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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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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I see now. This is why the American Idol guys' audition round was so boring. The drama was waiting on the girls' side.
Sure, a few of the guys got steamed here and there, and then there was Matheaus Fernandes's onstage meltdown, but for the most part, the dudes were rather tame. I'm probably a terrible person for saying this, but it's just more fun when the crying, fighting, self-righteous ladies do their thing during Hollywood week. And this season, apparently the judges sent through more women than men during the national auditions, so the competition is tight and making these girls lose all the oxygen in their brains. It's getting nutty.
First up are the rapid-fire auditions, and we lose a few familiar faces. We lose wacky girl Ashley Smith from Charlotte, who surprised everyone when her fake blonde wig and faux hipster glasses hid a girl with a real voice. Also gone are nominated singer Anne Defani from Nebraska and Sarah Restuccio, who wowed Nicki in New York by rapping "Super Bass" almost as well as those two fairy princesses on Ellen.
Finally, we get to Mariah Pulice whose story of overcoming anorexia by getting into music moved the judges during her audition is sent home after her version of "Gravity" fails to impress the judges. Of course, this is after she's caught on tape saying that the competition means everything to her because it's helping her stay on the right path. It's cruel editing that makes us feel guilty for agreeing with the judges that the girl wasn't strong enough for the competition. Still, it's a blessing the girl is sent home now instead of at the top 24 cut-off.
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As a parade of girls is ushered through to the next round, including mini-Alison Williams Angela Miller, San Antonio's mariachi singer Victoria Acosta, Rachel "Always (seriously, all the time, always) Smiling" Hale from Long Beach, and perfectly sweet country girl Janelle Arthur all make it through, but then come some hard distinctions that are still a bit confounding. When Candice Glover, who's returning a second time, sings her solo, she bbrings the house down, and perhaps it is that juxtapostion, but it completely ecclipses anything Megan Miller, a.k.a. the girl who auditioned on crutches, and her strong, yet bland voice. Both go through, but only one feels like someone I'd buy a record from (duh, Candice).
Isabelle, the girl with only one name, wows the judges again, as does Briana Oakley, the young woman whose classmates bullied her after she sang beautifully on The Maury Show (the the joke's on them because they were home in the middle of the day watching The Maury Show).
Finally, we have Kez Ban, the androgynous woman from Chicago who's bluesy, grassy style won over the judges. This time, she's gotten a little high and mighty. She actually tells Ryan Seacrest, as if he's the valet of American Idol, to find her some space to practice alone for 30 seconds because she's blown out her voice cheering for her friends. Oh, and also she's really sick. Cough, cough. Kez's voice greatly suffers but the judges seem to be keen on keeping her for now because they let it slide and she stays on to create a good 33 percent of the Hollywood Week drama.
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Group round is upon us and, once again, the producers have chosen the groups for maxium drama potential. To separate the trainwrecks from the choirs of singing angels, come the judges (minus Randy, who never misses a thing on Idol but is apparently getting too old for this s**t) in a fleet of shiny new Ford cars whose names are definitely not glistening on the screen unnecessarily when all we're hoping to do is see Mariah lean back like a figure on a Grecian urn and tell us, "Darling, we're finding stars today." She does that too, but it takes us way too long, and too many car shots, to get there.
Luckily, Ford didn't make any of the contestants drive around in these promo autos when they should have been practicing, so we're able to get right into the groups, their drama, and of course, their performances. The Swaggettes have truly got the swagger because they all went to bed on time. They didn't fight over harmonies or choreography, and they walk in looking refreshed and cheerful. Are we sure this is Hollywood week and not the uplifting part of a movie about a plucky young girl group, with its weird hipster-nerd chick thrown in for the "cool" factor? It's not. While Glover is the clear standout of the group, her cohorts Kamiria Ousley, Melinda Ademi, and Denise Jackson the steampunk princess nailed "Hit 'Em Up Style," also known as the song every group wants to sing but usually can't. But hey, you'd be amazed what you can accomplish when you've got serious swag. They all stay on for the next round.
Page 2: The ladies turn on each other in an instant...
We jump straight out of R&B into real country with Rasin' Kane, comprised of Morgan Leigh Boberg, Lauren Mink, Brandy Hotard, and another girl whose name we don't learn because apparently she doesn't make it very far. Decked all in cowboy boots, these girls are country to the very core, to the point I almost felt I was trapped in unknown territory because my realtionship with country music lives and dies with Taylor Swift. Apparently, I'm not the only one because Mariah's tepid smile betrays just how much she hates this honky tonk stuff. Still she knows talent when it sings to her, so all the girls stay on.
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But what is Hollywood week without a string of girls forgetting their words? This year, girls clearly knew the danger of group night because writing lyrics on their hands and arms became practically commonplace during the auditions, sending Nicki over the edge. But first one group probably should have invested in some sort of assistance because without the words, they fell apart completely. Savannah Votion (the mom with the belly shirt from San Antonio), Liz Weiss, Daysia Hall, and J'Leigh Chauvin take on "Somebody That I Used to Know," as many groups chose to do throughout the night, but the performances isn't even as melodic as a slinki hopping downstairs. Yes, a slinky is more pleasant listening material. Actually. In the end, Daysia is the only one who manages to sing when she forgets her lyrics, and she's safe. Naturally, her group members turn on her and the claws come out, but mainly from Savannah, who's claiming that because she chose the harmonies and because they "helped Daysia sing" onstage (which, as far as I know was not a thing that could actually be done, you either sing or you don't) that they deserve to stay instead. Let's be honest though, we're not looking for sportsmanship during Hollywood week. Got a blame shift? Or a catty comeback? This is where it belongs.
And at least one group knew what they were in for when they named themselves: The Dramatics. Cristabel Clack, Kriss Mincey, and Jane; Stiney are pushed together, and at first it seems perfect and easy. The girls get along, the harmonies make sense. But then Janel is concerned that they need to stay up all night because she hears the other good voices ("I hear them!I hear them!) and they need to be perfect. Her group gets some shuteye, but the next morning nothing has changed. She still wants to rehearse solo, until the moment of truth. Even in the group interview, Janel answers the group question by talking about herself. They keep trying to rehearse togehter and she keeps running away to work on her own. Come show time, the girls aren't too bad, minus Janel, who apparently didn't learn the words so well on her own. When Nicki asks what happened, Janel spews some story about not fitting in and lets out an avalanche of tears to boot. It's something Nicki quickly buys (even if I'm not) and she combats Keith's stalwart refusal to budge on the forgotten lyrics. Evenntually, and not by unanimous vote, the entire group is chosen to stay.
And again, Idol takes a step to convince us that it's not picking superstars based on looks, their opinion of puppies, and whether or not they think the sun is great or super swell. It's all about the voice. We meet Urban Hue, a group made up of Camp Mariah alum Tenna Torres, Kiara Lanier, and Seretha Gunn, whose daughter forged an eternal best friendship with Nicki during the Charlotte auditions. Unfortunately, the performance was awful. Seretha is all over place, and no where she should be. Kiara is forgettable and Torres seems off, even if the strength is clearly still present. But as Nicki said at the last minute, they've got to pick up their game... or they're out. Unfortunately for Seretha that chance passed a long time ago, and her shot at the top spots was is dashed as she is the only group member sent home.
RELATED: 'American Idol' Recap: The Panel is Haunted By Civility
In case anyone forgot Zoannette Johnson, who auditioned with the "Star Spangled Banner" and a whole lot of stumbling, she's thrown into a cute country girl group called the The Pu-snaps? Poo-snaps? Pouschnapps? I'm not sure what theire name means or where it comes from, and I'm not sure I want to. When the process begins, Zoanette is constantly pouting, worried that these country girls will leave her behind. She sits before the vocal coaches pouting, later claiming she's just "over-passionate." When it comes time for the performances, Zoanette, and her group mates Erin Christine, Lauren Bettes, and (just) Isabelle sing their versus prettily, and I'll admit, I really don't get the Zoanette thing or why she's still here. She still sounds like broken down Fantasia and yet the only person going home this round is sweet, little (boring) Lauren. Perhaps the next episode will relveal Zoanette's special power, but until then, I'm going to remain with my brow throroughly furrowed.
As the night winds down, the groups start to get a bit cattier. One group with their knife-like little claws right out and ready to play is that of Liz Bills. She's with Shira Gavrielov, Alisha Dixon, and Courtney Calle who sings songs like she's a cheerleader for Raffi, acting out every gesture of the song as if our tiny little brains depended on it. This group hates Liz Bill. They hate her so much, they go into their group interview without her, they speak ill of her right up until she walks in, and they've somehow concocted the idea that they're above her. Of course, Liz gets to exact her revenge when the three girls wretched vocals get them sent home while Liz's barefoot hippie antics bring her a little bit closer to that top 24. Sometimes justice is swift like that.
But Shira isn't willing to take this decision for face value. She somehow brings herself back onstage to beg for another chance, only instead of begging, it appears that Shira is guilting the judges for missing out on a good thing. Not only is this just about the worst look possible, the girl came in with a sense of entitlement. She has no concept of the fact that she could be cut from the competition if you're not a right fit. And thank goodness we got rid of her now. The last thing we need is another person on television, trying to make us feel guilty for their failure to succeed.
And Shira wasn't the only one convinced that she didn't deserve her fate. Contestant Stephanie Schmiel convinces her group to switch songs the morning of the performance and then promptly missed the intro of the song, again "Somebody That I Used to Know." But it's clear the girls made a poor choice: Stephanie missteps, Alex Delaney screws up the lyrics so badly her dad grimmaces, and Kalli Therinae and Holly Miller are fairly solid, Holly with just a little more strength. Randy makes it very clear he does not want Stephanie to stay, calling her out for going off key, but the judges vote and Stephanie and Holly are allowed to stay, much to Stephanie's surprise, who thought "botched that one."
Before the grand finish with Kez Ban, we stop off in Barbie-ville, where Britnee Kellogg, Kree Harrison, Brandy Neely, and Haley Davis. As the one who's done the show before, Britnee takes the lead, a job she instantly resents. (Then why are you doing everything? Why don't you just stop doing things? When the Dolly Chicks finally get to the performance, only one of them has slep, Haley, who left practice early for a totally nonexistent "stromach virus." When she does hit the stage, she can't remember the words and what's worse is she's caught on national television wearing Uggs and short skirt like it's an acceptable fashion statement. Surprisingly, it's actually sweet little Brandy who's sent home while the girl who can't play by the rules or stick with her team goes on. That's Hollywood, for ya.
Finally, we get to Kez Ban and the Misfits. After arguing over "poppy floofy" songs and picking something that Kez will finally agree means something to her, they start rehearsing, but all is messed the up royally before too long. First Kez demands arrangement change constantly so that the song suits her voice, then she bails on practice to get dinner right in the middle of a vocal coach session. Finally, she doesn't show up for breakfast, misses the bus to auditions, and shows up alone, just in the nick of time. Basically, she's already living the rock star life. And it works, for her. The group sings "Somebody That I Used to Know" and Breanna Steer, Angela Miller, Janelle Arthur, and Kez somehow make the combination of discipline and chaos work. The judges love it and the whole group goes through.
But as fun as the nonsense of the Hollywood groups can be, tomorrow it's time for judgment. The girls will be singing solos, without the cushion of group members and dance moves, and only then will we be able to tell who's worth watching. Well... worth watching in a serious way, clearly we've got no shortage of reality TV gold in this set of Season 12 contestants.
Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler
[Photo Credit: Michael Becker/Fox (2)]
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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.