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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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.
A billionaire TV producer (Robert Mammone) has a great idea for a reality show that he wants to put on the Internet and his goal is to beat the 40 million Super Bowl audience. He has compiled a crack team of young hip and immoral tech geeks directed by Goldman (Rick Hoffman) and puts cameras throughout a remote island where former prisoners are going to kill each other while audiences watch after shelling out the pay-per-view fee. The location is done on a remote secret island and the death row prisoners are bought from prisons around the world with the promise that the survivor gets to walk free. Among the contestants are a rogue Aussie named McStarley (Vinnie Jones) a martial arts expert (Masa Yamaguchi) a husband-and-wife team (Manu Bennett and Dasi Ruz) a monstrous killer who doesn't do much more than grunt (Nathan Jones) and others known only as The Italian The German and other monikers quickly forgotten. Enter the sole American Jack Conrad (Steve Austin) who's in a South American prison for some obscure reason and is recognized on TV by his wife (Madeleine West) who tries to save him. However it looks like Conrad is pretty good at helping himself. Don't expect the acting to be much more evolved than what could be seen among the World Wrestling Entertainment superstars especially since many of them were plucked from the ring to star in this morality tale. But Austin (who had in a strong cameo in Adam Sandler's Longest Yard) proves he has a sense of humor as well as strength. Vinnie Jones is ridiculously over-the-top as the Aussie who's the hand-picked winner of this game shown setting up alliances Survivor style only to turn on them later. The supporting cast are refreshingly entertaining but one-note caricatures both in the contest and running the contest. It's obvious that they aren't going to be around long but the actors do milk their tiny roles for every bit of attention they can get. Rick Hoffman as the brilliant camera mastermind of the project is both whiny sniveling and mean-spirited so when he joins some of the rest of the crew and suddenly develops a backbone and a conscience he ends up stealing the movie with his acerbic humor. But it's the understated American hero Conrad who holds a mirror up to the people who like to watch this stuff. Director Scott Wiper who co-wrote this story has also acted in similar movies like this (A Better Way to Die). It’s obvious he knows what he’s doing with The Condemned and develops a sense of voyeuristic angst like those of us who can't keep our eyes off a train wreck. Like the darkly subversive Belgian film Man Bites Dog the camera crew remains safely distant and remote until the reality directly involves them. Then the crew wonders "What the hell are we doing?" while the audience might be thinking "What the hell are we watching?" Much like Series 7: The Contenders Rollerball and other movies which show a dark and bloody near future this kind of reality doesn't seem too far away and maybe proves that movies which provide this type of gladiator spectacle target a certain segment of the human population who need to blow off steam.
How do you sell a really big summer movie if all the good guys, including your major stars, die at the end? (At least Kate Winslet's Rose Dewitt Bukater, if not poor Leo, survived the "Titanic" !)
When the film is Warner Bros.' "The Perfect Storm," which opens later this month, stars George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg have to take a back seat to the movie's real star – the storm itself.
At least that's how Warner Bros.' marketing campaign has lined up its ducks. In the print ads, trailers, TV ads, Web and radio promotions, it's the storm, storm, storm (and loud she is!) they're pushing. There's barely a glimpse of George and Mark, who were seen together last year in "Three Kings."
This marketing manoeuvering for "The Perfect Storm" was surely tricky, especially since the huge marquee value of Clooney and Wahlberg had to be devalued. The film is based on Sebastian Junger's big bestseller of the same title about the real-life 1991 storm that claimed all six lives aboard the Gloucester, Mass. fishing vessel Andrea Gail. Millions of readers already know what happened to the fisherman.
So, while the storm may not have been as "perfect" and infamous as the iceberg that got the Titanic, there's plenty of awareness out there that "The Perfect Storm" has a bummer of an ending. Hence, the savvy marketing that has made The Storm the star (new Oscar category, Best Storm?).
When it blows into theaters June 30th, "The Perfect Storm," like the storm it depicts, will be huge. Director Wolfgang Petersen, who so brilliantly delivered life underwater in the German U-boat blockbuster "Das Boot," will show us what he can do above the waves. And those waves can be 100' high, a whole lot taller than Clooney and Wahlberg.
ALLEY SPAWNS STAR?:The New York New Media Assn.'s recent panel, "Entertainment Online: Are We Having Fun Yet?," made two things perfectly clear: No, we are not having fun yet, and, no, we are not making money yet.
Nor was there any consensus about what "entertainment" actually is. In fact, the real news last Tuesday was that high-profile Alley watcher and media maven Jason McCabe Calacanis, one of the evening's not-having-fun-yet panelists, might become a movie star. But more on that later.
Panel moderator and L.A. Times journo Leah Gentry kept hammering the distinguished panel, which included Calacanis, XM Satellite Radio President and CEO Hugh Panero, party animal and Pseudo founder Josh Harris, and gamester Greg Costikyan, with the question "How do you make money with entertainment content?" Only Panero's subscription-based venture, which will deliver a great variety of digitally-crisp radio channels to cars, suggested a viable business model, except that XM's "fun" is down the road, so to speak, since the venture has yet to launch its satellites.
Unfortunately, that knotty question of fun which was to be the focus of the evening's discussion never even got addressed until an audience member – no doubt wanting to get his money's worth (tickets began at $15 a pop) -- posed the embarrassing question during Q&A. Only one panelist, "fun" guy Harris, dared wrestle with the audacious inquiry by confessing that his idea of fun on the Net is playing Solitaire on his Windows desktop.
So what about all these short films, games, flash animations, etc. spinning around the Web? Gamemeister Costikyan, who wrote the book "The Future of Online Games," kept waxing enthusiastic about gaming's popularity and "stickiness" on the Web (So many people do it! The Web's interactive capabilities make games a natural! Players keep coming back!). Still, Greg didn't show us the money.
So while matters of money and fun were left in the dust as panelists kept emphasizing the new medium's infancy (Look how long cable took to catch on!), the real "entertainment" and "fun" news of the evening was broken by Calacanis, who announced that he has a speaking role in Wayne Wang's upcoming, digitally-captured feature "Center of the World."
Calacanis did not discuss plot or his role but allowed that he also contributed to the screenplay, which Paul Auster and Siri Hustvedt wrote.
So what is "Center of the World" about? According to Artisan Entertainment, which is producing with Redeemable Features and gave us that little item known as "The Blair Witch Project," "Center..." is in the tradition of such ultra-steamy films as "Last Tango in Paris," "9 ½ Weeks," and "In the Realm of the Senses."
The story's hero, played by Peter Sarsgaard ("Boys Don't Cry"), is a young computer wizard in San Francisco who has just become an IPO multimillionaire. Apparently he drops some of this newly-won coin at a chic club where he meets a beautiful stripper. Immediately attracted to one another, they take off for three days in Las Vegas where they explore the limits of their sexuality and the nature of passion.
Hopefully they keep their cell phones off and hopefully ever-inquisitive Web Watcher Calacanis stays in character and doesn't ruin their offline onscreen fun.
A MATTER OF 'SURVIVAL'?: As the insatiable appetite for reality-based television becomes more of a, well, reality, producers are frantically scurrying for the Next Next Thing in this exploding genre. And Buzz/Saw radar may have picked up some news-breaking signals regarding a new series.
The reality craze derives from early TV's game shows, gained impetus with PBS's "American Family," and really got going with Court TV, MTV's "The Real World," Robin Leach's leering "Rich and Famous" series, and E! Entertainment's coverage of how we party and have fun.
Cable's growing hunger for things real is even taking us inside the human body as a number of shows feature actual medical procedures. And PBS is back in the game with "1900 House."
Now, comes reality's biggest audience-winning coup. CBS's new "Survivor" series, with its weekly look at a cross-section of regular folk marooned on a island and chowing down on rats or live worm-like bugs, just trounced ABC's "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire." This week marks the season premiere of "The Real World" and later this summer comes CBS's "Big Brother," another import from Europe, that keeps constant surveillance over a group of people packed into a house from which, except for one person, they will, one by one, be voted out by audiences.
But, could a mysterious new series called "Ship Mates" ("Noah's Love Ark" and "Shipboard Romance" are other titles under consideration), uh, blow "Survivor," "Big Brother," the lot of em out of the water?
The alleged series combines four of America's biggest crazes -- reality programming, luxury cruise ships, fast and easy money, and the Internet! -- with the profound human need to be loved, the omnipresent tingle of real paranoia, and that old perennial sex.
Throw in for good measure Big Stars and a whiff of an already proven TV classic ("The Love Boat") and, voila! You have "Noah's Love Ark" (our preferred title).
Quite simply, "Noah's Love Ark" brings twenty singles together in the sealed-off, totally opulent first class area of a mega-cruise ship for two weeks. The ten men and ten women, who do not use their real names and will be totally isolated from the outside world, will eat sumptuous meals, play a series of shipboard games and indulge in a variety of networking and entertainment activities until they pair off.
Audiences will participate by predicting the results on the Net. The first few to identify who pairs off with whom wins. And the twenty participants have a chance to win big if they can identify -- the Big Phony among them!
This is where the paranoia comes in. "Noah's Love Ark" pro ucers will recruit a budding actor to play one of the love-hungry singles. They will invent a character he or she will have to maintain throughout the trip. Whoever of the twenty first spots the actor and successfully "outs" him/her is the on-board winner.
Of course, the show's Big Stars will be flown in to a port city to be brought on board for a day or two to entertain the troops, just like on other major cruise ships. As the cruise industry gets more competitive, companies will be dying to show off their boats and will be happy to make them available to "Noah's..." producers for free. So even the show's producers come up winners!
And of course, the concept allows for tons of variations: gay cruises, ethnic cruises, yuppie cruises, cruises for antique lovers who are single, cruises for widows and widowers or Net junkies who'd have to give up their habit for a few weeks. In "reality," it could go on and on. And so could we...