Mr. Peabody & Sherman (PG)

8 Stars

This is better than The Lego Movie.

That get your attention?

Hear me out.

Everybody (the critics, your Aunt Ruth and the kitchen sink) went nuts over The Lego Movie. But it arose amidst a sea of shadow, Proverbial Audience.

It’s literally the first solid movie released in theaters this year.

I think Lego’s good. Mr. Peabody & Sherman is great. The difference shines through in the pacing.

More specifically, it’s the humor. Less objectively, it’s the captivation.

A superior adhesive glues my eyes to the screen during Mr. Pea & Sherm.

Both movies are smart for different reasons. But Lego relies on a particular reveal; a moment of structural expansion which makes the narrative shimmer. And the laughs are regular but spaced out; some fall flat and it’s never uproarious.

It’s slower and the good stuff is more sporadic.

Mr. Peabody & Sherman hits home on more jokes of a higher caliber. Whether you dig the puns or not, it’s definitely funnier.

The story itself is also superior. It explores time travel in unique ways, distills historical legends and navigates a complex array of ideas.

Strangely it seems easier to connect with the characters on a humanistic level. I’m not sure if it’s because of their biological makeup (the fact that they don’t exist in a Lego universe,) or just the tilted scales of investment.

Anyway, that’s my contrast. Got a problem with it? Let me know!

Here’s a bit more of what does and doesn’t work in Mr. Perman.

The central metaphor of the film tackles the inherent inconsistency of the original animated television series.

A dog can’t possibly be a sufficient parent, right?

If he’s a talking prodigy, perhaps, yes!

What about a time-traveling one? With all the fundamental risk?

Well, is he invincible?

Technically the answer’s yes, but that’s obvious to anyone attending an animated feature.

And yet they are smart enough to take things a step further, and not jam the obvious ‘go-to’ narrative down our throats.

The details of Mr. Peabody’s gaining the legal rights to adopt Sherman are quickly glossed over in less than twenty seconds. It reminds me of Kung Fu Panda 2, when Mr. Ping explains the story of finding Po in the radish basket. That scene can get quite dusty.

The film’s about common mistakes in traditional legends from history. Mr. Peabody warps them back to the distorted historical context, and illustrates to Sherman where the misconceptions arise.

Then Sherman screws something up, and Mr. Peabody inevitably saves them through unbelievable circumstances. Sherman will inevitably ruin the impromptu remedy through extreme stupidity. Then the dog will, again, craft a split-second plan through means of ingenuity. And sometimes a third solution will be required before they end up safe in the WABAC.

This formula’s fine. It just drives me nuts after awhile.

Eventually the question becomes: How’s Sherman going to screw this up further? He nearly kills Peabody at one point!

I always enjoy the ‘mental schematic’ editing technique. A similar effect is achieved in the Sherlock Holmes films (starring Robert Downey Jr.) in combat preparation, and to illustrate the calculative mind of Russell Crowe’s character (John Forbes Nash Jr.) in A Beautiful Mind.

As a final high note, I really like the relationship between the protagonist (Sherman, voiced by Max Charles, a mostly unknown child actor) and the antagonist (Penny Peterson) voiced by Ariel Winter.

Penny’s particularly great in the antagonistic role, because she’s a female who physically bullies Sherman.

But conversely, she’s also his love interest. Which is different because she’s taller than him.

My sole criticism is I never really feel the stakes are high. And therefore, the central conflict is difficult to hone in on.

Sherman’s potentially going to be taken away by child services. Peabody may be dead at one point. Sherman’s being forced to spend time with a girl who publicly humiliates him, and wrestling with the notion of loving a dog as a father figure. Who knows if we even like Penny yet? And all three of them are lost in the throes of time travel!

It’s tough to feel tension from any one particular direction.

Then again, I really enjoy Mr. Peabody & Sherman and highly recommend it to anyone looking for a fun and chucklesome ninety-minute ride.

Don’t wait for a scene after the credits, though.

Sadly there isn’t one.

The omission is, by far, this film’s greatest weakness.

The Fault in Our Stars (PG-13)

4 Stars

Betrayed by the Top Critics Score, yet again.

The Rotten Tomatoes percentage hovered in the mid-eighties a day after theatrical release.

As the ticket taker scanned my phone, a nearby police officer demanded I toss my recently purchased coffee in the garbage. I replied instinctively.

“Yes sir.”

My shoulders fell as I dropped the cup, lid still stoppered, into the pit of complete and utter waste.

For two weeks, I’ve been painting my sister’s house in Nashville to make a little money. After paying $10.50 thru Regal’s online ticketing system (a procedural headache of questionable ethics), it didn’t feel good; setting fire to $2.80.

I’m a regular, oftentimes bi-weekly, customer at Regal. It took added time and planning to attain the coffee, not to mention the work and care required by the barista.

What does that godforsaken cop stand to gain by interrupting my inquiry toward the ticket taker’s disposition?

In retrospect, perhaps politely requesting a reason would have been sufficient to reach a compromise.

But I shudder at the thought!

The Nashville taxpayers can rest easy knowing their police force keeps a devoted eye on Regal’s potential streams of revenue, and defends them from foreseeable risk.

By the way, an outside beverage policy at a movie theater is downright selfish and uncharitable to their devoted customers. It’s entirely unethical.

Anyway, back to the horrible crowd awaiting in my theater. It’s packed and buzzing with female teens and young adult couples when I sit down.

The couple sitting in front of me playfully flirts and chitchats throughout the initial half-hour of the movie.

For the first time in my life, I lean over and say, “Could you guys please stop talking?”

The girl is disgusted. And periodically reminds me with dirty looks for the remainder of the film.

The boyfriend doesn’t turn around.

Their efforts to remain silent, albeit not rigorous nor without hint of antagonism, were enough to cease the distraction.

Throughout The Fault in Our Stars, a choir of hapless sirens relinquishes groan after moan, highlighting each character’s obvious emotions, and inflating the tortuous plod of lack-luster plot.

Anderson Cowan, cohost of the best podcast ever, The Film Vault, said it best when describing, ‘the crowd of early-teen females cooing and goo-gooing,’ at every emotional turn.

A girl was bawling, crying like an infant in the back of the theater after Gus died. I’ve never been in a movie where someone subjects everyone else to their weeping.

And hey, more often than not, I’ve got leaky ducts.

But I sure as hell don’t thrust it on others. And I’ve never been uncontrollably sobbing. Most assuredly I’d make a hasty retreat out the theater.

Okay, enough personal anecdotes. I’ll complain about the actual movie now.

This film isn’t made for me. Perhaps people who like the book can’t help but enjoy the on-screen adaptation. At best, though, educated filmgoers can only qualify it as a ‘guilty pleasure.’

The Fault in Our Stars is not a good movie.

I should have known better than to trust a poster title scrawled in a chalkboard font. The use of handwritten script in the lettering of the title has become a staple of the ‘Dromantic Quirkedy.’ [Dramatic romantic quirky comedy.]

In fact, any theatrical release poster utilizing ‘the creative quirky penman theme’ with handwritten fonts, doodling on spiral notebook stock, or blackboard sketching is generally a red flag.

I haven’t read it, but I didn’t appreciate The Fault in Our Stars. It’s not okay or mild; it’s a poor film. And here’s why.

The acting is not great on Ansel Elgort’s part. His character, Gus, is overly theatrical; breaking into grandiose soliloquys which are meant to be cute and uplifting. Gus is a bit too romantic; his optimism too paper-thin. His haughty bravado is never convincing, and ultimately serves to detach the viewer. Thereby oftentimes reminding the audience they’re watching a motion picture.

Nat Wolff, who plays Isaac, is clearly meant to be ‘the funny guy.’ Of approximately thirty attempts at humor, his jokes hit home twice for the briefest of chuckles.

A lot of the black humor, such as the jokes about Isaac losing his sight, are just not funny. My God, some of the moments that get the audience roaring with laughter, are actually very tragic and harsh.

Just because something is played for laughs, doesn’t make it funny.

When Isaac’s feeling up his sexy girlfriend in the parking lot, the timing’s so stilted; it’s disorienting even discerning what’s intended to be funny.

Jokes are measured by the quality of the humor, not by the purity of a writer’s intent.

Willem Dafoe’s character is somewhat compelling, and I enjoy his off-type performance most.

The confusing scene in Anne Frank’s house is contrived and cheesy nonsense. Firstly, it feels (in a misleading manner) like something surreal’s happening.

The two American tourists start sawing face in the attic hideaway, and the surrounding European strangers respond with applause?

It’s absurd. And silly. Not uplifting.

Laura Dern, as Frannie (Hazel’s mother), is a bit of a shmoop.

Dern’s usually tough to swallow. Her performances consistently include an odd tic; an overly ambitious facial expression or touches of melodrama (I’m thinking specifically of Blue Velvet).

But in TFIOS, she’s just overly soapy. All the mother-daughter bonding moments are painful. And when she shows up wearing the towel, does anybody believe for a second that Frannie had just leapt out the tub?

All I can see is Laura Dern pretending to don a towel.

Shailene Woodley is good, as always. She’s best in a very good film, The Spectacular Now, and is one of the redeeming elements of Alexander Payne’s dreary snore, The Descendants.

The film leans on the supposition a viewer will feel unquestionable sympathy for Hazel. To be frank, she’s quite off-putting and not necessarily likable.

As far as the story goes, it’s dull and depressing. I marched out the theater feeling unfulfilled, confused and defeated.

The policeman watched as I sauntered out the exit, brandishing his nightstick and releasing a satisfied chuckle. But I’m too wrapped in thought to recognize his villainous ways.

The question I keep asking myself: What’s the rub?

My sister read the book, so I asked her.

What’s at stake? What am I supposed to take away from this story?”

“I thought it was nice they got to spend the one night together before he died.”

So there’s the selling point: The takeaway is the experience of becoming absorbed and swooning in the romantic notion of romance.

I find zero experiential value in this narrative, since the merit of an unfunny ‘Romantic Comedy’ supposedly resides in the ‘feeling of romance.’

Most men are the same way. It’s not a redeeming quality. We don’t derive satisfaction from the swooning sensation.

This is why most ‘date movies’ are bad.

But anybody older than twenty (without nostalgia for the book) will realize this is a sub par film.

Please don’t drag your significant other to this movie.

Go see Edge of Tomorrow, 22 Jump Street, Maleficent or How to Train Your Dragon 2 instead.

Way more laughs (and feel-good moments) in all four.