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.
No, you won't be hosting a Writers' Guild Awards night in your swanky Soho loft or participating in the office pool to see who wins, but the WGA awards are a measure of the success that often goes unnoticed: writing. It's the backbone of any great series or episode and while it's not exciting, it's always wonderful to see great shows get some of the recognition they so greatly deserve. This year's nominees include many of my personal favorites like Homeland, Louie and Parks and Recreation, so don't mind me while I smile proudly and do a mini-fist pump for each nominee.
From the WGA:
Boardwalk Empire, Written by Bathsheba Doran, Dave Flebotte, Howard Korder, Steve Kornacki, Itamar Moses, Margaret Nagle, Terence Winter; HBO
Breaking Bad, Written by Sam Catlin, Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould, Gennifer Hutchison, George Mastras, Thomas Schnauz, Moira Walley-Beckett; AMC
Game of Thrones, Written by David Benioff, Bryan Cogman, Jane Espenson, George R.R. Martin, D.B. Weiss; HBO
The Good Wife, Written by Courtney Kemp Agboh, Meredith Averill, Corinne Brinkerhoff, Leonard Dick, Keith Eisner, Karen Hall, Ted Humphrey, Michelle King, Robert King, Steve Lichtman, Matthew Montoya, Julia Wolfe; CBS
Homeland, Written by Henry Bromell, Alexander Cary, Alex Gansa, Howard Gordon, Chip Johannessen, Gideon Raff, Meredith Stiehm; Showtime
30 Rock, Written by Jack Burditt, Hannibal Buress, Kay Cannon, Robert Carlock, Tom Ceraulo, Vali Chandrasekaran, Tina Fey, Jon Haller, Matt Hubbard, Colleen McGuinness, Dylan Morgan, John Riggi, Josh Siegal, Ron Weiner, Tracey Wigfield; NBC
Curb Your Enthusiasm, Written by Alec Berg, Larry David, David Mandel, Jeff Schaffer; HBO
Louie, Written by Pamela Adlon, Louis C.K.; FX
Modern Family, Written by Paul Corrigan, Abraham Higginbotham, Ben Karlin, Elaine Ko, Carol Leifer, Steven Levitan, Christopher Lloyd, Dan O’Shannon, Jeffrey Richman, Brad Walsh, Ilana Wernick, Bill Wrubel, Danny Zuker; ABC
Parks & Recreation, Written by Greg Daniels, Katie Dippold, Daniel J. Goor, Norm Hiscock, Emily Kapnek, Dave King, Greg Levine, Aisha Muharrar, Chelsea Peretti, Amy Poehler, Brian Rowe, Michael Schur, Mike Scully, Emily Spivey, Alan Yang, Harris Wittels; NBC
Episodes, Written by David Crane, Jeffrey Klarik; Showtime
Game of Thrones, Written by David Benioff, Bryan Cogman, Jane Espenson, George R.R. Martin, D.B. Weiss; HBO
Homeland, Written by Henry Bromell, Alexander Cary, Alex Gansa, Howard Gordon, Chip Johannessen, Gideon Raff, Meredith Stiehm; Showtime
The Killing, Written by Linda Burstyn, Jeremy Doner, Soo Hugh, Dan Nowak, Nic Pizzolatto, Dawn Prestwich, Veena Sud, Nicole Yorkin, Aaron Zelman; AMC
New Girl, Written by Nick Adams, Rachel Axler, Brett Baer, Donick Cary, Dave Finkel, Berkley Johnson, Josh Malmuth, Elizabeth Meriwether, J.J. Philbin, Joe Port, Luvh Rakhe, Joe Wiseman; Fox
“A Dangerous Maid” (Boardwalk Empire), Written by Itamar Moses; HBO
“The Age of Reason” (Boardwalk Empire), Written by Bathsheba Doran; HBO
“Box Cutter” (Breaking Bad), Written by Vince Gilligan; AMC
“End Times” (Breaking Bad), Written by Thomas Schnauz & Moira Walley-Beckett; AMC
“The Good Soldier” (Homeland), Written by Henry Bromell; Showtime
“Just Let Go” (Dexter), Written by Jace Richdale; Showtime
“Caught in the Act” (Modern Family), Written by Steven Levitan & Jeffrey Richman; ABC
“Goodbye Michael, Part 2” (The Office), Written by Greg Daniels; NBC
“Mother’s Day” (Modern Family), Written by Dan O’Shannon & Ilana Wernick; ABC
“Object Impermanence” (Weeds), Written by Stephen Falk; Showtime
“PDA” (The Office), Written by Robert Padnick; NBC
“Queen of Jordan” (30 Rock), Written by Tracey Wigfield; NBC
For the full list, click here.
We were so thrilled with the recent news that Louis C.K. is returning to Parks and Recreation to rustle the recent reunion between Leslie (Amy Poehler) and Ben (Adam Scott) that we got to thinking. Louis C.K. was such a killer guest star on Parks -- there have to be more of his kind. And once we started thinking about it, we realized there's an overabundance of great romantic guest stars on our favorite sitcoms, which means we had to whittle it down to a few of our favorites. Maybe we're not that great at whittling, because we've still got 12, but they're all pretty unforgettable so I'm sure you'll forgive us.
Louis C.K. on Parks & Recreation
The comedian's comedian stopped by Pawnee, Ind. for a few episodes to let his bumbling character, Dave, steal fair Leslie's heart. While their romance almost hit the skids before it started thanks to that whole Madeline Albright/ Leslie's grandma confusion, Louis C.K. eventually made a good impression by putting up with Leslie's drunken late-night visit and her tireless tirade on the pre-teen bully/vandal/prankster/Bart Simpson wannabe, Greg Pikitis. Dave never really knew quite the right thing to say, but he was always earnest and sweet, and he made Leslie light up like a Christmas Tree. His return spells trouble for Beslie (is that what we call them?), but I'm still amped to see him come back.
Matt Damon on 30 Rock
I struggled with choosing Michael Sheen or Matt Damon for this entry, but then I remembered the explosive breakup between Carol Burnett (Damon) and Liz (Tina Fey). Sorry, Wesley Snipes (Sheen), "Gangway for Footcycle" gets me everytime, but nothing beats a pilot's discount at Sunglass hut. Damon was pitch perfect for Liz; from his name (a reference to Liz and Fey's comedy heroine), to his constant references to mundane pilot perks that Liz would enjoy more than any other human, to his stalwart love for her show (which no one else in the world seems to give two cheesy blasters about), Carol is perfect for Liz...for a little while anyway. Eventually, they get points for the best breakup ever because they both hold up an entire plane in order for them to figure out they're just too similar. Classic.
Elizabeth Banks on 30 Rock
Just as Liz met her double in Carol, Jack (Alec Baldwin) met his match in Avery Jessup (Elizabeth Banks), the conservative financial reporter. Together, they worshipped Ronald Reagan, bought their daughter a saddle to ride the maid, and both shreiked with terror when their baby was not only born in CANADA, but with the help of socialized medicine. The horror. Avery too, had to say farewell, and in another dramatic way -- she was kidnapped and taken to North Korea, never to be heard from again. This show sure knows how to get rid of a guest star, eh?
Woody Harrelson on Will & Grace
I promise, I'm not trying to write about all NBC series, but man do they get great guest stars. You may remember that Connick Jr. was the yin to Grace's (Debra Messing) yang as Dr. Leo Markus, but by far, her best boyfriend had to be the slovenly Nathan (Harrelson). As her neighbor, Nathan first drives her crazy, but of course hate turns to sexual tension and they end up together for a good chunk of Season 3. Of course, their breakup circumstances are pretty hilarious as well -- they all stem from Nathan's cry of "Marry me" during sex. They're awkward around eachother until Grace decides that in order to fix it, she'll propose to him. But he says no and breaks it off. Word to the wise: don't propose marriage during bedroom activities.
Luke Wilson on That 70s Show
We thought nothing could come between Eric (Topher Grace) and Donna (Laura Prepon), but apparently all it takes is a Kelso. No, not Michael (Ashton Kutcher), but Casey Kelso the Trans-Am-driving charmer sure does the trick. He's slimy and the complete anti-Eric, but he knows how to play the system and he's old enough to drink beer. Swoon, amirite? He's just as dumb as his younger brother, but he's so charming, that Donna doesn't seem to catch on until Bob orders Donna to stop dating him and Casey doesn't seem to care. She wanted a laid-back dude, didn't she?
Megan Mullally on Parks & Recreation
As Ron Swanson's (Nick Offerman) second ex-wife, Tammy, Mullally draws on the already hilarious relationship with her real life husband (Offerman) to simultaneously terrify Ron and whip him into a disgustingly sexual frenzy. And her second appearance sees the craziest Ron we've ever witnessed, with cornrows, a boxing robe and a lack of mustache -- from the friction. Shudder.
Kristen Bell on Party Down
If there's anyone better to play a tiny, adorable, unbearably uptight girlfriend and catering manager, point me in their direction, but I think you'll find that Kristen Bell is the tops. She played Uda, Henry Pollard's (Adam Scott) girlfriend after fellow cater waiter Casey (Lizzy Caplan) breaks his heart. She's terrifying, even when she's not on screen, and her love of mundane things like The Mentalist are just the icing on the cake. Her proposal for Henry to give her a call for a date is one of the most haunting comedic moments in recent memory.
on Family Guy
Brian is obnoxiously pseudo-intellectual. He constantly assumes he's so much smarter than every other person on the show, though he's constantly shown to be completely pretentious. Nothing quite drives that point into the ground like his on-again-off-again girlfriend, Jillian. She was gorgeous, blonde and a complete and total idiot. She completely puffs up Brian's confidence in that she's so hot and that she constantly needs him to explain just about everything to her. "How do I know if I'm Jewish?" "Are you Jewish?" "Nope." "There you go, sport."
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.
For high school seniors Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera) the excitement of impending graduation is offset by the anxiety of separating from one another—and getting laid before college. While Evan is the shy mindful-of-girls’-feelings type Seth is only interested in one thing—well maybe three if you count breasts. Then there’s Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) aka McLovin (aka the name you’ll have stuck in your head whether you see Superbad or not) their hyper-geeky friend with a fake I.D. so fake it looks like it was made to get him caught. As “a 25-year-old Hawaiian organ donor named McLovin ” Fogell is their best shot at scoring booze for a party they’ve been quasi-invited to. When his beer run goes hilariously awry however it begins the decline of a night on which Evan and Seth had hoped to become drunk girls’ mistakes. Fogell gets scooped up and befriended by inept cops (Seth Rogen and Bill Hader) who drink on the job while Seth and Evan resort to desperate measures in the name of alcohol and chicks—only to wind up going their separate ways following an argument. But by night’s end the two best friends ensure that they at least won’t be sleeping alone. Young though they may be lead actors Hill and Cera are adept in two different schools of comedy: Hill (Knocked Up) is at his best when shouting obscenities while Cera (Arrested Development) excels at mumbling them. Such a yin-yang of overt and deadpan comedic styles respectively is what helps make Superbad the laugh-a-minute affair it is. In fact to draw comparisons to senior members of the Judd Apatow Comedy Troop Hill is the Seth Rogen-in-waiting and Cera the Steve Carell version. The duo’s best work however comes in the raw albeit side-splittingly hilarious reality of two teenagers much closer than is considered cool. Mintz-Plasse with his formidable energy that could only be sustained by a first-time actor like himself (or maybe Robin Williams) often steals the spotlight and will probably wear the crown of Superbad’s most quoted but the cracks in his range and voice do wear thin after a while. As the resident “grown-ups ” Rogen (who co-wrote) and SNL’s Hader steer Superbad away from becoming a teen-movie cliché in all the right spots. As any other incompetent movie cops these two would be terribly miscast but given the sheer degree to which their cops are incompetent better fits would be hard to find. It takes a bespectacled screechy-voiced teenager to immortalize the line “I am McLovin ” but we can really thank writers Rogen and Evan Goldberg childhood friends and Da Ali G Show co-writers. For Rogen the foremost disciple of his like-minded Superbad producer and overall career benefactor Judd Apatow comedy lies in the minutiae of awkward situations. Whereas some screenwriters get a kick out of pratfall humor Rogen and Goldberg truly tap into deep resources—hopefully not all culled from real-life experiences—nobody else could seemingly possess and the results are rarely less than painfully hilarious. But parents beware: While Knocked Up masqueraded as “adult ” Superbad is as inappropriate for you as say Pulp Fiction was for kids. Although the writers’ voices feature most prominently in the movie director—and yes Apatow affiliate—Greg Mottola (The Daytrippers) does well to bring it all together. He is able to convey both the raunchiness and the tenderness with the latter being just as important to the story and integral to its success as the former. There are times when Mottola and the writers linger too long in one place but for the most part the behind-the-scenes crew matches its onscreen counterparts sex joke for sex joke.