Other Natural Disasters

The Evening Star is the continuation of Terms of Endearment no one’s heard of. Sequels to Best Picture winning films aren’t very common, but author Larry McMurtry wrote many books in his Houston series. The Evening Star picks up where Aurora Greenway left off. Shirley MaClaine reprises her Oscar winning role and seems to be doing everything she can to hold the movie together. Unlike Terms of Endearment, The Evening Star was not praised by critics. I feel like the sequel tries too hard to recapture what worked in the first movie.

Aurora is once again dealing with family problems and her complicated love life. Emma’s children are grown up and just as troubled as she was. Tommy is not so surprisingly in jail, Teddy has a disrespectful son, and Melanie desperately wants to get away from her overprotective granny. Juliette Lewis has played rebellious characters like this before. Emma’s best friend Patsy is recast with a more meddlesome Miranda Richardson. Aurora is at odds with her, but maintains a small circle of friends that includes the General Hector and her maid Rosie.

The latter is also recast with Marion Ross at least deserving a Golden Globe nomination. Ben Johnson plays her neighbor/husband Arthur in his final film role after passing away. Jack Nicholson manages to steal the show despite being nothing more than a glorified cameo. Aurora’s primary romantic conquest is a creepy relationship between her and her counselor Jerry played by the much younger Bill Paxton. This time not one, but three characters die in an attempt to elicit the same emotional response. The Evening Star is a little burnt out.

The Evening Star

Aurora and Garrett look at the evening star

Preceded by: Terms of Endearment

Come to Terms

Terms of Endearment is a lot to come to terms with. It’s a human-interest story that was very common in the 80’s. The kind of story guaranteed to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Aside from its Oscar win, I never had too many expectations going into Terms of Endearment. I only knew it was a tearjerker, and that my manager strongly recommended it. Simpsons producer James L. Brooks directed, produced, and wrote the film himself. Winning three separate Oscars in the process. Terms of Endearment is based on a 1975 novel by Larry McMurtry. It chronicles the back and forth relationship between a mother and her daughter. I just don’t think it’s for me. Just about everyone is flawed and occasionally unlikeable.

The great Shirley MaClaine won Best Actress for her performance as the controlling Aurora, who maintains an obsessively close relationship with her daughter. Debra Winger was nominated for her performance as Emma, who deliberately marries a man her mother doesn’t approve of. Jeff Daniels got a serious career boost playing Emma’s neutral college professor husband Flap. Nearly 30 years of their lives go by with little warning. Emma and Flap have three kids, but each of them have affairs when life gets too tough. John Lithgow was nominated for his performance as Emma’s kind of pathetic lover Sam.

Aurora’s love life is just as complicated. She distances herself from Danny DeVito, but ends up falling for Jack Nicholson. Nicholson very much deserved his Best Supporting Actor win as Aurora’s overly confident, yet somehow charming former astronaut neighbor Garrett. I felt the most invested when he was on screen. Reality sets in when someone is diagnosed with a terminal illness and everyone has to come to terms with it. Although I was on the verge of tears, I guess I couldn’t connect as much as I could’ve. Even though it is a perfect catharsis for each character. Terms of Endearment is technically brilliant with a perfect cast, fine performances, and realistic characters dealing with realistic problems.

Terms of Endearment

Emma lays down with her mother Aurora

Followed by: The Evening Star

Bull in a China Shop

Ferdinand is loaded with bull stuff. I never read it, but the children’s book The Story of Ferdinand is as old as 1936. Ferdinand is a lovable gentle giant who’d rather smell flowers under a cork tree than bullfight. It’s a simple story with a simple lesson, but people have read more into it over the years. My earliest exposure to Ferdinand was in The Blind Side, but I have since watched the 1938 Disney short Ferdinand the Bull. Blue Sky Animation finally decided to make a feature film after their failure with Ice Age: Collision Course.

My disillusion with the studio made me skip the movie in theaters; only for Ferdinand to be nominated for Best Animated Feature. The computer animation is simply pleasant to look at. He’s not Spanish, but John Cena is perfect for the flower loving bull considering his experience in arenas. The basic plot of Ferdinand having a peaceful life before a bee makes him look mad is kept intact. There’s just a lot of padding like a little girl named Nina who raises him like a dog. The celebrity cast of colorful characters similarly makes the movie longer with cartoony antics.

There’s a calming goat with Kate McKinnon’s occasionally annoying voice, a tough cattle of potential bulls, overly flamboyant horse bullies, and a trio of comic relief technicolor hedgehogs named Una, Dos, and Cuarto (we don’t not speak of Tres). Though the funniest gag is the classic “Bull in a china shop.” Ferdinand is also set in modern day with all the dated pop culture references and songs you’d expect. The book’s climactic bullfight against matador El Primero feels big without having to sacrifice its flower smelling conclusion. Though it does feel like a disposable kids movie, Ferdinand has a lot of heart.

13. Ferdinand

Ferdinand smells flowers under a cork tree

Life’s a Witch

The Craft: Legacy isn’t as charming as it thinks it is. The original Craft gained a less than ironic cult following. As a Christian, I wouldn’t consider myself among them. Not that the original wasn’t well crafted for the kind of magical story it was trying to tell. So the idea of a remake sounded pointless for something that only came out in 1996. At least I thought it was a remake. Blumhouse only wants to make horror movies that are still connected to the original.

When the first trailer dropped out of nowhere, several scenes from the original were recreated. Specifically the “Light as a feather, stiff as a board” levitation and “We are the weirdos, mister” comeback. Until the trailer shows a clearly superimposed photo of original witch Nancy Downs. Fairuza Balk does play a part, but it’s clearly sequel bait. Since it was 2020, Legacy streamed exclusively on Amazon Prime with very little warning. If the original was a time capsule of the 90’s, then Legacy is a time capsule of the 2020’s (and not in a good way).

Director Zoe Lister-Jones fills it with everything annoying about modern teenagers. It doesn’t help that this coven of witches are obvious clones of the original. The lead outcast Lily is just another new kid in town. The difference is her stepfather and three stepbrothers who not so surprisingly end up being evil. The witches also cast a spell on a bully in order to make him more sensitive. The young cast feels very generic with David Duchovny and Michelle Monaghan being the only actors I recognized. The Craft: Legacy is only for weirdos.

The Craft Legacy

The sisterhood

Preceded by: The Craft

The Witching Hour

The Witches (2020) will never be half as disturbing as the original 1990 adaptation. This isn’t the first time a Roald Dahl book has been readapted. Since I didn’t grow up watching The Witches (1990), I can’t say I objected to the idea. Though I wasn’t expecting it so soon on HBO Max (thanks to the pandemic). Robert Zemeckis was attached to direct and screenwriter Guillermo del Toro continued to push for more dark children’s films. The Witches (2020) was also co-written by black-ish creator Kenya Barris.

This version of the story is now set in 60’s Alabama instead of 80’s England. The renamed Charlie and his grandma Agatha are both African American. The change doesn’t do much aside from adding in race relations. Plus somewhat distracting Chris Rock narration. Octavia Spencer is just as strong-willed as the original actress. They stay at a hotel now ran by Stanley Tucci. The titular witches loom over the hotel and have the bald heads, square feet, and hatred of children just like the original. The primary difference is their three finger claw hands that caused an unnecessary outcry among disabled individuals.

Anne Hathaway is a suitable Grand High Witch, but Anjelica Huston already set the bar really high. Hathaway is a little too cartoonish and nowhere near as grotesque with a simple toothy grin. The tone feels too safe and the CGI used on the mice isn’t as convincing as puppetry. Charlie and his fat friend Bruno are still turned into mice, but female mouse Daisy is added as they plan to take down the evil witches. Unlike the original, the book’s bittersweet ending is kept intact. The Witches (2020) doesn’t push many boundaries.

The Witches

The Grand High Witch

Remake of: The Witches (1990)

The Zombie War

World War Z is what happens when a zombie outbreak reaches a global scale. Zombie media was practically inescapable in the 2010’s. So I wasn’t exactly surprised when World War Z became the highest grossing zombie movie of all time. It’s both rated PG-13 and feels more like an action movie. I liked the movie alright, but I am curious to read the 2006 book World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. Apparently, World War Z is one of the most unfaithful book to movie adaptations of all time.

The book reads more like a United Nations report with interviews from survivors of the zombie war. While the movie doesn’t lose its geopolitical commentary, it’s not as overt as originally intended. Though there are still plenty of uncomfortable parallels to the modern day pandemic. Zombies seem to appear out of nowhere, but some countries already knew. These zombies are fast, resourceful, and multiple by the thousands. Box-office draw Brad Pitt is thrown into the action as a former UN agent with a family to protect.

With his wife and daughters safely in military custody, Gerry Lane stumbles from country to country searching for answers and a possible cure. The most intense set pieces are a horde of zombies scaling a wall in Jerusalem and an outbreak happening on a plane. It’s almost enough to make up for the anticlimactic ending. Although it is unique to have illness be the cure, several rewrites and production problems couldn’t pull it off. World War Z is more brainless action than intelligent thriller.

World War Z

Zombies scale a wall

Wild Night

Project X is the craziest party you’ll ever see. There’ve been plenty of wild high school parties in movies, but nothing comes close to this. The party is so out of control that Project X had to come with a warning. There’s no real point to the movie other than showing the most reckless behavior imaginable. Even though a lot of teenagers make bad decisions, it’s not always gonna be enjoyable to watch. I get why critics hated Project X, but I mostly saw it as brainless entertainment.

Tom is a promising student with a small circle of friends. Kirby is his only female friend who truly likes him. His nerdy friend J.B. is as likable as she is, but Costa is a movie best friend that no one in their right mind would actually hang out with. He’s the biggest foul mouthed misogynistic jerk in the movie (and that’s saying something). I think my favorite character is the mysterious loner behind the camera. Project X uses a found footage approach to make it seem more authentic. Most actors are unknown aside from a random appearance from Miles Teller.

Everything centers around the party in Pasadena. Tom’s parents leave for the week, a massive amount of invitations are sent out, neighbors are warned, drugs & alcohol are acquired, and security is hired. The party seems harmless at first, but then the music kicks in, girls get topless, the dog gets passed around, the house gets trashed, and a little person starts punching below the belt. It only gets worse when the cops are called and a maniac shows up with a flamethrower. Though it led to several imitators, Project X is not something to aspire to.

Project X

Tom’s party gets out of control

Good Grief

The Peanuts Movie is a love letter to the beloved franchise. Apart from the original Ice Age, The Peanuts Movie would easily be my favorite movie from Blue Sky Animation. Similar to the equally faithful Horton Hears a Who!, The Peanuts Movie managed to stay faithful to the original comic strips by Charles M. Schulz. It helps that his son and grandson personally developed the movie not long after he passed away. It’s refreshing to see a classic franchise adaptation that doesn’t throw in pop culture references, modern technology, or any unwanted new characters. The Peanuts Movie is rated G, because it doesn’t feel the need to degrad the source material with crude jokes or potty humor. While they couldn’t help but make it computer animated, Schulz’s hand drawn style is maintained in a clever way. My brother and I saw the movie in theaters with a big smile on our faces. Although they haven’t watched most Blue Sky movies, our parents were just as pleased to watch it.

The Peanuts Movie is pure nostalgia with a simple story that touches on almost every aspect of Peanuts history. Most of the movie takes place during wintertime in order to pay homage to A Charlie Brown Christmas. Charlie Brown tries to be a winner, but faces all of his biggest insecurities. Trying to fly a kite and failing at baseball happen early on, but attempting to kick a football is saved for a mid-credits scene. His biggest struggle is trying to get the Little Red-Haired Girl to notice him. It’s a sweet love story that finally gets her to speak and show her face. Fortunately the unseen adults are back to speaking through a trombone. The entire Peanuts gang has time to shine and show off their defining traits. Noah Schnapp captures Charlie Brown 1 year before making a name for himself on Stranger Things. Linus carries his blanket and always has something insightful to say. Lucy continues to put Charlie Brown down and give him unhelpful advice from her psychiatry stand.

Sally spends most of her time wanting to be a cowgirl. Peppermint Patty is the lazy tomboy she always is and Marcie is not too far behind as her smarter sidekick. Schroeder’s piano playing is given special treatment as part of the 20th Century Fox theme. Pig-Pen causes a mess wherever he goes and Franklin has a lot of screen time since he’s the only diverse character. Violet and Patty are also around in a supporting role. Equal attention is given to frequent scene stealer Snoopy and his buddy Woodstock. They have an entire subplot devoted to Snoopy writing about the World War I Flying Ace and his enemy the Red Baron. Snoopy’s love interest Fifi and his entire family are all part of it. The Peanuts Movie weaves together many classic storylines like a talent show, dance, or book report. Although Charlie Brown believes he’s a blockhead, it’s always heartwarming to see his friends root for him when he wins. Blue Sky is the only studio I know that can take a wonderful idea like The Peanuts Movie and turn it into a success.

11. The Peanuts Movie

The Peanuts celebrate Charlie Brown

You Blockhead!

Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (and Don’t Come Back!!) took the titular blockhead halfway round the world. Like Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown, I’ve seen the movie advertised many times on my Rugrats VHS tapes. It was the final Peanuts movie released in Charles M. Schulz’s lifetime. Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (and Don’t Come Back!!) is a personal story partly based on the creator’s life experience in France. Charlie Brown, Linus, Peppermint Patty, and Marcie travel to England and France for a foreign exchange program.

Charlie Brown deals with questions of who sent him a letter, Linus looks out for him, Peppermint Patty is overconfident as usual, and Marcie speaks enough French to get by. Meanwhile, Snoopy and Woodstock enjoy the finer parts of the country. Including a brief stay at Wimbledon. The animation is more cinematic and atmospheric than anything else in the franchise. The movies did evolve overtime, but the 80’s were a weird time for the Peanuts.

Even though adults are supposed to be unseen and unheard, several adults are both seen and heard. It wasn’t the first time, but it does make me a little uncomfortable. Peppermint Patty and Marcie stay with a friendly French boy, but Charlie Brown and Linus end up at an unfriendly Baron’s manor. I was at least happy to see Charlie Brown kissed by another little red-haired girl. Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (and Don’t Come Back!!) is a suitable conclusion.

4. Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (and Don't Come Back!!)

Snoopy drives the Peanuts

Preceded by: Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown

We’re Supposed to Be Having a Race

Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown is your basic camping movie. Even the Peanuts can’t get too insightful with a set up like this. Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown and its creator Charles M. Schulz are clearly just trying to have fun. I’ve known about the movie for a long time thanks to an add for Paramount home video that I constantly saw on my Rugrats VHS tapes. Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown feels even bigger than Snoopy Come Home with vast wilderness settings.

The Peanuts stay at Camp Remote where they’re paired off into groups of four boys and four girls. The boys consist of Charlie Brown, Linus, Schroeder, and Franklin. The girls consist of Sally, Lucy, Peppermint Patty, and Marcie. Snoopy and Woodstock are mostly around to do cool things like riding a motorcycle to the camp. They do all the usual camp activities, but the primary focus is on an extended river rafting race. Plus dealing with camp bullies who constantly cheat.

Along with all his usual struggles, Charlie Brown mostly deals with having to be a leader. Peppermint Patty begins making decisions with her sidekick Marcie and the rest of the girls through the democratic process of voting. It gets old after awhile. The race itself goes on a little too long, but Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown is still a satisfying adventure.

3. Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown

The Peanuts on the river rapids

Preceded by: Snoopy Come Home & Followed by: Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (and Don’t Come Back!!)