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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Widening the thematic scope without sacrificing too much of the claustrophobia that made the original 1979 Alien universally spooky Prometheus takes the trophy for this summer's most adult-oriented blockbuster entertainment. The movie will leave your mouth agape for its entire runtime first with its majestic exploration of an alien planet and conjectures on the origins of the human race second with its gross-out body horror that leaves no spilled gut to the imagination. Thin characters feel more like pawns in Scott's sci-fi prequel but stunning visuals shocking turns and grand questions more than make up for the shallow ensemble. "Epic" comes in many forms. Prometheus sports all of them.
Based on their discovery of a series of cave drawings all sharing a similar painted design Elizabeth (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green) are recruited by Weyland to head a mission to another planet one they believe holds the answers to the creation of life on Earth. Along for the journey are Vickers (Charlize Theron) the ruthless Weyland proxy Janek (Idris Elba) a blue collar captain a slew of faceless scientists and David (Michael Fassbender) HAL 9000-esque resident android who awakens the crew of spaceship Prometheus when they arrive to their destination. Immediately upon descent there's a discovery: a giant mound that's anything but natural. The crew immediately prepares to scope out the scene zipping up high-tech spacesuits jumping in futuristic humvees and heading out to the site. What they discover are the awe-inspiring creations of another race. What they bring back to the ship is what they realize may kill their own.
The first half of Prometheus could be easily mistaken for Steven Spielberg's Alien a sense of wonder glowing from every frame not too unlike Close Encounters. Scott takes full advantage of his fictional settings and imbues them with a reality that makes them even more tantalizing. He shoots the vistas of space and the alien planet like National Geographic porn and savors the interior moments on board the Prometheus full of hologram maps sleeping pods and do-it-yourself surgery modules with the same attention. Prometheus is beautiful shot in immersive 3D that never dampers Dariusz Wolski's sharp photography. Scott's direction seems less interested in the run-or-die scenario set up in the latter half of the film but the film maintains tension and mood from beginning to end. It all just gets a bit…bloodier.
Jon Spaihts' and Damon Lindelof's script doesn't do the performers any favors shuffling them to and fro between the ship and the alien construction without much room for development. Reveals are shoehorned in without much setup (one involving Theron's Vickers that's shockingly mishandled) but for the most part the ensemble is ready to chomp into the script's bigger picture conceits. Rapace is a physical performer capable of pulling off a grisly scene involving an alien some sharp objects and a painful procedure (sure to be the scene of the blockbuster season. Among the rest of the crew Fassbender's David stands out as the film's revelatory performance delivering a digestible ambiguity to his mechanical man that playfully toys with expectations from his first entrance. The creature effects in Prometheus will wow you but even Fassbender's smallest gesture can send the mind spinning. The power of his smile packs more of a punch than any facehugger.
Much like Lindelof's Lost Prometheus aims to explore the idea of asking questions and seeking answers and on Scott's scale it's a tremendous unexpected ride. A few ideas introduced to spur action fall to the way side in the logic department but with a clear mission and end point Prometheus works as a sweeping sci-fi that doesn't require choppy editing or endless explosions to keep us on the edge of our seats. Prometheus isn't too far off from the Alien xenomorphs: born from existing DNA of another creature the movie breaks out as its own beast. And it's wilder than ever.
If you're anything like me, first of all, please accept my sincere condolences -- but it means that you also love epic period films with boatloads of swordplay. Not to generalize too terribly, but it seems as though films like Gladiator, Braveheart, and Return of the King have a powerful male-centric appeal. Perhaps it has something to do with innate, primal tendencies within our gender, but, at least as far as I'm concerned, there are few things better than watching a legendary alpha male slash, cut and maim enemies with bloody abandon. But the problem we run into is that for every Braveheart or Gladiator, films that are as artistically adept as they are savage and entertaining, there are a slew of imitators that count themselves lucky if they are even half as competent in either aspect. It is for that reason that many of the lesser releases go entirely unnoticed even if they did receive a major, albeit limited, release in theaters.
This verbose segue leads me to the subject of this week's Under the Radar column: Centurion. The film, which was released on limited screens in August 2010 and has just been added to Netflix's Watch Instantly section, is based on the "true" story of the 9th Roman legion that was stationed in the northernmost reaches of the leviathan Roman Empire. This area, modern-day Britain, was one of the most volatile and besieged tentacles of the empire, and chief among Rome's problems in the region was the Pict tribe. These champions of war would attack during the night and employ guerrilla tactics to cause colossal headaches for the garrisoned soldiers. This film focuses on a particularly nasty ambush upon the 9th Legion by the Picts that leaves them all but annihilated. The few who manage to survive struggle to make it back to friendlier ground.
I saw this film at the SXSW film festival back in March, and it was one of the biggest surprises of the fest for me. The film is directed by horror auteur Neil Marshall, whose films have consistently failed to connect with me. I harbored no love for Dog Soldiers, thought the ending of The Descent was laughable, and could not get into Doomsday no matter how hard I tried. This is no slight against Marshall, but rather fuel for my eventual shock at how much I enjoyed Centurion. It's not every day that a horror director tackles a period war film -- but I sincerely hope it becomes a trend.
The film stars Michael Fassbender as Quintus Dias, who not only suffers the film's pivotal ambush, but early on is taken prisoner by the Picts and tortured. You may recognize Fassbender from his exceptional performance as British lieutenant Archie Hicox from Inglourious Basterds. I loved Fassbender in that film and have since sought out his other work (I highly recommend Blood Creek). In Centurion, he is poised and cool under pressure but not afraid to spill blood with fury. As a movie star, he always seems to exude an old-world presence that adds a bit of class and grandeur to the proceedings, which works to Centurion's advantage.
The film also stars Dominic West, who, as much as I loved him for all the wrong reasons in Punisher: War Zone, is shockingly strong in this film, proving that he is in fact a real actor with his rough-around-the-edges but admirably honorable Titus Virilus. Rounding out the cast is Olga Kurylenko as Pict warrior woman Etain; fiercely strong female characters are a trademark of Marshall's career. She is as intimidating in Centurion as she is stunning, even under mountains of makeup.
I could go on and on about the beautiful cinematography and gorgeous production design of Centurion. I could lavish praise upon it for the compelling story of soldiers doing everything they can to make it home from hostile territory, which reminds me of another of my favorite films: The Warriors. But what really sets Centurion head-and-shoulders above the rest is its tenacity for, well, severing heads from shoulders. This thing is six different kinds of bloody and, should your stomach be fortified enough, makes for a raucously amusing experience. It may seem exploitative, but in actuality, Marshall draws from the well of his horror experience to lend a purpose to the gore. Every blow from every sword is felt with such grisly force as to emphasize the brutality and shocking truth of warfare, a message that transcends time and applies to any choice of weaponry. All in all, this is a fantastic film that deserves far more attention than it got upon initial release. If your curiosity has been piqued, take a stab at Centurion on Netflix.