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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Noah 2014 * * * Stars

NoahDirector: Darren Aronofsky
Year: 2014
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ray Winstone, Emma Watson

If I knew I was going into the theater to watch a bunch of huge, robotic rock caricatures roam the Earth, I'd probably avoid buying a ticket. But I stuck around to experience some good old fashioned fire and brimstone. So without further adieu, I give you the latest biblical release to filter into multiplexes all across the country this March. Ah, let there be Noah!

Darren Aronofsky directs and whether or not you believe in his vision being complete hooey, is hearsay. Noah's visuals, said director, and the actors offer to make you think otherwise. Now granted, all of the factors just mentioned, are combined to sell you the audience, every scene in its 2 hour plus running time. Why? To make you believe that this is actually how it went down.

Along with subjugating an interesting slant on the Old Testament, Noah also has the luxury of having one of the world's finest movie moguls playing the title character. As God's handily chosen one, Russell Crowe delivers an assured, brilliant performance. He's the go-to thespian for anything biblical or for a better word, historical. His ultimate weapon is his voice. Mr. Crowe undoubtedly has to have one of the greatest acting voices in the history of cinema. I mean I would literally pay this guy to just sit down and read a menu, or a phone book, or heck, even the ingredients on a can of soup. As expected, he is perfectly cast which is another way of saying that there's no other actor who could inhabit this role (expect for maybe the late, great Charlton Heston). And thankfully, he's backed up by a surrounding group of supporting players that almost never hit a false note.

Now as a kid, I remember the story of Noah. It's essentially about a man who is told by God to build a huge contraption to hold all animals in two's. He must do this because a flood is coming that intends to end the world as we know it. In this 2014 version, there were a lot of things I didn't see coming. I didn't know that a conflict would arise between good and evil. That role belongs to Ray Winstone who plays Tubal-cain. He's essentially the villain and well, as a youngster, I never knew that villains existed in Noah's plight. Winstone does a solid job as well as the rest of the cast including Jennifer Connelly and Emma Watson. Connelly, matching Crowe scene for scene, also gives a powerhouse performance as his wife. She has a moment of Oscar glory that might have come too soon in the year. It arrives toward the film's last quarter and maybe voters will remember it come December. Then there's Sir Anthony Hopkins playing a weird, underutilized character as Noah's grandfather. His screen time feels like a couple of cameos. Dare I say that his role came off as comedic rather than serious (he sure had an appetite for some wild berries).

Performances aside, if there was one guy who had to take on the reins of bringing the concept of Noah to life, I'm glad it's Aronofsky. He's a visionary filmmaker who first caught my eye with 2000's Requiem for a Dream. He channels a little residue from that film into this one by way of certain cuts and images. His vision for Noah is salty and psychedelic, dark and dreary, and for the most part, modernized. His visuals are sumptuous while his storytelling ability (the film's only weak point) has seen better days. And as bold a director as he is, he still finds time to include an educational, visual feast that feels a little out of place. At I guess 2-3 minutes, it involves Crowe narrating the first chapter of Genesis a la the planetarium scene from 2000's Mission to Mars (I didn't see that coming).

Basically Aronofsky's Noah isn't perfect because it establishes characters and situations without a lot of buildup. Things tend to drag a bit especially in the first hour. Added to that, Noah throughout has a fumbled structure with small portions of incoherency. Finally, I felt at times like I was watching Crowe in Gladiator mode (how did Noah learn to fight so well) or taking in scenes filtered right out of 2007's Transformers. Oh yeah and there were times where I thought I was trapped in the world of Lord of the Rings (it's a scene where evil soldiers are trying to get into the ark which is barricaded by the rock creatures mentioned in the first paragraph). Anyway in spite of all this, Noah gets by when the proceedings come down like a sledgehammer in the third and final act. In fact, Noah excels in this act the most when all the animals and humans are already tucked away safely in the ark. The film then gets some legs as it prepares you for a supremely dark detour that you are about to take as an audience member.

Bottom line: Aronofsky's direction although skewed, is brilliant and unique. I'm proud of his effort even though it's a little kooky in a way that might dissuade your average churchgoing type. Yes, this March release has flaws but it succeeds by not playing it safe. It's one of those movies where if you think you know where things are headed, you might just be wrong in your assessment. To end this review, I'll leave you with this interesting factoid: according to Aronofsky's harrowing vision, there is one scene taking place near the film's conclusion, who's outcome cements itself to be the reason why all of us humans still exist. Well all I have to say is thank God for that (no pun intended)!

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, March 28, 2014

Sabotoge 2014 * * 1/2 Stars

SabotageDirector: David Ayer
Year: 2014
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sam Worthington, Josh Holloway, Terrence Howard

After taking a 7 year hiatus from the world of acting (as we all know, he became the Governor of California), Arnold Schwarzenegger has had the sad misfortune of losing a lot of his box office clout. His new film Sabotage opened today and I'm not sure that it has a chance of setting the world on fire (ticket receipt wise of course). I do know this though, as a DEA commander overseeing a bunch of high strung, highly volatile (did I mention gun toting) DEA task force operatives, Arnie gives probably one of the best performances of his career. Instead of spouting off one-liners and offing tons of bad guys, he decides to provide a more dramatic, more deepened turn here. He dons an interesting haircut and a grizzled look. And oh yeah, he still remembers to chomp on cigars throughout (it's an iconic image anyway so why not). In hindsight, this is not your typical Schwarzenegger flick. It's like nothing you've ever seen him in before. What surprised me is that the complexity of his role is something that I hadn't witnessed since his bout in 1990's Total Recall.

Featuring big name actors who look almost unrecognizable in their parts (Sam Worthington and Josh Holloway come to mind) and an extremely effective use of Atlanta based locales, Sabotage begins with Arnold's character John "Breacher" Wharton. The opening frame shows him watching a snuff film of his wife being tortured. I can't give anything else away only to say that this is the main plot element that ties the whole running time together. In the next couple of frames, we meet his crew of misfits. They are all in dire need of a shower. Added to that, they are hard up, emotionless, arrogant foot soldiers primed to make money infiltrating a drug cartel safe house. When an interrogation occurs, pushers are murdered, and the money somehow goes missing, there is a federal investigation followed by a killing spree targeted at everyone in Wharton's crew. The investigation in question, is headed by officer Caroline Brentwood (effectively played by Olivia Williams). I read a review in which a critic labeled Sabotage as a whodunit. I would agree with that only to say that when the culprits are revealed, the suspense factor is lazy and lacking. The so-called whodunit element happens too quickly and I expected more from an aggressive screenwriter like David Ayer.

Speaking of Ayer (he also serves as director), his script as expected, goes over the top with its outlandishness and frequent use of the F word. It does some of the actors justice only to fail most of the others. There are times where it settles down to tell a story. By then it's too late. The filth on screen dominates the proceedings and causes things to not elaborate as they should.  The plot when you think about it, is relatively thin even for an Ayer-like picture. He opts for the extreme gore factor along with some offensive dialogue causing everything else to take a back seat. The horrific ways in which people die in this movie don't seem relative, they just seem you know, for show.

Then there is the ending which resembles a modern day Western. It felt abrupt and quick minded. I wanted more since I'm again, familiar with Ayer's work. As a writer, he likes to prolong his conclusions like in Street Kings and Training Day. With Sabotage, he provides his normal trademarks as a director only to somewhat hold back a bit. If anything, he accomplishes the feat of squeezing out a solid performance from Schwarzenegger which to my chagrin, almost saves the proceedings.

In conclusion, the definition of the word sabotage is as follows: to deliberately destroy, damage, or obstruct something especially for military or political use. The film safe to say, accomplishes this by glorifying violence and the bludgeoning, disturbing images that result from it. If anything, see it as a welcoming back party for every one's favorite Austrian, AAARRRNNOLLD! Here's hoping that "he'll be back" for something better cinematically in the future.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Friday, March 21, 2014

God's Not Dead 2014 * * * Stars

God's Not DeadDirector: Harold Cronk
Year: 2014
Rated PG
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Shane Harper, Kevin Sorbo, Jim Gleason, Dean Cain

As a film that is overly religious, Altmanesque (minus the overlapping dialogue), and structured almost similar to 2005's Crash (which was I believe was inspired by Robert Altman himself), God's Not Dead is a March release that presents the debate of Christianity vs. agnosticism. In other words, the major conflict here involves a college student trying to convince a philosophy class that God is real whereas the professor of said class believes that God well, does not exist. As things progress, other characters eventually filter in, their lives intersect each other ever so slightly, and events finally conclude with a chance meeting at a concert involving a popular Christian rock band.

Now if you haven't taken in a viewing, know this: God's Not Dead is controversial, will allow for debate, and despite its PG rating, might sensitize an audience with its subject matter (doesn't matter if you're 10 years old or 80 years old). Whether or not that's a good or bad thing, I still found the film to be very well done, well paced, and well acted (especially by the leads being Kevin Sorbo and Shane Harper). It hasn't however, gotten a very wide release and at times, resembles a TV movie or something you would show as educational fodder in church classrooms. But it's as intelligent and thought provoking as anything to come out so far in 2014. And the fact that it wasn't another shoot em' up, another cartoon, or another lowbrow comedy was very refreshing to me.

Filmed entirely in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and featuring a cameo involving members of TVs smash hit, Duck Dynasty, God's Not Dead focuses on law student Josh Wheaton (played impressively by Shane Harper). He's a devout Christian, a loyal boyfriend, and overly smart (yet at times, timid). When he's warned about taking a philosophy class taught by a stern, set in his ways professor named Radisson (played with a searing glare by Kevin Sorbo), Wheaton decides to go against the grain and take this agnostic teacher to task (using at times, a power point presentation). He challenges Professor Radisson to a debate on whether or not God is real. This all happens because Josh won't sign a note saying that he denounces God's existence so that he can continue to take said class like everyone else.

As a highlight, there are three to four key scenes between these two actors that are very powerful. Added to that, the secondary characters mentioned earlier, also contribute to the story as well. They are all connected through 1-3 degrees of separation by the protagonist (Wheaton) and the antagonist (Radisson). One of them is a writer who finds out that she has cancer thereby trying to find solitude with God. Another character belongs to an old fashioned family who alienates her because of her beliefs. Finally, there is a nasty businessman played by veteran Dean Cain (Mark). He has a perfect life yet admits that he's a bad person and wonders why he hasn't been taken from the world yet (his mother is dying of dementia and is as good as any human being who has ever lived).

In conclusion, God's Not Dead comes off as a little preachy. It does at times, project itself as a public service announcement or an infomercial posing as a movie. However, just when you're not expecting it, the film sneaks up on you and packs an emotional wallop. A couple of the character portrayals are very heartbreaking and this is the glue that holds things together. The script, which has the collaboration of five writers, walks a tight wire between cleverness and textbook reading material. It's okay though because the actors pull you through, the story lines thread naturally, and the aspect of epiphany fully arises. God's Not Dead is no masterpiece but it's worth a solid recommendation. It's "not" playing at a whole lot of theaters right now so if you are in its cinematic vicinity, you should give it a serious look-see.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Single Moms Club 2014 * * 1/2 Stars

The Single Moms ClubDirector: Tyler Perry
Year: 2014
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Nia Long, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Amy Smart

Life can be tough, especially for a single mom. In fact, what happens when you get five of them together forming a support group to get through life's everyday ups and downs? Why, you get the generically titled The Single Moms Club of course and it's the latest of many Tyler Perry films that have inhabited local multiplexes in the last few years.

Filmed almost entirely in Atlanta, Georgia and showcasing scenes of females conversing that are the equivalent to a taping of The View (if that's your thing), The Single Moms Club is proof that maybe Hollywood might have ran out of ideas for cinematic fluff in general. Now from the opening frame, we are immediately introduced to May (Nia Long), Hillary (Amy Smart), Lytia (Cocoa Brown), Esperanza (Zulay Henao), and Jan Malkovich (Wendi McLendon-Covey). These are all women who are either currently separated, divorced, or have baby daddies who were never around (except for Esperanza's who's played by Eddie Cibrian and he's the ultimate Nazi ex-husband). Added to that, their kids don't like them very much and blame them for not fully being present in their daily lives. Somehow by sure kismet (otherwise there wouldn't be a valid running time), all of said kids go to the same school, get in trouble at the same time, and all face harsh penalties as students. When the principal of their private school calls all the moms in for a meeting, these five completely different women are forced to organize a fundraiser or else their offspring will be expelled (what a weird form of punishment). What ensues is a bond of sisterhood that ultimately betters all of their future existences and as the plot requires, helps them find new relationships in the form of significant others.

The acting, well it's fair as long as everyone doesn't say whatever pops in their heads. I mean, you could tell during some scenes that the actors/actresses paused as if they didn't remember their lines and had to gulp, improvise. I could hear crickets in background. You know not literally, but in my head (I hate when that happens).

Overall, once I finished taking in a midday viewing, I realized that The Single Moms Club came off as a very uneven viewing experience. The film drips with sentimental goo and shifts its tone from funny, to uncomfortable, to flat out depressing ever so quickly. There are some heartfelt moments between members of the cast (especially amongst the mothers, the sons, and the daughters) that are effectively powerful. But with an underdeveloped conclusion, some embarrassingly bad line riffing from the actors as mentioned earlier (especially during the outtakes at the end), and a demeaning label that seems saddled to their roles, it was difficult to call this thing inspiring.

In hindsight though, I didn't find The Single Moms Club to be a bad film. I just found it to be almost mean-spirited, too coincidental, and vaguely aloof. Let me put it this way, it's a "club" worth checking out only if you avoid going to all the meetings.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, March 16, 2014

12 Years a Slave 2013 * * * Stars

12 Years a SlaveDirector: Steve McQueen
Year: 2013
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars (Click on the rating link to see Cole's on site review)
Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong'o

Written by Cole Pollyea

12 Years A Slave plays like two different films altogether: the first half, a deadening dull depiction of the misfortunes of living life as a slave, and the second half, a captivating, harrowing depiction of how truly awful and unimaginably painful it was for Solomon Northrup and all of the slaves that suffered as he did. It’s a long, long movie, and while it is, overall, a hard hitting, thought provoking, saddening yet rewarding motion picture, there is a lot of noticeable irrelevance in the screenplay that takes us in circles and bores us for a great deal of its running time. Do I agree with its Best Picture win? No, personally, I believe that there were a multitude of great films this year that fit the expectations of a Best Picture caliber film and deserved the award over this (being Dallas Buyers ClubAmerican Hustle, or Nebraska). But that’s not the case; the Academy chose, and here I am putting forth my opinion on possibly the most graphic, mean-spirited slave motion picture out there: 2013’s Best Picture winning 12 Years A Slave.

Solomon Northrup was a freeman. He played the violin and had a beautiful family that he loved, but once abducted and sold into slavery, the struggle to prove himself to be the freeman he was without the aid of the only people who could help was futile and long-lived. This movie is aggravating for the longest time; the above mentioned repetitive, uninteresting first half of the film is enough to turn some viewers away. It shows what it has to, but there is no captivation or zest to the proceedings until about the halfway mark, when it takes a turn that was in my best interest.

Steve McQueen and the writers of this film then transform 12 Years A Slave into a haunting motion picture that I consider to be, possibly, a compilation of some of the most emotionally wrenching, hard-to-swallow scenes of all time. Appearing in an iconic, pivotal role was Brad Pitt (that’s right) who plays a construction worker that believes in the liberation of blacks. He voices his own opinion that, as I took it, marked a turning point in this movie, and I can’t thank him more.

Lupita Nyong'o won an Oscar for her work here, and I can say that I was deeply affected by her performance. It’s a sad, sad world that she lives in, and she, along with the screenplay writers and other cast members, couldn’t deliver that point any more thoroughly. She emotes to an applaudable level and, as a result, I was moved and shook. I’m not sure if she really prevailed over Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle for the award, but her performance was definitely more crucial to the film she was in than that of Lawrence’s. Chiwetel Ejiofor was nominated for Best Actor too. While he gives a performance that keeps the film afloat (and is good), he is nowhere near as great as the other nominees for that award, so I wasn’t surprised to see the film fall short in that area. Albeit, though, there were a number of scenes that he owned; this was taken note of. 

Part of the reason this movie was so hard-hitting, though, was the prowess of Michael Fassbender, the brutal, unrelenting plantation owner who stretches the boundaries of what it means to be a horrible human being. I found myself disgusted, angry, and involved because of his performance, and this is one of the reasons that I found this movie to be “saved” by the powerful second half, to which he contributed a great deal.

I didn’t quite love 12 Years A Slave like I did so many other Oscar Nominees of its year. I recognize the fact that it’s an important historical documentation of the life of Solomon Northrup, and an accurate depiction of such, but it just didn’t move me as much as, say, Nebraska. Looking at it as a whole, though, it is as follows: a long, meaty historical film, a sometimes-dull, sometimes-interesting look at slave life, a best picture winner, and a film that I will revisit merely for the intention of seeing again. Again, though, with a year full of such great movies, I don't quite agree with its win.

Written by Cole Pollyea

Friday, March 14, 2014

Need for Speed 2014 * * 1/2 Stars

Need for SpeedDirector: Scott Waugh
Year: 2014
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Imogen Poots

Based on one of the most popular video game franchises of all time and disregarding things like the safety and decency of human life, Need for Speed hit theaters last Friday with what I believe to be mixed results. Since this is Aaron Paul's transition from his TV stint in Breaking Bad to his first starring role here, we'll just call this flick "Braking Not So Bad" (ha ha). Anyway, everyone meaning the actors, the director, the assistant director, the script supervisor, and the stunt men probably had a lot of fun making this sort of combination of 1981's The Cannonball Run, 2000's Gone in Sixty Seconds and 1968's Bullitt (as a homage, there's a showing of Bullitt in a drive-in theater where Need for Speed first takes place). The audience, well they might be rolling their eyes at the inane script only to be glowing in the presence of some of the greatest car chase scenes ever filmed (by a stunt man turned director no less). As an illogical crash and bash/speed trip extravaganza, a dumbed down fantasy, and something that will really enthrall a gear head or a pack of video game-hungry teenage boys, Need for Speed is ultimately an okay film that could have been a lot better. As I just mentioned, there are some amazing, realistic, heart pumping drag races and some cool souped-up automobiles. But miscast actors and a flimsy, clunky script kept me at arm's length from recommending it.

Directed by Scott Waugh who filmed some harrowing, in-motion war scenes with Act of Valor and featuring stellar car stunts without the beleaguered enhancement of CGI, Need for Speed examines the character of Mount Kisco, NY's, Toby Marshall (Aaron Paul). He's a down on his luck mechanic who races on the side. When he gets a shot at building a car with his other buddy mechanics to pocket $500,000 dollars, Marshall thrives at the chance. He can get out of debt and keep his shop running. After he then rebuilds a sweet Mustang brought to him by a rich IndyCar racer named Dino Brewster (portrayed by Dominic Cooper who plays the villain, wears all black, and does a lot of sneering), they both along with Marshall's friend Little Pete (Harrison Gilbertson), decide to race for money and a whole lotta bragging rights. In said race, Little Pete dies, Marshall gets pinned for the crash (even though he wasn't involved) and winds up serving two years in prison for manslaughter. When he gets out of prison, he's bent on revenge. He can clear his name by going to California and winning a race sponsored by a recluse millionaire named Monarch (played by Michael Keaton). Dino, who's Marshall's main rival in said race (called the De Leon), sends his henchmen to try to stop him so he can't make the 45 hour cross country trip.

Of note: When Paul's character goes to prison, it's sort of a joke. Within barely a scene, he's already out and he meets up with his friends who are all set to get behind him. The whole sequence of him being incarcerated is so muted and nonchalant, it doesn't even feel like he was even there. Then, there's the fact that his auto shop cohorts all follow him to California. A couple of them travel by car and it's like they're almost one step ahead of him. He's supposedly the fastest driver but you wouldn't know it. Finally, there's the long arm of the law which seems so incoherent to every speed junkie involved. They bite the dust on more than one occasion trying to chase down Toby (and the other dangerous drivers). They're paper thin just like Toby's parole officer who I guess, never even existed.

Flaws aside, I knew what I was getting into when I decided to take in a screening of Need for Speed. I mean, I didn't expect to see stellar acting in a movie of this genre but throughout the proceedings, it literally bordered on atrocious (with the exception of veteran Michael Keaton). Added to that, the screenplay which causes the actors (especially Paul) to almost pause between every line, is lazy and juvenile. I don't know who to blame, the people doing the line readings or the writers (there are two of them and they're brothers, how neat). In all honesty, I'd have to flip a coin in order to decide. Imogen Poots has charisma as the token love interest, but her character seems a little underdeveloped. And Paul's character's supporting cast delivers dialogue that's the movie equivalent of nails on a chalkboard. I read somewhere where a critic said that their only contribution to Need for Speed, is to follow Paul's Toby around like lap dogs and provide some comic relief. I'd say that's pretty accurate. The only problem is that none of the things they say come off as funny.

Now in the lead, Aaron Paul from what I've read, is supposedly a pretty good actor (I'm one of the few people who has never seen one episode of Breaking Bad). However, in what is supposed to be his first starring role (and I guess his first breakout role), he plays Toby Marshall with a lack of confidence. It's as if he's not sure that he's ready to headline his own movie. He channels his inner Ryan Gosling, his inner Ryan O'Neal (from 1978's The Driver) and the late Steve McQueen. And despite the fact that he has good screen presence and a solid actor's voice, Paul still manages to be a more robotic version of the trio of movie stars just mentioned. Then there's Michael Keaton. His screen time is interesting and without hardly interacting with anybody, he still manages to give "Speed's" strongest performance. He doesn't have any scenes with any of the other actors despite the fact that his Monarch is the film's voice. I love Keaton but I'm thinking that behind the scenes, he might have came in for one day of shooting, probably didn't even meet the cast or talk to anyone, filmed his role in one room, and probably got a huge paycheck (lucky son of a gun). He hams it up and he's not too shabby. With this screen turn and his portrayal of a rickety CEO in RoboCop, it kinda feels like he's really back this time. Just a thought.

Overall, this bad boy clocks in at 2 hours plus. It's overloaded with a plethora of battered car chase scenes and races. Some of them cater to the plot while others feel more like a greatest hits collection than a thread to an actual movie (the sequence where there is an exchange of gasoline between cars traveling at mach speeds is pretty interesting). If I had to categorize this March release, I'd say that it's one part silly, one part preposterous, and two parts adrenalized. In truth, Need for Speed is a mixed bag but it's not the clunker (no pun intended) that most critics make it out to be. If anything, embrace what's in motion and try to ignore the cringe-inducing dialogue. Bottom line: Need for Speed is not such a bad way to kill two hours. But it's a vehicle (get it) that truly "needs" some reshoots.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Lego Movie 2014 * * * Stars

The Lego MovieDirector: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller
Year: 2014
Rated PG
Rating: * * * Stars (Click on the rating link to see Cole's on site review)
Cast: Will Arnett, Elizabeth Banks, Alison Brie

Written by Cole Pollyea

It's obvious that a group of intelligent individuals sat down and came up with the idea for The Lego Movie. That shows in the screenplay. It's also obvious that moviegoers were very receptive to their style of filmmaking. That shows in the notably high Rotten Tomatoes score of 96%. And when you throw in cutting edge animation and notable voiceovers, the end result is a kids' movie that deserves a spot on the DVD shelf.

With that being said, it’s important to recognize the fact that I wasn’t blown out of my seat by this movie. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good flick, but through my eyes, it wasn’t as great as it was cracked up to be. I suppose that I was predisposed to its alleged excellence, and in turn, I was let down by its, for lack of a better term, mediocrity.

We’re thrown into the life of Emmet, a guy who strives to be “normal” and no different than “average” because, as its taken, the society revolves around this expectation of people. When he’s mistaken for the “most extraordinary person in the world”, he sets out on the adventure of his life to “save the world” with a multitude of friends including the funniest character in the whole movie, Batman.

As it sounds, The Lego Movie is creative. It stretches boundaries of animation that make us think, and along the way, it incorporates some genuinely funny moments that make it a memorable (enough) moviegoing experience. It really isn’t a hilariously comedic film, to my dismay, but it delivers time after time and it, overall, is worthy of your family’s viewing. Something to consider too, is that even if you don’t love it, the kids will. Its charisma is simply too much to shy away from at a young age.

Written by Cole Pollyea

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Mr. Peabody & Sherman 3D 2014 * * * Stars

Mr. Peabody & ShermanDirector: Rob Minkoff
Year: 2014
Rated PG
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Ty Burrell, Max Charles, Ariel Winter

A rollicking good time is what you'll have if you check out the latest animated time travel adventure, Mr. Peabody & Sherman 3D. Based on a segment featured in the 1960's cartoon series The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, this flick has about as much energy as five animated ones put together. In fact, the whole running time is fused with a large amount of ADHD. But no need to worry, you'll still embrace the characters, the story which masquerades as being educational, and the blessed, technical skill helmed by director Rob Minkoff (The Lion King, Stuart Little). In other words, this is a kids movie that excels in the computer-animation department. Added to that, I just recently saw it in 3D and that only made the proceedings much more fuller and to a degree, much more richer as well.

Featuring the voices of Ty Burrell (TV's Modern Family) and Lesile Mann (This Is 40, Knocked Up), "Peabody" is one of those films that doesn't really have a beginning. As things start with some narration by you guessed it, Mr. Peabody (a pint-size dog with glasses), you say to yourself, "what have I missed" or "what has already happened". The opening shot shows his high-rise mansion in New York City. Then, there is a flashback to his early dog days (ha ha) when he describes himself as a dog who wasn't like other dogs. More intelligent, less catered to the demands of an owner who wants a frisbee retrieved, and not as loving as most pets, Mr. Peabody eventually becomes a genius, a scholar, and an inventor of time travel. He also decides to adopt a son (I know a dog adopting a human being as his child, just go with it) named Sherman (voiced by Max Charles). Together, they go back in time in a sphere-like machine that travels at intense, warp speeds.

Of note: I reviewed an animated flick last year with Free Birds. Whereas that November release dealt with getting in a time machine and going back to the first Thanksgiving, this one takes it a step further by having the main characters going back to the Trojan war, back to the actual time when the Mona Lisa was painted by da Vinci, and back to the actual happenings during the French Revolution.  And as with most time travel outings, something always has to go wrong with the quote unquote, "time continuum". Mr. Peabody and Sherman 3D is no exception. In fact, I have always found most time travel vehicles confusing. It's always hard to follow the elements and have faith that everything comes out correct. If you can get past that minor hiccup in small doses here (along with a silly, cliched, sort of confusing ending), then you'll be fitfully entertained. "Peabody" has a sparkle to it, a pep in its step, and in moderation, it has equal parts adult and kid humor (within the last 20 minutes, look for an unexpected, funny reference to the 1960 classic Spartacus).

Ultimately though, I couldn't quite understand the reasoning behind the PG rating. I mean, in my lifetime, I've seen much darker, more intense G fare than this. There is maybe one scene in the first half (a engagement ceremony in Ancient Egypt) that might come off as disturbing. Otherwise, this is an animated exercise that can be viewed by kids of all ages. With swooping camerawork and 3D effects that give you your money's worth, Mr. Peabody & Sherman 3D is pure bliss. The current list of best films from 2014 is short but I assure you, this one is predominantly on it.

Written by Jesse Burleson