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.
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.
A dirty cop and a pair of nice-guy bank robbers set out to prove this weekend that crime does indeed pay.
The $22.5 million collared last weekend by Training Day represents Denzel Washington's biggest opening weekend to date. The highly charged tale of police corruption--featuring Washington in a rare villainous turn--continued to play well during the week, earning $28.6 million through Wednesday. Accordingly, Washington should have the muscle to stop his Siege co-star Bruce Willis from stealing off with the box office crown.
Directed by Barry Levinson, Bandits casts Willis and Billy Bob Thornton as affable crooks who gain celebrity for their unusually method of robbing banks. They hold hostage the bank manager the night before a heist, eat dinner with manager and his family, spend the night at his home, and then force him to let them into the bank in the morning.
Previously, Willis and Thornton's efforts to save the world resulted in 1998's Armageddon, which earned $201 million in the process.
Breaking into banks also should be a profitable venture for Willis and Thornton, though not much as Armageddon or Willis' The Sixth Sense, which made $293.5 million. Bandits' success will likely mirror that of Willis' recent hit comedies rather than his celebrated forays into science fiction and the supernatural. The Whole Nine Yards, with Willis as a hitman, claimed $13.7 million in 1999 and eventually made $57.2 million. Disney's The Kid opened in July 2000 with $12.6 million, with summer audiences pushing it to a $69.6 million gross.
At least one person needs Bandits to enjoy a long and sustained run, and that's Levinson. The Rain Man Oscar winner last tasted success with Wag the Dog, the Hollywood satire about a war concocted to conceal a presidential scandal. Wag the Dog, of course, had the good fortune to open wide in January 1998 just as Monicagate captured a nation's attention and President Clinton had launched military action against terrorist targets in Afghanistan and Sudan. The result: a $43 million hit. Since then, Levinson's directed possibly the worst adaptation of a Michael Crichton novel ever, the waterlogged Sphere, which earned a paltry $37.2 million. Liberty Heights, the fourth of Levinson's semi-autobiographical Baltimore-set comedy-dramas, made $3.7 million in early 2000. Levinson's barely released An Everlasting Piece resulted in a lawsuit by its producer, Jerome O'Connor, who claimed that DreamWorks buried the Irish comedy at the request of the British government because of its thorny politics.
Who is Corky Romano? So read the teaser posters for Chris Kattan's new comedy, posters that also prompt the question: Who cares about Corky Romano? Kattan is the latest Saturday Night Live jokester to try his luck as a movie star. It's taken a while for former SNLers Adam Sandler, Rob Schneider and David Spade to establish their silver-screen credentials, so Kattan isn't likely to enjoy instant success. Will Ferrell, the only current SNLer to enjoy a somewhat thriving Hollywood career, seems to have done so by virtue of appearing in anything and everything.
Ferrell and Kattan did dance with disaster with the awful SNL skit-inspired A Night at the Roxbury, which made $30.3 million in the fall of 1998. Kattan's track record also includes the ensemble horror yarn House on Haunted Hill, which made $40.8 million in the fall of 1999, and Monkeybone, whose $5.4 million gross qualifies it as this year's biggest flop.
With Corky Romano already earning dire reviews, and stiff competition in the form of Ben Stiller's still-thriving fashion industry satire Zoolander ($30.2 million through Wednesday), Kattan shouldn't hand that letter of resignation just yet to SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels.
The surprise martial arts smash Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon no doubt prompted Miramax to reissue 1993's Iron Monkey, directed by Crouching Tiger action choreographer Yuen Wo Ping. Such releases tend to fare poorly, as witnessed by Miramax's previous attempts to bring to America those annoyingly dubbed versions of Jackie Chan's Hong Kong classics. Last fall's The Legend of Drunken Master, for example, staggered to a pitiful $11.5 million. Iron Monkey does have the advantage of being subtitled--which certainly enhanced Crouching Tiger's statue with the arthouse crowd--but it does lack the presence of a Jackie Chan, Jet Li or Chow Yun-Fat.
Miramax must make do with the popularity of Serendipity, which should enjoy a long and lasting affair with audiences looking for a romantic getaway from the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan. Through Wednesday, John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale have wooed $16.5 million in sales. Beckinsale's Pearl Harbor may have made more on its opening day, but no one went to see the expensive World War II epic for its romantic interludes. Serendipity is outpacing Cusack's bittersweet High Fidelity, which opened in March 2000 with $6.4 million at almost 1,200 theaters and sung its way to $27.2 million. Serendipity does have the advantage of now being in 2,600 theaters.
Don't Say a Word should continue to lose its audience to Training Day and soon to Bandits. Michael Douglas enjoyed his biggest opening weekend gross with Don't Say a Word, but the white-collar thriller won't stand out as one of his most memorable in terms of box office. Having collected $34.3 million through Wednesday, Don't Say a Word looks set to surpass The Game ($48.2 million) but will fail to out do A Perfect Murder ($67.6 million). That's a far cry from Basic Instinct's $117.7 million or Disclosure's $83 million.
Leelee Sobieski certainly learned her lesson about starring in two very disposable and oft-delayed teen-targeted thrillers in a row. The Duel-like Joy Ride, costarring Paul Walker and Steve Zahn, spluttered its way to a $7.3 million opening and has just $9.3 million through Wednesday. That's somewhat better than Sobieski's The Glass House, which opened after last month's terrorist attacks to a very weak $5.7 million and has since collected $16.6 million. Sobieski returns this weekend--and clearly not soon enough--to the arthouse circuit with My First Mister costarring Albert Brooks, a generation-bending variation of The Odd Couple.
Seems the kids failed to take much notice of Max Keeble's Big Move. Keeble has pocketed $6.6 million to date, and will likely end up as filler on the Disney Channel much sooner than later.
Hearts in Atlantis will join The Shawshank Redemption as another underachiever based on one of Stephen King's more mature tales. Shawshank managed to make its unremarkable $28.2 million solely on the strength of its modest Oscar campaign. With its less-than-enthusiastic reviews and $17.6 million gross, the supernatural Anthony Hopkins vehicle will have a tough time climbing to the same lowly height.
Barring a last-minute rally, summer holdovers Rush Hour 2 and The Others could finally drop out of the Top 10 this weekend. Rush Hour 2 ranks as the year's second-highest grossing film, with $221.9 through Wednesday.
The Others remains one of the year's biggest surprises, having enjoyed a lengthy run thanks to its twists and turns. With $91.1 million through Wednesday, the modestly marketed ghost story swept past Nicole Kidman's other summer entry, the lavishly hyped, over-praised and commercially successful Moulin Rouge, with relatively ease. Divorce has obviously been good to Kidman, at least professionally.
Jerome O'Connor, the producer of the Barry Levinson-directed An Everlasting Piece, is seeking $100 million in punitive damages against DreamWorks, adding a fraud claim Tuesday to his suit. It alleges that the film, a comedy sympathetic to the Irish Republican Army, was held back in distribution to appease British officials. O'Connor said that an agreement with DreamWorks was made to distribute the film in 800 theaters but was only shown in eight, grossing a mere $75,000 before being removed. O'Connor has included a fraud claim, saying the studio deliberately deceived him and the other filmmakers into working at DreamWorks. The studio has called the suit "patently ludicrous," according to The Associated Press.