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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WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
This follow-up to the 2006 smash hit Night at the Museum picks up shortly after the events of the first film with one-time museum security guard Larry Daley now living the life of a famous inventor. One night he decides to pay a visit to his old haunt the Museum of Natural History where he discovers that some of his favorite exhibits (and old not-so-inanimate friends) have been labeled as “out of date” and are being shipped off to storage at the Smithsonian Institute archives. In no time he gets a distress call from miniature cowboy Jedediah who informs Larry that a group of history’s most notorious evil personalities including Ivan the Terrible Napoleon Bonaparte and Al Capone are hatching a conspiracy. Together with their ringleader the 3000-year-old Egyptian pharaoh Kahmunrah they plan to take over the Smithsonian and after that the world. Larry springs quickly into action teaming up with Amelia Earhart and tries to save his old friends — and perhaps the planet — from the insidious invaders who’ve awakened from their slumber.
WHO’S IN IT?
Ben Stiller returns as Larry playing straight man once again to a legion of historical figures including new and returning characters. Back from the original are Robin Williams as a spirited Teddy Roosevelt Owen Wilson as Jedediah Smith Steve Coogan as the Roman emperor Octavius Patrick Gallagher as Attila the Hun and Mizuo Peck as Sacajawea. Ricky Gervais again appears briefly at the start and finish as museum curator Dr. McPhee. Welcome additions include a lively Amy Adams as the famed female flyer Earhart and a very funny Bill Hader (TV's Saturday Night Live) as an insecure General Custer. Christopher Guest plays Ivan the Terrible while Alain Chabat has lots of fun as Napoleon. Jon Bernthal’s Al Capone meanwhile is cleverly shot and isolated in vivid black and white. Best of all by a mile — and the real reason to see Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian — is Hank Azaria who plays Kahmunrah with brilliant comic timing and an affected speech pattern that’s highly amusing. The multi-talented Azaria (The Simpsons) provides the voices for two new computer-enhanced characters: a towering Abraham Lincoln and Rodin’s sculpture of The Thinker. Jonah Hill also shows up in an early scene as a Smithsonian security guard who confronts Stiller — a subplot that goes nowhere.
Although this follow-up suffers from a severe case of “sequelitis ” director Shawn Levy knows what makes this formula work for kids. Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian deserves props as the rare studio blockbuster intent on actually providing a little education by making these important historical personalities come to such vivid life. Use of photos and paintings from the adjacent museums is the most inventive new wrinkle serving as a clever interactive device for Stiller to use throughout the flick.
The screenplay (again by Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon) rehashes a lot of what was fresh in the first film and the result feels roboticly recycled. Levy’s direction seems rushed at times as if the filmmakers are afraid anyone with an attention span beyond 30 seconds. Kids will eat this up but aside from Azaria there aren’t many laughs for Mom Dad and older siblings.
For pure visual-effects wizardry and wonder you can’t beat the gang’s arrival at the Air and Space Museum where the production actually shot for a week. It’s awe-inspiring. Amelia Earhart’s encounter there with the African-American Tuskegee Airmen is also a swell touch.
NETFLIX OR MULTIPLEX?
Multiplex but drop the kids off and go shopping instead.
Who needs rehearsals? Apparently not Diane Keaton, director and star of "Hanging Up."
In the comedy hit, Keaton, Meg Ryan and Lisa Kudrow play three ambitious sisters who are drawn closer together when their womanizing screenwriter father (Walter Matthau) becomes hospitalized. The spunky on-screen spontaneity suggests Keaton's loose-leash approach.
Indeed, according to Bill Robinson, the film's producer and Keaton's longtime partner in her Blue Relief production company: "Diane doesn't believe in a formal rehearsal process. She feels that you can kill whatever spontaneity and freshness the actors bring to the role if you keep putting them through their paces. The rehearsal process for her was having a read-through or going out to dinner and talking about the character."
Compare that rehearsal-lite approach with that adopted by the "American Beauty" team, wherein the players spent many weeks sitting around a table pouring over Alan Ball's Oscar-nominated screenplay. Their belief in rehearsing was imported from the world of theater, where live performance demands such discipline. Theater, in fact, nourished many of the "American Beauty" talents, including first-time feature director Sam Mendes and stars Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening -- all Oscar nominees.
Which is the wiser approach -- to rehearse or have dinner? Proof may lie in the Oscar count but, frankly, dinner sounds good to us.
FRENCH FILMMAKERS REMEMBERED: Famous French lover and sometime director Roger Vadim ("And God Created Woman," "Barbarella"), who died Feb. 11 at the age of 72, had five wives, including Brigitte Bardot and Jane Fonda, and affairs with many famous women, including Catherine Deneuve.
What some obituaries neglected to mention is that Vadim's last wife was Marie-Christine Barrault, who survives him and should be familiar to readers on these shores. Barrault, niece of the great French actor Jean-Louis Barrault ("Children of Paradise"), has starred in dozens of French films, including the art-house smash "Cousin, Cousine." The 1975 flick garnered four Oscar nominations, including one for Barrault as Best Actress.
American audiences may also remember Barrault for her performance in Woody Allen's "Stardust Memories."
While on the subject of recently deceased French filmmakers, let's mention the January passing of prolific producer Alain Poire, who had more than 250 films to his credit. Poire's specialty was comedy -- commercial comedies such as the French hits "La Boum" and "Les Visiteurs" and the more recent "Le Diner de cons" ("The Dinner Game"), which was also an art-house hit stateside.
Reminiscing about Poire, "Dinner Game" writer/director Francis Veber, who lives in Los Angeles and has also worked closely with DreamWorks' Jeffrey Katzenberg, told Buzz/Saw that "above all, because [Poire] loved to laugh, he was much more inclined toward comedy than more serious genres."
BUZZ CUTS ...
"Who Wants to Vet a Multimillionaire?": That's the new game show we're proposing in light of Fox's "Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire?" debacle. The concept for "Who Wants to Vet ..." is simple. Three contestants compete to expose the show's subject -- a supposed multimillionaire who wants to migrate over to the "Who Wants to Marry ..." show. After the three contestants grill the subject in the first half-hour episode, they use the following week to go out into the field week to dig up dirt on the "multimillionaire." All four players return to "How to Vet ..." the following week for the second episode, in which the three contestants present their findings. The "multimillionaire" subject is then given the opportunity to rebut any of the findings and this second episode of "Who Wants to Vet ..." concludes with the audience voting upon whether the subject is worthy of getting married on the "Who Wants to Marry ..." show. The contestant who vets best by uncovering the most dirt gets a shot at being a guest commentator on Court TV. Best of all, Fox gets qualified multimillionaires who will ensure the life and integrity of its hit series ...
Blurber Melts?: A take-my-quote-please! blurbmeister -- one of those "reviewers" with an obscure media outlet who lends his or her name and a gushing quote to just about anything thrown up on the screen -- is experiencing serious burn-out, say Those Who Do Junkets. Seems the guy in question -- so cooperative that certain studios give him, among many perks, business-class seats when they fly him to L.A. junkets -- is dissing the execs he works with and trashing their films, as if too many freebies over too many years has brought him mental meltdown.
After a painful childhood as the illegitimate son of a harsh father semi-nutso pretty boy Martin (Alexis Loret) makes his way to Paris where he finds quick success as an Armani model and wins the heart of strong-willed violinist Alice ("The English Patient's" Juliette Binoche). But the memory of his unhappy upbringing and dark deeds past eats at the sullen protagonist's mind. Can Alice piece together the details of his tortured history before viewers tune out completely?
As usual the sympathetic Binoche dominates the film with her intelligence and radiant humanity. The complexity and emotional precision of her work is the main reason to watch the flick. Loret makes a strong impression in his feature film debut though he's mostly only called upon to stand around looking hunky and give us the occasional brooding frown. Mathieu Almaric provides compelling support as Martin's conflicted gay half-brother.
French auteur Andre Techine whose complex sensitive work in films such as "Wild Reeds" and "Thieves" made him an art-house favorite in the States loses his grip on "Alice and Martin's" narrative early on. Skipping sequences crucial to the logical flow of the story putting too much emphasis on a "mystery" plot point with an obvious resolution he delivers a drama that is all the more frustrating to watch for the fine work that goes into individual scenes. His loose approach to story structure which proved so refreshing in the 1993 ensemble drama "My Favorite Season " strips "Alice and Martin" of momentum wasting all the gorgeous visuals he's conjured up with cinematographer Caroline Champetier.