DVD Review: Mr. Popper’s Penguins

Hi there!

What is it about Jim Carrey and animals that just clicks when they’re combined in a movie? I still remember Carrey as “Fireman Jim” on In Living Color and wondering how in the heck he made his face stay in that awful grimace. When he did both Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and The Mask in 1994, he was permanently on my radar. The character of Ace Ventura was at once annoying and endearing, and somehow he pulled off working with an entire zoo of animals on film.

When Mr. Popper’s Penguins came out this past June, everyone in my family wanted to see it. However, as things sometimes work out, we never got a chance so we knew we’d definitely have to check it out on DVD. Thankfully it was released this week and we had a chance to watch.

The movie is based on Mr. Popper’s Penguins, a Newbery-award-winning novel published in 1938 by the husband and wife team of Richard and Florence Atwater. Jim Carrey plays Tom Popper, a man dedicated to his work in buying and selling New York City real estate to the detriment of all other relationships in his life. While Popper was growing up, his father was off exploring the world and rarely home to share his experiences. To make up for it, his father always sent fun gifts to his son from wherever he was. When the elder Popper dies, he sends his son one last gift – a set of penguins from Antarctica. From the moment Popper meets the first penguin, his life starts spiraling out of control and putting his priorities back in order.

Anyone who’s had a pet can probably attest to how crazy life can get when you have an animal in your life. There’s something about sharing your life with a pet that gets them under your skin. Sure, there’s the day-to-day chores of feeding and cleaning up after critters big and small. But little by little they become bonded to you and you become bonded to them despite how much they may completely drive you bonkers.

As Popper gets used to having six penguins in his NYC apartment, he finds himself caring for these frozen characters from the South Pole. And along the way, he finds ways to reconnect with his kids Billy (Maxwell Perry Cotton) and Janie (Madeline Carroll), and his ex-wife Amanda (Carla Gugino). Of course, there are a few hiccups along the way like a zookeeper (Clark Gregg) obsessed with taking the penguins away, the woman who owns the Tavern on the Green in Central Park, Mrs. Van Gundy (Angela Lansbury), and Popper’s bosses at the real estate firm.

Honestly I wasn’t sure if I was going to like Mr. Popper’s Penguins based on the trailers. It’s Jim Carrey playing a similar character to other roles like he has in Bruce Almighty and Liar Liar. That however turned out to be a boon – there’s something about this human cartoon interacting with animals and kids that makes him quite endearing.

Beyond Carrey, the penguins themselves have quite a bit of character. Each penguin has its own personality from the first time they appear in the film to the end. And the combination of live action and CGI penguins was seamless throughout the movie. The scene with the birds sliding down from floor to floor in the Guggenheim was quite funny as you saw people go flying left and right as the birds whizzed past.

Included in the DVD extras are the animated short “Nimrod and Stinky’s Antarctic Adventure,” a collection of deleted scenes, a gag reel, “Ready for Their Closeup,” “Ladies and Gentoomen,” an audio commentary featuring director Mark Waters, editor Bruce Green, and visual effects supervisor Richard Hollander, a sneak peek at Tooth Fairy 2, and the original theatrical trailer.

The animated short was disappointing, done in a “moving comics” style that was a bit jarring to me. However I was impressed that Clegg would lend his voice to the zookeeper in the short. The gag reel proves just how little Jim Carrey has changed since Ace Ventura. And “Ladies and Gentoomen” is a great educational piece about the penguins featuring Jessica Perry, a Senior Level Aviculturist at Sea World.

We really enjoyed “Ready for their Closeup,” which showed the great lengths the actors and production crew went to for the Gentoo penguins. Everyone involved in the movie really seemed quite taken with them. The work that went into training the birds as well as training the actors to work with them. And like any time you work with animals, the feature really shows how they can take over the set. If there weren’t enough outtakes in the gag reel for you, there are some amazing clips with Carrey and the penguins here.

Overall Mr. Popper’s Penguins was a fun movie with some great extras to learn more about the penguins themselves as well as making movies with these fun birds.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

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Book Review: The Watchtower by Lee Carroll

Hi all…

About a year ago I entered the world of Garet James, a jewelry designer living in New York City, in the book Black Swan Rising. Garet’s artistic abilities and a family history she knew nothing about collide violently when she meets and is given a beautiful silver box by a strange shopkeeper. From the moment she opens that box, her life is never the same.

Black Swan Rising kicked off Garet’s story by writers Carol Goodman (Arcadia Falls, The Night Villa) and her husband – poet and hedge fund manager Lee Slonimsky – writing under the pseudonym of Lee Carroll. And with its Shakespearean faeries, evil sorcerer, and mysterious vampire, I was hooked. The book was well written and sucked me in immediately. (You can read my review here.)

Unfortunately, I found their follow-up The Watchtower to be extremely difficult to get into and a struggle to read.

Once again, we’re thrust into the world of Garet James, but this time we find her in Paris chasing after the potential love of her life Will Hughes the vampire. Hughes is trying to find a way to become mortal again after 400 years of immortality so he can be with Garet. When he journeys to Paris in search of the hidden path to the Summer Country, the magical realm of the faeries, Garet follows after him.

From the beginning of the book, the reader is set upon two separate roads. The first follows Garet as she navigates the obstacles in the modern world between her and finding Will. The second follows Will in the past as as young poet who fell in love with Marguerite, Garet’s ancestor. And quite honestly, though I enjoyed Garet’s journey as she meets several new faeries and mortals touched in lasting ways by their magic, I really didn’t care to follow young Will Hughes at all. He was a spoiled brat with no patience who is selfishly seeking to spend time with an immortal lover. The alternating chapters between Garet and Will made me dread any time I ended a chapter with Garet…

However, even as I struggled to get through the book to the end, the amazing back story mixing faerie lore and alchemy was fascinating. The alchemist/sorcerer John Dee is a right evil bastard and I knew any time he was in the picture something bad would occur. Learning how Will Hughes became a vampire in a double-cross by the malicious Dee was fun to discover. And meeting the various fae Garet (and Will) encountered along the journey was intriguing – from the 17th century botanist transformed into a tree by the fae to the octopus librarian, each had a history that gracefully weaved past and present together while educating the reader on a bit of faerie history.

Ultimately I didn’t enjoy The Watchtower as much as Black Swan Rising, but I look forward to seeing where the writing duo takes Will and Garet next. No spoilers here, but there was nice twist at the end that should make the next book quite entertaining if done well. Hopefully we’ll stay in a single timeline and not alternate between the characters next time. You can check out both Black Swan Rising and The Watchtower on bookstore shelves today!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

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Book Review: Black Swan Rising by Lee Carroll

Hello there!

Chicago has wizard-for-hire Harry Dresden. Denver has Kitty Norville, alpha wolf in a pack of werewolves. And now New York City has jewelry designer Garet James. One of these things is not like the others… A jewelry designer? How does that work?

It’s no secret that I am extremely enthusiastic about the latest surge in urban fantasy fiction being published. Sometimes my world seems far too antiseptic, purged of the everyday magic I wish was everywhere. To solve this problem, I retreat into fictional worlds where real magic exists on the streets of today’s urban jungle.

Lee Carroll is a pseudonym for the duo of Carol Goodman (Arcadia Falls, The Night Villa) and her husband – poet and hedge fund manager Lee Slonimsky. The couple live in New York and you can tell from the way they handle NYC as the setting for the book that they love where they live. NYC in the pages of Black Swan Rising comes to life in expected and completely unexpected ways.

Garet James doesn’t see herself as an artist. She takes signet rings, typically bearing the coat of arms of the family of the original wearer, and makes medallions out of them. As a result, she’s always on the lookout for new rings she can use in her own work.

One day she gets caught in a downpour in the city and stumbles into a strange antiques shop. The strange shopkeeper, John Dee, after revealing that he knows of her jewelry, asks if she would look at opening an old silver box. The box just happens to be sealed with a symbol of a swan exactly like the signet ring given to her by her mother before she died. She agrees to take it home to work on it and bring it home the next day. Unfortunately, like Pandora – once the box is open, her world changes dramatically…

Garet and her father own an art gallery that’s been down on its luck in recent years. When thieves break in to steal three paintings, the box, and shoot her father, it’s just the beginning of her troubles. A 400 year old vampires and the King of Faeries help her find her way to stopping the diabolical plans of John Dee before Garet’s beloved city and then the world suffer the consequences…

Black Swan Rising starts at a simmer and rises to a boil. If I have one complaint, it’s that as you move through the book picking up speed, the second half of the book is crammed to the gills with wall to wall action. But that’s a very minor complaint, considering that I hope the next book in the series will continue to tell the story of Garet, the vampire Will Hughes, and the tale of the declining world of the fae barely holding on in an industrialized world…

Throughout the book, I was impressed by the use of passages to describe difficult concepts such as auras and elemental transformation. The hand of the poet was definitely at work as the writing duo show how those with positive, healing or helping auras can affect those around them with a touch or simply by being in the same area…

After a nurse with a healthy green glow got on the train, she gave her seat to an angry man with a red aura… “I saw the angry red glow subside to a pale pink. The woman who’d given up her seat still had the green glow around her, but now it shone brighter and extended farther out around her. It touched the elderly woman with the headache, turning her mustard yellow into a clear daffodil gold. The girl who’d started out with the yellow aura sang a line from a song on her iPod, which made the old man with the gray aura laugh out loud. Colors rippled down the car, turning brighter and clearer, as if that one act – the woman in the scrubs touching the sick man’s arm and giving him her seat – was a pebble cast into the water radiating out into widening circles…”

It’s those scenes that ripple throughout this book and story from beginning to end.

If you’re a fan of urban fantasy or simply want to read a well-written story, check out Black Swan Rising by Lee Carroll… It’s an enjoyable ride that left me wanting more.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this and other great urban fantasy books at Barnes & Noble below!

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