For every toxic, unstable, will-they-won't-they sitcom relationship, there is a simpler, sweeter, invariably less interesting counterpart. Ross/Rachel had the comfortably tepid Monica/Chandler. The Office balanced the chaos of Dwight/Angela, Michael/Holly, and Andy/Erin with the post-Season 4 doldrums of Jim/Pam. And through all the difficulty of fixing together Leslie and Ben, Ann and Chris, and Tom and anyone, we've had the unlikely rock-solid staple of April and Andy. On How I Met Your Mother, this pinnacle of psycho-romantic health is the Marshall/Lily combination — having endured only one trifle early on in the series run prior to this new arc's revelation that Marshall accepted a judgeship in New York that directly conflicted with Lily's plans to movie to Italy. And on the other side of the fence on the long-running CBS sitcom, we've seen Barney and Robin flounder through various mental problems to hold fast to the love that blooms (and often rots) between them. Those two are loons, not capable of a mature, healthy, giving relationship. But, like many people who fit that bill, they're getting married now.
Many viewers have surmised that the Stinson-Scherbatsky union might never come to be, and that How I Met Your Mother will conclude with the revelation that Barney and Robin realize that they aren't quite right for one another (or maybe for marriage at all) and opt to part ways amicably. If this were real life, we might root for this twist of fate. As much as we might enjoy their harebrained antics, we see evidence far too often that Barney and Robin are not part of what one might call a "good" relationship.
Sometimes, the pair champions this, using it to bolster their definition of passionate, non-traditional love. This week's episode, "The Rehearsal Dinner," is a primarily fun and sweet example of this kind of antic — Barney tricks Robin into believing one of his many long, elaborate, diagnostically insane lies in order to lead her to a surprise rehearsal dinner themed after her native home of Canada. It doesn't quite make up for the fact that she, despite her professed wishes, does not actually get to be married in Canada... but Robin Thicke shows up, so everybody wins.
But although "The Rehearsal Dinner" is a particularly enjoyable episode, there is one element of it that rubs me the wrong way: the Robin of it all. Throughout, she strains to contain Barney as he lies, manipulates, ignores, and mocks her, all in the name of giving her a great surprise. The relationship doesn't seem to be about two emotionally frayed people finding a common ground, but about one reasonably stable woman dealing relentlessly with her emotionally frayed fiancé.
We can argue, in favor of the pair, that Robin too is a nut. And she is, historically. But her time with Barney seems to have made her out to be the sane one. Lord knows that "Rehearsal Dinner" exhibits more angst on Robin's part than voluntary lunacy. She commits to the ideas of rehearsal dinners and regimens, worrying about things we've never seen the abjectly offbeat Robin worry about... all in contrast to her maniacal beau. Being around Barney's crazy has actually made Robin seem less crazy (and more boring, we might add), and we're not too fond of this shift.
What makes the Michael/Hollys and April/Andys of the TV world ultimately work? Their compatibility. Barney and Robin advertise this, and occasionally show us a good time and some heartwarming (and funny) moments. But are they compatible? "The Rehearsal Dinner" makes us skeptical.
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Lions Gate via Everett Collection
When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
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After Dark Films
It seems a bit odd to take on a movie review of Courtney Solomon's Getaway, as only in the loosest terms is Getaway actually a movie. We begin without questions — other than a vague and frustrating "What the hell is going on?" — and end without answers, watching Ethan Hawke drive his car into things (and people) for the hour and a half in between. We learn very little along the way, probed to engage in the mystery of the journey. But we don't, because there's no reason to.
There's not a single reason to wonder about any of the things that happen to Hawke's former racecar driver/reformed criminal — forced to carry out a series of felonious commands by a mysterious stranger who is holding his wife hostage — because there doesn't seem to be a single ounce of thought poured into him beyond what he see. We learn, via exposition delivered by him to gun-toting computer whiz Selena Gomez, that he "did some bad things" before meeting the love of his life and deciding to put that all behind him. Then, we stop learning. We stop thinking. We start crashing into police cars and Christmas trees and power plants.
Why is Selena Gomez along for the ride? Well, the beginnings of her involvement are defensible: Hawke is carrying out his slew of vehicular crimes in a stolen car. It's her car. And she's on a rampage to get it back. But unaware of what she's getting herself into, Gomez confronts an idling Hawke with a gun, is yanked into the automobile, and forced to sit shotgun while the rest of the driver's "assignments" are carried out. But her willingness to stick by Hawke after hearing his story is ludicrous. Their immediate bickering falls closer to catty sexual tension than it does to genuine derision and fear (you know, the sort of feelings you'd have for someone who held you up or forced you into accessorizing a buffet of life-threatening crimes).
After Dark Films
The "gradual" reversal of their relationship is treated like something we should root for. But with so little meat packed into either character, the interwoven scenes of Hawke and Gomez warming up to each other and becoming a team in the quest to save the former's wife serve more than anything else as a breather from all the grotesque, impatient, deliberately unappealing scenes of city wreckage.
And as far as consolidating the mystery, the film isn't interested in that either, as evidenced by its final moments. Instead of pressing focus on the answers to whatever questions we may have, the movie's ultimate reveal is so weak, unsubstantial, and entirely disconnected to the story entirely, that it seems almost offensive to whatever semblance of a film might exist here to go out on this note. Offensive to the idea of film and story in general, as a matter of fact. But Getaway isn't concerned with these notions. Not with story, character, logic, or humanity. It just wants to show us a bunch of car crashes and explosions. So you'd think it might have at least made those look a little better.
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The Kids' Choice Awards: where humans too young to drive pick the winners, nominees range from Lebron James to Jennifer Lawrence to SpongeBob SquarePants, and everyone goes home dripping in lime green slime. What a glorious awards show.
With Josh Duhamel at the helm, this year is a battle of the heavy-hitters. Justin Bieber is pitted against Bruno Mars, The Avengers against The Hunger Games, and Anne Hathaway against Kristen Stewart. In the only awards show where it's conceivable for Taylor Swift to beat Adele in a head-to-head race and for The Rock to triumph over Robert Downey Jr. (which he did, in the category of Favorite Male Buttkicker), this is anyone's game.
Watch the Kids' Choice Awards on Nickelodeon on Saturday, March 23 at 8 PM ET and check back here to see all the winners — we'll be updating the list during the broadcast.
Favorite TV ShowGood Luck CharlieiCarlyVictorious — WINNERWizards of Waverly Place
Favorite Reality ShowAmerica's Got TalentAmerican IdolThe VoiceWipeout — WINNER
Favorite CartoonFairly OddParentsPhineas and FerbSpongeBob SquarePants — WINNERTom and Jerry
Favorite TV ActorJake T. AustinLucas CruikshankRoss Lynch — WINNERCarlos Pena
Favorite TV ActressMiranda CosgroveSelena Gomez — WINNERVictoria JusticeBridgit Mendler
Favorite Male AthleteLebron James — WINNER Michael PhelpsTim TebowShaun White
Favorite Female AthleteGabby DouglasDanica Patrick — WINNERSerena WilliamsVenus Williams
Favorite BookDiary of a Wimp Kid seriesHarry Potter seriesThe Hunger Games series — WINNERMagic Tree House series
Favorite VideogameJust Dance 4 — WINNERMarioKart 7Skylanders GiantsWii Sports
Favorite AppAngry BirdsFruit NinjaMinecraftTemple Run — WINNER
Favorite MovieThe Amazing Spider-ManThe AvengersDiary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog DaysThe Hunger Games — WINNER
Favorite Movie ActorJohnny Depp — WINNERAndrew GarfieldZachary GordonWill Smith
Favorite Movie ActressVanessa HudgensScarlett JohanssonJennifer LawrenceKristen Stewart — WINNER
Favorite Animated MovieBraveIce Age: Continental DriftMadagascar 3: Europe's Most WantedWreck-It Ralph — WINNER
Favorite Voice From an Animated Movie Chris Rock (Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted)Adam Sandler (Hotel Transylvania) — WINNERBen Stiller (Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted)Taylor Swift (The Lorax)
Favorite Female ButtkickerAnne HathawayScarlett JohanssonJennifer LawrenceKristen Stewart — WINNER
Favorite Male ButtkickerRobert Downey Jr.Andrew GarfieldChris HemsworthDwayne Johnson — WINNER
Favorite VillainReed Alexander (iCarly)Simon Cowell (The X Factor) — WINNERTom Hiddleston (The Avengers)Julia Roberts (Mirror Mirror)
Favorite Music GroupBig Time RushBon JoviMaroon 5One Direction — WINNER
Favorite Male SingerJustin Bieber — WINNERBruno MarsBlake SheltonUsher
Favorite Female SingersAdeleKaty Perry — WINNERPinkTaylor Swift
Favorite Song"Call Me Maybe""Gangnan Style""We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together""What Makes You Beautiful" — WINNER
Celebrity Slime Count: 8 (Pitbull, Dwight Howard, Sandra Bullock, Neil Patrick Harris, Josh Hutcherson, Amanda Seyfried, Josh Duhamel, Nick Cannon)
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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.
At some point in the early years of the 21st century a bunch of Hollywood executives must have gotten together and decided that animated films should be made for all audiences. The goal was perhaps to make movies that are simultaneously accessible to the older and younger sets with colorful imagery that one expects from children’s films and two levels of humor: one that’s quite literal and harmless and another that’s somewhat subversive. The criteria has resulted in cross-generational hits like Wall-E and Madagascar and though it’s nice to be able to take my nephew to the movies and be as entertained by cartoon characters as he is I can’t help but wonder what happened to unabashedly innocent animated classics like A Goofy Movie and The Land Before Time?
Disney’s Winnie The Pooh is the answer to the Shrek’s and Hoodwinked!’s of the world: a short sweet simple and lighthearted tale of friendship that doesn’t need pop-culture references or snarky dialogue to put a smile on your face. Directors Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall found some fresh ways to deliver adorable animation while keeping the carefree spirit of A.A. Milne’s source material in tact. Their story isn’t the most original; the first part of the film finds Pooh Piglet Tigger and Owl searching for Eeyore’s tail (a common plot point in the books and past Pooh films) and hits all the predictable notes but the second half mixes things up a bit as the crew searches for a missing Christopher Robin whom they believe has been kidnapped by a forest creature known as the “Backson” (it’s really just the result of the illiterate Owl or is it?).
The beauty of hand-drawn animation all but forgotten until recently is what makes Winnie the Pooh so incredibly magnetic. There’s an inexplicable crispness to the colors and characters that CG just can’t duplicate. It’s a more personal practice for the filmmakers and should provide a refreshing experience for audiences who have become jaded with the pristine presentation of computerized imagery. The film is bookended by brief live-action shots from inside Robin’s room an interesting dynamic that plays up the simplicity of youth ties it to these beloved characters and brings you right back to memories of your own childhood.
With a just-over-an-hour run time Winnie the Pooh is short enough to hold the attention of children but won’t bore the parents who will love the film mainly for nostalgic musings. Still it’s the young’uns who will most enjoy this breezy bright and enchanting film that proves old-school characters can appeal to new moviegoers.
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.