Thursday, April 24, 2014

Movie with Abe: Mr. Peabody and Sherman

Mr. Peabody and Sherman
Directed by Rob Minkoff
Released March 7, 2014

The biggest challenge of any remake is to be able to fondly recall memories of the source material while creating a wholly new product that can be digested and comprehended all on its own. That’s especially true when the original is old enough that many of the viewers of the new project won’t have any frame of reference from which to know these characters. Fortunately, “Mr. Peabody and Sherman,” the early March release from DreamWorks Animation, is a thoroughly enjoyable and successful movie that functions perfectly well all on its own.

Based on characters of the same name from the 1960s series “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show,” this film follows the story of Mr. Peabody, a genius talking dog with glasses and a red bow tie, who adopts bright-eyed young Sherman, a boy who lives for the excitement of his father’s stories and, more importantly, their shared adventures using the WABAC, a time machine created by Mr. Peabody to better enrich his and Sherman’s lives through literally experiencing the past. Mr. Peabody’s friends from throughout time include Leonardo DaVinci and George Washington. Understandably, Sherman’s life is considerably different from that of many of his peers, and the first day of school represents a major challenge in terms of fitting in with the rest of the class.

“Mr. Peabody and Sherman” makes a likely deliberate and enormously positive choice: to follow just one isolated plotline and stick to it for the duration of the film. Sherman’s first day at school goes horribly, ending in him biting a bully, Penny, and leading to the threat of Mr. Peabody losing custody of Sherman. The fast-thinking Mr. Peabody invites Penny and her parents over to smooth over the situation, and of course a clueless Sherman decides that the only way to get Penny to like him is to show her the WABAC, resulting in a time-hopping journey with plenty of twists and turns along the way. This is just one chapter of their story, and had the box office for the film been better, this could easily have been the first of several such films.

As always in animation, voices are key. Ty Burrell of “Modern Family” is a wonderful choice to portray Mr. Peabody, giving him a fantastic air of pretentiousness and enthusiasm. Max Charles and Burrell’s TV daughter Ariel Winter imbue Sherman and Penny with appropriate zeal and childishness. From among the supporting cast, Allison Janney, Stephen Tobolowsky, Stephen Colbert, and Leslie Mann enhance an entertaining ensemble. This animated film achieves that crucial accomplishment of being just as worthwhile and appealing for adults as for kids, and it ends up being a fully engaging and very fun ride.


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Talking Tribeca: App

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 16th-27th.

Directed by Alexander Berman
Festival Screenings

You might think that last year’s Best Picture nominee “Her” cornered the market on human relationships with artificial intelligence consciousnesses. Fortunately, this Tribeca short, screening as part of the “Handle with Care” program, has a new take to offer. It’s an entertaining, light-hearted story about geeky Paul (Braden Lynch), who panics after he discovers that the server on which he has all the data stored for his groundbreaking app will be shut off because of his failure to pay his bill and heads to a bar to try to convince an investor to give him the capital he needs right away. A challenge by the disinterested investor results in Paul using his app designed to create romantic capability to woo the prettiest girl in the bar, Zoe (Sara Sanderson). This isn’t a complex tale, but it clever and inventive, and more than anything, a cute story about two very different people who might just have more in common than they think.

See it or skip it? See it! It’s playing with other shorts I haven’t seen, but this one is a lot of fun.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Talking Tribeca: Fishtail

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 16th-27th.

Directed by Andrew Renzi
Festival Screenings

It’s not often you have the chance to see a calf being born on screen. “Fishtail,” the sixty-one-minute documentary from director Andrew Renzi, is not a typical film. Described as “a portrait of the modern cowboy,” it follows a family on a ranch in Montana during calving season. Plot is far from central to the film, which can be seen as a meditation on landscapes and art. A peculiar score serves as the soundtrack, and Harry Dean Stanton narrates the film. There is certainly something to be said for a film that manages to make watching two ranchers herd cattle in preparation for calving. It’s good that the film lasts just one hour, especially since its subjects are less characters than purposeful players in its story. Its setting creates food for thought, and its appeal comes from the way in which its visuals are captured.

See it or skip it? It’s hardly a must-see, especially if you aren’t keen on seeing a cow give birth.

Talking Tribeca: Intramural

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 16th-27th.

Directed by Andrew Disney
Festival Screenings

Every once in a while, there’s a film at a film festival that just doesn’t feel like it belongs there. “Intramural,” best described as a (slightly) more mature version of “Dodgeball,” is not the kind of film one would expect to encounter alongside top-tier independent cinema. Jake Lacy, who was terrific as the dim-witted Casey on ABC’s short-lived “Better With You,” stars as straight man Caleb, who reunites his intramural college football team as a way of reinvigorating his life when he unwittingly gets engaged to maniacal control freak Vicky (Kate McKinnon). There are some moments of coherent and clever parody in the film, like when a doctor runs onto the field after an injury in a lab coat proclaiming “I’m a doctor” and each time stoned announcers Bill (D.C. Pierson) and Dan (Jay Pharoah) narrate a game to no one in particular. The rest of the film is pure, excessive stupidity, and it’s hard to negotiate the two very different sides of the film. Unfortunately, the less intelligent side is victorious.

See it or skip it? Not over anything else. This is far from the best that Tribeca has to offer.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Talking Tribeca: Human Capital

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 16th-27th.

Human Capital
Directed by Paolo Virzi
Festival Screenings

Stories told in chapters can often be irritating, and the creative format can merely be a mask for a subpar narrative. Yet that’s far from the case in “Human Capital,” the Italian film from Paolo Virzi screening at Tribeca, which hones in on three equally lonely and misunderstood people, one at a time. The overeager Dino (Fabrizio Bentivoglio) has no self-awareness, and his attempt to cash in big on a hedge fund find him furiously scrambling to come up for air. The idealistic Carla (Valeria Tedeschi) is completely invisible to her businessman husband and finds her artistic desires sidelined in favor of profitability. Dino’s daughter Serena (Matilde Gioli), who links the two characters due to her relationship with Carla’s son Massimiliano, exists in a different universe from her friends at school, unconcerned with their interests and much more willing to accept other viewpoints. All three stories are equally compelling, and when woven together make for an enticing film that feels fresh each time new information is added.

See it or skip it? See it if you’re okay with subtitles and like this kind of structure.

Talking Tribeca: Five Star

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 16th-27th.

Five Star
Directed by Keith Miller
Festival Screenings

Whereas “Starred Up” is a prison movie that takes place entirely within the walls of a prison, the similarly-titled “Five Star” is one that takes place entirely on the outside. Primo (James “Primo” Grant) is an ex-con struggling to make a living for his family, balancing bouncer gigs and a drug business. The large, intimidating Primo is joined onscreen by John (John Diaz), a braces-sporting teenager inspired to become more of a tough guy after the death of the father with whom he has no relationship. Primo is a picture of the future and John of the past, two people much more linked than it might initially seem, each at opposite ends of the spectrum. Director Keith Miller’s second feature film is a stark, gritty depiction of life as it is, with no flair or showy cinematic techniques. Primo and John play characters with their own names, and at times it seems like they aren’t even acting. The film isn’t always furiously interesting, but by its end, it’s difficult to forget.

See it or skip it? See it if it sounds appealing – it might surprise you.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Talking Tribeca: Life Partners

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 16th-27th.

Life Partners
Directed by Susanna Fogel
Festival Screenings

It’s a treat to find a festival film that stars recognizable actors who haven’t necessarily done very indie-friendly work in the past in a project that’s actually great. Leighton Meester of “Gossip Girl” and Gillian Jacobs of “Community” star as Sasha and Paige, two lifelong best friends united by their misfortune in love. That all changes, of course, when Paige meets Tim (Adam Brody) and begins what appears to be a serious relationship. Charting the ups and downs of that romance and of all of Sasha’s more fleeting partnerships is quite entertaining, and what could have been a throwaway buddy comedy is a much smarter and more mature film than one might expect. Meester, Jacobs, and Brody use their TV backgrounds to create human, flawed characters who might be exaggerated but are definitely relatable. This can’t be described as an art film and might not fit everyone’s definition of a worthy Tribeca entry, but it’s a perfectly decent and enjoyable movie.

See it or skip it? See it if you’re looking for something light that’s actually memorable and pretty funny to boot.

Talking Tribeca: Zero Motivation

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 16th-27th.

Zero Motivation
Directed by Talya Levie
Festival Screenings

This film isn’t exactly a progressive or productive portrait of either the Israeli army or women in the military. Set at a desert base, it follows the day-to-day boredom and superficiality of the female soldiers who serve as secretaries to the lone female commander who has understandable trouble earning respect from her male counterparts and superiors. It is, however, a very entertaining and enjoyable comedy, one which won’t advance any societal issues but still serves as a strong and fun film. Its two stars, Nelly Tagar and Dana Ivgy, are particularly terrific as Daffi, whose sole responsibility is shredding paper and who dreams of transferring to Tel Aviv, and Zohar, who can’t be bothered to do anything productive and causes more harm than anything else in her efforts to respond cleverly to orders she is given, respectively. Their energy corresponds perfectly to the film’s overall feel, a portrait of the mundane nature of doing something you couldn’t have any less interest in doing.

See it or skip it? See it! It’s far from the most serious movie you’ll see at the festival, but it’s an enjoyable dark comedy.