Memorial Day weekend has come and gone, bringing with it some fantastic films. Summer is in full swing, and we’re all the beneficiaries! Below is a look at the new films I saw this week! If you’d like to see more of my scores for films and thoughts, feel free to follow me on Letterboxd here.
Downton Abbey: A New Era (Theaters)
Starring: Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Michelle Dockery, Allen Leech, Laura Carmichael, Jim Carter, Phyllis Logan, Brenda Coyle, Robert James-Collier, Joanne Froggatt, Penelope Wilton, Hugh Dancy, Dominic West, and Maggie Smith
Synopsis: Downton Abbey was a long-running and popular series developed by Julian Fellowes. In the wake of the end of the series, fans were treated to a feature film in 2019 that left off in such a way it felt like the story would continue. Continue it did with this second feature film, picking up where the last left off and tying up some of those threads while creating new ones. It’s a return to the world of the Crawley family. Being as this one picks up the threads of the film and the series, it’s probably not the most accessible film to those not familiar with what came before. But for fans, this is a rich exploration that is superior to the first film. There are a number of great emotional sequences, some beautiful character beats and plenty of emotion in the final act. It’s a good showcase for Maggie Smith as well and her long-running and popular character. I enjoyed this outing quite a bit and hope that they’ll continue to make these films for a few more years.
Rating: Rated PG for some suggestive references, language and thematic elements.
Emergency (Amazon Prime)
Starring: Donald Elise Watkins, RJ Cyler, and Sebastian Chacon
Synopsis: This film made its debut at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, where it earned plenty of rave reviews. Now it’s been released on Amazon Prime to reach a wider audience. The film, from director Carey Williams, focuses on a trio of college friends who find themselves in a sticky situation. They’re on the cusp of moving on to a new phase, but first they have a night set aside to have one last adventure. Instead, on the way home for a minute, they find a young, white girl passed out on the floor of their apartment. As three people of color, they’re leery of calling the authorities and instead hatch a plan to get the girl help while protecting their future. This is a timely and fascinating story. It begins with some funny moments, showing the relationship, point-of-view, and bond between the three primary characters (Watkins, Cyler and Chacon). The story goes in some interesting directions and ends up being a powerful and emotional directions. The script from K.D. Davila is well-crafted and poignant, but it’s the performances that put it over the top. I was particularly moved by Watkins, while Cyler provides much of the humor and a great piece of heart in the third act. This is a film that feels timely and relevant, one people should make a point to see.
Rating: Rated R for pervasive language, drug use and some sexual references
Sonic The Hedgehog 2 (Theaters/Paramount+)
Starring: Ben Schwartz, James Marsden, Tika Sumpter, Jim Carrey, and Idris Elba
Synopsis: The sequel to this film based on the popular Sega video game released in theaters in April and now is available to stream for those who have Parmount+. I finally caught up with Sonic now that he’s available in more spots and I was pleasantly surprised. I wasn’t a huge fan of the first film, but this sequel feels like it makes more of the comedy and the story. It had some good set pieces, some decent action sequences and makes the most of its story. It feels like a more action-packed and humorous adventure. I enjoy Schwartz as the voice of Sonic, while Elba does a nice job as Knuckles and Carrey plies his unique talents well as Dr. Robotnik. It’s not an incredible film but it’s a fun popcorn watch.
Rating: Rated PG for action, some violence, rude humor, and mild language.
Top Gun: Maverick (Theaters)
Starring: Tom Cruise, Jon Hamm, Jennifer Connelly, Miles Teller, Glen Powell, Monica Barbaro, and Val Kilmer
Synopsis: In 1986 Tony Scott delivered what soon became an iconic classic in Top Gun. Fronted by Cruise as the brash pilot Maverick, it was a film that had a killer sound track, a great look and some high-flying action. Now, nearly 40 years later, Maverick is back with a film that surpasses the original in every aspect. The things that made Top Gun a hit is still there, but Joseph Kosinski takes the action sequences to a new level. This is a better story and a better film, a real wild ride that is one of the best of the year so far. Maverick is now a Captain, hanging on as a test pilot. When a dangerous mission emerges, he’s called back to Top Gun to serve as an instructor for a new wave of top pilots, including Goose’s son, Bradley (Teller). Maverick has to find a way to reach them all and prepare them for a mission that they might not be able to survive. The story here is solid but it’s the incredible action sequences, particularly the flying stunts, which help put this film over-the-top. I was blown away by the skill and intensity of those sequences that have you on the edge of your seat. This is also a film that has plenty of nostalgia, including an opening sequence with sights and sounds that take you right back to the film that’s been a classic for years. The rest of the cast does a nice job, with Teller holding his own in a tough role and Powell serving the story well as the cocky pilot Hangman. Connelly does well opposite Cruise, while Hamm is strong as the by-the-books Admiral over the program. Kilmer, who has had his own health struggles in recent years, does make an appearance, and his scene opposite Cruise is one of the film’s best. But this ultimately comes down to Cruise, who has long been a better actor than he’s given credit for being. He does a great job in this role and really carries the film. I enjoyed this immensely. It’s a film that demands to be seen on the big screen and delivers a great cinematic experience.
Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action, and some strong language.
We Feed People (Disney+)
Synopsis: This new documentary from National Geographic focuses on celebrity chef Jose Andres and his mission to feed people in need. Director Ron Howard, who delivered the great documentary Rebuilding Paradise a couple years ago, follows Andres and tells the story of his non-profit World Central Kitchen, which responds to world disasters and provide food and water to the hungry. The film follows Andres and tells his story, interviewing his family and following him and those that are part of World Central Kitchen as they seek to bring comfort to those in need. It’s a powerful and engaging story. Andres is laid bare, as is the mission of his organization in a story that looks at those who try to make a difference despite difficult circumstances and plenty of government red tape. This documentary doesn’t hit as hard as Howard’s last film but I enjoyed the story. This is worth checking to learn more about this vital ministry.
Matthew Fox is a graduate of the Radio, Television and Film program at Biola University, and a giant nerd. He spends his free time watching movies, TV, and obsessing about football. He is a member of the FSWA. You can find him @knighthawk7734 on Twitter and as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast.