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.
A decade-long gap between sequels could leave a franchise stale but in the case of Men in Black 3 it's the launch pad for an unexpectedly great blockbuster. The kooky antics of Agent J (Will Smith) and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) don't stray far from their 1997 and 2002 adventures but without a bombardment of follow-ups to keep the series in mind the wonderfully weird sensibilities of Men in Black feel fresh Smith's natural charisma once again on full display. Barry Sonnenfeld returns for the threequel another space alien romp with a time travel twist — which turns out to be Pandora's Box for the director's deranged imagination.
As time passed in the real world so did it for the timeline in the world of Men in Black. Picking up ten years after MIB 2 J and K are continuing to protect the Earth from alien threats and enforce the law on those who live incognito. While dealing with their own personal issues — K is at his all-time crabbiest for seemingly no reason — the suited duo encounter an old enemy Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) a prickly assassin seeking revenge on K who blew his arm off back in the '60s. Their street fight is more of a warning; Boris' real plan is to head back in time to save his arm and kill off K. He's successful prompting J to take his own leap through the time-space continuum — and team up with a younger K (Josh Brolin) to put an end to Boris plans for world domination.
Men in Black 3 is the Will Smith show. Splitting his time between the brick personalities of Jones and Brolin's K Smith struts his stuff with all the fast-talking comedic style that made him a star in yesteryears. In present day he's still the laid back normal guy in a world of oddities — J raises an eyebrow as new head honcho O (Emma Thompson) delivers a eulogy in a screeching alien tongue but coming up with real world explanations for flying saucer crashes comes a little easier. But back in 1969 he's an even bigger fish out water. Surprisingly director Barry Sonnenfeld and writer Etan Cohen dabble in the inherent issues that would spring up if a black gentlemen decked out in a slick suit paraded around New York in the late '60s. A star of Smith's caliber may stray away from that type of racy humor but the hook of Men in Black 3 is the actor's readiness for anything. He turns J's jokey anachronisms into genuine laughs and doesn't mind letting the special effect artists stretch him into an unrecognizable Twizzler for the movie's epic time jump sequence.
Unlike other summer blockbusters Men in Black 3 is light on the action Sonnenfeld utilizing his effects budget and dazzling creature work (by the legendary Rick Baker) to push the comedy forward. J's fight with an oversized extraterrestrial fish won't keep you on the edge of your seat but his slapstick escape and the marine animal's eventual demise are genuinely amusing. Sonnenfeld carries over the twisted sensibilities he displayed in small screen work like Pushing Daisies favoring bizarre banter and elaborating on the kookiness of the alien underworld than battle scenes. MIB3's chase scene is passable but the movie in its prime when Smith is sparring with Brolin and newcomer Michael Stuhlbarg who steals the show as a being capable of seeing the future. His twitchy character keeps Smith and the audience on their toes.
Men in Black 3 digs up nostalgia I wasn't aware I had. Smith's the golden boy of summer and even with modern ingenuity keeping it fresh — Sonnenfeld uses the mandatory 3D to full and fun effect — there's an element to the film that feels plucked from another era. The movie is economical and slight with plenty of lapses in logic that will provoke head scratching on the walk out of the theater but it's also perfectly executed. After ten years of cinematic neutralizing the folks behind Men in Black haven't forgotten what made the first movie work so well. After al these years Smith continues to make the goofy plot wild spectacle and crazed alien antics look good.
There's probably still someone somewhere that would fall for one of Sacha Baron Cohen's weird and wooly scenarios but let's face the facts: the days when Ali G. could snag an interview with Pat Buchanan or Gore Vidal are long gone. 2009's Bruno definitely let some steam out of Borat's tires not to mention the ensuing lawsuits. But it's refreshing to see Cohen and his Borat/Bruno cohort director Larry Charles flex their muscles in the fictional universe of The Dictator a vehicle that doesn't skimp on their signature cringe-worthy humor.
The world of The Dictator gives them the leeway to create crazy spectacles — at one point Cohen's General Aladeen rides down Fifth Avenue on a camel surrounded by a giant motorcade. Having a plot helps too; although part of the genius of Sacha Baron Cohen's schtick is how the viewer is made culpable by proxy by our amusement and horror at how he tricks and torments people who aren't in on the joke The Dictator continues the self-reflexive satirical bite. We're certainly not off the hook. Aladeen says and does truly outrageous things but they're also exaggerations of the world we live in. It might be a stretch to call Sacha Baron Cohen the British Lenny Bruce or George Carlin in a face merkin but rest assured that no topic is off limits. If you are offended by jokes about abortion rape feminists body hair race religion politics STDs war crimes ethnic cleansing necrophilia and/or bestiality don't even bother. However if you like the kind of comedy that makes you hide your face in your hands feeling like each laugh is being pried from you against your will you're in business.
Cohen eats up the screen as both General Aladeen and his incredibly dumb body double; the latter prefers the intimate company of one of his goats to a human while the former is a fairly stupid ruthless dictator whose own people are so disloyal to him that they actually ignore his commands to execute people. (He really likes to execute people.) When he arrives in New York City to attend a summit at the UN his uncle Tamir (Ben Kingsley) has the two switched so he can easily manipulate the "General" into signing a treaty to make Wadiya a democracy and reap the financial benefits. Aladeen finds refuge with Zoe a hairy-pitted activist who thinks he's a political dissident and is excited to be able to give him a safe haven in her touchy-feely Brooklyn grocery co-op. Instead of being typecast as another blonde dummy Anna Faris is finally given room to play as the wide-eyed naïf who takes Aladeen's very serious statements as jokes or simple miscommunications. She's a great foil to Baron Cohen who is easily half a foot taller than she is and has a wolfish grin. Their banter is often the most politically incorrect of the bunch but also the funniest.
Alas the plot. It's a bare bones situation to get a very broad character from A to B. Aladeen is obviously an outlandish mishmash of modern dictators; he spouts racist misogynist rhetoric endlessly and after a while...yeah we get it. However like all of Sacha Baron Cohen's humor The Dictator also takes a direct shot at Western countries (specifically the United States) which would be all fine and dandy if he didn't wedge an expository speech in about it as well. The problem with making a traditional narrative movie is that with some exceptions you've got to play within the guidelines. The Dictator isn't trying to do anything fancy; all it needs a few big beats and a neat ending to wrap it all up. It doesn't quite manage to tie it all together in a way that makes The Dictator more than an hour and a half or so of laughing and cringing.
Besides Faris and Kingsley there are a number of cameos by a very wide variety of comics and actors. Megan Fox plays herself Kevin Corrigan appears as a creepy dude who works at the co-op John C. Reilly is a racist security guard and Fred Armisen runs an anti-Aladeen café in New York's Little Wadiya district. The very funny Jason Mantzoukas has a large role as Nadal the former head of rocket science who was supposedly executed for not making Aladeen's nuclear warhead pointy. It's a good ensemble and hopefully Sacha Baron Cohen's next feature-length film will build on The Dictator's weaknesses.
The man-child: a staple character for modern comedy and notoriously known for being played one-note. They get the laugh they get out.
But turning the lovable goofball or zoned-out knucklehead into something more is no easy task—which makes Paul Rudd's work in Our Idiot Brother that much more impressive. Rudd's Earth-friendly farmer Ned (the closest thing to a new Lebowski we've seen since the original) finds himself down on his luck after being entrapped by a police officer looking for pot. After a stint in jail he abandons his rural hippie commune for the big city to take shelter with his three sisters. Unfortunately for Ned his three siblings Liz (Emily Mortimer) Miranda (Elizabeth Banks) and Natalie (Zooey Deschanel) are as equally displaced and confused from the ebb and flow of life—albeit with severely different perspectives of the world.
Liz struggles to put her kid in private school and keep her marriage to documentary filmmaker/scumbag Dylan (Steve Coogan) intact. Miranda claws her way to the top of Vanity Fair's editorial staff and shuns her flirtatious neighbor (Adam Scott). Natalie stresses over her commitment issues with girlfriend Cindy (Rashida Jones) leaving little time or patience for Ned's bumbling antics. Sound like a lot of plot? While the manic lives of Ned's sisters click symbolically with his journey to get back on his feet it makes for one sporadic narrative.
Like a series of vignettes Our Idiot Brother never gels but when director Jesse Peretz finds a moment of unadulterated Nedisms to throw up on screen the movie hits big. Whether it's Ned teaching his nephew how to fight accidentally romancing his sister's interview subject or infiltrating his ex-girlfriend's house to steal his dog Willie Nelson the movie relies heavily on Ned's antics and its smart to do so. But thin throughlines for its supporting don't hold a candle to Rudd doing his thing.
And its a testament to Rudd's versatility—the man has done everything from Shakespeare and raunchy Judd Apatow comedies after all—that makes the movie watchable. Rudd gives dimensionality to his nincompoop character allowing darker emotions to creep in when necessary. There's a point in the film when Ned gives up fighting for his type-A sisters' affection and it's some of the best material Rudd's ever delivered. But like one of Ned's lit joints Our Idiot Brother can quickly fizzle out leading to plodding plot twists and sentimental conclusions. Mortimer Banks and Deschanel are great actresses—here they drift through their scenes and come out in the end changed. Because they have to.
Our Idiot Brother tries to take the Apatow model to the indie scene and comes through with so-so results. Only Rudd's able to find something to latch on to to build upon to warm up to. In an unexpected twist it's the man-child who seems the most grown up.
Top Story: David Blaine Emerges From Box
Illusionist David Blaine emerged Sunday from the transparent box hanging over London's River Thames in which he spent 44 days for a starvation stunt and was taken to the hospital after making a brief statement, Reuters reports. Looking disheveled and visibly thinner, Blaine, who says he consumed only water during his ordeal, broke down in tears in front of a crowd of thousands. "I learned how important it is to have a sense of humor and to laugh at everything because nothing makes any sense," he said. Medical teams checked the 30-year-old New Yorker on the scene before he was carried on a stretcher into an ambulance and taken to the London Independent Hospital. Doctors said Blaine faced disorientation, muscle loss and may have damaged his appetite, which could put him at a longer-term risk of eating disorders. Blaine sold the television rights to broadcasters Sky TV and Channel 4 in deals reportedly worth at least $1 million.
Prosecution Says Enough Evidence for Blake Trial
Prosecutors say there is "more than sufficient" evidence to try actor Robert Blake for killing his wife. According to The Associated Press, prosecutors, responding to the defense motion to dismiss murder charges against the actor, said testimony at a preliminary hearing showed that Blake discussed killing his wife "in a manner strikingly similar to the manner in which she actually was killed." The prosecution added that Blake was in the area when she was killed and had gunshot residue on his hands and clothing. Blake, 69, is accused of shooting Bonny Lee Bakley to death on May 4, 2001, while she waited in his car as he allegedly went to retrieve a gun he had accidentally dropped under a table in a Studio City restaurant where they had just dined. But in September, the defense motion claimed there was no forensic evidence linking Blake to the shooting or the murder weapon and asked that murder charges against the Baretta star be dismissed. A hearing on the dismissal motion is scheduled for Oct. 31 with the trial set for Feb. 9.
Schwarzenegger Mural Gets Terminated
Los Angeles officials want a building owner to take down a giant mural of California Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger that went up a week after the Terminator star won the state's Oct. 7 recall election, Reuters reports. The city attorney charged owner Robert Lusk Davis Thursday with failing to get a permit for the ad promoting the DVD release of Terminator 3 but Davis, who is no relation to outgoing Gov. Gray Davis, said he would take the case to court before taking it down. The mural, on Cahuenga Blvd. in Studio City, is about 40 feet high and about 100 feet wide. Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn told Reuters the apparent political implications of the case were coincidental.
Woody Allen Bio Doubtful
Woody Allen's publicist said Friday that, contrary to published reports, the filmmaker was not close to a book deal. "Many times over the past two to three years, they've asked him to write his memoirs and he said he wasn't interested," Leslee Dart told the AP Friday. "They then told him they could get a phenomenal amount of money for it, and he said that for a phenomenal amount of money he could see if he could get interested." The New York Times reported last week that Allen was near agreement with Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin, for a deal worth around $3 million. Dart said Allen had turned down Riverhead and that no other offers were being considered, but added that he had not given up.
Judge Throws Out Lawsuit Against Eminem
A judge on Friday dismissed a defamation lawsuit filed by a former schoolmate of rapper Eminem. DeAngelo Bailey, 32, claimed that Eminem slandered him in the song "Brain Damage" on his 1999 album The Slim Shady LP. He was seeking $1 million. But Mount Clemes, Mich., Judge Deborah Servitto sided with the rapper, saying Eminem's lyrics are "stories no one would take as fact, they're an exaggeration of a childish act."
Ozzy Osbourne a New Man
In an in-depth interview with MTV, Ozzy Osbourne revealed he is a brand new man. Osbourne announced last week that he was postponing his upcoming European tour because of the effects of medication he's taking to treat tremors. After seeking out Dr. Allan H. Ropper, who had treated famous Parkinson's sufferer Michael J. Fox, Osbourne said he is feeling better than he has in years. "It turns out that it's a hereditary thing that I have from my mother's side of the family," an animated Ozzy told MTV. "This guy in Boston fixed me great. He's taken me off all the medication that I was on. I'm taking one medication now for this tremor." So don't expect to see Osbourne shuffling around his house on The Ousbournes anytime soon. The singer said that was simply a consequence of the constant pain he was in.
Afghan Film Wins Canadian Prize
Afghan director Siddiq Barmak's film Osama, which won the top prize Sunday at Montreal's New Movie and New Media Festival, has become one of the first features produced in Afghanistan and nominated since the fall of the Taliban, Reuters reports. The film, named after Osama bin Laden who at the time was established in Afghanistan, tells the story of the social situation and women's lack of status in society after the Taliban came to power in 1996.
Web Piracy Could Cost Hollywood Millions
A new survey by Britain's Informa Media Group found Monday that selling films across the Internet could be an industry worth more than $800 million a year by 2010, but would be worth more than $1.3 billion if it were not for illegal downloads, Reuters reports. The survey found that Internet users with broadband connections download an estimated 144,000 films illegally every day worldwide. If 50 percent of those downloads is considered a lost sale worth an average $3.50, it means that this year alone Hollywood misses out on about $92 million in revenues, Informa added. The report also estimated that sales of hard copies of DVDs and video will remain by far the largest category of film sales: $2.62 billion in 2010, up from this year's $804 million.
Role Call: Duvall and Farrell Play Ball, Warner Options Pearl Memoire
Robert Duvall, who starred as the coach of a
When gullible small-town square Paul (Biggs) gets a scholarship to a prestigious New York City university he's ripe for the plucking from the likes of his spoiled rich roommates (Zak Orth Tom Sadoski Jimmi Simpson). Meanwhile Paul's classmate Dora (Mena Suvari) tries to balance schoolwork off-campus jobs and a covert relationship with her world lit professor (Greg Kinnear). Will Paul and Dora two very different breeds of social outcast find a way to hook up? You don't need SAT scores in the 99th percentile to figure that one out.
Biggs' natural goofiness and Everyboy likability go a long way toward making "Loser" watchable but there's little the talented young actor can do with the lifeless increasingly predictable storyline. Suvari who functioned well enough as "American Beauty's" teen lust object ranges from weak to downright awful trying to navigate a lead role in this vastly inferior film. Kinnear lends a piggish charm to his people-using misogynist prof easily the film's most entertaining character.
Writer-director Amy Heckerling who so successfully mined the comic potential of '80s and '90s youth culture in the genre classics "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" and "Clueless " scores surprisingly few laughs in moving her act to an institution of higher learning. To its credit "Loser" shows more respect for the audience's intelligence than the average campus comedy fare taking the time to delve into a few real issues (teacher/student relationships inequalities between rich and middle-class students) along the way but the results simply don't generate the sparks Heckerling's earlier high school films did.