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Movie Reviews: Sonic the Hedgehog, The Photograph, Downhill

Citizen K, Incitement, Romance in the Outfield: Double Play

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Sonic the Hedgehog - PARAMOUNT PICTURES
  • Paramount Pictures
  • Sonic the Hedgehog
Citizen K ***
Muckraking documentarian Alex Gibney uses the tale of Mikhail Khodorkovsky—former oligarch of the early post-Soviet years turned political dissident—to explain Vladimir Putin’s rise to power, and why the Russian pretty-much-dictator is today so dangerous. Once the richest man in Russia, Khodorkovsky took advantage of the chaotic “Wild West” atmosphere in the new Russian republic to amass a huge fortune. And as the saying goes: It takes one to know one. Khodorkovsky may be downplaying his own crimes, but his insider knowledge is far more important: He understands how Russia worked then, and continues to work today. Khodorkovsky was complicit in the “gangster-capitalist” takeover of media in 1990s Russia, a stranglehold that continues to this day, which helps perpetuate the profoundly undemocratic status quo. (Hence the film’s title, a reference to Citizen Kane.) Sound familiar? There is vital context here for the apparently ongoing Russian interference in U.S. politics, but even more vitally, this is a warning that the outright monstrosity of the current Russia mess is not far off for us as well, if we don’t turn away from the path we’re on. Opens Feb. 14 at Broadway Centre Cinemas. (NR)—MaryAnn Johanson

Downhill **1/2
See feature review. Opens Feb. 14 at theaters valleywide. (R)

Fantasy Island
[not reviewed]
Blumhouse turns the 1970s TV classic into horror. Opens Feb. 14 at theaters valleywide. (PG-13)

Incitement **
How do you say “incel” in Hebrew? That was all I kept thinking through this story that dramatizes events leading up to the assassination of Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, through the eyes of his assassin, Yigal Amir (Yehuda Nahari Halevi), a right-wing opponent to the proposed Oslo Peace Accords with the Palestinian Authority. There’s not much character arc to Yigal, who is violently opposed to Rabin’s actions from the jump; director Yaron Zilberman focuses on how Yigal is further radicalized by conservative rabbis supporting a scriptural defense of killing perceived traitors to the Jewish people. While it’s interesting to be reminded that not only one religion has extremists using holy writ to justify violence, without a truly compelling central character, the film feels like a slow slog towards a tragic historical inevitability. Halevi certainly captures the righteous certainty of a zealot, and how Yigal’s rejection by a woman (Daniella Kertesz) fuels his rage. There’s no attempt to make Yigal sympathetic or rationalize his actions—which is both an act of morality, and one that leaves little to latch onto from a storytelling standpoint. Opens Feb. 14 at Broadway Centre Cinemas. (NR)—Scott Renshaw

The Photograph - UNIVERSAL PICTURES
  • Universal Pictures
  • The Photograph
The Photograph ***
Since it seems like Tyler Perry will never make decent movies for and about black people (A Fall from Grace, recently dropped on Netflix, is such a loathsome abomination it makes you wonder if dude actually likes his own people), I guess we have to look to promising talents like Canadian writer-director Stella Meghie, who’s been quietly making sophisticated, soulful, black-and-proud films like this romantic drama. Issa Rae, bereft of the awkwardness that made her a star on HBO’s Insecure, plays a career gal who discovers more of the past of her late photographer mother (Chante Adams), with the help of a journalist (a hella-dashing Lakeith Stanfield) who’s writing a story on her mom—and who also becomes smitten with her. Thanks to Meghie and cinematographer Mark Schwartzbard making sure the melanin skin tones stay golden and glowing, Rae and Stanfield are officially the sexiest on-screen pair at the movies right now. Some naysayers may complain that this movie is too bougie for its own good. But, considering how it’s so rare for a movie to characterize African-Americans as, you know, regular-ass people, I’ll take bougie over bullshit any day. Opens Feb. 14 at theaters valleywide. (PG-13)—Craig D. Lindsey

Romance in the Outfield: Double Play *1/2
In fairness, and the interest of full disclosure: I did not see Romance in the Outfield—aka Pitching Love and Catching Faith—the 2015 predecessor to this locally-made, gently-faith-based romantic dramedy from co-directors Randolph and Rebecca Sternberg. But I find it hard to believe that’s the only reason why this narrative is so structurally confused that it’s hard to know what’s going on with these characters and their journeys toward happiness. On the most obvious level, it’s about two possible romantic connections: baseball player Tyler (Derek Boone) and his ex-flame Kenzie (Monica Moore-Smith); and runaway bride Tiffany (Shae Robins) and Chase (Dan Fowlks), the guy who drove her away. Both of the stories are in some general sense about self-forgiveness and moving on from mistakes—with some divine help—but the Sternbergs assume a lot about what a viewer already knows about the journey these people are on before we’re dropped into this movie. And without understandable histories that inform the character arcs, nothing really resonates. As earnest and appealingly acted as the story is, it’s simply far too muddled far too much of the time. Opens Feb. 14 at theaters valleywide. (PG)—SR

Sonic the Hedgehog ***

The nightmare fuel that was the character design in last year’s first trailer gives way to something generally charming, largely thanks to its human stars. The Sega video-game character (voiced by Ben Schwartz) here becomes an alien exiled on earth, trying to hide himself and his super-speed powers from humans in rural Montana—until both kindly local sheriff Tom Wachowski (James Marsden) and the sinister Doctor Robotnik (Jim Carrey) become aware of his existence. The plot basically becomes a buddy road comedy, as Sonic and Tom drive to San Francisco to retrieve Sonic’s lost dimension-hopping gold rings, and there’s a nice chemistry at play in what becomes a simple “there’s no place like home” narrative. And Carrey is in vintage form as the narcissistic villain, having as much fun with his plastic physicality than we’ve seen in years. I suppose it’s impossible not to include a fart joke in a contemporary kid-friendly franchise feature, and the action gets fairly rote at times. But there’s more to like here than we ever could have expected after that alarming first trailer. Opens Feb. 14 at theaters valleywide. (PG)—SR

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