Hello, and happy Friday! There is quite a presence of quieter subject matter this week, including an unassuming musician and Edward Cullen playing a human version of his lothario self. But of course, no shortage of big screen adventures in 3D either. And, amidst the hailstorm of big-budget summer flicks, I’ve been wondering the following: is Hollywood working toward an ultra version of the big-budget summer flick? Combining the hugest ideas into the über-Blockbuster, if you will. For example, what would happen if a bunch of animals and Snow White were shot into space with a team of androids, began to wreak mass pandemonium on the galaxy, and had to be put down by the ultimate intergalactic crimefighting team of the Men in Black and the Avengers? Well, maybe that’s the subject of the fourth installment of the “Madagascar” franchise. Or the plot to the "Snow White and the Huntsman" sequel that was just announced. Fingers crossed, but until then, here are the movies that are actually being released.
Wacky zoo animals are once again unleashed on an unsuspecting world in “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted.” A threequel in 3D with three directors (Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath and Conrad Vernon), the film follows the animal foursome on their journeys from Monte Carlo to Vatican City. Alex the lion, Marty the zebra, Gloria the hippo, and Melman the giraffe (Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, Jada Pinkett Smith, and David Schwimmer, respectively) arrive in Monaco in search of their penguin friends, but when they break into a casino, their presence is noted by a villainous animal control officer (Frances McDormand) and they must flee the city and join a circus. No, seriously – they run away and join the circus. After escaping a zoo (two movies ago). Huh. Sacha Baron Cohen makes a return as a lemur, while Bryan Cranston joins this all-star cast of voices as a tiger in the circus. Our review said the film was enjoyable enough but also kind of wildly all over the place too. Sounds about right. Rotten Tomatoes: 77% Metacritic: 62
Also hitting theaters this weekend is the Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod-directed “Bel Ami,” a Belle Époque period drama adapted from the novel by Guy de Maupassant. Destitute writer Georges Duroy (Robert Pattinson) craves riches and social standing, and has ambitions of greatness despite an acute case of laziness. Fortunately, he is quite a talent in the seduction department and discovers that he may be able to sleep his way to the top. Turns out, having sex is easier than writing. So yeah, Duroy climbs his way to the upper echelons of 1890s Parisian society through its ladies’ bedchambers. Uma Thurman, Kristen Scott-Thomas, and Christina Ricci co-star as Duroy’s conquests. Our review says, “there are a few truly ill-judged moments,” but admits, “the film never lost our attention and while even having significant problems with it, we found ourselves willing it along.” RT: 32% MC: 40
An almost thirtysomething faces the complications and tragedies of youth and a broken heart in “Lola Versus,” directed by Daryl Wein, who also-co wrote the screenplay with Zoe Lister-Jones. New York artist Luke (Joel Kinnaman) breaks up with his fiancée Lola (Greta Gerwig) just weeks before their wedding, leaving her high, dry, and very, very upset. To soothe her soul, Lola embarks on a series of trysts, which all end disastrously, and seeks comfort from her two best friends (Hamish Linklater and Lister-Jones), which is really the better idea of the two. Our review calls the film, “often enjoyable, but never truly fulfilling,” and says, “communicating ingenuous heartbreak (or anything relatively moving) is usually shortchanged in favor of jokes and keeping the narrative running at a breakneck pace, which robs the few affecting scenes of any lasting power.” RT: 43% MC: 47
Abe (Jordan Gelber) is a 35-year-old who believes he is destined to be a “Dark Horse”: but he can't stop waiting for the moment of glory to arrive. He lives with his parents (Mia Farrow and Christopher Walken), works for his father, is overweight, loveless, and just seems unable to grow up. His singular friend is his father’s secretary, Marie (Donna Murphy), a shy woman who enables his man-childishness. It is only when he meets the pixie-girl Miranda (Selma Blair), and falls desperately in love with her, that Abe begins to struggle to relinquish his very deep-rooted feelings of inadequacy. Our review says of the Todd Solondz-directed film, “there are things to recommend about ‘Dark Horse,’ and it's good to see Solondz challenging himself, at least. But it's a film to be admired rather than to be liked, and a long, long way from the director's best work.” RT: 75% MC: 60
“Safety Not Guaranteed” from director Colin Trevorrow, follows three journalists as they explore a man who posts personal ads that request an assistant for time travel experiments. Darius, Jeff, and Arnau (Aubrey Plaza, Jake Johnson, and Karan Soni) start by interviewing the ad-poster, Kenneth (Mark Duplass), but are sidelined in their investigation when the sci-fi fantasies of the quantum-physics obsessive start coming true. Our review says, “there’s little that’s especially new or original about ‘Safety Not Guaranteed,’ but it ekes out a victory over so much of its indie-darling competition simply by following through on the ideas it introduces.” RT: 94% MC: 71
Steve Kessler’s documentary, “Paul Williams: Still Alive,” was born after the director realized the legendary singer-songwriter that he so admired was, in fact, “still alive.” The composer of such famous tunes as “The Rainbow Connection” and “We’ve Only Just Begun,” Williams had his heyday in the 1970s, culling a devoted fan base that watched him in his innumerable performances and TV appearances. He fell off the mainstream radar not too much later, as he dealt with drug and alcohol addictions; yet, by the time Kessler sought him out, Williams was 15 years sober and performing once again. The documentary is rooted in Kessler’s own process of finding Williams and developing a relationship with him over filming, and the friendship that blossoms between the two men eventually becomes the film’s focus. Our review calls it “moving, heartwarming and a delightful exploration of a truly unlikely friendship.” RT: 93% MC: 70