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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The genesis of Universal's 47 Ronin is almost as tragic as the actual history that the movie is culling from. As the story goes, Universal saw the sprigs of talent sprouting from fresh faced director Carl Rinsch, whose previous experience was limited to just a couple of commercials and a nifty short film. The studio decided to ease the new director into feature filmmaking by cutting him what amounts to virtually a blank check, and giving him charge over a multi-national samurai fantasy epic. Almost impossibly, the film isn't a complete disaster. It's just a minor one.
47 Ronin follows the classic story of the titular team of warriors, a group of disgraced samurai who band together to seek revenge against a merciless warlord that betrayed and killed their master. But this isn't your grandfather's version of the story. 47 Ronin is an international affair, and it's covered with a veneer of Japanese mysticism and a thick coating of Hollywood lacquer, but east meets west rather uncomfortably, and it's mostly due to Keanu Reeves. Reeves' character is clearly crowbarred into the story that has no room for him, and it's plainly obvious where the seams of the story were stretched in order to patch him into the narrative. Reeves plays Kai, a half Japanese, half English orphan who is adopted by the samurai clan. His character serves no real purpose beyond being white, slicing things until they die, and playing the male lead of the most superfluous love story of the year. Rinsch simply can't make the inclusion of the character feel organic in any way, and "Kai" ends up feeling like a calculated studio move. It's a shame that the film spends so much time on Reeves when the real star is clearly Hiroyuki Sanada, who plays off the stoic samurai most believably among the rest of the cast.
It's also shame that with all the mysticism pumped into the story, there's no magic in the actual center of the film, the ronin themselves. The only personality trait a samurai is allowed to possess seems to be unerring stoicism, and between all 47 ronin, there are probably only three distinct samurai with any discernible character traits beyond an intense need to brood, and you'll probably only remember those three by the time the credits roll, only to promptly forget about them only a few hours later. Thankfully, Rinko Kikuchi's slinky and treacherous witch adds some much needed camp and personality to the mostly forgettable human characters.
And that's the issue with 47 Ronin. It's largely forgettable. When your film takes on a historical legend like the tale of the 47 ronin, a story that has been told and told again ad nauseum over the years, you really need to justify your own version. There are reels and reels of film dedicated to this story, and 47 Ronin doesn't manage to add anything significant to the canon. It promises to weld myth and history together, but does so clumsily, and while some of the action scenes are exciting, especially a particularly inspired set piece that involves the ronin noiselessly breaking into a heavily guarded fortress, the film is a bore when it's not clanking swords together.
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47 Ronin is a film with many stories. As much as it is a tale about the revenge of four dozen masterless samurai, it's also the tale of an inexperienced filmmaker swallowed up by the enormity of blockbuster filmmaking. Most of all though, It's proof that you shouldn't cram Keanu Reeves into a movie that doesn't really need Keanu Reeves. What you're left with is a dull and bloated samurai epic that has its moments, but feels largely unnecessary.
Packed into four epic days, San Diego Comic-Con is the ultimate haven for all things pop culture. The convention center is a sprawling stew of comic books, animation, movies, TV and anything that could be loosely wiggled under the entertainment banner. While there is plenty to find in the nooks and crannies of the convention, Hollywood parades its biggest and best material in Hall H, the mecca of movie previews.
In anticipation of the convention (which Hollywood.com will embark upon for the entire run, updating all the breaking news along the way), I sifted through the packed schedule to boil down my 20 biggest questions I have going in to pop culture circus. Iron Man 3, The Hobbit, Man of Steel and a trove of blockbusters (including, perhaps, a few unannounced surprises) will be on hand to show off their goods. Here's what I want to learn at this year's Comic-Con:
1. How epic will Breaking Dawn — Part 2's final battle be?
As is the case with many, the movie adaptations of the Twilight series have done little to impress me. I'm fine with the romance angle — a love triangle is a perfectly reasonable dramatic centerpiece! — but as a genre buff, there was a certain pain I felt watching vampires and werewolves standing around, barely using their supernatural powers. What a waste. Breaking Dawn changed all of that for me; the twisted entry took every element in Twilight and cranked it up to 11. So I find myself anticipating Breaking Dawn — Part 2 and its potential: with Edward and Bella's baby Renesmee growing up at rapid pace, Jacob's strange imprint situation with the child and a war brewing in the background, the saga's grand finale could be just that. Grand. I need the footage to prove it. Don't wimp out, Twilight! Prove naysayers wrong.
2. Can The Hobbit recapture the LOTR magic with 3D and digital photography?
Back in December, Peter Jackson and Warner Bros. revealed the first teaser for The Hobbit. The spot had it all: the design, the music, the balance of humor and adventure only the folks of Middle Earth could deliver. A few months later, Jackson debuted footage at CinemaCon, but the slick presentation left a few film buffs underwhelmed. The digital photography and 3D were sharp… maybe, too sharp. Suddenly, the cinematic, filmic qualities of the original Lord of the Rings trilogy were gone, replaced by a modern technological glisten. The footage was unfinished and many speculated the actual theatrical experience may be entirely different. With Hobbit readying to premiere footage at SDCC, many of the potential film geek fears should be quelled.
3. Did Edgar Wright actually shoot test footage for a proposed Ant-Man movie?
Recent rumors hinted that the Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim director spent a week or two shooting some top secret footage for Marvel Studios, a test reel to prove his Ant-Man has the potential to be as action-packed and fun as the studio's other blockbusters. Wright is a Comic-Con veteran, leading an army of fans to an early screening of Scott Pilgrim in 2010. Could he swing by Saturday's Marvel panel to wow the crowd with a tease of, arguably, one of the comic book titan's weirder characters? My fingers are already crossed.
4. Is Dredd just a sci-fi version of The Raid?
The first trailer for Dredd 3D, a new adaptation of the Judge Dredd comic book, quickly cleared up any confusion that the movie was somehow connected to the bonkers 1994 Sly Stallone version. The new and improved Dredd is all about realism and grit, putting Karl Urban's Judge in the middle of a brutal, futuristic landscape. The scale is significantly smaller, with Judge from level to level up a high rise a la last year's The Raid (a critical darling of action buffs). The comparisons might be obvious, but even if Dredd does take a page out of The Raid's book, it might be a Comic-Pro as opposed to a Comic-Con. Who needs another "epic" sci-fi when we can have one with actual thrills? The movie will screen at Comic-Con on Wednesday, July 11, so I'll know for sure then.
5. What has Jackie Chan been doing since The Karate Kid?
I'm a big enough Jackie Chan apologist that I will actually recommend his campy, American fantasy flick The Forbidden Kingdom and even sit through The Tuxedo if it pops up during channel surfing. In recent years, the king of Hollywood martial arts as stuck to English-language films that skew to younger audiences, but with the actor set to make his first appearance at Comic-Con this year, he may be prepping a reinvention. The star's latest movie (also a directorial effort), Chinese Zodiac, will bow to SDCC's Hall H, greeted by thousands of skeptical fans. If it packs the right balance of fight moves, it could be an unexpected hit of the Con.
6. How did they get all those video game characters into Wreck-It Ralph?
Disney's Wreck-It Ralph looks like the sweet tale of a bad guy finding his place in the world, but I'm as interested in the story as I am the hoards of video game characters set to make appearances in the movie. Wreck-It Ralph promises Roger Rabbit-level cameos — a first since… well, Roger Rabbit. The how'd-they-pull-this-off story may be as compelling as the film.
7. Will Iron Man 3 be able to keep things interesting in the wake of The Avengers?
The biggest fear for Marvel fans (this guy included) is the company's post-Avengers plan. This summer's biggest blockbuster set a high bar for action and character. Only having one hero (Tony Stark) on hand for Iron Man 3 will automatically make the film feel smaller. How Marvel will compensate and keep things interesting will take some creativity, but if anyone can figure out how to hook audiences after their own cinematic juggernaut, it's them.
8. How is the fifth Resident Evil movie shaking things up?
Most franchises drop off at the third movie. Resident Evil has been growing in popularity all the way to its fifth entry. I don't claim to understand the fandom, but RE has been smart to change things up with every movie. The first Resident Evil was a horror movie with sci-fi elements. 2010's Resident Evil: Afterlife was a run-and-gun, survival action picture. What is Resident Evil: Retribution? On our set visit, producers claimed this movie was overtly science fiction. The film's Hall H panel should deliver on that promise.
9. Why is Jake Gyllenhaal's police drama End of Watch anywhere near Comic-Con?
Over the years, San Diego Comic-Con has evolved into something much bigger than a straight-up comic convention. At this point, if the movie/tv show/game/whatever can be considered pop culture, it fits. Jake Gyllenhaal's latest, a gritty, crime drama directed by Training Day writer David Ayer, might be the antithesis of everything Comic-Con was founded on, but that may not matter anymore. The panel may be the ultimate litmus test — will people accept End of Watch just because it has someone famous in it?
10. Can Henry Cavill live up to the Supermen of the past?
Superman was born on the pages of comic books, but for many, there's only one real Son of Krypton: Christopher Reeves. Bryan Signer tried to recapture the magic of Richard Donner's classic Superman films by casting Brandon Routh, a dead ringer for Reeves. Routh excelled in Superman Returns, but many fans found the thinking man's superhero movie to be a disappointment. Thus, the reboot. Man of Steel has Zack Snyder at the helm, Christopher Nolan in the producer's chair and a brand new Supes, the relative unknown Henry Cavill. The dapper man will try and carve his own unique spin on the character, but it's a trick task. There's a middle ground to honoring the lovable goof of Reeves' Clark Kent and spinning a radical interpretation of Superman. Cavill needs to do both. Comic-Con will be the proving ground.
[Photo Credit: Warner Bros., Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Pictures]
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.
In This Means War – a stylish action/rom-com hybrid from director McG – Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises) and Chris Pine (Star Trek) star as CIA operatives whose close friendship is strained by the fires of romantic rivalry. Best pals FDR (Pine) and Tuck (Hardy) are equally accomplished at the spy game but their fortunes diverge dramatically in the dating realm: FDR (so nicknamed for his obvious resemblance to our 32nd president) is a smooth-talking player with an endless string of conquests while Tuck is a straight-laced introvert whose love life has stalled since his divorce. Enter Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) a pretty plucky consumer-products evaluator who piques both their interests in separate unrelated encounters. Tuck meets her via an online-dating site FDR at a video-rental store. (That Lauren is tech-savvy enough to date online but still rents movies in video stores is either a testament to her fascinating mix of contradictions or more likely an example of lazy screenwriting.)
When Tuck and FDR realize they’re pursuing the same girl it sparks their respective competitive natures and they decide to make a friendly game of it. But what begins as a good-natured rivalry swiftly devolves into romantic bloodsport with both men using the vast array of espionage tools at their disposal – from digital surveillance to poison darts – to gain an edge in the battle for Lauren’s affections. If her constitutional rights happen to be violated repeatedly in the process then so be it.
Lauren for her part remains oblivious to the clandestine machinations of her dueling suitors and happily basks in the sudden attention from two gorgeous men. Herein we find the Reese Witherspoon Dilemma: While certainly desirable Lauren is far from the irresistible Helen of Troy type that would inspire the likes of Tuck and FDR to risk their friendship their careers and potential incarceration for. At several points in This Means War I found myself wondering if there were no other peppy blondes in Los Angeles (where the film is primarily set) for these men to pursue. Then again this is a film that wishes us to believe that Tom Hardy would have trouble finding a date so perhaps plausibility is not its strong point.
When Lauren needs advice she looks to her boozy foul-mouthed best friend Trish (Chelsea Handler). Essentially an extension of Handler’s talk-show persona – an acquired taste if there ever was one – Trish’s dialogue consists almost exclusively of filthy one-liners delivered in rapid-fire succession. Handler does have some choice lines – indeed they’re practically the centerpiece of This Means War’s ad campaign – but the film derives the bulk of its humor from the outrageous lengths Tuck and FDR go to sabotage each others’ efforts a raucous game of spy-versus-spy that carries the film long after Handler’s shtick has grown stale.
Business occasionally intrudes upon matters in the guise of Heinrich (Til Schweiger) a Teutonic arms dealer bent on revenge for the death of his brother. The subplot is largely an afterthought existing primarily as a means to provide third-act fireworks – and to allow McGenius an outlet for his ADD-inspired aesthetic proclivities. The film’s action scenes are edited in such a manic quick-cut fashion that they become almost laughably incoherent. In fairness to McG he does stage a rather marvelous sequence in the middle of the film in which Tuck and FDR surreptitiously skulk about Lauren's apartment unaware of each other's presence carefully avoiding detection by Lauren who grooves absentmindedly to Montel Jordan's "This Is How We Do It." The whole scene unfolds in one continuous take – or is at least craftily constructed to appear as such – captured by one very agile steadicam operator.
Whatever his flaws as a director McG is at least smart enough to know how much a witty script and appealing leads can compensate for a film’s structural and logical deficiencies. He proved as much with Charlie’s Angels a film that enjoys a permanent spot on many a critic’s Guilty Pleasures list and does so again with This Means War. The film coasts on the chemistry of its three co-stars and only runs into trouble when the time comes to resolve its romantic competition which by the end has driven its male protagonists to engage in all manner of underhanded and duplicitous activities. This Means War being a commercial film – and likely an expensive one at that – Witherspoon's heroine is mandated to make a choice and McG all but sidesteps the whole thorny matter of Tuck and FDR’s unwavering dishonesty not to mention their craven disregard for her privacy. (They regularly eavesdrop on her activities.) For all their obvious charms the truth is that neither deserves Lauren – or anything other than a lengthy jail sentence for that matter.
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The Moon director took himself out of the running for the film after meeting with the franchise's new mastermind, Christopher Nolan.
Jones tells CinemaBlend.com, "I think, maybe, I'm not quite ready for that scale of project and that scale of expectation from an audience that is already existing and is waiting to see the next generation of Superman film. It's a hard one.
"Superman was so big that I think I was a little intimidated by it and sort of backed out."
Fussy Jones also backed out of the chance to tackle comic book hero Judge Dredd on the big screen.
He adds, "I'm also a big Judge Dredd fan, which was another one that came my way... Judge Dredd, I really thought about and it ended up not being right for me because I had such strong feelings and opinions on what I wanted that film to be.
"Although I really like what they're going to do with it, it's not the film that I was going to make. So that one wasn't going to work out."
300 and Watchmen director Zack Snyder is now onboard the Superman projects, while Pete Travis is reworking Judge Dredd with actor Karl Urban.