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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There's an allure to imperfection. With his latest drama Lawless director John Hillcoat taps directly into the side of human nature that draws us to it. Hillcoat finds it in Prohibition history a time when the regulations of alcohol consumption were subverted by most of the population; He finds it in the rural landscapes of Virginia: dingy raw and mesmerizing. And most importantly he finds it in his main character Jack Bondurant (Shia LaBeouf) the scrappy third brother of a moonshining family who is desperate to prove his worth. Jack forcefully injects himself into the family business only to discover there's an underbelly to the underbelly. Lawless is a beautiful film that's violent as hell striking in a way only unfiltered Americana could be.
Acting as the driver for his two outlaw brothers Forrest (Tom Hardy) and Howard (Jason Clarke) isn't enough for Jack. He's enticed by the power of the gangster figure and entranced by what moonshine money can buy. So like any fledgling entrepreneur Jack takes matters into his own hands. Recruiting crippled family friend/distillery mastermind Cricket (Dane DeHaan) the young whippersnapper sets out to brew his own batch sell it to top dog Floyd Banner and make the family rich. The plan works — but it puts the Bondurant boys in over their heads with a new threat: the corrupt law enforcers of Chicago.
Unlike many stories of crime life Lawless isn't about escalation. The movie drifts back and forth leisurely popping in moments like the beats of a great TV episode. One second the Bondurants could be talking shop with their female shopkeep Maggie Beauford (Jessica Chastain). The next Forrest is beating the bloody pulp out of a cop blackmailing their operation. The plot isn't thick; Hillcoat and screenwriter Nick Cave preferring to bask in the landscapes the quiet moments the haunting terror that comes with a life on the other side of the tracks. A feature film doesn't offer enough time for Lawless to build — it recalls cinema-level TV currently playing on outlets like HBO and AMC that have truly spoiled us — but what the duo accomplish is engrossing.
Accompanying the glowing visuals and Cave's knockout workout on the music side (a toe-tapping mix of spirituals bluegrass and the writer/musician's spine-tingling violin) are muted performances from some of Hollywood's rising stars. Despite LaBeouf's off-screen antics he lights up Lawless and nails the in-deep whippersnapper. His playful relationship with a local religious girl (Mia Wasikowska) solidifies him as a leading man but like everything in the movie you want more. Tom Hardy is one of the few performers who can "uurrr" and "mmmnerm" his way through a scene and come out on top. His greatest sparring partner isn't a hulking thug but Chastain who brings out the heart of the impenetrable beast. The real gem of Lawless is Guy Pearce as the Bondurant trio's biggest threat. Shaved eyebrows pristine city clothes and a temper like a rabid wolverine Pearce's Charlie Rakes is the most frightening villain of 2012. He viciously chews up every moment he's on screen. That's even before he starts drawing blood.
Lawless is the perfect movie for the late August haze — not quite the Oscary prestige picture or the summertime shoot-'em-up. It's drama that has its moonshine and swigs it too. Just don't drink too much.
Based on the Walter Kirn novel of the same name Justin Cobb (Lou Taylor Pucci) is inward and shy not exactly winning qualities for a member of the debate team. Aside from just getting through the daily rigors of school he has one additional highly evident tick: he sucks his thumb. Not loudly not openly but quietly and in a withdrawn posture usually when he is by himself even if not alone. His father Mike (Vincent D'Onofrio) will walk quietly up to his son; when you think he's going to put a comforting hand on his shoulder he'll slap at his arm knocking his thumb out of his mouth. Justin's mom Audrey (Tilda Swinton) at once concerned and supportive is at the same time utterly focused on her job at a clinic healing the addicted. For awhile it looks like Justin's only friend is his dentist Dr. Perry Lyman (Keanu Reeves) who eventually offers the advice of hypnosis to him to break him of his habit. But when all else fails it's when Ritalin is prescribed that Justin's life takes a dramatic turn for the better--he's suddenly a bright focused leader of the debate squad. Before long he is dismantling his opponents in competition. But at what price?
Pucci is the shuffling stringy-haired hero skinny and ungainly. When he's confronted--and he often is by parents administrators and kids at school--he stares back with wide-eyed bewilderment. It's as if he can't believe his life is taking this turn. What's refreshing about Pucci and his performance is that it is not the stuff of mainstream cinema where the outsiders are still more James Dean than Beaver Cleaver. And it appears that Justin couldn't have fallen farther from the tree considering that D'Onofrio plays his father Mike with simmering aggression--a former athlete who now manages a sporting goods chain. He grins like he's going to take just a few more minutes of whatever you're saying before he slugs you one. Swinton while a great actress is a bit hard to believe as his wife; she seems too restless and intellectual but this does add some originality to the movie. Keli Garner is the sly tease Rebecca one of those teenagers who laughs and looks away when asked a question as if she is in on a secret she can't be bothered with telling you. Rounding out the cast are three name surprises who almost distract. Reeves as the wisdom-spouting dentist who hopefully is in on the joke of his spacey line readings. Also on board is Vince Vaughn as a fidgety debate coach. And there is Benjamin Bratt playing a cop on a deliberately cheesy TV show right out of Walker Texas Ranger. Ragged and flaky and possibly having an affair with Justin's mother the character is a refreshing change for the buttoned-down Bratt.
Thumbsucker has a dry cold quality that is occasionally dreamy. Newcomer Mike Mills directs the movie with a clean style but like a lot of independent film it feels a little self-important. Justin doesn't live a life of squalor or endless real pain so where is the inescapable zaniness of youth? It's not completely lacking in the film just with the young characters. After all Vince Vaughn plays a teacher. But like Benjamin Bratt as the kooky chain-smoking TV star who's graced with a most undignified flashback to an effort to smuggle cocaine into the rehab clinic that goes horribly awry and Reeves as the trippy dentist the comedy here comes from the adults and their dysfunction. Perhaps the film should be celebrated for its wacky promise that eccentricity is there to be had after high school if you can't find any while you're there. But it's the depressing quietness of Justin's day-to-day life that brings the film down. While plenty of kids have tough lives in high school there is precious little joy here. The closest it comes to euphoria is a night when Justin and three girls form the debate team all sneak some beers in their hotel room the night before an away meet. It's here that the film unmoors itself from its brooding qualities but it's over before it starts as if the brisk jump-cutting sequence were there to fulfill some sort of obligation. It's as if the movie had to get back to its business of being bleak.