus is on slowly building dread and forgoing a sensory overload approach, it’s important to tell your story clearly and pay that patience off throughout. When it’s done right, we get movies like The Shining and Hereditary. When things go wrong, we get something like The Lodge, directed by the duo behind 2014’s Goodnight Mommy, which has atmosphere to spare and a trio of able performers simmering in its pot, but confused themes and a lack of tension keep the film from boiling over the way those other slow-burn standards do. Siblings Aidan (Jaeden Martell) and Mia (Lia McHugh) are coping with some big, traumatic changes in their lives. Their mother Laura (Alicia Silverstone) has recently committed suicide and their father (Richard Armitage) has moved swiftly on to a new romantic interest. Grace (Riley Keough) tries to bond with Aidan and Mia, but she quickly finds there’s little common ground there. Then, family-fueled trauma is nothing new for Grace: she’s the sole survivor of a Jonestown-esque mass suicide event presided over by her cult leader dad. Richard thinks the key to getting these two camps to gel is by forcing them to spend time alone at a remote lodge together. But of course, the snow flies, the power dies, and Grace and the kids are left to fend for themselves. No power and heat is one thing, but increasingly inexplicable events force Grace and the kids to consider whether the nature of their isolation may be more sinister. [ignvideo width=610 height=374 url=https://www.ign.com/videos/2019/07/30/the-lodge-official-trailer] The remote Massachusetts cabin where most of the film takes place provides a strong setting for the film’s naturalistic cinematography. Muted light reflecting off the snow and shadows playing off rich wood-paneled walls, from which Laura’s religious icons loom, give the film a grounded feel. The visuals and similarly strong score could’ve been potent assets to telling an intense, claustrophobic story had the film done a better job figuring out what it was trying to say. The Lodge deals with themes like grief, trauma, and religion throughout, but those themes don’t feel connected to what’s going on in the film’s central conflict: an inexperienced mother figure and her unwilling charges dealing with a life-threatening situation. With much of the kids’ half of the narrative dealing with the mistrust of their soon-to-be stepmom, most of The Lodge’s thematic work comes from Grace’s side of the story. The problem there is that, just as The Lodge wants to constantly call into question what’s keeping Grace and the kids trapped in the snow, Grace’s dubious reliability as a focal character leads anything gleaned from time spent with her to be taken with a grain of salt. That means that a lot of the work The Lodge does building tension goes astray, as most of the time it’s unclear what is a real threat and what is not. It’s a narrative miscalculation that hurts a lot of the movie, particularly through the second act, as most of the film’s attempts to shock the audience out of its comfort zone don’t actually feel all that threatening. [widget path="global/article/imagegallery" parameters="albumSlug=the-25-best-horror-movies&captions=true"] Fans of Goodnight, Mommy know that directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala like to play with their audience’s sympathies toward their characters. At various times throughout, The Lodge asks you to put aside your feelings towards the kids in favor of Grace, and vice versa. The problem with that here is that ask becomes harder and harder to accept, given how erratic and violent Grace becomes. Aidan and Mia are presented for most of the film as genuinely good kids, so when they cross a line in how they’re dealing with Grace, it feels indicative of a mean streak the movie has, out of character, and engineered to keep the story interesting. It’s not the only time in the film Franz and Fiala’s hands are visible moving pieces into place - convenient snowstorms and choices with ill-defined motivation keep The Lodge feeling like something you’re watching, not something you’re particularly drawn into. Speaking of Goodnight, Mommy, The Lodge shares a certain amount of DNA with Franz and Fiala’s debut, to the point where parts of this story may feel like a rehash of that less seen Austrian film. While they may enjoy playing with the motif of distrust between parent and child, Franz and Fiala retread a lot of the same thematic ground here as they did in Goodnight, Mommy. None of that should be considered a knock against Keough’s centerpiece performance in The Lodge. Keough plays Grace with a shyness and fragility that holds firm in her initial good faith attempts to bond with Aidan and Mia, all the way through her breakdown at the lodge. Impressively, despite Grace’s pretty terrible babysitting skills, Keough keeps Grace from feeling like someone to root against, even if you won’t be sure why you’d want to root for her. Likewise, Jaeden Martell and Lia McHugh hold their own as Grace’s wards. Martell brings intelligence and sensitivity to his watchful big brother, traits which may evoke comparisons to his turn as Bill Denbrough in IT: Chapter One. McHugh gets the heavier emotional lifting. Mia is clearly devastated by the loss of their mother, clinging to a doll that resembles her, and McHugh does an impressive job when the film calls for her to let us see that pain. Keough, Martell, and McHugh’s interplay is the backbone of The Lodge, and if the three of them weren’t working as hard as they are, the whole film may have collapsed. Richard Armitage has very little to do, other than strand the leads together at his cabin. Alicia Silverstone gets even less screen time and considering her brief appearance teases a really interesting foil to Grace, her absence feels particularly disappointing as the film goes on.