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.
After garnering widespread praise (and an Oscar nomination for screenwriting) for his 2000 directorial debut You Can Count on Me Kenneth Lonergan was in-demand. In September 2005 the writer/director began production on a follow-up feature: Margaret which touted Anna Paquin Matt Damon Mark Ruffalo Matthew Broderick Allison Janney as well as legendary filmmakers Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella (The English Patient) as producers. The movie wrapped production in a few months time. The buzz was already growing.
Now six years later the movie is finally hitting theaters. So…what took so long?
The journey to this point hasn't been an easy one and it shows. If a film's shot footage is a block of granite and the editing process is the careful carving that turns it into a statuesque work of art Margaret feels like it was attacked by a blind man with a jackhammer. The film is a cinematic disaster a mishmash of shallow characters overwrought politics and sporadic tones. The story follows Lisa Coen (Paquin) a New York teenager who finds herself drowning in chaos after distracting a bus driver (Ruffalo) causing him to hit and kill a pedestrian (Janney). Initially Lisa tells the police it was all an accident but as time passes regret takes hold and the girl embarks on a mission to take down the man she now regards as a culprit. That's just the tip of the iceberg–along the way Lisa deals with everyday teen stuff: falling for her geometry teacher (Damon) combating her anxiety-ridden actress mother losing her virginity dabbling in drugs debating 9/11 and the Iraq War cultivating a relationship with her father in LA and more. There are about eight seasons of television stuffed into Margaret but even a two and a half hour run time can't make it all click.
For more on Margaret check out Indie Seen: Margaret the Long Lost Anna Paquin/Matt Damon Movie
Sometimes the oldest stories are the most beautiful ones and that's certainly the case in Cold Mountain a relatively straightforward film about a couple in love during the Civil War. Momentous in its scope and stirring in its intimacy Cold Mountain powerfully weaves together the journeys of its two protagonists Inman (Jude Law) and Ada Monroe (Nicole Kidman) as they endure the hardships of war and await their reunion. Inman a Confederate soldier wounded in the Battle of the Crater (one of the most powerful cinematic battle scenes in recent memory) realizes as he lies in the hospital that he's had enough of fighting and he goes AWOL on a journey homeward that will take him through a series of trials not unlike those Odysseus faced in Homer's epic: He's tempted by sirens tended to by a mountain healer/shepherdess and betrayed by a mountain man he meets along the way. Through it all his thoughts are never far from the faithful Penelope whose picture he keeps with him always--the woman he left behind at the farm on Cold Mountain the beautiful Ada a true Southern belle. Regrettably Ada's schooling in the finer things in life has left her ill-prepared to care for the farm on her own as war rages across the country and the local militia known as the Home Guard wreaks havoc on the home front it's supposed to be protecting. Longing for Inman and weary of the struggle to survive Ada welcomes the help of Ruby Thewes (Renee Zellweger) a spunky hellcat of a farm girl whose friendship and common sense spark Ada's transformation into a self-reliant woman.
Law's Inman a man of few words is a study in silent intensity--there's not a woman alive who would question why Ada loves him despite his rough exterior and slightly odd ways. Kidman's Ada too has a quiet energy and a porcelain beauty that belies the tough stuff she eventually discovers under the ringlets and hoop skirts. Taken separately each performance is flawless; together the chemistry between Kidman and Law is breathtaking. There's no question the leads in this film deserve Academy Award nominations but Renee Zellweger absolutely steals the show with her magical Ruby--she should without doubt walk away statue in hand. Every moment her feisty loudmouthed character is on the screen is an absolute pleasure whether she's sharing her homespun wisdom threatening the Home Guard nasties or worrying about a cow's overfull udder. Philip Seymour Hoffman who's regrettably not getting much Oscar buzz also deserves a mention--he's a wicked hoot as Inman's traveling companion the defrocked (literally) preacher Veasey--and Brendan Gleeson has a nice turn as Ruby's fiddle-playing roustabout father Stobrod. Look also for the elfin Jack White of the trendy White Stripes who's featured prominently on the soundtrack as another of the musicians.
Anthony Minghella has developed a reputation as a director and screenwriter who can take a gorgeous literary book and make it an even better film. The trend started with his Oscar-winning 1996 version of Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient continued with a rendition of Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley in 1999 (which also featured Law and Hoffman) and culminates with this masterful adaptation of Charles Frazier's critically acclaimed Cold Mountain which reunites Minghella with his production team from those films including director of photography John Seale costume designer Ann Roth and composer Gabriel Yared. From the opening battle scene--an expansive gut wrenching gorgeous piece of photography from Seale (The English Patient Mr. Ripley)--to the final snowy moments atop Cold Mountain the story captivates the characters seduce and the vast panoramic mountain landscapes (shot in Romania South Carolina and Virginia) inspire. Roth's rich costumes lend even more depth to the visual display and a fantastic score from Yared (produced by T-Bone Burnett of O Brother Where Art Thou? fame) perfectly punctuates the action. Listen too for Sting's moving song "You Will Be My Ain True Love " performed by Alison Krauss and Sting as the end credits roll.
There's been a bunch of activity since the last Role Call, which I suppose is a good sign that Hollywood is not shutting down under the terrorist threat. I'll lead off with a project that has me frothing at the mouth.
After collaborating on the upcoming Gangs of New York, Leonardo DiCaprio and director Martin Scorsese are teaming up again to make a movie about Alexander the Great. Alex, you'll recall, was crowned King of Macedonia (DiCaprio's role) after his father, Phillip, was murdered, and then tried to conquer the rest of the known world.
The spec script was co-written by Oscar-winning Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects) and will be produced by Initial Entertainment Group. No start date has been set yet. Let's just hope the film lives up to the power of the story.
More on that darn "Exorcist" prequel
I guess the idea of doing a prequel to The Exorcist hasn't made anyone stop and ask, "Why are we doing this again?" Irish actor Liam Neeson (Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace) has just signed on to play the young Father Merrin. The story revolves around the young Merrin, as he encounters the evil horned one for the first time, in post-World War II Africa. The past life of Merrin, played by Max von Sydow in the original, is referenced in The Exorcist, so hey, why not make a movie about it? It sounds silly, that's all. The other shaky element to the film is that its being directing by John Frankenheimer, who, God bless him, is getting a little long in tooth and really hasn't had a really good film since The Manchurian Candidate in the late '60s. I guess we'll have to wait and see.
Freeman catching up with his dreams
The talented Morgan Freeman will star in Castle Rock Entertainment's Dreamcatcher, an adaptation of the latest Stephen King novel. Ah, the one King novel I have yet to read (because I've read them all, being such a HUGE King fan). Freeman will play one of four former childhood pals who come together on a hunting trip and end up fighting off extraterrestrials and one evil Army colonel in the woods. While I'd rather cut off my left foot than bad-mouth my Stephen (or let Annie Wilkes from Misery do it for me), Dreamcatcher sort of sounds like a cross between It, which was a really terrifying book and Tommyknockers, which wasn't one of King's best. Thus, I have my reservations.
However, director Lawrence Kasdan (The Big Chill) had an interesting thing to say about doing the film, which he told Variety: "We start out with four friends who are burned out and unhappy, and who get together once a year to go hunting. The fact that it starts out like I>The Big Chill was an attraction, but it then gets taken over by a terrific Stephen King narrative." Maybe I'll see the movie.
Travolta, Jackson get down to "Basics"
Royale with cheese, please. Those two wacky guys--John Travolta and Samuel L Jackson--of Pulp Fiction fame are working together again. Lucky us! But their new film Basic sounds somewhat predictable and uneventful. Travolta will play a Drug Enforcement Administration agent who comes to an Army basic training camp to investigate the disappearance of an Army Ranger instructor played by Jackson. They've both kind of done similar movies already. Travolta did The General's Daughter where he plays an undercover detective investigating the death of a promising cadet and daughter of the Army base commander. OK, got the Army thing going. And Jackson made Rules of Engagement, where he plays an Army leader accused of killing innocent people in a battle during the Gulf War. Right. Well, I guess they just like to put on Army fatigues.
Comic book Cage
Nicolas Cage has been eyeing comic book fodder for his next project for a while now. First, he thought about doing an updated Superman, but that was a long time ago and it fell through pretty quickly. Next he was looking at doing a film based on the Marvel Comic Ghost Rider. But now Cage has settled on the film Constantine, an adaptation of the DC-Vertigo comic Hellblazer for Warner Bros. Apparently, the character Constantine is described as a Dirty Harry type who dabbles in the occult and teams with a female investigator to fight evil forces. Oh sure, Cage could do this in his sleep, but, I tell ya, he needs to look at who has been representing him because he really hasn't had any luck in movies in a long time. And Constantine doesn't sound like one to put in the books either.
Hopkins goes black--again
In Anthony Hopkins newest film project, The Human Stain, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Philip Roth, Hopkins will be playing a "light-skinned black college professor who spends his life passing himself off as Jewish and then becomes a victim of political correctness when he refers to absentee students as 'spooks' and gets labeled as a racist." At least, that's the description in the Hollywood Reporter. Gosh, I hate it when that happens. Nicole Kidman is also on board, playing a troubled yet strong-willed woman with whom the professor falls in love. While the drama sounds interesting, in a slow, character-driven kind of way, Hopkins has a thing about playing a black person. He donned full makeup once to play Othello in a BBC production of the Shakespeare play in the '80s. You go, Tony!
There's a new player in Disney's executive game of musical chairs. Chief Michael Eisner has named ABC chief Robert Iger as president, filling the hole left by Michael Ovitz when he jumped ship in 1996, says The Associated Press.
Iger's appointment, along with other managerial promotions, is expected to help the entertainment giant overcome its recent troubles, which included sagging stock prices and the departure of Disney studio chief Joe Roth. Seems things are already in turnaround: Disney also announced a 7 percent jump in first-quarter earnings.
INDUSTRIAL COUPLE: Time Warner, which already seems to own everything, is making another deal -- this time with British music giant EMI. It was announced today that the two would merge music businesses to create a new monster -- er, company, worth $20 billion.
Time Warner, whose labels include Warner Bros., Elektra, Atlantic and Rhino and is home to Madonna and Alanis Morissette, will now be able to add EMI's Garth Brooks, the Beastie Boys and legacies such as The Beatles and Frank Sinatra to its family.
The new giant will be called Warner EMI Music, according to Daily Variety. The deal is expected to close in the second half of this year. No word if this marriage will result in some new duets: for instance, guitar crooner Jewel giving props with rapper Master P, or the Spice Girls with that other seasoning group, the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
GOLDEN COUPLE? The most intriguing pair at Sunday's Golden Globes was Jodie Foster and Russell Crowe, who arrived at the ceremony cozily hand-in-hand. Those who watched the broadcast through its credits also caught a glimpse of Crowe, 35, pointing and smiling at the camera, then pulling Foster, 37, in for a whisper or nuzzle, we couldn't tell. Was it staged?
"That was the intention," the best dramatic actor nominee ("The Insider") told the New York Daily News of the sensation they created. Foster joked, "He paid me."
For the record, Foster's rep says the two are friends and might be pairing up for a film. Well, let's hope it's a love story, because they did look mighty fine together.
GOLDEN COUPLE, PART II: We told you last week the rumor about Jim Carrey, 37, giving Renée Zellweger, 30, a $200,000 diamond "friendship ring." The couple was asked about the ring -- and their status -- at the Golden Globes. "Yeah, wasn't it nice?" Zellweger said on the red carpet, holding out her hand -- only to show no ring in sight. The two laughed about it but would only say that they're "friends." Still, 22 million people saw the Golden Globe winner (for "Man on the Moon") give his "friend" a big smooch on the lips before accepting his award.
LITTLE MAN FARROW: Mia Farrow's son might be heading off to college. But she'll have to drive him, since he's only 12 years old. Seamus Farrow has applied to attend Columbia University in the fall and already takes college classes in Massachusetts. But his mother worries about it; not the difficulty level, but the arduous commute to New York City from their home in Bridgewater, Conn.
"It's such a long ride," she told the New York Daily News. "Part of me would like to put it off, but he's intent on going."
CELTIC PRIDE: Gabriel Byrne is proud to be an Irishman -- so proud, in fact, that he's taking shots at everyone else going Irish.
The 49-year-old actor, who last played Satan in the actioner "End of Days," is a bit perturbed about his homeland's use in Hollywood and speaks his mind in an interview in Irish America magazine. "I don't think it's necessarily a good thing that Mel Gibson and Steven Spielberg came to Ireland to shoot 'Braveheart' and 'Saving Private Ryan,'" he said. "Spielberg shot there because it was cheap, and he got to use the Irish Army. I don't like to see the country being used as a cheap location for huge multi-million dollar movies."
He also isn't keen on non-Irish actors playing Irish characters. "There are a lot of really brilliant Irish actors and actresses that never get a chance to do anything." Despite his love for Frank McCourt's book "Angela's Ashes," he fired off about the film adaptation. "An Irish movie?" said Byrne. "It's directed by an Englishman, Alan Parker. The screenplay is by an American writer (Laura Jones). It has a Scottish actor (Robert Carlyle) playing the father and an English actress (Emily Watson) playing the mother." We're just glad no one asked him to rate Brad Pitt's much-criticized brogue in "The Devil's Own." --