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.
The American military has always been at the forefront of technological innovation often working on the fringes of scientific credibility in its constant search for new ways to locate and eliminate enemies. At times the military's eagerness to gain an edge over its adversaries has led it to some strange dark places many of which are chronicled in The Men Who Stare at Goats British author Jon Ronson’s real-life account of the U.S. government’s efforts to create an army of “psychic supersoldiers."
If you’re not familiar with the world of psychic warfare (and really why would you be?) the book’s title refers to an experiment conducted during the 1980s at Fort Bragg North Carolina in which specially trained soldiers using methods culled from the top-secret First Earth Battalion Operations Manual attempted to stop the heart of a goat using nothing but the power of the mind. The ultimate goal obviously was to develop the skill for eventual use on enemy combatants.
Chock full of similarly wild yet credible stories The Men Who Stare at Goats’ strange-but-true subject matter lends itself perfectly to film adaptation. Its structure — a disparate collection of loosely related vignettes covering over a 30-year timespan — does not. Nevertheless director Grant Heslov and screenwriter Peter Straughan gave it a shot refashioning the material to such an extent that the movie is no longer “based upon” Ronson’s book but instead merely “inspired by” it.
Thankfully Heslov kept intact two of the book’s greatest strengths: its lively irreverent tone and its fascinating array of colorful characters. The latter is no doubt what attracted the film’s star-studded cast led by George Clooney as Lyn Cassady a fidgety veteran of the “psychic spy” brigade whose chance meeting with journalist Bob Wilton Ronson’s onscreen counterpart (played as an American ironically by U.K. actor Ewan McGregor) provides the catalyst for the storyline.
As Cassady squires Wilton through the Iraqi desert en route he claims to a contracting gig he regales the awe-struck reporter with stories of the New Earth Army and its founder a Vietnam vet-turned-New Age acolyte named Bill Django (Jeff Bridges). In the early '80s Django now a ponytailed flower child managed to obtain Army approval to spearhead a pilot program that would to train a legion of “warrior monks” to read minds pass through walls and disable enemies through a wide variety of non-lethal methods.
Any program like the New Earth Army is bound to attract its share of bad apples amoral folk who aim to use its teachings to enrich themselves and cause harm to others. In The Men Who Stare at Goats the entire rotten orchard is represented by Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey) a sleazy manipulative charlatan whose devious machinations ultimately serve to bring down the entire operation.
Goats is at its loopy best as Cassady cycles through various off-the-wall anecdotes of Django and his increasingly bizarre training methods. But it falls apart when Heslov attempts to weave it all into a coherent storyline complete with a climax centered on a hairbrained scheme to spike the water supply at an American fort with LSD. It's understandable that Heslov felt compelled to invent something that could bring some resolution to the story but getting everyone high on acid? It sounds like a gimmick stolen from one of the lesser Revenge of the Nerds sequels.
Needless to say that last part wasn’t in Ronson’s book.
Starting near the end of his short 24-year life and then told in flashback this film version of Christopher “Notorious B.I.G” Wallace’s (Jamal Woolard) rapid rise from the streets of Brooklyn to fame is told in standard-issue Hollywood biopic style. We see this Catholic honors student (played by his real life son Christopher Jordan Wallace) become a teenage drug dealer and accidental father before a chance recording finds its way to Sean “Puffy” Combs (Derek Luke) who engineers an almost immediate rise to fame fortune -- and trouble. “Biggie” now must juggle his newfound recording career a marriage to fellow artist Faith Evans (Antonique Smith) his romantic encounters with female rap comer L’il Kim (Naturi Naughton) and a major East Coast/West Coast rivalry with Tupac Shakur (Anthony Mackie) that leads to tragedy for both. As Wallace Brooklyn rapper Woolard is almost indistinguishable from the real man himself. He’s completely convincing performing B.I.G’s biggie hits and proves himself to be a first-rate dramatic actor as well -- at least in a story like this that he can clearly relate to. As his mother Angela Bassett makes the most of limited screen time (despite top billing) and expertly conveys the angst of a parent fighting a losing battle for her son. Luke again shows why he is so promising playing Puffy with just the right amount of flash and supreme confidence. Unfortunately the “balanced” portrait of Combs and many others in B.I.G’s life is tainted by the fact this film was produced by some of the real life players including his managers mother and executive producer Combs. George Tillman Jr. (Soul Food) directs this by-the-numbers account of Biggie’s life in a style we have seen countless times before. Except for a couple of occasions he doesn’t even let the rap sequences play out to give us an idea of how this guy whose songs reflected his rough Brooklyn lifestyle could climb to the top so fast. Whatever was special is lost in what appears to be a brazen attempt to sell soundtrack albums.
Thurman to take Kidman's place in Producers
Uma Thurman will take Nicole Kidman's place in the forthcoming movie version of The Producers. Kidman was forced to pull out of the role of busty Swedish secretary Ulla in the film - which is due to begin shooting in February (05) - because of scheduling difficulties. South African beauty Charlize Theron was reportedly considered for the role, but producers have opted for fellow blonde Thurman, according to PageSix.com. Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick will reprise the roles they took to great critical acclaim in the Broadway, New York stage version of Mel Brooks' tale of crooked theatre producers Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom.
Johansson begins weapons training
Scarlett Johansson is already undergoing intensive weapons training ahead of her role in action sequel Mission: Impossible III - even though shooting has been postponed until September (05). Cameras were due to start rolling on the movie this year (04), but Tom Cruise's commitment to Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds remake and script alterations have forced film chiefs to push back the start date. But sexy Johansson is delighted the delay means she has more time to practice with firearms. She says, "It's been postponed 'til September while it's rewritten. But I'm doing weapons training for it! Just pulling the trigger is easy enough, but when you're loading your magazine and you have a machine gun and a handgun and a shotgun, and you're trying to figure out how to use them all. "I'm being trained by someone who was in the special forces, so I get to know interesting stuff like how they train the Iraqi army."
Olsen twin signs up for acting lessons
Teen screen star Ashley Olsen is using university to expand her acting knowledge too - she has signed up for drama classes. Olsen, 18, has been acting with twin sister Mary-Kate since she was a baby and they have both
accumulated fortunes totalling $300 million from TV and movie careers. But Ashley, currently studying at New York University, accepts she still has much to learn. A source tells Star magazine, "(She) has secretly been attending a drama class two days a week at the prestigious William Esper Studio on New York's
West Side. The class, which costs $295 a month, teaches the Meisner Acting Technique, which centres around students' exploration of spontaneity and improvisation."
Scorsese facing legal action
Martin Scorsese is being sued by a movie producer who claims he's owed money stemming from a film the director agreed to make in 1990. The Aviator moviemaker has been cited in legal papers filed in Manhattan Supreme Court by Gianni Nunnari, who wants over $42,000 in legal fees from litigation over Silence-a project that never went ahead. Nunnari's lawyer, Richard Golub, insists the producer stacked up the fees trying to get Scorsese, 62, to take a medical exam required for an insurance policy. Golub also alleges that Scorsese's own lawyer, James Janowitz, confessed the celebrated director "is difficult to deal with and doesn't care about contractual obligations."
Connery to keep ladies out of book
Sean Connery has warned fans hoping to learn sordid details about his romantic past that he'll take "those secrets to the grave". The former James Bond star is currently on a hiatus from his movie career to focus on penning his memoirs. However, Connery--who's been married to French artist Michelene for 30 years--has left hordes of scandal-hungry gossips disappointed by vowing not to drag his previous conquests into the limelight. He says of the forthcoming challenge, "It's rather scary, but utterly exhilarating and I'm looking forward to it. "I know everyone's expecting me to list all the women in my life and make torrid revelations about them. But I never will. I'll take those secrets to the grave."
Farrell cried for son
Colin Farrell frequently broke down in tears while shooting historic epic Alexander, because he missed his baby son. Colin Farrell missed the September (04) birth of baby James, his son with model ex-lover Kim Bordenave, because he was filming in Morocco - and he found it hard. The Irish star tells The Scoop, "I was in tears, in the desert in Morocco but I don't know which that was. It was happiness but it was also sadness and I wanted to be with James and there was disgust that I wasn't there. "Happiness is a strange idea. It's a dream. It's something that when we experience it, it's very acute but it's fleeting, I think. I'm sure there are people that live in happiness and are completely content all the time - I'm not one of them."
Houston's Oscar confusion
Singing sensation Whitney Houston infuriated Burt Bacharach at rehearsals for the 2000 Academy Awards--by singing the wrong song. The "My Love Is Your Love" singer is currently clean after spending March (04) in rehabilitation for drug addiction, but four years ago (00) she was reportedly not so sober. In Steve Pond's forthcoming book, The Big Show: High Times and Dirty Dealings Backstage at The Academy Awards, which exposes a host of Oscar secrets, Pond reveals Houston's performance technique angered Bacharach. In the tome, Pond writes, "Houston's voice was shaky, she seemed distracted and jittery, and her attitude was casual, almost defiant." Despite Bacharach, the musical director of the 2000 Oscars, playing "Over the Rainbow" on the piano, Houston began singing "The Way We Were." Pond continues, "Finally, Bacharach (at wit's end) slumped over the piano, (putting) his head down on the keys." Producer Lili Zanuck cancelled Houston's appearance at theceremony, explaining, "We didn't want to work for six months for this to be a show about how f**ked-up Whitney Houston was."
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