Quick Movie Review: Snow Day (2000)

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Originally intended to be a feature film version of the Nickelodeon show, The Adventures of Pete & Pete, Snow Day has its roots buried well.

Living in California, we never had snow days, but I was luckily able to live vicariously through this movie.

Snow Day follows a group of young kids who celebrate the year’s first school closure and try to stop the “evil” snow-plowman (Chris Elliott) from clearing the roads. Meanwhile, high schooler Hal (Mark Webber) tries to woo the popular Claire Bonner (Emmanuelle Chriqui) after she breaks up with her boyfriend. The film’s moniker is that anything can happen on a snow day.

Just like Pete & Pete, it’s way smarter than it needs to be or should be. Much like childhood, it’s often bittersweet. It glorifies the simple things because that’s what it’s like when we’re kids. These little pleasures are such a big deal to us, and it’s nice to see a movie that understands that.

For a children’s movie it’s fully aware of itself and stays entertaining throughout without having to throw in any cheap action sequences.

Though it’s still a product of its time, so it’s not without a couple of sappy moments–only one or two.

Hal’s dad is played by Chevy Chase, who’s a perfect fit. And Josh Peck is a wonder here in his debut. It’s apparent early on that he has great instincts. The cast is very good all around with some solid performances that really get the job done. There really aren’t any weaknesses.

Hal’s sister, Natalie, is the ring leader of the anti-plowman kids. A lesser film would have found cliches to fill out her relationship with her brother, but this one knows how to hit the nail perfectly on the head.

This movie just gets it, embellishing small moments and memories as we do in our minds when we’re young, and keeping them that way even into adulthood, so we can look back at them the best way possible. Snow Day basically magnifies that sentiment and perfectly empathizes with it by making the mundane magical.

Twizard Rating: 92

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Quick Movie Review: Kenan & Kel – Two Heads Are Better Than None (2000)

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Often times, longer episodes–or specials–of a half-hour sitcom series don’t work. The pacing is all thrown off and the lack of a laugh track makes the jokes fall flat.

And while Two Heads Are Better Than None is a little odd at first without the studio audience, any fan of Kenan and Kel will enjoy this made-for-TV movie. It’s the same humor, minus the scheming by Kenan.

This one lets the boys get into trouble all without having to scheme anything at all. Kel crashes Kenan’s family’s cross-country road trip vacation. Along the way, they encounter the ghost of a headless knight who is looking for a living soul to give him a new head.

The details tend to get a little foggy, but it’s not a far cry from the usual flippancy of the half-hour episodes. Continue reading

Quick Movie Review: Cry Baby Lane (2000)

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Nickelodeon’s Cry Baby Lane has somewhat of a mystique surrounding it. On October 28, 2000, Nick aired the made-for-TV movie. But after that, it was never aired again. Apparently the film got banned. Years later, talks of it swirled around the undercurrents of the internet, and finally, in 2011, the movie was shown on Nickelodeon’s TeenNick network.

Why was it banned you ask? Well for starters, the film starts out with Frank Langella’s character, Mr. Bennett the undertaker, telling the tale of a farmer and his wife who gave birth to conjoined twins many years ago. Ashamed of his children, the farmer kept the them locked up in a room in his house. He soon realized that one twin was good, while the other was evil. Eventually one of them got sick and died, which was also fatal to the other twin since they shared the same vital organs. After they died, the farmer sawed the two boys in half, burying the good twin in the town cemetery, while burying the evil twin at the end of a generic dirt road in the backwoods. The road is now called Cry Baby Lane due to the sounds you hear in the middle of the night of the dead boy crying for his twin brother.

Yeah, this film was banned. In the year 2000. Can you imagine what the reaction would have been like if it were released nowadays when parents are far more aware of what their kids watch? It’s a very creepy movie, and doesn’t even saturate itself with jump-scares. All of the creepiness comes from the inherent properties of the story and the visuals themselves. But I think we may not be giving kids the credit they deserve. I think they can handle it.

The eerie tale of the twin boys is being told to brothers, Andrew and Carl. Andrew is played by Jase Blankfort, and he does a great job. His deliveries are so spot-on and organic that you never sense he’s acting. He’s fun to watch. The free-flowing dialogue helps his true instincts come out and he really gets a chance to show his chops.

I would’ve loved if this could have been longer. At 70 minutes, it’s an unusually short film, so the pacing is all out-of-sorts. Maybe that’s why it feels just like a really long TV episode.

Although never formally advertised as such, Cry Baby Lane is a feature-length version of the Nickelodeon show Are You Afraid of the Dark? With most references to the show coming from motifs in the musical score, the film does actually follow a similar tone–albeit much darker.

The loose direction by Peter Lauer crosses back and forth between refreshingly unorthodox and frustratingly informal. It’s a weird movie with a lot of seemingly unrelated bits added in, making the film feel disjointed at times. There are scenes and characters that do nothing but waste time, even with the little amount it has in the first place.

But on the other hand he doesn’t let simple details go unnoticed merely because this is a kids’ movie. He has characters in the film who are possessed, but doesn’t just cliche his way through it. He uses these instances as opportunities for humor and irony. At one point, a possessed mailman goes around smashing mailboxes with a baseball bat. Many of the seemingly-innocuous idiosyncrasies or nuances are given attention–for better or for worse.

There’s a sort of unique humor to the film. Most of it is subtle–another very “Nickelodeon” thing about it. In fact, many of the events happen primarily due to the fact that Mr. Bennett is the world’s worst undertaker–a joke exemplified a few times.

Needless to say, you don’t have to worry about this movie talking down to its audience. The subject matter alone proves that it has every bit of faith that kids can handle just about anything. I’d say Cry Baby Lane might possibly be a little too mature and scary for some kids to be watching, but rooted in its reckless storyline are ideals and philosophies of past children’s TV networking. Things that are no longer practiced in children’s television really at all. Things that used to let kids know you trusted them and didn’t think they were stupid. This might be the most important takeaway of all.

Twizard Rating: 86

Quick Movie Review: On Your Marc (2017)

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If you’re like me and grew up with ’90s Nickelodeon, you have an intrinsic affinity for Marc Summers. He was like the face of the network back in the day, hosting perennial mainstays, like Double Dare, and the more forgotten about What Would You Do? A zeitgeist, if you will. You could say he was my childhood.

Yesterday I had the privilege to attend the world premiere of his documentary, On Your Marc. He was there in person–someone who I’ve always wanted to meet, yet always felt like I have. And that’s where this documentary seems to get it.

I’m not sure how to critique the film as someone who doesn’t know who the man is, because I can’t even imagine what that would be like. But as someone who grew up watching him on my TV set, I can tell this documentary seems to understand what else we’d like to know about someone who’s already an open book.

It isn’t a documentary in the strict biographical sense. Sure, it covers mostly everything in his life–dripping information here and there about meeting his wife, how he was inspired to be in the entertainment industry, his performance as a father when his kids were little, etc.–but focuses mostly on his later career, post-Nickelodeon. It’s not linear, yet you don’t feel robbed of his backstory.

Marc’s dreams in show business are rooted in theater, ever since attending a performance of Fiddler On the Roof as a child. So with this stage show, he’s one step closer to Broadway–a destination that’s never left his sight. As someone with seemingly unattainable goals for my own career in this industry, it tugs at my heart strings. It’s crazy to think that the person you look up to also feels like he hasn’t quite “made it” yet.

The main topics discussed are Summers’ lifelong struggle with OCD, reaching his ultimate career goal, and his recent bout with cancer. The film uses him prepping for his one-man theater show to underlie his story–interspersing it when necessary without focusing on it too much.

But the film isn’t always so serious. In fact, it’s quite funny. It mostly finds the comedy in all of this otherwise deep subject matter, with most of the humor coming from Marc’s natural wit–as he, himself narrates a big chunk of it. After all, Summers was a stand up comedian early on in his career. The documentary actually takes his lead, fitting right into his style.

It’s funny because you never felt before like you didn’t already know the man. He’s naturally such an open and real guy, you feel like you’ve always known him. You almost forget he’s a celebrity. But with this, his vulnerabilities come through even more–making him more real, if even possible.

And it’s all so beautifully candid that you barely even feel like it’s covering much ground. But sure enough, you walk out of the theater with a much more rounded out view of a person you’ve always loved anyway. When you leave, you feel like you may know almost as much as the filmmakers at this point. It’s truly an accomplishment.

The film is written and directed by Mathew Klickstein–a perfect choice. Years ago merely a passionate fan of ’90s Nickelodeon, he’s now the acclaimed author of Slimed! An Oral History of Nickelodeon’s Golden Age–since then, becoming good friends with Summers because of it. A genius? Perhaps. I just wish I thought of it first.

Twizard Rating: 90

Quick Movie Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (2016)

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Surprisingly content with its 2014 predecessor, I was looking forward to this movie. The first wasn’t even near perfect, but it had a kind of nostalgic charm to it and reminded me of something I would’ve been totally into when I was a kid. I mean, that’s what we’re looking for here, right?

In this one, our heroes catch news of Shredder escaping from prison with the help of mad scientist, Baxter Stockman, to utilize a technology that will help them stop the turtles and take over the world.

Luckily the filmmakers brought back the writers from the first to keep the dialogue consistent. The repartee is still just as cartoony and the acting is marginal, which give this movie its ’90s feel.

But much like the first in this rebooted series, this film is far from perfect. While it keeps the premise contained and doesn’t try to over-complicate things, unfortunately, it sort of does anyway. The main plot isn’t all that original, and then when it really gets the ball rolling, it becomes a bit convoluted when it shouldn’t need to be. In fact, the film’s at its strongest and most enjoyable during the first two acts.

The final action sequences are confusing and chaotic. I almost would’ve preferred to see it done more realistically without the shaky cam. Or maybe even chopsocky style!

The saddest thing is we are more invested in our CGI leads than their human counterparts–who are stiff and seem to be given the absolute bottom-of-the-barrel dialogue. But since the film is about the ninja turtles, I guess it does its job.

We get introduced to Casey Jones–a mainstay amongst earlier adaptations–who continues the trend of forced character development. In an attempt to evoke sympathy for our character, he is heard explaining, in total seriousness, to two different people that it’s his childhood dream to be a detective. But then that’s it. That’s all we get.

Regardless of all the pitfalls, this new series has been enjoyable because it has remained inspired. It’s obviously written by folks who are passionate about the source material.

Fairly consistent with, if not better than the first, Out of the Shadows keeps those into the series still invested. And 10-year-old me is enjoying a movie like a little kid again.

Twizard Rating: 76

Quick Movie Review: The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (2015)

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Although I was a bit older than the target demographic when SpongeBob SquarePants was in its heyday on TV, I did tend to watch it a lot, as it was on my favorite channel at the time–Nickelodeon. I never swore by the show, but I have to admit that it really was funny. And I’ve watched most of the episodes in the first several seasons. But when you take a show that you’re pretty familiar with and used to seeing as 11 or 22 minute story arcs, there’s something in your brain that wants to keep it that way. About 30 minutes into this film you start feeling antsy–even by the slightest languor in the narrative.

This is the same issue that The Simpsons Movie had. At a certain point we’re ready for the next story, but an hour in, it’s still the same unresolved issues. Not to mention, television writers are also used to the 11-22 page script–not the 90 page one. They’re filling spaces. Sometimes with dragged out scenes, and sometimes with non sequitur filler jokes (the latter luckily being SpongeBob’s cup of tea anyway). But despite this adversity, the screenwriters do a decent job of mixing in a lot of subplots to keep the audience awake. A lot happens–almost as though there are several 11 minute episodes happening all at once. The only problem lies with the trailer (which I try to avoid watching too many times, but when you go to the movies a lot it’s inevitable). The trailer had us thinking that the whole film was set “out of water”. So the entire time I was anxiously awaiting to see our characters on land in our world.

Nonetheless it keeps you laughing if you’re a fan of SpongeBob. A couple of jokes miss, but there’s always one that hits immediately after. It stays true to its original style of irreverence. If you aren’t familiar with SpongeBob, you probably won’t like this movie all too much. Fortunately for the people at Nickelodeon, many people (especially 20-30 year olds) like SpongeBob and will want to see this movie. And the younger kids will probably end up dragging their parents to see it anyway–if they don’t already fall into the previous demographic.

While they could have done a couple of things slightly better in this movie, it’s a big step forward in the “TV Cartoon on Film” genre and keeps you pretty well entertained.

Twizard Rating: 82