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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The down-on-his-luck schlub in need of soul-searching is a common role in the world of indie comedy, so it becomes an act of casting magic to enliven the trope with energy. In the case of The Discoverers, the feature debut from director Justin Schwarz that premiered at the Hamptons Film Festival, the brilliant recruitment is of actor Griffin Dunne.
Dunne is the ultimate bookish everyman. Unlike Hollywood's A-list leading men, who eventually all take a step back into the indie world to try and earn some reliability cred, Dunne has always owned his simple appearance. The natural advantage grounded the monster horror flick An American Werewolf in London in a terrifying reality. On Martin Scorsese's After Hours, he barreled through the chaos of New York City's underbelly as a guy who had no right being there. Dunne isn't a one note performer — he can play confident (his stint on Damages), broadly comical (Johnny Dangerously, or a variation of himself (Stuck on You — but the right tweed jacket can transform him into someone we all know. This is the heart of The Discoverers, which demands that quality more so than any of Dunne's previous work.
In The Discoverers, Dunne plays Lewis Birch, a former university professor attempting climb back up from the intellectually vapid halls of community college (where he now works) with the publication of his history-rattling book on Lewis and Clark. On his way to the convention that will mark the beginning of his upswing, Birch is informed that his mother is on death's store and that it would behoove him to check in with his family. Despite his antagonistic feelings for the eclectic bunch, he throws his two kids Zoe (Madeleine Martin) and Jack (Devon Graye) in the car and bites the bullet on confronting his past.
Lewis' major hurdles feel typical of The Discoverers predecessors, and even the way Schwarz shoots the film's set up feels overly familiar (drab suburban landscapes, wide shots straight on the subjects). But Dunne does heavy lifting here; well in his 50s, the everyman we once knew really looks like a down-on-his-luck schlub and Dunne's physicality carries us through those first twenty minutes.
And thank God he does: The Discoverers gets a major kick in the butt when it's real conceit is revealed. Lewis' Dad is a reenactor of the most dedicated kind (his subject of choice, of course, being Lewis and Clark's expedition). When Lewis' mother passes away, Dad goes mute, committing himself fully to an annual camping trip in which he and his costumed troop relive the famous American journey. To ensure that his Dad doesn't go off the deep end, Lewis and his kids join the crew. It's a backwoods twist that's more than welcome.
Schwarz surrounds Dunne with comedic talent that make the great outdoors adventure even more bizarre. John C. McGinley, David Rasche, Ann Dowd, and Apartment 23's Dreama Walker are like the human versions of the Rosetta stone: they translate The Discoverers' quirk factor into real entertainment. Cara Buono plays a lovely renactor who has problems of her own but finds herself warmly responding to Lewis plight. All perfectly natural when you see her and Dunne conversing by the fire.
The Discoverers gets lost in woods of indie land at times, with a few of its asides feeling arbitrary and reaching jokes, but Schwarz assembled the perfect cast to tell his story. You won't realize how much you want more Griffin Dunne in your life until you put a little Griffin Dunne in your life.
[Photo Credit: Quadratic Media]
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
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A decade-long gap between sequels could leave a franchise stale but in the case of Men in Black 3 it's the launch pad for an unexpectedly great blockbuster. The kooky antics of Agent J (Will Smith) and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) don't stray far from their 1997 and 2002 adventures but without a bombardment of follow-ups to keep the series in mind the wonderfully weird sensibilities of Men in Black feel fresh Smith's natural charisma once again on full display. Barry Sonnenfeld returns for the threequel another space alien romp with a time travel twist — which turns out to be Pandora's Box for the director's deranged imagination.
As time passed in the real world so did it for the timeline in the world of Men in Black. Picking up ten years after MIB 2 J and K are continuing to protect the Earth from alien threats and enforce the law on those who live incognito. While dealing with their own personal issues — K is at his all-time crabbiest for seemingly no reason — the suited duo encounter an old enemy Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) a prickly assassin seeking revenge on K who blew his arm off back in the '60s. Their street fight is more of a warning; Boris' real plan is to head back in time to save his arm and kill off K. He's successful prompting J to take his own leap through the time-space continuum — and team up with a younger K (Josh Brolin) to put an end to Boris plans for world domination.
Men in Black 3 is the Will Smith show. Splitting his time between the brick personalities of Jones and Brolin's K Smith struts his stuff with all the fast-talking comedic style that made him a star in yesteryears. In present day he's still the laid back normal guy in a world of oddities — J raises an eyebrow as new head honcho O (Emma Thompson) delivers a eulogy in a screeching alien tongue but coming up with real world explanations for flying saucer crashes comes a little easier. But back in 1969 he's an even bigger fish out water. Surprisingly director Barry Sonnenfeld and writer Etan Cohen dabble in the inherent issues that would spring up if a black gentlemen decked out in a slick suit paraded around New York in the late '60s. A star of Smith's caliber may stray away from that type of racy humor but the hook of Men in Black 3 is the actor's readiness for anything. He turns J's jokey anachronisms into genuine laughs and doesn't mind letting the special effect artists stretch him into an unrecognizable Twizzler for the movie's epic time jump sequence.
Unlike other summer blockbusters Men in Black 3 is light on the action Sonnenfeld utilizing his effects budget and dazzling creature work (by the legendary Rick Baker) to push the comedy forward. J's fight with an oversized extraterrestrial fish won't keep you on the edge of your seat but his slapstick escape and the marine animal's eventual demise are genuinely amusing. Sonnenfeld carries over the twisted sensibilities he displayed in small screen work like Pushing Daisies favoring bizarre banter and elaborating on the kookiness of the alien underworld than battle scenes. MIB3's chase scene is passable but the movie in its prime when Smith is sparring with Brolin and newcomer Michael Stuhlbarg who steals the show as a being capable of seeing the future. His twitchy character keeps Smith and the audience on their toes.
Men in Black 3 digs up nostalgia I wasn't aware I had. Smith's the golden boy of summer and even with modern ingenuity keeping it fresh — Sonnenfeld uses the mandatory 3D to full and fun effect — there's an element to the film that feels plucked from another era. The movie is economical and slight with plenty of lapses in logic that will provoke head scratching on the walk out of the theater but it's also perfectly executed. After ten years of cinematic neutralizing the folks behind Men in Black haven't forgotten what made the first movie work so well. After al these years Smith continues to make the goofy plot wild spectacle and crazed alien antics look good.
Costume designer Willa Kim, set creator Dana Kenn and fight expert Rick Sordelet, allege they have yet to be paid for their work on the $1 million (£666,700) production.
Director and co-producer Paul Alexander has assured the group Dracula bosses are dealing with the discrepancy, telling the New York Post, "All of the designers did a wonderful job on the show, and it was a pleasure to work with them. I realise they have some concerns, but we are doing all we can to resolve the situation. Everyone will be paid."
But the designers fear they will lose out altogether as the show faces closure following a disastrous opening night on Wednesday (05Jan11), when it was panned by critics.
One reviewer described the performance as "horribly anaemic", while a New York Daily News writer dismissed the production as "elaborately tacky, unintentionally hilarious and totally bloodless".
Kenn tells the Post, "We're unwitting investors in a flop."
Dracula bosses are expected to cut their losses and close the show as early as this weekend (08-09Jan11).
The stage adaptation of Bram Stoker's horror classic has been troubled for some weeks - actress Thora Birch was fired from the cast in December (10), days before the first preview performance, after the director fell out with the star's father, Jack.
Emily Bridges replaced Birch as the love interest of Dracula, played by Italian actor Michel Altieri, while Tony Award winner George Hearn starred as his nemesis, Dr. Van Helsing.
The Hollywood actress was due to make her New York stage debut in the adaptation of Bram Stoker's horror classic, but she was dismissed from the cast last Friday (10Dec10) amid allegations her dad Jack had threatened another actor during a rehearsal.
Director Paul Alexander claims the alleged incident last Thursday (09Dec10) came after a number of "strange" on-set run-ins with Jack Birch, and he's disappointed he had to let the former child star go.
He tells ABCNews.com, "I had to let her go for the safety of my cast and crew. It's unfortunate because Thora's performance would have been an extremely interesting and innovative performance to watch - that's why I hired her in the first place...
"It really was like (horror movie) Nightmare on Elm Street. It was bizarre. He (Jack Birch) also insisted on hanging out in the girls' dressing room. And all the girls are in it. Including other people besides his daughter! I just thought, 'This is getting stranger and stranger.'
"I have a 31-year-old daughter and it would never occur to me to be that involved in my daughter's life. It seemed to be exactly the opposite for them."
Jack Birch has denied threatening an actor in rehearsal, telling the New York Times, "I was trying to convey Thora's discomfort. In no way was I making a threat."
The American Beauty star was preparing to make her New York stage debut as central female character, Lucy Seward, the love interest of Count Dracula, in a preview performance at the Little Shubert Theater on Tuesday (14Dec10).
But producers have decided to unveil the show without her, reports the New York Times.
Director Paul Alexander said Birch was fired because her manager/father, Jack, had threatened another actor during a rehearsal last Thursday night (09Dec10), prompting her dismissal on Friday (10Dec10).
He has denied making any threat.
Meanwhile the actress admits she has been "blindsighted" by her dismissal.
She tells the newspaper, "For three weeks I was just doing my thing, and everything I hear was positive, that the work I was doing was wonderful. Maybe it's some kind of misunderstanding. I mean, there had been no tensions, everything was going wonderfully. Then Friday they just asked me to leave the building.
"I'm totally in a state of shock over this, I still can't believe it."
Birch has been replaced by her understudy, Emily Bridges, the daughter of actor Beau Bridges.
Dracula is scheduled for a 13-week run, starring George Hearn as vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing.
At the tender age of 12 Matt Murdock (Ben Affleck) was splashed in the eyes with radioactive waste and lost his sight--but his other four senses developed with superhuman sharpness. He grew up to become a bleeding-heart lawyer running a law practice with his best friend Foggy Nelson (Jon Favreau) and chasing beautiful women including the bright and fearless Elektra Natchios (Jennifer Garner). By night he is the masked vigilante Daredevil using his incredible senses and abilities to defend the downtrodden in New York City's Hell's Kitchen. Daredevil the movie stays true to all the elements that are pervasive in the Marvel Universe: drama love action violence revenge a spiteful police department and best of all the probing reporter on a quest for the truth. Here moviegoers will become familiar with events that become catalysts in Daredevil's crime-fighting career including the death of his father (David Keith) at the hands of the mob and the victimization of those close to him. The villainous underworld figure Wilson Fisk a.k.a. Kingpin (Michael Clarke Duncan) and his hired hand the psychotic killer Bullseye (Colin Farrell) are also introduced as Daredevil's foes--and the battle between good and evil is born in this gritty urban borough.
Daredevil's appeal is that he does not possess any superpowers which made Affleck (Sum of All Fears) a good choice to portray this rather vulnerable crime fighter. While he beefed up for the role Affleck still retains that guy-next-door quality that makes both Murdock and Daredevil so relatable. His love interest in the film Elektra is played by Garner better known as Sydney Bristow on ABC's Alias. Elecktra is as brawny as she is brainy and Garner is the perfect fit for the character: she's gorgeous in a non-Hollywood kind of way and convincing as skilled fighter. Playing Murdock's lifelong friend and partner Foggy Favreau's (Made) role here is the most low-key of the bunch but he delivers some comic relief with some really funny lines. As far as villains go no one could be better suited for the role of Kingpin than the larger-than-life Duncan (The Scorpion King). This massively muscled character had to be played by someone with a powerful presence and sophisticated intellect making Duncan the ideal candidate. Rounding out the malefactors is Farrell (The Recruit) who churns out a powerful performance as the psychotic killer Bullseye complete with the nervous twitches and shifty eyes.
The decision to place Mark Steven Johnson at the helm of Daredevil was a little surprising. His 1998 directorial debut Simon Birch and his screenwriting credits Grumpy Old Men and the astoundingly bad Jack Frost hardly seemed on a par with an action adventure feature like this. The fact that Johnson hasn't worked extensively with digital effects becomes apparent in some of the film's action sequences that include a CGI Daredevil running upside walls and taking giant leaps from rooftop to rooftop. The completely animated version of Daredevil doesn't behave naturally and lacks details such as muscles texture highlights and shadows. But Daredevil didn't have a huge budget (compared to Spider-Man at least) and what it lacked in f/x it made up for with a gripping and gritty story line. Daredevil's mission is to rid Hell's Kitchen--not the universe--of as much crime as he can and his vendettas are personal--and grotesquely violent. More importantly Johnson's screenplay stays true to the comic book characters and their attributes. Fans of the comic book will appreciate his truthful touches such Bullseye's maniacal talents which include being able to turn a paperclip into a deadly weapon and Kingpin's ritualistic removal of his blazer before pounding the snot out of adversaries.