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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Following the Trayvon Martin case, Chris Matthews had a serious discussion about racial profiling on his MSNBC show, Hardball With Chris Matthews, on Thursday. During a segment of his cable news program, he spoke with NBC News Vice President Val Nicholas and former RNC chairman Michael Steele.
Nicholas wrote an op-ed for MSNBC.com titled "I Could Have Been Trayvon Martin," where he recalled that "twice as a teen, I ended up looking down the barrel of police guns for no other reason than I happened to be a black teenager."
Steele had similar experiences of being judged solely by his race. "It is a story of a lot of young African-American males. What Val, myself, and so many others have in common is our black skin, and a lot of the perceptions that come with that," Steele said.
Matthews reacted to his colleagues' stories by saying, "I'll just tell you one thing, and I'm speaking now for all white people but especially people that have tried to change over the past 50 or 60 years, and a lot of them have really tried to change: I'm sorry for this stuff."
Although Matthews' willingness to work on the country's racial issues is commendable, there's probably a lot of white Americans out there who wouldn't appreciate him speaking on their behalf.
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Donald Trump has a new apprentice, and this time the winner comes from the country community. Trump named country singer Trace Adkins the winner of his first-ever All-Star Celebrity Apprentice on Sunday night. Magician Penn Jillette came out as the runner-up of this season.
Adkins originally competed on the first season of Celebrity Apprentice, ending up as the runner-up that year. This time, the country music star took home the winning title. Along with a new job, Adkins won $250,000 for his charity, the American Red Cross, and another $100,000 from Walgreens. The company donated $100,000 to Jillette's charity as well.
For the finale challenge, Adkins and Jillette had to create an ice cream flavor for Walgreen's ice cream line. They were also asked to create a commercial and plan a celebrity-driven launch event to promote the new ice cream. Akins made $50,000 more in ticket sales for the event, which helped him towards securing the winning title.
But despite the win, Adkins and Jillette seemed to end the season on good terms. Jillette even accompanied Adkins on his guitar as the singer performed his single "Love Will." Now that is what you call losing gracefully.
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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.
A decade-long gap between sequels could leave a franchise stale but in the case of Men in Black 3 it's the launch pad for an unexpectedly great blockbuster. The kooky antics of Agent J (Will Smith) and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) don't stray far from their 1997 and 2002 adventures but without a bombardment of follow-ups to keep the series in mind the wonderfully weird sensibilities of Men in Black feel fresh Smith's natural charisma once again on full display. Barry Sonnenfeld returns for the threequel another space alien romp with a time travel twist — which turns out to be Pandora's Box for the director's deranged imagination.
As time passed in the real world so did it for the timeline in the world of Men in Black. Picking up ten years after MIB 2 J and K are continuing to protect the Earth from alien threats and enforce the law on those who live incognito. While dealing with their own personal issues — K is at his all-time crabbiest for seemingly no reason — the suited duo encounter an old enemy Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) a prickly assassin seeking revenge on K who blew his arm off back in the '60s. Their street fight is more of a warning; Boris' real plan is to head back in time to save his arm and kill off K. He's successful prompting J to take his own leap through the time-space continuum — and team up with a younger K (Josh Brolin) to put an end to Boris plans for world domination.
Men in Black 3 is the Will Smith show. Splitting his time between the brick personalities of Jones and Brolin's K Smith struts his stuff with all the fast-talking comedic style that made him a star in yesteryears. In present day he's still the laid back normal guy in a world of oddities — J raises an eyebrow as new head honcho O (Emma Thompson) delivers a eulogy in a screeching alien tongue but coming up with real world explanations for flying saucer crashes comes a little easier. But back in 1969 he's an even bigger fish out water. Surprisingly director Barry Sonnenfeld and writer Etan Cohen dabble in the inherent issues that would spring up if a black gentlemen decked out in a slick suit paraded around New York in the late '60s. A star of Smith's caliber may stray away from that type of racy humor but the hook of Men in Black 3 is the actor's readiness for anything. He turns J's jokey anachronisms into genuine laughs and doesn't mind letting the special effect artists stretch him into an unrecognizable Twizzler for the movie's epic time jump sequence.
Unlike other summer blockbusters Men in Black 3 is light on the action Sonnenfeld utilizing his effects budget and dazzling creature work (by the legendary Rick Baker) to push the comedy forward. J's fight with an oversized extraterrestrial fish won't keep you on the edge of your seat but his slapstick escape and the marine animal's eventual demise are genuinely amusing. Sonnenfeld carries over the twisted sensibilities he displayed in small screen work like Pushing Daisies favoring bizarre banter and elaborating on the kookiness of the alien underworld than battle scenes. MIB3's chase scene is passable but the movie in its prime when Smith is sparring with Brolin and newcomer Michael Stuhlbarg who steals the show as a being capable of seeing the future. His twitchy character keeps Smith and the audience on their toes.
Men in Black 3 digs up nostalgia I wasn't aware I had. Smith's the golden boy of summer and even with modern ingenuity keeping it fresh — Sonnenfeld uses the mandatory 3D to full and fun effect — there's an element to the film that feels plucked from another era. The movie is economical and slight with plenty of lapses in logic that will provoke head scratching on the walk out of the theater but it's also perfectly executed. After ten years of cinematic neutralizing the folks behind Men in Black haven't forgotten what made the first movie work so well. After al these years Smith continues to make the goofy plot wild spectacle and crazed alien antics look good.
Did Hollywood have anything to do with the emergence of the Occupy Wall Street movement? The whole thing seems a little bit convenient. Last month saw the behind-the-meltdown docudrama Margin Call and the sci-fi metaphor In Time. Now we have Tower Heist a comedy that pits the blue collar staff of the Trump Tower against a thieving Bernie Madoff-esque tenant. The movie's an Ocean's 11 for the 99% with a sense of timeliness that makes the simple plotting and wisecracking that much more effective.
Ben Stiller stars as Josh Kovacs overseer of all the goings-on at the Tower. He wakes up before dawn and heads home after sunset spending his day catering to the occupants of the ritzy apartment complex and managing his eclectic crew—including former Burger King cook Enrique (Michael Peña) Jamaican maid Odessa (Gabourey Sidibe) and his slacker brother-in-law Charlie (Casey Affleck). The crew's greatest concern is multi-billionaire Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda) the penthouse resident Tower board member and thanks to attention paid trusted friend of Josh.
Trusted...until the FBI busts Shaw for stealing millions including the Tower employees' pensions.
Like all good tower heists Josh's titular harebrained scheme is prompted by a drunken night out with lead investigator Claire (Téa Leoni) who tips the irked manager off to Shaw's hidden stash: a possible eight-figure sum hidden somewhere in his apartment. In pursuing the American dream of revenge Josh recruits his slighted co-workers along with distraught former-millionaire Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick) and Josh's childhood friend-turned-thief Slide (Eddie Murphy). Together the motley crew concocts a plan to retrieve what's rightfully theirs—all while sinking Shaw in the process.
Tower Heist isn't as slick or intricate as the Ocean movies but its straightforward take on the crime genre is strengthened by Stiller Murphy and the rest of the cast's ability to inject ridiculous humor into sympathetic characters. When Josh realizes his decade spent commanding the operations of the Tower were for naught he wigs out marching up to the top floor to beat the crap out of Shaw's priceless convertible (it was owned by Steve McQueen in case you were wondering why anyone would keep an antique car on the top floor of a building). Not entirely realistic but relatable which sums up every over-the-top satisfying scenario these characters find themselves throughout the film.
Most importantly Tower Heist delivers on the funny. Playing the straight man is an art and Stiller's one of the masters (although you'd never know it from his Night at the Museum shtick or wackier roles like Zoolander) riffing off his co-stars while giving them ample time to be complete weirdos. The movie is being touted as a comeback for Murphy but he wisely steps into a supporting role delivering on his character's manic charm while never trying to steal the spotlight. The one who really steals the show is Broderick whose clueless neurotic Fitzhugh can't help relapsing mid-heist into memories of luxurious trips to Greece.
Credit goes to director Brett Ratner who cranked out three Rush Hour movies and an X-Men threequel while never really nailing down what it takes to make a group dynamic work. Here he pulls it off finding the right beats to make Tower Heist funny and thrilling. There are moments during the actual heist scene set during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade that cause quite a stir—a rarity in today's run-of-the-mill thrill rides.
Tower Heist is the definition of a cinematic softball avoiding risky choices and utilizing each actor to their previously known (and successful) traits without feeling lazy. As the holidays roll in and families look for something they all can enjoy Tower Heist delivers a little something for everyone. Except maybe Bernie Madoff.
“I’m not impressed with Hollywood in general. They don’t make a lot of movies that lift our standards and morality.” That’s what director Alex Kendrick told me in a telephone interview on Monday after his new movie Fireproof (IDP Films/Samuel Goldwyn) opened with a downright shocking $6.5M opening weekend.
L.A. and New York are filled with talented film professionals who spend countless hours and millions upon millions of dollars making movies. The cost of development, production, a director, actors and marketing make the craft of filmmaking prohibitive. So how did a little church in Georgia score the 4th-best gross of the just-completed weekend?
The answer, according to director Kendrick, is prayer. “Before we shot a tough scene, we prayed. This movie was bathed in prayer.” He is serious. Although Alex and his brother, co-writer and producer Stephen Kendrick, “grew up making silly movies in the backyard with a video camera,” they have no formal training in the business. They are both Associate Pastors at Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia, 3 hours south of Atlanta. They are in “the prayer business” full-time.
About seven years ago, the Kendrick brothers approached Sherwood Senior Pastor Michael Catt with the idea that making movies should be part of the church’s ministry. Their church has about 3,000 members with about 1,500-1,700 attending services on the average Sunday, so Sherwood is not one of the so-called mega-churches, but Catt agreed to let them try their hand at filmmaking.
Their first effort was the 2003 movie Flywheel about a car salesman with a crisis of conscience. The movie was made for $20,000 and shot on a Canon XL1 digital camera with a cast and crew made up entirely of church volunteers. The Kendricks intended to sell the DVD online with the proceeds being pushed back into the church’s ministries. “We thought it’d be neat to show the movie at the local movie theatre,” Alex Kendrick told me, and Carmike’s Wynnsong 16 Theatres in Albany agreed to a limited four-day engagement. The movie proved to be very popular playing for six weeks and expanding to two other Carmike locations. The newly-minted, non-profit Sherwood Studios hoped to sell 10,000 copies of Flywheel on DVD, and to-date the movie has sold 200,000 units.
Based on that relatively modest success, Alex and Stephen Kendrick proposed a movie about a Christian high school football coach called Facing the Giants. They raised the stakes with a budget of $100,000, mostly to pay for a 5-person professional crew from Orlando and the equipment necessary to shoot a “real” movie. Still, there were no paid actors and the bulk of the crew was untrained volunteers from the Sherwood Baptist Church congregation.
When the Kendrick brothers finished a rough cut, they approached a Christian record label called Provident Music Group in order to license some music for Facing the Giants. When the record people saw the movie, they got parent company Sony involved, and, faster than you can say an “Our Father,” the movie had a distribution deal with IDP Films/Samuel Goldwyn. The picture rolled out on 441 screens in September of 2006 and delivered $1.34M on opening weekend for a $3,046 Per Theatre Average. Giants showed great playability and finished with $10.17M domestic.
What did the church do with the profit from Facing the Giants? No perks for these mini-moguls. It was funneled into the building of an 82-acre sports park for the Albany community with baseball and softball diamonds and soccer fields.
Emboldened by box office success, the two Associate Pastors began working on their third movie. They chose marriage as a subject. Alex told me, “We saw so many marriages struggling. 50 percent of marriages end in divorce, 70 percent of second marriages end in divorce, and first responders, like firefighters, police officers and military men and women, have an even higher divorce rate than everyday Americans.” So, their movie Fireproof is about a firefighter who is working to save his struggling marriage.
Shot on just a $500,000 budget, with that same crew from Orlando (slightly expanded), and plenty of help from their congregation, they made their movie. This time they had a star. “Kirk Cameron saw Facing the Giants and called us and said, ‘I gotta help you guys do this,” says Alex Kendrick, but he auditioned like everyone else. Ultimately he was cast as the lead, and in Sherwood Studios tradition, he was not paid anything. No salary. No residuals. Nothing. They paid his travel and hotel and made a donation to his Camp Firefly charity.
I was curious about what Alex had up his sleeve next, but he says that his flock needs his attention, “The movie business can’t take the place of what we do in church. We would never want to do these movies at the expense of our members.” The plan is for Sherwood Studios to make a movie every 2 years, and they have not even started thinking about the next one, but when Alex and his brother make movies in the future, he tells me that they “will tell stories that middle America can relate to. America has two cultures. There’s New York City and California - and there’s the way the rest of the country lives.”
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