Saturday, January 11, 2014

Wreck-It Ralph

Year 6, Day 10 - 1/10/14 - Movie #1,609

BEFORE: From kiddie lit I move to video games for one night - I'd been looking for a way to work this one in.  Linking from "Mr. Popper's Penguins", Jim Carrey also has a cameo in "Anchorman 2", which I hope to see this weekend, and so does John C. Reilly (last seen in "The Thin Red Line").


 THE PLOT: A video game villain wants to be a hero and sets out to fulfill his dream, but his quest brings havoc to the whole arcade where he lives.

AFTER: Essentially, this is "Toy Story" set in an arcade (kids, an arcade is where we used to have to go to play video games, back in the Stone Age before PlayStation and XBox were invented) - in much the same manner, we see what the characters do in their downtime, when the kids aren't looking.  But this plays right into my running theme of identity, because Ralph is a videogame villain who wants to be a hero. 

Do villains ever see themselves as villains?  I mean, Lex Luthor believes he's keeping the world safe from Superman, and Dr. Doom wants to take over the world so it can be run properly with him in charge.  Are they truly evil, or just misguided?  Do they see themselves differently from how others see them?  They must.  So to paraphrase Jessica Rabbit, maybe Ralph's not bad, he's just pixellated that way.  Ralph even goes to a support group for villains, Bad-Anon, where villains declare that being bad is good, and learn to feel good about being bad. 

But Ralph eventually tires of living in a dump and wrecking the same building day after day, so he travels through the surge protector (which is portrayed as an enormous train station, nice) to find another game where he can earn a medal and prove himself.  Identity plus purpose again - you are who you are, but you're also what you do, and you can change what you do, thereby changing what you are. 

There are more video-game references in this film than even I picked up on - Ralph travels to a first-person shooter game ("Call of Duty"? "Bio-Shock"? damn, there are so many) and then to a candy-based racing game called "Sugar Rush" - influences of MarioKart Racing, with a hint of Candy Crush.  There he meets a glitchy girl with maybe the best character name ever - Vanellope Van Schweetz - and they form an uneasy alliance/friendship to try and win the racing game and get back Ralph's medal. 

There were some good twists here, some that I saw coming and a few that I didn't - which I take as a good sign of a strong story.  The main voice cast was perfectly cast, everybody sounded like they should have, based on their looks.  Fix-It Felix Jr. was a sort of Mario-like character, only without the stereotypical Italian accent, and he's a carpenter, not a plumber - but we get the reference, right?  "Junior" is no doubt a reference to Donkey Kong Jr.  (which should have been called "Monkey Kong", if not for a spelling error in Japan - don't believe the hype when they say they meant he was dumb like a donkey...)

There used to be a great arcade game based on "Tron", where you played 4 different levels based on different parts of the movie - they should make something similar based on this movie, if they haven't already.  Maybe the Fix-It Felix game would be too much like Donkey Kong-meets-Rampage, but Sugar Rush would be a blast to play.  Great to see "Tapper" in a film, even if it was root beer he was serving.  But come on, video game companies - I own a PS 2 + PS 3, a couple Nintendos, and an iPad - why can't I play Q-Bert on ANY of them?

I'd like to get back to playing more video-games once I'm done with this project (IF I'm ever done...).  I did manage to squeeze in some time on "Lego Pirates of the Caribbean" over the break, and after that I've got "Lego Batman 2" and "Lego Harry Potter" waiting in the wings.  I'll probably end up playing "Lego Marvel" and "Lego Lord of the Rings" before I'm done - but I also never finished "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories" or "GTA: San Andreas", let alone "GTA 4" and "GTA 5", which I never even started.  At this point, it's not looking good for those games.

Also starring the voices of Sarah Silverman (last seen in "The Muppets"), Jack McBrayer (last seen in "The Campaign"), Alan Tudyk (last seen in "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter"), Jane Lynch (last seen in "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events"), Ed O'Neill, Mindy Kaling, with cameos from Dennis Haysbert, Joe Lo Truglio, Rachael Harris, Adam Carolla, Edie McClurg, Horatio Sanz, Maurice LaMarche.

RATING: 7 out of 10 cheat codes

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Mr. Popper's Penguins

Year 6, Day 9 - 1/9/14 - Movie #1,608

BEFORE: The connection here is children's books, I'm kind of splitting up the straight animated films, but I will get back to them shortly.  Jim Carrey carries over from "Lemony Snicket", obvi. 


THE PLOT: The life of a businessman begins to change after he inherits six penguins, and as he transforms his apartment into a winter wonderland, his professional side starts to unravel.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Happy Feet Two"  (Movie #1,327)

AFTER:  Hollywood's fascination with penguins returns - you'd think that "March of the Penguins" would have told us everything we need to know about these birds, but apparently not.  Did you know they could just be packed in ice and shipped across the world in a crate without food, and they just go into a state of hibernation, which they recover from with no ill effects?  Yeah, me neither.

But this is based on a children's book, you have to allow for a little bending of the facts.  Kids' books are not meant to be taken seriously, or turned into movies that we're supposed to take seriously.  And that's where children's lit meets Hollywood films, because both genres produce things that are otherwise impossible, or sometimes just plain silly.  How else to explain that taking care of 6 messy, loud, smelly birds somehow fixes a man's life, including his personality, career, and relationship with his ex-wife and kids?

I could get into a whole host of NYC building regulations and other laws that were broken here, starting with a building's "no pets" clause and spiraling from there.  I can't remember if it was Bloomberg or maybe Giuliani who passed that law against keeping penguins in an apartment, but I'm sure it's on the books somewhere.  Plus I'm fairly sure it's not possible to keep your apartment so cold that you can have piles of snow in it that don't melt, or to turn your living room floor into a surface that you can ice-skate on.  So shenanigans on that.  Plus NITPICK POINT: you just can't fill up an entire bathroom with water, all the way to the ceiling, without it leaking out through the door or the electrical fixtures.  Do filmmakers have any idea how heavy water is?  The floor would collapse before the room filled up.

I did appreciate the red tape he encountered when he tried to get some NYC agency to deal with the birds.  We had a raccoon in our backyard once, and called animal control - they told us they couldn't capture a raccoon because it's "part of nature".  Well, aren't ALL animals part of nature?  So they've got a built-in excuse to accomplish nothing all day long.  They told us to call the police, so I did, then I had to explain the situation to the cops and I felt ridiculous.  What were they going to do - arrest it?  Shoot it?  Two years later we had a possum in the yard, and I ended up just spraying it with a garden hose to make it go away.

Again, the theme of orphans comes up, not just in the birds that are removed from the flock and need to be taken care of, but the fact that Mr. Popper had a father who was always traveling, essentially an absent parent - to the point where Popper learned to get by without him. (Kind of like "The Secret Life of Walter Shitty"...) And if you follow the logic, this corrupted his personality to the point where he couldn't maintain his marriage, feels disconnected from his own kids, and is a ruthless corporate real-estate weasel.  OK, so the path between those things isn't completely clear, but the implication is that something went wrong somewhere. But caring for these birds and their eggs somehow puts his priorities back in order - he's still a real-estate weasel, but at least he admits it now.  I'm not sure that constitutes an improvement, though.

So there are a few shortcuts exploited here to bring about a satisfactory resolution - like exploiting the closeness of the Central Park Zoo to the Tavern on the Green restaurant.  It's tidy, but also too much of a coincidence.  And I'm glad they mentioned that penguins "imprint" on people, because that explained how the birds knew to travel across town, through a city they've never seen, to find one man in a city of millions, even though they didn't know where he'd be.  Wait a minute, that wasn't explained at all.

I guess this movie's a lot of fun if you can turn your mind off and not worry about such things.  I obviously can't.  This hearkens back to the living at the zoo vs. living in the wild aspect of "Madagascar 3", complete with "evil" zoo personnel, but once again there are no easy answers to this debate.

Also starring Carla Gugino (last seen in "New Year's Eve"), Angela Lansbury (last heard in "Anastasia"), Clark Gregg (last seen in "The Avengers"), Dominic Chianese, Philip Baker Hall (last seen in "Argo"), James Tupper, Ophelia Lovibond, with cameos from Jeffrey Tambor (last seen in "Muppets From Space"), David Krumholtz (last seen in "A Very Harold & Kumar 3-D Christmas").

RATING: 5 out of 10 ice buckets

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events

Year 6, Day 8 - 1/8/14 - Movie #1,607

BEFORE:  Played team trivia last night for the first time in 2014, my team finished just out of the final round, in 4th place.  Seems about right.  But I felt somewhat better after having two beers at the event - I forgot that I can sometimes drink the cold away - heck, I've tried everything else, why not beer?

I picked this film up to put on a DVD with "Hugo" - and linking from "Brave", two actors carry over - Billy Connolly and Craig Ferguson.  That's slightly unusual, but appreciated.


THE PLOT:  When a massive fire kills their parents, three children are delivered to the custody of cousin and stage actor Count Olaf, who is secretly plotting to steal their parents' vast fortune.

AFTER: Along with this whole identity theme, I just realized I've got another theme/commonality developing, loss of parents.  This isn't all that uncommon in kids' movies, just look at "Finding Nemo" and "Bambi", among others.  But it's weird that I put these films in more or less random order - and right in a row we had Hugo, getting by after his father died; Rango, who gets separated from his owners, essentially orphaned in the desert; and "Brave", where Princess Merida has to deal with the (temporary) loss of her mother, kinda.  This film was slotted next on the schedule without considering the theme, but it seems to fit right in.

This one was a bit of a head-scratcher though, it tried to be really dark in tone, with the deaths of family members, but it also tried to be comical.  And that's a really difficult combination, unless you're making a spoof film like "Murder By Death" or "What a Way to Go!".  This film also tried to be a straight adaptation of a story, and unfortunately, it can't have things both ways - what you end up with is a film that's neither comic enough or serious enough.  Not really Tim Burton-esque, more like "The Addams Family" films, which were kind of fun but not really laugh-out-loud funny.

Obviously, they needed a name actor, somebody who can do this Count Olaf character justice, put asses in the seats, and can do a few different voices and disguises - that's probably a very short list.  Jim Carrey, maybe Dana Carvey, and that's about it.  The film was produced by Nickelodeon, makers of kids' shows where if you're overacting, you're still not selling it enough.  Remarkably, there's some restraint in the acting of the orphaned teens - compared to Jim Carrey, they practically seem like they're asleep.  Which could easily be misread as being uninteresting characters - the girl is very inventive, but the boy...umm, reads?  Don't a lot of kids read?  Ah, but he retains everything that he reads, and uses it.  That's a pretty good role model for kids.  A kid who bites things?  Not so much.

There's another mystery tonight, sort of in the same vein as "Hugo", but that other film was much better at providing answers.  We get sort of an answer in tonight's film to the mysterious deaths, but there are still quite a few loose ends - the spyglasses in particular.  What do they mean?  But I liked most of the puzzle-solving aspects of the film, since I'm a big puzzle guy.

Still, I don't quite understand who this Lemony Snicket guy is, or how he fits into the story.  I realize he's a pseudonym, and the de facto narrator of the original book, but what's he doing in the film, besides writing a book?  He's using an outdated typewriter, but how does that typewriter result in the visual images that we're seeing?  And how does he know so much about these children to begin with, and what's his angle for presenting the story to me? 

Also starring Jim Carrey (last heard in "A Christmas Carol"), Meryl Streep (last seen in "The River Wild"), Liam Aiken (last seen in "Road to Perdition"), Emily Browning (last seen in "Sucker Punch"), Jude Law (last seen in "Hugo"), Timothy Spall (last seen in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2"), Catherine O'Hara (last heard in "Frankenweenie"), Cedric the Entertainer (last heard in "Madagascar 3"), Luis Guzman (last seen in "The Bone Collector"), with cameos from Jennifer Coolidge (last seen in "American Dreamz"), Jane Adams, Lenny Clarke (last seen in "Here Comes the Boom"), Dustin Hoffman (last seen in "Billy Bathgate"), Jane Lynch (last heard in "Rio").

RATING: 5 out of 10 spelling errors

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Brave

Year 6, Day 7 - 1/7/14 - Movie #1,606

BEFORE:  Got into it this morning with the cashier at my Tuesday morning deli, where I get an egg sandwich and coffee.  I was told that my $10 bill was counterfeit, and they couldn't accept it.  Well, I got that bill from my Monday morning bagel place, so how is that MY fault?  It's not like I have any resources to test my money when I'm given change, so on top of everything else, now I have to worry about whether the money in my pocket is real?  Fortunately I had enough singles to cover, but there must be a better way to deal with this than by blaming the victim.  How do I know that egg sandwich is real?  Maybe I should buy one at the place across the street for a few weeks, just to teach this cashier something about proper customer relations.  I'm playing trivia tonight, so I can probably rid myself of this supposedly-bogus bill by buying a beer.  Problem solved.

Linking from "Rango", Bill Nighy was in the great comedy "Still Crazy" with Billy Connolly (last heard in "Pocahontas"). 


THE PLOT:  Determined to make her own path in life, Princess Merida defies a custom that brings chaos to her kingdom. Granted one wish, Merida must rely on her bravery and her archery skills to undo a beastly curse.

AFTER: Eh, I wasn't really feeling this one tonight.  I know it was a huge hit for Disney/Pixar last year (sorry, I guess that's two years ago now...) and teen girls were probably all over this, but it didn't really float my boat.  Maybe it's because I've switched to the larger TV, which doesn't always read the signal properly from the DVD player during very dark scenes, so unless I keep refreshing the signal by popping up the counter on the screen every 30 seconds, it was often tough for me to tell what was going on in the nighttime scenes.

I don't think I'll ever go to Scotland - it looks very dark there, and people talk funny, and they scream and fight a lot.  Or so this film would have me believe.  And the men wear funny skirts and they all look like they probably smell bad.  Not a great way to sell me on a different culture, by drawing the men all dumb-like and bug-eyed, and the women all screamy and moonfaced, looking like they just got punched.

Yeah, it fits right in with my topic of identity, as Merida has to decide what kind of princess she's going to be - is she going to be the dutiful daughter who gets married off according to her parents' wishes, or the feisty scrappy talk-backy type who decides to think for herself.  Take a guess.  It's great that she stands up for herself, but the message that's ultimately sent out to the kids is that kids should listen to their parents (which contradicts her independence) and that also, parents should listen more to their kids (which ultimately contradicts the previous point).  How completely indecisive non-helpful. 

I know, this film claims to be about "Fate" and the changing thereof, but since I'm on the "Identity" theme, I'm just going to roll with that.  Besides, identity + purpose = fate, right?  Who you are, plus what you go on to do, determines what happens to you.  Work with me here, OK?

I may also be harboring a grudge because I had to type up my boss's blog review of this film, and of course he talked about the single biggest twist in the plot, so for me there were no surprises, not really.  I won't talk about it myself, just in case you haven't seen the film, because I just can't be that guy who spoils a film, and if my review did that, I just couldn't bear it.

But it stems from a misunderstanding of a spell, in a way that's just silly - you should always ask careful questions about what a potion does, kids.  Just because you want it to do one thing doesn't mean it will do that thing.  And if any side effects occur, please tell your doctor.  Also tell your doctor if you have a history of liver disease or any trouble breathing before using a potion.  Some patients experienced heart palpitations, thoughts of suicide and the condition known as "hot dog fingers". 

It's also very fuzzy about what has to be done to reverse the effects of the potion - the witch herself was very unclear about that, so several things are tried, and ultimately we don't know which of them worked.  So that's just poor storytelling - take Snow White, for example, it was very clear what had to happen to reverse the spell cast on her.  Sleeping Beauty, Rumplestiltskin - the magics in those stories all had very clear parameters, reagarding the effects and how to undo them.  By all means, if you don't understand how spells work, just try a bunch of different random things, one of them's bound to work, right?  Sloppy.

It would have been nice if Merida's archery skills had come back into play - this was introduced at the beginning, was moderately important during the part where her suitors were introduced, and then was never seen again.  It just feels like a story thread that failed to get picked up again, where it could/should have been important again at the climax of the film.  Instead we just got more people screaming at each other, trying to get them to understand things that they weren't capable of explaining very well.  Any time I hear characters making the same arguments over and over, it's a sign of weak story.

Just cue up some more adorable antics from the young brothers, no one will notice.  But I did.

Also starring the voices of Kelly Macdonald, Emma Thompson (last seen in "Love Actually"), Julie Walters (last seen in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2"), Robbie Coltrane (last heard in "Arthur Christmas"), Craig Ferguson (last seen in "Kick-Ass"), Kevin McKidd, John Ratzenberger.

RATING: 4 out of 10 tapestries

Monday, January 6, 2014

Rango

Year 6, Day 6 - 1/6/2014 - Movie #1,605

BEFORE: Well, it's the start of the first full work week of 2014, so I've had my usual Monday bagel for breakfast and my usual Monday salad for lunch, so I'm starting to feel like I'm back into my routine.  No more holiday overeating and sleeping at weird times, I'm back to regular overeating and staying up too late.  And tomorrow my co-worker comes back from maternity leave, so things are slowly getting back to what passes for normal.

I'd also been on a weird movie-watching schedule, watching the Friday film late on Friday night, for example - this weekend I watched two films within a 24-hour period, so that I'm watching the Monday film shortly after midnight (Sun/Mon) so I can feel like I'm ahead of the count.  Linking from "Hugo", Ray Winstone conveniently carries over and provides the voice of a villain tonight.  Johnny Depp was also a producer on "Hugo" and does the voice of Rango, but that hardly counts.


THE PLOT:  Rango is an ordinary chameleon who accidentally winds up in the town of Dirt, a lawless outpost in the Wild West in desperate need of a new sheriff.

AFTER: I was a little worried about bouncing around the map, between Paris, China, Monte Carlo and now the American West, but thematically I'm right on target - tonight's film is also about identity and purpose, as a regular lizard adopts the persona of Rango, a Western hero, and in so doing, finds his purpose in defending a frontier town.

I should point out that this film is set in the present day, but since it portrays a society made up of lizards, mice, moles, and a turtle, and none of these creatures can drive a car or use modern technology, they're portrayed in the manner of the Old West, and this is a very clever motif.  Of course, this allows the film to riff on the Sergio Leone "Fistful of Dollars" trilogy, "High Noon", "True Grit", and I'm sure many others.  Someone also did an incredible voice imitation of Western actor Pat Buttram, who also played Mr. Haney on "Green Acres" - I know he's deceased, but someone's keeping his memory alive.  (There's even a cameo from a CGI Raoul Duke/Hunter S. Thompson-looking dude, speeding to (from?) Las Vegas, with his "attorney" Dr. Gonzo in the back seat, and probably stoned out of his mind.  Nice touch.) 

Rango has a modern sensibility because he's an actor at heart, searching for his role, then slipping quite easily into the trappings of an Old West sheriff.  It's maybe not his ideal situation, but he's prepared to make a go of it until he can get back to civilization.  But thanks to his encounter with an old armadillo, and eventually "The Spirit of the West", he finds that perhaps he's got the makings of a hero after all.  This is a much better message for kids than those seen earlier in the week, because it encourages everyone to take action and become the hero of their own story, whatever that may mean, so that gives it a universal nature.

It's also quite action-packed, and in a way that's not just in your typical "Ha ha, look, the animal fell down!" sort of way.  There are gunfights, chase scenes - and animals get squashed, but in sort of a Road Runner/Coyote way. 

There are maybe a couple of dead ends in the plot, and the mystery of the town's missing water was either over-explained or perhaps not explained at all, I'm not sure.  But I'd wager that if I watched it again things might sort themselves out. 

Also starring the voices of Johnny Depp (last seen in "Dark Shadows"), Isla Fisher (last heard in "Rise of the Guardians"), Ned Beatty (last seen in "The Incredible Shrinking Woman"), Alfred Molina (last seen in "The Prince of Persia: Sands of Time"), Bill Nighy (last seen in "New Year's Eve"), Abigail Breslin (last seen in "New Year's Eve"), Stephen Root (last seen in "The Ladykillers"), Harry Dean Stanton (last seen in "Repo Man"), Timothy Olyphant (last seen in "I Am Number Four"), Charles Fleischer, Vincent Kartheiser.

RATING: 7 out of 10 pill bugs

Hugo

Year 6, Day 5 - 1/5/2014 - Movie #1,604

BEFORE: I'm still feeling unsettled, I don't know if it's the fact that my cold still hasn't gone away (though it's diminished back down to a head cold again), or the lingering annoyance that I didn't get to start Year 6 the way I wanted.  Maybe I just need to keep going and get back to a full work week.  Linking from "Madagascar 3", Sacha Baron Cohen carries over.


THE PLOT:  Set in 1930s Paris, an orphan who lives in the walls of a train station is wrapped up in a mystery involving his late father and an automaton.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" (Movie #1,539)

AFTER: This nicely continues my inadvertent theme of "Identity", though in this case the film is more about "Purpose".  But that's connected, because what a character does is part of who a character is.  And everyone here has a part to play - we see the train station through Hugo's eyes as he watches from above, and some people manage shops, others make sure the trains run correctly, and some maintain order.  This is another great connection to "Madagascar 3", which featured a French (OK, Monacan?  Monaconian?) animal officer.  Sacha Baron Cohen plays a train station inspector, but both represent strong villain characters - so from two films we can extrapolate that all French lawmen (and women) are stubborn, relentless and single-minded.

Hugo has a purpose - he winds and maintains all of the clocks in a train station.  This is set before all clocks were electric, and all ran by the turning of giant gears and giant doohickeys, and the swinging of great pendulums and such.  But Hugo is still searching for something, which we eventually learn has to do with the loss of his father, and the repair of a machine that his father salvaged, and Hugo's belief that fixing the machine will somehow settle things.  And in a way it does, but in a very unexpected way.

The reason that I considered this a follow-up to that Tom Hanks film about 9/11 is that based on what little I knew about both films, they seemed very similar.  Oh, sure, one's set in NYC in 2011, and the other's set in Paris in the 1930's, but both feature young boys who lost their fathers, and who go on a seemingly random quest for some perhaps related meaning, and in both cases a key plays a central role in solving the puzzle - that's a pretty big coincidence, I think. 

But it seems that Hugo's purpose is helping other people discover or re-discover their own purpose, either directly or indirectly.  Working for a shopkeeper sets off a chain of events that relate to the early history of film itself, when silent films were first made and considered a form of magic of their own.  His actions also help others in the train station make connections of their own, but the main storyline seems to focus on the shopkeeper and the life he had before the war.

However, I've got the same problem I had with "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close", in that the story's progress is forwarded by coincidences, some so improbable that they seem impossible.  The chance that Hugo's father would find an item that relates so directly to people who his son would later encounter - I'm not believing this.  Sure, it's a story, and all things are possible in fiction, but I have to believe in the way that people find each other and make connections, and Paris is a big city and all, so I can't believe that just somehow are all connected already in some way, but they're just not aware of it. 

I guess maybe I've seen coincidences happen, it's like finding out your friend is dating someone who knows your boss.  Things like that are weird, but they happen.  And I guess you've got to figure that famous or prominent people just seem to know more people, and that increases the odds right there.  But it still bugs me.

However, I enjoyed all of the references to early films, like Harold Lloyd's "Safety Last" and Buster Keaton's "The General", plus "From the Earth to the Moon" and the films of the Lumiere Brothers.  I realize they changed a few facts about the production of those films, but some allowances had to be made to make all of the pieces fit.  There's a nice connection made here between movies and dreams, and that all makes sense - someone has to dream up a movie before it's made, and people's dreams often closely resemble movies.  I wonder if dreams looked the same before movies were invented.

NITPICK POINT: The film is set in Paris, and nearly every sign or book title seen on screen is in both French and English - so why are all the accents British?  I realize that British actors are more common and more available, but other actors had to learn accents - so why not learn a proper French one?  Hollywood has had a real obsession with French culture in the last couple years - "Les Miserables", "The Artist", "War Horse", "The Adventures of Tintin", "Midnight in Paris" - so why be all half-assed about it and allow everyone to sound so wrong?  Do filmmakers really think that Americans will just think the characters sound European and leave it at that?  The only actor here who even attempted anything close to a French accent was Sacha Baron Cohen, and that seemed largely for comic effect - but I salute him for giving it a go. 

Also starring Ben Kingsley (last seen in "Iron Man 3"), Asa Butterfield (last seen in "The Wolfman"), Chloe Grace Moretz (last seen in "Dark Shadows"), Christopher Lee (ditto), Ray Winstone (last seen in "Cold Mountain"), Emily Mortimer (last seen in "Our Idiot Brother"), Richard Griffiths (last seen in "Guarding Tess"), Jude Law (last heard in "Rise of the Guardians"), with a cameo from the director, Martin Scorsese.

RATING: 5 out of 10 croissants

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted

Year 6, Day 4 - 1/4/14 - Movie #1,603

BEFORE: Voice actor Frank Welker carries over from "Mulan" - he's been the voice of Scooby-Doo for the past few years, plus Garfield, Curious George, Nibbler from "Futurama", and done various voices for many other Disney and WB productions.  Being a voice actor just has to be a great gig, and I see many of the same names again and again - which helps out my linking quite a bit.  There may never be another Mel Blanc, but some of today's voice actors have seriously long resum├ęs.


THE PLOT:  Alex, Marty, Gloria and Melman are still fighting to get home to their beloved Big Apple. Their journey takes them through Europe where they find the perfect cover: a traveling circus.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Madagascar" (Movie #14), "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa" (Movie #363)

AFTER: Well, if I had to pick a theme so far for this year, it would be something about identity.  First we had a country cat who wants to be a city cat, then a Chinese maiden who finds her place as a male warrior, and tonight it's zoo animals who become jungle animals, then circus animals.  Traveling (or going on a quest) is a common theme in movies, of course, but it's interesting that in all three cases, the main characters have all been trying to re-define themselves at the same time. 

Of course, wherever you go, there you are.  Or so they say, but that's beside the point.  The four zoo animals in "Madagascar" went halfway around the world, only to find themselves longing for New York, and realizing that they had things pretty good there after all.  I guess the Central Park grass is always greener, or something.  So their new quest is to make it home - but once they get there, will they discover that they can't really go home again?

If that's the case, it's a bit of a strange message to send out to the kids - "Hey, kids, you know that place you really want to be, or that thing you're trying to accomplish?  Well, you might find that once you get there, you've changed in the process and now you really want something else."  Umm, wait, do I really want that thing that I want, because now you've got me all confused.  Gee, I thought I wanted to be a doctor when I grow up, but when I get to medical school, will I have changed so much that I don't want that any more?  Maybe I'll just sleep in today and contemplate my goals.

Tonight we're presented with a circus run by the animals themselves - so gone are the old acts like lion tamers and elephant trainers.  Instead, the lion's on the trapeze, the hippo's on the high-wire, and the zebra's being shot out of a cannon.  See, kids, there's no limit to what crazy stunts you can do if you just set your mind to it!  The laws of physics don't even apply, and nobody ever gets hurt doing circus stunts, even if they have no training!  (another strange message...)

I wonder if this movie is good for circuses, or bad - do today's kids show up at the circus or zoo and expect the animals to talk, throw knives and fly through the air wearing rocket-shoes?  Perhaps when CGI makes everything possible, the real world looks a little less interesting, no?   But maybe it will get kids thinking about which is a better place for animals to be - the zoo or the circus (or, maybe neither?).  Would it really have been that bad for the animals to have ended up in the wild? 

If you don't think too much about the implications of everything, as I apparently do, this movie's probably a lot of fun.  There's a fair amount of slapstick, but that's typical for today's Hollywood animated films, since they think all kids have the A.D.D. and will tune out if some character doesn't fall down or something doesn't crash or explode every thirty seconds.

NITPICK POINT: What authority would an animal control officer who works in Monte Carlo have outside that region?  Why would she even bother tracking animals once they've left Monaco?  Does she work for the E.U. or the United Nations or something?  This character just seemed like a mistake from the get-go, because there are plenty of people who work in animal control who love animals, the concept that a dogcatcher would hate dogs, for example, seems really outdated.  I know every movie needs a villain but this one really sells out a whole profession. 

NITPICK POINT #2: I dug the obvious reference to Cirque du So-Lame, but in re-inventing their circus, did the animals have to copy so many aspects of that style of entertainment?  I guess the writers couldn't go too far with a re-invention while still having the show resemble a circus.  The only unique act portrayed was the one the tiger did, and not only was it impossible, but we the audience never get to see it - so how do we know he really did it?

Also starring the voices of Ben Stiller (last seen in "The Watch"), Chris Rock (last seen doing stand-up in "Bowling for Columbine"), David Schwimmer (last seen in "John Carter" - wait, what?), Jada Pinkett Smith (last seen in "Reign Over Me"), Sacha Baron Cohen (last seen in "Les Miserables", so this is where he's been hiding), Frances McDormand (last seen in "Friends With Money"), Cedric the Entertainer (last seen in "Larry Crowne"), Jessica Chastain (last seen in "Zero Dark Thirty"), Bryan Cranston (last seen in "Argo"), Martin Short (last heard in Frankenweenie"), Andy Richter, Vinnie Jones, Paz Vega.

RATING: 6 out of 10 tranquilizer darts