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’S IT ABOUT?
Cliff and Cydney are happy newlyweds headed to Hawaii for a quiet honeymoon on a remote portion of the island of Kauai. Their marital bliss is abruptly interrupted however when they receive word that just a few days prior a pair of newlyweds not unlike themselves were murdered on Maui and that the killers believed to be a man and a woman were still at large.
Dismayed by the unsettling news Cliff and Cydney nonetheless resolve to move forward with their honeymoon but start to become anxious when they encounter not one but two exceedingly strange couples each of whom seemingly fit the profile of the killers. Miles away from civilization unable to get a decent cell phone signal and seemingly surrounded by possible murderers they begin to wonder if they might be the next victims.
WHO’S IN IT?
Playing the part of Cliff is Steve Zahn a prolific character actor best known for supporting roles in films like Rescue Dawn and Sunshine Cleaning. As a jittery Hollywood screenwriter who too often lets his overactive imagination get the best of him Zahn’s performance is the most credible aspect of the movie. In the role of his wife Cydney is Resident Evil series star Milla Jovovich demonstrating how truly unremarkable she can be when not cast opposite expressionless zombies.
Despite being saddled with most of the film’s worst lines Hitman star Timothy Olyphant proves convincing as Nick a wild-eyed survivalist who claims to have served as an army special forces operative in Iraq. Laying it on a little too thick with the fake Southern accent is Kiele Sanchez who plays Nick’s equally suspicious girlfriend.
Director David Twohy (Pitch Black The Chronicles of Riddick) makes an earnest attempt at crafting a modern-day murder mystery and for the most part he does a commendable job of messing with audience expectations setting the stage for a major second-act plot twist that proves every bit as surprising as advertised.
Twohy is one of the more likable Hollywood directors and it’s good to see him back from the dead after the Riddick disaster set fire to his career. Unfortunately he falls headlong into the M. Night Shyamalan trap with A Perfect Getaway focusing too much on pulling off the big twist and forsaking just about every other element of the movie. To be fair Twohy’s film isn’t nearly as dreadful as Shyamalan’s recent Razzie-amassing efforts like The Happening and Lady in the Water but its deficiencies are similarly multifaceted. Awkward dialogue mediocre performances by Jovovich and Sanchez and an excessively aimless pre-twist plotline are just a few of the problems that plague the movie.
But my biggest gripe with A Perfect Getaway is that Twohy fills the story with so many seemingly important plot devices which end up going nowhere that the film could very well be re-titled Red Herring: The Movie. At a certain point you throw up your hands and ask “Well then is any of this s--t real?” And the answer is: No probably not. But isn’t Kauai beautiful?
Admittedly the twist is pretty darn clever. Too bad we have to wait over an hour to see it.
The climax features an excruciating scene in which a key character’s cell phone previously assumed to be out of service receives a sales call from an Indian-accented telemarketer. Rather than simply hang up and dial 911 the character pleads with the befuddled phone company rep to alert the police with predictable lack of success. All this while a deranged killer stalks the vicinity. Characters that stupid deserve to die.
The nominations for the 2004 IFP Independent Spirit Awards are in, and with more submissions than ever before in the ceremony's history, it looks like a hot race.
Jeff Kleeman, IFP committee chair, had this to say: "With more submissions and less time then ever before, the Nominating Committee watched and discussed over 190 films in six weeks -- an act of extreme devotion that proved to be tremendously rewarding."
Dawn Hudson, IFP executive producer, added that this year's batch of nominees is particularly diverse, and commended the fact there are more highly talented women writers and directors emerging on the independent film scene, including nominees Shari Springer Berman, Sofia Coppola and Catherine Hardwicke.
Films that have been nominated for IFP Independent Spirit Awards were selected based on their original and provocative subject matter, uniqueness of vision, and financial characteristics, including total budget, individual compensation, and percentage of independent financing.
Last year's ISA winners included the film Far From Heaven (best feature), Julianne Moore (best director and lead actress), and Dennis Quaid (best supporting actor).
The 2004 IFP Independent Spirit Awards ceremony will air live on Feb. 28 at 5 p.m. EST on the Independent Film Channel, and will be broadcast at 10 p.m. EST/PST on Bravo.
The nominees for the 2004 IFP Independent Spirit Awards are (by category):
Lost in Translation
Raising Victor Vargas
Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini - American Splendor
Sofia Coppola - Lost in Translation
Jim Sheridan - In America
Peter Sollett - Raising Victor Vargas
Gus Van Sant - Elephant
American Splendor - Writers: Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini
Lost in Translation - Writer: Sofia Coppola
A Mighty Wind - Writers: Christopher Guest & Eugene Levy and the cast of A Mighty Wind
Pieces of April - Writer: Peter Hedges
Shattered Glass - Writer: Billy Ray
Best First Feature
Bomb the System - Director: Adam Bhala Lough; Producers: Ben Rekhi, Sol Tryon
House of Sand and Fog - Director: Vadim Perelman; Producers: Michael London, Vadim Perelman
Monster - Director: Patty Jenkins; Producers: Mark Damon, Donald Kushner, Clark Peterson, Charlize Theron, Brad Wyman
Quattro Noza - Director: Joey Curtis; Producer: Fredric King
Thirteen - Director: Catherine Hardwicke; Producers: Jeffrey Levy-Hinte, Michael London
John Cassavetes Award
Anne B. Real - Director: Lisa France; Writers: Lisa France, Antonio Macia, Producers: Josselyne Herman, Luis Moro, Jeanine Rohn
Better Luck Tomorrow - Director: Justin Lin; Writers: Ernesto M. Foronda, Justin Lin, Fabian Marquez; Producers: Julie Asato, Ernesto M. Foronda, Justin Lin
Pieces of April - Writer/Director: Peter Hedges; Producers: Alexis Alexanian, John S. Lyons, Gary Winick
The Station Agent - Writer/Director: Thomas McCarthy; Producers: Mary Jane Skalski, Robert May, Kathryn Tucker
Virgin - Writer/Director: Deborah Kampmeier; Producer:Sarah Schenck
Best First Screenplay
Blue Car- Writer: Karen Moncrieff
Monster - Writer: Patty Jenkins
Raising Victor Vargas - Writers: Peter Sollett and Eva Vives
The Station Agent - Writer: Thomas McCarthy
Thirteen - Writers: Catherine Hardwicke & Nikki Reed
Best Female Lead
Agnes Bruckner - Blue Car
Zooey Deschanel - All the Real Girls
Samantha Morton - In America
Elisabeth Moss - Virgin
Charlize Theron - Monster
Best Male Lead
Peter Dinklage - The Station Agent
Paul Giamatti - American Splendor
Sir Ben Kingsley - House of Sand and Fog
Bill Murray - Lost in Translation
Lee Pace - Soldier's Girl
Best Supporting Female
Shohreh Aghdashloo - House of Sand and Fog
Sarah Bolger - In America
Patricia Clarkson - Pieces of April
Hope Davis - The Secret Lives of Dentists
Frances McDormand - Laurel Canyon
Best Supporting Male
Judah Friedlander - American Splendor
Troy Garity - Soldier's Girl
Djimon Hounsou - In America
Alessandro Nivola - Laurel Canyon
Peter Sarsgaard - Shattered Glass
Best Debut Performance
Anna Kendrick - Camp
Judy Marte - Raising Victor Vargas
Victor Rasuk - Raising Victor Vargas
Nikki Reed - Thirteen
Janice Richardson - Anne B. Real
Elephant - Harris Savides
In America - Declan Quinn
Northfork - M. David Mullen
Quattro Noza - Derek Cianfrance
Shattered Glass - Mandy Walker
Best Foreign Film
City of God (Brazil)
Lilya 4-Ever (Denmark)
The Magdalene Sisters (England/Ireland)
The Triplets of Belleville (France)
Whale Rider (New Zealand)
The Fog of War
Mayor of the Sunset Strip
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