THE FILM YAP » penguins We Never Shut Up About Movies Sun, 23 Nov 2014 05:50:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Mr. Popper’s Penguins Fri, 17 Jun 2011 22:37:13 +0000 Continue reading ]]> “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” is critic-proof. That’s not to say it is flawless. It simply puts critics like me in a sticky situation.

If I wax philosophic about the history and value of animal comedies like this one, or if I pan the film, I will come across as a pretentious snob. And if I appreciate the movie for its warm, fuzzy sentiments, I will seem like a softhearted wimp.

Lastly, “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” is difficult to analyze — or resist — because there is simply something inherently entertaining about a man inheriting six Gentoo penguins (the predicament of Jim Carrey’s character).

Thankfully, there is a little more to the film than meets the eye. Beneath its cutesy surface lies a poignant parable for parenting. (Get used to the P-word alliteration; there is a lot of it in the film.) What the film lacks in imagination, it makes up for with heart.

The film begins with Tom Popper as a child, awaiting his father who is an explorer of sorts. Cut to 30 years later. Popper (Carrey) is a slick, fast-talking real estate investor (far from the poor house painter in the children’s book upon which the film is based). When Popper’s long-lost father dies, he leaves him with … you guessed it…six penguins.

Popper is desperate to get rid of the penguins … that is, until his children fall in love with them. Then, he transforms his swanky New York apartment into a slippery winter wonderland. So, Popper is a reflection of Carrey in the sense that he is forced into juvenile behavior for the sake of a child audience.

This brings me to the real joy of the film — watching Popper relive the magic of parenting as he cares for the penguins. A particularly heartfelt scene finds him kneeling over a penguin egg, anxiously waiting for it to hatch — as anxious as he probably was before his children were born.

Scenes like this are touching, and Carrey’s acting is tender. But the central concept of the film is so quirky, it’s a shame that director Mark Waters (“The House of Yes,” “Mean Girls”) and the screenwriters (Sean Anders, John Morris and Jared Stern) didn’t have more fun with it. Instead of tame, family-friendly humor, I wanted a film thick with the atmosphere of a madcap B-movie. The closest the film comes to that is a sequence during which the penguins slide down the circular ramp of the Guggenheim Museum.

Oddly enough, Waters and the screenwriters choose not to stray too far from reality. Much of their attention is paid to creating plausible justifications for the story’s wacky scenarios. Since when did filmmakers become such anti-escapists? Since “The Dark Knight” grounded Batman in gritty reality — and garnered critical acclaim for doing so? Even Carrey tones down his cartoonish style in the film.

Although I wish the film had loosened up a little bit, I still enjoyed it. If I were seven years old — or the parent of a child that age — I would have enjoyed it even more.

There, I wrote a review of the film. I guess it’s not critic-proof after all. So, did I come across as a pretentious snob or a softhearted wimp? You be the judge. See, it’s not as easy as it looks, right? Right?

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Movies You Aught Not Watch: Old Dogs Thu, 30 Sep 2010 00:29:24 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Movies You Aught Not Watch is Nick Rogers’ weekly, alphabetical look back at the 52 worst films of 2000-2009.

“Old Dogs”
Rated PG

John Travolta and Robin Williams are no strangers to shamelessness.

Travolta instructed James Gandolfini to lick his bunghole in “The Taking of Pelham 123” and roared at Barry Pepper to eat a rat in “Battlefield Earth.” Starring in “Toys,” “Patch Adams,” “Fathers’ Day” and “Jack” prepared Williams to battle fountains of sewage, as he did in “RV.”

So Travolta and Williams’ testicular injuries in 2009’s “Old Dogs” from penguins and Bernie Mac’s biochemical human-puppet apparatus (don’t ask) seemed par for the course — junk to emerge from with a thread of dignity. Not so in a mean-spirited, insulting film that festered and reeked as disgustingly as a pus-filled boil.

Dan (Williams) and Charlie (Travolta) are middle-aged business partners charged to watch children Dan never knew he fathered.

It takes work to botch a plot even Steve Guttenberg got right twice. But “Old Dogs” sinks it with the swiftness of men tying cinderblocks to their feet — cancer support groups mocked, trunks slammed on hands, live rounds fired near children for laughs. It’s as aggressively uncomfortable as boxers after they’ve burrowed into a dark, dark place.

“Dogs” was also studio greed at its worst. Giving it a title similar to “Wild Hogs” and casting Travolta, Disney presumed its box-office profit would similarly rhyme. Thankfully, this dog had no day, earning so far below expectations that a can’t-miss “Hogs” sequel was canceled.

Note Charlie’s dog leaking urine as he crosses an apartment floor. “Old Dogs” essentially pees down its leg and calls it comedy.

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Heroes of the Zeroes: Encounters at the End of the World / Grizzly Man Thu, 08 Apr 2010 04:01:51 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009. Today’s entry counts as two films.

“Encounters at the End of the World” / “Grizzly Man”
Rated G / Rated R
2007 / 2005

For someone avoiding “another film about penguins” in 2007’s “Encounters at the End of the World,” Werner Herzog captured the Zeroes’ most memorable waddle.

He observed a loner breaking from his pack, sprinting for a distant mountain toward certain doom, and driven by … what? Curiosity? Depression? Insanity? The question is quintessential Herzog — haunting, existential and forged by a kindred bond to obsessive spirits.

Through “World” and 2005’s “Grizzly Man,” Herzog studied humans in nature and controversial views about roles we play and knowledge we can reasonably acquire.

“World” took Herzog to Antarctica’s southernmost point, where, as interviewees say, scientists and tradesmen jump off the map and meet where the lines converge.

Unsurprisingly, Herzog captured unparalleled nature-film beauty. (Journeying with divers under the ice shelf was like sinking into bliss.) But it was little explosions of discovery through which Herzog scraped at ruminations of our place on the planet.

Do art and intelligence flicker in protective practices of single-celled organisms? What perpetuates the order of behavior in nature, and what prevents or, in the penguin’s case, precipitates a sudden shift? How can someone tangibly monitor something that both appears and is gone in one hundredth-billionth of a second?

Damnably frustrating and fascinating, these questions deconstruct Earth’s DNA in a scientific process that goes beyond statistics to ancestry or spirituality — an idea that we’re but witnesses and valets who are here and, sooner than we think, will be gone.

Herzog identified one such fleeting existence in Timothy Treadwell, aka “Grizzly Man.” An untrained studier of bears, Treadwell violated rules of football-field distance from Alaskan grizzlies for 13 consecutive summers, at times as close to them as a quarterback to a center. Foxes became like his pets, and there was fearlessness beneath his singsong cadence.

As in “Capturing the Friedmans,” Treadwell’s video camera became his confessional, and the monologues, rants and laments left behind feel like breadcrumbs on the trail to his death at the hands of, yes, a grizzly.

Treadwell was a Whitman’s sampler of contradictions and multitudes — a “kind warrior” who found salvation from alcoholism among the bears, but also had an incandescent rage toward those who would oppose him.

Herzog forgoes judging Treadwell’s disputed methods or questionable mental state — letting viewers decide based on footage that suggests Treadwell essentially sought some sort of transmutation from flesh to fur.

But whether you find Treadwell a civil-disobedience hero a la Henry David Thoreau or a loon who had it coming, his love of nature arguably persisted even as life and limb were ripped from him. He died doing the only work he ever truly wanted. (Audio of his death exists, but it’s purposefully unheard, with vivid descriptions of vivisection and a wrenching scene in which Herzog barely keeps his composure listening.)

“Arctic Tale,” “Earth” and “March of the Penguins” have their place for introducing nature’s “cuter” wonders to younger viewers. In “World” and “Grizzly,” Herzog challenged viewers by examining, with unforgettable ferocity, the urges, desires, chaos, serenity and hostility in our larger world.

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