On DVD & Blu-Ray: March 8, 2016

The thing about Peanuts is that it's meant to be a comforting, nurturing type of experience while at the same time providing something of a profound simplicity to the themes it desires to tackle. It's kind of like the Pixar movies, but flat instead of three dimensional. With The Peanuts Movie though, director Steve Martino (the last Ice Age movie) looks to bring Charlie Brown and his gang into the twenty-first century as they are presented in computer animated 3D. Fortunately, this doesn't seem to have changed the sweet and simple mentality the comic strip by Charles Schulz always took on. The characters and their world have been updated in no apparent way-they all still play outside by trying to fly kites or ice skating, there is no modern technology and even many of the same story beats we've seen before in the holiday specials that air every year are present. I largely only have those specials to refer to as I'm of the odd generation that was too young to get hip to the comic strip when it was in its newspaper prime (despite still running in syndication today) and am too old to have any genuine interest in this new movie. Still, it seems a childhood in America wouldn't be complete without having seen It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving or the original A Charlie Brown Christmas at least once. Given this was my only frame of reference walking into the 2015 version though, it seemed like little more than a cash grab given it was being presented in 3D and released just as the Holiday season was upon us. Of course, capitalizing on nostalgia has become big business since the social media age took hold and everything is suddenly worth a second look, but given the age and importance that the Peanuts brand carries with it this somehow felt more risky, more greedy, more capable of destroying real childhoods. Given it's mostly more of the same I doubt this will offend anyone, but in fact it will likely do the exact opposite and resurrect all the feels these characters originally inspired regardless of generation-heck, it may even inspire a few children of our newest ones. Full review here. C+

Looking at director Ron Howard's latest, In the Heart of the Sea, from a broad perspective there is nothing seemingly wrong with it. It is a handsomely mounted film with charismatic actors playing dress up and tells an adventure story that, while it is said to be the inspiration for the tale that's come to be known as Moby-Dick, takes many of the same beats from this familiar story and applies them here. Unfortunately, if one is looking for anything more than a standard adventure/survival tale this is not the place to go. A director who has become more hit or miss as of late Howard only skims the surface of the conflicts and dynamics that could have been explored here. While I've never completed Herman Melville's crowning achievement and I'd not even heard of Nathaniel Philbrick's novel on which this is based prior to the film's first trailer, it is pretty easy to see where things are going the moment our two heroes step onto their boat. While this isn't always an issue given things have become more about the journey than the destination in this saturated movie market, Howard and his team simply don't bring enough insight or a fresh enough perspective to make this endeavor feel like it's worth joining. One wouldn't necessarily know or realize this as they watch the film unfold given it's just captivating enough, and just big enough to keep us entertained and wondering what choices certain characters will make, but as the film comes slogging to its conclusion it becomes more clear that's all the film is-just enough. Just enough isn't enough to warrant an emotional reaction though, and it's not enough to constitute a real investment in the characters or even their quest that seems so foreign at this point that it could have proved fascinating, but is more or less rendered irrelevant due to the fact the films only interest lies in the massive sea monsters rather than the men who come up against them. Seeing massive sea creatures on the big screen is never a bad thing-in fact, it's almost as inherently epic as one can get, but for it to mean anything more than just a moment of wonder there must be some depth to the waters surrounding them and In the Heart of the Sea is simply too shallow to come up with anything interesting to say. Full review here. C

The first thing that took me by surprise concerning Victor Frankenstein was its soundtrack. Of course, it could have been any number of things-the artificial environments of the early 1800's or the horribly arrogant narration dialogue Daniel Radcliffe was given that makes his Igor more irritating than endearing. But of course, as opposed to those last two things the soundtrack made me optimistic we might actually be in for something of a treat here. Chris Morgan's score, while traditionally orchestral, has a distinctive flavor to it at least in the early scenes. There is something almost wholly fantastical to it that suggests it may bring the darkness of this story a new layer of marvel and fun that has always been interpreted more along the lines of dark and grimly serious. Even the arrival of James McAvoy's titular character elicits something of a magical moment and whether or not this is due purely to the recognition factor or not, Morgan's score elevates this instant to something that instinctively elicits actual excitement. These optimistic thoughts could only prevail for so long though as Victor Frankenstein quickly devolves into a by the numbers retelling of the Frankenstein story that we've seen numerous times before. There are hints here and there of the script wanting to pull out more caveats of our core characters origin stories as it does in the beginning, but given we all know how things end up it seems screenwriter Max Landis (Chronicle, American Ultra) felt he had nowhere else to go and thus ultimately delivers exactly what we expect rather than subverting those expectations and giving us something new to chew on and ponder. We've heard it all before and despite a hugely credible cast as well as Landis spearheading the project there ultimately seems no need for it. With each incarnation of this story the question will always be what new or original aspect can be brought to the table and if there is nothing new to bring then why tell it again at all? Full review here. D

There is always the daunting feeling walking into a Shakespeare adaptation that you'll never be able to keep up with the story due to the language being fired off by actors rather than being able to personally read it and evaluate the dialogue in your own time. The same is true with director Justin Kurzel's (next year's Assassin's Creed) Macbeth for, while I was familiar with the story having read the play in high school, I couldn't remember every detail and I certainly wasn't familiar enough with the language to understand everything as would be necessary after only a single viewing. And so, the idea of watching the film, much less writing about it felt incredibly daunting. After attempting to strip my mind of everything but the cinematic experience I was about to embark on I immersed myself in the Scottish lore of the titular Thane as he was submerged into this hugely stylistic world that Kurzel would use to convey the complicated language of the play. It is in the imagery that Kurzel's interpretation excels and where it sets itself apart. Where it falters is in the changing of a few major aspects from the source material. Overall, this particular adaptation comes out a winner given it has the ability to connect with modern audiences through its expansive and dark visual prowess while briskly delivering the main ideas of Shakespeare's play. It doesn't hurt that Kurzel has recruited the talent of actors like Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard to convey such material to modern audiences as each contain enough gravitas in their stares alone to guarantee the audience pays attention. It is not in any of these individual facets that Kurzel's film fails to engage the audience, but simply in the amalgamation of so many experimental factors that they override the bare bones brutality of the story and all that it intends to say. I enjoy how much Kurzel uses his exceptional visual ability to convey the necessary story beats, but by more or less having screenwriters Jacob Koskoff, Michael Lesslie, and Todd Louiso compact the narrative into a less than two hour experience some of what the imagery suggests is lost in the lack development. Full review here. C+

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