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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Universal via Everett Collection
Lone Survivor isn't a film for the faint of heart. It's a film that beats you down and only lets you up for a few precious moments before the credits roll, but that emotional throttling is what helps make the film such a powerful experience.
Peter Berg's Lone Survivor tells the story of Operation Red Wings, primarily focusing on a group of four Navy SEALs who are sent to the mountains of Afganistan to capture or kill a member of the Taliban. The plan goes wrong, and the team has to fight for their lives to escape the enemy-infested area. The film does a marvelous job of ratcheting up the tension before collapsing into its main action sequence, one that is as thrilling as it is unsettling. The long sequence brings forth memories of the infamous D-Day opening of Saving Private Ryan, except this film's fire-fight stretches out the violence like a medieval torture device. The langourous scene is, at times, hard to sit through. Each moment slips by in coiled tension. It's undoubtedly uncomfortable, and the film makes a point to never make the violence fun or enticing. The action isn't consequence-free, and every bullet fired carries weight, making the scenes brutal and unrelenting because of it. The film takes on the aura of a horror movie that wants you to feel every second that ticks by, and director Berg makes sure that a pressing hopelessness starts to weigh on the viewer just as it does on the soldiers.
Mark Wahlberg is plenty capable as Marcus Lutrell, a member of the SEAL unit that is sent on the mission. The supporting cast plays its parts admirably by believably infusing a diverse set of personalities and values into the soldiers, while still keeping them in tune with the same military culture that governs much of their thoughts and actions. There's a great scene where a difficult decision has to be made, and the viewer gets to see the different directions to which some of the character's moral compasses are tuned. Sometimes the right thing can mean different things to different people when the risk of death is on the table. The real standout in the cast is Ben Foster, whose SO2 Matthew Alexson swirls with barely contained fury. He is darkly intense and has electric screen presence that really starts to manifest when the bullets star flying and things become dire.
Universal via Everett Collection
For all the good will that the film builds up in its first and second act, the final third of the film hits some snags as history demands that the story take itself to a different location, sacrificing some of the tension that it has built up. In the last 30 minutes of the film, there are some odd tonal choices that don't gel with the tension brimming in the first half. A comedic scene involving a language barrier stands out in particular.
The movie makes a point to steer clear of any political judgment, and it doesn't try to lay blame for the botched mission on any one head. And while the film never outwardly states and opinion on the conflicts that America found itself embroiled in during this time period, the searing brutality depicted in the movie highlight that no one should be subjected to the pain that these men were faced with. Made abundantly clear is the soldiers' willingness to drop everything and serve their country the best way they know how. Lone Survivor tries to honor the soldier, but not glorify war.
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Lone Survivor is at its best when it makes you feel the worst. It gives soldiers their due reverence by showcasing the true terror of the battlefield, and while the film does start to sag a bit in its third act, it's still more than worth the experience in order understand the consequences of war, and its toll on the people in the trenches.
The third episode is always the real test of a new series. Sure, the pilot establishes the concept, but there’s usually a long production hiatus between the shoot for the pilot and that for episode two. The second episode of a show can almost come across like a second pilot, in a sense. So the third episode is the real indicator of whether a series can transcend the novelty of its concept and immerse you in its story and characters on a long-term basis. These third installments are usually easy on the shocks and plot twists but dive a little deeper into the characters and their relationships.
That was what happened in the third episode of Bates Motel, titled “What’s Wrong With Norman.” (A title that excluded a question mark.) But damn, if it still didn’t end on a hell of a reveal. Our friendly neighborhood Sheriff’s deputy, Shelby, keeps a Chinese sex slave in his dungeon of a basement! I’m surprised by how quickly the sordid details of Norma and Norman’s town have floated to the surface: the human trafficking issue certainly reared its ugly head once again, as did the potfield. And it would be the Bates boys, doing a capable Hardy Boys impression, who would discover all this. Dylan took the job to work for Bradlee’s father—who, amazingly, had not died but was in an induced coma with a very poor life expectancy. That meant guarding the potfield, a task he prepared for by doing a whole “You talkin’ to me?” routine in his mirror. He’d make $300 a day protecting $5 million worth of weed. Dylan wanted to guard it and smoke it. But he learned the two families from town that own it would not be too pleased about that. Apparently, this potfield is responsible for much of the local economy.
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Little did Norman know that his brother was now guarding the potfield from which he and Emma had barely escaped with their lives last week. Emma was particularly shaken. She felt guilty because she never really believed that there was human trafficking going on. She just used that as an excuse to bond with Norman. But once she saw that shed for real, she knew a dead Chinese sex slave really had been buried there. Norman wanted to have nothing to do with it. He called that diary “pornographic” and denied being obsessed with it. And yet he collapsed in the middle of class after imagining his teacher and Emma as the girl tied up. Was he aroused or horrified by that flight of fancy? Or was he horrified because he was aroused? The attraction and repulsion to sex that will one day make him take up a butcher knife are already firmly in place.
Norman recuperated in the hospital, an expense he and his mom sorely didn’t need. And we saw once again what a big TCM fan he is. It looked like he was watching a Ronald Reagan movie, but I couldn’t tell which one. More eagle-eyed classic Hollywood fans, please render an assist to this cinephile in the comments if you know what movie that is. While there, Bradlee stopped by to give him flowers. Norman is somehow a babe magnet when it comes to both girls with oxygen tanks and girls who are the prom-queen type.
Officer Guyliner, I mean Romero, showed up at the Bates’ house with a search warrant to look for Keith, the previous owner who raped Norma and who got a butcher knife stuck between his ribs. They scoured the place, and Norman knew immediately he had been given away because he had kept Keith’s belt as a souvenir. Moron.
Emma used her oxygen tank to force her way in to Bates House. She told Norman that if they forgot that poor dead girl it will be like she never existed. They had to uncover the circumstances of her death and expose this human trafficking ring. They searched the bathroom and found a Chinese character under the bathroom sink, a character that Yahoo Answers later revealed translates as “beautiful.” That made them even sadder. With that character and the diary hidden in Norman’s room, she must have been kept captive there. The motel itself was probably used as a brothel. In just the span of 30 minutes of screen time Norman had gone from wanting to deny this girl’s existence to doubling down on the search to unravel the mystery of her death. It’s also remarkable to see how one of the most awkward characters in pop culture history has already found himself in the middle of his own love triangle: with hottie Bradlee and sickly Emma, who cut in to his conversation with Bradlee with more than a glint of jealousy.
‘Bates Motel’ Premiere React: Why Hitchcock Might Approve
So Norma went on a date with Officer Shelby, involving wine consumption by a warm, cozy fire…and a little subtle blackmail. He told her that he found Keith’s belt under Norman’s bed. He wondered, did Norman kill Keith? He knew the former owner of the house was a bully, and he indicated that he might be willing to suspend the investigation. If Norma let him “take care of her.”
At first Norma took him at his word. She told Norman she thought they were safe. But as she continued to think about, she knew her son was right: Shelby could blackmail her to do anything. This was Norman’s mistake. And Norman would have to correct it. “You know what you have to do, don’t you?” asked Norma, indicating that Norman may have placed them in situations like this before and been forced to mop up after himself.
So Norman went to Officer Shelby’s house, presumably to steal back the belt and maybe also to kill Shelby. But what he found was a veritable haunted house. No. Scarier. The kind of place a serial killer would live. All flickering lights, peeling paint, and dark shadows. And whimpers. Oh, the whimpers. Behind a door where Norman maybe thought Shelby was sleeping was…a Chinese sex slave! So he’s in on the ring! And maybe even worked with Keith to keep it going, despite his saying that he didn’t like the guy. The final shot? Shelby pulling up to his house and about to enter the door. Get out, Norman! Terrifying.
What will Norman do to get out of this? Will he have to slash his way out? Or will he somehow escape with the belt and without Shelby noticing? Maybe he can use the existence of this sex slave as a type of blackmail over Shelby?
What do you guys think? And at this point, are you now officially hooked on Bates Motel?
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
[Photo Credit: A+E]
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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.
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.