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.
S2E9: Despite the title of this week’s Boardwalk Empire, “Battle of the Century,” it is actually a pretty calm, introverted episode of the series. Sure, there is a murder. And an attempted murder. Not to mention disease, adultery, betrayal, the incision of a strike, and some scandalous office romance. But still. Somehow, in spite of all this, the tides are calm in Atlantic City this week.
Not to say the episode is dull—as a matter of fact, my personal tastes are more in line with some of these subtler episodes. It is particularly fun to hold Season 2 Jimmy up against early Season 1 Nucky. His flaws aside, Nucky is foremost a cerebral, logical criminal, whereas Jimmy is a young man destitute of emotional stability. We will see just how much damage he imparts unto himself in episodes to come, but I don’t imagine a personal or professional success ever skyrocketing much further than a couple of promiscuous women approaching him during the Dempsey fight with physical intentions.
“I think there’s blood on the ground sufficient for your lifetime and mine.” – McGarrigle
Nucky heads to Ireland, under the guise of burying his father, to deliver a sampling of guns to John McGarrigle, a leading figure in The Cause (Ireland’s rebellion against Britain), in return for the supply of Irish whiskey. Some particularly inconvenient timing engulfs Nucky’s business proposition, as England has suggested a truce, to which McGarrigle is willing to listen. Though a steadfast and humorless supporter of Irish independence, McGarrigle is also willing no longer to spare the lives of his men—one of his associates tells Nucky that McGarrigle lost a son in the battle recently, thus tiring him of the bloodshed.
McGarrigle gets to reunite with Owen (who has come with Nucky to Ireland) in this episode, telling the young man that he has changed, and lost the spirit of his country since moving to America. When you consider the ending of the episode, this scene is incessantly intriguing: after Nucky accepts that his deal will not go through, McGarrigle has his assistant see Nucky to the port to go back to America. At this time, McGarrigle is shot by his own men who wish to usurp his position so that they may continue on with The Cause and reject England’s truce (all of this, Owen knew about beforehand). What Owen must have been thinking, being lectured about losing his cause by a former mentor who was about to be executed for himself losing his cause.
Nucky takes issue with Owen’s involvement with McGarrigle’s murder, clearly because he himself was the victim of his own former protégée’s betrayal. Nucky keeps lining himself up with pretty disloyal right hand men (his brother not excluded)—although considering the fact that Owen slept with Maggie, one shouldn’t be too surprised to learn that he’s not exactly a reliable second-in-command.
Ep. 21: Clip - Remus meets with Jimmy and Gangsters
“Manny Horvitz is a dead man. Before we go any further, you need to tell me if that’s a problem.” – Waxy Gordon
“Maybe. But it’s not mine.” – Jimmy
Even in brief, more or less uneventful scenes like the one early on in this week’s episode, I love it when Jimmy gets together with the other restless protégées (Al Capone, Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky), as well as Richard and Mickey Doyle. The group meets with George Remus this week to elucidate a business deal. Meanwhile, however, Jimmy has the nagging problem of Manny Horvitz, to whom he owes a great deal of money that he just doesn’t feel like paying.
Jimmy meets with Waxy Gordon to discuss the removal of their mutual enemy, Horvitz. Here’s the thing that nobody seems to get: Manny Horvitz is unstoppable. I say this with an esteemed Zionistic pride—he is the biggest rock star on this show. A hired gun makes an attempt to kill Horvitz, but the butcher wrestles the man from his own weapon and then kills him with one of his butcher’s knife. Manny will persist as a thorn in Jimmy’s side—this might be the straw that turns him into Jimmy’s primary source for concern, especially since he found an Atlantic City matchbook on the would-be murderer.
If you recall, one or two episodes ago, Jimmy promised Richard that he’d find himself a nice girl with whom he’ll someday settle down. We learn this week that Richard took this as mockery, understanding himself to be fit for no woman’s affections. Both men attend an auditorium radio broadcast of the titular battle of the century, the boxing match between Dempsey and Carpentier. While there, Jimmy earns the eyes of a great deal of the audience—his fame is escalating rapidly around A.C.—especially two woman who pursue him flirtatiously. Jimmy demands foremost that one of them offer Richard company, trying to solidify the friendship that he insists to Richard the two of them share.
This is a tricky one to crack: what exactly is being built up between Richard and Jimmy? For a few weeks now, there have been traces of a fragmenting friendship. But why? Richard isn’t the type to betray Jimmy, to take action out of rage, or to develop any large ambitions. The only thing I could see happening is Richard pursuing Angela, but she’s got her own romance brewing with that woman Louise from last week. So what’s with the Richard/Jimmy angle?
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. But I know the law. And I don’t have to go on sitting here if I don’t want to. … Do I?” – Deputy Halloran
More Esther Randolph. She and her subordinate—the investigator named Cliff, who resents Van Alden’s new involvement in the case thanks to his hefty sum of files accumulated on Nucky that he gave to Richmond—are both romantic partners as well as an adept interrogation team. After finding out that Nucky lied about going to Ireland to bury his father, they interrogate Deputy Halloran about various crimes Nucky and Eli may have committed, including the murder of Maggie’s late husband. Scene rating: fun as hell.
Remember Dunn Purnsley, the loudmouthed inmate who antagonized Chalky White for being uppity and self-righteous until Chalky had all of the other inmates, whom he had personally helped out in the past, beat the hell out of him? Well, Chalky and Purnsley are in cahoots now. Chalky wishes to incite a strike in the black community in A.C., and the silver-tongued Purnsley is his key to this: Purnsley, working in a kitchen now, encourages all of his black coworkers to rebel against their jerk of a boss and begin a strike. It goes as all dramatic strike scenes do (and should).
“Forgive me for what I’ve brought upon you.” – Maggie
Finally, the most human problem in this week’s episode: Maggie’s daughter Emily has contracted polio…and considering her dismissal of the Quarantine sign in Emily’s hospital room, Maggie might be getting a bit sick too. Things have gone horribly wrong for Maggie over the course of the last few weeks. Her own brother wants nothing to do with her. She succumbed to her weaknesses by sleeping with Owen. Now, her daughter is ill. And the idea of one of his surrogate children unwell is apparently the only thing that can bring horror to Nucky’s stone face.
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.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
George Simmons is a comedian-turned-Hollywood superstar whose comfortable Malibu existence is threatened when he is diagnosed with a rare blood disorder. Placed on a regimen of experimental meds that offer a mere 8% chance of success he’s forced to confront the very real prospect of his own mortality which not surprisingly triggers a drastic realignment of his priorities. Looking for a companion to assist him in his final days he hires Ira Wright an earnest young comedian in desperate need of a break to work as his assistant. Ira naturally jumps at the chance to be mentored by one of his idols but quickly finds himself in over his head as he accompanies George on his perilous chaotic journey of self-discovery and redemption.
WHO’S IN IT?
A newly trim Seth Rogen (Pineapple Express Observe & Report) injects an endearing blend of sensitivity and self-doubt into his normal “lovable schlub” routine as Ira the struggling performer tasked with such a strange assignment. In the role of George Adam Sandler deserves kudos for taking on a character clearly based on himself. It’s not hard to see the similarities between Sandler’s resume of high-concept critically-maligned blockbusters and George’s fictional portfolio of hits like Merman a male-centric version of Splash Re-Do the story of a grown man turned into a baby by a wizard and My Best Friend is a Robot a buddy comedy co-starring Owen Wilson. (For a more complete list check out george-simmons.com.) But in contrast to Sandler’s genial everyman persona George is an acerbic self-absorbed privileged vision of the Hollywood success run amok.
Supporting players include Leslie Mann (Drillbit Taylor Knocked Up) who plays George’s ex-girlfriend and soulmate Laura a one-time actress now married with two children in Marin County. Eric Bana (Munich The Time Traveler’s Wife) makes an inspired turn as Laura’s husband Clarke a boisterous Aussie businessman whose temperament amusingly alternates between violent aggression and teary-eyed affection. Relative newcomer Aubrey Plaza (TV’s Parks and Recreation) is a delight as Ira’s shy witty love interest Daisy while veteran Apatow players Jonah Hill (Superbad Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and Jason Schwartzman (The Darjeeling Limited Walk Hard) provide much of the film’s laughs as his oddball roommates. Rounding out the supporting cast are RZA Aziz Ansari and Apatow and Mann’s real-life daughters Maude and Iris Apatow.
Cameos abound with appearances by such varied names as musician Jon Brion comedians Ray Romano and Andy Dick and rapper Eminem.
After tugging the heartstrings and tickling the funnybone with equal skill in his previous directorial efforts The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up Judd Apatow heads into darker more ambitious territory with Funny People while still trying to deliver the same raucous comedy that we’ve come to expect from him. The result is a movie that is at times heartbreakingly poignant and laugh-out-loud funny.
At almost two and a half hours in length Funny People is neither poignant nor funny enough to justify such a bloated running time. Apatow let his ambition get the best of him this time attempting to deliver — to paraphrase his own words — his funniest and most serious film to date. Methinks a shorter cut of the film might have yielded either a great comedy or a great drama depending on which path its director chose. Instead we wind up with a merely good dramedy that meanders for a while before falling off a cliff in the third act.
While offering some sobering advice to Sandler’s character at a high-class restaurant rapper Eminem catches Ray Romano staring at him and unleashes a barrage of expletives at the mortified former sitcom star much to the shock of the surrounding customers. It’s ironic that one of the film’s funniest scenes comes courtesy of one of the few non-comedians in the cast.
The film features solid performances all around but I was most impressed by Bana who displays some terrific range and comedic timing as Laura’s charismatic unstable Aussie husband. Perhaps the man who scowled and brooded his way through Munich and The Hulk might want to consider sprinkling more comedy into the mix.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
Claire is an attractive CIA operative and Ray is an M16 agent who simultaneously leave their Governmental spy activities in the dust to try and profit from a battle between two rival multi-national corporations both trying to launch a new product that will transform the world and make billions. Their goal is to secure the top-secret formula and get a patent before they are outsmarted. While their respective egomaniacal CEOs engage in an unending battle of wills and one-upmanship Claire and Ray start out conning and playing one another in a clever game of industrial espionage that is even more complicated due to their own long-term romantic relationship.
WHO’S IN IT?
Reuniting Closer co-stars Julia Roberts (as Claire) and Clive Owen (as Ray) turns out to be an inspired idea. They turn out to be the perfect pair oozing movie-star charm and electricity in this elaborate con-game that might have been the kind of thing Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant might have made in the '60s (in fact they did in Charade). Roberts with that infamous hairstyle back the way we like it and Owen looking great in sunglasses prove they have what it takes to navigate us through this ultra-complex plot in which no one is sure who they can trust at any given moment. They play it all in high style and the wit just flows as the story skirts back and forth during the period of five years. The supporting cast is well-chosen with juicy roles for Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti (out of their John Adams duds) as the two CEOs going for each other’s throats. Giamatti who sometimes has a tendency to overdo it is especially slimy here and great fun to watch.
Big-star studio movies today rarely take risks and often talk down to the audience but in Duplicity writer/director Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton) has crafted a complicated con-comedy that requires complete attention at all times just to keep up with the dense plot’s twists and turns. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a New York Times crossword puzzle and Gilroy and his top-drawer production team deliver a glossy beautiful-looking film that’s easy on the eyes hitting locations from Dubai to Rome to New York City.
Like any good puzzle it sometimes can be frustrating putting it all together and Gilroy’s habit of taking us back in time and then inching forward gets a little confusing even with the on-screen chyron pointing out where we are at any given moment. Stick with it though and you will be well-rewarded.
A scene near the end where the formula must be found scanned and faxed in a matter of minutes is sweat-inducing edge-of-your-seat moviemaking and it provides the ultimate opportunity for Roberts and Owen to take the “con” to the next level. Another where Roberts uses a thong to try and trick Owen into admitting an affair he never had is also priceless and gets right to the heart of the game-playing.
GO OUT AND GET POPCORN WHEN ...
Never. Stock up during the coming attractions. If you miss a moment of this entertaining romp you might never figure it all out.