Ben Stiller

Review: Madagasgar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted 3D

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The Pitch: It’s not fair – no, it’s a circus!

The Review: Animals, if kept cleanly, can make fine pets and excellent companions. Some of the larger varieties, though, should be left to the zoos; trying to keep lions and zebras at home is not recommended for even the bravest of home owners. There’s also another threat that these larger mammals present to our safety, and it’s one which you won’t be kept safe from by simply seeing these animals in the zoo; it’s an infection you could catch at your local cinema, the most unsuspecting of places, and it’s one known as earworm. There is no known cure for earworm, only the hope of gradual immunisation through repeated exposure. Here we can see the primary wild animal earworm in its most virulent form:

It may not seem that threatening, taken out of the wild and seen in laboratory conditions, but you should be wary, especially if exposed to the full Madagascan strain of the virus. It’s also a mutation of the original, weaker strain known as the Move-It-Move-It virus which had been seen in two previous outbreaks, but had thought to be contained and possibly dying out. Certainly the contagion appeared to be contained within around a dozen animals, including a lion going under the name of Alex (Ben Stiller), a hippo Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith), a giraffe Melman (David Schwimmer) and a group of trouble-making penguins, delusional lemurs and antisocial monkeys. The first infection seemed to start with the lemurs but quickly crossed species, and wasn’t thought threatening as long as the animals remained in the wild.

However, latest reports say that the group has headed to Europe; how and why remains largely a mystery, although the finest animal controller in France, Captain Chantal DuBois (Frances McDormand) is tracking the animals in an attempt to spread further infection. It’s believed the virus may have mutated when the animals came into contact with a travelling animal circus, including a tiger (Bryan Cranston), a jaguar (Jessica Chastain) and a sealion (Martin Short). Symptoms of the animals affected include increasingly irrational and inexplicable behaviour; such as the tiger jumping through increasingly impossible smaller hoops as part of his act and quite how the animals managed to swim from Madagascar to the Mediterranean in the first place.

Make no mistake, this is the most dangerous example of the virus yet. It’s likely to induce various symptoms, including increased levels of laughter over those seen during the first two outbreaks and also a heightened responsiveness to bright colours. Despite an increasing number of animals, subjects should remain lucid and be able to distinguish easily between all of the various animals clearly, most of whom show clear signs of development, despite the general increased levels of madness. It’s unusual in such a situation to see such forward development but also increased anarchy and humour among such an extended group of animals, but this is symptomatic of the joy which the earworm virus can bring. Further strains have been seen, including a dangerous melding of Move-It and Circus Afro variants, and those subjecting themselves to this latest Madagascar outbreak should prepare themselves for jollity, general amusement and a surprising amount of good times as the animals are allowed to run free, unhindered by logic or common sense and all the better for it. Just be prepared to be suffering from the after-effects of the earworm infection for some time to come.

Why see it at the cinema: Plenty going on in both foreground and background, so the larger viewing area gives you chance to catch it all, and it’s the funniest of the series, so see it with a good crowd.

Why see it in 3D: No hugely compelling reasons for forking over the extra cash here, although the palette is bright enough that for the most part that Madagascar 3 doesn’t suffer from the normal dulling effects of wearing dark glasses indoor too much; one sequence on a train does descend into almost total darkness, but you can probably take your glasses off for that bit.

The Score: 7/10

Also: Da-da-dadadada-da-da, circus, da-da-dadadada-da-da, afro! Circus afro, circus afro! Polka dot, polka dot, polka dot afro!

Review: Greenberg

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The Pitch: Roger the Crabbin’ Boy. (And yes, before you say anything I know that the Roger the Cabin Boy thing in Captain Pugwash is an urban myth, but the pun doesn’t work otherwise, because he’s Roger Greenberg, not Tom. Okay? OKAY?)

The Review: Well, you’ll have to pardon me for being a little grouchy. I think it’s partly because I had to go to see this twice (having had to leave to pick up my wife half way through the first time I went to see it; more on that later), and partly because if you spend long enough in the company of a man like Roger Greenberg, it’s bound to rub off just a little. Misanthropes and curmudgeons aren’t new as central characters, but the trick if you’re a filmmaker is to get your audience to engage with unsavoury characters, even if you don’t necessarily like them straight off.

Roger Greenberg, though, is a little more complex than that. Rather than direct misanthropy, he alienates himself from the world around him through fear and an unwillingness to connect. And although he comes off as miserly, and he looks his fear of age in the face directly through an uncomfortable birthday dinner, he seems to have a real sense of what’s wrong with the world, but it’s locked in minute detail, rather than in the bigger picture, stuck writing letters to Starbucks about the culture they’ve created rather than trying to fix the important things in life. Consequently, his faults and his unpredictability make him fascinating to us, the audience.

It takes two to tango, or in this case mumble, and the other in this case is Greta Gerwig, whose Florence is the yin to Greenberg’s yang. Where he avoids people, she is the life and soul, and even sings on stage; but they are equally lacking in self confidence and self esteem, and that gives Roger the upper hand, at least to start with. Their relationship is like two revolving magnets – pulled together inexplicably, then pushing each other away almost equally without reason, and we end up wanting him to be with her because we know she’s good for him, but also sensing that maybe she should still be pushing away if she knows what’s good for her. Nonetheless, Gerwig is the emotional bedrock of the movie and allows us to connect to the story through her frustrated emotions.

Other characters swirl around in the mix, as Greenberg reflects on the fifteen years of love and friendships that have gotten away from him, most notably Rhys Ifans’ likeable Ivan and Jennifer Jason Leigh’s distant ex-girlfriend Beth. Most of the characters seem to either pity or condemn Greenberg for what he is, and that only serves to feed his neuroses further. What sits on the surface of Greenberg the movie is a study in character, reflected in the passage of time, where almost no-one is happy and the only people who have direction have left the country or are leaving it. But scratch beneath that surface, and you’ll find the neuroses of the characters that reflect our own natures, the parts of ourselves that we successfully hide or try to forget about, and you’ll then find yourself much happier to spend time in their company than they would be spending time in yours.

And as for seeing it twice, or at least part of it? What struck me was the difference in reactions of my fellow cinema-goers; uncomfortable situations or amusing moments met with stony silence the first time I saw it, but warmly embraced and appreciated the second. The differences in people are sometimes reflected on both sides of the screen, so take a friend if you’re going to this one – it could make all the difference.

Why see it at the cinema: This is partly about what’s on screen, including every last expressive millimetre of Greta Gerwig’s face, and partly for the social barometer that seeing this with a large crowd of people will give you. Especially if most of them are on their own, looking mainly grumpy.

The Score: 8/10

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