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.
Wednesday night’s ABC comedy lineup is somewhat akin to NBC’s Thursday night comedy blocks of years past. The newest entry into what is slowly but surely becoming the funniest night on TV is Suburgatory. The name and the idea of the show is exactly what it sounds like: the suburbs plus purgatory. Moving to the suburbs is a hellish thought for Tessa (Jane Levy, Shameless) a Manhattan teenager ripped from the cacophony of the big city to the unsettling quiet of the suburbs by her dad, George played by Jeremy Sisto. I know he’s grown far beyond the role of Elton in Clueless, and he was great on Six Feet Under and Law and Order prime but who doesn’t think of “rollin’ with the homies” when they hear his name?
Like many great comedies, Suburgatory relies on its ability to appeal to everyone, while still having moments of quirkiness, such as a sugar free Red Bull smashing Tessa in the head or a woman busy texting plunging headfirst into a pool. Another welcome bit of casting is Rex Lee (Entourage) as high school guidance counselor, Mr. Wolfe. Man, I hope we get some sort of bit with Lee as Winston Wolf from Pulp Fiction. Other friendly, albeit plastic, phony faces in the ‘burbs are Cherly Hines (Curb Your Enthusiasm) as Dallas, the local neighborhood gossip and milf with a thing for George; and Alan Tudyk (Firefly, Knocked Up), as George’s old friend from college, Noah, who has become assimilated into the suburban life (“nothing smells like urine!”). There’s also Dalia (Carly Chaikin) as Dallas’ typical blond with an acid tongue, daughter and Tessa’s assigned school buddy; as well as Allie Grant (who is no stranger to the warped suburban life after playing Isabelle Hodes on Weeds) as a girl Tessa wants to be friends with. Saturday Night Live alum, Ana Gasteyer rounds out the surprisingly solid supporting cast. Anyone of these guys can headline their own series.
While the supporting players are worth their weight in comic gold, the series will most likely rest on the shoulders of Jane Levy. Previous seen as Ian Gallagher’s beard of a girlfriend, Mandy, on Shameless, Levy is the perfect mix of Darlene Connor from Roseanne, Cady Heron from Mean Girls, and Lisa Simpson. She’s the loveable outcast with the verbiage to match. When trying to rebel against her dad forcing her into the suburbs, she ironically becomes the very thing she loathes, a suburban girl with too much makeup, who drinks Red Bull for dinner to stay a slim 85 lbs. She’s the snot-nosed, rebellious teen with the sarcasm and wit to match. Another great sight-gag was father and daughter warring silently, but the message was hysterically emphatic; Tessa was reading a book on how to become an emancipated minor, while George was reading up on how to give his daughter up for adoption.
By episode’s end, just as Dallas begins winning Tessa over, Suburgatory begins to win the viewer over. Tessa realizes that her dad’s stuck in suburgatory as well and lets her anger towards him go. The show does have a dull premise, the tried and true fish-out-of-water tale. But Levy emerges as a rising star who can actually shine above her co-stars and Sisto is probably the most underrated actor in the history of Hollywood. As a lead-in to Modern Family, Suburgatory needs to find an audience with the speed of its own sharp-tongued wit, which it most likely will. ABC has found itself creeping out ahead of NBC and CBS as the overall best network for comedy and this show makes a fine addition. Now, if we can somehow convince them to bring back Pushing Daisies or Better off Ted…
Among the herd of television stars stampeding into the cast of Struck By Lightning is Christina Hendricks, officially confirmed to be involved. Hendricks’ notoriety comes from here empowered Joan Harris character on Mad Men, but her prevalence on the big screen is increasing by the minute—she already has Drive and I Don’t Know How She Does It in the can.
Harris’ character in Struck By Lightning is thus far uncomfirmed.
Struck By Lightning stars and was written by Glee’s Chris Colfer. Directing the film will be Brian Dannelly, who, like most of the cast (which, aside from Colfer and Hendricks, includes Angela Martin, Allie Grant and Sarah Hyland), comes from television: his directing credits include Weeds, The United States of Tara and Pushing Daisies.
Movies comprised of people primarily schooled in television tend to be especially creative and ambitious—the cast and team behind this film seem to be more than capable of developing an interesting, poignant and funny coming-of-age film.
Apparently, being Glee's breakout star earned Chris Colfer a lot of artistic credibility, because the first-time screenwriter's film, Struck By Lightning, is attracting the likes of Dermot Mulroney, MadMen's Christina Hendricks and Modern Family's Sarah Hyland.
The film will be a coming-of-age comedy and postmortem flashback, a la American Beauty, about Colfer's character's attempts to blackmail his high school classmates into supporting his literary magazine.
The immediate futures of these three additions to the cast (who'll be joining The Office's Angela Kinsey and Weeds' Allie Grant, among others) are not limited to Struck By Lightning. Mulroney will appear in J. Edgar and Everybody Loves Whales. Hendricks plays a leading role in the upcoming action-thriller Drive. Finally, Hyland, Modern Family's Haley Dunphy, the less-than-brilliant daughter of Phil and Claire, has a supporting role in the romance Conception and a starring role in the comedy Geek Charming.