Film Review of the Week


Emma (U)

Review: In Jane Austen’s 1815 novel of mismatched lovers, meddlesome yet well-meaning Emma Woodhouse informs one dashing suitor, “I always deserve the best treatment, because I never put up with any other.” First-time feature film director Autumn de Wilde and screenwriter Eleanor Catton respond to those demands with a spirited yet staunchly faithful treatment of the source text, which gallops over various hurdles on the characters’ converging paths to enduring happiness.

Neatly bookmarked into chapters denoting the four seasons, this incarnation of Emma is a handsomely upholstered and sporadically hilarious affair, distinguished by chocolate box production design and costumes. Anya Taylor-Joy is a snug fit for the aloof, shallow and adroit heroine and catalyses gently simmering on-screen chemistry with Johnny Flynn as her stiff-shirted sparring partner, Mr Knightley.

Bill Nighy and Miranda Hart gleefully pocket hearty chuckles in colourful supporting roles while the latter also manages to tug heartstrings when her clucky spinster is on the receiving end of a cruel and careless aside. The most imaginative and wickedly enjoyable screen adaptation of Austen’s work remains Amy Heckerling’s delicious 1995 teen comedy Clueless but de Wilde politely reminds us of the book’s bountiful but old-fashioned charms without straying far from the page.

Emma Woodhouse (Taylor-Joy) takes personal credit for the happy union of her former governess, Miss Taylor (Gemma Whelan), and Mr Weston (Rupert Graves). Following the nuptials, Emma reassures her worrywart widower father, Mr Woodhouse (Nighy), that she has no intention of contriving her own love match – “I promise to make none for myself” – and will remain by his side on the family’s vast country estate.

However, Emma cannot resist interfering in matters of the heart and she defies the warnings of neighbour Mr Knightley (Flynn) to mould the romantic prospects of naive new acquaintance, Harriet Smith (Mia Goth). The easily influenced young woman is smitten with farmer Robert Martin (Connor Swindells) but Emma persuades Harriet to shun his advances in favour of buffoonish vicar Mr Elton (Josh O’Connor).

Meanwhile, Emma eagerly awaits the arrival of Mr Weston’s son Frank Churchill (Callum Turner) and ruefully tolerates the constant twittering of spinster Miss Bates (Hart). Thanks to Emma’s meddling and sharp tongue, hearts are broken and fragile egos deflated while her own happiness is called into question.

Emma fizzes pleasantly for two hours, condensing the book’s central themes and disentangling extraneous characters and narrative diversions. De Wilde demonstrates a light touch behind the camera for various set pieces including a well-choreographed country house ball where the heroine and Mr Knightley realise their true feelings for each other as their dancing arms entwine. The characters’ hearts race faster than ours as Emma tearfully learns humility and finally understands the meaning of “such a happiness when good people get together.”

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Sonic The Hedgehog (PG)

Review: In the early 1990s, I bade farewell to my teenage years with the controller of a Sega Mega Drive video game console nestled in my hands, guiding a lightning-quick blue hedgehog around loop-the-loop obstacle courses in search of glittering gold coins. Sonic The Hedgehog was my sweet addiction through university and temporarily drove a wedge between me and Nintendo’s trusty plumber Mario. A heady whiff of nostalgia permeates director Jeff Fowler’s origin story, which boldly realises the anthropomorphic spiny mammal in a real-world setting using digital trickery and a jocular vocal performance from Ben Schwartz.

Unlike so many beloved video game-to-lamentable film adaptations – Double Dragon, Mortal Kombat, Super Mario Bros, Street Fighter starring Jean-Claude Van Damme and Kylie Minogue – this is rambunctious fun. Admittedly, Pat Casey and Josh Miller’s script is guilty of cloying sentimentality and struggles to articulate the title character’s loneliness. However, when Fowler’s picture concentrates on fish-out-of-water comedy, father-son bonding and the campy delights of archvillain Dr Ivo Robotnik, the pleasures outweigh the pain.

Sonic (Schwartz) is raised by owl protector Longclaw (Donna Jay Fulks), who the hedgehog pithily describes as “basically Obi-Wan Kenobi… if Obi-Wan Kenobi had a beak and ate mice”. The electric blue hero comes under attack and escapes through a spinning portal to the leafy glades of Green Hills in Montana, where the Wachowski family has protected locals for more than 50 years. Tom Wachowski (James Marsden) is a town cop, who hungers for bigger challenges than speed-trapping a tortoise on the highway.

He is eyeing a move to San Francisco with veterinarian wife Maddie (Tika Sumpter). Their plans are put on hold when Sonic breaks into the couple’s home to escape military consultant Dr Robotnik (Jim Carrey). “I was spitting out formulas while you were spitting out (baby) formula,” hisses the evil genius, shadowed by slippery sidekick Agent Stone (Lee Majdoub). Tom agrees to accompany the fugitive furball on a hare-brained odyssey to open a portal to a fungi-festooned planet, where Sonic will be safe from Robotnik and his weaponised drones.

Sonic The Hedgehog is a pleasing diversion that harks back to the video games and delivers turbo-charged action sequences that slow down time to a crawl a la Quicksilver in the X-Men series. Schwartz invests the title character with wise-cracking attitude as a comic foil for Marsden’s beleaguered sheriff. As the film’s hi-tech antagonist, Carrey is a scene-stealing delight, returning to the rubber-faced theatrics of his Ace Ventura and Mask heyday. Fowler conceals two scenes in the end credits to bait a sequel: the first vignette completes Carrey’s metamorphosis into the outrageously moustachioed archvillain from the video games while the second morsel heralds a familiar airborne ally for Sonic. Game over, but certainly not out.

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