Saturday, November 7, 2015

The Peanuts Movie

The first teaser trailer for The Peanuts Movie came out in March 2014 and the movie was originally scheduled to be released in January 2015, but somehow the release date got pushed back.  Here it is almost the end of 2015 and the movie is finally being released.  It was worth the wait.  I can't imagine a better way to bring Peanuts to the big screen.

The Little Red Headed Girl moves to town, and for Charlie Brown it is love at first sight.  He wants to impress her by figuring out how not to be such a loser.

The comic strip Peanuts is a bit dated, but The Peanuts Movie does three things really well:  It makes the transition to 3D while brilliantly maintaining some of the classic comic strip 2D look.  It appeals to older people like me who are nostalgic for Peanuts while also being fun (and funny) for the kids.  The kids in the audience were laughing at the slapstick, but so were the adults.  Finally, the movie pays homage to all the classic Peanuts material while being fresh enough for the 21st century. 

There is slightly too much emphasis on Snoopy's fantasy adventures, but only slightly.  The theme of the movie is Dream Big.

Rating:  * * * 1/2

The full trailer is here.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Wages of Fear

In this highly acclaimed 1953 French film, an American oil company in Mexico hires four down on their luck drifters to drive a cargo of nitroglycerin over a dangerous mountain.  The men are so desperate that they are willing to risk getting killed for a $2,000 paycheck.  The movie portrays how fear can drive men to madness.

The movie stars the popular French actor Yves Montand.

If you skip the first 45 minutes of the movie then you will miss next to nothing.  The problem with the film is that it has a long boring setup.  If you start watching 45 minutes into it then you will see a pretty good movie.

Pawn Sacrifice

Pawn Sacrifice is the "based upon a true story" biography of Bobby Fischer from a young age up to his 1972 World Chess Championship match with Boris Spassky.  For me the movie was a different take on Fischer.  We know that sometime after his 1972 match that Bobby went off the deep end with his paranoia, but the movie portrays the process starting well before then.  It is hard to know for sure how accurate the movie is, but according to things I have read it is mostly accurate.

Which is interesting, because something the movie barely touches on is how brilliant Fischer was.  Prior to his 1972 match with Spassky, he was competing with some of the best people who ever lived and beating them easily.  After a bad start in the 1972 match, Fischer had little difficulty beating Spassky, even though Spassky was the world champion and one of the greatest players ever.  Prior to this match, Fischer had never beaten Spassky.  This is because Fischer hit his peak in the 1971 to 1972 time period.

My favorite Fischer quote is, "I don't believe in psychology.  I believe in good moves."

I like how the movie touches on Fischer's childhood and the Cold War drama that was being played out in the 1972 match between the American Fischer, and the Soviet Spassky.

I didn't think that Tobey MaGuire could play Fischer.  For one thing, he is much shorter.  But he seems to nail it.  It is a great performance.  He doesn't quite have the voice right, nor the Brooklyn accent, but his portrayal of Fischer is very good.

I see some similarity between Fischer and Steve Jobs.  Both were brilliant self centered men who often lashed out at others.  Jobs was probably way more outgoing and the saner of the two men.

Like the Steve Jobs movie, Pawn Sacrifice focusses heavily on conversations between the characters.

For chess players:  * * * .5
For everybody else:  * * *

If you want to see the best documentary about Fischer, rent Bobby Fischer Against The World.

Les Misérables

Les Misérables is the most popular stage musical ever, having been seen by over 70 million people.

The events of the musical and film take place just prior to the second French Revolution and are based on the book by the same name.

The movie Les Misérables tries hard to be a beautiful epic musical and only succeeds at being beautiful.  The problem is that the music is not particularly memorable and star studded cast seems to have only average singing ability.  Even the most famous song, I Dreamed a Dream, is not as good as the Susan Boyle version.  The two and half hour movie feels too long for the story that is there.  Without the music it would be half as long.  There is enough good stuff in the movie to keep me interested, but not impressed.

Maybe the stage version is better.  I hope to see it someday.

Rating: * * *

Bridge of Spies

James Donovan was a lawyer who acted as the defense attorney for Soviet spy Rudolf Abel and later negotiated with the Soviet Union a prisoner exchange of Abel for downed U2 pilot Francis Gary Powers.

This movie is appealing as a history lesson in cold war politics.

The Martian

A manned mission to Mars has to be prematurely aborted when the crew is caught in a storm.  Astronaut Mark Watney is presumed dead and abandoned on the surface of Mars when the crew makes an emergency lift off.  However, Watney is not dead and must figure out how to survive on Mars until a rescue mission can be mounted.

The premise made me think of Robinson Crusoe on Mars.

There is a great deal in this movie that should be emotionally inspiring, like in The Right Stuff or Star Wars, but the movie keeps its emotions very low key.  When Watney stares in awe at the Martian landscape, we don't feel quite the same emotion that the character does, like for example how we felt when Luke Skywalker looked at the double sunset in Star Wars.  Maybe the movie just needs some John Williams music to inspire us.  Instead the film feels like a "procedural" movie where we follow the character step by step as he comes up with ingenious ways to survive.  In this respect, the movie does not seem that different from All is Lost.  Even the ending, which should have been an emotional triumph, is understated to the point of being anticlimactic.

I think that the film attempts to be a "hard" science fiction because it makes a big effort to be scientifically accurate.  It mostly succeeds, although there are areas where I question the scientific accuracy.  Would we really be able to hear sounds in the extremely thin Martian atmosphere?  It made no sense to me that they had to use a bomb on a spaceship to vent some air; couldn't they open a hatch?  Likewise, trying to poke a hole in space suit to give the astronaut some momentum would probably just make him spin.  It doesn't seem so believable to me that they would be able to rescue the astronaut because there are a great many things that could go wrong where any one of them would result in complete failure.

Some of the space walk scenes will seem familiar to those who have seen Gravity.

Strange how Matt Damon and Jessica Chastain were both in Interstellar.  This was nagging my brain a little as I watched the movie.

There is much in this movie to enjoy, but it also seems like a lost opportunity to make a better movie with more emotional impact.

Rating: * * * .5

The movie seems fond of using swear words in situations that don't really warrant it.  It is rated PG-13 for swear words and brief nudity.

P.S.  The first time I saw this film, I didn't think it was very emotionally moving, and that the film was a lost opportunity to stir our emotions.  On the second viewing the movie holds up pretty well.  The film is emotionally moving, but in a subtle way.