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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Maximiliano Hernandez (better known as the dearly departed Agent Chris Amador) said of The Americans, "The Americans for me is analogue. There's a texture to it, you can hear it." And in Wednesday's Season 1 finale, "The Colonel," all the gears and cogs — of Directorate S, the FBI, and the Jennings' marriage — are laid bare to suspenseful, poignant effect.
The Americans has walked the line between camp and drama all season, using moments of levity (such as chuckle-worthy fashion choices and antiquated — yet period-appropriate — technology) to add lightness to what would be an otherwise very, very dark show. By including just the right amount of kitsch, we are able to continue to root for characters — namely Keri Russell's Elizabeth and Matthew Rhys' Phillip — who rack up quite the body count. And in "The Colonel," when the stakes are higher than ever, your allegiances lie firmly with the Jennings.
The main action of "The Colonel" obviously hinges on the bait-and-switch of the trap the FBI has set for the Directorate S illegals (who we know to be the Jennings). As Elizabeth prepares to meet the colonel — and then when Phillip actually does, after he goes rogue — the audience knows that the real danger lies in picking up the surveillance tapes. And therefore the moments in which Elizabeth approaches the vehicle while Phillip tries to intercept her are the most suspenseful of the episode. Although, the car chase that follows ain't bad, either (I personally loved the vintage feel and old school car stunts).
The emotional high point of the episode, however, is of course the touching final scene between Elizabeth and Phillip. When Elizabeth asks Phillip in Russian to "come home," you feel the cathartic release as a season full of back-and-forth rushes away. It's obvious these two love one another and, after the heartbreaking scene in "Covert War" during which Phillip rebuffs (or is oblivious to) Elizabeth's attempt at reconciliation, this moment of tender forgiveness seems long overdo. And I, for one, can't wait to see how their relationship progresses going forward, especially with the new specter of Phillip/Clark's marriage to Martha haunting them.
Speaking of Martha, the secondary characters really came into their own in the season's final few episodes. Martha, played with incredible earnestness and care by Alison Wright, is pitiful, yes, but you can't help but love her. She's not so blinded by her love for Clark that she fails to exert her own convictions — she was, after all, able to convince Clark to let her tell her parents about their relationship as well as move up the wedding date — and that's appealing. Wright has created a layered, nuanced character where it would be so easy to fall back on caricature. And it was a surprise to all that she was able to survive the season — although I doubt she'll be so lucky in Season 2.
The other big surprise of the season was Nina's (Annet Mahendru) new role as a double agent. Nina transformed from the victim to a force to be reckoned with, and could very well be Stan's (Noah Emmerich) downfall. Stan and Nina are, in a way, foils for one another. As Nina gains strength and grows stronger in her convictions, Stan is reduced to nearly a shell of a man. He lost his partner, he is well on his way to destroying his marriage, and his big professional moment was a bust. Nina has taken control of her fate while Stan has become victim to his — and that makes me want to root for Nina and Directorate S. Team Nina!
So, where do we go from here? When Season 2 begins, we will once again have a unified Jennings family and Directorate S will once again have an upper hand on the FBI (thanks to Nina's double agent status and the colonel's new intel) — but that doesn't mean we have returned to square one. While Elizabeth and Phillip's relationship seems stronger than ever, how will they keep the Martha ruse going? It will surely tear Elizabeth apart to watch Clark return to Martha's (soon to be redecorated) apartment night after night.
Also within the Jennings family, we have Paige's growing suspicion to deal with. Is Paige's curiosity simply reflective of your normal teen rebellion and tendency to delve into one's parents' past? Or will Paige become a real threat to her parents' secret identity? Furthermore, if Paige does discover her parents' true lives, how will she take it?
The other huge question mark is Claudia's (Margo Martindale) fate on the show. In the final episode, the audience was given a look at Claudia's true loyalties — which, contrary to the Jennings' belief — lie firmly with the agents in her care. And yet, Claudia may be out of the picture come Season 2. Unfortunately, Grannie's future on The Americans may be determined by outside forces; she has a starring role in the pilot for Will Arnett's new comedy, which is currently awaiting pickup by CBS. If her new show gets a green light, we might unfortunately lose Claudia. And what a loss it would be.
Bigger picture questions I have going forward involve the spy aspect of the show, rather than the familial one. How long can the FBI and Directorate S continue to play this game of cat and mouse without it wearing thin? And will Phillip and Elizabeth continue to be given one-off missions that don't forward the overall arc of the show? These seem to truncate the action without advancing the characters in noteworthy ways. Furthermore, how do we progress in the Cold War without rewriting history? In order to keep things accurate it seems we have to shy away from big, international moves. They can't actually assassinate Reagan or drastically change the space program... can they?
The show is ripe with possibilities for Nina's advancement as well as the Martha/Clark storyline, and I'd love to learn more about Sandra (Susan Misner), Stan's cuckolded wife with an impressive amount of backbone, so hopefully we see those progressed in a second season. Ultimately, I feel in good hands with Joseph Weisberg and Joel Fields at the helm; I can't wait to see where they take us.
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The trailers for Hope Springs might lead you to believe it's a romantic comedy about a couple trying to jumpstart their sexless marriage but it causes more empathetic cringing than chuckles. Audiences will be drawn to Hope Springs by its stars Meryl Streep Tommy Lee Jones and Steve Carell and Streep's track record of pleasing summer movies like Julie & Julia and Mamma Mia! that offer a respite from the blockbusters flooding theaters. Despite what its marketing might have you believe Hope Springs isn't a rom-com. The film is a disarming mixture of deeply intimate confessions by a married couple in the sanctuary of a therapist's office awkwardly honest attempts by that couple to physically reconnect and incredibly sappy scenes underscored by intrusive music. Boldly addressing female desire especially in older women it's hard not to give the movie extra credit for what writer Vanessa Taylor's script is trying to convey and its rarity in mainstream film. The ebb and flow of intimacy and desire in a long-term relationship is what drives Hope Springs and while there are plenty contrived moments and unresolved issues it is frankly surprising and surprisingly frank. It's a summer release from a major studio with high caliber stars aimed squarely at the generally underserved 50+ audience addressing the even more taboo topic of that audience's sex life.
Streep plays Kay a suburban wife who's deeply unsatisfied emotionally and sexually by her marriage to Arnold. Arnold who is played by Tommy Lee Jones as his craggiest sleeps in a separate bedroom now that their kids have left the nest; he's like a stone cold robot emotionally and physically and Kay tiptoes around trying to make him happy even as he ignores her every gesture. One of the most striking scenes in the movie is at the very beginning when Kay primps and fusses over her modest sleepwear in the hopes of seducing her husband. Streep makes it obvious that this isn't an easy thing for Kay; it takes all her guts to try and wordlessly suggest sex to her husband and when she's shot down it hurts to watch. This isn't a one time disconnect between their libidos; this is an ongoing problem that leaves Kay feeling insecure and undesirable.
After a foray into the self-help section of her bookstore Kay finds a therapist who holds week-long intensive couples' therapy sessions in Good Hope Springs ME and in a seemingly unprecedented moment of decisiveness she books a trip for the couple. Arnold of course is having none of it but he eventually comes along for the ride. That doesn't mean he's up for answering any of Dr. Feld's questions though. To be fair Dr. Feld (Carell) is asking the couple deeply intimate questions so if Arnold is comfortable foisting his amorous wife off with the excuse he had pork for lunch it's not so far-fetched to believe he'd be angry when Feld asks him about his fantasy life or masturbation habits.
Although Arnold gets a pass on some of his issues Kay is forthright about why and how she's dissatisfied. When Dr. Feld asks her if she masturbates she says she doesn't because it makes her too sad. Kay offers similar revelations; she's willing to bare it all to revive her marriage while Arnold thinks the fact that they're married at all means they must be happy. Carell's Dr. Feld is soothing and kind (even a bit bland) but it's always a pleasure to see him play it straight.
It's subversive for a mega-watt star to play a character that talks about how sexually unsatisfied she is and how unsexy she feels with the man she loves most in the world. The added taboo of Kay and Arnold's age adds that much more to the conversation. Kay and Arnold's attempts at intimacy are emotionally raw and hard to watch. Even when things get funny they're mostly awkward funny not ha-ha funny.
The rest of the movie is a little uneven wrapped up tightly and happily by the end. Their time spent soul-searching alone is a little cheesy especially when Kay ends up in a local bar where she gets a little dizzy on white wine while dishing about her problems to the bartender (Elisabeth Shue). Somewhere along the line what probably started out as a character study ended up as a wobbly drama that pushes some boundaries but eventually lets everyone off the emotional hook in favor of a smoothed-over happy ending. Still its disarming moments and performances almost balance it out. Although its target audience might be dismayed to find it's not as light-hearted as it would seem Hope Springs offers up the opportunity for discussion about sexuality and aging at a time when books and films like 50 Shades of Grey and Magic Mike are perking up similar conversations. In the end that's a good thing.
Troubled by unfortunate event after unfortunate event The Watch sidesteps faux pas to come out on top as a consistently funny sci-fi comedy that doesn't let its high concept tangle up a bevy of one-liners. The script penned by Jared Stern Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg assumes you've seen a few movies before entering the theater (mainly any sci-fi movie made in the 1980s). "Summer movie logic" is the foundation for The Watch's ridiculous plot which finds four adult nincompoops teaming up to form a Neighborhood Watch trying to solve the murder of a local Costco employee and eventually pursuing a killer extraterrestrial. Instead of making sense of it all The Watch wisely focuses on its four leads: Ben Stiller Vince Vaughn Jonah Hill and The IT Crowd's Richard Ayoade — a quartet whose bro banter goes a long way in spicing up the dust-covered material. There's nothing revelatory to be found in The Watch but the cast's knack for improv a poetry of the profane makes the adventure worth…viewing.
Director Akiva Schaffer (Hot Rod) establishes his two-dimensional characters quickly and bluntly smashing together broad personality types like a Hadron Collider of cinematic comedy. Stiller's Evan is a micromanaging do-gooder who can't find time for his wife; Hill's Franklin is a mildly disturbed weapons enthusiast yearning to join the police; Ayoade is the quaint weirdo who joins the Watch to fill the void left by his divorce; Vince Vaughn is Vince Vaughn: a loud crass gent looking for a bit of male bonding. The ragtag team assembles to fight crime but they spend most of their time drinking beers in a minivan — an affair they dub "stakeouts." A perfect opportunity for banter.
For a movie about enforcing the law and alien invasions there's a surprising lack of action in The Watch. Long stretches of the film see the central players yapping back and forth about everything: Russian nesting dolls peeing in cans or the similar viscosities of alien goo and human excrement. Charisma goes a long way and Vaughn does much of the heavy lifting making up for lost time out of the spotlight (he's been virtually nonexistent since 2005's Wedding Crashers). The man spits out jokes like no other — the rest of the cast barely keeps up. Ayoade balances out Vaughn's bombardment with a tempered timed delivery that's uniquely British and rarely found on the American big screen. Even when nothing's happening in The Watch it's rarely boring.
The Watch is at its best when it goes a step further mixing the group in with outsiders and throwing them off their rhythm. Billy Crudup cuts loose as a creepy neighbor and its delightfully weird while the always-impressive Rosemarie DeWitt as Evan's wife Abby brings unexpected warmth to the couple's relationship. Sadly The Watch mishandles its greatest asset: the aliens. The film never finds a pitch perfect blend of comedy and science fiction (Ghostbusters or Galaxy Quest this is not); a few scenes where the two come together hint at the best possible scenario but more often than not The Watch avoids its sci-fi roots. A moment in which the guys haul a dead alien back to their man cave plays like an E.T.-inspired version of The Hangover credits. It's lewd and ridiculous but the rest of the film struggles to maintain that energy.
Stiller Vaughn Hill and Ayoade have all proved themselves able funnymen capable of taking weak and tired material up a notch which they're forced to do in every moment of The Watch. Schaffer can handle his talent but his direction isn't adding anything to the mix. By the third slow-motion-set-to-gangster-rap scene The Lonely Island member's obsession with non-cool-coolness is officially just an attempt at being cool (which is not all that funny). The Watch has a greater opportunity than most comedy blockbusters to go absolutely bonkers: it's rated R. But instead of taking its twist and running with it the movie plays it safe. In this case safe is non-stop jokes about the many facets of human reproduction.