Lions Gate via Everett Collection
When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
Follow @Michael Arbeiter
| Follow @Hollywood_com
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.
Here is the complete list of winners:
Best Motion Picture - Drama
The Aviator WINNER!
Million Dollar Baby
Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama
Scarlett Johansson, A Love Song For Bobby Long
Nicole Kidman, Birth
Imelda Staunton, Vera Drake
Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby WINNER!
Uma Thurman, Kill Bill Vol. 2
Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama
Javier Bardem, The Sea Inside
Don Cheadle, Hotel Rwanda
Johnny Depp, Finding Neverland
Leonardo Dicaprio, The Aviator WINNER!
Liam Neeson, Kinsey
Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
The Phantom of the Opera
Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy
Annette Bening, Being Julia WINNER!
Ashley Judd, De-Lovely
Emmy Rossum, The Phantom of the Opera
Kate Winslet, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Renee Zellweger, Bridget Jones: the Edge of Reason
Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture -Musical or Comedy
Jim Carrey, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Jamie Foxx, Ray WINNER!
Paul Giamatti, Sideways
Kevin Kline, De-Lovely
Kevin Spacey, Beyond the Sea
Best Director - Motion Picture
Clint Eastwood, Million Dollar Baby WINNER!
Marc Forster, Finding Neverland
Mike Nichols, Closer
Alexander Payne, Sideways
Martin Scorsese, The Aviator
Best Foreign Language Film
The Chorus (Les Choristes), (France)
House of Flying Daggers, (China)
The Motorcycle Diaries, (Brazil)
The Sea Inside, (Spain) WINNER!
A Very Long Engagement, (France)
Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
Cate Blanchet, The Aviator
Laura Linney, Kinsey
Virginia Madsen, Sideways
Natalie Portman, Closer WINNER!
Meryl Streep, The Manchurian Candidate
Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
David Carradine, Kill Bill Vol. 2
Thomas Haden Church, Sideways
Jamie Foxx, Collateral
Morgan Freeman, Million Dollar Baby
Clive Owen, Closer WINNER!
Best Screenplay - Motion Picture
Charlie Kaufman, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
John Logan, The Aviator
David Magee, Finding Neverland
Patrick Marber, Closer
Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor, Sideways WINNER!
Best Original Score - Motion Picture
Clint Eastwood, Million Dollar Baby
Jan A.P. Kaczmarek, Finding Neverland
Rolfe Kent, Sideways
Howard Shore, The Aviator WINNER!
Hans Zimmer, Spanglish
Best Original Song - Motion Picture
"Accidentally In Love" -- Shrek 2
Music & Lyrics By: Adam Duritz, Dan Vickery, David Immergluck, Matthew Malley & David Bryson
"Believe" - The Polar Express
Music & Lyrics By: Glen Ballard & Alan Silvestri
"Learn To Be Lonely" - The Phantom of the Opera
Music By: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics By: Charles Hart
"Million Voices" - Hotel Rwanda
Music By: Wyclef Jean, Jerry "Wonder" Duplessis, Andrea Guerra
Lyrics By: Wyclef Jean
"Old Habits Die Hard" - Alfie
Music & Lyrics By: Mick Jagger & David A. Stewart WINNER!
Best Television Series - Drama
Nip/Tuck (FX) WINNER!
The Sopranos (HBO)
Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series - Drama
Edie Falco, The Sopranos
Jennifer Garner, Alias
Mariska Hargitay, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit WINNER!
Christine Lahti, Jack & Bobby
Joely Richardson, Nip/Tuck
Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series - Drama
Michael Chiklis, The Shield
Denis Leary, Rescue Me
Julian Mcmahon, Nip/Tuck
Ian McShane, Deadwood WINNER!
James Spader, Boston Legal
Best Television Series - Musical or Comedy
Arrested Development (Fox)
Desperate Housewives (ABC) WINNER!
Sex and the City (HBO)
Will & Grace (NBC)
Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series - Musical or Comedy
Marcia Cross, Desperate Housewives
Teri Hatcher, Desperate Housewives WINNER!
Felicity Huffman, Desperate Housewives
Debra Messing, Will & Grace
Sarah Jessica Parker, Sex And The City
Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series - Musical or Comedy
Jason Bateman, Arrested Development WINNER!
Zach Braff, Scrubs
Larry David, Curb Your Enthusiasm
Matt Leblanc, Joey
Tony Shalhoub, Monk
Charlie Sheen, Two And A Half Men
Best Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made For Television
American Family - Journey of Dreams (PBS)
Iron Jawed Angels (HBO)
The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (HBO) WINNER!
The Lion in Winter (Showtime)
Something the Lord Made (HBO)
Best Performance by an Actress in a Mini-Series or a Motion Picture Made for Television
Glenn Close, The Lion in Winter WINNER!
Blythe Danner, Back When We Were Grown Ups
Julianna Margulies, The Grid
Miranda Richardson, The Lost Prince
Hilary Swank, Iron Jawed Angels
Best Performance by an Actor in a Mini-Series or A Motion Picture Made for Television
Mos Def, Something the Lord Made
Jamie Foxx, Redemption
William H. Macy, The Wool Cap
Geoffrey Rush, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers WINNER!
Patrick Stewart, The Lion in Winter
Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television
Drea De Matteo, The Sopranos
Anjelica Huston, Iron Jawed Angels WINNER!
Nicolette Sheridan, Desperate Housewives
Charlize Theron, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers
Emily Watson, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers
Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television
Sean Hayes, Will & Grace
Michael Imperioli, The Sopranos
Jeremy Piven, Entourage
Oliver Platt, Huff
William Shatner, Boston Legal WINNER!