Taking a Trip With Mr. Peabody and Sherman

Mr.-Peabody-and-Sherman

Nothing will cause me to become skeptical quite like taking a long silent beloved childhood memory and giving filmmakers a gargantuan budget to revive it. It’s the trend though, so what are you going to do, right? Primarily it’s fairly easy to ignore these Frankenstein’s monsters, particularly when it’s something like Peabody and Sherman. These two characters were regulars on The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. Rocky and Bullwinkle was the example of low budget cartoons. They were given a chance at a big screen adaptation a while back. It was terrible. This is actually the third feature film to stem from that little show, come to think of it, with Dudley Do-Right being the other. Dreamworks has been a power-house for decent animated movies lately, so I went to the local library and borrowed a copy. It was a very good family film. And I don’t use “family film” in the sense that it was cranked out solely to babysit children placed in front of a screen. The jokes and visuals are juvenile enough to captivate a young audience, while the plot and even more jokes will certainly keep everyone else engaged. The movie takes head on subjects such as adoption, fitting in and bullying in a way that is funny, it’s essentially the perfect segue to discuss these topics.

Mr. Peabody and Sherman follows the life of Mr. Peabody, a brilliant dog that never fit into his societal mold. This is primarily because he can talk and is essentially the smartest creature on the face of the planet. He adopts a baby named Sherman, which he raises and takes on adventures through time with his “wayback” device. The conflict of the movie happens when Sherman ends up biting someone on his first day of school, calling into question Peabody’s ability to raise a human child. In an effort to smooth things over, the Bully’s parents are invited over for dinner. Naturally the two children end up using the time machine and end up on an adventure through time.

While more or less a typical animated feature, the movie manages to shine at particular points. For one thing it’s nice to have Danny Elfman providing the score. the music adds the level of whimsy that the movie deserves. The writing is also pretty entertaining. If Mr. Peabody is trying to prove he’s a good dad, he certainly does so simply by the amount of puns he uses. Seriously, it’s ridiculous. The writing is sharp and witty to the point where it is both easy to understand and not compromising the intelligence of the audience. Ty Burell manages to give surprisingly accurate life to the spirit of the Peabody character. But it’s Max Charles who voices Sherman that really blew me away. The timing and tone was dead on, a truly perfect voice for the character.

This movie wasn’t anything spectacular, to be certain. However it was a good movie, and sometimes that’s what you need. Not every animated movie is going to be Spirited Away or Toy Story, but that’s fine. This was a movie that did just about the best that it could, and it was just what a Peabody and Sherman movie should have been; short, sweet and pretty darn funny.

I watched some movies last year. This is them.

So, I tried something new in 2014. I kept a record of every movie I watched (in it’s entirety) this year. Since so many people are doing their favorite movies of the year posts, I thought I would just throw out this batch and call it a day! I have watched 105 movies this year, some of them repeated. The list is organized in the order that I watched them.

Exit through the gift shop
Robin Hood (Disney Animation)
Conviction
West Side Story
The conjuring
Muppet Treasure Island
Zero Dark Thirty
Oblivion
The raid redemption
Pacific Rim
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Stardust
The Lego Movie
42
The Purge
John Cater
Spirited Away
Mr. Bean’s Holiday
The Croods
Hellboy II: The Golden Army
Brave
Waking Ned Devine
Frozen
Atlantis: The Lost Empire
The Thing (2011)
X-men: first class
X-men Origins: Wolverine
X-men
The  Princess Bride
Mean Girls
The hole
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
What’s Up Doc
In The Name of the Father
Speed Racer
X2: X-men United
X-men: The Last Stand
The Wolverine
Ender’s Game
Legend of the Drunken Master
The Amazing Spider Man 2
Yobi the Five – Tailed Fox
X-men: Days of Future Past
12 Years A Slave
Godzilla (2014)
Much ado about nothing (2012)
The Jungle Book
Dear Mr. Watterson
Cowboys & Aliens
Dear Zachary
Captain Phillips
Akira
World War Z
Buried
Escape From New York
Saving Mr. Banks
Hook
Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure
The Intouchables
Old School 
Mama
Tales from Earthsea
The Secret World of Arrietty
The Battered Bastards of Baseball
Snowpiercer
The Sandlot
The Patriot
True Grit (2010)
Shanghai Knights
Guardians of the Galaxy
Stripped
My Cousin Vinny
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Scoop
The Lego Movie
Let Me In
Muppets Most Wanted
Network
The Neverending Story
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
White House Down
Batman Begins
Silver Linings Playbook
The Haunting (1963)
Fantasia
Anaconda (Rifftrax)
A Knights Tale
Fantasia 2000
Joseph : King of Dreams
The Taking of Deborah Logan
Interstellar
Wreck it Ralph
The Hunger Games : Mockingjay
Holiday Inn
Scrooge (1970)
The Incredibles
Mary Poppins
The Wind Rises
Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone
Singing in the Rain
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
An Affair to Remember
Annie (1982)

The OTHER Potter England is famous for: Miss Potter

Misspotter

There are two vitally important attributes that great artists in any form must have. First is an imagination, the tool to picture the art and all that it encompasses. The second is the ability and talent to tangibly produce it through a medium, be it words or watercolors. Beatrix Potter certainly had both of these, and more. The Victorian era children’s author, conservationist and biologist is most well known for the beautifully illustrated set of stories starring animals. Peter Rabbit, Peter Cottontail, Samuel Whiskers and Jemima Puddleduck are just a handful of the characters that she brought life to not only with words on a page but beautiful pictures that drove the imagination of the reader. Miss Potter takes on the difficult task of summing up the life and major events surrounding Beatrix Potter by showcasing her loves, losses and triumphs.

 

The primary focus of the film is set squarely on the imagination of its titular character. From the get-go we watch as a young Beatrix interacts with her drawings as though they were her friends. We listen as she creates stories out of nothing to tell to her younger brother before bed. What is not anticipated by her mother or father is that this desire to paint and create stories should become anything more than a hobby. However, Beatrix persists and manages to convince a publishing house to print the story of Peter Rabbit. The owners of the publishing house give the book to their youngest brother, Norman Warne (Ewan McGregor) to guide through the publishing process. They fully expect the book to fail, but had promised to allow him to help. As Beatrix and Norman take on what becomes a wildly successful franchise of books, the two fall in love and must navigate the difficulties associated with a stringent class system. While the last bit of the movie focuses on Beatrix’ natural conservation efforts, it never strays from the heart of what made Potter so well known, and that was her incredible imagination and ability to breath life into it.

 

Beatrix Potter is an absolutely fascinating individual. Just reading through the wikipedia page on her is entertaining and points out that, while ambitious, this movie didn’t give her story the justice it deserved. Now you can’t expect an entire autobiography out of a 92 minute movie, and I wouldn’t want something from this light and almost whimsical telling of her life. What I would have liked, however, was for her not to be made out to be absolutely insane. She treated her drawings and paintings as her friends in the film, something she didn’t do in real life. Fine, artistic license. The truly jarring bit was when she would argue with and talk to her drawings in front of people. Renee Zellweger did a fine job portraying Potter, despite being 20 years older than the character, but when given a script that has you arguing with inanimate paper while others are around does little to cause me to sympathise with her situation. The movie, without that would have been a better film. The characters were portrayed in a believable way and were, for the most part likeable. Ewan McGregor in particular did a fantastic job as Mr. Warne. The soundtrack was appropriate and the nostalgia for those familiar with Beatrix Potter is a major draw.

 

The movie could have been better with some simple omissions. The above mentioned weirdness of having your main character argue with drawings was the biggest problem. Other minor offenses were few and far between, but there was a tendency to bring up oppressive social themes of the time and kind of just drop them. Again, I wasn’t expecting a ton from a 92 minute movie, but some follow through would have been nice. For all it’s flaws, it was enjoyable. This movie saw very little time in theaters (if any) and I stumbled across it on Amazon Prime and gave it a shot. I was glad to have done so. As a family film it’s well rounded and will potentially introduce the uninitiated to one of the greatest children’s authors of all time.

 

How To Train Your Dragon 2 is a Terribly Long Name For Such A Good Movie.

howtotrainyourdragon

Animators have it rough. The amount of detail that goes into every frame of a modern animated film is astonishing, absolutely amazing. Often times that detail only exists for seconds, if that. With the misconception that animated films with low MPAA ratings are mostly for children, that level of detail can be lost. I’ll be the first to admit, I often times overlook animated films when deciding what to pay money to see in theaters. While on vacation, I went to a local discount theater and caught a showing of how To Train Your Dragon 2 and coincidentally watched one of my favorite movies of the year.

 

I need to rewatch How To Train your Dragon because when I rented it I wasn’t blown away. I know this franchise is loved by many, and it’s even revered above certain Pixar offerings. It was fun, but something that I was ok just watching once and calling it good. Not so with the sequel. How To Train Your Dragon 2 shows the inhabitants of Berk in a whole new light. Their entire society now revolves around dragons rather than fears them. Hiccup is reluctantly being primed to take over responsibility as the new chieftain, when he discovers a group of dragon catchers that are supplying a mad man with forces for his army of dragons that will be used as weapons to conquer the world. You can guess what the remainder of the film is about from there.

 

First off, the movie looks incredible. I don’t think I’ve had a movie appeal to my primal sense of adventure this way in years. The scenes of Toothless and hiccup flying over pristine landscapes, crystal oceans and through open sky were all it took to get me caught up in the movie. Add to that a heavy dose of accurate emotional weight and a hefty dose of dragons and you’ve got HTTYD2. Everything about the movie looked like familiar in the sense that we’ve been seeing dragons on film for decades, but it built on the uniqueness of the first film in just how different someone could interpret the beasts. It was fun just seeing how many variations of the fire breathing reptiles the animators could present. The environment only added to the aesthetic appeal and sense of adventure. Berk is a fairly wild city, but it pales in comparison to the harshness beyond it’s borders.

 

While a movie can be pretty to look at, if it falls flat it the story telling or in the character department then you’ve got a major problem. Fortunately this was not the case. Dreamworks hit a homerun with how they advanced their characters. We’re not dealing with the same set of problems or issues already dealt with in the first film, we’re dealing with new challenges, harder ones that carry more consequences and change the franchise in bolder ways than I anticipated. It was more than I had anticipated, and I found myself far more emotionally involved with the humans and dragons alike.


How To Train Your Dragon 2 manages to take the audience on a ride to another world filled with adventure, danger and unexpected beauty. The characters are flawed and believable, it packs an emotional wallop while still being appropriate and entertaining for a young audience. Despite the many offerings this year, I would rank this among the top in terms of just sheer fun adventure. Also, Toothless is still adorable.

 

Stripped

stripped

In a recent review, I discussed the film Dear Mr. Waterson. It was an overly sentimental look at one of our time’s most beloved comic strips Calvin and Hobbes. That film scratched the surface on the politics and cultural ecology surrounding the specific strip, allowing a number of people to relive their favorite iterations of the comic strip. In essence, it was one big “we love Calvin and Hobbes” tribute. While it was entertaining and nostalgic, it was a shame the movie didn’t delve deeper into the creative process and business model of the comic industry. At it’s best Dear Mr. Waterson was a fun little trip down memory lane; at it’s worst the film was a self serving parade for the director to talk about how he’s their biggest fan. The title of that film centered around an unresponded letter to the creator of Calvin and Hobbes, Bill Watterson. In Stripped we get all the missing elements, as well as hear, for the first time for most of us, Bill Watterson as he talks about the industry that made his creations pop culture icons.

 

Stripped is a documentary film that sets it’s lense squarely on the comic strip industry refuses to look at anything else. Directors David Kellett and Frederick Schroeder allow the giants of the comic strip world drive the narrative. Their examination is vast, touching on everything from the creative process to licensing of merchandise. The vast differences in philosophy between comic creators is staggering considering all their creations resided on the same page of a newspaper together. The crux of the movie is the divide amongst the newspaper comic creators and those thriving in the digital age. The real joy is simply in listening to people that are absolute giants of the industry discussing their work. Jim Davis (Creator of Garfield) and Bill Watterson were two of my highlights, but there are many, many more that offer their insights and experiences into the art and business model of the fantastic medium.

 

Very early on there is an obvious divide between the older generation of artists and the newer. Having little knowledge of the inner workings, it’s absolutely fascinating to watch the two sides discuss why their particular business model is the best. We have artists vouching for syndication on one side, the idea that you sell your strip to a syndication and they sell it to individual newspapers. Then on the other side are the digital age artists that pay to host their own websites and sell their own merchandise swearing by their method. Despite differences all the creators featured in this film share a passion for their medium. They love it almost as a parent would love a child. They’re angry with it at times, tired of it. But it is what defines them, and the act of putting words and pictures together fuels them in a way that allows for a perfectly paced documentary film.

Stripped would be a fun watch for anyone, even more so for someone that grew up loving the funny pages. Among the interviews is the first ever recorded interview with Bill Watterson, which is itself worth the run-time of the film. The pacing is perfect with a score that is neither distracting nor boring. Ideas and ideologies are bounced off the viewers all while the evolution and history of a beloved medium draws itself onto the screen. It is not, however a story with an end. Comics, despite what some might say, are not dying. This is a time of transitioning and change. A time of uncertainty, but one of hope. This is the message of Stripped. A message that may or may not be true, but one that immensely interesting to hear.

 

Now I Know How You Die Hard Transformers Fans Must Feel: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

TMNT

The wildly popular Transformers movie franchise is often trounced by critics for a number of reasons. Most commonly I hear about how the movies took a beloved childhood series and strayed from the spirit of the source material. I could not relate. I played with Transformer toys growing up, sure, but I didn’t adamantly watch the series, and I couldn’t have given you any of their names. To me, the movies were nothing more than poorly constructed money farms. Then they announced that Michael Bay was producing a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle reboot. But with Bay Just producing, maybe the director had a chance? Jonathan Liebesman. He’s directed a few action films, none of which were of great note. “Still, it’s Turtles” I thought “It can’t be that hard to get right, I mean none of the previous movies were works of art. I’ll just wait to see who they cast”. The realization that Casey Jones wasn’t going to be in the movie was almost as heart wrenching as the fact that Megan Fox was cast as April O’neil. Sorry, I’m letting my nostalgia seep into this review. It’s just that for the first time, I think I know what those true Transformers fans must have felt like.

 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is the fifth big screen title for the heroes in a half-shell, and is a complete reboot. The real focal point of the film is April O’neil, who is a doggedly determined reporter that wants to break away from the puff pieces she’s always assigned. This leads her to investigate a local crime organization known as “The Foot”. She learns that someone is thwarting some of The Foot’s operations. She eventually finds herself in a trap set by The Foot to lure out these vigilantes. They are, of course, the titular turtles. As April gets closer to the four reptile brothers, she learns how they came to be, and begins to comprehend just what the villains have in store for the city of New York. Along they way she meets the Turtles Master; a rat named Splinter and their nemesis; The Shredder.

 

The premise is pretty standard Turtles stuff. It’s a franchise about four anthropomorphic turtles named after renaissance artists who have mastered ninjutsu and fight organized crime in the city. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a franchise that survives on a mixture of weirdness and charm. This film lacked  the charm and amped up the weirdness in all the wrong ways. Megan Fox sucked every quirk out of the character of April o’neil. No longer the smart and tough reporter, she reduced April to a pretty face to look at that served only to spout exposition to the audience. The turtles were…. uncanny. Their faces were unsettling to look at and I simply couldn’t get a tangible grasp on their being and where they belonged in the world of the film. The most frustrating thing was that it felt like the entire cast was on the verge of rolling their eyes because they thought the concept of a Turtle movie was above them. The movie would literally make fun of the weirdness and charm that made this series, and then make half an effort to duplicate it. I once went up with a group of people to sing Bohemian Rhapsody at a karaoke place. I was embarrassed, so rather than get super into it like the others, I attempted to save face and just sort of stood up there awkwardly and quietly sang along while the others were practically rolling on the ground. If the other movies were like the people singing and rolling on the ground, this one was me. None of us could particularly sing very well, but all the others were far more entertaining to watch.

 

This movie is worse than Turtles in Time a film that is almost universally recognized as the worst in the franchise. A big problem with this film was just how poorly it was written. The villains have no real goals other than some conceited plan to make lots of money, despite already being ridiculously rich. It felt like, with the exception of the turtles themselves, everyone was simply reading a rough draft of the script word for word. Most of the lines were there to blatantly state the obvious to no one except the audience. They spent far too much time explaining the nonsensical plot, and ultimately failed at that. There were one or two jokes that landed, but the majority of the humor was squelched by a lack of enthusiasm and heart. In it’s attempt to be a gritty reboot, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles managed to be the one thing I didn’t expect it to be; boring.

 

If you’re interested in my reviews of the other Turtles movies check them out here.

 

Warming the Bench with the Battered Bastards of Baseball

baseball

“It’s hard not to be romantic about baseball.” this one line stuck with me after watching 2011s Moneyball. It stuck because it was wrapped in a universal truth. Baseball has been responsible for a good number of emotionally charged films. Sports movies in general are easy targets for that feel good camaraderie loving demographic that contains the vast majority of people in America. While I personally don’t follow any sports teams actively, I completely get why it’s such a universal phenomenon. Especially with an underdog story where the team in question ends up coming out on top. The Battered Bastards of Baseball is a documentary with as much heart as Miracle, Moneyball and Angels in the Outfield combined, offering a look into a lesser known chapter of sports history.

 

The Netflix Original documentary tells, from beginning to end, the unusual tale of the Portland Mavericks. The foul mouthed, irreverent minor league ball team was thrown together by former ball player and hollywood veteran Bing Russell. The film is primarily about the Mavericks, but uses Bing as a constant focal point. Starting with his love for baseball at a young age all the way to his running of the Maverick’s franchise. Bing Russell used the Mavericks to bring privately owned clubs back to baseball. Whereas most minor league teams were simply farms for the major leagues, Bing wanted the Mavericks to be the best they could be offering a chance for both players and fans to experience a minor league game that went to it’s full potential. What that meant was offering open tryouts to anyone that showed up; essentially the rejects of the baseball world. The documentary highlights the short career of the team. It seeks to showcase the heart of the team by interviewing players, fans and sports writers. Through this process we glean a good picture of what made them an anomaly in the sports world. They weren’t just the underdogs, they were rebels, they fought against the norm and were both rewarded and punished for it.

 

The film is short and energetic, it uses the power of nostalgia to fuel the interviews and thought process of each participant. Bing’s son, Kurt Russell, (Wyatt Earp himself) who played for the Mavericks, knew Bing as a father as well as the owner offers an inside look into what home life was like and what drove the man behind the Mav’s. The film utilizes an electrifyingly charged score that’s as simple as it is effective. The runtime is relatively short, at under 90 minutes, but it’s enough. The story is small and personal, so much so that it probably couldn’t have sustained a longer screen time. It’s an interesting look into the business of baseball and what happens when the stars align enough to create something truly unique.