Friday Flicks April 3: “Sonic the Hedgehog,” “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” & Focus Features Movie Mondays

M.V. MoorheadApril 3, 2020
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At West Wind Glendale Drive-In:

Sonic the Hedgehog—At this writing, it is still possible to go out to the movies here in the Valley, if you really want it; the West Wind Drive-In on 55th Avenue in Glendale is still open for business.

Even though some of the fonder memories of my childhood and youth involve seeing stuff like The Valley of Gwangi and Food of the Gods and The Giant Spider Invasion and Horror Hospital and The Concrete Jungle at drive-ins back in my beloved hometown of Erie, Pennsylvania, I hadn’t been to a drive-in here in Arizona in years. While I wasn’t sure it was altogether civic-minded of me to venture out for such a trivial reason in the current circumstances, I figured that if golfers can still golf in our state, I could watch a movie from my car. So this past Tuesday I headed for the West Wind to see Sonic the Hedgehog, the least off-putting, if you can believe it, of the few choices there that I hadn’t already seen.

The evening will not, however, go down as a high point in my career as a drive-in moviegoer. For one thing, I was, as the song from Grease puts it, alone at the drive-in. Neither my wife nor my seventeen-year-old found the prospect of sitting through Sonic the Hedgehog in a Toyota Corolla preferable to in-home quarantine.

For another, the experience was eerily oppressive. “You know the rules?” asked the nice lady in the booth as she handed me my very inexpensive ticket. “Concessions are closed, and the only reason they want you getting out of your car is to go to the bathroom.” When I pulled into the lot for my movie, I saw only a handful of cars scattered around. There was a somehow post-apocalyptic quiet to the atmosphere, alleviated only a little by the occasional cheery burst of merriment from the family in a minivan nearby.

Then there was the same complaint I had the only other time I visited the West Wind, some years ago: The screen is too dim. There’s too much glaring ambient light from the industrial parks and warehouses in the neighborhood to create that ideal indigo evening sky quality that’s optimal for the drive-in experience.

Then there was the movie itself, an adaptation of the popular ‘90s-era video game about an alien hedgehog with blue quills who can run at supersonic speeds. It isn’t quite awful; leading man James Marsden, as the small-town cop who befriends the title character, is pleasant enough company, and Jim Carrey hams and riffs quite entertainingly as sneering villain Dr. Robotnik. But it’s pretty formulaic stuff to leave the house for (especially when you consider that, as my wife pointed out when I got home, it’s now available on VOD).

It should perhaps be observed that the major product placement in the film seemed to be Olive Garden, and not, as might be expected, the Sonic fast-food chain. Also, it’s eyebrow-raising that, after Sonic has run amok in a bar, he gloats “Did you see how much toilet paper I used? The next person who goes in there will have nothing to wipe with.”

There is a sort-of-clever sequence in which Sonic plays baseball all by himself, zipping from position to position faster than the ball. But that just made me sad that baseball is also on hold.

New on VOD:

Never Rarely Sometimes Always—Autumn, a 17-year-old who lives in a small Pennsylvania town, finds herself pregnant. She confides only in her friend and cousin Skylar, who steals from the supermarket where they work so that they can sneak off to New York and try to get an abortion without Autumn’s parents finding out. Complications arise; the trip turns into an infuriatingly dangerous and desperate quest.

Writer-director Eliza Hittman achieves almost the feel of a documentary in this low-budget drama, in no small part due the sparseness of the dialogue, and the melodrama-free but ultimately powerhouse performances of Sidney Flanigan as Autumn and Talia Ryder as Skylar. It’s as assured a piece of filmmaking as you’re likely to see, and an unsentimental, effective tacit reproach to the difficulty of accessing this procedure. It would also be almost unbearably sad if not for the movie’s emotional center: Skylar’s unhesitating, unconditionally loving support of her friend.

Focus Features Movie Mondays—Focus Features, the studios behind Never Rarely Sometimes Always, is offering free live streams of some of their more notable features Mondays in April at 5 p.m. PST. The series starts on Monday, April 6 with Gosford Park, and continues with Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom on April 13; Mallrats on April 20; My Summer of Love on April 27. The Mallrats showing includes a live Watch Party with writer-director Kevin Smith. For details go to