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.
Writer and director Richard Ayoade (The IT Crowd The Mighty Boosh) claims copious influences for his feature debut and the film can’t help but remind us of other indie-flavored coming-of-age flicks like Rushmore and Harold and Maude but Submarine is a decidedly and endearingly unique film. In a season where most of the films we flock to see merit descriptors like “super ” “action-packed” and various forms of the word “huge ” Ayoade’s little dark comedy creeps along below the water line ready to pop up and deliver a delightful surprise for summer movie goers.
Adapted from the novel by Joe Dunthorne Submarine tells the story of Oliver (Craig Roberts) a rather strange highly-intelligent 15 year-old boy who’s determined to lose his virginity by his next birthday rescue his parents’ ailing marriage and to see it all retold in an epic New Wave-y cinematic tribute. This idea that his life will be retold on film flows throughout the film contrasting Oliver’s grandiose retelling of his life against its stark realities. Ayoade allows us to see how unreliably Oliver tells his own story but as the plot thickens we tend to get almost as lost in Oliver’s fantasies as he is.
Oliver’s virginity-ending quest leads him to his girlfriend an eczema-riddled pyromaniac named Joanna (Yasmin Paige). He’s picked her out as being most likely to acquiesce to his proposal thanks to various calculated social factors and thus their adolescent romance begins. While Oliver is exploring his relationship with Joanna – greatly consisting of her burning the hair off his legs with matches while he reimagines their romance as captured idyllically on super 8 film – Mr. and Mrs. Tate’s (Noah Taylor and Sally Hawkins) relationship is slowly crumbling. Jill Tate’s old flame Graham a new age life coach with a useless theory about colors (Paddy Considine) moves in across the way sending Jill into a bout of reminiscence and a longing for her youth that stands to threaten her marriage. Oliver being the precocious young man he is is determined to barrel in headfirst to fix his parents’ ailing marriage which he’s been monitoring for months using the dimmer switch setting in their bedroom. (And it’s been on the sex-less setting for quite a while.)
Of course the most obvious reason this film works is Ayoade’s tight script and meticulous direction but the lynchpin is certainly the fantastic cast. Roberts and Paige though both very young fill the screen like two adults trapped in adolescent bodies. Tayor is fantastic as always but Hawkins ably treads the wafer-thin line between goofy hilarity and the complete and total sincerity of a housewife in crisis. Considine’s Graham gets a little cartoonish at times but those moments are reigned in with a little help from Hawkins.
Ayoade lends a sort of film-brat aesthetic to Submarine playing with French New Wave elements and giving nods to films like Love in the Afternoon. Of course the fact that Oliver is so inclined to remember his life in film scenes helps to unleash the techniques in Ayoade’s repertoire. In other settings this combination may have felt a little jumbled but the story almost begs for it here. Bolstering Ayoade’s plethora of techniques is the style he chose for the film. It’s a bit retro but not overly so. Ayoade situates Oliver’s gloomy seaside town in a timeless space that feels simultaneously old fashioned and completely fresh.
Finally tying all the elements together with a big bow is the soundtrack comprised of original songs by Alex Turner of The Arctic Monkeys. While he had some of the tunes composed before Ayoade brought him in to work on the film the tracks perfectly complement Submarine’s style providing the cinematic drama that Oliver would approve of without undermining the understated reality that he’s so determined not to see.
It certainly doesn’t feel like Submarine is Ayoade’s debut. He’s done his fair share of writing and directing getting behind the scenes on a few British television shows and directing music videos for The Arctic Monkeys and Yeah Yeah Yeahs but this film feels like it comes from someone who’s been in the feature film business for years. It’s seemingly without glaring rookie mistakes or hiccups. And while the retro indie dark comedy vein often lends itself to overdrawn quirk Submarine doesn’t.
Film-brat elements aside at its heart Submarine is a fiercely genuine slightly complicated and completely lovable film.
And so this is Sundance. Sort of.
There's no snow. No crowds. No film crews. The locals promise that a storm will hit Friday, and while it'd be clever to argue they're a day off -- that the real storm arrives Thursday in the form of Robert Redford's film festival cum schmoozefest (running through Jan. 30) -- they're not.
There's nobody stinkin' here.
There aren't even any films -- stinkin' or otherwise -- until 7:30 p.m. Thursday when the Thanksgiving-themed ensemble drama "What's Cooking?" (with outward-bound "ER" star Julianna Margulies) unspools at Sundance's opening-night gala premiere event in nearby Salt Lake City.
So how best to kill the hours (days?) waiting for something Sundance-ian to happen? (Or for the NC-17 branded "American Psycho" to premiere on Friday night -- whichever comes first?)
Here's what you do: You walk the streets (well, street), count the Southwestern restaurants and seek answers to this thing called our nation's leading film festival:
SO, HOW MANY REPORTERS DOES IT TAKE TO COVER ONE OF THESE THINGS ANYWAY? According to Sundance rep R.J. Millard, more than 700. At least that's how many media types have been credentialed. But don't think that means no room at the (figurative) inn. Scores of other brave, non-paperworked types show up here, too, in search of hot stars, hot directors, hot films -- and just maybe, free food.
WHAT ARE THE FRINGE BENEFITS OF BEING A SUNDANCE-ANOINTED FILMMAKER? Kind of the same as being a fan at the ballpark on give-away day. Based on sneak peeks at the goodie bags being prepped at the Shadow Ridge Lodge (local festival headquarters) on Wednesday afternoon, each movie type is to receive one free Sundance TV shirt and one free Sundance baseball cap. Don't wear it all in one place.
HAVE YOU SEEN ROBERT REDFORD YET? Nope. But his restaurant, Zoom, located on Main Street (the main drag of Park City) is hiding in plain sight. At Zoom, you can dine on pasta, grilled things and cookies. It's not cheap, but it's not expensive. According to utah.citysearch.com, the restaurant is named after zoom lenses, lest you think Mr. Redford has a thing for old 1970s PBS kids' shows.
HAS SUNDANCE GONE TOO COMMERCIAL? No. The Main Street gift shop -- stocked with the aforementioned Sundance TV shirts and baseball caps -- does not open before the festival does.
WHY ISN'T THERE ANY SNOW? Because it rained on Tuesday, and as a local businessman says, Park City is enduring a "mid-January heat wave."
HOW WARM IS IT? A couple was spotted walking down Main Street ... with matching ice-cream cones.
SO, WHAT'S TODAY'S NEW "BLAIR WITCH PROJECT"? "The Convent." It premieres Friday night (or actually first thing Saturday morning) as part of Sundance's Park City at Midnight program. For the uninitiated, that's the same slot that "The Blair Witch Project" got last year en route to becoming a Top 10 box-office grosser. "The Convent" star Joanna Canton, speaking by phone in Los Angeles today, said she understands the "Blair Witch" connections, even if her flick really isn't like that flick. ("It's more like 'Evil Dead' meets 'Fright Night.'") "The Convent" is about spooky things going on down at, yes, a convent. Adrienne Barbeau (of "Maude" and "Swamp Thing" fame) ups the flick's cool factor (and further distinguishes it from "Blair Witch"). But what if audiences insist on piling on "Blair Witch"-style buzz on "The Convent"? Says Canton: "I don't think anyone would mind that."
HOW MUCH DOES SUNDANCE CHAMPION THE UN-CHAMPIONED? According to today's edition of the local newspaper, the Park Record, only 45 Sundance 2000 filmmakers are Sundance virgins. That represents far fewer than half of the more than 170 features, docs and shorts that will be screened here.
WHAT ELSE CAN YOU LEARN BY READING THE LOCAL PAPER? That the Office of Capital Management and Budget will discuss the local transit center at Thursday's City Council meeting. (Tickets still available.)
HEY, WHAT'S UP WITH CHARLIE SHEEN? His career, apparently. A Hollywood manager (not Sheen's) swore to us today that "Rated X," the upcoming HBO biopic about the brothers who made the infamous porno flick "Behind the Green Door," will be the oft-troubled Sheen's comeback vehicle. No word on what'll do for his co-star and oft-overlooked brother, Emilio Estevez. "Rated X" premieres here on Tuesday.
WHAT CAN'T YOU DO IN PARK CITY? Hand out fliers, ask for doubles at nightclubs, walk more than 30 steps without dialing up someone on your cell phone.