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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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.
Much like its Greek mythological source material Wrath of the Titans is light on dramatic characterization sticking to blunt moral lessons and fantastical battles to tell its epic tale. That's perfectly acceptable for its 100 minute run time in which director Jonathan Liebesman (Battle: Los Angeles) unleashes an eclectic hoard of monsters upon his gruff demigod hero Perseus. The creature design is jagged gnarly and exaggerated not unlike a twelve-year-old's sugar high-induced crayon creations — which is perfect as Wrath is tailor made to entertain and enamor that slice of the population.
Clash of the Titans star Sam Worthington once again slips on the sandals to take on a not-quite-based-on-a-myth adventure a mission that pits Perseus against the greatest force in the universe: Kronos formally-incarcerated father of the Gods. A few years after his last adventure Perseus is grieving for his deceased wife and caring for their lone son but a visit from Zeus (Liam Neeson) alerts the warrior to a task even more urgent than his current seabass fishing gig. Irked that the whole Kraken thing didn't work out Hades (Ralph Fiennes) with the help of Zeus' disaffected son Ares (Edgar Ramirez) is preparing to unleash Kronos — and only Perseus has the required machismo to stop him. But Perseus enjoys the simple life and brushes off Zeus forcing the head deity to take matters into his own hands…just as Hades and Ares planned. The diabolical duo capture Zeus and having no one else to turn to Perseus proceeds into battle.
The actual reasoning for all the goings on in Wrath of the Titans tend to drift into the mystical realm of convolution but the ensemble and Liebesman's visual visceral directing techniques keep the messy script speeding along. As soon as one starts wondering why Perseus would ever need to hook up with battle-ready Andromeda (Rosamund Pike) or Poseiden's navigator son Agenor (Toby Kebbell) Liebesman and writers Dan Mazeu and David Johnson throw in another bombastic set piece another three-headed four-armed 10 000-fanged monstrosity on screen. Perseus' journey pits him against a fire-breathing Chimera a set of Cyclopses a shifting labyrinth (complete with Minotaur) and all the dangers that come with Hell itself. The sequences have all the suspense of an action figure sandbox brawl but on a towering IMAX screen they're geeky fun. If only the filler material was a bit more logical and interesting the final product would be the slightest bit memorable.
Liebesman reaps the best performances he possibly can from Wrath's silly formula Worthington again proves himself a charismatic underrated leading man. As the main trio of Gods Neeson Fiennes and Ramirez completely acknowledge how goofy shooting lightning bolts out of their hands must look on screen but they own it with campy fun tones. But the film's overwhelming CG spectacle suffocates the glimmer of great acting opting for slice-and-dice battle scenes over ridiculous (and fun) epic speak nonsense. If a movie has Liam Neeson as the top God it shouldn't chain him up in molten lava shackles for a majority of the time.
Wrath of the Titans is a non-offensive superhero movie treatment of classic heroes that feels more like an exercise in 3D monster modeling than filmmaking. Its 3D makeover never helps the creatures or Perseus pop turning Wrath into an even muddier affair than the single-planed alternative (although unlike Clash of the Titans you won't have 3D shaky-cam blur burned directly into your retinas). The movie reaches for that child sense of wonderment but instead cranks out a picture that may not even hold a child's attention.
Looking like something that might have been made 50 years ago there is nothing even remotely “new” about New in Town. Lucy (Renee Zellweger) is a big-city Miami career woman sent by her company to check out a small town Minnesota plant and devise a plan to downsize it. Almost immediately she locks heads with the local Union rep Ted (Harry Connick Jr ) and further alienates the folksy employees who “all tawk like theeese doncha know” by instituting firings and a new streamlined work ethic. Things get dicey when initial conflict turns into romance (surprise!) between Ted and Lucy and her bosses inform her she must shut down the entire plant putting everyone out of work. In the right role Zellweger can be compellingly offbeat. Not here. She’s not miscast but woefully lacking any kind of chemistry with Connick Jr. who played the same kind of role on Broadway in The Pajama Game and seems to be going through the motions this time and without the songs. Particularly painful are moments when Zellweger tries way too hard to be funny giving us the “ick” factor instead. The banter between the pair could have come out of any ‘30s screwball comedy updated with all the comic panache of a low-rent sitcom. Considering the film represents Danish director Jonas Elmer’s American debut and because we think of ourselves as a kind and understanding critic we can chalk up its shortcomings to translation problems. Oh … plus a total and complete lack of invention and originality. What is supposed to be a light fluffy comedy is shot in such a dark and dreary style that it’s downright depressing. Minnesota’s tourism office should sue.
Far From Heaven pays homage to the 1950s director Douglas Sirk (Imitation of Life) by defining the women and men of that era and conjuring up characters whose squeaky-clean superficiality hides secret wants and desires simmering underneath. As the story unfolds Cathy Whitaker (Julianne Moore) lives her life just about as perfectly as she can. A pillar of the community she takes care of her immaculate home and is devoted to her two children and husband Frank (Dennis Quaid) a thriving manager at a TV sales company. This is the outer layer of the onion--once we start to peel it back their flaws and imperfections are found. First of all Frank is harboring a deep dark secret that he can no longer suppress (he's--gasp!--gay) which sends the marriage--and Cathy--into a tailspin. She doesn't have anyone to turn to until she finds a comforting shoulder in her black gardener Raymond (Dennis Haysbert) to whom she finds herself growing more and more attached. Heaven forbid--needless to say their taboo "friendship" is not perceived well in the community. Even her best friend (Patricia Clarkson) a seemingly forward-thinking woman is riddled with prejudice and cannot understand. Raymond offers Cathy a glimpse into how life can really be lived without fear of repercussions from society but alas the inevitability of their world comes crashing in on them and the two realize their love can never be. Music swells (no seriously it does. Again and again) and the credits roll.
Even with the film's over-the-top plot the truly excellent acting ensemble must be commended for rising above the melodrama. Moore is a vision as Cathy. With her coiffed hair crinoline skirts and matching jackets she is a perfect example of the '50s housewife. But Moore's raw talent comes through as the layers are pulled away to expose her inner strength and core. Her husband may leave her for another man she may get ostracized for loving a black man but in the end you know Cathy is going to make it. It's one of those roles actresses dream of and Moore could finally get her chance at winning Oscar gold this year. Another good Oscar bet is Quaid who could be looking at his first nomination for his performance as Frank (although he is being touted for his turn in The Rookie as well). Quaid embodies Frank with the cocky attitude prevalent in men of that era and his attempt to cure himself of his "problem" is almost too comical. It's a gutsy role for him and he rises to the occasion. Haysbert (24) does a nice job as Raymond playing the role with quiet sexuality and making it easy to see how Cathy could fall for him. Clarkson (Six Feet Under) puts in a multi-layered performance as Cathy's friend Eleonor who is all talk but ultimately is nothing but another bigot.
Far From Heaven's attempt at Sirk's nostalgia is admirable and could be considered a breath of fresh--if this is the type of film you'd enjoy. Admittedly it's a beautiful film. Director Todd Haynes (Safe) paints a lush subtle green-and-taupe suburbia but gives the visuals harsher tones when things start going astray. It's the story that seems so out of place. The reason the melodramatic films of Douglas Sirk worked is because they were made in the 1950s. Life was more hypocritical then--sweet and light on top dark and real underneath. Overblown films about shallow people trying to redeem themselves or forbidden love being revealed while the music swells and your heart beats and you wonder how on earth these people will ever make it right again were very popular back then. The fact Frank can actually embrace his homosexuality and live his life as a gay man but Cathy can't be with the man she loves because he's black and she's white somehow doesn't seem to fit in with the modern times. We've grown up (albeit not completely) and paying homage to this style seems redundant. But hey if it floats your boat more power to you.