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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Fandom is a funny thing. Often, if the fervor toward a given subject — or in our case genre — is strong enough, fans become advocates, and advocates can become crusaders. That is not meant as a slight — furious debates in which film fans engage is often a reflection of thoughtful theoretical analyses. Horror fans are not immune to fierce defenses of dogma; indeed they are arguably the most stalwart.
Take Warm Bodies. In the film, a zombie falls in love with the girlfriend of one of his victims, and slowly regains his humanity through their relationship. Zombie purists have been decrying the film from trailer one, citing it as an affront to canon.
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The ugly, shambling, worm-ridden truth however is that there is no zombie canon anymore. The mythos has been rehashed and reinvented so many times that even the zombie model to which we steadfastly cling is a reconfiguration. Perhaps it would be best to look at the benchmarks in the evolution of this classic cinematic monster to illustrate that there has never been a solid rulebook.
The Voodoo Zombie
The origins of the walking dead go back to ancient voodoo beliefs centering on the ability to resurrect the dead. Most commonly associated with Haiti, the roots go back as far as tribal Africa. This historical mythology is the basis for some of the very first zombie films. Bela Lugosi’s 1932 classic White Zombie plays upon this origin, as does Jacques Tourneur’s unsettling I Walked with a Zombie.
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These zombies did not consume their victims, they were the victims; reanimated in a stupor in order to engage in manual labor. At a time when the censorship was oppressive, the idea of anyone coming back from the dead was enough of a shock for audiences without the added cannibalism. The voodoo connection has not been entirely lost in subsequent decades, 1974’s Sugar Hill and 1988’s The Serpent and the Rainbow, but for the most part, this cultural derivation of zombie lore is dead and buried.
The Zombie We Know and Love
When there is no more room for convention, Night of the Living Dead will be unleashed upon the Earth. The conceptualization of the modern zombie is owed almost entirely to George Romero. In 1968, he took the undead out of the tropics and shoved them up through the soil of the Pennsylvania farmlands. There is actually a cultural context to Night of the Living Dead as well.
America continued to lose ground in Vietnam, and as the horror of the war spread across the heartland, the standards for zombies reflected the pessimism of the era. Suddenly there was no witchcraft prompting the rising of the dead, no reason at all in fact. It was shot in bleak black-and-white, and now the zombies were full-blown flesh-eaters. Interestingly, despite the establishment all these formative characteristics, the word “zombie” is not used once.
And now we reach the monumental irony of zombie dogma. By now, Zombies are an indelible part of pop culture as much a horror cinema mainstay.
Even people who have never seen a single zombie film will at least make the association between the undead and brains. Zombies have always subsisted on the brains of the living, right? That’s just a fundamental component of the living dead.
Well, it is now, but the advent of zombies munching on human noggins didn’t come about until 1985.
Alien screenwriter Dan O’Bannon directed Return of the Living Dead, which was originally conceived as a Night of the Living Dead sequel until O’Bannon rewrote it.
This strange punk rock horror comedy was the first time that zombies, which had previously dined on flesh indiscriminately, went directly for the brain. O’Bannon even offers a loose explanation that the devouring of brains eases the pain of being dead.
The Sprinting Dead?
Many people like to credit Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later as ushering in the age of the running zombie. Traditional doctrine mandates that zombies shamble rather slowly, but Boyle’s incarnations sprint at dizzying and terrifying speed.
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The undercutting semantic argument of course is that Boyle’s zombies are not zombies at all; they are “infected.” The confusion inherent here stems from the fact that by the time 28 Days Later was released, the term zombie became a catchall for any threatening ravenous horde. So actually Boyle’s film incited two separate debates about zombie tenets.
If you subscribe to the idea that “the infected” are indeed zombies, 28 Days Later is not the first to introduce the quickly-moving horde. In David Cronenberg’s 1977 film Rabid, a strain of rabies turns normal people into violent bloodthirsty monsters that routinely pursue their victims with lightning speed. Here again, the argument can be made that since we’re dealing with a virus in Rabid, that precludes the notion that the antagonists are zombies. However, by that logic, Boyle did not create the first running zombies either.
As you can see, arguing the exact parameters of zombie canon is as productive as trying chew threw the concrete walls of a fallout shelter.
[Photo Credit: Summit Entertainment]
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The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.
Fela!, about the life of revered African world music star Fela Kuti, will go up against Green Day's American Idiot, Memphis, and Million Dollar Quartet in the coveted Best Musical category at the 64th annual prizegiving, which honours the best on Broadway.
Meanwhile, Grammer and Hodge, who star as a camp gay couple in La Cage, will compete against Sean Hayes (Promises, Promises), Chad Kimball (Memphis) and Sahr Ngaujah (Fela!) for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical.
The evening is sure to be a star-studded event, with Hollywood actors Jude Law (Hamlet), Alfred Molina (Red), Liev Schreiber (A View from the Bridge), Christopher Walken (A Behanding in Spokane) and Denzel Washington (Fences) pitted against each other for the Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play award.
Washington's co-star Viola Davis will battle it out in the category for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play, against Valerie Harper (Looped), Linda Lavin (Collected Stories), Laura Linney (Time Stands Still) and Jan Maxwell (The Royal Family).
Catherine Zeta-Jones (A Little Night Music), Kate Baldwin (Finian's Rainbow), Sherie Rene Scott (Everyday Rapture), Montego Glover (Memphis) and Christiane Noll (Ragtime) received nods for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical, and Scarlett Johansson's Broadway debut in A View from the Bridge has earned her a nomination for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play.
Nominations for Best Play include In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play), Next Fall, Red and Time Stands Still.
The winners will be announced on 13 June (10) at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
The main list of nominees is as follows:
In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play)
Time Stands Still
Million Dollar Quartet
Best Book of a Musical:
Everyday Rapture - Dick Scanlan and Sherie Rene Scott
Fela! - Jim Lewis & Bill T. Jones
Memphis - Joe DiPietro
Million Dollar Quartet - Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux
Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre:
The Addams Family - Music & Lyrics: Andrew Lippa
Enron - Music: Adam Cork, Lyrics: Lucy Prebble
Fences - Music: Branford Marsalis
Memphis - Music: David Bryan, Lyrics: Joe DiPietro, David Bryan
Best Revival of a Play:
Lend Me a Tenor
The Royal Family
A View from the Bridge
Best Revival of a Musical:
La Cage aux Folles
A Little Night Music
Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play:
Jude Law - Hamlet
Alfred Molina - Red
Liev Schreiber - A View from the Bridge
Christopher Walken - A Behanding in Spokane
Denzel Washington - Fences
Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play:
Viola Davis - Fences
Valerie Harper - Looped
Linda Lavin - Collected Stories
Laura Linney - Time Stands Still
Jan Maxwell - The Royal Family
Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical:
Kelsey Grammer - La Cage aux Folles
Sean Hayes - Promises, Promises
Douglas Hodge - La Cage aux Folles
Chad Kimball - Memphis
Sahr Ngaujah - Fela!
Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical:
Kate Baldwin - Finian's Rainbow
Sherie Rene Scott - Everyday Rapture
Montego Glover - Memphis
Christiane Noll - Ragtime
Catherine Zeta-Jones - A Little Night Music
Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play:
David Alan Grier - Race
Stephen McKinley Henderson - Fences
Jon Michael Hill - Superior Donuts
Stephen Kunken - Enron
Eddie Redmayne - Red
Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play:
Maria Dizzia - In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play)
Rosemary Harris - The Royal Family
Jessica Hecht - A View from the Bridge
Scarlett Johansson - A View from the Bridge
Jan Maxwell - Lend Me a Tenor
Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical:
Kevin Chamberlin - The Addams Family
Robin De Jesus - La Cage aux Folles
Christopher Fitzgerald - Finian's Rainbow
Levi Kreis - Million Dollar Quartet
Bobby Steggert - Ragtime
Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical:
Barbara Cook - Sondheim on Sondheim
Katie Finneran - Promises, Promises
Angela Lansbury - A Little Night Music
Karine Plantadit - Come Fly Away
Lillias White - Fela!
Best Direction of a Play:
Michael Grandage - Red
Sheryl Kaller - Next Fall
Kenny Leon - Fences
Gregory Mosher - A View from the Bridge
Best Direction of a Musical:
Christopher Ashley - Memphis
Marcia Milgrom Dodge - Ragtime
Terry Johnson - La Cage aux Folles
Bill T. Jones - Fela!
Rob Ashford - Promises, Promises
Bill T. Jones - Fela!
Lynne Page - La Cage aux Folles
Twyla Tharp - Come Fly Away
Jason Carr - La Cage aux Folles
Aaron Johnson - Fela!
Jonathan Tunick - Promises, Promises
Daryl Waters & David Bryan - Memphis
Best Scenic Design of a Play
John Lee Beatty - The Royal Family
Alexander Dodge - Present Laughter
Santo Loquasto - Fences
Christopher Oram - Red
Best Scenic Design of a Musical:
Marina Draghici - Fela!
Christine Jones - American Idiot
Derek McLane - Ragtime
Tim Shortall - La Cage aux Folles
Best Costume Design of a Play:
Martin Pakledinaz - Lend Me a Tenor
Constanza Romero - Fences
David Zinn - In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play)
Catherine Zuber - The Royal Family
Best Costume Design of a Musical:
Marina Draghici - Fela!
Santo Loquasto - Ragtime
Paul Tazewell - Memphis
Matthew Wright - La Cage aux Folles
Best Lighting Design of a Play:
Neil Austin - Hamlet
Neil Austin - Red
Mark Henderson - Enron
Brian MacDevitt - Fences
Best Lighting Design of a Musical:
Kevin Adams - American Idiot
Donald Holder - Ragtime
Nick Richings - La Cage aux Folles
Robert Wierzel - Fela!
Best Sound Design of a Play:
Acme Sound Partners - Fences
Adam Cork - Enron
Adam Cork - Red
Scott Lehrer - A View from the Bridge
Best Sound Design of a Musical:
Jonathan Deans - La Cage aux Folles
Robert Kaplowitz - Fela!
Dan Moses Schreier and Gareth Owen - A Little Night Music
Dan Moses Schreier - Sondheim on Sondheim
Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre:
Regional Theatre Tony Award:
The Eugene O'Neill Theater Center, Waterford, Connecticut
Isabelle Stevenson Award:
David Hyde Pierce
Tony Honors for Excellence in the Theatre:
Alliance of Resident Theatres/New York
The God of Legion secular Hollywood’s latest Biblically-inspired action flick is old-school an angry spiteful Almighty with a penchant for Old Testament theatrics. Fed up with humanity’s decadent warmongering ways He’s decided to pull the plug on the whole crazy experiment and start over from scratch.
Fortunately for us the God of Legion is also a rather lazy fellow. Instead of doing the apocalyptic work himself and wiping us out with a giant flood which worked perfectly well last time He opts to delegate the task to His army of angels — a questionable strategy that starts to fall apart when the archangel charged with leading the planned extermination Michael (Paul Bettany) refuses to comply.
Michael who unlike his boss still harbors affection for our sorry species abandons his post and descends to earth where inside the swollen belly of Charlie (Adrianne Palicki) an unwed mother-to-be working as a waitress in an out-of-the-way diner sits humanity’s lone hope for survival. Why is this particular baby so important? Is it the one destined to lead us to victory over Skynet? Heaven knows — Legion reveals little details its script devoid of actual scripture. What is clear is that God’s celestial hitmen want the kid whacked before it’s born.
But Michael won’t let humanity fall without a fight. Armed with a Waco-sized arsenal of assault weapons he hunkers down with the diner’s patrons a largely superfluous collection of thinly-sketched caricatures from various demographic groups led by Dennis Quaid as the diner’s grizzled owner Tyrese Gibson as a hip-hop hustler and Lucas Black as a simple-minded country boy.
Together they mount a heroic final stand against hordes of angels who’ve taken possession of “weak-willed” humans turning kindly old grandmas and mild-mannered ice cream vendors into snarling ravenous foul-mouthed beasts. They descend upon the ramshackle diner in a series of full-frontal assaults commanded by the archangel Gabriel (Kevin Durand) the George Pickett of End of Days generals.
Beneath its superficial religious facade Legion is really just a run-of-the-mill zombie flick a Biblical I Am Legend. Bettany an actor accustomed to smaller dramatic roles in films like A Beautiful Mind and The Da Vinci Code looks perfectly at ease in his first major action role wielding machine guns and bowie knives with equal aplomb. Conversely first-time director Scott Stewart a former visual effects artist does little to prove himself worthy of such a promotion serving up some impressive CGI work but not much else worthy of note.
Mya Lewis Ben Clark and the rest of the humanity living in Terminus (a city of the future) are going about their lives late on the night before New Year’s Eve when a strange signal begins messing up their televisions cell phones and radios. At first they are just annoyed but then the terror begins as the signal begins to drive people to murderous aggression with random killings taking over everywhere. Some like Mya are not affected by the signal; while others like her estranged husband Lewis float in and out of crazed violence. As the story unfolds told in three segments by three different directors squirting gore abounds juxtaposed with surreal moments fantasy sequences and seemingly invincible characters that somehow survive grisly graphic death blows and come back for more. As the 24 hours of New Year’s Eve winds down the carnage slows a bit but the damage is done as civilization will never quite be the same again. The Signal is a low-budget independent film populated with actors you have never heard of mostly from the Atlanta area where the film was conceived and created. The best of the bunch is Anessa Ramsey who plays Mya with a nuanced compelling style that makes you want her to be on the screen much more than she actually is. Justin Welborn (as Ben her illicit lover) is also a discovery--a quietly handsome guy who brings a realistic feel to a film that is mostly way over the top. A.J. Bowen is a hulking presence as Lewis Mya’s relentlessly jealous and violent husband who will stop at nothing to find her and keep her by his side and Scott Poythress as Clark melds a bit of comic lightness into his role as one of the few still-sane inhabitants of Terminus--despite the fact that he has one scene where he has a conversation with a severed head. Overall the acting in the film is pretty believable no mean feat for a script that calls for the characters to maintain an almost constant state of fear or aggression. The Signal is a three-way project broken into three segments (called “Transmissions”) and each directed by a different person: David Bruckner Dan Bush and Jacob Gentry. They are part of the Atlanta-based POP Films (Gentry’s cult film Last Goodbye was the company’s first effort) and are long-time friends as well. Collaborating together yet each responsible for their own segment the three made the film in less than two weeks for under five million dollars. A 2007 Sundance Film Festival favorite there is much to like about the movie despite its obvious low-budget production values. Slightly disjointed and sometimes not quite following the plot points one of the others has set beforehand. In one scene there is an extremely gory murder of one of the main characters whose head is completely bashed to pulp only to have him miraculously reappear later on with barely a scratch on him. Huh? The three still have a ways to go before they can be compared to horror masters like Wes Craven or George Romero but The Signal is not a bad beginning and shows promise of things yet to come.