All posts by Andrew Wickliffe

It’s Magic, Charlie Brown (1981, Phil Roman)

It’s Magic, Charlie Brown is the dramatically inert tale of Charlie Brown (Michael Mandy) turning invisible. It takes a while for him to turn invisible, with the first half or so of the special spent on a magic show. Magic opens with Charlie Brown demanding Snoopy go to the library to better himself. Because Charlie Brown is a bit of a jerk?

Snoopy gets a magic book and, mere moments later, is putting on his first show. He goes through a series of tricks, culminating in turning Charlie Brown invisible. The tricks are… eh. Charles M. Schulz’s script doesn’t have any decent laughs in it, but Snoopy dealing with a heckling kid is all right and the Peppermint Patty-related scene could be a lot worse. Everything in Magic is drawn out. Director Roman will just let a moment hang, with nothing going except the annoying Ed Bogas and Judy Munsen music. Even when things aren’t dragging, they’re not engaging. Snoopy’s got to learn how to make Charlie Brown visible again, leading to a scene in his doghouse lair where he’s learning alchemy. It could be a funny scene. Probably. It’s not though. No one’s invested enough in Magic to make it play well.

Maybe if the gags weren’t so tepid. Snoopy and Woodstock giggling together before the opening titles is the most charming the special ever gets and there’s not even a gag to it. They’re just giggling. They appear to be having a good time; no one else in Magic ever does.

The second half–after Charlie Brown scares sister Sally (Cindi Reilly)–is mostly Lucy motivating Snoopy to make Charlie Brown visible again. Sydney Penny plays Lucy. She’s got a lot of dialogue in the last third. She’s not good.

Magic is way too long and way too light. There are some neat animation ideas–Charlie Brown, invisible, in the rain–but also some rather wanting animation sequences. During the period where Charlie Brown’s invisible and the shots are just panning over backgrounds, it feels like they just didn’t want to be troubled with animating a full special.

Plus that exceptionally grating music just gets worse as Magic goes along.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Phil Roman; written by Charles M. Schulz; edited by Roger Donley and Chuck McCann; music by Ed Bogas and Judy Munsen; produced by Bill Melendez; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Michael Mandy (Charlie Brown), Sydney Penny (Lucy van Pelt), Cindi Reilly (Sally Brown), Casey Carlson & Shannon Cohn (Marcie), Rocky Reilly (Linus van Pelt), and Brent Hauer (Peppermint Patty).


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Lawyer Man (1932, William Dieterle)

Lawyer Man is a tad too streamlined. It runs around seventy minutes, charting neighborhood attorney–meaning he works with ethnic types and not blue bloods–William Powell’s rise and fall from grace. At the end, he says something about the events taking place over two years, which the film accomplishes through a variety of narrative shortcuts, usually newspaper headlines. The second half of the film is a little too truncated; it plays like the budget ran out around the forty-five minute mark.

The film opens on the crowded streets of the East Side of Manhattan; Powell’s office is amid the Jewish theaters, the street markets, the hustle and bustle of the working folk. He’s got an admiring secretary (Joan Blondell) but he’s a skirt-chaser, which contributes to his eventual downfall. Something Blondell warns him about frequently.

By the second half of the film, when Powell’s made it, there’s no more exterior street scenes. It’s one office to another, usually with the same handful of cast members. After some wonderfully efficient setup, the plot proper kicks off with society lawyer Alan Dinehart offering Powell a partnership. Whenever Powell beats someone in court, they always want to be pals–he’s such a good lawyer they can’t help it. Unfortunately, part of the film’s efficiency is never showing any of the courtroom lawyering. Even when it’s Powell on trial.

Anyway. Powell and Blondell go uptown to a skyscraper office and a better class of clients. Powell’s still skirt-chasing, Blondell’s still obviously mooning over him (Powell’s unbelievable obliviousness to it is one of Lawyer Man’s failings), but they’re more successful. And then in walks Helen Vinson as Dinehart’s sister and a suitable marriage prospect for Powell. So the film’s now got Powell, Blondell, Vinson, and Dinehart in the mix as far as characters.

Immediately after Powell runs afoul of political fixer David Landau, Claire Dodd comes into the film. She’s a showgirl just jilted by society doctor (and Landau flunky) Kenneth Thomson. Since Lawyer Man is so streamlined, it only takes her about five minutes to have Powell wrapped around her finger. And about ten minutes until she’s helped get him into a bunch of hot water.

Powell’s got to scrap to stay afloat and he becomes a dirty opportunist, with only Blondell sticking by him. At this point, the film sheds pretty much everyone except Powell and Blondell–and shaves Blondell’s subplot off her–as Powell fights to regain his good name. Landau becomes a much bigger player, until he’s pretty much the only other billed actor who interacts with Powell by the final third.

Instead of character development, there’s a lot of summary and speeches from Powell. It’s masterfully done summary, sure, but it’s still just summary. The speeches are a little much. Dieterle sort of zones out during them. He’s really involved when it’s about Powell’s skirt-chasing (there are some great examples of pre-Code visual euphemisms in Lawyer Man too) and Dieterle does really well with the bigger sets. When it’s just the static offices and melodrama… he checks out. Not on the actors, however. Blondell and Powell maintain their charm throughout, even as their characters thin. Blondell’s not the only one who loses her subplots as things progress; Powell goes from a Tex Avery wolf to a practical monk by the end.

The supporting cast is all fine. Landau’s got the only significant part throughout. He’s good.

Lawyer Man’s a little too short, a little too slight. It needs just a little more time to bring its threads together. And to keep its threads in play.

But for a seventy-ish minute programmer? It’s pretty darn good. Great photography from Robert Kurrle and the film’s general sense of humor help.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by William Dieterle; screenplay by Rian James and James Seymour, based on the novel by Max Trell; director of photography, Robert Kurrle; edited by Thomas Pratt; music by Bernhard Kaun; produced by Hal B. Wallis; released by Warner Bros.

Starring William Powell (Anton Adam), Joan Blondell (Olga Michaels), David Landau (John Gilmurry), Helen Vinson (Barbara Bentley), Claire Dodd (Virginia St. Johns), Kenneth Thomson (Dr. Frank Gresham), Allen Jenkins (Izzy Levine), Ann Brody (Mrs. Levine), and Alan Dinehart (Granville Bentley).


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The Descent (2005, Neil Marshall)

I want to say nice things about The Descent. Or, more… I wish I could say nice things about The Descent. There are some nice things to say about it–the production values are strong, Marshall’s composition is decent, Sam McCurdy’s photography is good. It’s rarely boring–though it does drag a little. Tedious without being boring. Possibly because the characters are all so unlikable you’re just waiting for them to die off.

The characters are unlikable partially because of director Marshall’s script, partially because of the actors, partially because of Marshall’s “direction” of the actors.

The Descent is about six women who go caving in North Carolina. With the exception of organizer Natalie Mendoza, they’re all either from the British Isles or they’re Scandinavian. They travelled halfway across the globe for this caving trip, because–as the opening of the film recounts–ostensible lead Shauna Macdonald has lost her family in a horrible car accident and she needs to get back to her extreme sports lifestyle.

While horrific, the car accident is also exceptionally contrived. All the character relationships in The Descent are exceptionally contrived. Marshall’s characterizations are razor thin, so having a bunch of bland, sometimes interchangeable actors who he doesn’t give any performance direction contributes a lot to that tediousness I mentioned. Maybe if Macdonald weren’t so wooden. Or Mendoza. But mostly Macdonald. What’s so strange is there are some outliers–Alex Reid, as Macdonald’s BFF, is good. Her character’s still thin, but she’s good. And Saskia Mulder and MyAnna Buring as the Scandinavian sisters are fine. They’re likable. Mendoza, from her first scene, is exceptionally unlikable. Ditto her protege Nora-Jane Noone, though for different reasons. And while Macdonald is supposed to be tragic and sympathetic, it’s in a porcelain doll sense. She’s lost her family, after all.

Something none of the other characters really engage with. Or, in Noone’s case, even seem to know about. Besides Noone, they’re all ostensibly best extreme sports buds. Who have absolutely no chemistry with one another. Mendoza’s an abject sociopath from scene one and there’s no reason anyone–particularly not the characters in the film–would be friends with her, much less trust her to plan a caving trip in Deliverance country.

Noone and Mendoza’s character relationship–and utter lack of onscreen chemistry–is one of Descent’s many deficiencies. Marshall’s script and direction is about moving caricatures from point A to point B. It’s grating.

But The Descent isn’t a Deliverance riff. Well, unless you want to make a lot of mean jokes about Applachian mountain men. See, down in the unexplored cave, the women discover they’re not alone. There are monsters. And so then the women have to inventively–often using their caving gear–fight the monsters.

Marshall borrows action beats from a variety of films–mostly the first couple Alien movies and, thanks to David Julyan’s almost comically derivative score, The Thing. There are some good shots here and there, along with some bad ones (including a jaw-droppingly bad composite), but Marshall, editor Jon Harris, and photographer McCurdy don’t impress. The sets–all the cave interiors are sets–impress. A bit. Not enough to make up for any of the film’s other deficiencies, but they’re good.

Almost anything would’ve improved The Descent. Writing, acting, directing (as far as the performances go). With any of those elements improved, Marshall could’ve been just as derivative and the film would’ve turned out better. Instead, he’s got this derivative film with all sorts of other problems.

Though, really, it’s an absurdly obvious film from the opening titles scene so… none of what follows is actually surprising.

Oh. Right. The lack of jump scares. It seems intentional. At least, I hope it’s intentional. But as a stylistic choice it’s a little weird. They might get the energy up. Nothing else does.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Neil Marshall; director of photography, Sam McCurdy; edited by Jon Harris; music by David Julyan; production designer, Simon Bowles; produced by Christian Colson; released by Pathé Distribution.

Starring Shauna Macdonald (Sarah), Natalie Mendoza (Juno), Alex Reid (Beth), Saskia Mulder (Rebecca), MyAnna Buring (Sam), and Nora-Jane Noone (Holly).


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Someday You’ll Find Her, Charlie Brown (1981, Phil Roman)

Someday You’ll Find Her, Charlie Brown is the cringe-inducing tale of Charlie Brown (Grant Wehr) and Linus (Rocky Reilly) stalking a girl Charlie Brown saw at a football game on TV. She was in a “honey shot,” which is already makes things cringe-y because these are eight year-old kids. Regardless of whether or not Charlie Brown ought to be scoping out strange girls on television, why is the cameraman doing it?

With Snoopy and Woodstock in tow, Linus and Charlie Brown go to the football stadium to look for clues. Charlie Brown’s too scared to talk to the ticket sellers, so he sends in Linus. Meanwhile–in one of the special’s few amusing moments–Snoopy and Woodstock get into trouble in the weight-lifting room. The ticket sellers don’t have the information so they send the boys to the downtown ticket office, where season ticket holder information is kept.

And because it’s a cartoon for kids, the downtown ticket office is more than happy to provide Linus (because Charlie Brown is too scared to talk to them) with the girl’s address. So then they go see the girl–ditching Snoopy and Woodstock–and it’s the wrong girl. She’s “comically” grotesque, not beautiful; why would Charlie Brown like her. He’s a pig at eight, after all.

So then they call their next suspect, who has a grating phone voice so Linus tells Charlie Brown he doesn’t want to meet her. But then they go anyway.

The quest continues, with the boys ending out at a farm–where Snoopy and Woodstock are also coincidentally headed (they’re not there to assist, just roaming). Snoopy gets into it with a cat, which is… almost amusing, but Someday has gotten so icky at this point it’d be hard for anything in it to amuse.

The finale skips the valuable life lesson Charlie Brown could’ve learned–not having Linus talk to everyone for him–and instead concentrates on his sad situation. It’s a really downbeat, perfunctory ending. If there were a morale, Someday might not be so bad. But there’s not. It’s just over. Thankfully.

Wehr’s exceptionally unlikable as Charlie Brown. He’s not active enough to be a creep, but he’s a little turd. Reilly’s performance is probably worse. He’s just nowhere near as unlikable. Bad writing from Charles M. Schulz throughout (so bad I was surprised to see he’d written Someday; the opening titles only credit him with creating “Peanuts,” not writing the special as well–which is his usual credit).

Unbearable music from Ed Bogas and Judy Munsen. Exceptionally lazy animation.

Someday is a weird waste of time, probably of interest only to people considering how popular children’s entertainment of the eighties contributed to male entitlement and toxic masculinity.

Nice backgrounds maybe? And, even poorly animated, Snoopy and Woodstock are funny. Or would be if their gags weren’t in this icky cartoon.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Phil Roman; written by Charles M. Schulz; edited by Roger Donley and Chuck McCann; music by Ed Bogas and Judy Munsen; produced by Bill Melendez; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Grant Wehr (Charlie Brown), Rocky Reilly (Linus van Pelt), Nicole Eggert (Loretta), Melissa Strawmyer (Teenager), and Jennifer Gaffin (Mary Jo).


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