Is On the Road the first successful attempt to bring Jack Kerouac's beloved novel to the screen? Depends on who you ask. Fans of the Beat Generation will undoubtedly love this film directed by Walter Salles and adapted by Jose Rivera and those familiar with Kerouac's mythos might be able to play along. But if you've never heard of this group of writers and miscreants you might be eating their dust.
On the Road is occasionally beautiful and entirely too long. Its narrator Sal Paradise Kerouac's alter ego is played by Sam Riley with a sort of muted watchfulness; he's an outsider the writer narrating it all along for the ride but the script doesn't do justice to the tastes of Kerouac's writing (although we get a taste in some small voiceovers). Garrett Hedlund owns this movie from top to bottom as Dean Moriarty with his buoyant earthy sexuality and total irresponsibility. In reality Dean is the sort of user and mooch that would be a total drain of energy and resources but we see him as Sal does: alive free sensual somehow utterly honest in his protestations of love and honesty despite his constant betrayals.
Dean is absolutely the sex and love object of the movie his pansexual groove attracting and scaring Sal and in a way breaking his heart. Dean also breaks the hearts of Marylou his on-again off-again child bride played by Kristen Stewart; Camille the mother of his children played by Kirsten Dunst; and most movingly Carlo Marx the alter ego of Allen Ginsberg who is played by Tom Sturridge. Sturridge is excellent as the lovelorn poet who's alternately suicidal and joyous and his scenes with Hedlund are some of the most erotic and moving. The female characters get short shrift especially Marylou who lacks much of a personality; how much of what she does is egged on by Dean and how much is of her own volition? The ballyhoo over her nude scenes were overblown by half; although they're somewhat sexy they're overshadowed by all of the sexual tension between the leads.
Two of the most interesting characters in On the Road are Old Bull Lee and his wife Jane. Bull is the alter ego of William S. Burroughs and Jane is Joan Vollmer Burroughs's common-law wife and the mother of his children. (Vollmer a writer in her own right was accidentally killed by Burroughs.) Jane played by Amy Adams is bizarre and fascinating a wild-haired lady and drug addict and mother of Bull's children but not much more than that. One could watch an entire movie of Viggo Mortensen playing Bull a sharp-dressed heroin addict who nods off with his child in his arms and strips off his clothes to get in an orgone accumulator he built in his backyard. The movie barely makes a pit stop at their crumbling Louisiana farm and their importance in Sal's life and the Beat generation is never quite explained.
One might argue that the loopy timeline of the film mimics the unending road trip of Dean's life but it doesn't serve the final product. Incorporating more of Kerouac's writing as voice-overs or something similar would have given it more life the kind of vivacity Kerouac sought out in spades which is why he tolerated Dean's vagaries for so long. More than most movies it feels like On the Road could have gone in any direction expanding or reducing characters shortening the trips to concentrate on the characters more emphasizing the effects of their missing fathers or not and it's this wishy-washiness that undermines the movie. It feels much longer than it is. It's a loving tribute to its subjects and a movie that acts as a showcase for rising stars Hedlund and Riley but it fizzles when it should burn.
While recent animated blockbusters have aimed to viewers of all ages starting with fantastical concepts and breathtaking visuals but tackling complex emotional issues along the way Ice Age: Continental Drift is crafted especially for the wee ones — and it works. Venturing back to prehistoric times once again the fourth Ice Age film paints broad strokes on the theme of familial relationships throwing in plenty of physical comedy along the way. The movie isn't that far off from one of the many Land Before Time direct-to-video sequels: not particularly innovative or necessary but harmless thrilling fun for anyone with a sense of humor. Unless they have a particular distaste for wooly mammoths the kids will love it.
Ice Age: Continental Drift continues to snowball its cartoon roster bringing back the original film's trio (Ray Romano as Manny the Mammoth Denis Leary as Diego the Sabertooth Tiger and John Leguizamo as Sid the Sloth) new faces acquired over the course of the franchise (Queen Latifah as Manny's wife Ellie) and a handful of new characters to spice things up everyone from Nicki Minaj as Manny's daughter Steffie to Wanda Sykes as Sid's wily grandma. The whole gang is living a pleasant existence as a herd with Manny's biggest problem being playing overbearing dad to the rebellious daughter. Teen mammoths they always want to go out and play by the waterfall! Whippersnappers.
The main thrust of the film comes when Scratch the Rat (whose silent comedy routines in the vein of Tex Avery/WB cartoons continue to be the series highlight) accidentally cracks the singular continent Pangea into the world we know today. Manny Diego and Sid find themselves stranded on an iceberg once again forced on a road trip journey of survival. The rest of the herd embarks to meet them giving Steffie time to realize the true meaning of friendship with help from her mole pal Louis (Josh Gad).
The ham-handed lessons may drag for those who've passed Kindergarten but Ice Age: Continental Drift is a lot of fun when the main gang crosses paths with a group of villainous pirates. (Back then monkeys rabbits and seals were hitting the high seas together pillaging via boat-shaped icebergs. Obviously.) Quickly Ice Age becomes an old school pirate adventure complete with maritime navigation buried treasure and sword fights. Gut (Peter Dinklage) an evil ape with a deadly... fingernail leads the evil-doers who pose an entertaining threat for the familiar bunch. Jennifer Lopez pops by as Gut's second-in-command Shira the White Tiger and the film's two cats have a chase scene that should rouse even the most apathetic adults. Hearing Dinklage (of Game of Thrones fame) belt out a pirate shanty may be worth the price of admission alone.
With solid action (that doesn't need the 3D addition) cartoony animation and gags out the wazoo Ice Age: Continental Drift is entertainment to enjoy with the whole family. Revelatory? Not quite. Until we get a feature length silent film of Scratch's acorn pursuit we may never see a "classic" Ice Age film but Continental Drift keeps it together long enough to tell a simple story with delightful flare that should hold attention spans of any length. Massive amounts of sugar not even required.
[Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox]
A decade-long gap between sequels could leave a franchise stale but in the case of Men in Black 3 it's the launch pad for an unexpectedly great blockbuster. The kooky antics of Agent J (Will Smith) and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) don't stray far from their 1997 and 2002 adventures but without a bombardment of follow-ups to keep the series in mind the wonderfully weird sensibilities of Men in Black feel fresh Smith's natural charisma once again on full display. Barry Sonnenfeld returns for the threequel another space alien romp with a time travel twist — which turns out to be Pandora's Box for the director's deranged imagination.
As time passed in the real world so did it for the timeline in the world of Men in Black. Picking up ten years after MIB 2 J and K are continuing to protect the Earth from alien threats and enforce the law on those who live incognito. While dealing with their own personal issues — K is at his all-time crabbiest for seemingly no reason — the suited duo encounter an old enemy Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) a prickly assassin seeking revenge on K who blew his arm off back in the '60s. Their street fight is more of a warning; Boris' real plan is to head back in time to save his arm and kill off K. He's successful prompting J to take his own leap through the time-space continuum — and team up with a younger K (Josh Brolin) to put an end to Boris plans for world domination.
Men in Black 3 is the Will Smith show. Splitting his time between the brick personalities of Jones and Brolin's K Smith struts his stuff with all the fast-talking comedic style that made him a star in yesteryears. In present day he's still the laid back normal guy in a world of oddities — J raises an eyebrow as new head honcho O (Emma Thompson) delivers a eulogy in a screeching alien tongue but coming up with real world explanations for flying saucer crashes comes a little easier. But back in 1969 he's an even bigger fish out water. Surprisingly director Barry Sonnenfeld and writer Etan Cohen dabble in the inherent issues that would spring up if a black gentlemen decked out in a slick suit paraded around New York in the late '60s. A star of Smith's caliber may stray away from that type of racy humor but the hook of Men in Black 3 is the actor's readiness for anything. He turns J's jokey anachronisms into genuine laughs and doesn't mind letting the special effect artists stretch him into an unrecognizable Twizzler for the movie's epic time jump sequence.
Unlike other summer blockbusters Men in Black 3 is light on the action Sonnenfeld utilizing his effects budget and dazzling creature work (by the legendary Rick Baker) to push the comedy forward. J's fight with an oversized extraterrestrial fish won't keep you on the edge of your seat but his slapstick escape and the marine animal's eventual demise are genuinely amusing. Sonnenfeld carries over the twisted sensibilities he displayed in small screen work like Pushing Daisies favoring bizarre banter and elaborating on the kookiness of the alien underworld than battle scenes. MIB3's chase scene is passable but the movie in its prime when Smith is sparring with Brolin and newcomer Michael Stuhlbarg who steals the show as a being capable of seeing the future. His twitchy character keeps Smith and the audience on their toes.
Men in Black 3 digs up nostalgia I wasn't aware I had. Smith's the golden boy of summer and even with modern ingenuity keeping it fresh — Sonnenfeld uses the mandatory 3D to full and fun effect — there's an element to the film that feels plucked from another era. The movie is economical and slight with plenty of lapses in logic that will provoke head scratching on the walk out of the theater but it's also perfectly executed. After ten years of cinematic neutralizing the folks behind Men in Black haven't forgotten what made the first movie work so well. After al these years Smith continues to make the goofy plot wild spectacle and crazed alien antics look good.