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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When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
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Mother of Gob: Emmy winner Margo Martindale will play Will Arnett's mom in a new comedy pilot from Raising Hope creator Greg Garcia. Arnett plays the recently divorced Jack whose life gets even crazier when his parents split up after 43 years. Martindale's Carol is a meddlesome woman who's shocked when her husband files for divorce, forcing her to move in with her son. [THR]
Have Mercy: John Stamos is in final talks to join the NBC drama pilot I Am Victor. The erstwhile Uncle Jesse would star as a powerful divorce attorney with "a unique view of relationships." Considering he raised his family in an attic (oh, wait, that was only on TV?), it makes sense that he'd have a unique perspective on life. [TVLine]
The Revolution Goes Online: Want more Revolution? The show doesn't return to NBC until March 25, but starting Feb. 25, we'll be able to learn much more about the powerless future world when NBC.com debuts a webseries starring Giancarlo Esposito's Capt. Neville 11 years after the blackout, on the night Miles first tried to assassinate Monroe. Neville will embark on a quest to kill the people behind the attempt on the General's life, but he'll stumble upon "an even greater conspiracy that could change the course of the Republic forever." Mysterious! [EW]
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Come On Down: Jane Lynch is adding to her busy schedule (Glee, Broadway's Annie revival) with a brand new job: game show host. The actress will host the new NBC reality series Hollywood Game Night, which features celebs hanging out in a cocktail party-type situation and playing pop culture-centric games with non-famous folks. The eight-episode series is produced by Sean Hayes. [EW]
Come Together: All of your indie favorites in one place! Melanie Lynskey has just joined the comedy pilot Togetherness, from Mark and Jay Duplass. She'll play a stay-at-home-mom in an unfulfilling marriage who wants more from life. The show is about two couples trying to make their relationships work will maintaining their own hopes and dreams. The Duplass brothers, who can currently be seen in a guest arc on Fox's The Mindy Project, will write, executive produce, and direct Togetherness, although they will not appear in the show. [THR]
RELATED: TV Tidbits: Mandy More, Steve Zahn, 'Glee' Gal Land Pilots
Lost and Found: Two Lost alums have landed dastardly parts in different CW drama pilots. Mark Pellegrino will play an evolutionary biologist in The Tomorrow People, about a group of young people who have evolved beyond normal humans and have the power of teleportation and telekinesis. Pellegrino's Dr. Jedikiah Price sees the Tomorrow People as a threat to humanity. Henry Ian Cusick, meanwhile, will star as an officer aboard the space station that houses all humans after an attack on Earth on The Hundred. With the ship on its last legs, the government sends 100 juvenile delinquents back down to the planet to see if it's hospitable or not. [TVLine]
Going for the Gold: E! announced a premiere date for its reality show about Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte, appropriately titled What Would Ryan Lochte Do? The new docuseries will premiere Sunday, April 21 at 10 p.m. on the network, and will be followed by a new season of the Kevin Jonas reality show Married to Jonas. [THR]
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[PHOTO CREDIT: Frank Micelotta/AP Images]
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And as quickly as they began, the flame that kept lovers Aaron Sorkin and Kristin Davis all loved up, has (according to The Huffington Post) died. That's right! Summer lovin', happened so fast. And I bet these two crazy kids had themselves a blast, don't you think? So many dinners, so many Sorkinisms. But now that things have reportedly ended, Sorkin is left to his own devices to deal with the remnants of an old love. And what is a man like Sorkin, he of the romantic-comedy-disguised-as-popular-discourse television that we all know and love, to do? Why, do what he's done with many of the other ladies in his life, of course: make her a character on The Newsroom!
Wait, didn't you know this? Well, Sorkin is notorious for casting characters that are built off of (or an extreme version of) the women he's had in his life. Don't believe us? Well, remember the character Harriet Hayes (played by Sarah Paulson) from Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip? She was supposedly based on Sorkin's ex-girlfriend Kristin Chenoweth (Oh look, another Kristin!) And let's not forget Will McAvoy (aka Jeff Daniels)'s arch-nemesis (at least at first!) Nina Howard (played by Hope Davis) on The Newsroom. She was based on Sorkin ladyfriend Mandy Stadtmiller, who--at the time--was a writer at the New York Post. Gee, that doesn't sound familiar at all! Stadtmiller recently wrote about her experience over at xoJane, which I'm sure delighted ol' Aaron to bits and pieces.
In any event, we've come across a highly-top-secret, not-at-all-made-up-by-me-no-way (JK this is totally and completely made-up) casting notice for a character on season two of The Newsroom. Does it sound anything like Davis to you? Read on and see for yourself!
CASTING NOTICE - THE NEWSROOM
The cast of HBO's critically acclaimed drama from the mind of Aaron Sorkin, is extending its cast for season two. The part will have a multi-episode arc that involves a potential for romantic situations.
CHRISTINA RAVIS - Female, mid-40s, brunette, very beautiful. Actress needed for multi-episode arc on HBO's The Newsroom. The character Christina Ravis is an actress well-known for playing wound-up, well-to-do women. She also had previous work on a primetime soap opera. She is characterized by the attributes of her work-related roles. In real life, she is kind, sensual, loving and attentive, but also a rehabbed alcoholic. Christina is a single mother to an adopted daughter named Crystal, and also a fervent animal-rights activist. She has been overshadowed by her work on an iconic show from the last decade, and is trying to define herself outside of the role that made her famous without much success. Christina grew up in a southern city and has all the charm of a southern belle without actually being one. She will unexpectedly shake things up for Will McAvoy with their headline-making summer romance. However, Christina is also harpy and weak-willed when it comes to things she cannot control. Despite her money, success, and accolades from respected peers and critics regarding her work, has no self-confidence and is drawn to strong, heroic men to save her and educate her on how to handle certain situations (and technology), and explain why she is wrong sometimes (OK, most of the time). Experience on a HBO television program ideal but not mandatory. Willing to extensively monologue (potentially followed by pratfalls that completely nullify the aforementioned monologue's strength) is a must. Love of an old American ideal is required.
[Photo Credit: KM/Fame FlyNet Pictures]
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Troubled by unfortunate event after unfortunate event The Watch sidesteps faux pas to come out on top as a consistently funny sci-fi comedy that doesn't let its high concept tangle up a bevy of one-liners. The script penned by Jared Stern Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg assumes you've seen a few movies before entering the theater (mainly any sci-fi movie made in the 1980s). "Summer movie logic" is the foundation for The Watch's ridiculous plot which finds four adult nincompoops teaming up to form a Neighborhood Watch trying to solve the murder of a local Costco employee and eventually pursuing a killer extraterrestrial. Instead of making sense of it all The Watch wisely focuses on its four leads: Ben Stiller Vince Vaughn Jonah Hill and The IT Crowd's Richard Ayoade — a quartet whose bro banter goes a long way in spicing up the dust-covered material. There's nothing revelatory to be found in The Watch but the cast's knack for improv a poetry of the profane makes the adventure worth…viewing.
Director Akiva Schaffer (Hot Rod) establishes his two-dimensional characters quickly and bluntly smashing together broad personality types like a Hadron Collider of cinematic comedy. Stiller's Evan is a micromanaging do-gooder who can't find time for his wife; Hill's Franklin is a mildly disturbed weapons enthusiast yearning to join the police; Ayoade is the quaint weirdo who joins the Watch to fill the void left by his divorce; Vince Vaughn is Vince Vaughn: a loud crass gent looking for a bit of male bonding. The ragtag team assembles to fight crime but they spend most of their time drinking beers in a minivan — an affair they dub "stakeouts." A perfect opportunity for banter.
For a movie about enforcing the law and alien invasions there's a surprising lack of action in The Watch. Long stretches of the film see the central players yapping back and forth about everything: Russian nesting dolls peeing in cans or the similar viscosities of alien goo and human excrement. Charisma goes a long way and Vaughn does much of the heavy lifting making up for lost time out of the spotlight (he's been virtually nonexistent since 2005's Wedding Crashers). The man spits out jokes like no other — the rest of the cast barely keeps up. Ayoade balances out Vaughn's bombardment with a tempered timed delivery that's uniquely British and rarely found on the American big screen. Even when nothing's happening in The Watch it's rarely boring.
The Watch is at its best when it goes a step further mixing the group in with outsiders and throwing them off their rhythm. Billy Crudup cuts loose as a creepy neighbor and its delightfully weird while the always-impressive Rosemarie DeWitt as Evan's wife Abby brings unexpected warmth to the couple's relationship. Sadly The Watch mishandles its greatest asset: the aliens. The film never finds a pitch perfect blend of comedy and science fiction (Ghostbusters or Galaxy Quest this is not); a few scenes where the two come together hint at the best possible scenario but more often than not The Watch avoids its sci-fi roots. A moment in which the guys haul a dead alien back to their man cave plays like an E.T.-inspired version of The Hangover credits. It's lewd and ridiculous but the rest of the film struggles to maintain that energy.
Stiller Vaughn Hill and Ayoade have all proved themselves able funnymen capable of taking weak and tired material up a notch which they're forced to do in every moment of The Watch. Schaffer can handle his talent but his direction isn't adding anything to the mix. By the third slow-motion-set-to-gangster-rap scene The Lonely Island member's obsession with non-cool-coolness is officially just an attempt at being cool (which is not all that funny). The Watch has a greater opportunity than most comedy blockbusters to go absolutely bonkers: it's rated R. But instead of taking its twist and running with it the movie plays it safe. In this case safe is non-stop jokes about the many facets of human reproduction.
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.