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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Blondie stars Debbie Harry and Chris Stein have added their names to the long list of celebrities paying tribute to the late Lou Reed, who died on Sunday (27Oct13) at the age of 71. The punk icons have recalled magical moments with the former Velvet Underground frontman in statements released on Monday (28Oct13).
Harry remembers, "The first time I saw the Velvet Underground with Lou Reed it was in the 1960s at a place on the Lower East Side (of New York) called The Balloon Farm. That day I became a lifelong devotee of the iconoclastic sound and style of Lou and the Velvets.
"I'm so sad that he's gone but his hypnotic voice telling a story of a Perfect Day, or the devil let loose in White Light/White Heat will live forever."
Her bandmate Stein adds, "I had many encounters with Lou over the years and he was always charming and polite. I just never ran into his infamous dark side... Lou was one of a handful of originals. I don't think that the conditions that created him will again even be approximated, let alone duplicated."
And Stein recalls a really amazing night when his band was asked to open for the Velvet Underground: "When I was 17 years old in 1967, my friends and I were fascinated by the Velvets' first amazing album. A close friend of mine worked for (Andy) Warhol. One night he arrived at my house in Brooklyn and told my friends and I that the band who was supposed to open for the Velvets in NYC had cancelled and would we like to replace them.
"We got on the subway with our guitars and went to a venue on the Upper West Side, called the Gymnasium. Maureen Tucker let us use her drums; turn them right side up even and we used the Velvets' amps. We played our little blues rock set and at the end someone came over and said, 'Oh, Andy thought you were terrific'.
" There were maybe 30 people there. The Velvets came on and were just powerful. They used the echo-y acoustics of the place to their advantage. This was a moment that shaped my musical life and I tell the story frequently."
Other tributes have poured in since the news of Reed's death broke, including notes, statements and tweets from the likes of his friend and VU bandmate John Cale, The Who, the Pixies, Patrick Carney, Morrissey, Ryan Adams, Nikki Sixx, Steven Tyler and Cyndi Lauper, among others.
And Talking Heads frontman David Byrne offered up his thoughts on Monday in a statement that reads: "No surprise I was a big fan, and his music, with and without the Velvets, was a big influence on myself and Talking Heads. He came to see us at CBGB (in New York) numerous times, and I remember three of us going to visit him at his Upper East Side apartment after one of our very early gigs there.
"I kept in touch with Lou over the years. We'd run into one another at concerts or at various NY cultural events and benefits... More recently I'd see Lou and (wife) Laurie (Anderson) socially - we'd join mutual friends for dinner sometimes and at concerts. He and Laurie never stopped checking out emerging artists, bands and all sorts of performances.
"His work and that of the Velvets was a big reason I moved to NY and I don't think I'm alone there. We wanted to be in a city that nurtured and fed that kind of talent."
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.
I am a self-described "adaptationalist." I know that every book, TV show/book/movie/thing I've ever cared about will, one day, be reimagined, reinterpreted, repurposed in another medium, but that I should be open to the new way it's being presented. Changes, shmanges—someone's telling the story in a new way, and as audience members, you and I should be accepting of their vision. We can't get upset when the director of a Harry Potter movie cuts out our favorite part of a 900-page book. He's making a movie, not a live-action replica of the text.
What is important in adaptation is preserving the essence of the source, whether it's through theme or angle or execution. This is the biggest problem with Once, a new musical opening March 18 on Broadway (the show is currently in previews). Based on the 2007 Sundance breakout of the same name, Once tells the story of Guy, an Irish singer/songwriter wallowing in Dublin after a bad break-up, and Girl, a Czech single mom who takes a fancy to Guy's music, eventually pushing him to record a demo album. The film version, which went on to win the 2008 Best Song Oscar for the striking track "Falling Slowly," is an intimate portrait of two emotionally ruptured individuals connected and enlivened by music. Director John Carney shot the movie for pennies, allowing him to treat the easily overwrought subject with subtlety and intimacy. The finished product is something of a miracle–the two lead actors, musicians Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, miraculously craft an understated relationship that's adorable, painful and true (so true, in fact, that the two eventually started dating in real life). Once became a phenomenon because it felt like lightning in a bottle.
Interpreted as a Broadway musical, Once abandons the low-fi, simplistic approach that made its cinematic counterpart so effective and charming in favor of a broader presentation. Interpretive dance choreography, comic side characters and familiar lighting/set design help homogenize the show with the rest of the Great White Way. No, they don't whip out jazz hands or chorus lines at in the middle of the show's Irish pub setting, but Once succumbs to the obvious tropes that make Broadway Broadway, instead of using the movie as a catalyst for theatrical innovation.
In the film, Girl is energized by Guy's performing, but hushed. In the musical, her outsider persona is extroverted, amplified to a degree reminiscent of Andy Kaufman's Latka from Taxi. And unlike Hansard's dorky, bashful, shlub, the production's Guy is a handsome loner, cool and composed while he lingers at the crossroads of his life. The leads, Steve Kazee and Cristin Milioti are skilled performers with vocals deserving of the stage, but the direction never allows them to be grounded. Expanded for the sake of opening up the action of the film's narrow plot, Girl's music shop owner friend, her Czech family and the bank employee who grants Guy a loan, all have larger roles—played entirely for comedy. The characters act as filler more than complicators to the central struggle, but like recent revivals of Company and Sweeney Todd, director John Tiffany doubles the supporting cast as the house band, narrowing the scope for the better.
What saves the show (and made the movie so powerful) are the songs. Hansard and Irglová provide a few new tunes, along with the film's signature slate, and rarely are the numbers compromised by the same Broadway-isms that plague the rest of the show. Kazee never matches Hansard's raw, cracky vocals in songs like "Falling Slowly," "When Your Mind's Made Up," or "Say It to Me Now," but the man can certainly belt. An a cappella version of "Gold" stands out as the perfect ensemble translation, while Milioti's "If You Want Me" is equally haunting (although the film capitalized on the strange beauty of the number with an extended shot down a long Dublin block). The unexpected treat of Once actually comes before the lights even dim; a 30 minute pre-show opens up the stage to the audience, where drinks can be bought at the pub set and the performers immerse themselves in the huddled mass to play a few off-the-cuff Irish tunes. That's authenticity—but it's downhill from there.
Truthfully, there may not have been a way for me to fully enjoy Once. As much as I commit to the adaptationalist lifestyle, I was so moved by the original film that any glimmer of inauthentic drama—which sounds heavy for a Broadway musical, but hey, we're talking about love and art here—would rub me the wrong way. It happens that the 16-year-old sitting next to me, who (based on age) I'm presuming had never seen the film, was deeply enthralled by the musical. Compared to Wicked, Jersey Boys or Lion King, Once is uniquely small-scale and human, and the show had the girl laughing and sobbing her way through curtain call. Once fundamentally works better on film, but for those who have never seen it, the Broadway version has plenty to offer.
An independent film crawling out from foreign film obscurity to the Academy Awards, all the way to the stages of New York City is an amazing feat, but the newest incarnation of Once is more impressive in idea form than execution. Would the show have benefited from dropping the Once brand? Absolutely. An acoustic Irish musical that doesn't have the word "Riverdance" in the title sounds otherworldly. But the misfire in capitalizing on the Sundance gem by transplanting it to Broadway is an admirable one, an attempt to bring a modern classic into the mainstream. In the end, Once fails to understand what made Carney's movie pull on the heartstrings. Nitpicks aside (which would be uncouth to an adaptationalist), Once isn't just about the revelatory music or the core romance. Pulling off its story, regardless of format, requires delicacy and minimalism—and the Broadway production captures none of it. This time around, at least.
Once: A New Musical opens in New York City on March 18. You can check out the soundtrack right now on Spotify.
At some point in the early years of the 21st century a bunch of Hollywood executives must have gotten together and decided that animated films should be made for all audiences. The goal was perhaps to make movies that are simultaneously accessible to the older and younger sets with colorful imagery that one expects from children’s films and two levels of humor: one that’s quite literal and harmless and another that’s somewhat subversive. The criteria has resulted in cross-generational hits like Wall-E and Madagascar and though it’s nice to be able to take my nephew to the movies and be as entertained by cartoon characters as he is I can’t help but wonder what happened to unabashedly innocent animated classics like A Goofy Movie and The Land Before Time?
Disney’s Winnie The Pooh is the answer to the Shrek’s and Hoodwinked!’s of the world: a short sweet simple and lighthearted tale of friendship that doesn’t need pop-culture references or snarky dialogue to put a smile on your face. Directors Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall found some fresh ways to deliver adorable animation while keeping the carefree spirit of A.A. Milne’s source material in tact. Their story isn’t the most original; the first part of the film finds Pooh Piglet Tigger and Owl searching for Eeyore’s tail (a common plot point in the books and past Pooh films) and hits all the predictable notes but the second half mixes things up a bit as the crew searches for a missing Christopher Robin whom they believe has been kidnapped by a forest creature known as the “Backson” (it’s really just the result of the illiterate Owl or is it?).
The beauty of hand-drawn animation all but forgotten until recently is what makes Winnie the Pooh so incredibly magnetic. There’s an inexplicable crispness to the colors and characters that CG just can’t duplicate. It’s a more personal practice for the filmmakers and should provide a refreshing experience for audiences who have become jaded with the pristine presentation of computerized imagery. The film is bookended by brief live-action shots from inside Robin’s room an interesting dynamic that plays up the simplicity of youth ties it to these beloved characters and brings you right back to memories of your own childhood.
With a just-over-an-hour run time Winnie the Pooh is short enough to hold the attention of children but won’t bore the parents who will love the film mainly for nostalgic musings. Still it’s the young’uns who will most enjoy this breezy bright and enchanting film that proves old-school characters can appeal to new moviegoers.