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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Summit via Everett Collection
You can imagine that Renny Harlin, director and one quadrant of the writing team for The Legend of Hercules, began his pitch as such: We'll start with a war, because lots of these things start with wars. It feels like this was the principal maxim behind a good deal of the creative choices in this latest update of the Ancient Greek myth. There are always horse riding scenes. There are generally arena battles. There are CGI lions, when you can afford 'em. Oh, and you've got to have a romantic couple canoodling at the base of a waterfall. Weaving them all together cohesively would be a waste of time — just let the common threads take form in a remarkably shouldered Kellan Lutz and action sequences that transubstantiate abjectly to and fro slow-motion.
But pervading through Lutz's shirtless smirks and accent continuity that calls envy from Johnny Depp's Alice in Wonderland performance is the obtrusive lack of thought that went into this picture. A proverbial grab bag of "the basics" of the classic epic genre, The Legend of Hercules boasts familiarity over originality. So much so that the filmmakers didn't stop at Hercules mythology... they barely started with it, in fact. There's more Jesus Christ in the character than there is the Ancient Greek demigod, with no lack of Gladiator to keep things moreover relevant. But even more outrageous than the void of imagination in the construct of Hercules' world is its script — a piece so comically dim, thin, and idiotic that you will laugh. So we can't exactly say this is a totally joyless time at the movies.
Summit via Everett Collection
Surrounding Hercules, a character whose arc takes him from being a nice enough strong dude to a nice enough strong dude who kills people and finally owns up to his fate — "Okay, fine, yes, I guess I'm a god" — are a legion of characters whose makeup and motivations are instituted in their opening scenes and never change thereafter. His de facto stepdad, the teeth-baring King Amphitryon (Scott Adkins), despises the boy for being a living tribute to his supernatural cuckolding; his half-brother Iphicles (Liam Garrigan) is the archetypical scheming, neutered, jealous brother figure right down to the facial scar. The dialogue this family of mongoloids tosses around is stunningly brainless, ditto their character beats. Hercules can't understand how a mystical stranger knows his identity, even though he just moments ago exited a packed coliseum chanting his name. Iphicles defies villainy and menace when he threatens his betrothed Hebe (Gaia Weiss), long in love with Hercules, with the terrible fate of "accepting [him] and loving [their] children equally!" And the dad... jeez, that guy must really be proud of his teeth.
With no artistic feat successfully accomplished (or even braved, really) by this movie, we can at the very least call it inoffensive. There is nothing in The Legend of Hercules with which to take issue beyond its dismal intellect, and in a genre especially prone to regressive activity, this is a noteworthy triumph. But you might not have enough energy by the end to award The Legend of Hercules with this superlative. Either because you'll have laughed yourself into a coma at the film's idiocy, or because you'll have lost all strength trying to fend it off.
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Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby was never going to be perfect. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s great American novel is a cornerstone of most American teenagers’ introduction into literature, a deeply subtle book that’s so nuanced and delicate, it’s as if it was specifically built to resist filmmakers. Luhrmann’s 3D film, while diverting, cannot escape this obstacle.
Conveying the ways in which Jay Gatsby’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) “romance” with Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan) is a figment of his own ambition is essential to the story. As is the sheer capitalist nature of Gatsby’s infatuation, his own imperfection, and the unreliability of a narrator who so deeply admires Gatsby in every way. All of these elements dance lightly and deliberately to create a man who serves as the embodiment of the dangers of the American Dream. In the romantic, splashy summer blockbuster, those subtle elements are replaced by broad, bright brushstrokes that tell us when to think and feel, but wind up missing the heart and soul of Fitzgerald’s tragic novel.
Now, I’m not an insane bookworm hell-bent on taking down films that attempt to bastardize the bound works of great women and men. I understand that a film is an interpretation of a book, and that inherently, they cannot be identical. The film can, however, be faithful. And while DiCaprio was working his darndest to hold onto the soul of the book, there are four things Luhrmann could have kept from the text to make that process a whole lot easier:
The Elevator Scene That Spurred a Thousand English Essays At the press junket for The Great Gatsby at the Plaza in New York, DiCaprio spoke about the weight of a project such as Gatsby. “It’s American Shakespeare,” he said. There are similarities in the deliberate nature of both Shakespeare’s works and Fitzgeralds. Both writers wrote brief compositions, rendering every last syllable a precious one. Therefore, no paragraph – no matter how tiny – is insignificant. Every moment means something.
It’s funny then, that one of the most discussed scenes in the book was missing from Luhrmann’s film. After Nick (played by Tobey Maguire in the movie) goes on a bender with Tom and his mistress Myrtle (Isla Fisher), Nick leaves the party with a Mr. McKee, though he was presumably expected to get loose with Myrtle’s flirtatious sister. When they step into the elevator, the operator asks Mr. McKee to stop touching the lever, and when McKee replies he didn’t know he was touching it, there’s a tinge of homoerotic tension that has confounded readers for years. That moment is followed by pregnant ellipses that lead to Nick, standing in his underwear next to McKee’s bed while McKee shows him his photographs.
In the film, this becomes Nick making out savagely with Myrtle’s sister and waking up in his underwear on his own front porch. The simplficication of the scene drums up a bit of an issue for some interpretations of the novel: this potentially gay or bisexual interlude makes us question Nick’s narration as a reader. When he’s singing these bombastic praises of Gatsby, we have to wonder how much of his description is affected by his affection for Gatsby, and by bringing up this potential question of sexual preference, we could question just how far that affection goes.
It’s not essential to the plot, but it would help the film to convey the deeper complexities of the friendship between Gatsby and Nick, which is, in a way, the heart of the novel.
Daisy Buchanan is Not That Innocent Hooking mass audiences for a period piece of this size and scale without a sweeping romance would be near impossible. And serving up Daisy exactly as she is written is problematic; she’s a lot harder to fall in love with when we’re aware of her true nature. But Daisy isn't a wolf in doe’s clothing. She has affection for and at times, definitely loves Gatsby, but it’s shallow. It’s something Mulligan’s more sympathetic Daisy skirts a bit. Her Daisy is more of a victim of a bird cage built by her surroundings than a woman whose heart simply isn’t as big as her engrossing personality suggests.
In the book, we see this when Daisy visits with her daughter when Gatsby comes to the Buchanans’ home for lunch. She plays with the child, remarks at how beautiful she is, and then sends her away with her nanny. The child isn’t a part of her soul, something most mothers can’t bear to live without. Instead, the sunny little imp is her plaything, and she comes out when it suits her and goes back to her surrogate mother when Daisy is done.
Adding this moment into the film might have made Daisy unlikeable, which wouldn’t work for Luhrmann’s set up of the big moment in which Tom finds out Gatsby and Daisy have been canoodling at Gatsby’s mansion. However, it would have made the scene more true and far less soapy. When Daisy says she loved Tom and she loved Gatsby, Gatsby’s world is shattered by the disapperance of Daisy as his one true North. How could she love both of them? Could it be, she’s not who he thinks she is? But but it's not until this point and the subsquent scene in which Daisy runs over Myrtle that we can really make the film's Daisy out to be what she really is. The book makes quicker work of it.
Even in the famous shirt-throwing scene, in which Daisy cries “I’ve never seen – I’ve never seen such beautiful shirts before” as Gatsby showers her with his expensive shirts as a means of proving his wealth, Mulligan’s portrayal of the scene makes it seem as though she’s crying about her missed time with Gatsby. In the book, that scene plays with uncertainty: it’s possible that she’s really just upset she missed out on the greater wealth on Gatsby’s side of the bay.
Luhrmann softened Daisy so she wouldn’t put audiences off, but in the end, it means the film is working with a shell of the character that should be Gatsby’s undoing.
Tom Is Not The Devil Part of the reason Daisy is so forgivable in this film is that her husband Tom (Joel Edgerton) is so God awful. Whereas Tom was always a bad guy in the novel (cheating on one’s wife constantly isn’t exactly the most admirable of traits, nor is Tom’s rampant racism), he’s a super villain in Luhrmann's film.
The biggest issues are Tom’s moment with Myrtle’s husband following her death and the scene in which Daisy and Tom ignore Nick’s invitation to Gatsby’s funeral.
The moment with Myrtle’s husband Wilson is changed from the novel, expunging Wilson’s fact-finding mission leading him to Gatsby’s pool (where he murders the young billionaire), and instead has Tom practically place the tools for murder into Wilson’s greased up hands like some sort of plot-quickening pixie. In the book, Tom simply tells Wilson the car that killed his wife was yellow (which is what leads him, independently, to Gatsby), but in the film, Tom takes on a persona not unlike Billy Zane’s crass billionaire in Titanic. He tells Wilson outright that Gatsby killed Myrtle, which sends Wilson right over to Gatsby’s in a plan so simple, you’d think Tom would do anything to get revenge on Gatsby. He’s gone from brutish husband to Wicked Willy tying Gatsby to the railroad tracks with one swift motion.
Instead of Gatsby’s downfall being a result of his own unwarranted, amoral fiscal ambition, it’s all because of Tom, who practically gave Wilson a map to Gatsby’s house and loaded his gun for him. That goes against the point of Gatsby’s character, which is to serve as a warning about the dangers of American ambition. Gatsby propelled himself towards his end, not some jealous husband.
Later, when Gatsby has died, Tom has Daisy and their daughter packed up and refusing Nick’s phone calls, but one longing look from Daisy as Tom orders the phone to be hung up signals that Tom has her in a sort of vice. She seems more a prisoner than a woman whose vapid charms ruined a man. She’s too sympathetic, Tom’s too evil, and Gatsby is too blameless.
The Ballad of Gatsby and Daisy Is Missing An Essential Element: Capitalism The passage in which Nick describes Gatsby falling in love with Daisy includes language so financial in nature that it exposes the truth of what Daisy represents for Gatsby. Swathed in romantic moments of longing for even a slight graze of Daisy’s hand, Nick says that Gatsby “had taken her under false pretenses” and later says that Gatsby didn’t know “how extraordinary a ‘nice’ girl could be,” suggesting that he’s traded in lesser ladies before Daisy.
While Gatsby winds up head over heels in love by the end of the passage, the phrasing is tinged with the idea of trading and goods. Gatsby moved up to a nice girl, a rich girl his station didn’t afford him before. And this idealistic, ambitious-to-a-fault young man fell in love with a beautiful girl, and more importantly he fell in love with what her requited love would mean for his life. He wouldn’t be some poor soldier from North Dakota. He would be man worthy of Daisy’s station by association.
It’s this dream that Gatsby is chasing as he builds his wealth through his gangster-esque activities. While he thinks he’s after Daisy, he’s truly after the success that Daisy represents. He’s in love with the success she represents. And while the film does convey Gatsby’s inability to feel satisfied upon reuniting with Daisy, the pervading question of money and how Daisy is just one rung of the ladder of Gatsby’s yearning for success is muddled and buried a bit by the beauty of a big screen romance.
Luhrmann’s Gatsby is beautiful. It’s fun. It’s an absolute spectacle. But it’s missing these subtle, yet monumental moments and had Luhrmann kept them in, we could be looking at a more dismaying, but far more faithful Gatsby.
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While recent animated blockbusters have aimed to viewers of all ages starting with fantastical concepts and breathtaking visuals but tackling complex emotional issues along the way Ice Age: Continental Drift is crafted especially for the wee ones — and it works. Venturing back to prehistoric times once again the fourth Ice Age film paints broad strokes on the theme of familial relationships throwing in plenty of physical comedy along the way. The movie isn't that far off from one of the many Land Before Time direct-to-video sequels: not particularly innovative or necessary but harmless thrilling fun for anyone with a sense of humor. Unless they have a particular distaste for wooly mammoths the kids will love it.
Ice Age: Continental Drift continues to snowball its cartoon roster bringing back the original film's trio (Ray Romano as Manny the Mammoth Denis Leary as Diego the Sabertooth Tiger and John Leguizamo as Sid the Sloth) new faces acquired over the course of the franchise (Queen Latifah as Manny's wife Ellie) and a handful of new characters to spice things up everyone from Nicki Minaj as Manny's daughter Steffie to Wanda Sykes as Sid's wily grandma. The whole gang is living a pleasant existence as a herd with Manny's biggest problem being playing overbearing dad to the rebellious daughter. Teen mammoths they always want to go out and play by the waterfall! Whippersnappers.
The main thrust of the film comes when Scratch the Rat (whose silent comedy routines in the vein of Tex Avery/WB cartoons continue to be the series highlight) accidentally cracks the singular continent Pangea into the world we know today. Manny Diego and Sid find themselves stranded on an iceberg once again forced on a road trip journey of survival. The rest of the herd embarks to meet them giving Steffie time to realize the true meaning of friendship with help from her mole pal Louis (Josh Gad).
The ham-handed lessons may drag for those who've passed Kindergarten but Ice Age: Continental Drift is a lot of fun when the main gang crosses paths with a group of villainous pirates. (Back then monkeys rabbits and seals were hitting the high seas together pillaging via boat-shaped icebergs. Obviously.) Quickly Ice Age becomes an old school pirate adventure complete with maritime navigation buried treasure and sword fights. Gut (Peter Dinklage) an evil ape with a deadly... fingernail leads the evil-doers who pose an entertaining threat for the familiar bunch. Jennifer Lopez pops by as Gut's second-in-command Shira the White Tiger and the film's two cats have a chase scene that should rouse even the most apathetic adults. Hearing Dinklage (of Game of Thrones fame) belt out a pirate shanty may be worth the price of admission alone.
With solid action (that doesn't need the 3D addition) cartoony animation and gags out the wazoo Ice Age: Continental Drift is entertainment to enjoy with the whole family. Revelatory? Not quite. Until we get a feature length silent film of Scratch's acorn pursuit we may never see a "classic" Ice Age film but Continental Drift keeps it together long enough to tell a simple story with delightful flare that should hold attention spans of any length. Massive amounts of sugar not even required.
[Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox]