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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In a post-Harry Potter Avatar and Lord of the Rings world the descriptors "sci-fi" and "fantasy" conjure up particular imagery and ideas. The Hunger Games abolishes those expectations rooting its alternate universe in a familiar reality filled with human characters tangible environments and terrifying consequences. Computer graphics are a rarity in writer/director Gary Ross' slow-burn thriller wisely setting aside effects and big action to focus on star Jennifer Lawrence's character's emotional struggle as she embarks on the unthinkable: a 24-person death match on display for the entire nation's viewing pleasure. The final product is a gut-wrenching mature young adult fiction adaptation diffused by occasional meandering but with enough unexpected choices to keep audiences on their toes.
Panem a reconfigured post-apocalyptic America is sectioned off into 12 unique districts and ruled under an iron thumb by the oppressive leaders of The Capitol. To keep the districts producing their specific resources and prevent them from rebelling The Capitol created The Hunger Games an annual competition pitting two 18-or-under "tributes" from each district in a battle to the death. During the ritual tribute "Reaping " teenage Katniss (Lawrence) watches as her 12-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for battle—and quickly jumps to her aid becoming the first District 12 citizen to volunteer for the games. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a meek baker's son and the second tribute Effie the resident designer and Haymitch a former Hunger Games winner-turned-alcoholic-turned-mentor Katniss rides off to The Capitol to train and compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
The greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is Ross' rich realization of the book's many worlds: District 12 is painted as a reminiscent Southern mining town haunting and vibrant; The Capitol is a utopian metropolis obsessed with design and flair; and The Hunger Games battleground is a sprawling forest peppered with Truman Show-esque additions that remind you it's all being controlled by overseers. The small-scale production value adds to the character-first approach and even when the story segues to larger arenas like a tickertape parade in The Capitol's grand Avenue of Tributes hall it's all about Katniss.
For fans the script hits every beat a nearly note-for-note interpretation of author Suzanne Collins' original novel—but those unfamiliar shouldn't worry about missing anything. Ross knows his way around a sharp screenplay (he's the writer of Big Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) and he's comfortable dropping us right into the action. His characters are equally as colorful as Panem Harrelson sticking out as the former tribute enlivened by the chance to coach winners. He's funny he's discreet he's shaded—a quality all the cast members share. As a director Ross employs a distinct often-grating perspective. His shaky cam style emphasizes the reality of the story but in fight scenarios—and even simple establishing shots of District 12's goings-on—the details are lost in motion blur.
But the dread of the scenario is enough to make Hunger Games an engrossing blockbuster. The lead-up to the actual competition is an uncomfortable and biting satire of reality television sports and everything that commands an audience in modern society. Katniss' brooding friend Gale tells her before she departs "What if nobody watched?" speculating that carnage might end if people could turn away. Unfortunately they can't—forcing Katniss and Peeta to become "stars" of the Hunger Games. The duo are pushed to gussy themselves up put on a show and play up their romance for better ratings. Lawrence channels her reserved Academy Award-nominated Winter's Bone character to inhabit Katniss' frustration with the system. She's great at hunting but she doesn't want to kill. She's compassionate and considerate but has no interest in bowing down to the system. She's a leader but she knows full well she's playing The Capitol's game. Even with 23 other contestants vying for the top spot—like American Idol with machetes complete with Ryan Seacrest stand-in Caesar Flickerman (the dazzling Stanley Tucci)—Katniss' greatest hurdle is internal. A brave move for a movie aimed at a young audience.
By the time the actual Games roll around (the movie clocks in at two and a half hours) there's a need to amp up the pace that never comes and The Hunger Games loses footing. Katniss' goal is to avoid the action hiding in trees and caves waiting patiently for the other tributes to off themselves—but the tactic isn't all that thrilling for those watching. Luckily Lawrence Hutcherson and the ensemble of young actors still deliver when they cross paths and particular beats pack all the punch an all-out deathwatch should. PG-13 be damned the film doesn't skimp on the bloodshed even when it comes to killing off children. The Hunger Games bites off a lot for the first film of a franchise and does so bravely and boldly. It may not make it to the end alive but it doesn't go down without a fight.
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.
Ready for some football?
America always is, especially when it comes to the Super Bowl. And that's bad news this weekend for Hollywood executives.
Even a possibly mismatched Super Bowl between the St. Louis Rams and the New England Patriots will keep millions away from theater movies on Sunday.
Take, for example, the last weekend in January for the past two years. In 2001, box office receipts stood at $96.2 million during that Super Bowl weekend, when the defensive-minded Baltimore Ravens defeated the New York Giants. Business jumped a whooping 35.6 percent last weekend, to $130.5 million, all because NFL officials delayed the Super Bowl by one week following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Accordingly, this weekend sees the release of two films that pose little threat to reigning box office champ Black Hawk Down.
Nicole Kidman's very public divorce last year from Tom Cruise did not hurt her standing with moviegoers. Birthday Girl arrives hot on the heels of Moulin Rouge and The Others, but the thriller is unlikely to capitalize to any great extent on their success. Birthday Girl opens at 1,000 theaters, or 2,000 theaters less than Black Hawk Down, a sign that Miramax does not have great confidence in this tale of Russian mail-order bride Kidman and her easily duped husband-to-be (Ben Chaplin).
Also, Birthday Girl is another in the long line of oft-delayed Miramax-related offerings that includes recent flops Texas Rangers and Impostor. Originally scheduled for a Sept. 15, 2000, release, Birthday Girl did not make its debut until one year later at the Venice International Film Festival. Also, making matters worst, is the Super Bowl debut of another tardy thriller, Eye of the Beholder, which somehow grabbed the No. 1 spot in 2000 with a miserable $5.9 million debut.
Slackers, this weekend's second new release, also sat on the shelf for more than one year. Original distributor Destination Films went belly up after releasing such one-word-titled flops as Bats, Beautiful and Whipped, so Sony Picture's Screen Gems rescued Slackers from direct-to-video hell. Unrelated to Richard Linklater's 1992 Gen-X classic Slacker, this college-set comedy stars up-and-coming stars Devon Sawa (Final Destination), Jason Schwartzman (Rushmore), James King (Pearl Harbor) and Laura Prepon (That '70s Show) as unmotivated students looking solely for a good time.
Aside from American Pie 2, R-rated teen comedies proved a messier proposition last year than a baked goods in Jason Briggs' lap. Tomcats, Say It Isn't So and Freddy Got Fingered tanked. Not Another Teen Movie barely crawled its way to $37.8 million during the holidays.
Also, the Super Bowl wasn't too kind to last year's teen comedy, the witless Sugar & Spice, which made a less-than-sweet $13.2 million. Slackers isn't going to overcome this indifference with any ease, especially with the PG-13 rated Orange County ($34 million through Sunday) likely to attract its fair share of teens not intrigued by the showdown in New Orleans.
Brotherhood of the Wolf expands this weekend after sinking its teeth into $1.6 million at 292 theaters. The slick and chilly French horror yarn has amassed a promising $4.2 million in three weeks, and could enjoy mainstream success among those thrilled by its Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon-style martial arts antics. Beyond that, Brotherhood of the Wolf boasts too much gore and not enough romance to make anything close to $128 million that Ang Lee's Oscar-winning epic made during its record-breaking run.
This should leave Black Hawk Down with enough firepower to preside over the box office for a third and possibly final weekend before the Feb. 8 releases of Collateral Damage and Rollerball. Ridley Scott's bloody recount of a battle between U.S. troops and Somalia militia already has captured $62.7 million through Wednesday after two weeks in wide release. That firmly puts Black Hawk Down ahead of fellow leave-no-one-behind thrillers as Spy Game ($62.2 million) and Behind Enemy Lines ($57.4 million). Also, producer Jerry Bruckheimer can celebrate a second successful military campaign after his Pearl Harbor earned $198.5 million last summer.
Possible Oscar nominations could result in Scott securing his third consecutive $100 million following 2000's Gladiator and last year's Hannibal.
The release of five wide releases last weekend saw such holiday holdovers as Ocean's Eleven ($175.9 million through Sunday), Vanilla Sky ($96 million through Sunday), Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius ($76.2 million through Sunday) and Kate & Leopold ($45 million through Sunday) take big hits.
Mandy Moore fans turned out in surprising numbers to see the teen pop diva's A Walk to Remember, allowing the earnest disease-of-the-week drama to earn a tuneful $12.1 million opening. A Walk to Remember's debut now sets the bar for Britney Spears' Crossroads, which opens Feb. 15.
Homework and school curfews no doubt resulted in Moore's so-so midweek performance, with A Walk to Remember trailing behind fellow rookies The Count of Monte Cristo, The Mothman Prophecies and I Am Sam. Its total through Wednesday: $13.9 million.
A Walk to Remember should weather the Super Bowl better than any of last week's new releases. Films that skew heavily toward women tend to do well during the Super Bowl, given that men are very much glued to the game. The Wedding Planner captured the No. 1 spot last year with a $13.5 million opening, followed by Save the Last Dance's $9.7 million third weekend haul. In 1999, She's All That debuted with $16.1 million, still a record for a Super Bowl weekend opening.
The Mothman Prophecies appeared to have triumphed last weekend over The Count of Monte Cristo, but when the final figures came in, the umpteenth remake of the Alexander Dumas adventure beat Richard Gere's chiller by a doubloon or two.
Kevin Reynolds' The Count of Monte Cristo opened with $11.3 million, slightly better than September's $10.3 million opening of The Musketeer. Reynolds also enjoyed a strong midweek, with The Count of Monte Cristo earning an additional $2.5 million on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Its total through Wednesday is $13.8 million. The Musketeer experienced a fast fade in the wake of lousy reviews and the Sept. 11 attack, so The Count of Monte Cristo should have no trouble surpassing its gross of $27 million.
The Mothman Prophecies will likely get sacked this weekend now that word is spreading that it is nothing more than a bewildering sub-standard X-Files episode. It has $13.2 million through Wednesday, with $25 million to $30 million a likely total.
Kung Pow: Enter the Fist kicked up an OK $7 million opening, with $7.9 million in total through Wednesday. The martial arts parody's main selling point, that it comes from Steve Oedekerk, the director of Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, isn't going to be enough to prevent it from taking a major sock in the jaw this weekend.
The Beatles continue to captivate audiences some 30 years after they went their separate ways. A soundtrack populated with Fab Four covers helped I Am Sam count up to $8.3 million in its first week in wide at 1,268 theaters. Its $6,558 per screen average was the highest in last week's Top 10. With $10.3 million through Wednesday, I Am Sam will likely emerge relatively unscathed this Super Bowl weekend given that football fans are not among its core audience.
Snow Dogs also should emerge as Super Bowl-proof. The family comedy, with Cuba Gooding Jr., dropped just 27 percent in its second weekend, from $17.8 million to $13 million. Its total through Wednesday: $40.3 million. Those cute and courageous dogs will no doubt continue to make kids smile this weekend and into mid-February.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, A Beautiful Mind and Gosford Park will likely take something of a hit this weekend but will regain their footing should they earn their shot at Oscar gold.
Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, now at $260.2 million, is about to challenge Shrek as the second-most popular 2001 release. Shrek ended its run with $267.7 million.
A Beautiful Mind, now at $95.3 million, will cross the $100 million barrier this weekend. This will mark Ron Howard's fifth $100 million hit, and his fourth in five tries.
Robert Altman, who surprised everyone by winning the Golden Globe for Best Director, celebrated his biggest hit in 10 years last weekend. With $16.7 million through Wednesday, Gosford Park surpassed with ease the $13 million taken in 2000 by Dr. T & the Women. Gosford Park will likely make more than The Player's $21.7 million total long before the Oscar nominations are announced Feb. 12.