Life Is a Circus, Charlie Brown (1980, Phil Roman)

Life is a Circus, Charlie Brown is about Snoopy joining the circus. Somewhat unintentionally. The circus comes to town, Snoopy investigates the racket, and eyes a fetching poodle. She’s in an act; her trainer grabs Snoopy and drafts him into it. After Snoopy proves funny (versus capable), the trainer decides to keep him. Meanwhile, Charlie Brown (Michael Mandy) goes from confused–at Snoopy’s participation–to worried–after the circus leaves town, with Snoopy.

Once the trainer (voiced by Casey Carlson) discovers Snoopy’s motivation–impressing the poodle–it turns out he’s a more than capable circus performer. But as the act gets more and more successful, the trainer requires more and more from Snoopy. Will there be a breaking point?

Back at home, Charlie Brown sits and stands around talking to Linus (Rocky Reilly) about how Snoopy will or won’t come home. Including a rather tedious monologue–mostly because of Mandy’s performance–about how he got the dog in the first place.

The animation’s good, the backgrounds are precious, but Circus is exceptionally flat. Mandy and Reilly’s dialogue interludes are strained. Not just because of the voice acting either. They’re filler, with lengthy pauses in conversation to kill runtime. At one point it seems like Lucy (Kristen Fullerton) is going to have a decent gag, but then she just doesn’t. Writer Charles M. Schulz doesn’t have any gags for Circus. Plus, Fullerton’s performance is just as unimpressive as everyone else’s so the not gag plays even worse.

The circus-y music from Ed Bogas and Judy Munsen doesn’t help. It’s loud and grating.

Circus isn’t really a missed opportunity–Schulz’s script is disinterested from the start–but it’s still rather lacking. The production values (save the voice acting) get it some goodwill, which it burns through. The finale is particularly unimpressive.

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), Rocky Reilly (Linus van Pelt), Casey Carlson (Polly), and Kristen Fullerton (Lucy van Pelt).


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She’s a Good Skate, Charlie Brown (1980, Phil Roman)

She’s a Good Skate, Charlie Brown is all about Peppermint Patty (Patricia Patts). Charlie Brown (Arrin Skelley) has a couple appearances, but it’s just for the brand. Skate is all Peppermint Patty, Snoopy, Marcie (Casey Carlson), and Woodstock. Patty’s training for an ice skating competition. Snoopy’s her coach–and an accomplished skater himself–while Marcie and Woodstock offer various kinds of support. Sometimes rather consequentially.

What’s so striking about Skate, right off, is the ice skating. The attention to the animation, the way Roman directs the sequences, it’s a showcase for Peppermint Patty’s ice skating. And her eventual competitors. Roman and his animators excel at showing the accomplishments in the skating. Patty’s got a bunch of great, fast expressions as she goes through her routines. It’s lovely.

The story is fairly sparse. Patty has to wake Snoopy up to get him to coach, they get into a fight with some boy hockey players (it’s a weird, but rather successful scene), not much else. Not until Patty gets Marcie to make her the skating outfit, but she doesn’t give her any warning. They do it the day of the competition (or at least immediately preceding it in the present action) so it’s build-up to the finale, not a subplot.

Carlson’s hilarious as Marcie in Skate. She gets the best jokes. Snoopy gets a few visual gags–the first one is subtle and hilarious so it’d be hard to beat–while writer Charles M. Schulz gets the heftier material to Carlson in the dialogue. Though Marcie doesn’t get to have anything at the end. Snoopy’s gets a really good bit during the finale, as does Woodstock. And Patty’s skating. Marcie’s just with the mostly non-speaking Peanuts kids cheering Patty on. Skelley (and Charlie Brown) actually get the lines there, which are at best mediocre expository remarks. It’s kind of weird. More of that Charlie Brown branding.

But it’s just before Patty’s final skate so as long as it comes off, it’ll all work. And it does come off. Everything works just right–Ed Bogas and Judy Munsen’s music (and the Puccini aria), Roger Donley and Chuck McCann’s editing–the animating, Roman’s direction, Schulz’s plotting. She’s a Good Skate, Charlie Brown is outstanding; it’s meticulous and assured. Even when a moment shouldn’t work, it does thanks to the animation coming through or Carlson or Patts or just how fast Schulz moves things along.

And then there’s this perfect little end tag too.

Skate’s great.

3/3Highly 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 Patricia Patts (Peppermint Patty), Casey Carlson (Marcie), and Arrin Skelley (Charlie Brown).


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Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966, Mike Nichols)

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? opens with this gentle, lovely music from Alex North. It’s night, it’s a university campus, a couple is walking silently as the credits roll; the music’s beautiful. Then the couple–Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton–get home. And pretty soon they start yelling at each other. And they don’t stop until the end of the movie, some two hours away–unless they aren’t in a scene together.

Burton is a history professor and Taylor’s suffering husband. Taylor is the university president’s daughter and Burton’s suffering wife. The film starts with them getting home from a faculty party at two in the morning. They’re both drunk and so they start drinking some more. But Taylor has invited over a new professor and his wife so they’re going to have a middle-of-the-night party, much to Burton’s chagrin.

The guests are George Segal and Sandy Dennis. Dennis is a little tipsy when they arrive, but Segal’s basically sober. Burton–correctly–guesses Taylor agreed to host the welcoming party (at her never seen father’s request) because Segal is something of a young blond stud and up-and-comer, not a middle-aged fuddy-duddy career burnout like Burton.

As the film progresses, the group–there are only the four characters in the film (with two uncredited actors at a roadside bar later on)–breaks up and reforms. Taylor gives Dennis a tour of the house, offscreen, while Segal and Burton bond. More Segal realizes his hosts are majorly dysfunctional and wants to get out of there, but ends up sticking around, getting drunker, with Taylor getting bolder and bolder about hitting on him. Dennis is oblivious, Burton is quietly raging.

Eventually–once they’re drunker–Segal and Burton have another bonding moment, while–again–Dennis and Taylor are offscreen. Segal and Taylor get scenes together, Dennis and Burton get scenes together. And little by little, it becomes clear there’s a lot more going on than Taylor’s a drunk unfaithful wife to Burton’s sad sack, drunken academic failure.

Woolf is exceptional on every level. The way Nichols directs the actors. Ernest Lehman’s script–adapting Edward Albee’s play. The performances. That Alex North music. The Haskell Wexler black and white photography, which gives the viewer insight into these uncomfortable moments–like when Taylor starts flirting with Segal and Dennis is in the background and the scene’s not about Taylor’s flirtatious rambling but whether or not Dennis is catching up with what’s going on. And then what her awareness or lack thereof means given Burton’s in the room too.

Dennis has a bunch of surprises in store, narratively and performance-wise, for later in the film. Virginia Woolf gets disquieting before Segal and Dennis even show up at the house, because Taylor’s obviously unstable. Possibly dangerously unstable. The film’s revelations about Taylor and Burton to their guests (and the viewer) drives their character development. This revelation or that revelation calls back to a previous one and where there’s an–intentional or drunken–disconnect fuels the development. Dennis and Segal are different. There’s definitely some development through revelation, but they’re not the film’s subjects. They’re both messed up a little with secrets of their own, but it’s nothing compared to Taylor and Burton.

Taylor gets top-billing and the best monologue. Burton’s second-billed but the protagonist. His monologues are different. He’s not self-reflective drunk or sober. Taylor’s self-reflective sober. Well, sober for her. Burton’s always trying to stay one step ahead of Taylor while she’s just naturally devious and manipulative. They’re both exhausted–the story itself is a marathon, with the two couples getting drunker and drunker as the night goes on. Movie starts at two in the morning, ends four or so hours later. So not real-time, but fairly continuous action. All of the characters (and actors) exhibit the exhaustion in different ways. While Dennis and Segal are the guests and their exhaustion is tied to them being in someone else’s home, Taylor and Burton are sort of in their normal. Their terrifying normal. Exhaustion included.

The script has the dialogue level, with Burton trying to torment his guests with wordplay and maybe embarrass Taylor a little with it, and then the narrative. This development, that revelation, all perfectly plotted out. Nichols hits every one just right. He gets the intensity of the scenes, the dialogue, the performances, all beautifully shot by Wexler, then Sam O’Steen’s editing packages them all together into these astounding, draining scenes. There’s a lot of dread in Virginia Woolf, even if you don’t know what you’re supposed to be dreading. From the first moment after the peaceful opening titles, the film’s primed for an explosion.

Singular acting. Segal’s the least great and he’s still great. Taylor and Burton kind of duke it out for best performance. They’re very different parts with very different requirements. It’s incredible how well Nichols directs the film, given his two leads are operating at different speeds and different narrative distances. And then you throw in Segal and, especially, Dennis. She’s phenomenal in the film’s toughest part. Because she’s got to be quiet. Burton, Taylor, and even Segal all get to be loud but Dennis does this startling, quiet performance.

And even when it seems like you finally get Virginia Woolf as the film goes into the third act, it turns out there are still some big twists. The film’s biggest twist isn’t even its loudest. And the loudest one is head-blowing big.

Richard Sylbert’s production design–the house and its yard where the action mostly takes place (though the roadside bar is also great)–is stellar.

As I said before, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is exceptional. On every level. It’s “run out of positive adjectives” exceptional.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Mike Nichols; screenplay by Ernest Lehman, based on the play by Edward Albee; director of photography, Haskell Wexler; edited by Sam O’Steen; production designer, Richard Sylbert; music by Alex North; produced by Lehman; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Elizabeth Taylor (Martha), Richard Burton (George), George Segal (Nick), and Sandy Dennis (Honey).



THIS POST IS PART OF THE REGALING ABOUT RICHARD BURTON BLOGATHON HOSTED BY GILL OF REALWEEGIEMIDGET REVIEWS.


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Venom (2018, Ruben Fleischer)

For most of the movie, Venom’s greatest strength is its potential. It certainly seems like lead Tom Hardy can do anything but as things progress, it becomes more and more obvious the potential is an illusion. Director Fleischer just hasn’t done a big action sequence yet, so the movie hasn’t shown its hand–Fleischer’s action sequences are awful–and there’s literally nothing Hardy can do. He’s along for the ride down the proverbial drain.

Of course, even when Venom seems like it might go well–and for a while, it’s shockingly all right–there’s the problem of the villain. Riz Ahmed is a billionaire super-genius who’s funding space exploration to bring organisms back to Earth to try to cure cancer. All of his experiments involve killing San Francisco’s homeless population and Ahmed has one of the worst written god complexes in motion picture history. Venom’s script is frequently bad, but the better actors work through it, as they get no help from Fleischer who’s concentrating on… something. Nothing good, nothing relevant, but presumably something. Ahmed’s terrible though. He’s the worst performance until the “surprise”–but credited–end credits cameo. And Ahmed’s quite bad throughout, so for the surprise cameo to be worse? Well, it’s an achievement of sorts.

The movie starts with a private spaceship crashing in Malaysia. Ahmed’s spaceship. It picked up some alien lifeforms–symbiotes, which are kind of like CGI slime but never green–and one of them escapes. Meanwhile, Hardy is an investigative reporter with his own TV show, which has opening titles where Hardy rides his motorcycle around San Francisco looking tough.

This opening is not where Venom shows potential. It’s all quite awkward and flat, also introducing Michelle Williams as the fiancée Hardy will betray to get dirt of Ahmed and Jenny Slate as one of Ahmed’s scientists. Once Hardy betrays Williams–for nothing, his network fires him for not brown-nosing Ahmed–Venom skips ahead six months. Hardy is now unemployable, broke, living in a bad neighborhood and a gorgeous, enormous San Francisco apartment, and feeling sorry for himself. And even though he says he’s given up on helping people, he’s really nice to his new supporting cast, primarily homeless lady Melora Walters and convenience store owner Peggy Lu.

It has somehow taken that escaped alien in Malaysia six months to get to an airport, but it’s finally on its way to Frisco to confront Ahmed, which has been its plan since… the second or third scene in the movie. Again, bad script.

Like when Hardy meets up again with Williams, who has moved on and is now dating nice guy surgeon Reid Scott. Though she apparently hasn’t gotten a new job. Because in Venom’s San Francisco, you can apparently just not pay rent.

Eventually Hardy breaks into Ahmed’s brodinagian research facility and picks up a symbiote of his own. Shockingly light security–including no security cameras–and the safety protocols for the hostile alien life forms are rather lax as well. Hardy and the alien talk to each other–Hardy, with some modification, also voices the alien (Venom, who comes from a planet where all the creatures were named by eight year-old boys)–before Ahmed sends his private security force (led by paper thin Scott Haze) after the new partners.

There’s also some stuff where Hardy gets help from Scott and Williams for his alien problem, which is where the film’s best. The character drama isn’t well-written or well-directed, but Hardy, Williams, and Scott all give good performances. So they get it through. They’re all likable, all sympathetic, all wasted.

The movie’s got three big action set pieces, four if you count a motorcycle and drone chase through San Francisco. Incidentally, that chase sequence is where it becomes obvious Fleischer’s never going to deliever good action. It just gets worse after that one. When it’s the alien in control–when the alien takes over, he’s like seven feet-tall and eats people’s heads–the film loses the Hardy grounding, which does help it. It can’t save it, but it does help it. Including Hardy’s voiceover talking to the alien always feels forced. Though the talking between Hardy and the alien always feels forced. Even when Hardy’s good. Crappy dialogue. Again, bad script.

Technically, Venom’s perfectly competent. It’s got no personality, but it’s competent. Well, some of the digital mattes are really bad; the digital effects are never great. Fleischer actually seems to get that shortfall. Even after the movie’s done hiding the shark and Venom is out of the water, the alien is a special effect not a character. He’s always turning back into Hardy in between action requirements.

For the first forty-five minutes, I was surprised how… mediocre it seemed like Venom was going to turn out. Then it started getting bad and just kept getting worse.

Given its subject matter and artistic ambitions (wokka wokka), Venom shouldn’t be a disappointment. But thanks to Fleischer and–to a lesser extent Ahmed)–it sure manages to be one.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Ruben Fleischer; screenplay by Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg, and Kelly Marcel, based on a story by Pinkner and Rosenberg and the Marvel Comics character created by David Michelinie and Todd McFarlane; director of photography, Matthew Libatique; edited by Alan Baumgarten and Maryann Brandon; music by Ludwig Göransson; production designer, Oliver Scholl; produced by Avi Arad, Amy Pascal, and Matt Tolmach; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Tom Hardy (Eddie Brock), Riz Ahmed (Carlton Drake), Michelle Williams (Anne Weying), Jenny Slate (Dr. Dora Skirth), Reid Scott (Dr. Dan Lewis), Peggy Lu (Mrs. Chen), Scott Haze (Treece), and Melora Walters (Maria).


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