Mr. Peabody and Sherman


Every dog should have a boy.

Every dog should have a boy.

(2013) Animated Feature (DreamWorks Animation) Starring the voices of Ty Burrell, Max Charles, Ariel Winter, Alison Janney, Leslie Mann, Stanley Tucci, Patrick Warburton, Lake Bell, Zach Callison, Dennis Haysbert, Stephen Colbert, Lauri Fraser, Steve Valentine, Guillaume Aretos, Karan Brar, Joshua Rush, Mel Brooks, Thomas Lennon, Tom McGrath, Leila Birch. Directed by Rob Minkoff

Those of a certain age group (i.e. my own) will remember with great fondness the Jay Ward cartoons on the Rocky and Bullwinkle show, from Fractured Fairy Tales to my own personal favorite, Peabody’s Improbable History. They were subversive for their time, with humor that sailed above my innocent yet pointy little child head but still the cartoons managed to educate about history almost despite themselves. When you compare them to the drekk that passes for animation on the Cartoon Network, it’s clear that modern animators think that modern kids are dumber than a sackful of dead cats.

In this 3D updating of the Jay Ward cartoon, Mr. Peabody (Burrell) – a brilliant beagle who also is able to talk – is the adoptive father of Sherman (Charles), a none-too-bright but full of heart kid who has trouble making friends at school. Mr. Peabody has invented a time machine called the WABAC to help teach Sherman about history.

When the gentle Sherman gets into a fight with the overbearing Penny (Winter) at school, Mr. Peabody realizes that something is wrong. Peabody is summoned to the principal’s office where he is confronted by Ms. Grunion (Janney), a social worker who thinks that dogs are not fit parents and threatens to take Sherman away if an upcoming visit to Peabody’s apartment turns up any irregularities. Peabody also takes the opportunity to invite Penny’s family – parents Paul (Colbert) and Patty (Mann) – to dinner.

At first things go swimmingly well as Peabody charms both the parents. However, Penny is a tougher nut to crack and when Sherman accidentally lets slip that there is a time machine in the house, he is forced to prove it to her when she calls him a liar. Of course,  the spoiled little princess finds herself in ancient Egypt as the bride of Tutankhamen (Callison) and looking forward to a life of indolent pleasure, not wanting to return back with Sherman.

In desperation, he gets his father to intervene. Mr. Peabody must drag the unwilling brat back to the present so that he can keep the nosy Ms. Grunion from finding an excuse to take Sherman away and while he’s at it repair a disturbance in the space-time continuum. It’s a dog’s life indeed.

Burrell, the star of Modern Family is the perfect choice to replace the late Bill Scott as the voice of Peabody. He captures the dog’s supercilious demeanor and urbane charm but adds a little bit of beagle warmth to the mix. He gets the inflections and tone Scott used down perfectly. It can safely be said that Burrell carries the film and should a sequel be made (and it looks like that’s a distinct possibility judging on the box office) could be a lucrative sidelight for the actor.

While there are a few brief celebrity cameos (Brooks as a kvetching Einstein is the best), the movie doesn’t stoop to being a cameo-fest as some other DreamWorks films have tended to do. There are also fewer pop culture references than a lot of the movies from the DreamWorks studio, although there are enough of them to be pleasing when they arrive but not so many as to be overbearing.

The animation is cool looking enough, particularly the WABAC which going from the clunky 60s version is a kind of red orb looking not unlike Spock’s spaceship on the reboot of Star Trek. There are plenty of nods to the original series (such as the street sweeper who ended every five minute MP&S cartoon in the 60s making an appearance in the end credits) but has enough cool credibility to keep most young ‘uns (particularly the boy types) delighted, which has to make every mom smile. And most moms and dads, who grew up on this stuff, will have enough here to feel a pleasant wave of nostalgia break over them like a tropical beach. All in all as far as this film is concerned I’d say “Mission Accomplished” – and not in a George W. Bush manner either.

REASONS TO GO: Heart-warming. Some nice animated effects.

REASONS TO STAY: Lacks the sophistication of the original cartoon. Dumbed down a bit.

FAMILY VALUES:  Some mild peril and a bit of rude humor.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: A sketch of Bullwinkle hangs in Peabody’s apartment over his yoga mat.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/18/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 78% positive reviews. Metacritic: 60/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Monsters vs. Aliens

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: 300: Rise of an Empire

New Releases for the Week of March 7, 2014


300:  Rise of an Empire

300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE

(Warner Brothers) Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Lena Headey, Hans Matheson, David Wenham, Rodrigo Santoro, Jack O’Connell. Directed by Noam Murro

Following the defeat of the 300 Spartans by the Persian army at Thermopylae, the massive invasion force has Athens in its sights and will attack by land and by sea. The Greek general Themistokles will face the same long odds as Leonidas but losing to Xerxes and his vengeful general Artemesia will mean losing all of Greece to the Persian scourge.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, featurettes, B-roll video and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX (opens Thursday)

Genre: Swords and Sandals

Rating: R (for strong sustained sequences of stylized bloody violence throughout, a sex scene, nudity and some language)

The Great Beauty

(Janus) Toni Servillo, Carlo Verdone, Sabrina Ferilli, Carlo Buccirosso. A wealthy novelist in Rome contemplates the missed opportunities of his past, the empty existence of his present and the squalor, corruption and beauty that is the Eternal City. Some have called this Fellini-esque but one thing is for certain – this won the Best Foreign Film Golden Globe and Oscar.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Dramedy

Rating: NR

Mr. Peabody and Sherman

(DreamWorks) Starring the voices of Ty Burrell, Allison Janney, Patrick Warburton, Stephen Colbert. The world’s smartest dog lives with his talking boy. However when Sherman (said talking boy) in an attempt to impress his friend Penny takes Mr. Peabody’s time machine out for a spin, he creates an instability in the space-time continuum that will take all of Mr. Peabody’s intellect and courage to fix – not to mention some parenting skills. It must be said however that if my boy created an instability in the space-time continuum, he’d be in time-out until he was forty.

See the trailer, a clip and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: PG (for some mild action and brief rude humor)

Total Siyapaa

(Reliance) Ali Zafar, Yami Gautam, Anupam Kher, Kiron Kher. A young man has fallen in love with an Indian girl living in London. He goes to her parents home for a weekend with the intention of asking for their blessing of the union. They seem to be taking well to him until they find out his dirty little secret – he’s Pakistani. Total chaos ensues as he tries to overcome their prejudices – and his own – in winning back the love of his life.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

War of the Worlds: Goliath

(Anderson Digital) Starring the voices of Adrian Paul, Adam Baldwin, Peter Wingfield, Mark Sheppard. Following the unsuccessful Martian invasion of the Victorian era, the human race has attempted to rebuild their shattered world using the captured technology of the defeated Martians. As is the nature of the human nature, a return to “civilization” has meant that we are all at each other’s throats and a war on a global scale – the war to end all wars – is about to erupt after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. All that must be put aside when the Martians return with even more advanced technology and inoculation against the bacteria that killed them the first time. Can we survive another invasion – and more importantly, can we survive ourselves?

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: PG-13 (for fantasy war violence including some disturbing images)

The Great New Wonderful


The Great New Wonderful

Maggie Gyllenhaal and Edie Falco share a tense lunch.

(First Independent) Maggie Gyllenhaal, Tony Shalhoub, Olympia Dukakis, Edie Falco, Judy Greer, Will Arnett, Jim Gaffigan, Naseerudin Shah, Stephen Colbert, Sharat Saxena, Tom McCarthy, Billy Donner. Directed by Danny Leiner

New York City is without a doubt one of the greatest cities in the world. It throbs with the vitality of its citizens, and as the song says, never sleeps. One day in 2001 would change the meaning of what it is to be a New Yorker forever.

A year after that day, the citizens of New York are getting on with their lives for the most part. Sandie (Gaffigan) is talking to a somewhat unorthodox psychiatrist (Shalhoub) about anger issues which Sandie doesn’t think he has. With each session, Sandie becomes more and more frustrated and his anger seems to be more directed at the doctor than culled from some internal reservoir.

David (McCarthy) and Allison (Greer) are the young parents of Beelzebub, otherwise known as Charlie (Donner). Their young son has been acting out and these actions have grown exponentially worse as time has gone by. They are beginning to realize that he is becoming beyond their ability to control and as a result, their marriage is suffering. The headmaster (Colbert) of the exclusive private school they have sent him to is expelling him for his behavior and they have no idea what to do with their child.

Emme (Gyllenhaal) is an up-and-coming pastry chef in New York’s cutthroat bakery market and looks to unseat Safarah Polsky (Falco) as the reigning queen of the scene. Her ambition is driving her to use means both fair and foul to reach her goals, and she is unknowing or uncaring of the toll it takes on those who work with her, live with her or purchase her products.

Judy (Dukakis) lives with her husband across the East River in Brighton Beach in the borough of Brooklyn. Each night she fixes him dinner, then after eating makes collages while he smokes out on the balcony. Her re-connection with an old friend will open new doors and awaken new feelings of sensuality in her.

Two Indian-born New York resident security guards – Avi (Shah) and Satish (Saxena) have been given the assignment of watching over a dignitary from their native land while he is in New York to make a speech at the United Nations. Avi is carefree, joyful and humorous; his buddy Satish is dour, grumpy and prone to outbursts of rage. It’s hard to believe these two are neighbors, let alone friends.

All five of these stories carry little in common other than that they are set in New York a year to the month of the World Trade Center attack, and that all ten of the main characters share an elevator near the end of the movie. It is up to us to thread these stories together and quite frankly, it’s a bit of a stretch.

What one notices most is the emotional disconnect prevalent in almost all of the stories. The characters have latched onto some sort of idea or emotion and are holding onto it with a death grip, to the exclusion of all else. The self-absorption needed for this kind of focus is staggering, and yet those familiar with the New York of Woody Allen or The New Yorker magazine will not find it particularly far-fetched.

There is a routine also in each one of the main character’s lives and that routine is either a source of comfort or a fiendish trap. Breaking out of that routine seems to be, at least I’m guessing here, what the filmmakers suggest is the key to finding happiness, solace, call it whatever you want.

This is a very impressive cast for a micro-budget indie drama and they live up to their reputations for the most part. The vignette with the least-known actors in it (at least to those not familiar with Indian cinema), the one regarding Avi and Satish, was my own personal favorite as I found Avi to be the least hung-up of the main characters here.

I admit to having a certain fascination with everyday life in the Big Apple. I fully realize I don’t have the equipment to live there myself – it takes a certain kind of person to handle the pace and the feeling of being alone in a crowd that goes hand-in-hand with the NYC lifestyle. Still, I admire those who have what it takes and certainly New York offers perhaps the most attractive and varied choices for those who live there. I’m not sure if The Great Big Wonderful offers me any further insight into the psyche of New York, nor how it was affected by 9-11, but it does offer a nice visit to that town; I’m just not sure I would want to live there.

WHY RENT THIS: A solid cast gives solid performances. Some of the vignettes are interesting.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Not all of the vignettes hold my attention. The linking thread is tenuous at best; this is certainly much more of a New York story than anything else.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a fairly significant amount of salty language in the movie as well as a small amount of sexuality. Much more suitable for a mature audience.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Director Leiner is best known for comedies like Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle and Dude, Where’s My Car.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: 12

Monsters vs. Aliens


When a 50 foot woman and an alien robot get together, it's time for urban renewal.

When a 50 foot woman and an alien robot get together, it's time for urban renewal.

(DreamWorks Animation) Starring the voices of Reese Witherspoon, Seth Rogen, Kiefer Sutherland, Hugh Laurie, Stephen Colbert, Will Arnett, Rainn Wilson, Paul Rudd, Jeffrey Tambor, Renee Zellweger, John Krasinski. Directed by Rob Letterman and Conrad Vernon.

Monsters represent our fear of the things in the darkness of the world we know. Aliens represent our fear of the things in the darkness of the world we don’t. Sometimes it’s the devil we know that’s preferable.

It is Susan Murphy’s (Witherspoon) wedding day. She’s marrying local weathercaster Derek Dietl (Rudd), an egocentric sort with dreams of anchoring a network news desk. For now he has the weather in Modesto to contend with. Unfortunately, Susan’s big day is going to have a bit of a snag – she is struck by a meteorite which makes her glow – then it makes her grow. A fifty foot bride can give a groom second thoughts for sure.

She’s trundled off to a top secret facility where the government has been housing monsters for years, presided by deranged General W.R. Monger (Sutherland). Currently in captivity are the mad scientist Dr. Cockroach (Laurie), who’s really a nice guy at heart even if he is a cockroach that can build a computer out of a few spare parts and a couple of pizza boxes. There’s also the Missing Link (Arnett), a sort of semi-amphibious relative of Hellboy’s Abe Sapien; the brainless amorphic gelatinous mass that is B.O.B. (Rogen) and a giant caterpillar named Insectosaurus.

Meanwhile, an alien wants the meteorite that made Susan into Ginormica. His name is Gallaxhar (Wilson) and he’s essentially a squid with a large forehead that reminded me of the comic book character Sinestro, and not in a good way. He sends a giant robot to retrieve the meteorite. The combined might of America’s armed forced aren’t enough to stop the robot, and the President (Colbert) is desperate. He needs a miracle. He needs…monsters.

In all honesty, some of the elements here smack at commercialism. The title screams high concept, and in some ways the monsters seem to be designed more for merchandising than to have any sort of meaningful personalities. Still, directors Letterman and Vernon are fortunate that their voice cast does a terrific job. Witherspoon is dandy as Susan, whose self-confidence takes a hit when her boyfriend dumps her and Rogen as the cheerfully mindless B.O.B. steals nearly every scene. Not everyone can fall in love with a Jell-o mold convincingly, but Rogen does it.

As with most kid movies, there are some life lessons to be found here, mostly having to do with being strange and different, and celebrating those unique things. Far from being scary, the monsters are just like us and are far more oppressed by us than we are by them. This isn’t a new point but at least is a valid one.

The script seems a bit rote to me. In recent years we’ve been besieged by computer animated features of varying quality. At the top of the food chain are the Pixar movies, which have grown more and more sophisticated – not only in terms of the technical aspect, but also in the stories being told – as the years have gone by. Other animation divisions, trying to cash in on the lucrative animated feature market owned by Disney for so long, have had some successes (such as Shrek, Kung Fu Panda and Ice Age) but for the most part haven’t been able to capture that quality. Here, we’re a long ways off. While some of the jokes are legitimately funny, for the most part there is nothing here the average ten-year-old hasn’t seen many times before.

I need to make a comment on the 3D version. The movie is being released both in regular 2D and 3D versions. The 3D was made in the new True-3D process, which DreamWorks Animation boss Jeffrey Katzenberg has hailed as “the future of the movie business.” Maybe so, and in all honesty, it’s quite impressive. Did the movie need to be in 3D? I can’t say that it did. It feels a bit gimmicky, as most 3D movies do. Roger Ebert’s review went on for quite awhile, snarling about 3D in general, labeling it “distracting and unnecessary.” He has a point, but the 3D process doesn’t really affect the movie in one way or the other.

That kids are going to love this is a given. There are marketable creatures in bright colors that are going to appeal to every seven-year-old on the block. The question is, how agonizing is it going to be for their parents to sit through it? Not terribly so, although it won’t go down as easily as, say, Wall-E with discerning moviegoers. Still, this movie is about as brainless as B.O.B. and just as inoffensive. It’s cinematic Jell-O and while there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that, if you’re looking for something more substantial, you’ll be better served looking elsewhere.

WHY RENT THIS: The kids will love this. The voice cast actually elevates the material, particularly Witherspoon and Rogen.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The writing is a bit stale, and smacks of a movie that was created strictly for merchandising potential.

FAMILY VALUES: None of the monsters or aliens is particularly threatening or frightening.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The character of B.O.B. is an homage to The Blob, Dr. Cockroach an homage to The Fly, Insectosaurus to Mothra and Susan to The Incredible 50-Foot Woman.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The Blu-Ray and 2-Disc Ginormous DVD editions contain the B.O.B.’s Big Break short in both 2D and 3D (both come with four pairs of 3D glasses), as well as a 3D paddle ball game. The Blu-Ray also comes with a trivia track, while these additions and the single disc basic edition also come with a digital animation video jukebox.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Management