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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Here we are, folks, the release of The Dark Knight Rises. For most people, 2012 will be a year remembered cinematically for The Avengers and this, Christopher Nolan’s final Batman film. It’s no flowery sentiment to remark that we have reached the end of an era. Joel Schumacher had managed to take a character as much a pop culture icon as a comic book hero and drive his name into the deepest of silly, Happy Meal toy purgatories. When the studio decided to revive Bats, and restore his legacy, the man they called upon to operate the defibrillator was a relative unknown.
That’s not to say Batman Begins was Nolan’s debut film, he’d in fact made three up to that point. It’s fair to say that most people did not take note of Nolan until the studio took a chance on his helming the Batman franchise, but was their choice really so much of a gamble? Though he didn’t command much clout in Hollywood at the time he was hired for Batman Begins, was there evidence in his earlier films that would suggest his appropriateness for not only taking over Batman, but landing a three-picture deal? We’ll be taking a look at two of Nolan’s earlier films, two films that are currently available on Netflix’s Watch Instantly, which present a strong case for Nolan’s preexisting Bat qualifications.
First, let’s consider Memento. As stated before, Nolan was largely unknown, at least to the average moviegoer, before Batman Begins. However, it’s reasonable to assume that a good amount of cinephiles had heard of, if not seen, his 2000 film Memento, starring Guy Pearce. The movie is a crime thriller that centers on a man searching for his wife’s killer. The overwhelming obstacle he faces is that he is suffering from a specific type of amnesia that causes him to forget things shortly after he learns them. This disorder was brought about by an injury, and while he is more than capable of remembering everything prior to the accident, he must now rely on Polaroids and homemade tattoos to keep himself abreast of new developments in his life.
Memento may seem categorically divorced from the Batman universe, because it is, but that does not mean the seeds of Nolan’s Batman sensibilities are not evident. Memento is a story of a flawed hero, of a man who seeks justice for the wrongful death of his loved one. However, much like Bruce Wayne in the wake of his parents’ death, Leonard is uncertain of how to achieve this justice. For Wayne, this uncertainty was caused by a conflicted sense of right and wrong. But for Leonard, the uncertainty is the result of a mental limitation. There is also of course the shaky morality of both Batman’s and Leonard’s methods; both circumventing due process of law for a more direct form of righting the scales. Both films also examine the lofty price of retribution.
Memento also serves as testament to Nolan’s ability to weave complex stories that defy the conventions of the genre. A revenge thriller tends to have a few twists and turns, but usually falls back on genre tropes and gives us exactly what we expected. But Memento is a puzzlebox of a movie that plays with chronology and plot development in a way that both challenges the audience and serves the character. Nolan would later apply this care and complexity into crafting his three Batman films. Individually, they boast intricate, fascinating, and long-form stories that flesh out the very essence of the Batman and the other characters of his canon. Taken as one entity, however, Nolan’s Batman franchise also plays with chronology, it defies the constraints of the genre, and tells one epic, mythic tale that extrapolates the storytelling talents he displayed in Memento.
Even before Memento, in Nolan’s first feature film, we can see the thematic elements that attracted him and would prepare him for the task of directing a new Batman saga. 1998’s Following is about a man with a very peculiar obsession: he likes to follow random people. He doesn’t harm them, and in fact there is nothing initially nefarious in his intentions, but he becomes fixated upon interesting people and imagining the lives they must lead. His world is fundamentally altered when he meets a man who likes to break into people’s homes… but not for anything as rational or innocent as burglary.
So many directors wish that their first feature could be as gripping and masterful as Nolan’s Following. Here again, this movie that has seemingly nothing in common with any of the most recent Batman films actually lays the groundwork for Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. Following is a movie about exploring the darkness within even the most average person. It is a film about obsession, about the troubling psyche of the collective urban landscape. It is a neo-noir that digs into the intensely personal aspects of criminality where most people have turned a deaf ear to what they see as inevitable societal side effects. Any of this sound like Batman and Gotham to you?
There is also something frightening villainous about the character of Cobb that seems to lay the foundation for Nolan’s interpretation of The Joker. Cobb is a man who is not content merely observing people from afar, sort of the way Batman does from his various rooftop perches. No, Cobb takes it upon himself to enter the lives of innocent people and introduce chaos. He leaves a pair of foreign underwear in a young couple’s apartment just to interrupt their lives and make them see, after the fact, that they took their relationship for granted. He doesn’t believe you can see who people are until you irrevocably damage their complacent existence. It’s like watching the early exploits of the man who would eventually bear the grease paint and eerie scars of Batman’s greatest foe.
If you watch Following and Memento on Netflix, you’re bound to pick up on these and other clues as to Nolan’s long-gestating aptitude for helming Batman. Interesting cherry with which to top this piece, the door to the second house our two leads invade in Following features a very familiar heroic symbol. This same batty symbol can be seen front-and-center in the window of a comicbook store Leonard passes in Memento.
[Photo Credit: Summit Entertainment, Zeitgeist Films]
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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.
Today marked a sunny day for The Dark Knight.
Also for a guy who grows younger as he gets older and a kid who beats all odds to win Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.
The Producers Guild of America has announced its nominations for best movies, documentaries and TV shows. Nods in this movie category often foreshadow what’s to come by way of Oscar later on.
The 20th Annual PGA Awards will take place Jan. 24 at the Hollywood Paladium.
The complete list of nominees is as follows. First, for theatrical movies:
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Kathleen Kennedy & Frank Marshall
The Dark Knight
And for documenaries:
Man on Wire
Standard Operating Procedure
Julie Bilson Ahlberg
Trouble the Water
And for animation:
Kung Fu Panda
And for episodic TV/comedy:
Curb Your Enthusiasm
Lori Jo Nemhauser
And for episodic TV/drama:
David E. Kelley
Mark A. Baker
Todd A. Kessler
Robert Lloyd Lewis
Edward Kitsis & Adam Horowitz
And for "nonfiction" TV:
Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D List
Lisa M. Tucker
This American Life
And for "live and competition" TV:
Bertram van Munster
Hayma “Screech” Washington
The Colbert Report
Stephen T. Colbert, DFA
Real Time with Bill Maher
And for "long-form" TV"
Bernard and Doris
A Raisin in the Sun
Finally, honorary awards and recipients:
Brian Grazer and Ron Howard
David O. Selznick Achievement Award in Theatrical Motion Pictures
Norman Lear Achievement Award in Television
MySpace founders Chris DeWolfe and Tom Anderson
The Stanley Kramer Award
Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen
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