Mr. Peabody and Sherman (2014)

Mr. Peabody and ShermanReleased: March 7, 2014. Directed by: Rob Minkoff. Starring: Ty Burrell, Max Charles, Ariel Winter. Runtime: 92 min.

Let’s take this into consideration right off the bat: Mr. Peabody and Sherman won’t win best in show. The filmmakers don’t have the aspirations to make the greatest animated film out there – their intention is to entertain all ages with colourful animation and clever humour. This pleasant surprise succeeds with a sweet-natured flair. The main character is Mr. Peabody, voiced by TV’s Modern Family star Ty Burrell, who is one of the world’s greatest minds – winning Nobel prizes and holding knowledge close to his heart. He does all this, even though he is a dog. (That’s why the ‘best in show’ joke is so funny!) 

He adopts a boy named Sherman (voiced by Max Charles), and he goes through the struggles of parenting. This dynamic makes it mildly similar to Despicable Me; at least its messages of parenting, and it makes me think of it because Peabody is an adoptive parent. (Some additional messages in the film: Acceptance and understanding each other’s differences, like being adopted by a dog.) On 7-year-old Sherman’s first day of school, he has a run-in with a bully; saying that sadism starts fairly early. The bullying is given by a young genius in her own right named Penny Peterson (voiced by Ariel Winter, who is also well-known for Modern Family). She’s angry at Sherman because he shows her up with a fact on George Washington that is not particularly common knowledge. He found it out by actually hearing it from George Washington himself. You see, Peabody built a time machine called the WABAC that allows a very cool form of parenting where he can teach his son history first-hand. I think it’s a cool way to teach history, even though it offers historic events in a simplistic way to its audience. It still must appeal to kids, correct? To solve the bullying issue, Penny and her parents (voiced by Leslie Mann and Stephen Colbert) are invited over to dinner. Young Sherman shows her the WABAC and they go on a fun adventure, but also leads to a created time rift that they must fix.

I must assume some of you are already turned off by the premise itself – a time-travelling dog. (A.k.a. my Mom who also doesn’t like talking LEGO minifigures, but has nothing against a singing snowman.) Truthfully, it is a little funky – but it’s part of the film’s charm. The film is clever in the way that it solves that whole “butterfly effect” issue. Peabody makes a rule that they are only allowed to travel back in time – for educational purposes, because who wouldn’t want to go on field trips like this? It seems that Sherman learns better if here’s there when it happens. The film does have a simplistic and somewhat formulaic narrative, but a thoroughly entertaining one. Keep in mind this is a film made for children so fans of time travel flicks are not going to get much complexity. 

Older audience members will find clever, jokes that rely on pop-culture; referencing films like Runaway Bride and My Big Fat Greek Wedding, to name just a few. The events they travel to (French Revolution, Ancient Egypt, Trojan War) does give children a much simpler and basic way to learn history and learn basic and mildly accurate facts about these historical events in the process. For instance:  The film depicts that the people of the French Revolution revolt because Marie Antoinette loved cake way too much – and they don’t have bread because they are “exceedingly poor,” and they are angry because Antoinette is eating all that she can.

I think fans of Ty Burrell’s will enjoy his work in this film a lot because this sarcastic and often punny (“I think women get married too old in Egypt, but maybe I’m just an old Giza!”) sense of humour fits his comedic delivery to a tee. It is similar to his character on Modern Family, to be perfectly honest. He fits this role perfectly, which originated as a character on the television show Rocky and His Friends from the 1950’s. 

I must confess that there is one recurring joke that gets tired, where Sherman laughs at one of Peabody’s jokes and then says “I don’t get it.” That might be purposeful in more ways than to try to get the audience to laugh – it could represent kids who actually don’t understand the joke, whether it just be a historical fact they just don’t know. Another miss at humour which runs into excessive grounds is where Colbert’s character is trying to show Peabody up and asks him to play a series of instruments after another – so there just a whole bunch of Peabody’s on-screen at one time. It could be working as subtle foreshadowing; but it just runs on a bit too long. Colbert has fun in his role. The other voicework ranges from okay to great. I think Max Charles is just alright as Sherman. Allison Janney is good in a role that is uninspiredly evil. She represents those against dogs adopting children. Stanley Tucci has some brutally funny voicework as Leonardo Da Vinci, and his likable comedic styling is worth the watch in itself – as far as I’m concerned. 

The creative film is a ridiculously fun, fast-paced adventure flick that has a quick narrative. The animation is just stunning, even if it seems to have taken character designs out of The Incredibles handbook – as Sherman has subtle similarities to Dash, which isn’t bothersome; but it gets strange when baby Sherman has an uncanny resemblance to the baby Jack Jack. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery – and I wouldn’t be surprised if director Rob Minkoff attended that A113 software class for animators.

Score: 80/100

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The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

The Hunger Games - Catching FireReleased: November 22, 2013. Directed by: Francis Lawrence. Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth. Runtime: 146 min.

If you don’t feel like reading this 11-paragraph review, the most hyperbolic sentence is probably: “This is immensely enjoyable and one of the year’s strongest films.”

It’s impressive when big blockbuster sequels can improve over their predecessor in significant ways. What’s even more impressive is that the writers manage to make a great adaptation of a decent book. The film opens up with Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) hunting, something that used to give her more solace than it does now. When she hunts and kills a turkey, she gets flashbacks to killing Marvel in the Hunger Games arena; which is something that creatively compelled me right away. One can tell from her eyes that she is saddened, and is suffering from guilt.

President Snow (Donald Sutherland) meets with the young victor to try to prevent an uprising within the Districts of Panem. Katniss has convinced most of the people of the Districts of the love shared between her and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), but she hasn’t convinced Snow. As seen in the film’s trailers, the 75th annual Hunger Games is a Quarter Quell to remind a new generation of those who fell within the Rebellion seventy-five years ago. This time, President Snow is also using it as a way to remind the people of Panem that no one is invincible – and to that, the names for the Reaping will be drawn from the existing pool of victors; thus saying, Katniss and Peeta or Haymitch will have to fight in the games once again, this time against trained killers.

There are many new characters introduced, but I’ll only discuss a few. Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), is the gamemaker that replaces Senecca Crane (Wes Bentley) – and he’s far more interesting. There only a few tributes remembering, and they are the District 3 tribute Beetee (Jeffrey Wright), a technology wizard; Wiress (Amanda Plummer) of District 3; Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin of “Snow White and the Huntsman“) of District 4; Mags (Lynn Cohen) of District 4; and the tough-as-nails Johanna Mason (Jena Malone) of District 7. The returning characters are basically everyone who didn’t get killed off in the 74th Hunger Games. I’ll just move onto the performances because you already know the characters’ names.

Jennifer Lawrence is excellent as Katniss, giving an even stronger performance than the first time around. This is because the character now realizes that she won’t have any privacy; and she doesn’t yet know what to do – love Peeta, which all people in the Capitol expect, or love Gale (Liam Hemsworth), her hunting buddy. I wish she could just play a game of Eenie-Meenie Miney-Mo, but it’s not that easy. The character is now suffering from post-traumatic stress, it seems to me, because she had to kill many people to survive in that arena last year. It is never really clear if she’s in love with Peeta or not, because she claims it’s just for the camera – but sometimes it seems real; so what the hell does her heart want? Lawrence is great at displaying all of her complicated emotions as the cheeky Everdeen. She is a great character, regardless, and she’s a real fighter – especially for those she loves. She’s always emotionally touching.

Josh Hutcherson is strong as Peeta, because he’s hurt because he realizes Katniss’ love for him was just for the cameras – but like I said, it’s kind-of in between the two of being real and fake at times. Woody Harrelson is very funny as Haymitch and great at being serious. Sam Claflin is likeable as Finnick Odair, and he acts decently throughout. Lynn Cohen’s role of Mags isn’t a talking one, and I can’t recall if she was a mute in the novel; but she is a real sweetheart. Stanley Tucci is still awesome and eccentric as Caesar Flickerman, the eccentric talk-show host of everyone’s dreams.

The plot is strong because it has spectacular pacing for a 146-minute feature. Much like the first film, the Games themselves are only a part of this story. The concept of this dysoptian future fascinates me; and I like how it marries this futuristic culture with the bread en circuses of Ancient Roman culture. This is where the government gives food and entertainment to the people to keep them happy, so they won’t revolt against the government. In this case, the government is the Capitol, they give enough food to the people to keep the districts from starving, and the actual people of the Capitol have so much food, they drink an elixir that makes them throw up so they can stuff more in. The entertainment is of course, the Games. Suzanne Collins, the book’s author, must be fascinated with Ancient cultures – since she borrows that from Rome, and since a main tribute (Finnick) has a trident, used by the Greek god Poseidon.

I like the world Collins has created a lot because it’s hauntingly like our own in some ways; at least the entertainment way. These people actually watch a legitimate fight to the death, which would be morally wrong in this time to have that, but for cinema, it’s a great premise. I love movies like this (“The Condemned” is a guilty pleasure of mine), but this one is definitely not all about the killing. Half the time, the kills happen so fast that it’s to tell exactly who dies. Perhaps many of the tributes’ names aren’t revealed to us, because they just don’t have any identity that way – and they’re not that critical to the story in a few ways, so we won’t really care too much that they die. But when the villains die, I’d just like to see a bit more of the violence.

An unrealistic part of this all is the lack of blood during practically all of the kills. It is a PG-13 rated film, but realism should take precedence over ratings. A problem with the film is that, even with characters we know, when they die we just shrug it off with many because, we know only one person can survive, but it’s also because we don’t get much bonding time with them. That is a problem with one character Katniss befriends in the first film, when that person dies. (I’m trying not to spoil it too much!)

I like the iminent threats of the arena in this film, because they’re creative and happen at inconvenient times. It seems that there are more natural threats created by the gamemakers this time around than the previous film; and it keeps the action exciting. This story’s also strong because the film can just focus on the government politics of the potential uprising and trying to stop it by using fear and constant floggings to destroy the people’s spirit; and it can also focus on the Games.

The glamour of the Capitol people isn’t so in our face this time, but that’s because we were introduced to it in the first – and by now it just seems normal. The make-up and costume design is even better, especially a jaw-dropping piece for Katniss “created” by Cinna (Lenny Kravitz). One thing that is way better is the cinematography because the new director, Francis Lawrence (no relation to Jennifer), doesn’t feel the need to move the camera around when people are just simply talking. Gary Ross did that, even when no action was occuring – and he did it a lot more when action was happening. No shaky cam makes me a happy camper, and I am sure it will please others, too.

There isn’t a lot of this film I don’t like, even if there are certain aspects it can improve on – but it has to appeal to the target audience. It’s still an immensely enjoyable movie and one of the year’s strongest films. I’ve seen this twice already, and that’s a rare occurence for me. (It’s great in both IMAX and 2D.) One more thing: The scenery is simply stunning. Reading the book is one thing, but to see this all come to life through its creative settings and beautiful landscapes, is just another whole spectacular feeling.

Score90/100

Celebrity Birthdays: October 29 – November 11

Ben Foster, October 29

Happy 30th birthday to Ben Foster. He often plays eerie roles, like in Hostage or in 30 Days of Night. Foster is a great screen presence and he’s best known for his roles in 3:10 to YumaPandorumThe Messenger, and The Mechanic.

Ben Foster as the haunting Mars Krupcheck in 2005’s Hostage.

My favourite films with Foster in a leading or supporting role: Hostage (2005) — Alpha Dog (2006) — 30 Days of Night (2007).

 

John Candy, October 31

The late John Candy would have been 62 on Halloween. He is a household name because of his charisma, and cheery and exciting screen presence. He is best known for his part on the TV’s SCTV, Spaceballs and Uncle Buck.

Favourite John Candy films: Uncle Buck (1989) — Home Alone (1990). Don’t worry, I’ll make sure to see more!

Sam Rockwell, November 5

Happy 44th birthday to the great Sam Rockwell! Rockwell is best known for his roles in MoonThe Green MileIron Man 2 and Frost/Nixon. You can see him in theatres in the film Seven Psychopaths.

Sam Rockwell as Wild Bill in The Green Mile.

My favourite Sam Rockwell films: The Green Mile (1999) — Seven Psychopaths (2012) — Galaxy Quest (1999) — The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005).

 

Emma Stone, November 6

Happy 24th birthday to Emma Stone! Sarcastic, and she’s both awkward and sexy at the same time. What’s not to love about her? She is best known for her roles in The HelpEasy AThe Amazing Spider-Man, and Zombieland.

My favourite Emma Stone flicks: The Help (2011) — Superbad (2007) — Zombieland (2009) — Crazy, Stupid, Love. (2011) —  Easy A (2010) — The House Bunny (2008).

Leonardo DiCaprio, November 11

Happy 38th birthday to Leonardo DiCaprio. He has a large filmography that started with a humble beginning, and became greater things. He is best known for his roles in InceptionTitanicThe Departed and Shutter Island.

My favourite Leonardo DiCaprio flicks: Blood Diamond (2006) — Catch Me If You Can (2002) — Titanic (1997) — Inception (2010) — Shutter Island (2010) — What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993) — Romeo + Juliet (1996).

Other Birthdays: Oct. 29, Winona Ryder (41); Richard Dreyfuss (65). Oct. 30, Kevin Pollack (55). Oct. 31, Peter Jackson (51). Nov. 5, Tilda Swinton (52); Robert Patrick (54). Nov. 6, Ethan Hawke (42); Sally Field (66); Rebecca Romijn (40). Nov. 10, Josh Peck (26). Nov. 11, Stanley Tucci (52); Demi Moore (50).

Film reviews of films featuring Tilda Swinton: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005); We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011).

Film reviews of films featuring Robert PatrickTrouble with the Curve (2012).

Film reviews of films featuring Ethan HawkeSinister (2012).

Film reviews of films featuring Josh PeckMean Creek (2003); ATM (2012).

Film reviews of films featuring Stanley TucciThe Hunger Games (2012)

Who’s your favourite actor on this list?

 

 

 

 

The Hunger Games (2012)

The Hunger Games

Release Date: March 23, 2012

Director: Gary Ross

Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth

Runtime: 143 min

Tagline: The World Will Be Watching.

 

I favor the book.

The film is set in an America which, after a war, has been renamed Panem in the future.  As a cruel reminder to the people of Panem for a past rebellion, two representatives from each district, one male and one female, are chosen to for an annual lottery (where no one in the lower districts will want to win) called the Hunger Games. The Games are a fight to the death, where twenty-three of the twenty-four young teens die, with one lone victor. The Hunger Games is an annual propaganda-based reality TV show favourite, for the people of the Capitol at least. This 74th Annual Hunger Games marks history for District 12, as it got its first volunteer, Katniss Everdeen. Katniss took her sister’s place and it was a noble act, indeed. She must use her hunting skills/wilderness experience and sense of direction to stand a fighting chance to survive.

It’s a really interesting film that uses propaganda as a main theme, and just shows how corrupt the government has really gotten. For the young adult audience, it’s a very fresh idea; but I have heard that this film feels like a big rip-off of the Japanese film that was released in 2000, Battle Royale. I haven’t seen that one, so it won’t taint my view of this film at all, so it felt like a fresh experience.

A lot of it feels like just a youth spin of Gladiator (which I still have to find the time to watch), and the film sort of reminded me of an old Roman thing, bread and circus. The bread means food which the emperor would give to the people of Rome, and the circus meant entertainment.

In this case, the President would give food the people, and that’s what going on here, as the tributes have the option to put their name in numerous times in the raffle as a way to get more food (even though they should be getting more food in the first place, as it is revealed in the second book [I don’t think it’s a really large spoiler] that the people of the Capitol drink this fluid that makes them vomit, so they can stuff their faces even more). The entertainment is most obviously the Hunger Games, which is a reality television show put on for the people of the Capitol, which is really a heinous occurrence which would be pretty bad if it happened in this day and age (granted, it does make for a pretty interesting film [or book] idea).

The film really is quite entertaining and an interesting experience and has a really great ensemble, with a few great characters (that the writers actually want you to connect in any way with) and very intense sequences. There’s some really memorable action sequences, but don’t expect a full-throttle action thriller. Expect a nice adventure flick with a great heroine (push over, Bella!) with some solid action sequences, and lots of adventure and a bit of dramatic science fiction futuristic material.

Okay, some stuff I didn’t like about it. The first is a spoiler and the second is pretty spoiler, but expected.

                                        *SORT OF SPOILER ALERT*         

I didn’t feel there was enough bonding time with Rue to be shared here. Not solid enough character development for her, as in the book.

I don’t see why Collins, like Stephenie Meyer, just had to add in a love triangle. It seems to be that it can’t be a young adult phenomenon without it. It’s very expected, so I didn’t really care for it; but at the same time is effective.

*END OF SPOILERS*

Okay guys, it’s pretty safe to read here. Some other stuff I didn’t dig about the film is that some of the material is a little unclear for those audience members who haven’t read the book, and I didn’t like that aspect of it. I would have thought that the loose ends of the background information would have been better connected with the actual author of the book (Suzanne Collins) having a writing credit for the film.

I feel that the film just needed a bit more violence to be better appreciated; readers could easily handle the violence portrayed in the book, so why couldn’t there be a lot more of it in the actual film? Sometimes young adult’s imaginations can be even more violent than what is portrayed on film, so I just didn’t care for it in that aspect. It couldn’t have even gone for a 14A rating? Or like a really strong 14A rating that could have been secured without going too far as to get an 18A rating? I know it’s a young adult audience, but seriously; more than half of the tributes were killed off screen.

In some ways it’s not an incredible adaptation, it isn’t quite on the same great caliber as Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings but outshines (or should I say… out-sparkles? I’m calling you out, Edward) Twilight by great lengths.

I guess this film review, that’s turning into a bit of an essay, should reach its conclusion soon.

It’s a film with a great heroine, great performances (by Jennifer Lawrence especially, who I wish the Academy will be so bold to nominate her for Best Actress; which I doubt will happen), great action/adventure sequences, and a story that offers a fresh enough cinematic experience. The film is a bit lengthy (with the Games starting about 65 minutes into the film), but of course there must be some background  information to be shared here, which could have been better-developed at that. For Oscars, I think the film should get Academy recognition (or at least large award recognition) for its Costume Design, Make-Up jobs especially, and its Cinematography, and even maybe a Best Picture nomination.

The film has a dynamite cast with Jennifer Lawrence in the lead spot, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Stanley Tucci, Wes Bentley, Willow Shields, Elizabeth Banks (nearly recognizable, except for her voice, as Effie), Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Toby Jones, Lenny Kravitz, Amandla Stenberg (Rue), Alexander Ludwig (Cato) and Isabelle Fuhrman (Clove; whom I know as the little psychopath from Orphan).

It’s a film with slow pacing at the beginning but gets great when it heats up, has many entertaining sequences, and could have been a better adaptation, as there’s a lot of room for improvement, but is a great experience for both young adults and even some adults can enjoy; and should be enjoyed by those who are willing to accept it for the quite unique adapted experience it offers.

80/100