The Peanuts Movie

'The Peanuts Movie' movie poster

Release: Friday, November 6, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Bryan Shulz; Craig Shulz; Cornelius Uliano

Directed by: Steve Martino

In The Peanuts Movie, Charlie Brown is still (mostly) the center of attention and adults remain out of sight, except for the few who lend their voices to the tune of a muffled, and possibly mangled, kazoo.

Here is a movie of extraordinarily simple pleasures, about a boy who crushes hard on the new redheaded girl at school and whose dog writes a compelling bit of fiction that details his most recent clash with the Red Barron. There is absolutely nothing here that you haven’t seen before, be it in previous incarnations of ‘Peanuts’ in celluloid form, in the comic strip or in any middling bit of entertainment aimed towards children 6-12. Surprisingly, in the comfortable and safe confines of unremarkable direction familiarity does not breed contempt. It breeds deep pangs of nostalgia.

I can’t even remember the last time I watched or so much as looked at anything ‘Peanuts’-related. It has to be at least a decade since, not counting, of course, the teaser posters that were unveiled last year for this film. Three years ago this project was announced, but I don’t know where I was. Sleeping on top of a doghouse, perhaps? (I have always considered myself more of a Snoopy than a Charlie Brown.) This November marks the 65th anniversary of the comic strip’s debut, and the 50th anniversary since the first TV movie, A Charlie Brown Christmas. The strip itself ran for half a century, debuting in 1950 and ending in 2000. Of course, its beloved creator, Charles M. Shulz, passed away the day before his final Sunday strip ran in the papers.

As any ‘Peanuts’ fan knows the strip wasn’t destined for continuation as the Shulz family felt strongly about Charles remaining its first and only drawer. That might partially explain why we don’t get anything even close to original in The Peanuts Movie, a product now 15 years removed from the end of a significant era. Shulz’s son Craig and grandson Bryan drafted a production that honors the legacy without stepping on any hand-drawn toes.

The formula requires introducing Charlie Brown (voiced by Noah Schnapp) to a “new” obstacle. Yes, he’s still having major issues with getting his kite to fly but when a new girl moves in next door, he finds himself with bigger fish to fry. Smitten by The Redheaded Girl, he remains paralyzed with fear when it comes to walking up to her and introducing himself. The conflict manifests as an amalgam of many smaller social anxieties good old Chuck has had in the past, be it overcoming Lucy’s bullying or avoiding Peppermint Patty’s advances: “You kind of like me, don’t you Chuck?” Charlie’s often been involved in love drama and that’s not the only thing that hasn’t changed here.

In the movie he must overcome his pessimism, and prove himself worthy of The Redheaded Girl’s affections.

In the movie he struggles, as he always has, to understand his place in the bigger picture when he aces a test and suddenly becomes popular.

In the movie he muffs the punt on the football, because Lucy is still a jerk.

The movie isn’t all about Charlie Brown, though. You guessed correctly. Snoopy, along with his trusted ally Woodstock (both of whom are given life thanks to archived recordings of Bill Melendez), dreams — writes, even — of the moment he rescues his own damsel in distress in the form of an exciting aerial adventure. The Red Barron, curse him, will stop at nothing to ensure Snoopy doesn’t succeed. A subplot as whimsical as it is perfunctory.

Here’s a production that manages to extend the legacy without expanding much of its horizon. It’s a win-win: we reap the benefits of being reunited with some of our favorite comic strip characters; the Shulz family will undoubtedly reap the financial benefits of the big screen treatment.

Charlie, Snoopy and Woodstock Got Talent

Recommendation: Good grief this is a nostalgic movie. Fans of ‘Peanuts’ should and probably will see this regardless of anything I write. I think it’s kind of telling that this is the first G-rated film I have reviewed on the blog. I just couldn’t resist diving back into this world, even if it is exactly the same as when I last left it.

Rated: G

Running Time: 88 mins.

Quoted: “You say you’ll hold it, but what you really mean is you’ll pull it away and I’ll land flat on my back and I’ll kill myself.” 

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

Goosebumps

Release: Friday, October 16, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Darren Lemke; Scott Alexander; Larry Karaszewski

Directed by: Rob Letterman

If anyone asked me what got me into writing, I would tell them it was R.L. Stine. I wanted to be like him so much I came up with my own ghost stories as a kid; I even started mimicking the artwork that made his books unique . . .

.  . . and so, in 2015, they decided to make a Goosebumps movie. Not that I asked for it, or expected it to come now, some 20 years removed from the peak of Stine’s popularity (to give that time frame some context, this was the era of the flat-top haircut, Walkmans and quality children’s programming on Nickelodeon).

But of course it would happen — how could a book series that became so endeared to millions of impressionable pre-pubescent minds not get picked up by a studio and be given a new lease on life? How is Goosebumps anything other than an inevitability? The good news is that the film is actually worth seeing; this is as good as inevitable gets. Forget the fact you and Jack Black may not get along; forget your inner child wanting to rebel against the cinematic treatment, for you’d be lying to yourself that the only place Stine’s monstrous creations should live are in the pages of the books or in your memory. Getting to see the Abominable Snowman on screen is a kind of privilege. Better yet, seeing (and hearing) Slappy the dummy physically make threats is believing.

Everyone knows the series wasn’t exactly substantive nor inventive. Categorically predictable and breezy reads, they were defined more by the creatures that inhabited the pages, many a variation on ghostlike presences but sometimes branching out to include more obscure objects — who remembers ‘Why I’m Afraid of Bees’ or ‘The Cuckoo Clock of Doom?’ That their intellectual value was the equivalent of nutrient-deprived cereals like Captain Crunch’s Oops All Berries didn’t mean they were devoid of value completely, and on the basis of sheer volume — the original series which lasted from ’92 to ’97 included 62 titles — you couldn’t find many more book series geared towards children that were quite so exhaustive. Their longevity is owed to the fact Stine never tried to do anything fancy with them. The set-up was simple: stage a beginning, establish a middle section and cap it off with a twist ending.

Naturally, a film dealing with these very creatures and the author who dreamed them up, if it had any interest in reconnecting with a by-now fully-grown and steadily more jaded audience, would find formulaic storytelling appealing. What Rob Letterman has come up with is safe, harmless, occasionally eye-roll-worthy. What it’s not is scary. More importantly, it’s not a disaster.

Zach (Dylan Minnette) and his mom (the increasingly busy Amy Ryan) have just moved to Nowheresville, Delaware (the town is actually called Madison, but it’s the same thing) after the passing of Zach’s father. Zach makes a friend almost immediately in his next door neighbor, Hannah (Odeya Rush), but is just as quickly intimidated by her creepy father, who introduces himself as Mr. Shivers (Jack Black) — but we all know that’s a front. Even the 11-year-olds in attendance can see through that, what with his exceedingly thick wire-framed glasses and generally strange demeanor. The new-kid-in-town premise is, yes, exceedingly dull, particularly when it feels obliged to deal in a few fairly annoying characters who help expand the environment beyond Zach’s new home.

So far, so ‘Goosebumps.’ The stories never compelled on the virtues of their human characters. It’s not until Zach invades Hannah’s home (the fine for breaking and entering doesn’t faze this kid) upon hearing screams coming from her room that he discovers a small library filled with old ‘Goosebumps’ manuscripts. When he opens up a book, the fun begins. A monster is unleashed upon them and it’s up to Hannah to try and contain the chaos before her possibly psycho-father finds out. Unfortunately it’s not just the one creature they have to worry about. Soon every book starts unleashing their contents upon the small community and wreaking all kinds of PG-rated havoc, a development that’s better left unspoiled.

It’s up to Zach, his newfound friend Champ (Ryan Lee, who falls decidedly into the ‘fairly annoying’ category), Hannah and the loner author himself to save Madison from being overrun by a combination of lawn gnomes, giant mutant praying mantises and monster blood. It helps to think of Goosebumps as a ‘Best of’ Stine’s monstrous creations; few creatures truly stand out (save for everyone’s favorite talking dummy, voiced by Black) but what it lacks in quality it compensates in quantity. Once again mirroring its source material, the film benefits from sheer volume of creative CGI and lavish costume design rather than going into detail on any one thing.

It should go without saying such genericness will hardly compel viewers to champion its award potential. In fact, if you’re expecting quality of any kind outside of how strongly the film tugs on the strings of nostalgia, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Don’t expect any goosebumps to form on your skin come the frantic, rushed conclusion.

Recommendation: Very much a pleasant surprise in terms of the memories it brings back and the entertainment value provided by a game cast, Goosebumps‘ cinematic presentation won’t linger very long in the mind, but luckily enough it won’t have to as a sequel is all but a sure thing. With any luck that will also become a fun trip down memory lane. Anyone who read at least a few of these books should find this a perfectly acceptable rental night at home with the kids. 

Rated: PG

Running Time: 103 mins

Quoted: “All the monsters I’ve ever created are locked inside these books. But when they open . . . “

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

TBT: Flubber (1997)

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As we close out the first month of TBT’s for the year 2015 here, I’d just like to remind everyone not to panic. Although it seems like the calendar is already rushing by, uh. . . well, actually. Yeah it is just rushing by. I had a thought there for a second and lost it. This is getting a bit silly, that I’ve already done one month’s worth of these things (and it’s been a long month too — there were five Thursdays this month). At the same time, we are getting that much further away from the terrible day wherein our beloved Robin Williams left us. I’ve never been able to stop thinking about that day really. So I thought it was high time we revisit one of his lesser known, perhaps lesser-quality roles in 

Today’s food for thought: Flubber.

flubber

Bouncing off the walls since: November 26, 1997

[VHS]

It may not be a good movie, much less a remake of The Absent-Minded Professor, but who doesn’t remember flubber — either the title or the namesake green, gooey stretchy stuff? This is one of those movies that just reeks of ’90s cheese, but personally that’s a scent I enjoy. Robin Williams may be one of the only good things about this flick about a college professor attempting to save the local college by raising money through his science experiments, but that was really enough for me as a kid.

Flubber helped pass the time on so many car trips my family used to take out West. All five of us Littles schlocked into the family SUV, a travel-sized TV shoved in between the driver’s seat and passenger’s seat aimed back at three youngsters struggling to not get on each other’s last nerve over the course of a 20-plus hour journey. Ah yes, these were the days. For 28-year-old me, Flubber represents innocence if nothing else. This ain’t a film built to withstand even the most generous of criticism. It’s poorly written, hastily executed and mired in virtually every cliche you can attach flying rubber to.

But it’s a film that guards some oh-so-precious memories I have swimming around in the old noggin. Memories of how when we finally broke out into the open plains of the sprawling mid-west just beyond St. Louis, how the sun would take forever to set over the horizon; memories of how tight-knit a family unit can be for some time before the inevitable adolescent stages set in and slowly but surely pull the dynamic into an entirely new direction. I’m still very much close with my brother, my sister and my mom and dad. But we don’t take these car trips anymore. We’ve sort of grown out of them. Just like when (or if) I choose to go back and watch Flubber now, I’ll notice how much my critical mind will not allow me to just enjoy the film for what it presents: good-natured, high-spirited mischief.

Robin Williams is Professor Philip Brainard, a well-meaning man but whose dedication to science overshadows pretty much everything else in his life. He has attempted to marry his sweetheart Sara (Marcia Gay Harden) on a couple of occasions but each time something has come up. On the eve of the third go-around, Philip discovers an unusual compound that contains a ridiculous amount of energy that only increases as it interacts with other objects; he sets his ‘It’s Time to Get Married Finally’ alarm but sets it for the wrong time. Sara understandably has had enough. Enter a typically smarmy Christopher McDonald as Philip’s former partner, Wilson Croft, who has his heart set on making up for Philip’s indiscretions with his (former) lover as well as financially benefitting from Philip’s hard work.

The fictitious Medfield College, where Sara is college president, is in trouble if this new energy source fails to demonstrate its practical applications. A majority of the film is spent watching professor attempt to simply keep flubber in control. He thwarts home invaders in the process of discovering that his creation actually has personality and energy in overwhelming abundance. I’m sure if I go back and watch now, I’d be struck by the uncanny resemblance between the energetic green goo and Williams’ off-screen persona. As he slowly starts mastering how to control flubber, he starts to really have some fun. He sticks it to the shoes of college basketball players to make them jump higher and run faster (and the team of course ends up winning the game), and he liberally applies it to a number of everyday objects including a golf ball, a basketball and his car.

It has been years since I’ve last experienced the whiz-bang-pop of Les Mayfield’s creation, but I still fondly remember Professor Brainard’s curious floating robot, Weebo (voiced by Jodi Benson). If it wasn’t Williams’ appropriately whacked-out hairdo or his fumbling professor that’s memorable, then surely it’s the little yellow, round droid that leaves an impression. Dear Weebo, the voice of reason and optimism in times of hardship and heartbreak, you were a strange but wonderful invention of this film. It was very sad indeed watching you get struck down by a bad guy with a baseball bat. This is the kind of movie that inspires the child in me to question what kind of trouble I would get into if I had some flubber of my very own. What kind of good would I be able to do with it, if any? Would I use it for personal gain, or would I share my creation with others? Would I save that local college so I could rekindle my love with someone whom I’ve had great difficulty in expressing my true feelings for? Would I use it for a specific purpose, i.e. kicking Christopher McDonald’s ass?

Flubber is not a memorable film if you’re just considering the story. But the title of the movie alone is fun to play around with. Is it a noun, a verb, an adjective? Is it alive or just a chemical/CGI creation of Disney? Most importantly: what happens when you accidentally ingest the stuff . . . . would it taste good?

Not quite like Silly Putty. This has got more . . . um, spunk.

Not quite like Silly Putty. This has got more . . . um, spunk.

2-5Recommendation: This modern spin on the 1961 Robert Stevenson film about a professor who discovers an anti-gravity substance is perhaps not the best use of Robin Williams’ talents but it features him in a lovable enough capacity. A few elements on the periphery help make this one a fun outing for youngsters — i.e. the titular green goo and Professor Brainard’s robotic helpers. It is highly slapstick, though and could have benefitted from stronger writing. If you haven’t ever seen this, I’d be willing to recommend checking it out if you have kids.

Rated: PG

Running Time: 93 mins.

TBTrivia: According to Wil Wheaton, in the scenes that he was in with Robin Williams, they would film a take the way it was supposed to be filmed. After that take, Williams would often want to improvise scenes differently than the script, just for fun. Those scenes were not added to the actual film, but there were enough scenes to make an entirely different movie.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: Remember Blockbuster? Yeah, it’s still around

new-tbt-logo

Today’s Throwback post is just a wee bit different. Instead of ranting/raving about a movie from yesteryear, I’d like to go back and revisit some of the old avenues of moviegoing, during a time when I didn’t go to the theater as often (primarily because I was in school. . . well that, and I probably couldn’t get into most movies that were any good at the time because I was underage).

The thought dawned on me a little while ago about how little I so much as even think about renting movies from places like Blockbuster and whatever chains are still around in “fierce” competition with it. I still don’t have a Netflix account, but I’ll be looking to get one soon so renting films will be THAT much more convenient. With that said, I want to go back to a time and place where all we had were the stores to go buy/rent/check out stuff that’s just come out on DVD/VHS. In the process, I’m probably going to be very nostalgic and reminisce quite a lot — by definition that’s what this thread is all about — so I apologize if this becomes too emotional for anyone. . . .

Blockbuster-Video-to-Loose-300-Stores-In-The-Coming-Weeks

Opened: October, 1985 (Dallas, TX)

[Store]

Remember walking into that immensely packed store full of shelves that were cluttered with DVD, VHS and video game titles and packages? The smell of all that collective plastic and — yes, the carpets — are forever seared into my nose’s memory. It was the same feeling I believe people get when they enter old libraries — being amongst a collection of creations, some made for informative purposes, some for simple, pure escapism. Blockbuster is hardly as big as a library, but it may as well be the library of home video. The blue-and-yellow partially-ripped ticket graphic that comprised the company logo is one of my favorite logos from back in the day. It still is today, but unfortunately I see fewer and fewer of these signs. This is due to a couple of things changing: chiefly, the way we consume. The advent of Netflix, Redbox and other similarly convenient avenues through which we rent and purchase our movies — hello, streaming — make going to Blockbuster seem like you’re going out of your way to get a movie.

Secondly, these stores have been closing left and right. In 2004, Blockbuster hit its peak with over 9,000 stores in the United States. As of this year, that number is down to 500. I’m sure Knoxville, TN is hardly an exception either. There is still one in Farragut, where I grew up, and I think a few more are dotted around the area but man is it easy to forget that they are there now. While they still have over 2,500 stores worldwide, they no longer dominate the block as they once did. I think I’ve bought more movies from Wal-Mart than I have ever rented anything from Blockbuster. (Sorry, buddy. It’s true.)

blockbuster_prepares_to_file_chapter_11_declare_bankruptcy

Even despite the store’s prolonged, if not inevitable, decrease in popularity, Blockbuster in the 1990s could have been the last bastion of the “classic family rental experience” (if there is such a thing). I think of it as the kindergarten of moviegoing from which I’d go on to realize how much I love film as a medium and a form of entertainment. When a competing chain (Hollywood Video) was constructed across the street, it got no love from the Little family. We continued to make our trips to the land of blue-and-yellow. (I think that chain is now defunct, as it was bought out in 2005 by Movie Gallery.) Aside from the obvious convenience of being able to order/rent movies online now and at good old Redbox, perhaps no experience can rival what it was like going into a Blockbuster and rummaging around through their seemingly endless shelves, searching for the perfect late-night entertainment (late night at the time meaning, like, 9 or 10 p.m.) The checking out process would rarely finish up without me insisting on buying some candy at the counter to go with it.

Alas, those days are long gone. Despite my fond memories of Blockbuster visits, it’s really now that is the time to rent — rent cheaply and rent a lot! If you’re going to Redbox, you may as well pick up a couple of titles since it’s all of $1.29 (I am irked by the fact that prices continue to go up on these, it used to be $1.09) per day that you keep hold of them. Netflix and other similar online/game console features allow you even more control over how much and what you want to watch on any given evening. If you watch movies on Netflix online, it’s even more portable. Take some flicks to go with you on that long drive back home. Flixter is a convenient new thing I’ve gotten into being an active visitor on Rotten Tomatoes. I’ve earned a few free downloads including The Perfect Storm, The Iron Giant, and Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.

I’m certainly not unhappy about the new options we have today. It IS incredibly convenient with the number of different ways you can obtain. . . stuff, and with any luck it can be less expensive at times as well. I know Netflix continues to raise their monthly rates, and the price on Redbox dailies have increased by two dimes but hey, who’s counting. It’s still damn affordable; moreso than the $12 or $15 at the box office for crying out loud. And the best news of all is that stores like Blockbuster Home Video are still around for you to pop in every once in a while to see what you may have missed in theaters, or to see if there’s something random out there you might be bold enough to try without knowing anything about beforehand. This may be one more edge these stores might still have over Redbox et al: diversity. I can’t say for sure, but I know that with each trip I take to Redbox (granted, I go A LOT) the selections seem to be more limited each time. They only seem to hold about 200 or so titles, and I guarantee the blue-and-yellow holds far more than that. There’s probably that many in the horror section alone.

If ever you’re feeling in the mood for browsing a physical library of DVDs, video games and other stuff, the doors to Blockbuster will be wide open — mainly because there aren’t too many folks traveling through them! But there’s no doubt the game has changed for these companies. It’s tough to imagine it getting any easier for them, either.

fuckbloster

But hey, what about you and your relationship with Blockbuster —

What/how was your first Blockbuster experience? When’s the last time you went, and do you remember what you rented? 

How many stores are left where you live? Do you go there at all? 

Do you use other outlets such as Netflix and Redbox? How often do you go out to see movies at the theaters, knowing there’s a cheaper option — renting at a later date? 


All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.wikipedia.org; http://www.salon.com; http://www.flickr.com