Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Rapid Reviews: Spectre and The Peanuts Movie

*** Guest review courtesy of Reel True's Greg Rouleau

Sam Mendes’ first foray into the Bond franchise, Skyfall, drew comparisons to Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, with its dark and gritty take on a character with a once campy history, eliciting more emotion than laughs, and putting our hero and his allies in precarious scenarios at the hands of a psychopathic villain.  His follow-up to the hugely successful Skyfall removes some of the grim of the previous installment and sees Bond up to his old philandering ways, but making sure not to deprive us of the awe-inspiring action sequences we’ve grown accustomed to with the Daniel Craig series.  It’s worth noting that Craig is once again spectacular as 007, making the criticisms of his casting seem like a distant, foggy memory. 

At the start of Spectre, Bond finds himself in Mexico City celebrating the Day of the Dead as a guise for tracking down a nefarious criminal.  We learn his mission involved him going rogue without the permission of MI:6, but it’s a fruitful venture that leads Bond on the trail to discovering a criminal organization that ties together all of Bond’s previous foes.  At the head of the group known as Spectre, is the always compelling, Christoph Waltz.  After a great introduction to the villainous character Waltz portrays, we’re then left with one major head-scratcher, as he’s never seen again for what feels like an eternity.  In the meantime, an assassin, Mr. Hinx, who feels like Odd Job meets Bane, chases down Bond while he courts the lovely Madeleine Swann, all the while Ralph Fiennes’ M battles to keep the British Intelligence Agency alive.  By the time Waltz reappears the story has lost some major steam.  In the opening credits there’s a large group credited to writing the film, and one can easily assume having too many cooks in the kitchen led to an inconsistent story.  Spectre, in terms of tone, is more akin to the Mission: Impossible franchise, with a more breezy approach to the material, and although it’s an admirable effort by Mendes, it’s ultimately a step below of its predecessor.

Grade: B

As my childhood continues to renew itself with an inordinate amount of remakes and re-brandings, Steve Martino's The Peanuts Movie found its way into theaters this past weekend. Fans of the iconic Charlie Brown universe created by the masterful Charles M. Schulz should know that Martino's newest animated feature comes from the mind of Bryan Schulz, the creator's grandson. Long-lasting discussions occurred between the Schulz family and the film's studio, Twentieth Century Fox Animation, regarding the creative direction of the story prior to attaining the comic strip's rights, and it definitely shows.

The lovable accident-prone Charlie Brown returns to the big screen and we find him swooning over a pretty new redhead girl who moves into the neighborhood. As Charlie Brown makes multiple valiant attempts to capture her attention, as expected, unfortunate circumstances always seem to spoil his efforts. But with the help of his eclectic collection of friends and his loyal dog, Snoopy, perhaps Charlie Brown could actually win her over.

In the latest from the Schulz family, The Peanuts Movie does a fantastic job of staying loyal to its source material. With 2015 marking the 65th anniversary of the comic strip and the 50th of the TV special, A Charlie Brown Christmas, it's clear that authenticity was an essential part of the collaborative team's vision. But despite an enjoyable return to classic characters from my childhood, I was a bit disappointed that they refused to use hand-drawn animation. It should also be noted that, at nearly 90 minutes, the movie runs a little longer than necessary. Perhaps The Peanuts Movie  would have been better served as an hour-long made-for-TV event. However, all in all it was a commendable return for Charlie Brown and all of his friends.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

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