4/24/2015

Blu-ray Review: That Man From Rio (1964); Up to His Ears (1965)

   
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As the son of a production designer and grandson of a painter, Philippe de Broca possessed an innate understanding of frame composition long before he ever began studying photography and cinematography in Parisian film school.

Putting his education and aesthetic intuition to use in the real world, de Broca first got his start helming military documentary shorts in Germany and Algeria before he served as an assistant director on two of the earliest French New Wave productions in the form of Chabrol’s Le Beau Serge and Truffaut’s The 400 Blows respectively.

A cinematic jack-of-all-trades with a diverse background and resume, de Broca was so affected by what he'd seen during wartime that when it came time for him to launch his own filmmaking career, he vowed to make positive pictures that were sure to uplift as opposed to otherwise trendy melancholic arthouse fare.

Thus he transformed his belief that "laughter is the best defense against upsets in life" into a filmic mission statement and went to work ensuring that this theme would propel the plotline of his most ambitious feature to date.

To achieve this goal, de Broca looked to the past, finding the perfect balance of laughter and pathos in the fast paced screwball comedies that stole the hearts of filmgoers during the Great Depression, which inspired him and his co-writers to take a likeminded approach on That Man From Rio.


An ingenious and zany off-the-wall adventure as well as a great celebration of the Capraesque spirit –de Broca's enormously successful Rio can be best appreciated as a '60s version of a '30s screwball comedy.

Deriving inspiration from another '30s source via Herge's beloved Tintin book series, after his previous work directing three New Wave style features, de Broca spun off to play with genre and tone, much like his colleague Jacques Demy did when he made the jump from Bay of Angels to his own unique spin on a Hollywood musical in the early ‘60s.

An ambitious globetrotting romp of James Bond worthy proportions, in de Broca's Rio, the filmmaker combines the romantic banter and feather-light feel of It Happened One Night and Bringing Up Baby with the madcap energy of an It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World style live action comic strip. Yet despite all of the homage, impressively, Rio still manages to hark back to his original Tintin inspiration.


One of the biggest box office smashes of the year as well as de Broca's career, That Man From Rio is as much of a freewheeling spoof of Hitchcockian capers and James Bond style espionage as the Blake Edwards/Peter Sellers series The Pink Panther, which launched a year earlier.

A major influence on Spielberg's Indiana Jones franchise, That Man leap-frogs way past physical slapstick and verbal gymnastics.

Venturing into "look, ma, no hands" stunt territory, the film boasts many jaw-dropping moments that threaten not only plausibility but also life and limb of its incredibly brave lead Jean-Paul Belmondo, who had so much fun doing a majority of his own stunts in this French-Italian co-production that he partnered up with de Broca five more times.

Turning each and every new location into an elaborate playground where anything goes – the epic chase movie finds Belmondo's soldier Adrien released on a week-long military leave.

Arriving home just in the nick of time, Adrien is stunned to see his lovely fiancé (Françoise Dorleac) abducted right before his eyes following the museum heist of an Amazonian statue, which left one man dead and another taken along with Dorleac.


Following in hot pursuit and willing to do whatever it takes to get his girl back in time to avoid being picked up for (involuntarily) army desertion, Adrien chases after the villains, impulsively ditching his dead vehicle and hoofing it all the way to the airport in an amusing suspension of disbelief early on in the movie.

When the journey takes Belmondo from Paris to Rio and then Brazil, the adventure continues by land, air, and sea in a series of increasingly dangerous action scenes that still impress today in this gorgeous high definition, rainbow bright and razor sharp Blu-ray restoration.


Featuring a plethora of bonus material, That Man arrives on disc as the first part of a double feature, hot off the heels of its 50th anniversary theatrical run last summer which introduced de Broca's thrilling romantic comedy to a contemporary audience reared on the movies it inspired including Raiders of the Lost Ark, Romancing the Stone and The Gods Must Be Crazy.

Given a first rate release by Cohen Film Collection, Rio also makes a great international companion piece to another adventurous romcom from the era via Stanley Donen’s Charade as well as the '30s road movies that helped give it its rhythmic banter.

While it definitely could've benefited from a sharper edit and a stronger character arc for its supporting players (including Dorleac's carefree, flighty beauty in particular), it still holds up well as an iconic French blockbuster.


Daring to paint outside genre lines to appeal to the crowds vs. the critics first and foremost, de Broca's escapist classic is proof that when done correctly, there's room for art in a studio spoof.

The end result not only garnered an Oscar nomination for its script but also took home the 1964 prize for Best Foreign Language Film over more serious global fare from the New York Film Critics Circle.

Watching it today, you realize that That Man is exactly the type of film that Francis Veber tried to catapult back into the mainstream nearly twenty years later with his ‘80s comedies which were released a few years after Steven Spielberg struck Saturday matinee style gold with an inventive science fiction spin he dubbed Raiders of the Lost Ark.

And while de Broca and Belmondo tried to make lightning strike twice with the release's second feature in the form of 1965's Up to His Ears, the follow-up film starts to fall apart within the first act.

 

An overlong and tonally awkward effort, Ears is loosely based on the 1879 Jules Verne novel Tribulations of a Chinaman in China.

And although this film is notable for showcasing another career highlight collaboration for de Broca with Jean Rochefort (which is the subject of a behind-the-scenes featurette on the two men), ultimately Ears seems like a missed opportunity all around to send-up James Bond even further.

Fortunately, Ursula Andress evokes plenty of laughs as a brainy stripper studying seduction and the motivations of men.

But besides a few snappy lines as well as an exploitative white bikini clad, beach frolicking homage to her role as the first (and arguably most famously iconic) "Bond girl" in Dr. No, the moody film has a tough time navigating between scenes both dark and light.


Oddly bearing more in common with Hal Ashby's Harold and Maude than the adventure films it’s purporting to roast, Ears gives us an alarming introduction to Belmondo's joyless playboy as a man literally hanging on the edge for dear life.

Existentially and emotionally unfulfilled – regardless of his millions or upcoming engagement – when we first meet the curiously named bored Arthur, he's driving himself off a cliff in what we soon discover is his ninth suicide attempt in one week alone.

While the beginning of Ears is echoed by a final sequence in Harold and Maude, in both films, love manages to give each man a reason to live, just as it gives Dudley Moore's aimless, rich drunk Arthur Bach a reason to stop killing himself with alcohol in the far more sweet-tempered Arthur.

Thankfully, much like the vastly superior Maude, Ears manages to grow on the viewer due to time as well as its truly inventive (if ultimately meandering) plotline.


Realizing that his friends won't inherit any money if he succeeds in taking his own life, he arranges his own murder via a loyal assistant, only to almost immediately find himself having second thoughts when he crosses paths with – and loses his heart to – the stripper played by Andress.

Unable to identify those targeting him (particularly when the mother of the woman he'd originally agreed to marry hears about his life insurance policy and tries to take matters into her own hands), Arthur goes on the run, leading viewers on another over-the-top adventure.

Increasingly outrageous and downright bizarre at times, Ears is still worth a look for cineastes to better appreciate the then mightily original picture's impact on future films in the following two decades.

Best approached as a B-movie, which is all the more magnified by its inclusion as the B-movie in this double-feature set, Up to His Ears may be disappointing for Belmondo fans but lovers of Andress won't want to miss it.


Gorgeously transferred to Blu-ray as a two-disc collection, the titles serve as a terrific introduction to de Broca, who continued to seek out adventurous laughs with Belmondo and Rochefort throughout his six decade spanning career.

While chaotic excess gets the better of de Broca in the all-over-the-place Ears, personally I'm hoping for a follow-up Cohen Film Collection to deliver further foreign comedic capers including de Broca’s 1973 effort Le Magnifique aka The Man From Acapulco, which sounds like another intriguing hybrid of romance, comedy, adventure, spy spoof and Belmondo.

Until then, we'll remain grateful to the Cohen Collection for continuing to preserve little seen and/or long-out-of-print foreign cinema, which – thanks to this shiny, extra feature filled Blu-ray release – we're able to find without a cross-continent hunt or treasure map.

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Text ©2014, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

4/21/2015

DVD Review: The Captive (2014)


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Meditations on loss both literal and figurative, the haunting yet humanistic films of Academy Award nominated writer-director Atom Egoyan are hard to shake.

As an audience of Alices ― in each puzzle-like picture we tumble through the rabbit hole ― landing headfirst in a contemporary but illusive Egoyan wonderland where we're quick to discover that nothing is as it seems.

Illuminating if ultimately unsettling, from The Sweet Hereafter to Felicia's Journey and beyond, Egoyan has spent his career holding up a microscope to the dangers that exist just below the surface of a world where smiles hide secrets and (much like objects in the rearview mirror) evil may be closer than it appears.

As the years go by, in Egoyan's latest aptly named effort The Captive, a heartbroken father played by Ryan Reynolds finds himself unable to look ahead ― literally and figuratively trapped in the past ― after discovering with a glance in his rearview that his nine year old daughter had vanished from sight.


Moving back and forth from past to present and in point-of-view, The Captive's maze-like narrative approach initially infuriates more than it fascinates.

Requiring us to figure out where each piece fits along the timeline while we struggle to process each scene ― we're introduced to multiple parties held captive by the same horrific moment, beginning with the kidnapped girl (who’s now an adult) as well as her captor who for years has been hiding in plain sight of both her parents and the police.


With this in mind it's no wonder that when the film screened at the Cannes Film Festival for its Palme d'Or qualifying showing, Egoyan's opus appeared under a title that emphasized the plural nature of its theme (as Un Captives) to better illustrate the grief of all involved.

Yet while it works either way, the singular name change suits the film well in not only ratcheting up the tension and immediacy but also by encouraging greater critical thinking on the part of the audience as we evaluate each captive one by one.

As a modern disciple of Hitchcock whose experimentation with the role of the viewer as voyeur has overwhelmed the Egyptian-born Canadian filmmaker's work since his American arthouse crossover hit Exotica roughly twenty years ago, Egoyan is clever enough to understand that in suspenseful storytelling, the true power comes from what isn't shown vs. what is visualized.


And this is especially imperative given the delicate subject matter of Captive which, to both the film as well as Egoyan's credit, feels far less exploitative than a typical episode of network television police procedural series.

Revisiting the same terrain he's explored throughout his undeniably eerie oeuvre including the complex and at times codependent relationship of good and evil that varies considerably from one film to the next, Captive plays particularly well as a thematic companion piece to Felicia's Journey.

While both films feel like updates on age-old fairy tales – echoing everything from Little Red Riding Hood to Hansel and Gretel to the aforementioned allusions to Alice in Wonderland, this time around he uses the cinematic looking glass to examine the role that storytelling plays on its own accord.

Trading in twisted role-play and dark storytelling on the deep web, we learn how a narrative can mean different things to different people.

However, unlike the way that the titular Felicia's Journey was placed in the hands of someone else, The Captive shows us in a variety of ways how words can keep not only hope but people alive as two of its characters make the choice to use the power of their stories to rescue themselves, whether or not they're in control in their current state.


A stronger execution of the same argument that he attempted to make in Chloe, although it’s structurally still something of a mess, The Captive grows bolder and more confident with time, resulting in one of Egoyan's most thrilling climaxes in years.

Nonetheless, the inclusion of an alternate ending on the newly released Lionsgate DVD makes you wish that he would've struck a greater balance between the two separate conclusions in order to give viewers a stronger sense of closure regarding one key subplot in particular.

Bolstered by its script as well as stellar support from Ryan Reynolds in an uncharacteristically serious turn ― despite its shortcomings, the film reminds viewers once again just how criminally underutilized he is in traditional leading man roles.

Intelligently crafted and undeniably suspenseful, like all of Egoyan's work, The Captive will linger in the mind for days.


   

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Text ©2014, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

Movie Review: King of Herrings (2013)


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A stream-of-consciousness style slice-of-life saga, King of Herrings seems to exist in its own world, halfway between the experimental stage and avant-garde screen.

And this is perhaps fitting given that it was initially conceived as an acting exercise in screenwriting by its writer and co-director Eddie Jemison who wound up developing the script into a feature endeavor and film festival hit.


Heading up the cast of character actors in purposely (and rather aggressively) against-type roles, the frequent Soderbergh star electrifies the black-and-white screen in his volatile turn as Ditch, the amoral anchor of this moody personality vs. plot-driven work.

Whether he's rebuffing the principle of repaying a nine dollar debt to questioning others on life, loyalty and what he perceives to be a battle of the sexes (of his own making), Ditch is just one of the self-loathing, swaggering Kings raging less against the machine than perhaps the dying of their own light.


Drawing upon everyone from David Mamet and Eugene O'Neill to William Shakespeare and Sam Shephard, the largely misanthropic and ultimately misguided larger-than-life men who propel the mercurial chamber piece from start to finish excel at making much ado about nothing.

The stuff of angry Bebop, while a freewheeling Beat Generation inspired Howl of a movie is hard to pull off, Jemison and his co-director Sean Richardson mostly succeed, only hitting a false note when they interrupt the improvisational sounding give-and-take riffs between the cast of characters to interject an unnaturally atonal plot point here and there.


And although the fiery King of Herrings can be a little hard to digest at times ― cutting to the quick in places like a Faces era John Cassavetes ― all the male bravado in the world can't sway us like the emotional authenticity and vulnerability of its quietly powerful female lead.

A cross between a tragic Tennessee Williams heroine and Nora from Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll's House, although the character played by Laura Lamson walks softly from the beginning, much like Herrings, she sneaks up on you by the final frame.

A film that honors and wears its far-reaching influences proudly in each frame like a fusion of past and present that reflects the attitudes and world views of its core ensemble, while it falters a bit, Kings still manages to hold us in its thrall when ― rather than telling us what to think ― it trusts its nothings to become somethings that make us truly feel.


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Text ©2014, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

Blu-ray Review: Batman vs. Robin (2015)


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Most parents think their children are extraordinary but when Bruce Wayne says that there may not be another ten year old boy in the world quite like his own child Damian (whom we first met in Son of Batman along with the caped crusader), it's less a statement of paternal pride than it is of defeat.

 

Sudden fatherhood hasn’t exactly been easy for the two dueling alpha Waynes, which we're quick to gather in the latest DC Comics animated feature, Batman vs. Robin.

For although he'd been entrusted to keep the boy safe from those who’d murdered his grandfather Ra's Al Ghul by Damian's mother Thalia in Son, Bruce Wayne finds that his experiences with his former goodhearted (and now grown) ward Dick Grayson haven't adequately prepared him to handle a boy with Damian's anger, energy, and determination.

Instead of typical tween rebellion, as a former member of the League of Assassins headed up by the now deceased Ra's Al Ghul, Damian's favorite way to deal with his angst is by stealing the Batmobile for a night of vigilante justice that comes perilously close to crossing the line into murder. Obviously, crashing a wild party is one thing but hitting the streets with a mission for vengeance is something very different indeed.


Distracted by his new blonde-haired, blue-blooded girlfriend Samantha Vanaver, Wayne struggles to juggle not only his dual identities as the old money playboy as well as Gotham City's Dark Knight but also his relationship with his own son.

And things grow much more complicated when – in a last ditch effort to discipline the boy and keep him in line – Bruce Wayne decides to turn Damian into the new Robin.

Relying on the old Robin (now Nightwing) – Dick Grayson – to train and prepare his son, the men at Wayne Manor are soon usurped by a mysterious new player on the scene who's been tasked with recruiting both Wayne junior and senior into a secret society of elite Gothamites called the Court of Owls.


What results is a straight-to-disc feature that’s vastly superior to DC's previous production.

Ramping up the action and plotline with each successive act, the sequel does a particularly good job of better establishing Grayson's Nightwing for what I can only hope will be the character's own WB Animation and DC Comics original movie in the future.

However, because it attempts to cover so much ground, savvy viewers will be able to spot most of Robin’s double-crossing plot twists coming from a mile away.

Falling back on Batman's roots as an existential Dickensian archetype, Batman vs. Robin pays direct homage to Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist wherein, upon learning that his son has begun reading the book, "movie buff" Bruce Wayne asks Alfred to fire up the 1948 David Lean adaptation of Twist in the manor's screening room.

Far more sexually suggestive than other DC Comics films (which makes this unrated title perhaps best suited to a PG-13 audience), the implied backlit nudity is still less jarring than the new overreliance of the series to focus on "animal/human" hybrids that threaten to turn the films into B-level monster movies.


Though not as well-executed as Batman: Year One or the stellar Wonder Woman, Batman vs. Robin nonetheless shows some promising potential with a dramatic and well earned conclusion that makes us eager for another installment. Likewise, the decision to add more layers to Wayne's own backstory with the suggestion that old money Gotham's elite society just might have played a part in the death of his parents helps elevate the picture from its slightly predictable nature.

Despite the fact that the relationship between junior and senior Wayne seems pretty protracted, in their own right, the film’s characters (and Grayson in particular) nonetheless feel distinctly unique, which is quite a feat indeed for the animated realm.

Bolstered by exciting action scenes including a pulse quickening car chase, though Batman ends slightly abruptly, the gorgeous new Blu-ray gift set is loaded with bonus material including four shorts from the WB animated series archives, behind the scenes footage and a limited edition Batman figurine so you can stage your own battles... Damian’s stolen Batmobile not included.

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Text ©2014, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

4/08/2015

Movie Review: Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter (2014)


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Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter may be based on a true-ish story – not unlike the '90s Coen brothers classic that inspires Kumiko (played by Oscar nominee Rinko Kikuchi) to travel from Japan to North Dakota in search of the movie's fictional buried fortune she's mistaken for factual cold hard cash.

However (and fittingly) just like Fargo, this irresistible oddity hot off the festival circuit from the Zellner brothers is unlike anything you've ever seen.


Mind-boggling from the beginning, Kumiko’s filmmakers place equal importance on their heroine’s quest-driven narrative (of the Don Quixote variety) as they do on the gentle culture clash comedy that occurs when the woman who was already a fish-out-of-water in her own country arrives in a new frozen land filled with friendly people that don't speak her language.

Yet in a testament to the strength of the screenplay from start to finish, some of Kumiko 's most intriguing plot points are established early on in the picture when we get a glimpse of her professional life.



An "over the hill" Office Lady at the age of twenty-nine whose boyfriend, beauty, and baby obsessed cliquish colleagues treat cubicle duty as a hobby on par with getting a 1950s style collegiate "Mrs" degree so they can trade the office for kitchen, the socially awkward Kumiko spends her spare time searching for lost treasure "like a Spanish Conquistador."

Having unearthed a battered old copy of Fargo on VHS in the film's opening scene, Kumiko studies the tape diligently, making a hand-stitched map of Steve Buscemi's onscreen booty.

But after she's busted trying to "borrow" a reference book that contains a map to her destiny at the local library, Kumiko’s search is nearly squashed before it’s begun.


Enchanted by her conviction, resolve, and creativity – not to mention unwilling to be the one to tell her that her mission is futile – the library's loss prevention officer becomes her first ally, quickly ripping out the required page and sending her on her way.

And par for the paradigm, he's just the first of many Joseph Campbell inspired supporting characters – including stellar cameo turns by each Zellner brother – that take on various audience surrogate-like roles for Kumiko during her classical journey to that snowy Fargo fence.

A gender flipped indie Indiana Jones, in Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter, a woman gets to play conquistador instead of settling for the role of conquistador's girlfriend or their romantic reward.


And much like Kumiko, those in even the tiniest roles are given surprising amounts of depth in a work that truly champions the basic good in people as much as Fargo explored the opposite psychological terrain.

But rather than give us a matinee idol, co-writers Nathan and David Zellner – together with actress/producer Kikuchi – opt to center the story around a fully formed and admittedly flawed individual without preface or prejudice.

For while we worriedly watch and wonder where it'll all head, the Zellner brothers wisely avoid defining or assessing Kumiko's mental health, despite offering us a few breadcrumb style context clues here and there that go along with the refreshingly uncynical approach.

Letting us into the storyline initially through her eyes alone before pulling back to reveal the point-of-view of others is a surprisingly bold structural gamble that pays off well.


Viewed in a certain light, one can even go as far as to call the film a feminist allegory in that by escaping the societal pressures of marriage and family, Kumiko shows us that "Office Ladies" can do more than fetch coffee as repeatedly, people bring her a symbolic warm beverage in her new surroundings.

Boasting a playful score that musically echoes its inspirational Fargo source material, that's where most of the similarities end for director David Zellner's heavily symbolic, humanistic film.

A kindred spirit to Amelie, Life is Beautiful or Broken Flowers, the film by the Zellner brothers revels in its status as a creatively spun tall tale.


As such, Kumiko employs its own cinematic language in order to bridge together the Japanese and English dialogue of its characters.

Although the existential film is full of people that cannot understand one another, from start to finish they are nonetheless united by the heroine's inalienable right to find her way in the world by choosing her own adventure.

Adhering to the century's old "down the rabbit hole" quest paradigm that propels the film – like Kumiko – from Point A to Point B as if on a map, the Zellner brothers deftly balance the comic and the tragic throughout.

Never wandering too far away from the recurring theme to stand by your own impossible dream, Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter leads us toward a majestically well-earned resolution that's movie gold.
  

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Text ©2014, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

4/06/2015

Blu-ray Review: The Penguins of Madagascar (2014)


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Tired of simply listening to the unofficial but oft-repeated Madagascar franchise theme song, the trilogy's scene-stealing penguins take the lyrics to "I Like to Move It" literally – launching themselves out of the circus setting of the third film (by cannon no less) and into their very own adventure in their eponymous debut feature, The Penguins of Madagascar.

Moving quickly once again, we flash back to the cocky characters’ more humble beginnings marching for the cameras aimed by documentary filmmaker Werner Herzog, who uncharacteristically encourages a member of his crew to give his adorable subjects “a shove.”


And once the Herzog described "frisky little snow clowns" tumble a long way down to rescue an egg, the trio of quick-witted penguins make like three men in an '80s movie and take it upon themselves to raise a baby.

Rule-breakers from the start, after mixing things up internationally – both with and without their Madagascar costars on screens big and small (given the success of their eponymous Nickelodeon spinoff series as well) – the black-and-white foursome put their love of orange on the line.

Breaking into Fort Knox to raid the Cheezy Dibbles snack machine of their dreams, the guys get much more than they bargained for than mere chips while attempting to satisfy not only their appetite but replish their arsenal as well, given their habit of turning the cheese puff-like chips into effective weapons via a form of salty self-defense you could call Crave Maga.


Suddenly hurled high into the air, the penguin army's food filled reverie is quickly interrupted when they're abducted by Dave, a former zoo-mate whose enthusiasm for cheese, mayhem and pop cultural witticisms rivals their own.

Tired of being given the cold shoulder by zoo attendees who perpetually marched past the overlooked octopus in order to visit the photogenic penguins instead – causing him to be sent from one zoo to the next like a baseball player traded from team to team – the John Malkovich voiced villain decodes to reinvents himself as Dr. Octavius Brine in order to exact revenge.


Whisking his enemies away by helicopter to Venice where we discover that he's been hard at work on an elaborate plot to declare war on the animal kingdom, Dave's ultimate showdown with penguin nation is put on hold when our heroes are intercepted by an "elite undercover interspecies task force" called the North Wind.

As organized and highly technical as the penguins are scrappy and bold, although the Benedict Cumberbatch led uber classified North Wind promises to be "dedicated to helping animals that can't help themselves," the ragtag penguins are eager to prove they have the guts and Dibbles to do the job themselves.


Fast-paced and frequently laugh-out-loud funny, Penguins features some highly quotable celeb driven punchlines including "Nicolas Cage them," "Hugh Jackman the battle stations and "Charlize Theron their way" employed throughout.

And although it gets increasingly outlandish as it continues, not realizing that it's at its best when it doesn't over-complicate and threaten to bog down its character rich plotline, it’s a great showcase for the Madagascar MVPs.


Gorgeously transferred to Blu-ray in a combo pack that also includes DVD and Digital Copy, this Madagascar spinoff more than stands on its own as a family film of equal interest to adults and children, which is an enviable feat in its own right.

From its James Bond infused paradigm as well as its spectacularly inventive animated fight scenes that ridicule the editing and cinematographic styles of contemporary live action movies made by Michael Bay and company, much like those Cheezy Dibbles, The Penguins of Madagascar leaves you hungry for more.


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Text ©2014, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

Blu-ray Review: The Humbling (2014)


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The Humbling opens with what must be the actor's version of a student's nightmare of showing up in school naked, late, and unprepared for a big test.

But instead of a test, the play's the thing in Barry Levinson's adaptation of Philip Roth's thirtieth and final novel as shortly into the movie, Al Pacino's over-the-hill actor with an axe to grind ― aptly named Simon Axler ― gives in to the nightmare and surrenders, falling not onto his own sword but onto the ground of the theater in an epic faceplant.

No doubt feeling a connection to the material that centers around the existential crisis of a charismatic actor who fears he's losing his gift as well as his sanity, Pacino ― who purchased the rights to the book years ago ― is predictably terrific in the part.


The problem is that the picture, which was shot in mere bits and pieces to accommodate the star's busy schedule, feels as chaotic and unstable as our unreliable narrator's mind.

While the episodic nature of the source material is partly to blame for the similarly episodic film that's forever changing in tone, it's the job of director (and uncredited scripter) Levinson and co-writers Buck Henry and Michal Zebede to find the best way to translate Roth's work to the screen.


Bearing more in common with a television miniseries than a book, a stage play, or a cohesive feature (despite its modest running time), the film is bolstered by the stellar supporting cast including a fine effort by Greta Gerwig in a similarly undefined role as a starstruck lustful lesbian siren who sees in the aged Axler the marquee man of her adolescent dreams.

Unfortunately, it wastes the talent of Rob the Mob scene stealer and Tony winner Nina Arianda and Emmy winner Kyra Sedgwick ― both of whom seem like they wandered in from the sets of two entirely different pictures shooting nearby.

Yet while The Humbling is guilty of losing its plot almost as much as its main character does, it still has its moments of daffy comedic brilliance.


One such highlight ― a romantic intervention led by Oscar winning Woody Allen dramedy veteran Dianne Wiest that takes place in a veterinarian's office ― is so delightfully off-the-wall that it makes you wish it would've served as the jumping off point for a whole new screenplay designed to illuminate the untapped comedic potential of Pacino who shines opposite Weist.

And indeed, it's scenes like that reaffirm the brilliance of character driven storytelling that both Levinson and Henry have done so well in the past (via Rain Man and To Die For respectively).

Still in the end, The Humbling is best appreciated as a humble, experimental hat-tip to the sanity testing calling of a thespian who'd rather die on the stage than be asked to live a life off of it ― stuck somewhere in limbo as both spectator and star without the adrenaline shot of thunderous applause.
   
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