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.
After garnering widespread praise (and an Oscar nomination for screenwriting) for his 2000 directorial debut You Can Count on Me Kenneth Lonergan was in-demand. In September 2005 the writer/director began production on a follow-up feature: Margaret which touted Anna Paquin Matt Damon Mark Ruffalo Matthew Broderick Allison Janney as well as legendary filmmakers Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella (The English Patient) as producers. The movie wrapped production in a few months time. The buzz was already growing.
Now six years later the movie is finally hitting theaters. So…what took so long?
The journey to this point hasn't been an easy one and it shows. If a film's shot footage is a block of granite and the editing process is the careful carving that turns it into a statuesque work of art Margaret feels like it was attacked by a blind man with a jackhammer. The film is a cinematic disaster a mishmash of shallow characters overwrought politics and sporadic tones. The story follows Lisa Coen (Paquin) a New York teenager who finds herself drowning in chaos after distracting a bus driver (Ruffalo) causing him to hit and kill a pedestrian (Janney). Initially Lisa tells the police it was all an accident but as time passes regret takes hold and the girl embarks on a mission to take down the man she now regards as a culprit. That's just the tip of the iceberg–along the way Lisa deals with everyday teen stuff: falling for her geometry teacher (Damon) combating her anxiety-ridden actress mother losing her virginity dabbling in drugs debating 9/11 and the Iraq War cultivating a relationship with her father in LA and more. There are about eight seasons of television stuffed into Margaret but even a two and a half hour run time can't make it all click.
For more on Margaret check out Indie Seen: Margaret the Long Lost Anna Paquin/Matt Damon Movie
As with seemingly every other tentpole release to hit the multiplex this summer the action thriller Cowboys & Aliens is based on a comic book – albeit a lesser-known one. It’s directed by Jon Favreau whose previous comic-book adaptations Iron Man and Iron Man 2 proved how much better those films can be when they’re grounded in character. Unfortunately his latest effort is grounded not in character but a hook an alt-history scenario best expressed in the language of the average twelve-year-old: “Like wouldn’t it be awesome if like a bunch of 1870s cowboys had to fight a bunch of crazy aliens with exoskeletons and spaceships and super-advanced weapons?”
Like perhaps. The hook was compelling enough to get someone to pony up a reported $160 million to find out and the result is a film in which the western and science-fiction genres don’t so much blend as violently collide. After the wreckage is cleared both emerge worse for wear.
Daniel Craig stars as Jake Lonergan a stranger who awakens in the New Mexico Territory with a case of amnesia a wound in his side and a strange contraption strapped to his wrist. After dispatching a trio of bandits with Bourne-like efficiency he rides to the nearby town of Absolution where he stumbles on what appears to be an elaborate Western Iconography exhibit presented by the local historical preservation society. There’s the well-meaning town Sheriff Taggart (Keith Carradine) struggling to enforce order amidst lawlessness; the greedy rancher Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) who really runs things; his debaucherous cowardly son Percy (Paul Dano); the timid saloonkeeper Doc (Sam Rockwell) who’s going to stand up for himself one of these days; the humble preacher Meacham (Clancy Brown) dispensing homespun spiritual advice; et al.
Jake of course has his own part to play – the fugitive train-robber – as we discover when his face shows up on a wanted poster and a sneering Dolarhyde fingers him for the theft of his gold. The only character who doesn’t quite conform to type is Ella (Olivia Wilde) who as neither a prostitute nor some man’s wife – the traditional female occupations in westerns – immediately arouses suspicion.
Jake is arrested and ordered to stand trial in Federal court but before he can be shipped off a squadron of alien planes appears in the sky besieging Absolution and making off with several of its terrified citizenry. In the course of the melee Jake’s wrist contraption wherever it came from reveals itself to be quite useful in defense against the alien invaders. Thrown by circumstances into an uneasy alliance with Dolarhyde he helps organize a posse to counter the otherworldly threat – and bring back the abductees if possible.
Cowboys & Aliens has many of the ingredients of a solid summer blockbuster but none in sufficient amounts to rate in a summer season crowded with bigger-budget (and better-crafted) spectacle. For a film with five credited screenwriters Cowboys & Aliens’ script is sorely lacking for verve or imagination. And what happened to the Favreau of Iron Man? The playful cheekiness that made those films so much fun is all but absent in this film which takes itself much more seriously than any film called Cowboys & Aliens has a right to. Dude you’ve got men on horses with six-shooters battling laser-powered alien crab people. Lighten up.
Craig certainly looks the part of the western anti-hero – his only rival in the area of rugged handsomeness is Viggo Mortensen – but his character is reduced to little more than an angry glare. And Wilde the poor girl is burdened with loads of clunky exposition. The two show promising glimpses of a romantic spark but their relationship remains woefully underdeveloped. Faring far better is Ford who gets not only the bulk of the film’s choicest lines but also its only touching subplot in which his character’s adopted Indian son played by Adam Beach quietly coaxes the humanity out of the grizzled old man.
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.
Beyonce, Kings of Leon and Taylor Swift were the toast of the music world on Sunday night after taking home the 52nd annual Grammy Awards' biggest prizes.
Beyonce was the Los Angeles event's biggest winner, claiming six of the 10 honors for which she was nominated.
These included Song of the Year, Best R&B Song and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance awards for "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)."
Swift took home her first four Grammys, including the coveted Album of the Year award, and Kings of Leon's anthem "Use Somebody" earned the rockers prizes for Record of the Year, Best Rock Song and Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.
The Black Eyed Peas and Jay-Z were also triple winners at the Grammys, as was the San Francisco Symphony, thanks to its album Mahler: Symphony No. 8; Adagio from Symphony No. 10.
The event's winners were overshadowed by a clutch of terrific performances from acts like Green Day, Pink, Dave Matthews Band, Beyonce and the Black Eyed Peas.
Elton John and Lady Gaga collaborated to open the show, and there were further mash-ups for Jamie Foxx, T-Pain and Slash, Mary J. Blige and Andrea Bocelli, Eminem, Drake and Lil Wayne, and Taylor Swift and Fleetwood Mac star Stevie Nicks.
But the event's highlight was a star-studded tribute to Michael Jackson; Celine Dion, Jennifer Hudson, Usher, Smokey Robinson and Carrie Underwood teamed up to perform the King of Pop's "Earth Song."
The stunning collaboration was accompanied by a 3-D version of the "Earth Song" video Jackson planned to use as a backdrop during his This Is It concerts last summer.
Stars like Beyonce, Rihanna and will.i.am were among the audience members who donned special 3-D glasses to fully appreciate the spectacular musical moment.
They ended the song with their backs to the crowd, staring at images of Jackson, which were flashed onto the big screen behind them, as the audience rose to its feet to applaud the performance, which presenter Lionel Richie called "unbelievable."
Following the showstopper, Jackson's children Prince and Paris took the Staples Center stage to honor their father, a recipient of one of the night's Lifetime Achievement Awards.
In his first public speaking appearance, Prince thanked God for "watching over us these past seven months" and "our grandma and grandpa for their love and support."
Both Jackson children ended their brief acceptance speeches with the words "We love you daddy".
The big winners of the 2010 Grammys are:
Record Of The Year: Use Somebody - Kings of Leon
Song Of The Year: Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It) - Beyonce
Best New Artist: Zak Brown Band
Album Of The Year: Fearless - Taylor Swift
Best Female Pop Vocal Performance: Halo - Beyonce
Best Male Pop Vocal Performance: Make It Mine - Jason Mraz
Best Pop Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals: I Gotta Feeling - The Black Eyed Peas
Best Pop Collaboration With Vocals: Lucky - Jason Mraz & Colbie Caillat
Best Pop Instrumental Performance: Throw Down Your Heart - Bela Fleck
Best Pop Instrumental Album: Potato Hole - Booker T. Jones
Best Pop Vocal Album: The E.N.D. - The Black Eyed Peas
Best Dance Recording: Poker Face - Lady Gaga
Best Electronic/Dance Album: The Fame - Lady Gaga
Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album: Michael Buble Meets Madison Square Garden - Michael Buble
Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance: Working On A Dream - Bruce Springsteen
Best Rock Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals: Use Somebody - Kings of Leon
Best Hard Rock Performance: War Machine - AC/DC
Best Metal Performance: Dissident Aggressor - Judas Priest
Best Rock Instrumental Performance: A Day In The Life - Jeff Beck
Best Rock Song: Use Somebody - Kings of Leon
Best Rock Album: 21st Century Breakdown - Green Day
Best Alternative Music Album: Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix - Phoenix
Best Female R&B Vocal Performance: Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It) - Beyonce
Best Male R&B Vocal Performance: Pretty Wings - Maxwell
Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals: Blame It - Jamie Foxx & T-Pain
Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance: At Last - Beyonce
Best Urban/Alternative Performance: Pearls - India.Arie & Dobet Gnahore
Best R&B Song: Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It) - Beyonce
Best R&B Album: Blacksummers' Night - Maxwell
Best Contemporary R&B Album: I Am... Sasha Fierce - Beyonce
Best Rap Solo Performance: D.O.A. (Death Of Auto-Tune) - Jay-Z
Best Rap Performance By A Duo Or Group: Crack A Bottle - Eminem, Dr. Dre & 50 Cent
Best Rap/Sung Collaboration: Run This Town - Jay-Z, Rihanna & Kanye West
Best Rap Song: Run This Town - Jay-Z, Rihanna & Kanye West
Best Rap Album: Relapse - Eminem
Best Female Country Vocal Performance: White Horse - Taylor Swift
Best Male Country Vocal Performance: Sweet Thing - Keith Urban
Best Country Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals: I Run To You - Lady Antebellum
Best Country Collaboration With Vocals: I Told You So - Carrie Underwood & Randy Travis
Best Country Instrumental Performance: Producer's Medley - Steve Wariner
Best Country Song: White Horse - Taylor Swift
Best Country Album: Fearless - Taylor Swift
Best Spoken Word Album: Always Looking Up - Michael J. Fox
Best Comedy Album: A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift Of All! - Stephen Colbert
Best Compilation Soundtrack Album For Motion Picture, Television Or Other Visual Media: Slumdog Millionaire - Various Artists
Best Score Soundtrack Album For Motion Picture, Television Or Other Visual Media: Up - Michael Giacchino
Best Song Written For Motion Picture, Television Or Other Visual Media: Jai Ho (From Slumdog Millionaire) - Gulzar, A.R. Rahman & Tanvi Shah, songwriters
Lifetime Achievement Award: Leonard Cohen
Lifetime Achievement Award: Michael Jackson
Lifetime Achievement Award: Loretta Lynn
Lifetime Achievement Award: Bobby Darin
Lifetime Achievement Award: Clark Terry
Lifetime Achievement Award: David 'Honeyboy' Edwards
Lifetime Achievement Award: Andre Previn
Trustees Award: Walter C. Miller
Trustees Award: Florence Greenberg
Trustees Award: Harold Bradley
Presidents Merit Award: Doug Morris
Presidents Merit Award: Placido Domingo
Presidents Merit Award: Ken Ehrlich
MusiCares Person of the Year: Neil Young
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