For the bulk of every Rocky and Bullwinkle episode, moose and squirrel would engage in high concept escapades that satirized geopolitics, contemporary cinema, and the very fabrics of the human condition. With all of that to work with, there's no excuse for why the pair and their Soviet nemeses haven't gotten a decent movie adaptation. But the ingenious Mr. Peabody and his faithful boy Sherman are another story, intercut between Rocky and Bullwinkle segments to teach kids brief history lessons and toss in a nearly lethal dose of puns. Their stories and relationship were much simpler, which means that bringing their shtick to the big screen would entail a lot more invention — always risky when you're dealing with precious material.
For the most part, Mr. Peabody & Sherman handles the regeneration of its heroes aptly, allowing for emotionally substance in their unique father-son relationship and all the difficulties inherent therein. The story is no subtle metaphor for the difficulties surrounding gay adoption, with society decreeing that a dog, no matter how hyper-intelligent, cannot be a suitable father. The central plot has Peabody hosting a party for a disapproving child services agent and the parents of a young girl with whom 7-year-old Sherman had a schoolyard spat, all in order to prove himself a suitable dad. Of course, the WABAC comes into play when the tots take it for a spin, forcing Peabody to rush to their rescue.
Getting down to personals, we also see the left brain-heavy Peabody struggle with being father Sherman deserves. The bulk of the emotional marks are hit as we learn just how much Peabody cares for Sherman, and just how hard it has been to accept that his only family is growing up and changing.
But more successful than the new is the film's handling of the old — the material that Peabody and Sherman purists will adore. They travel back in time via the WABAC Machine to Ancient Egypt, the Renaissance, and the Trojan War, and 18th Century France, explaining the cultural backdrop and historical significance of the settings and characters they happen upon, all with that irreverent (but no longer racist) flare that the old cartoons enjoyed. And oh... the puns.
Mr. Peabody & Sherman is a f**king treasure trove of some of the most amazingly bad puns in recent cinema. This effort alone will leave you in awe.
The film does unravel in its final act, bringing the science-fiction of time travel a little too close to the forefront and dropping the ball on a good deal of its emotional groundwork. What seemed to be substantial building blocks do not pay off in the way we might, as scholars of animated family cinema, have anticipated, leaving the movie with an unfinished feeling.
But all in all, it's a bright, compassionate, reasonably educational, and occasionally funny if not altogether worthy tribute to an old favorite. And since we don't have our own WABAC machine to return to a time of regularly scheduled Peabody and Sherman cartoons, this will do okay for now.
If nothing else, it's worth your time for the puns.
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Perhaps Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows should have been a trilogy. Splitting the sprawling finale to author J.K. Rowling’s boy wizard saga into three parts — as opposed to its chosen two-part incarnation — might have come across as shameless profiteering (admittedly a not-uncommon practice in this town) but it wouldn’t have been without merit. At 759 pages Rowling’s source novel is said to be a rather dense work plot-wise; surely it could have easily warranted another installment?
I only say this because Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 though certainly a decent film clearly strains from the effort required to fit the book’s proceedings into a two-act structure. While Part 2 slated to open approximately six months from now is alotted the story's meaty parts — namely the spectacular Battle of Hogwarts and its emotional denouement — Part 1 must bear the burden of setting the stage for the grand confrontation between the forces of Light and Dark magic and framing the predicament of its three protagonists teen wizards Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) in suitably dire terms. And it's quite a heavy burden indeed.
As the film opens the evil Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) having assumed control over Hogwarts since the events of the preceding film Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince has wasted no time in initiating his reign of terror. As far as historical evil-dictator analogues are concerned Voldemort appears partial to the blueprint laid by Stalin as opposed to that of his genocidal pact-pal Hitler. Enemies of the Dark Lord's regime are prosecuted in dramatic show trials presided over by the Grand Inquisitor Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) while muggles (non-magic folk) and half-bloods are denounced as "undesirables" and “mudbloods” in Soviet-style propaganda posters and forced to register with the authorities.
As the only viable threat to Voldemort’s dominion Harry and his allies are hunted vigorously by Bellatrix LeStrange (Helena Bonham Carter) and her goon squad of Death Eaters. The Boy Who Lived now fully grown and in more or less complete command of his powers is still no match England's nasally scourge. Labeled "Undesirable No. 1" by the Gestapo-like Ministry of Magic he's is forced to go on the lam where he labors along with Ron and Hermione to solve the riddle of Voldemort’s immortality.
For those not well-versed in Rowling’s source material the film’s opening act is a frustrating blur: After an all-too-brisk update on the bleak state of affairs in Hogwarts we are hastily introduced (or re-introduced) to a dozen or so characters the majority of whom are never seen again. A few even perish off-screen. Had we gotten a chance to get to know them we might be able to mourn them as our heroes do; instead we’re left racking our brains trying to recall who they were and how they figured in the plot.
Rowling's flaws as a storyteller — the over-reliance on deus ex machina devices (in this case we get both a doe ex machina and a Dobby ex machina) the ponderous downloads of information (not unlike those of that other uber-anticipated and somewhat overrated 2010 tentpole Inception) the annoying ability of characters to simply teleport (or "disapparate") away from danger etc. — are more evident in this film than in previous chapters. And rather than obscure these flaws director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves both franchise veterans arguably amplify them.
What saves the film are Rowling's three greatest achievements: Harry Ron and Hermione who along with the actors who play them have evolved beyond the material. The film's narrative gains its emotional footing during the heroic threesome's exile ostensibly a series of camping trips — with tents and everything — during which they reflect on their journey together the challenge that awaits them and the sacrifices it will require. Though they occasionally verge on tedious these excursions into Gethsemane allow us precious quality time with these characters that we've grown to adore over the course of seven films even if the plaintive air is spoiled a bit by some rather puzzling attempts at product placement. In their rush to flee the Dementors and Death Eaters it seems that they at least took care to pack the latest in fall fashion:
As devout readers of Rowling's novels know all too well the only foolproof shield against Voldemort's minions is the Bananicus Republicum charm.
S7:E4: After the disheartening mediocrity of the grilling challenge, last night’s episode started off rather slowly. The cheftestants were all demoralized, shuffling robotically around the mansion in pajamas and hair curlers. Except Arnold of course who won the last challenge and had the bright, sunny energy to actually use a curling iron this morning!
The rest of us are growing weary of the Angelo-Kenny showdown. Timmy Dean glowers in the corner. “Soon.”
This Quick Fire was quite fun! Tom and Padma both have newborn babes! They want the chefs to create meals that are tasty to the buds of a real person but that can also be blended into a puree for the feeding of baby-blobs. Somewhere Jaqueline’s ghost pipes up “I HAVE JUST THE THING.” Chickens everywhere shiver and pull their blankets up around their necks.
This challenge is High Stakes meaning ten grand is on the line for the two winners. Arnold wants to use the money to help children living with AIDs in Thailand. Alex chimes in he’d use the money for something nice, maybe a hooker and an eight ball. He is so Russian. He is like a character out of Vin Diesel’s XXX. “I practice making baby, not baby food”.
After a few stomach-churning montages of food being blended into meat smoothies, judgment begins! There were many dishes Tom and Padma did not care for at all, including K-Sbrags’, who had some plating problems and served an undercooked pan-seared duck over a pool of blood.
The judges did like Kenny’s curry chicken dish, as well as Angelo’s fenugreek dish and parfait-style baby jar. Fenugreek stimulates milk production. What a cheeky bastard. Tamesha impressed Tom with her vegetable chowder with homemade licorice oil. She ended up taking home the prize along with Kenny! They’ll be rich! Filthy rich!
We’re starting to see the trendy foods of this season. Looks like we can expect a lot of lamb, ribs, and chicken, ginger, and root vegetables. Chef Eric Ripert may be scaring these guys off of seafood. They are toeing the line with heavier meats like pork and steak that they can cook off solidly instead of a fish which may take more finesse.
The elimination challenge was a team activity - groups of two chefs were asked to create a signature dish for the Hilton Hotel to be served on the Hilton menu across the world. (The Hilton has restaurants?) The idea here was to not make the dishes too complicated or expensive or intellectual. The challenge was set up tournament style, with each team cooking breakfast, lunch and dinner. After breakfast, winning teams would be safe from elimination; same after lunch, until the losers of dinner would be sent home and winners would be given fantastic Hilton prizes.
The challenge begins and Arnold dreams that one day people will see him as more than just a Louis Vuitton bag.
At the start we meet the judges for this round and oh my god Brian Voltaggioooooo! Aieeeee!! Panties fly from all directions. He frowns. Spike is also back, no surprise. He is perpetually just off-screen, waiting to scuttle back onto television at the drop of his stupid fedora hat. For FAME!
I love breakfast so much that most of my meals usually involve egg and sausage. This is no exaggeration, so I was enthused for the first breakfast challenge of the seasooon! Firstly though, Alex is making pancakes, which for some reason is really grossing me out. Prostitutes and pancakes. They had some plating problems once again but that’s boring.
Most every team made a poached egg for this challenge. I’m not sure what it is about the poaching that makes it a choice for foodies but as far as I’m concerned poaching involves no frying and no butter so what good is it?
Angelo and Tamesha made a simple egg with bacon and bread. Tamesha assures everyone that she has been to Brian’s restaurant before and knows that her egg texture was perfect! Cut to Brian making a P.U. face, “this yolk is over”.
Kenny and K-Sbrags poached an egg with herb brioche, prociutto and olive tapenade. Drooool.
Amanda and Stephen made more poached eggs with pancetta, and more hollandaise.
Andrea and Kelley made a McGriddle type concoction of bacon, cheddar and whole wheat waffle with poached eggs and some kind of mango mint smoothie, which all looked so good.
Tiffany and Timmy Dean (master of disgusting frozen breakfasts!) made a crab cake with bacon etc. Trust me, hollandaise was involved.
Amanda’s team and Timmy Dean’s team won the breakfast round with their poached egg and crab cake!
The lunch round consisted mostly of Kenny and Angelo reiterating that they were both so mad that they didn’t win breakfast as they fumed and sulked and made thin slices of beef and a weird hummus salad. Other interesting dishes were Arnold’s tuna sushi roll and Andrea and Kelly’s overcooked shitty fish. Angelo’s team (beef bits) and Alex’s team (scallops) won lunch!
The final round rolls around and Kenny can barely keep his pants on. He must cook for his life? Kenny? Kenny? He furiously glazes his beef short ribs, meanwhile Kelly and Andrea braise their short ribs with Polenta and goat-cheese which looks so delicious. Arnold and Lynne fall apart somewhat and are putting together a mussel and squid-ink pasta dish.
After hours of cooking, the exhausted chefs are informed of the outcomes. Kelly and Andrea, most forgettable pair of women in the competition, have won it all! They win dream vacations from Hilton.
Kenny and K-Sbrags had to defend their short-ribs and lack of glaze. Kenny is infuriating and overbearing when discussing food. He used the words textures and temperatures about ten times. He said sodium instead of salt. Tom has no patience for this. He is the resident intensely bald man on this show. And there is only room for one. However, very unfortunately, Arnold and Lynne were sent home for undercooked pasta and for being too lively and too boring, respectively.
After a brief flashback prologue where we see how the young lion Alex (Ben Stiller) is separated from his father Zuba (Bernie Mac) inadvertently ending up in the Big Apple the story returns to present day as our favorite New York zoo denizens prepare to take off from Madagascar in a crudely constructed airplane piloted by the penguins and propelled by slingshot. Unfortunately for Alex lovelorn giraffe Melman (David Schwimmer) fast talking zebra Marty (Chris Rock) and svelte hippo Gloria (Jada Pinkett-Smith) instead of landing in NYC the aircraft sputters and crash lands right in the middle of Africa where they run into a world of exotic creatures. This also includes Alex’s long lost dad and mom. Happy reunion? Not quite. Zuba’s nemesis Mukunga (Alec Baldwin) insists they follow lion pride lore which means Alex must go through a rite of passage -- one he is sure to fail if Mukunga has his way. Meanwhile Marty tries to integrate into a pack of zebras; Gloria gets hooked up with a soulful hippo (will.i.am); and Melman is up to his neck looking for love. Oh and they also all have to save the Kenya preserve from a life-threatening water shortage. No biggie! Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa’s witty and hip dialogue provides rich voice over opportunities for a talented crew of actors. Stiller continues to be a riot as the showbiz loving Zooperstar Alex especially in his attempts to earn the pride’s respect. Chris Rock earns his stripes as he tries to hang with a large group of look-a-like sound-a-like zebras. Schwimmer is winning and hysterical as Melman now considered a witchdoctor by his fellow giraffe-ians while Pinkett-Smith continues to shine as hippo Gloria looking for a little action. Among the new voices rapper will.i.am as Moto Moto the last of the red-hot hippos will have you wanting More More while Alec Baldwin gets to play the heavy with Lion King style. The late Bernie Mac playing it relatively straight as Alex’s father proves (as he does in his other new release this week Soul Men) shows us just how much his unique brand of humor will be sorely missed. Stealing the show however and getting king-sized laughs in an expanded role is Sacha Baron Cohen back as King Julien the hard-partying head of the lemurs. With a vast improvement in Madagascar’s state-of-the-art computer graphic work directors Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath take this sequel several notches up in terms of technical savvy including the exciting opening sequence as well as the plane crash. But they really score with the script with new co-writer Etan Cohen adding some crisp comedy. What was mostly just a serviceable script the first time around has gotten a lot more sophisticated and clever a development parents being dragged by their kids will be keenly grateful for. This is the rare animated sequel that actually has a reason for existence other than minting money. It has more heart drama and laughs than the original Madagascar which despite its flaws still made half a billion dollars worldwide. Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa should make even more as it proves to be one of the year’s most entertaining comedy delights.
Cooked up in the head of Oscar-winning screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich) comes the movie in which he makes his directorial debut. Without Michel Gondry or Spike Jonze sifting through the maze this time Kaufman himself weaves this crazy quilt with consummate skill. In other words Synecdoche New York is just as successfully quirky humane and head scratching as all the others in the Kaufman ouerve. To sum up the plot succinctly is impossible but it centers on a stage director and hypochondriac Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who trades in his suburban life with wife Adele (Catherine Keener) daughter Olive (Sadie Goldstein) and regional theatrical work in Schenectady for a chance at Broadway. He puts together a cast (resembling those in his own dream world) and brings them to a Manhattan warehouse being designed as a replica of the city outside. As the world he is creating inside these walls expands so does the focus of his own life and relationships. As the years literally fly by he gets deeper into his theatrical self which soon starts to merge with his own increasingly pathetic reality. Whatever you make of the tale Kaufman is telling here the casting could not be better or more suited to the quirky material. Philip Seymour Hoffman offers up a tour-de-force and is simply superb playing all the tics and foibles of the deeply disturbed Caden. His early scenes in his “normal” home are wonderfully alive with all his phobias and hypochondria in view. Later we literally watch this man disintegrate as his master creation overwhelms him. Hoffman seems to fully understand the mental trauma of a man running as far from his own realities as he possibly can. Catherine Keener as always is right on target as his wife Adele. She has a knack for taking what seems like tiny moments and making them define exactly who this woman is. Jennifer Jason Leigh as a mentor to Caden’s daughter is always fascinating to watch and plays Maria with an ounce of irony. Tom Noonan playing the actor portraying Caden in the play is the perfect doppelganger and delightfully adds to Caden’s confused state. The all-pro trio of Michelle Williams as Caden’s new wife Claire; Samantha Morton as the irresistible assistant Hazel; and Hope Davis as Caden’s self-absorbed therapist add greatly to the merry mix. It’s nice to watch Charlie Kaufman seize control of his own work. In this instance he’s really the only one who can deliver us his Fellini-esque vision. Centering it all on the theatrical director’s weird universe Synecdoche does seem like it might be Kaufman’s own take on Fellini’s 8 ½ or even Woody Allen’s paean to that film Stardust Memories. Let’s just say we know most of it must exist somewhere inside Kaufman. Early domestic scenes could have been played flat but the novice director moves the camera around skillfully enough to make us immediately engaged in Caden’s world. Second half of the film set in the phantasmagoric warehouse is a stunning tapestry of scenes from Kaufman’s singularly fertile imagination. It’s nice to note he’s well equipped with the basic tools a director needs for this type of challenging material. Overall his film is a surprising confounding visual feast -- a dream/nightmare come to life and then spinning out of control.