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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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.
S11E10: Now that the pressure of makeshift performances on group night and solo night is finally clear, the 70 remaining American Idol contestants are whisked away to Las Vegas to form groups once more. This time, they’ll put together costumes and work with vocal coaches to perform assigned 1950s and 1960s songs. Ryan informs us as dramatically as possible that this time, they’ll get immediate results on stage – as if it’s different than every other episode apart from Solo Night.
The wonderful thing about Vegas performances is that they tend to be colorful, theatrical and fun. We see outfits inspired by USO shows and Elvis performances, but dress-up is more fun when you aren’t sent packing in your fuchsia Diana Ross dress. And while 50s and 60s music seems like an easy task because we all know the words and the notes are clean and simple, but these harmonies and melodies are so tight, it’s terribly obvious when they’re not completely pristine.
Luckily, Idol spares us the uglier performances, delivering only the best of them. We’re also seeing the contestants quickly fall into two groups – even within the ones chosen to stay. There are your average contestants with pretty voices, decent ranges, cute faces, etc., but then you’ve got the people who – as cheesy as it sounds – have music in their souls. The split divides the backstreet boys from the people who seem to view music not as a meal ticket or a means of fame, but as part of their identities.
Cari Quoyeser, Colton Dixon, Chase Likens, Skylar Laine
Before this group takes the stage, Skylar worries her trouble with harmonies will hurt her group – yes, we found an Idol hopeful who’s actually worried about someone other than herself. The group kicks off Day 1 with “Dedicated to the One I Love” and the group was easily split into two groups: the talented ones and the other ones. Colton, despite the praise he gets from the judges time and again, just doesn’t do it for me. He’s a boring combination of 1990s Justin Timberlake and Jason Mraz. Snooze. He’s not bad, he’s just not a stand-out other than the fact that the show continues to highlight him. Chase and Skylar blow their cohorts out of the water despite putting their country voices into unfamiliar territory. Lastly, Cari was a bit “shaky” as Jennifer put it – though I have to agree – and she was the first contestant sent home.
David Leathers, Jr, Gabi Carrubba, Jeremy Rosado, Ariel Sprague
One fourth of the next group, contestant Gabi Carrubba, somehow treads an impossible line between diva and sweetheart, complaining that she doesn’t have a decent enough solo while still maintaining respect for her friends and fellow singers. But when it comes time to sing “Rockin’ Robin” she gets to rock a big note at the end. That sounds like the perfect place to show off if you ask me. As usual, David and Jeremy are incredible – no surprise there. The perfectly average Ariel comes out of the gate with a much bigger game this time – she really does belong up there. Despite their middle school glee club choreography, the judges send them all through – which is good because they’re friends and that could get awkward.
Angie Zeiderman, Erika Van Pelt, Adam Brock, Shelby Tweeten
Another split performance comes from this foursome, who spit out “Great Balls of Fire.” It’s no wonder that Adam shined as he sang and plinked away at the piano and Erika found the overboard sweet spot – the dynamic elements of the song suited her tendency to over perform. Angie is having fun and she’s fully committed, but she’s a little sharp and it’s clear she’s not the same caliber singer as her teammates. Shelby is cute and decent singer, but I’ve yet to find her engaging. They all go through, though Randy leaves poor Angie in limbo for what feels like 45 seconds.
Schyler Dixon, Brielle Von Hugel, Molly Hunt
Colton Dixon’s sister Schyler, didn’t fare as well in her routine as her brother did in his. The girls sang “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” in reimagined (see: skimpy) army costumes and Steven says he used to make out to this song, reminding us just how old he really is. The performance is over the top, and Schyler, especially, slides to and from notes too much. Brielle is obnoxious, but strong. They must have cut out Molly’s solo, because we have no evidence of her “weak” performance before she is cut. Jennifer adds that Molly is such a sweetheart. Yes, it hurts to send home the nice girl while the one who terrifies her own mother gets to continue.
Haley Johnson, Elise Testone, Eben Franckewitz, Reed Grimm
This unlikely quartet has “modernized” their song, “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes” and while I’m sure they have an official group name, they should probably change it to The Reed Show. Reed dominates the performance, and whether or not you find his personality obnoxious, his clear talent is unavoidable. Elise is fairly solid – though her voice does crack once – and Haley does alright, but her voice is remarkably vanilla. Eben is cute and sweet, but he’s not as remarkable as he once seemed to be, but at the end, he joins the group in scatting and beat boxing, proving that they’re not just singers, they’re truly musical. They carry it, even if their individual voices aren’t that spectacular. All four are moving on.
Richie Law, Jermaine Jones
After MIT kicked Richie out, the two deep-voiced singers couldn’t find groups. But even when they find each other, they have trouble syncing up. Richie once again thinks he’s couldn’t possibly be wrong and blames his vocal coach’s arrangement. Richie’s annoying qualities aside, they managed to pull it together for their performance. Jermaine sings honestly and sweetly and Richie sings like a Kermit the Frog sound-alike who’s watched too many Tim McGraw and Josh Groban videos. The judges love every bit of it – perhaps they were lulled into a happy place but Jermaine’s voice, because Richie sure didn’t have a pleasant effect on me.
Candice Glover, Jessica Sanchez, Deandre Brackensick
The trio sings “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” and first up, Jessica, overdoes her performance with overdone vibrato, but she does prove to have a decent set of pipes. Deandre’s falcetto is a little hard to hear at first, but it’s lovely. It would lovelier without that mop, though. Candice is solid and acts as the final piece sending the whole group through to the next round.
But they can’t show every performance, so we learn of a few keepers and departures in rapid fire montaged. Strong singers Hallie Day, Baylie Brown, and Chelsea Sorrell will stick around for another day, while Wayne Wilson, Ashley Robles, Stephanie Renae, Aubrey Deickmeyer, Tonya Torrez, and Janelle Arthur are all sent home. But the Day 1 folks learn that at the end of Day 2, they’ll all be brought in for a second round of sudden cuts. Get ready for tears.
Scott Dangerfield, Clayton Farhat, Adam Lee Decker, Curtis Cray
These guys were a lot of fun, in their matching little “Jailhouse Rock” 50s ne’er-do-well get-ups, but it was obvious that the talent wasn’t even across the board. Clayton had fun by the was a little thin and Scott and Adam are the strongest. Curtis was sharp, Jennifer points out that he didn’t make use of dynamics. Curtis is out and while they’re nice as a group, none of them really stand out, vocally or personality-wise.
Jessica Phillips, Brittnee Kellogg, Courtney Williams
These over-confident ladies don’t practice with the band or vocal coaches because they sing for a living, so they don’t “need” the help. They delve into “Keep Me Hanging On” and immediately, Courtney has irregular switches between falcetto and vibrato. Jessica attempts a similar feat but with less risk. Randy calls it “A little much” – and that’s putting it lightly. The judges say both Courtney and Jessica took risks that didn’t pay off. I think that’s more true for Courtney than Jessica. Brittnee and Courtney make it through by some miracle and Jessica is sent home. I’m sorry but were we listening to the same thing? Courtney should be on the road right now. But Jessica is a poor loser, saying that she’s a real artist and calling out people who aren’t real artists, bashes the TV show saying she doesn’t care about it, she only cares about a recording contract. We loved Jessica and felt for her story, but unsportsmanlike behavior is not helping us feel badly for her.
Lauren Gray, Mathenee Treco, Wendy Taylor
This trio clashes hard with their vocal coach, causing her to make a reference to A League of Their Own which seems to do little more than confuse everyone. Lauren is losing her voice, the vocal coach is merciless, but that’s probably for the best. They sing “Will You Still Love Me” and Lauren does well, though it certainly sounds like she’s sick. Mathenee is good, but why are all of his solos in falcetto? That’s not a good way to show off. They cut Mathenee.
Jairon Jackson, Neco Starr, Phil Phillips, Heejun Han
Some Idol genius paired Heejun with Peggy Blue, but she’s actually sweet with him. Their little tete-a-tete is the best part of the coaching bits. “You were scary last year, what’s up with that?” “You’re sweet.” “You’re sweet too…now.” Isn’t that just adorable? And the reason Peggy was so nice is because the group just clicked. Neco’s performance is lovely. Heejun delivers a nice solo, but lacks his usual fire. And Phil actually has to sing sweetly – something he never really does, but he pulls it off. And it’s likable. Peggy actually gets a shout out – what planet is this? Randy messes with them, calls them forward one by one and then phrases the final verdict as if they’re cut. But duh, they all make it through. My favorite jokester lives to see another day.
Nick Boddington, Jen Hirsch, Creighton Fraker, Aaron Marcellus
The foursome is still coping with the loss of their old teammate, Reed Grimm, but they still whip out a rousing rendition of “Sealed With a Kiss.” And it would see my opinion of Creighton Fraker is pretty sealed. I liked him a bit more after “What a Wonderful World” but this week he’s back to delivering his voice as 10 shades of overkill. Jen Hirsch once again blows our minds – where has that voice been hiding? And Aaron is consistent as always. Nick is the only one who can’t really compare to the others and he’s sent home. And to be fair, if he’s overshadowed here, he’ll be overshadowed in the bigger competition too.
Also making it through are Caleb Johnson, Joshua Sanders, Joshua Ledet and Shannon Magrane.
Finally, they bring all the contestants on stage to humiliate them. They stand with groups and are eliminated or kept right then and there. It’s so cruel, but they need to get to 40 (they only make it to 42, but next week they have to get down to 24). And the major cuts are: Gabi Carrubba, Schyler Dixon (whose brother made it after JLo forced him to audition), Angie Zeiderman, Candice Glover, Johnny Keyser, Jairson Jackson, and Britnee Kellogg. But how they can keep a subpar singer like Richie around, in light of those cuts, is beyond me.
Next week, it’s the last chance before the top 24 are chosen. Who do you think will make it?
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.
Salt the propulsive new thriller from Phillip Noyce (Clear and Present Danger Patriot Games) has been dubbed “Bourne with boobs ” but that label isn’t entirely accurate. In the role of Evelyn Salt a CIA staffer hunted by her own agency after a Russian defector fingers her in a plot to murder Russia’s president Angelina Jolie keeps her two most potent weapons holstered hidden under pantsuits and trenchcoats and the various other components of a super-spy wardrobe that proudly emphasizes function over flash.
But flash is one thing Salt never lacks for. Its breathless cat-and-mouse game hits full-throttle almost from the outset when a former KGB officer named Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) stumbles into a CIA interrogation room and begins spilling details of a vast conspiracy. Back in the ‘70s hardline elements of the Soviet regime launched an ambitious new front in the Cold War flooding the western world with orphans trained to infiltrate the security complexes of their adopted homelands and wait patiently — decades if necessary — for the order to initiate a series of assassinations intended to trigger a devastating nuclear clash between the superpowers from which the treacherous Reds would emerge triumphant.
The Soviet Union may have long ago collapsed (or did it? Hmmm...) but its army of brainwashed killer orphan spies remains in place and if this crazy Orlov fellow is to be believed they stand poised to reignite the Cold War. It’s a preposterous — even idiotic — scheme but no more so than any of our government’s various harebrained proposals to kill Castro back in the ‘60s. As such the CIA treats it with grave seriousness even the part that that pegs Salt who just happens to be a Russian-born orphan herself as a key player in the conspiracy.
Salt bristles at the accusation but suspecting a set-up she opts to flee rather than face interrogation from her bosses Winter (Liev Schreiber) and Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor). A former field agent she’s been confined to a desk job since a clandestine operation in North Korea went south leaving her with a nasty shiner and a rather unremarkable German boyfriend (now her unremarkable German husband). She’s clearly kept up her training during while cubicle-bound however and in a blaze of resourceful thinking and devastating Parkour Fu she fends off a dozen or so agents of questionable competence and takes to the streets where she sets about to clear her name and unravel the Commie orphan conspiracy before the authorities can catch up with her. That is if she isn’t a part of the conspiracy.
The premise which aims to resurrect Cold War tensions and graft them onto a modern-day spy thriller is absurdly clever — and cleverly absurd. But Kurt Wimmer’s screenplay isn’t satisfied with the merely clever and absurd — it must be mind-blowing. Salt is one of those thrillers that ladles out its backstory slowly and in tiny portions every once in a while dropping a revelatory bombshell that effectively blows the lid off everything that happened beforehand. No one is who they seem and every action every gesture no matter how seemingly trivial is imbued with some kind of grand significance. The effect of piling on one insane twist after another has the effect of gradually diluting the narrative. When anything is possible nothing really matters.
But spy thrillers by definition trade in the preposterous and the principal function of the summer blockbuster is to entertain. In that regard Salt more than fulfills its charge. Noyce wisely keeps the story moving at pace that allows little time for asking uncomfortable questions or poking holes in the film’s frail plot. And he has an able partner in the infinitely versatile Jolie who having already exhibited formidable action-hero chops in Wanted and the Tomb Raider films proves remarkably adept at the spy game as well.
It’s well-known that Jolie wasn’t the first choice to star in Salt joining the project only after Tom Cruise dropped out citing the story’s growing similarities to the Mission: Impossible films. But she’s more than just a capable replacement; she’s a welcome upgrade over Cruise not least because she’s over a decade younger (and a few inches taller) than her predecessor. Should Brad Bird require a pinch-hitter for Ethan Hunt he knows where to look.