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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Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Jason Mraz struggled to film his segment for the video to accompany tragic Zach Sobiech's tune Clouds because he couldn't stop sobbing. The teenager recorded his uplifting song just weeks before he lost his cancer battle on 20 May (13) and the filmmaker chronicling his final days decided to ask some of his famous friends to record themselves singing along to the track for the promo.
Mraz joined Bryan Cranston, Sarah Silverman, Rainn Wilson and Anna Faris among others for the video, which has become a viral hit, propelling the song into the U.S. pop charts - it's this week's highest debut at 26.
But the I'm Yours hitmaker admits he struggled to film his segment because the song touched him so deeply.
He says, "I had never heard a song with such purpose and a song that needed to be in the world and that song was an example of how one can choose one's life powerfully. I couldn't get through the song without crying several times. I just felt this was such a powerful message that needed to be shared. I was really happy to be a part of it.
"When a song comes from the heart it has the ability to live inside of all our hearts. Zach had a gift, a true message to share with us all that now lives inside of us all."
Comedy is the most subjective of all movie genres. The things that will elicit laughter from people are contingent upon personal experiences, individual moral convictions, and, most specifically, those ineffable variations in senses of humor. A great example of this happens to be releasing its fifth iteration in theaters this weekend. There are those among us, this writer definitely included, who have never liked the Scary Movie franchise. However, this series has managed to garner enough popularity to remain financially solvent for thirteen years.
That being said, there are so many jokes in any given Scary Movie that it seems impossible that even the most stalwart detractor wouldn’t find something to make them chuckle. Bearing all the subjectivity of comedy in mind, and in light of the release of Scary Movie 5, this detractor thought it was time to revisit the first four films and dole out any credit where credit may be due. It’s not exactly a more objective approach, but this quartet of flicks has officially been given the benefit of the doubt.
As our lead couple, Anna Faris and Jon Abrahams, recreate a tender scene from Scream, a very lost James Van Der Beek, prompted by the playing of the song “I Don’t Wanna Wait,” appears briefly in the window before noticing he’s on the wrong set. On the one hand, this reference to Dawson’s Creekdoes immediately date the movie, one of the franchise’s biggest problems, it also astutely acknowledges how inextricable from late 90s romance that song became.
White Folks are Dead
During the on-campus media circus that followed the opening murder in Scary Movie, one news network had the foresight to abandon the story lest they become a part of it. It is true that this gag is not the most racially sensitive, but it has been well-established that the track record for African-American characters making it to the end of horror movies is abysmal. Therefore, when the camera slowly pans to the van for “Black TV,” and the anchor states that they are leaving the area immediately because “white folks are dead,” it was clever enough to prompt a chortle.
Moreso than any other character from Scream, the first Scary Movie brutally mocks David Arquette’s oafish Deputy Dewey. They reduce him to a drooling, mentally ill caricature that would be insurmountably offensive if not for the great final moment he is granted. As Cindy sits in the police station in the aftermath of the killing spree, she notes that the real killer had to be someone close to all the victims who could move about without being noticed. In a sharp nod to Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects, she realizes it was in fact Doofy. The Keyser Soze payoff is quite nice; guffaws abounded.
Scary Movie 2
Though even fewer jokes seemed to resonate in Scary Movie 2 as did in the first, one moment that absolutely delighted involved a nod to, of all things, a former member of the juice crew. As the whacked-out butler, played by Chris Elliott, is showing Cindy a line of portraits of members of the ill-fated Kane family, suddenly they come upon the painting of 80s era rapper Big Daddy Kane. Given that a vast majority of the non-movie references made in this franchise are for commercials, TV shows, and celebrities that are only relevant exactly at the time of production, this allusion to Kane was a breath of fresh air.
What Lies Within
Ordinarily what tend to be the weakest gags in any Scary Movie sequel are the direct recreations of scenes from the movies they are lampooning. However in Scary Movie 2, one imitation of What Lies Beneath was enough to kick-start a cackle. As a possessed Cindy straddles the Professor (Tim Curry), she utters the recognizable line, “I think she’s starting to suspect something.” From there, Scary Movie 2 offers an entertaining twist on the supernatural other woman switcheroo from What Lies Beneath. It’s the execution and timing on this gag that elevates it above the Scary Movie franchise’s typical twist on notable genre scenes.
Scary Movie 3
The Face of Fear
It could be argued, and we certainly intend to, that Scary Movie 3 is the strongest entry in the series. It’s not great, but it was the first to pull in the legendary David Zucker (Airplane, The Naked Gun). One of the best sight gags in Scary Movie 3 has to be the one that plays with the horror convention of warped photographs as portents of doom. Cindy thinks the twisted face of the young man in the photo is a supernatural occurrence, until she sees him in the flesh, and his face is actually warped. Such a smart, tongue-in-cheek joke that elicited a full-fledged belly laugh.
Can’t Get a Handle
There are ironically very few moments in which the Scary Movie franchise feels like actual parody. More often than not these films are simply pop culture coat racks. However, one of the best, and most insightful, jabs the series has ever taken at contemporary horror has to be Scary Movie 3’s knock on M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs. When told that the invading aliens will not be able to get to his family barricaded in the basement, our hero, played by Charlie Sheen, ponders the logic of the shortcoming that keeps the extraterrestrials at bay. In so doing, he is undermining the leaky script for Shyamalan’s film. Call it what you will, it was hilarious.
Stroke of Genius
Nine times out of ten, any movie featuring Jeremy Piven is worth watching if only for his moments on screen. Few films better illustrate this principal than does Scary Movie 3. Though he doesn’t have a huge role, Piven plays a hapless news anchor spouting off the nonsense that scrolls across the teleprompter as someone leans on the keyboard in the control room. It may sound like he’s have a stroke at times, but Piven commits to the bit so intently that one can’t help but be tickled. O shizl gzngahr indeed, sir.
Scary Movie 4
Leaving it All on the Line
Scary Movie 4 unfortunately seeks to undo all the favorable progress that was made by Scary Movie 3. However, it too is not without its moments. During the onset of the alien invasion, in what will become a long-running reference to Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, the denizens of a quaint suburb look to the skies at the coming storm. As the camera pans across, every backyard appears to have clothes on a line. Just as the audience notices, an off-screen voice cries out, “why don’t any of us have dryers?” It seems a throwaway joke, but it’s actually a subtle dig at the cliché methods by which filmmakers can create mood even when those methods don’t conform to logic.
Though most of the jokes in Scary Movie 4 that center on “parodying” M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village are just woeful toilet humor. However, the town counsel scene is priceless. The elders conduct their business in what can only be described as farcically archaic old English. There are so many prepositions injected into sentences merely to avoid ever ending with one. It’s a joke at the expense of the elaborate means by which the characters in The Villagetry and maintain their 19th century ruse. In any event, it’s worthy of a snicker or two.
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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.