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.
Harry Potter and Rapunzel engaged in a box-office showdown during the traditionally slow post-Thanksgiving weekend.
The second lowest grossing weekend of the year (an expected $88 million) as audiences snacked on the box office leftovers during what is traditionally one of the lesser performing weekends of the year. For the average film, the typical post-Thanksgiving weekend drop is in the 50 to 60 percent range and this year was no exception with Disney’s Tangled in its 2nd weekend moving up to first place with $21.5 million and a 56% drop as Warner Bros.’ Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 in its 3rd weekend grabbed the second spot with $16.7 million against a 66% drop. Tangled is nearing the $100 million mark and Harry Potter 7 is closing in on the $250 million mark at the domestic box office.
Bringing his “A game” in third place with $6.1 million is Denzel Washington in Fox’s Unstoppable which has continued to impress as it jumps from 5th place last weekend to third and remains a top five contender in its 4th weekend of release. Offering summer-style action during the holiday period is a strategy that has paid off for the action yarn that has shown little signs of slowing since its release and is nearing the $70 million mark. Tied for third place with $6.1 million is Cher and Christina Aquilera in the second weekend of Sony’s Burlesque. After performing well mid-week the film is approaching the $30 million mark.
The wild-card factor appeared in the form of Fox’s R-rated romantic comedy “Love and Other Drugs” starring Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal which debuted last weekend in sixth place but showed mid-week strength and snuck its way into the top five. With $5.7 million and a slight 41% drop, it is clear that the date crowd and women are supporting the bawdy comedy that now has a domestic total of $22.6 million.
Relativity Media is released the action-fantasy “The Warrior’s Way” featuring international superstar Dong-gun Jang. Jang has been called the George Clooney or Brad Pitt of South Korea and he stars alongside Kate Bosworth and Geoffrey Rush. Opening in about 1,622 theaters, the film debuted in 9th place with $3 million.
The only truly good news was in the specialized film world as Fox Searchlight’s acclaimed and much talked about Black Swan starring Natalie Portman debuted with a stunning $1.4 million in just 18 theatres and an impressive per-theatre take of $77,459. Directed by The Wrestler’s Darren Aronofsky, the film combines great performances with freaky visuals for maximum visceral effect. Look for continued strong grosses for this Oscar contender as it expands in the coming weeks.
Also impressive in its second weekend is the incredible period drama The King’s Speech from the Weinstein Co. Adding two playdates this weekend, the film in just six theatres pulled in an impressive $325,874 and another terrific average of $54,312. Word-of-mouth will continue to be strong for both of these limited release performers.
Just three weekends left in the year and thankfully several strong titles on the way as we head toward what we hope will be a strong finish to the box office year of 2010.
Weekend Box Office
Top 10 Movies - For Weekend of December 3, 2010 - Estimates
Movie Weekend Total
1 Tangled (PG) $21.5 M $96.5 M
2 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 (PG-13) $16.7 M $244.2 M
3 Unstoppable (PG-13) $6.1 M $68.9 M
4 Burlesque (PG-13) $6.1 M $27.0 M
5 Love and Other Drugs (R) $5.7 M $22.6 M
6 Megamind (PG) $5.0 M $136.7 M
7 Due Date (R) $4.2 M $91.0 M
8 Faster (R) $3.8 M $18.1 M
9 The Warrior's Way (R) $3.0 M $3.0 M
10 The Next Three Days (PG-13) $2.6 M $18.4 M
It will be the battle of the family movies as audiences snack on the box office leftovers during what is traditionally one of the lesser performing weekends of the year. For the average film, the typical post-Thanksgiving weekend drop is in the 50 to 60 percent range and that will make for a very interesting battle for first and second place as Warner Bros.’ “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1” in its 3rd weekend and Disney’s Tangled in its 2nd weekend will find themselves fighting for the top slot with grosses in the mid to high $20 million range. Look for “Potter” to reach the $250 million mark and “Tangled” to cross $100 million by the end of the weekend.
A veritable log-jam for third, fourth and fifth place will have a who’s who of star power vying for movie-goers’ hard-earned cash. Cher and Christina Aquilera will certainly be in contention with the second weekend of Sony’s “Burlesque” which has performed well mid-week and should maintain a solid footing with a gross in the $7 to $10 million. Of course, Will Ferrell and Brad Pitt have remained an intimidating force with Paramount/Dreamworks’ “Megamind.” In its fifth weekend of release the 3-D animated film will impressively remain a factor in the top five with a gross of between $6 and $8 million and a total domestic take of around $140 million by Sunday night.
Also bringing his “A game” is Denzel Washington in Fox’s “Unstoppable” which has continued to impress and will be a top five contender as it enters its 4th weekend of release. Offering summer-style action during the holiday period is a strategy that has paid off for the action yarn that has shown little signs of slowing since its release.
The only wide release debuting this weekend will be Relativity Media's action-fantasy "The Warrior's Way," featuring international superstar Dong-gun Jang. Jang has been called the George Clooney or Brad Pitt of South Korea and he stars alongside Kate Bosworth and Geoffrey Rush. Opening in about 1,500 theaters, expect a gross in the sub-$10 million range for the weekend and an eventual solid run in the international marketplace. Also look out for the wild-card factor comes in the form of the R-rated romantic comedy “Love and Other Drugs” starring Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal which debuted last weekend in sixth place but is showing mid-week strength and therefore could sneak its way into the top five.
Year-to-date revenues are at $9.65 billion heading into the weekend and are running just 2.12% ahead of last year while attendance is lagging by nearly 3%. Holiday-to-date box office is still pretty beat up compared to last year when "New Moon" and "The Blind Side" were kicking box office ass and despite "Harry Potter 7" and its amazing performance, the overall marketplace needs a real shot in the arm with revenues off by 8% vs. last year and attendance running a whopping 12.5% behind last season.
The former Cheers star has received a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his turn in the film, playing a soldier in charge of telling wives their husbands have died in battle.
And two-time Academy Award winner Penn threw his support behind Harrelson on Tuesday (02Mar10) - the last day of Oscar voting.
He said, "The Messenger is one of those rare platforms for a familiar American actor to reinvent himself. Woody Harrelson conjures a heart and presence of previously untapped immensity and emotional power. He deserves a BIG nod. He's done the hardest thing an actor can do. He's made something new."
But the star is facing stiff competition - he will go up against Christopher Plummer (The Last Station), Matt Damon (Invictus), Stanley Tucci (The Lovely Bones) and Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds) in the category.
Harrelson was previously nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his role in 1996 movie The People vs. Larry Flynt - but he lost out to Geoffrey Rush for his role in Shine.
Harrelson lost his first chance at Oscar gold to Geoffrey Rush in 1997, when he was up for Best Leading Actor in The People vs. Larry Flynt.
Thirteen years on, the Messenger star is facing stiff competition from Christopher Plummer (The Last Station), Matt Damon (Invictus), Stanley Tucci (The Lovely Bones) and Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds) in the Best Supporting Actor category.
And Harrelson's certain he's going home empty-handed.
He says, "I think my chances of winning are probably about less than one per cent... They're all better than me, and I'll admit it. No, I feel lucky just to be nominated with all these guys."
But Harrelson insists he won't be too disappointed without a win, adding, "I got a note from my mum, and she said, 'You finally arrived. You've been nominated in the same category with Christopher Plummer.' So, I got my mum's approval, which is enough. I don't need a statue."
The Hurt Locker's Jeremy Renner is up for the Best Actor in a Leading Role Oscar, competing against George Clooney (Up In The Air), Morgan Freeman (Invictus), Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart) and Colin Firth (A Single Man).
In the Best Director category, Bigelow will fight it out with her ex-husband Cameron, along with Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds), Lee Daniels (Precious: Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire) and Jason Reitman (Up In The Air).
The Hurt Locker and Avatar will lead the Best Picture category - the films are among 10 nominees for the prestigious accolade, including Up In The Air, The Blind Side and Precious: Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire.
Avatar, which smashed box office records by grossing more than $2 billion this weekend (30-31Jan10) to become the best-selling international release of all time, is also nominated for a slew of technical awards, such as Best Art Direction, Best Editing and Best Cinematography.
Meanwhile, Sandra Bullock has landed her first Oscar nomination for The Blind Side - the star will go up against Meryl Streep (Julie & Julia), Helen Mirren (The Last Station), Carey Mulligan (An Education) and Gabourey Sidibe (Precious: Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire) for the title of Best Actress in a Leading Role.
Matt Damon (Invictus), Woody Harrelson (The Messenger) and Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds) are among the nominees for the Best Actor in a Supporting Role Oscar, while Penelope Cruz (Nine), Mo'Nique (Precious: Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire), Maggie Gyllenhaal (Crazy Horse) and Up In The Air's Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick will battle for the Best Actress in a Supporting Role prize.
The nominees for 10 of the 24 categories were unveiled by Anne Hathaway and Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences President Tom Sherak at an early morning news conference on Tuesday (02Feb10) at the Academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills.
The Oscars, presented by Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin, will be handed out on 7 March (10) at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood.
The nominees for the 10 main categories are as follows:
Best Actor in a Leading Role:
Jeff Bridges - Crazy Heart
George Clooney - Up In The Air
Colin Firth - A Single Man
Morgan Freeman - Invictus
Jeremy Renner - The Hurt Locker
Best Actress in a Leading Role:
Sandra Bullock - The Blind Side
Helen Mirren - The Last Station
Carey Mulligan - An Education
Gabourey Sidibe - Precious: Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire
Meryl Streep - Julie & Julia
Best Actor in a Supporting Role:
Matt Damon - Invictus
Woody Harrelson - The Messenger
Christopher Plummer - The Last Station
Stanley Tucci - The Lovely Bones
Christoph Waltz - Inglourious Basterds
Best Actress in a Supporting Role:
Penelope Cruz - Nine
Vera Farmiga - Up In The Air
Maggie Gyllenhaal - Crazy Horse
Anna Kendrick - Up In The Air
Mo'Nique - Precious: Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire
James Cameron - Avatar
Kathryn Bigelow - The Hurt Locker
Quentin Tarantino - Inglourious Basterds
Lee Daniels - Precious: Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire
Jason Reitman - Up In The Air
The Blind Side
The Hurt Locker
Precious: Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire
A Serious Man
Up In The Air
Best Original Screenplay:
Mark Boal - The Hurt Locker
Alessandro Camon & Oren Moverman - The Messenger
Joel Coen & Ethan Coen - A Serious Man
Pete Docter, Bob Peterson & Tom McCarthy - Up
Quentin Tarantino - Inglourious Basterds
Best Adapted Screenplay:
Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci & Tony Roche - In the Loop
Neill Blomkamp & Terri Tatchell - District 9
Geoffrey Fletcher - Precious: Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire
Nick Hornby - An Education
Jason Reitman & Sheldon Turner - Up In The Air
Best Animated Film:
Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Princess and the Frog
The Secret of Kells
Best Foreign Language Film:
El Secreto de Sus Ojos (Argentina)
Un Prophete (France)
The White Ribbon (Germany)
The Milk of Sorrow (Peru).