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The Shallows (2016)
Blake Lively Conquers Shark-Infested Waters
Brilliant shark movies are rare to come across nowadays. The first Jaws set the bar for this sub- genre (and perhaps the summer blockbuster, for that matter), but you can say that its legacy was somewhat tarnished by the sequels, especially the last two. Infamous schlock films like Shark Attack 3: Megalodon and Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus proved to be insultingly terrible. And even though contemporary movies like Sharknado and Deep Blue Sea are too unintentionally hilarious for us to hate, you have to admit that the shark movie sub-genre is ripe for a good representation during these times. Enter The Shallows, which was directed by Jaume Collet-Serra. In this film, Nancy (Blake Lively) goes on a surfing vacation to an island that is secluded, but has a significant memory tied to her late mother. As she catches a late wave, she gets attacked by a shark and left stranded on a rock in the middle of the ocean. Nancy has to use only her smarts and skills to find a way back to shore. The Shallows isn't just an excuse to show off lead actress Blake Lively in a bikini. It's a female-centered version of All Is Lost, the 2013 solo sea-survival movie featuring Robert Redford. While Blake Lively isn't the lone acting talent in the movie, she uses the solo time she has to command the screen with a passionate, intelligent performance, along with a small amount of help from a seagull called Steven Seagull (think of it as her own version of Cast Away's Wilson). In a role where she finally gets to shine, Blake gets to kick the ocean's butt and look pretty good doing it. It also helps that the film itself looks pretty good as well. The cinematography's vividly and colorfully alive, the digital effects puts the electronic devices to good use, displaying the surface screens of the cell phone apps and the stopwatch as pop-up projections, the action scenes come packed with intensity, and the script keeps a short, yet simple story going without any drifting. At a running time of 86 minutes, The Shallows is slim, trim, and to the point, resulting in possibly the best shark movie in over 40 years.
Ordinary World (2016)
By the way, the guy from Green Day is in a movie
Ordinary World stars Billie Joe Armstrong as a middle-aged divorced father approaching his 40th birthday and yearning for his early days as a punk rocker. It wasn't just the premise that drew me to this movie. It was also the fact that it was being played out by an actor whose day job is a punk rocker. And not just any punk rocker. Billie Joe Armstrong is the lead singer of the famous punk rock trio Green Day, which formed back in 1986 and broke into the music scene in 1994 with the album Dookie. I've been a Green Day fan since they put out "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)", and I've grown up listening to Dookie, American Idiot, and 21st Century Breakdown, which are some of my favorite albums ever. This year, Green Day has put out an album titled Revolution Radio, and it includes a track called "Ordinary World", which this movie not only features on the soundtrack, but also got named after. While "Ordinary World" is the best track off of Revolution Radio, this movie isn't quite on the same par as that song of the same name. It is a pretty solid movie, though. It's a nice, meaningful middle-aged story that comes from director Lee Kirk, but fits Billie Joe's perspective quite well. And although the story doesn't have a clear mission that our main character goes on, it's easy to understand what it's aiming for. Also, while Billie Joe Armstrong doesn't have a lot of acting experience, he does give a quite convincing performance. Putting into consideration the time he went to rehab during the band's 2012 trio release era that was as unstable and disastrous as the ¡Uno!, ¡Dos!, and ¡Tré! albums themselves, you can understand his character's thinking and feeling, and it definitely relates to his own life. It may not be a perfect film (not that it was trying to be one), but Ordinary World is a pleasantly harmless movie that serves as a good side-project from a famous punk rocker.
Recommendation: Any fans of Green Day
Bruce Willis's Other Bad Movie from 2015
Over a year and a half ago, I reviewed a Bruce Willis movie called Vice. Okay, it was less of a review and more of an annihilation. I not only said that it was the worst film of 2015, which earned that distinction in only the third week of the year, but I also called it the worst film of the 2010s thus far. I also said that it would be impossible for anyone to take that title of "the worst film of 2015" away from it. While no movie did that, despite Fantastic Four's valiant effort, at the end of the year, another Bruce Willis movie came out in the action thriller genre that also got a VOD release called Extraction. If you read my Vice review, one of my most mind-boggling discoveries that I brought up was how that movie had a 0% Tomatometer score and a 0% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes at the time of its release. Well, I am blown away by the fact that this ALSO got a 0% Tomatometer score on Rotten Tomatoes. And while Vice's Tomatometer score had gone up to 4% in the months that followed, this movie's Tomatometer score actually held up at the time that I'm giving it its own review.
Now, in my opinion, this is a better movie than Vice. But that's the only good news I have, because it's another Bruce Willis movie in the action thriller genre that only got a VOD release playing to the top-name actor's pedestrian-level abilities. I wish it were easy to leave it at that, but really, even this autopilot action thriller has a lot of baffling moments. From the dialogue to the acting, to the terrible effects, to the "Bingo"-level editing job, to the sexist behavior, to quite possibly one of the worst twists in film history, it's quite bizarre. And even by the standards of the action thriller formula, or even the Bruce Willis formula, it's quite unpleasant.
Where's The Tylenol?
National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation not only stands as one of the best Christmas movie staples around the holiday season, it's one of my all-time favorite movies. This is the third entry in the National Lampoon's Vacation franchise, and it follows the Griswold family setting up their house for the arrival of their relatives. Along the way, Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) encounters a few situations that hilariously go wrong. The comedy is inventively funny, as it takes some of the recurring jokes in the Vacation movies and refreshes them for the holiday theme. The acting talent is brilliant. Chevy Chase, Beverly D'Angelo, Randy Quaid, and Miriam Flynn all reprise their roles from the previous Vacation movies, Cape Fear's Juliette Lewis and The Big Bang Theory's Johnny Galecki step into the roles of Audrey and Rusty this time around, and there are supporting performances from Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Brian Doyle-Murray, Doris Roberts, and Mae Questel. Each performer does great in their roles, especially Randy Quaid as Cousin Eddie, who steals most of the scenes. And the writing is incredible, as it balances out the comedy with moments of Clark trying to realize the true meaning of Christmas. Christmas Vacation is one of 5 sequels in the National Lampoon's Vacation franchise, and it's easily the best one. It may not eclipse the first Vacation movie, but with its holiday theme, it stands on its own. It's a timeless classic that continues to hold up today, and it has managed to stand as one of the best Christmas movies, as well as one of the funniest movies of all-time.
Recommendation: The highest of recommendations
One of the Weakest Peanuts Specials
The fully-drawn figure of the Little Red-Haired Girl made its debut in 1977's It's Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown. Here, the Little Red-Haired Girl is the Homecoming Queen, and the football team is serving as her escorts. Linus explains to Charlie Brown that each escort must walk with her at the Homecoming Dance and give her a kiss on the cheek. Because Charlie Brown is on the football team, he realizes that he has to kiss the Little Red-Haired Girl. While this special is decent and it is a nice setup, it suffers from some big story blunders that viewers were able to point out when it first aired. It's Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown drew controversy from the fanbase over the Little Red-Haired Girl. In the comics and previous specials, the Little Red-Haired Girl was only mentioned, but never seen. Here, it turns out that the Little Red-Haired Girl not only has a fully-drawn figure, but also a first name (Heather). After already seeing The Peanuts Movie, the debut of her fully-drawn figure doesn't really bother me as it did to everyone else in 1977.
But that's not the real complaint that I have with this special. During the Homecoming game, despite the fact that Charlie Brown did make a few mistakes, it was Lucy that blew the game because she pulled the ball away from Charlie on not 1, not 2, not 3, BUT FOUR FIELD GOAL ATTEMPTS!!!!!!!! It was obvious that those field goals were very key for them. In fact, even Lucy herself told Charlie that she has no need to pull the ball away from him. So if you know that the game is on the line, and you know that you shouldn't do it, then DON'T DO IT!!!!! Sure, this football gag has provided funny moments in other times when they were just practicing for fun. They're not in that setup here, THEY'RE IN AN ACTUAL GAME! YOU HAVE TO KNOW BETTER! Then after the game, when everyone's at the Homecoming Dance, Lucy and the girls gang up on Charlie and blame him for the loss. I know it's part of your character to criticize him, BUT LUCY, LAST TIME I CHECKED, YOU PULLED THE BALL AWAY FROM HIM FOUR TIMES! OWN UP A LITTLE!
And here's another complaint that I have with this special. After Charlie Brown gives a kiss to the Little Red-Haired Girl, he has a dream sequence where he's flying through clouds and hearts, and then he wakes up in his bed. So, the Homecoming Dance, or even the game, was all a dream, right? WRONG! The next day, Linus told Charlie Brown that they lost the game by one point, AND THAT HE DID KISS THE LITTLE RED- HAIRED GIRL AT THE DANCE, AND THAT HE DANCED WITH HER AND EVERY OTHER GIRL THERE, AND THAT HE WAS THE LIFE OF THE PARTY! I JUST SAW HIM WAKE UP FROM A DREAM! HOW DOES THAT WORK?
Overall, I don't hate It's Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown, but I was very disappointed by it, and the Peanuts have done better than this.
Can a Peanuts Special Succeed and Fail at the Same Time?
It's Spring Training, Charlie Brown is another Peanuts special centered around baseball, as Charlie Brown and his team start up spring training in preparation for their first game of the new season. Even though it was produced in 1992 and was set to air on May 28th of that year on CBS, the network canceled the airing and became the first Peanuts special to not air on prime time. And 23 years later, you can see why. This special, which eventually got released it on video by Paramount in 1996 alongside Charlie Brown's All-Stars, doesn't have the animation or writing as strong as it was 30 years earlier. But the biggest thing that drags it down is the music. Unlike previous specials, which followed present-day setting, but always maintained the feel of the 50's and 60's (partially thanks to the Vince Guaraldi trio score), It's Spring Training, Charlie Brown is put off by a score completely drenched in the 90's. The composer for this special was Judy Munsen, and most of her composition contains electronic backgrounds that make it sound like a bad 90's Saturday morning cartoon. I understand that it is an animated special that came out in the 90's, but we're talking about a Peanuts special. It doesn't fit the overall tone at all, and given that it was on the shelf for 4 years, it sounds dated. But then, the music goes from bad to laughably bad. At the first game, the gang performs the Hokey Pokey (they can't afford the National Anthem?), and then Franklin comes in and inserts a rap song.
A RAP SONG! NO, REALLY! I'M DEAD SERIOUS!
I was laughing the entire time, just thinking about what it's all come to. Rap music exists in the Peanuts canon! It's hilariously dated like many other corny rap songs from the 90's. This performance is on par with Vanilla Ice's rap in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II.
So you can say that It's Spring Training, Charlie Brown feels like a typical 90's cartoon, in terms of animation, writing and scoring. And you may think I'm crazy, but it is worth a watch. The story and message still feels like a Peanuts cartoon, as the gang learns that they need to be motivated to achieve a goal, and they are able to finally win a game and earn jerseys. There are still comedic moments, both unintentionally and intentionally. And you definitely need to watch for the baseball rap. It's one of those things you need to see to believe.
A Fun Adventure, Even If It Pales In Comparison To The Peanuts' Best
Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown was the third feature film that starred the Peanuts gang. In this one, the gang goes off to summer camp, where they instantly run into trouble with a trio of ruthless bullies that continuously dominate the camp competitions with the dirtiest tricks in the book. As you may have guessed, the gang gets their rears handed to them early, and it all comes down to a river race that is the basis for the entire plot.
The first problem in the movie is that the bullies are written as the biggest one- dimensional tools on Earth. They have no other character outside the cocky jerks that say the same "We're #1!" trash talk in all their dialogue. I should also mention that they have no name for their gang. They don't even have names for themselves. Each bully character is literally credited as "Bully". That's how big of one-dimensional antagonists that we're dealing with. Another thing that bugged me in the writing was the girls. They form a democracy and take votes on everything. I understand that the Peanuts franchise has emphasized feminism several times with its characters and story lines, and this movie is trying to show that girls can be independent. But this democracy stuff?????? One of their votes was to decide on letting the girls stay inside the cabin for the night or having the boys sleep outside the cabin, which they found first on their own, and they don't even let the boys vote. That is something I'd expect Republicans to do.
So the writing is not as strong as the Peanuts' best work, based on those two things, as well as the repetition in dialogue and editing. But the rest of the stuff in there does hold up from my memories of seeing it as a kid. It still has a lot of plot structure, clever comedy, entertaining moments, neat animation, and valuable lessons that the Peanuts franchise is always best at.
A Boy Named Charlie Brown (1969)
The Peanuts' First Movie
With only one day until The Peanuts Movie comes out, I'm writing about the first big- screen adventure the Peanuts gang took for today's review: the 1969 animated feature, A Boy Named Charlie Brown. This is where the unfortunate characteristics of our hopeless protagonist, Charlie Brown, are on full display. The beginning features every unlucky situation he's ever used to. He can't fly a kite, he can't win a baseball game, and he can't kick a football. The one person that loves to mock him of his shortcomings, Lucy Van Pelt, suggests that he not necessary suffers from a lack of luck, but rather from a lack of confidence. Taking her advice into consideration, he ends up winning a class spelling bee, and the next thing he knows, he's traveling to New York to compete in a national spelling bee. The wonderful thing about Charlie Brown is that he resembles a lot of hopeless people with a lack of confidence out there, and I've definitely been in these similar situations many times. This makes A Boy Named Charlie Brown that more special, because on top of its colorful animation, funny writing, original sound effects, and charming soundtrack, its story aims to make our hero relatable to as many of us as possible and provide a little hope for us in the most downer situations.
A Timeless Halloween Special
Like the Charlie Brown Christmas special one year earlier, this special also centers itself around a national holiday. This time, it's Halloween. It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is one of my favorite TV specials ever, because it's a lot more comedic. You know how during some holidays, adults pass on to kids stories about these imaginary characters that give gifts to good kids (like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny), and they make them believe that those imaginary characters actually exist? Have your parents made you believe that there's a Great Pumpkin that gives toys to good kids every Halloween? No, they never did that. No one does that. That's not how Halloween works for kids. Every Halloween, kids dress themselves up in costumes, go around the neighborhood, and receive candy from their neighbors. Linus, on the other hand, made himself believe that there's a Great Pumpkin that gives toys to good kids every Halloween. So this special features him waiting out in a pumpkin patch for the Great Pumpkin. That's the thing that makes this a great special, because it sets him up for the hilarious outcome when the Great Pumpkin never appears. In the Peanuts universe, Halloween is the only day of the year where one of the kids is a bigger fool than Charlie Brown. And all he got is rocks.
Play It Again, Charlie Brown (1971)
An Almost Satirical Schroeder Cartoon
This one is a lot more centered around young piano prodigy, Schroeder. He spends a lot of time playing in the style of Beethoven, which attracts a few of his friends, especially Lucy. Since Schroeder has never returned the same feelings she has for him, Lucy tries to win him over by having him play at the PTA meeting. The catch is, he has to perform rock music in a band with Charlie Brown, Pigpen and Snoopy. Though the Peanuts rarely make pop culture references, this special has some clever commentary about musicians selling out in order to achieve wide recognition, and Schroeder decides to stick to his guns in the end. It's a lesson that still feels relevant with today's music industry.