ANXIETY. That's both the thought dominating our brains and the feeling coursing through our stomachs in these later stages of The Amazing Race, where small mistakes have big repercussions. To wit: Abbie and Ryan and Josh and Brent both gambled on a risky Munich flight transfer and wound up about a half day behind the top four teams; James and Abba lost their backpacks (along with a passport) when the cab they'd asked to idle just took off. Everyone else? They're fine. But three teams struggled against the vagaries of fate this episode, SO MUCH SO that it's not even a full episode. For (what feels like?) the first time in Amazing Race history, the credits roll with a "TO BE CONTINUED…" I couldn't be more anxious.
Trey and Lexi, Jaymes and James, Natalie and Nadiya, and James and Abba all made their way from Istanbul to Moscow, Russia, without a hiccup. And that trend continued for the duration of the leg, where even some frustrations at one of the challenges were tempered by the knowledge that two teams were sooooo far behind that speed wasn't so much an issue. Obviously teams are familiar with "The Tortoise and the Hare" and its important lesson. But when you're attempting a complicated synchronized swimming routine in a less-than-flattering bathing cap, you give it the time it needs.
That was one of the Detour options — "Synchronized," in which teams worked with the Russian Olympic Synchronized Swim team (and their coach) to master a few straightforward routines. If you didn't know before, synchronized swimming is TOUGH. Moving gracefully through a pool presents enough of a challenge on its own; to do so with seven other swimmers in some harmonious rhythm? And, here, being evaluated by a RUSSIAN coach? Needless to say, every team went through 10-15 rehearsals before nailing the routine. Even the Chippendales, who a) spend every night performing choreographed dance moves, and b) look exceedingly comfortable in their Speedos, took a little while to get into the groove.
The other Detour, "Alphabetized," was in essence a library search. Four books were written down, which teams had to discover in the intricate filing system and then go pick up from the stacks. The challenge: Russian, with all its Cyrillic characters, is not exactly the easiest language to comprehend. Trey and Lexi (the only team to complete the challenge) realized early on that the only way through was treating it like a game of memory — noting symbols and patterns rather than making any big attempt to understand what you were looking for. And, embracing this, they flew through the challenge.
Much later on, Abbie and Ryan and Josh and Brent finally landed in Moscow. And from this vantage point (one that, I'll say, has still only seen "half" of this episode), it was sort of remarkable to watch what they did next. Knowing full well that they were the last two teams, they decided that rather than compete… they'd work together. Stay by each other's side. And so when the former finished their synchronized swimming first, they hung around to watch Josh and Brent finish themselves. How this plays out when one team eventually has to beat another team to keep racing I DON'T KNOW, but for now — very nice, guys!
The Roadblock here was a non-issue for the four teams we saw complete it. Ten locks at the "Tree of Love" needed to be unlocked using an assortment of keys. No sweat! Under tighter circumstances (i.e. two teams not 12 hours behind), this may have posed a more interesting challenge, but without that footrace quality to it…
Trey and Lexi ultimately touched the mat at the Bolshoi Theater first (winning their second leg in a row), but we remain with NO LOSERS so far for this leg. Check in next week when there will definitely be losers to talk about. Until then!
[Image Credit: CBS]
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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.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
Claire is an attractive CIA operative and Ray is an M16 agent who simultaneously leave their Governmental spy activities in the dust to try and profit from a battle between two rival multi-national corporations both trying to launch a new product that will transform the world and make billions. Their goal is to secure the top-secret formula and get a patent before they are outsmarted. While their respective egomaniacal CEOs engage in an unending battle of wills and one-upmanship Claire and Ray start out conning and playing one another in a clever game of industrial espionage that is even more complicated due to their own long-term romantic relationship.
WHO’S IN IT?
Reuniting Closer co-stars Julia Roberts (as Claire) and Clive Owen (as Ray) turns out to be an inspired idea. They turn out to be the perfect pair oozing movie-star charm and electricity in this elaborate con-game that might have been the kind of thing Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant might have made in the '60s (in fact they did in Charade). Roberts with that infamous hairstyle back the way we like it and Owen looking great in sunglasses prove they have what it takes to navigate us through this ultra-complex plot in which no one is sure who they can trust at any given moment. They play it all in high style and the wit just flows as the story skirts back and forth during the period of five years. The supporting cast is well-chosen with juicy roles for Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti (out of their John Adams duds) as the two CEOs going for each other’s throats. Giamatti who sometimes has a tendency to overdo it is especially slimy here and great fun to watch.
Big-star studio movies today rarely take risks and often talk down to the audience but in Duplicity writer/director Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton) has crafted a complicated con-comedy that requires complete attention at all times just to keep up with the dense plot’s twists and turns. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a New York Times crossword puzzle and Gilroy and his top-drawer production team deliver a glossy beautiful-looking film that’s easy on the eyes hitting locations from Dubai to Rome to New York City.
Like any good puzzle it sometimes can be frustrating putting it all together and Gilroy’s habit of taking us back in time and then inching forward gets a little confusing even with the on-screen chyron pointing out where we are at any given moment. Stick with it though and you will be well-rewarded.
A scene near the end where the formula must be found scanned and faxed in a matter of minutes is sweat-inducing edge-of-your-seat moviemaking and it provides the ultimate opportunity for Roberts and Owen to take the “con” to the next level. Another where Roberts uses a thong to try and trick Owen into admitting an affair he never had is also priceless and gets right to the heart of the game-playing.
GO OUT AND GET POPCORN WHEN ...
Never. Stock up during the coming attractions. If you miss a moment of this entertaining romp you might never figure it all out.