A kids’ movie without the cheeky jokes for adults is like a big juicy BLT without the B… or the T. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted may have a title that sounds like it was made up in a cartoon sequel laboratory but when it comes to serving up laughs just think of the film as a BLT with enough extra bacon to satisfy even the wildest of animals — or even a parent with a gaggle of tots in tow. Yes even with that whole "Afro Circus" nonsense.
It’s not often that we find exhaustively franchised films like the Madagascar set that still work after almost seven years. Despite being spun off into TV shows and Christmas specials in addition to its big screen adventures the series has not only maintained its momentum it has maintained the part we were pleasantly surprised by the first time around: great jokes.
In this third installment of the series – the trilogy-maker if you will – directing duo Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath add Conrad Vernon (director Monsters Vs. Aliens) to the helm as our trusty gang swings back into action. Alex the lion (Ben Stiller) Marty the zebra (Chris Rock) Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) are stuck in Africa after the hullaballoo of Madagascar 2 and they’ll do anything to get back to their beloved New York. Just a hop skip and a jump away in Monte Carlo the penguins are doing their usual greedy schtick but the zoo animals catch up with them just in time to catch the eye of the sinister animal control stickler Captain Dubois (Frances McDormand). And just like that the practically super human captain is chasing them through Monte Carlo and the rest of Europe in hopes of planting Alex’s perfectly coifed lion head on her wall of prized animals.
Luckily for pint-sized viewers Dubois’ terrifying presence is balanced out by her sheer inhuman strength uncanny guiles and Stretch Armstrong flexibility (ah the wonder of cartoons) as well as Alex’s escape plan: the New Yorkers run away with the European circus. While Dubois’ terrifying Doberman-like presence looms over the entire film a sense of levity (which is a word the kiddies might learn from Stiller’s eloquent lion) comes from the plan for salvation in which the circus animals and the zoo animals band together to revamp the circus and catch the eye of a big-time American agent. Sure the pacing throughout the first act is practically nonexistent running like a stampede through the jungle but by the time we're palling around under the big top the film finds its footing.
The visual splendor of the film (and man is there a champion size serving of it) the magnificent danger and suspense is enhanced to great effect by the addition of 3D technology – and not once is there a gratuitous beverage or desperate Crocodile Dundee knife waved in our faces to prove its worth. The caveat is that the soundtrack employs a certain infectious Katy Perry ditty at the height of the 3D spectacular so parents get ready to hear that on repeat until the leaves turn yellow.
But visual delights and adventurous zoo animals aside Madagascar 3’s real strength is in its script. With the addition of Noah Baumbach (Greenberg The Squid and the Whale) to the screenwriting team the script is infused with a heightened level of almost sarcastic gravitas – a welcome addition to the characteristically adult-friendly reference-heavy humor of the other Madagascar films. To bring the script to life Paramount enlisted three more than able actors: Vitaly the Siberian tiger (Bryan Cranston) Gia the Leopard (Jessica Chastain) and Stefano the Italian Sealion (Martin Short). With all three actors draped in European accents it might take viewers a minute to realize that the cantankerous tiger is one and the same as the man who plays an Albuquerque drug lord on Breaking Bad but that makes it that much sweeter to hear him utter slant-curse words like “Bolshevik” with his usual gusto.
Between the laughs the terror of McDormand’s Captain Dubois and the breathtaking virtual European tour the Zoosters’ accidental vacation is one worth taking. Madagascar 3 is by no means an insta-classic but it’s a perfectly suited for your Summer-at-the-movies oasis.
Theatrics slapstick and cheer are cinematic qualities you rarely find outside the realm of animation. Disney perfected it with their pantheon of cartoon classics mixing music humor spectacle and light-hearted drama that swept up children while still capturing the imaginations and hearts of their parents. But these days even reinterpretations of fairy tales get the gritty make-over leaving little room for silliness and unfiltered glee. Emerging through that dark cloud is Mirror Mirror a film that achieves every bit of imagination crafted by its two-dimensional predecessors and then some. Under the eye of master visualist Tarsem Singh (The Fall Immortals) Mirror Mirror's heightened realism imbues it with the power to pull off anything — and the movie never skimps on the anything.
Like its animated counterparts Mirror Mirror stays faithful to its source material but twists it just enough to feel unique. When Snow White (Lily Collins) was a little girl her father the King ventured into a nearby dark forest to do battle with an evil creature and was never seen or heard from again. The kingdom was inherited by The Queen (Julia Roberts) Snow's evil stepmother and the fair-skinned beauty lived locked up in the castle until her 18th birthday. Grown up and tired of her wicked parental substitute White sneaks out of the castle to the village for the first time. There she witnesses the economic horrors The Queen has imposed upon the people of her land all to fuel her expensive beautification. Along the way Snow also meets Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) who is suffering from his own money troubles — mainly being robbed by a band of stilt-wearing dwarves. When the Queen catches wind of the secret excursion she casts Snow out of the castle to be murdered by her assistant Brighton (Nathan Lane).
Fairy tales take flack for rejecting the idea of women being capable but even with its flighty presentation and dedication to the old school Disney method Mirror Mirror empowers its Snow White in a genuine way thanks to Collins' snappy charming performance. After being set free by Brighton Snow crosses paths with the thieving dwarves and quickly takes a role on their pilfering team (which she helps turn in to a Robin Hooding business). Tarsem wisely mines a spectrum of personalities out of the seven dwarves instead of simply playing them for one note comedy. Sure there's plenty of slapstick and pun humor (purposefully and wonderfully corny) but each member of the septet stands out as a warm compassionate companion to Snow even in the fantasy world.
Mirror Mirror is richly designed and executed in true Tarsem-fashion with breathtaking costumes (everything from ball gowns to the dwarf expando-stilts to ridiculous pirate ship hats with working canons) whimsical sets and a pitch-perfect score by Disney-mainstay Alan Menken. The world is a storybook and even its monsters look like illustrations rather than photo-real creations. But what makes it all click is the actors. Collins holds her own against the legendary Julia Roberts who relishes in the fun she's having playing someone despicable. She delivers every word with playful bite and her rapport with Lane is off-the-wall fun. Armie Hammer riffs on his own Prince Charming physique as Alcott. The only real misgiving of the film is the undercooked relationship between him and Snow. We know they'll get together but the journey's half the fun and Mirror Mirror serves that portion undercooked.
Children will swoon for Mirror Mirror but there's plenty here for adults — dialogue peppered with sharp wisecracks and a visual style ripped from an elegant tapestry. The movie wears its heart on its sleeve and rarely do we get a picture where both the heart and the sleeve feel truly magical.
In a post-Harry Potter Avatar and Lord of the Rings world the descriptors "sci-fi" and "fantasy" conjure up particular imagery and ideas. The Hunger Games abolishes those expectations rooting its alternate universe in a familiar reality filled with human characters tangible environments and terrifying consequences. Computer graphics are a rarity in writer/director Gary Ross' slow-burn thriller wisely setting aside effects and big action to focus on star Jennifer Lawrence's character's emotional struggle as she embarks on the unthinkable: a 24-person death match on display for the entire nation's viewing pleasure. The final product is a gut-wrenching mature young adult fiction adaptation diffused by occasional meandering but with enough unexpected choices to keep audiences on their toes.
Panem a reconfigured post-apocalyptic America is sectioned off into 12 unique districts and ruled under an iron thumb by the oppressive leaders of The Capitol. To keep the districts producing their specific resources and prevent them from rebelling The Capitol created The Hunger Games an annual competition pitting two 18-or-under "tributes" from each district in a battle to the death. During the ritual tribute "Reaping " teenage Katniss (Lawrence) watches as her 12-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for battle—and quickly jumps to her aid becoming the first District 12 citizen to volunteer for the games. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a meek baker's son and the second tribute Effie the resident designer and Haymitch a former Hunger Games winner-turned-alcoholic-turned-mentor Katniss rides off to The Capitol to train and compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
The greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is Ross' rich realization of the book's many worlds: District 12 is painted as a reminiscent Southern mining town haunting and vibrant; The Capitol is a utopian metropolis obsessed with design and flair; and The Hunger Games battleground is a sprawling forest peppered with Truman Show-esque additions that remind you it's all being controlled by overseers. The small-scale production value adds to the character-first approach and even when the story segues to larger arenas like a tickertape parade in The Capitol's grand Avenue of Tributes hall it's all about Katniss.
For fans the script hits every beat a nearly note-for-note interpretation of author Suzanne Collins' original novel—but those unfamiliar shouldn't worry about missing anything. Ross knows his way around a sharp screenplay (he's the writer of Big Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) and he's comfortable dropping us right into the action. His characters are equally as colorful as Panem Harrelson sticking out as the former tribute enlivened by the chance to coach winners. He's funny he's discreet he's shaded—a quality all the cast members share. As a director Ross employs a distinct often-grating perspective. His shaky cam style emphasizes the reality of the story but in fight scenarios—and even simple establishing shots of District 12's goings-on—the details are lost in motion blur.
But the dread of the scenario is enough to make Hunger Games an engrossing blockbuster. The lead-up to the actual competition is an uncomfortable and biting satire of reality television sports and everything that commands an audience in modern society. Katniss' brooding friend Gale tells her before she departs "What if nobody watched?" speculating that carnage might end if people could turn away. Unfortunately they can't—forcing Katniss and Peeta to become "stars" of the Hunger Games. The duo are pushed to gussy themselves up put on a show and play up their romance for better ratings. Lawrence channels her reserved Academy Award-nominated Winter's Bone character to inhabit Katniss' frustration with the system. She's great at hunting but she doesn't want to kill. She's compassionate and considerate but has no interest in bowing down to the system. She's a leader but she knows full well she's playing The Capitol's game. Even with 23 other contestants vying for the top spot—like American Idol with machetes complete with Ryan Seacrest stand-in Caesar Flickerman (the dazzling Stanley Tucci)—Katniss' greatest hurdle is internal. A brave move for a movie aimed at a young audience.
By the time the actual Games roll around (the movie clocks in at two and a half hours) there's a need to amp up the pace that never comes and The Hunger Games loses footing. Katniss' goal is to avoid the action hiding in trees and caves waiting patiently for the other tributes to off themselves—but the tactic isn't all that thrilling for those watching. Luckily Lawrence Hutcherson and the ensemble of young actors still deliver when they cross paths and particular beats pack all the punch an all-out deathwatch should. PG-13 be damned the film doesn't skimp on the bloodshed even when it comes to killing off children. The Hunger Games bites off a lot for the first film of a franchise and does so bravely and boldly. It may not make it to the end alive but it doesn't go down without a fight.
Now that Thanksgiving is done, the holiday shopping rush has officially commenced. In order to help you shop for those on your list with more eclectic tastes, we’ve compiled some of the best offbeat DVD and Blu-ray releases of late. We’ve even arranged them so that you can present your loved ones with one gift for each of the 12 Days of Christmas. Here’s what they should expect…
“12 Angry Men”
Title: 12 Angry Men
Company: Criterion Collection
12 Angry Men is the preeminent courtroom drama. Legendary director Sidney Lumet crafts an unbearably tense, remarkably humanist depiction of strangers coming together to decide another man’s fate. As you would expect, Criterion’s high-def transfer is absolutely gorgeous.
Special Features Include: Frank Schaffner’s 1955 television version, production history, archival interviews with Sidney Lumet, new interview with screenwriter Walter Bernstein, “Tragedy in a Temporary Town”—teleplay directed by Lumet, original theatrical trailer
“A Show Boasting An 11 Season Run”
Title: Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXII
Company: Shout! Factory (Release Date: 12/6)
If you’re already a fan of MST3K, there is absolutely no reason why you wouldn’t want to purchase this set. If you are on the fence about the show, these are some of the funniest episodes as yet released. The titles themselves are hysterically bad: Time of the Apes, Mighty Jack, The Violent Years, and The Brute Man. Shout! Factory’s animated menus and plethora of special features continue to pay sincere tribute to fans.
Special Features Include: Interviews with Delores Fuller and Kathy Wood, “The Making of MST3K” (1997 Sci-Fi Channel Special), 4 exclusive mini-posters by artist Steve Vance
“10 10 Different Kinds of Adventure”
Title: The Adventures of Tintin: Season One
Company: Shout! Factory
Before you rush off to the theaters this holiday season to see Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin, check out the animated series on which it was based. Join Tintin and his trusty canine pal Snowy as they solve mysteries and go on fantastic adventures. Here's our review.
“9 Shades of Red and Blue”
Title: Red vs. Blue Season 9
Company: New Video Group
Red vs. Blue comprises some of the best parody available online and now it can once again be viewed in the comfort of your living room. Based on the popular Halo videogame series, Red vs. Blue demonstrates action chops just as adept as its comedic timing.
Special Features Include: Director’s commentary, special videos and PSAs, outtakes, deleted scenes, cast interviews, and behind-the-scenes videos
“8 Hookers with Whom to Play Doctor”
Company: Synapse Films
If you are looking for a twisted take on the classic story of Frankenstein, you could not get any more twisted than Frank Henenlotter’s Frankenhooker. When a young scientist’s fiancé is cut to pieces by an errant lawnmower, he must harvest spare parts from a select group of ladies of the evening to put her back together. The scene in which he sizes up eight such ladies for his unholy creation is outlandish, crass, and hilarious.
Special Features Include: Audio commentary, three featurettes, photo scrapbook, and theatrical trailer
“7 Teams Racing for Glory”
Title: The Cannonball Run
Company: HBO Studios
The Cannonball Run is a schlock classic available for the first time on Blu-ray. Directed by ’s Hal Needham, the film weaves the whacky tale of seven teams competing in a cross-country race. The cast list alone should entice you to check out this film; Burt Reynolds, Dom DeLuise, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Roger Moore, Farrah Fawcett, Adrienne Barbeau, Jackie Chan, and Peter Fonda just to name a few.
“6 Featured Women-In-Cages Films”
Title: Machete Maidens Unleashed
Company: Dark Sky Films
It's one of the most entertaining documentaries on cult genre film you will ever see. Directed by Mark Hartley, this doco catalogues the very strange history of genre films from The Philippines, both native and made by Roger Corman’s visiting production company. Corman was known for his nefarious women-in-cages films and several of them were filmed in The Philippines.
Special Features Include: Commentary and trailers
“5 Heroic Stories”
Title: Marvel Knights Collection
Company: Shout! Factory
Fans of Marvel’s extensive catalogue of heroes will love this collection of motion comics from some of today’s leading genre authorities. The collection features motion comic stories of The X-Men, Iron Man, Black Panther, Spider-Woman, and Thor. Particularly recommended are Iron Man: Extremis by Warren Ellis and Adi Granov and Astonishing X-Men: Gifted by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday.
“4 Dysfunctional Siblings”
Title: Our Idiot Brother
Company: The Weinstein Company (Release Date 11/29)
Format: Blu-ray & DVD
Though predictable in many ways, Our Idiot Brother is more personable than a good many of Paul Rudd’s typical comedic fare. The film also features dynamite supporting performances from Zooey Deschanel, Emily Mortimer, and Elizabeth Banks.
Special Features Include: Director’s commentary, deleted and extended scenes, making of featurette
“3 Unlikely Heroes”
Title: Three Amigos
Company: HBO Studios
Finally available on Blu-ray, Three Amigos contains one of cinema’s most impressive comedy team-ups. Chevy Chase, Steve Martin, and Martin Short play three phony Hollywood heroes in this unquestionable classic. If you don’t already own this film, or even if you only own it on DVD, now is the time to get your little buttercups down to your local electronics store and pick up this Blu-ray today. Also check out our interview with director John Landis.
Special Features Include: Cast interview with Martin, Chase, and Short, deleted scenes
“An Evil Part 2”
Title: Evil Dead 2 (25th Anniversary Edition)
Company: Lions Gate
In 1987, Sam Raimi managed to accomplish the impossible; he created a horror sequel that many fans actually preferred to the original. Evil Dead 2 has never looked better and this release is an absolute must-have for any horrorphile.
Special Features Include: Commentary with writer-director Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, co-writer Scott Spiegel, and effects artist Greg Nicotero, “The Gore the Merrier” featurette, Evil Dead: Hailed to The King videogame preview, theatrical trailer, still galleries, and talent bios
“1 Terrifying Train Ride”
Title: Horror Express
Company: Severin Films
Horror icons Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing join forces with the great Telly Savalas in this fantastic 70s fright fest. A creature being transported by train breaks free and begins taking victims left and right. Horror Express is exquisitely shot (something emphasized by Severin’s phenomenal Blu-ray transfer), eerily claustrophobic, and incredibly exciting.
Special Features Include: Interviews with director Eugenio Martin, producer Bernard Gordon, star Peter Cushing, and composer John Cacavas, theatrical trailer
After garnering widespread praise (and an Oscar nomination for screenwriting) for his 2000 directorial debut You Can Count on Me Kenneth Lonergan was in-demand. In September 2005 the writer/director began production on a follow-up feature: Margaret which touted Anna Paquin Matt Damon Mark Ruffalo Matthew Broderick Allison Janney as well as legendary filmmakers Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella (The English Patient) as producers. The movie wrapped production in a few months time. The buzz was already growing.
Now six years later the movie is finally hitting theaters. So…what took so long?
The journey to this point hasn't been an easy one and it shows. If a film's shot footage is a block of granite and the editing process is the careful carving that turns it into a statuesque work of art Margaret feels like it was attacked by a blind man with a jackhammer. The film is a cinematic disaster a mishmash of shallow characters overwrought politics and sporadic tones. The story follows Lisa Coen (Paquin) a New York teenager who finds herself drowning in chaos after distracting a bus driver (Ruffalo) causing him to hit and kill a pedestrian (Janney). Initially Lisa tells the police it was all an accident but as time passes regret takes hold and the girl embarks on a mission to take down the man she now regards as a culprit. That's just the tip of the iceberg–along the way Lisa deals with everyday teen stuff: falling for her geometry teacher (Damon) combating her anxiety-ridden actress mother losing her virginity dabbling in drugs debating 9/11 and the Iraq War cultivating a relationship with her father in LA and more. There are about eight seasons of television stuffed into Margaret but even a two and a half hour run time can't make it all click.
For more on Margaret check out Indie Seen: Margaret the Long Lost Anna Paquin/Matt Damon Movie