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]
In a post-Harry Potter Avatar and Lord of the Rings world the descriptors "sci-fi" and "fantasy" conjure up particular imagery and ideas. The Hunger Games abolishes those expectations rooting its alternate universe in a familiar reality filled with human characters tangible environments and terrifying consequences. Computer graphics are a rarity in writer/director Gary Ross' slow-burn thriller wisely setting aside effects and big action to focus on star Jennifer Lawrence's character's emotional struggle as she embarks on the unthinkable: a 24-person death match on display for the entire nation's viewing pleasure. The final product is a gut-wrenching mature young adult fiction adaptation diffused by occasional meandering but with enough unexpected choices to keep audiences on their toes.
Panem a reconfigured post-apocalyptic America is sectioned off into 12 unique districts and ruled under an iron thumb by the oppressive leaders of The Capitol. To keep the districts producing their specific resources and prevent them from rebelling The Capitol created The Hunger Games an annual competition pitting two 18-or-under "tributes" from each district in a battle to the death. During the ritual tribute "Reaping " teenage Katniss (Lawrence) watches as her 12-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for battle—and quickly jumps to her aid becoming the first District 12 citizen to volunteer for the games. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a meek baker's son and the second tribute Effie the resident designer and Haymitch a former Hunger Games winner-turned-alcoholic-turned-mentor Katniss rides off to The Capitol to train and compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
The greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is Ross' rich realization of the book's many worlds: District 12 is painted as a reminiscent Southern mining town haunting and vibrant; The Capitol is a utopian metropolis obsessed with design and flair; and The Hunger Games battleground is a sprawling forest peppered with Truman Show-esque additions that remind you it's all being controlled by overseers. The small-scale production value adds to the character-first approach and even when the story segues to larger arenas like a tickertape parade in The Capitol's grand Avenue of Tributes hall it's all about Katniss.
For fans the script hits every beat a nearly note-for-note interpretation of author Suzanne Collins' original novel—but those unfamiliar shouldn't worry about missing anything. Ross knows his way around a sharp screenplay (he's the writer of Big Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) and he's comfortable dropping us right into the action. His characters are equally as colorful as Panem Harrelson sticking out as the former tribute enlivened by the chance to coach winners. He's funny he's discreet he's shaded—a quality all the cast members share. As a director Ross employs a distinct often-grating perspective. His shaky cam style emphasizes the reality of the story but in fight scenarios—and even simple establishing shots of District 12's goings-on—the details are lost in motion blur.
But the dread of the scenario is enough to make Hunger Games an engrossing blockbuster. The lead-up to the actual competition is an uncomfortable and biting satire of reality television sports and everything that commands an audience in modern society. Katniss' brooding friend Gale tells her before she departs "What if nobody watched?" speculating that carnage might end if people could turn away. Unfortunately they can't—forcing Katniss and Peeta to become "stars" of the Hunger Games. The duo are pushed to gussy themselves up put on a show and play up their romance for better ratings. Lawrence channels her reserved Academy Award-nominated Winter's Bone character to inhabit Katniss' frustration with the system. She's great at hunting but she doesn't want to kill. She's compassionate and considerate but has no interest in bowing down to the system. She's a leader but she knows full well she's playing The Capitol's game. Even with 23 other contestants vying for the top spot—like American Idol with machetes complete with Ryan Seacrest stand-in Caesar Flickerman (the dazzling Stanley Tucci)—Katniss' greatest hurdle is internal. A brave move for a movie aimed at a young audience.
By the time the actual Games roll around (the movie clocks in at two and a half hours) there's a need to amp up the pace that never comes and The Hunger Games loses footing. Katniss' goal is to avoid the action hiding in trees and caves waiting patiently for the other tributes to off themselves—but the tactic isn't all that thrilling for those watching. Luckily Lawrence Hutcherson and the ensemble of young actors still deliver when they cross paths and particular beats pack all the punch an all-out deathwatch should. PG-13 be damned the film doesn't skimp on the bloodshed even when it comes to killing off children. The Hunger Games bites off a lot for the first film of a franchise and does so bravely and boldly. It may not make it to the end alive but it doesn't go down without a fight.
S6E12: After last week’s mishap of an episode, I began to wonder if 30 Rock would ever fall back into the form of its glory days. While it might never really reach the same caliber of its first three years on air, 30 Rock does prove that it still has potential. This week’s episode “St. Patrick’s Day” is an example of the quality the show still has at its disposal.
All too often this season, 30 Rock has exhibited an abandonment of a cast of characters we once called “human.” This week, however, our old friends Liz and Jack do seem to fall back in step with their relatable, believable incarnations. For the first time in quite a while, Liz experiences some real emotional growth. And Jack takes a legitimately interesting professional step.
"If it wasn't for the Germans, we wouldn't have any of the Indiana Jones movies." - Liz
It’s St. Patrick’s Day in New York City, and Liz has big plans: stay home with Criss, completely avoiding the madness outside, and lambasting everything related to Irish culture. Liz’s plans are interrupted when her least favorite piece of Irish culture shows up on her doorstep: Dennis Duffy, one of the greatest sitcom characters in TV history. After suffering a minor head injury, Dennis takes up on Liz’s couch to recuperate. But Liz wants him out immediately, knowing that Dennis is a toxic force who will only serve to damage her relationship with Criss. Dennis’ presence does bring up a touchy issue that Liz and Criss are dealing with: her emotional unavailability. Whereas Criss is secure and sweet and capable of expressing his feelings for Liz, she is closed-off, anxious, and phobic over saying “I love you,” much to Criss’ dismay. Side note: the last two times or so when Dennis has been on 30 Rock, his material has not really lived up to that of earlier episodes featuring the character. Tonight’s Dennis dialogue is perfect—misguided, oblivious, generous with misinformation. After Liz learns that Dennis has managed to pick up his own life—finally getting married to a girl far better suited for him than Liz ever was—she also realizes that maybe it’s time for her to change and grow up. As such, she finds Criss and apologizes, vowing to open up more, just before telling him that she loves him. We haven’t seen Liz really grow in quite some time. Although I’d never have pegged Criss for her “perfect man”—Floyd, Carol, pre-“The Bubble” Dr. Drew Baird, even good ol’ Cousin The Hair—any vehicle for Liz to experience any sort of fleshing out or examination is a worthy one. "We all have faces that people just want to punch." - FrankEver since Kabletown took over, Jack has been a shell of his old self. The show has alluded to that lately, hinting that his new, soft persona is not just due to his daughter or kidnapped wife. It’s because his job is no longer a challenge—no longer something he can live for or define himself by. But maybe he can change that. Jack discovers a Dungeons and Dragons-style game being played by the TGS writers. Due to the nature of the game—there’s a lot of trading, business planning, conquering, the works—Jack takes immediate interest, drawing parallels between the isles in the game and his real life companies and such. Jack quickly becomes champion of the game, even managing to solve one of the hardest puzzles (thanks to some advice from a light-hearted priest), and realizes that he can do the same for Kabletown. He doesn’t want to sit idly by, working for a company like this. So, he won’t. The writers shower Jack with fake gold coins while he deliberates his next move for his real company. Kabletown will be Jack Donaghy’s. "I'll treat them like my own children. Which is a bad example, because I left my kids at a Sears in 2004." - HazelMeanwhile, Hazel is not doing so hot at keeping Tracy and Jenna from fighting with each other. When Jenna is billed first on NBC’s St. Patrick’s Day special, Tracy throws a fit, and cue an eruption of excessive pettiness and name-calling. Pete has a conniption, NBC suffers, and Hazel just can’t seem to figure out what to do. Only one person can solve a problem like this: Kenneth. And after countless denials (from himself) of his right to do so, Kenneth gives in and vows always to be there for Tracy, Jenna and Hazel. It may no longer be his job, but it’s his passion. So, Liz has made personal steps and Jack professional. Both of these characters are exhibiting growth, and are suggesting some interesting stuff in the near future. What do you think will happen with Liz? Will she and Criss stay together? Get married? Have kids? And as for Jack, how far will his reign take him? Let us know in the comments section, or on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter.
Actor Nicolas Cage has a lot in common with his superhero counterpart Ghost Rider featured once again on the big screen in the pseudo-sequel Spirit of Vengeance. Much like the daemon-infested crime fighter Cage has the power to make anything he touches explode into a wild blazing inferno thanks to his unique performance techniques. Cage does not simply deliver a line he detonates it; He does not simply react to his co-stars he executes an interpretive dance; He does not simply throw a punch he unleashes physical armageddon. Occasionally the style provokes unintentional laugher but in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance anything less would be unrealistic.
The new adventure finds Ghost Rider aka Johnny Blaze a former stunt man cursed after begging the Devil to save his father's life hiding out in Eastern Europe where he believes his soul-sucking alter-ego can remain silent. But Blaze's TLC session is cut short when Moreau (Idris Elba) an Algerian priest with connections to the Devil's latest diabolical plan arrives. Seems Satan who walks the Earth under the alias Roarke is hellbent on inhabiting Danny the young son of Nadya who made her own deal with the Prince of Darkness. If he succeeds Roarke will continue existing in the world of man—so of course it's up to Ghost Rider to put the kibosh on the end-of-the-world scenario.
If you didn't see the first Ghost Rider movie don't fret; the sequel isn't confined by any established mythology nor is it that concerned with the logic of its own story. Directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor employ a manic eye for action displayed in earlier films like Crank and Gamer shooting motorcycle chases shootouts and flaming skull transformations with adrenaline-infused camerawork that should leave anyone susceptible to motion sickness running to the bathroom. The 3-D transfer of the movie is a non-factor the post-convereted stereoscopic effects rarely intrude on the zippy camerawork. Unlike the Crank films Ghost Rider contends with its script dragging when the movie tries to explain what the heck is going on and only picking up when the directing duo and Nic Cage are allowed to play.
A host of solid supporting actors breath traces of life into half-baked villain and characters—Ciaran Hinds stands out as Roarke playing him like a forgotten Dick Tracy baddie—but at the end of the day Spirit of Vengeance is all Cage's show. With the fire of hell burning inside Blaze is in a constant fight against himself and Cage embodies the monstrous struggle with cockeyed rage and growling vocals. Neveldine and Taylor make the most of their larger-than-life lead and Cage spends most of the film teetering on the edge ballistic fury. That's not to say the movie doesn't take its quiet moments–a scene between Cage and Elba where Blaze begs Moreau to remove the Ghost Rider curse is surprisingly dramatic—but the movie has goals: to rattle you at 100 miles per hour.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance isn't as fun flashy or poignant as some of its recent comic book contemporaries but for 90 minutes Neveldine and Taylor revel in the ridiculous wringing their character and lead actor for every ounce of mayhem. This is a greasy gritty grunge Ghost Rider purposefully disgusting and low-fi. While a stronger emphasis on story would only help the spotty action flick Spirit of Vengeance proves a decent alternative to the faithful boyscouts and friendly neighborhoood superheroes that fill our big screen blockbusters. Ghost Rider belches magma pisses fire and plays nasty—you probably already know if this movie is for you.
Top Story: Indie Couple Coppola, Jonze Split
Director couple Sofia Coppola and Spike Jonze have decided to divorce, according to MTV News.com. The couple wed four and a half years ago after meeting in 1992. Since then, Coppola, 32, and Jonze, 34, have become indie film whizkids, with the succsess of Jonze's cult flicks Being John Malkovich and Adaptation and Coppola's Lost in Translation and The Virgin Suicides. Rumors of trouble in the marriage surfaced, however, in recent months, especially after Coppola's semi-autobiographical Translation was released. The L.A. Weekly recently observed that in the film, the "workaholic, emotionally absent photographer" husband, played by Giovanni Ribisi, of Scarlett Johansson's young wife Charlotte "reminds one of Coppola's husband."
Dead Musicians Reap Grammy Nods
Warren Zevon, George Harrison, and the Cashes picked up multiple posthumous Grammy nominations Thursday. Zevon, who died in September from lung cancer, gathered four nods including song of the year, while Harrison picked up three--two years after he, too, died of lung cancer. Country couple Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, who died within months of each other earlier this year, landed four between them. Other deceased nominees included Rosemary Clooney, Celia Cruz, soul legend Sam Cooke and blues giant Muddy Waters.
Limbaugh Blames Politics for Drug Probe
In the drug investigation against him, Rush Limbaugh's attorney is accusing the prosecutor of having political motives in saying his client bought painkillers illegally, Reuters reports. In search warrants released Thursday, investigators alleged that Limbaugh engaged in illegal drug use and went "doctor shopping" for prescription painkillers. The controversial radio commentator has denied any wrongdoing. "What [the medical records] show is that Mr. Limbaugh suffered extreme pain and had legitimate reasons for taking pain medication," Limbaugh read on his radio show Thursday from his lawyer's statement. "Unfortunately, because of Mr. Limbaugh's prominence and well-known political opinions, he is being subjected to an invasion of privacy no citizen of this republic should endure."
Second Child Claimed Abuse in Old Jackson Case
Authorities investigating molestation allegations in 1993 against Michael Jackson spoke to a second child at that time who also claimed to have been molested, but no charges were ever filed, a retired sheriff told The Associated Press. Former Santa Barbara County Sheriff Jim Thomas said late Thursday the child was reluctant to testify and the case was abandoned. Apparently, the claims of molestation were not as severe as what was being alleged by the first boy, whose parent's settled a multimillion-dollar civil settlement with the pop superstar. The second child could have been used as a corroborating witness if the primary victim had testified in court, Thomas told AP.
Celebrate Christmas With Ozzy and the Gang
MTV will air The Osbourne Family Christmas Special Dec. 11 to give viewers a glimpse into the holiday season with America's favorite dysfunctional family, AP reports. Promising to take "holiday specials to a bizarre new level," the program was taped at the family home in Beverly Hills, Calif., and includes appearances by Jessica Simpson, newlyweds Dave Navarro and Carmen Electra, and the show-stopping reading of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas with Electra, matriarch Sharon Osbourne, OutKast's Big Boi, Eddie Griffin, Tracy Morgan, Anthony Anderson and Eva Mendes.
Wanda Yanked, Joe Millionaire Gets New Gig
Fox has pulled the plug on Wanda Sykes' Wanda at Large, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The series had a promising midseason start last March but fell in ratings this fall…Meanwhile, Joe Millionaire's first star Evan Marriott has a new gig as a game show host for the Game Show Network. The show Fake-a-Date will feature a contestant who will date two singles, one looking for love and the other who's hoping to win a luxury trip with his or her significant other, AP reports.
Role Call: Graham With Child, Thornton Turns on the Lights
Heather Graham has signed to do the independent feature Samantha's Child, also starring James Purefoy and Andy Serkis. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the film follows Samantha (Graham), who is unable to get pregnant and goes to a fertility clinic, where she is unknowingly impregnated with the Devil's DNA. Serkis (voice of Gollum in Lord of the Rings) portrays a priest who tries to stop Samantha from having the Devil's child…Billy Bob Thornton is in negotiations to star in the football drama, Friday Night Lights. Based on the book by H.G. Bissinger, the film chronicles the 1988 football season of the Odessa, Texas, Permian High Panthers, capturing the struggles and hopes of a financially troubled town that pins its dreams on the team's Friday night games. Thornton will play the team's coach, the trade paper reports.