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 most unbearable scene in Zero Dark Thirty — Kathryn Bigelow's intense, thrilling, and often difficult account of the extensive manhunt that lead to the killing of Osama bin Laden — isn't actually seen onscreen, but heard. The film opens to utter darkness, but we hear the still-horrifying sounds from 9/11. An airplane crashing, wailing sirens from first responders, and worst of all, a desperate, gut-wrenching phone call made from someone inside one of the burning towers. While Bigelow and her screenwriter Mark Boal have staunchly defended their film as neutral and void of any agenda other than relaying the facts, that godawful real-life phone call plays an unrelenting loop in your mind throughout the nearly three-hour runtime.
Yet that emotional, borderline manipulative opening sequence isn't the one that has people talking about the moral compass of the Oscar front-runner. It is the torture sequences that take place in the film that are getting the most attention. We've seen the images of 9/11 too many times, more than a person can bear. What we haven't seen, however, is the things that happened in blacked-out documents: the who, what, when, and where that lead to the eventual killing of bin Laden.
The first torture scene in Zero Dark Thirty, which takes place very early on in the film, is not an easy one to watch by any means. Not even with that terrible phone call looping in your mind. Even Maya (Jessica Chastain), the headstrong CIA operative who relentlessly leads the bin Laden hunt, has to look away as a prisoner is — among other things — waterboarded, stripped, and eventually placed in a coffin-sized box by his torturer, fellow CIA operative Dan (Jason Clarke, pictured). It is an unflinching sequence that leaves the viewer with uneasy questions to ask themselves.
It's a sequence that's not sitting well with some critics, and one that's especially not sitting well with some high ranking politicians who have seen the film. Senators John McCain (R), Dianne Feinstein (D), and Carl Levin (R) have expressed their dismay with the depiction of torture and the role it actually played in tracking down bin Laden. McCain, a member of the Bush Administration and a Vietnam veteran who endured torture himself, said the film made him feel "sick." In a letter penned to Sony Pictures chairman Michael Lynton, the three senators say they felt “deep disappointment” with the movie, and that "the film is grossly inaccurate and misleading in its suggestion that torture resulted in information that led to the location of [Osama] bin Laden.” They also called the film — which is currently being investigated for leaking classified information — as “factually inaccurate,” and “perpetuating a myth that torture is effective." They urge that the filmmakers and the studio have a "social and moral obligation" to get the facts straight.
The three continue to say that they worry that "the fundamental problem is that people who see Zero Dark Thirty will believe that the events it portrays are facts. The film therefore has the potential to shape American public opinion in a disturbing and misleading manner. Recent public opinion polls suggest that a narrow majority of Americans believe that torture can be justified as an effective form of intelligence gathering. This is false. We know that cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of prisoners is an unreliable and highly ineffective means of gathering intelligence."
This raises another set of questions entirely. Wouldn't Bigelow and Boal have received far worse criticism if they'd left torture, an undeniably ugly mark on American history, out entirely? Or did the filmmakers take far too many artistic liberties with the role torture played in tracking down bin Laden's courier, the man that would eventually lead them to finding the al Qaeda leader's compound, the very site where Seal Team Six would eventually kill the 9/11 mastermind? After all, this is a film that opens with a title card that it reads, “Based on first-hand accounts of actual events.”
In the New Yorker's scathing piece on the torture scenes in the film, titled "Zero Conscience in Zero Dark Thirty", Jane Meyer highlights two particular points of contention. The aforementioned torture scene depicted in real life the "F.B.I. agent present at the scene threw a fit, warned the C.I.A. contractor proposing the plan that it was illegal, counterproductive, and reprehensible. The fight went all the way to the top of the Bush Administration." Meyer argues that "Bigelow airbrushes out this showdown, as she does virtually the entire debate during the Bush years about the treatment of detainees." Meyer also points to the report from the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent shortly after bin Laden was killed, Leon Panetta, then the director of the C.I.A., sent a letter to Senator McCain, which stated that “we first learned about ‘the facilitator / courier’s nom de guerre’ from a detainee not in the C.I.A.’s custody.... “no detainee in C.I.A. custody revealed the facilitator / courier’s full true name or specific whereabouts.” In other words the information about the courier was not, as the film presents, from a tortured detainee.
While the concerns raised by the film's critics are certainly valid ones, it's a debate that's raged on in Hollywood time and time again. Where does fact and fiction collide in entertainment? Has there ever been an instance when a film based on true events hasn't embellished certain aspects of the story for dramatic value or altered the reality of the situation. (Even 2010's Best Picture winner, the far less button-pushing The King's Speech was criticized for accentuating "a gross falsification of history.") Zero Dark Thirty may play like a documentary at times, but in the end, it is a work of fiction based on facts.
There's also the overwhelming implication that the average viewer will walk away thinking torture is what lead to the eventual capture of Osama bin Laden. That without torture, no matter how grotesque or inhumane it was, the death of bin Laden would never have happened. Instead, what the film really presents is that the complicated issue of torture was a moving piece in a much larger puzzle. Tapping phone calls and bribing inside sources with fast cars were all morally ambiguous tactics that moved them slowly, but surely, to the ultimate end result. Implying that torture was the major factor in that decade-long manhunt is a disservice to the men and women who worked tirelessly, in so many different facets, that lead to bin Laden's death.
Zero Dark Thirty can be accused of plenty of things, including fabrication or uneasy to watch, but its overall importance about a chapter in American history and its impact on audiences is undeniable.
[Photo credit: Columbia Pictures]
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A kids’ movie without the cheeky jokes for adults is like a big juicy BLT without the B… or the T. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted may have a title that sounds like it was made up in a cartoon sequel laboratory but when it comes to serving up laughs just think of the film as a BLT with enough extra bacon to satisfy even the wildest of animals — or even a parent with a gaggle of tots in tow. Yes even with that whole "Afro Circus" nonsense.
It’s not often that we find exhaustively franchised films like the Madagascar set that still work after almost seven years. Despite being spun off into TV shows and Christmas specials in addition to its big screen adventures the series has not only maintained its momentum it has maintained the part we were pleasantly surprised by the first time around: great jokes.
In this third installment of the series – the trilogy-maker if you will – directing duo Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath add Conrad Vernon (director Monsters Vs. Aliens) to the helm as our trusty gang swings back into action. Alex the lion (Ben Stiller) Marty the zebra (Chris Rock) Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) are stuck in Africa after the hullaballoo of Madagascar 2 and they’ll do anything to get back to their beloved New York. Just a hop skip and a jump away in Monte Carlo the penguins are doing their usual greedy schtick but the zoo animals catch up with them just in time to catch the eye of the sinister animal control stickler Captain Dubois (Frances McDormand). And just like that the practically super human captain is chasing them through Monte Carlo and the rest of Europe in hopes of planting Alex’s perfectly coifed lion head on her wall of prized animals.
Luckily for pint-sized viewers Dubois’ terrifying presence is balanced out by her sheer inhuman strength uncanny guiles and Stretch Armstrong flexibility (ah the wonder of cartoons) as well as Alex’s escape plan: the New Yorkers run away with the European circus. While Dubois’ terrifying Doberman-like presence looms over the entire film a sense of levity (which is a word the kiddies might learn from Stiller’s eloquent lion) comes from the plan for salvation in which the circus animals and the zoo animals band together to revamp the circus and catch the eye of a big-time American agent. Sure the pacing throughout the first act is practically nonexistent running like a stampede through the jungle but by the time we're palling around under the big top the film finds its footing.
The visual splendor of the film (and man is there a champion size serving of it) the magnificent danger and suspense is enhanced to great effect by the addition of 3D technology – and not once is there a gratuitous beverage or desperate Crocodile Dundee knife waved in our faces to prove its worth. The caveat is that the soundtrack employs a certain infectious Katy Perry ditty at the height of the 3D spectacular so parents get ready to hear that on repeat until the leaves turn yellow.
But visual delights and adventurous zoo animals aside Madagascar 3’s real strength is in its script. With the addition of Noah Baumbach (Greenberg The Squid and the Whale) to the screenwriting team the script is infused with a heightened level of almost sarcastic gravitas – a welcome addition to the characteristically adult-friendly reference-heavy humor of the other Madagascar films. To bring the script to life Paramount enlisted three more than able actors: Vitaly the Siberian tiger (Bryan Cranston) Gia the Leopard (Jessica Chastain) and Stefano the Italian Sealion (Martin Short). With all three actors draped in European accents it might take viewers a minute to realize that the cantankerous tiger is one and the same as the man who plays an Albuquerque drug lord on Breaking Bad but that makes it that much sweeter to hear him utter slant-curse words like “Bolshevik” with his usual gusto.
Between the laughs the terror of McDormand’s Captain Dubois and the breathtaking virtual European tour the Zoosters’ accidental vacation is one worth taking. Madagascar 3 is by no means an insta-classic but it’s a perfectly suited for your Summer-at-the-movies oasis.