Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Quick Movie Review: The Peanuts Movie (2015)


Growing up on Charles Schulz' Peanuts gang gave me somewhat high expectations for the new movie. Fans of the Peanuts have always loved the relatable characters and the warmth of the themes that resonate throughout each image. So if you're like me, I can guarantee that you won't be disappointed.

It's been 35 years since the last theatrical Peanuts film, Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (and Don't Come Back) hit theaters, and the first since Schultz' death back in 2000. But written by Schultz' son and grandson, it's easy to see that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. It keeps with the spirit of the original works while bringing a modern animation style. And thankfully, that's about the only contemporary feature that this film has. They do a great job of not modernizing the content too much. It doesn't succumb to fart jokes or modern frivolities. There are no cheap gimmicks to get laughter. It's just a classy adaptation of the classy source material we grew up loving--even featuring echoes of Vince Guaraldi's trademark compositions.

The Peanuts Movie revolves around everyone's favorite underdog, Charlie Brown, and his quest to get the new girl to think of him as more than a klutz. He wants her to see him as cool and popular. All the old characters are present here. There's a subplot that is shown interstitially throughout the film featuring Snoopy imagining that he's flying his plane, trying to rescue his love, Fifi, from the Red Baron.

It's a simple love story, but that's what Peanuts does so well. They provide us with grandeur lessons through straightforward means. In this case Charlie Brown learns about confidence, being true to himself, and perseverance--lessons that can have just as much impact on the adults watching as it does on their children.

What the movie does best is provide so much depth to Charlie Brown's character without straying away from the already established depth that we've known him to have throughout the years. It doesn't try to reinvent the characters for a modern world--it appropriately fits this storyarc into the Peanuts canon without disrupting it. 

The only time the film slows down is when the Snoopy storyline comes to a close and finishes with a somewhat lengthy finale. The subplot is actually a fun addition to the movie, since each segment only lasts about 45 seconds, but the climax of it all runs for about 4 minutes and slightly takes away from the momentum of the film.

However, this is only a minor hiccup in an otherwise fantastic film.

The Peanuts Movie truly has an old soul as far as movies go--especially of the family variety. It proves, once again, the timelessness of Schultz' beloved characters.


Twizard Rating: 95

Quick Movie Review: Bridge of Spies (2015)





What's Spielberg without war? He continues pushing out film after film involving some war story and somehow we can never get tired of it. We never feel like he's beating a dead horse. It's because the man encapsulates the classic ideals of cinema, and one of the last of his kind to do so.

Spielberg's way of directing is the kind that invites you to come aboard, but never forces you to. He doesn't beg for your attention--you just can't help but give it to him--sometimes without even realizing.

Bridge of Spies is a story about espionage, human rights, societal opinion, understanding your enemy, and American pride all wrapped up into one. It's at its very best when themes conflict and contradict with one another--which happens all throughout.

Taking place in New York in the 1950s during the Cold War, it stars Tom Hanks as James B. Donovan, an insurance lawyer chosen to represent captured Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance). Obviously, Donovan becomes one of America's most hated men, meanwhile developing a friendship with Abel and truly understanding his life and choices. Then tables are turned as now the Soviets have captured one of our own spies and Donovan must use Abel as leverage to trade back what is ours.

Bridge of Spies constantly reminds us that at our worst we are still better than the Soviet Union. It acts as a good reminder of our humanity, even during the times that are most bereft of it. Perhaps it even satirizes our willingness to change our minds. While our viewpoints may be skewed at times by the media or even the government, it reminds us that we never quite know the whole story--although we're wholly convinced that we do at times.

The first third takes place in America--presumably on purpose. It's a little darker than many other period pieces may depict it as--say even this year's The Man from U.N.C.L.E.--obviously a very specific perspective of the era. Then the last chunk of the film features the most depraved East Berlin. But the thing is, here we don't see it as any exaggeration. It's exactly how we've always envisioned it during that time. That's how it was--glum and depressing--another reminder.

Spielberg uses juxtaposition to its finest potential, transitioning between scenes of Americans and Soviets--an American spy going to sleep in his cell after being tortured by Soviet soldiers cuts to Abel, the most hated man in America, being woken up respectfully by American prison guards.

I will say, however, that there is something missing with the absence of a John Williams score in the film, but Thomas Newman's style fits nicely with the project adding the right amounts of emotion.

The film adequately captures the misinformed fears of the early Cold War and uses them to get its points across. It's last reminder, and perhaps its strongest, is that you never know the whole story. When you stop thinking independently you begin allowing others to control you--much like the Soviets tried doing. It's crazy. Our fear was inadvertently becoming what it so desperately tried to avoid.

How can you not love Spielberg? He brings magic back into the movies when we feel, at times, it may be gone forever. Bridge of Spies is superb--one of the year's best. This is why I go to the movies.

Twizard Rating: 100

Monday, November 2, 2015

Quick Movie Review: Don't Look Under the Bed (1999)





I've detailed in previous posts my feelings about the current state of children's television. And while the Disney Channel is the main culprit, I do long for 1999 again when Disney Channel Original Movies (DCOMs) were at their peak. Sure, they were cheesy and full of head-scratching character decisions, but we loved them anyway because the protagonists were just like us.

Don't Look Under the Bed follows Frances (Erin Chambers), a teenage girl living in a small town where, one day, strange things start happening. Dogs are on the roof, the high school's pool is filled with gelatin, and the letter "B" is spray painted all over town. Everyone is convinced that it's Frances who's pulling these pranks, but she befriends Larry Houdini (Ty Hodges)--an imaginary person who only she can see--who informs her that the Boogeyman is framing her. So she tries to figure out why he seems to have a bone to pick with her.

The film is full of twists and has some fun scenes that actually hold up fairly well considering the age of the movie and the target demographic.

Not that it's not without a little schmaltz, but believe it or not, compared to its counterparts, Don't Look Under the Bed isn't terribly cloying at all--possibly due to the fact that it's directed by Kenneth Johnson--the creator of The Bionic Woman and The Incredible Hulk TV series. Whatever the reason, if you saw this movie as a child, chances are it stuck with you.

It's Disney Channel's only PG-rated DCOM--and for a good reason. The scenes with the Boogeyman are seriously creepy. They still haunt me to this day. However, they never make the film lose its youthful essence. Rather, it may be more appealing since it fails to insult its young audience. There's a good enough balance between the macabre and the jovial to maintain its fun nature.

The issues it deals with may not be the deepest, but it's no Dude, Where's My Car either. The themes include deep-rooted denial and growing up too fast. It gets its point across without feeling overly preachy. And even older audiences will find the intrinsic emotions relatable and may cause them to conjure up fond memories of their own childhood--much in a Toy Story type of way.

In the last 15 minutes, the characters venture into Boogeyland, which is a real highlight to this movie. The world that the filmmakers create is so spooky and detailed that we feel like we're there too. We wait throughout the whole story to find out where the Boogeyman goes when he's not creating chaos, and the answer definitely lives up to our expectations.

The film's biggest pitfall is its lead actress. She's alright when she's just conversing with other characters, but as soon as she shows any kind of grand emotion, her conviction is nowhere to be found.

But the plot holes are scarce and mostly towards the beginning, so we grant it forgiveness during its final act--which may the single greatest ending to any DCOM. In Don't Look Under the Bed the characters have a lot to lose, and while so many others of its kind take the easy way out, this one really works for it.

Twizard Rating: 84