Thursday, June 16, 2011

Mr. Popper's Penguins, The Art of Getting By, Green Lantern

Mr. Popper’s Penguins

Rating: 3.5/5

Jim Carrey’s is back in top comic shape as Popper, a pied piper of penguins, able to express the  maturity of a man of his years while magically, effortlessly,  retaining that rubber faced enthusiasm that got him his meteoric  rise in showbiz.  It’s lovely to see.  You can laugh at him and you can take him seriously, and he’s completely at ease in the CGI world of penguins in the big city.

He’s Popper, a harried separated father of two who receives a bequest of live penguins.  Sure, he’s a real estate developer /lawyer and lives in a chrome and glass Manhattan loft and has no means of supporting penguins but he’s determined to try.    They are his last connection to his father who abandoned the family to embark on international adventures.  While he still feels anger and hurt, he nurses a soft spot in his heart for the man.  He’s unconsciously repeating his life, living apart from his family and in distant, unsuccessful relationships with his wife and two kids.

But it’s not just the father thing that draws him to the penguins – it’s the delight his children take in them and the fact that they actually want to be with him to be with them.  Kind of cynical, okay, but, it’s a start.  And soon, drawn to penguins soon becomes his passion. 

Popper’s prestige as a dealmaker at work suffers because he’d rather stay home and watch an egg hatch, and avoid the emotional issues raised when he’s instructed to buy the toney Tavern on the Green for a condo development.  His father used to take him there.  And then there is Angela Lansbury from whom he’s been assigned to buy the place. She absolutely owns the screen when she appears, even when she shares it with attention hog Carrey.  And I mean that in the best possible way.

Popper transforms his condo into a wintery south pole-y installation, there’s snow on the floor, ice cubes in the tub, and nesting places in the fridge and of course the toilet for a gross out but fun swirl.  Parkas and patience are de riguer for humans and the penguins seem to be thriving in their mutual bond. 

But as in movies, along come villains to complicate Popper’s chilly little world of love.  But mean landlords, conniving doormen and criminal zoo staff aside, nothing is stronger than love, even the love between a man and his penguins.  Thank you Fox for not giving us sappy close-ups of anyone tearing up.  That was a nice gesture.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins is an ideal summer time waster. It’s entertaining, sunny, funny and just ridiculous enough to take it a step above other kid fare this season.   Adults will appreciate Lansbury (!) and the relationship angles and everyone will be charmed by Carrey’s evergreen comedy stylings. 

The Art of Getting By

Rating: 2/5

Little Freddie Highmore all grown up and starring in a romance?   Yes, indeed.  Time waits for no one, least of all, a young actor with chops like his.  Highmore is a persuasive actor, who made his initial mark as the doe-eyed little boy in Finding Neverland and has parlayed that into a career in the big time thanks to innate talent and plain old fashioned work.  Highmore has had his nose at the grindstone almost without a break since 2004, in some high profile and independent films as well as television series.  He’s a capable actor who has worked hard at his craft.

This is an angsty tale of a couple of kids trying to find some happiness in the world as they navigate school, sex,  parents, peers and the usual things that seem insurmountable at that age.  Highmore plays a low functioning genius type named George.  He can draw beautifully but he can’t get an assignment in at school or please his family.  He’s an outsider, a dark Byronic hero, all those edgy things that also seem important at that age.   His mother played with teary frustration by Rita Wilson, is at her wits’ end as her second marriage crumbles and George’s attitude tears her apart.   George’s offhandedness and inability to see outside himself is aggravating to say the least.   

Blair Underwood plays the principal, a type he’s done before, who has a love hate relationship with George.  He admires his brains and artistic soul but feels George’s lack of respect for him and the system is unacceptable.  As the end of the year approaches George hasn’t handed in a single assignment,  as he’s been so busy with his sketching and taking smoke breaks off campus, so the principal make him do every one he missed in three weeks or be expelled.  He is barely getting by, hence title.

George is also discovering love with Robert’s Sally, who finds him frustrating. He’s backward about being forward and in the meantime she hooks up with his artist friend, a bohemian who should maybe pick on someone his own age.   Roberts’ portrayal of the free spirited Sally is nuanced and interesting, she’s embarrassed by her sex mad mother, nurturing and kind towards George while giving free expression to her wild side that craves experience.

Alicia Silverstone makes a down market appearance as George’s frumpy teacher, who recognizes his talent and tries to encourage him.  You believe she is this bespectacled earnest woman not a glamourous star doing something “risky”.  She’s clearly comfortable in the inevitable older roles.   Hooray!   Can’t wait to see what she’ll do in this new chapter of her career.

There’s a lot at play here but somehow, it’s a bit cool and detached and fails to completely engage.   George is a frustrating protagonist and Highmore does a very good job of getting that across but is this someone you want to spend 90 minutes with?   It’s an Afterschool Special.

Green Lantern                                     

Rating:  3/5

Ryan Reynolds’ singular charm carries this latest superhero palaver.  He is a good choice because his personal magnetism detracts from the awkward; over CGI’d D.C. Comic film adaptation, making us believe that he is committed to the film and role and that it will be a good experience.   It’s a thin line, and a lesser matinee idol may have botched it entirely.  Green Lantern is eminently botchable.  And you have to know the comic because this film isn’t about educating the clueless.

Reynolds is Hal Jordan, a test pilot who is called, or rather, flung, to a mysterious seaside location where he witnesses the wreckage of a spaceship and inside a dead alien.  He is instructed to take a green crystal ring and he is given a creed.   It means a big nothing to him, though, and life carries on.   Life consists of bedding as many ladies as possible and teasing Carol Ferris, his work colleague and the daughter of his boss.   He’s lazy and unfocused, though, ands in danger of losing his gig.

Suddenly situations occur to raise his hackles; he discovers the ring has given him certain super powers.  The pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place. He has been chosen; he has been called to the ring or the ring to him or something.  It’s all rather medieval knights on a quest who follow certain mythic rules and play within a limited, specific frame of reference.   In any case, Hal is now a member of the Green Lantern brigade of intergalactic peace keepers.  Sinestro his boss (Mark Strong) guides him through his training, but there is something off about him. 

Blake Lively plays Carol, Hal’s co-worker and budding love interest; she’s a feisty one, albeit it with a romantic, and warm soul.  Lively has the acting chops to make the most of a very thin part; she brings a human element to the project that matches Reynolds’.  It’s a big job because they are up against a wall of CGI but they do pretty well.

Parallax, the “monster” is truly one of the most disgusting cinematic beasts ever – it’s a mass of dreadlocks that manages to envelop everything like a cloud, or like running sewage, with a spiders face, depending on the shot.  Ugh.  And there’s that Yellow energy of fear that haunts Hal.

From its overbearing color palette to the screeching sound and in-yer-face “stunts”, Green Lantern is a typical comic superhero film that is aimed squarely at the fans at the expense of the casual viewer.  It may be one of the more extreme examples of superhero film abuse.  Mind you, there are plenty more superheroes awaiting release in the months ahead.  This may not be the worst.

 The extremes taken in sight, sound and script underline a kind of blind desperation to catch attention and yet once having it, not knowing what to do with it.  This applies to the space sequences – and there are plenty – not so much to the earth sequences which are mostly enjoyable and engaging.

It’s a case of too much green noise, and no meat. Even a superhero film can’t expect to rest on its fans base laurels for long.  It has to try harder for film, to step up with a believable and relatable premise, delivery and result.  They just didn’t get it this time.   It looks like they wanted to, but then forgot about engaging the audience because they were busy designing cool monsters.

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