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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Robert Zemeckis is a blockbuster director at heart. Action has never been an issue for the man behind Back to the Future. When he puts aside the high concept adventures for emotional human stories — think Forrest Gump or Cast Away — he still goes big. His latest Flight continues the trend revolving the story of one man's fight with alcoholism around a terrifying plane crash. Zemeckis expertly crafts his roaring centerpiece and while he finds an agile performer in Denzel Washington the hour-and-a-half of Flight after the shocking moment can't sustain the power. The "big" works. The intimate drowns.
Washington stars as Whip Whitaker a reckless airline pilot who balances his days flying jumbo jets with picking up women snorting lines of cocaine and drinking himself to sleep. Although drunk for the flight that will change his life forever that's not the reason the plane goes down — in fact it may be the reason he thinks up his savvy landing solution in the first place. Writer John Gatins follows Whitaker into the aftermath madness: an investigation of what really happened during the flight Whitaker's battle to cap his addictions and budding relationships that if nurtured could save his life.
Zemeckis tops his own plane crash in Cast Away with the heart-pounding tailspin sequence (if you've ever been scared of flying before Flight will push into phobia territory). In the few scenes after the literal destruction Washington is able to convey an equal amount of power in the moments of mental destruction. Whitaker is obviously crushed by the events the bottle silently calling for him in every down moment. Flight strives for that level of introspection throughout eventually pairing Washington with equally distraught junkie Nicole (Kelly Reilly). Their relationship is barely fleshed out with the script time and time again resorting to obvious over-the-top depictions of substance abuse (a la Nic Cage's Leaving Las Vegas) and the bickering that follows. Washington's Whitaker hits is lowest point early sitting there until the climax of the film.
Sharing screentime with the intimate tale is the surprisingly comical attempt by the pilot's airline union buddy (Bruce Greenwood) and the company lawyer (Don Cheadle) to get Whitaker into shape. Prepping him for inquisitions looking into evidence from the wreckage and calling upon Whitaker's dealer Harling (John Goodman) to jump start their "hero" when the time is right the two men do everything they can to keep any blame being placed upon Whitaker by the National Transportation Safety Board investigators. The thread doesn't feel relevant to Whitaker's plight and in turn feels like unnecessary baggage that pads the runtime.
Everything in Fight shoots for the skies — and on purpose. The music is constantly swelling the photography glossy and unnatural and rarely do we breach Washington's wild exterior for a sense of what Whitaker's really grappling with. For Zemeckis Flight is still a spectacle film with Washington's ability to emote as the magical special effect. Instead of using it sparingly he once again goes big. Too big.
David Mitchell's novel Cloud Atlas consists of six stories set in various periods between 1850 and a time far into Earth's post-apocalyptic future. Each segment lives on its own the previous first person account picked up and read by a character in its successor creating connective tissue between each moment in time. The various stories remain intact for Tom Tykwer's (Run Lola Run) Lana Wachowski's and Andy Wachowski's (The Matrix) film adaptation which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. The massive change comes from the interweaving of the book's parts into one three-hour saga — a move that elevates the material and transforms Cloud Atlas in to a work of epic proportions.
Don't be turned off by the runtime — Cloud Atlas moves at lightning pace as it cuts back and forth between its various threads: an American notary sailing the Pacific; a budding musician tasked with transcribing the hummings of an accomplished 1930's composer; a '70s-era investigatory journalist who uncovers a nefarious plot tied to the local nuclear power plant; a book publisher in 2012 who goes on the run from gangsters only to be incarcerated in a nursing home; Sonmi~451 a clone in Neo Seoul who takes on the oppressive government that enslaves her; and a primitive human from the future who teams with one of the few remaining technologically-advanced Earthlings in order to survive. Dense but so was the unfamiliar world of The Matrix. Cloud Atlas has more moving parts than the Wachowskis' seminal sci-fi flick but with additional ambition to boot. Every second is a sight to behold.
The members of the directing trio are known for their visual prowess but Cloud Atlas is a movie about juxtaposition. The art of editing is normally a seamless one — unless someone is really into the craft the cutting of a film is rarely a post-viewing talking point — but Cloud Atlas turns the editor into one of the cast members an obvious player who ties the film together with brilliant cross-cutting and overlapping dialogue. Timothy Cavendish the elderly publisher could be musing on his need to escape and the film will wander to the events of Sonmi~451 or the tortured music apprentice Robert Frobisher also feeling the impulse to run. The details of each world seep into one another but the real joy comes from watching each carefully selected scene fall into place. You never feel lost in Cloud Atlas even when Tykwer and the Wachowskis have infused three action sequences — a gritty car chase in the '70s a kinetic chase through Neo Seoul and a foot race through the forests of future millennia — into one extended set piece. This is a unified film with distinct parts echoing the themes of human interconnectivity.
The biggest treat is watching Cloud Atlas' ensemble tackle the diverse array of characters sprinkled into the stories. No film in recent memory has afforded a cast this type of opportunity yet another form of juxtaposition that wows. Within a few seconds Tom Hanks will go from near-neanderthal to British gangster to wily 19th century doctor. Halle Berry Hugh Grant Jim Sturgess Jim Broadbent Ben Whishaw Hugo Weaving and Susan Sarandon play the same game taking on roles of different sexes races and the like. (Weaving as an evil nurse returning to his Priscilla Queen of the Desert cross-dressing roots is mind-blowing.) The cast's dedication to inhabiting their roles on every level helps us quickly understand the worlds. We know it's Halle Berry behind the fair skinned wife of the lunatic composer but she's never playing Halle Berry. Even when the actors are playing variations on themselves they're glowing with the film's overall epic feel. Jim Broadbent's wickedly funny modern segment a Tykwer creation that packs a particularly German sense of humor is on a smaller scale than the rest of the film but the actor never dials it down. Every story character and scene in Cloud Atlas commits to a style. That diversity keeps the swirling maelstrom of a movie in check.
Cloud Atlas poses big questions without losing track of its human element the characters at the heart of each story. A slower moment or two may have helped the Wachowskis' and Tykwer's film to hit a powerful emotional chord but the finished product still proves mainstream movies can ask questions while laying over explosive action scenes. This year there won't be a bigger movie in terms of scope in terms of ideas and in terms of heart than Cloud Atlas.
When you're in high school it feels like the whole world is against you. In writer/director Stephen Chbosky's high school-set The Perks of Being a Wallflower the whole world may actually be against Charlie (Logan Lerman) whose freshman year of high school should be listed in the dictionary under "Murphy's Law." Plagued by memories of two significant deaths as well as general social anxiety Charlie takes a passive approach to ninth grade. A few days of general bullying later he falls into a friendship with two misfit seniors Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson) who teach him how to live life without fear. Perks starts off with a disadvantage: introverts aren't terribly engaging but Chbosky surrounds Charlie with a vivid cast of characters who help him blossom and inject the coming-of-age tale with a necessary energy.
Set in a timeless version of the '90s Charlie's world is full of handwritten journals mixtapes and a just-tolerable amount of tweed. He writes letters to a nameless recipient as a way of venting a preventative measure to keep the teen from repeating a vague incident that previously left him hospitalized. The drab background of Pittsburgh fits perfectly with Charlie's blank existence. And when he finally comes to life as part of Patrick and Sam's off-beat clique so does the city. Like the archaic vinyl records Sam lusters over (The Smiths of course!) Chbosky visualizes Charlie's journey through the underbelly of suburban Pennsylvania with a raw emotion blooming lights and film grit at every turn. Michael Brook's score and an adeptly curated soundtrack accompanies the episodic affair which centers on Charlie's search for a song he hears during the most important moment of his life.
The charm that keeps The Perks of Being a Wallflower from collapsing under its own super seriousness come from Chbosky's perfectly cast ensemble. Lerman has a thankless job playing Charlie; often constrained to a half-smile and shy shrug Lerman is never allowed to grapple with Charlie's greatest fears and problems until (too) late in the film. Watson nails the spunky object-of-everyone's-affection but she's outshined by Mae Whitman as Mary Elizabeth another rebellious friend in the pack who takes a liking to Charlie. The real star turn is Miller riding high from We Need to Talk About Kevin and taking a complete 180 with Patrick a rambunctious wiseass who struggles to have an openly gay relationship with the football captain but covers his pain with humor. A scene of confrontation — at where else the cafeteria — is one of the best scenes of the year.
Chbosky adapted Perks of Being a Wallflower from his own book and the movie feels stifled by a looming structure. But it nails the emotional beats — there is no obvious path to surviving high school. It's messy shocking and occasionally beautiful. That about sums up Perks.
The best roller-coaster ride this summer wasn't in a theme park, it was at the multiplex, as the box office grosses did more bobbing and weaving than the stock market on a bad day.
Superheroes, sequels, special effects extravaganzas, R-rated comedies, family films, animated films, horror films and more than the usual number of original films made this an unpredictable summer at best. Thrown into this miasma of movie mania was a record 18 3-D films and a consumer push back to both the technology and the higher ticket price associated with the three dimensional movie-going experience. When the dust settles at the end of Labor Day weekend, Hollywood.com projects record summer revenues of $4.4 to $4.5 billion as another one goes in the books and we are left to ponder the summer of 2012.
Lesson #1: R-rated comedies are the new “go to” genre for the summer—and the raunchier the better. Universal’s Bridesmaids caught the bouquet and ran with it as the film built an audience while generating great word-of-mouth week after week and wound up with nearly $170 million in domestic revenues. Warner Bros. The Hangover Part II ($254.1M) and Horrible Bosses ($112.6M), Sony’s Bad Teacher ($98.1M) and Friends with Benefits ($54.7M) were all solid performers with budgets that made them a studio executives dream come true. In all there were seven such films with five that performed well at the box office. In Hollywood, five for seven is a stellar showing for any genre.
Lesson #2: Superheroes are not invincible: You can’t just slap a cape on some hulking dude, give him some super powers and expect the audience to show up. You have to earn the audience’s respect and the first film out of the gate did that as Paramount’s Thor won over audiences with a solid performance from Chris Hemsworth, a dash of Anthony Hopkins and a sprinkling of Natalie Portman which is never a bad thing. The movie delivered and was rewarded with a domestic tally of over $180 million and grudging respect from skeptical fan boys. Fox’s X-Men: First Class also garnered accolades and respect as Kick-Ass director Matthew Vaughn did a terrific job of coalescing the excellent ensemble cast into a solid package that delivered on the promise of a great marketing campaign. Paramount proved to be very consistent with their superheroes as late July’s Captain America debuted with $65 million (only about $700k less than Thor) and also engendered a level of respect from community and has pulled in nearly $165 million to date in North America. Unfortunately not all of the films from the genre are able to benefit from the mere label of superhero film as Warner Bros. Green Lantern took some major heat from the critics and though it opened with a respectable $53.2 million was unable to gain much traction as the naysayers piled on the negative bandwagon and slowed the film to a total gross of close to $116 million.
Lesson #3: The audience is as fickle as a 16 year old Twilight fan. Give ‘em Cowboys & Aliens and they want Smurfs, give them Super 8 and they are like, “What does Super 8 mean?” Place two of the biggest movie stars in the world in a movie and Larry Crowne starring Tom Hanks AND Julia Roberts opens in fourth place and makes just $35.6 million in total North American revenue. Conversely who knew audiences would go ape for Rise of the Planet of the Apes and give it a $54.8 million opening weekend that was a whopping $20 million over the weekend projections!
Lesson #4: Woody Allen is the new (and most unlikely) King of the Summer Blockbuster season: Three words – Midnight in Paris.
Lesson #5: You pretty much need a big franchise with a major brand name to pull in families and kids. From Kung Fu Panda 2 to Cars 2 to Harry Potter to The Smurfs, it helps if little Johnny and Susie have already seen the first installment of a major franchise and then they will drag the parental units to the theater.
Lesson #6: The jury is still out on 3-D. It’s a price point thing combined with a honeymoon phase that ran out long ago. The novelty aspect of 3-D was fueling huge ticket sales during the Avatar era and the afterglow was sweet with Alice in Wonderland also posting massive 3-D percentages. But as with all relationships, some rocky times have befallen the third dimension of moviedom and the results are manifest in a rapidly dropping percentage (on a film by film basis) of the revenues that are generated by the up-charge associated with the immersive movie experience.
On average we have seen percentages drop below 50% on many of the 3-D releases. Of course, give people a tremendous 3-D experience and they will not complain as evidenced by Paramount’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon which pulled a solid 60% of its gross from 3-D presentations and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 which delivered a great movie and a terrific 3-D experience. Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides put a fine point on the fact that overseas audiences are currently enamored with 3-D they way Americans were a couple of years ago. The film became a billion dollar blockbuster on the back of a 3-D powered international gross that is over three times bigger than the domestic total. The pre-summer megahit Fast Five is a great example of a film that did not need 3-D to be a hit. That movie was plenty immersive enough in IMAX and delivered arguably the best popcorn-style summer movie experience of any film not technically released in the summer. Last weekend three 3-D films were released and the result was one of the lowest grossing weekends of the year.
The bottom line: 3-D is not a panacea, but rather a technology that should be used judiciously and only with the right kind of movie and at a price point that makes sense to the consumer.
Lesson #7: If you want your film to be a blockbuster, release it in IMAX. 3-D may come and go, but IMAX is forever. From the pre-summer hit Fast Five to the top two grossing films of the summer (Harry Potter 7B and Transformers 3), audiences love the immersive movie-going experience and seem willing to pay for it without complaint. An average of 10% (and growing) of opening weekend gross is generated by IMAX so it’s a win-win for the studios and exhibitors, as well as fans looking for a truly superior experience. On top of that, a veritable who’s who of filmmakers insist upon it (and who are we to argue with Christopher Nolan!).
Lesson #8: Audiences say they want original films, but in actuality are scared of them. Even Bridesmaids took awhile to build an audience (after a second place debut with $26.2M) as petrified males determined not to be dragged kicking and screaming to another ungodly chick flick heard through the grapevine that this was a female comedy with some real balls and then showed up. The Hangover Part II however already had huge built-in brand recognition and posted the biggest comedy opening of all-time with a staggering $85.9 million. Super 8 whose title, lack of big stars and no box office track record gave it a somewhat slow start given the film’s pedigree; luckily quality won out and the film built an audience and took in over $125 million in North America. Another case in point is the unique and original Cowboys & Aliens (a descriptive title, but an unknown commodity) that went head to head with a little blue man group called The Smurfs. The industry watched in awe as familiarity turned into green as gazillions of kids gave their little blue buddies the power to take on the Spielberg, Favreau, Ford, Craig quadruple threat and wound up in an unthinkable and unprecedented Sunday morning tie for first place.
Lesson #9: The Help proves that any movie can be a summer movie. Like Midnight in Paris, the intimate period character study won over the audience by presenting a sort of “anti-blockbuster” as an alternative or antidote to the monstrous big budget behemoths that permeate the cinematic landscape during the summer months. Both felt like fall season films and this became their strength as the allure of an unexpected and ultimately fulfilling movie-going experience grabbed a significant audience regardless of the temperature outside.
The Tourist is about as difficult to get through as spotting the vowels in the name of its director. Florian Henckel von Donnersmark was last seen receiving a Best Foreign Film Oscar in 2007 for The Lives of Others which was about a couple living in East Berlin who were being monitored by the police of the German Democratic Republic. Its positive reception made way for the assumption that Donnersmark would continue to populate the USA with films of seemingly otherworldly and underrepresented themes. But his current project is saddening in its superficiality and total implausibility.
The film’s only real upside is its stars: two of our most prized Americans. Johnny Depp plays Frank Tupelo a math teacher from Wisconsin who travels to Europe after his wife leaves him presumably because of his weakness and simplicity. While en route to Venice he meets Elise Clifton-Ward (Angelina Jolie) who situates herself in his company after she receives a letter from her criminal lover Alexander Pearce (who stole some billions from a very wealthy Russian and the British government) with instructions to find someone on a train who looks like him and make the police believe that he is the real Alexander Pearce to throw the authorities and the Russians off his track. Elise picks Frank and after they are photographed kissing each other on the balcony of Elise’s hotel everyone begins to believe Frank is the real Pearce and so begins the chase.
While Donnersmark could not have picked two better looking people to film roaming around Venice his lack of faith in the audience is obvious. Every aspect of the characters is hammed up again and again as if Donnersmark felt burdened with the task of making us see his vision. Doubtful that we’re capable of getting to where he wants us he has crafted a movie completely devoid of subtlety. Elise’s strength and superiority over Frank are portrayed by close-ups and repeated instances of men burping up their lungs upon seeing her (as if her beauty is in any way subjective?). And in case we forgot that Frank is the victim in this story -- even though he’s been tricked chased and shot at - Donnersmark still felt the need to pin him with a lame electronic cigarette to puff on. Frank and Elise somehow manage to lack mystery even though we get very few factual details about each of them.
Nothing extraordinary comes to us in the way of the film’s structural elements either. There is very little of the action that The Tourist’s marketing led us to believe and the dialog is often painful. The plot itself is almost shockingly unbelievable especially when we’re asked to believe that Elise falls in love with Frank after a combination of kissing him once and her disclosed habit of swooning over men she only spent an hour with (yes that was on her CV).
The Tourist is rather empty and cosmetic. It’s worth seeing if you’re a superfan of Jolie or Depp but don’t expect to walk out of the theater with anything more than the stub you came in with.