First I must apologize to the makers of Toy's House. I am sorry. I am very, very sorry and I will never do it again. I fell asleep during the movie. Like a 10-year-old on New Year's Eve I was filled with excitement but my eyes just got too heavy and sleep overwhelmed me, shuttling me off into an unwanted unconscious for about 15 minutes somewhere in the middle.
That is not a reflexion on the movie. This is a result of being at Sundance, where the movie premiered, for almost a week and, well, living like a teenage boy. It's all staying up late, procrastinating your homework, watching way too many nerdy (but awesome movies), talking to your friends instead of working, eating mostly things that come in bags, and riding in buses. Lots and lots of buses. That's why I was so tired by the time I got to Toy's House, the third movie of my day.
My lifestyle was quite fitting though because the movie is about what happens when teenage boys try to live like adults (instead of the reverse, which is, at least until the festival is over, my life). Joe Toy (Nick Robinson) is sick of living by the rules of his gruff and comically sadistic father (Parks and Recreation's Nick Offerman whose mustache appears to be growing and his devoured the lower half of his face) and his best friend Patrick (The Big C ginge Gabriel Basso) is sick of his comically overbearing mother (Offerman's IRL wife Megan Mullally) so the two of them decide to move into a house they build in the woods. Along for the ride is Biaggio (Moises Arias) and Kelly (Erin Moriarty), the girl Joe and Patrick fight over.
Considering this is a Sundance coming of age story about three boys who move into the woods, you think there will be lots of slow shots of nature and brooding about what it's like to become a man. And there is that. But what makes this movie brilliant is the zippy one-liners, the genius comic timing, and the inventive situations that these quirky but endearing characters find themselves in. It's like one of those smart stories about rites of passage, but with amazing jokes. Imagine if Porky's if it bothered to read the articles in Playboy and you'd have this movie. Especially when things go awry with the house and the allegiances of friends and family are tested.
The MVP is Offerman, who plays a similar but more verbose version of his Parks character and whose every line of dialogue is a stinging zinger. It's enough to drive his son out of the house, but makes the rest of the audience howl. Mullally is also great, playing a version of everyone's mom who leaves embarrassing notes in your lunch and won't leave you alone about taking your shoes off at the front door. Arias is a revelation, playing a honor-bound oddball to great effect (if only he were tall enough to be cast as something other than a teen).
The young cast is also stellar, but the real credit belongs to director Jordan Vogt-Roberts and writer Chris Galletta. They have made the rarest of things, a teen comedy that is a sweet as it is amusing, as true as it is charming, and as beautiful as it is funny. I promise when it makes its way into theaters (and it just scored a distribution deal) I'll be back to see the whole thing in its entirety and live like a teenage boy once more.
Follow Brian Moylan on Twitter @BrianJMoylan
[Photo Credit: Toy's House Productions]
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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.
Last year director Garry Marshall hit upon a devilishly canny approach to the romantic comedy. A more polished refinement of Hal Needham’s experimental Cannonball Run method it called for assembling a gaggle of famous faces from across the demographic spectrum and pairing them with a shallow day-in-the-life narrative packed with gobs of gooey sentiment. A cynical strategy to be sure but one that paid handsome dividends: Valentine’s Day earned over $56 million in its opening weekend surpassing even the rosiest of forecasts. Buoyed by the success Marshall and his screenwriter Katherine Fugate hastily retreated to the bowels of Hades to apply their lucrative formula to another holiday historically steeped in romantic significance and New Year’s Eve was born.
Set in Manhattan on the last day of the year New Year’s Eve crams together a dozen or so canned scenarios into one bloated barely coherent mass of cliches. As before Marshall’s recruited an impressive ensemble of minions to do his unholy bidding including Oscar winners Hilary Swank Halle Berry and Robert De Niro the latter luxuriating in a role that didn’t require him to get out of bed. High School Musical’s Zac Efron is paired up with ‘80s icon Michelle Pfeiffer – giving teenage girls and their fathers something to bond over – while Glee’s Lea Michele meets cute with a pajama-clad Ashton Kutcher. There’s Katherine Heigl in a familiar jilted-fiance role Sarah Jessica Parker as a fretful single mom and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges as the most laid-back cop in New York. Sofia Vergara and Hector Elizondo mine for cheap laughs with thick accents – his fake and hers real – and Jessica Biel and Josh Duhamel deftly mix beauty with blandness. Fans of awful music will delight in the sounds of Jon Bon Jovi straining against type to play a relevant pop musician.
The task of interweaving the various storylines is too great for Marshall and New Year’s Eve bears the distinct scent and stain of an editing-room bloodbath with plot holes so gaping that not even the brightest of celebrity smiles can obscure them. But that’s not the point – it never was. You should know better than to expect logic from a film that portrays 24-year-old Efron and 46-year-old Parker as brother-and-sister without bothering to explain how such an apparent scientific miracle might have come to pass. Marshall wagers that by the time the ball drops and the film’s last melodramatic sequence has ended prior transgressions will be absolved and moviegoers will be content to bask in New Year's Eve's artificial glow. The gambit worked for Valentine's Day; this time he may not be so fortunate.