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.
Theatrics slapstick and cheer are cinematic qualities you rarely find outside the realm of animation. Disney perfected it with their pantheon of cartoon classics mixing music humor spectacle and light-hearted drama that swept up children while still capturing the imaginations and hearts of their parents. But these days even reinterpretations of fairy tales get the gritty make-over leaving little room for silliness and unfiltered glee. Emerging through that dark cloud is Mirror Mirror a film that achieves every bit of imagination crafted by its two-dimensional predecessors and then some. Under the eye of master visualist Tarsem Singh (The Fall Immortals) Mirror Mirror's heightened realism imbues it with the power to pull off anything — and the movie never skimps on the anything.
Like its animated counterparts Mirror Mirror stays faithful to its source material but twists it just enough to feel unique. When Snow White (Lily Collins) was a little girl her father the King ventured into a nearby dark forest to do battle with an evil creature and was never seen or heard from again. The kingdom was inherited by The Queen (Julia Roberts) Snow's evil stepmother and the fair-skinned beauty lived locked up in the castle until her 18th birthday. Grown up and tired of her wicked parental substitute White sneaks out of the castle to the village for the first time. There she witnesses the economic horrors The Queen has imposed upon the people of her land all to fuel her expensive beautification. Along the way Snow also meets Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) who is suffering from his own money troubles — mainly being robbed by a band of stilt-wearing dwarves. When the Queen catches wind of the secret excursion she casts Snow out of the castle to be murdered by her assistant Brighton (Nathan Lane).
Fairy tales take flack for rejecting the idea of women being capable but even with its flighty presentation and dedication to the old school Disney method Mirror Mirror empowers its Snow White in a genuine way thanks to Collins' snappy charming performance. After being set free by Brighton Snow crosses paths with the thieving dwarves and quickly takes a role on their pilfering team (which she helps turn in to a Robin Hooding business). Tarsem wisely mines a spectrum of personalities out of the seven dwarves instead of simply playing them for one note comedy. Sure there's plenty of slapstick and pun humor (purposefully and wonderfully corny) but each member of the septet stands out as a warm compassionate companion to Snow even in the fantasy world.
Mirror Mirror is richly designed and executed in true Tarsem-fashion with breathtaking costumes (everything from ball gowns to the dwarf expando-stilts to ridiculous pirate ship hats with working canons) whimsical sets and a pitch-perfect score by Disney-mainstay Alan Menken. The world is a storybook and even its monsters look like illustrations rather than photo-real creations. But what makes it all click is the actors. Collins holds her own against the legendary Julia Roberts who relishes in the fun she's having playing someone despicable. She delivers every word with playful bite and her rapport with Lane is off-the-wall fun. Armie Hammer riffs on his own Prince Charming physique as Alcott. The only real misgiving of the film is the undercooked relationship between him and Snow. We know they'll get together but the journey's half the fun and Mirror Mirror serves that portion undercooked.
Children will swoon for Mirror Mirror but there's plenty here for adults — dialogue peppered with sharp wisecracks and a visual style ripped from an elegant tapestry. The movie wears its heart on its sleeve and rarely do we get a picture where both the heart and the sleeve feel truly magical.
While Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan helped define the style of a modern day war film it was his HBO mini-series Band of Brothers that truly captured the World War II experience. The multi-part saga dealt with every nook and cranny of the US military's involvement in the war from large scale battles to intimate character details. The new movie Red Tails developed and produced by Spielberg's Indiana Jones collaborator and Star Wars mastermind George Lucas attempts to cover the same ground for the sprawling tale of the Tuskegee Airmen—albeit in a two hour compressed form. The result is a messy handling of a powerful story of heroism. The good intentions make it on to the screen...but the drama never gets off the runway.
Red Tails assembles a talented cast of young actors to portray the brave men of the 332nd Fighter Group a faction of the Tuskegee Airmen. The ensemble is reduced to a jumble of simplistic one-note characterizations: Easy (Nate Parker) the do-gooder with a dark past; Lightning (David Oyelowo) the suave rebel who never listens to orders; Junior (Tristan Wilds) the fresh-faced newbie ready for a good fight; and the rest a nameless group of underwritten yes men all with just enough backstory to make you interested but never satisfied. Thankfully with the little material they have to work with the gentlemen excel. Rapper-turned-actor Ne-Yo is a standout as the quick-witted Smokey overshadowing vets Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr. (who spends most of the movie chomping on a corn cob pipe and grinning).
With the plethora of characters comes too many plot threads and Red Tails stuffs its runtime with everything from epic flyboy dog fights romantic interludes (Lightning finds himself infatuated with a local Italian woman) office politics alcoholism and even a POW camp escape. If there was a true lead character the movie may have succeeded in stringing the events together in a coherent narrative but instead Red Tails is choppy and uneven. The aerial battles for all their CG special effects nastiness are incredibly exhilarating but when the movie's not tackling the intensity of a battle (which it does often) it comes to a near halt. That mostly comes down to history standing in the way—the crux of the story focuses on how segregation caused the military's higher ups to avoid utilizing the Red Tails in true battle. Meaning there's a lot of talk on how the team should be fighting as opposed to actually doing it.Director Anthony Hemingway tries to do this important historical milestone justice but the execution flies too low even under made-for-TV movie standards. Red Tails is a dull history lesson occasionally spruced up with Lucas' eye for action. The charisma of the the main set of actors goes a long way in keeping the film tolerable but they can't fill the gaping hole where the emotional hook belongs. This is a movie about heroes yet not once are the filmmakers able to pull off a moment that feels remotely brave. Which is unfortunate—as it's a story of the utmost importance.
September 20, 2004 10:21am EST
Macaulay Culkin arrested on drug charges
Home Alone star Macaulay Culkin was arrested Friday in Oklahoma City, Okla., on suspicion of possessing marijuana and a controlled substance, Reuters reports. According to the arrest report, an Oklahoma City police officer pulled over a car speeding on a highway in the city. Culkin, 24, was a passenger in the car driven by a man from New York. The officer asked Culkin and the driver, identified as Brett M. Tabisel, to step out of the car after he had given the officer permission to search the vehicle. The two said they were driving from New York to Los Angeles. The officer found the anti-anxiety drug Xanax and sleeping pills in plastic sandwich bags and 17.3 grams (0.6 ounce) of marijuana in a metal cigarette box. The two were reportedly cooperative with the search and quickly surrendered the drugs. According to the report, Culkin obtained the prescription drugs without a prescription. After spending about two hours in jail, Culkin was released Friday night on $4,000 bail, the Oklahoma County Sheriff's Department said. Culkin, who most recently starred in the film Saved!, did not talk to reporters when he left the jail, Reuters reports.
Edward Furlong busted in lobster ordeal
Actor Edward Furlong also did jail time last week. The Associated Press reports the Terminator 2 star was arrested Wednesday night in Florence, Ky., on a misdemeanor charge of alcohol intoxication in a public place. According to the police report, Furlong, an animal-rights supporter and vegetarian, was arrested after he and some friends removed lobsters from a tank at a grocery store. He argued with store managers, who then called police. According to his arrest citation, Furlong was unsteady on his feet, his speech was slurred and his breath smelled of alcohol, the citation said. He spent about 1 1/2 hours in the Boone County jail before his release. The actor is in the area to shoot his latest film, Jimmy & Judy.
Jackson regrets paying off past molestation claims
During a break in his child molestation pretrial hearing Friday, Michael Jackson's attorney read off a statement aimed at rumors and leaks surrounding the case, including reports he paid off past molestation claims. "Many years ago, he did pay money rather than litigate two false allegations that he had harmed children," attorney Tom Mesereau said. "Mr. Jackson now regrets making these payments." Dressed in a white suit and flanked by family members, Jackson stood by as Mesereau read the statement. Mesereau said Jackson had been pressured to make payments by his advisers and by a music industry that "did not want negative publicity from these lawsuits interfering with their profits," Reuters reports. Jackson was in court in Santa Maria, Calif., to watch the mother of his young accuser take the witness stand.
Toronto film fest hands out awards
Hotel Rwanda and Omagh won top honors Sunday at the Toronto International Film Festival, which ran from Sept. 9-18. Hotel Rwanda, based on the true story of a hotel manager who saved hundreds of lives during the country's 1994 genocide, won the People's Choice award, which are voted on by regular moviegoers. Past People's Choice winners include the Oscar winners American Beauty, Life Is Beautiful, Shine and Chariots of Fire. The Discovery award, chosen by journalists who attended the festival, went to Omagh, about the relatives of victims of the 1998 bombing in Northern Ireland. Other prizewinners included the New Zealand film In My Father's Den, which won the Fipresci prize given by a jury to an emerging filmmaker. Canadian film prizes went to comedy It's All Gone Pete Tong and French-language horror La Peau Blanche (White Skin).
French director flips bill for free screening
French director Claude Lelouch, who held free screenings for his film Les Parisiens Friday after it was trashed by critics, told RTL radio in an interview he must now flip the bill for $182,700. "It'll cost me about a million francs ($182,700)," Lelouch said. "(Audiences in the) theaters were enthusiastic ... People loved it. And since (Friday), I am getting even more messages than before." Lelouch, whose 1966 film A Man and a Woman won Oscars for best foreign film and screenplay, said about 40,000 people had watched the film in 400 theaters. "It's been 40 years that I've let myself be criticized. I've shut my mouth for 40 years," he said of his move to try to drum up public support for the film by offering the free screening.
Papa Simpson starts new record label
Jessica Simpson's father and manager, Joe Simpson, is starting a record label. Reuters reports JT Records (named for Simpson and his wife, Tina), a joint venture with Geffen Records, calls for the new label to deliver at least two albums per year. Geffen will pay all costs, with profits split evenly between the two entities. JT's first act will be the male quintet Barefoot, whom Simpson describes as a cross between Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Third Eye Blind. The band is expected to release its debut next spring. Simpson, who also handles the careers of his two daughters, Jessica and Ashlee, says he was also courted by Warner Music Group (Simpson manages breaking artist Ryan Cabrera, whose music is distributed through WMG's E.V.L.A./Atlantic label) and Sony BMG (Jessica is on Sony BMG-owned Columbia).
Porn studios get first condom fines
The California Division of Occupational Health and Safety on Friday slapped fines on two Los Angeles-based porn production companies for allowing actors to perform without condoms, Reuters reports. Evasive Angles and TTB Productions were fined $30,560 each for making porn movies that it said exposed three actors to HIV infections. It was the first time the Cal/OSHA had taken regulatory action against the lucrative adult film industry in what is dubbed "Porn Valley" in the San Fernando Valley area of L.A. Last April, five actors tested positive for the virus that causes AIDS, causing the porn industry shut down voluntarily for a month following the outbreak. Porn producers have resisted compulsory condom rules saying consumers do not want to watch safe sex. But Cal/OSHA said porn actors had the same legal right to a safe workplace as employees in more conventional businesses.