For A Woman (Pour un femme)

Say what you will about The French, they understand women. Having said that, I must endeavour to explain it in the context of For A Woman without sounding like a misogynous bastard.

For A Woman takes place shortly after World War II: Michel and Lena are living in their little apartment, happily married Communists, with Michel running a haberdashery and Lena bored and frustrated by her lack of employment (which Michel is rather against) when suddenly Michel’s brother Jean shows up.

After a happy reunion, Jean is…well, opaque. How is it possible that he survived? The family was split up during the war, with Jean being trapped inside a Nazi camp in Russia while the parents were in Germany and Michel was in France. (I think I have that right. Point is: They were split up.)

Jean also seems to have connections. When Michel opens up his own haberdashery, Jean is able to come up with three boxcars full of unused fabric (diverted during the war but then forgotten) for the taking, giving the new business a real boost.

There’s a certain wry humor to the proceedings: Michel’s big fear is that Jean has fled the Soviet Union, which is just too reactionary for Michel’s taste. In fact, Jean is more than happy to knock down Michel’s idealized support for the USSR (as one who putatively escaped it), and Michel is more than happy to dismiss this counter-revolutionary talk.

So, is Jean a Soviet spy or a defector or something else?

I’d like to say that I called it early on and guessed exactly what he was and why he was there, though the film shook my smugness a little bit once or twice. And, in fairness, I figured it out based on feeling like we were supposed to like Jean and none of the obvious solutions made him very likable.

By the way, the movie is bookended by a story taking place in the late ‘80s and into the early ’90s between Michel’s daughters, and at the end of Michel’s life. And he remains unrepentant Communist to the end of his days, enraged by the end of the Soviet Union.

I think this is based on a true story, and of course there are many real people who are like that. (Some of them even on the Internet!)

So, what’s all this about women? Well, Lena and Michel are happy, basically, though Lena less so, both because she has little to do (and housework in post-war Europe was not easy), and while she loves Michel, he’s boring. He’s a businessman. He’s staid. He’s unmysterious. He adores her more than anything but she doesn’t reciprocate, not to the same degree.

Oh, also? He saved her from the concentration camp by pretending she was his fiancee, and literally carrying her across country to save her life.

So, yeah, that might endear you to a guy, huh?

But when Jean shows up, he’s everything Michel is not: Mysterious, dangerous, magnetic, sympathetic, and Lena is mistrustful of him, but definitely attracted. It is to the movie’s credit, and a believable characterization, that she doesn’t just jump into bed with him. At the same time, the attraction between them grows dangerously, threatening Lena and Michel’s life together.

I couldn’t help but note to myself “Dude saved your life. Can you really be unfaithful to him?” But of course the answer is: Sure. When Lena says “I could never cheat on Michel”, her uber-Communist gal-pal who’s cheating on her husband with a much younger stud-of-the-people, says “All women can cheat.”

Actually, as big a mess as said gal-pal is, she also seems to have the best understanding of women, when she says she wants both men, because both men satisfy different needs (implying the same of Lena, and perhaps all women).

Writer/director Diane Kurys is said to have based this story on her own parents’ lives and, secondarily, the effect it had on her life, and (perhaps surprisingly) this is a remarkably gentle and compassionate film. It both indicts her mother for her actions but not harshly so, demonstrating an understanding that nothing in life is that simple.

But if guys are going to take a message away from this, it probably should be: Dude, it doesn’t matter if you save her life, if she’s not into you, she’s not into you.

The Boy and I rather liked it. We weren’t crazy about the framing story, as it seemed to drag the story down a bit, but we could see why it was there.

The principles are fine actors: Benoît Magimel, who looked familiar but I can’t think of anything I’ve seen him in, plays Michel. Nicolas Duvauchelle (The Well-Digger’s Daughter) plays Jean. The regally beautiful Mélanie Thierry (Babylon A.D.) plays Lena.

It’s a little heavy, of course, and sad in places, but it’s not dreary or morbid, and mixes in a fair amount of suspense, mystery, romance and eroticism that makes it a good watch.

Edge of Tomorrow

Tom Cruise plays a weatherman forced to live out the same day over and over again during an alien invasion of Earth in Edge of Tomorrow.

I may have mixed that up a little.

Edge of Tomorrow is a sci-fi action movie that takes the plot of Ivan Retiman’s revered romcom Groundhog Day and says, “What if living out the same day over and over again allowed you to save the world!”? It’s actually not that big a stretch from the original, though this movie has very little in common beyond this gimmick and some of the circumstances that arise from the situation.

Also, out of necessity, the power to reset the day has severe limitations, else you’d have no possibility of tension for the third act.

What’s most surprising about this film, actually, is that it’s very, very good. In spite of being a big budget action flick. In spite of being a time-travel movie. In spite of starring Tom Cruise.

I kid. Cruise is generally fine as an action hero. Usually he’s doing the same role, though, so he doesn’t stretch his acting chops much, of which he seems to have at least some modicum (see Rain Man, Magnolia).

One of the ways this movie exceeds expectations is by giving Cruise a deeper role. At the beginning of the film, he’s a glib, abject coward lacking any sort of morality. This turns into a more traditional action hero role later on, but the character arc makes this feel satisfying, giving us a sense of how real life military men go from being average joes to hardened warriors.

In addition, his character changes much the way Bill Murray’s does in Groundhog Day, in the sense that he gains a depth of feeling for characters who don’t really know or like him. What’s more, despite the virtually mandatory save-the-world motif, director Doug Liman keeps things tight and light, with the action mostly being local rather than awash in ruins of cities and what-not.

Frequent Cruise collaborator Christopher McQuarrie (Valkyrie, Jack Reacher) co-wrote the script with frequent Liman collaborators Jez and John-Henry Butterworth, and whatever the reason, this seems to have worked out extraordinarily well.

The Flower liked it, though she felt the denouement was cheap. I could see her point and I saw it coming, but at the same time, I wasn’t sure it was going to play out the way it did, so I was relatively happy with it.

The Boy also liked, and was pleased with the relatively small amount of goofy action/war tropes, like the super-moves performed by Emily Blunt, who seems to have an uncanny ability to fight the aliens—an ability which, once you learn what’s going on, does not in fact make any sense.

But there’s a lot about this movie that doesn’t make sense if you think about it, or is at least unanswered. To a degree this is handled by keeping things moving enough to where you don’t have a lot of time to think about it, which is common enough these days. Better, though, is that it doesn’t try too hard to offer an explanation. The movie gives you just enough of a back story to give you the hook, but not so much that you start thinking, “Well, if that’s the case, then why don’t they just blah blah blah?”

Movies are not the best vehicle for presenting plausible alien invasions.

Brendan Gleeson and Bill Paxton have small but fun supporting roles.

Chinese Puzzle

In 2002, Cedric Klapisch made a film called L’Auburgene Espagnole (The Spanish Inn), and followed it up in 2005 with one called Russian Dolls. We had not seen either of those films, nor were we even aware of them, in fact, until we stepped up to the concession stand and someone said, “Oh, did you see the first two?”

No matter. This is a story of a fairly simple man whose life has become incredibly complicated through his associations with various women, none of whom seem to view any of this as a big deal.

When we begin, Xavier is married to Wendy. They’ve got two kids and his career as a writer is taking off. But when she flies off to America for some movie or TV show or something, she comes back wanting a divorce and to take the kids to the USA.

Xavier goes along with it (not sure if he has a choice given the laws of the land) but quickly misses his kids too much to stay in Paris while they’re in NYC, so he packs up and moves. Whatever money he has for his writing does not equip him for living on Central Park South, where his ex is now living with her American producer boyfriend.

Although he has to scrape by for a living, his best buddy, Isabelle, lives in NYC with her lover and their baby. Allow me to clarify the “their”: Isabelle is pregnant with Xavier’s child because the two wanted a child and someone they knew, so Xavier donated against his wife’s wishes. (Not that she ever finds out.)

But Isabelle argues him into it by saying he wouldn’t be a father in the classical sense, just a donor, which turns out to be true until it becomes more convenient to have a father around. Especially when Isabelle needs someone to watch the kid while she’s out diddling the babysitter.

Rounding out this trio is Martine, who was involved with Xavier before he hooked up with Wendy, and who has two kids she brings to New York for some reason (I forget) and ends up staying with Xavier and his two kids. While there she coaxes Xavier into having sex with her, and they rekindle an old relationship, at least while she’s there.

Meanwhile Xavier is struggling to get some rights to his children, since Wendy’s being a bit of a shrew.

These threads are all woven together, along with a backstory about Xavier’s father, who apparently split from his mother when Xavier was quite young, leaving Xavier to wonder if the two ever loved each other.

And it all takes place against a backdrop that’s essentially a love song to America. In a French film!

That’s always kind of nice.

The Boy and I were rather fond of this film. Entertaining with strong characters, amusing story, remarkably uncynical: You can do worse making a movie (and many do). The acting is la creme de la creme of French cinema with Romain Duris (Populaire) as Xavier, Audrey Tatou (Therese, Priceless), Cecile de France (The Kid With A Bike, Hereafter) as Isabelle, and (English actress) Kelly Reilly (Flight, Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows).

I keep feeling like we’re seeing all these foreign films about the fallout from post-modern familial structures: The reviews are in and it seems like divorce doesn’t lead to happy, together children.

I don’t expect that observation to lead anywhere, of course.

The Two Faces Of January

After the pleasant surprise of the low-budget ‘80s period piece Cold In July, I was feeling pretty optimistic about this 1962 period piece starring Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst and Oscar Isaac.

Which is just how life sets you up for the big falls.

In The Two Faces of January, Isaac plays a grifter named Rydal who’s scamming young tourists out of their money (and presumably other things of value) in Greece. Mid-scam of a young school girl (Dais Bevan) he spies Chester (Mortensen) and his young wife Colette (Dunst) and strikes up a friendship of the sort that can only occur when a good confidence game is at work.

Things take a dark turn early on when a threatening stranger shows up to threaten Chester and Colette, and that’s all I’ll reveal, because a few desultory semi-twists is about all this narrative’s got going for it.

And that’s kind of a shame: It’s a good story; I have no reason to believe that the Patricia Hightower novel on which this is based is not a good read. The acting is fine. The cinematography is okay, though Greece looks like the bunch of barren rocks it actually is rather than the exciting, exotic locale portrayed in so many past films.

It’s not hard to figure out why it fizzles: The movie is not so much a character arc (or series of arcs) but more of a character reveal (or series of reveals). But as we learned from Frozen, revealing characters for plot convenience without hinting at their true nature, or even presenting them falsely (how they behave when no one’s watching) is very unsatisfying.

And that’s this movie in a nutshell. As we learn more and more about Chester and Colette, it seems to invalidate everything we learned about them previously, and so feels less like a twist and more like a cheat.

Furthermore, writer/director Hossein Amini (co-writer of Drive and Snow White and the Huntsman) focuses on this stuff to the point of neglecting good potential action/suspense sequences, taking them down a notch until the final scene which, I think, is meant to recall The Third Man but you really just want to end so you can get up and pee.

Especially if you got that 44 ounce soda.

It’s actually not that long and it actually doesn’t drag out that much, really, probably just a little over 90 minutes excluding credits, which is a good thing. But it doesn’t feel tight. It feels like a lot of missed opportunities.

The acting’s good, though. The music was, well, kind of weird. Not in what it was so much as where they chose not to have any. I think that may have contributed to the lack of suspense in places.

We were pretty meh about it. I don’t think it was that bad so much as disappointing after the pleasant surprise that was Cold In July.

Cold In July

Two thrillers suddenly popped up (how else would they appear, right?) in our theater last weekend and The Boy and I endeavored to see both, with the first being the low-budget indie Cold In July, starring Michael C. Hall, Don Johnson and Sam Shepard.

The first thing that struck me about this film is how good an actor Michael C. Hall is. Fresh off his turn as the eponymous serial killer in “Dexter”, in this movie, he plays Richard Dane, nervous father/husband for whom things go awry when his house is broken into.

This movie is based on a Joe Lansdale story, and oozes with atmosphere, as well as going off in directions you’d never expect starting out. It reminds me very strongly of Lansdale’s short story The Night They Missed The Horror Show, in terms of motifs, not exactly plot.

Dane has the story’s main character arc, shrinking from something that seems evil, only to find himself confronting something horrific in a way that normal people can’t understand. Sam Shepard’s character, Russel, is a lot more opaque. We get that he’s been through a lot and done some things, but he has a real sense of honor that powers the story.

Don Johnson is great as Jim Bob, a private detective who puts the pieces together both in terms of the mystery, and in terms of fleshing out the narrative, providing exposition, for example, where the laconic Russel would never, and keeping things from getting too grim (until they absolutely must).

It’s a really fine noir thriller, complete with plot twists that don’t really add up, and it takes place in 1989, with nice evocative music from Jeff Grace.

The only real shortcoming for me was that Dane’s character arc doesn’t quite work. He goes from a near milquetoast at the beginning who really doesn’t want trouble to virtually seeking it out at the end. And the movie didn’t quite support that change.

Eh, feels like a nitpick. The Boy and I loved it; it was a truly pleasant surprise to have this movie come out of nowhere and give us a classic pulp thriller.

Now, for the review’s twist: The writer and director of the movie are none other than Jim Mickle and Nick Damici! And if you recognize those names, you’re probably a dedicated enough reader of this blog to be considered a stalker.

The team of Mickle and Damici worked together on one of the best (and lowest budgeted) of the After Dark Horror Festival’s films, Mulberry Street. While my review (linked there) suffers from having to write eight in three days, it’s interesting to note that the better aspects of Mulberry Street are still in evidence: atmosphere, suspense, and characterization.

But where Mulberry unravelled, this film stays tight all the way through. If you’re in the mood for a gritty noir thriller, Cold In July is a good bet.

The Immigrant

If I said about a movie “Well, this wasn’t as terrible as it could have been,” you’d probably think I was saying it was a bad movie. But it really could be literal, as in “the way the movie unfolded could’ve been far more horrific than it actually did play out, and that’s a good thing.”

Which is my way of introducing writer/director James Gray’s The Immigrant, a movie that isn’t as terrible as it could’ve been. Allow me to elucidate.

The story is that Eva (Marion Cotillard) and her sister Magda, Polish immigrants fleeing—I think it’s Cossacks—after World War I arrive at Ellis Island only to be split up. Magda has tuberculosis, and must stay on the island, while Eva has received some sort of black check on her record during the trip over (“questionable morals”) and so will be sent back so as not to become a public charge, especially since the address she has for her Aunt and Uncle are apparently fake!

My main concern about seeing this film, by the way, was that it would be a big “let ‘em all in” story. As I’ve said, I’m an open borders guy, but as should be obvious by now, imposing current political stories on historical—or even sci-fi/fantasy—narratives ruins them. Since The Immigrant avoids that, and sticks with a convincingly historical storyline, this is one important way that it wasn’t as terrible as it might have been.

Eva is saved by a relatively sane-acting Joaquin Phoenix. I mention the “sane” part because I can’t recall the last movie role he was in where he was sane, and even here, as Bruno, he’s more than a little “off”. But on the 1-to-10 JP-insanity-scale, he’s only at about a three here. Crazy, but crazy in love, and mostly in control.

Bruno saves Eva through some sort of arrangement he has with the guards, and then offers her a place to stay in his apartment and a job sewing across the street. With enough money, he says, she can get her sister out.

Fortunately, since sewing jobs were so profitable in New York City in the ’20s, she gets her sister out lickety-split and they reunite with their lost family and go on to live a happy and prosperous life as hot-dog magnates.


As if.

You can imagine how wrong things go for poor Eva, but—I want to stress this again—as bad as they go, they don’t go as badly as they might. That is, the movie never fully descends into “misery porn” as so many of these costume dramas do.

Things get rough. And confusing, especially, when she finds herself enamored of Bruno’s cousin, who seems a lot nicer than Bruno, but may actually be less stable. And that’s always a feat when Joaquin Phoenix is around. (The cousin is played well by Jeremy Renner, who’s taken some time off from pretending to kill people with guns/agitating against real-life guns, to do a more serious dramatic role)

The movie very cleverly avoids giving us a neat narrative. There are villains, but it’s not always clear who they are. The System itself doesn’t come off well, which is fair. They seldom should. There’s also a sort of surprising Act 3 resolution which draws on a perfectly appropriate spiritual resolution, that’s nonetheless not the sort of thing you expect to see much in movies today.

The Boy and I didn’t think it was great, but it was surprisingly acceptable. And we don’t say that lightly.

The Grand Seduction

I was intrigued by the Rotten Tomatoes rating on this new Brendan Gleeson starrer The Grand Seduction, because it had an 81% audience rating but a mere 61% rating from critics. I’m not always on the audience’s side on these splits, especially when there’s no obvious political slant that would entice critics to be extra-critical.

On the surface, the story seems harmless enough: Murray (Gleeson) is an out-of-work fisherman who is trying to lure a doctor to his small town so that a company will build a factory in his little village—wait, no, it’s not a village, it’s a harbor, that’s an issue here—so that the unemployed and depressed folk of Tickle Head (Newfoundland, Canada) can get to work again with pride.

Did you catch it? The little tip that might make a politically leftist critic dislike this movie?

Actually, there’s a bunch: Tickle Head residents file in monthly for their welfare checks, but this doesn’t make them happy. Oh, and why are they on welfare? Well, they can’t fish because of environmental regulations! And they have to trick the doctor into signing a contract to stay there because socialized medicine!

Oh, and Murray’s wife leaves Tickle Head for a job in “town” (Ontario?) which she ends up hating—and it’s sorting recycling. And the factory they’re trying to get in Tickle Head? It’s a petrochemical by-product repurposing plant.

Not that there’s any great love for the oil company behind the factory, and there’s a sardonic quality to the proceedings that makes it seem like “well, the last resort is to work this way” but it’s noteworthy that it’s presented as being preferable to collecting welfare.

That’s the underlying message, after all: Not a political one, just a truism about honest work being better than just about anything else.

Even if you have to lie, cheat and steal to get it.

Heh. The gimmick of the movie is that the entire town, in order to seduce the doctor, has to be part of an elaborate plot of being his dream town. To that end, they investigate him, they tap his phone, the pretend to like things he likes, and Murray goes so far as to pretend he had a son who died, about the same age as the doctor.

They also lie to the oil company, the bank, and anyone else who gets in their way.

I mean, in any cold analysis, it’s reprehensible, but director Don McKellar (best known for being an actor in…uh…Canadian stuff) pulls of a neat trick: He makes the townspeople likable despite this, and transforms the doctor (played by John Carter himself, Taylor Kitsch) from a shallow, unlikable jerk to a sort of lovable patsy whose shallowness masks a naive, even sweet, gullibility.

The intervening hijinks are quite amusing, meanwhile, and the movie passes rather breezily to a satisfying conclusion. The Flower, who is a tough critic, enjoyed it, as did The Boy and I.

There are some excellent bits here, as well: For example, the doctor loves cricket, and the villagers pretend to be cricket fanatics, too. But unlike almost every other sport in the world, cricket isn’t something you can fake an understanding of easily, much less a love of a game that runs six hours and over the course of multiple days.

From a dramatic standpoint, there’s a nice touch with what should be the love interest. In a typical Hollywood film, Kathleen (Liana Balaban) would start by hating the doctor and the scheme, but begrudgingly go along with it, then fall in love, and that would be what would make the whole deception okay, after a tearful confession.

Here, while she plays a pivotal role, she’s barely in the movie, which focuses primarily on the connection between Murray and the doctor. I liked that because I kind of think it’s nonsense to think you can start a relationship with an elaborate ruse (I mean, apart from standard dating elaborate ruses) and then recover it with a tearful confession.

So, while not exactly great, this is definitely more toward the 80% than the 60%, and worthwhile viewing.


The Dancing Skeleton Marionette is back! DSM is kind of a hero around Casa ‘strom, having first encountered him as the only bright spot in the otherwise dreary Gloria. We cheered when we saw him in the trailer for Jon Favreau’s new film Chef, even after we’d forgotten what movie the trailer was for.

“Wait, we gotta go see DSM in his new movie!”
“Yeah! Wait, which one was it?”
[proceed to check all the trailers with no luck]
“Wasn’t it Chef?”
“I think so…maybe we saw a different trailer?”

Anyway, the mystery was resolved when my mother and stepdad announced they had seen it and we yelled, “IS DANCING SKELETON GUY IN IT?” And they affirmed, somewhat confusedly, that he was, though not for very long.

They don’t get DSM: He’s about quality, not quantity.


OK, digressions aside, Chef is the latest effort from Jon Favreau (of Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Cowboys and Aliens, Elf, and so on), and it is better than all those, and Swingers (which he wrote but didn’t direct), and very different from those as well, except in one regard.

This movie is unabashedly pro-American. It’s not political in any way, but check this plot out: A chef gets his mojo back by driving a taco truck across country and cooking local foods from Miami (cubanos) through New Orleans (beignets) through Texas (genuine barbecue) and so on, to Los Angeles, while teaching his son the art and ethics of cooking.

So, not only an American adventure but also a father-son movie, which made it two in a row after Peabody and Sherman.

Maybe America, and dads, are making a comeback.

We start with tattooed and doughy Chef Carl Caspar (Favreau) getting a bad review after his douchey (but not necessarily wrong) boss (Dustin Hoffman) insists that he serve a food critic (Oliver Platt) the same menu he’s been serving for five years.

Chef, as he’s known, learns about Twitter from his son, Percy (Emjay Anthony) and his cooking crew (Bobby Cannavale and John Leguizamo), but not well enough to not start a very public flamewar with the food critic.

Mayhem and Internet Celebrity ensue, but rather than try to parlay his notoriety into a reality show, as his ex-wife, Inez (Sofia Vergara) and his ex-wife’s publicist pal (Amy Sedaris, in a short-but-sweet role) would like, he very reluctantly decides to use Inez’ contacts (basically, her former ex-, played by Robert Downey Jr in another short-but-sweet role) to go the taco truck route.

So, he bids farewell to his sweetheart/hostess (Scarlett Johansson) and heads off on his cross-country road trip. And this time, social media, with the help of his son, turns out to be he his friend.

As does money. Which is just awesome. Making bucks doing stuff people like used to be a common sign of “good things”. Teaching your kids to do the same, with pride and honesty, did, too.

The food looks amazing all the way through, and Favreau got his chops (even if they’re pretend chops) from the real chef whom he was imitating (tatts and all) who shows up at the end of the credits. But just the way he makes a grilled cheese sandwich is amazing.

And like all great chefs, he’s not afraid to tell you what you should like, if you have any taste. This makes for some great moments with the kid.

It’s really just a heart-warming tale. There’s some language, some underage drinking, and a little weed, so it’s naturally rated R, but I was sorry The Flower had bailed at the last minute, because it’s really a family film.

We should probably talk about the love interest angle.

Now, if I’m writing/producing/directing/starring in a film, I might make my love interests Scarlett and Sofia, too, but some have, predictably, raised the “aesthetic imbalance” specter by questioning whether the large, balding Favreau could land those two birds.

I didn’t find it improbable. First, he’s a great chef. Chicks dig that. (As do guys, duh.)

But more than that, while Chef’s at a low point through a lot of this movie, Favreau still plays the character with considerable swagger, especially around anything relating to food. His crisis of confidence is centered around a nagging feeling that the food critic might be right.

Almost as if he’s at his low point when the movie starts.

This is only an issue if you think this is a movie about who some guy works for rather than a movie about being a man, and doing the right thing not just for yourself but for your family.

The Boy and I loved it, and it’s easily in the top 5 non-documentary films of the year, possibly the best to date. My mom (who also loved it) sez “Don’t go hungry.”

Plus! Bonus Dancing Skeleton Guy! (Fun ‘strom trivia: Mr. Bonetangles, as he’s called here, was piloted by Will Schutze, who was last seen in a minor role, one of the “triplets”, in the 2010 flick The Final.)

Mr. Peabody and Sherman

I think we can agree that the film versions of Jay Ward’s satirical and pun-laden cartoons have been largely wanting. Underdog, Dudley Do-Right, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and, really, the shining gem of the set, George of the Jungle.

It’s not a promising track record. Part of it has to do, I’m sure, with the fact that these were originally based on 5-6 minute segments (generally oriented around a pun) ballooned up into a 90 minute (or longer!) movie. Looney Toons have never thrived in long formats, either.

Hopes were not high for Mr. Peabody and Sherman at first, but the reviews were generally positive so The Barb and I went to see it (with The Boy tagging along).

It’s a remarkably pleasant and even heart-warming film that captures a lot of the feel of the original segments while adding enough depth to make it sustainable.

I mean, I think The Lion King is just a overblown mediocrity, but director Rob Minkoff (The Lion King, Stuart Little) has pulled a treat by turning a vehicle that was basically an excuse for shaggy dog (no pun) stories into something with some feels (as the kids say) without losing sight of the absurdity of the premise.

Basically, the premise is that Peabody (voiced by Ty Burrell) is a hyper-intelligent dog who can’t get adopted for being too smart. (“Fetch the stick? Why? You’ll probably just throw it again. It’s an exercise in futility.”) And after mastering all human arts and sciences, he decides what’s missing in his life is a child of his own—so he sues to be allowed to adopt a boy (Max Charles).

It was played strictly for gags in “Rocky and Friends” (as everything was) with Peabody’s supercilious nature being contrasted with Sherman’s regular-boy kind-of dopey affability. Here, although Sherman has much the same personality, his “dopiness” is more comparative: He’s actually quite smart and knowledgeable relative to others his age (he’s 7 ½ here); he just can’t hold a candle to Peabody, whose peers are more like Einstein (Mel Brooks) and Leonardo (Stanley Tucci).

Rather nicely, though, the implication is that Sherman could be that smart and even might be the smart when he grows up.

So despite Peabody’s superficial diffidence, he’s almost a helicopter parent, who has invented the WABAC Machine to teach his boy about history.

So, where does the conflict come from when a hyper-competent parent attentively raises a bright child effectively? Public school and social services!


Also, a snotty little rich girl, Penny, and her milquetoast mom (Leslie Mann) and disinterested, snotty dad (Stephen Colbert).

This contrivance results in Peabody and Sherman and Penny (Ariel Winter) hurtling through time at random (although not random enough to be in the 99.9999% of history where nothing famous or interesting is happening, of course) and making all kinds of terrible, terrible puns.

Most of these jokes land pretty well, and are groan inducing, but there’s one about Achilles that was so bad you could hear a pin drop in the theater. As successful as the humor was, it was kind of interesting and noticeable that that particular one bombed so hard. (Later, I realized it was that referencing Achilles’ heel is so obvious, it’s just a setup for a joke, not an actual joke, so you were waiting for a punchline that never came.)

A lot of the same jokes in their Greek adventure were made in 1997’s Hercules, as you might imagine. And if I say “Ancient Egypt”,  you can probably guess quite a few of the puns there, too.

No matter: Delivery was largely good. It’s a good-looking film and the voice acting is well done, despite the profusion of stunt casting. (I spotted Stephen Colbert immediately, and we all spotted Patrick Warburton instantly, naturally.) It’s hard to manage much suspense in this type of film but they did a pretty good job even there.

The Barb liked it but wasn’t wildly enthusiastic about it. The Boy was actually a lot more positive about it. I also liked it a lot, despite my initial reservations.

Ty Burrell (Dawn of the Dead, “Modern Family”) was probably a key factor in this. At first, I was put off by his Peabody, since Bill Scott (who did the original Peabody, as well as Bullwinkle and many of the other Jay Ward characters) really defined the voice for me, but I see why Minkoff went the way he did: Scott’s Peabody is just on the edge of insufferable in his intellectual superiority. Burrell brings a warmth to the character that keeps the edge while tempering it just enough with genuine affection.

The kid, Max Charles—who’s one of your harder working 11 year olds, being a regular on “The Neighbors”, young Peter Parker in the newest Spider-Man movies, and a voice actor in a variety of things from “Family Guy” to “Adventure Time"—also doesn’t sound "quite right” at first, but works out better because he is a kid, rather than adult pretending to be a kid, as on the original show. (Walter Tetley, perennial man-child, played the original Sherman.)

So, overall, a good time had by all, despite the odds.