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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Lions Gate via Everett Collection
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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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.
Though Jennifer Lawrence has stolen most of the spotlight in the months leading up to the release of The Hunger Games, Josh Hutcherson is the man of the moment. With Journey 2: The Mysterious Island hitting theaters this week (read my review here), the 19-year-old actor returns to a role that helped raise his profile enough to nab one of two male leads in March's Games, and this time around it's his show.
I recently got a chance to chat with Hutcherson while he was making the round promoting Journey 2, and we talked about everything from stunts and special effects to the core of his character Sean Anderson. Additionally, he says that his portrayal of Peeta Mellark, Katniss Everdeen's survival partner in Games, is faithful to Suzanne Collins' source material, and that he's very excited to get back to work on the inevitable follow-ups to both films.
Read on for a full transcript of the interview:
Hello Josh! How are you?
I’m doing great! How are you?
Good, good. Very good. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me today.
Of course. No worries.
So we pick up with Sean Anderson a few years after Journey to the Center of the Earth in this movie. How has he changed on a personal level from film to film in that time?
I think that when I was playing Sean in the first movie, his sense of adventure was coming from a younger, more immature place, in terms of—not really wanting to get in trouble, but just a little wide-eyed and bushy tailed. I think now his sense of wonder and adventure is coming from a place of wanting to discover something and share it with the world. I think that also, he has kind of had a tough time. He went to the center of the Earth. And since then, he’s been stuck in this other lifestyle that is not too exciting, back in Ohio. So, he’s been kind of itching to go out. And we pick up with him here, and he’s getting to go on another adventure, which he’s really excited about. His stepdad ends up coming along with him, and kind of cramping his style.
That’s exactly what I would call it. On the first film, Brendan [Fraser] was more or less…I don’t want to say “stealing the spotlight,” but more of it was on him. Obviously, he’s a very established star. But in this film, even with Dwayne Johnson, it’s really your show. I’m just wondering, what’s the hardest thing about carrying the torch from the original to the sequel, when you’re working with a new director, new costars? There’s a whole different feel to this movie.
It was. It is honestly like a whole other movie to me. While, obviously, we had the same kind of structure—as far as adventure goes—it’s a whole different cast, we’re going to a whole different place, new director. I mean, the producers and the studio are the people I kind of got to work with again. So for me, it didn’t really feel like it was a continuation of the last one. It kind of felt like its own story picking up.
Yeah. Absolutely. And watching the movie, it seemed as though you had a lot more physical work to do than in the first movie, but also than anybody else in the movie, including Dwayne, who is known for physical roles and that kind of activity. So, I’m wondering, were the stunts particularly difficult on you? And what kind of training you had to go through?
Yeah, there was a lot of stunt work. There was definitely a more significant amount in this than I’ve actually had in any other movie before. As far as the training goes, I just wanted to keep up my endurance ability. There’s a lot of running. A lot of running and jumping and yelling, and things of that nature. But it’s fun. I absolutely love doing my own stunts. I’m very athletic. I play a lot of sports in my downtime. So whenever I’m on a movie, it’s kind of like that sort of becomes my basketball or becomes my soccer, so I really enjoy it.
Are those kinds of movies, when you’re getting to get out there and run and jump and take spills, is that indicative of the kind of films you’d like to continue to make in the future?
For sure, yeah. For me, it’s not just that. I want to do a combination of movies. I love doing big action movies, because they are fun to shoot, and I love getting to film action sequences and whatnot. But I also like smaller, more intimate character stories. And, possibly, romantic things, and comedies. All sorts of stuff. I think for me, as an actor, my favorite thing is getting to play different types of roles and different walks of life.—
Awesome. And you have already. I’ve followed your body of work for some time, and it has definitely varied. And that’s great. Now, I know that you filmed on location in Hawaii. I’m not sure exactly how long you were there. There appeared to be a lot of really cool sets built. I got a kick out of the Atlantis stuff. But I’m curious as to how much green screen was used in the production, and whether or not that affected you doing your job.
Yeah, there was quite a bit of green screen. We actually shot about two-and-a-half months of the movie in Hawaii. There was quite a bit of green screen with the bee chases, the lizard chases and things like that. Working with green screen presents some challenges. You really have to use your imagination. I think one of the most important things is not holding back. You can’t really think about how goofy you might look when you’re doing these sequences. Because if you think about that, you’ll kind of mess it up. You have to trust the visual effects, and trust what the directors show you. The give you some images of what the lizard and the bees will look like. You’ve got to trust that that’s really what it’s going to look like so you can react fully to it.
Gotcha. What’s your take on 3D, now that you have done two pretty big 3D films? It’s obviously all the rage. And you beat Avatar to the punch with the first movie. What’s your take on the format?
I think it’s great. I think it has its place. I don’t think that one day, every movie will be 3D, because I personally would be annoyed if I went to go see, like, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and it was in 3D, or more character driven movies. But the movies like Journey and Avatar, where it’s kind of a whole other world and you need to be immersed into it, it’s interesting in that sense.
Both of the Journey films, and another tiny little film that you’re about to star in, were all based on novels. I’m just wondering how much you invest in the source material of any film you’re making when you’re preparing for a role?
It depends. Like, for The Hunger Games, I was very invested in the material; it was one of those things where the fans were diehard about it. And so much of the character was in the books. So that, for me, was important to be really familiar with that source material. With something like Journey, it was kind of based on the book, obviously, but my character wasn’t created from the book. It was an outside character that found the book. So that wasn’t as important for me as something like The Hunger Games.
Just to switch gears, how are you dealing with the massive, massive hype surrounding The Hunger Games? You can’t get away from it whatsoever—and we don’t want to get away from it! I’m just wondering, from the inside looking out, what is going on?
It’s a really exciting ride, honestly. To see that much anticipation leading up to the movie is unlike anything I’m familiar with. So it’s a very exciting roller coaster, and…I can’t wait for it to come out. To have that much anticipation before you even role the first frame of the film is very exciting. But honestly, once we got on the set, it was kind of like none of that really mattered. We were there to make our movie, all of us were there to do our jobs that we were all good at. It was sort of like we forgot about it for a few minutes. And now we’re reminded of it again every single day.
Would you call your performance as Peeta faithful to the novels?
Very much so, yeah. I think that was important for everyone in the movie—staying faithful to the novel. One of the things we had to be sure of is that Peeta never came across as wimpy or weak. At certain points, he’s pouring his love out for Katniss, and we didn’t want that to come across as too gushy. It’s important to make those moments stay true to the book, but also to have the strength that is needed in The Hunger Games.
For someone who is not familiar with the source material, who has not read the novels, is it going to be difficult for them to get into it?
No, not at all. Honestly, like the novel, half the movie is pre-Hunger Games. Before the games actually start. So it gives you a lot of buildup, a lot of backstory, a lot of explaining of what the world is. Much like the book does. It’s very similarly structured to the book, so it’ll all be there for the people who don’t know what the book is about to really get into it.
Sounds like the fans are really going to go nuts for it then.
[Laughs] That’s the plan.
Cool, cool. Are you ready for sequels to both of these franchises that you’re involved in? Because obviously, with The Hunger Games, you’re talking about three, possibly four movies. And at the end of Journey, it’s left open pretty obviously for a threequel. I’m just wondering if you’re excited to get back into Sean Anderson and Peeta for both of these things.
Yeah, definitely. I’m very excited. I was kind of surprised that we were doing a second Journey, because it has been so long since we did the first one. And when they told me, I was really excited about it, and curious to see where they were going to take us. And hopefully it won’t take as long to make a third, if that’s the case. [Laughs] And the same for Hunger Games. I love Peeta. He’s my favorite character I’ve ever played in a movie. And throughout the books, he gets more and more interesting in my opinion. I’m definitely on board and ready to go.
Can you also just tell me what else is coming up on the horizon? You have, it seems like, a tremendous amount of films in production that are supposed to release this year. Red Dawn I’ve been looking forward to for, like, seven years, it feels like. I’m sure you wanted to get it out there also. Do you know about when we’re going to be seeing Red Dawn, Carmel, any of these things?
Yeah. Red Dawn is going to be coming out in November of this year, which I’m very excited about. Finally! After MGM, everything they went through, it’s finally coming out. It’s great. I love the movie. I saw it a long time ago. They’ve made some adjustments since then, but it was a great movie. It had the heart of the first, with a new kind of style, action and effects. And then I have this movie Detention, which will be coming out sometime this year. I’m not sure when yet, exactly. And other than that, I’m just kind of looking forward to my next project. I have some time open in the spring and early summer before, possibly, Hunger Games: Catching Fire starts filming. So I’m kind of looking for another project to go in that time. Probably something a lot more on the indie scale. More of a character kind of role.
The Heat Vision blog reports that Spider-Man director Marc Webb has been quietly meeting and reading actors to play the title role in Columbia's reboot for several months with the list narrowing in the past week or so. The candidates include Jamie Bell, Alden Ehrenreich, Frank Dillane, Andrew Garfield and Josh Hutcherson.
Bell, who made his film debut as the eponymous Billy Elliot, has already stepped into the comics world by portraying Tintin in Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg's The Adventures of Tintin, which hits screens in December 2011.
Ehrenreich was discovered by Spielberg, who saw a comedy video of him at a bat mitzvah of his daughter's friend. A couple of TV appearances followed and was cast by Francis Ford Coppola in 2009's Tetro.
Dillane, a Brit, had a role in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, where he won notices playing a young Tom Riddle.
Garfield gained notices for playing a young reporter in the UK TV movie trilogy Red Riding. He will also be seen in David Fincher's The Social Network.
Finally, Hutcherson, who is the youngest of the candidates at 18, also has the most experience. He's scored key roles in Bridge to Terabithia and the upcoming Red Dawn remake. He also appears in the Sundance hit The Kids Are All Right and starred with Brendan Fraser in Journey to the Center of the Earth. The Journey sequel will see his character leap to the forefront as Fraser is likely to drop out.
The group of actors seems to fall in line with what Webb has been looking to do with his take on Spider-Man, which is to cast relative unknowns in a story that roots Parker back in high school, HV notes.