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.
LucasFilm has just announced that Grammy-winning jazz musician and composer Terrance Blanchard will head to the studio next month to score George Lucas' Red Tails, the WWII film about the Tuskegee Airmen, a legendary group of black combat pilots during the war.
Produced by Lucas and directed by Anthony Hemingway (The Wire), the picture has a pretty amazing cast, including Terrance Howard, NeYo, Andre Royo (The Wire), Nate Parker (The Great Debaters), David Oyelowo, Cuba Gooding Jr., Bryan Cranston, Method Man, Tristan Wilds (The Wire), Kevin Phillips (Pride), Rick Otto (The Wire), Lee Tergesen (Monster), Elijah Kelley (Hairspray), Marcus T. Paulk (Take the Lead), Leslie Odom Jr., Michael B. Jordan (The Wire), Jazmine Sullivan, Edwina Finley (Law and Order), Daniela Ruah (Midnight Passion) and Stacie Davis (The Wire).
As the release notes, this is the first time in 17 years that LucasFilm is producing a project without the words Star Wars or Indiana Jones in the title. And considering the amount of Wire-alums involved in this project, I feel like this is the appropriate response: Sheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeit.
Source: Jazz Corner (via /Film)
In this Britney-and-Beyonce-obsessed age 'tis a wonder anyone other than an art history buff knows who Rembrandt is let alone that other Dutch painter guy--what'shisname Vermeer. In fact very little is known about the 17th-century painter who died in debt at 43 and left most of his works including his most famous of a young girl wearing a pearl earring shrouded in mystery. Girl With a Pearl Earring is director Peter Webber's adaptation of the 1999 Tracy Chevalier novel that spun a gauzy fiction about the painter's unrequited obsession with a young maid who became his muse and the subject of said painting. The maid in question is Griet (Scarlett Johansson) whose tilemaker father's accident forces their family into poverty and her into servitude--and it's no picnic. Morose henpecked Vermeer (Colin Firth) hides in his studio away from the household which includes the puffy and pampered wife (Essie Davis) he keeps eternally pregnant; her tyrannical domineering mother (Judy Parfitt) who brazenly solicits work for Vermeer from patrons like rich lecher Van Ruijven (Tom Wilkinson); and a multitude of Vermeer brats. Full-lipped and nubile the servant Griet becomes the artist's secret obsession--he spies on her cleaning his studio teaches her about painting (or at least how to make his paints) and seduces her while painting her portrait behind his wife's back.
With little dialogue to speak Johansson's Griet is a study in silence. Her wide-eyed earnest stares and Mona Lisa smile do the talking for her proving a picture certainly can say a thousand words. She may get more attention for Lost in Translation but this is her vehicle. Johansson's quiet understated performance makes the others look that much more overstated--Wilkinson's vulgar mustache twirling art patron for example and Davis's jealous and ranting Catharina Vermeer for another although they too are very solid turns. Firth's Vermeer fades into the background surrounded by these big personalities understandably and fittingly so; he's the brooding artist who'd be far happier left alone to gaze upon his subject. Although the master and the servant never do much more than exchange looks the sensual energy between them is palpable.
This movie is beautiful absolutely stunning--it's as if cinematographer Eduardo Serra saw Vermeer's life through the artist's eyes and that vision comes through in exquisitely framed and lit shots. Some scenes--of young lovers walking along a tree-lined canal in fall light beaming across the girl's face as she cleans the studio's beveled windows--are literally breathtaking. Just as an artist's work is tactile so does this film feel--in the sounds of a heavy knife chopping vegetables and a spatula grinding pigment into paste…volumes are spoken in the clean white crispness of Griet's bonnet. First-time helmer Webber occasionally allows the camera to hang too long (a lip-licking scene in extreme close-up for example) but he creates a fully enveloping period and confidently leads his cast through this fairly thin story. You can pretty much guess what you're in for with a movie about a 17th-century Dutch master; knowing that if there's any criticism to be made it's that the pic feels every bit of its 95 minutes long. A lovely score by Alexandre Desplat also deserves a mention although it sometimes overwhelms scenes with unwarranted portentousness.
Grumpy curmudgeon Harvey Pekar (Paul Giamatti) is a file clerk at a Cleveland Pa. V.A. hospital with little ambition little hope and little joy in his life other than what he gets from reading listening to his beloved jazz records and scouring garage sales for that rare 25-cent find. It is at one such garage sale Harvey meets Robert Crumb (James Urbaniak) a fellow comic book fan and jazz enthusiast who is on the way to becoming a famous underground comic writer/illustrator. Harvey not only admires Crumb's work he also despairs of leaving this world without making his own mark on it so he takes a stab at writing a comic book that Crumb illustrates for him. Titled American Splendor Harvey's book is different than any other comic seen before; rather than focusing on superheroes or fictional characters his is an adult-themed series about his life and the working-class people he knows. The series' unsentimental hard-boiled humor finds a following and by the late 1970s Harvey had become an acclaimed underground comic book writer in his own right--he even becomes a regular guest on The David Letterman Show. Eventually he meets and marries one of his fans the sardonic and anti-establishment Joyce Brabner (Hope Davis) who faithfully supports him through their financial difficulties and Harvey's bout with illness. All the while Harvey's still toiling at his day job (the real Harvey Pekar didn't retire until 2001).
Character actor Giamatti single-handedly carries this film with great grouchy aplomb even as he switches from the character Harvey to an actor playing Harvey (it's done documentary-style with voiceover and appearances by the real Harvey Pekar who narrates the story Giamatti acts out). His dry ornery one-liner delivery is priceless and he fits the irascible foot-dragging Harvey to a T. Pay special attention to one brilliant scene in which Harvey a Jew himself comes close to losing it at the market while waiting in line behind an old Jewish lady with a fistful of coupons and a bone to pick with the cashier. Davis too embodies the neurotic Joyce who gently mocks but deeply loves and endlessly supports her prickly misfit husband. Also good is Judah Friedlander as Harvey's co-worker Toby a self-proclaimed nerd with a bizarre way of speaking.
Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman were drawn to Harvey's story because of its Everyman appeal and their vision of it comes through in the film's grimy rust-belt environs and grainy naturalist '70s-movie feel. The directors tell most of this tale via the dramatization starring Giamatti but cleverly interweave comic cartoons moments of imagination and even old footage of Pekar himself from his Letterman appearances into the narrative. Even the real Harvey Pekar and the cast of characters from his life in Cleveland make an appearance. This all makes for one overlong albeit highly creative movie and also makes the character of Harvey more interesting than one suspects he would have been had the film been done in a straight biographical style. Problem is the story's niche appeal just doesn't live up to the collage of techniques used to tell it. Harvey understandably grim and depressed given his bleak circumstances simply isn't as fascinating a guy as the filmmakers would have you believe and all the creative devices in the world can't convince you he is.
As the weary crew of the World War II sub USS Tiger Shark heads home to Connecticut after a long grueling mission they come across three survivors of a torpedoed British hospital ship including one female nurse (Olivia Williams). Tough ambitious Lt. Brice (Bruce Greenwood) takes the survivors aboard--to the chagrin of the crew who is reminded of the old adage that a woman on a sub is bad luck. Bad luck it turns out is exactly what they get--whether it's due to the woman aboard pranksters playing tricks the sanity-eroding effects of oxygen deprivation or ghosties in the dark. The sub and its crew already dodging the Nazi U-boats that hover above them in the Atlantic waters periodically sending down depth charges or trolling the deep with massive sub-catching hooks must also contend with the strange happenings inside--frightening noises voices whispering from the sub's depths phantasmic visions and alarmingly inexplicable mechanical failure. Suddenly the sub is stuck on the ocean floor--oxygen is running out the too-close quarters are seemingly getting even more cramped and bizarre unspeakable accidents are killing off the crew.
Chilling with a glittering snakelike gaze Greenwood's Brice manages to cover his slowly unraveling psyche with a capable-officer façade like a lid on a pressure cooker-- until the lid blows off completely. His performance is vaguely reminiscent of Jack Nicholson's in The Shining in that somewhere beneath the escalating madness there's a sense of reason that sometimes peeks out like a face behind a mask to let us know he hasn't gone completely over the deep end (no pun intended). Matt Davis (Blue Crush) shows promise as young Ensign Odell the only seaman willing to stand up to Brice and question his dubious decisions while helping to save the sub from certain disaster. Other standout performances include Holt McCallany (Panic Room) as the strong sensible Lt. Loomis who staunchly believes there's a rational explanation for the weird happenings on the sub until he literally gets the scare of his life; and Jason Flemyng (Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) as crewman Stumbo a practical joker who reels from the reality of the situation that unfolds.
Below was first envisioned years ago by Requiem for a Dream writer/director Darren Aronofsky who reportedly once claimed it would be the scariest movie of the last decade. In director David Twohy's (Pitch Black) hands it's creepy but hardly that scary. The film definitely captures the cramped claustrophobia of a sub trapped at the bottom of the ocean while still showing the hugeness of the vessel and the U-boats above it; there are also some fascinating underwater shots that reinvent the submarine movie altogether. Where the film falters though is in the scare factor. C'mon…jaded horror fans are hardly going to take seriously things like a Benny Goodman record suddenly playing on its own ghostly faces appearing in the dark or voices whispering from the beyond although the scene in which Stumbo thinks he hears a dead body wrapped in a blanket talking to him is truly unsettling--there should have been more like it. Though the film tries to blur the line between what is happening in the seamen's minds and what are really supernatural occurrences eventually it sort of degrades into a "haunted house beneath the sea" kind of thing despite the more intriguing psychological angle. The ending is the most disappointingly silly part of it all conveniently wrapping everything up in a neat package.
The Oscar race was kicked up a notch last week with the announcement of the 2001 Broadcast Film Critics' Association Awards, held Jan. 11 at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
A Beautiful Mind walked away with the top honors, receiving awards for best movie, best actor (Russell Crowe), best supporting actress (Jennifer Connelly) and best director (Ron Howard, who tied with Moulin Rouge director Baz Luhrmann).
In other categories, Sissy Spacek received the best actress award for In the Bedroom and Ben Kingsley won best supporting actor for Sexy Beast.
Established in 1995, the Broadcast Film Critics Association represents 163 television, radio and online critics in the United States and Canada. The organization presents its Critics' Choice Awards each year to honor the finest achievements in filmmaking.
For those of you keeping track, here's the final tally:
BFCA winners for 2001
Best Picture: A Beautiful Mind
Best Actor: Russell Crowe - A Beautiful Mind
Best Actress: Sissy Spacek - In the Bedroom
Best Supporting Actor: Ben Kingsley - Sexy Beast
Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Connelly - A Beautiful Mind
Best Acting Ensemble: Gosford Park
Best Director: (TIE) Ron Howard - A Beautiful Mind; Baz Luhrmann - Moulin Rouge
Best Screenplay: Memento - Christopher Nolan
Best Young Actor/Actress: Dakota Fanning - I Am Sam
Best Animated Feature: Shrek
Best Family Film (live action): Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Best Picture Made for Television: Life With Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows
Best Actor in a Picture Made for Television: James Franco - James Dean
Best Actress in a Picture Made for Television: Judy Davis - Life With Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows
Best Foreign Language Film: Amelie
Best Song: (TIE) Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring - "May It Be" - Enya; Vanilla Sky - "Vanilla Sky" - Paul McCartney
Best Composer: Howard Shore - Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) has one day and one day only to prove himself to his new partner Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington) a 13-year vet of the LAPD narcotics division. Harris' years of hardcore experience on Los Angeles' meanest streets though have turned him into the same sort of criminal he's supposed to be putting away. At first it seems Harris intends to teach Hoyt his own brand of justice: that in order to catch the big fish sometimes officers must throw the smaller ones back. But as the hours slip away Hoyt learns just how bad his badass partner really is--Harris starts out as a taunting joker who just wants to give Hoyt a hard time but by nightfall he's turned into a full-blown monster bent on saving his own skin no matter what.
This two-man show is really a one-man show. It's Washington's game all the way as he bursts the almost priestly bubble of do-goodness that has surrounded him like a halo for most of his career with a sudden murderous burst of gunfire. In Day he is larger than life; clad in black leather and huge jewelry he towers both physically and psychologically over a scrawny goateed Hawke (looking like he just walked off the Reality Bites set) who tries valiantly to keep up with his Oscar-winning co-star. It's not that a perfectly wet-behind-the-ears Hawke doesn't adequately carry off the acting required for the situation he's in but really we're supposed to believe he hold his own in a fistfight-turned-deathmatch against guys more than twice his size? For his part Washington chews the scenery like it was his last meal as Alonzo goes from bad to worse but he sure makes it look fun.
Director Antoine Fuqua (Bait) used to direct music videos for artists like Coolio and it shows. Love the cool camera angles the warped POV shots the primary colors and raw soundtrack. And Fuqua's not afraid to show the L.A. streets at their worst. The first two-thirds are masterful work in character study as the line between good and evil becomes increasingly blurred. But by the final third the plot disintegrates getting hacky and waaayy contrived especially the "Hey! It just so happens..." coinky-dinks and a laughable ending that falls flat as a pancake and panders to an urban audience almost to the point of patronization. Most of this movie is so over-the-top it would be unwatchable were it not for its charismatic lead.
Bobby Garfield (David Morse) returns to his small hometown to attend the funeral of his childhood friend and remembers the fateful summer in 1960 when his whole world changed. The story flashes back to when 11-year-old Bobby (Anton Yelchin) and his best friends Carol (Mika Boorem) and Sully-John (Will Rothhaar) capture the pure joy of youthfulness. When a mysterious stranger named Ted Brautigan (Anthony Hopkins) moves upstairs and starts to pay attention to Bobby the boy suddenly realizes what's truly missing from his life--the love of a parent. Bobby's mother Liz (Hope Davis) is embittered by the death of Bobby's father and shows little compassion for her son's growing needs. Ted fills a void with the boy opening his eyes to the world around him and helps Bobby come to terms with his real feelings for Carol--and his mother. But Ted also has some deep dark secrets of his own and Bobby tries hard to stop danger from reaching the old man.
The performances make the film especially in the genuine camaraderie of the kids. Yelchin Boorem and Rothhaar never deliver a false move with an easiness that makes us believe we are simply watching three 11-year-old children grow up together. Yelchin in particular is able to get right to the heart of this young boy who misses his father and clings to the only adult who will listen. And his scenes with Boorem simply break your heart. (Davis) does an admirable job playing a part none too sympathetic. She manages to show a woman whose been beaten down but who does truly love her son in her own way. Morse too is one of those character actors you can plug in any movie and get a performance worth noting. In Hearts you want to see more of him. Of course the film shines brightest when Hopkins is on the screen. It may not be an Oscar-caliber performance but the actor is unparalleled in bringing a character to life--showing the subtleties of an old man looking for some peace in his life.
If you are expecting the Stephen King novel you may be disappointed. Screenwriter William Goldman and director Scott Hicks (Shine) deftly extracted the King formula of telling a story through a child's eye and explaining how the relationships formed as a child shaped the adult later. Hicks did an amazing job with his young actors especially Yelchin and Boorem. But where the novel continued into a supernatural theme explaining Brautigan's fear of being captured by "low men in yellow coats" (a reference to King's The Dark Tower series) the movie downplayed the mystical elements instead giving real explanations for Brautigan's man-on-the-run. That was the one problem with Hearts--we needed more danger. Introducing men from another dimension may not have been the way to go but had there been more tension the film would have resonated more especially when Bobby risked his own safety to save Ted.
Sunny Holiday (Jon Gries) has no doubt he's the next George Jones. In search of stardom he leaves his wife (Daryl Hannah) and baby steals her pink Chrysler and embarks on a nine-month tour of every dive western town he can hit on the way to Los Angeles. He takes with him his ineffectual manager Les (Garrett Morris) who guides Sunny's every move from picking out his clothes to setting up his interviews. Along the way Sunny encounters a variety of backwater females who are ready (but not always able) for a one night stand: Janice (Peggy Lipton) proves too much for him; Cheryl (Crystal Bernard) passes out on the couch; Tangi (Camellia Clouse) Cheryl's teenage daughter tries unsuccessfully to seduce him. Nothing seems to go right for Sunny who gets arrested dumps Les and ends up taking refuge with his just-as-much-a-loser brother Tracy (Anthony Edwards).
So nice to see Morris in this especially since his slick shyster Les is about the only character who manages to liven up this dreary pic. Gries is not funny not charming certainly not handsome--how he manages to get laid (or picked up) as much as he does is a confounding mystery. (The chicks are hicks to be sure but would Tangi the nubile teenager really be into a guy who's not only as old as her father but who looks like he's roped one too many steers as well?) Bernard pulls off her drunk scenes quite well especially when she falls off a bar bathroom toilet. Hannah's and Edwards's parts are basically cameos but in her few scenes Hannah nicely elicits sympathy as the frustrated and angry wife who sees no merit in her husband's gallivanting particularly since she's left with the baby and no money. Look for Mac Davis in a cameo as well as Sunny's big competition Sammy Bones.
Yet another set of brothers Michael and Mark Polish wrote and produced this follow-up to their 1999 Sundance success Twin Falls Idaho. But where Falls was a beautifully quirky look at unordinary people who want to be ordinary Jackpot is an overly arty look at some ordinary down-home folks who want to be extraordinary. Problem is they're so ordinary you don't care what they want or how they plan to get it. Michael who also directed keeps the pace slow and languorous--are these karaoke-ing schmoes ever going to get to their destination? Sitting through scene after scene of Sunny either picking up a woman or singing bad country and western is tediously painful. Not to mention the music sucks.