Monday, November 9, 2015

Musings #2: Spectre, Casino Royale, Peanuts Movie, Scouts Guide

Sometimes in life we step up behind home plate, crouch down into catcher position, extend our hand prepared to catch cinema but instead a curveball confounds us. That's been me the past week or so but I have seen a few things amid my own personal narrative feature titled "My Life" so here's some shorthand thoughts. I'd never seen any of the Bond films starring Daniel Craig. Truth be told I've only seen a couple 007 films period. Not anticipating others would similarly be trying to get caught up in the days ahead of the release of Spectre I was only able to nab Casino Royale (Campbell, 2006) from my library. And I've got to say it's a hell of a lot of fun and pretty much nails the Bond mythos as I've come to imagine it. Exhilarating if not borderline preposterous action scenes, the splendor of delicious designer suits and gorgeous gowns, romantic spark, and purportedly the best damn spy stories around. I immediately scored it a 3.5 but have since revised that mark to a 4/5. I think I'd be hard-pressed to find a Bond picture I'll enjoy much more. It certainly doesn't hurt that I'm a big Eva Green admirer (ever since seeing her in Bertolucci's The Dreamers). Now Spectre (Mendes, 2015) on the other hand fell short of the promised Bond polish. It's got a fantastic opening sequence amid the Day of the Dead celebration in Mexico with thousands of extras and a helicopter whirling out of control and buildings exploding and for a few minutes I was immensely happy to be watching it on a gigantic screen to take in its explosive bombast. But (as the longest Bond film yet) this thing grinds down to just a tick above a slog. The romance with Léa Seydoux (who was quite remarkable in Blue Is the Warmest Color) is undercooked and I fear she was miscast in her role, and the lead villain, Christoph Waltz as Blofeld, does a mild variation on his usual screen persona and with such a bloated run-time you'd imagine they would have given him some more screen-time as his character is nearly an afterthought. I also revised my score on it starting at a 3 but now officially logged as a 2.5/5.

Last night I caught Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse (Landon, 2015). After unsuccessfully trying to see it twice previously (including Halloween night) due to forces beyond my control you may imagine I was miffed or disappointed but given its critical drubbing I was mostly apathetic. But having seen it I'm glad I did. Admittedly its aim is pretty narrow. If you're too young, the movie is far too vulgar, but if you're older than the target demographic (or just don't care for low-brow entertainment) you'll also likely care little for this. Tye Sheridan has been on my radar since he appeared in my all-time favorite film The Tree of Life as one of three young brothers, and has followed it up with roles in some more very good films like Mud and Joe (kudos to his agent) but he may wish this wasn't on his resume when he's trying to land work in a few years. I thought it dumb carefree fun, certainly not reinventing the zombie comedy or rising to the heights of that sub-genre's best efforts (like Return of the Living Dead which I discussed in my last post) but enjoyable nonetheless. If you've been yearning for a film that depicts a teen hanging precariously from a window by holding onto a zombie phallus pushed beyond its stretching point then your dreams have miraculously been answered. I'll give it 3/5.

Went with the family to see The Peanuts Movie (Martino, 2015) and loved it. I'm a big Peanuts fan and have a deep genuine love for the comic strips and animated TV specials. I had to do some child wrangling at times so am anxious to see it again a second time at home down the road and give it my full attention but upon first watch I'm quite happy with it. Minor concerns going into it (like the use of bland modern pop music) were relieved almost instantly. Kudos to Blue Sky Studios for bringing Schulz's creations to life in a vibrant way yet remaining true to the spirit and style of the original source material. It plays largely like a "Greatest Hits" of Peanuts moments which can both be nostalgically pleasurable for older viewers but also a fresh introduction for a younger generation. I had read awhile ago that Schulz nearing his death had some regret about never letting Charlie kick that football or kiss that little red-haired girl and while I don't want to necessarily reveal any pertinent plot points there are finally some moments of catharsis for 'ol Chuck that nearly made me emotional. It earns 4/5.

With Kung Fu Panda 3 coming in the months ahead I'm attempting to get caught up. I've only ever seen the original film so seeking out the sequel is in order. I did screen Kung Fu Panda: Secrets of the Furious Five (Hui, 2008) where panda Po (Jack Black) gets to instruct a group of bunny children on their first day of training and regales them with origin tales of the famed Furious Five. Albeit a smaller-scale production the animation was still very eye-popping and of the stories Po weaved my favorite was Mantis' which showed us how he was forced to finally learn patience after falling into a trap set by crocodile bandits. It's 2.5/5 stars. Lastly I screened What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown? (Melendez, 1983). This is an interesting Peanuts special as it serves as a travelogue through Europe as Charlie Brown and the gang toured some of sites from World War I & II. The simplicity and warmth of Peanuts' animation is retained and it was a joy to see Parisian streets and fields of red poppies in that style. We visit Omaha Beach, solider cemeteries, stop by Ypres, and Linus recites from the poem In Flanders Fields, but it never dips into jingoistic sentimentality and is ultimately a nice tribute in its own subtle way earning it 3/5.

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