Ever since Mad Men debuted on AMC in 2007, the 1960s has been as integral a part of the show as John Hamm's shadowy and conflicted Don Draper. Both because the characters react to what would've been happening in the real world at the time as well as the embrace of the style and swagger of the early '60s — when cocktail hour was as important to business as having a good steno pool. These elements have helped to define the series' look and feel.
Mad Men does perhaps as good a job as any show ever in recreating a very specific period in American history, delving into storylines that don’t try to shy away from the social norms of New York during that time, which would include a lot of smoking and drinking to go along with institutional sexism and racism. The show also impeccably recreates the '60s fashion trends, lending an air of authenticity to what we're watching. (The writers occasionally slip with business phrases that are more '80s than '60s, but why quibble?)
Because it was such a defining decade in the history of the country, the '60s have been used as a backdrop for any number of series over the years. The Playboy Club and Pan Am both tried unsuccessfully to match the feel of Mad Men, and both suffered in comparison lasting for just a season each. So, what other shows besides Mad Men have done a good job of capturing the era of Vietnam, Kennedy, and the Beatles?
The drama set at a Vietnam military medical way-station earned a Best Drama Golden Globe and Emmys for acting for Dana Delany and Marg Helgenberger. While another series at roughly the same time — Tour of Duty — was covering the combat aspect of the Vietnam War, China Beach excelled at showing the human side of the war, as characters mourned those that were lost and reacted to news that they received from back in the States. The show attempted to comment on how the war affected more than just the people fighting it, and even occasionally showed real interviews with people who had been at the real China Beach.
The Wonder Years
There might have been no greater change during the '60s than the dynamic within suburban families, and The Wonder Years showcased that. While at heart it was just a family sitcom with panache for melodrama, it did a wonderful job of both showing the frustration of the parents over the changing times and the confusion mixed with optimism of the children. Fred Savage's Kevin dealt with normal early teen issues, but one of his friends (Danica McKellar's Winnie) had a brother who was killed in Vietnam, and his sister (Olivia d'Abo) was more interested in protesting the war than in listening to their parents. The show moved into the '70s as it went along, but the first couple of seasons showed a slice of '60s suburbia that no one else has quite captured before or since.
Laverne and Shirley/Happy Days
Both sitcoms began in the late '50s before migrating into the '60s (Happy Days by the sixth season and Laverne and Shirley by its third… although, really, each frequently had trouble deciding which decade they were in at any given time). Garry Marshall's pair of sitcoms never pretended to be an actual historical representation of the times that they were set in, but both managed to capture the vibe that American Graffiti —set in 1962 — had previously… namely in the optimism of young adults at the beginning of Kennedy's America. Neither show was trying to do much more than make people laugh, but thanks to the music that was employed throughout the runs of both shows they each managed to do it just the same. Of course, if you want us to try and explain why Scott Baio's Chachi had a very '70s blown-dried and feathered haircut for much of Happy Days' '60s years… well, you've got us there.
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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Lions Gate via Everett Collection
When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
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It is always good policy to keep in touch with one’s roots. Though that advice applies to people in all walks of life, it becomes doubly apt for movie stars. There is typically a long and winding road that must be traversed before fame and success can be achieved. Sometimes the jobs an actor takes along the way are embarrassing, sometimes they are low profile but respectable, and sometimes they become almost totally obscured by the passage of time.
Jim Carrey is one of the biggest names in studio comedy, and has been for many years. This weekend, he will appear opposite Steve Carell in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. Before we go back to the multiplex to see the Carrey we know, it seemed appropriate to take a look back at the Carrey that once was. We plumbed the vault and found some marvelous gems from Jim Carrey past.
As with many of his ilk, Carrey began his career as a standup comic. This first clip shows Jim performing at a gig in the early 1980s. A number of the elements that would later define his comedy styling are present in this short set. He imitates celebrities with serious commitment scary accuracy. Similarly frightening is his intense physical comedy — again, something that would canonize him as a comedian for years to come. It’s ironic that The Incredible Burt Wonderstone satirizes Vegas headliners, just as does Carrey in this clip.
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In 1984, Jim Carrey starred in a sitcom called The Duck Factory. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, it may have something to do with the fact that it was cancelled after just thirteen episodes. The show focused on a young animator who begins working on a series called The Dippy Duck Show. The Duck Factory wasn’t a terrible show, but even in this short snippet of the fifth episode, it’s clear why it failed to catch on with an audience. What’s interesting about the series, in relation to Carrey’s career at that point, is that he plays the new guy; a rookie who is still wet behind the ears.
When one thinks of Jim Carrey, it’s typically one of his cinematical comedy outings that will leap to mind. The guy is every bit a movie star. One of his first roles came in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1986 dramedy Peggy Sue Got Married. Jim plays the boyfriend of one of Peggy Sue’s (Kathleen Turner) friends when she is magically transported back to her high school days. In this clip, Carrey joins Nicolas Cage and two other characters to do their rendition of Dion & The Belmonts’ “I Wonder Why.” If you look closely, near the end of the song, Carrey is again exercising his highly animated physical comedy.
RELATED: Is 'the Incredible Burt Wonderstone' Offensive to Professional Magicians?
Of all the entries on Jim Carrey’s resume that we have examined thus far, In Living Color is likely the one with which most people are familiar. However, this early 90s sketch comedy show is still easy to mentally misplace when considering the breadth of Carrey’s career. One of his most memorable characters on In Living Color was none other than the safety-crazed lunatic Fire Marshall Bill. Watching this clip, it becomes even more shocking that Carrey never seriously injured himself while diving recklessly headlong into his craft.
After a while of becoming known as The Singing Comic Impressionist, Jim Carrey grew tired of being a one-note funnyman. He therefore decided to try a more improv-based, wildly unpredictable act that earned him entirely new attention. In 1991, Carrey landed his own TV special entitled Jim Carrey: The Un-Natural Act. Though a few impressions remain, this interstitial moment demonstrates Carrey’s then newfound love for off-the-cuff, guerilla-style humor. He walks around a grocery store, surreptitiously sampling different, and increasingly larger produce as he goes along. It’s a short clip, a moment that would play during the commercial break, but the laughs it engenders are substantial.
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[Photo Credit: Alan Levenson/Getty Images]
The magical R-rating is both a gift and a curse to Adam Sandler's signature brand of lowbrow humor. In That's My Boy the comedian returns to the dim-witted roots that made him a star in early outings like Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore (complete with high-pitched mushmouth accent) but with a ramped up "ew" factor. Unrestrained Sandler piles on as many expletives and gross-out scenarios as a two-hour movie can hold — and it works out quite well. With costar Samberg nailing the disgusted straight man role Sandler's penchant for acting like a fool is enhanced by the sick stylings of director Sean Anders (Sex Drive) and only occasionally teetering into truly offensive territory. Laughs aren't guaranteed but the movie provokes (which is a big step up from Jack and Jill).
Back in the '80s Donny had a secret relationship with his teacher Ms. McGarricle that resulted in a son Han Solo (he's a middle schooler what do you expect?). The torrid affair put McGarricle in jail Donny into celebrity tabloid spotlight and Han Solo in the hands of a tween father. Thirty years later everyone's screwed up: Donny (Adam Sandler) is a drunk on the brink of jail time for tax evasion McGarricle's still in jail and Han Solo (Andy Samberg) now "Todd " is a successful number-cruncher with severe social issues. On the weekend of Todd's wedding Donny reenters his life hoping to bring revive their relationship and reunite him with his mother — that is on camera so Donny can make $50 000 from a gossip TV show and stay out of the slammer. Posing as Todd's long-lost best friend Donny stirs up trouble becoming buddies with Todd's friends and family and acting like a imbecile.
The wedding setup is overdone but always prime for comedy: plenty for a numbskull to screw up logical progression (there's a wedding at the end!) and a bachelor party scene to squeeze in the most disgusting bits and have them make sense. That's My Boy makes the most of its conventions — including what we all know and expect from a Sandler comedy — by continually one-upping itself. After a night of heavy drinking at the local strip club/omelette bar that results in do-it-yourself ear piercing and robbing a convenience store with Vanilla Ice Todd returns home to expel the night's worth of drinking all over his fiancee's wedding dress. Then he makes love to the dress. Then his fiancee (Leighton Meester) wakes up to find the dress. Then it goes even further than one would care to imagine. Grossed out yet? Amazingly lower-than-low brow material is handled with clever timing and great delivery. It's just that the foundation is bodily fluids.
That's My Boy falters when it throws in gags that serve zero purpose to the story. Strange racist humor a mentally retarded bar patron played by Nick Swardson (a Sandler mainstay) random allusions to Todd Bridges' drug habits — barrel-scraping one-offs that have nothing to do with the movie. At two hours the movie needs slimming and the fat is apparent. Thankfully the main ensemble goes to great lengths to make the hard R comedy click with Sandler and Samberg playing well off each other (although Samberg doesn't have the making of a leading man after this movie) and SNL alums like Will Forte Rachel Dratch and Ana Gasteyer driving by to bring the funny. Even Vanilla Ice's extended cameo fits the anything-goes tone playing a version of himself that befriended Donny in his celebrity days. Now he works at an ice skating rink.
After a few lame ducks That's My Boy is a return to form for Sandler. It wavers in quality but it has energy and color. A cash-in this is not and for any Sandler fan with a stomach for hardcore bathroom humor it's a must-see.
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.