Chasing Mavericks is one of those hoary "based on a true story" movies that borders on hagiography. It's a fictionalized take on the early life of surfing wunderkind Jay Moriarity (Jonny Weston) and his attempt with the help of his mentor Frosty (Gerard Butler) to conquer the giant waves known as "mavericks." Although the beaches of North California and their crashing waves are gorgeous the story and the acting don't hold water. Chasing Mavericks is more interested in showing Moriarity to be a hero than an actual person and the movie suffers for it in the end.
Weston plays Moriarity as a 15-year-old and although Weston is still in his early twenties he looks disconcertingly older. The tan make-up doesn't help and neither does his hollow performance which is mostly just him looking wide-eyed and earnest. He's not given much to work with the challenges he has to overcome not given much weight at all. Moriarity's dad left when he was a kid and his mom (Elisabeth Shue) is often drunk and can't keep a job. This could have been an interesting development — Jay has to take care of her and loan her money and lives in what looks like a cubbyhole in the living room — but it's given short shrift. The movie Moriarity patiently does her laundry and wakes her up for work instead of what a normal 15-year-old would do which would probably include at the very least some choice four letter words or acting out. Although his mentoring at the hands of Butler's Frosty does explore some of Jay's pain and fears he's not particularly affected by anything. He just shakes it all off like a shaggy dog who's spent a day at the beach.
Other plot developments are equally toothless and without any real consequence. He has a bully who verbally taunts him but eventually respects him. His best friend is either doing or selling drugs given his shady goings-on and wads of dough in his pocket. Moriarity holds a torch for his childhood friend Kim (Leven Rambin) who is apparently embarrassed to be seen with him but even she isn't all that bad. It's like an after-school special that runs for 105 minutes (but feels much longer).
His crusty mentor Frosty is supposed to be a damaged man whose passion for surfing trumps everything even it seems supporting his family. At one point it's clear he's lied to his wife about going to do construction work but she just sort of shrugs it off. Brenda (Abigail Spencer) knows Frosty's love for the ocean and how it heals him from past tragedies so she mostly tolerates his behavior aside from a few sharp remarks. As his voiceover indicates (delivered by Butler with an accent that goes in and out) these "Children of the Tides" are simply drawn to the ocean even if it kills them. The passion trumps all as it surely did in the life of the real Jay Moriarity.
The footage of the men surfing is the centerpiece of the story which is probably why everything else feels like an afterthought. Even this is uneven though. Some of it is obviously Butler and Weston — Butler was injured on the set while filming a surfing scene — but the faraway shots don't really match up. It's not clear if this is archival footage or if it's just poorly edited and filmed. A few scenes in the movie look startlingly different all cloudy grays with Butler haggard and thinner and although it could be just a really ham-handed way to visually indicate grief this interlude looks like it's from an entirely different movie. A perk of Chasing Mavericks is its "alternative" music soundtrack that is immediately recognizable and surprisingly on point with songs from Mazzy Star Matthew Sweet and the Butthole Surfers popping up at appropriate times.
While surely the people involved in making the film are dedicated to preserving Jay's memory and inspiring others it's hard to take it seriously or be emotionally moved by such a blatantly unblemished portrayal. Real tributes show that grit and shortcomings of their subjects as much as why they're heroes.
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.
Cabbie Tarek Fahd eager to return to a career in journalism answers an intriguing ad seeking participants in a scientific experiment and pitches his ex-boss on a story about it. The program set up by a professor and his assistant involves 20 men who are confined for two weeks in a mock prison where they assume the roles of guards or prisoners. Those chosen will be paid handsomely closely monitored and (supposedly) immune to violence since it is strictly verboten. Just prior to entering the mock prison Tarek literally bumps into Dora (Maren Eggert) when their cars collide and a passionate one-night stand ensues. They part so that he can carry out his assignment. At the mock-prison Tarek who secretly wears a minicam hidden in his glasses is assigned to the "inmate" team not the choicer of the two categories since "inmates" are subjected to more rules and restrictions than their "guard" adversaries. Tarek's journalistic instincts soon take over as eager for a good story he provokes a guard who torments another inmate for not finishing his meal. Tarek in turn is punished and humiliated thus further and dangerously stoking the rivalry and inciting several guards including their pernicious leader Berkus (Justus von Dohnanyi ) and the dangerously aggressive Eckert (Timo Dierkes). Things get out of hand and the violence escalates to fatal proportions until Tarek fortified by the love of a woman saves the day.
As he showed in Run Lola Run Moritz Bleibtreu as Tarek has true star quality. He's a pleasure to watch plus he's thoroughly believable. Bleibtreu is no doubt helped by the strong supporting roles including von Dohnanyi as Berkus Dierkes as Eckert Edgar Selge as the effete Professor and Andrea Sawatzki as skeptical assistant Dr. Grimm who will pay a price.
Like so many books plays and films before it Das Experiment in German with English subtitles focuses on how good intentions go disastrously astray when people are thrown together and human nature rears its ugliest head. Blessed with his fine actors director Oliver Hirschbiegel works from a script by Mario Giordano Christoph Darnstadt and Don Bohlinger who adapted it from a book that recalls a real-life Stanford University experiment. Hirschbiegel ably delivers some nifty visuals meant to be the hero's point-of-view as seen through his embedded minicam. The director is a master of pacing which helps overcome the fact that his set and story don't always persuade and he turns his parable into an eminently watchable piece.
When gullible small-town square Paul (Biggs) gets a scholarship to a prestigious New York City university he's ripe for the plucking from the likes of his spoiled rich roommates (Zak Orth Tom Sadoski Jimmi Simpson). Meanwhile Paul's classmate Dora (Mena Suvari) tries to balance schoolwork off-campus jobs and a covert relationship with her world lit professor (Greg Kinnear). Will Paul and Dora two very different breeds of social outcast find a way to hook up? You don't need SAT scores in the 99th percentile to figure that one out.
Biggs' natural goofiness and Everyboy likability go a long way toward making "Loser" watchable but there's little the talented young actor can do with the lifeless increasingly predictable storyline. Suvari who functioned well enough as "American Beauty's" teen lust object ranges from weak to downright awful trying to navigate a lead role in this vastly inferior film. Kinnear lends a piggish charm to his people-using misogynist prof easily the film's most entertaining character.
Writer-director Amy Heckerling who so successfully mined the comic potential of '80s and '90s youth culture in the genre classics "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" and "Clueless " scores surprisingly few laughs in moving her act to an institution of higher learning. To its credit "Loser" shows more respect for the audience's intelligence than the average campus comedy fare taking the time to delve into a few real issues (teacher/student relationships inequalities between rich and middle-class students) along the way but the results simply don't generate the sparks Heckerling's earlier high school films did.