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.
Follow @Michael Arbeiter
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Welcome to Pawnee, Indiana. We are located 90 miles from Indianapolis and we are the state's seventh-largest city. We are a city of kind citizens, green places, and a deep love and respect for the land. For the care and protection of these public outdoor spaces, we turn to the Parks and Recreation Department, headed by the honorable Ronald Ulysses Swanson. In order to ensure that the parks, pools, and public spaces of Pawnee remain in their tip top condition and able to provide good, clean fun for the citizens of Pawnee and their guests, the Parks and Recreation Department asks you to follow the following pertinent rules and regulations. Please and thank you, rest in peace L'il Sebastian.
WooooEEEEWooooEEEE! Hear that? That's an alarm! A state of emergency has been declared in Pawnee, and it is now up to our municipal employees — with Councilwoman Leslie Knope leading the charge as our Emergency Czar — to get our fair citizens out of harm's way. There may be casualties, but if we all stick together (and follow the rules and regulatios, as outlined below) Pawnee will rise again! (Just to clarify, in case there's some confusion, this is only a drill. Where's Jerry going? Will someone please tell Jerry?)
10 Rules and Regulations for Responding to an Emergency
1. Classify the emergency. Before we can tackle the situation head-on, we must first classify its degree of severity. It looks like, despite all your hard work and chutzpah, Councilman Jam is going to get to build his Paunch Burger on your empty lot after all? That's pretty bad. All hands on deck! Can you pass a fry?
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2. Devise a plan. We can only beat this thing if we are organized, systematic, and calm. So, let's think. What must we do to jam Jam's plan? Let's examine the facts: We need to raise $50,000 to fill the gaping hole in our budget that is currently pushing the powers that be into Paunch Burger's greasy, lard-covered arms; and we need to do it in one day. Eureka! Let's throw a black tie fundraising gala!
3. Unfortunately, hot on the tails of one emergency we often find another. Just when you thought you could dive in to fixing your problem, you're thrown a curveball. In this case, it just so happens that the Department of Emergency Preparedness has scheduled your state-mandated emergency response evaluation for the same day you are faced with responding to a real-life emergency of your own. Ironic, no? To respond efficiently and appropriately, one must improvise.
4. Reevaluate, make a new plan. Lucily for you, you have the Mission Im-Pawnee-able Knope Protocal guide to hold your hand every step of the way. You know what we say to the avian flu in Pawnee? Boo hoo, avian flu! You don't scare us.
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5. But now that you are stuck buried beneath a mountain of red tape, you must delegate your tasks for resolving Emergency No. 1 to those close to you. Ben Wyatt knows his way around a clipboard, he can be your point man. Self-professed foodie Tom Haverford can surely find a caterer, Donna Meagle can be put on chair duty, and leave it to Ron Swanson to spread the word.
6. Enlist help through the media. Ron Swanson can speak in full sentences and won't cry on TV — get him a spot on Joan Calamezzo's talk show. He can talk up your gala while simultaneously saving a man's life by teaching a young boy how to perform a tracheotomy. Plus, have a question about woodworking, novels about tall ships, or meat? Now's your chance to get a professional opinoin. Just remember, "Any dog under 50 lbs is a cat, and cats are pointless."
7. Plan for the future emergencies by getting a man on the inside. Andy Dwyer is just two steps away from becoming a full-fledged officer of the Pawnee Police Department — only a written test and personality evaluation stand in his way. We know a genius like Andy don't have to worry about no multiple choice Scantron exam, but can he withstand the grueling polygraph test that has been known to ask such complex questions as, "Is your name Andy?" Trick question! Andy is a nickname.
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8. What do you do should you learn that this isn't your average emergency response drill? That, in fact, you have been set up for failure by your slimiest foe? You improvise... again. Your new objective is not to save the town from the avian flu but to get out of City Hall has quickly as possible. CPR those chickens, stat! Everyone dies on your watch!
9. Be sure to celebrate a job well done. Your friends will have of course come through for you and succeeded in throwing the swankiest gala Pawnee has ever seen. And, what's more, you have achieved your fundraising goal! (Of course you have, you're Leslie Knope.) The only thing missing from this perfect picture is a wedding band on your finger and a husband on your arm. Wait a minute... who said you have to wait another three months to get married? All your friends and neighbors are present, lookin' foxy, right now! What better time than the present to have a surprise wedding?!
10. To be continued...
Follow Abbey on Twitter @AbbeyStone
[Photo Credit: NBC]
Director Amy Heckerling proved she had an ear and eye for capturing the spirit of the youth generation in movies like Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Clueless. In her new movie, she proves that set of skills is even adept at capturing the essence of a people that never age.
The comedy director reunites with her Clueless star Alicia Silverstone and Apt. 23 leading lady Krysten Ritter for Vamps, a indie comedy that explores the ups and downs of life as a vampire living in New York City. Movie-going audiences have seen a fair share of bloodsuckers in the past few years, but none quite like the ladies of Vamps. That's because instead of dwelling on the plot details, Heckerling spent years letting her imagination run wild over what she herself would do if she gained supernatural powers. Mixing elements of old school vampire movies with the hurdles of today's rapidly evolving social scenes, Heckerling examines nostalgia with her signature wit.
We sunk our teeth into Vamps with the director, whose off-the-cuff style is even more apparent when discussing her films:
Instead of throwing every scenario or joke at the wall, Vamps has a very structured set of rules. It's well thought out vampire mythology. How did you flesh out this particular vampire universe?
Amy Heckerling: I started with the Bram Stoker. That was, for me, the first book from Western Civilization that really spelled it out. But that was much smellier, more decrepit, much like the Max Schreck. Not so much of the Bella Legosi, with the classiness, with the capes and the medals. The sexy guys.
But I always said, 'I'd love to be a vampire. Imagine all these people staying up all night and never getting older. You [can] go to a movie every night, go to clubs, go to night school — all these wonderful things. That would be a lifestyle I like but I don't want to hurt anybody.' So when Ann Rice's Interview with a Vampire came out, I heard they were eating just animals. So I thought, 'There you go.' That's no worse than people who eat meat all the time. If I could do that, and that was the only trade-off, drinking animal blood and not being able to eat food — food really is a big part of life [laughs] — but if you burn your mouth or can't taste or smell for awhile, you realize how miserable it is to not enjoy food. But all these other things would make it a great trade-off.
The only thing I was thinking of, it wouldn't really mathematically make sense, the way the vampires kill people or turn people. Let's say the infection started 2,000 years ago. There wouldn't be any people left! The whole world would be vampires. Where would the blood come from? So I thought, there has to be some sort of an infection. One person gets it and can spread to others, but the entire universe doesn't get it at once. And only the stronger one, the "stems," would be able to turn people. That seems manageable to me.
Why do you think there aren't as many successful vampire comedies?
Heckerling: Mel Brooks did a wonderful one [Dead and Loving It], but it was kind of a satire of the Coppola movie with a few other things thrown in. I love Mel, he's the greatest guy and an inspiration to everyone in comedy. But maybe had the Coppola movie been a bigger hit, people would have gotten the references more. I don't think people know Nosfuratu.And he had a wonderful thing that I wanted to do in my version. The vampire had a daydream and it was sunny, flowers — and Leslie Nielsen is so funny — that was hilarious. I wanted to do a dream sequence, like a day-mare, which would be an Annette Fontecello beach movie as her nightmare. People playing volleyball, surfing, having fun — that would be horrifying thing for her.
I think that might be a horrifying thing for some non-vampires.
Heckerling: It is for me! We just didn't have enough money.
But that's the advantage of this movie. You get to make this movie without restraint.
Heckerling: We didn't have the restraints of the studio saying, 'You need to use this actor,' but we didn't have the money to get a song, or a day to shoot, or certain scenes. It's a trade-off.
Have your sensibilities always aligned with studios? Was it easy to work with them in the past?
Heckerling: At the present time, there is a video of someone reenacting my pitch of Look Who's Talking to a studio and them telling me why it's not going to work. And there's a girl playing me who is pretty damn close, she's got the insecurity and the messy hair. I'm going, 'Oh my God, I didn't know anyone saw me or could imitate me.'
You have a fan base!
Heckerling: I wish they ran a studio.
You get to work with Alicia Silverstone again in Vamps, but even more exciting is you find an amazing accomplice in Krysten Ritter. Why did they make a great pair?
Heckerling: Oh my God, when I would see them on their marks about to start a scene, I would think, 'Am I about to do a Betty and Veronica movie?' They're so cute together. First of all, Krsyten is so beautiful and sweet. The two of them were just giggling the whole time.
I guess they're on the same page comedically.
Heckerling: Alicia is what my grandfather would call a very old fashioned kind of girl. Krysten is Blackberrying and tweeting and constantly on.
A bit more modern.
Heckerling: Exactly. And Alicia was pregnant while we were shooting, so that was a whole other thing. And I didn't know! So I would say, 'Alicia, can you climb up on the ceiling and you can hold this and you'll be upside down.' I did not know.
The film ends up using the immortal vampire life to tackle nostalgia from a variety of angles. Do you share Alicia's nostalgic sensibilities and are you critical of clinging to the old ways at the same time?
Heckerling: I really live in my own kind of universe. I'm real excited by a phone where I can look at my kid and talk to her face. I've been waiting and waiting. 'Do they have it yet? Do they have it yet?' And then they come. [This month] the iPad Mini came out. I'm always saying, 'Computers are too big and phones are annoying, so I want something this big and I want it to do this.' Finally, a few years later, they have it.
There's something I find kind of amusing. Young people's nostalgia. When the iPad came out, I said to my 20-something assistant, 'Go get one for you and one for me.' And she said, 'I don't want one!' And I said, 'Why don't you want one?' 'I like my computer.' Or my daughter going, 'I don't like this version of the old system.' They could be just like an 80-year-old person going, 'Why do I have so many remotes?'
I want what I want. I don't want to be fighting with Time Warner constantly over what I can and can't do. But I miss things so much. Everybody who worked in film misses holding pieces of film, holding it up to the light, and seeing exactly where something was image wise. So I try to say, 'Okay, nobody likes the way digital looks, but it's getting better and better, and actually I know people in upstate New York — Eastman Kodak — was dumping stuff and there was people with Hodgkin's Disease, and maybe we shouldn't have film. Maybe it'll be better.'
Aside from the many shows that have been adapted from your movies, you've also done a lot of television recently — is that a fun world to play in and would you ever develop original TV?
Heckerling: There are a couple of shows that I'm going to go to L.A. and pitch. I love working in movies, but you never know what's going to happen. You can work for a couple of years on something that's only around for a couple of weeks. That's depressing! On TV, you work a couple weeks on something and it's going to be right out there right then.
Is it fun to work off other people's material?
Heckerling: No. I don't like saying to a writer, 'Is it okay if I make this this? Or if we do that?' I like writing. I like making what I wrote.
A show you've worked on a few times is about to end. You'll miss Gossip Girl, right?
Heckerling: Gossip Girl was fun. A goofy show. I love those kids. It's a weird combination: it wants to be an old movie and it wants to be cool and modern. Ed Westwick and Leighton Meister are adorable.
Here's a moment of my own nostalgia. I am a big fan of Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan's A Night at the Roxbury. Were you involved enough with that film that you look back at it fondly?
Heckerling: Totally. Just the other day, I was talking about a meeting and I remembered how they open up their brand new filefaxes and check them out to see if they have anything scheduled. Stupid people acting important — I love that.
Did you end up directing part of that film?
Heckerling: No. But I'm very close to [director John] Forttenberry, who is wonderful. I was around and we just had a lot of fun. He did a great job. The guys were also part of the writing staff. So it was everyone working hard and everyone in agreement.
Vamps is now available on Blu-ray.
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
[Photo Credit: Anchor Bay Films]
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Theatrics slapstick and cheer are cinematic qualities you rarely find outside the realm of animation. Disney perfected it with their pantheon of cartoon classics mixing music humor spectacle and light-hearted drama that swept up children while still capturing the imaginations and hearts of their parents. But these days even reinterpretations of fairy tales get the gritty make-over leaving little room for silliness and unfiltered glee. Emerging through that dark cloud is Mirror Mirror a film that achieves every bit of imagination crafted by its two-dimensional predecessors and then some. Under the eye of master visualist Tarsem Singh (The Fall Immortals) Mirror Mirror's heightened realism imbues it with the power to pull off anything — and the movie never skimps on the anything.
Like its animated counterparts Mirror Mirror stays faithful to its source material but twists it just enough to feel unique. When Snow White (Lily Collins) was a little girl her father the King ventured into a nearby dark forest to do battle with an evil creature and was never seen or heard from again. The kingdom was inherited by The Queen (Julia Roberts) Snow's evil stepmother and the fair-skinned beauty lived locked up in the castle until her 18th birthday. Grown up and tired of her wicked parental substitute White sneaks out of the castle to the village for the first time. There she witnesses the economic horrors The Queen has imposed upon the people of her land all to fuel her expensive beautification. Along the way Snow also meets Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) who is suffering from his own money troubles — mainly being robbed by a band of stilt-wearing dwarves. When the Queen catches wind of the secret excursion she casts Snow out of the castle to be murdered by her assistant Brighton (Nathan Lane).
Fairy tales take flack for rejecting the idea of women being capable but even with its flighty presentation and dedication to the old school Disney method Mirror Mirror empowers its Snow White in a genuine way thanks to Collins' snappy charming performance. After being set free by Brighton Snow crosses paths with the thieving dwarves and quickly takes a role on their pilfering team (which she helps turn in to a Robin Hooding business). Tarsem wisely mines a spectrum of personalities out of the seven dwarves instead of simply playing them for one note comedy. Sure there's plenty of slapstick and pun humor (purposefully and wonderfully corny) but each member of the septet stands out as a warm compassionate companion to Snow even in the fantasy world.
Mirror Mirror is richly designed and executed in true Tarsem-fashion with breathtaking costumes (everything from ball gowns to the dwarf expando-stilts to ridiculous pirate ship hats with working canons) whimsical sets and a pitch-perfect score by Disney-mainstay Alan Menken. The world is a storybook and even its monsters look like illustrations rather than photo-real creations. But what makes it all click is the actors. Collins holds her own against the legendary Julia Roberts who relishes in the fun she's having playing someone despicable. She delivers every word with playful bite and her rapport with Lane is off-the-wall fun. Armie Hammer riffs on his own Prince Charming physique as Alcott. The only real misgiving of the film is the undercooked relationship between him and Snow. We know they'll get together but the journey's half the fun and Mirror Mirror serves that portion undercooked.
Children will swoon for Mirror Mirror but there's plenty here for adults — dialogue peppered with sharp wisecracks and a visual style ripped from an elegant tapestry. The movie wears its heart on its sleeve and rarely do we get a picture where both the heart and the sleeve feel truly magical.